EARLY Tuesday morning, while Mr. Minot still slept and mercifully forgot, tw_ery wide awake gentlemen sat alone together in the office of the _San Marc_ail._ One was Manuel Gonzale, proprietor of that paper, as immaculate as th_orn; the other was that broad and breezy gentleman known in his presen_ncarnation as Mr. Martin Wall.
"Very neat. Very neat indeed," said Mr. Wall, gazing with evident approval a_n inky smelling sheet that lay before him. "It ought to do the work. If i_oes, it will be the first stroke of luck I've had in San Marco."
Gonzale smiled, revealing two even rows of very white teeth.
"You do not like San Marco?" he ventured.
Mr. Wall snorted angrily.
"Like it? Does a beheaded man like the ax? In a long and golden professiona_areer, I've never struck anything like this town before for hard luck. I'_ot in it twenty-four hours when I'm left alone, my hands tied, with stuf_nough to make your eyes pop out of your head. That's pleasant! Then, afte_pending two months and a lot of money trailing Lord Harrowby for the famil_ools, I finally cop them. I give the crew of my borrowed boat orders to stea_ar, far away, and run to my cabin to gloat. Do I gloat? Ask me. I do no_loat. I find the famous Chain Lightning's Collar is a very superio_ollection of glass, worth about twenty-three cents. I send back the glass, and stick around, hoping for better days. And the best I get is a calL fro_he owner of my yacht, with orders to vacate at once. When I first came here _wore I'd visit that jewelry store again—alone. But—there's a jinx after me i_his town. What's the use? I'm going to get out."
"But before you go," smiled Manuel, "one stroke of luck you shall have."
"Maybe. I leave that to you. This kind of thing"—he motioned toward the dam_aper—"is not in my line." He bent over a picture on the front page. "That cu_ame out pretty well, didn't it? Lucky we got the photograph before bi_rother George arrived."
"I have always found San Marco lucky," replied Gonzale. "Always—with on_rifling exception." He drummed reminiscently on his desk.
"I say—who's this?" Mr. Wall pointed to a line just beneath the name of th_aper. "Robert O'Neill, Editor and Proprietor," he read.
Manuel Gonzale gurgled softly somewhere within, which was his cunning, non- committal way of indicating mirth.
"Ah—my very virtuous managing editor," he said. "One of those dogs who deal_o vilely with me—I have told you of that. Manuel Gonzale does not forget." H_eaned closer. "This morning at two, after O'Neill and Howe had sent to-day'_aper to press as usual, Luypas, my circulation manager, and I arrived. M_irtuous editors had departed to their rest. Luypas and I stopped the presses, we substituted a new firstpage form. O'Neill and Howe—they will not know.
Always they sleep until noon. In this balmly climate, it is easy to lie abed."
Again Manuel Gonzale gurgled.
"May their sleep be dreamless," he said. "And should our work of the mornin_ail, may the name of O'Neill be the first to concern the police."
"A good idea," he remarked. He looked at his watch. "Nine-fifteen. The bank_ught to be open now."
Gonzale got to his feet. Carefully he folded the page that had been lying o_is desk.
"The moment for action has come," he said. "Shall we go down to the street?"
"I'm in strange waters," responded Martin Wall uneasily. "The first dip I'v_ver taken out of my line. Don't believe in it either—a man should have hi_pecialty and stick to it. However, I need the money. Am I letter perfect i_y part, I wonder?"
The door of the _Mail_ office opened, and a sly little Cuban with an evi_ace stepped in.
"Ah, Luypas," Gonzale said, "you are here at last? Do you understand? You_oys they are to be in the next room—yes? You are to sit near that telephone.
At a word from my friend, Mr. Martin Wall, to-day's edition of the _Mail_ i_o flood the streets—the news-stands. Instantly. Delay might be fatal. Is tha_lear?"
"I know," said Luypas.
"Very good," said Gonzale. He turned to Martin Wall. "Now is the time," h_dded.
The two descended to the street. Opposite the Hotel de la Pax they parted. Th_leek little Spaniard went on alone and mounted boldy those pretentious steps.
At the desk he informed the clerk on duty that he must see Mr. Spencer Meyric_t once.
"But Mr. Meyrick is very busy to-day," the clerk objected.
"Say this is—life and death," replied Gonzale, and the clerk, wilting, telephoned the millionaire's apartments.
For nearly an hour Gonzale was kept waiting. Nervously he paced the lobby, consuming one cigarette after another, glancing often at his watch. Finall_pencer Meyrick appeared, pompous, red-faced, a hard man to handle, as h_lways had been. The Spaniard noted this, and his slits of eyes grew eve_arrower.
"Will you come with me?" he asked suavely. "It is most important."
He led the way to a summer-house in a far forgotten corner of the hote_rounds. Protesting, Spencer Meyrick followed. The two sat down.
"I have something to show you," said Gonzale politely, and removed from hi_ocket a copy of the _San Marco Mail,_ still damp from the presses.
Spencer Meyrick took the paper in his own large capable hands. He glance_asually at the first page, and his face grew somewhat redder than its wont. _uge head-line was responsible:
HARROWBY WASN'T TAKING ANY CHANCES.
Underneath, in slightly smaller type, Spencer Meyrick read:
Remarkable Fores1ght Of Engl1sh Fortune
Hunter Who Weds M1ss Meyr1ck To-day
Took Out A Pol1cy For Seventy-f1ve
Thousand Pounds W1th Lloyds.
Same To Be Payable 1n Case The
Beaut1ful He1ress Suffered A
Change Of Heart
Prominent on the page was a large photograph, which purported to be "An Exac_acsimile of the Policy." Mr. Meyrick examined it. He glanced through th_tory, which happened to be commendably brief. He told himself he must remai_alm, avoid fireworks, think quickly. Laying the paper on his knee, he turne_o the little white-garbed man beside him.
"What trick is this?" he asked sharply.
"It is no trick, sir," said Gonzale pleasantly. "It is the truth. That is _hotograph of the policy."
Old Meyrick studied the cut again.
"I'll be damned," he remarked.
"I have no desire to annoy," Gonzale went on. "But—there are five thousan_opies of to-day's _Mail_ at the office ready to be distributed at a signa_rom me. Think, sir! Newsboys on the street with that story at the very momen_hen your daughter becomes Lady Harrowby."
"I see," said Meyrick slowly. "Blackmail."
Manuel Gonzale shuddered in horror.
"Oh, I beg of you," he protested. "That is hardly it. A business proposition, I should call it. It happens that the men back of the Star Publishing Company, which issues the _Mail,_ have grown tired of the newspaper game in Sa_arco. They are desirous of closing out the plant at once—say this morning. I_ccurs to them that you might be very glad to purchase the _Mail_ —before th_ext edition goes on the street."
"You're a clever little dog," said Meyrick, through his teeth.
"You are not exactly complimentary. However—let us say for the argument—yo_uy the _Mail_ at once. I am, by the way, empowered to make the sale. Yo_ake charge. You hurry to the office. You destroy all copies of to-day's issu_o far printed. You give orders to the composing-room to kill this first-pag_tory—good as it is. 'Please kill,' you say. A term with newspaper men."
"You call yourself a newspaper man?"
"Why not? The story is killed. Another is put in its place—say, for example, an elaborate account of your daughter's wedding. And in its changed form th_Mail_ —your newspaper—goes on the street.''
"Urn—and your price?"
"It is a valuable property."
"Especially valuable this morning, I take it," sneered Meyrick.
"Valuable at any time. Our presses cost a thousand. Our linotypes tw_housand. And there is that other thing—so hard to estimate definitely—th_ide appeal of our paper. The price—well—fifteen thousand dollars. Extremel_easonable. And I will include—the good will of the retiring management."
"You contemptible little—" began Spencer Meyrick.
"My dear sir—control yourself," pleaded Gonzale. "Or I may be unable t_nclude the good
1 will I spoke of. Would you care to see that story on the streets? You may a_ny moment. There is but one way out. Buy the newspaper. Buy it now. Here i_he plan—you go with me to your bank. You procure fifteen thousand in cash. W_o together to the _Mail_ office. You pay me the money and I leave you i_harge."
Old Meyrick leaped to his feet.
"Very good," he cried. "Come on."
"One thing more," continued the crafty Gonzale. "It may pay you to note—we ar_atched. Even now. All the way to the bank and thence to the office of th_Mail_ —we will be watched. Should any accident, now unforeseen, happen to me, that issue of the _Mail_ will go on sale in five minutes all over Sa_arco."
Spencer Meyrick stood glaring down at the little man in white. His enthusias_f a moment ago for the journey vanished. However, the head-lines of th_Mail_ were staring up at him from the bench. He stooped, pocketed the paper, and growled:
"I understand. Come on!"
There must be some escape. The trap seemed absurdly simple. Across the hote_awn, down the hot avenue, in the less hot plaza, Meyrick sought a way. A'
naturally impulsive man, he had difficulty restraining himself. But he though_f his daughter, whose happiness was more than money in his eyes.
No way offered. At the counter of the tiny bank Meyrick stood writing hi_heck, Gonzale at his elbow. Suddenly behind them the screen door slammed, an_ wild-eyed man with flaming red hair rushed in.
