X y z a detective story, p.1
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       X Y Z: A Detective Story, p.1

           Anna Katharine Green
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X Y Z: A Detective Story

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  27 & 29 WEST 23D STREET



  X. Y. Z.




  Sometimes in the course of his experience, a detective, while engaged inferreting out the mystery of one crime, runs inadvertently upon the clueto another. But rarely has this been done in a manner more unexpected orwith attendant circumstances of greater interest than in the instance Iam now about to relate.

  For some time the penetration of certain Washington officials had beenbaffled by the clever devices of a gang of counterfeiters who hadinundated the western portion of Massachusetts with spurious Treasurynotes. Some of the best talent of the Secret Service had been expendedupon the matter, but with no favorable result, when, one day, noticewas received at Washington that a number of suspicious-looking letters,addressed to the simple initials, X. Y. Z., Brandon, Mass., were beingdaily forwarded through the mails of that region; and it being deemedpossible that a clue had at last been offered to the mystery in hand, Iwas sent northward to investigate.

  It was in the middle of June, 1881, and the weather was simplydelightful. As I stepped from the cars at Brandon and looked up the longstraight street with its double row of maple trees sparkling fresh andbeautiful in the noonday sun, I thought I had never seen a prettiervillage or entered upon any enterprise with a lighter or more hopefulheart.

  Intent on my task, I went straight to the post-office, and after comingto an understanding with the postmaster, proceeded at once to look overthe mail addressed to the mysterious X. Y. Z.

  I found it to consist entirely of letters. They were about a dozen innumber, and were, with one exception, similar in general appearance andmanner of direction, though inscribed in widely different handwritings,and posted from various New England towns. The exception to which Iallude had these few extra words written in the lower left-hand cornerof the envelope: "_To be kept till called for._" As I bundled up theletters preparatory to thrusting them back into the box, I noticed thatthe latter was the only one in a blue envelope, all the others being inthe various shades of cream-color and buff.

  "Who is in the habit of calling for these letters?" I asked of thepostmaster.

  "Well," said he, "I don't know his name. The fact is nobody knows himaround here. He usually drives up in a buggy about nightfall, calls forletters addressed to X. Y. Z., and having got them, whips up his horseand is off again before one can say a word."

  "Describe him," said I.

  "Well, he is very lean and very lank. In appearance he is both green andawkward. His complexion is pale, almost sickly. Were it not for his eye,which is keen and twinkling, I should call him an extremelyinoffensive-looking person."

  The type was not new to me. "I should like to see him," said I.

  "You will have to wait till nightfall, then," returned the postmaster."He never comes till about dusk. Drop in here, say at seven o'clock, andI will see that you have the opportunity of handing him his mail."

  I nodded acquiescence to this and sauntered out of the enclosure devotedto the uses of the post-office. As I did so I ran against a young manwho was hurriedly approaching from the other end of the store.

  "Your pardon," he cried; and I turned to look at him, so gentlemanly washis tone, and so easy the bow with which he accompanied this simpleapology.

  He was standing before the window of the post-office, waiting for hismail; a good-looking, well-made young man, of a fine countenance, butwith a restless eye, whose alert yet anxious expression I could not butnote even in the casual glance I gave him. There appeared to be somedifficulty in procuring him his mail, and each minute he was keptwaiting seemed to increase his impatience almost beyond the bounds ofendurance. I saw him lean forward and gasp out a hurried word to thepostmaster, and was idly wondering over his anxiety and its probablecauses, when I heard a hasty exclamation near me, and looking around,saw the postmaster himself beckoning to me from the door of theenclosure. I immediately hastened forward.

  "I don't know what it means," he whispered; "but here is a young man,different from any who have been here before, asking for a letteraddressed to X. Y. Z."

  "A letter?" I repeated.

  "Yes, a letter."

