E-text prepared by Al Haines
EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF
Author of "Deep Furrows"
Toronto The Musson Book Company Limited
Copyright, Canada, 1920 by Hopkins Moorehouse
The Musson Book Co., Limited Publishers . . . Toronto
To My Mother
Although prefaces are not the fashion in these accelerated times, some word of warning is due those who had the patience to read "Deep Furrows." It seems but fair to point out that whereas "Deep Furrows" was historical and its "characters" actual people taking prominent part in current events, the present pages are purely fictitious and the characters therein not even composite portraits of living personages.
Similarly the story events are pure invention and as fittingly might have been staged in any other of the nine provinces. The author humbly craves indulgence if he has in any way exceeded the license allowed him in spinning the incidents necessary for a novel of this type while seeking verisimilitude in settings with which he is familiar.
Winnipeg, February, 1920.
I FOG II BLIND MAN'S BUFF III "NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS" IV THE LISTENING STENOGRAPHER V THE TAN SATCHEL VI AGAIN THE TAN SATCHEL VII CROSS CURRENTS VIII ABOARD THE PRIVATE CAR, "OBASKA" IX CONSPIRING EVENTS X THE STENOGRAPHER STILL LISTENING XI GROWING ANXIETY XII KENDRICK MAKES A TOUCHDOWN XIII AND CONVERTS A GOAL XIV WHAT HAPPENED ON THE WINNIPEG EXPRESS XV RAPPROCHEMENT XVI THE TAN SATCHEL ONCE MORE XVII DISTURBING NEWS XVIII MCCORQUODALE EXPLAINS XIX FURTHER STRANGE PROCEEDINGS XX A MAN OF MONEY XXI DOUBLE TROUBLE XXII LOWERING CLOUDS XXIII THE FIGHT XXIV THE RACE BEGINS XXV EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF XXVI NIP AND TUCK XXVII CLOSE QUARTERS XXVIII SOUVENIRS
Every Man For Himself
Except for the lone policeman who paused beneath the arc light at the Front Street intersection to make an entry in his patrol book, Bay Street was deserted. The fog which had come crawling in from the lake had filled the lower streets and was feeling its way steadily through the sleeping city, blurring the street lights. Its clammy touch darkened the stone facades of tall, silent buildings and left tiny wet beads on iron railing and grill work. Down towards the waterfront a yard-engine coughed and clanked about in the mist somewhere, noisily kicking together a string of box-cars, while at regular intervals the fog-horn over at the Eastern Gap bellowed mournfully into the night.
After tucking away his book and rebuttoning his tunic the policeman lingered on the corner for a moment in the manner of one who has nothing to do and no place to go. He was preparing to saunter on when footfalls began to echo in the emptiness of the street and presently the figure of a young man grew out of the gray vapor—a young man who was swinging down towards the docks with the easy stride of an athlete. As he came within the restricted range of the arc light it was to be seen that his panama hat was tilted to the back of his head and that he was holding a silk handkerchief to one eye as if a cinder had blown into it.
"Good-night, Officer," he nodded as he passed without halting his stride. "Some fog, eh?"
"'Mornin', sir," returned the dim sentinel of the Law with a respectful salute as he grinned recognition. "Faith, an' 't is, sir."
High up in the City Hall tower at the head of the street Big Ben boomed two ponderous notes which flung eerily across the city.
Already the young man had faded into the thickening fog. He was in no mood to talk to inquisitive policemen, no matter how friendly or lonesome. It was his own business entirely if concealed beneath the silk handkerchief was the most elaborate black eye which had come into his possession since Varsity won the rugby championship some months before. If his face ached and his knuckles smarted where the skin had been knocked off, that was his own business also. And when the judgment of calmer moments has convinced a respectable young gentleman of spirit that there is nobody but himself to blame for what has happened he is inclined to solitary communion while taking the measure of his self-dissatisfaction.
It was indeed the end of a very imperfect day for Mr. Philip Kendrick. As he descended the stairs to the Canoe Club his thoughts were troubled. At that hour there was nobody about, but he let himself in with a special key which he carried for such contingencies. He found the suitcase undisturbed where he had left it and soon had his canoe in the water. A moment later he was driving into the thick wall of fog with strong, practiced strokes, heading straight across the bay for Centre Island.
The fog gave him little concern. This land-locked Toronto Bay he knew like a well-marked passage in a favorite book and at two o'clock in the morning it was not necessary to nose along cautiously, listening for the approach of water craft. Away to the right the lights of the amusement park on Hanlan's Point had gone out long ago, before the fog settled down like a wet blanket. The ferries had stopped running for the night. Even the "belt line boat," Lulu,—last hope of bibulous or belated Islanders—was back in her slip, funnel cold, lights out. The whole deserted waterfront lay wrapped in the shroud of the fog, lulled by the lap of water against pilings and the faint creakings of small craft at their moorings.
As the solitary canoe poked out for the open bay these minor sounds fell behind and were replaced by the steady purl of water under the bow. It filled with pleasing monotone the interludes between the fussing of the yard-engine back on the railway trackage and the blatancy of the foghorn at the Eastern Gap, every half minute bawling its warning into the open lake beyond.
There was nobody over at the big summer residence on Centre Island except Mrs. Parlby, the housekeeper, and her husband who acted as gardener. The place belonged to Kendrick's uncle, the Honorable Milton Waring, and it was usual for them to open the big house about the end of May. This year, however, his aunt and uncle had chosen to spend the summer at Sparrow Lake and for the past week they had been up at a rented cottage in the woods, leaving Phil behind in charge of the Island residence.
In response to a wire from his uncle, requesting him to join them at once and bring along certain articles which had been overlooked, he had packed his suitcase and paddled across to the city in the morning, intending to take the train for Sparrow Lake. A chance meeting with an old classmate, however, had resulted in a sudden decision to delay his departure for another twenty-four hours in favor of a good time with Billy Thorpe.
As if in punishment, things had seemed to go wrong with him all day. In the afternoon the Rochester baseball team had knocked three Toronto pitchers out of the box, a blow-up which had cost the loyal Mr. Kendrick twenty-five dollars and a loss of reputation as an authority on International League standings. Then in the evening, in the crowd out at The Beach, somebody had taken hold of his silk ribbon fob and gently removed the gold watch which his aunt had given him on his birthday. Later still—!
It was the left eye, so swollen now that it was closed to a mere slit. There was no optical delusion about its nomenclature and in diameter and chromatic depth it was at the head of its class; in fact, it gave promise of being by daylight in a class by itself. It was the sort of decoration which could be relied upon implicitly to fire the imagination of misguided acquaintances through several merry weeks of green and yellow recuperation. And withal it cast a reflection upon the fistic prowess of young Mr. Kendrick which was entirely unjust, it being the product of what is known as a "lucky punch"—for the other fellow.
No, it was not in the result of the fight that dissatisfaction lay, but in the cause. McCorquodale's remarks about the Honorable Milton Waring had been addressed to McCorquodale's two companions; there had been no intent to insult the Honorable Milton Waring's nephew who sat at the next table in the restaurant, none of the three worthies being aware that they were within earshot of a hypersensitive member of the honorable gentleman's family. That being so, it had been distinctly foolish for the aforesaid nephew to walk over to the other table and demand an apology. He should have finished his coffee and cigarette and strolled out. Or, if he had deemed it imperative to participate in the political discussion, why in the mischief hadn't he just stepped across, proffered his cigarette-case and made a joke of the situation?
Of a truth the expression upon this fellow McCorquodale's homely, good-humored face when Kendrick revealed his identity had been sufficiently quizzical. He had grinned widely as he waved the indignant young man to a seat at the table and even then the situation would have adjusted itself had it been left to the principals. But McCorquodale's companions were a pair of flashily dressed young "sports" who, thinking they saw a chance for some fun at Kendrick's expense, had proceeded to tread upon Mr. McCorquodale's professional pride—McCorquodale, one time known to ringside patrons as "Iron Man" McCorquodale, one time near middle-weight champion.
"Y'see, it's this way," the ex-pugilist had explained earnestly. "I aint said nothin' about y'r uncle as aint public anyways. It's in the papers off an' on, see? An' now another election's comin' down the pike, y'll have to be gittin' used to all kinds o' spiels. Fac's is fac's, kid, an' when I says the Hon. Milt aint no sweet-scented geranium but's out fer all the simoleons he can pick off the little old Mazuma Tree,—why, I on'y says what I reads an' hears, believe me. You bein' his nephew aint changin' public opinion none. See?"
Kendrick's anger at this brazenness had prevented him from thinking clearly. He was getting "touchy" about his uncle's political record of late and had had occasion to defend it with some heat during certain discussions among friends; there had been several newspaper attacks which he had resented greatly also. His uncle's reputation as a public man he had been Quixotic enough to take to heart as a personal matter of family honor and, as everyone knows, family honor is a thing to uphold. He had demanded that McCorquodale retract his statement. McCorquodale had refused flatly to do so.
One of the two grinning "sports" knew a place where they could settle it undisturbed—just around the corner in the basement of a pool-room. It had been a brisk little mix-up while it lasted; but it had not taken the ex-pugilist long to discover that he was facing the best amateur boxer Varsity had produced in a number of years and right in the middle of it he had put on his coat deliberately, to the overwhelming disappointment of his two friends.
"Nix, you guys!" he had grunted, breathing heavily. "I knows when I'm up against it. Y'see, I got a date with a Jane to-morra an' I aint hankerin' to lose me way with no mussed map. Not on y'r tintype!"
