The warrior, with a growl of rage, drew his sharp parang, leaping to close quarters. Barbara Harding saw Byrne whip Theriere's revolver from its holster, and snap it in the face of the savage; but to her horror the cartridge failed to explode, and before he could fire again the warrior was upon him.
The girl saw the white man leap to one side to escape the furious cut aimed at him by his foe, and then she saw him turn with the agility of a panther and spring to close quarters with the wild man. Byrne's left arm went around the Malay's neck, and with his heavy right fist he rained blow after blow upon the brown face.
The savage dropped his useless parang—clawing and biting at the mighty creature in whose power he found himself; but never once did those terrific, relentless blows cease to fall upon his unprotected face.
The sole witness to this battle primeval stood spellbound at the sight of the fierce, brutal ferocity of the white man, and the lion-like strength he exhibited. Slowly but surely he was beating the face of his antagonist into an unrecognizable pulp—with his bare hands he had met and was killing an armed warrior. It was incredible! Not even Theriere or Billy Mallory could have done such a thing. Billy Mallory! And she was gazing with admiration upon his murderer!
CHAPTER XV. THE RESCUE
AFTER Byrne had dropped the lifeless form of his enemy to the ground he turned and retraced his steps toward the island, a broad grin upon his face as he climbed to the girl's side.
"I guess I'd better overhaul this gat," he said, "and stick around home. It isn't safe to leave you alone here—I can see that pretty plainly. Gee, supposin' I'd got out of sight before he showed himself!" And the man shuddered visibly at the thought.
The girl had not spoken and the man looked up suddenly, attracted by her silence. He saw a look of horror in her eyes, such as he had seen there once before when he had kicked the unconscious Theriere that time upon the Halfmoon.
"What's the matter?" he asked, alarmed. "What have I done now? I had to croak the stiff—he'd have got me sure if I hadn't, and then he'd have got you, too. I had to do it for your sake—I'm sorry you saw it."
"It isn't that," she said slowly. "That was very brave, and very wonderful. It's Mr. Mallory I'm thinking of. O Billy! How could you do it?"
The man hung his head.
"Please don't," he begged. "I'd give my life to bring him back again, for your sake. I know now that you loved him, and I've tried to do all I could to atone for what I did to him; just as I tried to play white with Theriere when I found that he loved you, and intended to be on the square with you. He was your kind, and I hoped that by helping him to win you fairly it might help to wipe out what I had done to Mallory. I see that nothing ever can wipe that out. I've got to go through life regretting it because you have taught me what a brutal, cowardly thing I did. If it hadn't been for you I'd always have been proud of it—but you and Theriere taught me to look at things in a different way than I ever had learned to before. I'm not sorry for that—I'm glad, for if remorse is a part of my punishment I'll take it gladly and welcome the chance to get a little of what's coming to me. Only please don't look at me that way any more—it's more than I can stand, from you."
It was the first time that the man ever had opened his heart in any such whole-souled way to her, and it touched the girl more than she would have cared to admit.
"It would be silly to tell you that I ever can forget that terrible affair," she said; "but somehow I feel that the man who did that was an entirely different man from the man who has been so brave and chivalrous in his treatment of me during the past few weeks."
"It was me that did it, though," he said; "you can't get away from that. It'll always stick in your memory, so that you can never think of Mr. Mallory without thinking of the damned beast that murdered him—God! and I thought it smart!
"But you have no idea how I was raised, Miss Harding," he went on. "Not that that's any excuse for the thing I did; but it does make it seem a wonder that I ever could have made a start even at being decent. I never was well acquainted with any human being that wasn't a thief, or a pickpocket, or a murderer—and they were all beasts, each in his own particular way, only they weren't as decent as dumb beasts.
"I wasn't as crafty as most of them, so I had to hold my own by brute force, and I did it; but, gad, how I accomplished it. The idea of fighting fair," he laughed at the thought, "was utterly unknown to me. If I'd ever have tried it I'd have seen my finish in a hurry. No one fought fair in my gang, or in any other gang that I ever ran up against. It was an honor to kill a man, and if you accomplished it by kicking him to death when he was unconscious it detracted nothing from the glory of your exploit—it was WHAT you did, not HOW you did it, that counted.
"I could have been decent, though, if I'd wanted to. Other fellows who were born and raised near me were decent enough. They got good jobs and stuck to them, and lived straight; but they made me sick—I looked down on them, and spent my time hanging around saloon corners rushing the can and insulting women—I didn't want to be decent—not until I met you, and learned to—to," he hesitated, stammering, and the red blood crept up his neck and across his face, "and learned to want your respect."
It wasn't what he had intended saying and the girl knew it. There sprang into her mind a sudden wish to hear Billy Byrne say the words that he had dared not say; but she promptly checked the desire, and a moment later a qualm of self-disgust came over her because of the weakness that had prompted her to entertain such a wish in connection with a person of this man's station in life.
Days ran into weeks, and still the two remained upon their little island refuge. Byrne found first one excuse and then another to delay the march to the sea. He knew that it must be made sooner or later, and he knew, too, that its commencement would mark the beginning of the end of his association with Miss Harding, and that after that was ended life would be a dreary waste.
Either they would be picked up by a passing vessel or murdered by the natives, but in the latter event his separation from the woman he loved would be no more certain or absolute than in her return to her own people, for Billy Byrne knew that he "didn't belong" in any society that knew Miss Barbara Harding, and he feared that once they had regained civilization there would be a return on the girl's part to the old haughty aloofness, and that again he would be to her only a creature of a lower order, such as she and her kind addressed with a patronizing air as, "my man."
He intended, of course, to make every possible attempt to restore her to her home; but, he argued, was it wrong to snatch a few golden hours of happiness in return for his service, and as partial recompense for the lifetime of lonely misery that must be his when the woman he loved had passed out of his life forever? Billy thought not, and so he tarried on upon "Manhattan Island," as Barbara had christened it, and he lived in the second finest residence in town upon the opposite side of "Riverside Drive" from the palatial home of Miss Harding.
Nearly two months had passed before Billy's stock of excuses and delay ran out, and a definite date was set for the commencement of the journey.
"I believe," Miss Harding had said, "that you do not wish to be rescued at all. Most of your reasons for postponing the trip have been trivial and ridiculous—possibly you are afraid of the dangers that may lie before us," she added, banteringly.
"I'm afraid you've hit it off about right," he replied with a grin. "I don't want to be rescued, and I am very much afraid of what lies before—me."
"I'm going to lose you, any way you look at it, and—and—oh, can't you see that I love you?" he blurted out, despite all his good intentions.
Barbara Harding looked at him for a moment, and then she did the one thing that could have hurt him most—she laughed.
The color mounted to Billy Byrne's face, and then he went very white.
The girl started to say something, and at the same instant there came faintly to them from the mainland the sound of hoarse shouting, and of shots.
Byrne turned and started on a run in the direction of the firing, the girl following closely behind. At the island's edge he motioned her to stop.
"Wait here, it will be safer," he said. "There may be white men there—those shots sound like it, but again there may not. I want to find out before they see you, whoever they are."
The sound of firing had ceased now, but loud yelling was distinctly audible from down the river. Byrne took a step down the bank toward the water.
"Wait!" whispered the girl. "Here they come now, we can see them from here in a moment," and she dragged the mucker down behind a bush.
In silence the two watched the approaching party.
"They're the Chinks," announced Byrne, who insisted on using this word to describe the proud and haughty samurai.
"Yes, and there are two white men with them," whispered Barbara Harding, a note of suppressed excitement in her voice.
"Prisoners," said Byrne. "Some of the precious bunch from the Halfmoon doubtless."
The samurai were moving straight up the edge of the river. In a few minutes they would pass within a hundred feet of the island. Billy and the girl crouched low behind their shelter.
"I don't recognize them," said the man.
"Why—why—O Mr. Byrne, it can't be possible!" cried the girl with suppressed excitement. "Those two men are Captain Norris and Mr. Foster, mate of the Lotus!"
Byrne half rose to his feet. The party was opposite their hiding place now.
"Sit tight," he whispered. "I'm goin' to get 'em," and then, fiercely "for your sake, because I love you—now laugh," and he was gone.
He ran lightly down the river bank unnoticed by the samurai who had already passed the island. In one hand he bore the long war spear of the head-hunter he had slain. At his belt hung the long sword of Oda Yorimoto, and in its holster reposed the revolver of the Count de Cadenet.
Barbara Harding watched him as be forded the river, and clambered up the opposite bank. She saw him spring rapidly after the samurai and their prisoners. She saw his spear hand go up, and then from the deep lungs of the man rose a savage yell that would have done credit to a whole tribe of Apaches.
The warriors turned in time to see the heavy spear flying toward them and then, as he dashed into their midst, Billy Byrne drew his revolver and fired to right and left. The two prisoners took advantage of the consternation of their guards to grapple with them and possess themselves of weapons.
There had been but six samurai in the party, two had fallen before Byrne's initial onslaught, but the other four, recovered from their first surprise, turned now to battle with all the terrific ferocity of their kind.
Again, at a crucial moment, had Theriere's revolver missed fire, and in disgust Byrne discarded it, falling back upon the long sword with which he was no match for the samurai. Norris snatched Byrne's spear from the ground, and ran it through the body of one of the Japs who was pressing Byrne too closely. Odds were even now—they fought three against three.
