Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Captivating Mary Carstairs by Henry Sydnor Harrison

Part 3 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

_Gazette_, we know, wants to run you out of town in order to have a free
hand in slaughtering Hare. Last night they supposed that my looking like
Stanhope was the best card they had. This morning they will guess that
there may be a still better one lying around somewhere. The _Daily_
tells them that I'm Varney, and, what is much more interesting, that I'm
using Elbert Carstairs's yacht. Mrs. Elbert Carstairs lives in Hunston.
Putting two and two together, and adding the painted-out name and a dash
of seeming furtiveness on my part, you have all the materials for a
nice, yellow mystery. I haven't the slightest doubt that when that
telegraph editor in New York gets down to his office about one o'clock
to-day, the very first thing he does, after hanging his coat on the
nail, is to wire his correspondent to begin operating on me."

Peter nailed the alternative. "If he doesn't, the _Gazette_ will attend
to the job, anyway."

"Yes, the press is on our trail, in any case. The fact that this is the
Carstairs yacht will mean more to the _Gazette_ than it could to the
_Daily_. It will be a kind of connecting link for them. Of course,
they'll jump at it like wildfire. If they can make anything at all out
of it, they'll play it up to-morrow so that nobody in this town can
possibly miss seeing it."

"Pray heaven," said Peter, referring to Mary Carstairs, "that she won't
see the _Daily_ this morning!"

"Yes. Her father's name would naturally start her to thinking, which
would make things awkward."

"Larry, the _Gazette_ is going to print his name to-morrow morning as
sure as Smith is a lying sneak."

"We've still got to-day, haven't we? By Jove, it's nearly eleven
already. A reporter may be down on us at almost any minute. We can't
stand being cross-examined. No searchlight of journalism playing about
on the _Cypriani_ just now, thank you. My own idea is--"

"To grab him, to batter the face off him--"

"No, to elude him. Not to be here. In short, to run away."

"_What?_ You can't mean that you are going to let that dog drive you
back to New York?"

"Well, hardly. But I do mean to make him think he has! I mean to run
down the river a few miles and anchor where they can't find us, simply
to get out of the way. Then we'll run back to-morrow in time for the
luncheon. What do you think of that?"

Peter, his forehead rumpled like a corduroy road, stared at him fixedly
and thought it over. "I think it's the best thing in sight," he said
judicially. "An exceedingly neat little idea."

"If we're being watched, it may persuade them that we've gone. Anyway,
it will give us time to decide what next," said Varney. And he hurried
off to confer with the sailing-master.

Presently the engine-room bell rang out a signal. Orders were given and
repeated above and below. Men began moving about swiftly. The noise of
coal scraped hurriedly out of bunkers smote the air. The _Cypriani's_
hold throbbed with sudden life.

Varney, running hastily through the two newspaper stories again to make
sure that they had missed nothing that might be important to them, was
presently joined by Peter, who was looking at his watch every third
minute and swearing softly every time he looked. Something had been
discovered amiss with the machinery, it seemed. The captain was sure he
would have the plaguy thing all right in another half-hour, but you
never could tell. For his part he'd swear that a yacht was worse than
an old-style motor car: you could absolutely count on her to be out of
order at any moment when you positively had to have her.

To be delayed until somebody appeared to challenge their going was to
lose half the battle. Varney went off to the sailing-master and spoke
with him again, concisely. The sailing-master, a sensitive man to
criticism, once more apologized, very technically, and redoubled his
energies. He went below himself to superintend the repairs and to prod
the laggards to their utmost endeavors. In less than three quarters of
an hour, by Peter's watch, he was up again, in a shower of falling
perspiration, to announce that all was ready.

However, valuable moments had been lost. It was now nearly half-past
twelve, or, in Peter's indignant summary, "just an hour and a half too

Varney glanced toward the bridge.

"All ready there?" he called.

"All ready, sir," said the sailing-master, and sprang for the indicator.

"Hold on," said Peter suddenly. "We're getting visitors. There's some
one signaling us from the shore."

Varney's heart bounded. He turned with an exclamation; but in the next
breath, he ordered: "Let her go, Ferguson."

Upon the shore, at the spot where the _Cypriani's_ boat ordinarily
landed, stood a tallish, stocky young man, looking at them cheerfully
and swabbing his brow with a large blue handkerchief. Catching Varney's
eye, he waved his hand with the handkerchief in it, and said, for the
second time:

"Hello, aboard the _Cypriani!_"

Varney stepped to the rail, a faint smile on his lip. "Hello, there!
What can we do for you?"

"Hot as merry hell, isn't it?" said the young man pleasantly. "Send a
boat over for me, will you? I'm Hammerton, of the _Gazette_ and the New
York _Daily_, and I want to come aboard for a little talk."

"Never in this world!" breathed Peter, _sotto voce_.

Varney smiled, grimly. "Sorry, Mr. Hammerton. You're just too late. We
are starting away from Hunston this very minute."

The _Cypriani_ shuddered like a live thing and slid slowly forward.



Four miles downstream, the river's banks grew a long mile apart, and the
scenery was lonesome and a little wild. Here, as it chanced, there was
flung across the water a thin, rocky island, well-wooded and of a
respectable length. It lay nearest the western shore; and not a hamlet
or even a house, it seemed, commanded it from either side.

They recognized it from afar as ideal anchorage for a yacht which wanted
to be let alone. So they slowed down into the island's curving shore and
dropped anchor in the lee of it, out of sight of the Hunston side of the
river and in little evidence from any point in midstream above or below.

Securely hidden from the probing eye of the press, they were now in
something of a quandary as to what their next step should be. The hour
set for the luncheon, upon which their mission hung, was only
twenty-four hours away: and they had no idea whether the guest of honor
intended to come or stay away. Varney was torn between the necessity of
keeping clear of reporters, and the even more pressing necessity of
calling upon Mary Carstairs. If to go to town was a risk, not to go to
town was a much greater one.

They finally decided that Peter should go to Hunston first, at once and
alone. He would walk in, lest the use of the _Cypriani_ boat should
betray them; and there take charge of the situation and see what could
be done.

"You sit tight," Peter urged, "and give me a chance at it first. The
_Gazette_ has got nothing on me, you know; they can camp on my
shirt-tail till they get good and tired. Meantime, I'll spread it around
that you've gone away and that I'm hanging on a day or two longer to
help Hare. You only came on a pleasure trip, and all these sensational
lies spoiled your pleasure: so you pulled out. That's plausible and
reasonably true, you see. Then I'm going to find that fellow Hammerton
and try to bluff him off."


"I'd much like to give him money, but it's never safe to try that with
reporters. Oh, I'll hobnob with the fellow, hand him cigars, jolly him
along about the neat way they got revenge on us for the meeting, and
sort of take it for granted that the incident ended when they chased you
away from town. If he seems dubious and acts as if he meant to work on
the 'secret mission' idea just the same, I'll go in and call on Coligny
Smith. Oh, I'm not going to hit him. If I hadn't known that would be the
worst possible tactics, I'd have gone uptown at nine o'clock this
morning and yanked him out of bed by his long, lying ears. I'm only
going to talk to him in a kindly way. He told us himself that he was out
for the hard money, you know."

"All right," said Varney.

Peter hesitated. "You've _got_ to go in, I suppose? It's hard luck. Here
we are working overtime to build up the popular idea that you've quit
and gone back to New York. It'll be deuced awkward if that reporter nabs
you the minute you set foot in Hunston."

"I've got to risk it. I'll wait a while, though, and give them a chance
to drop the trail. And when I do go in, I'm not going with a brass

"There's not the least hurry," said Peter. "You've got all the rest of
the day--to-morrow morning, too, for that matter. Wait here till you
hear from me, will you? Maybe I can turn up something which will save
you from having to go in at all."

Varney grinned. "Remember yesterday, Peter?--when you were coming back
at ten o'clock and came at four? No more unlimited contracts from me. It
is twenty minutes past one now. You can get in by two thirty if you
hustle. I must start in by half-past four. It wouldn't be safe to wait
any longer."

"Give me a show, will you? Make it five, anyway."

"Five, then. If you're not back on the dot, in I start for my call. Till
we meet again."

Peter started down the stair, hesitated, turned and came back again.
"Larry," he said, with sudden gruffness, "of course, we 've both been
thinking that if it hadn't been for me, none of this mess would have
happened. I kick myself when I think--"

"Drop it, Peter. Nobody in the world could have foreseen--"

"Every ass in the United States," said Maginnis, his ponderous foot on
the ladder, "could have foreseen it but me. I just want you to know that
politics is absolutely sidetracked now. Before I'll let this deal of
ours fall through, I'll see Hare licked till they can't scrape him
together afterward with a fine-tooth comb."

It was deadly quiet on the yacht after Peter left. At two o'clock Varney
went down to a solitary luncheon. At quarter past, followed by the
reproachful gaze of McTosh, he came out again. In the pit of his stomach
reposed a great emptiness, but it was not hunger. He felt restless,
high-strung, all made of nerves. He wanted to do something of a violent,
physical sort, the more grueling the better; and his task was to loll in
an easy-chair under a pretty awning and inspect the landscape.

The port side of the _Cypriani_ was jammed as close into the island as
the science of navigation made possible. Varney went over to the other
side and sat down to wait. In front of him, a hundred yards away, the
western bank rose abruptly from the water's edge, reaching here and
there to loftiness. There were woods upon it, thick and silent, which
looked as if the defiling hand of man had never entered there. At his
back was the still, empty little island; at either side stretched the
deserted river.

He thought it as lonely a spot as could have been found in a day's
journey, but a moment later he discovered his mistake. It was suddenly
borne in upon him that the tall, thin object which nestled so closely
among the trees a mile to the south that it was scarcely distinguishable
from them, was in reality the spire of some church; and he knew that he
was much closer to his kind than he had thought.

And then, in time, he noticed other things. Before a great while, he saw
a boat with one person in it--a woman he thought--put out from the shore
at about where the village must be and start across to the other bank.
And later, as the afternoon wore on, he caught sight of a canoe, a few
hundred yards upstream, rocking idly down with the current. An
elderly-looking man sat in it, with a short brown beard and sun-goggles
showing under his soft hat--for the water burned under a brilliant
sky--stolidly fishing and reading a book. He looked like a rusticating
college professor--of Greek, say--and this theory seemed to be supported
by his obvious ignorance as to how to keep a canoe on the popular side
of the water.

