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Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

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gentleman at bottom. He has met reverses and taken up this mode of life
through necessity. I told him I would try to get the money from old
Tankersley, and he seemed glad when I went away for that purpose."

They were on the veranda now. Mary could think only of the strange man
who had been seen about the premises, and she was trying to make up her
mind as to whether it would be expedient to mention it to her father
when she saw him looking down the road toward the village.

"That is Albert's horse," he said. "Yes, he is headed this way. That
means that he will stay all night again. I think I could get that money
from him, but I don't want to ask for more right now. He has done as
much as I could expect already. No, I'll not ask him for it. Besides, of
all the discourtesy known, to borrow money from a guest seems to me to
be the worst. He seems worried over what you intend to do in his case,"
and Rowland was smiling pointedly. "He says you won't say one thing or
another positively. He seemed to be hinting the other day that he'd like
for me to take a hand in it, but I'll never do that. You must be your
own judge. He is away beneath you in the matter of birth, but - "

"Father," Mary suddenly broke in, "you have not let him know that the
boys are in the barn, have you?"

"No, I never let on about that," Rowland said, wearily, his eyes on the
approaching horse and buggy. "I promised you I wouldn't, and, while I
saw no reason - "

"He mustn't know; he mustn't know!" Mary broke in again. "I can't tell
you now why, but he mustn't know that. He must not put up his horse,
either, unless the boys are warned. It is getting dark and they may not
see him coming. But keep him here, chat with him, and I'll slip to the
barn by the back way and warn the boys."

"Well, I'll do that," Rowland promised, "but hurry on back. I can't
entertain him. He comes to see you, not me. He is daft about
you - actually crazy. He'd give his right arm to have you agree to - "

But Mary had vanished into the hall and with lowered head was scudding
through the shrubbery to the barn. The buggy was stopping at the gate,
and Rowland went down the walk with a stately step to meet the
incongruous suitor for the hand of his daughter.




CHAPTER XX


In his corn-field, Charles took up his hoe and set to work. Now and then
his eyes furtively swept the thicket on the hillside where Kenneth had
seen the lurking stranger. Something seemed to tell Charles that the man
was still in the neighborhood and was only waiting for the darkness to
veil his further operations. He heard the sound of Frazier's horse on
the road and saw Mary slip from a rear door of the house and steal
rapidly down to the barn, but he did not understand what it meant. It
became plain a moment later when Mary was seen hurrying back and the
sound of hoofs and wheels at the gate had ceased. That it was Frazier
making another call he did not doubt, and a sense of helpless discontent
descended upon him, seeming to gather weight and substance from the very
thickening darkness, and disconsolate voice from the dismal croaking of
the frogs in the near-by marshes. Fireflies were flitting over the corn
and about the shrubbery bordering the walk to the house. Charles now
gazed more frequently and keenly toward the thicket. It was growing so
dark that he felt that his pretense at working could not be kept up
longer without exciting undue suspicion in the mind of the possible
observer. He had decided to stop, when something among the branches of
the young trees on the hillside caught his eye. To his astonishment he
saw the vague outlines of a masculine figure emerge, stand out from the
trees, and then slowly advance toward him. That he had been under the
eye of this person the greater part of the day and was still being
watched he did not doubt. That the man knew he was there and was coming
toward him for a purpose he was sure. What could it mean other than that
the man, if he was a detective, had decided to reveal his purpose and
seek an interview from a man so recently hired that he ought to be a
disinterested witness? That must be it, and Charles steeled himself for
an ordeal he dreaded in many ways. With his hoe on his shoulder he made
his way between two rows of corn toward the path leading up to the
house. The man was still approaching. He was not a hundred feet away
when, as Charles was turning toward the house, the stranger suddenly and
softly coughed.

"Ahem!" the man cleared his throat, coughed again, and waved his hand.
Charles turned quite around and stood hesitating.

"Wait! Please don't go yet, sir," a strangely familiar voice exclaimed,
in a low, urgent tone. "I must see you."

"Great God! Mike, is it you?" Charles lowered his hoe and stood peering
through the gloom.

"Yes, sir, it is me, Mr. Charles," was the faltering reply. "I hope you
won't be angry, but I felt that I must see you. I waited till night,
thinking it would please you for me to do so."

"My God! Mike!" was all Charles could say, as he reached out his hand
and dropped his hoe.