Norris still clung to the spear—it was by far the most effective weapon against the long swords of the samurai. With it he killed his antagonist and then rushed to the assistance of Foster.
Barbara Harding from the island saw that Byrne's foe was pressing him closely. The white man had no chance against the superior swordsmanship of the samurai. She saw that the mucker was trying to get past the Jap's guard and get his hands upon him, but it was evident that the man was too crafty and skilled a fighter to permit of that. There could be but one outcome to that duel unless Byrne had assistance, and that mighty quickly. The girl grasped the short sword that she constantly wore now, and rushed into the river. She had never before crossed it except in Byrne's arms. She found the current swift and strong. It almost swept her off her feet before she was halfway across, but she never for an instant thought of abandoning her effort.
After what seemed an eternity she floundered out upon the mainland, and when she reached the top of the bank she saw to her delight that Byrne was still on his feet, fighting. Foster and Norris were pushing their man back—they were in no danger.
Quickly she ran toward Byrne and the samurai. She saw a wicked smile upon the brown face of the little warrior, and then she saw his gleaming sword twist in a sudden feint, and as Byrne lunged out awkwardly to parry the expected blow the keen edge swerved and came down upon his head.
She was an instant too late to save, but just in time to avenge—scarcely had the samurai's sword touched the mucker than the point of Oda Yorimoto's short sword, wielded by the fair hand of Barbara Harding, plunged into his heart. With a shriek he collapsed beside the body of his victim.
Barbara Harding threw herself beside Byrne. Apparently life was extinct. With a little cry of horror the girl put her ear close to the man's lips. She could hear nothing.
"Come back! Come back!" she wailed. "Forgive me that cruel laugh. O Billy! Billy! I love you!" and the daughter of old Anthony Harding, multimillionaire and scion of the oldest aristocracy that America boasts, took the head of the Grand Avenue mucker in her arms and covered the white, bloody face with kisses—and in the midst of it Billy Byrne opened his eyes.
She was caught in the act. There was no escape, and as a crimson flush suffused her face Billy Byrne put his arms about her and drew her down until their lips met, and this time she did not put her hands upon his shoulders and push him away. "I love you, Billy," she said simply.
"Remember who and what I am," he cautioned, fearful lest this great happiness be stolen away from him because she had forgotten for the moment.
"I love you Billy," she answered, "for what you ARE."
"Until death do us part!"
And then Norris and Foster, having dispatched their man, came running up.
"Is he badly hurt, madam?" cried Captain Norris.
"I don't know," replied Miss Harding; "I'm just trying to help him up, Captain Norris," she laboriously explained in an effort to account for her arms about Billy's neck.
Norris gave a start of surprise at hearing his name.
"Who are you?" he cried. "How do you know me?" and as the girl turned her face toward him, "Miss Harding! Thank God, Miss Harding, you are safe."
"But where on earth did you come from?" asked Barbara.
"It's a long story, Miss Harding," replied the officer, "and the ending of it is going to be pretty hard on you—you must try to bear up though."
"You don't mean that father is dead?" she asked, a look of terror coming to her eyes.
"Not that—we hope," replied Norris. "He has been taken prisoner by these half-breed devils on the island. I doubt if they have killed him—we were going to his rescue when we ourselves were captured. He and Mr. Mallory were taken three days ago."
"Mallory!" shouted Billy Byrne, who had entirely recovered from the blow that had merely served to stun him for a moment. "Is Mallory alive?"
"He was yesterday," replied Norris; "these fellows from whom you so bravely rescued us told us that much."
"Thank God!" whispered Billy Byrne.
"What made you think he was dead?" inquired the officer, looking closely at Byrne as though trying to place him.
Another man might have attempted to evade the question but the new Billy Byrne was no coward in any department of his moral or physical structure.
"Because I thought that I had killed him," he replied, "the day that we took the Lotus."
Captain Norris looked at the speaker in undisguised horror.
"You!" he cried. "You were one of those damned cut-throats! You the man that nearly killed poor Mr. Mallory! Miss Harding, has he offered you any indignities?"
"Don't judge him rashly, Captain Norris," said the girl. "But for him I should have been dead and worse than dead long since. Some day I will tell you of his heroism and his chivalry, and don't forget, Captain, that he has just saved you and Mr. Foster from captivity and probable death."
"That's right," exclaimed the officer, "and I want to thank him; but I don't understand about Mallory."
"Never mind about him now," said Billy Byrne. "If he's alive that's all that counts—I haven't got his blood on my hands. Go on with your story."
"Well, after that gang of pirates left us," continued the captain, "we rigged an extra wireless that they didn't know we had, and it wasn't long before we raised the warship Alaska. Her commander put a crew on board the Lotus with machinists and everything necessary to patch her up—coaled and provisioned her and then lay by while we got her in running order. It didn't take near as long as you would have imagined. Then we set out in company with the warship to search for the 'Clarinda,' as your Captain Simms called her. We got on her track through a pirate junk just north of Luzon—he said he'd heard from the natives of a little out-of-the-way island near Formosa that a brigantine had been wrecked there in the recent typhoon, and his description of the vessel led us to believe that it might be the 'Clarinda,' or Halfmoon.
"We made the island, and after considerable search found the survivors. Each of 'em tried to lay the blame on the others, but finally they all agreed that a man by the name of Theriere with a seaman called Byrne, had taken you into the interior, and that they had believed you dead until a few days since they had captured one of the natives and learned that you had all escaped, and were wandering in some part of the island unknown to them.
"Then we set out with a company of marines to find you. Your father, impatient of the seeming slowness of the officer in command, pushed ahead with Mr. Mallory, Mr. Poster, and myself, and two of the men of the Lotus whom he had brought along with us.
"Three days ago we were attacked and your father and Mr. Mallory taken prisoners. The rest of us escaped, and endeavored to make our way back to the marines, but we became confused and have been wandering aimlessly about the island ever since until we were surprised by these natives a few moments ago. Both the seamen were killed in this last fight and Mr. Foster and myself taken prisoners—the rest you know."
Byrne was on his feet now. He found his sword and revolver and replaced them in his belt.
"You men stay here on the island and take care of Miss Harding," he said. "If I don't come back the marines will find you sooner or later, or you can make your way to the coast, and work around toward the cove. Good-bye, Miss Harding."
"Where are you going?" cried the girl.
"To get your father—and Mr. Mallory," said the mucker.
CHAPTER XVI. THE SUPREME SACRIFICE
THROUGH the balance of the day and all during the long night Billy Byrne swung along his lonely way, retracing the familiar steps of the journey that had brought Barbara Harding and himself to the little island in the turbulent river.
Just before dawn he came to the edge of the clearing behind the dwelling of the late Oda Yorimoto. Somewhere within the silent village he was sure that the two prisoners lay.
During the long march he had thrashed over again and again all that the success of his rash venture would mean to him. Of all those who might conceivably stand between him and the woman he loved—the woman who had just acknowledged that she loved him—these two men were the most to be feared.
Billy Byrne did not for a moment believe that Anthony Harding would look with favor upon the Grand Avenue mucker as a prospective son-in-law. And then there was Mallory! He was sure that Barbara had loved this man, and now should he be restored to her as from the grave there seemed little doubt but that the old love would be aroused in the girl's breast. The truth of the matter was that Billy Byrne could not conceive the truth of the testimony of his own ears—even now he scarce dared believe that the wonderful Miss Harding loved him—him, the despised mucker!
But the depth of the man's love for the girl, and the genuineness of his new-found character were proven beyond question by the relentless severity with which he put away every thought of himself and the consequences to him in the matter he had undertaken.
FOR HER SAKE! had become his slogan. What though the results sent him to a savage death, or to a life of lonely misery, or to the arms of his beloved! In the face of duty the result was all the same to Billy Byrne.
For a moment he stood looking at the moon-bathed village, listening for any sign of wakefulness or life, then with all the stealth of an Indian, and with the trained wariness of the thief that he had been, the mucker slunk noiselessly across the clearing to the shadows of the nearest hut.
He listened beneath the window through which he and Barbara and Theriere had made their escape a few weeks before. There was no sound from within. Cautiously he raised himself to the sill, and a moment later dropped into the inky darkness of the interior.
With groping hands he felt about the room—it was unoccupied. Then he passed to the door at the far end. Cautiously he opened it until a narrow crack gave him a view of the dimly lighted chamber beyond. Within all seemed asleep. The mucker pushed the door still further open and stepped within—so must he search every hut within the village until he had found those he sought?
They were not there, and on silent feet that disturbed not even the lightly slumbering curs the man passed out by the front entrance into the street beyond.
Through a second and third hut he made his precarious way. In the fourth a man stirred as Byrne stood upon the opposite side of the room from the door—with a catlike bound the mucker was beside him. Would the fellow awake? Billy scarce breathed. The samurai turned restlessly, and then, with a start, sat up with wide-open eyes. At the same instant iron fingers closed upon his throat and the long sword of his dead daimio passed through his heart.
Byrne held the corpse until he was positive that life was extinct, then he dropped it quietly back upon its pallet, and departed to search the adjoining dwelling. Here he found a large front room, and a smaller chamber in the rear—an arrangement similar to that in the daimio's house.
