Chapter XIV. In Which They Recognize the Enemy
 

Boyd Emerson slept well that night, notwithstanding the disturbing occurrences of the day, for during the evening Cherry had tactfully diverted him from all mention of business, trusts, or canneries, much as a good physical director, on the eve of a contest, relieves the grinding monotony of an athlete's training. The brain, after all, is but flesh and blood, and, like the muscles, requires rest; an unbroken intensity of contemplation tends inevitably to weariness and pessimism.

They had dined gayly, tete-a-tete, while care fled before the girl's exuberant spirits. Contentment had deepened in the companionable enjoyment of a play, and later a little supper-party, at which Big George and Alton Clyde were present, had completed Boyd's mental refreshment, to Cherry's satisfaction.

True, it had required all her skill to prevent the big fisherman from holding forth upon the issue uppermost in his mind; but his loyalty to her was doglike, and once he found that his pet topic was tabooed, he lapsed into a good-natured contemplation of his finger-nails, which he polished industriously with his napkin.

The girl had further demonstrated her power over all sorts and conditions of men by reducing the blase young club-man to a state of grinning admiration, "Fingerless" Fraser alone had been missing from the coterie. He had discovered them from a distance, to be sure, and come over to exchange greetings with Cherry, but the disastrous result of the fellow's garrulity was still so fresh in Boyd's mind that he could not invite him to join them, and Fraser, with singular modesty, had quickly withdrawn, to wander lonesomely for a while, till sheer ennui drove him to bed. His dejection awakened little sympathy in Boyd, who felt happier for the removal of his irritating presence.

In the morning Boyd was brought sharply back to a realization of his difficult position by a letter from Mildred Wayland.

"Father and I had another scene over you," wrote Mildred. "It was the first quarrel we ever had, and I'm half sick as a result. I simply can't bear that sort of thing, and we have agreed to drop the subject. What roused him to such a sudden fury I'm sure I don't know."

Boyd knew, however, and the knowledge did not add to his comfort.

It seemed, indeed, as if the Trust's enmity had marked him in the eyes of the whole financial world; he was again denied assistance at the banks, and this time in a manner to show him the futility of argument or further effort. The reasons given were as final as they were vague, and night found the young promoter half dazed and desperately frightened at the completeness of the disaster which had overwhelmed him in the brief space of thirty-six hours. He could not blind himself to the situation. Those Chicago men who had backed him were personal friends, and they had risked their hard-earned dollars purely upon the strength of his vivid assurances. He had prevailed upon them to invest more than they could afford, and while ultimate failure might be forgiven, it savored less of indiscretion than of criminal culpability to be left at the very outset of the enterprise with a shipload of useless machinery upon the docks at Seattle. Ruin was close upon him.

In his perplexity he turned naturally to Cherry, who listened to his tale of repeated failure with furrowed brows, pondering the matter as seriously as if the responsibility had been her own.

"The battle has begun sooner than I expected," she said, at length. "I never dreamed they could fix the banks so quickly."

"Somehow, I can't believe this is the work of the Trust people; I don't see how they could accomplish so much in so short a time. Why, it came like a thunderclap."

"I hope I am wrong," she answered, "but something unexpected must have happened to change Mr. Hilliard's attitude. What could it be except pressure from higher sources?"

"Has he dropped any hint before you?"

"Not a hint. He wouldn't let go of anything. Why, he is too close-fisted to drop his r's."

"So I am told. He belongs to that anomalous class who are as rigid in business methods as they are loose in private morals."

"Indeed!" Cherry seemed curious.

"But inasmuch as his extravagance begins at 10 P.M. and ends at 10 A.M., it doesn't seem to affect his social standing. However, we needn't discuss his personal character; there's enough to think of without that. Will you take dinner with me this evening, so that we can talk over any further developments?"

"I am to dine with Mr. Hilliard," said the girl.

"Oh!" Boyd's tone of disappointment seemed disproportionate to the occasion. He endeavored to disguise his feeling by saying, lightly: "You are breaking into exclusive circles. He lives in quite a palace, I'm told."

"I--I'm not dining at his home." Cherry hesitated, and Boyd flashed a sharp glance at her. A faint color flushed her cheeks, as she explained: "He could not see me at the office to-day, so he arranged for me to take dinner with him."

"I see." Boyd detected a note hitherto strange in his own voice. "I am going to try the Tacoma banks to-morrow. Would you like to run over with me in the morning. The Sound trip is beautiful."

