George Barr McCutcheon.

Green Fancy online

. (page 13 of 20)
Online LibraryGeorge Barr McCutcheonGreen Fancy → online text (page 13 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


one except by the way you entered. If I thought there was the slightest
chance for you to - "

"Let me be the judge of that, Countess. Where is his room?"

"The last to the right as you leave this door, - at the extreme end of
the corridor. There are four doors between mine and his. Across the
hall from his room you will see an open door. A man sits in there all
night long, keeping watch. You could not approach Prince Ugo's door
without being seen by that watcher."

"You said in your note to Barnes that the - er - something was in
Curtis's study."

"The Prince sleeps in Mr. Curtis's room. The study adjoins it, and can
only be entered from the bed-room. There is no other door. What are you
doing?"

"I am going to take a peep over the transom, first of all. If the coast
is clear, I shall take a little stroll down the hall. Do not be
alarmed. I will come back, - with the things we both want. Pardon me."
He sat down on the edge of the bed and removed his shoes. She watched
him as if fascinated while he opened the bosom of his soft shirt and
stuffed the wet shoes inside.

"How did you dispose of the man who watches below my window?" she
inquired, drawing near. "He has been there for the past three nights. I
missed him to-night."

"Wasn't he there earlier in the evening?" demanded Sprouse quickly.

"I have been in my room since eleven. He seldom comes on duty before
that hour."

"I had it figured out that he was one of the men we got down in the
woods. If I have miscalculated - well, poor Barnes may be in for a bad
time. We are quite safe up here for the time being. The fellow will
assume that Barnes is alone and that he comes to pay his respects to
you in a rather romantic manner."

"You must warn Mr. Barnes. He - "

"May I not leave that to you, Countess? I shall be very busy for the
next few minutes, and if you will - Be careful! A slip now would be
fatal. Don't be hasty." His whispering was sharp and imperative. It was
a command that he uttered, and she shrank back in surprise.

"Pray do not presume to address me in - "

"I crave your pardon, my lady," he murmured abjectly. "You are not
dressed for flight. May I suggest that while I am outside you slip on a
dark skirt and coat? You cannot go far in that dressing-gown. It would
be in shreds before you had gone a hundred feet through the brush. If I
do not return to this room inside of fifteen minutes, or if you hear
sounds of a struggle, crawl through the window and go down the vines.
Barnes will look out for you."

"You must not fail, Theodore Sprouse," she whispered. "I must regain
the jewels and the state papers. I cannot go without - "

"I shall do my best," he said simply. Silently he drew a chair to the
door, mounted it and, drawing himself up by his hands, poked his head
through the open transom. An instant later he was on the floor again.
She heard him inserting a key in the lock. Almost before she could
realise that it had actually happened, the door opened slowly,
cautiously, and his thin wiry figure slid through what seemed to her no
more than a crack. As softly the door was closed.

For a long time she stood, dazed and unbelieving, in the centre of the
room, staring at the door. She held her breath, listening for the shout
that was so sure to come - and the shot, perhaps! A prayer formed on her
lips and went voicelessly up to God.

Suddenly she roused herself from the stupefaction that held her, and
threw off the slinky peignoir. With feverish haste she snatched up
garments from the chair on which she had carefully placed them in
anticipation of the emergency that now presented itself. A blouse
(which she neglected to button), a short skirt of some dark material, a
jacket, and a pair of stout walking shoes (which she failed to lace),
completed the swift transformation. She felt the pockets of skirt and
jacket, assuring herself that her purse and her own personal jewelry
were where she had forehandedly placed them. As she glided to the
window, she jammed the pins into a small black hat of felt. Then she
peered over the ledge. She started back, stifling a cry with her hand.
A man's head had almost come in contact with her own as she leaned out.
A man's hand reached over and grasped the inner ledge of the casement,
and then a man's face was dimly revealed to her startled gaze.




CHAPTER XIV

A FLIGHT, A STONE-CUTTER'S SHED, AND A VOICE OUTSIDE


He saw her standing in the middle of the room, her clenched hands
pressed to her lips. At the angle from which he peered into the room,
her head was in line with the lighted transom.

His grip on the ledge was firm but his foothold on the lattice
precarious. He felt himself slipping. Exerting all of his strength he
drew himself upward, free of the vines that had begun to yield to his
weight.

