George Barr McCutcheon.

Green Fancy online

. (page 9 of 20)
Online LibraryGeorge Barr McCutcheonGreen Fancy → online text (page 9 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

their 'Long House' should be of great value, Mrs. Collier," said
Barnes, a trifle didactically. "When does he expect to have it

"'Gad, you know a little of everything, don't you?" said Van Dyke,
sitting up a little straighter in his chair and eyeing Barnes fishily.
("Awfully smart chap," he afterwards confided to O'Dowd.) "If he lives
long enough, he'll finish it in 1999," he added, lifting his voice
above Mrs. Collier's passive reply out of which Barnes gathered the
words "couple" and "years."

It is not necessary to dilate upon the excellence of the dinner, to
repeat the dialogue, or to comment on the service, other than to say,
for the sake of record, that the first WAS excellent; the second
sprightly, and the third atrocious.

Loeb, the private secretary, came in for coffee. He was a tall, spare
man of thirty, pallidly handsome, with dark, studious eyes and features
of an unmistakably Hebraic cast, as his name might have foretold. His
teeth were marvellously white, and his slow smile attractive. When he
spoke, which was seldom unless a remark was directed specifically to
him, his voice was singularly deep and resonant. More than once during
the hour that Loeb spent with them Barnes formed and dismissed a
stubborn, ever-recurring opinion that the man was not a Jew. Certainly
he was not an American Jew. His voice, his manner of speech, his every
action stamped him as one born and bred in a land far removed from
Broadway and its counterparts. If a Jew, he was of the East as it is
measured from Rome: the Jew of the carnal Orient.

And as the evening wore on, there came to Barnes the singular fancy
that this man was the master and not the servant of the house! He could
not put the ridiculous idea out of his mind.

He was to depart at ten. The hour drew near and he had had no
opportunity for detached conversation with Miss Cameron. He had
listened to her bright retorts to O'Dowd's sallies, and marvelled at
the ease and composure with which she met the witty Irishman on even
terms. Her voice, always low and distinct, was never without the
suggestion of good-natured raillery; he was enchanted by the faint,
delicious chuckle that rode in every sentence she uttered during these
sprightly tilts.

When the conversation turned to serious topics, her voice steadied
perceptibly, the blue in her eyes took on a deeper and darker hue, the
half-satirical smile vanished from her adorable lips, and she spoke
with the gravity of a profound thinker. Barnes watched her, fascinated,
bereft of the power to concentrate his thoughts on anything else. He
hung on her every movement, hoping and longing for the impersonal
glance or remark with which she occasionally favoured him.

Not until the very close of the evening, and when he had resigned
himself to hopelessness, did the opportunity come for him to speak with
her alone. She caught his eye, and, to his amazement, made a slight
movement of her head, unobserved by the others but curiously imperative
to him. There was no mistaking the meaning of the direct, intense look
that she gave him.

She was appealing to him as a friend, - as one on whom she could depend!

The spirit of chivalry took possession of him. His blood leaped to the
call. She needed him and he would not fail her. And it was with
difficulty that he contrived to hide the exaltation that might have
ruined everything!

Loeb had returned to his labours in Mr. Curtis's study, after bidding
Barnes a courteous good-night. It seemed to the latter that with the
secretary's departure an indefinable restraint fell away from the small

While he was trying to invent a pretext for drawing her apart from the
others, she calmly ordered Van Dyke to relinquish his place on the
couch beside her to Barnes.

"Come and sit beside me, Mr. Barnes," she called out, gaily. "I will
not bite you, or scratch you, or harm you in any way. Ask Mr. O'Dowd
and he will tell you that I am quite docile. What is there about me,
sir, that causes you to think that I am dangerous? You have barely
spoken a word to me, and you've been disagreeably nice to Mrs. Collier
and Mrs. Van Dyke. I don't bite, do I, Mr. O'Dowd?"

"You do," said O'Dowd promptly. "You do more than that. You devour.
Bedad, I have to look in a mirror to convince meself that you haven't
swallowed me whole. That's another way of telling you, Barnes, that
she'll absorb you entirely."

It was a long, deep and comfortable couch of the davenport class, and
she sat in the middle of it instead of at the end, a circumstance that
he was soon to regard as premeditated. She had planned to bring him to
this place beside her and had cunningly prepared against the
possibility that he might put the full length of the couch between them
if she settled herself in a corner. As it was, their elbows almost
touched as he sat down beside her.

