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HEf'f



STRANGER THAN FICTION.



AUTHOR OF



THE NAKED TRUTH," " His FOSTER SISTER,"
"A NEW SENSATION," " WHY I'M SINGLE,"
" His PRIVATE CHARACTER," ETC.



NEW YORK:

eoprmaHT, im, er

G. W. Dillingham Co., Publishers.



CONTENTS.



CHAPTER PACE

I. Victor Loses his Temper . . 9

II. " She wears a ring I gave her " . 19

III. Father and Daughter . . .27

IV. Tramping in California . . .36
V. " You'll be like Marian " . 44

VI. Jakey and the " Cirkis " . . .55

VII. " It was Elsie at the gate " . . 5

VIII. A New Comer to the Ranch . t 75

IX. " You jest let Else alone !'' . . 84

X. A Business Matter . . . .92

XI. ** There was another, I think, a son ?" loo

XII. Mr Sewall Talks to Marian . .109

XIII. A Face at the Window . . .117

XIV. " He killed the guards!" . . .126
XV. Brother and Sister . . . .134

XVI. "Shall I go?" he asked . . .144

XVII. A Startling Superscription . . 153

XVIII. "You can't stop folks talking . . 163

XIX. Miss Felton Begins her Task . . 173

XX. " Escaped ! Thank God !" . . 181

XXI. Mr. Gardner Goes too Far . . 191

XXII. Oscar Felton Takes Back Water . 200



6 CONTENTS.

CHAPTER tAGM

XXIII. " I refuse to be driven!" . . .209

XXIV. Uncontrollable Impulse? . . 217
XXV. Victor Makes a Proposition . . 226

XXVI. " My wife needs no defense *' . . 236

XXVII. The Bird Takes Flight . . .245

XXVIII. " Dat's a gal, de worl' over 1" . .255

XXIX. An Assault on the Old Barn . . 264

XXX. Some Newspaper " Scoops " . . 274

XXXI. " Kindly examine these papers " . 284

XXXII. An Elaborate Confession . . 294

XXXIII. An Austrian Baroness . . .301

XXXIV. " May I speak, your honor ?" . . 309
XXXV. A Change of Venue . . . 319



TO MY READERS.



Doubtless it is due to the fact that my first novel had
such an extraordinary success that I have confined my
subsequent writings so largely to the same stupendous
theme. Occasionally, however, I have gone outside that
path, particularly in "Speaking of Ellen" and "His Fos-
ter Sister," and an over-indulgent public has shown no
diminution of its kindness.

In the following pages I have once more experi-
mented in the field of mystery, and particularly in that
of conscience. If my efforts prove satisfactory I may
extend them further along these lines.

During the past nine months, while travelling in the
islands of the Pacific, and particularly in Japan, I have
planned a novel which shall introduce some of the
strange and fascinating scenes through which I am
passing. I hope by next July to present you with such
a volume, but I dare make no promises. I have found
that an author's pen takes fancies of its own, which he
cannot always control.



8 TO MY READERS.

I have been astonished and gratified to discover that
my readers reach even to these shores, as I found them
by the Adriatic and the Caribbean. With fervent
wishes for a happy New Year to all,

I am, as ever, your friend,

Shanghai, Nov., 1899. ALBERT Eoss.



STRANGER THAN FICTION.



CHAPTER I.

VICTOR LOSES HIS TEMPER.

VICTOR HALL, aged 22, stood in the office of Cyrus
Keith, attorney-at-law, in the presence of that gentle-
man, and gave way to a violent exhibition of temper.
They were good friends and the ill-feeling of the
young man was not directed at the lawyer but at a
thirdperson not present. Victor's usually clear brow was
ruffled and his dark eyes glittered from between their
half-closed lids. With his hat tipped back on his well-
shaped head and both hands deep in his trousers pock-
ets, he ground his white teeth together and looked as
if he would like to strike somebody with the fists that
moved -nervously in their receptacles.

"That's your opinion, is it?" he cried, breathing
heavily. " You believe as a matter of law that Dick
Morse can hang on to my property, whether I like it
or not, and if he steals the whole of it before his time
runs out I have no redress whatever! "

Mr. Keith responded in a composed tone that this

f9]



IO STRANGER THAN FICTION.

was a fairly accurate statement of the decision at which
he had reluctantly arrived.

