Captivating Mary Carstairs
by Henry Sydnor Harrison
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"He seemed nearly stupefied because you weren't going to scold him, did you notice? I wonder if you are usually very cross with him. But on with our sightseeing! What is the name of this such-and-such a kind of steam-yacht?"

"Miss Carstairs," said Varney, struggling against his sudden exaltation for calmness and self-control—"we are both conscious that I owe you an explanation for—for what of course you must think my very extraordinary behavior. Believe me, you shall have it very soon. There is nothing in the wide world—ah—that is, I'd like very much to give it to you now. But—no, no—it wouldn't be quite right—no—not fair—"

"You think I am eaten up with feminine curiosity about Mr. Higginson!" she said, a little hastily. "Oh, I'll show you. Look! Look! We're turning around already."

"Don't look there. Look in this general direction now and then, and tell me what you see."

"I see," she said, looking anywhere but at him, "the strangest, the most volatile and—not excepting Mr. Higginson—the most mysterious man in Hollaston County!"

"Where are your eyes, Miss Carstairs? You are standing within two feet of the happiest man in America, and you don't even know it."



Passing the town-wharf laggingly like the maimed thing she was, limping nearer and nearer the spot whence she had set out three-quarters of an hour before, Mr. Carstairs's Cypriani slowed down at an abandoned private landing—the same one by which Peter's trunk had been conveyed ashore that morning—and ran out her stairs.

As the two on board stood watching the yacht make fast, conversing, if the truth be known, somewhat disjointedly, they were astonished to see the great form of a man rise from a grassy bed a little way back from the river-bank and advance towards them.

"Why, look!" said Mary. "There's Mr. Maginnis! I thought he'd gone to town long ago."

Varney did not answer her. His eyes were glued upon Maginnis, and he called in a strange voice:

"You have been waiting for us."

"Haven't budged a step," answered Peter, moving out upon the landing. And he added what seemed an odd remark to Miss Carstairs: "I knew you were coming back."

He greeted Mary at the foot of the stairs, cordially, and begged the privilege of escorting her to any destination it might be her fancy to name. But she stoutly declined his good offices, as she had Varney's a moment before, declaring that she could not think of troubling so busy and important a man.

"But where did you spirit Mr. Hare off to, if I might ask?" she said.

"On a very important mission I assure you, madam,—that is, Miss Carstairs," said Peter, diplomatically, having no idea how matters stood. "He begged me to let him go back and say good-bye to you, but I told him I'd make it a personal matter."

"I am awfully glad that you have stopped calling me 'madam,'" said Mary, rather inconsequently. "I did hate it so!"

And she walked off up the woodland path, swinging her recovered parasol, and finding herself with a good deal to think about.

Peter, coming on deck, found his friend waiting for him, taut as a whipcord.

"Well, old horse!" said Maginnis. "Welcome back to jolly little Hunston."

"The machinery broke down on me," said Varney, turning away to light a cigarette.

"Sure," said Peter cheerfully. "You knew it was going to do it when you started. I read it in your eye when we said farewell forever."

"You are quite mistaken," said Varney. "Ask Ferguson."

"Oh! Then you'll do it to-morrow morning, when the machinery is all right again?"

"No," said Varney, "nor at any other time."

The two men looked at each other steadily, unwinkingly. As the look lengthened, each face gave way to a slow reluctant smile.

"I won't pretend," said Peter, "that I am disappointed in you. I never dreamed that I hated this thing till the time came, and hang me if I don't rather like that little girl."

"It was a thing," said Varney, "that simply couldn't be done. We were a pair of asses not to see that all along." He glanced hurriedly at his watch and started for the companionway. "Jove! I'll have to hustle."

"Hustle! Where the devil to?"

"I'm off to New York by the five o'clock train to tell Uncle Elbert that I've resigned. I'll feel mighty mean doing it, too."

"Well, don't anticipate trouble," called Peter dryly. "You can't feel mean by the five o'clock train, however much you may deserve—"

"Why not?"

"There isn't any. She goes through at four-seven. You'll have to compose yourself to wait till eight-ten, unless you want to walk."

Varney halted at the head of the companionway, surprisingly disappointed. From the moment when the Cypriani had put about, he had been insistently conscious that his first duty now was to see Mr. Carstairs, beg absolution from his promise, and formally surrender his commission. So only, he had felt, could he go on with clean hands.

"Well, don't look so glum over it," said Peter. "You're not any sorrier about your prolonged stay in our midst than I am."

Varney turned an inquiring eye upon him, and he began walking rather restlessly up and down the deck.

"Oh, this same old rot!" he broke out impatiently. "I'll never be easy in my mind till you are back in New York, and stay there—"

"Well, well, Peter! Stick it out for three hours more—"

"Not long after you and Miss Carstairs steamed off," continued Peter, "Hare blew back down here, tired of waiting and a little excited. He had just heard some passing whispers about you and me. He says there seems to be a little suppressed excitement in town this afternoon."

"Why, I thought your paper had kicked all that nonsense into a cocked hat."

"A lot of people don't believe the paper, though," said Peter. "On the contrary they believe that you are Stanhope and that you bought the Gazette to disown yourself and save your hide. A foolish idea, but it has doubtless been helped out by whispers from higher up. Smith's selling out has made Ryan see red. Smith's still in town, by the way, which argues a good deal of cool nerve on his part. Hare hears that Ryan is in a murdering humor—"

"You seem to forget entirely that Stanhope—the real, the genuine, double-extry-guaranteed—has appeared, to bear his own—"

"But Hunston doesn't know it yet!" exclaimed Peter. "Kindly get that well into your head. All these Hackleys and Orricks still think that you're their meat—Where're you going?"

Varney, pausing at the hatch, deliberated whether he should say anything to Peter about Mr. Higginson's latest and most daring intrusion, and declared for the negative. "There's no reason," he mused, "why I should let him in on this. And besides—"

"To town," he said aloud. "I've got to send a telegram to Uncle Elbert. He's very much on my conscience—poor old chap!"

"I'll go with you. Got a Reform Committee meeting at five-thirty. And some other business."

But Varney had already disappeared below. Peter picked up his splendid guitar and, sprawling upon the transom, gave himself up to soft humming and, presently, to the work of composition. Soon, after some little painstaking effort, he produced the following, to be rendered to the tune of "Yankee Doodle":

The tale of crime is at an end, For little Laurence Va-arney Declines to swipe his loidy friend Upon the Cypria-a-ani!

Peter tried this over to himself with considerable satisfaction. He possessed a remarkably sweet tenor and pleasurably anticipated singing his ditty to its hero, and doubtless getting a cushion pitched at his head for his pains. But it happened that Varney was to go to his grave without ever hearing that small chanson.

He came on deck again in five minutes with a face which drove all thoughts of melody from Peter's head. In fact, at sight of it, he came instantly to a sitting position and his guitar slid unheeded to the floor.

"What's happened?"

Varney did not answer immediately. He stood at the rail and stared into the woods with fixed eyes which saw nothing. Peter rose and came towards him.

"Out with it!" he said encouragingly. "I'm full partner here. You want to murder somebody. Well and good! Now who is it?"

Varney turned towards him, half-reluctantly, and spoke in a quiet voice.

"I told you just now that the machinery broke down. I was mistaken. It was broken down."

"Broken down?"

"When I went below," continued the younger man, "it occurred to me to look in the engine-room and see how bad the damage was. It was very bad indeed. I'm no mechanic, Lord knows, but a child could make no mistake here. The effect is about as if somebody had jammed a crowbar in the works while she was running full-tilt. Probably that is just what somebody did. It'll be some days before she'll run again."

Peter's bewilderment deepened. "What in the world does this mean?"

"Treachery," said Varney calmly. "Somebody on board has been bought."

The two men stared at each other. Varney read on Peter's face the swift unfolding of precisely his own thought. He was rather surprised at Peter's quickness, in view of the fact that he knew nothing of the episode of the morning.

"Yes," he said. "That's the man."

He told concisely of Mr. Higginson's attempt to break up the lunch-party by keeping the guest of honor away. Peter's face, as he listened, underwent a curious change. It first slowly gained color, then slowly lost it; and all of it, from the top of his forehead to the end of his chin, seemed subtly to contract and tighten up.

His comment at the end was: "Excuse me a minute."

Upon which he vanished below to see with his own eyes and judge with his own brain. He was back in less than two minutes, with a tiny spot of red in the corner of his eye, and his manner unwontedly calm.

"You're right. Pretty clumsy treachery that," he said, standing and staring at Varney, who had dropped into a chair. "What was the man thinking about to ... I don't begin to see bottom on this."

Varney's eyes were on the sailing-master, who sat far forward, feet on the rail, apparently engrossed in a magazine. The young man had just recalled the master's curious manner when he notified him of the accident to the machinery.

"Larry—you meant to turn around anyway?"

"But Higginson, you see, couldn't predict that."

"The immediate cause of your turning—"

"Was the little mishap to our gear."

He raised his voice: "Ferguson! I'd like a word with you if you please."

The sailing-master jumped at the sound of the voice as though it had shot a projectile into his back. However, he rose at once and came forward in his usual, brisk, stiff way, halting before the two men with a salute. Varney eyed him inscrutably.

"I believe you were in town for a while this morning, Ferguson?"

"Yes, sir, I was."

"While there did you chance to see anything of an elderly gentleman, a stranger here, by the name of Higginson?"

