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with Sally Perkins doin' the cookin' and her daughter waitin' table,
but 'tain't that way no more. Got to have a man cook an' men
waitresses, an' a butteler. An' it goes ag'in the grain to set down to
a meal with them hayseeds from Italy. You never saw sich table manners."

He rambled on for some minutes, expanding under the soulful influence
of his own woes and the pleasure of having a visible auditor instead of
the make-believe ones he conjured out of the air at times when privacy
afforded him the opportunity to lament aloud.

At any other time Barnes would have been bored by such confidences as
these. Now he was eagerly drinking in every word that Peter uttered.
His lively brain was putting the whole situation into a nutshell.
Assuming that Peter was not the most guileful person on earth, it was
quite obvious that he not only was in ignorance of the true state of
affairs at Green Fancy but that he was to be banished from the place
while still in that condition.

Long before they came to the turnpike, Barnes had reduced his hundred
and one suppositions to the following concrete conclusion: Green Fancy
was no longer in the hands of its original owner for the good and
sufficient reason that Mr. Curtis was dead. The real master of the
house was the man known as Loeb. Through O'Dowd he had leased the
property from the widowed daughter-in-law, and had established himself
there, surrounded by trustworthy henchmen, for the purpose of carrying
out some dark and sinister project.

Putting two and two together, it was easy to determine how and when
O'Dowd decided to cast his fortunes with those of the leader in this
mysterious enterprise. Their intimacy undoubtedly grew out of
association at the time of the Balkan Wars. O'Dowd was a soldier of
fortune. He saw vast opportunities in the scheme proposed by Loeb, and
fell in with it, whether through a mistaken idea as to its real
character or an active desire to profit nefariously time only would
tell. Green Fancy afforded an excellent base for operations. O'Dowd
induced his sister to lease the property to Loeb, - or he may even have
taken it himself. He had visited Mr. Curtis on at least two occasions.
He knew the place and its advantages. The woman known as Mrs. Collier
was not the sister of Curtis. She - but here Barnes put a check upon his
speculations. He appealed to Peter once more.

"I suppose Mrs. Collier has spent a great deal of time up here with her
brother."

"First time she was ever here, so far as I know," said Peter, and
Barnes promptly took up his weaving once more.

With one exception, he decided, the entire company at Green Fancy was
involved in the conspiracy. The exception was Miss Cameron. It was
quite clear to him that she had been misled or betrayed into her
present position; that a trap had been set for her and she had walked
into it blindly, trustingly. This would seem to establish, beyond
question, that her capture and detention was vital to the interests of
the plotters; otherwise she would not have been lured to Green Fancy
under the impression that she was to find herself among friends and
supporters. Supporters! That word started a new train of thought. He
could hardly wait for the story that was to fall from her lips.

Peter swerved into the main-road. "Guess I c'n hit her up a little
now," he said.

"Take it slowly, if you please," said Barnes. "I've had one experience
in this car, going a mile a minute, and I didn't enjoy it."

"You never been in this car before," corrected Peter.

"Is it news to you? Day before yesterday I was picked up at this very
corner and taken to Hart's Tavern in this car. The day Miss Cameron
arrived and the car failed to meet her at Spanish Falls."

"You must be dreamin'," said Peter slowly.

"If you should have the opportunity, Peter, just ask Miss Cameron,"
said the other. "She will tell you that I'm right."

"Is she the strange young lady that come a day er so ago?"

"The extremely pretty one," explained Barnes.

Peter lapsed into silence. It was evident that he considered it
impossible to continue the discussion without offending his passenger.

"By the way, Peter, it has just occurred to me that I may be able to
give you a job in case you are let out by Mr. Curtis. I can't say
definitely until I have communicated with my sister, who has a summer
home in the Berkshires. Don't mention it to Mr. Curtis. I wouldn't, for
anything in the world, have him think that I was trying to take you
away from him. That is regarded as one of the lowest tricks a man can
be guilty of."

"We call it ornery up here," said Peter. "I'll be much obliged, sir.
Course I won't say a word. Will I find you at the Tavern if I get my
walkin' papers soon?"

"Yes. Stop in to see me to-morrow if you happen to be passing."