And later still a row-boat came swinging briskly up the quiet channel
where the yacht lay and passed her at fifty yards. A man and a woman sat
in it, presumably bound for Hunston, and they stared at the hidden,
detected _Cypriani_ with a degree of frank interest which suggested that
they would not fail to mention the strange sight to every acquaintance
they met in town.

"That's the beauty about a yacht," thought Varney, annoyed. "You might
as well try to hide an elephant in a hall room."

But his mind soon strayed from the pair of bumpkins and went off to
other and more pressing matters. He had now, not one great difficulty to
meet and overcome, but two. One of them was to make Uncle Elbert's
daughter keep her engagement with him. The other was to prevent the
_Gazette_ from linking the name of the _Cypriani_ with the name of
Carstairs to-morrow morning. About the first of these he allowed himself
no doubts. If the worst came to the worst, he would turn to Mrs.
Carstairs. Brutal it might be to compel the mother to introduce the
kidnapper to his quarry, her daughter; but that was no fault of his. He
would do his duty by Mrs. Carstairs's husband, no matter who got hurt.
Miss Carstairs should come to the _Cypriani_ to-morrow as she had
promised. In heaven or earth, on land or sea, there was no power which
should keep him from having his will there.

But then there was the _Gazette_. Smith, the clever, would doubt that
the _Cypriani_ had really gone back to New York. Suppose, since he could
not find her, he would venture a few shrewd guesses in his paper
to-morrow morning connecting that "secret mission" the _Daily_ had
mentioned with Mrs. Elbert Carstairs. Miss Carstairs would see what the
_Gazette_ said; and what questions would she have to ask him before she
would come as his guest to the yacht?...

A ripple of water fell across the young man's thought, and he glanced
up. The college professor, whom the current had washed much nearer now,
fancying, it appeared, that he had got a bite, had suddenly thrown
himself far over the edge of his canoe, stretching his rod to the
farthest reach. The slender birch-bark tipped so violently that even he
noticed it; and the next instant, he sprang back again, rocking at a
great rate.

"Simpleton!" thought Varney. "He will go over in a minute...."

Now her face rose before him as he had seen it first last night at
Stanhope's cottage, radiant as a dream come true--looking at him and
saying: "I'd like it very much if you could just trust _me!_" And he saw
her again when she had looked at him, eye to eye over the many heads
before the theatre, with only blank unrecognition in her glance, or had
there been, after all, a sort of latent sorrowfulness there? And then he
saw her once more, as she stood in the little box-office, her cheeks
suddenly stained red, when she begged him, please, not to ask her to
discuss it any more....

A sudden sharp thought came to him, putting all his imaginings to
flight, a thought so vital and so obvious that it was incredible that it
had not once crossed his mind before. If the _Gazette_ doubted that he
had returned to New York, if it was still on his trail and still wanted
to embarrass him, _it would send a man straight to Mrs. Carstairs_.

How could he possibly have overlooked that? With the secret of the
_Cypriani's_ ownership out, of course that would be the first thing
Smith would think of: to ask Mrs. Carstairs what had brought her
husband's yacht to Hunston. And when the reporter went, who could say
what damaging admission he might surprise out of the poor lady, or at
the least what inklings to hang diabolical guesses upon? Worst of all,
he might see Miss Carstairs herself--awaken no one knew what suspicions
in her already perplexed mind.

He sprang up and glanced at his watch. It was twenty minutes past four.
Every minute had become precious now, and waiting for Peter was of
course not to be thought of. While he loitered ineffectually here,
Coligny Smith, four miles away, might be doing his plans the
irremediable injury. And he started for the cabin swiftly to get his

But there came an interruption which stopped him short. A quick loud
splashing and sudden cries arose from the water near at hand; and he
divined instantly what had happened. The college professor, like the ass
he was, had upset his canoe.

Varney halted, strode back to the rail. The professor came up
spluttering, blowing quarts of water from his mouth and nose, making
feeble strokes with his ineffective, collegiate arms.

"Help!" he called in a thin watery voice. "Help! I can't swim." Whereon,
he immediately bobbed under again.

Of course, there was nothing to do but accede to that request.

"Lay hold of the canoe," called Varney impatiently, when the poor fellow
reappeared. "I'll send a boat down for you."

There had been no chance of his drowning: for the overturned canoe was
staunch, and floated, a splendid life-belt, not a foot away from him. At
Varney's word, he seized hold of it feebly, with both hands. The crew
were quick. One or two of them had been watching the madman's antics for
some time, it appeared; and they had a boat down and over to him in no

Sopping with water, dripping it from his clothes and his hair and his
brown academic beard, a dazed and pitiable-looking object, he came up
the ladder not without nimbleness, and stepped through the gangway upon
the deck.

Varney took it that his own duties in the matter were now at an end.
"Hold your places," he called to the boat crew. "I shall need you myself
at once."

Then he turned hurriedly to the man he had rescued, who stood silently
on the deck, wringing cups of water from the skirts of his black cutaway

"I'll have them bring you dry clothes," he said swiftly, "and anything
else you need. You'll excuse me? I am compelled to--"

But at that he stopped dead; for the brown beard of the college
professor suddenly loosened and fell upon the deck. The professor, not
at all discomposed by the extraordinary accident, kicked it carelessly
to one side, and pitching his large hat and goggles after it, faced
Varney with a jovial smile.

"You don't happen to have a thimble-full of redeye about, do you, Mr.
Varney?" he asked chattily. "I'm Hammerton, of the _Gazette_ and the
_Daily_, you know, and that river down there is _wet_."



Garbed in a suit of Varney's clothes, warmed beneath his belt by a
libation from the _Cypriani's_ choicest stock, eased as to his person by
a pillow beneath his head and a comfortable rest for his feet, Charlie
Hammerton threw back his head and laughed.

"I'm not crazy about those grand-stand plays as a rule," he said.
"Because in the first place they're yellow, and in the second place
they're a darned lot of bother. But I just _had_ to see you--I guess you
know why--and I couldn't think of anything else that struck me as really
sure. How'd I do it? Fair imitashe, hey? And I only told one lie, which
is pretty good for a proposition of this sort. I _can_ swim, Mr. Varney.
Like a blooming duck."

Varney laughed. "You're half an hour too late in telling me that, you
know! But tell me how you managed all this: it was so clever! And do try
one of these cigars."

They sat at ease on the awninged after-deck, a wicker table between them
convivial with decanters and their recognized appurtenances, like two
old friends met for a happy reunion. The _Gazette's_ star reporter was
as different from one's conception of a dangerous adversary as it is
possible for a man to be. He seemed only a pleasant-faced, friendly boy
of twenty-three or four, with an honest eye and a singularly infectious

"Don't mind if I do--thanks!" said Hammerton, to the proffer of cigars.
"Well, it wasn't so very hard. After you steamed off, and left me gazing
nervously out to sea like a deserted fisher's wife, I--"

"No, you don't!" laughed Varney. "Begin way back at the beginning. I'm
as ignorant as a baby about all this, you know."

Hammerton rather liked the idea of lolling on a luxurious yacht and
explaining to the outwitted owner just how he had done it.

"Well," he said, "it's like this. When you fellows jumped in and
kidnapped Ryan and banged the administration in the eye and slapped the
_Gazette_ some stinging ones on the wrist, of course, we couldn't just
sit still and go quietly on with our knitting. Nay, nay! So we played up
that gossip about you as strong as we could, sort of guessing that it
might hurt your feelings a little. I'm going to be frank with you, you
see! And then another idea came to us that wasn't half bad. You said you
were Mr. Laurence Varney of New York. Well, whether that was true or
not--begging your pardon, of course!--that gave it a New York interest,
don't you see? So Mr. Smith, more by way of a feeler than anything else,
wired it off to the _Daily_--"

"Why," interrupted Varney, "I thought you were the correspondent of the

"So I am. But this time it was only nominal. He's pretty fond of doing
it himself, Smith is. Well, as soon as I got down this morning, he
called me in and showed me the _Daily_. You've seen it, I suppose? Of
course, we were struck with the way our story had caught on, and
particularly with the postscript about Elbert Carstairs and the mystery
idea. Smith said: 'There appears to be more in this than meets the eye,
Charles. Hustle you down to the _Cypriani_, or ever the birds be flown.'
So I hustled. But then I did a fool thing that nearly gummed the game
entirely. Just at the edge of the woods, I met a boy coming up the hill.

"Maybe you remember that kid, Mr. Varney--the telegraph boy? He was just
on his way back from the yacht when I ran into him."

"Come to think of it, I believe I did see that boy hanging around here."

"As hard a little nut," said Hammerton, "as you ever saw in your life.
When he saw me, he stopped short and asked where I was going. I told him
to the yacht. ''T ain't no use,' he said--I won't try to give his
lingo--'they've gone.' And the little devil actually went on to tell me
how he had overheard the two gentlemen talking--guys he called you--and
how you had decided to return to New York at once, and how he had looked
back from the shore and seen the yacht already steaming away."

Thus Varney learned that he had one friend in Hunston who was true to
him, according to his poor little lights; and he felt that that kindly
lie of Tommy Orrick's, if it was ever set down against him anywhere,
must be the kind that is blotted out again in tears.

"Why, I've been good to that kid," said Hammerton, "giving him
cigar-ends nearly every time I see him and that sort of thing. I never
thought he had so much pure _malice_ in him. Well, like a fool, I turned
right around and went back. I felt so pleased about it--for of course
that was just what the _Gazette_ wanted--that I dropped in at the
Ottoman for an eye-opener, and by Jove! it was nearly an hour before I
got back to the office."

He laughed, at first ruefully, then merrily--for had not everything
turned out in the most satisfactory way in the world?

"Smith's a beaut," he said, shaking his head reminiscently. "I don't
believe anything ever got away from him since he was big enough to sit
in front of a desk. When I told him that you fellows had gone back to
New York, he never batted an eye. He just pulled a telescope out of the
bottom drawer of his desk and went up to the roof. In two minutes he was
down again. 'Charles,' he said in that quiet biting way of his, 'God may
have put bigger fools than you into this world, but in his great mercy
he has not sent them to retard the work of the _Gazette_. The yacht lies
precisely where she has lain for these two days. Will it be quite
convenient for you to drop down there and have a talk, or do you design
to wait until the gentlemen call at your desk and beg the privilege of
telling you all?'"

He laughed again, this time without a trace of resentment; and so merry
and spontaneous was this laugh that Varney could not help joining in.