Whereupon the "Iron Man" had proceeded to demonstrate his malleability by assuring Mr. Kendrick that he was ready to agree that the sun rose in the south and made a daily trip straight north to escape the heat, if Mr. Kendrick said so. His anxiety to make friends had been positively funny; but there had been a sincerity in his handshake that somehow had seemed to rob the apology of its satisfaction. And when McCorquodale had proffered a broken cigar Kendrick had accepted it with an uneasy feeling that he had made somewhat of a fool of himself; for Phil was no prig and he found that McCorquodale was a pretty good sort with a certain whimsicality that was not to be denied.
He rested his paddle for a moment and floated in the dark, listening. As soon as he got home he would go to the refrigerator for a piece of raw beefsteak for his swollen eye. Darn that eye anyway! He would have to hibernate up in the woods till it became more presentable. Far behind him in the mist somewhere the yard-engine was still coughing; across the water came a subdued squeal of protesting flanges, followed by the distant bang of shunted box-cars. He listened for any sound of the harbor patrol boat; but even had he bothered to show a light it would have been obliterated in the fog, which was the worst Kendrick ever had experienced. A raw beefsteak poultice— He fancied the fog-horn was a little louder; he would need to keep more to the left or he would find himself hitting Mug's Landing, west of Island Park, or wind up away over at the Point somewhere.
He resumed his paddling. This matter of his uncle— Was it possible that in pursuit of political ambitions his uncle was forgetting the principles for which he professed to stand as a public man? Was it just possible that this fellow, McCorquodale, knew what he was talking about? Wasn't it men of that stamp who became the tools for corrupt practices—the boodlers, the heelers who did the actual ballot-stuffing, the personating at the polls, the bribing? Did McCorquodale know of what he spoke?
The thought brought with it a sense of disloyalty to his uncle; but the young man forced himself to face the idea seriously. He was beginning to realize that there were many things about which he was woefully ignorant—practical things entirely outside academic curriculums. For twenty-two years he had eaten his meals regularly and lived a life uncolored by any event more significant than his recent graduation from 'Varsity with honors. That he had captained the football team to victory the fall before was nothing extraordinary; many another fellow with equally broad shoulders and an equally well balanced head upon them had done the same thing before him. Financial worries had never intruded upon his good times, while social standing was something which he had come to accept as a matter of course. Only of late had he begun to analyze things for himself and it had been something of a shock to discover that a college education was just a beginning—that beyond the campus of his alma mater spread a workaday world which scoffed at dead languages and went in for a living wage, which turned from isoceles triangles and algebraic conundrums to solve the essential problems of food and clothing and shingled roofs. It was a new viewpoint which planted doubts where what he had supposed to be certainties had been wont to blossom.
The Honorable Milton Waring's very position as a cabinet minister in the government of the day always had seemed to carry its own credentials. As a youth Phil had thrilled with pride on occasions of public demonstration in his uncle's honor and there had been times of speech-making when the Honorable Milton's eloquence had swayed his audience to unrestrained applause. To the unsophisticated eyes of youth a shiny silk hat, a long-tailed frock coat, a gold-headed cane, a diamond ring and a prominent place upon the platform had been indicative of the top rungs of Fame and Success and Honor among men. The goings and comings of Society's votaries, the bright lights of the big Waring residence in Rosedale, the orchestras and bands and public processions and cheering and flags and bunting—these things had contributed to the awe with which Phil had regarded the Honorable Milton Waring in the days of boyhood impressions. The mere fact that his uncle received the acclamations of the people and held high public office by their gift had seemed to invest the Honorable Milton with all the attributes of an honorable gentleman of distinction.
Such early impressions are tenacious of place. Yet with maturer years had come certain doubts that thrust their shadows across moments of serious thought. Phil Kendrick had begun to think for himself and his study of political history had awakened him to the knowledge that there was a very "practical" side to politics as they existed throughout the country just then—that successful politicians too often were men who regarded the whole thing as a game wherein the end justified the means, the end being to carry elections. Was his uncle of this ilk? It had been hinted. There were those who said that the Honorable Milton Waring knew much about assembling political machinery around election time and oiling it for a smooth run. And such rumors aroused thoughts which Phil had been very loath to entertain.
After all, though, did he really know his uncle? Between them there had never been any very close bond of sympathy—such, for instance, as always had existed between Phil and his aunt. His uncle's share in the growing lad's up-bringing had been of the superficial sort—a pat on the back, a "run along now, my boy; I'm busy." Always it had been Aunt Dolly to whom he had taken his childish difficulties for sympathetic adjustment. It had been that way from the first when the sudden loss of both father and mother had thrown him upon Aunt Dolly's care. His own mother could not have meant more to him and Kendrick's smile was very gentle as he thought of his aunt. First and last, her happiness——
Ah, but was she happy? That was the question. She pretended to be, of course; but how much of it was mere pretence? Beneath her smiles Phil had sensed of late a vague unrest, disappointment—he hardly knew what to call it, so illusive it was. She had laughed at him fondly and called him "a foolish boy" when he had ventured to ask her if anything was wrong. After that she had been careful that he did not surprise any look upon her face but one of cheerfulness.
The possibility that in some way his uncle was the source of that subtle change in Aunt Dolly had disturbed Phil's peace of mind not a little. In his presence she had been the same gentle, smiling, thoughtful Aunt Dolly that she had always been; but once or twice he had read fleeting anxiety in the glance with which she had followed her husband's departure from the room. Her love for the Honorable Milton was unqualified, Phil knew. It was, in fact, the directing force of Aunt Dolly's whole life. It had enabled her to overcome her innate dislike for the everlasting round of social trivialities and assume her place as a society leader with a brilliance and tact which had earned the commendation of even her exacting husband. What was going wrong in the Waring household? Or was it all imagination and Aunt Dolly's look of concern sum-totalled by the weather in relation to a change to lighter flannels?
Certainly when it came to considering his uncle's political record there was always the Rives case to fall back upon, to cast a halo about the Honorable Milton's head. The Rives case had provided a sensational aftermath to a strenuous election campaign which had resulted in the complete overthrow of the former government. The "Honorable" Harrington Rives with his large head and bushy shock of black curls had been a picturesque figure on the rostrums of the country districts. He took a good photo—and knew it! It was displayed in every conceivable pose in the newspapers and fought the weather on the side of many a livery barn long after the "Grand Rally" with its crop of cheer-strained throats was a thing of the past. His ability as a stump speaker and his hail-fellow-well-met-and-how's-the-baby way of mixing with the crowd had popularized him to the bamboozlement of his admirers. So that in election forecasts his seat in the Legislature always had headed the list at party headquarters, while in the opposition camp it had been chalked up as "election conceded."
But as is the law of it, there cometh a day when the evil a man doeth findeth him out. Whispers had stolen abroad in the land and the rumors had drawn men together in scattered groups. Rivulets of resentment had run together in widening pools of public opinion till the mysterious forces which slowly arouse the "Great Common People" had broken loose suddenly in one of those periodic reform waves which sweep everything before them. And into the arena with shining sword drawn had stepped a brilliant lawyer named Waring to pick up the gauge of battle against Rives and his corrupt associates, with Rives himself as his individual opponent.
The fight in Rives' constituency had gone to bitter lengths. The government forces had poured money into the campaign and under the practiced hand of Harrington Rives the "Machine" had gone to indiscreet lengths to defeat Waring. Bribery and corruption, which for a long time had characterized the administration's political organization, had become more open and Rives' opponent quietly had gathered the irrefutable evidence which ended in the arrest of Rives and several of his henchmen on the eve of the election. The exposure had been so complete and far-reaching—actual misappropriation of public funds in Rives' case—that the reform forces had made a clean sweep amid great public rejoicing.
It would require a short memory indeed to forget all this, thought Kendrick. Remembrance of the Rives case, which he had taken the trouble once to look up in the old newspaper files, never failed to re-establish his faith in his uncle and it was with a sweep of irritation now that he dug in his paddle—and veered sharply to the left as the rustle of reeds against the canoe warned him that he was close inshore somewhere. Mechanically he tried to peer through the dark. This ought to be the sandbar to the left of the Island Park ferry landing if he had not gone out of his reckoning. He waited for the fog-horn that presently bellowed loudly off to the left. If this were the sandbar he would have to skirt it east to the cut that ran in beside the Yacht Club.
A moment's paddling convinced him that he had guessed correctly. Something scraped alongside—a yacht, moored in the channel. He turned to the right and presently was gratified to find himself in quieter water. A moment later he was safely within the inner channel that followed the park embankment and led east past private boathouses.
From the canal short streets here cut south across the island to the lakefront, where many fine residences of the wealthy faced open water. The steady rhythm of the waves against the breakwater reached him in sharp contrast to the brooding stillness of the channel water.
Kendrick was almost home now. The Waring boathouse was within a stonesthrow. He edged the canoe forward gently, close to the bank, feeling his way toward the familiar landing.
And there was not one thing to prepare him for what immediately followed. A voice which seemed to be almost at his elbow spoke to him out of the darkness in low hurried tones—a woman's voice! At the same time he felt the bow of the canoe pulled in against the bank. Before he could recover sufficiently from his surprise to speak she had stepped aboard and he could hear her adjusting a cushion beneath her knees. Then came her tense whispered warning:
"Stick right here and don't talk. We haven't time to get away, but they can't see us. Sh! Here they come!"
BLIND MAN'S BUFF
With difficulty Phil Kendrick restrained a desire to laugh outright. The totally unexpected situation in which he found himself paralyzed his speech and by the time he had recovered from the first shock of it a further development held him silent. With senses sharpened he listened in the dark to approaching footsteps and a murmur of voices, his wonder growing as he recognized the unmistakable accents of Stinson, his uncle's personal servant—Stinson who, by all the rules of valet service, should be up at Sparrow Lake at that very moment with the Honorable Milton Waring.
A key was being fitted into the padlock of the Waring boathouse. The planking creaked as the strangers tip-toed inside. There appeared to be several of them. A sloshing of water as they boarded the big launch, then the first fitful rustlings of the engine as it was turned over. Soon its loud staccatto rose above the wail of the foghorn.
Had the house been robbed? Phil dismissed this idea at once. No valuables likely to invite burglary were kept at the Island residence, even had Stinson's long and faithful service not placed him beyond suspicion. Probably the valet had slipped away on a little holiday and had been entertaining a few of his friends. With paddle shoved into the mud to hold the canoe steady against the embankment so that it would not capsize in the wash of the launch, Kendrick decided to sit still and await developments.
The launch passed presently, so close to them that he held his breath. One of the occupants was talking in low tones. Somebody laughed and said: "That's a good one, Nickleby." A third voice spoke in gruff admonition: "Shut up, you fellows! No names, please." After that—silence, except for the slow chug of the engine and the purl of water, diminishing. They were gone.
A breath of evident relief came from the unknown passenger in the canoe.
"Pretty close, that," she whispered. "I guess we can go now, but it would be better not to talk till we get out on the bay."
Without a word Kendrick shoved off with his paddle and turned the nose of the canoe for the Yacht Club channel. The launch had gone straight down the main canal to the ferry pier before heading out into the bay and all sound of it presently was lost. He strained his eyes to catch a glimpse of his mysterious companion, forgetting for the moment that even had it been broad daylight the fog would have concealed her.
He tried to decide what was the best thing to do. What sort of a game was this that he had stumbled upon? What was this woman doing over at the Island at 2.30 a.m. in weather like this? Who was she? Why was she spying upon Stinson's little party, if that was what she had been up to? It was a situation with which any young man of zest and imagination might find interest in dallying. How should he begin?
"Pass me a paddle, Joe. It's all right to talk now." She gave a little laugh of satisfaction and he noted that her voice was contralto and well modulated. "This has been the best night's work yet. Did you think I was never coming?"
Kendrick cleared his throat.
"Excuse me, madam, but there appears to be some mistake." He could hear her startled gasp. "It is evident that you have got into the wrong canoe in the dark. I am neither Joseph nor any of his brethren; so he must be waiting for you still. Do you want me to turn back?"
"Wh-why,—who are you?" she managed to gasp in an alarmed voice.
"The same to you, madam, and many of them," laughed Kendrick easily. "There's no occasion to feel frightened as I have just had a meal. Anyone is liable to lose the way in a fog like this and I will count it a privilege to help you locate Joe. He must be somewhere about if he was waiting for you."
"Who are you?" she repeated more evenly.
"The owner of this canoe which you have commandeered so successfully. Please pardon me for pointing out that it is your lead, madam. I would be glad to have you begin by telling me who was in that launch? Why all the excitement? Where do you want to go now?"
"You are inquisitive enough to be a detective. Are you?"
"In that case would I need to ask where we were going?" countered Kendrick. "I believe you said this had been the best haul yet. Whose house was it this time?"
She remained silent. When she spoke again Kendrick fancied a nervous note in her voice.
"Will you please explain how you happened to be waiting for me at that particular spot?"
"Bless your heart, madam, I wasn't waiting for you! I happen to live nearby and was getting ready to step ashore when you grabbed my canoe and ordered me to keep quiet. I did so. Here we are."
"Your discretion was commendable," she approved. "It certainly is most extraordinary. I don't see where on earth—I guess my escort has taken French leave." She tried to laugh carelessly, but she could not hide the fact that she was greatly disturbed. "Will you paddle me across to the city?"
"And leave poor Joe out in the cold gray fog? Don't you think it would be better to turn back and give a holler or two?"
"Never mind him. He has gone home already very likely. I will pay you one dollar to paddle me over. Is that satisfactory?"
"It all depends. Supposing I refuse?"
"Then I would have to ask you to step into the water and swim to shore while I do my own paddling and keep down expenses."
"Presupposing, of course, that you own the canoe."
"It is too bad it is so dark," she retorted impatiently, "or you would know that a revolver is pointed straight at you this very moment."
Kendrick laughed in pure enjoyment of the situation.
"My dear young lady,"—he had decided that she was young and he wondered if she were pretty—"you force me to the conclusion that either you are bluffing outrageously or you are a desperate character! Please don't be frightened. I'm neither Steve Brodie, the Bridge Jumper, nor the famous Jack Dalton, and in this age of safety razors Bluebeards are extra muros. This isn't the opening spasm of some blood-and-thunder novel, you know. We're right here on Toronto Bay where one can get into trouble for not showing a light after dark. Will you oblige me by unhooking the lamp at the bow there and passing it back to me so that I can light up. I promise then to start earning that dollar without further delay."
He heard her fumbling with it. There was a splash in the water, a little cry of well feigned dismay.
"Oh, how careless of me! It—slipped out of my hand."
Phil grinned cheerfully as he began to dip his paddle, interest quickened. It was a neat sidestepping of his inconsiderate attempt to scrutinize her. She had taken the first trick.
"You do yourself an injustice, madam. Are you usually so careful when you are careless?"
"You have not told me your name yet," she reminded him, apparently more at ease now that she knew he intended to paddle her across the bay.
"My name? It's an Indian name—Watha—Hy. A. Watha, at your service, and I am very fond of canoeing. What's yours?"
"You need hardly ask that, Mr. Hiawatha, when you knew my sister, Minnie, so well," she laughed. "I am Mary Ha-ha!"
"You don't say!" chuckled Kendrick in appreciation. "The original little Merry Ha-Ha, eh?—Little Laughing-Gas!"
"If you are Hiawatha, why are you using a paddle?" she pursued. "I always understood from the Poet that all you had to do was to guide your canoe with your thoughts."
"Not when they're travelling in a circle. But this looks more like 'Blind Man's Buff' than 'Ring-Around-A-Rosy,' don't you think? Or are you trying to play 'Tag' with me? Well, you're 'It' anyway," he said, dropping all hint of banter in his tone. "I'd advise you to meet a few straight questions with straight answers. First, who is this Joe person you were expecting to do the canoeing for you?"
"And the people in the launch?"
"How should I know who they were? By what right do you ask me that?" she demanded.
"The circumstances are somewhat unusual, madam, you must admit," Kendrick reminded her sharply. "Do you wish me to play safe by handing you over to the police?"
"Police? My Good Gracious me! What crime have I committed?"
"That would be a matter for official enquiry. It may be that you and your husband are in the habit of wandering about the Island in a thick fog at two o'clock in the morning—picking daisies for the sick kiddies over at the Children's Home, I presume—but, to be perfectly frank with you, I doubt it. Besides, there is the little matter of the launch."
"Why are you so interested in that launch?"
"Because I happen to be the nephew of my uncle who happens to own it and to have left it in my charge during his absence," said Kendrick deliberately. "I'm laying the cards face up, madam. The launch is the property of Honorable Milton Waring, of whom you may have heard. Undoubtedly it has been stolen."
He was not prepared for the laughter with which his unknown passenger greeted this bold announcement. He knew she was trying to smother her mirth, but it finally broke all bounds. A very musical laugh it was, very pleasant to hear.
"Oh, please forgive me," she gasped finally. "It is very rude of me, I know; but—you said you were the Honorable Milt's nephew—" Again she laughed in spite of herself.
"You know my uncle?" he asked eagerly.
"I read the papers," she said evasively. "Everybody knows a public man."
"I'm laying the cards face up, madam," repeated Kendrick solemnly. "My name is Kendrick—Philip Kendrick. I was on my way home when you—well, shanghaied me. Won't you meet me half way by equal frankness, so that we may avoid—well, any unpleasantness?"
"You mean—?" She had stopped laughing.
"That unless you answer legitimate questions I shall be forced to hand you over to the police."
"I warn you that you would regret it," she said quietly.
"Very much," agreed Kendrick readily. "I would be sorry to cause you any inconvenience; but surely you see how impossible it is for me to avoid being inquisitive under the circumstances. Are you going to be frank with me or not?"
She did not answer him immediately and he smiled to himself as he paddled in silence. For, if the truth must be told, Mr. Philip Kendrick was enjoying himself immensely. He had only the sound of her voice from which to draw deductions; but the cultured tones of it and the lilt of her low laughter bespoke an education and refinement with which he failed to reconcile the idea that she was a lady burglar. Yet——
He stopped paddling to listen intently. Several times now he had thought he heard a sound off in the darkness behind him. It came again—a slight hollow sound, as of a paddle scraping against a canoe. They were being followed. Had the girl heard it, too? He waited for the wail of the fog-horn to die away—and found her speaking.
"—frank with you, Mr. Kendrick," she was saying. "The circumstances are less extraordinary than they appear to you. My—husband and I were at a party at a friend's house on the Island. We paddled over in a canoe and Joe went ahead of me to locate it. In the dark I must have missed the spot where he was waiting for me and when you came along so silently and so close to the bank I naturally thought it was Joe. Ridiculously simple, you see."
