It was charmingly done. Just as she made a step in the direction of the arbour her eyes fell quite naturally upon the face of the brunette. 'Good-morning,' she said smilingly, and with a little nod of her head. But there was no slackening of her steps; with the words on her lips we were off the walk, and crossing the grass to the place, not ten paces away, where the sweet-faced Quakeress sat, knitting and looking her surprise.
'Auntie, I have brought you a new acquaintance,' Miss Jenrys said, in a voice slightly raised; and then, looking after the retreating figure of the brunette and seeing that she was quite out of hearing, she added, 'and I have found my bag.'
I took the bag from my pocket, where it had grown to seem a quite familiar bulk, and laid it in her lap, and she began at once to narrate to the wondering Quakeress the adventures of the little bag. She heard it through, with here and there a soft little exclamation of wonder, and I saw that she was slightly deaf, and quite given to misunderstanding and miscalling words and phrases.
'Thee has been very lucky, my dear,' the good soul said when Miss Jenrys had done, 'and the young man has been at great pains to restore thy reticule. It was hardly worth so much trouble, do you think?'
'Not in actual value perhaps, auntie, but it contained one or two little keepsakes that I valued'—she breathed a little fluttering sigh—'for the sake of the giver.'
'Is that why thee has mourned the loss of the little bag so much, and said so many unkind things about those poor benighted men of Turkey? Then, indeed, I must add my thanks to thine.' And she turned and extended to me a soft slim hand, ungloved and delicately veined; and then she began to question me about the Fair and the things I had seen, showing in her questions and comments a singular mixture of innocent unworldliness, and native shrewdness, and mother wit.
In the midst of our talk Miss Jenrys broke in with a low, quick exclamation, which caused us to cease and turn toward her.
'Mr. Masters,' she said, in a low tone, 'our friend the brunette is looking over from the gallery windows of the Dakota Building—see! the one next the corner, toward the bridge. She does not make herself needlessly conspicuous, and it was only by the peculiar shade her figure threw, as she stood at one side—the eastern side—that I was drawn to observe her. My eyes are very strong—I am sure I am not mistaken.'
'It is only what I expected,' I replied. 'She will wait, no doubt, until she gets an opportunity to speak with you. Evidently she has some object in view, something to learn from you, or something to tell you. I would give something to know what it is.'
She looked at me a moment with thoughtful eyes. I had purposely spoken in a guarded tone, and when she answered it was in the same manner.
'Would it help you to learn her object?'
'It might, and it might give us a hint as to their reasons for following you.'
'Their reasons? Do you think——' She stopped abruptly.
'I don't know what to think, Miss Jenrys. It looked as if this person were following you on the day you lost your bag, and I am convinced that she is in some way connected with two or more men who are more than suspected of being offenders against the law. Miss Jenrys, do you know of any reason why you should be watched—followed? Have you an enemy? Are you in anyone's way?'
Instead of answering, she turned to the elder lady, who had been listening like one who but half comprehends.
'Auntie, you heard me say that Mr. Masters has strong reasons for thinking that the young woman who just passed us, and who has forced herself upon my notice, and tried to claim my bag, is loitering about now for the purpose of speaking to me?'
'I heard thee: yes, June, surely I did, and I cannot understand the thing at all.'
'Nor do we, Aunt Ann.' She turned to me again. 'I am getting the fever for investigation,' she said, slightly smiling. 'I am not alarmed at what you have told me, but I do not doubt it, and if you think it best, if it will help you, I will give that young woman a chance to ease her mind to me. I will leave you here with Aunt Ann, and go, under her eyes, to the building next to this, on to the Washington House, and give her a chance to follow.'
I waited for the elder lady to speak, and my own surprise was great at her brave proposition—for it was brave, braver than she knew; and I was asking myself if I had the right to let her go to meet—an adventuress at the least, a criminal possibly. But her aunt gave the decisive word.
'My dear June, thee knows I do not like a mystery. If anything is to be learned concerning this person's strange conduct, we should find it out, and end the following and spying, else it will not be safe for thee to come here alone, even by day.'
'Fie! Aunt Ann—with all these guards and half the world looking on? Then I had better go, Mr. Masters.'
'If you will.'
'Have you any advice or instructions to give me?'
'I think you will know how to proceed. Only it might be well to let her talk, if she will.'
'And, Miss Jenrys, let me beg of you, do not go away from this immediate vicinity, and do not walk upon the streets with this person if it can be avoided. Above all, do not make a further appointment with her.'
'I will be discreet. Good-bye for a short time, Aunt Ann.' She dropped the newly-returned bag into her aunt's lap and went away, as lithe and careless-seeming as the veriest pleasure-seeker.
She looked up and down at the windows of the South Dakota House and then walked deliberately in.
'MORE DANGEROUS THAN HATE.'
When we had watched her vanish within the walls of the opposite building, Miss Ross—for 'Aunt Ann' was a spinster—deliberately arose and took the place beside me.
'We can talk better so,' she said placidly, 'and I want to talk with thee.' And she began to roll up her knitting with care.
As we sat there I was almost hidden from view from the streets, because of the thick vine tendrils that fell like a curtain between me and the passers-by, while it did not prevent my looking through the green drapery at my pleasure. But Aunt Ann had placed herself where she was plainly visible to all who passed.
'Now,' she began, having put away her knitting, 'I ask thee honestly, sir, does thee think my niece in real danger of any sort? I cannot understand this strangeness.'
'Truly, Miss Ross,' I answered, 'I know no more than you have heard; but I could do no less than warn the young lady, knowing what I did.'
She bent toward me and scrutinized my face closely, keenly.
'Thy face is a good face,' she said then, 'and I like thy voice; but, young man, I am only a woman, and I have no right to do rashly. My niece trusts thee, but she is but a girl, with all her self-reliance. Forgive an old woman's caution, and—tell me what is thy reason for the interest thee takes in my niece? Cannot thee give me some credential, some voucher for thy good faith, before I say to thee what I wish to say?'
Again I found myself forced to a sudden decision. In my experience as a detective I had found myself in many strange situations, but never before had I felt that I must speak the truth, or not at all, in a position like this. I answered, with scarce a moment's hesitation:
'You are right and wise, madam, and I am sure that I can confide to you the truth concerning my business at the Fair—only asking, because others are concerned with myself, that you regard my information as confidential.'
'Surely,' she said quietly. 'Thee may trust a Friend. We are not given to overmuch speaking. Of course thee has my promise.'
'Then I may tell you that my business here is to watch for and guard against just such people as this person, this brunette, seems to be. I am a member of the Secret Service Bureau.'
We were alone in the little arbour, and I showed her first my badge, sewn inside my coat, and then my photographic pass.
'I thank thee; and may I ask now does my niece know this?'
'I should have found extreme difficulty in gaining her ear or her confidence otherwise,' I answered.
'Ah! I felt sure—I know the child so well—that somehow she had found a reason for her faith in you. There is no prouder or more womanly girl living than my niece, June Jenrys; and now tell me frankly, what does thee fear or anticipate for her?'
'If I knew your niece, Miss Ross, her friends, her foes, her history, I might venture an opinion. As it is, cannot you help me?'
She pondered a little, then:
'Tell me again,' she said, 'all about the bag and this woman.'
Now, I wanted to learn one or two things from this interview, and I realized that our time was short, so I rehearsed the story again, and quite fully, but as briefly as possible. When I had finished, the clear-headed Quakeress was thoughtful again, then she said:
'I don't like this, not in the least; and I feel that thee has been right. I fear my girl is, in some way, in danger. Will you advise me?' she asked, with sudden energy.
'To the best of my ability, willingly.' And then I risked a first repulse. 'If I might ask you to tell me something of your niece—her position—your plans——'
'Of course. My niece there is an orphan and an heiress.'
'Oh!' She gave me a quick glance and went on.
'Her home has been in New York City, with an aunt, formerly her guardian. June is now of age and her own mistress. Of late she has been with me in my little home, less than one hundred miles from this city. She came of her own accord, and was most welcome, and we came here together a little more than a week ago, June declaring that she meant to stay all summer, and I nothing loth.' She stopped and smiled. 'This is all very barren,' she said. 'I think thee will have to question me.'
'Then I think we must be brief. First, are you stopping near the grounds?'
'Very near; on Washington Avenue, little more than two blocks away;' and she mentioned the number.
'Is it a boarding-house, a—pardon me, what I wish to know is if you have made any acquaintances there; if anyone has learned, for instance, that you are ladies of independent fortune, meaning to make a long stay, and consequently likely to have with you more or less money.'
'Ah! I was sure thee could get on. We are in a private house, found for us by the Public Comfort Bureau, and we have taken their only suite; there are no others.'
'And the family?'
Just the two, man and wife, and a servant. It's a cottage, but very cosy.'
'Has your niece an enemy?'
'An enemy? Oh, I trust not! I do trust not! I can't think so. Still, June is a society girl; I know little of that side of her life.'
'Then do you know if she has a friend who is, or may be, a fortune-hunter, one whom you distrust?'
I saw the quick colour flush her sweet face and leave it pale again, and again for a moment she seemed to hesitate.
'I don't quite like to say it,' she began then; 'but since we have been here I have seen a person who, I think, would be a suitor for my niece if she would permit it. I am not versed in the world's ways, but I have seldom found myself deceived in my judgment of man or woman, though I ought not to boast it. But of this man I think three things. He is madly in love with my niece, and his sort of love is not the true sort. It is not lasting, and it is more dangerous than hate. He is a foreigner, with the soft, insincere ways that I cannot like nor trust. He has a strong will and a cruel eye, and—he likes me not at all. Mind thee, I do not accuse him—only he is the one person we have met here and spoken with except thyself; and——' She broke off and shook her head.