"Yes, sir. I hope you will forgive me. I haven't the right to do all
this, considering your wishes, sir, but I couldn't keep from it, sir. I
saw you about a year ago in Madison Square in New York. You were with a
friend, sir, and I dared not address you then, so I followed you and
him."

"My Lord! You were that fellow!" Charles laughed out of sheer relief in
finding that his greater fears were ungrounded.

"Yes, sir, and I stood watch over the house, hoping to see you alone,
but you both got away that night, and - "

"Thank God! Mike - I'm glad - rejoiced to see you!" and Charles
affectionately wrung the hand that was in his. "How are the people at
home?"

"All well, sir - your brother, the missus and the little girl. She is
always asking about you - can't seem to understand like - like - well, like
the others."

"I see," and a sudden chill passed over Charles at the thought now in
his mind. "But, Mike, how did you happen to locate me? Surely they don't
know at home that I am down here."

"Oh no, sir! That was just my discovery, sir."

"Your discovery?"

"Yes. You see, I've been making rather frequent trips to New York to see
my mother, and when I was there I was always on the lookout for you. You
see, I didn't then know but what you and your friend might return from
New Jersey and be hiding somewhere in New York. So a short time ago,
sir, happening to be in Washington Square, who should I see but a man
who looked so much like your friend that I determined to get a closer
view. It turned out to be Mr. Mason, sir; but we were playing at
cross-purposes, Mr. Charles, for he thought I was a plain-clothes
detective. He had spotted me that time a year ago in Madison Square and,
sir, your friend - he will do to trust - he shut up like a clam. He lied
like a good fellow, sir. I don't know what he didn't tell me with as
straight a face as a parson at a funeral. We had it up and down, sir,
for quite a while, and him thinking every minute that I would show my
badge, whistle for help, and take him in as a witness against you.
Presently, however, he seemed to get tired of the tack we were on and
made a bluff, sir. He got up and just as good as told me to mind my own
business. He walked off, madlike, in a huff, as if he had had enough of
me. But I couldn't let him depart so, Mr. Charles. I went after him
again, and then he came back and we had it out. To make a long story
short, I finally convinced him that I was your friend, sir. In fact, he
said that you had honored me by mentioning me to him. It was the money,
however, I think, that clinched the matter."

"Money? Mason didn't accept money from you, did he?" Charles asked, in
bewilderment.

"Oh no, sir! He is the soul of honor, Mr. Charles! I mean the money I
owe you and which I told him I had then in the bank to pay you. He said
you were - I think he said 'strapped,' sir, down here in the neighborhood
of Carlin, and he was sure you needed the cash, as you were so hard up
that you were going to work on a farm. And this is the way I find you,
sir, dressed like a common laborer. Thank God, I've got the money, Mr.
Charles. Here it is in a roll. It is burning a hole in my pocket, sir.
You ought not to have left Boston without it."

Charles's heart bounded at the sight of the money Michael was now
extending toward him. He took it. He fondled it. His eyes beamed through
the dusk. "Oh, Mike," he cried. "You can never imagine how much I am in
need of this. I wouldn't take it from you, but I really must, for it is
going to help a sweet, beautiful girl out of serious trouble. I'll tell
you about her later. She is the daughter of the gentleman for whom I am
working."

"Was she the young lady who came on a horse and whom you assisted at the
barn, sir?"

"Yes. Did you see her, Mike?"

"Yes, sir, and a good look I had, too, sir, for I was hidden behind some
thick bushes only twenty yards from where you and she stood with the
horse. Oh, she is indeed beautiful, sir, and must have a fine character.
Pardon me, sir, but I think I understand. You could not keep
from - from - no natural man full of young blood could keep from - admiring
her. Ah, sir, I congratulate you. I see now that maybe you need not be
so - so lonely and unhappy in your new life."

"There is nothing between us, and never can be, Mike," Charles sighed.
"You know of the cloud hanging over me. That will forever prevent my
marrying. This is a fine old aristocratic family, Mike. But, Mike, this
money may save her from a marriage that is repulsive to her. It will
have to be used secretly. I mustn't be known in it."