Though he had the look of being braced for trouble, the man changed color at the direct question, and his eyes instantly shifted. With an evident effort he recaptured something like his usual steadiness and spoke in a voice of elaborate thought fulness.

"Higginson? No, sir. I know no one of that name."

"Ah? I thought not. I asked on the mere chance. And oh, Ferguson."


"I have just been down to look at the damaged machinery. Ignorant of these matters myself, I can naturally make little of it. You will prepare a written report for Mr. Carstairs, explaining in detail the nature of the accident, and in particular just how it took place."

"Very good, sir."

"And—oh, Ferguson."

"Yes, sir?"

"As the—er—mishap appears to be so serious, I think it best to have an expert from town advise with me before the work of repairing begins. You will therefore leave matters just as they are until I instruct you otherwise."

"Oh—very good, sir."

Peter turned his dissatisfied eyes from the back of the retreating sailing-master to Varney.

"What better proof d'you want than the rogue's face? Why didn't you fire him on the spot?"

"I neither hire nor fire here," said Varney. "These are Mr. Carstairs's employees. He will have to deal with them as he thinks best."

He rose immediately and put on his hat.

"With Mr. Higginson, however," he mused, starting for the stair, "the case is altogether different."

"Exactly," said Peter with great heartiness.

As one man they descended the stairs, crossed the battered landing and struck rapidly up the woodland path for Remsen Street and the town. As they walked, Varney silently condemned the unfailing genius of the Irish for intruding themselves into all the trouble that hove upon the horizon. It was with acute pleasure that he recalled, before long, his friend's engagement for half-past five. For he himself had but three hours left in Hunston that day, and he had an urgent use for them—beyond even Mr. Higginson.

"I confess once more," said Peter, tramping heavily, "that this chap is too many for me. I don't seem to grasp his game."

"And you call yourself a conspirator, Peter! Why, this is ABC."

"All right. I'm listening. Spell it out for me."

"Suppose the gang here is deep enough, as you think, to plan a little rough-house, ostensibly for my benefit, but really to get you into it and thus wipe you out. Doesn't it occur to you that my fading away to New York at the critical moment would rather knock the bottom out of the scheme? Why, it's as clear as noonday! Higginson, learning somehow that I expected to fly off immediately after the lunch-party, first tries to break up the party, and failing that, he bribes Ferguson to break up the machinery. Thus he hopes to make it impossible for me to get away—me whom he needs in his business as the red rag for his little old mob."

They had emerged from the woods and walked a block up Remsen Street before Peter replied.

"By Jove! That does seem to explain everything! That's it! It's Higginson, not Smith, who has been pulling all these wires from the beginning. I suspected the man the first minute I ever clapped eyes on him. But where do you suppose he got his hint?"


"Never. That boy is trustworthy, or I'll eat my hat."

"Well, I think so too. Then he simply corrupted Ferguson and wormed the whole thing out of him. Pretty clever, the whole thing, wasn't it? How much Ferguson may really know, or suspect, I have no idea. Of course, there is only one thing to fear now, and that is scareheads in the New York papers to-morrow—attempted kidnapping foiled, and so on. It would break Uncle Elbert's heart if anything of that sort should come out—"

"Don't you worry. It won't. I'll close his trap—tight."

Once more Varney was slightly annoyed by Peter's presence.

"If we find him," he began, as they came to the square, "you—"

"We must try not to be brutal, Larry," warned Peter soberly. "I remind myself that he is an elderly man—"

"If we find him," began Varney again, "you will please remember that he belongs to me. Higginson is strictly my pickings."

Peter grunted, looking rather annoyed too.

They crossed the square, two determined-looking men, and entered the Palace Hotel. Behind the desk a bored clerk sat paring his nails with a pair of office scissors. He looked up with a certain resentfulness.

"Excuse my interruption," said Varney. "Is Mr. Higginson in?"

The clerk's glance lowered tiredly. "Naw. Left town on the four-seven."

"I don't believe it," said Peter instantly.

There followed a silence. So stern were the gazes fastened upon the clerk that, looking hastily up at Peter's word, he promptly lost something of his lordly demeanor and became for the moment almost human.

"Well, sir, he's left us. Said he was takin' the four-seven."

"Where did he go?" demanded Varney.

"Don't know, sir, but I think to New York."

"You must know where he checked his baggage to."

"Didn't have any baggage, sir," protested the clerk. "Only his suit-case."

"Did he leave no address for the forwarding of his mail?"

"Naw, sir. He did not."

"Of course not. Why on earth should he?" said Peter.

Desisting from the absent but fierce stare with which he was transfixing the clerk, he drew Varney hurriedly aside.

"All bluff!" he stated positively. "Is it likely, after his day's work, that he'd be lolling around the lobby waiting for us to call? He's moved! But depend on it, he's got more work to do, and he hasn't left town!"

"If that's so, where do you recommend looking?"

Peter made a large gesture. "That's a horse of another color. I told you he had a faculty for disappearing into a hole and pulling the hole in after him. If anybody besides Ryan knows where he is, I should say that it might be Miss Carstairs. She seems to be his only friend on our side of the fence, since I tipped Hare off."

Varney all but jumped. "I'll ask her!" he offered almost precipitately. "The very thing!"

"It is quite possible," continued Peter, tensely thoughtful, "that the old rascal has sneaked to her since the luncheon, to try to pump something out of her about our movements—even within the bounds of possibility that he is with her at this moment—"

"A great suggestion!" said Varney cordially. "You certainly have a head on you, Peter. Of course, on the other hand, it is quite possible that he has skipped—made a bee-line for Newspaper Row. In that case, I'll see if she—Miss Carstairs, you know—if she knows his address in New York, and I'll hunt him up to-night."

Peter, glancing at his watch, discovered that he was already fifteen minutes late for his committee meeting.

"For this afternoon, then," he said, unwillingly, "you can have him, if you can find him. After to-day, though, he belongs to me. Wherever he is now, he'll certainly be back on the job to-morrow. Well—I'll leave you, then. Er—Larry. It's just as well not to be prowling around after dark by yourself, you know. I'll be back at the yacht early and we'll have dinner together before your train. Say six-thirty, eh?"

"I'll be there."

Peter hurried off for Hare's house with a mingled sense of unjustly baffled vengeance and vague uneasiness. Varney, drawing a long breath of relief, headed for the telegraph office, whence he dispatched the following telegram to Mr. Carstairs:

"Plan permanently abandoned. Arrive in New York by train 9.20 to-night. Expect me ten minutes later."

That done, he started rapidly down Remsen Street with a steadily mounting spirit.



There was a fine old hedge of box bordering the Carstairs lawn, old rosebushes inside it and many flowering shrubs. Splendid oaks curtained the big white house on either side, shading the expanse of close-clipped turf. At the left, a fountain-sprayer now whirled a mist of water over the trim grass, and far to the rear a man in rubber boots was hosing off a phaeton before a carriage house. On the back porch, an elderly cook was peeling potatoes and gently crooning some old ballad of Erin.

It was a serene and reassuring scene. Yet upon the spacious piazza, which undeniably contributed to the pervading air of all's well, the stunning information came to Varney that the lady of his quest was not at home. Nor could the maid at the door say where her young mistress had gone, or with whom, or when she would return. Possibly Mrs. Carstairs knew, but Mrs. Carstairs was unwell and could not be disturbed. Miss Carstairs would be sorry to miss him, the kind-hearted girl opined, and would he please leave his name?

The young man descended the steps in a state of the flattest depression. Disappointment, he reflected bitterly, crowded upon the heels of disappointment on this anticlimactic afternoon which yet should have been, in a bigger sense, so gloriously climactic. He had missed his train, and with it his honorable confession to Mr. Carstairs; missed Higginson; last and worst of all—it seemed to him now that this was all that mattered in the least—he had missed Miss Carstairs. In sooth, the world was all awry.

But at the gate, a thought came to him, radiant as a heavenly messenger. Miss Carstairs was at her seamstress's on the Remsen road. Had she not told him with her own lips that she was to be there at this hour?

He made a Te Deum of the click of the gate, and turned northward a face which bore record of an inner splendor.

He had set out to see Miss Carstairs in order to ask of her if she knew the whereabouts, in Hunston or New York, of the fair-spoken yet elusive Higginson. But with every step he found the force of this errand weakening within him. The memory of that gentleman's villany, so burning a moment since, grew steadily fainter and more inconsequential. Failing to locate him, he would of course make a precautionary round of the newspaper offices in New York that night. At the worst, he told himself with the swift fading of his anger, there was only a remote risk of any unpleasant aftermath. Why, the thing was over and done with—let by-gones be by-gones. As for those other matters supposed to be upon his mind—hints of approaching trouble for himself, and the knowledge of Mr. Carstairs's bitter disappointment over the collapse of his all but triumphant scheme—he could not for the life of him give them any attention whatever.

A far nearer and more vital matter was pressing upon his mind and heart.

To tell her everything at the moment when the yacht had swung back and he had thrown up his commission forever had been his first strong impulse. He had crushed it down only because he saw that to speak then was to take her at an ungenerous disadvantage. Now Fortune had sent him this new meeting, to be untrammeled by any such restraints. No grim duty governed his movements now; no consciousness of secret chicanery any longer enfolded him like a pall. Already the thought of what he had meant to do came back to him hazily, like the plot of a half-forgotten play. The hobgoblins in a nightmare seemed not more unreal to him now. His heart sang with the knowledge that he was to see her again, this time with no shadow between.

