MRS. WILSON WOODROW
WHEN Mrs. Wendell reached the old house that afternoon,
Jeffries came down the steps to greet her. His head was carried a little higher than usual, and she thought he looked haggard as if from sleepless nights; but his manner was unchanged.
He had ordered tea served on the lawn; and after she had poured it, he turned to her with a twisted smile.
“Well, I suppose you have come to offer your cousinly condolences?”
She saw that she must go warily. The wound was too deep and too raw to bear anything but the lightest touch.
“Did you think I’d stay at home, when the old squire was in trouble?” she asked, but the flippancy of the speech was softened by real feeling. “The thing is so ridiculous. Of course the jockey club will straighten it out at once; but it’s outrageous that it should have happened to you, of all people.”
As he still smiled, she noticed the deep lines about his mouth and eyes.
“Job had nothing on me,” he said. “I’ve had everything but the boils, and I don’t know that they wouldn’t have been a relief. What rankles,” his face grew hard and set, “is that a cheap crew like that should actually have succeeded in putting it across. My self-respect, is gone forever. I knew DeVries, and yet I played their game and put my horse into his hands. It’s not hard now to guess why Joybells was purchased. The pieces of the whole puzzle all fit so perfectly together, that in looking back, I think I must have been blind not to see through it before. The most charitable thing I can say of myself is, that ever since that memorable visit to Atlantic City I have been 'insane. Well,” straightening his shoulders, “I am in my right mind now. Perhaps this last straw isn’t too great" a price to pay for that. And yet, considering all things, that combination would have been hard to beat, DeVries, Beachey—and Mrs. Lee.”
“Clay!” Nannie drew back. “You certainly do not class Constance with those crooks!”
His eyebrows went up superciliously.
“You, too!” His rallying tone was bitterly satirical. “I thought you prided yourself on being hard-boiled. Unfortunately I am a lawyer, trained to see the value of facts and to accept them when they are incontestable. Mrs. Lee chose DeVries as her trainer, and Beachey as her lawyer.”
Two spots of scarlet showed on Nannie’s cheeks.
“I think, old dear,” she said tartly, “that you put the cart before the horse, when you said that you had been crazy, and were now sane. It’s the other way around. I’ve been with Constance all morning; she has told me the whole story from beginning to end. And I assure you, she is quite as much in the net as you are.
She is just recovering from that frightful journey. Why, Clay, think of the risks she ran, in order to get here in time to prevent that race!”
“And arrived opportunely just too late to do so,” he commented. “Did she make it clear to you, Nannie, why, when she talked to me over the telephone, she did not inform me of a scheme which so vitally concerned me? And, also, why she did not telegraph the track officials?”
“She reproaches herself continually for that. But she never dreamed that she would not get there in time herself.”
“Pretty weak,” Jeffries remarked.
He leaned his chin on his hand, and looked at his cousin. If she had known it, he was beginning one of those gentle but searching cross-examinations for which he was famous.
“How did she, up there in the Cumberlands, learn of this scheme?”
“A detective, a man named Bell, came up post-haste and told her of it.
It seems that Perry Gabriel—vile cur—had hired this man to prove that Constance was a blackmailer, and then threw him out because he couldn’t do it. Constance, a blackmailer! Can you imagine such a thing?”
“Oh, yes. My imagination is able to compass even that,” Jeffries said coolly. “H’m! It’s quite ingenious.
I remember this Bell very well. He
was Gabriel’s bodyguard on one occasion, and nojt a particularly efficient one.” There was a reminiscent satisfaction in his voice. “He’s worthy of the rest. It’s really an excellent organization of thieves.”
“Oh!” Nannie was almost in tears. “You are horrible.
No matter what these other people have done, Constance had nothing to do with it; nothing.”
“Nothing? Nothing perhaps, except to take her share of the winnings. Well, ladies must live. And lovely ladies have expensive tastes.”
She put down her tea-cup with a clatter.
“You twist everything I say into an indictment of Constance; and she is moving heaven and earth to help you. It was DeVries and Perry Gabriel, who put the whole thing through, I tell you.”