For a few minutes she chided him for his unseemly aversion. He was
beginning to think that he had been mistaken in her motive, and that
after all she was merely satisfying her vanity. Suddenly, and as she
smiled into his eyes, she said, lowering her voice slightly:

"Do not appear surprised at anything I may say to you. Smile as if we
were uttering the silliest nonsense. So much depends upon it, Mr.



He envied Mr. Rushcroft. The barn-stormer would have risen to the
occasion without so much as the blinking of an eye. He would have been
able to smile and gesticulate in a manner that would have deceived the
most acute observer, while he - ah, he was almost certain to flounder
and make a mess of the situation. He did his best, however, and,
despite his eagerness, managed to come off fairly well. Any one out of
ear-shot would have thought that he was uttering some trifling inanity
instead of these words:

"You may trust me. I have suspected that something was wrong here."

"It is impossible to explain now," she said. "These people are not my
friends. I have no one to turn to in my predicament."

"Yes, you have," he broke in, and laughed rather boisterously for him.
He felt that they were being watched in turn by every person in the

"To-night, - not an hour ago, - I began to feel that I could call upon
you for help. I began to relax. Something whispered to me that I was no
longer utterly alone. Oh, you will never know what it is to have your
heart lighten as mine - But I must control myself. We are not to waste

"You have only to command me, Miss Cameron. No more than a dozen words
are necessary."

"I knew it, - I felt it," she cried eagerly. "Nothing can be done
to-night. The slightest untoward action on your part would send you
after - the other two. There is one man here who, I think, will stand
between me and actual peril. Mr. O'Dowd. He is - "

"He is the liveliest liar I've ever known," broke in Barnes quickly.
"Don't trust him."

"But he is also an Irishman," she said, as if that fact overcame all
other shortcomings. "I like him; he must be an honest man, for he has
already lied nobly in MY behalf." She smiled as she uttered this quaint

"Tell me how I can be of service to you," said he, disposing of O'Dowd
with a shrug.

"I shall try to communicate with you in some way - to-morrow. I beg of
you, I implore you, do not desert me. If I can only be sure that you
will - "

"You may depend on me, no matter what happens," said he, and, looking
into her eyes was bound forever.

"I have been thinking," she said. "Yesterday I made the discovery that
I - that I am actually a prisoner here, Mr. Barnes. I - Smile! Say
something silly!"

Together they laughed over the meaningless remark he made in response
to her command.

"I am constantly watched. If I venture outside the house, I am almost
immediately joined by one of these men. You saw what happened
yesterday. I am distracted. I do not know how to arrange a meeting so
that I may explain my unhappy position to you."

"I will ask the authorities to step in and - "

"No! You are to do nothing of the kind. The authorities would never
find me if they came here to search." (It was hard for him to smile at
that!) "It must be some other way. If I could steal out of the
house, - but that is impossible," she broke off with a catch in her voice.

"Suppose that I were to steal INTO the house," he said, a reckless
light in his eyes.

"Oh, you could never succeed!"

"Well, I could try, couldn't I?" There was nothing funny in the remark
but they both leaned back and laughed heartily. "Leave it to me. I once
got into and out of a Morrocan harem, - but that story may wait. Tell
me, where - "

"The place is guarded day and night. The stealthiest burglar in the
world could not come within a stone's throw of the house."

"By Jove! Those two men night before last were trying to - " He said no
more, but turned his head so that the others could not see the hard
look that settled in his eyes. "If it's as bad as all that, we cannot
afford to make any slips. You think you are in no immediate peril?"

"I am in no peril at all unless I bring it upon myself," she said,

"Then a delay of a day or so will not matter," he said, frowning.
"Leave it to me. I will find a way."

"Be careful!" De Soto came lounging up behind them. She went on
speaking, changing the subject so abruptly and so adroitly that for a
moment Barnes was at a loss. "But if she could obtain all those
luxuries without using a penny of his money, what right had he to
object? Surely a wife may do as she pleases with her own money."

"He was trying to break her of selfishness," said Barnes, suddenly
inspired. "The difference between men and women in the matter of
luxuries lies in the fact that one is selfish and the other is not. A
man slaves all the year round to provide luxuries for his wife. The
wife comes into a nice little fortune of her own, and what does she
proceed to do with it? Squander it on her husband? Not much! She sets
out immediately to prove to the world that he is a miser, a skinflint
who never gave her more than the bare necessities of life. The chap I
was speaking of - I beg pardon, Mr. De Soto."

