They came in droves to ask questions and to stare at the twenty-pound beet which sat conspicuously upon Mudge's desk and their jaws dropped when he explained carelessly—
"A runt from under the Mormon ditch; we raise bigger on our land."
They studied the map of the neatly plotted townsite of Symes with its substantial bank building, its park, its boulevards, its public school building and band-stand.
"That's goin' to be some town," Mudge told each with a confidential air, "and you've got a chance to make something if you gobble up a corner lot or two before prices soar. Quick turns while the boom is on is the way to do it in the West."
Mudge believed all that he said, because he believed in Symes; that is, he was convinced that all would be as he represented as soon as Symes could be provided with money to complete the project, and if he permitted his imagination to take liberties with the truth, it was solely because he felt that the end justified the means. He assured himself that all would be forgotten and forgiven in the ultimate success of the enterprise and so great was his faith in it and its efficient management that his own money paid for the pamphlets and the half-page newspaper advertisements which told the world of the Homeseekers' Excursion to the great Symes Irrigation Project where the desert was blooming like the rose. If at times there came to him, as there did to Symes, chilling thoughts of the exact meaning of failure should their plans miscarry, he did not allow them to long dampen his ardor.
"We'll put it through somehow!" he declared vehemently. "There'll be a trainload of these Homeseekers, and, out of a bunch like that, surely some of 'em will stick even if it isn't—well—not quite exactly in the shape they expect to find it. They'll see the merits of the proposition and make allowances for my enthusiasm; and if we can work this once we can work it again." Mudge insisted to himself resolutely, "I'm not the man to be stumped by a few obstacles, I can't afford to be identified with failures and we'll put this thing through if S. B. Mudge goes broke trying."
The stock and bondholders had something of the attitude of blase spectators at a circus, regarding Mudge's sensational efforts calmly, without applause or protest. A curious attitude, Mudge thought, for persons so vitally concerned, and there were times, after a chance meeting with Prescott, for instance, when Mudge wondered if they really were as indifferent as they seemed. That Prescott had an amazing knowledge of the situation for one in a position to know so little was evidenced by an occasional pertinent comment. But Mudge was too busy getting his Homeseekers in line to attempt the solution of any mysteries on the side.
In Crowheart the coming excursion of Homeseekers was the chief theme. Its citizens were elated at the wide publicity which the Company's advertising campaign was giving to the town, and increased deference to Symes was the result, for the merchants of Crowheart made no secret of the fact among themselves that without the payroll of the Symes Irrigation Project real money would be uncommonly scarce, and should the project fail—the remote possibility made them shudder. Gradually it had dawned upon these venturesome pioneers from "way back East in Nebraska" that the surrounding country had few if any resources and without the opening of fresh territory Crowheart's future was one they preferred not to contemplate.
If they wondered somewhat at the elasticity of the law, Symes's ability to stretch it only demonstrated still further his power, his ability to bend men and things to his iron will, and their awe of him increased proportionately. To the isolated community of obscure persons Symes seemed very nearly omnipotent. They had no criticism to make of the law's adaptability to Symes's needs; it was enough for them that Crowheart was in the limelight and the influx of settlers meant their individual prosperity.
It soon became obvious from the sale of excursion tickets that the Terriberry House would not be able to accommodate the Homeseekers.
"Not a carload but a trainload!" said Symes jubilantly to the editor of the Crowheart Courier, and Sylvester dashed off a double leaded plea to the first families of Crowheart to "throw open their homes" and do their utmost to make the strangers feel that they would be received upon terms of equality and find a welcome in their midst.
Crowheart's citizens responded magnificently to the appeal. The Percy Parrotts threw open their three-roomed residence and made arrangements to sleep in the hay, while their self-sacrificing example was quickly followed by others. Neither the Cowboy Band nor the neighbors knew either rest or sleep until they had mastered a Sousa March, while Mrs. Tutts showed her public spirit by rehearsing Crowheart's talented amateurs in an emergency performance of the "Lady of Lyons" for the strangers' evening entertainment.
Every available vehicle was engaged by Symes to convey the excursionists to the project and a committee chosen to meet them on the cinders at the station, himself to greet them in a few neat words.
With so much upon his mind, so many responsibilities upon his shoulders, it is small wonder that the little formality of payday should slip by without being properly observed. When it was called to his attention his explanation sounded reasonable enough.
"I'm just so busy now, boys, that I haven't the time to attend to your checks. But your money's as safe as though it was in the Bank of England, and if you'll oblige me by waiting until this excursion is over I'll greatly appreciate it."
"Sure!" they replied heartily, and indeed it was a pleasure to do Andy P. Symes a favor when he asked it in his big, genial voice. "Take your time, Mr. Symes, we are in no rush." In his magnetic presence they had quite forgotten that they were in a rush; besides, it was plain that he had more than one man should be expected to attend to, and no one dreamed that a dollar dropped in the treasury would have echoed like a rock falling in a well.
Like Mudge, Symes was convinced that out of a trainload of Homeseekers some of them would "stick." The inducement to do so was the privilege of the first choice of the 160-acre tracts—for a substantial deposit.
But those who did not stick?—those who were strongly under the impression that the water was already flowing through the ditch or that it was so near completion that it would do so shortly—would they be—irritated? As the day of the excursion approached the disquieting thought came with increasing frequency to Symes that they would be—irritated.
CROWHEART'S FIRST MURDER MYSTERY
The postmaster's curt "nothing" was like a judge's sentence to Essie Tisdale, for it meant to her the end of things. And now the marriage ceremony was over. She looked at the gold band upon her finger with a heavy, sinking heart. She must wear it always, she was thinking, to remind her that she had sold herself for a place to lay her head and thirty thousand sheep.
The jocose congratulations of the burly Justice of the Peace went unanswered and her eyes swept the smirking, curious faces of the bystanders without recognition. She heard Dubois's guttural voice saying—
"Go there to ze hotel, my dear, and get your clothes. Ze wagon is at ze shop for repairs and there you meet me. I've got to get back to ze sheep for awhile. You will haf good rest in ze hills."
The lonely hills with Dubois for company! A shiver like a chill passed over her. Returning to the hotel she found that the news had preceded her, for Mrs. Terriberry rushed down upon her with outstretched arms.
"Why didn't you tell me last night, Essie?"
The girl withdrew herself from the plump embrace.
"I didn't know it last night."
"I declare, if this isn't romantic!" Mrs. Terriberry fanned herself vigorously with her apron. "You'll be the richest woman around here when Dubois dies." She added irrelevantly, "And I've been like a mother to you, Ess."
"Why don't you and Dubois stay in town a few days and make us a visit?" Mr. Terriberry's voice rang with cordial hospitality.
The girl looked at him with embarrassing steadiness. The thirty thousand sheep were doing their work well.
"We are going to the camp to-day," she answered and turned upstairs.
When her few belongings were folded in a canvas "telescope" she looked about her with the panic-stricken feeling of one about to take a desperate, final plunge. The tiny, cheaply furnished room had been her home, her refuge, and she was leaving it, for she knew not what.
Every scratch upon the rickety washstand was familiar to her and she knew exactly how to dodge the waves in the mirror which distorted her reflection ludicrously. She was leaving behind her the shabby kid slippers in which she had danced so happily—was it centuries ago? And the pink frock hung limp and abandoned on its nail.
She walked to the window where she had sat so often planning new pleasures, happy because she was young and merry, and her heart brimmed with warmth and affection for all whom she knew, and she looked at the purple hills which shut out that wonderful East of which she had dreamed of seeing some time with somebody that she loved. She turned from the window with a lump in her aching throat and looked at the flat pillow which had been so often damp of late with her tears.
"It's over," she whispered brokenly as she picked up the awkward telescope, "everything is ended that I planned and hoped for. There's no happiness or love or laughter in the long, hot alkali road ahead of me. Just endurance—only duty."
She closed the door behind her, the door that always had to be slammed to make it fasten, and, drooping beneath the weight of the heavy bag trudged down the street toward the blacksmith shop.
It was less than an hour after the sheep-wagon had rumbled out of town with Dubois slapping the reins loosely upon the backs of the shambling grays that the telegraph operator, hatless, in his shirt-sleeves, bumped into Dr. Harpe as she was leaving the hotel.
"Have they gone?"
"Who?"—but her eyes looked frightened.
"Essie and old Dubois."
"I'm sorry, I hoped I'd catch her; perhaps I've something she ought to have."
Dr. Harpe looked at the telegram. Perhaps it was something she ought to have also.
"Look here, I've got a call to make over in the direction of Dubois's sheep camp and I'll take the message."
"Will you, Doc?" he said in relief. "That's good of you." He looked at the telegram and hesitated. "I didn't stop for an envelope."
"Oh, I won't read it."
"I know that, Doc," he assured her. "But——"
She was already hastening away for the purpose.
"Whew!" Dr. Harpe threw open her coat in sudden warmth. "I'm glad she didn't get that!"
She re-read the message—
Have heard nothing from you. Am anxious. Is all well with you? Telegraph answer to address given in letter.
Dr. Harpe tore the telegram in bits and watched the pieces flutter into the waste-basket.
"The Old Boy certainly looks after his own, Harpe," she murmured, but her fingertips were cold with nervousness.
Dr. Harpe had paid her professional visit and her horses were dragging the buggy through the deep sand in the direction of Dubois's sheep-ranch, where she contemplated staying for supper and driving home in the cooler evening. The small matter of being unwelcome never deterred Dr. Harpe when she was hungry and could save expense.
There was no one in sight nor human habitation within her range of vision; the slow drag was monotonous; the flies were bad and the heat was great; she was both drowsy and irritable.