“Perry Gabriel!” He stopped with a lighted match halfway to his cigarette, and held it so until the flame burned his fingers. “I wonder if it’s true, or just another trick of theirs? Nannie, you’ve brought me news— something to think about.”
“But it is true,” Nannie insisted vehemently. “Constance has evidence to prove it. She told me all about it, but there was so much, it’s mixed up in my mind. She is only waiting now for a few fresh links to make the chain complete. When she gets those, she is going to the jockey club with the whole story.”
Jeffries’s face grew livid with anger. He banged his clenched hands down on the arms of his chair. It was a moment or two before he could speak.
“Mrs. Lee,” he said, “must be made to understand that she will not be permitted to interfere in my affairs. I see her going before the jockey club with her evidence.
Evidence! Arranged by Beachey, designed on the surface to be in my favor, but for that reason all the more damning. The last audacious move of the cleverest
gang in the country.
“Nannie,” sternly, “you must cut off all association with those people at once. You
must leave that hotel in Cincinnati, their headquarters, and stay here. My housekeeper will make you comfortable. If you do not, I shall wire at once to Hugo to come on and take you home.”
“If you do, I shall never forgive you,” she cried stormily. “You insist on managing your own affairs without interference; then kindly let me manage mine. I haven’t asked either your advice or intervention. I came here full of indignation for the way you have been treated, my heart bleeding for you. But since I’ve talked to you, I don’t wonder that Connie thought you hard and cruel. I don’t wonder that she cherished a grudge against you for years, and felt as she did before she met you.”
He was looking at her as if startled by what she said. There was an odd, questioning expression on his face.
“Oh, sit down, Nannie, and behave.” He held out his cigarette case to her. “Take one of these, and calm your nerves. What you have told me interests me. So Mrs. Lee has held a grudge against me for years? On account of my claim on the coal property, I suppose?”
“No; something quite different, more personal.”
He knitted his brows.
“Something more personal?” he repeated. “That’s nonsense. Unless she holds some fancied grievance, it’s trumped up. Do you know the nature of this imaginary wrong I’ve done the lady?”
“Yes, I do,” she said defiantly; “and it’s not at all imaginary. It’s very real. But I promised I would not tell you.”
He looked at her gravely.
“Do you think it fair, under the circumstances and considering the situation I am in, to hold to that promise?” “I must.” She twisted her hands. “It’s because it’s so personal, so entirely between you and herself, that I don’t dare rush in where any self-respecting angel would fear to tread. Oh, Clay!” in utter exasperation. “You fool! You idiot! You’re so bitter against her now, because you were so much in love with her. And she, poor moron, is just as much in love with you. I tell you, she’s as innocent as you
are. She’s just as much the victim of those low wretches, DeVries and Gabriel. If you would only go over to Cincinnati, she would see you gladly, and tell you all she knows. Then you could take the evidence before the jockey club, and be cleared at once.” “Easy, isn’t it?” His smile mocked her. “I hope you get the sweet picture clearly. I say: ‘Gentlemen, I am innocent. I shoulder the blame onto the lady, who may be able to prove to you that neither she nor I had any connection with the affair.’ Can’t you see the newspaper headlines, Nannie?
“No!’* emphatically. “I’ve never shielded myself behind a petticoat yet, and I don’t mean to begin now. Not that I believe her testimony would do anything but deepen the fog. My course is clear. I shall go before the jockey club and accuse DeVries—Gabriel, too, if I can find any foundation for this story of yours. Then the club may take any action it sees fit. If the decision is against me—and it probably will be—I shall retire here and devote myself to farming. Politically, professionally and socially I shall be dead; for I will not put my friends in the embarrassing position of determining whether or not they care to recognize me."
“Of all—!” One could almost hear the grind of the brakes Nannie put on her voluble tongue. “Oh!” she expelled the words with a heave of her chest. “Play the martyr. Do.
Meekly accept the disgrace. Let
your family and friends go to the devil. They don’t mean anything to you, of course. Refuse all the aid that’s offered, and sulk in this old tent until kingdom come. Well, I have some fighting blood in me, if you haven’t, and I’m going to see this thing through. Clay, for heaven’s sake, I’m begging, I’m imploring you to--”
The torrent was interrupted by a servant who crossed the lawn, and said to Jeffries:
“Dey’s some one on de ’phone fo’ you, Judge.”
