GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON
AUTHOR OF "GRAUSTARK," "THE HOLLOW OF HER HAND," "THE PRINCE OF GRAUSTARK," ETC.
WITH FRONTISPIECE BY C. ALLAN GILBERT
I. THE FIRST WAYFARER AND THE SECOND WAYFARER MEET AND PART ON THE HIGHWAY
II. THE FIRST WAYFARER LAYS HIS PACK ASIDE AND FALLS IN WITH FRIENDS
III. MR. RUSHCROFT DISSOLVES, MR. JONES INTERVENES, AND TWO MEN RIDE AWAY
IV. AN EXTRAORDINARY CHAMBERMAID, A MIDNIGHT TRAGEDY, AND A MAN WHO SAID "THANK YOU"
V. THE FARM-BOY TELLS A GHASTLY STORY, AND AN IRISHMAN ENTERS
VI. CHARITY BEGINS FAR FROM HOME, AND A STROLL IN THE WILDWOOD FOLLOWS
VII. SPUN-GOLD HAIR, BLUE EYES, AND VARIOUS ENCOUNTERS
VIII. A NOTE, SOME FANCIES, AND AN EXPEDITION IN QUEST OF FACTS
IX. THE FIRST WAYFARER, THE SECOND WAYFARER, AND THE SPIRIT OF CHIVALRY ASCENDANT
X. THE PRISONER OF GREEN FANCY, AND THE LAMENT OF PETER THE CHAUFFEUR
XI. MR. SPROUSE ABANDONS LITERATURE AT AN EARLY HOUR IN THE MORNING
XII. THE FIRST WAYFARER ACCEPTS AN INVITATION, AND MR. DILLINGFORD BELABORS A PROXY
XIII. THE SECOND WAYFARER RECEIVES TWO VISITORS AT MIDNIGHT
XIV. A FLIGHT, A STONE-CUTTER'S SHED, AND A VOICE OUTSIDE
XV. LARGE BODIES MOVE SLOWLY,—BUT MR. SPROUSE WAS SMALLER THAN THE AVERAGE
XVI. THE FIRST WAYFARER VISITS A SHRINE, CONFESSES, AND TAKES AN OATH
XVII. THE SECOND WAYFARER IS TRANSFORMED, AND MARRIAGE IS FLOUTED
XVIII. MR. SPROUSE CONTINUES TO BE PERPLEXING, BUT PUTS HIS NOSE TO THE GROUND
XIX. A TRIP BY NIGHT, A SUPPER, AND A LATE ARRIVAL
XX. THE FIRST WAYFARER HAS ONE TREASURE THRUST UPON HIM,—AND FORTHWITH CLAIMS ANOTHER
XXI. THE END IN SIGHT
THE FIRST WAYFARER AND THE SECOND WAYFARER MEET AND PART ON THE HIGHWAY
A solitary figure trudged along the narrow road that wound its serpentinous way through the dismal, forbidding depths of the forest: a man who, though weary and footsore, lagged not in his swift, resolute advance. Night was coming on, and with it the no uncertain prospects of storm. Through the foliage that overhung the wretched road, his ever-lifting and apprehensive eye caught sight of the thunder-black, low-lying clouds that swept over the mountain and bore down upon the green, whistling tops of the trees. At a cross-road below he had encountered a small girl driving homeward the cows. She was afraid of the big, strange man with the bundle on his back and the stout walking stick in his hand: to her a remarkable creature who wore "knee pants" and stockings like a boy on Sunday, and hob-nail shoes, and a funny coat with "pleats" and a belt, and a green hat with a feather sticking up from the band. His agreeable voice and his amiable smile had no charm for her. He merely wanted to know how far it was to the nearest village, but she stared in alarm and edged away as if preparing to break into mad flight the instant she was safely past him with a clear way ahead.
"Don't be afraid," he said gently. "And here! Catch it if you can." He tossed a coin across the road. It struck at her feet and rolled into the high grass. She did not divert her gaze for the fraction of a second. "I'm a stranger up here and I want to find some place to sleep for the night. Surely you have a tongue, haven't you?" By dint of persuasive smiles and smirks that would have sickened him at any other time he finally induced her to say that if he kept right on until he came to the turnpike he would find a sign-post telling him where to get gasolene.
"But I don't want gasolene. I want bread and butter," he said.
"Well, you can git bread an' butter there too," she said. "Food fer man an' beast, it says."
"A boarding-house?" he substituted.
"It's a shindy," she said, painfully. "Men get drunk there. Pap calls it a tavern, but Ma says it's a shindy."
"A road-house, eh?" She was puzzled—and silent. "Thank you. You'll find the quarter in the grass. Good-bye."
He lifted his queer green hat and strode away, too much of a gentleman to embarrass her by looking back. If he had done so he would have seen her grubbing stealthily in the grass, not with her brown little hands, but with the wriggling toes of a bare foot on which the mud, perhaps of yesterday, had caked. She was too proud to stoop.
At last he came to the "pike" and there, sure enough, was the sign- post. A huge, crudely painted hand pointed to the left, and on what was intended to be the sleeve of a very stiff and unflinching arm these words were printed in scaly white: "Hart's Tavern. Food for Man and Beast. Also Gasolene. Established 1798. 1 mile." "Also Gasolene" was freshly painted and crowded its elders in a most disrespectful manner.
The chill spring wind of the gale was sweeping in the direction indicated by the giant forefinger. There was little consolation in the thought that a mile lay between him and shelter, but it was a relief to know that he would have the wind at his back. Darkness was settling over the land. The lofty hills seemed to be closing in as if to smother the breath out of this insolent adventurer who walked alone among them. He was an outsider. He did not belong there. He came from the lowlands and he was an object of scorn.
On the opposite side of the "pike," in the angle formed by a junction with the narrow mountain road, stood a humbler sign-post, lettered so indistinctly that it deserved the compassion of all observers because of its humility. Swerving in his hurried passage, the tall stranger drew near this shrinking friend to the uncertain traveller, and was suddenly aware of another presence in the roadway.
A woman appeared, as if from nowhere, almost at his side. He drew back to let her pass. She stopped before the little sign-post, and together they made out the faint directions.
To the right and up the mountain road Frogg's Corner lay four miles and a half away; Pitcairn was six miles back over the road which the man had travelled. Two miles and a half down the turnpike was Spanish Falls, a railway station, and four miles above the cross-roads where the man and woman stood peering through the darkness at the laconic sign-post reposed the village of Saint Elizabeth. Hart's Tavern was on the road to Saint Elizabeth, and the man, with barely a glance at his fellow-traveller, started briskly off in that direction.
Lightning was flashing fitfully beyond the barrier heights and faraway thunder came to his ears. He knew that these wild mountain storms moved swiftly; his chance of reaching the tavern ahead of the deluge was exceedingly slim. His long, powerful legs had carried him twenty or thirty paces before he came to a sudden halt.
What of this lone woman who traversed the highway? Obviously she too was a stranger on the road, and a glance over his shoulder supported a first impression: she was carrying a stout travelling bag. His first glimpse of her had been extremely casual,—indeed he had paid no attention to her at all, so eager was he to read the directions and be on his way.
She was standing quite still in front of the sign-post, peering up the road toward Frogg's Corner,—confronted by a steep climb that led into black and sinister timberlands above the narrow strip of pasture bordering the pike.
The fierce wind pinned her skirts to her slender body as she leaned against the gale, gripping her hat tightly with one hand and straining under the weight of the bag in the other. The ends of a veil whipped furiously about her head, and, even in the gathering darkness, he could see a strand or two of hair keeping them company.
He hesitated. Evidently her way was up the steep, winding road and into the dark forest, a far from appealing prospect. Not a sign of habitation was visible along the black ridge of the wood; no lighted window peeped down from the shadows, no smoke curled up from unseen kitchen stoves. Gallantry ordered him to proffer his aid or, at the least, advice to the woman, be she young or old, native or stranger.
Retracing his steps, he called out to her above the gale:
"Can I be of any assistance to you?"
She turned quickly. He saw that the veil was drawn tightly over her face.
"No, thank you," she replied. Her voice, despite a certain nervous note, was soft and clear and gentle,—the voice and speech of a well- bred person who was young and resolute.
"Pardon me, but have you much farther to go? The storm will soon be upon us, and—surely you will not consider me presumptuous—I don't like the idea of your being caught out in—"
"What is to be done about it?" she inquired, resignedly. "I must go on. I can't wait here, you know, to be washed back to the place I started from."
He smiled. She had wit as well as determination. There was the suggestion of mirth in her voice—and certainly it was a most pleasing, agreeable voice.
"If I can be of the least assistance to you, pray don't hesitate to command me. I am a sort of tramp, you might say, and I travel as well by night as I do by day,—so don't feel that you are putting me to any inconvenience. Are you by any chance bound for Hart's Tavern? If so, I will be glad to lag behind and carry your bag."
"You are very good, but I am not bound for Hart's Tavern, wherever that may be. Thank you, just the same. You appear to be an uncommonly genteel tramp, and it isn't because I am afraid you might make off with my belongings." She added the last by way of apology.
He smiled—and then frowned as he cast an uneasy look at the black clouds now rolling ominously up over the mountain ridge.
"By Jove, we're going to catch it good and hard," he exclaimed. "Better take my advice. These storms are terrible. I know, for I've encountered half a dozen of them in the past week. They fairly tear one to pieces."
"Are you trying to frighten me?"
"Yes," he confessed. "Better to frighten you in advance than to let it come later on when you haven't any one to turn to in your terror. You are a stranger in these parts?"
"Yes. The railway station is a few miles below here. I have walked all the way. There was no one to meet me. You are a stranger also, so it is useless to inquire if you know whether this road leads to Green Fancy."
"Green Fancy? Sounds attractive. I'm sorry I can't enlighten you." He drew a small electric torch from his pocket and directed its slender ray upon the sign-post. So fierce was the gale by this time that he was compelled to brace his strong body against the wind.
"It is on the road to Frogg's Corner," she explained nervously. "A mile and a half, so I am told. It isn't on the sign-post. It is a house, not a village. Thank you for your kindness. And I am not at all frightened," she added, raising her voice slightly.
"But you ARE" he cried. "You're scared half out of your wits. You can't fool me. I'd be scared myself at the thought of venturing into those woods up yonder."
"Well, then, I AM frightened," she confessed plaintively. "Almost out of my boots."
"That settles it," he said flatly. "You shall not undertake it."
"Oh, but I must. I am expected. It is import—"
"If you are expected, why didn't some one meet you at the station? Seems to me—"
"Hark! Do you hear—doesn't that sound like an automobile—Ah!" The hoarse honk of an automobile horn rose above the howling wind, and an instant later two faint lights came rushing toward them around a bend in the mountain road. "Better late than never," she cried, her voice vibrant once more.
