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them, I'm going to do it. They will be fair plunder from then on.
Notwithstanding the fact that I put them in your hands to-night, - and
so wash my own of them temporarily, - I haven't a single scruple about
relieving you of them on some later occasion. I may have to crack you
over the head to do it, - so a word to the wise ought to be sufficient.
If you don't guard them pretty closely, my friend, you will regain
consciousness some day and find you haven't got them any longer. Good
night - and good-bye for the present. Stick close to your room till
morning and - then beat it with her for New York. I give you two days'
start, remember."

He switched off the light suddenly. Barnes gasped and prepared to
defend himself. Sprouse chuckled.

"Don't be nervous. I'm merely getting ready to leave you with your
ill-gotten gains. It isn't wise, you see, to peep out of a door with a
light in the room behind you. Keep cool. I sha'n't be more than a
minute."

There was no sound for many seconds, save the deep breathing of the two
men. Then, with infinite caution, Sprouse turned the knob and opened
the door a half inch or so. He left the room so abruptly that Barnes
never quite got over the weird impression that he squeezed through that
slender crack, and pulled it after him!

Many minutes passed before he turned on the light. The key of the box
was tied to the wire grip. With trembling fingers he inserted it in the
lock and opened the lid.... "A half-million dollars' worth of nice
little things," Sprouse had said!

He did not close his eyes that night. Daybreak found him lying in bed,
with the box under his pillow, a pistol at hand, and his eyes
wide-open. He was in a graver quandary than ever. Now that he had the
treasure in his possession, what was he to do with it? He did not dare
to leave it in the room, nor was it advisable to carry it about with
him. The discovery of the burglary in room 30 would result in a search
of the house, from top to bottom.

Cold perspiration started out on his brow. The situation was far from
being the happy one that he had anticipated.

He solved the breakfast problem by calling downstairs for a waiter and
ordering coffee and rolls and eggs sent up to his room. Singularly
enough the waiter solved the other and more disturbing problem for him.

"SOME robbery last night," said that worthy, as he re-appeared with the
tray. Barnes was thankful that the waiter was not looking at him when
he hurled the bomb, figuratively speaking. He had a moment's time to
recover.

"What robbery?" he enquired, feigning indifference.

"Feller up in one of the cottages at the sanatorium. All beat up,
something fierce they say."

"Up in - Where?" almost shouted Barnes, starting up.

The man explained where the cottages were situated, Barnes listening as
one completely bereft of intelligence.

"Seems he was to leave by auto early this mornin', and they didn't know
anything was wrong till Joe Keep - he's driving a Fierce-Arrow that Mr.
Norton has for rent - till Joe'd been settin' out in front for nearly
half an hour. The man's wife was waitin' fer him up at the main
buildin' and she got so tired waitin' that she sent one of the clerks
down to see what was keeping her husband. Well, sir, him and Joe
couldn't wake the feller, so they climb in an open winder, an' by gosh,
Joe says it was terrible. The feller was layin' on the bed, feet an'
hands tied and gagged, and blood from head to foot. He was inconscious,
Joe says, an' - my God, how his wife took on! Joe says he couldn't stand
it, so he snook out, shakin' like a leaf. He says she's a pippin, too.
Never seen a purtier - "

"Is - is the man dead?" cried Barnes, aghast. He felt that his face was
as white as chalk.

"Nope! Seems like it's nothing serious: just beat up, that's all.
Terrible cuts on his head and - "

"What is his name?" demanded Barnes.

"Something like Hackensack."

"Have they caught the thief?"

"I should say not. The police never ketch anything but drunks in this
burg, and they wouldn't ketch them if they could keep from stumblin'."

"What time did all this happen?" Barnes was having great difficulty in
keeping his coffee from splashing over.

"Doc Smith figgers it was long about midnight, judgin' by the way the
blood co'gulated."

"Did they get away with much?"

"Haven't heard. Joe says the stove pipe in the feller's room was
knocked down and they's soot all over everything. Looks like they must
have been a struggle. Seems as though the burglar, - must ha' been
more'n one of 'em, I say, - wasn't satisfied with cracking him over the
head. He stuck the point of a knife or something into him, - just a
little way, Joe says - in more'n a dozen places. What say?"

"I - I didn't say anything."

"I thought you did. Well, if I hear anything more I'll let you know."

