There was neither star nor moon, and a chill wet wind bore in from the sea.
His immediate business was to get as far away from Bailey Harbor as possible.
He started with a long swinging stride that was quickly arrested as he splashed through pools left by the rain or stumbled off the road where it turned sharply. Once he wandered into a driveway and seeking a way out crashed into a sunken garden. His feet were wet and his trousers flapped heavily about his legs. The shrubbery pricked him like barbed wire and a scratch along his cheek bled most disagreeably. He hurriedly felt his way along a hedge to the highway, hating himself with the greatest cordiality. If this was the adventurous life it was not for him, and he solemnly resolved that if he didn't die of pneumonia as the result of his indiscretions he would stick close to clubs and comfortable hotels for the remainder of his life.
He had no way of keeping track of his progress, but on bumping into a cross- roads sign-board he struck a match and read "Bailey Harbor 5 M.," and the discovery that only five miles lay between him and the Congdon house filled him with rage and terror. A little later he caught the first glimmer of dawn breaking over a gray world. This was heartening but it brought also new dangers for he had no idea of where his tramp had brought him and mud-splashed as he was and with the scratch across his face stinging uncomfortably, he was in no haste to meet the strangers who would soon be passing him in the road.
A curious whistle, a long pipe and then a short quick one, in the roadside a little way ahead brought him to a halt. He drew the gun from his overcoat pocket and stood perfectly quiet. In a few seconds the whistle was repeated and Archie, grown suddenly bold, checked an impulse to fly and imitated it.
A man rose from behind a stone wall on the right and walked toward him.
"That you, Hoky?" he called sharply, peering through the mist.
Seeing that it was not Hoky but a stranger with a pistol, he sprang forward and wrenched the gun from Archie's hand.
"Stop squealing! Bad enough for you to fool me with that whistle without pulling a gun. Now you get right over there by the fence where I'm pointing and we'll consider matters a little!"
"I was just walking to Portsmouth," began Archie in a blithe tone he hoped would prove convincing.
His captor laughed ironically, and throwing open Bennett's coat, demanded:
"Where's your badge? Don't lie to me! You're one of these village constables or a plainclothes man from Boston. Either way you'd better show your hand."
"If you think I'm connected with the police," Archie faltered, "you were never more mistaken in your life!"
The man clapped his hands over Archie's pockets and then struck a match and surveyed his face with care. This done he stuck his nose close to his captive's mouth and bade him breathe.
"You haven't the bouquet of an inebriate, son. You stepped along like Hoky, my pal, and that's why I whistled; and you warbled the answer like a mockingbird.
Now listen to me! You've been up to something, so don't tell me again that you're taking a little before breakfast stroll to Portsmouth to work up an appetite. In the first place, have you seen a man about your size along the road anywhere?"
"Not a soul!" declared Archie solemnly.
"Mighty queer Hoky doesn't turn up! I warned the beggar against these seaside villas; they're all outfitted with fancy burglar alarms that make a deuce of a row when you step on the wire. Electricity is the bane of the craft; you light a wire that rings a gong loud enough to wake the dead and then some chap jumps out of bed and turns on all the lights in the house and very likely opens up with a gun before you can say Jerusalem. But Hoky thought he knew better."
Archie clutched at the stone fence against which his captor had pushed him and his breath came in long gasps.
"You mean," he faltered, "that you fear your friend has been shot!"
"That, my dear sir, is exactly what troubles me! Hoky didn't need to do it; that's what rouses my indignation! He's been running free for two years, and not a thing against him—wiped out all his indictments with good time like an honest thief, and now very likely he's been potted by some large prosperous householder as he was trying to lift a bit of silver; and these country houses never have anything worth risking your life for! My dear boy, can you blame me for being peeved, enormously peeved, when I reflect that Hoky, one of the best pals in the world, is probably lying as dead as a pickled mackerel somewhere back yonder? Or if he has escaped death in his felonious enterprise he may have met the constable and be awaiting the pleasure of a grand jury of righteous farmers of the old commonwealth of Maine!"
