The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Fighter

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Title: The Fighter

Author: Albert Payson Terhune

Release date: November 10, 2021 [eBook #66697]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, 1909

Credits: D A Alexander, David E. Brown, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by University of California libraries)






Copyright, 1909, by

Entered at Stationers’ Hall

All rights reserved



I. Caleb Conover Wins 9
II. The Girl 23
III. Caleb Conover Fights 37
IV. Caleb Conover Explains 53
V. An Interlude 63
VI. Caleb Conover Runs Away 72
VII. The Battle 81
VIII. Caleb Conover Storms a Rampart 100
IX. A Lesson in Ignorance 121
X. In the House of Rimmon 134
XI. A Peace Conference 151
XII. Into an Unknown Land 161
XIII. Moonlight and Mistakes 185
XIV. Caleb Conover Takes an Afternoon Off     196
XV. Caleb Conover Lies 209
XVI. Desirée Makes Plans 224
XVII. The Dust Days 233
XVIII. Caleb Conover Gives a Reading Lesson 245
XIX. On the Top of the World 259
XX. Caleb “Overlooks a Bet” 273
XXI. Forest Madness 286
XXII. Caleb Conover Receives News 321
XXIII.The Strong Arm of Christ 337
XXIV. The Last Fight 352


CALEB CONOVER, a self-made man who glorifies his maker.

AMZI NICHOLAS CAINE, a young newspaper owner afflicted with certain ideas.

JACK HAWARDEN, a youth who issues drafts on future literary fame.

REUBEN STANDISH, decayed branch of a once-mighty family tree.

BLACARDA, an exception to the rule concerning honor among financiers.

SAUL, a derelict.

CLIVE STANDISH, a victim of “home rule.”

BILLY SHEVLIN, a more or less typical small boy.

THE REV. MR. GRANT, a minister of the Gospel.

DR. BOND, a country physician.

STEVE MARTIN, an Adirondack guide.

JOHN HAWARDEN, SR.,          
FEATHERSTONE, Pillars of the
VROOM, Arareek Country Club.






LETTY STANDISH, the other girl.

MRS. STANDISH, whose attitudes are all beatitudes.

MRS. HAWARDEN, a chaperone for revenue only.

SCENE: The City of Granite, the State Capital, Magdeburg Village, and the Adirondacks.




The red-haired man was fighting.

He had always been fighting. The square jaw, the bull neck proclaimed him of the battling breed; even before one had scope to note the alert, light eyes, the tight mouth, the short, broad hands with their stubby strength of finger.

In prize ring, in mediaeval battlefield, in ’longshore tavern, Caleb Conover would have slugged his way to supremacy. In business he won as readily—and by like methods. His was not only the force but also the supreme craft of the fighter. Therefore he was president, instead of bouncer, in the offices of the C. G. & X. Railroad.

It was not railroad business that engrossed Conover as he sat at his desk one day in early spring: tearing open a ceaseless series of telegrams, scribbling replies, ringing now and then for a messenger to whom he gave a curt order.

Telegrams and messages ceased. In the lull, Conover jumped to his feet and began to walk back and[10] forth. His big hands were clenched, his head thrust forward, his whole muscle-bound body tense.

Then began a violent ringing from the long-distance telephone in the far corner of the room. Conover picked up the receiver, grunted a question, then listened. For nearly five minutes he stood thus, the receiver at his ear, his broad, freckled face impassive save for a growing fire in the pale, alert eyes. A grunt of dismissal and the receiver was hung on its hook.

Conover crossed the room, threw himself into a big creaking chair, cocked his feet on the window sill, drew out and lighted a fat cigar. The tenseness was gone. His whole heavy body was relaxed. He smoked mechanically and let his gaze rove with dull inertness over the blank wall across the street. He was resting as hard as he had fought.

A clerk timidly opened the door leading from the outer offices.

“Mr. Caine, sir,” ventured the employee, “He says he—”

“Send him in,” vouchsafed Conover without turning his head.

His eyes were still fixed in unseeing comfort on the wall, when his guest entered. Nor did he shift his glance without visible reluctance. The newcomer seemingly was used to his host’s lack of cordiality. For, favoring Conover with a slight nod, he deposited his hat, gloves and stick on the table and lighted a cigarette, before speaking.

[11]Conover surveyed the well-groomed figure of his visitor with an air of disparaging appraisal that reached its climax as he noted the cigarette.

“Here!” he suggested, “Throw away that paper link between fire and a fool, and smoke real tobacco. Try one of these cigars if you want to. They’ll fit your mouth a lot better. Why does a grown man smoke a—?”

“This grown man,” replied Caine, unruffled, “has a way of doing what he chooses. I came to see if you were ready to go to your execution.”

“Execution, eh?” grinned Conover. “Well, it’s just on the books that there may be a little executin’ done, up there. But I won’t be the gent with his head on the block. Besides, you’re an hour early.”

“I know I am. It’s an ideal day for work. So I haven’t done any. I left the office ahead of time and came to see if I could lure you into a walk before we go to the Club. You don’t seem much worried over the outcome.”

“Why should I be? I’ll win. I always win.”

“Conover,” said Caine, observing his friend with the condescendingly interested air of a visitor at the Zoo, “If I had your sublime conceit I’d be President of the United States or the richest man in America, or some other such odious personage whose shoes we all secretly fear we may some day fill.”

“President? Richest man?” repeated Conover, mildly attracted by the dual idea. “Give me time[12] and I’ll likely be both. I’ve made a little start on the second already, to-day.”

“Won another fight?” queried Caine.

“Yes, a big one. The biggest yet, by far.”

“Nothing to do with Steeloid, I suppose!” suggested the visitor, a note of real concern peering through his customary air of amused calm.

All about Steeloid,” returned Conover. “The Independent Steeloid Company is incorp’rated at last. Cap’talized at—”

“The Independent! That means a slump in our U. S. Steeloid! You call that winning a fight? I thought—”

“You’d be better off, Caine, if you’d leave the thinkin’ part of these things to me. Thinkin’ is my game. Not yours. You talk about ‘our’ U. S. Steeloid. You seem to forget I swing seventy-two per cent. of the stock and you own just what I let you in on.”

“Never mind all that,” interposed Caine. “If the Independents are banded together, they’ll make things warm for us.”

“Not enough to cause any hurry call for electric fans, I guess,” chuckled Conover. “If you’ll stop ‘thinkin’’ a minute or two an’ listen to me, I’ll try to explain. An’ maybe I can hammer into your head a few of the million things you don’t know about finance. Here’s the idea. I built up the Steeloid Trust, didn’t I? And Blacarda and his crowd who had been running a bunch of measly third-rate Steeloid[13] companies, set up a squeal because I could undersell ’em.”

“Go on,” urged Caine. “I know all that. You needn’t take a running start with your lesson in high finance. We’ll take it for granted that I read at least the newspaper I own and that I know Blacarda has been trying to organize the independent companies against you. What next?”

“Well, they’re organized. Only Blacarda didn’t do it. A high-souled philanthropic geezer that worked through agents, jumped in an’ combined all the independent companies against us an’ got ’em to give him full voting power on all their stock. Put themselves into his hands entirely, you see, for the fight against my Steeloid Trust. Then this noble hearted trust buster incorporated the Independents. The deal went through to-day. I got final word on it just now. The Independents are organized. The votes on every share of their stock is in the control of one man.”

“But he’ll—”

“An’ that ‘one man,’” resumed the Fighter, “happens to be Caleb Conover.”

“But,” gasped the dumbfounded Caine, “I don’t understand.”

“Caine,” protested Conover, gently, “if all the things you don’t understand about finance was to be placed end to end—like they say in the Sunday ‘features’ of your paper,—they’d reach from here to Blacarda’s chances of swingin’ the Independent Steeloid Company. An’ that’s a long sight farther[14] than twice around the world. What I’m gettin’ at is this: I went to work on the quiet an’ formed that Independent Combine. Then I gave it to myself as a present. It is now part of my U. S. Steeloid Company. Or will be as soon as I can strangle the Legislature kick that Blacarda’s sure to put up.”

“I see now,” said Caine, slipping back into his armor of habitual calm, “and I take off my hat to you. Conover, you missed your calling when you failed to go into the safe breaking profession.”

“There’s more money in business,” replied Conover simply. “But now maybe you won’t lay awake nights worryin’ over your Steeloid stock. If it was worth 170 2-5 this morning it’ll be quoted at 250 before the month is out.”

“I don’t wonder you aren’t afraid of this afternoon’s ordeal,” observed Caine, “But Blacarda is on the Board of Governors.”

“So are you, for that matter,” said Conover, “and I guess the vote of the man who’s made rich by Steeloid will pair off with the vote of the man who’s broke by it.”

“I hope,” corrected Caine, “you don’t think it’s because of my Steeloid holdings that I’m backing you in this. I do it because it amuses me to see the gyrations of the under dog. A sporting instinct, I suppose.”

“If you’re pickin’ me for the under dog,”—began Conover, but broke off to stare in disgust at the other’s upraised hand.

[15]Caine was lifting his cigarette to his lips. Conover watched the lazily graceful gesture with more than his wonted contempt.

“Say, Caine,” he interrupted, “why in thunder do you make your nails look like a pink skatin’ rink?”

“If you mean, why do I have them manicured,” answered Caine, coolly, “it is absolutely none of your business.”

“Now I s’pose that’s what you’d call a snub,” ruminated Conover, “But it don’t answer the question. Pink nails all shined up like that may look first rate on a girl. But for a man thirty years old—with a mustache—Say, why do you do it?”

“Why do you wear a necktie?” countered Caine, “I admit it is a surpassingly ugly one. But why wear one at all? It doesn’t keep you warm. It has no use.”

“Clo’es don’t make a man,” stammered Conover, rather discomfited at the riposte, “But there’s no use creatin’ a disturbance by goin’ round without ’em. As for my necktie, it shows I ain’t a day laborer for one thing.”

“Well-groomed hands are just as certain a sign manual of another sort,” finished Caine.

“I don’t quite get your meanin’. If—”

“As a failure you would have been a success, Conover,” interrupted Caine, “But as a success you are in some ways a lamentable failure. To paraphrase your own inspired words, if all the things you don’t know about social usage were placed end to end—”

[16]“They’d cover a mighty long list of measly useless information. What do I care for such rot?”

“That’s what you’re called on to explain this afternoon before the Governors of the Arareek Country Club,” finished Caine rising. “Are you ready?”

“No, I’m going to stop at Desirée’s for a few minutes, first. I want to tell her about my winnin’ out against the Blacarda crowd. She knows Blacarda.”

“Does she know finance?”

“As well as she knows Blacarda, I guess. An’ neither of ’em enough to be ’specially int’rested. But she likes to hear about things I’ve done. I’ll just drop ’round there on my way. Join you later at the Club.”

“I’ll walk as far as her door with you, if you like,” suggested Caine, gathering up his hat and stick. “Then I’ll go on and see what I can do with the Governors before the meeting. But I don’t look forward to coercing many of them into sanity. They bear a pitifully strong family resemblance to the late lamented Bourbons. They ‘learn nothing, forget nothing’ and—”

“And they go your Bourbon gang one better,” supplemented Conover, “by never havin’ known anything to start with. Maybe I can give ’em an idea or two, though, before we’re done. I used to boss Dago section hands, you know.”

“You’ll find this job rather more difficult, I fancy.[17] A garlick-haloed section hand is a lamb compared to some of our hardshell club governors. Why do you want to stay in the Club, anyhow? It seems to me—”

“In the first place because I won’t quit. Prov’dence loves a bulldog, but He hates a quitter. In the second place I want to feel I’ve as much right in that crowd as I have in Kerrigan’s saloon. I’ve made my way. This Steeloid shuffle ought to put me somewhere in the million class. An’ there’s more to come. Lots of it. I’m a railroad pres’dent, too. The C. G. & X. is a punk little one-horse railroad; but some day I’ll make it cover this whole State. The road was on it last legs when I got hold of it, and I’m making it what I choose to. Now, as a man with all that cash,—and a railroad president, to boot,—why ain’t I entitled to line up with the other big bugs of Granite? Tell me that. They don’t want me, maybe? Well, I’ll make ’em want me, before I’m done. Till then, they’ll take me whether they want me or not. Ain’t that sound logic?”

“As sound as a dynamite cartridge,” laughed Caine, “You’re a paradox! No, ‘paradox’ isn’t a fighting word, so don’t scowl. You have the Midas-gift of making everything you touch turn to solid cash, and making two dollars grow where one mortgage blank formerly bloomed. You have the secret of power. And, with it all, you stoop to crawl under the canvas into the Social Circus. Feet of clay!”

[18]Caleb glanced furtively at his broad, shining boots, then, disdaining the allusion as past his discernment, answered:

“It’s my own game and I play it as I plan to. In one year from now you’ll see folks askin’ me to the same houses where you’ve been invited ever since your great grandfather held down the job of ‘First Land-owner’ here, in the Revolution. See if I don’t.”

“Did you ever chance to read Longfellow’s poem about the Rabbi—Ben Levi—who ‘took the Kingdom of Heaven by violence?’” queried Caine.

“I don’t read rhymes. Life’s too short. What happened to him?”

“He didn’t have a particularly pleasant time of it, as I remember. In fact, I believe the angels joined in a symphonic clamor for his expulsion. Not unlike the very worthy governors of the Arareek Country Club.”

“H’m!” sniffed Conover in high contempt. “If the Rabbi person had took the trouble of postin’ himself on those angels’ pasts, he might a’ got front-row seat in the choir instead of bein’ throwed out.”

“So that’s the line you’re going to take with the governors? I’m glad I decided to be there. It ought to prove amusing. But you don’t seem to realize that even if you win, you won’t be exactly beloved by them, in future.”

“I’m not expectin’ a loving cup with a round-robin of their names on it. Not just at first, anyhow. So[19] don’t waste any worry on me. The Club’s only the first step, anyhow. The real fun’s liable to come when I take another.”

Festina lente!” counseled Caine, “People have a way of forgetting a man is nouveau riche as long as he remembers it. But they remember it as soon as he forgets it. Is it discreet to ask what Miss Shevlin thinks of all this? Is she in sympathy with your social antics—I mean ‘ambitions?’”

“I don’t know. I never asked her. I never thought to. But if I did, she’d stand for it. You see, not bein’ as old and as wise as some of the Granite folks, she’s fallen into the habit of thinkin’ I’m just about all right. It’s kind of nice to have someone feel that way about you.”

“You seem to return the compliment. I don’t blame you. It isn’t every man who finds himself guardian to an exquisite bit of animated Sevres china. I’m lying back to watch for the time when some scared youth comes to ask your leave to marry her.”

“What’s that?” snarled Conover, stopping and glowering up at the tall, clean-cut figure at his side.

“Don’t get excited,” laughed Caine. “You can’t expect as lovely and lovable a girl as Desirée Shevlin to live and die an old maid. If you’re so opposed to this imaginary suitor I’ve conjured up, why not marry her yourself?”

“Marry? That kid? Me?” sputtered Conover, “Why I’m past thirty an’—an’ she ain’t twenty yet. Besides I’m a daddy to her. If I hear of you or anyone[20] else queerin’ that kid’s fondness for me by any such fool talk, I’ll—”

“Her father was wise in appointing you her guardian,” mocked Caine. “In the absence of man-eating blood-hounds or a regiment of cavalry, you’re an ideal Dragon. I remember old Shevlin. A first rate contractor and ward politician; but the last sort of man to have such a daughter. As for Billy, now—he’s the model of his father. A tougher little chap and a greater contrast to his sister could hardly be imagined.”

“She takes after her mother,” explained Conover, puffing mightily at a recalcitrant cigar; “Mother was French. Came of good people, I hear. Named her girl Desirée. French name. Kind of pretty name, too. Died when Billy was born. I s’pose that’s why the boy was named for his dad, instead of being called Pe-air or Juseppy or some other furren trademark. That’s why he’s tough too. Desirée was brought up. Billy’s bringing himself up. Same as I did. It’s the best trainin’ a boy can have. So I let him go his own gait, an’ I pay for the windows he smashes.”

“How did Old Man Shevlin happen to leave you guardian of the two children? Hadn’t he any relatives?”

“None but the aunt the kids live with. I s’pose he liked me an’ thought I’d give the girl a fair show. An’ I have. Convent school, music an’ furren lingoes an’ all that rot. An’ she’s worth it.”

[21]“How about Billy?”

“That’s no concern of mine. He gets his clothes an’ grub an’ goes to public school. It’s all any boy’s got a right to ask.”

“Contractors are like plumbers in being rich past all dreams of avarice, aren’t they? One always gets that idea. The Shevlins will probably be as rich as cream—”

“They’ll have what they need,” vouchsafed Conover.

“Then you’re doing all this on the money that Shevlin left?”

“Sure! You don’t s’pose I’d waste my own cash on ’em?”

“What a clumsy liar you are!” observed Caine admiringly. “There! There! In this case ‘liar’ is no more a fighting word than ‘paradox.’ Don’t get red.”

“What are you drivin’ at?” demanded Conover.

“Only this: The wills and some other documents filed at the Hall of Records, are copied by our men and kept on file in our office. I happened to be going over one of the books the other day and I ran across a copy of old Shevlin’s will. There was a Certificate of Effects with it. He left just $1,100, or, to be accurate, $1,098.73.”

“Well?” challenged Conover.

“Well,” echoed Caine, “The rent of the house where Miss Shevlin lives, her two servants, and her food must come to several times that sum each year.[22] To say nothing of the expenses and the support of the aunt, who lives with her. None of those are on the free list. You’re an awfully white chap, Conover. You went up about fifty points in my admiration when I read that will. Now don’t look as if I’d caught you stealing sheep. It’s no affair of mine. And as she doesn’t seem to know, I’m not going to be the cheerful idiot to point out to her the resemblance between her father’s $1,100 and the Widow’s Cruse. It’s pleasure enough to me, as a student of my fellow animals, to know that a pirate like you can really once in your life give something for nothing. There’s the house. Don’t forget you’re due at the Club in fifty minutes.”

Conover, red, confused, angry, mumbled a word of goodbye and ran up the steps of a pretty cottage that stood in its own grounds just off the street they were traversing.

Caine watched the Fighter’s bulky form vanish within the doorway. Then he lighted a fresh cigarette and strolled on.

“I wonder,” he ruminated, “what his growing list of financial victims would say if they knew that Brute Conover worships as ideally and reverently as a Galahad at the shrine of a little flower-faced nineteen-year old girl? But,” he added, in dismissing the quaint theme, “no one of them all would be half so surprised to know it as Conover himself!”



Conover lounged back and forth in the pretty little reception room of Desirée Shevlin’s house, halting now and then to glance with puzzled approval at some item of its furnishings. The room—the whole house—was to him a mystery. Contentedly devoid of taste though he was, the man dimly realized the charm of the place and the dainty perfection of its appointment. That Desirée had accomplished this in no way astonished him. For he believed her quite capable of any minor miracle. But in it all he took a pride that had voiced itself once in the comment:

“I don’t see how you could make a room look so nice without a single tidy or even a bow fastened up anywhere. But why did you get those dull old tiles for your mantel? I wouldn’t a’ kicked at payin’ for the best marble.”

To-day, Conover gave less than usual homage to the apartment. He was agog to tell its owner his wonderful tidings, and he chafed at her delay in appearing. At last she came—the one person on earth who could have kept Caleb Conover waiting; without paying, by sharp reproof, for the delay.

“I’m sorry I was so long,” she began as she[24] brushed the curtains aside and hurried in, “But Billy and I couldn’t agree on the joys of tubbing. I’d hate to hate anything as much as he hates his bath. Now you’ve had some good luck! Glorious, scrumptious good luck! I can tell by the way your mustache is all chewed. You only chew it when you’re excited. And you are only excited when something good has happened. Isn’t it clever of me to know that? I ought to write it up: ‘Facial Fur as a Bliss Barometer.’ How—Oh, I didn’t mean to be silly when you’re bursting with news. Please be good and tell me. Is it anything about Steeloid?”

“It’s all about Steeloid,” he answered. “I’ve won out—I’ve made my pile.”

She caught both his hands in hers, with a gesture almost awkward in its happy impulsiveness.

“Oh, I’m so glad! So glad!” she cried. “Tell me!”

Boyishly, bluntly, eagerly, Conover repeated his story.

His florid face was alight, enthusiasm wellnigh choking him. She heard him out with an excitement almost as great as his own. As he finished she clapped her hands with a little laugh of utter delight.

“Oh, splendid!” she exclaimed. “No one but you would ever have thought of it. It’s—” her flush of pleasure yielding momentarily to a look of troubled query—“It’s perfectly—honest, of course?”

“It’s business,” he replied.

[25]“That’s the same thing, I suppose,” she said, much relieved, “And you’re rich?”

“A million anyway. And you’ll—”


Both turned at the wonder-inspired, sulphurous monosyllable. Desirée jerked the curtain aside, revealing a stocky small boy, very red of face. He was clutching a blue bath robe about him and had no apparent aim in life save to escape from the situation into which his involuntary expletive had betrayed him.

“Now don’t go callin’ me down, Dey,” he pleaded. “I just happened to be going past—I was on the way to take my bath, all right—on the level I was—an’ I heard Mr. Conover say about havin’ a million. An’—an’—I spoke without thinkin’.”

He had been edging toward the stair-foot as he talked. Now, finding the lower step behind him, he fled upward on pattering desperate feet.

“Poor Billy!” laughed Desirée, “He’s an awfully good little chap. But he will listen. I can’t break him of it.”

“Maybe I could,” hazarded Conover.

“You’d break his neck and his heart at the same time. Leave him to me. Nothing but kindness does any good where he is concerned.”

“Ever try a bale-stick?” suggested Caleb.

“That will do!” she reproved. “Now, I want to hear more about Steeloid. Poor Mr. Blacarda! It’s pretty hagorous for him, isn’t it?”

[26]“If ‘hagorous’ means he’s got it in the neck, it is.”

“‘Hagorous’” explained Desirée, loftily, “means anything horrid. I know, because I made it up. It’s such a comfort to make up words. Because then, you see, you can give them meanings as you go along. It saves a lot of bother. Did you ever try it?”

“No,” said Conover, apologetically. “I’m afraid I never did. Maybe I could, though, if it’d make a hit with you. But you were talkin’ about Blacarda. You ain’t wastin’ sympathy on him, are you?”

“I’m sorry for anyone that gets the worst of it. But—”

“But no sorrier for Blacarda than you would be for anybody else?”

“Of course not. Why?”

“He comes here a lot. Twice I’ve met him here. Is he stuck on you?”

“I think he is.”

“I guess most people are,” sighed Caleb. “I don’t blame him; so long as you don’t care about him. You don’t, do you?” he finished anxiously.

“He’s very handsome,” she observed demurely.

“Is he?”

“Well—pretty handsome.”

“Is he?”

“He’s—I’ve heard girls say so.”

“H’m! Nice crimson lips, red cheeks, oily curled hair and eyes like a couple of ginger snaps!”

“No,” corrected Desirée, judicially, “More like[27] chocolate pies. There’s something very sweet and melting about them. And, besides, you mustn’t run him down. He’s very nice to me. Last night he asked me to marry him. What do you think of that? Honestly, he did.”

“The measly he-doll! I wish I’d broke him a year ago instead of waiting for the Steeloid scrap. What’d you say when he asked you?”

“Your face gets such a curious shade of magenta when you are angry, Caleb,” mused Desirée, observing him critically, her head on one side. “But it doesn’t match your hair a little bit. There, I didn’t mean to tease you. Yes, I did mean it, too, but I’m sorry. I told him I couldn’t marry him, of course.”

“Good work!” approved Caleb, “What’d he say then?”

“He—he asked if I’d try and look on him as a brother—‘a dear brother,’ and—”

She broke off with a reminiscent laugh.

“Well, what did you say?”

“I’m afraid I was a little rude. But I didn’t mean to be. I’d heard a smothered giggle from over in the corner. So I told him if I’d really had any use for a brother—a ‘dear brother,’—I could reach right behind the divan and get one. He stalked over to the divan. And sure enough there, behind the cushions, was Billy, all wudged up in a little heap. He—”

“All—what?” asked the perplexed Conover, pausing in the midst of a Homeric guffaw.

“‘Wudged.’ All wudged up—like this—” crumpling[28] her ten fingers into a white, compact little bunch. “Mr. Blacarda was very angry. He went away.”

She joined for an instant in Conover’s laughter; then checked herself with a stamp of her foot.

“Stop!” she ordered. “I’m a little beast to behave so. He—cared for me. He asked me to marry him. There ought to be something sacred in all that. And here I am making fun of him. Caleb, please say something to make me more ashamed.”

“You’re all right, girl!” chuckled Caleb in huge delight. “Poor pink-an’-white Blacarda! You were—”

“I wasn’t! I ought to be whipped for telling you. But—but somehow, I seem to tell you everything. Honestly, I wouldn’t tell anyone else. Honestly! You know that, don’t you?”

“I know you’re the whitest, brightest, jolliest kid that ever happened,” returned Conover, “but you needn’t bother about Blacarda. I won’t tell. Now I’ve got to get out.”

“Aren’t you going to take me for a walk or a drive or anything? It’s such a gorgeous day, and it’s so early. Almost as early as it ever gets to be.”

“I can’t, worse luck!” said he. “I’ve got a measly appointment at the Arareek. An’ besides—say, little girl, I don’t know about walking or driving with you any more.”


“Listen, till I explain. Now that Mrs. Hawarden’s took such a fancy to you an’ took you up an’[29] chap’roned you to places where I’d be chased out with a broom—an’ all that—well, you get invited to big folks’ houses. That’s how you met Blacarda, wasn’t it? He travels with the gold-shirt crowd. Now, that crowd don’t care about me. They will, some day. But they don’t, yet. An’ if you’re seen around with a rank outsider like me—it’ll—it may kind of make ’em think you’re the same sort I am. An’ that’ll be liable to queer you with ’em. An—”

“Caleb Conover!”

He stopped, thoroughly uncomfortable, yet vaguely glad of having eased his mind of its worry for her prospects. She was frowning up at him with all the menacing ferocity of an Angora kitten.

“Caleb Conover!” she repeated, in stern rebuke. “Aren’t you ashamed? Aren’t you ashamed? Say you are! Now go and stand in the corner. If I ever hear you talk that way about yourself again—why Caleb! We’re chums, you and I. Don’t you know that I’d rather have you than all those people put together? Now talk very fast about something else, or I won’t get my temper back again. What’s your appointment about?”

“At the Arareek?” he asked, falling in, as ever, with her lightning change of mood. “Oh, nothing much. It’s a meeting of the Board of Governors. There’s a man in the Club who got in by influence, before they realized just what sort of a punk feller he was. An’ now they’ve called a meeting to see about kickin’ him out. There’s to be a vote on it. An’ he’s[30] to appear before ’em to-day to defend himself. Not quite reg’lar in Club by-laws, Caine tells me. But that’s what’s to be done. They say: ‘his business methods bring disrepoote on the Club.’ That’s the sp’cific charge I b’lieve.”

“But what have you got to do with all that?”

“Nothin’—Except I’m the shrinkin’ victim.”

“You! Is it—a joke?”

“Not on me. I’ll fix it all right. Don’t you worry now. I wouldn’t a’ told you about it if I hadn’t known I’d win out.”

“You’re sure?”

“Of course I am. What chance has that bunch of mutton-heads against anyone with man’s size brains in his skull? Sure, I’ll win. Now, don’t look like that, Dey. It breaks me all up to have you blue. I tell you it’ll be all right.”

“Who are the Governors?”

“Your friend Blacarda is one.”

“Oh! That’s bad.”

“Only counts one vote. And Caine’s another. He’s on my side. He has more pull with those people than Blacarda.”

“I wonder why you and Mr. Caine are such friends. There never were two other men as different.”

“He owns the biggest noospaper in Granite, an’ he belongs to one of the top-notch families. So he’s a power in his own way, for all he’s such an odd fish. ‘Eccentric’ they call it, don’t they? Why do we[31] travel together? That lazy don’t-care way of his and his trick of twistin’ sentences upside down an’ then callin’ ’em ‘epigrams’ is kind of amoosin’. Besides, he’s of use to me. That explains my side of it. I’m of use to him. That explains his. He’ll more’n offset Blacarda.”

“Who are the rest?”

“Hawarden’s one. Husband of your chap’rone friend.”

“Oh, I wish I’d known! I’d have asked her to—”

“I don’t think it’s nec’ssary,” evaded Caleb. “He’ll be all right, I guess.”

“I didn’t know you knew him.”

“No more I do. But I’ve an idea he’ll vote for me.”

“Just the same I wish I’d asked Mrs. Hawarden to make him do it. She’s been so nice to me, I’m sure she’d have done me one more favor.”

“Nice to you, is she? Reelly nice?”

“She’s a dear. Just think of a woman in her position hunting me out and making friends with me and asking me all the time to her house and introducing me to people who wouldn’t otherwise have even poked me with a silver handled umbrella! Nice? I should think she was.”

“Yes,” drawled Conover, solemnly, “I guess she must be. Old Reuben Standish is one of the Governors, too. Know him? President of the Aaron Burr Bank. Big society bug, tradin’ on fam’ly that’s[32] dead an’ fortune that’s dribbled through his fingers. Sort of man that’s so stiff he never unbends till he’s broke.”

“I think I’ve met him,” reflected Desirée. “Doesn’t he look just a little like a rail? Gray and long and mossy—with a sort of home-made face? And one eye that toes in just a little?”

“That’s the man,” grinned Caleb in high approval. “There’s two kinds of financiers: the thick-necked, red-faced kind, with chests that have slipped down;—an’ the cold gray kind. Gray hair, gray eyes, gray skin, gray clothes an’ gray mustache. Gray souls, too. That sort never take on weight. An’ there’s just enough humanness in their faces to put you in mind of the North Pole. Thank the Lord, I’m one of the thick, red breed!”

“Do you mean all over or just your head?” queried Desirée innocently, as she glanced at his stiff, carroty hair. “Oh, it’s awfully nice of you to laugh at my poor little jokes. I wonder what you’d do if you ever met a really clever woman?”

“I s’pose I’d begin figurin’ out how stupid she’d frame up alongside of you,” he answered simply. “You see, I—”

“You were talking about Mr. Standish. Is he going to vote for you?”

“As I lent his bank $96,000 last year when it was shaky from a run, I guess he is. Not that he’s over-grateful. But his bank’s in a bad way again and he’s li’ble to need me.”

[33]“So you are going to discount his future gratitude?”

“Just so. He needs me. An’—I need him. Not only for to-day, but for a plan I’ve been thinkin’ over.”

“I wish I could help you with him. I’ve met his daughter, Letty, once or twice. They say she’s engaged to Mr. Caine. Mrs. Hawarden tells me they’ve been in love with each other ever since she stopped playing with dolls. I should have hated to give up dolls just in exchange for Mr. Caine. Are there any more Governors?”

“A few. None that you know. I must be off. Now, remember, you aren’t to worry. It’s all right. I wouldn’t bother to keep in the Club if it was like most places of that kind. But it isn’t. The Arareek’s an institootion in Granite. If you ain’t in it, you’re nobody. An’ at Ladies’ Days an’ times like that, the Big people always show up. It’s a good thing to belong. Besides, a feller gets lots of new experience by joinin’ a country club. F’r instance, I never knew what reel lonesoneness was till I went to a few of their Ladies’ Days an’ Field Days. I might as well a’ been on a desert island.”

“You poor boy! It’s a burning shame! Why do you—?”

“Oh, it ain’t always goin’ to be like that. Don’t be sorry about it. I’ll whip ’em into shape before I’m done.”

The soaring, clear song of a canary broke in on his boast. Beginning with a faint, barely audible trill, it[34] rose in a glorious piercing crescendo of melody; hung, vibrated, scaled a whole octave, then ceased as abruptly as it had begun.

Caleb turned toward the window between whose curtains swung a cage. The occupant, a ball of golden fluff, barred with gray-green, hopped self-importantly from perch to perch, nervously delighted with the man’s scrutiny.

“Hello!” said Conover. “When’d you get that? I never saw him before.”

“He came yesterday,” explained Desirée. “Isn’t he a little darling? Jack Hawarden sent him to me.”

“That kid? You don’t mean to say he’s stuck on you, too? Why he’s barely twenty-one an’ he can’t earn his own livin’.”

“It’s a real pleasure, Caleb, to hear your fulsome praise of the men I happen to know. First Mr. Blacarda, and now—”

“That’s what’s called ‘sarcasm,’ ain’t it?” asked Conover. “I didn’t mean to rile you. I guess young Hawarden’s all right,—as far’s college let him learn to be. What’s the bird’s name? Or don’t birds have names?”

“Why? Had you thought of one for him? How would ‘Steeloid’ do?”

Caleb’s grin of genuine delight at the suggestion made her add quickly with more tact than truth:

“I wish I’d thought of that before. How silly of me not to! For, you see he’s already named now.”

[35]“Oh, he is, hey?” said the discomfited Conover. “Who named him? Hawarden?”

“No. Billy and I. His name’s Siegfried-Mickey.”

“What a crazy name for a—!”

“Yes, isn’t it? That’s why I like it so. Billy wanted to call him ‘Mickey’ after the bulldog he used to have. And I wanted to call him Siegfried. So we compromised on Siegfried-Mickey. He’s a dear. He knows his name already. Don’t you, Siegfried Mickey?”

The bird, thus adjured, maintained a severely non-committal dumbness.

“See!” triumphed Desirée, “Silence gives assent. He’s a heavenly little singer. Why, only this morning, he sang nearly all the first bar of ‘The Death of Ase’.”

“The which?”

“‘The Death of Ase.’ In the Peer Gynt suite, you know.”

“Oh, yes! Of course. Sure!” mumbled Caleb hastily. “I was thinkin’ of some other feller’s suite. An’ he sang that, did he? The clever little cuss!”

“Wasn’t he, though? And he’d only heard me play it once.”

“Pretty hard thing to sing, too!” supplemented Caleb, wisely.

“Caleb Conover,” she rebuked in cold admonition, “Look at me! No, in the eyes! There! Now, how[36] often have I told you not to make believe? You treat me just as if I was a child. Why do you pretend to know about ‘The Death of Ase,’ you dear old simple humbug? Don’t you know I always find you out when you—?”

“I didn’t want you to think I wasn’t up on the things that int’rest you, girl,” he pleaded. “It’s rotten to feel you’ve got to talk down to me every time you speak about music or litterchoor or those things. An’—Lord! but I do hate to let on when I don’t understand things.”

“You understand more of the real things—the things that are worth while—than any other man alive,” she protested. “Now say goodbye and run on, or you’ll be late. Don’t forget to stop on the way back and let me know whether the lions eat Daniel or if Daniel—”

“Eats the lions? I don’t know who Dan’l was, but this ain’t goin’ to be that kind of a show. It’ll just be a sheep-killin’ contest. An’ I never was built to play the alloorin’ role of Sheep. So you can figger out who’ll be killer an’ who’ll get the job of killee.”



Granite’s social life revolved about the Arareek Country Club. Granite felt a guilty pride when its more sensational preachers railed against the local preference for spending Sunday morning on the Arareek links or on the big clubhouse veranda, rather than in church pews. Granite social lights flared dazzlingly at the Club’s dances. Granite men chose the Arareek smoking room as a lounging place in preference to the more exclusive Pompton Club’s apartments. Situated a half mile beyond the growing city’s borders, the Arareek clubhouse lay in the centre of a narrow valley, whence its grounds radiated in all directions.

Thither, Conover, after his talk with Desirée Shevlin, bent his steps. Caleb had been no less amazed than delighted when Caine, a year or so earlier, had succeeded in engineering his election to the Arareek. The Club had been in need of money and was therefore the less inquisitorial as to the character of candidates. Conover was then unknown to most of its members. With a half score of innocuous nobodies he had been admitted. The combined initiation fees[38] had lifted the Arareek momentarily from its financial trouble.

Now, with much the excitement of a shoal of minnows to whose pool a pickerel has found ingress, the club’s Governors were seeking to correct their error of negligence. A committee had been appointed to take semi-formal testimony in the case, to overrule whatsoever defense Conover might seek to make and to report to the Board in favor of the unwelcome member’s rejection. The exact mode of transaction was out of rule, from a standpoint of rigid club standards. But the Arareek, as its members boasted, was less an actual club than a phase of local society, and as such was a law unto itself.

On the veranda, as Caleb arrived, several members were seated, watching a putting match on the “green” that stretched betwixt porch and tennis courts. One or two women were among the onlookers. From the awkward hush that fell on the group as he ascended the steps, Conover deduced the trend of the talk his presence had checked. He glanced in grim amusement from one averted or expressionless face to another; then, singling out Caine with a nod, passed in through the low, broad doorway. Caine tossed away his cigarette, smiled non-committally in reply to a bevy of questioning looks, and followed his protegée into the building.

“They’re waiting for you,” said he, catching up with Conover. “The Committee went to its room five minutes ago, pacing in single file like the Court of[39] Priests in Aida. Can’t you manage to tremble a little? It seems hard that so much really excellent pomposity should be wasted on a man who doesn’t care. Why are you late?”

“I’m always late to an appointment,” answered Conover. “Make the other fellow do the waitin’. Don’t do it yourself. Lots of time saved that way.”

Caine threw open a door and ushered Caleb into a room where a dozen or more men were seated about a long table. Bowing carelessly to the members in general, Caine took a seat at the table, and motioned Conover toward a chair that had been placed for the purpose at the lower end of the apartment. Conover, disregarding the gesture, slouched across to a larger, more comfortable leather chair, pulled it to the window, flung himself into the seat, his back to the strong afternoon light, and drew out a cigar.

“Now then, gentlemen,” he ordered curtly, as he struck a match on his sole. “Be as brief as you can. My time’s worth money. What do you want of me?”

A murmur—almost a stifled gasp—went around the table, at the contempt in his action and words. There was an embarrassed pause. Then, Reuben Standish, as Chairman of the Committee, rose, gray and portentous, and turned toward Caleb.

“Mr. Conover,” he began, “Certain statements,—charges, in fact,—have been made to the Committee, relative to yourself. It is your right to hear them in detail. I will now read—”

[40]“Never mind that!” commanded Conover. “Just give the gist of the thing. Cut out the details.”

Standish glared reprovingly at the wholly unimpressed man at the window. But as the latter purposely sat with his back to the light, his expression was quite illegible.

“Just as you wish,” resumed the Chairman after a moment’s hesitation. “The papers I was about to read are to the effect that you are declared to be in no sense a desirable member of the Arareek Club, either from a personal or a business standpoint. Believe me, I regret the necessity of—”

“Oh, I’ll take your grief for granted,” interrupted Conover. “This meeting’s been called, as I understand it, to kick me out of the Arareek. Now I—”

“You are mistaken, Mr. Conover,” urged Standish civilly. “We wish—”

“Be quiet!” said Caleb, “I’m talkin’ now. You want to get me out of this Club. Well, you can’t do it. You can’t stir me an inch. I’m no measly lamb, like the one in the circus ‘Happy Family’ where the lion an’ the lamb live together in one cage; an’ where the lamb’s got to be renewed ev’ry now an’ then, on the sly. I didn’t butt in here. I was elected. I’ve broke none of the Club rules. And till I do, here I’m goin’ to stay. Is that clear? There ain’t a law in the land that can get me out. Lord! But it makes me sick to hear a pack of sapheads like you, tryin’ to scare a grown man. It won’t work. Now we understand each other. Anything more?”

[41]Amid the buzz, a man half way down the table spoke.

“I’m afraid,” he said, “that we don’t quite understand each other, Mr. Conover. This is not a business concern. It is a social club. It is a place where the women of our families are also welcome guests. The presence of a man we cannot introduce to our wives and daughters will only—”

Why can’t you?” demanded Conover. “Why can’t you introduce me? An’ for that matter, I haven’t asked you to, yet. Wait till I do, before you say you can’t.”

“This club,” went on the other, “represents all that is best and most congenial in Granite’s social life. With a discordant element introduced into it, the club’s chief feature is gone. If there is a man who frequents the place whom we do not know and whom we do not wish to know—who cannot meet our—”

“I see we’ll have to waste more time over this than I thought,” grunted Caleb. “Let’s go back a little. Why don’t you want to know me? Hey?”

“Need we go into that? Surely—”

“As you have made it one of the reasons for wantin’ me fired, I guess we’d better. Why don’t you want to know me?”

“If you force me to say it, because you are not a gentleman.”

“No?” sneered Caleb, as a new and fainter murmur of deprecation ran along the table, “Maybe I’m not. I don’t get tanked up on cheap booze down[42] in the bar after golf tournaments, like a lot of your ‘gentlemen’ here, an’ then wander up to dinner on the veranda an’ talk so loud that the women at the next table can’t hear themselves cackle. I don’t ask a party of men and women to dine with me here an’ then get a silly jag an’ sing ‘Mother, Pin a Rose on Me,’ every five minutes durin’ the meal till ev’rybody at the table gets scared for fear I’ll sing somethin’ worse,—like you did last Sunday night.”

Conover’s interlocutor sat down very hard and tried to look loftily indifferent. Caine’s undisguised laugh made the effort more difficult.

“No,” pursued Caleb, with impersonal calm, “I’m not a gentleman. I used to think maybe I’d like to be one. But I don’t, any more. I come down here for dinner sometimes, Sunday evenin’. As there’s no one exactly clamorin’ to entertain me, I’ve plenty of chance to use my eyes an’ ears. So I get a line on ‘gentlemen’ an’ on how they act when they’re in their own crowd. At the table next to me last Sunday, there was a little dinner party. ’Bout a dozen in all. You was givin’ it, I b’lieve, Mr. Featherstone. By the time dessert came everybody was a-tellin’ stories. Stories I wouldn’t tell in a barroom. Women, too. Gee! I never knew before that women—”

“Mr. Chairman!” cried Featherstone, jumping up. “I protest against this vile abuse. As a member of the Arareek—”

“As a member of the Arareek,” cut in Caleb,[43] “you’ll set down an’ be quiet. You’ve had your say. What I’ve just told, I’ve told as a member of the Club—an’ to fellow-members. Of course if I’m kicked out of the Arareek—an’ kicked out on your vote, Featherstone—I won’t feel bound to keep my mouth shut about those same stories or who told ’em. Nor what you whispered to a girl as you passed my table on your way out. If—”

“This is blackmail!” shrieked Featherstone, “I—”

“It’s anything you like to name it,” agreed Caleb, cheerfully, “But it goes. Understand that. Anyone else got somethin’ to say?”

“I should like to ask Mr. Conover,” put in another man, “if he can truthfully deny that his business dealings will not bear such inspection as—”

“As your own deal in buyin’ the tip of where the new High School was to be built an’ then gettin’ an option on the land an’ squeezin’ the city for $48,000?” asked Conover. “Oh, I guess most of my business will frame up pretty well alongside of that. Say, your talk of ‘business methods’ makes me laugh, when I remember what you offered for that tip an’ who you went shares with on the money you got. As a feller Club member, my mouth’s shut on that. When I’m kicked out, it’ll be a diff’rent story. That’s blackmail again, if you like.”

A nervous, gray-haired man at the foot of the board checked comment by saying:

“It’s scarcely needful, Mr. Conover, to adopt that tone. For the sake of the club’s good name, we are[44] simply inquiring into the truth of certain reports of the way your money was made. We—”

“It’s my own business how it was made, Mr. Hawarden,” countered Caleb. “The way I spend it is anybody’s business. An’ when I leave this Club I’m willin’ to make public the accounts of some of my disbursements.”

Though the retort was not rough of tone and seemed quite harmless,—even vapid—of meaning, Hawarden all at once dropped out of the dispute. In vain did several of his fellow Committeemen who had relied on him to press the prosecution, signal for a renewal of attack. Thenceforth, throughout the session, Hawarden was gloomily mute. But there were others to carry on the attack he had so unexpectedly abandoned. Notably a downy little man who sat at Reuben Standish’s right.

“It is said, Mr. Conover,” observed the new assailant, with an air of nervous relish, “that your father was a convict.”

Again the murmur of deprecation at the bland brutality of the assault. Caine leaned far forward, hoping to catch a glimpse of Caleb’s silhouetted face, and half expecting to see the downy-haired accusor tossed bodily from the window.

For an instant, Conover made no reply. His cigar had gone out and he was busy fumbling for a match. But when he did speak, it was with perfect, unaffected calm.

“Yes, Mr. Vroom,” he said, “My father was a[45] convict. He may be one again, by this time, for anything I know. I’ve never set eyes on the old crook since the day they sentenced him to five years in the pen.”

He puffed at his cigar. Then rambled on, half to himself:

“I was ten years old then. It was my birthday, I remember. The old man had a job in the C. G. & X. coal yards. I came home early from school. Ma had promised me a birthday cake with candles for supper. She an’ dad had planned to have some measly little cel’bration for me, an’ take me a to variety show in the evenin’. I ran home all the way from school. When I got to the ten’ment, there was a crowd of gapin’ kids an’ women around our door. Just then out came a couple of cops with Dad between ’em; an’ Ma followed with her apron over her head, cryin’ to break her heart. I remember she still had one of those silly birthday candles gripped in her hand. She’d been puttin’ it onto the cake when the cops came. After that there wasn’t any talk of birthday sprees in the Conover flat. It was up to us to hustle. An’ we did. My mother went out washin’ an’ as a floor-scrubber. An’ I got a job as tally boy in the C. G. & X. yards. That was my start.”

He paused again, looked thoughtfully at his cigar ash and went on in a more business-like tone.

“Yes, Mr. Vroom, my father was a convict. Not much of one; but as much as his small chances allowed. He was only weigher at the coal scales. He[46] ‘fixed’ the scales an’ took his rake-off. That was all. It went on for a couple years. We got the only square meals I’d ever ate, durin’ that time. Then he was sent up; an’—well, Ma wasn’t used to scrubbin’. She took pneumonia an’ died the year before Dad got out. He never came back to our neighborhood, an’ I haven’t seen him since. He may be dead or in jail or a mine owner, for all I know—or care. I’m sorry, for the sake of your arg’ment, he wasn’t more of a criminal, Mr. Vroom. Now, if he’d been indicted for misappropriation of the Orphan’s Home trust funds, like your wife’s brother was; an’ if his family had had the indictment quashed by payin’ the right parties $18,400—”

“You are out of order, Mr. Conover!” rebuked Standish, in answer to a look of frenzied protest from Vroom. “Your retort is—”

“Is dead-true; an’ I’ve the means of layin’ my hands on the proof,” finished Caleb. “I’d do it, too—just for the sake of punishin’ a cur—if the cur’s brother-in-law, Mr. Vroom, didn’t happen to be a clubmate of mine.”

“With a man like this on our rolls,” fumed an elderly Governor, “We shall lose our reputation for—”

“If some of you fellers could get rid of your reputations,” interrupted Caleb, “you’d be in luck.”

A man at Standish’s left had risen and was awaiting a moment of silence in which to speak. He was nattily clad in blue reefer and white duck trousers.[47] A yachting cap lay on the table beside him. Every inch of his stalwart body from the curling black hair and pink cheeks down to the immaculate white canvas shoes bespoke a perfection of grooming that seemed vaguely redolent of scented soap and tailors’ models. His full red lips were curled back now from a double set of ultra-pearly teeth, and his eyes, which Desirée Shevlin had disrespectfully likened to twin chocolate pies, were glassy with wrath.

“Well, Brother Blacarda,” hailed Conover, breaking off in his reply as his gaze rested on this latest opponent who stood threateningly above him, “What have you got to say? Did you come to congratulate me on the Steeloid win-out, or have you somethin’ to add to the bokays that your little friends here have been tossin’ at me? Speak up, man! Stop lookin’ like ‘This-Nobby-Style-$7.49,’ an’ say what you’ve got to.”

“You’ve played a trick on my Steeloid Company,” sputtered Blacarda, “that ought to land you in State’s Prison with your crook father. A trick that ought to put you out of the society of decent men. It will certainly put you out of this Club. Either you leave the Arareek or I do.”

“Well, now, that’s too bad, Blacarda,” purred Caleb, “Us chappies at the Club will be real sorry to lose you. But if you must go,—why take my blessin’ with you.”

“This man, gentlemen,” pursued Blacarda, loudly, wheeling to face the rest, “has, by dirty chicanery,[48] absorbed all the Independent Steeloid Companies,—my own among the number,—in his iniquitous Trust. Let him deny it if he dares to.”

“Deny it?” laughed Caleb, “Not me! Best day’s work of my life. Cleaned up an easy million on the deal. Watcher you goin’ to do about it?”

“Do about it?” gasped Blacarda. “Do about it? There’s a law in the land and—”

“That’s so,” assented Caleb, “A Fed’ral law an’ a law of States, too. It’s lucky those two laws ain’t the same. Otherwise, you’d have been outlawed from the whole country instead of only from Iowa, the time you promoted that fake Des Moines Improvement Comp’ny. But that’s neither here nor there. I’m told you’re goin’ to carry our Steeloid squabble to the Legislature. I tell you in advance, you’ll lose. You may be able to swing part of the Assembly, but I can do a little swingin’ myself, up there. You’ll find the Steeloid Trust is goin’ to win at the Capital as easy as it won to-day at—”

“We have Right behind us,” blustered Blacarda, “and—”

“An’ the Steeloid Trust has Caleb Conover behind it,” retorted Caleb. “I guess he’s as good a backer as ‘Right,’ any day. I’m expectin’ a tough scramble in order to beat you at the Capital, Blacarda. But I’ll do it. I’ll be on the ground myself. An’ I’ll beat you as sure as I beat you to-day. It’ll mean a fight—a big fight. I know that. But a fight’s somethin’ I don’t generally run ki-yi-in’ away from.”

[49]“All this is somewhat beside the point, gentlemen,” interposed Standish. “Is there any further—?”

He paused and glanced about the table. But no one cared to couch lance at the brute who had thus far held the lists so successfully against the Arareek’s doughtiest champions. At length Caine spoke.

“It appears to me,” he drawled in his lazy, half-bantering way, “that these proceedings have been decidedly informal; even for an avowedly informal meeting. Also, that we have made little real progress on either side. There are several broken heads, and the atmosphere is somewhat heavy with the reek of battle. But I fail to hear any shout of victory. Certainly not from our Honorable Committee. Perhaps you will all pardon me if I suggest that our learned body has gone about the present business in a less tactful way that one might have expected from such natural diplomats. Mr. Conover, you have had to answer some extremely impertinent—unnecessarily impertinent—questions this afternoon. If you have answered them in their own key, I am sure no one can honestly blame you. Unless you care to say anything more, I think the Committee may as well go at once into executive session and put the matter to vote. I so move, Mr. Chairman.”

“Hold on a second,” said Conover. “You people can vote in a minute if you want to. First, I’ve got a word more to say. The main counts against me, as I take it, are that I had a bad start in life an’ that my business methods aren’t any better than the[50] methods of other men in this Club. Also that I ain’t a gentleman. We’ll let the question of my business methods slide. I guess there ain’t as few stones on the carpet as there’s men here to throw ’em at me on that score. Now, as to my not bein’ a gentleman an’ my start in life: I started at the bottom of the ladder. I’m only in the early thirties and I’m not far from the top. How many of you could a’ got where I am if you’d started where I did? Not a man of you. I worked my way up from tally boy of the C. G. & X. yards to the job of president of the whole road. An’ I’m makin’ it the biggest road in the State.

“How’d I do it? By fightin’. I had no pull, no cash, no family at my back. Ev’rybody took a turn at tryin’ to step on my hands whenever I’d grab a new rung of the ladder. But I climbed on—an’ I fought on. To-day I’m as rich a man as there is in Granite. Other rich men were members of this Club an’ got fun out of it. So I joined it, too. I’ve as good a right to fun as anyone. An’ I’m goin’ to have it. That’s why I won’t get out. An’ you can’t put me out. You’re goin’ to vote on my case in a few minutes. An’ you’re goin’ to vote to keep me here. Not because you want to; but because I’ve made you do it. If you hit a sulky dog with an axe-handle, he won’t exactly love you. But he’ll mind you, next time. An’ it’s better to be minded than to be ignored. I guess there won’t anybody here ignore me in future.

“By the way, gentlemen: Just to show how much int’rested I am in the Club’s welfare, I bought in the[51] mortgage on the Arareek’s house and grounds last month. I bought it for fear it might fall in the hands of some crank member who’d foreclose if he was dropped from the Club. Or such a crank as might foreclose if he was treated like a measly social leper at the Club’s blowouts. That’s all, gentlemen. I’ll wait out on the porch for your verdict. Good-day, all. I’ll excuse the Committee from risin’ and escortin’ me to the door.”

He rose, stretched his big frame and lounged out of the room. Silence accompanied his exit, but was split by a dozen excited voices the moment the door slammed behind him.

Caleb Conover was loafing in a low wicker chair on the veranda, a cigar between his teeth and a long frosty glass at his side. He was idly watching the putting match on the green before him. The veranda’s other occupants had more or less unobtrusively withdrawn to the far end of the porch, leaving him quite alone.

It was thus Caine found him when the Committee meeting broke up. The newspaper owner strolled across toward Conover, a tantalizing smile on his thin, bored face.

“Well?” he queried.

Conover glanced up eagerly at his friend’s approach.

“Say, Caine,” he asked, pointing, “Why do they choose one of the iron-tipped sticks sometimes and[52] then use one of the brass headed ones next time, for just the same kind of a swat?”

Caine gazed down at Caleb in genuine wonder; then dropped into a chair at his side.

“Conover,” he declared, “You’re the only man on earth who never bores me. And it’s because you never by any chance happen to say or do what people have a right to expect you to.”

“If it’s a riddle—” said Caleb, puzzled, as he looked away from the green.