  "Give him the whole batch and see what he does," I returned, drawingback where I could myself watch the result of my instructions. Thepostmaster did as I requested. In another moment I saw the young manstart with amazement as a dozen letters were put in his hand. "These arenot all for me!" he cried, but even as he made the exclamation, drew toone side, and with a look of mingled perplexity and concern, beganopening them one after another, his expression deepening to amazement ashe glanced at their contents. The one in the blue envelope, however,seemed to awaken quite different emotions. With an unconscious look ofrelief, he hastily read the short letter it contained, then with a quickgesture, folded it up and thrust it back into the envelope he held,together with the other letters, in his left hand.

  "There must be another X. Y. Z.," said he, approaching the window of thepost-office and handing back all the letters he had received, with theexception of the one in the blue envelope, which with a quick movementhe had separated from the rest and thrust into his coat-pocket. "I canlay claim to none of these." And with a repetition of his easy bow heturned away and hurriedly quitted the store, followed by the eyes ofclerks and customers, to whom he was evidently as much of a stranger ashe was to me. Without hesitation I went to the door and looked afterhim. He was just crossing the street to the tavern on the other side ofthe way. I saw him enter, felt that he was safe to remain there for afew minutes, and conscious of the great opportunity awaiting me,hastened back to the postmaster.

  "Well," cried I, in secret exultation, "our plan has worked admirably.Let me see the letters. As they have been opened, and through no faultof ours, a peep at them now in the cause of justice will harm none butthe guilty."

  The postmaster demurred, but I soon overcame his scruples; and takingdown the letters once more, hastily investigated their contents. I ownthat I was considerably disappointed at the result. In fact, I foundnothing that pointed toward the counterfeiters; only in each letter awritten address, together with fifty cents' worth of stamps.

  "Some common fraud," I exclaimed. "One of those cheap affairs where, forfifty cents enclosed, a piece of information calculated to insurefortune to the recipient is promised by return of mail."

  And disgusted with the whole affair I bundled up the letters, and wasabout to replace them in the box for the third time when I discoveredthat it still held a folded paper. Drawing this out, I opened it andstarted in fresh amazement. If I was not very much mistaken in theappearance of the letter in the blue envelope which I had seen theyoung man read with so much interest, this was certainly it. But howcame it here? Had I not seen him thrust it back into its envelope andafterward put envelope and all into his pocket? But here was noenvelope, and here was the letter. By what freak of necromancy had itbeen transferred from its legitimate quarters to this spot? I could notimagine. Suddenly I remembered that his hand had been full of the otherletters when he put, or endeavored to put, this sp
ecial one back intoits envelope, and however unaccountable it may seem, it must be thatfrom haste or agitation he had only succeeded in thrusting it betweentwo letters instead of into the envelope, as he supposed. Whether or notthis explanation be true, there was no doubt about my luck being in theascendant. Mastering my satisfaction, I read these lines written in whatappeared to be a disguised hand.

  "All goes well. The time has come; every thing is in train, and success is certain. Be in the shrubbery at the northeast corner of the grounds at 9 P.M. precisely; you will be given a mask and such other means as are necessary to insure you the accomplishment of the end you have in view. He cannot hold out against a surprise. The word, by which you will know your friends, is COUNTERFEIT."

  "Ah, ha!" thought I, "this is more like it." And moved by a suddenimpulse, I hastily copied the letter into my memorandum-book, and thenreturning to the original, scratched out with my penknife the wordnortheast and carefully substituting that of southwest put the letterback into the box, in the hope that when he came to consult the envelopein his pocket (as he would be sure to do sooner or later) he would missits contents and return to the post-office in search of it.

  Nor was I mistaken. I had scarcely accomplished my task, when here-entered the store, asked to see the letters he had returned, andfinding amongst them the one he had lost, disappeared with it back tothe tavern. "If he is surprised to read southwest this time instead ofnortheast, he will think his memory played him false in the firstinstance," cried I, in inward comment over my last doubtful stroke ofpolicy; and turning to the postmaster, I asked him what place there wasin the vicinity which could be said to possess grounds and a shrubbery.

