I accepted his courtesy as frankly as he had proffered it, and then, while he busied himself preparing the cooling lotion, I told Dave how I had promised to return, and that Miss Jenrys must not be kept longer in expectation. I did not tell him why I had left the house, to return again so soon, and Dave was not the man to question.
'Tell her,' I said, 'that all is right. She will understand; and later I will explain to you. And tell her I find that I must delay the reading of that letter until to-morrow morning; that it is a purely personal matter that detains me, and that I will explain when we meet.' He got up to go, and I turned to Lossing, who, with the tact so natural to him, had gone to the front of the long room, and was idly turning the leaves of a directory. 'Dave is about to do the thing I failed to do, because of this sore head,' I said to him. 'I wish you would stay with me until he comes back. He won't be long.'
He seated himself without a question, and while Dave was gone, and my host busy in preparing for my comfort, he talked lightly of this and that, and finally of my unknown assailant.
'I believe I hit him somewhere,' he said, 'for I heard him drop an oath as he ran, and, by the way, he dropped something else, too.'
'What was that?'
He got up and went to the place where the policeman had been sitting until, assured that he could do nothing then, he had gone out with Dave, declaring his intention to 'go and look over the ground,' a speech which caused Dave to smile behind his hat. From the floor, close against the wall, Lossing took up something, which he brought forward and laid beside me upon the cot.
It was a bar of iron at least four inches in circumference, and incased in a length of rubber tubing, which was tied tightly over each end. 'That,' said he, 'is the weapon, and if it had struck you fairly, it would have been your death.'
I held it in my hand. A death-dealing weapon indeed, and I shuddered as I put it down, asking myself meanwhile, 'Was it meant for me?'
'But for you,' I said aloud, 'you and Brainerd——'
'Don't!' He put up his hand quickly. 'When I think of what you have done for me, and—I—I fear you are suffering now in my stead.'
It was the echo of my own thought, and I was glad to see my host reappear, thus cutting short the subject, which I was glad to drop just then.
The next morning found me somewhat the worse for my adventure, yet thankful to find that I could go about my day's business, a little stiffened from my fall, a trifle weaker than usual, and with an aching and somewhat misshapen head. But a detective learns to bear occasional hard knocks with fortitude, and I was thankful to be out of the affair so easily.
As an evidence of my dazed condition of the night before was the fact that I had not once thought to ask how Dave and Lossing chanced to be so near me at my time of need. It was one of my first thoughts and questions in the morning, however.
'You see,' explained Dave, 'I had not looked for any one quite so early, but I had stationed myself very near, on the side of the street opposite the house, and was pacing up and down, keeping the place in sight. I had a half-dozen cigars and a pocket full of matches, and when I wanted to turn, if anyone was in sight, I stopped and wasted a couple of minutes trying to light my cigar—see?'
'Well, of course, I looked to see our friend come out and go north; and so, while I was just on the turn, I was a little upset to see someone come out of Miss J.'s door and turn square south. Of course I went south, too, and to carry out your plan, I, being nearer the south crossing than he, turned and crossed in order to meet him, and all ready to be properly surprised at the encounter, you know, according to orders. Well, sir, we met right at the opposite corner, and instead of our man, there was a tall, dark, well-dressed person, who hastened his steps a bit in passing me.'
He stopped, as if for an explanation.
'It was Voisin,' I said. 'The Frenchman I told you of.'
'Um! I thought as much! Well, I stopped to light my cigar, and the Frenchman turned on the east side of the street and went back the way he came; I, on my side, did likewise. At the north end of the block he turned again, this time without crossing, and I did likewise. I didn't try to keep shady, for I thought it began to look like a game of freezeout, and I kept the west side of the street. As might have been expected, after two or three turns he left the field at the south end of the block, going east; and very soon after your man came out and turned south, which surprised me a little. He walked very fast, but I caught up and tackled him, calling him by your name and then apologizing, and explaining that, knowing you were to call upon Miss J., I had been on the lay for you, having a matter of business to impart as promptly as possible.'
'Do you think he suspected us?'
'Not then. He told me very delicately that he had left early, feeling sure that you had some matter of importance to discuss with the ladies, and added his fear that you would not appear for some time yet. Of course I gave up all idea of waiting, and went on with him; and to pass the time and make myself agreeable I told him about the other fellow—what d'ye call him?'
'Yes, Voisin. We had reached the south corner where Voisin had turned east, and Lossing was walking briskly. At the corner he turned to me and proposed taking the longest route home by going over to Madison Avenue. In fact, he felt like walking, he said. It was this queer route that set me to telling him about Voisin's promenade, and I wound up by wondering if you would take a new route, too. At that he took my arm and let me know in that polite way of his that he suspected our little game; that he knew how anxious you were for his safety, and that he appreciated your interest. "But," says he, "don't you see that if there is danger abroad to-night, it is Masters who runs the risk?" I saw that he was really uneasy, and so when he proposed that we should hasten on to Fifty-seventh Street and go down past Miss Jenrys' once more, I agreed, thinking, I will admit, that it was a sort of fool's errand.
'Well, sir, we had been walking at a brisk pace and were half-way down the block between the avenues, when we saw a figure start out from the corner beyond, and run across the street. We were almost at the corner, and to avoid the light just there we crossed the street and went along in the shadow of the trees and buildings, past the light and on to the opposite corner. We had just reached it and had stopped to look and listen for the skulkers, when we saw you come into the light, stop, look about, and seem to listen.
'"He's after that fellow," I whispered to Lossing; "let's keep quiet and be ready to lend a hand." We could just see the fellow jump out at you. It's lucky the night was so clear, the shade was so thick just there.'
'IT IS OUR FIRST CLUE.'
Miss Jenrys met me that morning almost at the threshold. She had passed a restless night, for my message had not wholly allayed her fear, and she did not conceal the fact.
'I have been very anxious,' were her first words. 'Perhaps I have been foolish, but somehow I seem to have got into a new world, and I might very well pose for a Braddon heroine. I believe I am growing hysterical. What with my own little mystery, which seems to have stepped into the background, happily for me, and all the bigger mysteries—but there,' breaking into a nervous laugh, 'I can hold my tongue. Now tell me what happened last night. Oh!' catching my look of surprise, 'something happened, I know. I felt it.'
She was indeed woefully nervous, but to withhold anything would only increase the strain; so I told her as briefly as possible the story of my encounter, and the part played in it by Lossing and Dave. But I did not speak of Dave's meeting with Monsieur Voisin, and I hardly needed to tell her how it happened that my friend and Lossing were so fortunately at hand.
'I am not surprised,' she said, when I had told my story, 'but I am, oh, so thankful that you escaped with nothing worse. I felt so sure there was danger, and I urged you into it. But if you had not gone, I feel certain it would have been worse.'
She talked on in this strain for some moments, and it was plain to me, though she did not put the thought into words, that she believed the attack was meant for Lossing, and not for myself.
Suddenly she sprang up. 'I am forgetting poor Gerald Trent!' she exclaimed, and crossing the room, unlocked her desk, took out the letter, and placed it in my hands. It was a long letter, full of lamentations and repetitions; telling the story in a rambling, exclamatory, hysterical fashion; the letter of a young girl, a stranger to sorrow and its discipline, who finds herself suddenly plunged into a labyrinth of fear, terror, suspense; loving much and tortured through that love; and her story was briefly this:
Mr. Trent had seized the opportunity afforded by the change in his wife's condition, which, while neither really better nor worse, was much quieter. 'In fact,' wrote Miss O'Neil, 'while she does not recognise any of us, she constantly fancies us all about her, and she talks to him in such a low, pathetic, pitiful tone, half an hour at a time, and then drops into a doze, only to wake up and begin over again. She does not know us, and while in this state, Dr. Lane says, she is better alone with the nurse.' This being the case, Mr. Trent had left home for a day to look after some long-neglected business matter, and in his absence the letter had arrived. It was addressed to Mr. Trent in a strange hand, a woman's hand it would seem, and it was from Chicago. They had waited in anxious suspense until, chancing to think that it might be an important message and a prompt answer required, Miss Trent had, after some hesitation, opened the letter, a copy of which was at this point inserted. It ran thus, beginning with Mr. Trent's full name and correct address:
'In writing this I am perhaps risking my own life, as your son's is risked every day that he passes a prisoner in a place where he is as safely hidden as if he were already out of the world.
'Not only is your boy a prisoner, but he is a sick man. Your advertised rewards have been read and laughed at. The men who have him in charge are no common criminals. They mean to secure a fortune in return for young Trent. They know that his father is a millionaire, and his sweetheart an heiress in her own right.
'It is in my power, as one of the party in possession, to release your son. I waste no time in platitudes, but state frankly here my object in thus addressing you. I wish to leave the clique for reasons of my own, and to do this I must have money. This is why I propose to help you for a consideration. The "clique" will take no less than a modest fortune, hundreds of thousands of dollars. I will accept ten thousand. For this sum I will find a way to set your son at liberty.
