BY MEREDITH NICHOLSON
BLACKSHEEP! BLACKSHEEP! LADY LARKSPUR THE MADNESS OF MAY THE VALLEY OF DEMOCRACY
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
LESLIE L. BENSON
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Maybe, in spite of their tameless days Of outcast liberty, They're sick at heart for the homely ways Where their gathered brothers be.
Meanwhile, "Blacksheep! Blacksheep!" we cry, Safe in the inner fold; And maybe they hear, and wonder why, And marvel, out in the cold.
Her "Very glad, I'm sure," was uttered with reservations Frontispiece
At the crack of the gun the fugitive stopped short 32
"It's all right about you, Governor, but the kid had better shake the tree" 112
"We must be in a hurry or that woman will catch you" 234
Mrs. Howard Featherstone spent much time thinking up things for her brother Archibald Bennett to do, and as Archie was the ideal bachelor brother, always remembering the children's birthdays and turning up dutifully for Christmas dinners, he accepted her commissions in the most amiable spirit and his services were unfailingly satisfactory. He knew perfectly well that most of the jobs she imposed upon him had been politely but firmly declined by her busy husband, but this made no difference to Archie, who had all the time in the world, and infinite patience, and he rather enjoyed tracing express packages and matching ribbons.
"The agent who's been looking up a summer house for us says this is an unusual opportunity, as there are few places to let at Bailey Harbor and this one is unexpectedly on the market. The owner is obliged to leave just after settling in it, so it's all in perfect condition and if it meets our needs we can go right up. Howard's simply swamped with work—he's conducting some sort of investigation with night meetings and that sort of thing—and we'd all appreciate it if you could run up there for us."
The many preoccupations of his brother-in-law, who held a seat in Congress and took his job seriously, were well known to Archie. Featherstone was an important cog in the governmental machinery while Archie had nothing on earth to do, so it was eminently fitting that he, as an unattached and unemployed brother-in-law, should assume some of Featherstone's domestic burdens. Archie had planned to leave for the Canadian Rockies two days later, but as no urgent business called him in that direction, he obligingly agreed to take a look at the Bailey Harbor house that had been placed so providentially within reach of his sister.
"The owner belongs to that old New England Congdon family," Mrs. Featherstone explained; "they date from the beginning of time, and some of them are a trifle eccentric. You remember one of them—he must be the father or an uncle of the owner of this house—Eliphalet Congdon, who lives in Boston and is horribly rich but is always doing weird things. There was a perfectly killing article in the paper just the other day telling of his latest exploit, which was getting arrested for refusing to allow them to check his umbrella at the Metropolitan Museum. They thought, of course, that he was a crank who wanted to poke holes through the pictures, and he made such a fuss that they had to arrest him and he wouldn't give bail but had his lawyer get him out on a writ of habeas corpus."
"The same philanthropist who had a bus built just like the Fifth Avenue busses and wanted to run it himself to pick up women and children the regular busses wouldn't stop for," laughed Archie. "If you're renting a house from that family it's just as well to look into it carefully. All right, May; I'll inspect the premises for you."
In spite of his good-natured assent she continued to pile up excuses for her husband and explained in great detail the rundown condition of the children which made it necessary to get them out of Washington as quickly as possible. Archie was already mentally planning the details of his trip with his customary exactness. As he traveled constantly in the interest of his health, which had been a cause of solicitude to himself and all his relatives as far back as any one could remember, he knew train schedules by heart, and by catching the Federal Express the next night he would be able to connect with a train at Boston that would land him at Bailey Harbor at two o'clock the same day.
With any sort of luck he could escape from the Harbor, reach New York the following morning and proceed immediately westward. A few telegrams would readjust matters so that he would lose only a day in setting out for Banff, which his newest doctor had told him was an ideal spot for him. Many other doctors had posted him off to numerous other places in pursuit of the calm or stimulus or whatever it was he needed to make him a sound man capable of taking some part in the world's affairs. Archie's condition was always a grateful topic of conversation and now that his sister had told him how many bedrooms her menage required, and warned him particularly to be sure that there was a sleeping porch and a garage, and not to forget to look carefully into the drainage system of the entire Maine coast; having watched him make notes of these matters, Mrs. Featherstone, in her most sisterly tone, broached the subject of his health.
"Your troubles, Archie, are all due to the scarlet fever you had when you were a child. I've thought that if you could ever get into some active work it would cure you. These sanatoriums you live in most of the time never do you any good. They just keep you thinking about yourself. What you need is a complete upsetting,—something that would give a new turn to your life. And, you know," she went on softly, "I'd hoped, Archie, that the right girl would turn up one of these days and that that would prove the panacea. But the girls I've picked out never pleased you, and here you are, the finest brother in the world, and the most conscientious man alive, always doing generous things for people—you know you do, Archie—with nothing ahead of you but just one sanatorium after another. I haven't much faith in this idea of your going to the Rockies; you know you tried the Alps five years ago and the altitude nearly killed you."
"I seem doomed to sit on the sidelines and watch the game," Archie agreed gloomily.
"But sometimes, I think you yield too easily to discouragement. Please don't think I mean to be unkind or unjust, but if at some turn of the road you were obliged to put your back to the wall and fight for your life! Really, dear, I think you would win the battle and be a very different man afterward."
Archie smiled wanly. He had the lively imagination of the neurasthenic and very often he had dreamed of vanquishing single-handed a dozen enemies, or plunging into a burning house and staggering out half dead bearing a helpless child in his arms. To look at him no one would believe that he had a nerve in his tall frame. Once a friend carried him off to a farm where an autocratic athletic trainer rejuvenated tired business men; and Archie survived the heroic treatment and reappeared bronzed and hardened and feeling better than he had ever felt in his life. But a winter spent in an office and leisure to think of himself as an invalid brought back the old apprehensions, and there being no one at hand to drag him again to the trainer's, he renewed his acquaintance with the waiting-rooms of specialists.
"There will be a few people in for dinner tonight," remarked Mrs. Featherstone as he rose to go; "very simple, you know; and Howard just telephoned that he can't possibly come, so if you can arrange it, Archie—"
"All right, May. Weld and Coburn are in town and I was going to have dinner with them at the Army and Navy, but if you really want me—"
"Oh, that's perfectly fine of you, Archie! You are splendid to break your engagement with them when you three don't meet very often; but it will be a real help to me to have you. It's so late now that I can't ask any one else in Howard's place. And Isabel Perry will be here; you know she's the dearest girl, and I always thought you really did like Isabel. Her father lost all his money before he died and she's had a position as gymnasium teacher in Miss Gordon's school. This summer she's to run a girls' camp up in Michigan and she can't help making a splendid success of it."
Archie did not at once detach Miss Perry from the innumerable host of young women his sister had introduced him to; they were a hazy composite in his memory, but when Mrs. Featherstone insisted that he couldn't have forgotten Miss Perry's smile and merry laugh, he promptly declared that he remembered her perfectly. When he found himself sitting beside her later at Mrs. Featherstone's table, with a lady on his right who was undoubtedly most distinguished in spite of the fact that he failed to catch her name and understood very little of her rapid French, he was very grateful for Miss Perry's propinquity. The smile and the laugh were both better even than Mrs. Featherstone's specifications, and her English had a refreshing Western tang and raciness that pleased him.
"I passed you on the street the other day and made frantic efforts to attract your attention but you were in a trance and failed to see my signals."
"I was taking my walk," he stammered.
"'My walk!'" she repeated. "You speak as though you had a monopoly of that form of exercise. I must say you didn't appear to be enjoying yourself. Your aspect was wholly funereal and your demeanor that of a man with a certain number of miles wished on him."
"Four a day," Archie confessed with an air of resignation; "two in the morning and two before dinner."
"Then you were doing your morning lap when I passed you. Only four miles a day?"
"By the doctor's orders," he assented with the wistful smile that usually evoked sympathetic murmurs in feminine auditors.
"Oh, the doctors!" remarked the girl as though she had no great opinion of doctors in general or of Mr. Bennett's medical advisers in particular. He was used to a great deal of sympathy and he was convinced that Miss Perry was an utterly unsympathetic person.
"What would you call a good walk?" he asked a little tartly.
"Oh, ten, twenty, thirty! I've done fifteen and gone to a dance at the end of the tramp."
"But you haven't my handicap," he protested defensively. "You can't be very gay about walking when you're warned that excessive fatigue may have disastrous consequences!"
She was not wholly without feeling for her face grew grave for a moment and she met his eyes searchingly, with something of the professional scrutiny to which he had long been accustomed.