An almost inaudible "Whew!" escaped his lips as he straddled the sill.
An instant later he was in the room.

"Why have you come up here?" She came swiftly to his side.

"Thank the Lord, I made it," he whispered, breathlessly. "I came up
because there was nowhere else to go. I thought I heard voices - a man
and a woman speaking. They seemed to be quite close to me. Don't be
alarmed, Miss Cameron. I am confident that I can - "

"And now that you are here, trapped as I am, what do you purpose to do?
You cannot escape. Go back before it is too late. Go - "

"Is Sprouse - where is he?"

"He is somewhere in the house. I have heard no sound. I was to wait
until he - Oh, Mr. Barnes, I - I am terrified. You will never know the - "

"Trust him," he said. "He is a marvel. We'll be safely out of here in a
little while, and then it will all look simple to you. You are ready to
go? Good! We will wait a few minutes and if he doesn't show up
we'll - Why, you are trembling like a leaf! Sit down, do! If he doesn't
return in a minute or two, I'll take a look about the house myself. I
don't intend to desert him. I know this floor pretty well, and the
lower one. The stairs are - "

"But the stairway is closed at the bottom by a solid steel curtain. It
is made to look like a panel in the wall. Mr. Curtis had it put in to
protect himself from burglars. You are not to venture outside this
room, Mr. Barnes. I forbid it. You - "

"How did Sprouse get out? You said your door was locked."

He sat down on the edge of the bed beside her. She was still trembling
violently. He took her hand in his and held it tightly.

"He had a key. I do not know where he obtained - "

"Skeleton key, such as burglars use. By Jove, what a wonderful burglar
he would make! Courage, Miss Cameron! He will be here soon. Then comes
the real adventure, - my part of it. I didn't come here to-night to get
any flashy old crown jewels. I came to take you out of - "

"You - you know about the crown jewels?" she murmured. Her body seemed
to stiffen.

"Very little. They are nothing to me."

"Then you know who I am?"

"No. You will tell me to-morrow."

"Yes, yes, - to-morrow," she whispered, and fell to shivering again.

For some time there was silence. Both were listening intently for
sounds in the hall; both were watching the door with unblinking eyes.
She leaned closer to whisper in his ear. Their shoulders touched. He
wondered if she experienced the same delightful thrill that ran through
his body. She told him of the man who watched across the hall from the
room supposed to be occupied by Loeb the secretary, and of Sprouse's
incomprehensible daring.

"Where is Mr. Curtis?" he asked.

Her breath fanned his cheek, her lips were close to his ear. "There is
no Mr. Curtis here. He died four months ago in Florida."

"I suspected as much." He did not press her for further revelations.
"Sprouse should be here by this time. It isn't likely that he has met
with a mishap. You would have heard the commotion. I must go out there
and see if he requires any - "

She clutched his arm frantically. "You shall do nothing of the kind.
You shall not - "

"Sh! What do you take me for, Miss Cameron? He may be sorely in need of
help. Do you think that I would leave him to God knows what sort of
fate? Not much! We undertook this job together and - "

"But he said positively that I was to go in case he did not return
in - in fifteen minutes," she begged. "He may have been cut off and was
compelled to escape from another - "

"Just the same, I've got to see what has become of - "

"No! No!" She arose with him, dragging at his arm. "Do not be
foolhardy. You are not skilled at - "

"There is only one way to stop me, Miss Cameron. If you will come with
me now - "

"But I must know whether he secured the - "

"Then let me go. I will find out whether he has succeeded. Stand over
there by the window, ready to go if I have to make a run for it."

He was rougher than he realised in wrenching his arm free. She uttered
a low moan and covered her face with her hands. Undeterred, he crossed
to the door. His hand was on the knob when a door slammed violently
somewhere in a distant part of the house.

A hoarse shout of alarm rang out, and then the rush of heavy feet over
thickly carpeted floors.

Barnes acted with lightning swiftness. He sprang to the open window,
half-carrying, half-dragging the girl with him.

"Now for it!" he whispered. "Not a second to lose. Climb upon my back,
quick, and hang on for dear life." He had scrambled through the window
and was lying flat across the sill. "Hurry! Don't be afraid. I am
strong enough to carry you if the vines do their part."

