Less than kin

By Alice Duer Miller

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Title: Less than kin

Author: Alice Duer Miller

Release date: September 18, 2023 [eBook #71674]

Language: English

Original publication: New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1909

Credits: Steve Mattern and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net (This book was produced from images made available by the HathiTrust Digital Library.)


                            _Less Than Kin_


                          _Alice Duer Miller_


                               _New York
                         Henry Holt and Company

                            COPYRIGHT, 1909
                         HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY

                         _Published May, 1909_

                      QUINN & BODEN COMPANY PRESS
                             RAHWAY, N. J.

                             LESS THAN KIN

                               Chapter I

The curtain rolled down, the horns gave forth a final blare, and the
whole house rustled with returning self-consciousness. Mrs. Raikes and
Miss Lewis had always had orchestra seats for Monday nights. Their
well-brushed heads, their high jeweled collars, their little bare
backs were as familiar to experienced opera-goers as the figure of the
long-suffering doorman. They had the reputation of being musical. What
indeed could prove it better than their preference for orchestra seats,
when they might so easily have gone whenever they wanted in the boxes
of their friends?

As the lights went up, they both turned to the glittering tiers above
them. The opera was a favorite and the house was full, though here
and there an empty box caught one’s eye like a missing tooth. Miss
Lewis was sweeping the semicircle like an astronomer in full cry after
a comet. She had begun conscientiously at the stage box, and with
but few comments she had reached the third or fourth, when her hand
was arrested. There were three people in it--an old man in a velvet
skull-cap, tall, thin, wrinkled, and strangely somber against the
red-and-gold background; a younger man dimly seen in the shadow; and a
slim young woman in gray.

The curve of the house afforded examples of every sort and kind of
brilliantly dressed lady. There were dowagers and young girls, there
were women who forgot the public and lounged with an arm over the back
of a little gilt chair, and there were others who sat almost too erect,
presenting their jewels and their composed countenances to the gaze of
whoever cared to admire.

The lady in gray did neither. She sat leaning a little forward, and
looking down absently into the orchestra, so that it was hard to tell
how attentively she was listening to the man behind her. She had an
extremely long waist, and had the effect of being balanced like a
flower on its stalk.

Miss Lewis, with her glass still on the box, exclaimed:

“What, again! Wasn’t he with the Lees last week?”

“You mean James Emmons,” answered Mrs. Raikes. “He is not with Nellie.
He belongs somewhere on the other side of the house. He came into
the box just before the _entr’acte_. Rather she than me. He has a
singularly heavy hand in social interchange.”

“He could give Nellie things she would value. I am sure she feels she
would shine in high politics.” Miss Lewis raised her glass again. “You
know she is not really pretty.”

“I think she is, only she looks as cold as a little stone.”

“If you say that, every one answers, ‘But see how good she is to her

“My dear, if you were a penniless orphan, wouldn’t you be good to a
rich uncle?”

Miss Lewis hesitated. “I’m not so sure, if he were like Mr. Lee.
Besides, some people say he hasn’t anything left, you know.”

“Look how they live, though.”

“My innocent! Does that prove that they pay their bills? Nellie strikes
me as being very short of cash now and then.”

“Who is not?”

“And the reprobate son will have to come in for something, won’t he?”

“Oh, I fancy not. I don’t think they have anything to do with him. He
has disappeared, to South America or somewhere.”

“Well,” said Miss Lewis, “I should advise Nellie not to take chances,
but to accept--” And then she stopped. “Look at that,” she added.
“Don’t you think that is a mistake?”

For the girl in gray had risen slowly, and disappeared into the back of
the box, followed by Emmons.

He was a short man, no longer very young. Nature had intended him to be
fat, but he had not let her have her way.

The two sat down in the little red-lined room behind the box, with its
one electric light and its mirror. Nellie had established herself on
the tiny sofa.

“Well, James,” she said.

“I wanted to tell you that I had been appointed to this commission
to inquire into the sources of our Russian immigration. I start in

“I congratulate you. You will be an ambassador within a few years, I
feel sure.”

Her praise did not seem to elate him. He went on in exactly the same

“I shall be gone three months or more.”

“I shall miss you.” Her manner was too polite to be warm, and he
answered, without temper,

“You don’t care whether I go or not.”

She looked at him. “Yes, I do, James,” she said mildly. “You know I
depend on you, but it would be very selfish if I thought of myself
instead of----”

He brushed it aside, as one anxious only for facts.

“You are not really fond of me,” he said.

“Well, I am not romantically in love with you. I never was with any
one, and I don’t suppose I ever shall be, but I like you well enough to
marry you, and that is something, you know.”

“You don’t like me well enough to marry me in August and come to Russia
with me.” If he had been watching her face at this suggestion, he would
not have needed an answer, but fortunately he was looking another way.

“You know I can not leave my uncle, old and ill----”

“Will you be any better able to leave him in three months?”

She hesitated, but as if it were her own motives that she was
searching. “When you come back there will be no need for leaving him.”

“Oh,” said Emmons. He glanced through the curtains at the old man’s
thin back, as if the idea of a common household were not quite
agreeable to him.

There was a short pause, and then he went on,

“It sometimes strikes me that if it weren’t your uncle it would be
something else.”

“James,” said Nellie seriously, “I give you my word that if there were
anybody who could take my place at home, I would marry you in August.”

Emmons nodded. “Well, I can’t ask more than that,” he answered, and
added, with a smile, “though it is a perfectly safe offer, for I
suppose no one can take your place.”

“No one,” said Nellie, with the conviction of a person who does not
intend to look.

The box door opened, and a man half entered, and paused as he saw how
prearranged was the tête-à-tête on which he was intruding. But Nellie
welcomed him in.

“Don’t be frightened away, Mr. Merriam,” she said, smiling. “Mr. Emmons
and I aren’t talking secrets. We weren’t even quarreling--at least _I_
wasn’t. But the lights in front hurt my eyes. Don’t you think at my age
I can do as I like?”

Mr. Merriam was eminently of that opinion--especially as a moment
later Emmons rose to go.

“Good-night.” Nellie held out her hand. “Don’t forget that you are
dining with us on the 22d.”

“I shan’t forget,” Emmons answered. “I’ve written it down.”

“I shouldn’t have to write it down,” said Merriam.

“Ah, you are not such a busy man as he is,” she returned, but she could
not help smiling. It was so like James to tell her he had written it

                              Chapter II

There is nothing so radiant, so blue and green (unless it be a
peacock), nothing so freshly washed and shining, as an early morning in
the tropics.

A new President having decided to add cavalry to the army, the recruits
were being drilled on a flat furrowed savannah outside the city limits.
Behind them a line of hills, rugged in outline but softened by heavy
vegetation, were hidden by the mist that was rolling away over the
Atlantic; and all about them, at the edge of the meadow, were tall
flat-topped trees, under which were dotted little pink and blue houses,
like toys.

The soldiers wore blue cotton uniforms, and many of them were
barefooted. Their horses were diminutive, but sure-footed and nimble,
not ill built forward of the saddle, but pitifully weak behind.

The instructor was very differently mounted. He rode a round strong bay
mare, which, in contrast to the pony-like creatures about her, looked
a hand higher than her actual height. Her rider sat still watching his
pupils. Little of his face was visible under the brim of his broad
Panama hat except a brown chin and a pair of long blond mustaches.
Now and then he shouted to the men in excellent Spanish; and once or
twice swore with the tolerant, unmistakable drawl of the Yankee. On the
whole, however, one would have said after watching him for some minutes
that his temper seemed fairly unruffled in a climate which tries men’s
tempers, and in an occupation which induces irritation.

Once, with some instinctive motion of his body, he put his horse at
a hand gallop, and riding over to one of the soldiers offered some
individual suggestions. The man plainly did not understand, and a
minute later the instructor had changed mounts with the man, and
presently the pony was wheeling hither and thither in response to his
bit, as a boat answers its rudder.

Exactly at ten o’clock the door of a square building in the town
opened; a little trumpeter came out, and the clear notes of a bugle--so
appropriate to the fierce brilliance of the morning--were flung out
like a banner upon the air. It was the signal that the lesson was over.
The men formed into fours, and jogged away under the command of a
non-commissioned officer, leaving the American alone.

He sat a moment, watching the retreating backs, as he took a grass
cigarette case from his breeches pocket, and lit a little yellow native
cigarette. Then he turned his horse with one hand, and cantered away
across the savannah. As he did so, the motion and the clear brightness
of the morning moved him to song. Pushing back his hat from his
forehead he lifted his head:

    “Oh, I’m not in a hurry to fuss or to worry,
      For fear I should grow too stout,
    And I don’t care a bit if my boots don’t fit,
      For I walk just as well without.”

He stopped in front of one of the toy houses, and shouted “Oh, Señor

The door, which stood open, was at once filled by the figure of a man
in crash clothes. He was middle-aged and wore spectacles, so powerful
that the eyes appeared to glare upon you with unspeakable ferocity,
until, seeing round them or over, you found the expression friendly in
the extreme.

“Ah, ha, Don Luis,” he said, “I did not know you were a singer.”

“And a poet, my dear Doctor,” returned the other, bowing. “My own
words. Could you hear them across the savannah?”

“I could have heard them over the frontier. Will you come in?”

“No, _gracias_,” he answered. “I only stopped in to ask you to a party
this evening, Doctor, for the lovely Rosita. It became necessary to
do something to cut out that handsome young dog of a native. Will you

The doctor gave a sound indicative of hesitation.

“What kind of a party?” he asked cautiously.

“Oh, a perfectly respectable little party,” returned Vickers, “not a
bit like my last. At least it will begin respectably. It will end as my
guests please. Will you come early or late, Doctor?”

“Early,” said the doctor; “it is always permitted to go home. No, wait
a moment,” he added, as he saw Vickers preparing to go. “I want to
ask you something. Did you ever know a big American who lived on the
Pacific side--a man named Lee? Not a relation of yours, was he?”

“Certainly he is not,” retorted Vickers. “I have not many causes for
gratitude, but that is one. I met him only once, and then he borrowed
fifteen pesos from me on the strength of a hypothetical likeness
between us.”

“There is a certain resemblance,” observed the doctor.

“Is there? I never saw it. What has he been doing? Getting into

“Getting out of it. He died at my house this morning.”

“What of? Fever?”

“No, drink. I found him two days ago in his hut on the Pacific slope,
and brought him here. One can not drink safely in this climate. Nature
is beneficent, she gives much,” the doctor waved his hand, “but she
also exacts much. One can not drink here, and live.”

“Oh, nonsense, Doctor,” said Vickers, “look at me. I’m as sound as a

“What I want of you,” said the other, “is to write to his family. My
English is not sufficient to make him out a hero, and,” he added, with
a smile, “when we write home they are always heroes. Will you undertake

“Sure,” said Vickers, swinging a light leg over the mare’s head. As he
stepped to the ground, one could see his great height, an inch or two
over six feet.

“You know,” the doctor went on persuasively, as they walked up the
steps into the house, “that he might just as well have died, as you
suggested, of fever.”

“Fever, pooh!” exclaimed Vickers. “How tame! We must think of something
better than that. Would fever be any consolation to the survivors?
No, no, my dear Nuñez, something great, something inspiring. ‘My dear
Madame, your son, after a career unusually useful and self-denying’
(the worthless dog), ‘has just met a death as noble as any I have
ever seen or heard of. A group of children--’ No, ‘a group of little
children returning from school were suddenly attacked by an immense and
ferocious _tigre_----’”

“Oh, come, Don Luis,” murmured the doctor, “who ever heard of a _tigre_
attacking a group?”

“My dear Señor Doctor,” replied Vickers, “I perceive with regret that
you are a realist. I myself am all for romance, pure ethereal romance.
I scorn fact, and by Heaven, if I can’t describe a _tigre_ so that
Lee’s mother will believe in it, I’ll eat my hat.”

“In that case,” returned the doctor dryly, “I suppose it is unnecessary
to mention that Lee does not seem to have a mother.”

“Oh, well,” said Vickers, in evident discouragement, “if a fellow
hasn’t got a mother, that prohibits pathos at once. A wife? At least a

Nuñez shook his head. “Nothing but a father,” he said firmly.

Vickers flung himself into a chair with his legs very far apart and his
hands in his pockets.

“Now, how in thunder,” he said, “can I get up any interest in a father?
A father probably knew all about Lee, and very likely turned him out
of the house. A father will think it all for the best. Or no, perhaps
not. An old white-haired clergyman--Lee was just the fellow to be a
clergyman’s son.”

“I am often glad that I belong to a religion whose priests do not
marry,” said the doctor. “Let me get you Lee’s papers.”

They made but a small bundle and most of them were bills, unreceipted.
Vickers drew out one with an American stamp. It was dated Hilltop,
Connecticut. Vickers read:

 “My Dear Son: I enclose the money you desire for your journey home,
 which Nellie and I have managed to save during the last three months.
 I can hardly realize that I am to see you again after almost ten

Vickers looked up. “Why, the poor beggar,” he said, “he was just going
home after ten years. I call that hard luck.” And then his eye lit on
the date of the letter, which was many months old. “By Jove, no. He
took the old man’s money and blew it in, instead. Isn’t that the limit?
But who is Nellie?”

The doctor shrugged his shoulders, and Vickers returned to the perusal
of the papers. “Bills, bills, notes, letters from women. I seem to
recognize that hand, but no matter. Ah, here is another from home. Ten
years old, too.”

The writing was feminine, neat, and childish.

 “Dear Bob,” it said, “if you left home on my account, you need not
 have gone.

 “Your affectionate cousin,


There was a moment’s silence. A feeling of envy swept over Vickers. The
mere sight of an American stamp made him homesick; the mail from the
States never brought him anything; and yet somewhere at home there was
a girl who would write like that to a worthless creature like Lee.

“They were using those stamps when I was at home,” he said
reminiscently, “but they don’t use them any more.”

“Indeed,” said the doctor, without very much interest.

“Ten years ago, just fancy it,” Vickers went on, turning the letter
over. “And he did not go back. I would have, in his place. If I had an
affectionate cousin Nellie--I have always been rather fond of the name
Nellie. Can you understand his not going?”

“We do not understand the Anglo-Saxon, nor pretend to,” returned the
doctor. “You know very well, Don Luis, you all seem strangely cold to

“Cold!” cried Vickers, with a laugh; “well, I never was accused of that
before. Wait till you see my letter to Nellie: for of course it will
be to Nellie that I shall write. Or no, I can’t, for I’m not sure of
the last name. No. I’ll write the old man after all. ‘Dear Sir: It is
my task to communicate a piece of news which must necessarily give you
pain.’ (I wish I knew how much the old boy would really care.) ‘Your
son expired yesterday in the performance of the bravest action that it
has ever been my good fortune to see, or hear tell of. As you probably
know, Mr. Lee held a position of some responsibility in the railroad.’
(It is a responsibility to keep the bar.) ‘Yesterday we were all
standing about after working hours’ (I wonder when Lee’s began), ‘when
a dispute arose between two of the men. In these hot climes tempers
are easily roused, and words too quickly lead to blows, and blows to
weapons. We all saw it, and all stood hesitating, when your son stepped
forward and flung himself between the two. I grieve to say that he paid
for his nobility with his life. It may be some satisfaction to you to
know, my dear sir, that one of the boys whose life he saved, for both
were hardly full grown, was the only son of a widowed mother.’ We could
not make them both only sons of widowed mothers, could we? When are you
going to bury him?”


“Let me chip in for the funeral. We’ll have it handsome while we are
about it. I must not stay now. Give me the letters, and I’ll get it off
by to-morrow’s steamer. I’ll make it a good one, but I need time. And I
have a report to write for the President, on the progress of my troop.
Have you seen them? Don’t they do me credit?”

Doctor Nuñez looked at him gravely, as he stooped his head and passed
out into the sunlight. As he was gathering up the reins, the older man
said suddenly,

“Don Luis, would you be very much of a Yankee if I offered you a piece
of advice?”

“Very much of a Yankee? I don’t understand. I should be very uncommonly
grateful. Your advice is rare. What is it? To give up whiskey?”

“No, but to give up Cortez. He is in bad odor with the President.”

“Oh, I know, I know, but if I changed my friends in order to choose
adherents of the administration--! However, I am an administration
man. I am almost in the army.”

“Not always the safest place to be.”

“Oh, Cortez is all right, Doctor. You don’t do Cortez justice.”

“On the contrary,” said the doctor, “I do him full justice. I do him
the justice of thinking him a very brilliant man,--but I do not walk
about arm in arm with him in broad daylight. Is he coming to the party
this evening?”

“I expect him.”

“You could not put him off?”

“Hardly. He brings the phonograph to amuse the señoritas. Now, come,
Doctor, you would not cut me off from the only man in the country who
owns a talking-machine?”

The doctor sighed. “I knew you would be a Yankee,” he said, and turned
and walked into the house, while Vickers rode away, resuming his song
about his indifference as to the fit of his boots.

Vickers’s house was on the slopes of the hills, and a steep little
white adobe stairway led up to it. The house itself was a blue-green
color, and though from the outside it presented an appearance of size,
it was literally a hollow mockery, for the interior was taken up with
a square garden, with tiled walks, and innumerable sweet-smelling
flowers. Round the inner piazza or corridor there were arches, and in
these Vickers had hung orchids, of which he was something of a fancier.
In the central arch was a huge gilded birdcage in which dangled a large
bright-colored macaw.

“You beauty,” said Vickers, stopping for an instant as he crossed the

The macaw hunched his shoulders, shifted his feet on the perch, and
said stridently,

“_Dame la pata._”

“You betcher life!” said Vickers, thrusting his finger between the
bars. The two shook hands solemnly, and Vickers went on his way to the
dining-room, shouting at the top of a loud voice,

“Ascencion, _almuerzo_.”

An instant later he was being served with coffee, eggs, and a broiled
chicken by an old woman, small, bent, wrinkled, but plainly possessed
of the fullest vitality.

“And what are you going to give us for supper to-night?” Vickers asked,
with his mouth full.

With some sniffing, and a good deal of subterranean grunting, Ascencion
replied that she did not know what to give _los Americanos_ unless it
were half an ox.

“Ah, but the lovely señoritas,” said Vickers.

A fresh outburst of grunting was the reply. “Ah, the Señorita Rosita.
I have already had a visit from her this morning. She comes straight
into my kitchen,” said the old woman. “She expects to live there some

“In the kitchen, Ascencion!” said her employer. “You talk as if she
were a rat.”

“Oh, you will see. The Señor Don Papa,--he goes about saying that he
will marry his daughter to none but foreigners,--that they make the
best husbands.”

“So they do.”

“Oh, very well, very well, if you are satisfied. It makes no difference
to me. It is all the same to me that every one says this is a betrothal
party, and the _niña_ does not deny it.”

“Ah, you know very well, proud beauty,” said Vickers, waving a fork at
her, “that there is only one woman in all Spanish-America for me--the
only woman who knows how to cook, this side of the San Pedro. If you
choose to call this our betrothal party, yours and mine, Ascencion----”

It was a perfectly safe joke, for Ascencion was a wife, the mother of
fourteen, and the grandmother of a whole village. She did not even
notice the last part of his sentence.

“And who is there can cook like me on the other side of the San Pedro?”
she asked. “I don’t know her;” and she hobbled away.

After breakfast, Vickers with the assistance of two or three native
boys, Ascencion’s grandchildren, who came and went about the house like
stray dogs, hung the court and corridors with paper lanterns, and moved
the furniture so as to leave the _sala_ free for dancing.

These preparations occupied so much time that he was barely able
to finish his report for the government before dinner, and almost
immediately afterward his guests began to arrive. He had not had time
to write the letter, and he could not now catch the mail unless he
sent a boy down the trail to the coast. He actually thought of doing
this in order to catch the steamer, for his conscience reproached him,
but Ascencion absolutely refused to be deprived of any of her working
staff on so great an occasion.

Cortez was the first to arrive. He was carrying his talking-machine in
his arms as he entered, and he and Vickers had a great many jokes to
exchange as to the rolls fit for the ears of the señoritas.

“It is going to be the making of the party,” Vickers exclaimed, “and I
can’t thank you enough for bringing it.”

Cortez replied politely that everything he had was equally at the
disposition of his friend, but presently it appeared that it was within
the power of Vickers to do a reciprocal favor. Cortez was going the
very next day on a long shooting trip. But he feared he would be short
of cartridges. Doubtless Don Luis knew the delays in the custom-house.
Was it possible that he could borrow a hundred or so?

Vickers asked the caliber, and noted that it was the same as the new
government rifle.

Cortez shrugged his shoulders. “It may be,” he said. “You forget that I
am not in the confidence of the government. But we will say no more. If
it is not convenient----”

“My dear fellow,” cried Vickers, clapping him on the shoulder, “it is
perfectly convenient; take as many as you want,” and summoning one of
Ascencion’s descendants he gave orders that as many boxes as the señor
might want should be carried out and put in his _coche_.

Almost every one had come before the arrival of the Señorita Rosita and
her papa, which partook of the nature of a rite. He was a little man,
very erect, possessed, in Vickers’s eyes, of that inscrutability which
even the remnant of an older civilization has for a new one.

The girl was reputed a beauty, small, round, barely seventeen, with a
pair of black eyes which languished so sweetly and so easily that one
scarcely wondered that their owner never used them for anything else.

As his eyes met hers, Vickers cursed Ascencion in his heart for having
instilled her suspicions into his mind, for it seemed to him that the
lovely Rosita had never languished quite so openly upon him before. The
thought affected the cordiality of his manner. His greeting was formal.
Then seeing that she looked hurt, and reflecting that, if she had given
her friends the notion that he was hers for the asking, it was very
hard to be contradicted by his manner, he sprang forward and led her
away to dance.

Soon afterward, having surrendered her to another partner, he found
himself standing beside her father, and never at a loss for a pleasant
word he observed that the señorita was undoubtedly the handsomest girl
he had ever seen, and how did any one support the responsibility of
having such a pretty daughter?

The old gentleman smiled.

“It is not a responsibility which I look forward to supporting very
much longer, Don Luis.”

“Oh, I suppose not,” said Vickers, and he thought with some annoyance
of the good-looking native for whose destruction the party had been

“You give me,” went on the other, “an opportunity of saying what has
long been in my mind. You know, Don Luis, that many of my countrymen
are not friendly to the North Americans. I do not share the prejudice.”

Vickers bowed in his most florid manner. “I felt sure of that, sir,
when you did me the honor of accepting my invitation for this evening.”

“Yes,” said the other thoughtfully, “the acceptance was as significant
as the invitation itself.”

The phrase struck Vickers disagreeably, but he bowed again, and
prepared to move away, but the old man stopped him.

“I was glad it should be so, Don Luis,” he said. “There is no one
to whom I should more trustfully confide my daughter’s future. I am
sufficiently Americanized to believe that marriages of the heart are
the best marriages. My wife cries out for a man of our own country,
but I say, ‘No, let the hearts of our children speak.’ I do not mind
telling you that the heart of the little Rosita _has_ spoken. Her
mother has not the pleasure to know you, Don Luis, but we must alter
that, we must alter that.” He smiled up at Vickers and perhaps saw
something written upon his countenance, for he added hastily:

“Perhaps I mistake your sentiments. I have been warned that it is
the habit of your countrymen to engage a young lady’s affections and
to ride away. But I can not think that of you, my friend. I can not
believe that I have mistaken your sentiments.”

“Oh, my sentiments,--not a bit,” said Vickers hastily. Even in English
he might have found himself at a loss for the right word in which to
decline an offer of marriage, but in Spanish, well as he knew the
language, he floundered hopelessly. “My sentiments are as I told you,
that the señorita is the most adorable young lady in the world, but----”

“Enough, enough, my young friend,” said his companion, laying a
hand for an instant on Vickers’s arm with an incomparable gesture.
“Obstacles are for old heads, love for young ones. See, she glances in
our direction. She perhaps guesses what is the only topic that would
keep you from her. Go to her. I will not be cruel. Go to her.” And he
turned away, waving his hand.

Vickers sprang after him, but as he did so he felt his arm caught, and
turning saw Doctor Nuñez.

“I must see you alone for an instant, but at once,” he said, in a low

“More trouble!” said Vickers, leading the way to his old bedroom, which
was the only spot in the house secure from the inroads of the party.
He shut the door behind them, and invited the doctor to sit down, but
Nuñez did not notice the suggestion.

“I have just come from town,” he said. “Your immediate arrest is
decided on. The police may be here in a few minutes.”

“My arrest? Well, what the-- Why in thunder am I to be arrested?”

“On suspicion of conspiring against the government. You are thought
to have great influence with the men, which, taken in conjunction with
your friendship for Cortez, makes you dangerous.”

“Well, if that isn’t the darndest,” said Vickers. “I have not conspired
against their old government.”

“That, my dear Luis,” said the doctor gravely, “has nothing whatsoever
to do with it. They are coming to arrest you. The mere presence of
Cortez in the house will be enough. They can not arrest him without
precipitating immediate trouble, but they can arrest any one who will
be of assistance to him. It seems he has boasted openly that he could
get all the ammunition he wanted from you. I do not say I believe it.”

“I have just sent all the cartridges he wanted out to the _coche_ which
is at this moment standing before my door,” said Vickers.

“Then you must certainly go at once.”

“Do you really advise me, Doctor, to run away from a couple of
policemen with handcuffs and a warrant? No, no, I shall stay. My
conscience is clear. I shall appeal to my own government. You know
they can’t go about arresting innocent Americans without getting into

Nuñez raised his eyebrows. “And through whom will you appeal? Your
American consul?”

“I suppose so.”

“And do you happen to remember the last time you saw Meester B. Wilkins

“Oh, thunder!” returned Vickers, “that was the time I dipped him in the
San Pedro, for saying I cheated at cards. Well, he richly deserved it,
Doctor. No one could deny that.”

“Perhaps not,” returned the doctor, “but I do not think he will
break his neck to save you. I think he will write home that it is
unfortunate that a better type of Americans do not come down here. I
think he will think it right to let our law take its course.”

Vickers had begun to look grave, but at the word law his face
brightened. “Ah, there you are,--law!” he cried. “They can not prove
anything against me. They will not dare to ventilate their case in

“I do not think they will try,” replied Nuñez gently. “I think they
will send you down to a little prison on the island of Santa Maria,
while they investigate your case. And I do not think, my dear Don Luis,
that you will ever come back from that little island. A lovely spot, a
paradise, but not healthy, it seems. It is very far away,--so far that
sometimes the jailers forget to come to feed the prisoners for months
at a time.”

“Well, in that case,” said Vickers, with a laugh, “I should think the
prisoners would not have very much trouble in making their escape.”

“Not the least; they do not have the least, not the least little bit.
But the channel is broad there, and the sharks are very hungry, Don

“Gee, you are a cheerful companion! You put new life in a man, don’t
you?” said Vickers.

“You must go, and go at once.”

“I suppose,” he answered, “that I might slip over the border for a day
or two.”

“You would be sent back at once. We have a treaty with our neighbors,
and it is strictly kept,--especially in regard to those they have no
interest in protecting. You must go home, Don Luis. You can catch
to-morrow morning’s steamer, if you are quick.”

For the first time the countenance of Vickers really clouded. “I can’t
go home,” he said; and then, noting the surprise on the doctor’s face,
he burst out: “Why, Heaven help you, don’t you suppose I would have
gone home long ago, if I could? Did you think I was here for love of
the damned country?”

“I did,” returned the other simply. “Yes, I am not ashamed to admit
that I did. I find my country beautiful,--my countrymen attaching. I
believed that you felt it too.”

“And so I do, so I do,” said Vickers, “but, man, I’m a northener, and
I’d give every palm and orchid in the place for the noise of wheels
creaking on packed snow.”

“All the more reason, then, why you should go home.”

“Look here, my friend,” the other answered, “if I go home I run a fair
chance of being electrocuted. If I stay here the sharks get me, or if I
escape the sharks, the Señor Don Papa is going to marry me to Rosita.
There are three uncomfortable alternatives for a man to choose from.”

“I should choose electrocution,” said the doctor.

“I think I shall choose a pot shot at the police.”

There was a moment of silence, then the doctor asked,

“Did you send that letter to Lee’s family?”

Vickers shook his head absently.

“Then,” cried the other, with decision, “you shall go home as Lee.
Ten years might change a man so that not even his own father would
know him,--especially ten years in this climate. Beside, there was a
resemblance, you know.”

Vickers had lifted his head to laugh at the project for its
impossibility, and paused to listen further, attracted by its sheer

“You must have observed,” the doctor continued, “that fugitives are
caught for the simple reason they go into a new country as strangers,
and strangers are always objects of suspicion. Strangers always are
called upon to give an account of themselves; strangers always have to
explain why they have come. Now all these difficulties are obviated if
only you can take up the life and personality of some one else. You are
Lee, you go home to see your father. Nothing could be simpler. Well,
yes, I admit that there is a risk, but----”

“But,” said Vickers, “there is also a Nellie. I told you, didn’t I,
Doctor, that it is a name I am fond of?”

“It is a risk,” Nuñez went on, “but to stay here is a certainty.”

“To go back,” murmured Vickers, “to a real home, even if it belongs to
another man, and a father, and above all an affectionate cousin----”

“Order your horse,” said Nuñez, “and I’ll take care of your guests, and
of the police, and of Rosita, and Cortez, and all the other follies
you have committed.”

“And of Ascencion,” Vickers added. “She is worth all the rest, the nice
old hag. Well, I’ll try it, Doctor, on your advice. By the way, thank
you for not asking why I don’t go home under my own name.”

The doctor smiled. “We learn not to ask that question of our visitors,”
he said; and then at Vickers’s request he went and routed out a small
boy and gave orders to bring the _patron’s_ mare at once to the front
of the house.

When he returned to the bedroom, Vickers had changed into his riding
clothes, and was stuffing a pair of saddle-bags.

“I want you, Nuñez,” he said, “to take anything you have a fancy for
in the house, and give the rest to Ascencion. There’s a check for
her, and here’s another for all I have in the bank. It will more than
pay my bills. If not, write me to an address I will send. Be kind
to Ascencion. She won’t like my going off like this, without saying
good-by, but I don’t dare. She will have hysterics, as sure as Fate.
Tell her I love her fond. Good-by, Doctor.”

The last Nuñez saw of him was a long leg quickly drawn over the

The night, fortunately, was fair, for the rainy season had not
regularly set in. As Vickers rode, he thought neither of the dangers he
had left behind nor of the risk before him. It seemed as if the fierce
homesickness of the last five years had suddenly broken out now and
that his face was for the first time turned northward. He could not
believe that within a week he would see the tops of New York’s tall
buildings rise over the horizon like an immense castle set on a hill.

He reached the sea at four o’clock; at sunrise the vessel sailed. Then
only, as he saw the gray water opening out between him and the shore,
he felt an emotion of gratitude to the country that had sheltered him
and which he never expected to see again.

                              Chapter III

Every one knows that there are palaces in Fifth Avenue which contain
no one of social note, while there are houses no wider than step
ladders in the side streets for admission to which one would give one’s
eye-teeth. The Lees’ was of this type.

At ten o’clock on the evening of the twenty-second, the groom came
out of the area gate. He knew, and the Lees knew, that no one would
be going home for an hour, but he obeyed his orders to be on hand at
that time in order to open the carriage doors, and generally speed
the parting guest. He had already unrolled the red carpet down the
entire length of the steps, and was walking up and down, debating
whether he could squeeze in another five minutes for an extra plate
of ice-cream (the cook was his aunt), when his attention was attracted
to an approaching figure. It was that of a tall man in not ill fitting
blue serge clothes, but, though the month was March, and a cold March
at that, he seemed to feel no embarrassment over the fact that he wore
a Panama hat of large, of almost blatant, variety. The groom counted
up--at least two months before such a head-gear was even permissible.
He had never supposed that such ignorant human beings existed.

At this point his scorn was changed to surprise by observing that the
barbarian was actually ascending the Lees’ step, treading lightly upon
the red carpet. The butler opened the door promptly with smiling grace.
He had observed Miss Lewis among the guests, and knew her maid--a
vivacious French-woman. His manner grew sterner when a stranger in a
Panama hat asked for Mr. Lee. His gaze, starting at the Panama hat,
sank slowly to the newcomer’s feet, noting on the way the pair of
saddle-bags so casually held.

“Mr. Lee is entertaining friends at dinner,” he said coldly.

“Still eating at ten o’clock?” returned the stranger.

“No, sir. The gentlemen have just joined the ladies in the

“Tell Mr. Lee I should like to see him,” said the other, and stepped,
without invitation, inside the door. Plimpton, who in the natural
course of his profession had become something of a judge of men, looked
at the stranger critically, and came to the conclusion he was not a
thief. Further than this he refused to go.

“What name shall I say?” he inquired, and was confirmed in his fears
when the stranger answered,

“No name. Say I have a message from his son.”

Plimpton bowed very slightly. Be sure he knew all about the scandal
about Mr. Robert. His curiosity was so much aroused that a weaker man
would have mounted the stairs with a quickened tread. Not Plimpton. He
rose grandly from step to step like a swimmer breasting slow waves.

Arrived at the top, he stood a minute in the doorway, fixing his
employer with his eye, as one who would say, “Yes, it is true that I
have important news, but do not be alarmed; you are in safe hands.”

The next moment he was herding Mr. Lee downstairs like a faithful

Mr. Lee paused two steps from the bottom, and stood looking down at the
newcomer. He was a tall man, and the two steps gave him extra height,
so that in his close evening clothes he appeared almost gigantic.

“You wished to see me, sir?” he said politely.

“You have a son in South America, Mr. Lee?”

The old man bowed.

“A man about my age and height?”

“Not quite so tall, I think, sir.”

Vickers was silent. He had hoped the suggestion would be sufficient.
He looked at the old man steadily. There was no recognition in the
eyes. Vickers felt half tempted to throw over the whole game. It was
indeed a mad one. He contemplated reporting the death of Lee, and going
away. Then something in the face of Plimpton, peering over his master’s
shoulder, encouraged him. Plimpton had guessed. Plimpton would believe
him. He hazarded a bold stroke.

“Don’t you know me, father?”

The old man caught hold of him with a cry.

“My dear Robert! My dear son! To think of my not knowing you. But how
you have changed! You have changed immensely.”

“Ten years do change a fellow.”

“Ten years, my boy? You keep no count. It will be twelve in June.”

Even at seventy Mr. Lee must have retained some love of the dramatic,
for he insisted on taking Vickers upstairs, and entered the
drawing-room leaning on his arm, and saying suavely,

“Ladies, I want to introduce my son to you.”

Vickers had been away from home for seven years, and in that time the
highest type of feminine beauty which he had seen had been little
round-faced Rosita, with her coarse muslins and cotton lace. And
now he suddenly found himself the center of interest to a group of
half a dozen women, to whose natural beauty care, taste, fashion,
and money had added everything that could adorn. Their soft shining
dresses, their pretty necks and arms, their endless jewels dazzled him.
He thought of his own little party--of Ascencion’s efforts, of the
phonograph, of the macaw.

The room, too, was incredibly warm and bright and luxurious in his
eyes. The Lees prided themselves on its simplicity. It was more of a
library, Nellie always said, than a drawing-room. But on Vickers, who
had lived seven years with tiled floors and stucco walls, the dark red
hangings, the shaded lamps, the books, the heavy rugs, made a profound

Even in the first excitement, his prudence and his curiosity alike
suggested the importance of at once discovering the identity of Nellie.
His eye fell on Mrs. Raikes, sleek, dark, well bred as a fox terrier.
She was the most cordial of the little group. Again his glance turned
to an exuberant blonde, who stood with large blue eyes fixed upon him.
Every man has it in him to admire an exuberant blonde. He wondered
rather hopefully if it could be she.

“I am so glad to see you, Mr. Lee,” Mrs. Raikes was saying. “I had
heard of you, but I had begun to think you were mythical, like King

“Why not say like all great heroes?”

The little group of women about him smiled. Only, he noticed the men
stood apart--the men, and one girl, who had never moved from a sofa in
the corner.

Vickers turned and looked at her, and as he did so, Mrs. Raikes

“What a shame it is! We have monopolized him so that his own cousin has
not had a chance to speak to him. Come, Nellie, we’ll make room for

Thus challenged Nellie rose very slowly, and Vickers’s eyes rested on
her long slim figure, and immobile little face.

“Why did not you cable, Bob?” she said.

He had on his voyage home imagined every possible sort of meeting
between them--meetings which ranged from frenzied reproaches to
caresses, but he had not imagined just this.

Even the rest of the company seemed to feel it was an inadequate
greeting to a cousin who had been away twelve years, and they turned
with some amusement to catch Vickers’s answer.

“I did not cable,” he said good-temperedly, “because I had neither the
time nor the price.”

There seemed to be no answer to this, and Nellie attempted none. Her
eyebrows went up a little, and she returned to her sofa. Mrs. Raikes
hastily followed her to say good-night.

“I suppose we must leave you to a family reunion,” she said, and added,
lowering her voice: “Such a nice prodigal, Nellie. If I were you, I
should fall in love with him at once.”

Nellie’s eyes dwelt on her cousin with an amusement worse than anger.
“I don’t think I shall ever fall in love with Bob,” she answered, and
Emmons, who was sitting beside her, could not repress a slight sniff of

Mrs. Raikes approached her host.

“Good-night, Mr. Lee. Thank you for such a pleasant after-dinner
surprise. Good-night, Mr. Robert Lee. Will you come and dine with me
some night? I always keep a fatted calf on hand.”

Vickers laughed. “Don’t you think I’ll get it at home?” he asked.

“Well, you know, Nellie is the housekeeper,” They both glanced at the
girl’s impassive countenance, and smiled at each other. They, at
least, were going to be friends.

Even after the guests were gone, and the three stood alone on the
hearth-rug, Nellie remained silent.

Vickers could not resist saying lightly:

“You don’t seem very glad to see me, Nellie.”

“On the contrary,” she answered, with meaning. “Don’t sit up too late
talking to Bob, Uncle Robert,” and with the curtest of nods she was

He turned to Mr. Lee and observed with some bitterness that Nellie’s
manner was not very cordial.

The old man shook his head. “No,” he said; “I was afraid you would
notice it. You must not expect too much of Nellie. She is a good girl,
but she has not a warm heart.”

“She has an attractive face,” said Vickers.

It was after midnight before Vickers found himself alone; he had sent
the servants to bed, and was standing a minute in the act of turning
out the lights. Plimpton had shown him--as one who bestows the freedom
of the city--where the switch was to be found.