"Who ia it?" Jeffries asked.
“Didn't give no name. Jest said, he wanted to speak to you.”
"Excuse me, Nannie.” Clay went into the house. "Helio!” he said, placing the telephone receiver to his ear.
"This is Mr. Beachey. Judge Jeffries,” came the answer. "I would like to see you as soon as you can make it convenient.”
"Quite impossible,” with curt finality.
"I am representing Mrs. Lee.” Beachey’s unruffled voice was punctiliously formal. “She has requested tne to lay certain facts before you. I think you will find it to your interest to learn them.”
There was a second’s pause before Jeffries replied.
"Then perhaps Mrs. Lee will consent to present those facts to me herself. 1 can go to her hotel on Saturday, or if she prefers to come here to-morrow. I will he at home. My cousin. Mrs. Wendell, is stopping with me for a day or so.” "Just one moment,” Beachey evidently turned from the telephone to consult Constance. “Mrs. Lee will come to Beechlands.” he said.
JEFFRIES came hack across the lawn to Nannie Wendell.
She was too mercurial in temperament for her spirits to stay submerged long, and she could not restrain a giggle as he sat down again.
"Clay, you stalk and look exactly like an Indian chief about to start on the war-[>ath. All you need is a feather bonnet.”
He made no answer, and she became very quiet and demure with the uncomfortable feeling of one who has been frivolous at the wrong moment.
"Mrs. Lee is coming here to see me to-morrow evening.” he said presently. "I hope you will stay over.” His tone was casual and indifferent; a little too much so, Nannie thought.
She wanted to clap her hands, but again she exercised unwonted self-restraint. What a master stroke on Connie's part! How clever of her! Daring, too, Nannie reflected as she looked at his impervious, granite-like face.
"She w ill be accompanied by Beachey,” Jeffries added. *T shall have to ask you to look after him, while I see her in the library.”
Nannie brightened. So he was to see Constance alone? That was good. She disliked Beachey, but under the circumstances she felt that she could make herself agreeable to him for hours if necessary, with the best will in the world.
She scarcely saw Jeffries the next day. He was busy, closeted with men who came and went. And when they met at dinner, he was absorbed and aloof. He did not refer to Constance; and Nannie, respecting his mood, scattered light chitter-chatter like chaff to the wind, and felt as if she were an all-day bicycle rider pedaling to keep up and without relief in sight.
They had scarcely finished their coffee, and moved into the hall, when there was the sound of motor wheels on the gravel drive. A servant threw open the door, and Constance came up the steps, crossed the broad porch, and entered the hall, followed by Beachey.
Nannie found time to admire Clay’s perfect manner. He was the courteous, dignified host receiving two strangers who had come upon a matter of business. But she divided this admiration between him and Constance.
"They meet as if for the first time,” Nannie, who reveled in unusual and dramatic situations, said to herself. "And Connie has dressed the part faultlessly.”
She wore a dark frock, with a small toque covering her bright hair. She was pale and there were shadows under her eyes, but there was no diffidence in her quiet manner.
Nannie kissed her impulsively on both cheeks; and Constance in return pressed her friendly hand tightly for a moment, and then let it drop.
"Mr. Beachey, you know Mrs. Wendell, I believe,” Jeffries said. “I am sure you and she will find plenty to talk about. Mrs. Lee, will you come into the library with me? Or will you both have some coffee first?”
‘‘Thank you; no,” Constance replied. “We must catch the ten o’clock train back; so I think I will go into the library at once.”
He led the way down the stately, old-fashioned hall, with its portraits of dead and gone Jeffries and famous race-horses on the dark wainscotted walls, opened the library door, and stood aside for Jier to enter.
He placed a chair for her, and she sat down, absently drawing off her gloves. She detested gloves, and always felt that it was impossible to talk, with them on her hands.
Jeffries, also, sat down, and waited. She had sought this interview, and he put the burden of opening it upon
She was not anxious to accept it. The silence emphasized by the heavy, regular ticking of a grandfather’s clock grew almost oppressive before she spoke.