"I suppose old Smith can tell you to go-to-hell more politely, yet more
thoroughly, than any man that ever lived. I _ran_--and I was just in
time at that, hey? Well, when you fellows steamed off, I kind of
suspected that you weren't going very far. So I got a boy and had him
trail you down the old River road on a wheel. By the time he got back
and told me that I had sized it up about right, I had my plans arranged
and my make-up all ready. That make-up was rather neat, I thought, what?
Meantime, a long wire had come in from the _Daily_ office, which made me
keener than ever to see you. So I hired another wheel, ran on down,
borrowed a canoe from a man I know here, and I guess you know the rest."

"I should say I did," said Varney. "Ha, ha! I should rather say I did."

One reason why it was so advantageous to make the boy talk was that it
gave one a chance to think. All the time that he had listened so
pleasantly to this garrulous chatter, Varney had been swiftly planning.
Now he had the situation pretty well analyzed and saw all the ways that
there were.

He might send the reporter away convinced that there was nothing in this
new theory, after all, that the _Gazette's_ trump card in fighting
Maginnis and Reform was still his own unhappy resemblance to the
outlawed author. Or he might send him off with enough of a new theory to
make him think it unnecessary to go to Mrs. Carstairs or her
daughter--the fatal possibility. Or, if both of these proved
impracticable as they almost certainly would, there was only one course
left: he would not let Hammerton go away at all.

"But have another little drop or two, won't you? Those dips with your
clothes on aren't a bit good for the health."

"Well, just a little tickler," said Charlie Hammerton. But he permitted
himself to be helped quite liberally, with no protesting "when." "My
regards, Mr. Varney! Also my compliments and thanks for accepting the
situation like such a genuine game one."

Varney nodded. "The fortunes of war, Mr. Hammerton. But do go on. You
have no idea how interesting the newspaper game is to an outsider,
particularly--ha, ha!--when it walks right across his own quiet career.
As I understand it, you're on the regular staff of the _Gazette_, and
then are a special correspondent of the _Daily_, besides?"

Hammerton, cocksure of his game and pleasantly cheered by the potent
draught, thought that he had never interviewed so agreeable a man.

"That's it exactly. Then, besides, we run a little news-bureau at the
_Gazette_, you know--sell special stuff, whenever there's anything
doing, to papers all over the country. The bureau didn't touch this
story last night--why, I thought it was too 'it-is-understood' and
'rumor-has-it' and all that, to go even with the _Daily_--in your old
own town. It'll be different to-night, all right. We'll query our whole
string on it now--unless," he added with frank despondency, "the darned
old Associated Press decides to pinch it."

"Query them, Mr. Hammerton?"

"Yes, wire them a brief, kind of piquant outline of the story, you know,
and ask them if they don't want it. And I sort of guess they'll all want
it, all right!"

"We'll see about that in a minute," laughed Varney. "There's lots of
time. Tell me about that brilliant young editor of yours, Mr. Smith. The
men in the office all like him and sympathize with his policies, I

Hammerton laughed, doubtfully. "Well, they all look up to him and
respect him as one of the cleverest newspaper men in the country.
Personally, I like old Smith fine, though nobody ever gets close to him
a bit. He's mighty good to me--lets me write little editorials two or
three times a week, and says I'm not so awful at it. As for sympathizing
with his policies--well, you know I'm not sure Smith sympathizes with
'em much himself. I have a kind of private hunch that he's gotten sore
on his job and would sell out if somebody--well, suppose we say our
friend Ryan--would offer him his price. No, I'm not so keen for these
indirect methods, Mr. Varney. At the same time, it's part of the game, I
suppose, and I always believe in playing a game right out to the end,
for everything there is in it."

At the unmistakable significance in his tone, Varney looked up and found
the reporter's eyes fixed upon him in an odd gaze which made him look
all at once ten years older and infinitely difficult to baffle: a gaze
which made it plain, in fact, that the wearer of it was not to be put
off with anything short of the whole truth. The next second that look
broke into an easy laugh, and Hammerton was a chattering boy again.

But Varney's mood rose instantly to meet the antagonism of the
reporter's look, and hung there. He pulled a silver case from his
pocket, selected a cigarette with care and lit it with deliberation. He
had learned everything that he wanted to know; the conversation was
beginning to grow tiresome; and he found the boy's careless
self-confidence increasingly exasperating.

"But as for undercutting Hare," laughed Hammerton, "I don't like it a--"

"Tell me this," Varney interrupted coolly. "When the _Gazette_ prepared
its story about me last night, did it believe for one moment that I was
this man Stanhope?"

"Why, I'm not the _Gazette_, of course," said Hammerton, a little taken
aback by the cool change of both topic and manner, "but my private
suspicion is that it entertained a few doubts on the subject. What do we
think now? Look here, Mr. Varney," the boy said amiably, "you've been
white about this business, and I do really want to show that I
appreciate it."

He fumbled in the side-pocket of his wet coat, which hung on a near-by
chair, produced a damp paper of the familiar yellow, smoothed it out and
handed it across the table.

"I guess I won't keep any secrets from you, Mr. Varney."

Varney, taking the telegram with a nod, read the following:

_Gazette_, HUNSTON:

Varney-Stanhope story good stuff, but lacking details,
vague and inaccurate. Stanhope located in Adirondacks,
though not reached. See _Daily_ to-day. Man on yacht
Varney. Apparent secrecy surrounding departure from
here. Interview him sure and secure full statement as
to business which brought him to Hunston. Also interview
Mrs. Elbert Carstairs in Hunston. She separated
from husband years ago. His yacht there with name
erased suggests mystery. Rush fullest details day-rate if
necessary. Pictures made. Expect complete story and
interviews early to-night sure.

"Now," said Charlie Hammerton, when Varney looked up, "you see why I
went to such a lot of trouble to get hold of you."

"Yes," said Varney, slowly, his eye upon him, "I see."

He folded the telegram, laid it at Hammerton's elbow, got up and stood
with his hands on the back of his chair, looking down. At the thought
that he had ever hoped to call the reporter off, to stop this deadly
machinery of journalism, once it had been started, he could have
laughed. The _Daily_ telegram showed how impossible that had always
been. Now it was suddenly and overwhelmingly plain that to force a
fight on Hammerton, which had been his favorite purpose from the
beginning, even to seize and lock him up, would be of no avail whatever.
Other reporters in endless procession, waited behind him, ready to step
into his place; and the pitiless machinery, in which he, Varney,
happened to be caught at the moment, would go steadily grinding on till
it had crushed out the heart of the hidden truth.

He saw no way out at all. His mind revolved at fever heat, while he said
calmly: "Go back to your employers, Mr. Hammerton, and report that you
have no story to sell them. Say further that since they knowingly
printed a lying slander about me this morning, you, as an honorable man,
insist upon their making full retractions and apologies to-morrow."

Hammerton, who had taken his interview as a foregone conclusion, looked
momentarily astounded; but on top of that his manner changed again, to
meet Varney's changed one, in the wink of an eye.

"You can't mean," he said briskly, ignoring Varney's last remark
entirely, "that you decline to make a statement for our readers?"

"Why should I encourage your readers to stick their infernal noses into
my business?"

"For your own sake, Mr. Varney--because everybody has started asking
questions. To refuse to answer them, from your point of view, is the
worst thing you could do. As you know, newspapers always have other
sources of information, and also ways of making intelligent guesses.
While these guesses are usually surprisingly accurate, it sometimes
happens that we work out a theory that is a whole lot worse than the

"Of course," said Varney, with sudden absentness. "That's the way you
sell your dirty papers, is n't it?"

"Mr. Varney, why did you come--?" began Hammerton, but stopped short,
perceiving that the other no longer listened, and quite content to leave
him to a little reflection.

For Varney, struck by a thought so new that it was overwhelming, had
unexpectedly turned away. He leaned upon the rail and looked out over
the blue, sunny water. A brilliant plan had flashed into his mind--a big
daring plan which, far more than anything else he had thought of, might
be effective and final. Instead of making an enemy of Hammerton, which
could accomplish nothing, it would turn him into a champion, which meant

It was a desperate solution, but it was a solution.

After all, what else remained? To dismiss the boy with nothing would be
to send him straight to the Carstairs house with no one knew what
results. To manhandle him would be simply to start another sleuth on the
trail. But this plan, if it worked, would avoid that, and every other,
risk of trouble. And if it failed, he would be no worse off than he was
now; for in that case he would not allow Hammerton to go back to the
_Gazette_ at all that day.

He dropped his cigarette over the side, turned and found the eye of the
press firmly fastened upon him.

"Mr. Varney," said Hammerton, with swift acuteness, "maybe I'm not as
bad a fellow as you think. Why can't you trust me with this story--of
what brought you to Hunston, and what made you run away this morning and
hide? If it's really something that newspapers haven't got anything to
do with, I'll go straight back to the office and make them leave you
alone. Oh, I have enough influence to do it, all right! And if it's
something different and--well, a little unusual, I'll promise to put you
in the best light possible. Why don't you trust me with it?"

"Well," said Varney with a stormy smile, "suppose I do, then!"

"Good!" cried Hammerton cordially, observing him, however, with some
intentness. "Honestly, it's the very best thing you could do."

Varney rested upon the back of his chair again and stood staring down at
the reporter for some time in silence.

"Mr. Hammerton," he began presently, "I know that the great majority of
newspaper men are fair and honorable and absolutely trustworthy. I know
that it is a part of their capital to be able to keep a secret as well
as to print one. For this reason, I have upon reflection decided to
confide--certain facts to you, feeling sure that they will never go any

"Of course, Mr. Varney," the reporter interrupted, "you understand that
I can't make any promises in advance."

"Let the risk be mine," said Varney. "I am certain that when you have
heard what I have to tell you, you will report to your papers that my
'mysterious errand' turns out to be simply a matter of personal and
private business, with which the public has no concern, and whose
publication at this time would hopelessly ruin it. Mr. Hammerton, I came
to Hunston to see Miss Mary Carstairs."

A gleam came into Hammerton's eye. Varney, watching that observant
feature, knew that no detail of his story, or of his manner in telling
it, would escape a most critical scrutiny.