He grasped her arm and jerked her out of the path of the on-coming machine, whose driver was sending it along at a mad rate, regardless of ruts and stones and curves. The car careened as it swung into the pike, skidded alarmingly, and then the brakes were jammed down. Attended by a vast grinding of gears and wheels, the rattling old car came to a stop fifty feet or more beyond them.
"I'd sooner walk than take my chances in an antediluvian rattle-trap like that," said the tall wayfarer, bending quite close to her ear. "It will fall to pieces before you—"
But she was running down the road towards the car, calling out sharply to the driver. He stooped over and took up the travelling bag she had dropped in her haste and excitement. It was heavy, amazingly heavy.
"I shouldn't like to carry that a mile and a half," he said to himself.
The voice of the belated driver came to his ears on the swift wind. It was high pitched and unmistakably apologetic. He could not hear what she was saying to him, but there wasn't much doubt as to the nature of her remarks. She was roundly upbraiding him.
Urged to action by thoughts of his own plight, he hurried to her side and said:
"Excuse me, please. You dropped something. Shall I put it up in front or in the tonneau?"
The whimsical note in his voice brought a quick, responsive laugh from her lips.
"Thank you so much. I am frightfully careless with my valuables. Would you mind putting it in behind? Thanks!" Her tone altered completely as she ordered the man to turn the car around—"And be quick about it," she added.
The first drops of rain pelted down from the now thoroughly black dome above them, striking in the road with the sharpness of pebbles.
"Lucky it's a limousine," said the tall traveller. "Better hop in. We'll be getting it hard in a second or two."
"I can't very well hop in while he's backing and twisting like that, can I?" she laughed. He was acutely aware of a strained, nervous note in her voice, as of one who is confronted by an undertaking calling for considerable fortitude.
"Are you quite sure of this man?" he asked.
"Absolutely," she replied, after a pause.
"You know him, eh?"
"By reputation," she said briefly, and without a trace of laughter.
"Well, that comforts me to some extent," he said, but dubiously.
She was silent for a moment and then turned to him impulsively.
"You must let me take you on to the Tavern in the car," she said. "Turn about is fair play. I cannot allow you to—"
"Never mind about me," he broke in cheerily. He had been wondering if she would make the offer, and he felt better now that she had done so. "I'm accustomed to roughing it. I don't mind a soaking. I've had hundreds of 'em."
"Just the same, you shall not have one to-night," she announced firmly. The car stopped beside them. "Get in behind. I shall sit with the driver."
If any one had told him that this rattling, dilapidated automobile,— ten years old, at the very least, he would have sworn,—was capable of covering the mile in less than two minutes, he would have laughed in his face. Almost before he realised that they were on the way up the straight, dark road, the lights in the windows of Hart's Tavern came into view. Once more the bounding, swaying car came to a stop under brakes, and he was relaxing after the strain of the most hair-raising ride he had ever experienced.
Not a word had been spoken during the trip. The front windows were lowered. The driver,—an old, hatchet-faced man,—had uttered a single word just before throwing in the clutch at the cross-roads in response to the young woman's crisp command to drive to Hart's Tavern. That word was uttered under his breath and it is not necessary to repeat it here.
He lost no time in climbing out of the car. As he leaped to the ground and raised his green hat, he took a second look at the automobile,—a look of mingled wonder and respect. It was an old-fashioned, high- powered Panhard, capable, despite its antiquity, of astonishing speed in any sort of going.
"For heaven's sake," he began, shouting to her above the roar of the wind and rain, "don't let him drive like that over those—"
"You're getting wet," she cried out, a thrill in her voice. "Good night,—and thank you!"
"Look out!" rasped the unpleasant driver, and in went the clutch. The man in the road jumped hastily to one side as the car shot backward with a jerk, curved sharply, stopped for the fraction of a second, and then bounded forward again, headed for the cross-roads.
"Thanks!" shouted the late passenger after the receding tail light, and dashed up the steps to the porch that ran the full length of Hart's Tavern. In the shelter of its low-lying roof, he stopped short and once more peered down the dark, rain-swept road. A flash of lightning revealed the flying automobile. He waited for a second flash. It came an instant later, but the car was no longer visible. He shook his head. "I hope the blamed old fool knows what he's doing, hitting it up like that over a wet road. There'll be a double funeral in this neck of the woods if anything goes wrong," he reflected. Still shaking his head, he faced the closed door of the Tavern.
A huge, old-fashioned lantern hung above the portal, creaking and straining in the wind, dragging at its stout supports and threatening every instant to break loose and go frolicking away with the storm.
The sound of the rain on the clap-board roof was deafening. At the lower end of the porch the water swished in with all the velocity of a gigantic wave breaking over a ship at sea. The wind howled, the thunder roared and almost like cannon-fire were the successive crashes of lightning among the trees out there in the path of fury.
There were lights in several of the windows opening upon the porch; the wooden shutters not only were ajar but were banging savagely against the walls. Even in the dim, grim light shed by the lantern he could see that the building was of an age far beyond the ken of any living man. He recalled the words of the informing sign-post: "Established in 1798." One hundred and eighteen years old, and still baffling the assaults of all the elements in a region where they were never timid!
It may, in all truth, be a "shindy," thought he, but it had led a gallant life.
The broad, thick weather-boarding, overlapping in layers, was brown with age and smooth with the polishing of time and the backs, no doubt, of countless loiterers who had come and gone in the making of the narrative that Hart's Tavern could relate. The porch itself, while old, was comparatively modern; it did not belong to the century in which the inn itself was built, for in those far-off days men did not waste time, timber or thought on the unnecessary. While the planks in the floor were worn and the uprights battered and whittled out of their pristine shapeliness, they were but grandchildren to the parent building to which they clung. Stout and, beyond question, venerable benches stood close to the wall on both sides of the entrance. Directly over the broad, low door with its big wooden latch and bar, was the word "Welcome," rudely carved in the oak beam. It required no cultured eye to see that the letters had been cut, deep and strong, into the timber, not with the tool of the skilled wood carver but with the hunting knife of an ambitious pioneer.
A shocking incongruity marred the whole effect. Suspended at the side of this hundred-year-old doorway was a black and gold, shield-shaped ornament of no inconsiderable dimensions informing the observer that a certain brand of lager beer was to be had inside.
He lifted the latch and, being a tall man, involuntarily stooped as he passed through the door, a needless precaution, for gaunt, gigantic mountaineers had entered there before him and without bending their arrogant heads.
THE FIRST WAYFARER LAYS HIS PACK ASIDE AND FALLS IN WITH FRIENDS
The little hall in which he found himself was the "office" through which all men must pass who come as guests to Hart's Tavern. A steep, angular staircase took up one end of the room. Set in beneath its upper turn was the counter over which the business of the house was transacted, and behind this a man was engaged in the peaceful occupation of smoking a corn-cob pipe. He removed the pipe, brushed his long moustache with the back of a bony hand, and bowed slowly and with grave ceremony to the arrival.
An open door to the right of the stairway gave entrance to a room from which came the sound of a deep, sonorous voice, employed in what turned out to be a conversational solo. To the left another door led to what was evidently the dining-room. The glance that the stranger sent in that direction revealed two or three tables, covered with white cloths.
"Can you put me up for the night?" he inquired, advancing to the counter.
"You look like a feller who'd want a room with bath," drawled the man behind the counter, surveying the applicant from head to foot. "Which we ain't got," he added.
"I'll be satisfied to have a room with a bed," said the other.
"Sign here," was the laconic response. He went to the trouble of actually putting his finger on the line where the guest was expected to write his name.
"Can I have supper?"
"Food for man and beast," said the other patiently. He slapped his palm upon a cracked call-bell, and then looked at the fresh name on the page. "Thomas K. Barnes, New York," he read aloud. He eyed the newcomer once more. "And automobile?"
"No. I'm walking."
"Didn't I hear you just come up in a car?"
"A fellow gave me a lift from the cross-roads."
"I see. My name is Jones, Putnam Jones. I run this place. My father an' grandfather run it before me. Glad to meet you, Mr. Barnes. We used to have a hostler here named Barnes. What's your idea fer footin' it this time o' the year?"
"I do something like this every spring. A month or six weeks of it puts me in fine shape for a vacation later on," supplied Mr. Barnes whimsically.
Mr. Jones allowed a grin to steal over his seamed face. He re-inserted the corn-cob pipe and took a couple of pulls at it.
"I never been to New York, but it must be a heavenly place for a vacation, if a feller c'n judge by what some of my present boarders have to say about it. It's a sort of play-actor's paradise, ain't it?"
"It is paradise to every actor who happens to be on the road, Mr. Jones," said Barnes, slipping his big pack from his shoulders and letting it slide to the floor.
"Hear that feller in the tap-room talkin'? Well, he is one of the leading actors in New York,—in the world, for that matter. He's been talkin' about Broadway for nearly a week now, steady."
"May I enquire what he is doing up here in the wilds?"
"At present he ain't doing anything except talk. Last week he was treadin' the boards, as he puts it himself. Busted. Up the flue. Showed last Saturday night in Hornville, eighteen mile north of here, and immediately after the performance him and his whole troupe started to walk back to New York, a good four hunderd mile. They started out the back way of the opery house and nobody missed 'em till next mornin' except the sheriff, and he didn't miss 'em till they'd got over the county line into our bailiwick. Four of 'em are still stoppin' here just because I ain't got the heart to turn 'em out ner the spare money to buy 'em tickets to New York. Here comes one of 'em now. Mr. Dillingford, will you show this gentleman to room eleven, and carry his baggage up fer him? And maybe he'll want a pitcher of warm water to wash and shave in." He turned to the new guest and smiled apologetically.
"We're a little short o' help just now, Mr. Barnes, and Mr. Dillingford has kindly consented to—"
"My God!" gasped Mr. Dillingford, staring at the register. "Some one from little old New York? My word, sir, you—Won't you have a—er— little something to drink with me before you—"
"He wants something to eat," interrupted Mr. Jones sharply. "Tell Mr. Bacon to step up to his room and take the order."
"All right, old chap,—nothing easier," said Mr. Dillingford genially. "Just climb up the elevator, Mr. Barnes. We do this to get up an appetite. When did you leave New York?"
Taking up a lighted kerosene lamp and the heavy pack, Mr. Clarence Dillingford led the way up the stairs. He was a chubby individual of indefinite age. At a glance you would have said he was under twenty- one; a second look would have convinced you that he was nearer forty- one. He was quite shabby, but chin and cheek were as clean as that of a freshly scrubbed boy. He may not have changed his collar for days but he lived up to the traditions of his profession by shaving twice every twenty-four hours.