With surprising alacrity and sureness she crawled out beside him and
then over upon his broad back, clasping her arms around his neck.
Holding to the ledge with one hand he felt for and clutched the thick
vine with the other. Slowly he slid his body off of the sill and swung
free by one arm. An instant later he found the lattice with the other
hand and the hurried descent began. His only fear was that the vine
would not hold. If it broke loose they would drop fifteen feet or more
to the ground. A broken leg, an arm, or even worse, - But her hair was
brushing his ear and neck, her arms were about him, her heart beat
against his straining back, and - Why be a pessimist?

His feet touched the ground. In the twinkling of an eye he picked her
up in his arms and bolted across the little grass plot into the
shrubbery. She did not utter a sound. Her arms tightened, and now her
cheek was against his.

Presently he set her down. His breath was gone, his strength exhausted.

"Can you - manage to - walk a little way?" he gasped. "Give me your hand,
and follow as close to my heels as you can. Better that I should bump
into things than you."

Shouts were now heard, and shrill blasts on a police whistle split the
air.

Her breathing was like sobs, - short and choking, - but he knew she was
not crying. Apprehension, alarm, excitement, - anything but hysteria.
The fortitude of generations was hers; a hundred forebears had passed
courage down to her.

On they stumbled, blindly, recklessly. He spared her many an injury by
taking it himself. More than once she murmured sympathy when he crashed
into a tree or floundered over a log. The soft, long-drawn "o-ohs!"
that came to his ears were full of a music that made him impervious to
pain. They had the effect of martial music on him, as the drum and fife
exalts the faltering soldier in his march to death.

Utterly at sea, he was now guessing at the course they were taking.
Whether their frantic dash was leading them toward the Tavern, or
whether they were circling back to Green Fancy, he knew not. Panting,
he forged onward, his ears alert not only for the sound of pursuit but
for the shot that would end the career of the spectacular Sprouse.

At last she cried out, quaveringly:

"Oh, I - I can go no farther! Can't we - is it not safe to stop for a
moment? My breath is - "

"God bless you, yes," he exclaimed, and came to an abrupt stop. She
leaned heavily against him, gasping for breath. "I haven't the faintest
idea where we are, but we must be some distance from the house. We will
rest a few minutes and then take it easier, more cautiously. I am
sorry, but it was the only thing to do, rough as it was."

"I know, I understand. I am not complaining, Mr. Barnes. You will find
me ready and strong and - "

"Let me think. I must try to get my bearings. Good Lord, I wish Sprouse
were here. He has eyes like a cat. He can see in the dark. We are off
the path, that's sure."

"I hope he is safe. Do you think he escaped?"

"I am sure of it. Those whistles were sounding the alarm. There would
have been no object in blowing them unless he had succeeded in getting
out of the house. He may come this way. The chances are that your
flight has not been discovered. They are too busy with him to think of
you, - at least for the time being. Do you feel like going on? We must
beat them to the Tavern. They - "

"I am all right now," she said, and they were off again. Barnes now
picked his way carefully and with the greatest caution. If at times he
was urged to increased speed through comparatively open spaces it was
because he realised the peril that lay at the very end of their
journey: the likelihood of being cut off by the pursuers before he
could lodge her safely inside of the walls. He could only pray that he
was going in the right direction.

An hour, - but what seemed thrice as long, - passed and they had not come
to the edge of the forest. Her feet were beginning to drag; he could
tell that by the effort she made to keep up with him. From time to time
he paused to allow her to rest. Always she leaned heavily against him,
seldom speaking; when she did it was to assure him that she would be
all right in a moment or two. There was no sentimental motive behind
his action when he finally found it necessary to support her with an
encircling arm, nor was she loath to accept this tribute of strength.

"You are plucky," he once said to her.

"I am afraid I could not be so plucky if you were not so strong," she
sighed, and he loved the tired, whimsical little twist she put into her
reply. It revived the delightful memory of another day.

To his dismay they came abruptly upon a region abounding in huge rocks.
This was new territory to him. His heart sank.

"By Jove, I - I believe we are farther away from the road than when we
started. We must have been going up the slope instead of down."

"In any case, Mr. Barnes," she murmured, "we have found something to
sit down upon."

He chuckled. "If you can be as cheerful as all that, we sha'n't miss
the cushions," he said, and, for the first time, risked a flash of the
electric torch. The survey was brief. He led her forward a few paces to
a flat boulder, and there they seated themselves.

"I wonder where we are," she said.