'Do you think——' The question did not fall from my lips, but she interpreted it.
'Thee means does she care for him? I do not think it. She is courteous to him, nothing more. Out of his sight I do not think she gives him a thought. But he is here, and she is young. I am poor company for a young girl.'
'I wish all young girls could enjoy such society as yours, Miss Ross. Do you think this business has disturbed Miss Jenrys?'
'Disturbed? June Jenrys has not one drop of coward blood in her veins! I have thought, since she has been with me—I am almost certain, indeed—that something has saddened my girl just a little; she seems quieter than she used, and is almost listless at times, which is not like her. Sometimes she seems quite herself, and that is a very bright self, then at times she is quite preoccupied. I think this affair has aroused her interest, perhaps—ah——'
She was facing the street, and the little quietly-uttered syllable caused me to look through the leaves in the same direction. Miss Jenrys was approaching, on the opposite side, in the shadow of the Dakota Building, and with her, walking slowly and talking volubly, was the little brunette. I was watching her narrowly, and as the two crossed to the side nearest us I saw her start, stop suddenly, and turn toward her companion; as she thus stood, her back was toward the bridge, and a glance in that direction showed me a tall, well-dressed man, who carried a bunch of long-stemmed La France roses, and whose brisk steps brought him in a moment face to face with Miss Jenrys. There was a brief pantomime of greeting between the newcomer and Miss Jenrys, and then she turned toward the brunette, and there was a short exchange of words. Then the man lifted his hat, the brunette bowed and turned away, going toward the entrance, while Miss Jenrys and her companion, whom I had recognised as Monsieur Voisin, came toward us.
He was not aware of my presence, I know, until he had passed the point where the arbour opened opposite the west door of the Nebraska House, but he acknowledged Miss Jenrys' introduction with a perfect bow and an amiable speech, intended for my companions as well as for myself.
He had taken the liberty of calling at their cottage, he informed us, to ask if he might not serve them as escort, but had been told that they were already at the grounds. He considered himself very fortunate to have met them at the very gate, as it were; and then he presented the roses to Miss Jenrys.
She received them with a smile, and a word of praise for their beauty, and then, in that charming way a clever woman has when she chooses to employ it, she made him aware that his kindly offer of escort service must be declined, since, with a nod in my direction, they 'were already provided with an escort.'
I took my cue at once, and after a few more words, addressed to each in turn, and a short exchange of courtesies between him and myself, Monsieur Voisin lifted his hat, saying that since he was so much a laggard as to have lost some charming companions he would endeavour to recover his lost time by travelling to the Convent of La Rabida via the Intramural Railway; and so, smiling and bowing, he went back over the bridge to the station above the entrance.
When he had gone Miss Jenrys turned to me.
'I must ask your pardon for that little implied fib, Mr. Masters; and, auntie, don't look too much shocked. I could not allow Mr. Masters to lose his time, which is no doubt of value, or to go away perhaps before he had heard my experience.' And then, before the elder lady could utter her gentle reproof or I could reply to her speech, she began to tell her story.
'I thought,' she began, 'that I would take the shortest way to my object, so I went in, as you saw, to view South Dakota. It was so small that I was soon upstairs, walking around the little gallery under the dome. Of course I came upon our friend the brunette almost at once, and greeted her so amiably that she joined my promenade without hesitation. Of course you don't care to know all that we said. I let her take the initiative, only keeping an amiable and fairly interested countenance and following her lead. She began by telling me how she "happened to meet me again." She had entered early, and had passed the time looking at some of the State buildings, in order to be near the entrance, where her "mamma" had partly promised to meet her in an hour or so. She did not want to miss her "mamma," and so had loitered, after a little time spent in some of the buildings opposite, in these two houses, where she could overlook the entrance and the bridge. It was not "nice" to be alone so much, and her "mamma" did not like her to be alone, but she could not bear to lose the Fair, any of it. Did I like going about alone? They were stopping at a hotel quite near. Did I like a hotel? etc. In short, one of her objects, I am sure, was to learn how long we mean to stay here in Chicago; and another, who were in the house with us, if it were large, and if there were other rooms to let——'
'One moment,' I broke in. 'Did she ask for your street or number, or both? and how did you reply to her?'
'My answers were politely vague. She did not ask for our address, and I thought it rather strange. She knows that there are "several people at our house, but no room for more," and that our stay depends upon circumstances; but she had one important request to make, and she made it very adroitly. Seeing that I, like herself, was alone, at least sometimes, she had wondered, if it were possible, if I would not like to see the grounds by night. Her "mamma" did not care to come out after six o'clock, she feared the lake breezes; and she did so long to explore the grounds at night. Would it be possible—would I be willing to accompany her, when I had no better companion, of course, for an hour or so, some evening soon, to see the grounds and buildings illuminated? Her "mamma" had told her she might ask, provided of course she was sure, which of course she was, that I was "quite nice and proper." As for herself, she was quite prepared with her cards and references.'
She stopped here, and challenged my opinion with a piquant, questioning look.
'My child!' ejaculated Aunt Ann, 'thee did not accept?'
'Was that all?' I asked.
'It was quite enough,' she replied, quite gravely now. 'She gave me a card with a written address upon it, and I told her I would let her know to-morrow morning by mail.'
'June, thee must not go!'
She turned to me, without replying to her aunt's exclamation.
'What do you think of it?' she asked calmly, but quite earnestly now, in contrast to her light manner of telling her story.
'I think you have done well, both in going to meet this person and in your manner of meeting her modest requests, but I think it has gone far enough.'
'You think, then, that there is a plot—something serious?'
'I can see no other explanation; and now, Miss Jenrys, before another word is said, will you promise me not to allow this person to approach or address you again?'
She looked at me in some surprise. 'You think her so dangerous?' she questioned.
'Yes; you have used the right word.'
Again she watched my face intently, but she did not give the asked-for promise, and her aunt broke in anxiously.
'Mr. Masters, does thee think we would be safer, and wiser, if we went away quickly and quietly?'
'Auntie!' exclaimed the young lady, 'how can you! I thought you were braver. Don't speak of going away. I will not hear of it. I am willing to be advised, within reason, but I would rather risk something than go away from this beautiful place before I have seen all of its wonders, or as many as I can. I am not afraid, and I will not run away. You do not advise such extreme precautionary measures, Mr. Masters, surely?'
'Not since I have heard your wishes so strongly expressed. No, Miss Ross, I think there is no need of going away, now that you are warned and will use caution; but, Miss Jenrys, you will be cautious about going out alone, and especially at evening—you should have an escort, a protector.'
'One might as well be a prisoner at once as be compelled to remain indoors on these lovely nights,' said the girl rebelliously. 'Auntie, I will carry my little revolver. Oh,' in answer to my glance of too plain inquiry, 'I can shoot very well.'
'I shall feel much safer without it, my child,' said Aunt Ann uneasily. 'Mr. Masters, is there not some way—these guards in uniform, or are there not guides who could be employed—in the evening, that is?'
'Auntie dear, I have a better thought still—the chairs. We can secure two reliable men for them, and do our sight-seeing by night in comfort and safety in that way.' She turned a smiling face toward me. 'Don't you think that a simple and sensible arrangement?'
'I do; that is, if you will permit me to choose the men who are to guide the chairs and see that they understand their duty.'
'Why, to be sure. Mr. Masters, we are very stupid, auntie and I. If you could——'
She hesitated, and glanced from her aunt's face to mine.
'June, child, I think I know what is in thy mind; I know the nature of this young man's business in this place, and you are right. If he can spare the time, it is right that we should know, if possible, what we have to guard against, to fear or avoid. Is it thy pleasure, sir, to undertake this for us?'
I turned silently toward Miss Jenrys.
'Aunt Ann is right,' she said, with decision. 'Can you take this matter in hand?'
'I will take it in hand,' I replied. 'But tell me just what you wish. Do you simply want insured protection against annoyance, or do you want this brunette followed up until we learn why she has singled you out for her peculiar attentions?'
'I have heard it said,' Miss Jenrys replied, 'that the detective fever is contagious, and I feel now as if I must have this little mystery unravelled. I dare say it will end in something stupid and commonplace. Still, let us unravel it if possible. What say you, Aunt Ann?'
'I have already told thee that I detest mysteries. Yes, we must know what it means.'
'And know you shall,' I declared, 'if it rests within my power.'
The sun was fast travelling toward the zenith, and I had promised Dave a rendezvous at noon.
It was not difficult to impress upon these two clever women the need for perfect secrecy, and that no one must guess at the truth concerning myself. I had observed that Monsieur Voisin addressed me as Mr. Masseys, and that Miss Jenrys had spoken my name in performing the introduction very indistinctly, and before I left she spoke of this.
'Perhaps you noticed the mistake of Monsieur Voisin in addressing you,' she said. 'It occurred to me, just as I was about to speak your name, that I might be making a blunder, so I mumbled your name, and was glad to hear him call you by another.'
'Your tact was a kindness. Let me remain Mr. Masseys to him and to anyone I may chance to meet in your company. I may be obliged to call upon you, and should we meet, Monsieur Voisin and I, it will be best that he knows me for a visitor like himself.'