Depositing Barnes' pack on a chair in the little bedroom at the end of the hall upstairs, he favoured the guest with a perfectly unabashed grin.
"I'm not doing this to oblige old man Jones, you know. I won't attempt to deceive you. I'm working out a daily bread-bill. Chuck three times a day and a bed to sleep in, that's what I'm doing it for, so don't get it into your head that I applied for the job. Let me take a look at you. I want to get a good square peep at a man who has the means to go somewhere else and yet is boob enough to come to this gosh-awful place of his own free will and accord. Darn it, you LOOK intelligent. I don't get you at all. What's the matter? Are you a fugitive from justice?"
Barnes laughed aloud. There was no withstanding the fellow's sprightly impudence.
"I happen to enjoy walking," said he.
"If I enjoyed it as much as you do, I'd be limping into Harlem by this time," said Mr. Dillingford sadly. "But, you see, I'm an actor. I'm too proud to walk."
"Up against poor business, I presume?"
"Up against no business at all," said Mr. Dillingford. "We couldn't even get 'em to come in on passes. Last Saturday night we had out enough paper to fill the house and, by gosh, only eleven people showed up. You can't beat that, can you? Three of 'em paid to get in. That made a dollar and a half, box office. We nearly had to give it back."
"Bad weather?" suggested Barnes feelingly. He had removed his wet coat, and stood waiting.
"Nope. Moving pictures. They'd sooner pay ten cents to see a movie than to come in and see us free. The old man was so desperate he tried to kill himself the morning we arrived at this joint."
"You mean the star? Poison, rope or pistol?"
"Whiskey. He tried to drink himself to death. Before old Jones got onto him he had put down seven dollars' worth of booze, and now we've got to help wipe out the account. But why complain? It's all in a day's—"
The cracked bell on the office desk interrupted him, somewhat peremptorially. Mr. Dillingford's face assumed an expression of profound dignity. He lowered his voice as he gave vent to the following:
"That man Jones is the meanest human being God ever let—Yes, sir, coming, sir!" He started for the open door with surprising alacrity.
"Never mind the hot water," said Barnes, sorry for the little man.
"No use," said Mr. Dillingford dejectedly. "He charges ten cents for hot water. You've got to have it whether you want it or not. Remember that you are in the very last stages of New England. The worst affliction known to the human race. So long. I'll be back in two shakes of a lamb's—" The remainder of his promise was lost in the rush of exit.
Barnes surveyed the little bed-chamber. It was just what he had expected it would be. The walls were covered with a garish paper selected by one who had an eye but not a taste for colour: bright pink flowers that looked more or less like chunks of a shattered water melon spilt promiscuously over a background of pearl grey. There was every indication that it had been hung recently. Indeed there was a distinct aroma of fresh flour paste. The bedstead, bureau and washstand were likewise offensively modern. Everything was as clean as a pin, however, and the bed looked comfortable. He stepped to the small, many-paned window and looked out into the night. The storm was at its height. In all his life he never had heard such a clatter of rain, nor a wind that shrieked so appallingly.
His thoughts went quite naturally to the woman who was out there in the thick of it. He wondered how she was faring, and lamented that she was not in his place now and he in hers. A smile lighted his eyes. She had such a nice voice and such a quaint way of putting things into words. What was she doing up in this God-forsaken country? And how could she be so certain of that grumpy old man whom she had never laid eyes on before? What was the name of the place she was bound for? Green Fancy! What an odd name for a house! And what sort of house—
His reflections were interrupted by the return of Mr. Dillingford, who carried a huge pewter pitcher from which steam arose in volume. At his heels strode a tall, cadaverous person in a checked suit.
Never had Barnes seen anything quite so overpowering in the way of a suit. Joseph's coat of many colours was no longer a vision of childhood. It was a reality. The checks were an inch square, and each cube had a narrow border of azure blue. The general tone was a dirty grey, due no doubt to age and a constitution that would not allow it to outlive its usefulness.
"Meet Mr. Bacon, Mr. Barnes," introduced Mr. Dillingford, going to the needless exertion of indicating Mr. Bacon with a generous sweep of his free hand. "Our heavy leads. Mr. Montague Bacon, also of New York."
"Ham and eggs, pork tenderloin, country sausage, rump steak and spring chicken," said Mr. Bacon, in a cavernous voice, getting it over with while the list was fresh in his memory. "Fried and boiled potatoes, beans, succotash, onions, stewed tomatoes and—er—just a moment, please. Fried and boiled potatoes, beans—"
"Learn your lines, Ague," said Mr. Dillingford, from the washstand. "We call him Ague for short, Mr. Barnes, because he's always shaky with his lines."
"Ham and eggs, potatoes and a cup or two of coffee," said Barnes, suppressing a desire to laugh.
"And apple pie," concluded the waiter, triumphantly. "I knew I'd get it if you gave me time. As you may have observed, my dear sir, I am not what you would call an experienced waiter. As a matter of fact, I—"
"I told him you were an actor," interrupted his friend. "Run along now and give the order to Mother Jones. Mr. Barnes is hungry."
"I am delighted to meet you, Mr. Barnes," said Mr. Bacon, extending his hand. As he did so, his coat sleeve receded half way to the elbow, revealing the full expanse of a frayed cuff. "So delighted, in fact, that it gives me great pleasure to inform you that you have at last encountered a waiter who does not expect a tip. God forbid that I should ever sink so low as that. I have been a villain of the deepest dye in a score or more of productions—many of them depending to a large extent upon the character of the work I did in—"
"Actor stuff," inserted Mr. Dillingford, unfeelingly.
"—And I have been hissed a thousand times by gallery gods and kitchen angels from one end of this broad land to the other, but never, sir, never in all my career have I been obliged to play such a diabolical part as I am playing here, and, dammit, sir, I am denied even the tribute of a healthy hiss. This is—"
The bell downstairs rang violently. Mr. Bacon departed in great haste.
While the traveller performed his ablutions, Mr. Dillingford, for the moment disengaged, sat upon the edge of the bed and enjoyed himself. He talked.
"We were nine at the start," said he, pensively. "Gradually we were reduced to seven, not including the manager. I doubled and so did Miss Hughes,—a very charming actress, by the way, who will soon be heard of on Broadway unless I miss my guess. The last week I was playing Dick Cranford, light juvenile, and General Parsons, comedy old man. In the second act Dick has to meet the general face to face and ask him for his daughter's hand. Miss Hughes was Amy Parsons, and, as I say, doubled along toward the end. She played her own mother. The best you could say for the arrangement was that the family resemblance was remarkable. I never saw a mother and daughter look so much alike. You see, she didn't have time to change her make-up or costume, so all she could do was to put on a long shawl and a grey wig, and that made a mother of her. Well, we had a terrible time getting around that scene between Dick and the general. Amy and her mother were in on it too, and Mrs. Parsons was supposed to faint. It looked absolutely impossible for Miss Hughes. But we got around it, all right."
"How, may I ask?" enquired Barnes, over the edge of a towel.
"Just as I was about to enter to tackle the old man, who was seated in his library with Mrs. Parsons, the lights went out. I jumped up and addressed the audience, telling 'em (almost in a confidential whisper, there were so darned few of 'em) that there was nothing to be alarmed about and the act would go right on. Then Amy and Dick came on in total darkness, and the audience never got wise to the game. When the lights went up, there was Amy and Dick embracing each other in plain view, the old folks nowhere in sight. General Parsons had dragged the old lady into the next room. We made our changes right there on the stage, speaking all four parts at the same time."
"Pretty clever," said Barnes.
"My idea," announced Mr. Dillingford calmly.
"What has become of the rest of the company?"
"Well, as I said before, two of 'em escaped before the smash. The low comedian and character old woman. Joe Beckley and his wife. That left the old man,—I mean Mr. Rushcroft, the star—Lyndon Rushcroft, you know,—myself and Bacon, Tommy Gray, Miss Rushcroft, Miss Hughes and a woman named Bradley, seven of us. Miss Hughes happened to know a chap who was travelling around the country for his health, always meeting up with us,—accidentally, of course,—and he staked her to a ticket to New York. The woman named Bradley said her mother was dying in Buffalo, so the rest of us scraped together all the money we had,— nine dollars and sixty cents,—and did the right thing by her. Actors are always doing darn-fool things like that, Mr. Barnes. And what do you suppose she did? She took that money and bought two tickets to Albany, one for herself and another for the manager of the company,— the lowest, meanest, orneriest white man that ever,—But I am crabbing the old man's part. You ought to hear what HE has to say about Mr. Manager. He can use words I never even heard of before. So, that leaves just the four of us here, working off the two days' board bill of Bradley and the manager, Rushcroft's ungodly spree, and at the same time keeping our own slate clean. Miss Thackeray will no doubt make up your bed in the morning. She is temporarily a chambermaid. Cracking fine girl, too, if I do say—"
"Miss Thackeray? I don't recall your mentioning—"
"Mercedes Thackeray on the programme, but in real life, as they say, Emma Smith. She is Rushcroft's daughter."
"Somewhat involved, isn't it?"
"Not in the least. Rushcroft's real name is Otterbein Smith. Horrible, isn't it? He sprung from some place in Indiana, where the authors come from. Miss Thackeray was our ingenue. A trifle large for that sort of thing, perhaps, but—very sprightly, just the same. She's had her full growth upwards, but not outwards. Tommy Gray, the other member of the company, is driving a taxi in Hornville. He used to own his own car in Springfield, Mass., by the way. Comes of a very good family. At least, so he says. Are you all ready? I'll lead you to the dining-room. Or would you prefer a little appetiser beforehand? The tap-room is right on the way. You mustn't call it the bar. Everybody in that little graveyard down the road would turn over completely if you did. Hallowed tradition, you know."
"I don't mind having a cocktail. Will you join me?"
"As a matter of fact, I'm expected to," confessed Mr. Dillingford. "We've been drawing quite a bit of custom to the tap-room. The rubes like to sit around and listen to conversation about Broadway and Bunker Hill and Old Point Comfort and other places, and then go home and tell the neighbours that they know quite a number of stage people. Human nature, I guess. I used to think that if I could ever meet an actress I'd be the happiest thing in the world. Well, I've met a lot of 'em, and God knows I'm not as happy as I was when I was WISHING I could meet one of them. Listen! Hear that? Rushcroft is reciting Gunga Din. You can't hear the thunder for the noise he's making."