His brain still reeled with the success of his venture--a new name, a
northern home, an affectionate old father, and--above all--New York
under so friendly a guise. He was no reader of the social items in
the newspapers. Names which had become familiar to half the country
meant nothing to him; but there had been something about the people
he had seen that evening which could not be mistaken by a man of
any perception--a certain elegance and courage which together make
the faults and virtues of good society. He had never in his wildest
dreams imagined Nellie a woman of this type. He had hoped she would be
pretty, but he hardly knew whether or not he was pleased to find this
cool, perfectly appointed creature, with a full face like a boy, and
a profile like an Italian saint. What bonds or barriers were there
between them? And if such existed, was he ever to know them? He thought
of her letter. “If it was on my account that you went, you need not
have gone.” What did it mean? Had there been coquetry on her part? Had
there been brutality on Lee’s?

And as he wondered he looked up and found himself face to face with her.

She had changed her elaborate evening dress for a scarcely less
elaborate dressing-gown. She came in, sat down opposite him, crossed
her legs, showing a pair of red-heeled bedroom slippers, and said

“Well, Bob?”

He attempted to respond with a smile that should be as non-committal as
her words, but finding that she continued to stare at him he said,

“You were not very cordial in your greeting, Nellie.”

At this she laughed as if he were making the best joke in the world,
and as if she were most fittingly replying to it when she said, “Ah,
but you see I was so surprised.”

“Did not you know that I would come back?”

“So little that I can still hardly realize it.”

Again the doubt crossed his mind whether or not she believed in his
identity with her cousin.

“It is incomprehensible to me why you did come,” she went on

He answered truthfully: “Because I wanted to. Heavens, how I wanted to!”

“I am glad to hear it,” she returned. “I am glad you acted on a whim
rather than from a belated sense of duty, for otherwise it might seem
rather ungracious for me to say what I am going to say.”

There was something slightly sinister in her tone, but his curiosity
had reached such a point that he forgot to be alarmed.

“Go on,” he said.

“I have done your work for twelve years, Bob, and I don’t mean to do it
another instant.”

“Done my work?”

She went on with the utmost deliberation. She made not the smallest
emotional appeal. Vickers had never heard a woman speak more calmly.

“I see that you think that I ought to have been grateful for a home.
I wasn’t grateful. I have worked my passage. It was not desire for a
home that has kept me here year after year, but a thing perhaps you
don’t know very much about, Bob--a sense of duty. At this moment I have
no idea whether your father is a ruined man, or whether his mind is
slightly unhinged on the subject of money. He will not cut down the
household in the smallest particular, and yet there are times when I
can not get enough money from him to pay the servants’ wages. It is not
an easy task, Bob, and such as it is I make it over to you.”

He glanced at the room--at her own extravagant clothes.

“Do you mean to say--” he began, but she interrupted him.

“Don’t pretend to be surprised. As if I had not written to you often
enough, as long as I had any hope you would come back.”

“I never got your letters.”

“Odd, for you always cashed my checks.”

Vickers was silent. His experiment began to look less promising. It
irked him inexpressibly to be obliged to bear such a tone from any one,
more especially a woman. If Lee’s villainy had been on a larger scale
he could have supported it better.

“You have got to stay at home, Bob,” she said firmly.

He could not help smiling. “It does not sound so alarming,” he answered.

“You don’t suppose I meant stay and be idle?” she asked. “No, we don’t
think idleness agrees very well with you, Bob. You are beginning work
on Monday.”

Her tone as well as her words irritated him. “I shall begin to look for
something to do,” he said gravely. “And perhaps I shall find something
to help the family resources out.”

“You need not look about. Your place is waiting for you. Mr. Emmons has
very kindly offered to make you a clerk in his office.”

He laughed. “I think I can do a little better than that,” he said.

“You are hardly in a position to choose. The family resources have had
enough of your higher finance, Bob. You must take what is offered to

“It does not attract me--to be Mr. Emmons’s clerk.”

“I am sorry to hear it, but you must do as I tell you, remember.”

“Nellie,” he said, standing in front of the elegant and autocratic
creature, “does it occur to you that a man may change in twelve years?”

“It does not seem to me that you are essentially different, unless
perhaps in your appearance, which I really think has improved a little.”

“Thanks for the compliment. But I am changed to this extent--you can
not dictate to me as you seem to imagine you can. I shall work, because
I happen to prefer it, but I shall work how, when, and for whom I

She shook her head and smiled. “How like you that is, Bob--to imagine
that fine talking will help you. You will have to do as I say.”

“If you were a man I should call that a threat.”

“Oh, it is a threat. Don’t you understand of what?”


“That if you make any effort to shirk the clerkship--if you don’t
behave well in it, even--I shall have you arrested.”

Vickers, who had just sunk into a chair, appreciating that the
conversation was likely to be a long one, sprang up. Did she then know
his story? Had she recognized him from the first? He made no effort to
conceal that her threat alarmed him.

“Arrested for what?” he asked.

“For stealing everything that I had in the world, Bob,” she returned
almost conversationally.

                              Chapter IV

It was a long time since Vickers had spent a sleepless night--a night,
that is, on which he had designed to slumber,--but now, in the little
mahogany bed something too short for him, he tossed all night. Contempt
was a sentiment he was not accustomed to inspiring, and it sat very
ill upon him. Fear, dislike, and even distrust he had had occasion to
deal with, but contempt he had never, to his knowledge, had to brook.
His good looks and his ready tongue had gained him an easy sort of
admiration from women. His great bodily strength had enabled him to
insist on a certain civility even from his enemies. Indeed, he had an
almost childish belief in the efficacy of physical force.

He had been born and bred in a country town in the northern part of
the State of New York, near where his father and his grandfather
had been gentlemen farmers. He had gained, too early, a reputation
in the neighborhood, as a good sport, and the best amateur boxer in
the countryside. He had, besides, a certain social prestige, for his
father’s family had once been very rich and very much respected. A new
town, a lake, a street, all bore the name of Vickers; and, though this
had been over for a generation, some legend of greatness still lingered
about the name.

It was all the worst possible training for a man of his temperament.
His father sent him off--a little too late--to study scientific
agriculture at a neighboring university. After three years Vickers
was expelled owing to some trouble over a boxing-match. This was the
beginning of his quarrel with his father, who could not stand seeing
the name of Vickers in the newspapers--particularly in connection with
what he preferred to call prize-fighting.

The two men had struggled on together in spite of constant
disagreements, until Vickers’s final catastrophe had put an end to the
situation. His father did not support him even in this, and Vickers had
not been surprised to hear that when the older man died, a few years
later, he had left his little property to a niece and nephew.

Lewis Vickers had left his native town by night--a fugitive, and yet a
certain glory had still attached to him. He had none of the bitterness
to look back to that slights and small insults bring to a man. Never in
all his life had he been spoken to and looked at as Nellie had looked
at him and spoken to him the evening before. His blood was poisoned at
the recollection. It was an insult he could not wipe out--an insult,
moreover, delivered by a woman,--a creature he had been in the habit
of subduing with a glance.

It did not take all night to bring him to his resolution. Risk or no
risk, he would tell her the truth. He would explain to her that he was
not the poor wretch she took him for.

He could wish, of course, that, to make his revenge complete, a year
or so had gone by, during which time she and the forlorn old man would
have lived upon his bounty. This would be perfect; but in the meantime
he expected to derive a sufficient amount of satisfaction from her
expression when she realized that he was a total stranger. Having
reached this conclusion, he fell asleep, only to be wakened by Plimpton.

Plimpton, though he had now spent many years in America, had not
sloughed off his British tradition. The eldest son was the eldest
son. Scandal or no scandal, he respected the heir of the house. He
pulled up the shade and drew aside the curtains with the air of one
performing a religious rite.

“If you would leave me your keys, sir, before you go out, I would
unpack your trunks as soon as they come.”

Vickers watched him. “Plimpton,” he said, “I have no trunk.”

He was very much mistaken if he had expected any expression of surprise
from Plimpton. He had duly unpacked the saddle-bags and knew their
meager contents by heart, but he made no comment. He merely bowed.

“No,” Vickers went on, “I have no bag, but in that belt, Plimpton,
which I notice you are regarding with so much disfavor, is some four
hundred dollars in American gold. I am just making up my mind to go out
and spend it all upon my back if I knew where to go.”

Here Plimpton felt he _could_ be of use. He had not valeted some of
the best-dressed men in London and New York for nothing. He instantly
named a tailor.

“And for immediate use, sir,” he added, as he hung the blue serge
trousers over a chair, brushed beyond their deserts, “for immediate
use I think you might find something that would fit you at Hooks’s.
I should not recommend it for most gentlemen, but with a figure like
yours, sir----”

“Thanks, Plimpton.”

“And will you breakfast downstairs or here, sir?”

“Where does Mr. Lee breakfast?”

“Not before noon, in his room, sir.”

“And Miss Nellie?”

“Miss Lee, sir” (Vickers noted the reproof), “breakfasts in the
dining-room at nine.”

“I will breakfast in the dining-room at nine,” said Vickers, and sprang
out of bed.

When he came downstairs, she was already at table, sitting
imperturbably behind the high silver coffee urn.

“Good-morning, Bob,” she said, as calmly as if they had parted on the
best of terms; “I hope you slept.”

Vickers was still conscious of the excitement of his situation--the
strange room, the silver, the pretty woman opposite him.

“Thank you,” he said, “I slept something horrid. My temper was only
restored by Plimpton. Plimpton is much the nicest person in the house.
He admires my figure.”

“Really,” said Nellie, and took up the morning paper.

Vickers let her read in silence--he had enough to occupy his thoughts;
but when he had finished, and Plimpton had disappeared for good, he
rose and, standing against the mantelpiece, looked down at her and said:

“Could you give me a few minutes of your time and attention, Miss Lee?
At least I suppose your name is Lee. Plimpton says so.”

His address succeeded in making her look up. “Plimpton says my name is
Lee? Do you need to be told? Are we crazy?”

“We are not crazy, though one of us is rather sadly mistaken,” he
answered. “You did not talk last night in a way to invite confidence,
Miss Lee. Far be it from me to criticise your social manner, but I can
not help thinking that you were not at your best. You were annoyed, and
you had the misfortune to make me angry, too. Angry as I was, however,
I can see on thinking it over that you must have had a hard time,--so
hard that any man would be glad to give you a helping hand, and that,
within limits, I am prepared to do.”

Nellie had stopped eating, and was now leaning back in her chair with
something of the manner of the first row at a new drama.

“You will, will you, Bob? You are extremely kind,” she answered, with
twinkling eyes.

“I am,” said Vickers. “I am most extraordinarily and unnecessarily
magnanimous: for, as I suppose you knew from the moment you set eyes on
me, I am not your cousin.”

There was an instant in which he made ready for consequences, and then,
to his surprise, she began to smile, and then to chuckle, and then to
laugh in the most disconcerting way imaginable.

Vickers would not interrupt her merriment, but continued to stare at
her with what dignity he could command.

“You are so delightful, Bob. You always live up to your character. I
have been wondering all night how you would get out of this, and I
decided on ill-health. Heart-disease, I rather thought. It seemed an
excellent opportunity for heart-disease. You could easily arrange
doctor’s bills that would run far beyond anything you could make. But I
did you injustice, grave injustice; this is infinitely better. You are
not you, but some one else. And were you changed at birth? or in South

Disregarding her merriment, he went on:

“Nevertheless I am willing to stay here, and give my time and attention
to your uncle’s affairs if they need it, and to contribute my share to
the household expenses. There is no reason in the world why I should do
this, except for the fact that I rather like you. I’m sure I don’t know
why: for a more disagreeable, sharp-tongued young woman I never met.
Still, the fact remains: I do like you. But I make one condition--not
a very hard one--namely that you shall be decently civil to me. Do you

“I understand perfectly,” she answered. “We are to accept your doing
your duty as the most extraordinary personal favor. Is that it, Bob?”

“An unkind critic might say you were willing to shift your burdens to
the shoulders of the first stranger that came along, whether he were
your cousin or not.”

“The critic would to a certain extent be right. I do not particularly
care who looks out for my uncle, provided it is well done. But you must
not be too hard on me, Bob,” she smiled. “You will not have the burden
of my support: for I expect to be married in August.”

“Well, may I be damned!” cried Vickers, striking the mantelpiece with
his hand. “This is too much. It was just conceivable that I might be
such an idiot as to stay here and help you out, even on your own absurd
terms; but to stay on while you go off and marry another fellow----”

“It is your staying that makes it possible for me to be married,” put
in Nellie gently.

“Then regard it as impossible: for I won’t stay.”

“If you attempt to go, Bob, I shall have you arrested.” Her tone might
have made him pause, if he had not been so full of his own wrongs.

“What folly this all is!” he cried angrily. “I make you a most
magnificently generous offer, and you have not even the sense to accept
it. I, a total stranger, offer to take up--but it serves me right for
trying to talk business to a woman. Who is this friend whose clerk I am
to be? Who’s your lawyer? Is there a man anywhere in this situation to
whom I can talk a little common-sense?”

“Mr. Overton is my uncle’s lawyer, but I should not advise you to see
him, Bob. I have heard him express his opinion. He has always thought
it would have been wiser to send you to the penitentiary at once. It
is Mr. Emmons who is willing to give you a position. You had better
see him.”

“All right, I’ll go to see him, and if I don’t like the way he talks, I
shan’t come back. In that case, good-by. I have to thank you for a very
pleasant evening. Remember me to Plimpton.”

Nellie had again bent her head over the paper, and did not concern
herself greatly over these adieux.

“We dine at eight, Bob,” she said.

“Oh, deuce take you!” answered Vickers, and almost shook his fist at
her as he left the room.

He had as yet no fear that the situation had passed beyond his control,
but she had succeeded in rousing an unusual degree of irritation in
him. He thought he would experience relief in talking to a man to whom
he could say what he liked.

Emmons had rooms in one of the upper stories of an uptown club. It was
a short walk from the Lees’, and Vickers arrived at the entrance in a
couple of minutes, but there was a long delay before he was shown to
Emmons’s apartment.

He found Emmons seated at his writing table.

“Good-morning, Lee,” he said rather magnificently, and Vickers
recognized him as the man who had been at Nellie’s side the evening

“Mr. Emmons,” said Lee, sitting down without being asked, “I think you
witnessed my triumphant return to the bosom of my family last evening.
I find myself in something of a hole on account of a foolish trick. For
reasons which we need not go into, I passed myself off as Mr. Lee’s
son, on the strength of a likeness. Unhappily I had no idea of just
what sort of a rascal he appears to have been.”

Nature or art had made it easy for Emmons’s face to express nothing.

“And you are not Bob Lee?” he said.

“Lee died the day before I left South America.”

“Why have you come to tell _me_ this?”

“I found myself rather in need of a dispassionate outsider, and Miss
Lee mentioned your name.”

“Well,” said Emmons, “you’ve come to the wrong person. I am not a
dispassionate outsider. I have known the Lees for some time, and have
watched Miss Lee, and I know some of the difficulties she has had.
There have been times, sir, when your father would not give her a penny
for months together--and why? Because all spare cash went down to you.
It was a dog’s life for any woman, but she would not give it up, until
there was some one to take her place. She and I have waited one whole
year, hoping we could lay our hands on you, and now that you have at
last walked into the trap of your own accord we are not going to let
you go.”

“I see,” said Vickers, “that like her all you want is some one to take
the job of looking after the old man. I had no idea it would be to your
interest, too, to disbelieve me.”

“To disbelieve you!” cried Emmons. “Do you expect any one in their
senses to believe you? Does a man not know his own son, or a girl not
recognize the cousin she was brought up with? You acknowledge that you
come from the same place, you are the same age, the same height, you
walk straight to his house, and it is not until you find that your
being Lee means that you have got to work for your living that you
begin to run in this story about your being some one else. No, sir. You
will do as I tell you, or you will be arrested as you go out of here.
Miss Lee telephoned me what your last game was, and I sent round to
police headquarters for a detective. You can take your choice.”

Vickers was silent. He walked to the window and looked out at the city
which lay like a spider’s web, far below him. He was a quick-tempered
man, and had had his moment of feeling that personal violence was the
only possible answer to Emmons, but the seriousness of the decision
served to calm him. If he had had only the personal risk to consider,
he would probably have gone. Twice in his life he had escaped the arm
of the law. He did not doubt he could do it again. Indeed, there was
something tempting in the mere idea. But his soul rebelled at running
away from the whole situation--from the whole situation, and Nellie. He
gave no name to the strange mixture of admiration and antagonism which
she aroused in him, but he found no difficulty in giving a name to his
feeling for Emmons. He would have wished to stay merely to put a spoke
in his wheel. And what did it commit him to--to stay a day, or a week?
He could always disappear the moment the situation became irksome.
There was no obligation involved to Emmons certainly. If _he_ chose to
leave him day after day in the same house with his _fiancée_----

Ever afterward the sight of a city spread out below him brought the
decision of that morning back to him.

“Well,” he said finally, “I’ll stay for the present.”

“I thought you would. We’ll go downtown now. And by the way, while we
are on the subject, I wish to say that we can not have you running up
bills in your father’s name. In old times there was money to pay them.
Now there does not seem to be. I’ll get my hat.”

Left alone, Vickers turned from the window.

“It serves me right,” he thought; “I ought to have stayed and had it
out with Cortez. Ah, Rosita, Rosita, your face was round and empty like
the moon, but you would not have got a fellow in a fix like this.”

                               Chapter V

It had always been Vickers’s boast that he had never worked for any one
but his own father, and, as he usually added, not very long for him. To
find himself sitting on a high stool in a dark office, copying Emmons’s
letters for him, struck him as supremely ridiculous. In South America
he had been a person of some importance, and the contrast amused, even
while it annoyed him.

The work was not hard, but the hours, he noticed, were long. It was
after six, on this first day, before he reached home. The sound of
voices in the drawing-room warned him of visitors, and, like the true
home-coming American, he stole quietly upstairs to his own room.

About seven, Plimpton knocked on his door, to say that Miss Lee would
be glad to speak to him for a few minutes in the drawing-room, before

Vickers was an optimist. A thousand agreeable possibilities occurred to
him. He dressed quickly--he had had time for a little shopping on his
way uptown, and was able to appear in the conventional evening dress of
the Anglo-Saxon.

He found Nellie occupied with some flowers which had just come for her
in the long pink pasteboard box of a New York florist. She was clipping
the stems and arranging them in a tall vase.

“Oh, Bob,” she said, without turning from her occupation, and the charm
of her pose contrasted oddly with her tone, “I wanted to warn you not
to trouble your father with this idea of your being some one else. It
would probably destroy his returning faith in you, and I don’t think
he would even get the amusement from it that I did.”

“Ah, he has not such a sense of humor as that merry fellow Emmons. You
did not tell me it was he whom my absence has kept you from for a year.
No wonder you resented it!”

“I always think,” Nellie observed with the utmost detachment, “that a
person who is not very strong in morals ought to have particularly good
taste to make up. I don’t think your last remark was conspicuous for

“My dear Nellie,” said Vickers, “if I had promised to marry Emmons, I
should never hear the word taste again without a blush.”

“We won’t discuss Mr. Emmons.”

“Discuss my revered employer with an outsider? I should think not,”
returned Vickers.

“At least he _is_ your employer, which not many men who knew your
record would care to be.”

“Ah, but Emmons doesn’t know _my_ record.”

“Really, Bob, you are tiresome,” said Nellie. “Do I show so much
evidence of believing you that you are encouraged to persist in your
absurd story? There is a proverb about sticking to a good lie, but no
one could advise you to stick to such a particularly stupid one as

“Facts are stubborn things, however,” said Vickers. “Lee, if you care
to know, died just ten days ago. I saw him dead. He died of drink.
Doesn’t that sound likely?”

“Very likely, if I did not see you before me at the moment.”

“Don’t be absurd,” he answered, coming nearer to her. “I knew Lee. We
were not even so very much alike. He was not as tall as I am, for one
thing. Look at me.”

“I can’t. I’m busy.”

“By George, you will, too,” he cried, taking her by the shoulders.
“You did not have to look up as much as that to Lee. He was not built
like me--not so well. He was older, too, and had led the devil of a
life, and showed it. Can’t you see, you stupid girl? Look at me;” and
he gave her a faint shake.

She was not in the least flustered, angered, or in any way upset by his
violence, apparently. She simply would not look at him. Her eyes roved
up and down and sideways, but would not meet his, and in the course of
their wanderings they encountered the figure of Mr. Lee, just entering.

“Isn’t dinner ready yet, Nellie?” he asked peevishly.

“Not yet, Uncle,” said Nellie, coolly escaping from Vickers’s grasp.
“Sit down here. Bob was just asking me if I did not think him very much
altered in twelve years.”

The old man looked at Vickers affectionately. “Why, no,” he said, “I
don’t think he has changed as much as I should expect.”

“Why, sir, you did not know me at first last night.”

“No, not just at first, though I suspected, I suspected. But your
manner of speaking is different. But as I look at you now I find you
wonderfully little changed. Just bring me that picture of him when he
was a boy, Nellie.”

Nellie obeyed with alacrity, and returned with a faded photograph in
a magnificent silver and enamel frame. It represented a stout little
boy in Highland costume, in which Vickers could not see the smallest
resemblance to himself. The old man, however, regarded it with tender,
almost tearful eyes. “Truly the boy is father to the man,” he said.
“Just the same expression, isn’t it?”

Vickers turned away with an exclamation of irritation which he could
not repress, and Nellie asked maliciously,

“You do not find Bob any taller than he was when he went away, do you,

“Taller, Nellie? Why, of course not. Men don’t grow after they are
twenty-three or four. What are you thinking of? He has filled out a
good deal. That gives him an appearance of greater size. Sit down
here, my boy. Nellie tells me you insisted on going to work at once. I
suppose that is right, but I must admit I was a little disappointed. I
had hoped for one day of your society.”

During dinner the conversation was carried on chiefly between the two

Before they rose from the table, Plimpton approached Vickers to say
that Mrs. Raikes had telephoned to ask if Mr. Robert Lee would dine
with her the next evening at eight. Vickers replied that Mr. Robert Lee
would be graciously minded to do so, and was delighted to see a shade
of some sort settle on Nellie’s brow.

The dinner was the first of many--not only with Mrs. Raikes, but with
other people. Indeed Vickers had--what is so rare in a large city like
New York--a sudden and conspicuous social success. He was good-looking,
he was amusing, he did not care very much what he said, or whether he
were liked or not, and the result was that he had more invitations than
he could accept. It was the first of April, and that short, pleasant
spring season that New York social life has lately known, had set in.
The winter was over, many people had gone away, but a small group of
those left behind drew closer together and felt a rare impulse to be
intimate. The Park was turning green, the country clubs were pleasant
objects for motor trips,--altogether there was a good deal of an
agreeable and informal nature to be done, and all of it Lee was asked
to share.

The strange feature of it all was that there was a general
understanding that Nellie and her cousin were not upon cordial terms,
and that they could not both be asked on the same party. The result was
that Nellie spent more time at home alone than she was accustomed to.

Mr. Lee, who had always been absolutely unconscious where or how much
Nellie went out, took the keenest interest in his son’s comings and
goings, and would often express to Nellie a pride in his popularity
which she found rather hard to bear.

Emmons disapproved intensely.

“We have no right to foist a fellow like that on our friends, unless we
are sure they know about his past.”

“Every one does know, I think.”

“They can’t, or they would not ask him. Though I must say the sort of
irresponsible man he is seems to me to stick out plainly enough.”

“Does it?” said Nellie. “I don’t think so. If I met Bob now for the
first time, I think I might be inclined to like him.”

The reply for some reason seemed to irritate Emmons. “Oh, then you
approve of letting him loose on society,” he said somewhat illogically.

“I don’t know what I can do about it, James. I can not forbid him to
accept invitations.”

“I am not so sure,” returned Emmons; “but one thing you certainly can
do. You can move out of town. He will find it hard work to accept
invitations in Hilltop, and we are justified, I think, in insisting
that he shall come out there every night.”

Nellie hesitated. “I could do that,” she said, “and yet I hate to go so
early to the country. I shall be very lonely at Hilltop, James.”

“No,” said Emmons, “for I have decided to take a house there
myself--the red one, I think, across the ravine from you.”

“Oh, that will be delightful,” said Nellie.

“Besides, you will need my help in keeping an eye on Bob. This way, he
and I can go up and down to town together every day.”

“You are very good, James. You think of everything to save me trouble.”

Mr. Lee was delighted at the prospect of an early move to Hilltop. He
and his forefathers had been born and bred there. He loved the place;
he loved the ugly red brick and stone house which his father had built
on high ground to replace the old farmhouse in the valley below. He
loved the farm itself--the acres of rolling country spread out on the

And Vickers, too, was glad to go. A quiet countryside in spring
promised happier opportunities for tête-à-têtes with Nellie than New
York had afforded him. Every day in the course of the past two weeks
he had felt irked and humiliated by his position, and had been strongly
tempted to slip away. Perhaps if escape had looked more difficult he
would have been more likely to try it, but it was too easy to excite
his interest. And, though it seemed always possible to him that the
next day would be the last, his reasons for staying grew, without his
realizing it, more and more powerful. Not only his feeling for Nellie
held him--for indeed there were times when the prospect of putting her
once and for all out of his life seemed very desirable to him,--but
also old Mr. Lee’s feeling for him. The old man had not commanded
Vickers’s attachment, hardly his respect. He was small-minded,
irritable, petty, at times beyond endurance. He was ungrateful, almost
unkind to Nellie, but there could be no doubt of his passionate,
unqualified devotion to his only son. The one and only thing he cared
for was the well-being and companionship of the man he supposed to be
his boy. The idea of the pain his going would inflict held Vickers more
perhaps than anything else. The patience with which the old man hid his
eagerness for the younger one’s society, lest he should be a drag upon
him, the amount of thought he devoted to Vickers’s plans, the pride he
took in Vickers’s popularity were all inexpressibly touching to a man
who had never been the object of parental tenderness.

When Nellie and Emmons and his clerkship were more than usually trying,
Vickers would tell himself that the whole thing was absurd. Why
should he stay for the sake of an old man who had no claim upon him
whatsoever? And yet he stayed.

If he had felt the bond in New York he felt it twenty times more when
they had moved to Hilltop.

They arrived at Hilltop about five in the afternoon, and tired as he
was, Mr. Lee insisted on walking out a little way over the farm to show
it to his son. “It will all be yours, Bob, before long. To be sure, it
does not pay as it used to, but it’s a fine property.”

Vickers cordially agreed; and even after Mr. Lee had gone back he
continued his inspection. Vickers had been trained to farming. He
had not been half an hour on the place before he realized that there
was there a magnificent property badly if not actually dishonestly
mismanaged. Mr. Lee was not a farmer, and had left his land entirely
in the hands of his head-man. Vickers saw an opportunity for efficient
work before him. This prospect held him, too. He came in very late for
dinner, silent as a dog following a scent, quiet as a cat about to
spring; abstracted, in short, as a practical man just before action.

It was with just this dogged energy that he had made, as it were
actually with his two hands, his cavalry squad in South America. There
the problem had been only a practical one. Here a certain amount of
information had first to be acquired. He wanted the farm accounts, and
he got them, that first evening soon after dinner. He forgot everything
else--forgot even that Nellie was sitting outside all by herself in a
walled garden, lit by an April moon.

For two nights he sat up until sunrise, poring over the books. He had
no other time to give to them, for his hours at the office were long.
The second evening, hearing footsteps under the window, he looked out
and saw Nellie pacing up and down, closely wrapped about in a thin
light shawl, for the night was chilly. He wavered for a moment, and
then went back to work. After all, this was something definite that
could be done for her. The next evening he would take a holiday.

It was particularly annoying, therefore, when the next evening came, to
find that it brought Emmons with it--and Emmons not a merely transient
visitor, but a near neighbor very comfortably established not a mile

The three sat a little while together in the moonlight while Vickers
wondered whether, if he showed no intention of leaving them alone,
Emmons would grow discouraged and go home. The answer to his question
came at once, for Emmons rose and said firmly that he had one or two
things he would like to discuss with Nellie: would she come into the
house? Nellie acceded without the least reluctance, and Vickers was
left alone.

He took one or two impatient turns up and down the path. This, he said
to himself, was just a little more than he proposed to stand. If he
were willing, for Nellie’s sake, to clerk in the daytime, and farm at
twilight, and figure at night, he would not in between times play
third to her and her _fiancé_.

Then suddenly the recollection came to him of a girl he had met at Mrs.
Raikes’s--a young and pretty creature, with the soft yet assured manner
of the American girl who has been educated in a French convent. Surely
that girl had told him she spent her summers at Hilltop. There had been
some talk of his coming to see her. If only he could remember her name.

A supreme effort of memory brought it to him--Overton. That was it. She
had seemed a nice little thing. He would go and see Miss Overton.

As he went through the hall, Nellie’s voice called to him from a
neighboring room--“Bob.”

He came and stood in the doorway. The lovers were seated at a discreet
distance. Emmons had paused like a man interrupted in the midst of a
sentence. Vickers felt convinced that he had been “laying down the law.”

“If you are going out, Bob, please be sure to come home before
half-past ten. My uncle is so easily disturbed.”

Vickers looked at her reflectively, debating whether if he were late
she would wait up, for the pleasure of scolding him. But there was
nothing encouraging in her manner, and to be let in by Plimpton would
hardly be rewarding.

                              Chapter VI

He was unprepared for the size and magnificence of the Overton house.
If he had been an older resident of Hilltop, he would have known that
to visit the daughter of Balby Overton was a thing not to be done
unadvisedly or lightly. It was an occasion to be dressed for, and
mentioned afterward, with a casualness only apparent.

But Vickers knew nothing of this,--only knew that a pretty girl had
asked him to visit her, and that an evening had soon presented itself
when he found it convenient to go. Nor would he, for his nature lacked
reverence, have been very much impressed at knowing that Overton was
thought a great man in the neighborhood. He had begun life like all
the other men in Hilltop, had skated and swum in the river with the
rest, had gone to school with the other boys, and had not, as they
delighted to remember, been very wise or very industrious. Afterward
he had studied law and then gone into a law-office in the nearest
large town. From that moment he had begun to rise; so that the old
conservative firm which had consented to receive him as a clerk was
now generally spoken of as “Overton’s partners.” He was considered the
first lawyer in the state, and spoken of as the next senator. He was
known, too, to have made money.

And yet he had never moved away from Hilltop. Hilltop itself expected
it, and waited anxiously for the first symptom; waited to hear him
complain of the heat of summer, or the exigencies of his daughter’s
education. He never spoke of either. Perhaps political reasons chained
him, or perhaps he was not above enjoying the position of a big man
in a small place, or possibly he was bound by an affection for the
neighborhood where he was born and bred. In any case, he built himself
a new house, and an anomalous being, whose position Hilltop never
clearly understood, came and laid out the grounds--a “lands_cape_
gardener” was understood to be his official title. Hilltop on the whole
disapproved of him. He planted strange trees, and they asked each other
why it was, “if Balby wanted trees so bad, he didn’t build his house
down in the woods.”

But Overton himself remained unchanged--unchanged at least as far as
any one could judge. He still came to town meetings and quarreled with
Dr. Briggs just as he had always done. It is true that certain people
who had always called him “Balby,” or even “Scrawny” (for he was thin),
began now to let slip an occasional “Mr. Overton,” but he still took
the 8.12 train in the morning, and the 5.37 in the afternoon; his
daughter still went among them like all the other daughters of Hilltop;
and if he had not had a big house, and strange, obscure, but very
expensive objects understood to be “first editions,” no one could have
laid a finger on any alteration in him.

Vickers did not, of course, know anything of all this, did not notice
the impressive gate, or the iron palings, or anything until a large
stone house loomed up before him in the moonlight. Then, after he
had rung the bell, he turned to look at the view, and as he withdrew
his eyes from the soft shadowy rolling country, he saw that in the
foreground was a long marble balustrade, and beyond this, marble seats
and fountains that stood out sharply against a background of cedars.

The servant who answered the door said that Miss Overton was on the
piazza, and led the way to the back of the house, where Vickers found
that he had been anticipated by two young men, who were sitting on the
steps of the piazza, looking up at the girl in her low wicker chair.
It struck Vickers that the conversation had languished, for there was
a decided pause as he approached. But this illusion was dispelled by
Miss Overton’s greeting, which was so markedly constrained, so totally
different from the manner in which she had invited him to come, that
Vickers did not need much perception to guess that she had been warned
he was not a desirable acquaintance.

He did not allow that knowledge, however, to chill his pleasant
manner. He took his place on the steps, although there were a number
of luxurious looking chairs standing about. He was punctiliously
introduced to both of the young men, and he remarked at once that it
was very kind in Miss Overton to let him come, as he seemed to be in
the way at home.

“Oh, I suppose Mr. Emmons was there,” said Miss Overton; and it
presently appeared that Miss Overton did not think Mr. Emmons half
good enough for Nellie. One of the young men said rather gruffly that
he did not think so either, and was greeted by so many sly giggles and
innuendoes that Vickers gathered that he too had had pretensions in
this direction.

Vickers contented himself by remarking that Emmons did not seem to him
a romantic figure, and Miss Overton burst out:

“And Nellie of all people, who might have married so many nice men.”

“The deuce you say,” cried Vickers, and was rewarded for his interest
by hearing all the gossip of Nellie’s love-affairs for the last six

He turned to Miss Overton. “And why did not Nellie accept any of these
eligible proposals?” he asked.

There was a short but awkward pause, and then Miss Overton replied in a
low voice that she understood Nellie did not feel she could leave her

The answer, though not painful for the reason they thought, was
nevertheless painful to Vickers. It seemed to set a new obstacle
between him and Nellie. A woman might forgive you for overworking
her, even for robbing her, but for coming between her and a man she
fancied--never. No wonder he had not found it easy to establish
pleasant relations with her. The task looked harder than ever.

He had no difficulty in thawing little Miss Overton’s manner. She was
a type he understood better. She giggled so delightedly every time he
opened his mouth, that he felt emboldened to stay even after the two
young men had risen together. As soon as they had gone the former
constraint returned to the girl’s manner. She asked stiffly:

“Do you find Hilltop much changed, Mr. Lee?”

“I find myself changed,” answered Vickers. He had no intention of
losing any of the advantages of his position, nor was he going until he
had drawn her back to a more friendly tone. “You see I have been living
among another people. Did it ever strike you, Miss Overton, what is the
distinguishing trait of the Anglo-Saxon race?”

Miss Overton, who was not quite sure what the Anglo-Saxon race was,
answered that it had not.

“Why, their ability to pick out another person’s duty. Ever since I’ve
been here every one has been telling me what my duty is--except you.”

“But isn’t that a help, sometimes, Mr. Lee?” the girl asked shyly. She
had heard that her visitor was sometimes in need of a little advice in
this matter.

“Ah, but how do they know my duty, Miss Overton? They all think they
do; but do they? There are so many different kinds of duty, just as
there are so many different kinds of virtue.”

“But are there many?” asked Miss Overton, trying to think how many she
had learned there were at school. Was it nine virtues, or nine Muses?
She was sure about the seven deadly sins.

“Oh, all sorts and kinds. I had a servant once in Central America,
who was the kindest little chap to animals. When my macaw was ill,
he insisted on sitting up all night with it, and yet I found out
afterward that just before he came to me he had murdered his mother and
grandmother, because he said they nagged him.”

“What an interesting life you must have had, Mr. Lee,” said the girl,
for this casual mention of crimes was startling to Hilltop notions.

“And courage is a queer thing,” Vickers went on; “I knew a native down
there who cried when an American knocked him down, and yet when it came
to sheer crazy courage----”

Just at this moment a tall figure came through the window.

“What a beautiful night,” said a quiet voice.

“Father, this is Mr. Lee,” said the girl, and there was a something
anxious, almost appealing, in her tone.

The anxiety seemed unnecessary, for Overton answered pleasantly: “What,
Bob Lee? glad to see you here!” As he spoke he stepped out into the
moonlight, and Vickers saw his long, thin, clever Yankee face. “Just
going?” he went on, glancing at his guest, who as a matter of fact had
no such intention. “I’ll walk a little way with you.”

Vickers was surprised at the Great Man’s cordiality, but his surprise
was short-lived. Indeed it lasted no further than the corner of the

“I always think, Mr. Lee,” Overton began at once, “that if a
disagreeable thing has to be said, the sooner the better. Now I hope
you will come and see me again, come and see me as often as you feel
like it; but I do not desire your friendship for my daughter.”

In his day Vickers had knocked men down for less, but there was
something so calm and friendly and reasonable in Overton’s manner that
it never occurred to him to do more than ask quite mildly:

“And why this difference, sir?”

“Oh,” said Overton, “I allow myself a great many things I don’t
permit Louisa--whiskey and cigars, and acquaintances with reformed
characters. I assume that you have reformed, Mr. Lee, or else you would
not have come to see us at all.”

“There is something very frank about the way you assume that I needed
to,” retorted Vickers.

“I make it a point even in court,” said Overton, “not to dispute the

It struck Vickers that there was no use in resenting insults to a past
with which he was so little connected that he was in complete ignorance
of its dark places. Hoping to throw a little light upon the subject he

“Perhaps you will tell which incident or incidents of my past you----”

Overton cut him short with a smile. “No,” he said, “I won’t. In the
first place I don’t mean to walk so far, and in the second it wouldn’t
be pertinent. The point is that you are a reformed character. In
my experience there is nothing so dangerous to the young. Their
admiration for the superb spectacle of Satan trodden underfoot is too
apt to include an admiration of Satan himself. In short, my dear sir, I
don’t think you have any ground for quarreling with me because I think
you a dangerous fellow for young girls.”

“It is not exactly a compliment,” said Vickers.

“Either of those young sparks who have just gone would have given ten
years of his life for such an accusation.” Both men laughed at the
incontestable truth of this assertion, but Vickers felt it necessary to

“But I am a good deal older than they are.”

“And a good many other things as well.” They had reached the impressive
gate-post, and Overton stopped. “Suppose you come and dine with me
to-morrow night,” and he added, in exactly the same tone, “Louisa is
dining with a friend.”

Vickers looked at him a moment and then exclaimed candidly: “Now I
wonder why in thunder you asked me to dinner.”

Overton smiled. “Let me tell you,” he answered. “I must confess I was
an eavesdropper this evening. Sitting in the house I could hear your
voice, and I amused myself trying to guess who you could be that I
could not place in Hilltop. I could not even guess your family. It was
principally to satisfy my curiosity that I came out.”

“Do you remember me, Mr. Overton, before I went away?” asked Vickers

“I have an excellent memory,” answered the lawyer briefly.

“Do I seem to you to have changed?”

“Physically changed, you mean?”


Overton looked at him reflectively in the moonlight.

“More than physically,” he returned at length.


“Mentally, if you like. It seems to me, Lee, that you have changed your
soul, and you will forgive my saying that it seems to me a damned good
thing. Good-night.”

Vickers went on his way whistling. The interview had raised his spirits
with its suggestion that his own personality might yet triumph over
Lee’s. It seemed a very fitting climax to the evening, when he saw
Nellie standing at the door, most evidently looking for him.

“Ah, Nellie,” he said, “you were afraid I had bolted.”

“I was not,” she answered firmly; “only I did not want to lock up the
house, until you were in.”

“Nellie,” he said again, “you were most mortally afraid in the depths
of that hard little heart of yours that I had run away.”

“I don’t know whether I am most afraid you will run away, or disgrace
us by staying. Where have you been, Bob?”

Vickers looked down at her and felt inclined to refuse her the
information, but seeing possibilities in telling her, he almost
instantly answered:

“I have been most safely engaged in a visit to Miss Overton.”

“Louisa Overton? Oh, Bob, how could you?”

“But why not? I had supposed it one of the very most respectable----”

“You know that is not what I meant.”

“Perhaps you will tell me what you do mean.”

“You must not go and see little Louisa. She is a perfect child. She has
seen nothing, and knows no one. I do not think she would even amuse you
very much, Bob. She is too simple and innocent. I can not think what
put it into your head to go.”

“Well, one thing was that she asked me.”

“You must not go again.”

“I can hardly avoid it. I am dining there to-morrow night.”

“She _asked_ you to dinner?”

“Certainly I did not invite myself.”

There was a short pause, and then Nellie said, with determination:
“Bob, I am to a certain degree responsible for your being here at all.”

“You are entirely responsible.”

“I feel the responsibility. I feel it is my duty to make you behave
rightly while you are here. It is not behaving rightly to try and
acquire an influence over an inexperienced child like Louisa Overton.”

“My dear Nellie, how women jump to conclusions! Is an evening visit a
sure prelude to acquiring an influence?”

“Yes, for a man like you.”

“Be careful, or I shall interpret that as a compliment, if you don’t
change the form of your sentence.”

“You may interpret it as you like,” returned she. “I repeat that
it is quite possible that your looks, your size, your manner, and
your adventures might be very dazzling to a girl, who,” she added
relentlessly, “did not know much about you.”

“But every one here seems to know everything about me, to judge by
their disapproving glances.”

“I don’t believe that Louisa does. But I tell you frankly, Bob, if you
go there again----”

“Another threat, Nellie? I never knew any one who believed so
completely in government by threat.”

“How else can I treat you?”

“Well, you might try being a little bit nice to me. Don’t you think
that would be rather more likely to make me stay at home? But to be
left alone in the garden, while you and Emmons----”

“You do not need to be told that you were at liberty to join us.”

“Ay, there’s a prospect to keep a man at home. Three of us, so
congenial, sitting up making conversation. A dangerously alluring
proposition, Nellie, upon my word!”

“You can hardly expect me to refuse to see Mr. Emmons because you have
come home.”

“I do not say what I expect: I ask you to be a little more civil to me.
I don’t make it a business proposition, and I don’t make it a threat,
like you; but if you really want me to stay at home, and behave myself,
there is only one way to do it.”

Nellie looked very grave and then began to smile.

“You know that sounds rather like a threat to me,” she said.

“Then you see the force of bad example. I did not use to threaten my

“I am not your friend,” she answered quickly.

“What are you?”

If he had expected to hear her reply “your enemy,” he was wrong.

“It seems to me that for six years I have been your slave----”

“I wish I had known it.”

“And now I intend that you shall be mine.”

He laughed. “Well, you are frank, at least. But let me tell you that
it has never been found good commercial policy to treat even slaves
too badly. Your whole position is based on the assumption that I shall
always prefer this house to State’s Prison. But be careful. There is
many a good criminal whom I should prefer to Emmons as a companion,
and a warder is tender and human compared to you, Nellie. Have a little
common sense, my dear girl. If I am to stay, you must be civil.”

She turned sharply away from him, and he made no effort to detain
her. They walked side by side across the hall, absorbed in their own
thoughts. Nellie’s were obvious. She was plainly weighing the claims of
an excellent _fiancé_ against those of a worthless cousin. Vickers was
asking himself, for the first time, whether, after all, he any longer
wanted to prove to her that he was not Lee. If he had the proofs in
his hand at that moment, would he show them to her? There would be one
splendid scene, one instant of triumph. It would be worth a great deal
to see Nellie humble; but would it be worth going away for all time?
He had to choose between leaving her, a rehabilitated character, or at
least partially rehabilitated, but still leaving her; or remaining
to be despised. It struck him with some force that on the whole he
preferred to remain.

It was at best a very pretty question.

                              Chapter VII

When Vickers came downstairs ready to start for Mr. Overton’s, Emmons
was just arriving to dine at the Lees’. The two men met at the front
door. Emmons eyed Vickers suspiciously. Evidently he and Nellie had
had some discussion as to the advisability of allowing the renegade as
much liberty as evening visits implied. Indeed, the little man almost
blocked Vickers’s path for a moment.

“Going out?” he asked.

“Going to dine with a friend,” returned Vickers. The reply made Emmons
curious. In the first place he did not approve of Vickers’s roaming
over the country by moonlight; in the second there were few people in
Hilltop who would receive Bob Lee into their houses. Perhaps it was
not so much curiosity as distrust that was aroused in him. On reviewing
the situation he simply did not believe a word, a state of mind his
manner did not entirely conceal.

“I am sure it is very nice to see you making friends so quickly,” he

“Oh, I usually make friends quickly, if at all. And the same way with
enemies. As I am a little late,” he added, with the utmost geniality,
“perhaps you will just step aside and let me go.”

Reluctantly Emmons allowed the other to pass, but as he did so, he
hazarded one more question.

“Going far?” he said.

Vickers did not answer. He was some distance down the path, and
possibly did not hear; but it is irritating to be left with an
unanswered question on your lips, and Emmons came storming in to
Nellie, who was standing in the hall.

“Where is he going, Nellie? I don’t think we are justified in letting
him loose on the countryside--a man like that.”

Nellie was watching Vickers’s back as he swung out of sight, and she
returned rather absently, “He is dining at the Overtons’.” She did not
at first observe the expression of surprise and annoyance that appeared
upon the face of her betrothed.

“The _Overtons’_!” he exclaimed.

Now we all know that strangely petty ambitions are laid away in the
minds of even the greatest; and Emmons had always cherished a secret
wish to be on terms of intimacy with Overton, whom he often described
as the “ablest man in New England.” But, though the compliment must
necessarily have been repeated, it had never won for its inventor the
cordiality which it deserved.

“To the Overtons’,” he repeated. “Well, you will excuse my saying that
seems to be about the most extraordinary thing I ever heard.”

“Does it?” returned Nellie. “It doesn’t to me. People like Bob are such
a rarity in Hilltop.”

Emmons glanced at her to see what in the world she could mean, and not
being very much the wiser for his glance, answered contemptuously: “A
rarity! Fortunately.”

Nellie appeared to be willing to take up the subject from a thoughtful
and scientific stand-point.

“I don’t know that I think it fortunate,” she replied. “It does not
seem to me that the absence of fine-looking, amusing young men is a
matter for any community to congratulate itself upon.”

It would have been impossible, of course, that any girl with a profile
like Nellie’s should wish deliberately to annoy another human
being--least of all a thoroughly domesticated _fiancé_. Certainly
such an idea never occurred to Emmons, and yet none the less he found
himself distinctly irritated.

“I hardly think you would find the community improved by changing men
like Dr. Briggs and the Reverend Mr. Fowler for men of the type of your

Nellie laughed. “I only suggested that Mr. Overton would find them more
amusing at dinner,” she said.

“I think,” said Emmons, “that you are talking without thinking.”

She seemed at any rate quite willing to think without talking, and a
pause fell upon the conversation. It was almost with relief that they
heard the sound of the village fire-bell break in upon the silence.
Ding-_dong_, ding-_dong_--a regular, terrible sound of warning, almost
like a human voice calling for help in the darkness. Nellie started
up. The sound brought recollections of old tragedies. Fire seldom
visited Hilltop, but when it came the little town was almost helpless.
Emmons rose, too, but more slowly. They went to the door and listened.

Already the quiet night was full of the sounds of shouting and hurrying
feet, and then the tinkle of the little hand fire-machine. The fire
was at some distance, for the tinkling grew fainter and fainter, and
finally died away entirely.

“Oh, let’s go, James,” said Nellie.

A man may be pardoned for not wishing to take his _fiancée_ to one
of the few situations where he can not shine. Emmons shook his head,
pouting out his lips slightly.

“Oh, I don’t think you want to go, my dear. It’s a long way off and the
dew is heavy.”

“Yes, but I do,” said Nellie. She opened the coat closet, and began
hunting for an old cloak.

“It’s probably nothing at all--a false alarm,” he continued; but seeing
that she persisted--and she could be very persistent when she wanted
to--he added: “Oh, very well; I’ll go up to the corner of the road, and
if it is anything worth seeing, I’ll come back for you.”

Left alone, Nellie sat down on the steps of the front piazza and
waited. Now that Emmons had gone so meekly, her conscience began to
reproach her for her treatment of him throughout the evening. No wonder
he disapproved of Bob. He was quite right to do so; she disapproved
of him, herself. Yet, the result of a day’s effort to be, as he had
asked, a little more civil had rendered him more civil in return. Even
if one did disapprove of a man’s morals, one could not help noticing
the extraordinary quickness with which he caught one’s ideas and
anticipated one’s wishes. He never shut his eyes and repeated the same
thing in exactly the same tone of voice--a trick of Emmons’s which for
the first time she noticed annoyed her excessively. It was in the small
things that Bob was so considerate of her feelings; and yet there was
something ludicrous in talking about a man’s consideration for her
feelings when he had stolen her patrimony before she had put up her

At this point she began to appreciate that Emmons had had more than
time not only to run, but to walk, to the corner of the road and back.
She went down to the gate, and looked up the road. There was no sign
of him. He had been right then. It was only a false alarm. And then to
contradict this hypothesis she saw the heavens suddenly lit up with the
unmistakable glare of a conflagration.

Emmons had played her false.

Nellie did not hesitate an instant. She started out by herself.

Guided first by the glare in the sky and soon by the sound of shouting,
she cut across fields. Before long she came in sight of the fire. It
was in the barn of a neighboring farmer. She could see the people
crowding about it, and the thick rolling smoke that turned the full
moon to a dull reddish brown.

Coming up from the darkness she was unnoticed. Every one was watching
the flames, except those who were trying to put them out. The first
person she saw was Vickers. His coat was off, and from the rather
dangerous eminence of a woodpile he was playing the hose upon the roof
of a neighboring stable. Among the lookers on, she observed Overton,
and then the perfidious Emmons. She might be excused for a feeling of
anger against her betrothed; and she was just approaching him in order
to thank him for his consideration of her wishes, when her attention
was distracted. Vickers, who had come down from the woodpile, was
suddenly approached by a sobbing, expostulating child, the daughter of
the farmer. She had evidently escaped from the parental supervision
and had seized the knees of the first passer-by. Nellie saw Vickers
stoop to listen, saw him lay down a bucket he had taken up, saw him
hitch his trousers with a peculiarly energetic motion, and run toward
the blazing building. Some one shouted to him, another caught his arm,
and was shaken off. He disappeared into the blaze. An instant later he
reappeared carrying a small bundle which turned out to be nothing more
than a puppy.

A voice reached her ears in the pause that followed.

“Well, I would not risk my life for a dog.” And Emmons’s voice replied:
“A pretty even risk. Bob Lee against a blind puppy.”

The sentence fell coldly on Nellie’s enthusiasm. Her heart beat
quickly with something very like contempt for the speaker. Nearby, the
child and the mother dog were holding a solemn thanksgiving, utterly
indifferent to the excitement about them. Nellie preferred their
society. She had had some thought of saying a word to her cousin, but
something held her back. There seemed a sort of meanness in keeping
herself aloof from him at home, and then stepping out to share his
public triumphs.

As she moved back she found herself near Overton, who was talking to
Mr. Fowler, the Presbyterian clergyman.

“The fellow’s as wild as a hawk, Fowler,” Overton was saying, “and yet
I rather like him.”

“It was a brave action,” returned the clergyman dubiously.

“Aye,” said Overton, noting the hesitation; “a good many of the brave
actions of this world have been done by those the church damned in the

“I think,” answered the clergyman tartly, “that it takes some courage
to be merely good, Mr. Overton. Morality is a kind of courage.”

Overton laughed. “I’m not so sure of that,” he said; “but I rather
think courage is a kind of morality.”

The sentence impressed itself on Nellie’s mind. She admired Mr.
Overton, and was accustomed to give attention to anything he said. Of
course, courage was a kind of morality--Bob’s kind--not so difficult
and praiseworthy as a steady industry, like James Emmons’s; but, oh, so
much more interesting!

She amused herself listening to the different comments on her cousin’s
action. She noticed, for the first time, how such unlikely phrases as
“the young fool,” or “well, if that isn’t the darndest,” could be made
to express a very poignant form of masculine admiration. She chuckled
softly to herself: “it certainly was the darndest,” she repeated,
deriving no little pleasure from the unaccustomed form of words.

The barn was now seen to be doomed. The flames burst out of the roof,
licking it up. There was nothing more to do, except to keep neighboring
buildings wet, and as there was no wind the danger to these was not

Seeing Mr. Overton standing alone, Nellie drew near to him to ask if
the loss of the farmer was serious.

No, Overton thought not. The barn was old, and fortunately there was
no live-stock in it. “Except,” he added with his crooked Yankee smile,
“that puppy your cousin pulled out.”

“I am afraid Bob was very foolhardy,” Nellie replied, not quite

Overton laughed. “Why, so they are all saying,” he answered. “But I
don’t know. The little girl says she had promised the old bitch to
preserve one puppy when all the others were drowned. A lady’s promise
is a sacred thing, isn’t it, Miss Nellie? Oughtn’t a gentleman to
risk his life to help her keep her word of honor?” He looked at her

“I don’t think a gentleman need trouble himself to do anything that you
don’t do, Mr. Overton,” she answered, “and I notice you did not rush

“I? Oh, dear no. I am too old and stiff, but if I had been a romantic
young giant of twenty-eight or nine----”

“You flatter him,” said Nellie dryly. “Bob is thirty-five.”

Overton looked at her gravely. “Impossible,” he said. “But of course
you know. All I can say is that he is the youngest-looking man for his
age that I know. I must ask him how he manages it.”

“Perhaps by avoiding all his responsibilities,” said Nellie, and
regretted her speech the next instant. Her position was really absurd.
She seemed to be equally annoyed at those who praised her cousin and
at those who blamed him. Whatever was said of him stirred her to

The lights and shadows cast by the fire were very sharp, so that
Nellie, standing behind Overton, was almost invisible when a little
later Vickers himself came up.

He was quite hoarse with shouting, and was enjoying himself immensely.

“It’s a fine sight,” said Overton.

“What? Oh, yes, bully. I’ve had the time of my life. But I am afraid
it’s almost over.”

Nellie moved forward. She had not forgotten Emmons’s perfidy, and she
said: “Will you tell me when you are going, Bob? I should like to go
home with you.”

“You here, Nellie? Of course I’ll take you home any time you say. Has
Emmons deserted you? I thought I saw him here earlier.”

“Yes, I saw him, too, looking on.”

“The same occupation he was engaged in when I saw him. In fact of all
natural-born, first-rate spectators----”

She thought Overton need not have laughed, and she said, “Bob, if you
can not speak civilly of Mr. Emmons----”

“There, there, I’ll not say another word. Where is my coat? Are you
ready? Let’s be getting along. Shall we go by the road or across lots?”

Nellie chose to return as she had come. She was glad that he did not
wait to be thanked, and slipped off without any notion of being missed.

They walked in silence through alternate patches of woods and
moonlight. Occasionally he would offer a friendly hand to help her over
a fence, but Nellie did not accept it. She had climbed fences unaided
all her life. A strange impression of loneliness crept over her. She
listened with a certain breathlessness to the quiet of the woods. Even
the moonlight looked different; and then she realized that she had not
often seen the full moon so high.

Her companion, too, was unusually silent, and it was she who spoke
first. “Bob,” she said suddenly, “why did you risk your life for a dog?”

“Oh, Lord!” cried Vickers, “if any one else asks me that--! Every
one seems to think I had a plan. I didn’t. The kid asked me to, and
it seemed to be up to me. I quite forgot I was risking your precious
salary. It would have been a good joke to send you home my corpse to
pay the funeral expenses--the funeral expenses of a total stranger.”

“Perhaps it would not have been a very expensive funeral, Bob,” she
answered dryly.

He was irrepressible, however.

“That would have been a shame, for we gave your cousin a splendid
blow-out--a camellia wreath! You ought to have seen it,--equal to the
best artificial. Oh, Nellie,” he went on, “you don’t know how the idea
of your following my remains to the grave touches me. Would you wear
mourning for me, Nellie?”

She would not smile. “Yes,” she said gravely. “But only because I
should not wish to hurt my uncle’s feelings.”

“And would it be for me, or my two hundred dollars a month, that you

“Entirely for the two hundred.”

“Then mourn for it now, you cold-hearted girl,” he answered, vaulting
lightly over a fence beside which they had been walking; and grinning
teasingly at her from the other side, he added, “I’ve had enough of it
and of you. Good-night. Good-by.”

Nellie caught his arm in both her hands, and held it with all her

“I’ll call for help, Bob. Be careful. No, no, you shan’t slip through
my fingers.”

“Do you really suppose you could hold me, my dear Nellie?” he asked,
looking down at her, and touching for an instant the two hands on his
coat-sleeve with his large hand.

For all answer Nellie lifted up her voice and sent as loud a call as
she could achieve into the empty night.

“Oh, they’ll never hear that,” said Vickers, “let me do it for you,”
and he shouted loudly: “Help, help, help! She’s holding me against my
will. Won’t somebody remove this terrible young woman? Help!”

Nellie could not resist smiling at his obvious enjoyment of the
noise he was making. “How silly you are, Bob!” she said. Perhaps she
unconsciously relaxed her grip, for the next instant he had wrenched
himself free, and retreating a few paces, addressed her from a safe

“Shall I really go, Nellie? Good-by to the old house and poor Emmons,
and to you and our inspiriting little scraps. Well, I rather think
so. Don’t be so sharp with the next victim--that’s my parting word.

He waved his hand lightly and set off across a moonlit field toward the
woods on the other side.

Nellie did not hesitate an instant; she climbed the fence and followed
him with all the speed of a long and active pair of legs. Once in the
shadow of the woods, however, he was pleased to pause--to disappear
into the darkness to reappear at her elbow, to lean out and speak in
her ear from behind a sheltering tree-trunk.

At last, seeing that she was getting exhausted without having the
smallest intention of giving in, he stopped of his own accord, and
leaning his back against a tree, shook his head at her.

“Aren’t you ashamed, Miss Nellie,” he said, “to be out playing tag with
an utter stranger at this hour of the night? What would Mr. Emmons say
if he knew it? I’m surprised at you. Come home directly.” (He tucked
her hand under his arm.) “You ought to have been in bed two hours ago.”

And Nellie, somewhat bewildered, but very tired, allowed herself to be
led home.

                             Chapter VIII

Emmons stopped at the Lee house the next morning on his way to the
train. Vickers, fortunately, had already left. Emmons came in reality
to explain, but like so many of us, he made the mistake of thinking
that his explanation would be strengthened by a little reproach.

“Well,” he said, “I came to find out whether you got home safely. I was
really alarmed, Nellie, when I heard you had been at the fire after
all. I don’t at all like the idea of your running about the country by
yourself after nightfall.”

“I don’t think there was much danger, James.”

“You don’t? Let me tell you we are all very much afraid something
dreadful happened after the fire. Several of us heard hideous screams
in the direction of Simm’s woods.”

“What did you do?”

“We went there, of course, but we could not find anything. They ceased
in as mysterious a way as they began. Some of the men went out at
sunrise to-day to search the woods. I have not heard whether they found
anything. But you will see the folly of imagining a place safe just
because you have always lived there. I have been anxious all night. I
kept imagining it might be you----”

“Bob took me home,” she answered quickly.

“Well, as long as you’re safe that’s all I care about. I just stopped
in,” he ended, moving slowly down the steps, but at the foot he could
not resist adding:

“I suppose you saw that grandstand play of your cousin’s?”


“And what _did_ you think of it?”

He looked at her insisting on an answer, and after a moment got it:

“I thought, James, that you would never have done anything so foolish.”

“I most certainly would not,” he returned; and he had walked as far as
the corner before it struck him that as an answer it was not entirely
satisfactory, but it seemed too late to go back.

Later in the morning she had a visit from Louisa Overton, who drove
over from her own house, in her umbrella-topped phaeton with the bay
cobs which her father had so carefully selected for her. She came,
as she explained, to welcome her dear Nellie, but her dear Nellie
noted with uneasiness the unusual promptitude of the visit. There
could not, of course, be the smallest chance of seeing Bob at that
hour, but Nellie’s heart sank as she observed how often her cousin’s
name was introduced into the conversation. It seemed to grow up
spontaneously like a weed, and yet Nellie was sufficiently experienced
in the peculiarities of her own sex to know it was a danger-signal.
She wondered if the time had come for delivering the warning against
her cousin which Emmons had advocated. She felt strangely adverse to
delivering it.

She tried a new mode of attack as the girl rose to go, after a final
comment on Vickers’s conduct at the fire.

“Upon my word, Louisa,” she said good-temperedly, “Bob seems to have
made a most flattering impression on you.”

Miss Overton smiled. “He is a charming person,” she answered. “Apropos,
Mrs. Raikes says that the three best things in the world are a good
novel, a muskmelon, and a handsome cousin.”

“She has not the last, I am sure, or she would have learned to value it
less highly,” Nellie returned.

Miss Overton did not immediately answer. They had walked to the front
door, and as she climbed into her trap, she observed that it was warm.

Nellie put up her hand to her face. It was warm. She hoped her own
heightened color had not suggested Louisa’s remark.

The heat, she could see, wore on her uncle. He looked older and frailer
than ever. Even Vickers showed it after three almost sleepless nights;
and Emmons’s temper, she thought, was not quite as smooth as usual. He
scolded her about Overton’s manner to Bob. The great man had actually
sought him out in the train and had been seen walking along the
platform with a hand through his arm. Emmons thought it a mistake to
show approval of such a person as Bob.

“Really, I think you are a little too severe, James,” she answered; and
all she could say for herself was that she showed less irritation than
she felt. “It seems hard if, as long as Bob is behaving well, he should
be denied all human companionship.”

“Oh, if you consider that Bob is entirely rehabilitated by two or three
weeks without actual crime----”

Nellie turned away. She thought the heat was affecting her temper, too.
Mr. Lee’s slavish devotion and Emmons’s continual criticism of her
cousin alike angered her. She found herself wondering whether James
were not rather a trying employer--whether he did not take it out of
Bob down town. For the first time she felt a little sorry for her
cousin. At least he never complained.

He did not complain, but a steady contempt for Emmons grew in his
mind--a contempt which would have been hatred, if he had really been as
bound down as Emmons thought him. As it was, he still played daily with
the idea of flight. Certainly, he told himself, he would wait no longer
than to get the farm on its feet under a new farmer.

To make the situation more trying his friendship with Overton had not
been without results. He and the great man had had several long talks
over the farm and the condition of Mr. Lee’s affairs. Overton had
been impressed. The morning after Louisa’s visit to Nellie, he had
offered Vickers a position of some importance. The offer gave Vickers
satisfaction. As the Lees’ lawyer, Mr. Overton must know all about
Bob Lee’s past. Vickers felt that at last his own individuality had
overcome Bob’s. Nevertheless he had declined. The position would have
taken him to another city. He saw that Overton was puzzled and not
very much pleased at his refusal.

“If the difficulty is with your father,” he said gently, “I think I
could arrange that for you.”

Vickers said that it was not with his father, and Overton said no more.
Vickers was sorry to see that he had lost ground.

He came up by a later train than usual. He felt put out with life and
with himself, and stood frowning on the station platform looking for
the trap that would take him to the house, when suddenly he saw that
not the coachman, but Nellie, was driving it. For an instant his heart
bounded. He looked round to see if Emmons were there, too. But few
people patronized the late train. He was alone on the platform when
Nellie drew up beside it.

“If any one had asked me in the train,” he said, “what was the most
unlikely thing in the world, I should have answered ‘that Nellie
should come and meet me.’”

To his surprise she assented quite gravely. “I wanted to see you before
you went home. There is a man at the house asking for you.”

“What sort of a man?”

“A very queer-looking man, Bob,--an old man. He speaks very little
English, and has very dangerous-looking eyes.”

“What’s his name?” said Vickers. He had begun to be nervous about Lee’s
past. He could not tell what was about to overtake him.

“He won’t give his name. He just bows, and says to tell you a
gentleman. He keeps calling you Don Luis, and then correcting himself
and saying Meester Bob Lee.”

“The deuce,” said Vickers. He thought for a moment that the Señor Don
Papa and the lovely Rosita had found him out. “Is he old?” he asked.

“Yes,--middle-aged, or more.” Then seeing his obvious anxiety, Nellie
went on quickly: “And so I thought, Bob, if it were anything very
bad--I mean if you did not want to see him, that you might go on to Mr.
Overton’s, and I would tell him you had gone away.”

“Tell a lie, Nellie?”

“Oh, don’t be stupid and irritating, Bob. My uncle has not been well
lately. He could not bear anything more. It is of him I am thinking. It
would be too terrible, if, if----”

“If they jugged me at last. Well, I don’t think that they will.”

His light-heartedness did not entirely relieve her mind, and at their
own gate she stopped again.

“Do be careful. Think before you go in, Bob,” she said; and then,
seeing him smiling, she added, “Oh, I almost wish you had never come
back at all!”

“What!” he cried, “am I more trouble than the two hundred dollars a
month is worth?”

“Yes,” she answered crossly.

“Perhaps if you will tell that to Emmons, he will raise my salary.”

She was not at all amused. “Bob,” she said as she drew up before the
door, “don’t go in. I really do not feel as if I could bear another
scandal. Don’t be foolhardy. This man is terribly mysterious.”

“Why, you excite my curiosity,” he said, and gently putting her out
of his path, he went into the house ahead of her and found himself
confronted by Doctor Nuñez.

The ensuing conference was long. Dinner came and went; but still
Vickers was shut up in the little library with his strange visitor. Mr.
Lee had gone to bed, Emmons had long since arrived, but his _fiancée_
gave him but a strained attention. She sat listening for the opening of
the library door. If the voices within were raised enough to become
audible, she thought that a quarrel was in progress; if they sank, the
silence terrified her more.

“Now some people like a straight southerly exposure,” Emmons was
saying, “but give me a southwesterly. You get the sun in----”

Nellie suddenly stood up. “What can they be doing?” she said. “That
queer-looking man has been here over three hours.”

“Up to no good, the two of them, I have no doubt,” said Emmons, and
added, “I hope you don’t keep much money in the house.”

She turned on him sharply. “How absurd you are, James. You can’t
suppose--” but she was cut short by the opening of the library door,
and the sound of the two men’s voices, as they crossed the hall.

“Do you know any Spanish, James?” she asked quickly.

Emmons shook his head.

“I speak no language but my own,” he answered proudly.

As the front door shut, Nellie left him unceremoniously, and went out
to the front piazza, where Vickers was standing after having said
good-by to his visitor. His head was bent and his hands were in his

Nellie came and stood silently beside him. She was conscious of being
nervous. She could feel her heart beating. She felt that something
important had happened. They stood like this for several seconds, and
then fearing that Emmons would join them before she had heard, Nellie


The monosyllable was plainly a question, but he did not answer it. He
merely took her hand and drew it within his arm and continued to stare
meditatively at the boards at his feet.

Driven to desperation by the thought of the shortness of her time,
Nellie at length asked:

“Was it very serious?”

He looked at her.

“Pretty serious, Nellie.”

She felt frightened.

“I don’t want to be too curious, but you must tell me. Are you in

“I am in danger,” he answered, “of the only thing which at the moment I
fear. I am in danger of having to leave you.”

She withdrew her hand quickly, and stepped back. He made no effort to
detain her.

“Yes,” he said, “go back to Emmons, or we shall have him ramping out
here to know what the matter is. I am going up to the Overtons’.”

Nellie turned and went into the house.

Emmons was sitting with his elbows on his knees, tapping his feet up
and down so as to give a rocking motion to his whole body. He did not
like being left alone.

“And where is Bob?” he asked.

“Gone out,” and Nellie added more candidly: “Gone to the Overtons’.”

“Oh, of course, naturally,” retorted Emmons. “And may I ask who his
visitor was?”

“He did not tell me.”

“He has gone, I suppose, to confide it to Louisa Overton.”

Nellie looked at him quickly. She had not phrased the notion quite so
clearly to herself, and yet it had been there. Bob had never mentioned
Louisa Overton’s name, and yet his cousin could not be ignorant that
he was at the Overtons’ house almost every day. She glanced at James.
Would any one turn to James in a crisis? She thought all this before
she became aware that he was saying:

“I think we shall have to inquire into this a little more. There is
something behind these constant visits to the Overtons’, if I am not
very much mistaken. Why a clever man like Balby Overton allows it, is
more than I can see. Is it possible that Miss Louisa can have taken a
fancy to him? Is it possible that any decent girl could take a fancy to

There was a long pause. Perhaps Nellie was not listening, for he had to
repeat his question before he got an answer.

“Very possible, I should think.”

The answer did not please Emmons.

“Well, not so very possible,” he said contemptuously. “I am afraid the
kind of man he is sticks out plainly enough. Inexperienced as she is,
I fancy she can see his game--an heiress and so young. I should feel
responsible if anything happened, unless I had said a word to Overton.
Oh, yes, I know. You _suppose_ that he knows all about Bob’s record,
but in a case as serious as this we have no right to suppose. It is
somebody’s duty to speak plainly, and if you won’t do it, why, I will.”

“I am the person to do it, if it must be done,” said Nellie.

“I am not so sure of that. There are very pertinent little incidents in
your cousin’s past which I hope you don’t know, but which you certainly
could not repeat.”

“I know quite enough, I’m afraid,” she answered, with a sigh.

“Oh, well, don’t sigh over it,” said Emmons. “If you feel so badly
about it, I’ll go myself.”

“No,” she returned firmly, “I will see Mr. Overton to-morrow. I promise
you I will, James.”

There was a short pause.

“Now about that bay-window,” Emmons began; but glancing at his
betrothed he was surprised to observe tears in her eyes. She rose to
her feet.

“Suppose you go home, James,” she said not unkindly. “I feel tired. I
think I’ll go to bed.”

“I can see that blackguard worries you,” said Emmons; but he obeyed.

Yet strangely enough after his departure she did not go to bed, but sat
on in the little parlor trying to read. But her chin was often raised
from her book to listen for footsteps. At eleven she went upstairs, but
she was still awake when after midnight she heard Vickers return.

                              Chapter IX

Procrastination is the thief of more than time;--it is only too often
the thief of opportunity. Vickers, who knew very well that he might
have made his escape any time in the course of the last month, if only
he had been sure he wanted to, now saw before him the prospect of
making a more hurried flight than suited his purpose. He had allowed
himself to drift, had asked how the present situation was to end,
without attempting any answer. And now he had to give an answer within
a few days.

He found Overton in his library. Books, mostly in calf-skin covers,
stood on shelves that ran almost to the ceiling. Overton was
reading--not one of those heavy volumes, but a modern novel in a
flaming cover.

“Well, young man,” he said, looking up without surprise, for it was
no longer unusual for Vickers to come in like this, “I warn you that
I am in a romantic mood. I don’t know that I care to talk to common,
everyday mortals like you. I wish I had lived when men wore ruffles and
a sword. Then you got romance at first hand.”

“Well, I’ll tell you what it is, Balby G. Overton,” said Vickers,
“there is just one place you don’t want romance, and that is right here
in your own life, and that is where I have got it at the moment, and
I’ve come to you to help me get it out.”

“You talk as if it were a bad tooth,” returned Overton.

“Will you extract it?”

The other smiled. “Not a little of a lawyer’s business,” he said, “is
extracting romance from the lives of his clients.”

“It’s a lawyer’s business, too, to know when people are lying, and
when they are telling the truth, isn’t it? I hope so, for I am going to
tell you a yarn which sounds uncommonly impossible.”

“You encourage me to think it may be amusing.”

Vickers laughed. “Well, it begins well,” he said. “In the first place,
I am not Bob Lee.”

“Indeed,” said Overton. “Let me congratulate you.”

It was impossible to tell, from his tone, whether he believed the
statement or not, and Vickers made no attempt to determine, but went on
with his story.

He told, with a gravity unusual in him, of the death of Lee, and the
incidents which had led him to assume the dead man’s personality. When
he had finished there was a pause. Overton smoked on without looking at
him, until at last he observed:

“Vickers--I was once counsel for a railroad that had a station of that
name, I think.”

“Vickers’s Crossing. It was called after my grandfather, Lemuel
Vickers. The name is well known in the northern part of New York.”

“But there is still one point not clear to me,” said Overton. “Why is
it that you did not come home under the interesting and well-known name
of Vickers?”

“Is that really difficult for the legal mind to guess?”

But Overton would not guess. “A desire for change?” he suggested; “an
attraction to the name of Lee?”

“The simple fact that I had committed a crime.”

“Of which a jury acquitted you?”

“I had not sufficient confidence in the jury to leave it to them.”

“What! You ran away?”

“I did.”

“And what was the crime?”

“I had killed a man.”

Nothing could be calmer than Overton’s expression, but at this he
raised his eyebrows. “Murder?” he said, “manslaughter? homicide? With
what intent?”

“With none. I did not mean to kill the fellow; I knocked him down in a
good cause.”

“A woman, of course.”

“At the earnest entreaty of his wife, whom he was chasing round the
room with a knife.”

“And is it possible,” said Overton, “that the juries in the northern
part of the State of New York are so unchivalrous as to convict a man
who kills in such circumstances?”

“So little did I suppose so,” returned Vickers, “that I gave myself up
as soon as I found the man was dead.”

“But later you regretted having done so?”

“You bet I did. The lady in the case went on the stand and testified
that my attack was unprovoked and murderous----”

“These people were your friends?”

“Well, the woman was.”

“I understand. That made it more awkward.”

“Oh, lots of things made it awkward. You see I had broken in a window
when I heard her screams. Besides, every one wanted to know how I came
to be passing along an unfrequented road at one o’clock in the morning.
In short, I saw that there was only one thing for me to do, if I wanted
to save my precious neck. I broke jail one night, and slipped over the
Canadian border, and from there managed to get to Central America.”

“You still had some friends left, I see,” said Overton with a smile. “I
suppose it is for legal advice that you have come to me.”

“No, you are wrong,” answered Vickers. “I have not finished my story.
I came north with a real desire to settle down--with a real enthusiasm
for a northern home. I thought I should like to jolly an old father,
and a pretty cousin, for the rest of my life.”

“How did you know she was pretty?”

“Well, I wasn’t mistaken, was I? But what happened? Lee turned out to
be a rotten bad lot. I have been very much disappointed in Bob Lee, Mr.
Overton. He is not a pleasant fellow to impersonate, I can tell you.”

“His record is not a desirable one, I believe,” answered the lawyer.

“I don’t know whether you have heard that, among other things, he stole
the small capital left to his cousin,” Vickers went on.

“Yes, I have heard it rumored.”

“As you may imagine, that did not help the home atmosphere. It did not
tend to make Nellie cordial. In fact, you must often have wondered
at my indifference to your offers of better positions. Nellie had
threatened to have me arrested as a thief if I should attempt to leave
Hilltop; and though it would not have been very difficult to prove that
I was not Lee, it would have been confoundedly awkward to defend myself
as Vickers, and be extradited back to New York.”

“Yes, it is a pretty predicament,” said Overton, “but there are still
some minor points I do not understand. For instance, I can’t see any
reason why you have not told your cousin--Miss Nellie, I mean--that you
are not Lee.”

“Why, I have. I did at once. She laughed in my face and intimated that
I had always been an infernal liar. You see, one of the troubles is
that as soon as I told them that I was Lee, every one remembered me
perfectly. Why, sir, it was like a ray of light when you said you
found me changed. No one else did.”

“I see,” said Overton. “And now one thing more. Why didn’t you bolt at

“I’ve just told you.”

“What, a threat of arrest? Hardly strong enough as a motive for a man
like you. You have taken bigger risks than that, in your time. Why did
you not take the chance now?”

Vickers paused, and a slight frown contracted his brow. “It would be
hard to say--” he began, and stopped again. The two men looked at each
other and Overton smiled.

“Might I offer a possible explanation?” he said.

“Oh, very well,” returned Vickers. “Yes. I don’t want to leave her. Is
that so odd?”

“So natural that I guessed before you said it. You are, in fact, in
love with her?”

“I suppose that is about what it amounts to,” the other said; and added
with more vigor, “and if I stay here another day, I shall do bodily
violence to the man she is engaged to.”

“In that case,” remarked Overton dispassionately, “I advise you to go.
Emmons is an honest, able little fellow, who will take care of her, and
her life has not been an easy one.”

“Don’t say that to me,” said Vickers; “the mere idea of his taking care
of her sickens me. For that matter, I could take care of her myself.”

“Possibly,” said Overton, “but by your own showing you would have to
choose your State.”

Vickers rose and began to walk up and down the room. “Well,” he
observed at length, “if you advise me to go without even having heard
the offer that tempts me--This evening a very good old friend of
mine turned up from Central America. It seems they have been having
an election down there--an election which bears some resemblance to a
revolution. A fellow called Cortez has been elected----”

“Odd,” murmured the lawyer. “I read the item in the paper, without the
smallest interest.”

“I have known Cortez for some time, and served him once or twice. He
sends up to offer me a generalship in his little army--a general of
cavalry. But I must take Saturday’s steamer.”

“Plenty of time. This is only Monday.”

“Plenty of time--if I am going.”

“Is it a pretty uniform?”

“I tell you the offer tempts me,” retorted Vickers.

Overton rose, too. “My dear fellow,” he said, “of course you are going
to accept it. Heaven knows I shall be sorry to see you leave Hilltop,
but no good will come of your staying. Go to-night--at once. Be on the
safe side. Let me see.” He drew out his watch. “The last train has gone
a few minutes since, on this road, but there is a branch about five
miles from here that has a train about ten. You can catch that. Get
into my trap, and I’ll drive you over there with one of my trotters.”

“Why the deuce should I go to-night?” said Vickers, stepping back as if
to avoid Overton’s enthusiasm.

“The sooner the better. If you don’t go now, how do we know you will
ever go?”

Vickers did not look at his friend. “At least,” he said, “I must go
back to the house and get my things.”

“My dear man, she won’t be up at this time of night.”

“I don’t expect to see her. I don’t even know that I want to see her
again. But I must get some money and clothes. I won’t trouble you. I’ll
walk the five miles.” He moved toward the door.

Overton held out his hand. “Good-by,” he said with a good deal of

“Good-by, sir,” said Vickers, and he added: “By the way, did you
believe that story of mine?”

“Yes,” said Overton, “I did.”

After the door closed, he repeated to himself: “Yes, by Jove, I did;
but I wonder if I shan’t think myself a damned fool in the morning.”

But the processes of belief and disbelief are obscure, and Overton,
so far from finding his confidence shaken, woke the next morning with
a strong sense of the reality of Vickers’s story; so strong, indeed,
that he turned a little aside from his shortest road to the station in
order to drive past the Lees’ house, and see if there were any signs
of catastrophe there.

There were. Nellie was standing at the door, and though to the casual
observer she might have seemed to be standing calmly, to Overton’s eyes
she betrayed a sort of tense anxiety. He pulled up.

“Anything wrong, Miss Nellie?”

“My uncle is ill--very ill, I’m afraid,” she answered, and then, as he
jumped out of his brougham and came to her side, she went on, “It’s his
heart. The doctor is not very hopeful.”

“Dear! dear!” said Overton, “I am very sorry to hear that”; but
inwardly he was wondering whether he had not advised Vickers wrongly.
If the old man died, he would have been free to go openly under the
name of Lee. “Can I do anything for you?” he asked aloud.

“No, thank you,” Nellie answered. “My uncle is asleep now, and Dr.
Briggs will be back before long.” And then, a sudden thought striking
her, she asked: “Have you a spare minute, Mr. Overton?”

He said that all his time was at her disposal.

“Then you can do something for me. Come into the house. I want to say
something to you. If my uncle had not been taken ill, I should have
come to pay you a visit to-day.”

“I am sorry I was done out of a visit from you,” he returned. He
signaled to his man to wait, and followed her into the little library
where only the evening before Vickers had had his interview with Nuñez.

She shut the door, and though she smiled a little as she did so,
plainly it was only to relieve the effect of her fateful manner.

“It wasn’t going to be just a friendly call,” she said. “I have
something to tell you, and I hate to say it.” She hesitated and then
went on again. “You have been very kind to Bob, Mr. Overton.”

Overton’s conscience gave a twinge. Did she know that he had advised
his escape? “Oh, I don’t know about that,” he said. “I have had an
extraordinary amount of pleasure out of his company.”

“He is a pleasant companion,” said the girl, “but I do not know whether
you know much about his real self.”

Overton laughed. “Why, Miss Nellie,” he said, “I was just thinking that
same thing about you.”

“Yes,” she agreed, “of course it must be absurd to you for me to
be offering advice, considering your knowledge of the world and my

“Knowledge of the world,” said Overton, “is not entirely a matter of
experience. I should often prefer to trust the opinion of the most
innocent women to that of experienced men. Am I to understand that you
entirely distrust your cousin?”

How was it possible that she could be ignorant of Vickers’s escape? Or
had it failed?

“No,” answered Nellie. “I don’t distrust him entirely. But you see in
small superficial things Bob has such unusually nice qualities that one
forgets. Last night when my uncle was taken ill----”

Overton looked up quickly. “Oh, your uncle was taken ill last night,
was he? At what hour?”

“About one, I think. I went and called Bob and asked him to go for the
doctor--I was very much alarmed at my uncle’s condition--and in the
most surprisingly short time Bob had dressed and gone out and come
back again. It was like a conjuror’s trick. And he has been so kind
throughout this dreadful night; and yet--” She paused, and gave a
little sigh.

“Where is Bob at this moment?” said Overton.

“Oh, with his father. Uncle Robert will not let him leave him for an

Overton did not answer. He felt unreasonably annoyed with Nellie for
her attitude toward Vickers. The younger man’s avowal of love rang
in his ears. She ought to be able to tell a man when she saw one, he

He stood up. “Well, I suppose I can’t see him, then.”

His tone did not please Nellie, nor the ease with which he dismissed
her warning.

“But I have not finished what I wanted to say,” she returned.

“Forgive me. You wished to warn me still further against the
contaminating influence of your cousin?”

“I wanted to do nothing so futile,” said Nellie, with spirit. “I had
not come to the point yet. It was of Louisa that I was thinking.”

“Of Louisa?” he repeated.

Nellie nodded. “I do not think that he is a good or safe friend for
Louisa,” she said. “You may tell me it is none of my business, but I am
largely responsible for his being here, and James and I both thought I
ought to speak to you.”

“Am I to understand that Emmons thinks your cousin likely to attract

“James? Oh, I don’t know whether James’s opinion on that point would be
very valuable. But I do.”

“You surprise me,” said Overton.

“I know. It must surprise you to realize that women should ever be
attracted by men they can not respect, and yet it does sometimes
happen, Mr. Overton. For myself I can not imagine it, but I know there
are girls to whom a man’s mere charm----”

“Oh, but you misunderstand me entirely,” said Overton. “Of course I
have seen quantities of just such cases as you have in mind--handsome
scoundrels who fascinated every woman they came in contact with. But
surely you do not think your cousin such a person.”

“Very much such a person.”

Overton wagged his head. “Well, well, you surprise me,” he returned. “A
jovial, amusing fellow--a favorite with men, perhaps. But what would
you say a girl could see in him?”

His malice was rewarded as malice ought not to be.

“Why,” said Nellie rather contemptuously, “think a moment. In the first
place his looks. Any girl, at least any very young girl, might easily
be carried away by such striking good looks.”

“Humph!” said Overton, pushing out his lips dubiously. “You think him

“Don’t you?”

“A well-built figure,” he answered, yielding a point.

“An unusually well-shaped head, and a wonderful line of jaw,” said
Nellie. “I may be prejudiced against Bob, but I never denied him looks.”

“Well,” said Overton, “we’ll grant him looks. Has he anything else?”

“Yes,” replied the girl, “the fact that he is amusing. Seeing him as I
do, day in and day out, I realize how unfailingly pleasant and kind he
is--in small things. And then he has another quality more difficult to
define--a sort of humorous understanding of another person’s point of
view, which leads to a kind of intimacy, whatever your intention may

“Bless me,” cried Overton, “you begin to alarm me. I fear you are
describing a pretty dangerous fellow. My only consolation is that
Louisa has never mentioned his name, nor indeed done anything to make
me think she was interested in him.”

Nellie did not look relieved. “Perhaps,” she answered, “it is not the
sort of thing that a father is the first person to know.”

Overton shook his head sadly as he rose to go.

“Perhaps not,” he agreed. “Perhaps one is not always the first person
to know it oneself.” And he hastily took his departure.

As he was going out he met Emmons, who stopped him, and after a brief
interchange on the subject of Mr. Lee’s illness, observed that he had
been wanting a few words with Mr. Overton for some days.

“About Bob Lee, Mr. Overton. Do you know his past history?”

“I do,” said Overton. He held up his hand and signaled to his coachman.

To so simple an answer Emmons for a moment could think of nothing to
say, but feeling that so important a matter could not be so quickly
settled he went on:

“Oh, of course, in that case I have nothing to say. It is no business
of mine.”

Overton was pulling on his gloves and did not reply.

“But have you ever thought, Mr. Overton, what sort of example your
friendship with such a man offered to the community?”

“A very good example, I should think.”

Again Emmons was confused. “Of Christian charity?” he asked.

“Of an even rarer virtue, Mr. Emmons--common-sense.” And the great man
got into his brougham and drove away.

                               Chapter X

Vickers had heard Overton’s voice downstairs, and would have liked to
explain his reasons for staying. And yet they would have been difficult
to define. He had come home the evening before, fully determined to
go. He had dressed and packed, and just as he was ready a knock had
come at his door. Waiting only to hide his bags, and to shut up all the
bureaus which the haste of his packing had left open, he heard Nellie
call to him. For an instant he had thought that she had discovered his
intention; the next he heard Nellie was asking him to go for a doctor.

Before dawn, however, a time had come when he might easily have slipped
away, unobserved, if he had wanted to; and yet he had not again
thought of going. No one, he had said to himself, would go away and
leave in such trouble the household that had sheltered him. Nor was
it only the sense of companionship with Nellie that kept him, but the
unwonted knowledge that some one depended on and needed him.

Trained nurses were not to be obtained in Hilltop, and even if they had
been, most of the work of nursing would have devolved on Vickers, for
Mr. Lee would not let him go out of his sight. All that day and most of
the next night Vickers sat beside his bed, wondering whether the old
man’s death was to be the end of the story or the beginning. Should he
stay, or should he go? He told himself that Overton was right, and that
the only decent thing for a wanderer and a fugitive to do was to go
quickly and quietly. But the remembrance of Emmons poisoned the vision
of his own departure.

On the second day of his illness, Mr. Lee died. For all his devotion
Vickers was not with him at the moment. The old man had fallen into a
comfortable sleep about noon; and Nellie had made Vickers go and lie
down. He was awakened a few hours afterward by the girl herself. She
came and sat down beside his sofa, and told him gently that his father
had died without waking.

“My poor child,” said Vickers, “were you all alone?”

“I have been thinking that I ought to tell you, Bob,” she went on,
disregarding his interest in her welfare, “that you have so much more
than made up to my uncle. He has been happier than I ever expected
to see him. I think that must be a help to you, Bob;” and, under the
impression that he was suffering a very intimate sorrow, she gave him
her hand.

Vickers took it only for a moment, and then replaced it on her lap.

They sat in the twilight of the darkened room for some time, talking of
plans and arrangements.

       *       *       *       *       *

The funeral took place on Friday, and Hilltop, which had always honored
the name of Lee, turned out in full force. And to increase Vickers’s
embarrassment, every member of the family came to pay the old gentleman
a last token of respect.

“You must stand near me, Nellie,” he said to her the morning of the
funeral, “and tell me their names.”

“Oh, you can’t have forgotten them, Bob,” she answered. “In the first
place, Uncle Joseph, who gave you the goat when you were a little boy.
You remember the goat, don’t you?”

He merely smiled at her for answer, and taking his meaning, she
returned quickly:

“Ah, not to-day, Bob. I could not bear to think you would repudiate
your father to-day.” Then, after a moment, for he said nothing, she
went on: “Of course you remember Bertha and Jane. You used to be so
fond of Jane. They are coming by the early train. They must have left
Philadelphia before eight o’clock. I think that is wholly on your
account, Bob.”

Subsequently he discovered that they were daughters of a sister of Mrs.
Lee’s, his supposed first cousins.

They came some minutes before any one else. Vickers was alone in
the parlor decorously drawing on a pair of black gloves, when they
were ushered in. Fortunately they were quite unmistakable--two neat,
rustling, little black figures, followed by a solitary male, whose
name proved to be Ferdinand. Looking up, Vickers greeted them without

“Why, Jane and Bertha!” he cried.

They lifted their veils, displaying cheerful and pretty countenances,
and to his intense amusement, each imprinted a kiss upon his ready

“Dear Bob,” said one of them, “we are so sorry for you. And yet how
glad you must have been to be at home when it happened. Poor Uncle
Robert! We haven’t seen him for years.”

“Sam was so dreadfully sorry he could not come,” said the other, with a
manner so frankly disingenuous that Vickers could not resist answering:

“Aye, I suppose so!”

Not in the least abashed, the little lady smiled back.

“Well, it is strange,” she admitted, “that he always has a toothache
when it is a question of a family funeral. He keeps one tooth
especially, I believe.” And feeling that more friendly relations were
now established, she continued: “How tall you are, Bob. Were you
always as tall as that? You look sad, poor boy. Why don’t you come down
after the ceremony, and stay a few weeks with us, and let us try to
console you?”

“Thank you,” said Vickers, “but I shall have to be here until

“Oh, I see. Nellie will need you. But you might ask her. Nellie,” she
added, “we want Bob to come with us after the funeral. He seems to
think you can’t spare him.”

Nellie, who had just entered the room, looked for an instant somewhat
confused by this sudden address, but almost at once she replied coldly
that she had spared Bob for so many years that she could probably do it

Without very much encouragement the two new cousins continued to cling
to Vickers throughout the remainder of the ceremonies. They looked upon
him as a direct reward of virtue. They had risen at an impossibly
early hour, given up engagements merely from a sense of obligation to
an old gentleman they hardly knew. The discovery of a good-looking
cousin was a return--no more than just, but utterly unexpected.

For his part, if he had not been very conscious that this was his last
day with Nellie, he would have enjoyed the company of the others. He
took them down to the station and put them on their train, though he
continued to refuse to accompany them.

“But you’ll come some day, soon, won’t you, Bob?” Bertha exclaimed. “I
hear you are very wicked, but it doesn’t matter.”

“Yes,” said Vickers, “I myself understand that I am an excellent
subject for reform.”

“We won’t try and reform you,” they answered; “we like you as you are,”
and they kissed him again, and departed.

On his return to the house he heard that Nellie had gone to lie down,
leaving word that Mr. Overton was coming after lunch. Overton had been
Mr. Lee’s man of business. He and Emmons arrived soon after two. They
sat round the library stiffly. Only Overton seemed to be as usual, his
calm Yankee face untouched by the constraint visible in the others.

“I don’t know whether you want me actually to read the will itself,” he
said. “It is a very simple one. He leaves all the Hilltop property to
his son, without restrictions of any kind. That is all he had to leave.
The town house is nominally Nellie’s, but it is mortgaged to its full

“Do you mean to say,” Emmons cried, “that Nellie gets nothing?”

“Nothing, I’m sorry to say--perhaps a hundred or so, but I doubt even

“You mean that Mr. Lee did not even leave her the equivalent of the
sum which his son took from her?”

“That is exactly what I mean, Mr. Emmons.”

“It is an iniquitous will. The man who made that will was mad, and no
lawyer should have drawn it for him.”

“I drew it,” said Overton gently.

“You should not have done so, sir,” replied Emmons; “knowing the facts
as you do, you ought to have pointed out to the old man where his
obligations lay.”

“It is the profession of a clergyman, not of a lawyer, to point out his
client’s duty, Mr. Emmons.”

Emmons looked from one to the other, and then, remembering the sudden
friendship that had sprung up between them, he asked, “And when was
this will made?”

“Almost three years ago,” Overton answered, and there was silence
until, seeing Emmons about to break out again, Nellie said mildly,

“Really, James, if I can bear it, I think you might.”

“The sacrifices you made--” Emmons began, but she stopped him.

“Blood is thicker than water. It would be a pretty poor sort of world
if men did not love their own children better than other people’s.”

“Oh, if you are satisfied,” said Emmons bitterly; and then changed his
sentence but not his tone. “All I can say is I am glad you all are

“You have not given us much of a chance to say whether we were or not,”
suggested Vickers mildly.

Emmons turned on him. “I don’t have to ask whether you are satisfied or
not. I don’t imagine that you have any complaint to make.”

“None at all,” said Vickers.

“Do you mean to tell me that you would take that property?” Emmons

“What are you talking about, James?” said Nellie. “Of course Bob will
take what his father leaves to him.”

“I shall have my opinion of him if he does.”

“Well,” said Vickers, “if anything could separate me from an
inheritance, it would certainly be the fear of Mr. Emmons’s criticism.”

“I shall only call your attention to one thing,” said Emmons, flushing
slightly. “Does it ever strike you, Mr. Bob _Lee_, to ask what it was
saved you from criminal prosecution twelve years ago? No? Well, I’ll
tell you. Respect for your father, and the fact that you did not have
any money. Both of these conditions have changed to-day.”

Vickers turned to Overton as if he had not heard. “I wonder,” he said,
“if we could not talk over family affairs more comfortably if there
were no outsiders present.”

“James is not an outsider,” said Nellie.

“He is to me,” said Vickers.

“If he goes, I go too,” Nellie answered.

“In that case,” said Vickers, “of course he must be allowed to stay,
but perhaps you will be so good as to ask him, if he must be here, not
to interrupt----”

“Come, come,” said Overton hastily, “can’t we effect some compromise in
this matter? As I understand it, Mr. Emmons believes that certain sums
are owed Miss Nellie by you----”

“Compromise be damned, Overton,” said Vickers. “You know this money is
not mine, and I won’t touch it.”

Nellie started up. “The money is yours, Bob. My uncle would never have
pinched and saved to pay me back. The money exists only because he
loved you so much. It is yours.”

Vickers smiled at her. “I am glad,” he said, “that I do not have to
argue that extremely sophistical point with you. The reason that the
money is not mine is--I hate to repeat a statement that you asked me
not to make again--but I am not Bob Lee.”

He had the satisfaction of seeing that, for the first time, she weighed
the possibility of the assertion’s being true.

“What does he mean, Mr. Overton?” she asked.

“He means he is not the person he represented himself as being.”

“What is this?” cried Emmons, who had remained silent hitherto only
from a species of stupefaction. “Is he trying to make us believe that
his own father did not know him? What folly! How frivolous!”

Nellie’s face clouded again; evidently to her, too, it seemed folly,
but she said temperately:

“At least, James, it will cost him his inheritance, if he can make us
believe him. He certainly does not gain by the assertion.”

“What?” cried Emmons. “How can you be so blind! He was willing enough
to be Bob Lee--he kept mighty quiet, until I threatened suit. He was
willing enough to take the money, until it looked dangerous; and then
we began to hear that he was not the fellow at all.”

Nellie turned desperately to Overton.

“Mr. Overton,” she said, “do you believe this story?”

Overton nodded. “Yes,” he said, “I do; but I must tell you that I have
no proofs of any kind, no facts, no evidence.”

“Then why do you believe it?”

“Why, indeed?” murmured Emmons with a carefully suppressed laugh; “a
very good question.”

“I have asked myself why,” Overton answered, “and I can find only
two reasons, if they may be called so. First, I do feel a difference
between this man and the Bob Lee I used to know--a difference of
personality. And, second, I have never had any reason to doubt this
man’s word.”

“Ah, but I have,” said Nellie. “As a boy Bob was not truthful.”

“I was not speaking of Lee,” said Overton.

Nellie put her hand to her head. “Oh, I don’t know what to think,” she
said, and jumped up and walked to the window, as if to get away from
Emmons, who was ready to tell her exactly what to think.

She stood there, and there was silence in the room. Overton sat feeling
his chin, as if interested in nothing but the closeness of his
morning’s shave. Vickers, though his head was bent, had fixed his eyes
on Nellie; and Emmons leant back with the manner of the one sane man in
a party of lunatics.

Nellie was the first to speak. Turning from the window she asked,

“If you are not my cousin, who are you?”

“My name is Lewis Vickers.”

She thought it over a minute, and threw out her hands despairingly.

“Oh, it is impossible!” she cried. “Why, if you were not my cousin,
should you have stayed and worked for us, and borne all the hideous
things I said to you? Only a saint would do such a thing.”

“He’ll not ask you to believe him a saint,” put in Overton.

“No, I don’t even claim to be much of an improvement on Lee.”

“Oh, any one would be an improvement on poor Bob.”

In answer, Vickers got up, and going over to where she stood beside the
window, he told her his story. He told it ostensibly to her alone, but
Emmons on the sofa was plainly an interested listener. Vickers spoke
with that simplicity, that directness and absence of any attempt at
self-justification, which the wise use when they are most desirous of
being leniently judged.

From the first, he began to hope that he was succeeding. Nellie
regarded him with a clear and steady glance from the start, and when he
had finished, she remained gazing at him--no longer doubtful, but with
something almost terror-stricken in her expression.

In the pause that followed, Emmons turned to the lawyer.

“Now, you are a clever man, Mr. Overton,” he said easily. “Perhaps you
can explain to me, why it is that a fellow who is known to be a thief
and a liar should be in such a hurry to write himself down a murderer
as well?”

The tone and manner of the interruption, coming at a moment of high
emotion, were too much for Vickers’s temper. He turned on Emmons white
with rage.

“I’ve stood about as much as I mean to stand from you,” he said.
“Overton and Nellie are welcome to believe me or not as they like, but
you will either believe me or leave this house.”

His tone was so menacing that Overton stood up, expecting trouble, but
it was Nellie who spoke.

“James will do nothing of the kind,” she said. “If you are not Bob Lee
you have no right to say who shall stay in this house and who shall
not. The house is mine, and I won’t have any one in it who can’t be
civil to James.”

“Then you certainly can’t have me,” said Vickers.

“It seems not,” answered Nellie.

They exchanged such a steel-like glance as only those who love each
other can inflict, and then Vickers flung out of the house.

When, a few minutes later, Overton caught up with him, his anger had
not cooled.

“Hush, hush, my dear fellow,” said the lawyer. “Hilltop is not
accustomed to such language. Let a spirited lady have her heroics if
she wants.”

                              Chapter XI

Left alone with her _fiancé_, perhaps Nellie expected a word of praise
for her gallant public demonstration in his favor. If so, she was

“Upon my word!” he exclaimed, as the door shut after Vickers. “I never
in all my life heard such an audacious impostor. Imagine his daring to
pass himself off as Mr. Lee’s son throughout an entire month!”

“He told me within twenty-four hours of his arrival that he was not Bob
Lee, and I think he told you, too, James; only you would not believe

Emmons took no notice of this reply, but continued his own train of
thought. “When I think that for four weeks you have been practically
alone in the house with an escaped murderer--for I don’t believe a
word of all this story about false testimony--my blood runs cold. And
it is only by the merest chance that we have succeeded in rescuing all
your uncle’s property from his hands.”

“I think you are wrong, James. Mr. Vickers never intended to accept my
uncle’s property.”

“My dear Nellie! Women are so extraordinarily innocent in financial
matters. That was the object of his whole plot.”

“I don’t think it was a plot. It seems to me, indeed, that we both owe
an apology to Mr. Vickers.”

“An apology!” said Emmons, and his color deepened. “I think you must be
mad, Nellie. I think I owe an apology to the community for having left
him at large so long. I ought to have telegraphed to the sheriff of
Vickers’s Crossing at once, and I mean to do so without delay.”

Nellie rose to her feet. “If you do that, James--” she began, and then,
perhaps remembering that she had been accused of being over-fond of
threats in the past, she changed her tone. “You will not do that, I am
sure, James, when you stop to consider that you heard Mr. Vickers’s
story only because I insisted on having you present. It would be a
breach of confidence to me as well as to him.”

Emmons laughed. “The law, my dear girl,” he said, “does not take
cognizance of these fine points. It is my duty when I have my hand on
an escaped murderer to close it, and I intend to do so. He probably
means to leave Hilltop to-night, and I shall not be able to get a
warrant from Vickers’s Crossing until to-morrow, but I can arrange with
the local authorities to arrest him on some trumped-up charge that will
hold him, until we get the papers.”

He moved toward the door; to his surprise Nellie was there before him.

“One moment,” she said. “I don’t think you understand how I feel about
this matter. I know Mr. Vickers better than you do. Whatever he may
have done in the past, I feel myself under obligations to him. He has
done more than you can even imagine, James, to make my uncle’s last
days happy. He has been more considerate of me,” she hesitated, and
then went on,--“more considerate of me, in some ways, than any one I
have ever met, though I have been uniformly insolent and high-handed
with him. I admire Mr. Vickers in many respects.”

“It is not ten minutes, however, since you turned him out of your

Nellie was silent, and then she made a decisive gesture. “I will not
have you telegraph for that warrant, James. I let you stay under the
impression that you were an honorable man, and I will not have Mr.
Vickers betrayed through my mistake.”

“Honor! betrayed!” cried Emmons. “Aren’t we using pretty big words
about the arrest of a common criminal? I am very sorry if you
disapprove, Nellie, but I have never yet allowed man or woman to
interfere with what I consider my duty, and I don’t mean to now. Let me
pass, please.”

She did not at once move. “Oh, I’ll let you pass, James,” she answered
deliberately, “only I want you to understand what it means. I won’t
marry you, if you do this. I don’t know that I could bring myself to
marry you anyhow, now.”

She had the art of irritating her opponent, and Emmons exclaimed, “I
dare say you prefer this jailbird to me.”

She did not reply in words, but she moved away from the door, and
Emmons went out of it. The instant he had gone she rang the bell, and
when Plimpton appeared she said: “Tell the coachman that I want a trap
and the fastest horse of the pair just as quickly as he can get it.
Tell him to hurry, Plimpton.”

Plimpton bowed, though he did not approve of servants being hurried. He
liked orders to be given in time. Nevertheless, he gave her message,
and within half an hour she was in Mr. Overton’s drawing-room. The
great man greeted her warmly.

“Do you know, my dear Nellie,” he said, almost as he entered, “I was
just thinking that I ought to have made an appointment to see you
again. Of course you are in a hurry to get a complete schedule of your
new possessions, and to know what you may count on in the future. Shall
we say to-morrow--that is Saturday, isn’t it?--about three?”

“Oh, there is not the least hurry about that,” returned Nellie, and
her manner was unusually agitated, “any time you like. I did not come
about that. I came to ask you if you knew where Bob is--Mr. Vickers, I

“Yes,” said Overton, “I do!”

“Something dreadful has happened,” Nellie went on with less and less
composure. “I have only just found it out. As soon as our interview was
over, James Emmons told me he meant to telegraph to Vickers’s Crossing,
or whatever the name of the place is, for a warrant. He expects to be
able to arrest Mr. Vickers at once.”

“He does, does he--the hound!” cried Overton, for the first time losing
his temper. He rang a bell, and when a servant answered it he ordered
a trap to be ready at once. Returning to Nellie, he found that she had
buried her face in her handkerchief, and he repented his violence.

“There, there, forgive me, Miss Nellie,” he said. “I did not mean to
call him a hound. I forgot that you were going to marry him.”

“Oh, don’t apologize to me,” replied Nellie, with some animation; “I
wish I had said it myself. I am not going to marry him.”

The news startled Overton. “Why, is that wise, my dear child?” he said.
“Perhaps neither of us does him justice. He is a good, steady, reliable
man, and if I were you, I would not go back on him in a hurry.”

“He is not any one of those things,” said Nellie, drying her eyes,
and looking as dignified as the process allowed. “He is base. He took
advantage of what he heard in confidence--of what he only heard at
all because I made a point of his being there. Is that reliable, or
steady? I call it dishonorable and I would rather die than marry such a
creature, and so I told him.”

“You know your own business best,” answered Overton, “but the world is
a sad place for lonely women.”

“It would be a very sad place for both James and me, if I married him
feeling as I do,” said Nellie, and judging by her expression Overton
was inclined to agree with her. “It was all very well while I could
respect James, but now----”

“Still, ordinary prudence--” the lawyer began, but she interrupted.

“Don’t talk to me about ordinary prudence. That is what led me into
the awful mistake of being engaged to him at all. I thought it would
be wise. I used to get thinking about the future, and whether I should
have anything to live on----”

“And you don’t think of these things now?”

“I don’t care sixpence about the future,” returned Nellie, “and I’m
sure I don’t know why I’ve been crying, except that I am tired, and I
think I’ll go home. You’ll warn Mr. Vickers, won’t you?”

“I will,” said Overton.

Nellie still hesitated. “He is here, I suppose.”

“Yes. He was thinking of staying to dine with me, and taking a late
train to town. He has a steamer to catch to-morrow; but after what you
say”--Overton looked at his watch--“I rather think that he had better
go at once. There’s a train within half an hour.”

“Oh, he had much better go at once, before James has time to make
trouble,” she answered; and then added gravely, “Mr. Overton, do you
believe that the murder happened just as Mr. Vickers said?”

“Do you?”


“So do I,” Overton answered, “but then I have some reason, for I
remember something of the case, which was a very celebrated one up the
State. And now, Nellie, I’ll tell you a secret which I wouldn’t trust
to any one else. I have an impression--a vague one, but still I trust
it--that that case was set straight, somehow or other. If it should

“Telegraph and find out.”

“I wrote some days ago--the night before your uncle was taken ill; but
I have had no answer. But mind, don’t tell him. It would be too cruel,
if I should turn out to be wrong.”

“I?” said Nellie. “I don’t ever expect to see the man again.”

“I suppose not,” he returned, “and yet I wish it were not too much to
ask you to take him to the station in your trap. He won’t have more
than time, and mine has not come to the door yet.”

Nellie looked as if she were going to refuse, but when she spoke she
spoke quite definitely: “I’ll take him,” she said.

“Thank you,” said Overton, and left the room.

In his library he found Vickers standing on the hearthrug, though there
was no fire in the chimney-place. His head was bent and he was vaguely
chinking some coins in his pocket.

“Well, Vickers,” said his host coolly, “I have a disagreeable piece of
news for you. Emmons, it seems, has telegraphed for a warrant, and does
not intend to let you go until he gets it, but possibly he won’t be
prepared for your slipping away at once. There’s a train at five-ten.
Do you care to try it?”

Vickers looked up, as if the whole matter were of very small interest
to him. “There does not seem to be anything else to do, does there?” he

“Of course, my offer of a position is still open to you.”

“I can’t stay in this country with Emmons on my heels. They’d lock me
up in a minute.”

“You have never heard anything further about your case, have you?”

“Not a word. There wasn’t much to hear, I expect. I suppose I had
better be going.”

“Your bags are at the Lees’ still, aren’t they?”

“And can stay there, for all I care. I’ll not put foot in that house

“I hope you don’t feel too resentfully towards Miss Lee,” Overton
began, “for in the first place it was she who brought me word of this
move of Emmons, and in the second----”

“I don’t feel resentful at all,” interrupted Vickers. “But I don’t feel
as if I wanted to go out of my way to see her again.”

“And in the second,” Overton went on, “the only way you can possibly
catch your train now is to let her drive you down. She has a trap
outside, and she seemed to be----”

He paused, for the door had slammed behind Vickers, and when he
followed, the two were already in the trap. Overton smiled.

“That’s right,” he said, “make haste; but you might at least say
good-by to a man you may never see again. Good-by, my dear fellow; good

Vickers, a little ashamed, shook hands with the older man in silence,
and Overton went on: “Whatever happens, Vickers, do not resist arrest.
I have ordered a trap and I’ll follow you as soon as it comes. Not that
I anticipate any trouble.”

They drove away, and Overton as he entered the house murmured to
himself, “Not that they listened to a word I said.”

Yet if they had not listened, it did not seem to be from any desire to
talk themselves. They drove out of the gates in silence, and had gone
some distance before Nellie asked,

“Where shall you go to-night, Mr. Vickers?”

“Thank you for your interest,” returned Vickers bitterly, “but it
seems that my plans have been quite sufficiently spread about Hilltop.
Perhaps it would be as well for me not to answer your question. I am
going away.”

Not unnaturally this speech angered Nellie. “You do not seem to
understand,” she said, “that I came to warn you that you must go.”

“I was going anyhow,” he retorted, “but of course I am very much
obliged to you for any trouble you may have taken.”

“I thought it my duty,” she began, but he interrupted her with a laugh.

“Your duty, of course. You never do anything from any other motive.
That is exactly why I do not tell you my plans. You might feel it your
duty to repeat them to Emmons. I think I remember your saying that you
always tell him everything.”

“You are making it,” said Nellie, in a voice as cool as his own,
“rather difficult for me to say what I think is due to you--and that is
that I owe you an apology for having insisted yesterday----”

“You owe me so many apologies,” returned Vickers, “that you will hardly
have time to make them between here and the station, so perhaps it is
hardly worth while to begin.”

“You have a right to take this tone with me,” said Nellie, acutely
aware how often she had taken it with him. “But you shall not keep me
from saying, Mr. Vickers, that I am very conscious of how ill I have
treated you, and that your patience has given me a respect for you--”
She stopped, for Vickers laughed contemptuously; but as he said nothing
in answer, she presently went on again: “I do not know what it is that
strikes you as ludicrous in what I am saying. I was going to add that I
should like to hear, now and then, how you are getting on, if it is not
too much to ask.”

He turned on her. “You mean you want me to _write_ to you?”

She nodded.

“I am afraid your future husband would not approve of the
correspondence, and as you tell him everything--no, I had far better
risk it now, and tell you my plans at once. I am going to South
America, where I am going to be a real live general over a small but
excellent little army. I know, for I made some of it myself.”

“And will you be safe there?”

“Yes, if you mean from Emmons and the process of the law. On the
other hand, some people do not consider soldiering the very safest
of professions--especially in those countries, where they sometimes
really fight, and, contrary to the popular notion, when they do fight,
it is very much the real thing. Fancy your feelings, Nellie, when some
day you read in the papers: ‘The one irreparable loss to the Liberal
party was the death of General Don Luis Vickers, who died at the head
of his column....’ Ah, I should die happy, if only I could die with
sufficient glory to induce Emmons to refer to me in public as ‘an odd
sort of fellow, a cousin of my wife’s.’ I can hear him. My spirit would
return to gloat.”

“He will never say that,” said Nellie, with a meaning which Vickers,
unhappily, lost.

“Ah, you can’t tell, Nellie. ‘General Luis Vickers’ sounds so much
better than ‘Vickers, the man the police want.’ And Emmons’s standards,
I notice, depend almost entirely on what people say. Nellie,” he went
on suddenly, “I have something to say to you. You and I are never
going to see each other again, and Heaven knows I don’t want to write
to you or hear from you again. This is all there will ever be, and
I am going to offer you a piece of advice as if I were going to die
to-morrow. Don’t marry Emmons! He is not the right sort. Perhaps you
think I have no right to criticise a man who has always kept a good
deal straighter than I, but it is just because I have knocked about
that I know. He won’t do. You are independent now. Your farm will bring
you in something. Keep the fellow I put in there, and sell a few of the
upland lots. You won’t be rich, but you’ll be comfortable. Don’t marry

“Why do you say this to me?”

“Because I know it’s the right thing to say. I can say anything to
you. As far as a woman like you is concerned, I realize a man like
myself--without a cent, without even a decent name--doesn’t exist at
all; not even Emmons himself could suppose that in advising you not to
marry him, I have any hope for myself.”

“And yet that is just what he does think.” She forced herself to look
at him, and her look had the anxious temerity of a child who has just
defied its elders.

“Nellie, what do you mean?”

“I am not going to marry Mr. Emmons.”

“You are not! You are _not_!! Oh, my darling! What a place the world
is! Have I really lost you?”

Nellie smiled at him, without turning her head. “I thought you had no

He had no sense of decency, for he kissed her twice on the public
highway. “I haven’t,” he answered. “I can’t stay, and you can’t go with
me. Imagine you in the tropics.”

“I certainly can’t go if I’m not asked.”

“Think what you are saying to me, woman,” he answered. “In another
moment I shall ask you if you love me, and then----”

She turned to him, and put her hand in his. “Suppose you do ask me,”
she said.

Vickers held it, and bent his head over it, and laid it against his
mouth, but he shook his head. “No,” he said, “I won’t. I have just one
or two remnants of decency left, and I won’t do that.”

He stopped: for Nellie had turned the horse down an unexpected road.
“Where are you going?” he said.

“Back to the house. You can’t sail without your things.”

“My dear girl, I’ve spent half my life traveling without my things.”

“Well, you aren’t going to do it any more,” she answered, and her tone
had so domestic a flavor that he kissed her again.

Plimpton met them in the hall, and Nellie lost no time.

“Pack Mr. Vickers’s things at once, please,” she said, and would have
passed on, but she was arrested by Plimpton’s voice.

“_Whose_, Madam?” he asked; like many men of parts, he believed that to
be puzzled and to be insulted are much the same thing.

“Mine, Plimpton, mine,” said Vickers. “And just for once leave out as
much of the tissue paper and cotton wool as possible. I’ve a train to

“And tell my maid to pack something for me--as much as she can get into
a valise; and tea at once, Plimpton.”

Plimpton did not say that he totally disapproved of the whole plan, but
his tone was very cold, as he said that tea was already served in the

“Goodness only knows when we shall see food again,” Nellie remarked as
she sat down behind the tea-kettle.

“I can hardly catch my train, Nellie.”

“No matter. We can drive over to the other line--nine or ten miles.”

“It will be rather a long lonely journey back, won’t it?”

“For the horse, you mean?” said Nellie. “Well, to tell the truth I
don’t exactly know how the horse is going to get back and I don’t much

“Nellie,” said Vickers, and he laid his hand on her shoulder with a
gesture that was almost paternal. “I can’t let you do this. You have no
idea what a life it would be,--what it would mean to be the wife of a
man who----”

“I shall know very soon,” returned she irrepressibly. “But I have some
idea what a life it would be to be left behind, and so I am afraid you
must put this newly-found prudence of yours in your pocket, and make up
your mind----”

But she did not finish a sentence whose end was fairly obvious, for
the door was thrown open in Plimpton’s best manner, and Emmons entered.
He stopped on seeing Vickers, and stared at him with round eyes.

“_You!_” he cried. “This is the last place I should have thought of
looking for you.”

“But does not a meeting like this make amends--” Vickers began lightly,
but Nellie struck a better note with her cool: “I should think this
would have been the most natural place to look. Tea, James?”

“No, thank you,” replied Emmons sternly. “I’ve no time for tea just
now. I parted from the sheriff not ten minutes ago, and I must go and
find him at once.”

“Sorry you won’t stay and have a chat,” said Vickers. “But doubtless
you know best.”

“You’ll find out what I know within half an hour,” said Emmons, and
left the room, slamming the door behind him.

“James is developing quite a taste for repartee,” observed Vickers.

Nellie rose, put out the light under the kettle, and began to draw on
her gloves. “We must start now,” she said.

“Now, or never,” said Vickers.

They were half-way down the drive before Nellie asked in the most
matter-of-fact tone, “Are the bags in?”

He nodded.

“Mine, too?”

“Yours, too, Nellie. Weak-kneed that I am, when I felt it in my hand, I
said a brave man would leave this one behind, but--I put it in.”

Catching his eye, she smiled. “That was very kind of you,” she said,
“for I, you know, have not spent half my life traveling without my

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                          POEMS FOR TRAVELERS

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                          Transcriber’s Notes

A few minor punctuation errors have been silently corrected.



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