"Eyes clear; color very good; voice a trifle weak and suggesting timidity and feeble initiative. Introspective; a little self-conscious, and unimportant nervous symptoms indicated by the rolling of bread crumbs."
"I've paid doctors large fees for telling me the same things," he said, hastily hiding the bread crumbs under the edge of his plate. "I wish you'd write those items down for me. I'm in earnest about that."
"When did you say you were leaving town?"
"Tomorrow evening. If you'll write out your diagnosis and any suggestions you may have as to my habits, diet and general course of life, I promise to put them into practice."
"Your case interests me and I'll consider this matter of advising you."
"I shall expect the document tomorrow afternoon!"
"I should want to be very sure," she laughed, "that you were really leaving town and that I shouldn't see you for a long time—perhaps never again!"
"That has an ominous sound, as though you were going to give me a death sentence! Is my case as bad as that?"
"Not at all; but it calls for that disagreeable frankness we all dislike in our friends and very properly resent in mere acquaintances. I should be enormously embarrassed to meet you until after—"
She paused and surveyed him once more, questioningly. The French lady was telling a story to the whole company, and they were obliged to give heed to it; and as Archie failed to catch the point of it Miss Perry very kindly gave him the clue. The talk was general for a few minutes and then he begged her to finish the sentence that had been left in the air.
"Oh, it doesn't matter! I think I was going to say that it would be embarrassing to see you until after you had given my little hints a trial. I'll say now that just the orderly course of your life, with four miles a day, no more, no less, isn't a bit likely to get you anywhere. My treatment for such a case as yours would be very drastic. I'd set you some real stunts to do if you were my patient. May tells me that they won't have you in the army, the navy, or the flying corps, but I believe I could find some excitement for you," she ended musingly.
"As, for example—?" he asked, finding the French lady conspiring with an attache of the Italian embassy. "To meet the competition of the nerve specialists, you'll have to be very explicit and tell me exactly what to do."
"Right there is one of your troubles—living by fixed schedules. You've never felt the world's rough hand; you don't know life! Clubs and sanatoriums and week-ends in comfortable houses don't count. You're a tremendously formal person, Mr. Bennett! What you really need is a good hard jar! Every morning you know exactly what you're going to do every hour of the day. It's routine that kills! Now just suppose when you're out on one of your walks you were to overpower the chauffeur of, we will say, the British ambassador, and drive the car bearing his Excellency into some lonely fastness of the Virginia hills, and hold him for a ransom, and collect the money in twenty-dollar gold pieces and escape with it and then come back to Washington and spend it all on a big party with the ambassador as the guest of honor. There would be a real achievement—something that would make you famous in two hemispheres."
"And incidentally lock me up for life if I escaped being shot! Such an escapade would very likely spoil our cordial relations with England and cause no end of trouble."
"There you are!" she exclaimed, "thinking always of the cost, never of the fun! Of course you would never do any such thing. Let me try again! Suppose you were to hold up a bank messenger in Wall Street and skip with a satchelful of negotiable securities and then, after the papers were through ragging the police for their inefficiency, you would drive up to the bank in a taxi, walk in and return the money, saying you had found it in the old family pew at Trinity when you went in to say your prayers! Here would be an opportunity to break the force of habit and awaken your self-confidence."
"Am I to understand that you practice what you preach? I don't mean to be impertinent, but really,—"
"Oh, I'm perfectly capable of doing anything I've suggested. I'm merely biding my time. Parents are pardonably fussy about the sort of person they turn their children over to, so I must have a care. I mean to dig for buried treasure this summer, realizing the dream of a lifetime."
"That appeals to me strongly. Perhaps you'd let me assist in that undertaking?"
"Impossible! I want all the glory and eke the gold if I find the hidden chests. Talk about romance being dead! My grandfather was a planter in Mississippi before the Civil War. In about 1860 he saw trouble ahead, and as he was opposed to secession he turned everything he had into gold, bought several tracts of land in Michigan and New York and secretly planted his money. His wife and children refused to share his lonely exile and he sent them to England but clung to America himself, and died suddenly and alone the second year of the war on the very acres my father inherited in Michigan. That's where I'm opening my camp."
"And the gold hasn't been found?" asked Archie deeply interested.
"Not a coin so far! You see grandfather made his will in war time and only divided the land, being afraid to mention the buried treasure in a document that would become a public record when he died."
"This is most exciting. It's only unfortunate that it's not pirate gold to give zest to your enterprise."
"Oh, the pirate in the story is a cousin of mine, who inherited the land up near the St. Lawrence and has dug all over it without results. My father gave the Michigan scenery to me, but this cousin has been digging on my land, most unwarrantably! He's rather a dashing young person!"
Archie was so enthralled that he forgot the typewritten dietary he always carried in his pocket and ate most of his portion of beef tenderloin before he remembered that red meats were denied him. He laid down his fork so abruptly that she asked him what was the matter.
"Nothing; only you've interested me so much that I've eaten a whole lot of stuff that's positively forbidden. You've already scored a victory over my specialists!"
"Splendid!" she cried. "Eat when you're hungry and never think about your food. Don't let a mere piece of beef know that you're a coward. Have you ever committed murder? You pale at the suggestion and yet a pleasant little murder might be the very thing to set you on your feet again!"
From time to time he caught Mrs. Featherstone's eyes fixed upon him approvingly, and he knew that she was thinking that at last he had met a girl who interested him. The impression that he was an invalid in imminent peril of death caused his friends and acquaintances to talk to him as though he were a sick child, and it was refreshing to find a girl who openly chaffed him about his health and went the length of prescribing a career of riotous crime as a cure for his ills. This was enormously amusing for in prep school and college he had been guiltless of the traditional pranks and in the six years that had elapsed since he emerged into the world he had walked circumspectly in the eyes of all men.
Isabel Perry was not afraid of him and she didn't treat him as girls did who had an idea that if they talked to him very long he might faint or even die on their hands. He noted her fine rounded arms and supple fingers that spoke for strength, reflecting that very likely she could pick him up and pitch him through the window. He had always disliked athletic girls, fancying that they nodded to him patronizingly as they passed him on country club verandas all aglow from golf or tennis. This amiable Isabel was quite capable of making him dance through a set of tennis and with her high spirits and strong will might even bring him out alive. It was obvious that the sudden sweeping away of her father's fortune had not troubled her in the least. He marveled at this, for he had a great deal of money that had been conferred upon him in the cradle and what he should do if he lost it was a depressing possibility that had contributed not a little to his neurasthenia.
When it came time for Isabel to say good-night to her hostess Bennett was hovering near to offer his services in calling her car.
"Nothing like that for me! I brought walking shoes and shall foot it home, thank you. But—" she hesitated and said with mock gravity, "if you're not afraid of the night air or the excessive fatigue, you might take me home. That will add a mile to your prescription but you can ride back!"
The other guests had gone when she reappeared, wrapped in a long cloak and bearing a party-bag containing her slippers. She spoke of her plans for the summer with charming candor as they set off at a brisk pace. Little bits of autobiography she let fall interested him immensely. She was born in Wyoming, where her father had been a ranchman, and she had first known Mrs. Featherstone in college. She was enthusiastic about the summer camp; if it succeeded she meant to conduct an outdoor school for girls, moving it from Michigan to Florida with the changing seasons.
"People have been so kind to me! And I shall have a wonderful lot of girls—just think of it,—one hundred dear young beings from all over the country. It's a big responsibility but that land of my grandfather's is a lovely site for the camp. It's on a bay, where the swimming will be perfectly safe, and there's a wonderful forest, with Indian trails that run back to Marquette's time. We shall have a doctor—a woman, of course—and two trained nurses and some splendid young women to act, as councilors."
There was no question of her making a success of it, he said, marveling at her vitality, her exuberance, the confidence with which she viewed the future.
"I wish you all good luck," he said when they reached the house of the friend she was visiting. "The camp will be a great success,—I'm sure of that."
"Oh, it's a case of sink or swim—I've got to make it go!" she replied with her buoyant laugh. "If I don't succeed I can't emerge from the woods next fall and face my creditors!"
"There's the buried treasure; you mustn't neglect that! I'm greatly your debtor for all the interesting things you've told me. This has been the happiest evening I've spent since——"
"Since you began taking everything so hard? Please quit looking on your life as a burden; try to get some fun out of it!"
The door opened to the key she gave him and the light of the hall lamp fell upon her face and glinted her brown hair as she put out her hand.
