BEFORE the members of the Sagamore Fish and Game Association had erected their handsome clubhouse and before they had begun to purchase those thousands of acres of forest, mountain, and stream which now belongs to them, a speculative lumberman with no capital, named O’Hara, built the white house across the river on a few acres of inherited property, settled himself comfortably with his wife and child, and prepared to acquire all the timber in sight at a few dollars an acre.... on credit. For thus, thought he, is the beginning of all millionaires.
So certain was O’Hara of ultimately cornering the standing timber that he took his time about it, never dreaming that a rival might disturb him in the wilderness of Sagamore County.
He began in the woodland which he had inherited, which ran for a mile on either side of the river. This he leisurely cut, hired a few river drivers, ran a few logs to Foxville, and made money.
Now he was ready to extend business on a greater scale; but when he came to open negotiations with the score or more of landholders, he found himself in the alarming position of a bidder against an unknown but clever rival, who watched, waited, and quietly forestalled his every movement.
IT TOOK a long time for O’Hara to discover that he was fighting a combination of fifteen wealthy gentlemen from New York. Finally, when the Sagamore Club, limited to fifteen, had completed operations, O’Hara suddenly perceived that he was bottled up in the strip of worthless land which he had inherited, surrounded by thousands of acres of preserved property—outwitted, powerless, completely hemmed in. And that, too, with the best log-driving water betwixt Foxville and Canada washing the very door-sill of his own home.
At first he naturally offered to sell, but the club’s small offer enraged him, and he swore that he would never sell them an inch of his land. He watched the new club-house which was slowly taking shape under the trowels of masons and the mallets of carpenters; and his wrath grew as grew the house.
The man’s nature began to change; an inextinguishable hatred for these people took possession of him, became his mania, his existence.
His wife died; he sent his child to a convent school in Canada and remained to watch. He did the club what damage he could, posting his property, and as much of the river as he controlled. But he could not legally prevent fishermen from wading the stream and fishing; so he filled the waters with sawdust, logs, barbed-wire, brambles, and brush, choking it so that no living creature, except perhaps a mink, could catch a fish in it.
The club protested, and then offered to buy the land on O’Hara’s own terms. O’Hara cursed them and built a dam without a fishway, and sat beside it nights with a loaded shot-gun.
He still had a few dollars left; he wanted millions to crush these rich men who had come here to mock him and take the bread out of his mouth for their summer’s sport.
He had a shrewd young friend in New York, named Amasa Munn. Through this man, O’Hara began to speculate in every wild-cat scheme that squalled aloud for public support; and between Munn and the wild-cats his little fortune spread its wings of gold and soared away, leaving him a wreck on his wrecked land.
But he could still find strength to watch the spite dam with his shot-gun. One day a better scheme came into his unbalanced brain; he broke the dam and sent for Munn. Between them they laid a plan to ruin forever the trout-fishing in the Sagamore: and Munn, taking the last of O'Hara s money as a bribe, actually secured several barrels full of live pickerel and shipped them to the nearest station on the Sagamore and Inland Railway.
But here the club watchers caught Munn, and held him and his fish for the game-wardens. The penalty for introducing trout-destroying pickerel into waters inhabited by trout was a heavy fine. Munn was guilty only in intent, but the club keepers swore falsely, and Peyster Sprowl, a lawyer and also the new president of the Sagamore Club, pushed the case; and Munn went to jail, having no money left to purge his sentence.
O’Hara, wild with rage, wrote, threatening Sprowl.
Then Sprowl did a vindictive and therefore foolish thing; he swore out a warrant for O’Hara’s arrest, charging him with blackmail.
THE case was tried in Foxville, and O’Hara was acquitted. But a chance word or two during the testimony frightened the club and gave O’Hara the opportunity of his life. He went to New York and scraped up enough money for his purpose, which was to search the titles of the lands controlled by the Sagamore Club.
He worked secretly, grubbing, saving, starving; he ferreted out the original grants covering nine-tenths of Sagamore County; he disinterred the O’Hara patent of 1760; and then he began to understand that his title to the entire Sagamore Club property was worth the services, on spec., of any first-class Centre Street shyster.
The club got wind of this and appointed Peyster Sprowl, in his capacity of lawyer and president of the club, to find out how much of a claim O’Hara really had. The club also placed the emergency fund of one hundred thousand dollars at Sprowl’s command with carte-blanche orders to arrest a suit and satisfy any claim that could be beaten by money and talent.
Now it took Sprowl a very short time to discover O’Hara’s claim was probably valid enough to oust the club from three-quarters of its present holdings.
He tried to see O’Hara, but the lumberman refused to be interviewed, and promptly began proceedings. He also made his will; for he was a sick man. Then he became a sicker man, and suspended proceedings and sent for his little daughter.
Before she arrived he called Munn in, gave him a packet of papers, and made him burn them before his eyes.
"They’re the papers in my case,” he said. “I’m dying; I’ve fought too hard. I don’t want my child to fight when I’m dead. And there’s nothing in my claim, anyway.” This was a lie, and Munn suspected it.
When the child, Eileen, arrived, O’Hara was nearly dead, but he gathered sufficient strength to shove a locked steel box towards his daughter and tell her to keep it from Munn, and keep it locked until she found an honest man in the world.
The next morning O’Hara appeared to be much better. His friend Munn came to see him; also came Peyster Sprowl in some alarm, on the matter of proceedings threatened. But O’Hara turned his back on them both and calmly closed his eyes and ears to their presence.
Munn went out of the room, but laid his large, thin ear against the door. Sprowl worried O’Hara for an hour, but, getting no reply from the man in the bed, withdrew at last with considerable violence.
O’Hara, however, had fooled them both: he had been dead all the while.
THE day after the funeral, Sprowl came back to look for O’Hara’s daughter; and as he peeped through the doorway of the squalid flat he saw a thin, yellow-eyed young man, with a bony face, all furry in promise of future whiskery, rummaging through O’Hara’s effects. This young gentleman was Munn.
In a dark corner of the disordered room sat the child, Eileen, a white, shadowy elf of six, reading in the Book of Common Prayer.
Sprowl entered the room; Munn looked up, then coolly continued to rummage.
Sprowl first addressed himself to the child, in a heavy, patronizing voice:
“It’s too dark to read there in that corner, young one. Take your book out into the hall.”
“I can see better to read in the dark,” said the child, lifting her great, dark-blue eyes.
“Go out into the hall,” said Sprowl, sharply.
The child shrank back, and went, taking her little jacket in one hand, her battered traveling-satchel in the other.
If the two men could have known that the steel box was in that satchel this story might never have been told. But it never entered their heads that the pallid little waif had sense enough to conceal a button to her own profit.