Archie's tongue clung to the roof of his mouth as he tried to murmur his sympathy for the stranger's sorrow. The thought that he was probably talking to the accomplice of the man he had shot was terrifying; the stranger seemed enormously fond of Hoky and if he knew that he had within his grasp the person who was responsible for Hoky's failure to return from his visit to Bailey Harbor he would very likely make haste to avenge his friend's death. It seemed to Archie that the gods were playing strange tricks upon him indeed. The man's speech was not the argot he had assumed from his reading of crook stories to be the common utterance of the underworld. There was something attractive in the fellow. He carried himself jauntily, and his clean-shaven, rounded face and fine gray eyes would not have suggested his connection with burglary. He was an engaging sort of person, and overcoming his discomfiture at having sent a bullet into the foolish Hoky, Archie decided suddenly that the man might be of service to him. He was in pressing need of a change of clothes but he was in no condition to proceed to Portsmouth to redeem his suitcase; an impression that was confirmed unexpectedly by his captor.
"You will pardon my candor, but you certainly look like the devil. There's a rip in your trousers that needs explaining and that swipe on your face reminds me of a map of the Mississippi done in red ink. Let me introduce myself to you as the Governor. Among the powers that prey that is my proud cognomen, not to say _alias_. Now please be frank—what mischief brings you here at this pale hour?"
Archie gave serious thought to his answer. If he could convince this singular person that he was a crook he would be less likely to suspect that he had been the instrument of Hoky's undoing. And there was the possibility that if he met the Governor's friendly advances in a reciprocal spirit the man might help him out of his predicament. The Governor was waiting for his answer, humming pleasantly as he surveyed the heavens.
"I've got to make a getaway and be in a hurry about it," declared Archie with a confidential air that caused a humorous light to play in the Governor's eyes.
"A little trouble of some sort, eh? Perhaps fearing a collision with the revised statutes of this or adjacent states?"
"Something like that," Archie answered huskily.
"It rather occurred to me that you were not promenading for mere pleasure,"
replied the Governor, drawing his hand across his chin. "The causes that lead people to travel have been enumerated by no less an authority than Mr.
Laurence Sterne as—
"Infirmity of body,
"Imbecility of mind, or
"Unless my memory errs the same authority classifies travelers as the idle, the inquisitive, the lying, the proud, the vain, the splenetic; to which he added the delinquent and felonious traveler, the unfortunate and innocent traveler, the traveler without aim and the wandering sentimentalist. From the looks of your clothing I should judge that you belong to the necessitous group, though from a certain uneasy expression I might easily place you among the delinquent and criminal. A fashionable defaulter perhaps? No. Then let it go at murder, though I confess you don't look as though you'd have a stomach for homicide."
"I came damned near getting pinched!" asserted Archie stoutly. "The cops back there in that town gave me a hard run for it."
Feeling that he was making an impression on the Governor he warmed to his work.
"I was just crawling through the window of a drug store when here comes a chap tiptoeing through the alley flashing a dark lantern, and I bolted for the tall timber as hard as I could sprint. The fire bell rang and the whole town woke up and I got lost running through a garden back of one of those swell's houses on the shore. That's how I got this slash in the face, and I'm in a pretty pickle now. There'll be a whole army looking for me; and if your friend Hoky's been killed they'll be keen to pinch me as another member of the gang."
The Governor listened patiently as Archie jerked this out, nervously trying to conceal his Harvard training in the use of the English language by resorting to such terms as he imagined bold bad men employ in moments of mental stress.
"An amateur, I take it?" remarked the Governor with the humorous twinkle that seemed to be habitual with him.
"Hell, no," grumbled Archie scornfully. "But I always play the game alone; I never had any use for pals. They get in the way."
