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question concerning your own private - er - misfortunes?" he asked,
leaning forward.

For a moment one could have heard a pin drop. Mr. Rushcroft evidently
held his breath. There could be no mistake about that.

"I don't mean to be offensive," Barnes made haste to add.

"My misfortunes are not private," said Mr. Rushcroft, with dignity.
"They are decidedly public. Ask all the questions you please, my dear
fellow."

"Well, it's rather delicate, but would you mind telling me just how
much you were stuck up for by the - er - was it a writ of attachment?"

"It was," said the star. "A writ of inquisition, you might as well
substitute. The act of a polluted, impecunious, parsimonious, - what
shall I say? Well, I will be as simple as possible: hotel keeper. In
other words, a damnation blighter, sir. Ninety-seven dollars and forty
cents. For that pitiful amount he subjected me to - "

"Well, that isn't so bad," said Barnes, vastly relieved. "It would
require that amount to square everything and release your personal
effects?"

"It would release the whole blooming production," put in Mr.
Dillingford, with unction. "Including my dress suit and a top hat, to
say nothing of a change of linen and - "

"Two wood exteriors and a parlor set, make-up boxes, wardrobe trunks, a
slide trombone and - " mused Mr. Bacon, and would have gone on but for
Barnes' interruption.

He was covertly watching Miss Thackeray's half-averted face as he
ventured upon the proposition he had decided to put before them. She
was staring out of the window, and there was a strained, almost
harassed expression about the corners of her mouth. The glimpse he had
of her dark eyes revealed something sullen, rebellious in them. She had
taken no part in the conversation for some time.

"I am prepared and willing to advance this amount, Mr. Rushcroft, and
to take your personal note as security."

Rushcroft leaned back in his chair and stuck his thumbs in the arm
holes of his vest. He displayed no undue elation. Instead he affected
profound calculation. His daughter shot a swift, searching look at the
would-be Samaritan. There was a heightened colour in her cheeks.

"Ahem," said Rushcroft, squinting at the ceiling beams.

"Moreover, I shall be happy to increase the amount of the loan
sufficiently to cover your return at once to New York, if you so
desire, - by train." Barnes smiled as he added the last two words.

"Extremely kind of you, my dear Barnes," said the actor, running his
fingers through his hair. "Your faith in me is most gratifying. I - I
really don't know what to say to you, sir."

"Of course, Mr. Barnes, you ought to know that you may be a long time
in getting your money back," said his daughter levelly. "We are poor
pay."

"My dear child," began Mr. Rushcroft, amazed.

"I shall permit your father himself to specify the number of months or
years to be written in the body of the note," said Barnes.

"And if he never pays, what then?" said she.

"I shall not trouble him with demands for the money," said Barnes.

"May I inquire just how you expect to profit by this transaction, Mr.
Barnes?" she asked steadily.

He started, suddenly catching her meaning.

"My dear Miss Thackeray," he exclaimed, "this transaction is solely
between your father and me. I shall have no other claim to press."

"I wish I could believe that," she said.

"You may believe it," he assured her.

"It isn't the usual course," she said quietly, and her face brightened.
"You are not like most men, Mr. Barnes."

"My dear child," said Rushcroft, "you must leave this matter to our
friend and me. I fancy I know an honest man when I see him. My dear
fellow, fortune is but temporarily frowning upon me. In a few weeks I
shall be on my feet again, zipping along on the crest of the wave. I
dare say I can return the money to you in a month or six weeks. If - "

"Oh, father!" cried Miss Thackeray.

"We'll make it six months, and I'll pay any rate of interest you
desire. Six per cent, eight per cent, ten per - "

"Six per cent, sir, and we will make it a year from date."

"Agreed. And now, Miss Tilly, will you ask the barmaid, - who happens to
be masculine, - to step in here and take the orders? We would drink to
Dame Fortune, who has a smile that defies all forms of adversity. Out
of the clouds falls a slice of silver lining. It alights in my
trembling palm. I - I - Damme, sir, you are a nobleman! In behalf of my
daughter, my company and the - Heaven forfend! I was about to add the
accursed management! - I thank you. Get up and dance for us, Dilly! We
shall be in New York to-morrow!"

"You forget the dictatorial sheriff, Mr. Rushcroft," said Barnes.

"The varlet!" barked Mr. Rushcroft.

