Part 4 out of 4
out and clasped that of his companion. She made no effort to draw away,
and they sat there in awed silence, watching this weird tragedy of the
sea, with bodies braced to meet the bobbing of the unwieldy support
At first the labouring vessel seemed to hold its own, fighting
desperately to remain afloat, a mere shadow above the surface. Then,
almost without warning, the end came. She went down bow first, the stern
lifting until West could discern the dark outlines of the screw, and then
dropped like a stone, vanishing almost instantly. One moment she was
there; the next had disappeared, the black waters closing over. There was
but little evidence of what occurred; only a deeper swell, tossing the
raft giddily about for a moment, and causing West to tighten his grip on
the girl's hand. She gave utterance to a half-smothered cry, and her body
dropped forward as though she would hide the scene from her eyes.
"That is the last of the _Seminole_" West said, feeling the necessity of
strengthening her. "But it is nothing to frighten you. We are safe
"Oh, it is not that," she explained hastily, lifting her head, and facing
him. "I--I do not think I am frightened. I have not broken down before,
but--but I thought then of that dead man lying there all alone in the
dark cabin. It seemed so terrible when the yacht sank. Please do not find
fault with me."
"That was not why I spoke. But you must keep your nerve; we may be afloat
for hours yet before we are picked up."
"You are sure we will be?"
"The probability is altogether in our favour," he insisted, as much to
encourage himself as her. "This is Lake Michigan in summer time, and
boats are plying everywhere. We shall surely be sighted by something when
daylight returns. There is no sign of a storm brewing, and all we need do
now is hold on."
She was silent a moment, with head again bent forward.
"What do you suppose became of the men who deserted the yacht?" she
asked, her voice natural and quiet.
"Ashore, perhaps, by this time."
"Then we cannot be far away from land?"
"I have no means of knowing. Probably not, if they relied upon oars."
"Why should they? There was a mast and sails stowed in the boat; they
were always kept there for an emergency." She lifted her eyes, and stared
about into the gloom. "Do you suppose, Captain West, they could have
remained nearby to make sure the yacht sank?"
"No, I do not," he said firmly. "I thought of that once myself; but it is
not at all probable. They were too certain they had done a good job, and
too eager to get away safely. Hogan never deemed it possible for us to
get away alive. As it was, the escape was almost a miracle."
"A miracle!" softly. "Perhaps so, yet I know who accomplished it. I owe
my life to you, Captain West," she paused doubtfully, and then went on
impulsively. "Won't you explain to me now what it all means? How you came
to be here? and--and why those men sought in this way to kill me?"
"You do not know?"
"Only in the vaguest way; is it my fortune? I have been held prisoner;
lied to, and yet nothing has been made clear. This man who went down in
the cabin--you said he died trying to save me?"
"Yes; he endeavoured to release you from the stateroom, and was caught by
Hogan. In the struggle he received a death wound."
"I heard them fight. This Hogan then was the leader?"
"Of those on board--yes. But he is only the tool of others. This devilish
conspiracy has been plotted for a long while. There must be a dozen
involved in it, one way or another, but, as near as I can learn, the
chief devil, the brains of the gang, is the fellow named Hobart. Have you
She hesitated, and West glanced aside wonderingly. Would she venture to
deny her knowledge of the man?
"No," she said at last doubtfully, "not unless his other name was Jim.
There was a fellow they called Jim. He was my jailer after that woman
locked me into a room."
"A woman? The same one who was with you on the yacht?"
"Where was this?"
"Why surely you must know. In that cottage where we stopped with Percival
He drew a deep breath, more thoroughly puzzled than ever. What could be
her purpose to make so bold an effort to deceive? Did she imagine for a
moment that he could be made to believe she had been continuously held
prisoner since that Sunday morning? It was preposterous. Why, he had seen
her again and again with his own eyes; had talked with her, and so had
Sexton. His heart sank, but he determined to go on, and learn how far she
would carry this strange tale. Perhaps out of the welter he could discern
"The fellow's name is Jim, all right, Jim Hobart. I've looked him up in
the police records. He is a confidence man, with one charge of assault
with attempt to kill against him. Nothing lately, however; it seems he
disappeared about ten years ago, and has just drifted back. The woman
passes as his wife. You knew nothing of all this?"
"No; I only saw the man twice; he was very rough then, and swore when I
"And the woman?"
"She would not talk either; only once she told me that Percival
Coolidge had committed suicide. That made me wonder, for I believed
he had something to do with my being held there. What did he say when
he returned to the auto without me? What explanation did he make for
"Explanation! He needed none; you came out of the cottage with him."
"I? What do you mean?"
"But I saw you with my own eyes, talked with you, and all three of us
drove back to 'Fairlawn' together. My God, Miss Natalie, have you lost
your mind? Do you even deny dismissing me from your service?"
She gazed at him through the gloom, utterly unable to comprehend.
"I must have, if what you say is true," she admitted, "For I certainly
have no such recollection."
"You remember nothing of going back with us to 'Fairlawn'?"
"Or of a conversation had with me later in the library?"
"No, Captain West."
He stared off into the black night, his lips pressed closely together.
Could this be false? Could she sit there calmly, in the midst of such
peril as surrounded them, and still deliberately endeavour to deceive?
"And you knew nothing of the death of Percival Coolidge, except what was
told you by that woman?"
"She brought me a newspaper which I read; that was all I knew."
"And in that house on Wray Street where I met you again last night. I
suppose you were not there either?"
"Wray Street? I do not know; I was at some place with a saloon on the
ground floor. I could not tell you where it was."
"That is where it was--Wray Street, on the northwest side, a thieves'
rendezvous. And you talked with me there; tried to get me to quit
following you. You surely haven't forgotten that already?"
She dropped her face wearily into her hands, and her voice
"I--I almost believe you are the crazy one, Captain West. I swear I have
never knowingly met, or spoken to you since we drove to that cottage on
Sunday. I cannot believe what you say."
"Yet it is true, every word true"; he asserted stoutly. "Why else should
I be here? You returned with us to 'Fairlawn,' and we chatted together
pleasantly all the way. Later you seemed to change, and discharged me
rather rudely. Then Percival Coolidge was killed--shot down by an
assassin, not a suicide. I know because I found the body. You were at the
inquest, and testified. I saw you with my own eyes. The next day you
discharged Sexton, and later he learned, and reported to me, that some
one called you on the phone from Wray Street, and wanted you to come over
there at once."
"Was that why you went there?"
"Yes; I felt something was wrong; the killing of Percival Coolidge had
aroused my suspicions; and I sought to learn who those people were you
had visited in the cottage. They were gone, and only for this telephone
call, I should have lost the trail entirely. I found you there, and this
fellow Hobart with you."
"But, Captain West, I never saw you; I never left the room in the third
story where I was locked in, except when they took me away in a machine
to the yacht."
"You dropped a note in the alley, enclosed in a silver knife?"
"Yes, I did. I dared not hope it would be found, but I took the chance.
Did you find it?"
"Sexton did, and that was what brought me here."
"But it is all so strange," she exclaimed despairingly. "How could I have
done all these things, been in all these places, and yet know nothing
about it? Could I have been drugged? or influenced in some way by those
people? I have read there is such a power--where one person can make
another obey absolutely, with no knowledge of what he is doing; what do
they call that?"
"Hypnotism. I have seen it cut some odd capers; but I do not believe you
were either hypnotized or drugged. Good God; why did I not think of this
solution before? I must have been blind; that was not you; I can recall a
hundred little things now to convince me."
"What is it you mean?"
"Another woman played your part; a woman most wonderfully like you, even
to the voice. There is no other solution of the problem. And that reveals
the plan of robbery--to get you out of the way, and then have her take
the fortune. Who would ever suspect such a fraud?"
She sat silent, motionless, apparently unable at once to grasp all the
meaning in his words. It seemed unbelievable, and her gaze was straight
out across the black waters, one hand clinging firmly to offset the
rocking of the frail raft. Then she pointed away into the distance.
"See, there is light over there," she exclaimed eagerly. "That must be
the east, and it is morning."
LOVE BREAKS SILENCE
West was so immersed in his own thoughts, awakened by these new
developments, he apparently did not hear what the girl said. She reached
out and pressed his arm.
"Do you not see, Captain West? Daylight is coming; it is much lighter
He lifted his head, and looked where she pointed. A dull, grey light
topped the waters, and the sky above held a faint tinge of crimson. The
wan glow accented the loneliness, and for the moment left him depressed.
Was there ever a more sombre scene than was presented by that waste of
tumbling waves, stretching to the horizon, arched over by a clouded sky?