The front room revealed no clue to the missing men. Within the smaller, rear room Byrne heard the subdued hum of whispered conversation just as he was about to open the door. Like a graven image he stood in silence, his ear glued to the frail door. For a moment he listened thus and then his heart gave a throb of exultation, and he could have shouted aloud in thanksgiving—the men were conversing in English!
Quietly Byrne pushed open the door far enough to admit his body. Those within ceased speaking immediately. Byrne closed the door behind him, advancing until he felt one of the occupants of the room. The man shrank from his touch.
"I guess we're done for, Mallory," said the man in a low tone; "they've come for us."
"Sh-sh," warned the mucker. "Are you and Mallory alone?"
"Yes—for God's sake who are you and where did you come from?" asked the surprised Mr. Harding.
"Be still," admonished Byrne, feeling for the cords that he knew must bind the captive.
He found them presently and with his jackknife cut them asunder. Then he released Mallory.
"Follow me," he said, "but go quietly. Take off your shoes if you have 'em on, and hang 'em around your neck—tie the ends of the laces together."
The men did as he bid and a moment later he was leading them across the room, filled with sleeping men, women, children, and domestic animals. At the far side stood a rack filled with long swords. Byrne removed two without the faintest suspicion of a noise. He handed one to each of his companions, cautioning them to silence with a gesture.
But neither Anthony Harding nor Billy Mallory had had second-story experience, and the former struck his weapon accidentally against the door frame with a resounding clatter that brought half the inmates of the room, wide-eyed, to sitting postures. The sight that met the natives' eyes had them on their feet, yelling like madmen, and dashing toward their escaping prisoners, in an instant.
"Quick!" shouted Billy Byrne. "Follow me!"
Down the village street the three men ran, but the shouts of the natives had brought armed samurai to every door with a celerity that was uncanny, and in another moment the fugitives found themselves surrounded by a pack of howling warriors who cut at them with long swords from every side, blocking their retreat and hemming them in in every direction.
Byrne called to his companions to close in, back to back, and thus, the gangster in advance, the three slowly fought their way toward the end of the narrow street and the jungle beyond. The mucker fought with his long sword in one hand and Theriere's revolver in the other—hewing a way toward freedom for the two men whom he knew would take his love from him.
Beneath the brilliant tropic moon that lighted the scene almost as brilliantly as might the sun himself the battle waged, and though the odds were painfully uneven the white men moved steadily, though slowly, toward the jungle. It was evident that the natives feared the giant white who led the three. Anthony Harding, familiar with Japanese, could translate sufficient of their jargon to be sure of that, had not the respectful distance most of them kept from Byrne been ample proof.
Out of the village street they came at last into the clearing. The warriors danced about them, yelling threats and taunts the while they made occasional dashes to close quarters that they might deliver a swift sword cut and retreat again before the great white devil could get them with the sword that had been Oda Yorimoto's, or the strange fire stick that spoke in such a terrifying voice.
Fifty feet from the jungle Mallory went down with a spear through the calf of his leg. Byrne saw him fall, and dropping back lifted the man to his feet, supporting him with one arm as the two backed slowly in front of the onpressing natives.
The spears were flying thick and fast now, for the samurai all were upon the same side of the enemy and there was no danger of injuring one of their own number with their flying weapons as there had been when the host entirely surrounded the three men, and when the whites at last entered the tall grasses of the jungle a perfect shower of spears followed them.
With the volley Byrne went down—he had been the principal target for the samurai and three of the heavy shafts had pierced his body. Two were buried in his chest and one in his abdomen.
Anthony Harding was horrified. Both his companions were down, and the savages were pressing closely on toward their hiding place. Mallory sat upon the ground trying to tear the spear from his leg. Finally he was successful. Byrne, still conscious, called to Harding to pull the three shafts from him.
"What are we to do?" cried the older man. "They will get us again as sure as fate."
"They haven't got us yet," said Billy. "Wait, I got a scheme. Can you walk, Mallory?"
Mallory staggered to his feet.
"I'll see," he said, and then: "Yes, I can make it."
"Good," exclaimed Byrne. "Now listen. Almost due north, across this range of hills behind us is a valley. In the center of the valley is a river. It is a good fifteen-hour march for a well man—it will take Mallory and you longer. Follow down the river till you come to a little island—it should be the first one from where you strike the river. On that island you will find Miss Harding, Norris, and Foster. Now hurry."
"But you, man!" exclaimed Mallory. "We can't leave you."
"Never!" said Anthony Harding.
"You'll have to, though," replied Billy. "That's part of the scheme. It won't work any other way." He raised his revolver and fired a single shot in the direction of the howling savages. "That's to let 'em know we're still here," he said. "I'll keep that up, off and on, as long as I can. It'll fool 'em into thinking that we're all here, and cover your escape. See?"
"I won't do it," said Mallory.
"Yes you will," replied the mucker. "It's not any of us that counts—it's Miss Harding. As many as can have got to get back to her just as quick as the Lord'll let us. I can't, so you two'll have to. I'm done for—a blind man could see that. It wouldn't do a bit of good for you two to hang around here and get killed, waitin' for me to die; but it would do a lot of harm, for it might mean that Miss Harding would be lost too."
"You say my daughter is on this island you speak of, with Norris and Foster—is she quite safe and well?" asked Harding.
"Perfectly," said Byrne; "and now beat it—you're wasting a lot of precious time."
"For Barbara's sake it looks like the only way," said Anthony Harding, "but it seems wicked and cowardly to desert a noble fellow like you, sir."
"It is wicked," said Billy Mallory. "There must be some other way. By the way, old man, who are you anyhow, and how did you happen to be here?"
Byrne turned his face upward so that the full moon lighted his features clearly.
"There is no other way, Mallory," he said. "Now take a good look at me—don't you recognize me?"
Mallory gazed intently at the strong face looking into his. He shook his head.
"There is something familiar about your face," he said; "but I cannot place you. Nor does it make any difference who you are—you have risked your life to save ours and I shall not leave you. Let Mr. Harding go—it is not necessary for both to stay."
"You will both go," insisted Byrne; "and you will find that it does make a big difference who I am. I hadn't intended telling you, but I see there is no other way. I'm the mucker that nearly killed you on board the Lotus, Mallory. I'm the fellow that man-handled Miss Harding until even that beast of a Simms made me quit, and Miss Harding has been alone with me on this island for weeks—now go!"
He turned away so that they could no longer see his face, with the mental anguish that he knew must be writ large upon it, and commenced firing toward the natives once more.
Anthony Harding stood with white face and clinched hands during Byrne's recital of his identity. At its close he took a threatening step toward the prostrate man, raising his long sword, with a muffled oath. Billy Mallory sprang before him, catching his upraised arm.
"Don't!" he whispered. "Think what we owe him now. Come!" and the two men turned north into the jungle while Billy Byrne lay upon his belly in the tall grass firing from time to time into the direction from which came an occasional spear.
Anthony Harding and Billy Mallory kept on in silence along their dismal way. The crack of the mucker's revolver, growing fainter and fainter, as they drew away from the scene of conflict, apprised the men that their rescuer still lived.
After a time the distant reports ceased. The two walked on in silence for a few minutes.
"He's gone," whispered Mallory.
Anthony Harding made no response. They did not hear any further firing behind them. On and on they trudged. Night turned to day. Day rolled slowly on into night once more. And still they staggered on, footsore and weary. Mallory suffered excruciating agony from his wound. There were times when it seemed that it would be impossible for him to continue another yard; but then the thought that Barbara Harding was somewhere ahead of them, and that in a short time now they must be with her once more kept him doggedly at his painful task.
They had reached the river and were following slowly down its bank. The moon, full and gorgeous, flooded the landscape with silvery light.
"Look!" exclaimed Mallory. "The island!"
"Thank God!" whispered Harding, fervently.
On the bank opposite they stopped and hallooed. Almost instantly three figures rushed from the interior of the island to the shore before them—two men and a woman.
"Barbara!" cried Anthony Harding. "O my daughter! My daughter!"
Norris and Foster hastened through the river and brought the two men to the island. Barbara Harding threw herself into her father's arms. A moment later she had grasped Mallory's outstretched hands, and then she looked beyond them for another.
"Mr. Byrne?" she asked. "Where is Mr. Byrne?"
"He is dead," said Anthony Harding.
The girl looked, wide-eyed and uncomprehending, at her father for a full minute.
"Dead!" she moaned, and fell unconscious at his feet.
CHAPTER XVII. HOME AGAIN
BILLY BYRNE continued to fire intermittently for half an hour after the two men had left him. Then he fired several shots in quick succession, and dragging himself to his hands and knees crawled laboriously and painfully back into the jungle in search of a hiding place where he might die in peace.
He had progressed some hundred yards when he felt the earth give way beneath him. He clutched frantically about for support, but there was none, and with a sickening lunge he plunged downward into Stygian darkness.
His fall was a short one, and he brought up with a painful thud at the bottom of a deer pit—a covered trap which the natives dig to catch their fleet-footed prey.
The pain of his wounds after the fall was excruciating. His head whirled dizzily. He knew that he was dying, and then all went black.
When consciousness returned to the mucker it was daylight. The sky above shone through the ragged hole that his falling body had broken in the pit's covering the night before.