"Don't forget me in the rush of things! And particularly don't forget that note of instructions. I'm counting on that!"
"Not really?" she exclaimed. "I was just in fun, you know."
"If I don't get it before I leave tomorrow evening, I shall be terribly disappointed. I shall take it as a sign that you don't think me worth bothering about!"
There was a pleading in his voice that held her for a moment; she surveyed him gravely, then answered lightly,
"Oh, very well! You shall have it, sir!"
Archie didn't know that the note caused Isabel a great deal of trouble. It was one thing to promise to tell a man who was all but a stranger just how to alter his way of life with a view to a happier existence, but to sit before a sheet of white paper and compose a letter on the subject was a very different matter, as Isabel's waste-paper basket could have testified. Her first experiments had been very serious, with urgent recommendations of hard physical labor; but this proved unsatisfactory. Then she attacked it from an ethical angle and suggested social service as a means of destroying the selfishness which she honestly believed to be one of his troubles.
She scribbled on a pad the titles of half a dozen hooks designed for weary and disconsolate souls, but they hardly touched his case and besides he had probably been deluged with just such literature. Moreover, she must write a note that would not require an answer; this she felt to be imperatively demanded by the circumstances. She thought Archibald Bennett a nice fellow and she was sorry for him, but no more and no less sorry than she would have been for any one else who failed to find the world a pleasant place to live in. Something a little cryptic, yet something that would discourage further confidences without wounding him—this would solve the problem—and she spent an hour turning over the pages of a book of quotations searching for some stirring epigrammatic utterance. The wise of all the ages seemed to have been strangely unmindful of the needs of neurasthenic young men, but finally she hit upon these lines and copied them in her best hand:—
He either fears his fate too much, Or his deserts are small, That dares not put it to the touch To gain or lose it all.
She wondered who the Marquis of Montrose was who had lived in the seventeenth century and bequeathed this quatrain to posterity, but this didn't matter, and after reading the lines aloud several times she decided that they would serve her purpose admirably. If Mr. Bennett took them seriously, well enough; and if he didn't like them it made no difference as she would probably never meet him again.
She wrote on a calling card, "Best wishes and good luck," and put this inside the note sheet, and as the hour was late she despatched it to Mr. Bennett by special messenger.
The note reached Archie just as he was leaving his sister's house. When he was seated in the train he drew it out and inspected the envelope carefully, held it to the light and speculated fearfully as to the nature of its contents. His thoughts had played about Isabel Perry most of the day and he had listened to his sister's enthusiastic praise of her with an unusual attention that had not been lost upon Mrs. Featherstone. He had hoped for a long letter in the vein of the girl's chaffing humor, and the size of the missive was a distinct disappointment.
He opened it guardedly, and his face fell as he pondered the verse. It was a neat, well-bred slap at him as a man without initiative or courage. At the dinner table she had expressed much the same thought that was condensed in the verse, but the quotation, unrelieved by her smile, carried a sting. He read it over until the lines marched with a nimble step through his memory. There was something oddly haunting in them, and he experimented with a variety of emphases and pauses, particularly as to the last line, which he found might be read in a great number of ways. He decided finally that it was best interpreted by a little pause after "gain," with the remaining words vanishing in a despondent sigh. Perhaps this was the way Isabel Perry thought of him, as a loser in the game of life; but he experienced a pleasant tingle in the blood when he reflected that this may have been the wrong reading and very different from the sense she meant to convey. His spirits soared as he decided that the last line was intended to be read unbrokenly and that it constituted a challenge, flung at him with a toss of her head, a flash of the brown eyes.
This thought was wholly heartening and he dwelt upon it a long time. She must have thought him capable of deeds of high emprise or she would not have chosen this fragment as her last word to him. Her choice of a message implied a certain faith that he might, if he chose, break the shackles of fear and custom that bound him and do something that would lift him out of himself. The card with the good wishes gave a soothing, saving personal touch to the communication. She had drawn the pen across a Chicago street number and supplied no other address; but after a dark moment in which he accepted this as a delicate hint that the incident was closed, he concluded that very likely she had deleted the address hastily for the reason that she was to disappear into the woods for the summer. Still, she might have substituted the camp address and he fretted over this for an hour. She left him without excuse for a reply, and he gravely reflected that the Marquis of Montrose was the only person to whom he could protest, but as she had copied from the quotation book the figures "1621-1640" and added them to the name for his illumination, it was clearly impossible to ask the author for an interpretation of his stanza.
Archie was lulled to sleep by the encouraging thought that what she had done was to give him a commission to redeem himself by strange and moving adventures, and he dreamed that he had climbed to the remote fastnesses of the Rockies, and captured a mountain sheep alive and walked into his sister's house with the animal under his arm and presented it to Miss Perry at the tea table.
He changed trains at Boston and again at Portsmouth, where he checked his bag. At two o'clock he reached Bailey Harbor, where he verified his memorandum as to the return trip and found the telegram he expected from the New York brokerage office in which he was a silent partner, saying that his booking for Banff had been changed as requested. He never took the chance of being stuffed into an upper berth, or riding in a day coach, and he congratulated himself upon his forethought and the ease with which he was proceeding upon his sister's errand.
He stepped into the only taxi in sight and drove to the village druggist's for the key to the Congdon house.
"Just go in and take your time to it," said the man. "Lights and water haven't been turned off and if you take the house your folks can step right in. Mrs. Congdon left only yesterday. Suppose you'll be going on the five eleven; it's your only chance of getting back to Boston tonight. If you don't find it convenient to stop here again, just leave the key under the door mat."
"I guess you'll find the place all shipshape," said the driver, as they set off. "Folks came up early but didn't stay long. Left in a hurry; kind o' funny, skippin' the way they did."
"There hadn't been sickness in the family?" asked Archie, apprehensively thinking that he might be stumbling into infection.
"Lord no! Family troubles, I reckon! They been comin' here a long time and usually came earlier and stayed later than anybody else. I don't know nothin', mind ye, but there's talk she had trouble with her husband."
"You mean Mr. and Mrs. Congdon have separated?"
"I'm sayin' nothin'! But the Congdons are all queer. His pap used to have a house here and he was the worst ole crank on the shore. Young Putney's a pretty decent fellow. Mighty fine woman, his wife. Ever'body likes her."
The confidences of the weatherbeaten chauffeur only mildly interested Archie, who was bent upon inspecting the house as quickly as possible with a view to footing it back to the station, and thus crediting two miles to the day's exercise account. It was unseasonably warm and the air was lifeless and humid.
"Think it will rain?" asked Archie.
"Yep," replied the driver with a glance at the sea. "There's goin' to be a lively kick-up before mornin'."
Archie eyed his top-coat and umbrella with the pardonable satisfaction of a man who travels prepared for all weathers. To follow the shore path in the teeth of a storm would do much toward establishing his self-confidence and prove that he was not a mollycoddle. Isabel Perry and her note were firmly imbedded in his subconsciousness and were causing curious slips and shifts of his mental machinery. Certain of her utterances at his sister's table rankled, and his thousandth conjecture about the note was that it mocked his weaknesses and defied him to prove that he was far from being the worthless social parasite she believed him to be.
He discharged the driver and in a moment was standing in a big living-room that exhaled an atmosphere of comfort and good taste. On every hand were the evidences of a hasty abandonment of the house by its recent occupants. A waste-paper basket by a writing table in one corner overflowed with scraps of discarded letters; the family had evidently snatched a hasty luncheon before leaving and the dining table had not been cleared. A doll lay sprawled on the landing as he made his way upstairs, and in the bed chambers empty chiffonier drawers gaped as though from surprise at their hasty evacuation. He made a survey of the whole premises and then went through again from cellar to garret checking off his sister's queries. There was something disconcerting in the intense silence of the place broken only by the periodic thump of the sea at the base of the cliff.
The house would serve the Featherstones admirably. There was even the sleeping porch opening from the nursery that his sister had expressly stipulated and a tiny retreat back of the living-room with desk and shelves that would meet the requirements of his congressman brother-in-law at such times as he might find it possible to join his family.