"I give it up," he replied dismally. "There isn't much sense in
wandering over the whole confounded mountain, Miss Cameron, and not
getting anywhere. I am inclined to suspect that we are above Green
Fancy, but a long way off to the right of it. My bump of direction
tells me that we have been going to the right all of the time.
Admitting that to be the case, I am afraid to retrace our steps. The
Lord only knows what we might blunder into."

"I think the only sensible thing to do, Mr. Barnes, is to make
ourselves as snug and comfortable as we can and wait for the first
signs of daybreak."

He scowled, - and was glad that it was too dark for her to see his face.
He wondered if she fully appreciated what would happen to him if the
pursuers came upon him in this forbidding spot. He could almost picture
his own body lying there among the rocks and rotting, while she - well,
she would merely go back to Green Fancy.

"I fear you do not realise the extreme gravity of the situation."

"I do, but I also realise the folly of thrashing about in this brush
without in the least knowing where our steps are leading us. Besides, I
am so exhausted that I must be a burden to you. You cannot go on
supporting me - "

"We must get out of these woods," he broke in doggedly, "if I have to
carry you in my arms."

"I shall try to keep going," she said quickly. "Forgive me if I seemed
to falter a little. I - I - am ready to go on when you say the word."

"You poor girl! Hang it all, perhaps you are right and not I. Sit still
and I will reconnoitre a bit. If I can find a place where we can hide
among these rocks, we'll stay here till the sky begins to lighten.
Sit - "

"No! I shall not let you leave me for a second. Where you go, I go."
She struggled to her feet, suppressing a groan, and thrust a determined
arm through his.

"That's worth remembering," said he, and whether it was a muscular
necessity or an emotional exaction that caused his arm to tighten on
hers, none save he would ever know.

After a few minutes prowling among the rocks they came to the face of
what subsequently proved to be a sheer wall of stone. He flashed the
light, and, with an exclamation, started back. Not six feet ahead of
them the earth seemed to end; a yawning black gulf lay beyond.
Apparently they were on the very edge of a cliff.

"Good Lord, that was a close call," he gasped. He explained in a few
words and then, commanding her to stand perfectly still, dropped to the
ground and carefully felt his way forward. Again he flashed the light.
In an instant he understood. They were on the brink of a shallow
quarry, from which, no doubt, the stone used in building the
foundations at Green Fancy had been taken.

Lying there, he made swift calculations. There would be a road leading
from this pit up to the house itself. The quarry, no longer of use to
the builder, was reasonably sure to be abandoned. In all probability
some sort of a stone-cutter's shed would be found nearby. It would
provide shelter from the fine rain that was falling and from the chill
night air. He remembered that O'Dowd, in discussing the erection of
Green Fancy the night before, had said that the stone came from a pit
two miles away, where a fine quality of granite had been found. The
quarry belonged to Mr. Curtis, who had refused to consider any offer
from would-be purchasers. Two miles, according to Barnes's quick
calculations, would bring the pit close to the northern boundary of the
Curtis property and almost directly on a line with the point where he
and Sprouse entered the meadow at the beginning of their advance upon
Green Fancy. That being the case, they were now quite close to the
stake and rider fence separating the Curtis land from that of the
farmer on the north. Sprouse and Barnes had hugged this fence during
their progress across the meadow.

"Good," he said, more to himself than to her. "I begin to see light."

"Oh, dear! Is there some one down in that hole, Mr. - "

"Are you afraid to remain here while I go down there for a look around?
I sha'n't be gone more than a couple of minutes."

"The way I feel at present," she said, jerkily, "I shall never, never
from this instant till the hour in which I die, let go of your
coat-tails, Mr. Barnes." Suiting the action to the word, her fingers
resolutely fastened, not upon the tail of his coat but upon his sturdy
arm. "I wouldn't stay here alone for anything in the world."

"Heaven bless you," he exclaimed, suddenly exalted. "And, since you put
it that way, I shall always contrive to be within arm's length."

And so, together, they ventured along the edge of the pit until they
reached the wagon road at the bottom. As he had expected, there was a
ramshackle shed hard by. It was not much of a place, but it was
deserted and a safe shelter for the moment.

A workman's bench lay on its side in the middle of the earthen floor.
He righted it and drew it over to the boarding.... She laid her head
against his shoulder and sighed deeply.... He kept his eyes glued on
the door and listened for the first ominous sound outside. A long time
afterward she stirred.