“Judge Jeffries,” she said slowly, “you are the heaviest sufferer in th¡3 disgraceful affair; but I also am in a most unpleasant position. This swindle was carried out in my stable, by the man in charge of it. I learned of it too late
to prevent it.” There was the least tremble in her voice. She could not yet recall her failure to reach Latonia in time, with any degree of equanimity.
"1 have been busy ever since in following the thing up,” she went on, "with the aid of Mr. Beachey and John Bell, a detective 1 have employed.” She did not see the fleeting smile on Jeffries's lips at the mention of this combination. "Ami 1 thought, if you would let me go over with you the results we have gleaned, we might save time in getting the matter cleared up.”
"Thank you very much for the assistance you offer on behalf of yourself, Mr. Beachey and Mr. Bell,” Jeffries replied. "But I think the investigation had better be left where it belongs, in the hands of the jockey club.”
The rebuff was a distinct one, but Constance refused to show either anger or disappointment.
“Very well,” she acquiesced quietly. “If you prefer not to work with us, that is a question for you to decide. I shall, therefore, lay our evidence directly before the jockey club.”
A slight flush showed on Jeffries’s cheek bones.
“Again I must protest,” he said coldly. “This is a very personal matter, as perhaps you and your coadjutors may recognize, and I shall handle it alone.”
“You are quixotic, Judge Jeffries.” Her voice was stifled.
“Perhaps. It does not seem so to me, however.”
“At least you will not refuse to listen to me, to hear what we have discovered,” she said. “I have certain facts in my possession that you could not possibly know, and that might cause you to look at the whole situation from a different viewpoint.”
“You are very kind, Mrs. Lee,” inflexibly. “But I have already decided on my own course.”
She made a slight gesture of exasperation; but she did not give in.
“I can understand your attitude in a way, Judge Jeffries. Your distrust of me and of Mr. Beachey is to a certain extent merited. But you surely are broadminded enough to put aside the personal equation at a time like this. All that I am asking is to let me tell you what we know and have discovered. Then if you wish, we can put it into writing, and you can give it to the jockey club as the sworn deposition of various witnesses.”
He inclined his head formally.
“A very fair proposition, but I could not accept it.” “Will you tell me why?”
“I would prefer not. But, since you ask me, I will be frank. I do not care to accept either direct or implied assistance or favors of any kind from either you, or Mr. Beachey or your private detective, Bell.”
The thrust was so sharp that, although she had prepared herself for something of the sort, she winced. But when she had decided to see him, she had put herself and her own feelings entirely aside, and centered only on her objective. She would not give up now.
“That—that is, as you say, frank. But aren’t you rather foolish to let a rigid personal pride stand in the way of bringing two scoundrels like DeVries and Gabriel to their deserts? You may doubt the sincerity of our motives; but you are a lawyer, Judge Jeffries, and you can easily prove the honesty of our intentions by a brief consideration of the evidence we submit.”
She could not interpret the odd expression that flitted over his face. He was thinking that Beachey was also a lawyer, and that he did not exactly see himself grasping for Beachey’s ingenious presentation as at a last straw, and then finding it worthless and having to discard it. They would be left in a position to say that they had done everything in their power to assist him, and that he had refused to use the evidence they gave him, since it indicated his connivance in the swindle.
He remained silent, and her head lifted haughtily.
“Let me remind you, too,” she said, “that you are not the only one implicated in this. Joybells, the ringer, was my horse. If you are in the mud, I am in the mire. I shall never cease in my efforts until this scandal is probed, and the men who planned and engineered it are punished.”
“I hope you will be successful,” he returned with formal civility. “Our endeavors seem to be toward the same end, but they can hardly move on parallel lines.”
There was a sudden flash of fire in her eyes.
“You are going to let two scoundrels get away with a million dollars or more, and enjoy the money they have stolen while they gloat over the way they have used you? For the sake of a false, foolish, insane pride, you are willing to do this?”
“It is not pride, Mrs. Lee.”
“Oh, I understand,” she cried. “You do not have to explain. You don’t trust me—any of us. But we—I, especially—are not asking your confidence. All we request is for you to give us a hearing. Surely, it is no derogation of your dignity to do that.”
“I am sorry to seem discourteous,” he said stiffly. “But I do not care to reopen the subject.”
AT LAST she understood that his refusal was final, that he would have no dealings with herself or Beachey. Whichever way she turned, by whatever method she tried to reach him, she was met by a wall of stone.
A profound discouragement came over her, and then a
“I was wrong!” Her voice vibrated tensely. ‘T should not have come here. To do so, I put everything behind me. My own pride, my self-respect. I made a great sacrifice, and made it gladly. But you have not changed, Judge Jeffries. You are still as hard and inflexible as you were years ago.”
He turned quickly.
“What do you know of me years ago? I met you for the first time in February.”
“Oh, no; it was not for the first time.” At last she could express it, voice the resentment, the sense of injustice that had rankled in her soul for years. A sharp, cruel joy ran through her veins.
She did not raise her voice, but it pulsated through the room.
“When I met you for the first time, you were a judge— a very young, a very hard one. Your father and mine were friends. Oh, yes,” in answer to a startled movement on his part, “I, too, came from Bainbridge. My father was Thomas Logan. I have heard that he was a fine, dashing fellow in his day, but I remember him as a drink-sodden wreck, married to that low, common woman who was my step-mother, and completely ruled by her. She hated me, and planned to get rid of me, because she couldn’t subdue me; she knew instinctively that I wasn’t her sort. I was always running away from home. I ran far and fast, too, on any horse that I could manage to pick up—once on your Bonny Bells. But I was always hauled back.
“So they dragged me the little horse-thief, before you; me, a poor little frightened child, with no more real harm in her than a wild colt, just daring and adventurous. I’ll never forget the way you tried to bully and coerce me.
“I can hear your voice yet. ‘That little sorrel-top of yours is defiant, Mr. Logan,’ you said to my father. ‘If we can’t curb that incorrigible bent of hers, we’ll have to see what they can do at the reform school.’
“Defiant? Of course I was. As defiant of you then, as I am now, and always shall be. I’d have died before I would have let you know how scared and trembling I really was. If I had cried and whined, you would have released me in spite of my step-mother’s testimony and that of a lot of other stupid brutes; but, instead, I sauced you. Some one in the back of the courtroom laughed, and I saw your mouth get grim, and the blood come up into your face. It was an affront to your dignity that you couldn’t stand, and so you took it out on me.”
She stopped, unable for the moment to go on. The silence was heavy and brooding, and yet palpitant with emotion. He was looking at her steadily, with the expression of a man forced to believe the incredible, hearing statements that he could neither refute nor yet quite comprehend. His face had grown gray; the lines on it seemed etched in charcoal.
She was leaning forward, her clasped hands on hers knees; forgetful of him and her surroundings, looking on some picture so vivid in her memory that it obscured, obliterated the present.
“I can see that little, country court-room now, with its drab walls and the coco matting on the floor, flies buzzing against the dusty window-panes, and you sitting up above me, enjoying your petty show of power. For fifteen minutes you harangued me, held me there in a pillory, alternately thundering platitudes at me and smearing me with vitriolic sarcasm. I can hear your voice still, rasping and hard and cruel. There wasn’t much left of me when you got through; but I still held my head up and sauced you. Then you handed me down the stiffest sentence that you could give me, and sent me away from the sunshine and freedom I loved to that gray hell.
“You said you’d break me.” Her mouth curled, her voice rang with a mordant exultation. “Did you do it? Three years at a mangle in that sweltering basement couldn’t do it. All the restrictions and punishments they could impose on me couldn’t. I come of a stock that laughed at Indian tortures. Well, I got out at last, and I struggled above it all—somehow.”
Jeffries, who had listened to her, staring at her with fascinated eyes, now sat with bowed head, gazing at the floor. A silence had again fallen between them; how long it lasted, neither of them knew. Then he lifted his head, and brushed back the lock from his brow.
“Your revenge is very complete.” His voice was hoarse, he spoke slowly. “For myself, I can make no excuses. I was young, far too young to occupy such a responsible position; and youth is very hard and arrogant, very sure of its judgments. There is no reparation I can make; none. But if it’s the least satisfaction for you to know that you have broken me, as I, thank God, did not succeed in breakirg you, why, take it, Mrs. Lee, rejoice in it. The more you rejoice, the more I shall feel I am repaying something of my debt to you.