"Gee!" muttered the mucker; "and I thought that I was dead!"
His wounds had ceased to bleed, but he was very weak and stiff and sore.
"I guess I'm too tough to croak!" he thought.
He wondered if the two men would reach Barbara in safety. He hoped so. Mallory loved her, and he was sure that Barbara had loved Mallory. He wanted her to be happy. No thought of jealousy entered his mind. Mallory was her kind. Mallory "belonged." He didn't. He was a mucker. How would he have looked training with her bunch. She would have been ashamed of him, and he couldn't have stood that. No, it was better as it had turned out. He'd squared himself for the beast he'd been to her, and he'd squared himself with Mallory, too. At least they'd have only decent thoughts of him, dead; but alive, that would be an entirely different thing. He would be in the way. He would be a constant embarrassment to them all, for they would feel that they'd have to be nice to him in return for what he had done for them. The thought made the mucker sick.
"I'd rather croak," he murmured.
But he didn't "croak"—instead, he waxed stronger, and toward evening the pangs of hunger and thirst drove him to consider means for escaping from his hiding place, and searching for food and water.
He waited until after dark, and then he crawled, with utmost difficulty, from the deep pit. He had heard nothing of the natives since the night before, and now, in the open, there came to him but the faint sounds of the village life across the clearing.
Byrne dragged himself toward the trail that led to the spring where poor Theriere had died. It took him a long time to reach it, but at last he was successful. The clear, cold water helped to revive and strengthen him. Then he sought food. Some wild fruit partially satisfied him for the moment, and he commenced the laborious task of retracing his steps toward "Manhattan Island."
The trail that he had passed over in fifteen hours as he had hastened to the rescue of Anthony Harding and Billy Mallory required the better part of three days now. Occasionally he wondered why in the world he was traversing it anyway. Hadn't he wanted to die, and leave Barbara free? But life is sweet, and the red blood still flowed strong in the veins of the mucker.
"I can go my own way," he thought, "and not bother her; but I'll be dinged if I want to croak in this God-forsaken hole—Grand Avenue for mine, when it comes to passing in my checks. Gee! but I'd like to hear the rattle of the Lake Street 'L' and see the dolls coming down the station steps by Skidmore's when the crowd comes home from the Loop at night."
Billy Byrne was homesick. And then, too, his heart was very heavy and sad because of the great love he had found—a love which he realized was as hopeless as it was great. He had the memory, though, of the girl's arms about his neck, and her dear lips crushed to his for a brief instant, and her words—ah, those words! They would ring in Billy's head forever: "I love you, Billy, for what you ARE."
And a sudden resolve came into the mucker's mind as he whispered those words over and over again to himself. "I can't have her," he said. "She isn't for the likes of me; but if I can't live with her, I can live for her—as she'd want me to live, and, s'help me, those words'll keep me straight. If she ever hears of Billy Byrne again it won't be anything to make her ashamed that she had her arms around him, kissing him, and telling him that she loved him."
At the river's edge across from the little island Billy came to a halt. He had reached the point near midnight, and hesitated to cross over and disturb the party at that hour. At last, however, he decided to cross quietly, and lie down near HER hut until morning.
The crossing was most difficult, for he was very weak, but at last he came to the opposite bank and drew himself up to lie panting for a few minutes on the sloping bank. Then he crawled on again up to the top, and staggering to his feet made his way cautiously toward the two huts. All was quiet. He assumed that the party was asleep, and so he lay down near the rude shelter he had constructed for Barbara Harding, and fell asleep.
It was broad daylight when he awoke—the sun was fully three hours high, and yet no one was stirring. For the first time misgivings commenced to assail Billy's mind. Could it be possible? He crossed over to his own hut and entered—it was deserted. Then he ran to Barbara's—it, too, was unoccupied. They had gone!
All during the painful trip from the village to the island Billy had momentarily expected to meet a party of rescuers coming back for him. He had not been exactly disappointed, but a queer little lump had risen to his throat as the days passed and no help had come, and now this was the final blow. They had deserted him! Left him wounded and dying on this savage island without taking the trouble to assure themselves that he really was dead! It was incredible!
"But was it?" thought Billy. "Didn't I tell them that I was dying? I thought so myself, and there is no reason why they shouldn't have thought so too. I suppose I shouldn't blame them, and I don't; but I wouldn't have left them that way and not come back. They had a warship full of blue jackets and marines—there wouldn't have been much danger to them."
Presently it occurred to him that the party may have returned to the coast to get the marines, and that even now they were searching for him. He hastened to return to the mainland, and once more he took up his wearisome journey.
That night he reached the coast. Early the next morning he commenced his search for the man-of-war. By walking entirely around the island he should find her he felt sure.
Shortly after noon he scaled a high promontory which jutted out into the sea. From its summit he had an unobstructed view of the broad Pacific. His heart leaped to his throat, for there but a short distance out were a great battleship and a trim white yacht—the Alaska and the Lotus! They were steaming slowly out to sea.
He was just in time! Filled with happiness the mucker ran to the point of the promontory and stripping off his shirt waved it high above his head, the while he shouted at the top of his lungs; but the vessels kept on their course, giving no answering signal.
For half an hour the man continued his futile efforts to attract the attention of someone on board either craft, but to his dismay he saw them grow smaller and smaller until in a few hours they passed over the rim of the world, disappearing from his view forever.
Weak, wounded, and despairing, Billy sank to the ground, burying his face in his arms, and there the moon found him when she rose, and he was still there when she passed from the western sky.
For three months Billy Byrne lived his lonely life upon the wild island. The trapping and fishing were good and there was a plentiful supply of good water. He regained his lost strength, recovering entirely from his wounds. The natives did not molest him, for he had stumbled upon a section of the shore which they considered bewitched and to which none of them would come under any circumstances.
One morning, at the beginning of his fourth month of solitude, the mucker saw a smudge of smoke upon the horizon. Slowly it increased in volume and the speck beneath it resolved itself into the hull of a steamer. Closer and closer to the island it came.
Billy gathered together a quantity of dry brush and lighted a signal fire on the lofty point from which he had seen the Alaska and the Lotus disappear. As it commenced to blaze freely he threw fresh, green boughs upon it until a vertical column of smoke arose high above the island.
In breathless suspense Billy watched the movements of the steamer. At first it seemed that she would pass without taking notice of his signal, but at last he saw that she was changing her course and moving directly toward the island.
Close in she came, for the sea was calm and the water deep, and when Billy was sure that those on board saw him and his frantic waving, he hurried, stumbling and falling, down the steep face of the cliff to the tiny beach at its foot.
Already a boat had been lowered and was putting in for land. Billy waded out to the end of the short shelving beach and waited.
The sight that met the eyes of the rescuers was one that filled them with awe, for they saw before them a huge, giant of a white man, half-naked except for a few tattered rags, who wore the long sword of an ancient samurai at his side, a modern revolver at his hip, and bore in his brawny hand the heavy war spear of a head-hunter. Long black hair, and a huge beard covered the man's head and face, but clean gray eyes shone from out of the tangle, and a broad grin welcomed them.
"Oh, you white men!" shouted the mucker. "You certainly do look good to me."
Six months later a big, smooth-faced giant in ill-fitting sea togs strolled up Sixth Avenue. It was Billy Byrne—broke, but happy; Grand Avenue was less than a thousand miles away!
"Gee!" he murmured; "but it's good to be home again!"
There were places in New York where Billy would find acquaintances. One in particular he recalled—a little, third-floor gymnasium not far distant from the Battery. Thither he turned his steps now. As he entered the stuffy room in which two big fellows, stripped to the waist, were sparring, a stout, low-browed man sitting in a back-tilted chair against one wall looked up inquiringly. Billy crossed over to him, with outstretched hand.
"Howdy, Professor!" he said.
"Yeh got me, kid," replied Professor Cassidy, taking the proffered hand.
"I was up here with Larry Hilmore and the Goose Island Kid a year or so ago—my name's Byrne," exclaimed Billy.
"Sure," said the professor; "I gotcha now. You're de guy 'at Larry was a tellin' me about. He said you'd be a great heavy if you'd leave de booze alone."
Billy smiled and nodded.
"You don't look much like a booze fighter now," remarked Cassidy.
"And I ain't" said the mucker. "I've been on the wagon for most a year, and I'm never comin' down."
"That's right, kid," said the professor; "but wots the good word? Wot you doin' in little ol' Noo York?"
"Lookin' for a job," said Billy.
"Strip!" commanded Professor Cassidy. "I'm lookin' for sparrin' partners for a gink dat's goin' to clean up de Big Smoke—if he'll ever come back an' scrap."
"You're on," said Billy, commencing to divest himself of his outer clothing.
Stripped to the waist he displayed as wondrous a set of muscles as even Professor Cassidy had ever seen. The man waxed enthusiastic over them.
"You sure ought to have some wallop up your sleeve," he said, admiringly. He then introduced Billy to the Harlem Hurricane, and Battling Dago Pete. "Pete's de guy I was tellin' you about," explained Professor Cassidy. "He's got such a wallop dat I can't keep no sparrin' partners for him. The Hurricane here's de only bloke wit de guts to stay wit him—he's a fiend for punishment, Hurricane is; he jest natchrly eats it.
