George Barr McCutcheon.

Green Fancy online

. (page 18 of 20)
Online LibraryGeorge Barr McCutcheonGreen Fancy → online text (page 18 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


There's nothing mean about me, old chap. Any friend of yours can have - "

Barnes made haste to explain that he did not want any one to know that
this friend of the family was going on the stage, and that he would be
greatly indebted to Rushcroft if he would keep "mum" about it for the
time being.

"Certainly. Not a word. I understand," said Mr. Rushcroft amiably.
"I've had it happen before," he went on, a perfectly meaningless remark
that brought a flush to Barnes's cheek.

It had been Barnes's intention to spirit his charge away from Hart's
Tavern under cover of darkness, in company with his other
"responsibilities," but the fresh turn of affairs now presented
difficulties that were likely to upset his hastily conceived strategy.
He had but one purpose in view, and that was to spare her an unpleasant
encounter with the government officials, - an encounter that conceivably
might result in very distressing complications. He had revealed his
plan to her and she apparently was very much taken with it, - indeed,
she was quite enthusiastic over the prospect of being whisked
unceremoniously to Crowndale, and thence to the home of his sister in
New York City, where she could at once put herself in communication
with friends and supporters.

He was looking forward with dubious hopes to a possible extension of
his guardianship, involving a voyage across the Atlantic and the
triumphant delivery of the Countess, so to speak, into the eager arms
of her country's ambassador at Paris. He was now in a state of mind
that inspired him with the belief that it would be a joy to die for
her. If he died for her, she would always remember him as a brave,
devoted champion; she would exalt him; in her tender, grateful heart
there would always be a corner for him, even to the end of her
days, - even to the end of her days on the throne of her country's
ruler. Far better that he should die for her, - and have it all over
with, - than that he should live to see her the wife of - But invariably
he ceased dreaming at this point and admitted that it would be
infinitely more satisfying to live. It was his matter-of-fact
contention that while there is life there is hope.

When the hour came for the departure from Hart's Tavern he deliberately
engaged the two secret service men in conversation in the tap-room.
Miss Cameron left the house by the rear door and was safely ensconced
in Peter's automobile long before he shook hands with the
"rat-catchers" and dashed out to join her. Tommy Gray's car, occupied
by the four players, was moving away from the door as he sprang in
beside her and slammed the door. The interior of the car was as black
as pitch.

"Are you there?" he whispered.

"Yes. Isn't it jolly, running away like this? It must be wonderfully
exciting to be a criminal, always dodging and - "

"Sh! Even a limousine may have ears!"

But if the limousine had possessed a thousand ears they would have been
rendered useless in the stormy racket made by Peter's muffler and the
thunderous roar of the exhaust as the car got under way.

Sixty miles lay between them and Crowndale. Tommy Gray guaranteed that
the distance could be covered in three hours, even over the vile
mountain roads. Ten o'clock would find them at the Grand Palace Hotel,
none the worse for wear, provided (he always put it parenthetically)
they lived to tell the tale! The luggage had gone on ahead of them
earlier in the day.

Peter's efforts to stay behind Tommy's venerable but surprisingly
energetic Buick were the cause of many a gasp and shudder from the
couple who sat behind him in the bounding car. He had orders to keep
back of Tommy but never to lose sight of his tail light.

Peter was like the celebrated Tam O' Shanter. He was pursued by
spectres. The instant that he discovered that he was lagging a trifle,
he shot the car up to top speed, with the result that he had to jam on
the brakes violently in order to avoid crashing into Tommy's tail
light, and at such times Miss Cameron and Barnes sustained unpleasant
jars. Something seemed to be telling Peter that the law was stretching
out its cruel hand to clutch him from behind; he was determined to keep
out of its reach.

There was small opportunity for conversation. The trip was not at all
as Barnes had imagined it would be. After the car had raced through
Hornville he decided that it was not necessary to keep Tommy's tail
light in view, and so directed Peter. After that conversation was
possible, but the gain was counterbalanced by a distinct sense of loss.
She relinquished her rather frenzied grasp upon his arm, and sank back
into the corner of the seat.

"Oh, dear, what a relief!" she gasped.

"What arrant stupidity," he growled, and she never knew that the remark
bore no relation whatsoever to Peter.

He confessed his fears to her, and was immeasurably consoled by her
enthusiastic scorn for the consequences of his mistake.