"Lord! how I hate the smell of sheep!" she said fretfully as the odor rose strong from a bedding-ground, "and their everlastin' bleat would set me crazy. Gosh! it's hot! Wonder how she'll enjoy spending her honeymoon about forty feet from Dubois's shearing-pens," she sniggered. "Well, no matter what comes up in the future, I've settled her; she's out of the way for good and all, and I've kept my word—she'll never marry Ogden Van Lennop!"
Yet she was aware that there was hollowness in her triumph—that it was marred by a nameless fear which she refused to admit. Van Lennop was still to be reckoned with. His telegram had reminded her forcibly of that.
The muffled sound of galloping hoofs in the sand caused her to raise her chin from her chest and her mind became instantly alert. It would be a relief to exchange a word with some one, she thought, and wondered vaguely at the swiftness of the gait upon so hot a day. She could hear the labored breathing of the horses now and suddenly two riders flashed into sight around the curve of the hill. Instantly they pulled their horses on their haunches and swung them with rein and spur into the deep washout in the gulch where the giant sagebrush hid them.
It was so quickly done that Dr. Harpe had only a glimpse of flashing eyes, swarthy skins, and close-cropped, coal-black hair, but the glimpse was sufficient to cause her to say to herself—
"Breeds—and a long way from the home range," she added musingly. "Looks like a getaway—what honest men would be smokin' up their horses in heat like this?"
A barking sheep-dog ran up the road to greet her when, after another hour of plodding, she finally reached the ridge where she could look down upon the alkali flat where Dubois had built his shearing-pens, his log store house and his cabin of one room.
"No smoke. Darned inhospitable, I say, when it's near supper time and company comin'."
There was no sign of life anywhere save the sheep-dog leaping at her buggy wheels.
"Can it be the turtle-doves don't know it's time to eat?" she sneered. "Get ep!"
The grating of the wheels against the brake as she drove down the steep pitch brought no one around the corner of the house, which faced the trickling stream that made the ranch a valuable one.
They were somewhere about, she was sure of that, for she had recognized gray horses feeding some distance away and the sheep-wagon in which they had left town was drawn up close to the house. She tied her fagged team to the shearing-pens and sauntered toward the house, but with something of uncertainty in her face. There was a chance that she had been seen and the new Mrs. Dubois did not mean to receive her.
A faint, quavering moan stopped her at the corner of the house. She listened. It was repeated. She stepped swiftly to the doorway and looked inside. The girl was lying in a limp heap on the bunk, her face, her hands and wrists, her white shirtwaist smeared horribly with blood, while an unforgettable look of terror and repulsion seemed frozen in her eyes. The sight startled even Dr. Harpe.
"What's the matter? What's happened?" She shook her roughly by the shoulder, for the half-unconscious girl seemed about to faint. "Where's Dubois?"
She bent her head to catch the answer.
Dr. Harpe was not gone long, but returned to stand beside the bunk, looking down upon Essie with eyes that in the dimness of the illy-lighted cabin shone with the baleful gleam of some rapacious feline.
"You did a good job, Ess; he's dead as a mackerel."
The answer was the faint, broken moan which came and went with her breath.
"I'll go to town for help——"
The girl opened her eyes and looked at her beseechingly.
"Don't leave me alone!"
Dr. Harpe ignored the whispered prayer.
"Don't touch anything—leave everything just as it is," she said curtly; "it'll be better for you."
Before she untied her team at the shearing-pens she walked around the house and looked once more at the repulsive object lying upon a dingy quilt. Death had refused Dubois even the usual gift of dignity. His mouth was open, and his eyes; he looked even more than in life the brute and the miser.
"Two shots; and each made a bull's eye. One in the temple and another for luck. Either would have killed him."
She covered his face with a corner of the "soogan" and glanced around. The short, highly polished barrel of a Colt's automatic protruded from a clump of dwarf cactus some few feet away. She swooped swiftly down upon it and broke it open. The first cartridge had jammed and every other chamber was filled. Dr. Harpe held it in the palm of her hand, regarding it reflectively. Then she took her thumb nail and extracted the jammed cartridge and shook a second from the chamber. These she kept. The gun she threw from her with all her strength.
She lost no time in urging her fagged horses up the steep hill opposite the ranch house on the road back to Crowheart. At the top she let them pant a moment before they started up another almost as steep.
Dr. Harpe removed her hat and lifted her moist hair with her fingers. The sun was lowering, the annoying gnats and flies were beginning to subside, it soon would be cool and pleasant. Dr. Harpe looked back at the peaceful scene in the flat below—the sheep-wagon with its canvas top, the square, log cabin, the still heap beside it—really there was no reason why she should not enjoy exceedingly the drive back to town.
Out of the hills behind her came a golden voice that had the carrying qualities of a flute.
"Farewell, my own dear Napoli, farewell to thee, farewell to thee."
The smile faded from her face.
"The devil!" She chirped to her horses. "Where'd he come from?"
Those of Crowheart's citizens who yawned at 8 and retired at 8.30 were aroused from their peaceful slumbers by the astounding news that Essie Tisdale had shot and killed old Edouard Dubois, and the very same day that she had married him for his money. As a result, Crowheart was astir at dawn, bearing every evidence of a sleepless night and a hasty toilette.
This was the town's first real murder mystery. To be sure, there was the sheep-herder, who was found with his throat cut and his ear taken for a souvenir; but there was not much mystery about that, because he was off his range and had been duly warned. Also there had been plain killings over cards and ladies of the dance hall—surprising sometimes, but only briefly interesting—certainly never anything mysterious and thrilling like this.
Sylvanus Starr in that semi-conscious state midway between waking and sleeping, composed a headline which appeared on the "Extra" issued shortly after breakfast.
"A Man, a Maid, a Marriage and a Murder" read the headline, and while the editor made no definite charges, he declared in double-leaded type that the County should spare no expense to bring the assassin to justice regardless of sex, and the phrase "the dastardly murder of a good citizen and an honorable man" passed from lip to lip unmindful of the fact that in life Dubois had not been regarded as either.
That portion of Crowheart which was pleased to speak of itself as the "sane and conservative element" endeavored to suspend sentence until the deputy-sheriff should return with further details, but even they were forced to admit that, from the meagre account furnished by Dr. Harpe, "it certainly looked bad for Essie Tisdale."
Dan Treu and the coroner, who was also the local baker, started immediately for the sheep-ranch, and Dr. Harpe accompanied them. "Ess looked about 'all in,'" she said in explanation.
They found the girl and the Dago Duke waiting by the fire which he had built outside the cabin. Huddled in a blanket which he had thrown about her shoulders she sat staring into the fire with the shocked look which never left her eyes. Utter, utter weariness was in her flower-like face and over and over again her subconsciousness was asking her tired brain, "What next? What horrible thing can happen to me next? What is there left to happen?" She felt crushed in spirit, unresentful even of Dr. Harpe's presence, for she felt herself at the mercy of whosoever chose to be merciless. But the Dago Duke was unhampered by any such feelings. He commented loudly as Dr. Harpe swaggered toward them with her hands thrust deep in the pockets of the man's overcoat which she wore on chilly drives—
"The ghouls are arriving early."
"There's another word as ugly," Dr. Harpe retorted significantly.
"I can't imagine—unless it's quack."
"Or accomplice," she suggested with a sneer.
Dan Treu frowned.
With the surprising tact and gentleness which blunt men of his type sometimes show, the deputy-sheriff drew from the girl her story of the murder.
"I went to the creek—down the trail there—to get some water. I was only gone a moment; I was bending down—dipping with the pail—I heard two shots—close together. I thought he was shooting at prairie dogs—I did not hurry. When I came back—he was lying near the wagon. It was horrible! I called and called. He was dead. The blood was running everywhere. I got a quilt and dragged and dragged until I got him on it somehow. I saw no one. I heard no one."
Her slender hands were clenched tightly and she spoke with an effort. There was silence when she finished, for her story seemed complete; there seemed nothing more that she could tell. It was Dr. Harpe who asked—
"But his gun—where's his gun? He's always kept a gun—I've seen it—a Colt's automatic?"
The girl shook her head.
"I don't know."
"And, Doctor,"—it was the Dago Duke's suave voice that asked the question—"you saw no one—passed no one while driving through the hills?"
She looked at him steadily.
"I saw no one."
His eyelids slowly veiled his eyes.
"Why do you ask that?" His faint smile irritated her. "Don't you suppose I would have said so long before this?"
"Let's look for that gun," the deputy interrupted. "He had a gun—I'm sure of that; every sheepman packs a gun."
With the aid of a lantern and the glare of a huge sagebrush fire they searched in the immediate vicinity for the gun and in the hope of finding some accidental clue.
"We can't expect to do much till morning," the deputy opined as with his light close to the ground he looked for some strange footprint in the dust of the dooryard.
It was behind the cabin that Dan Treu stooped quickly and brought the lantern close to a blurred outline in a bit of soft earth close to a growth of cactus. He looked at it long and intently and when he straightened himself his heavy, rather expressionless face wore a puzzled look.
"Come here," he called finally to the coroner. He pointed to the indistinct outline. "What does that look like to you?"
The coroner was not long from Ohio.
"It looks to me like somebody had made a track in his stockin' feet."
The deputy was born near the Rosebud Agency.
"Does it?" he added. "I guess we won't walk around any more until morning."
The track was a moccasin print to him.
It was the coroner who said to Dan Treu in an undertone as they sat by the fire waiting for the daylight—
"Did you ever see a woman act like Doc? By Gosh! did you ever see anybody act like Doc? She's enjoyin' this—upon my soul she is! She makes me think of a half-starved hunting dog that's pulled somethin' down and has got a taste of blood."
