HotFreeBooks.com
The Face And The Mask
by Robert Barr
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5
Home - Random Browse

"Then may I hope, Mr. Temple, that you have changed your mind with——"

"No, sir. What I said then—that is, the substance of what I said, not the manner of saying it—I still adhere to."

"May I ask what objection you have to me?"

"Certainly. I have the same objection that I have to the majority of the society young men of the present day. If I make inquiries about you, what do I find? That you are a noted oarsman—that you have no profession—that your honors at college consisted in being captain of the football team, and——"

"No, no, the baseball club."

"Same thing, I suppose."

"Quite different, I assure you, Mr. Temple."

"Well, it is the same to me at any rate. Now, in my time young men had a harder row to hoe, and they hoed it. I am what they call a self-made man and probably I have a harsher opinion of the young men of the present day than I should have. But if I had a son I would endeavor to have him know how to do something, and then I would see that he did it."

"I am obliged to you for stating your objection, Mr. Temple. I have taken my degree in Harvard law school, but I have never practiced, because, as the little boy said, I didn't have to. Perhaps if some one had spoken to me as you have done I would have pitched in and gone to work. It is not too late yet. Will you give me a chance? The position of cashier in your bank, for instance?"

The effect of these apparently innocent words on Mr. Temple was startling. He sprang to his feet and brought down his clenched fist on the table with a vehemence that made young Mr. Brown jump. "What do you mean, sir?" he cried, sternly. "What do you mean by saying such a thing?"

"Why, I—I—I—mean——" stammered Brown, but he could get no further. He thought the old man had suddenly gone crazy. He glared across the library table at Brown as if the next instant he would spring at his throat. Then the haggard look came into his face again, he passed his hand across his brow, and sank into his chair with a groan.

"My dear sir," said Brown, approaching him, "what is the matter? Is there anything I can——"

"Sit down, please," answered the banker, melancholy. "You will excuse me I hope, I am very much troubled. I did not intend to speak of it, but some explanation is due to you. A month from now, if you are the kind of man that most of your fellows are, you will not wish to marry my daughter. There is every chance that at that time the doors of my bank will be closed."

"You astonish me, sir. I thought——"

"Yes, and so every one thinks. I have seldom in my life trusted the wrong man, but this time I have done so, and the one mistake seems likely to obliterate all that I have succeeded in doing in a life of hard work."

"If I can be of any financial assistance I will be glad to help you."

"How much?"

"Well, I don't know—50,000 dollars perhaps or——"

"I must have 250,000 dollars before the end of this month."

"Two hundred and fifty thousand!"

"Yes, sir. William L. Staples, the cashier of our bank, is now in Canada with half a million of the bank funds. No one knows it but myself and one or two of the directors. It is generally supposed that he has gone to Washington on a vacation."

"But can't you put detectives on his track?"

"Certainly. Then the theft would be made public at once. The papers would be full of it. There might be a run on the bank, and we would have to close the doors the next day. To put the detectives on his track would merely mean bringing disaster on our own heads. Staples is quite safe, and he knows it. Thanks to an idiotic international arrangement he is as free from danger of arrest in Canada as you are here. It is impossible to extradite him for stealing."

"But I think there is a law against bringing stolen money into Canada."

"Perhaps there is. It would not help us at the present moment. We must compromise with him, if we can find him in time. Of course, even if the bank closed, we would pay everything when there was time to realize. But that is not the point. It would mean trouble and disaster, and would probably result in other failures all through one man's rascality."

"Then it all resolves itself to this. Staples must be found quietly and negotiated with. Mr. Temple, let me undertake the finding of him, and the negotiating, also, if you will trust me."

"Do you know him?"

"Never saw him in my life."

"Here is his portrait. He is easily recognized from that. You couldn't mistake him. He is probably living at Montreal under an assumed name. He may have sailed for Europe. You will say nothing of this to anybody?"

"Certainly not. I will leave on to-night's train for Montreal, or on the first train that goes."