Two nights' rain had left the road dustless: it was silent and empty. All about him fell the pleasant evening noises of the wood, but he did not hear them. As he walked, his mind was rehearsing the whole story of his coming to Hunston, as he was now free to confess it to Uncle Elbert's daughter. That she would forgive him he never entertained a doubt. For he would throw himself wholly on her mercy—telling her everything, painting himself as blackly as he could—and suing for pardon only because he had failed.

But when suddenly he saw her, sooner than he had expected, his polished and elaborate phrases dropped from his mind as cleanly as had the recollection of the roguery of Higginson.

It was at that hour when the skies remember the set sun in a gold and pink glow. A little kink in the road straightened out under his swift feet, and a small cottage in a fair-sized lawn jumped out of the woods into vision, almost upon him. On the small square porch, her back to the road, stood Miss Carstairs, talking through the open window to some one in the room beyond.

Varney, having stopped short at the first sudden sight of her, walked on very slowly. Her voice came to him distinctly, and now and then he caught scattering words of what she was saying. She wore her blue dress of the luncheon and the hat which Mrs. Marne, and others, had so admired; and she gave him the odd impression of being somehow older than she had ever seemed before.... Yet she was ten years his junior and three days ago, at this very hour, he had never so much as laid eyes upon her.

"I'll come Saturday morning, then," she was saying, "and you'll certainly have them ready for me, won't you? Good-bye."

She turned from the window, came towards the steps. At the top of them, she saw Varney standing at the gate, not twenty yards away, and stopped dead. Then she came on down the stairs, down the graveled walk towards him.

"I'm going away at eight o'clock," he began without greeting, striving to make his voice casual. "I went to your house first—and—"

"You—followed me here?"

"Yes," he said, unsmiling. "I had to see you before I went—on matters of business—and—"

She was nearer to him now: for the first time he could see her eyes. In them lay a faint shadowiness like the memory of shed tears; but sweeping over that and blotting it out he saw a look which struck him like a blow.

"There is nothing for you to see me about, I think—any more," she said with a little laugh. "The game is up—isn't that what they say in melodrama? My mother has told me all about it."

"Your mother has told you!" he echoed stupidly, as one to whom the words conveyed no meaning.

"She had not expected to see me so soon again, when I went off to lunch on my father's yacht. The surprise was a little too much for her. You must try to forgive her," said Mary, and punctuated the observation with a small, final bow. "Will you open the gate for me?"

"No," said Varney, pulling himself sharply together. "Not like that."

The shock of her voice and look, even more than her words, had been stunning in their first unexpectedness. But now he remembered, with infinite relief, that of course she did not understand the matter at all; of course she would speak and look very differently when he had made his explanation.

"You think," Varney said, "that I mind your knowing about our poor little plot—that I am found out and my plans are all upset? How on earth could you think that? Why, that's all like something in another life. Don't you know what my being here at this moment means? The thing is all over, Miss Carstairs—all past and done with an hour before you ever saw your mother. I gave it up voluntarily. When the time came, just now on the yacht, I found out that it was impossible—unthinkable—I couldn't do it. The game was up then. That is one thing that your mother could not tell you, and it was to tell you this, and all the rest of it, that I followed you here."

She stood on the other side of the gate, hardly an arm's length from him, looking at him; a figure so pretty, so dainty, so extremely decorative that she seemed incapable of giving anything but pleasure. But in the eyes that met his own so unwaveringly, he read at once the contradiction of this.

"Yes, I suppose that would always be the way, wouldn't it?—that whenever I found out, you were just going to tell me?"

If she had searched her mind for a way to strangle his headlong self-defence, she could not possibly have done it more effectually. There followed a horrible pause.

"You mean ... that you do not believe me?"

"In the little while that I have known you, have you given me much reason to?"

"Can't you see that that is exactly the reason I wanted to tell you all the truth now?"

"Why did you wait till now? Weren't there chances to tell me this afternoon on my father's yacht? But—there's no use to speak of all this. It is enough that I know it now."

He was aware that her voice had lost that hard and polished lightness with which she had first struck at him; on this last sentence, he thought that it trembled a little; and in a flash, he saw the whole matter from her side of it, and for the moment ceased to think about himself.

He leaned his arms upon the green panel of the gate and looked down at her.

"Don't think that I blame you for not taking my word. Probably I couldn't expect it. We can't very well argue about that.... And of course I have known all along—how you would feel about me, when you found out what I came here to do. I was ready for that—ready for you to be angry. But I don't seem to have taken it in that you would be ... hurt. That makes it a good deal worse."

She made no reply. She had lowered her heavy-fringed eyes; her slim, gloved hands were busily furling and unfurling her white parasol.

"There is nothing in this that need hurt you. Believe me in this, at any rate. Only three people are concerned in it. You will have no doubt of your mother. That she told you shows how impossible it was to her, even with Uncle Elbert wanting you so much. You will not mind about your father—not in any personal way. He is a stranger to you. That leaves only me."

Still she said nothing. It seemed to him that he had never looked at so still a face.

"For me, I might make you angry as any—acquaintance might—any stranger. But that is all. It is not ... as if we had been friends."

She raised her eyes, and the look in them seemed to give the lie to every word he had said.

"What do you call a friend? Did I not trust you—put myself in your power—fall confidingly in with your hateful plot—after I had been plainly warned not to? Oh, if I had only listened to Mr. Higginson, I should not have the humiliation of remembering that—hour on the yacht!"

The name stung him into instant recollection. He stood staring at her, and his face darkened.

In the first staggering revelation of her look, his sub-conscious mind had leapt instantly to the conclusion that his cunning enemy, having found out his secret, had betrayed it to Miss. Carstairs. Her first words had disposed of that. It was the tortured mother, not the professional sneak, who had been before him with his explanation. But now it rushed over him that he had an infinitely deeper grudge against the vanished spy. For it was Higginson, with his bribe-money, who had broken down the yacht; Higginson who would, in any case, have forced the return to Hunston; Higginson who had given this girl the right to think, as she did think, that she owed her escape wholly to an "accident" to the machinery.

He had thought that he had saved Uncle Elbert's daughter from himself, and lo, his enemy had plucked the honor from him. The world should not be big enough for this man to elude his vengeance.

"You mention Mr. Higginson. Where is he?"

She glanced at him, impersonally, struck by the unconscious sternness of his voice.

"I do not know, but I am most anxious to see him—to thank him—"

"I am told that he left town at four o'clock. Perhaps you know his address in New York?"

"I do not," she answered coldly. "No doubt he went away hurriedly ... frightened of you because of his kindness to me."

She came a step forward to the gate. Instantly his thought veered back to her and his tense face softened.

"How can I blame you," he said hurriedly, "for thinking the worst of me? I've been thinking badly enough of myself, God knows. But don't you know, can't you imagine, that nothing could have held me to the miserable business a single moment after I saw you, had I not been bound by a solemn promise to your poor father?"

"My father! Oh, if he is the sort of man to plot a thing like this, and to bludgeon my mother into it, how could you endure to promise to do it for him?"

"Because he is breaking his heart for you, and you didn't know it. It seemed right that he should see you, since he wants to so much."

All her sense of the wrong he had done her flared up in anger at that. "How do youdare say what seems right between my father and me? He is breaking his heart for me, he told you? Did he mention to you that she had broken hers for him? Don't you suppose that I have had time—and reasons—to decide which of them I belong to?"

"All this," he said, "was before I knew you."

About them hung the stillness of the country and the long empty road. The woods stirred; a bird called; a portly hare poked his nose through the brush over the way, and suddenly scuttled off, his white flag up. In Mrs, Thurston's yard, the quiet was profound.

"All his life," said Mary Carstairs, "my father has thought about nothing but himself. I am sorry for him—but he must take the consequences of that now. If he is lonely, it is his own making. If my mother has been lonely till it has almost killed her, that is his doing, too. For you—there was never any place in this. As for me, I owe him nothing. He must beg my mother's forgiveness before he shall ever get mine."

She came forward another half-step and laid her hand upon the gate-latch with a movement whose definiteness did not escape him.

"You may take back that answer from me if you wish. And so, good-bye."

"Not good-bye," said Varney, instantly. "You must not say that."

"I am quite sure that I have nothing else left to say."

Her eyes went past him over the gate, out into the wood beyond. Dusk was falling about them; it shaded her face, intangibly altered it, made it for the moment almost as he had known it before. She looked very young, and tired. This was the picture of her, and he knew it then as he looked at her, that he would carry with him to the longest day he lived.

"Is it nothing to you," he cried in a rush, "that when the time came I couldn't do it? The yacht's breaking down had nothing in the world to do with it. I had already decided to turn back, to break my promise. That the—accident happened just then was only a wretched chance. I was going to put about at that moment."

She hesitated almost imperceptibly, seemed for a brief second to waver. But perhaps she dared not let herself believe him now: perhaps the strongest wish of her heart was to hurt him as deeply as she could.

"To say the least," she said with a little deliberate movement of distaste, "your coincidences are unfortunate. You—won't mind if I go on being grateful to the—gear?"

Under that crowning taunt, his self-restraint snapped like an overstretched bow-string.

"You shall not say that. You shall not. Miss Carstairs, you know I could have kept you on the yacht if I had wanted to. You know how I gave the order to put about and bring you back to Hunston. Did I look in the least then like a man whose hopes and plans had been ruined? You know I did not. You know I said to you that I—I was the happiest man in America. Will you tell me what on earth that could mean—except that I had decided to give up a thing that has been a millstone around my neck ever since—I met you?"