"You have forgotten the launch," prompted Kendrick severely.
"I know nothing about the launch," she denied with resentment. "When I heard those people coming I thought it was some of the guests from the party who had said they would race us home. Will you please paddle on, Mr. Kendrick. It is damp and chilly in this fog and I am naturally in a hurry to get home."
He laughed with skepticism, but plied his paddle again. He was not as concerned about the launch as he pretended, of course; at the worst it probably meant that Stinson had been entertaining some of his friends on the sly. He had no intention of handing his mysterious passenger to the police. But was he to let her laugh at him and disappear unchallenged into the fog out of which she had come?
Phil Kendrick's experience with the opposite sex was very limited, he had to confess. He had been too completely absorbed in athletics to afford girls more than passing attention. Those of his social set—those he had met—had failed to impress him. One or two of them were attractive enough in a general way, he realized; some were amusing to him and some very very tedious. It was a new experience to find himself actually interested in a girl—or rather, her voice! He wished he could get a look at her till he remembered the poor showing he would make with his blackened eye. Then he was thankful for the darkness.
Phil planned to land her at the Queen City Yacht Club at the foot of York St., or at the Canoe Club; either would provide an easy landing. They must be well across the bay now; but it was hard to say just where they would come in. Ordinarily he could have steered by the illuminated dial of the City Hall clock and the spire of St. James'; but the fog obliterated all landmarks.
They were both very damp from exposure to the mist, but it is doubtful if either of them was aware of it. He made several further attempts to discover her identity without avail; at every turn she evaded him skillfully and it was beginning to look as if she would step ashore and vanish into the fog without leaving behind her a single clue for him to follow. This illusiveness was an added spur to his desire to know this girl. He did not believe that she was a married woman at all. It was a conclusion which seemed to be justified by her elaborate precautions to make him think otherwise. Because of some foolish notion of the conventions she intended to go as she had come, taking advantage of the fog to write down the night's adventure in a book which must be closed to him for all time and forgotten.
Deliberately Phil held back the canoe. They were within a few strokes of the landing now.
"Listen to me very carefully," he began. "I am going to ask you for the last time to tell me your name or the name of some friend whom I can get to introduce me to you properly. Isn't that fair? I have told you the truth about myself and will hand you my card to prove it. You must play equally fair with me or——"
"Or what?" she demanded haughtily as he hesitated.
"Or—well, take the consequences," he finished lamely.
"Which are—? Be explicit, Mr. Kendrick."
"Well, I might turn around and paddle you back to the Island and leave you there, for one thing. The circumstances are not such as entitle you to the consideration I have shown you. For all I know, you may be an ordinary crook. Think it over, madam. Is there any reason why I should not call you 'kiddo' and help myself to a kiss? Is there?"
"Yes—the fact that Philip Kendrick is a gentleman. I dare you to prove it otherwise!"
"It is kind of you. If you are so sure of it, why won't you give me a chance? Come on, be a sport. I will promise anything you wish to meet you legitimately, and I really would regret it very much if I thought——"
"I have told you already that it is impossible," she interrupted coldly. "I always understood it was a woman's prerogative to choose her acquaintances. I am grateful for your services tonight, of course; but beyond that—— The fact is, I do not care to know you, Mr. Kendrick. Please put me ashore and say good-bye."
A cold fire of resentment burned in Kendrick's eyes as he drove the canoe to the landing with a few skillful strokes. Why had he been so foolish as to tell her his real name? Why didn't she want to know him? Without a word he caught the canoe in one hand and stepped out. He felt along the gunwale to the bow and fastened the painter to an iron ring in the planking, then handed her out safely. He retained his grasp of her hand.
"A moment ago you dared me to kiss you," he said gravely. "I am not in the habit of taking dares from anybody."
"Let go my hand at once, sir. You know very well you cannot so far forget yourself as to take such a liberty. I dare you to prove yourself no gentleman."
"I warn you——!"
"I dare you!"
"Very well! On your own head be it, then! The boatman is worthy of his hire," he paraphrased and laughingly he seized her in his arms and kissed her.
The next instant he received a resounding slap in the face. It had young muscles and indignation behind it and it found him unprepared. He started back automatically, tripped, lost his balance and fell into the water.
"Oh, you—you miserable—fresh Aleck!" came her mortified cry.
She lingered only long enough to make sure that he could swim. As he drew himself out of the water the sound of her running feet died out on the pier.
With chattering teeth Kendrick cast loose, seized his paddle and drove it deep into the water. Ye gods, what a fool! Very angry at himself, he set out across the bay once more, guided by the derisive bawling of the fog-horn at the Eastern Gap.
"NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS"
At no time had it been Phil Kendrick's habit to entertain an inflated opinion of his own importance. On occasion he had ridden around the gridiron on the shoulders of idolatrous students; but his modesty had been one of the factors underlying his popularity. Despising conceit in others, he was too prone, perhaps, to take himself to task for those little mistakes which every young man is liable to make from time to time.
It is safe to say, however, that never in all his life had he arraigned himself upon the carpet of his own condemnation so severely as now while paddling across the bay for the second time within the hour. If the McCorquodale incident earlier in the evening had lowered his opinion of his own judgment he was now ready to concede that he had no judgment whatsoever. It was of little use to tell himself that it served her right, or that she had dared him deliberately to do what he had done. That did not alter the fact that if he ever met her again—it was not likely that he would, of course, but if he did,—somewhere, sometime—he had erected a barrier to her good will which would preclude all hope of her friendship. His status in her sight was that of a "miserable fresh Aleck!"
Thus, as a relief to his feelings and in part to keep warm by exertion, did Phil come home through the fog at headlong pace in a high state of discontent, a veritable bear with a sore head. As he lifted the canoe to its place in the boathouse something pricked his finger, and by the light of a match he found a dollar bill pinned to one of the canoe cushions with a tiny brooch. His hire!—the only reward he had had any right to expect! The sight of these souvenirs did not tend to restore his peace of mind, and there was little mirth in the short laugh which he bestowed upon them as he thrust them into his pocket; yet it is interesting that he looked upon them as souvenirs, even while deciding to dismiss the whole matter permanently from his thoughts.
The launch was not back yet, he noted. Well, Stinson could go to the devil with it for all he cared! He slammed the boathouse door and strode up the side-street, this mood carrying as far as the picket gate. His hand was on the latch before he realized that the library windows were blurring through the fog with light.
Had the servants all gone crazy to-night? He went around to the front of the house, and with his face between the slats of the verandah railing, peered through the French windows. Muttering astonishment, he climbed over the railing, fitted his latch-key noiselessly and swung open the double glass doors that gave direct entrance to the room. The slight sound of his entry passed unnoticed by the Honorable Milton Waring, who continued to lean over his desk completely absorbed in a litter of papers.
But for the heavy odor of stale cigar smoke it would have been easy to suppose that the fog without had crept into the library. The air was blue. Phil's glance swept the disordered room. Three empty whisky glasses stood on the library table. The butts of cigars and innumerable cork-tipped cigarettes lay smothered in gray ashes that spilled untidily in sundry ash-trays. There was a char of burned paper in the open grate where a few coals still glowed redly. The desk was covered with packets of folded papers, held together by rubber bands, and loose sheets upon which much figuring had been done with the blue pencil which his uncle favored. A stock certificate or two peeped from a closed account book.
Phil looked again at the bowed figure, struck by a laxity of manner that was foreign to the Honorable Milton Waring. His thick iron-gray hair, usually so carefully brushed, was rumpled on end where his fingers had plowed and held his head while he figured with the other hand. He had removed his collar and tossed it aside impatiently; it lay on the floor behind the chair, leaving the tie still hanging loosely around the neck, the end of it twisted over one shoulder. The door in front of which the intruder stood was outside the older man's line of vision; but Phil could see a flushed cheek, and there was an air of dejection in his uncle's attitude quite out of keeping with customary poise.
The subject of these observations reached abruptly for the decanter on the desk and poured himself a stiff drink of Scotch whisky. The neck tinkled a little tattoo against the glass. He swallowed the liquor neat and shook his head in a spasmodic grimace. The sigh with which he settled back in his chair was one of utter weariness.
Phil gave a slight cough to announce his presence.
"Pardon me, Uncle Milt, if I'm intruding, but I didn't know you were in town—— Why, what's wrong?" he ended quickly; for his uncle had sprung from his chair and was clinging to the edge of the desk for support while he stared as if he were gazing at an apparition.
In truth, quite aside from his quiet entry, the young man's appearance was startling enough. His facial disfigurement achieved a bizarre effect which the condition of his clothes served to heighten. The once jaunty panama hat hung shapelessly about his ears and from beneath it a plaster of blond hair slanted across his forehead rakishly. His collar was a soggy mess, from which depended a dark red string in sorry travesty of a flowing tie. His shirt was soiled with mud, his coat and trousers full of wrinkles.
"For heaven's sake, boy! What's happened? Train wreck?" He dropped back into his chair, eyeing his nephew in amazement. "Why aren't you at Sparrow Lake with your aunt? Get my wire? Eh? They told me you left this morning——" His voice was hoarse and it trailed away as if the situation embarrassed him and he was not quite sure how to handle it. He stared uncertainly, drumming nervously with his fingers.
Phil nodded as he sat down in the nearest chair and stared back. The surprise of finding his uncle there was overridden by the new discovery of his evident diffidence, his flushed face, a lack of that self-contained bearing which always had marked him as a man of large affairs. It was his uncle's strict rule, he recalled, never to take a second drink; it was an axiom of the Honorable Milton's that the second drink drew the cork on indiscretion and eventual inebriety. That something had happened which must have disturbed him greatly to make him break this rule was a deduction as simple as the evidence that he had broken it.