"Let them follow poor old Peter," she said. "We will outwit them, never
fear. If necessary, Mr. Barnes, we can travel with the company for days
and days. I think I should rather enjoy it. If you can manage to get
word to my friends in New York, to relieve their anxiety, I shall be
more than grateful. I am sure they will decide that you are acting for
the best in every particular. It would grieve them, - yes, it would
distress them greatly, - if I were to be subjected to an inquiry at the
hands of the authorities. The notoriety would be - harrowing, to say the
least. Moreover, the disclosures would certainly bring disaster upon
those who are working so loyally to right a grave wrong. They will
understand, and they will thank you not only for all that you have done
for me but for the cause I support."

"The first time I ever saw you, I said to myself that you were a brave,
indomitable little soldier," he said warmly. "I am more than ever
convinced of it now."

"The men of my family have been soldiers for ten generations," she said
simply, as if that covered everything. "They haven't all been heroes
but none of them has been a coward."

"I can believe that," he said. "Blood will tell."

"If God gives back my country to my people, Mr. Barnes," she said,
after a long silence, "will you not one day make your way out there to
us, so that we may present some fitting expression of the gratitude - "

"Don't speak of gratitude," he exclaimed. "I don't want to be thanked.
Good Lord, do you suppose I - "

"There, there! Don't be angry," she cried. "But you must come to my
country. You must see it. You will love it."

"But suppose that God does not see fit to restore it to you. Suppose
that he leaves it in the hands of the vandals. What then? Will you go
back to - that?"

She was still for a long time. "I shall not return to my country until
it is free again, Mr. Barnes," she said, and there was a break in her
voice.

"You - you will remain in MY country?" he asked, leaning closer to her
ear.

"The world is large," she replied. "I shall have to live somewhere. It
may be here, it may be France, or England or Switzerland."

"Why not here? You could go far and do worse."

"Beggars may not be choosers. The homeless cannot be very particular,
you know. If the Germans remain in my country, I shall be without a
home."

His voice was tense and vibrant when he spoke again, after a moment's
reflection. "I know what O'Dowd would say if he were in my place."

"O'Dowd has known me a great many years," she said. "When you have
known me as many months as he has years, you will thank your lucky star
that you do not possess the affability that the gods have bestowed upon
O'Dowd."

"Don't be too sure of that," he said, and heard the little catch in her
breath. He found her hand and clasped it firmly. His lips were close to
her ear. "I have known you long enough to - "

"Don't!" she cried out sharply. "Don't say it now, - please. I could
listen to O'Dowd, but - but you are different. He would forget by
to-morrow, and I would forget even sooner than he. But it would not be
so easy to forget if you were to say it, - it would not be easy for
either of us."

"You are not offended?" he whispered hoarsely.

"Why should I be offended? Are you not my protector?"

The subtle implication in those words brought him to his senses. Was he
not her protector? And was he not abusing the confidence she placed in
him?

"I shall try to remember that, - always," he said abjectly.

"Some day I shall tell you why I am glad you did not say it to me
to-night," she said, a trifle unsteadily. She squeezed his hand. "You
are very good to me. I shall not forget that either."

And she meant that some day she would confess to him that she was so
tired, and lonely, and disconsolate on this journey to Crowndale, and
so in need of the strength he could give, that she would have
surrendered herself gladly to the comfort of his arms, to the passion
that his touch aroused in her quickening blood!

Soon after ten o'clock they entered the town of Crowndale and drew up
before the unattractive portals of the Grand Palace Hotel. An arc lamp
swinging above the entrance shed a pitiless light upon the dreary,
God-forsaken hostelry with the ironic name.

Mr. Rushcroft was already at the desk, complaining bitterly of
everything seen and unseen. As a matter of habit he was roaring about
his room and, while he hadn't put so much as his nose inside of it, he
insisted on knowing what they meant by giving it to him. Mr. Bacon and
Mr. Dillingford were growling because there was no elevator to hoist
them two flights up, and Miss Thackeray was wanting to know WHY she
couldn't have a bit of supper served in her room.

"They're all alike," announced Mr. Rushcroft despairingly, addressing
the rafters. He meant hotels in general.

"They're all alike," vouchsafed the clerk in an aside to the "drummer"
who leaned against the counter, meaning stage-folk in general.

"You're both right," said the travelling salesman, who knew.

"Is there a cafe in the neighbourhood?" inquired Barnes, with authority.

