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to play the young hero, - the fellow who gets the girl, you know." He
bestowed a gallant smile upon Miss Thackeray.

"You may take my word for it, sir," said Mr. Rushcroft with feeling,
"heroism, and nothing less, is necessary to the man who has to play
opposite most of the harridans you, in your ignorance, speak of as
girls." And he launched forth upon a round of soul-trying experiences
with "leading-ladies."

The little book-agent came in while they were at table. He sat down in
a corner of the dining-room and busied himself with his subscription
lists while waiting for the meal to be served. He was still poring over
them, frowning intently, when Barnes and the others left the room.

Barnes walked out beside Miss Thackeray.

"The tailor-made gown is an improvement," he said to her.

"Does that mean that I look more like a good chambermaid than I did
before?"

"If you would consider it a compliment, yes," he replied, smiling. He
was thinking that she was a very pretty girl, after all.

"The frock usually makes the woman," she said slowly, "but not always
the lady."

He thought of that remark more than once during the course of an
afternoon spent in the woods about Green Fancy.

O'Dowd virtually commanded the expedition. It was he who thought of
everything. First of all, he led the party to the corner of the estate
nearest the point where Paul was shot from his horse. Sitting in his
own saddle, he called the attention of the other riders to what
appeared to be a most significant fact in connection with the killing
of this man.

"From what I hear, the man Paul was shot through the lungs, directly
from in front. The bullet went straight through his body. He was riding
very rapidly down this road. When he came to a point not far above
cross-roads, he was fired upon. It is safe to assume that he was
looking intently ahead, trying to make out the crossing. He was not
shot from the side of the road, gentlemen, but from the middle of it.
The bullet came from a point almost directly in front of him, and not
from Mr. Curtis's property here to the left, or Mr. Conley's on the
right. Understand, this is my whimsey only. I may be entirely wrong. My
idea is that the man who shot him waited here at the cross-roads to
head off either or both of them in case they were not winged by men
stationed farther up. Of course, that must be quite obvious to all of
you. My friend De Soto is inclined to the belief that they were trying
to get across the border. I don't believe so. If that were the case,
why did they dismount above Conley's house, hitch their horses to the
fence, and set forth on foot? I am convinced in my own mind that they
came here to meet some one to whom they were to deliver a verbal report
of vital importance, - some one from across the border in Canada. This
message was delivered. So far as Roon and Paul were concerned their
usefulness was ended. They had done all that was required of them. The
cause they served was better off with them dead than alive. Without the
slightest compunction, without the least regard for faithful service,
they were set upon and slain by their supposed friends. Now, you may
laugh at my fancy if you like, but you must remember that frightful
things are happening in these days. The killing of these men adds but a
drop to the ocean of blood that is being shed. Roon and Paul, suddenly
confronted by treachery, fled for their lives. The trap had been set
with care, however; they rushed into it."

"I am inclined to your hypothesis, O'Dowd," said Barnes. "It seems
sound and reasonable. The extraordinary precautions taken by Roon and
Paul to prevent identification, dead or alive, supports your whimsey,
as you call it. The thing that puzzles me, however, is the singular
failure of the two men to defend themselves. They were armed, yet
neither fired a shot. You would think that when they found themselves
in a tight place, such as you suggest, their first impulse would be to
shoot."

"Well," mused O'Dowd, squinting his eyes in thought, "there's something
in that. It doesn't seem reasonable that they'd run like whiteheads
with guns in - By Jove, here's a new thought!" His eyes glistened with
boyish elation. "They had delivered their message, - we'll assume that
much, of course, - and were walking back to their horses when they were
ordered to halt by some one hidden in the brush at the roadside. You
can't very well succeed in hitting a man if you can't see him at all,
so they made a dash for it instead of wasting time in shooting at the
air. What's more, they may have anticipated the very thing that
happened: they were prepared for treachery. Their only chance lay in
getting safely into their saddles. Oh, I am a good romancer! I should
be writing dime novels instead of living the respectable life I do.
Conley heard them running for their lives. Assassins had been stationed
along the road to head them off, however. The man who had his place
near the horses, got Roon. The chances are that Paul did not accompany
Roon to the meeting place up the road. He remained near the horses.
That's how he managed to get away so quickly. It remained for the man
at the cross-roads to settle with him. But, we're wasting time with all
this twaddle of mine. Let us be moving. There is one point on which we
must all agree. The deadliest marksmen in the world fired those shots.
No bungling on that score, bedad."

