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Such espionage as this signified something deep and imperative in the
presence not only of O'Dowd but the Jack-in-the-box gardener a few
minutes earlier. He had the grim suspicion that he would later on
encounter the spectacled De Soto.

His mind was still full of the lovely stranger about whom O'Dowd had so
manifestly lied over the telephone.

"I must ask you to apologise to the young lady on whom I blundered a
few moments ago, Mr. O'Dowd. She must have been startled. Pray convey
to her my solicitude and excuses."

"Consider it done, my dear sir," said the Irishman. "Our most charming
and seductive guest," he went on. "Bedad, of the two of you, I'll stake
me head you were startled the most. Coming suddenly upon such rare
loveliness is almost equivalent to being struck by a bolt of lightning.
It did something like that to me when I saw her for the first time a
couple of weeks ago. I didn't get over it for the better part of a
day, - I can't say that I really got over it at all. More than one
painter of portraits has said that she is the most beautiful woman in
the world. I don't take much stock in portrait painters, but I'm always
fair to the lords of creation when their opinions coincide with mine.
Mayhap you have heard of her. She is Miss Cameron of New Orleans, a
friend of Mrs. Van Dyke. We have quite an enchanting house-party, Mr.
Barnes, if you consider no more than the feminine side of it.
Unfortunate creatures! To be saddled with such ungainly lummixes as De
Soto and me! By the way, have you heard when the coroner is to hold his
inquests?"

"Nothing definite. He may wait a week," said Barnes.

"I suppose you'll stick around until it's all over," ventured O'Dowd.
Barnes thought he detected a slight harshness in his voice.

"I have quite made up my mind to stay until the mystery is entirely
cleared up," he said. "The case is so interesting that I don't want to
miss a shred of it."

"I don't blame ye," said O'Dowd heartily. "I'd like nothing better
meself than to mix up in it, but, Lord love ye, if I turned detective
I'd also be turned out of the spare bed-room beyond, and sped on me way
with curses. Well, here we are. The next time you plan to pay us a
visit, telephone in advance. I may be able to persuade my host that
you're a decent, law-abiding, educated gentleman, and he'll consent to
receive you at Green Fancy. Good day to ye," and he shook hands with
the departing trespasser.

A quarter of a mile below the spot where he parted from O'Dowd, Barnes
caught a glimpse of De Soto sauntering among the trees. He smiled to
himself. It was just what he had expected.

"Takin' a walk?" was the landlord's greeting as he mounted the tavern
steps at dusk. Putnam Jones's gaunt figure had been discernible for
some time, standing motionless at the top of the steps.

"Going over the ground of last night's affair," responded Barnes,
pausing. "Any word from the sheriff and his party?"

"Nope. The blamed fools are still up there turnin' over all the loose
stones they c'n find," said Jones sarcastically. "Did you get a glimpse
of Green Fancy?"

Barnes nodded. "I strolled a little distance into the woods," he said
briefly.

"I wouldn't do it again," said Jones. "Strangers ain't welcome. I might
have told you as much if I'd thought you were going up that way. Mr.
Curtis notified me a long while ago to warn my guests not to set foot
on his grounds, under penalty of the law."

"Well, I escaped without injury," laughed Barnes. "No one took a shot
at me."

As he entered the door he was acutely aware of an intense stare
levelled at him from behind by the landlord of Hart's Tavern. Half way
up the stairway he stopped short, and with difficulty repressed the
exclamation that rose to his lips.

He had recalled a significant incident of the night before. Almost
immediately after the departure of Roon and Paul from the Tavern,
Putnam Jones had made his way to the telephone behind the desk, and had
called for a number in a loud, brisk voice, but the subsequent
conversation was carried on in subdued tones, attended by haste and
occasional furtive glances in the direction of the tap-room.

Upon reaching his room, Barnes permitted the suppressed emotion to
escape his lips in the shape of a soft whistle, which if it could have
been translated into words would have said: "By Gad, why haven't I
thought of it before? He sent out the warning that Roon and Paul were
on the way! And I'd like to bet my last dollar that some one at Green
Fancy had the other end of the wire."

Mr. Rushcroft stalked majestically into his room while he was shaving,
without taking the trouble to knock at the door, and in his most
impressive manner announced that if there was another hostelry within
reasonable distance he would move himself, his luggage and his entire
company out of Putnam Jones's incomprehensible house.