It grew clearer, more distinct, yet remained the same dead expanse of
restless water, on which they tossed helplessly and alone. Nothing broke
the grimness of it, not even a bird in the air, or a leaping fish;
complete desolation met the eye in every direction, a threatening,
menacing dreariness amid which each approaching swell seemed about to
sweep them to destruction. The wind increased slightly with the dawn,
buffeting the frail raft to which they clung desperately, and showering
them with spray, while, as the light became stronger, they searched
vainly for any sign of ship, or shadow of land. Nothing appeared within
range of vision to break the drear monotony of grey sea and sky. Neither
felt any desire to speak; they could only stare out silently across the
desolation of waters, feeling their helplessness and peril. This then was
the morning they had struggled forward to--this green, grey monster,
whose dripping jaws showered wet foam over them; this terrible
nothingness which promised death.
Her head sank forward into her hands, as though she would thus shut out
the whole weird picture, and West, aroused by the slight movement,
glanced quickly aside. The sight of her distress gave him instant mastery
over his own depression. His hand sought her own, where it gripped for
support, and closed over it warmly.
"It cannot be as bad as it seems," he insisted, trying to say the words
cheerfully. "I know these waters, and they are never long deserted. Luck
will change surely; perhaps within the hour we shall be picked up, and
can laugh at all this experience."
She lifted her head, and their eyes met frankly.
"I am not afraid," she protested. "Not physically, at least. Truly I have
not felt fear since you joined me, Captain West. Before that I was alone,
and was frightened because I could not in the least understand why I was
being held a prisoner, or what my fate was to be. Now all I must meet is
the danger of the sea, with you to share the peril with me."
"But you are very tired?"
"Perhaps so, yet I have not thought about that. There are other things;
you do not believe in me."
"Why say that?" he asked, in astonishment. "There is no question of the
kind between us now."
"Truly, is there not? There has been, however; I know from the way you
spoke. What was it you believed of me--that--that I was part of this
"I do not know what I believed, if I actually believed anything, Miss
Natalie," he explained rather lamely. "I cannot make the situation
altogether clear even to myself. You see I kept meeting and talking with
you--or I thought I did--and yet never found you to be the same. I was
all at sea, unable to get anything straight. One moment I was convinced
of your innocence; the next something occurred to make you appear guilty,
a co-conspirator with Jim Hobart. Under the circumstances, you cannot
condemn me justly."
"Condemn! I do not. How could I? You must have kept faith in me
nevertheless, or you would never be here now. That is what seems
marvellous to me--that you actually cared enough to believe."
"I realize now that I have," he said gravely. "Through it all I have kept
a very large measure of faith in you."
"Why should that faith have survived?" she questioned persistently, as
though doubt would not wholly leave her mind, "we had no time to really
know each other; only a few hours at the most, and even then you must
have deemed me a strange girl to ask of you what I did. Surely there was
never a madder story told than the one I told you, and I couldn't have
proven an item of it."
"Yet it has shown itself true," he interrupted.
"You actually believe then that there is another woman--a counterfeit
"It is the only theory feasible; you have convinced me of that."
"Yet this does not answer my question altogether. You are convinced now,
perhaps, because you accept my word, but how have you kept faith in me
when you believed just as strongly that it was actually I who met and
talked with you? I who was playing in the game with the man Hobart?"
"Will you believe what I say?"
"Perhaps it sounds like a fairy tale," he spoke frankly, his eyes seeking
her own, all their surroundings forgotten in the eagerness of the moment,
"but I will tell you the exact truth. Before this misunderstanding
occurred you had confided in me, trusted me, although I was a stranger
and I believed absolutely in your story. I had that basis to rest on. In
addition to this, those few hours I passed at 'Fairlawn' served to
confirm my faith. I got hold of various odds and ends of evidence which
convinced me that something was wrong--that you were actually being
conspired against. I even gained a suspicion that Percival Coolidge was
the actual leader of the conspiracy."
"Percival Coolidge! but why? What could he gain by such a crime?"
"I have not found the answer yet, but my conviction remains
strong--stronger, indeed, than ever since our talk last night. You could
never have been made prisoner in that cottage without his connivance; he
must have lured you there for that particular purpose, so that this other
girl could take your place without danger of discovery. It was a neat
trick, so well done as to even deceive me. The reason for Percival's
participation is only a guess, but my theory is the fellow had so juggled
your fortune, and the time for final accounting was so near, he had to
take a desperate chance in order to save himself."
"You mean the opportunity came, and he could not resist?"
"Perhaps so, and perhaps it was his own deliberate plan. That remains to
be discovered. My own theory is that when Hobart learned what Percival
Coolidge proposed doing, his own criminal tendencies told him that here
was some easy money. The girl was undoubtedly wholly under his control;
some denizen of the underworld probably. She had already played her part
sufficiently well to convince Hobart of success. Why then, shouldn't he
have this money instead of Percival? There was no reason except that
Percival was in the way. That was why he was killed."
"He may not have fired the shot, but I have no doubt he inspired it; and
the job was so expertly done the coroner called it suicide. The way was
open; you were a prisoner, and the false Natalie Coolidge safely
installed as mistress of 'Fairlawn.' No one apparently suspected
"And," she questioned breathlessly, "the man meant to murder me also?"
"Not at that time in my judgment," West answered thoughtfully. "Such an
additional crime was not a part of the original plan. There was no
apparent necessity. Your estate was about to be settled finally, and
given over to your control in accordance with the terms of your father's
will. Hobart must have known all this from Percival Coolidge, and exactly
what steps must be taken to secure it. Once the money, and other
property, were delivered to the fake Natalie, the cashing in and get away
would be easy; even the identity of the thieves would be concealed.
Killing you was not at all necessary to the success of their scheme."
"But they did try to kill me."
"Yes, later, by the sinking of the yacht. Probably I am largely
responsible for that."
"Yes; the persistency with which I stuck to the trail. They became
frightened. My appearance in Wray Street must have been quite a shock,
and when I succeeded in escaping from their trap there, Hobart very
evidently lost his head completely. He did not dare risk my ever finding
you. The knowledge that I was free, perhaps in communication with the
police, led to your night trip to the _Seminole_, and the secret sinking
of the yacht. He had gone too far by then to hesitate at another murder."
She waited breathlessly for him to go on, her eyes on the tumbling waste
of water. He remained quiet, motionless, and she turned toward him
"I--I think I understand now," she admitted, "how all this occurred; but
why--why were you so persistent? There--there must have been a reason
more impelling than a vague suspicion?"
"There was--the most compelling impulse in the world."
"You mean faith in me?"
"Even more than that; love for you. Natalie, listen; what I have to say
may sound strange, cruel even under such conditions as now surround us,
but you force me to say them. I love you, have loved you all the time,
without fully realizing exactly what it meant. There have been times when
I have doubted you, when I could not wholly escape the evidence that you
were also concerned personally in this fraud. I have endeavoured to
withdraw from the case, to forget, and blot everything from memory. But
something stronger than will prevented; I could not desert you; could not
believe you were wilfully wrong. You understand what I mean."
"Yes," the words barely reaching him. "It was the other girl; she
undermined your faith."
"That is the truth; yet how could it be, do you suppose? My very love
should have enabled me to detect the difference. I can see now, thinking
back, where the fraud was even apparent--in mood, temper, action--and yet
at the time these made no such impression. Even Sexton never questioned
her identity; in face, figure, dress the resemblance was absolutely
perfect. Good heavens, but she is an actress!"
She touched his arm with her hand, and under the slight pressure he
looked aside at her.
"You know now," she said softly, "and I know. All this is passed and gone
between us. We are here alone, the sport of the waves, and I have no
reason to be other than frank. I believe in you, Matthew West; in your
honesty and manhood. You say you love me?"
"With all my heart and soul; it seems to me now I have always loved
you--you came to me, the lady of my dreams."
Her eyes were wet with unshed tears, yet she smiled back into his face,
her voice trembling as she answered.
"And I," she said slowly, "have had no thought but of you since our
morning in the garden together. How far away that seems."
"You mean you love me?"
"Yes; I love you; there is no word stronger, but I would speak it--is
that not enough?"
He held her in his arms, in spite of the trembling raft, tossed by the
swell of the sea, and crushed her against him in the ardent strain of
passion. An instant she held her head back, her eyes gazing straight into
his; then, with sigh of content, yielded, and their lips met, and clung.
The very silence aroused them, startled both into a swift realization of
that dreary waste in which they floated helplessly alone, a drifting chip
on the face of the waters. Her eyes swept the crest of the waves, and she
withdrew herself partially from his arms.
