Enter the Fly
"TROLLIVOR,” said Mr. Jonas Haight irritably, “I wish you would not insist on using that word ‘lucky’ when referring to the enviable positions we occupy as trustees of the Parnley estate. Fortunate, I’m willing to admit; but it was brains that put us where we are, my boy. Luck played no part in it.”
The speaker flashed his hawk-like eyes at the big, well-groomed man before him, and eased his slight figure into a chair.
“What made you the cleverest criminal lawyer in the province?” he continued, “a dispenser of justice through the dupe-judges you own and control? Was that luck, Trollivor?”
The lawyer smiled.
“I’m not forgetting that I have much to thank-you for—” he began, but the older man checked him with a gesture of impatience.
“I’m not angling for compliments, Trollivor. Hell’s fire! man, I want you to realize that out of the five hundred thousand people who make up this city of Harport there are perhaps half a dozen in all, fitted by Nature, God or whatever power you care to designate, to lead, own, and control the others. Aren’t we proving it?”
“Yes,” the lawyer admitted, "it looks that way.”
“Ha ha!” chuckled Haight. “Looks that way, does it? Damn it! It is that way, I tell you. Take this Jim Turnbull for instance, a climber from the gutter to success, that chap, one who uses velvet slippers when the going’s easy and spiked boots when the necessity arises—but the point is, he gets there. Not a brainy man either. Cunning rather, but worth three millions of money which he has secured simply by reaching out for it.”
“And,” remarked Trollivor dryly, “that’s why he swims in our little school, I presume.”
Haight rubbed his hands together and laughed softly.
“I see you know fish, my boy. Good. To know fish is to know humanity. You’ve noticed that those finned denizens school according to size. It’s the same with men. First law of self-preservation. I suppose. You, Trollivor, Turnbull, one or two others and myself swim in the same school. Why? You know why. And what happens when a smaller fish takes a notion to edge in among the big fins?”
“Heaven help him,” murmured Trollivor.
“But it’s life,’' declared Haight. "We must all learn our lessons. The bigger fish feed on the smaller—so let the small fish beware.”
He got up and moved with quick, cat-like tread to the window. He was a man well on past middle age, but a human dynamo of energy and nerve-force. The head, with its shock of iron-grey hair and great, dark eyes set in thin, sallow face, seemed too big for the slight body. But one soon forgot this in the colossal will-power of the man.
Those eyes which had a habit of lowering their heavy lids under stress of emotion, shutter-like, as an eagle’s eyes film at sense of quarry or danger, slitted now as he gazed across the beautiful city to the river running free between grëening banks.
“Brains, Trollivor,” he murmured. “Brains—and power. A great opportunity has knocked at our door. Come here, and stand beside me. I want you to see what I see.”
“Now,” as Trollivor joined him, “before your gaze lies a city; a fair city, my boy, but with no particular outstanding feature to distinguish it from hundreds of other cities you might glimpse in a journey across the continent. You could place it in almost any civilized country in the world—and it would seem to belong. Do you realize, Trollivor,” he continued as the other remained silent, “that this is but one of many marts wherein men battle for success and power, and where but a chosen few swim in the big school?”
THE lawyer made no reply. His eyes were on the river which took its rise somewhere in the mountains standing like mauve-tinted banks of fog far eastward and which retained its limpid freshness despite the pollution which poured into it from the city. There were perhaps few rivers in the world more beautiful than the Muskavahooch. It held the coldness and the transparency of deepest lake, and to the tug of its currents its surface wove rainbow hues of every describable tint, as catching the urge of the downward sweep it flashed toward the rock-girt shallows, westward.
Trollivor was recalled to himself by an impatient exclamation from Haight.
“Excuse me,” he said, “but I was just thinking that the river out yonder has the laugh on the city and those of us who are fighting for that success and power of which you speak. It’s strong, that river, free and happy. It’s as God made it, as He intended it to be. I don’t know—”
He swung back to the table. His face had become suddenly shadowed.
“Look here,” cried Haight, suddenly confronting him, “you’re letting damned, sentimental nonsense interfere with business. And you’re drinking like a fish too. You’re more than half drunk now.”
Trollivor made a grimace.
“As a fish of the school of Haight, it’s my privilege to drink—” he commenced, but Haight interrupted him.
“You better forget all about that woman, Trollivor. You can’t afford to have your efficiency crippled just at this critical time.”
The lawyer sat down heavily in his chair.
“If you don’t mind,” he said, “we’ll not speak of—that woman. Now, I’m ready to discuss business if you are.”
Haight lit a cigarette and sat watching the blue smoke curl from the glowing ash.
WESLEY TROLLIVOR’S eyes were on him. He was wondering if this man with all his boasted brain and astuteness had ever given him credit for guessing just what position he, Trollivor, occupied in the school of sharks to which he had alluded. Was he not the pilot-fish that warned the others from too dangerous waters? Would he be one with and of Haight and his ilk were it not for his knowledge of the law?
His lip curled contemptuously. Haight, he knew, was respected for his mock piety, his philanthropy, was exalted for virtues he did not possess. He was a Justice of the Peace and an officer in the magnificent church his own money had built; a leading light, a man for younger men to copy. He owned two beautiful homes, one of them in the country. The world accepted him for what he seemed, a man who lived simply and cleanly.
And this man, James Turnbull. He occupied a beautiful home in the most select residential section which was shared by a foster sister, owned a spacious country estate nine miles out of the city and a summer home at a noted seaside resort. He was a well-known turf-figure and an enthusiast of the prize-ring. He associated with rough and dissolute men, and certain unsavory stories had leaked out concerning his associations with women of questionable virtue.
Wesley Trollivor smiled grimly. He was in great company. He. himself, posed neither as a philanthropist nor a churchman. He cared little what people thought or said about him. His one ambition was—power. This in no small degree was already his. He had during five years of practice in Harport won the name of being the cleverest criminal lawyer in the state. He possessed the art of coldly analyzing people, of probing their inmost souls and laying their most carefully guarded secrets bare before his eyes. And for this reason those who knew him best respected him and hated him most. He owned the judges of Harport, the police magistrate and the officers under his charge. Probe to a man’s weakness and he is yours.
TROLLIVOR did not trust Jonas Haight; he trusted no man, for that matter. Circumstances had thrown him and the ex-banker together, and Opportunity, who usually confers her favors on individuals, departed so far from her regular custom as to take each of them by the hand and point the way to greater wealth and power.
Haight, having consumed his cigarette, spoke suddenly.
“To-day is the eighth of June, Trollivor. In two short months more—”
He sat back with a sigh and nodded his head slowly.
“Our late friend, Parnley, possessed a marvelous gift of selection, my friend. He has given us a most sacred trust to perform; that of distributing his colossal fortune where it will do the most good. We must—”
Trollivor brought his fist down on the table with a crash.
“Shut up!” he snapped. “Damn your hypocritical driveling. I hate it. We know what we intend to do with old Parnley’s millions. Let it go at that.”
“All right, all right.” Haight might have been addressing a petulant child. “Supposing you read the will again, Trollivor,” he suggested.
“You must know it by heart now,” grumbled the lawyer. Nevertheless he produced from his drawer a document and read aloud:
“To my nephew, David Webster, if alive, I leave all my money and property. If at the end of fourteen months he does not appear to claim it, I authorize my trusted agents, Wesley Trollivor and Jonas Haight, to convert all my holdings except Shag Villa, my country estate and Drowned Acres, my shooting preserve, into cash to be used toward relieving the poor and destitute of Harport city. The latter properties are to be held intact and the older servants including the house-keeper, butler and farm manager retained or retired on pensions equal to their present salaries.”
IN THOSE few simple words had the eccentric Parnley disposed of three millions of dollars and securities amounting to almost four million more. And Wesley Trollivor and Jonas Haight had met here in the Sanctum Sanctorum and discussed matters in lowered voices. They had met frequently since. They had met again this morning.
Haight sat rubbing his hands. He was dreaming wonderful dreams.
“We’ve done our part, Trollivor,” he spoke at length. “Advertised for the heir and left no stone unturned to find him. Then comes word that he was killed in the war. Now, in two months’ time, we will have the handling of millions.”
He sat straight up in his chair.
He sank back, eyes slitted and fingers working like the feeling talons of a hawk.
A knock sounded on the door.
Trollivor went to the door and unlocked it. He came slowly back to the table and threw down a yellow envelope.
Haight’s eyes opened wide at sight of the telegram. Trollivor laughed.
“I see you too have a hunch that this wire contains something of a jolt,” he sneered.
From a drawer of the table he brought out a flask of brandy.
“To the devil,” he said, “his joy if he’s with us; his destruction if he’s against us.”
He drank, replaced the bottle, and reaching for the telegram, tore it open.
Twice he read it through. Then with a whiteness about his mouth he tossed it to the other man.
Haight snatched it up. He read;
Report of Webster’s death error. On his way south to claim property. No doubt as to his identity.
“Exactly,” nodded Trollivor with a twisted smile. Haight flashed him an angry look.
“Well, what’s to be done?” he cried. “If Webster had only remained lost for two months longer—” the words died in a groan.
Trollivor sat toying with an ivory paper knife. “I don’t know what we can do,” he said helplessly.
“Well, I know.” Haight was on his feet like a flasn\h. “We’ve got to prove this man Webster an impostor, understand? And I guess we’ve got influence enough to do it."
Trollivor’s eyes opened wide.
“If the rightful heir had already been found, say—” he insinuated.
“He will be—and to-day. I’ll find him,” shot back Haight. “Your part will be to prepare certain documentary proofs of his genuineness. When the real Webster arrives we’ll have the trap set. Grave offence, I’d say, impersonating, with a view of securing property worth seven millions.”
TROLLIVOR pressed the tips of his fingers together and frowned the frown that had chilled more than one poor devil in the snare of the law.
“In fact,” he said, “I should feel justified in asking Judge Martin to give the offender the extreme penalty; which,” he added softly, “is fifteen years.”
“And,” said Haight, with a sneer, “the honorable magistrate does seem to temper his judgment largely from what you say, Trollivor.”
“He had better,” said the lawyer grimly. “I’ve got him exactly where he can’t help himself.”
Haight tapped the telegram on the table.
“Concerning this now. The real Webster is likely to arrive at any moment, so we have got to get hold of a sham Webster right away. I’ll find a man who for a consideration will play the part. You do the juggling act that will effectively shut the rightful heir away, and at the same time keep our own skins intact. Well,” he broke off, “can’t you instil a little enthusiasm into that fishy soul of yours? I don’t suppose you’re anxious to have your record as trustee of the late Parnley’s affairs investigated, are you?”
“Heaven forbid!” shivered the now fully awakened Trollivor.
“Then get busy. I’ll be off now to do my little part.”
Haight reached for hat and stick, then stood with body rigid gazing toward the door. Slowly Trollivor’s gaze followed.
Standing just inside the room was a tall, broad-shouldered man dressed in regulation miner’s garb; flannel shirt bloused into corduroy knickerbockers and high Strathcona boots reaching to his knees. He carried his coat on his arm and his hat in one huge sun-blistered hand. There was a sureness, a certain poise about him that his open, sunny face somehow belied. His hair, clipped short along the massive neck,rippled in tiny waves across a wide brow from which laughed a pair of reckless steel-blue eyes.
So much Trollivor saw in one fleeting glance, then his eyes sought Haight’s.
“Who are you, and what do you want here?” that gentleman demanded.
The newcomer glanced from one to the other of the two men before him.
“Which one of you gentlemen is Trollivor?” he asked.
“I’m Trollivor,” answered the lawyer. “What do you want with me?”