“Munn,” said Sprowl, lighting a cigar, “what is there in this business?”
“I’ll tell you when I’m done,” observed Munn, coolly. Sprowl sat down on the bed where O’Hara had died, cocked the cigar up in his mouth, and blew smoke, musingly at the ceiling.
Munn found nothing, not a scrap of paper, not a line. This staggered him, but he did not intend that Sprowl should know it.
“Found what you want?” asked Sprowl, comfortably. “Yes,” replied Munn.
“Belong to the kid?”
“Yes; I’m her guardian.”
The men measured each other in silence for a minute.
“What will you take to keep quiet?” asked Sprowl. “I’ll give you a thousand dollars.”
“I want five thousand,” said Munn, firmly.
“I’ll double it for the papers,” said Sprowl.
Munn waited. “There’s not a paper left,” he said; “O’Hara made me burn ’em.”
“Twenty thousand for the papers,” said Sprowl, calmly.
“My God, Mr. Sprowl,” growled Munn, white and sweating with anguish. “I’d give them to you for half that if I had them. Can’t you believe me? I saw O’Hara burn them.”
“What were you rummaging for then?” demanded Sprowl.
“For anything—to get a hold on you,” said Munn, sullenly.
Munn was silent.
“Oh,” said Sprowl, lazily. “I think I’ll be going, then—”
Munn barred his exit, choking with anger.
“You give me five thousand dollars, or I’ll stir ’em up to look into your titles!” he snarled.
Sprowl regarded him with contempt; then another idea struck him, an idea that turned his fat face first to ashes, then to fire.
A MONTH later Sprowl returned to the Sagamore Club, triumphant, good-humored, and exceedingly contented. But he had, he explained, only succeeded in saving the club at the cost of the entire emergency fund—one hundred thousand dollars—which, after all, was a drop in the bucket to the remaining fourteen members.
The victory would have been complete if Sprowl had also been able to purchase the square mile of land lately occupied by O’Hara. But this belonged to O’Hara’s daughter, and the child flatly refused to part with it.
“You’ll have to wait for the little slut to change her mind,” observed Munn to Sprowl. And, as there was nothing else to do Sprowl and the club waited.
Trouble appeared to be over for the Sagamore Club. Munn disappeared; the daughter was not to be found; the long-coveted land remained tenantless.
Of course, the Sagamore Club encountered the petty difficulties and annoyances to which similar clubs are sooner or later subjected; disputes with neighboring landowners were gradually adjusted; troubles arising from poachers, dishonest keepers, and night guards had been, and continued to be, settled without harshness or rancor; minks, otters, herons, kingfishers, and other undesirable intruders were kept within limits by the guns of the watchers although by no means exterminated; and the wealthy club was steadily but unostentatiously making vast additions to its splendid tracts of forest, hill and river land.
After a decent interval the Sagamore Club made cautious inquiries concerning the property of the late O’Hara, only to learn that the land had been claimed by Munn, and that taxes were paid on it by that individual.
For fifteen years the O’Hara house remained tenantless; anglers from the club fished freely through the mile of river; the name of Munn had been forgotten save by the club’s treasurer, secretary and president, Peyster Sprowl.
However, the members of the club never forgot that in the center of their magnificent domain lay a square mile which did not belong to them; and they longed to possess it as better people than they have coveted treasures not laid up on earth.
The relations existing between the members of the Sagamore Club continued harmonious in as far as their social intercourse and the general acquisitive policy of the club was concerned.
There existed, of course, that tacit mutual derision based upon individual sporting methods, individual preferences, obstinate theories concerning the choice of rods, reels, lines, and the killing properties of favorite trout-flies.
MAJOR BRENT and Colonel Hyssop continued to nag and sneer at each other all day long, yet they remained as mutually dependent upon each other as David and Jonathan. For thirty years the old gentlemen had angled in company, and gathered inspiration out of the same books, the same surroundings, the same flask.
They were the only guests at the clubhouse that wet May in 1900, although Peyster Sprowl was expected in June, and young Dr. Lansing had wired that he might arrive any day.
An evening rain-storm was drenching the leaded panes in the smoking-room; Colonel Hyssop drummed accompaniment on the windows and smoked sulkily, looking across the river towards the O’Hara house, just visible through the pelting downpour.
“Irritates me every time I see it,” he said.
“Some day,” observed Major Brent, comfortably, “I’m going to astonish you all.”
“How?” demanded the Colonel, tersely.
The Major examined the end of his cigarette with a cunning smile.
“It isn’t for sale, is it?” asked the Colonel. “Don't try to be mysterious; it irritates me.”
Major Brent savored his cigarette leisurely.
“Can you keep a secret?” he inquired.
The Colonel intimated profanely that he could.
“Well, then,” said the Major, in calm triumph, "there’s a tax sale to-morrow at Foxville.”
“Not the O’Hara place?” asked the Colonel, excited.
The Major winked. "I’ll fix it,” he said, with a patronizing squint at his empty glass.
But he did not “fix it” exactly as he intended; the taxes on the O’Hara place were being paid at that very moment.
He found it out next day, when he drove over to Foxville; he also learned that the Rev. Amasa Munn, Prophet of the Shining Band Community, had paid the taxes and was preparing to quit Maine and re-establish his colony of fanatics on the O’Hara land, in the very center and heart of the wealthiest and most rigidly exclusive country club in America.
That night the frightened Major telegraphed to Munnville, Maine, an offer to buy the O’Hara place at double its real value. The business-like message ended: “Wire reply at my expense.”
The next morning an incoherent reply came by wire, at the Major’s expense, refusing to sell, and quoting several passages of Scripture at Western Union rates per word.
The operator at the station counted the words carefully, and collected eight dollars and fourteen cents from the Major, whose fury deprived him of speech.
COLONEL HYSSOP awaited his comrade at the clubhouse, nervously pacing the long veranda, gnawing his cigar. “Hello!” he called out, as Major Brent waddled up. “Have you bought the O’Hara place for us?”
The Major made no attempt to reply; he panted violently at the Colonel, then began to run about, taking little, short, distracted steps.
“Made a mess of it?” inquired the Colonel, with a badly concealed sneer.
He eyed the Major in deepening displeasure. “If you get any redder in the face you’ll blow up,” he said, coldly; “and I don’t propose to have you spatter me.”
“He-he’s an impudent swindler!” hissed the Major, convulsively.
The Colonel sniffed: “I expected it. What of it? After all, there’s nobody on the farm to annoy us, is there?”
“Wait!” groaned the Major—“wait!” and he toddled into the hall and fell on a chair, beating space with his pudgy hands.
When the Colonel at length learned the nature of the threatened calamity, he utterly refused to credit it.