"Why, sir," he declared, "the man is not only a knave but a fool. He
flatly declines the prodigious offer I have made for the corner rooms
at the end of the corridor. In fact, he refuses to transfer my daughter
and me from our present quarters into what might be called the royal
suite if one were disposed to be facetious. The confounded blockhead
insists on seeing the colour of my money in advance." He sat down on
the edge of the bed, dejectedly. "My daughter, perversity personified,
takes the extraordinary stand that the wretch is right. She agrees with
him. She has even gone so far as to say, to my face, that beggars
cannot be choosers, although I must give her credit for not using the
expression in the scoundrel's presence. 'Pon my soul, Barnes, I have
never been so sorely tried in all my life. Emma, - I should say,
Mercedes, - denounces me to my face. She says I am a wastrel, a
profligate, - (there I have her, however, for she failed to consult the
dictionary before applying the word to me), - an ingrate, and a lot of
other things I fail to recall in my dismay. She contends that I have no
right to do what I please with my own money. Indeed, she goes so far as
to say that I haven't any money at all. I have tried to explain to her
the very simple principles upon which all financial transactions are
based, but she remains as obtuse as Cleopatra's Needle. Her ignorance
would be pitiful if she wasn't so damned obstinate about it. And to cap
the climax, she had the insolence to ask me to show her a dollar in
real money. By gad, sir, she's as unreasonable as Putnam Jones himself."

Barnes gallantly came to the daughter's defense. He was more than
pleased by the father's revelations. They proved her to be possessed of
fine feelings and a genuine sense of appreciation.

"As a matter of fact, Mr. Rushcroft, I think she is quite right," he
said flatly. "It isn't a bad idea to practice economy."

"My dear sir," said Rushcroft peevishly, "where would I be now in my
profession if I had practiced economy at the expense of progress?"

"I don't know," confessed Barnes, much too promptly.

"I can tell you, sir. I would be nowhere at all. I would not be the
possessor of a name that is known from one end of this land to the
other, a name that guarantees to the public the most elaborate
productions known to - "

"Pardon me," interrupted the other; "it doesn't get you anywhere with
Putnam Jones, and that is the issue at present. The government puts the
portrait of George Washington on one of its greenbacks but his face and
name wouldn't be worth the tenth of a penny if the United States went
bankrupt. As it is, however, if you were to go downstairs and proffer
one of those bills to Putnam Jones he would make his most elaborate bow
and put you into the best room in the house. George Washington has
backing that even Mr. Jones cannot despise. So, you see, your daughter
is right. Your name and face is yet to be stamped on a government bank
note, Mr. Rushcroft, and until that time comes you are no better off
than I or any of the rest of the unfortunates who, being still alive,
have to eat for a living."

"You speak in parables," said Mr. Rushcroft, arising. "Am I to assume
that you wish to withdraw your offer to lend me - "

"Not at all," said Barnes. "My desire to stake you to the comforts and
dignity your station deserves remains unchanged. If you will bear with
me until I have finished shaving I will go with you to Mr. Jones and
show him the colour of your money."

Mr. Rushcroft grinned shamelessly. "My daughter was right when she said
another thing to me," he observed, sitting down once more.

"She appears to be more or less infallible."

"A woman in a million," said the star. "She said that I wouldn't make a
hit with you if I attempted to put on too much side. I perceive that
she was right, - as usual."

"Absolutely," said Barnes, with decision.

"So I'll cut it out," remarked Rushcroft quaintly. "I will be
everlastingly grateful to you, Mr. Barnes, if you'll fix things up with
Jones. God knows when or whether I can ever reimburse you, but as I am
not really a dead-beat the time will certainly come when I may begin
paying in installments. Do we understand each other?"

"We do," said Barnes, and started downstairs with him.

Half an hour later Barnes succeeded in striking a bargain with Putnam
Jones. He got the two rooms at the end of the hall at half price,
insisting that it was customary for every hotel to give actors a
substantial reduction in rates.

"You shall be treasurer and business-manager in my reorganized
company," said Rushcroft. "With your acumen and my eccentricity united
in a common cause we will stagger the universe."