Young Mr. Brown slipped the photograph into his pocket and shook hands with the banker. Somehow his confident, alert bearing inspired the old man with more hope than he would have cared to admit, for, as a general thing, he despised the average young man.

"How long can you hold out if this does not become public?"

"For a month at least; probably for two or three."

"Well, don't expect to hear from me too soon. I shall not risk writing. If there is anything to communicate, I will come myself."

"It is very good of you to take my trouble on your shoulders like this. I am very much obliged to you."

"I am not a philanthropist, Mr. Temple," replied young Brown.

* * * * *

When young Mr. Brown stepped off the train at the Central Station in Toronto, a small boy accosted him.

"Carry your valise up for you, sir?"

"Certainly," said Brown, handing it to him.

"How much do I owe you?" he asked at the lobby of the hotel.

"Twenty-five cents," said the boy promptly, and he got it.

Brown registered on the books of the hotel as John A. Walker, of Montreal.

* * * * *

Mr. Walter Brown, of Rochester, was never more discouraged in his life than at the moment he wrote on the register the words, "John A. Walker, Montreal." He had searched Montreal from one end to the other, but had found no trace of the man for whom he was looking. Yet, strange to say, when he raised his eyes from the register they met the face of William L. Staples, ex-cashier. It was lucky for Brown that Staples was looking at the words he had written, and not at himself, or he would have noticed Brown's involuntary start of surprise, and flush of pleasure. It was also rather curious that Mr. Brown had a dozen schemes in his mind for getting acquainted with Staples when he met him, and yet that the first advance should be made by Staples himself.

"You are from Montreal," said Mr. Staples, alias John Armstrong.

"That's my town," said Mr. Brown.

"What sort of a place is it in winter? Pretty lively?"

"Oh, yes. Good deal of a winter city, Montreal is. How do you mean, business or sport?"

"Well, both. Generally where there's lots of business there's lots of fun."

"Yes, that's so," assented Brown. He did not wish to prolong the conversation. He had some plans to make, so he followed his luggage up to his room. It was evident that he would have to act quickly. Staples was getting tired of Toronto.

Two days after Brown had his plans completed. He met Staples one evening in the smoking-room of the hotel.

"Think of going to Montreal?" asked Brown.

"I did think of it. I don't know, though. Are you in business there?"

"Yes. If you go, I could give you some letters of introduction to a lot of fellows who would show you some sport, that is, if you care for snow-shoeing, toboganning, and the like of that."

"I never went in much for athletics," said Staples.

"I don't care much for exertion myself," answered Brown. "I come up here every winter for some ice-yachting. That's my idea of sport. I own one of the fastest ice-boats on the bay. Ever been out?"

"No, I haven't. I've seen them at it a good deal. Pretty cold work such weather as we've been having, isn't it?"

"I don't think so. Better come out with me tomorrow?"

"Well, I don't care if I do."

The next day and the next they spun around the bay on the ice-boat. Even Staples, who seemed to be tired of almost everything, liked the swiftness and exhilaration of the iceboat.

One afternoon, Brown walked into the bar of the hotel, where he found Staples standing.

"See here, Armstrong." he cried, slapping that gentleman on the shoulder. "Are you in for a bit of sport? It's a nice moonlight night, and I'm going to take a spin down to Hamilton to meet some chaps, and we can come back on the iceboat, or if you think it too late, you can stay over, and come back on the train."

"Hamilton? That's up the lake, isn't it?"

"Yes, just a nice run from here. Come along—I counted on you."

An hour later they were skimming along the frozen surface of the lake.

"Make yourself warm and snug," said Brown. "That's what the buffalo robes are for. I must steer, so I have to keep in the open. If I were you I'd wrap up in those robes and go to sleep. I'll wake you when we're there."

"All right," answered Staples. "That's not a bad idea."