Fully satisfied with his investigations, Archie picked up a book with a paper-cutter thrust through it to mark the place of its last reader, became absorbed and read until he, was roused by a clap of thunder that seemed to shake the world. Hurrying to the window he found that the storm had already broken. There was a greenish light over the sea and the waves had begun to smite the rocks with dismaying ferocity. To catch the five eleven he would have to leave at once, and he seized his belongings and opened the door, but upon stepping out upon the veranda the walk he had contemplated along the shore path to the village seemed a foolhardy thing to undertake. An unearthly darkness had fallen upon the world and a misstep in the rough path over the rocks might pitch him headlong into the sea. He had marked the presence of a telephone in the house and decided to summon a taxi, but as he clapped the receiver to his ear he was startled by a blinding glare and the crack of a mighty whip overhead. He snatched the instrument again and bawled into it, but it was buzzing queerly and he sprang away from it as another glare lit up the room.
He turned on the lights and sat down to think. He might return by the highway over which he had reached the house, but the driver had told him it was the longer way. The roof and walls rang under the downpour and he decided that after all to spend the night in an abandoned house would be fully as heroic as to subject himself to the ruthless fury of the hurricane. It would be a lark to camp in the Congdon villa, a break in the deadly routine of his days which Isabel Perry had pointed out as a possible cause of his invalidism. He made himself comfortable and studied the sheaf of time tables he had brought with him, methodically formulating the messages he would be obliged to despatch in the morning to change his westward passage.
The storm showed no sign of abating and as nightfall deepened the gloom he set the broad fireplace in the living-room glowing, drew the shades, and feeling twinges of hunger explored the kitchen pantry. The Congdons had left a well-stocked larder and, finding bacon, eggs and bread, he decided that the cooking of a supper would be a jolly incident of the adventure. He laid aside his coat and rolling up his sleeves soon had a fire going in the range, which smoked hideously until he mastered the dampers. He removed the dishes that had been left on the dining-room table and carefully laid a cover for one. The roses in a bowl that served as a centerpiece were still fresh and were a pathetic reminder of the mistress of the house. In rearranging the table he found a telegram under a plate at what he assumed to be Mrs. Congdon's place. To read a message not intended for his eyes was decidedly against his strict code, but his curiosity overcame his scruples and these words met his eyes:
New York, June 10, 1917. Mrs. Alice B. Congdon, Bailey Harbor, Maine.
Your letter has your characteristic touch of cruelty. We may as well part now and be done with it. But the children you cannot have. Remember that I relinquish none of my rights on this point. I demand that you surrender Edith at once and I will communicate with you later about the custody of Harold until such time as he is old enough to come to me.
The cautious hint of the taxi driver that domestic difficulties were responsible for the breaking up of the Congdon household found here a painful corroboration. He chivalrously took sides at once with the unhappy Alice; no matter how shrewish the absconding wife might be, only a brute of a husband would fling such a message at her head. Archie hated discord; the very thought of it was abhorrent. He had never had a care in his life beyond his health, and quarrels of every sort he left to underbred people with evil tempers. Here was a furious lunatic telegraphing his wife of the severance of the most sacred of ties and demanding the immediate transfer of one child to his possession and relinquishing only temporarily the custody of the other, presumably younger and the lawful owner of the doll he had picked up on the stair landing.
He now visualized the whole scene that followed upon the receipt of the telegram; the hurried, tearful packing, the bewildered children, the panic-struck servants rushing about obeying the orders of a hysterical mistress. The more he thought of it the warmer became his defensive attitude toward the unknown Alice. She had met the situation like a woman of quick decisions,—perhaps she was a little too unyielding and this had caused the rupture; but no man worthy to be called a gentleman would commit to the wires so heartless a message directed at the mother of his children.
His attention had been arrested several times by a photograph of a young girl, of eleven or twelve, set in a silver frame on the living-room table, whom he assumed to be the Edith mentioned in the telegram. She was a lovely child, with a wealth of hair falling about her shoulders, and roguish eyes that looked at him teasingly. It was a thoroughly feminine face with an unusual perfection of line. Very likely the child was the reembodiment of her mother who must, he thought, be a very handsome woman indeed. His resentment hardened against the husband and father, the author of the brutal message that disposed of his marital obligations as coolly as though he had been canceling an order for a carload of merchandise, as he held up the picture for the joy of meeting the gaze of the merry eyes.
Though the breaking of eggs into the skillet had proved a fearsome matter and the bacon sizzled strangely, the cooking had proved much simpler than he had believed possible. He burnt his fingers handling the toaster, but after ruining a considerable quantity of bread he produced three slices of toast that were the equal of any offered by his favorite club. As usual when frustrated in his plans (something that had rarely happened in his whole life) he made the most of the situation, eating slowly while the rain poured in an unbroken sheet down the windows. He wished Isabel could see him and know that for once the routine of his life had been interrupted only to find him resourceful and the easy master of his fate.
He made a point of washing the dishes and cooking utensils and putting them carefully away. These matters attended to, he roamed over the house which now had a new interest for him since the Congdon family skeleton had come out of its closet and danced round the dinner table. In one way and another he found it possible to make a fair acquaintance with the late inmates of the house. In a bedroom adjoining the nursery there were books in abundance, and very good books they were—essays, poetry, a few of those novels that appeal only to sophisticated readers, and children's books, including a volume of Bible stories retold for the young. He could readily imagine Mrs. Congdon reading aloud from these volumes to her youngsters as they stood beside the wicker rocker in the bay-window. Only a few hours earlier the house had rung with the happy laughter of children; he fancied he could hear them calling to their mother up the stair. Mrs. Congdon was a blonde, he decided, from the presence in a closet of a blue peignoir overlooked in her flight and a bolt of blue ribbon that had rolled under the bed as though seeking refuge from the general confusion.
In the adjoining room he sought traces of the hard-hearted husband, but in his departure, presumably sometime earlier, Congdon had made a clean sweep; there was nothing to afford a clue to his character beyond a four-in-hand tie whose colors struck Archie as execrable. Below in the snuggery fitted up for masculine use was a table, containing a humidor half filled with dried-up cigars, and an ill-smelling pipe—Archie hated pipes—and a box of cigarettes. A number of scientific magazines lay about and a forbidding array of books on mechanics and chemistry overflowed the shelves. He threw open a cabinet filled with blue prints illustrating queer mechanical contrivances. They struck him as very silly and he slammed the thing shut in disgust, convinced that Congdon was a crank, or he wouldn't have indulged in such foolishness. In a drawer of the desk was an automatic pistol and a box of cartridges. At a country house where he once week-ended a burglar scare had inspired feverish intensive pistol practice among the guests and Archie had learned to load and fire and even developed some skill as a marksman. There were three cartridges in the magazine and Archie thrust it into his pocket thinking it not a bad idea to be prepared for invasion.
He was oppressed with a fleeting sense of his isolation as he drew back a shade and pressed his face to the pane. The house stood at the edge of the summer colony and a considerable distance from its nearest neighbor. The landward horizon still brightened at intervals with a languid mockery of lightning, dimmed by the fog that was dragging in from the sea. The siren in the harbor had begun its mournful iterations, and he caught the occasional flash of the revolving light that gleamed now and then through breaks in the fog.
He switched off the lights in the lower rooms and established himself in the guest chamber. The bed had been dismantled but he found blankets and linen and addressed himself to the novel task of making a couch for himself. If he had consulted his pleasure in advance he would have shrunk from camping in a lonely seaside house for a night; but now that the experience was forced upon him he was surprised to find that he was not afraid. The revelation was an agreeable one. He, Archibald Bennett, was a perfectly normal being, capable of rising to emergencies; and when he saw Isabel Perry again, as he had every intention of doing at the end of the summer, this little trip to Bailey Harbor would make a very pretty story which could not fail to convince her of his fortitude and courage.
Sleeping in his underwear was distasteful but this was only another small item that proved his resolute fiber and ability to accept conditions as he found them. He opened the windows and performed his usual before-retiring calisthenics, tested the reading lamp beside the bed, placed the pistol within easy reach and became absorbed in a volume of short stories.
He read the book through, put out the light and was half asleep when he was roused by footsteps on the veranda below.
It was close upon midnight and the presence of a prowler on the premises caused his heart to gallop wildly. He seized the pistol, crept to the window and peered cautiously out. Between the crash of the breakers he listened intently and had decided that the steps had been the illusion of a dream when a sound in the room below renewed his alarm. He gained the door in two jumps. He could hear the opening and closing of drawers and see the flash of an electric lamp as the thief moved swiftly about, apparently taking it for granted that he had the house to himself. The swish of the swing-door between dining-room and pantry marked his investigations in the rear of the house. He evidently found nothing there, for he was back in the hall again in a moment. Then through the vast silence of the big house the unknown gave voice to his anger and disappointment:
"Well, I'll be damned!"
