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there were times when he failed to hear a word in whole sentences that
rolled from the lips of the actor. He was beginning to feel acutely
uneasy, when suddenly her figure issued from the woods at a point just
above the Tavern. Instead of striking out at once across the meadow,
she stopped and for as long as three or four minutes appeared to be
carrying on a conversation with some invisible person among the trees
she had just left behind. Then she waved her hand and turned her steps
homeward. A bent old man came out of the woods and stood watching her
progress across the open stretch. She had less than two hundred yards
to traverse between the woods and the fence opposite the Tavern. The
old man remained where he was until she reached the fence and prepared
to mount it. Then, as Barnes ran down from the porch and across the
road to assist her over the fence, he whirled about and disappeared.

"Aha," said Barnes chidingly: "politely escorted from the grounds, I
see. If you had asked me I could have told you that trespassers are not
welcome."

"He is a nice old man. I chatted with him for nearly an hour. His
business is to shoo gipsy moths away from the trees, or something like
that, and not to shoo nice, tender young ladies off the place."

"Does he speak English?"

"Not a word. He speaks nothing but the most awful American I've ever
heard. He has lived up there on the mountain for sixty-nine years, and
he has eleven grown children, nineteen grandchildren and one wife. I'm
hungry."

The coroner's inquest over the bodies of Roon and Paul was held that
afternoon at St. Elizabeth. Witnesses from Hart's Tavern were among
those to testify. The verdict was "Murder at the hands of parties
unknown."

Sprouse did not appear at the Tavern until long after nightfall. His
protracted absence was the source of grave uneasiness to Barnes, who,
having been summoned to St. Elizabeth, returned at six o'clock primed
and eager for the night's adventure.

The secret agent listened somewhat indifferently to the latter's
account of his telephonic experiences. At nine o'clock he yawned
prodigiously and announced that he was going to bed, much to the
disgust of Mr. Rushcroft and greatly to the surprise of Mr. Barnes, who
followed him from the tap-room and demanded an explanation.

"People usually go to bed at night, don't they?" said Sprouse
patiently. "It is expected, I believe."

"But, my dear man, we are to undertake - "

"There is no reason why we shouldn't go to bed like sensible beings,
Mr. Barnes, and get up again when we feel like it, is there? I have
some cause for believing that one of those chaps in there is from Green
Fancy. Go to bed at ten o'clock, my friend, and put out your light. I
don't insist on your taking off your clothes, however. I will rap on
your door at eleven o'clock. By the way, don't forget to stick your
revolver in your pocket."

A few minutes before eleven there came a gentle tapping on Barnes's
door. He sprang to his feet and opened it, presenting himself before
Sprouse fully dressed and, as the secret agent said later on, "fit to
kill."

They went quietly down a back stairway and let themselves out into the
stable-yard. A light, cold drizzle greeted them as they left the lee of
the building.

"A fine night for treason, stratagems and spoils," said Sprouse,
speaking barely above a whisper. "Follow me and don't ask questions.
You will have to talk if you do, and talking is barred for the present."

He stopped at the corner of the inn and listened for a moment. Then he
darted across the road and turned to the left in the ditch that
bordered it. The night was as black as pitch. Barnes, trusting to the
little man's eyes, and hanging close upon his coat-tails, followed
blindly but gallantly in the tracks of the leader. It seemed to him
that they stumbled along parallel to the road for miles before Sprouse
came to a halt.

"Climb over the fence here, and stick close to me. Are you getting your
cats'-eyes?"

"Yes, I can see pretty well now. But, great scot, why should we walk
half way to the North Pole, Sprouse, before - "

"We haven't come more than half a mile. The Curtis land ends here. We
stay close to this fence till we reach the woods. I was in here to-day
taking observations."

"You were?"

"Yes. Didn't that actress friend of yours mention meeting me?"

"No."

"I told her distinctly that I had eleven children, nineteen - "

"By Jove, was that you?" gasped Barnes, falling in beside him.

"If it were light enough you could see a sign on my back which says in
large type, 'Silence,'" said the other, and after that not a word
passed between them for half an hour or more. Then it was Sprouse who
spoke. "This is the short cut to Green Fancy," he whispered, laying his
hand on Barnes's arm. "We save four or five miles, coming this way. Do
you know where we are?"

"I haven't the remotest idea."