Despite his rehabilitation as a gentleman of means and independence,
Mr. Rushcroft could not forego the pleasure of staggering a small
section of the world that very night. He was giving Hamlet's address to
the players in the tap-room when Barnes came downstairs at nine
o'clock. Bacon and Dillingford having returned earlier in the evening
with the trunks, bags and other portable chattels of the defunct
"troupe," Mr. Rushcroft was performing in a sadly wrinkled Norfolk suit
of grey which Dillingford was under solemn injunction to press before
breakfast the next morning.

"I know I don't have to do it," said the star, catching the surprised
look in Barnes's eye and pausing to explain, sotto voce, "but I hadn't
the heart to refuse. They're eating it up, my dear fellow. Up to this
instant they've been sitting with their mouths wide open while I hurled
it, word after word, into their very vitals. "Whereupon he resumed the
sonorous monologue, glowering balefully upon his transfixed hearers.

Barnes, leaning against the door-jamb, listened with an amused smile on
his lips. His gaze swept the rapt faces of the dozen or more customers
seated at the tables, and he found himself wondering if one of these
men was the father of the little girl whose mother had described Hart's
Tavern as a "shindy." Was it only yesterday that he had spoken with the
barefoot child? An age seemed to have passed since that brief encounter.

Rushcroft ended Hamlet's speech in fine style, and almost instantly a
mild voice from the crowd asked if he knew "Casey at the Bat." Not in
the least distressed by this woeful commentary, Mr. Rushcroft
cheerfully, obligingly tackled the tragic fizzle of the immortal Casey.

A small, dark man who sat alone at a table in the corner, caught
Barnes's eye and smiled almost mournfully. He was undoubtedly a
stranger; his action was meant to convey to Barnes the information that
he too was from a distant and sophisticated community, and that a bond
of sympathy existed between them.

Putnam Jones spoke suddenly at Barnes's shoulder. He started
involuntarily. The man was beginning to get on his nerves. He seemed to
be dogging his footsteps with ceaseless persistency.

"That feller over there in the corner," said Jones, softly, "is a
book-agent from your town. He sold me a set of Dickens when he was here
last time, about six weeks ago. A year's subscription to two magazines
throwed in. By gosh, these book-agents are slick ones. I didn't want
that set of Dickens any more'n I wanted a last year's bird's nest. The
thing I'm afraid of is that he'll talk me into taking a set of Scott
before he moves on. He's got me sweatin' already."

"He's a shrewd looking chap," commented Barnes.

"Says he won't be satisfied till he's made this section of the country
the most cultured, refined spot in the United States," said Jones
dolefully. "He brags about how much he did toward makin' Boston the
literary centre of the United States, him and his father before him.
Together, he says, they actually elevated Boston from the bottomless
pit of ignorance and - - Excuse me. There goes the telephone. Maybe it's
news from the sheriff."

With the spasmodic tinkling of the telephone bell, the book-agent arose
and made his way to the little office. As he passed Barnes, he winked
broadly, and said, out of the corner of his mouth:

"He'd make DeWolf Hopper look sick, wouldn't he?"

Barnes glanced over his shoulder a moment later and saw the book-agent
studying the register. The poise of his sleek head, however, suggested
a listening attitude. Putnam Jones, not four feet away, was speaking
into the telephone receiver. As the receiver was restored to its hook,
Barnes turned again. Jones and the book-agent were examining the
register, their heads almost meeting from opposite sides of the desk.

The latter straightened up, stretched his arms, yawned, and announced
in a loud tone that he guessed he'd step out and get a bit of fresh air
before turning in.

"Any news?" inquired Barnes, approaching the desk after the door had
closed behind the book-agent.

"It wasn't the sheriff," replied Jones shortly, and immediately resumed
his interrupted discourse on books, book-agents and the reclamation of
Boston. Ten minutes elapsed before the landlord's garrulity was checked
by the sound of an automobile coming to a stop in front of the house.
Barnes turned expectantly toward the door. Almost immediately the car
started up again, with a loud shifting of gears, and a moment later the
door opened to admit, not a fresh arrival, but the little book-agent.

"Party trying to make Hornville to-night," he announced casually.
"Well, good night. See you in the morning."

Barnes was not in a position to doubt the fellow's word, for the car
unmistakably had gone on toward Hornville. He waited a few minutes
after the man disappeared up the narrow stairway, and then proceeded to
test his powers of divination. He was as sure as he could be sure of
anything that had not actually come to pass, that in a short time the
automobile would again pass the tavern but this time from the direction
of Hornville.