The young giant shifted his position uneasily, casting a comprehensive look on Haight.
“You can speak before this gentleman,” said the lawyer. “Now, out with it. What do you want?”
“I guess I want advice,” said the stranger reluctantly. “I came to this city to get hold of a good lawyer. I heard about you and I’m here.”
“Well, you can’t consult with me to-day. You'll have to come back later,” commenced Trollivor, but Haight held up his hand.
“Wait,” he said.
He went to the door, shut and bolted it, then came back to the table.
“Sit down, young man,” he addressed the caller. “Trollivor, some cigars. Now,” when the three were seated, “Mr. Trollivor will hear what you have to say, Mr.—?”
“My name’s Nevilles,” the stranger informed them. “I’m a prospector. Got a claim up in the Dog Tooth, South Magnetewan district, called the Little Rambo v. I’m in trouble. It happened this way. I had a partner named Swarts; a stinking German if ever there was one. One night claim jumpers paid us a visit. I was alone; Swarts had gone over to the LaFrond for provisions. There were five of them. There was a fight. I got one of them with my six gun and winged two others.”
“You mean to say you killed one of the claim-jumpers?” Trollivor gasped. “Please be as explicit as you can, Mr. Nevilles.”
“Well, I got him, then, if you want unvarnished facts. The others beat it. I trailed them. I wasn’t just satisfied. Three miles down the Whipple they stopped and held a parley. I saw Swarts join ’em. I knew then that he had planned the whole thing.”
“And what did you do?”
“Do? Why, I went back to the shack and waited for that German. I had left the lamp burning and was lying in my bunk shamming sleep.
“He came at last. He didn’t come in, of course. He went around to the window and raised it. Then he stood back and lifted his rifle.”
He paused and sat twisting his hat nervously in his hands.
“And then—?” said Haight, moistening his dry lips.
“That was the last move Swarts ever made It was either him or me for it—and I happened to see him first.”
“What did you do next?”
Trollivor sat gazing at the young man, his white fingers beating a tattoo on the polished face of the table. “If you want my advice, remember, you must hold nothing back.”
“I’ll come clean,” said Nevilles. “Don t you suppose I know when I’m up against it right? You asked me what I did next. I went down to LaFrond, reported what I had done and gave myself up to the constable. He didn’t even lock me up; you see, the boys knew both of us. I had always played pretty square and Swarts—well, he had a bad record.
“An inquest was held and the verdict was that Swarts had come to his death—accidentally.”
“Just so, just so,” murmured Trollivor. “Extraordinary procedure, but not unprecedented in mining camps.”
“Well, that was all right,” resumed the prospector, “and if it hadn’t been for a sneak named David Webster I’d have gotten—”
Haight had leaped to his feet at the name.
“Whom did you say?” he asked sharply.
“Keep quiet. Haight,” cautioned Trollivor. “Proceed, Mr. Nevilles. You said something about a man named David Webster, I believe.”
"NO, I haven’t said anything about him yet, but I m willing to.
“This Webster, it seems, had gone up to Klondike with a pack of his kind some place near the spot that caused the rush of ’98. He stuck up there until the war broke out, then he enlisted. After the war was over, hearing of the gold strike in Northern Ontario—he came there. Now a man has no more business going out to seek gold without money in his pocket than a hunter has going after grizzlies without cartridges in his rifle; and this fellow, Webster, didn’t have a red cent. Besides he was a dope addict and the drug had undermined his health. I took pity on him, grubstaked him and gave him a job; and he repaid me by stealing what gold I had managed to scrape together. I couldn’t kill him because they don’t do those sort of things in mining camps to-day, and I couldn’t prove that he stole my gold either. All I could do was to kick him out, which I did.
“He never forgave me, and has made trouble for me ever since. Now he claims that I murdered Swarts in cold blood and declares he can produce two witnesses to prove that I deliberately shot him down.
“Nobody in camp would pay any attention to his ravings, but I kept an eye on Mr. Webster. And when I learned that he had started for this city I knew that his intentions were to have me hung for murder if possible and get hold of my mining claim. I knew also that he would never do it.”
He looked up, a grim smile on his lips.
“Doesn’t look as though I was holding anything back, so far, does it?”
“It is much better to state all the facts, as you are doing,” nodded Trollivor.
‘"Exactly,” mumured Haight.
“Well,” shrugged the prospector, “that’s about all there is to tell.”
“I infer from what you have told us that Webster never reached this city,” spoke Trollivor softly.
“He reached the city, yes.”
“But you had him taken care of?”
“You bet I did. It was necessary in order to give myself a fighting chance. Webster had planned exactly what he would do; I had made no plans. I didn’t want to be arrested until I had laid my case before a good lawyer.”
“I would like to ask you a question or two,” interposed Trollivor. “You may answer or not, as you wish. It isn’t necessary that you tell me what disposition you have made of this man who wishes your arrest, but I’ll admit I am curious to know.”
NEVILLES laid his dead cigar on a tray and rising walked to the window overlooking the street. For perhaps a minute he stood there pondering, then turning slowly about he came back to his chair.
“I have fixed Webster,” he said caustically.
“You mean—” gasped Trollivor pushing back his chair from the table, “You mean—?”
“Oh no, I don’t mean to say I’ve killed him—I’ve locked him safe away, that’s all. In other words Webster’s teeth have been drawn. He’s going to stay hidden away until I give the word.”
Trollivor glanced at Haight.
“Mr. Nevilles,” he said, “I will not attempt to disguise from you the fact that you have placed yourself in a very grave position. But,” he added reassuringly, “you’re in good hands. I think I have a solution of the problem, but first—”
He raised frowning eyes to the prospector, “Have I your assurance that you place yourself entirely in my hands and that you will do exactly as I dictate in the matter?”
“Yes,” the answer was given unhesitatingly. “It’s the only thing I can do, I guess.”
TROLLIVOR lit a cigarette.
He leaned back in his swivel chair and inspected the prospector narrowly.
“Your story sounds plausible enough, Mr. Nevilles,” he said at length, weighing each word judicially, “and perhaps only the drastic measures you have employed would suffice to turn the tables on the man who covets your claim and holds your freedom in his hand. Unfortunately, however, although I’ll admit your action of having him forcibly dealt with was justifiable from your point of view, at least one very important fact with which you are not conversant must necessarily debar me from taking your case.”
He motioned toward Haight.
“You will be surprised to learn that this gentleman and myself are the trustees of the Parnley estate, and as such must first consult the best interests of David Webster, the heir.”
He smiled with complacent satisfaction as Nevilles’ eyes opened wide in wonder, and shot a quick glance at Haight, raising a finger warningly as that gentleman made as though to speak.
Nevilles stirred from his stupefied amazement.
“Then,” he observed quietly, “you two gents must have had things pretty soft, according to all accounts.”
It was Trollivor and Haight’s turn to stare now. The eyes of the two men met in mute question.
“Just what do you mean by that remark?” demanded the lawyer crisply.
“No offence at all,” returned Nevilles easily. "But from what Webster let drop concerning his affairs, I judged that his trustees were playing the deuce in general with his money. For my part,” he added darkly, I hope it’s true. You couldn’t steal too much from that hound to suit me.” '
STARK silence followed his words. It was broken by the sharp snapping of the paper-knife in Trollivor’s fingers. . . , ,
“Of course, Nevilles,” he said, his voice strained and unnatural, “you are lying. Webster never said or even intimated any such thing,”
A low cackle of derision came from Haight.
“He’d be likely to confide in you in any case, wouldn’t he!” he sneered, pointing an accusing finger at the prospector.
“You forget,” returned Nevilles, “that drug addicts, like drunkards, are liable to become overly communicative. I don’t claim that he was telling the truth, understand; what’s more, I don’t care. It doesn’t affect me one way or the other.”
“But,” frowned Trollivor, “you must see the absurdity of the charge, Nevilles. How could a man several hundred miles away from here know that his interests were being abused, even if, for the sake of argument, such were the case? Undoubtedly, if Webster let fall any such remark in your hearing it was purely the result of a sick imagination and as such should be given no credence. You agree with me there, I hope?”
He pressed his soft, white hands together and waited for the answer.
“I’m willing to believe anything you care to tell me about that coyote, Webster,” grated Nevilles. “He’s getting his now—and he’s going to get it harder. He’s wanting to swear my life away and gobble up my Little Rainbow; but, gents, you hear me say it, he’s not going to do it.
“Of course I realize that now I’ve made a mistake in coming to you for advice, Mr. Trollivor, and in coming clean about my dealings with Webster. I was told that you were the cleverest criminal lawyer in this city, but I didn’t know that your interests and Webster's were one. Looks as though I’ve made a mess of things.”
He shifted uneasily in his chair, his bronzed forehead puckering moodily.
“I guess I took too much for granted maybe. You see, I rather hoped that the story this chap who unearthed Webster told was true—”
"Whom do you mean?” Trollivor shot the question.
“Oh,” said Nevilles, “I forgot to tell you there was a fellow by the name of Faulkner who drifted into Tennent’s camp and asked for a job. Webster didn’t even know that he had been left a fortune until this interfering city idiot told him. Faulkner it seems had indisputable proof in the way of newspaper clippings and such. It was he who told Webster that the trustees of the estate were abusing their trust.”
THE words were fairly wrung from Haight, who had slumped in his chair.
Nevilles swung about and faced him.
“You know Faulkner, then?” he asked.
Haight made no reply. His strained gaze sought Trollivor’s.
“Mr. Nevilles,” the lawyer’s voice was suave, “we know Faulkner, yes. He was Mr. Haight’s trusted employee until just before the latter’s retirement from business six months ago. He was discharged for petty misappropriation of funds; obviously he concocted this fabrication of lies through motive of vengeance.”
Nevilles looked up slowly.
“Gentlemen,” he said quietly, “supposing we lay our cards on the table. You men have used Webster’s money to feather your own nests, and you know it. Wait,” as his hearers started up. “Just a minute. Supposing Webster were to jump in on you now and demand an accounting of your stewardship. What would happen? Remember, he’s a bad actor. I know him. He’ll give you about as much chance to make good your discrepancies as you’d give a rattler to strike twice.
“However, that’s your funeral. I’m not particularly interested in what Webster does to you. I am interested only in what, he desires to do to me.”
“And what have you to propose?”
The question came from Haight.
“Just this. I’ve got Webster put away. It's as much to your interests as mine that he stays put away. That right?”
He smiled as he received no answer and continued.
“I’m going to the police, tell them just how I came to kill that rat, Swarts, and give myself up. I want you, Mr. Trollivor, to secure a quick trial for me and act as my counsel. I'll bring in some witnesses from the north. Webster will not appear against me."
“And.” asked Trollivor, “then what?”
“I pass out,” answered Nevilles, “and Webster with me.” He arose and strode to the door.
“I am going downstairs now to send a telegram. You gentlemen talk it over while I’m gone. I’ll be back in ten minutes.”
The door closed behind him.
Trollivor drew the phone toward him and called the downstairs telegraph office.
“That you, Bunning?’ he spoke softly. “Well, listen. There’s a big miner on his way down to send a wire. I want you to repeat his message to me.”
He hung up the receiver and turned to Haight.
“Well, what do you make of him?”
Haight shivered. “He’s got it on us, Trollivor, he groaned. “We’ll have to admit it.
“Bah!” scoffed the lawyer. “You leave this man Nevilles to me.”
“But,” cried the older man wildly, “he intends to make away with Webster. You heard what he said. I draw the line at murder, Trollivor.”
“Don’t get excited,” sneered the lawyer. “We’re not going to allow him to murder Webster. Why, Haight. he's the very man to play the part of the real Webster. Can't you see that?”
