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long and soundly throughout the night. He was annoyed because he had
made up his mind that as her protector he would be most negligent if he
went to sleep at all, with all those frightened varlets hovering around
ready to go to any extreme in order to save their skins.

Indeed, he left his door slightly ajar and laid his revolver on a chair
beside the bed, in which, with the aid of a lantern, he promised
himself to keep the vigil, stretched out in his daytime garb, prepared
for instant action, the while he enriched his mind by reading "The Man
of Property." But he fell to dreaming with his eyes wide open, and few
were the pages he turned.

Suddenly it was broad daylight and the wick in the lantern smelled
horribly. He popped from the bed, rubbed his eyes, and then dashed out
in the hall, expecting to come upon sanguinary evidence of a raid
during the night. To his amazement, there were no visible signs of an
attack upon the house. It seemed incredible that his defection had not
been attended by results too horrible to contemplate. By all the laws
of fate, she should now be either dead or at the very least,
frightfully mutilated. Something like that invariably happens when a
sentinel sleeps at his post, or an engineer drowses in his cab. But
nothing of the sort had happened.

Mr. Bacon, sweeping the front stairs, assured him between yawns that he
hadn't heard a sound in the Tavern after half-past ten, - at which hour
he went to bed and to sleep.

Barnes was at breakfast when Peter Ames called up. An inspiration
seized him when the chauffeur mentioned the wholesale exodus: he hired
Peter forthwith and ordered him to report immediately, - with the car.
He was going up to Green Fancy for Miss Cameron's "boxes."

Whether it was the fresh, sweet smell of the earth that caused him to
saunter forth from the Tavern, and to adventure across the road to the
foot of the great old oak, or the ripening of spring in his blood, is
of no immediate consequence here. He had no reason for going over there
to lean against the tree and light his after-breakfast pipe, - unless,
of course, it be argued that the position afforded a fair and excellent
view of the window in Miss Cameron's room. The shutters were open and
the low sash was raised.

Presently she appeared at the window, and smiled down upon him. The
spell was at its height; the charm that had clothed the morning with
enchantment was now complete.

He waved his hand. "The top o' the morning," he cried.

"I detect coffee," she returned, "and, oh, how good it smells. Have you
had yours?"

"Ages ago," he replied, ecstatically.

She placed her elbows on the sill and her chin in the palms of her
hands. The loose sleeves of Miss Thackeray's bizarre dressing gown fell
away, revealing two round, smooth, white arms. The sun shot its mellow
light into the ripples of her tousled hair, and it shone like burnished
gold. Her white teeth gleamed against the red of her smiling lips. He
was fascinated.

The automobile driven by Peter Ames too soon came roaring and rattling
up the pike. She withdrew her head, after twice being warned by Barnes
not to reveal herself to the view of skulkers who might infest the wood
beyond, - and each time his reward was a delightfully stubborn shake of
the head and the ruthless assertion that on such a heavenly morning as
this she didn't mind in the least if all the spies in the world were
gazing at her.

Two minutes after Peter drove up to the Tavern he was on the way back
to Green Fancy again, and seated beside him was Thomas Kingsbury
Barnes, his new master.

"Needn't be afraid of trespassin'," said Peter when Barnes advised him
to go slow as they turned off the road into the forest. "Nobody's going
to object. You c'n yell, and shoot, and raise all the thunder you want,
an' there won't be nobody runnin' out to tell you to shut up. Might as
well try to disturb a graveyard."

There was not a sign of human life about the place. Peter, without
compunction, admitted his employer through the back door of the house,
and accompanied him upstairs to the room recently occupied by Miss
Cameron.

"Course," he said, but not uneasily, "I'm not supposed to let anybody
remove anything from the house as long as I'm employed as caretaker."

"But you are no longer employed as caretaker. You were discharged and
you are now working for me, Peter."

"That's so," said Peter, scratching his head. "Makes all the difference
in the world. I never thought of that. Come to think of it, I guess
Miss Cameron needs clothes as much as anybody. The rest of 'em took all
their duds away with 'em, you c'n bet. Would you know Miss Cameron's
clothes if you was to see 'em?"

"Perfectly," said Barnes.

"That's good," said Peter, relieved. "Clothes seem to look purty much
alike to me, specially women's."

They found the two small leather trunks, thickly belabelled, in the
room upstairs. Both were locked.

"I don't see how you're going to identify 'em without seein' 'em," said
Peter dubiously.

Barnes looked at him sternly. "Peter, be good enough to remember that
you are working for a man of the most highly developed powers of
divination. Do you get that?"

"No, sir," said Peter honestly; "I don't."

"Well, if I were to say to you that I possess the singular ability to
see a thing without actually seeing it, what would you say?"

"I wouldn't say anything, because I don't think it helps a man any to
call his boss a liar."

"You take this one," said Barnes, without further parley, "and I will
manage the other." He was in a hurry to get away from the house. There
was no telling when the government agents would descend upon the place.
He was at a loss to understand O'Dowd's failure to remove the trunks
which would so surely draw the attention of the authorities to the girl
he seemed so eager to shield. "And, by the way," he added, as they
descended the stairs with the trunks on their backs, "you may as well
get your own things together, Peter. We start on a long motor trip
to-night. I am afraid we shall have to steal the automobile, if you
don't mind."

"It belongs to me, sir," said Peter. "Mr. O'Dowd gave it to me
yesterday, with his compliments. It seems that he had word from his
sister to reward me for long and faithful service. Special cablegram
from London or England, I forget which."

"Did Mr. Curtis leave with the others last night?" inquired Barnes,
setting the trunk down on the brick pavement outside the door.

"'Pears that he left a couple of days ago," said Peter, vastly
perplexed. "By gosh, I don't see how he done it, 'thout me knowin'
anything about it. Derned queer, that's all I got to say, man as sick
as he is."

Barnes did not enlighten him. He helped Peter to lift the trunks into
the car and then ordered him to start at once for Hart's Tavern.

"You can return later on for your things," he said.

"I got 'em tied up in a bundle in the garage, Mr. Burns," he said.
"Won't take a second to get 'em out." He hurried around the corner of
the house, leaving Barnes alone with the car.

A dry, quiet chuckle fell upon Barnes's ears. He glanced about in
surprise and alarm. No one was in sight.

"Look up, young man," and the startled young man obeyed. His gaze
halted at a window on the second story, almost directly over his head.

Mr. Sprouse was looking down upon him, his sharp features fixed in a
sardonic grin.

"Well, I'll be damned!" burst from Barnes's lips. He could not believe
his eyes.

"Surprised to see me, eh? If you're not in a hurry, I'd certainly
appreciate a lift as far as the Tavern, old man. I'll be down in a
jiffy."

"Hold on! What the deuce does all this mean? How do you happen to be
here, and where are the - "

"Sh! Not so loud! Don't get excited. I dare say you know all there is
to know about me by this time, so we needn't waste time over trifles.
Stand aside! I'm going to drop." A moment later he swung over the sill,
and dropped lightly to the ground eight feet below. Dusting his hands,
he advanced and extended one of them to the bewildered Barnes. "Oh, you
won't shake, eh? Well, it doesn't matter. I don't blame you."

"See here, Sprouse or whatever your name is, - "

"Cool off! I'll explain in ten words. I didn't get the stuff. I came
back this morning to have a quiet, undisturbed look around. My only
reason for revealing myself to you now, Barnes, is to ask your
assistance in - "

"Ask my assistance, you infernal rogue!" roared Barnes. "Why,
I'll - I'll - "

"Better hear me out," broke in Sprouse calmly.

"I could drill a hole through you so quickly you'd never know what did
it," he went on. His hand was in his coat pocket, and a quick glance
revealed to Barnes a singularly impressive angle in the cloth, the
point of which seemed to be directed squarely at his chest. "But I'm
not going to do it. I just want to set myself straight with you. In a
word, I never got anywhere near the room in which the jewels were
hidden. This is God's truth, Barnes. I didn't stick a knife into that
poor devil up there the other night. Here's what actually happened. I - "

"Wait a moment. You intended to steal the jewels, didn't you? You were
not playing fair with me then, so why should I put any faith in you
now?"

"Honest confession is good for the soul," said Sprouse easily. "I
wasn't the only one who was trying to get the baubles, my friend. It
was a game in which only the best man could win."

"I know the truth now about Roon and Paul," said Barnes significantly.

"You do?" sneered Sprouse. "I'll bet you a thousand to one you do not.
If the girl told you what she believes to be true, she didn't have it
straight at all. She was led to believe that they were a couple of
crooks and that they fixed me in that Tavern down there. Isn't that
what she told you? Well, that story was cooked up for her special
benefit. I don't mind telling you the truth about them, and you can
tell it to her. Roon was the Baron Hedlund - But all this can wait.
Now - "

"Did you shoot either of those men?"

"I did not. Baron Hedlund was shot, I firmly believe, by Prince Ugo. I
might as well go on with the story now and have it over with. Tell that
chauffeur to take a little stroll. He doesn't have to hear the story,
you know. Hedlund came up here a week or so ago to keep a look-out for
his wife. The Baroness is supposed to be deeply enamoured of Prince
Ugo. He found letters which seemed to indicate that she was planning to
join the Prince up here. In any event, he came to watch. Well, she
didn't come. She had been headed off, but he didn't know that. When he
heard of the arrival of a lady at Green Fancy the other afternoon, he
got busy. He went right up there with blood in his eye. I admit that I
am the gentleman who telephoned the warning up to the Prince. They
tried to head the Baron and his man off at the cross-roads, but he beat
them to it. If there was to be a fight, they didn't want it to happen
anywhere near the house. Part of them, led by Ugo himself, took a short
cut up through the woods and met the two men in the road.

"There is only one man in the world to-day who is a better shot at
night than Prince Ugo, and modesty keeps me from mentioning his
illustrious name. That's why I believe Ugo is the one who got the
Baron, - or Roon, as you know him. The other fellow was halted at the
cross-roads when he made a run for it. A couple of men had been sent
there for just such an emergency. Hedlund was a curiously chivalrous
chap. He went to extreme measures to protect his wife's good name by
wiping out all means of identification. His wife's good name! It is to
laugh! Now, that is the true story of the little affair, and if you are
as much of a gentleman as I take you to be, Barnes, you will respect
Hedlund's desire to shield the woman he loved, and let him lie up
yonder in an unmarked grave. That is what he figured on, you know, in
case things went against him, and I'll stake my head that if you put it
up to the Countess Therese, she will feel as I do about it. She will
beg you to keep the secret. Hedlund was a lifelong friend of her
family. He was beloved by all of them. He married an actress in Vienna
three or four years ago. On second thoughts, if I were you I'd spare
the Countess. I'd let her go on thinking that the story she has heard
is true, - at least for the time being. She's a nice girl and there's no
sense in giving her any unnecessary pain. But that's up to you. You can
do as you please about it.

"Now to go back to my own troubles. When I got out into the hall night
before last, after leaving her room, I heard voices whispering in
Prince Ugo's room. Naturally I thought that some one had lamped us on
the outside, and that I was likely to be in a devil of a mess if I
wasn't careful. The last place for me to go was back into her room.
They would cut me off from the outside. So I beat it up the stairway
into the attic. Nothing happened, so I sneaked down to have a peep
around. The door to Ugo's room was open, but there was no light on the
inside. He came to the door and looked up and down the hall. Then some
one else came out and started to sneak away. I leave you to guess the
sex.

"Nicholas butted in at this unfortunate juncture. He made the mistake
of his life. I could see him as plain as day, standing in the hall
grinning like an ape. Ugo jumped back into his room. In less than a
second he was out again. He landed squarely on Nicholas's back as the
fellow turned to escape. I saw the steel flash. Poor old Nick went down
in a heap, letting out a horrible yell. Ugo dragged him into the room
and dashed back into his own. A moment later he came out again, yelling
for help. I heard him shouting that the house had been robbed, - and in
two seconds there was an uproar all over the place. I thought I was
done for. But he had them all rushing downstairs, yelling that the
thief had gone that way. There was only one thing left for me to do and
that was to get out on the roof if possible, and wait for things to
quiet down. I got out through a trap door and stayed there for an hour
or so. They were beating the forest for the thief, and I give you my
word, believe it or not, I actually sent up a prayer, Barnes, that you
had got off safely with the girl. I prayed harder than I ever dreamed a
man could pray.

"Well, to shorten the story, I finally took a chance and slid down to
the eaves where I managed to find the limb of a tree big enough to
support me, - just as if the Lord had ordered it put there for my
special benefit. I was soon on the ground, and that meant safety for
me. I had heard Ugo tell the others that Nicholas said the man who
stabbed him was yours truly. Can you beat it? And then every mother's
son of them declared it was a feat that no one else in the world could
have pulled off but me, and as I was nowhere to be found, it was only
natural that all of them should believe the lie that Ugo told.

"And now comes the maddening part of the whole business. He said that
the crown jewels were gone! I heard him telling how he was awakened out
of a sound sleep by a man with a gun, who forced him to open the safe
and hand over the treasure. Then he said he was put to sleep again by a
crack over the head with a slung-shot. He was only partially
stunned, - Lord, what a liar! - and came to in time to hear the struggle
across the hall. The thief was running downstairs when he staggered to
the door. It seems that the door at the bottom of the steps had not
been closed that night.

"Now, my dear Mr. Barnes, when I asked you to lend your assistance
awhile ago, it was only to have you tell me when it was that Mr. Loeb
left this place, which way he went, and who accompanied him. If we are
to find the crown jewels, my friend, we will first have to find Prince
Ugo. He has them."

Barnes had not taken his eyes from the face of this amazing rascal
during the whole of the recital. He had been deceived in him before; he
was determined not to be fooled again.

"I don't believe a word of this yarn," he said flatly. "You have the
jewels and - "

"Don't be an ass," snapped Sprouse. "If I had them do you suppose I'd
be fiddling around here to-day? Not much. I saw the gang making their
getaway last night, and I saw Peter depart this morning. I concluded to
have a look about the place. Hope springs eternal, you know. There was
a bare possibility that he might have forgotten them!" He scowled as he
grinned, and never had Barnes looked upon a countenance so evil.

"Why should I tell YOU anything about Prince Ugo? It would only be
helping you to carry out the game - "

"Look here, Mr. Barnes, I'm not going to double-cross you again. That's
all over. I want to get that scurvy dog who knifed poor old Nick. Nick
was a decent, square man. He wasn't a crook. He was a patriot, if such
a thing exists in this world to-day. If you can give me a lead, I'll
try to run Prince Ugo down. And if I do, we'll get the jewels."

"We? You amuse me, Sprouse."

"Well, I can't do any more than give my promise, my solemn oath, or
something like that. I can't give a bond, you know. I swear to you that
if I lay hands on that stuff, I will deliver it to you. Might just as
well trust me as Ugo. You won't get them from him, that's sure; and you
may get them from me."

"Is it revenge you're after?"

"My God," almost shouted Sprouse in his exasperation, "didn't he give
me a black eye among my friends up here? Didn't he put me in wrong with
all of them? Do you think I'm going to stand for that? Think I'm going
to let him get away with it? You don't know me, my friend. I've got a
reputation at stake. No one has ever double-crossed me and got away
with it. I want to prove to the world that I didn't take those jewels.
I - "

"Just what do you mean by 'the world,' Sprouse?"

"My world," he replied succinctly. "I'm not a piker, you know," he went
on, cocking one eye in a somewhat supercilious manner. "The stakes are
always high in my game. I don't play for pennies."

"Get in the car," said Barnes suddenly. He had decided to take a chance
with the resourceful, indefatigable rascal. There was nothing to be
lost by setting him on the track of Prince Ugo, who, if the man's story
was true, had betrayed his best friends. There was something convincing
about Sprouse's version of the affair at Green Fancy. He called out to
Peter.

"I suppose you know that the whole game is up, Naismith," he said,
lowering his voice. Peter was wrathfully cranking the car. "The
government is going to take a hand in this business up here."

"If you mean that as a hint to me, it's unnecessary. I'll be on my way
inside of an hour. This is no place for me. And that Tavern is no place
for - er - for her, Barnes. Just mention that you saw me and that I'm
going after Mr. Loeb. If I get the stuff, I'll do the square thing by
her. Not for sentimental reasons, bless you, but just because I like to
do things that make people wonder what the hell I'll do next. Tell her
the whole story if you feel like it, but if I were you I'd wait till
she is safe among her friends, where she won't be nervous. Hit it up a
bit, Peter, old boy. I'm in a hurry."

Peter eyed him in an unfriendly manner. "Where did you come from, Mr.
Perkins? Mighty queer you - "

Sprouse spoke softly out of the corner of his mouth. "Nice old New
England name, isn't it, Barnes?" To Peter: "It's a long story. I'll
write it to you. Speed up."

Barnes told all that he knew of Prince Ugo's flight. Sprouse looked
thoughtful for a long time.