'This is my plan: You no doubt have in Chicago some friend who can and will oblige you. Request this friend to insert in three of the city papers here an advertisement as follows: If you accept you will say, "Number three, we decline," which I will read by contraries. You will then send by express, to be called for, a package containing ten thousand dollars in bank-notes—none larger than one hundred nor smaller than ten—and a letter in which you shall bind yourself not to take advantage in any way of my application for this packet at the express office; not to set a watch upon me, or in any way attempt to entrap me. This done, I will agree on my part to send you, twenty-four hours after receipt of your package, a letter telling you in detail where your son is and how to reach him. I will not agree to betray his captors; I would not be safe anywhere if I did; and it is liberty without a master, and an easier and a safer life, that I seek. I will also let your son know that he may expect a rescue.
'In proposing this I am running a risk, and in accepting it, while you will risk your money, I, if you betray me, risk my life. If you accept this proposal you will see your son alive, and soon. If you refuse—he is in the hands of desperate men, who will never give him up except on their own terms; they will wait until, driven to despair, you will offer them, through the press, a fortune, and—even then you may receive, after long waiting, only a corpse. As to the search you are making, we know your men and their methods, and they are capable of taking a bribe if it is large enough. It may interest you to know that they have already held one amicable meeting with our leaders, and in the end you are likely to pay them double. As to finding your son, the men who have him safe and secure will not hesitate to take his life the moment they know that they are likely to lose the game. I do not threaten, but I do assure you that your best chance of seeing your son alive and in his right mind lies in your sending me the two words, "We decline," with express to E. Roe.
'ON THE SQUARE.'
A horrible letter, indeed! and the awful pictures which poor Hilda O'Neil's excited imagination drew of the possible situations, in some one of which her lover might be suffering, lent the last touch of gloom to the wretched whole. She saw him in some dingy cellar, ill unto death, neglected, helpless, and heartbroken; she saw him drugged into insanity, a possibility hinted at by the artful writer of the anonymous letter, and which I had, more than once, considered as both possible and probable, and she implored Miss Jenrys to help her and save her lover.
'June, my life, my very life is in your hands! I cannot wait for Mr. Trent; eight long hours almost! I must act. Papa left me carte blanche at the bank; I was to draw as I needed, and I will go at once, as soon as this letter is despatched, and see that the money is secured and sent to you; and the letter—the promise—Mr. Trent must make it, and he will. But the answer, June, put that in the paper at once, so that Gerry may soon know that he is to be released. You won't refuse, I know; and, June, telegraph me the moment it is done,' etc.
When I had put the letter down, after reading the copied portion twice, Miss Jenrys asked breathlessly:
'What must be done?'
I put into her hand Mr. Trent's letter, received the previous night, and when she had read it, she looked troubled.
'He seems to doubt this letter?'
'And so do I.'
'But why? how? It sounds plausible.'
'Too plausible. I must think this matter over. Mind, I do not say the letter was not written by some dissatisfied member of the band, but don't you see its weak point? He may wish to leave them, and doubtless would like to depart with a full pocket; but he would never dare to release Trent, even if he could. It's simply a trick. They are playing artfully upon the anxiety, the suspense, the wretched state of fear and hope and dread in which young Trent's friends are held, to extort from them a little money, which will keep them in comfort while they wear out either the father or the son.'
'How? Tell me how.'
'I wish I could! I will tell you how it looks to me. Young Trent has been missing now more than a fortnight——'
'Three weeks, almost.'
'You are right. Now, here are three theories: First, he may be dead. He would hardly submit to capture and imprisonment without resistance, and may have died while a prisoner. Next, he may have been so drugged as to have driven him out of his senses. Or, he may be a prisoner in some secure retreat, while his captors are trying to break his spirit and force him to write to his friends for a great sum of money by way of ransom. But we must act now and speculate later upon all these possibilities. Do you think Miss O'Neil can have secured the money?'
'I do; yes. Her father's liberality is well known. She could borrow the amount if need be; she comes into her mother's fortune in a few months.'
'Then we must keep a man constantly at the express office on the look-out for E. Roe.' I got up and caught at my hat.
'Are you going now?'
'Miss Jenrys, there is not a moment to lose. That money, if sent, must be stopped, if it is possible! And I must see my partner. Thank goodness, we have an actual clue at last!'
'At last! A clue! What do you mean?'
I turned at the door. 'Don't you see that this is really the first hint we have had to indicate that young Trent is still alive and a prisoner. Up to this moment all has been theory and surmise. If this letter is not a wretched fraud, a bold scheme to obtain money, hatched in the brain of some villain who has seen the advertised rewards and knows nothing about Trent, it is our first clue, and through it we may find him.' And promising to call upon her again that evening, or sooner if possible, I hastened to the nearest telegraph-office.
'IT'S A SNARE.'
My first act upon reaching the telegraph-office was to send a message, at Miss Jenrys' request and in her name, to Hilda O'Neil.
'Word it as you think best,' Miss Jenrys had said, and accordingly I had sent this message:
'MISS HILDA O'NEIL,
'Yours received. Will do my best for you. Have courage.
This, while indefinite, was at least not discouraging. To Mr. Trent I wired at some length, as follows:
'Has money package been sent? Answer. If sent, order it held until further notice. Send at once original letter. It may prove a clue. Letter follows.
This done, I wrote at once to Mr. Trent, setting forth my belief that the letter was only a scheme to extort money, repeating my message with explanatory detail, and outlining a plan of action which would await his approval by telegraph, and then be put into immediate execution. This I posted with a special delivery stamp, and finding my head growing large and exceedingly painful, I went to my own quarters, compelled for a time to give up to the combined pain and fatigue which seemed suddenly to overcome me. But in spite of the pain in my head I could not withdraw my thoughts from this singular letter; and after tossing restlessly for an hour I got up, and having treated my aching skull to a gentle rubbing with my friend the druggist's soothing lotion, I sallied forth and wandered about the Exposition grounds until the time for luncheon and my meeting with Dave came together.
* * * * *
Dave was anxious to hear the outcome of my visit to Miss Jenrys, and we made haste with our luncheon and were soon back in our room, when I told him the little I had to tell and put into his hand Miss O'Neil's letter, bidding him read the page containing what she declared to be an 'exact copy' of the anonymous letter.
Dave read the singular document, as I had done before him, once and again; and then, placing it upon his knee, he sat looking at the floor and biting his under lip, a way he had when puzzled or in doubt. Finally he looked up. 'What do you think of this?' he asked.
'It's a snare. Don't you think so?'
'Yes; but do you swallow this story of the gang?'
'Old man, supposing young Trent to be alive and in duress somewhere, do you imagine that one man, or even two, could keep him day and night?'
'Well, I said to Miss Jenrys an absurd thing. I said the letter might have been suggested by seeing those reward notices; but those notices did not give Mr. Trent's full name, and street, and number. No, sir, that letter was written by someone who has seen the contents of Gerald Trent's pockets, and who knows where he is, dead or alive.'
'But you don't think he means business?'
'No. And neither do you. If Trent is in the hands of the gang, no one out of the lot will be permitted to open the doors to him. Besides, do you think that a party of men who have the daring and the ability to keep a prisoner three weeks safely hidden will release him for a paltry ten thousand, knowing his father to be a multi-millionaire?'
'U-m-m—just so. And how do they keep him?'
'Well, to me that letter is very suggestive. It hints at a possible situation. It's hard to imagine how a young man, in possession of his strength and senses, could be held a prisoner here in Chicago. But let us say he is ill. Suppose, for instance, he was attacked, those diamonds he is said to have worn being the bait; he is injured; they search him and find him a valuable person to have and to hold. If he is ill they can keep him without much trouble. Or, the letter hints at insanity; suppose he was lured somewhere and drugged—kept drugged. An easy way to bring about insanity, eh?'
'Carl!' exclaimed Dave, with one of his sudden, decisive gestures, 'Carl, old man, I believe you've struck the trail! What's your next move?'
'My first move,' I corrected, 'will depend upon Mr. Trent. I can do nothing until I hear from him.'
'And then?' urged Dave.
'I can see no better way to begin than to try and break up the gang.'
'Before you find it?' he laughed.
'Before I look for it.'
'Good Injuns! How?'
'By making that anonymous letter public—putting it in print.'
* * * * *
In spite of the diligence of the watchers they could not regain the lost trail of the little brunette, nor, indeed, of the others; and after discussing and discarding many traps and plans, Dave ventured a suggestion.
'If that brunette has not given up her pursuit of Miss Jenrys,' he said, 'why not try to reach her that way? Ask her to make an appointment. Miss Jenrys will consent.'
I could think of nothing better, but I did not act upon the suggestion until evening, when I went, this time in company with Lossing, to call upon the two ladies and give an account of my day's doings.
With the perfection of tact Lossing joined Miss Ross in the rear room, and left Miss Jenrys and myself to discuss our plans. I told her the little I had done in the Trent affair, and of my plans, contingent upon Mr. Trent's approval.