"Why, we must be crazed to dream of happiness here," she exclaimed. "Was
there ever before so strange a confession of love? I am trying to be
brave--but--but that is too much; that waste of green water, with the
grey sky overhead. There is no ending to it--just death mocking us in
every wave. Oh, Matthew, can this be all? Only this little moment, and
He held her hands tightly, his heart throbbing, but his courage and
"No, dear," he whispered eagerly. "Don't think that for a moment. We have
passed through too much to dream of such an ending now. There will be
ships--there must be. Look! what is that, yonder against the sky-line? It
is, sweet-heart; it is the smoke of a steamer."
AN ESCAPE FROM THE RAFT
They watched with sinking hearts, West rising to his knees, and shading
his eyes with his hand, as that thin spiral of smoke crept along the
horizon, and finally disappeared into the north. The raft rode so low in
the water that no glimpse of the distant steamer could be perceived, and,
when the last faint vestige of smoke vanished, neither said a word, but
sat there silent, with clasped hands. The bitterness of disappointment
wore away slowly, and as the uneventful hours left them in the same
helpless condition, they fell again into fitful conversation, merely to
thus bolster up courage, and lead their minds to other thoughts. It was
maddening to sit there motionless and stare off across the desolate
water, seeing nothing but those white-crested surges sweeping constantly
toward them, and to feel the continuous leap and drop of the frail raft,
which alone kept them afloat.
The hours went by monotonously, with scarcely an occurrence to break the
dreariness or bring a ray of hope. The clouds obscured the sky, yet
occasionally through some narrow rift, came a glimpse of the sun, as it
rose to the zenith, and then began sinking into the west. The air was
soft, the breeze dying down, and the height of the waves decreasing; the
raft floated more easily, and it no longer became necessary for them to
cling tightly to the supports to prevent being flung overboard. But there
came out of the void no promise of rescue; the sea remained desolate and
untraversed, and finally a mist hung over the water, narrowing the
horizon. During the day they saw smoke but always far to the east, and
quickly disappearing. Once West felt assured his eyes caught the glimmer
of a white sail to the southward, but it was too far away for him to be
sure. At best, it was but a momentary vision, fading almost instantly
against the grey curtain of sky. He had scarcely attempted to point it
out to Natalie when it completely vanished.
Their effort to talk to each other ceased gradually; there was so little
they could say in the presence of the growing peril surrounding them.
They had become the helpless sport of the waves, unable to act, think or
plan, surrounded by horror, and aimlessly drifting toward the gloom of
another night. Wearied beyond all power of resistance, the girl sank
lower and lower until she finally lay outstretched in utter abandonment.
West thrust his coat beneath her head, securely binding her to the raft
by the rope's end, and sat beside her dejectedly, staring forth into the
surrounding smother. She did not speak, and finally her eyes closed.
Undoubtedly she slept, but he made every effort to remain awake and on
watch, rubbing his heavy eyes, and struggling madly to overcome the
drowsiness which assailed him. How long he won, he will never know; the
sun was in the west, a red ball of fire showing dimly through the cloud,
and all about the same dancing expanse of sea, drear, and dead. The raft
rose and fell, rose and fell, so monotonously as to lull his
consciousness imperceptibly; his head drooped forward, and with fingers
still automatically gripped for support, he fell sound asleep also.
The raft drifted aimlessly on, the waves lapping its sides, and tossing
it about as though in wanton play. The currents and the wind held it in
their relentless grip, and bore it steadily forward, surging along the
grey surface of the sea. The girl lay quiet, her face upturned,
unconscious now of her dread surroundings; and the man swayed above her,
his head bent upon his breast, both sleeping the sleep of sheer
exhaustion. Out of the dim mist shrouding the eastern sky the vague
outline of a distant steamer revealed itself for a moment, the smoke from
its stacks adding to the gathering gloom. It was but a vision fading
swiftly away into silence. No throb of the engines awoke the unconscious
sleepers; no eye on the speeding deck saw the low-lying raft, or its
occupants. The vessel vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving
nothing but a trackless waste of sea. The two slept on.
It was the startled cry of Natalie that roused West, and brought his
drooping head, upright. She was sitting up, still held safely by the coil
of rope, and pointing excitedly behind him.
"Oh, see there! Look where I point--isn't that land?"
The raft rocked as he swung his body hastily about, and gazed intently in
the direction indicated. Land! of course it was land; land already so
close at hand, his eyes could trace its conformation--the narrow strip of
sand beach, the sharp bluff beyond, the fringe of trees crowning the
summit. He rubbed his eyes, scarcely able to credit his sight, half
believing it a mirage. Yet the view remained unchanged; it was land, a
bit of the west shore, a short promontory running out into the lake
toward which the raft, impelled by some hidden current, was steadily
drifting. His arm clapped the girl in sudden ecstasy.
"Yes, it's land, thank God!" he exclaimed thoughtfully. "We are floating
ashore, Natalie--saved in spite of ourselves. Why, we could not have been
so far out in the lake after all. That must be why all those vessels
passed to the east of us. I ought to have thought of that before; those
villains would never have deserted the yacht in mid-lake, and taken to
the boat. They must have known they could make shore easily."
Her glance searched the face of the bluff, which with each moment was
becoming more distinctly visible.
"You don't suppose they landed here, do you?"
"Not very likely; even if they did they are not here now. They would have
made it before daylight this morning. All the time we have been drifting
out there they had to get away in. There is no danger that Hogan is
anywhere along this shore now."
"You think he and--and those others have all gone?"
"Yes; why should they hang around here? The last idea in their heads
would be the possibility of our ever drifting in alive. Hogan has gone
back to Chicago to make a report to Hobart, and the rest have scattered
like a covey of partridges. Not one of them has a thought but that we
went down in the _Seminole_. Now they'll pull off their graft, and pull
"And what will you do?"
"Get safely ashore first. It will be dark in less than an hour; but we
are too far out yet to venture swimming. We shall have to hang tight to
the raft a while yet, and drift; the current is carrying us all right. Do
you see any sign of life over there--houses, or smoke?"
"No; I have been looking; the whole shore-line appears utterly deserted.
Have you any idea where we can be?"
"Not the slightest; only this is certainly the west shore; there is no
such abandoned spot anywhere between Chicago and Milwaukee, and we must
be much farther north. They had plenty of time to put the yacht quite a
ways up shore before they sank her."
"Hogan must have known where he was."
"Unquestionably; it was all planned out; he knew exactly where he
intended to land, and how long it would take them to reach there after
they left the yacht."
"Perhaps," she suggested hesitatingly, "the gang had some rendezvous up
here in these north-woods, a place where they could hide."
West shook his head negatively.
"No, I don't think that; they may know the country, and how best to get
away quickly. But those fellows are city thieves--Hobart and Hogan
anyway--and would feel far safer back in their haunts in Chicago. There
is no place like a big city to hide in, and besides, even if they have
got the money already,--which I doubt--there has been no chance to divide
it, and 'Red' would never let Hobart get away without paying him his
share. They are not loitering around here, Natalie, waiting for ghosts to
appear; they are back in town hours ago."
"But what can we do?"
"Get ashore first, of course, and discover the quickest way to return to
the city. None of this shore is deserted, and we'll find houses back
behind that fringe of woods. I figure we have a big advantage. We know
their real game now, and they are so sure we are both dead, they'll
operate in the open--walk right into a trap. By this time McAdams must
have discovered some clue as to the whereabouts of Hobart. With him under
arrest, and our story told, some of these fellows will confess, and it
will all be over with."
"But suppose they have already succeeded in their purpose?"
"That can hardly be possible, Natalie. There hasn't been time yet.
Certain legal forms must be complied with. You could only draw a
"Until I reached a certain age; after which there was no restriction. I
attained that age yesterday."
"And they are aware of it, no doubt. Yet there must be some legal
authorization necessary which may cause delay. The sooner we reach
Chicago, the better. It is twilight already--the sun has gone down behind
the bluff, but it will require an hour yet for this raft to drift into
shallow water. You swim, you told me?"
"Yes, very well indeed."
"Shall we risk it then together? It is not far to the end of the
She looked where he pointed and smiled, glancing back into his
"Why, that involves no danger at all. I will do anything to get off this
raft. But if we are going to have light we must start at once."
