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days but he lived up to the traditions of his profession by shaving
twice every twenty-four hours.

Depositing Barnes' pack on a chair in the little bedroom at the end of
the hall upstairs, he favoured the guest with a perfectly unabashed
grin.

"I'm not doing this to oblige old man Jones, you know. I won't attempt
to deceive you. I'm working out a daily bread-bill. Chuck three times a
day and a bed to sleep in, that's what I'm doing it for, so don't get
it into your head that I applied for the job. Let me take a look at
you. I want to get a good square peep at a man who has the means to go
somewhere else and yet is boob enough to come to this gosh-awful place
of his own free will and accord. Darn it, you LOOK intelligent. I don't
get you at all. What's the matter? Are you a fugitive from justice?"

Barnes laughed aloud. There was no withstanding the fellow's sprightly
impudence.

"I happen to enjoy walking," said he.

"If I enjoyed it as much as you do, I'd be limping into Harlem by this
time," said Mr. Dillingford sadly. "But, you see, I'm an actor. I'm too
proud to walk."

"Up against poor business, I presume?"

"Up against no business at all," said Mr. Dillingford. "We couldn't
even get 'em to come in on passes. Last Saturday night we had out
enough paper to fill the house and, by gosh, only eleven people showed
up. You can't beat that, can you? Three of 'em paid to get in. That
made a dollar and a half, box office. We nearly had to give it back."

"Bad weather?" suggested Barnes feelingly. He had removed his wet coat,
and stood waiting.

"Nope. Moving pictures. They'd sooner pay ten cents to see a movie than
to come in and see us free. The old man was so desperate he tried to
kill himself the morning we arrived at this joint."

"You mean the star? Poison, rope or pistol?"

"Whiskey. He tried to drink himself to death. Before old Jones got onto
him he had put down seven dollars' worth of booze, and now we've got to
help wipe out the account. But why complain? It's all in a day's - "

The cracked bell on the office desk interrupted him, somewhat
peremptorially. Mr. Dillingford's face assumed an expression of
profound dignity. He lowered his voice as he gave vent to the following:

"That man Jones is the meanest human being God ever let - Yes, sir,
coming, sir!" He started for the open door with surprising alacrity.

"Never mind the hot water," said Barnes, sorry for the little man.

"No use," said Mr. Dillingford dejectedly. "He charges ten cents for
hot water. You've got to have it whether you want it or not. Remember
that you are in the very last stages of New England. The worst
affliction known to the human race. So long. I'll be back in two shakes
of a lamb's - " The remainder of his promise was lost in the rush of
exit.

Barnes surveyed the little bed-chamber. It was just what he had
expected it would be. The walls were covered with a garish paper
selected by one who had an eye but not a taste for colour: bright pink
flowers that looked more or less like chunks of a shattered water melon
spilt promiscuously over a background of pearl grey. There was every
indication that it had been hung recently. Indeed there was a distinct
aroma of fresh flour paste. The bedstead, bureau and washstand were
likewise offensively modern. Everything was as clean as a pin, however,
and the bed looked comfortable. He stepped to the small, many-paned
window and looked out into the night. The storm was at its height. In
all his life he never had heard such a clatter of rain, nor a wind that
shrieked so appallingly.

His thoughts went quite naturally to the woman who was out there in the
thick of it. He wondered how she was faring, and lamented that she was
not in his place now and he in hers. A smile lighted his eyes. She had
such a nice voice and such a quaint way of putting things into words.
What was she doing up in this God-forsaken country? And how could she
be so certain of that grumpy old man whom she had never laid eyes on
before? What was the name of the place she was bound for? Green Fancy!
What an odd name for a house! And what sort of house -

His reflections were interrupted by the return of Mr. Dillingford, who
carried a huge pewter pitcher from which steam arose in volume. At his
heels strode a tall, cadaverous person in a checked suit.

Never had Barnes seen anything quite so overpowering in the way of a
suit. Joseph's coat of many colours was no longer a vision of
childhood. It was a reality. The checks were an inch square, and each
cube had a narrow border of azure blue. The general tone was a dirty
grey, due no doubt to age and a constitution that would not allow it to
outlive its usefulness.

"Meet Mr. Bacon, Mr. Barnes," introduced Mr. Dillingford, going to the
needless exertion of indicating Mr. Bacon with a generous sweep of his
free hand. "Our heavy leads. Mr. Montague Bacon, also of New York."