“What you have just told me clears up so many things between us.” He spoke meditatively. “Once or twice. I've had a sense of having known you before; hut it vanished so quickly that I could never grasp it. And then, even when you were in a gentle mod. I would sometimes catch a look of hatred in your eyes, and you would change to ice.
It always puzzled and disquieted me, but the riddle is plain now.”
He got up and stood with one hand on the table beside her.
“You pay off your scores with interest, don’t you? Compound interest, in this case. You've played a wonderful game, Constance; and you’ve played it to a finish. And yet, for all your fixed purpose, there have been moments when you loved me, loved me almost as well— only, that could never be—as I loved you.”
She had drawn back in her chair, her lashes on her cheek, a frozen statue. Looking down at her, he repeated half under his breath:
“The pride I conquered is now my scathe,
It conquers me again.
The old resentment lasts like death For you, love; yet you refrain,
And I break my heart on your hard unfaith,
And I break my heart in vain.”
"Forgive my dropping into verse,” he said. “It comes on me like a disease now and then; and the quotation seemed so apt.”
He struck the table lightly with his hand.
“If you had only told me all this, when we met in Atlantic City, or even later in New York, I would have gone down on my knees to you, and begged you to let me make such poor reparation as I could for the rest of my life. But,” he drew a deep sigh, “you would not have listened to me. This revenge you planned, and carried through, was more to you than love, or content, or any of the things I might rashly have promised.
“Honestly, I can’t help but admire you for it. You’ve made a thorough job of it, and put it across with uncommon cleverness. But, speaking quite abstractly, it isn’t worthy of you. Big as it is, you are bigger still. You are a very splendid and wonderful woman, with more courage and spirit than one man in a million; and revenge, even on a grand scale, is a rather scrubby weakness.
Great natures such as yours should never yield to it. It always argues a lack of balance, a true sense of proportion.
“That sounds,” he said, “as if I were again smearing you with vitriolic sarcasm,and thundering moral platitudes.
Really, I don’t mean it so. I should be glad to feel that my downfall had contributed to your happiness. Then it would seem as if I had at least paid something on the old debt.”
Constance started up. Her impulse was to cry out:
“Oh, stop this nonsense, this silly talk about revenge! You’ve got to listen to me, to let me explain.”
And then she saw herself pouring out the whole story, and her courage failed.
There was so much in her motives that had been psychological and emotional; they had been so mixed from time to time. She saw herself faltering and floundering over his inevitable questions.
She did not realize that his love was great enough to bridge them; she only heard him asking:
“Why are you mixed up with people like Beachey, DeVries and Delia? Why, when you came to Atlantic City and won from me the facts regarding the Coal Corporation, should my arrangements with them have immediately been nullified? Why did you not tell me that you were Caroline Logan? Why should Beachey have used influence and money to weaken me politically? When you made that spectacular trip down the river and were in telephone communication with me, why did you not give me even a hint that the race was fixed?
You told me you did not trust Beachey and were afraid of him, and yet he asked this interview and is here with you to-night; why?”
She had an inclination to put her hands over her ears to shut out those unasked, judicial questions. She crushed back her longing to make him believe, in spite of his doubts. As she saw it, the only way she could explain was by action that would convict DeVries and Gabriel, and publicly clear Jeffries. That was the task before her, and there was no use in talking to him until she had accomplished it.
“I—I am going,” she said uncertainly.
He was moving over to open the door for her, when he stopped abruptly.
“One moment,” he said. “I quite forgot. Your check, Mrs. Lee.” He took up an envelope from the table, and handed it to her. “I had hoped you would reach the track in time, and I could persuade you not to make the wager. But since you did not come, there was nothing for me to do but follow instructions.”
“Of course,” she said dully. She thrust the envelope in the bag on her wrist, and walked into the hall.
“Come, Mr. Beachey.” She spoke quietly. “Goodnight, Nannie.”
“But I shall see you to-morrow?” Nannie put an arm about her, and they went out to the porch together.