She made no reply, did not look at him. The dusk shadowed her eyes; and whether her silence meant good or ill he could not tell.

"You cannot answer, you see. We both know why. You will not be fair to me, Miss Carstairs. It is that night in the Academy box-office over again. Because I had to deceive you once—not for my own sake—you will not look at the plain facts. But in your heart—just like that other night—I know you believe me."

Of course she could not let that pass now. "I do not!" she said. "I do not. I must ask you, please, not to keep me here any longer."

Varney's face went a shade paler. Arguing about his own veracity was even less bearable than he had thought; his manner all at once became singularly quiet.

"The merest moment, if you will. I can prove what I say," he answered slowly, "but of course I won't do that. You must believe what I say, believe me. Nothing else matters but that.... Don't you know that it took a very strong reason to make me break faith with my old friend, your father—to make me stand here begging to be believed, like this? You have only to look at me, I think. Don't you know that I couldn't possibly deceive you now ... after what has happened to me?"

"I don't know what you mean. I don't understand. Don't tell me. Nothing has happened ..."

"Everything has happened," he said still more quietly. "I've fallen crazily in love with you."

She did not lift her eyes; neither moved nor spoke; gave no sign that she had heard. He went on slowly:

"This—might be hard to believe, except that it must be so easy to see. I've known you less than three days, and I never wanted to—even like you. My one idea was to think of you as my enemy. That was what Maginnis and I agreed—plotting together like a pair of nihilists. It all seems so preposterous now. Everything was against me from the beginning. I wouldn't face it till to-day, this afternoon. Then it all came over me in a rush, and, of course, your happiness became a great deal more to me than your father's. So we turned around, and it was then that I told you how happy I was. Didn't you know then what I meant? Of course it was because I had just found out ... how you were the one person in the world who mattered to me."

There was a long silence. It deepened, grew harder to break. Little Jenny Thurston, watching these two through an upstairs shutter, marveled what adults found to say to each other in these interminable colloquies. A young cock-sparrow, piqued by their stillness, alighted on the fence near by and studied them, eye cocked inquisitively.

"Of course, I'm not—asking anything," said Varney. "About this, I mean. I am answered, and over-answered, already. But ... do you believe now that I—voluntarily gave it up?"

"Oh," said Mary, "you—you must not ask me that. You must not talk to me like this. I did trust you once—fully—when you were almost a stranger; last night—and then this afternoon—"

"Do you believe me," said Varney, "or do you not?"

Her lower lip was trembling very slightly, and she set her white teeth upon it. The sudden knowledge that she was near to tears terrified her, goaded her to lengths. She gathered all her pride of opinion and young sense of wrong and frightened feminine instinct, for a final desperate stand; and so flung at him more passionately than she knew: "How many times must I tell you? I do not! I do not!"

Varney gave her a last look, stamping her face upon his mind, and took a step backward from the gate.

"Then," said he ... "this is good-bye, indeed."

Presently Mary raised her eyes. He had turned southward, toward the town, but at a pace so swift that he was already far down the road. A jutting curve came soon, and he vanished behind it, out of her sight.

Dusk was falling fast on the wood now. The green of the trees deepened and blackened, turning into a crooked smudge upon the sky-line. The road fell between them like a long gray ribbon. Nothing was to be seen upon it; nothing was to be heard but the rustle of the early night wind and the pleasant sounds of the open road.

Varney's mind as he walked, was a blank white wall. He had forgotten Elbert Carstairs, forgotten the train he was to take, forgotten even the unendurable injury that Higginson had put upon him. His one blind instinct had been to get away as quickly and completely as possible. But now, slowly, it was borne in upon him that he knew this road, that he had walked it once before like this, at the end of the day. His first night in Hunston—he remembered it all very well. It must have been just here—or here—that the rain had caught him, and he had gone on to meet her.

The cottage which had sheltered them that night must be close at hand. His eyes, which had been upon the ground, lifted and went off down the road. They fell upon the dark figure of a man, shuffling slowly along in the gloom, not twenty yards ahead of him.

He was an old man, shambling and gray-whiskered, and stooped as he walked. If he was aware that another wayfarer followed close behind, he gave no sign. Suddenly he stopped short with a feeble exclamation, and began peering about the ground at his feet. The young man was up with him directly, and his vague impression of recognition suddenly became fitted to a name.


The bowed form straightened and turned. Through the thickening twilight the two men looked at each other.

"You were not by any chance waiting for me?"

The darkness hid old Orrick's eyes; he shook his head slowly a number of times. "I passed you when you was at Miz Thurston's, sir. I can' walk fas' like you can." And he bent down over the road again.

"What's the matter with you?" asked Varney. "Have you lost something?"

"Los' my luck-piece," said the other, slowly, not looking up. "I was carryin' it in my hand 's I come along an' it jounced out. A 1812 penny it was an' vallyble."

He cut rather a pitiful figure, squatting down in the dirt and squinting about with short-sighted old eyes; and Varney felt unaccountably sorry for him.

"I wouldn' los' my luck-piece for nothin'," he added, dropping to his knees. "I'm a kind of a stoop'sitious man, an' I allus was."

"Perhaps I can help you; my eyes are good."

He went back a step or two, bending down and scrutinizing the brown earth. Orrick, presently announcing that the coin might have rolled, made a slow way across the road on his knees, patting the ground with his hand as he moved. Near the edge of it, half in the woods, lay a thick piece of split firewood, long as a man's arm and stouter. The knotted old fingers stealthily closed on it.

"It could n't have rolled far on this soft road," said Varney presently. "Just where do you think you dropped it?"

Sam Orrick rose behind his stooping figure with upraised club, a blaze of triumph in his sodden old eyes.

"There!" he cried with a senseless laugh. "It's there, Stanhope!"

The club fell with a thud; and Varney, meeting it as he straightened up, toppled over like a log, face downward.

Old Orrick stared down at the prostrate figure, and presently touched it with his tattered foot. It did not stir. His fierce joy died. He looked about him apprehensively, and his eye fell at once upon a dim-lit cottage off the road just back of him. His cottage—how had he forgotten that? Was that dark thing—a man—standing there at the gate? Suddenly a great terror seized the old man. He threw his stick into the woods and slunk away, toward the town. A loud yell from behind brought his heart to his throat, and he broke into a wild, lumbering run.



In the new-made study of his Remsen road cottage, Ferris Stanhope, Hunston's returned celebrity, sat under a green-shaded lamp and frowned down at a sheaf of his own neat manuscript. Behind him, in a corner, books and various knick-knacks lay spilled over the floor around an open trunk. The room was, in fact, in the litter incident to getting to rights. But this did not act as a stay on the great man's habit of industry, which happened to be of the most persistent variety.

The study blinds were drawn, and the rest of the house was in darkness. The author noted three emendations upon his manuscript, made three more. Then, with a muttered exclamation, he stripped off the interlined sheet altogether, tore it into shreds, threw the shreds on the floor and reached for a pad of white paper. At that moment he became aware of footsteps and heavy breathing in the hall, and looked up inquiringly.

His man-servant, Henry, was standing in the doorway, the long limp body of a man in his arms.

Mr. Stanhope sprang hurriedly to his feet. In his face the servant saw that same odd look of fleeting anxiety which he had noted there when they descended from the train that morning.

"In the name of heaven—what have you there?"

"Harskin' your pardon, sir," gasped Henry, staggering into the room, "I'm honcertain whether 'e 's kilt or not. Struck down from behind by an old codger with long 'air and gray whiskers. Hi was at the gate—"

"But what do you mean by hauling the carcass in here? Do you think I'm running a private morgue?"

Henry, who had been in his present employment a bare month, came to a wobbly pause, surprised. The body grew very heavy in his stout arms. Now the man's head slid off Henry's shoulder and tumbled backwards, hanging down in the full glow of the lamp.

"Hi thought, sir—" began the servant with panting dignity.

"O my God!" said the author suddenly.

Henry, who had not had a look at his burden, misunderstood.

"Ghastly sight, hain't it, sir—that bloody gash on 'is 'ead?"

"Quick! Put him on the sofa.—Now some water."

The servant, whose limbs were numb from the long carry, obeyed with alacrity. But returning hurriedly with the water, he was met at the door by his perverse master, who took the glass from his hands with the curt announcement that that would do.

Henry looked as displeased as his subservient position made advisable. "Hif you please, sir, I have quite a 'and with the hinjured and—"

"He's only stunned," said his master impatiently. "I 'll attend to him myself."

And he banged the door in the servant's face.

The man lay on the lounge precisely as Henry had happened to place him, his averted face half buried in the pillows. Investigation showed that he had no bloody gash on his head: that was Henry's imagination. There did not, in fact, seem to be a mark on him beyond three small scratches on his forehead.

Stanhope put his hand under the chin and turned it toward him, none too gently. For a full moment he stood motionless, staring down at that white face so like his own. Then he dipped his hand in the glass, and splashed a handful of water upon the closed eyes.

At the first touch of it, the still figure of the injured man stirred with faint signs of returning consciousness. Far down in a black and utter void, he sensed the first glimmer of distant light. Slowly, slowly, the glimmer grew. The silence within gave place to a vast roaring in his ears and indescribable pain in his head; and the dull glow which had seemed to him the shining frontier of some far new world whither he was gratefully journeying, resolved itself into a circle of greenish light.

"Drink this," said a soft but peremptory voice.

He drank, incuriously; and the fiery liquid ran to his head and heart and shot new life into his dead limbs. But the more his lost strength came back to his body, the more he was aware of the terrible pain in his head. It occurred to him vaguely that when once he opened his eyes, which he would have to do some time, there would be a horrible explosion and his head would go off like a sky-rocket.