In course of time, the party, traversing the ground contiguous to the
public road, came within sight of the green dwelling among the trees.
Barnes's interest revived. He had, from the outset, appreciated the
futility of the search for clues in the territory they had covered. The
searchers were incapable of conducting a scientific examination. It was
work for the most skilful, the most practised, the most untiring of
tracers. His second view of the house increased his wonder and
admiration. If O'Dowd had not actually located it among the trees for
him, he would have been at a loss to discover it, although it was
immediately in front of him and in direct line of vision.

"Astonishing, isn't it?" said the Irishman, as they stood side by side,
peering ahead.

"Marvellous is the better word," said Barnes.

"The fairies might have built it," said the other, with something like
awe in his voice. He shook his head solemnly.

"One could almost fancy that a fairy queen dwelt there, surrounded by
Peter Pans and Aladdins," mused Barnes.

"Instead of an ogre attended by owls and nightbirds and the devil knows
what, - for I don't."

Barnes looked at him in amazement, struck by the curious note in his
voice.

"If you were a small boy in knickers, O'Dowd, I should say that you
were mortally afraid of the place."

"If I were a small boy," said O'Dowd, "I'd be scairt entirely out of me
knickers. I'd keep me boots on, mind ye, so that I could run the
better. It's me Irish imagination that does the trick. You never saw an
Irishman in your life that wasn't conscious of the 'little people' that
inhabit the places that are always dark and green."

De Soto was seen approaching through the green sea, his head appearing
and disappearing intermittently in the billows formed by the undulating
underbrush. He shook hands with Barnes a moment later.

"I'm glad you had the sense to bring Mr. Barnes with you, O'Dowd," said
he. "You didn't mention him when you telephoned that you were
personally conducting a sight-seeing party. I tried to catch you
afterwards on the telephone, but you had left the tavern. Mrs. Collier
wanted me to ask you to capture Mr. Barnes for dinner to-night."

"Mrs. Collier is the sister of Mr. Curtis," explained O'Dowd. Then he
turned upon De Soto incredulously. "For the love of Pat," he cried
"what's come over them? When I made so bold as to suggest last night
that you were a chap worth cultivating, Barnes, - and that you wouldn't
be long in the neighbourhood, - But, to save your feelings I'll not
repeat what they said, the two of them. What changed them over, De
Soto?"

"A chance remark of Miss Cameron's at lunch to-day. She wondered if
Barnes could be the chap who wrote the articles about Peru and the
Incas, or something of the sort, and that set them to looking up the
back numbers of the geographic magazine in Mr. Curtis's library. Not
only did they find the articles but they found your picture. I had no
difficulty in deciding that you were one and the same. The atmosphere
cleared in a jiffy. It became even clearer when it was discovered that
you have had a few ancestors and are received in good society - both
here and abroad, as the late Frederic Townsend Martin would have said.
I hereby officially present the result of subsequent deliberation. Mr.
Barnes is invited to dine with us to-night."

Barnes's heart was still pounding rapidly as he made the rueful
admission that he "didn't have a thing to wear." He couldn't think of
accepting the gracious invitation -

"Don't you think the clothes you have on your back will last through
the evening?" inquired O'Dowd quaintly.

"But look at them!" cried Barnes. "I've tramped in 'em for two weeks
and - "

"All the more reason why you should be thankful they're good and
stout," said O'Dowd.

"We live rather simply up here, Mr. Barnes," said De Soto. "There isn't
a dinner jacket or a spike tail coat on the place. It's strictly
against the law up here to have such things about one's person. Come as
you are, sir. I assure you I speak the truth when I say we don't dress
for dinner."

"Bedad," said O'Dowd enthusiastically, "if it will make ye feel any
more comfortable I'll put on the corduroy outfit I go trout fishing in,
bespattered and patched as it is. And De Soto will appear in the white
duck trousers and blazer he tries to play tennis in, - though, God bless
him, poor wretch, he hates to put them on after all he's heard said
about his game."

"If they'll take me as I am," began Barnes, doubtfully.

