George Barr McCutcheon.

Green Fancy online

. (page 15 of 20)
Online LibraryGeorge Barr McCutcheonGreen Fancy → online text (page 15 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


for me there. What I'm after now is to get him on the train at
Hornville. I'll be here again at four o'clock, on me word of honour.
Trust me, Barnes. When I explain to her, she'll agree that I'm doing
the right thing. Bedad, the whole bally game is busted. Another week
and we'd have - but, there ye are! It's all up in the air, thanks to you
and your will-o'-the-wisp rascals. You played the deuce with
everything."

"Do you mean to say that you are coming back here to run the risk of
being - "

"We've had word that the government has men on the way. They'll be here
to-night or to-morrow, working in cahoots with the fellows across the
border. Why, damn it all, Barnes, don't you know who it was that
engineered that whole business last night?" He blurted it out angrily,
casting off all reserve.

Barnes smiled. "I do. He is a secret agent from the embassy - "

"Secret granny!" almost shouted O'Dowd. "He is the slickest, cleverest
crook that ever drew the breath of life. And he's got away with the
jewels, for which you can whistle in vain, I'm thinking."

"For Heaven's sake, O'Dowd - " began Barnes, his blood like ice in his
veins.

"But don't take my word for it. Ask her, - upstairs there, God bless
her! - ask her if she knows Chester Naismith. She'll tell ye, my bucko.
He's been standing guard outside her window for the past three nights.
He's - "

"Now, I know you are mistaken," cried Barnes, a wave of relief surging
over him. "He has been in this Tavern every night - "

"Sure he has. But he never was here after eleven o'clock, was he?
Answer me, did ye ever see him here after eleven in the evening? You
did not, - not until last night, anyhow. In the struggle he had with
Nicholas last night his whiskers came off and he was recognised. That's
why poor old Nicholas is lying dead up there at the house now, - and
will have a decent burial unbeknownst to anybody but his friends."

"Whiskers? Dead?" jerked from Barnes's lips.

"Didn't you know he had false ones on?"

"He did not have them on when he left me," declared Barnes. "Good God,
O'Dowd, you can't mean that he - he killed - "

"He stuck a knife in his neck. The poor devil died while I was out
skirmishing, but not before he whispered in the chief's ear the name of
the man who did for him. The dirty snake! And the chief trusted him as
no crook ever was trusted before. He knew him for what he was, but he
thought he was loyal. And this is what he gets in return for saving the
dog's life in Buda Pesth three years ago. In the name of God, Barnes,
how did you happen to fall in with the villain?"

Barnes passed his hand over his brow, dazed beyond the power of speech.
His gaze rested on Putnam Jones. Suddenly something seemed to have
struck him between the eyes. He almost staggered under the imaginary
impact. Jones! Was Jones a party to this - He started forward, an oath
on his lips, prepared to leap upon the man and throttle the truth out
of him. As abruptly he checked himself. The cunning that inspired the
actions of every one of these people had communicated itself to him. A
false move now would ruin everything. Putnam Jones would have to be
handled with gloves, and gently at that.

"He - he represented himself as a book-agent," he mumbled, striving to
collect himself. "Jones knew him. Said he had been around here for
weeks. I - I -

"That's the man," said O'Dowd, scowling. "He trotted all over the
county, selling books. For the love of it, do ye think? Not much. He
had other fish to fry, you may be sure. I talked with him the night you
dined at Green Fancy. He beat you to the Tavern, I dare say. It was his
second night on guard below the - below her window. He told me how he
shinned up and down one of these porch posts, so as not to let old
Jones get onto the fact he was out of his room. He had old Jones fooled
as badly - What are you glaring at HIM for? I was about to say he had
old Jones as badly fooled as you - or worse, damn him. Barnes, if we
ever lay hands on that friend of yours, - well, he won't have to fry in
hell. He'll be burnt alive. Thank God, my mind's at rest on one score.
SHE didn't skip out with him. They all think she did. Not one of them
suspects that she came away with you. There is plenty of evidence that
she let him in through her window - "

"All ready, O'Dowd," called Loeb. "Come along, please."

"Coming," said the Irishman. To Barnes: "Don't blame yourself, old man.
You are not the only one who has been hoodwinked. He fooled men a long
shot keener than you are, so - All right! Coming. See you later, Barnes.
So long!"




