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Captivating Mary Carstairs by Henry Sydnor Harrison

Part 2 out of 6

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He heard something that he thought might be a faint laugh. And
immediately ten years more came off the lady's age, and she stood at
twenty-two. The young man began to consider with less distaste his
obvious duty of escorting her home.

In the momentary silence, wood somewhere near them once more creaked
loudly and scarily.

"Oh!" came her voice out of the blackness. "Would you mind striking a
match and seeing if there isn't a lamp or something we could light?"

"But I haven't a match--that's just it! If I _had_--! Why I assure you
I've been wishing for nothing so much as a light ever since you--ever
since I came in."

"If I were a man--" she began, vexedly, but suddenly checked herself.
"Are you quite sure you haven't a single _one_?"

"I'll gladly look again in all my twenty-seven pockets. I've been doing
it ever since I arrived, and I've gotten rather to like it. But I'm
awfully afraid it's a wild goose chase."

Crack! Crack! went the mysteriously stirring woodwork, for all the world
like a living thing; and the lady again said "Oh!" And after that she
said: "You are not--in this room, are you?"

"I'm sitting quietly on the steps digging around for matches," he said.
"Would you prefer to have me come in there?"

"Would you mind--? Not that I'm in the least frightened, but--"

"It will give me great pleasure to come--faithfully searching my pockets
as I grope forward. Thus," he said, laughing, "I must grope only with my
head and feet, which is a slightly dangerous thing to do. Ouch! Where
are you, please?"


"'Here' is not very definite, you know. I have nothing to steer by but
my ear. Would you mind talking a good deal for a while?"

"It is not often," she said, with further signs of a thawing in her
manner, "that a woman gets an invitation like that."

"Opportunity knocks at your door, golden, novel, and unique."

"The luck of it is that I can't think of anything to say. Would you care
to have me hum something?"

Off came the lady's glasses, never to be donned again in fancy or in
life; and Varney was ready to admit that there might be ladies in
Hunston who were worse-looking than she by far. In the Stygian blackness
he collided with a chair and paused, leaning upon the back of it.

"I'd like extremely to have you hum. From your voice, I--I'm sure that
you do it div--awfully well. But since you seem to leave it to me, I'd
honestly rather have you do something else."


Larry laughed. "It's a game. A--an evening pastime--a sort of novel
guessing contest. Played by strangers in the dark. You see--I must tell
you that ever since you first spoke, my mind has been giving me little
thumbnail sketches--each one different from the last--of what you look

She said nothing to this; so he laughed again.

"Oh, it's not mere curiosity, you know. It's purely a scientific matter
with me. The science of deduction. The voice, you know, tells little or
nothing. I may say that I have made something of a study of voices, and
have discovered that they always go by contraries. For this reason," he
laughed gayly, "when you first spoke, I--but perhaps I am simply tiring

There was a small pause, and then the lady spoke, with apparent

"I am not tired."

Varney smiled into the great darkness. "Well, when I first heard your
voice--ha, ha!--I made up my mind that you could not possibly be less
than fifty-two."

He was rewarded with a faint laugh: this time there could be no doubt of

"You remember that mythological tunnel where everybody went in old and
came out young. This conversation has been like that. Since we have
talked," said Varney, "I have knocked thirty years off your age. But
much remains to be told--and that is the game. Are you dark?"

"Are you punning?"

"This is no punning matter," he said; and began his third exploration of
himself for a match. And above them the water continued to thud upon the
roof like a torrent broken out of a dam.

"This is _too_ bad!" breathed the lady impatiently, and plainly she was
not speaking to Varney. "I believe it's coming down harder and harder
every minute!"

"Yes," he answered cheerfully, "the good old rain is at it in earnest.
We're probably fixed for hours and hours. I might argue, you know," he
added, "that I have a right to know these things. The box of matches I
just gave away like a madman would have told me, and no questions asked.
Matches and lamps you have none, but such as you have--"

"Could you not talk of something else, please?"

Varney laughed. "Certainly, if I must. Only I've been rather generous
about this, I think, showing you my hand and giving you the chance to
laugh at me. You see, for all I know you may be fifty-two, after all. Or
even sixty-two--Oh, glory! Hallelujah!"

"What on earth is the matter?"

"Oh, nothing! Nothing at all! Just I have found a match. That's all!"

"A _match_! Splendid!" she cried, and her voice suddenly seemed to come
from a higher point in the darkness, as though she had risen. "Just one!
Oh, we--you must be extremely careful with it."

"The trouble is," he said with exaggerated dejection, "it's pretty wet.
I don't know whether it will strike or not."

"You must _make_ it strike. Oh, it will be--unpardonable--if you don't
make it strike!"

"Then I'll throw my soul into the work. I'll concentrate my whole
will-power upon it. On the back of this chair here--shall I?"

"All right. I'll concentrate too. Are--you ready?"

"Ready it is," said Varney.

Gently he drew the match across the rough wood of the chair-back, his
ear all eager expectancy--and nothing happened. Thrice he did this
fruitless thing, and something told him that a large section of the
sulphur had been rubbed away into eternity.

"It's nip and tuck," he breathed, stifling an impulse to laugh. "Nip and

Pressing the match's diminished head firmly against the wood, he drew it
downward vigorously and long. There was a faint crackle, a little
splutter, and--glory of glories!--a tiny flame faltered out into the

"Oh--_be careful_!"

Varney cupped his hand about the little flare, and for a moment ceased
to breathe. Then it caught more fully, and it was evident to both that
the victory was won.

He had meant to look instantly about for lamp or candle to light; but if
all his future happiness had hinged upon it, it seemed to him that he
could not have helped one glance at the lady who shared that shelter and
that match with him.

She stood a few feet away, regarding him breathlessly, hatted, gloved,
all in white, one hand resting lightly on the center-table, one folded
about the crook of a dainty draggled parasol. The match threw a small
and ghostly light, but he saw her, and she wore no veil.


"Oh, quick! There's a lamp just behind you."

He caught himself with a start. By incredible luck a lamp was at his
very elbow; as it was the match died on the wick. He put back the
chimney and shade, turned up the wick, and the room was bathed in golden

It was a good-sized room, evidently newly furnished and as neat as a
bandbox. The empty book-case on which the lamp rested was of handsome
quartered oak, which transiently struck him as curious. But in the next
instant he turned away and forgot all about it.

The lady stood where she had risen and was regarding him without a word.
The lamplight fell full upon her. He came nearer, and his waning
assurance shook him like a pennant in the wind and was suddenly gone.
The sense of _camaraderie_ which the dark had given faded; his easy
friendliness left him; and he was an embarrassed young man face to face
with a girl whose sudden beauty seemed to overwhelm him with the
knowledge that he did not so much as know her name.

"None of my thumbnail sketches," he faltered, "made you look like this."

She had rested her wet parasol against the table, where a slow pool
gathered at the ferrule, and was pulling on more trimly her long white
gloves. Now she looked at him rather quizzically, though her young eyes
reflected something of his own unsteadying embarrassment.

"No," she said, "I shall not be sixty-two for--for some time yet. But of
course it was a game--a pastime--where I had a--little the advantage. Do
you know, I--I am not entirely surprised, after all."

"Oh, aren't you?" he said, completely mystified, but as charmed by her
smile as he was by the subtle change in her manner which had come with
the lighting of that match.

"And it _was_ nice of you to tell me that polite story at the
beginning," she said. "And quick--and clever. When I heard the front
door burst open, the first thing I thought of, really, was that it must
be you."

"I can't think," he said, unable to take his eyes off her, "what in the
world you are talking about."

She laughed with something of an effort, and sat down exquisitely in a
cruel cane chair. "Well, then--_do_ you forgive me for taking possession
of your house like this? You will, won't you? I can't be silly, now, and
pretend not to know you. But really I never dreamed that you--"

"Is it possible," he broke in stormily, "that you are mistaking me for
that insufferable Stanhope?"

She looked at him startled, dumfounded; in her eyes amazement mingled
with embarrassment; then her brow wrinkled into a slow, doubtful smile.

"Oh-h--I beg your pardon! I--did n't understand. But is it my fault that
I've seen your picture a hundred times? Yes, I suppose it is; for, at
the risk of making you crosser still, I'll confess that I--I cut it out
and framed it."

Varney leaned his elbow on the mantel and faced her.

"You have made a mistake," he said. "I am not Mr. Stanhope."

"You mean," she laughed, very pretty and pink, "that it is no affair of
mine that you are."

A kind of desperation seized him. It was evident that she did not
believe him, just as Coligny Smith had not believed him, and the plump
young woman of the grocery who had used his Christian name. He was
almost ready not to believe himself. However, there were cards in his
pocket; he got one of them out, and coming nearer, handed it to her.

"My name is Laurence Varney," he said mechanically, for that slogan
seemed fated to meet skeptics everywhere. "I am from New York and have
happened to come up here on a friend's yacht to--to spend a few days.
You have made a mistake."

She took the card, held it lightly in her gloved hand, bowed to him with
mocking courtesy.

"I am very glad to meet you--Mr. Laurence Varney! I--I am from New York,
too, and have happened to come up here on the New York Central with my
mother to spend a few years. And I live in a white house half a mile
down the road, where I ought to have been an hour ago. And I am Mary
Carstairs, who has read all your books and thinks that they--Oh"--she
broke off all at once: for there was no missing the look in his
astounded face. "What in the world have I said now?"

"You--can't be--_Mary Carstairs_!" he cried.

"Is--that so terrible?" she laughed, a little uncertainly.



But he recovered in a flash, aware of the criticalness of that moment,
and met her bewildered gaze steadily.

"Terrible? Certainly not. Your name surprised me a little. That was all.
I thought, you see, that you were somebody else."

"Yes? Who?"

"I really--do not know exactly. Do forgive my stupidity, won't you? As I
say, I was just a little surprised."

"You would explain to a man," she said, "and don't you think you ought
to to me? If you did not know exactly who you thought I was, why should
my name surprise you so?"