The deputy nodded with an odd smile.
The Dago Duke said nothing. But he seemed vastly interested in watching Dr. Harpe. He observed her every movement, her every expression, with a purposeful look upon his face which was new to it.
They found the gun in the morning, caught in a giant sagebrush where it hung concealed until accidentally jarred loose by no less a person than Mr. Percy Parrott, who had arrived early to give his unsolicited aid to the deputy-sheriff.
The Colt's automatic was easily identified as Dubois's gun, and two shells were missing.
"A pretty rough piece of work," commented Dr. Harpe as she looked at the empty chambers.
"As raw as they make it," agreed the Dago Duke for once.
"Don't run away, Dago," said the sheriff, "I may want you."
"Run?—when I go I'll fly."
All the town turned out to look when Dan Treu drove into town with the girl sitting bolt upright and very white upon the seat beside him.
They stopped at the Terriberry House and her old room was assigned to her, but all the gaping crowd considered her a prisoner.
SYMES MEETS THE HOMESEEKERS
Andy P. Symes awoke from a night of troubled dreams with the impression still strong upon him that he was the exact centre of a typhoon in the China Seas. He realized gradually that the house was alternately shivering and rocking, that the shade of the slightly lowered window was flapping furiously, that his nose and throat were raw from the tiny particles of dust which covered the counterpane and furniture, that pebbles were striking the window-panes like the bombardment of a gatling gun. There was a wailing and shrieking from the wires which anchored his kitchen flue, a rattling and banging outside which conveyed the knowledge that the sheet-iron roof on his coal-house was loose, while a clatter from the street told his experienced ears that some one's tin garbage-can was passing.
He groaned. This was the day the Homeseekers' Excursion was due—coming to view the land "where the perfumed zephyrs fanned the cheeks of men and brothers!" Coming to breathe "the Elixir of Life," while they inspected that portion of the desert which was "blooming like the rose!"
Even the elements were against him it seemed.
Symes shoved up the shade to see the lovely Pearline Starr, with her head tied in a nubia, fighting her way through his front gate. She was bearing ahead of her some garment on the end of a stick. Mr. Symes dressed hastily that he might respond to her knock.
When Mr. Symes opened the door Miss Starr was clinging, breathless, to a pillar of the veranda in order to keep her footing. She cast down her eyes as she extended her offering.
"Are these yours, Mr. Symes? We found them around a sagebrush in the backyard."
"If they were," said Mr. Symes shortly, "I'd be in bed. They look like Tuttses."
The air was filled with flying papers, shingles, pans, and there were times when he could not see across the street. Alva Jackson was in his corral distributing hay among his horses from a sack instead of a pitchfork. The Perfect Climate! Symes watched Miss Starr dig in her heels and depart lying back horizontally on the breeze. Then he slammed the door, but not before he saw Parrott's coal-house making its way toward his lot. He already had a cellar-door and a chicken coop which did not belong to him, while a "wash" he did not recognize was lodged in his woodpile of jack-pine and ground-cedar in the backyard.
The Homeseekers' Excursion arrived at last—hours late—delayed by the worst dust-storm in months. The committee of prominent citizens met it where the cinder platform had been before it blew off.
The excursionists looked through the car-windows to see members of the Cowboy Band with one arm locked around the frame-work of the water-tank and with the other endeavoring to keep divers horns, trombones and flutes in their mouth. No sound reached the ears of the excursionists owing to the fact that they were on the windward side of the band and the stirring notes of "Hot Time in the Old Town" were going the other way.
Mr. Symes's neat speech of welcome was literally blown out of his mouth, so he contented himself with shouting a warning to "look out for his hat" in the ear of the first Homeseeker to venture from the car, and led the way to the Terriberry House.
Crowheart found itself in the position of the boy at the double-ringed circus who suffers from the knowledge that there is something he must miss. It could not give its undivided attention to the strangers and at the same time attend the funeral of old Edouard Dubois, which was to be held under the auspices of the beneficiary society of which he had been a member.
To extend the warm, western hand of fellowship to the Homeseekers and find out where they came from, what their business was, and how much money they had was a pleasure to which the citizens of Crowheart had long looked forward, but also it was a pleasure and a duty to walk down the Main street in white cotton gloves and strange habiliments, following the new hearse. The lateness of the train had made it impossible to do both.
They were a different type, these Homeseekers, from the first crop of penniless adventurers who had settled Crowheart, being chiefly shrewd, anxious-eyed farmers from the Middle West who prided themselves upon "not owing a dollar in the world" and whose modest bank accounts represented broiling days in the hay field and a day's work before dawn, by lantern light, when there was ice to chop in the watering trough and racks to be filled for the bawling cattle being wintered on shares.
A trip like this had not been undertaken lightly by these men, but Mudge's alluring literature had stirred even their unimaginative minds, and the more impulsive had gone so far as to dispose of farming implements and stock that they might send for their families without delay when the purchase of the land was consummated.
In the long journey across the plains, one man had been tacitly assigned the position of spokesman for the excursionists. He was big, this prosperous looking stranger who seemed so unconscious of his leadership, as big as Andy P. Symes himself, and as muscular. He was a western type, yet he differed noticeably from his companions in that his clothes fitted him and his cosmopolitan speech and manner were never acquired in Oak Grove, Iowa. His eyes were both humorous and shrewd. He compelled attention and deference without demanding it. They explained him with pride, the Homeseekers, to inquiring citizens of Crowheart.
"That fellow? Why he controls all kinds of money beside what he's got himself; cattleman, banker, land, money to burn. He's representin' some farmers from his section that want to invest if the proposition's good."
This was enough for Crowheart, and Andy P. Symes, who was attracted to Capital by an instinct as sure as a law of Nature, flew to him and clung like a bit of steel to a magnet.
"Murder case," explained Symes for conversational purposes as he and the banker stood at the front window in the office of the Terriberry House and watched a mad race between Lutz, the undertaker, and a plume which had blown off the hearse.
"Pretty raw piece of work," continued Symes, while the banker searched in his case for a cigar. "Old sheepman shot dead in his tracks the same day he was married to a girl young enough to be his granddaughter. Married him for his money and there's no doubt in anybody's mind but that she killed him for the same purpose. She may get away with it, though, for she'll be able to put up a fight with old Dubois's coin."
"Whose?" The banker's hand stopped on its way to scratch a match on the window-sill.
"French Canadian; signed himself 'Edouard Dubois.' Name familiar?"
The banker's face was a curious study as his mind went galloping back through the years.
"You say he was murdered—shot?"
"Dead as a door nail." Symes was pleased to have found a topic interesting to the stranger. "Each shot made a bull's-eye, one through the forehead and the other in his heart. She's a good shot, this girl, her one accomplishment."
"Does she admit it?"
"Oh, no; she tells some tale about having gone for water and hearing two shots—just about the sort of a yarn she would tell, but there was blood on her clothing and Dubois's own gun with two empty chambers was found where she had thrown it. They had a row probably and she beat him to his gun or else she waited and got the drop on him."
"But have they looked for strange footprints or any clues to corroborate her story?" persisted the banker.
Symes returned indifferently—
"I suppose so, but it's an open and shut case and the girl is practically a prisoner here in the hotel. The sheriff is hanging back about her arrest—western chivalry, you know, but it can't stand in the way of justice, and the people are pretty sore. Hurts a town, a thing like this," continued Symes feelingly, "gets in all the eastern papers, and when we appear in print we wish it to be in connection with something creditable."
The banker agreed absent-mindedly, and asked—
"Do you know her—this Mrs. Dubois?"
"In a way—as one person knows another in a small town"—he hesitated delicately—"not socially at all. She was never in society."
The banker looked at Symes sidewise through a cloud of smoke and his lips twitched suspiciously at the corners. He said merely:
"No?" and continued to stare at the pall-bearers clinging to the wheels of the hearse while they waited outside the undertaking establishment for Lutz to beat his way back with the plume.
"I'd like to have a look at this man Dubois, if it's possible," he said suddenly.
"Why, yes," said Symes not too willingly. "They're going to the Hall now to hold the services." He hated to be separated from Capital even for so short a time, besides he had a hope that his "magnetic personality" and personal explanations might go a long way toward softening any criticisms he might make when he noted the discrepancies between Mudge's statements and the actual conditions.
Symes had been quick to recognize this man's leadership and importance; simultaneously his sanguine temperament had commenced to build upon the banker's support—perhaps even to the extent of financing the rest of the project.
The banker followed the morbid crowd up the steep stairs to the Hall and seated himself on one of the squeaking folding chairs beside Mrs. Abe Tutts and Mrs. Alva Jackson, who were holding hands and stifling sobs which gave the impression that their hearts were breaking.
The ugly lodge room whose walls were decorated with the gaudy insignias of the Order was filled to overflowing with the citizens of Crowheart, whose attendance was prompted by every other reason than respect. But this a stranger could not know, since the emotion which racked Mrs. Percy Parrott's slender frame and reddened Mrs. Hank Terriberry's nose seemed to spring from overwhelming grief at the loss of a good friend and neighbor.
Mrs. Jackson's rose-geranium had blossomed just in the nick of time, and Mrs. Parrott, who did beautiful work in paper flowers, had fashioned a purple pillow which read "At Rest" and reposed conspicuously upon the highly polished cover of a sample coffin. Nor could the stranger, who found himself dividing attention with the casket, know that the faltering tributes to the deceased taxed the young rector's ingenuity and conscience to the utmost. Indeed, as he saw the evidences of esteem and noted the tears of the grief-stricken ladies, he regretted the impulse which had prompted him to go, for he could not conceive the removal of the Dubois of his acquaintance being the occasion of either private or public sorrow.