"I would love to," she exclaimed. "I may have something to report if I can make Mr. Hilliard talk."

"Out of curiosity, I should like to know what influenced him." All women were more or less suspicious, he reflected, and some of them were highly intuitive; still, he could not believe that this was all Willis Marsh's doing. As he mused he idly thumbed the pages of a magazine. He was about to lay it down when his eye caught a well-known face, and he started, then glanced at the date of issue. It was a duplicate of that copy which had affected him so deeply in Cherry's house at Kalvik. He lifted his eyes to find her scrutinizing him.

"No, you can't cut out that page," she said, with a slightly embarrassed laugh.

"Where did you run across this?"

"I didn't run across it" she admitted; "I scoured the book-stalls for it all the morning. Curiosity is a feminine trait, you know."

"I don't quite understand."

"That missing page has caused me insomnia for months. But now I'm as puzzled as ever, for there are two pictures, one on either side of the leaf, and each has possibilities. Which is it--the society bud or the prima donna?"

"I don't know what you mean," he answered, somewhat stiffly. His love for Mildred Wayland had always been so sacred and inviolable a thing that even Cherry's frank inquisitiveness seemed an intrusion.

"I'll call for you in time for the nine-o'clock boat," he added, as he arose to go. "Meanwhile, if you get a hint from Hilliard, it may be useful."

Left to his own devices, Boyd spent the evening in gloomy solitude, vainly seeking for some way out of his difficulties. But, despite his preoccupation with his own affairs, a vague feeling of resentment at the thought of Cherry and Hilliard kept forcing itself upon his mind. Perhaps the girl's indiscretion was of no very serious nature; yet he found it hard to excuse even a small breach of propriety upon her part. Surely, she must understand the imprudence of dining alone with the banker. His attentions to her could have but one interpretation. And she was too nice a girl to compromise herself in the slightest degree. Although he told himself that a business reason had prompted her, and reflected that the business methods of women are baffling to the mind of mere man, his reasoning quite failed to reconcile him to the situation. In the end he had to acknowledge that he did not like the look of it in the least.

But in the morning he found it impossible to maintain a critical attitude in Cherry's presence. She had finished her breakfast when he called, and was awaiting him, clad in a brown velvet suit which set off her trim figure with all the effectiveness of skilful tailoring. Brown boots and gloves to match, with a dainty turban in which lay the golden gleam of a pheasant's plumage, completed the picture. She was as perfect to the eye as the morning itself.

"Well, did Hilliard expose the hidden mysteries of the banking system?" he questioned, as they walked down toward the water front.

"He did. It is no mystery at all now."

"Then it was that newspaper story that frightened him."

"Indirectly, perhaps. He didn't mention it."

"What did he say?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing! Then how--?",

"He informed me that you are in love with the society girl and not with the actress. He said you are engaged to marry Miss Wayland."

"Yes. But what did he say about the loan?"

"Only what I have told you. The rest is easy. Had you been less secretive, I would have known instantly whom to blame for this trouble. Wayne Wayland and Willis Marsh are working double, and inasmuch as you are persona non grata--"

"Who told you I am persona non grata?"

"You told me yourself without intending to. Please give me credit for some shrewdness. If you had been a welcome suitor, you would have had no difficulty in raising twice two hundred thousand dollars in Chicago. Then, too, I remember the story you told me at Kalvik, your mental attitude-- many things, in fact. Oh, it was very simple."

"Well, what of it? What has all that got to do with my present difficulty?"

"Listen! You want to marry the daughter of the greatest trust-builder in the country, and he doesn't want you for a son-in-law. You undertake an enterprise which seriously threatens his financial interests, and if successful in that, you could defy his opposition in the other matter. Now all goes well until he learns of your plans, then he strikes with his own weapons. A word here and there, a hint to the banks, and your fine castle comes tumbling down about your ears. I thought you had more perception."

The girl's voice was sharp, and she wore that expression of unyouthful weariness that Boyd had noted before. He could not help wondering what bitter experience had taught her disillusion, what strange environment had edged her wits with worldly wisdom.

"We haven't figured Marsh in at all," he said, tentatively.

"He figures, nevertheless, as I intend to show you to-day. To begin with, please notice that unobtrusive man in the gray suit--not now! Don't look around for a minute. You will see him on the opposite side of the street."