" When your father died, Victor," he said, in a grave
voice, " he left his entire estate to your mother, know-
ing- that she would use whatever she thought right on
your maintenance and education. It probably never
entered his head that she would so soon leave you an
orphan. When she learned that her time was short she
made her own will, as she had a perfect legal right to do,
and tied up the property in a way she believed best for
you. She provided that you were to receive the in-
come only until you reached the age of thirty years,
and that Mr. Morse was to act as trustee without giv-
ing bonds for the faithful performance of his duties.
The same sort of testament is made every day. Morse
accepted the position and has, up to this time, carried
out the stipulations of the will. Deducting a reason-
able charge for his services he has paid over to you
various sums from time to time. He has now nearly
eight years left before he can do anything more, unless
ordered to by the court. In my opinion no judge
would make such an order, and an attempt to secure it
would end in certain failure. Unpleasant as this may
be, I am obliged to answer your question.

Mr. Hall drew one of his fists out of the pocket that
contained it and brought it down on the office desk be-
fore Mr. Keith, with a resounding blow.

" And yet you know, as you sit there," he said, bit-
terly, " that you have not enough faith in the man to
trust him with a hundred dollars."

The lawyer nodded assent.



STRANGER THAN FICTION. II

"Admitting it, for the sake of argument, what in-
fluence would my opinion, unsupported by a scintilla
of fact, have on that of the judge? If there was any-
thing we could bring forward except our private sus-
picions, it would be a different story. These are the
facts. Richard Morse was selected by your mother
to manage this estate, after an acquaintance with him
extending over a number of years. While she lived
he was her confidential business agent. She believed
she could trust him with this important matter. He
has never been, as you admit, a day behind in his pay-
ments out of the receipts. You have no proof thathislife
is other than that of a decent, respectable citizen. His
business, that of an insurance agent, shows that he has
a standing in the community and that his honesty is
taken as a matter of course by people with large inter-
ests.

" At the same time, you and I have an instinctive
feeling that there is something crooked in his make-up,
and neither of us is pleased at his hold over your little
patrimony. That is all we could say if we brought a
suit against him. Courts are very guarded in interfer-
ing with trustees appointed in accordance with the re-
quests of a will. My dear Victor, I am sorry, but if
you want to make a move predestined to failure you
must do it through some other attorney and against
my advice."

Mr. Hall pressed his hand against his breast and ex-
pelled the air violently from his lungs.

" I'll get one, then," he said, with a shake of the
head. " If I'm going to lose all I have in the world



12 STRANGER THAN FICTION.

I'll make the court responsible for it. When I find
I'm a beggar it'll be some satisfaction to go to a judge
and say, ' I warned you of the kind of man you've let
rob me! ' It's not in my blood to stand still and have
my throat cut without a protest."

Mr. Keith did not attempt to influence the decision
of his impetuous friend. He busied himself with some
papers that lay on his desk, as if 'he had dismissed the
matter from his mind. Mr. Hall waited a moment,
then turned on his heel and strode toward the door
that opened into the hallway. Pausing, he swung
about and remarked in a querulous tone, " You don't
say anything."

" What's the use? I understood you wanted the
best advice I had to give, and you've got it. Appar-
ently you prefer to be your own counsellor. You've
heard the proverb, 'A man who tries to be his own law-
yer has a fool for a client.' "

" You must admit that it's a nasty situation."

" There's no question about that."

" I could bring fifty men who wouldn't trust Dick
Morse with a dollar. Wouldn't that be of any influ-
ence in showing the kind of man he is? "

Mr. Keith smiled and asked soberly how many men
Hall knew, who, though they might admit that they
held this opinion in a private conversation would
be willing to go on a witness stand and swear to it.
They would crawl out of the dilemma like rats from a
sinking ship. Most of them would have to acknowl-
edge that their property was insured in companies of



STRANGER T53AN FICTION. 13

WhlcK Morse wa agenf. In fhe han3s of a sfirew3
cross-examiner they would appear ridiculous.

" No, Victor, it wouldn't work," he added, solemnly.

" Then it amounts to this I must have my pockel
picked without making an effort to save myself! A
rascal can hide behind his ' legal rights ' and I am help-
less. I've a great mind to walk into his office and
make him give up his plunder with my hands on his
damned gullet ! "

There was so little likelihood that the young man
would do anything of the sort that the lawyer was not
much disturbed. He was moved, however, to ask if his
client had made any attempt to persuade Morse to sur-
render his trust peaceably.