"Wrong, my boy; wrong! A good partner like me is essential to the successful prosecution of the art or craft felonious. As for myself I rarely venture to expose myself in these little affairs; but I advise and counsel the brethren.
I am their confidant and assist them in innumerable ways purely for the joy of it, I assure you. Now Hoky and I had been on the road all spring, and he made a good haul or two under my direction; but he wouldn't let well enough alone.
I warned him against making an attempt back yonder last night. A stormy night always makes honest householders wakeful. Take it from me, son, there couldn't be a worse time for a burglary than a night melodious with rolling thunder.
You haven't the judgment of a month-old infant. I bought a toothbrush at that drug store yesterday evening and there's a light right over the safe at the end of the prescription counter. Your attempt, my son, speaks for courage but not for discretion. You should always ask me about such things."
"I'm sorry," replied Archie meekly, "that I didn't run into you sooner."
"The loss is mine!" cried the Governor heartily. "But let us be practical. The coast will ring with this, particularly if Hoky is lying cold at the undertaker's. He must be dead or pinched or he'd be here by this time. We shall make a long jump, son, and ponder the future."
He walked off briskly with Archie close beside him.
"When Hoky persisted in his ill-chosen enterprise I felt a weariness upon me and lifted a little roadster that I've tucked away down here in a peaceful lane. Thought I'd be all ready to give the old boy a long pull for freedom when he came back, but alas—!"
Sure enough the roadster was there; a very handy little car indeed, and Archie was profoundly interested to know that it was in this fashion that a man who from his own confession was counselor extraordinary to thieves, toured the country. The Governor had become suddenly a man of action. Kneeling down he detached a New York license tag from the machine, drew from his pocket a Maine tag and attached it, humming meanwhile.
"The rural police haven't learned this simple device," he explained, as he sent the discarded tag skimming into a corn field. "I've got about forty miles to run inland. The back roads only and Providence our guide!"
He jumped in and bade Archie take the seat beside him. The car was soon bumping merrily over a rough road that wound through a pine wood. As near as Archie could reckon from the sun that was crawling into view they were bound for Halifax, but to be going anywhere was an infinite relief, and to be traveling with a man whose comrade he had shot and probably killed only a few hours earlier, imparted a piquant flavor to the journey. This astonishing person who called himself Governor might, for all he knew, be hurrying him to some lonely place to murder him, but if this was his plan he was most agreeable about it. He had taken off the mackinaw coat in which he had first appeared in the road and the brown coat underneath was of modish cut; and as his foot played upon the brake Archie noted that he wore silk hose. He had never dreamed that outlaws were so careful of their raiment. And the man's talk was that of a cultivated gentleman who wore his learning lightly and was blessed with an easy conscience; not at all like the philosopher and guide of criminals.
"You seem to know this country well," Archie remarked as they penetrated more deeply into the woods and followed a grass-grown trail that ended abruptly at an abandoned lumber camp.
"Oh, I know most of the whole United States just as well," remarked the Governor, steering the car slowly among the deep ruts. "We'll shoot the car around behind that pyramid of sawdust and walk a bit to stretch our legs."
There was no trace of a path where he struck off into the woods but he strode along with the easy confidence of one who is sure of his destination. They brought up presently beside a brook and in a moment more reached a log hut planted on the edge of the high bank.
"What do you think of that, Sir Archibald?" inquired the Governor carelessly.
Archie paused, wavering in the path. The man had called him by his right name, throwing in the prefix with a tinge of insolence.
"Oh, your name?" remarked the Governor turning from a leisurely survey of the dwelling. "Perfectly easy! Archibald Bennett was neatly sewed into your coat pocket by your tailor as I observed when I rubbed my hands over your waistcoat to see if you wore a badge. Your bill-fold is there intact—it's rather indelicate of you to feel for it! If I'd meant to rob you I'd have biffed you on the head long ago and thrown your carcass to the buzzards."
"I got these duds out of a suitcase I sneaked from an auto in Boston, and that's no name of mine," Archie explained hurriedly, still anxious to convince the Governor that he was a thief.