'He will approve, I am sure of it,' she said with decision. 'He has taken every precaution, and has made himself familiar with your record through the Boston chief of police. He has every reason, so he writes me, to have faith in you and in your judgment. I think you know that.'
I thanked her for the assurance that my plans would be favourably received, and then told her of my wish to use her name in trying to draw out the brunette.
'I see no other way,' I concluded; 'and having once written her over your initials she may respond. Of course the reply must come to you at the office in the Government Building.'
'But you will receive it. I can give you my card, can I not?'
'Then you do not object?'
'How can I? Did I not promise you my help? Oh, I am quite enlisted now; although after such a faux pas as I made last night I cannot boast of my finesse. I quite excited Monsieur Voisin by my exclamatory entrance.'
'And how?' I asked quietly, but inwardly eager.
'You remember how he questioned me about the "missing person?" Well, he called this afternoon. Aunt Ann and I had just returned from the Liberal Arts Building, where we had spent three long hours, and though his call was brief he did not forget to ask again about that "missing person." He was almost inquisitive.'
'And you?' I asked, inwardly anxious.
'He learned nothing more from me, rest assured. His curiosity seems quite unlike him.'
'Possibly,' I hazarded, 'he has some inkling of my true inwardness, and thinks I have made you my confidant. Do you think it possible?'
'Possible, perhaps, but not the fact,' she replied, with a little laugh. 'My dear aunt has, in some way, given him the impression that you are a friend or protege of hers. I am quite certain that he believes this, for he had the audacity to ask me to-day how long my aunt's acquaintance with you had been; and when I assured him that you and she were "quite old friends," he asked, with rather a queer intonation, if auntie knew what your occupation was, and when I murmured something about journalism, he smiled rather knowingly.'
'A clear case,' I said, smiling. 'He guesses, at least, at my business, and perhaps fancies me deceiving your dear aunt. We will let him continue in that error, if possible.'
I went home that evening pondering the question, Did Monsieur Voisin know me for what I was, and, if so, how? Of one thing I was certain. Since our first meeting he had always affected a most friendly interest in me; and that he was secretly studying me, I felt quite assured.
Another thing furnished me with some food for thought: Not long before we took our leave, and while Miss Jenrys and Lossing were deep in the discussion of the latest Spanish novel, Miss Ross said to me, quite abruptly, and apropos of nothing:
'Did June tell you that Monsieur Voisin was here to-day?'
I nodded, and she went on:
'You know my feeling where he is concerned; at least, I think you do. He is growing really aggressive, and June is blind to it; she is preoccupied. But I see all where she is concerned, and he will make her trouble. He is infatuated and bitterly jealous, and he is a man who knows no law but his own will. Do I not read him aright?'
* * * * *
The next morning I sent a note, written in the same dainty hand as the first, and signed with the initials J. J., to the little brunette, sending it as before to the cafe where she had lodged, and twenty-four hours later the telegram from Boston came.
In addition to my own letter, I had sent in the same envelope a copy of Miss O'Neil's, or as much of it as would help Mr. Trent to understand all that had been done by the young ladies in his absence.
His telegram read:
'Thanks for all. Carry out plan. Have ordered return of money. Letter follows.
Two days later came Mr. Trent's letter, and with it the original composition of Mr. E. Roe, 'On the Square.'
As Miss O'Neil had said, it was written in a small, clear, angular hand, which had the look of a genuine autograph, without attempt at disguise.
In this I quite agreed with her, and I stowed the letter carefully away for future use. Mr. Trent in his letter assured me that he could not make E. Roe's letter ring true, and that he had finally convinced his daughter and Miss O'Neil that they had made a mistake. 'Go on in your own way,' he concluded; 'and I hope before long to be with you. My wife has recovered from her delirium—very weak, but quite sane except upon one point—she believes our son to be ill in a hospital in Chicago, and the doctor has bidden us humour her in this hallucination, as it may save her life. He looks now for a gradual recovery, and when she is a little stronger I shall come to you; already she has planned for the journey, and assured me that our boy needs me most. It is sad, inexpressibly so, but it is better, at least for her. When I can join you in your work, and your waiting, I shall, I am sure, feel more hopeful, and I trust less impatient of delay.'
A COLUMBIAN GUARD.
It was still our theory—Dave's and mine—that, granted our original quarry was still in the White City, we must sooner or later encounter it, if we continued to traverse the thickly populated enclosure long enough, and with an eye single to our search.
We believed as firmly, yes, more firmly than at first, that Delbras and his band were still, much of the time, in Midway; and after long watching we had grown to believe that they had somewhere upon Stony Island Avenue a retreat where all could find shelter and safety in time of need.
'But one thing's certain,' quoth Dave, when we were discussing the matter, 'wherever the place is, they can approach it from more directions and more entrances than one. They, some of them, have been seen to enter saloons, to go upstairs, around corners, and into basements, and are never seen to come out I can only account for it in one way.'
'And what is that?' I questioned.
'They enter always at the side or rear, and never at the front, and they only do this when they know, by signal, that the way is clear.'
'If that is true,' I said, 'we shall find them sooner or later.'
One of the characters assumed by me when going about the grounds in my capacity of a detective was that of a Columbian Guard. I had a natty blue uniform, in which, when donned with the addition of a brown curly wig, and a luxuriant moustache just light enough to be called blond, I became a really distinguished guard. And more than once, when thus attired, I have watched the conscious faces and overburdened shoulders and heads of the multitudes of uniformed martyrs who, on these oft-recurring dedication days, State and national, not to mention receptions to the great—native and foreign—tramped in sun, mud, or rain, arrayed in all the rainbow hues, beplumed, gilded, and uncomfortable, and have thanked the good sense and good taste that evolved for the manly good-looking 'C. G.' a uniform at once tasteful, soldierly, and subdued, in which one might walk abroad and not feel shamefacedly aware that he was too brilliantly picturesque for comfort.
In this array I had more than once passed my acquaintances of the bureau and the hospital, Miss Jenrys and her aunt, and even Lossing, until one day it occurred to me that I might keep him near me, enjoy his society, and still be on duty, by making myself known; and so, until he chose to go on duty for a part of the day, we went up and down Midway, and in and out of the foreign villages together, as Dave described us, 'keeping step, with our chin-straps up.'
We had made our first appearance in the Plaisance as a brace of guards off duty, on the day upon which I posted the decoy letter to the little brunette.
I had made this letter as brief as possible, merely asking her to name a day or evening when she would be at liberty to do the Liberal Arts, etc., in company with the writer, and upon second thought, I saw that it would be a great mistake for me to call for the reply, in case the brunette caught at the bait. She had shown herself a wary opponent, and she might think it worth while to know who received her answer.
It was late in the day when we left Midway, and with this new thought in my mind I dropped Lossing's arm as we approached the Java village, and skirting the west side of the inclosure, left the grounds by the Midway exit at Madison Avenue, and hastened on to Washington Avenue.
As I turned a corner I saw a smart carriage at Miss Jenrys' door, but before I had reached the house I saw the driver turn his head and gather up his reins, and the next moment Monsieur Voisin, attired as if for a visit of ceremony, came down the steps slowly, almost reluctantly, it seemed to me, entered the carriage, and dashed past me without a glance to right or left.
A card brought Miss Jenrys to the little reception-room where I waited, and when she had inspected my disguise, which she declared quite perfect, I made known my errand, and, as I fully expected, she declared my second thought best.
'I will go to-morrow; there will hardly be an answer before that time; and—suppose we should meet?'
Before I could reply, the door opened and Miss Ross came in.
'A disguised detective is a thing to see!' she declared; and then, when she had looked me over and marvelled at the fit of my wig, she turned to her niece:
'June, child, did thee speak of our dilemma?'
'Auntie, you must give me time!' her face flushing rosily.
'Time indeed! did not this young man's card say, 'A moment. In haste'? And can we entertain this strange young man by the hour? Fie upon thee, June! Do thy duty, else——'
June's hand went out in a pretty gesture, and between the two they made the 'dilemma' clear to me.
Some time since, when Miss Jenrys had expressed a wish to see the Plaisance thoroughly, I had offered my services, promising to take them safely through the strange places, behind the mysterious gates and doors, where they had not ventured to penetrate alone. Now they had an especial reason for wishing to make this excursion on the next day, and—would I be at liberty?
I assured them that, in any case, I should doubtless pass a part of the day, at least, in Midway; and if they would allow me to include Lossing in our party there need be no change save that, instead of wearing our guards' uniform, we would go as citizen sight-seers; and instead of a party of two, there would be a quartet, and so it was arranged.
Before leaving the house I had been told what I had surmised before entering.
Monsieur Voisin had asked Miss Jenrys to drive with him, and when she had declined, upon a plea of indisposition, he had renewed the invitation for the following day, whereupon Miss Jenrys, in sheer desperation, recalled that proposed visit to Midway, and, falling back upon that, once more declined with thanks.
Certainly Monsieur Voisin was a persistent wooer!