They descended the stairs and entered the tap-room, where a dozen men were seated around the tables, all of them with pewter mugs in front of them. Standing at the top table,—that is to say, the one farthest removed from the door and commanding the attention of every creature in the room—was the imposing figure of Lyndon Rushcroft. He was reciting, in a sonorous voice and with tremendous fervour, the famous Kipling poem. Barnes had heard it given a score of times at The Players in New York, and knew it by heart. He was therefore able to catch Mr. Rushcroft in the very reprehensible act of taking liberties with the designs of the author. The "star," after a sharp and rather startled look at the newcomer, deliberately "cut" four stanzas and rushed somewhat hastily through the concluding verse, marring a tremendous climax.
A genial smile wiped the tragic expression from his face. He advanced upon Barnes and the beaming Mr. Dillingford, his hand extended.
"My dear fellow," he exclaimed resoundingly, "how are you?" Cordiality boomed in his voice. "I heard you had arrived. Welcome,—thricefold welcome!" He neglected to say that Mr. Montague Bacon, in passing a few minutes before, had leaned over and whispered behind his hand:
"Fellow upstairs from New York, Mr. Rushcroft,—fellow named Barnes. Quite a swell, believe me."
It was a well-placed tip, for Mr. Rushcroft had been telling the natives for days that he knew everybody worth knowing in New York.
Barnes was momentarily taken aback. Then he rose to the spirit of the occasion.
"Hello, Rushcroft," he greeted, as if meeting an old time and greatly beloved friend. "This IS good. 'Pon my soul, you are like a thriving date palm in the middle of an endless desert. How are you?"
They shook hands warmly. Mr. Dillingford slapped the newcomer on the shoulder, affectionately, familiarly, and shouted:
"Who would have dreamed we'd run across good old Barnesy up here? By Jove, it's marvellous!"
"Friends, countrymen," boomed Mr. Rushcroft, "this is Mr. Barnes of New York. Not the man the book was written about, but one of the best fellows God ever put into this little world of ours. I do not recall your names, gentlemen, or I would introduce each of you separately and divisibly. And when did you leave New York, my dear fellow?"
"A fortnight ago," replied Barnes. "I have been walking for the past two weeks."
Mr. Rushcroft's expression changed. His face fell.
"Walking?" he repeated, a trifle stiffly. Was the fellow a tramp? Was he in no better condition of life than himself and his stranded companions, against whom the mockery of the assemblage was slyly but indubitably directed? If so, what was to be gained by claiming friendship with him? It behooved him to go slow. He drew himself up to his full height. "Well, well! Really?" he said.
The others looked on with interest. The majority were farmers, hardy, rawboned men with misty eyes. Two of them looked like mechanics,— blacksmiths, was Barnes' swift estimate,—and as there was an odor of gasolene in the low, heavy-timbered room, others were no doubt connected with the tavern garage. For that matter, there was also an atmosphere of the stables.
Lyndon Rushcroft was a tall, saggy man of fifty. Despite his determined erectness, he was inclined to sag from the shoulders down. His head, huge and grey, appeared to be much too ponderous for his yielding body, and yet he carried it manfully, even theatrically. The lines in his dark, seasoned face were like furrows; his nose was large and somewhat bulbous, his mouth wide and grim. Thick, black eyebrows shaded a pair of eyes in which white was no longer apparent; it had given way to a permanent red. A two days' stubble covered his chin and cheeks. Altogether he was a singular exemplification of one's idea of the old-time actor. He was far better dressed than the two male members of his company who had come under Barnes' observation. A fashionably made cutaway coat of black, a fancy waistcoat, and trousers with a delicate stripe (sadly in need of creasing) gave him an air of distinction totally missing in his subordinates. (Afterwards Barnes was to learn that he was making daily use of his last act drawing-room costume, which included a silk hat and a pair of pearl grey gloves.) Evidently he had possessed the foresight to "skip out" in the best that the wardrobe afforded, leaving his ordinary garments for the sheriff to lay hands upon.
"A customary adventure with me," said Barnes. "I take a month's walking tour every spring, usually timing my pilgrimage so as to miss the hoi-polloi that blunders into the choice spots of the world later on and spoils them completely for me. This is my first jaunt into this part of New England. Most attractive walking, my dear fellow. Wonderful scenery, splendid air—" "Deliver me from the hoi-polloi," said Mr. Rushcroft, at his ease once more. "I may also add, deliver me from walking. I'm damned if I can see anything in it. What will you have to drink, old chap?"
He turned toward the broad aperture which served as a passageway in the wall for drinks leaving the hands of a fat bartender beyond to fall into the clutches of thirsty customers in the tap-room. There was no outstanding bar. A time-polished shelf, as old as the house itself, provided the afore-said bartender with a place on which to spread his elbows while not actively engaged in advancing mugs and bottles from more remote resting-places at his back.
"Everything comes through 'the hole in the wall,'" explained Rushcroft, wrinkling his face into a smile.
He unceremoniously turned his back on the audience of a moment before, and pounded smartly on the shelf, notwithstanding the fact that the bartender was less than a yard away and facing him expectantly. "What ho! Give ear, professor. Ye gods, what a night! Devil-brewed pandemonium—I beg pardon?"
"I was just about to ask what you will have," said Barnes, lining up beside him with Mr. Dillingford.
Mr. Rushcroft drew himself up once more. "My dear fellow, I asked you to have a—"
"But I had already invited Dillingford. You must allow me to extend the invitation—"
"Say no more, sir. I understand perfectly. A flagon of ale, Bob, for me." He leaned closer to Barnes and said, in what was supposed to be a confidential aside: "Don't tackle the whiskey. It would kill a rattlesnake."
A few minutes later he laid one hand fondly upon Barnes' shoulder and, with a graceful sweep of the other in the direction of the hall, addressed himself to Dillingford.
"Lead the way to the banquet-hall, good fellow. We follow." To the patrons he was abandoning:
"We return anon." Passing through the office, his arm linked in one of Barnes', Mr. Rushcroft hesitated long enough to impress upon Landlord Jones the importance of providing his "distinguished friend, Robert W. Barnes," with the very best that the establishment afforded. Putnam Jones blinked slightly and his eyes sought the register as if to accuse or justify his memory. Then he spat copiously into the corner, a necessary preliminary to a grin. He hadn't much use for the great Lyndon Rushcroft. His grin was sardonic. Something told him that Mr. Rushcroft was about to be liberally fed.
MR. RUSHCROFT DISSOLVES, MR. JONES INTERVENES, AND TWO MEN RIDE AWAY
Mr. Rushcroft explained that he had had his supper. In fact, he went on to confess, he had been compelled, like the dog, to "speak" for it. What could be more disgusting, more degrading, he mourned, than the spectacle of a man who had appeared in all of the principal theatres of the land as star and leading support to stars, settling for his supper by telling stories and reciting poetry in the tap-room of a tavern?
"Still," he consented, when Barnes insisted that it would be a kindness to him, "since you put it that way, I dare say I could do with a little snack, as you so aptly put it. Just a bite or two. Like you, my dear fellow, I loathe and detest eating alone. I covet companionship, convivial com—what have you ready, Miss Tilly?"
Miss Tilly was a buxom female of forty or thereabouts, with spectacles. She was one of a pair of sedentary waitresses who had been so long in the employ of Mr. Jones that he hated the sight of them. Close proximity to a real star affected her intensely. In fact, she was dazzled. For something like twenty years she had nursed an ambition that wavered between the desire to become an actress or an authoress. At present she despised literature. More than once she had confessed to Mr. Rushcroft that she hated like poison to write out the bill-o'-fare, a duty devolving solely upon her, it appears, because of a local tradition that she possessed literary talent. Every one said that she wrote the best hand in the county.
Mr. Rushcroft's conception of a bite or two may have staggered Barnes but it did not bewilder Miss Tilly. He had four eggs with his ham, and other things in proportion. He talked a great deal, proving in that way that it was a supper well worth speaking for. Among other things, he dilated at great length upon his reasons for not being a member of The Players or The Lambs in New York City. It seems that he had promised his dear, devoted wife that he would never join a club of any description. Dear old girl, he would as soon have cut off his right hand as to break any promise made to her. He brushed something away from his eyes, and his chin, contracting, trembled slightly.
"Quite right," said Barnes, sympathetically. "And how long has Mrs. Rushcroft been dead?"
A hurt, incredulous look came into Mr. Rushcroft's eyes. "Is it possible that you have forgotten the celebrated case of Rushcroft vs. Rushcroft, not more than six years back? Good Lord, man, it was one of the most sensational cases that ever—But I see that you do not recall it. You must have been abroad at the time. I don't believe I ever knew of a case being quite so admirably handled by the press as that one was. She got it after a bitter and protracted fight. Infidelity. Nothing so rotten as cruelty or desertion,—no sir!"
"Ahem!" coughed Miss Tilly.
"The dear old girl married again," sighed Mr. Rushcroft, helping himself to Barnes' butter. "Did very well, too. Man in the wine trade. He saves a great deal, you see, by getting it at cost, and I can assure you, on my word of honour, sir, that he'll find it quite an item. What is it, Mr. Bacon? Any word from New York?"
Mr. Bacon hovered near, perhaps hungrily.
"Our genial host has instructed me to say to his latest guest that the rates are two dollars a day, in advance, all dining-room checks payable on presentation," said Mr. Bacon, apologetically.
Rushcroft exploded. "A scurvy insult," he boomed. "Confound his—"
The new guest was amiable. He interrupted the outraged star. "Tell Mr. Jones that I shall settle promptly," he said, with a smile.
The "heavy leads" lowered his voice. "He told me that he had had a horrible thought."
"He never has anything else," said Mr. Rushcroft.
"It has just entered his bean that you may be an actor, Mr. Barnes," said Bacon.
Miss Tilly, overhearing, drew a step or two nearer. A sudden interest in Mr. Barnes developed. She had not noticed before that he was an uncommonly good-looking fellow. She always had said that she adored strong, "athletic" faces.
"Hence the insult," said Mr. Rushcroft bitterly. He raised both arms in a gesture of complete dejection. "My God!"
"Says it looks suspicious," went on Mr. Bacon, "flocking with us as you do. He mentioned something about birds of a feather."
Mr. Rushcroft arose majestically. "I shall see the man myself, Mr. Barnes. His infernal insolence—"
"Pray do not distress yourself, my dear Rushcroft," interrupted Barnes. "He is quite within his rights. I may be even worse than an actor. I may turn out to be an ordinary tramp." He took a wallet from his pocket, and smiled engagingly upon Miss Tilly. "The check, please."
"For both?" inquired she, blinking.
"Certainly. Mr. Rushcroft was my guest."