Lighting a cigarette, he strolled outside. He had barely time to take a
position at the darkened end of the porch before the sounds of an
approaching machine came to his ears. A second or two later the lights
swung around the bend in the road a quarter of a mile above Hart's
Tavern, and down came the car at a high rate of speed. It dashed past
the tavern with a great roar and rattle and shot off into the darkness
beyond. As it rushed through the dim circle of light in front of the
tavern, Barnes succeeded in obtaining a brief but convincing view of
the car. That glance was enough, however. He would have been willing to
go before a jury and swear that it was the same car that had deposited
him at Hart's Tavern the day before.

Having guessed correctly in the one instance, he allowed himself
another and even bolder guess: the little book-agent had either
received a message from or delivered one to the occupant or driver of
the car from Green Fancy.




CHAPTER VIII

A NOTE, SOME FANCIES, AND AN EXPEDITION IN QUEST OF FACTS


Dillingford gave him a lighted candle at the desk and he started
upstairs, his mind full of the events and conjectures of the day.
Uppermost in his thoughts was the dazzling vision of the afternoon, and
the fleeting smile that had come to him through the leafy interstices.
As he entered the room, his eyes fell upon a white envelope at his
feet. It had been slipped under the door since he left the room an hour
before.

Terse reminder from the prudent Mr. Jones! His bill for the day! He
picked it up, glanced at the inscription, and at once altered his
opinion. His full name was there in the handwriting of a woman. For a
moment he was puzzled; then he thought of Miss Thackeray. A note of
thanks, no doubt, unpleasantly fulsome! Vaguely annoyed, he ripped open
the envelope and read:

"In case I do not have the opportunity to speak with you to-night, this
is to let you know that the little man who says he is a book-agent was
in your room for three-quarters of an hour while you were away this
afternoon. You'd better see if anything is missing.
M.T."

He read the note again, and then held it over the candle flame.
Surprise and a temporary indignation gave way before the thrill of
exultation as the blazing paper fell upon the hearth.

"'Gad, it grows more and more interesting," he mused, and chuckled
aloud. "They're not losing a minute's time in finding out all they can
about me, that's certain. Thanks, my dear Miss Thackeray. You are
undoubtedly deceived but I am not. This chap may be a detective but he
isn't looking for evidence to connect me with last night's murders. Not
a bit of it. He is trying to find out whether I ought to be shot the
next time I go snooping around Green Fancy. I'd give a good deal to
know what he put into the report he sent off a little while ago. And
I'd give a good deal more to know just where Mr. Jones stands in this
business. Selling sets of Dickens, eh? Book-agent by day, secret agent
by night, - 'gad, he may even be a road-agent!"

He made a hasty but careful examination of his effects. There was not
the slightest evidence that his pack had been opened or even disturbed.
Naturally he travelled without surplus impedimenta; he carried the
lightest outfit possible. There were a few papers containing notes and
memoranda; a small camera and films; a blank book to which he
transferred his daily experiences, observations and impressions; a
small medicine case; tobacco and cigarettes; a flask of brandy; copies
of Galworthy's "Man of Property" and Hutchinson's "Happy Warrior";
wearing apparel, and a revolver. His purse and private papers rarely
were off his person. If the little book-agent spent three-quarters of
an hour in the room he managed most effectually to cover up all traces
of his visit.

Barnes did not go to sleep until long after midnight. He now regarded
himself as definitely committed to a combination of sinister and
piquant enterprises, not the least of which was the determination to
find out all there was to know about the mysterious young woman at
Green Fancy.

His operations along any line of endeavour were bound to be difficult,
perhaps hazardous. Every movement that he made would be observed and
reported; his every step followed. He could hope to disarm suspicion
only by moving with the utmost boldness and unconcern. Success rested
in his ability to convince O'Dowd, Jones and the rest of them that they
had nothing to fear from his innocuous wanderings.

His interest in the sensational affair that had disturbed his first
night's rest at Hart's Tavern must remain paramount. His theories,
deductions and suggestions as to the designs and identity of Roon and
Paul; the stated results of personal and no doubt ludicrous
experiments; sly and confidential jabs at the incompetent
investigators, uttered behind the hand to Putnam Jones and, if
possible, to the book-agent; - a quixotic philanthropy in connection
with the fortunes of Rushcroft and his players; all these would have to
be put forward in the scheme to dispel suspicion at Green Fancy.

