The Meanest of His Creatures
His deep laid plot had made provision for every possible factor, save one—love
JOSEPH LISTER RUTLEDGE
THROUGH the dingy window of his office, Martin Gill watched the hurrying figure of the girl. The wind whipped her skirts about her slim young legs,
and touched her face with an added color. His eyes kindled a little, as he watched her progress with a faintlyproprietorial smile.
Martin Gill had come to Stanton, from an impoverished farm, ten years before. He was a raw country boy, then, heavy and lumpish, and with a sullen and dissatisfied face that cloaked a spirit equally fierce and embittered. He had hated the farm; hated the harsh and unreasoning old man with whom he lived; hated the promised legacy, the outward reason for a multitude of petty tyrannies. His mind had been constantly set on the thought of escape. He had studied, hard, as the opportunity arose, knowing that learning, of sorts, was a necessity. And when the chance offered, he pilfered and defrauded, lied his way out, when he could, and when he couldn’t, took the abuse that came to him with a stoic indifference, borne up by the knowledge of that small but growing hoard under a loose board in his attic room.
He had arrived at Stanton, penniless and gaunt, and
as watchful and vicious as a pariah dog. He had slept in stables and open sheds, and had found what sustenance he could by nightly prowling among the alley garbage tins, eked out by an occasional bottle of milk pilfered from a doorstep in the early hours.
It was in a truculent spirit that he first looked for work. But he was quick to see his mistake, and to change his attitude. He even provided himself with a story calculated to touch his hearers’ sympathies.
When he approached Garret Olcott with it, and was given a minor position in the office, it was with a sense of triumph, not unmixed with contempt for a man who could be so easily duped.
The Martin Gill who looked out with kindling eyes, and faintlyproprietorial air at that trim, windblown figure, was far different from the lumpish, half-starved boy who had first come to Stanton. He had made a place for himself as the virtual head of the Olcott business, and in making it had achieved a certain unostentatious dignity. Garret Olcott had often congratulated himself on the kindly impulse that
kindly impulse that had given Martin a place in his office. A quiet, softspoken, dependable man, he had more than justified that chance.
Only, recently had Daphne Olcott held a place in Martin’s^ plans. But from the time when she first had caught his notice, she had been a definite part; she was to be the evidence of a social success that would supplement his other achievements.
It was Daphne’s eighteenth birthday that had brought her first to his attention. There was a gathering at the house. Martin was not among the guests, but a bitter curiosity had led him that way. From the shadowed lawn, he watched the lighted windows and saw Daphne’s slight figure passing and repassing in the dance, and realized that she was no longer a child. Then he saw Dana Fielding, and he scowled.
He knew that Garret Olcott thought well of Fielding. He had told him so. “Daphne’s growing up, Martin,” he had said, in one of his rare moments of expansiveness.
She s seeing a lot of young Fielding. I shouldn’t wonder if some day—” He had stopped, and then continued.
Not that I would object, you understand. From my standpoint, such a match would be what I should desire. He is a fine lad with a fine family behind him.” A smile, half sneer, had crossed Martin’s downcast face. He knew something of that proud but frayed gentility.
But its absurd to talk like this,” Olcott had continued. After all, he’s only a boy, and she’s barely eighteen, still—”
He broke off. “Anyway, I would be glad if you would teach him all you can.” He smiled a little “If anything like that should happen, he would be the one to carry on.” If any thing like that should happen”—well, it would’nt. There was^ a scowl on Martin’s face, as he turned away. He’d have something to say about that. They
would see; whoever cared, would see. As for being in love. Bah, he was above that! He wanted her, and he would have her. Let them play around with their romantic dreams. He held stronger cards than that, and he had the courage to play them.
The coming of love, if it was love, made no change in Martin’s life. In a quiet way, he followed Daphne’s movements; knew something of her interests, something, also, of her friends. His eyes followed her with a growing passion, of which she was quite unaware. But, outwardly, at least, the quiet course of his life was unchanged. He had no friends. People pitied him because of that, but without reason; it was of his own choosing.
He took long walks, but only a few people knew of it. It was characteristic of Martin, that he could pass unnoticed, and he went out only after dark, and kept, mainly, to the shadows of unfrequented roads. But, once beyond the city streets, and out of sight of people, he would break into a long running stride that ate up the miles. There was one spot that he often visited, a desolate and lonesome spot by the lake shore. Often, regardless of the weather, he would strip and plunge into the inky water, and strike out with easy, powerful strokes,
until the shore became a dim, misty line behind him.
Sometimes he would dive in, fully clothed as he was, as
though to challenge his strength. In this way he became inured to cold and weariness, and his muscles firm and
conditioned as a fighter’s.
Had anyone seen Martin on these occasions they hardly would have credited their sight, for it was generally known that he couldn’t swim. The fact would, of course, never have been known, if it had not been brought, strikingly, to their attention. Martin had been induced to go to a large picnic, a week or so before. Mr. Olcott had urged, it, pitying the man’s apparent loneliness. Probably no one would have noticed his presence if he had not fallen out of a canoe, almost within reach of shore, and had almost drowned before their eyes.
