Captivating Mary Carstairs
Henry Sydnor Harrison
Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Brendan Lane, Dave Morgan, Tom Allen
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CAPTIVATING MARY CARSTAIRS
HENRY SYDNOR HARRISON
WITH A FRONTISPIECE BY R.M. CROSBY
(_This book was first published pseudonymously in February, 1911_)
TO NAWNY: HER BOOK
_This book, representing the writer's first effort at a long story, has
something of a story of its own. First planned in 1900 or 1901, it was
begun in 1905, and finished at length, in a version, three years later.
Through the two years succeeding it underwent various adventures,
including, if memory serves, two complete overhauling. Having thus
reached by stages something like its present form, it was, in August,
1910, favorably reported on by the publishers; but yet another rewriting
preceded its final acceptance, a few weeks later. Meanwhile, I had
turned to fresh work; and, as it chanced, "Queed" was both begun and
finished in the interval while "Captivating Mary Carstairs" was taking
her last journeys abroad. Turned away by two publishers, the newer
manuscript shortly found welcome from a third. So it befell that I, as
yet more experienced in rejections, suddenly found myself with two
books, of widely different sorts and intentions, scheduled for
publication by different publishers, almost simultaneously. As this
seemed to be more books than society required from an unknown writer, it
was decided to put out the present story--which is a "story," as I
conceive the terms, and not a novel--over a pen name.
At that time, be it said, with an optimism that now has its humorous
side, I viewed myself prospectively as a ready and fertile writer,
producing a steady flow of books of very various sorts. Hence it
occurred to me that a pseudonym might have a permament serviceability.
So far from these anticipations proving justified, I am now moved to
abandon the pseudonym in the only instance I have had occasion to use
it. Writers have sometimes been charged with seeking to capitalize their
own good fortune. My motive, in authorizing the republication of this
story over my name, is not that. The fact is only that experience has
taught me not to like pseudonymity: my feeling being that those who take
an interest in my work are entitled, if they so desire, to see it as a
_Charleston, West Virginia, 16 March, 1914_
I The Chief Conspirator Secures a Pal
II They Embark upon a Crime
III They Arrive in Hunston and Fall in with a Stranger
IV Which Concerns Politics and other Local Matters
V Introduces Mary Carstairs and Another
VI The Hero Talks with a Lady in the Dark
VII In which Mary Carstairs is Invited to the Yacht "Cypriani"
VIII Concerning Mr. Ferris Stanhope, the Popular Novelist; also Peter,
the Quiet Onlooker
IX Varney Meets with a Galling Rebuff, while Peter Goes Marching On
X The Editor of the _Gazette_ Plays a Card from His Sleeve
XI Which Shows the Hero a Fugitive
XII A Yellow Journalist Secures a Scoop but Fails to Get Away with it
XIII Varney Meets His Enemy and is Disarmed
XIV Conference between Mr. Hackley, the Dog Man, and Mr. Ryan, the Boss
XV In which Varney Does Not Pay a Visit, but Receives One
XVI Wherein Several Large Difficulties are Smoothed Away
XVII A Little Luncheon Party on the Yacht "Cypriani"
XVIII Captivating Mary
XIX In which Mr. Higginson and the Sailing-Master Both Merit Punishment,
and Both Escape it
XX Varney, Having Embarked upon a Crime, Finds out that there is a Price
XXI Mr. Ferris Stanhope Meets His Double; and Lets the Double Meet
XXII Relating How Varney Fails to Die; and Why Smith Remained in
Hunston; and How a Reception is Planned for Mr. Higginson
XXIII In which Varney, after all, Redeems His Promise
CAPTIVATING MARY CARSTAIRS
Captivating Mary Carstairs
THE CHIEF CONSPIRATOR SECURES A PAL
In a rear room of a quaint little house uptown, a great bronzed-faced
man sat at a piano, a dead pipe between his teeth, and absently played
the most difficult of Beethoven's sonatas. Though he played it divinely,
the three men who sat smoking and talking in a near-by corner paid not
the least attention to him. The player, it seemed, did not expect them
to: he paid very little attention himself.
Next to the selection of members, that is, no doubt, the most highly
prized thing about the Curzon Club: you are not expected to pay
attention unless you want to. It is a sanctuary where no one can bore
you, except yourself. The members have been chosen with this in mind,
and not chosen carelessly.
Lord Pembroke, who married a Philadelphian, is quoted as saying that the
Curzon is the most democratic club in a too confoundedly democratic
country. M. Arly, the editor, has told Paris that it is the most
exclusive club in the world. Probably both were right. The electing
board is the whole club, and a candidate is stone-dead at the first
blackball; but no stigma attaches to him for that. Of course, it is a
small club. Also, though money is the least of all passports there, it
is a wealthy club. No stretch of the imagination could describe its dues
as low. But through its sons of plutocracy, and their never-ending
elation at finding themselves in, has arisen the Fund, by which poor but
honest men can join, and do join, with never a thought of ways and
means. Of these Herbert Horning, possibly the best-liked man in the
club, who supported a large family off the funny department of a
magazine, was one. He had spurned the suggestion when it was first made
to him, and had reluctantly foregone his election; whereon Peter
Maginnis had taken him aside, a dash of red in his ordinarily composed
"How much?" he demanded brutally.
"How much for what?"
"How much for you?" roared Peter. "How much must the club pay you to get
Horning stared, pained.
"God meant no man to be a self-conscious ass," said Peter more mildly.
"The club pays you a high compliment, and you have the nerve to reply
that you don't take charity. I suppose if Congress voted you a medal for
writing the funniest joke in America, you'd have it assayed and remit
the cash. Chuck it, will you? Once in a year we find a man we want, and
then we go ahead and take him. We don't think much of money here but--as
I say, how much?"
The "but" implied that Horning did, and hurt as it was meant to. He came
into the club, took cheerfully what they offered him that way, and felt
grateful ever afterwards that Maginnis had steered him to the light.
The big man, Maginnis himself, sat on at the piano, his great fingers
rambling deftly over the keys. He was playing Brahms now and doing it
magnificently. He was fifteen stone, all bone and muscle, and looked
thirty pounds heavier, because you imagined, mistakenly, that he carried
a little fat. He was the richest man in the club, at least so far as
prospects went, but he wore ready-made clothes, and one inferred,
correctly, that a suit of them lasted him a long time. He looked capable
of everything, but the fact was that he had done nothing. But for his
money and a past consisting of thirty years of idleness, he might have
been the happiest dog alive.
"The best government," said one of the three men who were not listening
to the piano, "is simply the surest method for putting public opinion
The sentence drifted over the player's shoulder and Brahms ended with a
"Balzac said that," he cried, rising abruptly, "and said it better! But,
good heavens, how you both miss the point! Why, let me tell you."
But this they stoutly declined to do. Amid laughter and protests--for
the big man's hobbies were well known to the club--two of them sprang up
in mock terror, and headed for the door. They indicated that they had
promised each other to play billiards and dared not break the
"I couldn't stay to the end, anyway, Peter," explained one, from the
door. "My wife sits up when I'm out after midnight. Meet me here for
breakfast some bank-holiday, and we'll give the day to it."
Maginnis, who never got over feeling disappointed when he saw his
audience slipping away from him, sighed, searched through his frowzy
pockets for a match, lit his pipe, and fell upon a lounge near to all
the society that was left him.
"Why weren't you up?" said this society presently.
"The idea of dinner was repellent to me."
"To you, Peter--the famous trencherman of song and story? Why this
"Lassitude. Too weary to climb the stairs. Besides, I wasn't hungry."
"Ah," said Reggie Townes, "you have the caveman's idea of dinner, I see.
It strikes you as purely an occasion for purveying provender to man's
interior. The social feature eludes you. You know what I think, Peter?
You ought to go to work."
"That's the word. What of it?"
"Not a thing. The idea was new to me; that's all."
"Persiflage and all that aside, why don't you take a stab at politics?"
"Politics! Here in New York! I'd sooner go into Avernus of the easy
descent. If you had a town to run all by yourself now, there might be
something in it. That idea of yours as to going to work, while
unquestionably novel, strikes me as rather clever."
"No credit belongs to me," said Townes, "if I happened to be born
brilliant instead of good-looking."
"I'll ponder it," said Peter; and stretching out his great hand with a
gesture which banished the subject, he pushed a service button and
begged Townes to be so kind as to name his poison.
Outside in the hall a voice just then called his name, and Maginnis
A young man in evening dress strolled through the doorway, a tallish,
lithe young man with a pleasant clean-cut face and very light hair. It
was evident enough that he patronized a good tailor. He glanced at the
two men, nodded absently, and dropped without speech into a chair near
the door. Townes eyed him somewhat quizzically.
"Evening, Larry. A little introspective to-night, yes?"
Peter said: "By bull luck you have stumbled into a company of gentlemen
about to place an order. Go ahead. Mention a preference."
The young man, unseeing eyes on Peter, did not answer. Instead, he
sprang up, as though struck by a thought of marked interest and bolted
out the door. They saw him vanish into the telephone booth across the
hall and bang the glass door shut behind him.
"Forgot an engagement."
"You mean remembered one," said Peter.
"It all figures out to the same answer," said Townes; and glancing
presently at his watch, he announced that he must be trotting on.
"But I've ordered something for you, man."
"Varney can use it, can't he?"
The door opened, and the tallish young man stood on the threshold again,
this time social and affable. His distraitness, oddly enough, had all
gone. He greeted the two in the smoking-room as though he had seen them
for the first time that evening; expressed his pleasure at being in
their company; inquired after their healths and late pursuits; pressed
cigarettes upon them.