It was arranged that Dillingford and Bacon were to go to Hornville in a
hired motor that afternoon, secure the judgment, pay the costs, and
attend to the removal of the personal belongings of the stranded
quartette from the hotel to Hart's Tavern. The younger actors stoutly
refused to accept Barnes' offer to pay their board while at the Tavern.
That, they declared, would be charity, and they preferred his
friendship and his respect to anything of that sort. Miss Thackeray,
however, was to be immediately relieved of her position as chambermaid.
She was to become a paying guest.

"I'll be glad to have my street togs, such as they are," said she,
rosily. "I dare say you are sick of seeing me in this rig, Mr. Barnes.
That's probably why you opened your heart and purse."

"Not at all," said he gaily. "As I presume I shall have to remain here
for some time, I deem it my right to improve the service as much as
possible. You are a very incompetent chambermaid, Miss Thackeray."

Rushcroft took the whole affair with the most noteworthy complacency.
He seemed to regard it as his due, or more properly speaking as if he
were doing Barnes a great favour in allowing him to lend money to a
person of his importance.

"A thought has just come to me, my dear fellow," he remarked, as they
arose from table. "With the proper kind of backing I could put over one
of the most stupendous things the theatre has known in fifty years. I
don't mind saying to you, - although it's rather sub rosa - that I have
written a play. A four act drama that will pack the biggest house on
Broadway to the roof for as many months as we'd care to stay. Perhaps
you will allow me to talk it over with you a little later on. You will
be interested, I'm sure. I actually shudder sometimes when I think of
the filthy greenbacks I'll have to carry around on my person if the
piece ever gets into New York. Yes, yes, I'll be glad to talk it over
with you. Egad, sir, I'll read the play to you. I'll - What ho,
landlord! When my luggage arrives this evening will you be good enough
to have it placed in the room just vacated by the late Mr. Roon? My
daughter will have the room adjoining, sir. By the way, will you have
your best automobile sent around to the door as quickly as possible? A
couple of my men are going to Hornville - damned spot! - to fetch hither
my - "

"Just a minute," interrupted Putnam Jones, wholly unimpressed. "A man
just called you up on the 'phone, Mr. Barnes. I told him you was
entertaining royalty at lunch and couldn't be disturbed. So he asked me
to have you call him up as soon as you revived. His words, not mine.
Call up Mr. O'Dowd at Green Fancy. Here's the number."

The mellow voice of the Irishman soon responded.

"I called you up to relieve your mind regarding the young woman who
came last night," he said. "You observe that I say 'came.' She's quite
all right, safe and sound, and no cause for uneasiness. I thought you
meant that she was coming here as a guest, and so I made the very
natural mistake of saying she hadn't come at all, at all. The young
woman in question is Mrs. Van Dyke's maid. But bless me soul, how was I
to know she was even in existence, much less expected by train or motor
or Shanks' mare? Well, she's here, so there's the end of our mystery.
We sha'n't have to follow your gay plan of searching the wilderness for
beauty in distress. Our romance is spoiled, and I am sorry to say it to
you. You were so full of it this morning that you had me all stirred up
meself."

Barnes was slow in replying. He was doubting his own ears. It was not
conceivable that an ordinary - or even an extraordinary - lady's maid
could have possessed the exquisite voice and manner of his chance
acquaintance of the day before, or the temerity to order that
sour-faced chauffeur about as if - The chauffeur!

"But I thought you said that Mr. Curtis's chauffeur was moon-faced
and - "

"He is, bedad," broke in Mr. O'Dowd, chuckling. "That's what deceived
me entirely, and no wonder. It wasn't Peter at all, but the rapscallion
washer who went after her. He was instructed to tell Peter to meet the
four o'clock train, and the blockhead forgot to give the order. Bedad,
what does he do but sneak out after her himself, scared out of his
boots for fear of what he was to get from Peter. I had the whole story
from Mrs. Van Dyke."

"Well, I'm tremendously relieved," said Barnes slowly.

"And so am I," said O'Dowd, with conviction. "I have seen the heroine
of our busted romance. She's a good-looking girl. I'm not surprised
that she kept her veil down. If you were to leave it to me, though, I'd
say that it's a sin to carry discretion so far as all that. I thought
I'd take the liberty of calling you up as soon as I had the facts, so
that you wouldn't go forth in knightly ardour - You see what I mean,
don't you?" His rich laugh came over the wire.