CHAPTER XVI

THE FIRST WAYFARER VISITS A SHRINE, CONFESSES, AND TAKES AN OATH


How was he to find the courage to impart the appalling news to her? He
was now convinced beyond all doubt that the so-called Sprouse had made
off with the priceless treasure and that only a miracle could bring
about its recovery. O'Dowd's estimate of the man's cleverness was amply
supported by what Barnes knew of him. He knew him to be the
personification of craftiness, and of daring. It was not surprising
that he had been tricked by this devil's own genius. He recalled his
admiration, his wonder over the man's artfulness; he groaned as he
thought of the pride he had felt in being accorded the privilege of
helping him!

Sitting glumly in a corner of the tap-room, watching but not listening
to the spouting Mr. Rushcroft, (who was regaling the cellarer and two
vastly impressed countrymen with the story of his appearance before
Queen Victoria and the Royal Family), Barnes went over the events of
the past twenty-four hours, deriving from his reflections a few fairly
reasonable deductions as to his place in the plans of the dauntless Mr.
Sprouse.

In the first place, Sprouse, being aware of his somewhat ardent
interest in the fair captive, took a long and desperate chance on his
susceptibility. With incomprehensible boldness he decided to make an
accomplice of the eager and unsuspecting knight-errant! His cunningly
devised tale, - in which there was more than a little of the
truth, - served to excite the interest and ultimately to win the
co-operation of the New Yorker. His object in enlisting this support
was now perfectly clear to the victim of his duplicity. Barnes had
admitted that he was bound by a promise to aid the prisoner in an
effort to escape from the house; even a slow-witted person would have
reached the conclusion that a partial understanding at least existed
between captive and champion. Sprouse staked everything on that
conviction. Through Barnes he counted on effecting an entrance to the
almost hermetically sealed house.

Evidently the simplest, and perhaps the only, means of gaining
admission was through the very window he was supposed to guard. Once
inside her room, with the aid and connivance of one in whom the
occupant placed the utmost confidence, he would be in a position to
employ his marvellous talents in accomplishing his own peculiar ends.

Barnes recalled all of the elaborate details preliminary to the actual
performance of that amazing feat, and realised to what extent he had
been shaped into a tool to be used by the master craftsman. He saw
through the whole Machiavellian scheme, and he was now morally certain
that Sprouse would have sacrificed him without the slightest hesitation.

In the event that anything went wrong with their enterprise, the man
would have shot him dead and earned the gratitude and commendation of
his associates! There would be no one to question him, no one to say
that he had failed in the duty set upon him by the master of the house.
He would have been glorified and not crucified by his friends.

Up to the point when he actually passed through the window Sprouse
could have justified himself by shooting the would-be rescuer. Up to
that point, Barnes was of inestimable value to him; after that, - well,
he had proved that he was capable of taking care of himself.

Mr. Dillingford came and pronounced sentence. He informed the rueful
thinker that the young lady wanted to see him at once in Miss
Thackeray's room.

With a heavy heart he mounted the stairs. At the top he paused to
deliberate. Would it not be better to keep her in ignorance? What was
to be gained by revealing to her the - But Miss Thackeray was luring him
on to destruction. She stood outside the door and beckoned. That in
itself was ominous. Why should she wriggle a forefinger at him instead
of calling out in her usual free-and-easy manner? There was foreboding -

"Is Mr. Barnes coming?" His heart bounded perceptibly at the sound of
that soft, eager voice from the interior of the room.

"By fits and starts," said Miss Thackeray critically. "Yes, he has
started again."

She closed the door from the outside, and Barnes was alone with the
cousin of kings and queens and princes.

"I feared you had deserted me," she said, holding out her hand to him
as he strode across the room. S he did not rise from the chair in which
she was seated by the window. The lower wings of the old-fashioned
shutters were closed except for a narrow strip; light streamed down
upon her wavy golden hair from the upper half of the casement. She was
attired in a gorgeously flowered dressing-gown; he had seen it once
before, draping the matutinal figure of Miss Thackeray as she glided
through the hall with a breakfast tray which Miss Tilly had flatly
refused to carry to her room: being no servant, she declared with heat.

"I saw no occasion to disturb your rest," he mumbled. "Nothing - nothing
new has turned up."