"About a quarter of a mile below Curtis's house. Are you all right?"

"Fine as a fiddle, except for a barked knee, a skinned elbow, a couple
of more or less busted ribs, something on my cheek that runs hot, - yes,
I'm all right."

"Pretty tough going," said Sprouse, sympathetically.

"I've banged into more trees than - "

"Sh!" After a moment of silence, intensified by the mournful squawk of
night-birds and the chorus of katydids, Sprouse whispered: "Did you
hear that?"

Barnes thrilled. This was real melodrama. "Hear what?" he whispered
shrilly.

"Listen!" After a second or two: "There!"

"It's a woodpecker hammering on the limb of a - "

"Woodpeckers don't hammer at midnight, my lad. Don't stir! Keep your
ears open."

"You bet they're open all right," whispered Barnes, his nerves aquiver.

Suddenly the sharp tattoo sounded so close to the spot where they were
standing that Barnes caught his breath and with difficulty suppressed
an exclamation. It was like the irregular rattle of sticks on the rim
of a snare-drum. The tapping ceased and a moment later a similar sound,
barely audible, came out of the distance.

Sprouse clutched his companion's arm and, dropping to his knees in the
thick underbrush, pulled the other down after him.

Presently heavy footsteps approached. An unseen pedestrian passed
within ten yards of them. They scarcely breathed until the sounds
passed entirely out of hearing. Sprouse put his lips close to Barnes's
ear.

"Telegraph," he whispered. "It's a system they have of reporting to
each other. There are two men patrolling the grounds near the house.
You see what we're up against, Barnes. Do you still want to go on with
it? If you are going to funk it, say so, and I'll go alone."

"I'll stay by you," replied Barnes sturdily.

"In about ten minutes that fellow will come back this way. He follows
the little path that winds down - but never mind. Stay where you are,
and don't make a sound, no matter what happens. Understand? No matter
what happens!" He arose and swiftly, noiselessly, stole away from his
companion's side. Barnes, his eyes accustomed to the night, either saw
or imagined that he saw, the shadowy hulk press forward for a dozen
paces and then apparently dissolve in black air.

Several minutes went by. There was not a sound save the restless patter
of rain in the tree tops. At last the faraway thud of footsteps came to
the ears of the tense listener. They drew nearer, louder, and once more
seemed to be approaching the very spot where he crouched. He had the
uncanny feeling that in a moment or two more the foot of the sentinel
would come in contact with his rigid body, and that he would not have
the power to suppress the yell of dismay that -

Then came the sound of a dull, heavy blow, a hoarse gasp, a momentary
commotion in the shrubbery, and - again silence. Barnes's blood ran
cold. He waited for the next footfall of the passing man. It never came.

A sharp whisper reached his ears. "Come here - quick!"

He floundered through the brush and almost fell prostrate over the
kneeling figure of a man.

"Take care! Lend a hand," whispered Sprouse.

Dropping to his knees, Barnes felt for and touched wet, coarse
garments, and gasped:

"My God! Have you - killed him?"

"Temporarily," said Sprouse, between his teeth. "Here, unwind the rope
I've got around my waist. Take the end - here. Got a knife? Cut off a
section about three feet long. I'll get the gag in his mouth while
you're doing it. Hangmen always carry their own ropes," he concluded,
with grewsome humour. "Got it cut? Well, cut two more sections, same
length."

With incredible swiftness the two of them bound the feet, knees and
arms of the inert victim.

"I came prepared," said Sprouse, so calmly that Barnes marvelled at the
iron nerve of the man.

"Thirty feet of hemp clothes-line for a belt, properly prepared
gags, - and a sound silencer."

"By heaven, Sprouse, I - I believe he's dead," groaned Barnes. "We - we
haven't any right to kill a - "

"He'll be as much alive but not as lively as a cricket in ten minutes,"
said the other. "Grab his heels. We'll chuck him over into the bushes
where he'll be out of harm's way. We may have to run like hell down
this path, partner, and I'd - I'd hate to step on his face."