There was additional food for reflection in the fact that Peter was
allowed to conduct him to the Tavern alone. It was evident that not
only was the garrulous native ignorant of the real conditions at Green
Fancy, but that the opportunity was deliberately afforded him to
proclaim his private grievances to the world. After all, mused Barnes,
it wasn't a bad bit of diplomacy at that!

Barnes said good night to the man and entered the Tavern a few minutes
later. Putnam Jones was behind the desk and facing him was the little
book-agent.

"Hello, stranger," greeted the landlord. "Been sashaying in society,
hey? Meet my friend Mr. Sprouse, Mr. Barnes. Sic-em, Sprouse! Give him
the Dickens!" Mr. Jones laughed loudly at his own jest.

Sprouse shook hands with his victim.

"I was just saying to our friend Jones here, Mr. Barnes, that you look
like a more than ordinarily intelligent man and that if I had a chance
to buzz with you for a quarter of an hour I could present a
proposition - -"

"Sorry, Mr. Sprouse, but it is half-past eleven o'clock, and I am
dog-tired. You will have to excuse me."

"To-morrow morning will suit me," said Sprouse cheerfully, "if it suits
you."




CHAPTER XI

MR. SPROUSE ABANDONS LITERATURE AT AN EARLY HOUR IN THE MORNING


After thrashing about in his bed for seven sleepless hours, Barnes
arose and gloomily breakfasted alone. He was not discouraged over his
failure to arrive at anything tangible in the shape of a plan of
action. It was inconceivable that he should not be able in very short
order to bring about the release of the fair guest of Green Fancy. He
realised that the conspiracy in which she appeared to be a vital link
was far-reaching and undoubtedly pernicious in character. There was not
the slightest doubt in his mind that international affairs of
considerable importance were involved and that the agents operating at
Green Fancy were under definite orders.

Mr. Sprouse came into the dining-room as he was taking his last swallow
of coffee.

"Ah, good morning," was the bland little man's greeting. "Up with the
lark, I see. It is almost a nocturnal habit with me. I get up so early
that you might say it's a nightly proceeding. I'm surprised to see you
circulating at seven o'clock, however. Mind if I sit down here and have
my eggs?" He pulled out a chair opposite Barnes and coolly sat down at
the table.

"You can't sell me a set of Dickens at this hour of the day," said
Barnes sourly. "Besides, I've finished my breakfast. Keep your seat."
He started to rise.

"Sit down," said Sprouse quietly. Something in the man's voice and
manner struck Barnes as oddly compelling. He hesitated a second and
then resumed his seat. "I've been investigating you, Mr. Barnes," said
the little man, unsmilingly. "Don't get sore. It may gratify you to
know that I am satisfied you are all right."

"What do you mean, Mr. - Mr. - ?" began Barnes, angrily.

"Sprouse. There are a lot of things that you don't know, and one of
them is that I don't sell books for a living. It's something of a side
line with me." He leaned forward. "I shall be quite frank with you,
sir. I am a secret service man. Yesterday I went through your effects
upstairs, and last night I took the liberty of spying upon you, so to
speak, while you were a guest at Green Fancy."

"The deuce you say!" cried Barnes, staring.

"We will get right down to tacks," said Sprouse. "My government, - which
isn't yours, by the way, - sent me up here five weeks ago on a certain
undertaking. I am supposed to find out what is hatching up at Green
Fancy. Having satisfied myself that you are not connected with the gang
up there, I cheerfully place myself in your hands, Mr. Barnes. Just a
moment, please. Bring me my usual breakfast, Miss Tilly." The waitress
having vanished in the direction of the kitchen, he resumed. "You were
at Green Fancy last night. So was I. You had an advantage over me,
however, for you were on the inside and I was not."

"Confound your impudence! I - "

"One of my purposes in revealing myself to you, Mr. Barnes, is to warn
you to steer clear of that crowd. You may find yourself in exceedingly
hot water later on if you don't. Another purpose, and the real one, is
to secure, if possible, your co-operation in beating the game up there.
You can help me, and in helping me you may be instrumental in righting
one of the gravest wrongs the world has ever known. Of course, I am
advising you in one breath to avoid the crowd up there and in the next
I ask you to do nothing of the kind. If you can get into the good
graces of - But there is no use counting on that. They are too clever.
There is too much at stake. You might go there for weeks and - "

"See here, Mr. Sprouse or whatever your name is, what do you take me
for?" demanded Barnes, assuming an injured air. "You have the most
monumental nerve in - "

"Save your breath, Mr. Barnes. We may just as well get together on this
thing first as last. I've told you what I am, - and almost who, - and I
know who and what you are. You don't suppose for an instant that I,
with a record for having made fewer blunders than any man in the
service, could afford to take a chance with you unless I was absolutely
sure of my ground, do you? You ask me what I take you for. Well, I take
you for a meddler who, if given a free rein, may upset the whole pot of
beans and work an irreparable injury to an honest cause."