He was much in my thoughts, after I had left the ladies, and quite naturally followed me into dreamland. My head was heavy with pain, and I went to my room at an early hour. It was long before the lotion did its work and I fell asleep, and then I dreamed that Monsieur Voisin had carried off June Jenrys, and had shut her into an old building in care of the brunette, who locked her in a room at the top of the house and then set it on fire below.
I saw the flames shoot forth; I saw June's face, pallid and desperate, at the window, beyond the reach of the highest ladder; I saw Lossing dash through the flames; and with a yell I awoke.
'I'D SWEAR TO THEM HANDS ANYWHERE.'
At one o'clock Lossing and I met the ladies at the rendezvous, as we had grown to call the Nebraska House parlour, and the little arbour beside the stream. Lossing, quite himself again, was handsome in his well-fitting light summer suit, and happy in the prospect of an afternoon with beautiful June Jenrys, as who would not be? and I was humbly thankful that I was not, for that afternoon at least, obliged to wear a skin-tight wig upon my sore and tender cranium.
That they might reserve their strength for the ins and outs of Midway, we brought to the gate, for the use of the ladies, the two stalwart chair-pushers, whose work, so far as they had been concerned, had been a sinecure indeed since the attack upon Lossing, and we went at once, and without stops by the way, to the post-office. But there was no letter for Miss Jenrys; and, although I looked about me with a practised eye, followed Miss Jenrys at a safe distance when she entered the office, and kept the others waiting while I took a last long look, I could see no signs of the brunette.
Midway Plaisance was almost unknown ground to Miss Ross, and her wonder, amusement, and quaint comments made her an interesting companion.
'We must see it all, auntie,' June Jenrys declared, her fair face glowing with the sweet content with her companion and the moment, that not even the sorrows of her distant friends, which had weighed so heavily upon her own kind heart, could for the time overshadow or abate.
'I shall be guided by my escort,' was the reply of my companion, 'and I do feel that we may forget our anxieties for a time, and take in all this strangeness and charm with our whole hearts.'
We did not linger long in the Hall of Beauty, the costumes of many nations being passed by with scarce a glance. But my companions lingered longest before the queer little person described in the catalogue as the 'Display of China,' who was a genuine child of the Flowery Kingdom, and generally fast asleep.
We turned away from the very wet man in the submarine diving exhibit with a mutual shiver, and rejoiced anew in the sunlight and free air.
The glass-works, interesting as they assuredly were, we passed by as being not sufficiently foreign; and the Irish Industrial Village and Blarney Castle were voted among the things to be taken seriously, and not in the spirit of Midway. Miss Ross was full of interest in the little Javanese, and we entered their enclosure, feeling sure that here, at least, was something novel.
We had peered into the primitive little houses upon their stilt-like posts, and the ladies had spent some time in watching a quaint little native mother making efforts to at once ply the queer sticks which helped her in a strange sort of mat-weaving, and keep an eye upon a preternaturally solemn-faced infant, who, despite his gravity, seemed capable of quite as much mischief as the average enfant terrible of civilization. And then——
'Les go an' see the orang-outang,' exclaimed someone behind us, and as they went, a sun-browned rustic and his sweetheart, we silently followed.
The orang was of a retiring disposition, and very little of him was visible from our point of vantage. As I shifted my position in order to give the ladies a better place, a familiar voice close beside me cried with evident pleasure:
'Wal! Lord a-massy, if it ain't you! Come to see the big monkey, like all the rest of us? Ain't much of a sight yit.'
It was Mrs. Camp, and she seemed quite alone. She put out her hand with perfect faith in my pleasure at the meeting; and when I took it and spoke her name, I felt a soft touch at my elbow. I had told the ladies of my acquaintance with Mrs. Camp, and they had fully enjoyed the woman's sharp sallies at my expense. I quite understood the meaning of Miss Jenrys' hint, but while I hesitated, Mrs. Camp began again:
'I've left Camp to home this time. I've tramped and traipsed with him up and down this here Midway, but I've never once got him inside none of these places sense he took me to that blue place over there that they call the Pershun Palis; no more a palis than our new smoke-house. But Adam seen so much foreign dancin'——' As she talked she ran her eyes from one of our group to another, and as she uttered the words 'foreign dancin',' her eyes fell full upon Miss Ross, who at once said, turning to me:
'Perhaps thee would better introduce thy friend.'
It was done, and in a moment Mrs. Camp was standing close beside Miss Jenrys, making note of her beauty, and taking in the points of her toilet with appreciative eyes, while her tongue wagged on vigorously. She had taken up her story of her husband's 'quittin' of Midway.'
'He hadn't never no notion of dancin',' she declared, 'and never took a step in his life—not to music, that is. But he wanted to learn all he could about furrin ways, he said, so in we went. Well, you ort to 'a' seen them girls. Mebbe ye have, though?'
'No,' murmured June.
'Well, then, you don't want to. Dancin'! I've got an old hen, a'most ten years old—I've been a-keepin' her to see how long a hen would live—an' if that hen can't take more honest dancin' steps than the hull posse of them hourys, as they call 'em. All the dancin' they know they'd 'a' learnt from snakes and eels, an' sich like wrigglin' things. Pshaw! I don't b'lieve that ole monkey's goin' to show hisself to-day, humbly thing!'
When we turned away from the Java Village Mrs. Camp was one of our party, and when we entered Hagenbeck's animal show she was still telling Miss Ross and I how she and 'Adam' had not agreed upon a route that day, and how she had revolted utterly when he proposed to spend the afternoon 'down to the odds and ends corner of the Fair, among the skeletins and old bones, and rooins, and mummies,' and how 'fer once' they had each 'took their own way.'
It was Miss Ross who had kindly asked the 'lone woman,' as she described herself, to join our party; and she bore with sweet patience and an indulgent half-smile her many remarks, absurd or outre, shrewd or unsophisticated.
'I'm sick of that feller!' she exclaimed, as the 'Hot-hot-hot!' of the Turkish vendor of warm cakes was heard. 'The very idea of a yallow-faced feller like that takin' to cookin' hot waffles for a livin'! Right in the street, too! I sh'd think he could get enough cloth out o' them baggy trousers to make him a little tent. 'F I was the boss here I'd make him do his cookin' quieter; he jest spiles the street.'
In the German Village our party rested, and the ladies enjoyed its quaint and picturesque cottages and castle, and listened with pleasure to the German band—all but Mrs. Camp.
'I don't see nothin' very strikin' here,' she candidly observed, 'and I don't see the need of puttin' up so many queer-lookin' barns. The house is well enough, but I'll bet them winders come out o' Noah's ark; an' I can't make so much beer-drinkin' look jest right—for wimmin.'
As we passed out she was so rash as to pause a moment to look down into a huge vessel, full to the brim of the queer-looking compound which the vendor described in a loud voice as 'bum-bum candy.'
'Lad-ee! Lad-ee!' he cried, as she turned away. 'Fine bum-bum, splendid!' But the look she cast over her shoulder silenced his eloquence.
'That feller,' she declared, 'has been settin' around here in one place or another ever sence I've been here with his bum-bum candy. I've never got closte enough to git a look at the stuff till to-day; an' I've never saw a soul buyin' it nor eatin' it.'
It had been agreed that we should take a trip in the Ferris Wheel. With the ladies it would be a novel experience, but when we were about to enter the car Mrs. Camp drew back.
'Tain't no use,' she said. 'I ain't goin' to risk my neck that way. It's jest a-flyin' in the face of Providence! I couldn't git Adam to 'smuch as look at the thing when 'twas goin' round. No, sir, I ain't a-going'!' this to the man at the still open door. But when we had taken our places and the door was about to close, she sprang forward. 'Hold on!' she said. 'I guess I've as good a right to tempt Providence as anybody! Don't shet that door! I want to git in.' As she sat down beside me she said, with the air of one who has done a good deed, 'I hadn't orter 'a' let you git a ticket for me, but I didn't feel so squeamy till I got right here. Seems safe enough though, don't it?'
Miss Ross assured her of its safety, and I told her how thoroughly it had been tested, but suddenly she broke in upon my speech:
'S-h! Why, we're a-goin'! My, how easy!' She seemed for a moment to hold her breath, and then I saw her hands clutch at the revolving seat. 'Land sakes, it's tippin'! Mercy on me, I can't stand this! Say!' to the man in charge, who was just about to begin his 'story of the wheel,' 'I want to get out! I can't never go no higher. Jest turn back; please dew.'
To my surprise, he arose and moved toward the door; then with his hand upon it, he turned.
'It might make you a little dizzy when we reverse the engine, ma'am. Just close your eyes tight until we stop, and you'll feel all right, and not so likely to faint when you begin to walk.'
With a sigh of relief and a shudder of terror, she put her cotton-gloved hands over her eyes, and sat crouched over in a very wilted attitude; and I was on the point of speaking rather sharply to the man, when a look in his eye and a rapid gesture somehow restored my confidence in his ability to manage the car, and we went on smoothly and silently up.