Boyd turned, to observe a rat-faced fellow across the way, evidently bound for the Tacoma boat.

"Is he following us?"

"I see him, everywhere I go."

Boyd's face clouded angrily, at which Cherry exclaimed: "Now, for Heaven's sake, don't mimic Big George, or we'll never learn anything!"

"I won't stand for a spy!" he growled.

"And be arrested?"

"No," he assured her, grimly. "It may be as you suspect, but you needn't fear that I'll ever go to jail for assaulting one of Willis Marsh's helpers."

She glanced up quickly, as if detecting a double meaning in his words; then, at the smouldering fires she beheld, observed, in a gentler tone: "You care a great deal for Miss Wayland, don't you?"

His only answer was a deep breath and a slow turning of the head, but once she had seen the look in his eyes she needed no other. She could only say: "I hope she is worthy of all she is causing you to suffer, Boyd, so few of us are."

She did not speak again, but in her heart was a great heaviness. They reached the dock and lost sight of the spy, only to have him reappear soon after the boat cleared, and while neither spoke of it, they felt his presence during the whole trip.

Before them Rainier lifted its majestic, snow-crowned head high into the heavens, its serrated slopes softened by a purple haze, its soaring crest limned in blazing glory by the sun. The bay beneath them was like a huge silver shield, flat-rolled and glittering, inlaid with master cunning between wooded hills that swept away into mysterious distances, there to rise skyward in an ever-changing, ever-charming confusion. It reflected fairy-like islands, overgrown till they bowed to their mirrored likenesses. Now a smiling inlet opened up a perspective of golden sand and whispering shingle; again a frowning bluff slipped past, lost in lonely contemplation of its own inverted image. The day was gorgeous, inspiring. Their course lay through an enchanted region, so suggestive of splendid possibilities that Boyd was constrained to observe:

"You know, if the Pilgrim Fathers had landed here in the first place, New England would never have been discovered," a remark at which Cherry nodded in complete agreement.

At Tacoma Boyd left her, to go about his business, but joined her later at lunch, with the joyful announcement:

"I've had better luck, this time. They said there would be no difficulty whatever in handling the matter, and they are to let me know definitely to-morrow."

"Did Hawkshaw hound you to the bank?" she inquired.

"I rather think so."

"Then to-morrow will tell the tale."

"You mean the bank will turn me down?"

"Yes, if I've sized up the situation correctly. I dare say these banks are as cautious as those in Seattle, and a few words over the telephone would do the trick."

"I'm inclined to give that shadow a little personal attention," the young man mused; but when she questioned him, he only smiled and assured her of his caution.

Again on the return trip they discovered the fellow among the passengers, but Boyd made no sign until the boat was landing. Then Cherry found that he had edged her into the crowd massed at the gangway, and caught sight of the man in gray immediately ahead of them. She noticed that while Emerson maintained a flow of conversation his eyes were constantly upon the fellow's back, and that he kept a position close to his shoulder, regardless of jostling from the others. She could not tell what this foreboded, nor did she gain a hint of Boyd's purpose, until the gang-plank was in place and they were out upon it. A narrow space separated the boat from the dock; as they crossed this, Boyd slipped and half fell on the slanting planks. She never knew exactly what happened, except that he released her arm and lunged violently against the man in gray, who was next him. It occurred with the suddenness of pure accident, and the next she saw was the stranger plunging downward along the piling, clutching wildly at the vessel's side, while Boyd clung to the guard-rope as if about to lose his balance.

The man's cry as he struck the water alarmed the crowd and caused a momentary stampede, in which Cherry and Boyd were thrust shoreward; but the confusion quickly subsided, as an officer flung a heaving-line to the gasping creature beneath. A moment later the hatless spy was dragged to the dock, indignant and sputtering.

"I'm very sorry, sir." Boyd apologized, profusely. "It was all my fault. The plank was steep, and I was forced off my feet. Whenever I'm followed too closely, I lose my head--it's a weakness I have."

The man ceased cursing to dart a sharp glance at him, but he was still too unmanned by his cold immersion to do more than chatter angrily. In the hubbub Emerson led his companion out into the street, where she beheld him shaking with suppressed laughter.

"Boyd," she cried, in a shocked voice, "then it was--you--you might have killed him! Suppose his head had struck a timber!"