"If you're broke I'll give you your keep as long as you stay wit Pete an' don't get cold feet, an' I'll fix up a mill for you now an' then so's you kin pull down a little coin fer yourself. Are you game?"
"You know it," said Billy.
"All to the good then," said the professor gaily; "now you put on the mitts an' spell Hurricane for a couple o' rounds."
Billy slipped his huge hands into the tight-fitting gloves.
"It's been more'n a year since I had these on," he said, "an' I may be a little slow an' stale at first; but after I get warmed up I'll do better."
Cassidy grinned and winked at Hurricane. "He won't never get warmed up," Hurricane confided; "Pete'll knock his block off in about two minutes," and the men settled back to watch the fun with ill-concealed amusement written upon their faces.
What happened within the next few minutes in the stuffy little room of Professor Cassidy's third-floor "gymnasium" marks an epoch in the professor's life—he still talks of it, and doubtless shall until the Great Referee counts him out in the Last Round.
The two men sparred for a moment, gaging one another. Then Battling Dago Pete swung a vicious left that landed square on Billy's face. It was a blow that might have felled an ox; but Billy only shook his head—it scarce seemed to jar him. Pete had half lowered his hands as he recovered from the blow, so sure he was that it would finish his new sparring partner, and now before he could regain his guard the mucker tore into him like a whirlwind. That single blow to the face seemed to have brought back to Billy Byrne all that he ever had known of the manly art of self-defense.
Battling Dago Pete landed a few more before the fight was over, but as any old fighter will tell you there is nothing more discouraging than to discover that your most effective blows do not feeze your opponent, and only the knowledge of what a defeat at the hands of a new sparring partner would mean to his future, kept him plugging away at the hopeless task of attempting to knock out this mountain of bone and muscle.
For a few minutes Billy Byrne played with his man, hitting him when and where he would. He fought, crouching, much as Jeffries used to fight, and in his size and strength was much that reminded Cassidy of the fallen idol that in his heart of hearts he still worshiped.
And then, like a panther, the mucker sprang in with a vicious left hook to the jaw, followed, with lightning rapidity, by a right upper cut to the chin that lifted Battling Dago Pete a foot from the floor to drop him, unconscious, against the foot of the further wall.
It was a clean knock-out, and when Cassidy and Hurricane got through ministering to the fallen man, and indications of returning consciousness were apparent, the professor turned to Billy.
"Got any more 'hopes' lyin' around loose?" asked the mucker with a grin. "I guess the big dinge's safe for a while yet."
"Not if you'll keep on stayin' away from the booze, kid," said Professor Cassidy, "an' let me handle you."
"I gotcha Steve," said Billy; "go to it; but first, stake me to a feed. The front side of my stomach's wrapped around my back bone."
CHAPTER XVIII. THE GULF BETWEEN
FOR three months Billy met has-beens, and third- and fourth-rate fighters from New York and its environs. He thrashed them all—usually by the knockout route and finally local sports commenced talking about him a bit, and he was matched up with second-raters from other cities.
These men he cleaned up as handily as he had the others, so that it was apparent to fight fandom that the big, quiet "unknown" was a comer; and pretty soon Professor Cassidy received an offer from another trainer-manager to match Billy against a real "hope" who stood in the forefront of hopedom.
This other manager stated that he thought the mill would prove excellent practice for his man who was having difficulty in finding opponents. Professor Cassidy thought so too, and grinned for two hours straight after reading the challenge.
The details of the fight were quickly arranged. In accordance with the state regulations it was to be a ten round, no decision bout—the weight of the gloves was prescribed by law.
The name of the "white hope" against whom Billy was to go was sufficient to draw a fair house, and there were some there who had seen Billy in other fights and looked for a good mill. When the "coming champion," as Billy's opponent was introduced, stepped into the ring he received a hearty round of applause, whereas there was but a scattered ripple of handclapping to greet the mucker. It was the first time he ever had stepped into a ring with a first-rate fighter, and as he saw the huge muscles of his antagonist and recalled the stories he had heard of his prowess and science, Billy, for the first time in his life, felt a tremor of nervousness.
His eyes wandered across the ropes to the sea of faces turned up toward him, and all of a sudden Billy Byrne went into a blue funk. Professor Cassidy, shrewd and experienced, saw it even as soon as Billy realized it—he saw the fading of his high hopes—he saw his castles in Spain tumbling in ruins about his ears—he saw his huge giant lying prone within that squared circle as the hand of the referee rose and fell in cadence to the ticking of seconds that would count his man out.
"Here," he whispered, "take a swig o' this," and he pressed a bottle toward Billy's lips.
Billy shook his head. The stuff had kept him down all his life—he had sworn never to touch another drop of it, and he never would, whether he lost this and every other fight he ever fought. He had sworn to leave it alone for HER sake! And then the gong called him to the center of the ring.
Billy knew that he was afraid—he thought that he was afraid of the big, trained fighter who faced him; but Cassidy knew that it was a plain case of stage fright that had gripped his man. He knew, too, that it would be enough to defeat Billy's every chance for victory, and after the big "white hope" had felled Billy twice in the first minute of the first round Cassidy knew that it was all over but the shouting.
The fans, many of them, were laughing, and yelling derogatory remarks at Billy.
"Stan' up an' fight, yeh big stiff!" and "Back to de farm fer youse!" and then, high above the others a shrill voice cried "Coward! Coward!"
The word penetrated Billy's hopeless, muddled brain. Coward! SHE had called him that once, and then she had changed her mind. Theriere had thought him a coward, yet as he died he had said that he was the bravest man he ever had known. Billy recalled the yelling samurai with their keen swords and terrible spears. He saw the little room in the "palace" of Oda Yorimoto, and again he faced the brown devils who had hacked and hewed and stabbed at him that day as he fought to save the woman he loved. Coward! What was there in this padded ring for a man to fear who had faced death as Billy had faced it, and without an instant's consciousness of the meaning of the word fear? What was wrong with him, and then the shouts and curses and taunts of the crowd smote upon his ears, and he knew. It was the crowd! Again the heavy fist of the "coming champion" brought Billy to the mat, and then, before further damage could be done him, the gong saved him.
It was a surprised and chastened mucker that walked with bent head to his corner after the first round. The "white hope" was grinning and confident, and so he returned to the center of the ring for the second round. During the short interval Billy had thrashed the whole thing out. The crowd had gotten on his nerves. He was trying to fight the whole crowd instead of just one man—he would do better in this round; but the first thing that happened after he faced his opponent sent the fans into delirious ecstasies of shouting and hooting.
Billy swung his right for his foe's jaw—a terrible blow that would have ended the fight had it landed—but the man side-stepped it, and Billy's momentum carried him sprawling upon his face. When he regained his feet the "white hope" was waiting for him, and Billy went down again to lie there, quite still, while the hand of the referee marked the seconds: One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Billy opened his eyes. Seven. Billy sat up. Eight. The meaning of that monotonous count finally percolated to the mucker's numbed perceptive faculties. He was being counted out! Nine! Like a flash he was on his feet. He had forgotten the crowd. Rage—cool, calculating rage possessed him—not the feverish, hysterical variety that takes its victim's brains away.
They had been counting out the man whom Barbara Harding had once loved!—the man she had thought the bravest in the world!—they were making a monkey and a coward of him! He'd show them!
The "white hope" was waiting for him. Billy was scarce off his knees before the man rushed at him wickedly, a smile playing about his lips. It was to be the last of that smile, however. Billy met the rush with his old familiar crouch, and stopped his man with a straight to the body.
Cassidy saw it and almost smiled. He didn't think that Billy could come back—but at least he was fighting for a minute in his old form.
The surprised "hope" rushed in to punish his presuming foe. The crowd was silent. Billy ducked beneath a vicious left swing and put a right to the side of the "hope's" head that sent the man to his knees. Then came the gong.
In the third round Billy fought carefully. He had made up his mind that he would show this bunch of pikers that he knew how to box, so that none might say that he had won with a lucky punch, for Billy intended to win.
The round was one which might fill with delight the soul of the fan who knows the finer points of the game. And when it was over, while little damage had been done on either side, it left no shadow of a doubt in the minds of those who knew that the unknown fighter was the more skilful boxer.
Then came the fourth round. Of course there was no question in the minds of the majority of the spectators as to who would win the fight. The stranger had merely shown one of those sudden and ephemeral bursts of form that occasionally are witnessed in every branch of sport; but he couldn't last against such a man as the "white hope"!—they looked for a knock-out any minute now. Nor did they look in vain.
Billy was quite satisfied with the work he had done in the preceding round. Now he would show them another style of fighting! And he did. From the tap of the gong he rushed his opponent about the ring at will. He hit him when and where he pleased. The man was absolutely helpless before him. With left and right hooks Billy rocked the "coming champion's" head from side to side. He landed upon the swelling optics of his victim as he listed.
Thrice he rushed him to the ropes, and once the man fell through them into the laps of the hooting spectators—only now they were not hooting Billy. Until the gong Billy played with his man as a cat might play with a mouse; yet not once had he landed a knock-out blow.
"Why didn't you finish him?" cried Professor Cassidy, as Billy returned to his corner after the round. "You had 'im goin' man—why in the world didn't yeh finish him?"
"I didn't want to," said Billy; "not in that round. I'm reserving the finish for the fifth round, and if you want to win some money you can take the hunch!"
"Do you mean it?" asked Cassidy.
"Sure," said Billy. "You might make more by laying that I'd make him take the count in the first minute of the round—you can place a hundred of mine on that, if you will, please."
Cassidy took the hunch, and a moment later as the two men faced each other he regretted his act, for to his surprise the "white hope" came up for the fifth round smiling and confident once more.
"Someone's been handin' him an earful," grumbled Cassidy, "an' it might be all he needed to take 'im through the first minute of the round, and maybe the whole round—I've seen that did lots o' times."
As the two men met the "white hope" was the aggressor. He rushed in to close quarters aiming a stinging blow at Billy's face, and then to Cassidy's chagrin and the crowd's wonder, the mucker lowered his guard and took the wallop full on the jaw. The blow seemed never to jar him the least. The "hope" swung again, and there stood Billy Byrne, like a huge bronze statue taking blow after blow that would have put an ordinary man down for the count.
The fans saw and appreciated the spectacular bravado of the act, and they went wild. Cheer on cheer rose, hoarse and deafening, to the rafters. The "white hope" lost his self-control and what little remained of his short temper, and deliberately struck Billy a foul blow, but before the referee could interfere the mucker swung another just such blow as he had missed and fallen with in the second round; but this time he did not miss—his mighty fist caught the "coming champion" on the point of the chin, lifted him off his feet and landed him halfway through the ropes. There he lay while the referee tolled off the count of ten, and as the official took Billy's hand in his and raised it aloft in signal that he had won the fight the fickle crowd cheered and screamed in a delirium of joy.
Cassidy crawled through the ropes and threw his arms around Billy.
"I knew youse could do it, kid!" he screamed. "You're as good as made now, an' you're de next champ, or I never seen one."
The following morning the sporting sheets hailed "Sailor" Byrne as the greatest "white hope" of them all. Flashlights of him filled a quarter of a page. There were interviews with him. Interviews with the man he had defeated. Interviews with Cassidy. Interviews with the referee. Interviews with everybody, and all were agreed that he was the most likely heavy since Jeffries. Corbett admitted that, while in his prime he could doubtless have bested the new wonder, he would have found him a tough customer.
Everyone said that Byrne's future was assured. There was not a man in sight who could touch him, and none who had seen him fight the night before but would have staked his last dollar on him in a mill with the black champion.
Cassidy wired a challenge to the Negro's manager, and received an answer that was most favorable. The terms were, as usual, rather one-sided but Cassidy accepted them, and it seemed before noon that a fight was assured.
Billy was more nearly happy again than he had been since the day he had renounced Barbara Harding to the man he thought she loved. He read and re-read the accounts in the papers, and then searching for more references to himself off the sporting page he ran upon the very name that had been constantly in his thoughts for all these months—Harding.
Persistent rumor has it that the engagement of the beautiful Miss Harding to Wm. J. Mallory has been broken. Miss Harding could not be seen at her father's home up to a late hour last night. Mr. Mallory refused to discuss the matter, but would not deny the rumor.
There was more, but that was all that Billy Byrne read. The paper dropped from his hand. Battles and championships faded from his thoughts. He sat with his eyes bent upon the floor, and his mind was thousands of miles away across the broad Pacific upon a little island in the midst of a turbulent stream.
And far uptown another sat with the same paper in her hand. Barbara Harding was glancing through the sporting sheet in search of the scores of yesterday's woman's golf tournament. And as she searched her eyes suddenly became riveted upon the picture of a giant man, and she forgot about tournaments and low scores. Hastily she searched the heads and text until she came upon the name—"'Sailor' Byrne!"
Yes! It must be he. Greedily she read and re-read all that had been written about him. Yes, she, Barbara Harding, scion of an aristocratic house—ultra-society girl, read and re-read the accounts of a brutal prize fight.
A half hour later a messenger boy found "Sailor" Byrne the center of an admiring throng in Professor Cassidy's third-floor gymnasium. With worshiping eyes taking in his new hero from head to foot the youth handed Byrne a note.
He stood staring at the heavy weight until he had perused it.
"Any answer?" he asked.
"No answer, kid," replied Byrne, "that I can't take myself," and he tossed a dollar to the worshiping boy.
An hour later Billy Byrne was ascending the broad, white steps that led to the entrance of Anthony Harding's New York house. The servant who answered his ring eyed him suspiciously, for Billy Byrne still dressed like a teamster on holiday. He had no card!
"Tell Miss Harding that Mr. Byrne has come," he said.
The servant left him standing in the hallway, and started to ascend the great staircase, but halfway up he met Miss Harding coming down.
"Never mind, Smith," she said. "I am expecting Mr. Byrne," and then seeing that the fellow had not seated her visitor she added, "He is a very dear friend." Smith faded quickly from the scene.
"Billy!" cried the girl, rushing toward him with out-stretched hands. "O Billy, we thought you were dead. How long have you been here? Why haven't you been to see me?"
A great, mad hope had been surging through his being since he had read of the broken engagement and received the girl's note. And now in her eyes, in her whole attitude, he could read, as unmistakably as though her lips had formed the words that he had not hoped in vain.
But some strange influence had seemed suddenly to come to work upon him. Even in the brief moment of his entrance into the magnificence of Anthony Harding's home he had felt a strange little stricture of the throat—a choking, half-suffocating sensation.
The attitude of the servant, the splendor of the furnishings, the stateliness of the great hall, and the apartments opening upon it—all had whispered to him that he did not "belong."
And now Barbara, clothed in some wondrous foreign creation, belied by her very appearance the expression that suffused her eyes.
No, Billy Byrne, the mucker, did not belong there. Nor ever could he belong, more than Barbara ever could have "belonged" on Grand Avenue. And Billy Byrne knew it now. His heart went cold. The bottom seemed suddenly to have dropped out of his life.
Bravely he had battled to forget this wonderful creature, or, rather, his hopeless love for her—her he could never forget. But the note from her, and the sight of her had but served to rekindle the old fire within his breast.
He thought quickly. His own life or happiness did not count. Nothing counted now but Barbara. He had seen the lovelight in her eyes. He thanked God that he had realized what it all would have meant, before he let her see that he had seen it.
"I've been back several months," he said presently, in answer to her question; "but I got sense enough to stay where I belong. Gee! Wouldn't I look great comin' up here buttin' in, wit youse bunch of highlifes?"
Billy slapped his thigh resoundingly and laughed in stentorian tones that caused the eyebrows of the sensitive Smith on the floor above to elevate in shocked horror.
"Den dere was de mills. I couldn't break away from me work, could I, to chase a bunch of skirts?"
Barbara felt a qualm of keen disappointment that Billy had fallen again into the old dialect that she had all but eradicated during those days upon distant "Manhattan Island."
"I wouldn't o' come up atal," he went on, "if I hadn't o' read in de poiper how youse an' Mallory had busted. I t'ought I'd breeze in an' see wot de trouble was."
His eyes had been averted, mostly, as he talked. Now he swung suddenly upon her.
"He's on de square, ain't he?" he demanded.
"Yes," said Barbara. She was not quite sure whether to feel offended, or not. But the memory of Billy's antecedents came to his rescue. Of course he didn't know that it was such terribly bad form to broach such a subject to her, she thought.
"Well, then," continued the mucker, "wot's up? Mallory's de guy fer youse. Youse loved him or youse wouldn't have got engaged to him."
The statement was almost an interrogation.
Barbara nodded affirmatively.
"You see, Billy," she started, "I have always known Mr. Mallory, and always thought that I loved him until—until—" There was no answering light in Billy's eyes—no encouragement for the words that were on her lips. She halted lamely. "Then," she went on presently, "we became engaged after we reached New York. We all thought you dead," she concluded simply.
"Do you think as much of him now as you did when you promised to marry him?" he asked, ignoring her reference to himself and all that it implied.
"What is at the bottom of this row?" persisted Billy. He had fallen back into the decent pronunciation that Barbara had taught him, but neither noticed the change. For a moment he had forgotten that he was playing a part. Then he recollected.
"Nothing much," replied the girl. "I couldn't rid myself of the feeling that they had murdered you, by leaving you back there alone and wounded. I began to think 'coward' every time I saw Mr. Mallory. I couldn't marry him, feeling that way toward him, and, Billy, I really never LOVED him as—as—" Again she stumbled, but the mucker made no attempt to grasp the opportunity opened before him.
Instead he crossed the library to the telephone. Running through the book he came presently upon the number he sought. A moment later he had his connection.
"Is this Mallory?" he asked.
"I'm Byrne—Billy Byrne. De guy dat cracked your puss fer youse on de Lotus."
"Dead, hell! Not me. Say, I'm up here at Barbara's."
"Yes, dat's wot I said. She wants youse to beat it up here's swift as youse kin beat it."
Barbara Harding stepped forward. Her eyes were blazing.
"How dare you?" she cried, attempting to seize the telephone from Billy's grasp.
He turned his huge frame between her and the instrument. "Git a move!" he shouted into the mouthpiece. "Good-bye!" and he hung up.
Then he turned back toward the angry girl.
"Look here," he said. "Once youse was strong on de sob stuff wit me, tellin' me how noble I was, an' all de different tings youse would do fer me to repay all I done fer youse. Now youse got de chanct."