We had reached the topmost curve before Mrs. Camp moved a finger, and then Miss Jenrys, gazing out over the wonderful landscape outspread so far below, uttered a quick exclamation of delight. Then the hands fell, she started up and looked quickly around, and for a moment stood with mouth agape and hands thrown out as if for support or balance. Suddenly she drew a long, relieved breath and dropped back into her seat. Mrs. Camp was herself again.
'My!' she aspirated; and after another long look all about her, 'Young man, I declare if I ain't obleged to ye jest as much as if you'd 'a' minded me.' She ventured near the window, and even put her head out. 'My! they look jest like flies a-walkin'! My! we can't look much to the angels lookin' down. They go awful jerky.' She said no more until we were almost at the bottom, then she turned to Miss Ross: 'I've a good mind to go round ag'in,' she declared, and when she was told that we were all 'going round ag'in,' she drew close to the window and made her second circuit in breathless silence.
As we left the wheel and came out from the gate, where a crowd was pushing and pressing for entrance, Miss Jenrys, feeling herself suddenly jostled by some impatient one, uttered a quick exclamation, and at the sound someone just before me, and whom I had not chanced to observe in the crowd, turned quickly, shot a hasty glance at Miss Jenrys, and as suddenly turned back again.
The face was that of a youth, dark-skinned, and with keen black eyes; the hair, cropped close to the head, was as black as the thick, long lashes; the form was slender, and the head scarcely came up to my shoulders; a slight figure, a youthful face, it caught and riveted my attention. After the first glance in our direction, the young man seemed only anxious to extricate himself from the crowd, which he soon did.
We were on our way to Cairo Street, and when we entered at the nearest gateway I saw this same youth just ahead. Lossing and Miss Jenrys went before, and as they turned into the street proper, and moved slowly toward the east court where the donkey-boys were gathered, the youth, who had paused as if in indecision, glanced up and down the street and then hurried away toward the Temple of Luxor at the western end of the inclosure.
There was much of interest in the street, but the ladies soon tired of watching the donkey-boys and smiling at the awkward feats of the camel riders, and turned their attention toward the shops and the architecture; turning finally from mosque and theatre to the more private apartments—they were hardly houses—with their small, high balconies, their latticed windows, their dark doorways, their sills almost level with the street.
It was Miss Ross who expressed a desire to have a nearer view of one of these dark and cool-looking interiors, and as we turned our faces westward I saw across the way, on the inner side of the street, an open doorway, giving just a glimpse of some dark hangings, a brass lantern swinging from the roof, and a couple of men in flowing robes and turbans, lounging upon a divan within.
Beckoning to the others, I crossed the street, spoke to the men, and, finding that one could understand a little English, asked permission to enter with the ladies.
It was granted, after a moment's hesitation and a quick glance at his companion, who did not rise from the divan, and who answered the look with a grunt which, doubtless, meant consent.
There were no seats in the place, save the rug-covered divan, which filled one side from corner to corner. The floor was covered with rugs, and the walls were hung with the same, except where, a little at one side in the rear wall, was a narrow door, painted almost black, and having a ponderous and strange-looking latch.
The wall draperies, to me, looked simply a well-blended pattern in dull blue and other soft tints; just such as one might see in the shops anywhere. But the ladies were of a different opinion, and they at once began a close and exclamatory inspection of each, extolling their colour, their texture, their quaint designs, their rarity and costliness.
They had viewed the rugs upon the rear walls, Lossing seeming not far behind them in the matter of admiration, and had passed to the side wall opposite the divan, and quite out of sight from the street, there being no windows on that side, in fact on no side of the rug-hung room, which was lighted solely by the door, that, standing wide open, served as a further screen for those behind it.
Mrs. Camp, having faithfully tried to admire the rugs for courtesy's sake, had failed utterly; and to the evident surprise of the silent Egyptian, who still sat in his place, had coolly seated herself upon the end of the divan nearest the street, our host, meantime, standing near the middle of the room, alert, and evidently somewhat curious.
After a brief glance at the second row of rugs, I had crossed the small room and seated myself near Mrs. Camp, and a moment later a big determined-looking woman—American or English, if one might judge from her face and dress, the latter being full mourning and in the height of fashion—entered.
She neither spoke nor looked about her, but went, with the tread of a tragedy queen, toward that narrow dark door in the rear wall. In an instant, before the startled Cairene could prevent her, she had her hand upon the door, and had jerked it half open; but before she could enter, the tall Oriental had reached her side, and somehow instantly the door was closed, and the woman staring at it and him as he stood before it.
He bent toward her, and uttered some word, respectful it seemed, but decisive, and she, with a baffled and angry look, turned slowly and went out.
But she took my benediction with her. As I sat near Mrs. Camp, I was in a direct angle with that little door which opened against the inner wall, and in the moment while that door stood open I saw, not, as I thought might be the case, the outer world with the usual debris of a 'back door,' but an inner room, and in that room, his face toward me as he reclined, his head lifted, startled perhaps from an afternoon nap, I saw a man—a man whom I knew.
I could hardly sit there and wait for my friends to sufficiently admire the remaining rugs; I wanted to get out, and if possible to see Cairo Street from the rear. For I now remembered that on each side of Midway, between the houses and villages and the inclosing palings, was a driveway twenty feet in width, for the convenience of the inhabitants, who received their marketing at night, and from this rear avenue.
But my star was in the ascendant. At the moment when I could hardly repress my anxiety and impatience, a man entered; slowly at first, then starting slightly, he threw one hasty glance around him, and strode quickly toward the narrow door, which the Cairene opened for and closed after him.
'My land!' It was Mrs. Camp who had uttered the ejaculation, under her breath, with her eye upon the man by the door. 'Say,' she went on, meeting my eye, 'do you know who that was?'
'Do you?' I counter-questioned.
'Well! mebbe I'm mistook, but he looks the very moral of the furrin feller 'at changed that money for Camp and gave him counterfeits!' She half rose. 'I'm goin' to ask,' she explained.
'Stop!' I caught her hand. 'You must not! Leave it to me; I'll find out.'
I was too full of my own thoughts to enjoy Cairo after that, and was glad when we set out to visit the Temple of Luxor. I wanted to get away and to see Dave Brainerd.
It was half an hour after our experience in the place of rugs, and we were nearing the Temple, when we were forced to a stand by the approach of the wedding procession, with its camels and brazen gongs, its dancers, fighters, musicians, etc. As we stood, pressed close against a wall, someone came swiftly across the narrow way, dodging between two camels, and greeted us with effusion.
It was Monsieur Voisin, and when the parade had passed and we moved on, he placed himself beside Miss Ross, who at once presented him to Mrs. Camp.
In accordance with her notion of strict etiquette, that good woman put out her hand to him in greeting; and when the formality was over, the way being narrow and the crowd dense, I fell behind with her at my side, Miss Ross having been taken possession of by the cool Frenchman.
For some paces Mrs. Camp, contrary to her custom, was quite silent. Then as we approached the Temple, the others having already entered, she stopped and caught me by the arm.
'Say,' said she, in a tone of mystery, 'I must 'a' been mistaken before about that feller in that house bein' the counterfeit-money man.'
'Why?' I demanded.
'Because, d'ye remember my tellin' you 'bout that feller havin' sech long slim hands?' I nodded. 'Well, this feller ahead there with Miss Ross—he's the one. I'd swear to them hands anywhere.' I stopped just long enough to speak a few words of caution, and we followed the others.
Late that night I said to Dave Brainerd: 'Dave, I have seen the brunette, Greenback Bob, and Delbras.'
Miss Jenrys went faithfully to the post-office in the Government Building the day after our visit to Midway, and the next, and the next. On the fourth day she was rewarded, and when I appeared at her door, as I did every day now, by appointment, and at a fixed hour, she put a square envelope into my hand. It was addressed to 'J. J., World's Fair P.O.,' and the seal was unbroken.
I looked at the initials in surprise. 'Is it possible,' I asked, 'that you two have not exchanged names? Has it always been J. J. and H. A.?'
'Quite so,' she laughed. 'It was her proposal. It would keep up the romance of the acquaintance, she said,' and as I held out the envelope toward her, 'No, that is your letter; I have no interest in it, and little curiosity concerning it.'
'Then,' said I, as I broke the seal, 'I shall read it to you because of that little.'
But when I had unfolded the sheet, I sat so long staring at it that she asked lightly: 'Does it contain a scent, after all?' I put the letter in her hand. 'Read for yourself,' I said, trying to speak carelessly; and she read aloud:
'"MY KIND FRIEND,
'"I much regret that, because of my mamma's illness, I cannot leave her for the present. But at the first moment of leisure I shall let you know that I am at your service. How much I regret the loss of your charming company, and long for a sight of your charming face, is only known to yours,
'Bah!' She tossed the letter back to me with a little disdainful laugh. 'It reads like a love-letter, and is anything but filial.' As I folded the letter and put it carefully away, she watched me keenly.
'Mr. Masters,' she said, 'you have been in some unaccountable manner startled, or shocked, by that letter.'