This, reaching Archie very clearly, added nothing to his comfort. He debated making a dash for the switch and flooding the lower rooms with light, but a burglar angrily damning himself for his stupidity in entering a house where plated silver was the only booty in sight was not a person to provoke unnecessarily. Then a series of quick flashes on the wall of the stair gave warning of the intruder's invasion of the upper rooms.
Archie drew back and waited. His thoughts and emotions in this hour of danger interested him. He had always imagined that he would collapse in any moment of peril. The fingers of his left hand sought the wrist of his right that grasped the automatic and while his heart was still beating quickly the pulse was regular. This was immensely gratifying and he resolved to report the fact to his medical counselor at the first opportunity.
The thief had become more cautious and was tiptoeing up the uncarpeted treads of the stair, still sending occasionally a bar of light ahead. All the doors of the bedrooms stood open, Archie remembered, and the thief would not be long in discovering that the recent occupants had left behind them nothing of the slightest value. His courage was mounting; he was enormously surprised to find that his hands were quite steady, and his mind had never functioned more perfectly. The burglar was now in Mrs. Congdon's room, where he stumbled over a chair that rocked furiously until stilled by the invader. He was now coming boldly down the hall as though satisfied that the house was empty. A flash of his lamp fell upon the door frame just above Archie's left hand.
He crawled hastily across the bed and swung round and waited with his back against a chiffonier in the corner, sternly resolved that not without a struggle would he be shot and his body left lying crumpled in a corner with no one to tell the tale. He had the advantage of the knowledge of the enemy's approach, and he raised the gun and covered the door in readiness. A flash clipped the dark for an instant. Then a hand groped along the wall seeking the switch. Archie could hear its soft rasping over the wall. As the switch snapped the room flooded with light. The bewildering glare leaping out of the darkness held the man in the doorway and he raised his arm and passed his hand over his eyes to shield them from the light.
Between the front windows stood a long mirror swung in a movable frame, and as he measured distances and calculated chances Archie found himself staring at the reflection of a tall man with a cap pulled low over his head and with the collar of a yellowish raincoat turned up about his face. The eyes of the two met, the gaze of each gripping and holding that of the other.
The burglar's shoulders drooped as he gaped at the mirrored apparition. Then swiftly he jerked a pistol from his pocket and fired point blank into the mirror. The report crashed horribly in the room, followed by the tinkle of fragments of glass. Archie aimed at the doorway, but his shot seemed only to hasten the man's flight. A rug slipped and the fugitive fell with a frightened yell that rang eerily through the house.
In the hall Archie turned on all the lights and gaining the landing fired at the retreating figure as it plunged toward the front door. At the crack of the gun the fugitive stopped short, clapped his hand to his shoulder and groaned, then sprang through the front door and Bennett heard immediately the quick patter of his feet on the walk.
The lock bore no evidence of having been forced. It was a curious business and Archie closed the door, placed a heavy chair against it, and feeling a little giddy he threw himself down on a davenport in the living-room. He began thinking very hard. He had shot a man and for all he knew the victim might be lying dead somewhere on the premises. To be sure the shooting of an armed housebreaker was justifiable, but the thought of coroner's inquests and dallyings with the police filled him with horror. The newspapers would seize upon the case with avidity, and his friends would never cease twitting him about his valor in firing a bullet into the back of a fleeing burglar.
The frame of the photograph of the young girl that had so charmed him lay on the floor face down. Bennett picked it up and found that the picture had been removed. He wondered a little at this but dismissed the subject from his mind to consider the graver business of how to avoid the disagreeable consequences of his encounter. He must leave the house and escape from Bailey Harbor before daybreak, and he went upstairs and hurriedly began dressing.
But for the tangible evidence of the smashed mirror (the bullet had pierced the wooden back and was imbedded in the wall behind it) he might have dismissed the whole thing as a nightmare. Instinctively he began building up an alibi and planning his flight. The druggist who had given him the key and the taxi driver both supposed that he had inspected the house and taken the evening train for Boston. As he got into his clothes he decided to make a wide detour of the town, perhaps tramping on to Portsmouth, and there recover his bag and be off for the Rockies.
At one o'clock he was drinking coffee and munching toast and jam to fortify himself for his journey. He had shot and perhaps killed a man, and his mind surged now with self-accusations. He needn't have fired the shot—the thief was running away and very likely would not have molested him further. He was sorry for the fellow, wounded or dead; but in a moment he was shuddering as he reflected that the bullet that splintered the mirror had really been meant for him, and it had struck with great precision just where the reflection of his head had presented a fair target to the startled marksman.
He turned out the lights and placing the key under the door mat stole through the garden. The man he had shot might even now be lying dead in his path, and he lifted his feet high to avoid stumbling over the corpse. But more appalling was the thought that the fugitive might be lying in ambush, and he carried his pistol before him at arm's length against such an emergency.
He gained the road, glanced toward the house and set off in the general direction of the New Hampshire border.
There was neither star nor moon, and a chill wet wind bore in from the sea. His immediate business was to get as far away from Bailey Harbor as possible. He started with a long swinging stride that was quickly arrested as he splashed through pools left by the rain or stumbled off the road where it turned sharply. Once he wandered into a driveway and seeking a way out crashed into a sunken garden. His feet were wet and his trousers flapped heavily about his legs. The shrubbery pricked him like barbed wire and a scratch along his cheek bled most disagreeably. He hurriedly felt his way along a hedge to the highway, hating himself with the greatest cordiality. If this was the adventurous life it was not for him, and he solemnly resolved that if he didn't die of pneumonia as the result of his indiscretions he would stick close to clubs and comfortable hotels for the remainder of his life.
He had no way of keeping track of his progress, but on bumping into a cross-roads sign-board he struck a match and read "Bailey Harbor 5 M.," and the discovery that only five miles lay between him and the Congdon house filled him with rage and terror. A little later he caught the first glimmer of dawn breaking over a gray world. This was heartening but it brought also new dangers for he had no idea of where his tramp had brought him and mud-splashed as he was and with the scratch across his face stinging uncomfortably, he was in no haste to meet the strangers who would soon be passing him in the road.
A curious whistle, a long pipe and then a short quick one, in the roadside a little way ahead brought him to a halt. He drew the gun from his overcoat pocket and stood perfectly quiet. In a few seconds the whistle was repeated and Archie, grown suddenly bold, checked an impulse to fly and imitated it.
A man rose from behind a stone wall on the right and walked toward him.
"That you, Hoky?" he called sharply, peering through the mist.
Seeing that it was not Hoky but a stranger with a pistol, he sprang forward and wrenched the gun from Archie's hand.
"Stop squealing! Bad enough for you to fool me with that whistle without pulling a gun. Now you get right over there by the fence where I'm pointing and we'll consider matters a little!"
"I was just walking to Portsmouth," began Archie in a blithe tone he hoped would prove convincing.
His captor laughed ironically, and throwing open Bennett's coat, demanded:
"Where's your badge? Don't lie to me! You're one of these village constables or a plainclothes man from Boston. Either way you'd better show your hand."
"If you think I'm connected with the police," Archie faltered, "you were never more mistaken in your life!"
The man clapped his hands over Archie's pockets and then struck a match and surveyed his face with care. This done he stuck his nose close to his captive's mouth and bade him breathe.
"You haven't the bouquet of an inebriate, son. You stepped along like Hoky, my pal, and that's why I whistled; and you warbled the answer like a mockingbird. Now listen to me! You've been up to something, so don't tell me again that you're taking a little before breakfast stroll to Portsmouth to work up an appetite. In the first place, have you seen a man about your size along the road anywhere?"
"Not a soul!" declared Archie solemnly.
"Mighty queer Hoky doesn't turn up! I warned the beggar against these seaside villas; they're all outfitted with fancy burglar alarms that make a deuce of a row when you step on the wire. Electricity is the bane of the craft; you light a wire that rings a gong loud enough to wake the dead and then some chap jumps out of bed and turns on all the lights in the house and very likely opens up with a gun before you can say Jerusalem. But Hoky thought he knew better."
Archie clutched at the stone fence against which his captor had pushed him and his breath came in long gasps.
"You mean," he faltered, "that you fear your friend has been shot!"