"What about you, Uncle Milt?" suggested Kendrick after a brief explanation of his change of plans—a recital which carefully avoided mention of McCorquodale or the mysterious woman of the fog. "If I had known that Aunt Dolly was going to be alone I wouldn't have let Thorpe persuade me to stay over a day."
"I was called in unexpectedly—important business——" He pushed uneasily at the papers on the desk. "Have a cigar, Philip?" He passed the humidor as he spoke, then scratched a match and held it to his nephew's selection with careful courtesy. He shook his head in smiling disapproval of the swollen eye. "Bad business, young man! Bad business! A fine flower of folly you have there, eh? Don't grow 'm like that at the Ladies' Aid meeting at the First Baptist Church, do they?" He settled back in his chair, chortling.
Phil smiled as he tossed aside his hat.
"Blame it on the fog, Uncle Milt. I was foolish enough to trip over something in the dark and take a header down the Canoe Club stairs into the water," he explained mendaciously. "Me for the woods to-morrow without fail. I guess I got off easy at that, for you can't see your hand in front of your face out on the bay to-night. Stinson almost ran me down with the launch—missed me by a couple of feet and that's all."
"Stinson? Stinson, d'you say? Don't mean our Stinson—in—our launch? Not our Stinson in our very own launch, Phil'p? You s'prise me greatly. In the dark like that—— How do you know?" he challenged.
Kendrick smiled at the transparency of this attempt.
"I recognized his voice for one thing. Stinson was speeding the parting guests—the three who drank out of the glasses yonder. Pshaw, you know as well as I do that you sent me that wire to clear the way for this little affair to-night, and you're wishing right now that I was at the bottom of the lake! But it's all right, Uncle Milt."
His uncle did not laugh. Instead he eyed the younger man from beneath heavy brows that met in a scowl.
"Sherlock Holmes, eh? When'd you start emulating Sherlock Holmes?" he growled. "Been a meeting here—yes—business. What of it?"
"Nothing at all, if you say so. Only don't make the mistake of thinking I'm still a mere kid, Uncle Milt. I'd hate to think there was any other reason why you have never admitted me to your confidence. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps I might—well, sort of dig in and help you in some way? You and Aunt Dolly have been mighty good to me and I kind of feel—— Well, you know what I mean," he finished diffidently.
The Honorable Milton Waring's brows unbent. His gaze wandered automatically to the pile of papers on the desk and for a moment he was silent.
"There is nothing you can do, Phil—— Phillup,——to help," he said at last, shaking his head slowly, while the tired lines deepened about his eyes. "I——thanks all same."
Kendrick hunched his chair nearer and laid a hand on the other's knee.
"You're in trouble of some kind," he said earnestly. "Please don't try to deny it, Uncle Milt. I promised Billy Thorpe I'd join him next week on a fishing trip, but that's all off if I can be of any use to you. That special course in engineering next fall—that's all off, too, if you need me. It's my duty to help and it's your duty to let me. We both owe it to Aunt Dolly, don't we?"
A look of apprehension sprang into the tired eyes. He waved his hand swiftly towards the empty glasses.
"Your aunt—she must know nothing of—all this. I warn you now, Phil'p,—not a word. No use causing her needless worry. Her social duties, understand,—— These business affairs——" His voice trailed again and he looked anxiously for his nephew's acquiescence.
"That goes as a matter of course," nodded Kendrick. "So far as I am concerned, this little chat with you has never taken place and there's been nobody here except the servants—so far as I am concerned. But is there any danger of anybody—— What would be the object of anybody spying on this particular little seance——?" He paused at the quick consternation which the suggestion aroused.
"What do you mean, Philip?" demanded the Honorable Milton sharply. He sat up more alertly. "Why do you ask such a foolish question? Are you talking at random or——?"
"Very much at random," assured Kendrick hastily. "I was just wondering. Because—— Well, it would be the only way anybody who happened to be interested would find out about your meeting, wouldn't it? I don't intend to talk about it, as I said before. I thought perhaps if it had anything to do with the political situation, for instance,—detectives, you know—around election time. I don't pretend to know very much about these things, of course."
"You are fortunate," grunted the Honorable Milton, dryly. "Seems to me you are allowing your imagination to run away with you, young man. Advise you to curb it."
Phil took a long pull at his cigar and studied his uncle keenly as he blew the smoke into the air.
"Do you want to know how I really got this beauty spot—this 'flower of folly' as you called it?" he asked unexpectedly. "I had a little argument with a fellow to-night who insisted that you were—he retracted it, of course—were a political grafter!"
The smile with which the Honorable Milton Waring had welcomed the promised change of subject faded slowly. He wagged his head in reproof.
"Very foolish of you, Philip—to take any notice of that sort of thing. Let 'em talk!" Yet he looked at this nephew of his with a new interest. "Grafter, eh? Didn't believe it, eh?"
"Anyone who looks up your political record, Uncle Milt, must respect you," said Phil seriously. "These newspapers that are so fond of handing out roasts seem to overlook the fact that you were the man mainly responsible for kicking out Rives and his crowd and cleaning up the whole rotten administration. It makes me mad. And some of them have got the nerve to hint that the present Government——"
"Don't let's get into any political discussion, Philip," interrupted his uncle, holding up his hand in protest. "Please. I'm too tired for that. I'm sick of it, d'you hear? Politics! Politics! The same miserable tactics of misrepresentation! The same petty motives that have bedeviled public life for the past—— Damn them!"
He heaved himself abruptly from his chair and began to pace the room restlessly while Kendrick watched him, surprised by the unexpected vehemence of the outburst. After a turn or two he stopped directly in front of his nephew, and in his eyes was a strange look.
"There are many things, my boy, which you cannot be expected to understand without a lot of explanation," he said more quietly. "I cannot go into any of these things now. If you ever accept a public office in later life try to look upon it as a sacred trust to be fulfilled according to the dictates of conscience. Then you will begin to understand what is meant by 'burden of effort' and 'the heat of the day.' I want you to believe that even one man against a pack of wolves can put up at least some kind of a fight, even though he knows that sooner or later he is doomed to go down. I have tried conscientiously to do what I thought was my duty. Do you believe that?"
"Certainly," nodded Kendrick without hesitation.
"Thank you, Philip. No matter what happens I want you to continue to believe that."
"Look here, Uncle Milt, if anybody is trying to put anything over on you, why not let me in on the scrap?" urged Phil eagerly. "I meant what I said a moment ago. What is it? What's the matter? Finances? Let me help. I'll write you a cheque for what I have in the bank and we can raise something on my Parkview property——"
The Honorable Milton tossed his head in a chuckle of amusement.
"How much have you got?" he smiled.
"About two thousand in the bank, another couple of thousand in negotiable securities—oh, about ten thousand, roughly, including the real-estate. We could sell that. I'll look after it first thing after breakfast."
"Ten thousand dollars is neither here nor there, Philip," said his uncle, shaking his head slowly. "I could raise such a sum by the mere request. Perhaps if it were five times the amount—— Just the same I am grateful for your offer, my boy."
"Fifty thousand dollars!" murmured Phil. "It's a lot of money when you haven't got it."
The Honorable Milton glanced at the clock on the mantel and gave an exclamation.
"It's time you and I were in bed. I hear Stinson just coming in. Everything's all right. I'm going to turn in now."
At the foot of the stairs he paused to lay a hand on his nephew's shoulder and there was unwonted gentleness in his manner.
"Good-night, Philip. And thank you for the—the 'flower of folly,'" he said awkwardly.
For a moment Kendrick stood watching the Honorable Milton Waring as he mounted the stairs slowly, a heavy hand upon the banister rail. The gray head was bowed. There was an air of dejection in the whole figure as of one who tastes the bitterness of defeat.
THE LISTENING STENOGRAPHER
When Phil opened his eyes on the morning sunshine—both eyes—he was gratified to note a slight improvement in the blackened orb. Before retiring he had sent the newly returned Stinson around to the front of the house to bring in the suitcase left by the verandah and had instructed the valet to bring a piece of raw beefsteak to his room. Nevertheless, as he studied his appearance in the mirror with some anxiety he was glad that he was going to Sparrow Lake and thence to North Bay as fast as he could get there. Thorpe would soon tire of making witty remarks, and the fish would not care whether he had a black eye or not.
As he dressed leisurely Kendrick's mind reverted soberly to the events of the past twenty-four hours. Reviewing in detail the interview with his uncle, there grew out of his confusion of thought an odd sense of disquiet. Close questioning of Stinson had yielded the information which his uncle had not seen fit to volunteer in regard to last night's clandestine visitors at the Island residence—Nickleby, President of the Interprovincial Loan & Savings Company; Alderson, of the Alderson Construction Company; Blatchford Ferguson, the lawyer. If, as the Honorable Milton had intimated, it had been a business meeting merely, they must be planning a raid on the stock market to account for all the secrecy with which the meeting had been shrouded. His uncle, Phil knew, had invested heavily in mining stocks, and J. Cuthbert Nickleby was the man who had been most closely associated with him in these private investments, while for some time now Ferguson had been favored with Waring's legal patronage in such deals as had come to Kendrick's notice. As for Alderson, he was a comparative stranger to Phil—a contractor who had risen rapidly during the real-estate boom, and who very reasonably might be taking a flyer on the market.