He picked up a hideous china swan from a smart little oak stand and
examined it with excessive interest.

"It was merely that I happen to know some one in New York who had
mentioned you--and done it in a way to make me think you were not--very
old. In fact, I had supposed that Miss Mary Carstairs wore short dresses
and a plait down her back. You see," he said, with a well-planned smile,
"how absurdly wrong I was. And then, just now, somebody pointed out your
house to me. There was a girl standing in the doorway--a small, dark
girl, with--"

A peal like chimes cut him short. "Dear Jenny Thurston! Our
seamstress's little girl. She is spending the day with my mother, while
I've been spending most of the day with _her_ mother! Turn about! But I
wish you'd tell me," she said, "who it is that could have spoken of
me--to you. How interesting that we have a friend in common!"

"Not a friend," he said grimly, at the window. "Only a former--
acquaintance of yours--somebody that I imagine you have pretty well
forgotten. I'll tell you--another time. But I see it has stopped raining,
Miss--Miss--Miss Carstairs. Perhaps we had better take advantage of the
lull to start?--for I hope you are going to let me act for Mr. Hare, and
walk home wih you."

"Oh--would you! Then indeed we had!" she said rising at once. "I am
horribly late now: I know my mother is frantic. I don't mind your not
telling me that, really! But--it is odd that you should have spoken of
my age twice to-night. Shall I tell you something, Mr. Stanhope--to show
you why I have had to give up pigtails? This is my birthday: I am
nineteen to-day!"

She raised her eyes, shining, heavy-fringed, deep as the sea and bluer,
and looked at him. His own fell instantly. A shade of annoyance flitted
across his still face.

"It is a delightful surprise," he said, mechanically. "But you must not
call me Mr. Stanhope, please, Miss Carstairs."

"Why--mayn't I call you by your name?"

"My name," said Varney, "in fairly legible print, is on the card which
you hold in your hand."

She raised her eyes and looked at him, perplexed, hesitating, a little
mortified, like one who has encountered an unlooked-for rebuff. "Forgive
me," she ventured rather shyly, "but do you think it would be possible
for you to--to keep an incog here--where you must have so many friends?
If you want to do that--to try it--of course I'll not tell a soul. But
I'd like it very much if you could trust--_me_, who have known you
through your books for so long."

"I should be quite willing to trust you, Miss Carstairs, but there is
nothing to trust you about. I am not incog. I am not the author. I have
written no books whatever--"

"Ah! Then good-bye," she said with a swift change of manner, starting at
once for the door. "I shall not trouble you to walk home with me. Thank
you again for giving me shelter and light during the storm."

"Will you be good enough to wait one minute?"

She paused with one gloved hand on the knob, cool, resolute, a little
angry, the blue battery of her eyes fixing him across her white
embroidered shoulder. But he had turned away, hands thrust deep into the
pockets of his coat, brow rumpled into a frown, jaw set to anathema of
the plight in which a needless fortune had plunged him.

If he let Uncle Elbert's daughter go like this, he might as well put the
_Cypriani_ about at once for New York, for he knew that he would never
have the chance to talk with her again. With engaging young
friendliness which overrode reserve, she had been moved to ask his
confidence, and he had angered her, even hurt her feelings, it seemed,
by appearing to withhold it. In return she had thrown down the issue
before him, immediate and final. Abstract questions of morals, and there
were new ones of great seriousness now, would have to wait. Should he
allow her to think that he was another man, or should he bid her
good-bye and abandon his errand?

There was no alternative: she had made that unmistakable. His oath to
her father came suddenly into his mind. After all, was it not a little
absurd to boggle over one small deception when the whole enterprise, as
now suddenly revealed, was to be nothing but one continuous and colossal

"Miss--Miss Carstairs," said Varney, "with _you_ I shall not argue this.
I am going to let you think I am whoever you want. We needn't say
anything more about it, need we? Only--I'll ask you to call me by the
name I gave you, please, and, so far as you can, to regard me that way.
Is that--a bargain?"

Mary Carstairs stood at the threshold of the lighted room, looking at
him from under her wide white hat, eyes shining, lips smiling, cheeks
faintly flushed with a sense of the triumph she had won.

"Of course," she said. "And I don't think you'll need ever be sorry for
having trusted me--_Mr. Varney!"_

He bowed stiffly. "If you will kindly open the door, I will blow out the
lamp and give myself the pleasure of taking you home."

They left the hospitable cottage of Ferris Stanhope, and went out into
the night, side by side, Varney and Mary Carstairs. The young man's
manner was deceptively calm, but his head was in a whirl. However, the
one vital fact about the situation stood out in his mind like a tower
set on a hill. This was that Uncle Elbert's daughter was walking at his
elbow, on terms of acquaintanceship and understanding. The thing had
happened with stunning unexpectedness, but it had happened, and the game
was on. The next move was his own, and what better moment for making it
would he ever have?

The road was dark and wet. Rain-drops from the trees fell upon them as
they walked, gathered pools splashed shallowly under their feet.
Suddenly Varney said:

"Do you happen to be interested in yachts, Miss Carstairs? Mine is
anchored just opposite your house, I believe, and it would be a pleasure
to show her to you sometime."



Peter had not yet returned to the yacht when Varney went to bed that
night. Like the Finnegan of song, he was gone again when Varney rose
next morning. Indeed, it was only too clear that his Celtic interests
had been suddenly engrossed by matters much nearer his heart than the
prospect, as he saw the thing, of spanking a naughty child.

"He was off by half-past eight, sir," the steward, McTosh, told Varney
at breakfast. "He said to tell you to give yourself no uneasiness, sir;
that he was only going to Mr. Hare's--I think was the name--for a short
call, and would return by ten o'clock."

"What else did he say?"

"Well, sir, he was saying how the poltix of the village is not all they
might be, but he seemed very cheerful, sir, and took three times to the

At dinner-time last night such extraordinary behavior from his
fellow-conspirator would have both disturbed and angered Varney. At
breakfast-time this morning it hardly interested him. He had employed
his walk from the cottage of refuge to the Carstairs front gate to
unbelievable advantage. In fact, his mission in Hunston seemed to be all
over but the shouting, and until the moment of final action arrived,
there appeared no reason why Peter should not employ his time in any way
he saw fit.

The heavy storm had scoured the air, and the world was bright as a new
pin. In the shaded solitude of the after-deck, Mr. Carstairs's agent sat
in an easy-chair with a cigarette, and thought over the remarkable
happenings of his first night in Hunston. In retrospect young Editor
Smith seemed to be but the ordered instrument of fate, dispatched in a
rowboat to draw him against his will from the yacht to the town, where
all his business was neatly arranged for his doing. Certainly it
appeared as if the hand of intelligent destiny must have been in it
somewhere. No mere blind luck could have driven him half a mile into the
country to the one spot in all Hunston--impossibly unlikely as it
was--where he could become acquainted with Uncle Elbert's daughter
without the formality of an introduction.

Uncle Elbert! How desperately the old man must desire his daughter to
have planned a mad scheme like this with a subterfuge at the expense of
his best friend cunningly hidden away in the heart of it. Yet, after the
first staggering flash, Varney had found it impossible to be angry with
Mr. Carstairs. He only felt sorry for him, sorrier than he had ever felt
for anybody in his life. The old man's madness and his deceit were but
the measure of his desire for his daughter. And the more he desired her,
so it seemed to Varney, the more he was entitled to have her.

Interrupting his meditations, the steward approached on silent feet,
bearing a flat brown-paper package in his hand. It appeared that the
under-steward had just returned from a marketing tour in Hunston, had
met Mr. Maginnis on the street, and been ordered to take back the parcel
to Mr. Varney.

"All right, McTosh," said Varney.

He broke the string with some curiosity and pulled off the wrappers.
Within was nothing but a copy of a current literary monthly.

A present of a magazine from Peter! This was a delicate apology for his
remissness, indeed. "He will be sending me chocolates next," thought
Varney, not a little puzzled.

He turned the pages curiously. Soon, observing a bit of brown
wrapping-paper sticking out between the leaves, he opened the magazine
at that point and found himself looking at a picture; and he sat still
and stared at it for a long time.

It was the full-page portrait of a young man of some thirty years: a
rather thin young man with a high forehead, a straight nose, and a
smallish chin. The face was good-looking, but somehow not quite
attractive. About the eyes was an expression faintly unpleasant, which
the neat glasses did not hide. On the somewhat slack lip was a slight
twist, not agreeable, which the well-kept mustache could not conceal.
Still it was an interesting face, clever, assured, half-insolent. To
Varney, it was exceptionally interesting; for removing the mustache and
eye-glasses, it might have passed anywhere for his own.

Below the portrait was printed this legend:


The popular author of "Rosamund," etc., who will reopen the old Stanhope
cottage near Hunston, New York, and spend the autumn there upon a new

Mr. Stanhope's health has not been good of late, and his physicians have
recommended an extended stay in this quiet Hudson River country.

* * * * *

Here was that "Mr. Ferris," whom the young lady of the grocery had coyly
saluted; the "Beany," whom the pale young editor had bluntly bidden to
leave town; and the literary celebrity whom Miss Mary Carstairs so
evidently and so warmly admired. Varney stared at the portrait with a
kind of fascination. Now he saw many points of difference between the
face of "the popular author" and his own. The resemblance was only
general, after all. Still it was undoubtedly strong enough to warrant
all kinds of mistakes.

What a very extraordinary sort of thing to have happen!

Suddenly his eye fell upon a penciled line in the white margin above the
picture which had at first escaped him:

"On no account leave the yacht till I come back. Vitally important."

Varney pitched the magazine across the deck with an irritated laugh.
Peter--utterly ignorant of how matters stood--attempting to fire off
long-distance orders and direct his movements. The splendid gall!