"Ham and eggs, pork tenderloin, country sausage, rump steak and spring
chicken," said Mr. Bacon, in a cavernous voice, getting it over with
while the list was fresh in his memory. "Fried and boiled potatoes,
beans, succotash, onions, stewed tomatoes and - er - just a moment,
please. Fried and boiled potatoes, beans - "

"Learn your lines, Ague," said Mr. Dillingford, from the washstand. "We
call him Ague for short, Mr. Barnes, because he's always shaky with his
lines."

"Ham and eggs, potatoes and a cup or two of coffee," said Barnes,
suppressing a desire to laugh.

"And apple pie," concluded the waiter, triumphantly. "I knew I'd get it
if you gave me time. As you may have observed, my dear sir, I am not
what you would call an experienced waiter. As a matter of fact, I - "

"I told him you were an actor," interrupted his friend. "Run along now
and give the order to Mother Jones. Mr. Barnes is hungry."

"I am delighted to meet you, Mr. Barnes," said Mr. Bacon, extending his
hand. As he did so, his coat sleeve receded half way to the elbow,
revealing the full expanse of a frayed cuff. "So delighted, in fact,
that it gives me great pleasure to inform you that you have at last
encountered a waiter who does not expect a tip. God forbid that I
should ever sink so low as that. I have been a villain of the deepest
dye in a score or more of productions - many of them depending to a
large extent upon the character of the work I did in - "

"Actor stuff," inserted Mr. Dillingford, unfeelingly.

" - And I have been hissed a thousand times by gallery gods and kitchen
angels from one end of this broad land to the other, but never, sir,
never in all my career have I been obliged to play such a diabolical
part as I am playing here, and, dammit, sir, I am denied even the
tribute of a healthy hiss. This is - "

The bell downstairs rang violently. Mr. Bacon departed in great haste.

While the traveller performed his ablutions, Mr. Dillingford, for the
moment disengaged, sat upon the edge of the bed and enjoyed himself. He
talked.

"We were nine at the start," said he, pensively. "Gradually we were
reduced to seven, not including the manager. I doubled and so did Miss
Hughes, - a very charming actress, by the way, who will soon be heard of
on Broadway unless I miss my guess. The last week I was playing Dick
Cranford, light juvenile, and General Parsons, comedy old man. In the
second act Dick has to meet the general face to face and ask him for
his daughter's hand. Miss Hughes was Amy Parsons, and, as I say,
doubled along toward the end. She played her own mother. The best you
could say for the arrangement was that the family resemblance was
remarkable. I never saw a mother and daughter look so much alike. You
see, she didn't have time to change her make-up or costume, so all she
could do was to put on a long shawl and a grey wig, and that made a
mother of her. Well, we had a terrible time getting around that scene
between Dick and the general. Amy and her mother were in on it too, and
Mrs. Parsons was supposed to faint. It looked absolutely impossible for
Miss Hughes. But we got around it, all right."

"How, may I ask?" enquired Barnes, over the edge of a towel.

"Just as I was about to enter to tackle the old man, who was seated in
his library with Mrs. Parsons, the lights went out. I jumped up and
addressed the audience, telling 'em (almost in a confidential whisper,
there were so darned few of 'em) that there was nothing to be alarmed
about and the act would go right on. Then Amy and Dick came on in total
darkness, and the audience never got wise to the game. When the lights
went up, there was Amy and Dick embracing each other in plain view, the
old folks nowhere in sight. General Parsons had dragged the old lady
into the next room. We made our changes right there on the stage,
speaking all four parts at the same time."

"Pretty clever," said Barnes.

"My idea," announced Mr. Dillingford calmly.

"What has become of the rest of the company?"

"Well, as I said before, two of 'em escaped before the smash. The low
comedian and character old woman. Joe Beckley and his wife. That left
the old man, - I mean Mr. Rushcroft, the star - Lyndon Rushcroft, you
know, - myself and Bacon, Tommy Gray, Miss Rushcroft, Miss Hughes and a
woman named Bradley, seven of us. Miss Hughes happened to know a chap
who was travelling around the country for his health, always meeting up
with us, - accidentally, of course, - and he staked her to a ticket to
New York. The woman named Bradley said her mother was dying in Buffalo,
so the rest of us scraped together all the money we had, - nine dollars
and sixty cents, - and did the right thing by her. Actors are always
doing darn-fool things like that, Mr. Barnes. And what do you suppose
she did? She took that money and bought two tickets to Albany, one for
herself and another for the manager of the company, - the lowest,
meanest, orneriest white man that ever, - But I am crabbing the old
man's part. You ought to hear what HE has to say about Mr. Manager. He
can use words I never even heard of before. So, that leaves just the
four of us here, working off the two days' board bill of Bradley and
the manager, Rushcroft's ungodly spree, and at the same time keeping
our own slate clean. Miss Thackeray will no doubt make up your bed in
the morning. She is temporarily a chambermaid. Cracking fine girl, too,
if I do say - "

"Miss Thackeray? I don't recall your mentioning - "

"Mercedes Thackeray on the programme, but in real life, as they say,
Emma Smith. She is Rushcroft's daughter."