"You feel better now," asserted rather than inquired the voice.

"Much. Thanks to you. It's only—my head. Something seems to be wrong with it, a little."

"Somebody hit you there with a club, from behind. You remember now, don't you? Who was it?"

"I don't know," said Varney wearily.

"Oh, come! Your head isn't as bad as all that—there's not even a bump on it. Think a moment. An old man, with long hair and gray whiskers. You must know who it was."

Varney pressed his hand upon his racking forehead. "Oh! So it was he—then. Poor old Orrick."

The author's face lost something of its color. "Orrick!... What—what has this fellow got against you?"

Varney did not answer. The name had started remote memories to working, and, very slowly, returning comprehension advanced to meet them. He and old Orrick had been standing together on a woodland road. They were hunting for something. An 1812 penny and valuable. That was it. Before that, he had stood a long time near a green gate somewhere, looking at a pair of dark-blue eyes. He remembered distinctly what merciless eyes they were, though something in a far corner of his mind recalled that he had once, oddly enough, associated them with pleasant things. Then, like one rounding a sharp corner in a driveway, his memory came face to face with everything; and he turned his head to the wall.

But there was no escape from that insistent voice, so eager for an explanation. A hand fell upon his shoulder, shook it almost roughly. "Don't let yourself drop off again. Here! You want another drink?"

"No, I'm quite all right now—thank you."

To prove it, and to make ready to get away where he could be quiet, he performed the herculean task of opening his eyes. A tall man was bending over him, an anxious expression on his handsome face. More than the liquor, more even than the jostling hand upon his shoulder, the look of that face, so strange yet so familiar, braced Varney to action.

The two pairs of gray-blue eyes, so oddly matched in tint and shape, stared into each other steadily. Presently Varney dragged his feet around to the floor, with difficulty, as was natural to their thousand tons of weight, and taking hold of a chair pulled himself up on them. He raised his hands, slowly and cautiously, to his head. Good! It was still there. The impression that it had left his shoulders and was floating around in the air a foot or two above them thus turned out to be an illusion.

"There!" he heard the author saying briskly. "A little effort was all you needed, as I thought."

"That was all. Thank you. You must have pulled me in from the road, didn't you? It was very kind. You have just arrived in Hunston—I believe?"

"I came only this morning," his good Samaritan replied. "In the nick of time, it seems, to be of assistance. And you?" he added, with a slight bow. "You are a native here, perhaps?"

"Do you remember me," asked Varney quietly, "when you were here twelve years ago?"

Mr. Stanhope selected a cigarette from a large open box on the table, lit it carefully, took several long inhalations. "No," he said easily. "But for that matter, I fear that I remember few of my boyhood acquaintances in Hunston. But—this man—Orrick, you said?—has there been bad blood between you two for some time then?"

"No," said Varney, simply. "He struck me, I believe, because he thought I was you?"

"What!" cried the author with overdone surprise.

"I am glad—to meet you so soon after your arrival," continued Varney. "Some one should tell you that your boyhood acquaintances have longer memories. You came here for your health, I believe? I think you might do well to leave for the same reason."

Stanhope's eyes became little slits behind his trim glasses. "What do you mean by these extraordinary remarks?"

Varney, whose brain seemed to have changed into a ball of shooting pains and brilliant fireworks, endeavored to think out clearly just what he had meant by his extraordinary remarks.

"Possibly you think that I resemble you somewhat?" he said, slowly. "A number of people here seem to hold that view. In fact, they have mistaken me for you—everybody has. Doubtless you know why they should feel unkindly towards you. I make myself perfectly clear, do I not? Only this afternoon I heard that a little party was being gotten together for my benefit."

The author dropped his nervous-looking eyes; he tugged uncertainly at his wisp of a mustache.

"This thump on the head from poor old Orrick may satisfy them," continued Varney. "But my idea is that it won't. I think Orrick was acting independently this afternoon. A kind of free lance, you know. I think he met me by accident. There's a train to New York at eight-ten," he added, looking about for his hat. "I believe I'd clear out if I were you."

"Something's back of this!" broke out Stanhope suddenly. "Some dirty scheme—some infamous plot—"

"Yes, you are right," said Varney with an effort. "There is a plot back of it. But I don't know that that makes it any better for you—"

"I insist that you explain yourself at once!"

"I was just about to. I came here three days ago, a stranger—on a little stay. A friend who is with me got interested in a reform movement here. Politics, you understand. The other side to injure him, published the story that I was you, under an alias. Naturally we didn't like that. We bought the paper just to say that I wasn't. I supposed that had settled it. It seems I was wrong. You see, a good deal of feeling had been worked up meantime—"

"Hello!" exclaimed Stanhope suddenly raising his hand. "What's that?"

Varney listened. "Men's voices," he said slowly.

The door flew open and a man whose ordinary impassivity was touched with a pleasurable excitement stood on the threshold.

"If you please, sir, there's some rough-looking men just sneaked up on the lawn. Ten or twelve—sort of a mob-like, Hi should say—"

"What do they want?" demanded Stanhope in a high voice.

"No good, sir, I'm thinking," said the servant shaking his head. "I was at an upstairs window and saw 'em come sneaking up one by one, hentering at different places. I made a noise not honlike the click of a 'ammer of a gun, and they took alarm and scattered back. But they hain't gone away, sir. Not by a long shot they hain't."

Henry's master leaned against his handsome writing table, his face white as a sheet. It appeared to be a moment when quick action was rather important.

"They'll try the bell first," said Varney. "Lock all the doors and windows downstairs, my man. Quick! When they ring, open a window upstairs, and ask what they want."

Henry recognized the note of competent authority. He assumed, anyway, that it was the strange gentleman's quarrel they had so fortunately been let into, and it was only fair that he should manage it. "Very good, sir," he said and flew.

"But I'm afraid," added Varney to Stanhope, "there is no doubt what they want."

A single quiet footfall sounded on the porch and the door-bell pealed. In the silence that followed, the noise of the turning of locks and the drawing of bolts was distinctly audible in the study.

"Damn you!" cried Stanhope, pale with the sudden white-hot passion of the unstable. "This is your doing—you—you masquerader!"

The two men stood facing each other, hardly a yard apart. They were almost exactly of a figure, Stanhope being if anything a shade the taller. Each was conscious as he regarded the other that he might be looking at himself, intangibly altered, in a mirror; and the fancy was pleasing to neither.

"I suppose I might as reasonably call you that," said Varney quietly. "I might as reasonably say that this knock on the head from Sam Orrick was your doing. The fact is that you were a fool to come back here. But as for those poor fellows out there—"

The door-bell rang again, insistently, and he broke off. A window upstairs rattled open, and they heard a man's steady voice:

"'I there on the piazza! What do you want?"

"I want to see Mr. Stanhope a minute," called a thicker voice from below. "On important business."

"'E's not 'ere," said faithful Henry. "'E's expected to arrive to-morrow."

"You're a —— —— liar!"

Immediately a general yelling arose, from farther back in the darkness. Diplomacy, it seemed, was about to be abandoned for immediate action. But over the sudden hubbub, that cool voice at the window rang out again:

"Hif it's fight you want, Hi'll say we were expectin' you. There's ten of us 'ere, hall armed—"

A derisive voice was heard in answer. "We'll see about that, my buck, pretty—soon—"

"Men! Hi've got a brace of six-shooters 'ere in my 'and. The first of you as comes into the light gets a couple of 'oles drilled into 'is hinside, neat and clean."

Having launched this threat from his inky window to gain a little time, Henry silently withdrew, flung downstairs and broke into the study, his scrape and bow forgotten, to inquire whether either of the gentlemen had, in Gawd's mercy, hanythink that would shoot.

His master, whose well-kept hands were opening and shutting by his side, did not answer.

"No," said Varney, "I am unarmed."

"Heven without a gun, sir," said Henry to Stanhope, and his look was not such as a servant wears to his master, "we could lick a harmy of them chaps."

"We could never do it!" cried Mr. Stanhope shrilly.

The shouting outside, though still a discreet distance back, grew more articulate. Very fearful were their menaces.

"Come out, Stanhope! Your time's come!"

"We'll string yer to a tree, yer——"

"Fellers, let's burn the damn rat out!"

Stanhope's face went from white to pale green. He steadied himself against the table with a hand that quivered, and looked at Varney.

"It's—it's you they want," he said.

"O my Gawd," cried Henry and put his face into his hands.

"Yes," said Varney, averting his eyes also, "it's I they want." And he started for the door.

But Henry, who had noted the marked resemblance between the two men and had caught faint glimmerings of what these strange things meant, barred his way with an immortal rejoinder.

"Hif you please, sir, Stanhope was the name they called."

Varney gave a tired laugh. His terrible headache made him chafe at any prolonging of the scene. Moreover, it made rational thought difficult, twisting common-sense into fanciful shapes. It seemed to him an unendurable thing that he should protect himself under the wing of such a man as Stanhope; and the thought of fierce action drew him like a lodestone.

"You're a good fellow, Henry," he said quietly. "However, your master and I agree perfectly."

But at that moment, the small window at the back of the room, which no one had thought to fasten, flew open and a man slipped nimbly through it—a big, hard-breathing, iron-faced man, with perspiration streaming rivers down his sun-tanned cheeks.

Mr. Stanhope, with a weak exclamation, moved so as to bring the table between himself and the intruder. Varney's eyes grew suddenly anxious.