"You don't mean, sir, that you are giving the - the money away as soon as
you get it? Ah, that is like you, Mr. Charles! You are never thinking of
yourself - always of others, as you did in my case and many others. But I
had hoped - when Mr. Mason told me of your condition down here - I had
hoped that the money would come in handy to - "

"It is worth my life to me," Charles interrupted, grasping the hand of
his companion and pressing it fervently. "I would have given my right
arm to have gotten it anywhere for her use."

"Then it really _is_ love, sir," Michael opined, simply. "And
considering what I've seen of the lady, I can imagine how you feel under
the fear, sir, of her going to some one else who is unworthy of her.
Yes, I'll have to be satisfied."

At this point the bell at the kitchen door clanged. "It is for me,
Mike," Charles explained. "I'm late for supper and must go now. But I
must see you to-night. Are you stopping at Carlin?"

"Yes, sir, at that remarkable inn. It was there, from that talkative
clerk, sir, that I learned of a circus man being employed on this
place."

"Well, go back now, Mike, and I'll be in to see you to-night. It may be
as late as eleven o'clock, but I'll not fail. Wait up for me. There are
many things to be inquired about, but first that other business must be
attended to."

"About the young lady, sir?"

"Yes."

"I'll be there, Mr. Charles, and I'll be guarded in my conduct, you may
be sure. I'll get directions from you later. Come straight to my room,
sir."

"One other question, Mike, before you go." Charles lowered the hoe which
he had put on his shoulder and leaned on it.

"Did the - the thing I did at the bank harm my brother financially? Is he
still employed there? You see, I was afraid that, on my account - "

"Oh, that is all over with, sir. Your brother, if anything, stands
higher than ever. You see, that was due to your uncle James."

"To Uncle James!"

"Yes, sir. You know he came home from Europe very soon after you left.
He took a high hand at the bank - bought up all the floating stock and
only recently was made the president. I have hoped, sir, that, that
being the case, the charges against you would be dismissed. You see, I
know, Mr. Charles, and they must know, that you were unconscious of what
you were doing. I myself have seen you, sir, when you were in a
condition that - "

"Well, never mind that," and Charles seemed to shrink within himself,
shouldered his hoe, and turned. "We'll talk it all over at the hotel
to-night."

On reaching the house he found that the family and the guest had already
supped. He went into the dining-room and sat in his accustomed place. He
heard voices from the veranda, and knew that Mary, her father, and
Frazier were seated there. Aunt Zilla brought his supper, and he
apologized for his delay.

"Dat's all right, Mr. Brown." She smiled significantly. "Young Miss done
tol' me dat you was doin' er favor fer 'er. You could stay till
daybreak, fer all I care - she is in so much trouble. My Gawd! ef you des
could 'a' looked at 'er while she was settin' eatin' 'side dat low
rapscallion ter-night, you'd 'a' pitied 'er like I done do. I could 'a'
poured de scaldin' coffee down his thick bull neck fum behind when I
fetched it in. Why, you kin tell fum de looks of 'im dat his money is
all he got! Huh! I say!"

She vanished through the door of her sanctum, letting it shut with a
bang that shook the wooden partition.

Presently Charles was conscious of the entry into the room of some one
whose step was soundless. It was Mary. She fairly crept into the circle
of lamplight from the unlighted hall and sitting-room. Sinking into the
chair next to his, she whispered:

"I slipped away. I had to. I couldn't wait to know. Did you find out
what - who - "

She was at a loss for words, and he smiled reassuringly. "It was all a
mistake. The man Kenneth saw was looking for me. He is an old friend
from up North, and a trusty one. He acted oddly, but - but he is rather
eccentric, and he was somewhat afraid that I might not want to see him."

"Oh! then it wasn't a detective?"

"No, only an old friend of mine whom I have not seen for some time. I'm
sorry it caused you such a fright."

"That doesn't matter." Mary rose, her eyes on the door leading to the
veranda. She stood as if listening. The alternate mumbling of two
masculine voices came in on the sultry air. She sighed, looked down at
Charles, and he saw that the light of relief which had illumined her
face had already died down.

"That is out of the way," she whispered, as if to herself in part, "but
something almost as bad has come."

"You mean - ?" He stood up to keep her company, and saw her sweep her
eyes furtively toward the door again.

She nodded as if he had finished a remark that she fully understood.
"Albert says that the doctors held another consultation just before he
left Carlin this afternoon. They decided that Tobe must be removed
to-morrow night at the latest. He came to tell me and to drive me to
town with him in the morning."