"Anything for a little excitement," said Barnes casually.

He listened at the door until he heard the waiter clattering down the
stairway, and then went swiftly down the hall to No. 30. Mr. Prosser
was sleeping just as soundly and as resoundingly as at midnight!

"By gad!" he muttered, half aloud. Everything was as clear as day to
him now. Bolting into his own room, he closed the door and stood
stock-still for many minutes, trying to picture the scene in the
cottage.

No stretch of the imagination was required to establish the facts.
Sprouse had come to him during the night with Prince Ugo's blood on the
hands that bore the treasure. He had surprised and overpowered the
pseudo Mr. Hasselwein, and had actually tortured him into revealing the
hiding place of the jewels. The significance of the scattered stove
pipe was not lost on Barnes; it had not been knocked down in a struggle
between the two men. Prince Ugo was not, and never had been, in a
position to defend himself against his wily assailant. Barnes's blood
ran cold as he went over in his mind the pitiless method employed by
Sprouse in subduing his royal victim. And the coolness, the unspeakable
bravado of the man in coming direct to him with the booty! His
amazingly clever subterfuge in allowing Barnes to think that room No.
30 was the scene of his operations, thereby forcing him to remain
inactive through fear of consequences to himself and the Countess if he
undertook to investigate!

He found a letter in his box when he went downstairs, after stuffing
the tin box deep into his pack, - a risky thing to do he realised, but
no longer perilous in the light of developments. It was no longer
probable that his effects would be subjected to inspection by the
police. He walked over to a window to read the letter. Before he slit
the envelope he knew that Sprouse was the writer. The message was brief.

"After due consideration, I feel that it would be a mistake for you to
abandon your present duties at this time. It might be misunderstood.
Stick to the company until something better turns up. With this thought
in view I withdraw the two days' limit mentioned recently to you, and
extend the time to one week. Yours very truly, J. H. Wilson."

"Gad, the fellow thinks of everything," said Barnes to himself. "He is
positively uncanny."

He read between the lines, and saw there a distinct warning. It had not
occurred to him that his plan to leave for New York that day with Miss
Cameron might be attended by disastrous results.

On reflection, he found the prospect far from disagreeable. A week or
so with the Rushcroft company was rather attractive under the
circumstances. The idea appealed to him.

But the jewels? What of them? He could not go gallivanting about the
country with a half million dollars' worth of precious stones in his
possession. A king's ransom strapped on his back! He would not be able
to sleep a wink. Indeed, he could see himself wasting away to a mere
shadow through worry and dread. Precious stones? They would develop
into millstones, he thought, with an inward groan.

He questioned the advisability of informing Miss Cameron that the crown
jewels were in his possession. Her anxiety would be far greater than
his own. There was nothing to be gained by telling her in any case; so
he decided to bear the burden alone.

The play was not to open in Crowndale until Tuesday night, three full
days off. He revelled in the thought of sitting "out front" in the
empty little theatre, watching the rehearsals. At such times he was
confident that his thoughts would not be solely of the jewels. He would
at least have surcease during these periods of forgetfulness.

He spent the early part of the forenoon in wandering nervously about
the hotel, - upstairs and down. The jewels were locked in his pack
upstairs. He went up to his room half a dozen times and almost
instantly walked down again, after satisfying himself that the pack had
not been rifled.

Exasperation filled his soul. Ten o'clock came and still no sign of the
lazy actors. Rehearsal at eleven, and not one of them out of bed.

Peter came to the hotel soon after ten. He had forgotten Peter and his
decision to send him down to the Berkshires that day, and was sharply
reminded of the necessity for doing so by the appearance of the man who
had registered just before midnight. This individual strolled casually
into the lobby a few seconds behind Peter.

He acted at once and with decision. The stranger took a seat in the
window not far away. Barnes, in a brisk and business-like tone,
informed Peter that he was to leave on the one o'clock train for the
south, and to go direct to his sister's place near Stockbridge. He was
to leave the automobile in Crowndale for the present.

"Here is the money for your railroad fare," he announced in conclusion.
"I have telegraphed Mrs. Courtney's man that you will arrive this
evening. He will start you in on your duties to-morrow. I understand
they are short-handed on the place. And now let me impress upon you,
Peter, the importance of holding yourself ready to report when needed.
You know what I mean. Remember, I have guaranteed that you will appear."