"That, my dear sir, is exactly what troubles me! Hoky didn't need to do it; that's what rouses my indignation! He's been running free for two years, and not a thing against him—wiped out all his indictments with good time like an honest thief, and now very likely he's been potted by some large prosperous householder as he was trying to lift a bit of silver; and these country houses never have anything worth risking your life for! My dear boy, can you blame me for being peeved, enormously peeved, when I reflect that Hoky, one of the best pals in the world, is probably lying as dead as a pickled mackerel somewhere back yonder? Or if he has escaped death in his felonious enterprise he may have met the constable and be awaiting the pleasure of a grand jury of righteous farmers of the old commonwealth of Maine!"
Archie's tongue clung to the roof of his mouth as he tried to murmur his sympathy for the stranger's sorrow. The thought that he was probably talking to the accomplice of the man he had shot was terrifying; the stranger seemed enormously fond of Hoky and if he knew that he had within his grasp the person who was responsible for Hoky's failure to return from his visit to Bailey Harbor he would very likely make haste to avenge his friend's death. It seemed to Archie that the gods were playing strange tricks upon him indeed. The man's speech was not the argot he had assumed from his reading of crook stories to be the common utterance of the underworld. There was something attractive in the fellow. He carried himself jauntily, and his clean-shaven, rounded face and fine gray eyes would not have suggested his connection with burglary. He was an engaging sort of person, and overcoming his discomfiture at having sent a bullet into the foolish Hoky, Archie decided suddenly that the man might be of service to him. He was in pressing need of a change of clothes but he was in no condition to proceed to Portsmouth to redeem his suitcase; an impression that was confirmed unexpectedly by his captor.
"You will pardon my candor, but you certainly look like the devil. There's a rip in your trousers that needs explaining and that swipe on your face reminds me of a map of the Mississippi done in red ink. Let me introduce myself to you as the Governor. Among the powers that prey that is my proud cognomen, not to say alias. Now please be frank—what mischief brings you here at this pale hour?"
Archie gave serious thought to his answer. If he could convince this singular person that he was a crook he would be less likely to suspect that he had been the instrument of Hoky's undoing. And there was the possibility that if he met the Governor's friendly advances in a reciprocal spirit the man might help him out of his predicament. The Governor was waiting for his answer, humming pleasantly as he surveyed the heavens.
"I've got to make a getaway and be in a hurry about it," declared Archie with a confidential air that caused a humorous light to play in the Governor's eyes.
"A little trouble of some sort, eh? Perhaps fearing a collision with the revised statutes of this or adjacent states?"
"Something like that," Archie answered huskily.
"It rather occurred to me that you were not promenading for mere pleasure," replied the Governor, drawing his hand across his chin. "The causes that lead people to travel have been enumerated by no less an authority than Mr. Laurence Sterne as—
"Infirmity of body,
"Imbecility of mind, or
"Unless my memory errs the same authority classifies travelers as the idle, the inquisitive, the lying, the proud, the vain, the splenetic; to which he added the delinquent and felonious traveler, the unfortunate and innocent traveler, the traveler without aim and the wandering sentimentalist. From the looks of your clothing I should judge that you belong to the necessitous group, though from a certain uneasy expression I might easily place you among the delinquent and criminal. A fashionable defaulter perhaps? No. Then let it go at murder, though I confess you don't look as though you'd have a stomach for homicide."
"I came damned near getting pinched!" asserted Archie stoutly. "The cops back there in that town gave me a hard run for it."
Feeling that he was making an impression on the Governor he warmed to his work.
"I was just crawling through the window of a drug store when here comes a chap tiptoeing through the alley flashing a dark lantern, and I bolted for the tall timber as hard as I could sprint. The fire bell rang and the whole town woke up and I got lost running through a garden back of one of those swell's houses on the shore. That's how I got this slash in the face, and I'm in a pretty pickle now. There'll be a whole army looking for me; and if your friend Hoky's been killed they'll be keen to pinch me as another member of the gang."
The Governor listened patiently as Archie jerked this out, nervously trying to conceal his Harvard training in the use of the English language by resorting to such terms as he imagined bold bad men employ in moments of mental stress.
"An amateur, I take it?" remarked the Governor with the humorous twinkle that seemed to be habitual with him.
"Hell, no," grumbled Archie scornfully. "But I always play the game alone; I never had any use for pals. They get in the way."
"Wrong, my boy; wrong! A good partner like me is essential to the successful prosecution of the art or craft felonious. As for myself I rarely venture to expose myself in these little affairs; but I advise and counsel the brethren. I am their confidant and assist them in innumerable ways purely for the joy of it, I assure you. Now Hoky and I had been on the road all spring, and he made a good haul or two under my direction; but he wouldn't let well enough alone. I warned him against making an attempt back yonder last night. A stormy night always makes honest householders wakeful. Take it from me, son, there couldn't be a worse time for a burglary than a night melodious with rolling thunder. You haven't the judgment of a month-old infant. I bought a toothbrush at that drug store yesterday evening and there's a light right over the safe at the end of the prescription counter. Your attempt, my son, speaks for courage but not for discretion. You should always ask me about such things."
"I'm sorry," replied Archie meekly, "that I didn't run into you sooner."
"The loss is mine!" cried the Governor heartily. "But let us be practical. The coast will ring with this, particularly if Hoky is lying cold at the undertaker's. He must be dead or pinched or he'd be here by this time. We shall make a long jump, son, and ponder the future."
He walked off briskly with Archie close beside him.
"When Hoky persisted in his ill-chosen enterprise I felt a weariness upon me and lifted a little roadster that I've tucked away down here in a peaceful lane. Thought I'd be all ready to give the old boy a long pull for freedom when he came back, but alas—!"
Sure enough the roadster was there; a very handy little car indeed, and Archie was profoundly interested to know that it was in this fashion that a man who from his own confession was counselor extraordinary to thieves, toured the country. The Governor had become suddenly a man of action. Kneeling down he detached a New York license tag from the machine, drew from his pocket a Maine tag and attached it, humming meanwhile.
"The rural police haven't learned this simple device," he explained, as he sent the discarded tag skimming into a corn field. "I've got about forty miles to run inland. The back roads only and Providence our guide!"
He jumped in and bade Archie take the seat beside him. The car was soon bumping merrily over a rough road that wound through a pine wood. As near as Archie could reckon from the sun that was crawling into view they were bound for Halifax, but to be going anywhere was an infinite relief, and to be traveling with a man whose comrade he had shot and probably killed only a few hours earlier, imparted a piquant flavor to the journey. This astonishing person who called himself Governor might, for all he knew, be hurrying him to some lonely place to murder him, but if this was his plan he was most agreeable about it. He had taken off the mackinaw coat in which he had first appeared in the road and the brown coat underneath was of modish cut; and as his foot played upon the brake Archie noted that he wore silk hose. He had never dreamed that outlaws were so careful of their raiment. And the man's talk was that of a cultivated gentleman who wore his learning lightly and was blessed with an easy conscience; not at all like the philosopher and guide of criminals.
"You seem to know this country well," Archie remarked as they penetrated more deeply into the woods and followed a grass-grown trail that ended abruptly at an abandoned lumber camp.
"Oh, I know most of the whole United States just as well," remarked the Governor, steering the car slowly among the deep ruts. "We'll shoot the car around behind that pyramid of sawdust and walk a bit to stretch our legs."
There was no trace of a path where he struck off into the woods but he strode along with the easy confidence of one who is sure of his destination. They brought up presently beside a brook and in a moment more reached a log hut planted on the edge of the high bank.
"What do you think of that, Sir Archibald?" inquired the Governor carelessly.
Archie paused, wavering in the path. The man had called him by his right name, throwing in the prefix with a tinge of insolence.
"Oh, your name?" remarked the Governor turning from a leisurely survey of the dwelling. "Perfectly easy! Archibald Bennett was neatly sewed into your coat pocket by your tailor as I observed when I rubbed my hands over your waistcoat to see if you wore a badge. Your bill-fold is there intact—it's rather indelicate of you to feel for it! If I'd meant to rob you I'd have biffed you on the head long ago and thrown your carcass to the buzzards."
"I got these duds out of a suitcase I sneaked from an auto in Boston, and that's no name of mine," Archie explained hurriedly, still anxious to convince the Governor that he was a thief.
"A deft hand, son; but very careless of you not to rip out the label. Men have been hanged on slighter evidence. But Archibald is not a name to sneeze at, and I rather like Archie; and Archie I shall continue to call you. Now we'll see what we can do to shake up a breakfast."
He drew out a key and opened the door of the hut. On one side stood a dilapidated cook stove of an obsolete pattern, surrounded by a few kitchen utensils. In the far end were two bunks, one above the other, and on a chair beside them a pile of blankets neatly folded. In the middle of the room was a table littered with old magazines.