"So O'Dowd knows that I really was after the swag, eh? He believes I
got it?"

"I suppose so."

"The only one who thinks I'm absolutely innocent is Ugo, of
course, - and Mrs. Van Dyke. That's good." Sprouse smacked his lips.
"Just send me on to Hornville in the car, and don't give me another
thought till you hear from me. I've got a pretty fair idea where I can
find Mr. Loeb. It will take a little time, - a couple of days,
perhaps, - but sooner or later he'll turn up in close proximity to the
beautiful baroness."




CHAPTER XIX

A TRIP BY NIGHT, A SUPPER, AND A LATE ARRIVAL


Shortly after sundown that evening, the Rushcroft Company evacuated
Hart's Tavern. They were delayed by the irritating and, to Mr.
Rushcroft, unpardonable behaviour of two officious gentlemen, lately
arrived, who insisted politely but firmly on prying into the past,
present and future history of the several members of the organisation,
including the new "backer" or "angel," as one of the operatives slyly
observed to the other on beholding Miss Thackeray.

Barnes easily established his own identity and position, and was not
long in convincing the investigators that his connection with the
stranded company was of a purely philanthropic nature, - yes, even
platonic, he asseverated with some heat when the question was put to
him.

They examined him closely concerning his solitary visit to Green Fancy,
and he described to the best of his ability all but one of the inmates.
He neglected to mention Miss Cameron. Realising that he would be
storing up trouble for himself if he failed to mention his trip to the
house that morning, - they were sure to hear of it in time, - he set his
mind to the task of constructing a satisfactory explanation. He
concluded to sacrifice Peter Ames, temporarily at least. Taking Peter
aside, he explained the situation to him, impressing upon him the
importance of leaving Miss Cameron and her luggage out of the
interview, and to say nothing about the return of "Mr. Perkins."

Fortified by Barnes's promise to protect him if he followed these
instructions, Peter consented to tell all that he knew about the people
at Green Fancy. Whereupon his new employer informed the secret service
men that he had gone up to Green Fancy that morning in response to an
appeal from Peter Ames, who had applied to him for a position a day or
two before. On his arrival there he confirmed the bewildered
chauffeur's story that the whole crowd had stolen away during the
night. He guaranteed to produce Peter at any time he was needed, and
was perfectly willing to discommode himself to the extent of leaving
the man behind if they insisted on holding him.

The officers, after putting him through a rather rigid examination,
held private consultation over Peter. To Barnes's surprise and
subsequent dismay, they announced that there was nothing to be gained
by holding the man; he was at liberty to depart with his employer,
provided he would report when necessary.

Barnes was some time in fathoming the motive behind this seeming
indifference on the part of the secret service men. It came to him like
a flash, and its significance stunned him. They had decided that there
was more to be gained by letting Peter Ames think he was above
suspicion than by keeping him on the anxious seat. Peter unrestrained
was of more value to them than Peter in durance vile. And from that
moment forward there would not be an hour of the day or night when he
was far ahead of the shadower who followed his trail. There would be a
sly, invisible pursuer at his heels, and an eye ever ready to detect
the first false move that he made. They were counting on Peter to lead
them, in his own good time, to the haunts of his comrades. He could not
escape. And he could make the fatal mistake of considering them a pack
of fools!

Barnes, perceiving all this, was in a state of perturbation. He had
devised a very clever plan for getting Miss Cameron away from the
Tavern without attracting undue attention. She was to leave in one of
the automobiles that he had engaged to convey the players to Crowndale.
It should go without saying that she was to travel with him in Peter's
ramshackle car. In case of detention or inquiry, she was to pose as a
stage-struck young woman who had obtained a place with the company at
the last moment through his influence.

Mr. Rushcroft was not in the secret. Barnes merely announced that he
wanted to give a charming young friend of the family a chance to see
what she could do on the stage, and that he had taken the liberty of
sending for her. The star was magnanimous. He slapped Barnes on the
back and declared that nothing could give him greater joy than to
transform any friend of his into an actress, and he didn't give a hang
whether she had talent or not.

"We'll write in a part for her to-night," he said, "and we'll make it a
small one at first, so that she won't have any difficulty in learning
it. From night to night we'll build it up, Barnes, so that by the end
of our first month your protegee practically will be a co-star with me.


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