No one could know, of course, that he had gone there as part of a settled plan, with that very object in view; had satisfied himself that the lifeguard was watching, and had deliberately upset, just where most people would see him, and in going under had, with equal deliberation, breathed water into his lungs. In thus giving the appearance of reality to the accident, he had almost overreached himself, for he was revived with difficulty.
The newspapers had taken the occurrence as a text for editorials, emphasizing the need of better protection at the beaches, and in the course of this campaign, Martin had come in for a good deal of prominence. Outwardly, it appeared to embarrass him. But, in the privacy of his own room, his pale-blue eyes glinted with a satisfaction not untinged with amusement, as he read.
Martin’s plan had taken shape gradually. It had grown out of his early scorn for the older man’s softheartedness. It had seemed a weakness, to him, that he could use. It had set him pondering. His growing knowledge of the business had only deepened his scorn as he realized how little practical knowledge Olcott had
of it. It had descended through former generations of Olcotts who, in their time, had made it an important factor in the city. But Garret Olcott was an impractical visionary, in whom the business strain had run out, leaving only a fierce pride.
A/IARTIN had learned of this pride through Colvin.
Abner Colvin was a lawyer, a keen though kindly man. He was Olcott’s closest friend, he knew his weaknesses, and the danger of his position, faced, as he was, with keen and energetic competition, and he was constantly urging him to" sell, while the prestige of the name still held. Martin had often overheard them in loud and heated debate, and had noted the flush of anger on Olcott’s face long after the other had left.
At first, it had meant little to him, but as he came to understand the business better he began to question how he could turn it to his own advantage. It was one of those overheated scraps of conversation that had first given him an idea. “You’ll lose it, someday,” Colvin had said. “Someone will take it away from you, and then, where will you be?” Martin had smiled, vaguely, at Olcott’s sullen growl of protest, but the thought had stayed in his mind. Yes, somebody would take it, why shouldn’t Martin be that one? He toyed pleasantly with the thought. He could make something of the business. Nobody would take it away from him. It could be made more profitable, something to give him an established place. He would be a figure in the community, not just a grown-up edition of a poor farm boy, living on a pittance that he more than earned. It had become a settled plan with him long before Daphne had crossed his thoughts, she only added another incentive. Yes, he was going to have the business, take it away from that impractical, stiff-necked old fool, and as for the girl, he’d get her,
too, though of course, this thought came to him later.
There was no change in Martin’s attitude, no hurry. He was learning the business, that would, someday, be his own, to do with as he liked. At first, too, his plan existed only in his confident belief in its ultimate accomplishment. He was content to wait. In those years he built himself a reputation for disinterested effort, for soundness and integrity. When the time came for him to take that business, there must be no cause for questioning his motives or doubting his honesty. Martin set himself to the task of posing as the faithful, disinterested employee. He knew that Olcott liked him, and trusted in his judgment, and he did his best to encourage this attitude. He knew Olcott’s weakness, his pride in the business, and he played on that, deferring to his judgment and building up about the older man a suggestion of dominance that flattered Olcott.
Colvin wasn’t deceived. “I’d watch that fellow Martin,” he said. “He’s cleverer than you, and I don’t trust the fellow.”
“You don’t trust anything about this business,” Olcott retorted, shortly, “and you’re as wrong about Martin as you are about the rest. Can you think of anything that he has done, that you could question?”
“Not a thing,” said Colvin, pleasantly, “I’ll admit it’s a prejudice, not a reasoned judgment.”
“And besides,” Olcott continued, “he never does anything without first consulting me.”
“He’s clever,” Colvin retorted, meaningly, “I’ve said that.” Olcott’s only retort had been a scowl.
Martin knew that Colvin did not like him, but he was not disturbed by that. “Perhaps you would like to consult Mr. Colvin before you decide,” he had suggested, in regard to some minor change. But Olcott’s quick and almost heated rejection of the proposal had emphasized what Martin had already discovered, that in regard to the
business, there was a sharp antagonism between the two.
It was out of such minor incidents that Martin’s plan took shape. He played with that antagonism, fostering it in small ways, that seemed to show only an earnest interest in the business. For his plan had taken shape. Colvin’s arguments had made it possible. Olcott was in arms against them, against the idea of sale to anyone, to Hardwick especially, because Colvin had favored it.
Martin smiled to himself. Olcott wouldn’t sell, but he might buy. He was ripe for that suggestion. It was pap to a weak man’s vanity. Not that Martin intended that he should actually buy. It would be but a gesture, unknown to any but themselves; a foolish gesture, that would put the business and all Olcott’s wealth within his grasp. It might go further, too, if Martin had his way, it might make his daughter a hostage of his fortune, of his liberty. It was for this that Martin had built for years. He was honest. He was dependable, Martin smiled grimly. Who had better reason to know it than Olcott? And Olcott trusted him completely.