The two slipped silently over the edge of the dipping raft, and struck
out for the nearest point of land, West loitering slightly behind, afraid
lest she might be hampered, and perhaps dragged down by her water-soaked
clothes. A few strokes reassured him as to this, as she struck out
vigorously, her every motion exhibiting trained skill. She glanced back
at him, and smiled at his precaution; then faced resolutely toward the
distant shore, swimming easily. He followed closely, timing his strokes
to her own, confident, yet watchful still, while behind them, now but a
dim speck in the grey sea, wallowed the deserted raft.
The distance was greater than it had seemed, the twilight deceiving their
eyes, while their clothing had a tendency to retard progress. Weakened by
lack of food, and buffetted by cross currents, both were decidedly
exhausted by the time their lowering feet finally touched bottom. Natalie
staggered, faint and dizzy from the exertion, but West grasped her in his
arms before she could fall, and carried her across the sand beach to the
foot of the cliff. She laughed as he laid her gently down in the soft
sand, putting up her arms to him like a child, and drawing his face down
until their lips met.
"Oh," she exclaimed breathlessly, "That was glorious, but I hardly had
enough strength left to make it. It--it was an awfully long way."
"There are currents off shore," he explained. "That was what made the
swimming so difficult. You are all right now."
"Yes; at least I think so," she sat up. "Why, it is almost dark already.
I cannot see the old raft at all. I--I wish it would come ashore; it gave
you to me, Matt."
"And you are not sorry, even now, safe here on shore?"
"Sorry! Why I am the happiest girl in all the world this minute. I can
hardly think about that money at all, or those scoundrels trying to rob
me. I am here with you, and you love me--what more can I ask? Is that
He laughed, and kissed her, neither giving a thought to their dripping
garments, or a regret for the hardships they had passed through. They
were there alone, safe, together--all else for the moment mattered not.
"Yes, I love you, Natalie, dear," he answered. "So it is not silly at
all. But we must seek shelter and food. Are you strong enough now to
climb the bluff? See, there is a ravine leading up yonder, where the
footing is easier."
She nodded her readiness to try, too happy for words, and hand in hand
they toiled their way upward through the gloom.
THE HOUSE IN THE BLUFFS
The cleft in the bluff was both narrow and steep, but it gave them
passage. At the upper end Natalie's reserve strength suddenly deserted
her, and she sank down on the grass, labouring for breath, feeling unable
to advance a step farther. The days and nights of excitement, coupled
with lack of food and sleep, had left her physically weakened; now
suddenly, even her will and courage both gave away.
"No, it is nothing," she explained in a whisper. "I am just completely
tired out, I guess. You go on, Matt, and find some place of shelter.
Leave me to lie here; I'll not move, and you can find me easily. All I
want now is to rest a few moments. Afraid! no I'll not be afraid. Why,
what is there to fear? this is a civilized country, isn't it? I'll
just sit where I am now until you come back--only--only don't go very
She held out her hand, and endeavoured to smile.
"Desert me! Of course you are not, dear. I am bidding you go. I shall
not mind being left here alone. I am so tired."
They were at the summit of the bluff, looking out over the lake, now a
mere darker blot. They could hear the dash of waves below them along the
edge of sand. But in the opposite direction rose a somewhat higher ridge
on which trees grew, completely excluding the view beyond. Between the
branches the distant sky still retained a purple tinge from the sinking
sun, leaving the impression that it was much lighter up there. West felt
the importance of gaining a view inland before the closing down of night
obscured everything, and therefore reluctantly left her alone there while
he made his way to the top of the ridge. Once there he could look across
the promontory of land, down into a little cove on the opposite side. It
was well sheltered, and already wrapped in gloomy shadows, yet his eyes
detected the outline of a boat of some size drawn up on the sandy beach.
Beyond the dim certainty of what it was he could perceive nothing with
which to identify the craft, and deeming it some fishing boat, gave its
presence there no further heed.
Glancing back to assure himself that Natalie was still safe where he had
left her, he picked his way swiftly forward through the thick fringe of
forest trees, until he came to the western edge of the wood, and could
view the country beyond in the last spectral glow of the dying day. It
was a wild, broken country thus revealed to his gaze, a land of ridges
and ravines, rugged and picturesque, but exhibiting no evidence of roads,
or inhabitants. Its very roughness of outline, and its sterile soil,
explained the barrenness and desolation--a no-man's land, impossible of
cultivation, it remained neglected and unused. At first he was sure of
this, his heart sinking at the deserted landscape. They must plunge
blindly forward in the dark over that rough, trackless country, seeking
some possible shelter beyond. Weakened and exhausted as they both were
the task seemed almost an impossible one. Then his eyes caught a thin
spiral of smoke rising from out a narrow valley almost directly beneath
where he stood, the depths of which were totally concealed from sight. As
he stared at this, uncertain of its reality, a single spark of light
winked out at him through the darkness. There was certainly a habitation
of some kind hidden away down there--a fisherman's hut likely--but it
would at least afford temporary shelter for the night; and there must be
a road or path of some kind leading from it to the nearest village. If
he could only leave Natalie there in safe hands, in the security of a
home, however humble, food would give him strength to push on alone. The
one thought in his mind now was to telegraph McAdams, so as to circumvent
the plans of those rascals in Chicago. This must be done, and it must be
done at the earliest moment possible. Perhaps the fisherman might possess
a horse, or would carry the necessary message into town himself. West
turned and hastened back through the woods, clambering down the slope of
the ridge in darkness to the spot where he had left the girl. For the
moment he could not distinguish her presence in the gloom, and, fearing
he might have gone astray, called her name aloud.
"Yes," she answered. "I am here; to your right. I am, standing up. Have
you discovered anything?"
"There is a house of some kind over yonder in a hollow just beyond the
ridge--more than likely a fisherman's hut, as there is a boat of some
kind beached in the cove the other side of this promontory. We will have
to stumble along through the dark. Do you think you can make it?"
"Of course, I can," and she placed her hand confidingly in his. "I am all
right now; really I am; I guess all I needed was to get my breath. Do we
go up here--the way you came back?"
"I presume so; I know no other passage, and found no path."
"But," she urged. "If there is a boat on the beach, isn't it likely there
would be a trail from there to this fisherman's hut?"
"Why, of course; it was stupid of me not to think of this before. The
sooner we start, the quicker we shall arrive. I want most of all to
"McAdams, the detective I told you about in Chicago, an old army buddy of
mine. He'll have Hobart located by this time, no doubt, and will put the
screws on him when he learns what has happened to us."
"I see," she agreed softly, "and if he does know the whole story we need
not be so crazy to get back. He will attend to everything."
"Yes; we can wait up here until morning at least; you need a night's
rest, and no wonder."
He grasped her arm, helping her to clamber up the steep bank, suddenly
becoming aware that the sleeve felt dry.
"Why, Natalie, your clothes seem to have all dried off already; mine are
soaked through," he exclaimed in surprise. "What necromancy is this?"
She laughed, a faint tinge of mockery in the sound.
"No mystery whatever; only a difference in texture, I imagine. This light
stuff dries quickly, exposed to the air. Did you think you had hold of
the wrong girl?"
The tone of her voice stung slightly, causing him to make a sober answer.
"That would, of course, be improbable, but I have been so completely
deceived, even by daylight, that I dare not affirm that it would prove
impossible. Your counterfeit is certainly a wizard."
"She must be. But as she is miles away from here, you might let the
suspicion rest. Is this where we go down?"
She led the way, the action awakening no question in his mind. If he
thought at all about her thus assuming the initiative, the suspicion was
dismissed with the idea that probably her eyes were more keen to discover
the best path. In this she was certainly successful, and he contented
himself by following her closely. The night was already dark, the way
irregular and confusing. She was but a dim shadow, advancing
confidently, and now and then in their descent, he reached out and
touched her to make sure of her presence. This action seemed to irritate
for she turned once, and objected shortly.
"Oh, don't do that, please; it startles me. My nerves are all on edge."
"Of course they are, dear," he confessed apologetically. "I should have
known better. It was so dark I almost thought you had slipped away. The
boat I told you about must be close at hand."
"The boat; oh, yes, but it can be of no use to us now. Feel here with
your feet; I am sure this must be a path that I am in, and it can lead
nowhere except to that house you saw."
"Can you follow it?"
"I think so; it seems to go straight up through the ravine; see, you can
trace the bluff against the sky, and there is the opening just ahead of
us. You may take my arm again now," she added graciously, "and then there
will be no danger of either getting lost."