It must be something of this sort, and in the face of his uncle's evident desire for him to mind his own business Phil was inclined to let it go at that. It was scarcely to be expected that his uncle would break the custom of years in a sudden burst of confidence just because his nephew happened to surprise him in one of his difficult situations. His life was full of such difficult situations, no doubt,—had been for years—and the Honorable Milton was accustomed to relying upon himself to surmount them as he saw fit.
Far from feeling any resentment of his uncle's refusal of his boyish offer of assistance, therefore, Phil now regarded the offer itself as somewhat ridiculous from his uncle's standpoint. To one of such large connections ten thousand dollars was the same as a hundred-dollar bill to the average man. Yet his uncle had thanked him for his good intentions and tactfully had made him feel that the appreciation was sincere. At no time had the two been in closer sympathy than during this unexpected interview. His uncle was not given to sentiment. Perhaps the liquor——
Phil paused in the act of lacing his boot to frown out the window. The Honorable Milton Waring undoubtedly was greatly worried about something—financial affairs maybe. Or was that only one side of it, incidental to something not so simple of adjustment? The searching look, the solemnity of the words which had followed that sudden outburst against political conditions of the day, that reference to one man fighting a pack of wolves—what about that? No matter what happened he wanted his nephew to continue believing that he had tried to do his duty.
No matter what happened! It was this remark, more than any other, which fostered Kendrick's disquietude. Something was liable to happen, then?—something calling for a blind exercise of faith in his uncle; something which on the surface might seem to question his—his what? Integrity? Political honor? Social standing? Or was it merely an emphasis of speech with no special significance? Phil shifted uneasily on the chair as he thought of his aunt's position if some catastrophe befell his uncle. If any trouble of that kind were likely to develop, surely his uncle would have told him. Well, there was no use in getting himself all worked up over nothing.
He began to whistle softly as he rummaged among his ties. Then his thoughts switched to the girl with whom he had talked in the fog. If he had only known then what he knew now! She had been spying upon the Waring residence, upon this secret meeting with the Honorable Milton. That much seemed certain. But why was she interested in what had transpired? Who was she? And what had transpired? It was lack of this information which made it difficult to analyze the situation intelligently.
Had he done right in withholding from his uncle the fact of his unusual encounter with this girl? He imagined the laugh with which the Honorable Milton would be likely to greet relation of the incident. If it were true that there was no use in sending a boy on a man's errand, what about a woman on a spying expedition in a thick fog at two o'clock in the morning? Perhaps her story of the party at a friend's house was true, after all. Perhaps she and this "Joe" were a pair of sneak thieves——!
But he knew she wasn't, just as he knew that she was a girl of education and refinement. A tantalizing thing to meet a disembodied voice like that, a low laugh, a mystery! The lady might have a face like a dried prune! (Only he knew that she hadn't!) Voices were not to be relied upon. Take that "hello-girl," for instance; she had had the softest lilting voice over the wire, then when he got a look at her she hadn't been a day under forty-five and her face——! Certainly it hadn't been the fairest that e'er the sun shone on! (Only in this case he knew it must be different!) He was a hopeless fool if ever there was one! The best thing he could do was to forget the whole affair and with this sensible decision he reached into his pocket for the souvenirs, and spent some time in re-examining the little hand-painted shirt-waist pin with which she had fastened his pay to the canoe cushion!
Phil breakfasted alone. Although the sun had climbed high enough to dispel the fog his uncle still slept the heavy sleep of utter exhaustion. Without disturbing him, therefore, Kendrick had Stinson run the launch over to the city half an hour later. As a concession to the possibility of there being a serious side to the espionage of the girl and her accomplice, he had decided to advise his uncle's lawyer of the adventure; Ferguson then could assume responsibility for the consequences, using his own judgment as to its significance. Also Phil intended to have a chat with President Wade, of the Canadian Lake Shores Railway, if he happened to be in the city; Ben Wade was an old boyhood friend of the Warings and Phil knew that he could talk to him freely without fear of his confidences being abused.
At the docks almost the first person Kendrick encountered was Chic White. Chic was the more or less renowned sporting editor of the _Morning _Recorder_ and he had a most abominable habit of going through the motions of spitting every little while as he talked, more a matter of nervous habit than saliva. He spat dryly three times as he stared at the approaching Kendrick and greeted the erstwhile captain of the 'Varsity rugby champions with a grin that bared two rows of teeth.
"Ye gods! What a fall was there, my countrymen! Wow! Who slipped you the haymaker, Ken?"
"Stick to the quotation, Chic," laughed Phil good-naturedly, barely pausing in his stride. "Got it in the fog last night—Canoe Club stairs in the dark. I had a pretty bad fall."
"So did Humpty-Dumpty!" Mr. White's grin widened, and with a deliberate wink and a final spit he waved his hand and walked off, laughing loudly.
The owner of the black eye went his way, face set in abnormally forbidding lines. People smiled as they passed him on the street. He would have given a ten-dollar bill to have met the redoubtable Mr. McCorquodale around the next corner. He thought of buying one of those pink shields; it would not hide it all, but it might help. He tried tying his handkerchief over his eye as a bandage, but felt so foolish that he tore it off and laughed at himself.
The office of Blatchford Ferguson, barrister, etc., in the Broker's Bank Building, was laid out along somewhat unconventional lines. Of course the public entrance from the corridor gave admission to an outer office where two or three stenographers operated their typewriters under the eye of a law student, while just inside the railing of the entranceway sat a pompadoured office boy who occupied himself variously with an old-fashioned letter-press alongside the vault, with sharpening lead-pencils, chewing gum and guarding the gate in the railing. But the partitions which enclosed this general office were built solid from floor to ceiling and the only sign of an inner presence was a door directly behind the youthful sentry, the ground glass of which bore the single word, "Secretary," in neat gold and black lettering.
The Secretary's office had a private entrance from the public corridor of the building and an inside door, lettered "Loans and Investments." On through this office was still another door, inscribed "Insurance Department," while beyond this second sanctum was a third door which led into the sanctum sanctorum with its unexpected exit upon a narrow back hallway and a dusty flight of stairs by which it was possible without undue publicity to reach the street or, rather, the back lane where carters made deliveries.
At times this carefully planned office arrangement was found to be highly convenient, no less by the confidential Mr. Ferguson than by certain of his clients. For although Blatchford Ferguson, barrister, etc., really could—and did—go barristering about the courts quite legitimately, he also carried on a substantial business in et ceteras. Thus, he could talk to an insurance prospect in a private office provided with insurance files and hung with insurance company calendars; or he could talk to a possible investor in a private office which had just the right financial atmosphere to foster confidence. Buying, selling, borrowing, lending, advising—nothing that could be "farmed out" on a split commission was beneath the notice of Blatch Ferguson, who would have negotiated a deal for a carload of Russian whiskers could he have found a responsible master barber to make the contract with a mattress factory which had the price!
As he shook hands with Conway, the young student who presided over the outer office, Kendrick was conscious that the office boy and the stenographers behind him were enjoying the mild sensation which his black eye inspired. Even Conway was grinning like an idiotic cat from Cheshire. The two had known each other, somewhat casually, at the university.
"I bumped into the parallel bars during a game of volley ball at the gym the other night," he explained gravely. "Is Ferguson in?"
Conway told him to walk right through. Miss Williams would take in his card. Thus it came about that Phil, unescorted, passed through the gate in the railing and on through the door to the secretary's office. As he closed this door behind him he paused for a moment in some uncertainty at finding the secretary's office deserted. Her hat and coat were hanging in place, however, and a half finished letter was in her typewriter; so he ventured through to the open doorway beyond, thinking she might have stepped into the adjoining office.
She had. She had gone right through it and through the second office of the suite also. The young lady was visible through the vista of open doorways and she was so absorbed in her own activities that she was quite oblivious of his presence. For she was kneeling with her ear to the keyhole of the farthest door of all, the one which led into the sanctum sanctorum of her employer, and there was no doubt whatever that she was listening with all her might.
Not a little astonished, Kendrick watched her. Then at his slight cough the girl straightened quickly and stared at him with widened eyes. In answer to his beckoning finger she came towards him slowly, her color mounting swiftly. When she had shut the last door behind her she faced him with an air of defiance.
Kendrick gazed at her in speechless admiration of the picture she made as she stood there, symmetrical figure gracefully erect, her head held high with its elaborate coiffure of brown hair, her dark blue eyes flashing resentment. The creamy column of her well shaped neck, the firm chin, the almost classic perfection of her features, the rich red of her cheeks—wherever did Ferguson go for his secretaries? She was plainly dressed in some dark material with white collar and cuffs; but the sensible office dress served only to heighten the pleasing effect. There was only one jarring note—the fact that she was chewing gum, chewing it rapidly as if to relieve nervous tension.
"Well! Hope you'll know me next time you see me! Get it off your chest please! Whatcha goin' to do about it?"
Kendrick smiled slowly at the incongruity of the speech, even while thankful that her voice at least was not in harsh discord with her appearance, but well modulated.
"I beg your pardon," he apologized, realizing all at once that he had been guilty of staring somewhat longer than was warranted even by the unusual circumstances. "I am very short-sighted and there are times when I cannot distinguish objects at a greater distance than a very few feet. This morning my eyes are exceptionally bad."
She glanced at him quickly as if searching for indications of mockery which were lacking in the courteous tones of his voice.
"If you will be good enough to take in my card——?" he suggested, extending it.
