> 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."
"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—?"
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."
"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.