Rubbish!” he said, calmly—“rubbish! my dear fellow; this man Munn is holding out for more money, d’ye see? Rubbish! rubbish! It’s blackmail, d’ye see?”
"Do you think so?” faltered the Major, hopefully. “It isn’t possible that they mean to come, is it? Fancy all those fanatics shouting about under our windows—”
Rubbish!” said the Colonel, calmly. “I’ll write to the fellow myself.”
ALL through that rainy month of May the two old cronies had the clubhouse to themselves; they slopped about together, fishing cheek by jowl as they had fished for thirty years; at night they sat late over their toddy, and disputed and bickered and wagged their fingers at each other, and went to bed with the perfect gravity of gentlemen who could hold their own with any toddy ever brewed.
No reply came to the Colonel, but that did not discourage him.
“They are playing a waiting game,” he said, sagely. “This man Munn has bought the land from O’Hara’s daughter for a song, and he means to bleed us. I’ll write to Sprowl; he’ll fix things.”
Early in June Dr. Lansing and his young kinsman, De Witt Coursay, arrived at the clubhouse. They also, were of the opinion that Munn's object was to squeeze the club by threats.
The second week in June, Peyster Sprowl, Master of Fox-Hounds, Shadowbrook, appeared with his wife, the celebrated beauty, Agatha Sprowl, nee. Van Guilder.
Sprowl, now immensely large and fat, had few cares in life beyond an anxious apprehension concerning the durability of his own digestion. However, he was still able to make a midnight mouthful of a Welsh rarebit on a hot mince-pie, and wash it down with a quart of champagne, and so the world went very well with him, even if it wabbled a trifle for his handsome wife.
“She’s lovely enough,” said Colonel Hyssop, gallantly, “to set every star in heaven wabbling.” To which the bull-necked Major assented with an ever-hopeless attempt to bend at the waistband.
Meanwhile the Rev. Amasa Munn and his flock, the Shining Band, arrived at Foxville in six farm wagons, singing “Roll, Jordan!”
Of their arrival Sprowl was totally unconscious, the Colonel having forgotten to inform him of the threatened invasion.
THE members of the Sagamore Club heard the news next morning at a late breakfast. Major Brent, who had been fishing early up-stream, bore the news, and delivered it in an incoherent bellow.
“What d’ye mean by that?” demanded Colonel Hyssop, setting down his cocktail with unsteady fingers.
“Mean?” roared the Major; “I mean that Munn and a lot o’ women are sitting on the river bank and singing ‘Home Again’!”
The news jarred everybody, but the effect of it upon the president, Peyster Sprowl, appeared to be out of all proportion to its gravity. That gentleman’s face was white as death; and the Major noticed it.
“You’ll have to rid us of this mob,” said the Major, slowly.
Sprowl lifted his heavy, overfed face from his plate. “I’ll attend to it,” he said, hoarsely, and swallowed a pint of claret.
“I think it is amusing,” said Agatha Sprowl, looking across the table at Coursay.
“Amusing, madam!” burst out the Major. “They’ll be doing their laundry in our river next!”
“Soapsuds in my favorite pools!” bawled the Colonel. “Damme if I’ll permit it!”
“Sprowl ought to settle them,” said Lansing, good-naturedly. “It may cost us a few thousands, but Sprowl will do the work this time as he did it before.”
Sprowl choked in his claret, turned a vivid beef-color, and wiped his chin. His appetite was ruined. He hoped the ruin would stop there.
“What harm will they do?” asked Coursay, seriously— “beyond the soapsuds?”
“They’ll fish, they’ll throw tin cans in the water, they’ll keep us awake with their fanatical pow-wows—confound it, haven’t I seen that sort of thing?” said the Major, passionately. “Yes, I have, at nigger camp-meetings! And these people beat the niggers at that sort of thing!”
“Leave ’em to me,” repeated Peyster Sprowl, thickly, and began on another chop from force of habit.
“About fifteen years ago,” said the Colonel, “there was some talk about our title. You fixed that, didn’t you, Sprowl?”
“Yes,” said Sprowl, with parched lips.
“Of course,” muttered the Major; '‘it cost us a cool hundred thousand to perfect our title. Thank God, it’s settled.”
SPROWL’S immense body turned perfectly cold; he buried his face in his glass and drained it. Then the shrimp-color returned to his neck and ears, and deepened to scarlet. When the earth ceased reeling before his apoplectic eyes, he looked around furtively. Again the scene in O’Hara’s death-chamber came to him; the threat of Munn, who had got wind to the true situation, and the bribing of Munn to silence.
But the club had given Sprowl one hundred thousand dollars to perfect its title; and Sprowl had reported the title perfect, all proceedings ended, and the payment of one hundred thousand dollars to Amasa Munn, as guardian of the child of O’Hara, in full payment for the O’Hara claims to the club property.
Sprowl’s coolness began to return. If five thousand dollars had stopped Munn’s mouth once, it might stop it again. Besides, how could Munn know that Sprowl had kept for his own uses ninety-five thousand dollars of his club’s money, and had founded upon it the House of Sprowl of many millions? He was quite cool now—a trifle anxious to know what Munn meant to ask for, but confident that his millions were a buckler and a shield to the honored name of Sprowl.
“I’ll see this fellow, Munn, after breakfast,” he said, lighting an expensive cigar.
“I’ll go with you,” volunteered Lansing, casually, strolling out towards the veranda.
“No, no!” called out Sprowl; “you’ll only hamper me.” But Lansing did not hear him outside in the sunshine.
Agatha Sprowl laid one fair, heavily ringed hand on the table and pushed her chair back. The Major gallantly waddled to withdraw her chair; she rose with a gesture of thanks, and a glance which shot the Major through and through—a wound he never could accustom himself to receive with stoicism.
Mrs. Sprowl turned carelessly away, followed by her two Great Danes—a superb trio, woman and dogs beautifully built and groomed, and expensive enough to please even such an amateur as Peyster Sprowl, M.F.H.
“Gad, Sprowl!” sputtered the Major, “your wife grows handsomer every minute—and you grow fatter.”
Sprowl, midway in a glass of claret, said: “This simple backwoods regime is what she and I need.”
AGATHA SPROWL was certainly handsome, but the Major’s eyesight was none of the best. She had not been growing younger; there were lines; also a discreet employment of tints on a very silky skin, which was not quite as fresh as it had once been.
Dr. Lansing, strolling on the veranda with his pipe, met her and her big dogs turning the corner in full sunlight. Coursay was with her, his eager, flushed face close to hers; but he fell back when he saw his kinsman Lansing, and presently retired to the lawn to unreel and dry out a couple of wet silk lines.
Agatha Sprowl sat down on the veranda railing, exchanging a gay smile across the lawn with Coursay; then her dark eyes met Lansing’s steel-gray ones.