"The fewer particulars the better," he said grimly. "I shall tell the
substance because that seems now, after all, the best way to protect the
interests of those concerned. Mr. Hammerton, as the _Daily_ told you,
Mr. Carstairs and his wife have separated, though they are still on
friendly terms with each other. Their only child remains with the
mother. Mr. Carstairs is getting old. He is naturally an affectionate
man, and he is very lonely. In short, he has become most anxious to have
his daughter spend part of her time with him. Mrs. Carstairs entirely
approves of this. The daughter, however, absolutely refuses to leave her
mother, feeling, it appears, that nothing is due her father from her.
Arguments are useless. Well, what is to be done? Mr. Carstairs, because
his great need of his daughter grows upon him, conceives an unusual
plan. He will send an ambassador to Hunston--unaccredited, of course, a
man, young, not married, who--don't think me a coxcomb--but who might
be able to arouse the daughter's interest. This ambassador is to go on
Mr. Carstairs's own yacht, the name, of course, being erased, so that
the daughter may not recognize it. He is to meet the young lady,
cultivate her, make friends with her--all without letting her dream that
he comes from her father, for that would ruin everything. And, then--"

He broke off, paused, considered. In Hammerton's eye he saw a light
which meant sympathy, kindly consideration, human interest. He knew that
the battle was half won. He had only to say: "And then talk to her about
her poor old father, who loves her, and who is growing old in a big
house all by himself; and tell her how he needs her so sorely that old
grudges ought to be forgotten; and ask her, in the name of common
kindness, to come down and pay him a visit before it is too late." He
had only to say that, and he knew, for he read it in Hammerton's whole
softened expression, that the boy would go away with his lips locked.

But he couldn't say that, the reason being that it was not true.

"And then," he said, with a truthfulness so bold that he was sure the
reporter would not follow it, "and then--don't you see? he is to try to
_make_ her go down to New York and pay a visit to that lonely old father
who needs her so badly. Since she is so obstinate about it, he must find
some way to _make_ her go before it is too late. _Now_ do you
understand, Mr. Hammerton? _Now_ do you perceive why the thought of
having all this pitiful story scareheaded in a penny paper is
insufferable to me?"

He towered above Hammerton, crisp words falling like leaden bullets,
stern, insistent, determined to be believed. But he saw a look dawn on
the younger man's face which made him instantly fear that he had told
too much.

And then suddenly Hammerton sprang to his feet, keen eyes shot with
light, ruddy cheek paled a little with excitement, fronting Varney in
startled triumph over the drinks they had shared.

"Make her!" he blurted in a high shrill voice. "Mr. Varney, _you came up
here to kidnap her!_"

The two men stared at each other in a moment of horrified silence.
Something in the reporter's air of victory, in the kind of thrilling joy
with which he pounced upon the carefully guarded little secret and
dragged it out into the light, made him all at once loathsome in
Varney's eyes, a creature unspeakably repellent.

Suddenly he leaned across the little table and struck Hammerton lightly
across the mouth with the back of his hand.

"You cad," he said whitely.

But Hammerton, never to be stopped by details now, ignored both the
insult and the blow. He was on the rail like a cat, ready to swim for
it, hot to take his great scoop to Mrs. Carstairs, to Coligny Smith, to
readers of newspapers all over the land.

The table was between them, and it went over with a crash. Quick as he
was, Varney was barely in time. His hand fell upon the reporter's coat
when another fraction of a second would have been too late. Then he
flung backward with a wrench, and Hammerton came toppling heavily to the

Smarting with the pain of the fall, hot with anger at last, the
reporter was up in an instant, spitting blood, and they clenched with
the swiftness of lightning. Then they broke away, violently, and went at
it in grim earnest.

It was the fight of a lifetime for each of them and they were splendidly
matched. Hammerton was two inches the shorter, but he had twenty pounds
of solid weight to offset that; and in close work, especially, his
execution was polished. They had it up and down the deck, hammer and
tongs, swinging, landing, rushing, sidestepping. At the first crash of
broken glass on the deck, the crew had begun to appear, unobtrusively
from all directions. Now cabin-hatch, galley-hatch, deck-house, every
coign of vantage along the battlefield held its silent cluster of
wondering figures. But McTosh, familiar old family retainer, slipped
nearer at the first opportunity and whispered, in just that eager tone
with which he pressed a side-dish upon one's notice:

"Can't I give you a little help, sir?"

"Keep away, steward," said Varney, between clenched teeth, "or you'll
get hurt."

Saying which, he received a savage blow on the point of the chin and
struck the deck with a thud.

"Oh, my Gawd, sir!" breathed McTosh.

But his young master was on his feet like a tiger, in a whirl of crazy
passion. He had resolved all along that Hammerton would have to kill him
before he should get away with that secret. Now it came to him like a
divine revelation that the way to avoid this was to kill Hammerton. To
that pleasant end, he goaded his adversary with a light blow,
side-stepped his rush, uppercutted and the reporter went down, almost
head first, and cruelly hard.

He came up dazed, game but very wild, and Varney got another chance
promptly, which was just as well. Hammerton went down again, head on
once more, and this time he did not come up at all.

The crew, unable to repress themselves, let out a cheer, and came
crowding on the deck. But Varney, standing over Hammerton's limp body,
waved them back impatiently.

"Hold your noise!" he ordered. "And stand back! I'm attending to this

He picked Hammerton up in his arms, staggered with him to his own
stateroom, and laid him down on the bunk. The boy did not stir, gave no
visible sign of life. But when Varney put his hand over the other's
heart, he found it beating away quite firmly. His breathing and pulse
were regular--everything was quite as it should be. He would come round
in half an hour, and be as good a man as ever. And he would have a long,
idle time to rest, and look after his bruises and get back his strength

Varney took the key from the door, put it in outside, turned it and came
on deck again. The crew had vanished to their several haunts. Two
deck-hands in blouses and red caps had just completed the rehabilitation
of the deck, and at sight of him discreetly vanished forward.

"Ferguson," called Varney, "a word with you, please."

The grizzled sailing-master came quickly, obviously curious for an
explanation of these strange matters.

Rapidly Varney explained to him that the incarcerated man was a reporter
who thought that he had got hold of a scandalous story about Mr.
Carstairs, and was most anxious to get ashore so that he could publish
this scandal all over the country.

"I am obliged to go to town immediately," he continued. "Rumors of this
ugly story have already been started, and I must do everything I can to
nail them. I am going to trust the responsibility here to you. As soon
as I leave the yacht, I want you to start her down the river. That is to
get the gentleman and the yacht out of the way. Go straight ahead for
two or three hours and then come back. Make your calculations so that
you'll get back here at--say ten o'clock to-night--here, mind you, not
the old anchorage. I'll be ready to come aboard by that time. Have two
men guard that stateroom constantly every minute. Give the gentleman
every possible attention, but don't let him make any noise, and don't
let him get out. No matter what he says or does, _don't let him get
out_. Do you follow me?"

"I do, sir. To the menootest detail."

"If you carry the matter through, you may rely upon Mr. Carstairs's
gratitude. If, on the other hand, you fail--"

"Oh, I'll not fail, sir. Have no fear of that."

"I am speaking to you man to man, Ferguson, when I say, for God's sake

He walked away to arrange himself a little for the town, seeing clearly
that there was but one possible way out of all this for him now. The
sailing-master stared after him with a very curious expression upon his
weather-beaten face.

At about the same moment, in a tiny room four miles away, an elderly,
melancholy man sat bowed over a telegraph board and drowsily plied his
keys. He was the _Gazette's_ special operator, and, having his orders
from Mr. Parker, who looked after the news bureau when Hammerton was
away, he was methodically going through his list like this:

_Tribune_, PITTSBURG:

Ferris Stanhope or Laurence Varney? Baffling mystery surrounding
prominent men, one of whom now hiding here. Probable scandal, one
thousand words.


Ferris Stanhope or Laurence Varney? Baffling mystery--



Varney crossed the square in the gathering dusk and went slowly up Main
Street, looking about him as he walked. He had wrenched his ankle
slightly in one of his falls upon the _Cypriani's_ deck, and the
four-mile walk over the ruts of the River road to the town had done it
no good. Worse yet, it had made the trip down from the yacht laboriously
slow, and he was harried with the fear that the irreparable damage might
already have been done.

If it had not, if no reporter had yet gone to the Carstairs house, his
one possible hope of escape stood before him like a palm-tree in a
plain. Stiffened and strengthened by all his difficulties, his resolve
to win throbbed and mounted within him; but he faced the knowledge that
the odds now were heavily against him. On the long chance, he had played
a desperate game, had come within an ace of winning, and had lost. His
great secret which, beyond any other purpose, he had meant to guard to
the end, was glaringly out. Now it was the iron heart of his will that
it should go no further. Talkative young Hammerton had given him the
hint how that might be accomplished; and if the method was extreme, it
would be sure. Whatever the cost, it would be a small price to pay for
keeping his name, and Uncle Elbert's, out of ruinous headlines in
to-morrow's papers.

Two blocks further on he came opposite a neat, three-story brick
building, across the width of which was a black and gold signboard,
lettered THE GAZETTE. Below it was the large plate-glass window of a
counting-room, now dark. On the left was a lighted doorway, leading

Varney crossed, climbed the stairs, found himself in a narrow upstairs
hall, rapped upon a closed ground-glass door bearing the legend
"Editorial." From within, a voice of unenthusiasm bade him enter, and he
went in, closing the door behind him.

In a swivel-chair by an open roller-top desk, a young man sat, idly
smoking a cigarette, his back to the door, his languorous feet hung out
of the window. There were electric lights in the room, but they were not
lit. All the illumination that there was came from a single dingy
gas-fixture stuck in the wall near the desk, but that was enough.

Varney came closer. "Smith," said he.

"Well," said Smith.

"I have come to see you."

"Well--look away," said Smith.

There was not a trace of the "Hast thou found me?" in the editor's voice
or his manner. If he expected assassination, he did not appear to mind.
He sat on without turning, staring apathetically out of the window, just
as he had done when he watched Varney cross and come in at his door.

"I have come," said Varney, "because I understand that you are the sole
owner, as well as the editor, of this paper. Am I right?"

Smith lit a fresh cigarette, flipped the old one out of the window and
paused to watch the boys outside fight for it. Half-smoked stubs came
frequently out of that window when Mr. Smith sat there and many boys in
Hunston knew it.

"Assuming that you are?" queried he.

"Assuming that," said Varney, "I'll say that I have come to buy this
paper. And to discharge you from the editorship."