But even the sermons of young rectors must end, and at last Lutz, in the tremulous, minor, crepe-trimmed voice and drooping attitude which made the listeners feel that undertakers like poets are born, not made, urged those who cared to do so to step forward and pass around to the right.
Yes, it was he; there was no doubt about that; the brutal, obstinate face had altered very little in twenty years. Twenty years? It was all of that since he had seen old "Ed" Dubois betting his gold-dust on an Indian horse race—twenty years since young Dick Kincaid had floundered through the drifts in a mountain pass to see how the Canuck saved flour gold. Once more he was on the trail, scuffling rocks which rolled a mile without a stop. Before him were the purple blotches which the violets made and he could smell the blossoms of the thorn and service berry bushes that looked like fragrant banks of snow. He felt again the depression of the silence in the valley below—the silence in which he heard, instead of barking dogs and laughing children, the beating of his own heart. He never had forgotten the sight that met his eyes, and he recalled it now with a vividness which made him shudder, and he heard with startling clearness the childish voice of a half-naked, emaciated boy saying without braggadocio or hysteria—
"I'm goin' to find him, m'sieu, and when I do I'll get him, sure!"
Twenty years is a long time to remember an injury, but not too long for Indian blood. It was a good shot—the purple hole was exactly in the centre of the low, corrugated forehead—it had been no boyish, idle threat. His son had "got him, sure!" Neither had Dick Kincaid forgotten his own answer—
"If you do, boy, and I find it out, I don't know as I'll give you away."
He had learned to save flour gold and he was known as Richard H. Kincaid in the important middle west city where he had returned with his fortune. Time and experience had cooled his blood, yet, deep down, his heart always responded to the call of the old, primitive justice of the mining camps—"An eye for an eye: a tooth for a tooth."
Kincaid became conscious that he was being eyed in curiosity and impatience by the eager folk behind. He heard Mrs. Tutts's rasping whisper as he moved along—
"She ain't shed a tear—not even gone into black. I'll bet she don't aim to view the corp' at all!"
Kincaid followed Mrs. Tutts's disapproving gaze.
That was the suspect! That slim, young girl with her delicately cut features hardened to meet the concentrated gaze of a procession of staring, unfriendly eyes? Why, as he glanced about him, she looked the only lady in the room!
Essie sat with the feeling that ice had formed about her heart, trying to bear unflinchingly the curious or sneering looks of those she had known well enough to call by their first names. It was torture for the sensitive girl who saw in each cold eye the thought that she had killed a man—killed a human being—for money!
A feeling of overwhelming pity surged over Kincaid as he looked at her, a feeling so strong that when she raised her eyes and gazed squarely into his he wondered if he had spoken aloud. They were blue and beautiful, her eyes, as two mountain forget-me-nots, like two bruised flowers, he thought, that had been hurt to death. He could remember having seen only one other pair like them.
An impulse so strong, a resolve so sudden and violent that it sent the blood in a crimson wave above his collar and over his face seized him, and he whispered to himself as he moved toward the door—
"I'll see her through, by George! I'll stand by her till there's skating in the place that don't commonly freeze!"
THE DAGO DUKE AND DAN TREU EXCHANGE CONFIDENCES
"They were shod horses and they were goin' some. See how deep the corks sunk. Look at the length of the jumps." The sheriff followed the hoof tracks with his eye until they turned at an angle and dropped into the gulch.
"Pft!—like that—and they were gone," said the Dago Duke, with an expressive gesture. "Over there, where I was reposing under the scant shade of a sagebrush, I opened my eyes just in time to see the top of their black hats disappear. Her buggy was turning the hill."
The sheriff stepped off the distance.
"Less than a hundred yards. She must have seen them plainly."
"Certainly; that's when they swung into the gulch."
"Well, sir, it gets me." With the admission the sheriff thrust his hands deep in his trousers pockets and looked frankly nonplussed.
"She denied as plain as she could say it in English that she had seen or met anybody and she'll probably do the same under oath."
"No doubt about it," replied the Dago Duke.
"But why should she?" demanded the sheriff in frowning perplexity. "I can think of no reason, yet she must have one. Do you suppose she knew the men—that she's protecting them at the girl's expense?"
The Dago Duke shrugged his shoulders.
"It's possible, but not probable if they were Indians."
"If them wasn't moccasin tracks around the camp, I'll eat 'em," Dan Treu declared with conviction. "I've run with Injuns and fit 'em, too, enough to know their tracks in the dark, but, man, there ain't an Injun within two hundred miles of here, and besides they never got away with anything, there was nothin' gone, and Reservation Injuns ain't killin' for fun these days. That's right, too, about her not knowin' them if they were Injuns. I'll tell you, Dago, I never run up agin' a proposition just like this."
The Dago Duke looked reflectively at the end of his cigarette.
"It seems as though that little girl's fate depends upon this woman."
"You say they are urging you to arrest her?"
The sheriff's face darkened.
"Oh, yes, they've got it all cut and dried just how it happened. They make me think of a pack of wolves that's got a weak one down; he's outnumbered and can't fight back, so jump him! tear him! They're roarin' at me to 'do somethin'—Tinhorn Frank, Symes, Parrott, the whole outfit of 'em. Say, Dago, I wasn't raised to fight women."
"Does your chivalry extend to the lady doc?"
"No, by gum! it don't," replied the sheriff, with a promptness which made the other laugh. "If I knew any way short of choking her to get the truth I'd do it."
"You mean to try?"
"To choke her?"
"To get the truth."
"I'm goin' to appeal to her first."
The Dago Duke laughed sardonically.
"You think it won't work?"
"Not for a minute."
"I'll see what bull-dozing will do, then."
"Better save your breath."
"It's a question of veracity. She'll see that. Her word against mine. Even you must admit, Dan, that I haven't her spotless reputation. A communicant of the church versus the town drunkard. She'd merely say that instead of Gila monsters I was 'having' assassins. This chronic cloud under which I live has its drawbacks. The fact that I haven't had a drink in six weeks wouldn't have the slightest weight if she chooses to persist in her denial that she met these men."
"I suppose you're right," the sheriff admitted reluctantly, "and if this wind keeps up we won't even have tracks to back up your story."
"Besides," added the Dago Duke, "if there is not great friendship between them there is, at least, no open quarrel to furnish a plausible reason for her silence. We would only make ourselves absurd, Dan, by any public charge. But there is some way to get the truth. Try your methods and then—well, I'll try mine."
This was in the forenoon. That evening the Dago Duke leaned against the door-jamb of the White Elephant Saloon and watched Dan Treu coming from Dr. Harpe's office with failure written upon his face. His white teeth gleamed in a smile of amusement as he waited for the sheriff.
"Don't swear, Dan. Never speak disrespectfully of a lady if you can help it."
"Dago," said the sheriff, with his slow, emphatic drawl, "I wish she was a man just for a minute—half a minute—one second would do."
"She laughed at you, yes?"
"She laughed at me, yes? Well, I guess she did. She gave me the merry ha! ha! I told her you had seen two men on horseback pass her out there in the hills, that I had seen the mark of her buggy wheels and the tracks of the two horses on the run and that the print of moccasins led from the sheep-wagon into the brush. She looked at me with that kind of stare where you can see the lie lying back of it and said—
"I didn't see anybody. I've told you that and I'll swear to it if necessary."
"'Look here, Doc,' I says, 'if you don't tell that you saw these men we'll tell it for you.'"
"That's when she laughed, cackled would be a better word, it sure wasn't a laugh, you'd call ketchin', and says—
"'You fly at it. Try startin' something like that and see what happens to you. I got some pull in this town and you'll find it out if you don't know it. You'll wake up some mornin' and find yourself out of a job. Who do you think would take that drunken loafer's word against mine? And beside, why should I keep anything back that would clear Essie Tisdale? You're crazy, man! Why, she's a friend of mine.'
"You called the turn on her all right, Dago; she said just about what you said she would say."
"You haven't got the right kind of a mind, Dan, to sabe women of her sort. It takes a Latin to do that. There's natural craft and intrigue enough of the feminine in the southern races to follow their illogical reasoning and to understand their moods and caprices as an Anglo-Saxon never can. You are like a big, blundering, honest watch-dog, Dan, trying to do field work that requires a trained hunting dog with a fine nose and hereditary instincts. If this was a horse-stealing case, or cattle rustling, or a sheep raid, and you were dealing with men all around——"
The deputy-sheriff's jaw set grimly.
"I'd have the truth or he'd be in the hospital. I'm handicapped here because there's no money in the treasury to work with. This county's as big as a State and only two or three thousand in it, so we are about as flush as grasshopper year in Kansas. The people are howling about bringin' the murderer to justice at any cost, but if I'd ask 'em to dig up a hundred apiece in cold cash for expense money they'd subside quick."
"This is one of the few occasions when my past extravagances and habits fill me with regret," replied the Dago Duke, with half-humorous seriousness. "My remittance which has shrunk until it is barely sufficient to sustain life, is already spoken for some months ahead by certain low persons who consider themselves my creditors. Tinhorn Frank, who drew to a straight and filled, is one of them, and Slivers, inside, has a mortgage on my body and soul until an alleged indebtedness is wiped out.
"Financially and socially I am nil; mentally and physically my faculties are at your disposal. Do you happen to know anything in the lady's past or present that she would not care to have exploited? Blackmail, yes? I have no scruples. What do you know?"
The deputy gave the Dago Duke a curious look, but did not answer.
"There's something," guessed the other quickly.