When we parted it was with a very thorough understanding, and I went toward my meeting-place wondering what new thing would turn up in this city of surprises, and what Dave would think of all this. I had determined to put a shadow upon the heels of the brunette when she should appear to get the note from Miss Jenrys, which was to be couched in diplomatic language, and take the form of an indefinite postponement rather than a refusal.
When Dave and I met, I gave him, as usual, ample time to say the things of no moment first, in his usual manner; but I did not mention my own affair of the morning, leaving this to be told later and at a time of more leisure, for Dave and I had no secrets from each other when we were together.
And this was the part of wisdom as well as for friendship's sake. I knew always just how his work stood, and should disaster or delay overtake him, I knew just how to report or to go on with his work, as he with mine.
When he joined me, I saw at once that he was more than usually animated, and, contrary to his usual custom, he came straight to the business upon his mind:
'Old man, I have seen Delbras.'
FACE TO FACE WITH DELBRAS.
'You have found Delbras?' I echoed. This was news indeed, and I waited eagerly for further information.
'Yes, sir. I'm sure of it. I don't doubt it; and it was in Midway Plaisance.'
'Go on, Dave.'
'Well, it's a short story. I had been lounging around the big wheel for some time—that monster has a sort of fascination for me; it makes me feel like a small boy, unable to gape enough. I was looking at the people coming and going, and I almost forgot that it was noon, until I heard someone say close beside me, "Almost noon, Jack. Let's get out of this." That startled me. I had not thought it was so late, and I took a look at old Sol and started on. I was walking pretty brisk, and all at once I came up behind a couple that made me start. One of them was Greenback Bob, past doubt, and the other was, or so I first thought, an Arab dressed in American trousers and coat and wearing a fez; but when I came closer and looked him well over I was sure it was Delbras—there were all the points, everything; and I followed them, feeling as pleased as if I had them already in bracelets; and then, just as I was wondering where they were going, they brought up in a crowd before one of those Turkish theatres. The hustler was hustling in his last crowd before dinner, and when the two pushed their way to the ticket booth I kept close behind them.
'Well, sir, they were close by the place, but they bought no tickets, that I'll swear; nevertheless, before I could take in the situation they were walking past the man at the entrance and into the show, and I made all haste to buy a ticket and follow them.
'Of course I felt sure that I was following, for I had seen them pass through the inner door; but when I got inside, and began to look around me, they were not there, neither of them. I looked through the audience, it was a very thin one; made my way down to the stage to look for the door by which they had escaped me, and I did some mental profanity that'll be forgiven me, I know, and then I gave it up and went outside to reconnoitre the old barrack.
'On one side its windows overlooked a lane open straight from the street, and there was a small door in the rear corner, while in the other a door that must have opened behind the scenes inside gave upon a sort of court-like quarters where a lot of fellows where lounging, and a few cooking, at an open fire. I made this discovery through a crack in the high fence in the rear, and I prowled about until I assured myself that my gentlemen were not there.
'I suppose I had hung about that rear inclosure some twenty minutes, or perhaps more, when I suddenly bethought me of the other Turkish booth and the big bazaar, and I came around to take a final look at the front and then move on. When I reached the front, one of the dancing-girls was posturing before the entrance, and a new voice was calling the crowd to "come and see and admire the only original," etc; and, sir, there upon the upper step, exhorting the public, was—Delbras himself.'
'The clever rascal!' I exclaimed.
'You may well say so. Well, sir, it did not take me long to do my thinking. It was almost noon, a quarter to twelve in fact, and I said to myself, "This fellow is playing Turk, and he has turned showman. He has just relieved the other fellow, and will be likely to be here all the afternoon." I couldn't have stayed there if I would without being spotted, for the moment I got myself a little nearer to him he spied me, and began a pantomime of roping me in hand over fist with an imaginary cable. He would have known my face if I had tried to keep near enough to be safe in case of a sudden move, so I took the chance of keeping my appointment with you, getting up a different mug, and hurrying back.'
'And you expect to find him there?'
'I hope to find him there. It would never have done to have stayed. He would have spotted me at once. The fellow is a long remove from a fool. Carl, what do you think of this deal? What, in your opinion, is their little game?'
'Precisely the same that you and I would play in their places. What could a man ask better if he wants to dodge arrest, or evade surveillance, than such a chance as Midway affords him? All he needs is a "pull" with some of these Orientals, and they are here for the most part for the "backsheesh." Besides, you remember, Delbras is said to have crossed at the time many of these fellows were coming over, and he had plenty of chance to make himself solid on the way, or even before they crossed the water. Who knows how much fine work he has done among these Turks, Syrians, Algerians, Egyptians, Japs, and so on?'
'Jove! you're right enough.'
'And then, Delbras has just the face and figure to disguise well; as a Turk, for instance'—Dave made a wry face—'or as an Arab, and even Bob could manage to transform himself into a passable Algerian. Your discovery of this morning, Dave, simply means that, from this moment, in addition to the task of watching all the European faces in search of our men, we shall have the added perplexity of peering under the hoods, turbans, fezes, etc., of all Midway.'
Dave's face was very grave, and he was silent for some moments.
'The very fact,' he finally resumed, 'of finding Delbras in a Turk's fez and playing the "jay" for one of their theatres shows that you're right, Carl. Well'—getting up suddenly and catching his hat from off the floor—'we didn't exactly come here to play; and as for disguises—why, we've played at that game ourselves.'
We took a hasty and somewhat meagre lunch at the nearest 'stand,' and prepared for an afternoon upon the Plaisance. But I saw clearly that some other way must be devised to entrap our quarry; that, given the open sesame of the temples and pagodas, the booths and pavilions, the villages, with their ins and outs, and our tricky and elusive trio would have an advantage against which it would be difficult to contend.
And in this I was right. We found Delbras, or the man we believed to be Delbras, still occupying the 'lecturer's' place at the entrance to the theatre. He was disguised to the extent of a pair of black whiskers and some slightly smoked gold-rimmed nose-glasses, just as he had been in the morning; and he did not labour continuously. Instead, he exchanged often with a second person, who took up the strain of flowery superlatives at about every other half-hour, during which relief the disguised Delbras gave some portion of his time to the box-office and making of change, and the remainder to puffing innumerable cigarettes. But in spite of our combined vigilance, before the afternoon was over, and while the crowds were thickest and rapid movement impossible, the man escaped our vigilance. It did not surprise me. Those Midway throngs made veritable sanctuary for a fleeing criminal, but it made me more than ever determined to find some other and quicker way of getting our hands upon this gang.
All that week we haunted Midway to little purpose. Once in the very centre of the big Turkish bazaar—where everything was sold, and which was extended from time to time out of all proportion to its original size—where, too, I had been arrested and ignominiously marched away, to be rescued by Dave Brainerd—I caught a glimpse of Delbras, this time in full Turkish costume, and minus the beard and smoked glasses.
I followed him recklessly, thrusting aside those who obstructed my way with an impatient and ruthless hand, until I came to a spot, almost at the southern exit of the long and narrow L, where a crowd was packed from side to side of the eight-foot aisle, with mouths agape listening to the exhortations of a boyish-looking fellow, wearing a Turkish fez and a sort of smoking-jacket, and looking, in spite of this, far more like a Jew than a follower of Mahomet. He stood at one side, close to the entrance, and a curtain framed and partially concealed him. Behind him, towering above him by a head and shoulders, was a tall Soudanese, his face black, and shining, and round, and his white robe and turban emphasizing the arm, bare, black, and massive, that waved a continuous accompaniment to the words half spoken, half shouted, by the other:
'Buy your tickets! Buy your tickets now, now, now! Come and see how to get married! Come to see how to get divorced! Come to see how the ladies quarrel with their husbands! Come and see how the ladies quarrel with each other! Buy your tickets now, now, now!'
In this singular combination of the modern fakir plying his trade and the huge black steadily and systematically beckoning toward a stairway partially concealed beyond the curtain, and looking like some giant eunuch of ancient romance, there seemed something which caught and held the public eye and the public wonder; and they crowded about the improvised entrance, and formed an impassable wall between me and the man so short a distance ahead, yet so utterly out of reach.
It was vain to struggle. That Turkish fez had been to Delbras an open sesame through the packed mass of humanity, and for a time I saw it nodding above the lesser heads half-way between the door of exit and that half-concealing curtain. Then, presto! it was gone; and though I went wildly around to the farther entrance, pushing and jostling to right and left, and bringing down upon myself anathemas without number; though I reached the south end of the building in a moment, seemingly, and gazed in every direction, Delbras had vanished.
It was while making this wild rush that I brought upon myself the attention of one of the very guards who had led me ignominiously away from the presence of Smug and the Camps.
He had seen my hasty rush from the building, and, without at first recognising me, had followed me to inquire the cause of my haste.
I knew him at the first moment; and when I had answered his inquiry, he knew me.
'The matter? Oh, I was trying to overtake a—a person whom I particularly wished to see,' I replied; and I saw on his countenance the dawning look of recognition. 'Seems to me you and I have met before. You don't want to arrest me again, do you?' I added testily; and then I pulled myself together and asked more amiably, 'Did you think I was running away with another wallet?'
The young fellow's face brightened. Dave's words had told him and his companions who I was, and he answered, very respectfully:
'No, sir, not this time; though I had not recognised you at first. Can I help you in any way, sir?'
'N—no, I'm afraid there's no help for me this time. By the way, did you happen to see any of those parties again after you marched me off so cruelly?'