I could neither deny nor explain, and I frankly admitted it, assuring her that she would not remain long in the dark.
'Oh, I can wait,' she smiled. 'Do not fancy me so unreasonable as to expect the full confidence of a detective. Only, don't fear for my "nerves," and let me help in any way that I can. I think,' laughing, 'that I have said this before.'
I was anxious to go now, and, rising, I took her at her word. 'You can help me in two ways,' I said, 'but I must ask you not to demand reasons just yet.'
'Go on,' she said promptly.
'First, should this brunette, this "H. A.," write you again, will you inform me at once, and—I don't think it likely to occur, but if she should call here, will you refuse to receive her?'
'Yes to both. But she does not know my address.'
'You forget; she has been seen to pass this house. Don't be too sure.'
'I will be on my guard. Is that all?'
'There is another point—a delicate one. I could not but see that Monsieur Voisin's company that day in Midway was not entirely welcome to your aunt and yourself; and—bear with me, please, I am speaking in the interest of another. Promise me that you will not close your doors against Monsieur Voisin, or treat him too coldly, for a little while. Believe me, my reason is one that you will be first to endorse when it is known to you.'
She hesitated, and I hurried on:
'The man is of a fiery disposition, and he recognises a rival in the field—pardon my intrusion upon delicate ground. He comes from the land of duellists.' She started. 'A little patience and diplomacy upon your part, and I think I can promise that he will not annoy you much longer.'
'Very well,' she assented, 'I agree. Auntie, strange to say, has urged the same thing—concerning Monsieur Voisin, that is. At the worst we can go home. It is now the last of June, and we go, in any case, in July. Never fear, I shall not forget your admonitions, any of them.' And she gave me her hand at the door with a reassuring smile.
Half-way over the threshold I turned back to say: 'By the way, Miss Jenrys, if I chance to appear here at the same time as Monsieur Voisin, please be kind to me.'
* * * * *
Late that same night Dave Brainerd and I held one of our long, and, in the past, ofttimes useless and mistaken, symposiums. But this time we were in perfect accord. We had spread upon the table before us our old memoranda from the very beginning of our campaign, and also some few letters and other documents. It had been a long 'session,' according to Dave, but the conclusion was so satisfactory that, at the last, we had each lighted a cigar, and celebrated thus what we considered a fully mapped out campaign at last.
'Well,' pronounced Dave, with a sigh of content, as he tipped back his chair, and elevated his feet to the top of the table between us. 'This looks like business! Let us see! First,' checking off on his fingers, 'we're to keep away from Midway—all but Billy—so that they may not make another flitting, eh?'
'Yes,' I assented.
'And we're to patrol Stony Island Avenue and the surrounding country by day and by night, with a full force. Ain't that it?'
'Perfectly. Dave, you are as full of repetitions as an old woman!'
'Or a young one,' he retorted; 'and you think it is proved that the brunette's a man, do you?'
'It was proved, for me, long ago.'
'And that letter? I can't see why it should not be launched at once.'
I had written to Mr. Trent, telling him of certain facts and theories, and among them was the suggestion that we should cause a copy of the 'Roe' letter, with its proposed barter, to be published in the morning papers, giving him my reasons at length, and requesting his opinion before taking what might prove a very decisive if not aggressive step. Dave was delighted with this idea, and, wearied with our 'masterly inactivity,' he would, as he put it, 'launch the thing at once.' My reasons, as explained to both Dave and Mr. Trent, were:
The letter signed 'Roe,' and offering to liberate young Trent, and at the same time to defraud the comrades of the 'clique,' if genuine, would, when published, expose the writer, who would then be obliged to 'leave the clique,' as he had expressed it, and with an additional 'reason' for so doing; this would at least lessen their numbers, and perhaps force them to take into their confidence some new colleague. Or, possibly, it would result in a quarrel among themselves, which also might result in some way in our favour.
On the other hand, if it were a scheme of the clique, it would seem that at least they were tired of the game and in need of money; and the advertised letter, if followed up by another advertisement—in which a correspondence might be proposed or some proffer made—might draw them out; and in some way this must be done. In the meantime a warrant must be issued, or rather two, one descriptive of the brunette as a woman, the other as a man; and since the Lausch people had not done so, we would, if we could, arrest her or him on the charge of robbery.
I had to go over the ground once more to quiet Dave, or to tire him out; and we ended at last, as usual, in mutual agreement.
Several days must pass, I knew, before Mr. Trent would arrive. I had written him daily, and he had replied by telegraph. He would be with me soon, and would wire me the date of his arrival. In the meanwhile I was to 'act upon my best judgment' in the matter of delaying the advertisement. I decided to wait and watch, and so a few more days passed in routine and quiet.
On one of these quiet days Lossing and I, in a moment of leisure, went down to that interesting, and by many neglected, portion of the Exposition grounds where are situated the cliff-dwellers; the Krupp gun, giant of its kind; the Department of Ethnology, and the great Stock Pavilion, where the English military tournaments were held afternoons and evenings. It seemed to be by mutual consent that we turned away from the little point of land where La Rabida sat isolated, as a convent should; and, crossing the bridge that spanned the inlet between the convent and the stately Agricultural Building, we passed through its spacious central promenade and, passing by the Obelisk and under the Colonnade, paused at the military encampment.
There was no performance at that hour, but men and horses were being led into the monster pavilion, 'for exercise,' a big trooper explained to us, 'and a bit of drill for the 'orses.' At which Lossing slipped his hand through my arm. 'Come on,' he said, and, a little to my surprise, he led me to a side door, and taking a card from his pocket, held it an instant before the eyes of the soldier on guard, saying a word as he passed him, which I did not catch.
As we entered the great inclosure, a group of officers were standing near the centre of the arena, in busy converse, and a heavy artillery team was being put through its paces, while nearer our place of observation several cavalrymen were leading their horses up and down. The officers evidently were discussing and arranging some matter of importance. But while I noted this, I also noted that one of them who stood facing toward us lifted his hand in salute, and then moved it toward us in a less formal gesture, and, again to my surprise, my companion lifted his hand and returned the salute in kind. Before he could look at me I had turned my eyes away and was watching with evident interest the manoeuvres of the cavalrymen.
They had mounted their animals and were beginning to put them through their paces, and presently they began the drill known as throwing their horses.
Galloping the animals to a certain point, they were brought to a short and sudden stand, and then by a quick tug upon the bit, the animal, if well trained, allowed itself to fall upon one side, the rider instantly slipping from the saddle to a position half concealed by the body of the horse from an imaginary enemy in front, and gun in hand, ready to take aim across the saddle.
There was one man who did not at first go through this evolution with the others, but set his horse near the rest looking on. When the others had gone through the exercise, this man rode forward, put his horse at a gallop, stopped him splendidly, and attempted the fall; but the animal was obstinate or only half broken, and began to show signs of both fright and fight.
As his rider turned the excited creature about, and sent him at a mad gallop across the arena, one of the troopers came at an easy trot directly toward us, and drawing rein beside us, with a lift of his hat, said respectfully:
'Good-morning, sir. I hope you are well, sir.'
'Good-morning, George,' replied Lossing easily. 'What is the matter with that horse?'
''E's a new one, sir, and not quite broke; though I do think, sir, as he 'asn't the best and kindest of riders, sir, and that makes 'im worse.'
'Yes,' said Lossing absently, with his eyes following the horse, which was a really fine animal, one to attract a horse-lover.
'Hit's too bad,' went on the trooper. 'Diggs will 'ave to ride 'im this hafternoon, and it'll bait the cap'n horful; for one of our 'orses come a fluke last hevenin'. I be sorry for Diggs!'
'I'm sorry for the horse! George, go and ask the captain to send Diggs and his horse to me.'
No doubt my face showed my surprise as the trooper rode obediently off to do his bidding; but Lossing only smiled and moved a step or two away from the rail where we had been standing.
'Diggs,' he said, as the man rode up and saluted. 'Will you let me try your horse?'
The soldier saluted again, and dismounted without a word; and Lossing took the bridle from his hand, and for a few moments stood beside the horse, stroking him, smoothing his mane, and all the time speaking some low, soothing syllables that seemed to quiet the still quivering animal.
After a little of this he examined the saddle, adjusted the stirrups and bridle, and then, after leading the horse away from us a short distance, he stepped easily and quietly into the saddle. Instantly the creature's head was erected, and his ears put back, but Lossing, with a caressing hand upon his neck, continued his low, soothing syllables, and let the animal walk the length of the long inclosure.
Turning then, he sent him back at a gentle trot, which he increased gradually, until he was careering around the arena in circles, which became shorter and shorter, until he came to a halt in the centre of the vast place. Then after a few more gentle words and light pats upon the sleek neck, he bent over and suddenly drew the rein. Once, twice, three times he gave that sharp pull, but the horse stood steadfast. Turning in his saddle, he said something to the troopers who had drawn near him, and then sat erect in his place, while three of the troopers turned their horses and went careering around the motionless horse and rider. Soon, at another word from Lossing, one of the men rode alongside, while the others drew back.