As it chanced, he had no occasion to leave the yacht, either before or
after Peter got back. His work was done. He made himself comfortable
with morning papers and a novel--not one of Mr. Stanhope's--and began to
seek beguilement.

But his reading went forward rather fitfully. There were long intervals
when his book, "eleventh printing" though it was, slipped forgotten to
his knees, and he sat staring thoughtfully over the sunny water....

Peter failed to keep his promise about returning to the yacht at ten
o'clock. In fact, it was four o'clock that afternoon when he arrived,
and at that, the manner in which he sprang up the stair indicated him as
a man who had but few moments to spare to yachts and that sort of thing.

Varney, at his ease upon the transom, watched his friend's approach with
a quizzical eye.

"Greetings, old comrade! How did you leave them all in Hunston?"

Peter, who, truth to tell, had been looking forward to bitter personal
denunciation, looked somewhat relieved, and laughed. However, his manner
suggested little of hang-dog consciousness of guilt; it was far too
absorbed and business-like for that. He dropped down into a chair by
Varney and swabbed the back of his neck with a damp-looking

"Larry, who'd have dreamed last night that we were parting for all this

"Well, not I for one."

"Awfully sorry about it all, and I know you'll think I'm acting like a
funny kind of helper. I hadn't the faintest idea of bottling you up on
the yacht all day like this, but--well, you might say, Larry, that a man
couldn't help it to save his life. I certainly meant to be back by the
time you had finished breakfast and explain the whole situation to
you--there are a deuced lot of complications, you know--but one thing
led right on to another and--good Lord! I couldn't find a minute with a
fine-tooth comb."

"It's all right, statesman. You don't hear me making any complaints. All
I ask is a little _rsum_ of what you've been doing since you so
cleverly lost me. In Reform to the ears, I suppose?"

Peter again looked rather surprised at his chief's easy indifference.

"You want that part of it first? Well," he said rapidly, "I've been
trying to do four days' work for Reform in one, and a pinch it's been to
make both ends meet, I can tell you. At it practically without a break
since I left you last night. J. Pinkney took me right in and bared his
soul. Said he was down and out and beaten to a fluid. A clever little
devil fast enough, but no more idea of how to play the game than a baby
baboon. When he caught on to what I wanted to do for him, he would have
fallen on my neck except that he isn't that kind. That was this morning.
I worked out my idea in the still watches: couldn't sleep for thinking
of it. It just means this: if my plans carry through Hare gets the
biggest hearing to-night that this old town can give. And I think
they'll carry all right. You wouldn't be interested in the details. Now
this other thing--"

"Oh, but I would, though! Give me at least a peep behind the scenes
before you dash on. What about these plans of yours?"

Peter laid down the newspaper with which he had been busily fanning
himself. A sudden light came into his eyes.

"I'll tell you just how it all happened," he said in an eager voice.
"Only I'll have to hurry, as I'm due back in town right away--that is,
of course, unless you should need me for anything. Well, I left Hare
last night after only a couple of hours' talk, listening to the same old
story of boss-rule, and giving him, if I do say it, some cracking good
practical pointers. By the way, we were interrupted at that. Hadn't got
started before Hare remembered that he'd promised to bring some girl
home from somewhere, and dragged me off a mile down the road, only to
find out afterwards that she'd gone home with somebody else. Made me
tired. I left him about ten o'clock and started down Main Street for the
river, meaning to come straight back here. But as I was footing it
along, thinking over my talk with Hare and attending to my own business,
who should brace me but that pale-faced rascal we saw playing dead in
the rowboat. This time the _poseur_ was lying flat on some packing-cases
in front of a store, and who do you suppose he turned out to be?"

"The brains of the machine," said Varney.

He told briefly of his own meeting with Coligny Smith at the same spot
two hours earlier, and of the editor's stagey warnings.

"Exactly the way he did me!" cried Peter. "Saved the announcement of
who he was for the grand _finale_ in Act V. I got mad as a wet hen, told
him what I thought of him in simple language, and then when the grafter
twitted me to go and do something about it, I broke loose and swore that
I'd make Hare Mayor of Hunston if I had to buy the little two-by-twice
town to do it. Told him to pack his trunk, for all the crooks would soon
be traveling toward the timber. So then I turned right around, hiked
back to Hare's, told him what I'd done, gave him my hand on it, and
pulled out the old family check-book. This morning I went to him and
laid before him the greatest scheme that ever was. You know Hare can't
get a hall to speak in for love or money--nobody dares rent him one; he
can't buy an inch of space in the _Gazette_; he can't put spreads on the
billboards without having 'em pasted out in the night. To-night the
whole thing's been done for him--Ryan's big town-meeting. Well, we're
going to try to _swipe that meeting_--do you see? I'm getting in some
husky fellows from New York to see fair play, and so on. Oh, it's a
bully chance--you can see! I've spent a nice bunch of father's money
working the scheme up, and, by George! I believe we are going to get by
with it. If we do--well, we give this town the biggest shock it's had in
years, and that's the way reform begins, Larry. _Shock_!"

Something of his contagious enthusiasm spread to and fired Varney. Fate
had thrown in their way a plucky and honest man engaged in an apparently
hopeless fight against overwhelming powers of darkness. He deserved
help. And what possible risk was there now when the _Cypriani's_ work
was practically done?

"I can't say," continued Peter dutifully, "that this is exactly playing
the quiet onlooker, as my orders read. As I said last night, I consider
that this excursion into politics will help our little business, not
interfere with it. It will divert attention. It will seem to explain why
we are here. But if you don't agree with me, if you want me to drop

"No," said Varney, slowly. "I don't."

"Good for you, old sport!" cried Peter, evidently relieved. "Needless to
say, I'm right on the job whenever you need me. And nothing's going to
happen. Trust me. Now as to this other matter. You got that magazine I
sent this morning?"

"Yes. Thanks for the picture of my twin brother. But why couldn't I
leave the yacht till you got back?"

Peter stared. "Why, just that, of course. Deuced unfortunate
coincidence, isn't it? Everybody in town is going to think that you are
this fellow Stanhope."


"_Well_? Oh, I forgot--you haven't heard. Well, from the stories that
are floating round town to-day, Stanhope is a cad of the original brand.
He was born here--lived here until he was twenty-one or two. Women were
his trouble. The climax came about twelve years ago. The girl was named
Orrick--Mamie Orrick, I believe. Nobody knows exactly what became of
her, but they practically ran Stanhope out of the town then. Well--there
it is."

He paused long enough to light one of his Herculean cigars, employing
his hat as a wind-shield, and rapidly continued: "It's very curious and
strange, and all that, but there it is. A month or so ago the _Gazette_
announced that Stanhope was coming back to Hunston. Last night you were
seen on the square, and now the news has spread like wildfire that the
author has arrived. Hare heard a lot of gossip on the street to-day.
He's lived here only a few years and doesn't know anything personally;
but he says the old feeling against Stanhope seems to have revived as
though it had all happened yesterday. Orrick, the girl's father, a
half-witted old dotard, was heard to say that he would shoot on sight.
There are three or four others besides Orrick who've got personal
grudges too. If any of these meet you, there is almost sure to be
trouble. How is that for a little complication?"

"And this was the reason you sent me word to lock myself up on the
_Cypriani_? You're a bird, Peter. Not that it made any difference, but I
ventured to suppose that my leaving before you got back would interfere
with some plans you had been making for me, and--"

"It would interfere with some plans I have been making for you, in a
general way, to have you assassinated."

"Stuff. Ten to one all these stories that somebody has been so careful
to have get back to you are right out of the whole cloth--"

"What's the use of setting up your cranky opinions against the hard
facts? The plain truth is that everybody who ever heard of Stanhope is
going to give you the cold shoulder for a dog; we can depend absolutely
on that."

But Varney had his own reasons for depending on nothing of the sort.

"You've been imposed upon, Peter. In fact, one of the population mistook
me for the author last night, and instead of giving me the cold
shoulder, as you say, she seemed to think that being Stanhope was the
best credentials that a man could have."

"She? Who're you talking about?"

"I'm talking about Uncle Elbert's daughter, Miss Mary Carstairs. I had
the pleasure of meeting her last night."

"The devil you did!" cried Peter, laughing with astonishment. "You
certainly walk off with the prize for prompt results. How in the world
did you manage it?"

Varney told him succinctly how he had managed it.

"Fine! Fine! Honestly, I was getting afraid that you never could do it
at all, with the rotten reputation they've pinned on you here. Good
enough! Still it's absurd to cite the opinion of a little child in a
matter like this."

"It depends upon what you call a little child, doesn't it? Miss
Carstairs is nineteen years old."

Peter straightened in his chair with a jerk, and stared at him as though
one or the other had suddenly gone mad.

"_Nineteen_! Why, I thought she was twelve."

"So did I."

"Why, how in Sam Hill did you ever make such an asinine mistake?"

Varney gave an impatient laugh.

"What difference does that make now? My impression was that the
separation took place about eight years ago. It may have been twelve. My
other impression was that the girl was about four at the time. She may
have been eight instead. If it's of any interest to you, I should say
that the mistake was natural enough. Besides, Uncle Elbert rather helped
it along."

"Uncle Elbert rather lied to you--that's what he did," said Peter with
the utmost quietness.

There was a considerable silence. Peter pulled frowningly at his cigar;
it had gone out but he was too absorbed to notice it, and mechanically
pulled on. Presently he raised his head and looked at Varney.

"Well? This ends it, I suppose? You'll go back to New York this

"No," said Varney, "I'm going to stay and carry it through just as I

Peter tapped the chair-arm with his heavy fingers. "Why?"

"Because--well, I promised to, and on the strength of my promise, Uncle
Elbert has gone to trouble and expense for one thing, and has pinned
high hopes on me, for another. I had my chance to ask questions and make
terms and stipulations--and I didn't do it. That was my fault. I am not
even sure that he meant to deceive me. I have no right to break a
contract because I find that my part in it is going to be harder than I

"This business about her age changes everything. Carstairs has no legal
rights over a nineteen-year-old daughter."