"Forgive me for interrupting, but I am under command from royal
headquarters. Peter, the king of chauffeurs, sends in word that the car
is in an amiable mood and champing to be off. So seldom is it in a
good-humour that he - "

"I'll be off at once," exclaimed Barnes, arising.

"By Jove, it is half-past ten. I had no idea - Good night, Miss Cameron.
Sorry my time is up. I am sure I could have made you hate your own sex
in another half hour."

She held out her hand. "One of our virtues is that we never pretend to
be in love with our own sex, Mr. Barnes. That, at least, is a luxury
reserved solely for your sex."

He bowed low over her hand. "A necessity, if I may be pardoned for
correcting you." He pressed her hand re-assuringly and left her.

She had arisen and was standing, straight and slim by the corner of the
fireplace, a confident smile on her lips.

"If you are to be long in the neighbourhood, Mr. Barnes," said his
hostess, "you must let us have you again."

"My stay is short, I fear. You have only to reveal the faintest sign
that I may come, however, and I'll hop into my seven league boots
before you can utter Jack Robinson's Christian name. Good night, Mrs.
Van Dyke. I have you all to thank for a most delightful evening. May I
expect to see you down our way, Mr. Van Dyke? We have food for man and
beast at all times and in all forms."

"I've tackled your liquids," said Van Dyke. "You are likely to see me
'most any day. I'm always rattling 'round somewhere, don't you know."
(He said "rettling," by the way.) The car was waiting at the back of
the house. O'Dowd walked out with Barnes, their arms linked, - as on a
former occasion, Barnes recalled.

"I'll ride out to the gate with you," said the Irishman. "It's a
winding, devious route the road takes through the trees. As the crow
flies it's no more than five hundred yards, but this way it can't be
less than a mile and a half. Eh, Peter?"

Peter opined that it was at least a mile and a quarter. He was a
Yankee, as O'Dowd had said, and he was not extravagant in estimates.

The passengers sat in the rear seat. Two small lamps served to light
the way through the Stygian labyrinth of trees and rocks. O'Dowd had an
electric pocket torch with which to pick his way back to Green Fancy.

"I can't, for the life of me, see why he doesn't put in a driveway
straight to the road beyond, instead of roaming all over creation as we
have to do," said O'Dowd.

"We foller the bed of the crick that used to run through here 'fore it
was dammed a little ways up to make the ice-pond 'tween here an'
Spanish Falls," supplied Peter. "Makes a durned good road, 'cept when
there's a freshet. It would cost a hull lot o' money to build a road as
good as this-un."

"I was only thinking 'twould save a mile and more," said O'Dowd.

"What's the use o' him savin' a mile, er ten miles, fer that matter,
when he never puts foot out'n the house?" said Peter, the logician.

"Well, then," persisted O'Dowd testily, "he ought to consider the
saving in gasolene."

Peter's reply was a grunt.

They came in time, after many "hair-pins" and right angles, to the gate
opening upon the highway. Peter got down from the seat to release the
pad-locked chain and throw open the gate.

O'Dowd leaned closer to Barnes and lowered his voice.

"See here, Barnes, I'm no fool, and for that reason I've got sense
enough to know that you're not either. I don't know what's in your
mind, nor what you're trying to get into it if it isn't already there.
But I'll say this to you, man to man: don't let your imagination get
the better of your common-sense. That's all. Take the tip from me."

"I am not imagining anything, O'Dowd," said Barnes quietly. "What do
you mean?"

"I mean just what I say. I'm giving you the tip for selfish reasons. If
you make a bally fool of yourself, I'll have to see you through the
worst of it, - and it's a job I don't relish. Ponder that, will ye, on
the way home?"

Barnes did ponder it on the way home. There was but one construction to
put upon the remark: it was O'Dowd's way of letting him know that he
could be depended upon for support if the worst came to pass.

His heart warmed to the lively Irishman. He jumped to the conclusion
that O'Dowd, while aligned with the others in the flesh, was not with
them in spirit. His blithe heart was a gallant one as well. The lovely
prisoner at Green Fancy had a chivalrous defender among the
conspirators, and that fact, suddenly revealed to the harassed Barnes,
sent a thrill of exultation through his veins.

He realised that he could not expect O'Dowd to be of any assistance in
preparing the way for her liberation. Indeed, the Irishman probably
would oppose him out of loyalty to the cause he espoused. His hand
would be against him until the end; then it would strike for him and
the girl who was in jeopardy.