Smith drew in his feet, and swung slowly around. The two men measured
each other in an interval of intelligent silence. On the whole, upon
this close view, Varney found it harder to think of Smith as a
contemptible cur who circulated lying slanders for profit than as the
young man who wrote the famous editorials.

"And still they come," said Smith, enigmatically. "Three of them in one
day--well, well!" And he added musingly: "So I have stung you as hard as
that, have I?"

"Let us say rather," said Varney, whose present tack was diplomacy,
"that I have some loose money which I want to stow away in a paying
little enterprise."

"I am the last man in the world to boast of a kindness," continued
Smith, in his faintly mocking manner, "but I gave you fair warning to
leave town."

"Instead I stayed. And an exceedingly interesting town I have found it.
Something doing every minute. But, as I just remarked, I have looked in
to buy your paper."

"If I were like some I know," meditated Smith, "I'd be thinking: 'The
Lord has delivered him into my hand, aye, delivered dear old Beany.' I'd
embarrass you with questions, make you blush with catechisms. But I am a
merciful man, and observe that I ask you nothing. You want to buy the
_Gazette_ for an investment. Let it stand at that. So you're the
money-grubbing sort that supposes that everything on God's hassock has
its price?"

"I believe it's street knowledge that the _Gazette_ has its. But I
called really not so much to discuss ethics, as to ascertain your

Smith gave a sigh which was not without its trace of mockery.
"'Fortunately, I am hardened to insults. Editors are expected to stand
anything. Times are dull--nothing much to do--drop around and kick the
editor. You've no idea what we have to put up with from spring poets
alone. Rejoice, B----, that is, Mr.--er--Blank, that the _Gazette_ is
never to be yours."

"You can't mean that you decline to sell?"

"When I implied to you just now that I was sole owner of the _Gazette_,
I was, of course, speaking rather reminiscently than in the strict light
of present facts."

"What do you mean by that?"

"That I sold the _Gazette_ at four o'clock this afternoon."

For an instant the room whirled and Varney saw nothing in it but the odd
eyes of Coligny Smith steadily fixing him. By the shock of that blow, he
realized that, after all, he had wholly counted upon succeeding in
this. From the moment when he had turned his stateroom key on
unconscious Charlie Hammerton, he had recognized it as his one chance.
And now he was too late. Clever Ryan, who missed nothing, doubtless
suspecting that the faithless editor who had sold out once to him might
now be planning to do it again to a higher bidder, had outstripped him.
And the _Gazette_ to-morrow would damn him utterly.

But Varney's face, as these thoughts came to him, wore a faint,
non-committal smile. "That is final, I suppose?"

"As death, so far as I am concerned. I leave Hunston permanently
to-morrow morning."

"Who was the buyer?"

"There is really no reason why I should divulge his confidence that I
know of; but, curses on me, I'll do it if you'll tell me this: Where is
Charles Hammerton?"

Varney laid his hat and stick on the table, to rid his hands of them,
and faced Mr. Smith, leaning lightly against it.

"I came here, Smith, to ask questions, not to answer them. On second
thoughts, I withdraw my last one, for I can guess the answer. But before
we proceed further, I want you to tell me this: what made you sell?"

The editor pitched another cigarette-end out of the window. Again a
shout from the street indicated that it had become a bone of bitter
contest among the town's smokers of the _sub-rosa_ class.

"Suppose I were to tell you," said Smith slowly, "that I anticipate a
shakeup here which will cut the backbone out of my profits? What would
you say to that?"

"I suppose I should say that it was ever the custom of rats to desert a
sinking ship. So that was your mainspring, was it?"

"On the contrary," said Smith. "I am taking what is technically known as
a small rise out of you. You ask why I sold. It was a man with the
price. Money," began Mr. Smith, "screams. The cash on my desk was this
man's way of doing business, and a good deal it was. However, it'll net
him six per cent year in and out, at that--a good rate in these lean
times. I, of course, did better. I got--shall we say?--pickings. The
past tense already, heigho! Well, it's been a most instructive life. My
father taught me to write. He was esteemed a good editor, and he was,
but at eighteen I was correcting his leaders for him. Hand Greeley a
soft pencil and a pass at the encyclopedia, so he used to say, and he
could prove anything under the sun. I am like that, except that--well, I
don't believe I need the encyclopedia. It wasn't Greeley who made the
remark, of course. It's a rule on the press to pin all journalistic
anecdotes on Greeley. You sign the pledge when you go in. To be
accounted strictly moral," continued Smith, "an editor must be blind in
one eye and astigmatic in the other. Then he rings the bull's-eye of
Virtue ten times out of ten, and the clergy bleats with delight. You
can't find spiritual candor anywhere with a telescope, except in the
criminal classes. There are no Pharisees there, God be praised! For my
part, I see both sides of every question that was ever asked, and
usually--don't you think?--both of them are right. I first adopt my
point of view and subsequently prove it. Obviously, this is where the
pickings come in. My grandfather started this paper on two hundred and
fifty dollars, fifty dollars of which, I have heard, was his own. I
could knock off for life as an idle member of the predatory classes, I
suppose, but after all, I was made for an editor. In years past, I have,
of course, had my offers from New York. Two of them were left open
forever, and a little while ago, I telegraphed down and took the best. A
grateful wire came in five minutes ahead of you. And that," he concluded
wearily, in the flattest tones of a curiously flat voice, "is the life
story of C. Smith, editor, up to the hour of going to press."

Varney, who had never once been tempted to interrupt this strange
apologia, struggled with an impulse to feel desperately sorry for Mr.
Smith, and almost overcame it.

"Smith," he said, in a moment, "why don't you tell me why you sold?"

The editor got up and stared out of the window. Presently he turned, an
odd faint flush tingeing his ordinarily colorless cheek. His air of
smooth cynicism was gone, for once; and Varney saw then, as he had
somehow suspected before, that the editor of the _Gazette_ wore polished
bravado as a cloak and that underneath it he carried a rather troubled

"You are right," said Smith, "I--was twigging you again. Let us say,"
he added, looking at Varney with a kind of shamefaced defiance, "that a
man gets tired of living on pickings after a while."

If he had been ten times a liar, ten times a slanderer and assassin of
character, a man would have known that the young editor spoke the truth
then. That knowledge disarmed Varney. To have sold the _Gazette_ to one
who would prostitute it still further was hardly a noble act; but for
Smith it meant unmistakably that he wanted to cut loose from the old
evil walks where he had done ill by his honor and battened exceedingly.

"All along," said Varney slowly, "I have had a kind of sneaking feeling
that there was a spark left in you yet."

He picked up his hat and stick again, and faced the pale young editor.

"Smith, you have done me a devilish wrong. You have knowingly printed a
vile slander about me, aware that the natural result of your falsehood
was that some poor drunken fool would shoot me down from behind. When I
walked in here five minutes ago, I had two purposes in mind. One was to
buy your paper. The other was to throw you down the front stairs. I am
leaving now without doing either. I abandoned the first because I had
to; I abandon the second, voluntarily, because--I don't quite know
why--but I think it is because it seems inappropriate to hit a man when
he is down and something is just driving him to try to scramble up."

He put on his hat and started to go; but Smith stopped him with a
gesture. He let his eye, from which all sign of emotion had faded, run
slowly over Varney's slender figure.

"I wasn't such a slouch in my younger days," he said. "Football at my
prep school, football and crew at my college. Boxed some at odd moments;
was counted fair to middling. Some offhand practice since with people
I've roasted--agents, actors, and the like. As to that throwing
downstairs proposition now, if you'd care to try it on--"

Varney shook his head. "I don't know that I can explain it--and no one
regrets it more than I--but all the wish to _smash_ you, Smith, has gone
away somewhere. The bottom has dropped out of it. Good-bye."

"You are going? So am I," said Smith, with a fair imitation of his usual
lightness. "Going away for good. I hope you will come through this all
right. I'll never see you again. Shake hands, will you? You couldn't
know it, of course, but--it--is possible that I owe something to--you
two fellows."

He stood motionless, half turned away, thin hands hanging loosely at his

Varney, who had colored slightly, took a last look at him. "No," he
said, suddenly much embarrassed, "I--I'm afraid I couldn't do it in the
way you mean, and so there wouldn't be any point in it. But I--I do wish
you luck with all my heart."

He shut the door, and started down the stairway; and he straightway
forgot Smith in the returning tide of his own difficulties. He saw
clearly that there was no longer any hope; his plans were wrecked past
mending. Persuading Miss Carstairs to keep her engagement to-morrow, his
one great problem this morning, had become an unimportant detail now.
Charlie Hammerton, with his merciless knowledge, filled the whole
horizon like a menacing mirage.

It would not be enough to close the boy's month till after the luncheon
and then let it open to babble. For Elbert Carstairs had flatly drawn
the line at a yellow aftermath of sensation. He would count a tall-typed
scandal the day after to-morrow, when his daughter was with him, fully
as bad as the same affliction now. And, the newspaper finally lost to
them, there was no conceivable way in which that scandal could be
averted now.

But about the moment when his foot hit the bottom of the worn stairs,
the door at the head of them burst open, and a curiously stirred voice,
which he had some difficulty in recognizing as Smith's, called his name.

"Varney! oh, Varney! I--really meant to tell you--and then I forgot."

He turned and saw the editor's pale face hanging over the banisters.

"It was Maginnis I sold the _Gazette_ to, you know--Peter Maginnis. I
wouldn't have sold it to anybody else. You'll find him at the hotel
eating supper."

Varney, looking at him, knew then what it was that Smith thought he owed
to him and Maginnis.

He went back up the stairs and the two men shook hands in rather an
agitated silence.



At half past six o'clock, or thereabouts, James Hackley dragged slowly
up Main Street. He was garbed in his working suit of denim blue, trimmed
with monkey wrench and chisel, and he wore, further, an air of
exaggerated fatigue. A rounded protuberance upon his cheek indicated
that the exhilaration of the quid was not wanting to his inner man, but
the solace he drew from it appeared pitifully trifling. Now and then he
would pause, rest his person against a lamp-post, or the front of some
emporium, and shake his head despondently, like one most fearful of the
consequences of certain matters.

Since four o'clock that afternoon, in fact, Mr. Hackley had been out
upon a reluctant stint of lawn-mowing, reluctant because he hated all
work with a Titanic hatred and sedulously cultivated the conviction that
his was a delicate health. In view of the magnificent windfall in
connection with the killing of his dog, it had not been his design to
accept any more retainers for a long time to come. That occurrence had
lifted him, as by the ears, from the proletariat into the capitalistic
leisure class; and the map of the world had become but the portrait of
his oyster.