"A meddler, am I? Good morning, Mr. Sprouts. I fancy - "

"Sprouse. But the name doesn't matter. Keep your seat. You may learn
something that will be of untold value to you. I used the word meddler
in a professional sense. You are inexperienced. You would behave like a
bull in a china shop. I've been working for nearly six months on a job
that you think you can clear up in a couple of days. Fools walk in
where angels fear to tread. You - "

"Will you be good enough, Mr. Sprouse, to tell me just what you are
trying to get at? Come to the point. I know nothing whatever against
Mr. Curtis and his friends. You assume a great deal - "

"Excuse me, Mr. Barnes. I'll admit that you don't know anything against
them, but you suspect a whole lot. To begin with, you suspect that two
men were shot to death because they were in wrong with some one at
Green Fancy. Now, I could tell you who those two men really were and
why they were shot. But I sha'n't do anything of the sort, - at least
not at present. I - "

"You may have to tell all this to the State if I choose to go to the
authorities with the statement you have just made."

"I expect, at the proper time, to tell it all to the State. Are you
willing to listen to what I have to say, or are you going to stay on
your high-horse and tell me to go to the devil? You interest yourself
in this affair for the sake of a little pleasurable excitement. I am in
it, not for fun, but because I am employed by a great Power to risk my
life whenever it is necessary. This happens to be one of the times when
it is vitally necessary. This is not child's play or school-boy romance
with me. It is business."

Barnes was impressed. "Perhaps you will condescend to tell me who you
are, Mr. Sprouse. I am very much in the dark."

"I am a special agent, - but not a spy, sir, - of a government that is
friendly to yours. I am known in Washington. My credentials are not to
be questioned. At present it would be unwise for me to reveal the name
of my government. I dare say if I can afford to trust you, Mr. Barnes,
you can afford to trust me. There is too much at stake for me to take
the slightest chance with any man. I am ready to chance you, sir, if
you will do the same by me."

"Well," began Barnes deliberately, "I guess you will have to take a
chance with me, Mr. Sprouse, for I refuse to commit myself until I know
exactly what you are up to."

Sprouse had a pleasant word or two for Miss Tilly as she placed the
bacon and eggs before him and poured his coffee.

"Skip along now, Miss Tilly," he said. "I'm going to sell Mr. Barnes a
whole library if I can keep him awake long enough."

"I can heartily recommend the Dickens and Scott - " began Miss Tilly,
but Sprouse waved her away.

"In the first place, Mr. Barnes," said he, salting his eggs, "you have
been thinking that I was sent down from Green Fancy to spy on you.
Isn't that so?"

"I am answering no questions, Mr. Sprouse."

"You were wrong," said Sprouse, as if Barnes had answered in the
affirmative. "I am working on my own. You may have observed that I did
not accompany the sheriff's posse to-day. I was up in Hornville getting
the final word from New York that you were on the level. You have a
document from the police, I hear, but I hadn't seen it. Time is
precious. I telephoned to New York. Eleven dollars and sixty cents. You
were under suspicion until I hung up the receiver, I may say."

"Jones has been talking to you," said Barnes. "But you said a moment
ago that you were up at Green Fancy last night. Not by invitation, I
take it."

"I invited myself," said Sprouse succinctly. "Are you inclined to
favour my proposition?"

"You haven't made one."

"By suggestion, Mr. Barnes. It is quite impossible for me to get inside
that house. You appear to have the entree. You are working in the dark,
guessing at everything. I am guessing at nothing. By combining forces
we should bring this thing to a head, and - "

"Just a moment. You expect me to abuse the hospitality of - "

"I shall have to speak plainly, I see." He leaned forward, fixing
Barnes with a pair of steady, earnest eyes. "Six months ago a certain
royal house in Europe was despoiled of its jewels, its privy seal, its
most precious state documents and its charter. They have been traced to
the United States. I am here to recover them. That is the foundation of
my story, Mr. Barnes. Shall I go on?"