"Somewhat involved, isn't it?"

"Not in the least. Rushcroft's real name is Otterbein Smith. Horrible,
isn't it? He sprung from some place in Indiana, where the authors come
from. Miss Thackeray was our ingenue. A trifle large for that sort of
thing, perhaps, but - very sprightly, just the same. She's had her full
growth upwards, but not outwards. Tommy Gray, the other member of the
company, is driving a taxi in Hornville. He used to own his own car in
Springfield, Mass., by the way. Comes of a very good family. At least,
so he says. Are you all ready? I'll lead you to the dining-room. Or
would you prefer a little appetiser beforehand? The tap-room is right
on the way. You mustn't call it the bar. Everybody in that little
graveyard down the road would turn over completely if you did. Hallowed
tradition, you know."

"I don't mind having a cocktail. Will you join me?"

"As a matter of fact, I'm expected to," confessed Mr. Dillingford.
"We've been drawing quite a bit of custom to the tap-room. The rubes
like to sit around and listen to conversation about Broadway and Bunker
Hill and Old Point Comfort and other places, and then go home and tell
the neighbours that they know quite a number of stage people. Human
nature, I guess. I used to think that if I could ever meet an actress
I'd be the happiest thing in the world. Well, I've met a lot of 'em,
and God knows I'm not as happy as I was when I was WISHING I could meet
one of them. Listen! Hear that? Rushcroft is reciting Gunga Din. You
can't hear the thunder for the noise he's making."

They descended the stairs and entered the tap-room, where a dozen men
were seated around the tables, all of them with pewter mugs in front of
them. Standing at the top table, - that is to say, the one farthest
removed from the door and commanding the attention of every creature in
the room - was the imposing figure of Lyndon Rushcroft. He was reciting,
in a sonorous voice and with tremendous fervour, the famous Kipling
poem. Barnes had heard it given a score of times at The Players in New
York, and knew it by heart. He was therefore able to catch Mr.
Rushcroft in the very reprehensible act of taking liberties with the
designs of the author. The "star," after a sharp and rather startled
look at the newcomer, deliberately "cut" four stanzas and rushed
somewhat hastily through the concluding verse, marring a tremendous
climax.

A genial smile wiped the tragic expression from his face. He advanced
upon Barnes and the beaming Mr. Dillingford, his hand extended.

"My dear fellow," he exclaimed resoundingly, "how are you?" Cordiality
boomed in his voice. "I heard you had arrived. Welcome, - thricefold
welcome!" He neglected to say that Mr. Montague Bacon, in passing a few
minutes before, had leaned over and whispered behind his hand:

"Fellow upstairs from New York, Mr. Rushcroft, - fellow named Barnes.
Quite a swell, believe me."

It was a well-placed tip, for Mr. Rushcroft had been telling the
natives for days that he knew everybody worth knowing in New York.

Barnes was momentarily taken aback. Then he rose to the spirit of the
occasion.

"Hello, Rushcroft," he greeted, as if meeting an old time and greatly
beloved friend. "This IS good. 'Pon my soul, you are like a thriving
date palm in the middle of an endless desert. How are you?"

They shook hands warmly. Mr. Dillingford slapped the newcomer on the
shoulder, affectionately, familiarly, and shouted:

"Who would have dreamed we'd run across good old Barnesy up here? By
Jove, it's marvellous!"

"Friends, countrymen," boomed Mr. Rushcroft, "this is Mr. Barnes of New
York. Not the man the book was written about, but one of the best
fellows God ever put into this little world of ours. I do not recall
your names, gentlemen, or I would introduce each of you separately and
divisibly. And when did you leave New York, my dear fellow?"

"A fortnight ago," replied Barnes. "I have been walking for the past
two weeks."

Mr. Rushcroft's expression changed. His face fell.

"Walking?" he repeated, a trifle stiffly. Was the fellow a tramp? Was
he in no better condition of life than himself and his stranded
companions, against whom the mockery of the assemblage was slyly but
indubitably directed? If so, what was to be gained by claiming
friendship with him? It behooved him to go slow. He drew himself up to
his full height. "Well, well! Really?" he said.