"Legal rights! My dear Peter, you never supposed I thought I was doing
anything legal, did you? No, no; the moral part of it has been my prop
and stay all along, and that still holds. I promised without conditions,
and I'll go ahead on the same terms."

"Give me a match," said Peter thoughtfully. "Maybe you are right,
Larry," he added presently. "I only wanted to point out another way of
looking at it. I stand absolutely by your decision. You think that this
girl is wrong-headed and obstinate, and that her father has a moral
right to have her, over age or not. This--discovery makes it a pretty
serious business, but of course you've thought of all that. But--will it
be possible now?"

"I have invited her," said Varney, with a light laugh, "to lunch on the
_Cypriani_ on Thursday with two or three other Hunston friends."


"She accepted with every mark of pleasure. Great men like Stanhope, it
seems, require no introduction: it beats me. The point now is to find
the other Hunston friends."

"Hare and his sister, Mrs. Marne--the very thing!--chaperon and all!
I'll invite them to-night. Then the whole thing's done!" Peter sat
silent a moment, looking at Varney. "I've been awfully rushed to-day,"
he resumed, "because if I was going to help Hare at all, I didn't dare
lose this one big opportunity. But remember, anything that has to be
done from now on--I'm your man."

"There'll be nothing more now until Thursday. The thing's practically

Peter was still looking at him steadily. "It's going to be dirt easy,
provided we don't weaken. You can't do things to your friends, but you
can emphatically do them to your enemies. We have got to remember always
that this girl, who has been so heartless to her old fool of a father,
is our enemy."

"Yes, that is what we have got to remember."

"Good Lord!" cried Peter, looking at his watch. "Twenty minutes past
four, and I must be at the hall at four-thirty sharp. I'll have to sneak
right away. You're going to sit tight on the yacht, of course?"

"Never! I like to have a little of the fun myself. I must certainly take
in this meeting to-night, and watch you put your heel on their necks and
all that."

"Don't! With what you've got to do, you can't afford to expose yourself.
What's the use of running risks, even little ones, when there is nothing
to gain?"

"Satan reproving sin! Fudge! Free yourself once for all, my dear sir,
that I'm starring in The Prisoner on the Yacht for the next three days,
or anything of that sort."

"Well, if you will go," said Peter, reluctantly, "here's a reserved seat
ticket--a peacherine, right up at the front."

"Great! Count on me to lead the applause."

Peter rose. His engrossed brow advertised the fact that his thought had
already flown back to his own private maelstrom of new concerns.

"If Hare gets his chance to-night," he meditated out loud, "you can rely
on him to make the most of it. He'll make good; he's a man, sound in
wind and limb, head and heart. I do wish, though, he wasn't so--somehow
innocent--so easy--so confoundedly affable and handshaking with
everybody that comes along. There's a sneaky-looking stranger at the
hotel--rubber-heeled fellow named Higginson, with one of these black
felt hats pulled down over his eyes like a stage villain--that Hare
never laid eyes on till to-day. For all he knows the man may be an agent
of Ryan's, a hired spy imported to--By Jove! That's just what he is,
I'll bet!" he cried suddenly; and after a frowning pause, hurried warmly
on: "Don't you remember last night, just after we hit the town, I said
there was a man following us--sneaked up the alley when he saw me
looking at him?"

"I believe I do, Peter. But the fact is that I met so many exciting
people last night--"

"It's the same man--it was Higginson!" said Peter positively. "I'm sure
of it! I didn't get a look at his face last night, but it's the same
hat, same figure--everything. I'll bet anything he's on Ryan's payroll;
and there's little Hare hobnobbing with him as friendly as though they'd
been classmates at college! That kind of free-for-all geniality doesn't
go, you know! A reformer in a rotten town like this," said Peter
vehemently "would do well to cultivate a profound distrust of

Varney burst out laughing.

"You yourself have known Hare from the cradle, I believe?"

"I'm different," said Peter without a smile. "Well! I must move. Now
let's see--that lunch. What time shall I ask Hare and Mrs. Marne for?"

"Two o'clock, Thursday. I didn't have the nerve," Varney explained, "to
ask Miss Carstairs for to-day--rather lucky I didn't--and she was
engaged for Thursday."

"Right. I'll arrange it all. Well, for the Lord's sake take care of
yourself to-night, Larry, and trust me to keep out of trouble. So long."

Varney looked after Peter's disappearing back, and envied him all the
fun he was having. His own lot was certainly far less entertaining.
However, it was his own; and here he resembled his friend in one respect
at least. His thoughts, like Peter's, had a way just now of reverting at
short notice to the matters in which he himself was most closely

He lay back idly among the cushions, and let his mind once more run over
the unexpected problems of his situation.

The new graveness of what he was pledged to do had, of course, been
strongly present in his mind from the first moment of revelation.
Kidnapping a nineteen-year-old girl was certainly, as Peter had pointed
out, a pretty serious business. He perceived that it would not look well
in the papers in the least. Also if she cared to raise a row
afterwards, there might be an aftermath which would not be wholly a
laughing matter.

Nevertheless, this side of the question seemed remote and of minor
interest to him just now. The problem appeared to be a personal one, not
a question of statutes and judges. In his talk with Miss Carstairs
before he knew her by name, he had failed to notice anything that
suggested the spoiled and wilful child he had come to find. He could
remember nothing she had said or done that helped him at all to think of
her as his enemy. The fact was that it was all quite the other way. And
this helped him to understand now, as he had not understood before, why
Uncle Elbert had begged a solemn oath from him with such a piteous look
on his handsome, haggard old face.



Peter's pronounced views as to Mr. Stanhope were not, it appeared,
purely of the stuff that dreams are made of. Testimony to the author's
lack of popularity in his native town came to Varney with unexpected

In the corner of the square, as he swung along toward the Academy
Theatre that evening, he found himself suddenly confronted by a man who,
lounging against the fence of a shabby dwelling, straightened
dramatically at his approach and bent a sharp gaze upon him. He was a
tall, shambling fellow with a white cloth swathed about the top of his
head; and Varney, in the act of passing, suddenly recognized him as the
dog man, whom Peter had knocked out the night before. His gaze was a
wanton challenge for the young man to stop, and Varney cheerfully
accepted it.

"Why, it's--Mr.--er--Hackley, isn't it?"

The man's bandage left only one eye free to operate, and he kept this
upon Varney with a curious unwinking stare.

"Yes," said he slowly, "I'm Hackley."

"How'd the dog come out?" asked Varney.

"Dead," said Hackley, as quiet in mien as the Hackley of last night was
bellicose. "Dead _an'_ buried."

"I'm sorry," said Varney, his glance on the head-cloth. "The man who did
the kicking was a friend of mine, and he wouldn't want you to lose your
dog without some compensation. Er--please accept this with his
compliments and regrets."

Hackley, his single washed-out eye starting with pleasure, accepted the
proffered note with a gesture resembling a clutch, investigated its size
in the dim light with hardly concealed delight, and pinned it into his
waistcoat pocket with a large brass safety-pin. Then he raised his head
slowly and looked at Varney.

"Why n't you leave town to-night, Stanhope?" he inquired casually.

Varney started. Almost to the very language this was exactly what Editor
Smith had suggested to him the night before.

"Why do you call me Stanhope, Hackley? My name happens to be Laurence

Mr. Hackley's gaze never relaxed. "Chuck it," he said without emotion.
"A sensible and eddicated man," he added impersonally, "never lies when
a lie couldn't do him no good. If I was you, Stanhope, I wouldn't lose a
minute in cuttin' loose from this town."

"If I were Stanhope, I daresay I wouldn't either. But suppose I were,"
he added, "why shouldn't I stay here if I wanted to?"

"For one reason," said Mr. Hackley deliberately, "there's me. When I'm
a-feelin' myself, there ain't a cammer, a more genteel nor lor-abidin'
citizen in Hunston. As for fussin' and fightin', I'd no more think of it
than a dyin' inverlid in the orspitle. But only throw a few drinks under
my belt like last night, and I'm a altogether different creetur. And I'm
mighty afraid that the next time I over-drink myself and don't rightly
know what I'm doin', I'll go out after you with a club. And then
there'll be trouble."

"But why should you want to go after Stanhope with a club? What did he
ever do to you?"

"Don't you know? I married Mamie Orrick's little sister!"

"Most interesting," said Varney, "as a bit of genealogy, but what's it
got to do with Stanhope and the club?"

But Mr. Hackley said again, cryptically: "Chuck it." Then, softened by
the young man's pleasant ways, and by the windfall of a fortune pinned
into his vest: "Be sensible, Stanhope," he added amiably. "I ain't the
only one. Old Orrick's heard that you've hit the town and is totin' a
gun and talk-in' wild. And, of course, there's others. Don't jump off no
tall buildin's, I say, expectin' Providence to land you soft. There's a
train to Noo York at eight-ten. Cut while you can!"

"Why, thanks," said Varney, laughing and starting on. "If I should see
Mr. Stanhope at any time, I won't fail to pass him the friendly tip."

"And if you should see that friend o' yourn," called Hackley after him,
"him that gimme the paste in the jor--you c'n just tell him that Jim
Hackley is goin' to fix you both, _good!_"

"At your convenience, Hackley."

The young man passed on, undisturbed by the dog man's quaint menaces. He
did not exactly see himself and Peter getting into trouble at the hands
of a crack-brained village humorist.

Streams of people, converging from all directions, guided him easily to
the theatre. Pushing his way in, he found the stage empty and the
proceedings not yet begun; and he stood for a minute at the inner door,
glancing over the house. It was crowded. Oratory is a real inducement in
societies seldom blessed with that attraction. Even lemonade is a magnet
if you get it seldom and never to surfeit. Already men were sitting in
the long low windows which ran down either side of the building; and a
score of ushers, singularly alert-looking men, were hurriedly
distributing camp-chairs to accommodate the overflow. Certainly, Peter
could have desired no better setting for his daring adventure for

Thanks to the reserved seat which his friend's reluctant liberality had
furnished him, Varney was in no hurry to join the throng inside.
Presently, to get clear of the rush at the doors, he strolled into the
lobby and idly stood at one side, watching the people streaming by.