He gladly did as she suggested, yet, strangely enough, continued to feel
dissatisfied. Vaguely he felt that in some almost imperceptible manner
she had changed her mood. He could not base his thoughts on a single
word, or action, yet he felt the difference--this was not the Natalie of
the raft. She was too irritable; too sharp of speech. But then, no doubt,
she was tired, worn out, her nerves broken; indeed he found it hard to
control himself, and he must not blame her for exhibiting weakness under
the strain. So he drove the thought from him, clinging close to her arm,
and vaguely wondering how she was able to trace the path so easily. They
seemed to progress through an impenetrable wall of blackness, and yet the
way had been cleared of obstacles, and was reasonably smooth. The slope
upward was quite gradual, and the summit led directly into the mouth of a
small valley. By this time even West could recognize that they were
proceeding along a well used path, and he was not surprised when she
announced the presence of the house before them, pointing out the dim
shadow through the gloom. Otherwise his eyes might have failed to
distinguish the outlines, but under her guidance he could make out enough
of its general form to assure him that they were approaching no mere
"That is no hut," he exclaimed in surprise. "It looks more like a
"And why not?" pleasantly enough. "I have always heard these bluffs were
filled with summer homes. Unfortunately this one appears to be deserted.
But we must go on, and try to discover some inhabitant."
There was no light to guide them, yet the path was easily followed,
through what apparently was an orchard, then through the gate of a rustic
fence to a broad carriage drive, circling past the front door. All was
silence, desolation; no window exhibited a gleam of radiance, nor did a
sound greet them from any direction. They paused an instant before the
front door, uncertain how to proceed.
"But there must be some one about here," West insisted. "For this was
the house I saw from the ridge, and there was a light burning then in
one of the windows, and there was a wisp of smoke rising from a chimney.
Perhaps the shutters are all closed, or, early as it is, the people may
She stepped boldly forward, and placed her hand on the knob of the door.
"Why," she whispered, excitedly. "It is unlocked; see, I can open it.
Perhaps something is wrong here. What shall we do?"
"Knock first; then if there is no response, we can feel our way about
inside. My matches are all wet."
She rapped sharply on the wood; waited for some reply, and then called
out. Not a sound reached them from within. The situation was strange,
nerve-racking, and she shrank back as though frightened before the black
silence confronting her. West, his teeth clinched, stepped in through the
open door, determined to learn the secret of that mysterious interior.
With hands outstretched he felt his way forward, by sense of touch alone
assuring himself that he traversed a hall, carpeted, his extended arms
barely reaching from wall to wall. He encountered no furniture, and must
have advanced some two yards, before his groping disclosed the presence
of a closed door on the left. He had located the knob, when the outer
door suddenly closed, as though blown shut by a draught of wind, and, at
the same instant, his eyes were blinded by a dazzling outburst of light.
This came with such startling, unexpected brilliancy that West staggered
back as though struck. For the instant he was positively blind; then he
dimly perceived a man standing before him--a man who, little by little,
became more clearly defined, recognizable, suddenly exhibiting the
features of Jim Hobart, sarcastically grinning into his face.
"You are evidently a cat of nine lives, West," he said sneeringly. "But
this ought to be the last of them."
HOBART FORGETS AND TALKS
For a moment West lost all control over himself. He was too completely
dazed for either words or action; could only stare into that mocking
countenance confronting him, endeavouring to sense what had really
occurred. He was undoubtedly trapped again, but how had the trick been
accomplished? What devilish freak of ill luck had thus thrown them once
more into the merciless hands of this ruffian? How could it have happened
so perfectly? The boat on the sand in the cove yonder; perhaps that was
the key to the situation. Those fellows who had left the _Seminole_ to
sink behind them, knew where they were when they deserted the yacht; they
landed at the nearest point along shore, where they had a rendezvous
already arranged for. Then what? The helpless raft had naturally drifted
in the same direction, blown by the steady east wind, until gripped by
the land current, and thus finally driven into this opening on the
coast. His mind had grasped this view, this explanation, before he even
ventured to turn his head, and glance at the girl. She stood leaning back
against the closed door as though on guard, her uncovered hair ruffled, a
scornful, defiant look in her eyes, the smile on her lips revealing the
gleam of white teeth. In spite of a wonderful resemblance, a mysterious
counterfeit in both features and expression, West knew now this was not
Natalie Coolidge. Her dress, the way in which her hair was done, the
sneering curl of her red mouth, were alike instantly convincing. He had
permitted himself to be tricked again by the jade; the smart of the wound
angered him beyond control.
"You are not Miss Coolidge," he insisted hotly. "Then who are you?"
She laughed, evidently enjoying the scene, confident of her own
"Oh, so even Captain West has at last penetrated the disguise. No, I am
not the lady you mention, if you must know."
"Then who are you?"
She glanced toward Hobart, as though questioning, and the man answered
the look gruffly.
"Tell him if you want to, Del," he said, with an oath. "It will never do
the guy any good. He's played his last hand in this game; he'll never
get away from me again. Spit it out."
"All right," with a mocking curtsey. "I've got an idea I'd like to tell
him; it is too good a joke to keep, and this fellow has certainly been an
easy mark. You never did catch on to me until I got into the wrong
clothes, did you, old dear? Lord, but I could have had you making love to
me, if I'd only have said the word--out there on the hills in the dark,
hey! I sure wanted to laugh; but that tender tone of yours told me what
you were up to; what sent you trailing us around the country--you was
plumb nutty after this Natalie Coolidge. That's the straight goods, isn't
it, Mister Captain West?"
"I care very much for Miss Coolidge, if that is what you mean."
"Sure you do; and you've put up a game fight for her too, my boy.
I'd like it in you if I wasn't on the other side. But you see we
can't be easy on you just because of that. Sentiment and romance is
one thing, while business is another. You and I don't belong in the
same worlds--see? You can't rightly blame me because I was born
different, can you?"
"Perhaps not; what would you make me believe?"
"I thought I'd put it that way so you'd understand, that's all. There's
a difference in people, ain't there. I'm just as good looking as this
Natalie Coolidge, ain't I? Sure I am; you can't even tell us apart when
we are dressed up alike. I could come in here, and have you make love to
me inside of twenty minutes. But we ain't a bit alike for all that. She's
a lady, and I'm a crook--that's the difference. She's been brought up
with all the money she wants, while I've had to hustle for every penny
since I was a kid. Now life don't ever look the same to any two people
"No," West admitted, beginning to realize her defence. "It is hardly
probable it would."
"That's why I'm in this case," she went on, apparently unheeding his
interruption. "I was brought up a thief, and I don't know anything else.
I never did care much, but in this Coolidge matter, I've got just as much
right to all that kale as she has--so naturally I'm going after it."
"As much right, you say? Why, who are you?"
She stood up straight, and looked at him, her eyes burning.
"Me!" scornfully, "Why I am Delia Hobart--'Diamond Del,' they call me."
"Yes, but that is not what you mean; that gives you no such right as you
claim. You are Hobart's daughter then?"
"I didn't say so, Mister Captain West. I told you my moniker, that's all.
Jim here brought me up, but he ain't no father to me, and his wife ain't
my mother. It took me a while to find that out, but I got the thing
straight at last. I saw then just what those two were driving at; first I
didn't take no particular interest in the scheme; then I got to thinking
until finally I hated that soft, downy thing; damn her, she'd robbed me,
and I had a right to my share even if I had to steal it."
"What soft, downy thing?"
"Natalie Coolidge! Bah, I went out to see her once. Jim took me and
we hid in the garden; and when I came back I was raving mad. Lord,
why should that little idiot have everything while half the time I
"You mean you envied her?"
"Envied, hell! Didn't I have a right? Wasn't she my twin sister? Didn't
she have it all, and I nothing?"
He gasped for breath at this sudden revelation. Then he laughed,
convinced it could not be possible.
"Who told you that?"
"Why, don't you believe it? Has she never said a word about it to you?"
"Certainly not. I am sure she possesses no knowledge of ever having had a
sister. Moreover, I do not believe it is true. If you had proof of such
relationship, why didn't you go to her, and openly claim your share?"
"Go to her! me? Do you hear that Jim? Isn't he the cute little fixer?
Why, of course, she knew it; there was nothing doing on the divide. It's
all straight enough, only we couldn't quite prove it by law; anyhow that
is what they told me--so we got at it from another direction."
She seemed so convinced, so earnest in her statement that West in
perplexity turned to glance at Hobart.
"Do you make this claim also?" he asked.
"That this girl is a twin sister to Natalie Coolidge? Why, it is
"Is it? Damned if I think so. Now look here, West; I don't know just what
the Coolidge girl has been told; maybe she never even heard she had a
twin sister. If they ever told her that she had, then they must have told
her also that the sister died in infancy. Anyhow, that's how it stands on
the records. There were just two people who knew different--do you get
me? One of them is dead, but one of them is still alive."