O'Dowd evidently had not been deceived by the acting that masked the
conversation on the couch. He knew that Miss Cameron had appealed to
Barnes, and that the latter had promised to do everything in his power
to help her.

Suspecting that this was the situation, and doubtless sacrificing his
own private interests, he had uttered the vague but timely warning to
Barnes. The significance of this warning grew under reflection. The
mere fact that he could bring himself to the point of speaking to
Barnes as he did, established beyond all question that his position was
not inimical. He was, to a certain extent, delivering himself into the
hands of one who, in his rashness, might not hesitate to cast him to
the lions: the beasts in this instance being his own companions.

Barnes was not slow to appreciate the position in which O'Dowd
voluntarily placed himself. A word or a sign from him would be
sufficient to bring disaster upon the Irishman who had risked his own
safety in a few irretrievable words. The more he thought of it, the
more fully convinced was he that there was nothing to fear from O'Dowd.
The cause for apprehension in that direction was wiped out by a simple
process of reasoning: O'Dowd would have delivered his warning elsewhere
if he intended evil. While it was impossible to decide how far O'Dowd's
friendly interest would carry him, Barnes was still content to believe
that he would withhold his suspicions, for the present at least, from
the others at Green Fancy.

He was at a loss to account for his invitation to Green Fancy under the
circumstances. The confident attitude of those responsible for Miss
Cameron's detention evidently was based upon conditions which rendered
their position tenable. Their disregard for the consequences that might
reasonably be expected to result from this visit was puzzling in the
extreme. He could arrive at no other conclusion than that their
hospitality was inspired by a desire to disarm him of suspicion. An
open welcome to the house, while a bold piece of strategy, was far
better than an effort to cloak the place in mystery.

As he left the place behind him, he found himself saying that he had
received his first and last invitation to visit Green Fancy.

Peter drove slowly, carefully over the road down the mountain, in
direct contrast to the heedless rush of the belated "washer."

Responding to a sudden impulse, Barnes lowered one of the side-seats in
the tonneau and moved closer to the driver. By leaning forward he was
in a position to speak through the window at Peter's back.

"Pretty bad going, isn't it?" he ventured.

"Bad enough in the daytime," said Peter, without taking his eyes from
the road, "but something fierce at night."

"I suppose you've been over it so often, however, that you know every
crook and turn."

"I know 'em well enough not to get gay with 'em," said Peter.

"How long have you been driving for Mr. Curtis?"

"Ever since he come up here, more'n two years ago. I used to drive the
station bus fer the hotel down below Spanish Falls. He stayed there
while he was buildin'. Guess I'm going to get the G. B. 'fore long,

His listener started. "You don't say so! Cutting down expenses?"

"Not so's you could notice it," growled Peter. "Seems that he's gettin'
a new car an' wants an expert machinist to take hold of it from the
start. I was good enough to fiddle around with this second-hand pile o'
junk an' the Buick he had last year, but I ain't qualified to handle
this here twin-six Packard he's expectin', so he says. I guess they's
been some influence used against me, if the truth was known. This new
sec'etary he's got cain't stummick me."

"Why don't you see Mr. Curtis and demand - " "SEE him?" snorted Peter.
"Might as well try to see Napoleon Bonyparte. Didn't you know he was a
sick man?"

"Certainly. But he isn't so ill that he can't attend to business, is

"He sure is. Parylised, they say. He's a mighty fine man. It's awful to
think of him bein' so helpless he cain't ever git out'n his cheer
ag'in. Course, if he was hisself he wouldn't think o' lettin' me out.
But bein' sick-like, he jest don't give a durn about anything. So
that's how this new sec'etary gets in his fine work on me."

"What has Mr. Loeb against you, if I may ask?"