"'Gad, you're a cold-blooded - "

"Don't be finicky," snapped Sprouse. "It wasn't much of a crack, and it
was necessary. There! You're safe for the time being," he grunted as
they laid the limp body down in the brush at the side of the narrow
trail. Straightening up, with a sigh of satisfaction, he laid his hand
on Barnes's shoulder. "We've just got to go through with it now,
Barnes. We'll never get another chance. Putting that fellow out of
business queers us forever afterward." He dropped to his knees and
began searching over the ground with his hands. "Here it is. You can't
see it, of course, so I'll tell you what it is. A nice little block of
sandal-wood. I've already got his nice little hammer, so we'll see what
we can raise in the way of wireless chit-chat."

Without the slightest hesitation, he struck a succession of quick,
confident blows upon the block of wood.

"He always signals at this spot going out and again coming in," he said
softly.

"How the deuce did you find out - "

"There! Hear that? He says, 'All's well,' - same as I said, or something
equivalent to it. I've been up here quite a bit, Barnes, making a study
of night-hawks, their habits and their language."

"By gad, you are a wonder!"

"Wait till to-morrow before you say that," replied Sprouse,
sententiously. "Come along now. Stick to the trail. We've got to land
the other one." For five or six minutes they moved forward. Barnes,
following instructions, trod heavily and without any attempt at
caution. His companion, on the other hand, moved with incredible
stealthiness. A listener would have said that but one man walked on
that lonely trail.

Turning sharply to the right, Sprouse guided his companion through the
brush for some distance, and once more came to a halt. Again he stole
on ahead, and, as before, the slow, confident, even careless progress
of a man ceased as abruptly as that of the comrade who lay helpless in
the thicket below.

"There are others, no doubt, but they patrol the outposts, so to
speak," panted Sprouse as they bound and trussed the second victim. "We
haven't much to fear from them. Come on. We are within a hundred feet
of the house. Softly now, or - "

Barnes laid a firm, detaining hand on the man's shoulder.

"See here, Sprouse," he whispered, "it's all very well for you,
knocking men over like this, but just what is your object? What does
all this lead up to? We can't go on forever slugging and binding these
fellows. There is a house full of them up there. What do we gain by
putting a few men out of business?"

Sprouse broke in, and there was not the slightest trace of emotion in
his whisper.

"Quite right. You ought to know. I suppose you thought I was bringing
you up here for a Romeo and Juliet tete-a-tete with the beautiful Miss
Cameron, - and for nothing else. Well, in a way, you are right. But,
first of all, my business is to recover the crown jewels and
parchments. I am going into that house and take them away from the man
you know as Loeb, - if he has them. If he hasn't them, my work here is a
failure."

"Going into the house?" gasped Barnes. "Why, my God, man, that is
impossible. You cannot get into the house, and if you did, you'd never
come out alive. You would be shot down as an ordinary burglar and - the
law would justify them for killing you. I must insist - "

"I am not asking you to go into the house, my friend. I shall go
alone," said Sprouse coolly.

"On the other hand, I came up here to rescue a helpless, - "

"Oh, we will attend to that also," said Sprouse. "The treasure comes
first, however. Has it not occurred to you that she will refuse to be
rescued unless the jewels can be brought away with her? She would die
before she would leave them behind. No, Barnes, I must get the booty
first, then the beauty."

"But you can do nothing without her advice and assistance," protested
Barnes.

"That is just why I brought you along with me. She does not know me.
She would not trust me. You are to introduce me."

"Well, by gad, you've got a nerve!"

"Keep cool! It's the only way. Now, listen. She has designated her room
and the windows that are hers. She is lying awake up there now, take it
from me, hoping that you will come to-night. Do you understand? If not
to-night, to-morrow night. I shall lead you directly to her window. And
then comes the only chance we take, - the only instance where we gamble.
There will not be a light in her window, but that won't make any
difference. This nobby cane I'm carrying is in reality a collapsible
fishing-rod. Bought it to-day in anticipation of some good fishing.
First, we use it to tap gently on her window ledge, or shade, or
whatever we find. Then, you pass up a little note to her. Here is paper
and pencil. Say that you are below her window and - all ready to take
her away. Say that the guards have been disposed of, and that the coast
is clear. Tell her to lower her valuables, some clothes, et cetera,
from the window by means of the rope we'll pass up on the pole. There
is a remote possibility that she may have the jewels in her room. For
certain reasons they may have permitted her to retain them. If such is
the case, our work is easy. If they have taken them away from her,
she'll say so, some way or another, - and she will not leave! Now, I've
had a good look at the front of that house. It is covered with a
lattice work and huge vines. I can shin up like a squirrel and go
through her room to the - "

"Are you crazy, Sprouse?"