"What do you mean?" asked the girl, puzzled. "What can I do for you?"
"Youse kin do dis fer me. When Mallory gits here youse kin tell him dat de engagement is all on again—see!"
In the wide eyes of the girl Billy read a deeper hurt than he had dreamed of. He had thought that it would not be difficult for her to turn back from the vulgar mucker to the polished gentleman. And when he saw that she was suffering, and guessed that it was because he had tried to crush her love by brute force he could carry the game no further.
"O Barbara," he cried, "can't you see that Mallory is your kind—that HE is a fit mate for you. I have learned since I came into this house a few minutes ago the unbridgeable chasm that stretches between Billy Byrne, the mucker, and such as you. Once I aspired; but now I know just as you must have always known, that a single lifetime is far too short for a man to cover the distance from Grand Avenue to Riverside Drive.
"I want you to be happy, Barbara, just as I intend to be. Back there in Chicago there are plenty of girls on Grand Avenue as straight and clean and fine as they make 'em on Riverside Drive. Girls of my own kind, they are, and I'm going back there to find the one that God intended for me. You've taught me what a good girl can do toward making a man of a beast. You've taught me pride and self-respect. You've taught me so much that I'd rather that I'd died back there beneath the spears of Oda Iseka's warriors than live here beneath the sneers and contempt of servants, and the pity and condescension of your friends.
"I want you to be happy, Barbara, and so I want you to promise me that you'll marry Billy Mallory. There isn't any man on earth quite good enough for you; but Mallory comes nearer to it than anyone I know. I've heard 'em talking about him around town since I came back—and there isn't a rotten story chalked up against him nowhere, and that's a lot more than you can say for ninety-nine of a hundred New Yorkers that are talked about at all.
"And Mallory's a man, too—the kind that every woman ought to have, only they ain't enough of 'em to go 'round. Do you remember how he stood up there on the deck of the Lotus and fought fair against my dirty tricks? He's a man and a gentleman, Barbara—the sort you can be proud of, and that's the sort you got to have. You see I know you.
"And he fought against those fellows of Yoka in the street of Oda Iseka's village like a man should fight. There ain't any yellow in him, Barbara, and he didn't leave me until there seemed no other way, even in the face of the things I told them to make them go. Don't harbor that against him—I only wonder that he didn't croak me; your dad wanted to, and Mallory wouldn't let him."
"They never told me that," said Barbara.
The bell rang.
"Here he is now," said Billy. "Good-bye—I'd rather not see him. Smith'll let me out the servants' door. Guess that'll make him feel better. You'll do as I ask, Barbara?"
He had paused at the door, turning toward her as he asked the final question.
The girl stood facing him. Her eyes were dim with unshed tears. Billy Byrne swam before them in a hazy mist.
"You'll do as I ask, Barbara!" he repeated, but this time it was a command.
As Mallory entered the room Barbara heard the door of the servants' entrance slam behind Billy Byrne.
CHAPTER I. THE MURDER TRIAL.
BILLY BYRNE squared his broad shoulders and filled his deep lungs with the familiar medium which is known as air in Chicago. He was standing upon the platform of a New York Central train that was pulling into the La Salle Street Station, and though the young man was far from happy something in the nature of content pervaded his being, for he was coming home.
After something more than a year of world wandering and strange adventure Billy Byrne was coming back to the great West Side and Grand Avenue.
Now there is not much upon either side or down the center of long and tortuous Grand Avenue to arouse enthusiasm, nor was Billy particularly enthusiastic about that more or less squalid thoroughfare.
The thing that exalted Billy was the idea that he was coming back to SHOW THEM. He had left under a cloud and with a reputation for genuine toughness and rowdyism that has seen few parallels even in the ungentle district of his birth and upbringing.
A girl had changed him. She was as far removed from Billy's sphere as the stars themselves; but Billy had loved her and learned from her, and in trying to become more as he knew the men of her class were he had sloughed off much of the uncouthness that had always been a part of him, and all of the rowdyism. Billy Byrne was no longer the mucker.
He had given her up because he imagined the gulf between Grand Avenue and Riverside Drive to be unbridgeable; but he still clung to the ideals she had awakened in him. He still sought to be all that she might wish him to be, even though he realized that he never should see her again.
Grand Avenue would be the easiest place to forget his sorrow—her he could never forget. And then, his newly awakened pride urged him back to the haunts of his former life that he might, as he would put it himself, show them. He wanted the gang to see that he, Billy Byrne, wasn't afraid to be decent. He wanted some of the neighbors to realize that he could work steadily and earn an honest living, and he looked forward with delight to the pleasure and satisfaction of rubbing it in to some of the saloon keepers and bartenders who had helped keep him drunk some five days out of seven, for Billy didn't drink any more.
But most of all he wanted to vindicate himself in the eyes of the once-hated law. He wanted to clear his record of the unjust charge of murder which had sent him scurrying out of Chicago over a year before, that night that Patrolman Stanley Lasky of the Lake Street Station had tipped him off that Sheehan had implicated him in the murder of old man Schneider.
Now Billy Byrne had not killed Schneider. He had been nowhere near the old fellow's saloon at the time of the holdup; but Sheehan, who had been arrested and charged with the crime, was an old enemy of Billy's, and Sheehan had seen a chance to divert some of the suspicion from himself and square accounts with Byrne at the same time.
The new Billy Byrne was ready to accept at face value everything which seemed to belong in any way to the environment of that exalted realm where dwelt the girl he loved. Law, order, and justice appeared to Billy in a new light since he had rubbed elbows with the cultured and refined.
He no longer distrusted or feared them. They would give him what he sought—a square deal.
It seemed odd to Billy that he should be seeking anything from the law or its minions. For years he had waged a perpetual battle with both. Now he was coming back voluntarily to give himself up, with every conviction that he should be exonerated quickly. Billy, knowing his own innocence, realizing his own integrity, assumed that others must immediately appreciate both.
"First," thought Billy, "I'll go take a look at little old Grand Ave., then I'll give myself up. The trial may take a long time, an' if it does I want to see some of the old bunch first."
So Billy entered an "L" coach and leaning on the sill of an open window watched grimy Chicago rattle past until the guard's "Granavenoo" announced the end of his journey.
Maggie Shane was sitting on the upper step of the long flight of stairs which lean precariously against the scarred face of the frame residence upon the second floor front of which the lares and penates of the Shane family are crowded into three ill-smelling rooms.
It was Saturday and Maggie was off. She sat there rather disconsolate for there was a dearth of beaux for Maggie, none having arisen to fill the aching void left by the sudden departure of "Coke" Sheehan since that worthy gentleman had sought a more salubrious clime—to the consternation of both Maggie Shane and Mr. Sheehan's bondsmen.
Maggie scowled down upon the frowsy street filled with frowsy women and frowsy children. She scowled upon the street cars rumbling by with their frowsy loads. Occasionally she varied the monotony by drawing out her chewing gum to wondrous lengths, holding one end between a thumb and finger and the other between her teeth.
Presently Maggie spied a rather pleasing figure sauntering up the sidewalk upon her side of the street. The man was too far away for her to recognize his features, but his size and bearing and general appearance appealed to the lonesome Maggie. She hoped it was someone she knew, or with whom she might easily become acquainted, for Maggie was bored to death.
She patted the hair at the back of her head and righted the mop which hung over one eye. Then she rearranged her skirts and waited. As the man approached she saw that he was better looking than she had even dared to hope, and that there was something extremely familiar about his appearance. It was not, though, until he was almost in front of the house that he looked up at the girl and she recognized him.
Then Maggie Shane gasped and clutched the handrail at her side. An instant later the man was past and continuing his way along the sidewalk.
Maggie Shane glared after him for a minute, then she ran quickly down the stairs and into a grocery store a few doors west, where she asked if she might use the telephone.
"Gimme West 2063," she demanded of the operator, and a moment later: "Is this Lake Street?"
"Well say, Billy Byrne's back. I just see him."
"Yes an' never mind who I am; but if youse guys want him he's walkin' west on Grand Avenoo right now. I just this minute seen him near Lincoln," and she smashed the receiver back into its hook.
Billy Byrne thought that he would look in on his mother, not that he expected to be welcomed even though she might happen to be sober, or not that he cared to see her; but Billy's whole manner of thought had altered within the year, and something now seemed to tell him that it was his duty to do the thing he contemplated. Maybe he might even be of help to her.
But when he reached the gloomy neighborhood in which his childhood had been spent it was to learn that his mother was dead and that another family occupied the tumble-down cottage that had been his home.
If Billy Byrne felt any sorrow because of his mother's death he did not reveal it outwardly. He owed her nothing but for kicks and cuffs received, and for the surroundings and influences that had started him upon a life of crime at an age when most boys are just entering grammar school.
Really the man was relieved that he had not had to see her, and it was with a lighter step that he turned back to retrace his way along Grand Avenue. No one of the few he had met who recognized him had seemed particularly delighted at his return. The whole affair had been something of a disappointment. Therefore Billy determined to go at once to the Lake Street Station and learn the status of the Schneider murder case. Possibly they had discovered the real murderer, and if that was the case Billy would be permitted to go his way; but if not then he could give himself up and ask for a trial, that he might be exonerated.