“It isn’t. It’s genius,” answered Caine. “Here I come to bring you the decision of the Committee. The decision that’s supposedly been keeping you on pins and needles. And, instead of dragging the news out of me by main force, you ask a question about a putting match.”

“Oh, the decision?” returned Caleb, carelessly. “That’s all right. I’m to be kept on as a pop’lar, respected member. I knew that before I left the Committee room.”

“You knew more than I did, then.”

“I always do,” agreed Caleb with utter simplicity. “That’s why I’m where I am to-day. If I couldn’t size up folk’s plans before they made ’em, I’d still be a brakeman on the C. G. & X. or runnin’ the railroad saloon where I made my first cash. I’m kept in the Club by every vote except Blacarda’s.”

“You listened?” cried Caine in wonder.

“Son,” sighed Caleb, wearily, “You make me tired. Why should I a-listened when I knew already?”



“I suppose,” volunteered Caine, as he and Conover walked back to town together, “I suppose you know you behaved like a wild ass of the desert? That no man with an iota of breeding would ever have said the things you did, to the Committee members? I only mention it in case you don’t realize.”

“Oh, I realize it all right,” Conover answered him. “It ain’t a parlor stunt to sling off your coat an’ grab a lady by the back hair. But if she happens to be drownin’, it’s the c’rrect play to make. It was a case for coat-sheddin’ an’ back-hair-grabbin’, to-day, at the Club. That’s why I did it. It landed ’em. If I’d got up and sprung a flowery speech, they’d a’ yawned and voted me out. If I’d put up a whine, they’d a’ been at my throat like a pack o’ hungry wolf-dogs. Someone had to use a whip. An’ I wanted it should be me, not them, that used it. Which same it was.”

“No one will deny that, I think,” said Caine, drily, “If a poll were taken just now for the best hated man in Arareek, you’d be elected by acclamation. You said some things that ought to have been said. But you said them so vulgarly that you seemed to be spitting diamonds.”

[54]“But I’m still in the Club. An’ they daren’t give me the cold shoulder at any more of their blowouts. They’ll still hate me like poison, maybe. But they’ll be civil; an’ when Desirée Shevlin goes there with Mrs. Hawarden, she won’t see folks treatin’ me like I was the original Invisible Man.”

Caine whistled.

So?” he mused. “That’s the secret is it? I might have guessed. I’ve been wondering ever since, why you made such a point about being well received at the Club’s functions. For, unless I’m vastly mistaken, you’ve about as much desire for personal social welcome as a hermit thrush. I could see why you wanted to stay in the Arareek, but why you wanted to attend its—”

“You’re barkin’ up the wrong tree,” growled Caleb, uncomfortably. “At least you ain’t much more’n half right. Of course it’s nice not to have Dey made uncomfortable on my account. But I’m goin’ to push my way into that bunch for my own sake, too. You’ll see a whole lot of things if you look long enough. To-day was just a flea-bite to what’s comin’ before I’m done.”

“Still bent on ‘taking the Kingdom of Heaven by violence?’”

“Not quite that. I hear Heaven’s got only the best society. I ain’t after the best. Only the highest. So Granite’ll do as well. Care to tell me anything ’bout the details of what happened after I left the Committee room?”

[55]“Everybody talked at once,” replied Caine. “The air fairly crackled with blue sparks of indignation. I never realized before how many names a man could be called. It was a liberal education in what not to say. Then, little by little, the Governors got out of breath, and I moved for a vote. Vroom amended my motion by suggesting a written ballot.”

“I might a’ knowed it,” crowed Conover in high glee, “No one wanted the rest to know he was votin’ for me. Good for Vroom! He comes nearer havin’ hooman intell’gence than I thought.”

“The amended motion was passed unanimously,” went on Caine. “Oh, it was a rare study in physiognomy when Standish announced the vote. Eleven to one in favor of retaining you.”

“If there’d been two votes against me, Blacarda could have been arrested for repeatin’,” ruminated Conover. “Yes, that’s just how I figgered it would be.”

“I wasn’t surprised at Vroom and Featherstone and the others you so pleasantly threatened to blackmail,” said Caine, “But I thought at least Standish and Hawarden—”

“I told you I’d helped Standish’s bank and that he’ll want me again, soon,” answered Caleb. “His gratitood market is strong on futurities.”

“But Hawarden? You didn’t threaten him. Yet he was muzzled after the very first attack.”

“No, I didn’t threaten Hawarden to any very great extent,” assented Conover, “I just reminded him,[56] quiet-like, that I’m payin’ his wife $8,000 a season to help Desirée in the society game, an’ that maybe the news might leak out an’ the supplies be cut off if I was fired.”

“Mrs. Hawarden!” ejaculated Caine. “Are you in earnest?”

“I’m not given to springin’ measly jokes. I wanted that the little girl should have a show. She’s prettier an’ better educated an’ cleverer’n any of the people in the gold-shirt bunch. But I couldn’t get her into that crowd. I read in a noospaper about an English duchess that made a lot of coin by puttin’ American girls into the right surroundin’s, an’ it gave me an idee. There’s a slump in the Duchess market here at Granite. But the town’s crawlin’ with old fam’lies that are shy on cash. An’ about the oldest an’ hardest up are the Hawardens. So I arranged it with her. It was dead easy. She acted shy of the deal just at first; but that was only her way, I s’pose. Women that’s coy after they stop bein’ young an’ pretty always reminds me of a scarecrow left standin’ in a field after all the crop’s been carted away.”

“Does Miss Shevlin know about—?”

“Does she know? What do you think she is? No, son, she don’t know, an’ I’ll break the neck of the blackguard that dares tell her. You’re the only one except the Hawardens that’s onto it.”

“So I am the logical candidate for neck-breaking if the story gets out? Don’t be afraid, old man. I’d break my own neck sooner than to have Miss Shevlin’s[57] pleasure spoiled. I suppose she does get pleasure from being a protegée of Mrs. Hawarden?”

“Pleasure? She’s tickled to death. It’s worth the money twice over to hear her tell ’bout the places she goes. Say, Caine, you know more about that game than I do. Has she got any chance?”

“Any chance?” echoed Caine in perplexity.

“You know what I mean. Her father was kind of common,—like me. But Desirée ain’t. Even you said that once. An’ I guess there’s few who can spot a streak of mud-color quicker’n you can. I’ve got her into a crowd where her father an’ the rest of her folks could never have gone. What I want to know is: Has she got a chance of stayin’ there always? Of bein’ took up permanent by ’em an’ made one of ’em?”

“It depends entirely, I should say, on whom she marries.”

“You mean if she marries some feller who’s high up in that set, she’ll be made to home there?”

There was something wistfully eager beneath the Fighter’s gruff tones,—a something Caine detected in time to check the flippant reply that had risen to his own lips. He eyed Conover with veiled curiosity as he asked:

“You would want her to marry such a man?”

“Sure! If he treated her right an’ she was happy. But if she’s goin’ to be looked down on, an’ guyed behind folk’s fans, an’ reminded that her old man used to eat corned beef and cabbage in his shirt-sleeves—why,[58] then I’m damned if I don’t b’lieve I’d buy up the whole of Granite an’ turn the swells out into the next County.”

“It all depends, as I said, on the man she marries,” pursued Caine. “If she marries a man of good family and turns her back on her old associates and has enough money of her own—”

“She’ll have it,” interrupted Conover. “She’ll have enough to make her the richest woman in this burg,—an’ it’ll be in her own name, too. As for shakin’ folks like me,—if I haven’t got my own foot hold there by that time,—she’ll do that too. I’ll see that she does.”

“And yet you’re fond of her?”

“That’s why I’m doin’ it, son. An’ remember you’ll keep on bein’ the only one besides the Hawardens that knows anything ’bout my share in the deal. Speakin’ of ‘deals,’ Blacarda means trouble for us.”

“In the Steeloid affair?” queried Caine. “I thought you’d won that fight.”

“I won that, but there’s another a-comin’. I got a tip on it same time I heard of the incorp’ration, to-day. Blacarda pulls a pretty big oar in the Legislature. He’s back of that Starke Anti-Combine bill we side-tracked early in the session. If the Starke bill passes, then goodbye to our Steeloid corner! I’ve a tip he’s renewed it an’ tryin’ to rush it through before the session closes. It’s to be sprung on the Assembly, Monday. An’ he figgers on gettin’ it railroaded through. If it once passes the Assembly, we’re[59] goners. For he’s got the State Senate where he wants it. An’ the Gov’nor’s on his side. Owns a nice block of stock in Blacarda’s comp’ny. So it all hangs on the Assembly.”

“You take it coolly—considering you stand to lose something like a million dollars.”

“A man who can’t keep his feet warm an’ his head cool has about as much show in finance as a tallow dog chasin’ an asbestos cat through hell,” observed Caleb, oracularly. “He goes up with a puff and there ain’t any remains to look for. I’m not in the Steeloid deal to cure me of weak heart or that tired feelin’. I’m in to win. An’ I’m goin’ to.”

“But the Assembly?”

“I’m not afraid about the Assembly. So long as I’m on hand myself, in the lobby, to hand out kicks or kisses, I’ll be able to kill the Starke bill. I’ve gone up to the Capital before, on what looked like a losin’ fight. An’ I’ve licked the obstinate one into shape, an’ scared some backbone into the weak one, an’ put a little bank-note oil on the rusty ones—an’ swung enough of ’em into line to give me the votes I needed. I know this Assembly pretty well. I know who to count on an’ who not to. I know who to buy, who to bully an’ who to promise. If I sent up anyone else, he’d make a fizzle of the thing. But, somehow, in all my business deals, I find if I’m on the ground myself I can make folks do what I want. You saw how that was, to-day, at the Club. If I’d been away, an’ you or anyone else representin’ me, I’d a’ been[60] kicked out of the Arareek so far that I’d a-landed in another State. But I swung ’em. An’ I’ll swing ’em at the Capital. It’ll be a narrow squeak, but I’ll do it.”

“In other words, if you are there in person, the day the bill comes up, you can kill it. Otherwise not. Suppose you’re sick, or—”

“Sick!” scoffed Caleb, in lofty scorn. “I’ve got no time to be sick. An’ s’pose I was? When I worked that merger of the Porter-Hyde Park road, I had grippe. My temp’ture was up at 105, an’ I had lovely little icicles an’ red hot pokers runnin’ through every joint of me. Likewise a head that ached so loud you could hear it a block away. Gee, but I felt so bad I hated to look up at the undertaker signs on the street! An’ what’d I do? Worked, up to the Capital, three days an’ nights, twenty-four hours a day, not once gettin’ a chance to take my clo’es off or bat an eye. I carried through that merger by the skin of its teeth. Then when I got my charter I blew myself to the lux’ry of a whole gorgeous week in the hosp’tal. But not till ev’ry bit of work was wound up. Sick? H’m! A grown man don’t bother much about bein’ sick when there’s something that’s got to be done. Besides”—he added—“I ain’t sick now. An’ I’ll be on hand at the Capital the minute the Assembly opens, Monday. My bein’ there means the killin’ of the Starke bill. An’ they can set the date for the fun’ral without any fear of disappointin’ the mourners.”

[61]“Did you ever hear of Napoleon?” asked Caine, whimsically.

“Sure I did,” responded Conover. “Read part of a book about him once. Why?”

“Like yourself he was the greatest hold-up man of his day,” explained Caine, “and he had a conscience of the same calibre as yours. If he’d been a little bit less of a highwayman they would have laughed at him. If you were a little bit less of a highwayman they’d put you in jail. He had magnetism. Probably almost as much of it as you have. That’s what made me think of him just then. Wellington used to say that Napoleon’s mere presence on a battlefield did more to win victories than an army of forty-thousand men. I suppose it’s the same at the Assembly.”

“That’s right,” agreed Caleb, unmoved. “An’ Blacarda knows it, too. He’d give ten thousand dollars. I’ll bet, to have me break a leg between this an’ Monday. But my legs are feelin’ first rate. An’ they’re goin’ to keep on feelin’ better all the time, till they kick the Starke bill into its grave.”

“I’ll do what I can through the ‘Star’ to help,” said Caine. “Just as I did for the Porter-Hyde Park merger and the Humason Mine charter. What’s the use of owning a newspaper if one can’t boost one’s friends?”

“An’ one’s own Steeloid stock at the same time?” supplemented Conover. “We understand each other all right, I guess. Steeloid’s goin’ to take a rise, after[62] Monday. An’ it’s goin’ to keep right on risin’ for the next six months.”

“Conover,” protested Caine, “as a highwayman—or financier, to put it more politely—you are a genius. But as a man, you leave a ghastly amount to be desired. Have you a superstitious fear of the word ‘Thanks’? I offer to put the columns of the ‘Star’ at your disposal. Common decency at least should call for a word of gratitude. Or, if not for the Steeloid matter, at least for my championing you to-day at the Club. Surely that wasn’t in the interest of your wonderful Steeloid stock.”

Conover plodded ahead glumly for some moments. Then he observed, as though turning to a pleasanter subject:

“In the part of that Napoleon book I read it told how the old-line, patent-leather ’ristocrats of France fell over each other to do things that would make a hit with the big ‘hold-up man’. Wasn’t it real gen’rous of ’em? But then, maybe Napoleon had a cute little way of sayin’ ‘Thanks,’ oftener’n I do.”



“Why folks should drink tea when they’re not thirsty, an’ gobble sweet crackers when they’re not hungry,” observed Conover, impersonally, as he balanced his cup and saucer on one thick palm and stared at the tea as though it might turn and rend him, “is somethin’ I never could make out. As far as I can learn, s’ciety is made up of doin’ things you don’t want to at times you don’t need to.”

“There is nothing in afternoon tea,” quoted Desirée,

“To appeal to a person like me.
There’s too little to eat,
What there is is too sweet.
And I feel like a cow up a tree.”

“And,” improvised Caine,

“In Boston we threw away tea
Because of King George’s decree.
When England disputed,
We just revoluted.
Hurray for the Land of the Free!

[64]“And now that we’ve all testified,” he added, “may I please have another cup? If not, I’m going to keep on repeating insipid verses till I get it.”

The two men had dropped in at the Shevlin house on their way from the Arareek Club. Desirée had listened delightedly to Caleb’s expurgated account of the Committee meeting, and at the story’s close had rung for tea. Caine was a prime favorite of hers. Caleb was wont to lean back and listen in unaffected admiration to their talk—about one-half of which he could understand. His hazarded remark about tea had been thus far the Fighter’s only contribution to the chatter. Emboldened by it he now ventured a second observation.

“I see by the ‘Star’,” said he, “that there’s goin’ to be a blowout up at the Standishes’, week after next. A dinner party and a musicle. Whatever a musicle may be. You’re goin’ of course, Caine?”

“Yes,” replied Caine, adding flippantly, “of course you are?”

“Yes,” said Caleb, slowly, “I think I am.”

“You’re not in earnest?” cried Desirée, surprised.

“I’m in earnest all right. It’ll be a big affair. I think I’ll go to the musicle an’ the dinner too.”

“But I didn’t know you knew any of the Standishes except—”

“I don’t yet. But I will by then. I’ll get asked. You’re goin’ to the musicle part of it with Mrs. Hawarden, ain’t you, Dey? You said somethin’ about it yesterday. Well, you’ll see me there. Say!” as a[65] new idea struck him, “how’d you like to be asked to the dinner, too? That’s the excloosive part of the whole show. Only about a dozen guests. More’n a couple of hundred at the musicle. Want to go to the dinner?”

“Of course not,” she exclaimed. “What a crazy idea! As if you could get me an invitation, even if I did want to!”

“Oh, I could get it all right,” urged Caleb. “I’m goin’ myself.”

Caine, who had dropped wholly out of the talk, rose to go. There was a curious restraint about his manner as he bade Desirée goodbye.

“Well, Caleb Conover!” rebuked Desirée as soon as she and the Fighter were left alone. “Of all the historically idiotic plunges into other peoples’ greenhouses I ever saw!”

“What’ve I done now?” asked Caleb in due humility.

“What haven’t you done?” she retorted. “Don’t you know Mr. Caine is engaged to Letty Standish?”

“I’d forgotten for the minute. What of it?”

“There you sat and boasted you’d be invited to dinner at her house! When you don’t even know her. What am I to do with you? I’ve a great mind to make you drink two more cups of tea!”

“I don’t see yet what the row is,” he pleaded. “But I’ve riled you, Dey. I’m awful sorry. I oughtn’t to come here when there’s civilized folks callin’. I only make you ashamed, an’—”

[66]“How often must I tell you,” she cried angrily, her big eyes suddenly growing moist, “never to say such things? You know they hurt me!”

“Why should it hurt anyone when I talk of goin’ to a—?”

“I’m not speaking about the dinner. It’s about your not coming to see me. If people don’t like to meet my chum, they needn’t call on me. As for being ‘ashamed’ of you—here! Take this cup of tea and drink it. Drink it, I say. And when you finish you must drink another. All of it. With sugar in it. Two lumps. I don’t care if you do hate sweet things. You’ve got to be punished! Drink it!”

Conover obediently gulped down the loathed liquid and held out his cup with an air of awkward contrition, for the second instalment of his penance.

Now, do I get forgiven?” he begged. “It’s vile stuff. An’ I drank every drop, Dey. Please be friends again. Aw, please do!”

“You big overgrown baby!” she said looking laughingly down into his red, remorseful face. “You talk very, very loudly about being a ‘grown man’, and a financier. And some of the papers call you ‘Brute’ Conover—the wretched sheets! But you’re only about ten years old. No one knows you except me. To the others you may be able to talk as if you were grown up, but it never imposes on me for a minute.”

“That’s right,” he assented wonderingly. “I never thought of it that way before. I don’t know[67] why it is except maybe because I never had any boyhood or had a chance to be young. I seem to have been born grown up an’ on the lookout to get the best of the next feller. Then, when I get with you, I lose about twenty years and feel like a kid. It’s great to be that way. Nobody else ever makes me feel so.”

“I suppose not,” mocked the girl. “Your other friends are fossly people all about a million years old. And you look on me as a child and try to talk and act down to my level. It is very humiliating. I’m nearly twenty and quite grown up and—”

“Your eyes are, anyhow,” commented Caleb. “They’re two sizes too large for your face.”

“Is that a compliment? If it is—”

“I don’t know,” pursued Conover. “I never noticed how big they was till one day when you were drinkin’ ice-tea. Then, all of a sudden, it struck me that if your eyes wasn’t so big you’d be li’ble to tumble into your glass. Now you’re mad again!” he sighed. “But it’s true. You’re awful little. You don’t much more’n come up to my elbow.”

“When you’re quite through saying woozzey things about my size and my eyes,” said Desirée, coldly, “perhaps you won’t mind talking of something sensible?”

“If you’d just as leave,” hesitated Caleb, “I’d like to talk a little ’bout what you said a few minutes ago. About my bein’ young. You don’t get it quite right. I’m not young an’ I never was or will be,—except with you. When you an’ me are together, some part[68] of me that I don’t gener’lly know is there, seems to take charge. Maybe I don’t explain it very clear. I don’t seem quite to understand it myself. Here’s the idee: D’you remember that measly little green-covered French book I found you cryin’ over, once? The ‘Vee’ of something.”

“You mean Barriere’s ‘Vie de Bohéme?’”

“That’s it. The French play you said was wrote from a book by some other parly-voo chap. You told me the story of it, I remember. It didn’t make much of a hit with me at the time, an’ I couldn’t quite see where the cry come in. But I got to thinkin’ of it when you spoke just now. Remember the chap in there who told the girl she was his Youth an’ that if it wasn’t for her he’d be nothin’ but just a plain grown man? ’Twas her that kep’ him feelin’ like a boy. An’ then when she died—let’s see—what was it he hollered? Something ’bout—”

“‘O, ma Jeunesse, c’est vous qu’on enterre,’” quoted Desirée.

“Maybe so,” assented Caleb, doubtfully. “It sounds like a Chinee laundry ticket to me. That was the part you were cryin’ over, too. What is it in English?”

“‘Oh my Youth, it is you they are burying!’” translated the girl.

“That’s the answer,” said Conover, gravely. “Now let’s talk about something better worth while than me. I was chinnin’ with Caine this afternoon about you. He says if you marry the right sort of[69] man, your place in society’s cinched. What do you think of that?”

“How utterly silly!” she laughed. “Caleb, this society idea of yours has become an obsession. What do I care for that sort of thing? It’s pleasant to be asked to houses where one has a good time. That’s all. It’s like eating ice-cream when one is used to bread pudding. I’m not anxious to eat, drink and breathe nothing but ice-cream three times a day all the rest of my life. Why should I want a ‘cinched place in society’ as you so elegantly put it?”

“You don’t understand,” he insisted. “It means a lot more’n that. With your looks and brains an’—an’ the big lot of cash your father left you,—you could make no end of a hit there. You’d run the whole works inside of five years. You’d have the same sort of position here in Granite that Mrs. Astor an’ those people have in New York. Think of that, Dey! It’s a thing you can’t afford to throw away. When anyone says he don’t care to shine in s’ciety,—well, you may not tell him so; but you think it, all the same. An’ it’d be a crime for you to miss it all. If you marry the right sort of man—”

“‘The right sort of man!’” mimicked Desirée, wrathfully, “Caleb, there are times when I’d like to box your ears. I wish you and Mr. Caine would mind your own grubby Steeloid business and not gabble like two old washerwomen about my affairs. ‘The right sort of a man—!’ Why,—”

“How’d you like to marry Amzi Nicholas Caine?”[70] suggested Conover, tentatively. “Dandy fam’ly,—fairly rich—good looker—travels in the best crowd—”

“Warranted sound and kind—a child can drive him—a good hill climber—guaranteed rustless,” snapped Desirée in lofty contempt. “Caleb, do you want to be made to drink more tea?”

“Honest, girl, I’m in earnest. He’s—”

“He’s engaged to Letty Standish, for one thing. And if he wasn’t, I wouldn’t marry him if he and a tone-deaf piano tuner were the only two men left on earth.”

“His bein’ engaged to the Standish girl needn’t matter,” urged Caleb, too much engrossed in her first observation to note the second, “Because I can fix that all right.”

In spite of her indignation, Desirée laughed aloud.

“Oh, you great and wise man!” she cried. “How, may I ask?”

“I don’t know yet,” he said with perfect confidence, “Because I haven’t thought it over. But I can fix it. I can always fix things when I have to.”

“Well, in this case,” she retorted, “you can spare yourself the crime of parting two loving souls and fracturing two adoring hearts and shattering Granite’s social fabric just on my account. When I really want to marry and I find I can’t lure the shrinking Adonis to my feet I’ll let you know. Then you can try your luck at making him propose.”

“Sure, I will,” promised Conover, in all seriousness,[71] “Just give me the word when the time comes an’ the feller’s yours for the askin’. But I’m kind of disappointed in the way you turn Caine down. It seemed such a grand idee. That’s one of the reasons I asked him in, this afternoon. I thought when you saw us together he’d kind of shine by contrast with me, you know. More’n when you meet him with folks of his own sort.”

“The contrast was there!” she blazed. “It fairly sizzled, it was so strong. For one thing Mr. Caine has manner. And you haven’t got even manners. And I ought to hate you for daring to talk so to me. And—and you’re the dearest, stupidest, splendidest boy I know. Now I’m going to dress for dinner. You can talk to Siegfried-Mickey if you want to while I’m gone. But if you want to win his fondness, don’t make silly, squiffy plans for his social future.”

She was out of the room before Conover could frame an answer. But on the instant she had turned back long enough to thrust her flushed face momentarily through the opening of the curtains and suggest demurely:

“Caleb, if Mr. Hawarden should ever die, don’t you think it would be nice for Mrs. Hawarden to marry Billy? It would make the dear little fellow’s position in society so nice and secure!”



The following Monday morning found Caleb at the Capital ready and waiting for the battle which lay before him. He had arrived from Granite late Sunday night; with Caine and with one or two personal followers on whose timely aid, he knew from experience, he might count.

For two days there had been a ceaseless downpour of rain. Conover and Caine, draped in long waterproof coats, stood at the entrance of their hotel, looking out on the flooded streets and dingy, streaming sky. They were waiting for the carriage that was to bear them to the State House. Caine glanced ever at his watch, his armor of habitual bored indifference worn perilously thin. Conover, on the other hand, showed no more emotion than if he were on his way to luncheon. As Caine’s hand, for the tenth time, crept toward his watch pocket, the Fighter remarked:

“I can save you the trouble of lookin’, son, by tellin’ you the startlin’ news that it’s just about thirty seconds later’n it was when you took out your watch before. What’s your worry? We’re in lots of time. As long as we get there when the Assembly’s called to order it’s all we care. I’ve done ev’rything that can[73] be done. All I’m goin’ to the lobby for is to jack those able statesmen up when Blacarda starts to stampede ’em. I’ve made my arrangements with each man who’s goin’ to vote our way. An’, as I figger out, we’ll kill that Starke bill by two votes. Easy that many. But there’s four or five Assemblymen that need my fatherly eye on ’em when the bill comes up. Otherwise they’ll sure bolt. I know ’em. While I’m there I’m like your friend Napoleon; worth 40,000 men. Or, 40,000 dollars, if you like it better that way. I’ve got my grip on the reins. Don’t you fret.”

“I heard something just now,” said Caine. “Something that it will surprise you to learn. I had it from the ‘Star’s’ Legislature correspondent. It seems Blacarda tried to prevent your coming to the Capital at all. I’m rather surprised at his playing such a trick. But I suppose it goes to prove that a man is known by the company he promotes. He heard you were due from Granite on the 5.30 train this morning. And he paid the engineer $600 to have the locomotive break down thirty miles from here. You would have been stalled there until too late to be of any use. The Assembly would have met and—”

“An’ stampeded,” finished Caleb stolidly. “An’ the Starke bill would’ve gone through an’ we’d a’ been licked. Quite so. That’s why I changed my plans, the last minute, an’ came here last night.”

“You knew of Blacarda’s move?” cried Caine in amazement.

[74]“Son,” yawned Conover, “it’s my business to know things. An’ there’s plenty little I don’t know when it comes to .22 calibre en’mies like Blacarda. The engineer took the cash an’ then brought the whole story to me. Us railroad men pull together, you know. I told him to keep his $600 an’ let the engine break down accordin’ to schedule. Then I came on another train last night. Didn’t you see how pleased Blacarda looked when he came into the hotel? He knows he ain’t got a ghost of a chance with his Starke bill, while I’m on deck in the State House lobby. Here’s our carriage. Come on, since you’re in such a hurry.”

The two men splashed out through the sheets of rain toward the waiting vehicle. Caine stood aside to let Conover step in. As the latter’s foot was on the step, the hotel telegraph clerk came running out, calling the Fighter’s name and holding up a slip of yellow paper whose message-ink was still wet.

“Just came!” announced the clerk, handing Conover the dispatch. “I thought you were still in the hotel. Lucky I caught you before you started!”

Caleb made no reply. He was reading, and re-reading, the telegram. Caine, watching him impatiently, saw the Fighter’s face turn a muddy gray.

Then, shouting to the driver: “Union Station! Go like Hell!” Conover was in the carriage. Caine, all at a loss, had barely time to scramble in after him before Caleb had slammed shut the door. The horses[75] were off at full speed; the wheels dashing a cascade of mud blotches through the vehicle’s lowered sash.

“What is the matter?” insisted Caine, as Conover huddled—inert, bulky, wordless—in one corner; “whom are you to meet at the station? I thought all the Assemblymen—”

“I’m goin’ to catch the 9.32 to Granite if we can make it,” growled Conover. “Shut up an’ let me think. Here!”

He shoved the tight-squeezed ball of yellow paper toward Caine. The latter, as he took the telegram, noted the sudden clammy chill of the Fighter’s hand and saw that his lips were dry as a fever-patient’s. Never before had Caine seen him nervous, and he turned with redoubled interest to the unfolding of the crumpled dispatch. It bore a woman’s signature—that of Desirée’s aunt—and Caine, marveling, ran his eyes over the body of the message:

Dey taken dangerously ill last night. Delirious. Calls for you all time. Come if can.

The banal wording, the crude phrasing for the sake of saving expense—every detail of the telegram jarred upon Caine’s fastidious taste. But a new thought made him turn, incredulous, upon Conover.

“I’m awfully, awfully sorry to hear this,” said he. “But—but of course you can’t think of leaving everything at the State House to-day and—”

“State House?” muttered Conover, dully.

“Don’t you understand?” cried Caine, gripping the[76] dazed, limp giant by the shoulder and trying to shake him back to his senses. “Don’t you understand the Steeloid fight will be on in an hour or so? You can’t desert us and run off to Granite like this.”

“Take your hands off me,” mumbled Conover, pettishly. “Lord, how I hate to be pawed! Can’t that driver go any faster’n a hearse? I’ll miss the—”

Conover!” fairly shouted Caine. “Brace up, man! What ails you? I never saw you like this. Have you lost your head? The Steeloid fight comes up, in the Assembly, to-day. Your fortune and mine hang on your killing the Starke bill. You say, yourself, that unless you’re at the State House we’ll lose. You can’t get to Granite and back before the session closes. If—”

“I’m not comin’ back,” said Caleb in utter weariness. “She’s—Dey’s sick. ‘Dangerously ill,’ the tel’gram said. An’ she’s callin’ all the time for me. If the 9.32 is on time I ought to be to her house by noon. Maybe before.”

“Look here, old man!” pleaded Caine. “Of course I’m sorrier about Miss Shevlin than I can say. But she will have the best possible medical care. And you can’t help her by rushing off like this. Think of all that depends on your being at the State House, to-day. You can catch the six o’clock train for Granite this evening, just as well. For all our sakes, don’t desert us now! If Blacarda gets the Starke bill through the Assembly—”

“Don’t bother me,” snarled Conover, shifting his[77] big body to move out of reach of the appealing hand. “What—what d’ye s’pose can be the matter with her? She was all right yesterday noon. Train leaves in four minutes, an’—”

Caine broke in on the Fighter’s speech with a final plea for sanity. He had an almost uncanny feeling at his own proximity to this demoralized hulk of what had until now been the strongest man of his world. He did not know the shaking, muttering, putty-faced being who in a trice had tossed away both their hopes of fortune. Yet Caine would not yield.

“If you’ll only stay just long enough for the Starke bill to be voted on,” he implored. “You can have a Special to take you back. Or, call up her doctor on the long-distance telephone before you start, and find out if her illness is really dangerous. Perhaps her aunt—”

“She’s callin’ for me,” reiterated Caleb, in the same dead tones. “I thought about the long-distance ’phone. But there’s no time for that before the 9.32 starts. I—Good! Here’s the station! An’ two minutes to spare.”

Out of the carriage he jumped and made off at a shambling run for the tracks; Caine close at his heels. At the car platform the Fighter turned; scribbled a few lines on a card and handed it to Caine.

“Here,” he ordered with a ghost of his old authority. “Have that telegram sent off in a rush. It’ll clear up the tracks for me when we strike the C. G. & X. line, an’ let us in a half-hour earlier. Do as I say.[78] Don’t bother me! I’ve no time to fool with the measly Steeloid deal now.”

For an hour and a half Caleb Conover stared with unseeing, glazed eyes at the gray skies and rain-rotted fields as his train sped toward Granite. He had a curious numbness in his head. A dumb nausea gripped him. For the first time in his life, he could not think consecutively. All his mind and body seemed to centre around one hideous truth: Desirée Shevlin was terribly ill. Perhaps dying. She wanted him. And he was not there.

He had never known until now that he had an imagination. Yet, during the century-long train ride, the pressure on his brain lifted a bit from time to time and he could see the dainty, dark little head turning endlessly from side to side on its tumbled hot pillow; the white face whence the glow and life had been stricken; the delirium hoarse voice calling—ever calling—for him.

She had been so bright, so happy, so strong—only the day before. She had gone driving with him after church. She had been telling him about a country visit she was going to make—to-day—yes, she was to have started to-day. This noon. And on the same drive—what was it she had worn? It had gone prettily with her eyes, whatever it was. Those eyes of hers had such odd, wonderful little lights in them. What color were they? And what was it Caine had told her they held—oh, yes—‘prisoned[79] laughter.’ That was a queer sort of phrase. But she had seemed to like it.

Why hadn’t the old fool who built the engine made one that could travel faster than a hand car?

The express—thanks to Caleb’s track-clearing telegram—rolled into Granite station a full half hour ahead of time. Long before the cars came to a lurching halt under the sheds, Conover, with all an old-time railroad man’s deftness, had swung off the moving train and had started down the platform at a run. Through bevies of departing passengers he clove a rough, unapologetic way. Station hands leaped nimbly aside and gazed in gaping amaze after their hurrying President. Past the platform, through the vaulted waiting room toward the street beyond; and, at the outer door—


Conover halted, dumbfounded, shaking, at the call. There in the doorway he stood, his face a dull purple, his eyes bulging, staring down at—Desirée Shevlin.

“What on earth are you doing here?” she marvelled. “You said you were to be at the Capital till to-morrow. Isn’t it the squunchiest, trickliest day you ever saw? If I hadn’t promised ever and ever so solemnly to go out to Jean’s on the eleven-forty, I’d—”

“Good Lord!”

It was as though all the engines on the C. G. & X. were letting off steam at once. And, with the ejaculation,[80] the cloud of horror was wiped clean from the Fighter’s brain. He was, on the moment, his old self; alive and masterful in every atom of his mighty body.

“Caleb!” the girl was saying, plaintively, as she gazed up at him with her head on one side, “is your hat wished on?”

“I’m sorry I forgot!” he laughed, excitedly, doffing the wet derby with one hand and slapping her vigorously on her little rain-coated shoulder with the other. “I came all the way back to Granite to tell you I’m tickled to death to see you lookin’ so well. An’—an’—to tell you I’m goin’ to beat Blacarda yet!”

“Caleb Conover!” she gasped. “What do you think you are talking about? Are you—”

But Conover had vanished—swallowed up in the recesses of the dark station. Desirée looked after him, round-eyed.

“I sometimes think,” she confided to the silver handle of her umbrella, “that Caleb will never quite grow up!”



The red-haired man was fighting.

Just now he was fighting at long range. And all the complex system of the C. G. & X. railroad vibrated under his blows. A dozen rapid-fire orders had sent as many station officials scuttling to posts of duty. Already telegraph wires were sizzling; and employees miles away were hustling in consequence, to fulfil their master’s behests. The fastest engine on the C. G. & X. was getting up steam. A dozen frantic machinists with oil cans, wrenches and hammers were swarming over and under the huge locomotive making her ready for a record trip. In the few minutes that remained, before his Special could start, Caleb Conover, coolest, least hurried man in the whole buzzing station, was talking over the long-distance telephone to Caine.

“Yes,” he was saying, as, cigar in mouth, he lounged above the transmitter on his desk, “I’ll be off in three minutes. So listen hard, for you are liable to have a wakeful day before you. I’ve gave orders to side-track everything on the C. G. & X. between here an’ McIntyre Junction. That’ll give us room for a sixty-five-mile-an-hour trip as far as the Junction. After that I’ll be off the C. G. & X. tracks and[82] I’ll have to take my chances of gettin’ the right of way. But I guess a couple of tel’grams I’ve sent will loosen things up on the other road. Remember, I’m a’ comin’ as fast as steam will carry me. Since you say the Starke bill ain’t come up yet, there’s a show of my gettin’ there on time, after all. I’ve just ’phoned Bourke, the Assemblyman from my Districk, to hold the crowd together as well as he can till I land. What? No, don’t you bother over that. He knows how to keep the bill back for a while, anyhow. Motion to adjourn’s always in order. He’ll hop up an’ move to adjourn ev’ry five minutes and then demand a poll on the vote. Good ol’-fashioned fil’busterin’. That, an’ a few other cunnin’ little stunts that I’ve taught him, is liable to delay business pretty much in the Assembly to-day. My crowd’s got all their orders. But Blacarda was a roarin’ fool not to push the bill through early this mornin’. I s’pose he figgered out he had all day ahead of him. Him an’ me will settle our score later. So long! My engine’s ready.”

Clambering aboard the locomotive cab the moment the last oiler scuttled to safety from underneath the driving-wheels, Conover lighted a fresh cigar, and with a grim smile leaned back to enjoy the whirlwind flight through the rain. He was happier than he had been in weeks. Not only through the quick lifting of the horror that had so engulfed him, but from the joy of a hard fight against heavy odds. In spite of his cheery tone toward Caine, he knew it was problematical[83] whether or not his henchman, Bourke, could retard the vote on the Starke Bill until his arrival. But it was a chance well worth the taking. His anxiety for Desirée banished, the Fighter turned with more than wonted zeal to the battle before him.

The engine thundered over the miles of sodden land, the cab windows awash with rain; the great bulk swaying perilously from its own reckless speed; the twisting of sharp curves more than once hurling Caleb headlong from his seat. Past long lines of side-tracked freight and passenger trains they whizzed. Every switch along the line bore its burden of cars hustled off the main line by Caleb’s commands. The entire C. G. & X. system was for the time tied up, that its ruler might travel over its rails as no man had before traversed them.

“At this rate,” mused Caleb, “I’ll make it, with any sort of luck. If I can be sure of speed on the other line—!”

Toward the latest of many brown wooden stations they flashed. The engineer threw over a lever. The wheels shrieked ear-splitting protest as they gripped and shaved the rails in the shock of the brake’s clutch.

“What’s up?” bellowed Conover, wrathfully. “Is—?”

“Station agent’s flagging us, sir, with the danger signal,” replied the engineer, leaning out into the rain to accost a scared, shirtsleeved man who ran toward them, flag in hand, along the track.

Conover pulled the engineer to one side and thrust[84] his own head from the cab window, just as the panting station agent came up.

“What d’ye mean by stoppin’ us?” demanded the Fighter.

“Trackwalker reports—bridge—mile above—unsafe,—from washout!” puffed the agent.

“He does, hey?” sneered Conover, “An’ why in blazes didn’t you telegraph the next station below?”

“I was just going to, sir,” faltered the agent, “but as there wasn’t any train due for an half an hour—”

“Is the bridge still standin’?” demanded Conover.

“Yes, sir. But the trackwalker thinks—”

“I don’t pay him to think. I’m doin’ the thinkin’ this trip. Davis,” wheeling on the engineer, “I’m goin’ over this bridge. There’s $500 on the other side of it for you. Want to come? Speak up quick!”

“If—if it’s not safe—” hesitated the man. “This is the heaviest engine on the road and—”

“Get out of here, then!” yelled Conover, ejecting him bodily from the cab. The engineer missed the step and tumbled prone in a blasphemous heap, to the wet track side. Conover did not waste a second look at him, but slipped into the driver’s place and threw off the brake. He had served his term as engineer during his upward flight through the various grades of railroad achievement; and was as comfortably at home at the throttle as in his private car.

The wheels caught the track and the great mass of metal sprang into motion.

[85]“Is there anything else I can do, sir?” piped the obsequious agent.

“No!” snarled Caleb glowering back at him through the open window. “If there was, you wouldn’t be a measly thirty-dollar-a-month station roustabout.”

Settling into his place, Conover knit his red brows and peered forward through the downpour and mist, along the shining track. He could not afford the time he had lost. To make it up, every notch of speed must be crowded on. There was a fierce exhilaration in Caleb’s alert light eyes, as he set himself to his new task. The fireman, who had been crouching on the tender, now worked his way forward into the cab.

“Hello!” grunted Conover, crossly. “I’d forgot you. I s’pose I got to slow up while you jump.”

“If I was a jumper, sir,” replied the fireman, quietly, “I’d have gotten off at the station.”

With stolid unconcern the fellow set about stoking. Conover grinned.

“If we live past that bridge,” he remarked, “You’ll make your next trip as pass’nger engineer. Steady, now.”

The locomotive was at top speed once more. Around a curve it tore, listing far to one side. Straight ahead, through the gray murk, rose the trestled bridge—a blur of brownish-red, spanning a hundred foot drop; at whose bottom boiled a froth of white fretted water cut here and there by black lump-head[86] boulders. “Slow to 10 miles an Hour!” read the patch of signboard at the bridge’s head. At either side of the railroad embankment stood knots of country folk, idly watching the condemned framework.

At sixty miles an hour the locomotive swept into the straightaway. A scattering chorus of cries rose from a dozen lips as the shadowy giant bulk leaped out of the mist.

Then, in the same instant, the dull rumble of wheels on a ground track was changed to the hollow roaring roll of wheels on a trestle. A jar of impact—a sickening sway of the whole wood-and-steel structure—a snapping, rending sound from somewhere far below—a wind-borne scream from the group of panic-stricken idlers now a furlong behind;—and once more the changed key of the driving-wheels’ song told that the flimsy bridgeway was succeeded by solid roadbed beneath the rails.

“Scared?” asked Conover, over his shoulder, to the fireman.

“I’ve just been too near to death to feel like lying,” returned the man in a sickly attempt at humor, “So I might as well own up that for a second or so I could hear a few harps twanging. My heart’s still somewhere around the place where I swallow.”

“You’ve got grit,” vouchsafed the Fighter, straining his eyes to pierce through the mist in front of them, “Man’s made of dust, the parsons say; but I guess there was plenty of sand sprinkled in yours an’ mine.[87] An’ I like you better for not bein’ ashamed to tell you was afraid. The brave man ain’t the one who don’t get scared; he’s the feller who’s scared stiff and goes ahead just the same. I guess I’ll have to change that new job of yours from pass’nger engineer to somethin’ in my own office. Now, chase back to your work. I’ve got other things to think of besides jawin’ with you.”

The Junction was reached and passed. No longer on his own road, Conover was less certain that the way would be left clear for him. Yet his telegrams had had effect. The line was open, and he sent his locomotive along with no let-up in its terrific speed.

“I’ll make it,” he said once, under his breath. “If Bourke can only hold ’em—if he can only hold ’em!”

Over went the lever, and with another shrill shriek the engine slackened speed. They had rounded a bend. Directly in front was a station. Beside it stood a long train, blocking the single track. In a bound, Conover was out of the cab. Shouting to the fireman to follow, he set off at a run through the mud puddles that lined the right of way.

“Whatcher stoppin’ for?” he demanded of the conductor who stood by one of the rear cars.

“Waiting for the Directors of the road,” answered the conductor. “They’re lunching up at the President’s house. They were due here three minutes ago. This train’s a local, so we’re holding it till—”

Conover heard no more but broke again into a run; heading for the engine.

[88]“Do you mind gettin’ into trouble?” he panted to the fireman at his side, “I’ll stand by you.”

“You’re the boss,” replied the man, laconically, putting on a fresh burst of speed to keep up with his employer.

“Good! I’m goin’ to steal that engine. You uncouple her an’ scramble aboard. I’ll ’tend to the crew.”

They had reached the locomotive as he spoke. The engineer had left his cab and was stretching his cramped legs on the platform. His fireman lolled from the window, smoking a pipe. Conover, never breaking his stride, swung aboard the cab and threw open the throttle; the same moment his follower yanked loose the old-fashioned coupling pin, disengaged the air brake and gained the tender with a flying leap.

The whole transaction was completed before either the engine’s crew knew what was going on. The rightful fireman found himself toppled from the cab straight into the arms of the engineer, who with a yell had sprung aboard. The two, clasped lovingly in each other’s arms, rolled swearing into a roadside mud-puddle;—and the locomotive was off.

Conover, at the throttle, laughed aloud in keen delight as he glanced back at the engineless train, the two bedraggled figures and the crowd that came running excitedly along the platform.

“This old rattler ain’t a patch on the one we left behind,” he chuckled, “but she seems able to make[89] some speed for all that. Gee, but I’ll have my hands full squarin’ myself with the Pres’dent of this road! I’m li’ble to hear some fine language an’ maybe have a nice little suit to compromise, too. But we’ll get there. It’d a’ held us up half an hour or more, to wait for that measly local to hit a switch. Ever steal an engine before, son?”

“No,” said the fireman, “and I’m just wondering how I’ll look in striped clothes.”

You’ll be all right. Take that from me. It means promotion. That’s all. If our trip lasts long enough, you’re li’ble to be Pres’dent of the C. G. & X. at this rate. Say, I wonder when this engine took on water last. Look an’ see.”

“All right for the rest of the run,” reported the fireman, on his return. “But suppose they telegraph ahead and have us run into an open switch?”

“I thought of that. But they won’t. In the first place, they won’t risk smashin’ a good engine. In the second,—Hell! Ain’t I Caleb Conover?”

A hatless man,—dripping wet, mud-smeared, grimy as a coal heaver,—took the State House steps three at a stride. In less than two minutes it was known throughout the Assembly that Caleb Conover had come. A word here, a hint there, a pulling of mysterious wires:—and the wavering backbones of his more doubtful satellites in the Legislature were miraculously stiffened. The Starke Bill had not yet come to a vote; thanks to Bourke and his colleagues[90] who had wearied the Assembly to desperation and maddened Blacarda to frenzy by a continuous series of the most glaring filibuster tactics. But even the Conover faction’s tactics had, at the last, wellnigh exhausted themselves.

“In another five minutes,” Caine was explaining, “you’d have been too late. Nothing could have stopped the bill from—”

“Another five minutes!” mocked Conover, turning from his work. “Son, this ain’t the first, nor yet the millionth time that a diff’rence of five minutes has knocked hist’ry into a cocked hat. Now, send McGuckin to me. He needs a little more beguilin’. An’ I’m here to give it to him. Chase, now! He’s the last I’ll have time to see, before the vote.”

Conover did not so much as trouble to go to the Assembly gallery with Caine when the Starke bill came up for balloting; but sat smoking and glancing over papers in the Committee room that he had commandeered as his personal office. Hither, soon afterward, Caine repaired; his handsome, tired face alight.

“We win!” he announced triumphantly. “The bill’s defeated,—by two votes. Congratulations!”

“Son,” observed Conover, glancing up from his desk, “what’s all the excitement? I told you last Friday that we’d win by two votes. Now, maybe, you’ll believe, another time, that I know what I’m talkin’ about. Where’s Blacarda?”

“I passed him in the corridor on his way back to[91] the hotel. Why do you ask? You’re done with him now.”

Done with him?” echoed Conover. “Why, man, I ain’t begun with him yet. I was just waitin’ to find where he’d gone. So long. See you at the hotel before train time.”

Conover walked out of the office, leaving Caine staring after him in perplexity. Straight to the hotel the Fighter drove. Arriving there he went, unannounced, to Blacarda’s room; entered without knocking, and closed the door behind him.

Blacarda looked up from the task of packing his suit case. Bareheaded, still grimy and disheveled, Conover stood facing him. Blacarda rose from his knees beside the open suit case and started forward.

“I guess you know why I’m here?” hazarded Caleb, looking across at the well-groomed figure, without the faintest trace of emotion.

“To crow over your dirty, underhand victory of to-day?” blazed the other. “If so you can save yourself the trouble. Leave my room at once. I don’t wish it polluted or—”

“It’ll have to stand a little more polootion before I’m ready to go,” answered Conover, unmoved. “No, I haven’t come to crow. Crowin’ ain’t in my line. A little while ago I set a man to tracin’ a tel’gram I got this mornin’. It seems you wrote it an’ paid the hotel tel’graph clerk $10 to slip it to me at the right time. Don’t lie. I’ve got proof.”

[92]“I’m not given to lying,” retorted Blacarda. “And if I were, I shouldn’t take the trouble to lie to a blackleg like you. Yes, I wrote the telegram. What of it?”

“You’re a sweet-scented sort of a cuss to preach about ‘dirty, underhand vict’ries,’ ain’t you?” said Caleb, thoughtfully. “After tryin’ to get me out of the way like that.”

“Any weapon is justifiable against a scoundrel,” sneered Blacarda. “One must fight fire with fire.”

“Quite so,” assented Caleb. “Though not as original as I’d ’a expected from a clever chap like you. Fightin’ fire with fire is good finance. So when you tipped an engineer $600 to get me delayed in comin’ here, I made no kick. That was fair game. I’d a’ done the same thing myself. Only I wouldn’t a’ bungled it like you did. When you’re goin’ to do a crooked thing do it well. Don’t foozle it an’ lose your fight....”

“I haven’t your experience in hold-up tactics,” answered Blacarda, “so perhaps I—”

Caleb waved aside the interpolation and went on in the same heavy, emotionless voice.

“That was all fair, like I said. But it failed. Then, what’d you do? Dragged a woman’s name into the row. Faked a dispatch tellin’ me she was dyin’ an’ callin’ for me. That’s a trick I wouldn’t play if my life was hangin’ on a deal. You used that little girl’s name to get me away. You put up that filthy job,—an’ took another man into your conf’dence.[93] Told a measly, tattlin’ tel’graph clerk about her. I ain’t any good at expressin’ myself. But say! I wish I could get it through that shiny head of yours what a rotten, low down, crawly cur you are! No, don’t put on no heroics! I’m doin’ the talkin’ now. In the fake tel’gram, you used the nickname you’ve heard her called. You used the knowledge that I’d hustle from here to hell if I could be of use to her. You used all that as means to get me away from your p’litical dogfight to-day. An’ how did you get your knowledge of her nickname an’ ’bout my carin’ for her as if she was my own kid? Hey? You got it while you was callin’ on her. While you was takin’ her hosp’tality. You used that kind of trick in politics! God! I didn’t think there was a breathin’ man could do such a thing. No ward-heeler could do it—it had to be done by a ‘gentleman.’ One of the Arareek Governors.”

He paused for breath. Blacarda, reddening under the tirade’s lash, nevertheless sought to laugh.

“Well,” he queried with really excellent coolness, “what are you going to do about it? Of course you can bring suit,—and probably recover. But Miss Shevlin’s name will certainly figure rather unpleasantly in the newspaper reports of the case. I’m sorry I was forced to use such means,—I still believe them justifiable in dealing with a man like you,—but I fail to see what redress you have.”

“You’ll see presently,” replied Caleb, with no trace of threat in his dull voice. “That’s why I’m here.[94] I’m not totin’ this into court. What good would your measly damage money do me? An’ I’m not goin’ to tell your friends of it with the hope they’d turn you out of s’ciety. I’m goin’ to punish you the only way a rotten trick like that can be punished. The only way a skunk like you could be made to smart.”

“What do you mean?” asked Blacarda, a shadow of uneasiness showing through his rage.

“I mean I’ve come here to give you the biggest thrashin’ you ever got. An’ now’s the time I begin.”

Blacarda, at the slow forward motion of Caleb’s body, sprang furiously at the Fighter. He was a strong man; large and well built. But he might as well have tried to stop the rush of a charging bull-elephant as to block Caleb’s attack. Not even taking the pains to guard the heavy left-hander that Blacarda drove full into his face, Conover was upon his foe.

Backward across the room Caleb drove the other with a lightning succession of short arm blows that battered down Blacarda’s guard and smashed with fearful force upon his head and body. To escape the merciless hail of fists, Blacarda ducked and clinched.

Conover shook him off as though his antagonist had been a cripple, and ran in again to the assault. One right-hand blow crashed into Blacarda’s face and hurled him backward against the wall. As he rebounded forward from sheer shock of the double[95] impact, Conover’s left fist caught him flush on the jaw and he collapsed senseless to the floor.

Conover was at the unconscious body before it had fairly touched ground. He beat with insane rage upon the upturned, defenseless face, hammering it to a pulp; growling and whining all the time between his hard-set teeth; like some rabid jungle beast worrying its meat.

Caine flung open the door and ran into the room;—thereby in all probability saving Blacarda’s life. Taking in the scene at a glance, he launched himself upon the growling, mauling victor. With all his wiry strength, he sought to drag Conover away from the senseless man. But his utmost muscular power was as nothing to that of the giant who was still wreaking brute vengeance on the inert mass beneath him.

At length, employing a wrestling device, Caine managed to drag the unprepared Fighter backward, from behind; and by a sudden wrench to throw him to one side. Still keeping behind Conover, out of reach of the hammer-fists, the slighter man succeeded in pinioning Caleb’s arms by slipping his own hands and wrists between the other’s elbows and his body. Trussed up, helpless as he was, Caleb writhed and snarled like a leashed bulldog. In another moment he would have wrenched himself free by dint of main force, had not Caine’s voice at last penetrated the red wrath-mists of his brain.

“Conover!” his friend was shouting, for the tenth[96] time, “if you kill him, Miss Shevlin’s name will be brought into the affair! Can’t you see that? If—”

Conover’s iron-tense muscles relaxed. The orgasm of Berserk rage had passed, leaving him spent and apathetic. Caine knew that sanity had returned to the Fighter, and he released his grip on the mighty arms.

“Well!” he observed, facing the dazed, panting man, and setting to rights his own tumbled clothing, “You are a nice specimen of humanity to have at large in a civilized country! You might have killed him. You would have killed him, I believe, if I hadn’t come when I did. I got to thinking over what you said at the State House and I was afraid something like this would happen. So I came on. Just in time, I think.”

Caine, as he spoke, had knelt beside the battered, bleeding Thing on the floor. Now he crossed to the washstand and came back with a soaked towel. Talking as he worked over the unconscious figure, he added:

“You were right to thrash him. He richly deserved it. But, why the deuce did you keep on pummeling him while he was down? Does that strike you as sportsmanlike?”

“Sportsmanlike?” panted Conover, his big voice still shaking with ground-swells of the storm that had mastered him, “Sportsmanlike, hey? D’ye s’pose I came here for a measly athletic contest? I came[97] here to lick that curly, perfumed whelp. An’ I did it.”

“You hit him when he was down,” answered Caine, crossing again from the washstand and dashing cold water in Blacarda’s shapeless face. “And—”

“Of course I hit him when he was down!” snorted Caleb. “What d’ye s’pose I was goin’ to do? Help him up an’ brush off his clo’es? Gee, it makes me sick to hear that old fossil rot about ‘not hittin’ a man when he’s down!’ What in thunder’s the use of gettin’ him down if you ain’t goin’ to hit him? I didn’t come here for a friendly boxin’ bout. I came to pay Blacarda off. An’ he wasn’t to be paid off by one little tap that’d knock him over. That was just the start. I guess he’ll know enough by now to let Dey Shevlin’s name alone.”

Caine made no answer. He was deftly applying the simple prize-ring expedients for restoring beaten pugilists to their senses. Conover looked down at him in profound contempt.

“Yes,” went on the Fighter, “I s’pose in your gold-shirt world, folks would say I was all kinds of a cad to keep on punishin’ that swine after I’d bowled him off his legs. But them same folks will jump with both feet on a business man when there’s a rumor that he’s broke. They’ll join in a run on a bank that’s in trouble. Their saintly women’ll take pious joy in chasin’ to hell some poor girl who’s made a fool of herself. But they’d roll up their eyes at the sight of me lickin’ Blacarda after he’s keeled over. What’n[98] blazes is the use of gettin’ a man down if you ain’t goin’ to hit him? It’s the A. B. C. of business. Why, Caine, you make me tired!”

His eyes fell on his own torn, bleeding knuckles. He gazed at them in slow surprise; then sauntered over to bathe them. The glass above the washstand revealed to him a face pasty white, smeared with coal-dust smears and blood, and swollen from a blow on the mouth.

“I’m an engagin’ lookin’ spectacle, all right,” he soliloquized as he bent to wash. “Lucky I left my suit case at the hotel this morning. I’ll need a lot of dressin’ and massagin’ before I can go to see Dey.”

Blacarda groaned feebly, and moved his head.

“He’s coming around,” reported Caine. “Now I’m goin’ to telephone down for the hotel doctor. While he’s on his way here you can think of some story to tell him that will account for Blacarda’s condition.”

“I’ll tell him the truth,” said Caleb, simply. “All except the part about Dey. An’ I guess Blacarda ain’t likely to tell that, either. But what’s the use of a doctor? The cur’s gettin’ his senses back.”

“I think you fractured at least one of his ribs, when your knee was jammed down on his chest,” answered Caine. “It feels so to me. Besides, unless his face is to be distorted and hideous for life it must have medical care at once.”

Blacarda lifted his unrecognizable visage and opened the one eye which was not wholly hidden from[99] view by his swollen flesh. Caine raised the injured man to a sitting posture and held a whiskey flask to the torn, discolored lips. Through the hedge of smashed teeth and down the swelled throat the stinging liquor glided. Blacarda gulped it down, sat motionless for a moment, then groaned again and looked about him.

“Well,” growled Caleb, “do you want any more?”

One long second Blacarda squinted vacantly at his conqueror. Then, with a shuddering scream of terror, he buried his mangled face in Caine’s shoulder and lay there, quivering and sobbing.

“What a beast you are, Conover!” exclaimed Caine, in revolt.

“That’s right,” assented Caleb, cheerfully. “But I’ve just broke a worse one. Broke him body an’ spirit. Not such a bad day’s work!”



Caleb Conover was finishing a solitary breakfast in his room; the morning after his return from the Capital. He had eaten heartily, even as he had slept well; and was neither outwardly nor inwardly the worse for his “wakeful day” at State House and engine-throttle. A slightly puffed underlip and a double set of discolored knuckles were his only mementoes of the attack upon Blacarda.

In honor of his victories, the Fighter had allowed himself an extra half-hour’s sleep and a steak for breakfast. It was nine o’clock so he pushed back his chair from the deal table that had held his morning meal. He lighted a heavy cigar, rose, stretched himself in the lazy luxury of perfect strength, and prepared to go to the day’s work.

Conover, in the early years, when he was fighting tooth and nail to lift the moribund C. G. & X. Railroad to a paying basis, had had a room and bath fitted up for his personal use, directly to the rear of his private office in the station. Here he had lived, his entire life centering about his toil.

Here he still dwelt, now that success was his. The man whose wealth had already passed the million[101] mark and was rocketing toward far higher figures, was simpler in his personal tastes and surroundings than was the poorest brakeman on his road. An iron cot bed, a painted pine bureau with flawed mirror, an air-tight stove, a shelf with fourteen books, the deal table and two chairs formed the sum of his living-room furniture. One of the station scrubwomen kept the place in order. The few personal guests he had were received in the private office outside.

One such visitor, Conover had been informed ten minutes earlier, was even now awaiting him there. At least Caleb, reading the card, “Mr. John Hawarden, Jr.,” judged the caller to have come on a personal matter of some sort rather than on railroad business.

With mild curiosity as to what could have brought the son of Desirée’s chaperone to see him, Conover lounged in leisurely fashion to the office.

On his appearance, a tall, slender youth rose and greeted him with nervous cordiality.

“Sit down,” grunted Conover, scowling under the vigorous grip of the lad’s hand. “What can I do for you?”

The caller twisted his neck somewhat uneasily in its amazing height of collar, fought back a gulp and fell to drawing his tan gloves through his fingers. Caleb noted that the hands were slim, the fingers long and tapering. He also noted that the boy, despite his almost effeminate delicacy of contour and feature, was square of jaw and steady of eye. The Fighter[102] was, from these signs of the Brotherhood of Strength, amused rather than irritated at the other’s nervousness. He even felt a vague desire to set Hawarden at his ease.

“First time you an’ me have come together, ain’t it?” he asked, less gruffly.

“Yes, sir,” answered Hawarden pleasantly. “I know you by sight,—and of course by reputation,—but it’s hardly likely you’d have noticed me. My parents have had the pleasure of meeting you.”

“Pleasure, hey?” queried Caleb. “That’s what they called it?”

Hawarden flushed painfully, as at some not wholly glad memory.

“Never mind thinkin’ up a comeback,” grinned Caleb. “Us two don’t speak quite the same language. My mistake. Now,” dropping into the office manner habitual to him, “What do you want? I take it you’re not makin’ a round of social calls an’ choosin’ this for the first stoppin’ place. What can I do for you? Come to the point quick, please. I’m li’ble to be pretty busy to-day.”

Hawarden smiled back in an engaging fashion that held no hint of fear. For this, Caleb again felt somewhat drawn to him.

“I’m on a horribly cheeky errand,” began the youth, “And, to tell you the truth, I’m scared stiff. I came to speak to you on a rather delicate subject.”

“I never saw the ‘delicate subject’ that wasn’t[103] the better for being dragged out into the fresh air. Get to the point, son. I’m busy.”

“I am here, sir,” said the boy with a labored formality that spoke of much rehearsal, “to speak to you of Miss Desirée Shevlin. You are her guardian, I understand.”

Caleb’s glare of utter and displeased astonishment checked the speaker for the briefest instant. But, swallowing hurriedly, he continued his set speech:

“I have the honor—the undeserved honor, sir,—to request your leave to ask Miss Shevlin to be my wife.”

It was out! Hawarden relaxed the knuckle-whitening grip of his fists. His forehead grew moist. So did his palms. Nor did Caleb’s attitude lessen the awkwardness of the moment. With open mouth the Fighter sat staring at his guest. At last he found words—just a few of them.

“Well I’ll be damned!” he sputtered.

“It seems to me,” said Hawarden, taking new hold of his sliding courage. “It seems to me a more honorable thing to ask your consent,—as Miss Shevlin’s guardian—before daring to offer myself to her.”

“Son!” observed Caleb, profoundly, “If you had a little more sense you’d be half-witted!”

The boy got to his feet.

“It is your right, I suppose,” he answered stiffly, “to insult me. You are an older man than I, and I come to you as an applicant for—”

“You read all that in a book,” snorted Caleb.[104] “Cut it out and get down to sense. No one’s insultin’ you and no one’s stompin’ on your buddin’ dignity. You can’t wonder I was took aback when you sprung that mine on me. I ain’t up in the by-laws an’ constitootion of p’lite s’ciety. If it’s the usual thing to come over with a line of talk like you just got out of your system—, why I’m sorry if I acted rough. There! Now, sit down and talk sense. So it’s the custom to ask a girl’s guardian before askin’ her? Nice, ree-fined idee. But I guess if ev’rybody did it there wouldn’t be a terrible lot of work for the marriage license clerks. An’—why, you’re just a kid!” he broke out. “What in blazes are you babblin’ about marryin’ for? Desirée’s—”

“I shall be twenty-two next month!” answered the boy proudly. “I think I am entitled to be treated as a man. Not a—”

“Oh, all right! all right!” chuckled Caleb. “I was the same way. Used to tickle me to death at twenty to be called ‘Old Man.’ Now, I’d give five dollars to anyone who’d call me ‘My Boy.’ So you think I ought to treat you like a grown man, hey? All right!”

He was enjoying the scene hugely. He liked the boy’s pluck. Fighter-like, he was minded to test it to the full. As a possible husband for Desirée, he did not give Hawarden a thought. As a momentary means of amusement to himself, he was willing to prolong the interview.

“We’ll s’pose you’re a man, then,” he continued.[105] “An’ you want to marry my ward. Your fam’ly’s as good as hers. Maybe better, as you folks count such things. So much for that. Now, what’s your income? There, don’t look like I’d made a face at you! The question’s in order. Maybe you think money don’t count in matrimony? Well, it does. Respectability ain’t on the Free List. Not by a long shot. A fam’ly costs three times as much to keep as a chorus girl. What’s your income? Speak up!”

“I—I hardly know, exactly,” faltered Hawarden, “When I was in college, my father allowed me $1,500 a year. He still keeps it up. But as I’m living at home now, it costs me less to get on. Then, after I finish the law-school next year, I’ll be making a good salary myself very soon. With Miss Shevlin to work for—”

“To put it plain,” interrupted Caleb, “You’re earnin’ nothin’ just now, with a golden outlook of earnin’ a little less in a year or two.”

“I have my allowance,” protested Hawarden, “and—”

“We’ll cut out the ‘allowonce’ part,” said Caleb. “That’s just what your father pays as part of his fine for bringin’ you into the world. He’s li’ble to get sore on you any time an’ stop playin’ the alloorin’ role of Human Meal Ticket. What’ll you do then?”

“You don’t quite understand,” protested Hawarden. “In a year from now I shall be earning my own living and shall not be dependent on my father. There is good money in law and—”

[106]“There is!” assented Caleb. “I’ve put a lot of it there, myself, from time to time. But blamed few lawyers manage to get it out. The rest go to work on street cars or—”

“I shall make my way,” averred the lad stoutly, “and even if I don’t succeed at the law, I always have my literary work to fall back on.”

“Your what?”

“My literary work. I was Yale correspondent for the Star all the time I was at college. And more of my stories are being accepted all the time by papers and magazines. And,” seeking mightily to subdue the thrill of sublime pride in his voice and to speak in a matter-of-fact tone, as he played his trump card, “Last month I had a seven-page story in Scribner’s.”

“Where?” asked Caleb, genuinely curious.

“In Scribner’s” repeated Hawarden modestly.

“Where’s that?” inquired Caleb.

“It’s,—why Scribner’s Magazine,” explained the boy, in dire misery. “I got eighty dollars for it,” he added with a pitiful clutch at his vanishing self-respect.

Caleb’s eye brightened. He looked at Hawarden with a new interest.

“Eighty dollars?” he repeated. “How long’d it take you to write it out?”

“About three days, I think,” answered the boy, puzzled at the question.

“H’m! Not so bad. Hundred an’ sixty dollars a[107] week; with Sunday off. Why don’t you stick to that instead of messin’ around with the law?”

“It was the tenth story I’d sent them,” confessed Hawarden, heroically. “And it was the first one they took. That’s the trouble with literature. It—”

“So, as things stand now,” pursued Caleb, “you’ve no real money. No sure prospects. An’ you want to marry Dey Shevlin. You want her to share your nothin’-a-year. Or,” he grated, “maybe you think it’d be nice to live on her cash?”

“I think nothing of the sort!” flared Hawarden, scarlet with anger. “I’ll not stand that sort of talk even from her guardian. I wouldn’t touch a penny of any woman’s money if I were starving! I—”

“That sounds kind of like a book, too,” commented Caleb. “But you mean it. I’m glad you do. I think I kind of like you. So instead of throwin’ you downstairs, I’m goin’ to waste a whole minute talkin’ to you. You’re a nice kid. You come here bristlin’ with book learnin’ an’ idees of honor an’ you make your little speech to the stony hearted guardian an’ stand ready to say ‘God bless you, sir, for them kind words!’ or ‘You’ve busted two young hearts!’ No, you needn’t squirm. It’s so. But you can rub both those remarks off the slate. Neither of ’em’ll be needed. You’ve the good sense to fall in love with the dandiest girl that ever happened. But what have you got to offer her? Besides your valuable self, I mean? You’re askin’ for the greatest thing in all this world. Do you give anything in exchange? Not[108] you. You want her,—her with her pretty ways, an’ clever brain an’ gorgeous little face. An’ you can’t even support her. You can’t even say: ‘I’ve got ten dollars a week of my own. I’ll give it all to her.’ You’ve no money—no prospects. An’ you want her to exchange herself for that. Her that could marry a millionaire if she wanted to.”

“I’m—I’m willing that the engagement should be a long one,” hesitated the boy, battling futilely against the vulgar truth of Caleb’s words. “I wouldn’t ask her to marry me till I was able to support her,—to support her well.”

“An’ in the meantime,” urged Conover, with merciless logic. “In the meantime, she’s to have the pleasure of sittin’ by, eatin’ her heart out, waitin’—waitin’—growin’ older ev’ry year,—losin’ good chances,—bein’ side-tracked at parties an’ so on, because she’s engaged an’ no longer in the marriage market,—waitin’ year after year—maybe till all her prettiness an’ her youth’s gone—just on the chance that you’ll some day be able to support a wife? You don’t mean to be crooked. You’re only just foolish. But look the thing in the eyes an’ tell me: Is it square? Is it an honest bargain you offer? Aren’t you cheatin’ the one girl in the world you ought to do most for?”

“But with such an incentive,” pleaded the boy, “I’d surely make my way quickly. In a year at most! I’d work—I’d work so hard for her!”

Caleb leaned to one side and threw open the window[109] by his desk. With the warm, soft air of Spring rushed in the steam sibilance and clangor of the railway yards.

“Look down there!” ordered Conover, pointing out, “More’n a hundred men in that yard, ain’t there? Dirty-faced men with stooped shoulders an’ soiled clothes. Not a one of ’em that’s got a fam’ly resemblance to Romeo. What are they doin’? Workin’! Every mother’s son of ’em workin’ harder than you or any of your fam’ly ever worked or ever could work. How’d their faces get dirty an’ stoopid an’ their shoulders bent over? By workin’. An’ who are they workin’ for? For themselves? Not them. Each one of ’em’s workin’ for some woman. An’ most of ’em for a bunch of measly kids as well. Workin’ all day an’ ev’ry day, till they drop dead or wear out an’ go to the poorhouse. An’ the women they work for are workin’ too. Workin’ at washboard or scrub-brush to eke out the men-folks’ an’ brats’ livin’. Work! Work! Work! All their lives. But I don’t see any of ’em gatherin’ in front of the footlights an’ singin’ a chorus about how happy they are, or how their hard work has made their wives rich an’ lazy. Are you any better’n they are? Can you work any harder for Desirée than they are workin’ for the slatternly, slab-sided, down-at-heel women at home? Don’t you s’pose every one of those men once planned to make his wife a lady an’ to ‘cons’crate his toil’ to her? Think it over, son; an’ get a better argument than the silly fact that you’re willin’ to do[110] your dooty by workin’ for Desirée. Hell’s full of workers.”

“It all seems so horrible—so gross—so material!” muttered the boy. “But—but you’re right, sir. I can see it now. Still—”

He stretched his hands out before him in an impulsive gesture of despair.

“Still,” finished Caleb, “it hadn’t ought to be, hey? Most things hadn’t. But most things are. Now look here! I’ve wasted a lot of time an’ a lot of bad tastin’ truths over you. I don’t know why I did it, except that I always like to jaw after I’ve had a big fight on. It kind of lets off steam. Here’s the answer in a nutshell: I’m Miss Shevlin’s guardian. What Miss Shevlin wants, she’s goin’ to have, if I have to buy the White House for her. If she wants you she can have you. If she don’t want you—all the consent I could give wouldn’t amount to a hoot in Hades. Per’snally, I think you’d better wait till you grow up an’ get a job before you talk ’bout marryin’. But it’s her affair. Not mine. If she wants you she can have you. Put it up to her. It’s past me. An’ now trot along. You’ve taken more of my time than you could pay for in a dozen seven-page stories. Don’t stop to thank me. Chase.”

“But I do thank you a thousand times!” exclaimed Hawarden, shaking hands with boyish vehemence. “I’m—I’m awfully obliged to you. When I came, I was afraid I’d meet some such fate as poor Mr. Blacarda.”

[111]“What’s that?” snapped Caleb, all geniality wiped from his voice.

“About Mr. Blacarda?” asked the boy in perfect innocence. “Haven’t you heard? It was in the morning papers. It seems he was jumping on a moving street car, up at the Capital, yesterday afternoon, when his foot slipped on the steps and he was dragged along, face-downward, for nearly half a block. Two of his ribs were broken, and his body is covered with bruises. The papers say his face is battered almost beyond recognition.”

“Too bad!” remarked Conover drily. “Folks ought to be careful how they try to jump onto heavy-movin’ things. Sometimes there’s apt to be a surprise for the jumper. Now clear out! You can run an’ tell Dey what I said if you want to. No, don’t go thankin’ me again. It’s up to her, as I told you. Most likely, she’ll send you about your business. So long!”

Waving out the bewildered, delighted youth, Caleb threw himself back in his leather chair and fished from a case the ever-present cigar. A towering pile of work lay untouched on his desk. But he gave it no heed. With a queer, wholly inexplicable contraction at the heart he lay there thinking. At first he tried to laugh at the memory of the boy’s loftily worded pretensions. But somehow he could not. He recalled what Caine had said about Desirée marrying “the right man.” Hawarden came of good family. His parents were among the best people in Granite. As[112] his wife, Desirée could probably take and hold any social position she chose. He was a nice boy, too. And some day he would grow up. There was much to be said for the match, preposterous as it had at first seemed. After all, why not—?

A clerk entered with a card. Conover’s mouth set in a grim smile as he glanced at it.

“Send him in,” he said, moving across to his desk chair, “I seem to be holdin’ a levee of the ar’stocracy this mornin’.”

Reuben Standish, gaunt, gray and stiff as ever, was ushered into the private office. The old man’s face was a monotone of drab, save for a ruddy patch on either cheek bone where consumption flaunted a no-surrender flag. Caleb greeted him with a nod and motioned him to a seat.

“I hope I have not broken in upon very important work,” began Standish glancing at the mountain of letters and papers on the desk.

“All my work’s important,” answered Caleb. “If it wasn’t I’d have an office boy do it while I loafed. Want anything especial?”

“First of all,” evaded Standish, in the courtly, old-world manner that Caleb always found so jarring, “permit me to congratulate you on your great victory at the Capitol yesterday. I read this morning that the Starke bill was defeated entirely through your own personal endeavors. It must be a great thing to wield so powerful an influence over one’s fellow men. I—”

[113]“Say,” interposed Caleb. “Quit standin’ on the distant hilltop makin’ peace signs. Come on down an’ tell me what you want. Make it as short as you can.”

It appeared that Mr. Standish wanted much; though he did not seem to be able to condense his wishes to the degree Caleb suggested. This, however, was of little account, since the Fighter already foreknew the other’s mission. He listened with only perfunctory attention to a recital of the Aaron Burr Bank’s needs, of the stringency of deposits and the danger of a “run;” with still less heed to the tale of an unwonted depression in certain stocks wherein Mr. Standish’s interest was purely marginal. As the story ended, Conover said curtly:

“To sum it up, you’re broke. You want me to make deposits to-day in your bank an’ you want a pers’nal loan besides.”

Standish started to speak. Caleb motioned back the words.

“How much?” he asked. “How much in all? Don’t hem an’ haw, man. You’ve got the amount fixed in your mind, down to the last cent. You know how much you’ll ask for, how much I’m li’ble to give an’ how much you really need. Start off with the biggest sum first. How much?”

Standish tremulously blurted out his statement. When one was dealing with a boor like this Conover, there was surely no need for finesse. The fellow was as blind to the finer shades of business dealings as to the usages of gentle life. Therefore, why hesitate or[114] leave him to guess the amount from adding up a series of delicate hints? A low-browed boor; though a decidedly convenient one to cultivate—at times. The present being most emphatically one of these times, Standish with ruffled dignity laid bare his financial soul.

And the big, red-haired man lolled back in the opposite chair watching his stately visitor from between alert, half-shut eyes. The Fighter had waited, worked, planned, for months, for this very interview. Had Standish been better versed in sign-reading, he might have seen marks of Conover’s passage all along the tortuous finance trail that had at last led to this private office and still more private confession.

But Standish had fallen not only into the trap but into the fatal mistake that had, a century earlier, in France, caused the severance of a goodly number of noble heads:—the error of underestimating a proletariat opponent. And now, unwittingly, he was about to pay the price.

“Well,” observed Caleb, when the facts stood forth, marshaled in their sorry array, “How does all this int’rest me?”

“I beg your pardon?” halted Standish.

“I say, how does this int’rest me? Why should I int’rest myself in doin’ this mighty big favor for you? Why don’t you turn to some of your own business associates—some men of your own class? Why do you come here?”

“I—you were so kind as to help me before—”

[115]“An’ that gives me a license to do it again?” suggested Caleb. “That seems to be the rule all the world over. The rest of your crowd are either as bad off as you; or have too much sense to put cash into a sinkin’ enterprise, hey? So we come ’a runnin’ to the easy mark, Caleb Conover. He’ll be flattered to help us out.”

“Mr. Conover!” coughed the poor old man.

“That’s all right,” laughed Caleb. “I’m goin’ to help you out. So don’t get any grayer in the face than you are already. I’m goin’ to help you out for two reasons. First, because if I don’t, you’re ruined. Flat broke an’—”

“Oh, no, Mr. Conover!” exclaimed Standish, tremblingly. “Not in the very least. It is a temporary crisis which—”

“Which is goin’ to become perm’nent unless I sling out a life rope. What’s the use of lyin’ ’bout it?”

Standish laughed. The pitiful, mirthless laugh of the man who is insulted and dare not resent the affront; who compromises with trampled self-respect by grinning where he should curse.

“Good joke, ain’t it?” agreed Caleb, reading the broken aristocrat like an open page, “So much for my first reason. My second reason for helpin’ you out is because I want to do you a neighborly turn. We are neighbors, ain’t we, Standish?”

“Why of course! Of course!” cried the other wholly puzzled as to the trend of Caleb’s words; yet unfeignedly happy—and therefore eager to be genial—over[116] the solution of his financial tangle. He coughed a pleasant acquiescence.

“But,” went on Caleb, “it just occurs to me I ain’t been as neighborly with you as I’d oughter.”

Absent-mindedly, as he talked, Conover drew forth his check book from a drawer and laid it open before him, fingering its long pink slips.

“No,” he continued, forestalling Standish’s perplexed reply, “I ain’t been so neighborly as I should. You’ve been around here to see me several times, now.—An’ I’ve never once returned any of your visits. It’s about up to me to come to see you. When’ll I come?”

“Why—by all means! By all means!” declared Standish with effusion. “Come and lunch with me, some day,—shall we say, at the Pompton Club? Why not to-day? I shall be delighted. If—”

“I don’t go out to lunch,” objected Conover. “Haven’t time. But I’d be glad to eat dinner with you.”

“Certainly. Why, of course. Any evening you say. The chef we have now at the Pompton Club—”

“I don’t want to dine at the Pompton Club,” said Caleb sulkily.

“At the Arareek, then. We’re both members there. What evening—?”

“Nor the Arareek, neither,” answered Caleb, “Eatin’ food with a man at his club ain’t what I call bein’ neighborly. I’ll just drop around on you for a home dinner some evenin’. I’ll like that better.”

[117]“Why, ye—es,” coincided Standish, with all the cordiality he could muster against the shock, “That will be delightful. Certainly. Some evening when—”

“How’d Friday evenin’ of this week suit you?” asked Caleb, breaking in on the loosely strung speech of his guest.

“Friday?” echoed Standish, taken aback. “Why, why my family are to be at home that evening!”

White spots leaped into view at either side of Caleb’s close shut lips, and something lurid flamed far back in his eyes. Had Blacarda—in his hospital room at the Capital—seen that look, he might have suffered relapse. But Standish was near-sighted,—except in the eyes,—and the expression passed unnoticed.

“I know your fam’ly’s to be home that night,” said Conover in a curiously muffled voice. “Also there’s a dinner party you’re givin’. An’ a musicle afterward. Twelve guests to the dinner. ’Bout two hundred to the musicle. I’m comin’ to both.”

“But my dear Mr. Conover!” cried Standish with forced gaiety. “You don’t quite see the point—Much as I—and all of us—would be delighted to have you as our guest at dinner that night, yet the laws of a dinner party are unpleasantly—perhaps ridiculously—rigid. For instance, this is to be a dinner for twelve. An extra man would spoil the balance—and—” with sudden inspiration—“it would make thirteen. So many people are foolishly[118] superstitious! I confess, I am, for one. Now the next evening would—”

“The next evenin’,” said Conover, “you an’ your fam’ly are booked for the Hawarden’s theatre party. I read about it in the Star. You’d excuse yourself an’ stay at home an’ dine alone with me. An’ that’d be about as merry as a morgue for both of us. No, I’m comin’ Friday;—if you’ll be so good as to ask me.”

“But I’ve just told you—”

“You’ve just told me there was to be twelve guests. That’s all right. There’ll be only twelve. I’ll be one of the twelve. Blacarda was invited. He’s laid up in the hospital from a car acc’dent an’ can’t come. I’m helpin’ you out by takin’ his place. No inconvenience to anyone. Unless maybe you think your daughter an’ your sister-in-law won’t care to meet me?”

“Not at all! Nonsense!” fumed Standish, in fearful straits. “They’d be very glad indeed. But—”

“Then that’s settled,” decided Conover. “Thanks.”

He bent over the check book, pen in hand. Standish, at his wit’s end, made one more attempt to drag himself free of the dilemma.

“I know you won’t be offended,” he faltered, with another dry cough, “if I say frankly,—frankness is always best, I think,—that I—”

Caleb closed the check book with a snap and whirled his desk chair about, to face his visitor; so suddenly that the latter involuntarily started back.[119] Not even Standish could now misread that dull, hot glint in Conover’s pale eyes.

“Look here, Mr. Standish,” said the Fighter. “Don’t ever make the blunder of thinkin’ a man can’t understand you just because you can’t understand him. If you’d said to one of your own crowd: ‘I can’t invite you to my house because my fam’ly’s goin’ to be there; because you ain’t fit to meet my women,’—if you’d said that to one of them, he’d a’ been your enemy for life. You wouldn’t a’dared insult him so. But you said it to me because you thought I wouldn’t understand. Well, I do. Shut up! I know what you want to say, an’ I don’t want to hear it. I’m not comin’ to your house for love of you; but I’m comin’ just the same—I guess I’ve bought my right to. If a man’s good enough to beg from, he’s good enough to treat civil. An’ you’re goin’ to treat me civil. This afternoon I’m goin’ to get an invite to your dinner an’ the musicle. You ought to be grateful that I don’t insist on singin’ there. I’m goin’ on Friday, an’ you’re goin’ to pass the word around that I’m to be treated right, while I’m there. Just to make sure of it, I’ll date this check ahead to next Saturday.”

A last remnant of manhood flared up within the consumptive old bank president’s withered soul.

“I’m not to be bulldozed, Mr. Conover!” he said with a certain dignity. “Because you extend business favors to me, I am not obliged to admit a man of your character to my home. And I shall not. As for the loan—”

[120]“As for the loan,” replied Conover, shrugging his shoulders, and tossing the check book back in the drawer, “I’m not obliged to stave off ruin from a man that thinks I’m not fit to enter his home. That’s all. Good-day.”

He slammed shut the desk drawer, and began to look over some of the opened letters before him.

The old man had risen to his feet, his eyes fixed on the closed drawer like those of a starved dog on a chunk of meat. His mouth-corners twitched and humiliation forced an unwonted moisture into his eyes.

“Mr. Conover,” he began, tentatively.

“Good-day!” retorted Caleb without raising his eyes from the papers he was sorting.

“Mr. Conover!” coughed Standish in despair, “I’ll—I’ll be very glad if you’ll dine with us on Friday night.”

Conover opened the drawer, tossed the check across the table and went on with his work.

“I’ll be there,” he grunted.



Desirée was at the piano. Caleb Conover, whose knowledge of music embraced one Sousa march and “Summer Noon” (with a somewhat hazy idea as to which was which) lounged, sprawling, on a cushion by her feet; listening in ignorant admiration to the snatches of melody. That anyone could coax a tune out of so complex an instrument was to him a mystery to be greeted with silent respect.

He had come to her, in the long Spring twilight, to show with naive pride an invitation he had just received. An invitation to the musicale-dinner at the Standishes’, three nights hence. He volunteered no information as to how it had been obtained; but evaded the girl’s wondering queries with the guilty embarrassment that was always his when she chanced to corner him in a fault. From Conover’s manner Desirée gathered that the invitation was in a way an effort on Standish’s part to repay the courtesy of the various large loans she knew Caleb had made to the banker. Nor would she spoil the Fighter’s very evident delight by closer cross-questioning. Caleb had said, days ago, that he was going to be invited to the dinner. And, despite her invariable scoffs at his[122] boasts, she had long since learned that such vaunts had an odd way of coming true.

The June dusk lay velvet-like over the little music room. From the yard outside came the bitter-sweet breath of syringas. Far off sounded the yells of Billy Shevlin and some of his fellow street-boys; their racket mellowed by distance.

Talk had languished. At last Desirée had crossed to the piano. She sat, playing scraps of music, as was her wont; pausing now and then to speak; then letting her fingers run into a new air or a series of soft improvised chords. She had scant technique and played almost wholly by ear; using the piano only as the amateur music-worshipper’s medium for recalling and reproducing some cherished fragments of song.

But to Caleb, lolling at her side, the performance was sublime. That anyone could talk while playing the piano was to him nothing short of marvelous. He was firmly convinced it was a gift vouchsafed to Desirée alone. Music itself was wholly unintelligible to him. Except from Desirée’s lips or fingers, he found it actively distasteful. But all she did was perfect. And if her playing fell upon his ear as a meaningless jumble of sounds, he at least found the sounds sweet.

“What’s that thing you just did with one hand and then rumbled down on the low notes with the other?” he asked, after a spell of watching the busy white fingers shining through the dusk.

“That?” queried Desirée. “It’s just the Vanderdecken[123] motive from The Flying Dutchman. And I used to be able to play the whole Spinning Song; but I’ve forgotten most of it.”

“H’m!” murmured Caleb, who found her words as unmeaning as her music. “I thought I remembered that one. ‘Spinning Song,’ hey?”

“Yes,” she said absently. “It starts out with lots of bizzy, purry little notes too fast for me to play. I never could learn the piano.”

“You bet you could!” cried Caleb, at once afire with contradiction. “I’ve heard a lot of crackajack piano players an’ never one of ’em could hold a candle to you. Why, there was Blink Snesham—the feller they called Ragtime King,—down to Kerrigan’s. You’ve got him beat a block.”

“You dear old loyal idiot!” laughed Desirée, lifting one hand from the keys to rumple his stiff red hair with a gesture as affectionate as it was discomfiting. “I believe you think I’m the wonderfullest person on earth.”

“I know you are,” he answered simply, his big body a-thrill with half-holy joy at her touch. “What’s the one you’re playing now with your other hand. Ain’t so very long, but it’s kind of sprightly.”

“It’s Siegfried’s horn-call. See how it changes to four-time and loses all its buoyancy, in the Goetterdaemmerung funeral march.”

Solemnly, hopelessly, the transformed, distorted horn-call crashed out.

“That ain’t the same thing you played just now, is[124] it?” he asked in doubt. “Sounds sort of like the toons the bands play at Masonic fun’rals.”

“Same notes. Different tempo. One is the motive of the boy who starts out through the forest of life sounding a joy-challenge to everything and everybody. The other is woven into the dead hero’s mourning chant. In Goetterdaemmerung, you know.”

“Oh, yes. I remember now,” said Caleb, hastily. “It’d just slipped my mind for the minute. I’ve got so many things to think of, you know.”

“Caleb Conover!”

Down came both little hands with a reproving bang on the keyboard, as the girl started out of her rhapsody.

“Caleb Conover, you’re being that way again! And after all I’ve told you. How am I going to cure you of pretending?”

“But, Dey!” he declared. “Honest I—I thought—I did.”

“You know very well you were pretending. You don’t know whether Goetterdaemmerung is a dog, a bird, or a patent medicine. Now confess. Do you?”

“From the sound,” floundered Caleb, in all seriousness, “I’d put my money on the dog. But then, maybe—”

Desirée leaned back and laughed long and delightedly.

“Oh, Caleb!” she gasped. “What am I going to do with you? Are you never going to grow up?”

“Not so long as my making a fool of myself can[125] get such a sweet-sounding laugh out of you,” he returned. “But, honest, Dey, how can you expect me to know them things about horns an’ Dutchmen an’ spinnin’, an’ all that, when you never tell me beforehand what it is you’re goin’ to play? When you’re doin’ those piano stunts, I always feel like you was travelin’ through places where the ‘No Thoroughfare’ sign’s hung out for me. Then when I make b’lieve I’m keepin’ up with you,—just so as I won’t get to feelin’ too lonesome,—you find it out somehow an’ call me down. What’s that thing you’re playin’ now?”

Infinitely sweet, fraught with all the tender hopelessness of parting, the notes sobbed out into the little room; then stopped abruptly.

“That’s all I know of it,” she said. “I only heard it once. In New York, winter before last. It’s the third act duet between Mimi and Rodolfo in ‘Bohéme.’ Where they say goodbye in the snow, at the Paris barrier. I wish I remembered the rest of it.”

“Why, I thought those people was in the play you told me about. You see I do remember some things like that. Weren’t they the ones that was in love an’ the feller said the girl was his ‘Youth,’ an’ when she died—”

“Yes. It’s an opera with the same sort of story. It’s queer you remember it. That’s the second time you’ve spoken to me about ‘La Vie de Bohéme’. How funny that a big, matter-of-fact business man like you should be interested in sentimental stories of[126] Youth and Love and Death! Come!” rising from the music stool and losing the unwonted dreaminess that had stolen over her, “I’m going to talk to you now about the Standishes’ dinner. Have you any idea how to behave, or what to do?”

“Well,” drawled Caleb, “I guess it’s mor’n three years now since you loored me from the simple Jeffersonian joys of eatin’ with my knife. An’ I know ’bout not tuckin’ my napkin under my chin, an’ not makin’ noises like a swimmin’ pool while I’m eatin’ soup. An’—an I mustn’t touch the butter with my fork. You see I’ve learnt a lot by your lettin’ me come here to dinner so often. I guess there ain’t any more things to remember, are there? The part about the butter will be hardest, but—”

“There won’t be any butter,” said Desirée, “So there’s one less temptation for you to grapple with.”

“Then I’ll be all right about the eatin’,” replied Conover. “Knife, soup, napkin, butter. Anything else?”

“Only about fifty more things,” answered Desirée, pessimistically. “Oh, I do wish I were to be there to coach you!”

“Want an invitation?” asked Caleb, eagerly.

“How silly! At the eleventh hour? Of course I don’t. I hardly know them. Besides I’m going to the musicale afterward. But I’m so afraid you’ll do something you ought not to. You won’t, will you?”

“Most likely I will,” confessed Caleb, ruefully. “But I bought a book to-day ’bout etiquette an’ I’m[127] reading up a little. I’ve got one or two pointers already. Napkins are servy—serv—”

“Serviettes?” suggested Desirée. “But no one nowadays calls them—”

“An’ when you don’t want to get jagged, put your hand, ‘with a careless, debbynair movement,’” he quoted, “‘Over the top of whichever glass the serv’nt is offerin’ to fill.’ How’s that?” he ended with pride. “I’ll sit up with that measly book ev’ry night till Friday. By that time I’ll be—”

“You’ll be so tangled up you won’t know whether your soup-plate is for oysters or coffee,” she interrupted. “Now listen to me: I’m going to crowd into one inspired lecture all I can think of about dinner etiquette and other social chores, for you to use that evening. And when you go home, burn that book up.”

She forthwith launched upon a disquisition of such difficulties as lay before him on his debut as a diner, and how each might be bridged. After the first few sentences, Caleb’s attention strayed from her words to her voice. Its sweetness, its youth and a peculiar child-like quality in it always fascinated him. Now, with the added didactic touch, bred of the lesson she was seeking to teach, he found it altogether wonderful.

Listening with rapt, almost worshipping attention, yet noting no word, the giant sat huddled up in an awkward, happy bunch at the feet of the youthful Gamaliel. A bar of lamplight from the opposite side of the street filtered through the swaying window[128] curtains, bringing her half-hidden head with its dusky crown of hair into vague relief. From under the shadowy brows, her great eyes glowed in the dim light. Her dainty, flower face was very earnest. Caleb felt an almost irresistible desire to pass his great, rough palm gently over her features; to catch and kiss one of those tiny, earnestly gesturing hands of hers. She was so little, so young, so pretty. And she wasting all that loveliness on him, when she might be fascinating some eligible man. The thought reminded Caleb of his interview with Jack Hawarden. Curious to learn how the lad had availed himself of the permission to woo Desirée, Conover broke in at her next pause, with the abrupt question:

“Young Hawarden been here to-day?”

“Why, yes,” said Desirée in surprise, “This noon.”

“Ask you to marry him?”

“He told you?” she cried.

“Yes. Beforehand. Didn’t he say I’d gave him leave? No? Well, I s’pose he wouldn’t be likely to. But I did. Sent him on, to try his luck. With my blessin’.”

“What do you mean? Did that foolish boy—?”

“Came like a little man an’ asked my permission, as your guardian, to make a proposal to you.”

“And you told him he could? What business was it of yours, I’d like to know.”

“I told him it wasn’t any business of mine. That’s why I let him come. If it was my business, I’d have you shut up in a big place with walls all around[129] it; an’ kittens an’ canary birds an’ all sorts of fluffy things for you to play with. An’ no man but me should ever come within a hundred miles of you. Then there’d be no danger of your runnin’ off an’ gettin’ married to some geezer who’d teach you to think I was the sort of man that ought to be fed in the kitchen an’ never ’lowed in the parlor. Oh, I know.”

The girl was looking at him with big, inscrutable eyes, as he halted half-ashamed of his own words.

“I think,” she said slowly, after a little pause, “I think you must have inherited a great, great deal of ignorance, Caleb. For during the years while you were a baby, you were too young to acquire very much of it. And you couldn’t have acquired all your present stock in the thirty short years since that time. Besides, I don’t think even Nature can make a man quite foolish unless he helps her a little.”

“It sounds fine,” admitted Caleb, “But what does it mean? What break have I made now? If it was foolish to want you all to myself, always—”

“It wasn’t,” she interrupted, “And you ought to know it wasn’t. It—”

“Then what?”

“Mr. Caine,” said the girl, “told me once you were the cleverest man he knew. It made me very happy at the time. And I was nice to him all the rest of the afternoon. But I see now it only showed how few sensible men he knew. Let’s talk about something else.”

[130]“But—hold on!” begged Caleb. “Honest, Dey, you ought to think twice before turnin’ down a chap like young Hawarden. His fam’ly—”

“I told you last week never to talk that way again,” said Desirée, with a stifled break in her voice, “Why do you try to make me unhappy?”

Me?” gurgled Caleb in an utter bewilderment of distress. “Why, little girl, I’d cut my head off for you. Please don’t get sore on me. I’m no sort of a feller to talk to a girl like you. I’m always sayin’ the wrong thing without even knowin’ afterward just what it was that hurt you. An’ then I wish I had a third foot, so’s I could kick myself. It’s queer that Nature built men so that they couldn’t kick themselves or pat themselves on the back. Please be friends again. I—I wish there was some tea here I could drink, just to show you how sorry I am!”

The girl’s mood had changed. She laughed with such heartiness at his penitential attitude that he all at once felt full forgiveness was granted. If there was a forced note in her gaiety, his duller senses did not perceive it.

Absolvo te!” she intoned. “I’m a little cat ever to scratch you; and I’m silly to let perfectly harmless things hurt me. I don’t know why I do it. Sometimes I don’t know my own self any more than if I was a Frisian market woman in a pink baize bonnet and number ten sabots. It’s just because you’re so good and sweet and gentle that I walk all over you. Because you let me do it I take out all my bad, horrid,[131] nasty tempers on you. And then you look so surprised and unhappy when I say snippy, mean things to you; or when I tell you you make me feel badly and—oh where is my nominative case? Anyway, you’re my dear, old splendid chum. And I wouldn’t be so cranky to you if I didn’t care more for your little finger than for any other man’s head. And if you’d only hit me or swear at me now and then, I’d be lots nicer. Why don’t you?”

Caleb, agape, yet grinning in feeble delight, tried to understand part of this rapid-fire speech of penance. Almost wholly failing to grasp her meaning, he nevertheless gathered that he was pardoned for his unknown offence and that she was once more happy. Hence the weight was off his mind and he rejoiced.

“And just to punish myself,” Desirée was saying, “I’m going to tell you about Jack Hawarden. He came here and asked me to marry him. And I told him he was an awfully nice boy. And I felt I was unkind and cruel and a lot of other things because I had to tell him I wasn’t in love with him. But he behaved beautifully. He’s going to keep on coming to see me, just the same and we’re going to be just as good friends as ever. But he says he isn’t going to give up trying to make me change my mind. Then I changed the subject by making him listen to Siegfried-Mickey singing ‘The Death of Ase.’ And from that I got him to talking about the things he’s writing. He says he believes some day his stories will sell like wild-fire. If you’ve never tried to sell[132] wild-fire you can’t appreciate what an eager market there is for it. I told him that and he didn’t like it very well. But altogether I steered him off from talking about marrying me. So the rest didn’t matter very much. Did it? Are you sure you can remember all the things I explained to you about that dinner? At the musicale itself I shall try to get a chance to take you under my own wing, and keep you from burning your poor fingers. But—”

“If you think I’m goin’ to queer you, at the musicle, by taggin’ around after you, you’re dead wrong,” declared Caleb. “You get ’bout as much of me as you need, here at your own house; without havin’ me scarin’ better men away from you at parties. No, no. I’m goin’ to set in a corner an’ watch folks fallin’ over ’emselves to talk to you.”

“You big boy!” she scoffed, tenderly. “In the first place, people sit up stiffly, without talking, while the music is going on,—at least they’re supposed to. In the second, don’t think just because you’re foolish enough to like being with me, that other people will. I don’t think there will be any very tumultuous applause when I enter.”

“It’ll be the hit of the evenin’ as far as I’m concerned,” stoutly averred Caleb. “I’m goin’ out to the Arareek Club in a few minutes,” he went on, glancing at his watch. “There’s a dinner given to the golf champion or middleweight tattin’-work-expert or some such c’lebrity. I’m going to drop in for the speeches. It’ll be my first appearance there since[133] they didn’t kick me out. Caine’s goin’ too; for the speeches. Him an’ Miss Standish, I b’lieve. Won’t you come along?”

“I can’t,” lamented the girl. “Mrs. Cole and her sister from Denver are coming in to see Aunt Mary. They’ll want to play whist. They always do. And I promised Aunt Mary I’d stay and make out the four. Whist is such a jolly game, I think,—for people that like it. I hate it. But I’d be a splendid player, Aunt Mary says, if I could ever remember what cards are out. So I’m in for a happy, happy evening. I wish they could ask the cook to play instead. Oh, dear! Why does one always feel so horrid when one is doing people a good turn?”

“I don’t know,” volunteered Caleb. “I never tried.”

“Never tried!” echoed Desirée. “Why will you talk such nonsense? You know you’re always doing things for people. Why, the paper said yesterday that you missed your train back from the Capital, just to take Mr. Blacarda to the hospital after he was so terribly hurt in the accident.”

“Oh,” said Caleb, magnanimously, “That was only because I felt kind of sorry for the poor feller.”



Conover swung down the hill toward the valley in whose centre twinkled the lights of the Arareek Country Club. He was still buoyed up by the curious elation that was always his after an hour with Desirée. For perhaps the first time in his life the thousand soft odors of the June dusk carried for him a meaning; and in every nerve he was aware of the mild glory of the night. He took deep breaths of the scented air and squared his mighty shoulders as he strode down the slope. It was good to be alive; to feel the easy play of one’s perfect muscles; to be tireless, victorious, and still in the early thirties.

A girl in a white dress was walking a short distance ahead of him as he neared the Clubhouse. Each long step brought Conover nearer to her. At her side walked a man. The couple were in no haste, but seemed bent on enjoying the beauty of the night in leisurely fashion before reaching their destination. As Caleb came alongside, a few rods from the Arareek gates, the man hailed him. It was Caine. Conover, barely remembering himself in time to imitate the other’s salute, pulled off his hat and slouched toward the two.

[135]“Miss Standish,” said Caine, after greeting the Fighter, “May I present Mr. Conover?”

The girl held out her hand shyly. Caleb, as he took it, looked down at her with considerable interest. He was curious to see what manner of woman the fastidious Caine had so long idolized; and to whom, in face of much rumored family opposition, he had recently become engaged. The lights of the open Clubhouse door shone full upon Letty Standish, and Caleb’s first curiosity changed to something like astonishment. She was a plump little creature, with a pretty, slack face. Caleb, versed in reading physiognomy, saw in her upturned countenance much amiability,—of the sort that tends to turn gently sub-acid under the right provocation,—a charmingly, complete lack of any sort of resolution; and an intellect as profound as that of an unusually sagacious guinea pig. Large, delft-blue eyes, a quivering button of a nose, a pouting little mouth; profuse light brown hair piled high above a narrow forehead. Pretty with the inherent comeliness of extreme youth, but—

“Looks like a measly rabbit!” thought Conover in amused contempt, “An’ that’s what Amzi Nicholas Caine’s been workin’ all his life to win, is it? Gee, but it’s queer what kinks a sane man’s brain’ll take, where a woman’s concerned.”

Outwardly he was listening with stony immobility to Letty’s timid words of salutation. As she paused, he pulled his wits together.

“Pleased to meet you,” said he. “I’m to have the[136] pleasure of takin’ dinner at your house Friday night, I b’lieve. Thanks for askin’ me. I hope we’ll see more of each other.”

“My aunt and I are always glad to meet Father’s business friends,” returned Letty, ill at ease. She had wondered, and her aunt had protested loudly, at Standish’s curt announcement that Blacarda’s vacated place at the table must be taken by this unknown outsider. Nor, as she looked at the stocky, heavy-jowled man and heard his uncouth speech, did the mystery grow clearer.

“You seemed in a hurry,” observed Caine, relieving the girl’s embarrassment by taking Conover off her hands, “I think we’ll be in plenty of time to hear all of the speeches we care to. There’s the same pleasing likeness about them that there is about a string of street cars. If you miss one, you can get the next and nothing worth while is lost by the omission. At stag dinners of course it’s different. Then it is always interesting to note the inverse ratio between eloquence and sobriety. But at these ‘Celebration’ dinners the speeches are warranted to contain nothing of dangerous interest. Shall we go in?”

For lack of a gallery, the guests who had come to hear the speeches, sat in the double ranks of chairs which lined the large dining room. Conover and the two others arrived during a momentary lull between speeches. Letty was greeted cordially by such people as she passed on her way to her seat. Caleb, as one of her escort, found himself the object of more[137] courtesy than had ever before been his portion at the Arareek.

This new warmth of manner on the part of his fellow-members pleased Caleb tremendously. Incidentally, it gave him the germ of an idea,—vague, nebulous, yet of promising growth. The burgeoning germ found mental expression during the next after-dinner speech. Caleb allowed his shrewd gaze to rest on Letty Standish, more critically—with less of humorous depreciation—than before. She sat next him, one plump hand pillowing her slightly receding chin; her wide blue eyes fixed on the speaker in polite attention; her small mouth pursed in a smile of almost labored interest.

“She’s better-lookin’ than I thought,” mused Conover, “An’ she’s a good dresser. Maybe her face ain’t really so foolish. Starin’ at Dey so much may have spoiled me for other girls. Everybody here seems glad to see this Standish person; an’ some of their gladness has slopped over onto me. If I’d a wife like that I’d strut right into the gold-shirt crowd an’ they’d hang up a ‘Welcome, Little Stranger!’ sign for me. If Dey can get into the right set by marryin’ one of ’em, I guess the same rule ought to work with me. I’ll talk it over sometime with Caine. He ought to know.”

A ripple of hand-clapping roused Caleb from his disjointed reflections, and he joined with vigor in applauding the speech he had not heard.

“What an easy speaker Mr. Vroom is!” said Letty.[138] “Don’t you envy such men, Mr. Conover? Don’t you think it must be wonderful to make a speech without being frightened to death? To stand up before so many people and just talk to them as if—”

“Easiest thing in the world!” announced Caleb, dully irritated at her praise, “Anyone can do it. All a man needs is to say to himself: ‘I’m a blame sight better, cleverer, bigger man than any of this bunch I’m talkin’ down to.’ Then he won’t be afraid of ’em. Because he despises ’em. That’s the way I always do when I’ve got a speech to make. It’s lots easier to stand up in an open-face suit an’ talk like Vroom did to a friendly crowd, than to try and persuade one grouchy grocer to handle your special brand of washin’ soda. There’s where reel el’quence comes in.”

“Yes?” rejoined Letty, with her wavering little smile. “How clever of you to put it in such an original way! I never thought of that, before.”

“Of what?” demanded Caleb, inquisitorially.

“Of—of—why, of what you said, of course. Now, shan’t we listen to the toastmaster? He’s always so funny, I think. Do you know him?”

“No, ma’am,” said Caleb. “He’s a novelty to me. But we’ll listen if you like.”

He folded his arms, leaned back in his camp chair and turned a look of ponderous gravity upon the toastmaster. The latter, swaying back and forth on his toes, his hands in his pockets, was lengthily introducing the next speaker. At every third sentence his eye would sweep the room with a roguish twinkle as[139] who should say: “Make ready now for the newest of my irresistible quips!” And the listeners would obediently prepare to roar. Letty’s pleasant giggle at each sally annoyed Caleb. He could not say why. But involuntarily he glanced toward her with a frown. She chanced to be looking at him, at the same moment, for companionship in her appreciation of the latest witticism. Meeting the scowl, her nose quivered and her smile froze into pitiful, half-appealing lines that added to Caleb’s senseless irritation. But, by an effort, he sought awkwardly to nullify any unpleasant impression of him that she might have gained.

“What was that joke?” he whispered, to explain his frown. “I didn’t quite catch it.”

“Why,” faltered Letty, “he said—he said—‘the man who hesitates, foozles.’ I think that was it. Something like that. Or,—was it—‘the man who—’? Oh, listen! He’s going to tell that lovely story about the minister who had to give up golf or the pulpit. I do want to hear that!”

The murmur of joyous anticipation, as the toastmaster hoisted preliminary warnings for this classic, showed that Letty was by no means unique in her choice of rechauffèe humor. Caleb sat glum under the salvo of merriment. Letty glanced sideways, in dawning uneasiness, at his set face.

“And,” beamed the toastmaster, “as the Irish caddie said to the—”

The door leading from the butler’s pantry burst open. Through the aperture into the bright-lit dining[140] hall scurried a red-faced, bald-headed man; two club servants close at his heels. The fugitive was clad in a soiled waiter-jacket and a pair of patched overalls. Both garments had evidently been intended for someone much larger. Their present wearer seemed lost in their voluminous folds. Yet, even thus hampered, he dodged his pursuers with an agility little short of incredible in so old a man.

Darting forward into the full blaze of light, he fled around the table. The two servants had checked their pursuit near the door; and now stood irresolute, at a loss whether or not to continue the chase into the sacred precincts of the dining room. They looked for instructions to a stout, pompous personage who, following them up from the pantry, now blocked the doorway and stared balefully at the little old man. The latter in his flight had come into violent contact with one of the slender pillars near the toastmaster’s chair. Wrapping both arms about this, he slid to the floor and crouched there; still clinging to the pillar; making horrible simian faces over his shoulder at the trio beside the pantry door.

At the apparition, several diners had jumped excitedly to their feet, (with the world-old instinct which taught prehistoric man to meet danger or surprise, standing); others had craned their necks or shouted confused queries. One woman had cried out. Every eye in the room was upon the grotesque, couchant little figure huddled against the centre pillar. The toastmaster[141] turned in lofty severity upon the big man in the doorway.

“Steward!” he declaimed. “What does this mean?”

“I—I am extremely sorry, Mr. Dillingham!” answered the steward, venturing forward. “I’m sure I apologize most sincerely. I wouldn’t have had such a thing happen for worlds. We were short of men in the kitchen, to-night, sir. That—that old panhandler over there, sir,” pointing an abhorring finger at the refugee, “came around looking for an odd job. So I set him to washing dishes. He said he’d stopped off a train on his way from the West. He got at some of the wines, sir, when we wasn’t looking. He’s in a disgusting state, sir. Then one of my men caught him pocketing some forks and I told two of the waiters to search him and send for the police. They grabbed him, but he slipped away and ran in here. So I—”

“That will do! That will do!” thundered the toastmaster, succeeding, after divers trials, in breaking in upon the narrative. “Remove him. At once! And as quietly as you can.—I am more sorry than I can say,” he went on urbanely, addressing the guests, “that such a disgraceful scene should have—”

A howl from the man on the floor cut short the apology. Two servants had approached to do the toastmaster’s bidding. As the first of them seized him by the shoulder the little man screamed like a mad cat.[142] Locking his legs about the pillar, he turned upon his assailants with fists and teeth, fighting with the deadly, unscientific fury of a cornered wild thing. The scrimmage that followed set the room in dire confusion. To end which, the toastmaster so far unbent as to rush among the combatants and order back his myrmidons. The attendants drew away, disheveled, bleeding, robbed of the spruce neatness that was the Arareek’s pride. The defender’s jacket had been torn off. There was a slight cut on his forehead. But his little bloodshot eyes glared with undiminished drunken defiance; nor had his opponents’ best efforts dislodged his legs from about the pillar.

“Oh, the sacred Arareek!” muttered Caine, leaning across toward Conover. “Dillingham will be in hysterics in another minute. The sanctity of his state dinner shattered just when he was at his asinine best! See, some of the women are starting to go. If they leave, it’ll break his heart.”

But Caleb did not hear. Almost alone of all those in the room, he had shown no excitement. Fights were no novelty to him. Bent forward, yet emotionless, his eyes had never once left the distorted face of the drunken interloper.

“Leave me be!” the latter was demanding in a squealing hiccough, as the cessation of attack left him breath for words. “Leave me be, can’t yer? Fine lot—swellsh you are, to pick on one poor old man what never harmed none of you! Lemme ’lone!” as[143] Dillingham with thoughts of diplomacy, edged closer. “That—that feller called me—p—panhandler! ’S a lie! I’m honesh, ’spectible workin’ man. Fought for m’ country in S-S-Shivil war. Got m’ hon’rable-dishcharge. Fought for m’ country while the most of you was in—in y’r cradles. I’m drunk too,” he confided squinting up at the unnerved Dillingham. “Drunk—or I wouldn’t a’ stholen thoshe thingsh. Perfec’ly shquare when I’m shober. Perf’ly. Learned t’drink while I was d—d’fendin’ m’ country. I’m—”

His voice scaled a note or two, broke, and then meandered on, in time to prevent Dillingham’s interruption. His tone had shifted once more from the explanatory to the pugnacious.

“If I had had my—my rightsh!” he bellowed, shrilly, glaring about him. “I’d be ridin’ in my carr’ge—m’own carr’ge! Yesh! Thash right. Own carr’ge. Got a boy whoshe rich—rich man. Whatsh’e do for me? Noshin’t’all! Don’t ev’n know I’m ’live. Till I struck Granite t’night, I didn’t know he’sh ’live. Firsh time been here in twenty yearsh. They shent m’t’ jail, lasht time, dammem! Poor ol’ Saul Con’ver!”

He broke into senile, weak sobbing. And, from all over the room rose a confused whispering, a rustle, an indefinable electric thrill. Women whose escorts had led them to the door, halted and looked back in crass interest. Men glanced at one another, muttering queries[144] that found no answer. Even Dillingham forgot at last his faint hope of restoring the shattered function to its former banal calm.

Pair by pair, all eyes slowly focussed on Caleb Conover. But the most imaginative gazer could not descry emotion—whether of surprise, chagrin or fear—on the heavy mask of the Fighter’s face. For a moment there was a hush. The old man on the floor still sobbed in maudlin fashion. But no one heeded him. Then Caine arose.

“I think,” he began, his pleasant, low-pitched voice breaking in like a dash of cool water on his hearers’ superheated senses, “I think there is no need for any of us to magnify this trifling break in our jolly evening; nor to allow it to mar in any way our spirit of good fellowship. May I propose that we—?”

“Hold on,” interposed Caleb, quietly. He got to his feet and laid a detaining hand on Caine’s arm.

“You mean well,” he said, “an’ I thank you. But I think this is where I do the talkin’, an’ not you. I’ve never made a speech here before,” he went on, raising his voice, “An’ I never expected to. But I’ll ask you people to have patience with me for a minute or two. Because there’s one or two things that’s got to be said here an’ now. An’ I’m the one that’s got to say ’em.”

He glanced about him. Never before in the Arareek Club had orator enjoyed so rapt an audience. The quiet, heavy voice, the brute magnetism of the man, no less than curiosity as to how he would handle[145] so impossible a situation, had already caught everyone’s attention. His wholly masterful manner, his latent strength, lent a force of their own to his rough words as he went on:

“Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that man doubled up on the floor there is my father—I didn’t know till five minutes ago that he was still alive. I hadn’t seen nor heard of him in near twenty-five years; till he came in here, crazy drunk, just now, an’ broke up your party. I’m sorry for what he’s done. If I could make any kind of rep’ration to you for the bother he’s caused, I’d do it. I guess you know that. But I can’t. All I can do is to try to make you look at him less like he was a mangy dog in a fit, an’ more as if he was a human like yourselves. That’s why I’m takin’ the liberty to speak to you now. Will you hear me?”

The unconscious buzz and murmur that all at once swept the room served him for answer; and he continued:

“My father,” with another nod toward the mumbling figure on the floor, “was a risin’, hard workin’ man. He come of decent people, an’ he was a promisin’ young chap that ev’rybody liked. That was the trouble. Too many folks liked him; which is pretty near as bad as bein’ liked by nobody. Nothin’ pers’nal intended. When the Civil War broke out he went to the front. There he learned to starve, to loaf, to forget his business trainin’. An’ he wasn’t the only one, I guess. There’s where he learned to drink, too. When men have to go supperless to bed on the wet[146] ground after an all-day march, a swig of whiskey’s a blessin’. It’s a blessin’, too, when it dulls the mem’ry of the comrade at your side that was blowed to pieces by a shell or ripped open by a bay’net. Can you blame the soldiers if they let the whiskey bless ’em so often that it gets to be a habit?

“After the war my father come home. There’d been bands of music an’ women wavin’ handkerchi’fs an’ noospapers to call him an’ his fellers a lot of hot-air names when they marched off in their bloo uniforms to the war. When the boys came slouchin’ back, footsore, ragged, an’ so thin they looked like walkin’ embalmer advertisements, there wasn’t quite so much cheerin’. My father’d gone away a brisk, fine set-up lad, leavin’ good work behind him. He come back like a good many thousand others, none the better for a four-year course in shiftlessness, booze an’ no reg’lar work.

“The folks who’d cheered him when he went to fight for ’em had cheered away a lot of their spare patri’tism by that time. There wa’nt enough of it left in Granite to give my father a fair start in the world again. Because he’d learned to drink, to loaf, to be uneasy an’ unreliable when he worked, they forgot he’d picked up those tricks while he was defendin’ their country. Heroes was a drug in the market. If any of you fellers know how it feels to get down to work the day after your fortnight’s vacation, maybe you can understand what it meant to him to settle down to a job after four years in the open.”

[147]Conover glanced again at his father. The old man had ceased to mumble and was trying to follow the Fighter’s speech. The slack jaw had tightened; and the huddled form was struggling slowly to its feet.

“He tried to work,” resumed Conover, “but younger, smarter folks with steadier business trainin’ was grabbin’ all the good jobs. Yet he got what he could, an’ for awhile he did the best he knew how. Then he saw a chance to make things easier for my mother an’ me. He’d been used to seein’ his off’cers in the army paddin’ expense accounts an’ gettin’ graft on fodder bills an’ such. He’d seen contractors grow rich by sellin’ the Gov’ment shoddy blankets an’ rotten food. Was it any worse for him to scamp weights on the coal scales? That’s what he done. Not in big quantities as if he was a financier; but a few cents a day as he got the chance.

“That was his mistake. If he’d stole a million he’d a’ been a big man in Granite. But he hadn’t the brain to do more’n foller, a long way off, the example of the men he’d been taught to obey for four years. Because he stole so little an’ so stoopidly, they found him out. They didn’t stop to ask if he’d used the miser’ble little sums of pilfered money to make his home happier an’ buy things for his sick wife. Those arguments don’t cut much ice in law. He was just a common thief. An’ they sent him to States prison. Me an’ my mother could starve, for all the law cared. The bread winner was locked up. That was all holy Justice asked for. We could die of hunger if we[148] wanted to, now that the law had taken away the man who had stole to keep us alive.

“I guess you folks has read of the way men get treated in those places where the State gives ’em a chance to repent of their sins. For five years my father lived in a stone cubbyhole an’ had for chums a choice c’lection of the Devil’s Own Brigade. Not a soul in all that time to speak a decent word to him,—to say ‘Please,’ in givin’ him his orders. It sounds like a small thing to have no one say ‘Please’ to you. But try it some time.

“After five years of herdin’ with beasts,—only bein’ treated worse’n the S. P. C. A. would let any beast be treated,—they turned my father loose. They’d set the prison mark on him; they’d taught him to keep comp’ny with blackguards; they’d made him callous to everything decent, an’ taken away his citizenship. Havin’ done which, they gen’rously sets him free an’ gives him a chance to be a Godfearin’, upright man in future. Who’ll hire a convict? Who’ll give him a show? No one—You know that as well as I do. How can he hold up his head among men who haven’t had the bad luck to be caught? What was left for my father to do? To ’sociate with the only class that’d take him as an equal. To turn to the drink that made him forget they’d branded him as an outcast. That’s what he did. I ain’t sayin’ it’s right. I ain’t sayin’ that Saul Conover’s a noble lookin’ work of God as he slinks against that post there. The drink that comforted him so long has knocked out his[149] manhood. The hard luck an’ starvin’ has turned him old and ugly an’ bad-shaped. In short, he’s what S’ciety an’ a lovin’ Paternal Gov’ment has made him. An’—he’s my father, God help him! An’ the man who says I’m ashamed of him, lies!”

Amid the oppressed silence, Caleb Conover crossed over to where his father stood cowed and half-sobered. As gently as a woman, he put his arm about the old man’s twisted shoulders and drew him toward the door. A lane was made for their passage. From somewhere in the crowd came the sound of a woman’s stifled sob. Jack Hawarden impulsively clapped his hands together. There was an instant’s shocked silence. Then—no one could afterward explain why—the lad’s example was followed from all quarters of the dining hall; and a rattle of incongruous applause re-echoed through the place.

As Conover, half-leading, half-supporting the wizened form, neared the door, young Hawarden barred his path. With boyish hero-worship shining in his eyes, Jack thrust out his hand. Caleb gripped it in silence and passed on, out into the darkness. None followed the strange pair as they left the clubhouse.

Neither father nor son spoke a word until they were alone in the starlit road, far beyond earshot of the club. Then Caleb stopped, glancing back as though fearful lest some inquisitive guest might have come out to witness the sequel to the banquet hall scene. The night air had still further cleared the drink-fog from the old man’s brain. Clutching his[150] son by the sleeve, and tremblingly patting the Fighter’s big hand, he whimpered:

“Gawd bless you, boy! It’s a proud man I am this night. You’re not ashamed of your poor old father what worked so hard for you an’ loves you so an’—”

With a gesture of loathing, Caleb shook off the weak clasp.

“You measly old crook!” he snarled. “Keep your dirty hands off me! Here!” thrusting a roll of bills upon him. “Take this an’ get out of town by the next train. Write me where to forward money an’ I’ll see you get enough to keep you drunk till you die. But if you ever set foot in Granite again I’ll have you railroaded to jail for life. An’, after this, don’t spring that Civil War yarn again. Civil War hard-luck stories are played out. Besides, you were never within two hundred miles of the war; and you know you weren’t. Don’t lie when you don’t have to. It spoils your skill for nec’ssary lies. Now, get away from here! Chase!”



“I don’t know why we were all so carried away by it,” said Caine, reflectively. “I’ve been thinking it over. There was much more bathos than pathos; and a delightful absence of both elegance and eloquence about his speech. Yet for a moment I was almost tempted to join in your charmingly ill-timed applause. The whole thing savored of cheap melodrama. But—”

“It was the man himself. Not what he said,” answered Jack Hawarden, eager in defense of his new-built idol. “He stood there facing a crowd that would have liked nothing better than to annihilate him. That drunken Thing on the floor was enough by itself to ruin him forever at the Arareek. Yet Conover made us listen and he swayed us to suit himself. Not by what he said, but by his own big strength, I think. There’s something about him I don’t understand. But he’s a man. And, after to-night,—whatever the others say—I take my hat off to him.”

“For the perfecting of a young author’s style,” observed Caine, irrelevantly, “what sample of nervous[152] English can be finer than Carlyle’s ‘Heroes and Hero Worship?’”

His raillery jarred on the boy’s enthusiasm and checked the gush of extravagant praise. Letty Standish, with whom the two were walking home from the Club, took advantage of Jack’s snubbed silence, to put in a word.

“I think Mr. Hawarden is right, Amzi,” she ventured. “There’s something about Mr. Conover that one can’t very well define. I think he could make one do anything he chose. I know I was almost—afraid of him,—before I’d known him ten minutes. I don’t quite think I like him. He’s so powerful, so rough, so domineering. Not like anyone I ever met before. But,” with a slight shudder, “I believe I’d do whatever he ordered me to. Especially if he scowled at me in that bullying way, with his eyes half-shut. Isn’t it funny to feel like that about a person you hardly know?”

She ended with a nervous laugh, and looked up at Caine with a pretty, helpless air of seeking protection. Amzi always found this appealing attitude irresistible. If social longings were Conover’s “feet of clay,” Letty Standish served as a similar pedal handicap for Caine. He wished young Hawarden had not thrust himself upon the tête-à-tête of their homeward walk. He wanted, loverlike, to reassure Letty with unspeakably doughty promises of safeguard from peril; to see her soft round eyes raised to his in the admiration such protestations are wont to excite between very young[153] or very old lovers. But Jack was doggedly treading along beside them in all the charming ignorance of his age and temperament. The boy’s sulks were even now dissolving and he joined again in the talk; still harping on his hero.

“I never met Conover till this morning,” said he. “I wish now I’d known him better. It’s queer I never met him at Miss Shevlin’s. She’s his ward, you know.”

Letty, to whom he spoke, answered with a tinge of the latent sub-acid in her gentle voice:

“I didn’t know. But I’ve noticed things about Miss Shevlin that made it seem quite likely.”

“Miss Shevlin,” said the boy, hotly, “is the prettiest, brightest, best-bred girl I ever knew. If you mean she is—”

“I dare say,” answered Letty with elaborate carelessness. “But I never noticed her especially.”

“I don’t see,” persisted Jack, “how you could have helped it. She’s the sort of girl everyone notices. There’s something about her—”

“Why, what a zealous champion she has!” exclaimed Letty, playfully, her laughter ringing thin. “I congratulate her.”

“You needn’t,” retorted Jack. “And I’m afraid you’ll never even have a chance to congratulate me. I—”

“By the way, Hawarden,” interposed Caine, lazily pouring oil on the churned waters, according to his wont. “I read your Scribner’s story to-day. I can[154] congratulate you on that, at any rate, can’t I? It was decidedly good. I wondered at your knowledge of human nature.”

Hawarden’s chest swelled. At twenty-two, who does not know human nature as never can it be known in later years? And who does not rejoice at recognition of that vast knowledge?

“I’ve had some experience with life, in my time,” said Jack, darkly. “And I paint my fellow-man as I see him. Not as he ought to be. But as he is. If I seem merciless in my character drawing—”

“You do indeed!” began Caine. But a fit of very well executed coughing cut short his righteous praise. Jack, disappointed, sought to lead the talk back to the former happy theme.

“I’m writing a story now,” he said, “that is bigger in every way than anything I’ve done before. But I can’t decide yet, even in my own mind, whether it is very good or very bad. It is one or the other. I know that.”

“If it’s enough of either,” replied Caine, “it is certain to make a popular hit.”

“I’ve made De—Miss Shevlin my heroine,” pursued Hawarden, scornfully disregarding Caine’s untimely flippancy. “But it’s hard to put a girl like her on paper the way one sees her in one’s mind. I wrote a poem about her once. Harper’s Magazine accepted it.”

He paused. Then, ridden by the demon of truth, added with reluctance, “They published it in fine print[155] over toward the end. But,” more buoyantly, “I saw it copied afterward in no less than two papers.”

“Why don’t you put Mr. Conover into a story, too?” suggested Letty, unwilling not to seem quite at home in so profound a literary discussion. “Wouldn’t he make a good character? He’s so—”

“I’m afraid not,” decided the boy, judicially weighing his verdict. “He’s more of a man than anyone else in all my experience. But he wouldn’t quite fit into a story, I’m afraid. You see, he lacks romance, for one thing. One could hardly fancy Caleb Conover in love. And then—unless you count this evening’s affair—I doubt if he was ever in an adventure of any sort in his life. His character, from a literary viewpoint, doesn’t lend itself to action or analysis. In making the study of human nature my hobby, I have—”

“I see!” broke in Letty, almost sharply. “You are quite right. He would be impossible in a story—as he is in real life!”

“I hardly think so,” demurred Caine. “Not impossible. Improbable, at worst. I am afraid a great many people in Granite will find that out before he is through.”

They had reached the Standish home. Hawarden bade them goodnight at the door; declining Letty’s perfunctory invitation to come in. The evening was still young. But the lack of cordiality in Letty’s voice grated on his armor of youth. He reflected somewhat belatedly that she and Caine were engaged and[156] that it was possible they might find themes even more alluring than literature to talk over, together. So, unwilling, he left them.

Caine and Letty strolled slowly up the walk. The night was cool, for June. So, ignoring the lounging chairs on the veranda, they passed into the house.

“This is one of the last evenings we can sit indoors,” commented Letty. “It’s hard to realize that summer is so near. I suppose this week will wind up the season. Everywhere else except in old-fashioned Granite, it must have ended weeks ago.”

“Yes. We’re old-fashioned here in Granite,” said Caine, seating himself on the arm of the chair into which she had thrown herself. “I think somebody once left an 1860 calendar in this town, and we’ve all been living by it ever since. We’re like the scaly, finny Oldest Inhabitants in the poem, who dreamed away their lives in the coral grove, while a seven stanza storm roared across the ocean overhead. When the storm of progress cuts a little below the surface we Granite folk blink upward from our dreams in pained disapproval. I think that’s why we look askance at Conover. He represents—”

“Oh, am I to have that dreadful creature’s name forever dinned into my ears?” complained Letty. “Isn’t it enough that Father makes us ask him here to dinner, Friday; without your talking forever about him in the little while people leave us alone together? In another minute Aunt Lydia will be pottering in to play propriety. And then—”

[157]“And then, ‘Fly from the Aunt, thou sluggard!’ shall be my motto,” finished Caine. “I wish her virtues didn’t oppress me so. I wouldn’t object to her so much, if someone whose vocabulary was as limited as his knowledge of heaven’s personnel, hadn’t once described her looks as ‘Saintly.’ She has been trying so hard to live up to the picture, ever since, that it’s a bit wearing on poor sinners like me.”

“It’s wicked to be so sacrilegious,” returned Letty, primly. “And I don’t like to have you speak so of my family. After all, she is my aunt.”

“Don’t think for a moment I’m blaming you for that, sweetheart,” he protested with an earnestness that left Letty as usual in doubt whether or not he had perpetrated some witticism she ought to have seen. Taking hasty mental review of their talk, she decided he had not, and went on:

“And her face is saintly. You know she—”

“Perhaps it is,” he acquiesced. “But what a pity Fra Angelico and Rafael couldn’t have seen her! Then we should have had all those cherubs and red-and-gold angels of theirs depicted with thin gray hair parted in the middle, and with gray switches and half-inch eye-glasses.”

“You have grown coarse from associating with that Conover man,” pouted Letty. “It’s—it’s indelicate to speak of switches. And it hurts my feelings cruelly to have you abuse the people I love!”

The tears, always comfortably near the surface, trembled in Letty’s voice and eyes. Caine, in a fever[158] of remorse, begged forgiveness and tried to put his arm about her. But she drew away with a little hunch of the shoulders.

“You’ve spoiled my evening!” she wailed. “First you introduced that miserable man to me and made him frighten me, and now you make fun of—”

Footsteps crossing the hall brought her tale of wrong to an abrupt halt. She sat up and furtively mopped her eyes. Tears were so common and so easy a relief to her that normally they left scant mark of their presence. Caine rose and faced the door; the distressed lover merging as by magic into the bored, suave man of the world.

Reuben Standish’s widowed sister-in-law glided into the room, diffusing an aura of mild beneficence that struck Caine’s nerves to the raw. Her near-sighted eyes turned as in lofty benediction upon the lovers; her thick glasses diffusing and magnifying the glance until it seemed to embrace all the visible world.

Mrs. Standish, on the death of her husband, had come to keep house for her widower brother-in-law. She had brought with her her orphaned grandnephew, Clive, (only son of Letty’s elder brother, long dead), whose upbringing was at once her chief visible claim to sanctity and her scriptural thorn in the flesh.

“Clive has been so bad again this evening!” she said with a sigh, after a distant greeting to Caine, “I suppose these crosses are sent to us. But sometimes I am nearly tempted to wonder why. I actually[159] caught him tacking his grandfather’s slippers to the floor, where I had left them, in front of the chiffonier, in Mr. Standish’s room. I locked him in the nursery for an hour while I prayed to see my duty clear. And when I went to him, strengthened and inspired to make him see his fault, what do you think I found him doing? The hardened boy was actually drawing caricature, depicting his grandfather trying to walk in the tacked-down slippers. He had not even the grace to hide it when he saw me coming. There was nothing left for me to do but to whip him. So I have sent him out to cut a small stick.”

“Poor little chap!” muttered Caine, stifling a smile. He was fond of the boy, who in turn idolized him.

“Perhaps,” went on Amzi, aloud, “If, instead of whipping him, you could let me talk to him and explain—”

“Aunt Lydia!” piped a voice from the doorway. A little Eton-suited boy with a mop of yellow hair and sorrowful dark eyes, hesitated on the threshold.

“Oh, here you are,” added the child, coming into the room and walking straight up to Mrs. Standish. “I—”

“Where is the stick?” asked Nemesis, her glasses reflecting less sanctity than was their custom, as they sought a glimpse of the hands Clive held clasped behind him.

“I’m sorry,” replied the boy, apologetically. “It was so dark I couldn’t find a stick. But,” with a[160] propitiatory smile, as he brought his hands forward, “Here are two stones you can throw at me, instead, if you like.”

Caine’s laughter exploded; breaking in with scandalous intrusion, upon the penitential scene.

“Mr. Caine,” said Mrs. Standish, her coldly righteous rebuke rising above Letty’s milder reproval, “I think, perhaps, for discipline’s sake, it might be well for you to end your call before you do anything more to make this wicked boy regard his fault as a matter for levity.”

Caine glanced in humorous appeal toward Letty. But his fiancée, as usual in matters of family crisis, only stared back in piteous fear.

“Mr. Caine,” called Clive, as the visitor completed somewhat frigid adieux and moved toward the door, “I am very sorry I got you into trouble. I’m afraid Aunt Lydia don’t quite understand us men.”



The red-haired man was fighting.

He had always been fighting. But to-night he must wield weapons whereof he had no experience; unskilled, must meet deft opponents on their own ground. The thought thrilled him, with the joy of the born fighter.

The hour for the Standish dinner was seven; that the meal might be well over before the musicale guests should begin to arrive. Caleb rang the Standish bell at twenty minutes before seven. The manservant who admitted him managed to convey from behind a totally mask-like face that there was something amiss with the arrival. Glancing into the drawing room as he followed a maid to the men’s dressing room upstairs, Caleb saw it was quite devoid of guests. In fact, a servant was lighting the lamps there. The dressing room, too, was deserted.

Conover was vaguely puzzled. Surely the invitation had fixed the hour for seven? And he was nearly twenty minutes ahead of time. At functions such as he was wont to attend, people always began to drop in nearly half an hour beforehand. So fearful had he been to-night of breaking some unknown social rule,[162] that he had allowed a full twenty minutes leeway. Yet he was very palpably the first to arrive. This perplexed and shamed him. It even shook his iron self-confidence. He caught himself hoping that none of the Standishes knew he was there. The man who had with cool derision, faced hostile legislatures, investigation committees and actual physical danger; felt his nerve turning into nerves.

A tray of cigarettes lay on the chiffonier. Caleb had never smoked a cigarette. He wondered if etiquette commanded that he should do so now. He weighed the matter judicially as he took off his coat and gloves; then decided that the cigarettes had indisputedly been put there to be smoked. Gingerly, he lighted one. The aromatic mild flavor of the smoke disgusted him. He had always despised men who chose cigarettes in preference to cigars. Now he regarded such smokers as idiotic rather than decadent. Yet he puffed dutifully at the abhorred paper tube and pondered on the probability of his being called upon to repeat the performance, later, in the dining room. He had heard of people smoking cigarettes with dinner. Or, rather, hadn’t he seen pictures of such a scene? Yes. Surely. A picture on a calendar in the general passenger agent’s office. But the smokers, in the picture, were women. And one of them had her feet on the table. Caleb mentally apologized to his present hostesses and dismissed the theme.

When dinner was at seven, why shouldn’t people[163] come on time? Was there a joke in it somewhere? A joke on himself? Anything, just now, seemed possible. What was the use of smoking this measly cigarette when there was no one to see? He dropped it into a bronze dish, went over to the cheval glass and surveyed himself from head to foot. Then he turned; and, looking over one shoulder, sought to see how his dress coat fitted in the back. The twisting of his body caused a huge central wrinkle to spring out between his shoulders, creases diverging from it. Also there was a spear of stiff red hair in the very center of his well-brushed head that had escaped from the combined lures of pomade and water. Conover crossed to the chiffonier, picked up one of a pair of military brushes and attacked the rebellious lock with vigor.

There was no water in sight. How did these people expect a man to brush his hair without water? No pomade, either. Not even brilliantine. Could it be that folk of the Standish class did not use such aids? Or did they keep them locked up? Caleb’s eyes swept the room and its quiet furnishings appraisingly. It did not represent at all his idea of luxury. Not a bow, not a tidy, not a fancy screen nor a lambrequin in sight. Yet there was an indefinable something about the place that met his approval. He fell to walking back and forth, uneasily; pausing every now and then in front of the cheval glass.

Amzi Caine, who had come early in the futile hope[164] of a word alone with Letty before the dinner, found him thus employed. Conover swung around on his friend with a grunt of relief.

“Hello!” he said, his heavy voice actually cordial, “I begun to think it was Judgment Day an’ that I was the first one resurrected. How’d I look? All right? Nothin’ wrong in this get-up is there?”

“The glass of fashion and the mould of form!” laughed Caine, “Behold a phenomenon! The worker of miracles—and Steeloids—deigns to ask a mere mortal’s opinion!”

“All right, is it?” said Conover, relieved. “Say,” he went on suspiciously, “You’re guying me! Tell me what’s wrong. Be honest, can’t you?”

“If you insist,” replied Caine, nettled at the domineering tone, “I can’t just hint that most men don’t wear diamond studs with evening dress, and that your tie is rather too evidently a ‘masterpiece not made by hands.’ Otherwise, you look very fit indeed.”

Caleb scowled in the glass at the flashing studs and the ready-made lawn tie. Then, brushing away the gnat of worry, he answered, carelessly:

“I don’t like to dress like everybody else. Too much sameness for me. It’s well enough for fellers without an idee or a scrap of originality in their heads. I like to do a little different.”

“A Beau Brummell come to Judgment!” mocked Caine, “But with diamonds rising in price ten per cent. a year, I hope you won’t set the fashion just[165] yet. You’ll break us. It’s all very well to dress regardless of expense—or style—but—”

“Let it go at that,” ordered Conover sullenly, “There’s something else I wanted to ask you about, first time I saw you alone. You told me one day that Desirée Shevlin could take any place she wanted, in s’ciety here, if only she married the right sort of a man. Remember?”

“Why, yes. But—”

“Well, would it work both ways? I mean, if I was to marry a girl who had a big social position in Granite, would it help me on, any?”

“I—should think so,” hesitated Caine, overcoming a desire to laugh at the unique idea. “Why? Are you thinking of it?”

“Not exactly thinkin’ of it, but turnin’ it over in my mind. If I was thinkin’ about it I’d do it. That’s my way.”

“Who is the lucky damsel?” bantered Caine, “Or haven’t you selected her yet?”

“I’ve about picked her out,” said Caleb slowly, “Just now she’s keepin’ comp’ny with another man.”

“Of course you won’t let that stand in your way for an instant?”

“No,” returned Caleb, on whom irony of any sort was ever lost, “Of course not. I have a way of gettin’ what I want. I only wish,” he continued with a half sigh of weariness, “that I could always keep on wantin’ what I get.”

[166]Clive Standish ran into the room. From one of the servants he had heard of Caine’s arrival.

“What fun to find you before you go down!” he cried, “I was afraid you wouldn’t see me to-night and I knew you’d be disappointed. Aunt Lydia won’t let me sit up for the musicale, because I was bad last evening. And she’s made me learn a hymn called ‘I Know That God is Wroth With Me!’ besides. The hymn is signed ‘I. Watts.’ I think ‘I. Watts’ must have been a very sorrowful person. I wonder if God really disliked him as much as ‘I. Watts’ pretended. He—”

The child checked himself, catching sight of Caleb. “I beg your pardon,” he said, “I didn’t see there was anyone here besides Mr. Caine. Mr. Caine,” he explained, condescendingly, “is a friend of mine.”

“Go on with your gabfest together, then,” vouchsafed Caleb, with an effort at unbending. “Don’t mind me.”

The boy’s brows contracted at sound of the false note in Caleb’s voice. He looked at the Fighter long and with frank criticism. Caleb bore the scrutiny with visible discomfort. He was not fond of children and did not understand them. Having had no childhood himself he could nowhere meet them on equal terms. Yet, as this slender, Eton-suited youngster was apparently a relative of Letty’s and a member of the same household, he sought to improve the acquaintance.

“I know a little rat about your age,” he began,[167] with elephantine geniality, “His name’s Billy Shevlin. Smart boy, too. Sharp as a whip. Ever meet him?”

“No, sir,” replied Clive, “I think not.”

“No? You wouldn’t be likely to, I s’pose. While you’re home, evenin’s, learnin’ hymns, he’s out learnin’ life. Spends most of his evenin’s round at the fire-house. Why, that kid knows the name of each engine in town the minute he hears ’em whistle.”

Clive’s eyes grew wistful with envy; yet abated none of the unconscious criticism wherewith they were still scrutinizing the Fighter. His lack of response confused Caleb; who started off on a new tack.

“Yes, Billy’s a great boy. He used to have a lot of cunnin’ tricks, too, when he was little. He’s outgrowin’ ’em now. Used to tiptoe up behind me an’ put both his dirty little hands over my eyes an’ say: ‘Guess who’s here?’ An’ then I’d guess ‘General Grant’ an’ ‘Abe Lincoln’ and ‘Queen Victoria’ an’ ‘Tom Platt’ an’ a lot of other big guns; till all of a sudden I’d guess ‘Billy Shevlin!’ An’ he’d squeal out ‘Yes!’ Not much sense in it. But kind of cute for such a little feller. I remember some folks were callin’ there one day an’ I wanted him to play that game, to show off before ’em. But he was kind of bashful and wouldn’t. An’ that made me mad; so I cuffed him over the head. An’ since then, somehow, he’s never played it any more.”

“I don’t wonder!” gasped Clive. “I—excuse me, sir,” he caught himself up, “I didn’t mean to be rude.”

[168]“Go ahead!” laughed Caleb, “That ain’t rude. It’s bein’ honest. Don’t let ’em make a Miss Nancy of you by teachin’ you to ’pologize an’ say ‘please,’ an’ ‘Sir’ an’ all those folderols.”

“I like to say them,” retorted Clive, “And I’m not a Miss Nancy. Last week I thrashed a boy two years older than I am.”

“Look out, Conover!” warned Caine, solemnly, “He may pick you for the next victim.”

At the sound of the name, Clive had glanced sharply at Caleb.

“I beg your pardon,” he put in, now, “But you aren’t ‘Brute’ Conover, are you?”

“Clive!” admonished Caine, with what severity he could summon up.

“I b’lieve I’ve been called that a few times,” answered Caleb, in high good humor. “Why?”

“Because,” said Clive, backing toward the door, “from what I read in the newspapers about you,—and from something I once heard Grandpapa say,—I don’t think I care to know you, Mr. Conover. I’m sorry. Goodnight.”

Caleb Conover had not known there were so many kinds of forks in existence. From his oyster plate they stretched away to the left in what seemed an interminable vista. Had Desirée told him to begin with the left-hand fork and work inward, as the courses progressed? Or was it the right-hand fork he was to[169] begin with and work outward? A furtive glance at Letty, on his right, solved the problem.

Then, the same glance sweeping the table, he found he was the only person whose doubled napkin had not disappeared. He pulled it unnoticed down to his knee. A roll fell from its hidden interior and crashed to the floor with a report that sounded to him loud enough to shake the house. But the sound passed unheard, in the ripple of talk. Caleb kicked the offending bit of bread further under the table and sombrely attacked his oysters.

A cocktail had heralded the meal. This, with his glass of dry sherry, now began little by little to cut away the Fighter’s crust of stark self-consciousness. He was not wont, of late years, to touch liquor at all; although in early days his Gargantuan drinking bouts had been the wonder of the local Underworld. On his unaccustomed senses the slight stimulant now acted with redoubled force. It sharpened his wits, banished his first feeling of stiff discomfort, enabled him to come out of himself and take note of what went on about him.

Caine talking animatedly just opposite, was nevertheless looking unobtrusively at Conover. So were Reuben Standish and others at the table. To their varied relief or disappointment the big, silent man had perpetrated thus far none of the capers which comic stories ascribe to parvenus. He handled his soup-spoon with an inward sweep, it is true; but he ate[170] quietly and as one not wholly unaccustomed to civilized methods. Desirée’s long and stern training was standing him in good stead.

Letty, emboldened by these repeated signs of house-brokenness, ventured a few perfunctory remarks to him. Caleb replied briefly, but without embarrassment. He even answered a question put him from across the table, with the same self-possession. Caine relaxed his nervous vigilance. His reluctant admiration for the newcomer was increasing.

Conover, with the true fighter’s intuition, noted all the tokens of his own well-being, and his dawning self-possession grew steadily stronger.

The talk at his end of the table had turned into musical channels.

“We were able to get Miss Tyson for the musicale after all,” Letty was saying. “She was to have sung at the Worcester Music Festival, you know; but at the last moment they engaged someone else.”

“We are so grateful,” chimed in Mrs. Standish, managing to inject just a little recognition of the Divine into her tone. “She has a wonderful voice. In Munich she once sung the Forest Bird music in a performance of Siegfried. Just think! One of our own townswomen, too!”

She cast a vitreous beam athwart the table as she spoke. Caine used to say that when Mrs. Standish’s glasses diffused that look, he was always sore tempted to bow his head and murmur “Amen.”

“Yes,” prattled the Saint, “hers is a heaven-sent[171] gift. I believe that singing may often bear a message—”

“It’s easier, I should think,” put in Caleb, suddenly finding his tongue as he set down his empty wine glass, “for a woman to sing like a forest bird than for a bird to sing songs made up by humans.

“F’r instance,” he proceeded, with renewed courage, mistaking the general hush of surprise for a gratifying interest, “there’s a lady I know here in Granite who has a canary bird that sings all about the death of Ase. Sings it fine, too.”

Letty giggled.

“So you are a Grieg fiend, like so many other Granite people just now, Mr. Conover?” said she.

“Me?” Caleb exclaimed, in genuine astonishment, “No, indeed, ma’am. I leave dope of all sorts alone.”

There was a laugh. Caleb did not quite see the point, but felt dimly that he had scored a hit. Caine came to his rescue.

“What a pity the bird couldn’t have been pressed into service for the musicale,” he observed. “It would be a real comfort to hear the ‘Death of Ase’ in new form.”

“Oh, he don’t sing all of it,” amended Caleb. “He just sings the first part. I forget quite how it goes. But he does it fine. Only, to my mind,” with an air of profound criticism, “he sings it kind of sprightly for such a sad piece. Still, I s’pose that’s a matter of taste.”

[172]Conover felt he was getting on finely. A most flattering attention—far different from the slight aloofness of the evening’s earlier moments—greeted his every word. Caine, however, seemed actually jealous of his friend’s popularity; for he cut in now with a complete change of subject.

“I wonder,” he conjectured, addressing no one in particular, “why tenors invariably are born without intelligence. When Providence gives a man a great tenor voice, He gives him nothing else. Perhaps, though, he needs nothing else.”

But an avalanche of trite sayings could not have halted Caleb. He listened with ponderous deference to Caine; then glanced about the table and cleared his voice.

“Speaking of ‘needin’ nothin’ else,’” said he, “reminds me of Old Man Wetherwolks who used to live at Pompton when I was a kid. He used to get jagged as reg’lar as pay-day came ’round. Had a battin’ av’rage of seven nights a week. Then when he’d blowed his last nickel he’d make us boys pilot him home. It wasn’t any cinch, either. For his wife was always waitin’ at the door. An’ the chunks of language she’d hand out to us would a’ fried an iceberg. One night, I remember, we brought the ol’ sot home worse’n usual. She was right there with the tongue-lashin’. She told him what a swine he was to spend all his fam’ly’s cash on booze and how he was a disgrace to his town, an’ other nice comfortin’ things like that. She wound up by screechin’: ‘An’ you[173] haven’t a single redeemin’ trait, you worthless drunkard!’ That was too much for Wetherwolks. He c’lapsed on the bottom step and began to cry. ‘You’re right, m’dear,’ he whines. ‘Ev’ry word you say is true. I haven’t a single redeemin’ trait. But,’ an’ here he throws his chest out an’ looks stern an’ noble, ‘But in ev’ry other respec’ I’m a dam’ fine man!’”

The anecdote somehow did not “go” as well as when Conover had told it in the back room of Kerrigan’s saloon. But if there was constraint in its reception, he did not observe it. Letty, dropping her voice, to shut him out of the general talk, inquired:

“Where is Pompton? I don’t think I ever heard of it. Did I? Are our Pompton Avenue and the Pompton Club named for it?”

“I don’t think so,” he answered. “It’s a little place, ’way up in the North Jersey hills. Swarmin’ with commuters, by now, I s’pose. I used to live there for a while, once, when I was learnin’ railroadin’. There’s a lake, with the soft green hills all closin’ down around it like they loved it. The sun used to set ’bout a mile from our house. It’d turn the lake all gold color. An’ then a blue sort of twilight would roll up through the valley. An’ the hills would seem to stretch out like they was goin’ to sleep.—Kind o’ pretty place,” he ended lamely.

“You are a poet!” the girl assured him with gushing uneasiness. “I had no idea you looked at nature through such roseate glasses.”

[174]“Neither I do,” he replied, ashamed of his unwonted flight of fancy. “I was only tellin’ you how it used to seem to me when I was a half-baked kid. Since then I’ve been so busy livin’ that I’ve lost all the knack of gettin’ enthoosed over measly lan’scapes. They don’t mean anything to me now. As for po’try,—honest, I never wrote a rhyme in my life. Never read one neither when I could help it. Guess you was stringin’ me, weren’t you?”

Nevertheless he was inwardly flattered at her praise and began to look on her with an even more favoring eye. If marriage in such a set were really the keystone to social achievement, he felt he might do far worse than choose this comely, quivering-nosed damsel at his side.

“Fond of rabbits?” he asked—as unintentionally as irrelevantly.

“What an odd question!” she cried, her round eyes raising incipient distress signals. “Is it a joke?”

“No,” he answered, floundering, “I—I just happened to say it. You—you look just a little like one. A very pretty one of course,” he supplemented with mammoth gallantry.

Her eyes, this time, hoisted the distress signal so perceptibly that Caine, skilled to read the signs, broke off in the midst of a sentence to his right-hand neighbor and engaged Caleb in momentary conversation. Letty, in the interval, stared appealingly about the board. But, thanks to her own success in drawing Conover into tête-à-tête, the others were not, at the[175] instant, noticing either of them. Thrown upon herself for comfort, she decided the rough guest had intended his asinine remark as a compliment. The thought did much to console her. She glanced, sideways, at him, with a new interest; and, Caine, relieved, saw the ‘Fair Weather’ standard flying once more.

But Conover, subtly aware of her emotion, knew he had somehow blundered. He saw how far he had deflected from his original plan of stony self-control. He knew it was the few glasses of wine he had drunk which, while in no way befuddling his brain, had given his tongue an undue looseness. A wave of self-contempt passed over him; sharp, unaccustomed. A manservant bent to fill one of his glasses. Caleb, recalling the etiquette-book maxim, clapped his hand hastily over the top of the goblet. The gesture was sudden and carried with it an unintended force. The wrought stem of the thin Venetian glass snapped.

Conover, purple with angry mortification, surveyed the wreck he had wrought. Then, pulling himself together, he looked about the board, the glare behind his forced grin challenging any and every eye that might dare to show derision.

“It doesn’t matter, Mr. Standish!” he called down the table to his host. “I’ll save the pieces and send you a whole set like it to-morrow. Where’d’you buy it?”

“It is of no consequence at all,” returned Standish, the consumption spots on his cheek bones burning a[176] little darker red than usual. He turned to the neighbor with whom he had been talking, and with his usual dry cough took up the shattered thread of conversation. But Caleb was resolved not to permit his overtures at restitution to be slighted.

“Where’d you buy it?” he repeated, raising his voice a little, “I want to know so I—”

“It is of no importance at all,” protested Standish, guiltily avoiding his sister-in-law’s saintly gaze. “I—”

“But I want to know,” persisted Caleb. “Where’d the glasses come from?”

“Why,” smiled Standish with a painful effort at careless good-nature, “I believe they’re some we picked up in Venice once. But they—”

“Well, I’ll send there for ’em, then,” promised Caleb, his defiant glance once more sweeping the oval of faces.

Strangely enough, everyone seemed to be talking at once, and no one seemed to be looking either at him or at Standish. In cool, level, unhurried tones they were speaking; these denizens of an unknown world, into whose presence he fought his way unasked, unwanted. Their language was not his language; their thoughts were not his thoughts. They were moving on as if he did not exist. Caleb remembered having read in some newspaper’s “reprint” column, how an oyster calmly glazes over the grain of irritating sand that has found unwelcome refuge within its shell. He felt humiliatingly like the nucleus of such a pearl. And[177] with the thought, and the waning of the wine’s effects, came wholesome anger.

“I’ve got more cash than the whole crowd of ’em put together,” he told himself fiercely.

The reflection did much to build up his wobbling self-esteem. But, for the rest of the meal, he sat glum. After an endless, dreary aeon of time, Mrs. Standish’s eye-glasses flashed to the others of her sex the signal to retire. Everyone rose. The women, collecting from the men beside them the handkerchiefs, fans and other feminine accessories that strewed the floor under the table, filed out, chatting and laughing. Caleb, not minded to seem inferior to any man by hanging back and giving precedence to others, left the room at the heels of the last woman.

“Oh, Conover!” called Caine, as the Fighter’s shoulders vanished through the doorway.

“I wanted to ask you something about Steeloid Preferred, if you don’t mind,” continued Amzi.

A backward look told Conover that the men were re-seating themselves. He also saw the meaning of his mentor’s summons. At that moment Caleb came nearer feeling gratitude toward Caine than ever he had felt it for any man. He slouched back, unconcernedly; lighted a cigar, shook out his match and dropped into the vacated chair at Caine’s left. Mentally he resolved to tear the etiquette book, leaf from leaf, for failing to warn him that men outstay women in a dining room. But, with characteristic calm, he refused to be ruffled by the mistake.

[178]“What was it you wanted to ask me?” said he.

“About Steeloid,” repeated Caine, “and about a rumor I heard that the Rogers-Whitman Company is—”

“Don’t let us talk business,” growled Conover, “I never talk shop when I’m out in s’ciety. It’s bad form. I’d rather chat just now ’bout music.”

He was himself again; loudly self-assured.

“This feller, Back, they were speakin’ about at dinner to-night,” he went on. “I’m kind o’ rusty on op’ras, lately. So I’ve lost track of him. Is he composin’ much, nowadays?”

“Bach has been de-composing for a couple of centuries,” answered Caine.

One or two men laughed. Caleb waxed glum once more. Nor could the combined tact of Caine and their host draw him again into speech.

The Fighter, glowering in a corner, watched the stream of musicale guests trickle in through the great double doors. He was lonely, cross, disappointed. He could not define his own sensations, nor see how nor wherein he had failed. Failure he had met. He knew that. But the knowledge made him the more determined to persist in his assault until the social citadel whose outworks he had stormed, should be his. And, the more he thought, the more his amorphous idea of entering that citadel under a wife’s aegis began to take definite shape. He found his gaze[179] straying to where Letty Standish stood laughing and talking with a knot of newcomers. Once his eye caught hers, and she smiled. A polite, deprecatory smile that strengthened Caleb’s growing resolution. After all, he reflected, one might do worse than to marry.

An indefinable something swept across his busily-planning mind, like a breath of May through a slum. Even before he raised his eyes eagerly to the door, he knew that Desirée Shevlin had come into the room. Slender, dainty, infinitely pretty, in her soft white dress, the sight of her struck athwart Caleb’s senses; scattering to the winds every thought but delight at seeing her,—pride in the way she bore herself among the people in whose presence he felt so ill at ease.

And she had seen him. Seen him and noted his discomfiture, his aloneness; even while she was responding to her hosts’ welcome. As soon as she could leave Mrs. Hawarden’s side, she moved toward him. As he advanced to meet her, the labored grin of festivity wherewith Caleb had sought to wreathe his features for her benefit, gave way to a glow of boyish pleasure.

“Gee, but you’re dandy to look at in those clo’es, Dey!” he exclaimed. “There ain’t a one in the room who’s a patch on you.”

She smiled up at him in frank joy at the compliment. Then, looking more keenly into his face, she murmured, her pretty brows knit:

[180]“You poor, poor boy! You’ve been having a horrid, hagorous time! What have they been doing to you?”

In her voice was a vehement, motherly note; as of indignation against the ill-treatment accorded a loved, deficient child. Caleb felt it and it was as balm to his scratched sensibilities. But he laughed loudly as he made shift to reply:

“What a crazy notion! They treated me fine an’ I’ve had an out o’ sight time. Honest, I—”


“They made me quite one of ’em,” he bragged, the more earnestly for her unbelief. “I haven’t had such a good time in a couple o’ years. I—”

“Caleb Conover! Look me in the eyes.”

“It was rotten!” he admitted ruefully; his defense, as ever, breaking to pieces before the onslaught of her sweet imperiousness.

“I knew it!” she made answer; but there was no triumph in her words, “I knew how it would be. Oh, if only I could have been here to take care of you, you poor lamb among social lions! Listen to me! You’re not to stir from my side all evening. Understand? Now mind me! I am going to see that nobody is woozzey to you or lets you stand all frumped up alone in a corner any more.”

“An’ spoil your own good time?” snorted Caleb. “Not much! You chase on an’ get talked to an’ made much of, you little girl! An’ I’ll get all the fun I want, watchin’ the hit you make. That’s no lie.”

[181]“I’d rather be with you, if you don’t mind,” she insisted, “We’re chums, aren’t we? Well, then, mind me and do as I say! We’re going to stay right together.”

For some unknown reason, Caleb felt happier than he had for days. He was ashamed of the feeling, but so strong was it that he made no further demur. People were starting for the music room. Piloted by Desirée, (who managed to make it perfectly clear to divers and sundry youths, en route, that she was quite content to remain with her present escort) Conover found himself at last, enthroned on a maddeningly uncomfortable camp-stool; with the girl at his left side.

The musicale opened with a long, intricate piano solo; played with splendid persistence by a short young man with long hair. The night was hot. The bright-lit, overcrowded room was hotter. Caleb had eaten largely and had drunk more than was his wont. There is something very soporific, to the Philistine outlander, in a rendition of ultra-classical music long sustained. Conover shook himself impatiently to scare off the drowsiness that threatened to enmesh him. Desirée glanced at him with merry encouragement as the tireless pianist’s last reluctant note was followed by a ripple of civil applause. The clapping and Desirée’s look combined to bring Caleb’s drowsy senses back to normal wakefulness.

“That chap,” he whispered, “can’t play anywhere near as good as you do. Lord, but he did hit that old pianner some cruel ones! After he’d tired it all[182] out, too; so it couldn’t get back at him. I bet them keys wish they had your white little fingers pettin’ ’em instead of that blacksmith’s. What’s this next turn goin’ to be?”

“A tenor solo,” she answered. “It’s the ‘Siciliana’ from Cavalleria Rusticana. Oh, good! It’s to be accompanied by the harp. It always ought to be, I think. Don’t you?”

“Sure!” responded Caleb, with an air of loyal certainty.

But Desirée was too much engrossed in the prelude to admonish him.

A few staccato chords; then began the song. At first, repressed floridity of phrase; then passion bursting starkly through the convention of stilted word and melody; rising at last to a crescendo where speech failed and a hot-gasped “A—ah!” broke off the strain.

To Caine, listening impassive on the other side of Desirée from Conover, the air conjured up its picture as vividly as though the scene lay before his eyes. Gray dawn in the gray-walled Sicilian village, high on the mountain top. Gray dawn of Easter, above the sleeping hamlet. One figure half hidden by the abutting angle of the stone houses, the only human being abroad. One figure,—a man, guitar in hand, singing that mad love song beneath the casement of the woman he had won—lost—and wrongfully won again. Turiddu, the returned soldier, serenading Lola, fickle wife of Alfio, the absent teamster; Alfio[183] under whose knife-thrust Turiddu was destined to fall, before the yet unrisen sun should stand at high noon above their sordid little village world. And, contemptuous of his half-foreseen fate, the wooer was singing to the woman whose love was to bring him death.

Mad, undisciplined, lawless adoration now moaned, now cried aloud, in both air and words. What mattered the holy day, the avenging husband’s steel, the forsaken Santuzza, who was sobbing alone somewhere in that huddle of blind houses? Love was king. The pirate love who knows its stake is death; and, unafraid, tempts its fate.

“C’è scrito sangue so prala tua porta—;
Ma di restarci a me non me n’importa!”

Then in a last burst of gloriously insane protestation:

“Si per te muojo e vado in Paradiso,
Non c’entro se non vedo il tuo bel viso!”

And that yearning, wordless passion-fraught cry wherein supreme longing rushed beyond the bounds of speech.

A rumbling mutter of the harp-strings. And silence.

“The sublimated howl of a back-fence tom-cat!” muttered Caine, to himself; the garish brain-picture fading.

[184]A momentary, tense hush fell over the audience as the final chords trailed off into nothingness. Then, before the utter stillness could be broken by the burst of ensuing applause, another sound—hideously distinct, vibrant, long-drawn,—cut raggedly through the breathless quiet. The sound of a full-lunged, healthy snore.

Caleb Conover was sleeping like a child.



The musicale was over. The first floor of the Standish house looked as though a devastating army had camped there. Caine, who had lingered for a goodnight word with Letty, glanced over the empty music room.

“I wonder,” he said, “if there is anything else on earth quite so vacant as the place a crowd of guests have just deserted. They always seem to have carried away with them whatever local atmosphere there was and to have left behind a vacuum of desolation.”

Letty did not answer. She was tired, nerve-worn, relaxed, after the evening’s strain. Characteristically, she was aware of a mild desire to make someone else uncomfortable. Someone who cared for her enough to be hurt. Caine suited her purpose to perfection. Hence the sheath of grieved silence that always brought him hastening to the anxious seat. The ruse prevailed now, as ever.

“You aren’t unhappy about anything, are you, dear?” he queried solicitously.

“Oh, no!” she replied, a throaty quaver in her voice.

[186]I haven’t done anything, have I?” came the second stereotyped question in love’s catechism.

“Oh, no!” she returned briefly with full feminine power of making the answer read, “Oh, yes!”

“But what?” he begged.

“Oh, nothing!” with the rarified loftiness that precedes a plunge into the vale of tears, “Nothing! Nothing at all.”

Nor was it until he had rung all the traditional changes on the query and had worked himself into a state of pitiable humility that she would consent to burst forth into the flood-tide of her grievances.

“You made me so unhappy,” she wept. “It was all your fault. Why did you do it? How could you?”

“Please—please tell me!” he urged. “I don’t understand. How?”

“That disgusting man! That brute you brought here!”

“Conover? I didn’t bring him. Your father—”

“He is your friend, though,” she insisted, “And he frightened me and he behaved so abominably. And everybody laughed when he went to sleep. I could have died of mortification.”

“But why?” he reasoned. “You weren’t responsible for him. If anyone had cause to feel mortified it was Miss Shevlin who sat beside him. Yet she—”

“Please don’t talk about her!” demanded Letty with a flash of watery dignity, “I have enough to[187] bear without that. If she chose to sit up, looking unconcerned, and talking to him as if nothing had happened, and keeping the brute wide awake and interested all the rest of the evening—it was probably because she knew no better. I suppose her sort of people—”

And here the gods deprived Amzi Nicholas Caine of wisdom.

“She’s a little thoroughbred!” he interposed stoutly, “I never saw anything better done in my life than her treatment of that poor, sheepish, suddenly-awakened chap. It made one ashamed of having wanted to laugh. I—”

“If you are going to take other people’s part against me,” sniffed Letty, “you needn’t trouble to wait here any longer. Goodnight. I am very tired and very miserable.”

Caine forthwith performed prodigies of self abasement that little by little wooed Letty back from tears to temper.

“Just the same!” she snapped. “It was your fault. If it hadn’t been for you, I’m quite sure Father would never have invited him.”

“I never heard of your father’s sacrificing his own wishes to that extent for my sake,” said Caine, unwarily. “If he invited Conover out of compliment to me, he didn’t think it important enough to tell me so. Shall I thank him?”

“No, no!” cried Letty in alarm. “And,” with recovering self-control, “I never want to see that[188] man again as long as I live. I feel—strangled—when he is near me. As if he were trying to master me as he does his railroads and legislatures. He hypnotizes me, with his mud-colored eyes and that great lower jaw. I—I hate him. I’ll—I’ll never have to see him again, will I? Promise me!”

Punishment had given place to a demand for coddling. Caine rose ardently to the occasion. Yet she was not content.

Promise me!” she reiterated, “Promise me he’ll never come here again.”

“He’ll have to pay a dinner call,” protested Caine. “Even Conover knows enough to do that, I’m afraid. If he doesn’t, Miss Shevlin will tell him.”

“I won’t be at home!” she declared, fearfully, “I—he can’t make me see him. I never want to see either of them again. Either of them. Promise me I needn’t. Promise me you’ll thrash him if he annoys me.”

She peered coyly up at him from between thin, soaked lashes; her nose quivering. But, for once, loverlike heroics were lacking. For, even as he started to voice the idle promise, a picture of Blacarda,—smashed and unrecognizable, screaming in agony of terror—flashed into Caine’s mind. And the pardonable boast stuck midway in his throat.

“I think you are getting tired of me,” sobbed Letty, accusingly. “If you are, don’t be afraid to say so. I can bear it. It’s only one thing more for me to bear.”

[189]Mrs. Hawarden, at Desirée’s whispered plea, had offered Caleb a homeward lift in her carriage. The Fighter sat in heavy silence throughout the drive. When the carriage stopped at Desirée’s door, he helped her out and, with a grunt of goodnight to Mrs. Hawarden, followed the girl up the walk. Nor did he speak as he unlocked the door for her.

But Desirée was in no haste to say goodnight. A waning moon made the veranda bright. The air was still warm. She threw her cloak over a chair arm and seated herself in a porch rocker; Caleb standing dumbly before her. She leaned back comfortably in the deep chair, looking up with inscrutable eyes at his silhouette that bulked big in the moonlight. Of a sudden, she fell to laughing softly.

“Oh, you big baby!” she cried. “You’ve punished yourself all you’re going to. It’s all right. Now stop being unhappy! Stop! Smile!

“You aren’t sore on me?” he asked in lingering doubt.

“Silly! Why should I be?”

“I—I made awful small of you, the way I acted,” he confessed.

“If I can stand it, you ought to,” she retorted. “Now be friends and stop sulking.”

“You’re sure you ain’t mad,” he queried, still in doubt.

“Mad? Not one smidgin!—I—”

“Oh, Dey,” he interrupted, all contrition. “It was rotten of me! To think of my snorin’ out loud an’[190] makin’ everybody rubber at you while they gave me the laugh! An’ you never batted an eye! You sat there lookin’ so friendly an’ cool, an’ talkin’ to me like nothin’ had happened! I could a’ knelt down and kissed both your feet, I kep’ a’ thinkin’ all evenin’ that you’d most likely take it out on me when we was alone. It’d a’ been only hooman nature if you had. That’s why I came here now. To take my medicine. An’ you ain’t even disgusted with me. You ain’t are you?” he added in hasty need for reassurance.

“Would you have been ‘disgusted’ with me,” she asked, “if it had been I instead of you that—?”

“You know blame well I wouldn’t!” he declared, “An’ I’d a’licked ev’ry man in the place that dared to laugh or look sneerin’. I’d a’—”

“That’s just what I wanted to do,” said Desirée. “If I was cross inside, it wasn’t at you, dear boy.”

“I’ll win out on ’em yet,” growled Conover. “I made a mistake. An’ I’m ashamed of it. The only feller who’s never ashamed of his mistakes is a loonatic. And I ain’t a loonatic, by a long shot. I’m ashamed. But I’ll win.”

“Listen to me!” she demanded, “If there was a big, lovable, splendid child you knew and he insisted on going to play with children who hadn’t the sense to see how fine he was and what good company he could be, it wouldn’t make you angry at him, would it, if he got laughed at for not understanding their stiff, set ways? Of course not. But when he’d had his lesson and had burned his poor stubby fingers,[191] wouldn’t it make you just the least little bit impatient if he began right away to plan to try his luck with those same horrid children again? Wouldn’t you be tempted to spank him or—?”

“You’re dead right, little girl,” he admitted, “An’ you’re a lot cleverer than I am. I—”

“Then you will give it up?” she urged.

“I can’t, Dey! Honest, I can’t. I couldn’t look myself in the face again if I let those gold-shirters beat me out. You see how it is, don’t you? I’m in to win. If I ever was to give up a fight, I could never win another. It’d take the ‘win’ out of me, for keeps. Please don’t make me do it, Dey!”

“All right!” she sighed, in comic despair, “It’s only for your own sake and because I care for you.”

“If it’s goin’ to make you unhappy or ashamed of me, I’ll give it up,” he said with slow resignation.

“No,” she forbade. “You needn’t feel that way about it. It doesn’t make me unhappy, except on your account. And I couldn’t be ‘ashamed’ of you if I tried all day. You know I couldn’t.”

“You’re the dandiest, littlest, prettiest girl there is!” he said gratefully, “An’ those big eyes of yours kind of make me feel like I was in church. Now I’ll chase home an’ give you a chance to do some sleepin’. Say—” as he started to go, “What do you think of Miss Standish?”

“Why,” she answered, perplexed, “I never thought much about her. She’s very nice;—and pretty, too; isn’t she?”

[192]“Looks a little like a rabbit, don’t she?” he ventured.

The girl’s quick laugh flashed out and she clasped her hands together.

“Beautiful!” she cried. “How did you ever think of it?”

“Struck me the first time I saw her,” he replied, flattered, “I told her about it to-night at dinner.”

“Caleb! You didn’t!”

“Honest, I did!” he reiterated. “I—”

“What did she say?”

“Oh, she didn’t seem to mind. Got sort o’ red, an’ grinned. I guess she liked it. Her’n me didn’t get on so bad together, takin’ all into account. I guess we’ll pull together first rate when we’re better acquainted.”

“You seem pretty certain of being ‘better acquainted’”, she mocked; albeit there was a little tug at her heart.

“I am,” he answered, coolly, “The fact is, Dey, I’m thinkin’ of makin’ it a case of marry.”

For a moment she did not answer. The footfalls of a pedestrian sounded rhythmically distinct in the silence that fell between the man and the girl. Then Desirée observed, with a slight restraint that sat strangely upon her:—

“I don’t think that is a very nice joke.”

“’Tisn’t a joke at all,” Caleb assured her, “I mean it. I’d a’ talked it over with you before, only the idee never came clear to me till to-night. Here’s how it is—”

[193]“You—you care for her?” asked Desirée very quietly. Caleb, full as he was of his own aspirations, noticed how dull and lifeless her voice had all at once grown.

“You’re tired out!” he cried, all remorse, “Here I keep you up, listenin’ to my fool talk when you ought to be sound asleep! Nice sort of guardian I am! I’m goin’—”

“No. Wait!” she ordered, with a pitiful shadow of her wonted dainty imperiousness, “I’m not tired. Tell me. Are you in love with her?”

“In love with her?” scoffed Caleb. “With that little rabbit-faced bunch of silliness? Not me! But she comes of about the biggest fam’ly here. She’s pop’lar ev’rywhere. If I was to marry her, I’d get with the best crowd in Granite. My place’d be as sure as yours’ll be when you marry that gold-shirt chap—whoever he turns out to be—that we was talkin’ about the other day. I was speakin’ of the idee to Caine, only to-night, an’ he says—”


The furious monosyllable snapped through his rambling talk like a pistol shot. Caleb paused in amaze. The girl had risen. Her tiny fists were clinched, her face was hard as a statue’s. The moonlight gave back cold fire from her great eyes.

“How dare you?” she panted, “How dare you! You speak of marrying Letty Standish as you would speak of buying a horse! You even talk it over with the man she has promised to marry! But I suppose[194] you chuckled to yourself over your barroom cunning in getting an opinion from him without letting him know it was his sweetheart you planned to steal. You sneer at her as a ‘rabbit-faced little bunch of silliness’ and yet you speak in the same breath of making her your wife. Do you realize you are not only insulting her by such a thought, but you are insulting me by speaking so in my presence?”

Dey!” gasped the bewildered man, “You must be crazy, child! I never saw you like—”

“Be still!” she commanded, her silver voice ringing harsh, “I forbid you to speak to me, now or any time. A man who can plan what you are planning, and who can boast of it, isn’t fit to speak to any woman. You went to that house as a guest—and you asked mens’ opinions in the smoking room—”

“It was the dressin’ room, Dey,” he pleaded, “An’ it was only me an’ Caine—”

“You ask mens’ opinion,” blazed on Desirée, unheeding, “as to whether you are likely to gain anything in a social way by wrecking an innocent girl’s life. You sit by her at dinner—at her own father’s table—and plan in smug complacency how to separate her from a man she really loves,—and to compel her to marry you. Why, you aren’t fit to marry her chambermaid. There isn’t a groom in her stable that hasn’t higher, holier ideals. Now go! This is the last time I want to see you as long as I live!”

A swirl of soft skirts, the sharp slam of a door,[195] and Caleb Conover, aghast, wordless with dismay stood alone on the little moon-lit porch.

For a full minute he stood there, dumbfounded. Then, from somewhere in the darkness beyond the closed door, came faintly the sound of sobbing. Rending, heartbroken sobs that brought a lump to his own throat.

“Dey!” he called, frantically miserable, “Dey!”

He tried the locked door, and rapped as loudly as he dared upon its panels. The sobbing died away. For an hour Conover waited; alternately whispering the girl’s name and tapping appealingly for admittance. But the house remained silent. At length with a despairing growl he turned away.

“Now what in blazes could a’ made her act like that?” he pondered, half-aloud. “Gee, but I’d rather be horsewhipped than make that kid cry! An’ I s’pose,” he went on as he passed out of the gate, “I s’pose ’bout this time Letty Standish an’ Caine are sayin’ goodnight, all slushly like, an’ grinnin’ at each other, like a couple of measly love-birds.”

He looked back once more at the dark house; sighed noisily, and started homeward. A passing policeman recognized him; and, in deference to the Fighter’s fast-growing political power, so far unbent as to say:

“Good evenin’, Mr. Conover. Fine night, ain’t it? Are—?”

“Oh, go to hell!” snarled Caleb.



The Fighter made life a burden, next day, for the office staff of the C. G. & X. An electric aura of uneasiness pervaded the big station—the indefinable, wordless something that gives warning to the most remote denizens of every office when the “boss” is out of temper.

Yet Caleb, as it happened, was not out of temper. He was merely unhappy. The effect, to casual observers, was the same as on the not very rare days of his rages. But, instead of storming up and down his office as on the latter occasions, Caleb merely sulked in his desk chair, chewed countless cigars, and roused himself every few minutes to make toil a horror for such luckless subordinates as just then chanced to impress their existence on his mind. Hence the President’s private office was shunned like a pest-house by everyone who could avoid going thither.

The office boy, official martyr of the day, shook visibly as he sidled into the room, about three that afternoon, and laid on his chief’s desk a sealed, unstamped envelope. Conover’s scowl vanished as he noted the handwriting. The office boy breathed deeper and his knees grew firm.

[197]“Any answer?” asked Conover; and for the first time since his arrival his voice sounded scarcely more menacing than that of a sick bear.

“No, sir!” piped the youth with a propitiatory grin. “I ast the mes’nger an’ he said—”

“Clear out!” mumbled Caleb, his eyes and mind fixed on the sheet he had clumsily withdrawn from the envelope.

The boy departed; swaggering into the main office with all the conscious heroism of a lion-tamer. The door, wind-caught, swung shut behind him with a slam that turned swagger into helpless panic. But no dreaded voice howled a reprimand through the panels. Caleb Conover was reading and re-reading a few scribbled lines in exaggeratedly large writing. The Fighter’s face softened as he read. Then, glancing about in shame-faced caution, he hastily lifted the note; brushed it across his lips with a furtive, yet careless mien; as though the gesture might have been employed to cover a yawn. Contemptuous of the first covert loverly deed of his career, he cleared his throat and for the sixth time read the scrawled words. Half audibly, he perused them; smiling to himself.

Please, I’m good now. I don’t think I’m EVER going to be bad again. Wouldn’t it be fine if you should come and take me for a walk this afternoon? D. S.

“Isn’t she the dandiest ever?” Caleb asked himself gleefully as he straightened his tie before the office[198] mirror and jammed his felt hat down over his forehead, “Why can’t the Letty girl be like her? Then there’d be some pleasure in gettin’ married. Hope she and Dey’ll be friends. If they ain’t—”

He strode through the outer office, looking so human that his expression, combined with the far more important fact that he was evidently departing for the day, put the whole staff into the utmost good humor for the rest of the afternoon.

It was a very natural, self-controlled Desirée who met Conover on the porch of the Shevlin cottage. If hers had been the muffled sobs that had sent him home with a lump in his throat—if she had lain wide-eyed, tortured, till broad daylight—there was no hint of such excess in her flower face nor in the girlish vigor of her pose. Conover, doubtful as to how he might best refer to the quarrel of the previous night, for once did an absolutely wise and tactful thing. He made no mention whatever of the affair.

“It was such a gorgeous day,” Desirée was saying, “that I felt I ought to let you know what beautiful weather it was. You’d never have thought to look, for yourself. You know you wouldn’t. Now take me somewhere. Anywhere, so long as it’s far enough. And I want to walk; not drive. Where are we going? It’s got to be somewhere outside of this squiffy, hot old town. Out where there’s a whole sky-ful of air.”

“How’d you like to walk out to the Arareek?” he suggested, “We can sit on the stoop there and drink seltzer lem’nade an’ watch the paretics chase gutta[199] percha pills over the golf links. Would you care ’about doin’ that? There’s a big view there for folks that cares for that sort of rot.”

She assented gaily and they set off, walking close together and chattering like a couple of schoolgirls on a holiday. Caleb felt oddly young and buoyant. The girl had ever the power of imparting to him, when they were alone together, something of her own youth and gaiety. To-day, the spell worked with double force, because of last night’s scene. It would have needed a far cleverer onlooker than Conover to detect any artificiality in Desirée’s high spirits. She bullied him, petted him, cajoled and instructed him by turns as was her wont, until they had entered the Arareek grounds. Then of a sudden she fell silent.

The deep clubhouse veranda was filled with knots of men and women. Among the idling groups, the girl had recognized Letty Standish and Caine. Jack Hawarden, who was sitting with the couple, ran down the steps to welcome the newcomers.

“There are two extra chairs at our table,” he said eagerly, “And I believe they’re the only two left on the whole veranda. I wondered why no one took them. Now I see it was providential.”

Caleb hesitated, glancing in doubt at Desirée. The girl, a little to his surprise, assented with perfect willingness to Jack’s suggestion, and led the way between several bevies of frankly admiring men and openly curious women, toward the table where Caine and Letty were seated. Miss Standish’s cheeks were[200] flushed as she noted their approach. Nor did her gentle face wear quite its best expression. But Caine, masculinely obtuse, was very evidently glad to see them. He signalled a waiter as Caleb and Desirée seated themselves.

“When Providence ordained hot days like this,” said Caine oracularly, “He mercifully devised seltzer lemonades to go with them. Would you rather have a Scotch-and-soda, Conover?”

“No thanks,” demurred the Fighter. “No use in spoilin’ two perfec’ly good things like booze an’ water by fizzin’ ’em up together.”

“That is so,” agreed Caine tritely, “Mixing whiskey with water is like merging love into matrimony. It—”

Letty giggled appreciation. She had a marvellous ear for humor, and could almost always tell by a speaker’s tone when he had said anything funny. It was a natural gift many girls envied her. In the midst of the laugh she remembered Desirée’s presence and fell back on her defenses of gentle reserve.

Caine was hailed from another table and went across to reply to some question. Jack, too, was for the moment, leaning over to speak with someone on the lawn below. Caleb, left alone between Desirée and Letty, racked his brain for something to say. For once, Desirée did not help him. She was gazing out with dreamy joy at the beautiful grounds; her eyes resting longest on the stately avenue of trees that wound up to the house. Thus it devolved upon Letty[201] to save the conversational ship from utter wreck.

“I hardly thought to see you here, Miss Shevlin,” she observed with a graciousness that did not however leave the second personal pronoun quite unaccented.

“Why not?” asked Desirée, simply. “I hear some really very nice people come here,—sometimes.”

“I—I meant I feared you would hardly feel at home,” persisted Letty, walking round-eyed toward destruction.

“Oh, I don’t,” Desirée assured her, with a child-like smile. “At home I never see men sit with their feet on a veranda rail. And I never see women drinking whisky there, either,” she added with a glance toward a nearby table whither a tray of high-balls had just been borne.

“I wonder you came, then,” sputtered Letty, with a despairing effort at cold reproof.

“One goes anywhere nowadays,” replied Desirée. “And besides,” she sighed raptly, “I love the country. Everything about it always has a charm for me. From trees like those splendid old oaks, down to—” her eyes swept the scene for an antithesis; accidently resting for the remotest instant on Letty’s profile as she finished, “down to the funny little rabbits with their ridiculous round bodies and bulging, scared eyes.”

“Gee!” groaned Caleb to himself, glancing helplessly from one girl to the other, “It must be hell to be a Mormon!”

[202]For a moment, Letty pondered on Desirée’s harmless speech.

Then, all at once, a queer, gurgling little sound rumbled far down in her throat and she slowly grew pink. Her nose quivered a mute appeal to all mankind. Caine mercifully returned at this juncture. All unconscious of the smouldering fires, he proceeded, man-like, to stir up the coals.

“You have made one more of an endless line of conquests, Miss Shevlin,” he announced, “General Greer,—Miss Standish’s uncle, you know,—called me over to his table expressly to ask who you were; and to demand, in lurid diction, why he had never met you before. He is coming over here in a moment, if you’ll permit, to be introduced to you. You don’t mind?”

“Why, of course not,” said Desirée in sweet effusion, “Miss Standish knows how glad I am to meet anyone connected with her. By the way, she and I have been raving over the joys of country life. We—”

Letty was saved by the advent of an elderly man, apoplectic of mien, stumpy of gait, who hobbled across to their table and greeted her with a bluff manner he had spent many busy years in mastering. Then, without waiting for her reply, he nodded to Jack and looked expectantly toward Caine. The latter rose to the occasion.

“Miss Shevlin,” he said, trying to make the act[203] seem bred of an unexpected meeting, “May I present General Greer?”

The General bowed low; his best old-world air and his corpulence battling doughtily for supremacy in the salutation. He was about to follow up the bow with some remarks of a fatherly yet admiring nature, when Caine, with malice aforethought, broke in:

“And, General, may I introduce Mr. Caleb Conover?”

The old man’s honeyed words collided with a snort that sprang unbidden from his throat; resulting in a sound that was neither old-world or fatherly.

“Conover, eh?” he rapped out. “Heard of you, sir! Heard of you!— Too often, in fact. You’re the fellow that’s always buying up our legislators, aren’t you? Why do you do it, sir?”

“Because they’re for sale,” said Caleb, unruffled. “I guess that’s ’bout the only reason I’m able to.”

“You mean to accuse the men who represent our interests at the Capital,—to accuse them of being willing, untempted, to sell their vote?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t go so far as that,” answered Caleb with a tolerant grin. “They ain’t all waitin’ for chances to sell their vote. Some of ’em prefers to rent it out by the year.”

“Do you want me to believe such a libel on our statesmen?” declaimed Greer. “On the men we—”

“I’m not exactly coaxin’ you to believe anything,” replied Caleb, pleasantly, “An’ I ain’t liable to lay[204] wake nights moanin’ because you doubt it. If the people didn’t want to be run by a lobby, they wouldn’t be. That’s all there is to it.”

“I didn’t come to discuss ethics with a man of your stamp,” sneered the General. “But I can tell you you are wrong—wrong, sir—in thinking the people will always stand such conditions as you and your kind are thrusting upon them. Only yesterday one of my clients was telling me that if he could not curb your legislative influence by fair means he would—”

“Come to you for help?” finished Caleb blandly.

General Greer stared at him speechless, apoplectic. Letty, who, despite years of sharp contrary experience, still clung to the fond delusion that she was the spoiled-child-niece of fiction who could twist an otherwise crotchety uncle about her finger, now intervened with one of her inspired blunders. The General’s rumbling voice had drawn attention to their table and Miss Standish conceived a plan of pouring oil on the thundrous waters.

“Why, Uncle Guy!” she pouted prettily, “You’ll make Mr. Conover think you’re in earnest in the dreadful things you are saying to him! It’s just dear Uncle Guy’s bluff way, Mr. Conover, that he picked up when he was commanding soldiers in the army. He’s really a darling old lamb, if only—”

After one long, dumb glare of annihilation at his self-appointed spoiled-child-niece, the darling old lamb stumped away, bleating blasphemously.

“I wonder,” conjectured Desirée, looking up from[205] her tall glass, “why seltzer lemonades make such squizzy sounds through the straw when the glass is almost empty.”

“If that’s a hint,—” observed Caine, glancing about for a waiter.

“No,” she replied. “Only a scientific comment. Oh, it is good to be in the country a day like this.”

“I’ll be in the country for the summer, this time next month,” said Jack Hawarden, “Mother’s taken the same cottage at the Antlers we had last year. It will be nice to get back to the old Adirondacks again.”

“The Adirondacks?” exclaimed Desirée. “Oh, take me along. I’ve always wanted to go there!”

Letty, pained at a suggestion so palpably immodest, looked in frightened appeal to Caine. But Amzi was once more talking to people at the next table. So Miss Standish drew around her an aloofness that lifted her high above any ribaldry that might be bandied about her.

“You’ve never been?” asked Jack in surprise, “You’ve missed a lot. There’s no other region just like the Adirondacks. It rains about a third of the time, as a rule. But when it’s clear you forget it can ever be anything else. The breath goes down a mile deeper into your lungs than it can in any other part of the world; and you never get tired. A sort of perpetual ozone jag. Almost any place there is worth going to. We generally hang out at the Antlers,—Mother and I. Up on Raquette Lake, you know. It’s different from other places. It’s run by[206] Charlie Bennett, a giant of a man as broad as Mr. Conover and half a foot taller. He and Father are old chums from the time when it took three days to get into the wilderness and when you could shoot Adirondack bear for breakfast any morning. Bennett used to be Father’s guide in those days. Now, I suppose he could buy and sell Dad half a dozen times over.”

“I wish I could go there—or anywhere at all in the Adirondacks,” sighed Desirée wistfully. “I read once—”

Caleb noted the longing inflection and made quick mental memorandum of it.

“How big’s your cottage, Jack?” he asked the boy.

“Four rooms. We get our meals at the hotel. Why?”

“Oh, nothin’!” Continuing with elephantine humor, “Though maybe I might drop in on you sometime. How many of you goin’ to be there?”

“Father can only stay a month this year. After that there will be only Mother and I. Did you really think of joining us? We’d be ever so glad. There’s an extra room.”

“Much obliged. I’ve never took a vacation yet, an’ I guess I’m a little bit too old to begin. I don’t b’lieve in vacations. Neither would you if you could see how my clerks look when they get back from ’em. The first day back, you’d think they was beginnin’ a life sentence in prison. It costs ’em six months’ savin’s to grow a bunch of callous spots on their hands[207] an’ tan on their faces that they could a’ got free of charge, workin’ in my freight yards. When d’you expect to go to the country, Miss Standish?” he broke off, remembering belatedly his new-chosen role of attentive swain, and turning unexpectedly upon Letty before she had an opportunity to resume the aloofness which she had just discarded as unnecessary.

“I—I don’t quite know yet,” she made reply, unreasonably scared by his sudden glance, “We shall probably stay in town rather late this year.”

“Good!” approved Caleb. “I hope we’ll see a lot of each other.”

And, looking into his light, masterful eyes, the girl knew all at once that she would not have the wit nor the force to avoid him. The knowledge turned her sick. Her round, helpless gaze shifted involuntarily to Desirée, as the nearest woman to her. And, under the genuine fright behind that appeal, the steel glint that had of a sudden hardened Desirée’s big eyes, softened unaccountably. A quick sentence that had risen to her lips died unborn.

For a moment, before convention could lower the veil, the two women read each other to the very soul. At what the brief glance told her, Letty drew her breath with a sharp intake that made Conover glance at her inquiringly. To cover her confusion, Miss Standish plunged into speech on the first subject that crossed her mind.

“I hope you didn’t mind Uncle Guy’s rudeness, Mr. Conover,” she began, “He really doesn’t mean half the cross things he says. He suffers so dreadfully[208] from dyspepsia and—and there are sometimes family troubles, too, that—”

“I know,” assented Caleb, “I’ve heard. Married a wife that was too rich for him. She don’t always agree with him, I hear, an’ I s’pose it gives him mental indigestion. No offence. I forgot they’re rel’tives of yours.”

“I’m sorry, just the same, that he spoke so threateningly to you,” went on Letty.

She found it so easy to talk to him now. A weight seemed off her heart.

“Threats don’t keep me guessin’ very much,” Conover reassured her, delighted at her new ease of bearing toward him, “No one’s goin’ to do a rich man any real harm or hold grouches against him. To him that hath, it shall be forgiven. That’s in the Bible, ain’t it? Or somethin’ like it. The trouble with men like your uncle is that they don’t see any farther ahead than twenty years ago. Business an’ pol’tics have changed a lot since then. But the old crowd don’t see it. They’re like a feller that rows a boat. They move ahead because the boat carries ’em ahead. But they’re always facin’ astern.”

He felt he was talking amazingly well. He was almost annoyed when Desirée, having sat in troubled silence for some minutes, rose abruptly and proposed that they should go.

Letty Standish, watching them depart, was saying over and over to herself in a rapturous sing-song:

“She won’t let him make love to me. She won’t! She won’t!”



One morning, a week or so later, Caine strolled into Conover’s private office. Under the young newspaper owner’s customary jauntiness was a hint of something more serious. Conover, as skilled in reading men as he was ignorant in deciphering any problem relating to woman, was aware, at a glance, of the subtle change.

“Sit down,” he said, nodding to his secretary to go, “What’s wrong? If you’re scared because Steeloid fell off three-quarters of a point yesterday, you can rest easy. I did it myself on ‘match’ sales; and a few others—”

“It isn’t Steeloid,” said Caine, “It’s nothing that really concerns me. But I thought you would want to know about it.”

“Fire away, then,” vouchsafed Caleb, “Have a cigar? These with the gold-an’-red life belts are nice to look at. But if you want something that tastes better’n it looks, try one of the panatelas. The ones without illustrations on ’em. Now what is it?”

“It’s about Miss Shevlin,” began Caine, with reluctance.

Conover’s massive calm fled. He brought down his[210] crossed legs from the desk corner with a bang and whirled his chair about.

“Speak it out, quick!” he ordered sharply. “Ain’t sick, is she?”

“No, no. This is different. You’ve heard of Ex-Governor Parkman’s plan to start an anti-graft crusade, of course?”

“Sure!” grinned Caleb, “Them croosades are as certain as measles. Ev’ry city goes through ’em ev’ry once in so often. They don’t do any real hurt and they can’t tie up my bus’ness so’s to bother me any. Let ’em croosade till they’re black in the face. It’ll be good for you noospaper fellers, an’ it won’t harm anybody it’s aimed at. But,” uneasily, “what’s that got to do with Dey?”

“I’m coming to the point if you’ll give me a chance. Parkman’s preparing a set of tables showing not only how municipal funds are squandered at present but how they were misspent in the past. In the course of his investigations, he has come to the City Hall and the County Court House.”

“Well?” queried Conover, “What then? Both of ’em was built ten years ago. That’s over an’ done with.”

“The Shevlin Contracting Company did the work,” interpolated Caine.

“What of that? Neither building’s caved in, has it?”

“Not yet. Though, if all Parkman claims is true,[211] I don’t know why they haven’t. He came to me this morning with the whole story. Proofs, affidavits and all. He wants to give the Star first chance to publish the exposure. I told him to come back at noon, and—”

“What exposure?” asked Caleb in perplexity.

“It seems he took pains to hunt up the original specifications on both buildings,” resumed Caine, “And then he hired an architectural expert to go over the plans and the work and see how the two agreed. Thus far, he has found cheap foundations and sandstone bedding where the best concrete and granite were called for. Stucco has been used in no less than four corridors where the plans called for marble. The ‘solid marble pillars’ on the east portico are ‘composition,’ shells filled with cement. Then the facade—”

“Say, son,” interrupted Conover with perfect sincerity, “what in blazes is the matter with you and Parkman? You’ve bit into a mare’s nest, an’ any practical man’ll tell you so. Of course a contractor’s goin’ to make what he can on a job. He ain’t in the business for his health or to endow the city, is he? He’s got to get his, an’ the pol’ticians who throw the job to him have got to get theirs. An’ that bein’ so, how’s he goin’ to foller out all the arch’tect’s spec’fications an’ still make the right money out of it? He can’t. I thought ev’rybody knew that much pol’tics.”

“Conover,” observed Caine, in unwilling admiration.[212] “I’ve heard people say you’re a man of bad morals. It isn’t true. You’re simply a man of no morals at all. Do you mean to say—?”

“I mean to say business is business an’ pol’tics is business too. I never heard of any good comin’ from mixin’ up morals with either of ’em. If you came here to-day to tell me this story, with an idee that I’d slap my manly brow an’ say: ‘Great heaven! Can such things be?’ you’ve brought your s’prise party to the wrong house. Of course, Shevlin made a good thing out of those two buildin’s. Even after the folks higher up had got their rake-off, I guess he must a’ cleaned up close to $800,000. An’ then the old fool went an’ blowed it all in Wall Street, an’ died before he could make a new pile. But, say! What’s this got to do with—?”

“With Miss Shevlin? I am coming to that. This ‘mare’s nest,’ as you call it, that Parkman has unearthed, may look harmless to you and to other practical business-politicians. But to nine people out of ten it will have very much the look of bare-faced robbery. So much so that it will prove the biggest newspaper sensation of the year. Mr. Shevlin will be everywhere spoken of as—”

“I catch your meanin’!” broke in Caleb, “The ‘Holier’n Thou’ crowd will raise a yell, drag Shevlin out of his snug, comf’table grave an’ croocify him. He’ll be spoke of by the papers an’ by the man on the street as the rottenest grafter of the century. An’ ev’rywhere Dey goes, folks’ll nudge each other an’[213] whisper: ‘Them fine clo’es was bought out o’ the dough her ol’ man stole from the city.’ An’ all the time there’s no less than a dozen cases of city graft goin’ on in Granite to-day that are raw enough to make Shevlin’s deals look like a game of Old Maid! Still,” he muttered, dropping his head on his chest in thought, “all that won’t keep this story from queerin’ Dey in s’ciety and givin’ her a black eye as the daughter of a crook.”

“That’s why I put off Parkman till I could see you,” explained Caine, “He came direct to me with the news. It’s lucky I happened to be in town. If he had gone to my managing editor instead, there would be a scare-head Extra on the streets by now.”

“Well,” returned Conover, “the story’s got to be hushed up, of course. An’ I hate to pay hush-money. But I guess this is one of the times when it’s got to be done. I wonder what’s Parkman’s price?”

Caine laughed, mirthlessly.

“Parkman’s as rich a man as you are,” he said, “And he’s so upright that he bends backward. He would like nothing better than to prove attempted bribery against you. No, the adage about ‘every man having his price’ won’t apply in Parkman’s case.”

“Rot!” growled Conover. “There ain’t a case on earth where it won’t apply. The price ain’t always money; but it’s always dead sure to be somethin’. Only, I ain’t got time, I s’pose, to find out what Parkman’s partic’lar rates are. I wish I had. If I’d had wind of this a week earlier I’d have been able by now[214] to lay my finger on his pet weakness or fav’rite sin or cash price an’ say ‘Shut up!’ An’ he’d a’ done it, quicker’n greased lightning.”

“You’re mistaken,” averred Caine. “But that has nothing to do—”

“I know it has nothin’ to do with this muddle we’re in now,” snapped Conover, “I ain’t sayin’ it has. But Parkman has his price just the same, if only we could find out what it is. There never was but one Man that hadn’t. An’ that was why they put Him to death. What do you want for keepin’ the story out of the Star?” he ended, abruptly.

Caine’s handsome face contracted in sudden wrath. Then, in spite of himself, he broke into a laugh.

“If only you knew better,” he sighed in comic resignation, “you’d be horsewhipped three times a week. What a mighty, impregnable armor is profound ignorance! Unfortunately,” he went on, more gravely, “I couldn’t avail myself of your very tactfully veiled offer even if I chose. The Star is but one of Granite’s four daily newspapers. If I refuse to print the story, the three others remain to—”

“H’m,” mused Conover. “I s’pose so. I s’pose so. In another five years there won’t be a paper in Granite that’ll dare print a word I tell ’em not to. I wish now I’d bought up their stock already; instead of waitin’ until I get some more important deals off my hands. A noospaper is a good weapon for a big man to keep for emergencies. If ’twasn’t for the papers I could a’ pulled off lots of dandy schemes.[215] What a cinch the old-time business men must a’ had before printin’ was invented!”

His voice trailed away. His head once more sank. His eyes were shut; his forehead contracted.

“I thought it only fair—” began Caine.

“Shut up!” grunted Conover, “I’m thinkin’. Leave me be.”

Caine, in no wise offended, held his peace, and watched the big concentrated figure that sprawled so motionless in the desk chair. For several minutes the two sat in silence. Then Caleb opened his eyes. The frown had cleared; the light of battle flickered beneath his shrewd lids.

“Caine,” he said solemnly, “I got a confession to make. You’re the first to hear it. So be flattered. Caine, Ol’ Man Shevlin had nothin’ to do with the Shevlin Contractin’ Company, at the time the City Hall an’ the County Courthouse was started. Six months before then, he’d sold out the whole business to me.”

“What are—?”

“Hold on a second,” ordered Caleb. “Hear all the sad, sad secret before you fly up in the air. I bought out the Shevlin Contractin’ Com’pany, lock, stock an’ bar’l; good will an’ fixtures. I still ran it under Shevlin’s name, so’s to get the good of his old trade. That’s why I worked through agents. I didn’t appear in it at all. I built the Court House an’ the noo City Hall, an’ made close onto a million out of the deal. It was crooked work if you like. But the[216] statoot of limitations’ll keep me from bein’ indicted for it, I guess. An’ if I am indicted, I’ll bet fifty dollars to fifty doughnuts the case’ll never come to trial. Yessir, I’m the guilty man, all right. An’ I can prove it.”

“Are you quite through?” asked Caine with exaggerated politeness, as the Fighter paused.

“Yep. That’s ’bout all. Good story for the papers, hey?”

“An excellent story—for the horse marines,” retorted Caine. “Really, Conover,” he continued almost plaintively, “I don’t see what overt acts of idiocy I have ever committed that you should offer so vile an insult to my intelligence.”

“What d’ye mean?” queried Caleb with bland innocence.

“I mean, every word of that rigmarole is a thread in one of the clumsiest tangles of lies I have ever had the misfortune to listen to. I thought better of your inventive powers!”

“You don’t believe me?” exclaimed Conover, aggrieved.

“I’m not lucky enough to have had the Chess Queen’s training in ‘believing at least three impossible things before breakfast every morning,’” misquoted Caine. “Really, Conover, did it never occur to you that telling an unnecessary lie is almost tempting Providence?”

“The story’s true,” persisted Caleb, doggedly, “Just like I told it to you. I owned the Shevlin Contractin’[217] Comp’ny. Shevlin had been out of it six months. I was the one that did the graftin’ when the two buildin’s was put up. An’ I ain’t ashamed of it.”

Caine looked long, quizzically, into the light, alert eyes that so brazenly met his.

“I really believe you mean to stick to it,” he said at last. “But why? And don’t you see that a single glance at the records will disprove it all? If Shevlin really transferred his business to you, there would be a record of it.”

“There’ll be a record—if it’s needed,” countered the Fighter, “That the easiest part of it all. But it won’t be needed. My say-so will be b’lieved for once. Folks won’t s’pose a man would accuse himself of bein’ a crook if he was reelly on the square.”

“Do as you please,” replied Caine impatiently, “but don’t keep up the farce with me.”

“All right,” assented Caleb with cheerful acquiescence, “I won’t, if it jars you. But that’s the story that’s goin’ out under my name. An’ you’re the man who’s goin’ to help me. Now, listen to me, an’ be sure you get my instructions right. An’ don’t butt in with any objections. Because I need you to help me. If you don’t, some other paper will. May as well get a ‘beat’ for the Star. Besides, you know I can help folks sometimes who helps me. There’s other deals besides Steeloid. Will you stand by me? Is it a go?”

The Fighter’s tone had deepened to a growl that[218] held more menace than appeal. His eyes were fixed in scowling command on his visitor’s face.

“This cringing attitude of yours touches me to the heart,” said Caine; speaking lightly, though he felt the other’s magnetic domination throughout his entire being, “What do you want me to do?”

“I want you,” dictated Conover, “to go back to your office and send for your best reporter. Don’t put this up to your managin’ editor, but handle it yourself. The reporter will work a lot better when he thinks it’s a story the owner’s int’rested in. That’s workman-nature, ain’t it?”

“Go ahead,” smiled Caine, fighting against that merciless domination which found expression in the man himself, not in his words.

“Send for your best, sharpest reporter,” resumed Caleb, “Give him an outline of this case against old Shevlin. Tell him to spread himself on it. As a starter, tell him Shevlin an’ me used to be friends, an’ suggest that he’d better chase around here first of all an’ interview me, to find out if I ever heard of the graft trick that was worked on those two public buildin’s. I never let reporters get in here; but I’ll make an exception in this case, ’cause he’ll bring a pers’nal note from my pers’nal friend, Amzi Nicholas Caine, Esquire. I’ll talk to him kind of guarded-like. But pretty soon I’ll get rattled under his questions, an’ let out enough to put him on the right track. Then when I see he’s s’picious, I’ll give in an’ tell him the whole thing, an’ exonerate ol’ Shevlin to beat the band.[219] That reporter’ll feel like the man who went out for squirrels an’ brought home a bear. Then, when he reports back to you, I want you should be firm in your dooty to the c’moonity. You must decide that pers’nal friendship can’t stand in the way of the public’s sacred right to find out things that’s none of their business. Print the whole terr’ble trooth. Don’t spare me. But see that you clear Shevlin’s name till it shines like it had a Sat’dy night bath. An’ Dey—ain’t—to—be—mentioned! Understand?”

“Perfectly,” answered Caine, “And I’ll do nothing of the sort.”

“D’ye mean you—?”

“I mean just this: You are the most conscienceless, inhuman brute I ever met; but I have a sort of morbid liking for you. Besides, as you so often take graceful occasion to remind me, I am in your debt for certain financial favors. Also, I have some regard for the truth of what appears in my own newspaper. For all those reasons—and for several more—I’m not going to help you to commit social suicide, nor to stamp yourself as more of a highwayman than you really are. Is that plain?”

“So plain that it’s plumb ugly,” replied Caleb, “But you’ll do it just the same. If it ain’t the Star, it’ll be one of the other papers. That story’s goin’ to be in print by to-morrow mornin’. You speak ’bout likin’ me an’ bein’ in my debt. The best way you can show that likin’ an’ gratitood is by doin’ as I ask now. The Star’s the best paper in Granite an’ it’s[220] read by the best people. Don’t you s’pose I’d rather have folks get their first idee of the story from such a paper as that than to have ’em see it plastered all over the front page of some screechin’ sheet, in letters two feet high?”

“But,” argued Caine, “What sense is there in doing it at all?”

“From a grown man’s point of view,” admitted Caleb, “There ain’t a mite of sense in it. It’s straight craziness. But if you think I’m goin’ to let Dey go around knowin’ the trooth about her old crook of a father who she worships, you’re wrong. She thinks he was a measly saint with a tin halo. An’ she gets pleasure out of thinkin’ it. An’ she’s goin’ to go right on thinkin’ it to the end of the game. What sort of a yellow dog would I be to let her hear things about him that’d make her cry an’ that would sure break her heart? There’s another thing: She’s got into a good crowd now. She goes to folks’ houses an’ has a good time there. Who’s goin’ to invite a crook’s daughter to their house? Or, do you think she’d go to such places, knowin’ how they thought of her father? Not her. She’d die first. Why, ev’ry time folks looked at her in the street, she’d be thinkin’ to herself: ‘It ain’t because I’m so pretty an’ ’cause my eyes look like two chunks of heaven, an’ ’cause when I smile at you it makes you feel as if someone had lent you money.’ She’d think: ‘They’re pointin’ me out as the daughter of Shevlin who stole cash from the city!’ No, no, son! She ain’t goin’ to have none of those[221] things happen to her. Not while Caleb Conover’s on deck. Butterfly smashin’ ain’t in my line. That’s why I say you’ve got to help me. An’ you’ll do it, too.”

“Of course you know,” suggested Caine, “that this will ruin those weird social ambitions of yours?”

“I know nothin’ of the sort. Even if I did, I s’pose I’d have it to do just the same. But it won’t. I’m too well off to go to jail; or to have folks say: ‘Get out!’ when I say ‘Let me in!’ There’ll be a sight of talk in the papers an’ all through the State. But folks get tired talkin’, after awhile. An’ I never get tired risin’. So I’ll win out. When I flash on ’em that merger of the Up-State R. R. with my C. G. & X., they’ll see I’m too big a man to be sat on. That’s comin’ off next week, by the way. An’ bigger schemes to foller. Oh, folks won’t be sore on me long! So you see it ain’t such a great stunt of heroism I’m doin’ for the little girl after all. Now you’d better start. For we—”

“But Miss Shevlin? She will read what the papers are bound to say of you. She will hear what her friends—”

“Yes,” ruefully admitted the Fighter, “She will. I’ll have to take my chances on that. If she drops me, why it’s better’n if s’ciety dropped her. Better for ev’rybody concerned. Unless maybe for me. How’s Miss Standish?”

“Quite well, thank you. She—”

“I’ve been meanin’ to come ’round and pay that[222] dinner call. But I’ve been pretty busy. An’ Dey says there’s no great hurry.”

“Just now,” answered Caine, remembering Letty’s moist appeal, “The Standish household is a little upset. I’d call sometime later, if I were you. They will understand. Clive Standish is down with mumps, poor little chap.”

“There’s only two kind of kids,” philosophized Conover, “Bad ones and sick ones. But I ain’t afraid of catchin’ anything. I’ll be ’round there in a day or two, tell her.”

“By the way,” remarked Caine, to change the subject he found vaguely distasteful, “Miss Shevlin tells me she has been invited to spend the summer at the Hawardens’ cottage at the Antlers.”

“Yes,” returned Caleb, drily, “Kind of Mrs. Hawarden, wasn’t it? Dey’s as pleased as a small boy with a revolver. She’s been crazy to go to the Adirondacks. I never knew she wanted to till last week, or—”

“And Mrs. Hawarden providentially invited her the next day?” put in Caine, his mouth-corners twitching.

“That’s right,” assented Caleb, “I guess some big-hearted philanthrofist just took such a fancy to Mrs. Hawarden as to pay the whole fam’ly’s board bill there for the season;—on condition she asked Dey. But keep that to yourself; for maybe it’s just a wrong guess. An’ I wouldn’t have Dey know it for a thousand dollars. Now go an’ send that reporter here.”

[223]“I wonder,” mused Caine, as he departed on his queer mission, “what Caleb Conover would be if all the rest of the world were like Desirée Shevlin. It’s more interesting, though,” he added, “to conjecture what he would be like without Desirée Shevlin. Where would he stop, if she were out of his life?”



Next morning, the Granite Star made known to the world at large that grievous wrong had been done to the city and to its taxpayers when their two foremost public buildings had been erected. These edifices, hitherto the pride of Granite, were constructed of cheap, inferior material: were ill-put together and were, in short, a disgrace, a byword and a hissing. The city and county had paid for first-class work. They had received fourth-rate value for their money.

And the miscreant on whom the sole and total blame rested was Caleb Conover, President of the revivified C. G & X. railroad. He, hiding behind the honorable name of a man since dead, had robbed the city with one hand and the county with the other. Now, through the cleverness of a Star reporter, his culpability was at last unearthed.

Further, the Star desired, editorially, to avoid needless exploitation of scandal and the bringing to light of misdemeanors for which there now appeared to be no legal penalty. But it owed a duty to its constituents, the thinking class of Granite. Perhaps Mr. Conover, having, since the regrettable transactions, reared upon such fraudulent foundations a fortune which was estimated[225] as verging upon the two million mark, would see his way toward making restitution.

To which quip of Caine’s the Fighter retaliated by depressing Steeloid stock. This bit of practical repartee led to a second editorial to the effect that what was done was done, and that perhaps the wisest and most dignified course would be to let the unfortunate matter rest where it was. The lesser newspapers of the town, having bayed with incredible loudness and ferocity the moment the Star gave voice, now showed inclination to follow the leader’s example in letting the scandal die out.

There were no further developments in the case to warrant continuous re-hashing of the story through their columns. Ex-Governor Parkman, finding himself and his crusade unceremoniously side-tracked by this more interesting turn affairs had taken, sulked in his tent. Caleb, after that first momentous interview, would see no reporter. A new sensation was thoughtfully provided by the assistant cashier of the Aaron Burr National Bank who wandered one day from his post of duty and neglected to return; taking with him, in equal absent-mindedness, $18,000 of the bank’s funds.

Caleb and his inspired confession, for all these excellent reasons, were not even a nine-day wonder. Within a week the volcano had subsided. The incident, apparently, was closed. Whether or not the Grand Jury would take steps toward criminal prosecution remained to be seen.

[226]At the end of the week, Caleb, in answer to a peremptory summons, called on Desirée.

“Where have you been?” she catechised with the air of an Angora kitten enacting the role of Rhadamanthus.

“I’ve been busy,” he evaded, “Workin’ on a new deal we’re puttin’ through, an’—”

“Do you know it is eight whole days since you have been near me?” she demanded.

“Nine,” he corrected humbly. “I—I been busy, an’—”

“And you haven’t called anywhere else?”

“Where else could I?” he asked in amaze. “There’s only one place I expected to call. That’s at the Standishes’. An’ they’ve got mumps, there. Besides, I kind of thought I’d wait until some of this noospaper talk quieted down before I went anywheres. That’s—that’s why I didn’t come here, either,” he went on, shamefacedly.

“I knew it!” she declared. “I knew that was it. I wondered if you could be so utterly silly. So I waited. And it seems you could. Aren’t you ashamed? It would have served you right if I hadn’t sent for you at all. Why didn’t you come, Caleb? You surely don’t suppose all that newspaper nonsense made any difference to me, do you? Now stop looking at me as if I’d slapped you and promise not to be so bad any more. Promise!”

“Look here!” blurted Caleb, at once relieved and puzzled, “How was I to know you wouldn’t just about[227] hate me when you heard how I’d acted about those measly public buildin’s? An’ your father’s comp’ny too. Why, I—”

“You don’t mean to say you thought I believed any of the absurd story?” she cried, incredulous. “Why, Caleb Conover, I—”

“It was true!” he protested vehemently, “All of it was true. It was me, an’ not your father that—”

“It was neither of you, if there was anything wrong about the matter,” she decided with calm finality, “I don’t know business and I don’t know politics. But I do know you and I knew Dad. And neither of you could have done a low or dishonest thing if you had tried all day. If the papers choose to twist your business dealings upside down and try to make people think either of you defrauded anybody,—why, so much the worse for people who are stupid enough to believe such falsehoods. That’s all there is about it. I’ve seen cartoons of you garroting the city of Granite, and I’ve read editorials that called you ‘Brute’ Conover and I’ve waded through columns of articles abusing you. And it all made me angry enough to cry. But not at you, you old chum of mine. At the people who wrote such vile things and tried to make the public believe them. Now let’s talk about me. Are you glad I’m going away? Please be.”

“Am I glad I’m not goin’ to see you for more’n two months?” corrected Caleb, “Not much I’m not. It gives me the blues ev’ry time I think of it.”

[228]“But you are going to see me. I’ve thought it all out, and I’ve got your orders ready for you.”

“You don’t mean to say you’re not goin’?” queried Caleb in dismay. “But you’ve got to, Dey. Just think how much you’ve wanted to, an’—”

“Oh, I’m going,” she replied serenely. “I’ve promised Mrs. Hawarden. And, besides, I wouldn’t miss it for worlds. But you’re coming, too. Isn’t that nice?”

She leaned back to watch his delight in her revelation. But he eyed her without a ray of understanding.

“I mean,” she explained, “you’re going to take a nice, long vacation in August or September and coming up to the Antlers. I talked it over with Jack Hawarden and it’s all arranged. There won’t be room for you in the cottage, but you can get a tent or a lodge within a stone’s throw of it; and we’ll have the gloriousest time you ever dreamed of. Isn’t that splendid? Say it is!”

“But Dey,” he objected. “You don’t understand. I never took a vacation in my life. I ain’t got time to. This is goin’ to be the busiest summer yet, for me. I’ve a dozen irons in the fire. I’d like awful well to come an’ see you there, but—”

“I’ve settled it all,” she replied calmly, “And you’re coming. It will only be two weeks;—if you can’t get away for longer. But you’re coming for those two weeks.”

“I can’t, Dey. I’ve got—”

[229]“Now, I suppose you expect me to be a lowly squidge, and sigh and say ‘Oh, very well!’” she retorted. “But I’m not going to do anything of the sort. Listen: You’ve never had a vacation. Then it’s time you took one. I’d be ashamed to be so inexperienced, if I were you. You’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. Very well then; you have two whole months to get enough of them out to let you take a fortnight’s rest. You’ve never gone anywhere with me, Caleb. You’ve just been with me for an afternoon or an evening when half your mind was on that wretched railroad. Think of our being together for two gorgeous outdoor weeks, with nothing to do but have all the good times there are. And in the Adirondacks, too. Caleb!

“I’d—I’d love to, Dey, if—”

“So then it’s all arranged!” she cried, happily.

“Hold on!” he exclaimed, “I can’t. I—”

“Now, I shall have to discipline you,” she sighed. “I see that. I was afraid I’d have to. Look me in the eyes! Now, say after me: ‘I promise to come to the Antlers for a fortnight this summer.’ Say it!”

“I—Why, Dey, I—”

“That isn’t what I told you to say!” she broke in, sternly. “Say it now. Slowly. ‘I promise to—’—Say it!”

“I promise to—” he repeated in resignation.

“Come to the Antlers for a fortnight this summer. Say it!”

“Come to the Antlers for a fortnight this summer,”[230] he groaned, “Lord! What’ll my work do, while I—?”

Now see how nice you are!” exulted Desirée, “You’re being good at last. Don’t you feel happier now you’ve stopped being bad and obstinate? Say so!”

“Does it make you happier?” he evaded.

“Of course it does. But,” she added, paying truth its strict due, “of course I knew you were coming anyhow. Now let’s talk about it.”

“But say,” he protested, “S’pose you an’ your aunt run down to Coney Island or Atlantic City after you leave the Adirondacks; an’ let me come down there instead? There’s lots of fun to be had at those places. But what can I do up in the woods? Just measly trees an’ sky an’ water; an’ not even a Loop the Loop or a music hall, I s’pose. Gee! It’s too slow for my taste.”

“Then it is my mission to improve your taste,” she insisted, frowning down his amendment as unworthy of note, “Don’t you want to like the things I like?”

“Yes,” he answered, obediently.

“And when you know it will give me twice as much fun if you’re there with me, you’ll want to come to the Adirondacks, won’t you?”

“If it’d make any sort of a hit with you, Dey,” he answered in full honesty, “I’d spend those two weeks in a contagion ward. An’ you know it. But what in thunder is there to do, up in the wilderness?”

[231]“We can go on camping trips, for one thing,” she said eagerly, “and cook our own meals out in the forest and sit around camp fires and—”

“I did all those things when I was workin’ on the section gang eighteen years ago,” interpolated Caleb, “An’ got one-eighty-five a day for doin’ it. It didn’t get much enthoosiasm out of me then. Maybe it’s better fun though when you have to pay hotel rates for the priv’lege. Any more aloorments?”

“A great many,” said she coldly. “But I shall punish you by not telling you any of them. You haven’t seen Miss Standish since the day we went to the Arareek Club?”

“No,” he answered, too accustomed to her quick changes of theme to see anything significant in the careless question, “But I hope to see quite a lot of her this summer. She’s stayin’ late in town. An’ it’ll be lonesome for me after you’re gone. I guess she an’ I’ll get better acquainted before fall.”

“You still have that—plan—you spoke of?” she answered, speaking low and hurriedly.

“Sure!” he answered, “I don’t let go of plans, once I’ve took the trouble to make ’em. I’ll let you know how I come out. But there ain’t much doubt.”

He checked himself, remembering all at once how a similar vaunt had been received by Desirée a few weeks earlier. But now, to his covert glance of apprehension, the girl’s delicate face showed no sign of resentment. He noticed, however, for the first time,[232] that her aspect had but a shade of its usual fresh buoyancy; that the soft rounded cheek was paler than was its wont.

“You’re lookin’ all run down, Dey!” he cried, in quick concern, “This hot weather’s hurtin’ you. It’s high time you went away to—”

“Yes,” she interrupted wearily, “It’s time I went away.”



July held Granite in a hot, dry grip that parched the leaves and grass into a grayish green and with every vagrant breeze set the dust devils a-dancing.

Almost everybody was out of town,—with the exception of some nine-tenths of the city’s total population. These unfortunate town-bound mortals sweltered and sweated in office, store and cottage, or sweltered and died in the network of mean streets beyond the railroad tracks. Daily from the slums crept slow lines of carriages, headed too often by a hideous white vehicle which in grisly panoply was carrying some silent child on its first trip to the country; there to have the day of blesséd release from noise and overcrowding marked—if the parents could scrape together enough insurance money—with a white stone. In gutter and alleyway of the tenement district swarmed the gaunt little survivors. In doorways or in shaded corners of roofs or in overcrowded bars panted their elders.

The residence streets one by one had gone blind and lay empty, fraught with a strange lifelessness. Ultra-exclusive Pompton Avenue, its houses converted into still mausoleums, baked under the merciless sun. Its[234] lawns ran rank. From the wide thoroughfare itself arose endless whirls of dust and the smell of boiling asphalt. A few homes still wore the awnings and veranda lattices of June; proclaiming the presence of tenants who could not yet shake from their feet—or from any other part of their grimed anatomies—the dust of the city.

Caleb Conover, in his suffocating private office, toiled on untiring. On his chilled steeled nerves and toughened body, the heat hurled itself in vain. Coatless, collarless, without waistcoat, his shirt neck wide open, his suspenders hanging, he ploughed his daily route through mountains of work; his worn out office force plodding wearily in his impetuous wake. And in these days of dust and scorching sun, Caleb was indeed making hay, after his own fashion. To him was due the fact that more Pompton Avenue residences were open this summer than ever before. Men who in social life were wont to look on him as a pariah, were none the less jumping as he pulled the commercial strings and were dancing to his music. For Caleb, his slow lines at length laid out, was making a general advance upon the financial defenses behind which for years the staid business men of the county had dozed in short-sighted security.

The first news of the attack came with the announcement of his merger of two railroads—the Broomell-Shelp and the Upstate—with the C. G. & X.; which virtually gave the last named road a monopoly of state traffic. Stocks had been hammered[235] down, share-holders stampeded by calamity-rumors, and holdings bought in at panic rates by the Fighter. Then had come reorganization and—presto! the C. G. & X. had benevolently assimilated its two chief rivals. Men who had considered their railroad stock as safe an investment as government bonds now stayed in town for lack of funds to go away for the summer; or else in order to seek eager alliance with the Fighter’s swift-swelling interests. Pompton Avenue was hard hit.

Nor was this the sum of Caleb’s warm weather activities. There were other deals less widely blazoned, yet quite as remunerative; deals that plunged so far beneath the surface of practical politics as to emerge black with the mire of the bottom. But it was gold-bearing mud, and Caleb knew the secret of assaying it. These submerged ventures brought at odd hours to the stuffy private office a succession of slum-dwellers; even as the mergers brought, at other hours, the Pompton Avenue element. Long were the conferences and deeply was the Underworld stirred thereby. Thus, in the maze of hovels “across the tracks,” as well as along the hill boulevards, did Caleb Conover cause unwonted activity of a sort, during the stifling days of dust.

Caine, remaining in town, more to glean in the path of Conover’s sickle than to look after the interests of his own newspaper, was moved to admiring envy. The Steeloid deal which a few months earlier had meant so much for both himself and Conover, was[236] now but a side issue with the latter; a mere detail whose ultimate fate could not materially affect his fast multiplying wealth. The campaign which for years had been Caleb’s objective, was carried through now with a rush and daring that led onlookers, who knew not how long-devised was each seemingly wild move, to catch their breath and wonder when the crash would come. But the crash did not come. It would not come. Conover could have told them that, had he in these hot weeks of ceaseless rush possessed the leisure and will to explain his lightning moves.

Blacarda, too,—emerging from retirement with scarred face, a useless left arm and a heart black with mingled dread, deathless hatred and an obsessed craving for revenge,—Blacarda noted his foe’s sudden triumph and yearned to the depths of his semi-Semitic soul to turn in some way the Fighter’s flank. But, for the moment, he was helpless. He could but set into motion such few schemes of his own as seemed feasible; and begin a course of underground counterplanning, whose progress was by no means rapid enough to ease the hate that mastered him. Meantime, he kept out of the Fighter’s way. For, even yet, his wrecked nerves thrilled treacherously at fear of physical nearness to the brute who had broken him.

To Caine’s casual warning anent Blacarda, Caleb gave no heed whatever. He had conquered the man once. Should the need arise, he could do so again. In the meantime he had no time to waste in following his victim’s crawling movements.

[237]Great was Caleb Conover. He was fighting. He had always been fighting. Just now, battle was as the breath of his nostrils. For he was waging a winning fight; warring and winning on a scale to which he had never before been able to attain. And the militant bulldog part of him was strangely elate.

But, when the hot night came, and the day’s warfare was over, there would ever come upon Conover an odd sense of emptiness, of lonely depression. More than once, absent-mindedly, he caught himself planning to banish the feeling by picking up his hat and hurrying across to Desirée’s home. Then, with a slight shock, he would remember that Desirée was in the Adirondacks and that he was—alone.

He had always known the absent girl was necessary to his happiness; that without her he was a loveless, unlovable financial machine. But now he realized with a sick ache at his heart how utterly he had grown to depend upon her actual presence—on the constant knowledge that she was near. When this, his first clumsy effort at self-analysis, had been worked out, Caleb laughed at himself for a fool. But there was as little merriment in the laugh as with most mortals who seek to evoke self-amusement from the same cause.

It was in one of these desolate moods, after a twelve-hour day’s ceaseless work, that it occurred to Conover one evening to call on Letty Standish. He had not for a moment abandoned his idea of making her his wife. But that would come in due time; and[238] meanwhile he had been busy with matters that could not be so readily postponed. True, he had at last paid the deferred dinner call. But Miss Standish, the butler had said, was not at home. Twice he had repeated the visit, and both times had been met by the same message. This did not strike him as at all peculiar. In summer, people were apt to be out of doors. Perhaps to-night he might find her at home. At all events, the walk would lighten his loneliness.

Painfully donning his highest collar, gayest tie and new cream-colored crash suit, the Fighter turned his face toward Pompton Avenue. As he neared the Standish house, the murmur of voices, occasional bursts of low laughter and the idle twanging of a guitar reached his ears. Several people were grouped on the piazza. So interested were they in a story one of their number was telling that Caleb stood on the topmost step before his approach was noticed.

Letty, following eagerly each tone of the narrator’s voice, in search of the psychological moment for laughing, looked up to see Conover towering over her, bulking huge against the dying dusk. Her involuntary little cry brought the story to a premature close.

It was Caine, who, sitting back among the shadows, rose as usual to the situation.

“Hello, old chap!” he said, cordially, as he came forward, “You loomed up before us like a six-by-four ghost. Letty,—”

Miss Standish had recovered herself sufficiently to welcome the late arrival with a deprecatory effort at[239] cordiality and to introduce him to three or four young people of the neighborhood who dropped in for an informal summer’s evening chat.

“Glad to see you again, Miss Standish!” exclaimed Caleb, heartily, after nodding acknowledgement to the somewhat cold recognition of the other callers. “I’ve been around two or three times. But you’re always out when I call. My bad luck. But I’m goin’ to keep on callin’ just the same. It’s lonesome in town this summer. Lonesomer, seems to me, than it ever was before. So I’m goin’ to stroll ’round here kind of often if you’ll let me.”

He had taken the place on the steps momentarily vacated by a youth who had been sitting by Letty and who had risen when the girl introduced Conover. Letty, while she tried to murmur something gracious in reply to his remark, found herself looking at his shadowy form in abject terror. Even through the gloaming his light, alert eyes seemed to seize and hold her will. The hands she clasped nervously in her lap grew cold and damp. Her nose quivered a distress warning that the cruel darkness rendered of no avail.

“Been up to the Arareek lately?” he went on.

“No. Yes—I—not very lately,” she stammered.

“Neither’ve I,” he answered. “Too hot for the walk. When it gets cooler I’m goin’ to try and get there ev’ry week. I ought to go out more. I’m beginning to see that. My s’ciety manners are gettin’ rusty. Fact is, I’ve had to hustle so hard all my life[240] I’ve never took time to have any fun. But things are shapin’ themselves now like I was goin’ to have a chance to look around me at last. Then I hope I’ll see more of you, Miss Standish,—a good deal more,” he continued, lowering his voice to a rumble that excluded the rest from the tête-à-tête.

“I—I shall be very glad,” faltered the poor girl.

“So’ll I,” he agreed. “I’m not such a stoopid, nose-to-the-grindstone feller as you may think, Miss Standish. I’ve been busy; that’s all. Now that the cash is runnin’ in, I’m goin’ to enjoy it; an’ try to do more in s’ciety than I’ve been able to, so far. A single man don’t get much show to rise in the social back yard; not without he has tricks. An’ I haven’t any,—thank the Lord! But even if I can’t get a lot of popularity for myself, why—maybe I can annex some of it in my wife’s name.”

“Your wife?” she interposed, a hope breaking through the pall of misery that was settling over her, “I didn’t know you were—”

“Married? I ain’t. But I hope to be before I’m so very much older. Ev’ry man ought to marry. ’Specially a man with my money an’ p’sition. I’m able to support a wife, better’n any other feller you know. Don’t you think I’d ought to get one?”

The girl’s dry tongue refused its office. Conover went on in the same loathed undertone of confidence:

“I’ve ’bout made up my mind on that point, Miss Standish. An’ when I an’ the young lady I have in[241] mind gets to be a little better acquainted, I hope she’ll agree with me.”

“Suppose,” gasped Letty, for once fighting back the tears, “suppose the girl you picked out happened to be in love with someone else? Or even,” gasping again, at her own boldness, “even engaged to someone else.”

“I don’t think that’d worry me so very much,” he said slowly, bending nearer to his shrinking hostess, “I’m in the habit of takin’ what I want. An’ I never yet found anyone who could keep me from doin’ it. That sounds like a brag. But it ain’t; as I hope I’ll be able to show you some day.”

The girl rose, shaking, to her feet. The advent of a new guest alone saved her from fleeing panic-stricken to her room. But as a step sounded on the walk below, she paused irresolute.

“Good evening!” said the late comer, limping slightly as he mounted the steps.

At his voice a murmur of surprise rippled from the others. Letty went forward to welcome him.

“Why, Mr. Blacarda!” she exclaimed, “I didn’t even know you were out of the hospital. I’m so glad to see you again. You came to talk to Father, of course. I can’t venture to hope we young people drew you here. I’ll have him sent for,” touching the doorbell, “He’s in his study.”

As a servant departed in search of Reuben Standish, she went on; striving by words to drown her dull terror:

[242]“You know everyone here, I think. Except perhaps—have you ever met Mr. Conover?”

Blacarda halted midway in a step forward, and stood uncertain, gaping. Caleb, however, was charmingly at his ease.

“Hello, Blacarda!” he said effusively, “Hear you’ve been laid up. Too bad! What was it that knocked you out?”

“Nothing that deserves mention from any honest man,” retorted Blacarda, his voice trembling with rage and an irresistible fear.

“As bad as that?” cried Conover, with pleasant badinage, “Be careful to keep out of its way in the future, then, son. These things that don’t ‘deserve mention’ are sometimes apt to be dangerous. ’Specially when you get a second attack of ’em. Hey?”

The words, blatantly meaningless to all save Caine and the man Caleb addressed, deprived Blacarda of speech. The injured guest had an insane impulse to run away. The coarse joviality of his conqueror seemed more fraught with menace than an open threat would have been. The situation was saved by the arrival of Reuben Standish. The banker after a word of recognition to Blacarda, greeted Caleb with a warmth that sent ice to Letty’s heart. Not knowing that her father, like Caine, was also gleaning in the Conover field (and with a profit that bade fair to rehabilitate the crumbling Standish fortune), the girl read in his cordiality only the news that another had fallen under the master sway of the Fighter’s will.

[243]In the confusion of several guests’ simultaneous departure Letty found a chance to slip away to her own room. Nor did she reappear until the sound of a loud “Goodnight!” and the crunch of heavy feet upon the walk told her that Conover had at last gone. On the veranda she found Caine waiting in hope of another glimpse of her.

“What was the matter?” he asked, solicitously, “Why did you run away from us all? Conover waited a long time, hoping you’d come back. At last I told him you had a sick headache. Then—”

“It happened to be true,” she answered brokenly. “Oh, Amzi, I’m so miserable! Why did that man come here? I’ve left word I’m never at home to him.”

“Be nice to him for my sake, won’t you, darling?” pleaded Caine, “I can’t explain. But I—need him very much just now. I can’t afford, for business reasons, to have him offended.”

“But if you only knew—!” she cried; then stopped.

“Knew what? Tell me,” he begged, “Is anything troubling you?”

The formless fear she sought to voice died on her lips.

“No,” she said. “Nothing at all. But I’m very tired. Goodnight.”

And with this lachrymose evasion he was forced to content himself. But before going to bed, Letty, as a last hope, sought out her father.

[244]“I wish,” she entreated, nerving herself to the effort, “I wish you would forbid Mr. Conover the house. I—I hate him. I’m afraid of him. Oh, Father, please don’t let him come here any more!”

Standish looked up from his evening paper with a frown of cold displeasure.

“I do wish, Letty,” he said with the dry little cough that nowadays accompanied his every sentence, “that you would learn self control. You are not a baby any longer. These childish prejudices of yours are absurd. Mr. Conover is—very useful to me—and to the bank,—just at present. Out of deference to me, you will please treat him with courtesy whenever he chances to call!”

But Letty, weeping uncontrollably, had run from the room. She felt herself helplessly enmeshed in a net whose cords her best-loved were drawing tighter and tighter about her.



Conover, during the month that followed, found time from his financial warfare to make three more calls at the Standish house. The soft-hearted Divinity of children and fools was merciful to Letty on those occasions, inasmuch as there were each time other guests on the dusky piazza. The girl thus avoided intimate talk of any long duration with her giant visitor. Yet she noted with helpless dread that at every successive visit the Fighter’s manner told more and more of a subtle understanding between them; of an increasing sense of possession. Wildly, impotently Letty resented this. But she watched its growth with a dazed fascination.

By turns she clung to Caine in a mad craving for protection; or repulsed him with pettish impatience as a defense which she instinctively felt would not be strong enough to guard her when her hour of stark need should come.

More than once it occurred to Letty to tell Caine all her fears. But, stripped of woman’s formless, illogical intuition, what was there to tell? She had no shadow of actual fact to go on; and men demand facts. So she continued to puzzle her lover by alternate[246] spells of effusive demonstration and chilling sulks.

The ever-ready tears, too, began to leave marks. She was not looking her best. In her lonely misery the girl was glad of this. She wished Conover would call by daylight instead of at night, so that he might see and be repelled by what she was pleased to term the “ravages” his attentions were wreaking on her once placid face. Caine and her father, it is true, gave most flattering heed to these “ravages”; but heartlessly ascribed them to hot weather and need of change to the country.

Mrs. Standish’s vitreous gaze, too, mingled a mild curiosity with its irritating benevolence. Once she asked Letty quite tactfully if the engagement with Caine were not perhaps a mistake and if the girl might not be in danger of blighting her God-given young life by a loveless marriage. To which random shot Letty paid the passing tribute of a flood of tears that convinced Mrs. Standish of her own spiritual inspiration in putting the question. The net result of it all was that Letty and her aunt were packed off, with Clive, to the seaside for a month.

Miss Standish’s departure did not greatly trouble Caleb. He himself was nearing the beginning of his much heralded “first vacation.” Indeed, Caine, coming disconsolately to the Fighter’s room, one evening, just after seeing Letty’s train off, found Conover sitting on the floor beside an open trunk. A mass of clothing, also on the floor, radiated away from the[247] trunk on every side. Perspiring, red of face, Caleb was reaching out methodically for garments, folding them with slow care of the self-made man and stowing them away in fast-rising layers in the leathern maw that gaped so hungrily for them.

“I’ve just come from seeing Miss Standish and her aunt off to Block Island,” announced Caine, routing a pile of clothes from a chair and seating himself.

“Block Island, hey?” said Caleb, “Anything like Coney?”

“No,” laughed Caine, “nor like any other place on earth. A treeless plateau above the ocean. Ugly at first glance, but with a hundred-year-old charm that somehow grips one. Sea, sunshine and wind; and the eternal roar of the surf.”

“H’m!” grunted Caleb, disapprovingly, “Nice, lively sort of a joint for a busy man to go lookin’ for fun! ’Bout as jolly as its own jail, I should think.”

“It has no jail,” retorted Caine, “No jail, no almshouse, no asylum. There hasn’t been a criminal, nor a pauper, nor an insane person on the whole island in a century. There is only one policeman—or was when I used to go there. And he used to take turns serving as driver of one of the Island’s two horse-cars. There’s a historic yoke of oxen, too, that—”

“Not a jail—or a crime—or an institootion of any sort?” cried Conover. “Son, you’re stringin’ me! What do the local pol’ticians do for a livin’, then? If Noo York’s a paradise for grafters, this[248] Block Island of yours must be a hell for ’em. Ain’t anyone ever waked up there to the chances that’s layin’ around waitin’ to be took?”

“Don’t talk that way when you see the Standishes again,” counseled Caine, “Mrs. Standish looks on Block Island as part of her religion. She—”

“Yes,” grinned Caleb. “I s’pose so. I can see the old lady doin’ saint-poses on the sand there.”

“All her attitudes are beatitudes,” agreed Caine. But as far as concerned Conover’s comprehension, he might as well have said it in Greek.

“By the way,” went on Amzi, “I have some fairly sure information from our political reporter that ought to interest both of us. It’s about Blacarda.”

“If you mean Blacarda’s got next to the Gov’nor and arranged a special session of Legislature in September,” interposed Caleb, “I knew that a week ago. The Starke bill’s to be flashed on ’em in a new form, without our gettin’ wind of it, an’ it’s to be rushed through, with an idea of knockin’ our Steeloid combine flatter’n a pancake.”

“You knew all this a week ago? Why didn’t you—?”

“It’s my business to know things,” replied Conover, “If I didn’t, I’d be takin’ orders still, instead of givin’ ’em. As for not tellin’ you, what was the use? You’d a’ found it out soon enough; an’ I’ve been too busy to run an inf’mation bureau. I’ll be ready for Friend Blacarda an’ his crowd when the[249] time comes; same’s I was before. Just because I don’t hire a brass band to p’rade the streets carryin’ a placard of my plans, you mustn’t run away with the idee that I’m overlookin’ any bets. I’ve got everything in line. We’ll win out, same as we did last Spring; an’ by a bigger margin.”

“But you may be detained as you were before. And next time you may not get back soon enough. Blacarda will move heaven and earth to keep you away. He knows by now,—as we all do,—that you weren’t boasting when you said your presence in the lobby meant all the difference between defeat and victory.”

“That’s right,” said Caleb, gently flattered, “But I’ll be on deck. It’s a way I’ve got. There’s always a bunch of weak-spined chaps in our crowd in the Assembly that’s so scared at reform threats an’ all such rot that they’re ready to stampede if I’m not on hand to hammer the fear of the Lord into ’em. An’ that same crowd’s still big enough to turn the vote if they bolt to cover. But they won’t. I’ll be there. Blacarda ain’t likely to play the same game twice. Apart from its bein’ useless, he’s too scared. An’ there’s not another trick in all the pack that can get past my handy little bunch of secret service men.”

“But if the bill should pass—”

“It ain’t goin’ to. How often have I got to ding that into your head? It ain’t goin’ to.”

“Perhaps I’m over-anxious,” Caine defended himself, “But you must remember, practically all my[250] money is in Steeloid. On your recommendation I have put every available dollar in it. So have Standish and a half dozen others I know.”

“Then lay back an’ be happy,” advised Conover, “After that bill is smashed an’ the public sees Steeloid is on the ground to stay, the stock’ll take another big hop. If you an’ Standish an’ the others have a few thousands to use in buyin’ on margin you’ll clean up a good lookin’ pile. I’ve got other deals on now that make Steeloid look like thirty cents. So I ain’t lyin’ awake worryin’ on my own account. It’s as much for you fellers as for myself that I’m goin’ to get down to work on the Blacarda matter, as soon as I come back from my vacation. It’ll mean a week or two of big work, on the quiet. Then the bill’s comin’ up an’—goin’ down for keeps.”

“You’re awfully good to give us these tips,” said Caine “And we all appreciate it. But aren’t you afraid Blacarda may attack some other interests of yours as well as Steeloid? He hates you; and he is not the sort of a man to confine himself to a single line of revenge.”

“There’s where you’re wrong, son,” answered Conover, “The trouble with you people is, you get all your learnin’ from books wrote by other folks as stoopid as yourselves. The thing to study ain’t a book. It’s your feller-man. Then there’d be fewer folks took in by gold-brick games. Look at me, now, f’r instance. I never read a book clear through in my life. But there ain’t a man of my ’quaintance I[251] haven’t read through. So, they’re as easy for me to read as a primer. Now, you look at Blacarda as a sort of man who’s li’ble to attack me from a dozen sides at once. That’s ’cause you can’t read him. I can. An’ I know what he’s li’ble to do an’ what he ain’t. Blacarda b’longs to the King Cobra class. Harmless as a kitten to them that knows where his poison’s hid, an’ only dang’rous to folks that picks him up by the wrong end.”

Caleb, warming to his theme, leaned back against the corner of the table and laid down the coat he was folding.

“Men who read men,” said he, oracularly, “rule men. Men who read books are ruled by the folks who wrote them. That’s the diff’rence. Let me explain what I mean by what I said ’bout cobras. I had to run down to Noo York last fall on business. I had a couple of hours on my hands an’ I went up for a look at the Bronx Zoo, there. I went into a squat, Dago-lookin’ joint called the ‘Rept’l House.’ Full of snakes and crawly, slimy things. Big crowd in front of one glass cage. Only snake in that cage was a big, long, brown critter with an eye that wa’nt good to look at. The sign said he was a King Cobra an’ habitated somewhere or other. The attendant wanted to wash the winders of that cage from the inside. What does he do? Does he put his arms in an’ wiggle a mop within reach of Mister King Cobra? Not him. He, or his boss, I guess, had learned to read snakes like I read men. What does he do? He slaps[252] open a little door in the back of the cage, slings in a two-foot black snake an’ slams shut the door, quicker’n scat, before the Cobra knows what’s up. There lays the little black snake wrigglin’, scared like, on the floor of the cage among a lot of little red lizards that’s runnin’ ’round in the sand.

“The King Cobra lifts up till his head’s about six foot above ground, an’ he looks down at the wrigglin’ black snake, like he was sizin’ up whether the little feller has any fight in him or not. An’ say! It was ’nough to give a feller the creeps to see that cobra-snake’s eye as he watched ’tother. Then, he seems to make up his mind the black snake ain’t bent on c’mittin’ sooside by beginnin’ the fight. So down swoops the King Cobra with a sort of rustly, swishin’ rush; an’ he grabs the little snake around the middle. No—not by the head or tail. He’s more mad than hungry. So he grabs him by the middle. An’ he hangs on.

“Now what does the attendant do? He opens the door at the back, kneels on the threshold, leanin’ out right above the King Cobra, an’ ca’mly begins washin’ the winders with his long mop. Ev’ry swipe that man makes at the glass, his hand comes within a foot of the Cobra. But he didn’t even look at the big, pizenous brute coiled up there below his hand. He goes on washin’ the winder like there wasn’t a snake within ten miles.”

“But,” asked Caine, interested in spite of himself,[253] “there was surely danger that the Cobra might drop the little snake and strike at the man? If—”

“That’s just the point!” cried Caleb, “He wouldn’t. His pizen an’ his temper was otherwise engaged. He’d sunk his fangs into one en’my. An’ it ain’t cobra natur’ to let go, once he’s got his grip. I found that out by askin’ one of the keepers. The man with the mop was as safe in that cage, just then, as he’d a’ been in a Meth’dist Conf’rence. The Cobra had just one idee. An’ that idee was already on the job.

“Now, maybe you’re wonderin’ what this long yarn has to do with Blacarda. It has ev’rything to do with him. He’s the King Cobra sort, if ever any man was. An’ in his case, I’m the man with the mop. Blacarda’s fitted out with a whole lot of fancy venom. An’ he’d like nothin’ better’n to get his fangs in me. I can’t say I exac’ly blame him. But I ain’t hankerin’ to get bit. So I throws into his cage a little snake called ‘Steeloid’. An he nabs it. So long’s he’s got his teeth in that, he ain’t got the bigness of mind to bite anything else. When Steeloid’s over, I’ll toss him another little snake, an’ so on to the end of the chapter. He’ll keep gnawin’ away, with the idee he’s hurtin’ me terr’ble. An’ I’ll go ’bout my winder-washin’ bus’ness meanwhile; knowin’ he’s too much took up with his little snake to do me any hurt. Why, son, ’twas one of my men that put Blacarda up to this scheme of gettin’ a Special Session called so he could knock my Steeloid Comp’ny out.”

[254]Caine made no reply; but watched Caleb mop the perspiration of unwonted verbosity from his forehead. At last he asked, with his bantering smile:

“Have you read me, by any chance?”

“Have I read my A. B. C.?” retorted Caleb in fine contempt.


“I’m not buyin’ a red can’py an’ givin’ two-dollar character readin’s,” said Conover brusquely, “Ever in the Adirondacks? Anything to do there?”

“Plenty—for the man who can appreciate its glories,” retorted Caine with pleasant insolence, “Very little for a man of your type, I should fancy. Why?”

“I hoped maybe you could put me on to some of the pointers,” answered Caleb. “It’s the first vacation I ever had. An’ I want all the fun out of it I can get. But I’m blest if I know where the fun comes in.”

“A ward-heeler would probably regard a Corot in much the same way,” observed Caine, still inwardly smarting at the Fighter’s good natured contempt, “But surely Miss Shevlin must have told you in some of her letters the sort of life they lead there—something of her amusements? You can probably get a better idea of it all from her letters than from anything I could tell you. Doesn’t she—?”

“Oh, ev’ry letter she writes is full of it,” acquiesced Caleb, gloomily, “But I can’t make out what the good times are. Just listen to this, f’r instance. First letter I had from her. No. The second.”

From a drawer he drew a small metal case, unlocked[255] and opened it. It was full of letters. Each envelope that met Caine’s inquisitive eye bore Desirée Shevlin’s handwriting. Selecting one from the budget, Caleb opened it with a strangely gentle motion of his stubby fingers, glanced in silence over a few lines, then read aloud:

“‘It’s like some wonderful dream; and every day I’m afraid I shall wake up and find it isn’t so. The air is like crystal that has been dipped in balsam.’ Why in blazes,” interpolated Conover, in perplexity, “should anybody want to dip crystal in balsam. I can’t—”

“Go on,” adjured Caine, “I understand.”

“‘I feel as if I were on the top of the world,’” pursued the letter, “‘The sky is so big, so near. And it seems to rest on the crests of these splendid old mountains. The Antlers is on a side hill, partly cleared of forest and running down to Raquette Lake. The hotel is white and it’s on the top of the slope. It’s a nice hotel, they say. I’ve only been in it twice. Almost nobody is ever indoors except at night or when it rains. And most of the people don’t live at the hotel itself. They live in the cottages and lodges and tents; and eat in the two big dining rooms that are houses by themselves. It’s the outdoorest place I ever saw. We row and fish and tramp and swim and loaf all day, and go on picnics. And late in the afternoons there’s a regular fleet of boats that put out into the lake to watch the sunset. “The Sunset Fleet,” I call them. And in the evenings we go to the open camps and lie[256] back among the balsam boughs and watch the big camp fires and tell stories and sing college songs. And sometimes we coax Ed Bennett to come down to the camp with his violin and give us “The Arkansaw Traveler” or tell us one of his stories. He has the vocabulary of a college professor. He knows all the Adirondack books, and he reads us chapters from them.

“‘And by ten o’clock, generally, everybody is in bed, sleeping as no one can sleep in town. One man in a tent left his mouth open when he went to sleep the other night, and made funny V-shaped noises that got all three of the dogs to barking and waked everybody up. There’s the loveliest collie here. His name is Rex. He has adopted me and goes everywhere with me. Sometimes even when I haven’t any candy to give him. I wanted to buy him and take him home. But Mr. Bennett,—not Ed, but his brother, the proprietor,—won’t sell him for any price. Isn’t it horrid? Rex and Siegfried-Mickey would get on beautifully together, I know. And their color schemes harmonize so perfectly.

“‘And—Oh, I forgot!—there’s a yellow kitten here, too, that’s made friends with me. And what do you suppose one of the boys did the other evening? We had a welsh-rarebit party at the open camp, and he poured beer all over the yellow kitten’s fur, just before we went away. And of course, cat-like, she licked it all off. And she came bounding into my room ten minutes later in a perfectly scandalous condition.[257] The beer she had licked up from her fur had gone to the poor little thing’s head. Her eyes were as big as saucers and she purred all the time like a wagon-ful of rattly steel rails. And she went dancing ’round in circles on three legs and trying to climb the wall; till she fell asleep in my waste basket. Wasn’t it a shame? I’m sorry I laughed. But she did look so weird. And her fur smelt so horribly of beer that I couldn’t pick her up and try to reason with her. Next day she was the living picture of remorse. I got her some ice to lap and put a blue ribbon on her.

“‘I know you’ll love the Adirondacks. Just think! In six weeks and two days you’ll be here. By the way, you must remember not to speak of coming “up” to the Adirondacks, or going down from them. Nobody does. They all speak of coming “in” and going “out”. I don’t know why. Neither does anyone I ask. Perhaps that’s the reason. I’m saving all the beautifullest places to show you. The prettiest rows, the wildest trails. Perhaps we can see a deer. Wouldn’t it be fun? I do so want to see one before I go. And we’ll climb Blue Mountain and make the trip through the chain of lakes, too. Can’t you come earlier than you planned? I hate to think you’re missing all this glorious time.’”

“An’ a lot of the same sort,” added Caleb, folding and putting away the letter with unconscious tenderness, “Writes dandy letters, don’t she? But it don’t make sense to me. So far’s I can see, there’s nothin’[258] to do but get cats drunk and watch camp fires an’ get all het up by rowin’ an’ climbin’ hills. Where’s the fun in all that for a grown man?”

“Miss Shevlin will be there,” suggested Caine.

“Course she will,” said Caleb, “Otherwise, d’you s’pose I’d waste my time goin’? I wonder how I was ever jollied into promisin’.”

“Conover,” remarked Caine, rising to leave, “You may have spent a long time learning to read men; but what you don’t know about women—and about yourself, for that matter—would fill a Carnegie Library. Goodnight.”



Conover woke from a quaint dream of being buried alive in an ill-fitting coffin. And dawning consciousness proved the dream to have been but a mild exaggeration. For he was ensconced in a sleeping car berth. Gray light was peeping through the lowered shade. Much-breathed air, mingled with black dust pressed down upon the Fighter’s lungs. From a nearby section came the fretful whine of a baby. The stiff berth-curtains swished awkwardly inward and out, to the swing of the car.

Caleb performed, with ease born of long practise, that contortionist feat known as “Dressing in the berth.” Then, scrambling out, he lurched down the narrow, dark aisle toward the washroom at the rear. The place was already full of half-clad, red-eyed, touseled men. Some were washing, others painfully scraping lather from their jaws with safety razors; still others ransacking bag or suit case for clean linen. One early bird had completed his toilet and was lounging in a leather-and-wicker chair, trying to translate a pink time table; meanwhile industriously filling the semi-airtight compartment with cigarette smoke.

Conover surveyed his taciturn fellow sufferers;[260] glanced over the too-populous room, from the rack-frieze of neatly triangular folded towels to the ash-and-cuspidor strewn carpet; then he slouched out into the relatively fresh air of the aisle. He looked at his watch. The hour was six-thirty. At seven they were due at Raquette Lake station. The car was last of the train. It occurred to Caleb to take his first glimpse of the Adirondacks. He walked to the rear door and looked out.

Behind him wound the single track of the little spur road. On either side it was lined by dark evergreens that stretched away in an endless vista of monochrome until the silver mist that hung low over everything blotted them from vision. The train seemed to be ploughing its way straight into the untrodden wilderness; to be the first alien that ever had intruded upon the vast mystic solitudes of green and gray.

Caleb looked long and without stirring. Then as the negro porter chanced to come near, the watcher’s pent up volume of emotion found vent in one pregnant sentence:

“Here, you!” he hailed. “I’ll give you a dollar if you can rustle me a cup of hot coffee!”

Out into the clinging mist, onto a long wooden platform, tumbled the travelers; Caleb in the first rank. There, drawn up to halt their onset, comic opera chorus-like, were ranged the vociferating station clerks of the lake’s various hotel-camps. A breath of keen balsam-tinged air bit to Conover’s[261] very lungs. Instinctively he threw out his chest drinking in great gulps of strange ozone. From out of the swirling mist before him rose of a sudden a slight, girlish figure that ran forward with a glad little cry and caught both his hands.

“Oh, you’re here! You’re here!” rejoiced Desirée, careless of bystanders. “Mrs. Hawarden said I’d catch my death if I was on the lake so early. But I got up at the screech of dawn, and came. Isn’t it all wonderful? This mist will burn up in a little while and then you’ll see! And do Billy and Aunt Mary still like farm life? Oh, it’s so good—so good—to see you! Come. The Antlers launch is around the other side of the station.”

Clinging gleefully to one of his big arms, the girl piloted him through the scurrying groups and the luggage heaps, to a nearby dock where a half score of waiting launches panted. From one of the largest fluttered a dark blue flag with the name “Antlers” picked out on it in white. Into the launch they piled; Desirée still talking in pretty, eager excitement.

“This is the south end of the lake,” she was explaining. “There’s the store over yonder—that farthest red building—and there’s the Raquette Lake House. We had a dance there one night. And out there—” with a wave toward the wall of shining vapor, “is where we’re going. It’s only a mile. We’ll start as soon as the rest can get aboard. Oh, I wish the mist was gone, so you could see the islands, and old Blue Mountain keeping guard over—”

[262]“It’s pretty damp on the water for you, ain’t it?” he interrupted, drawing her mackintosh closer about her shoulders. “This fog’s wet.”

“Nobody ever catches cold, up here on the top of the world!” she disclaimed. “And it isn’t fog. It’s just a little mountain mist. In another half-hour it will rise.”

“Just the same,” he argued, “I wish you had come in a carriage, instead of bein’ on the water so early.”

“A carriage!” she scoffed merrily. “Where do you think you are? These,” pointing to the docked rowboats, canoes and launches clustering about them, “are the ‘carriages’ of the Adirondacks. Why, except for the white trunk-chariot steed at the Antlers, there probably isn’t a horse within three miles of here. It’s Venice all over again, in that. Aren’t you at all glad to see me?” she continued, dropping her voice and noting the man’s puzzled, unenthusiastic mien. For an instant, some of the happy light ebbed in the eyes that had been so brimful of joyous welcome.

Caleb roused himself with an impatient shake at his own seeming apathy.

“Glad to see you!” he echoed. “Glad? Well, say, you little girl, it’s the gladdest thing that’s happened to me since the day you left Granite. An’ I’d be just as glad even if it was in some worse place than a wet boat all stalled up with mist. Gee! But the tan makes you look prettier’n a whole picture album!”

“Mrs. Hawarden says my hands are disgracefully brown,” said Desirée, the happiness running back to[263] her eyes at his rough praise. “And my face is as black as an Arab’s, I suppose.”

“It’s the prettiest between here an’ Granite, all right,” he declared stoutly. “Here, let me pull that sweater thing higher up around your throat. What a funny little kid face you’ve got, anyhow, Dey!”

He looked at her with frank delight. The girl’s head was bare; the mist clinging like frost crystals to her shimmering aura of hair. Out of a flushed, bronzed countenance glowed the wide, child-like eyes that Caleb had once declared were two sizes too big for her face—and in whose depths Caine had more poetically located “twin springs of hidden laughter.”

It was good to see her. And the man’s business cares, his social plans, his matrimonial campaign itself, faded into nothingness. He was here, by her side. That was enough. And doubly he realized how poignant had been the ache of aloneness at his heart, during every day of her absence. There was a new peace, an utter content, that enwrapped him now that he was once more beside her. He did not try to analyze the emotion. But he knew it mastered him as nothing else had ever done. He knew it; and, satisfied to look no farther ahead, he was glad.

The launch had churned clear of the dock and was beating to northward through the mist barrier. Shadowy shores slipped past them. To their left, out of the fog, loomed the boathouse of a camp. Beyond its float men and girls in shiny bathing suits were splashing about in the water. Caleb trailed his hand over[264] the launch side. At the nip of the icy water he accorded the swimmers such a glance as he might have bestowed on the martyrs of old.

A wind danced down from the north, playfully tearing the lake vapors to silver tatters. A lance of white sunlight struck through the flying mist-reek. Out of the obscurity leaped an island; emerald green, sparkling with diamonds of moisture. Then another, and another. The mainland’s vague shores took shape and beauty. Broad reaches of water flashed azure and pale gold under the swift caress of wind and sun.

“See!” cried Desirée. “Isn’t it perfect?”

“Yes,” he murmured. “It is.”

“But look!” she commanded. “You haven’t once taken your eyes from my face. How can you say—?”

“What I said goes,” he answered curtly. “There’s nothin’ to take back.”

Conover’s first day at the Antlers was pleasant; for he and Desirée were together from morning to night. He was welcomed with effusive cordiality by Jack Hawarden; with graceful tolerance by the lad’s mother. The big tent wherein he was quartered was near enough to the Hawarden cottage to make the trip to and fro seem as nothing. More and more strongly as the day wore on did he feel as though he had reached some long-sought Mecca. The beauty of the “top of the world” was lost on him; but the beauty of the girl had in a moment became an integral part of his[265] every thought. He was dully surprised at himself. Heretofore he had always taken Desirée as much for granted as he had taken the sunlight itself. To her he had turned for whatever was happiest and restful in his life; had done it unthinkingly, as part of his established routine. But now, after two months of separation from her, he grasped for the first time all her presence had meant to him.

The mighty silences of the mountains—the tumbled miles of multi-shaded green, strewn with fire-blue lakes—all these carried no message to the hard-headed Fighter, the man of cities. But ever he caught himself staring at Desirée in awed wonder; as though some veil between them had of a sudden been snatched away.

That first afternoon he and she went for a long walk where the twisting red-brown trail wound half aimlessly through the still forest; and she lectured him with a sternness that he found delicious, upon his lack of appreciation for the vistas, nooks and leafy sanctums she pointed out. Before supper she made him take her out on the lake, in one of the long, slender guide-boats, whose over-lapping oar handles he found so hard to manage. In midstream she bade him stop rowing, and pointed to the west. Against a green-gold background of sky, long crimson cloud-streamers flickered.

“It looks as if the wind were on fire,” she breathed in ecstasy.

And he, after a perfunctory glance and a word of[266] acquiescence, bent again to his oars. The lake was dotted with boats of the “sunset fleet.” The occupants of a dark blue St. Lawrence skiff hailed them. Caleb, in obedience to Desirée’s gesture rowed closer. The oarsman of the other boat proved to be Jack Hawarden who was returning with his mother from a climb of the Crags.

“Isn’t this sunset well worth traveling all the way from Granite to see?” called Jack.

“It is kind of pretty,” assented Caleb.

“‘Pretty!’” repeated Mrs. Hawarden in gentle scorn. “What a word for such a scene! It brings out all that is highest and most beautiful in one!” she went on soulfully. “I wish, instead of rowing back to the Antlers to supper, I might drift on here forever.”

“You’d be li’ble to get rather hungry after a few hours of it, I guess,” volunteered Caleb, feeling he was somehow beyond his depth.

“Hungry!” shuddered Mrs. Hawarden, loath to come down to earth. “I should be feasting on the sunset. What more could anyone want?”

“Well, ma’am,” suggested Conover, dubiously, “if you leave it to me, I’d rather just now have a tripe sandwich.”

“Come, Jack,” said Mrs. Hawarden coldly. “I think we’ll go in.”

“Oh, how could you!” laughed Desirée, in mock despair, as Caleb and she followed. “Why, her very boat radiates disgust. She’ll never forgive you for[267] spoiling her rhapsody. A tripe sandwich! How could—?”

“It was the first thing that came into my head,” he excused. “An’ this mountain air’s put an edge on my ap’tite that I could shave with. A tripe sandwich would taste good. I’m sorry if I—”

“If it had been anything less hideously plebeian!” she insisted. “Even roast shoulder of tripe would have sounded better. Oh, tripe doesn’t have shoulders, though, does it?”

“It may, for all I know,” he returned. “But, say, Dey, have I made you mort’fied? Honest, I didn’t mean to.”

“I ought to scold you,” she answered. “But, for letting me see that look on poor Mrs. Hawarden’s face, I forgive you everything.”

Jack Hawarden, entering Conover’s tent a half hour later, found the Fighter struggling into a dinner jacket.

“For heaven’s sake,” urged the lad, “take that thing off. Except at dances they’re never worn here. There’s a rumor that the boys ran a stranger into the lake, one summer, for coming to supper in evening dress.”

“First thing that’s struck me right since I came,” grunted Caleb, eagerly beginning to shed the tabooed garments. “I’ll get into something comf’table in half a minute if you’ll wait for me that long.”

“The Granite papers keep us posted on your doings,”[268] said Jack, seating himself on the bed. “You’ve made the old State sit up this summer.”

“I’ll have it standin’ on its hind legs an’ beggin’, before I’m done,” chuckled Conover. “I’m only just beginnin’. How you gettin’ on with Dey?”

“How do you mean?” asked Jack, uneasily.

“Got her to take your view of the marryin’ problem?”

“No,” said the boy. “I haven’t.”

“Too bad! Been here all summer with her, an’ had moonlight an’ all that sort of thing to your favor. I sh’d think if you was ever goin’ to make her fall in love with you—”

“I know,” interrupted Jack soberly. “I counted on all that, but—”

“Can’t get her to see it your way?”

“Not yet. Sometimes I’m afraid I never shall. But I shan’t give up. All my life I shall care for her and try to make myself worthy of her, whether she ever gets to caring or not.”

“Good book-talk,” commented the Fighter, “but it has a kind of a square sound to it, too. Well, good luck to you! You can’t say I haven’t given you all the chances there was.”

“I appreciate it, sir,” answered the boy. “And soon or late I mean to win. I—I asked her once more since we came up here—It was about a month ago. But it seemed to make her unhappy. And I don’t want to spoil her summer. So I am waiting.[269] I’ll wait for years, if I have to. Some day she may learn to care.”

“These fellers around here,—these youngsters that’s spendin’ the summer at the hotel,” queried Caleb. “Isn’t int’rested in any of them, is she?”

“I think not, sir. She’s nice to all of them, just as she is to me. And there isn’t another girl half so popular. But I don’t think she cares. I’m sure she doesn’t.”

Conover wondered why Hawarden’s report gave him an indefinable sense of relief. He thought the matter over for a moment; then shook his head.

“‘We’re keepin’ ’em waitin’,’” he said, slapping his hair with the heavy military brushes on his table. “Come along—”

As he turned to leave, the canvas curtains slowly parted and a gold-red collie stepped into the tent. He glanced about him with the air of one quite at home, and proceeded, with majestic friendliness, to walk across to where Conover stood.

“What’s the measly dog doin’ in here?” demanded Caleb, somewhat taken aback at the visit.

“Why, it’s Rex,” answered Jack, as though that statement explained everything. “He goes wherever he wants to. Desirée thinks the world of him.”

Caleb, mollified, moved nearer to the dog and proceeded to pat the downy fur of his head.

Rex, without the least appearance of rudeness, moved quietly away.

[270]“That’s like all dogs,” grumbled Caleb. “An’mals just natch’lly hate me. I don’t know why; unless maybe because I don’t like ’em. What’s he got in his mouth?”

“His ball,” laughed the boy. “He always carries one around. We figured out the other day that he’s stolen at least eighty tennis balls this season. He has them ‘planted’ all over the place. One under my bed, another in the hotel woodbox and so on. Then whenever he gets lonely he roots one of them out and hunts up somebody to play ball with him. And we usually do it. I don’t know why.”

They had left the tent and were walking along the wooden path toward the dining room; Rex trotting just in front of them, and making them adjust their pace on the narrow footway to his. At the walk’s end, the dog suddenly bolted; and with ears tucked backward and tail flying, scampered across to where Desirée was just emerging from the Hawarden cottage. Caleb joined the girl and her chaperone; and the quartette started once more to the dining room. Conover and Desirée led the way, Rex placidly thrusting himself between them, as they walked.

“Don’t you think he’s a beauty?” asked Desirée. “He’s—oh, look!”

A baby, perhaps two years old, was weaving a tortuous way, under convoy of her nurse toward the tents. At sight of Rex, the child deserted her lawful escort and made a wild, toddling rush for the dog. Six feet away from him she halted, a gold-and-white fluff of[271] irresolute babyhood, scared at her own temerity. Rex had paused at her approach and stood wagging his tail, patiently awaiting the next move. The baby, eyeing him with furtive longing, made the first advance.

How-do?” she said, politely, ducking her head in a propitiatory obeisance at the marvellous gold-red creature in her path.

As Rex did not reply to the salutation in any language she could understand, the baby repeated her remark, a shade more dubiously.

“You darling little thing!” cried Desirée. “He’s forgotten how to talk or he’d answer you. You want to pat him, don’t you? He won’t bite. Come along. See, I’m holding him for you,” and she buried a white hand in the warm fur of the dog’s neck.

Thus encouraged, the child came nearer, with mincing, uncertain steps, ever ready to turn and flee should the seemingly quiescent monster show the slightest inclination to turn and rend her. At length, in a burst of dashing heroism, she put one pudgy hand on his head in a gingerly caress. Rex sat down in the path and with a monumental calm suffered the familiarity. The baby with a squeal of delight at her immunity, took his furry head to her breast and squeezed it with arms that scarce met about the dog’s soft throat. Then she ventured on a grandstand play. Looking, to make sure all saw her, she thrust one small finger into the dog’s half-open mouth. Rex laid back his ears and rolled up his eyes in beatific quiescence.

“The beauty!” applauded Desirée. “See, Caleb![272] He’s trying to look like a Numidean lion. He worships children. Look at him!”

“You forget, Desirée,” said Mrs. Hawarden, in icy pleasantry. “Rex is not a tripe sandwich. To a rare soul like Mr. Conover’s, even a sunset,—to say nothing of a mere dog and a child—must yield to the charms of supper. Come. We’re all keeping him.”

“I had an idee,” muttered Caleb, as he passed her on the way to the dining room, “that it was ’tother way round.”



The ensuing fortnight was at once the longest and the shortest fourteen days Conover had ever known. So far as his companionship with Desirée was concerned, the hours had sped with bewildering haste. But, otherwise, time had limped on leaden feet. The message of the hills was not for him.

Green mountains, blue sky and bluer water. And the smell of balsam that had grown to be dully irritating to him. His senses instinctively strained for the roar of traffic, the stark hurry of men, the smell of cities. Throughout the day the universal stillness of the wilds was broken only by the occasional “tck-tck-tck” of launches. By night, even this was absent; and as Desirée said, “God seemed very near.” But the hush, the eternal calm of it all wore upon the Fighter’s nerves. As well have expected the south wind to draw whispering melodies from a barrel-organ as for the spell of the forest to lay its blesséd and blessing hand on the brain of this Man of Cities.

At times he caught himself counting the days that remained, and there was an impatient eagerness in the count. Then, ever, would come the thought that each passing day brought him twenty-four hours[274] nearer to his parting from Desirée. And eagerness would give way to a sharp, if undefined pain.

Another thing wore on him. To prevent Desirée from guessing at his boredom he was forced to be always on guard. She had at first been half-afraid he might not be sufficiently alive to the beauty of it all; and had exhibited to him her adored woodland treasures with the wistful pride of a child that shows an interested stranger its most cherished toys.

To drive the latent wistfulness from her eyes, Conover had soon entered effusively into the spirit of everything. And Desirée, usually so mercilessly keen to note his every clumsy effort at deception, was too happy nowadays to observe his enthusiasm’s mechanical tenor. Hence, believing she had made a convert, she redoubled her efforts in educating him up to the loveliness of the place. And, with the heroism of a Regulus, he suffered himself to be educated.

At times of course he struck the wrong note. Once, for instance, at sunset they paddled through the keel-wide sandbar channel from Raquette into Eldon Lake and found themselves in an unrippled basin of black water set in a circle of forest and “clearing.” The silence hung heavy as velvet. It was the hush of a newborn, unknown world. The mystic wonder of it all, beneath the setting sun, caught Desirée by the throat and held her trembling,—speechless. Caleb, splashing time with his oar, began to sing.

“Oh, don’t!” she breathed; as though protesting against sacrilege.

[275]“Gee! Was I off the blamed key, again?” he asked.

“No, no,” she answered, the wonder-light dying from her face as the spell dissolved. “It’s all right,” she went on, seeing his chagrin. “It’s all right. I’m sorry I was cross. You were so busy with the boat you didn’t get a chance to notice what a magic lake this is we’ve come into; or you couldn’t have broken the charm. Look! Can’t you see Siegfried running through the hemlocks, on his way to Mime’s cave? And that band of dead gray tamaracks down there with the single flaming maple in the foreground! Isn’t it like an army of tree-ghosts with the red standard in its van?”

So she prattled on, seeking to keep him from seeing how he had jarred upon her mood. But he knew, none the less. And he realized that there were times, even on vacation, when one must be silent. But what those times might be he could not guess. Nor did he dare ask.

When next day they climbed the Crags and looked down on the gleaming lake with the scattered green of its islands, she looked at him in eager expectation of his delight. He surveyed the lake in stony silence. Then let his gaze run expressionless over the lines of mountain ramparts far to southward that rose in ever higher swells until the farthest was half lost in haze. No word did he speak. He felt he was rising to the occasion. If one must not speak on Eldon Lake at sunset it followed that one should be equally reticent[276] on the Crags by the brighter light of morning.

“Say something!” she commanded, keenly disappointed at his apathy.

“Noo York must be somewheres in a line with that biggest mountain over there to the south,” he hazarded; glad to learn that the present was, for some reason, not one of those mysterious speechless occasions.

In the evenings, as a rule, they went to the “open camp.” There in the big three-sided log shed with its evergreen-lined walls and its deep, blanket-covered floor of soft balsam boughs, a dozen or more people were wont to congregate by night. In front of the shed blazed a Homeric camp fire that tempered the mountain chilliness and made the whole place light as day. The young people,—Desirée and Jack among them,—usually spent the short evenings in singing and story-telling. Caleb felt less at his ease here than anywhere else. For the young folk talked a language of Youth, that he did not understand. The stories he found somewhat mild, and the point of several of them he failed to catch. A sense of strangeness prevented him from joining in the songs. He had had no youth; save that which Desirée had imparted to him. And he knew himself out of place among the carefree, jolly crowd. It made him feel ponderous, aged, taciturn. The easy laughter of youth only perplexed him. His sole joy during these open camp evenings was to lie in a shadowed corner of the “lean-to” and watch the firelight play[277] on Desirée’s bright face; to hear her infectious laugh; to see how popular she was among the youngsters of her own age. So long as she did not seek to ease his boredom by dragging him into the talk, he was well content to lie thus and drink the delight of her fresh loveliness. When she made him talk, he straightway became pompously shy; and managed to convey his sense of acute discomfort to everyone about him.

Altogether, the Adirondacks, for perhaps the first time since that wonderland’s discovery, had found a visitor who did not speedily become a worshipper.

“Receive news!” announced Desirée, one evening as she met Caleb on her return from a conference with Mrs. Hawarden. “To-morrow’s my birthday.”

“Did you s’pose I’d forgot?” he asked in reproach,—“There’s two dates I always manage to remember. One’s your birthday. The other’s the day you’re comin’ back to Granite.”

“But that isn’t the news,” she went on. “It’s only a running start to get you ready for it. Mrs. Hawarden’s going to celebrate by the gorgeousest picnic you ever heard of.”

“Last one we went on,” began Caleb, “I burnt two of my fingers; an’ there was sand in the lem’nade. But,” he broke off just in time, “it’ll be great to go on another. Where’s it to be?”

“To Brown’s Tract pond. ’Way up at the head of Brown’s Tract Inlet. You remember? The inlet that twists around like a snake that’s swallowed a[278] corkscrew? We’re going to spend the night. Just think of that! All four of us. The guide is going up early in the morning to pitch the two tents and get everything ready. And we’re to stramble along at our leisure and get there about noon. Think! We’re actually to camp overnight. I wish there were bears or catamounts or something, to come not too near and growl dreadfully. I’m going to take Rex along if Mr. Bennett will let me. And—isn’t it a nice way to wind up your vacation? You’ll have plenty of time. We’ll be back here by noon next day, and your train doesn’t go till night.”

“Let’s not talk about my going away,” he replied. “I thought I’d be tickled to death to get back to the fight. But for the past two days I’ve been tryin’ to frame up an excuse to myself that’d let me stay longer.”

“Oh, why don’t you? Why don’t you?” she cried, all eagerness. “I stump you to! Please stay!”

“Don’t, little girl!” he urged. “If I could stay with you an extra hour, d’you s’pose I’d need to be begged to? It’ a case of must. I got to be on deck day after to-morrow. That special session of the Legislature I was tellin’ you about meets week after next. An’ I’ve got to work like a dog till then to lick my crowd into line an’ frame up a stiff enough defence against your friend, Blacarda. I’ll be as busy as a one-armed paper-hanger that’s got hives.”

“But why?” she persisted. “You’ve been working away with both hands all your life. You’re rich.[279] What’s the use of all that money if you can’t have some fun?”

“I get my fun in the winnin’. Not in the holdin’.”

“But you don’t even know how to rest. And now, just as I’m teaching you, you run away. You could wait perfectly well, three weeks longer, and then go back to Granite with us. Just think what a sumptuous time we’d have here! I’m very wise,” she coaxed. “Won’t you take my advice and stay?”

“I’d take it in a minute if I could, girl,” he answered.

“Oh, dear! That means you won’t. Advice is something everybody asks, everybody gives—and nobody takes. I wish you’d stay. This has been the beautifullest, happiest two weeks I ever spent.”

“Has it, honest, Dey?” he asked, his heavy face of a sudden alight. “Honest? It’s been ’bout the only long stretch of happy time I c’n remember.”

“Then why don’t you stay?” she demanded. “Can’t you see?”—

He hesitated.

“I’ve a good mind to,” he said at last.

She clapped her hands, then squeezed his arm as they swung down the hill together.

“Yes,” he went on. “I b’lieve I’ll do it. It’d be fun to see what’d happen if I was to cut loose from work for once. An’ you an’ me could be together—”

“Would you lose so very much?” she asked doubtfully, in belated concern.

[280]“No more’n I could afford. Nowhere near so much as it’s worth to have that extry time with you. My own Steeloid holdin’s are pretty well covered. It won’t be me that goes broke. I own my stock outright; an’ before the winter’s over I’ll get the bill declared unconstitootional. That’ll bring the price up again. I c’n afford to let up on Blacarda for once. I’m dead sure to get him later on the same game, as well as on somethin’ else.”

“You say it won’t be you who go broke,” she interposed. “Will anyone? I mean if you don’t go back day after to-morrow.”

“Well,” grinned Caleb, “If Blacarda’s bill passes, our Steeloid stock’ll will take a big tumble, of course. For those that owns it outright that’ll be no great loss; ’cause it’ll rocket again as soon as I sick one of my judges onto the bill’s constitootionality. But the fellers I’ve tipped off to buy on margin—d’you understand all this line of talk?—those fellers are plungin’ pretty deep, I hear, an’—”

“Will they lose much?”

“Some of ’em are li’ble to be ’bout wiped out, I guess. The el’gant Amzi Nicholas Caine, f’r instance, an’ old Reuben Standish. He’ll go to pot, sure. An’ Mr.—”

“You mean they went into this on your advice, and if you aren’t there to stand by them they will be ruined?”

“Just ’bout that, I guess. Don’t blame me. They wasn’t ’bliged to take my tips an’ I’m not responsible[281] for ’em. Anyhow, they’ve made enough off me this year to—”

“You must go back,” she declared. “I was very wrong. It just shows what harm a fluff-brained girl can do by poking her fingers into business she doesn’t understand. Why, Caleb” she added, with a startled awe: “If you’d done as I asked, who knows how many families might have been made horribly poor? And it would all have been my fault. You must go back.”

“But, Dey!” he protested, “You’re all off. It’s no affair of mine what that gold-shirt crowd put their cash on. I don’t owe anything to ’em. An’ if I can give you a good time by stayin’, the whole bunch of ’em can hire a brass band an’ march to the poorhouse, for all I care. If you say ‘stay’, I’ll stay.”

“I say you mustn’t,” she insisted, “And it was dear of you to be willing to, for my sake. Anyway, I’ll see you again in three weeks. That won’t be so very long.”

“No longer’n three years is gen’rally” grumbled Caleb; and the subject dropped.

They were on their way to the pretty waterside building that served the quadruple purpose of casino, store, post-office and boathouse, for the Antlers. The arrival of the evening mail was one of the day’s two great events; the other being the morning mail’s advent. The night had a sting to its air; and the mail-time gathering was held in the lamplit store instead of on the porch or dock. A tall clerk was busy sorting[282] letters and packages to eager groups of sweater-clad girls and to men in cold-weather outing garb. Conover and Desirée, awaiting their turn, leaned against the glass cases opposite the post-office counter and watched the laughing, excited guests.

“What I can’t see” commented Caleb, “is why ev’rybody’s always in such a sweat about their mail. What is there in it for anyone? To ev’ry env’lope that’s got a check in it there’s three that has bills; an’ a dozen with adv’tisements. To ev’ry letter that’s worth readin’ there’s ten that’s stoopid or grouchy or makin’ a hard-luck touch. An’ as for soov’nir postals—the only folks they int’rest is those that sends ’em. People come up here to get away from the world they’ve been livin’ in. Yet they scramble for noospapers an’ letters from that same world, like they was stranded on a desert island.—Here’s our chance.”

The crowd had thinned. Caleb and Desirée went forward to the mail counter. For Conover there were a sheaf of letters in business envelopes. He thrust them without a glance into the pocket of his tweed coat. Desirée’s sole mail consisted of a long pasteboard box thickly strewn with vari-colored stamps and bearing the gold-lettered legend of a New York florist.

In a second her quick fingers had torn away the wrappings. As the box was lifted, a whiff of warm fragrance rushed out; filling the room.

“Oh!” gasped Desirée, burying her face rapturously[283] in a crimson nest of American Beauty roses.

Then, her cheeks aglow and her eyes shining, she lifted her head and faced Conover.

Thank you! Thank you so much!” she exclaimed. “It was perfectly darling of you to remember my birthday so beautifully. And I love American Beauties so. I might have known you would think of that. It’s just like you. Smell them! What a dear, thoughtful blesséd old—”

She checked herself at sight of Conover’s blank expression. If her own face had borrowed the flush of her armful of roses, Caleb had exacted similar tribute from a whole wagonload of imaginary peonies.

“I’m—I’m sorry, Dey,” he blurted out at last, “But they ain’t from me. I—, well, they must be from somebody who’s got more sense. I didn’t think to get you anything at all. I didn’t ever know folks gave reg’lar presents on birthdays.”

He stopped abruptly. For the fading of the happy light from Desirée’s eyes had its usual effect of leaving him wordless and miserable.

The girl, embarrassed, fell to turning the flowers over in their long box. She looked a little tired and her arrangement of the blossoms was perfunctory. A card was dislodged from among stems and fell to the floor. Caleb, picking it up, read Jack Hawarden’s name.

“The measly brat!” raged Conover, to himself. “He ain’t got a dollar to his back; an’ yet he can bring off a grandstand play like this, an’ make her look like she[284] was a kid seein’ her first Christmas Tree! An now I’ve made her look like she wanted to cry! Lord! If I don’t give her a whole joolry store for Christmas, I’m a Chinaman!”

“Never mind, dear old boy!” she whispered, pressing close to his arm as they turned to mount the hill on the way to the Hawarden Cottage, “I’ll make believe they’re from you and that will be every bit as nice as if they really were. And you’ve done more lovely things for me than everybody else put together. And I won’t have you looking pathetic. Stop it! Now, smile! Oh, what a squidgy, weak sort of a smile! It’s all right, I tell you. I know you’d have given me much lovelier roses than these if you’d thought.”

“That’s just it!” he growled bitterly, “I don’t think. I never think. I guess you know I’d let ’em cut me up into city blocks if it’d make a hit with you, Dey. But what good does that do? When it comes to bein’ on hand with the million dinky little stunts that women likes, I’m always a mile away, somewhere, hoein’ corn. I wouldn’t blame you if you—”

“Stop!” she cried, a break in her clear voice, “You shan’t talk that way. Do you suppose all the presents in the world would have made me half as happy as having you here, this two weeks? Would any present have cost you one tenth the sacrifice of giving up your work for my sake? And just now you offered to throw away thousands of dollars and wreck half a dozen of people’s fortunes in order to please me by[285] staying longer at the Antlers. What more could anyone do for me than you do?”

“I don’t know,” he answered simply, “But some day I may find out. An’ when I do,—why, I’ll do it. You can gamble on that, you little girl.”



It was late the next forenoon when the quartette, in two guide-boats, set out from the Antlers dock for their twenty-four hour picnic to Brown’s Tract Pond.

A guide had started an hour earlier with the camping equipment and pack. Jack and Mrs. Hawarden led the way; Desirée and Caleb being delayed in starting by the vast pressure and vaster quantities of candy that must be brought to bear on Rex before the collie would consent to trust his cautious young life in their boat. When at last the reluctant dog’s fears were overcome and he lay curled in a contented, furry heap at Desirée’s feet in the stern,—Caleb bent to his oars with a swing that sent the frail guide boat over the mile of intervening lake in time to enter the inlet a bare length behind the Hawardens. Under the low wooden bridge they passed. Then began an erratic progress.

The sluggish stream wriggles through part of the old government tract once ceded to “Ossawotamie.” John Brown of anti-slavery memory. Formerly, green tamaracks lined the lowlands to either side of the inlet’s banks. The raising of the dams which, years ago, signed the murder-warrant for so many[287] thousand splendid trees, have left the tamaracks here—as elsewhere along the watercourses,—a waste of feathery gray skeletons.

A bite of Autumn was in the air. From bush and from waterside grasses, the dying summer flashed its scarlet-and-gold warning of winter’s dread approach.

The inlet wound southward in a bewildering series of turns and twists; perhaps a hundred such abrupt turnings to the mile. There was hardly scope for three successive oar-strokes between the twists. Fast rowing was out of the question. A long stroke or two, for momentum; then the quick backing of an oar and a plunge of the stern paddle; and, unless the bow caught in the jutting huckleberry bushes of the bank, one turn was safely passed and another was at hand.

The gray stone mountains, with their clumps of evergreens shot with the red and yellow of maple or birch, rose against the sky on one side of the marsh. On the other, the deep forest ran down to the fringe of tamarack ghosts; a rare white birch standing out here and there, like a sheeted giant, amid the dusk of the hemlocks. Above blazed the white sun. The long grasses hummed with insect life. A mink darted to cover from beneath the bow of the guide boat. In the black loam of the bank burrowed a sleek gray water rat. Far to the northeast, a solitary, everlasting landmark for all the region, crouched old Blue Mountain, like some benevolent, haze-shrouded mastodon.

“I can’t remember,” observed Desirée, “when we[288] weren’t squeezing past one turn and running into another. And I can’t imagine any time when we won’t still be doing it. It’s like one of those weird maze-places at Atlantic City where you go through a door only to find yourself staring at three others. The man who went for a walk and met himself coming back would have found himself facing whole family groups of selves if he’d come up this inlet. There’s where the Eighth Lake Carry begins. Over there to the left; where that tumble-down wooden dock is. We aren’t anywhere near Brown’s Tract Pond yet. Just hear Jack yodel! He’s as excited over this picnic as a school boy. He’s rowing like mad and—”

“Guess somebody must a been feedin’ him meat,” suggested Caleb unkindly; glancing back over his shoulders at the leading boat whose oarsman’s enthusiasm had driven its bow into the mudbank at one sharp turn. “Say, he’ awful much in love with you, Dey. Are you goin’ to end up by marryin’ him?”

“No,” said Desirée, shortly.

Ten minutes later the boats had been dragged over the last impasse and the pond was reached;—a circular blot of water amid the surrounding hills; a high island rising in its centre.

A halloo from Jack brought an answering call from the distant guide. Slipping along the shore where the yellow sand ran out for yards under its shallow covering of blue water, the two boats came to rest off the site chosen for the camp. The two tents were already[289] pitched, and a fire crackled merrily. The guide was busy frying eggs and strips of bacon in huge black pans. Potatoes bubbled in one pot above the fire; while from another came the aroma of coffee.

“Heaven may be as beautiful as this grove,” sighed Desirée in ecstasy, “but I’m perfectly sure it will never smell so deliciously appetizing. I’m starved. Is that drinking-water, Steve?” she asked, pointing to a pail with a dipper beside it.

“Yes ma’am,” replied the guide. “Or it will be when I’ve boiled it.”

“I’m too thirsty to wait for it to boil,” she objected picking up the dipper. “Won’t somebody else have some?—Mrs. Hawarden?”

“’Tisn’t healthy to drink water from forest springs till it’s been boiled,” put in the guide. “It’s likely to be all chock-full of germs. Boilin’ kills em,” he added, proud of his scientific lore.

“I’d as lief be a germ aquarium as a germ cemetery,” decided the girl, drinking deep of the cold, limpid water, “Is there any fishing in this pond, I wonder?”

“Well,” drawled the guide, piqued that his medical advice should have gone for naught, “there’ll be better fishin’ to-night than there is just now. There’s pretty sure to be a heavy mountain fog after a day like this. And those fogs get so thick, around here, sometimes, that the fish can’t tell the difference between the fog and the water. And they swim right up into the tents.[290] I’ve caught ’em that way dozens of times. Forrest Bird and ‘Smiling’ Kelly was telling me they came here once and—”

“Was it that sort of a bait you used?” asked Desirée innocently, pointing to a flask-neck that had worked its way into view from the pocket of the guide’s jacket as he leaned over the fire.

He shoved back the offending flask; grinning sheepishly.

“Because” went on Desirée with the same wide-eyed innocence, “I’ve always heard it attracted more snakes than fish. Isn’t it lucky there are no snakes in the Adirondacks?”

Rex sniffed longingly at the candy-box lying on the pile of wraps near the fire. Then he looked at Desirée and waved his tail with an air of disinterested friendliness. After which he resumed his study of the box.

“It will make you quite ill if you eat candy before dinner, Rexie,” the girl told him.

The dog seemed impressed; for he moved away from the coveted treasure. But he eyed Desirée so sadly that she relented. Opening the box she searched till she found a chocolate wafer and tossed it to Rex. He caught it in mid-air. Caleb absent mindedly helped himself to a piece of candy from the open box.

“There was a young man so benighted,” she admonished Conover,

“He never knew when he was slighted.
He’d go to a party
And eat just as hearty
As if he’d been really invited.

“And the moral of this is:—Wait till people say ‘Please have some’ before you dip in. Where are your manners, Caleb? Now, what are you looking at?”

“Say, but you’re pretty, to-day!” remarked Conover, his glance roving appraisingly over her trim figure in its roughing costume, and at the tanned, eager little face, “As pretty’s you can be.”

“I suppose everyone is,” laughed Desirée, in embarrassment; noting Mrs. Hawarden’s air of seeming not to have heard the bald praise, “Oh, see the beautiful green caterpillar that’s come to our party! And a whole army of nice hungry ants! There’s a spider, too. Do drive him off, Jack! Don’t kill him, though. It’s bad luck. For the spider, anyway.”

“Avaunt, dread monster of the wilderness!” declaimed Jack; brushing the offender away.

Dinner and a long lazy afternoon. A row of exploration about the pond’s edge, a visit to the island; a ramble through the woods;—and nightfall found the campers eating a firelight supper with the crass hunger of the unaccustomed outdoor sojourner. Then a short, yawn-punctuated chat around the camp fire, and the signal for bed.

It is one thing for a man of cities to be delightfully sleepy after his first long day in the woods. It is quite a different matter for him to be able to fall asleep[292] on a many-projectioned bed of balsam, while a guide snores raucously on one side of him and a second man tosses in uneasy, muttering slumber on the other. After counting up to one hundred, and keeping tabs on a flock of visionary sheep as they leaped an equally mythical wall (and hoping in morbid disgust that some of them would fall and break their imaginary necks), Conover rose quietly, pulled on such garments as he had removed, groped about till he found his thick waterproof coat and stumbled out into the open. He kicked the fire’s smouldering logs into a blaze and looked at his watch. It was barely nine-thirty. He took out a cigar and prepared to sit down beside the logs and smoke himself sleepy again.

Then she came.

He was not surprised. Even before he turned his head or noticed the fall of her light feet on the mold, he somehow knew she was drawing near. He looked around to find her close behind him. Her hair was caught up loosely, and shimmered like a rust-shot aureole in the waning firelight. She wore the sweater and walking skirt of the afternoon. But her high boots had been changed for moccasins.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she whispered, clasping the hands he held out to her, “All the forest and the silences seemed calling to me. Besides, Mrs. Hawarden sleeps so,—so audibly. All at once, I felt you were out here. So I came. Is it very late?”

“No,” he answered in the same key, “Not much mor’n half past nine. Sit down here an’ I’ll get a[293] blanket to wrap ’round you. I ought to send you back, so’s you won’t catch cold. But it’s—somehow it’s so good to have you right here by me. This time to-morrow night I’ll be glad to remember it.”

“Don’t get me any wrap,” she forbade, stretching out her hands to the blaze he was again stirring into life, “I’m warm enough. And you’d fall over something and swear and that would wake somebody. Then I’d have to go back to the stuffy tent.”

Rex, curled up asleep on the far side of the fire, lifted his head; wakened by the sibillant whispering. Seeing Desirée, he began to smite the earth resoundingly with his wagging tail.

“Hush!” whispered the girl, raising her finger in warning; as the collie’s sleepy, golden eyes blinked more and more friendly greetings and the bushy tail increased the tempo of its beats. Mistaking her gesture, Rex rose with lazy grace, stretched himself, alternately, fore and aft, collie-fashion; and picked his way daintily across the cleared space to Desirée’s side. He lay down at her feet, thrusting his cold nose affectionately into the hollow of her hand.

“What a gorgeous night!” murmured Desirée looking up at the black, star-strewn sky, “And we were going to waste it in sleep! The woods are calling. The dryads and fauns want us to come to their enchanted dell and dance with them. Shall we?”

Understanding not a tithe of her words the man nevertheless caught the flickering light of adventure in her eyes.

[294]“I’m always game for anything you put a name to” he made answer, “I’m kind of heavy for dancin’. But if it’ll be any sort of pleasure for you, I might have a try at it.”

“Hush!” she warned, “If you speak as loudly as that you’ll be sure to wake them. Isn’t this fun?” she went on with a happy little laugh, “I feel as if we’d run away from school and were going to be scolded terribly hard when we get back. I dare you,—oh, I dare you! I double-dare you!”

“To what?” he demanded, infected by the sudden rush of mischief to her face and voice, “I’ll do anything you say. Want me to haul out Steve Martin an’ Jack an’ lick ’em for you, or set fire to the old lady’s tent?”

“Neither,” she decreed sternly; adding with perverse wistfulness, “Though it would be interesting to see how Mrs. Hawarden’s airy dignity would sustain her in a blazing tent. No, no. What I was going to dare you to do is much less spectacular. Nothing more exciting than a walk.”

“A walk?” echoed Conover, “Why, it’s near ten o’clock, an’ cold as charity. Besides, it’ll be all dark an’ damp in the thick part of the woods.”

“But I’m sure we’ll run across a ring of fairies,—or a satyr, at the very least. Oh, the night is throbbing with magic! And the forests are calling. Shan’t we answer the call?”

“Sounds to me more like katydids,” he demurred, “But, if you like, we can take a stroll. We’ll be back[295] in half an hour or so, an’ that ought to be early enough, even for old Mrs. Propriety in there,” with a nod toward Mrs. Hawarden’s tent, “But you’ll want some wrap, won’t you?”

“No. I’m warm as toast. This sweater’s so wudgy and soft; and it’s as thick as thick can be. Come along!”

Laughing excitedly under their breath, after the manner of school-boys making safe escape to truancy, the two stole away on tiptoe from the radius of fire shine. Rex, waking again at their departure, sighed as devotion dragged him from sleep and warmth; and trotted along solemnly in the wake of the two truants.

Before them lay a natural vista winding between ranks of black trees. Starlight filtered through, giving an uncanny glimmer to the still darkness.

“It is like breaking into fairyland!” gasped the girl, tense and vibrant with the hushed wonder of it all, “We are mortals. We have no right in Oberon’s domain. But he sees what very very nice, harmless mortals we are. So he doesn’t change us to bats or fireflies. He just lets us trespass all we want to. And perhaps he’ll even let us see a real fairy. An elf, anyway.”

Caleb laughed, in sheer happiness. Of her Oberon rigmarole he grasped little. But he saw she was in childishly wild spirits, and the knowledge of her joy thrilled him. The cold bit deeper as they struck rising ground and followed the glimmering forest-vista upward. Both instinctively quickened their pace to keep[296] from shivering. But mere cold could not quench Desirée’s pleasure in the simple escapade.

“We are runaway slaves!” she cried, her mood shifting from fairyland to a newer fantasy, “We are escaping from a fearsome Simon Legree named Conventionality! Conventionality is a wicked master who has whipped us and piled chains on us ever since we were born. And now we’ve put him to sleep in two tents and we’re running away from him. He’d be furious if he woke up. But he’s snoring very industriously. And he surely won’t wake,—in either tent—for at least an hour. And by that time we’ll be safe back again with our chains all nicely riveted on. And he’ll never, never even guess we once ran away from him. No,—I’d rather think we’re running away forever and ever and ever,—and then some more after that. And he’ll never find us, no matter how long he hunts. We’ll spend the rest of our life in the enchanted woodland, and live on berries and nuts. And our faithful hound who’s followed us from slavery will catch venison for us. And—and if you ask him very politely, Caleb, perhaps he’ll catch a tripe sandwich sometimes for you.”

“Still rememberin’ that awful break of mine?” chuckled Caleb, as unreasonably excited as she. “That ain’t fair!”

“It, wasn’t a break!” she pronounced judgment. “It was a smashing blow at our Simon Legree, Conventionality. You are a hero. Not a lowly squidge.[297] See how silver the light is getting! I’m sure that means we’re on the courtyard of the fairy palace. I shouldn’t be one atom surprised if—”

With a little cry of alarm she clutched Caleb. From almost under her feet a partridge whirred upward, his beating wings rattling through the stillness like double castanets. Rex, with one staccato growl deep down in his throat, gave chase. But as the bird utterly refused to fly fair, and even resorted to unsportsmanlike rocketings that carried it far up through the treetops, the pursuit was quickly over. Rex, his ruff a-bristle, strutted back to the girl, walking on the tips of his toes and casting baleful glances of warning to left and right at any other lurking partridge that might be tempted to brave his ire.

“What was it? What was it?” demanded Desirée, startled far out of her fit of eerie gaiety.

“Maybe ’twas one of those fairies or satires you was hopin’ would drop in on us,” suggested Caleb, cruelly, “It was a reel treat to see how glad you was to meet him.”

“You’re horrid!” declared the girl. “As if any self-respecting fairy would jump up with a noise like ten gatling guns! I—Oh, the silver is turning gray. It’s fog! The fog Steve Martin said we’d have to-night. And it’s coming down around us like, like a Niagara of—of—”

“Of pea soup,” supplemented Conover. “It’s thick enough to cut. An’ ten minutes ago the sky was[298] perfec’ly clear. Best get back to the camp, before the measly stuff makes us lose our way. Then we would be in a sweet fix.”

Backward they turned upon their tracks. Already the guiding tree vistas were wiped out. The two walked rapidly, pushing along with no better guide than their sense of general direction. For a full half hour they walked; Caleb helping Desirée over a series of fallen trees, gullies and boulders that neither had noted during their outward journey.

Then, out of breath, Desirée halted.

“We’re not going the right way!” she exclaimed. “We’re going up-hill. I know we are. I can tell by the feeling. And the camp lies down by the pond.”

They struck off at another angle. After ten minutes of fast, difficult walking, through the water-thick mist, Desirée came again to a halt.

“This rock,” she declared, “is the very one I leaned against when we stopped before. I’m certain. We’ve been going in a circle.”

“Maybe we were going right, in the first place,” said Caleb. “On the way out we went up hills an’ down ’em, too. Maybe if we’d kep’ on going upward we’d a come out on the hill above the camp.”

They started once more; going purposely upward this time; groping their way through the blinding mist without speaking.

Of a sudden the fog was gone from before them. A step or two farther and they stood on a hilltop, under the stars.

[299]Desirée sank wearied on the stump of a twin tree, her back against the trunk of the unfelled half. Caleb glanced about to locate the camp. His exclamation of wonder brought the tired girl to her feet.

It was no hilltop they stood on. It was a tiny island jutting upward out of an immeasurable sea. In the distance to either hand rose similar islets. Above was the cloudless sky. Below, lay that vast waveless deep.

“It’s the fog!” cried the girl, finding her voice as the marvel explained itself. “Don’t you see? It lies low, over the water and the valley. And we’re above it. It has settled down over everything like a white cloud. But some of the hilltops pierce the top of it. We’re ‘above the clouds!’” she quoted, laughing; her spirits coming back with her returning strength.

“We’re above that one, anyhow,” assented Conover. “You’re right. But where’s the camp?”

“Down there, somewhere,” she replied, vaguely.

“But how can we find it?” he urged. “We don’t know which side of this hill it’s on. It may be five miles away. If we go down, the chances are a million to one we won’t strike it. An’ then we’ll have to wander ’round all night in that slimy white cloud, like we’ve been doin’ for the past hour. We’re up against it, girl.”

“I wouldn’t spend another hour in that mist for a fortune,” she shuddered. “It stifled me; and hideous woozzey faces seemed to be peering at us out of it. I could hear invisible things whispering all around us. Ugh!”

[300]Caleb filled his lungs and shouted across the sea of mist. Again and again he bellowed forth his long-drawn halloo. To anyone on the nearer hilltop islands his call might readily have been heard. But human voice could as readily have penetrated a mountain of cotton-batting as carry sound through that waste of cloud-reek.

At length the two fugitives realized this. A last shout, a final straining of ears for some answering cry; then Conover turned again to the girl.

“They wouldn’t hear us a hundred yards away,” said he, “even if they was awake. We’ll have to,—Why, you’re shiverin’!”

To Desirée the glow of the long climb was giving place to the chill air of the Adirondack autumn night. Her teeth were chattering; but she bravely scouted the idea of discomfort.

Nevertheless, in an instant Caleb had whipped off his thick mackintosh and wrapped her in its huge folds. She vainly protested that he must not rob himself; but the cozy comfort of the big garment as well as his flat refusal to let her remove it soon silenced her objections. Conover had taken charge of the situation. It was the work of a minute to scratch together an armful of twigs, chips and small boughs,—relics of the hewn tree,—to thrust under the heap a crumpled letter from his pocket, and to set a match to the impromptu fire.

Then, as the twigs crackled and blazed, he scoured the hilltop for larger wood. Half rotted logs that[301] would smoulder like peat, huge tree branches that must be dragged instead of carried to the fire; a bulky length of lumber overlooked when the tree had been cut up and carted away. These and lesser fuel served in an amazingly short time to turn the sputtering flamelets into a roaring camp fire.

Piece after piece of his gathered wood Caleb fed to the blaze; Desirée leaning back, deliciously warm and happy, to encourage the labor. A second journey into the dark and Conover was back with more fuel, which he piled in reserve beyond the reach of the flame tongues.

“You work like a veteran woodsman,” she praised.

“Why wouldn’t I?” he puffed, dragging in a new bunch of long boughs for the reserve pile. “I had to hustle fires an’ grub for the section gang, ten months or more, when I was a youngster. That’s why it seems funny to me that folks should pay big money for a chance of chasin’ out to the wilderness an’ doin’ the chores I used to get $1.85 a day for. Still, once in a lifetime, it comes in handy to know how.”

The heat was fierce. Caleb drew back from the fire, mopping his red face. Then he took off his tweed jacket. Crossing to Desirée, he lifted his mackintosh from her shoulders and made her put on the jacket. The latter’s hem fell to her knees. Conover rolled back its sleeves until her engulfed hands were once more visible. Then he spread the mackintosh on the ground near the fire; incidentally dislodging Rex from a carefully chosen bed.

[302]“There!” proclaimed the Fighter. “That’s done. Now you’ve a camp bed. Lay down on that mackintosh an’ I’ll wrap you up in it. You won’t catch cold, even if the fire dies out. Which same it won’t; for I’m goin’ to set up an’ keep it burnin’.”

“In other words,” she said with the stern air of rebuke that he loved, “I am going to curl up in all the wraps there are and go fast to sleep, while you sit up all night long and keep the fire going? I think I see myself doing it!”

“If we had a lookin’ glass along,” he answered, unruffled, “you could. As it is, you’ll just have to take my word for it. I’ll set back on that stump where you are now, an’ I’ll have that big trunk to rest my head on. An’ I’ll sleep a blamed sight better’n I ever do in a Pullman. When I feel cold I’ll know the fire’s dyin’ down an’ I’ll get up an’ tend it, an’ then go to sleep again. It’s a—”

“You’ll do nothing of the sort!” contradicted Desirée. “I’ll—”

“Listen, you little girl,” put in Caleb with rough tenderness. “I like nothin’ so well, as a rule, as to let you boss me. But here’s the one time that I’m goin’ to do the bossin’. You’re tired out, an’ you’re li’ble to take cold unless you keep wrapped up an’ get a good comf’tble sleep. An’ you’re goin’ to get it. Don’t you worry ’bout me, neither. By the time I’ve been restin’ ’gainst that tree trunk five minutes I’ll be in the arms of old Morpheus. It seems a kind of measly[303] trick to put up on Morpheus, whoever he may be. But it’s what I’m goin’ to do.”

The quiet mastery of the man permitted no argument. Indeed, Desirée for some strange reason felt herself unaccountably stirred by it.

“Now,” he went on, “one more armful of this stuff on the pile an’ then I’ll warm the mackintosh for you by the fire an’ let you go to sleep. I wish I’d wore a vest to-day.”

“Why? Oh, you’re cold! You need this—”

“No. I’d like it to roll up into a pillow for you. I’m warm, all right. An’ this fire’ll stay goin’ all night if I feed it up once or twice before mornin’.”

He picked up one of the longer boughs and swung it onto the blaze. The sweep of his arm sent the end of the branch against Desirée. She was rising from her tree-stump seat, at the moment; and the impact of the strong-swung bushy end of the bough threw her off her balance. Not in the least hurt, she nevertheless lost her footing and fell, with an exclamation of dismay, to the ground.

At her cry, Caleb turned. Realizing that he had knocked her down and fearful lest she be badly bruised by the blow, he sprang forward; and with a volley of loud self-reproach, lifted her to her feet.

The grip of his powerful arms gave Desirée a sense of utter peace and protection. That and something more. Something she could not—would not—analyze. Unresisting, she let her body rest inert in his[304] mighty grasp the fraction of an instant longer than was perhaps really needful.

And in that atom of time the mischief was made.

Conover was staring down at her in eager solicitude; still begging her to tell him if she were hurt. She looked up, and their eyes met. Hers were sick with a love that transfigured her. And before their gaze, Conover’s heavy face went blank; then filled with a light of wonder and utter rapture that fairly frightened the girl.

His arms tightened about her in a clasp that robbed her of breath,—and of all will to breathe. She felt herself crushed against the man’s chest, and her upturned face was buried in fierce ecstatic kisses. Kisses wildly awkward and vehement; those of a man unused to giving or receiving caresses. Kisses that kindled in the girl a swift bliss that blinded,—enthralled her.

For a moment Desirée stood moveless, leaning back limply in the iron arms that bound her to her lover’s breast. His kisses rained down on her rapt, white face; upon her wide, starry eyes, her loosened hair.

Then, with a gasping murmur of joy she could not put into words, she suddenly threw her arms about Conover’s thick neck and gave him kiss for kiss. The rank scent of tobacco upon his lips,—the bristle of a day-old beard,—the ugly face itself with its undershot jaw, its square, crude massiveness,—all these things were nothing. Behind them she read and gloried in the love that blazed in the Fighter’s pale eyes.[305] That was all she saw,—had ever seen,—would ever see.

Whether for a minute or for a century the two stood clasped heart to heart, soul to soul, neither could ever remember. At last the great arms released her. The triumphant love that shone in Conover’s face was again tinged with a wonder that was almost reverence.

“Why in blazes didn’t we know this before?” he demanded, hoarse and shaking.

“Speak for yourself!” sobbed the girl. “I’ve known it always, always, always! Ever since I was a child. Every minute since then. There’s just been you! Nothing else counted. And—and you never—”

“Never cared?” he guessed. “Girl, I’ve cared so much it was the life of me. An’ because it was the life I lived n’ the breath I breathed, I didn’t even guess it. Never once. Oh it’s like I’d been trav’lin’ through heaven blin’folded. Why didn’t you tell me? Why wasn’t it like this two years ago? Dey, if I’d known—if I’d understood I felt that way ’bout you, I’d a’—no, I wouldn’t, either. I’d a kep’ away for fear of breakin’ my heart. For it wouldn’t a’ seemed possible you could love me. Say you love me, girl!” he ordered, fiercely. “Say it over an’ over—a lot of times!”

“Love you?” murmured Desirée, her sobs dying away. “Love you?—Why,—!”

With a sudden passion of adoration she flung her[306] arms again about his neck, straining him close to her. She could not speak. She could only press her soft, hot face close—ever so close—to his rough cheek; and cling fast to him as though she feared he might vanish, dreamlike, from her clasp.

“When you went away,” he continued after a divine silence, “it was like the heart of me had been torn out. I didn’t know what ailed me. I thought it was a craze to work. An’ I worked till I set all Granite to totterin’. An’ all the time it was you,—you! Then when I saw you again, there at the station in the mist, it seemed like I’d come home. I wanted to catch hold of your dress an’ beg you never to get out of my sight again. An’ I was ashamed of feelin’ that way, an’ I was afraid you’d find out an’ laugh at me. I was wild in love with you, girl,—an’ I never knew it. Did—did you know I was?”

“I always knew it,” she whispered. “I knew you loved me. That you cared almost as much as I cared. But you never even suspected. And,—oh, how could I tell you?”

Again they were silent for a space. Then she said, a little timidly:

“God meant us for each other, dear love. I believe in such things. And so must you. And we have found each other at last. Here, alone, on the top of the world. Just as He meant us to. Oh, I must be good—so good—if I am to deserve all this.”

“Deserve it?” he echoed in choked amaze. “Girl,[307] you make me feel like hidin’ my head somewheres. What is there in all this for you? I’m a rough, uneddicated chap that most folks look down on, an’ the rest don’t look at, at all. I got nothin’ but my money an’—Oh, Dey, I got you! An’ I’m the happiest man that ever got lost in this measly, heavenly wilderness. It ain’t true. An’ presently I’ll wake up. But while it lasts—”

“It will last forever, darling,” she interposed. “Forever and a day. We couldn’t be brought together like this, just to be parted again. Even Fate couldn’t be as cruel as that. Tell me why you didn’t know you loved me. Sometimes, when you used to talk about marrying—someone else,—I had to bite my lips to keep from calling to you—‘You can’t! It’s I you love!’”

“Why didn’t you, then? You saw me stumblin’ along in the dark. Why did you let me do it, when if you’d said the first word—?”

“I should have said it some day. I know I should. Some day before it was too late. Oh, beloved, did you really think I was going to let you marry—her? Why even she knew better.”

Conover threw back his head and laughed long and loud. A laugh of absolute boyish happiness that rang out over the miles of fog like a challenge to Fate.

“Oh, Lord!” he gurgled. “Gener’lly it gets me wild to be made a fool of. But this is the dandiest joke ever. The whole crowd was on, you say? Ev’rybody but me!”

[308]He grew grave and drew her to him once more. Not impetuously now, but with a gentle reverence.

“Sweetheart,” he said, “I ain’t fit to kiss one of those soaked little mocc’sins of yours. I never worried much, before, ’bout such things;—but now—I kind of wish I’d done diff’rent in lots of things; so’s I could tell you I was reely worth your marryin’. But if you’ll help me, Dey, I’m goin’ to be everything you’d want. An’ one of these days I’ll make you proud of me.”

“I’m prouder of you now, dear,—and I’ve always been prouder—than I could be of any other man alive,” she insisted. “Oh, the miracle of it!”

Before he could stay her, or so much as guess her intent, she had slipped to her knees. Stooping to raise her, he saw her hands were clasped and her lips moving. Awed, he drew back a pace, and looked timidly upward into the Star Country. Then, shutting his eyes very tight he opened communication with Heaven for the first and last time in his life.

“Thanks!” he muttered under his breath.

A pause of mental hiatus,—a helpless groping for words in a wild universe of incoherent gratitude;—then once more a mumbled, shy “Thanks!”—and the prayer,—two words in all,—was ended.

It is possible that longer, more eloquent orisons than his have penetrated less far beyond the frontier of the stars and less close to the ear of the Hearer and Answerer.

[309]Desirée had risen. Simply, half-shyly, like two little children, they kissed each other.

“Now you must go to sleep,” he ordered, picking up the mackintosh and wrapping it closely about her.

“To sleep!” she echoed. “After this? I don’t think I shall ever throw away happy hours again by sleeping through them. I couldn’t sleep now to save my life, even if I wanted to. And I don’t want to. Please let me do the bossing just a little longer, dear heart.”

He had flung another armful of wood upon the fire. Now, picking Desirée up as he might have lifted a baby, he returned to the stump seat. Holding her in his arms, close to his breast, he sat there, and gazed into the flames.

Tired, deliriously content, she nestled to him with a sigh of absolute rapture. There they remained; still; ineffably beatific; at rest; while the fire snapped merrily and the dog at their feet growlingly pursued numberless coveys of low-flying partridges through the aisles of dreamland. Then—

“I don’t s’pose I’ll ever reely understand it,” mused Caleb. “Here I’ve always been thinkin’ I looked on you like you were my daughter an’ that I was a million years older’n you’d ever get to be. An’ now in just one second the whole world turns inside out, an’ I land in heaven; I’m talkin’ ’bout ‘heaven’ to-night like any sky-scout, ain’t I? But it sort of seems the only word.”

[310]“It is very near us,” she made reply, softly. “See,” raising herself in his arms and looking out over the star-gleaming mists below them. “See, the world is new. The seas have swept over all its old sins and follies and sordid workaday life. This island stands alone in the universe. All the rest is engulfed. And you and I are the only people on God’s new earth. We have risen above the old life of mistakes and blindness. Here,—alone—in our new marvel world,—forever and ever.”

Her head sank on his breast. He buried his face in the fragrant wonder of her hair. And once more they fell silent.

“There ain’t a thing I won’t do for you, girl,” went on Conover, by and by. “All by myself I’ve got rich an’ I’ve won ev’ry fight I’ve made. With you to work for I’ll hammer away at Old Man Dest’ny till I’ve got the whole State in my vest pocket. Yes, an’ I’ll try for the White House, too, before I’m done; if you’d like me to. We’re goin’ to build the biggest, most expensive house, right off, that was ever put up in Granite. We’ll build it on Pompton Av’noo, right in the thick of the swells. White marble we’ll make it. An’ you’ll have all the servants an’ horses an’ joolry an’ everything else you want. There won’t be a thing money can buy that you can’t have. I’ll fight the whole world till I’ve piled up such a fortune as’ll make those great big eyes of yours dazzled. An’ it’ll all be for you. All yours.”

“You darling old schoolboy!” she laughed.[311] “Even your daydreams are studded with dollar signs. What do you suppose I care for such things? I have you, and we’re to be together always and always. What else could I want? And, dear,” more gravely, “I’d rather we stayed just as we are and not try for more wealth or more power. I seem to see such things in a new way to-night. Every dollar you win, every forward step in fame or fortune that you take, may mean unhappiness for someone who is less lucky. And, we are so happy, heart of mine, that we can surely let others be happy, too. Can’t we? Let us be content where we stand. You are so rich already that everyone envies you. Don’t let’s turn that envy into hatred by wringing more from people who already have less than we. It will make me so much comfortabler to feel we are using our wealth for happiness. Both for our own and for other peoples’. Am I talking like a goody-goody Sunday School teacher? I don’t mean to. But I know my way is best.”

“It’s always best,” he agreed after a moment. “An’ even if it wasn’t, it’s your way; and so it goes. We’ll do whatever you say. It’ll seem queer to stop fightin’. But,—it’ll seem nice, too. I never thought I’d feel that way. But I do now. An’ I always shall, while you’re by me. You can do anything you want to with me. You always could, an’ you always can.”

“Your arms are so big—so strong,” murmured Desirée. “I seem to be in a fortress where no ill can ever get to me. I’m home!”

[312]He wrapped the coat more closely about her and held her tenderly as a mother, reverently as a priest might bear the Host. And after a time, as she lay against his broad breast, the long curling fringe of her eyelashes began to waver. Sleepily she lifted her face.

“Kiss me goodnight,” she said, her voice slow with drowsiness.

The fire died down and the ring of heat-ramparts it had reared against the autumn cold crumbled away. The sleeping girl rested cozily warm in Conover’s arms. The man, his back against the tree, sat motionless; fearing by the slightest move to disturb her sleep.

He dared not rise to replenish the smouldering fire. He was coatless, and the growing cold gnawed with increasing keenness through the thin négligée shirt, into his arms and shoulders. It was the coldest night he had known since his arrival at the Adirondacks.

As the last flame died down upon the bed of red-gray coals, Rex woke with a quiver of chilliness, crept close to the embers and lay down again. Caleb, first making sure the movement had not disturbed Desirée, fell to envying the dog. The cold had sank into his very bones. The impossibility of shifting his stilted position galled him, as the endless hours crept by. Cramped, half frozen, racked with the agony of stiffening muscles and of blood that could no longer circulate, he clenched his teeth over his underlip from sheer pain. The girl, who at first had lain feather-like[313] in his arms, now seemed heavy enough to tear loose his throbbing biceps. Nor would he, for all the physical anguish of his plight, move her body one hair’s breadth.

And so, like a sleepless Galahad before some old-world forest shrine,—like Stylites on his pillar,—worshipping yet in infinite suffering,—he sat the long night through.

At length his body grew numb, his blood congested. Aching discomfort and cold had wrought their worst on his frame of iron and had left it hardily impervious to further ill. His mind, when bodily surcease came, awoke to new activity. His thoughts, at first disjointed and wonderingly happy, settled down soon to their wonted sharp clearness. Then it was he coolly weighed this thing he had done.

It was like him to array in battle-order all the contrary arguments of the case; that with the brute force of his domination he might batter them to pieces. And a long array they were.

First,—his own social yearnings, his golden dreams of a secure place within the inner charmed circle of Granite society! The only road of ingress had been through marriage with a daughter of that circle. Preferably with Letty Standish. Now all that was out of the question. Desirée herself was popular. But he knew she could not drag up to social prominence a man like himself. She had not family nor other prestige for such a tremendous uplift. Nor, as she herself had said, did she value such position.

[314]Had she married Hawarden, Caine or any of a half dozen other eligible Granite men, Desirée’s own place in society would straightway have become more than assured. With Conover as a husband, she must take rank—or lack of rank—with him. Nothing higher could be in store for her. Forever, Caleb must assail the circle in vain, or else sink back content with his own lot far outside its radius.

The very fact that he was married,—and married to an outsider who would not second his attack,—would render the walls of society impregnable against him. As a single man,—with money and with the power to use the money as a battering ram,—he had already knocked great breaches in the fortifications. Now he could never pass triumphant through those gaps.

A life-ambition,—all-compelling even if unworthy of a strong man,—was wilfully to be foregone. He, who had ever fought with all that was within him for the gratification of his few desires, must now forever abandon the earliest and greatest of them all. On the very eve of his career’s most complete victory he must for all time lay aside the sword.

Something like a sigh broke from between his blue-cold lips. The sound made the girl stir ever so slightly in her sleep. Caleb glanced down in alarm, dreading lest he had broken her slumber. There, against his arm rested Desirée’s upturned face. The dark silken lashes lay peacefully above the sleep-flushed cheeks. She was so little, so helpless, so wonderful,[315] to the eyes bending above her! Inexpressibly precious to him always; a thousand-fold more so, now, in the hour of his renunciation of all else for love of her.

A wave of undreamed-of tenderness swept over Conover; possessing him to the utter extinction of every other thought or passion; sweeping away in its headlong rush all vestige of doubts and regrets. In an instant of blinding soul-light he saw once and for all the futility of what he had abandoned; the God-given marvel of what he had won in its place.

The battle was over. Caleb Conover had lost—and won. In his heart he knew he was no longer the Fighter; no more a seeker for Dead-Sea Fruit. His battles, social and financial, were at an end. This coming clash at the Legislature,—this mission on which Desirée was dispatching him, her true knight, to save the fortunes of others,—should be his last field. After that, a new, strange peace!—and Desirée!

Defiantly, Conover glared out into the night, beyond the smoking remnant of the fire; as though challenging the ghosts of slain ambitions to rise again before him that he might confound them all by merely pointing at the girl who slept in his arms. She—the mere sight of her—should be his reply to their taunts.

Something in his own look or attitude stirred a latent chord of memory. He recalled, by an odd turn of thought, a double-page drawing in one of the English weeklies that he had long ago seen at Desirée’s:—

A rocky hillock whereon sat a man clad in skins;—in[316] his arms an unconscious woman whose long hair streamed over her loose robe;—confronting the twain a shadowy, armored goddess into whose commanding eyes the skin-clad man was staring with an awed courage born of desperation. Beneath the picture were the lines:

So grüsse mir Walhall! Grüsse mir Wotan! Grüsse mir Wälse und alle Helden! Zu ihnen folg’ ich dir nicht!

Desirée had translated the words for Caleb. She had told him the pictured man was Siegmund; who, pausing in his flight to a place of refuge, with the fainting Sieglinde whom he loved, beheld the Valkyr, Brunhilde, and was told by her that a hero’s death and a hero’s reward in Valhalla were in store for him. There in the Viking Paradise, waited the warrior-parent he had lost; there Wotan the All-Father would welcome him. The Valkyries were preparing his place. The heroes of olden days would be his boon companions.

And Siegmund, the Luckless, heard with joy. But one question he asked the goddess:—Would Sieglinde, his fellow fugitive, join him in that abode of the blest? Brunhilde scoffingly replied that Valhalla was for heroes; not for mere women. Then, unflinchingly casting aside his every hope of Paradise, Siegmund kissed the senseless woman’s brow; and, again facing the goddess, made answer:

“Greet for me Valhalla! Greet for me Wotan! Greet for me my father and all the heroes! To them,[317] I’ll follow thee not! Where Sieglinde bides, there shall Siegmund stay.”

Caleb at the time had been but mildly interested in the tale. The fact that Desirée could translate such queer-looking words was to him the most noteworthy feature of the whole affair. Now, with a whimsical comparison to his own case, the incident recurred to him.

Was he not, like Siegmund, keeping watch and ward in the wilderness over the unconscious woman of his heart? Was not the Brunhilde of ambition standing there somewhere in the mystic star-shadows before him, pointing out all that might be his were he to renounce love? And was he not making reply as defiantly, if perhaps not in quite such highflown terms, as had that Dutch chap in the bearskin clothes?

The idea tickled Conover’s torpid imagination; he dwelt upon it with some pride at his own powers of analogy. Then he fell to dreaming of his vast new happiness, of the golden vista that stretched before him and Desirée. And again a wonder, almost holy, filled his heart.

The night voices ceased. Brunhilde, piqued at such unwonted obstinacy from one who had ever heretofore been her slave, had scuttled back to Valhalla in a fine fit of rage; leaving this latter day Siegmund and Sieglinde to their own foolish, self-chosen fate. The cold pressed in more and more cruelly as the night waned. It pierced at times through Caleb’s numbness. He had great ado to keep his teeth from chattering so[318] loudly as to wake the exhausted girl on his breast. The stars grew dim. The dawn-wind breathed across the sky. A paleness crept over the eastern horizon of the fog-sea. The man’s heavy head nodded;—once—and again,—then hung still.

With a sensation of being stared at, Caleb Conover opened his eyes. The pale shimmer in the east had given place to gray dawn. The dawn-wind, too, had waxed stronger; sweeping the fog before it. No longer were the man and woman on an island; but on a hilltop whence on every side stretched away leagues of dull green landscape. Only over the pond did the mist still hover. Directly below, not a quarter mile away, lay the camp.

Nor were they alone on their wonder-hill. On the far side of the dead fire Jack Hawarden stood eyeing them. And his face was as gray and as lifeless as the strewn ashes at his feet.

Conover and the lad looked at each other without speaking. Long and expressionlessly Jack gazed at the waking and the sleeping. Conover noted that the boy’s eyes were haggard and that the youth and jollity had been stricken from his face as by a blow. It was Hawarden who spoke first:

“No one down there is awake yet,” he said, whispering so low that the girl’s slumber was not broken. “I woke up and missed you. I came out of the tent and saw you up here. I didn’t know when you would[319] wake and I was afraid the others might see. So I came. Don’t let her know.”

There was a catch in his breath at the last words. He turned abruptly on his heel and sped down the hillside; his stockinged feet making no sound on the damp mold. Caleb looked dazedly after his receding figure.

“He’s white,” muttered Conover. “White, clear through!”

Desirée moved at sound of his voice, and opened her eyes. For a moment she gazed up into Caleb’s face with blank amaze. Then she knew. Up went her arms, like a waking baby’s, and about his neck. As he bent to kiss her the agony of his stiffened muscles wellnigh made him cry out.

Flushed, laughing, big-eyed from her long sleep, Desirée sprang to her feet. Her glance caught the white gleam of the tents below.

“Oh what luck!” she exclaimed, delightedly. “Not a soul astir! We can get back without anyone knowing. What time is it? Or has time stopped being?”

He rose to feel for his watch;—rose, and toppled clumsily to his knees. His benumbed body refused to obey the will that was never numb. But, mumbling something about having tripped over a root, he forced himself to rise and to put his torturing muscles into motion.

“You’re cold!” she cried, accusingly. “The fire’s out and—”

[320]“Not a bit of it,” he denied, compelling his teeth not to chatter. “I’m as warm as toast. Never felt spryer in my life. Say, girl,” he went on, to turn the subject from his own acute ills, “you’ve had your wish, all right. You said you wanted to give the slip to a Simon Legree chap named Conventionality. An’ I guess we done it.”

His arm about her, her hands clasped over one of his aching shoulders, they made their way down the hillside to the silent camp in the waterside dusk below.



The night train “out,” full of brown and disgruntled returning vacationists, drew away from Raquette Lake Station. Caleb, in the smoking room, his hat pulled over his eyes, his eternal cigar unlighted, sat with shut lids, trying to summon up the memory of Desirée’s big brave eyes as she had bidden him goodbye on the dock. Instead, he could only recall the sweatered, cloaked crowd at the Antlers pier, waiting in the lantern-light to say goodbye to the launchful of departing guests; the two or three cards that had been thrust into his hand,—and of whose purport he had not the remotest idea; the screech of the launch-whistle, and the churning out of the boat into the dark; dragging Caleb away from the happiest hours of all his life.

A man he had met at the Antlers entered the smoking room and tried to talk to him. Conover’s answers were so vague and disjointed that the other soon gave over the attempt. A fellow railroad-magnate from a camp near the lake glanced in at the door and nodded affably to the rising power in the provincial railroad world. Conover did not so much as see the greeting.[322] He was trying once more, with shut eyes, to conjure up Desirée’s face.

He stopped over a train, in New York, next morning; took a cab to the store of a famous Fifth Avenue jeweler and demanded to see an assortment of engagement rings. The clerk laid on a velvet cushion half a dozen diamond solitaires averaging in size from one to two karats and variously set. Caleb waved the collection aside, after a single glance.

“I want the biggest, best diamond ring you got in the place,” he demanded.

A second, far more garish array was produced. Caleb chose from it a diamond of the size of his thumb-nail, looked it over critically and said:

“This’ll do, I guess. Biggest you’ve got? How much?”

At the astounding price named he merely smiled, and drew out his check book.

“That ought to tickle her fancy,” he mused. “Ain’t a di’mond in Granite as big.”

“What size, sir?” asked the clerk.

“Why, that’s the one I’m takin’. That size,” replied Conover, perplexed.

The clerk explained.

“Oh, I see,” stammered Caleb. “I—I didn’t think to ask her. I didn’t even know fingers went by sizes. But—her hand’s a lot smaller’n mine, if that’ll help you any.”

The clerk looked away at some point of interest that had suddenly sprung into his vision at a remote[323] part of the store. Caleb picked up the huge diamond and began to fit the ring on his own fingers. His little finger alone would permit the circlet to slip down as far as the first bulging knuckle-joint.

“It won’t even go on my little finger,” he observed. “I guess that’ll be just ’bout the right size for her.”

“If I might suggest,” offered the clerk, “why don’t you leave the ring with me until you can find out the size of the lady’s finger? Then notify us and we will have it adjusted at once and forwarded to you.”

This in no way suited Caleb’s ideas. He had planned to put the ring on Desirée’s hand, the evening of her return to Granite, three weeks hence. He wanted to witness her delight and surprise. It would offset the incident of the American Beauties. Neither of them had said a word during that last, all-too-short day, about an engagement ring. He hoped she would think he did not know enough to get her one. The girl’s amazement and joy would be so much the greater. Whereas, if he asked her beforehand about the size—

“That’s all right,” he decided. “I’ll take it with me. If it don’t fit she can send it back. But I guess it will.”

It was the eve of the Legislature’s special session. Conover had moved, three days earlier, to the Capital and was massing his legislative cohorts for the charge which was forever to annihilate the revised Starke bill.

[324]The price of Steeloids had slumped ever so little in view of the coming test. Caleb welcomed the slight drop; assuring Caine, Standish and the rest that it but preluded an unheard of “boom” in the stock the moment the result of the Assembly vote became known on ’Change. As to that result he had not an atom of doubt. He knew his strength to the minutest degree. Blacarda had made inroads upon his ranks, it was true; but the breaches were unimportant. And Caleb’s presence in the lobby on the day of the vote, together with certain highly effective secret manœuvres which were to be put into operation that day, would far more than offset them. Compared to the victorious struggle of six months earlier, he prophesied, this second affair would be no contest, but a rout.

The time was long since past when any of Caleb’s financial beneficiaries could receive the lightest of their leader’s forecasts with doubt. Hence the Steeloid ring rejoiced mightily; and plunged so heavily in the stock that the price took a swift preliminary climb even before its promised rise was due.

Caine, and more than one other of Conover’s business associates wondered at the subtle change that two weeks of absence had wrought in their champion. He was as shrewd, as daring, as resourceful as ever. Yet there was a difference. Caine voiced the general opinion when he said to Standish, the day the Assembly opened:—

“If I believed in miracles I should fancy a stray[325] grain of humanity had somehow found its way into the man’s brain.”

The first day’s session of the Assembly was given over to the usual formalities. On the morning of the second, so Conover’s agent in the enemy’s camp reported that night, Blacarda intended to put forward his bill. Caleb was well prepared for the issue. One thing only puzzled him. Knowing Blacarda as he did, he could not understand why the man had tried no subterfuge this time, to draw his arch-opponent away from the scene of action. That such a trick could be attempted without Conover’s learning of it seemed impossible. Yet no tidings of the sort had reached him. And it was not like Blacarda to go into battle against a stronger foe without trying to weaken the odds against himself.

These things Caleb was pondering in his hotel room, early on the evening before the Starke bill was to be presented. He was dressing to go with Caine to a conference of political and business associates, to be held a mile or so distant. And, as he made ready to start out, the answer to his conjecture was received.

It came in the form of a telegram:

Train derailed near Magdeburg. Miss Shevlin badly injured. At Magdeburg hotel. Wire instructions and come by next train. Dangerous.

J. Hawarden, Jr.

For the briefest of intervals Conover’s blood settled[326] down stiflingly upon his heart. Then he laughed in grim relief.

“I thought Friend Blacarda was too sharp to try the same trick twice on me,” he growled, handing the dispatch to Caine, “an’ I thought he’d be afraid to. Seems I was wrong. He knew Dey was at the Antlers with the Hawardens, of course. But he might a’ took the pains to find out she wasn’t goin’ to leave there for a fortnight. I had a letter from her, there, to-day. An’ any railroad man could a’ told him,” he went on contemptuously, “that no train either from Noo York or the Ad’rondacks passes through Magdeburg. But most likely he chose that because it’s an out-of-the-way hole that takes f’ever to get to. Why couldn’t he a’ flattered my intelligence by a fake that had a little cleverness in it? Come on. We’ll be late to that meetin’. I’ll settle once more with Blacarda, afterward. An’ this time he won’t forget so soon.”

“I doubt if Blacarda had any hand in it,” said Caine, as they left the hotel. “There are only two general divisions of the genus ‘Fool.’ And Blacarda belongs to the species that doesn’t put his fingers in the same flame a second time.”

“You don’t mean you think there’s a ghost of a chance the tel’gram’s the reel thing? If I—”

“No, no,” soothed Caine. “As you’ve shown, it’s a palpable fraud. But there are others beside Blacarda who want the Starke bill to go through. The story of his ruse last spring has gone abroad in spite of Blacarda’s attempt to strangle it. And someone,[327] remembering how well the trick worked then, has tried its effect a second time.”

“I’ll put some of my men on the track of it to-morrow,” answered Caleb. “By the time they’re through, I guess there won’t be many crooks left in the State who’ll dare to use Dey Shevlin’s name in their fake mess’ges. Maybe you’re right ’bout its not bein’ Blacarda himself. I’m kind of glad, too. He’ll get enough gruellin’ to-morrow without any extrys thrown in.”

“Poor old Blacarda! I’m afraid you’ll take away his perpetual grievance against you and leave him nothing but grief.”

“Grievance!” scoffed Conover. “He’s got no grievance. All’s he’s got is a grouch. There’s all the diff’rence in the world between the two. A white man with sense may have a grievance. But only a sorehead an’ a fool will let their grievance sour into a grouch. Blacarda’s grouch against me is doin’ him more harm than all my moves could. He hates me. That’s where he makes his mistake. Hate’s the heaviest handicap a feller can carry into a fight. If you’ve got a grievance against a man or want to get the best of him, don’t ever spoil your chances by hatin’ him. It won’t do him any hurt, an’ it’ll play the dickens with your own brain an’ nerves.”

“I suppose,” queried Caine ironically, “there was no hatred in your attack on Blacarda in his hotel room last spring? Pure, high-souled justice?”

“No,” grumbled Caleb. “It was hate. An’ I got[328] it out of my system the quickest, easiest way I could. If I’d bottled all that up an’ let it ferment till now, I’d be layin’ awake nights, losing sleep an’ health an’ nerve while I figgered out how cute he’d look with his throat cut from ear to ear. As it is, I’ve no more hard feelin’ about crushin’ Blacarda than I’d have if he was a perfec’ stranger. Yes, son, hate harms the hater a lot more’n it harms the hatee. You can bank on that.”

“I wonder if young Hawarden will agree with your peaceful doctrine,” hazarded Caine, “when he hears how some financial heeler has taken his name in vain in that telegram?”

“He’ll most likely hunt the feller up an’ lick him,” responded Conover. “He’s all right, that boy is. I’ve took a shine to him. Pity he ain’t got some commonsense ambition instead of hankerin’ after litterchoor. Kind of petty trade for a grown man, ain’t it?”

“No,” dissented Caine. “I should call slow starvation one of the big things of life. There’s nothing petty about it that I can see.”

“That’s the answer, hey? He told me ’bout a feller he’d met once at the Antlers who made twenty thousan’ a year just by writin’ novels ’bout s’ciety. Now, Hawarden knows all ’bout the s’ciety game. I sh’d think he’d write such stories fine.”

“The stories of Jack’s that I’ve read,” answered Caine, “all centre around labor problems and other things the boy knows as little about as if he had taken[329] a postgraduate course in ignorance. He couldn’t write a society story if he tried.”

“Why not? I sh’d think—”

“Because he’s been born and brought up in that atmosphere. A society man could no more write about society than he could write a love sonnet to his own sister.”

“But that kind of stories get written,” faltered Caleb, grubbing vainly for a possible jest in his friend’s puzzling dictum. “Somebody must write ’em.”

“On the contrary,” denied Caine. “Nobodies write them. For instance, there is a man who was born in South Brooklyn or somewhere; and spent a year or two in Europe. So much for his environment. He used to write charming stories. They were fairly vibrant with satire, humor, color and a ceaseless rush of action. His nature-descriptions were revelations in word-painting. I always read every line he wrote. So did some other people. But only some. Then he moved to a little village, away from the centre of things, and forthwith began to write novels of New York Society.

“It was very easy. The Sunday papers cost him no more than they cost anyone else. He fell to describing the innermost life of New York’s innermost smart set. He scorned to depict a single character that wasn’t worth at least a million. Silver, cut glass and diamonds strewed his pages; till one longed for brown bread and pie. He flashed the fierce white light of unbiased ignorance into the darkest corners of a society[330] that never was by sea or land. And what was the result? In a day he leaped to immortality. The shop-girl read him so eagerly that she rode past her station. The youth behind the counter learned to rattle off the list of his books as easily as the percentages of the base ball-clubs. In the walks of life that he so vividly portrayed, such people as read at all made amused comments that could never by any possibility reach his ears. We others who had reveled in his earlier books felt as we might if an adored brother has left the diplomatic service to become a bartender. But we were in the minority. So we re-read Browning’s ‘Lost Leader,’ dropped the subject and sought in vain for a new idol.”

“I s’pose so,” agreed Caleb, hazily, recalling his wandered attention as Caine paused. “I wish I hadn’t got that tel’gram.”

It was after midnight when Caleb Conover returned to his room. Three more telegrams awaited him, as well as a penciled request that he call up Magdeburg Hotel on the long-distance telephone. While he was profanely waiting for the operator to establish the connection, Caleb ripped open the telegrams one after the other. All were from Jack. Each bore the same burden as the message that had come early in the evening. The last of the trio added:

“Long-distance ’phone wires here temporarily out of order. Will call you as soon as they are repaired; on chance your train may not yet have gone.”

[331]“Here’s your party, sir,” reported the operator.

Curiously sick and dazed, even while his colder reason assured him the whole affair was probably a fraud, Conover caught up the receiver.

“That Magdeburg?” he shouted, “Magdeburg Hotel? This is Conover. Caleb Conover. Lady named Shevlin there? Is she hurt?”

“Yes,” came the answer, droned with maddening indistinctness through a babel of buzzing sounds. “Lady’s hurt pretty bad. If she ain’t dead already. I just come on duty five minutes ago. So I don’t—Wait a second. Gentleman wants to speak to you.”

Then, through the buzz and whirr, spoke another voice. Unmistakably Jack Hawarden’s.

“Mr. Conover?” it called.

“Yes!” yelled Caleb, driving the words by sheer force through the horror that sanded his throat, “Go ahead!”

“You haven’t even started?” cried the boy, a break in his voice. “For God’s sake, come! Come now!”

As no reply could be heard, Jack’s tones droned on; their despair twisted by distance into a grotesque, semi-audible squeak:

“She may not live through the night, the doctor says. You see,” he rambled along, incoherently talkative in his panic, “we were called away from the Antlers, suddenly, by a letter telling my mother her sister in Hampden was ill. So we all left, two weeks earlier than we had meant. When we got to Hampden my mother stayed there and I started back to[332] Granite with Miss Shevlin. We took the branch road; and just outside of Magdeburg—”

“Party’s rung off long ago,” put in the operator.

Caleb, at Jack’s second sentence, had dropped the receiver, bolted from the hotel and hailed a night-hawk hansom. Already he was galloping through the empty streets toward the station; scribbling with unsteady hand on envelope-backs a series of orders and dispatches that should assure him a clear track and a record-breaking journey from the Capital to Magdeburg. This detail arranged, his brain ceased to act. Sense of time was wiped out. So, mercifully, was realization of pain. In the cab of the road’s fastest engine he crouched through the long hours of darkness; while the wheels jolted out an irritating, meaningless sing-song refrain that ran:


To still the hateful iteration and to rouse himself to some semblance of calm, Caleb pulled from his side pocket a bunch of letters brought on from his office at Granite that same afternoon, by his secretary. He had been busy when the package arrived and had thrust it into his coat. Now he drew it forth and mechanically began to glance over the envelopes.

It was personal mail and had been accumulating for days. Desirée always addressed her letters to his hotel at the Capital; and his secretary attended to[333] official mail. So Caleb had not ordered the forwarding of such personal letters as might come to the office. In fact he had been mildly annoyed at the secretary’s well meant act in bringing them to him.

Through the small sheaf of envelopes his thick fingers wandered. Suddenly, the man’s lack-lustre look brightened to one of astonishment. Midway in the package was an envelope in Desirée Shevlin’s hand. Letting the rest of the letters slide to the swaying floor the Fighter nervously caught this up. Why had she written to the office instead of to his hotel? Probably, he thought, by mere mistake. A mistake that meant a few moments of surcease now from his nightmare journey.

With ice-damp fingers Conover held the letter; tore it open as though the ripping of the paper caused him physical pain; smoothed wide the pages with awkward, awed gentleness, and read:

“Heart’s Dearest:—Just as soon as you’ve read this, you can come straight to see me. Honestly! For I’ll be at home. Mrs. Hawarden’s sister is ill. We only heard of it by this noon’s mail and we are leaving by the night train. At first I wanted to telegraph you at the Capital. But if I do I’m so afraid you will drop everything and come to meet me. And you mustn’t. You must stay at the Capital till you win your fight there for all the men who have put money in Steeloid. We are so happy we can’t afford to do anything now to make other people blue. Can we? So stay and[334] win for them. That’s why I’m sending this to your office.

“You have just come back to Granite all tired from your work. Then you saw my letter and opened it and—I’m afraid you’re on your way to my house before you’ve gotten this far.

“Oh, dear! This is the last of my little batch of Adirondack love letters. And I believe you’re rushing off to see me instead of reading it. And it isn’t a love letter after all. For it’s going to be only a note. I’ve all my packing to do and the ‘white-horse chariot’ comes for our trunks at six. It has been a beautiful vacation. Two weeks of it was heaven. And the memory of that last golden day of ours makes something queer come into my throat.

“But I’m oh so glad,—so glad—we are coming away. Every minute brings me nearer to Granite. You won’t be there when I arrive; but I’ll be where you have lived. And I’ll be waiting for you every minute till you come back. Just thinking about you and loving you, heart of my heart.

“I’m glad, too, that we are leaving the Antlers before everyone else does. It is sad, somehow, to watch the boat-loads go off into the dark and to be part of the dwindling group that is left. It is pleasantest to go away from a place,—yes, and from the world, too, I should think,—while everything is at its height; before friends thin out and the jolly crowd falls away and the happy, happy times begin to end. To leave[335] everything in the flood-tide of the fun and to remember it as it was at its best; to be remembered as a little part of the happiness of it all. Not as one of the few last ones left behind.

“What a silly way to write! This isn’t a love letter at all. I told you it wasn’t. But I had a horrid dream last night and it has given me the shivers all day. I think some of its hagorousness has crept into my pen. No, I won’t write it. I’ll tell you all about it when I see you. And then you can put your darling strong arms around me and laugh at me for letting myself get frightened by a silly dream. I wish this was a love letter. I never wrote one till this past week. So I don’t know how to say what I want to; to say all the wonderful things that are in my heart. But I love you, my own. And the whole world centres just around you. It always has. But now that you know it does, I feel so happy it frightens me. We’re going to be together forever and ever and ever—and ever,—and then some more. Aren’t we? Say so!

“Say so, beloved, and hold me very tight in your arms, very near to your heart when you say it. For to-day I’m foolish enough to want to be comforted a little bit. I wish I hadn’t had that dream. It was all nonsense, wasn’t it? Dreams never come true. So I won’t worry one minute longer. Only,—I wish I was with you, my strong, splendid old sweetheart. The only dream that can possibly come to pass is the[336] glorious one we dreamed that night up on the mountain with the sea of mist all around us and God’s stars overhead. And we will never wake from it.

“The gentle, friendly northland summer is over now and the frost lies thick nearly every morning. It is time to go.

“Oh, my darling, I am coming home to you. Home! We must never be away from each other again. Not for a single day;—so long as we live.”



The sky was gray with morning as Conover stumbled into a sitting room of the little Magdeburg Hotel. Two men turned toward him. One of them, his arm in a sling—a great plaster patch on his forehead and dried blood caking his face,—hurried forward. Caleb looked twice before he recognized Jack Hawarden.

“Thank Heaven you’re here!” exclaimed the lad. “She—”

“She’s alive yet?” croaked the Fighter.

“Yes, yes! In there,” pointing to a closed door. “Wait!” as Caleb reached the door at a bound. “Dr. Bond is dressing some of her hurts again. He’ll be through in a minute. Then I’ll take you in. Mr. Conover, this is the Reverend Mr. Grant. He has been very, very kind. He helped us lift the wreckage from her, and—”

“Is she goin’ to get well?” demanded Caleb, wheeling about on the clergyman.

“All is being done that mortal skill can do,” answered Mr. Grant with gentle evasion, “The local physician—”

“‘Local physician?’” mocked Caleb. “Here,[338] Hawarden! Sit down there an’ tel’graph to Dr. Hawes an’ Dr. Clay at Granite. Tell ’em to come here in a rush an’ bring along the best nurses they can find. Tel’graph my office in my name to give ’em a Special an’ to clear the tracks for ’em. Tel’graph to Noo York, too, for the best specialists they’ve got. An—”

“I’m afraid, sir” interposed the clergyman, “there is no use in sending to New York. No doctor there could reach Magdeburg—in time.”

“You do’s I say!” Caleb ordered the lad. Then turning fiercely on Mr. Grant he demanded:

“What d’you mean by sayin’ he won’t get here on time? She’s goin’ to get well, if a couple of million dollars worth of med’cal ’tention can cure her. If not—”

“If not, sir,” said the clergyman, speaking tenderly as a father, “we must bear God’s will. For such as she there is no fear. She has the white soul of a child. She will go out of this lesser life of ours borne on the strong arm of Christ. She—”

“No ‘fear’ for her?” yelled Conover, catching but a single phrase in the other’s attempt at comfort, “Who the hell is fearin’ for her? That girl’s fit to look on God’s own face an’ live. It’s for me that I’m afraid. For me that I’m afraid. For me that she’d leave to live on without her through all the damned dreariness of the years. What’d there be in it for me to know she was in heaven? I want her. I want her here. With me! An’ she’d rather be with me. I[339] know she would. I’d make her happier’n all the angels that ever—”

“You don’t mean to blaspheme,” said the clergyman, “You are not yourself. She is brave. She knows no dread. Can’t you be as brave as she is,—for her sake? She is learning that Death is no longer terrible when one is close enough to see the kind eyes behind the mask. I know how black an hour this is for you. But God will help you if only you will carry your grief to Him. When man can endure no more, He sends Peace. If—”

The door of the inner room opened, and a bearded man emerged. He paused on the threshold at sight of Caleb. The Fighter thrust him bodily aside, without ceremony; entered the room the doctor had just quitted and closed the door behind him.

The light burned low. In the centre of the big white bed,—a pathetically tiny figure,—lay Desirée. Her wonderful hair flowed loose over the pillow. The little face, white, pain-drawn, yet smiling joyous welcome from its great eyes, turned eagerly toward her lover. With an effort whose anguish left her lips gray she stretched forth her arms to him.

An inarticulate, sobbing cry that rent his whole body burst from the Fighter. The dear arms closed above his heaving shoulders and his head lay once more on the girl’s breast. Through the hell of his agony stole for the moment that old, weirdly sweet sense of being at last safe from all the noise and battle of the world;—at[340] home. And, as a mother might hush a frightened child, the stricken girl soothed and comforted him; whispering secret love-words of their own; lulling to rest the horror that was consuming him.

And after a time the shock passed, bringing the man’s inborn optimism back with a rush. This girl who spoke so bravely, who even laughed a little in her eagerness to comfort him,—she could not be at death’s door. This local pill-mixer who had pulled so long a face,—he and the parson chap whose business it was to speed earth’s parting guests,—between them they had cooked up a fine alarm. They had scared him,—they and that fool boy who knew nothing about accidents and whose own minor injuries no doubt made him think Desirée must be incurably hurt.

Caleb had seen many men who had been injured in railroad smashups. They had writhed clumsily, emitting raucous screams ’way down in their throats;—or had lain senseless in queer-shaped heaps, from the first. Not one of them had been coherent, calm,—yes, even cheerful,—like this worshipped little sweetheart of his. The first shock was bringing its normal reaction to the Fighter’s brain and nerves. As ever, it was imparting to them a redoubled power to cast off depression.

He raised his head; and, by the dim light, studied Desirée’s face. The brave, beautiful eyes met his with a message of deathless love. The tortured lips were parted in a smile.

[341]All at once he knew he was right. She would get well. The enginery that had made his fortune would not crush out her life. The railroad that had brought him wealth was not to bring him desolation as well. The foreknowledge set his blood to tingling.

“Are you sufferin’ so very much, girl?” he asked.

And she, reading his thoughts as she had always done, smiled again as she answered:

“Not very much, dear heart. Hardly at all, now that you’re here. Oh, it’s good to have you with me again! I was afraid you mightn’t—”

She stopped. He thought he knew why, and made answer:

“Thought I mightn’t come, hey? Why, girl, if you had a smashed finger an’ sent for me to come clear across the world to kiss it an’ make it well, I’d come. An’ you know I would. An’ you’re really better since I got here?”

“Much, much better.”

“I knew it!” he declared, in triumph. “I knew you’d come ’round all right. I had a hunch you would. An’ my hunches don’t ever go wrong. I’ve sent for the best doctors in America. If there’s better doctors in Yurrup I’ll send for those, too. An’, among ’em they’ll have you fit as a fiddle in no time. You’ll get well, for me, darling. You’ll get well! You’ll get well!”

He struck his hand on the bedpost to drive home the prophecy.

“Yes, dear,” she whispered, faint with a new spasm[342] of pain as the jar of his hand’s impact shook the bed.

“Oh!” he laughed, nervously, “I was so scared, girl. So scared! It seemed like the world was tumblin’ about my ears. If I’d come here an’ found—”

He could not go on.

“I know, dear, I know!” she told him, stroking his bristled red hair as she spoke, “It would be terribly lonely for you if—if anything happened to me. You are so strong in some ways. Yet in others you are a child. No one understands you except me. No one else can break through the rough outer-world shell to the big gentle boy that hides inside it. If I were not here with you, no one would ever look for that boy. No one would even suspect he was there. And by and by he would die for lack of companionship. The hard rough armor would go on through life. But the soul,—the boy I love,—would be dead. Oh, you need me, dear! You need me! The poor helpless friendly little boy behind the brutal shell,—the real you,—needs me. He can’t live without me. No one else will love him, or even know he is in his hiding place waiting and longing to be made friends with, I can’t let you go!”

The soft voice broke, despite the gallant spirit’s commands. And the tone went through Conover like white-hot steel.

“Don’t talk so, Dey!” he implored, “Don’t speak like you weren’t goin’ to get well. You are, I tell you!”

[343]“Yes, dear,” she assented once more, petting the big awkward hand that clung to her.

“Of course you are,” he protested valiantly, “It’s crazy of me to a’ thought anything else. An’ I didn’t, really. You’ll be as well as ever you was, in a week or less. I’m havin’ nurses tel’graphed for, too. The best there are. An’,” a veritable inspiration crossing the brain he was racking for further words of encouragement, “An’ I’ve got a present for you. A dandy one. Guess what it is.”

“Flowers?” she asked, forcing an interest into her query.

“Flowers!” he echoed in fine scorn, “Somethin’ nicer’n all the flowers that ever happened! See!”

He fished from his waistcoat pocket a little box wrapped with tissue paper that was none the cleaner for a week’s companionship with tobacco-dust and lead pencils.

“Oh, let me open it!” she commanded, with a vestige of her old sweet imperiousness. “That’s the best part of a present.”

She undid the grimy paper, opened the box and gazed in childish delight at the gorgeous diamond in its platinum setting.

“I knew you’d like it,” he chuckled, “Han’somest ring in New York. From the best store there, too. See the name on the box-cover. How’s that for an engagement ring?”

“It’s beautiful! Beautiful!” she murmured.

[344]She slipped it on her third finger, whence it hung heavy and ridiculously loose.

“Maybe it’s a little too large,” he confessed, “But we’ll have that fixed easily enough. I didn’t want to ask your size beforehand for fear you might suspect somethin’. So I had to guess at it.”

She praised the diamond’s beauties until even Conover was content. Then she lay back among the pillows and fought movelessly for endurance. Her waning strength, keyed up to its highest pitch for Caleb’s sake, was deserting her. To hide her weakness she began playing with the ring; slipping it from finger to finger until at length the circlet hung loose from her thumb. Caleb watched her slender hand toying with the gift.

“It’ll be a mighty short time, now,” said he, “before we fit on a plain gold ring above that! Hey?”

At his words the girl, to his dismay, broke into a passion of tears.

“There! There!” he consoled, passing his arms about the frail tormented body, “Why, what is it, sweetheart? Too much excitement after your accident? I ought to a’ had better sense than to keep you talkin’ like this. Try an’ get some sleep. An’ when you wake up you’ll feel better. Lots better. Don’t cry! It breaks me all up to have you do it. Don’t, precious!”

“I—I love you so,” panted the girl, “There’s just you in all the world, Caleb! You’ll stay close by me always, won’t you? Just as long as I live?”

[345]“You bet I will!” he declared, “An’ I’ll never let you out of my sight. I ain’t more’n half myself when you’re away. I need you worse’n you can ever need me, Dey. You’re just the heart of me.”

“Don’t take your arms away,” she begged, “They are so strong, so safe. Listen, dear:—I want you to pick me up,—I’m not too heavy, am I?—Pick me up and carry me. I want to be close to you,—closer than I ever was before. You are so big,—so powerful. And—I feel so weak. I’m a little restless; that’s all,” she added hastily, “And it will quiet me to be held.”

He gathered her gently to his breast. Her arms clasped his neck; her face was buried in his shoulder to stifle the cry of agony evoked by the movement of lifting. Then, carrying her closely to his heart, Conover began to pace the room, bearing the girl as easily and as lightly as though she were a baby.

The tenderness of his caress now held no roughness. The motion and the reliance on his perfect strength quieted her suffering and gave her the sense of utter peace she had known when she fell asleep in his arms on the Adirondack hilltop.

“I am very happy!” she sighed, “Do I tire you?”

“Not much you don’t, you little bit of a girl!” he laughed, “I could carry you always. An’ I’m goin’ to. Right close in my heart. Say, there was a man out in the other room when I came. A minister. He said a queer thing. Somethin’ ’bout bein’ carried on the ‘strong arm of Christ.’”

[346]“I think I know what he meant,” said Desirée, softly.

“H’m! Sometime when you’re better I’ll get you to explain it to me. I’d rather talk ’bout you, just now. D’you remember that time I sat by the fire an’ held you like this while you went to sleep?”

“Do I remember?” she answered, “There has never been one hour I’ve forgotten it. It made me feel so safe from harm; so sure, so happy. Perhaps,—yes, I’m sure—that’s the way one must feel when—”

“Are you thinkin’ ’bout what that preacher said?” asked Caleb, miserably, “Don’t, girl! It’ll be years and years before you ever need to think ’bout those things. A month from now we’ll both laugh over the scare I had.... Your eyes get wonderfuller all the time, Dey. I never knew quite how lovely they were till now. There’s a light in ’em like they was lookin’ at somethin’ a common chap like me couldn’t see.”

She drew his head down and their lips met in a long kiss. As he raised his face he half-fancied she whispered some word; but he could not catch its purport.

He resumed his pacing to and fro. After a time Desirée’s lashes drooped. Her quick breathing grew slow and regular.

“I didn’t think—anyone could—be so—happy,” she murmured, drowsily. “It’s sweet to—to rest—in your arms.”

He bent to kiss her on the forehead. The brow[347] that had been so hot to his first touch was cool and moist.

“You’re better already!” he cried in delight. “Say, sweetheart, I got an idea. To-morrow let’s get that preacher chap to marry us. Shan’t we? Then as soon as you get well enough, we’ll go somewhere for the dandiest weddin’ trip on record. To Yurrup, if you like. Or back to the Antlers. Or anywhere you say. An’ I’ll buy you the prettiest clo’es in all Noo York; an’ you can get a whole cartload of joolry, if you like. I’d pay ev’ry cent I got in the world to keep that wonderful, happy light in those big eyes of yours. Will you marry me to-morrow, girl?”

Desirée did not answer. She was asleep. On tiptoe, Caleb crossed to the bed. He laid her down upon it, smoothing the hot tumbled pillows with his unaccustomed hand. Then he tiptoed with ponderous softness out of the room and closed the door silently behind him.

“Well!” he exclaimed gleefully, addressing Jack and the doctor who were consulting at the far end of the next room. “Guess I had my fright for nothin’! She’ll get on fine. She’s sound asleep, an’ her forehead’s—”

“It is the morphia I gave her to deaden the pain,” said the doctor. “If she had not been suffering so terribly it would have taken effect before.”

“Morphia? Sufferin’?” repeated Caleb. “Why, she’s hardly sufferin’ at all. Told me so, herself. Look here!” he went on, bullyingly, as he advanced[348] on the physician, “D’ye mean to say there’s a chance she won’t get well?”

“There is no earthly power,” retorted the doctor, nettled at the domineering tone, “that can keep her alive ten hours longer.”

“You lie! Don’t I know—?”

“I cannot thrash you in the anteroom of death,” answered the doctor, “and I take your sorrow into consideration. But what I just said is true. Miss Shevlin has sustained internal injuries which cannot but prove fatal. Nothing but her yearning to see you again has kept her alive as long as this. It is best to be frank.”

Caleb was eyeing him stupidly. At last he turned to Jack.

“Did you send those tel’grams?” he asked; and his voice was dead.

“Yes, sir,” replied Hawarden. “I sent them, but—”

“But I told him it was useless,” put in the doctor. “There is not a fighting chance. She will not come out of this morphia stupor. The moisture on her forehead is what you laymen would call the ‘death-sweat.’ She—”

“You lie!” broke forth Caleb, beside himself. “You may fool women and children by your damn profess’nal airs, but it don’t go down with me. I’ve seen folks die. An’ they ain’t sane an’ cheerful an’ bright like Dey Shevlin was just now. You quacks make a livin’ by throwin’ med’cines you don’t half understand[349] into systems you don’t understand at all. As long’ it’s a triflin’ case of mumps or headache, you look all-fired wise an’ write out p’scriptions in a furren language to hide your ignor’nce. But when anything’s reely the matter you’re as helpless as a drunken longshoreman. If the patient dies from your blunders an’ from the dope you throw hap-hazard into him, he ‘hadn’t a chance from the start.’ If he gets well in spite of you, it’s your almighty skill that ‘pulled him through.’ When a feller gets colic an’ you call it appendicitis, what do you do? You don’t rest till you get a chance to stick your knives into him. If he gets well, it’s a ‘mir’cle of modern surgery.’ If he croaks, the ‘op’ration was a success,’—only the patient got peevish an’ died. There never yet was an appendicitis case where the quack in charge didn’t say there’ a been ‘no hope if the op’ration had been delayed another two hours.’ Oh, you’re a fine lot of fakers an’ gold-brick con men, you doctors! An’ now you say my little girl’s dyin’! God damn your soul, I tell you again you lie!”

The doctor picked up his black bag without replying and moved toward the outer door.

“Where you goin’?” demanded Caleb.

“I’m going home,” was the stiff retort. “I drop this case. I do not care to be associated longer with a wild beast like—”

The words were choked in his mouth. At a spring, Conover had cleared the space between them, had caught the physician by the throat and was shaking him[350] back and forth with jerks that threatened to snap the victim’s spine. Then he hurled him to the centre of the room and towered over him, ablaze with fury.

“Yes, I’m a wild beast, all right!” he snarled. “An’ I’m li’ble to become a hom’cidal one at that. ‘Drop the case,’ would you? Sneak out an’ leave that poor kid in there to lose what chance she might have from your help? Well, Mr. Doctor, if you take one step out into that hall, the next step you take’ll be in hell. What’s more, you’ll go back to that sick room, right now; an’ you’ll work over Miss Shevlin like you never worked before. If I catch you neglectin’ her or tryin’ to get away,—by the Eternal, I’ll tear you in half with my bare hands! Now go! Go in there!”

The doctor, his rage tempered by the memory of the iron fingers on his windpipe, glared at the madman in angry irresolution. Caleb’s muscles tightened ominously. The physician recoiled a step in most unprofessional haste.

“You are a dangerous maniac!” he said somewhat unsteadily, “and you shall go to prison for this outrageous assault. For the present, I shall remain on the case. Not because of your threats, but from common humanity toward—”

“Toward yourself,” finished Caleb, satisfied that he had won his point. “An’ just to make sure, I’ll lock the outer door of this suite an’ pocket the key. Now go back to your patient!”

Outside, there was glaring, heartless sunshine. In[351] the sick room stood Caleb and Jack, one on either side of the bed over which the doctor was bending. With closed eyes, Desirée Shevlin rested where Conover had laid her. For hours she had lain thus.

“I can do no more,” pronounced the doctor, rising and meeting Caleb’s glazed eye. “The end may come now at any moment.”

The Fighter, his every faculty drowned in the horrible egotism of grief, made no answer.

“If only there were someone to pray!” muttered Jack, battling to keep back the tears. “I wish Mr. Grant was—”

“Pray?” echoed Caleb, rousing himself and clutching at the faint hope. “It can’t do any harm. Pray, man! Pray!

“I—I can’t!” babbled the boy. “I don’t know how. I never prayed in my life. I—”

“Try it!” groaned Caleb. “Try it, I say! You may have beginner’s luck!”

“No use!” interposed the doctor. “It’s over.”

As he spoke, Desirée stirred ever so slightly. Her closed eyes opened. She seemed to settle lower in the bed. Then she lay very still.

With a sobbing cry Jack Hawarden rushed from the room. Conover stood, dumb, petrified, staring wildly down into the unseeing, all-seeing eyes.



Under the concentrated anguish of Conover’s gaze the girl’s long lashes seemed to flicker ever so slightly. Through the Gethsemane of the moment the impossible fancy that she lived pierced Caleb’s numbed brain; tearing away the apathy that was closing over him. All at once he was again the Fighter,—the man who could not know defeat.

“She is alive!” he persisted as the physician turned from the bed. “Look! She—”

Dr. Bond’s bearded lip curled in a sad derision that woke Caleb’s smouldering antagonism into flame. With a sudden insane impulse the Fighter knelt on the edge of the bed and caught up the pitifully still little hands.

Dey!” he cried, his great rough voice echoing through the dreadful hush of the room.

Bond opened his mouth to protest; then shrank back to the wall, staring in heavy wonder.

Dey!” called the Fighter again, an agony of command in his tone. “Dey! Come back!

It was not the wail of a weak nature vainly summoning the Lost to return. Rather it was the sharp, fierce call of the officer who by sheer force of accepted[353] rulership rallies his stricken men. Sublimely imperious, backed by a will of chilled steel and by a mentality that had never been successfully balked, the Fighter’s voice resounded again and again in that harsh, domineering order:

Dey! Come back!

Calling upon his seemingly dead love to re-enter the frail flesh she was even now quitting, Conover threw into his appeal all the vast strength that was his and the immeasurably enforced power of his despair and adoration. He held the white hands gripped tight to his chest; his face close to the silent girl’s; his light eyes blazing into hers; his every faculty bent with superhuman pressure upon drawing an answering sign from the lifeless form.

“It is madness!” muttered the doctor; infected nevertheless by the dominant magnetism that played about the Fighter and that vibrated through every tone of his imperative voice. “It is madness. She is dead, or—”

Conover did not heed nor hear. He had no consciousness for anything save this supreme battle of his whole life. Vaguely he knew that the innate mastership within him which for years had subdued strong men to his will had been as nothing to the nameless power that love was now enabling him to put forth.

From the threshold of death,—yes, from the grave itself,—she should come at his call; this little, silent wisp of humanity that meant life and heaven to him.

The red-haired man was fighting.

[354]He had always been fighting. But the fiercest of his campaigns had hitherto been as child’s play by comparison with this contest with the Unknown. Once again he was “taking the Kingdom of Heaven by violence!” This time literally.

The mad whim had possessed him through no conscious volition of his own; and he had acted upon it without reflection. He was matching his mortal power against the Infinite.

He was doing what Science knew could not be done; what the most hysterical spiritualist had never claimed power to achieve. He was trying, by force of personality and sheer desire, to check the flight of a soul upon the Borderland.

And over and over again his voice swelled, untiring, through the room, in that one all-compelling demand:—a demand that held no note of entreaty, nor of aught else save utter, fierce domination.

Dey! Come back!

The doctor, scared, irresolute, slipped from the room. This type of mania was outside his experience. In time it would wear itself out. In the meanwhile, his nerves could not endure the sound of that ceaseless calling; the sight of the tense, furiously masterful face.

It was two hours later that Dr. Colfax, the first of the summoned New York specialists, arrived. Jack Hawarden met him at the entrance of the hotel and briefly explained the case.

[355]“I wish,” the boy added, “you would go in and see what you can do for Mr. Conover. I’m afraid he has lost his mind. I looked into the room several times and—”

He shuddered at the picture conjured up. His nerves had gone to pieces.

“It was terrible,” he went on. “I didn’t dare interrupt him. He was crouching there, holding her close to him and looking at her as if he’d drag her spirit by main force back into her body. And all the time he was saying over and over—”

“I will go up,” said the specialist, cutting in on the narrative. “Even if the local physician did not complete a full examination to make sure she was dead, such insane treatment would destroy any chance of life. Show me the way.”

Together they entered the sick room. Conover had not stirred. Through the closed door they had heard the hoarse rumble of his eternal command:—

Dey! Come back!

Dr. Colfax walked briskly across to the bed.

“Here!” he said, addressing Caleb in the sharp tones used for arousing the delirious. “This won’t do! You must—”

He paused; his first idle glance at Desirée’s pale face changing in a flash to one of keen professional interest. He caught one of her wrists, at the point where it was engulfed in Caleb’s great hand; held it for an instant; then, turning, flung open his black medical case.

[356]Jack, who had lingered at the door, hurried forward on tiptoe.

“You don’t mean—?” he whispered quaveringly.

“The local physician was mistaken,” returned Dr. Colfax in the same key. “Or she—” he hesitated.

“I have heard of such cases,” he murmured, in wonder. “But I only know of two that are authentic. It is more probable that she was merely in a collapse. I can inquire later.”

While he talked, he had been selecting and filling a hypodermic needle. Now, stepping past Conover, who had not noted the newcomers’ presence, he pressed the needle-point into Desirée’s forearm.

“You really think then—?” cried Jack.

“I think it is worth a fight!” snapped the doctor. “Go down and see if my nurse has come. I left her at the station. She could not walk as fast as I. Go out quietly. This man doesn’t even know we are here, but I don’t want to take any chance just yet of breaking his ‘influence.’ Time enough for that when the digitalis begins to act.”

Caleb Conover stretched himself and sat up. He felt oddly weak and depressed. For the first time in his life he was tired out.

For twenty hours he had slept. The afternoon sun was pouring in at the windows. Caleb glanced stupidly about him and recognized the anteroom leading off from the sick chamber. Vaguely at first, then more clearly, he recalled that someone—ever and ever[357] so long ago—had shaken him by the shoulder and had repeated over and over in his ears “She is alive!

Then, at last the iterated words of command that had been saying themselves through his own lips for three hours had somehow ceased, and something in his head had given way. He had lurched into the anteroom, tumbled over on a sofa and had fallen asleep at once from sheer exhaustion. And Dey—?

Weakly cursing the gross selfishness that had let him sleep like a log while Desirée’s life had hung in the balance Conover got to his feet and made for the door of the sick room. His step was springless, clumping, noisy. Dr. Colfax, hearing it, came out from the inner room to meet him. Caleb gazed at the man with dull vacancy. He did not remember having seen him before.

“Miss—Miss Shevlin?” asked Conover, thickly; his throat agonizingly raw from the long hours of tireless, unremittent calling.

“She will get well, I think,” answered the specialist. “The crisis is past. The spine was not injured. But convalescence will be slow. Nursing is the only thing left to do now. I am leaving for New York by the six o’clock train.”

Caleb’s apathetic look slowly changed to deep, growing wonder.

“I think,” went on Dr. Colfax, watching Conover, narrowly, “it may be barely possible that you can thank yourself for her recovery. Perhaps I am mistaken. You see we doctors deal with facts. But,[358] once in a century something happens outside the realm of fact. Mind you, I don’t go on record as saying this is one of those exceptions. But—I should like to ask you some questions when you are rested enough to—”

“By and by,” assented Caleb. “But I’m going in there to see Dey now, if you don’t mind. Can I?”

“Yes. She has been asking for you. Be careful not to excite her, or—”

“I’ll be careful,” promised Caleb.

Then, with a sheepish laugh, he added:

“I’m glad you didn’t make me put up a fight about goin’ in to see her. I—I kind of feel as if there wasn’t any fight left in me.”



Stewart Edward White’s

Great Novels of Western Life.



Mingles the romance of the forest with the romance of man’s heart, making a story that is big and elemental, while not lacking in sweetness and tenderness. It is an epic of the life of the lumberman of the great forest of the Northwest, permeated by out of door freshness, and the glory of the struggle with nature.


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Re-issues of the great literary successes of the time. Library size. Printed on excellent paper—most of them with illustrations of marked beauty—and handsomely bound in cloth. Price, 75 cents a volume, postpaid.

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A charming story of a quaint corner of New England where bygone romance finds a modern parallel. One of the prettiest, sweetest, and quaintest of old-fashioned love stories * * * A rare book, exquisite in spirit and conception, full of delicate fancy, of tenderness, of delightful humor and spontaneity. A dainty volume, especially suitable for a gift.

DOCTOR LUKE OF THE LABRADOR. By Norman Duncan. With a frontispiece and inlay cover.

How the doctor came to the bleak Labrador coast and there in saving life made expiation. In dignity, simplicity, humor, in sympathetic etching of a sturdy fisher people, and above all in the echoes of the sea, Doctor Luke is worthy of great praise. Character, humor, poignant pathos, and the sad grotesque conjunctions of old and new civilizations are expressed through the medium of a style that has distinction and strikes a note of rare personality.

THE DAY’S WORK. By Rudyard Kipling. Illustrated.

The London Morning Post says: “It would be hard to find better reading * * * the book is so varied, so full of color and life from end to end, that few who read the first two or three stories will lay it down till they have read the last—and the last is a veritable gem * * * contains some of the best of his highly vivid work * * * Kipling is a born story-teller and a man of humor into the bargain.”

ELEANOR LEE. By Margaret E. Sangster. With a frontispiece.

A story of married life, and attractive picture of wedded bliss * * * an entertaining story or a man’s redemption through a woman’s love * * * no one who knows anything of marriage or parenthood can read this story with eyes that are always dry * * * goes straight to the heart of everyone who knows the meaning of “love” and “home.”

THE COLONEL OF THE RED HUZZARS. By John Reed Scott. Illustrated by Clarence F. Underwood.

“Full of absorbing charm, sustained interest and a wealth of thrilling and romantic situations. So naively fresh in its handling, so plausible through its naturalness, that it comes like a mountain breeze across the far-spreading desert of similar romances.”—Gazette-Times, Pittsburg. “A slap-dashing day romance.”—New York Sun.

DARREL OF THE BLESSED ISLES. By Irving Bacheller. With illustrations by Arthur Keller.

“Darrel, the clock tinker, is a wit, philosopher, and man of mystery. Learned, strong, kindly, dignified, he towers like a giant above the people among whom he lives. It is another tale of the North Country, full of the odor of wood and field. Wit, humor, pathos and high thinking are in this book.”—Boston Transcript.

D’RI AND I: A Tale of Daring Deeds in the Second War with the British. Being the Memoirs of Colonel Ramon Bell, U. S. A. By Irving Bacheller. With illustrations by F. C. Yohn.

“Mr. Bacheller is admirable alike in his scenes of peace and war. D’ri, a mighty hunter, has the same dry humor as Uncle Eb. He fights magnificently on the ‘Lawrence,’ and was among the wounded when Perry went to the ‘Niagara.’ As a romance of early American history it is great for the enthusiasm it creates.”—New York Times.

EBEN HOLDEN: A Tale of the North Country. By Irving Bacheller.

“As pure as water and as good as bread,” says Mr. Howells. “Read ‘Eben Holden’” is the advice of Margaret Sangster. “It is a forest-scented, fresh-aired, bracing and wholly American story of country and town life. * * * If in the far future our successors wish to know what were the real life and atmosphere in which the country folk that saved this nation grew, loved, wrought and had their being, they must go back to such true and zestful and poetic tales of ‘fiction’ as ‘Eben Holden,’” says Edmund Clarence Stedman.

SILAS STRONG: Emperor of the Woods. By Irving Bacheller. With a frontispiece.

“A modern Leatherstocking. Brings the city dweller the aroma of the pine and the music of the wind in its branches—an epic poem * * * forest-scented, fresh-aired, and wholly American. A stronger character than Eben Holden.”—Chicago Record-Herald.

VERGILIUS: A Tale of the Coming of Christ. By Irving Bacheller.

A thrilling and beautiful story of two young Roman patricians whose great and perilous love in the reign of Augustus leads them through the momentous, exciting events that marked the year just preceding the birth of Christ.

Splendid character studies of the Emperor Augustus, of Herod and his degenerate son, Antipater, and of his daughter “the incomparable” Salome. A great triumph in the art of historical portrait-painting.

THE FAIR GOD; OR, THE LAST OF THE TZINS. By Lew Wallace. With illustrations by Eric Pape.

“The story tells of the love of a native princess for Alvarado, and it is worked out with all of Wallace’s skill * * * it gives a fine picture of the heroism of the Spanish conquerors and of the culture and nobility of the Aztecs.”—New York Commercial Advertiser.

Ben Hur sold enormously, but The Fair God was the best of the General’s stories—a powerful and romantic treatment of the defeat of Montezuma by Cortes.”—Athenæum.


A story of love and the salt sea—of a helpless ship whirled into the hands of cannibal Fuegians—of desperate fighting and tender romance, enhanced by the art of a master of story-telling who describes with his wonted felicity and power of holding the reader’s attention * * * filled with the swing of adventure.

A MIDNIGHT GUEST. A Detective Story. By Fred M. White. With a frontispiece.

The scene of the story centers in London and Italy. The book is skilfully written and makes one of the most baffling, mystifying, exciting detective stories ever written—cleverly keeping the suspense and mystery intact until the surprising discoveries which precede the end.

THE HONOUR OF SAVELLI. A Romance. By S. Levett Yeats. With cover and wrapper in four colors.

Those who enjoyed Stanley Weyman’s A Gentleman of France will be engrossed and captivated by this delightful romance of Italian history. It is replete with exciting episodes, hair-breath escapes, magnificent sword-play, and deals with the agitating times in Italian history when Alexander II was Pope and the famous and infamous Borgias were tottering to their fall.

SISTER CARRIE. By Theodore Drieser. With a frontispiece, and wrapper in color.

In all fiction there is probably no more graphic and poignant study of the way in which man loses his grip on life, lets his pride, his courage, his self-respect slip from him, and, finally, even ceases to struggle in the mire that has engulfed him * * * There is more tonic value in Sister Carrie than in a whole shelfful of sermons.

THE AFFAIR AT THE INN. By Kate Douglas Wiggin. With illustrations by Martin Justice.

“As superlatively clever in the writing as it is entertaining in the reading. It is actual comedy of the most artistic sort, and it is handled with a freshness and originality that is unquestionably novel.”—Boston Transcript. “A feast of humor and good cheer, yet subtly pervaded by special shades of feeling, fancy, tenderness, or whimsicality. A merry thing in prose.”—St. Louis Democrat.

ROSE O’ THE RIVER. By Kate Douglas Wiggin. With illustrations by George Wright.

“‘Rose o’ the River,’ a charming bit of sentiment, gracefully written and deftly touched with a gentle humor. It is a dainty book—daintily illustrated.”—New York Tribune. “A wholesome, bright, refreshing story, an ideal book to give a young girl.”—Chicago Record-Herald. “An idyllic story, replete with pathos and inimitable humor. As story-telling it is perfection, and as portrait-painting it is true to the life.”—London Mail.

TILLIE: A Mennonite Maid. By Helen R. Martin. With illustrations by Florence Scovel Shinn.

The little “Mennonite Maid” who wanders through these pages is something quite new in fiction. Tillie is hungry for books and beauty and love; and she comes into her inheritance at the end. “Tillie is faulty, sensitive, big-hearted, eminently human, and first, last and always lovable. Her charm glows warmly, the story is well handled, the characters skilfully developed.”—The Book Buyer.

LADY ROSE’S DAUGHTER. By Mrs. Humphry Ward. With illustrations by Howard Chandler Christy.

“The most marvellous work of its wonderful author.”—New York World. “We touch regions and attain altitudes which it is not given to the ordinary novelist even to approach.”—London Times. “In no other story has Mrs. Ward approached the brilliancy and vivacity of Lady Rose’s Daughter.”—North American Review.


“An exciting and absorbing story.”—New York Times. “Intensely thrilling in parts, but an unusually good story all through. There is a love affair of real charm and most novel surroundings, there is a run on the bank which is almost worth a year’s growth, and there is all manner of exhilarating men and deeds which should bring the book into high and permanent favor.”—Chicago Evening Post.

BARBARA WINSLOW, REBEL. By Elizabeth Ellis. With illustrations by John Rae, and colored inlay cover.

The following, taken from story, will best describe the heroine: A TOAST: “To the bravest comrade in misfortune, the sweetest companion in peace and at all times the most courageous of women.”—Barbara Winslow. “A romantic story, buoyant, eventful, and in matters of love exactly what the heart could desire.”—New York Sun.

SUSAN. By Ernest Oldmeadow. With a color frontispiece by Frank Haviland. Medalion in color on front cover.

Lord Ruddington falls helplessly in love with Miss Langley, whom he sees in one of her walks accompanied by her maid, Susan. Through a misapprehension of personalities his lordship addresses a love missive to the maid. Susan accepts in perfect good faith, and an epistolary love-making goes on till they are disillusioned. It naturally makes a droll and delightful little comedy; and is a story that is particularly clever in the telling.

WHEN PATTY WENT TO COLLEGE. By Jean Webster. With illustrations by C. D. Williams.

“The book is a treasure.”—Chicago Daily News. “Bright, whimsical, and thoroughly entertaining.”—Buffalo Express. “One of the best stories of life in a girl’s college that has ever been written.”—N. Y. Press. “To any woman who has enjoyed the pleasures of a college life this book cannot fail to bring back many sweet recollections; and to those who have not been to college the wit, lightness, and charm of Patty are sure to be no less delightful.”—Public Opinion.

THE MASQUERADER. By Katherine Cecil Thurston. With illustrations by Clarence F. Underwood.

“You can’t drop it till you have turned the last page.”—Cleveland Leader. “Its very audacity of motive, of execution, of solution, almost takes one’s breath away. The boldness of its denouement is sublime.”—Boston Transcript. “The literary hit of a generation. The best of it is the story deserves all its success. A masterly story.”—St. Louis Dispatch. “The story is ingeniously told, and cleverly constructed.”—The Dial.

THE GAMBLER. By Katherine Cecil Thurston. With illustrations by John Campbell.

“Tells of a high strung young Irish woman who has a passion for gambling, inherited from a long line of sporting ancestors. She has a high sense of honor, too, and that causes complications. She is a very human, lovable character, and love saves her.”—N. Y. Times.

THE SPIRIT OF THE SERVICE. By Edith Elmer Wood. With illustrations by Rufus Zogbaum.

The standards and life of “the new navy” are breezily set forth with a genuine ring impossible from the most gifted “outsider.” “The story of the destruction of the ‘Maine,’ and of the Battle of Manila, are very dramatic. The author is the daughter of one naval officer and the wife of another. Naval folks will find much to interest them in ‘The Spirit of the Service.’”—The Book Buyer.

A SPECTRE OF POWER. By Charles Egbert Craddock.

Miss Murfree has pictured Tennessee mountains and the mountain people in striking colors and with dramatic vividness, but goes back to the time of the struggles of the French and English in the early eighteenth century for possession of the Cherokee territory. The story abounds in adventure, mystery, peril and suspense.

THE STORM CENTRE. By Charles Egbert Craddock.

A war story; but more of flirtation, love and courtship than of fighting or history. The tale is thoroughly readable and takes its readers again into golden Tennessee, into the atmosphere which has distinguished all of Miss Murfree’s novels.

THE ADVENTURESS. By Coralie Stanton. With color frontispiece by Harrison Fisher, and attractive inlay cover in colors.

As a penalty for her crimes, her evil nature, her flint-like callousness, her more than inhuman cruelty, her contempt for the laws of God and man, she was condemned to bury her magnificent personality, her transcendent beauty, her superhuman charms, in gilded obscurity at a King’s left hand. A powerful story powerfully told.

THE GOLDEN GREYHOUND. A Novel by Dwight Tilton. With illustrations by E. Pollak.

A thoroughly good story that keeps you guessing to the very end, and never attempts to instruct or reform you. It is a strictly up-to-date story of love and mystery with wireless telegraphy and all the modern improvements. The events nearly all take place on a big Atlantic liner and the romance of the deep is skilfully made to serve as a setting for the romance, old as mankind, yet always new, involving our hero.



THREE ACRES AND LIBERTY. By Bolton Hall. Shows the value gained by intensive culture. Should be in the hands of every landholder. Profusely illustrated. 12mo. Cloth, 75 cents.

Every chapter in the book has been revised by a specialist. The author clearly brings out the full value that is to be derived from intensive culture and intelligent methods given to small land holdings. Given untrammelled opportunity, agriculture will not only care well for itself and for those intelligently engaged in it, but it will give stability to all other industries and pursuits. (From the Preface.) “The author piles fact upon authenticated instance and successful experiment upon proved example, until there is no doubt what can be done with land intensively treated. He shows where the land may be found, what kind we must have, what it will cost, and what to do with it. It is seldom we find so much enthusiasm tempered by so much experience and common sense. The book points out in a practical way the possibilities of a very small farm intensively cultivated. It embodies the results of actual experience and it is intended to be workable in every detail.”—Providence Journal.

NEW CREATIONS IN PLANT LIFE. By W. S. Harwood and Luther Burbank. An Authoritative Account of the Work of Luther Burbank. With 48 full-page halftone plates. 12mo. Cloth, 75 cents.

Mr. Burbank has produced more new forms of plant life than any other man who has ever lived. These have been either for the adornment of the world, such as new and improved flowers, or for the enrichment of the world, such as new and improved fruits, nuts, vegetables, grasses, trees and the like. This volume describes his life and work in detail, presenting a clear statement of his methods, showing how others may follow the same lines, and introducing much never before made public. “Luther Burbank is unquestionably the greatest student of human life and philosophy of living things in America, if not in the world.”—S. H. Comings, Cor. Sec. American League of Industrial Education.

A WOMAN’S HARDY GARDEN. By Helena Rutherfurd Ely. Superbly illustrated with 49 full-page halftone engravings from photographs by Prof. C. F. Chandler. 12mo. Cloth.

“Mrs. Ely is the wisest and most winsome teacher of the fascinating art of gardening that we have met in modern print. * * * A book to be welcomed with enthusiasm.”—New York Tribune. “Let us sigh with gratitude and read the volume with delight. For here it all is: What we should plant, and when we should plant it; how to care for it after it is planted and growing; what to do if it does not grow and blossom; what will blossom, and when it will blossom, and what the blossom will be. It is full of garden lore; of the spirit of happy outdoor life. A good and wholesome book.”—The Dial.



With Colored Plates, and Photographs from Life.

NATURE’S GARDEN. An Aid to Knowledge of Our Wild Flowers and Their Insect Visitors. 24 colored plates, and many other illustrations photographed directly from nature. Text by Neltje Blanchan. Large Quarto, size 7¾×10-3/8. Cloth. Formerly published at $3.00 net. Our special price, $1.25.

Superb color portraits of many familiar flowers in their living tints, and no less beautiful pictures in black and white of others—each blossom photographed directly from nature—form an unrivaled series. By their aid alone the novice can name the flowers met afield.

Intimate life-histories of over five hundred species of wild flowers, written in untechnical, vivid language, emphasize the marvelously interesting and vital relationship existing between these flowers and the special insect to which each is adapted.

The flowers are divided into five color groups, because by this arrangement anyone with no knowledge of botany whatever can readily identify the specimens met during a walk. The various popular names by which each species is known, its preferred dwelling-place, months of blooming and geographical distribution follow its description. Lists of berry-bearing and other plants most conspicuous after the flowering season, of such as grow together in different kinds of soil, and finally of family groups arranged by that method of scientific classification adopted by the International Botanical Congress which has now superseded all others, combine to make “Nature’s Garden” an indispensable guide.



Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.