The others looked on with interest. The majority were farmers, hardy,
rawboned men with misty eyes. Two of them looked like
mechanics, - blacksmiths, was Barnes' swift estimate, - and as there was
an odor of gasolene in the low, heavy-timbered room, others were no
doubt connected with the tavern garage. For that matter, there was also
an atmosphere of the stables.

Lyndon Rushcroft was a tall, saggy man of fifty. Despite his determined
erectness, he was inclined to sag from the shoulders down. His head,
huge and grey, appeared to be much too ponderous for his yielding body,
and yet he carried it manfully, even theatrically. The lines in his
dark, seasoned face were like furrows; his nose was large and somewhat
bulbous, his mouth wide and grim. Thick, black eyebrows shaded a pair
of eyes in which white was no longer apparent; it had given way to a
permanent red. A two days' stubble covered his chin and cheeks.
Altogether he was a singular exemplification of one's idea of the
old-time actor. He was far better dressed than the two male members of
his company who had come under Barnes' observation. A fashionably made
cutaway coat of black, a fancy waistcoat, and trousers with a delicate
stripe (sadly in need of creasing) gave him an air of distinction
totally missing in his subordinates. (Afterwards Barnes was to learn
that he was making daily use of his last act drawing-room costume,
which included a silk hat and a pair of pearl grey gloves.) Evidently
he had possessed the foresight to "skip out" in the best that the
wardrobe afforded, leaving his ordinary garments for the sheriff to lay
hands upon.

"A customary adventure with me," said Barnes. "I take a month's walking
tour every spring, usually timing my pilgrimage so as to miss the
hoi-polloi that blunders into the choice spots of the world later on
and spoils them completely for me. This is my first jaunt into this
part of New England. Most attractive walking, my dear fellow. Wonderful
scenery, splendid air - " "Deliver me from the hoi-polloi," said Mr.
Rushcroft, at his ease once more. "I may also add, deliver me from
walking. I'm damned if I can see anything in it. What will you have to
drink, old chap?"

He turned toward the broad aperture which served as a passageway in the
wall for drinks leaving the hands of a fat bartender beyond to fall
into the clutches of thirsty customers in the tap-room. There was no
outstanding bar. A time-polished shelf, as old as the house itself,
provided the afore-said bartender with a place on which to spread his
elbows while not actively engaged in advancing mugs and bottles from
more remote resting-places at his back.

"Everything comes through 'the hole in the wall,'" explained Rushcroft,
wrinkling his face into a smile.

He unceremoniously turned his back on the audience of a moment before,
and pounded smartly on the shelf, notwithstanding the fact that the
bartender was less than a yard away and facing him expectantly. "What
ho! Give ear, professor. Ye gods, what a night! Devil-brewed
pandemonium - I beg pardon?"

"I was just about to ask what you will have," said Barnes, lining up
beside him with Mr. Dillingford.

Mr. Rushcroft drew himself up once more. "My dear fellow, I asked you
to have a - "

"But I had already invited Dillingford. You must allow me to extend the
invitation - "

"Say no more, sir. I understand perfectly. A flagon of ale, Bob, for
me." He leaned closer to Barnes and said, in what was supposed to be a
confidential aside: "Don't tackle the whiskey. It would kill a
rattlesnake."

A few minutes later he laid one hand fondly upon Barnes' shoulder and,
with a graceful sweep of the other in the direction of the hall,
addressed himself to Dillingford.

"Lead the way to the banquet-hall, good fellow. We follow." To the
patrons he was abandoning:

"We return anon." Passing through the office, his arm linked in one of
Barnes', Mr. Rushcroft hesitated long enough to impress upon Landlord
Jones the importance of providing his "distinguished friend, Robert W.
Barnes," with the very best that the establishment afforded. Putnam
Jones blinked slightly and his eyes sought the register as if to accuse
or justify his memory. Then he spat copiously into the corner, a
necessary preliminary to a grin. He hadn't much use for the great
Lyndon Rushcroft. His grin was sardonic. Something told him that Mr.
Rushcroft was about to be liberally fed.




CHAPTER III

MR. RUSHCROFT DISSOLVES, MR. JONES INTERVENES, AND TWO MEN RIDE AWAY


Mr. Rushcroft explained that he had had his supper. In fact, he went on
to confess, he had been compelled, like the dog, to "speak" for it.
What could be more disgusting, more degrading, he mourned, than the
spectacle of a man who had appeared in all of the principal theatres of
the land as star and leading support to stars, settling for his supper
by telling stories and reciting poetry in the tap-room of a tavern?