“Good-morning, once more,” she said mockingly.
He returned her greeting, and began to change his mist leader for a white one.
“Will you kindly let Jack Coursay alone,” she said, in a low voice.
“No,” he replied, in the same tone.
“Are you.serious?” she asked, as though the idea amused her.
“Of course,” he replied, pleasantly.
“Is it true that you came here because he came?” she inquired with faint sarcasm in her eyes.
“Yes,” he answered, with perfect good nature. “You see he's my own kin; you see I’m the old-fashioned sort—a perfect fool, Mrs. Sprowl.”
There was a silence; he unwound the glistening leader; she flicked at shadows with her dog-whip; the Great Danes yawned and laid their heavy heads against her knees. Then you are a fool,” she concluded serenely.
He was young enough to redden.
Three years ago she had thought it time to marry somebody, if she ever intended to marry at all; so she threw over half a dozen young fellows like Coursay, and married Sprowl. For two years her beauty, audacity, and imprudence kept a metropolis and two capitals in food for scandal. And now for a year gossip was coupling her name with Coursay’s.
“I warned you at Palm Beach that I’d stop this,” said Lansing, looking directly into her eyes. “You see, I know his mother.”
“Stop what?” she asked, coolly.
He went on: "Jack is a curiously decent boy; he views his danger without panic, but with considerable surprise. But nobody can tell what he may do. As for me, I’m indifferent, liberal, and reasonable in my views of other people’s conduct. But Jack is not one of those ‘other people’, you see.”
“And I am?” she suggested, serenely.
“Exactly; I’m not your keeper.”
“So you confine your attention to Jack and the Decalogue?”
"As for the Commandments," he observed, “any ass can shatter them with his hind heels, so why should he? If he must be an ass, let him be an original ass—not a cur.”
“A cur,” repeated Agatha Sprowl, unsteadily.
An affaire de coeur with a married woman is an affair de cur, said Lansing, calmly—“Gallicize it as you wish, make it smart and fashionable as you can. I told you I was old-fashioned.... And I mean it, madam.”
The leader had eluded him; he uncoiled it again; she mechanically took it between her delicate fingers and held it steady while he measured and shortened it by six inches.
"Do you think,” she said, between her teeth, “that it is your mission to padlock me to that—in there?”
Lansing turned, following her eyes. She was looking at her husband.
“No,” replied Lansing serenely; “but I shall see that you don’t transfer the padlock to.... that, out there”—glancing at Coursay on the lawn.
"Try it,” she breathed, and let go of the leader, which flew up in silvery crinkles, the cast of brightly colored flies dancing in the sunshine.
“Oh, let him alone,” said Lansing, wearily; “all the men in Manhattan are driveling about you. Let him go; he’s a sorry trophy—and there’s no natural treachery in him.... it’s not in our blood.... it’s too cheap for us, and we can’t help saying so when we’re in our right minds.”
There was a little color left in her face when she stood up, her hands resting on the spiked collars of her dogs. “The trouble with you,” she said, smiling adorably, “is your innate delicacy.”
“I know I am brutal,” he said, grimly; “let him alone.”
She gave him a pretty salutation, crossed the lawn, passed her husband, who had just ridden up on a powerful sorrel, and called brightly to Coursay: “Take me fishing, Jack, or I’ll yawn my head off my shoulder.”
Before Lansing could recover his wits the audacious beauty had stepped into the canoe at the edge of the lawn, and young Coursay, eager and radiant, gave a flourish to his paddle, and drove it into the glittering water.
If Sprowl found anything disturbing to his peace of mind in the proceeding, he did not betray it. He sat hunched up on his big sorrel, eyes fixed on the distant clearing, where the white gable-end of O’Hara’s house rose among the trees.
Suddenly he wheeled his mount and galloped up the river road; the sun glowed on his broad back, and struck fire on his spurs, then horse and rider were gone into the green shadows of the woods.
TO PLAY spy was not included in Lansing’s duties as he understood them. He gave one disgusted glance after the canoe, shrugged, set fire to the tobacco in his pipe, and started slowly along the river towards O’Hara’s with a vague idea of lending counsel, aid, and countenance to his president during the expected interview with Munn.
At the turn of the road he met Major Brent and old Peter, the head-keeper. The latter stood polishing the barrels of his shot-gun with a red bandanna; the Major was fuming and wagging his head.
“Doctor!” he called out, when Lansing appeared; “Peter says they raised the devil down at O’Hara’s last night! This can’t go on, d’ye see! No, by Heaven!”
“What were they doing, Peter?” asked Lansing, coming up to where the old man stood.
“Them Shinin’ Banders? Waal, sir, they was kinder rigged out in white night-gounds—robes o’ Jordan they call ’em—an’ they had rubbed some kind o’ shiny stuff—like matches—all over these there night-gounds, an’ then they sang a spell, an’ then they all sot down on the edge o’the river.”
“Is that all?” asked Lansing, laughing.
“Wait!” growled the Major.
“Waal,” continued old Peter, “the shinin’ stuff on them night-gounds was that bright that I seen the fishes swimmin’ round kinder dazed like. ‘Gosh!’ sez I to m’self, ‘it’s like a Jack a-drawnin’ them trout—yaas’r.’ So I hollers out, ‘Here! You Shinin’ Band folk, you air a-drawin’ the trout. Quit it,’ sez I, ha’sh an’ pert-like. Then that there Munn, the Prophet, he up an’ hollers, ‘Hark how the heathen rage!’ he hollers. An’ with that, blamed if he didn’t sling a big net into the river, an’ all them Shinin’ Banders ketehed holt an’ they drawed it clean up-stream. ‘Quit that!’ I hollers, ‘it’s agin the game laws!’ But the Prophet he hollers back, ‘Hark how the heathen rage!’ Then they drawed that there net out, an’ it were full o’ trout, big and little—”
“Great Heaven!” roared the Major, black in the face.
"I think, said Lansing, quietly, “that I’ll walk down to O’Hara’s and reason with our friend Munn. Sprowl may want a man to help him in this matter.”
WHEN Sprowl galloped his sorrel mare across the bridge and up to the O’Hara house, he saw a man and a young girl seated on the grass of the river-bank, under the shade of an enormous elm.
Sprowl dismounted heavily, and led his horse towards the couple under the elm. He recognized Munn in the thin, long-haired, full-bearded man who rose to face him; and he dropped the bridle from his hand, freeing the sorrel mare.
The two men regarded each other in silence; the mare strayed leisurely up-stream, cropping the fresh grass; the young girl turned her head towards Sprowl with a curious movement, as though listening, rather than looking.