"General George Washington!" said young Brown to himself. "This is too soft a snap altogether. I'm going to run him across the lake like a lamb. Before he opens his eyes we'll have skimmed across the frozen lake, and he'll find himself in the States again when he wakes up. The only thing now to avoid are the air-holes and ice-hills, and I'm all right."

He had been over the course before and knew pretty well what was ahead of him. The wind was blowing stiffly straight up the lake and the boat silently, and swifter than the fastest express, was flying from Canada and lessening the distance to the American shore.

"How are you getting along, Walker," cried Staples, rousing himself up. "First rate," answered Brown. "We'll soon be there, Staples."

That unfortunate slip of the tongue almost cost young Mr. Brown his life. He had been, thinking of the man under his own name, and the name had come out unconsciously. He did not even notice it himself in time to prepare, and the next instant the thief flung himself upon him and jammed his head against the iron rod that guided the rudder, with such a force that the rudder stayed in its place and the boat flew along the ice without a swerve.

"You scoundrel!" roared the bank-robber. "That's your game, is it? By the gods, I'll teach you a lesson in the detective business!"

Athlete as young Brown was, the suddenness of the attack, and the fact that Staples clutched both hands round his neck and had his knee on his breast, left him as powerless as an infant. Even then he did not realize what had caused the robber to guess his position.

"For God's sake, let me up!" gasped Brown. "We'll be into an air-hole and drowned in a moment."

"I'll risk it, you dog! till I've choked the breath out of your body." Brown wriggled his head away from the rudder iron, hoping that the boat would slew around, but it kept its course. He realized that if he was to save his life he would have to act promptly. He seemed to feel his tongue swell in his parched mouth. His strength was gone and his throat was in an iron vice. He struck out wildly with his feet and one fortunate kick sent the rudder almost at right angles.

Instantly the boat flashed around into the wind. Even if a man is prepared for such a thing, it takes all his nerve and strength to keep him on an iceboat. Staples was not prepared. He launched head first into space and slid for a long distance on the rough ice. Brown was also flung on the ice and lay for a moment gasping for breath. Then he gathered himself together, and slipping his hand under his coat, pulled out his revolver. He thought at first that Staples was shamming, but a closer examination of him showed that the fall on the ice had knocked him senseless.

There was only one thing that young Mr. Brown was very anxious to know. He wanted to know where the money was. He had played the part of private detective well in Toronto, after the very best French style, and had searched the room of Staples in his absence, but he knew the money was not there nor in his valise. He knew equally well that the funds were in some safe deposit establishment in the city, but where he could not find out. He had intended to work on Staples' fears of imprisonment when once he had him safe on the other side of the line. But now that the man was insensible, he argued that it was a good time to find whether or not he had a record of the place of deposit in his pocket-book. He found no such book in his pockets. In searching, however, he heard the rustling of paper apparently in the lining of his coat. Then he noticed how thickly it was padded. The next moment he had it ripped open, and a glance showed him that it was lined with bonds. Both coat and vest were padded in this way—the vest being filled with Bank of England notes, so the chances were that Staples had meditated a tour in Europe. The robber evidently put no trust in Safe Deposits nor banks. Brown flung the thief over on his face, after having unbuttoned coat and vest, doubled back his arms and pulled off these garments. His own, Brown next discarded, and with some difficulty got them on the fallen man and then put on the clothes of mammon.

"This is what I call rolling in wealth." said Brown to himself. He admitted that he felt decidedly better after the change of clothing, cold as it was.

Buttoning his own garments on the prostrate man, Brown put a flask of liquor to his lips and speedily revived him. Staples sat on the ice in a dazed manner, and passed his hand across his brow. In the cold gleam of the moonlight he saw the shining barrel of Brown's revolver "covering" him.

"It's all up, Mr. Staples. Get on board the iceboat."

"Where are you going to take me to?"

"I'll let you go when we come to the coast if you tell me where the money is."

"You know you are guilty of the crime of kidnapping," said Mr. Staples, apparently with the object of gaining time. "So you are in some danger of the law yourself."