"Can you not start at the beginning, Mr. Sprouse? What was it that led
up to this amazing theft?"

"Without divulging the name of the house, I will say that its
sympathies have been from the outset friendly to the Entente
Allies, - especially with France. There are two branches of the ruling
family, one in power, the other practically in exile. The state is a
small one, but its integrity is of the highest. Its sons and daughters
have married into the royal families of nearly all of the great nations
of the continent. The present - or I should say - the late ruler, for he
died on a field of battle not many months ago, had no direct heir. He
was young and unmarried. I am not permitted to state with what army he
was fighting, nor on which front he was killed. It is only necessary to
say that his little state was gobbled up by the Teutonic Allies. The
branch of the family mentioned as being in exile lent its support to
the cause of Germany, not for moral reasons but in the hope and with
the understanding, I am to believe, that the crown-lands would be the
reward. The direct heir to the crown is a cousin of the late prince. He
is now a prisoner of war in Austria. Other members of the family are
held by the Bulgarians as prisoners of war. It is not stretching the
imagination very far to picture them as already dead and out of the
way. At the close of the war, if Germany is victorious, the crown will
be placed upon the head of the pretender branch. Are you following me?"

"Yes," said Barnes, his nerves tingling. He was beginning to see a
great light.

"Almost under the noses of the forces left by the Teutonic Allies to
hold the invaded territory, the crown-jewels, charter and so forth,
heretofore mentioned as they say in legal parlance, were
surreptitiously removed from the palace and spirited away by persons
loyal to the ruling branch of the family. As I have stated, I am
engaged in the effort to recover them."

"It requires but little intelligence on my part to reach the conclusion
that you are employed by either the German or Austrian government, Mr.
Sprouse. You are working in the interests of the usurping branch of the
family."

"Wrong again, Mr. Barnes, - but naturally. I am in the service of a
country violently opposed to the German cause. My country's interest in
the case is - well, you might say benevolent. The missing property
belongs to the State from which it was taken. It represents a great
deal in the shape of treasure, to say nothing of its importance along
other lines. To restore the legitimate branch of the family to power
after the war, the Entente Allies must be in possession of the papers
and crown-rights that these misguided enthusiasts made away with. Of
course, it would be possible to do it without considering the demands
of the opposing claimants, arbitrarily kicking them out, but that isn't
the way my government does business. The persons who removed this
treasure from the state vaults believed that they were acting for the
best interests of their superiors. In a sense, they were. The only
fault we have to find with them is that they failed to do the sensible
thing by delivering their booty into the hands of one of the
governments friendly to their cause. Instead of doing so, they
succeeded in crossing the ocean, conscientiously believing that America
was the safest place to keep the treasure pending developments on the
other side.

"Now we come to the present situation. Some months ago a member of the
aforesaid royal house arrived in this country by way of Japan. He is a
distant cousin of the crown and, in a way, remotely looked upon as the
heir-apparent. Later on he sequestered himself in Canada. Our agents in
Europe learned but recently that while he pretends to be loyal to the
ruling house, he is actually scheming against it. I have been ordered
to run him to earth, for there is every reason to believe that the men
who secured the treasure have been duped into regarding him as an
avowed champion of the crown. We believe that if we find this man we
will, sooner or later, be able to put our hands on the missing
treasure. I have never seen the man, nor a portrait of him. A fairly
adequate description has been sent to me, however. Now, Mr. Barnes,
without telling you how I have arrived at the conclusion, I am prepared
to state that I believe this man to be at Green Fancy, and that in time
the loot, - to use a harsh word, - will be delivered to him there. I am
here to get it, one way or another, when that comes to pass."

Barnes had not taken his eyes from the face of the little man during
this recital. He was rapidly changing his opinion of Sprouse. There was
sincerity in the voice and eyes of the secret agent.

"What led you to suspect that he is at Green Fancy, Mr. Sprouse?"