Mr. Munn, I believe,” said Sprowl, in a low voice. “The Reverend Amasa Munn,” corrected the Prophet, quietly. “You are Peyster Sprowl.”
Sprowl turned and looked full at the girl on the grass. The shadow of her big straw hat fell across her eyes; she faced him intently.
Sprowl glanced at his mare, whistled, and turned squarely on his heel, walking slowly along the river-bank. The sorrel followed like a dog; presently Munn stood up and deliberately stalked off after Sprowl, rejoining that gentleman a few rods down the river-bank.
Well, said Sprowl, turning suddenly on Munn, “what are you doing here?”
From his lank height Munn’s eyes were nevertheless scarcely level with the eyes of the burly president.
“I’m here,” said Munn, “to sell the land.”
“I thought so,” said Sprowl, curtly. “How much?” Munn picked a buttercup and bit off the stem. With the blossom between his teeth he surveyed the sky, the river, the forest, and then the features of Sprowl.
“How much?” asked Sprowl, impatiently.
Munn named a sum that staggered Sprowl, but Munn could perceive no tremor in the fat, blank face before him. “And if we refuse?” suggested Sprowl.
Munn only looked at him.
Sprowl repeated the question.
“Well,” observed Munn, stroking his beard reflectively, “there’s that matter of the title.”
This time Sprowl went white to his fat ears. Munn merely glanced at him, then looked at the river.
“I will buy the title this time,” said Sprowl, hoarsely. “You can’t,” said Munn.
A terrible shock struck through Sprowl; he saw through a mist; he laid his hand on a tree-trunk for support, mechanically facing Munn all the while.
“Can’t!” he repeated, with dry lips.
“No, you can’t buy it.”
“O’Hara’s daughter has it.”
“But—she will sell! Won’t she sell? Where is she?” burst out Sprowl.
“She won’t sell,” said Munn, studying the ghastly face of the president.
“You can make her sell,” said Sprowl. “What is your price?”
“I can’t make her sell the title to your club property,” said Munn. “She’ll sell this land here. Take it or leave it.”
“If I take it—will you leave?” asked Sprowl, hoarsely. Munn smiled, then nodded.
“And will that shut your mouth, you dirty scoundrel?” said Sprowl, gripping his riding-crop till his fat fingernails turned white.
“It will shut my mouth,” said Munn, still with his fixed smile.
“How much extra to keep this matter of the title quiet—as long as I live?”
“As long as you live?” repeated Munn, surprised.
“Yes, I don’t care a damn what they say of me after I’m dead,” snarled Sprowl.
MUNN watched him for a moment, plucked another buttercup, pondered, smoothed out his rich, brown, silky beard, and finally mentioned a second sum.
Sprowl drew a check-book from the breast-pocket of his coat, and filled in two checks with a fountain pen. These he held up before Munn’s snapping, yellowish eyes.
“This blackmail,” said Sprowl, thickly, “is paid now for the last time. If you come after me again you come to your death, for I’ll smash your skull in with one blow, and take my chances to prove insanity. And I’ve enough money to prove it.”
“I’ll buy you this last time,” continued Sprowl, recovering his self-command. “Now, you tell me where O’Hara’s child is, and how you are going to prevent her from ever pressing that suit which he dropped.”
“O’Hara’s daughter is here. I control her,” said Munn, quietly.
“You mean she’s one of your infernal flock?” demanded Sprowl.
“One of the Shining Band,” said Munn, with a trace of a whine in his voice.
“Where are the papers in that proceeding, then? You said O’Hara burned them, you liar!”
“She has them in a box in her bedroom,” replied Munn.
“Does she know what they mean?” asked Sprowl, aghast.
“No—but I do,” replied Munn, with his ominous smile.
“How do you know she does not understand their meaning?”
“Because,” replied Munn, laughing, “she can’t read.”
Sprowl did not believe him, but he was at his mercy. He stood with his heavy head hanging, pondering a moment, then whistled his sorrel. The mare came to him and laid her dusty nose on his shoulder.
“You see these checks?” he said.
“You get them when you put those papers in my hands. Understand? And when you bring me the deed of his cursed property here—house and all.”
“A week from to-day,” said Munn; his voice shook in spite of him. Few men can face suddden wealth with a yawn.
“And after that—” began Sprowl, and glared at Munn with such a fury that the Prophet hastily stepped backward and raised a nervous hand to his beard.
“It’s a square deal,” he said; and Sprowl knew that he meant it, at least for the present.
The president mounted heavily, and sought his bridle and stirrups.
“I’ll meet you here in a week from to-day hour for hour; I’ll give you twenty-four hours after that to pack up and move, bag and baggage.”
“Done,” said Munn.
“Then get out of my way, you filthy beast!” growled Sprowl, swinging his horse and driving the spurs in.
Munn fell back with a cry; the horse plunged past, brushing him, tearing out across the pasture, over the bridge, and far down the stony road Munn heard him galloping. He had been close to death; he did not quite know whether Sprowl had meant murder or whether it was carelessness or his own fault that the horse had not struck him and ground him into the sod.
However it was, he conceived a new respect for Sprowl, and promised himself that if he ever was obliged to call again upon Sprowl for financial assistance he would do it through a telephone.
A DOZEN women, dressed alike in a rather pretty gray uniform, were singing up by the house; he looked at them with a sneer, then walked back along the river to where the young girl still sat under the elm.
“I want to talk to you,” he said, abruptly, “and I don’t want any more refusals or reasons or sentiments. I want to see the papers in that steel box.”
She turned towards him in that quaint, hesitating, listening attitude.
“The Lord,” he said, more cheerfully, "“has put it into my head that we must journey once more. I’ve had a prayerful wrestle out yonder, and I see light. The Lord tells me to sell this land to the strangers without the gates, and I’m going to sell it to the glory of God.”
“How can you sell it?” said the girl, quietly.
“Isn’t all our holdings in common?” demanded Munn, sharply.
“You know that I am not one of you,” said the girl.
“Yes, you are,” said Munn; “you don’t want to be because the light has been denied you, but I’ve sealed you and sanctified you to the Shining Band, and you just can’t help being one of us. Besides,” he continued, with an ugly smile, “I’m your legal guardian.”
This was a lie; but she did not know it.
“So I want to see those papers,” he added.
“Why?” she asked.
“Oh, legal matters; I’ve got to examine ’em or I can’t sell this land.”
“Father told me not to open the box until... I found an.... honest man,” she said, steadily.
Munn glared at her. She had caught him in a lie years ago; she never forgot it.
“Where’s the key?” he demanded.
She was silent.
“I’ll give you till supper-time to find that key,” said Munn, confidently, and walked on towards the house.
But before he had fairly emerged from the shadow of the elm he met Lansing face to face, and the young man halted him with a pleasant greeting, asking if he were not the Reverend Doctor Munn.