They rallied him upon his furtive movements and fickle demeanor, but
drew only badinage in kind, and no explanations; and Townes, laughing,
turned to the door.
"Dally with us yet a little while, Reggie."
"No, gentles, no! I'm starting abroad to-night and have already dallied
"My sister," said Townes, "as perhaps you don't know, wedded a
foreigner--Willy Harcourt, born and raised in Brooklyn. Therefore, I am
now leaving to go to a party in Brooklyn. Say that to yourself
slowly--'a party in Brooklyn!' Sounds sort of ominous, doesn't it? If
the worst happens, I look to you fellows to break it to my mother.
Please mention that I was smiling to the last."
He waved a farewell and disappeared into the hall. Varney dropped into
the chair Townes had left empty, and elevated his feet to the lounge
where sprawled the length of Peter Maginnis. Peter looked up and the
eyes of the two men met.
"Well, Laurence? What is the proposition?" "Proposition? What do you
"An ass," replied Maginnis, pumping seltzer into a tall glass, "could
see that you have something on your mind."
Varney pulled a match from the little metal box-holder, and looked at
him with reluctant admiration. "Sherlock Holmes Maginnis! I _have_
something on my mind. A friend dropped it there half an hour ago, and
now I 've come to drop it on yours." He glanced at the room's two doors
and saw that both were shut. "Time is short. The outfit upstairs may
drift in any minute. Listen. Do you recall telling me the other day,
with tears in your eyes, that you were slowly dying for something new
and interesting to do?"
"I think of your pleasure," said Varney, "always. By looking about me
and keeping my eyes and ears open at all hours, I have found you just
"New and interesting?"
"There are men in this town who would run themselves to death trying to
get in it on the ground floor."
Maginnis shook his head.
"I have done everything in this world," he said almost sadly, "except, I
may say, the felonies."
"But this," said Varney, "is a felony."
Struck by his tone, Peter glanced up. "Mean it?"
"As I remarked before, what is the proposition?"
"To sum it all up in a word," said Varney, "there's a job of kidnapping
on and I happened to get the contract. That's all there is to the little
Peter swung his feet around to the floor, and sat up. His conviction
that Varney was trying to be funny died hard.
Varney laughed. "I need a pal," he added. "Five minutes ago I telephoned
and got permission to offer the place to you."
"Stop being so confounded mysterious," Peter broke out, "and go ahead!"
Varney blew smoke thoughtfully and said, "I will. In fact, that's what I
came for. It's a devil of a delicate little matter to talk about to
anybody, as it happens. Of course, what I tell you must never go an inch
further, whether you come along or not."
"You know my Uncle Elbert?"
Varney nodded. "He wouldn't thank you for the adjective, though. I got
the contract from him. By the way, he's not my uncle, of course; he was
simply a great friend of my mother's. I inherited the friendship, and in
these last five years he and I have somehow managed to get mighty close
together. Eight years or so ago," he continued, "as you may, or may not
know, Uncle Elbert and his wife parted. There wasn't a thing the matter,
I believe, except that they weren't hitting it off particularly well.
They simply agreed to disagree. _Nouveau riche_, and all that, wasn't
it? Mrs. Carstairs has some money of her own. She picked up, packed up,
walked out, bought a place up the river, near Hunston, and has lived
there ever since."
Peter looked up quickly. "Hunston? Ha! But fire away."
"She and Uncle Elbert have stayed pretty good friends all through it.
They exchange letters now and then, and once or twice when she has been
in the city, I believe they have met--though not in recent years. My
private suspicion is that she has never entirely got over being in love
with him. Anyhow, there's their general relationship in a
nutshell--parted but friendly. It might have stayed just like that till
they were both in their graves, but for one accidental complication.
There is a child."
"I seem to remember," said Peter. "A little boy."
"On the contrary. A little girl. Uncle Elbert," said Varney, "is a bit
of a social butterfly. Mrs. Carstairs is an earnest domestic character.
As I gather, that was what they clashed on--the idea of what a home
ought to be. When the split came, Mrs. Carstairs took the child and
Uncle Elbert was willing enough to have her do it. That was natural
enough, Peter. He had his friends and his clubs and his little dinners,
and he was no more competent to raise a girl baby than you are, which is
certainly going some for a comparison. I suppose the fact was that he
was glad to be free of the responsibility. But it's mighty different
"You see," said Varney, lighting one cigarette from another and
throwing the old one away, "he must be pretty lonely all by himself in
that big house of his. On top of that he's getting old and isn't in very
good health. Explain it any way you like. The simple fact is that within
this last year or so, it's gradually gotten to be a kind of obsession
with him, an out-and-out, down-and-out monomania, to know that kid--to
have her come and spend part of every year with him. That's natural,
too, I should say."
"H'm. Mrs. Carstairs sticks to her like fly-paper, I suppose?"
"Not at all. She admits Uncle Elbert's rights and is entirely willing to
let him have Mary--for such is our little heroine's name--for part of
the time. It is the child who is doing the fly-paper business. The
painful fact is that she declines to have anything whatever to do with
her father. Invitations, commands, entreaties--she spurns them all. Yes,
I asked him if they had tried spanking, but he didn't answer--seemed
rather miffed, in fact. The child simply will not come, and that is
point number one. Now, of course, Uncle Elbert realizes that he has not
been what the world would call a good father. And he has figured it out
that Mary, evidently a young precocity, has judged him, found him
guilty, and sentenced him to banishment from her affections. That hurts,
you know. Well, he is certain that if he could once see her and be
thrown with her for a few days, she would find that he is not such an
old ogre, after all, would take him back as a father, as we might say,
and that after that everything would be plain sailing. That's his
theory. The point is how to see her and be thrown with her for the
necessary few days."
"Why does n't he get on the train and go to Hunston? Or, if Mrs.
Carstairs is really so decent about the thing, why doesn't she get on
the train and bring Mary down here?"
"Good. I put both of those up to him, and they seemed to embarrass him a
little. I gathered that he had suggested them both to Mrs. Carstairs,
and that she had turned them down hard. The ground seemed delicate. You
see, we must allow for the personal equation in all this. No matter
where they met, he couldn't hang around the house getting acquainted
with Mary without coming into sort of intimate contact with Mrs.
Carstairs, and giving a kind of domestic touch to their relations. You
see how that is. She wants to be fair and generous about it, but if she
is in love with him, that would be a little more than flesh and blood
could bear, I suppose. Then, as I say, there is the pig-headedness of
the child. Anyway, Uncle Elbert assures me that both those plans are
simply out of the question. So there is the situation. Mary won't come
to see him by herself. Mrs. Carstairs won't bring Mary to see him, and
she won't let him come to see Mary. Well, what remains?"
Peter said nothing. In a room overhead a manifestly improvised quartet
struck up "Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot?" with great enthusiasm.
"You see there is only one thing. The old gentleman," said Varney, "has
brooded over the matter till it's broken him all up. He was in bed when
I was there just now. He asked me to go to Hunston and bring his
daughter to him. I told him that kidnapping was a little out of my line.
'Kidnapping is rather a harsh word,' he said. 'Yes,' said I, 'it's a
criminal word, I believe.' But--"
Peter looked up, interrupting. "Is this all straight? Is that really
what he wants you to do?"
"Naturally, Peter. Why not? You cling to the theory that such heroic
measures are entirely unnecessary? So did I till I had threshed the
whole thing up and down with Uncle Elbert for an hour and a half, trying
to suggest some alternative that didn't look so silly. Kindly get the
facts well into your head, will you? The man must pursue Mary's
affection either there or here, mustn't he? He can't do it there because
his wife won't let him. In order to do it here, one would say offhand
that Mary would have to be here, and since her mother declines to bring
her, it does look to me as if the job would have to be done by somebody
else. However, if my logic is wrong, kindly let your powerful--"
"I don't say it's wrong. I merely say that it sounds like a cross
between a modern pork-king's divorce suit and a seventeenth century
"And I reply that I don't care a hoot how it sounds. The only question
of any interest to me, Peter, is whether or not Uncle Elbert has a moral
right to a share in his own child. I say that he has such a right, and I
say further that this is the only way in the world that he can assert
his right. Oh, hang how it sounds! I'm the nearest thing to a son that
he has in this world, and I mean for him to have his rights. So--"
"Very fine," said Peter dryly. "But what's the matter with Carstairs
getting his rights for himself? Why doesn't he sneak up there and pull
the thing off on his own?"
Varney laughed. "Evidently you don't know Uncle Elbert, after all. He's
as temperamentally unfit to carry through a job of this sort as a
hysterical old lady. Besides, even though they haven't met for so long,
I suppose his own daughter would recognize him, wouldn't she? I never
gave that idea a thought. Like his wife, he says he wants to have
nothing whatever to do with it. In fact, I made him put that in the form
of a promise--he's to give me an absolutely free hand, subject to the
conditions, and not interfere in any way. In return I ended by swearing
a great iron-clad oath not only to go, but to bring the child back with
me. The swear was Uncle Elbert's idea, and I didn't mind. Confound
it!--this is getting rather intimate, but here is Mrs. Carstairs's
letter giving a partial consent to the thing. It just got in this
afternoon; he sent for me the minute he'd read it, I believe, and I
never saw a man more excited."
He pulled a scrawled and crossed note-sheet from his pocket, and read in
a guarded and slightly embarrassed voice:
HUNSTON, 25th of September.