  "There is but one," he returned, "Mr. Benson's. All the rest of thefolks are too poor to indulge in any such gimcracks."

  "And who is Mr. Benson?"

  "Well, he is Mr. Benson, the richest man in these parts and the leastliked as I take it. He came here from Boston two years ago and built ahouse fit for a king to live in. Why, nobody knows, for he seems to takeno pleasure in it. His children do though, and that is all he cares forI suppose. Young Mr. Benson especially seems to be never tired ofwalking about the grounds, looking at the trees and tying up the vines.Miss Carrie is different; all she wants is company. But little of thathas her father ever allowed her till this very day. He seems to thinknobody is good enough to sit down in his parlors; and yet he don't sitthere himself, the strange man! but is always shut up in his library orsome other out-of-the-way place."

  "A busy man?"

  "I suppose so, but no one ever sees any thing he does."

  "Writes, perhaps?"

  "I don't know; he never talks about himself."

  "How did he get his money?"

  "That we don't know. It seems to accumulate without his help orinterference. When he came here he was called rich, but to-day he issaid to be worth three times what he was then."

  "Perhaps he speculates?"

  "If he does, it must be through his son, for he never leaves homehimself."

  "Has two children, you say?"

  "Yes, a son and a daughter: a famous young man, the son; not so muchliked, perhaps, as universally respected. He is too severe and reticentto be a favorite, but no one ever found him doing any thing unworthy ofhimself. He is the pride of the county, and if he were a bit suaver inmanner might have been in Congress at this minute."

  "How old?"

  "Thirty, I should say."

  "And the girl?"

  "Twenty-five, perhaps."

  "A mother living?"

  "No; there were some strange stories of her having died a year or sobefore they came here, under circumstances of a somewhat distressingnature, but they themselves say nothing about it."

  "It seems to me they don't say much about any thing."

  "That's just it; they are the most reserved people you ever saw. Itisn't from them we have heard there is another son floating somewhereabout the world. They never speak of him, and what's more, they neverwrite to him; as who should know better than myself?"

  An interruption here occurred, and I took the opportunity to saunter outinto the crowd of idlers always to be found hanging around a countrystore at mail-time. My purpose was, as you may conceive, to pick up anystray bits of information that might be floating about concerning theseBensons. Not that I had as yet discovered any thing definite connectingthis respectable family with the gang of counterfeiters upon whosetrack I had been placed; but business is business, and no clue, howeverslight or unpromising in its nature, is to be neglected when the way isas dark as that which lay before me. With an easy smile, therefore,calculated to allay apprehension and awaken confidence, I took my standamong these loungers. But I soon found that I need do nothing to startthe wheel of gossip on the subject of the Bensons. It was already going,and that with a force and spirit that almost took my breath away.

  "A fancy ball!" were the first words I heard. "The Bensons give a fancyball, when they never had three persons at a time in their housebefore!"

  "Yes, and what's more, they are going to have folks over from Claytonand Lawrence and Hollowell and devil knows where. It's to be a smash up,a regular fandango, with masks and all that kind of nonsense."

  "They say Miss Carrie teased her father till he had to give in inself-defence. It's her birthday or something like that, and she _would_have a party."

  "But such a party! who ever heard the like in a respectable town likethis! It's wicked, that's what I call it, downright wicked to cover upthe face God has given you and go strutting around in clothes aChristian man might well think borrowed from the Evil One if he had towear them in any decent company. All wrong, I say, all wrong, and I amastonished at Mr. Benson. To keep his doors shut as he has, and then toopen them in a burst to all sorts of folly. We are not invited at ourhouse."

  "Nor we, nor we," shouted some half dozen.

  "And I don't know of any one in this town who is," cried a burly man,presumably a butcher by trade. "We are not good enough for the Bensons.They say he is even going to be mean enough to shut the gates and notlet a soul inside who hasn't a ticket. And they are going to light upthe grounds too!"

  "We can peep through the fence."

  "Much we will see that way. If you had said climb it--"

  "We can't climb it. Big John is going to be there and Tom Henshaw. Theymean to keep their good times to themselves, just as they have keptevery thing else. It's a queer set they are anyway, and the less wehave to do with them the better."

  "I should like to see Hartley Benson in masquerade costume, I would."

  "Oh, he won't wear any of the fol-de-rol; he's too dignified." And withthat there fell a sudden hush over the crowd, for which I was at a lossto account, till, upon looking up, I saw approaching on horseback, ayoung man in whom I had no difficulty in recognizing the subject of thelast remark.

  Straight, slight, elegant in appearance, but with an undoubted reserveof manner apparent even at a distance, he rode up to where I stood, andcasting a slight glance around, bowed almost imperceptibly, andalighted. A boy caught the bridle of his horse, and Mr. Benson, withouta word or further look, passed quickly into the office, leaving asilence behind him that was not disturbed till he returned with what wasevidently his noonday mail. Remounting his horse, he stopped a moment tospeak to a man who had just come up, and I seized the opportunity tostudy his face. I did not like it. It was handsome without doubt; thefeatures were regular, the complexion fair, the expression gentlemanlyif not commanding; but I did not like it. It was too impenetrableperhaps; and to a detective anxious to probe a man for his motives, thisis ever a most fatal defect. His smile was without sunshine; his glancewas an inquiry, a rebuke, a sarcasm, every thing but a revelation. As herode away he carried with him the thought of all, yet I doubt if theadmiration he undoubtedly inspired, was in a single case mixed with anywarmer feeling than that of pride in a fellow townsman they could notunderstand. "Ice," t
hought I; "ice in all but its transparency!" So muchfor Benson the son.

  The ball was to take place that very night; and the knowledge of thisfact threw a different light over the letter I had read. The word _mask_had no longer any special significance, neither the word _counterfeit_,and yet such was the tenor of the note itself, and such the exaggeratednature of its phrases, I could not but feel that some plot of areprehensible if not criminal nature was in the process of formation,which, as a rising young detective engaged in a mysterious and elusivesearch, it behooved me to know. And moved by this consideration, Iturned to a new leaf in my memorandum-book, and put down in black andwhite the following facts thus summarily collected:

  "A mysterious family with a secret.

  "Rich, but with no visible means of wealth.

  "Secluded, with no apparent reason for the same.

  "A father who is a hermit.

  "A son who is impenetrable.

  "A daughter whose tastes are seldom gratified.

  "The strange fact of a ball being given by this family after years ofreserve and non-intercourse with their neighbors.

  "The still stranger fact of it being a masquerade, a style ofentertainment which, from its novelty and the opportunities it affords,makes this departure from ordinary rules seem marked and startling.

  "The discovery of a letter appointing a rendezvous between two personsof the male sex, in the grounds of the party giving this ball, in whichthe opportunities afforded by a masquerade are to be used for forwardingsome long-cherished scheme."

  At the bottom of this I wrote a deduction:

  "Some connection between one or more members of this family giving theball, and the person called to the rendezvous; the entertainment beingused as a blind if not as a means."