"Perfectly. Thank you for letting me know. My mind is at rest."

"Will you be staying on for some days at the Tavern?"

"I think so."

"Well, I shall give myself the pleasure of running over to see you in a
day or so."

"Do," said Barnes. "Good by." As he hung up the receiver he said to
himself, "You are a most affable, convincing chap, Mr. O'Dowd, but I
don't believe a word you say. That woman is no lady's maid, and you've
known all the time that she was there."

At four o'clock he set out alone for a tramp up the mountain road in
which the two men had been shot down. A number of men under the
direction of the sheriff were scouring the lofty timberland for the
deadly marksmen. He knew it would turn out to be as futile as the
proverbial effort to find the needle in the haystack.

His mind was quite clear on the subject. Roon and Paul were not
ordinary robbers. They were, no doubt, honest men. He would have said
that they were thieves bent on burglarising Green Fancy were it not for
the disclosures of Miss Thackeray and the very convincing proof that
they were not shot by the same man. Detected on the grounds about Green
Fancy by a watchman, they would have had an encounter with him there
and then. Moreover, they would have taken an active part in the play of
firearms. Desperadoes would not have succumbed so tamely.

It was not beyond reason, - indeed, it was quite probable, - that they
were trying to cross the border; in that event, their real operations
would be confined to the Canadian side of the line. They were
unmistakably foreigners. That fact, in itself, went far toward
establishing in his mind the conviction that they were not attempting
to intercept any one coming from the other side. Equally as strong was
the belief that the Canadian authorities would not have entered upon
United States territory for the purpose of apprehending these suspects,
no matter how thoroughly the movements and motives of the two men might
have been known to them.

He could not free himself of the suspicion that Green Fancy possessed
the key to the situation. Roon and his companion could not have had the
slightest interest in his movements up to the instant he encountered
the young woman at the cross-roads. It was ridiculous to even consider
himself an object of concern to these men who had been haunting the
border for days prior to his appearance on the scene. They were
interested only in the advent of the woman, and as her destination
confessedly was Green Fancy, what could be more natural than the
conclusion that their plans, evil or otherwise, depended entirely upon
her arrival at the strange house on the mountainside? They had been
awaiting her appearance for days. The instant it became known to them
that she was installed at Green Fancy, their plans went forward with a
swiftness that bespoke complete understanding.

His busy brain suddenly suffered the shock of a distinct conclusion. So
startling was the thought that he stopped abruptly in his walk and
uttered an exclamation of dismay. Was she a fellow-conspirator? Was she
the inside worker at Green Fancy in a well-laid plan to rifle the
place? She too was unmistakably a foreigner.

Could it be possible that she was the confederate of these painstaking
agents who lurked with sinister patience outside the very gates of the
place called Green Fancy?

In support of this theory was the supposition that O'Dowd may have been
perfectly sincere in his declarations over the telephone. Opposed to
it, however, was the absolute certainty that Roon and Paul were waylaid
and killed at widely separated points, and not while actively employed
in raiding the house. That was the rock over which all of his theories
stumbled.

His ramble carried him far beyond the spot where Roon's body was found
and where young Conley had come upon the tethered horses. His eager,
curious gaze swept the forest to the left of the road in search of
Green Fancy. Overcome by a rash, daring impulse, he climbed over the
stake and rider fence and sauntered among the big trees which so far
had obscured the house from view. He had looked in vain for the lane or
avenue leading from the road up to Mr. Curtis's house. He could not
have passed it in his stroll, of that he was sure, and yet he
remembered distinctly seeing O'Dowd and De Soto turn their horses into
the forest at a point far back of the place where he now entered the
grounds.

The trees grew very thickly on the slope, and they were unusually
large. Virgin timber, he decided, on which the woodman's axe had made
no inroads. The foliage was dense. Tree tops seemed to intermingle in
one vast canopy through which the sun but rarely penetrated. The bright
green of the grass, the sponginess of the soil, the presence of great
stretches of ferns and beds of moss told of almost perpetual moisture.
Strangely enough there was no suggestion of dankness in these shadowy
glades, rich with the fulness of early Spring.

He progressed deeper into the wood. At the end of what must have been a
mile, he halted. There was no sign of habitation, no indication that
man had ever penetrated so far into the forest. As he was on the point
of retracing his steps toward the road, his gaze fell upon a huge
moss-covered rock less than a hundred yards away. He stared, and
gradually it began to take on angles and planes and recesses of the
most astounding symmetry. Under his widening gaze it was transformed
into a substantial object of cubes and gables and - yes, windows.

