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Chapter 10 JOHN ARMITAGE IS SHADOWED

  • > Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, > Healthy, free, the world before me, > The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
  • >
  • > —Walt Whitman.
  • Armitage dined alone that evening and left the hotel at nine o'clock for _alk. He unaffectedly enjoyed paved ground and the sights and ways of cities, and he walked aimlessly about the lighted thoroughfares of the capital wit_onscious pleasure in the movement and color of life. He let his eyes follo_he Washington Monument's gray line starward; and he stopped to enjoy th_igh-poised equestrian statue of Sherman, to which the starry dusk gav_omething of legendary and Old World charm.
  • Coming out upon Pennsylvania Avenue he strolled past the White House, and, a_he wide-flung gates, paused while a carriage swept by him at the driveway. H_aw within the grim face of Baron von Marhof and unconsciously lifted his hat, though the Ambassador was deep in thought and did not see him. Armitage struc_he pavement smartly with his stick as he walked slowly on, pondering; but h_as conscious a moment later that some one was loitering persistently in hi_ake. Armitage was at once on the alert with all his faculties sharpened. H_urned and gradually slackened his pace, and the person behind him immediatel_id likewise.
  • The sensation of being followed is at first annoying; then a pleasant zes_reeps into it, and in Armitage's case the reaction was immediate. He was eve_mused to reflect that the shadow had chosen for his exploit what is probabl_he most conspicuous and the best-guarded spot in America. It was not yet te_'clock, but the streets were comparatively free of people. He slackened hi_ace gradually, and threw open his overcoat, for the night was warm, to giv_n impression of ease, and when he had reached the somber facade of th_reasury Building he paused and studied it in the glare of the electri_ights, as though he were a chance traveler taking a preliminary view of th_ights of the capital. A man still lingered behind him, drawing nearer now, a_ moment when they had the sidewalk comparatively free to themselves. Th_ellow was short, but of soldierly erectness, and even in his loitering pac_ifted his feet with the quick precision of the drilled man. Armitage walke_o the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Fifteenth Street, then turned an_etraced his steps slowly past the Treasury Building. The man who had bee_ollowing faced about and walked slowly in the opposite direction, an_rmitage, quickening his own pace, amused himself by dogging the fellow'_teps closely for twenty yards, then passed him.
  • When he had gained the advantage of a few feet, Armitage stopped suddenly an_poke to the man in the casual tone he might have used in addressing a passin_cquaintance.
  • "My friend," he said, "there are two policemen across the street; if yo_ontinue to follow me I shall call their attention to you."
  • "Pardon me—"
  • "You are watching me; and the thing won't do."
  • "Yes, I'm watching you; but—"
  • "But the thing won't do! If you are hired—"
  • " _Nein! Nein!_ You do me a wrong, sir."
  • "Then if you are not hired you are your own master, and you serve yourself il_hen you take the trouble to follow me. Now I'm going to finish my walk, and _eg you to keep out of my way. This is not a place where liberties may b_nfringed with impunity. Good evening, sir."
  • Armitage wheeled about sharply, and as his face came into the full light o_he street lamps the stranger stared at him intently.
  • Armitage was fumbling in his pocket for a coin, but this impertinence cause_im to change his mind. Two policemen were walking slowly toward them, an_rmitage, annoyed by the whole incident, walked quickly away.
  • He was not wholly at ease over the meeting. The fact that Chauvenet had s_romptly put a spy as well as the Servian assassin on his trail quickened hi_ulse with anger for an instant and then sobered him.
  • He continued his walk, and paused presently before an array of books in a sho_indow. Then some one stopped at his side and he looked up to find the sam_an he had accosted at the Treasury Building lifting his hat,—an America_oldier's campaign hat. The fellow was an extreme blond, with a smooth-shaven, weather-beaten face, blue eyes and light hair.
  • "Pardon me! You are mistaken; I am not a spy. But it is wonderful; it is quit_onderful—"
  • The man's face was alight with discovery, with an alert pleasure that awaite_ecognition.
  • "My dear fellow, you really become annoying," and Armitage again thrust hi_and into his trousers pocket. "I should hate awfully to appeal to the police; but you must not crowd me too far."
  • The man seemed moved by deep feeling, and his eyes were bright wit_xcitement. His hands clasped tightly the railing that protected the glas_indow of the book shop. As Armitage turned away impatiently the ma_jaculated huskily, as though some over-mastering influence wrung the word_rom him:
  • "Don't you know me? I am Oscar—don't you remember me, and the great forest, where I taught you to shoot and fish? You are—"
  • He bent toward Armitage with a fierce insistence, his eyes blazing in hi_agerness to be understood.
  • John Armitage turned again to the window, leaned lightly upon the iron railin_nd studied the title of a book attentively. He was silently absorbed for _ull minute, in which the man who had followed him waited. Taking his cue fro_rmitage's manner he appeared to be deeply interested in the bookseller'_isplay; but the excitement still glittered in his eyes.
  • Armitage was thinking swiftly, and his thoughts covered a very wide range o_ime and place as he stood there. Then he spoke very deliberately and coolly, but with a certain peremptory sharpness.
  • "Go ahead of me to the New American and wait in the office until I come."
  • The man's hand went to his hat.
  • "None of that!"
  • Armitage arrested him with a gesture. "My name is Armitage,—John Armitage," h_aid. "I advise you to remember it. Now go!"
  • The man hurried away, and Armitage slowly followed.
  • It occurred to him that the man might be of use, and with this in mind h_eturned to the New American, got his key from the office, nodded to hi_cquaintance of the street and led the way to the elevator.
  • Armitage put aside his coat and hat, locked the hall door, and then, when th_wo stood face to face in his little sitting-room, he surveyed the ma_arefully.
  • "What do you want?" he demanded bluntly.
  • He took a cigarette from a box on the table, lighted it, and then, with an ai_f finality, fixed his gaze upon the man, who eyed him with a kind o_tupefied wonder. Then there flashed into the fellow's bronzed face somethin_f dignity and resentment. He stood perfectly erect with his felt hat claspe_n his hand. His clothes were cheap, but clean, and his short coat wa_uttoned trimly about him.
  • "I want nothing, Mr. Armitage," he replied humbly, speaking slowly and with _arked German accent.
  • "Then you will be easily satisfied," said Armitage. "You said your name was—?"
  • "Oscar—Oscar Breunig."
  • Armitage sat down and scrutinized the man again without relaxing his severity.
  • "You think you have seen me somewhere, so you have followed me in the street_o make sure. When did this idea first occur to you?"
  • "I saw you at Fort Myer at the drill last Friday. I have been looking for yo_ince, and saw you leave your horse at the hotel this afternoon. You ride a_ock Creek—yes?"
  • "What do you do for a living, Mr. Breunig?" asked Armitage.
  • "I was in the army, but served out my time and was discharged a few months ag_nd came to Washington to see where they make the government—yes? I am goin_o South America. Is it Peru? Yes; there will be a revolution."
  • He paused, and Armitage met his eyes; they were very blue and kind,—eyes tha_poke of sincerity and fidelity, such eyes as a leader of forlorn hopes woul_ike to know were behind him when he gave the order to charge. Then a curiou_hing happened. It may have been the contact of eye with eye that awok_uestion and response between them; it may have been a need in one tha_ouched a chord of helplessness in the other; but suddenly Armitage leaped t_is feet and grasped the outstretched hands of the little soldier.
  • "Oscar!" he said; and repeated, very softly, "Oscar!"
  • The man was deeply moved and the tears sprang into his eyes. Armitage laughed, holding him at arm's length.
  • "None of that nonsense! Sit down!" He turned to the door, opened it, an_eered into the hall, locked the door again, then motioned the man to a chair.
  • "So you deserted your mother country, did you, and have borne arms for th_lorious republic?"
  • "I served in the Philippines,—yes?"
  • "Rank, titles, emoluments, Oscar?"
  • "I was a sergeant; and the surgeon could not find the bullet after Big Bend, Luzon; so they were sorry and gave me a certificate and two dollars a month t_y pay," said the man, so succinctly and colorlessly that Armitage laughed.
  • "Yon have done well, Oscar; honor me by accepting a cigar."
  • The man took a cigar from the box which Armitage extended, but would not ligh_t. He held it rather absent-mindedly in his hand and continued to stare.
  • "You are not dead,—Mr.—Armitage; but your father—?"
  • "My father is dead, Oscar."
  • "He was a good man," said the soldier.
  • "Yes; he was a good man," repeated Armitage gravely. "I am alive, and yet I a_ead, Oscar; do you grasp the idea? You were a good friend when we were lad_ogether in the great forest. If I should want you to help me now—"
  • The man jumped to his feet and stood at attention so gravely that Armitag_aughed and slapped his knee.
  • "You are well taught, Sergeant Oscar! Sit down. I am going to trust you. M_ffairs just now are not without their trifling dangers."
  • "There are enemies—yes?" and Oscar nodded his head solemnly in acceptance o_he situation.
  • "I am going to trust you absolutely. You have no confidants—you are no_arried?"
  • "How should a man be married who is a soldier? I have no friends; they ar_nprofitable," declared Oscar solemnly.
  • "I fear you are a pessimist, Oscar; but a pessimist who keeps his mouth shu_s a good ally. Now, if you are not afraid of being shot or struck with _nife, and if you are willing to obey my orders for a few weeks we may be abl_o do some business. First, remember that I am Mr. Armitage; you must lear_hat now, and remember it for all time. And if any one should ever sugges_nything else—"
  • The man nodded his comprehension.
  • "That will be the time for Oscar to be dumb. I understand, Mr. Armitage."
  • Armitage smiled. The man presented so vigorous a picture of health, his simpl_haracter was so transparently reflected in his eyes and face that he did no_n the least question him.
  • "You are an intelligent person, Sergeant. If you are equally discreet—able t_e deaf when troublesome questions are asked, then I think we shall get on."
  • "You should remember—" began Oscar.
  • "I remember nothing," observed Armitage sharply; and Oscar was quite humbl_gain. Armitage opened a trunk and took out an envelope from which he dre_everal papers and a small map, which he unfolded and spread on the table. H_arked a spot with his lead-pencil and passed the map to Oscar.
  • "Do you think you could find that place?"
  • The man breathed hard over it for several minutes.
  • "Yes; it would be easy," and he nodded his head several times as he named th_ailroad stations nearest the point indicated by Armitage. The place was i_ne of the mountainous counties of Virginia, fifteen miles from an east an_est railway line. Armitage opened a duly recorded deed which conveyed t_imself the title to two thousand acres of land; also a curiously complicate_bstract of title showing the successive transfers of ownership from colonia_ays down through the years of Virginia's splendor to the dread time whe_attle shook the world. The title had passed from the receiver of a defunc_hooting-club to Armitage, who had been charmed by the description of th_roperty as set forth in an advertisement, and lured, moreover, by th_mazingly small price at which the preserve was offered.
  • "It is a farm—yes?"
  • "It is a wilderness, I fancy," said Armitage. "I have never seen it; I ma_ever see it, for that matter; but you will find your way there—going first t_his town, Lamar, studying the country, keeping your mouth shut, and seein_hat the improvements on the ground amount to. There's some sort of a bungalo_here, built by the shooting-club. Here's a description of the place, on th_trength of which I bought it. You may take these papers along to judge th_ize of the swindle."
  • "Yes, sir."
  • "And a couple of good horses; plenty of commissary stores—plain militar_ecessities, you understand—and some bedding should be provided. I want you t_ake full charge of this matter and get to work as quickly as possible. It ma_e a trifle lonesome down there among the hills, but if you serve me well yo_hall not regret it."
  • "Yes, I am quite satisfied with the job," said Oscar.
  • "And after you have reached the place and settled yourself you will tell th_ostmaster and telegraph operator who you are and where you may be found, s_hat messages may reach you promptly. If you get an unsigned message advisin_ou of—let me consider—a shipment of steers, you may expect me any hour. O_he other hand, you may not see me at all. We'll consider that our agreemen_asts until the first snow flies next winter. You are a soldier. There need b_o further discussion of this matter, Oscar."
  • The man nodded gravely.
  • "And it is well for you not to reappear in this hotel. If you should b_uestioned on leaving here—"
  • "I have not been, here—is it not?"
  • "It is," replied Armitage, smiling. "You read and write English?"
  • "Yes; one must, to serve in the army."
  • "If you should see a big Servian with a neck like a bull and a head the siz_f a pea, who speaks very bad German, you will do well to keep out of hi_ay,—unless you find a good place to tie him up. I advise you not to commi_urder without special orders,—do you understand?"
  • "It is the custom of the country," assented Oscar, in a tone of deep regret.
  • "To be sure," laughed Armitage; "and now I am going to give you money enoug_o carry out the project I have indicated."
  • He took from his trunk a long bill-book, counted out twenty new one-hundred- dollar bills and threw them on the table.
  • "It is much money," observed Oscar, counting the bills laboriously.
  • "It will be enough for your purposes. You can't spend much money up there i_ou try. Bacon—perhaps eggs; a cow may be necessary,—who can tell withou_rying it? Don't write me any letters or telegrams, and forget that you hav_een me if you don't hear from me again."
  • He went to the elevator and rode down to the office with Oscar and dismisse_im carelessly. Then John Armitage bought an armful of magazines an_ewspapers and returned to his room, quite like any traveler taking th_omforts of his inn.