  It was now four o'clock, five hours before the time of rendezvous. Howshould I employ the interval? A glance at the livery-stable hard by,determined me. Procuring a horse, I rode out on the road toward Mr.Benson's, for the purpose of reconnoitring the grounds; but as Iproceeded I was seized by an intense desire to penetrate into the midstof this peculiar household, and judge for myself whether it was worthwhile to cherish any further suspicions in regard to this family. Buthow to effect such an entrance? What excuse could I give for myintrusion that would be likely to serve me on a day of such tumult andpreoccupation? I looked up and down the road as if for inspiration. Itdid not come. Meanwhile, the huge trees that surrounded the house hadloomed in sight, and presently the beauties of lawn and parterre beganto appear beyond the high iron fence, through which I could catch nowand then short glimpses of hurrying forms, as lanterns were hung on thetrees and all things put in readiness for the evening's entertainment.Suddenly a thought struck me. If Mr. Benson was the man they said, hewas not engaged in any of these arrangements. Mr. Benson was a hermit.Now what could I say that would interest a hermit? I racked my brains; asingle idea came. It was daring in its nature, but what of that! Thegate must be passed, Mr. Benson must be seen--or so my adventurouscuriosity decided,--and to do it, something must be ventured. Taking outmy card, which was simply inscribed with my name, I wrote on it,"_Business private and immediate_," and assuming my most gentlemanly andinoffensive manner, rode calmly through the gate to the front of thehouse. If I had been on foot I doubt if I would have been allowed topass by the servant lounging about in that region, but the horse carriedme through in more senses than one, and almost before I realized it, Ifound myself pausing before the portico, in full view of a dozen or morebusy men and boys.

  Imitating the manner of Mr. Benson at the post-office, I jumped from myhorse and threw the bridle to the boy nearest me. Instantly and before Icould take a step, a servant issued from the open door, and with anexpression of anxiety somewhat surprising under the circumstances, tookhis stand before me in a way to hinder my advance.

  "Mr. Benson does not receive visitors to-day," said he.

  "I am not a visitor," replied I; "I have business with Mr. Benson," andI handed him my card, which he looked at with a doubtful expression.

  "Mr. Benson's commands are not to be disobeyed," persisted the man. "Mymaster sees no one to-day."

  "But this is an exceptional case," I urged, my curiosity rising at thisunexpected opposition. "My business is important and concerns him. Hecannot refuse to see me."

  The servant shook his head with what appeared to me to be an unnecessaryexpression of alarm, but nevertheless retreated a step, allowing me toenter. "I will call Mr. Hartley," cried he.

  But that was just what I did not wish. It was Benson the father I hadcome to see, and I was not to be baffled in this way.

  "Mr. Hartley won't do," said I, in my lowest but most determinedaccents. "If Mr. Benson is not ill, I must beg to be admitted to hispresence." And stepping inside the small reception room at my right, Isat down on the first chair I came to.

  The man stood for a moment confounded at my pertinacity, then with alast scrutinizing look, that took in every detail of my person andapparel, drew slowly off, shaking his head and murmuring to himself.

  Meanwhile the mingled splendor and elegance of my surroundings wereslowly making their impression upon me. The hall by which I had enteredwas spacious and imposing; the room in which I sat, a model of beauty indesign and finish. I was allowing myself the luxury of studying itspictures and numerous works of art, when the sound of voices reached myear from the next room. A man and woman were conversing there insmothered tones, but my senses are very acute, and I had no difficultyin overhearing what was said.

  "Oh, what an exciting day this has been!" cried the female voice. "Ihave wanted to ask you a dozen times what you think of it all. Will hesucceed this time? Has he the nerve to embrace his opportunity, or whatis more, the tact to make one? Failure now would be fatal. Father--"

  "Hush!" broke in the other voice, in a masculine tone of repressedintensity. "Do not forget that success depends upon your prudence. Onewhisper of what you are about, and the whole scheme is destroyed."

  "I will be careful; only do you think that all is going well and as weplanned it?"

  "It will not be my fault if it does not," was the reply, uttered with anaccent so sinister I was conscious of a violent surprise when, in thenext instant, the other, with a burst of affectionate fervor, cried inan ardent tone:

  "Oh, how good you are, and what a comfort you are to me!"

  I was just pondering over the incongruity thus presented, when theservant returned with my card.

  "Mr. Benson wishes to know the nature of your business," said he, in avoice I was uncomfortably conscious must penetrate to the next room andawake its inmates to a knowledge of my proximity.

  "Let me have the card," said I; and taking it, I added to my words thesimple phrase, "_On behalf of the Constable of the town_," remembering Ihad heard the postmaster say this position was held by his brother."There," said I, "carry that back to your master."