"Not a bad place, Archie! I stumbled upon it a couple of years ago quite by accident and use it occasionally. The retreat of some artist who probably starved to death. When I first found the shack it was full of impressionistic studies that looked as though the poor boob stood on his head to paint. I made a burnt offering of the whole lot to outraged Nature." He opened a cupboard revealing a quantity of provisions. "Poor old Hoky was a great lover of ham; I never saw such an appetite for smoked pork, and he had just stocked us up with a few specimens he lifted somewhere."
Besides three hams there were coffee, cartons of crackers and cans of condensed milk.
"We fellows who live by our wits need the open air just as much as bank presidents, for our business makes a heavier drain on the nerves," continued the Governor after they had prepared breakfast. "Your pallor suggests that you may have emerged quite recently from one of those institutions designed for the moral reconstruction of the weak and erring."
Archie's eyes fell under the Governor's keen gaze. But he realized that he must firmly establish himself in the man's confidence by palming himself off as a crook with a prison record. In no other way could he be sure of the assistance and protection which the Governor alone could give him.
"Three months' jail sentence," he replied smoothly.
"Ah! A minor felony, I judge, from the brevity of your incarceration," replied the Governor, emptying the coffee pot into Archie's cup. "I have never been in jail and to the best of my knowledge I have never been indicted; or if I have the sheriff has never caught up with me! My heart bleeds nevertheless for these poor devils who are always in the toils, and in my poor weak fashion I try to help them. Really, my dear Archie, thieves as a class are shockingly deficient in intelligence. Until I dropped into the underworld they were a peculiarly helpless lot—like dear old Hoky whose loss I shall mourn to my dying day."
Archie flinched, but he was beginning to feel at home in his new role of a fugitive from justice, and murmured his sympathy without a quaver.
"My friend," said the Governor soberly as they rose from the table, "we have dipped our hands in the same dish and broken bread together. I'm strong for the old traditions of Arab hospitality and that sort of thing. There's honor, you know, among thieves, and I'm rather keen for the sentimental side of the business. You may trust me, telling me as much or as little of yourself as you please. I don't mind saving that you're a likable chap, but pathetically helpless in emergencies like most of our brethren. It's well for you that you fell in with me, with that little episode of the drug store hanging over you. I'll be a good pal to you and I ask you to be straight with me. Are we friends or—"
He put out his hand questioningly. Archie grasped it, meeting the gaze of the keen gray eyes squarely, but with something of an appeal in them.
"All right, Archie—for such you shall be to the end of the chapter, whether you lied about it or not. And now let's deal with practical affairs. I'm going to spend the afternoon on that stolen machine we've got back there; you'll hardly know it when you see it again. I'll paint'er white to symbolize our purity. There's an assortment of clothes the boys have left here from time to time—all sizes and ready for any emergency. You can pick'em over while I'm working on the car. I've got a bag of my own stuff stuck around here somewhere." He filled and lighted a pipe, walked toward the kitchen end of the room and kicked a long box. "If you'll just push that aside you'll find a door in the floor—quite a cellar underneath—made it myself. Candles on the shelf there. Don't break your neck on the ladder."
He gathered up several cans of ready-to-use paint, and paused in the doorway to deliver a final admonition.
"If Hoky should turn up—tall chap, a little bent in the shoulders, clean, sharp profile—call him Hoky and yell Governor before he shoots. He's very sudden with the gun, that Hoky; a lamentable weakness; spoiled him for delicate jobs, but I'm afraid that at last somebody's got the drop on him."
The cellar was really a cave gouged into the earth and piled with trunks and hand bags stuffed with all manner of loot. There was enough silverware to equip a dozen households, and Archie amused himself by studying the monograms, thinking that quite possibly he was handling spoons that he had encountered on happier occasions in the homes of his friends. The trunks contained clothing in great variety and most of it was new and of good quality. He carried up an armful and found a gray suit that fitted him very well. Another visit yielded shirts, socks and underclothing, a slightly used traveling case with shaving materials and other toilet articles.
He bathed in the brook, shaved, dressed and felt like a new being. Only a few hours had elapsed since he walked uprightly in the eyes of all men; now he was a fugitive, and for all he knew to the contrary a murderer. He had accommodated himself with ease to lying and the practice of deceit; and even the taking of human life seemed no longer a monstrous thing. If he were caught in the Governor's company he would have a pretty time of it satisfying a court of his innocence; but he considered his plight tranquilly.
In doffing the clothing he had acquired honestly and substituting stolen raiment, it was almost as though he were changing his character as well. In transferring his effects from the old to the new pockets he came upon Isabel Perry's note, and grinned as he re-read it. He wondered what Isabel would say if she knew that he had already slipped the leash that bound him to convention and performed even more reckless deeds than she had prescribed for him.
"No callers? Well, I must say you're a credit to our gents' clothing department!" the Governor remarked on his return. "That stuff was accumulated early in the spring by a couple of the boys who had no more sense. Silver, yes; you can melt it and sell it like pig iron; but how absurd to risk your neck stealing mere raiment! Still the word's gone down the line and any of the brethren who're in need of shelter and a change of clothes will find what they want here. You've picked about the best of the lot. What do you make of this? Found it in the car."
He extended a crumpled telegram which read:
Bailey Harbor, Me. June 11, 1917.
Putney Congdon, Thackeray Club, New York.
I am offering the house for rent. Shall take every precaution to protect my children from your brutality.
A. B. C.
Archie felt the hut whirling round him. What he held was beyond question the reply of Mrs. Congdon to her husband's telegram that had been left lying on the dinner table. And if Congdon had left New York for Bailey Harbor immediately to put into effect his threat to abduct his child, it might have been Congdon he had shot—not Hoky! The Governor, scrubbing the paint from his hands, called over his shoulder:
"An odd message! It had slipped under the seat. Good thing I found it."
"Where did you find that car?" asked Archie with an attempt at indifference.
"Oh, the bloomin' thing was run up under a clump of trees on the back road on the far side of Bailey. I thought maybe it was a stolen car. Hoky and I separated there when the storm started. So I drove the machine to the place you found me waiting for him. Mr. Congdon has probably notified all the world of his sad loss." He held out his hands for Archie's inspection. "This is certainly hard and fast paint, but it did the work all right. The owner of that machine wouldn't know it now. And not more than a spoonful of gas gone out of the tank; so we can make a long jump, Archie."
No jump they could make would be long enough, Archie reflected. He was afraid to ask further questions about the car and his senses were numbed by the effort to determine whether it was Hoky he had shot or Mr. Putney Congdon. If his bullet had impinged upon Congdon's person, the man would undoubtedly believe his wife had ordered him murdered, and Archie found no consolation in the conjecture that he had added to Mrs. Congdon's distress. If Congdon wasn't dead he would be sure to make diligent inquiries in the village as to his assailant and the stolen car. The druggist would know who had taken the key and Archie had stated his purpose to walk to the station and take the five eleven train. But beyond Bailey Harbor he saw his alibi crumbling.
The Governor's ceaseless flow of talk fortunately diverted his thoughts to more cheerful channels. He must stick to the Governor, who to be sure showed no inclination to desert him. Indeed the Governor evinced a sincere pleasure in his society, and if he behaved himself he might fill the void created in the man's life by the loss of Hoky. He would remain in hiding until the whole thing blew over, whether it was Hoky or Putney Congdon he had shot in Congdon's house.
He obeyed with alacrity a hint that he prepare luncheon; and after this had been consumed the Governor suggested a game of chess, produced a set of ivory chessmen from a cupboard and soon proved himself a skilful player.
"It's wonderful for sharpening the wits," he explained. "When I've got a difficult job on hand I find a game stimulating to my faculties. Let me see, who was that telegram addressed to? Congdon; yes, that's right. Dropped into a chess club in Boston about a month ago and watched a chap playing, highly nervous fellow but a pretty stiff player at that. They called him Congdon all right and he may be the owner of that car. The thought pleases me. Heard him asking for his father, Eliphalet Congdon, who's a chess fiend, too, it appeared. Had heard of him before—the old boy carries his will around in his umbrella just to tantalize his relations, who are all crazy to know what he's going to do with his money. Something pathetic in a man chasing his own father over the country; doesn't gee with our old ideal of the patriarchal system with father at the head of the table serving the whole family from one miserable duck. Ever notice a queer streak of eccentricity in people who toy with the chessmen? Of course you're thinking I'm no exception to the rule, but the thought isn't displeasing to me. That was a neat move—you're waking up, Archie! Well, sir, young Congdon was offering something handsome to any one who'd steal the old man's umbrella so he could get hold of the will. I've sunk pretty low, Archie, but stealing umbrellas is distinctly not in my line!"