It did not occur to him that he ought to be furthering the ends of
justice by disclosing to the authorities his secret opinion of Putman
Jones, the strange behaviour of Roon as observed by Miss Thackeray, and
his own adventure with the lady of the cross-roads. The chance that
Jones, subjected to third degree pressure, might break down and reveal
all that he knew was not even considered.

Back of all his motives was the spur of Romance: his real interest was
centred in the lovely lady of Green Fancy.

He was confident that O'Dowd's system of espionage would quickly
absolve him of all interest in or connection with the plans of Albert
Roon; it remained therefore for him to convince the Irishman that he
had no notions or vagaries inimical to the well-being of Green Fancy or
its occupants. With that result achieved, he need have no fear of
meeting the fate that had befallen Roon and his lieutenant; nothing
worse could happen than an arrest and fine for trespass.

The next day he, with other lodgers in the Tavern, was put through an
examination by police and county officials from Saint Elizabeth, and
notified that, while he was not under suspicion or surveillance, it
would be necessary for him to remain in the "bailiwick" until
detectives, already on the way, were satisfied that he possessed no
knowledge that would be useful to them in clearing up what had now
assumed the dignity of a "national problem."

O'Dowd rode down from Green Fancy and created quite a sensation among
the officials by announcing that Mr. Curtis desired them to feel that
they had a perfect right to extend their search for clues to all parts
of his estate, and that he was deeply interested in the outcome of
their investigations.

"The devils may have laid their ambush on his property," said O'Dowd,
"and they may have made their escape into the hills back of his place
without running the risk of tackling the highways. Nothing, Mr. Curtis
says, should stand in the way of justice. While he knows that you have
a legal right to enter his grounds, and even his house, in the pursuit
of duty, he urges me to make it clear to you gentlemen, that you are
welcome to come without even so much as a demand upon him. If I may be
so bold as to offer my services, you may count on me to act as guide at
any time you may elect. I know the lay of the land pretty well, and
what I don't know the gardeners and other men up there do. You are to
call upon all of us if necessary. Mr. Curtis, as you know, is an
invalid. May I suggest, therefore, that you conduct your examination of
the grounds near his home with as little commotion as possible?
Incidentally, I may inform you, but one person at Green Fancy heard the
shots. That person was Mr. Curtis himself. He rang for his attendant
and instructed him to send some one out to find out what it was all
about. The chauffeur went down to Conley's, as you know. If you
consider it absolutely necessary to question Mr. Curtis as to the time
the shots were fired, he will receive you; but I think you may properly
establish that fact by young Conley without submitting a sick man to
the excitement and distress of a - "

The sheriff hastily broke in with the assurance that it was not at all
necessary to disturb Mr. Curtis. It wasn't to be thought of for a
moment. He would, however, like to "run over the ground a bit" that
very afternoon, if it was agreeable to Mr. O'Dowd.

It being quite agreeable, the genial Irishman proposed that his friend,
Mr. Barnes, - (here he bestowed an almost imperceptible wink upon the
New Yorker), - should join the party. He could vouch for the
intelligence and discretion of the gentleman.

Barnes, concealing his surprise, expressed himself as happy to be of
any service. He glanced at Putnam Jones as he made the statement. It
was at once borne in upon him that the landlord's attitude toward him
had undergone a marked change in the last few minutes. The furtive,
distrustful look was missing from his eyes and in its place was a
friendly, approving twinkle.

O'Dowd stayed to dinner. (Dinner was served in the middle of the day at
Hart's Tavern.) He made a great impression upon Lyndon Rushcroft, who,
with his daughter, joined the two men. Indeed, the palavering Irishman
extended himself in the effort to make himself agreeable. He was vastly
interested in the stage, he declared. As a matter of fact, he had been
told a thousand times that he ought to go on the stage. He had decided
talent....

"If you change your mind," said Mr. Rushcroft, "and conclude to try a
whirl at it, just let me know. I can find a place for you in my company
at any time. If there isn't a vacancy, we can always write in an Irish
comedy part."

"But I never wanted to be a comedian," said O'Dowd. "I've always wanted


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Online LibraryGeorge Barr McCutcheonGreen Fancy → online text (page 7 of 20)