When the trooper had ranged himself at the side of Lossing's horse and only a few feet away, Lossing nodded; and at the first tug at the rein the trooper's well-trained animal went down and lay supine and moveless.
Then Lossing beckoned a second time, and as the fallen horse got up he was caressed by Lossing, who leaned from his saddle to reach him, and then led away, as the second trooper came up leading his horse.
As the animals stood side by side Lossing dismounted, stood a moment beside his refractory steed, and then, with a gentle pat and a low word as if of reproof, he turned and, after patting the other animal a moment, sprang to its back and sent it galloping around the place; then bringing him back to place, and with a pat or two and a quick 'Now down!' threw him, sprang to his feet, and before the animal could rise had again mounted the wayward horse.
Once more he trotted slowly away, caressing and talking to the horse; and then, suddenly wheeling him, he gave a cheery command and sent the creature flying back, past his old place, and across the pavilion; then turning and halting the horse before the group of officers, he gave him a brisk pat, and said cheerily, 'Now down!' and, almost with the word, the creature threw up its head and, with scarcely an instant's hesitation, went over and lay quivering upon the ground.
A cheer went up from the onlookers. But without loss of time Lossing had the horse up, turned him about, and, seeing him quite fit and not too nervous, remounted; and now the horse was obedient to his every move or word. Twice more he threw him, and then, returning him to Diggs, he said:
'Diggs, a horse can be as jealous as a woman, and more easily shamed than a boy. And if you are skilful, and love your horse, you can master him; but beware of the first angry word. Anger makes brutes; it never made an intelligent animal yet.'
He took my arm, and with a bow and a shake of the head to the officers, who were moving toward him, and a nod to the troopers, he hurried me out of the pavilion.
'FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!'
June had passed and July had come. Mr. Trent had arrived and was eating his heart out while the days dragged by. Miss Jenrys waited and wondered, and wrote to Miss O'Neil letters which she tried to make cheerful, until one day she received a telegram. Mrs. Trent no longer needed her, and Hilda O'Neil was coming to Chicago. She would set out on July 3.
Of course I was summoned to meet her when she came, and I learned then something about 'ordeal by question.' She was a pretty, brown-eyed, gipsy-like, and petite maiden, more child than woman in her ways, but with a warm, loving, and faithful heart, and a wit as bright and ready almost as that of June Jenrys, who was, to my mind, the cleverest as well as the queenliest of girls.
Miss O'Neil's presence was a boon to the sad-hearted father, for she would not despair; and nature having blessed her with a strong and hopeful temperament, and an abounding faith in a final good, she kept the father's heart from despairing utterly.
Miss Jenrys, true to her word, had continued to receive Monsieur Voisin, though she used much diplomacy in the matter, and seldom, if ever, received him alone.
Lossing and I often met him there, and as the days wore on I noted that Lossing was growing melancholy, or at least more serious and thoughtful than of old, and I attributed a part of this to Voisin's ever courteous and too frequent presence in Washington Avenue. I was much with him in these days. Every day almost would find us together for a longer or less length of time, according to my occupation or lack of it.
One day, after a long and learned discussion of the water-crafts of all countries, we, Lossing and myself, turned our steps toward the Transportation Building to see a certain African brinba, sent all the way from Banguella, Africa, and, to my eyes, a most unseaworthy craft.
It was shortly after the noon hour, and Lossing and I had been lunching with June Jenrys and her friend, by invitation, in consequence of which I was not disguised, while Lossing, by command of Miss Jenrys, had worn and still wore his guard's uniform.
As we were passing from the main building into the annex I saw Lossing start, and, looking up, beheld Monsieur Voisin standing alone in the aisle, and evidently awaiting our approach.
He was, as usual, smiling and affable, and 'overjoyed to meet with congenial spirits.' He fell into step with us at once, and so we were proceeding in the direction of the mammoth locomotive display, when suddenly the alarm of fire rang out all about us, and the cry, 'Fire! fire! fire!' seemed sounding everywhere in an instant.
Following in the wake of a hundred others, we hastened out.
We were not far from the scene of that awful conflagration, and we rushed forward, as men do at such times, carried out of themselves often and reckless of danger.
Who can paint the story of that awful fire? What need to tell it? It has passed out of history, and its victims to their rest and recompense.
The mourning caused by that hateful death-trap, the Cold Storage Building, is known to all the world; the recklessness, the heroism, the strict obedience to orders in the face of death, the horror, the suffering, the loss of gallant lives, all these are known; and yet there remains much that has never been told and never will be: tales of reckless daring, of risks taken for humanity's sake, of kindly, humane deeds unchronicled, and of cowardice, selfishness, dishonourable acts that were better left unwritten.
Among those who stood ready to aid, and who showed in that dreadful time neither fear nor undue excitement, was Lossing. Where help was needed his hands were ready, and it was not long, so ill-fitted was the tindery edifice to resist the flames, before the worst had happened, the tower had fallen, and the dead and dying, rather than the burning structure, became the chief, almost the sole care of the earnest workers, firemen and others.
With the falling of the tower one end of the building, from top to base, became enveloped in flames and smoke, and flying timbers borne that way by the wind made the place especially dangerous. As the blackened fragments fell, small wonder that, seen through the smoke and fire, they were sometimes mistaken for human beings by those who had seen brave men making that fearful leap.
It was impossible to keep together in such a place, and we did not attempt it; but as I now and then cast an anxious glance toward Lossing, I noted that Voisin seemed to be all the time near him.
It was some moments after the falling of the tower, and while it was still believed that there were yet men upon the burning roof, that I moved toward the end of the building, where the smoke was hanging like a curtain over everything below, while lifting somewhat above, to look, if possible, toward that part of the roof which might be yet intact. Lossing and Voisin seemed to be eagerly watching something perilously near the choking smoke and falling timbers, I thought, and I shouted a warning to them just as a group of firemen crossed my path.
Almost at the instant a voice—it sounded like Voisin's—cried:
'Look! there's a man!'
In the hubbub of sounds the cry was not heard beyond me. I could not have heard it a few feet farther away; but as it struck my ears I saw Lossing look up, and, following his gaze with my own, I saw something black and bulky, something that looked like an arm thrust out, as it fell down and outward and into the thick smoke that obscured that end of the building altogether.
Was it a man falling there in the thick of that suffocating smoke? I saw Lossing spring forward and dash into the midst of it, with Voisin close behind, and then with a shudder I rushed after them, seeing nothing, but entering where they had entered the smoke-cloud, and then for an instant I paused and held my breath.
The thing that had fallen lay in the thickest of the smoke, and over it Lossing was just about to bend when I halted, seeing a sudden movement on Voisin's part which made me clench my hands.
For the moment, save for my unseen self, they were alone, shut in by the shifting but never rising smoke, and in that moment, as Lossing bent over to peer at the thing on the ground at his feet, the man just behind him drew from his pocket something which I guessed at rather than recognised, something which caused me to spring forward with my fist clenched.
It was the work of a moment to strike down the man who, in an instant, with a criminal's basest weapon, would have stunned Lossing and left him there in the choking smoke to be suffocated.
As Voisin went down I had just enough strength and breath to catch hold of Lossing and drag him out; and, in a moment, calling some others to my aid, we went in after Voisin.
As we lifted him the 'knuckles' dropped from his relaxed hand, and, unnoticed in the smoke, I picked them up and hastily concealed them. He was quite insensible, and a little stream of blood was trickling from one side of his face, where he had struck upon some hard substance in falling.
As he lay upon the ground a sudden thought caused me to start; and I bent down quickly, put my finger solicitously upon his wrist, and then pushing back the dark hair, which always lay in a curving mass over his brow, a little to one side, I laid bare a rather high forehead, upon which, clearly defined, was an oblong scar quite close to the roots of the concealing lovelock. Calling Lossing's attention to this, I replaced the lock, smoothed it into place and arose.
'Come away,' I said to Lossing, and leaving Voisin in the hands of those about him for a moment, we withdrew to a place where we might see and be unseen. I told Lossing of the attempt upon his life, and he was not greatly surprised.
'I ought to have been on my guard,' he said, 'for I think he caused me that lagoon dip. But I was carried out of myself by this cursed holocaust. What shall we do?'
'Keep out of his sight, and let them take him to the hospital. He's not seriously hurt. Possibly he's shamming, now; though he was stunned, as well as half-suffocated.'
It was as I surmised. Voisin opened his eyes after some time, and made an effort to rise, but he seemed weak and dazed, and they withdrew him from the place where he lay and made him comfortable in a sheltered spot, to await the return of an ambulance, going back for a few moments to note the progress of the fire.
They were not long absent, but when they went back to their charge he was not there, and a bystander had seen him rise, look about him, and move away, at first slowly and then quite briskly, in the direction of the Sixty-fourth Street entrance.
I had persuaded Lossing to remain out of sight, and had myself viewed Voisin's departure from afar, and when I reported the fact Lossing exclaimed, 'Masters, this must end! That man must not be permitted to visit Miss Jenrys after this!'