"Well, it's like this. I ain't in the habit o' bein' ordered aroun' as
if I was jest nobody at all, so when he starts in to cuss me about
somethin' a week or so ago, I ups and tells him I'll smash his head if
he don't take it back. He takes it back all right, but the first thing
I know I get a call-down from Mrs. Collier. She's Mr. Curtis's sister,
you know. Course I couldn't tell her what I told the sheeny, seein' as
she's a female, so I took it like a lamb. Then they gits a feller up
here to wash the car. My gosh, mister, the durned ole rattle-trap ain't
wuth a bucket o' water all told. You could wash from now till next
Christmas an' she wouldn't look any cleaner'n she does right now. So I
sends word in to Mr. Curtis that if she has to be washed, I'll wash
her. I don't want no dago splashin' water all over the barn floor an'
drawin' pay fer doin' it. Then's when I hears about the new car. Mr.
Loeb comes out an' asts me if I ever drove a Packard twin-six. I says
no I ain't, an' he says it's too bad. He asts the dago if he's ever
drove one and the dago lies like thunder. He says he's handled every
kind of a Packard known to science, er somethin' like that. I cain't
understand half the durn fool says. Next day Mrs. Collier sends fer me
an' I go in. She says she guesses she'll try the new washer on the
Packard when it comes, an' if I keer to stay on as washer in his place
she'll be glad to have me. I says I'd like to have a word with Mr.
Curtis, if she don't mind, an' she says Mr. Curtis ain't able to see no
one. So I guess I'm goin' to be let out. Not as I keer very much, 'cept
I hate to leave Mr. Curtis in the lurch. He was mighty good to me up to
the time he got bed-ridden."

"I dare say you will have no difficulty in finding another place," said
Barnes, feeling his way.

"'Tain't easy to git a job up here. I guess I'll have to try New York
er some of the big cities," said Peter, confidently.

An idea was taking root in Barnes's brain, but it was too soon to
consider it fixed.

"You say Mr. Loeb is new at his job?"

"Well, he's new up here. Mr. Curtis was down to New York all last
winter bein' treated, you see. He didn't come up here till about five
weeks ago. Loeb was workin' fer him most of the winter, gittin' up a
book er somethin', I hear. Mr. Curtis's mind is all right, I guess,
even if his body ain't. Always was a great feller fer books an' writin'
'fore he got so sick."

"I see. Mr. Loeb came up with him from New York."

"Kerect. Him and Mr. O'Dowd and Mr. De Soto brought him up 'bout the
last o' March."

"I understand that they are old friends."

"They was up here visitin' last spring an' the fall before. Mr. Curtis
is very fond of both of 'em."

"It seems to me that I have heard that his son married O'Dowd's sister."

"That's right. She's a widder now. Her husband was killed in the war
between Turkey an' them other countries four er five years ago."


"Yep. Him and Mr. O'Dowd - his own brother-in-law, y' know - was fightin'
on the side of the Boolgarians and young Ashley Curtis was killed. Mr.
O'Dowd's always fightin' whenever they's a war goin' on anywheres. I
cain't understand why he ain't over in Europe now helpin' out one side
or t'other."

"Was this son Mr. Curtis's only child?"

"So fer as I know. He left three little kids. They was all here with
their mother jest after the house was finished. Finest children I
ever - "

"They will probably come into this property when Mr. Curtis dies," said
Barnes, keeping the excitement out of his voice.

"More'n likely."

"Was he very feeble when you saw him last?"

"I ain't seen him in more'n six months. He was failin' then. That's why
he went to the city."

"Oh, I see. You did not see him when he arrived the last of March?"

"I was visitin' my sister up in Hornville when he come back
unexpected-like. This ijiot Loeb says he wrote me to meet 'em at
Spanish Falls but I never got the letter. Like as not the durn fool got
the address wrong. I didn't know Mr. Curtis was home till I come back
from my sister's three days later. The wust of it was that I had tooken
the automobile with me, - to have a little work done on her, mind
ye, - an' so they had to hire a Ford to bring him up from the Falls. I
wouldn't 'a' had it happen fer fifty dollars." Peter's tone was
convincingly doleful.

"And he has been confined to his room ever since? Poor old fellow! It's
hard, isn't it?"

"It sure is. Seems like he'll never be able to walk ag'in. I was
talkin' to his nurse only the other day. He says it's a hopeless case."

"Fortunately his sister can be here with him."

"By gosh, she ain't nothin' like him," confided Peter. "She's all fuss
an' feathers an' he is jest as simple as you er me. Nothin' fluffy
about him, I c'n tell ye. Course, he must 'a' had a screw loose
some'eres when he made sich a botch of that house up there, but it's
his'n an' there ain't no law ag'in a man doin' what he pleases with his
own property." He sighed deeply. "I'm jest as well pleased to go as
not," he went on. "Mrs. Collier's got a lot o' money of her own, an'
she's got highfalutin' New York ideas that don't seem to jibe with
mine. Used to be a time when everything was nice an' peaceful up here,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryGeorge Barr McCutcheonGreen Fancy → online text (page 9 of 20)