He was looking upon the strange home of the even stranger Mr. Curtis:
Green Fancy.

Now he understood why it was called Green Fancy. Its surroundings were
no greener than itself; it seemed to melt into the foliage, to become a
part of the natural landscape. For a long time he stood stock-still,
studying the curious structure. Mountain ivy literally enveloped it.
Exposed sections of the house were painted green, - a mottled green that
seemed to indicate flickering sunbeams against an emerald wall. The
doors were green; the leafy porches and their columns, the chimney
pots, the window hangings, - all were the colour of the unchanging
forest. And it was a place of huge dimensions, low and long and
rambling. It seemed to have been forcibly jammed into the steep slope
that shot high above its chimneys; the mountain hung over its vine clad
roof, an ominous threat of oblivion.

There was no lawn, no indication of landscape gardening, and yet Barnes
was singularly impressed by the arrangement of the shrubbery that
surrounded the place. There was no visible approach to the house
through the thick, unbroken sea of green; everywhere was dense
underbrush, standing higher than the head of the tallest of
men, - clean, bright bushes, revealing the most astonishing uniformity
in size and character.

"'Gad," he said to himself, "what manner of crank is he who would bury
himself like this? Of all the crazy ideas I ever - "

His reflections ended there. A woman crossed his vision; a woman
strolling slowly toward him through the intricate avenues of the
wildwood.




CHAPTER VII

SPUN-GOLD HAIR, BLUE EYES, AND VARIOUS ENCOUNTERS


She was quite unaware of his presence, and yet he was directly in her
path, though some distance away. Her head was bent; her mien was
thoughtful, her stride slow and aimless.

The azure blue of the sweater she wore presented an inharmonious note
on the field of velvety green; - it was strangely out of place, he
thought, - almost an offence to the eye. He was conscious of an instant
protest against this profanation.

She was slender, graceful and evidently quite tall, although she seemed
a pigmy among the towering giants that attended her stroll. Her hands
were thrust deep into the pockets of a white duck skirt. A glance
revealed white shoes and trim ankles in blue. She wore no hat. Her hair
was like spun gold, thick, wavy and shimmering in the subdued light.

Suddenly she stopped, and looked up. He had a full view of her face as
she gazed about as if startled by some unexpected, even alarming,
sound. For a second or two he held his breath, stunned by the amazing
loveliness that was revealed to him. Then she discovered him standing
there.

He was never to forget the expression that came into her eyes; nor had
he ever seen eyes so blue. Alarm gave way to bewilderment as she stared
at the motionless intruder not thirty feet away. Then, to his utter
astonishment, her lips parted and a faint, wondering smile came into
her eyes. His heart leaped. She recognised him!

In a flash he realised that he was face to face with the stranger of
the day before, - she of the veil, the alluring voice, the unfaltering
spirits, and the weighty handbag!

He took two or three impulsive steps forward, his hand going to his
hat, - and then halted. Evidently his senses had deceived him. There was
no smile in her eyes, - and yet he could have sworn that it was there an
instant before. Instead, there was a level stare.

"I am sorry if I startled - " he began.

The figure of a man appeared, as if discharged bodily from some magic
tree-trunk, and stood directly in his path: A tall, rugged man in
overalls was he, who held a spade in his hand and eyed him inimically.
Without another glance in his direction, the first and more pleasing
vision turned on her heel and continued her stroll, sauntering off to
the right, her fair head once more bent in study, her back eloquently
indifferent to the gaze that followed her.

"Who do you want to see?" inquired the man with the spade.

Before Barnes could reply, a hearty voice accosted him from behind. He
whirled and saw O'Dowd approaching, not twenty yards away. The
Irishman's face was aglow with pleasure.

"I knew I couldn't be mistaken in the shape of you," he cried,
advancing with outstretched hand. "You've got the breadth of a
dock-hand in your shoulders, and the trimness of a prize-fighter in
your waist."

They shook hands. "I fear I am trespassing," said Barnes. His glance
went over his shoulder as he spoke. The man with the spade had been
swallowed up by the earth! He could not have vanished more quickly in
any other way. Off among the trees there were intermittent flashes of
blue and white.