He knitted his brows to assist his memory, and finally replied:
'Come to think, sir, I did see one of them; at least one of the persons who had been swindled like yourself.'
'Yes, sir. You see, we didn't quite catch on at the time; it was all done so quick, and I got the idea that it was a sort of pocket-game; but it happened that I met the other gentleman, the next day, if I remember, and I spoke to him, for I knew his face at once.'
'Why, not very tall, and—well, not very light nor very dark, I should say; not much hair on his face, and dressed in a sort of gray suit.'
'Yes, I see.' I recognised the description as that of Smug, and determined to hear more. 'And what did he say?'
'Why, nothing at first; but when I saw him looking at me sort of sharp, I just stepped up and asked him how the row finished after the other guard and I had hustled you off; and then I told him how we had found out our mistake, and how your friend had let us off easy, although both were on the detective force. And then he explained how, as you and he were trying to keep the old man and his wife from being fleeced, one of the gang had set up the cry of "Pickpocket!" and had pointed at you; and then, you know, when we fished that wallet out of your pocket it looked a——'
'Yes,' I replied gravely; 'it certainly did.'
'He said,' went on the guard, 'that he had tried to make us understand that it was all a mistake about you, you know, but we didn't hear him.'
'So you told him that my friend and I were upon the S.S.?' I said.
'Why, yes; was that——'
'Never mind. What did he say about the others—the tall man with the fez, for instance? He had a notebook and some bills in his hand, you may remember.'
'Yes, sir, I do. Yes, he told me about him. Jumbo! but didn't you all get into a muddle. He had a narrow escape, too—the tall man, you know. Did you know who he was?'
I shook my head.
'Well, sir, he came very near being fleeced too. He wanted to change a bill, it seems, and the old farmer and the other fellow—the one that told me, you know, had both been getting some change from a man that claimed to make a business of changing foreign paper and large bills, to accommodate people.'
'Oh!' I ejaculated.
'Yes, sir; and this gentleman—he was a big man, you know; one of them foreign managers, and couldn't speak very good English—was just going to change with them, a hundred, I think he said, when somebody sets up the cry of pickpocket, you know.'
'Yes, I know; go on.'
'Well, sir, after you was gone, of course in the crowd the real pickpocket got off scot-free. It turned out that the farmer and him that told me had been "done" by some sharper, and that they was just ready to pass off on this foreigner a lot of counterfeit money.'
'Great Caesar!' I ejaculated, and then checked my hasty speech. After all, why should I expend my breath or wrath upon this guileless guard, who, after all, was doing me a service? and how cleverly Smug had twisted the story, and made it serve his turn! But it must not be repeated—if it had not been already.
'Look here,' I said in a more amiable tone, 'have you told this affair, all or any of it, to anyone?'
'Who—me? No. Haven't had the chance. The fellow that was with me that day was taken off next day, and I've not seen a soul I know since. I did want to tell him.'
'It's well you did not. Look here, if you want to keep out of trouble, you must keep perfectly dark about this matter. It's being sifted on the quiet, and they'd take it very ill at headquarters if one of the guards was to "leak" on them, and maybe spoil their game. And if you should chance to meet this party again, remember, mum's the word.'
'I'll keep mum, sir. I don't want to lose my job, not yet, before I've seen half the Fair.'
'Very good. Now, how long have you been on duty about this place?'
'Two weeks, sir—ever since I was put on the force.'
'And this foreigner—manager as you call him—did you have a good look at him?'
'Oh yes, sir.'
'Ever seen him before?'
'Now that you ask, I'm quite sure I have, but not knowing who he was. Yes, I'm sure I've seen him about the village among the Turks more than once.'
'Why, he's good-looking, and tall, and dark; got a sort of proud gait, and square shoulders; always dresses swell.'
'Thank you.' I had squeezed my orange dry, and was anxious to leave him. I had suspected it before, and was now convinced that unwittingly, in my attempt to play the guardian angel to Adam Camp and his wife, I had come face to face with Delbras.
When I compared notes with Dave that night he was quite of my opinion.
It had been decided between Miss Jenrys and myself that the little brunette should not be altogether ignored, at least for a time; and I had taken it upon myself to provide the letter which was to put off until a more convenient season the proposed survey of the White City by night.
After some thought I had written the following, and posted it according to directions, in care of a certain cafe on Fifty-seventh Street:
'DEAR MISS B——,
'I find that I can hardly evade the duties one owes to courteous friends, and must for a few evenings devote myself to these. It is very likely that some of the friends of my chaperon will visit the Fair, perhaps this week, in which case she will perhaps be able to dispense with me for one evening; therefore please inform me if you should, as you suggested, change your address, so that I may drop you a note when the right time comes.
'Yours, etc., 'J. E. J.'
This letter was submitted to Miss Jenrys, and then posted, but not until the superintendent had secured for me the services of a half-grown boy who had won a reputation as a keen and tenacious 'shadow.' Him I set to await the coming of our brunette; and, lest he should mistake or miss her, I waited in attendance with him until she came, which was at an early hour and in haste.
I had also placed a man upon Stony Island Avenue, armed with minute descriptions of Smug, Greenback Bob, Delbras, and the brunette, and with instructions to watch the cafes and houses upon a line with the Fair-grounds, and especially within a certain radius within which we knew parties of their peculiar sort were received 'and no questions asked.'
As for Brainerd and myself, we had laid out a new system, and upon it we founded a strong hope for ultimate success; though we recognised more and more the fact that we had to cope with men who were more than ordinarily keen, clever, and skilled in the fine art of dodging and baffling pursuit. In fact, I was now thoroughly convinced that they were living and working upon the supposition that they were constantly watched and pursued, and that they governed their movements and shifted their abode accordingly.
There was one thing which weighed upon my mind—I had almost said conscience—and troubled me uncomfortably, and that was the attitude I was permitting the disguised brunette to maintain toward Miss Jenrys.
Since she had entered so earnestly into the work of ferreting out the motive for the brunette's persistent attentions, she had manifested such a willingness to aid me by allowing that personage to continue the acquaintance already begun, that, while I appreciated it as an earnest of her trust in me, it was, nevertheless, embarrassing.
I was not yet ready to tell her that I believed the brunette to be a man in masquerade—I must be able to prove my charge first; and yet I had determined that they should not meet again if I could stand between them.
It was to speak an additional word of caution, and to tell the two ladies that two stalwart and trusty chair-pushers were engaged for their evening sight-seeing, that I set out one morning to make my first call upon them at their apartment on Washington Avenue. It had been decided that, even in such a throng as that of the White City, it would not be wise to meet within the grounds too often, or too openly. We were sure of more or less surveillance from one source; and I was quite ready to believe that from more than one direction interested eyes were watching the coming and going of Miss Jenrys, if not of myself.
Already I had tested the cooking and service of a variety of the restaurants, cafes, and tables d'hote within the gates, and I had also found that outside, and especially within easy reach from the northern or Fifty-seventh Street gate, were to be found a number of most cleanly and inviting little places, more or less pretentious, and under various names, but all ready, willing, and able to serve one a breakfast, dinner, or luncheon such as would tempt even chronic grumblers to smile, feast, and come again.
I had breakfasted that morning at one of these comforting places, and upon leaving it had crossed the street to purchase a cigar from the stand on the corner, and having lighted it had kept on upon the same side.
I had meant to recross at the next corner, for half-way between two streets, stationed beneath some trees upon a vacant lot, was a bootblack's open-air establishment which I had a mind to patronize. As I neared the scene, however, and glanced across, I saw that both of the bootblack's chairs were occupied, and upon a second glance I noted that one of the occupants was my recent acquaintance, Monsieur Voisin, Miss Jenrys' friend.
He was busy with a newspaper, or seemed to be, and glancing down at my feet to make sure they were not too shabby for a morning call, I kept straight on and turned down Washington Avenue upon its farther or western side.
I had bought a paper along with my cigar, and as I ran up the steps of the pretty modern cottage where the two ladies had established themselves I threw away the one and put the other in my pocket, wondering as I did so if Monsieur Voisin was also on his way to this place, and smiling a little, because I had at least the advantage of being first.
It was so early that the ladies had not yet returned from breakfast, which they took at a cafe "aroond the corner joost," so the servant informed me. But I was expected, and I was asked to wait in their little reception-room, where a sunshade and a pair of dainty gloves upon a chair, and a shawl of soft gray precisely folded and lying upon a small table, not to mention the books, papers, and little feminine knicknacks, gave to the room a look of occupancy and ownership.
I had just unfolded my paper, and was glancing over the headlines upon the first page, when the two ladies entered, and I dropped my paper while rising to salute them.
In anticipation of or to forestall a possible call from Monsieur Voisin, I made haste to get through with the little business in hand, and obtained from Miss Jenrys, without question or demur, her promise not to hold communication with the brunette, at least by letter, and to avoid if possible a meeting until I should be able to enlighten her more fully.
'I do not want to lose sight of her,' I said, in scant explanation, 'and it seems that we can best keep our hold through her pursuit of you; but I would rather lose sight of her altogether and begin it all over again than let one line in your handwriting go into such hands'—I avoided those false pronouns 'her' and 'she' when I could—'and hope and trust you may be spared another interview. Please take this upon trust, Miss Jenrys, and you too, Miss Ross, and believe that I will not keep you in the dark one moment longer than is needful.'
They assured me of their willingness to wait, even in the face of what Miss Jenrys laughingly described as a devouring curiosity; and then, while she turned the talk upon the Fair and some of its wonders, Miss Ross, murmuring a word of polite excuse, took up my paper from the place where it had fallen from my hands.