Thus, by sheer luck, he became witness to the crucial episode of the
evening. An oily Teutonic voice spoke just at his elbow:

"Id's eight o'clock, I zee. We'd better go back und gif Taylor his
speech, I guess."

The young man turned. He happened to be standing just in front of the
little cubby of a box-office. In it stood two men, one large and fat and
blonde, the other short and stocky and dark. This latter, looking up
from a typewritten manuscript, spoke briefly:

"No hurry. Find Smith if you can and send him here."

The fat oily person departed obediently. Immediately there stepped
through the door of the box-office a rough-looking man in a slouch hat,
with three days' stubble stippling a grimy chin. He shut the door
carefully and came near. Varney, from where he stood, could see and hear

"Mr. Ryan?"

The stocky, dark man nodded. _Aha!_ thought Varney.

"Then step outside a minute, will yer? There's a genaman wants to speak
to you right away on a matter as concerns you close."

Ryan coldly looked the man over: "Then tell him to come in here. No! I
ain't got no time to fool with him now. Tell him to go to the devil."

The stranger never moved a muscle. "There's a reason w'y he can't come
in here--you'll see when you come outside, all right." Then bringing his
dark face sharply a foot nearer, he went on in a hasty undertone: "Hey,
you! Ever hear of a man named Maginnis?"

Ryan had: Peter's fame had traveled far in Hunston that day.

"Well, listen! There's a game on to bust this meetin' to-night and put
the hook into you good and hard. Maginnis has spent a thousand to do it.
D'yer savvy? Now will yer step lively?"

The boss considered a moment and then stepped lively. Varney, falling in
behind, stepped lively too, his curiosity strongly stirred. But outside,
before the theatre, there was no sign of a gentleman awaiting an
audience: only the people pouring on into the Academy.

"Around the corner," whispered the dark man hoarsely. "He dassen't wait
here. Quick!"

Around the corner the pair hurried, Varney close in their wake. In the
silent alley, half-hidden in the shadows of the building, stood a large
carriage with a pair of strapping bays tugging at their traces. They
halted before it, and the stranger, who had considerately taken Ryan's
arm, flung open the door.

"Here he is, Jim--Mr. Ryan. Now you c'n tell him--"

The sentence died unended. At the same moment the sound of a violent
scuffle smote the nocturnal air. It appeared that Jim, presumably
laboring under an unfortunate misapprehension, had not received his
visitor with that refined hospitality due from one gentleman to another.
Even more inexplicable, it looked in the deceitful darkness, remarkably
as though the boss's guide, suddenly dropping that gentleman's arm, had
laid forcible hold upon his outraged and madly protesting legs.

It was all over in a minute. There was a faint yell, quickly and
violently muffled. Then the carriage door banged, leaving nobody on the
sidewalk, and the horses, responding to an acutely painful lash from the
strong arm on the box, sprang forward at the gallop.

Varney stood in the dark alley, looking after the vanishing carriage
with mingled admiration and amazement. Swift footsteps sounded near him;
and the next moment a strong hand seized him and pulled him back into
the shadow of the wall.

"_Sh-h! It's me_! Anybody see it?"

"_Hello!_ Not a soul but me."

Peter leaned against the wall and drew a deep breath.

"He can never prove it on me--not to save his soul!--_and I hold his
meeting in the hollow of my hand_. Do you see that lighted window at
the back there? That's my last bridge. Waiting in there are the chairman
of the meeting and the mayor, who's the orator of the evening. I'm going
in and make 'em take me on as one of the platform speakers. I'll pass
out a few remarks and call on Hare--"

"But how will you make them--"

"They daren't refuse me anything," said Peter swiftly, and tapped his
breast-pocket. "I've papers here that mean stripes for them both. Mind
your eye, Larry, and be good!"

He disappeared through the little gate toward the dressing-room, where
the officials of the meeting waited vainly for last instructions from
their lord. Varney looked after him with a sigh. In Hunston only
twenty-four hours and already to be running the town!

He emerged from the alley feeling rather gloomy, and halted on the
sidewalk in front of the theatre, idly watching the people as they
poured in. The spectacle of this steady stream made a fitting background
for his meditations; for he was thinking, absently, of the extreme
boldness of Peter's course. Certainly, there was little here to suggest
the quiet onlooker. But all at once something happened which checked the
current of his thought as effectually as a slap upon the cheek.

In that shifting, waste of strange faces, his vagrant eye suddenly fell
upon a familiar one--two, three familiar ones--and his flagging interest
sprang to life. There approached, side by side, J. Pinkney Hare, who,
though few knew it, might prove the brilliant hero of the night's
proceedings; the child, little Jenny Something, who had spent yesterday
at the Carstairs house, leading strangers to think that she was somebody
else; and Miss Carstairs herself, a fair flower in that moving tangle of

Hare saw Varney and bowed in his stiff affected way. But Varney's eyes
had already gone on to Miss Carstairs, and he did not return that
greeting. Seeing the little candidate lift his hat, her look followed
his, and so her eye met Varney's.

When this happened her expression did not change, except that, so he
thought, she faintly colored. Varney awaited her bow; he half bowed
himself: a stiff smile was ready on his lips. But he never gave it. Her
eyes rested full upon him for a second, with no sign of recognition, and
then moved away; and the next moment she swept past him into the

There was no shadow of doubt about it. She who only last night had
treated him with such marked kindness, had unmistakably cut him. It
hardly seemed possible. Why, they had parted like friends!

But he understood instantly what had happened. To her, he was Ferris
Stanhope; he himself had given her the right to think that. Since they
had parted, some of that unpleasant gossip about Stanhope--of which she
had known nothing last night--had made its way to her; and she had
believed it as to him, Laurence Varney. Yes, she had believed it as to
him. Peter was right, after all. A self-respecting girl owed it to
herself, it seemed, not to recognize him. Curiously, so strong was his
sense of the personal meaning of the insult that its more practical
aspects for the moment altogether escaped him.

But that was only for the moment. In the next breath, it rushed over him
that with that cool glance the luncheon engagement upon which his whole
mission depended stood canceled; and with that thought he felt his will
hardening into iron. What she thought of him, personally, was of course
nothing; but no power should keep him from carrying through his plans
precisely as he had arranged them. He elbowed his way into the lobby to
find Uncle Elbert's daughter and make her retract that look.

But it gradually became evident that Uncle Elbert's daughter was not in
the lobby: the most systematic exploration failed to reveal any trace of
her. In fact, it was certain that she had passed straight on to her seat
within the hall; whence a loud roar presently gave warning to stragglers
that the oratory had begun.

* * * * *

Two hours later Varney rose from his seat, at once marveling over the
splendor of Peter's _coup_ and bewildered by the blaze of publicity
which it had turned upon his comrade and co-schemer. The well-laid plans
had carried through to brilliant success, and Ryan's meeting had been
converted into a triumph for Ryan's deadly enemy, J. Pinkney Hare.

The candidate had sat unobtrusively down in the audience with his friend
Miss Carstairs and the child Jenny,--spectators all: that was the way
they had arranged it. Peter, on the contrary, sat in the great white
light of a front seat on the stage, where he had masterfully intruded
himself in the galaxy of "other prominent citizens." And sure enough,
when the set speeches were over, it was the honorable chairman who
presented "a Mr. Maginnis of New York" to the meeting, doubtless having
been satisfactorily convinced beforehand that it was to his advantage to
do so. But, doubtless also convinced that there would be an accounting
to his master for this night's work, he rose to his duty only after Mr.
Maginnis had glared at him through a noticeable stage-wait, and then
made the introduction as prejudicial as he dared.

Mr. Maginnis did not appear disconcerted in the least. He began
speaking with a pertinence and ease which rather surprised his friend
Varney down in the audience, and with words which instantly let the
dullest know that something unusual was taking place. However, he had
not proceeded far when, the house having become very still, he was
suddenly interrupted by a sharp hiss from the rear of the hall, and a
raucous voice which shouted:

"Sit down, you! Nobody wants yer!"

Laughter followed and various murmurs, some approving, a few protesting.
Ryan's good and faithful servants were evidently settling down to work.

Peter's eye roved over the audience, seemed to catch something and lit
up with a faint signal.

"The gentleman who made that remark," he said in tones of great
gentleness, "will kindly leave the hall at once."

A ripple of merriment ran through the crowd, breaking in many places
into ostentatious guffaws. To those who knew the underside of those
meetings, the mild request appeared so ineffectual as to be merely
ridiculous. The honorable chairman, on the stage, hid a sinister smile
behind his hand.

Then a strange thing happened. Four "ushers" moved silently down the
side-aisle, halted at the end of the sixth row from the rear, laid hands
upon an angry and wriggling little man who screamed to high heaven that
he hadn't done nothing, and dropped him out of the open window, which
was just five feet above the ground.

It was rather a clean-cut piece of work, the moral effect of which was
in no wise weakened by the strong probability that they had ejected the
wrong man. It proved the turning-point in the evening's proceedings.
Ryanism seemed paralyzed by the mysterious absence of its chief, and a
few further essays by the faithful, more and more half-hearted in their
nature, made it plain that the control of that meeting had passed into
other hands. Peter, apologizing for the little interruption, told simply
but vividly how, coming to Hunston a stranger, he had instantly seen
that something was badly wrong with the town: how he had looked about at
the dirty streets, the dead business, the empty stores, the good men
idling, the good wives suffering for the money that streamed into the
big red saloon--

"That's right!" called a shrill, scared woman's voice. "That's right,

"No!" Peter answered steadily. "It's the _wrongest_ thing that ever
was--God help you poor women!"