HAIGHT stared. Gradually the color came back to his face.
“Trollivor," he murmured admiringly, “you’re a genius. It’s the very thing.”
“If,” spoke Trollivor softly, "this fellow has Webster hidden away it will be easy for him to secure the latter's credentials and all proofs of his identity. Webster has been missing for ten years or more. Who will ever guess that this man Nevilles is an impostor?”
He laughed exultingly.
“And,” he resumed, “I’ll tell you just how we'll get Nevilles in the end. We’ll suddenly discover that he is an impostor and has the rightful heir hidden away. We'll liberate Webster and have Nevilles arrested on two charges, murder and false impersonation.
"And," added Haight, rubbing his hands together, "any shortage in the Parnley moneys will naturally be laid to his door.”
"Exactly. But in order that this may be, he must be given the same latitude as though he were the real heir.”
"But supposing,” the other protested fearfully, “he should take it into his head to play fast and loose with the Parnley millions?”
“We'll have a close watch kept on him,” said Trollivor. "No fear of him getting away with anything like that.” The phone tinkled. Trollivor reached for it.
“That’s Bunning,” he said as he hung up the receiver. "He just phoned Nevilles’ message.”
He read the words he had pencilled on a pad:
Have W----safe away. Discovered that Nevada oil shares are worthless so cannot raise necessary money to work Rainbow. Remain and protect claim.
“Nevada oil shares!” laughed Haight. “If the poor simpleton but knew that we—”
“What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him," grunted Trollivor. “Hush, here he comes.”
The door opened and Nevilles strode in.
“Well, gentlemen,” he asked, seating himself on a corner of the table, “what’s it to be?”
“Mr. Nevilles,” he said, “you must admit that you have gotten yourself in a very tight box. You have, by your own admission, killed a man, and forcibly kidnapped the principal witness to the crime.”
“I DON’T believe I’d call it by that name, if I were you,” said the prospector ominously. “However, I'll admit the rest of what you say is true enough. I am in one deuce of a fix and I know it.”
He eased himself from the table into a chair.
“As you gentlemen are also, if you would but confess it,” he added.
“Supposing,” insinuated the lawyer, “that such were the case—not that we admit anything, remember—and supposing for certain reasons we preferred Mr. Webster to remain lost—for a time—could you, may I ask, be prevailed upon to impersonate him in return for our promise of immunity from the law?”
“Impersonate him!” Nevilles sprang to his feet. “No,” he shouted bringing his fist down on the table. “I need protection from the law, but I’d sooner impersonate a skunk."
Trollivor and Haight exchanged glances.
“I think if I were you I would consider our proposition a little further before rejecting it, Nevilles,” advised the lawyer. “For two months you might live the life of a prince. You would be given absolutely unrestricted control of the Parnley money; it being understood, of course, that your personal expenditure be not too extravagant. Shag Villa, the palatial home on the Parnley estate, would be at your disposal. Not many men in your position would refuse the offer we are now making
“And,” sneered Nevilles, “at the end of my two months’ probation, perhaps before, you find out where I’ve got the real Webster hidden, liberate him, have me arrested and lay all your mistakes onto me. Nothing doing. When I pass out, Webster passes with me.”
TROLLIVOR smiled. There was almost a look of admiration in his eyes as he said, “Wait, Mr. Nevilles. I think I intimated that we would prefer Webster to remain lost.”
Nevilles glanced at him quickly.
“Meaning that you wouldn’t interfere with me no matter what disposition I chose to make of him at the end of the two months?”
“I think we could promise as much,” agreed Trollivor. The prospector sat frowningly considering.
“And if I still refuse to accept your proposition?” he asked, “what then?”
“Need you ask?” said the lawyer softly.
Nevilles flung himself out of his chair.
"Look here ” he cried bitterly, “I came to you, Mr. Trollivor, hoping for help and quick action in clearing my name from a stigma I had no part in the making; and what I have told you in strict confidence you are ready to use against me.”
He stood erect and squared his shoulders.
“All right, ’phone for an officer. I’m ready.”
“Just a minute,” urged Trollivor. “Supposing, besides giving you protection from the law, we were willing to pay you a substantial price for your services—”
"Sufficient, say, to promote the mine you mentioned a short time ago,” interrupted Haight blandly.
Nevilles caught his breath hard. "You mean that?” he asked, his voice eager.
‘Yes, providing the price is not prohibitive,” said Trollivor. “How much?”
“Eighty thousand dollars,” shot Nevilles. “That’s exactly the amount required to work my Little Rainbow, and which I hoped to realize through worthless oil shares."
"it's a big price,” frowned Haight.
“It is,’’ agreed the lawyer, “still, Nevilles, we are willing to pay it."
Nevilles faced them. His cheeks were flushed. The fire of recklessness was in his eyes.
“Here’s my proposition,” he said crisply. “Take it or leave it. I’ll play the part of David Webster, providing I’m allowed to play it my own way. What I mean is just this. I’m to be given an absolutely free hand with his money and also in his affairs. Wait as Trollivor raised a hand in protest, “I don’t intend to spend one cent of his money toward my personal gain. The eighty thousand promised me is all I ask. But it must be understood that as David Webster my money and property are my own to do with as I wish.
“That’s all very good,” smiled Trollivor, “but supposing you should decide to draw his money from the bank and decamp for other fields?”
“You’ll have to take that chance,” returned Nevilles. “You know, though, there’s no danger in that regard.”
“No,” cried the lawyer, “with the cordon of watchers with which we would surround you, I scarcely think that contingency need.be considered.”
“Then,” asked Nevilles, “what is it to be?”
Trollivor glanced at Haight. The latter nodded.
“We accept your proposition, Nevilles,” said Trollivor. “With the understanding of course that we continue to act as your agents.”
“Monthly salary to each—shall we say one thousand?”
“Make it two thousand,” said Nevilles. “I can afford to be magnanimous.”
Haight rubbed his hands gleefully.
"And any investments we see fit to make will receive your O. K. without question?” he asked, his beady eyes on Nevilles.
The prospector grinned.
“You'll find me quite as easy and gullible as that fool Webster himself would be,” he assured him.
Trollivor leaned across the table.
“Briefly then the proposition is this,” he said. “You, Nevilles, are to impersonate David Webster, and conduct yourself as befitting a young spendthrift who through providence or good luck has stumbled into a fortune. You are to have an absolutely free hand. Mr. Haight and myself will remain your business agents. Our books will be open to you at all times—indeed we insist that you make it a point to look them over every month and append your O. K. to any transaction having to do with your money which we may see fit to make.”
The prospector stirred in his seat and as the fingers unlocked from his knee the hands which fell to his sides slowly clenched. There was nothing of significance in the action to the two watching, but the steely light in his eyes belied the smile on his lips as he said:
“Let me get this thing straight. For two months I do as I wish, live as I wish, spend all the money I wish—”
“Hold on there,” interrupted Trollivor, “that stipulation is made with certain reservations, my friend. What if you should take a notion to spend the entire fortune?”
“I think we should name a limit,” suggested Haight, quickly.
Nevilles shook his head.
“Nothing doing. I’m willing to be reasonable, but I’m not actor enough to play the part of the real Webster if I’m to be restricted in any way; that would be perilous for you as well as for me, wouldn’t it?”
They were forced to admit that it would.
“Well, then, you’ll have to take me on trust, as I am taking you. If I start playing fast and loose with—my new fortune—you can always discover that after all I am an impostor, can’t you?”
Trollivor glanced questioningly at Haight. The latter gave a sign of assent.
“All right,” he agreed, “you may consider the matter settled, Nevilles.”
YOU had best put up at the Claridon for the time being, Nevilles,” suggested Haight as they arose. “In a few days you can take up your quarters in Shag Villa. The old servants are still there and I shall have everything put ship-shape to-day. Now we’ll go over to the bank and I’ll introduce you to the manager; you’ll require to outfit yourself, and will need money.”
“Just a moment, Mr. Nevilles,” spoke Trollivor. “Before you go I would like to ask a question. From what you have intimated, I infer you know nobody in this city?”
“Scarcely anybody,” Nevilles answered, “two or three people in all. I had no confederates in the abduction of—the real Webster, save one man, a doctor whom I trust implicitly.”
He bowed half in mockery to the lawyer and picking up his Stetson indicated by a gesture to Haight that he was ready to leave.
“Then this doctor is the only man in the city who would recognize you if he met you?” Trollivor asked.
“No,” answered Nevilles, “there’s one other man here who would doubtless recognize me. He’s from the north; came down here on some special mission of his own, but he may have gone back before now.”
Nevilles was looking away and did not note the effect of the name on Trollivor. The high coloring had receded from the man’s face, leaving it white and haggard.
“Trollivor,” chided Haight, “you’re drinking too hard; your nerves are all shot to pieces. Better take your car and go for a spin in the fresh air. I’ll see you after lunch. Come along, Mr. Webster.”
Left alone Trollivor sat slumped in his chair, eyes staring into vacancy. Then with a shudder he pulled himself erect and reaching for the phone called a number.
“That you, Harper?” he asked guardedly. “Listen, then. Go to the Claridon and locate a man by the name of David Webster. You’re not to lose sight of him. He’s holding another man prisoner somewhere. Find out where. That’s all as far as you are concerned. Now I want you to send Dixon out on a still hunt for another party, Daniel Walters. Search the hotels and rooming houses. I want this man found, understand? All right, then. Report as soon as you learn anything.”
He hung up the receiver and mopped his brow with his handkerchief. Then opening the drawer in his table his trembling hand brought out the flask of brandy.
IN A room of Harport’s finest hotel, Nevilles, now David Webster, stood, hands deep in pockets, gazing frowningly through the window at the dusky twilight weaving betwixt the newly-blossomed lights of God and the harsh, red lights of the city. That he had done a bold, an audacious thing in accepting the proposition of Haight and Trollivor he well knew; harried quarry of the hounds of the law, he had, perhaps, in taking the runway which promised immunity but entered a labyrinth of greater, more insidious dangers.
He was remembering the lines some poet had penned in a flash of genius:
“To-day we fear the Morrow: Who can say,
He shudders at the fear of Yesterday?”
It was plain to be seen that the author of those immortal lines had never been in his position. For him it was the yesterday that held its dangers more than the tomorrow. The tomorrow he could face with a zest for its dangers and adventures. But the yesterday—?
He turned from the window and sank into a leather chair. Twenty-four hours behind him—a page that could be lifted and scanned at any moment by Fate whose hand had woven the intricate maze into which he had entered, were events which had led to the strange position he found himself in tonight; a position that held so many dangers, so many elements of uncertainty and suspense. And those events had formed a sequence of incidents which had happened thus:
WITH A sullen roar the heavy express swept about the curve that marked the last lap of its three hundred mile race with time and darted downward toward a yellow spray of light that lifted above the rainy blackness.
The Pullman porter glanced into the smoking compartment at the one lone passenger seated in the corner, staring into the inky blackness through the window.
“Harport next, sir,” he called. “Brush?”
The passenger turned from the window with a fretful movement and waving the porter’s proffered assistance aside, reached for the heavy tweed ulster hanging on a hook.
The porter picked up a black club bag marked with the initials D. W. in gold and the coin which the man for Harport had thrown on the seat, and went out.
The occupant of the compartment followed his movements furtively.
Alone once more he took from vest pocket a small, silver case and with nervous fingers transferred a tiny pinch of its powdery contents to the back of his left wrist. Lifting the skirt of the ulster he held it before him as a shield from possible intrusion, and lowering his face breathed the powder deeply through his nostrils.