"I am the sanest person you've ever met, Mr. Barnes. The chance we take
is that she may not be alone in the room. But, nothing risked, nothing
gained."

"You take your life in your hands and - "

"Don't worry about that, my lad."

" - and you also place Miss Cameron in even graver peril than - "

"See here," said Sprouse shortly, "I am not risking my life for the fun
of the thing. I am risking it for her, bear that in mind, - for her and
her people. And if I am killed, they won't even say 'Well-done, good
and faithful servant.' So, let's not argue the point. Are you going to
stand by me or - back out?"

Barnes was shamed. "I'll stand by you," he said, and they stole forward.

The utmost caution was observed in the approach to the house through
the thin, winding paths that Barnes remembered from an earlier visit.
They crept on all fours over the last fifty feet that intervened, and
each held a revolver in readiness for a surprise attack.

There were no lights visible. The house was even darker than the night
itself; it was vaguely outlined by a deeper shade of black. The ground
being wet, the carpet of dead leaves gave out no rustling sound as the
two men crept nearer and nearer to the top-heavy shadow that seemed
ready to lurch forward and swallow them whole.

At last they were within a few yards of the entrance and at the edge of
a small space that had been cleared of shrubbery. Here Sprouse stopped
and began to adjust the sections of his fishing-rod.

"Write," he whispered. "There is a faint glow of light up there to the
right. The third window, did you say? Well, that's about where I should
locate it. She has opened the window shutters. The light comes into the
room through the transom over the door, I would say. There is probably
a light in the hall outside."

A few minutes later, they crept across the open space and huddled
against the vine-covered facade of Green Fancy. Barnes was singularly
composed and free from nervousness, despite the fact that his whole
being tingled with excitement. What was to transpire within the next
few minutes? What was to be the end of this daring exploit? Was he to
see her, to touch her hand, to carry her off into that dungeon-like
forest, - and what was this new, exquisite thrill that ran through his
veins?

The tiny, metallic tip of the rod, held in the upstretched hand of
Barnes, much the taller of the two men, barely reached the window
ledge. He tapped gently, persistently on the hard surface. Obeying the
hand-pressure of his companion he desisted at intervals, resuming the
operation after a moment of waiting. Just as they were beginning to
think that she was asleep and that their efforts were in vain, their
straining eyes made out a shadowy object projecting slightly beyond the
sill. Barnes felt Sprouse's grip on his shoulder tighten, and the quick
intake of his breath was evidence of the little secret agent's relief.

After a moment or two of suspense, Barnes experienced a peculiar,
almost electric shock. Some one had seized the tip of the rod; it
stiffened suddenly, the vibrations due to its flexibility ceasing. He
felt a gentle tugging and wrenching; down the slender rod ran a
delicate shiver that seemed almost magnetic as it was communicated to
his hand. He knew what was happening. Some one was untying the bit of
paper he had fastened to the rod, and with fingers that shook and were
clumsy with eagerness.

The tension relaxed a moment later; the rod was free, and the shadowy
object was gone from the window above. She had withdrawn to the far
side of the room for the purpose of reading the message so marvellously
delivered out of the night. He fancied her mounting a chair so that she
could read by the dim light from the transom.

He had written: "I am outside with a trusted friend, ready to do your
bidding. Two of the guards are safely bound and out of the way. Now is
our chance. We will never have another. If you are prepared to come
with me now, write me a word or two and drop it to the ground. I will
pass up a rope to you and you may lower anything you wish to carry away
with you. But be exceedingly careful. Take time. Don't hurry a single
one of your movements." He signed it with a large B.

It seemed an hour before their eyes distinguished the shadowy head
above. As a matter of fact, but a few minutes had passed. During the
wait, Sprouse had noiselessly removed his coat, a proceeding that
puzzled Barnes. Something light fell to the ground. It was Sprouse who
stooped and searched for it in the grass. When he resumed an upright
posture, he put his lips close to Barnes's ear and whispered:

"I will put my coat over your head. Here is a little electric torch.
Don't flash it until I am sure the coat is arranged so that you can do
so without a gleam of light getting out from under." He pressed the
torch and a bit of closely folded paper in the other's hand, and
carefully draped the coat over his head. Barnes was once more filled
with admiration for the little man's amazing resourcefulness.