But at noon as he lolled upon his rear veranda, chatting kindly with
his wife as she hung the linen of quality upon her drying lines, a lady
had knocked upon his door, beautiful and insistent, to wheedle his will
from him. It was only a tiny bit of a lawn, she had reiterated
imploringly, hardly a constitutional to cut, and there was not one tall
fellow in all Hunston whom she would permit to touch it but Hackley.
Dead to all flattery as he was, his backbone ran to water at the
clinging beauty of her smile, and so incredibly betrayed him into
yielding. And now, at hard upon half after six o'clock, post-meridian,
the dangerous dews of night already beginning to fall, he leaned against
a lamp-post, a physical wreck, with a long block and a half still
separating him from the comforts of home.

At the next corner but one above rose the red brick Ottoman, its
inviting side stretching for many yards down the street towards him.
Windows cut it here and there along its length, and over their green
silk half-curtains, poured forth a golden light which was hospitality
made visible. Yet, so strange are the ways of life, the proprietor of
all these luxuries, who stood at the furthest window, beyond Hackley's
range, did not look happy in their possession. His eyes gleamed
fiercely; his heavy chin protruded savagely, as though deliberately
insulting Main Street and the northward universe. Even his small derby,
which he seldom doffed save at the hour for taps, contrived to bespeak a
certain ferocity.

The Ottoman bar was bare of customers, all Hunston now verging towards
its evening meal. Ryan rested his elbow upon its polished surface, and
glared into the twilight. He was, as luck had it, in a terrible
ill-humor. For he knew himself to-day for a man who had been physically
flouted, a boss whose supremacy had been violently assailed, a king who
felt his throne careen sickeningly beneath him.

Last night, when four men whom he had never seen before, three of them
masked, had borne him off on a long wild drive, and dropped him at ten
o'clock in a lonely bit of country eight miles from the Academy Theatre,
there had at least been action to give point to his choler. All but out
of his mind with passion, he had besought them all, singly or quadruply,
to descend from their carriage and meet him in combat, thirsting sorely
to kill or be killed. But they had only laughed at him, silently, and
galloped away, leaving him screaming out futile curses on the empty
night air.

Two hours later, when he had got back to Hunston, after an interminable
nightmare of running over rough ground with unaccustomed limbs, and
stumbling heavily to earth, and rising up to struggle again, he had
learned to what uses his enemies had put that absence. Smith had related
the story in the fastness of his office, and in wholly different guise
from that which it wore next morning in the columns of his newspaper.
And Ryan, listening, had slowly calmed, calmed to the still fury of
implacable hate.

But he and Smith had quarreled violently. He was for publishing the
story of his taking off in type as black as the dastardly act. Smith had
a difficult time in holding him down, however much he pointed out that
Ryan had no shadow of proof against his new adversary on the yacht, and
that public sympathy in an affair of this sort was always with the
successful. In the end Smith had carried his point, because he was, of
those two men, both the more wise and the more resolute. But this
morning they had conferred again and quarreled even more bitterly.

Yet Ryan, plotting in the window of his splendid gin-palace, his eye
always sweeping the evening street as though a-search, was not thinking
of the young editor now. Two other policies for the days to come
monopolized his attention. One of these was crushing victory at the
polls. The other was revenge. Probably in thinking of these, he put them
at the moment in reverse order.

"Damn him!" he suddenly exploded: and it was not little Hare that he
cursed. "Damn his soul!"

In the next breath, the boss suddenly ducked, and disappeared from the
half-curtained window altogether. A moment later, he appeared outside
his swinging door, yawning and stretching himself, as one who, wearied
with the tedium of life indoors, would see what beguilement might await
him abroad.

The boss looked first up the street and permitted his beady eye to range
casually over the view. Then his gaze came slowly down and rested in
time upon the person of James Hackley, now almost directly opposite. The
boss's countenance lit up with a smile of pleased surprise.

"Why, hello, Jim!" he called out. "Where you been hidin' yourself
lately? Ain't seen you for a week o' Sundays. Come across and pass the
time of day!"

Mr. Hackley, who had been debating whether or not he should pause for
inspiration at the Ottoman, and had just virtuously declared for the
negative, shambled over.

Ryan eyed him sympathetically. "You look kind o' played out, Jim. What
you been doin' with yourself? Come in and take a drop of somethin' to
hearten you up some. On the house."

"Well," said Mr. Hackley, unable to resist the novel fascination of
liquoring gratis, "just a weeny mite for to cut the dust out o' my

Ryan went behind the bar and served them himself, selecting with care a
bottle which he described as the primest stuff in the house. From this
he poured Hackley a remarkably stiff potation, slightly wetting the
bottom of his own glass the while. The bottle he left standing ready on
the bar.

"Here's how, friend Jim!"

Whatever Mr. Hackley's foibles, he was a man at his cups. His platform
was the straight article uncontaminated by ice or flabby
sparkling-water; and chasers and the like of those he left to

"Ain't took a drink for days," he said, holding up his glass to the
electric light and squinting through it. "Cut it out religious, I have.
Been settin' around the house, an' settin', under physic'an's orders,
tryin' fer to get my health back so's I could go to moldin' agin. But
Lordamussy, what's the use of torkin'! I ain't no more fitten fer work
than a noo-born baby. Well, here's luck, Ryan!"

He set his glass down and involuntarily smacked his lips. The fiery
liquid percolated through him down to his very toes. He felt better at
once, more ambitious, less conscious of his constitution. And
simultaneously, he lost something of that indolent good-nature which was
the badge of all his sober hours.

Ryan regarded him with friendly anxiety. "You gotter be more careful
with yourself, honest! Here--strengthen your holt a little. One little
swallow ain't no help to a man as beat out as you are."

"As yer like, Dennis," said Mr. Hackley, listlessly. "What I reely need
is a good long rest, like in a 'orspittle."

Kindly Mr. Ryan filled the small glass almost to the brim; and Hackley,
though he had modestly stipulated for "on'y a drap" tossed it all off
thirstily at a single practised toss.

"That'll fix you up nice. But ain't I glad," said his host with a sly
chuckle, "that nobody sees you taking these drinks on the quiet, which
_we_ know you need bad for your health."

Mr. Hackley set down his glass again, this time with something of a
bang. "How's that?" he demanded suspiciously.

Ryan laughed deprecatingly. While doing so, he manipulated the tall dark
bottle again.

"Shuh!" said he. "It's only the boys' fun, of course. Don't you mind
_them_, Jim."

"What're you drivin' at?" asked Hackley, bristling a bit. "If you got
anything worth sayin' to me, spit it out plain, I say."

"Well," laughed Ryan, "if some of the boys was to see you in here
putting away a harmless drink or so, o' course they'd say that you was
gettin' up your Dutch courage. He, he!"

"Dutch courage!" cried Mr. Hackley, indignantly. "An' wot the hell fer?"

"Sh! Not so loud, Jim. Why, it's only their little joke, o' course.
They'd say you was gettin' up your nerve to meet them two friends of
yours from New York! Hey? He, he!"

"Wot friends?" asked Hackley again, hotly.

Ryan observed the mounting color on the other's cheek and brow, and his
eye, which was like a small, glossy shoe-button, gleamed.

"Why, that 'un that killed that dog o' yours, and put you to sleep
before the crowd, and that 'un that sent Mamie Orrick to Gawd knows
where. But shucks! Drop it, Jim. I wouldn't have allooded to it, on'y I
thought you'd see the fun of the thing."

It takes a philosopher to perceive humor in taunts at his own personal
courage, and Mr. Hackley, with three drinks of the Ottoman's choicest
beneath his tattered waistcoat, was not that kind of man at all.

He leaned forward against the bar with a belligerence suggesting that he
wished to push it over, pinning his pleasant-spoken host to the wall,
and pounded the top of it till the glasses tingled.

"Fill her up with the same!" he ordered loudly, looking suddenly, and
for the first time, very much like the rough-looking customer who had
tackled Peter Maginnis in defense of his dog. "An' I'll have you know,
_Mister_ Ryan--I'll have you know, my fine, big, bouncin' buck, that Jim
Hackley ain't afeared of anythink that walks."

Ryan filled her up again, though this time more conservatively. He was a
keen man and an excellent judge of what was enough.

"Shuh! Don't _I_ know that, Jim! Why, after that big bloke licked the
stuffin' out of you the other night, the boys said: 'Well, that's the
last o' that little differculty! Jim Hackley'll never foller that up
none,' they says. And what'd I say?"

"Well, what'd you say?"

"I says, 'Hell!' I says. 'You boys don't _know_ Jim Hackley!'"

"I'll interdooce myself to 'em!" said Hackley savagely. "And whoever
says that Maginnis licked me's a liar. You hear me? Tripped my toe on a
rock, I did, and banged all the sense outen my head--"

"I understand, Jim," interrupted Ryan suavely. "Just what I told the
boys. O' course, just between you an me, I have been kinder took by
surprise that you've waited so long to get your evens. Why, this morning
when the piece came out in the _Gazette_, tellin' the whole town that
the feller's side-partner was that yellow cur-dog Stanhope, I says to
the boys, first thing: 'Boys, we gotter watch Jim Hackley mighty careful
to-day,' says I. 'I'm afeard there'll be gun-play before sunset.'
'Gun-play!' says they. 'F'om Hackley! Hell,' says they. 'You boys,' says
I, 'don't know old Jim like I do!' And then o' course,--he, he!--as the
whole day slipped by and nothin' doin' at all--why, o' course, I won't
deny that they ain't been jollyin' me some."

Hackley leaned far over the bar, and shook his fist in the boss's face.
"I ain't a man," he shouted, "to be pushed an' a-nagged at in a deal
like this. I takes my time, I makes my plans, I decides on the ways I'll
do it. Do yer pipe to that? An' now I've got ever'think fixed and I'm
ready. Do yer see!"

The boss, who had retreated a step before that menacing fist, glanced
out of the window and instantly started, this time with an amazement
that was genuine.

"Why, blast my eyes," he cried, raising a pudgy arm, "if there ain't
that dog Stanhope now!"

Hackley, following the pointing finger, peered over the green silk
curtain out into the darkening street. A young man, tall and rather
thin, in a blue suit and wide gray-felt hat, was walking slowly and with
a slight limp up the cross street, evidently heading for the Palace

The two men watched him intently, in a moment of perfect silence. Then
the boss, who was not without a certain dramatic sense, said slowly:

"_Mamie Orrick's old friend_!"