"Which one is dead?"
"Percival Coolidge; he knew too much and got gay; he planned to cop the
whole boodle. The fact is he started the whole scheme, soon as he learned
who Del was, and planned it all out. He was up against it hard just then
for money; he'd lost all his own, and couldn't get hold of Natalie's
because the old family lawyer watched things so close."
"But if this girl was really entitled to a part of it, why not claim
it by law?"
"We talked about that, but the chance didn't look good. Everything showed
the second child died; hospital records, doctor's certificate; there
wasn't a link in the chain we could break. Percival wouldn't go on the
stand, and there wasn't much he could swear to if he did."
"But who was the other witness--the living one?"
"The nurse; she made the exchange of the dead baby for the living one. It
was easily done as the child was really sick."
"But for what object--revenge?"
"She was poor, and yielded to temptation. Percival Coolidge paid her to
make the exchange. I have never been able to learn what his original
purpose was, but she thinks he believed the stolen child was a boy, and
that later, through him, the Coolidge money might be controlled. However
the woman lost her nerve, and disappeared with the infant. She brought it
up as her own in the west, where she married again. I am her second
husband, and that is how I learned the truth."
"The woman on the yacht?"
"Yes, you saw her. The child was brought up in our life; I figured on
this coup for years, and finally when all was ready, we came back east
again. I had a plan, but I wasn't quite sure it would work until I could
see the two girls together. After that it was like taking candy from a
kid. Hell, you are the only one who has even piped off the game."
West looked closely at the man, who was thus coolly boasting of his
exploits, and then at the silent girl, whose eyes sullenly gave back
their challenge. What did it all mean? Why were they calmly telling him
these things? Was it merely the egotism of crime, pride of achievement?
or did Hobart hope in some way to thus win his assistance, or at least
"Why do you tell all this to me, Hobart?" he asked shortly. "You do not
expect me to play with you in the game, do you?"
"You!" the fellow laughed coarsely. "We don't care what you do, you young
fool. Del started this talking, and I let her go on. Then, when she
stopped, I thought you might as well learn the rest of it. The fact is,
West, we're fixed now so whatever you know won't hurt us any. We have as
good as got the swag; and, to make it absolutely safe, we've got both you
and the girl. I'll say this for you, old man, you've sure put up a game
fight. I don't know how the hell you ever got out of that yacht alive, or
ever happened to drift in here. It was nothing but bull luck that gave us
a glimpse of you tossing round on that raft--but after that it was dead
easy. Del here is some actorine."
"Yes," she broke in, "but I came near falling down this time. I forgot
they had been in the water, and my dress was dry as a bone--say, I
thought he'd tripped me sure."
"You say you've got the swag?"
"All but in our hands; nobody can get it away from us. The court order
was issued today; the entire estate placed, in accordance with the terms
of the will, in the possession of Natalie Coolidge. Once the proper
receipt is signed, all monies can be checked out by her. That about
settles it, doesn't it? Tomorrow Del and I will go down to the city, and
turn the trick, and after that there is nothing left but the get-away."
It was a cold blooded proposition, but neither face exhibited any
regret; both were intoxicated by success; untroubled by any scruples
of conscience. West felt the utter uselessness of an attempt to appeal
"Where is Natalie Coolidge?" he asked, his own determination hardening.
"What do you propose doing with her?"
Hobart's teeth exhibited themselves in a sardonic grin.
"That is our business, but you can bet she'll not interfere."
"And a similar answer, I presume, will apply also to my case?"
"It will. Don't make the mistake, West, of believing we are damn fools. I
don't know just why I've blowed all this to you, but it ain't going to
help you any, you can be sure of that. In fact your knowing how the thing
was worked is liable to make things a blame sight harder in your case. We
won't do no more talking; so go on in through that door."
The fellow's demeanour had entirely changed; he was no longer pretending
to geniality, and his words were almost brutal. Apparently, all at once,
it had dawned sharply upon him that they had made a mistake--had boasted
far too freely. Any slip now, after what had been said, would wreck the
ship. West faced him watchfully, fully aware of the desperate situation,
instinctively feeling that this might be his last chance.
"In there, you say?" indicating the closed door.
He did; with one swift leap forward, the whole impetus of his body behind
the blow, West drove his fist straight into the face confronting him. The
fellow reeled, clutched feebly at the smooth wall for support, dropped
helplessly forward, and fell headlong, with face hidden in outstretched
arms. The assailant sprang back, and turned, in a mad determination to
crash his way out through the locked door behind, but as suddenly stopped
startled by the vision of a levelled revolver pointed at his head.
"Not a move," the girl said icily. "Take one step, and I'll kill you."
Hobart lifted his head groggily, and pushed himself half-way up on
"Don't shoot unless he makes you, Del," he ordered grimly. "We don't want
that kind of row here." He dragged himself painfully to the side door,
and pressed it open.
"Hey you!" he cried. "Come on out here. Now then, rough-house this guy!"
McADAMS BLOWS IN
It was a real fight; they all knew that when it was finished. But it was
three to one, with Hobart blocking the only open door, and egging them
on, and the excited girl, backed into a corner out of the way, the
revolver still gripped in her hand, ready for any emergency. The
narrowness of the hall alone afforded West a chance, as the walls
protected him, and compelled direct attack from in front. Yet this
advantage only served to delay the ending. He recognized two of the
fellows--"Red" Hogan and Mark--while the third man was a wiry little
bar-room scrapper, who smashed fiercely in through his guard, and finally
got a grip on his throat which could not be wrenched loose. The others
pounded him unmercifully, driving his head back against the wall. Hogan
smashed him twice, crashing through his weak attempt at defence, and with
the second vicious drive, West went down for the count, lying motionless
on the floor, scarcely conscious that he was still living.
Yet in a dazed, helpless way, he was aware of what was occurring about
him; he could hear voices, feel the thud of a brutal kick. Some one
dragged him out from the mess, and turned his face up to the light; but
he lay there barely breathing; his eyes tightly closed.
"It's a knock-out all right," Hogan declared. "That guy is good for an
hour in dream-land. What's the dope?"
"We got to keep him here, that's all; and there's goin' to be no get-away
"How'd he do it before, Jim? did he tell you?"
"Not a damned word; I was fool enough to do all the talking. But this
fellow is too slick to take any more chances with."
"Do you want him croaked?"
"No, I don't--not now. What the hell's the use? It would only make things
harder. We're ready to make our get-away, ain't we? After tomorrow all
hell can't get onto our trail. This guy's life wouldn't help us none, so
far as I can see."
"Getting squeamish, ain't you?"
"No, I'm not. I've got as much reason to hate the fellow as you have,
'Red.' He certainly swiped me one. Before we had the swag copped, I was
willing enough to put him out of the running. That was business. You sure
did a fine job then, damn you; now I don't think it is your time to howl.
Listen here, will you? From all I learn, this bird amounts to something;
he ain't just a dago to be bumped off, and nobody care what's become of
him. This guy has got friends. It won't help us any to be hunted after
for murder on top of this other job. If we cop the kale, that's all we're
after. Is that right, Del?"
The girl seemed to come forward, and face them defiantly.
"Sure it's right. I never was for the strong arm stuff, Hogan. This is my
graft, anyhow, and not one of you stiffs gets a penny of it unless I
split with you. This fellow isn't going to be slugged--that's flat. It is
only because he's fell in love with the Coolidge girl that he is here,
and once we've skipped out, I don't wish the guy any bad luck."
"You ought to have caught him yourself, Del," some one said. "The bird
never would have known the difference."
She laughed, quickly restored to good humour.
"You're about right there, Dave," she answered. "That was another
mistake; the only chance I ever had of marrying in high social circles.
But hell, I'll be a lady tomorrow, so let's let the poor devil go. Wrap
him up, and lay him away out in the garage. The walls are two foot solid
stone; he'll stay buried there all right."