Jeffries and Beachey followed. As Constance started toward the steps, Nannie Wendell said something to Beachey, and he turned to answer her. The night was dark, and Jeffries stepping forward, guided Constance to the waiting car. He held open the door, and she took her seat inside.
The next moment, there was the sharp crack of a mountaineer’s rifle from one of the dark masses of
shrubbery on the lawn; and Jeffries staggered and fell.
For a second Constance sat motionless in the cab— only for a second, yet it seemed to her that centuries passed. Then her foot was on the step, and she leaped out. She was acutely conscious of every detail of the scene; it was etched in her brain as by some biting acid—the shadowy darkness of the lawn cut by the yellow path of light from the open hall door; the bent figure of an old negro butler inside, his dark face and protruding eyeballs; Nannie’s shrill scream echoing in her ears.
She sprang to where Jeffries lay, and kr.elt beside him,
gathering his head in her arms, murmuring wild, tender words, and then calling frantically for aid.
BUT of all that bewildered, frightened group, it was Beachey alone who grasped the significance of the attack. Almost with the crack of the rifle he had realized that the bullet was meant for him and not for Jeffries. They were of about the same height, and in the uncertain light—the night was cloudy, and there was no moon—the murderer had mistaken his target. And his cool, trained brain instantly responded in action.
Pushing Nannie Wendell behind a pillar with his left hand, and at the same instant drawing the automatic revolver he had carried constantly since his return from the mountains, he ran crouching along the railing of the porch, and swung himself over at the end. For a second his form was visible, then he vanished in a pool of blackness. A moment later, his automatic spoke from the clump of shrubbery, to be immediately answered by another rifle-shot from behind a tree a little distance away. And after that, from time to time, there was a scattering exchange of fire as the two—pursued and pursuer—made their way across the grounds.
Nannie Wendell, without taking time to catch her breath after Beachey had roughly thrust her behind the pillar, ran down the steps to the drive.
“Clay?” she cried, gripping Constance by the shoulder. “Is he dead?”
Constance turned a ghastly face up to her. Her voice rang out broken and strident.
“Get help! Get help! Can’t you see—? Oh, my God! Hurry! Hurry!” Nannie rushed back up the steps, calling to the frightened, huddled servants, ordering them to come down.
The colored driver of the taxicab, who had sat braced back in his seat paralyzed with terror, slid cautiously to the ground, and flattened himself against the side of the car. He could hear an occasional shot; but as these seemed to recede farther and farther away from the house, his courage returned.
“We gotta git ’im inside,” he said. “Heah, yo’ niggers!”—to the butler and another man who had detached themselves from the milling group at the door and had ventured as far as the steps, “come down yere, an’ lend a hand.”
Evidently a fellow of some executive ability, he instructed them to lift Jeffries as carefully as possible, and carry him into the house.
“Better phone fo’ a doctor, ma’am,” he said to Nannie who was wringing her hands on the steps. “He’s still breathin’, but ’at’s jes’ about all.”
It was Constance, though, who sprang ahead of Nannie and seized upon the distracted housekeeper.
“Get a doctor—the nearest one,” she ordered tersely. “Then we will have to do what we can, until he comes.”
She was whiter than marble as she came back to meet the men bringing Jeffries through the doorway. She signed to them to lay him down on a low, leather couch in the hall, but as she saw the blood welling up through his coat over his chest, the walls went black about her. She fought against the faintness that was overcoming her. There was no time for that.
“Bring cotton, bandages, antiseptics, water at once,” she directed the housekeeper. “Give me your knife,” she said to the cab-driver; and with it, cut away Jeffries’s coat and shirt.
There was something to be done; that steadied her nerves. And he lived! He lived! Unconscious though he was, his face a leaden gray, his breath coming in awful gurgling gasps, he still lived!
She became again the girl who had mopped the blood from the floors of French hospitals, who had dressed terrible injuries and seen dreadful sights, insensible to everything but the duty of the moment. When with the help of the cab-man, she had cut away the clothing, and had sponged the blood from the black bullet-hole only a fraction of an inch away from the heart, she bandaged the wound in a way that would have drawn compliments from even a hospital surgeon.
That done, she could only kneél beside the couch and wait. That was the horror of it. She could do no Continued on page 43
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more for him, simply wait and wipe the sweat from his face until the doctor came. She tried to pray; but her thoughts were too incoherent. The prayers merged into a fierce, continuous reiteration: “He must live! He shall live!”
DURING that period of strain and apprehension while the anxious household waited for the coming of the doctor, no one had given a thought to Beachey, his absence was unnoticed.
And he, for his part, was giving as little thought to them. His mind, his energy, his subtlety, all his powers were bent solely on the chase. He was a hunter after that greatest quarry in the world, a man; and a quarry, in this instance, who was as wily, as resourceful as, and more vindictive than, himself. It was possible that he was stalking more than a single antagonist; that was yet to be determined. But whether there were one or half a dozen against him, Beachey took up the contest with the zest, the cool skill of an old campaigner.
In a moment’s space, he had sloughed off the habit of years as readily as a snake sloughs off its skin. Blood and tradition had asserted themselves, and he was again the primitive mountaineer, holding to the old law of vengeance: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
Following the bushwhacking methods of warfare with which he had grown familiar in his childhood, he slipped like a shadow from one patch of cover to another, or to the shelter of one of the faintly outlined cedars that dotted the lawn, firing whenever the dim shape of his adversary showed incautiously in the effort to escape.
From their exchange of shots, it did not take him long to decide that there was only one man opposed to him; and his object thereafter became to hold the fellow within a certain radius, and eventually to drive him into a corner and capture him. He had the advantage of a modern weapon; the other was armed with an old-fashioned rifle and after each shot had to pause and re-load; but one or two extremely close calls convinced Beachey that the handicap was more than made up by a superior marksmanship.
In their maneuvering for position, they soon left the immediate vicinity of the house behind them. Through the interwoven branches of a mock-orange hedge which marked the confines of the yard, the murderer wriggled as silently as a lizard, turning to fire at a slight crackle of the twigs behind him where Beachey followed. The bullet whistled past the lawyer’s ears as he ducked; but his quick return shot at the flash failed to find its mark.
Beyond the hedge lay a grove of stately trees, oaks, maples, black walnuts, but chiefly low-branching beeches. Beachey, still negotiating the twisted barrier of mock-orange bushes, saw his man dash suddenly to the nearest of these; but his pistol arm was impeded for the moment. Before he could bring it into action, the fellow had gained shelter.
He changed his tactics, and retreating along the line of the hedge, reached with a similar dash another tree about thirty yards away.
HIS opponent, taken by surprise at the swift nimbleness of the exploit, spat a mouthful of tobacco juice at the foot of the tree behind which be was lurking, and swore under his breath.
A doubt which had been gathering in his brain gained certainty. His pursuer knew all the strategy of Indian fighting, and employed it with the skill of a mountaineer feudist. Who could it be? There was but one answer. That must have been another man who had fallen under his fire, and it was Beachey who so relentlessly stalked him.
Or, maybe, the old fox had played a trick on him, dropping at the report of his rifle, and then crawling swiftly to cover to take after him.
Whatever the explanation, though, this was certainly Beachey, and the conviction bred a sort of superstitious awe in him. He remembered that in the old days up in the hills Lou Beachey had always bragged that he was invulnerable.
“Ain’t no bullet made that kin git yuh, hey?” he muttered with stubborn, nettled fury. “By God, I’ll show yuh!” And dodging back and forth from his refuge as he loaded and fired, he pumped a sue cession of shots at the oak which sheltered Beachey. A thin, sarcastic smile curved the lawyer’s lips at this futile exhibition. He sensed the workings of the other man’s mind, and knew that rage would render him less wary.
And now, as he had expected, the char acter of the conflict altered. Instead of being a flight and pursuit there in the dense shadows of the grove, it changed to a duel—a battle of wits and trickery.
But there was this difference; every shot from the rifle was aimed to kill. Beachey’s bullets all ranged low as if his purpose were merely to disable. He was following up a definite plan, slowly but surely drawing his man into an angle at the farther end of the grove, where the trees ended and a broad strip of plowed land intervened between the fence and a corn-field beyond. But his adversary, intent only upon killing, did not realize this until he was fairly in the trap.
Tc be concluded