"I have been peeping," she said, looking at him searchingly. A little
line of anxiety lay between her eyes. "Where is Mr. Loeb going, Mr.
Barnes?"

He noted the omission of Mr. O'Dowd. "To Hornville, I believe. They
stopped for gasoline."

"Is he running away?" was her disconcerting question.

"O'Dowd says he is to be gone for a few days on business," he
equivocated.

"He will not return," she said quietly. "He is a coward at heart. Oh, I
know him well," she went on, scorn in her voice.

"Was I wrong in not trying to stop him?" he asked.

She pondered this for a moment. "No," she said, but he caught the
dubious note in her voice. "It is just as well, perhaps, that he should
disappear. Nothing is to be gained now by his seizure. Next week, yes;
but to-day, no. His flight to-day spares - but we are more interested in
the man Sprouse. Has he returned?"

"No, Miss Cameron," said he ruefully. And then, without a single
reservation, he laid bare the story of Sprouse's defection. When he
inquired if she had heard of the man known as Chester Naismith, she
confirmed his worst fears by describing him as the guard who watched
beneath her window. He was known to her as a thief of international
fame. The light died out of her lovely eyes as the truth dawned upon
her; her lips trembled, her shoulders drooped.

"What a fool I've been," she mourned. "What a fool I was to accept the
responsibility of - "

"Don't blame yourself," he implored. "Blame me. I am the fool, the
stupidest fool that ever lived. He played with me as if I were the
simplest child."

"Ah, my friend, why do you say that? Played with you? He has tricked
some of the shrewdest men in the world. There are no simple children at
Green Fancy. They are men with the brains of foxes and the hearts of
wolves. To deceive you was child's play. You are an honest man. It is
always the honest man who is the victim; he is never the culprit. If
honest men were as smart as the corrupt ones, Mr. Barnes, there would
be no such thing as crime. If the honest man kept one hand on his purse
and the other on his revolver, he would be more than a match for the
thief. You were no match for Chester Naismith. Do not look so glum. The
shrewdest police officers in Europe have never been able to cope with
him. Why should you despair?"

He sprang to his feet. "By gad, he hasn't got away with it yet," he
grated. "He is only one man against a million. I will set every cog in
the entire police and detective machinery of the United States going.
He cannot escape. They will run him to earth before - "

"Mr. Barnes, I have no words to express my gratitude to you for all
that you have done and all that you still would do," she interrupted.
"I may prove it to you, however, by advising you to abandon all efforts
to help me from now on. You did all that you set out to do, and I must
ask no more of you. You risked your life to save a woman who, for all
you know, may be deceiving you with - "

"I have not lost all of my senses, Miss Cameron," he said bluntly. "The
few that I retain make me your slave. I shall abandon neither you nor
the effort to recover what my stupidity has cost you. I will run this
scoundrel down if I have to devote the remainder of my life to the
task."

She sighed. "Alas, I fear that I shall have to tell you a little more
about this wonderful man you know as Sprouse. Six months ago the
friends and supporters of the legitimate successor to my country's
throne, consummated a plan whereby the crown jewels and certain
documents of state were surreptitiously removed from the palace vaults.
The act, though meant to be a loyal and worthy one, was nevertheless
nullified by the most stupendous folly. Instead of depositing the
treasure in Paris, it was sent to this country in charge of a group of
men whose fealty could not be questioned. I am not at liberty to tell
you how this treasure was brought into the United States without
detection by the Customs authorities. Suffice it to say, it was
delivered safely to a committee of my countrymen in New York. There are
two contenders for the throne in my land. One is a prisoner in Austria,
the other is at liberty somewhere in - in the world. The Teutonic Allies
are now in possession of my country. It has been ravished and
despoiled."

"So far Sprouse's story jibes," said he, as she paused.

"My countrymen conceived the notion that Germany would one day conquer
France and over-run England. It was this notion that urged them to put
the treasure beyond all possible chance of its being seized by the
conquerors and turned over to the usurping prince who would be placed
on our throne.

"As for my part in this unhappy project, it is quite simple. I was not
the only one to be deceived by plotters who far outstripped the
original conspirators in cleverness and guile. The man you know as Loeb
is in reality my cousin. I have known him all my life. He is the
youngest brother of the pretender to the throne, and a cousin of the
prince who is held prisoner by the Austrians. This prince has a brother
also, and it was to him that I was supposed to deliver the jewels. He
came to Canada a month ago, sent by the embassy in Paris. I travelled
from New York, but not alone as you may suspect. I was carefully
protected from the time I left my hotel there until - well, until I
arrived in Boston.

"While there I received a secret message from friends in Canada
directing me to go to Spanish Falls, where I would be met and conducted
to Green Fancy by Prince Sebastian himself. I was on my way to Halifax
when this message changed my plans. Moreover, the reason given for this
change was an excellent one. It had been discovered that the two men
who acted secretly as my escort were traitors. They were to lead me
into a trap prepared at Portland, where I was to be robbed and detained
long enough for the wretches to make off in safety with their booty. I
need not describe my feelings. I obeyed the directions and stole away
at night, eluding my protectors, and came by devious ways to the place
mentioned in the message.

"As you may have guessed by this time, the whole thing was a carefully
planned ruse. The company at Green Fancy, - you may some day know why
they were there, - learned through the man Naismith that the treasure
had been entrusted to me for delivery to Prince Sebastian and his
friends in Halifax. Let me interrupt myself to explain why the Prince
did not come to New York in person, instead of arranging to have the
jewels taken to him at Halifax. He is an officer of high rank in the
army. His trip across the ocean was known to the German secret service.
The instant he landed on American soil, a demand would have been made
by the German Embassy for his detention here for the duration of the
war.

"I was informed in the message that Prince Sebastian would take me to
the place called Green Fancy, which was near the Canadian border. A
safe escort would be provided for us, and we would be on British soil
within a few hours after our meeting. It is only necessary to add that
when I arrived at Green Fancy I met Prince Ugo, - and understood! I had
carefully covered my tracks after leaving Boston. My real friends were,
and still are, completely in the dark as to my movements, so skilfully
was the trick managed. I shall ask you directly, Mr. Barnes, to wire my
friends in New York and in Halifax, acquainting them with my present
whereabouts and safety. Now, that we know the jewels have been stolen
again, that message need not be delayed.

"And now for Chester Naismith. It was he who, acting for the misguided
loyalists and recommended by certain young aristocrats who by virtue of
their own dissipations had come to know him as a man of infinite
resourcefulness and daring, planned and carried out the pillaging of
the palace vaults. Almost under the noses of the foreign guards he
succeeded in obtaining the jewels. No doubt he could have made off with
them at that time, but he shrewdly preferred to have them brought to
America by some one else. It would have been impossible for him to
dispose of them in Europe. The United States was the only place in the
world where he could have sold them. You see how cunning he is?

"This much I know: he came to New York with the men who carried the
jewels. He tried to rob them in New York but failed. Then he
disappeared. So carefully guarded were the jewels that he knew there
was no chance of securing them without assistance. For nearly six
months they remained in a safety vault on Fifth Avenue. Evidently he
gave up hope and, falling in with Prince Ugo, joined his party. I do
not know this to be the case, but I am now convinced that he learned of
the plan to send the jewels to Halifax. It was he, I am sure, who
conveyed this news to Prince Ugo, who at once invented the scheme to
divert me to this place.

"And now comes the remarkable part of the story. When I arrived at
Spanish Falls, there was no one to meet me. The agent, seeing me on the
platform and evidently at a loss which way to turn, accosted me. He
offered to secure a conveyance for me, and was very considerate, but I
decided to call up Green Fancy on the telephone. I wanted to be sure
that there was no trick. To my surprise, O'Dowd came to the telephone.
I was greatly relieved when I actually heard his voice. I have known
him for years, and the belief that he had at last allied himself with
Prince Sebastian, - after being on the opposite side, you see, - was
cause for rejoicing.

"He was amazed. It seems that I was not expected until the next
afternoon. The car was out on an errand to some little village in the
mountains, he said, but he would telephone at once to see if it could
be located. Afterwards it turned out that the message announcing my
arrival a day ahead of the time agreed upon was never delivered."

"Sprouse's fine work, I suppose," put in Barnes.