"I am quite sure you are," said O'Dowd promptly, but without a trace of
unfriendliness in his manner. "Bedad, loving him as I do, I can't help
saying that Curtis is a bally old crank. Mind ye, I'd say it to his
face, - I often do, for the matter of that. Of course," he went on
seriously, "he is a sick man, poor devil. I have the unholy courage to
call him a chronic crank every once in awhile, and the best thing I can
say for his health is that he grins when I say it to him. You see, I've
known him for a dozen years and more, and he likes me, though God knows
why, unless it may be that I once did his son a good turn in London."

"Sufficient excuse for reparation, I should say," smiled Barnes.

"I introduced the lad to me only sister," said O'Dowd, "and she kept
him happy for the next ten years. No doubt, I also provided Mr. Curtis
with three grandchildren he might never have had but for my
graciousness. As for that, I let meself in for three of the most
prodigious nephews a man ever had, God bless them. I'll show you a
photograph of them if ye'd care to look." He opened the back of his
watch and held it out to Barnes. "Nine, seven and five, and all of them
as bright as Gladstone."

"They must be stunning," said Barnes warmly.

"They'll make a beggar of me, if I live long enough," groaned O'Dowd.
"It beats the deuce how childer as young as they are can have
discovered what a doddering fool their uncle is. Bedad, the smallest of
them knows it. The very instant I pretend to be a sensible, provident,
middle-aged gentleman he shows me up most shamelessly. 'Twas only a
couple of months ago that his confounded blandishments wiggled a
sixty-five dollar fire engine out of me. He squirted water all over the
drawing-room furniture, and I haven't been allowed to put foot into the
house since. My own darlin' sister refused to look at me for a week,
and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if she changed me namesake's
title to something less enfuriating than William." A look of distress
came into his merry eyes. "By Jove, I'd like nothing better than to ask
you in to have a dish of tea, - it's tea-time, I'm sure, - but I'd no
more think of doing it than I'd consider cutting off me head. He
doesn't like strangers. He - "

"My dear fellow, don't distress yourself," cried Barnes heartily.
"There isn't the least reason in the world why - "

"You see, the poor old chap asks us up here once or twice a year, - that
is to say, De Soto and me, - to keep his sister from filling the house
up with men he can't endure. So long as we occupy the only available
rooms, he argues, she can't stuff them full of objectionables. Twice a
year she comes for a month, in the late fall and early spring. He's
very fond of her, and she stands by him like a major."

"Why does he continue to live in this out-of-the-world spot, Mr.
O'Dowd? He is an old man, I take it, and ill."

"You wouldn't be wondering if you knew the man," said O'Dowd. "He is a
scholar, a dreamer, a sufferer. He doesn't believe in doctors. He says
they're all rascals. They'd keep him alive just for the sake of what
they could get out of him. So he's up here to die in peace, when his
time comes, and he hopes it will come soon. He doesn't want it
prolonged by a grasping, greedy doctor man. It's his kidneys, you know.
He's not a very old man at that. Not more than sixty-five."

"He certainly has a fanciful streak in him, building a place like
that," said Barnes, looking not at the house but into the thicket
above. There was no sign of the blue and white and the spun gold that
still defied exclusion from his mind's eye. He had not recovered from
the thrall into which the vision of loveliness plunged him. He was
still a trifle dazed and distraught.

"Right you are," agreed O'Dowd; "the queerest streak in the world. It's
his notion of simplicity. I wish you could see the inside of the place.
You'd wonder to what exalted heights his ideas of magnificence would
carry him if he calls this simplicity. He loves it all, he dotes on it.
It's the only joy he knows, this bewildering creation of his. For
nearly three years he has not been more than a stone's throw from the
walls of that house. I doubt if he's been as far as the spot where
we're standing now."

"Green Fancy. Is that the name he gave the place or does it spring
from - "

"'Twas christened by me own sister, Mr. Barnes, the first time she was
here, two years ago. I'll walk with you to the fence beyond if you've
no objections," said O'Dowd, genially, and linked his arm through that
of Barnes.

The latter was at once subtly aware of the fact that he was being
deliberately conducted from the grounds. Moreover, he was now convinced
that O'Dowd had been close upon his heels from the instant he entered
them. There was something uncanny in the feeling that possessed him.


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Online LibraryGeorge Barr McCutcheonGreen Fancy → online text (page 6 of 20)