He read: "Thank God! I was afraid you would wait until to-morrow night.
Then it would have been too late. I must get away to-night but I cannot
leave - I dare not leave without something that is concealed in another
part of the house. I do not know how to secure it. My door is locked
from the outside. What am I to do? I would rather die than to go away
without it."

Barnes whispered in Sprouse's ear. The latter replied at once: "Write
her that I will climb up to her window, and, with God's help and her
directions, manage to find the thing she wants."

Barnes wrote as directed and passed the missive aloft. In a little
while a reply came down. Resorting to the previous expedient, he read:

"It is impossible. The study is under bolt and key and no one can
enter. I do not know what I am to do. I dare not stay here and I dare
not go. Leave me to my fate. Do not run any further risk. I cannot
allow you to endanger your life for me. I shall never forget you, and I
shall always be grateful. You are a noble gentleman and I a foolish,
stupid - oh, such a stupid! - girl."

That was enough for Barnes. It needed but that discouraging cry to
rouse his fighting spirit to a pitch that bordered on recklessness. His
courage took fire, and blazed up in one mighty flame. Nothing, - nothing
could stop him now.

Hastily he wrote: "If you do not come at once, we will force our way
into the house and fight it out with them all. My friend is coming up
the vines. Let him enter the window. Tell him where to go and he will
do the rest. He is a miracle man. Nothing is impossible to him. If he
does not return in ten minutes, I shall follow."

There was no response to this. The head reappeared in the window, but
no word came down.

Sprouse whispered: "I am going up. She will not commit you to anything.
We have to take the matter into our own hands. Stay here. If you hear a
commotion in the house, run for it. Don't wait for me. I'll probably be
done for."

"I'll do just as I damn please about running," said Barnes, and there
was a deep thrill in his whisper. "Good luck. God help you if they
catch you."

"Not even He could help me then. Good-bye. I'll do what I can to induce
her to drop out of the window if anything goes wrong with me down
stairs."

He searched among the leaves and found the thick vine. A moment later
he was silently scaling the wall of the house, feeling his way
carefully, testing every precarious foothold, dragging himself
painfully upwards by means of the most uncanny, animal-like strength
and stealth.

Barnes could not recall drawing a single breath from the instant the
man left his side until the faintly luminous square above his head was
obliterated by the black of his body as it wriggled over the ledge.

He was never to forget the almost interminable age that he spent,
flattened against the vines, waiting for a signal from aloft. He
recalled, with dire uneasiness, Miss Cameron's statement that a guard
was stationed beneath her window throughout the night. Evidently she
was mistaken. Sprouse would not have overlooked a peril like that, and
yet as he crouched there, scarcely breathing, he wondered how long it
would be before the missing guard returned to his post and he would be
compelled to fight for his life. The fine, cold rain fell gently about
him; moist tendrils and leaves caressed his face; owls hooted with
ghastly vehemence, as if determined to awaken all the sleepers for
miles around; and frogs chattered loudly in gleeful anticipation of the
frenzied dash he would have to make through the black maze.

We will follow Sprouse. When he crawled through the window and stood
erect inside the room, he found himself confronted by a tall, shadowy
figure, standing half way between him and the door.

He advanced a step or two and uttered a soft hiss of warning.

"Not a sound," he whispered, drawing still nearer. "I have come four
thousand miles to help you, Countess. This is not the time or place to
explain. We haven't a moment to waste. I need only say that I have been
sent from Paris by persons you know to aid you in delivering the crown
jewels into the custody of your country's minister in Paris. Nothing
more need be said now. We must act swiftly. Tell me where they are. I
will get them."

"Who are you?" she whispered tensely.

"My name is Theodore Sprouse. I have been loaned to your embassy by my
own government."

"How did you learn that I was here?"

"I beg of you do not ask questions now. Tell me where the Prince
sleeps, how I may get to his room - "

"You know that he is the Prince?"

"For a certainty. And that you are his cousin."

She laid her hand upon his arm. "And you know that he plans evil to - to
his people? That he is in sympathy with the - with the country that has
despoiled us?"

"Yes."

She was silent for a moment. "Not only is it impossible for you to
enter his room but it is equally impossible for you to get out of this


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Online LibraryGeorge Barr McCutcheonGreen Fancy → online text (page 12 of 20)