'Thee will allow me—I have not seen our morning paper.'
'Oh, Aunt Ann, I had entirely forgotten it!' cried her niece contritely.
'It is not important, child,' replied the smiling Quakeress. 'There is very little in it now except the Fair, and that we can better read at first hand.'
Nevertheless, she began to turn the pages and to scan here and there through her dainty gold-framed spectacles, while Miss Jenrys began to interrogate me concerning the mysteries of Midway Plaisance.
'We hear such very contradictory stories, and I do not want to miss any feature of the foreign show worth seeing,' she said, with an arch little nod and smile across to her aunt, 'nor does Aunt Ann; and I don't quite feel like bearding all those Midway lions unguarded, unguided, and—unadvised.'
I was not slow to offer my own individual services, in such an earnest manner that, after a little hesitation and the assurance that it would not only not conflict with my 'business engagements,' but would afford an especial pleasure, inasmuch as I had not yet 'done' the Plaisance in any thorough manner, she finally accepted my proffered services for her aunt and herself, adding at last:
'To be perfectly honest, Mr. Masters, I know Aunt Ann will never enter that alarming, fascinating Ferris Wheel without an escort whom she can trust should we lose our heads and want to jump out one hundred feet above terra firma; and I am quite sure I shall want to jump. I always am tempted to jump from any great height. Do you believe in these sensations? I have heard people say that they could hardly restrain themselves from jumping into the water whenever they ride in a boat or cross a bridge.'
'I have heard of such cases,' I replied. And so we talked on, discussing this singular and seldom met with, but still existing fact, of single insane freaks in the otherwise perfectly sane, when the gentle Quakeress, uttering a little shocked exclamation and suddenly lowering her paper, turned toward us.
'Pardon me! but, June, child, what did you tell me was the name of the young man to whom thy friend Hilda O'Neil is betrothed?'
'Trent, auntie—Gerald Trent.'
'Of Boston; yes. Why, Aunt Ann?'
'I—I fear, then, that there is sorrow in store for thy young friend. Gerald Trent is missing.'
The Quakeress held the paper toward me, I being nearest her, and pointing with a finger to some headlines half-way down the page, said:
'Perhaps thee would better read it.'
I took the paper and read aloud these lines:
'"ANOTHER WORLD'S FAIR MYSTERY.—GERALD TRENT AMONG THE MISSING.
'"Another Young Man swallowed up by the Maelstrom.
'"Yesterday we chronicled the disappearance of Harvey Parker who was traced by his friends to this city, where he had arrived to visit the Exposition for a week or more. He is known to have arrived at the Rock Island Depot and to have set out for the Van Buren Street Viaduct en route for the Fair. This was on Monday last, five days ago, since which time, as was stated in our yesterday's issue, he has not been seen or heard from by his friends or by the police, who are searching for him.
'"Nearly two weeks ago, Gerald Trent, only son of Abner Trent, one of Boston's millionaire merchants, came to this city to see the Exposition and to secure accommodations for his family, who were to come later. He stopped at an up-town hotel for some days, visited the Fair, and secured apartments for his friends, which were to have been vacated for their use in a few days.
'"He had written to his family, telling them to await his telegram, which they would receive in three or four days. When this time had expired and no telegram came, they waited another day, and then sent him a message of inquiry. This being unanswered, they made inquiry at his up-town hotel, and then began a search, which ended in the conviction that young Trent had met with misfortune, if not foul play. On Monday last he left the hotel, saying to one of the inmates of the house that he should have possession of a fine suite of rooms, within three blocks of the north entrance, which presumably means Fifty-seventh Street, within three days, and that he meant to send for his friends that day by telegraph. No message was received at his home, as has been said, and nothing has been heard of him since that day.
'"Young Trent wore, rather unwisely, a couple of valuable diamonds, one in a solitaire ring, the other in a scarf-pin; he also carried a fine watch, and was well supplied with money. The police are working hard upon the case. The list of the missing seems to be increasing."'
* * * * *
I put the paper down and looked across at Miss Jenrys. I had recognised the name Hilda O'Neil as that of her Boston correspondent whose letter I had found in the little black bag, and by association the name of Gerald Trent also. Miss Jenrys was looking pale and startled.
'Oh!' she exclaimed. 'That is what Hilda's telegram meant.'
'You have had a telegram from Boston?' I ventured.
'Yes. You perhaps remember the letter in my bag?'
'In that letter Hilda—Miss O'Neil—spoke of Mr. Trent's delay, and of her anxiety. I did not reply to her letter at first, expecting to hear from or see her, for she had my address. It was only a freak my telling her to write me through the World's Fair post-office; but when she did not come—on the day before I met you, in fact—I wrote just a few lines of inquiry. In reply to this I received a telegram last evening. I will get it.' She crossed the room and opened a little traveller's writing-case, coming back with a yellow envelope in her hand. 'There it is,' she said, holding it out to me.
I took it and read the words:
'Have you seen Gerald? Hilda.'
'Did you reply to this?' I asked, as I gave it back to her.
'At once—just the one word, "No."'
'Do you know this young man?' I asked.
'I have never even seen him, but I know that he bears a splendid reputation for manliness, sobriety, and studiousness. He was something of a bookworm at college, I believe, and has developed a taste for literature. You see, I have heard much of him. Oh, I am sure something has happened to him, some misfortune! You see, she had asked him to call upon me, and he would never have left Hilda—not to mention his parents and sister—five days in suspense if able to communicate with them.'
'If he is the person you describe him, surely not.'
She gazed at me a moment, as if about to reproach me for the doubt my words implied, and dropped her eyes. Then she answered quietly:
'The simple fact that John O'Neil, Hilda's father, has accepted him as his daughter's fiance is sufficient for me. Mr. O'Neil is an astute lawyer and a shrewd judge of character; he has known the Trents for many years, and he already looks upon Gerald Trent as a son.'
'And Mr. O'Neil—where is he?'
'Abroad at present; it is to be regretted now.'
I took up the paper and re-read the account of young Trent's disappearance; and Miss Jenrys dropped her head upon her hand, and seemed to be studying the case. After a moment of silence, Miss Ross, who had been a listener from the beginning, leaned toward her niece and said, in her gentlest tone:
'June, my child, ought we not to try and do something? What does thee think? Should we wait, and perhaps lose valuable time, while the Trents are on their way?'
Miss Jenrys lifted her head suddenly.
'Auntie,' she exclaimed, 'you are worth a dozen of me! You are right! We must do something. Mr. Masters, what would you do first if you were to begin at once upon the case?'
'Get, from the chief of police if necessary, the name of the up-town hotel where young Trent was last seen.'
'And then?' she urged, in a prompt, imperious manner quite new in my acquaintance with her.
'Obtain a description of him from some of the people there, and learn all that can be learned about him.'
'And what next?' she urged still.
'Next, I would seek among the houses within two or three blocks from the north entrance for the rooms which he engaged, and which are perhaps still held for him.'
'Mr. Masters, can you do this for me?' She was sitting erect before me, the very incarnation of repressed activity, and I knew, as well as if she had said it, that she would never permit my refusal to weaken the determination just taking shape in her mind to do for Hilda O'Neil what she could not have done for herself, and to do it boldly, promptly, openly. She saw my hesitation, and went on hurriedly:
'I know how busy you must be, how much I am asking, but you have undertaken to follow up that brunette and find out the reason for her interest in me, and surely this is far, far more important—a man's life, the happiness of a family, my friend's happiness at stake, perhaps; for I am sure that no common cause, nothing but danger, illness, or death, could keep Gerald Trent from communicating with his parents and his promised wife. Drop the brunette and all connected with her, Mr. Masters, and give such time as you would have given to my affairs, and more if possible, to this search, I beg of you. At least, promise me that you will conduct the search, and employ as many helpers as you need. I'll give you carte-blanche. Deal with me as you would with a man, and if I can aid in any other way than with my purse, let me do it.'
As she paused, with her eyes eagerly fixed upon my face, the sweet Quakeress leaned toward me, and put out her white slender hand in earnest appeal.
'"Thy brother's keeper;" remember that a deed of mercy is beyond and above all works of vengeance. What is the capture of a criminal, of many of them, compared to the rescue, the saving, perchance, of an honest man's life? I beg of thee, consent, help us!'
There may be men who could have resisted that appeal. I could not, and did not. I did not throw my other responsibilities to the winds; I simply did not think of them at the moment, when I took the soft hand of the elder woman in my own, and, looking across at the younger, said:
'I will do my best, Miss Jenrys, and, that not one moment may be lost, tell me, can you describe young Trent?'
'Not very well, I fear.'
'And his picture? Your friend must have that?'
'Of course,' half smiling.
'Telegraph her to forward it to you at once. And has your friend at any time mentioned the hotel where young Trent would stop? Most of our Eastern visitors have a favourite stopping-place.'
'I know.' She had made a movement toward her desk, but paused and turned toward me. 'I think it is safe to say that the two families would share the same house. They did in visiting the summer resorts, always; and I know where Mr. O'Neil and Mr. Trent went when they attended the great convention in this city.' She named the place, and I promptly arose.
'I will go there at once; but you may as well give me the Trents' address, and permit me the use of your name. If I am wrong I will telegraph from up-town for the name of his hotel.'
As I turned my face cityward that morning I was not only fully committed to the search for missing Gerald Trent, but I was determined to convert my friend and partner to the same undertaking.