"Four twenty five," she announced, after computation on the back of the menu.
He selected a five dollar bill from the rather plethoric purse and handed it to her.
"Be so good as to keep the change," he said, and Miss Tilly went away in a daze from which she did not emerge for a long, long time.
Later on she felt inspired to jot down, for use no doubt in some future literary production, a concise, though general, description of the magnificent Mr. Barnes. She utilised the back of the bill-of-fare and she wrote with the feverish ardour of one who dreads the loss of a first impression. I herewith append her visual estimate of the hero of this story.
"He was a tall, shapely speciman of mankind," wrote Miss Tilly. "Broad-shouldered. Smooth shaved face. Penetrating grey eyes. Short curly hair about the colour of mine. Strong hands of good shape. Face tanned considerable. Heavy dark eyebrows. Good teeth, very white. Square chin. Lovely smile that seemed to light up the room for everybody within hearing. Nose ideal. Mouth same. Voice aristocratic and reverberating with education. Age about thirty or thirty one. Rich as Croesus. Costume resembling the picture in the English novel the woman forgot and left here last summer. Well turned legs. Would make a good nobleman."
All this would appear to be reasonably definite were it not for the note regarding the colour of his hair. It leaves to me the simple task of completing the very admirable description of Mr. Barnes by announcing that Miss Tilly's hair was an extremely dark brown.
Also it is advisable to append the following biographical information: Thomas Kingsbury Barnes, engineer, born in Montclair, New Jersey, Sept. 26, 1885. Cornell and Beaux Arts, Paris. Son of the late Stephen S. Barnes, engineer, and Edith (Valentine) Barnes. Office, Metropolitan Building, New York City. Residence, Amsterdam Mansions. Clubs: (Lack of space prevents listing them here). Recreations: golf, tennis, and horseback riding. Author of numerous articles resulting from expeditions and discoveries in Peru and Ecuador. Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society. Member of the Loyal Legion and the Sons of the American Revolution.
Added to this, the mere announcement that he was in a position to indulge a fancy for long and perhaps aimless walking tours through more or less out of the way sections of his own country, to say nothing of excursions in Europe.
Needless to say, he obtained a great deal of pleasure from these lonely jaunts, and at the same time laid up for future use an ample supply of mind's ease. His was undoubtedly a romantic nature. He loved the fancies that his susceptibilities garnered from the hills and dales and fields and forests. He never tired of the changing prospect; the simple meadow and the inspiring mountain peak were as one to his generous imagination. He found something worth while in every mile he traversed in these long and solitary tramps, and he covered no fewer than twenty of them between breakfast and dinner unless ordered by circumstance to loiter along the way.
Each succeeding spring he set out from his "diggings" in New York without having the remotest idea where his peregrinations would carry him. It was his habit to select a starting point in advance, approach that spot by train or ship or motor, and then divest himself of all purpose except to fare forward until he came upon some haven for the night. He went east or west, north or south, even as the winds of heaven blow; indeed, he not infrequently followed them.
For five or six weeks in the early spring it was his custom to forge his daily chain of miles and, when the end was reached, climb contentedly aboard a train and be transported, often by arduous means, to the city where millions of men walk with a definite aim in view. He liked the spring of the year. He liked the rains and the winds of early spring. They meant the beginning of things to him.
He was rich. Perhaps not as riches are measured in these Midas-like days, but rich beyond the demands of avarice. His legacy had been an ample one. The fact that he worked hard at his profession from one year's end to the other,—not excluding the six weeks devoted to these mentally productive jaunts,—is proof sufficient that he was not content to subsist on the fruits of another man's enterprise. He was a worker. He was a creator, a builder and a destroyer. It was part of his ambition to destroy in order that he might build the better.
The first fortnight of a proposed six weeks' jaunt through Upper New England terminated when he laid aside his heavy pack in the little bed-room at Hart's Tavern. Cock-crow would find him ready and eager to begin his third week. At least, so he thought. But, truth is, he had come to his journey's end; he was not to sling his pack for many a day to come.
After setting the mind of the landlord at rest, Barnes declined Mr. Rushcroft's invitation to "quaff" a cordial with him in the tap-room, explaining that he was exceedingly tired and intended to retire early (an announcement that caused unmistakable distress to the actor, who held forth for some time on the folly of "letting a thing like that go without taking it in time," although it was not made quite clear just what he meant by "thing"). Barnes was left to infer that he considered fatigue a malady that ought to be treated.
Instead of going up to his room immediately, however, he decided to have a look at the weather. He stepped out upon the wet porch and closed the door behind him. The wind was still high; the lantern creaked and the dingy sign that hung above the steps gave forth raucous, spasmodic wails as it swung back and forth in the stiff, raw wind. Far away to the north lightning flashed dimly; the roar of thunder had diminished to a low, half-hearted growl.
His uneasiness concerning the young woman of the cross-roads increased as he peered at the wall of blackness looming up beyond the circle of light. He could not see the towering hills, but memory pictured them as they were revealed to him in the gathering darkness before the storm. She was somewhere outside that sinister black wall and in the smothering grasp of those invisible hills, but was she living or dead? Had she reached her journey's end safely? He tried to extract comfort from the confidence she had expressed in the ability and integrity of the old man who drove with far greater recklessness than one would have looked for in a wild and irresponsible youngster.
He recalled, with a thrill, the imperious manner in which she gave directions to the man, and his surprising servility. It suddenly occurred to him that she was no ordinary person; he was rather amazed that he had not thought of it before.
She had confessed to total ignorance regarding the driver of that ramshackle conveyance; to being utterly at sea in the neighbourhood; to having walked like any country bumpkin from the railroad station, lugging an unconscionably heavy bag; and yet, despite all this, she seemed amazingly sure of herself. He recalled her frivolous remark about her jewels, and now wondered if there had not been more truth than jest in her words. Then there was the rather significant alteration in tone and manner when she spoke to the driver. The soft, somewhat deliberate drawl gave way to sharp, crisp sentences; the quaint good humour vanished and in its place he had no difficulty in remembering a very decided note of command.
Moreover, now that he thought of it, there was, even in the agreeable rejoinders she had made to his offerings, the faint suggestion of an accent that should have struck him at the time but did not for the obvious reason that he was then not at all interested in her. Her English was so perfect that he had failed to detect the almost imperceptible foreign flavour that now took definite form in his reflections. He tried to place this accent. Was it French, or Italian, or Spanish? Certainly it was not German. The lightness of the Latin was evident, he decided, but it was all so faint and remote that classification was impossible, notwithstanding his years of association with the peoples of many countries where English is spoken more perfectly by the upper classes, who have a language of their own, than it is in England itself.
He took a few turns up and down the long porch, stopping finally at the upper end. The clear, inspiring clang of a hammer on an anvil fell suddenly upon his ears. He looked at his watch. The hour was nine, certainly an unusual time for men to be at work in a forge. He remembered the two men in the tap-room who were bare-armed and wore the shapeless leather aprons of the smithy.
He had been standing there not more than half a minute peering in the direction from whence came the rhythmic bang of the anvil,—at no great distance, he was convinced,—when some one spoke suddenly at his elbow. He whirled and found himself facing the gaunt landlord.
"Good Lord! You startled me," he exclaimed. He had not heard the approach of the man, nor the opening and closing of the tavern door. His gaze travelled past the tall figure of Putnam Jones and rested on that of a second man, who leaned, with legs crossed and arms folded, against the porch post directly in front of the entrance to the house, his features almost wholly concealed by the broad-brimmed slouch hat that came far down over his eyes. He too, it seemed to Barnes, had sprung from nowhere.
"Fierce night," said Putnam Jones, removing the corn-cob pipe from his lips. Then, as an after thought: "Sorry I skeert you. I thought you heerd me."
"I was listening to the song of the anvil," said Barnes, as the landlord moved forward and took his place beside him. "It has always possessed a singular charm for me."
"Special hurry-up job," said Jones, and no more.
"Yep. You'd think these hayseeds could git their horses in here durin' regular hours, wouldn't you?"
"I dare say they consider their own regular hours instead of yours, Mr. Jones."
"I didn't quite ketch that."
"I mean that they bring their horses in after their regular day's work is done."
"I see. Yes, I reckon that's the idee." After a few pulls at his pipe, the landlord inquired: "Where'd you walk from to-day?" "I slept in a farm-house last night, about fifteen miles south of this place I should say."
"That'd be a little ways out of East Cobb," speculated Mr. Jones.
"Five or six miles."
"Goin' over into Canada?"
"No. I shall turn west, I think, and strike for the Lake Champlain country."
"Canadian line is only a few miles from here," said Jones. "Last summer we had a couple of crooks from Boston here, makin' a dash for the border. Didn't know it till they'd been gone a day, however. The officers were just a day behind 'em. Likely lookin' fellers, too. Last men in the world you'd take for bank robbers."
"Bank robbers, as a rule, are very classy looking customers," said Barnes.
Mr. Jones grunted. After a short silence, he branched off on a new line. "What you think about the war? Think it'll be over soon?"
"It has been going on for nearly two years, and I can't see any signs of abatement. Looks to me like a draw. They're all tired of it."
"Think the Germans are going to win?"
"No. They can't win. On the other hand, I don't see how the Allies can win. I may be wrong, of course. The Allies are getting stronger every day and the Germans must surely be getting weaker. As a matter of fact, Mr. Jones, I've long since stopped speculating on the outcome of the war. It is too big for me. I am not one of your know-it-alls who figure the whole thing out from day to day, and then wonder why the fool generals didn't have sense enough to perform as expected."
"I wish them countries over there would let me fix 'em out with generals," drawled Mr. Jones. "I could pick out fifteen or twenty men right here in this district that could show 'em in ten minutes just how to win the war. You'd be surprised to know how many great generals we have running two by four farms and choppin' wood for a livin' up here. And there are fellers settin' right in there now that never saw a body of water bigger'n Plum Pond, an' every blamed one of 'em knows more'n the whole British navy about ketchin' submarines. The quickest way to end the war, says Jim Roudebush,—one of our leadin' ice- cutters,—is for the British navy to bombard Berlin from both sides, an' he don't see why in thunder they've never thought of it. I suppose you've travelled right smart in Europe?"
"Quite a bit, Mr. Jones."
"Any partic'lar part?"
"No," said Barnes, suddenly divining that he was being "pumped." "One end to the other, you might say."
"What about them countries down around Bulgaria and Roumania? I've been considerable interested in what's going to become of them if Germany gets licked. What do they get out of it, either way?"
Barnes spent the next ten minutes expatiating upon the future of the Balkan states. Jones had little to say. He was interested, and drank in all the information that Barnes had to impart. He puffed at his pipe, nodded his head from time to time, and occasionally put a leading question. And quite as abruptly as he introduced the topic he changed it.