"Yes, Dago, there is," said Dan Treu finally with awkward hesitation. "It's something so fierce that I hate to tell it even to you for fear there might be some mistake. It's hard to believe it myself. It sounds so preposterous that I'd be laughed at if I told it to anyone else in Crowheart."
"I'll not laugh," said the Dago Duke. "It's the preposterous—the most unlikely thing you can think of that is frequently true. I've studied that woman, with my comparatively limited opportunities, until I know her better than you think and far, far better than she thinks."
"Dago," the big deputy squirmed as he asked the question:
"Could you believe her a petty thief?"
"Without the least difficulty," replied the Dago Duke composedly.
"That she would rifle a man's pockets—roll him like any common woman of the street?"
"If it was safe—quite, quite safe."
Slowly, even reluctantly, Dan Treu told the Dago Duke the story of the Italians as he had heard it in their broken English from their own lips. Through it all the Dago Duke whistled softly, listening without emotion or surprise. He still whistled when the deputy had finished.
"Do you believe it?" the sheriff asked anxiously, at last.
"Emphatically I do. Let me tell you something, Dan: a woman that will stoop to the petty leg-pulling, sponging, grafting that she does to save two bits or less has got a thief's make-up. Her mania for money, for getting, for saving it, is a matter of common knowledge.
"You know and I know that she will do any indelicate thing which occurs to her to get what she wants without paying for it. When she wants a drink, which the good God knows is often, she asks any man she happens to know and is near to buy it for her. Her camaraderie flatters him. She habitually 'bums' cigarettes and I've known her to go through a fellow's war-bag, in his absence, for tobacco. When she's hungry, which I should judge was all the time, she drops in casually upon a patient and humorously raids the pantry—all with that air of nonchalant good fellowship which shields her from much criticism, since what in reality is miserliness and gluttony passes very well for amusing eccentricity."
Dan Treu laughed.
"You've got her sized up right in that way, Dago. I know a fellow that was sick and had to cache the chocolate and things his folks sent him from the East under the mattress when he saw her coming and he always locked the fruit in his trunk after she had cleaned him out a dozen times as though a flock of seventeen-year locusts had swarmed down upon him. One night about two or three in the morning when she couldn't sleep, she called on a typhoid patient under the pretext of making a professional visit, and got the nurse to fry her some eggs. She's as regular as a boarder at Andy P. Symes's when meal-time rolls around. I wonder sometimes that he stands for it."
The Dago Duke looked at him oddly, but observed merely:
"And you don't think the dagos made a mistake or misunderstood something through not talkin' English much? It sounded straight to me the way they told it, but a thing like this is something you don't want to repeat unless you just about saw it for yourself."
"If they told you they had $5.50 taken from them you can bet it's so. Italians of that class know to a penny what they have sent home, what they have in the bank, what there is in their pockets to spend. Generations of poverty have taught them carefulness and thrift. Americans call them ignorant and stupid because their unfamiliarity with the language and customs make them appear so, but they are neither too ignorant nor stupid to misunderstand an incident like this. Are the men still on the works?"
The deputy nodded.
"If you'll loan me your horse I'll ride out and see them myself. My understudy can perhaps stand another day with the sheep without going crazy. When I come back I may be in a better position to call upon the lady doc and talk it over. She's fond of me, you know."
"So I've noticed." Dan Treu grinned as he recalled the invariable exchange of personalities when they met.
CROWHEART DEMANDS JUSTICE
The utterly insignificant telegraph operator at an equally insignificant railway station in Mexico loomed a person of colossal importance to Ogden Van Lennop, who had calculated that the reply to his telegram was considerably more than a week overdue. As he went once more to the telegraph office, the only reason of which he could think for being glad that he was the principal owner in the only paying mine in the vicinity was that the operator did not dare laugh in his face.
"Anything for me?"
"Nothing; not yet, sir."
The operator's voice and manner were respectful, but Van Lennop saw his teeth gleam beneath his dark mustache. He had found it quite useless to assure Van Lennop that he need not trouble himself to call as any telegram would be delivered immediately upon its receipt, also he had been long enough in the service to know that young Americans of Van Lennop's type did not ordinarily become so intense over a matter of business.
"Could it have gone astray—this infernal name—it looks like a piece of barbed wire when it's spelled out—is there another place of the same name in Mexico?"
"Not in the world, sir."
"I didn't think so," returned Van Lennop grimly. He continued: "I want you to telegraph the operator in Crowheart and find out positively if the message was delivered to the person to whom it was sent."
"I'll get it off at once, sir."
So this was being "in love?"—this frenzy of impatience, this unceasing anxiety which would not let him sleep! It seemed to Van Lennop that he had nearly run the emotional gamut since leaving Crowheart and all that remained to be experienced was further depths of doubt and dark despair. Had he been too sure of her, he asked himself; had something in his letter or the sending of his telegram displeased her? Was she ill?
He reproached himself bitterly for not telling her before he left, and thought with angry impatience of the caution which had kept him silent because he wanted to be sure of himself.
"Sure of myself!" he repeated it contemptuously. "I should have been making sure of her! The veriest yokel would have known that he was completely—desperately in love with her, but I, like the spineless mollusk that I am, must needs wait a little longer—'to be sure of myself'!"
To shorten the long hours which must intervene before he could expect a reply from Crowheart, Van Lennop ordered his saddle horse and rode to the mine, where a rascally superintendent had stripped the ore shoot and departed with everything but the machinery. Van Lennop had the tangled affairs of the mine fairly well straightened out and the new superintendent was due that day, so the end of his enforced stay was in sight in a day or two more—three at the most.
As his horse picked its way over the mountain trail the fresh air seemed to clear his brain of the jumble of doubts and misgivings and replace them with a growing conviction that something had gone wrong—that all was not well with Essie Tisdale. His unanswered letter and telegram was entirely at variance with her sweet good-nature. What if she were needing him, calling upon him now, this very minute? He urged his horse unconsciously at the thought. Some accident—he could think of nothing else—unless a serious illness.
The employees at the mine observed that the young American owner was singularly inattentive that day to the complaints and grievances to which heretofore he had lent a patient ear.
His horse was sweating when upon his return he threw the reins to an idle Mexican in front of his hotel and hurried into the office.
Yes; there was a telegram for Senor Van Lennop—two, in fact.
He tore open the envelope of one with fingers which were awkward in their haste. The telegram read:
Message addressed to Miss Essie Tisdale received and delivered.
Van Lennop stood quite still and read it again, even to the unintelligible date-line. He felt suddenly lifeless, listless, as though he wanted to sit down. It was all over, then. She had received his letter and his telegram, and her reply to his offer of his love and himself was—silence? It was not like her, but there seemed nothing more for him to do. He could not force himself and his love upon her. She knew her own mind. His conceit had led him into error. It was done.
He opened the other telegram mechanically. It was from Prescott and partially in code. It was a long one for Prescott to send, but Van Lennop looked at it without interest. He would translate it at his leisure—there was no hurry now—the game had lost its zest.
Van Lennop turned to the dingy register. A train had arrived in his absence and perhaps Britt, the new superintendent, had come. His name was there—that was something for which to be grateful, as he could the sooner get back into the world where he could find in business something better than his own wretched thoughts to occupy his mind.
He walked languidly over the stone flagging to his room and dropped listlessly into a chair. It was not long before he heard Britt's alert step in the corridor quickly followed by his brisk rap upon the door. He always had liked the ambitious young engineer and they shook hands cordially.
"I'm more than glad to see you."
"I dare say. A week in a place like this is much like a jail sentence unless you're hard at work. Are things in pretty much of a mess?"
Van Lennop went over the situation briefly, and concluded—
"I'll stay over a day or so, if you desire."
"There's no necessity, I think," said Britt, rising. "I'll keep in touch with you by wire. Crowheart again?"
Van Lennop shook his head.
"I'm going east from here."
"Here's a late paper; perhaps you'd like to look it over. When I'm in a place like this I can read a patent medicine pamphlet, and enjoy it."
Van Lennop smiled.
"Much obliged. There's the supper gong. Don't wait for me; I'll be a little late."
Van Lennop had no desire for food, much less for conversation, so he picked up the travel-worn newspaper which Britt had tossed upon the table and glanced at the headlines.
The stock market was stronger. Nevada Con was up three points. The girl with the beautiful eyebrows had married that French jackanapes after all. Another famine in India. A Crowheart date-line caught his eye.
WEALTHY SHEEPMAN MURDERED EDOUARD DUBOIS SHOT AND KILLED AT HIS CAMP BRIDE OF A DAY TO BE ARRESTED
The story of Essie Tisdale's marriage with Dubois followed, and even the news editor's pencil could not eliminate Sylvanus Starr's distinctive style. He had made the most of a chance of a lifetime. "An old man's darling"—"Serpent he had warmed in his bosom"—"Weltering in his blood"—all the trite phrases and vulgarisms of country journalism were used to tell the sensational story which sickened Van Lennop as he read:
"The arrest of the murdered patriarch's beautiful bride is expected hourly, as the leading citizens of Crowheart are clamoring for justice and are bringing strong pressure to bear upon Sheriff Treu, who seems strangely reluctant to act."
The paper dropped from Van Lennop's nerveless hand and he sat staring at it where it lay. He picked it up and read the last paragraph, for his dazed brain had not yet grasped its meaning. But when its entire significance was made clear to him it came with a rush: it was like the instantaneous effect of some powerful drug or stimulant that turned the blood to fire and crazed the brain. The blind rage which made the room swing round was like the frenzy of insanity. Van Lennop's face went crimson and oaths that never had passed his lips came forth, choking-hot and inarticulate.