Hogan growled in derision, yet it was evident that she and Hobart would
have their way. Some one brought a rope, which was deftly wound about
him, West continuing to feign unconsciousness. He secretly hoped this
condition might result in some carelessness on their part, in either
speech or action. Anyway it would undoubtedly save him from further
brutal treatment. He had no reason to suspect that his ruse was
questioned. The fellows spoke freely while making him secure, but he
gained very little information from their conversation--not a hint as to
where Natalie was confined, or how long it was proposed to hold them
prisoners. Then "Red" and Dave lugged his limp body through several
rooms, out upon a back porch, finally dragging him down the steps and
along a cement drive way, letting him lie there a moment in the dark,
while one of them unlocked a door. The next instant he was carelessly
thrown inside, and the door forced back into place. He could hear Hogan
swear outside, and then the sound of both men's feet on the drive as
With a struggle West managed to sit up, but could scarcely attempt more,
as his arms were bound closely to his sides. The darkness about him was
intense, and, with the disappearance of the two men up the steps, all
outside sounds had ceased. He knew he had been flung into the garage and
was resting there on the hard cement floor. He could neither feel nor see
any machine, nor was there probably the slightest prospect of his getting
out unaided. Those fellows would never have left him there without guard,
had they dreamed any escape was possible. The girl had affirmed the
building was constructed of stone, two feet thick. He stared around at
the impenetrable black wall completely defeated. Undoubtedly they had him
this time. He was weak from hunger, tired nearly to death; bruised and
battered until it seemed as though every muscle in his body throbbed with
pain. Yet his mind was not on these things, only incidentally; his
thought, his anxiety centred altogether on Natalie Coolidge. What had
become of her; where was she now? He had no reason to believe her in any
great personal danger. If this gang, satisfied of success, were disposed
to spare his life, it was hardly probable they would demand her's. Now
both the desire for murder, and the necessity, had passed. The fellows
felt supremely confident the spoils were already theirs, and that all
that was needed now to assure complete success was sufficient time in
which to drop safely out of sight. Murder would hinder, rather than help
But what a blind fool he had been; how strangely he had permitted this
girl to lead him so easily astray. Why really, to his mind now, she
possessed no real resemblance to Natalie; not enough, at least, to
deceive the keen eyes of love. She had the features, the eyes, the hair,
the voice, a certain trick of speech, which, no doubt, she had
cultivated--but there were a thousand things in which she differed. Her
laugh was not the same, nor the expression of her lips; she was like a
counterfeit beside a good coin. It was easy to conceive how others might
be deceived by her tricks of resemblance--servants, ordinary friends,
even the old lawyer in charge of the estate--but it was inexcusable for
him to have thus become a plaything. Yet he had, and now the mistake was
too late to mend. He had left Natalie alone on the cliff, and then
blindly permitted this chit to lead him straight into Hobart's set trap.
Angered beyond control at the memory, West swore, straining fiercely in
the vain endeavour to release his arms. Then, realizing his utter
helplessness, he sank back on the floor, and lay still.
What was that? He listened, for an instant doubtful if he had really
heard anything. Then he actually heard a sound. He doubted no longer, yet
made no effort to move, even holding his breath in suspense. There was
movement of some kind back there--a cautious movement; seemingly the slow
advance of something across the floor, a dog perhaps. West's heart
throbbed with apprehension; suppose it was a dog, he had no means of
protection from the brute. Cold sweat tingled on his flesh; there was
nothing he could do, no place where he could go. The thing was moving
nearer; yet surely it could not be a dog; no dog would ever creep like
that. He could bear the strain no longer; it was beyond endurance.
"What's moving back there?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.
There was a moment of utter silence; then, a man's voice said in low,
"The fellow ain't dead, Mac; anyhow he seems able to talk yet."
"All right, we'll find out what he's got to say--go on along."
West sat up, his heart bounding with sudden remembrance.
"My God! McAdams is that you?"
"You have the name--who's speaking?"
"Matt West. Good God, but this is like a miracle. I'd played my last
card. Come here, one of you, and cut these strings. I cannot even move,
or stand up. Is it really you, Mac? Yes, yes, I am all right; they
bruised me up a bit, of course, but that is nothing. Now I have a chance
to pay them out. But who are with you? and how did you come to be here?"
McAdams ran his knife blade through the lashings, feeling for them in the
dark. Neither could see the other, but West realized that another man had
crept up on the opposite side of him, and crouched there silently in the
"Need any help, Mac?" the latter questioned in a whisper.
"No, I've got him cut loose. This is the lad I told you about, Carlyn.
You go on back, and, as soon as West gets limbered up a bit, and I hear
his story, we join you out there. Then we'll know how the ground lies."
The fellow crept away unseen, and McAdams gripped West's hand.
"Say, but this is mighty good luck, old boy," he blurted out. "I was
afraid you'd gone down in that yacht last night."
"You were! How did you know about it?"
"Stumbled on to the story, the way most detectives solve their mysteries.
That is, I stumbled on some of it, and the rest I dug out for myself. It
won't take long to explain and perhaps you better understand. They told
me at the office when I got back about the _Seminole_ being tied up at
the Municipal Pier, and that you had gone down there. Well, I made it as
quick as I could, but the yacht was three hundred yards out in the lake
by the time I arrived. There wasn't a damn thing to take after it in,
and, besides, just then, I didn't really know any good police reason for
chasing her. First thing I did was to try and find you, so we could get
our heads together. But you wasn't there, and so I naturally jumped to
the conclusion you must have got aboard someway. Say I combed that pier,
believe me, West, and finally I ran across a kid who put me wise. He saw
you go across the deck, and into the cabin with two other guys. They came
out again, but you didn't. I pumped him until I got a pretty good
description of both those fellows, and I decided one of them must be
'Red' Hogan, about the toughest gun-man in Chicago."
"It was Hogan."
"I made sure of that afterwards. Then I got busy. If you was in the hands
of that guy, and his gang, the chances was dead against you. But there
wasn't a darn thing I could do, except to hunt up Hobart, wire every town
along the north shore to keep an eye out for the yacht, and pick up a
thread or two around town. I got a bit at that to wise me up. We found
Hobart hid away in a cheap hotel out on Broadway, and put a trailer on
him. The girl had disappeared; she'd been to a bank, and then to the
Coolidge lawyer and signed some papers; after that we lost all trace of
her for awhile. Your man Sexton, out at 'Fairlawn,' reported that she
hadn't returned there. Then I got desperate and decided I'd blow the
whole thing to the Coolidge lawyer, and get him to take a hand. I was
afraid they were already for the get-a-way--see? I couldn't round 'em up
alone; besides I'm a Chicago police officer, and have to keep more or
less on my own beat."
"And you told the lawyer?"
"Everything I knew, and some I guessed at. I thought the old guy would
throw a fit, but he didn't. He came through game after the first shock.
But say, that dame had sold him out all right. He never had an inkling
anything was wrong; no more did the banks. We went over, and talked to
the president of one of them--a smooth guy with white mutton chops--and
the girl had signed up the preliminary papers already, and tomorrow the
whole boodle was going to drop softly into her lap. Say, I felt better
when I learned they hadn't copped the swag yet. But just the same I
"And you got it?"
"Sure; those two duffers coughed up money in a stream. Called in a
detective agency, and gave me three operatives to work under me. Got the
chief on the wire, and made him give me a free hand. Then I had a cinch."
A BRIDGE OF LOVE
He paused, listening, but all remained quiet without, and he resumed his
story. "There is not much else to it, West. A little after one o'clock
the shadow phoned in from the Union depot that Hobart had just purchased
two tickets for Patacne. We hustled over, but were too late to catch that
train, but learned the girl had accompanied him on the trip. We caught
another rattler two hours later, and got off at Patacne, which is about
three miles west of here. It is not much of a job to gather up gossip in
a small burg, and, inside of ten minutes, I had extracted all I needed
from the station agent. It seems this outfit was the summer sensation out
here. We hoofed it for reasons of our own, and came around by way of the
lake shore, aiming to keep out of sight until after dark. That is how we
discovered that _Seminole_ boat hauled up on the beach, but with no yacht
in sight. One of the fellows with me said Hogan did a boat-sinking job
before and got away with it, and that is how I figured that maybe you
was at the bottom of Lake Michigan--see? Well, we crept up here through
the woods, but nothing happened. Didn't look as if the place had a soul
within a hundred miles of it--no smoke, no light; not a damn sound. We
laid out and waited, not sure what we were up against. Finally we jimmied
open the back door of this garage, just to find out whether those guys
had a car out here, or not. They had, but we no more than located it when
those two fellows came dragging you out of the back door of the house,
and flung you in here like a bag of old linen. We lay still, and let them
go back, but we hadn't any notion whether you was dead or alive--or
whether it was really you; so we crawled up to find out. That's the
story. Now what do you think we better do?"
West moved his arms in an effort to restore circulation.
"How many with you?"
"Four altogether--hard boiled, too--five with you. Is there any fight
left in you, old man?"
"I'll say there is; I'd certainly like to get in one clip at 'Red' before
the fracas is over."