"I haven't the remotest doubt. Nor do I doubt that he intended to
waylay me at some point along the road. O'Dowd failed to catch the car
at the village and was on the point of starting off on horseback to
meet me, when it returned. He sent it ahead and followed on horseback.
You know how I was picked up at the cross-roads. It is all so like one
of those picture puzzles. By putting the meaningless pieces together
one obtains a complete design. The last piece to go into this puzzle is
the mishap that befell Naismith on that very afternoon. He was no doubt
thwarted in his design to waylay me on the road from Spanish Falls by a
singular occurrence in this tavern. He was attacked in his room here
shortly after the noon hour, overpowered, bound and gagged by two men.
They carried him to another room, where he remained until late in the
night when he managed to extricate himself. I have reason to believe
that this part of his story is true. He knew the men. They were thieves
as clever and as merciless as himself. They too were watching for me. I
may say to you now, Mr. Barnes, that he has never posed as an honest
man among his associates at Green Fancy. He glories in his fame as a
thief, but until now no one would have questioned his loyalty to his
friends. I do not know how these men learned of my intention to come to
Green Fancy. They - "

"They came to this tavern four or five days in advance of your arrival
at Green Fancy," he interrupted.

"Are you sure?" she asked in surprise.

"Absolutely."

"In that case, they could not have known," she said, deeply perplexed.

"Sprouse told me that they were secret service men from abroad and that
he was working with them. Putnam Jones, I am sure, believes that they
were detectives. He also believes the same to be true of Sprouse. My
theory is this, and I think it is justified by events. The men were
really secret agents, sent here to watch the movements of the gang up
there. They came upon Sprouse and recognised him. On the day mentioned
they overpowered him and forced him to reveal certain facts connected
with affairs at Green Fancy. Possibly he led them to believe that you
were one of the conspirators. They waited for your arrival and then
risked the hazardous trip to Green Fancy. They were discovered and
shot."

She could hardly wait for him to finish. "I believe you are right," she
cried. "A little while before the shooting occurred, the house was
roused by a telephone call. I was in my room, but not asleep. I had
just realised my own dreadful predicament. There was a great commotion
downstairs, and I distinctly heard some one say, in my own language,
that they were not to get away alive. It must have been Naismith who
telephoned. One of the men, I have been told, was killed not far from
our gates. He was shot, I am sure, by the man called Nicholas, noted as
one of the most marvellous marksmen in our little army. The other was
accounted for by Naismith himself, who had managed to reach the
cross-roads in time to head him off. Naismith openly boasted of the
feat. The greatest consternation prevailed at Green Fancy because the
men succeeded in reaching the highway before they were shot. Prince Ugo
was distracted. He said that the attention of the public would be
directed to Green Fancy and curious investigators were certain to
interfere with the great project he was carrying on."

"I believe we have accounted for Mr. Sprouse, and I am no longer
interested in the unravelling of the mystery surrounding the deaths of
Roon and Paul," said he. "There is nothing to keep me here any longer,
Miss Cameron. I suggest that you allow me to escort you at once to your
friends, wherever they - "

She was opposed to this plan. While there was still a chance that
Sprouse might be apprehended in the neighbourhood, or the possibility
of his being caught by the relentless pursuers, she declined to leave.

"Then, I shall also stay," said he promptly, and was repaid by the
tremulous smile she gave him. His heart was beating like mad, and he
knew, in that instant, just what had happened to him. He was helplessly
in love with this beautiful cousin of kings and queens. And when he
thought of kings and queens he realised that beyond all question his
love was hopeless.

"You are very good to me," she said softly.

He got up suddenly and walked away. After a moment, in which he
regained control of himself, he returned to her side.

"What effect will Mr. Loeb's flight have on the scheme up there, Miss
Cameron?" he inquired, quite steadily.

"They will scatter to the four winds, those people," she said. "He
would not have fled unless disaster was staring him in the face.
Something has transpired to defeat his ugly plan. They will all run to
cover like so many rats."

"The government of the United States is a good rat-catcher," he said.

"The United States would do well to keep the rats out, Mr. Barnes,
instead of allowing them to come here and thrive and multiply and gnaw
into its very vitals."




CHAPTER XVII

THE SECOND WAYFARER IS TRANSFORMED, AND MARRIAGE IS FLOUTED


Mr. Rushcroft sent for Barnes at three o'clock. "Come to my room as
soon as possible," was the message delivered by Mr. Bacon. Barnes was


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryGeorge Barr McCutcheonGreen Fancy → online text (page 15 of 20)