She hesitated, then laid down her notebook and accepted the card without speaking. Ferguson coming to meet him at the door with extended hand, stopped short and stared.
"It's a peach, Phil! I must admit it's a peach!"
"A Lombard plum, you mean, Blatch. How'd I get it? Why, you see,—I had the misfortune to step on a wayward banana skin—— Oh, well, if you really must know, I tried to help an old lady pick up some bundles she'd dropped and she hit me with her umbrella, thinking I was going to grab them and run."
"Come right in. Come right in," chuckled Ferguson. "Here, have a cigar?"
"Thanks, but I'm only staying a jiff. Got to make another call and it's nearly noon now. Would you mind if I leave the door open? The smoke's pretty thick."
"Hit you with an umbrella, eh?" chortled the lawyer with jovial skepticism as he tilted back in his swivel chair. "Deduction: It had a knob on the end of it! Sentence: Thirty days in the woods!" and Mr. Ferguson stroked his nose while he permitted his shoulders to shake in appreciation of his own pleasantry. Mr. Ferguson's nose was fleshy and its color was red.
"On my way there now—going fishing down the French River with an old schoolmate," grinned Phil. "Say, there was a meeting over at my uncle's on the Island last night, Blatch," he added briskly. "I believe you were there. Will you tell me what took place?"
Ferguson sat up. He ran his fingers over his head in a habitual gesture which long since had worn a bald streak along the top. He leaned back again in his chair, the tips of his fingers pressed together, and for a moment scowled thoughtfully at the wall.
"You're getting into deep water, boy," he warned at last slowly. "I don't know where the mischief you got that information; but I'll have to refer you to the Chief himself for your answer. Why, what do you want to know for?"
"Oh, nothing in particular, except—it was very foggy, you remember?—a pretty good night for concealment, if anybody happened to be interested in spying on you people over there. You know more about that than I do."
Mr. Ferguson played a good game of poker; he prided himself upon his self-control. But the seriousness of his manner indicated that he was startled.
"Just what do you mean by that, Phil? You've come here to tell me something. What is it?"
So Kendrick told him, omitting nothing except the fact that the girl had dared him to kiss her, and that when he had done so he had gone in for an involuntary swim.
"And you let that woman go home alone at that hour of the morning? You are neglectful both of your opportunities and your etiquette!" but although the lawyer's tone was light he was very serious as he pursed his lips and scowled.
"Don't go blaming me, Blatch. As soon as I helped her ashore she ran off and the fog was so thick you couldn't see anybody within a couple of feet of you. I tried my best to find out who she was; but she ducked. Besides, how was I to know the thing mattered? I didn't know Uncle Milt was in town even—not at the time."
"I didn't say it mattered, Phil," said Ferguson hastily. He laughed at the idea. "Whatever put it into your head to think this—er—lady was spying on a—an ordinary business meeting? Supposing she was—why, what earthly good would it do her?"
"Search me, Blatch. Thought I'd better tell you about it anyway."
"Quite right, of course. Hm—just so. She got away without leaving a single clue, eh? Not that it matters in the least, but—— You did right in reporting it. Thanks."
"Would you mind telling me if you had anybody in the office here with you just before I came in? Or were you using the telephone?"
"Why," hesitated Ferguson in some surprise, "I was called on the 'phone by an old newspaper acquaintance—yes. Perhaps you know him—Hughey Podmore? He got a job recently as President Wade's private secretary—Canadian Lake Shores Railway. We used to work on the same paper long ago. Why?"
"Oh, nothing—just my idle curiosity. Say, there's something you can do for me, like a good fellow, before I go. Give me a knock-down to the lady outside, will you? Didn't know you owned a peach orchard, Blatch? Who is she?"
Ferguson chuckled as he pressed a button.
"Name's Margaret Williams. My regular stenographer was taken sick suddenly the other day and she sent around this friend of hers to substitute. She's a dandy good worker, too. But you're too late, my boy. She's leaving soon to marry a fellow at Buffalo—er—Miss Williams, allow me to present Mr. Philip Kendrick."
Her bow was very formal and as, at her employer's request, she escorted him to the private exit at her own end of the office, her manner was equally cold.
"I hope you bear me no ill will, Miss Williams," smiled Phil. "I assure you I have done nothing to merit it."
"That is for me to judge," she retorted calmly. "Please go. I do not care to know you, Mr. Kendrick."
Phil turned quickly. It was the second time within twelve hours that a girl had told him that—in those very words, with that same disdainful tone. Why, if he were to shut his eyes he felt sure he could imagine it to be the very voice inflection used by his Fog Lady when delivering the same sentence of exile. Again he found himself guilty of staring.
"Have you ever seen a real, honest-to-goodness amulet, Miss Williams?" he asked eagerly, reaching into his pocket. "I'd like to show you mine before I go, if I may." He slowly unfolded the dollar bill and held out the hand-painted blouse pin, watching her closely.
"What a pretty pin!" she said in a flat, disinterested voice. She looked at it perfunctorily. "I know a man who used to carry a potato to chase rheumatism away. It was planted by a one-eyed, left-handed negro, born on the thirteenth of the month. I've heard of an elk's tooth for pleurisy and a rabbit's foot for evil spirits; but a pin like that? It will lead you into danger instead of away from it."
"Not when it is pinned to a canoe cushion by a beautiful girl at the hour of three o'clock in the morning in a dense fog," declared Kendrick significantly.
"That is very silly," said the haughty Miss Williams with a bored air as she handed it back to him and turned towards her typewriter. "Good-day, Mr. Kendrick. I really must get on with my work."
It was with an unreasonable feeling of disappointment that he bowed himself out. She had not blinked an eyelash! Who was the idiot who first started looking for needles in haystacks anyway? A fool's quest! Mumma! but wasn't he de trop with the ladies? Well, he would buy cigars with the dollar and make a present of the pin to Mrs. Parlby, his uncle's estimable housekeeper.
But he did neither of these things. Instead, he was to continue the folly of keeping both souvenirs and the equal folly of looking at them from time to time—to see if they were safe.
THE TAN SATCHEL
Ordinarily Hugh Podmore, secretary to the President of the Canadian Lake Shores Railway, took a keen interest in his work. If anything, he applied himself more industriously during the many absences of his chief than when President Wade was there to observe and commend, a zeal which might or might not have been a tribute to his conscientiousness. But to-day Mr. Podmore, although dressed with that care which habitually imparted to his well proportioned figure something of the beau brummel,—to-day he was not quite his customary polite self. Things irritated him which ordinarily he would not have noticed, and the morning had dragged for him in quite an unusual way. He had spent much time gazing absently out of the office window at the traffic in the street below, with many futile glances at his watch.
The first shop whistle that led the noonday medley found him pulling down the lid of his roll-top desk and he was reaching for his raincoat when his stenographer entered to inform him that there was a gentleman outside who would not take "No" for an answer. In no very gracious mood he snatched the card from the girl's hand; but the name meant nothing to him and he flung aside his gloves in resentment of the interruption.
"Show'm in," he growled, unlocking the desk and shoving back the lid with a bang.
The big young man who entered in answer to the summons enquired for the President. Everybody who came into that anteroom began the same way and Podmore tilted back in his chair and appraised the other coldly, noting two things particularly—the young man's athletic build and the very marked discoloration of his left eye. Another job hunter!
"State your business, please."
"You will excuse me," said Kendrick, "but the matter is entirely personal between Mr. Wade and myself. Is he in?"
It was a little thing to arouse Podmore's ire. Ordinarily Hugh Podmore was an excellent secretary; but the caller's refusal to state his business or produce his credentials for inspection angered him. He was used to this extreme anxiety of visitors to see the Chief in person; it was a characteristic of the job-hunting crowd.
"The President's out of town," he said irritably. "Besides, he wouldn't see you until you had told me your business anyway. What do you think he keeps a secretary for?"
"To be civil to the public," said Kendrick evenly. "When do you expect him back?" and there was a directness in his look which Podmore found unexpectedly disconcerting.
"Hard to say. He's on the go continually. If your business is important——"
"It is important."
"Then, if you'll give me particulars——," suggested Podmore, reaching for his memorandum pad.
"Be good enough to answer my question, please. When will Mr. Wade be in his office?"
"Sorry, but it's impossible to say, Mr."—he glanced at the card deliberately—"Kendrick. If you are looking for a job——"
"I want to see Mr. Wade personally and as soon as possible," repeated Kendrick, keeping his temper with difficulty. "When will he be available?"
"He's gone on a trip—to the Hot Springs," snapped Podmore. "Come back in a month or six weeks and perhaps you can see him then. Good day, sir."
For a few minutes after the big young man had bowed himself out with mock humility, Mr. Podmore stood fingering the card and frowning at the window. It was an engraved card, his fingers told him. He did not like feeling that he had made a mistake in any way; but that is precisely how he did feel. Yet he was sure he had never met this young man before, in spite of a certain familiarity of face that haunted him. Not being a regular reader of the sporting pages, he was at a loss to account for this, as he prided himself on his memory for faces.
With a shrug in dismissal of the inconsequential, Mr. Podmore went to lunch. He had comfortable quarters at the Queen's Hotel, just a block from the Union Station, and after a light lunch in the big dining-room he idled about the rambling old rotunda for an hour or more, smoking many cigarettes and attempting to read a magazine. The solicitous anxiety of his waiter during luncheon had earned that surprised individual a rebuke and cost him the usual tip; the friendly advances of a hotel guest, which ordinarily would have been met by equal geniality, finally sent Podmore up in the old-fashioned elevator to his room, where he locked the door and began pacing restlessly back and forth. Not until a sixth glance at his watch indicated the approach of 2 o'clock did his unusual fidgetiness begin to disappear; but when at last he walked briskly out of the hotel Mr. Podmore, to all intents, had regained his normal self-possession.