"The leading citizens of Crowheart, the outcasts and riff-raff of civilization, the tinhorn gamblers, the embezzlers, ex-bankrupts and libertines, the sheep-herders and reformed cattle-thieves, the blackmailers and dance-hall touts swollen by prosperity, disguised by a veneer of respectability, want justice, do they? By God!" Van Lennop shook his clenched fist at the empty air, "the leading citizens of Crowheart shall HAVE justice!"
He smoothed Prescott's crumpled telegram and reached for his code-book.
When he had its meaning he pulled a telegraph-blank toward him, and wrote:
Carry out my instructions to the letter. Do not neglect the smallest detail. Leave no stone unturned to accomplish the end in view.
"Oh, Doc!" It was the telegraph operator, hatless, in his shirt-sleeves, hurrying toward her from the station as she passed.
Doctor Harpe stood quite still and waited, not purposely but because a sudden weakness in her knees made it impossible for her to meet him half-way. She was conscious that the color was leaving her face even as her upper lip stretched in the straight, mirthless smile with which she faced a crisis. She knew well enough why he called her, the dread of this moment had been with her ever since her foolish boast of Van Lennop's letter and the destruction of his telegram.
"You gave that message to Essie? She got it all right, didn't she, Doc?"
She had prepared herself a hundred times to answer this question, but now that it was put she found it no easier to decide on a reply; to know what answer would best save her from the consequences of the stupid error into which her hatred had led her.
If she said that she had lost it and subsequent events had driven it from her mind, he would duplicate the message. If she said she had delivered it and her falsehood was discovered, her position was rendered more dangerous, ten-fold. She decided on the answer which placed discovery a little farther off.
"Sure, she got it; I gave it to her that afternoon."
Her assurance closed the incident so far as the telegraph operator was concerned; it was the real beginning of it to Doctor Harpe, whose intelligence enabled her to realize to the utmost the position in which she now had irrevocably placed herself. She turned abruptly and walked to her office with a nervous rapidity totally unlike her usual swagger.
When the door was closed behind her she paced the floor with excited strides. It was useless to attempt to hide from herself the fact that she was horribly, cravenly afraid of Ogden Van Lennop; for she recognized beneath his calm exterior a quality which inspired fear. She was afraid of him as an individual, afraid of his money and the power of his influence if he chose to use them, for Dr. Harpe had brains enough, worldly wisdom enough, to know that he was beyond her reach.
In Crowheart, she believed that through her strong personality and the support of Andy P. Symes she could accomplish nearly anything she undertook; but she knew that in the great world outside where she had discovered Van Lennop was a factor, she would be only an eccentric female doctor, amusing perhaps, mildly interesting, even, but entirely inconsequential.
Her thoughts became a chaotic jam of incoherent explanations as she thought of an accounting to Van Lennop should he return, and again she raged at herself for the insane impulse which had led her to boast of a farewell letter to her. The sleepless hours in which she had gone over and over the situation with every solution growing more preposterous than the last, had been telling upon the nerves which never had quite recovered from the shock and the incidents which followed Alice Freoff's death. The slightest excitement seemed to set them jangling of late.
They were twitching now; her eyelids, her shoulders, her mouth seemed never in repose when she was alone. Her hand shook uncontrollably as she refilled a whiskey glass and rolled and smoked another cigarette. It was no new thing, this nervous paroxysm, being nearly always the climax to a night of exaggerated fear. The necessity for self-possession and outward calmness in public made it a relief to let her nerves go when alone.
"If he comes back, I'm ruined! He'll cut loose on me in public and he'll sting; I know him well enough for that." Her hands grew clammy at the thought. "It'll put a crimp in my practice. If it wasn't for the backin' of Symes I'd as well pull my freight—but he hasn't come yet. It's not likely he ever will with no word from her and this scandal comin' close on the heels of her silence. I'm a fool to worry—to let myself get in such a state as this."
She no longer entertained the hallucination that she might attract Van Lennop to herself; to save herself from public exposure, should he by any chance return, was her one thought, her only aim. And always her hopes simmered down to the one which centred in Symes's influence in Crowheart and his compulsory protection of herself. He dared not desert her.
"Let him try it!" She voiced her defiant thoughts. "Let him go back on me if he dare! If I get in a place where I've absolutely nothing to lose—if he throws me down—Andy P. Symes and Crowheart will have food for thought for many a day. But, pshaw! I'm rattled now; I've pulled out before and I'll——"
A hand upon the door-knob startled her. Hastily she shoved the glass and bottle from sight and pulled herself together.
"Oh, it's you?" Her tone was not cordial, as the Dago Duke stood before her.
"Did you think it was your pastor," inquired that person suavely as he sniffed the air, "come to remonstrate with you upon your intemperate habits?"
She laughed her short, harsh laugh as she took the bottle from its hiding-place and shoved it toward him.
She had long since learned that it was useless to pretend before the Dago Duke. His mocking, comprehending eyes made pretence ridiculous even to herself. She dreaded meeting him in public because of the flippant disrespect of his manner toward her; privately she found a certain pleasure in throwing off the cloak which hid her dark, inner-self from Crowheart. He assumed her hypocrisy as though it were a fact too obvious to question and she had been obliged to accept his estimate of her.
"How like you, my dear Doctor!" He picked up the bottle and read the label. "Your womanly solicitude for my thirst touches me deeply, but,"—he replaced the bottle upon her desk—"since I've stood off the demon Rum for six weeks now I'll hold him at bay until I finish my little talk with you."
"If you're here on business, cut it short," she said curtly.
"I can't imagine myself here on any other errand" he returned placidly. "Say, Doc,"—there was a note in his wonderful speaking voice which made her look up quickly—"why don't you give back that $5.00 and four bits you pinched from Giovanni Pellezzo?"
The moment showed her remarkable self-control. She could feel her overtaxed nerves jump, but not a muscle of her face moved.
"What are you driving at?" she demanded.
"The name is not familiar to you?"
"Not at all."
"I'm not surprised at that, since your interest in your contract patients extends no further than their pockets."
"If you're here to insult me——"
"I couldn't do that," returned the Dago Duke composedly; "I've tried."
"You've got to explain."
"That's what I came for." He smiled pleasantly.
"Well?" She tapped her foot.
"Don't rush me, Doc. I have so few pleasures, you know that, and the enjoyment I'm extracting from your suspense makes me desire to prolong it. You are anxious, you must admit that, although you really conceal it very well. But you're gray around the mouth and those lines from your nose down look like—yes, like irrigation laterals—furrows—upon my soul, Doc, you've grown ten years older since I came in. You should avoid worry by all means, but I can understand exactly how you feel when you're not quite sure to which case I may refer."
Her tense nerves seemed suddenly to snap. She struck the desk with her open palm, and cried—
"I'm sick of this!"
He looked at her critically.
"I can believe it. Temper adds nothing to your appearance. But, Doc, with your intelligence and experience, how did you come to rifle a man's pocket with a witness in the room?"
She jumped to her feet.
"I won't stand this! I don't have to stand it!"
The Dago Duke crossed his legs leisurely.
"No—you don't have to, but I believe I would if I were you. The fact is, Doc, I dropped in merely to make a little deal with you."
"Blackmail!" she cried furiously.
"In a way—yes. Strictly, I suppose, you might call it blackmail."
"You're broke again—you want money!"
The Dago Duke shuddered.
"Oh, Doc! how can you be so indelicate as to taunt me with my poverty; to suggest, to hint even so subtly, that I would fill my empty pockets from your purse?" He looked at her reproachfully.
"What do you want, then?"
The Dago Duke's voice took on a purring, feline softness which was more emphatic and final than any loud-mouthed vehemence—
"What do I want? I want you to tell the officers that you passed two men riding on a run from Dubois's sheep-camp—two Indians or 'breeds' in moccasins—and I want you to do it quick!"
"You want me to perjure myself and you 'want me to do it quick,'" she mimicked.
He paid no attention.
"I want you to help clear that girl; if you refuse, Giovanni Pellezzo will swear out a warrant for your arrest, charging you with the theft of $5.50 while he was etherized for a minor operation."
They regarded each other in a long silence.
She said finally—
"You know, of course, that this Italian will have to go after this?"
"You'll have him discharged?"
"He needs a rest."
"He'll get it."
Another pause came before she asked—
"Do you imagine for a moment that an ignorant foreigner can get a warrant for me on such a charge?"
"I foresee the difficulty."
"You mean to persist?"
She flung at him—
"If we fail in this," continued the Dago Duke evenly, "there's the case of Antonio Amato, whose hand the nurse, acting under your instructions, held after thrusting a pencil in his limp fingers and signed a check when he was dying and unconscious. Which check you cashed after his death, in violation of the State banking laws from which perhaps even you are not exempt if this man's relatives choose to bring you to account for the irregularity."
"It is a lie!"
"It is not impossible," he continued, "to get the nurse who left you before Nell Beecroft came, saying that she knew enough about you both to 'send you over the road.' It is not too difficult to bring to light the examples of your incredible incompetency which prove you unfit to sign a death certificate, nor is your record in Nebraska hard to get."
She moistened her colorless lips before she spoke.
"And where is the money coming from to do all this?"
She had touched the weak spot in his attack, but he replied with assurance.
"It will be ready when needed."
"This is persecution—a plot to ruin me on the trumped-up charges of irresponsible people."
The Dago Duke's keen ear detected the faint note of uncertainty and agitation beneath the defiance of her tone.