"A deft hand, son; but very careless of you not to rip out the label. Men have been hanged on slighter evidence. But Archibald is not a name to sneeze at, and I rather like Archie; and Archie I shall continue to call you. Now we'll see what we can do to shake up a breakfast."
He drew out a key and opened the door of the hut. On one side stood a dilapidated cook stove of an obsolete pattern, surrounded by a few kitchen utensils. In the far end were two bunks, one above the other, and on a chair beside them a pile of blankets neatly folded. In the middle of the room was a table littered with old magazines.
"Not a bad place, Archie! I stumbled upon it a couple of years ago quite by accident and use it occasionally. The retreat of some artist who probably starved to death. When I first found the shack it was full of impressionistic studies that looked as though the poor boob stood on his head to paint. I made a burnt offering of the whole lot to outraged Nature." He opened a cupboard revealing a quantity of provisions. "Poor old Hoky was a great lover of ham; I never saw such an appetite for smoked pork, and he had just stocked us up with a few specimens he lifted somewhere."
Besides three hams there were coffee, cartons of crackers and cans of condensed milk.
"We fellows who live by our wits need the open air just as much as bank presidents, for our business makes a heavier drain on the nerves," continued the Governor after they had prepared breakfast. "Your pallor suggests that you may have emerged quite recently from one of those institutions designed for the moral reconstruction of the weak and erring."
Archie's eyes fell under the Governor's keen gaze. But he realized that he must firmly establish himself in the man's confidence by palming himself off as a crook with a prison record. In no other way could he be sure of the assistance and protection which the Governor alone could give him.
"Three months' jail sentence," he replied smoothly.
"Ah! A minor felony, I judge, from the brevity of your incarceration," replied the Governor, emptying the coffee pot into Archie's cup. "I have never been in jail and to the best of my knowledge I have never been indicted; or if I have the sheriff has never caught up with me! My heart bleeds nevertheless for these poor devils who are always in the toils, and in my poor weak fashion I try to help them. Really, my dear Archie, thieves as a class are shockingly deficient in intelligence. Until I dropped into the underworld they were a peculiarly helpless lot—like dear old Hoky whose loss I shall mourn to my dying day."
Archie flinched, but he was beginning to feel at home in his new rôle of a fugitive from justice, and murmured his sympathy without a quaver.
"My friend," said the Governor soberly as they rose from the table, "we have dipped our hands in the same dish and broken bread together. I'm strong for the old traditions of Arab hospitality and that sort of thing. There's honor, you know, among thieves, and I'm rather keen for the sentimental side of the business. You may trust me, telling me as much or as little of yourself as you please. I don't mind saving that you're a likable chap, but pathetically helpless in emergencies like most of our brethren. It's well for you that you fell in with me, with that little episode of the drug store hanging over you.
I'll be a good pal to you and I ask you to be straight with me. Are we friends or—"
He put out his hand questioningly. Archie grasped it, meeting the gaze of the keen gray eyes squarely, but with something of an appeal in them.
"All right, Archie—for such you shall be to the end of the chapter, whether you lied about it or not. And now let's deal with practical affairs. I'm going to spend the afternoon on that stolen machine we've got back there; you'll hardly know it when you see it again. I'll paint'er white to symbolize our purity. There's an assortment of clothes the boys have left here from time to time—all sizes and ready for any emergency. You can pick'em over while I'm working on the car. I've got a bag of my own stuff stuck around here somewhere." He filled and lighted a pipe, walked toward the kitchen end of the room and kicked a long box. "If you'll just push that aside you'll find a door in the floor—quite a cellar underneath—made it myself. Candles on the shelf there. Don't break your neck on the ladder."
He gathered up several cans of ready-to-use paint, and paused in the doorway to deliver a final admonition.