A baleful light leaped into Hackley's eyes. He broke away from the bar
with a movement that was like a wrench, and started for the door.

"I'll fix him," he muttered dourly. "Fix him _good_."

But Ryan, who wanted something much better than that, sprang around the
bar like lightning, and caught Hackley roughly by the shoulder, at the

"What, here in the square!" he hissed sharply. "With the po-lice in
sight a'most! Why, you fool, it'll mean the pen for you as sure as your
name's Jim Hackley!"

Hackley paused, his resolution unsettled by the other's superior
knowledge of the law.

"No, no, Jim--it won't do," went on Ryan with bland decisiveness. "What
you want is the two of them together, hey?--on a nice dark stretch o'
road, and old Orrick and a few good fellows along to help. You ain't the
only one that's got it in for Stanhope, are you? An' you want Maginnis
too, I guess? Come on in the orfice and talk about it over a seegar."



Coligny Smith had told the truth. Peter Maginnis had bought the
_Gazette_, and the _Cyprianl's_ troubles, from this source at any rate,
were at an end.

Varney found the new proprietor at the hotel, completing a hurried
supper, and Peter hailed him with astonishment and delight. All
afternoon he had been bursting with his great news, eager to get word of
it to Varney on the yacht. But there had been no trustworthy messenger
to send; his own time had been rilled to overflowing, with contracts,
bills of sale and deeds; and, besides, his certain knowledge that
everything was all right made it seem a minor matter that Varney should
know it too.

"But what the deuce," he exclaimed at once, "brings you at this hour to
the Palace Hotel and Restaurant?"

"I, too," quoted Varney, "have not been idle."

As they walked back to the _Gazette_ building, where Peter had still
various details to attend to, he gave a terse epitome of his afternoon's
experiences. At the news that he, too, had sought to buy the paper which
was so determinedly on their trail, Peter chuckled and started to speak;
but when he learned in the next sentence that Hammerton had their
secret at his mercy, his face grew suddenly grave.

"The rub is," he summed up meditatively, "he may take his walking-papers
rather than let go of such a scoop as that. Of course, he knows that the
New York papers would trample each other to death trying to snatch it
away from him. However, we can fix it somehow. We've got to--that's

"He'll listen to reason, I dare say," said Varney briefly. "What put it
into your head to try to buy the paper, Peter?"

They sat in the business manager's little office at the rear of the long
counting-room downstairs, where Peter had thoughtfully paused and
snapped on all the lights. At this question an annoyed look settled
instantly on the new owner's open countenance.

"No brains of mine," he said shortly. "It's a queer thing."

He paused to light his battered pipe, which he produced ready-filled
from his pocket, and then said abruptly:

"Remember that old sneak named Higginson I mentioned to you yesterday?
Well, I bagged the idea from him. When I hit town this afternoon the
first thing I heard was that Higginson was going to buy the
_Gazette_--had bought it, some said."

"_Higginson!_" Varney stared. "What the mischief did he want with the

"Echo answers. No good to us, you can bet," said Peter grimly. "Gave it
out, I believe, that he was acting for a syndicate of New Yorkers who
expected flush times with the change of administration, and were
rushing to get in on the ground floor. You can believe that if you want
to. To me it sounds too fishy to do even a beginner credit. You could
wake me up in the middle of the night and I could put over a better one
than that. However," he continued, frowning, "to get back to my story.
When I heard what Higginson was up to, it naturally flashed into my mind
that it would be a mighty convenient thing if I owned the _Gazette_
myself, instead of him. I raced off to Smith on the chance, shot an
offer at him from the door and to my surprise he accepted it--right off
the bat, cool as though the deal were for half a dozen copies of
yesterday's issue--"

"You got in ahead of Higginson, then?"

"On the contrary," said Peter. "And that's another queer thing--about
Smith, I mean. Higginson had been in and made him an offer an hour ahead
of me, and the fellow had turned him down flat. Yet I happen to know
that the price I offered was under Higginson's by a pretty good year's
income. Now what d' you think of that?"

Varney was silent a moment. "Smith wants a new deal all around, I
imagine," he said slowly. "He knew that you would make the _Gazette_ an
honest paper; he didn't know anything of the sort about the other man.
Probably he knew just the contrary. Bully for Smith, I say! But what do
you make of this chap Higginson?"

"Search me," said Peter, rather impatiently. "He's clearly imported by
Ryan for some definite purpose, but just what his game is beats me.
There'll be more developments, of course. After I'd signed up with Smith
I spent half an hour of valuable time looking for the rascal, but
couldn't find a footprint anywhere. He seems to have a special gift for
appearing and disappearing. If he decides to stay with us, though, he'll
explain himself to me to-morrow, or I'll know the reason why."

"Well, you've already pulled his teeth, haven't you? This little
purchase of yours knocks the wind out of his sails in any event."

"I wish I could be sure of that."

"And, by the way, that reminds me. Of course I'm in on this, you
understand--on what you paid for the _Gazette_."

"Not on my account," said Peter frankly. "When this town starts booming,
as it will in eight days from date--Higginson had that part of it right,
anyway--the _Gazette's_ going to be the prettiest little property you
ever saw in your life. I saw it first and you will kindly back away off
the grass. By the bye," he went on, "the lunch to-morrow. Hare and his
sister both accepted--two o'clock. You ought to have seen Hare's face
when I told him we owned this little old _Gazette_. Worth the price of
admission alone--he'd been hot as a stove all day about that story this
morning. I asked Mrs. Marne whether Miss Carstairs had happened to say
anything about coming, but she hadn't seen her to-day at all. I guess
there won't be any trouble in that quarter, though, when she gets
through reading the paper's apologies to-morrow."

"I don't know," said Varney. "I am going to her house to-night to find

"Why?" said Peter, surprised. "What do you think we bought this paper
for, anyway?"

"The great trouble is that she may not believe the paper. This is
important, you see. The whole thing hinges on whether or not she is
coming to lunch with us. The only way I can be certain that she is
coming is to have her tell me so."

Peter jingled his keys. "Of course, we don't want to take chances,

"Another thing," said Varney. "She promised to lunch with Stanhope--the
celebrity--not me, you know."

"H'm," said Peter cogitatively, and added: "I guess you're right. I'm
sure everything's all serene, but it'll do no harm to press a call.
Well! I must fly upstairs for a while and see how things are going."

"What about the _Daily?_"

"That's what I've got to do right now--settle the _Daily_ and dictate a
strong _Gazette_ story for to-morrow's issue, stripping the socks off
the Stanhope lie and all that. I've got to show the boys upstairs
exactly how we want the whole thing, handled."

"Fire away, old top."

"It's all sketched out in my mind," continued Peter, rising. "Did it at
the hotel over my chuck-steak. I won't be long. You wait here for me,
will you? I've chartered an automobile for a week and I'll run you up to
the Carstairs house and wait outside till you're ready to go back to the

"Why these civilities, my son?"

"The fact is," said Peter, a little reluctantly, "that story this
morning seems to have pulled open a lot of old sores, just as it was
meant to. Hare's picked up some loose odds and ends of talk about town
to-day. I noticed two men hanging around here as we came in just now who
didn't look right to me. I can't get it out of my head that there's
something in the wind to-night, and Higginson's back of it. Anyway,
there's no use of running needless risks, now that we've practically got
a strangle-hold on the whole proposition."

Varney glanced at his watch. "Right for you. It's too early to call yet,
anyway. I'll wait."

"Correct," said Peter at the door. "One last item of news. Stanhope
himself, the real one, is coming to-morrow."

"Here--to stay?"

Peter nodded. "The caretaker of his cottage told Hare--told him not to
tell a soul. But I don't believe he'll stay long. The fellow's clearly a
fool as well as a dog."

"We ought to warn him how things stand here," said Varney, "no matter
what kind of person he is. You and I know that we 've made matters a
good deal worse for him."

"He's made them a good deal worse for us, also. But I'll see that he's
promptly advised to leave while the leaving's good. Back in an hour at
the farthest."

Peter tramped off down the passageway, banging the front door behind
him; and Varney was left alone in the little office to attend his
return. At once it came to him that this was exactly what he had been
doing ever since he had been in Hunston,--waiting for Peter.

"I am the greatest waiter that the human race has yet produced," he
thought, despondently, and dropping down into a chair, stared long at
the shut door.

What a day it had been!--beginning with cut-and-dried little plans that
seemed sure, running off in the middle into black depths of hopeless
complications, blossoming suddenly into unlooked-for triumph. Yes,
complete triumph at last. The visit that he meant to pay a little later
was merely an added precaution; he felt no doubts as to how matters
would turn out now. To-morrow, the _Gazette_, Peter's paper, would set
him square before all Hunston, and Mary Carstairs, sorry for the wrong
she had done him, would come to the yacht as she had engaged to do. With
the clairvoyance born of his swift revulsion of feeling, he knew that
his victory was already won. Yet he did not feel now as a conqueror
feels. In the loneliness of the tight-shut little office, he confronted
the knowledge that he did not think of Uncle Elbert's daughter as his
enemy, and that it mattered to him that she was to hate him and worse....

Suddenly in the entire stillness, he heard a sound close by, and
straightened up sharply. Some one was gently trying the front door. He
felt quite sure of it. He got up quickly and quietly, and hurried down
the passageway to the front; but there was nothing to be seen.

Outside, the street, from the brilliantly-lighted room, looked inky
black. He stood a moment listening intently. He thought he heard
footsteps not far away, swiftly receding, but he could not be sure. Then
he remembered the men that Peter had seen in the street a little while
before, and understood.

Somebody was watching him, apparently waiting for a chance. Those whom
Stanhope had wronged had been spurred to square the old account, and the
_Gazette's_ canard had not been undone yet. He yearned to dash after
those retreating footsteps and find out who was the prudent proprietor
of them. But even to stand here was hardly fair to Elbert Carstairs.

"How can I go sailing to-morrow," he said aloud, musingly, "if I'm laid
up in a hospital, or laid out in the morgue?"