"That sounds vicious. Now who is inside?"
"I saw five, and there may be others. If the crew of the _Seminole_ are
here also, that would make quite a bunch."
"I don't think they are, Captain. The station agent said several men
bought tickets to Chicago early this afternoon. It is the real gang we've
got cornered. Do you know just who they are?"
"Those I saw were Hobart, 'Red' Hogan, the girl, a big fellow they called
Mark who was on the yacht--"
"Mark Sennett; he's Hogan's side-kick, and tough as they make 'em."
"And a wiry little black-haired devil by the name of Dave."
"Hell, is he in this too? that must be 'Dago Dave.' That guy would cut
your throat for fifty dollars. Any others?"
"Those were all I saw. No doubt Hobart's wife is in the house somewhere,
guarding Natalie Coolidge probably."
"Six altogether, counting the women."
"Yes, and you better count them, for they will fight like tigers. The
girl held me up at the point of a gun."
"We've got to get the drop first, that's all. They're yellow, the whole
outfit is yellow. Shootin' in the back is their style. Now, you know the
lay inside the house; what is our best chance?"
West studied over the situation, his eyes staring into the darkness, and
"Well, Mac," he said finally. "This is a new job for me, but I'd put a
man out in front, and then take the others in through the back door. We'd
have to rush it, of course. I know the front door is locked, and it
couldn't be broken down quickly. I listened when those fellows went back,
and I heard no click, as though they had locked the door behind them.
They don't know anybody has been after them except me, and they believe I
am done for. They feel so safe out here, they are a bit careless. I'll
wager something we can walk straight in on the outfit; how does that
"As the only feasible plan. Let's crawl out of here."
The arrangements were quickly perfected; a short, whispered conference
in the dark; then one man crept silently away through the night toward
the front of the house. McAdams added a few more words of instruction to
the others, and, with West slightly in advance, revolvers drawn and
ready, the five stole forward in the direction of the rear porch. The
windows were either heavily curtained, or covered by outside shades, for
no gleam of light was anywhere visible. West mounted the back steps
silently, with McAdams close at his heels. A second later the entire
bunch of officers were grouped before the door, poised breathless,
listening for any sound from within. Nothing broke the impressive
silence, and McAdam's hand closed over the knob, which he turned slowly.
The door opened quietly into a darkened interior. For an instant he bent
forward, peering through the narrow crack, endeavouring to learn what
lay hidden beyond, the others quivering behind him. There was scarcely
the sound of a breath audible. The detective hesitated; such luck, such
carelessness on the part of criminals seemed almost uncanny; he half
suspected some trap. Then he became convinced that this was only the
result of recklessness--the fellows felt so safe in this hidden hole in
the woods as to neglect all precaution. He stepped cautiously inside,
leaving the door ajar for the others to follow. Then they
paused--straight ahead a double swinging door divided the kitchen in
which they were from another room beyond. Through the centre crack shone
a single bar of light, barely visible, and forth through that same
orifice came the sound of a voice speaking. McAdams flung up his hand in
signal, and then crept silently forward.
It was apparently a quarrel among thieves over the spoils, each fearful
lest the other was double-crossing. Hobart and "Red" Hogan were doing
most of the talking, although occasionally others chimed in, and once
there was a woman's voice added to the debate. Seemingly the whole gang
were present; a strong odour of tobacco smoke stole through the crack in
the door, and both Hobart and Hogan swore angrily. Who was to remain out
there on guard while Hobart and the girl returned to Chicago for the
money was evidently the question, Hogan wishing to accompany them to make
sure of his share. The woman sided with Hobart, the other men apparently
ranged up with "Red," and some very plain talking was indulged in.
McAdams listened grimly, the light through the crack showing his lips
curled in a smile of appreciation. He lowered his head, and with one eye
at the slight opening gained a glimpse of the lighted room beyond. A
moment, motionless, he stared in on the scene; then straightened up, and,
with revolver in hand, signalled to the others to close in closer. They
stood there for a tense instant, poised and eager; then the doors were
flung crashing back, and they leaped recklessly forward, out of the
darkness into the light. It was a furious fight--sharp, merciless,
uncompromising. The thieves, startled, desperate, were hurled back by the
first rush against the further wall, tables and chairs overturned, the
shrieking woman pushed headlong into one corner, and one of the fellows
downed by the crashing butt of a revolver. But the others rallied,
maddened, desperate, rats caught in a trap, fighting as animals fight.
Hobart fired, catching an assailant in the arm; Hogan snatched up a chair
and struck viciously at West, who leaped straight forward, breaking the
full force of the blow, and driving his own fist into the man's face. It
was all over within a minute's fierce fighting--the surprise turning the
trick. Hobart went down cursing, the gun kicked out of his hand, his arm
broken; Hogan, struggling still, but pinned to the floor by three men,
was given a blow to the chin which left him unconscious, while the other
two threw up their hands and yelled for mercy. McAdams wiped his
streaming face, and looked around.
It was a shambles, the floor spotted with blood, the table overturned and
broken, a blanket over one of the windows torn down, a smashed chair in
one corner. The detective who had been shot was still lying in front of
the door, "Red" lay motionless, a ghastly cut over his eye, and Hobart,
his arm dangling, sat propped up against the wall, cursing, malevolent,
but helpless. On the other side stood Sennett and "Dago Dave," their
hands high above their heads; each looking into the levelled barrel of a
gun. The woman had got to her knees, still dazed from the blow which had
felled her. The ex-service man smiled grimly, well satisfied.
"Some surprise party, eh, Jim?" he asked pleasantly. "This rather puts a
crimp in your little game, I would savy, old boy. Going to cop the whole
boodle tomorrow, was you?"
"Who the hell are you?"
"Well, if I answer your questions, perhaps you will answer mine. I am
McAdams of the City Hall Station, Chicago, and I know exactly what I am
here after. So the best thing you guys can do, is cough up. Who's that
girl who has been working with you?"
Hobart glared sullenly, but made no response.
"You'll not answer?"
"Oh, go to hell!"
"All right, old top. She is in this house somewhere, and can't get out.
Somers, look around a bit; try behind those curtains over there."
The officer stepped forward, but at the same instant the draperies
parted, and two girls stood beside each other in the opening, framed
against the brighter glare of light beyond--two girls, looking so alike,
except for dress and the arrangement of their hair, as to be almost
indistinguishable--Natalie white faced, frightened, gazing with wide-open
eyes on the strange scene before her; the other smiling, and audacious,
her glance full of defiance. It was the voice of the latter which broke
"Am I the one you want, Mr. Bob McAdams?" she asked clearly. "Very well,
I am here."
McAdams stared at them both, gulping in startled surprise at the vision
confronting him, unable to find words. Then his eyes fixed themselves on
the face of the speaker.
"What!" he burst forth. "You, Del? Great Scott! your name was Hobart,
wasn't it? Why I never once connected you two together. Is--is this guy
"I don't know about that," she returned indifferently. "It is a matter of
argument I believe. However, Bob, what's the odds now? I am the one
you're after, Mister fly-cop; and here I am."
She walked forward, almost proudly, her eyes shining, and gazing
fearlessly into his. He stepped back, one hand extended.
"No, Del, this must be a mistake. I--I can't believe it of you, you--you
are not a crook."
"Oh, yes I am," she insisted, but with a tremor in the low voice.
"I've never been anything else, Bobby boy--thanks, thanks to that
thing down there."
Natalie still remained poised uncertainly in the door-way, scarcely
realizing what was occurring before her; she saw suddenly a familiar
face, and held out her hands.
"Oh, Matt, what is it?" she cried. "Is--is it all over?"
"Yes, all over, dear; these are police officers."
"And that--that girl? She looks so much like me. Who is she? do
West clasped her hands tightly, his voice sunk to a whisper.
"She is your sister, Natalie," he asserted soberly, "Your twin sister."
Her unbelieving eyes swept to his face.
"My sister; my twin sister? But I had none."
"Yes, but you did," he insisted gently. "You never knew it, but Percival
Coolidge did. This was his devilish scheme, plotted years ago when you
were born. Now here is the end of it--the girl is your sister. There is
no doubt of that."
"No doubt, you say! My sister!" Her head lifted, and there was a flame of
colour in her cheeks. "My sister!" she repeated, as though she would thus
make it seem more true. "Then I will go to her, Matthew West."
She loosened the clasp of her fingers and walked forward, unseeing her
surroundings, her eyes misted with tears. Straight across the room she
went, her hands outstretched to where the other shrank back from her in
embarrassment--between them still the gulf which love must bridge.