" No, I haven't. My feelings are such that I don't
care to hold any conversation with him. He's a great
deal too oily for me. Say," added Mr. Hall, struck by a
new idea, " won't yau go as my representative and
state the case in your own words? You wouldn't fly in
a rage, as I might, if he stuck and wouldn't do a thing.
Perhaps you could persuade or scare him into turn-
ing over the stuff if he's really got any of it left,
which I doubt. That's the best scheme yet. Put on
your hat and run over, and I'll wait here till you come
back."

This Mr. Keith did not seem in haste to do. He
dwelt on the disagreeable nature of the proposed inter-
view, which would amount to announcing that the
honesty of the trustee was called in question. After a
long talk, however, he finally consented to see Mr.



14 STRANGER THAN FICTION.

Morse and ask him such questions as he deemed best,
depending on the attitude that person assumed.

"And if he tries any cheap evasions, will you hit him
one, right on the proboscis? " asked the visitor, half in
earnest.

" That would be a little out of my line."

" I'll do it myself, if he drives me to it," said Mr.
Hall, growing angry again. " He'll give you no sat-
isfaction, I feel it in my bones, but I want you to try.
I'd pay half he's keeping from me to have him alone
in a room for just ten minutes."

When his client finally left him to himself Mr. Keith
buried his face in his hands and thought for an hour
on the subject of their conversation. He recalled the
day when Mrs. Hall sent for him to come to her bed-
side and told him how he was to draw her will. He
had been her legal adviser as well as the close friend
of her husband, but she had turned to Richard Morse
for counsel in everything pecuniary. When she stip-
ulated that Morse was to be trustee of the property she
wanted to will to her son the lawyer was nevertheless
a little surprised.

He felt it his duty to ask if she was perfectly sure
Morse was a suitable person to entrust with this duty
but when she asked, " Have you any cause to doubt
it? " he was obliged to answer that he could give no
satisfactory reason for the inquiry. He drew the will
as she wished it, saw that it was properly signed and
attested, and after her death presented it to the court.
Victor at that time was a boy of sixteen, and it was



STRANGER THAN FICTION. 15

not till several years after that he began to express
fears of the honesty of the trustee.

Morse occupied a peculiar position in Stromberg,
the Illinois town in which our history opens. He had
come there some years before and purchased the busi-
ness of the principal insurance agent, who was obliged
to remove to a milder climate on account of his health.
As is common in such cases the patrons of the old con-
cern continued their insurance with the new agent,
depending rather upon the solidity of his companies
than upon him. Being thus well established new busi-
ness came also and he continued to have by far the
largest line of insurance of any agent in the vicinity.

And yet there was something about the man that
caused the feeling which troubled Victor Hall to lodge
in the minds of many other people. When Mrs. Hall
gave her estate into his hands without bonds a murmur
of surprise swept through the community. Nobody else
would have thought of putting such faith in Richard
Morse. He did not seem the type of man usually se-
lected for that sort of confidence. If asked to give a
reason for this impression no other answer could be
obtained than a strong impression. But it was general,
practically universal, and Mr. Hall heard expressions
of sympathy from nearly every one who had any cause
or no cause to say anything about the matter.

While he remained at school Victor cared little and
thought less about the pecuniary status in which he
found himself. When he became of age, however, and
the importance of Mr. Morse's relation to him became
more evident, he grew uneasy and finally worked him-



l6 STRANGER THAN FICTION,

self up to the heat in which we have just found him,

He was usually a very quiet and courteous young man,
and no ordinary affair would have thrown him into

such a state of temper.

All this came back to Mr. Keith as he revolved the
question in his mind and tried to find some avenue of
escape from the disagreeable situation. He thought
of Mr. Morse in every aspect of his visible life. Thirty
years of age, of quiet dress and manner, so polite in
his intercourse with people that more than one used
the expression applied by Mr. Hall, and called him
"oily."

He walked through the world as if wearing a pair of
velvet slippers. Whatever may have reached his ears
of the hateful things said, no one could remember
hearing a word from him that implied criticism of
others. He was always to be found at his office during
the usual hours and everything connected with his
business was as shipshape as if a committee from the
various insurance companies was hourly expected, to
make a searching examination of his books.