"I say," called out O'Dowd to the sheriff, who was gazing longingly at
the horses tethered at the bottom of the slope; "would ye mind leading
Mr. Barnes's nag back to the Tavern? He is stopping to dinner. And,
while I think of it, are you satisfied, Mr. Sheriff, with the day's
work? If not, you will be welcome again at any time, if ye'll only
telephone a half minute in advance." To Barnes he said: "We'll send you
down in the automobile to-night, provided it has survived the day.
We're expecting the poor thing to die in its tracks at almost any
instant."

Ten minutes later Barnes passed through the portals of Green Fancy.




CHAPTER IX

THE FIRST WAYFARER, THE SECOND WAYFARER, AND THE SPIRIT OF CHIVALRY
ASCENDANT


The wide green door, set far back in a recess not unlike a kiosk, was
opened by a man-servant who might easily have been mistaken for a
waiter from Delmonico's or Sherry's. He did not have the air or aplomb
of a butler, nor the smartness of a footman. On the contrary, he was a
thick-set, rather scrubby sort of person with all the symptoms of cafe
servitude about him, including the never-failing doubt as to
nationality. He might have been a Greek, a Pole, an Italian or a Turk.

"Say to Mrs. Collier, Nicholas, that Mr. Barnes is here for dinner,"
said De Soto. "I will make the cocktails this evening."

Much to Barnes's surprise, - and disappointment, - the interior of the
house failed to sustain the bewildering effect produced by the
exterior. The entrance hall and the living-room into which he was
conducted by the two men were singularly like others that he had seen.
The latter, for example, was of ordinary dimensions, furnished with a
thought for comfort rather than elegance or even good taste. The rugs
were thick and in tone held almost exclusively to Turkish reds; the
couches and chairs were low and deep and comfortable, as if intended
for men only, and they were covered with rich, gay materials; the
hangings at the windows were of deep blue and gold; the walls an
unobtrusive cream colour, almost literally thatched with etchings.

Barnes, somewhat of a connoisseur, was not slow to recognise the value
and extreme rarity of the prints. Rembrandt, Whistler, Hayden, Merryon,
Cameron, Muirhead Bone and Zorn were represented by their most notable
creations; two startling subjects by Brangwyn hung alone in one corner
of the room, isolated, it would seem, out of consideration for the
gleaming, jewel-like surfaces of other and smaller treasures. There
were at least a dozen Zorns, as many Whistlers and Camerons.

O'Dowd, observing the glance of appreciation that Barnes sent about the
room, said: "All of thim are in the very rarest state. He has one of
the finest collections in America. Ye'll want your boots cleaned and
polished, and your face needs scrubbing, if ye don't mind my saying
so," he went on, critically surveying the visitor's person. "Come up to
my room and make yourself tidy. My own man will dust you off and
furbish you up in no time at all."

They passed into another room at the left and approached a wide
stairway, the lower step of which was flush with the baseboard on the
wall. Not so much as an inch of the stairway protruded into the room,
and yet Barnes, whose artistic sense should have been offended, was
curiously pleased with the arrangement and effect. He made a mental
note of this deliberate violation of the holy rules of construction,
and decided that one day he would try it out for himself.

The room itself was obviously a continuation of the larger one beyond,
a sort of annex, as it were. The same scheme in decoration and
furnishings was observed, except here the walls were adorned with small
paintings in oil, heavily framed. Hanging in the panel at the right of
the stairway was an exquisite little Corot, silvery and feathery even
in the dim light of early dusk. On the opposite side was a brilliant
little Cazin.

The stairs were thickly carpeted. At the top, his guide turned to the
left and led the way down a long corridor. They passed at least four
doors before O'Dowd stopped and threw open the fifth on that side of
the hall. There were still two more doors beyond.

"Suggests a hotel, doesn't it?" said the Irishman, standing aside for
Barnes to enter. "All of the sleeping apartments are on this floor, and
the baths, and boudoirs, and what-not. The garret is above, and that's
where we deposit our family skeletons, intern our grievances, store our
stock of spitefulness, and hide all the little devils that must come
sneaking up from the city with us whether we will or no. Nothing but
good-humour, contentment, happiness and mirth are permitted to occupy
this floor and the one below. I might also add beauty, for you can't
conceive any of the others without it, me friend. God knows I couldn't
be good-natured for a minute if I wasn't encouraged by beauty
appreciative, and as for being contented, happy or mirthful, - bedad,
words fail me! Dabson," he said, addressing the man who had quietly
entered the room through the door behind them, "do Mr. Barnes, will ye,
and fetch me from Mr. De Soto's room when you've finished. I leave you
to Dabson's tender mercies. The saints preserve us! Look at the man's
boots! Dabson, get out your brush and dauber first of all. He's been
floundering in a bog."