And having now found time for sober, second thought, I had also determined not to relinquish my search for the little brunette and her secret, nor for Messrs. Bob Delbras and company. Had I not carte-blanche?
As I left the house, intent upon my new errand, I was not surprised to see approaching it, almost at the door, in fact, Monsieur Voisin. We exchanged greetings at the entrance, and I had walked some distance before it occurred to me to wonder how it came about that Monsieur Voisin, whom I had last seen at the bootblack's stand, two blocks north and east, happened to be approaching Miss Jenrys' residence from the south.
THE KING OF CONFIDENCE MEN.
I found a number of people at the big up-town hotel who could tell me a little of Gerald Trent, as he appeared to them after a few days' acquaintance; and these were unanimous in saying and believing that young Trent was not absent by his own will.
'It's a case of foul play, I'm sure of it,' declared the clerk, to whom I had represented myself as 'acting for one of Mr. Trent's friends.' 'Cowles saw him at the viaduct, he told me, just before he left; that was five days ago now, and Trent was then going down to secure those rooms and see that they were put in order. He went by the Suburban, because he wanted to go over to the avenues, and Cowles went down by the Whaleback.'
There was no more to be learned up-town. Gerald Trent had been last seen at the viaduct at the foot of Van Buren Street, where the 'cattle cars,' the 'Suburban,' and numerous boats left the Lake Front and the wharf beyond en route for the Fair City. This was at ten o'clock a.m., or near it.
I went back to the Fair City, as Trent had last gone, upon the Suburban train; and before noon had begun an exploration, in the vicinity of the north entrance, for the rooms engaged by him.
Bounding the Fair City on the west was the street known as Stony Island Avenue, and after a short survey of such near portions of this street as I had not seen, I satisfied myself that young Trent would not have selected it as a place of abode for his lady mother, his sister, and his sweetheart. One block westward, running south from Fifty-seventh, was a short street called Rosalie Court, and after exploring this I pushed on to Washington Avenue, and then to Madison, running respectively one and two blocks parallel with Rosalie Court.
Something impelled me to pass by Washington Avenue, upon which Miss Jenrys and her aunt were lodged, and to explore the farther avenue first.
'If the rooms are within two or three blocks of the north entrance,' I said to myself, 'and if they are upon this street, I shall find them within one block north or south from this corner,' meaning Fifty-seventh Street, and I turned southward and began my search in earnest.
Not long since this part of the city had been a beautiful suburb, and the pretty cottages and more stately villas were, for the most part, isolated in the midst of their own grounds. Every other house it seemed, and some of the most pretentious, bore upon paling, piazza, or door-post the legend 'Rooms to Let,' and I applied and entered at a number of handsome and home-like portals, first upon the east side and then upon the west, crossing at Fifty-eighth Street to turn my face northward.
At Fifty-seventh I paused. 'It is something more than two blocks from the Fair entrance to this point,' I mused, 'and therefore I ought to go but one block in this direction.' But when I had traversed the block to Fifty-sixth Street, with no success, I crossed the street and went on, saying, 'It's easy for a stranger to be mistaken in a matter of distance.' At the north end of this square stood a large old-fashioned mansion, of a decidedly Southern type. It stood upon terraced grounds, and was a dignified reminder of better days, with its stained and time-roughened stuccos, and the worn paint about the ornate cornices. 'Rooms to Let' was the sign upon a tree-trunk, and after some doubt and hesitation, I went up the terraced steps, crossed the lawn, and rang a bell much newer than its surroundings.
Once admitted to the wide, inviting hall, with its glimpse of cheerful dining-room beyond, and a large cool parlour opening at the side, I felt that Trent might well have sought quarters in this roomy, airy house; and when the 'lady of the house,' a woman small, elderly, delicate, and refined, appeared before me, I put my question hopefully.
'Madam, have you among the inmates of your house a Mr. Gerald Trent?' I saw by her sudden change of countenance that the name was not strange to her, and was not surprised when she informed me that a Mr. Trent had engaged her best suite of rooms for himself and four others; that he had called upon her on the Monday previous, paid her an advance upon the rooms, and informed her that his friends would arrive in three days, if not sooner.
'They should have been here,' she concluded, 'the day before yesterday, but they have not appeared, and we have had no word from them. It is very inconvenient for me. Of course, the rooms are secured until Monday, but I have no means of knowing if they will come then; or when I may consider them at my disposal.'
It was evident she had not seen the papers, and I at once put the notice in her hand, and told her the nature of my business.
There seemed but one opinion of Gerald Trent. When she had read the paper and heard my statement, she said, at once, what the inmates of the hotel had said before her:
'Something has happened him. He never went away like this of his own accord. I never saw a more simple and sincere young man.' And then, as if by an afterthought, 'He had too much money about him; he was too well dressed, and—I don't think he was of a suspicious nature.'
I learned from her very little to help my further search. Trent had met none of the guests of the house upon either of his visits there. In reply to a question, she had said:
'He seemed in the best of spirits when he paid the advance money and went away; and he said that he meant to spend the day in the Plaisance. I remember that he laughed when he said this, and added something to the effect that he wanted to decide, before the ladies came, where it would pay to go on the Plaisance, and what were the things they would not care for. He had a rather frank and boyish way of expressing himself.'
'And you think he went from here to the Fair?'
'I believe he went from here to Midway Plaisance. There is an entrance on this street, three blocks south, and I walked to the door with him and pointed the way to it.'
And this was all. Of course I took from her lips, as from the people up-town, a minute description of Trent's dress and appearance on the day of his disappearance, and then I went back to the Fair by the Midway gate, and wished impatiently for the time to come when I should meet Brainerd and consult with him. This I knew would not be until a late hour, and as I lounged down the Plaisance I began to look about for the handsome guard, in whom I had taken a decided interest.
I found him easily—as erect, soldierly, attentive to duty as usual—and we spent the greater part of two hours chatting, while we paced up and down Midway. He was a bright talker, and he entertained me with a number of amusing incidents, graphically related, and illustrative of the life of the Plaisance.
During the two hours, however, I broke the monotony of a continuous tramp by an excursion, now on one side and then on the other; now to see the glass-blowers; now the submarine exhibit; and, lastly, to the Irish village that clustered about Blarney Castle.
It was on my return from this that, as I approached him, I saw, with some surprise, that he was in earnest conversation with a woman, and as I came nearer and he shifted his position slightly, I saw that the woman was none other than that ignis fatuus the brunette. Her back was toward me, and she was squarely facing him, so that, as I came nearer and directly toward them, I caught his eye, and, nodding with a gesture which I think he understood, I turned away and watched the manoeuvres of 'the little mystery,' as Brainerd so often called the brunette, wondering if this unknown guard was also to be enmeshed in the plot she seemed to be weaving. And then there flashed into my mind that first meeting with the guard, and his avowed acquaintance with Miss Jenrys. Was this interview in any way connected with or concerning her?
The brunette had not seen me; of that I was quite assured, and even so I had small fear of recognition, for while I had not, on the occasion of our two meetings face to face, worn any disguise, I was confident that the widely different garments worn on the two occasions, together with my ability to elongate, twist, and change my features, and to alter the pitch of my voice, was masquerade sufficient. But I did not desire to become known to this anomalous personage, and I lingered here and there, within sight and at a safe distance, until I saw her nod airily and trip away, flinging a smile over her shoulder.
In the time spent in waiting the end of this little dialogue I had decided that I must know this young man—so reticent, yet so frank—better, and that I must win his confidence, and to do this perfect frankness, I knew, would be my best aid.
When the 'mystery' was safely out of sight, and on this occasion I had no desire to follow her, I rejoined the guard, and I was sure that I surprised upon his face a look of perplexity and annoyance, which vanished when I put my hand upon his arm, and, falling into step with him, began:
'I hope you understood my meaning when I went into ambush so suddenly? I really did not care to encounter your friend.'
'That is hardly the right name, seeing that the lady is a stranger to me,' he replied, slightly smiling.
'Indeed!' I retorted. 'Then may I wager that I know what she had to say to you?' I saw him flush, and his lips compress themselves as if to hold back some hasty speech, but I went lightly on: 'That is the young person who claimed the bag belonging to your acquaintance—you remember the circumstance—and if she is still as angry at me as she was on that day she was doubtless imploring you to "run me in," and put me in more irons than Christopher Columbus ever wore. Honestly now, am I not right?'
He was silent and seemed perplexed again, and I promptly changed my tone. 'If I am mistaken, and if the young woman is someone you know, I beg your pardon; but, remembering how she turned her look upon you on the occasion of that first meeting——'
'One moment,' he broke in. 'It is possible that we have been unjust in this case, and I think I may tell you, without a breach of confidence, what this young lady'—I thought he emphasized the 'lady' somewhat—'who by-the-by is a stranger to me, had to say just now.'
I bowed my assent, lest speech might cause a discussion, and he went on:
'The young lady, after excusing herself for doing what she termed an unconventional thing in addressing me, asked at once after you.'
'After me? But—go on.'
'She spoke of you as "the person" I was talking with on the day when her friend lost her bag and she tried to reclaim it, and when I disclaimed all knowledge of you, she told me how "cavalierly"—that is also her word—you refused to yield up the bag, and how anxiously her friend was hoping to secure that bag—even yet.'
'You will pardon me,' he went on, not heeding my interjection, and speaking with marked courtesy, 'but I almost fear you have mistaken this young lady.'