"These things are true—and more," he returned unemotionally. "But consider, even if you beat us at every turn through personal influence, you will pay dearly for your victories in money, in peace, in reputation. These things will leave a stigma which will outlast you. It will arouse suspicion of your ability and skill among your private patients who now trust you. You'll have to fight every inch of the road to retain your ground, or any part of it, against the new and abler physicians who must come with the growth of the country. You'll not be wanted by your best friends when it comes to a case of life and death. You'll become only a kind of licensed midwife rushing about from one accouchement to another, and, even for this, you must finesse and intrigue in the manner which has made the incompetents of your sex in medicine the bete noir of the profession."
The sneering smile she had forced faded as he talked. It was like the deliberate voice of Prophecy, drawing pictures which she had seen in waking nightmares that she called the "blues" and was wont to drive away with a drink or a social call outside.
She raised her chin from her chest where it had sunk, and summoned her courage.
"You have taken a great deal of trouble to inform yourself upon the subject of the medical profession and my unfitness for it."
The Dago Duke hesitated and an expression which was new to it crossed his face, a look of mingled pride and pain.
"I have gone to less trouble than you think," he answered finally. "I was reared in the atmosphere of medicine. My father was a beloved and trusted physician to the royal family of my country. I was to have followed in his footsteps and partially prepared myself to do so. The reason that I have not is not too difficult to guess since it is the same which sends me sheep-herding at $40 a month."
"But my identity is neither here nor there." The Dago Duke threw up his hand with a characteristic, foreign gesture as though dismissing himself from the conversation and half regretting even so much of his personal history. "It serves but one purpose and that is that you may know that the degrees which I have earned, not bought, qualify me to speak of your ability, or lack of it, with rather more authority than the average layman's." He arose languidly and sauntered across the room where he stood looking up at her framed diploma, and added, "To judge, too, of the value of a sheepskin like that. How much did you pay for it, Doc?" Seeming to expect no reply, he continued serenely, "Well I'll have to be going. Stake me to a cigarette paper? I haven't talked so much or been so strongly moved since my remittance was reduced to $100 a month. I can't get drunk like a gentlemen on that—you couldn't yourself—and it's an inhuman outrage. It may drive me to reform—I've thought of it. You're such a sympathetic listener, Doc. It makes me babble." His hand was on the door-knob. "Since you've nothing to say I suppose you mean to stick to your story, but you must admit, Doc, I've at least been as much of a gentleman as a rattlesnake. I'm rattling before I strike."
The door had closed upon his back when she tore it open.
"Wait a minute!" She was panting as though she had been running a distance. He saw, too, the desperation in her eyes. "Give me—a little—time!"
The Dago Duke's tone was one of easy friendliness.
"All you need, but don't forget the suspense is hard on Essie Tisdale."
ESSIE TISDALE'S MOMENT.
Mrs. Sylvanus Starr, who was indisposed, sat up in her robe de nuit of pink, striped outing-flannel and looked down into the street.
"Pearline," she said hastily, "turn the dish-pan over the roast beef and cache the oranges. Planchette, hide the cake and just lay this sweet chocolate under the mattress—the doctor's coming."
"She cleaned us out last time all right," commented Lucille.
"Her legs are hollow," observed Camille, "she can eat half a sheep."
"What's half a sheep to a growing girl?" inquired Mrs. Starr as she plucked at her pompadour and straightened the counterpane.
The Starrs were still tittering when Dr. Harpe walked in. Their hilarity quickly passed at the sight of her face. Another intelligence, a new personality from which they unconsciously shrank looked at them through Dr. Harpe's familiar features. The Starrs were not analytical nor given to psychology, therefore it was no subtle change which could make them stare. It was as though a ruthless hand had torn away a mask disclosing a woman who only resembled some one they had known. She was a trifle more than thirty and she looked to-day a haggard forty-five.
A grayish pallor had settled upon her face, and her neck, by the simple turning of her head, had the lines of withered old age. Her lips were colorless, and dry, and drooped in a kind of sneering cruelty, while her restless, glittering eyes contained the malice and desperation of a vicious animal when it's cornered. The uneasiness and erratic movements of a user of cocaine was in her manner.
"What ails you now?" Her voice was harsh and Mrs. Starr flushed at the blunt question.
She saw that Dr. Harpe was not listening to her reply.
"Get this filled." The prescription she wrote and handed her was scarcely legible. "I'll be in again."
She stalked downstairs without more words.
The Starrs looked at each other blankly when she had gone.
"What's the matter with Dr. Harpe?"
Elsewhere throughout the town the same question was being asked. The clairvoyant milliner cautiously asked the baker's wife as they watched her turn the corner—
"Have you noticed anything queer about Dr. Harpe?"
There was that about her which repelled, and those who were wont to pass her on the street with a friendly flourish of the hand and a "Hello, Doc," somehow omitted it and substituted a nod and a stare of curiosity. Her swaggering stride of assurance was a shamble, and, as she came down the street now with her head down, her Stetson pulled low over her eyes, her hand thrust deep in one pocket of her square cut coat, her skirt flapping petticoatless about her, she looked even to the wife of the baker, who liked her, and to the clairvoyant milliner, who imitated her, a caricature upon womankind.
There was a look of evil upon her face at the moment not easy to describe. She and Augusta had quarrelled—for the first time—and when she could least afford to quarrel.
She had spoken often of Andy P. Symes as "the laziest man in Crowheart" and Augusta always had giggled; to-day she had resented it. Was it, Dr. Harpe asked herself, that she was losing control of Augusta because she was losing her own? Nothing more disastrous could happen to her at this time than to lose her footing in the Symes household. Her power over Symes went with her prestige, for her word would have little weight if the Dago Duke even partially carried out his threats. Her disclosure would appear but the last resort of malice and receive little credence.
As she walked down the street with bent head she was asking herself if the props were to be pulled from beneath her one by one, if the invisible lines emanating from her own acts were tightening about her to her undoing?
With a fierce gesture she pushed these thoughts from her as though they were tangible things. No, no! she would not be beaten! Insomnia, narcotics and stimulants had unnerved her for the time, but she was strong enough to pull herself together and stay the circumstances which threatened to swamp her midway in her career. Bolstered for the moment by this resolve, she threw back her head and raised her eyes.
The Dago Duke, Dan Treu, and an important looking stranger were crossing the street and she felt intuitively that it was for the purpose of meeting her face to face. The Dago Duke bowed with his exaggerated salutation of respect as they passed, the deputy-sheriff with an odd constraint of manner, while the stranger who raised his hat in formal politeness gave her a look which seemed to search her soul. It frightened her. Who was he? She had seen him at old Dubois's funeral. Was he some new factor to be reckoned with, or was it merely her crazy nerves that made her see fresh danger at every turn, a new enemy in every stranger?
She climbed the stairs to her office in a kind of nervous frenzy. She felt like screaming, like beating upon the walls with her bare fists. Inaction was no longer possible. She must do something, else this agony of uncertainty and suspense would drive her mad. She strode up and down at a pace which left her breathless, clenching and unclenching her hands, while thickly, between set teeth, she raved at Essie Tisdale, upon whom her venom concentrated.
"I could throttle her!" She looked at her curved, outspread fingers, tense and strong as steel hooks. "I could choke her with my own hands till she is black! Curse her—curse her! She's been a stumbling block in my way ever since I came. The sight of her is a needle in my flesh. I'd only want a minute if I could get my fingers on her throat! I'd shut that baby mouth of hers for good and all. God! How I hate her!" She hissed the words in venomous intensity, racked with the strength of her emotions, weak from it, her ghastly face moist with perspiration.
"I've humiliated her!" she gasped. "I've made her suffer. I've downed her, but there's something left yet that I haven't crushed! I'm not satisfied; I haven't done enough. I want to break her spirit, to break her heart, to finish her for all time!"
She groped for the door-knob as one who sees dimly, and all but ran down the corridor. Even as she went the thought flashed through her mind that she was making a fool of herself, that she was being led by an impulse for which she would be sorry.
But she was at a pitch where the voice of caution had no weight; she wanted what she wanted and in her heart she knew that she was going to Essie Tisdale with the intention of inflicting physical pain. Nothing less would satisfy her. Yet, when the door opened in response to her knock, her upper lip stretched in its straight, mirthless smile.
"Hello, Ess!" She stepped back a bit into the dimly lighted corridor and the girl all but shrank from the malice glowing in her eyes.
Essie did not immediately respond, so she asked in mock humility—
"Can't I come in, Mrs. Dubois?"
She saw the girl wince at the name by which no one as yet had called her.
"Why this timidity, this unexpected politeness, when it's not usual for you even to knock?"
She stepped inside and closed the door behind her.
"True enough, Mrs. Dubois, but naturally a poor country doctor like me would hesitate before bolting in upon the privacy of a rich widow."
"If you use 'poor' in the sense of incompetent I am afraid I must agree with you," was the unexpected answer.
"Ah, beginning to feel your oats, my dear." She slouched into the nearest chair and flung her hat carelessly upon the floor.
"You notice it, my dear?" mimicked Essie Tisdale.
"When a range cayuse has a few square meals he gets onery."
"While they merely give a well-bred horse spirit."
Dr. Harpe looked at her searchingly. There was a change in Essie Tisdale. She had a new confidence of manner, a cool poise that was older than her years, while that intangible something which she could never crush looked at her more defiantly than ever from the girl's sparkling eyes. She had a feeling that Essie Tisdale welcomed her coming. Certainly her assurance and animation was strangely at variance with her precarious position. What had happened? Dr. Harpe intended to learn before she left the room.
"At any rate you've paid high for your oats, Ess," she said finally.
The girl agreed coolly—
"And you're not done paying," she added significantly.
"That remains to be seen."