“That’s my name,” said Munn, briefly.
“I was looking for Mr. Sprowl; I thought to meet him here; we were to speak to you about the netting of trout in the river,” said Lansing, good-humoredly.
Munn regarded him in sulky silence.
“It won’t do,” continued Lansing, smiling; “if you net trout you’ll have the wardens after you."
“Oh! and I suppose you’ll furnish the information,” sneered Munn.
“I certainly will,” replied Lansing.
MUNN had retraced his steps towards the river. As the men passed before Eileen O’Hara, Lansing raised his cap. She did not return his salute; she looked towards the spot where he and Munn had halted, and her face bore that quaint, listening expression, almost pitifully sweet, as though she were deaf.
“Peter, our head-keeper, saw you netting trout in that pool last night,” said Lansing.
Munn examined the water and muttered that the Bible gave him his authority for that sort of fishing.
“He’s a fake,” thought Lansing, in sudden disgust; involuntarily he glanced around at the girl under the elm. The beauty of her pale face startled him. Surely innocence looked out of those dark blue eyes, fixed on him under the shadow of her straw hat. He noted that she also wore the silvery-gray uniform of the elect. He turned his eyes towards the house, where a dozen women, old and young, were sitting out under the tree, sewing and singing peacefully. The burden of their song came sweetly across the pasture; a golden robin, high in the elm’s feathery tip, warbled incessant accompaniment to the breeze and the flowing of water and the far song of the women.
“We don’t mean to annoy you,” said Lansing quietly: “I for one believe that we shall find you and your community the best of courteous neighbors.”
Munn looked at him with his cunning, amber yellow eyes and stroked his beard.
“What do you want, anyway?” he said.
“I’ll tell you what I want,” said Lansing, sharply; “I want you and your people to observe the game laws.”
“Keep your shirt on, young man,” said Munn, coarsely, and turned on his heel. Before he had taken the second step Lansing laid his hand on his shoulder and spun him around, his grip tightening like a vise.
“What y’ doing?” snarled Munn, shrinking and squirming, terrified by the violent grasp, the pain of which almost sickened him.
Lansing looked at him, then shoved him out of his path, and carefully rinsed his hands in the stream. Then he laughed and turned around, but Munn was making rapid time towards the house, where the gray-clad women sat singing under the neglected apple-trees. The young man’s eyes fell on the girl under the elm; she was apparently watching his every movement from those dark-blue eyes under the straw hat.
HE took off his cap and went to her, and told her politely how amiable had been his intentions, and how stringent the game laws were, and begged her to believe that he intended no discourtesy to her community when he warned them against the wholesale destruction of the trout.
He had a pleasant, low voice, very attractive to women; she smiled and listened, offering no comment.
"And I want to assure you,” he ended, “that we at the club will always respect your boundaries as we know you will respect ours. I fear one of our keepers was needlessly rude last night—from his own account. He’s an old man; he supposes that all people know the game laws.”
Lansing paused; she bent her head a trifle. After a silence he started on, saying, “Good-morning,” very pleasantly.
“I wish you would sit down and talk to me,” said the girl, without raising her head.
Lansing was too astonished to reply; she turned her head partly towards him as though listening. Something in the girl’s attitude arrested his attention; he involuntarily dropped on one knee to see her face. It was in shadow.
“I want to tell you who I am,” she said, without looking at him. “I am Eily O’Hara.”
Lansing received the communication with perfect gravity. “Your father owned this land?” he asked.
“Yes; I own it now.... I think.”
He was silent, curious, amused.
“I think I do,” she repeated; “I have never seen my father’s will.”
“Doubtless your lawyer has it,” he suggested.
“No; I have it. It is in a steel box; I have the key hanging around my neck inside my clothes. I have never opened the box.”
“But why do you not open the box?” asked Lansing, smiling.
She hesitated; color crept into her cheeks. “I have waited,” she said; "I was alone; my father said—that—that—” She stammered; the rich flush deepened to her neck.
Lansing, completely nonplussed, sat watching the wonderful beauty of that young face.
“My father told me to open it only when I found an honest man in the world,” she said, slowly.
The undertone of pathos in her voice drove the smile from Lansing’s lips.
“Have you found the world dishonest?” he asked, seriously.
“I don’t know; I came from Notre Dame de Sainte Croix last year. Mr. Munn was my guardian.... said he was.... I suppose he is.”
Lansing looked at her in sympathy.
‘I am not one of the community,” she said. “I only stay because I have no other home but this. I have no money.... at least I know of none that is mine.” Lansing was silent and attentive.
"I—I heard your voice.... I wanted to speak to you—to hear you speak to me,” she said. A new timidity came into her tone; she raised her head. “I—somehow when you spoke—I felt that you—you were honest.” She stammered again, but Lansing's cool voice brought her out of her difficulty and painful shyness.
“What is your name?” she asked.
“I’m Dr. Lansing,” he said.
“Will you open my steel box and read my papers for me?” she inquired, innocently.
'I will—if you wish,” he said, impulsively: "if you think it wise. But I think you had better read the papers for yourself.”
“Why, I can’t read,” she said, apparently surprised that he should not know it.
“You mean that you were not taught to read in your convent school?” he asked incredulously.
A curious little sound escaped her lips; she raised both slender hands and unpinned her hat. Then she turned her head to his.
The deep-blue beauty of her eyes thrilled him; then he started and leaned forward, closer, closer to her exquisite face.
“My child,” he cried, softly, “my poor child!” And she smiled and fingered the straw hat in her lap.
“Will you read my father’s papers for me?” she said.
“Yes—yes—if you wish. Yes, indeed!” After a moment he said: “How long have you been blind?”
THAT evening, at dusk, Lansing came into the club, and went directly to his room. He carried a small, shabby satchel; and when he had locked his door he opened the satchel and drew from it a flat steel box.
For half an hour he sat by his open window in the quiet starlight, considering the box, turning it over and over in his hands. At length he opened his trunk, placed the box inside, locked the trunk, and noiselessly left the room.
He encountered Coursay in the hall, and started to pass him with an abstracted nod, then changed his mind and slipped his arm through the arm of his young kinsman.
“Thought you meant to cut me,” said Coursay, half laughing, half in earnest.
“Why?” Lansing stopped short; then, “Oh, because you played the fool with Agatha in the canoe? You two will find yourselves in a crankier craft than that if you don’t look sharp.
“You have an ugly way of putting it,” began Coursay. But Lansing scowled and said:
“Jack, I want advice; I’m troubled, old chap. Come into my room while I dress for dinner. Don’t shy and stand on your hind-legs; it’s not about Agatha Sprowl; it’s about me, and I’m in trouble.”