The stranger drank in every word that passed between the two men. When
the one o'clock train pulled out of Crowndale, it carried Peter Ames in
one of the forward coaches, and a late guest of the Grand Palace Hotel
in the next car behind. Barnes took the time to assure himself of these
facts, and smiled faintly as he drove away from the railway station
after the departure of the train. Miss Cameron, her veil lowered, sat
beside him in the "hack."

For the next three days and nights rehearsals were in full swing, with
scarcely a moment's let-up. The Rushcroft company was increased by the
arrival of three new members and several pieces of baggage. The dingy
barn of a theatre was the scene of ceaseless industry, both peaceful
and otherwise. The actors quarrelled and fumed and all but fought over
their grievances. Only the presence of the "backer" and the extremely
pretty and cultured "friend of the family" in "front" prevented
sanguinary encounters among the male contenders for the centre of the
stage. The usually placid Mr. Dillingford was transformed into a
snarling beast every time one of his "lines" was cut out by the
relentless Rushcroft, and there were times when Mr. Bacon loudly
accused his fiancee of "crabbing" his part. Everybody called everybody
else a "hog," and God was asked a hundred times a day to bear witness
to as many atrocities.

Each day the bewildered, distressed young woman who sat with Barnes in
the dim "parquet," whispered in his ear:

"Can they ever be friendly again?"

And every night at supper she rejoiced to find them all on the best of
terms, calling each other "dearie," and "old chap," and "honey," and
declaring that no such company had ever been gotten together in the
history of the stage! Such words as "slob," "fat-head," "boob" or "you
poor nut" never found their way outside the sacred precincts of the
theatre.

Mr. Rushcroft magnanimously offered to coach "Miss Jones" in the part
he was going to write in for her just as soon as he could get around to
it.

"No use writing a part for her, Mr. Barnes, until I get through beating
the parts we already have into the heads of these poor fools up here.
I've got trouble enough on my hands."

And so the time crept by, up to the night of the performance. Miss
Cameron remained in ignorance of the close proximity of the jewels, and
the police of Crowndale remained in even denser ignorance as to the
whereabouts of the man who robbed Mr. Hasselwein of all his spare cash
and an excellent gold watch.

Hasselwein's story was brief but dramatic. He was recovering rapidly
from his experience and the local newspaper, on Tuesday, announced that
he would be strong enough to accompany his wife when she left the
"city" toward the end of the week. (Considerable space was employed by
the reporter in "writing up" the wonderful devotion of Mrs. Hasselwein,
who, despite the fact that she was quite an invalid, conducted herself
with rare fortitude, seldom leaving her husband's room in the hospital.)

According to the injured man, his assailant was a huge, powerful
individual, wearing a mask and armed to the teeth. He came in through
an open window and attacked him while he was asleep in bed.
Notwithstanding the stunning blow he received while prostrate, Mr.
Hasselwein struggled to his feet and engaged the miscreant - (while the
word was used at least twenty times in the newspaper account, I promise
to use it but once) - in a desperate conflict. Loss of blood weakened
him and he soon fell exhausted upon the bed. To make the story even
shorter than Prince Ugo made it, not a word was said about the jewels,
and that, after all, is the only feature of the case in which we are
interested.

Barnes smiled grimly over Ugo's failure to mention the jewels, and the
misleading description of the thief. He was thankful, however, and
relieved to learn that the one man who might recognise Miss Cameron was
not likely to leave the hospital short of a week's time.

No time was lost by the Countess in getting word to her compatriots in
New York. Barnes posted a dozen letters for her; each contained the
tidings of her safety and the assurance that she would soon follow in
person.

Those three days and nights were full of joy and enchantment for
Barnes. True, he did not sleep very well, - indeed, scarcely at
all, - but it certainly was not a hardship to lie awake and think of her
throughout the whole of each blessed night. He recalled and secretly
dilated upon every sign of decreasing reserve on her part. He shamed
himself more than once for deploring the fact that her ankle was
mending with uncommon rapidity, and that in a few days she would be
quite able to walk without support. And he actually debased himself by
wishing that the Rushcroft company might find it imperative to go on
rehearsing for weeks in that dim, enchanted temple.