"If Hoky _should_ turn up—tall chap, a little bent in the shoulders, clean, sharp profile—call him Hoky and yell Governor before he shoots. He's very sudden with the gun, that Hoky; a lamentable weakness; spoiled him for delicate jobs, but I'm afraid that at last somebody's got the drop on him."
The cellar was really a cave gouged into the earth and piled with trunks and hand bags stuffed with all manner of loot. There was enough silverware to equip a dozen households, and Archie amused himself by studying the monograms, thinking that quite possibly he was handling spoons that he had encountered on happier occasions in the homes of his friends. The trunks contained clothing in great variety and most of it was new and of good quality. He carried up an armful and found a gray suit that fitted him very well. Another visit yielded shirts, socks and underclothing, a slightly used traveling case with shaving materials and other toilet articles.
He bathed in the brook, shaved, dressed and felt like a new being. Only a few hours had elapsed since he walked uprightly in the eyes of all men; now he was a fugitive, and for all he knew to the contrary a murderer. He had accommodated himself with ease to lying and the practice of deceit; and even the taking of human life seemed no longer a monstrous thing. If he were caught in the Governor's company he would have a pretty time of it satisfying a court of his innocence; but he considered his plight tranquilly.
In doffing the clothing he had acquired honestly and substituting stolen raiment, it was almost as though he were changing his character as well. In transferring his effects from the old to the new pockets he came upon Isabel Perry's note, and grinned as he re-read it. He wondered what Isabel would say if she knew that he had already slipped the leash that bound him to convention and performed even more reckless deeds than she had prescribed for him.
"No callers? Well, I must say you're a credit to our gents' clothing department!" the Governor remarked on his return. "That stuff was accumulated early in the spring by a couple of the boys who had no more sense. Silver, yes; you can melt it and sell it like pig iron; but how absurd to risk your neck stealing mere raiment! Still the word's gone down the line and any of the brethren who're in need of shelter and a change of clothes will find what they want here. You've picked about the best of the lot. What do you make of this?
Found it in the car."
He extended a crumpled telegram which read:
Bailey Harbor, Me.
New York, June 11, 1917.
Putney Congdon, Thackeray Club, New York.
I am offering the house for rent. Shall take every precaution to protect my children from your brutality.
A. B. C.
Archie felt the hut whirling round him. What he held was beyond question the reply of Mrs. Congdon to her husband's telegram that had been left lying on the dinner table. And if Congdon had left New York for Bailey Harbor immediately to put into effect his threat to abduct his child, it might have been Congdon he had shot—not Hoky! The Governor, scrubbing the paint from his hands, called over his shoulder:
"An odd message! It had slipped under the seat. Good thing I found it."
"Where did you find that car?" asked Archie with an attempt at indifference.
"Oh, the bloomin' thing was run up under a clump of trees on the back road on the far side of Bailey. I thought maybe it was a stolen car. Hoky and I separated there when the storm started. So I drove the machine to the place you found me waiting for him. Mr. Congdon has probably notified all the world of his sad loss." He held out his hands for Archie's inspection. "This is certainly hard and fast paint, but it did the work all right. The owner of that machine wouldn't know it now. And not more than a spoonful of gas gone out of the tank; so we can make a long jump, Archie."
No jump they could make would be long enough, Archie reflected. He was afraid to ask further questions about the car and his senses were numbed by the effort to determine whether it was Hoky he had shot or Mr. Putney Congdon. If his bullet had impinged upon Congdon's person, the man would undoubtedly believe his wife had ordered him murdered, and Archie found no consolation in the conjecture that he had added to Mrs. Congdon's distress. If Congdon wasn't dead he would be sure to make diligent inquiries in the village as to his assailant and the stolen car. The druggist would know who had taken the key and Archie had stated his purpose to walk to the station and take the five eleven train. But beyond Bailey Harbor he saw his alibi crumbling.