The appeal flattered and touched Coursay, who had never expected that he, a weak and spineless back-slider, could possibly be of aid or comfort to his self-sufficient and celebrated cousin, Dr. Lansing.
They entered Lansing’s rooms; Coursay helped himself to some cognac, and smoked, waiting for Lansing to emerge from his dressing-room.
Presently, bathed, shaved, and in his shirt-sleeves, Lansing came in, tying his tie, a cigarette unlighted between his teeth.
“Jack,” he said, “give me advice, not as a self-centred, cautious, and orderly citizen of Manhattan, but as a young man whose heart leads his head every time! I want that sort of advice; and I can’t give it to myself.”
“Do you mean it?” demanded Coursay, incredulously.
“By Heaven, I do!” returned Lansing, biting his words short, as the snap of a whip.
HE turned his back to the mirror, lighted his cigarette, took one puff, threw it into the grate. Then he told Coursay what had occurred between him and the young girl under the elm, reciting the facts minutely and exactly as they occurred.
“I have the box in my trunk yonder,” he went on; “the poor little thing managed to slip out while Munn was in the barn; I was waiting for her in the road.”
After a moment Coursay asked if the girl was stone blind.
“No,” said Lansing; “she can distinguish light from darkness; she can even make out form—in the dark: but a strong light completely blinds her.”
“Can you help her?” asked Coursay, with quick pity.
Lansing did not answer the question, but went on: “It's been coming on—this blindness—since her fifth year; she could always see to read better in dark corners than in a full light. For the last two years she has not been able to see; and she's only twenty, Jack—only twenty ”
“Can’t you help her?” repealed Coursay, a painful catch in his throat
“I haven’t examined her,” said Lansing curtly.
“But—but you are an expert in that sort of thing,” protested his cousin; “isn’t this in your line?”
“Yes; I sat and talked to her half an hour and did not know she was blind. She has a pair of magnificent deep-blue eyes; nobody, talking to her, could suspect such a thing. Still—her eyes were shaded by her hat.”
“What kind of blindness is it?” asked Coursay, in a shocked voice.
“I think I know,” said Lansing. “I think there can be little doubt that she has a rather unusual form of lamellar cataract.”
“Curable?” motioned Coursay.
“I haven’t examined her; how could I—But I’m going to do it.”
“And if you operate?” asked Coursay, hopefully.
“Operate? Yes—yes, of course. It is needling, you know, with probability of repetition. We expect absorption to do the work for us—bar accidents and other things."
“When will you operate?” inquired Coursay.
Lansing broke out, harshly: “God knows! That swindler, Munn, keeps her a prisoner. Doctors long ago urged her to submit to an operation; Munn refused, and he and his deluded women have been treating her by prayers for years—the miserable mountebank!”
“You mean that he won’t let you try to help her?”
“I mean just exactly that, Jack.”
COURSAY got up with his clinched hands swinging and his eager face red as a pippin. “Why, then,” he said, “we’ll go and get her! Come on; I can’t sit here and let such things happen.”
Lansing laughed the laugh of a schoolboy bent on deviltry.
“Good old Jack! That’s the sort of advice I wanted,” he said, affectionately. “We may see our names in the morning papers for this; but who cares? We may be arrested for a few unimportant and absurd things—but who cares? Munn will probably sue us; who cares? At any rate, we’re reasonably certain of a double-headed column in the yellow press; but do you give a tinker’s damn?”
“Not one!” said Coursay calmly.
Then they went down to dinner.
Sprowl, being unwell, dined in his own rooms; Agatha Sprowl was more witty and brilliant and charming than ever; but Coursay did not join her on the verandah that evening, and she sat for two hours enduring the platitudes of Colonel Hyssop and Major Trent, and planning serious troubles for Lansing, to whose interference she attributed Coursay’s non-appearance.
BUT Coursay and Lansing had other business in hand that night. Fortune, too, favored them when they arrived at the O’Hara house; for there, leaning on the decaying gate, stood Eileen O’Hara, her face raised to the sky as though seeking in the soft star-radiance which fell upon her lids a celestial balm for her sightless eyes.
She was alone; she heard Lansing’s step, and knew it, too. From within the house came the deadened sound of women’s voices singing:
“Light of the earth and sky, Unbind mine eyes,
Lest I in darkness lie While my soul dies.
Blind, at Thy feet I fall, All blindly kneel,
Fainting, Thy name I call; Touch me and heal!”
In the throbbing hush of the starlight a whip-poor-will called three times; the breeze rose in the forest; a little wind came fragrantly, puff on puff, along the road, stirring the silvery dust.
She laid one slim hand in Lansing’s; steadily and noiselessly they traversed the dew-wet meadow, crossed the river by the second bridge, and so came to the dark club-house under the trees.
There was nobody visible except the steward when they entered the hall.
“Two rooms and a bath, John,” said Lansing, quietly; and followed the steward up the stairs, guiding his blind charge.
The rooms were on the north angle; Lansing and Coursay inspected them carefully, gave the steward proper direction, and dismissed him.
“Get me a telegram blank,” said Lansing. Coursay brought one. His cousin pencilled a despatch and the young man took it and left the room.
The girl was sitting on the bed, silent, intent, following Lansing with her sightless eyes.
“Do you trust me?” he asked, pleasantly.
“Yes.... oh, yes, with all my heart!”.
He steadied his voice. “I think I can help you—I am sure I can. I have sent to New York for Dr. Courtney Thayer.”
He drew a long breath; her beauty almost unnerved him. “Thayer will operate; he’s the best of all. Are you afraid?”
She lifted one hand and held it out, hesitating. He took it.
"No, not afraid,” she said.
“You are wise; there is no need for fear. All will come right, my child.”
She listened intently.
“It is necessary in such operations that the patient should, above all, be cheerful and—and happy—”
“Oh, yes.... and I am happy! Truly! truly!” she breathed.
".... and brave, and patient, and obedient and—” His voice trembled a trifle. “You must lie very still,” he ended, hastily.
“Will you be here?”
“Yes—yes, of course!”
“Then I will lie very still.”
HE LEFT her curled up in an easy-chair, smiling at him with blind eyes; he scarcely found his way down-stairs for all his eyesight. He stumbled to the grill-room door, felt for the knob, and flung it open.
A flood of yellow light struck him like a blow; through the smoke he saw the wine-flushed faces of Colonel Hyssop and Major Brent staring at him.
“Gad, Lansing!” said the Major, “you’re white and shaky as a ninety-nine-cent toy lamb. Come in and have a drink, m’ boy!”