'Because she not only gave me the name of the owner of the bag, but she assured me that the lady recognised me in passing, a thing which I regret, and she called me by my name.'
Here was a coil indeed. My head was a nest of queer thoughts and suspicions, but I kept to the subject by asking:
'And may I ask how you replied to all this?'
'In the only way I could. You were a stranger, who was anxious, I felt sure, to restore the bag to its owner. You had assured me of this much. As to your address, I could not give it, and your name I did not know; but I added the promise that should I chance to meet you, as I might, I would ask you to send the bag to the lady's address.'
'Pardon—was this the lady's proposition?'
'No. She asked me to get it from you—the bag.'
'And to restore it through her?'
'And the address? Did she give you the young lady's address, the owner's, or her own?'
'She gave the owner's address.'
'Then if you will give it to me I can promise that to-morrow will see the little bag in its owner's possession.'
He took from his pocket a visiting card, upon which was engraved the name June E. Jenrys, and underneath in pencil the address.
I had seen just such a card, minus the pencilled address, in Miss Jenrys' card-tray on Washington Avenue; and that pencilled address! It was that of the cafe to which Miss Jenrys was to send her note concerning the evening excursion.
I had not spoken of the adventure of the bag during the afternoon, and I had not meant to do so. Since our last meeting my position in relation to Miss Jenrys had been changed. I was now in some degree the guardian of her interests, and while I believed in and admired this handsome and secretive stranger guard, and might have entrusted him with a secret all my own, perhaps, my mouth was closed concerning the young lady whom he professed to know yet was unwilling to meet.
As I looked at the tall, lithe figure, the erect head and handsome face, I wondered what this mystery could be which caused him to withhold his name from those who might be his friends; to shun a lovely girl whom he knew and in whom he was evidently interested; and, above all, which linked him, as was now fairly proven, through the wily brunette, with the strange pursuit of Miss Jenrys. Was it possible, I asked myself, that this medley of mysterious happenings could reach back through the brunette to Greenback Bob, the counterfeiter, and Delbras, the king of confidence men?
THAT LITTLE DECOY.
I stowed the false address in my waistcoat pocket, and after promising to see the guard again on the next day, a promise which I fully intended to keep, and exchanging a few friendly but important sentences with him, we shook hands and separated. We had grown almost friendly in our manner each toward each, in spite of the fact that neither knew the name of the other. He had told me where he lodged, among the number who were housed within the grounds; and we had agreed to dine together at an early date at a place which he had recommended in reply to my inquiry after a satisfactory place to dine within the walls of the Fair. He had dined there regularly, he assured me, and I was glad to know this, for I foresaw that I might need his help in the defence of Miss Jenrys and her interests, and I could not know too much of his whereabouts.
'Till we meet and wine and dine,' I said flippantly, upon leaving him, little dreaming how soon and in what manner we were to meet again.
As I left the Plaisance the handsome guard was still the subject of my thoughts. That he had told me the truth concerning his interview with the brunette I did not doubt, but was it the whole truth?
All that he had rehearsed to me could have been said in much less than half the time she had spent in brisk conversation with the guard, whose part seemed to have been that of listener.
Not that I had any right to demand or expect his full confidence; still, why had he withheld it; and what was it that the brunette had slipped into his hand at parting?
Another thing, we had planned to dine together soon, and he knew that I was, or seemed to be, quite at leisure, while he would be relieved from duty very soon, and yet—well, he had certainly not grasped at the opportunity.
I did not expect to meet Brainerd until a late hour, and I had decided to do nothing further in the matter of the Trent disappearance until we could talk it over. In fact, there was little to be done until I had seen Miss Jenrys and her aunt, and reported to them, as I had engaged to do at seven o'clock. At this hour I called and made my meagre report, which, however, was better than nothing, as the ladies were good enough to declare.
They had remained at home all day, and late in the afternoon received a message from Miss O'Neil. The picture, it assured her, would be sent at once.
A little to my surprise, I found that the ladies were prepared to go to town in company with Monsieur Voisin, to hear a famous monologue artist. He had persuaded them, Miss Jenrys said, rather against their wishes, but they had at last decided that this would be better than to pass the evening as they had already passed the day, in useless speculation, discussion, and anxiety.
Of course I agreed with them; but I came away early, not caring to encounter the handsome Frenchman again, and I re-entered the gates of the Fair City a little out of tune, and wandered about the brightly-illuminated and beautiful Court of Honour, finding, for the first time in this place, that time was dragging, and wishing it were time to meet Dave, and begin what I knew would be a lively and two-sided discussion.
At eight o'clock there was music upon the Grand Plaza, and the band-stand was surrounded by a merry, happy crowd. At nine the band was playing popular airs, and a picked chorus that had been singing in Choral Hall in the afternoon was filling the great space with vocal melody, in which from time to time the crowd joined with enthusiasm.
Coming nearer this centre of attraction, I saw, seated near the water's edge, and quite close to the great Fountain, the little brunette and a companion. It was impossible to mistake the brunette, for she wore the costume of the afternoon—a somewhat conspicuous costume, as I afterward remembered; but her companion puzzled me. She was tall and slight, and quietly well dressed, and her face could not well be seen under the drooping hat which she wore. There seemed, at the very first, something familiar about this hat. It was broad-brimmed, slightly curved upward at the sides, and bent to shade the face and fall over the hair at the back; but long dark plumes fell at one side, and a third stood serenely erect in front; and suddenly I remembered that I had seen Miss Jenrys wear such a hat upon the day of our first meeting. But Miss Jenrys, in a dainty white theatre bonnet, had gone up town; and there was no monopoly of drooping hats and feathers—so I told myself.
But I wondered what mischief, new or old, the brunette was bent upon, and I decided to give her the benefit of my unoccupied attention.
From time to time the two changed their positions, but I noted that they kept upon the outskirts of the throng, and seemed to avoid the well-lighted spaces, sitting or standing in the shadow of the great statues, the columns, and angles.
For nearly an hour the music continued, vocal for the most part, and the crowd kept in place, singing and applauding by turns. I had been standing near the east facade of the Administration Building for some time, having followed the brunette and her companion to that side of the Plaza, when I saw a group of Columbian Guards, evidently off duty, place themselves against the wall quite near me. They were strolling gaily, and after a little, as the singers began a national anthem, some of them joined in the chorus or refrain. It was amateurish singing enough, until suddenly a new voice lifted itself among them—a tenor voice—sweet, strong, high, and thoroughly cultured. I turned to look closer, and saw that the singer was my friend, the handsome guard. He was standing slightly aloof from the others, and when he saw that his music was causing many heads to turn, he suddenly ceased singing, and in spite of the remonstrances of his companions, moved away from them, slowly at first, and then with more decision of movement, until he was out of their sight in the crowd.
'He wants to avoid them,' I said to myself, 'and he seems to be looking for someone.' And then I turned my attention to the brunette once more.
At ten o'clock the music had ceased, and the people were scattered upon the Plaza. The electric fountains had ceased to send up multi-coloured spray, and some of the lights in the glittering chains about the Grand Basin were fading out. On the streets and avenues leading away from the Plaza there was still sufficient light, but the Wooded Island, which as yet had not participated in the great illuminations, was not brilliantly lighted. In fact, under the trees, and among the winding shrub-bordered paths, there were many shadowed nooks and gloomy recesses.
And yet it was towards the Wooded Island that the brunette and her companion led me, wondering much, and keeping at a distance to avoid the glances often sent back by the little adventuress.
I had just stepped off the path to avoid the gleam of light that fell across it from the light just at the curve, when a quick step sounded close by, and a tall figure passed me in haste, going the way the two had taken—the form of the handsome guard.
I had followed them past the east front of the Electricity Building, and between it and the canal, and then across the bridge opposite, and midway between the north front of the Electricity and Mines Buildings, across the little island of the Hunters' Camp, and across the second bridge, and it was near this last spot that the guard had passed me.
A few paces beyond me he seemed at a loss, and paused to look about him; and as he did so, the two women, who had made a short-cut across the forbidden grass, came out into the path directly between us, and retraced their steps toward the bridge.
It was past ten o'clock now, and very quiet just here, and the lamps at the ends of the bridge, the only lights just here, seemed to me less brilliant than usual. As the two women came toward me, somewhat slowly, I drew back into the shelter of the bushes, and they passed me, speaking low. I remember that, at the moment, the thought of our singular isolation in this spot crossed my mind, and I wondered why we did not see somewhere a second Columbian Guard on duty.
And now my guard passed me hurriedly, looking neither to right nor left, and I crept forward across the grass and under the trees. I could now see that the women had stopped upon the bridge nearest the island, and on the side facing eastward, and looking over the face of the lagoon at its widest, and across to the silent and now almost utterly darkened Manufactures Building, and that the guard had joined them. Rather, that he was speaking with the brunette, while the other, with bent head, stood a little aloof.
And then, as I looked and wondered, two figures arose suddenly, or so it seemed, from the base of the statue at the end of the bridge, just behind the guard, and as he bent his head toward the little decoy there was a silent, forward spring, a sudden heaving movement, and a splash. With a shout for help I bounded forward, tearing off my coat as I ran. I was conscious of four flying figures that passed me, hastening islandward, but my thoughts were all for that figure that had gone over into the lagoon silently and without a struggle.
As I tore down the bank at the side of the pier, I heard low voices, and could see a boat in the shadow of the bridge; and as I was about to plunge into the water, a voice said sharply:
'Keep out, mate, we've got him!' And in a moment the boat came out, and I saw two men were supporting the guard, half in and half out of the water, and the other pushing the skiff to shore.
As I stepped into the water to their assistance, I saw at one glance that my friend had fallen into the able hands of two of the emergency crew, whose duty it was to patrol the lagoons by night, and that he was insensible.
'He struck our boat in falling,' one of them said to me, 'and I'm afraid he's got a hurt head. Too bad; if he hadn't fainted we'd 'a' winged one of that crowd, sure.'
'THOSE TWO WOMEN.'
My friend the guard had received a blow upon the head, painful but not fatal. He would be about in a few days, the hospital surgeon said. But in spite of the fact that I visited the hospital every day, five days passed before I was allowed to speak to him or he was allowed to talk.
I was very anxious for this opportunity, for I had now a new reason for my growing interest in the young fellow who so stubbornly refused to give me a name by which to call him. He was enrolled among the guards as L. Carr, and I at once adopted this name in speaking to or of him.
I had determined at the first moment possible to have a confidential talk with him, confidential upon my part, at least, and I meant to win his confidence if possible.
In the meantime I had laid all the story of this day's adventures before Dave Brainerd, beginning with the discovery in the newspaper, and my search up-town and down for trace of missing Gerald Trent, and I ended by adding to all the rest a few ideas and opinions of my own, which caused Dave, in spite of his lately expressed lofty opinion of my imaginative qualities, first to open his eyes, and then to roar with laughter.
But he was my hearty second at the last, even to the point of agreeing with me that, if we could accomplish but the one end, it were better to find and rescue Gerald Trent, if he were living and in duress, which we both doubted, or to solve the mystery of his fate if dead, than to arrest a pair, or a trio, of counterfeiters, or possible diamond robbers. As to Miss Jenrys and the mysterious guard, he would no more have given up the thought of solving the problem of the brunette's pursuit of these two than would I at that moment. But we needed all the light possible, and we agreed at once that to obtain this it would be wise, at this point, to make certain confidences to the two persons most interested.
* * * * *
As to the elusive brunette, her 'shadow' had followed her for days more faithfully and at closer quarters than we could have done, because of his small stature and his easily managed 'lightning changes,' managed by the aid of a reversible jacket, three or four varicoloured silk handkerchiefs, and two or three hats or caps, all stuffed into convenient pockets. But his report was, after all, far from complete or conclusive.
'I've follered her,' he declared, 'till my laigs ached, an' I never seen a woman 'at c'ud git over the ground like her. Ever sence that first trip my laigs 'a' bin stiff!'
The boy had followed her on the first day by devious ways, and until after mid-day, without losing sight of her; and had lost her at last, as Dave and myself had lost our quarry, in the intricacies of the Plaisance.
'Ye see,' Billy had said, ''twas this way. She'd stopped afore one of them Arab places'—he meant Turkish—'where there wuz a pay show, an' she must 'a' got her ticket ahead, fer she jest sort o' held out a card or somethin' afore his eyes and went right in, an' I had ter wait till two or three fellers got tickets 'fore 'twas my turn, an' when I got in she wa'n't nowhere.' A look of boyish disgust emphasized the emphasis here. 'But wherever she was, she stayed a good while,' Bill went on, 'an' then, all at once, out she come ag'in, an' went into another big place clos' by, an' I went in too that time. She went round behind a big table, where they had piles o' jimcracks, an' popped behind a curtain, an' jest as I was gittin' scared for fear she wuz gone agi'n, out she come an' took the place of a tired-lookin' woman that set on a high stool sellin' the jimcracks. She had took off her hat an' things, an' she had on a little red jacket all spangled up, an' a red cap, like the Turks all wear, with a big gold tassel on it, an' she'd made herself blacker round the eyes, an' redder in the cheeks, an' she looked jest sassy.'
At least it was something to have our theories in regard to the lurking places of this trio verified. It was something to feel sure, as we now did, that these people were quartered in the Plaisance; but I felt very sure that they had more than one hiding-place, probably each of them a separate one, as well as a general rendezvous.
I questioned the lad closely regarding the 'tired-lookin' woman,' whom he described as 'tallish, an' slim, an' not much on looks,' but dressed in Turkish fez, and Zouave jacket, and 'painted thick.'
He had watched her till evening came, and then the tallish woman had returned and the brunette had stepped behind the curtain once more.
'I watched that doggoned curtain,' Bill declared, 'till 'twas time to shut up shop, but she didn't come out, an' I couldn't git in.'
'Did anyone come out from behind that curtain while you waited, Bill?' I asked him carelessly.
'Yes, there was; pretty soon after she went in a young Turk came out, smallish, with a little dudey moustache. He had a pitcher in his hand, an' he smacked the tired woman on the back, an' stuck the pitcher under her nose an' went out.'
'Did he come back?'
'Come to think, I guess he didn't; I know he didn't.'
'Well, Bill,' I said, 'I can't blame you; I only blame myself; but if you should see that woman go behind a curtain or door again, and presently see a man come out, if he is the same in size and looks anything like the one you saw to-night, you just follow him, and you'll be on the right track.'
'And, Bill, I want you to be on the Plaisance in the morning early, and if the brunette starts out, don't lose her. If she has not appeared by noon you may go down to the Plaza and look about there, but get back to Midway by three o'clock; she'll show herself there sooner or later.'
The next day Bill had nothing to report. The day following he had followed her, late in the afternoon, when she had emerged from the Turkish bazaar down Midway, and had seen her stop and speak to one of the guards, then she had left the grounds by a Midway gate 'opposite Hagenbeck's lion circus, ye know.'
'And I followed her,' he continued, 'till she come to that rest'runt where you an' me see her git the letter; she turned off right by the Midway gate, and went acrost to Wash'n'ton Avenue, an' down that till she turned to come to the rest'runt. 'Twas most supper-time, and she didn't come out no more, I'm sure, for I watched till most midnight, an' there wa'n't no back way, I know, for I looked.'
I could well believe that she had taken a room as near the grounds as possible, where she might rest when rest was required, and she was off duty, and I did not doubt but that Delbras and Greenback Bob had each a similar lair outside the White City, but conveniently near it.
This last report had been made to us on the morning of my visit to Miss Jenrys, Bill having appeared at our quarters at an early hour, and I had been studying the expediency of letting Miss Jenrys into the history of her brunette acquaintance, as far as I myself knew it, before visiting the two ladies, at last deciding that I would wait a little and be guided by circumstances, the episode of Gerald Trent's disappearance finally putting it altogether out of my mind.
On the morning after the attempt to drown the guard, Dave and I waited for a time in our room, expecting a report from Bill, which might, we hoped, throw some light upon the events of the night before. But he did not appear; and after breakfasting together, Dave went back to our room to await him, while I made haste toward the Emergency Hospital, where our wounded guard lay, carefully watched, skilfully attended, and not permitted to talk or receive visitors.
Assured that his recovery would be only a matter of days, I went back to find Dave still alone, and this time we both set out, after leaving a message with the janitor, Dave to look after the men who had been detailed upon our business in different directions and to hear their reports, and I to see that more men were at work upon the Trent case before I ventured, as I was most anxious to do, upon a visit to Miss Jenrys and her aunt.
Having done what I could in the Trent case, I found it nearing noon when I approached their place of residence, but I had little fear of finding them absent, and was hastening on, only a few paces from their door, when I saw Monsieur Voisin come hastily out, and after seeming to hesitate a moment upon the threshold, run down the steps and move rapidly away southward. I could see that his face wore a sombre look, and I wondered if he had seen me in the hasty glance he had cast about him. There were others upon the pavement between him and myself, and I trusted that he had not; still, I felt a strange reluctance to being seen by this man so often in the same place, and I slackened my pace and finally stood still, reading the 'to lets' upon the opposite houses, until he turned the corner and went, as I was very sure, to the Midway entrance a little way beyond.
I found the ladies at home, and eager to hear the little I had to tell them regarding the Trent case. I had put a good man in the hotel where Trent had stopped, to find out, if possible, whether the young Bostonian had been spotted and followed from that place by any swell adventurer; and I arranged with the mistress of the place where Trent had secured rooms to hold them until I heard from Boston, whether any or all would come on and occupy the rooms and assist in the search. Miss Jenrys felt sure they would come, all of them.
'Hilda O'Neil will not rest until she is here, as near the place where he was last seen as possible. You were very thoughtful to secure the rooms,' she sighed heavily. 'I suppose now we must simply wait until we receive the picture?' she added.
'There is little else to do,' I replied. 'Of course I have had other advertisements inserted in various papers, and have offered a reward, as you directed.'
'Ah,' she sighed again, 'we may hear from that.'
'I doubt it,' I replied. 'If he has been abducted, it is too soon for that,' and then I turned the conversation by saying:
'I have some news from your friend, the brunette.'
'My friend! Mr. Masters!'
'Pardon me; your satellite, then. She was revolving near you the day before yesterday.' At this point the door opened and a voice said:
'Miss Ross, the laundress is here about your washing.'
Miss Ross rose with alacrity, a benevolent smile upon her sweet face.
'Mr. Masters,' she said, 'thee must save thy story or tell it twice over, for I must beg thee to excuse me now. I can't send this poor woman away, and I ought not to make her wait.'
'It's one of Aunt Ann's protegees,' explained Miss Jenrys, 'and she has come by appointment.'
Mentally thankful for this interruption, I assured Miss Ross that my story should wait, and when she had left us alone I turned at once to Miss Jenrys.