Then a burst of hand-clapping, unforced by the faithful hirelings from
New York, ran unexpectedly through the house.

Peter told how easy it had been to find out what was choking the life
out of Hunston. His open countenance, democratic manners, and pungent
speech produced a most favorable impression, and it was undeniable that,
for the moment at least, he had the house with him when he swung into
his peroration.

"You know we are told," he said, "that it is the truth that makes us
free. Well, you are going to hear the truth to-night, at last. There is
a man listening to me at this moment who knows everything there is to be
known. Like me, he has no axe to grind, no special interest to promote,
no ambition but the manly wish to loose this town from the bonds with
which a dishonest boss has shackled it. He has sacrificed much to the
hope that he might help you, and for months he has been fighting against
big odds, just to get a chance to tell you the facts. To-night he has
got his chance, and you may be very sure that he will make the most of

"Relieving your honorable chairman of the trouble of rising for the
purpose, I take pleasure in introducing to you Mr. J. Pinkney Hare, who
is, with your consent, the next mayor of Hunston."

Back in the center of the house, a foot scraped upon the floor, and
there was J. Pinkney Hare standing out in the aisle, his little black
bag stuffed with documents swinging in his hand. And then there arose,
to the surprise of everybody (barring those good fellows who had been
well paid for their work and were earnestly determined to earn it) a
deafening roar of applause, starting in the rear of the house, taken up
at certain definite points all through it, and gradually spreading
almost everywhere, many people joining in because they liked Peter
greatly and others without having any idea why. The roar subsided a
little as Hare drew near to the stage, mounted it, and deposited his
little bag upon the table. Then it broke again, more loudly, as he came
forward a step, looking out upon the crowded house--he who could not
hire a hall for himself--a little pale, a little awed by the bigness of
his chance, but with neither tremor nor uncertainty on his small, cool

Hare spoke for an hour and a half, and not a soul left the hall. It was
impossible to call him off or cry him down: the plain sentiment of the
house was, "Give the little man his show." Afterwards, Chairman Bates
had made a desperate effort to overcome the damning effect of that
address, calling on various Ryanites of aggressive manners, and making a
second speech himself, but with little avail. Even the free fight which
broke out during the distribution of the ice-cream of the Neapolitans
(the announcement of which addition to the regular _menu_ evoked the
loudest spontaneous applause of the evening) resulted, until the police
checked it, decidedly in favor of the strangers from New York.

This part of the evening's pleasures Varney did not see. He rose with
many others when the published tidings of refreshment gave notice that
the speechmaking was over, and turned his face toward the door against a
stream of ushers entering with alluring trays. Already all sense of the
daring brilliance of Peter's stroke had faded and dropped from his mind.
His own concerns crowded instantly upon his attention, and all his
thought was of finding Mary Carstairs immediately and compelling her to
recognize him for the man he was.

She, too, had risen to leave the hall. While he listened to the fierce
philippic of J. Pinkney Hare, Varney's eye had carefully marked her
seat: it was empty now. Once, as he pushed his way slowly toward the
door, he caught a brief glimpse of her over in the other aisle, some
distance ahead of him; but he hardly saw her before she was lost to him
again, swallowed up in the jostling throng. The theatre was in an
uproar: all was noise and bustle and movement. And the wide lobby, when
at length he reached it, was no better; it looked scarcely more
promising to his quest than the traditional haystack to the searcher of

Here were set the ice-cream freezers and the other paraphernalia of
delight, and about them was a struggling mob. Varney circled the throng
with a roving eye. Of the lady he saw no sign anywhere. But presently,
on the outer fringe of the cohorts which stormed the freezers, he came
upon the child Jenny, and knew that he had found a guide according to
his heart's desire.

He touched her on the elbow. "Do you want to get some ice-cream?"

She turned her homely little face up towards him, and said shyly:

"Yes, sir. But they won't let me get near. And they say the chocolate is
going fast."

"They'll let me get near," said Varney heartily. "Chocolate is it, then?
Lemonade, of course. And a thought of the cake with icing, shall we say?
Good! But you're not here alone, are you?"

"No, sir. I'm here with Miss Mary--over there in that corner."

"Well, you just run over there with her and wait. Trust everything here
to me."

He emerged from the ruck a few moments later, disheveled but triumphant.
Hat under his arm and both hands heavily laden, he made a gingerly
progress to the place of his tryst, a comparatively unpopulated corner
near the door. And there she stood, her comely youth brought into sharp
relief by her surroundings, side by side with the living hunger and
thirst of Jenny, whose yearning eyes summoned the young man like a

Miss Carstairs happened to be looking in another direction. Varney,
standing before her, calmly took up their acquaintance where he had left
it last night at her mother's gate.

"Good evening, Miss Carstairs. I bear refreshment for your little
friend. What a magnificent evening for Hare and Reform, isn't it?"

She turned, startled at the sound of his voice, looked at him, and
looked at once away.

"Oh ... yes, indeed. I--am waiting for Mr. Hare now. Jenny, are you sure
you haven't seen him come out?"

"Yessum," said Jenny, her eyes all for the tall stranger.

Unable to resist their imploring appeal, he turned at once and delivered
his burden.

"Ice-cream--lemonade--" he made inventory--"cake with icing--tin
spoon--paper napkin in my pocket. Is there anything else?"

"I think," said Jenny, conscientiously, "there's figs."

"You do not wish any figs to-night, Jenny," declared Miss Carstairs,
rather more severely than mere figs seemed to warrant.

"_No'm!_ I thought maybe he might want some."

"I doubt if I'll take any figs to-night, either," laughed Varney. "But
mayn't I get something for you, Miss Carstairs? I'm happy to say that
the chocolate is holding out better than we feared."

"Thank you," she said, apparently addressing the child, "I don't believe
I wish anything."

Jenny here produced and handed around a small, rather dangerous-looking
paper-bag, which proved, upon investigation, to contain marshmallows.
Miss Carstairs declined. Varney, to show how unimpeachable he considered
his standing with the party, gratefully accepted.

"I'm afraid," he said, looking at Miss Carstairs, "that Mr. Hare's
admirers are likely to detain him some time. If you don't care to wait
so long, perhaps you would again give me the pleasure of supplanting him
and taking you home--you and Miss--Miss Jenny?"

"No, thank you--I am sure he will be out soon ... You look awfully
trampled on and--mashed, Jenny," she continued, twitching the child's
hat on straight. "And _my dear! Don't_ eat so fast."

Despite himself, Varney felt his blood rising a little. "Miss
Carstairs," he said slowly, "I must tell you that I came with Miss Jenny
on purpose to see you. There is something that I wanted to say."

She raised her eyes then, and though their look was very young and
embarrassed, he felt himself lose something of his composure under it.

"You wanted to say something--to me?"

"A good deal. I have an explanation to make--"

"I'm afraid that I have not time to--listen--Mr. Hare--"

"You must listen--to be fair," he said slowly. "I have to blame myself
for it, but you are doing me an injustice at this moment. I am not--that

She made no answer. Beside them, Miss Jenny ate ice-cream succulently.
All around them were people jostling this way and that, laughing,
shouting: but they might have been alone on a mountain-top for all
either was aware of them.

"Since I have been in Hunston--just a day," Varney said easily, "I seem
to have done nothing but explain over and over that I am not Mr.
Stanhope. I got awfully tired of it, Miss Carstairs; it seemed so
horribly useless. Like the others, you insisted that I was he. You
candidly didn't believe me--"

"No," she said, "that is true."

"I shall make you believe me now," said Varney.

A great hullabaloo suddenly arose around them. Four or five men broke
pellmell, and for the most part backwards, out of the swing-doors,
evidently ejected from within. A lonely-looking policeman, on guard at
the entrance, charged them. The lobby was already thronged; now people
retreating before that violent infusion of arms and legs crowded them

Varney, standing in front of Miss Carstairs, shielded her from the
press, her capable buffer. Soon he noticed that that part of the wall
upon which she leaned was not a wall, but a door. He reached past her,
turned the knob, revealed a brilliantly-lit little room.

"Ah!... A haven, Miss Carstairs."

She stepped backward, into the tiny box-office where Ryan had stood two
hours before and cynically waited for his sport to begin. It was empty
now, offering a perfect refuge. Varney followed and stood with his hand
on the knob just inside the door.

"Thank you," said Miss Carstairs, breathing a little rapidly. "The
meetings have never been as bad as this before. But--I must not lose
sight of Jenny."

"I'm here, Miss Mary," gurgled an ice-creamy voice at the door.

"I think I had better wait outside after all," said Mary. "Mr. Hare will
hardly know where to look for me."

"Miss Jenny will be his clew: he couldn't miss her," said Varney. "Let
me go on, while I have time. Miss Carstairs, it is not fair to either of
us to let matters stay like this. In the cottage last night, you forced
me to let you think I was--another man--"

"That is absurd," she said. "How could I possibly force you to say what
was not--the fact?"

"Did I really say anything that was not--the fact? I tried particularly
not to. But I did let you deceive yourself about it: that is quite true
and I'm sorry. I did it because--well, because if I hadn't done it, you
were not going to let me walk home with you."

She leaned against the little desk at which the Academy man sat to sell
tickets, and hesitated, almost imperceptibly. "Then why," she asked,
"should you wish to _undeceive_ me now?"

"You know why," he answered. "If I don't, something tells me that you
are not going to speak to me any more."

Her silence conceded the truth of this. It began to be evident how
difficult he had made matters for himself.

Varney laughed. "I am determined to make you believe me, yet just how am
I to go about it? It's rather an absurd position, when you come to think
of it--this arguing with somebody as to who one is. Suppose I were that
fellow, Miss Carstairs. How could I possibly hope to come back to my old
hometown and persuade people to believe that I am somebody else?"

Her eyes had wandered out through the little grated window, and she made
no reply.

"You see how preposterous that would be. A mere resemblance is not
enough to condemn a man upon, Miss Carstairs."