"Still," he consented, when Barnes insisted that it would be a kindness
to him, "since you put it that way, I dare say I could do with a little
snack, as you so aptly put it. Just a bite or two. Like you, my dear
fellow, I loathe and detest eating alone. I covet companionship,
convivial com - what have you ready, Miss Tilly?"

Miss Tilly was a buxom female of forty or thereabouts, with spectacles.
She was one of a pair of sedentary waitresses who had been so long in
the employ of Mr. Jones that he hated the sight of them. Close
proximity to a real star affected her intensely. In fact, she was
dazzled. For something like twenty years she had nursed an ambition
that wavered between the desire to become an actress or an authoress.
At present she despised literature. More than once she had confessed to
Mr. Rushcroft that she hated like poison to write out the bill-o'-fare,
a duty devolving solely upon her, it appears, because of a local
tradition that she possessed literary talent. Every one said that she
wrote the best hand in the county.

Mr. Rushcroft's conception of a bite or two may have staggered Barnes
but it did not bewilder Miss Tilly. He had four eggs with his ham, and
other things in proportion. He talked a great deal, proving in that way
that it was a supper well worth speaking for. Among other things, he
dilated at great length upon his reasons for not being a member of The
Players or The Lambs in New York City. It seems that he had promised
his dear, devoted wife that he would never join a club of any
description. Dear old girl, he would as soon have cut off his right
hand as to break any promise made to her. He brushed something away
from his eyes, and his chin, contracting, trembled slightly.

"Quite right," said Barnes, sympathetically. "And how long has Mrs.
Rushcroft been dead?"

A hurt, incredulous look came into Mr. Rushcroft's eyes. "Is it
possible that you have forgotten the celebrated case of Rushcroft vs.
Rushcroft, not more than six years back? Good Lord, man, it was one of
the most sensational cases that ever - But I see that you do not recall
it. You must have been abroad at the time. I don't believe I ever knew
of a case being quite so admirably handled by the press as that one
was. She got it after a bitter and protracted fight. Infidelity.
Nothing so rotten as cruelty or desertion, - no sir!"

"Ahem!" coughed Miss Tilly.

"The dear old girl married again," sighed Mr. Rushcroft, helping
himself to Barnes' butter. "Did very well, too. Man in the wine trade.
He saves a great deal, you see, by getting it at cost, and I can assure
you, on my word of honour, sir, that he'll find it quite an item. What
is it, Mr. Bacon? Any word from New York?"

Mr. Bacon hovered near, perhaps hungrily.

"Our genial host has instructed me to say to his latest guest that the
rates are two dollars a day, in advance, all dining-room checks payable
on presentation," said Mr. Bacon, apologetically.

Rushcroft exploded. "A scurvy insult," he boomed. "Confound his - "

The new guest was amiable. He interrupted the outraged star. "Tell Mr.
Jones that I shall settle promptly," he said, with a smile.

The "heavy leads" lowered his voice. "He told me that he had had a
horrible thought."

"He never has anything else," said Mr. Rushcroft.

"It has just entered his bean that you may be an actor, Mr. Barnes,"
said Bacon.

Miss Tilly, overhearing, drew a step or two nearer. A sudden interest
in Mr. Barnes developed. She had not noticed before that he was an
uncommonly good-looking fellow. She always had said that she adored
strong, "athletic" faces.

"Hence the insult," said Mr. Rushcroft bitterly. He raised both arms in
a gesture of complete dejection. "My God!"

"Says it looks suspicious," went on Mr. Bacon, "flocking with us as you
do. He mentioned something about birds of a feather."

Mr. Rushcroft arose majestically. "I shall see the man myself, Mr.
Barnes. His infernal insolence - "

"Pray do not distress yourself, my dear Rushcroft," interrupted Barnes.
"He is quite within his rights. I may be even worse than an actor. I
may turn out to be an ordinary tramp." He took a wallet from his
pocket, and smiled engagingly upon Miss Tilly. "The check, please."

"For both?" inquired she, blinking.

"Certainly. Mr. Rushcroft was my guest."

"Four twenty five," she announced, after computation on the back of the
menu.

He selected a five dollar bill from the rather plethoric purse and
handed it to her.

"Be so good as to keep the change," he said, and Miss Tilly went away
in a daze from which she did not emerge for a long, long time.

Later on she felt inspired to jot down, for use no doubt in some future
literary production, a concise, though general, description of the
magnificent Mr. Barnes. She utilised the back of the bill-of-fare and


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