"There's a rest'rant in the next block," replied the clerk, instantly
impressed. Here was one who obviously was not "alike." "A two-minutes'
walk, Mr. - " (looking at the register) - "Mr. Barnes."

"That's good. We will have supper in Miss Thackeray's room. Let me have
your pencil, please. Send over and have them fill this order inside of
twenty minutes." He handed what he had written to the blinking clerk.
"For eight persons. Tell 'em to hurry it along."

"Maybe they're closed for the night," said the clerk. "And besides - "

"My God! He even hesitates to get food for us when - " began Mr.
Rushcroft.

"Besides there's only one waiter on at night and he couldn't get off, I
guess. And besides it's against the rules of this house to serve drinks
in a lady's - "

"You tell that waiter to close up when he comes over here with what
I've ordered, and tell him that I will pay double for everything, and
to-morrow morning you can tell the proprietor of this house that we
broke the rules to-night."

For the first time in her life Miss Tilly sat down to a meal served by
a member of her late profession. She sat on the edge of Miss
Thackeray's bed and held a chicken sandwich in one hand and a full
glass of beer in the other. Be it said to the credit of her forebears,
she did not take even so much as a sip from the glass, but seven
sandwiches, two slices of cold ham, half a box of sardines, a plate of
potato salad, a saucer of Boston baked beans, two hardboiled eggs, a
piece of apple pie and two cups of coffee passed her freshly carmined
lips. She was in her seventh heaven. She was no longer dreaming of
fame: it was a gay reality. Emulating the example of Miss Thackeray,
she addressed Mr. Dillingford as "dear," and came near to being the
cause of his death by strangulation.

Miss Cameron submitted to the contagion. She had had no such dreams as
Miss Tilly's, but she was quite as thrilled by the novelty of her
surroundings, the informality of the feast, and the sprightliness of
these undaunted spirits. She sat on Miss Thackeray's trunk, her back
against the wall, her bandaged foot resting on a decrepit suit-case.
Her eyes were sparkling, her lips ever ready to part in the joy of
laughter, the colour leaping into her cheeks in response to the amazing
quips of these unconventional vagabonds.

She too was hungry. Food had never tasted so good to her. From time to
time her soft, smiling eyes sought Barnes with a look of mingled wonder
and confusion. She always laughed when she caught the expression of
concern in his eyes, and once she slyly winked at him. He was entranced.

He crossed over and sat beside her. "They are a perfectly irresponsible
lot," he said in a low voice. "I hope you don't mind their - er - levity."

"I love it," she whispered. "They are an inspiration. One would think
that they had never known such a thing as trouble. I am taking lessons,
Mr. Barnes."

She was still warmly conscious of the thrill that had come into her
blood when he carried her up the stairs in his powerful arms,
disdaining the offer of assistance from the suddenly infatuated Tommy
Gray.

"Rehearsal at eleven sharp," announced Mr. Rushcroft, arising from the
window-sill on which he was seated. "Letter perfect, every one of you.
No guessing. By the way, Miss - er - 'pon my soul, I don't believe I got
your name?"

"Jones," said the new member, shamelessly.

"Ah," said he, smiling broadly, "a word oft spoken in jest - ahem! - how
does it go? No matter. You know what I mean. I have not had time to
write in the part for you, Miss Jones, but I shall do so the first
thing in the morning. Now that I see how difficult it is for you to get
around, I have hit upon a wonderful idea. I shall make it a sitting
part. You won't have to do anything with your legs at all. Most
beginners declare that they don't know what to do with their hands, but
I maintain that they know less about what to do with their legs.
Fortunately you are incapacitated - "

"Perhaps it would be just as well to excuse Miss Jones from rehearsal
in the morning," broke in Barnes hastily. "She is hardly fit to - "

"Just as you say, old chap. Doesn't matter in the least. Good night,
everybody. Sleep tight."

"I sha'n't sleep a wink," said Miss Tilly.

"Homesick already?" demanded Mr. Bacon, fixing her with a pitying stare.

"Worrying over my part," she explained.

"Haven't you committed it yet? Say it now. 'It is half past seven, my
lord.' All you have to do is to remember that it comes in the second
act and not in the first or third."

"Good night," said Miss Cameron, giving her hand to Barnes at the door.
She was leaning on Miss Thackeray's arm. He never was to forget the
deep, searching look she sent into his eyes. She seemed to be asking a
thousand questions.