"That is a question that can be discussed later on. You came voluntarily, don't forget that fact. Where's the money?"

"It is on deposit in the Bank of Commerce."

"Well, here's paper and a stylographic pen, if the ink isn't frozen— no, it's all right—write a cheque quickly for the amount payable to bearer. Hurry up, or the ink will freeze."

There was a smile of satisfaction on the face of Staples as he wrote the check.

"There," he said, with a counterfeited sigh. "That is the amount."

The check was for 480,000 dollars.

When they came under the shadow of the American coast, Brown ordered his passenger off.

"You can easily reach land from here, and the walk will do you good. I'm going further up the lake."

When Staples was almost at the land he shouted through the clear night air: "Don't spend the money recklessly when you get it, Walker."

"I'll take care of it, Staples," shouted back young Brown.

* * * * *

Young Mr. Brown sprang lightly up the steps of the Temple mansion, Rochester, and pressed the electric button.

"Has Mr. Temple gone to the bank yet?" he asked the servant.

"No, sir; he is in the library."

"Thank you. Don't trouble. I know the way."

Mr. Temple looked around as the young man entered, and, seeing who it was, sprang to his feet with a look of painful expectancy on his face. "There's a little present for you," said Mr. Brown, placing a package on the table. "Four hundred and seventy-eight thousand: Bank of England notes and United States bonds." The old man grasped his hand, strove to speak, but said nothing.

* * * * *

People wondered why young Mr. and Mrs. Brown went to Toronto on their wedding tour in the depth of winter. It was so very unusual, don't you know.



THE SIXTH BENCH.

She was in earnest; he was not. When that state of things exists anything may happen. The occurrence may be commonplace, comic, or tragic, depending on the temperament and experience of the woman. In this instance the result was merely an appointment—which both of them kept.

Hector McLane came to Paris with noble resolutions, a theory of color, and a small allowance. Paris played havoc with all of these. He was engaged to a nice girl at home, who believed him destined to become a great painter; a delusion which McLane shared.

He entered with great zest into the life of a Parisian art student, but somehow the experience did not equal his anticipations. What he had read in books—poetry and prose—had thrown a halo around the Latin Quarter, and he was therefore disappointed in finding the halo missing. The romance was sordid and mercenary, and after a few months of it he yearned for something better.

In Paris you may have nearly everything—except the something better. It exists, of course, but it rarely falls in the way of the usually impecunious art student. Yet it happened that, as luck was not against the young man, he found it when he had abandoned the search for it.

McLane's theory was that art had become too sombre. The world was running overmuch after the subdued in color. He wanted to be able to paint things as they are, and was not to be deterred if his pictures were called gaudy. He obtained permission to set up his easel in the Church of Notre Dame, and in the dim light there, he endeavored to place on canvas some semblance of the splendor of color that came through the huge rose window high above him. He was discouraged to see how opaque the colors in the canvas were as compared with the translucent hues of the great window. As he leaned back with a sigh of defeat, his wandering eyes met, for one brief instant, something more beautiful than the stained glass, as the handiwork of God must always be more beautiful than the handiwork of man. The fleeting glimpse was of a melting pair of dark limpid eyes, which, meeting his, were instantly veiled, and then he had a longer view of the sweet face they belonged to. It was evident that the young girl had been admiring his work, which was more than he could hope to have the professor at Julien's do.

Lack of assurance was never considered, even by his dearest friend, to be among McLane's failings. He rose from his painting stool, bowed and asked her if she would not sit down for a moment; she could see the— the—painting so much better. The girl did not answer, but turned a frightened look upon him, and fled under the wing of her kneeling duenna, who had not yet finished her devotions. It was evident that the prayers of the girl had been briefer than those of the old woman in whose charge she was. Where the need is greatest the prayer is often the shortest. McLane had one more transitory glimpse of those dark eyes as he held open the swinging door. The unconscious woman and the conscious girl passed out of the church.

This was how it began.

The painting of the colored window of Notre Dame now occupied almost all the time at the disposal of Hector McLane. No great work is ever accomplished without unwearied perseverance. It was remarkable that the realization of this truth came upon him just after he had definitely made up his mind to abandon the task. Before he allowed the swinging door to close he had resolved to pursue his study in color. It thus happened, incidentally, that he saw the young girl again, always at the same hour, and always with the same companion. Once he succeeded, unnoticed by the elder, in slipping a note into her hand, which he was pleased and flattered to see she retained and concealed. Another day he had the joy of having a few whispered words with her in the dim shadow of one of the gigantic pillars. After that, progress was comparatively easy.

Her name was Yvette, he learned, and he was amused to find with what expert dexterity a perfectly guileless and innocent little creature such as she was, managed to elude the vigilance of the aged and experienced woman who had her in charge. The stolen interviews usually took place in the little park behind Notre Dame. There they sat on the bench facing the fountain, or walked up and down on the crunching gravel under the trees. In the afternoons they walked in the secluded part of the park, in the shadow of the great church. It was her custom to send him dainty little notes telling him when she expected to be in the park, giving the number of the bench, for sometimes the duenna could not be eluded, and was seated there with Yvette. On these occasions McLane had to content himself with gazing from afar.

She was so much in earnest that the particular emotion which occupied the place of conscience in McLane's being, was troubled. He thought of the nice girl at home, and fervently hoped nothing of this would ever reach her ears. No matter how careful a man is, chance sometimes plays him a scurvy trick. McLane remembered instances, and regretted the world was so small. Sometimes a cry of recognition from one on the pavement to a comrade in the park, shouted through the iron railings, sent a shiver through McLane. Art students had an uncomfortable habit of roaming everywhere, and they were boisterous in hailing an acquaintance. Besides, they talked, and McLane dreaded having his little intrigue the joke of the school. At any moment an objectionable art student might drop into the park to sketch the fountain, or the nurses and children, or the back of the cathedral at one end of the park, or even the low, gloomy, unimposing front of the Morgue at the other.

He was an easy-going young fellow, who hated trouble, and perhaps, knowing that the inevitable day of reckoning was approaching, this accounted for the somewhat tardy awakening of his conscience.

He sometimes thought it would be best simply to leave Paris without any explanation, but he remembered that she knew his address, having written to him often, and that by going to the school she could easily find out where his home was. So if there was to be a scene it was much better that it should take place in Paris, rather than where the nice girl lived.

He nerved himself up many times to make the explanation and bring down the avalanche, but when the time came he postponed it. But the inevitable ultimately arrives. He had some difficulty at first in getting her to understand the situation clearly, but when he at last succeeded there was no demonstration. She merely kept her eyes fixed on the gravel and gently withdrew her hand from his. To his surprise she did not cry, nor even answer him, but walked silently to and fro with downcast eyes in the shadow of the church. No one, he said, would ever occupy the place in his heart that she held. He was engaged to the other girl, but he had not known what love was until he met Yvette. He was bound to the other girl by ties he could not break, which was quite true, because the nice girl had a rich father. He drew such a pathetic picture of the loveless life he must in the future lead, that a great wave of self-pity surged up within him and his voice quavered. He felt almost resentful that she should take the separation in such an unemotional manner. When a man gets what he most desires he is still unsatisfied. This was exactly the way he had hoped she would take it.

All things come to an end, even explanations.

"Well, good-bye, Yvette," he said, reaching out his hand. She hesitated an instant, then without looking up, placed her small palm in his.

They stood thus for a moment under the trees, while the fountain beside them plashed and trickled musically. The shadow of the church was slowly creeping towards them over the gravel. The park was deserted, except by themselves. She tried gently to withdraw her hand, which he retained.

"Have you nothing to say to me, Yvette?" he asked, with a touch of reproach in his voice.

She did not answer. He held her fingers, which were slipping from his grasp, and the shadow touched her feet.

"Yvette, you will at least kiss me goodbye?"

She quickly withdrew her hand from his, shook her head and turned away. He watched her until she was out of sight, and then walked slowly towards his rooms on the Boulevard St. Germain. His thoughts were not comfortable. He was disappointed in Yvette. She was so clever, so witty, that he had at least expected she would have said something cutting, which he felt he thoroughly deserved. He had no idea she could be so heartless. Then his thoughts turned to the nice girl at home. She, too, had elements in her character that were somewhat bewildering to an honest young man. Her letters for a long time had been infrequent and unsatisfactory. It couldn't be possible that she had heard anything. Still, there is nothing so easy as point-blank denial, and he would see to that when he reached home.

An explanation awaited him at his rooms on the Boulevard. There was a foreign stamp on the envelope, and it was from the nice girl. There had been a mistake, she wrote, but happily she had discovered it before it was too late. She bitterly reproached herself, taking three pages to do it in, and on the fourth page he gathered that she would be married by the time he had the letter. There appeared to be no doubt that the nice girl fully realized how basely she had treated a talented, hard- working, aspiring, sterling young man, but the realization had not seemingly postponed the ringing of the wedding-bells to any appreciable extent.

Young McLane crushed the letter in his hand and used strong language, as, indeed, he was perfectly justified in doing. He laughed a hard dry laugh at the perfidy of woman. Then his thoughts turned towards Yvette. What a pity it was she was not rich! Like so many other noble, talented men, he realized he could not marry a poor woman. Suddenly it occurred to him that Yvette might not be poor. The more he pondered over the matter the more astonished he was that he had ever taken her poverty for granted. She dressed richly, and that cost money in Paris. He remembered that she wore a watch which flashed with jewels on the one occasion when he had seen it for a moment. He wished he had postponed his explanation for one more day; still, that was something easily remedied. He would tell her he had thrown over the other girl for her sake. Like a pang there came to him the remembrance that he did not know her address, nor even her family name. Still, she would be sure to visit the little park, and he would haunt it until she came. The haunting would give additional point to his story of consuming love. Anyhow, nothing could be done that night.

In the morning he was overjoyed to receive a letter from Yvette, and he was more than pleased when he read its contents. It asked for one more meeting behind the church.

"I could not tell you to-day," she wrote, "all I felt. To-morrow you shall know, if you meet me. Do not fear that I will reproach you. You will receive this letter in the morning. At twelve o'clock I shall be waiting for you on the sixth bench on the row south of the fountain— the sixth bench—the farthest from the church." "YVETTE."

McLane was overjoyed at his good luck. He felt that he hardly merited it. He was early at the spot, and sat down on the last bench of the row facing the fountain. Yvette had not yet arrived, but it was still half an hour before the time. McLane read the morning paper and waited. At last the bells all around him chimed the hour of twelve. She had not come. This was unusual, but always possible. She might not have succeeded in getting away. The quarter and then the half hour passed before McLane began to suspect that he had been made the victim of a practical joke. He dismissed the thought; such a thing was so unlike her. He walked around the little park, hoping he had mistaken the row of benches. She was not there. He read the letter again. It was plain enough—the sixth bench. He counted the benches beginning at the church. One—two—three—four—five. There were only five benches in the row.

As he gazed stupidly at the fifth bench a man beside him said—"That is the bench, sir."

"What do you mean?" cried McLane, turning toward him, astonished at the remark.

"It was there that the young girl was found dead this morning— poisoned, they say."

McLane stared at him—and then he said huskily—

"Who—was she?"

"Nobody knows that—yet. We will soon know, for everybody, as you see, is going into the Morgue. She's the only one on the bench to-day. Better go before the crowd gets greater. I have been twice."

McLane sank on the seat and drew his hand across his forehead.

He knew she was waiting for him on the sixth bench—the furthest from the church!

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5
Home - Random Browse