Martin waited with a strained impatience for Olcott’s coming, but neither his face nor his manner gave any hint of it.
Olcott nodded, pleasantly. “I have had some news, Mr. Olcott, my uncle who brought me up, has died.”
“I’m sorry for that, Martin.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Martin, without glancing up. “He has left me everything. I do not know just how much, and I do not know just what to do with it. I would be glad of your advice. I thought that, perhaps, you might let me invest something in the business.”
“Mr. Colvin has been urging me again to sell to Hardwick.” Olcott laughed, a little shortly.
Not a muscle of Martin’s face moved, and his voice was even. “Hardwick might be ready to pay a good price,” he agreed.
“I have no thought of selling, now, nor at any time,” Olcott retorted hotly. “This business is not for sale.” “There is another consideration, sir,” Martin suggested, in a quiet voice. “You might buy.” He saw the look of surprise in the other’s face. “If you could amalgamate the Hardwick business with this you could control the market in this section. “He saw the flush mount to Olcott’s face. “It would be a power then,” he said. “This business is second, now, to Hardwick’s, and they are better equipped and not so scrupulous. If the generations that have given us prestige and a record for fair and honest dealing could be added to their modern plant—” He did not finish. “It’s a chance,” he said, eagerly; “a chance that may not come again.”
The flush was still on Olcott’s face. “It’s a big dream, Martin,” he said. His voice was eager and a little unsteady. “Too big for us, I fear.” He hesitated. “They wouldn’t amalgamate,” he concluded weakly.
“They would sell.” Martin spoke quietly, but there was a new decisiveness in his tone. Olcott looked up quickly. He wanted, yet dreaded, to be convinced. “I’ve been following Hardwick,” Martin continued in the same quiet, reasoning tones; “they’re spread out pretty thin. They need money. It’s only one of Hardwick’s interests, you know. Rightly handled, he’d sell.” Olcott shook his head, though there was still the glint of excitement in his eyes. “It would need a small fortune,” he said, “two hundred thousand, at least.” He smiled, with a hint of derision that yet had in it something of an appeal. “Have you thought where we could get two hundred thousand dollars, Martin?”
For the first time Martin’sblueeyes met Olcott’s with a level gaze. “Yes,” he said, decisively. His whole manner seemed changed. He became eloquent, persuasive, ccnfi-
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The Meanest of His Creatures
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dent. “I can’t help knowing something about your affairs, sir, and I have been thinking of this a great deal. I think your figures are about right. In going over it I put you down, personally, for half of that,” he smiled faintly.
“Perhaps, if I had time, Olcott reflected aloud, “I could raise it, but not now. Seventy-five at the best.”
“Say seventy-five, then,” Martin hurried on. “The business could be mortgaged for fifty.” He saw Olcott’s motion of protest. He answered it, almost sharply “You can get money for six per cent., perhaps less, and make it earn twenty. It could be clear again in a year.”
Olcott’s face flushed again. “But that still is short of the amount,” he said.
Martin’s manner became deferential again. “I had thought, Mr. Olcott, that you might let me make up the difference I had that in mind when I spoke to you.” A flame of excitement leaped into Martin’s face, and seemed, instantly, to find a reflection in the older man’s. “Hardwick would sell,” urged Martin, “if we moved quickly enough. He’s pushed for money. He’d sell, thinking he’d turned a sharp trick; but give him time to think, and he’ll figure it out for himself.”
Olcott leaned forward, listening eagerly, as Martin outlined his plan. It was simple enough. Concealment was the vital part. He emphasized that. It was simple enough, except that Hardwick had wide banking interests. It would be better to take no chances. Necessary transfers could be made at a distance, and returns made direct to Olcott in cash or negotiable securities. The same about the mortgage. Then it would be possible to make a quick deposit and go tb Hardwick with an accepted cheque before there was the faintest chance of discovery.
TV/ÍARTIN scanned the older man’s iV1 face, narrowly. He had planned this argument carefully. Another man might have questioned, raised objections, but he knew Olcott; eager to be convinced, ready to fall in with any scheme that seemed to make for the progress of the business. He watched the changing emotions that swept over his face with a tense emotion, hidden by a manner of restrained enthusiasm. “I do not think that plan would fail,” he urged, quietly; “but if it did, there is nothing lost. It would please Miss Daphne,” he added. It was his final argument, one that he knew would not fail. Olcott’s head came sharply erect. “We can try it,” he said, slowly. “As you say, we take no real chance. I suppose you had better arrange the details, Martin, you have given it more thought than I have. “He looked up, with a friendly smile. “We are partners in this, too. Yes, that would be best I think, I will give you full power to act for me.”
The color of excitement died from Martin Gill’s face. He staggered a little, clutching at the desk for support. It was something that he had practiced often, that sudden suggestion of weakness.
“You’re not well, Martin,” Olcott glanced at him, anxiously.