He went down to the dingy lobby. A single, half-hearted electric bulb
shed its feeble light on the desk, in front of which stood a man
registering under the sleepy eye of the night clerk.

After the late arrival had started upstairs in the wake of the clerk,
Barnes stepped up to inspect the book. The midnight express from the
north did not stop at Crowndale, he had learned upon inquiry, and it
was the only train touching the town between nightfall and dawn.

The register bore the name of Thomas Moore, Hornville. There was not
the slightest doubt in Barnes's mind that this was the man who had been
detailed to shadow the luckless Peter. Only an imperative demand by
government authorities could have brought about the stopping of the
express at Hornville and later on at Crowndale.

Barnes smiled grimly. "I've just thought of a way to fool you, my
friend," he said to himself, and was turning away when a familiar voice
assailed him.

Whirling, he looked into the face of a man who stood almost at his
elbow, - the sharp, impassive face of Mr. Sprouse.




CHAPTER XX

THE FIRST WAYFARER HAS ONE TREASURE THRUST UPON HIM - AND FORTHWITH
CLAIMS ANOTHER


"That fellow is a rat-catcher," said Sprouse. "What are you doing here?"
demanded Barnes, staring. He seized the man's arm and inquired eagerly:
"Have you got the jewels?"

"No; but I will have them before morning," replied Sprouse coolly. He
shot a furtive glance around the deserted lobby. "Better not act as
though you knew me. That bull is no fool. He doesn't know me, but by
this time he knows who you are."

"He is trailing Peter Ames."

"Ship Peter to-morrow," advised Sprouse promptly.

"I had already thought of doing so," said Barnes, surprised by the
uncanny promptness of the man in hitting upon the strategy he had
worked out for himself after many harassing hours. "He goes to my
sister's place to-morrow morning."

"Send him by train. He will be easier to follow. There is a train
leaving for the south at 9:15."

"You were saying that before morning you would - "

"Be careful! Don't whisper. People don't whisper to utter strangers.
Step over here by the front door. Would you be surprised if I were to
tell you that his royal nibs is hiding in this town? Well, he certainly
is. He bought a railway ticket for Albany at Hornville the day he beat
it, but he got off at the second station, - which happens to be this
one."

"How can you be sure of all this?"

"Simple as falling off a log," said Sprouse, squinting over his
shoulder. "The Baroness Hedlund has been here for a week or ten days.
The Baron wasn't so far wrong in his suspicions, you see. He lost track
of her, that's all. I happened to overhear a conversation at Hart's
Tavern between him and his secretary. I have a way of hearing things
I'm not supposed to hear, you know. By a curious coincidence I happened
to be taking the air late one night just outside his window at the
Tavern, - on the roof of the porch, to be accurate. I told Ugo what I'd
heard and he nearly broke his neck trying to head her off. O'Dowd and
De Soto rushed over to Hornville and telegraphed for her to leave the
train at the first convenient place and return to New York. She was on
her way up here, you see. She got off at Crowndale and everybody
supposed that she had taken the next train home. But she didn't do
anything of the kind. She is a silly, obstinate fool and she's crazy
about Ugo, - and jealous as fury. She hated to think of him being up
here with other women. A day or so later she sent him a letter. No one
saw that letter but Ugo, and - your humble servant.

"I happened to be the one to go to Spanish Falls for the mail that day.
The postmark excited my curiosity. If I told you what I did to that
letter before delivering it to Mr. Loeb, you could send me to a federal
prison. But that's how I came to know that she had decided to wait in
Crowndale until he sent word that the coast was clear. She went to the
big sanatorium outside the town and has been there ever since,
incognito, taking a cure for something or other. She goes by the name
of Mrs. Hasselwein. I popped down here this afternoon and found out
that she is still at the sanatorium but expects to leave early
to-morrow morning. Her trunks are over at the station now, to be
expressed to Buffalo. I made another trip out there this evening and
waited. About eight o'clock Mr. Hasselwein strolled up. He sat on the
verandah with her for half an hour or so and then left. I followed him.
He went to one of the little cottages that belong to the sanatorium. I
couldn't get close enough to hear what they said, but I believe he
expects to take her away in an automobile early in the morning. It is a
seventy mile ride from here to the junction where they catch the train
for the west. I'm going up now to make a call on Mr. Hasselwein. Would
you like to join me?"