Although he was not a member of any church and
never prated about religion, he was generally found on
Sunday at one of the houses of worship in town, tak-
ing whatever seat the usher assigned him and always
putting a substantial coin in the box when it was
passed his way.

Many of the business men of Stromberg drove fast
horses and some of them had other articles that might
also be trrmrd fast, dmwinrr upon their purses: not so,
as far as anybody knew, had Morse. Many took " fly-



STRANGER THAN FICTION. Vf

ers " in the stock market; never he. Some reeled
home occasionally late at night the worse for drink;
Mr. Morse was to all appearance a total abstainer,
though he never forced his prejudices in this respect or
any other upon people who differed from him.

The more Mr. Attorney Keith reflected upon these
things the more doubtful he became as to the outcome
of the interview he had promised unwillingly to have
with this man. There seemed absolutely no ground on
which to base a demand that Morse surrender his trust,
and men are not likely, as a rule, to give up an ap-
pointment of that kind merely because they are asked
to do so; the request would in itself be construed as a
reflection upon the trustee and if complied with would
place him in a bad position before the public.

All the same the lawyer did not in the least change
the opinion he had expressed to his young friend, that
Morse was not the type of person in whom one would
place implicit confidence. If he could find any excuse
to suggest that he resign he would be only too glad
to avail himself of it.

The result of long thought was to leave Mr. Keith
just about where he was when he began. He decidecf
to approach Morse in a friendly manner and trust to
luck. There would be nothing remarkable in a lawyer
who had represented two generations of the Hall fam-
ily asking, as the attorney of the surviving one, to be
shown the exact condition of the estate, and to be
given proofs that the property was as represented.
Keith could hardly expect this slow, subtle man to
furnish evidence on which to base anvthing: substan-



i8 STRANGER THAN FICTION. ,

tial, unless the worst that was feared had already hap-
pened.

The next day, therefore, without sending word of
his intended visit, which he thought unnecessary, Mr.
Keith entered Mr. Morse's office early in the morning
and was met by that gentleman with the impassive
face that all his acquaintances knew so well. The ex-
tended hand of the visitor was touched by his cold, un-
responsive fingers and then, a chair being offered and
accepted, Mr. Keith got down to business.



STRANGER THAN FICTION.



CHAPTER II.

''SHE WEARS A RING I GAVE HER/'

" I BELIEVE, Mr. Morse, you hold some property in
trust for a young friend of mine, Victor Hall."

Mr. Morse bowed with slow deliberation. If he had
any suspicion as to the move Mr. Keith contemplated
he gave no outward sign of it.

" Representing Mr. Hall, and being an old friend of
his father's before him, I would like to know exactly
how that property is at present invested."

Mr. Morse bowed again, in the same manner as be-
fore. Then, asking to be excused a moment, he went
to an inner office, where two clerks were at work, and
leaving the portal ajar, asked one of them to open the
safe. The clerk left his writing, applied himself to the
combination, and when he had finished returned to his
work. Mr. Morse put his hand immediately on a
brown paper parcel, neatly tied with blue tape, and re-
turned to Mr. Keith with it in his hand. The parcel
was of the shape in which legal documents are usually
filed, being something like ten inches long, three or
four inches wide, and an inch and a half in thickness.

" Everything is in this package," said Mr. Morse,
laying it on the table in front of the lawyer. " Ex-
amine it all you please, take whatever notes you desire



STRANGER THAN FICTION.

is stationery m the table drawer and toucK
that bell when you have finished. I shall be in the
next room writing some letters."

Surely nothing could seem more open and above-
board than this procedure and the lawyer reddened
slightly as he compared the action with the attitude he
was himself compelled to assume. He responded in as
pleasant a tone as possible that he was much obliged,
and proceeded to untie the tape, which was neatly se-
cured in a bow-knot. Drawing a sheet of paper from
the indicated receptacle, he took up a pen and dipped
it in the inkstand before him. Then he copied as his
first line the words he found on the outside of the
package, written in the neat and legible hand of Mr.
Morse, which he recognized without difficulty:

" Property of Victor Hall, held in trust by Richard A.
Morse } tinder the will of Martha Hall, deceased."

The parcel contained bonds of various railroads and
other corporations, all standing high in the confidence
of the public; what were, in short, known as " gilt-
edged " investments. If Mr. Keith had been asked
to name the safest securities for a trust estate he would
have mentioned most of these without hesitation.
When the list was copied in full he tied up the package
again as nearly as possible as before, and touched the
little hand-bell that stood on the table.