"Not many automobiles up here at this time 'o the year," he said. "I was a little surprised when you said a feller had given you a lift. Where from?"
"The cross-roads, a mile down. He came from the direction of Frogg's Corner and was on his way to meet some one at Spanish Falls." Barnes shrewdly leaped to the conclusion that the landlord's interest in the European War was more or less assumed. The man's purpose was beginning to reveal itself. He was evidently curious, if not actually concerned, about his guest's arrival by motor.
"That's queer," he said, after a moment. "There's no train arrivin' at Spanish Falls as late as six o'clock. Gets in at four-ten, if she's on time. And she was reported on time to-day."
"It appears that there was a misunderstanding. The driver didn't meet the train, so the person he was going after walked all the way to the forks. We happened upon each other there, Mr. Jones, and we studied the sign-post together. She was bound for a place called Green Fancy."
"Did you say SHE?"
"Yes. I was proposing to help her out of her predicament when the belated motor came racing down the slope. As a matter of fact, I was wrong when I said that a man brought me here in an automobile. It was she who did it. She gave the order. He merely obeyed,—and not very willingly, I suspect."
"What for sort of looking lady was she?"
"She wore a veil," said Barnes, succinctly.
"I had that impression. By the way, Mr. Jones, what and where is Green Fancy?"
Jones looked over his shoulder, and his guest's glance followed. The man near the entrance had been joined by another.
"Well," began the landlord, lowering his voice, "it's about two mile and a half from here, up the mountain. It's a house and people live in it, same as any other house. That's about all there is to say about it."
"Why is it called Green Fancy?"
"Because it's a green house," replied Jones succinctly.
"You mean that it is painted green?"
"Exactly. Green as a gourd. A man named Curtis built it a couple o' year ago and he had a fool idee about paintin' it green. Might ha' been a little crazy, for all I know. Anyhow, after he got it finished he settled down to live in it, and from that day to this he's never been off'n the place. He didn't seem sick or anything, so we can't make out his object in shuttin' himself up in the house an' seldom ever stickin' his nose outside the door."
"Isn't it possible that he isn't there at all?"
"He's there all right. Every now an' then he has visitors,—just like this woman to-day,—and sometimes they come down here for supper. They don't hesitate to speak of him, so he must be there. Miss Tilly has got the idee that he is a reecluse, if you know what that is."
"It's all very interesting. I should say, judging by the visitor who came this evening, that he entertains extremely nice people."
"Well," said Jones drily, "they claim to be from New York. But," he added, "so do them cheapskate actors in there." Which was as much as to say that he had his doubts.
Further conversation was interrupted by the irregular clatter of horses' hoofs on the macadam. Off to the left a dull red glow of light spread across the roadway, and a man's voice called out: "Whoa, dang ye!"
The door of the smithy had been thrown open and some one was leading forth freshly shod horses.
A moment later the horses,—prancing, high-spirited animals,—their bridle-bits held by a strapping blacksmith, came into view. Barnes looked in the direction of the steps. The two men had disappeared. Instead of stopping directly in front of the steps, the smith led his charges quite a distance beyond and into the darkness.
Putnam Jones abruptly changed his position. He insinuated his long body between Barnes and the doorway, at the same time rather loudly proclaiming that the rain appeared to be over.
"Yes, sir," he repeated, "she seems to have let up altogether. Ought to have a nice day to-morrow, Mr. Barnes,—nice, cool day for walkin'."
Voices came up from the darkness. Jones had not been able to cover them with his own. Barnes caught two or three sharp commands, rising above the pawing of horses' hoofs, and then a great clatter as the mounted horsemen rode off in the direction of the cross-roads. The beat of the hoofs became rhythmical as the animals steadied into a swinging lope.
Barnes waited until they were muffled by distance, and then turned to Jones with the laconic remark:
"They seem to be foreigners, Mr. Jones." Jones's manner became natural once more. He leaned against one of the posts and, striking a match on his leg, relighted his pipe.
"Kind o' curious about 'em, eh?" he drawled.
"It never entered my mind until this instant to be curious," said Barnes.
"Well, it entered their minds about an hour ago to be curious about you," said the other.
AN EXTRAORDINARY CHAMBERMAID, A MIDNIGHT TRAGEDY, AND A MAN WHO SAID "THANK YOU"
Miss Thackeray was "turning down" his bed when he entered his room after bidding his new actor friends good night. All three promised to be up bright and early in the morning to speed him on his way with good wishes. Mr. Rushcroft declared that he would break the habit of years and get up in time to partake of a seven o'clock breakfast with him. Mr. Dillingford and Mr. Bacon, though under sentence to eat at six with the rest of the "help," were quite sanguine that old man Jones wouldn't mind if they ate again at seven. So it was left that Barnes was to have company for breakfast.
He was staggered and somewhat abashed by the appearance of Miss Thackeray. She was by no means dressed as a chambermaid should be, nor was she as dumb. On the contrary, she confronted him in the choicest raiment that her wardrobe contained, and she was bright and cheery and exceedingly incompetent. It was her costume that shocked him. Not only was she attired in a low-necked, rose-coloured evening gown, liberally bespangled with tinsel, but she wore a vast top-heavy picture-hat whose crown of black was almost wholly obscured by a gorgeous white feather that once must have adorned the king of all ostriches. She was not at all his idea of a chambermaid. He started to back out of the door with an apology for having blundered into the wrong room by mistake.
"Come right in," she said cheerily. "I'll soon be through. I suppose I should have done all this an hour ago, but I just had to write a few letters." She went on with her clumsy operations. "I don't know who made up this bed but whoever did was determined that it should stay put. I never knew that bed clothes could be tucked in as far and as tight as these. Tight enough for old Mother Jones to have done it herself, and heaven knows she's a tight one. I am Miss Thackeray. This is Mr. Barnes, I believe."
He bowed, still quite overcome.
"You needn't be scared," she cried, observing his confusion. "This is my regular uniform. I'm starting a new style for chambermaids. Did it paralyse you to find me here?"
"I must confess to a moment of indecision," he said, smiling.
"Followed by a moment of uneasiness," she added, slapping the bolster. "You didn't know what to think, now did you?"
"I couldn't believe my eyes."
She abandoned her easy, careless manner. A look of mortification came into her eyes as she straightened up and faced him. Her voice was a trifle husky when she spoke again, after a moment's pause.
"You see, Mr. Barnes, these are the only duds I have with me. It wasn't necessary to put on this hat, of course, but I did it simply to make the character complete. I might just as well make beds and clean washstands in a picture hat as in a low-necked gown, so here I am."
She was a tall, pleasant-faced girl of twenty-three or four, not unlike her father in many respects. Her features were rather heavy, her mouth large but comely, her eyes dark and lustrous behind heavy lashes. As she now appeared before Barnes, she was the typical stage society woman: in other words, utterly commonplace. In a drawing-room she would have been as conspicuously out of place as she was in her present occupation.
"I am very sorry," he said lamely. "I have heard something of your misfortunes from your father and—the others. It's—it's really hard luck."
"I call it rather good luck to have got away with the only dress in the lot that cost more than tuppence," she said, smiling again. "Lord knows what would have happened to me if they had dropped down on us at the end of the first act. I was the beggar's daughter, you see,— absolutely in rags."
"You might have got away in your ordinary street clothes, however," he said; "which would have been pleasanter, I dare say."
"I dare say," she agreed brightly. "Glad to have met you. I think you'll find everything NEARLY all right. Good night, sir."
She smiled brightly, unaffectedly, as she turned toward the open door. There was something forelorn about her, after all, and his heart was touched.
"Better luck, Miss Thackeray. Every cloud has its silver lining."
She stopped and faced him once more. "That's the worst bromide in the language," she said. "If I were to tell you how many clouds I've seen and how little silver, you'd think I was lying. This experience? Why, it's a joy compared to some of the jolts we've had,—dad and me. And the others, too, for that matter. We've had to get used to it. Five years ago I would have jumped out of a ten story window before I'd have let you see me in this get-up. I know you'll laugh yourself sick over the way I look, and so will your friends when you tell them about me, but, thank the Lord, I shan't be in a position to hear you. So why should I mind? What a fellow doesn't know, isn't going to hurt him. You haven't laughed in my face, and I'm grateful for that. What you do afterward can't make the least bit of difference to me."
"I assure you, Miss Thackeray, that I shall not laugh, nor shall I ever relate the story of your—"
"There is one more bromide that I've never found much virtue in," she interrupted, not disagreeably, "and that is: 'it's too good to be true.' Good night. Sleep tight."
She closed the door behind her, leaving him standing in the middle of the room, perplexed but amused.
"By George," he said to himself, still staring at the closed door, "they're wonders, all of them. We could all take lessons in philosophy from such as they. I wish I could do something to help them out of—" He sat down abruptly on the edge of the bed and pulled his wallet from his pocket. He set about counting the bills, a calculating frown in his eyes. Then he stared at the ceiling, summing up. "I'll do it," he said, after a moment of mental figuring. He told off a half dozen bills and slipped them into his pocket. The wallet sought its usual resting place for the night: under a pillow.
He was healthy and he was tired. Two minutes after his head touched the pillow he was sound asleep, losing consciousness even as he fought to stay awake in order that he might continue to vex himself with the extraordinary behavior and statement of Putnam Jones.
He was aroused shortly after midnight by shouts, apparently just outside his window. A man was calling in a loud voice from the road below; an instant later he heard a tremendous pounding on the tavern door.
Springing out of bed, he rushed to the window. There were horses in front of the house,—several of them,—and men on foot moving like shadows among them. A shuffling of feet came up to his open window; the intervening roof shut off his view of the porch and all that was transpiring. His eyes, accustomed to darkness, made out at least five horses in the now unlighted area before the tavern.
Turning from the window, he unlocked and opened the door into the hall. Some one was clattering down the narrow staircase. The bolts on the front door shot back with resounding force, and there came the hoarse jumble of excited voices as men crowded through the entrance. Putnam Jones's voice rose above the clamour.
"Keep quiet! Do you want to wake everybody on the place?" he was saying angrily. "What's up? This is a fine time o' night to be—Good Lord! What's the matter with him?"
"Telephone for a doctor, Put,—damn' quick! This one's still alive. The other one is dead as a door nail up at Jim Conley's house. Git ole Doc James down from Saint Liz. Bring him in here, boys. Where's your lights? Easy now! Eas-EE!"