The Governor's ceaseless flow of talk fortunately diverted his thoughts to more cheerful channels. He must stick to the Governor, who to be sure showed no inclination to desert him. Indeed the Governor evinced a sincere pleasure in his society, and if he behaved himself he might fill the void created in the man's life by the loss of Hoky. He would remain in hiding until the whole thing blew over, whether it was Hoky or Putney Congdon he had shot in Congdon's house.
He obeyed with alacrity a hint that he prepare luncheon; and after this had been consumed the Governor suggested a game of chess, produced a set of ivory chessmen from a cupboard and soon proved himself a skilful player.
"It's wonderful for sharpening the wits," he explained. "When I've got a difficult job on hand I find a game stimulating to my faculties. Let me see, who was that telegram addressed to? Congdon; yes, that's right. Dropped into a chess club in Boston about a month ago and watched a chap playing, highly nervous fellow but a pretty stiff player at that. They called him Congdon all right and he may be the owner of that car. The thought pleases me. Heard him asking for his father, Eliphalet Congdon, who's a chess fiend, too, it appeared. Had heard of him before—the old boy carries his will around in his umbrella just to tantalize his relations, who are all crazy to know what he's going to do with his money. Something pathetic in a man chasing his own father over the country; doesn't gee with our old ideal of the patriarchal system with father at the head of the table serving the whole family from one miserable duck. Ever notice a queer streak of eccentricity in people who toy with the chessmen? Of course you're thinking I'm no exception to the rule, but the thought isn't displeasing to me. That was a neat move—you're waking up, Archie! Well, sir, young Congdon was offering something handsome to any one who'd steal the old man's umbrella so he could get hold of the will. I've sunk pretty low, Archie, but stealing umbrellas is distinctly not in my line!"
At the end of two hours the Governor declared that they must take a nap before setting out and turned into one of the berths and was soon snoring. Archie was glad of a chance to be alone with his thoughts, but he found them poor company. After kicking about restlessly for a time he slept but only to wander through a wild phantasmagoria of crime in which Isabel Perry, dressed precisely as he had seen her at his sister's, led him on from one wild scene to another, clapping her hands with delight at each exploit.
"You are doing splendidly," she laughed, as he turned to her, pistol in hand, after shooting a gigantic policeman with fiery red whiskers. "Really you exceed my expectations. I am proud of you, Mr. Bennett," she was saying when a vigorous shake brought him up standing.
"To gain or lose it all," he stammered rubbing his eyes. But it was not Isabel he was addressing but his confederate, blandly smiling.
"The boy quotes poetry!" the Governor exclaimed. "Archie, you've come in answer to my prayers! Together we shall drink of the fount of Castalia. We shall chum with Apollo and the Muses Nine! But the gods call us elsewhere!
We'll snatch a bite and be off! And we've got a job all waiting for us. One of the brotherhood has commissioned me to dig up some boodle he's planted over in New Hampshire. You may recall the incident. Red Leary, a rare boy, who pulled off some big enterprises in Kansas and Missouri a dozen years ago, emerged from Leavenworth and floated into good old conservative New England where he held up an express messenger and sauntered off with fifty thousand dollars in new bank notes fresh from the Treasury. I've been in touch with Red lately—he's been up in Nova Scotia but doesn't like the climate, and he wants his boodle. Do you follow me?"
"He hid it somewhere and wants your help in recovering it?"
"Right the first time! In the summer there's a lot of travel north and south and Leary, who's had an honest job up there since he made the haul, is even now wandering down Lake Champlain to meet me. No, Archie, communication through the underworld is much less difficult than you imagine. Regular post offices and that sort of thing. That cash is tucked away in the cellar of a church and by this time tomorrow night we'll have it, all ready for old Red and check the item from our tablets."
"But the numbers of those notes are in every bank in the country," suggested Archie; "the police are only waiting for the bills to get into circulation to pounce on the thief."
"I am more and more delighted with you, my son! That point had given me no little worry. But something will turn up; there will be a way out of the difficulty. Chuck your old duds into the creek and close the windows. We'll hit the long trail!"