It was not a "barn of a place" to him. It was paradise. He sat for
hours in one of the most uncomfortable seats he had ever known,
devouring with hungry eyes the shadowy, interested face so close to his
own, - and never tired.

And then came a time at last when conversation became difficult between
them; when there were long silences fraught with sweet peril, exceeding
shyness, and a singular form of deafness that defied even the roars of
the players and yet permitted them to hear, with amazing clearness, the
faintest of heart-beats.

On the afternoon of the dress rehearsal, he led her, after an hour of
almost insupportable repression, to the rear of the auditorium, in the
region made gloomy by the shelving gallery overhead. Dropping into the
seat beside her, he blurted out, almost in anguish:

"I can't stand it any longer. I cannot be near you without - why,
I - I - well, it is more than I can struggle against, that's all. You've
either got to send me away altogether or - or - let me love you without
restraint. I tell you, I can't go on as I am now. I must speak, I must
tell you all that has been in my heart for days. I love you - I love
you! You know I love you, don't you? You know I worship you. Don't be
frightened. I just had to tell you to-day. I could not have held it
back another hour. I should have gone mad if I had tried to keep it up
any longer." He waited breathlessly for her to speak. She sat silent
and rigid, looking straight before her. "Is it hopeless?" he went on at
last, huskily. "Must I ask your forgiveness for my presumption and - and
go away from you?"

She turned to him and laid her hand upon his arm.

"Am I not like other women? Have you forgotten that you once said that
I was not different? Why should I forgive you for loving me? Doesn't
every woman want to be loved? No, no, my friend! Wait! A moment ago I
was so weak and trembly that I thought I - Oh, I was afraid for myself.
Now I am quite calm and sensible. See how well I have myself in hand? I
do not tremble, I am strong. We may now discuss ourselves calmly,
sensibly. A moment ago - Ah, then it was different! I was being drawn
into - Oh! What are you doing?"

"I too am strong," he whispered. "I am sure of my ground now, and I am
not afraid."

He had clasped the hand that rested on his sleeve and, as he pressed it
to his heart, his other arm stole over her shoulders and drew her close
to his triumphant body. For an instant she resisted, and then relaxed
into complete submission. Her head sank upon his shoulder.

"Oh!" she sighed, and there was wonder, joy - even perplexity, in the
tremulous sign of capitulation. "Oh," came softly from her parted lips
again at the end of the first long, passionate kiss.




CHAPTER XXI

THE END IN SIGHT


Barnes, soaring beyond all previous heights of exaltation, ranged
dizzily between "front" and "back" at the Grand Opera House that
evening. He was supposed to remain "out front" until the curtain went
up on the second act. But the presence of the Countess in Miss
Thackeray's barren, sordid little dressing-room rendered it exceedingly
difficult for him to remain in any fixed spot for more than five
minutes at a stretch. He was in the "wings" with her, whispering in her
delighted ear; in the dressing-room, listening to her soft words of
encouragement to the excited leading-lady; on the narrow stairs leading
up to the stage, assisting her to mount them, - and not in the least
minding the narrowness; out in front for a jiffy, and then back again;
and all the time he was dreading the moment when he would awake and
find it all a dream.

There was an annoying fly in the ointment, however. Her languorous
surrender to love, her physical confession of defeat at the hands of
that inexorable power, her sweet submission to the conquering arms of
the besieger, left nothing to be desired; and yet there was something
that stood between him and utter happiness: her resolute refusal to
bind herself to any promise for the future.

"I love you," she had said simply. "I want more than anything else in
all the world to be your wife. But I cannot promise now. I must have
time to think, time to - "

"Why should you require more time than I?" he persisted. "Have we not
shown that there is nothing left for either of us but to make the other
happy? What is time to us? Why make wanton waste of it?"

"I know that I cannot find happiness except with you," she replied. "No
matter what happens to me, I shall always love you, I shall never
forget the joy of THIS. But - " She shook her head sadly.

"Would you go back to your people and marry - " he swallowed hard and
went on - "marry some one you could never love, not even respect, with
the memory of - "

"Stop! I shall never marry a man I do not love. Oh, please be patient,
be good to me. Give me a little time. Can you not see that you are
asking me to alter destiny, to upset the teachings and traditions of
ages, and all in one little minute of weakness?"