Barnes waited to hear no more. His blood seemed to be running ice-cold as he retreated into the room and began scrambling for his clothes. The thing he feared had come to pass. Disaster had overtaken her in that wild, senseless dash up the mountain road. He was cursing half aloud as he dressed, cursing the fool who drove that machine and who now was perhaps dying down there in the tap-room. "The other one is dead as a door nail," kept running through his head,—"the other one."
The rumble of voices and the shuffling of feet continued, indistinct but laden with tragedy. The curious hush of catastrophe seemed to top the confusion that infected the place, inside and out. Barnes found his electric pocket torch and dressed hurriedly, though not fully, by its constricted light. As he was pulling on his heavy walking shoes, a head was inserted through the half open door, and an excited voice called out:
"You awake? Good work! Hustle along, will you? No more sleep to-night, old chap. Man dying downstairs. Shot smack through the lungs. Get a move—"
"Shot?" exclaimed Barnes.
"So they say," replied the agitated Mr. Dillingford, entering the room. He had slipped on his trousers and was then in the act of pulling his suspenders over his shoulders. His unlaced shoes gaped broadly; the upper part of his body was closely encased in a once blue undershirt; his abundant black hair was tousled,—some of it, indeed, having the appearance of standing on end. And in his wide eyes there was a look of horror. "I didn't hear much of the story. Old man Jones is telephoning for a doctor and—"
"Did you say that the man was shot?" repeated Barnes, bewildered. "Wasn't it an automobile accident?"
"Search ME. Gosh, I had one look at that fellow's face down there and —I didn't hear another word that was said. I never saw a man's face look like that. It was the colour of grey wall paper. Hurry up! Old man Jones told me to call you. He says you understand some of the foreign languages, and maybe you can make out what the poor devil is trying to say." "Do they know who he is?"
"Sure. He's been staying in the house for three days. The other one spoke English all right but this one not a word."
"Did they ride away from here about nine o'clock?"
"Yes. They had their own horses and said they were going to spend the night at Spanish Falls so's they could meet the down train that goes through at five o'clock in the morning. But hustle along, please. He's trying to talk and he's nearly gone."
Barnes, buoyed by a sharp feeling of relief, followed the actor downstairs and into the tap-room. A dozen men were there, gathered around two tables that had been drawn together. Transient lodgers, in various stages of dishabille, popped out of all sorts of passageways and joined the throng. The men about the table, on which was stretched the figure of the wounded man, were undoubtedly natives: farmers, woodsmen or employees of the tavern. At a word from Putnam Jones, they opened up and allowed Barnes to advance to the side of the man.
"See if you c'n understand him, Mr. Barnes," said the landlord. Perspiration was dripping from his long, raw-boned face. "And you, Bacon,—you and Dillingford hustle upstairs and get a mattress off'n one of the beds. Stand at the door there, Pike, and don't let any women in here. Go away, Miss Thackeray! This is no place for you."
Miss Thackeray pushed her way past the man who tried to stop her and joined Barnes. Her long black hair hung in braids down her back; above her forehead clustered a mass of ringlets, vastly disordered but not untidy. A glance would have revealed the gaudy rose-coloured skirt hanging below the bottom of the long rain-coat she had snatched from a peg in the hall-way.
"It is the place for me," she said sharply. "Haven't you men got sense enough to put something under his head? Where is he hurt? Get that cushion, you. Stick, it under here when I lift his head. Oh, you poor thing! We'll be as quick as possible. There!"
"You'd better go away," said Barnes, himself ghastly pale. "He's been shot. There is a lot of blood—don't you know. It's splendid of you—"
"Dangerously?" she cried, shrinking back, her eyes fixed in dread upon the white face.
The man's eyes were closed, but at the sound of a woman's voice he opened them. The hand with which he clutched at his breast slid off and seemed to be groping for hers. His breathing was terrible. There was blood at the corners of his mouth, and more oozed forth when his lips parted in an effort to speak.
With a courage that surprised even herself, the girl took his hand in hers. It was wet and warm. She did not dare look at it.
"Merci, madame," struggled from the man's lips, and he smiled.
Barnes had heard of the French soldiers who, as they died, said "thank you" to those who ministered to them, and smiled as they said it. He had always marvelled at the fortitude that could put gratefulness above physical suffering, and his blood never failed to respond to an exquisite thrill of exaltation under such recitals. He at once deduced that the injured man, while probably not a Frenchman, at least was familiar with the language.
He was young, dark-haired and swarthy. His riding-clothes were well- made and modish.
Barnes leaned over and spoke to him in French. The dark, pain-stricken eyes closed, and an almost imperceptible shake of the head signified that he did not understand. Evidently he had acquired only a few of the simple French expressions. Barnes had a slight knowledge of Spanish and Italian, and tried again with no better results. German was his last resort, and he knew he would fail once more, for the man obviously was not Teutonic.
The bloody lips parted, however, and the eyes opened with a piteous, appealing expression in their depths. It was apparent that there was something he wanted to say, something he had to say before he died. He gasped a dozen words or more in a tongue utterly unknown to Barnes, who bent closer to catch the feeble effort. It was he who now shook his head; with a groan the sufferer closed his eyes in despair. He choked and coughed violently an instant later.
"Get some water and a towel," cried Miss Thackeray, tremulously. She was very white, but still clung to the man's hand. "Be quick! Behind the bar." Then she turned to Jones. "Don't call my father. He can't stand the sight of blood," she said.
Barnes unbuttoned the coat and revealed the blood-soaked white shirt.
"Better leave this to me," he said in her ear. "There's nothing you can do. He's done for. Please go away."
"Oh, I sha'n't faint—at least, not yet. Poor fellow! I've seen him upstairs and wondered who he was. Is he really going to die?"
"Looks bad," said Barnes, gently opening the shirt front. Several of the craning men turned away suddenly.
"Can't you understand him?" demanded Putnam Jones, from the opposite side.
"No. Did you get the doctor?"
"He's on the way by this time. He's got a little automobile. Ought to be here in ten or fifteen minutes."
"Who is he, Mr. Jones?"
"He is registered as Andrew Paul, from New York. That's all I know. The other man put his name down as Albert Roon. He seemed to be the boss and this man a sort of servant, far as I could make out. They never talked much and seldom came downstairs. They had their meals in their room. Bacon served them. Where is Bacon? Where the hell—oh, the mattress. Now, we'll lift him up gentle-like while you fellers slip it under him. Easy now. Brace up, my lad, we—we won't hurt you. Lordy! Lordy! I'm sorry—Gosh! I thought he was gone!" He wiped his brow with a shaking hand.
"There is nothing we can do," said Barnes, "except try to stanch the flow of blood. He is bleeding inwardly, I'm afraid. It's a clean wound, Mr. Jones. Like a rifle shot, I should say."
"That's just what it is," said one of the men, a tall woodsman. "The feller who did it was a dead shot, you c'n bet on that. He got t' other man square through the heart."
"Lordy, but this will raise a rumpus," groaned the landlord. "We'll have detectives an'—"
"I guess they got what was comin' to 'em," said another of the men.
"What's that? Why, they was ridin' peaceful as could be to Spanish Falls. What do you mean by sayin' that, Jim Conley? But wait a minute! How does it happen that they were up near your dad's house? That certainly ain't on the road to Span—"
"Spanish Falls nothin'! They wasn't goin' to Spanish Falls any more'n I am at this minute. They tied their hosses up the road just above our house," said young Conley, lowering his voice out of consideration for the feelings of the helpless man. "It was about 'leven o'clock, I reckon. I was comin' home from singin' school up at Number Ten, an' I passed the hosses hitched to the fence. Naturally I stopped, curious like. There wasn't no one around, fer as I could see, so I thought I'd take a look to see whose hosses they were. I thought it was derned funny, them hosses bein' there at that time o' night an' no one around. So as I said before, I thought I'd take a look. I know every hoss fer ten mile around. So I thought I'd take—"
"You said that three times," broke in Jones impatiently.
"Well, to make a long story short, I thought I'd take a look. I never seen either of them animals before. They didn't belong around here. So I thought I'd better hustle down to the house an' speak to pa about it. Looked mighty queer to me. Course, thinks I, they might belong to somebody visitin' in there at Green Fancy, so I thought I'd—"
"Green Fancy?" said Barnes, starting.
"Was it up that far?" demanded Jones.
"They was hitched jest about a hundred yards below Mr. Curtis's propity, on the off side o' the road. Course it's quite a ways in from the road to the house, an' I couldn't see why if it was anybody callin' up there they didn't ride all the ways up, 'stead o' walkin' through the woods. So I thought I'd speak to pa about it. Say," and he paused abruptly, a queer expression in his eyes, "you don't suppose he knows what I'm sayin', do you? I wouldn't say anything to hurt the poor feller's feelin's fer—"
"He doesn't know what you are saying," said Barnes.
"But, dern it, he jest now looked at me in the funniest way. It's given me the creeps."
"Go on," said one of the men.
"Well, I hadn't any more'n got to our front gate when I heard some one running in the road up there behind me. 'Fore I knowed what was happenin', bang went a gun. I almost jumped out'n my boots. I lept behind that big locus' tree in front of our house and listened. The runnin' had stopped. The hosses was rarin' an' tearin' so I thought I'd—"
"Where'd the shot come from?" demanded Jones.
"Up the road some'eres, I couldn't swear just where. Must 'a' been up by the road that cuts in to Green Fancy. So I thought I'd hustle in an' see if pa was awake, an' git my gun. Looked mighty suspicious, thinks I, that gun shot. Jest then pa stuck his head out'n the winder an' yelled what the hell's the matter. You betcher life I sung out who I was mighty quick, 'cause pa's purty spry with a gun an' I didn't want him takin' me fer burglars sneakin' around the house. While we wuz talkin' there, one of the hosses started our way lickety-split, an' in about two seconds it went by us. It was purty dark but we see plain as day that there was a man in the saddle, bendin' low over the hoss's neck and shoutin' to it. Well, we shore was guessin'. We waited a couple o' minutes, wonderin' what to do, an' listenin' to the hoss gittin' furder and furder away in the direction of the cross-roads. Then, 'way down there by the pike we heerd another shot. Right there an' then pa said he'd put on his clothes an' we'd set out to see what it was all about. I had it figgered out that the feller on the hoss had shot the other one and was streakin' it fer town or some'eres. That second shot had me guessin' though. Who wuz he shootin' at now, thinks I.