"What is it you want?" Gonzale screamed.
"Out of my way, Don Quixote," cried the redtopped one. "I'm a windmill and m_rms breathe death. Are you Mr. Meyrick? Well, tear up that check!"
"Gladly," said Meyrick. "Only—"
"Notice the catbirds down here?" went on the wild one. "Noisy little beasts, aren't they? Well, after this take off your hat to 'em. A catbird saved you _ot of money this morning."
"I'm afraid I don't follow—" said the dazed Spencer Meyrick.
"No? I'll explain. I have been working on this man's paper for the last week.
So has a very good friend of mine. We knew he was crooked, but we needed th_oney and he promised us not to pull off any more blackmail while we stayed.
Last night, after we left the office, he arranged this latest Planned t_ncriminate me. You little devil—"
Manuel, frightened, leaped away.
"We usually sleep until noon," went on O'Neill. "He counted on that. Enter th_atbird. Sat on our window-sill at ten A. M. and screeched. Woke us up. W_elt uneasy. Went to the office, broke down a bolted door, and found what wa_p."
"Dog!" foamed Manuel. "Outcast of the gutter—"
"Save your compliments! Mr. Meyrick, my partner is now at the _Mail_ offic_estroying today's issue of the _Mail._ We've already ruined the first-pag_orm, the cut of the policy, and the negative. And we're going north as fas_s the Lord'U let us. You can do what you please. Arrest our little lemon- tinted employer, if you want to."
Spencer Meyrick stood, considering.
"However—I've done you a favor." O'Neill went on. "You can do me one. Le_anuel off—on one condition."
"That he hands me at once two hundred dollars—one hundred for myself, th_ther for my partner. It's legitimate salary money due us— we need it. A lon_alk to New York."
"I myself—" hegan Meyrick.
"Don't want your money," said O'Neill. "Want Gonzale's."
"Gonzale's you shall have," agreed Meyrick. "You—pay him!"
"Never!" cried the Spaniard.
"Then it's the police—" hinted O'Neill.
Gonzale took two yellow bills from a wallet. He tossed them at O'Neill.
"There, you cur—"
"Careful," cried O'Neill. "Or I'll punch you yet—"
He started forward, but Gonzale hastily withdrew. O'Neill and the millionair_ollowed to the street.
"Just as well," commented Meyrick. "I should not have cared to cause hi_rrest—it would have meant country-wide publicity." He laid a hand on the ar_f the newspaper man. "I take it," he said, "that your fortunes are not at th_ighest ebb. You have done me a very great service. I propose to write tw_hecks— one for you, one for your partner—and you may name the amounts."
But the red-haired one shook his head.
"No," he replied. "Nix on the anticlimax to virtue on a rampage. We can't b_aid for it. It would sort of dim the glory. We've got the railroad fare a_ast—and we're going away from here. Yes—away from here. On th_hoochoo—riding far—riding north."
"Well, my boy," answered Spencer Meyrick, "if I can ever do anything for yo_n New York, come and see me."
"You may have to make good on that," laughed O'Neill, and they parted.
O'Neill hastened to the _Mail_ office. He waved yellow bills before th_anky Howe.
"In the nick of time," he cried. "Me, the fair-haired hero. And here's th_are, Harry— the good old railroad fare."
"Heaven be praised," said Howe. "I've finished the job, Bob. Not a trace o_his morning's issue left.- The fare! North in parlor cars! My tobacco hear_ings. Can't you hear the elevated—"
"Music, Harry, music."
"And the newsboys on Park Row—"
"Caruso can't touch them. Where can we find a time-table, I wonder?"
Meanwhile, in a corner of the plaza, Manuel Gonzale spoke sad words in the ea_f Martin Wall.
"It's the jinx," moaned Wall with conviction. "The star player in everything _o down here. I'm going to burn the sand hot-footing it away. But whither, Manuel, whither?"
"In Porto Rico," replied Gonzale, "I have not yet plied my trade. I go there."
"Palm Beach," sighed Wall, "has diamonds that can be observed to sparkle a_ar away as the New York society columns. But alas, I lack the wherewithal t_upport me in the style to which my victims are accustomed."
"Try Porto Rico," suggested Gonzale. "The air is mild—so are the police. _ill stake you."
"Thanks. Porto Rico it is. How the devil do we get there?"
Up the main avenue of San Marco Spencer Meyrick walked as a man going t_venge. With every determined step his face grew redder, his eye mor_angerous. He looked at his watch. Eleven.
The eleventh hour! But much might happen between the eleventh hour and hig_oon!