"History. It is known that this Mr. Curtis has spent a great deal of
time in the country alluded to. As a matter of fact, his son, who lived
in London, had rather extensive business interests there. This son was
killed in the Balkan War several years ago. It is said that the man I
am looking for was a friend of young Curtis, who married a Miss O'Dowd
in London, - the Honourable Miss O'Dowd, daughter of an Irish peer, and
sister of the chap you have met at Green Fancy. The elder Curtis was a
close and intimate friend of more than one member of the royal family.
Indeed, he is known to have been a welcome visitor in the home of a
prominent nobleman, once high in the counsels of State. This man O'Dowd
is also a friend of the man I am looking for. He went through the
Balkan War with him. After that war, O'Dowd drifted to China, hoping no
doubt to take a hand in the revolution. He is that sort. Some months
ago he came to the United States. I forgot to mention that he has long
considered this country his home, although born in Ireland. About six
weeks ago a former equerry in the royal household arrived in New York.
Through him I learned that the daughter of the gentleman in whose house
the senior Mr. Curtis was a frequent guest had been in the United
States since some time prior to the beginning of the war. She was
visiting friends in the States and has been unable to return to her own
land, for reasons that must be obvious. I may as well confess that her
father was, by marriage, an uncle of the late ruler.

"Since the invasion and overthrow of her country by the Teutonic
Allies, she has been endeavouring to raise money here for the purpose
of equipping and supporting the remnants of the small army that fought
so valiantly in defence of the crown. These men, a few thousand only,
are at present interned in a neutral country. I leave you to guess what
will happen if she succeeds in supplying them with arms and ammunition.
Her work is being carried on with the greatest secrecy. Word of it came
to the ears of her country's minister in Paris, however, and he at once
jumped to a quick but very natural conclusion. She has been looked upon
in court circles as the prospective bride of the adventurous cousin I
am hunting for. The embassy has conceived the notion that she may know
a great deal about the present whereabouts of the missing treasure. No
one accuses her of duplicity, however. On the other hand, the man in
the case is known to have pro-German sympathies. She may be loyal to
the crown, but there is a decided doubt as to his loyalty. Of course,
we have no means of knowing to what extent she has confided her plans
to him. We do not even know that she is aware of his presence in this
country. To bring the story to a close, I was instructed to keep close
watch on the man O'Dowd. The ex-attache of the court to whom I referred
a moment ago set out to find the young lady in question. I traced
O'Dowd to this place. I was on the point of reporting to my superiors
that he was in no way associated with the much-sought-after
crown-cousin, and that Green Fancy was as free from taint as the
village chapel, when out of a clear sky and almost under my very nose
two men were mysteriously done away with at the very gates of the
place. In fact, so positive was I that O'Dowd was all right, that I had
started for Washington to send my report back home and wait for
instructions. The killing of those two men changed the aspect
completely. You will certainly agree with me after I have explained to
you that the one known as Andrew Roon was no other than the equerry who
had undertaken to find the - young woman."

"By Jove!" exclaimed Barnes.

"He came up here because he had reason to believe that the - er - girl
was either at Green Fancy or was headed this way. I was back here in
thirty-six hours, selling Dickens. I saw the bodies of the two men at
the county-seat, and recognised both of them, despite the fact that
they had cut off their beards. Now, they could not have been
recognised, Mr. Barnes, except by some one who had known them all his
life. And that is why I am positive that the man I am looking for is up
at Green Fancy."

Barnes drew a long breath. His mind was made up. He had decided to pool
issues with the secret agent, but not until he was convinced that the
result of their co-operation would in no way inflict a hardship upon
the young woman who had appealed to him for help. He was certain that
she was the fair propagandist described by Sprouse.

"Is it your intention to lodge him in jail if you succeed in capturing
your man, Mr. Sprouse, and to apply for extradition papers?" he asked.

"I can't land him in jail unless I can prove that he has the stolen
goods, can I?"

"You could implicate him in the general conspiracy."

"That is for others to say, sir. I am only instructed to recover the
treasure."

"And the young woman, what of her? She would, in any case, be held for
examination and - "

"My dear sir, I may as well tell you now that she is a loyal subject
and, far from being in bad grace at court, is an object of extreme
solicitude to the ambassador. Up to two months ago she was in touch
with him. From what I can gather, she has disappeared completely. Roon


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