"Don't move," he said softly. "Go to sleep again if you can. I will - "

"Sleep? I haven't been asleep. I've been thinking all the time, Mr.
Barnes. I've been wondering how I can ever repay you for all the pain,
and trouble, and - "

"I am paid in full up to date," he said. "I take my pay as I go and am
satisfied." He did not give her time to puzzle it out, but went on
hurriedly: "You were so still I thought you were asleep."

"As if I could go to sleep with so many things to keep me awake!" She
shivered.

"Are you cold? You are wet - "

"It was the excitement, the nervousness, Mr. Barnes," she said, drawing
slightly away from him. He reconsidered the disposition of his arm.
"Isn't it nearly daybreak?"

He looked at his watch. "Three o'clock," he said, and turned the light
upon her face. "God, you are - " He checked the riotous words that were
driven to his lips by the glimpse of her lovely face. "I-I beg your
pardon!"

"For what?" she asked, after a moment.

"For - for blinding you with the light," he floundered.

"Oh, I can forgive you for that," she said composedly.

There ensued another period of silence. She remained slightly aloof.

"You'd better lean against me," he said at last. "I am softer than the
beastly boards, you know, and quite as harmless."

"Thank you," she said, and promptly settled herself against his
shoulder. "It IS better," she sighed.

"Would you mind telling me something about yourself, Miss Cameron? What
is the true story of the crown jewels?"

She did not reply at once. When she spoke it was to ask a question of
him.

"Do you know who he really is, - I mean the man known to you as Mr.
Loeb?"

"Not positively. I am led to believe that he is indirectly in line to
succeed to the throne of your country."

"Tell me something about Sprouse. How did you meet him and what induced
him to take you into his confidence? It is not the usual way with
government agents."

He told her the story of his encounter and connection with the secret
agent, and part but not all of the man's revelations concerning herself
and the crown jewels.

"I knew that you were not a native American," he said. "I arrived at
that conclusion after our meeting at the cross-roads. When O'Dowd said
you were from New Orleans, I decided that you belonged to one of the
French or Spanish families there. Either that or you were a fairy
princess such as one reads about in books."

"And you now believe that I am a royal - or at the very worst - a noble
lady with designs on the crown?" There was a faint ripple in her low
voice.

"I should like to know whether I am to address you as Princess,
Duchess, or - just plain Miss."

"I am more accustomed to plain Miss, Mr. Barnes, than to either of the
titles you would give me."

"Don't you feel that I am deserving of a little enlightenment?" he
asked. "I am working literally as well as figuratively in the dark. Who
are you? Why were you a prisoner at Green Fancy? Where and what is your
native land?"

"Sprouse did not tell you any of these things?"

"No. I think he was in some doubt himself. I don't blame him for
holding back until he was certain."

"Mr. Barnes, I cannot answer any one of your questions without
jeopardising a cause that is dearer to me than anything else in all the
world. I am sorry. I pray God a day may soon come when I can reveal
everything to you - and to the world. I am of a stricken country; I am
trying to serve the unhappy house that has ruled it for centuries and
is now in the direst peril. The man you know as Loeb is a prince of
that house. I may say this to you, and it will serve to explain my
position at Green Fancy: he is not the Prince I was led to believe
awaited me there. He is the cousin of the man I expected to meet, and
he is the enemy of the branch of the house that I would serve. Do not
ask me to say more. Trust me as I am trusting you, - as Sprouse trusted
you."

"May I ask the cause of O'Dowd's apparent defection?"

"He is not in sympathy with all of the plans advanced by his leader,"
she said, after a moment's reflection.

"Your sympathies are with the Entente Allies, the prince's are opposed?
Is that part of Sprouse's story true?"

"Yes."

"And O'Dowd?"

"O'Dowd is anti-English, Mr. Barnes, if that conveys anything to you.
He is not pro-German. Perhaps you will understand."

"Wasn't it pretty risky for you to carry the crown jewels around in a
travelling bag, Miss Cameron?"

"I suppose so. It turned out, however, that it was the safest, surest
way. I had them in my possession for three days before coming to Green
Fancy. No one suspected. They were given into my custody by the
committee to whom they were delivered in New York by the men who
brought them to this country."


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryGeorge Barr McCutcheonGreen Fancy → online text (page 13 of 20)