At the end of two hours the Governor declared that they must take a nap before setting out and turned into one of the berths and was soon snoring. Archie was glad of a chance to be alone with his thoughts, but he found them poor company. After kicking about restlessly for a time he slept but only to wander through a wild phantasmagoria of crime in which Isabel Perry, dressed precisely as he had seen her at his sister's, led him on from one wild scene to another, clapping her hands with delight at each exploit.
"You are doing splendidly," she laughed, as he turned to her, pistol in hand, after shooting a gigantic policeman with fiery red whiskers. "Really you exceed my expectations. I am proud of you, Mr. Bennett," she was saying when a vigorous shake brought him up standing.
"To gain or lose it all," he stammered rubbing his eyes. But it was not Isabel he was addressing but his confederate, blandly smiling.
"The boy quotes poetry!" the Governor exclaimed. "Archie, you've come in answer to my prayers! Together we shall drink of the fount of Castalia. We shall chum with Apollo and the Muses Nine! But the gods call us elsewhere! We'll snatch a bite and be off! And we've got a job all waiting for us. One of the brotherhood has commissioned me to dig up some boodle he's planted over in New Hampshire. You may recall the incident. Red Leary, a rare boy, who pulled off some big enterprises in Kansas and Missouri a dozen years ago, emerged from Leavenworth and floated into good old conservative New England where he held up an express messenger and sauntered off with fifty thousand dollars in new bank notes fresh from the Treasury. I've been in touch with Red lately—he's been up in Nova Scotia but doesn't like the climate, and he wants his boodle. Do you follow me?"
"He hid it somewhere and wants your help in recovering it?"
"Right the first time! In the summer there's a lot of travel north and south and Leary, who's had an honest job up there since he made the haul, is even now wandering down Lake Champlain to meet me. No, Archie, communication through the underworld is much less difficult than you imagine. Regular post offices and that sort of thing. That cash is tucked away in the cellar of a church and by this time tomorrow night we'll have it, all ready for old Red and check the item from our tablets."
"But the numbers of those notes are in every bank in the country," suggested Archie; "the police are only waiting for the bills to get into circulation to pounce on the thief."
"I am more and more delighted with you, my son! That point had given me no little worry. But something will turn up; there will be a way out of the difficulty. Chuck your old duds into the creek and close the windows. We'll hit the long trail!"
Out of the woods and once more on a smooth highway the stolen car sped like a frightened ghost through the starry night. The Governor drove with the assurance of a man who knows what he's about. Huddled in a long ulster he had found in the cabin, Archie, whose ideas of motoring had always been extremely conservative, yielded himself more and more to the inevitable. He was no longer a free agent but a plaything of circumstance. In no exaggerated sense he was a captive, a prisoner of the man beside him, whose friendliness was flattering and alarming in a breath!
At any moment they might be held up and subjected to scrutiny and questioning, and Archie experienced a tingle at the prospect; but the Governor had declared with apparent sincerity that he had never been in jail and this in itself was reassuring, for presumably a man who so keenly enjoyed his freedom was a skilled dodger of the law. The Governor, who would have passed anywhere for a successful banker or lawyer, had more of the spirit of the debonair swashbucklers of romance than any other man Archie had known. He might be a great liar, and Archie suspected that he was; and doubts of the man's sanity troubled him not a little; but it sufficed for the moment that his comrade was steering him rapidly away from Bailey Harbor, and so far had managed the business with excellent judgment.
Occasionally the Governor lifted his voice in songs of unimpeachable literary and musical quality that rang sonorously above the hum of the engine.
"Who is Sylvia? What is she? That all our swains commend her,"
he sang through to the end to the old familiar air; followed by "Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes."
They struck a stretch of road under repair and slowing up the Governor remarked carelessly as he picked his way through a line of red lanterns:
"Speaking of women, my dear Archie, do you share the joy of the lyric poets in the species?"
"Women?" gulped Archie, as surprised as though he had been asked suddenly his opinion of the gazella dorcas.
"The same, Archie. It occurs to me that you have probably had many affairs. A fellow of your coolness and dash couldn't fail to appeal to the incomprehensible sex. I'm thirty-four but I've loved only one woman—that's the solemn truth, Archie. Occasionally small indiscretions, I confess; and I sometimes weakly yield to the temptation to flirt, but with my hand on my heart I declare solemnly that only once have I ever been swayed by the grand passion. And strange as it may seem she's a bishop's daughter, though a saint in her own right! O wonderful! O sublime!"
This confidence, vague as to the identity and habitat of the lady of the Governor's adoration, nevertheless made it incumbent upon Archie to make some sort of reply. The Governor would probably be disappointed in him if he confessed the meagerness of his experiences, and he felt that it would be a grave error to jeopardize his standing with his companion.
"Well, I'm in the same boat," he answered glibly. "There's only one girl for me!"
"Magnificent!" cried the Governor. "I hope she's not beyond your reach like my goddess?"
"Well, I'll hardly say that," Archie replied. "But there are difficulties, embarrassments, you know."
"Possibly your choice of the open road as a career is a bar to marriage? Such situations are always deplorable."
"It is quite the other way round with me," Archie protested. "It was she who put me up to it!"
"What! Your inamorata wanted you to be a crook?" cried the Governor. "She must be a wonderful girl! Shoplifter, perhaps? There are some jolly girls in that business! Or, maybe she's one of these confidence women who play a sure game and usually get by with it?"
"Nothing like that!" cried Archie hastily. "She just fancies the life—thinks it offers me a good chance to prove my mettle. She hates conventionality."
This reference to Isabel Perry, remote and guarded as it was, he defended only on the ground that it was necessary in some way to meet the Governor half-way in his confidences. And what he had said was really true, though to be sure Isabel could hardly be held responsible for the shooting at the Congdon house. He wondered what Isabel would say if she could see him with a criminal beside him, joy-riding in a stolen car. And it was no lie that he sincerely believed that he loved her. No other girl had ever roused him so much, or given him so good reason for standing off and taking a look at himself. His thoughts of her had led him far afield when the Governor remarked ruminatively:
"Do you manage to see her? That's the devil of it in my case! The lady's forbidden to recognize me in any way and the right reverend father is a tart old party and keeps sharp watch of her. You'd think a girl of twenty-two or thereabouts who spends her time in good works for the heathen and runs a Sunday-school class in a slum would be indulged in her admiration for a jolly rogue like me! But the facts are decidedly otherwise. She's never quite brought her nerve to the point of breaking home ties and bolting with me; but she's declined to marry all the bachelor and widower dominies in the paternal diocese on my account. And a young bishop of the brightest prospects. Actually, my dear Archie! There's a steadfast soul for you! But I can't see her and the regular mails are closed to us. Nevertheless we have an arrangement—highly romantic, by which if she ever needs me or thinks I can serve her in any way she's to leave a note in a certain place. It's her own idea and very pretty. Savors of the good old times when bold knights went riding up to the castle and yelled to the flinty-hearted duke inside to lower the draw-bridge and send out his daughter to be married on the spot or he'd be dropped in the moat with all his armor for a sinker."
Archie thought it would be a fine thing if he could make an arrangement with Isabel by which he could hear from her on his travels and he mustered courage to ask the Governor how he managed his line of communication.
"The device is the simplest possible. In our jauntings we shall pass a town where she visits a good deal—the home of an ancient aunt. It's a jolly old place, big grounds, with elms and maples all round, and there's a tea house with a tile floor, and there's a particular blue tile under a bench that can be pried out with a pen knife. That's our post-office, and much safer than registered mail. Of course my business correspondence is a different matter. I pick that up in countless places between here and California—reports of the boys, their hopes and ambitions and hints of schemes for acquiring sudden wealth. If you'd like to use some of these addresses and have mail forwarded I'll be glad to oblige you. You know how fussy the government is about the use of the mail for irregular purposes? Well, it rather tickled me to get some envelopes with S. S. S. P. printed in the corner and the number of a vacant lot in Sioux City as the address. A careless eye would think the initials stood for some sort of learned society but the real translation is Society for the Segregation of Stolen Property. I always use these in communicating with the brotherhood."
"There's a good deal about the business I don't know," said Archie with twinges of envy and admiration. "My bridges are all burned behind me and I'm not getting mail anywhere; but I'll remember your offer."