“I wanted to say,” said Lansing, that I have a patient in 5 and 6. It’s an emergency case; I’ve wired for Courtney Thayer. I wish to ask the privilege and courtesy of the club for my patient. It’s unusual; it’s intrusive. Absolute and urgent necessity is my plea.”
The two old gentlemen appeared startled but they hastily assured Lansing that his request would be honored; and Lansing went away to pace the verandah until Coursay returned from the telegraph station.
In the grill-room Major Brent’s pop eyes were fixed on the Colonel in inflamed inquiry.
“Damme!” snapped the Colonel, “does that young man take this club for a hospital?”
“He’ll be washing bandages in the river next; he’ll poison the trout with his antiseptic stuffs!” suggested the Major, shuddering.
“The club’s going to the dogs!” said the Colonel, with a hearty oath.
But he did not know how near to the dogs the club already was.
IT IS perfectly true that the club and the dogs were uncomfortably close together. A week later the crisis came when Munn, in a violent rage, accused Sprowl of spiriting away his ward, Eileen O’Hara. But when Sprowl at last comprehended that the girl and the papers had really disappeared, he turned like a maddened pig on Munn, tore the signed checks to shreds before his eyes, and cursed him steadily as long as he remained within hearing.
As for Munn, his game appeared to be up. He hurried to New York, and spent a month or two attempting to find some trace of his ward, then his money gave out. He returned to his community and wrote a cringing letter to Sprowl, begging him to buy the O’Hara land for next to nothing, and risk the legality of the transfer. To which Sprowl paid no attention, A week later Munn and the Shining Band left for Munnville, Maine.
It was vaguely understood at the club that Lansing had a patient in 5 and 6.
“Probably a rich woman whom he can’t afford to lose,” suggested Sprowl, with a sneer; “but I’m cursed if I can see why he should turn this club into a drug-shop to make money in!” And the Colonel and the Major agreed that it was indecent in the extreme.
To his face, of course, Sprowl, the Colonel and the Major treated Lansing with perfect respect; but the faint odor of antiseptics from rooms 5 and 6 made them madder and madder every time they noticed it.
MEANWHILE young Coursay had a free bridle; Lansing was never around to interfere, and he drove and rode and fished and strolled with Agatha Sprowl until neither he nor the shameless beauty knew whether they were standing on their heads or their heels. To be in love was a new sensation to Agatha Sprowl; to believe himself in love was nothing new to Coursay, but the flavor never palled.
What they might have done—what, perhaps, they had already decided to do—nobody but they knew. The chances are that they would have bolted if they had not run smack into that rigid sentinel who guards the pathway of life. The sentinel is called Fate. And it came about in the following manner:
Dr. Courtney Thayer arrived one cool day early in October; Lansing met him with a quiet smile, and, together, these eminent gentlemen entered rooms 5 and 6.
A few moments later Courtney Thayer came out, laughing, followed by Lansing, who also appeared to be a prey to mirth.
“She’s charming—she’s perfectly charming!” said Courtney Thayer. “Where the deuce do these Yankee convent people get that elusive Continental flavor? Her father must have been a gentleman.”
“He was an Irish lumberman,” said Lansing. After a moment he added: “So you won’t come back, doctor?”
“No, it’s not necessary; you know that. I’ve an operation to-morrow in Manhattan; I must get back to town. Wish I couid stay and shoot grouse with you, but I can't."
“Come up for the fall flight of woodcock; I’ll wire you when it’s on,” urged Lansing.
Lansing took his outstretched hand in both of his. “There is no use in my trying to tell you what you have done for me, doctor,” he said.
Thayer regarded him keenly. “Thought I did it for her,” he remarked.
Instantly Lansing’s face turned redhot. Thayer clasped the young man’s hands and shook them till they ached.
“You’re all right, my boy—you’re all right!” he said heartily; and was gone down the stairs, two at a jump—a rather lively proceeding for the famous and dignified Courtney Thayer.
LANSING turned and entered rooms 5 and 6. His patient was standing by the curtained window. “Do you want to know your fate?” he asked, lightly.
She turned and looked at him out of her lovely eyes; the quaint, listening expression in her face still remained, but she saw him, this time.
“Am I well?” she asked, calmly.
She sat down by the window, her slender hands folded, her eyes on him.
“And now,” she asked, “what am I to do?”
He understood, and bent his head. He had an answer ready, trembling on his lips; but a horror of presuming on her gratitude kept him silent.
“Am I to go back.... to him?” she said, faintly.
“God forbid!” he blurted out. With ail his keen eyesight, how could he fail to see the adoration in her eyes, on her mute lips’ quivering curve, in every line of her body? But the brutality of asking for that which her gratitude might not withhold froze him. It was no use; he could not speak.
“Then—what? Tell me; I will do it,” she said, in a desolate voice. “Of course I cannot stay here now.”
Something in his haggard face set her heart beating heavily; then for a moment her heart seemed to stop. She covered her eyes with a swift gesture.
“Is it pain?” he asked quickly. “Let me see your eyes!” Her hands covered them. He came to her; she stood up, and he drew her fingers from her eyes and looked into them steadily. But what he saw there he alone knows; for he bent closer, shaking in every limb; and both her arms crept to his shoulders and her clasped hands tightened around his neck.
Which was doubtless an involuntary muscular affection incident on successful operations for lamellar or zonular cataract.
THAT day they opened the steel box. She understood little of what he read to her; presently he stopped abruptly in the middle of a sentence and remained staring, reading on and on in absorbed silence.
Content, serene, numbed with her happiness, she watched him sleepily.
He muttered under his breath: “Sprowl! What a fool! What a cheap fool! And yet not one among us even suspected him of that!”
After a long time he looked up at the girl, blankly at first, and with a grimace of disgust. “You see,” he said, and gave a curious laugh—“you see that—that you own all this land of ours—as far as I can make out.”
After a long explanation she partly understood, and laughed outright, a clear child’s laugh without a trace of that sad undertone he knew so well.
“But we are not going to take it away from your club—are we?” she asked.
“No,” he said; “let the club have the land—your land! What do we care? We will never come here again!” He sat a moment, thinking, then sprang up. “We will go to New York to-morrow,” he said; “and I’ll just step out and say good-bye to Sprowl—I think he and his wife are also going to-morrow; I think they’re going to Europe, to live! I’m sure they are; and that they will never come back.
And, curiously enough, that is exactly what they did; and they are there yet. And their establishment in the American colony is the headquarters for all nobility in exile, including the chivalrous Orleans.
Which is one sort of justice—the Lansing sort; and, anyway, Coursay survived and married an actress a year later. And the club still remains in undisturbed possession of Eileen Lansing’s land; and Major Brent is now its president.
As for Munn, he has permanently retired to Munnville, Maine, where it is reported, he has cured several worthy and wealthy people by the simple process of prayer.