Dr. Harpe's eyes narrowed in thought.
"Ess," in a patronizing drawl, "why don't you pull your freight? I'll advance you the money myself."
"Run away? Why?"
"You're going to be arrested—that's a straight tip. You may get off, but think what you'll have to go through first. Skip till things simmer down. They'll not go after you."
The girl flashed a smile of real merriment at her, which almost cost Dr. Harpe her self-control. The young and now glowing beauty of the girl before her, the unconscious air of superiority and confidence which had its wellspring in some mysterious source was maddening to her. The interview was taxing her self-control to the limit and she felt that in some inexplicable way the tables were turning.
"You—won't go, then?" Her voice held a menace.
"Why should I, since I am innocent? Take a vacation yourself, Dr. Harpe, with the money you so generously offer me. You need it."
She followed the girl's dancing eyes to the mirror opposite which was tilted so that it reflected the whole of her uncouth pose. Slid far down in the chair with her heels resting on the floor and wrinkling hose exposed above her boottops, a knot of dull, red hair slipped to one side with shorter ends hanging in dishevelment about her face, she looked—the thought was her own—like a drab of the streets in the magistrate's court in the morning. She was startled, shocked by her own appearance. Was she, Emma Harpe, as old, as haggard, as evil-looking as that!
She had clung with peculiar tenacity to the hallucination that she still had youthful charm of face and figure. As she stared, it seemed as though the sand was sliding a little faster from beneath her feet. She shoved the loose knot of hair to its place and straightened herself, growing hot at the realization that she had betrayed to Essie Tisdale something of her consternation.
She turned upon her fiercely—
"Look here, Ess, if you want to be friends with me, and have my influence to get you out of this mess, you'd better change your tactics."
"Haven't I yet made it clear to you that I care no more for your friendship than for your enmity? Do you imagine that you can frighten liking, or force respect after the occasion which we both remember?"
"There's one thing I can do—I can make Crowheart too hot to hold you!" Her grip on herself was going fast.
Essie Tisdale stood up and, folding her arms, drew herself to her slim height while she looked at her in contemptuous silence.
"I know there is no low thing to which you would not stoop to make good your boast. You make me think of a viper that has exhausted its venom. You have the disposition to strike, but you no longer have the power."
"You think not? And why? Do you imagine that your position in Crowheart will be changed one iota by the fact that you've got a few dollars that are red with blood?" She flung the taunt at her with savage insolence.
"My position in Crowheart is of no importance to me. But"—her voice cut like finely tempered steel—"don't goad me too far. Don't forget that I know you for what you are—a moral plague—creeping like a pestilence among people who are not familiar with your face. I know, and you know that I know you are in no position, Dr. Harpe, to point a finger at the commonest women in the dance hall below."
The woman sprang from her chair and walked to her with the crouching swiftness of a preying animal. She grasped Essie Tisdale's wrist in a grip which left its imprint for hours after.
"How dare you!"
Essie Tisdale raised her chin higher.
"How dare I?" She smiled in the infuriated woman's face. "It takes no courage for me to oppose you now. When I was a biscuit-shooter here, as you lost no opportunity to remind me, you loomed large! That time has gone by. Crowheart will know you some day as I know you. Your name will be a byword in every saloon and bunk-house in the country!"
"I'll kill you!"
The tense fingers were curved like steel hooks as she sprang for Essie Tisdale's slender throat, but even as the girl shoved her chair between them a masculine voice called "Esther" and a rap came upon the door.
Doctor Harpe's arms dropped to her side and she clutched handfuls of her skirt as she struggled for self-control.
Essie Tisdale walked swiftly to the door and threw it wide. The towering stranger stood in the corridor looking in amazement from one woman to the other.
The girl turned and said with careful distinctness:
"You have been so occupied of late that perhaps you have not heard the news. My uncle—Mr. Richard Kincaid—Dr. Harpe."
THE SWEETEST THING IN THE WORLD
Dr. Harpe standing at her office window saw the lovely Pearline Starr, curled and dressed at ten in the morning, trip down the street bearing a glass of buffalo berry jelly in her white-gloved hands, while Mrs. Percy Parrott sitting erect in the Parrotts' new, second-hand surrey, drove toward the hotel, carefully protecting from accident some prized package which she held in her lap. Mrs. Parrott was wearing her new ding-a-ling hat, grass-green in color, which, topping off the moss-colored serge which, closely fitting her attenuated figure, gave Mrs. Parrott a surprising resemblance to a katydid about to jump.
Dr. Harpe could not see Mrs. Abe Tutts walking gingerly across lots carrying a pot of baked beans and brown bread in her two hands, nor Mrs. Alva Jackson panting up another street with a Lady Baltimore cake in the hope of reaching the hotel before her dearest friend and enemy Mrs. Tutts, but Dr. Harpe knew from what she already had seen and from the curious glances cast at the windows of the Terriberry House, that the town was agog with Essie Tisdale's romantic story and her newly established relationship to the important looking stranger. Mrs. Terriberry could be trusted to attend to that and in her capable hands it was certain to lose nothing in the telling.
The story was simple enough in itself and had its counterpart in many towns throughout the West. Young Dick Kincaid had run away from his home on the bank of the Mississippi River to make his fortune in the mining camps of the far West. He did not write, because the fortune was always just a little farther on. The months slipped into years, and when he returned with the "stake" which was to be his peace offering, the name of Kincaid was but a memory in the community, and the restless Mississippi with its ever-changing channel flowed over the valuable tract of black-walnut timber which had constituted the financial resources of the Kincaids. The little sister had married a westerner as poor as he was picturesque, and against her parents' wishes. They had gone, never to be heard from again, disappeared mysteriously and completely, and Samuel Kincaid had died, he and his wife, as much of loneliness and longing as of age.
The triumphant return of his boyish dreams was, instead, an acute and haunting remorse. The success that had been his, the success that was to be his in the near-by city, never erased the bitter disappointment of that home-coming. He had searched in vain for some trace of the little sister whom he had loved. He had never given up hoping and that hope had had its weight in influencing him to make the tedious trip to Crowheart.
And then, as though the Fates had punished him enough for his filial neglect, his sister's eyes had looked out at him from the flower-like face at the funeral of old Edouard Dubois. He had followed up his impulse, and the rest is quickly told, for all Crowheart knew the story of Essie Tisdale's miraculous rescue and of the picture primer which had furnished the single clue to her identity.
With the news of Essie Tisdale's altered position—and Mrs. Terriberry missed no opportunity to convey the impression that Kincaid's resources were unlimited—the tide turned and the buffalo berry jelly, the Lady Baltimore cake, baked beans and Mrs. Parrott's tinned lobster salad, were the straws which in Crowheart always showed which way the wind was blowing. That the ladies bearing these toothsome offerings had not been speaking to Essie for some months past was a small matter which they deemed best to forget.
Not so Mrs. Terriberry.
Mrs. Terriberry not only had Essie Tisdale's score to pay off but her own as well, and who knows but that the latter was the sharper incentive? To have been obliged to watch through a crack in the curtain the fashionable world rustle by on its way to Mrs. Alva Jackson's euchre had occasioned a pang not easily forgotten. To have knowledge of the monthly meetings of Mrs. Parrott's Shadow Embroidery Class only through the Society Column of the Crowheart Courier and to be deprived of the privilege of hearing Mrs. Abe Tutts's paper upon Wagnerian music at the Culture Club were slights that rankled.
She was suspiciously close at hand when the ladies appeared in the office of the Terriberry House with their culinary successes; also she was wearing the red foulard which never went out of the closet except to funerals and important functions.
Although the most conspicuous thing about these early callers was the parcels they carried, Mrs. Terriberry chose to ignore them.
"Why, how do you do, Mrs. Parrott, and Miss Starr, too. It's a lovely day to be out, isn't it?" Her voice was distinctly patronizing and she extended a languid hand to Mrs. Jackson. "And usin' your brain like you do, Mrs. Tutts, writin' them pieces for the Culture Club, I suppose you have to git exercise."
"I've brought Essie some lobster salad from a receipt that mamma sent me," said Mrs. Parrott when she could get an opening, "and while it's canned lobster, it's really delicious!"
"The whites of sixteen aigs I put in this Lady Baltimore cake, and it's light as a feather."
Mrs. Terriberry made no offer to take the package which Mrs. Jackson extended.
"Just a little taste of buffalo berry jelly for Essie," said Miss Starr, with her most radiant smile. "Her uncle might enjoy it."
"I ain't forgot," said Mrs. Tutts, "how fond Ess is of brown bread, so I says to myself I'll just take some of my baked beans along, too. Tutts says I beat the world on baked beans. Where's Ess? I'd like to see her."
"Yes; tell her we're here," chorused the others.
Mrs. Terriberry's moment had come. She drew herself up in a pose of hauteur which a stout person can only achieve with practice.
"Miss Tisdale," she replied with glib gusto, "is engaged at present and begs to be excused. But," she added in words which were obviously her own, "you can put your junk in the closet over there with the rest that's come."
* * * * *
Dr. Harpe understood perfectly now the meaning of the Dago Duke's confident smile and the stranger's cold, searching look of enmity. He was no weakling, this new-found relative of Essie Tisdale's, and the Dago Duke's threats were no longer empty boastings.
If only she could sleep! Sleep? Was it days or weeks since she had slept? Forebodings, suspicions of those whom she had been forced to trust, Nell Beecroft, Lamb, and others, were spectres that frightened sleep from her strained eyes. A tight band seemed stretched across her forehead. She rubbed it hard, as though to lessen the tension. There was a dull ache at the base of her brain and she shook her head to free herself from it, but the jar hurt her.