"Yes, that would have been too bad!" he declared; then, at the sight of her face, his chuckle changed to a wolfish snarl. "He'll know enough to keep away from me hereafter. I won't play with him the next time."

"Don't! Don't! I never saw you look so. Why, it might have been murder!"

"Well?" He stared at her, curiously.

"I--I didn't think it of you." She shuddered weakly, but he only shrugged his shoulders and said, with a finality that cut off further discussion: "He's a spy! I won't be spied upon."

When Boyd entered his room at the hotel, whither he had gone after leaving Cherry at Hilliard's bank, Big George greeted him excitedly.

"Here's hell to pay. We can't get that barkentine."

"The Margaret? Why not? The charter was all arranged."

"The agent telephoned that we couldn't have her."

"What reasons did he offer?"

"None. We can't have her, that's all."

"She's the only available ship on the Sound. Our stuff will be here in a fortnight."

"Some of it will."

"What do you--?"

"Boilers held up."

"Boilers?"

"Yes. Read that." Balt tossed him a telegram.

"'Shipment delayed,'" read Boyd. "Well! This is growing interesting. Thank Heaven, other people handle machinery!" He reached for a blank, and hurriedly wrote a message cancelling his order. "I guess Cherry was right. Marsh is fighting to delay us." He began a recital of the morning's occurrences, but before he had finished he was called to the telephone.

"More bad news!" he exclaimed, as he re-entered the room. "The Jackson- Nebur Company say they can't make delivery of their order. I wonder what next."

"We don't need nothing more to cripple us," George declared, blankly. "Any one of these blows is a knockout."

It was perhaps an hour later that Cherry entered unannounced.

"I just ran in for a minute to tell you something new. When I came up from the bank, the elevator boy at the hotel made a mistake and carried me past my floor. Without noticing the difference, I went down the hall, and whom should I run right into, coming out of a room, but our detective! As he opened the door I heard him say, 'Very well, sir, I'll report to-morrow.'"

"To whom was he reporting?"

"I don't know. A few minutes later I called you up, to tell you about it; but while I was waiting for my number, the operator evidently got the wires crossed or left a switch open, for I heard this much of a conversation:

"'Our contract covers fifty thousand cases at five dollars. We thought that was at least twenty cents under the market.'

"I was about to ring off when I remembered that you had sold your output of fifty thousand cases to Bloc & Company for five dollars a case, so I listened, on a chance, and heard another voice reply--"

"Whose voice?"

"I don't know. It said, 'We'll undersell that by one dollar.'

"'Good Lord!' said the first speaker, 'that means a loss of--' and then I was cut off. I thought I'd better come over in person instead of trusting to the wire."

"And you didn't recognize either speaker?"

"No. But I discovered at the office that rooms 610 and 612--the suite I saw that detective coming out of--are occupied by a Mr. Jones, of New York, who arrived three days ago. I'll bet anything you please that you'll hear from Bloc & Company within twenty-four hours, and that the occupant of those rooms at the Hotel Buller is Willis Marsh."

Big George began to mutter profanely. "It looks like they had us, and all because Fraser's tongue is hung in the middle."

"All the same, we'll fight it out," said Emerson, grimly. "If I can raise that money in Tacoma--" Again the telephone bell buzzed noisily.

"Bloc & Company," predicted Cherry, but for once she was wrong.

"A call from Tacoma," said Boyd, the receiver to his ear; "it must be the Second National. They were not to let me know till to-morrow." Through the open door of the adjoining room his words came distinctly, while the others listened in tense silence.

"Hello! Yes! This is Boyd Emerson." Then followed a pause, during which the thin, rasping voice of the distant speaker murmured unintelligibly.

"Why not? Can't you give me a reason? I thought you said--Very well. Good- bye."

Emerson hung up the receiver carefully, and with the same deliberation turned to face his companions. He nodded, and spread his hands outward in an unmistakable gesture.

"What! already?" queried the girl.

"They must have been reached by 'phone."

"That detective may have called Marsh up from there."

"That means it won't do any good to try further in Tacoma. The other banks have undoubtedly been fixed, or they soon will be. If I can slip away undiscovered, I'll try Vancouver next, but I haven't much hope."

"It looks bad, doesn't it?" said Cherry.

"As we stand at present," Boyd acknowledged, "we are the owners of one hundred thousand dollars' worth of useless machinery and unsalable supplies."

"And all," mused the girl, "because of a loose tongue and a little type!"