'Rest easy,' I answered him. 'The villain will at once take measures to learn the truth about you, and when he knows that you are not lying somewhere on a cold slab awaiting recognition, he will know that his matrimonial game is up,' I took a sidewise glance at Lossing as I spoke the next words, 'and that one fortune at least has slipped through his fingers.'
His eyes, sombre and proud, at once turned slowly toward me as I spoke.
'Masters,' he said, 'I wish to heaven June Jenrys were as poor—as poor as I am!'
To this I had no answer ready, and we walked on for a short time in silence. Then suddenly he stopped short.
'Masters,' he asked, 'what was it that fell when I went into the smoke, like an idiot?'
'A piece of timber with a burning rag fluttering from it. A coat thrown off by one of those poor fellows. Just the bait Voisin wanted,' I replied.
'IT SHALL NOT BE ALL SUSPENSE.'
Since the coming of Mr. Trent, who had secured rooms next door to the house occupied by Miss Ross and her niece, it had become my habit to pass an hour, more or less, in Miss Jenrys' parlours each day in the afternoon or evening, as was most convenient, and often, besides Mr. Trent, and of late Miss O'Neil, Lossing made one of the party; for he had come to know as much, almost, as any one of us concerning Gerald Trent's strange absence.
On leaving the scene of the fire it was important that I should have a few words with Dave Brainerd, and this done I was as ready to set out for Miss Jenrys' cosy apartment as was Lossing; for I felt with him that Monsieur Voisin must no longer be permitted to annoy the ladies, even for the good of the cause in which I was so deeply interested.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned privately, and from the lips of Miss Ross, that Monsieur Voisin had been there in advance of us and had gone.
Seated in the little rear parlour, with the portieres drawn, the clear-headed little Quakeress told me the story of his visit.
I had observed upon entering that June Jenrys was not quite her usual tranquil, self-possessed self; that her cheeks wore an unwonted flush, and that her eyes were very bright and restless, while there seemed just a shade of nervousness and a certain repressed energy in her manner.
Miss Ross had led me, with little ceremony, into the rear room, and she lost no time, once we were seated.
'I don't know what thee may have on thy mind this evening,' she began, 'but whatever it is, I will not detain thee long. Monsieur Voisin has been here. He left, indeed, less than an hour ago. I have had a talk with June since, and she has allowed me to tell you of his call. The man came here between four and five o'clock.'
In spite of myself I started. He had left the grounds with a bleeding face, little more than an hour earlier.
'He was pale, and at one side of his face was a small wound, neatly dressed, and covered with a small strip of surgeon's plaster. He was labouring, evidently, under some strong mental strain, and I was not much surprised when he asked June for a private interview, and in such a supplicating manner that she could hardly refuse. Of course he proposed to her; and in a fashion that surprised her; his pleading was so desperate, his manner so almost fierce. He begged her to take time; he implored her to reconsider; and he went away at last like a man utterly desperate. At the last he forgot himself and charged her with caring for an adventurer; a penniless fortune-hunter who might forsake her at any moment; and then he recounted word for word the things said in that conservatory episode; the things that were imparted to Mr. Lossing.'
'Even so. This was too much for June's temper. She ordered him out of her presence, and in going he uttered some strange words, the purport of them being that before leaving this place she might find that Mr. Lossing had vanished out of her life and gone back to a more congenial career, and that she might be glad to turn to him to beg such favours as no other man could grant, and he ended by saying that had she put him in the place of friend and confidant rather than you, he might have made straight the crooked places that were troubling the peace of herself and some of her friends.'
I was fairly aglow with excitement when she paused, and I told her at once my story of the day's happenings.
'Tell Miss Jenrys,' I said, 'that I can, at the right time, explain all the riddles he has astonished her with, and ask her to be patient yet a little longer.'
And then I went back to the others, to tell Mr. Trent and Hilda O'Neil that I had now traced the kidnappers of young Trent so closely that I had only to sift one block of a certain street to find the gang and, I believed, their victim; and, in spite of wonder and question, I would tell them no more.
One of the next morning's papers contained this interesting item, followed up by a copy of the letter sent by Mr. 'E. Roe, On the Square,' to Mr. Trent:
'THE TRENT MYSTERY.
'There is hope that the mystery of the disappearance of young Gerald Trent of Boston may soon be cleared up. And there is reason for thinking that the enemy is weakening. Not long since a letter, signed by the familiar name of "Roe," was received by Mr. Trent and promptly handed over to the officers. This letter we print herewith. Mr. Trent is now in this city, and there have been singular discoveries of late. It is quite probable that Mr. Trent even now will compromise the matter provided his son is returned to him safe and unharmed. For, strange as it may seem, to expose and punish the miscreants, it would be necessary to bring into prominence two ladies of fortune and high social standing, who innocently and unwittingly have been made to play a part in this strange affair. For their sakes, doubtless, a quiet compromise and transfer will end this most singular affair. The "Roe" letter reads as follows.'
* * * * *
Here, of course, came the letter which Miss O'Neil had copied at length for her friend, and which, in the original, had been sent by Mr. Trent to me.
When this notice had been read by the ladies and by Mr. Trent, I was besieged for an explanation of what seemed to them 'an unwarranted withdrawal from the battle'; but my purpose once explained, they were readily appeased and their faith in me restored.
It was true that I had tracked the 'clique' to very close quarters, but it was one thing to know that in one house, out of half a dozen, were lodged all, or a part, of the gang, and it was another thing to move upon them in such a way as to secure them all, and at the same time rescue and save young Trent, if he were really in that unknown house, and really alive. It was this problem that was taxing all my ingenuity, and which, as yet, I had not quite solved.
I had called alone on this afternoon, Lossing being on guard, and when the newspaper sensation had been explained and I was about to go, Miss Ross, with whom I had grown quite confidential, walked with me to the outer door.
'Friend Masters,' she said gently, 'I wish thee could tell me something about young Mr. Lossing. The words flung out by Monsieur Voisin were malicious words, and meant to do harm. But are they not partly true? June is a proud girl, but I am sure she feels this reserve of his, and he is reserved. I love the lad; he seems the soul of truth. But there is a strangeness, a part that is untold. My friend, you whom we call upon for everything, can you not make straight this crooked place, too?'
She put out her hand and smiled upon me, but her gentle voice was full of appeal; and I took the hand and held it between my own while I answered:
'I believe I can do it, Miss Ross; and I surely will try, and that at once. It shall not be all suspense.'
SIR CARROLL RAE.
I was tired with thinking and planning and loss of sleep, and that night I led Lossing away, an easy captive, to the gondola station by the Art Gallery. He had been in low spirits all day, and had not presented himself at Washington Avenue since I had told him of Voisin's visit there, which I did, word for word, just as Miss Ross had related it to me, and with a purpose.
He was a reserved fellow, and I quite agreed with Miss Ross it was time for him to throw off his reserve; so, after I had assured myself that our gondoliers had made no choice collection of 'pidgin English,' I began to talk, first of Voisin and then of June Jenrys. Suddenly I turned toward him.
'Lossing, pardon the question, but have you ever known Voisin previous to your meeting in New York?'
'I?' abstractedly. 'W—why, Masters?'
'Well, it might easily have been, you know. A man meets so many when he travels much.'
'Oh!' with a short laugh; 'and I, you fancy, have travelled much?'
'Why, Lossing, the fact in your case is evident—in your manner, speech, everything.' And I went back to Voisin, and his audacity in addressing Miss Jenrys, finishing by calling him a 'fortune-hunting adventurer.'
Lossing pulled off his cap, and perching it upon his knee, turned his fair head to look up and down the water-way, and then faced me squarely.
'Masters, that's precisely what the fellow called me.'
'Nonsense!' I said sharply.
'And isn't it true?'
'Not in my eyes.'
He was silent for a time, then:
'Masters,' he began, 'I've been on the point of opening my heart to you more than once. I am discouraged. I have wooed, yes, and won, June Jenrys with hardly a thought of how I could care for her or for myself. Gad! How thoughtless and selfish I have been! And yet you will think me an ass when I say that, up to this moment, I have never troubled myself nor been troubled about money matters. So help me heaven, Masters, I never once thought of her fortune, or my lack of it, in all my wooing of June Jenrys!'
'I don't doubt it,' I said easily, 'not in the least. It's not in nature that you should be, at your age, half man and half financial machine. It's contrary to your education.' And, smiling inwardly, I began deliberately to fold a cigarette paper.
'My education!' He turned upon me sharply. 'What—I beg your pardon, Masters, but what the deuce do you know about my education?'
'I'm a very observing person,' I replied amiably; 'haven't you noticed it?'
He was silent so long that, when I had finished making my cigarette and lighted it, I asked, after a puff or two: 'Lossing, is there anything I can say or do that will help you? I see that you are troubled. If it's money only, bless me, your talents will stand you in money's stead. Brains have a money value in this country, you know.'