"And you are going to - allow _him_ to furnish the money?"

She nodded again, her face averted. "I've tried everywhere, and so has
father. This is no time for sentiment. I shall do my duty."

There was a sound of steps approaching through the hall. There was no
mistaking that careless, blustering stride. With a startled, almost
frightened expression, Mary whirled toward the kitchen and disappeared
just as Frazier entered the sitting-room. An instant later and Frazier
would have seen the two together.

"I was looking for Miss Mary," he said, and he glowered on Charles, who
had resumed his chair and taken up his knife and fork. Charles thought
with lightning swiftness. He did not want to give the man the slightest
information, so with a steady, contemptuous stare he simply made no
answer.

His manner and silence fairly stunned Frazier, who, in default of
anything else to do, simply glared at him for a moment and then turned
back toward the veranda. Charles was glad he had taken the course he
did, the next moment, for he heard Mary's voice on the veranda speaking
to her father. She had slipped out at the kitchen door and had hastily
made her way over the grass back to the front.

Charles finished his supper and, having nothing just then to do, he
started up to his room. He intended to go to the village as soon as he
could leave the house unnoticed, and that meant waiting till the family
and the guest had retired. As he was ascending the stairs he heard the
angry voice of Frazier raised above a normal tone.

"He simply glared at me when I spoke, sneered and didn't open his lips.
Now I tell you that if it hadn't been here in your house, Mr. Rowland,
I'd have given him a licking that he would remember all his life - a
common, roustabout circus tramp acting in such a high and mighty way
with me!"

Charles heard Rowland's faint voice in response, but failed to catch his
words. It was ten o'clock before he heard the others go to their rooms,
and he waited half an hour afterward before stealing down the stairs and
starting on his walk to the village.




CHAPTER XXI


The following morning Charles went to his work after breakfasting alone.
Aunt Zilla said the others were not yet up. From his corn-field he saw
Frazier lead his horse up to the gate and hitch it to his buggy, which
had been left there. Presently Mary came out, and was assisted into the
vehicle. Frazier attentively tucked the lap-robe about her feet, waved a
parting hand to Rowland at the gate, and they drove away. The buggy seat
was a narrow one and the couple had to sit close together. Frazier, in a
very loutish way, had dropped his right foot over the edge of the buggy,
and it was swinging to and fro close to the wheels, like a pendulum.

"I want to warn you and your father both against that fellow," he was
saying to the thought-immersed girl, who, pale and rigid, sat by his
side. "I am sure there is something crooked about him. He has all the
earmarks of a suspicious character. I have helped my brother in several
detective cases and I never saw a man I suspected more. It is not all
groundless, either, little girl. You see, the last time I was here to
stay all night I heard him coming in away after midnight, slipping up
the stairs with his shoes in his hand, and this morning between two and
three he did the same thing. The first time I stopped him with my gun in
my hand, but this morning I let him pass. I intend to give him plenty of
rope and watch him. Some suspicious characters were connected with the
circus he left, and my frank opinion is that this Brown dropped off
here, and is working on your place merely as a blind to cover up some
shady game."

"You say you heard him come in this morning between two and three?" Mary
said, wonderingly. "Are you not mistaken?"

"No. The truth is I thought I heard him go out about eleven, but was not
sure, so I left my door slightly ajar. I am a light sleeper when I want
to be, and I heard him at the front door and watched him creep up the
stairs without his shoes again. A fellow like that may stare at me and
not answer a decent question, but it won't pay him. He doesn't know who
he is fooling with."

Mary said nothing. She was wondering what could have taken Charles out
at that hour. Finally she thought of the old friend he had mentioned and
decided his going out must have been connected with him. But - again she
found herself perplexed - why had the "old friend" acted so strangely the
preceding day? Why had he hidden in the thicket for so many hours before
approaching Charles, and why had he waited for the darkness to fall
before accomplishing his purpose? It was queer, very queer, but not for
a moment did she doubt that all was as it should be. She found herself
actually too miserable to attempt a defense of Charles against Frazier's
insinuations. After all, what could be of importance beyond the object
of her mission to the village that morning? Frazier had said that he
would go to the bank as soon as they reached Carlin and get the
necessary money. Whether the life of the wounded man might be saved was
very doubtful at best, but one thing seemed settled beyond recall, and
that was her marriage to the man by her side. Could it be possible? she
kept asking herself, to the thudding accompaniment of the horse's hoofs;
yes, yes, it was now inevitable. She was glad, vaguely glad, that
Frazier forebore mentioning the subject during the drive. He evidently
felt that after the price had been paid she would be ready to complete
the bargain. She was beginning to feel herself a slave, but she was a
haughty, uncringing one, and well knew the value of what she was giving.