Mr. Morse's face exhibited neither pleasure nor dis-
satisfaction as he re-entered the lawyer's presence. It
was the same impassive countenance that everybody
in Stromberg knew so well.



STRANGER THAN FICTION. 21

" I am much obliged to you," said Mr. Keith, push-
ing the parcel toward him with a slight motion.
" Those are very solid securities, Mr. Morse. What
do they average annually? "

"About four per cent. I could secure a larger rate,
but safety of the principal is the first thing to be
thought of. All of them, I believe, have appreciated in
value since they were purchased, which will help to
offset the low income. I kept, of course, an account,
during Mr. Hall's minority, of the receipts, and of my
expenditures for him, which I gave him with the bal-
ance remaining^ on his twenty-first birthday. Since
then I have handed or sent him the net income quar-
terly."

It was something of a relief to the investigator to
have the trustee assume this impassive demeanor, but
he could not quite overcome the feeling that Morse
must know the suspicion which had prompted his
visit.

" I suppose you would be equally willing to show
these papers to Mr. Hall, if he should come with me
or by himself to see them?" he inquired, rising.

"At any time. If I am not in you can ask Mr.
Brown, my clerk, to open the safe for you. I will give
him instructions. As I do not think it wise for two
persons to have the combination of a safe, I always
have Mr. Brown open mine for me, and I will tell him
to do the same for you or Mr. Hall."

Such perfect fairness and confidence almost took the
lawyer's breath away. He was glad when the inter-
view was terminated. At his office he found Victor



22 STRANGER THAN FICTION.

awaiting him with impatience, and as soon as he could
recover his balance Mr. Keith related the particulars
just narrated.

" If he had been expecting to bring in his final
account and close up the trusteeship this morning, he
could not have had anything in more perfect order,"
he said, in closing.

" I wish he was expecting it," growled Mr. Hall, ap-
parently no more pleased than before. " I suppose
you are convinced now that all my apprehensions are
groundless? "

" No, Victor. Even in the face of that remarkably
clear exhibit I am just as doubtful of him as I was be-
fore. It may be I am wrong; I hope I am; but that's
the way I feel and, like you, I am unable to give any-
thing more than a strong impression for my fear."

"And you still think there's no remedy? "

" I am sorry to say I do."

The younger man muttered something beneath his
breath that, judging by the expression of his face, was
not of a pleasant nature.

" I'll tell you what I've decided on, then," he said,
when he could find utterance. " I'm going to leave
this part of the country and begin the task of making a
living for myself in some State where nobody ever saw
or heard of me. I've got a little something saved,
thank Goodness! and I can get along for awhile with-
out much other income. I'm a beggar, or shall be, and
I might as well look the thing straight in the eye."

Mr. Keith drummed with his fingers on his desk in
a way he had when absorbed in thought. He didn't



STRANGER THAN FICTION. 23

knew that he could conscientiously advise his young
friend against the course he had outlined. Sometimes
it was the best thing for a fellow to be thrown on his
own innate resources and learn to develop the best that
was in him without exterior aid. Victor had never
shown any inclination toward dissipation, so far as he
knew. He had a fairly good head on his shoulders
and had graduated from school with fair rank. He
thought of all these things as he inquired if Mr. Hall
had any definite destination in view.

" I'm going further west. Horace Greeley's advice
is still worth following. In a new country a man is
taken for what he is, not for what his ancestors were.
I can put my shoulder to the wheel and push without
being discouraged by whispers that I wasn't born for
hard work, and that if I had my rights I could start
out with a decent capital and do wonderful things.
And there's another reason, Keith, and it's more im-
portant than you think, too. I've been developing a
dangerous sentiment toward that villain across the
street. It's no joke to say that I've been on the point
of climbing his stairs and knocking the stuffing out
of him a dozen times, within the past month. Of
course I should get the worst of it, for I would be
breaking the law and might get inside a jail to pay for
my amusement; but when I think of the way he '

The young man broke off suddenly, his voice chok-
ing with suppressed rage. The lawyer felt no inclina-
tion to smile. He could see there was something in
the statement to which he had just listened.

" I believe you are going to do the best thing, Vic-



24 STKANGER THAK FICTION,.

tor," He answered, firmly. " Even if we've misjudged


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