She turned her head with a sudden gesture of annoyance. "What difference
can it possibly make whether I speak to you or not, Mr. St--"

"_Don't!_" he interrupted swiftly. "You know my name. You shall not call
me by that one."

Hare's neat pink face appeared at the ticket-window, for all the world
like a belated theatre-goer, anxious for several in the orchestra.

"Ah, Mary! There you are! Whenever you are ready--"

"I have been waiting for you a long time," said Miss Carstairs. "It was
so splendid, Mr. Hare! Is Jenny there? We'll go at once."

She turned to Varney, cool as a dewy rose, and came forward a short
step. "I--I must say this before I go: has no one told you that you are
in danger here?"

Under her tone and her look, his plan of being the easy master of the
situation grew increasingly difficult. "Everybody has told me," he said
rather shortly. "It's gotten to be a bore."

"Then--won't you--won't you please go away before--anything happens?"

"I am going on Thursday afternoon," he answered, stung by her beauty,
which was so remote, and by the sudden compassion in her voice. "My
engagements will keep me here till that day, you remember? I promise
you, since you are so good as to interest yourself in the matter, that I
shall leave Hunston directly after that--"

"Your engagements on Thursday?" she repeated, looking away. "Are--you
speaking of--"

"The luncheon on my yacht. We are inviting Mr. Hare and his sister to
meet you."

"I am sorry," began Miss Carstairs, not looking at him, "but--I--I find
that I shall n--"

"Er--Mary?" said the candidate's voice through the window.

She turned toward the door at once, as though welcoming a summons which
so opportunely relieved her from embarrassing explanations: but Varney,
who happened to have duties to her father to discharge, stood before
her, not moving.

"Just now in the theatre," he said pleasantly, "you cut me. That was for
him. I understood. But is there any valid reason why you should not stay
on speaking terms with--Laurence Varney?"

To his surprise, a vivid red swept up her face from throat to hair and
her eyes fluttered and fell.

"Please," she said, "don't ask me to discuss this any more."

Varney stood aside, bowing, to let her pass out.

"I shall bring you proofs of my identity to-morrow, since that seems
necessary," he said with a laugh. "You won't refuse to see me, if you
care anything about being fair. But shall I tell you something, Miss
Carstairs? In your heart _you believe me now_!"

At the outer door, Varney all but collided with a man listlessly
entering, and, glancing up, saw that it was the pale young editor,
Coligny Smith.

"I hope you enjoyed the meeting," flung out Varney in passing.

"Why, greetings--greetings!" said Mr. Smith, a mocking smile on his thin
lips. "I've just been out to buy your picture, Beany."

With which singular rejoinder, he slipped by into the lobby.

* * * * *

J. Pinkney Hare lingered some time in the theatre after Miss Carstairs
joined him, enveloped in a heartening whirl of new popularity. To the
candidate it seemed that his star had changed with stunning swiftness.
His advance to the door had been a Roman progress; and when he finally
reached the lobby he was still the focus of a coterie of enthusiasts who
would not be shaken off. Here a new halt was made: new people surrounded
him; more hand-shakings and back-slappings took place; and everything
seemed merry as a marriage-bell.

But Peter, coming out of the hall a moment after Varney had left, saw
hovering about this intimate circle an elderly man of a faded exterior
and shabby clothes, who wore a black felt hat pulled down over
wary-looking eyes. Even at that moment of splendid triumph, Peter was
annoyed to recognize in him the man Higginson, of whose too friendly
interest in the candidate's doings he had complained to Varney a few
hours earlier. Whether he was, in truth, the man who had followed them
on the street the night before, he was not ready to make affidavit. But
undoubtedly there was something furtive in the man's appearance and
manner; and Peter, watching him from the door, was highly irritated to
see Hare present the fellow to Miss Carstairs, who smiled on him as upon
one of her friend's good friends.

"The sneak!" thought Peter. "I'll just drop him a quiet hint to butt out
before he gets hurt."

But his "head-usher" due to vanish back to New York by the
ten-forty-five claimed him just then for a business talk, and when Peter
had time to think of Mr. Higginson again, he found that the man had



Varney slept badly. The night was long, like art and the lanes that have
no turning; and interludes punctuated it, now and again, when he lay
wide-eyed in his bunk, staring into the darkness. At these times without
exception, he thought how, early in the morning, he would climb the hill
to the white house, blandly proffering letters to show that he was no
cad, no cur, but Laurence Varney, whom ladies need not flee from as from
the plague; suavely putting Uncle Elbert's daughter so utterly in the
wrong that he himself would grow merciful towards her abashment, and

He fell asleep, woke again, rehearsed once more what he would say to
her. At last he saw the dawn break along the horizon and the gray of a
new day meet and mingle with the receding darkness. It was Wednesday.
To-morrow would be Thursday, and he could go away, his business done.
The prospect was rich recompense for everything. It came to him,
suddenly and for the first time, that he hated his mission in Hunston
with a disheartening and sickening hatred. And formulating this thought,
polishing it to aphorism and sharpening it to epigram, he slumbered and
slept for the last time that night.

But on the heels of the morning came Peter, bursting in half-dressed, a
newspaper flaunting in his hand, an unfastened suspender flapping behind
him like a pennant on a clubhouse.

"Oh, you're awake, are you?" said he, looking very keen and wide-awake
himself. "Good! You'd hardly want to be dead to the world while this
kind of thing is going on."

Varney, on an elbow, sleepily surprised at this vehemence, said: "What's

"The jig!" cried Peter succinctly. "At least it looks that way. It's
that rascal Smith."

He sat down on the edge of Varney's bunk, the folded newspaper in his
hand, and continued: "I ran out before I was dressed to look at this
contemptible _Gazette_, because I wanted to see how they handled the
meeting last night. But the minute I picked it up, I saw this,
and--well, by George! Look at it!"

He whipped open the _Gazette_ with a movement which all but shredded it
and thrust it into Varney's hand. Varney sat up in bed and smoothed it
out upon the coverlet.

Coligny Smith was clever and his eye ranged wide. He saw all the chances
that there were, and what he saw he made the most of. For his front-page
"picture feature" that morning, he had selected a two-column half-tone
of a good-looking, though not altogether pleasant-faced young man; and
beneath it had indited in bold capitals which the most casual eye could
not miss: "Mr. Ferris Stanhope, Author and Former Hunstonian, Who Has
Just Arrived in Town."

"I see," said Varney, slowly. "Meaning me." Beside the portrait ran a
"story," which said in part:

"It leaked out yesterday that the 'mysterious stranger'
who suddenly appeared off Hunston in an elegant
private yacht on Monday night, is none other than Ferris
Stanhope, well-known author of novels of the pink-tea

"Mr. Stanhope is a native of Hunston, and is well
remembered here. As the result of certain escapades
which need not be detailed in a home paper like the
_Gazette_, he left town, somewhat hurriedly, one night
twelve years ago. Until Monday he has never been back
since. The news of his arrival has not been received
with general expressions of pleasure. Predictions were
freely made about the streets yesterday that if certain
old and respected citizens of Hunston should chance to
meet the author, trouble is sure to arise.

"Why Mr. Stanhope should have elected to come back
to Hunston has not yet been ascertained. Some say that
it is the result of a bet, friends having wagered that he
would not venture to return for a month's stay here.
These declare that he is using the yacht as base of operations
to reconnoiter and determine whether it is safe to
land. Color is lent to this theory by the pains which the
distinguished author is taking to conceal his identity.
The name of the yacht has been carefully erased, and he
is using, it is said, an assumed name.

"The secret of Mr. Stanhope's identity came out too
late last night for the _Gazette_ to obtain an interview.
With him on the yacht is a 'Mr. Maginnis,' representing
himself as a wealthy New Yorker and a 'student of
government.' Both gentlemen, it is said, are claimed as
allies by Hunston's new 'Reform party.'"

Peter broke out the moment Varney laid down the paper, but Varney,
staring absently out of the porthole, did not listen. This, then, was
the meaning of the pale young editor's enigmatical remark last night.
Here was no idle malice. Diabolically resourceful and without shame,
young Mr. Smith had circulated this lie to discredit reform and drive
off its new champion. And this was the way that he, Varney, had kept the
coming of the _Cypriani_ quiet in Hunston!

"And think of the cursed bull luck of it!" cried Peter. "The most the
rascal hoped to do was to ruin my plans for helping Hare by these dirty
hints about both of us--at the best to scare us away from Hunston. He
never dreamed that he was knocking the bottom out of any private plans
of _yours_!"

Varney stretched and yawned. "Well, he isn't."

"Doubtless I am a stupid ass and all that," said Peter, staring, "but
with the _Gazette_ publishing it about the countryside that you are a
yellow dog of the worst nature, I don't grasp how you expect Miss
Carstairs to come on this yacht and lunch with you."

A knock sounded on the stateroom door, and McTosh entered, announcing
two telegrams for Mr. Varney.

Varney, wondering a little who had known his whereabouts, took the
yellow envelopes, nodded to the steward not to wait, broke them open,
read the typewritten words within, read them again.

Then he looked up and found Peter gazing at him more or less

Varney laughed. "Do you remember that night at the club my saying to
you, as a great inducement: 'Suppose the New York papers get on to

Peter nodded.

Varney handed him the yellow slips; then he arose and pushed the service

"McTosh," he said, "send to town at once and get me copies of the _Sun_,
the _Times_, the _Daily_ and the _Herald_--all the New York papers. No,
go yourself, and don't stay longer than is absolutely necessary."

Peter, meantime, with a heart beating as it had not beat the night
before when he had overthrown Ryan and stolen his meeting, was reading
the following:

_Daily_ story has got us all guessing. If it's really
you, what the devil are you up to, anyway?

The other was in a similar vein:

Alarming story in _Daily_ to-day. Absolute secrecy a
prerequisite as explained. Reporters tried to reach me
to-night. Trust you fully, but implore you to proceed
with utmost caution.