Almost instantly his air of sullen depression dropped from him. He stood up calm, erect, alert. He was a medium-sized man somewhere about middle age, with jet black hair and brows which accentuated the sickly pallor of a face which in spite of its marks of dissipation was prepossessing.
The speed of the train slackened; there came the grinding gnash of brakes, a roar, as wheels leaped the steel span of the long bridge, the ringing clang and dying clash of gongs.
A moment later the train swept into the rain-subdued lights of the city.
The passenger who had bent to watch those millions of blinking eyes drew back from the window and with a distorted smile on his lips pulled on his great coat. Then drawing his tweed cap low down over his eyes he went out into the vestibule.
AS THE train moved into the depot and shuddered to a standstill, a big broad-shouldered man stepped from the shadow cast by a pile of trunks on the platform. He wore a long rain-coat and a soft Stetson which was pulled well down to partially conceal his face.
Suddenly he stiffened to attention as from the rear Pullman a figure clad in tweed ulster emerged and, bag in hand, approached a waiting taxi.
With a few quick strides the watcher was across the intervening space that separated him from the car.
“Just a moment,” he gruffly addressed the driver who was about to climb into his seat. “I’m after that bird who has just entered your car. No back talk from you now,” as the chauffeur ground out an oath. “See this?” He unbuttoned his coat and the driver caught the flash of a metal badge.
“Get up there and drive to where I say.” And he gave the man a number.
The occupant of the taxi did not stir or look up as the other man entered the car and seated himself opposite him. The taxi moved from the ring of light into the rainy darkness. Five minutes passed—ten—and then with a deep sigh the huddled form in the ulster stirred.
The car was moving cautiously now, with many intricate twists down a narrow street along which garish lights from the saloons grimaced through evil-smelling mists, and loud voices of underworld roisterers grew and died.
The man in the ulster leaned forward as though he would speak to the chauffeur, then seeming to become for the first time aware that he was not alone, sank back against the cushions.
A tense moment passed, then suddenly with a snarl the smaller man sprang up, his hand going to his coat pocket.
It remained there, as something hard and sinister pressed his breast and a voice said quietly:
“Take your hand from that gun, and listen to me. That’s better,” as the other sullenly obeyed and collapsed into his seat.
“I’ll take charge of your little ‘gat’—also that dope-box in your vest pocket—for the time being,” and the speaker transferred the automatic and box from the other’s pockets to his own.
THE CAR had turned down another narrow street where factory buildings lifted frowning faces, and now came to a halt before a tall, dark pile of brick, evidently a disused factory of some sort.
“We’ll get out here,” said the big man.
He stepped from the car and supported the unsteady form of his companion to the sidewalk.
“Now,” he addressed the chauffeur, handing him a bill, “you lose yourself.”
With an indignant snort, the taxi sped away through the rain. The abductor felt in his pocket, produced a key and opened a door that creaked rustily. With his hand still on the arm of his charge, he led him up a wide stairway, the electric torch he carried shedding a ghostly light across steps thickly padded with dust and festooned with cobwebs. The place smelt damp and mouldy. Along a hall and still on up another flight of stairs they passed, pausing at length before a door which the man unlocked and threw open.
Another moment and a cluster of electric lights hanging from the ceiling illuminated a spacious apartment which was plainly but comfortably furnished; an oak table stood in the room’s centre, there were several leather backed chairs; a well filled book case near the door and pictures depicting outdoor life hung on the walls. Beyond and connected with it by a curtained archway, was another smaller room, evidently a bedroom.
THE MAN in the ulster took in these details with one frightened glance, then flashed his eyes to his abductor. He was a tall man enveloped in long rain coat and wearing a soft hat. That was all. The features were hidden behind a black mask.
“Now,” he said chokingly, “explain the meaning of this—this outrage.”
“With pleasure,” returned the other. “It was necessary for the safety of a certain person that you be taken care of, that’s all.”
“Damn you! That’s your game, is it?”
With the litheness of a cat the trapped man hurled himself on his abductor, striking furiously and attempting to tear away the mask from the other's face. But he was like a child in the hands of the young giant.
“Easy now,” he admonished, “don’t excite yourself; it won't do you any good.”
“Sometime I’ll kill you for this,” panted the prisoner, sinking exhausted into a chair.
He covered his face with his hands. A sob racked him, and when he looked up again all fight was gone from him.
“For God’s sake, let me go,” he pleaded. “You mustn't keep me here. I can’t stand it—I— ”
“You’ve got to stay here.” The tones were level, pitiless.
“But I tell you I can’t endure it. I’ve got to have—You must give back the box you took from me—I—”
His voice died in a whimper; he covered his face again.
“Listen,” said the other man, “I happen to know that you came to this city with a definite purpose. You’re not going to accomplish what you set out to do if I can help it, and it looks as though I can. Now,” he added, moving toward the door, “I’m going to leave you. Light a fire in the grate and make yourself comfortable.”
WHO ARE you?” asked the victim dazedly. “Your voice sounds familiar—and yet—How do you know that I came here for a certain purpose?” he burst out, “and granting that I did, what right have you to interfere?”
“I’m afraid I can’t answer those questions now.”
“And how long must I submit to the indignity of being held your prisoner?”
“That depends upon circumstances.”
The one in the chair raised a haggard face.
“I shall call for help, be sure.”
“Just as you like, but it will be utterly useless. You will notice that this is an inner room. There are no windows, and the walls are sound proof. The adjoining rooms are untenanted. Besides you will never be left alone, unguarded. When I leave you another will take my place here. I would advise you to be sensible and make the best of things.”
Outside there sounded a soft footfall. The door opened and a middle-aged, professional-looking man came into the room. His quick eyes took in its occupants, narrowing as they dwelt on the white, upturned face of the man in the chair.
He placed the black case he carried on the table.
“Ah,” he spoke softly, “I see we are all here, Mr.......”
“Careful, doctor,” warned the man in the mask.
He led the newcomer to a far corner of the room, and the two conversed together in low tones. After a time they came back and stood before the prisoner.
“This gentleman,” said the man in the mask, ”is Doctor Glen. He is to act as—shall we say—your custodian? I have given him a box containing heroin and he is to use his own judgment as to what use he makes of it. Once more allow me to assure you that, providing you obey his orders, no harm will come to you; also that you might as well make up your mind now that you will not accomplish that which you hoped to accomplish in this city.”
He bowed and walking to the door opened it and passed from the room.
The doctor followed him out into the hall.
“You are sure he did not recognize you, Mr. Nevilles?”
“Absolutely, doctor,” answered the other, removing his mask. “I’m the last man he would expect to see in this city of Harport. And now,” he said, “you have your instructions; it’s up to you, doctor.”
ONCE more out in the rain-freshened air Nevilles drew in his breath gratefully. It had ceased raining; a few washed stars blinked sleepily through the haze that canopied the under-world, from which came the grind of the sordid mill of life which vomits its grist between the twilight and the dawn.
He glanced at his watch. Eleven-thirty. He had accomplished a great deal in an hour’s time. He gazed about him up and down the narrow street. Not a sign of life was visible in his immediate vicinity; but a block away, above the shadowy factory buildings, the glimmer of a million lights rose and fell in measure to the ribald dirge of warped humanity.
He stood frowning, watching that glow grow up and fade; then with a gesture almost of repulsion he went on down the narrow street into the dangers of the world below the dead level.
Beneath the clustering lights of low saloons he saw slouching forms gather and disperse with almost methodical precision. Lone derelicts lurched past him unheedful of his presence, staring dope-eyed into a world of fairy fancy, living the dreams that must be paid for within the hour, or the day, but nevertheless dreams cheap to them at the cost of hope, and life and heaven.
Sodden night-strayers maudlin of tongue stared at him from bleary, crafty eyes or addressed him coarsely, soliciting the price of a drink of “boot-legger” poison and cursing him when he took no notice of the plea.
And in this sordid throng that passed him by were women, or what had once been women; some old with harpy faces and leering eyes, whose talon-like hands clutched their frayed shawls even as the claws of hell were clutching their frayed souls; others with painted faces and artificial smiles who ogled him with cold, un-laughing eyes and appraised him boldly; still others who were mere girls whose youth had been drowned in the bitter gall of false knowledge gleaned too early—or too late.
THE sight was not new to him who watched the tide sweep by, but a revelation which came to him as he stood there was new and startling. He had lately come . from a world of broad spaces, an uncrowded world of clean scents and sounds.
That world grew up before him now, soft and restful in a twilight that swept between wooded steeps, with big stars blossoming and swaying low down above his camp-fire.
Then the brief vision passed, and the jargon of the underworld dinned back to his senses.
He stood for a time irresolute. Like a swimmer who must breast foul water in order to reach a purer body farther on, he hesitated before plunging into this tide of night ghouls; not that he feared them; he knew and understood them too well for that, but he had felt the purge of boundless sweeps, had grafted his soul to broad, clean spaces, and now he hated and loathed those goalless drifters of the night.
Then suddenly he was among them hurling them to left and right as he plunged forward.
It all had happened quickly. A blue runabout had appeared from a side-street and had drawn up before a wretched tenement dwelling. Simultaneous with its coming the door of the building had opened and a girl had appeared, a girl whose sweet face gleamed up for an instant in the light of the street lamp. As she stepped toward the waiting car a skulking figure leaped from a dark doorway and snatched the purse she carried from her hand.
Nevilles had seen it all vividly. In an instant he was across the narrow street. As he reached the sidewalk one long arm shot out and plucked the purse-snatcher from behind the human wall which had risen protectingly about him.
He knew his locality, knew well the danger he ran in interfering thus alone with this vulture of the shadows who doubtless had confederates close at hand.
The thief winced beneath the grip on his shoulder. He was lifted bodily and shaken. The purse fell with a clatter to the pavement. From the circle of watchers came a laugh. The sluggish current which had for the moment stagnated swept on its way again, and the man who held the struggling thief knew that he was holding what the underworld designates a “Lone Wolf.”
At any rate he had no pack to fear,
“I beg your pardon.”
The voice was very soft and sweet.
Nevilles turned and his free hand swept his Stetson from his head. There may have been more beautiful faces in the world than the one turned so calmly to him now, he decided, but it was mighty hard to think so.
She was holding out a slender, gloved hand—and smiling. He took the hand in his.
“Thank you so much,” she said. “I know it is indiscreet of me to visit this section of the city at this hour, but there are sick who need me, you see. I have never had anything like this happen before.” He too was smiling, a smile that softened his tanned face to almost boyishness. She noted that where the waving chestnut hair brushed his brow the skin was white as a woman’s.
The red blood dyed her cheeks as she became conscious that her hand still rested in his. She could feel the rough callouses on his palm through her glove as he withdrew it, and blushed the more deeply at the certain knowledge that the contact gave her a pleasure she had never before experienced.
Her chauffeur hovering nervously near, evidently feeling that his assistance was not required, went back to his car.
She turned away as the runabout glided up to where they stood, and for a moment her violet eyes shadowed as she looked upon the culprit still firmly held in her rescuer’s remorseless grip.
“Thank you again,” she said softly.
Then she was gone, and he was left feeling very much alone, and strangely exalted.
He looked at his captive. He was a young man, not more than twenty-three at most, slight, wan-faced, with the desperation of hunger in his eyes. His cap had fallen from his head disclosing a mop of fiery-red, waving hair. Nevilles’ grip tightened.
“Now what the devil is the matter with you?” he demanded.
The thief was plainly chuckling.
“I can’t help it,” he returned. “The Angel sure fell for you all right. Here, I don’t mean any disrespect by saying that,” as he received another violent shake. “She’s alright, and I’m sorry I didn’t look twice before I snatched her purse.”