"Thank God, you're safe, Larry!" gasped Peter, looking hurriedly about him, and characteristically asking no questions. "Four of us! Magnificent! We can hold this room for a year against those drunken sheep...."

The din outside grew deafening. One man, braving Henry's threat, had made a bolt across the star-lit space to the house, and no shot had rung out from the upstairs window. Others had instantly followed, and the little front porch now echoed under many feet. Yet, boisterous as they were, the mobbers seemed to hesitate at taking the front door at a rush, as though fearful of what reception might await them in the dark and silent hall beyond.

But now a stone crashed through a front window downstairs, and a man's voice rang out suddenly so close that it seemed to be inside the parlor:

"One minute to come out fair in the open, Stanhope, or we'll set a light to this house, so help us God!"

Mr. Stanhope gave a low cry. "Call to them, Henry!" he ordered, wildly. "Quick! Tell them I'm coming out this minute."

Henry, his back against the door, did not stir.

"Hare you goin' out, sir?"

"No," said Varney, "he isn't. But I am."

Peter came further into the pretty room, impatient eyes fixed on Varney. "What fool's talk is this?" he demanded roughly. "Nobody is going out. We four—"

Another loud crash of broken glass drowned him out. In Varney's eye the look of anxiety had deepened. He understood everything at a glance. Adroit proddings of a few poor Hackleys, some cheap liquor, the word passed to Maginnis as from a friend—this was how the boss of Hunston had plotted to set his heel upon Reform and stamp it out forever. He came three steps back into the room, sternly.

"You were a monumental fool to let them send you here, Peter—"

But the swelling tumult without made parley out of the question.

"No time for talk!" roared Peter. "It's fight now—before they are in on us! Lights out—and to the front, all of us!"

"Right hoh!" cried Henry, man to man, and ran out the door.

"No, no!" protested Mr. Stanhope thickly, "it is n't fair—"

Peter wheeled and looked at him, personally, for the first time. He had recognized him instantly, and now when he saw what he saw on that sickly green face, his fine eyes hardened.

"Four, I said? I see there are only three men here. No matter—three good ones are more than enough. Larry, stay here! I'll take the front door—the man the front windows—"

But Varney blocked his way to the door with a face more resolute than his own.

"Stand back, Peter. We'll do nothing of the sort. Those are Ryan's men out there. They don't want Mr. Stanhope—you know that. I don't like this place anyhow—I'm going to get out—"

"I'll sizzle in hell if you do!" bellowed Peter, and violently pinioned his arms.

But Stanhope, clutching at the chance, struck again for the safety of his skin. "He ought to go," he cried swiftly. "It is n't my quarrel—don't you see? Let go his arm there—you bully!—let him go!"

The shock of that, curiously, surprised Peter into complying. He dropped Varney's arms, turned swiftly to the author and fixed him with a look for which, alone, another man would have cried for his blood. "Did I hear you aright?" he said in an oddly still voice. "Do I understand you to suggest that he be sent out there alone?"

Mr. Stanhope shrank before that look, but this was the utmost concession to it.

"It's not my quarrel," he said moistening his lips—and suddenly, glancing over Peter's shoulder, his eyes lit with a frightened gleam of triumph. "It's he they—"

Over the shouting a single hoarse cry rang out very close at hand.

"Curse you for the cowardliest dog God ever made!" cried Peter, his passion breaking its thin veil of calmness like a bullet. "If you interfere in this, you'll not hide afterward where I'll not find you. Larry! You'll—" Peter turned and broke off short with an exclamation which was a good deal like a groan.

Varney was not there. Taking advantage of Peter's momentary distraction, he had slipped through the door and fled down the hall.

Shaken with the rushing sense of his friend's danger, Peter started wildly for the door. But in that fraction of a second, the lamp on the center table was blown suddenly out and he found himself in inky darkness. At the same moment something thrust itself dexterously between his moving legs and he fell heavily to the floor. Falling he struck out blindly, and his whirling fist collided with something warm and soft. The next instant he was up and groping madly for the door, his sense of direction all gone from him. But the author lay where he had fallen, quite still, and, for the moment, afraid no longer.

The moment's gain, however, was all that Stanhope needed, though it was no more. In the dark hall where a single candle burned, Varney had met Henry. The instant before, a man's head and shoulders had protruded suddenly through the broken-in parlor window, and Henry, waiting patiently in the shadow of the wall had flatted him to the floor with a heavy chair, which broke in his hands. Then he heard swift footsteps in the hall, and divining what had happened, bounded out.

"Stand clear, man!" cried Varney loudly. "I'm going out."

A prolonged shouting indicated that the promise was heard with approval outside. But not so with Henry, who closed in on him fiercely, crying: "Not hon your bloomin' life, you don't—harskin' your pardon, sir!"

Varney, however, was a thing of nerves and passion now, all energy and muscle and concentrated purpose. He shook the man off like a rat, and the next moment burst open the front door.

All this had happened far more quickly than it can be set down. Five minutes had hardly passed since Henry's first challenge had rung from the upstairs window. This would have been ample time to carry the house by storm, front and back, had the invaders had the leadership and wit; but these things they lacked. They were still massed on the front porch, pell-mell, in a turbulent group, ramping, raging, thirsty for action, but as yet ineffective; though one of them had at that moment set a match to a torch of newspapers and kindling wood. Delay had loosed the hunter's instinct in the half-drunken band: it broke into flame at sight of the quarry. Varney had scarcely shown himself in the half-opened door when some one struck him a savage blow on the chin that sent him reeling backwards.

He had come out to them with no plan, no sense of hostility, and only because, in his disturbed mood, he despised Stanhope so utterly that he would take no protection from him, or give him any share in his own troubles. But at that blow, a demon sprang to life in him which knew no law but an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. His left arm shot out like a piston at the dim flushed face before him, and the face bobbed downward out of sight.

At the same moment, the heavy back of a chair in supple hands descended out of space behind him with a thud; and a great tall fellow, staggering backward with the unexpected pain of that stroke, for the moment obstructed his comrades. For Henry had followed where he could not lead, and now ranged himself joyously at Varney's side in the narrow threshold.

The setback, however, was trivial. In the next breath, they closed round him with a great shout, thrusting Henry violently to one side. Three men were required for this latter task, who so missed the real sport of the night. Another was caught when the front porch fell in with a crash, and was pulled out with a broken leg an hour later. But enough remained. Varney was instantly lost in a struggling and kicking hurly-burly of arms and legs, and was borne with them in a rush down the short flight of steps to the lawn. All, of course, could not reach him. So it happened that two or three, on the outskirts of the tossing group, heard the feet of reinforcements in the hallway and wheeled at that sound. Even in the faint light, Peter's great size made him easily recognizable; and a young man of Hare's party named Bud Spinks, who admired him intensely and had partaken of his hospitality in the town, was still enough himself to cry out:

"Keep away, Mr. Maginnis! This ain't your fuss!"

"You'll see!" shouted Peter, and cleared the wrecked porch at a bound.

In his dash through the darkness for the door he had stumbled over the fragments of Henry's broken chair. One stout leg of it remained in his hand now. Peter's prowess with that weapon has passed into legend in Hunston. They tell to this day of a great giant, eight feet tall, watchful eyes in all parts of him, impervious to all blows, hundred-handed and every hand like the kick of a mule, who met ten men almost single-handed that night and routed them utterly.

He was the biggest man in Hunston, the strongest and the most terrible in anger. Bud Spinks, because he did not know whose fuss that was, felt the bite of that anger, and toppled beneath it like a sapling under the woodman's axe. So did poor old Orrick, who had met the others on the road and returned with them, and who was the only man of them all that Peter recognized. Two of those who were looking after Henry, having laid him to rest by this time, rushed Peter from behind. One of them struck him heavily on the point of the jaw as he swung around, and was astonished that he did not appear to notice it. The next instant he fell senseless under a blow that crushed through his upraised fists as a hammer might go through a drumhead. One Peter hit a glancing blow upon the shoulder, and as long as he lived he could never raise that arm above his head again.

Thus Peter was free to fling himself on that violently swaying mass which he knew held Varney. Even those on the further side knew precisely the moment he struck it. The whole body quivered with the shock of that impact. Those nearer that chair leg and that equally terrible fist had more personal testimony to his presence. There was no resisting either. They got in many blows upon him, as his bruised body and discolored face showed next morning. But he never once faltered. To himself, with a precious moment lost back in the study and a heart afire to know if he were yet in time, his progress seemed desperately slow; yet he cleft a path for himself as by magic.

Knocking some down, thrusting others aside or frightening them away, he found his answer at last with sudden directness. A big raw-boned fellow, fiercely drunk and working with his feet at something on the ground, wheeled and struck passionately at Peter's face. A blow like a cannon shot was his reply, and, for the second time under the impact of that fist, Jim Hackley (though Peter did not know him) measured his length upon the ground. Two or three scattering ones, still up, were hovering in Peter's rear with a discreetness which, it chanced was now quite superfluous. For at that instant, he caught sight of his friend, and immediately all the fight went out of him and his knees shook.

Varney lay anyhow on the trodden grass, dappled with blood, his head curved fantastically beneath his shoulders. Another had gone down with him and lay half over him, a long arm locked about him in a curious gesture that oddly suggested protection. This one lay face downward, but Varney, as it happened, was on his back, and his upturned face looked in the dusky night the image of death.