"The plot thickens," said Peter when Varney turned back, "till I, for
one, can't see the drift. However--you've sent for the _Daily_?"

Varney nodded. "I told him to get three or four others, too, for a

"Politics," said Peter, in his calmest fighting manner, "is all off. I'm
not the least interested in it. We'll give the morning to studying
yellow journalism. But about Miss Carstairs. How can you possibly--"

"By heaven," said Varney, with a sudden burst of anger, "I'll make her
know who I am, if I have to drag in her own mother to introduce me."

He went off to his bath, dressed hurriedly, dawdled a moment at the
breakfast-table, where he found Peter discussing a cereal not without a
certain solemn pleasure, and went above grappling with the thought that
all this would mean a postponement of his call at the Carstairs house,
and maybe something more serious still. The morning was sunny and crisp.
He walked to the bow, briskly, by way of a constitutional, turned and
started down again. As he did this, his eye fell upon a strange figure
which had at first escaped him. Toward the stern of the _Cypriani_, near
the wheel, a little runt of a boy hung over the rail, and made the air
noxious with the relicts of a low-born cigar. He was an aged, cynical
boy, with a phlegmatic mien and a face of the complexion and general
appearance of a hickory-nut.

A little surprised by the sudden apparition, Varney came down the deck
and dropped into a chair near him.

"Well, my lad! I'm happy to see you and your cigar again. But to what do
we owe the pleasure of this call from you two old friends?"

The boy turned his back to the rail and faced him impassively. In the
brilliant sunshine, he looked singularly worn and wise.

"I brung dem wires," he said courageously plying the cigar. "Any

"I'll see, after a while," said Varney, hastily lighting a pipe as
counter-irritant. "So you're the telegraph boy, are you?"

"Nawser. Odjobbin' I do. Anythink as comes handy. They don't deliver no
wires down here. I handles 'em sometimes for wut dere is in it."

"Oh! Well, I won't fail to see that there is something in it for you
this time. And do you make much money odd-jobbing?"

"I git along awright. Summertimes I do. Wintertimes there ain't no
odjobbin' much."

"How old are you, my boy?"

"Twelve year old."

"Twelve! I thought you were sixteen, at least."

A faint look of gratification crossed the boy's face, but he only said
stoically: "Twelve year's my age."

"What do you do in the wintertime when there isn't much odd-jobbing? How
do you get along then?"

"I git along awright. Sometimes I git help. Off a lady here, a frien' o'

"What lady? What's her name?"

"Name o' Miss Mary. Miss Carstair, some calls her. I git money and clo's
off her. I'd 'a' had some bum winters, hadn't ben for her."

There was a pause, and then Varney said: "What's your name, my boy?"

Again the boy hesitated. "Tommy," he said presently.

"Tommy what?"


Varney started. Of all the sordid Hunston of the natives, that was the
one name which meant anything to him. It was rather a curious

"Then I suppose old Sam Orrick," he said kindly, "is your father's

"Nawser," he answered slowly. And he added presently, "He wuz me
mudder's father."

After that, the silence lengthened. Varney looked off down the river.
Tommy Orrick, whose father was named something else, clapped his hand
suddenly to his lip, because his cigar just then scorched it unbearably.

"What is your father's name, Tommy?" asked Varney, in a low voice.

His back toward Varney, his fragment of a cigar poised, reluctantly
ready to drop, the boy shook his head. "I don't rightly know," he said
in his husky little voice.

But Varney knew that name: and he said it now slowly over to himself in
a dull and futile anger.

From the shore a boat put out hurriedly and the faithful steward came
flying over the water with meritorious speed. With him he was bringing
the papers that might settle the _Cypriani's_ mission, but Varney, for
the moment, hardly gave him a thought. His own affairs were blotted from
his mind just then by the tragedy of the little waif before him,
luckless victim of another's sin, small flotsam which barely weathered
the winters when odd-jobbing was scarce, and only one lady cared.

"Where do you live, Tommy?"

"Kerrigan's loft mostly--w'en Kerrigan ain't dere."

"This morning," said Varney rapidly, "I'm just as busy as a bee. But
this afternoon, or to-morrow morning anyway, I want to come down to
Kerrigan's and call on you."

"Wut about?" the boy demanded with an instant suspiciousness which was
rather pathetic.

"About you, Tommy. I have got a little plan in my head, and there isn't
any time to talk about it now. What would you say to having a home with
some nice people I know in another city--in New York?"

A sudden dumbness seized Tommy. His head slowly lowered and he did not
answer. Around the deck-house from the port-side hurried McTosh, his arm
embracing a bundle of papers, his brow beady with the honest toil of
speed wrung out of country paths.

"Ah, steward! You made good time. Ask Mr. Maginnis if he won't come on
deck when he is at leisure. Thomas, you're for the shore, aren't you?
Forward, there!"

He got up and stood by the side of grave little Tommy Orrick, who was
staring silently down at the white deck.

"Down in New York, Tommy, I know a nice woman who has a home and no boys
at all to put in it. A long time ago she used to be the nurse of a boy I
knew, but he grew up; and now her husband's dead and she's all alone.
And here in Hunston is a boy with no home to put himself in. That's you,
Tommy, and I--but here's your boat. I'll come to see you to-morrow at
Kerrigan's--sure, and we'll talk it all over. Good-bye. And remember
that you and I are just the best friends going."

He held out his hand, to shake, but Tommy, in an excess of stage-fright
at the unwonted ceremonial, nimbly turned his back; and the next instant
he slipped over the rail like an acrobat and dropped into the waiting
dinghy. Safely there, he glanced tentatively upward; but seeing that the
tall man above was still standing at the rail and was smiling down upon
him, looked tactfully away again. And Varney heard him say to the
oarsman in a snappy, impatient voice: "Pull for all you know, dere! I
got bizness dat won't keep."

Varney sat down with the bundle of papers. Within the minute, Peter
appeared, replete but characteristically alert.

"Read it yet?"

"No, but I've found it. It wasn't hard."

He handed Peter the paper, his thumb crooked to indicate the place,
which was superfluous; for near the middle of the front page, top of
column and in the strong type of captions, the words leaped out to
Peter's eye as though hand-illumined in many colors:


Mystery Surrounding Young Man On Yacht Near Hunston.

He Says He's Varney--Natives say He's Stanhope
and Trouble Feared--Yacht is Elbert Carstairs's, with
Her Name Painted Out--Mr. Varney's Movements
Unknown to Friends Here.

Peter read the story aloud in a guarded undertone. In general, it
closely followed the story in the _Gazette_; so closely indeed as to
show at a glance that both productions came from one brain and pen. But
toward the end, the new story took a different turn. It said:

"The above is a sample of the gossip which is agitating this usually
quiet little town. Late to-night there are two distinct factions. One
holds that the young 'stranger' is Ferris Stanhope, reconnoitring under
an _alias_. The other contends that he is really Laurence Varney, or
somebody else, up here on some secret mission. Unless the stranger
leaves town before, the facts will doubtless be brought out to-morrow.
The gossips promise that a sensation of no mean order is forthcoming."

Below this, some one in the _Daily_ office had added:

"A certain air of mystery surrounds Laurence Varney's recent movements.
At his bachelor apartments, in the Arvonia, it was learned last night
that Mr. Varney was out of the city, but the man-servant there had no
idea of his master's whereabouts. From other sources, however, it was
learned that Mr. Varney left New York several days ago on the
_Cypriani_, a handsome steam yacht belonging to Elbert Carstairs of No.
00 Fifth Avenue. An attempt was made to reach Mr. Carstairs at his home,
but the hour was late, and he could not be interviewed. A telegram sent
to Ferris Stanhope's last known address, Camp Skagway in the
Adirondacks, was unanswered up to the hour of going to press."

Peter let the paper drop upon his knees, and whistled father
shamefacedly. Here was a pretty kettle of fish indeed, and it was all of
his brewing. If he had kept his fingers out of the affairs of Hunston,
as both his enemy and his friend had warned him to do, the unscrupulous
editor would have had no interest in attacking him, over his captain's
shoulders, and this damaging story would never have been concocted and
spread broadcast as a feast for gossips. He had been brought to Hunston
to help Varney--and here was the front-page result.

If a similar thought flashed across Varney's mind in this disturbing
moment, he instantly forgot it for others more practical. He sat curled
up in a folding deck-chair, swiftly weighing what this new issue might
mean, and a moment of rather heavy silence ensued.

The cat was all but out of the bag: this fatal hint at "some secret
mission" made that plain. A little carelessness, some more shrewd
probing into his affairs, and the jig would be up, indeed. This was the
one way that their enemies in Hunston could interfere with
him--insisting on knowing why he had come there; and Coligny Smith had
had the bull luck, as Peter put it, to stumble on it.

Thus it fell out that he, Varney, who had needed to seek the dark and
unobtrusive ways, found himself thrust suddenly into the full glare of
the calcium. He who was guarding an errand which nobody should know
about was now to be asked by everybody who read newspapers just what
that errand was.

It was so absurd that all at once he laughed aloud. However, it was
becoming quite serious, and he saw that, too.

"Damn him!" broke out Peter, compactly, and he added presently: "Think
of his throwing a bomb in the air like that, and smoking out poor old

Varney looked up, knocked out his pipe against his heel, and restored it
thoughtfully to his pocket. "Yes. Did you notice the difference between
those two stories? He doesn't want Hunston even to suspect that I may be
myself. His game here is to _know_ I'm Stanhope, whom the whole town is
sore on. In New York, he tries both stories, not knowing which will hurt
the most. However, theories will keep. The facts are plain. They've
started out to run us down--that's all. The point is now to decide what
we are going to do about it."

He stood up, tall and cool, his jaw shut tightly, his brow puckered into
a long frown, thinking rapidly.

"As I see it," he said slowly, "it works about like this. Probably the
_Gazette_ is the local news bureau for this town. At any rate, it is
evident that somebody on it is the correspondent of the _Daily_. The

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