MY DEAR ELBERT,--I hardly know how to answer you, though I have been
over and over the whole subject on my knees. As you know, if I could
send Mary to you, I would, sadly as I should miss her, for the wish
lies close to my heart to have her know her father. But she will not
hear of leaving me and there is an end of that. What you suggest is so
new and so _dreadful_ in many ways that it is very hard to consent to
it. Of course, I realize that it is not right for me to have her always.
But the utmost I can bring myself to say is that if you can succeed in
what you propose I will do nothing to interfere with you, and will see
that there is no scandal here afterwards. Of course, I am to have no
part in it, and no force is to be used, and everything is to be made as
agreeable for her as is possible under the circumstances. Oh, I am
miserable and doubtful about the whole thing, but pray and trust that it
is for the best, and that she will find some way to forgive me for it
"H'm. No force is to be used," said Peter. "May I ask just how you
expect to get Mary on the choo-choo?"
"Now we are getting to the meat of the matter," said Varney. "We shall
not have to get Mary on the choo-choo at all. We are going to use a
yacht, which will be far more private and pleasant, and also far easier
to get people on. Uncle Elbert's _Cypriani_ lies in the harbor at this
moment, ready to start anywhere at half a day's notice. It will start
for Hunston to-morrow afternoon, with me on board. I'll need another man
to put the thing through right, and I'd rather trust a friend than a
servant. So would Uncle Elbert. When I came in here just now, I was at
once taken with your looks for the part, and I have been authorized by
'phone to give you first refusal on this great chance."
Peter said nothing. Varney feared that he looked rather bored.
"At first," he went on promptly, "I'll confess that I didn't see so much
in the thing. But the more I've thought of it the more its unique charm
has appealed to me. It is nothing more nor less than a novel, piquant
little adventure. Exactly the sort of thing to attract a man who likes
to take a sporting chance. Look at the difficulties of it. Go to a
strange town where there are thousands and millions of strange children,
locate Mary, isolate her, make friends with her, coax her to the
yacht--captivate her, capture her! How are we to do all that, you ask? I
reply, the Lord knows. That is where the sport comes in. We are
forbidden to use force. We are forbidden to use Mrs. Carstairs or bring
her into it in any way. We are forbidden, of course, to let the child
know who we are. Everything must be done by almost diabolical craft,
while dodging suspicion at every step. Can you beat it for a fascinating
Peter relit his pipe and meditatively dropped the match on the floor.
"How old is Mary?"
"Old?" said Varney, surprised at the question, "Oh, I don't know. The
separation took place--h'm--say eight years ago, and my guess is that
she was about four at the time. From this and the way Uncle Elbert spoke
of her, I daresay twelve would hit it fair and square. A grand age for
"On the contrary," said Peter, "it makes it mere baby-work. Turn it over
as you will, it all boils down to spanking a naughty child."
"Never! Think of slipping a cog in our plans--making a false start,
having somebody get on to us! Why, man, there may be jail for us both in
He examined Peter's face hopefully, but found unaffected apathy there.
"Suppose," he cried boastfully, "that the Associated Press got on to it!
Think of the disgrace of it! 'Millionaire Maginnis Caught Kidnapping!'
Think of being fired from the Curzon and having to leave New York a
hunted and broken man! Think," he added in an inspired climax, "of
having your photograph in the Sunday _Herald_!"
Maginnis perked up visibly at this. "There is no chance of that really,
do you think?"
"None in the world," said Varney desperately.
He felt sure that this had cost him Peter, whom he had come to as his
oldest and best friend. Having no idea whom he could turn to next, he
rose, tentatively, and for the moral effect, to go.
"After all," he said aloud, "I have another man in my mind who would, on
second thoughts, suit me better."
"Oh, sit down!" cried Peter, impatiently.
Larry sat down. His face showed, in spite of him, how really anxious he
was to have Peter go. There was a brief pause.
"Since you are so crazy to have me," said Peter, "I'll go."
"Thank you," said Varney. He picked up his glass, which he had hitherto
not touched, drained it at a gulp and pushed the bell vigorously. "I
knew," he cried, "that you'd see the possibilities when once your brain
began to work."
Peter's faint smile was an insult in its way. "Three things have decided
me to go with you, old son, and none of them has anything to do with
your possibilities. The first is that I'm the one man in a million you
really need in case of trouble."
"Peter, your modesty is your curse."
"The second is--did you read the _Sun_ this morning? It seems that this
little town of Hunston is having a violent spasm of politics right now.
Rather lucky coincidence, I should say. The dispatch I read was pretty
vague, but I gather that there's an interesting fight on between a
strong machine and a small but firm reform movement."
"Ha! Occupation for you while I beat the woods for little Mary."
"I'll need it."
"Well, what was your other wonderful reason?"
"Don't you know? It is that sixty horse-power oath your uncle made you
"Because it committed me, you mean?"
The door opened, men entered noisily, and Peter had to draw Varney aside
to explain darkly: "Because it committed me to wondering what
difficulties foxy old Carstairs made a point of concealing from you."
"Meet me upstairs in ten minutes," said Varney, "and we'll talk about
THEY EMBARK UPON A CRIME
Varney was wrong in one thing: Mr. Carstairs's _Cypriani_ was not ready
to start anywhere at half a day's notice. For that reason it did not
start for Hunston on the following afternoon. As always happens, the
preparations for the little expedition took four times as long as
anybody would have thought possible.
For these delays no blame could be attached to Peter Maginnis. He had no
getting ready to do beyond bidding his father's man to pack him for a
week, and obtaining from his hatter's, at an out-of-season cut-price, an
immense and peculiar Panama with an offensive plaid band. Possibly it
was the only hat of its kind in the world. One might picture the
manufacturer as having it made up as an experiment, becoming morose when
he looked at it, and ordering his superintendent to make no more like it
at the peril of his life.
Peter, however, was delighted with it. Gazing at himself with smirking
satisfaction in the hat-shop mirror, he ordered the old one sent home
and was all ready to go to Hunston and kidnap Mary Carstairs.
But other preparations could not be completed with such speedy
satisfaction. The yacht had to coal, take on supplies, and pick up two
or three extra men for the crew. A Sunday came in and threw everything
back a day. Lastly the sailing-master's wife, whom Mr. Carstairs was
sending along to take charge of Mary on the homeward trip, chanced to be
down with an influenza.
As the details of getting ready multiplied about him, Varney's interest
in his novel undertaking imperceptibly grew. The thing had come upon him
so unexpectedly that it had not yet by any means lost its strangeness.
To the old friend of his mother's girlhood, Elbert Carstairs, he was
sincerely devoted, though knowing him for an indulgent man whose
indulgences were chiefly of himself. But when, responding to his excited
summons that night, he had sat and listened while Mr. Carstairs unfolded
his mad little domestic plot, he had been first utterly amazed and then
utterly repelled. And it was not until a final sense of the old man's
genuine need was borne in upon him, of his loneliness, his helplessness,
and his entire dependence upon him, Varney, that he had consented to
undertake the extraordinary commission.
In a sense, it was all simply preposterous. Here was he, Laurence
Varney, in sane mind, of law-abiding habits and hitherto of tolerable
standing in the community, solemnly pledged to go and steal the person
of a child, in defiance and contempt of the statutes of all known
nations. And the place where this lawless deed was to be done was not
Ruritania or the hazy dominions of Prince Otto, but a commonplace,
humdrum American town, not an hour and a half from his office chair by
In going about this task he was to conduct himself with the frankness
and straightforwardness of a sneak-thief. Not a soul in New York was to
know where he had gone. Not a soul in Hunston must dimly suspect what he
had come for. It must be gum-shoe work from start to finish, and the
_Cypriani's_ motto would be the inspiring word, "Sh-h-h." Though he had
to find a nondescript child whom he did not know from Eve, he was
forbidden to do it in a natural, easy, and dashing way. He could not
ring her mother's door-bell, ask for her, throw a meal-sack over her
head, and whip his waiting horses to a gallop. No, he must beat the tall
grasses before the old homestead until such time as she chose to walk
abroad alone. Really, when you came to think of it, it was an asinine
sort of proposition.
But when Mary did come out of that house, he saw that the fun would
begin. A well brought-up, moneyed, petted and curled girl of twelve was
no easy pawn in anybody's game. He could not win her love by a mere
offer of gum-drops. In fact, getting acquainted was likely to be a
difficult matter, taxing his ingenuity to a standstill. But he
entertained no doubts of his ability to do it, sooner or later.
"Not to put too fine a point on it," mused he, glancing out of his
twentieth story window, "they flock to me, children do. I'm their good
old Uncle Dudley. But why the deuce isn't she five years younger?"
Clearly, it was the next step that was the most delicate: getting Mary
aboard the yacht. This was both the crux and the _finale_ of the whole
thing: for Uncle Elbert was to be waiting for them, in a closed
carriage, at a private dock near 130th Street (Peter remaining in
Hunston to notify him by telephone of the start down), and Varney's
responsibilities were over when the _Cypriani_ turned her nose homeward.
But here lay the thin ice. If anything should happen to go wrong at the
moment when they were coaxing Mary on the yacht, if there was a leak in
their plans or anybody suspected anything, he saw that the situation
might be exceedingly awkward. The penalties for being fairly caught with
the goods promised to be severe. As to kidnapping, he certainly
remembered reading in the newspapers that some States punished it with
death. At any rate, maybe the natives would try to thrash him and Peter.
In hopeful moments he conjured up visions of the deuce to pay.
But, after all, he was going to Hunston, whether he liked it or not,
simply because Uncle Elbert had asked him. The lonely old gentleman, he
knew, loved him like a son: he had turned straight to him in his hour of
need. This had touched the young man, and had finally made up his mind
for him. Moreover Mary, a spoiled little piece who was suffered to set
her smug childish will against the combined wills of both her parents,
aroused his keenest antipathy. To put her in her place, to teach her
that children must obey their parents in the Lord, was a duty to
society, to the State. What Uncle Elbert wanted with such a child, he
could not conceive; but since he did want her, have her he should.
Tilting back his office chair and running his hand through his hair,
Varney longed to spank her.
This thought came to him, definitely and for about the seventh time, at
half-past one o'clock on the third day, Monday. At the same moment, his
telephone-bell rang sharply. It was the sailing-master to say that his
good spouse had come aboard and that everything on the _Cypriani_ was in
readiness for the start.
"I'll be on board inside of an hour," said Varney.
He telephoned to Uncle Elbert, telephoned to Peter, and locked up his
desk. To his office he casually gave out that pressing business matters
were calling him out of town for a day or two.
The two young men had been as furtive as possible about their proposed
journey. They had not met since the night Varney had dangled the hope of
jail and disgrace into Peter's lightening face, and so, or otherwise,
cajoled him into going along. Both of them had kept carefully away from
the _Cypriani_. Now they proceeded to her by different routes, and
reached her at different times, Peter first. Their luggage had gone
aboard before them, and there was no longer a thing to wait for. At
three o'clock, on Varney's signal, the ship's bell sounded, her whistle
shrieked, and she slid off through the waters of the bay.
About the start there was nothing in the least dramatic: they had merely
begun moving through the water and that was all. The _Cypriani_, for all
her odd errand, was merely one of a thousand boats which indifferently
crossed each other's wakes in one of the most crowded harbors in the
"For all the lime-light we draw," observed Maginnis, drinking in the
freshening breeze, "we might be running up to Harlem to address the
fortnightly meeting of a Girls' Friendly Society."
Varney said: "Give us a chance, will you?"
THEY ARRIVE IN HUNSTON AND FALL IN WITH A STRANGER
The landscape near Hunston, as it happened, was superfluously pretty. It
deserved a group of resident artists to admire and to catch it upon
canvas; and it had, roughly speaking, only artisans out of a job. The
one blot was the town, sprawling hideously over the hillside. Set down
against the perennial wood, by the side of the everlasting river, it
looked very cheap and common. But all this was by day. Now night fell
upon the poor little city and mercifully hid it from view.
They had made the start too late for hurry to be any object. It was only
a three hours' run for the _Cypriani_, but she took it slowly, using
four. At half-past six o'clock, when their destination was drawing near,
the two men went below and dined. At seven, while they were still at
table, they heard the slow-down signal, and, a moment later, the rattle
of the anchor line. Now, at quarter-past seven, Varney lounged alone by
the starboard rail and acquainted himself with the purview.
They had run perhaps quarter of a mile above the town, for reasons which
he had not communicated to the sailing-master in transmitting his
orders. One was that they might be removed somewhat from native
curiosity. The other was, they might be near the Carstairs residence,
which was up this way somewhere. So, between the yacht and the town lay
hill and wood intervening. The _Cypriani_, so to say, had anchored in
the country. Only a light glimmering here and there through the trees
indicated the nearness of man's abode.
A soporific quality lurked in the quiet solitude, and Varney, sunk in a
deck-chair, yawned. They had decided at dinner that they would do
nothing that night but go to bed, for it seemed plain that there was
nothing else to do: little girls did not ramble abroad alone after dark.
Up the companion-way and over the glistening after-deck strolled Peter,
an eye-catching figure in the flooding moonlight. For, retiring to his
stateroom from the table, he had divested himself of much raiment and
encased his figure in a great purple bathrobe. He was a man who loved to
be comfortable, was Peter. Topping the robe, he wore his new Panama.
Varney looked around at the sound of footsteps, and was considerably
struck by his friend's appearance.
"Feeling well, old man?" he asked with solicitude.
"Not seasick at all? You won't let me fetch you the hot-water bottle?"
Peter sank down in an upholstered wicker chair with pillows in it, and
looked out appreciatively at the night. The yacht's lights were set, but
her deck bulbs hung dark; for the soft and shimmering radiance of the
sky made man's illumination an offense.
However, aesthetics, like everything else, has its place in human
economy and no more. No one aboard the _Cypriani_ became so absorbed in
the marvels of nature as to become insensible to other pleasures. The
air, new and fine from the hands of its Maker, acquired a distinct
flavor of nicotine as it flitted past the yacht. From some hidden depth
rose the subdued and convalescent snores of that early retirer, the
sailing-master's wife. Below forward, two deck-hands were thoughtfully
playing set-back for pennies, while a machinist sat by and read a
sporting extra by a swinging bulb. Above forward, on a coil of rope,
McTosh, the head steward and one of Mr. Carstairs's oldest servants,
smoked a bad pipe, and expectorated stoically into the Hudson.
The thought of the essential commonplaceness of this sort of thing
recurred to Peter Maginnis. For all his life of idleness, which was, as
it were, accidental, Peter was essentially a man of action; and life's
sedentary movements irked him sorely.
"Who is the individual monkeying around at the bow?" he asked presently.
"It is Mr. Bissett, the ship's engineer, who is putting a coat of white
lead over the yacht's name."
"Aha! Aren't we old-sleuthy, though! And what's that piece of stage-play
"All these little hookers," said Varney, "are listed in a book, which
many persons own. Why have the local press tell everybody to-morrow that
the yacht _Cypriani_ belonging to Mr. Carstairs, husband once-removed to
our own Mrs. Elbert Carstairs, is anchored off these shores?"
"It seems," said Peter, "like a lot of smoke for such a little fire."
He got up and sprawled on the rail, his yellow Panama pulled far over
his eyes, his gaze fixed on the shining water.
"First and last, I've seen rivers in my time," he said presently, "big
and little, pretty and not, clean and soiled, decent and indecent. Yes,
boy," said he, "you can take it from me that I've seen the world's
darnedest in the matter of rivers, and I have liked them all from Ganges
to the Sacramento and back again. There was a time when I didn't have
that sort of personal feeling for 'em, but a little chap up in Canada,
he helped me to the light. He was the keenest on rivers I ever knew."
He broke off to yawn greatly, started to resume, thought better of it,
checked himself, and presently said in an absent voice:
"No, that's too long to tell."
"There's two hours till bedtime."
Peter straightened and began strolling aimlessly about the deck, half
regretting that they had decided to spend the evening on the yacht.
Varney looked after him with a certain sense of guilt. Against this
background of quiet night and moonlit peace, his enterprise began to
look very small and easy. A ramble through the pleasant woods over
there, a little girl met and played with, a leisurely stroll
hand-in-hand down a woodland path to the yacht--was it for this that he
had begged the assistance of Peter Maginnis, of the large administrative
abilities and the teeming energies? Varney began to be a little ashamed
of himself. To follow out Peter's own figure, it appeared that he had
called out the fire department to help him put out a smoking sheet of
note-paper on a hearth.
Soon, in one of his goings and comings, Peter halted. "There was another
Hunston dispatch in the paper this morning," he vouchsafed.
"Said the reform movement was a joke."
"Good movement, you mean?"
"No reform movement is ever a good joke, under any circumstances
whatsoever. Where it appears a joke at all, it is the kind that would
appeal only to pinheads of the dottiest nature."
"I'm going up there to-morrow," said Peter, nodding toward the town,
"and look into it a little. If there is time, I may even decide to show
these fellows how a reform proposition ought to be handled to ensure
Far off on the hill a single light twinkled through the trees, very
yellow against the pale moonlight. Varney's eye fell upon it and
absently held it. It was Mary Carstairs's light, though, of course, he
had no means of knowing that.
Presently Peter lolled around and looked at him. "H'm! Sunk in a sodden
slumber, I suppose?"
"Not at all. Interested by your conversation--fascinated. Ha! Here is
something to vary the evening's monotony. A row-boat is drifting
down-stream towards us. Let us make little wagers with each other as to
who'll be in it."
He looked over his shoulder upward at the moon, which a flying scud of
cloud had momentarily veiled. Peter, who had sat down again, glanced up
"I don't see any boat."
"There is where the wager comes in, my son. Hurry up--the moon will pop
out in another minute, and spoil the sport."
"Drifting, you say. Bet you she's empty--broke away from her moorings
and riding down with the current. Bet you half a dollar. My second bet,"
he said, warming to the work, "is an old washerwoman and her little boy,
out on their rounds collecting clothes. It's Monday. In case both firsts
are wrong, second choices get the money."
"My bet is--Ha! Stand ready with your half! There she comes--Jove!"
"Good God!" cried Peter and sprang up.
For the moon had jumped out from behind its cloud like a cuckoo in a
clock, and fallen full upon the drifting boat, now hardly fifty yards
away. In the bottom of it lay a man, sprawled over his useless oars,
his upturned face very white in the moonlight, limp legs huddled under
him anyhow. Something in the abandon of his position suggested that he
would not get up any more.
WHICH CONCERNS POLITICS AND OTHER LOCAL MATTERS
It was an odd sight against the setting of pretty night and light, idle
talk. Peter's lip tightened.
"He's dead, poor chap!" he said, in a low voice. "Murdered."
"So it seems. We can't be sure from here, though. Where's that watch?
Here--some of you! Lower away the dinghy! Get a move!"
The boats were on their hooks, swung outboard ready for instant use. The
crew, tumbling out swiftly at the call, cleared away one and let it fall
over the side. The young men went down with it, Peter seizing the oars
as his by right. The floating boat with its strange cargo had drifted
close and was now lost in the vast black shadow of the yacht.
"Where is it?"
"I can't--Yes! There it is. Straight back. Now a little to the right.
Varney, in the stern, leaned out and gripped the drifting gunwale
securely. But it was so dark here that he could see almost nothing.
"He's breathing, I think," he said, his hand against the strange man's
chest. "Pull out into the light."
But just then the arm that lay under the still head unmistakably
"Good!" cried Peter and laughed a little. "Strike a match and let's have
a look at him."
Varney fumbled in his pockets, found one and scratched it on the side.
Shielding the flame in his curved hand, he leaned forward and held it
close to that motionless face.
It was a young face, pale and rather haggard, lined about the mouth and
yellow about the eyes; the face of a clever but broken gentleman. Full
of contrasts and a story as it was, it would have been a striking face
at any time; and to the two peering men in the _Cypriani's_ boat, it was
now very striking indeed. For they saw immediately that the curious eyes
were half open and were fixed full upon them.
The match burned Varney's fingers, went out and dropped into the water.
He said nothing. Neither did Peter. The man in the boat did not stir. So
went by a second of profound stillness. Then a somewhat blurred voice
"When a gentleman goes rowing--in a private boat--and is raided by a
pair of unknown investigators--one of them wearing a Mother Hubbard--
who strike matches in his face and make personal remarks--he naturally
awaits their explanations."
The speech fell upon four of the most astonished ears in the State of
Peter recovered first: the remark about the Mother Hubbard had stung him
a little, even in that dumfounded moment, but he only laughed.
"The fact is, we made absolutely sure that you were a corpse. Our
"But God save us!" murmured the young man. "Can't a man die these days
without a yacht-full of anxious persons steaming up and clamping a light
against his eyeball?"
"But can't we do something for you?" asked Varney. "That's what we are
The young man lay still and thought a moment, which he appeared to do
with some difficulty.
"To be frank," his voice came out of the dark, rather clearer now, "you
can. Give me a match, will you?"
Varney laughed; he produced and handed over a little box of them. Lying
flat on his back in the boat, the young man fished a cigarette out of
his pocket, hurriedly, and stuck it between his lips. The next minute
the spurt of a match cut the air. The two in the ship's boat caught a
brief, flashing glimpse of him--thin white hands raised to thin white
"Something of a _poseur_, aren't you?" suggested Peter pleasantly.
"What's your rôle to-night?"
There followed a fractional pause.
"That of a vagrant student of manners and customs," answered the
colorless voice. "Therefore, to imitate your frankness, you interest me
"Those who study manners," said Peter, "should learn them after a while.
Why didn't you sing out, when you saw us hustling to get out a boat, and
tell us not to bother, as you were only playing dead for the lark of the
"Singing, whether out or in, is an art at which I can claim small
proficiency. But tell me the time, will you? I seem to have hocked my
Peter laughed a little ruefully. "It's seven thirty-six--no more and no
The young man sat up with an effort, and uncertainly gathered up his
"You'll excuse me, then?" he said. "I have an engagement at seven
thirty, and as you see, there is little time to make it."
"We gave you a light," said Peter. "Why not reciprocate? Who the devil
"I am a part of all that I have met," said the stranger, pulling off. "I
am wily wandering Ulysses. I am--"
"That will do," said Peter sharply.
He bowed gravely and rowed away. Peter looked after him for some time,
in rather impressive silence.
"What d' you suppose was the matter with the beggar, anyway? He wasn't
"Didn't you notice his wrists when he held them up to light his
cigarette? Full of little scars."
Peter whistled. "So morphine is his trouble, is it? Listen!"
From down the river rose a faint roar, like the sound of many voices a
long way off. While the two men listened, it subsided and then rose
"Hello!" said Varney. "Look at your student of manners and customs now."
The man in the boat was still plainly discernible, his face picked out
by the moon in greenish white. But there was no longer any lethargy in
his manner. He was bending his back to his best stroke--an excellent one
it was--and driving his light bark rapidly down the stream.
"My bet," said Varney, "is that he hears those shouts, and they mean
something to him--something interesting and important."
"Larry, be a sport! Let's follow this thing along and find out what it
"Oh, I'm willing to drop into town for a little reconnoissance, if you
like. Maybe we can pick up something that will help us in our business."
"Spoken like a scholar and a gentleman. One minute while I get on my
clothes. Oh--by the way! Er--this new--robe of mine doesn't look like a
Mother Hubbard, does it?"
"In my opinion," said Varney, "two things could not well be more utterly
Peter was back in five minutes, clothed and in his right mind. His
falling foot hit the center-line of the gig with a thump, and they shot
away toward the town wharf.
They bade the boat wait their signal in the shadows a little upstream,
and jumped out upon the old and rotting landing. A street ran straight
before them, up a steep hill and into the heart of the town, and they
took it, guided by a burst of still distant laughter and hoarse shouts.
Toiling up the evil sidewalk, they looked about curiously at the town
which was to engage their attention for the next day or so. Over
everything hung that vague air of dejection and moral decay which is so
hard to define and so easy to detect. The street was lit with feeble
electric lights which did little more than nullify the moon. Grass grew
at its pleasure through the broken brick pavement; and even in that
dimness, it was very evident that the White Wing department had been
taking a long vacation.
Varney's eye took in everything. It occurred to him that this was a most
extraordinary place for the family of the exquisite and well-fixed
Elbert Carstairs to live. Hard on the heels of that came another thought
and he stopped.
"What's the matter?" said Peter.
"We simply mustn't get mixed up in any doings here, you know. Can't
afford it. Whatever is going on, our rôle must be that of quiet
onlookers only. Remember that."
"Quiet onlookers it is. Hello! Did you see that?"
"Old duck in a felt hat walking behind us, a good distance off--I'd
heard him for some time. He stopped when we stopped, and when I turned
then I was just in time to see him go skipping up the side street."
"Well, what of it?"
"Not a thing. I'm interested in the sights of the town, that's all.
Listen to those hoodlums, will you?"
In the middle of that block rose a great public building of florid and
hideous architecture, absurdly expensive for so small a town, and
running fast to seed. On the corner ahead, at the crest of the slope,
stood the handsomest and most prosperous-looking building they had yet
seen. Its long side was cut by many windows, all brilliantly lit up, and
above the lower tier ran the gold-lettered legend:
WINES & LIQUORS. THE OTTOMAN. D. RYAN.
"When the saloon-keeper is the richest man in town," observed Peter,
"look out for trouble."
A roar of laughter, mingled with various derisive cries, broke out just
then, now from very near. The next minute the two men reached the brow
of the hill, and both stopped involuntarily, arrested by the tableau
which met their gaze beyond.
They stood on the upper side of a little rectangular "square," at the
lower edge of which, some fifty yards away, were gathered possibly
thirty or forty jostling and noisy men. Facing them, standing on a
carriage-block at the curb, stood a cool little man obviously engaged in
making a speech. The commonness of the men and the rough joviality of
their mood were the more accentuated by the supreme dignity of the
orator. He was a very small man, with pink cheeks and eye-glasses,
beautifully made and still more beautifully dressed; and for all their
boisterous "jollying" his auditors appeared rather to like him than the
The men from the _Cypriani_ crossed the square and came up with the
merry-making Hunstonians. Varney's gaze went round the circle of faces
and saw inefficiency, shiftlessness, and failure everywhere stamped
upon them. Suddenly his wandering eye was arrested by a face of quite a
different sort. Directly opposite stood the eccentric young man of the
row-boat, watching the show out of listless eyes whose expression never
"On that horse-block," said Peter, raising his voice to carry above an
outburst of catcalls and allegedly humorous comment, "stands the Hunston
Reform Movement. Giving 'em a ripping talk, too--all out of Bryce, Mill,
and the other fellows."
But at that moment, as luck had it, the oratory came to a sudden end. A
sportive bull-pup, malevolently released by some one in the crowd,
danced up to the horse-block, barking joyfully, and made a lightning
dive for the spellbinder's legs. The spellbinder dexterously
side-stepped; the dog's aim was diverted from that fleshy portion of the
thigh which his fancy had selected; but his snapping teeth closed firmly
in the tail of the pretty light-gray coat, which the little man wore
rather long according to the mode of the day. And there he swung,
kicking and snarling, squirming and grunting, in the liveliest fashion
Merry pandemonium broke out among the onlookers; they howled with
shameless delight. It was hardly a pleasant scene to witness, though
redeemed by the little orator's gameness. His face, when he took in what
had happened to him, slowly turned the color of a sheet of white paper.
With indescribable dignity, he descended from his rostrum, carrying the
dog along, and walked out into the ring. In front of a tall,
loose-jointed, scraggly-mustached fellow he paused, and stared him in
the eye with steady fixity.
"T-t-take your d-d-damned d-dog off me, Hackley," he said, stuttering
badly, but very cool.
But Hackley backed away, shaking his head and bellowing with laughter.
In an ecstasy of delight, the onlookers began pressing more closely
about the men, narrowing the circle. And then it was that Peter, quite
forgetting his rôle of quiet onlooker and unable for his life to
restrain himself longer, put his shoulder to the ring and broke a
vigorous way through. He touched the little orator on the arm.
"No need to trouble the gentleman," Varney heard him say pleasantly.
"Just hold the position a moment, please." And so saying he swung back
It landed with an impact that was loud and not agreeable to the ear. The
dog dropped with a frightful howl and, yelping madly, fled.
Simultaneously, cries arose about the ringside, and the dog's owner, an
alcoholic blaze in his eye, spat bitterly into his two palms and headed
straight for Peter.
"What in the blank-blank d' yer mean by kickin' my blank dog, you
blank-blankety-blank, you?" he inquired.
"I meant that he was behaving as no dog should," explained Peter, "and
the same remark applies to you."
He was not without skill at fisticuff, was Hackley. With the speed of a
tiger, he let out first his left fist, then his right, at Peter
Maginnis's head. But instead of arriving there, they collided with a
forearm which had about the resiliency of a two-foot stone-wall.
Simultaneously, Peter released his famous left-hook--had of the Bronx
Barman at ten dollars a lesson--and the fight was over.
Mr. Hackley's head struck first, and struck passionately; men picked him
up and bore him limply from the field. And Peter, a tiny spot of red in
the corner of his right eye, spoke thus to the horseshoe of watching
"You're a devil of a fine gang of red-hot sports, aren't you, boys? A
whole regiment of you with no more decency than to pick on one man like
this. I come from a white man's country where this kind of thing doesn't
go--thank God! And any man who has formed a bad opinion of my manners
and my general style of conversation can just step out into the ring and
let me explain my system to him."
But nobody accepted that invitation. Possibly the rub was that no one
cared to see that left-hook work again, at his own expense, or to
encourage any trouble to come athwart his quiet career. At any rate,
there were a few mutterings here and there; and then some one sang out:
"None fer mine, Mister! I ain't took out my life insurance yet."
There was a general laugh at this, and with that laugh Peter knew that
all hope of more fighting was gone. He bade them a sardonic good-night,
hooked his arm through the orator's (who actually showed signs of an
intention to resume his speech), and bore him off down the street.
The three men walked half a block in silence, and then the little
stranger stopped short.
"I say," he said in a faintly unsteady voice, "I want to thank you for
taking that confounded dog off me. In another minute he might have torn
my coat, don't you know?"
"Oh, that's all right," said Peter, repressing a smile. "Kicking dogs is
rather a specialty of mine, and it isn't often I get the chance to
attend to two of them in one evening. I wouldn't give the episode
The little man gave a sudden fierce laugh. "Oh, certainly not! It's a
mere bagatelle for a candidate for Mayor to get a hand-out like that
from a gathering of voters!"
"Mayor! I beg your pardon! Of course I didn't quite understand."
Whereupon Peter begged to introduce himself as an ardent amateur
statesman, a student of good government from New Hampshire to New
Zealand and from Plato to Lincoln Steffens, who had--er--come to Hunston
hoping to see something of the fight for reform. The candidate, in turn,
produced cards. It became apparent that he bore the name of J. Pinkney
Hare. And the upshot of the colloquy was that the two young men
presently found themselves invited to call upon Candidate Hare next
morning, and learn something of the situation.
"I'll be delighted," accepted Peter promptly,--"delighted."
"That's settled then. Good-night--and thanks awf'ly for your
He pivoted on his trim heels, abruptly, and went away up the side
Peter turned to Varney with a faint grin. "That chap gets his first
lesson in the art of being a reformer to-morrow. Curious, wasn't
it?--stumbling right into the heart of the agitation an hour after we
hit the town."
Varney, who had followed Peter's activities of the last five minutes
with considerable disapproval, did not answer his smile.
"Give me a hasty sketch of your conception of a quiet onlooker, will
"Tush!" said Peter. "Why, can't you see that this sort of thing will
make the finest kind of blind? St! Here's our little friend coming back
"I say," called the voice of J. Pinkney Hare out of the gloom.
"Yes?" said Peter.
The candidate drew nearer.
"Our city is not plentifully supplied with amusements," he began in his
somewhat pompous manner. "It just occurred to me that, in lieu of
anything better, you gentlemen might care to go home with me now. I
should be happy to have you--and to reciprocate your courtesy in any way
within my power."
Peter, doubtless remembering the slow time he had been having on the
yacht, brightened instantly and visibly.
"Why, _thanks_. I'll be awfully glad to come. I--er--I'm tremendously
interested in your situation here, I assure you."
Then, catching a warning glance from Varney, who politely declined the
invitation, he apologized to the candidate and drew his captain briefly
"I'll pick up all the information I can--understand?" he murmured
hurriedly. "And don't you worry. A little flurry in politics will make
the best sort of a cover for you while you sneak around after Mary."
On that the two friends parted. Peter hurried on after the little
reformer, and Varney, turning, continued his way down Main Street toward
the river and the _Cypriani_, not entirely displeased, after all, that
Peter had found some congenial diversion for the evening.
The street was almost a desert. If the unmistakable sounds of revelry by
night meant anything, nearly the whole population was behind him in the
Ottoman bar. But in the middle of the next block, two ragged men,
standing idly and talking together, turned at the sounds of the young
man's steps. One of them, revealed by a near-by shop-light, had straggly
gray whiskers, vacant eyes, and a bad foolish mouth. Both of them stared
at Varney with marked intentness. He had to go quite out of his way to
get round them.
"They don't see strangers every day, I take it," he thought absently;
and suddenly he cast an inquiring eye at the heavens.
The night, so shining half an hour before, was becoming heavily
overcast. Clouds had rolled up from nowhere and blotted out the moon.
About him the night breeze was freshening with a certain significance;
and now unexpectedly there fell upon his ear the faint far rumble of
thunder. Decidedly, there would be rain, and that right soon. Varney
quickened his pace.
At the end of that quiet block he came upon a crimson-cheeked lady,
somewhat past her first youth and over-plump for beauty, who was engaged
in putting up the shutters at her mother's grocery establishment.
Glancing around casually at his approach, her glance became transfixed
into a stare.
"Well!" she exclaimed in surprise and not without coquettishness--"if it
ain't Mr. Ferris!"
"If it ain't Mr. Ferris--what then?" asked Varney. "For, madam, I assure
you that it ain't."
The woman, taken aback by this denial, only stared and had no reply
ready. But the young man, walking on, was set to thinking by this second
encounter, and presently he mused: "I'm somebody's blooming double,
that's what. I wonder whose."
And on that word, as though to get an answer to his speculation, he
suddenly halted and turned.
He had now progressed nearly a block from the buxom young woman of the
grocery. For some time, even before that meeting, he had been aware of
light, steady footsteps behind him on the dark street, gaining on him.
By this time they had come very near; and now as he wheeled sharply,
with a vague anticipation of Peter's "old duck in a felt hat," he found
himself face to face with quite a different figure--that of a thin young
man whom he recognized.
"Bless us!" said Varney urbanely. "It's the student of manners again."
The pale young stranger stopped two paces away and gave back his look
with the utmost composure.
"Still on my studies," said he, in his flat tones--"though I doubt," he
added thoughtfully, "if that fully explains why I have followed you."
"Ah? Perhaps I may venture to ask what would explain it more fully?"
"Oh, certainly. My real motive was to suggest, purely because of a
paternal interest I take in you, that you leave town to-morrow
morning--you and your ferocious friend."
Varney eyed him amusedly. "But is not this somewhat--er--precipitate?"
"Oh, not a bit of it. In fact, you hardly require me to tell you, Beany,
that you were a great fool to come back at all."
"You don't mind if I sit down?"
A row of packing-cases clogged the sidewalk at the point where they
stood, and the young man dropped down wearily upon one of them, and
leaned back against the store-front.
"Beany?" repeated Varney.
"It was dark down on the river," observed the other slowly, "but the
instant I saw you on the square, I recognized you, and so, my friend,
will everybody else."
"With even better success, I trust, than you have done. For my name is
not Beany, but indeed Varney--Laurence Varney--permit me--"
"Ah, well! Stick it out if you prefer. In any case--"
"But do tell me the name of this individual to whom I bear such a
marked resemblance. I naturally--"
"The individual to whom you bear such a marked, I may say such a very
marked, resemblance," said the stranger, mockingly, "is a certain Mr.
Ferris Stanhope, a prosperous manufacturer of pink-tea literature. You
never heard the name--of course. But never mind about that. I should
advise you both to leave town anyway."
"Is it trespassing too far if I ask--"
"Any one who associates with little Hare, as I have a premonition that
you two will do if you stay, is born to trouble as the sparks fly
Varney came a step nearer and rested his foot on the edge of the
"Now that," said he, "is by all odds the best thing you've said yet.
Elucidate it a bit, won't you? I admit to some curiosity about that
little tableau in the square--"
"Yes? Well, I owe you one for that box of matches, Beany--er--Mr.--and
it would be rather asinine for you or your pugilistic partner to begin
monkeying with our buzz-saw. I happened, you see, to overhear part of
your talk with J. Pinkney Hare just now. How others might view it I know
not, but to me it seemed only fair to warn you that that interesting
young man must be shunned by the wise. As to the mayoralty, he has as
much chance of getting in as a jack-rabbit has of butting a way through
the Great Wall of China. For we have a great wall here of the sturdiest
He meant, as he briefly explained, the usual System, and back of it the
usual Boss: one Ryan, owner of the Ottoman saloon and the city of
Hunston, who held the town in the hollow of his coarse hand, and was
slowly squeezing it to death.
"The election," he went on listlessly, "is only two weeks off, but the
rascal isn't lifting a finger. He doesn't have to. To-morrow night he
holds what he calls his annual 'town-meeting'--a fake and a joke. The
trustful people gather, listen to speeches by Ryan retainers, quaff free
lemonade. Nominally, everybody is invited to speak; really only the
elect are permitted to. I saw a reform candidate try it once, and it was
interesting to see how scientifically they put a crimp in him."
"And J. Pinkney Hare?" queried Varney becoming rather interested.
Was everything, the young man explained, that Ryan was not--able,
honest, unselfish, public-spirited. Studying the situation quietly for a
year, he had uncovered a most unholy trail of graft leading to high
places. But when he began to try to tell the people about it, he found
his way hopelessly blocked at every turn.
"He can't even hire a hall," summarized the stranger. "Not to save his
immortal soul. That was the meaning of the ludicrous exhibition a few
minutes ago. In one word, he can't get a hearing. He might talk with the
tongues of men and angels, but nobody will listen to him. It is a dirty
shame. But what in the world can you expect? Lift a finger against the
gang, and, presto, your job's gone, and you can't find another high or
low. Ryan's money goes everywhere--into the schools, the church, the
press. The press. That, of course, is the System's most powerful ally.
The--infamous _Hollaston Gazette_--"
"The _Hollaston Gazette_--is that published here?" asked Varney in
surprise, for the _Gazette_ was famous: one of those very rare
small-town newspapers which, by reason of great age and signal editorial
ability, have earned a national place in American journalism.
"Named after the county. You have heard of it?" said the young man in a
faintly mocking voice, and immediately went on: "The _Gazette_ is eighty
years old. Even now, in these bad times, everybody in the county takes
it. They get all their opinions from it, ready-made. It is their Bible.
A fool can see what a power such a paper is. For seventy-seven years the
_Gazette_ fully deserved it. That was the way it won it. But all that is
changed now. And the paper is making a great deal of money."
"It is crooked, then?"
"I said, did I not, that it was for Ryan?"
He lounged further back in the shadows upon his packing-case; he
appeared not to be feeling well at all. Varney regarded him with puzzled
"A very depressing little story," he suggested, "but after all, hardly a
novel one. I don't yet altogether grasp why--"
"Your Jeffries of a friend is a red-hot political theorist, isn't he?"
asked the other apathetically. "Our Hunston politicians are practical
men. They are after results, and seek them with small regard, I fear,
to copy-book precepts. You follow me? Rusticating strangers, visiting
sociological students, itinerant idealists, these would do well to speak
softly and walk on the sunny side of the road."
"You appear," said Varney, his curiosity increasingly piqued, "to speak
of these matters with authority--"
"Rather let us say with certitude."
"Possibly you yourself have felt the iron-toothed bite of the machine?"
The young man looked shocked; slowly his pale face took on a look of
cynical amusement. "Yes, yes. Certainly. Who more so?" He appeared to
hesitate a moment, and then added with a laugh which held a curious
tinge of defiance: "In fact, I myself have the honor of being the owner
and editor of the _Gazette_--Coligny Smith, at your service--"
"Coligny Smith!" echoed Varney amazed.
The young man glanced up. "It was my father you have heard of. He died
three years ago. However," he added, with an odd touch of pride, "he
always said that I wrote the better articles."
There was a moment's silence. Varney felt by turns astonished,
disgusted, sorry, embarrassed. Then he burst out laughing.
"Well, you have a nerve to tell me this. Smith. In doing so, you seem to
have brought our conversation to a logical conclusion. I thank you for
your kindly advice and piquant confession, and so, good evening."
Mr. Smith straightened on his packing-case and spoke with unexpected
"Oh--must you go? The night's so young--why not--come up to the Ottoman
and have something? I'll--I'd be glad to explain--"
"I fear I cannot yield to the editorial blandishments this evening."
"Oh, nothing. But remember--you'll get into trouble if you stay."
He went on toward his waiting gig feeling vaguely displeased with the
results of his half-hour ashore, and deciding that for the future it
would be best to give the town a wide berth. The privacy of the yacht
better suited his mission than Main Street, Hunston. However, the end
was not yet. He had not reached the landing before a thought came to him
which stopped him in his tracks.
INTRODUCES MARY CARSTAIRS AND ANOTHER
Clearly he must see Peter, at once, before that impetuous enthusiast had
had time to involve himself in anything, and tell him bluntly that he
must leave the affairs of Hunston alone until their own delicate
business had been safely disposed of.
In such a matter as this it was not safe to take chances. Varney had a
curious feeling that young Mr. Smith's melodramatic warnings had been
offered in a spirit of friendliness, rather than of hostility.
Nevertheless, the eccentric young man had unmistakably threatened them.
While Varney had been more interested by the man, personally, than by
his whimsical menaces, the editor's conversation could certainly not be
called reassuring. Smith owned a corrupt newspaper; he was a clever man
and, by his own confession, an unscrupulous one, bought body and soul by
the local freebooters; and if he thought the headlong intruder Maginnis
important enough to warrant it, there were presumably no lengths to
which he would not go to make the town uncomfortable for him, to the
probable prejudice of their mission. Clearly, here was a risk which he,
as Mr. Carstairs's emissary, had no right to incur. The _Cypriani_ was
in no position to stand the fire of vindictive yellow journalism.
Besides, there was the complicating matter of his own curious
resemblance to somebody whom, it seemed, Hunston knew, and not too
Considerably annoyed, Varney turned his face back toward the town. To
avoid more publicity, he turned off the main thoroughfare to a narrow
street which paralleled it, and, walking rapidly, came in five minutes
to the street where Peter and the little candidate had left him. This
street came as a surprise to him: Hunston's best "residence section"
beyond doubt. It was really pretty, spaciously wide and flanked by
handsome old trees. Houses rose at increasingly long intervals as one
got away from the town; and they were for the most part charming-looking
houses, set in large lawns and veiled from public scrutiny by much fine
Varney cast about for somebody who would give him his bearings, and had
not far to look.
Puffing stolidly on the butt of an alleged cigar, into which he had
stuck a sharpened match as a visible means of support, a boy who was
probably not so old as he looked sat upon the curbstone at the corner,
and claimed the world for his cuspidor. He was an ill-favored runt of a
boy, with a sedate manner and a face somewhat resembling a hickory-nut.
Varney, approaching, asked him where Mr. Hare lived. Without turning
around, or desisting an instant from the tending of his cigar (which,
indeed, threatened a decease at any moment), the boy replied:
"Acrost an' down, one half a block. Little yaller house wit' green
blinds and ornings. Yer could n't miss it. Yer party left dere ten
minutes ago, dough."
"What party?" asked Varney puzzled.
"Tall big party wit' yaller hat, stranger here. Seen him beatin' it out
the street for the road, him and Hare. Goin' some, they was."
"How did you know I was looking for that party?"
"Took a chanst," said the boy. "Do I win?"
His stoical gravity made Varney smile. "You do--a good cigar. That one
of yours has one foot in the grave, hasn't it?"
"T'ank you, boss."
"By the way," he added casually, struck by a thought, "Mrs. Carstairs
must live on this street somewhere, doesn't she? Which way?"
"Same way as yer party went. Last house on de street--Remsen Street. Big
white one, up on a hill like."
Varney hurried off on the trail of his elusive friend. He was puzzled in
the last degree to know why Peter, having just entered Hare's house,
should have left it at once and gone racing off, with Hare, down this
empty street toward the open country. The one explanation that occurred
to him was on the whole an unwelcome one. This was that he had made an
opening to introduce the subject of Mary Carstairs, and the grateful
candidate had volunteered his friendly offices--perhaps to show Peter
the house, perhaps actually to take him up and present him.
In the light of a depressed corner-lamp he glanced at his watch. Having
supposed that it must be nearly nine o'clock, he was surprised to find
that it was only a few minutes after eight. He had the handsome street
to himself. The night had grown very dark, and the faint but continuous
rumble of thunder was a warning to all pedestrians to seek shelter
without delay. Varney's stride was swift. Whatever Peter meant to do, he
wanted to overtake him before he did it, and gently lead him to
understand, here at the outset, that he was a subordinate in this
expedition, expected to do nothing without orders from above.
But he found himself at the end of the street, and saw the country road
dimly winding on beyond, without having found a trace of Peter, or seen
any other human being. Here, for all his hurry, he was checked for a
moment by a sudden new interest. Mindful of the boy's succinct
directions, he paused in the shadow of the wood, which here came to the
sidewalk's edge, and looked across the street for the residence of Mrs.
Through the trees of a sloping lawn, his gaze fell at once upon a wide
rambling white house, directly opposite, well back from the street and
approached by a winding white driveway. The house was well lighted;
there was a porch-lamp lit; over the carriage-gate hung a large electric
globe. Despite the darkness of the night, Varney had a first-rate view.
The house was big; it was white; unquestionably it was up on a hill
like. In fact there could be no doubt in the world that this was the
house he had come from New York to find.
The sight drew and interested him beyond all expectation. Presently, by
a curious coincidence, something happened which increased his interest
tenfold. His eye had run over the house, about the lawn, even up at the
windows, taking in every detail. There was no sign of life anywhere. But
now as he stood and watched, the swing front-door was unexpectedly
pushed open, and, like some feat in mental telepathy, a girl stepped out
upon the piazza.
Involuntarily Varney shrank back into the shadows, assuming by instinct
the best conspirators' style, and glued his eyes upon the impelling
sight. Not that the girl herself was peculiarly fascinating to the eye.
The porch-light revealed her perfectly: a small, dark, nondescript
child, not above thirteen years old, rather badly dressed and, to say
truth, not attractive-looking in any way. But to Varney, at the moment,
she was the most irresistibly interesting figure in the six continents.
She came to the top of the step and stood there, peering out into the
darkness as though looking for some one. Varney, from his dark retreat
stared back at her. There they stood unexpectedly face to face, the
kidnapper and his quarry. A sudden wild impulse seized the young man to
act immediately: to make a dash from his cover, bind the girl's mouth
with his handkerchief, toss her over his shoulder, and fly with her to
the yacht. That was the way these things ought to be done, not by the
tedious and furtive methods of chicanery. But, since this man-like
method was forbidden him, why should he not at least cross boldly and go
in--a lost wayfarer inquiring for directions--anything to start up the
vitally necessary acquaintance? Would he ever have a better chance?
The thought had hardly come to him before the child herself killed it.
She turned as suddenly as she had come and disappeared into the house.
That broke the spell; and Varney, interested by the discovery that his
heart was beating above normal, slipped unseen from his lurking-place,
and resumed his interrupted progress after Peter and Hare.
Beyond the Carstairs's fence of hedge, the houses stopped with the
sidewalk. The highway, having no longer anything to keep up appearances
for, dwindled into an ordinary country road, meandering through an
ordinary country wood. What could have carried Peter out here it was
impossible to conceive; but clearly something had, and Varney raced on,
hoping at every moment to descry his great form looming up ahead of him
out of the blackness.
What luck--what beautiful luck--to have found her in his very first hour
in Hunston! It was half his work done in the wink of an eye. To-morrow
morning, the first thing, he would return to this quiet street, watch at
his ease for the child to come outdoors, saunter calmly from his
hiding-place, make friends with her. By this time to-morrow night, in
all human probability, he would be back in New York, his errand safely
accomplished. That done, Peter could play politics to his heart's
content. Meantime, it was more desirable than ever to tell him of these
unexpected developments and deter him from taking any step which might
complicate the game....
A loud thunderclap crashed across the train of his thought. Another and
a worse one crowded close upon it. He glanced up through the trees into
the inky cavern of the skies, and a single large drop of water spattered
upon his upturned forehead.
"Hang it!" he thought disgustedly. "Here comes the rain."
It came as though at his word, and with unbelievable suddenness. Thunder
rolled; the breeze stiffened into a gale. Another drop fell upon his
hat, and then another, and another. The young man came to an unwilling
But he immediately saw that further pursuit was, for the moment at
least, out of the question. The storm broke with a violence strangely at
variance with the calm of the earlier evening. The heavens opened and
the floods descended. Shelter was to be found at once, if at all, but as
he hesitated, he remembered suddenly that he had not passed a house in
five minutes. In the same moment his eye fell upon a little cottage just
ahead of him, unlighted and barely perceptible in the thick darkness,
standing off the road not a hundred feet away. He made for it through
the driving rain and wind, stepped upon the narrow porch, discovered
immediately that it gave him no protection at all, and knocked loudly
upon the shut door. He got no answer. Trying it with a wet hand he
perceived that it was unlocked; and without more ado, he opened it and
It was evidently, as he had surmised, an empty house. The hall was dark
and very quiet. He leaned against the closed front door and dipped into
his pockets for a match. Behind him the rain fell in torrents, and the
turbulent wind dashed after it and hurled it against the streaming
windows. It had turned in half an hour from a peaceful evening to a wild
night, a night when all men of good sense and good fortune should be
sitting secure and snug by their own firesides. And where, oh where, was
Speculating gloomily on this and still exploring his pockets for a
match, he heard a noise not far away in the dark, and knew suddenly that
he was not alone. The next moment a voice floated to him out of the
blackness near at hand, clear, but a little irresolute, faintly
"Didn't some one come in? Who is there?"
It was a woman's voice and a wholly charming one. There could hardly
have been its match in Hunston.
"What a very interesting town!" the young man thought. "People to talk
to every way you turn."
THE HERO TALKS WITH A LADY IN THE DARK
Varney called reassuringly into the gloom: "I sincerely beg your pardon
for bursting in like that. I--had no idea there was any one here."
There was a second's pause.
"N--no," said the pretty voice, hesitatingly. "You--you couldn't--of
"But please tell me at once," he said, puzzled by this--"have I taken
the unforgivable liberty of breaking into your house?"
"My house?" And he caught something like bewildered relief in her voice.
"Why--I--was thinking that I had broken into yours."
Varney laughed, his back against the door.
"If it were, I'm sure I should be able to offer you a light at the
least. If it were yours, now that I stop to think--well, perhaps it
_would_ be a little eccentric for you to be sitting there in your parlor
in the inky dark."
To this there came no reply.
"I suppose you, like me," he continued courteously, "are an unlucky
wayfarer who had to choose hastily between trespassing and being
Inevitably he found himself wondering what this lady who shared his
stolen refuge could be like. That she was a lady her voice left no
doubt. His eye strained off into the Ethiopian blackness, but could make
neither heads nor tails of it.
"Voices always go by contraries," he thought. "She's fifty-two and wears
Aloud he said: "But please tell me quite frankly--am I intruding?"
"Not at all," said the lady, only that and nothing more.
"Perhaps then you won't object if I find a seat? Leaning against a door
is so dull, don't you think?"
He groped forward, hands outstretched before him, stumbled against the
stairway which he sought, and sat down uncomfortably on the
next-to-the-bottom step. Then suddenly the oddness of his situation
rushed over him, and, vexed though he was with the chain of needless
circumstances which had brought him into it, he with difficulty
repressed a laugh.
An hour ago he had been lounging at peace upon the yacht, looking
forward to nothing more titillating than bed at the earliest respectable
hour. Now he was sitting with a strange lady of uncertain age in an
unlighted cottage on a lonely country road, while a howling thunderstorm
raved outside imprisoning him for nobody could say how long. In the
interval between these two extremes, he had discovered that he was a
"double," been threatened with violence, hopelessly lost Peter, and
found Mary Carstairs. Surely and in truth, a pretty active hour's work!
On the tin roof of the cottage the rain beat a wild tattoo. Within, the
silence lengthened. Under the circumstances, Varney considered reserve
on the lady's part not unnatural; but a little talk, as he viewed the
matter, would tend to help the dreary evening through.
He cleared his throat for due notice and began with a laugh.
"I was industriously chasing two men from town when the storm caught me.
You know what I mean--not drumming them out of the city, but merely
pursuing them in this general direction. I wonder if by any chance you
happened to pass them on the road?"
"N-no, I believe not."
"A very small man, very well-dressed, and a very large man, very badly
dressed, wearing a kind of curious, rococo straw hat. I know," he mused,
"that you could not have forgotten that hat. Once seen--"
"Oh!" she exclaimed with sudden evidences of interest--"do tell me--is
the smaller man you mention Mr. Hare?"
"He is indeed," he answered surprised. "You know him? Oh,
yes,--certainly! In Hunston--"
"Know him!" said she in tones of hardly suppressed indignation. "It is
he who is responsible for my being caught in this--this annoying
At something in the way the lady said that, Varney unconsciously chipped
twenty years off her age and conceded that she might be no more than
"I'm sorry to hear that," he said with a laugh. "I should say that Mr.
Hare has already had quite enough troubles for one night."
"Oh--then you have seen him this evening?"
"I had the pleasure of meeting him on the square not half an hour ago."
Each waited for the other to say more; and it was the lady who yielded.
She went on hesitatingly, yet somehow as if she were not unwilling to
justify herself to this stranger in the curious position in which she
"It--is very strange--and unlike him," she said doubtfully. "He was to
call for me--at quarter past seven--and take me home. I was at the
seamstress's, perhaps quarter of a mile up the road. I waited and
waited--and then--Oh--what was that, do you know?"
"Only this old floor cracking. Don't flatter it by noticing. How odd to
find, meeting in this way, that we are both searching for the same man.
"It--seems to me even odder to find that he is not searching for me."
She was sitting, so he judged from the sound, about fifteen feet away.
There was coldness in her voice as she spoke of the candidate. Varney
felt sorry for that young man when he next held converse with her. From
her voice he had also gathered that the dark rather frightened her, and
that the presence of an unknown man had not allayed her uneasiness;
though something of her reserve had vanished, he thought, when she found
that the intruder knew Mr. Hare.
"Oh, but he was--is!" he cried encouragingly.
"I'm positive that he's searching for you at this minute. Why, of
course--certainly! That would explain the whole thing."
Sitting damply on the dark stairway, he told of J. Pinkney Hare's
evidently impromptu experiences in the public square, which had
undoubtedly knocked from his mind all memory of his engagement at the
seamstress's; and of the sudden recollection of it, which, there could
be no question, was what had sent him and his new friend bursting out of
the house and tearing for dear life up the road.
"I'll bet," said he, "that not a minute after you turned into shelter,
they raced by here after you. Now they're kicking their heels at the
sewing-lady's, probably soaked through, and wild to know if you got home
safely. Oh, he's being punished for his sins, never fear."
"I--am sorry for your friend," her voice replied. "And I believe that I
forgive Mr. Hare--now that I know what detained him. I think I must have
heard them go by--just after I got in. Once I was sure I heard voices,
but, of course, I was expecting Mr. Hare to be alone."
"Ha!" thought Varney. "A Hunston romance!"
"You don't know Maginnis," he answered gloomily. "Nobody in the world
ever stays alone long when Maginnis can possibly get to him."
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