“You mean to say that you know her?”
“Know her?' Know the Angel? Why, man, everybody down in this garden of Hades knows her.”
“What’s her name, then?”
“Name! Don’t know her name. All I know is that she’s a real angel to the people in this section. She’s down here almost every day.”
The smile faded from his face.
“I knew one of you plain-clothes Dicks would nab me sooner or later,” he shivered, “but there wasn’t anything else to do. You won’t believe me of course when I tell you that this is my first job?”
Nevilles smiled grimly.
“Attempted job,” he corrected. “It’s liable to be your last, too, for a while. And,” he added levelly, “get me right, son. I’m no detective. It’s barely possible that I have no more use for the police than you have.”
Hope sprang to the captive’s face.
“Then why? What—?” he began, and paused.
EXCUSE me,” he said humbly. “I’m an inquisitive cuss, and it’s always getting me in wrong. I’m sorry I insulted you by taking you for a policeman, and of course it’s none of my business who or what you are. I know you’ve got a grip of a grizzly and that’s enough for me. The question before the House is what are you going to do with me?”
“That remains to be seen,” returned the other. “Come along and we’ll talk it over. What’s your name?” he demanded.
“Faulkner,” the prisoner answered unhesitatingly. Nevilles led his captive across the street and into a disreputable grog-shop which flaunted in faded letters the name “Claxton’s Place.” In the old days he recollected this saloon had been the lowest of the low.
A few battered wrecks of humanity sat hunched before the crude tables drinking doped soda-water. In a far corner of the room were seated two men who belonged to a higher walk of life apparently, conversing in low tones with another man; a yeggman, this, if Nevilles knew the ilk.
He felt a clutch on his sleeve and glanced down at his companion. Faulkner’s gaze was fastened on the trio. His face was ashen and in his eyes was a look of hatred and fear.
“In here,” he whispered, motioning toward one of the curtained rooms off the bar.
Nevilles followed him into the stall. “Hang around outside there and see we're not molested for fifteen minutes,” he told the waiter who promptly appeared. “No, no drinks.” The waiter winked, pocketed the dollar tendered him, and went out.
“Now then,” demanded Nevilles, “what is it?”
Faulkner stirred from his apathy and sat erect.
“You saw that big, smooth-looking gent out there?” he asked. “Well he’s responsible for me being where I am to-night, he and another of his calibre.”
“Who is he?” asked Nevilles.
“Wesley Trollivor, a lawyer, and one of the smoothest crooks that ever breathed.”
Nevilles’ strong fingers tightened on the arm of his chair until the knuckles whitened.
“And the other man?”
“Jonas Haight. They’re running together, and mister, they’re strong—strong. They’ve got things under their heels. They own the police, the judge, and there’s almost nothing they daren’t do. This saloon we’re in and the other hooch-joints of this district are under their control. How do I know? I’ll tell you. I worked for Haight; was an accountant in his bank for three years. I got to know too much. He pitched me out, arrested me on a false charge and had me boycotted so I couldn’t land another job. You know what chance an under dog has to run straight?”
“I ought to.”
Nevilles’ frowning eyes looked away into distance.
“Aren’t these men, Trollivor and Haight, trustees of the Parnley estate, for which the heir could not be found?” he asked. “Seems to me I heard something—.”
He sat back watching Faulkner. The latter at mention of the Parnley estate had frozen up.
“I don’t know anything about that,” he said nervously, "not a thing.”
.Nevilles leaned toward him across the table.
SUPPOSING, Faulkner,” he said insinuatingly, “I were to tell you that I too have been the victim of designing rogues; that my personal liberty and property are in danger owing to their vile dealings? Supposing," as the other looked up dazedly, “I were to go further and tell you that I intend to set you free—call it a whim if you like—but supposing I did this for you, would you be willing to tell me what you, through fear of Haight and Trollivor, hesitate to tell me?”
Faulkner’s head slowly lifted from his breast. His hunted eyes sought his questioner’s and the hopeless, incredulous look melted from his face.
“You mean that?” he whispered hoarsely.
“Yes. I mean that.”
“Then, listen,” said Faulkner. “Haight and Trollivor are playing hell with old Parnley’s money. The heir, Webster, is dead and there’s no one to stop them.”
Nevilles sat silent. He was visioning a scene lately enacted in the old distillery building; a shaking, white faced man slumped in a chair, pleading for the drug which had been taken from him and cursing the man who had abducted him and locked him safe away.
He glanced up at length and the youth watching him from anxious eyes recoiled at the look in his face. It was set and cold as a face of marble; the eyes beneath their bushy brows were slitted and boring.
“Faulkner,” he spoke in cold, level tones, “I happen to know this David Webster. He isn’t dead—not yet.” His lean jaw set ominously. “And I'believe I can use you. Here!”
He tore a leaf from a small notebook and scribbled an address.
“You meet me there tomorrow morning at nine.”
Relief flashed into the wan face of the red-headed youth. In his eyes was the dumb thanks that looks from the eyes of one that has been freed from a trap.
“I’ll be there,” he promised huskiily.
And all this had happened but yesterday.
Nevilles got up from his chair and stood in the room whose clutching darkness seemed to reach for his soul with velvet fingers. Fate had shuffled the cards; he was going to play his hand. Hazard and adventure were nothing new to him. Always they had been the spice of life. But something like unrest, a feeling indefinable, had come to him suddenly. She had brought it, the “Angel,” awakened it with her clinging touch on his calloused palm. Perhaps she would be returning to the tenements to-night again. He groped his way to the door and went out into the soft June night.
HALF an hour after Nevilles found himself standing at an intersection, a cross-current in the tide of night roamers, where he had stood the night before. But tonight he did not see those faces turned fleetingly toward him as the drifters passed. There was another face before him, a sweet face lit by wide violet eyes with flecks of gold swimming deep within them.
He looked up at the stars. How clean and luminous they seemed—and how far away. She too was like that, the “Angel”—clean and luminous—and far away.
He came back to his surroundings with a start.
A young woman whose face still held something of youth and innocence behind its mute tragedy had paused before him and was holding up a tiny bundle wrapped in a coat.
“It’s starving,” she said, in dead, hopeless tones, “and so am I.”
“Old stuff, sister,” he sneered. “You’ll have to carry your troubles further.”
She gave him a long, steady look, and turned away. “Wait!”
He caught her wrist and reached toward the bundle m her arms.
She shrank back and held it close to her breast.
“You brute!” she panted, and lowering her face against the bundle broke into racking sobs.
He stepped forward and placed his hands on the heaving shoulders.
“I’m sorry,” he said, shortly, “I’m afraid I was mistaken in you.”
He glanced about him. The passers-by were paying no attention. She raised her head slowly.
“Yes,” she said, "you were mistaken. You may believe me when I say that I have never accosted a man in this manner before.”
He was watching her closely. That she did not belong to this world in which he had found her, he was certain. Her face, her manner of speech confirmed this conviction.
“I am going to help you,” he decided, proffering a bank note.
Her face lighted, but she shook her head.
“If you will let me have just sufficient to get milk for baby,” she faltered, “I can accept no more.”
“But you too are hungry,” he insisted. “You must take the money.”
He opened one of the little, clenched hands and forced the bill into it.
“There now, that’s settled.”
A battered, decrepit car was coming laboriously up the street. He hailed it.
“If you know of a half-respectable restaurant in this neighborhood,” he accosted the bleary-eyed driver who got stiffly down from his seat and opened the door, take us to it."
“Hop Soo’s,” wheezed the man. “The very place.”
The steel-blue eyes looking into the bleary ones were not hard to read.
“Do you know Tommy Flater’s place up Market Square way?”
“Sure I knows it. It’s quite a piece up though, and the fare’ll be four bits.”
“Drive there.” He was assisting the woman into the
“You’ll have to take me on trust,” he said as he felt the tremor of her arm. “Maybe there is something you d like to tell me, and we can’t very well talk here; besides you need food.”
SILENCE fell between them as the car clattered up the rough street, a silence which endured until a better section of the city grew up before them.
The taxi stopped before a moderately-sized restaurant. Nevilles helped his charge to alight, paid the driver and took possession of the baby.
“It’s all right,” he assured the mother, “you seem pretty well used up. Come right along this way.”
He led her into the dimly-lighted restaurant, at this hour almost empty of patrons, through the room and down a faintly illuminated hall into one of the partitioned-off boxes which passed as private dining rooms. The woman—she was little more than a girl he noted now—sank wearily into the seat he placed before the tiny table and with a wan smile held out her arms.
He placed the baby in them and she cuddled it close to her breast. A tiny, sniffling whimper came from the bundle and Nevilles felt his scalp prick. It was not the first time he had found himself in a peculiar situation, but this latest was quite a new and unique one to him.
“That youngster’s hungry,’ he declared. "I’ll order some food.”
He struck the bell on the table and gave an order to the negro waiter who indolently responded.
“Two steaks, a pot of strong coffee, hot muffins and lots of butter.
He turned to the girl. “Perhaps there’s something else you’d like?"
“Some milk and hot water, please," she supplemented.
He tossed the negro half a dollar. “Now you make it snappy, Adonis."
The waiter flashed two rows of white teeth and ducked from the room.
“I’m just beginning to realize that I’m hungry myself,” said Nevilles, seating himself on the opposite side of the table.
“You live here?” Her gaze met his hopefully, he thought.
“No,” he answered. “Used to, though, several years ago.’
The purple lids fluttered down upon the wistful eyes.
“I guess you can’t help me as hoped you might, after all." she sighed,
He leaned across the table toward her.
"You are searching for somebody here?'
“My husband,” she answered.
“Your husband?” he repeated dully.
Then as she stirred and opened her eyes again, he spoke quickly.
“Don’t tell me any more if it distresses you."
“But I want you to know,” she murmured. “You see, you may be able to help me.”
“I MET my husband a year ago,” she continued. “I was teaching a country school near the Doneleck mountains. I was only a country girl, and romantic, I suppose, as most country girls are. One night while returning from the school to my boarding-house I tripped and sprained my ankle. He overtook me and drove me home in his car. After that we met often."
She paused and sat looking away into space.
“I had a brother who was very fond of me,” she resumed softly. “He was the only near relative I possessed; my mother and father were dead. In some way he learned of—”
Again she paused and with slender hands clenched, sat, looking down at the bundle in her lap.
“My brother came to me,” she continued drearily—“from many miles away. He was very angry. He told me that I must never see the man I had learned to love again. He said that I was being played with and that he would kill my lover if I did not give him up.
“I promised, because I knew he would keep his word. He was quick-tempered, but he had always been father, mother and brother in one to me. I did not question for an instant, but that he knew what was best.
“That night—” The voice choked. “That night—I told the man who had become so dear to me that I must give him up. He refused to listen. He pleaded with me, and—well, that same night we were married. I left a note for my brother telling him all and asking forgiveness. I could not tell him where we were going, because I did not know.”
“And your husband brought you here?” asked her amazed listener. “To this section of the city?”
“Yes.” The blood crept into her wan cheeks. “He told me for certain reasons we must keep our marriage secret for a little time. He was building a home in Spring Grove and later we would go there. Of course I trusted him. He was tenderness itself. I did not see him often during the months that followed, but through his agent he supplied me with sufficient money to live very comfortably.”
Her head drooped until her lips rested against the infant’s cheek.
“When baby came he was delirious with joy. I think I was never so close to him before. He told me certain things; he was in the power of unscrupulous people. He was fighting for liberty, love and honor. I must trust him a little longer, but wealth, power and happiness would be our reward for being kept apart. Possibly he might not be able to visit me again for some time. That was the last time I saw my husband. The agent ceased coming. I was in arrears for the rent of my little flat. I had no money on which baby and I might subsist. This morning we were forced to leave.”
Her listener’s face was tense.
“You should have written to your brother and told him everything,” he said.
She smiled bravely across at him.
“I have no brother now,” she said sorrowfully. “He was killed in France.”
THE waiter entered and placed food before them. Nevilles watched her, fascinated, as quickly she mixed milk and water and poured it into a tiny bottle with rubber nipple.
“He’s so hungry and so good,” she said
Nevilles’ throat was tight and his eyes misty. Never before had he understood womanhood, motherhood. His soul was exalted. He might have prayed, and perhaps it was a prayer he muttered as he stood looking down at mother and child.
“Damn a cur who would do a thing like that!”
She glanced up and caught his gaze.
“Look,” she smiled and raised the puckered, devourirg baby face for him to see. “And listen, he’s fairly purring with contentment.”
He came a step closer and with a hand on the table stood looking.down at her.
“Would you care to tell me your husband’s name?” he asked. “I might know him, you see.”
She spoke a name almost in a whisper, but he caught it and his eyes opened wide. “And you brother’s?”
Again she murmured a name, and he gave a start. Her whole attention was on her baby and she did not notice his agitation. He bent toward her eagerly, then as suddenly checked the words he was about to utter.
“He has fallen asleep,” she said tenderly, and covered the wee face with the shawl.
But Nevilles did not hear her. He was out of the room, striding down the hall.
AT THE cashier’s desk, a stoop-shouldered man was totalling records from the register. He looked scowlingly up as a hand gripped his shoulder, but the frown quickly vanished and a look of surprise and pleasure took its place as he recognized his disturber.
“Well, of all people—!” he exclaimed. “No names, Tommy," cautioned Nevilles.
“But when did you get back?” stammered the proprietor. “Gosh! We heard the Huns got you.”
“Not they, Tommy. It was the other way round, if anything. I’m just in.” He hesitated. “Say, I wonder if you could persuade your good wife to do me a favor?”
“She’ll do it for you if she’ll do it for anybody,” declared the other. “What is it?”
Nevilles leaned across the counter and spoke something in lowered voice in the man’s ear.
“And that’s exactly how it stands,” he concluded.
“If Mrs. Flater will look after them for a while, Tommy, I’ll be awfully glad.”
“Just wait here,” cried Flater, “I’ll go ask her right now.”
He passed through a door and Nevilles leaned on the desk and waited. At the end of five minutes the proprietor was back.
“Wife says to tell you it’s all right. She’s dressing and’ll be down in about half an hour. I told her to be careful about spilling your name.”
Nevilles wrung the bony hand of his benefactor.
“Same good old Tommy. Then I’ll go back and get a bite to eat.”
He turned away, then noticing a public telephone-booth beside the stairway, he entered and it called a number.
“Ring ’em till they respond,” he told central, and leaned back against the wall prepared to wait.
Five minutes passed, during which at intervals he could hear the operator ringing his number. Then he became alert. At last he had gotten somebody.
“Is that Mr. Trollivor’s residence?” he asked. “Well, get him. It’s very important. Yes, I’ll wait, but hurry.” Another interval and then a suave voice came to him.
“Yes? What is it?”
“Are you Mr. Wesley Trollivor?” Nevilles enquired.
“I am. What do you want?”
“Merely to ask you, Mr. Trollivor, if you ever knew a man by the name of Daniel Walters?”
Then laughing softly, Nevilles hung up the receiver.
Webster Pro Tem
IT WAS characteristic of Nevilles that anything he undertook received his whole-hearted attention. As though the sheer adventure of filling another man’s shoes appealed to him, he entered into the playing of the role of David Webster with that abandon which had won for him the appellation of “Dare-Devil” in the mines.
Three days were spent by Haight and Trollivor in industriously coaching the impostor. He was warned concerning this, admonished concerning that; the servants of Shag Villa were minutely described to him. Robbins, the aged butler, he learned, was eccentric. And because he was pretty sure to remember Webster as a boy, it behooved Nevilles to keep certain things pertaining to the old man uppermost in mind. So too with the housekeeper, Mrs. Martin. She had been fond of David Webster, in spite of his faults, and had brooded deeply when the boy ran away; as a matter of fact she had never quite forgiven Parnley for his stern denouncement of his nephew.
The other servants did not so much matter. They had been installed since David's disappearance, Nevilles was informed; and if he had a shrewd suspicion why, he gave no sign. Something of respect for the man who had remembered his loyal servants stirred within him. At any rate, he thought, Parnley had possessed a certain amount of sentiment.
Nevilles mastered the important details of his part with a despatch that disconcerted rather than gratified the trustees. If this man who was to act as their tool was so quick in grasping essentials, did it not bespeak a cleverness and perception which might sooner or later prove a trip-up to certain of their well-laid plans?
Haight had on more than one occasion voiced his apprehension in this regard to Trollivor during the two days spent in whipping Nevilles into form. The lawyer had simply poo-poohed him back into a reasonable sense of security. Nevilles had been introduced to the manager of the bank which held the Parnley millions and to Trollivor’s tailor. He was to go home to Shag Villa and proceed to play the part of an arrogant, witless and conceited jackass—as nearly as he could form a conception of the role as outlined for him by Haight and Trollivor.
“For, you see,” Haight had explained to him, “when you pass quietly out, as you will at the end of two months, our worthy townspeople must have nothing to grieve for; it is understood that your life be shaped so that you will be considered something of a menace to society.”
“I see,” Nevilles had smiled bitterly. “So that when my hat is found floating on the river beside my upturned canoe, pious people will breathe a sigh of relief. I get you.”
AT TEN o’clock on the fourth morning following his acceptance of the agents’ terms, Nevilles appeared before Haight and Trollivor dressed in golf suit of rough tweed which set off his athletic figure superbly, a wide brimmed hat set rakishly on his short-cropped head and the devil’s own twinkle in his blue eyes. The curtain was about to be rung up.
With quiet dignity he met a number of the leading lights of Harport city, the effusive editors of the two papers which Haight secretly owned and controlled and to whom he recited certain fictitious stories concerning his life abroad as compiled by his instructors, and others who were links in the chain welded by the men behind the scheme in which he was playing lead.
Later, his effects having been sent from the hotel to the palatial home of the deceased Parnley, now to be his own, as he drove slowly out of the city toward the estate with the highly gratified Haight beside him, Nevilles confessed to himself for the first time in his life he was experiencing emotions which bordered dangerously on panic.
“You mustn’t forget,” Haight reminded him, “that this estate comprises some seven hundred acres; four hundred bush, balance farm-land. You’ve got a trout stream and a lodge up in the oak forest, also a shooting ground called Drowned Acres on the Muskavahooch flats.
“Those duck grounds lie north, up river. You used to accompany your uncle on some of his fishing and shooting trips. Old Robbins was sometimes taken along too. These are points you must remember. And, oh yes, you mustn’t forget the occasion you accidentally shot the peak off old Robbins’ cap or the time he fished you out of the cistern.”
I wonder,” mused Nevilles, “where the dickens he got all this inside dope, any way?”
As the car swung up the wide, tree-canopied drive to the house Nevilles set his teeth.
ON THE steps stood a snowy-haired, sweet-faced woman. She smiled down at him as he alighted and with arms half out-stretched came down the steps. An old man came hobbling in her wake, his wrinkled face working and his faded eyes aglow.
“Keep cool, now,” admonished Haight, in a whisper. “It’s Robbins and Mrs. Martin.”
For an instant Nevilles felt a strange weakness assail him; almost a repugnance toward himself at sight of those two loyal old servitors of the Parnley home; but it was quickly mastered.
“Robbins,” he cried heartily, wringing the hand of the aged butler who was first to reach him. “It’s good to see you again.”
Robbins attempted to speak and choked up. He stood gazing at Nevilles; tears streaming down his seamed face.
“Welcome home,” he managed to stammer, “you’ve been long away, Mister David, sir.”
Nevilles went forward to greet the housekeeper.
“Hello, Auntie,” he cried—that was the way he had been warned to accost her—"It's the bad boy come back to plague you.”
She gave a little cry and flinging her arms about his neck drew his face down to hers.
“Davie, dear,” she welcomed him, “it’s good to see you again. He asked for you when he was speedin’ out. ‘Tell Davie I was over stern and repent it,’ says he in a whisper. ‘He’ll be coming home some day. You’ll be good to him, Auntie.’ ”
She patted his face and wiped her streaming eyes on her apron.
“You be bigger and stronger than you used to be, Mister Davie, sir,” broke in old Robbins, quickly, his own eyes perilously near to shedding tears.
“Tush, man,” cried the housekeeper, “he was but a stripling when he ran—”
She caught herself up with a gasp of dismay.
“When I ran away, Auntie. Go on; finish it. I did run away, didn’t I?”
“Come in,” cried Mrs. Martin, “you too, sir,” beaming on Haight. “The luncheon is all ready; and Davie, we have a dish you used to like—all prepared for you. Now then, what is it, do you suppose?
Nevilles scratched his head and glanced supplicatingly at Haight.
“That’s one thing you didn’t enlighten me on,” his eyes accused.
“Fried steak,” he hazarded.
The housekeeper whose hearing was none too good clapped her hands in ecstasy.
“Fried cakes; yes, that’s right, laddie; but the other dish you was such a glutton for, Davie? ‘Creamed chicken’ says you—but on what? Say it all now, or not a taste will you get.”
Nevilles grinned. His eyes sought old Robbins’ face. The butler was making all kinds of grimaces from behind the housekeeper’s portly form. Nevilles caught the word formed by the old man’s lips.
“Why, on toast, Auntie, of course,” he laughed. “You didn’t think I had forgotten my favorite dish, surely?”
MRS. MARTIN gave a gesture of helplessness.
“Always the smartest guesser, you was, Davie.” She turned stormily upon the beaming Robbins.
“Come, old lazy-bones,” she cried, “into the house you go and see that the young master is properly served.”
Then as Robbins hobbled up the steps obediently, she turned to Nevilles and Haight with a smile of rare tenderness.
“He’s getting that absent-minded a body loses all patience with him at times; but he’s a darlin’ and he knows my bark is worse than my bite.”
Nevilles patted her head and with his arm about her shoulders led her up the wide steps to the door, Haight following uncomfortably.
“Speaking of barks and bites, Auntie, I wonder if my huskies turned up yet? I wired two days ago for them to be sent down."
“Lord bless us! If it’s those big, cold-eyed dogs you mean, they’re here. They’re still in the crates they came in, although I’ve had them fed and watered, but I’ve not been able to find anybody brave enough to let ’em out in the kennel-yard."
“Kennel-yard?” Nevilles knit his brows.
“Surely you’re not forgetting the yard where you and Dan, the setter, used to play?” cried the housekeeper indignantly. “Why that old dog would turn over in his grave to think you’d forgotten him so.”
“Stupid,” murmured Mr. Haight in his ear. “Behind the house.”
“Why surely, Auntie, I remember the yard,” laughed Nevilles as he opened the door. "‘One’s sense of location gets dulled somewhat in years of drifting among new scenes. For the moment I’d forgotten just where—”
“God love you,” cried the woman, the path from the kitchen leads straight to it, Davie.”
“Of course it does. One has to pass the cistern. Remember the day you fished me out of that cistern, Auntie?”
The housekeeper shook her head.
“It was Robbins as fished you out, Davie. He grabbed a well-hook and caught you through the belt. You was mad ’cause he busted the gilt buckle.”
Nevilles glanced askance at Haight. “Say! I’ll bet he’d like to kick me,” he thought. “His face looks it.”
“Your old room’s ready for you, Davie,” his housekeeper was saying. “You’ll want to go up at once. Lunch will be ready in ten minutes.”
Nevilles glanced appealingly at Haight. That gentleman shook his head. Apparently he didn’t know the location of the room either. An inspiration came to Nevilles.
“If you’ll just call Robbins and ask him to fetch some water, Auntie,” he said. “I want to shave,” he added.
“But your face is as smooth as a baby’s now,” she cried. “Surely you’ve shaved once to-day already.”
“I always make it a point to shave twice on Wednesdays,” he told her gravely. “It’s a habit I’ve formed.”
“But, dearie, there’s hot water in your bathroom,” Mrs. Martin reminded him.
“I meant ice water,” said Nevilles. “I always use ice water for shaving.”
“It’s a wonder you didn’t know enough to find out where my room was,” he growled at Haight as the good woman hurried away.
Before that sputtering gentleman had a chance to finish his indignant reply Robbins came with the ice-water.
“Just take it on up to my room,” Nevilles told him. “I’ll follow.”
He scowled at Haight.
“IT SEEMS to me you’ve missed some essential details in your coaching,” he muttered indignantly. “It’s only by pure luck these human antiques haven’t got my number already.”
“Nonsense,” returned Haight. “No danger; true, you’ve made some bad breaks, but on the whole you’ve carried things off very well indeed.
“There’s no telling what’ll happen if the plans you gave me of this big barracks of a house are as faulty as the rest of the information,” grumbled Nevilles as he turned to follow the butler.
“I’ll be getting back now,” said Haight, and for the benefit of the servants added : “I wish you joy in your new possessions, Mr. Webster.”
Nevilles’ jaw set a trifle. He nodded shortly and went on up the stair.
The room to which old Robbins conducted him was spacious and well lighted by big bay-windows that overlooked the hardwood forest. The house stood on an eminence and between the trees, far distant, he could catch the sheen of a silvery stream.
He turned from the window as the servant noiselessly withdrew and let his eyes wander about the room.
It was furnished in Queen Anne style, quietly yet luxuriously. The deep, soft-hued carpet was in harmonious contrast to the hand-painted tintings of walls and ceiling. There were a few oil paintings; one the portrait of a boy.
Nevilles went over and stood before this painting for a long time. He turned away at length and crossing the room peered through a partly open door at a restful bathroom finished in marble; then he went on to a second door and stood as though deliberating.
He opened the door at length and passed into another room. It was larger than the bedroom. A smile grew upon his face as he surveyed it. There was no doubt in his mind but this had been young David Webster’s “ownest” room, to do with as his boyish fancy pleased. Certainly it bore all the ear-marks of an imaginative lad’s stronghold. The walls were covered with pictures of dogs and birds cut from illustrated papers; of stage-coaches being held up by Indians and—yes, it must be admitted—one of the grand old champion Sullivan wearing the diamond belt he so long retained.
Nevilles crossed the bare floor to where a long rack stood against the wall. In this rack were guns; a twenty-two rifle and a single barreled shot-gun. There were fishing-rods too; three or four ordinary steel rods and one, his practised eye noted, a fly-weight Bethabara worth its weight in gold to any trout-angler.
On the floor beneath the rack lay the skin of a raccoon. No tiger pelt won from the dangerous jungle had ever given its taker more thrilling satisfaction than had that little skin given the boy who with his own hands had tanned and mounted it, after bringing the animal down, Nevilles guessed. He bent and turned the skin over. Attached to a corner of the lining was a slip of linen paper on which was written in sprawling hand:
“This furoceous animal, known as a Koon, was killed after a bludy strugle by David Webster in the yere 1897 after christ.”
With a sigh Nevilles turned away and passed thoughtfully through the bedroom and downstairs to the dining room.
A SUBDUED, rose-tinted light was streaming through the stained glass of the windows, flushing the solid mahogany furnishings of the room. There were stately palms near the window-seat and on the table smiling up above the sparkling glass and silver was a bunch of glorious roses.
“Surely I’m dreaming,” thought Neville's as he took the chair Robbins had drawn out for him.
“A glass of wine, sir?” the butler was saying. “Madeira or champagne, Mister David?”
It was Mrs. Martin’s voice at the door.
“Are you so absent-minded that you do not remember Master Davie takes no strong drink whatever? Wasn’t it because of his hatred of it him and his Uncle Parnley quarrelled? Shame on you, Robbins.”
She came bustling forward as the disconcerted Robbins with a muttered apology picked up the brass pails of chipped ice and hurriedly withdrew.
“Oh, glory!” sighed Nevilles, beneath his breath, “I’ve got to be a teetotaler, have I? That’s hard luck.
“I suppose, Auntie,” he addressed the housekeeper, as he spread his serviette, “the cellars are stocked with—that filthy stuff?”
He waved a hand toward the retreating Robbins.
You knew your Uncle Parnley, dearie,” she answered soothingly. “He always believed in layin’ up for a rainy day. There is a-plenty of choice liqueurs and wines in the cellar, yes. You’ll be givin’ orders to have it all destroyed, I have no doubt.”
Nevilles gazed at her sternly.
“I should give such orders,” he answered. “Yes, I should have the wretched stuff destroyed. But to do so would seem to me like taking advantage of the departed.”
“Sure, Davie, I know, I know,” cried the sympathetic soul. “On that one thing only did you and your uncle ever disagree. The liquor won’t be doing any harm lying close in the cellar, laddie. Don’t you allow it to come betwixt you and his memory; don’t you do that. He never quite got over what you said to him that day, Davie,” she whispered, “that day you quarrelled, and you went off with your head high.”
Nevilles made no reply. He turned to his dinner and Mrs. Martin withdrew.
AS HE ate Nevilles could hear her singing in the kitchen, a flat unmusical song concerning hills and heather and lakes; but there was one note of sweetness in the song—its very gladness.
Suddenly his food lost it savor. He pushed back his chair and sat brooding.
“I don’t know as I’m going to be able to go through with this thing,” he mused. “It gets under my hide some way.”
He glanced up to see Robbins hovering solicitously near.
‘"You’ve eaten scarcely anythink, sir, the old man protested. “Perhaps you’d be favorin’ the liver wing of a cold fowl, Master Davie?”
“Thanks, Robbins, but I’m not hungry. I’ll go out and have a look at the dogs, I think.”
He went out to the kennel-yard and freed his huskies. The four dogs were mad with joy at sight of him. They leaped upon him and he shook each one roughly, cursing them affectionately.
“Now you boys be good and I’ll give you a run tomorrow,” he promised, as he shut and locked the gate on them.
Those huskies were his pals, tried companions of the trails; true, sympathetic trek-mates who had starved, suffered and triumphed with him in his world of far-spaces. He loved those dogs as he had never loved any human being—unless—
HER FACE came back to him suddenly, like a bubble of light on swift water. Grave and sweet if lifted to his, wide, violet eyes questioning, as on that night in the slum district when her little hand had rested in his own. And like the bubble in the rapid it had disappeared, perhaps forever, swallowed in the tide that ebbs and flows between the midnight and the dawn.
He wished to have a look at the wonderful library it had taken Parnley a lifetime to collect, and explore the other rooms; in short get some idea of his fighting-grounds.
The servants consisted of housekeeper, butler, under butler, two maids, a Chinese cook and a Negro chauffeur. During bis first afternoon Nevilles managed to meet them all, after a thorough survey of the big house and grounds.
He retired early that night and dreamed that he had died and an angel with big, violet eyes was guiding his soul to a lake-shot. stream-veined wilderness.
Alias Billy Griddle
NEXT morning Nevilles had an early visitor. He had just breakfasted and was on his way to the kennel-yard when he discerned a short, broad-shouldered individual dressed in stained khaki shirt and trousers, approaching up the path from the orchard.
“One of the farm hands, likely,” he thought.
The man hailed him.
“You’re Mr. Webster?”
“I am,” Nevilles answered. “Want to see me?”
“If you don’t mind,” rejoined the other.
“My name’s Abbott,” he introduced himself as he came up. “Keeper of Drowned Acres shooting grounds,” he added.
Nevilles extended his hand.
“Glad you came in, Abbott. I was intending to go down to the flats to have a look around soon. How are things down there?”
He motioned to a rustic seat beneath a tree and tendered his cigarette case.
“Birds were never more plentiful,” said the keeper as he seated himself. “More blacks, greys, and teal this year than we’ve had for years. O’ course,” he added, “that’s easy to account for. There’s been no shootin’ for four seasons now.”
He gazed up at Nevilles admiringly.
“Gosh, but you’ve filled outa lot since I last saw you. Guess you don’t remember me, do you?”
Immediately Nevilles saw deep water ahead. Promptly he dived.
“Well, that’s not to be wondered at, is it?” he hazarded. “You couldn’t have been much older than myself then. You’ve got some bigger too, you know.” Abbott inhaled a deep breath of smoke and chuckled.
“Beat’s all how people change,” he remarked. “Lord, I wouldn’t have knowed you at all. I suppose you’ll be down for the first day? There’ll be some grand shootin’.”
“Oh, I’ll be there,” promised Nevilles.
He was doing some quick thinking.
“By the way,” he asked, “how’s your Dad?”
Abbott’s face lengthened.
“Dad’s been dead these seven years,” be answered. “Course you’ve come back sudden like, and there are some things you haven’t heard yet likely. Yes, sir, I’ve been keeper since Dad passed over.”
HE TOSSED away his burned out cigarette and stood up.
“What I wanted to see you about this morning is just this. You know, I s’pose, that the guys who’ve been managin’ this estate since Mr. Parnley’s death propose leasin’ Drowned Acres to a syndicate?”
Nevilles was all attention now.
“Leasing the duck grounds to a syndicate? What syndicate?”
Abbot threw out his hands.
“That’s as much as I know. But I know this, sir,” he cried, smashing his fist into the palm of his hand, “Mr. Parnley wouldn’t want them grounds shot over by no syndicate. You know how he felt about his trout-stream and shooting-ground, sir! Well, word came down to me that you had turned up and says I to Storm—he’s my helper—‘Storm,’ says I, I'm goin’ up and put this thing straight to young Webster. Maybe be dornt know what’s in the wind,’ says I. So up I comes.”
“You did perfectly right, Abbott,” commended Nevilles.
“And listen, Mr. Webster, on my way up here I met a party on Jim Turbull’s yacht. I steered my launch close in enough to get a good look. There were quite a bunch of men aboard.”
“Well,” said "Nevilles, “they might have been simply taking an early morning cruise.”
The keeper shook his head.
“Nope, they were on their way to Drowned Acres; you can bank on that, sir."
He chuckled gleefully.
’“Course they’ll have their trip for nothing. They’ll never be able to get in.”
“What do you mean, Abbott?”
The man stared.
“Why, Mister Davie!” he exclaimed, “you ought to know without askin’. Who else in this world except my old Dad, Storm and myself could ever, find his way up Devil’s Maze and through BeeBeer gate? Why even you could never do it; nor could Mr. Parnley, although Dad tried time and again to teach him how.”
Nevilles shook his head.
“I’m afraid I’ve forgotten,” he admitted.
Abbott spoke eagerly.
“THAT’S it. A feller does forget some things in ten years or so I know. But maybe if I jog your memory a bit it’ll all come back. You remember o’ course that Drowned Acres ponds and lodge is separated from the river by what’s known as the Stalman quicksands; there’s no portagin’ a boat across them suck-unders. Two or three have tried it, but—well, where are they now? You’ll maybe recollect that betwixt this bar and the river there’s a number of water-chains through the rushes, some of 'em blind, others of 'em leadin’ to heaven only knows where. That’s called Devil's Maze. But what I’m gettin’ to just this. There’s only one entrance to Drowned Acres proper and that’s BeeBeer gate. Now then just what is BeeBeer gate?”
Again Nevilles shook his head.
“Then what’s bee-beer? Ever see bee-beer?”
“Yes,” Nevilles answered, “I have.”
“Good. How does that stuff act? Keeps risin’ and failin’ doesn’t it, slowly up and down, movin’ all the time?”
“Yes, it does.”
“Sure. Well so does this section of quick-sands that’s called BeeBeer gate. It’s only about four feet wide and looks solid enough on the surface, but you can paddle a boat through it if you know how. That’s what we have to do, comin’ and goin’. And, Mr. Webster, before you you see the only man except one who can find that gate. That one is John Storm.”
“Which means,” said Nevilles, “that providing this syndicate of which you speak gets possession of Drowned Acres, the ground will cease to be impregnable? The members will demand to be shown the gate.”
“That’s just it!” cried Abbott. “Of course, sir, if you sanction the lease—”
“Abbott,” said Nevilles, “I don’t sanction it. We’re going to keep Drowned Acres as it is and for ourselves.”
With a whoop of joy Abbott gripped Nevilles hand.
“By George, I’m glad to hear that,” he exclaimed.
“Whom have you down there besides yourself and your helper?” Nevilles asked.
“Nobody,” answered the keeper.
He looked.questioningly at Nevilles.
“I just might want you to entertain a visitor some time,” said Nevilles. “I’m not sure yet. If so, you’d be willing?”
“Willin’? You bet. Anythin’ you ask will be done, and done quick and right,
"NEVILLES looked at him closely. He knew the man could be trusted.
“How am I to communicate with you, providing I wish you to come?” he asked.
“Why, the same old way, sir,” answered the keeper. “Just run up the blue flag on the pole, and I’ll be with you inside of a couple of hours or so. You’re not forgettin’ that we have the best pair of binoculars your uncle could buy, are you?”
“I’m beginning to recover my memory a little,” smiled Nevilles. “Everything will come back to me in time, I hope.”
“Sure,” Abbott turned away.
Nevilles laid a hand on the man’s shoulder.
“What wages are you drawing now, Abbott?” he asked.
“Sixty and found. ’Taint any too much, sir. You see, since the war, I dollar—”
“From now on your salary and that of your assistant is doubled. And now, Abbott, see that you don’t let anybody get hold of the key to BeeBeer gate.”
NEVILLES went on to the kennels, exercised his dogs, then returned to the house and summoned his housekeeper.
She came into the library, folding the apron she had removed, a smile on her comely face.
Nevilles placed a chair for her.
“While I was at lunch yesterday I heard you singing,” he told her. “It was a song of your native land, I believe, Auntie?”
“Scotland,” she nodded, her lip trembling.
“You have a daughter there, I believe? How would you like to pay her a nice long visit?”
“Oh, laddie,” she cried chokingly, “if I only could.”
“You can,” said Nevilles. “I promised myself that one of the first things I would treat myself to when I got home would be a long holiday, and seeing as I’m to be too busy to take it myself, you’re going to take it for me.”
“Tut, tut. Is this the dear friend of my boyhood, the one who stood by me always in time of stress, protesting now? No, no, surely not. Why, Auntie, I’ve counted on giving you this little pleasure, it’s not one half what you deserve. There must be grand-children there among the heather-hills who will be wanting to snuggle their fresh faces against their granny. Sure, I know. 'Now not another word."
He passed an envelope over to her shaking hand.
“Oh, laddie, there’s a cheque here,” she cried, “It’s for a thousand dollars! Oh, heaven save us! What a waster you are, Davie."
“You’re to take three months, Auntie. And the first of each month I’ll send you a cheque for like amount. Now, now,” as she began to cry, “you mustn’t spoil my bit of blue sky. I’ve got millions, remember.”
“But,” sobbed the overjoyed woman, “who’ll look after you when I’m away, Davie? You’ll starve and go to seed, surely.”
“Robbins will look after me, Auntie.”
“Listen to him,” cried Mrs. Martin raising her hands. “As if that absent-minded old dear could look after anybody. I could get old Mrs. Cavers, the farm foreman’s mother, to come and stay for two or three months, I think,” she cried eagerly.
“The very thing,” exclaimed the relieved Nevilles. “Get her by all means. Now, that’s settled. Your boat sails in four days, Auntie. Better spend all the time packing.”
MRS. MARTIN’S face was soft with the glow of great happiness.
“I’ll go down and fetch Mrs. Cavers over to-night, Davie,” she said, “and thanks, laddie,” she choked, wiping her eyes. “You don’t seem a bit like the boy I used to know. Not but what he was a dear lad in his way—” she added quickly in his defence.
“Perhaps the life I’ve led has helped me to see things differently,” said Nevilles. “I know I was a selfish little devil."
He laughed softly as she went out.
Lighting a cigarette he walked to the book-case and ran his eyes down the long array of volumes on the shelves.
Robbins’ voice spoke from the door. “There be a young gentleman downstairs, Mister Davie. He says he had an appointment with you, sir.”
“Tall, slim chap with a shock of red hair, is it, Robbins?”
“Well, sir, he be tall enough and slim enough—”
“Show him up.”
Nevilles was replacing a book in the case when Robbins returned with the visitor.
He turned. The man was a stranger to him.
“You wished to see me?” he asked.
The other waited until the butler’s slow footsteps were heard on the stairs, then he spoke:.
“You don’t recognize me then, sir?” Nevilles shook his head.
“That’s good. I flatter myself that if I’m well enough disguised to fool you, I’ll get past either of a pair of gents we both know."
Nevilles drew closer and peered down into his face.
“By George! Faulkner, it’s you after all. What have you done to yourself?” he exclaimed.
The young man touched his long locks, once red, now a jet black.
“That,” he answered, “and this.”
He turned about slowly so as to display the well-tailored cheviot suit, and fingered the flowing tie that rested against the low collar like a giant velvet moth on a snow bank.
“Nifty, what?” he grinned. “Unique, too, don’t you think?”
“I never saw anything just like it before,” admitted Nevilles. “But how long do you think you’ll last in that get-up?” he asked. “Remember I told you we were to have something of a rough-and-ready element here. They’ll kill you sure If they catch you alone.”
“I’ll take a chance on that,” said Faulkner airily. “You can’t tell me anything about bruise-robins that I don’t know already. I’ll get by all right, sir, you needn’t worry on that score.”
“Come upstairs where we can talk,” said Nevilles.
He led Faulkner to his room.
“NOW then,” he said, his manner serious, as Faulkner seated himself, "before you tie up with me, young man, there are a few facts you ought to know. I’ve already told you enough to make you realize that I’m skating on mighty thin ice, Faulkner.”
“Excuse me,” returned the caller, "but you’ve got the name wrong. It’s Griddle, now, sir, with Billy for a handle.”
“Ah,” grinned Nevilles, “I see. Well, Billy Griddle, what I want to impress on you is this. Any day, hour or minute I’m liable to have the skids put under me, and if you stick you’re bound to go tobogganing too. Want to take the risk?”
“Risk,” Griddle informed him calmly, “is my middle name. Billy Risk Griddle at your service; and I rather enjoy tobogganing,” he added with a chuckle.
Nevilles sat down and lit a cigarette.
“Smoke?” he asked, tendering his case. Griddle shook his head.
“Perhaps you’d like a drink?”
Nevilles looked at him closely and as though satisfied with his scrutiny asked: “How well do you know the underworld of this city?”
“As a hungry kid knows the cookie-jar. I know it clean from A to Z. Up both sides and down the middle.”
“For reasons it will not be necessary for me to explain after what I told you the other night,” he resumed, “it is necessary that I surround myself with a few men whose work will be to watch certain parties who’ll be watching me. These must be men whom I can trust implicitly. I don’t care what kind of a past they own so long as I feel I can depend on their loyalty. Do you think you could gather together such a squad?”
“One of them must be an aviator,” stipulated Nevilles.
“I get you,” said Griddle. “I know the very man. His name’s Stokie, and he’s sure a wonder with a machine.”
“As a rock. Dope’s his one failing; as a matter of fact it’s what’s got most of these birds. They’re all down-and-outers who’ve given up any hope of ever winning back.”
“Billy,” cried Nevilles, “what you say gives me an idea; but we won’t discuss it now. What I want you to do is move about town there and pick me out half a dozen of these men; no hurry about it; take your time and you won’t be so liable to make any mistake.”
FAULKNER, hereafter known as Griddle, nodded.
“Your room is next to mine,” Nevilles informed him. “It’s a combination bedroom and workroom. You’ll find a table and type-writer and a bunch of letters waiting to be answered. There are notes appended. Also there are a number of requests for financial help from certain charitable and uncharitable institutions. Tell ’em all to go to blazes.”
“But under plain envelope send each of them—this.”
He unlocked a drawer in his dresser and drew out a number of bank notes of large denomination, and several cards.
Griddle’s eyes grew round at sight of the money which Nevilles placed in his hand.
“Thousand dollar bills!” he exclaimed.
He read the pencilled words on the card, “From a well-wisher.”
"You mean—?" he gasped, swallowing hard.
“You’re to send all worthy institutions soliciting financial aid one of those bills, and a type-written card like that,” Nevilles told him.
“Well, I’ll be shot!” muttered Griddle. ‘First you tell ’em to go chase themselves, then you send ’em a ten-century script each. What’s the answer?”
Billy, said Nevilles, “I’m not caring to have anybody dub me a philanthropist. On the contrary, I want them to consider me a tight-wad, a bad actor all round. Never you mind why, and don't you be surprised at the things I do, or what you read in the papers about me. I have my own reasons for playing understudy to the devil, and some day I may tell you those reasons. I don’t mind telling you this now, l’m going to go through a whole lot of money faster than any newly-found heir to millions has ever gone before. I’m going to get a record.”
How do you know I’ll send these pretty yellow-backs to those worthy and needy institutions?” he asked. Suppose I pocketed a few of ’em. How would you know the difference?”
You try it and find out,” Nevilles told him. "i'm not afraid of you doing that, though. You’re going to have so much money to spend you wouldn’t stoop to stealing any. Besides it isn’t in you to do it."
By the crutch of my crippled grandfather!" swore the bewildered Griddle " you re a clever man. I could no more steal that money from you than I could rob a baby of its milk bottle.”
If Nevilles thought the compliment somewhat doubtful he let it pass.
“I believe you,” he said, “but just in case temptation should prove too stringent some time, let me say that I have a way of checking up and knowing whether or not the money reaches these deserving people. You see I have a penchant for system ard thoroughness, my boy; not that I doubt your honesty.”
“But I’m crooked as hell,” groaned Griddle. “I know it, and so do you. Didn’t I try my best to grab the Angel’s—
He caught himself and glanced wildly at Nevilles.
“I beg your pardon,” he stammered, “the name slipped out.”
“That’s all right,” Nevilles reassured him. “You were starving when you tried that trick, and starvation is insanity. I know. I’ve been there myself.” “Honest to God,” pleaded Griddle, “I was always straight before, although Haight made out I wasn’t. You’re giving me a chance, sir, and if I fall down on you, may I get hung higher than the eyebrows on the statue of Liberty.”
Nevilles shook hands with him.
“That goes,” he said. “We won’t say any more about it. Now then, come along and I’ll show you your room.”
A little later, leaving the wonderfully transformed and happy Griddle at work on the type-writer, he descended the stairs and went out into the beautiful grounds surrounding the house.
To be Continued