The jovial Irishman retired, leaving Barnes to be "done" by the silent,
swift-moving valet. Dabson was young and vigorous and exceedingly
well-trained. He made short work of "doing" the visitor; barely fifteen
minutes elapsed before O'Dowd's return.

Presently they went downstairs together. Lamps had been lighted, many
of them, throughout the house. A warm, pleasing glow filled the rooms,
softening, - one might even say tempering, - the insistent reds in the
rugs, which now seemed to reflect rather than to project their hues; a
fire crackled in the cavernous fireplace at the end of the living-room,
and grouped about its cheerful, grateful blaze were the ladies of Green
Fancy.

Barnes was aware of a quickening of his pulses as he advanced with
O'Dowd. De Soto was there ahead of them, posed ungracefully in front of
the fire, his feet widespread, his hands in his pockets. Another man,
sallow-faced and tall, with a tired looking blond moustache and sleepy
eyes, was managing, with amazing skill, the retention of a cigarette
which seemed to be constantly in peril of detaching itself from his
parted though inactive lips.

SHE was there, standing slightly aloof from the others, but evidently
amused by the tale with which De Soto was regaling them. She was
smiling; Barnes saw the sapphire lights sparkling in her eyes, and
experienced a sensation that was woefully akin to confusion.

He had the feeling that he would be absolutely speechless when
presented to her; in the full, luminous glow of those lovely eyes he
would lose consciousness, momentarily, no doubt, but long enough to
give her, - and all the rest of them, - no end of a fright.

But nothing of the kind happened. Everything went off quite naturally.
He favoured Miss Cameron with an uncommonly self-possessed smile as she
gave her hand to him, and she, in turn, responded with one faintly
suggestive of tolerance, although it certainly would have been recorded
by a less sensitive person than Barnes as "ripping."

In reply to his perfunctory "delighted, I'm sure, etc.," she said,
quite clearly: "Oh, now I remember. I was sure I had seen you before,
Mr. Barnes. You are the magic gentleman who sprung like a mushroom out
of the earth yesterday afternoon."

"And frightened you," he said; "whereupon you vanished like the
mushroom that is gobbled up by the predatory glutton."

He had thrilled at the sound of her voice. It was the low, deliberate
voice of the woman of the crossroads, and, as before, he caught the
almost imperceptible accent. The red gleam from the blazing logs fell
upon her shining hair; it glistened like gold. She wore a simple
evening gown of white, softened over the shoulders and neck with a fall
of rare vallenciennes lace. There was no jewelry, - not even a ring on
her slender, tapering fingers. Oddly enough, now that he stood beside
her, she was not so tall as he had believed her to be the day before.
The crown of her silken head came but little above his shoulder. As she
had appeared to him among the trees he would have sworn that she was
but little below his own height, which was a liberal six feet. He
recalled a flash of wonder on that occasion; she had seemed so much
taller than the woman at the cross-roads that he was almost convinced
that she could not, after all, be the same person. Now she was back to
the height that he remembered, and he marvelled once more.

Mrs. Collier, the hostess, was an elderly, heavy-featured woman,
decidedly over-dressed. Barnes knew her kind. One encounters her
everywhere: the otherwise intelligent woman who has no sense about her
clothes. Mrs. Van Dyke, her daughter, was a woman of thirty, tall, dark
and handsome in a bold, dashing sort of way. She too was rather
resplendent in a black jet gown, and she was liberally bestrewn with
jewels. Much to Barnes's surprise, she possessed a soft, gentle
speaking-voice and a quiet, musical laugh instead of the boisterous
tones and cackle that he always associated with her type. The
lackadaisical gentleman with the moustache turned out to be her husband.