He went straight to the down-town offices of the Alderson Construction Company, arriving punctual to the minute of his appointment. Both Nickleby and Alderson were already there.
"Well, we're all here, Alderson. Are you waiting for somebody to open with prayer?" complained J. Cuthbert Nickleby with an impatient glance at his watch after the greetings were over. "I don't see why the devil you needed me here at all, Pod. Why all the ceremony?" The President of the Interprovincial Loan & Savings Company was a thin, sallow man with a thin, tight line of a mouth. The cynicism of his expression was chronic.
"Because you'd be the first to holler if anything went wrong," retorted Podmore, eyeing him pointedly as he tilted his hat to the back of his head and proceeded calmly to skin the glove from his left hand. "We're all in this together, J. C., and that's why I insisted on you being here—to see that everything is according to Hoyle."
"Aint getting cold feet already are you?"
An easy laugh was Mr. Podmore's only rejoinder to this insult. They both watched Alderson, who had swung open the door of the safe and was reaching into its depths. The contractor was stout and florid, and his face was flushed as he rose jerkingly from his knee and tossed a package of crisp bank notes to the table.
"Well, there 'tis, just as it come from the Inter-provincial this mornin'," he remarked, and picked up his cigar from the edge of the safe.
"Look at the way he tosses it around, would you!" chuckled Podmore. "You could buy a bunch of peanuts with that package, Frank,—a million bags at a nickle the bag." This was a hit at Alderson's fondness for munching peanuts, and Alderson's tenor laugh led the trio. Podmore picked up the package and riffled the bills carelessly. "Counted it, J. C.?"
"Fifty thousand," nodded Nickleby.
"That satchel come, Alderson? Thanks." Podmore held it up—an ordinary cheap satchel of medium size, tan in color, imitation leather and imitation brass catches. "I bought this, J. C., so that we'd have one that hadn't been tampered with and that couldn't be identified as belonging to any of us, you understand. All right, Frank, seal her up."
Alderson placed the package of bills in a large, strong blue linen envelope which he had ready to hand, and carefully gummed down the flap. Under the amused eye of Nickleby he proceeded to hold a stick of gray sealing-wax in the flame of a match and to daub this additional precaution upon the flap. The envelope was then placed in the new tan satchel, the catches snapped and the satchel locked by Podmore, who thereupon walked over to the President of the Interprovincial Loan & Savings Company and handed him the key.
"That stays in your pocket till you get to Blatch Ferguson's office, Nickleby. You hand it to Ferguson personally," and again Podmore eyed the banker keenly. "Let him do the opening himself. All you're there for is to see that he actually gets this money, and that ends the transaction so far as we're concerned." He winked, and both the gentlemen laughed as if much humor underlay the remark.
"I will now proceed to put on our little private identification mark," continued Podmore with an air of having thought of everything, and he made a triangular scratch on one end of the satchel with his pocket-knife.
"Good Lord, Pod!" exclaimed the financier with a laugh. "Is it necessary to have all this fuss over this thing?"
"Take all the chances you like when you're by your lonesome, old man; but you don't do it when I'm with you," said Mr. Hugh Podmore, smilingly unperturbed by ridicule. "It's the fellow who overlooks these very things that sometimes gets stung. It isn't at all likely, I'll admit, that the simple delivery of this money a distance of a few blocks requires all this 'fuss,' as you call it; but why take chances just to save a little trouble? Pays to play safe every time, J. C. What about that detective, Alderson?"
"Oh, that feller's on the job. Here, you can see'm standin' out there on the corner, waitin' fer our man to show up." Podmore followed Alderson to the window. "Naw, over there to the right—beside the post. Must be a good half hour since his office phoned he was leavin'. Say, he's lookin' up here. I'll give 'm the high sign now."
"Well, I guess everything's O.K., then. Call in your messenger and get a move on. I'm due at the depot soon to meet the Chief." Podmore dropped into a chair and lighted a cigarette with a look of satisfaction on his face.
Alderson leaned over and pressed a button. The young man who responded was James Stiles, bookkeeper and general office clerk. As he stood in the doorway, respectful enquiry in his whole attitude, pen in hand, linen office jacket sagging at the pockets, forearms encased in black sateen sleeve-protectors and a daub of ink on his fingers, there was little to distinguish him from hundreds of his type to be seen in modern offices. He had rather a pleasant face, Podmore thought, a little dull perhaps in its ingenuousness. He was not much more than a boy.
"Jimmy," instructed Alderson briskly, "drop whatever you're at and take this satchel over to Mr. Ferguson's office in the Brokers' Bank Building. It's got some mighty important legal papers inside an' I want you to be sure an' hand it personally to Mr. Ferguson himself. I told him I'd send 'em over right after lunch; so you don't need to say nothin'—just hand it to Mr. Ferguson, y'understand. Blatchford Ferguson, the lawyer,—you know where his office is."
"Yes, sir. Want me to ask for a receipt?"
"Uh? No, never mind a receipt. It'll be all right."
The young bookkeeper picked up the satchel, nodding respectfully to the President of the Interprovincial Loan & Savings Company as he quietly closed the door behind him. He had been formerly employed at the Interprovincial; in fact, it was to Nickleby's personal recommendation that he owed his present position with the construction company.
The departure of Stiles with the satchel, of whose precious contents he had been kept in ignorance, was a signal for the separation of the trio in Alderson's office. With a wave of the hand Podmore hurried off towards the Union Station, and presently J. Cuthbert Nickleby made his way more leisurely to his waiting automobile.
On the corner opposite the building in which the Alderson Construction Company had its down-town offices the man from the Brady Detective Agency was lighting a fresh cigar. He sauntered around the corner, then quickened his pace to get closer to the briskly walking young man with the tan satchel. He continued to follow the bookkeeper at a convenient distance.
It was the season when those who have the misfortune to be confined to indoor tasks chafe most in the leash—a beautiful May day of blue sky and sunshine and balmy air that called insistently to open places of green grass and the luxury of idleness and vagrant dreaming. Young Jimmy Stiles felt the call and he skipped along with carefree enjoyment of his brief respite. He laughed gaily at a pair of dogs who seemed inclined to question each other's veracity and sent them scampering with a whoop, swinging the satchel around his head. He pulled down his vest, felt his tie and winked boldly as he passed a pretty girl. He broke into a whistle presently, practising the latest rag-time air with an earnestness which found no ennui in repetition of tune, and it was while thus absorbed that he went by the Jessup Grill. He was well beyond the entrance before he realized that his name was being called and that somebody had darted out from the doorway to overtake him.
"Oh, there, Jimmy! Won't you say good-bye to me?"
"Why, hello, Mr. Clayton," grinned Stiles as he took the extended hand. "Goin' away?"
"Holidays can't last forever, Jimmy. I'm leaving for home this afternoon—just getting ready to go to the depot when I saw you. Come on in and join me in a glass of beer for good luck."
"Nothin' doin'! 'The lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine'," recited Stiles, rolling his eyes in exaggerated piety. "No, honest, I can't," he protested as the other pulled on his arm. "I'm on an important message for the boss an' I got to hustle right back to the office."
"Aw, come on. It won't take a minute. I'm in a hustle myself to catch the train; but I want to give you a message for——" Robert Clayton hesitated, coughed in slight embarrassment, and looked helpless. "——for somebody you know up at the church," he pleaded.
Jimmy Stiles nodded in grinning comprehension.
"Well, you know how to pick 'em, Mr. Clayton. I'll say that for you. Anne's a mighty swell girl."
"I've never met a finer one," said Mr. Clayton, looking serious.
"Oh, this town's full of 'em," cried Jimmy generously. "Say, they got a long lemonade they don't make bad in here—sliced orange and a cherry on top. I'll go you one. I guess it won't take a jiff."
"Good!" cried Clayton, leading the way without more ado into the Jessup.
He picked up his raincoat which he had left on a chair near the door, flung over his travelling bag, and carried both with him through the swing doors into the buffet. Here they found a vacant table and Clayton beckoned a waiter and set his grip and coat on the floor between the two chairs. Stiles dropped the tan satchel alongside the raincoat and grinned across at Clayton with evident pleasure. This was the right way for gentlemen to bid each other farewell, and he helped himself from the other's proffered cigarette case with the air of doing this sort of thing every day. Neither of them appeared to pay any attention to the man who entered behind them, sat down at the table next the wall and ordered a glass of beer; patrons were coming and going and the man was just an ordinary citizen entitled to quench his thirst if he so desired.
The two young fellows chatted and laughed over their refreshments for perhaps five or ten minutes. It was Clayton who finally glanced at his watch and jumped to his feet. He picked up raincoat and grip and shook hands. Stiles picked up the tan satchel and out on the street they shook hands once more. Clayton boarded a street-car, and with a final wave of good-will Jimmy Stiles continued on his way.
At a convenient distance the private detective followed. He walked into the Brokers' Bank Building just as the bookkeeper pushed the elevator bell. They went up in the same elevator to the fifth floor, where they both got out. The detective, sauntering down the corridor, observed Stiles enter the office of Blatchford Ferguson, Barrister, Notary Public, etc.