  The servant took the card, glanced down at the words I had written,started and hastily drew back. "You had better come," said he, leadingthe way into the hall.

  I was only too glad to comply; in fact, escape from that room seemedimperative. But just as I was crossing the threshold, a sudden, quickcry, half joyful, half fearful, rose behind me, and turning, I met theeyes of a young lady peering upon me from a lifted _portiere_, with anexpression of mingled terror and longing that would have astonished megreatly, if it had not instantly disappeared at the first sight of myface.

  "Pardon me," she exclaimed, drawing back with an embarrassed movementinto the room from which she had emerged. But soon recovering herself,she stepped hastily forward, and ignoring me, said to the servant at myside: "Jonas, who is this gentleman, and where are you taking him?"

  With a bow, Jonas replied: "He comes on business, miss, and Mr. Bensonconsents to see him."

  "But I thought my father had expressly commanded that no one was to beallowed to enter the library to-day," she exclaimed, but in a musingtone that asked for no response. And hastily as we passed down t
he hall,I could not escape the uneasy sense that her eager eyes were followingus as we went.

  "Too much emotion for so small a matter, and a strange desire on thepart of every one to keep Mr. Benson from being intruded upon to-day,"was my mental comment. And I was scarcely surprised when upon ourarrival at the library door we found it locked. However, a knock,followed by a few whispered words on the part of the servant, served toarouse the hermit within, and with a quick turn of the key, the doorflew back on its hinges, and the master of the house stood before me.

  It was a moment to be remembered: first, because the picture presentedto my eyes was of a marked and impressive character; and secondly,because something in the expression of the gentleman before me showedthat he had received a shock at my introduction which was not to beexpected after the pains which had been taken to prepare his mind for myvisit. He was a tall, remarkable-looking man, with a head alreadywhitened, and a form which, if not bowed, had only retained its uprightcarriage by means of the indomitable will that betrayed itself in hiseyes. Seen against the rich background of the stained-glass window thatadorned one end of the apartment, his stern, furrowed face and eagerlyrepellant aspect imprinted itself upon me like a silhouette, while thestrong emotion I could not but detect in his bearing, lent to the wholea poetic finish that made it a living picture which, as I have said, Ihave never been able to forget.

  "You have come from the constable of the town," said he, in a firm, hardtone, impressive as his look. "May I ask for what purpose?"

  Looking around, I saw the servant had disappeared. "Sir," said I,gathering up my courage, as I became convinced that in this case I had athoroughly honest man to deal with, "you are going to give a fancy ballto-night. Such an event is a novelty in these parts, and arouses muchcuriosity. Some of the men about town have even been heard to threatento leap the fences and steal a look at your company, whether you will ornot. Mr. White wants to know whether you need any assistance in keepingthe grounds clear of all but your legitimate guests; if so, he is readyto supply whatever force you may need."

  "Mr. White is very kind," returned Mr. Benson, in a voice which, despitehis will-power, showed that his agitation had in some unaccountable waybeen increased by my communication. "I had not thought of any suchcontingency," he murmured, moving over to a window and looking out. "Aninvasion of rowdies would not be agreeable. They might even find theirway into the house." He paused and cast a sudden look at me. "Who areyou?" he abruptly asked.

  The question took me by surprise, but I answered bravely if not calmly:"I am a man who sometimes assists Mr. White in the performance of hisduties, and in case you need it, will be the one to render youassistance to-night. A line to Mr. White, if you doubt me----"

  A wave of his meagre hand stopped me. "Do you think you could keep outof my house to-night, any one I did not wish to enter?" he asked.

  "I should at least like to try."

  "A ticket is given to every invited guest; but if men are going to climbthe fences, tickets will amount to but little."

  "I will see that the fences are guarded," cried I, gratified at theprospect of being allowed upon the scene of action. "I can hinder anyone from coming in that way, if----" Here I paused, conscious ofsomething, I could hardly say what, that bade me be cautious and weighmy words well. "If you desire it and will give me the authority to actfor you," I added in a somewhat more indifferent tone.

  "I do desire it," he replied shortly, moving over to the table andtaking up a card. "Here is a ticket that will insure you entrance intothe grounds; the rest you will manage without scandal. I do not want anydisturbance, but if you see any one hanging about the house or peeringinto the windows or attempting to enter in any way except through thefront door, you are to arrest them, no matter who they are. I have anespecial reason for desiring my wishes attended to in this regard," hewent on, not noticing the preoccupation that had seized me, "and willpay well if on the morrow I find that every thing has gone off accordingto my desires."

  "Money is a powerful incentive to duty," I rejoined, with markedemphasis, directing a sly glance at the mirror opposite, in whose depthsI had but a moment before been startled by the sudden apparition of thepale and strongly agitated face of young Mr. Benson, who was peeringfrom a door-way half hidden by a screen at our back. "I will be on handto-night." And with what I meant to be a cynical look, I made my bow anddisappeared from the room.

  As I expected, I was met at the front door by Mr. Hartley. "A word withyou," said he. "Jonas tells me you are from the constable of the town.May I ask what has gone amiss that you come here to disturb my father ona day like this?"

  His tone was not unkind, his expression not without suavity. If I hadnot had imprinted on my memory the startling picture of his face as Ihad seen it an instant before in the mirror, I should have been temptedto believe in his goodness and integrity at this moment. As it was, Idoubted him through and through, yet replied with frankness and showedhim the ticket I had received from his father.

  "And you are going to make it your business to guard the groundsto-night?" he asked, gloomily glancing at the card in my hand as if hewould like to annihilate it.

  "Yes," said I.

  He drew me into a small room half filled with plants.

  "Now," said he, "see here. Such a piece of interference is entirelyuncalled for, and you have been alarming my father unnecessarily. Thereare no rowdies in this town, and if one or two of the villagers shouldget into the grounds, where is the harm? They cannot get into the houseeven if they wanted to, which they don't. I do not wish this, our firstshow of hospitality, to assume a hostile aspect, and whatever myfather's expectations may be, I must request you to curtail your dutiesas much as possible and limit them to responding by your presence whencalled upon."

  "But your father has a right to expect the fullest obedience to hiswishes," I protested. "He would not be satisfied if I should do no morethan you request, and I cannot afford to disappoint him."

  He looked at me with a calculating eye, and I expected to see him puthis hand in his pocket; but Hartley Benson played his cards better thanthat. "Very well," said he, "if you persist in regarding my father'swishes as paramount, I have nothing to say. Fulfil your duties as youconceive them, but don't look for my support if any foolish misadventuremakes you ashamed of yourself." And drawing back, he motioned me out ofthe room.

  I felt I had received a check, and hurried out of the house. Butscarcely had I entered upon the walk that led down to the gate, when Iheard a light step behind me. Turning, I encountered the pretty daughterof the house, the youthful Miss Carrie.

  "Wait," she cried, allowing herself to display her emotion freely inface and bearing. "I have heard who you are from my brother," shecontinued, approaching me with a soft grace that at once put me upon myguard. "Now, tell me who are the rowdies that threaten to invade ourgrounds?"

  "I do not know their names, miss," I responded; "but they are arough-looking set you would not like to see among your guests."

  "There are no very rough-looking men in our village," she declared; "youmust be mistaken in regard to them. My father is nervous and easilyalarmed. It was wrong to arouse his fears."

  I thought of that steady eye of his, of force sufficient to hold in awea regiment of insurgents, and smiled at her opinion of my understanding.

  "Then you do not wish the grounds guarded," I said, in as indifferent atone as I could assume.

  "I do not consider it necessary."

  "But I have already pledged myself to fulfil your father's commands."

  "I know," she said, drawing a step nearer, with a most enchanting smile."And that was right under the circumstances; but we, his children, whomay be presumed to know more of social matters than a recluse,--I,especially," she added, with a certain emphasis, "tell you it is notnecessary. We fear the scandal it may cause; besides, some of the guestsmay choose to linger about the grounds under the trees, and would berather startled at being arrested as intruders."

  "What, then, d
o you wish me to do?" I asked, leaning toward her, with anappearance of yielding.

  "To accept this money," she murmured, blushing, "and confine yourselfto-night to remaining in the background unless called upon."

  This was a seconding of her brother's proposition with a vengeance.Taking the purse she handed me, I weighed it for a moment in my hand,and then slowly shook my head. "Impossible," I cried; "but"--and I fixedmy eyes intently upon her countenance--"if there is any one inparticular whom you desire me to ignore, I am ready to listen to adescription of his person. It has always been my pleasure to accommodatemyself as much as possible to the whims of the ladies."

  It was a bold stroke that might have cost me the game. Indeed, I halfexpected she would raise her voice and order some of the men about herto eject me from the grounds. But instead of that she remained for amoment blushing painfully, but surveying me with an unfaltering gazethat reminded me of her father's.

  "There _is_ a person," said she, in a low, restrained voice, "whom I amespecially anxious should remain unmolested, whatever he may or may notbe seen to do. He is a guest," she went on, a sudden pallor taking theplace of her blushes, "and has a right to be here; but I doubt if he atonce enters the house, and I even suspect he may choose to loiter awhilein the grounds before attempting to join the company. I ask you to allowhim to do so."

  I bowed with an appearance of great respect. "Describe him," said I.

  For a moment she faltered, with a distressed look I found it difficultto understand. Then, with a sudden glance over my person, exclaimed:"Look in the glass when you get home and you will see the _fac-simile_of his form, though not of his face. He is fair, whereas you are dark."And with a haughty lift of her head calculated to rob me of anysatisfaction I might have taken in her words, she stepped slowly back.

  I stopped her with a gesture. "Miss," said I, "take your purse beforeyou go. Payment of any service I may render your father will come intime. This affair is between you and me, and I hope I am too much of agentleman to accept money for accommodating a lady in so small a matteras this."

  But she shook her head. "Take it," said she, "and assure me that I mayrely on you."

  "You may rely on me without the money," I replied, forcing the purseback into her hand.

  "Then I shall rest easy," she returned, and retreated with a lightsomeair toward the house.

  The next moment I was on the highway with my thoughts. What did it allmean? Was it, then, a mere love affair across which I had foolishlystumbled, and was I busying myself unnecessarily about a rendezvous thatmight mean no more than an elopement from under a severe father's eye?Taking out the note which had led to all these efforts on my part, Iread it for the third time.

  "All goes well. The time has come; every thing is in train, and success is certain. Be in the shrubbery at the northeast corner of the grounds at 9 P.M. precisely; you will be given a mask and such other means as are necessary to insure you the accomplishment of the end you have in view. He cannot hold out against a surprise. The word by which you will know your friends is COUNTERFEIT."

  A love-letter of course; and I had been a fool to suppose it any thingelse. The young people are to surprise the old gentleman in the presenceof their friends. They have been secretly married perhaps, who knows,and take this method of obtaining a public reconciliation. But that word"_Counterfeit_," and the sinister tone of Hartley Benson as he said: "Itshall not fail through lack of effort on my part!" Such a word and sucha tone did not rightly tally with this theory. Few brothers take suchinterest in their sister's love affairs as to grow saturnine over them.There was, beneath all this, something which I had not yet penetrated.Meantime my duty led me to remain true to the one person of whoseintegrity of purpose I was most thoroughly convinced.

  Returning to the village, I hunted up Mr. White and acquainted him withwhat I had undertaken in his name; and then perceiving that the time wasfast speeding by, strolled over to the tavern for my supper.

  The stranger was still there, walking up and down the sitting-room. Hejoined us at the table, but I observed he scarcely tasted his food, andboth then and afterward manifested the same anxious suspense that hadcharacterized his movements from the time of our first encounter.

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