Peter dropped his club with a strangled cry, and went down on his hands and knees. No reassuring flutter met the hand which he thrust inside the trampled bosom. That heart seemed stilled. He gathered the limp form in his arms like a child's and turned a dreadful face upon the beaten fragments of the mobbing-party.

"By God!" he shouted passionately. "You've killed him!"

They faded away into the darkness, such of them as could walk, sobered by the horror of that cry, frightened more at that face than at all the blows which had gone before.

So Peter stood alone in the little lawn, dark figures of his enemies stretched here and there about him, his great arms clutching the inert body of his friend, groaning his pain to the four winds. But the next instant, flying hoof-beats sounded on the road, raced near, and a two-horse buggy, overloaded with men, pulled up sharply at the gate. A very small pale man, in a frock-coat plastered with dirt, and stuttering violently as he shouted Peter's name, tore up the path.

"You're too late, Hare!" cried Peter wildly. "They've killed him!"



Thus it happened that the southbound local, which went through at eight-ten, did not acquire Varney as a passenger that night; and his old friend, Elbert Carstairs, did not meet his emissary at nine-thirty, or indeed at any hour that evening. But two travelers for New York did board the local at Hunston, and both of them, as it chanced, repaired to the car provided for smokers, each for his own reasons.

One of them straightway lighted a long cigar, which a gentleman had given him that morning, doubtless unwisely, for he was not above twelve years old. The other, who happened to sit in the seat just before him, did not smoke. He was rendered conspicuous by the fact that he wore no hat, and by the deadly pallor of his face, relieved only by a reddening bump beneath the right eye. His clothes also were dirty and disheveled till he seemed scarcely the superior in elegance of the little ragamuffin behind him.

So that it was not surprising that the amiable conductor, standing by for the tickets and struck by the obvious likeness, should have observed:

"Your son's pretty young to be a-smokin' seegars, ain't he?"

Mr. Stanhope, not knowing what this remark meant, and caring less, answered with a cold stare, though inwardly he cursed the man for his fatuous impertinence. That done, he relapsed dully into his own thoughts, which were all of the house he had scurried from, terrified by Peter's cry, half an hour before....

In that house, in Mr. Stanhope's own deserted bed, Varney lay at his ease, as quiet as a statued man. Over the bed, industriously at work, hung the keen-faced town doctor, whom Hare had gotten with a speed which passed all understanding. At the foot of the bed stood Peter Maginnis, his face like the face of a carven image.

At the very moment when the garrulous conductor was trying to foist off poor little Tommy Orrick upon Mr. Stanhope, the old doctor raised his head.

"He's not dead yet. An excellent chance I should say."

Peter's face did not change. His hand tightened on the foot-board till his nails whitened. It was as though he had pulled a signal cord which ran unseen under the bed-clothes and rung a mysterious bell in some remote corner of his friend's head. Varney immediately opened one eye, let it rest on Peter and said in a clear voice:

"You all right, Peter?"

That done he relapsed immediately into unconsciousness again. The doctor took out a large handkerchief, wiped his brow and smiled. Peter, his quick relief like a storm of joy, went downstairs to tell his friends of the Reform Committee, and do a thousand other things.

By nine o'clock the town was ringing with the wild story, and in the still watches of the later night the telegraph flung it to far places, to be read in wonder next morning in a million homes. Overnight, the great eye of the country turned like an unwinking searchlight upon the dingy town by the Hudson where happened to dwell Mrs. Elbert Carstairs and her only daughter, Mary. And all the world read how two men who were doubles had strangely met in a lonely house with a drunken mob outside; how one of them, who had earned the mob, turned the other out to face it; how the son of a famous captain of industry had shamed the Berserkers in his passionate muscularity: how one "double" had fled to save his skin and how the other, battered almost beyond recognition, now lay trembling between life and death.

In Hunston, there followed next day a whirl of police activity, of which the net results were tame in the extreme. Of all the fierce band which had stormed the house of Mr. Stanhope, only poor old Orrick and Mr. British, the bookseller—he who had been pulled out senseless from under the beams of the porch—were identified. Mr. British flatly and resolutely declined to testify as to who his comrades were, and old Sam Orrick, terrified though he was by prospective horrors of the law, loyally perjured his immortal soul by swearing that the men were all strangers to him and that he believed them to be visitors from another city.

The count against these two proved to be only assault and battery, though for three days and nights it was a toss of the coin whether they would not have to answer for a graver charge. Peter's joy had soon proved premature and the doctor's smile faded in unexpected bewilderment. The sick man did not improve in the least. Delirium followed hard upon deadly stupor and there seemed no rousing him from either.

The yellow cottage with the trampled flower-beds and smashed windows, which looked so bare-faced with its front porch shaved away, had passed to Peter for the moment by right of conquest. In it everything that conducted to the comfort of ill man had been quickly and lavishly installed. Everybody was wonderfully kind and thoughtful. Mrs. Marne, who reached the cottage with Mrs. Carstairs half an hour after the doctor the first night, and had done wonders before the nurses arrived, was simply invaluable. Hare came night and morning, horribly formal and ill at ease, begging for something to do. Flowers and inquiries from total strangers were an hourly occurrence. From Charlie Hammerton came a quart of magnificent Scotch, followed on the second day by a pile of clippings from the Gazette's exchanges which must have gratified the injured man extremely if only he had been able to read them. His own leading article, headed "Laurence Varney, Hero," Editor Hammerton modestly suppressed. By the hand of sad-faced McTosh came a hideous floral piece, in fact, a red, white, and blue star, bearing the label "From the sorrowing crew of the Cypriani." Mrs. Carstairs, whose emotions at the time were hardly fully understood in the yellow cottage, called daily and sent beautiful roses and chicken jelly. The roses faded and the chicken jelly was considerably enjoyed by the nurses. But from Mrs. Carstairs's daughter, whose filial relations had invoked all these things, there came neither flower nor word.

The fight had taken place upon a Thursday night. On Friday, the Hunston doctor, at his wits' end, had asked for a consultation. On Saturday, the great doctor from the city had spent an hour in the sick-room, first examining the patient in a bodily way, and then prodding him with a tireless stream of questions, however futile—anything to make him talk. At the end of that time he had whispered awhile with the town doctor and drawn Peter into the study downstairs.

"What's the matter with him, Mr. Maginnis?" he asked abruptly.

"Matter?" echoed Peter. "Wasn't he beaten to a pulp?"

"Kicks don't kill a man with that kind of physique. What has he got on his mind?"

"I don't know," said Peter, miserably. "The last time I saw him—"

"Find out," said the great doctor, briefly. "If you don't, he may die. He seems to have had a shock of some kind. You must work upon that line. There is nothing the matter with his body that he can't throw off. But he will not get well unless you put the idea into his head that he must."

And glancing at his watch, he bowed stiffly, and was whirled away to the station.

Peter was utterly at a loss. He had no idea what had taken Varney up the road to Stanhope's that afternoon, much less of any shock that could conceivably have come to him. But he set himself to find out. By the next morning, partly through inquiry, partly through patching two and two together, he had worked out a theory. Guesswork, of course, was rather dangerous in a delicate matter such as this; but the doctor's report after breakfast had been the very worst yet. Peter never faltered. He picked up his hat from the study table, in front of which he had been figuring these things out, and started down the hall.

Mrs. Marne was sitting quietly on the bottom step of the stairway, her dark head in her hands; and Peter was glad to see her.

"I've found out a little about that," said Peter, in a low voice. "I believe it was—to see Miss Carstairs that he came up the road that day."

"Yes," said Mrs. Marne. "I have heard that too."

"She struck me," said Peter, "as a nice little girl. Probably she doesn't understand the situation. I am going to see her now."

"She won't see you," said Mrs. Marne.

"Yes, she will," said Peter quietly, and started for the door.

But Mrs. Marne caught him by the hand, protectingly, like an elder sister, and drew him into the parlor and shut the door.

Half an hour later Peter came out and went up the stairs. At the landing he paused to take off his shoes, and went on up in his stocking feet.

It was Sunday morning, near eleven o'clock, a brilliant morning all sun and wind. The far church bells of Hunston were ringing on the clear air like chimes from another world. Never afterward could Peter hear the Sunday bells without thinking of that moment. At the door, he met Miss Nevin, the day-nurse, coming out. She said she was going to telephone the doctor.

Peter slipped into the darkened room and shut the door noiselessly behind him. After a moment, he tipped over to the bed and sat down in the nurse's chair, silently. The bed looked very fresh and white and unrumpled, and that was because the injured man had for two days lain almost wholly quiet. The thin coverlet defined his long frame perfectly. Many bandages about the limbs and trunk made it look grotesquely bumpy and misshapen. One arm, wrapped from shoulder to finger-tip was outside the coverlet; now and then the hand, which was muffled large as a boxing-glove, moved a little. Cloths ran slantwise about chin, brow, and head, leaving only breathing space and one eye uncovered.

Presently, as he became more used to the darkness, Peter observed that the eye was open and regarding him incuriously: and he started in some confusion. "Do you feel much pain now, old chap?" he began rather huskily.

"Pain?" repeated Varney, vaguely. "No, I don't feel any pain."

"No pain! That's fine!" said Peter with lying cheerfulness, for he knew that this deadness to sensation was the worst feature in the case. "That—left leg is rather badly bruised, it seems. I was a little afraid that might be troubling you some."


"Did Miss Nevin show you all your flowers? They 've just been pouring in all day every day. We could turn florists to-day without spending a penny for stock. Couldn't we, Larry, eh?"