"We cannot alter destiny," he said stubbornly. "We may upset tradition,
but what does that amount to? We have but one life to live. I think our
grandchildren and our great-grandchildren will be quite as well pleased
with their ancestors as their royal contemporaries will be with theirs
a hundred years from now."

"I cannot promise now," she said gently, and kissed him.

The first performance of "The Duke's Revenge" was incredibly bad. The
little that Barnes saw of it, filled him with dismay. Never had he
witnessed anything so hopeless as the play, unless it was the actors
themselves. But more incredible than anything else in connection with
the performance was the very palpable enjoyment of the audience. He
could hardly believe his ears. The ranting, the shouting, the howling
of the actors sent shivers to the innermost recesses of his being. Then
suddenly he remembered that he was in the heart of the "barn-stormer's"
domain. The audience revelled in "The Duke's Revenge" because they had
never seen anything better!

Between the second and third acts Tommy Gray rushed back with the
box-office statement. The gross was $359. The instant that fact became
known to Mr. Rushcroft he informed Barnes that they had a "knockout," a
gold mine, and that never in all his career had he known a season to
start off so auspiciously as this one.

"It's good for forty weeks solid," he exclaimed. Both Barnes and the
wide-eyed Countess became infused with the spirit of jubilation that
filled the souls of these time-worn, hand-to-mouth stragglers. They
rejoiced with them in their sudden elevation to happiness, and
overlooked the vain-glorious claims of each individual in the matter of
personal achievement. Even the bewildered Tilly bleated out her little
cry for distinction.

"Did you hear them laugh at the way I got off my speech?" she cried
excitedly.

"I certainly did," said Mr. Bacon amiably. "By gad, I laughed at it
myself."

"Parquet $217.50, dress circle $105, gallery $36.50," announced Tommy
Gray, as he donned his wig and false beard for the third act.
"Sixty-forty gives us $215.40 on the night. Thank God, we won't have to
worry about the sheriff this week."

In Miss Thackeray's dressing-room that level-headed young woman broke
down and wept like a child.

"Oh, Lord," she stuttered, "is it possible that we're going to stay
above water at last? I thought we had gone down for the last time, and
here we are bobbing up again as full of ginger as if we'd never hit the
bottom."

The Countess kissed her and told her that she was the rarest girl she
had ever known, the pluckiest and the best.

"If I had your good looks, Miss Cameron," said Mercedes, "added to my
natural ability, I'd make Julia Marlowe look like an old-fashioned
one-ring circus. Send Mr. Bacon to me, Mr. Barnes. I want to
congratulate him."

"He gave a fine performance," said Barnes promptly.

"I don't want to congratulate him on his acting," said she, smiling
through her tears. "He's going to be married to-morrow. And I am going
to have Miss Cameron for my bridesmaid," she added, throwing an arm
about the astonished Countess. "Mr. Bacon will want Dilly for his best
man, but he ought to think more of the general effect than that. Dilly
only comes to his shoulder." She measured the stalwart figure of Thomas
Barnes with an appraising eye. "What do you say, Mr. Barnes?"

"I'll do it with the greatest pleasure," he declared.

The next afternoon in the town of Bittler the Countess Mara-Dafanda,
daughter of royalty, and Thomas Kingsbury Barnes "stood up" with the
happy couple during a lull in the hastily called rehearsal on the stage
of Fisher's Imperial Theatre, and Lyndon Rushcroft gave the bride away.
There was $107 in the house that night, but no one was down-hearted.

"You could do worse, dear heart, than to marry one of us care-free
Americans," whispered Barnes to the girl who clung to his arm so
tightly as they entered the wings in the wake of the bride and groom.

And she said something in reply that brought a flush of mortification
to his cheek.

"Oh, it would be wonderful to marry a man who will never have to go to
war. A brave man who will not have to be a soldier."

The unintentional reflection on the fighting integrity of his country
struck a raw spot in Barnes's pride. He knew what all Europe was saying
about the pussy-willow attitude of the United States, and he squirmed
inwardly despite the tribute she tendered him as an individual. He was
not a "peace at any price" citizen.

He gave the wedding breakfast at one o'clock that night.

Three days later he and "Miss Jones" said farewell to the strollers and
boarded a day train for New York City. They left the company in a
condition of prosperity. The show was averaging two hundred dollars


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