“It’s nothing, sir. I am a little out of sorts, that is all. I thought I might take a short holiday, if you would not mind, after the arrangements have been made. They will take time to complete. I should be back in time. I must be. It would not do to have all that money around so long.”
Not for nothing had he studied Olcott. It was Martin, now, who hesitated, the other who was eager and confident. “Stay as long as you like,” he urged; “you need the rest. If the papers come before you return, I will put them in the safe.” He laughed easily. “No one would think of looking there. There’s never been anything worth while in it in my time,
and only you and I know that there might be.”
CANE week later, Martin Gill walked up the gangway of the steamer with head erect and shoulders thrown back. There was a new color in his face and a new swing to his stride. There was a subdued excitement about him, too, the hint of expectancy; though it might only have been that he was going on his first real holiday. But his whole manner had changed. He made many friendships, the easy friendships of shipboard, born of long, peaceful, uneventful days. The restraint of years dropped from him and left him a pleasant and cheerful companion. He soon discovered that others, like himself, were going to Cuba for the voyage, remaining only so long as the ship was in port. He made it a point to cultivate their friendship, and spent his hours ashore with them in hurried sightseeing. When the time came for the return voyage, Martin’s face had lost its pallor. He was a handsome figure as he stood by the rail, big and brown and broad-shouldered; only his pale-blue eyes seemed strangely out of keeping.
All day long he had watched the distant line of faded blue that marked the coast. It must be eight miles distant, he thought; perhaps more. It seemed to exercise a fascination for him. He saw the white of distant sails studding the water between, and nodded. Leaving his deck chair, he went to the wireless room and sent a message to Olcott announcing his return within four days at the most. That done, he went to his cabin and prepared to dress for dinner. He was longer than usual at his toilet, as though it were an occasion of more than ordinary importance. As he stood in the doorway in his dinner jacket, he turned about to look at the room he had left. There was the orderly disorder there of a room that expects its owner’s return at any moment. His trunk was open. His night clothes were thrown out on the bunk ready for immediate use. There were some letters lying about, and even some loose change. With a final satisfied glance he switched out the light and closed and locked the door.
There was a concert in the saloon that night and Martin and some of his friends had been present for a while, but it was hot there and they came out on deck. Here, it was cooler, though the air was still warm. They stood about laughing and chatting. There was no moon, and the stars were dimmed by a faint haze. Only, in the far distance, there was a speck of light, evidently the riding light of some small vessel near the shore. Martin saw it and smiled to himself. Lazily, he pulled himself up on the rail and sat there, steadying himself by a stanchion.
“Be careful,” a woman’s anxious voice warned him. But Martin only laughed easily. He took out his pocket knife to cut the end from a cigar, and in opening it, let go his hold. The woman, who had spoken, stepped forward to steady him. But she was too late. With a sudden gasp he clutched for the rail, missed it and pitched backward.
There was a shrill shriek, and a man’s startled cry: ‘Man overboard.’ Martin Gill doubled and struck the water, the impact, momentarily, driving the breath from his body. The knife was still in his hand. As he sank, he felt for his boots and cut the laces, kicking his feet free.
When he came to the surface, the ship already was ahead of him, and he was beyond the narrow circle of its lights. He could see the rail with its blurred line of faces. The boat was already losing way. A long finger of light cut the water behind him. He turned over and began to swim with powerful, unhurried strokes, his face turned backward watching that
finger of light. Once it swung out in a wide arc, and as it approached, he dived, swimming under water until it had passed. Then he steadied himself, his eyes searching the distance for that single riding light, and found it. He resumed his steady, even strokes.
The many lights of the ship had blended into one bright haze, and then into a single point of light. Martin Gill still swam on with that even, untiring stroke. Some time later, he heard the steady beat of its engines resumed. He did not turn to look, but there was a half smile on his bronzed face.
The other light came nearer, and a black bulk took shape beneath it, a schooner riding at anchor. He swam cautiously, now, careful to make no sound. There was a dory astern. He came up beside it, and saw a name rudely lettered on the stern, Lucy B. Cury. Martin leaned on the thwarts, resting himself, then pulled himself in. Moving cautiously, he crept to the bow and felt for the painter. He noticed, with satisfaction, that it was secured by a snap-hook—easy enough to manage. A face looked over the stern of the schooner, Martin could see the dim bulk of it, against the faint illumination of the sky. His heart stood still for a moment, but the man only expectorated contentedly, and lounged away.
The painter came free in his hand, and he let it fall into the water, careful to make no sound. An off-shore wind had sprung up and, once released, the dory drifted rapidly away. Martin sat without moving until the schooner’s lights had. become dim stars in the distance. Then he stirred, and his foot touched something lashed against the side. It was a sail. Well, that would be easier than swimming.
T^OR days, Daphne had watched her
father with an amused and indulgent air. There was an evidence of excitement about him, too palpable to escape detection. Colvin, lolling in an armchair, a cigar between his teeth, noticed it but said nothing. But Daphne was not so cmsiderate. “Don’t you think, dad,” she demanded, “that you had better confess everything?”
She saw his face go suddenly white, and the hands that held the paper trembled. With a quick movement she was behind his chair, leaning over his shoulder. “Poor dad,” she said, softly, as she caught the meaning of the words before her. “Poor Martin,” he answered, huskily, and then again, with an aimless repetition: “Poor Martin.” It stared out at them, a record of swift, uncalled-for tragedy. Fallen overboard, in a calm sea, and lost; not a sign of him found; his cabin in order, his clothes waiting for him; even his money untouched.
Without a word, he handed the paper to Colvin. He read it slowly. “They did everything, apparently,” he said. “They didn’t know, of course, that he couldn’t swim, but evidently, from the account, everything possible was donetosave him.”
“Poor Martin,” Olcott said again. Daphne leaned forward and her lips touched the white fringe of hair on his forehead.
'T'HREE hours later, Martin Gill stood,
with a puzzled air, looking in at the office window where Dana Fielding sat bent over his desk. Martin was roughly dressed and his face, beneath the lowpulled cap, was covered with a stubble of beard. There was a pair of greasy gloves on his hands. After the first moment of hesitation, he looked cautiously about him, and stepped down a side lane. Taking a key from his pocket, he unlocked the door of the rear office, opened it and stepped inside, closing and locking it behind him.
The dim reflection from the light at Fielding’s desk, outlined the black bulk of the file cases that shut off the front view. Martin made his way to the safe without hesitation. His feet, encased in soft, canvas shoes, made no sound. At a sudden
movement from Fielding, his hand slipped to his pocket and came out armed; but there was no further sound.
Martin bent forward, intently, listening for the fall of the tumblers. He pulled the door open, noiselessly, opened an inner drawer and took out two bulky envelopes. A swift survey, assured him they were the papers he sought. Then, at the sound of heavy footsteps, he stared, slightly, and smiled to himself, as he remembered that it was the policeman on beat. He would come down the lane and look through the window—his usual custom. The safe door was still open, and Martin stepped forward, as though to close it, changed his mind and stopped. So Fielding would be the one to carry on, he thought, a saturnnine smile curving his thin lips. He waited until the footsteps drew nearer then, reaching forward, he jerked the drawer of the safe loose, let it fall, with a clatter, and stepped back into the protecting shadows.
Dana Fielding looked up with a start, shielding his eyes and peering into the dusk at the end of the cluttered office. From where he sat he could see nothing. He rose and moved beyond the line of cases, and a sharp exclamation broke from him as he saw the gaping safe. He dropped on one knee beside it, and as he did so the policeman’s face appeared at the window. Without a moment’s hesitation Martin fired across him, shooting high and wide. But the policeman did not stop to question. He returned the fire, and Dana Fielding reeled, clutching at his thigh as he fell. Martin tossed the pistol beside him and ran, noiselessly, across the inky storeroom, threw up a window at the rear, climbed through it, closed it behind him and disappeared in the darkness.
'T'HE insistent ringing of the telephone bell brought Olcott and Colvin sharply back from their intermittent discussion about Martin. Olcott rose, and went to the hall to answer.
“What is it?” He looked up and saw Daphne. She had left them, pleading weariness, and she stood, now, gazing down at him, very slim and white in her night clothes. “What is it?” she asked again, sharply.
“Some trouble at the office,” he answered, trying to make his tone casual. “I have to go down. Run back to bed, dear. It’s nothing to worry over.”
“I’m coming with you.”
“You can’t, dear. We can’t wait. Colvin’s car is at the door.”
“I’m coming,” she called back.
A police sergeant met them at the door. “We’ve been waiting for you, Mr. Olcott. You’re safe’s been opened. O’Brien’s got a young fellow here—says his name’s Fielding—that he works for you. O’Brien caught him tampering with the safe. The boy fired at him, so O’Brien had to plug him.”
“Dana!” Daphne’s voice was poignant with terror. “What have they done to you?” She flung herself down beside him, gathering him in her arms.
“It’s nothing, Daph.” He tried to laugh, but the laugh ended almost in a sob. “It’s just a scratch; but these fellows are trying to make believe that I broke into the safe, and shot at this policeman.” “There must be some mistake, officer,” Olcott said, in a dull voice. “He is in my employ. No suspicion can possibly rest on him. There must be a mistake.” “There’s no mistake about the gun,” O’Brien broke in, “and you can see where he fired through that upper pane. I broke the bottom one.”
“What about the gun, Dana?” Colvin asked.
“I don’t know. I didn’t even see it until they picked it up. But there were two shots. I heard one go by me, and then the policeman fired.” ■
Colvin nodded. “We’d better be going to the station, officer.”
There was a sharp cry of protest from Daphne. Colvin put an arm about her
shaking shoulders. “Don’t you worry, honey. Going by the station is the quickest way to get this young fellow into the bed where he belongs. Your father and I will see to that, all right.”
Fielding tried to smile. “It’s lucky, anyway,” he said, with an effort at composure, “that there was nothing in the old safe.”
“Yes, lucky,” Olcott agreed, dully.
WELL, that’s settled, ’’Colvin said. “I wonder that they even tried to make a case against Dana. Funny who it could have been though, some stranger certainly no one else would have expected to find anything in that old cheese box of.a safe. Pretty slick for amateur work, still—” Olcott looked up at his friend with a slow, almost uncertain movement..“There was more than a hundred thousand, Abner,” he said.
Colvin turned on him one swift glance of surprise, almost of disbelief. “Then, why didn’t you say so?” he shot out. “We’ve got a mighty slim chance of recovering it, now.”
Olcott did not answer for a moment. “I thought it might hurt Dana. He didn’t know anything about it. Besides,” he added, dully, “everything was negotiable —just like so much cash. It was part of a plan of expansion,” he explained. “No one knew about it except Martin and myself. We had to keep it secret, but I don’t suppose it matters now. Martin was going to put in seventy-five thousand. He had come in for quite a bit of money, you know. I wish all this hadn’t happened just after poor Martin—”
“So do I,” said Colvin, meaningly. Olcott flushed. “Are you carrying your prejudices beyond the grave?”
“You can see a grave. You can tell what’s in it,” Colvin retorted sharply. Then he laughed. “I suppose I am letting prejudice run away with me. But I never did like the fellow, no use pretending I did, and I’ve known iron-clad alibi’s before that were false as hell.”
Dana Fielding entered. His face was flushed and excited. “They’ve found Gill, sir,” he announced.
The two men looked up at him. “Martin Gill?” they asked, almost in unison.
“Yes. It’s all in the paper. He was picked up by an oil tanker. He was in an open boat, without any oars or anything. He must have been without food and water for days. He’d been drinking salt water it says and was almost crazy. He fought with them when they tried to get him on board.”
Olcott turned to his friend. “Now are you convinced?” he asked.
“Strange, aboutthat boat,” said Colvin. It was strange, but a fortunate thing for Martin. Later news elaborated the story. The tanker had sighted the boat, drifting, apparently empty, and had altered its course to pass close by, and had seen the man lying there, apparently dead. They had rescued the man and set the boat adrift again, noting the name Lucy B. Cary roughly lettered on the stern.
The boat suggested a fishing schooner, but there was nothing to connect that with a man in a dishevelled dinner coat, who fought against rescue. The circumstance was unusual enough to attract attention and the identification of this man with the Martin Gill who had fallen overboard five days before was soon established, but the presence of the boat remained a mystery. In following the story, the newspapers discovered that there had been a schooner, Lucy B. Cary lying off the southern coast five days before, and people along the shore had heard from some of her crew that, about that time a dory had slipped its painter and drifted away. How it came to drift by Martin Gill in his moment of desperate need no one could explain, and even Martin, when at last he came to his senses, could throw no light on the question.
About a week later, as Colvin sat talking in his friend’s office, there was a
quiet knock at the door. At Olcott’s answer, the door opened and Martin Gill entered. He still showed on his face some hint of the ordeal he had been through, but there was a change in his bearing. His shoulders were thrown back and he carried himself with a new air of confidence.
Olcott rose, with a hearty word of welcome. “It’s like seeing a man returned from the dead, Martin,” he said.
“I should have been dead, sir,” Martin retorted quietly. “It was all mv own fault.”
Colvin’s steady glance, searched his face, for any hint of wavering. “It was strange about that boat being there, strange and fortunate,” he added meaningly.
“Yes,” Martin answered, meeting the glance squarely. “I don’t know how it got there, but it was certainly fortunate for me.”
“If I remember rightly, you can’t swim.”
Again Martin’s eyes met that probing glance. “Not a stroke,” he said, quietly.
He turned to Olcott. “I stopped at my bank on my way back.” He stopped and glanced meaningly at Colvin.
“You can speak freely before Mr. Colvin,” Olcott said; “he knows everything.”
“Then, the money is here, Mr. Olcott. Seventy-five thousand. I think that should be enough.”
Colvin leaned over and took the wallet, examining its contents, with a puzzled air.
“So you haven’t heard, Martin—but, of course, you wouldn’t.” Olcott fumbled with the words. “The safe was robbed, about two weeks ago.”
Martin was conscious of those probing eyes upon him. “No!” he said, sharply. There was the ring of sincerity in his tone.
“Yes, everything’s gone,” Olcott nodded sadly. “So that dream is over. You’d better take your money to the bank as soon as you can. I don’t know what I am going to do yet. I’m glad that I can talk it over with you. But that can wait for a day or so. You’ve had a good many shocks lately.” He laid his hand on the younger man’s arm with a touch of affection. ‘Tm glad you’re back, Martin.”
MARTIN sat in the high, oak-beamed library, his face was quiet but his heart beat riotously. There was a bitter amusement in him that this, his first visit to the Olcott home, could have a power to stir him.
Garret Olcott was speaking, x wanted you to come here, where we can talk things over quietly. I am hoping that you can help.” There was not much hope in the tired eyes of the speaker. “Everything I own was in that safe, Martin. Everything except such capital as I have in the business, and that is mortgaged. I cannot even meet the terms. It will have to go, and this house, too. There will be just enough left to keep Daphne and myself from actual want.”
Martin’s face was thoughtful. “You checked over the amounts received, sir, of course. There were certain bonds that you had not mentioned. I thought you had overlooked them, so I transferred them with the rest.”
Olcott’s face went chalky white. “Not that, Martin, surely. Those were not mine. They were trust funds.”
Martin nodded. “I was sure you would have checked over the returns, sir. I never thought but that you wanted them sold. Your order included everything.”
“I didn’t check it over, Martin. I should have. I was waiting for you. I didn’t think—I didn’t intend—but who will believe that?” He looked up, with eyes tragically dark. So there s nothing left—nothing.”
“I have taken up the mortgage, Mr. Olcott,” Martin said, gently, “I just tell you that, so that you may know that you
need not trouble about it.” _
“That was kind of you, Martin.”
Martin stirred, uneasily, in his chair.
‘There is something I have been anxious, to speak of to you for some time—ever since my money came. It is about Miss Daphne.” He saw Olcott’s quick glance of surprise, and flushed a little, but he hurried on. “I have thought a good deal of her, sir. I have grown to care for her. I need not tell you how much. If you would give her to me, I am sure I could make her happy. I could see that she did not suffer. It would make it possible,” he urged earnestly, “to see that no stigma fell on either her or.you.”
For a moment the older man’s eyes brightened, then grew dull again. “I am afraid,” he said, slowly, “that isn’t possible.” He rose and let his hand rest, for a moment, on Martin’s shoulder. “It’s nothing against you, Martin. Only —she hardly knows you, and I think she loves Dana Fielding.”
“A boy and girl affair, sir,” said Martin, gently.
Olcott made no comment. “I may not be as well born, sir,” Martin urged, passionately; “but how many men who succeed are? At least, I am honestly born. You know my record—my reputation. I would be good to her. There would be no need to change anything.
“I don’t know what to say,” Olcott answered, weakly. “It isn’t in my power, Martin. I wouldn’t influence her. You would be good to her, I know; but I do not know if she would be happy. That is my only thought.”
Martin rose. “I don’t want to press the matter,” he said, in the same gentle voice. “I want her to be happy, too. I care for her a great deal. I would do anything for her.” There was a ring of sincerity in his voice. “And it would make everything so simple,” he added, quietly.
IT WAS some days later that Colvin found Daphne, working in the garden. “What’s the matter with your father?” he demanded. “He tells me that you’re marrying this fellow Martin.”
Her hands, toying with the roses she had been cutting, trembled ever so little. “Yes, I’m going to marry him,” she said, evenly.
“You’re not,” he retorted, sharply.
She faced him with cool defiance. “I am,” she said. “Iam.”
“What about Dana?” he challenged, though in a gentler voice.
“I can’t help it, if Dana is foolish,” she answered, wearily.
“Well, you’re not going to marry Gill.” “What right have you to talk that way?” she demanded. “Why shouldn’t I marry him? What have you against him? But I don’t care. I’m going to marry him, anyway. And I won’t have you worrying dad aboutit.” Her slight body was shaking with anger, as she moved away.
He caught her arm, and she turned on him, her face blazing.
He gazed down at her with gentle, kindly eyes, in which wonder still lingered. “Daphne, dear, we’ve been friends too long to quarrel over anything. I’ve played with you since you were a little spindlylegged kid. If I’m a stupid, blundering old fool, it is because I love you as if you were my own.”
She caught at his arm, as though in that contact there was comfort. “I’m going to marry him,” she said, in a stifled little voice.
“Of course,” he conceded, gently. “But let’s not think of that just yet. What I meant to ask was for you all to come down to my summer place for the week end.” He had not thought of it until that moment. It had flashed across his mind that, somehow, out of such close companionship, might come some answer to this riddle. “It’s lovely there, now. Your father and Dana—”
“Dana doesn’t know,” she said, sharply “So much the better. Your father and Dana and Martin, just the five of us, we’ll swim and sail and lie around and not worry about anything.”
She was about to refuse.
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“For an old friend,” he urged; “for. I am, about your oldest friend, Daphne, and you haven’t anyone who would more gladly help you, if you ever needed help. Just to please an old friend—I’m not going to worry you. You can trust me.”
“I know,” s he said, in a whisper.
HP HE Narcissus was Abner Colvin’s.
pride. It took the place of wife and family to him. It was a long, lean, twomaster, decked and cabined. In it, its owner was accustomed to take his holidays, roaming along the shore. They sat on the deck now, patching the dying breeze shiver the sails.
Daphne and Dana were at the bowr still in their bathing suits. They had been diving from the boat, but in some way Dana had twisted his ankle, and it had swollen badly, putting a stop to that.
Daphne had been laughing and singing, with an almost feverish gaiety. Suddenly she stopped. “You’re all too sober,” she/ cried. “I’m going for one more swim.’/ She dived, her lithe young body cutting the water like a knife. They watched her free, easy stroke going farther and farther £way.
“Come back,” Olcott called, but she did not hear him, and swam on apparently unconscious of the distance, and óf , lowering clouds which hung in the easL
“I wish she’d come back,” Colvin said, anxiously. “We’re likely to have to run for it.”' They stood grouped in the bow, following the diminishing speck that was her head. She turned, and Olcott uttured a sigh of relief. Then something went wrong. They saw an up-flung arm beating wildly at the water. In that moment Dana Fielding leaped forward, despite his injured foot. But Martin was too swift for him. His hand fell, heavily, on the boy’s shoulder, flinging him back into Colvin’s arms. “Hang on to him,” he said, in a voice with a new authority, as he shotforward in a long, clean running dive.
Colvin’s arms held Fielding firmly, but he did not look at him. His eyes followed Martin’s steady course, saw his powerful, untiring strokes eat up the distance between them, and the girl who still struggled, desperately. He saw him reach her, and begin the slower backward course with the girl’s hands around his shoulders. His eyes never left them, until Martin had lifted her up for eager hands to help.
Still he waited, as though uncertain of his next move.
Martin Gill’s "hand on his shoulder made him turn swiftly, uncomfortably. “May I have a word with you, Mr. Colvin?”
With a nod and a motion of his shoulder toward the deserted cabin Colvin led the way. For a moment, they stood looking at one another without speaking. Then, with an evident effort, Martin broke the silence. There was a subtle challenge in his voice. “Suppose,” he said, “that you lay your cards on the table.” • •
Colvin glanced at him sharply. “Right,” he said. “First there was this deal with Olcott—a long chance Martin, at the best—I doubt if anyone but j Olcott would have listened to you. It was that made me wonder. Then, you go away, fall overboard, and are rescued days later. Even with a good swimmer, it would seem almost like a miracle, and remember, you couldn’t swim. Everyone knew that. You had taken pains that they should. In that interval, when you were supposedly beating around in an open boat, Olcott’s safe was opened— not broken into—opened. You knew the combination, and only you and Olcott knew that, for the first time, it was worth opening.”
“Not much of a case,” Martin retorted, his face darkening for a moment with a his old truculent humor. “Suppositions, coincidences, prejudice.”
“I have gone into court with less,” Colvin answered, quietly.
“A weak case at best,” a slow sneer
curved Martin’s lips. “Nothing at all until I dived from this boat. I could have fought you on it—my reputation against yours—I could fight you still.” Slowly, the sneer died out. “I’m through pretending,” he said. “You will do what you have to do,” he added, quietly.
Colvin nodded, uncomfortably. “Once ashore, I have no other course.”
Martin seemed scarcely to hear. He took paper from a rack on the table and wrote. He handed the paper to Colvin. “An inventory,” he said. “I am turning over everything. It will be simpler that way—the mortgage, and the balance of the money deposited in my name. You will know how to straighten that matter out.”
“I can trust you, Martin?” Colvin asked sharply.
“Would I be telling you this, if you couldn’t?”
“True,” said Colvin, and then, gently. “The point I miss, Martin, is why you did it, when you had a fortune of your own?”
A smile broke, for a moment, on Martin Gill’s sober face. “Two thousand,” he said, “but it was enough.”
He stood studying Colvin for some time. “You were generous, a while back. Because of that, I want to ask you something. “No!” he said, sharply, as Colvin
made as though to speak. “It’s not what you think. It’s only that you will keep it from her, until—” He broke off, leaving the sentence unfinished. “I’d have been good to her,” he said, and stopped again. “I’d have been good to her,” he said, again. “You can believe that. But she wasn’t happy. I have been watching her. I know that. I told her —out there—that she needn’t go through with it. So the rest of it doesn’t matter. Only, I’d be glad—”
Colvin nodded. “What I can, Martin,” he said. He turned about and went on deck and over to Olcott. He stood, for some time studying the black line on the horizon. “It’s blowing around,” he'said. “We won’t get it after all. We’ll sail home, quietly.”
“Where is Martin?” Olcott asked.
Colvin didn’t answer. “Do you remember,” he asked, “what that chap Browning said about the meanest of His creatures having two sides, one for the world, and one for the woman he loved?”
“What has that to do with Martin?” Olcott asked, surprised.
“Nothing—nothing at all—Funny idea, though. Wonder if it’s true?”
He said no more, but Olcott, following his steady glance saw a black dot, swimming with easy powerful strokes toward the distant shore.