"Yes," said Varney laboriously. "We could."

"Everybody has been so kind," continued Peter, desperately, "that upon my word it's hard to pick and choose. If I were asked to say who had really been kindest—let me see—yes, I'd name—Mrs. Carstairs. Flowers and something to eat, some little dainty or delicacy, twice a day. The fact is, old chap, to put it plainly, though I don't want to distress you, you know—she is blaming herself about this. Blaming herself greatly."

"She oughtn't to do that," said Varney after a time.

"Of course she ought n't to. Yet it's natural enough in a way. Of course, I'm blaming myself, too—like the mischief—I'd had so many warnings, you know. Little Hare is blaming himself. And Mr. Carstairs—poor old fellow! I'll show you his letters when—the light's a little better for reading. They're fine, honestly. Of course, he wanted to come on right away, but I wouldn't let him."

Silence again.

"So you see how many of us," continued Peter, nearing his awkward climax, "have been worried, personally, about this—trouble. And how much, well—how much—happiness is bound up in your getting well. And by the way—I declare I nearly forgot Miss Carstairs—I declare!"

There was a long silence, which Peter resolved not to break. Through the shuttered window, the distant bells chimed faintly into the room. The sick man's stray arm moved restlessly on the coverlet, but otherwise he lay quite still.

At length Varney said: "When did you see Miss Carstairs? She hasn't—been here—?"

But poor Peter's errand was not so easy as that. He had no glad shaft of promise with which to pierce that deadly Nessus-coat of apathy.

"She couldn't come here, old chap," said Peter, very gravely. "You hadn't heard, of course. Miss Carstairs is very ill."

"Miss Carstairs is very ill," repeated Varney, not inquiringly, but like a child saying over a lesson.

"Awfully ill," said Peter encouragingly. "It seems that she came home Thursday night a little after seven, looking very pale and badly, but insisting that there was nothing the matter. She sat upstairs with her mother until about eight, when somebody called her down to the telephone. Well, she didn't come back. So after a while Mrs. Carstairs sent down to find out why. The maid found her in the hall—in fact, on the floor, I believe. She had fainted, you know. Yes—that was it. Fainted dead away—poor little girl."

After what seemed an eternity of waiting, Varney asked: "What was it—do you know? At the telephone?"

"Yes. It was Mrs. Marne. She called up Miss Carstairs in the first excitement of—of your accident, it seems, and I'm afraid she gave a very exaggerated and alarming account, you know. They put her to bed," continued Peter clearing his throat, "and there she's been ever since. The great shock, you know. Mrs. Marne saw her this morning—the first time she had been admitted. It's all quite sad. Quite sad. We'll talk of it again when—you're feeling a bit stronger."

Varney, who had lain like a statue for two days and nights, had begun moving a little under the coverlet, stirring first one swathed leg, then the other, as though seeking vainly to shift his position. Now he said at once: "I want to hear now."

Peter gave a deep sigh. He thought, and rightly, that this was the best thing that had happened yet.

"Well, it's all very strange, Larry. When I said that it was the shock of the accident that had made her ill, I did not tell the whole truth. It seems that she is suffering from a terrible hallucination about it. She feels in some strange way that the responsibility for all this—is hers. She told Mrs. Marne that she was responsible for your being on the road that night, and that she had been unfair about something or other, and that but for that the—trouble would never have happened. I don't pretend to understand it. But feeling as she does now—if anything were to—to go wrong, the poor child would count herself—she would count herself—"

"Don't!" said Varney very clearly and distinctly.

His face looked all at once so ghastly that Peter's heart stopped beating. He thought in a horrible flash that the end had come, and that he, Peter Maginnis, had brought it by tearing at the worst wound his friend had. His clumsy diplomacy fell from him as at the last trump. He dropped on his knees beside the bed with a groan.

"For God's sake, Larry, don't leave that mark to a child like her. Don't give us all that sorrow to carry to our graves—"

But Varney had pulled his arms free and was clutching wildly at his head-bandages with heavily swathed fingers.

"You needn't worry about me," he said in a sharp anguished voice. "Great Scott! What's—what's wrong with my head! It's killing me."

He recovered with a speed which puzzled the old Hunston doctor even more than his previous lethargy had done. Five days later he was well enough to be lifted downstairs to the small back piazza, and here he lay blanketed up in a reclining chair for half the sunny afternoon.

A bundle of letters and telegrams lay on his covered knees; and going slowly through them, he came presently to one from Elbert Carstairs, arrived only that morning:


Words are feeble things at their best, and I know of none that would convey to you my great joy at the news that you are out of danger. By the same mail, I have learned that my other dear sick one in Hunston is quite herself again, and I say to God in gratitude upon my knees that my cup is full."

A pause in the reading here. The long hand of the nurse's clock on the window-sill had crawled half around the dial before Varney raised the letter again from his blanketed lap:

"There is much in my heart to tell you, much to beg your forgiveness for, but I shall keep it to say to you face to face. Just now the keenest point in my grief is that all this suffering I have brought upon you has been worse than unnecessary. Light has come to me in these sleepless nights, and I see now that there was a much better way to seek what I sought, a far happier path."

The letter slipped down upon the swathed knees again, and he lay staring at the blown and sunny tree-tops. Presently the door at his side opened; a man started to come through it, stopped short, and stood motionless on the threshold.

Varney slowly turned his head. In the doorway, to his dim surprise, stood Mr. Stanhope's man, Henry, bowing, unobtrusive, apologetic, ready to efface himself at a gesture like the well-trained servant he was.

"Why—is that you, Henry?"

"Harskin' your pardon for the hintrusion, sir," said Henry with a wooden face. "I didn't know you were 'ere, sir. 'Opin' you are feeling improved to-day, sir—if you please, Hi'll withdraw—"

"Henry," said Varney, "that is no way for you to speak to me—after the way you stood up for me that night. Come here."

And he disentangled from his covers and held out a rather maimed-looking hand.

Then he saw the soul of the man whip through the livery of the menial like a knife, and Henry, stumbling forward with a working face, clasped that hand proudly in his strong white one: only he dropped on one knee to do it, as if to show that, though gentlemen might be pleased to show him kindness now and then, he perfectly understood that he was not as they.

"Ho, sir," he broke out in a tone very different from his well-controlled voice of service, "I never seen a pluckier thing done, nor a gamer fight put up. You make me too proud, sir, with your 'and—man to man ... I was shamed, sir, till I couldn't bear it when I came to and learned that I 'ad not stayed with you, sir, to the end. Three of them closed in on me, sir, and harskin' your pardon, sir, I was whippin' hof 'em to standstill when one of them tripped me from be'ind, sir,—"

"Stand up, Henry," said Varney, rather agitated, "like the man you are."

Henry stood up, with a jerky "Thank you, sir," striving with momentary ill-success to get a lackey's mask back upon that quivering face.

"I'll always remember you," said Varney with some difficulty, "as a good and brave man. I don't think I'll ever forget how you disobeyed an order—to try to save me. And now tell me—what became of your master?"

"'E's in the village, sir," said Henry rather bothered by his throat "I'm expecting 'im in any moment, sir—"

"In the village?" repeated Varney, surprised. "Mr. Stanhope is in Hunston?"

"Mr. Stanhope!" said Henry with an insufferable contemptuousness for which he at once apologized. "Harskin' your pardon, sir—I thought you inquired for my master. Mr. Stanhope, I 'ave 'eard, sir, has sailed for Europe."

"Well, who's your master, then?"

"Mr. Maginnis is my master, sir."

Varney deliberated on this, and slowly smiled. "Well, you've got a good one, Henry."

"Thank you, sir. That's 'im now, sir. I 'ear 'is motor in the road. If you'll excuse me, sir—I'll go and let 'im in."

And he bowed and went away, only pausing in the entry to attend a moment to his blurred eyes with the back of a supple hand.

Peter stepped out into the porch with a cheery greeting and dropped into a rocking-chair, looking worn and tired. The instant his heavy anxiety over Varney was relieved, he had thrown himself back into the fight for reform with a desperate vigor which entirely eclipsed all his previous efforts.

"We-ell," he said in answer to Varney's question, "we're humping along—just humping along. Time's so confoundedly short, though. You know, Larry, this business the other night is proving the best card we've got. Fact. I haven't tried to tell you how worked up the people have been about your—accident, and how most of them don't stand for it for a minute. It's pretty well understood around town that politics was back of it all in some way, though nobody can state a single fact, and I've scoured the town for evidence without finding a scrap. Anyway, it's the solemn fact, and the committee can prove it, that that feeling is bringing over a lot of votes that we never could have reached otherwise with a long distance 'phone."

"Praise be that they're coming over, anyhow."

"This fight," continued Peter, absorbedly, "is confoundedly interesting because it is typical of what's going on all over the country. Hunston is just a dingy little microcosm of the whole United States of America. You can't blame these poor beggars here much, afraid of their jobs as they are. It takes courage to make a break for virtue when the devil's holding you by your bread and meat. But—well, I'd hate like the mischief to lose, particularly since we've managed to come in for such a beautiful lot of lime-light. You know this fight is being watched all over the country, since that trouble? And hang it, it does make a difference when the Associated Press carries half a column about you every night. Do you remember that first night in Hunston, Larry," he continued, "when you said that our part in the town's affairs must be that of quiet onlookers only? Quiet onlookers! And now everybody in the country is playing quiet onlookers on us. Our names are household words in California, and I'm credibly informed that they're naming babies after you all through the middle West. Funny, isn't it?"

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse