"Everything as snug's pigs in clover," chuckled Jounce. "This ere's the boss' private room, where he entertains peticler guests. Them as wants a private confab comes in here."
One fact the detective noted, the room had no window, and was evidently entirely within the building. Not a sound from without, or from the barroom penetrated the place.
Jounce locked the door, an unnecessary precaution, the detective thought, and threw himself into one of the chairs.
"Sit down, pardner. We kin confab here without bein' disturbed, you bet yer buttons."
"I should think so," was the dry response.
"Help yerself to refreshments."
Jounce tapped the bottle with a dirty finger.
Keene, however, was wise enough not to indulge. He saw before him but one man, and if treachery was meditated, he believed himself a match for this one easily.
"Now, then, perceed."
"First, Mr. Jounce, we'd best come to an understanding," declared the disguised detective.
"You expected to meet my friend Barkswell tonight?"
"For what purpose?"
"Didn't he tell yer?"
"It was about the payment of money?"
"For what service?"
"Don't yer know?"
Jounce leaned his face between his hands and grinned.
"For the murder of the detective from New York, Sile Keene?"
"Putty nigh it; but you call it by a hard name, stranger. Did the kurnel send the rhino?"
"I mean Andy Barkswell, of course."
"He wanted to make sure that you had completed the job."
"Why, condum it, wasn't he thar? What more could he ax?"
"Nothing, so far as Keene is concerned."
The detective realized that he was treading on dangerous ground, yet he resolved to risk it.
"It's about that other affair."
"The t'other affair?"
"Over at Ridgewood."
"What the Satan you drivin' at, pardner?"
"You ought to know."
"Speak right out plain, pardner, and don't beat about ther bush," growled the tramp, showing his teeth.
"Well, it's that little affair about the girl that died so suddenly over at Ransom Vane's. You haven't forgotten that, of course?"
"Of course not."
The ugly eyes of the tramp regarded the disguised detective in a way that was not pleasant.
Was the tramp really the guilty person in that tragedy? If so, how much or how little did Andrew Barkswell know of the affair? The letter that had been found with the dead girl would indicate that she had been on somewhat intimate terms with either Barkswell or Bordine. As yet Keene was not satisfied as to the identity of the two. He resolved to make a bold venture at the present time, and learn if possible what there was to know or at least how much the tramp knew on the subject.
"It seems that our friend Andrew isn't exactly satisfied with the way you bungled that job."
"You left too many straws for the beaks to take hold of." A low, gutteral laugh was the only answer vouchsafed to this by Mr. Perry Jounce.
"You know the job was a botch?"
"I don't know nothin' about it."
"Well, anyhow, Andrew does, and he refuses to pay a cent until somebody goes up for the murder of that girl. Do you understand?"
"No, I don't!"
The eyes of the tramp still fixed themselves in an ugly glow on the countenance of Keene.
"Well, so long as the hounds are on the scent there's danger to Andrew, that to you must be plain enough; and danger to yourself as well. Now, why not fix the crime on some one, and thus make it safe for Andrew and you beyond peradventure? That is the plan, and until that is carried out my friend Barkswell doesn't propose to pay out any money."
"And he wants me to fix that thing of killin' the gal onto an innersent man."
"Good land, what does he take me for?"
"A man who is ready to work on any line for money."
"Wal, when he pays me fur puttin' a head on Sile Keene, then I'll look to 'tother biz. But I hain't no fool, and I reckin' you ain't 'goin' cordin' to orders from Andy!"
"Why do you think so?"
"Because, sense he didn't kill the gal, why shu'd he keer 'bout gittin' someone else in the limbo. Partner, you ain't sharp."
"I may not be. Of course Andrew didn't kill the girl, but he knows who did, and—"
"Does he? Then somebody's peached."
"Not necessary. Andy Barkswell's not a fool, Mr. Jounce."
The look on the tramp's face was comical in the extreme.
The detective believed the hour for action had come. He had been anxious to get from his companion a confession, but it seemed the fellow was too shrewd to give himself away.
"Of course he knows that you put the girl out of the world—"
"That's a lie."
The detective was on his feet in an instant.
"I say that's a lie! I didn't tech a hair o' Victory Vane's head, but I know who did."
"I aint a-goin' to tell you, Sile Keene!"
The tramp came to his feet and bent threateningly across the table.
"Ha! you know me?"
The detective whipped out his revolver.
"Too late, pardner!"
There was a horrible grin on the face of Perry Jounce. On the instant an object shot from above full upon the head of Keene, and he sank lifeless to his chair!
A YOUNG GIRL'S DISMAY.
Robbed of her precious jewels!
No wonder Rose Alstine was dismayed.
How had the robber gained entrance to her room?
An examination of the windows, in fact all openings to the house, proved them intact, and yet the fact remained that the robbery had been committed.
Miss Alstine sent word to the chief of police, who came at once, looked over the premises, and promised to use every effort to discover the burglar.
Rose never once thought of her lover in connection with such a crime.
It was Miss Williamson who first called her attention to her visitor.
"There's no telling what men will do, cousin Rose."
"What do you mean by that?" demanded the heiress quickly.
"I mean that it is easy enough accounting for the loss of your jewels."
"Your friend, Mr. Bordine borrowed them, doubtless to tide over a financial difficulty."
"Well, you can't trust these men."
"But you shall not insult August with such insinuations," cried Rose, reddening indignantly.
"Well, he was your only visitor. If a burglar had entered the house there would be some signs by which you could determine how he gained your room. None exist, so I say that it was undoubtedly that lover of yours who borrowed his lady's jewels."
And then Miss Williams gave vent to a tantalizing laugh, that only served to roil the feelings of Rose more deeply than ever.
"You ugly girl!" exclaimed Rose, "I ought to turn you out of this house for such vile aspersions. I won't, however, for I know you are only doing this to tease me."
"After all it is true."
"You don't believe any such thing, Janet."
"Yes I do."
Rose left her cousin, hot with indignation. She went to her mother, a weak invalid, who had no consolation to offer. That was not in her line. The word peevish would pretty well describe the condition of Mrs. Alstine, who had a chronic ailment that prevented her enjoying the hospitality of friends.
Two days passed with no solution of the mystery.
And during the time August Bordine did not come to the Alstine house. For this there was good reason. He was not yet able to move about comfortably on account of his hurt. He read of the burglary in the morning paper, and wondered if the police would prove any more successful in capturing the burglars than they had in elucidating the Ridgewood murder mystery.
After the passage of twenty-four hours the young engineer became not a little anxious with regard to Silas Keene.
The detective had promised to report before now, his visit to the saloon and interview Perry Jounce, the tramp.
"Why did he not come?"
"I can't stand this much longer," murmured August, as he sat still under the burden of pain, waiting for some news from Keene.
Rose Alstine was not a strong-minded female, yet she possessed a will of her own, and once she set her mind on an object she was destined to obtain it or make a desperate effort at least.
A sudden resolve entered her mind to visit the home of August Bordine and consult with him on the mysterious burglary.
No sooner thought of than the impetuous girl proceeded to carry it into effect. She took a street car to the suburbs, and then, with directions from the driver, set out to find the house of Mr. Bordine, which she had never visited.
These were among dwellings in Grandon similar to the one occupied by August Bordine and his mother.
In a little time the girl came to a halt in front of a cottage.
"This must be the place," thought Rose, opening the gate.
She went to the front door and rung the bell. No answer was vouchsafed, and concluding that no one was at home, Rose turned to retrace her steps, when she espied a summer-house at a little distance, from which the murmur of voices proceeded.
The house was almost hidden by dense foliage.
"August and his mother are out yonder, it seems," thought Rose. "I will go to them, and give August a glad surprise." Then, with a light heart, the maiden tripped down a grass-lined path toward the summer-house.
She was to encounter a scene she little expected. Soon she was in the vicinity of the cool bower where August and his mother had retired for friendly chat.
"Don't speak that way, Andrew; it hurts me."
It was the voice of a woman, and involuntarily the steps of Rose Alstine halted. Could that be her lover's mother thus addressing her son? The girl was too deeply excited to notice that the name uttered was not that of her lover.
Moving on, Rose soon stood where she could gaze into the summer-house. Then she came to a halt. It was a picture that poor Rose never forgot— that presented to her at that moment.
She saw two persons in the little leaf-embowered room—a man and young woman.
The latter stood with hand clasped about the neck of the young man, who was handsome in the extreme. Was there a handsomer man in Grandon than August Bordine?
Rose did not believe it, and there he stood with that woman's arms about his neck, her pale face upturned to his, the light of a pleading, all-enduring love in her dark eyes.
It was a love scene in every sense of the word.
Rose shuddered and grew white, yet she dared not advance, dared not interrupt the scene presented to her gaze. Eavesdropping was foreign to her nature, yet at that moment it was not in her power to recede, and so she was held in her tracks—compelled to listen to words that rent her heart like death itself.
"My dear, you wrong me when you imagine that I care for any one but you. I did disapprove of your following me here, for you know that I must depend upon my wits for a living, and I think I might do better without the incumbrance of a wife."
"Oh, that is the same old argument. You have put me off with it time and again. I wish you would consent to do as other people do, and live an honest life."
"But I cannot. I must ever appear as a single man, for it would not do to let it be known that I have a wife. Zounds, Iris, I would be out of business in short order."
For some moments silence followed these words.
The rather pretty woman whom the gentleman had termed his wife still clung to the neck of her liege lord, evidently too much wrought up to speak again.
"Come now, Iris dear, let this scene end here and now. I have a little business of a most important nature on hand, and time is precious."
He tried to disengage her hands, but she clung to him with wonderful tenacity.
Neither saw the girl in the shadow of the vines outside, who regarded the twain with blanched cheeks, clasped hands, and eyes dilating with a weird and awful suffering.
"Time is precious," uttered the lips of the young wife. "Alas! that it should be so precious that you must needs neglect me. I wish to ask you a question, Andrew."
"Did you have aught to do with this robbery at the Alstine mansion?"
"Sh! my dear, that would be telling."
"I know you were up there two nights since."
"Ah, you were dogging my steps."
"I cannot permit this to go on, Iris," uttered the man, sternly. "You are ruining my business, Iris. I do wish you would return to New York."
"I will go when you go."
Then fell a silence. There was a worried, half-angry expression on the countenance of the man, that did not escape the notice of the girl, who, in spite of her inclination, was a listener to all that was taking place within the walls of the summer-house.
"Release me now, I must go," uttered the man, in accents that were harsh and stern.
Still the woman clung to his neck.
"Oh, my darling, my darling!" she wailed, half-sobbing in the strength of her emotion. "You must not go from me again, Andrew. I am your wife, and you have no right to flirt with other women!"
Seizing her hands, he tore them loose and flung her violently aside.
"This is enough of this foolishness," he declared, angrily. "I want you to remain here in seclusion and behave yourself. When I can settle down with a fortune, then I will acknowledge you before the world, and we will cut a swell; but let me tell you that if you envoke any further trouble simply because I visit other ladies occasionally, you will hear from me in a way that you little expect."
The woman sank to a seat and covered her face with her hands, while a groan escaped her lips.
One glance he cast at her, then he turned and strode from the place. Another instant and he stood facing Rose Alstine, whose pallid face and flowing eyes quite startled him. "Heavens! you here?" he ejaculated, settling back in a tremor of dismay.
THE DETECTIVE'S LAST STRUGGLE.
Perry Jounce uttered a grunt of satisfaction when he saw that the detective was beyond power to know him for the time.
Jounce had been thoroughly posted by Andrew Barkswell, and knew that in the disguised man before him the noted detective was presented.
"So," muttered Jounce, as he touched a spring with his foot that sent the weight back to its place in the ceiling, "I reckon you won't trouble us gents agin."
Then he went over to the side of the stunned detective, secured his arms and removed his beard and gray hair. "Thought you was sharp enough to fool me," chuckled the villain. "I reckin you'll l'arn ef you ever git yer mind agin, that two kin play at ther game o' twist."
After these movements the tramp left the room. He was gone but a short time when he returned, accompanied by Billy Bowlegs.
"So you've thumped him?" muttered the saloon proprietor. "How much did you find?"
"See here, chum, that's too gauzy."
"Didn't ther boss pay yer a good hundred fer this room?" questioned Jounce, turning upon Bowlegs.
"He hasn't paid it yet. I'm not going to permit any snap games. This fellow doesn't go out of here till you pay the full price."
"That's ther snap!" returned Jounce. "You jest hang onter ther cuss, will yer? He ain't no good to me," and then the tramp chuckled audibly.
"But I can make you trouble."
"Yes, I can."
"All right; heave ahead."
The saloon-keeper found that he was dealing with a man who was not to be frightened or deceived into paying over money unnecessarily.
"Never mind," he said, finally. "It's all right. You wish to dispose of this fellow effectually?"
"I've never permitted bloodshed in my house," proceeded Billy Bowlegs, "but I'll tell you what we will do. We will drop the fellow down to the lower room, and leave him until the boss comes; then his fate will be decided upon."
"That suits me."
Bowlegs touched a spring with his foot, and the chair containing the stunned detective sank from sight.
The tramp stared at the opening in the floor wonderingly.
"I declare!" he finally exclaimed, "you've got this thing in shape to work to perfection, pardner."
The saloon-keeper smiled without reply.
"Where's the chap gone ter?"
"He is safe," answered Bowlegs. "I'll excuse you now."
"Wal, I swar, that are's cool."
Nevertheless the tramp departed. At the bar he swallowed a huge glass of brandy, and then passed upon the street.
From this it will be seen that Billy Bowlegs was in league with the notorious scoundrel who is known to the reader as Andrew Barkswell.
This, it will be remembered, was on the same night that the robbery was committed at the Alstine mansion.
When the detective returned to consciousness he found himself in a small, dark room, with solid walls of masonry about him, a close prisoner.
There was an awful pain in his head, indicating that he had been struck a severe blow.
He felt over his person, to discover that his weapons had been taken from him.
Then, with an effort, he came to his feet, and began groping about the room. Solid walls on every side met his touch.
"Well," he finally muttered, "I have learned one thing at least to-night —the fools of this world are not all dead. One of them, however, came pretty close to it."
It seemed an age to the imprisoned detective before the creaking of a door announced the coming of some one.
The door opened and closed, and a light filled the room, proceeding from a lantern in the hand of a man. This did not prove a brilliant illuminator, yet it served to reveal the countenance of the new-comer fairly well.
"So you are safely caged at last, my dear Keene," said the visitor, in a sarcastic voice.
"And this is your work, August Bordine, after all the confidence I placed in you," uttered the detective, in a rebuking voice.
"It was merely a game of wits, Mr. Keene. I was too smart for you, in spite of the fact that you're reputed to be the sharpest man-tracker in Gotham. I think it would pay you to hire me for a spell."
"This, then, was a put-up job?"
"That's about the size of it."
"That runaway and injury to yourself that the papers speak about was only a blind?"
"Only a blind, my dear Keene."
The villain smiled and stroked his mustache complacently. "I don't mind telling you, seeing you're not likely to give me any further trouble, that I shall marry the heiress to the Alstine estates and quit the precarious work that I have all along been following, and hereafter live a gentleman."
The detective could not help admiring the villain's coolness, even while despising his villainy.
"You congratulate me on my plan?"
"No. You cannot carry it out."
"And why not, pray? You won't be there to interfere, Mr. Keene. I have provided against such a contingency."
"You have a wife living."
"So you imagine, so she imagines; but it is a mere show. Iris is not my wife."
"You deceived her with a mock marriage?"
"That is about the size of it."
"What a consummate scoundrel."
"Don't use such pet expressions, my dear Keene, you hurt my feelings, you really do, I assure you."
"I expect to hurt your neck some time," retorted the detective, curtly.
"Oh, you do? Let me tell you, Mr. Keene, that that time will never come to you, never."
"It may come sooner than you imagine."
"I'll risk that."
"I would like to ask you a question."
"How about that old lady who occupies your house on —— street? Is she your mother?"
"Does she know what a scoundrel she has for a son?"
"She has no knowledge of my private affairs," returned Barkswell, not seeming to notice the offensive manner of putting the question used by Keene.
"And Iris is not your wife?"
"That's what I said."
"And Miss Alstine knows nothing of this, of your plans, your scheming to win a fortune through her?"
"Certainly not. I haven't been fool enough to give myself away."
The detective remained silent for a moment. Then he looked sharply into the face of Barkswell and said:
"I am puzzled to know why you saved me from the tramp last night, and took me to your home and nursed me so tenderly. Since you are so anxious to have me out of your way, why did you not leave me to die on the vacant lot, or give the finishing stroke there. It would have been the wisest plan, it seems to me, for such a reckless villain as you are, to pursue."
A low laugh fell from the lips of Barkswell.
"You do not understand me yet, Mr. Keene. Truth to tell I am one of the most tender-hearted creatures in the world. I haven't the heart to strike a man when he's down. I sympathized with you, and what is more, I wished to blind your eyes to my true intentions. You had put the bracelets on me and proclaimed that you were going to lead me to prison. I wanted to prove to you that you had made a mistake."
This to the detective seemed a lame explanation. He felt certain that the villain before him had not stated the case as it actually was.
"It seems I made no mistake after all," uttered Keene. "You are the right person, and I never ought have permitted you to go free an hour after I made the discovery of your villainy."
"What discovery do you refer to?"
"The murder of Victoria Vane."
"Then you still hold to the opinion that I committed that deed?"
"Certainly I do."
"Well, see here, Mr. Keene, I have you completely in my power, and do not intend that you shall ever again see the light of day. Under such circumstances I have no reason for uttering a falsehood. I solemnly assure you that I did not harm that poor girl. I am as innocent of that as you are. I did flirt with her a little I admit, but there was nothing serious took place, I would be willing to swear to this."
Of course the detective did not believe a word of this, although Barkswell uttered it in a solemn and apparently sincere manner.
"I believe you will yet swing for that murder," was Keene's sharp reply.
That Barkswell was the forger who was wanted in New York the detective was assured. He judged this from a photograph that he had in his possession the subject of which, however, had a full beard, and this had prevented Keene's recognizing the likeness when he was first introduced to Barkswell, alias Bordine, by young Ransom Vane.
It will be seen that the detective still believed that the young engineer and Barkswell were one and the same, which goes to prove that the two men resembled each other as twin brothers might. It was this resemblance that was to produce no end of trouble to all concerned in our story, which, by the way, has more of truth in it than most of the fictions of the present day.
"Well, you and I cannot agree if we talk all night," said the man with the lantern, "so I suppose this interview may as well come to an end at once."
From the tone of the man's voice, Keene judged that he meant to perpetrate a murder. With hands and limbs free, though weak from the blow he had received on the head, Silas Keene was not the man to give up life without a struggle.
The moment the last word fell from the lips of Barkswell Keene darted forward, full at the throat of the villain before him.
With this exclamation Barkswell dropped his lantern and clinched with the detective.
Both went to the floor in a terrible struggle for the mastery.
Weakened though he was, the detective proved no mean adversary, and he might have conquered had not a third party appeared upon the scene, who at once went to the assistance of Barkswell, and by beating Keene over the head with the butt of a revolver he succeeded in quieting him so that he could be secured.
Keene, nearly senseless, was rolled upon the damp floor, upon his face, and his hands secured with a cord at his back.
"There, I reckon he won't give no more trouble," said a voice that the detective recognized as that of Perry Jounce, the tramp.
"Confound his picture," grated Barkswell. "I believe the scamp would have been too much for me if you hadn't come just as you did."
"Even the service of a brother-in-law hain't allus to be despised; eh, Andrew?"
"No. You did me a good turn just now, and I'll not forget it."
Detective Keene heard these remarks, and tried to profit by them.
"This man is fooling you, Mr. Jounce," cried Keene, faintly.
This from Barkswell.
"I tell you that this man is fooling you. He is not—"
A blow on the head from the fist of Barkswell effectually silenced the tongue of the helpless detective. His senses reeled, and for a few minutes he was oblivious of his surroundings.
"What was the feller tryin' to git through him, Andy?"
"Nobody knows. Bear a hand and we'll put him where the hogs won't bite him."
Both men laid hold of the bound detective and dragged him to one side of the room.
The lantern, that had been overturned in the struggle, still burned, giving a faint light. Jounce hung it on a pin in the wall, and then turned to his companion, who had lifted a small trap door not far from the center of the room.
A gust of damp air, full of a moldy smell, came up.
"What's that?" questioned Jounce.
"An old well. They say it's forty feet down to the mud and water. It hasn't been used in years."
"What'll you do—?"
"Drop our friend into it. Nobody'll ever be the wiser."
"Good heavens, what a doom!"
Even the tramp shuddered at the thought of consigning a human being to that awful tomb. Nevertheless he assisted Barkswell to lift Keene and bear him to the mouth of the well.
An instant later and Detective Keene shot from sight. A hollow cry came up, then solemn silence, as Barkswell closed the trap and turned away.
IN THE HANDS OF A VILLAIN.
It will be remembered that Andrew Barkswell was startled to find that Rose Alstine had been listening to the confab between himself and wife. This was after the infamous plotter had consigned Detective Keene to a horrible doom at the bottom of the old well under Billy Bowlegs' saloon.
Now that the man-tracker was off the trail, Barkswell felt better. He had concocted a tremendous plot that his theft of the diamonds came near despoiling. It was not his wish to have Rose know of the existence of his wife. If necessary, the villain had resolved to put that wife out of the way forever.
There never was a plotter less scrupulous than this man, whose smooth tongue and jaunty exterior had stood him so well during almost a lifetime of villainy.
Now, at one fell stroke, his villainy lay exposed.
He regarded Rose for some moments with painful silence.
"I have found you out at last," cried the maiden, her cheeks flaming, a lofty scorn in her great dark eyes.
"Rose, don't misjudge me."
"Yes; I repeat it, you misjudge me, Rose Alstine."
For some moments she did not speak. Then, of a sudden, she made a movement as if to enter the place where this man's wife sat bowed and weeping.
He put out his hand.
"Do not go in there."
"Stand aside, sir."
She pushed her way forward in spite of his interference, and stood confronting the woman in the summer-house.
A white face, marked with the most intense suffering, was uplifted to the gaze of the young girl.
"Are you August Bordine's wife?"
Rose put the question hotly, so full of indignation as scarcely to contain herself in calmness.
"I am Andrew Barkswell's wife, I do not know the parson you mention."
"Indeed! So he has more than one name, the infamous wretch!"
Then, with a great sobbing cry, Rose Alstine turned and fled from the place, dropping her veil to hide the haggard woe that reveled on her countenance. Slowly Barkswell come back into the presence of his wife.
"And it is thus you would betray me," he said in an angry tone. "Iris, I am sorry that you are determined to ruin me."
"That is the word."
"How can you talk that way, Andrew, you who have made my life a hell since the hour I first met and loved you. It was that mad and hopeless love that has led me to do things that, if they were known, would shock the minds of men.
"You know how I have suffered to please you, Barkswell. I almost feel that it would be a relief to end all in death."
"I wish you might," he uttered in a heartless tone. "You have been my evil genius always, Iris Jounce. It was a sorry day that I married you. You deceived me by leading me to believe that you had money."
"I know now that it was for money alone that you married me. I did have money, and you spent it, and would now kick me aside, if I would only permit it, but I will not, I mean to continue pleading until you consent to quit your evil ways and settle down to a quiet home life—"
"Andrew Barkswell, who was that beautiful girl? One you have deceived, no doubt."
"You seem capable of answering your own question," he said, with a sneer.
"Have I answered it correctly?"
He plucked at his mustache and looked into vacancy. He was deeply angered, both with himself and with the woman before him. It was an unfortunate thing to have Rose Alstine come upon them as she did.
At that moment the schemer felt like strangling this woman, whose love for him, through good and evil report, passed understanding.
"You have not answered my question, Andrew," persisted the wife.
"The lady was Miss Alstine, I think."
"Well, I suppose I know that she is. A very eccentric girl, and somewhat flighty in the upper story."
"That's about it, Iris."
"And you have been the cause of it?"
There was a look in the woman's eyes at that moment not pleasant to see. In fact, even he recoiled from it in evident annoyance and alarm.
This woman had long been his simple tool, doing many things that at one time she would have shrunk from in horror and loathing. Andrew Barkswell had dragged her down to his own level, and was even now meditating her complete destruction. He had never scorned her, or told the truth, that she was no longer loved. He understood her nature too well. He pretended the most extravagant affection at times, and it was thus that he held her confidence, in spite of the facts that bade her hate and despise him.
"No, Iris; you are mistaken," said the man, in answer to the last words of his wife. "I have never harmed the girl, nor do I wish to do so. I hope you won't borrow any trouble over her."
"I ought not to, I suppose."
And then followed a bitter laugh.
"If you had done as I wished, and remained in Rochester, it would have been much better."
"Do you think so?"
"Certainly I do."
"You wish me to return?"
"That you may make love to this girl you have the cheek to tell me is crazy? Bah! I tell you there's method in her madness. I believe you have pretended to be a single man, and that, as you ruined and murdered Victoria Vane, you would ruin and slay this beautiful girl. I will not permit you to do it!"
"What! You will step in and destroy my plans? By Heaven you shall not! I will strangle you first!"
She uttered a terrified scream as he sprang at her, and clutched her throat furiously.
It was a startling cry that echoed through the grounds and fell on the ear of the man who was passing.
He listened a moment, but the sound was not repeated.
Vaulting the fence, the man hastened in the direction of the summer-house.
He soon gained a position where his black eyes took in a somewhat startling scene—a tall, slender man bending over the prostrate form of a woman, the latter lying still and white on a low, wide bench.
"Have I killed her?" muttered the man, in audible tones. "Well, if I have, it is not my fault; she forced me to do it, and—"
He started then, and uttered a great cry. A hand touched his face, and a man's visage peered into his.
Instantly the hand of Barkswell sought his hip.
"Don't draw, brother, it's only me."
Barkswell stared in a startled way into the face of the new-comer.
It was indeed Perry Jounce, but he had changed so in the past four and twenty hours as to seem like another man.
His beard was gone, and a new hat and suit of clothes altered his appearance wonderfully.
"What have you been doing to yourself, Perry?"
"Fixing up so't I kin go sparkin' as well as you, brother darling," returned the tramp, forcing a gurgling laugh. "What's up here? Iris dead —you her murderer!"
"Don't be a fool, Perry, she's only fainted."
"But I heard her scream murder."
The eyes of Perry Jounce pierced the guilty villain to the quick. If there was one being in the wide world whom the miserable tramp loved, that person was his sister, the wife of Andrew Barkswell, and the only kin he had in the wide world.
"She was in one of her tantrums, that is all."
"Man, I believe you're lyin' now."
Barkswell drew his revolver.
The threat did not appear to affect Perry Jounce.
"It wouldn't be good fur you ter snap that pistol at me, Andy. I jest heard you say't mebbe you had killed her, meanin' Iris. Now what hev you ben up to?—let's hear right down quick, or thar'll be a tussle right hyar and now."
There was a determined ring in the man's voice not to be mistaken.
Barkswell wished to avoid a quarrel, and so he said with a smile:
"You misunderstood my meaning entirely, Perry. Iris was determined on quarreling with me over an unimportant matter. You know she's terribly jealous, and she worked herself up into a fainting fit."
Perry Jounce accepted the explanation with a growl. He did not attempt to push matters to a crisis. He had received some money from Barkswell, and was anxious to keep in with that gentleman.
"Lead the way, pardner, and I'll take her to the house."
Perry Jounce lifted the seemingly lifeless form of his sister in his arms and strode from the summer-house.
Barkswell led the way to the cottage, and a little later the woman revived. When questioned by Jounce she refused to make any explanation.
"Confound it," growled the tramp, "that man of yours'll kill you some time, Iris, and you'll let 'im do it 'ithout making complaint."
"I should not care to see Andrew in prison."
"He may go thar yet."
"Somebody's got ter swing fer the crime at Ridgewood; why mayn't it be Andy?"
The woman started and grew pale as death.
Her brother thought she was on the point of fainting again.
"Don't worry," he cried, quickly. "It may never be fetched home to Andy."
"Do you believe he is guilty?"
He sought to evade the question.
"I—I cannot say. I have thought—"
"That I had a hand in it, eh?"
The eyes of the tramp regarded his sister's face fixedly.
But Mrs. Barkswell refused to make reply. She shuddered and drew her shawl about her as though experiencing a sudden chill.
All this time her husband sat on the porch enjoying a cigar, his busy brain dwelling on the latest scheme it had conjured up.
It was unfortunate, he thought, Rose Alstine's coming at that inopportune moment. He could not understand how it was that she put in an appearance at his house.
"She mistook me for her lover, that is evident," he mused. "It was unfortunate, and I may now have some trouble in convincing her that I am true. It is highly important that August Bordine does not meet her again. What a strong resemblance there must be between that man and myself to deceive the eyes of love.
"If I could only get rid of my wife and marry the heiress what a grand stroke it would be. Well, there's a saying that nothing venture nothing gain, and I mean to go in on that principle. I'll win the heiress, but first two persons must cease to breathe."
Who these two persons were the reader can readily guess.
While the young schemer sat there smoking and meditating, a queer team halted in front of the cottage—a team of dogs attached to a small wagon, in which sat a man, with deformed shoulders, and queer little face, framed in red hair and beard, a black patch tied over one eye, while the other was exceedingly red and inflamed.
"Hello!" called the man from the street.
A smile touched the face of Andrew Barkswell.
"A confounded notion peddler," he muttered, "yet a queer-looking specimen."
At the second call Barkswell rose to his feet and walked out to the gate.
"Be you the man of the house?"
"Wal, I've got the neatest set o' table-clothes you ever set eyes on. Irish linen, direct from the green sod, warranted to be the best article of the kind for the money in North America."
"I don't wish any."
"But you'll look at 'em. You're a gentleman; I can tell by the looks of your countenance."
"I don't care for any."
"Hair oil, toilet articles, the neatest—"
"You needn't mind showing them," as the little, elderly man sprang out of his low wagon and hobbled to the walk with a tin box under his arm.
"Where's the woman—your wife? Mebbe she'd like to look at something."
The man pushed his way through the gate and insisted on entering the house.
This was wholly unnecessary Barkswell thought, but he permitted the peddler to have his way.
Iris and her brother entered t spread out his wares.
He talked glibly, but was such a repulsive-looking personage as to render his long stay objectionable. In order to be rid of him Mrs. Barkswell made a small purchase, after which, finding that he could sell nothing further, the peddler thrust his wares back into the tin box and shuffled out of the room.
"Pretty place you've got here," he remarked, as he stood on the porch and gazed about him.
"Yes," admitted Barkswell.
"You own it?"
"Your name is—"
The man uttered the name involuntarily. He had been acting as Bordine, and somehow, he seemed growing into that personage more and more.
"Well, well," grunted the peddler, holding out his hand, "You an' I ought to be acquainted. My wife is your own aunt, did you know it?"
Andrew Barkswell regarded the speaker in astonishment. He thought he detected an ironical ring in the man's voice, but when he glanced into the fellow's face he seemed honest enough, in fact the red eye failed to show the least feeling on the subject—the one under the black patch was, of course, as unspeakable as the tomb.
"I was not aware of the relationship," said the plotting villain, as he clasped the hand of the queer-looking peddler.
"Lor', that's funny."
"You don't live in town?"
"I reckon not. So you don't remember me, August?"
"I can't say that I do."
"You've certainly heard your ma speak of Hiram Shanks, the man that married her youngest sister, Lucretia?"
Again the young man shook his head.
"Well, it beats all," grunted Mr. Shanks. "I thought you must have heard of me. Since my wife died I've kinder gone to rack and ruin. I ain't the man I used to be in my young days, oh no!" with a long-drawn sigh.
"I should judge not."
"Call your ma, August. I know she'll recognize the man that married her sister Lucretia."
"Mother isn't at home."
"Bad again. When will she return?"
"Would you mind lettin' me stop over night with ye? Hotel bills is powerful large, and for the sake of relationship, I think you will let me bunk one night. My team won't eat much, and as for me, a crust of bread and cup o' tea will set the inner man in good shape."
"I am sorry, but—"
"Oh, no 'pologies. Of course, if you can't keep me it's all right. I'm no beggar."
Once more the peddler shook the hand of Mr. Barkswell, and then shuffled away. As he passed through the gate a bit of paper fluttered to the ground from one of the peddler's pockets. After the queer fellow's departure Barkswell secured the paper and could scarcely repress an exclamation as he read the lines it contained.
THE ENGINEER PUZZLED.
A young man ran up the steps at the Alstine mansion and rang the bell. The servant who answered stared at the gentleman as though there was some noticeable curiosity about him.
There was nothing curious, however, in the make-up of the gentleman.
He was young and handsome, and the reader knows him as August Bordine, the young engineer.
The young man had been laid up for more than a week by the hurt he had received when his horse ran away.
He had seen or heard nothing of Rose during this time.
The unaccountable absence of the detective troubled the young man not a little as well, and he resolved to make an investigation immediately.
"Is Miss Alstine at home?"
The servant answered in the affirmative, and showed the young gentleman to the elegant parlor.
Usually Rose received him in person, thus doing away with the ceremony of servants.
She was not expecting him.
This of course accounted for her not coming at once to meet him.
Ten minutes passed, and then the maid returned.
August looked up, expecting to see the smiling face of Rose.
"Miss Alstine can't receive visitors."
"Is she ill?" questioned the young man in sudden alarm.
"No, she's as well as usual."
"Did you tell her who called?"
The face of the young engineer was a puzzle to look at.
He refused to depart until the maid went once more to see her mistress.
On her return she brought a note from Rose, that was as great a puzzle to the engineer as was the curious acting of his betrothed.
"MR. BORDINE:—There can be no necessity for an interview. No explanation you can make will sunder the facts. I beg you not to come again, as, under no circumstances, will I consent to see you. Your coming now assures me that you have impudence as well as a double nature. R. ALSTINE."
The young man walked from the room like one in a dream.
What did, what could it all mean? It was impossible for August to understand.
His was a dejected mien as he walked slowly homeward. A pair of bright eyes watched him from a curtained upper window of the great house, and in a maiden's heart was the suddenest longing possible to one broken under the cruel treachery of its hero.
"What is the trouble, August?" questioned Mrs. Bordine the moment he entered the presence of his mother.
"Ah, you cannot deceive me in that way, my son. I know something is wrong, and—"
"Yes, something is wrong," he interrupted with bitter vehemence. "I have been spat upon by a girl, and never until now did I realize what a fool I was to think of losing my heart to a flirt like Rose Alstine."
"August, what do you mean?"
"That Rose has jilted me."
"I am glad of it."
"I always warned you not to look so high," proceeded the old lady, with arms akimbo, regarding her son. "Not that I consider Rose Alstine high only in money matters, but such girls are always heartless."
Then she went back to her work leaving the young man to fight out his grief as best he could alone.
That evening, while the young engineer sat meditating over the events of the past few days, a sharp ring at the door-bell roused him from his somewhat bitter thoughts.
He went into the hall, opened the door, and peered out into the dimly-lighted street.
No one was to be seen, but a small bit of folded paper fell at his feet, evidently having been but slightly attached to the edge of the casing.
Seizing the paper, the young man closed the door and went back to the cozy cottage parlor.
"Who was it, August?"
But just then the young man was too busy imbibing the contents of the bit of paper to heed the words of his mother.
"MR. BORDINE—Be ever on the alert. A conspiracy has been formed for your destruction. It is time you were up and doing. Silas Keene has already fallen, and you have been marked. I implore you, be on your guard.
After a moment given to thought, August handed the note over to his mother.
"What does it mean?"
This was her comment after she had possessed herself of the contents of the mysterious note.
"It may mean a good deal," he answered. "I hope, however, that no harm has come to Silas Keene; yet I am at a loss to understand why he remains away so long."
"He promised to return?"
For some moments a silence fell between mother and son, broken at length by a second ring at the bell.
"We seem to have visitors in plenty," uttered the young engineer, as he went again to the door.
On the step stood a small boy.
"Well, my little man."
"A letter for you, sir," and the lad placed an envelope in the hand of the engineer.
Would wonders never cease?
"Wait a moment."
But the boy was gone.
August went slowly back into the house.
"Another letter?" questioned Mrs. Bordine.
"It seems so."
He opened it slowly.
"MR. BORDINE,—It is important that you come at once if you would see Silas Keene alive. He has met with a terrible and unexpected accident, and has something of importance to communicate before he dies. He has importuned me all day to send for you. I have been unable until now, but I sincerely hope this may reach you before the poor man is no more. A hack will be at you door at precisely nine o'clock to take you to Keene's side. If you disappoint him it will certainly hasten his death. Confidently expecting you, I remain 'HENRY JONES.'"
After reading this to himself, the young engineer read it aloud to his mother.
"So the poor gentleman has met with an accident," murmured the kind old lady. "How sad. If we had only known this at the outset we might have had him brought here."
"Certainly we might."
Bordine came to his feet and began pacing the floor.
He was not yet wholly recovered from the shock he had received from being thrown against a telegraph pole some days before, and he would much rather have remained at home than venture out into the chill air of night. He had a duty in the premises, however.
This was the first word he had heard from Silas Keene since he left his home to meet the notorious tramp, Perry Jounce, in Billy Bowleg's saloon.
August thought of the first note he had received—a warning to be constantly on his guard, and found himself wondering who wrote it. Not the detective, for in this note was a statement that Keene had been stricken down. And this bore out the statement of the last letter. It seemed evident that a terrible accident had happened to the detective, or else he had been criminally assaulted. In either case it seemed evident to the young man his duty to visit Keene if possible.
"What had I best do, mother?" finally questioned the young man.
Before asking the question August had fully determined upon his course, but he was anxious to have his mother's approval as well.
"Go, by all meant, August."
"That was my determination," assured the engineer.
She was wholly unsuspicious, and had no thought that her son might go to his own doom.
Why should she feel suspicious? Who would care to harm her son, who, she fully believed, had never injured a human soul?
August had suspicions, however, and he secured a revolver upon his person ere venturing out upon his mission.
Promptly at nine the sound of wheels was heard, ceasing in front of the engineer's cottage.
Kissing his mother good-by August hastened forth. A hack stood near the sidewalk, the door standing open.
It was dark within, but the young man noted the outlines of a man upon the forward seat.
August stepped inside and closed the door. Then the hack rattled away. For some moments silence reigned. August wondered who his fellow-passenger was. Perhaps the one who had sent him the note requesting his presence at the side of the dying detective.
Mrs. Bordine sat listening to the rattle of departing wheels, and wondered if she would be able to sit up until the return of her son.
She little imagined how long he was to remain away.
Half an hour after her son's departure the good widow was startled at hearing a sound at the front window.
Slowly the sash was being raised!
The hour was late, and the old lady thought of burglars at once. But what could they possibly want in her house? All the money for the past year's earnings, save what was needed for necessary expenses, was snugly in the bank.
Slowly and cautiously the sash slid upward.
Mrs. Bordine came to her feet, and stood chilled with an awful fear in the centre of the room.
A heavy body fell to the floor directly under the window-sill.
Then the curtain was parted, and a man's face peered into the room, with eyes so devilish in their glitter as to make the woman's flesh creep. "Keep it. August sent it. He won't be home to-night," said a deep, gutteral voice.
Then the face disappeared.
The window-sash fell with a loud crash, followed by the most solemn silence.
For fully five minutes Mrs. Bordine stood petrified, without articulation.
What had happened?
The moment she could gather her senses sufficiently, she crossed the floor and gazed at the object that lay under the window.
An ordinary newspaper was twisted about it, and when Mrs. Bordine took it in her hand, she realized that the substance was of metal.
Swiftly she unwound the paper.
As she held up her prize an involuntary exclamation fell from her lips.
She held in her hand a glittering dagger, with gold hilt, and point as keen as a briar. It was a beautiful weapon.
There was something in the glitter of the dainty weapon that was fascinating.
The hilt was of gold, and the serpent's head that formed the design held a pair of glittering eyes that made the woman's flesh creep.
"Why was this dropped in here?" uttered Mrs. Bordine, as she laid the ugly, yet beautiful, weapon aside, and went about securing the window against further intrusion.
"August sent it, that horrible man said. If so, why did he not come to the door like a decent person would?"
The door to her son's room stood ajar, and mechanically Mrs. Bordine entered here with the delicate dagger in her hand.
The plush-lined dressing-case in front of the mirror stood open, and into this the widow laid the glittering toy.
Shutting down the cover she left the room, and resumed her seat in the big arm-chair.
As may be supposed, no sleep visited the old lady that night. She was too deeply worried on account of the strange happenings of the night. Nothing occurred to mar the quiet of the night, and when at length day dawned the widow breathed easier as she went about her work.
The hour was late ere she placed breakfast on the table. She had waited for the return of August, but waited in vain.
"He will not come. I must eat alone."
She was yet at her breakfast when a furious ring at the door-bell startled her.
When she hastened to answer the summons, she was met in the hall by two men, both wearing the uniform of city police.
"Mercy on us! what do you want here?" cried the widow in startled tones.
"We are here on important business," said the fore most officer. "We come to see your son."
"He is not at home."
"Permit us to judge of that."
Pushing her aside, the two men went through the different rooms of the little cottage, rummaging through everything, much to the dismay and indignation of Mrs. Bordine.
They were dissatisfied with their search, and looked their anger as they had confronted the widow after it was all over.
"Where is your son, Mrs. Bordine?"
"I—I'm sure I can't tell you."
"But you must tell."
"How can I tell when I don't know?"
"A likely story," sneered the officer.
"It is the truth, sir."
The officer went outside, leaving his companion within, with injunction to keep a close watch on the woman.
There were two members of the force outside who had been watching the front and rear of the house.
"Have you seen the young villain?"
"Haven't seen a live soul, sergeant."
"Then he must still be in the house. The old woman is obstinate as death."
"Better not go too fast, sergeant," said the man in charge of the front entrance. "It is possible that we have made a mistake."
"Not the least possibility of it," retorted the sergeant of police. "The young man claims to have positive evidence that Bordine murdered his sister."
"I know, but he may be mistaken."
"He said that the weapon used was a dagger of slender make. If we could find that."
"Have you searched for it?"
"Not exactly. We have been looking more particularly after the man."
The police sergeant returned then to the inside of the cottage.
Mrs. Bordine was still defiant.
Poor old woman, she could not understand why officers of the law should seek her son, much less why they should insult an old lady by discrediting her word.
"I order you out of my house."
Mrs. Bordine was becoming indignant at last.
The men paid no heed to the order. The sergeant began the search once more. "You'll pay for this outrage," declared the widow.
"Hold your tongue," retorted the second man, laying his hand on the arm of the widow. "We have the law and the right on our side."
"You have not," retorted Mrs. Bordine. "I haven't heard you read a search-warrant."
"It's not necessary."
At this moment an exclamation fell from the lips of the police sergeant. He came from August Bordine's room, bearing in his hand a small dressing-case, which he held up before the eyes of the widow.
"Madam, who owns that?"
"You don't, I can tell you that."
"No. Is it yours?"
"It belongs to August."
"I thought so. And this is his, also?"
With these words the officer opened the case and took therefrom a slender dagger.
At sight of this the wrinkled face of Mrs. Bordine blanched, a fact that did not escape the notice of the keen-eyed sergeant.
"So, ho!" he exclaimed.
"Ah, ha!" uttered the second one, with a grunt.
"Now, what does this mean?" Mrs. Bordine finally gasped.
"Exactly what I would ask," returned the sergeant. "I've no doubt you will deny that this natty little weapon belongs to your son."
The eyes of the police sergeant regarded the widow fixedly.
He prided himself on being an expert detective, and for many days he had been investigating the murder at Ridgewood, with a view to winning the five thousand reward offered by the county sheriff.
The wound given Ransom Vane by the tramp proved but a trivial affair, and immediately on his recovery from the nervous shock into which it had thrown him, the young man came to Grandon and communicated his suspicions to the police.
"I do deny it," uttered Mrs. Bordine at length. "I never saw that dagger until last evening."
"Hasn't it been in your son's possession for a long time?"
"It was never in his possession."
"But we find it in his room—"
"I know, and I put it there last night during his absence. He has never seen the weapon."
Mrs. Bordine became exceedingly angry at these incredulous remarks. She at once told how the dagger came into her possession.
Her story was greeted with contemptuous laughter.
The suspicions of the officers now became convictions.
"I am sorry for you, Mrs. Bordine," said Sergeant Railing. "I had hoped that you had no guilty knowledge of your son's iniquities. It seems that you're no better than he, and I must therefore take you with me."
"Take me with you?"
"That's it exactly."
"To the county jail!"
Poor Mrs. Bordine.
She reeled under the blow, and began to cry—broken utterly under the stroke.
Sergeant Railing was merciless, however, and the poor widow was obliged to keep him company to prison.
A DESPERATE ENCOUNTER.
"How far do we have to go?" queried August, after the hack had rattled on for some minutes in silence.
"How far do we go?"
"Yes," cried the young engineer impatiently, not relishing the apparent obtuseness of the man outlined before him.
"Excuse me," said the man; "I was in a brown study and did not catch on to your remark. If you will please repeat it, I will then try to answer."
"Aren't you the gentleman who sent the note?"
"Then you must know how far it is to the place where Silas Keene is lying wounded and dying."
"Certainly I do. Mr. Keene is about four miles from your place, at a small cabin in the woods—"
"Indeed! How did he come to be in such a place?"
"He was on somebody's trail."
"You are acquainted with Mr. Keene?"
"Your name is Henry Jones?"
"Why did you not come for me in person without writing the letter?"
"That might have been the proper way, but I am not like other people, Mr. Bordine. I am considered a peculiar man. It was a freak of mine, I suppose, that I did not do as you say. Fact is, I did not think it possible for me to leave Keene at the time I wrote the letter."
"You afterward found him better?"
"Is he badly hurt?"
"He will die."
"In what manner was he injured?"
"He was flung from a horse."
"In the city?"
"No, in the woods while he was in pursuit of a burglar."
Then the young engineer fell to thinking deeply. He was not exactly satisfied with the situation of affairs. He was well assured of one thing, however, and that was that something had happened to Silas Keene, and it seemed that the mystery of the detective's disappearance was likely to be revealed this night.
After a time the lights of the city disappeared and the hack rattled on over a country road.
When at length it came to a halt, intense darkness surrounded them.
Mr. Jones rose and opened the door.
The two alighted.
Jones paid the driver for his services, and then the two men stood alone beside the road, with the dying rattle of swift-flying wheels in their ears.
This question fell from the lips of August Bordine as he gazed about him in the darkness.
A hand fell to the shoulder of Mr. Jones. "See here," cried the engineer, "I am not fully satisfied with these proceedings."
"I am not."
"You can return if you like, only it will be hard on the poor man who lays on a rude cot in the shanty over yonder, dying. He said you was his friend."
"An acquaintance only."
"Very well, you can do as you choose about continuing the journey. I have acted in good faith all along."
"How much farther is it?"
"About half a mile."
"Go on, I will follow."
And then the two men moved from the road, following a path into the woods.
August began to suspect something wrong, but he felt that he had gone too far to turn back now, and with his hand on the butt of his trusty revolver, he went forward, resolving to see the adventure through to the end.
Every now and then a bush would brush the face of Bordine, showing that the path was narrow and the wood dense.
Presently a light flashed through the darkness, and soon our two pedestrians found themselves in front of a log cabin, that stood a few yards back from a narrow, brawling creek, whose waters were lashed to foam over rocks and stones.
"This is the place."
Mr. Jones pushed open the door and bade his companion enter.
"Go on; I will follow."
Thus urged, the man walked into a dimly-lighted room, which was almost entirely bare of furniture.
August followed and gazed about the cabin, not a little surprised to find it empty. A light burned on a shelf at one side of the room—a tallow dip—that sputtered and threatened soon to leave the place in total darkness.
The cabin presented no evidence of having been inhabited of late.
One glance about the room, then August regarded his guide for the first time in the light.
He started involuntarily.
He had seen the man before. It was the same person he had seen in the carriage with the woman on the day that he first noticed the placard announcing a reward for the capture of Victoria Vane's murderer.
He had heard him called Mr. Brown.
This fact at once roused the suspicions of the young engineer to fever-heat. He believed now that he was the victim of a deep-laid plot.
With his hand on his revolver, he looked the bearded stranger squarely in the face, and said:
"Mr. Brown, what does this mean?"
But the man addressed thus abruptly was not looking at August. Instead, he gazed beyond, into the depths of the night outside, the door standing open.
There was the sound of a step outside.
Bordine turned quickly.
A stalwart form was framed in the narrow door—the form of Perry Jounce, the tramp!
There was the gleam of a devil in the man's eye, and in his right hand he clinched the haft of a huge knife.
Instantly the young engineer realized that murder was intended.
Self defense is the first law of nature, and Bordine acted upon it with the quickness of lightning. His right hand shot forward, a bright flash followed, and the next instant the burly form of Perry Jounce disappeared from the doorway.
He had fallen, bleeding, to the ground, from the bullet August Bordine sent hurtling into his face.
Before the young engineer could turn, a pair of strong arms encircled his waist, and he was crushed to the floor under the weight of the man calling himself Henry Jones.
Our young engineer had not yet regained his full strength since his hurt in the runaway accident, and taken at a disadvantage, he labored in vain to throw off his antagonist.
"Confound you!" hissed the man in a voice full of intense wrath, "I'll fix you so you won't shoot any more honest men."
He clutched his antagonist by the throat, and attempted to throttle him.
August prevented this, turned suddenly, and hurled his foe backward against the wall.
With a leap like a tiger the engineer came to his feet.
"Hold up!" yelled Jones, whose face was bleeding from scratches received in the scuffle.
Panting from exertion, August leveled his revolver and fired.
His hand was unsteady, and the bullet flew wide of the mark.
At this moment a sound behind him warned Bordine to guard his rear. He turned to see the man he supposed dead once more on his feet, with bloody face and flowing eyes, clutching at the side of the door to steady himself.
The sight startled the young engineer, and deeming it best to seek safety in flight, he turned, dealt the reeling tramp a tremendous blow in the face that swept him from his feet, and dashed swiftly into the blackness of the night.
The man in the shanty sprang swiftly after, anxious now to prevent the escape of his intended victim.
If Bordine escaped them the country would ring with the news of the attempted tragedy. Dashing with the swiftness of a deer, Jones passed over the bulky form of Perry Jounce, and caught the outlines of the fleeing engineer moving directly toward the foaming creek.
He had him now.
With the creek before, and a determined man with a cocked revolver behind, it did not seem possible for the engineer to escape.
Was Harry Jones anxious to capture his man alive?
Evidently not, yet the call to halt had the effect desired. Bordine came to a momentary pause on the bank of the brawling creek—long enough for his mad pursuer to take aim and fire.
With the flash and report came a loud cry, as of a human being in pain. Instantly, on firing, Jones darted forward.
He was just in time to see the engineer plunge headlong into the boiling waters of the creek!
"Good by, young chap. I reckon you won't trouble your betters again," cried the elated homicide. "The Alstine fortune shall yet be mine— selah!"
"THAT MURDER MYSTERY.
"After some weeks of uncertainty the mystery surrounding the murder of Victoria Vane, a beautiful young girl of Ridgewood, seems likely to be closed up. Mr. Ransom Vane, the brother of the murdered girl, has been in our city for some time in secret communication with officers of the law. Young Vane is something of a detective himself, and he has succeeded in fixing the crime, it is believed, upon the right person, a young man of supposed spotless reputation, living with his widowed mother in the northern part of the city. The name of the guilty man is August Bordine, a surveyor and civil engineer, who it seems was a somewhat frequent visitor at the home of the Vanes, and report says that he won the girl's heart, and promised to make her his wife. At the same time his guilty connection with another woman in this city prevented his keeping faith with the Vane girl. A quarrel resulted, and in a moment of passion the young engineer struck the girl to the ground. The instrument of murder was a narrow-bladed dagger of delicate pattern, which is now in the hands of the police. Early this morning the officers raided the house of the guilty man, but evidently having got wind of the intentions of the police the young man fled. It is not believed that he can escape, however, since the telegraph has wafted the news throughout the country. As a necessary precaution the young man's mother was taken to prison. It is possible that if she knows about the murder, she will make a confession. It is to be hoped that the culprit may be brought to speedy justice."
This is what Miss Williams read in the afternoon paper, and a cynical smile overspread her face as she hurried to find her cousin anxious to impart the news.
"News for you, Rose," exclaimed the old maid, tripping into the great parlor where the young heiress sat alone reading.
Rose looked up with a tired expression of countenance. She was pale and sad, evidently having suffered not a little from the change in her affairs since she visited the grounds of the Bordine cottage.
"Never mind, Janet, I do not care to read it."
"Shall I read it to you?"
"Yes, if you are determined."
Seating herself near Miss Williams, read in slow, even tones, the announcement of he arrest of Mrs. Bordine and the flight of her son.
Miss Williams regarded her fair cousin furtively the moment she finished reading. Rose's face was deadly pale, and her white hands became clinched until the blood seemed ready to burst through the pink nails.
"August was no better than the rest of the men, Rose. You can't trust one of them out of your sight."
A sigh alone answered her.
"I never thought much of that man, Rose. You remembered, I told you once that there was a look about his eyes that reminded me of the criminal who murdered his wife down in New Hampshire. I never could forget that man. I shudder now when I think of it."
"But it wasn't your fault, of course, you are so young and inexperienced. Now, as for me, I can see through a man in an instant; its a sort of intuition that some women possess, thus making them wiser than their companions. I always expected to hear something bad of that love of yours."
Rose came to her feet.
"Now, coz, don't get your back up"—But Rose Alstine paid no heed to the injunction of her tormenting cousin; she rushed from the room, and, speeding up stairs, locked herself in her own cozy chamber, there to combat her grief as best she could.
She did not descend until a late hour in the evening, and even then there were ominous red lines about her eyes, indicating that she had been weeping.
A jingle at the door-bell sent one of the servants to answer it.
A dog rushed in, followed by a man, who had a string in his hand, one end fastened to the dog's collar. On his back—the dog's—was strapped a tin box.
"Excuse me, Miss, but I'd like to see the Mistress," said the man, whose red hair and beard, and eye covered with a black patch, made him rather a disgusting object to look upon.
Miss Williams and Rose were yet in the dining-room lingering over a late dinner.
"I'll see," said the maid, but dog and peddler followed her at once into the presence of the ladies.
Quite a ripple of amusement was created at the novel sight of the dog bearing the peddler's pack.
"Ladies, I beg your pardon," cried the queer looking man, lifting his hat and thrusting it under his arm.
Then he called the dog, unfastened the tin box and opened it, displaying Yankee notions in abundance.
But Miss Alstine wanted none of these.
Janet and the maid, however, seemed quite pleased with the display, and examined everything in the box, while Rose petted the dog, a shaggy, good-natured fellow.
The peddler, while expatiating on the good qualities of his goods, managed to steal to the side of Rose.
"Keep up your grit, Miss, they won't capture August. He is innocent, and the guilty one will ere long be brought to justice."
Thus whispered the peddler in the ear of the young girl.
Rose manifested her surprise with a short and half-smothered exclamation.
"Get down, Tige. Go away, you bad dog," cried out the peddler suddenly, to hide the emotion expressed by Miss Alstine. His ruse was a success, the maid and Miss Williams failing to notice the agitation of Rose.
A little later dog and peddler left the house, he having disposed of a few simple articles to the maid and Miss Williams.
"What a queer looking man," remarked the maid, as she stood at the window watching the movements of the one-eyed peddler and his dog team.
"Queer indeed," murmured Rose.
That evening Rose Alstine received a caller whom she little expected—the woman she had seen in the summer-house in the arms of August Bordine.
"Can I see you alone for a moment, Miss Alstine?"
Then the heiress cast a significant look at her cousin, who with a toss of her head rose at once and left the room, taking the precaution to remain by the door and listen, however, after she had closed it.
"I am not mistaken in calling you Miss Alstine."
"Doubtless you can guess why I am here?"
"I haven't the remotest idea."
Rose stared very impolitely, it must be confessed, at her visitor. "It is with regard to that unfortunate affair of a few days since—"
"No apologies are necessary," Rose interrupted haughtily. "I do not blame you."
"You have no reason to. I have been that man's wife nearly six years."
"It is true. I am here to inform you, however, that it is possible that a grave mistake has been made."
"My husband's name is not Bordine."
"He has a dozen aliases, I presume."
"I fear so," returned the woman, in an agitated voice.
"It is wholly unnecessary for you to go on, Mrs. Bordine. Rest assured that you have my sympathy, and I shall not trouble your husband again."
"No. It is not that."
"I read in the evening paper of the arrest of Mrs. Bordine and the flight of her son—"
"Not too fast, Miss Alstine. I wish to say that my husband has no mother living, so it seems to me a mistake has been made somewhere."
"Such a man has mothers and wives to suit his convenience," retorted Rose. "I presume you will not deny that the man who calls himself your husband has fled."
"He is not at home at present."
"I thought not. I am sorry for you, Mrs. Bordine. but it is clearly a fact that we have both been sadly deceived. Of course you suffer more than I. I am free, and truly thankful that I escaped from the snare of such a villain. If I can do anything for you I will gladly respond."
"You can do nothing."
The woman sighed and came to her feet. She extended her hand with:
"I hope you will not blame me—"
"No, indeed. You have my heartfelt sympathy," assured Miss Alstine, with warmth, at the same time taking the wronged wife's hand in hers and kissing her pale cheek.
"May Heaven help you, Miss Alstine! I thought you might misconstrue my actions, and so I came to you. It is true my husband is a bad man, yet in spite of all I love him still, and would reform him if I could."
Then, dropping her veil, the wife walked sobbing from the room and the house.
EXIT PERRY JOUNCE.
It was a triumphant expression that fell from the lips of the disguised Barkswell as he saw his enemy plunge headlong into the gulf of boiling waters.
Making his way to the edge of the water the villain gazed long and earnestly at the seething foam, but no sign of the body of his rival was to be seen. The night was extremely dark, and this might have prevented his seeing the corpse.
"Well, there's no use standing here," muttered the man. "I am satisfied that the body of August Bordine'll be found water-logged some day, and that will end the hunt for the assassin of Victoria Vane. It is just as well, and will give me the better chance to walk into the affections of Miss Alstine. I hear that her father will soon return. I must complete the work by a marriage before that. It was a confounded mean affair, that meeting in the garden. I suppose it'll require a good deal of shrewd lying to convince Rose that that woman was not my wife."
Then the villain walked back to the little shanty.
A light still burned within.
Barkswell paused at the door.
On the floor sat Perry Jounce, wiping the blood from his face with a dirty handkerchief.
"Well, Perry, that came mighty near proving a finisher for you," said. Mr. Barkswell with a provoking smile.
"Wal, I should remark. And you'd a ben glad on't. I ain't goin' ter die yet awhile, pardner. Do you know why?"
The ex-tramp seemed cool enough under the circumstances.
"I'm goin' to live to see you hang."
"Now, now, old boy, that's unkind."
"Jest the same it's true."
"I really hope not."
"I had my fortune told once."
"The dumdest lookin' old critter in York told it."
"She gin me a good yarn, one that I'm thinkin's going to come true."
"Why do you think so? I supposed you were above superstition, Mr. Jounce."
"So I be, but sence a part of the prophecy has come true, why shouldn't the rest?"
"You agree with me there?"
"Then I'll tell you the rest on't, though its sometimes made my blood run cold when I think on't," proceeded the tramp, looking up into the face of his companion, with blood-stained countenance, and eyes that were sodden with pain and passion. He looked like some prisoner of state doomed to the martyr's stake, as he sat there in the dim light and talked in a solemn monotone that was weird and unnatural.
"The old witch said I was to meet with many misfortunes, pass a dreadful crisis, and then come out with flying colors.
"But I'm a gittin' ahead of my story. My sister—I had but one—was to make a mismatch with a gambler and outlaw. He was to cause her and me a heap o' trouble. Finally the husban' was ter plot ter put his wife outen the way so't he could git another gal with a big fortune."
"Don't interrupt me," growled the tramp. "I'm jest a tellin' what the fortune-teller said; 'tain't none o' my gammon."
A smile curled the lip of Barkswell.
"Wal, thar ain't a half more to tell. This chap, my sister's husban', was wishin' to get rid of his wife, but in makin' the attempt he ruined himself, and I was ter see the chap hung fur the murder."
"Then he does succeed."
The keen eyes of Barkswell regarded the man before him fixedly, penetratingly.
"No!" hissed the tramp.
"Men do not hang for attempting murder."
"Don't they? Pardner, let me tell you that you won't live arter you attempt to murder Iris."
"What do you mean?"
"I know ye, Andy Barkswell—know what yer scheming brain hez concocted. Not content wi' puttin' poor Vict'ry Vane out o' the world, you hev planned ter kill my sister, yer true and lawful wife. I'll watch ye thar, hossfly—"
With the exclamation, Barkswell leaped with the fury of a tiger at the throat of the stalwart tramp.
The hour had come for a complete triumph or none.
This was the cry that escaped the lips of the wounded tramp.
Well might he give utterance to the cry.
There was murder gleaming in the lurid eyes of the villain, Barkswell.
Although Perry Jounce was weak from the effects of the shot that had plowed a furrow through his scalp, his assailant did not permit him to have a fair show.
The tramp had been very indiscreet in telling what he did to his wicked brother-in-law.
"Mercy!" finally gasped Jounce, when he found that he had not strength sufficient to combat the man who was at his throat with murderous intent.
"You shall not live to thwart me, Perry Jounce," hissed Barkswell, as he pressed his companion in crime to the floor, and crushed his knee down upon his breast.
"Mercy!" again gasped Jounce.
"No. You would grant none to me. It would not be safe for me to permit you to live."
"But, hasn't I did my duty by you, pardner? Ef't hadn't been fur me Sile Keene wouldn't a went under," uttered the helpless tramp, pleadingly.
There was no mercy in the heart of Andrew Barkswell, however. Jounce knew too much and was disposed to be dangerous, so he did not scruple to put him out of the way.
"Not a word, scoundrel," growled Barkswell, and with the words he drew a clasp knife from an inner pocket.
Again the fallen wretch gasped for mercy.
"You butted against the wrong man, Perry Jounce," muttered Barkswell, "when you attempted to frighten me from my plans. What is your life to me? No more than his, than that woman's. You must die."
The point of the knife touched the heaving bosom of the tramp, above the heart.
"Mercy! Spare me, brother—!"
The words were cut short by a quick movement on the part of Barkswell. He had sent the knife to the hilt in the bosom of the tramp.
"There, that ends your career," and with the words the young villain came to his feet.
He stood back with folded arms and watched the dying convulsions of his victim.
Soon the huge form lay quiet, the strong limbs stiffened in death.
A smile played on the features of Barkswell. Nevertheless his face was pale and drawn, and his breath came in short, hot gasps. It was no ordinary thing to take the life of a human being, much less to perpetrate the deed in cold blood.
"Now then the body must be disposed of," muttered Barkswell. "I cannot permit it to lay here."
He moved about and lifted a small trap in the floor. Through this he tumbled the body, and taking the candle, towered himself into a small, damp cellar.
It was a gloomy place.
The murderer must needs labor here for a time, however.
The ground was soft, and procuring a barrel-stave, the homicide went at the labor of digging a grave for his victim.
This work consumed some time. It was accomplished at length, however, and the body of the tramp tumbled in.
Slowly the man heaped the loose sand above the breast of his victim. When it was level full he stamped it down with his feet, and then heaped on more of the dirt.
His light sputtered and grew dim, threatening to go out.
It was not a pleasant thought, the one of being left alone in the dark there, with the blood of his victim trickling through the floor upon him.
"Mercy! what a dismal place. I must get out of this instanter, and—what was that?"
The sound of a step creaking on the floor above!
An awful horror took complete possession of Barkswell at that moment. He dared not look up at the opening through which he had passed, fearing, he knew not what.
His first thought was to extinguish the light.
He snatched it from the wall, and then, in spite of his terror, he cast his eyes upward. A face, white and ghostly, peered down upon him, a pair of flaming eyes burning into his very soul. With a wild cry Barkswell flung down the light, and fell fainting across the grave of his murdered victim.
BORDINE AND SHANKS.
The bullet that Andrew Barkswell sent hustling after the fleeing Bordine went wide of its mark.
The young engineer was moving at such a rate of speed, however, that it was wholly impossible for him to halt.
He knew not of the near proximity of the creek, and in consequence went headlong into the foaming current. His head came in contact with a jagged rock that partially stunned him so that for the moment he sank beneath its surface.
The swift current buoyed him up, and bore him swiftly from the vicinity.
Dazed and nearly strangled the engineer struggled to save himself from drowning. In the endeavor his hands came in contact with a floating plank, which the high water had floated from the bank.
He grasped the plank with a cry of joy. He felt that there was little danger of his drowning with such a buoy to cling to.
On down the current swept plank and man. At times the float touched the shore, but in such places the bank was steep and Bordine dared not make the attempt to land.
Presently, after floating perhaps a mile, the glimmer of a light filled his eyes.
On swept the plank with its human burden, and soon the light broadened into a large flame.
It proved to be a fire built on a level bit of ground near the water's edge. A man sat in the glow of the fire evidently engaged in cooking his evening meal.
The sharp bark of a dog seemed to startle him.
"What is it, Tige?"
The dog darted down to the edge of the water, looked wistfully at the stream, then with a final bark plunged into the stream.
He seized one end of the plank and dragged it ashore.
A man, with the water running from him in streams, stood up in the fire-light regarding the dog-owner. "Hello!" exclaimed the man.
"Who are you?"
"A gentleman of the naval service," answered August Bordine with a gruesome laugh.
He could not feel prepossessed in favor of the man before him, who was small of stature, with a deformed body, bushy red hair and beard, one eye alone visible, the other hidden completely under a black patch.
"Wal," remarked the queer looking man, "you have the appearance of being a water-fowl anyhow. Come up by the fire and wring yourself, and get the chills out of your system. I havn't got much of a home to offer you, but it's good enough for me, and what's good enough for me is good enough for anybody."
Then the queer stranger led the way to the fire, where the light revealed the features of the saturated man completely.
The peddler started and uttered the exclamation as though astonished.
"Now what?" demanded the young engineer as he began to wring himself.
"I reckon I've seen you before."
"It wouldn't be strange."
"Your from Grandon?"
"I git my stock in that town," proceeded Mr. Shanks. "I've seen a heap of folks, and know a—many who don't know me."
"You remember seeing me at your house 'tother day don't you?"
"I do not."
"Ain't your name Barkswell?"
The one-eyed man fixed his single optic on the face of the wet youth in a glance that was penetrating.
"I swear, but there's a mighty close resemblance."
"There must be. Many people have taken me to be somebody other than I am. I do not understand it."
"What is your name?"
The peddler sat down on a log near, and crossing his legs, with both hands on the back of his dog—he seemed to have only one now—he gazed thoughtfully into vacancy.
"A strange resemblance," he muttered.
"Permit me to thank you for your kindness, Mr.——"
"Shanks—Hiram Shanks at your service," the peddler filled in.
"I might have drowned but for you. This fire is quite comfortable I assure you, most comfortable indeed."
The steam rose in a cloud about the engineer as he turned about, exposing his clothing to the genial heat.
"I was eating a mighty late supper," said the peddler. "Fact is I'm noways regular at my meals; coz the tarverns won't board me for what it's worth. I bunk out of doors these warm nights, and don't feel afraid with Tige for a companion."
"I should imagine not. That dog is a noble fellow."
"Noble! Well, he's the next thing to human, Mr. Bordine. Somebody poisoned his mate, so't I have to foot it where once I rode in my carriage. If your anyways hungry, mister, I can give you grub enough such as 'tis."
The engineer assured the queer fellow that he had no desire to eat since it was late when he left home.
"How'd you come in the creek?"
Should he tell the true story to this deformed fellow, who had befriended him? Could there be any harm in it?
"Speak right out, young man. You've been into a muss of some sort, and I sympathise with you."
"I am glad to hear you say that."
After a moment given to reflection, the engineer told the story of his being decoyed from home, and of the attempt upon his life by the tramp, and the man from Grandon.
Not a word did the one-eyed man utter during the recital, but the fire in that single eye grew to a deeper flame, and he pushed up the black patch in a way that betokened extreme nervousness.
The eye beneath the patch did not seem defective to Bordine, yet the slight view he obtained of it was not sufficient to make sure as to that.
When he had finished, the peddler opened his lips to give utterance to one word:
"I admit it," returned the engineer.
"Beg pardon, sir," uttered Hiram Shanks, quickly, "but after the warning you'd had, and the death of the detective, it seems to me that you ought to have been on your guard."
"So I ought; but it was on account of the detective."
"Don't put yourself out on his account," retorted the one-eyed man quickly. "The little experience I've had with a litter of that kind it don't pay to waste sympathy on 'em. Do you know who the fellow was that got you into this trap?"
"I am not positive. I know I saw the fellow once, and at the Golden Lion he registered as Mr. Brown."
After a little more questioning, the peddler assured August that it was time to turn in.
"You needn't be scared. Tige'll watch out for tramps or other enemies to honest men."
"I would like to reach home."
"You can't to-night. Twon't be long till morning. Wait, and I will go with you."
After a little reflection the young engineer consented to this plan, but he found it impossible to sleep for some time in his damp clothing.
The peddler walked into the shadows, and August saw no more of him until the dawn of day, when Tige uttered a glad bark and darted into the bushes to greet his returning master.
August sat up, yet damp and uncomfortable, with an intense, burning fever in his veins.
"How far is it to the city?" he questioned.
The young man staggered to his feet, but sank as quickly.
"You are ill, young feller?"
"I—I fear so," groaned August. "I don't believe it will be possible for me to walk home."
"Of course it won't."
"What shall I do? Can you procure a horse—"
"I can. You must rest here, or at a little shanty up the stream I have in my mind, until I bring a conveyance. Do you mind?"
"I suppose I must wait. I feel terribly sick and weak."
Then, leaning on the arm of the deformed peddler, August permitted him to lead him into the bushes, where, against the creek bank, was a small fisherman's shanty, one side of which was open to the weather.
Here, on an old blanket, the peddler left August to await his return.
Tige was left to guard the sick man, and then Hiram Shanks hastened from the spot.
It seemed a long time ere the peddler returned, and when he did come, he brought the most startling news.
HANK JONES AGAIN.
Hot with fever, August Bordine lifted his aching head for the dozenth time to listen for the returning tread of the queer old peddler.
A glad bark from Tige was the first announcement the sick young man had of the return of his queer friend.
"Tired waiting?" queried Shanks, as he burst through the bushes and confronted the engineer.
"Very tired," moaned the feverish lips.
Then August put his head upon his hand and regarded the peddler with a look of anxious inquiry.
"Did you bring a horse?"
"No, I didn't," answered the peddler abruptly.
"Then you have deceived me," and the sick youth sank back with a groan.
"Nothing of the kind," answered Shanks. "I've learned some tremendous news since I went from here this morning."
"News?" "Yes. Twon't be safe for you to go back to the city."
"Not safe? What do you mean?"
"This is what I mean," said the peddler, sinking to his knees and adjusting the black patch carefully over his eye. "The whole burgh is in a state of excitement over the discovery of the murderer of Victoria Vane."
"He has been discovered then?"
"Wait. A squad of police went to your house this morning and hunted high and low for you. The papers say that August Bordine murdered the Ridgewood girl, and that he fled last night from the city to escape arrest. What do you think of that?"
"It's all false."
"I suppose so, but if you should fall into the hands of the officers just now, you wouldn't be given half chance for your life."
"But who started this yarn?"
Bordine was deeply interested, and he sat up now and forgot for the time his aching head and weakened body.
"It seems to be the murdered girl's brother who is engineering the search. He is determined that his sister's murderer shall be brought to justice."
"That is right of course."
"Yes, but the evidence points strongly to you. I think, with a speedy trial, you could be convicted, I vow I do, Mr. Bordine. Dare you go back and risk it?"
"I am innocent—"
"True, but you seem guilty. The girl, they say, was stabbed—"
"Yes, with a small dirk."
"Exactly," with a start.
Perhaps he was wondering how the young engineer knew so much if he was guiltless.
"Can you tell me what kind of a knife it was?"
The single eye of the questioner was fixed in a keen gaze upon the face of August Bordine.
He seemed growing suspicious again.
"It was apparently a two-edged blade."
"Yes. Of course I could not tell exactly, since the wound was not easily examined."
"I see. Then you have not seen the knife—the dagger that found the life of Victoria Vane?"
"And yet it was found in your room."
"It is true. That evidence alone might hang you."
"My soul! what does, what can this mean?" groaned the young engineer, sinking back to the rough blanket, weak as a rag under the revelation of this strange man.
"It means that a plot exists for your destruction, and the elevation of another," answered Hiram Shanks, slowly and with deliberation. "Doubtless your journey last night was a part of the plot. I confess that some things puzzle me, yet I am assured that your death is necessary to the successful issue of a plot."
"I cannot understand it."
"Nor I, fully."
Then a short silence fell between the two men, during which the eyes of Bordine examined the face of the queer little peddler keenly. At length he said:
"Mr. Shanks, will you answer me a question?"
"A dozen, if you like."
"Who are you?"
"Yes, but you are no ordinary man."
"Why do you think that?"
"To look at you, one would think—"
Then the engineer came to a sudden pause, and seemed embarrassed.
"I understand what you would say," remarked the peddler, with the faintest smile imaginable. "You imagine I will feel offended if you speak the truth, and say that I look like a battered, old tramp, but I should not. I will tell you the truth, young man. I have seen better days, but misfortunes came upon me, not singly, but in platoons, until I found my life a wreck. A wicked woman, poor whisky, and a reckless heart have brought me mighty low. I do not expect to rise again, but I have resolved to reform and pass the remainder of my days in honest endeavor.
"I turned to peddling from a natural liking to handle goods. I lead a wandering life now, and expect to till I die. I mean, however, to help you all possible, since I am assured that you are a good man and innocent of crime. My advice was once listened to; may I not hope that it will be again? Heed what I gay, trust me, and all will yet come out right. What do you say?"
"That I am unable to disobey at the present time, at any rate," answered the engineer. "Which may prove to be a blessing in disguise, after all."
Then queer Hiram Shanks came to his feet, and gazed sharply about him.
"I am not sure that this is the safest place that could be found," he said, "yet it isn't a place that people hunting for criminals would be apt to look. On the whole, I think you had better remain here until night, at least."
Then the peddler whistled to his dog, and walked away, leaving the sick man alone in the fisherman's shanty.
"Who is guilty? that's the question," muttered Hiram Shanks when once out of hearing of the sick man. "Bordine certainly doesn't act like a guilty wretch, and I, for one, believe him innocent. I must run down the guilty dogs, however, if I would save an innocent man and win the five thousand dollars reward."
Then the peddler hurried from the vicinity, accompanied by his dog.
Bordine fell into a troubled slumber, from which he was awakened by a sound from the murmuring creek.
Instantly his senses were on the alert.
He felt anxious to be at home, to alleviate the fears that he knew his mother must undergo on account of his continued absence.
"Somebody is coming," he thought.
Then he listened as he could with the beating fever in his head.
The dip of a paddle!
It was this that had wakened him.
He roused to a sitting posture and gazed through the open side of the shanty down toward the water.
A man had just landed from an Indian canoe, and stood on the bank, regarding him in evident astoundment. August could scarcely repress a cry.
And no wonder.
In front of him, not ten yards distant, stood the man who attempted to murder him the night before in the lone cabin near the creek falls.
The astoundment was mutual.
Evidently the man was none the worse for the fright he had received over the grave of his victim in the shanty cellar. He stared at the reclining form in the fisherman's shanty as though doubting his senses.
After a moment he advanced, and gazed fixedly into the face of fever-stricken August.
"So!" he exclaimed, and in that one word there was an immense amount of meaning.
Then he walked up to the bunk and stood within a few feet of the sick man.
"Hank Jones, what are you doing here?"
"Well, that's a nice question," sneered the villain as he thrust his hand to his hip pocket. "How in nature did you escape from the creek? Didn't I hit you when I fired?"
With the words the villain drew a revolver.
"It seems not."
"Then I'll make sure of it this time."
"This is unfair," remonstrated August, feeling that he was at the mercy of his enemy, and anxious to gain time, for night was fast falling, and with it the peddler and his dog would doubtless come.
"All is fair in war my friend."
"Why did you attempt to murder me last night?"
"For purposes of my own."
"You concocted a falsehood about Silas Keene and led me into a trap."
"Not entirely false," returned the villain. "The detective was hurt, and has since died."
"Since last night?"
"No, before that, but I will not palaver with you. I set out to rid the earth of my rival in business, and this is the way I do it."
The speaker thrust forward his revolver and fired.
A QUEER MISTAKE.
The aim of the would-be assassin was not good. His bullet flew wide of the mark.
The deep growl of a dog was the disturbing cause.
As Hank Jones pulled the trigger, a shaggy object bounded through the bushes full at the throat of the villainous murderer.
August recognized the peddler's dog. Man and dog rolled down the bank to the water's edge. In the struggle the disguised outlaw's beard was torn off, and Andrew Barkswell stood revealed.
"Curse you, I'll knife you for this!" grated the baffled villain.
The next instant a keen blade gleamed in the air, just as a voice called:
"Tige, come off."
The dog was used to obeying his master's voice, and so he released his hold just in time to avoid the knife of the maddened Barkswell.
The dog came bounding up the bank.
The single eye of the peddler glanced down at the man who struggled to his feet at the water's edge, and sprang into a canoe.
"So, you, Tige. Why was you going for our friend in that way?"
The peddler patted his dog and talked scoldingly until the escaping villain was well out in the stream, paddling away.
Quickly Hiram Shanks strode down to the water.
"Hey, you, man—August, what you leaving for? You'll surely get caught."
It will thus be seen that the peddler, who was hidden from the fisherman's shanty by a line of bushes, had mistaken the fleeing man for his patient.
The man in the boat made no response to the call of Shanks, and soon was lost to view behind an abrupt bend.
"Well, that beats me," muttered the one-eyed man, as he gazed over the water at the point where the canoe and its occupant had just disappeared.
Then, as he turned to ascend the bank, he noticed that Tige held something in his teeth—a heavy black beard!
Seizing it, the peddler examined it closely, then exclaimed:
"A disguise! Well, I'm puzzled now more than ever. I thought August Bordine a much abused man, and now it turns out that he's a villain after all, and able to pull the wool even over my eyes."
Slowly Hiram Shanks ascended the bank. His dog uttered a joyful bark, and dashed through the bushes toward the little shanty.
"Here you, Tige," called the peddler.
"Bow-wow-wow!" was the answer from the faithful dog.
Hiram Shanks moved through the bushes, and then uttered a surprised exclamation. Reclining on the old blanket where he had left him was August Bordine, the young engineer.