He went back to his office, shut himself in again; and with the closing
of the door he shut out all thought of the enemies of Ferris Stanhope.
Soon his mind broke away from him, and went galloping off to the morrow.
Great vividness marked the pictures that danced before the eye of his
thought. Now the luncheon, the planned and fought for, was over. They
were there, strung out gayly along deck,--Mrs. Marne, Hare, Peter, Mary
Carstairs, and he. Then, by some deft stratagem, the others were gone
and he was sitting alone by Mary at the rail. The _Cypriani_ was slowly
moving, as though for a ten-minute spin down the river. And then, as she
gathered headway, he turned suddenly to Mary and told her everything:
how he had deceived and tricked her, and how she would not go back to
Hunston that afternoon....

It might have been ten minutes that he sat like this. It might have been
half an hour. But after a time he heard, suddenly and distinctly, that
noise at the door again.

There was the less doubt about it this time, in that the shutting of the
door was now clearly audible, and there followed the distinct sound of
some one moving in the main office. Then the door in the passageway
swung open and footsteps pattered, coming nearer. The light firm steps
drew nearer, halted; and there came a small rap upon his door.

"Come in," he called loudly, encouragingly. "I'm here, all right. Come

The door opened, a little slowly, as though not quite certain whether it
was going to open or not, and Mary Carstairs stood upon the threshold,
silhouetted in the sudden frame.



He had sat upright, his hands over his chair-arms, his mind and muscle
tense; but at that unbelievable sight, he fell back in his chair
relaxed, staring and dazed like one who sees a goddess in a vision.

"Good evening," said this goddess, looking decidedly embarrassed and
remarkably pretty. "I--I am so glad that we've found you."

"You were looking for _me_?" he said incredulous, utterly mystified; and
the instinct of long training, working on with no guidance from him,
impelled him to rise with a stiff and somewhat belated bow.

"Yes. And there are two men with me who are anxious to help...."

Her fragrant presence seemed to fill and transform the dingy office; and
he was at once aware that her manner had lost that cool remoteness which
at their last meeting had set him so far away.

He pulled himself sharply together, entirely missing the implication in
her speech, and struck abruptly to the one point that mattered.

"Some one has convinced you since last night that I am not that man."

"Yes," she answered, looking away from him with faintly heightened
color. "I--I must ask you to forgive me for--last night."

He bowed stiffly from behind the table.

"But who--if I may know--persuaded you, where I appeared so--"

"My mother," she said, simply. "She caught a glimpse of you on the
street yesterday. I did not know of it till to-day--never dreamed that
she knew you. I'm glad," she added hurriedly, resolutely contrite, "of
the chance to--to say this--"

"It is extraordinarily kind," said Varney. He looked at her steadily, as
far from understanding the mystery of her coming as ever.

"But I came," she went on at once, as though reading the question in his
eyes, "for quite another reason. We happened to stop just now at poor
Jim Hackley's."

The name riveted his attention. A quality in her voice had already told
him that something troubled her.

"At Hackley's?"

She stood just behind Peter's deserted chair and rested her ungloved
right hand upon it. He noticed, as though it were a matter which was
going to be vital to him later on, that she wore no rings, and that
there was a tiny white spot on the nail of her thumb.

"Some men are waiting on this dark street somewhere, Mr. Varney," she
began hurriedly, "waiting, I'm afraid, for you to come out--four or
five--I don't know how many. You know--what that means. But oh, it isn't
their fault!--they don't know any better, you see!--"

The sudden anxiety in her voice cleared his wits and braced him like a
tonic: and so he came front to front with the fact that it was to help
him--to help _him_--that Uncle Elbert's daughter had come to the
_Gazette_ office that night.

"I appreciate that perfectly, of course. But--the rest is not so clear.
I don't quite understand--how did you happen to learn of this?"

"I? Oh, my learning about it was the purest chance. It was told me two
minutes ago by a visitor here, a Mr. Higginson, whom I met last night.
He is outside in the car now, and--"

"Mr. Higginson!" echoed Varney, astounded.

"You know him, perhaps?"

"I? Oh, no--no. But I interrupted you. Do go on and tell me--"

She began to speak rapidly and earnestly:

"This afternoon I went motoring, I and a friend of mine--Mr. John
Richards. We took a wrong turn coming back, and of course were horribly
late. But at the edge of the square we stopped a minute to inquire about
Mrs. Hackley, who was taken quite ill yesterday afternoon. Just as I was
getting back into the car, up ran this Mr. Higginson, very much
flustered and excited. You see, he had just found out about all
this--this plot--even to knowing where you were; he had seen poor Jim
Hackley, it seems, not at all himself, and overheard him talking. Of
course, we saw that you must be warned at once, so we took him in the
car, and all three of us ran back here."

She paused a moment, and he prompted her with a close-clipped: "Yes?"

"I wanted him to--come in and tell you about it," she said
hesitatingly--"but he wouldn't do it. He is a most agreeable old man,
but, I imagine--of a very nervous temperament. So," she added with a
hurried little laugh, "as I was the only one who--knew you, I said that
I would come in and tell you myself."

"It was most kind--most kind of you all."

He turned away sharply to hide his sudden rush of indignation and
resentment. Turbulently he longed to get his hands upon the sly
Higginson, who had had the effrontery to dispatch a woman to protect
him, and this woman of all others that lived in Hunston.... Protect
him? Hardly. That an attack had been planned against his person was,
indeed, likely enough, but not that any hireling of Ryan's should rush
forward hysterically to pluck him from his peril. What move in that
mysterious game, what strange plot within a plot was here?...

"Did Mr. Higginson happen to explain why he took such a generous, and I
fear very troublesome, interest in my welfare?"

Genuinely anxious for light, he tried to iron all suggestion of a sneer
out of his voice, but evidently he did not quite succeed.

"Oh, I don't think you ought to speak that way! Surely he has done only
what anybody would do for any stranger who was in danger and didn't know

"And you?"

She looked at him rather shyly out of her somewhat spectacular eyes.

"That explains me, too--if you wish."

"Maginnis and I," said Varney immediately, "are not going out for some
time yet. Oh, a long, long time! These poor fellows you speak of will
tire of waiting long before that. And when we do go--"

"You must not go together."

"I don't think I understand you."

"Don't you see," she said, speaking very earnestly, "that that is
exactly what they are hoping for? This ambuscade didn't just happen--it
is manufactured--it is politics. Men like these haven't the initiative,
or whatever you call it, to get up a thing of this sort. Some one has
done it for them. Don't you know why? _They want to get rid of Mr.
Maginnis_. But they can't hurt him _alone_--without having it brought
right home to them--to the politicians. With you--it is--different--"

"Yes, yes--I see. But forgive my asking--did Mr. Higginson explain the
situation to you in just this way?"

"Mr. Higginson?" she said, plainly surprised at his harking back to
that. "It was not necessary. I understood the situation very well, from
what Mr. Hare has told me. Mr. Higginson simply gave us the facts about
these men hiding out there--there was no time for anything more."

He was staring at her with unconscious steadiness, and now his face took
on a slow faint smile, which she was very far from understanding. Blurry
as it all still was, light was beginning to break through upon him. Of
course, that was all that Mr. Higginson had told her. Of course. The
last thing desired by that clever rogue, who used petticoats for
stalking-horses and was not above hiding behind them for the safety of
his own skin, was for the engineered "attack" to go off prematurely,
landing only Varney and failing to "get" Maginnis. Warnings that the two
should _not_ go out together from Higginson? Hardly.

"I understand perfectly. Maginnis is quite safe without me, but not at
all safe with me. You may count upon me absolutely. I'll give him the
slip and leave here alone."

"You mustn't do anything of the kind," said Mary sharply.

She looked at him, unsmiling, eye to eye like a man; but she looked from
under a fantastic and exceedingly becoming little hat, swathed all about
with a wholly fascinating gray veil. Her skin was of an exquisite
freshness, which threw into sharp relief the vivid coloring of her lips;
the modeling of her cheek and throat was consummate, beyond improvement;
and her eyes--he told himself that they could have no match anywhere.

Varney laughed shortly. "I am not to go out with Maginnis. I am not to
go out without him. May I ask if I am expected to spend thnight
prudently curled up under the office table here?"

The situation was odious to him; he knew that his manner betrayed it;
but if she was aware of this she gave no sign. On the contrary her face
all at once became miraculously sweet.

"You aren't thinking that there's any question of courage mixed up in
this, Mr. Varney? Indeed, indeed, there is not. They would fight in the
dark; they would fight from behind. The very _bravest_ men would have no
chance, and very brave men don't take foolish risks, do they? I know by
Mr. Hare. Mr. Varney, I have a little plan."

"Indeed? Do tell me."

"Our car is at the door, you know--Mr. Richards's car. We'd both like it
very much if you would come with us."


"Well--I thought that perhaps you'd come to my house. Only to get rid of
these men and not to--get them into any trouble. Of course, no one in
Hunston would annoy you when you were with me."

If he had hated the thought of accepting protection from Mary Carstairs
less intensely, he might have laughed aloud. As Higginson's catspaw, she
was certainly the most screaming failure that the whole world could have
yielded. What, oh what, would the old gum-shoe have said if he could
have heard that invitation?

"Thank you, but that is quite impossible."

"I am awfully sorry."

There was a faint stiffening in her manner. She began to draw on her
right glove, slowly tucking out of sight the thumb with the tiny white
spot on the nail.

"I hoped that perhaps you might come to dinner with us. I haven't had
any yet. May I--suggest another way out of all this, then? There is a
back gate to this place, leading into a kind of alley, you know. I am
sure that they--these poor men--haven't thought of that. Couldn't you
please go out--"

"Certainly," said Varney. "Certainly. Yes, indeed. I'll do
anything--anything in the wide world to avoid getting thumped on the
head with Mr. Hackley's walking-stick."

Her face told him that she found his tone and manner somewhat
disconcerting, but she took no notice of it otherwise.

"I hope it won't be necessary to do anything more than that. But if it
should be, I hope you'll do it. I'm afraid I've failed to make you see
that this is really serious. Good-night."

But Varney, having a question to ask her, could not let her go yet.

"But--but," he said, hastily, "you must allow me to thank you--you and
Mr. Higginson--"

"The thanks are all Mr. Higginson's. I'm only a messenger--and besides,
you aren't grateful at all, you know! You think we've all been
_extremely_ intrusive!" She smiled brightly, bowed, and then was
suddenly checked by a new thought. "Oh--I wonder if you would tell me
something before I go?"

"By all means," said Varney, having no idea whether he would or not.

But the loud jangling whir of a telephone bell from the adjoining room

Book of the day: