The new car proved to be a racer and the Governor drove it with the speed of a king's messenger bearing fateful tidings. Occasionally from sheer weariness he relinquished the wheel to Archie, whose disposition to respect the posted warnings against lawless haste evoked the Governor's most contemptuous criticism.
"We ride for our ladies! Let the constables go hang!"
Constables were not to Archie's taste but now that they were bent upon a definite errand and one that promised another meeting with Isabel at the end of the journey he shared the Governor's zest for flight. It was a joy to be free under the broad blue arch of June. Spring is a playtime for fledgling fancy but in summer the heart is strong of wing and dares the heavens. It was Archie who now initiated vocal outbursts, striking up old glee club catches he hadn't thought of since his college days. He was in love. He bawled his scraps of song that the world might know that he was a lover riding far and hard at the behest of his lady. His thoughts skipped before him like dancing children.
The life he was leading was not the noblest; he had no illusions on that score; but he was no longer a loafer waiting in luxurious ease for the curtain to fall upon a dull first act in a tedious drama, but a man of action, quite capable of holding his own against the world!
"You've caught the spirit at last! We're the jolliest beggars alive!" exulted the Governor.
He dropped from the clouds at intervals; proved his possession of a practical mind; received telegrams in towns Archie had never heard of before, and tossed the fragments to the winds.
"All the machinery, the intricate mechanism of the underworld is at work to assist us! I tell you as little as possible, but I neglect nothing. All communications in cipher, and you can see that the telegraph clerks think we are persons of highest importance."
He dashed off replies unhesitatingly, emphasizing the urgency for their prompt despatch. Skirting the shores of Erie, he produced from a hollow tree a bundle of mail, wrapped in oil-skin. Soiled envelopes with the addresses scrawled awkwardly in pencil were reenclosed in brown envelopes neatly directed in typewriting and bearing the S. S. S. P. in one corner. The humor of his Society for the Segregation of Stolen Property tickled the Governor mightily and when Archie asked what would happen if these packets of mail went astray and fell into the hands of post-office inspectors, he displayed one of the notes which consisted of a dozen unrelated words, decorated with clumsy drawings,—a tree, a bridge, a barred window.
"Only twenty men out of our hundred million could read that! Code of our most exclusive circle. The silly wretch has been raiding country banks in the middle west and carried his playfulness too far. He's in jail now but not at all worried—merely bored. He'd safely planted his stuff before they nabbed him, and he had fixed up his alibi in advance; that's the import of that oblong in the corner, which means that he can show a white card—a clean bill of health, legally speaking, and isn't afraid."
"I suppose he expects you to find the stuff and turn it into non-taxable securities," Archie remarked ironically.
"Precisely the idea! But I may not be able to serve him there. It will grieve me to leave the boys in the lurch; they've confided in me a long time."
The Governor had lapsed into moods of silence frequently since they left Rochester. The imminence of his release from whatever power had dominated him might, Archie thought, have subdued him to this unfamiliar humor with its attendant long periods of sober reflection. The meeting with Ruth had worked this change, he believed, no longer marveling at the fate that had linked their lives and their loves together. But the hints the Governor let fall of an approaching climacteric, a crisis of significance in his affairs, filled Archie with apprehension.
"Don't be foolish!" exclaimed the Governor, when Archie broached the matter.
"Haven't I told you time and again that we shall stand together to the end of the trail!"
This was in a town where they paused for a quick overhauling of the car. At their table in a cafeteria he rioted in figures and expressed satisfaction with the results.
"If only the stars continue kind!" he said.
Nothing was to be gained by pressing inquiries upon a gentleman who ordered his affairs by the zodiac. At Buffalo the Governor made earnest efforts to rent a yacht, without confiding to Archie just what use he expected to make of it. No yachts being in the market, the Governor set about hiring a tug, and did in fact lease one for a month from a dredging company, paying cash and the wages of the crew in advance, and reserving an option to buy. The _Arthur B.
Grover_ was to be sent to Cleveland and held there for orders. He might want to negotiate the lakes as far as Duluth, he told the president of the company, who was surprised and chagrined when the singular Mr. Saulsbury readily accepted a figure that was intended to be prohibitive. The Governor was proud of the tug and expatiated upon its good points, which included sleeping quarters for the men and a nook where the captain could tuck himself away. He deplored his previous inattention to tugs; he believed more fun could be got from a tug like the _Arthur B. Grover_ than from the best steam yacht afloat.
"We must be ready for anything," he remarked to Archie. "The signs point to a disturbance of great waters, and there's nothing like being prepared."
At Cleveland Archie's last doubt as to his mentor's connection with the underworld of which he talked so entertainingly was removed. Reaching the city at midnight the car was left at a garage downtown, their trunks expressed to Chicago, and they arrived by a devious course at an ill-smelling boarding house. Here, the Governor informed him, only the aristocracy of the preying professions were received.
The arrival of another guest, a tall man of thirty, who had been taking a porch-climbing jaunt through mid-western cities, added to Archie's pleasure.
In his clubs he had lent eager ear to the tales of such of his acquaintances as had slaughtered lions in Africa, or performed fancy stunts of mountaineering, and more lately he had listened with awe to the narratives of scarred veterans of the Foreign Legion; but this fellow "Gyppy," as the Governor called him, who had mastered the art of scaling colonial pillars and raiding the second story chambers of the homes of honest citizens, seemed to Archie hardly less heroic. "Gyppy" recounted his adventures with a kind of sullen humor that Archie found highly diverting. He sheepishly confessed that the net reward of a fortnight of diligent labor in his specialty was only three hundred dollars. The Governor was very stern with "Gyppy," advising him to abandon porch-climbing as a hazardous and unprofitable vocation. Archie was dragged from the hardest bed he had ever slept in early the next morning.
"No more scented soap!" cried the Governor. "No more breakfast-in-bed! Here's where we get down to brass tacks and let our whiskers flourish!" He threw a rough suit of clothes on a chair and bade Archie get into it as quickly as possible. "Jam the other suit into your bag and Wiggins will ship it with mine to a point we may or may not touch. We shall leave this thriving city as farm hands eager to step softly upon the yielding clod. We go by trolley a little way, and if you have never surveyed the verduous Ohio Valley from a careening trolley car you have a joy coming to you. A democratic conveyance; plenty of chances to plant your feet in baskets of fresh-laid eggs or golden butter! But don't assume that we shall ride all the way; it's afoot for us, Archie! We shall be tramps seeking honest labor but awfully choosey about the jobs we take!"
An ill-fitting suit, with a blue flannel shirt and tattered cap completely transformed him. He surveyed himself with satisfaction in a cracked mirror while urging Archie to greater haste.
"We'd cut a pretty figure on Fifth Avenue now!" he exclaimed, delighted to see Archie apparelled in a suit rather less pleasing to the eye than his own.
"We'll roughen up considerably in our travels and by the time we reach Eliphalet Congdon's broad acres he'll never recognize us as gentlemen he's met before."
"You don't expect to see the old man, do you?" demanded Archie with a sinking of the heart. "I thought we were going to find that little girl and hurry with her to Isabel's camp? This tramping stuff will merely cause us to lose time."
"We're not going to lose any time. I'm as anxious to be on with the business as you are; but we're not going to make a mess of it. I've got some ideas I don't dare tell you about; you might get panicky and run! Steady, Archie, and trust the Governor."
Trusting the Governor had been much easier while they were traveling in fast motors or in parlor cars. The trolley with its frequent stops, the proneness of the plain folk to lunch upon bananas and peanuts and cast the skins and shells thereof upon the floor pained Archie greatly.
The first night they slept in a barn, without leave, begged a breakfast and walked until Archie cried for mercy.
"What's a blistered foot more or less!" cried the Governor, producing an ointment which he forthwith applied with tenderest solicitude.
From his ingenuity in foraging and the philosophy with which he accepted the day's vicissitudes, Archie judged that his companion was by no means new to the road. He showed the greatest familiarity with the region they traversed, avoiding farmhouses where no generosity could be expected by the tramping fraternity, leading the way through quiet woods to "swimming holes" where they bathed and solaced their souls. They must not get ahead of their schedule, he explained. When Archie, knowing nothing of schedules, timidly asked questions the Governor, feigning not to hear, would deliver long lectures on Ohio history, praising the pioneers of the commonwealth, and enthusiastically reciting the public services of her statesmen.
At the end of the fourth day as they kicked their heels against the pier of a bridge that spanned the Sandusky, watching the stars slip into their places in the soft tender sky, the Governor's quick ear detected the step of a pedestrian approaching from the west.
"Unless we've missed a turn somewhere, that's Perky. A punctual chap; this is the exact time and place for our meeting and he should bear tidings of interest in our affairs."
The man, who was dressed like a farm laborer, responded carelessly to the Governor's greeting, and swung himself to a seat beside him on the abutment.
"The young brother knows the wisdom of silence," remarked the Governor, laying his hand on Archie's knee. "It's a pleasure to bring you two together. He and I follow the leading of the same star. What news of the lamb in the pasture?"
As though taking time to accommodate himself to the Governor's manner of speech Perky lighted his pipe and flicked the match into the river.
"The little lamb is not happy. The father is expected tonight. I've got orders to chop wood while he's on the reservation."
"The son is not wise to the metal trick and you drop into the background?"
"The true word has been spoken, brother."
"The son has been long upon the road. What caused him to linger?"
"A broken arm, so the old man has it; and repairs have been made in a hospital at Portland by the eastern sea."
The Governor dug his elbow into Archie's ribs. Archie caught a gleam. Putney Congdon had been in a hospital recovering from the bullet wound received at Bailey Harbor, but was now arriving at his father's Ohio farm, where his child, the lamb referred to, was concealed. Putney was to be kept in ignorance of the lure of the tampered coins that had brought Perky into alliance with his father, and Perky was to interest himself in wood-chopping during the son's visit. In the privacy of the bridge with only an uninterested river for auditor, there seemed to be no reason why these matters should not be discussed openly; but the Governor evidently enjoyed these veiled communications, though it was clear that Perky found difficulty in fashioning the responses.
"Is there work in the fields for willing hands? Shall we find welcome as laborers keen for the harvest?" asked the Governor.
"The slave driver weeps for lack of help and the pay is high. You will be welcome. When the sun makes its shortest shadow tomorrow you will sign papers for the voyage."
This penetrated to Archie's consciousness as assurance that he and the Governor would find employment on Eliphalet's farm, where Edith Congdon was being concealed from her mother, and that the most fortunate time to apply for employment was at noon the next day.
"The lamb must be carried to more northern pastures. We must guard against snares and pitfalls."
"The old ram is keen but only one eye may be used at a knot-hole. He suspects nothing. We have spoken enough?"
"Longer speech would be a weariness; you may leave us."
Perky waited for a motor to clatter over the bridge and with a careless "So long!" walked away whistling.
"A pretty decent chap, that," remarked the Governor, "with a highly developed bump of discretion. A man I hope to see with his feet on honest earth when I leave the road. There must be no slip, Archie. The responsibilities of the next fortnight are enormous. The happiness of many people depends upon us.
We'll stroll back to that big farm we passed awhile ago. It's starred in the official guide books of the dusty ramblers and the milk and bread and butter there will be excellent. And the barn is red, Archie! A red barn is the best of all for sleeping purposes. An unpainted barn advertises the unthrift of the owner, and the roof is always leaky. The scent of moldy hay is extremely offensive to me—suggests rheumatism and pneumonia. And a white barn stares at you insolently. Whenever I see a white barn I prepare for bad luck. But a red barn, Archie, warms the cockles of your heart. It enfolds you like a canopy of dreams! I wouldn't have the red too glaring;—a certain rustiness of tint is desirable—"
"Here endeth the lecture," Archie interrupted. "I am starving in a land of milk and honey. Do I understand," he asked as they crossed the bridge, "that tomorrow we're going to find jobs on Eliphalet's plantation and kidnap his granddaughter?"
"Much as I hate to anticipate, Archie, it's not only little Edith we're going to kidnap! We're going to steal the old man too!"