They were entering the village. He told her it was nine o'clock and the
bank would be open for business. He could, by going only a short
distance out of his way, drop her at Keith's house. How would she like
to stop and tell Tobe the good news while he went on to the bank for the
money?

It was just what she desired, for she shrank from being seen at the bank
on such business. The president, at least, would understand and make
mental, if not open, comments. So at the gate of the cottage Frazier
left her, promising to come back very soon.

No one was in sight about the place, though the front door was open, and
as she entered the gate she heard the grinding tread of thick-shod feet
on the boards of the floor within.

The buggy was disappearing down the street as she timidly reached the
door. She stood there a moment, and then summoned up the courage to rap
on the lintel.

"Go see who it is, Ma," she heard Tobe say. "Maybe they are here
already."

Then Mrs. Keith appeared. Her facial expression was more cheerful than
it was the day before, her form more erect and confident. She was even
courteous in her unlettered way.

"Come in, come in," she said, smiling. "Tobe, it is Miss Mary. He is
daft about you, Miss Mary; he hasn't talked about a thing since you left
but the sweet way you acted and spoke yesterday. He has a lot to tell
you, but I reckon you have heard by this time. News spreads like fire in
dry broomsedge in a little place like this."

"I have heard nothing new," Mary answered, wonderingly.

"You say you haven't? Well, everybody else has, here in town, I'll bet a
horse. Tobe, she hain't heard. You tell her. He can do it to the queen's
taste." Mrs. Keith laughed in a chuckling way.

"You can't fool me with that prim look of yours, Miss Mary," the wounded
man said, smiling wanly from his pillow, as Mary bent over him. "You
know all about it. I'm not such a fool as to think that two big things
would just happen together like you being here yesterday and that other
piling in so quick afterwards."

"What do you mean by 'that other'?" Mary asked, in groping surprise.

"Listen, Ma, listen at her!" Tobe laughed. "You know women better 'n I
do. Ain't she just making out?"

"She looks to me like she's really puzzled," Mrs. Keith answered. "The
truth is, Miss Mary, the money for the Atlanta trip was sent last night,
an' we don't know who it come from; but Tobe declares you are at the
bottom of it."

"I believe it, and nothing won't shake me from it," Tobe insisted, still
smiling confidently.

"You say - you say that you got the money!" Mary fairly gasped in
surprise.

"Not only that, but a cool hundred over the amount," Tobe went on. "You'd
as well get off your high perch, Miss Mary Rowland. You see, I've got
evidence."

"Evidence! I don't understand." Mary was truly bewildered.

"Yes. I had no sooner mentioned it to Mrs. Bartlett this morning than
she told about how you was riding from place to place to borrow the
money. I can put two and two together easy enough. You simply got the
money and are trying to keep from being known in it, that's all."

"I give you my word, Tobe, I know nothing about it," Mary answered, her
head hanging in embarrassment. "I confess I _did_ try to get the money,
and - and I intended to try again to-day. Of course, I'm glad it has
come."

"I believe she is in earnest, Tobe," Mrs. Keith said, her gaunt hands
clutching the foot of the bedstead. "Well, it is awfully strange, Miss
Mary. It happened like this. I was up with Tobe to give him his fever
mixture about two o'clock this morning, when down the street, alongside
Mrs. Bartlett's picket fence, I saw two men coming. It looked like one
was trying to persuade the other to do something that he didn't exactly
want to tackle, an' my first thought was that they were niggers trying
to rob some hen-roost. But while I was watching, sorter scrouched down
on the door-sill, so as not to be seen, the two men come on to our gate
and halted. Then in the starlight, that was pretty bright, I saw they
was white men. I was still, an' so was they for a minute; then I heard
one of them say, sorter peevish-like: 'Go on. Knock at the door, an'
when somebody comes out hand it to 'em and say what I told you to say.


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