"Well, pa come out with my gun an' his'n an' we walks up to where I seen the hosses. Shore 'nough, one of 'em was still hitched to the fence, an' t'other was gone. We stood around a minute or two examinin' the hoss an' then pa says let's go up the road aways an' see if we c'n see anything. An' by gosh, we hadn't gone more'n fifty feet afore we come plumb on a man layin' in the middle of the road. Pa shook him an' he didn't let out a sound. He was warm but deader'n a tombstone. I wuz fer leavin' him there till we c'd git the coroner, but pa says no. We'd carry him down to our porch, an' lay him there, so's he'd be out o' danger. Ma an' the kids wuz all up when we got him there, an' pa sent Bill and Charley over to Mr. Pike's and Uncle John's to fetch 'em quick. I jumps on Polly an' lights out fer here, Mr. Jones, to telephone up to Saint Liz fer the sheriff an' the coroner, not givin' a dang what I run into on the way. Polly shied somethin' terrible jest afore we got to the pike an' I come derned near bein' throwed. An' right there 'side the road was this feller, all in a heap. I went back an' jumped off. He was groanin' somethin' awful. Thinks I, you poor cuss, you must 'a' tried to stop that feller on hossback an' he plunked you. That accounted fer the second shot. But while I wuz tryin' to lift him up an' git somethin' out'n him about the matter, I sees his boss standin' in the road a couple o' rods away. I couldn't understand a word he said, so I thought I better go back home an' git some help, seein's I couldn't manage him by myself. So I dragged him up on the bank an' made him comfortable as I could, and lit out fer home. We thought we'd better bring him up here, Mr. Jones, it bein' just as near an' you could git the doctor sooner. I hitched up the buck-board and went back. Pa an' some of the other fellers took their guns an' went up in the woods lookin' fer the man that done the shootin'. The thing that worries all of us is did the same man do the shootin', or was there two of 'em, one waitin' down at the cross- roads?"
"Must have been two," said Jones, thoughtfully. "The same man couldn't have got down there ahead of him, that's sure. Did anybody go up to Green Fancy to make inquiries?"
"'Twasn't necessary. Mr. Curtis heard the shootin' an' jest before we left he sent a man out to see what it was all about. The old skeezicks that's been drivin' his car lately come down half-dressed. He said nothin' out of the way had happened up at Green Fancy. Nobody had been nosin' around their place, an' if they had, he said, there wasn't anybody there who could hit the side of a barn with a rifle."
"It's most mysterious," said Barnes, glancing around the circle of awed faces. "There must have been some one lying in wait for these men, and with a very definite purpose in mind."
"Strikes me," said Jones, "that these two men were up to some kind of dirty work themselves, else why did they say they were goin' to Spanish Falls? It's my idee that they went up that road to lay fer somebody comin' down from the border, and they got theirs good an' plenty instead of the other way round. They were queer actin' men, I'll have to say that."
His eyes met Barnes' and there was a queer light in them.
"You don't happen to know anything about this, do you, Mr. Barnes?" he demanded, suddenly.
THE FARM-BOY TELLS A GHASTLY STORY AND AN IRISHMAN ENTERS
Barnes stared. "What do you mean?" he demanded sharply.
"I mean just what I said. What do you know about this business?"
"How should I know ANYTHING about it?"
"Well, we don't know who you are, nor what you're doing up here, nor what your real profession is. That's why I ask the question."
"I see," said Barnes, after a moment. He grasped the situation and he admitted to himself that Jones had cause for his suspicions. "It has occurred to you that I may be a detective or a secret service man, isn't that the case? Well, I am neither. Moreover, this man and his companion evidently had their doubts about me, if I am to judge by your remark and your actions on the porch earlier in the evening."
"I only said that they were curious about you. The man named Roon asked me a good many questions about you while you were in at supper. Who knows but what he was justified in thinkin' you didn't mean any good to him and his friend?"
"Did you know any more about these two men, Mr. Jones, than you know about me?"
"I don't know anything about 'em. They came here like any one else, paid their bills regular, 'tended to their own business, and that's all."
"What was their business?"
"Mr. Roon was lookin' for a place to bring his daughter who has consumption. He didn't want to take her to a reg'lar consumptive community, he said, an' so he was lookin' for a quiet place where she wouldn't be associatin' with lungers all the time. Some big doctor in New York told him to come up here an' look around. That was his business, Mr. Barnes, an' I guess you'd call it respectable, wouldn't you?"
"Perfectly. But why should he be troubled by my presence here if—" Miss Thackeray put an end to the discussion in a most effectual manner.
"Oh, for the Lord's sake, cut it out! Wait till he's dead, can't you?" she whispered fiercely. "You've got all the time in the world to talk, and he hasn't more than ten minutes left to breathe unless that rube doctor gets here pretty soon. If you've GOT to settle the question right away, at least have the decency to go out of this room."
Barnes flushed to the roots of his hair. Jones was aghast, dumb with surprise and anger.
"You are right, Miss Thackeray," said the former, deeply mortified. "This is not the time nor the place to——"
"He can't understand a word we say," said Putnam Jones loudly. "You better get out of here yourself, young woman. This is a job for men, not—"
"I think he's going now," she whispered in an awe-struck voice. "Keep still, all of you. Is he breathing, Mr. Barnes? That awful cough just now seemed to—"
"Come away, please," said Barnes, taking her gently by the arm. "I—I believe that was the end. Don't stay here, Miss Thackeray. Dillingford, will you be good enough to escort Miss—"
"I've never seen any one die before," she said in a low, tense voice. Her eyes were fixed on the still face. "Why—why, how tightly he holds my hand! I can't get it away—he must be alive, Mr. Barnes. Where is that silly doctor?"
Barnes unclasped the rigid fingers of the man called Andrew Paul, and, shaking his head sadly, drew her away from the improvised bier. He and the shivering Mr. Dillingford conducted her to the dining-room, where a single kerosene lamp gave out a feeble, rather ghastly light. The tall Bacon followed, the upper part of his person enveloped in the blanket Putnam Jones had hastily snatched from the mattress before it was slipped under the dying man. Several of the women of the house, including the wife of the landlord, clogged the little entrance hall, chattering in hushed undertones.
"Would you like a little brandy?" inquired Barnes, as she sat down limply in the chair he pulled out for her. "I have a flask upstairs in my—"
"I never touch it," she said. "I'm all right. My legs wabble a little but—Sit down, Mr. Barnes. I've got something to say to you and I'd better say it now, because it may come in pretty handy for you later on. Don't let those women come in here, Dilly."
Barnes drew a chair close beside her. Bacon, with scant regard for elegance, seated himself on the edge of the table and bent an ear.
"It's all rot about that man Roon being here to look for a place for his daughter." She spoke rapidly and cautiously. "I don't know whether Jones knows, but that certainly wasn't what he was here for. The young fellow in there was a sort of secretary. Roon had a room at the other end of the hall from yours, on the corner, facing the road and also looking toward the cross-roads. Young Paul had the next room, with a door between. I was supposed to make up their rooms after they'd gone out in the forenoon for a horseback ride. I kept out of their sight, because I knew they were the kind of men who would laugh at me. They couldn't understand, and, of course, I couldn't explain. Yesterday morning I found a sort of map on the floor under young Paul's washstand. The wind had blown it off the table by the window and he hadn't missed it. It was in lead pencil and looked like a map of the roads around here. I couldn't read the notations, but it required only a glance to convince me that this place was the central point. All of the little mountain roads were there, and the cross-roads. There wasn't anything queer about it, so I laid it on his table and put a book on it.
"This afternoon I walked up in the woods back of the Tavern to go over some lines in a new piece we are to do later on,—God knows when! I could see the house from where I was sitting. Roon's windows were plainly visible. I wasn't very far away, you see, the climb being too steep for me. I saw Roon standing at a window looking toward the cross-roads with a pair of field-glasses. Every once in awhile he would turn to Paul, who stood beside him with a notebook, and say something to him. Paul wrote it down. Then he would look again, turning the glasses this way and that. I wouldn't have thought much about it if they hadn't spent so much time there. I believe I watched them for an hour. Suddenly my eyes almost popped out of my head. Paul had gone away from the window. He came back and he had a couple of revolvers in his hands. They stood there for a few minutes carefully examining the weapons and reloading them with fresh cartridges. The storm was coming up, but I love it so that I waited almost until dark, watching the clouds and listening to the roar of the wind in the trees. I'm a queer girl in that way. I like turmoil. I could sit out in the most dreadful thunder storm and just revel in the crashes. Just as I was about to start down to the house—it was a little after six o'clock, and getting awfully dark and overcast,—Roon took up the glasses again. He seemed to be excited and called his companion. Paul grabbed the glasses and looked down the road. They both became very much excited, pointing and gesticulating, and taking turn about with the glasses."
"About six o'clock, you say?" said Barnes, greatly interested.
"It was a quarter after six when I got back to the house. I spoke to Mr. Bacon about what I'd seen and he said he believed they were German spies, up to some kind of mischief along the Canadian border. Everybody is a German spy nowadays, Mr. Barnes, if he looks cross- wise. Then about half an hour later you came to the Tavern. I saw Roon sneak out to the head of the stairs and listen to your conversation with Jones when you registered. That gave me an idea. It was you they were watching the road for. They saw you long before you got here, and it was—"
Barnes held up his hand for silence. "Listen," he said in a low voice, "I will tell you who they were looking for." As briefly as possible he recounted his experience with the strange young woman at the cross- roads. "From the beginning I have connected this tragedy with the place called Green Fancy. I'll stake my last penny that they have been hanging around here waiting for the arrival of that young woman. They knew she was coming and they doubtless knew what she was bringing with her. They went to Green Fancy to-night with a very sinister purpose in mind, and things didn't turn out as they expected. What do you know about the place called Green Fancy?"
He was vastly excited. His active imagination was creating all sorts of possibilities and complications, depredations and intrigues.
Bacon was the one who answered. He drew the blanket closer about his lean form and shivered as with a chill.
"I know this much about the place from hearsay," he said in a guttural whisper. "It's supposed to be haunted. I've heard more than one of these jays,—big huskies too,—say they wouldn't go near the place after dark for all the money in the state."
"That's just talk to scare you, Ague," said Dillingford. "People live up there and since we've been here two or three men visitors have come down from the place to sample our stock of wet goods. Nothing suspicious looking or ghostly about them either. I talked with a couple of 'em day before yesterday. They were out for a horseback ride and stopped here for a mug of ale."
"Were they foreigners?" inquired Barnes.
"If you want to call an Irishman a foreigner, I'll have to say one of them was. He had a beautiful brogue. I'd never seen an Irishman in slick riding clothes, however, so I doubted my ears at first. You don't associate a plain Mick with anything so swell as that, you know. The other was an American, I'm sure. Yesterday they rode past here with a couple of swell looking women. I saw them turn up the road to Green Fancy, so that knocks your ghost story all to smash, Bacon."