Barnes eyed him narrowly. "There is only one reason why I feel that I
ought to accompany you," he said. "If you have it in your mind to kill
him, I certainly shall do everything in my power to prevent - "

"Possess your soul in peace. I'm not going to do anything foolish. Time
enough left for that sort of thing. I will get him some day, but not
now. By the way, what is the number of your room?"

"Twenty-two, - on the next floor."

"Good. Go upstairs now and I'll join you in about ten minutes. I will
tap three times on your door."

"Why should you come to my room, Sprouse? We can say all that is to be
said - "

"If you will look on the register you will discover that Mr. J. H.
Prosser registered here about half an hour ago. He is in room 30. He
left a call for five o'clock. Well, Prosser is another name for Ugo."

"Here in this hotel? In room 30?" cried Barnes, incredulously.

"Sure as you're alive. Left the cottage an hour ago. Came in a jitney
or I could have got to him on the way over."

Barnes, regardless of consequences, dashed over to inspect the
register. Sprouse followed leisurely, shooting anxious glances up the
stairs at the end of the lobby.

"See!" cried Barnes, excitedly, putting his finger on the name "Miss
Jones." "She's in room 32, - next to his. By gad, Sprouse, do you
suppose he knows that she is here? Would the dog undertake anything - "

"You may be sure he doesn't know she's here, or you either, for that
matter. The country's full of Joneses and Barneses. Go on upstairs.
Leave everything to me."

He strolled away as the clerk came shuffling down the steps. As Barnes
mounted them, he glanced over his shoulder and saw Sprouse take up a
suitcase near the door and return to the desk, evidently for the
purpose of engaging a room for the night.

Before going to his room, he strode lightly down the hall in the
direction of room 30. There was no light in the transom. Stepping close
to the door, he listened intently for sounds from within. He started
back almost instantly. The occupant was snoring with extreme heartiness.

A glance revealed a light in the transom of room 32. As he looked,
however, it disappeared. Abashed, he turned and went swiftly away. She
was going to bed. He felt like a snooping, despicable "peeping Tom"
caught in the act.

He had been in his room for twenty minutes before he heard the tapping
on his door. He opened it and Sprouse slid into the room. The instant
the door closed behind him, he threw open his coat and coolly produced
a long, shallow metal box, such as one finds in safety vaults.

"With my compliments," he said drily, thrusting the box into Barnes's
hands. "You'd better have the Countess check them up and see if they're
all there. I am not well enough acquainted with the collection to be
positive."

Barnes was speechless. He could only stare, open-mouthed, at this
amazing man.

"Grip 'em tight," went on Sprouse, grinning. "I may relieve you of them
if you get too careless. My advice to you is to hide them and keep your
lips closed - "

"My God, Sprouse, have you been in that man's room since I saw you
down - "

"I forgot to say that no questions were to be asked," broke in the
other.

"But I insist upon having everything cleared up. Here am I with a box
of jewels stolen from a lodger's room, God knows how, and in danger of
being slapped into jail if they catch me with the - "

"All you have to do is to keep quiet and look innocent. Stay out of the
hall to-night. Don't go near the door of No. 30. Act like a man with
brains. I said I would square myself with you and with him, too. Well,
I've done both. Maybe you think it is easy to give up this stuff. There
is a half million dollars' worth of nice little things in that box,
small as it is. I went to a lot of trouble to get 'em, and all I'll
receive for my pains is a thank you from Mr. Thomas K. Barnes, New
York."

"I cannot begin to thank you enough," said Barnes. "See here, you must
allow me to reward you in some way commensurate with your - "

"Cut that out," said Sprouse darkly. "I'm not so damned virtuous that I
have to be rewarded. I like the game. It's the breath of life to me."

"The time will surely come when I can do you a good turn, Sprouse, and
you will not find me reluctant," said Barnes, lamely. He was completely
at a loss in the presence of the master-crook. He felt very small, and
stupid, and inadequate, - as one always feels when confronted by genius.
Moreover, he was utterly stupefied.

"That's different. If I ever need a friendly hand I'll call on you.
It's only fair that I should give you a tip, Barnes, just to put you on
your guard. I've lived up to my word in this business, and I've done
all that I said I would. From now on, I'm a free agent. I want to
advise you to put that stuff in a safe place. I'll give you two days'
start. After that, if I can get 'em away from you, or whoever may have


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20

Online LibraryGeorge Barr McCutcheonGreen Fancy → online text (page 18 of 20)