As he neared Wood Street two men who had been watching his approach stepped into the doorway of a saloon, and as he passed they stepped out again behind him. One upon either side they seized him.
Billy turned to remonstrate.
"Come easy now, Byrne," admonished one of the men, "an' don't make no fuss."
"Oh," said Billy, "it's you, is it? Well, I was just goin' over to the station to give myself up."
Both men laughed, skeptically. "We'll just save you the trouble," said one of them. "We'll take you over. You might lose your way if you tried to go alone."
Billy went along in silence the rest of the way to where the patrol waited at another corner. He saw there was nothing to be gained by talking to these detectives; but he found the lieutenant equally inclined to doubt his intentions. He, too, only laughed when Billy assured him that he was on his way to the station at the very instant of arrest.
As the weeks dragged along, and Billy Byrne found no friendly interest in himself or his desire to live on the square, and no belief in his protestations that he had had naught to do with the killing of Schneider he began to have his doubts as to the wisdom of his act.
He also commenced to entertain some of his former opinions of the police, and of the law of which they are supposed to be the guardians. A cell-mate told him that the papers had scored the department heavily for their failure to apprehend the murderer of the inoffensive old Schneider, and that public opinion had been so aroused that a general police shakeup had followed.
The result was that the police were keen to fasten the guilt upon someone—they did not care whom, so long as it was someone who was in their custody.
"You may not o' done it," ventured the cell-mate; "but they'll send you up for it, if they can't hang you. They're goin' to try to get the death sentence. They hain't got no love for you, Byrne. You caused 'em a lot o' throuble in your day an' they haven't forgot it. I'd hate to be in your boots."
Billy Byrne shrugged. Where were his dreams of justice? They seemed to have faded back into the old distrust and hatred. He shook himself and conjured in his mind the vision of a beautiful girl who had believed in him and trusted him—who had inculcated within him a love for all that was finest and best in true manhood, for the very things that he had most hated all the years of his life before she had come into his existence to alter it and him.
And then Billy would believe again—believe that in the end justice would triumph and that it would all come out right, just the way he had pictured it.
With the coming of the last day of the trial Billy found it more and more difficult to adhere to his regard for law, order, and justice. The prosecution had shown conclusively that Billy was a hard customer. The police had brought witnesses who did not hesitate to perjure themselves in their testimony—testimony which it seemed to Billy the densest of jurymen could plainly see had been framed up and learned by rote until it was letter-perfect.
These witnesses could recall with startling accuracy every detail that had occurred between seventeen minutes after eight and twenty-one minutes past nine on the night of September 23 over a year before; but where they had been and what they had done ten minutes earlier or ten minutes later, or where they were at nine o'clock in the evening last Friday they couldn't for the lives of them remember.
And Billy was practically without witnesses.
The result was a foregone conclusion. Even Billy had to admit it, and when the prosecuting attorney demanded the death penalty the prisoner had an uncanny sensation as of the tightening of a hempen rope about his neck.
As he waited for the jury to return its verdict Billy sat in his cell trying to read a newspaper which a kindly guard had given him. But his eyes persisted in boring through the white paper and the black type to scenes that were not in any paper. He saw a turbulent river tumbling through a savage world, and in the swirl of the water lay a little island. And he saw a man there upon the island, and a girl. The girl was teaching the man to speak the language of the cultured, and to view life as people of refinement view it.
She taught him what honor meant among her class, and that it was better to lose any other possession rather than lose honor. Billy realized that it had been these lessons that had spurred him on to the mad scheme that was to end now with the verdict of "Guilty"—he had wished to vindicate his honor. A hard laugh broke from his lips; but instantly he sobered and his face softened.
It had been for her sake after all, and what mattered it if they did send him to the gallows? He had not sacrificed his honor—he had done his best to assert it. He was innocent. They could kill him but they couldn't make him guilty. A thousand juries pronouncing him so could not make it true that he had killed Schneider.
But it would be hard, after all his hopes, after all the plans he had made to live square, to SHOW THEM. His eyes still boring through the paper suddenly found themselves attracted by something in the text before them—a name, Harding.
Billy Byrne shook himself and commenced to read:
The marriage of Barbara, daughter of Anthony Harding, the multimillionaire, to William Mallory will take place on the twenty-fifth of June.
The article was dated New York. There was more, but Billy did not read it. He had read enough. It is true that he had urged her to marry Mallory; but now, in his lonesomeness and friendlessness, he felt almost as though she had been untrue to him.
"Come along, Byrne," a bailiff interrupted his thoughts, "the jury's reached a verdict."
The judge was emerging from his chambers as Billy was led into the courtroom. Presently the jury filed in and took their seats. The foreman handed the clerk a bit of paper. Even before it was read Billy knew that he had been found guilty. He did not care any longer, so he told himself. He hoped that the judge would send him to the gallows. There was nothing more in life for him now anyway. He wanted to die. But instead he was sentenced to life imprisonment in the penitentiary at Joliet.
This was infinitely worse than death. Billy Byrne was appalled at the thought of remaining for life within the grim stone walls of a prison. Once more there swept over him all the old, unreasoning hatred of the law and all that pertained to it. He would like to close his steel fingers about the fat neck of the red-faced judge. The smug jurymen roused within him the lust to kill. Justice! Billy Byrne laughed aloud.
A bailiff rapped for order. One of the jurymen leaned close to a neighbor and whispered. "A hardened criminal," he said. "Society will be safer when he is behind the bars."
The next day they took Billy aboard a train bound for Joliet. He was handcuffed to a deputy sheriff. Billy was calm outwardly; but inwardly he was a raging volcano of hate.
In a certain very beautiful home on Riverside Drive, New York City, a young lady, comfortably backed by downy pillows, sat in her bed and alternated her attention between coffee and rolls, and a morning paper.
On the inside of the main sheet a heading claimed her languid attention: CHICAGO MURDERER GIVEN LIFE SENTENCE. Of late Chicago had aroused in Barbara Harding a greater proportion of interest than ever it had in the past, and so it was that she now permitted her eyes to wander casually down the printed column.
Murderer of harmless old saloon keeper is finally brought to justice. The notorious West Side rowdy, "Billy" Byrne, apprehended after more than a year as fugitive from justice, is sent to Joliet for life.
Barbara Harding sat stony-eyed and cold for what seemed many minutes. Then with a stifled sob she turned and buried her face in the pillows.
The train bearing Billy Byrne and the deputy sheriff toward Joliet had covered perhaps half the distance between Chicago and Billy's permanent destination when it occurred to the deputy sheriff that he should like to go into the smoker and enjoy a cigar.
Now, from the moment that he had been sentenced Billy Byrne's mind had been centered upon one thought—escape. He knew that there probably would be not the slightest chance for escape; but nevertheless the idea was always uppermost in his thoughts.
His whole being revolted, not alone against the injustice which had sent him into life imprisonment, but at the thought of the long years of awful monotony which lay ahead of him.
He could not endure them. He would not! The deputy sheriff rose, and motioning his prisoner ahead of him, started for the smoker. It was two cars ahead. The train was vestibuled. The first platform they crossed was tightly enclosed; but at the second Billy saw that a careless porter had left one of the doors open. The train was slowing down for some reason—it was going, perhaps, twenty miles an hour.
Billy was the first upon the platform. He was the first to see the open door. It meant one of two things—a chance to escape, or, death. Even the latter was to be preferred to life imprisonment.
Billy did not hesitate an instant. Even before the deputy sheriff realized that the door was open, his prisoner had leaped from the moving train dragging his guard after him.
CHAPTER II. THE ESCAPE
BYRNE had no time to pick any particular spot to jump for. When he did jump he might have been directly over a picket fence, or a bottomless pit—he did not know. Nor did he care.
As it happened he was over neither. The platform chanced to be passing across a culvert at the instant. Beneath the culvert was a slimy pool. Into this the two men plunged, alighting unharmed.
Byrne was the first to regain his feet. He dragged the deputy sheriff to his knees, and before that frightened and astonished officer of the law could gather his wits together he had been relieved of his revolver and found himself looking into its cold and business-like muzzle.
Then Billy Byrne waded ashore, prodding the deputy sheriff in the ribs with cold steel, and warning him to silence. Above the pool stood a little wood, thick with tangled wildwood. Into this Byrne forced his prisoner.
When they had come deep enough into the concealment of the foliage to make discovery from the outside improbable Byrne halted.
"Now say yer prayers," he commanded. "I'm a-going to croak yeh."
The deputy sheriff looked up at him in wild-eyed terror.
"My God!" he cried. "I ain't done nothin' to you, Byrne. Haven't I always been your friend? What've I ever done to you? For God's sake Byrne you ain't goin' to murder me, are you? They'll get you, sure."
Billy Byrne let a rather unpleasant smile curl his lips.
"No," he said, "youse ain't done nothin' to me; but you stand for the law, damn it, and I'm going to croak everything I meet that stands for the law. They wanted to send me up for life—me, an innocent man. Your kind done it—the cops. You ain't no cop; but you're just as rotten. Now say yer prayers."
He leveled the revolver at his victim's head. The deputy sheriff slumped to his knees and tried to embrace Billy Byrne's legs as he pleaded for his life.
"Cut it out, you poor boob," admonished Billy. "You've gotta die and if you was half a man you'd wanna die like one."