"My brother is unable to be with us to-night, Mr. Barnes," explained
Mrs. Collier. "Mr. O'Dowd may have told you that he is an invalid.
Quite rarely is he well enough to leave his room. He has been feeling
much better of late, but now his nerves are all torn to pieces by this
shooting affair. The mere knowledge that our grounds were being
inspected to-day by the authorities upset him terribly. He has begged
me to present his apologies and regrets to you. Another time, perhaps,
you will give him the pleasure he is missing to-night. He wanted so
much to talk with you about the quaint places you have described so
charmingly in your articles. They must be wonderfully appealing. One
cannot read your descriptions without really envying the people who
live in those enchanted - "

"Ahem!" coughed O'Dowd, who actually had read the articles and could
see nothing alluring in a prospect that contemplated barren, snow-swept
wildernesses in the Andes. "The only advantage I can see in living up
there," he said, with a sly wink at Barnes, "is that one has all the
privileges of death without being put to the expense of burial."

"How very extraordinary, Mr. O'Dowd," said Mrs. Collier, lifting her
lorgnon.

"Mrs. Collier has been reading my paper on the chateau country in
France," said Barnes mendaciously. (It had not yet been published, but
what of that?)

"Perfectly delightful," said Mrs. Collier, and at once changed the
subject.

De Soto's cocktails came in. Miss Cameron did not take one. O'Dowd
proposed a toast.

"To the rascals who went gunning for the other rascals. But for them we
should be short at least one member of this agreeable company."

It was rather startling. Barnes's glass stopped half-way to his lips.
An instant later he drained it. He accepted the toast as a compliment
from the whilom Irishman, and not as a tribute to the prowess of those
mysterious marksmen.

"Rather grewsome, O'Dowd," drawled Van Dyke, "but offset by the
foresightedness of the maker of this cocktail. Uncommonly good one, De
Soto."

The table in the spacious dining-room was one of those long, narrow
Italian boards, unmistakably antique and equally rare. Sixteen or
eighteen people could have been seated without crowding, and when the
seven took their places wide intervals separated them. No effort had
been made by the hostess to bring her guests close together, as might
have been done by using one end or the centre of the table. Except for
scattered doylies, the smooth, nut-brown top was bare of cloth; there
was a glorious patina to this huge old board, with tiny cracks running
like veins across its surface.

Decorations were scant. A half dozen big candlesticks, ecclesiastical
in character, were placed at proper intervals, and at each end of the
table there was a shallow, alabaster dish containing pansies. The
serving plates were of silver. Especially beautiful were the
long-stemmed water goblets and the graceful champagne glasses. They
were blue and white and of a design and quality no longer obtainable
except at great cost. The aesthetic Barnes was not slow to appreciate
the rarity of the glassware and the chaste beauty of the serving plates.

The man Nicholas was evidently the butler, despite his Seventh Avenue
manner. He was assisted in serving by two stalwart and amazingly clumsy
footmen, of similar ilk and nationality. On seeing these additional
men-servants, Barnes began figuratively to count on his fingers the
retainers he had so far encountered on the place. Already he has seen
six, all of them powerful, rugged fellows. It struck him. as
extraordinary, and in a way significant, that there should be so many
men at Green Fancy.

Somewhere back in his mind was the impression that O'Dowd had spoken of
Pierre the cook, a private secretary and male attendant who looked
after Mr. Curtis. Then there was Peter, the regular chauffeur, whom he
had not seen, and doubtless there were able-bodied woodchoppers and
foresters besides. Not forgetting the little book-agent! It suddenly
occurred to him that he was surrounded by a company of the most
formidable character: no less than twenty men would be a reasonable
guess if he were to include O'Dowd, De Soto and Van Dyke.

Much to his disappointment, he was not placed near Miss Cameron at
table. Indeed, she was seated as far away from him as possible. He sat
at Mrs. Collier's right. On his left was Mrs. Van Dyke, with Miss
Cameron at the foot of the table flanked by O'Dowd and De Soto. Van
Dyke had nearly the whole of the opposite side of the table to himself.
There was, to be sure, a place set between him and De Soto, for
symmetry's sake, Barnes concluded. In this he was mistaken; they had
barely seated themselves when Mrs. Collier remarked:

"Mr. Curtis's secretary usually joins us here for coffee. He has his
dinner with my brother and then, poor man, comes in for a brief period
of relaxation. When my brother is in one of his bad spells poor Mr.
Loeb doesn't have much time to himself. It seems to me that my brother
is at his best when his health is at its worst. You may be interested
to know, Mr. Barnes, that he is writing a history of the Five Nations."

"Indians, you know," explained Van Dyke.

"A history of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Cayugas, Onondagas and Senecas, and


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Online LibraryGeorge Barr McCutcheonGreen Fancy → online text (page 8 of 20)