Chapter LXXII

Morrell had no easy day with Ben Sansome. He had been forced to spend the whole of it with his protege, save for the hour he had devoted to seeing Keith off on the piratical expedition. It was a terrible bore. In turn he had played on the youth's pique, the supposed insult to his manhood, his desire for the woman. Sansome was not naturally a valiant adventurer; but he had an exceedingly touchy vanity, which, with a little coddling, answered nearly as well. Morrell took the confident attitude that, of course, Sansome was not afraid; therefore Sansome was ashamed to be afraid.

"For the moment," said the Englishman, "she's carried away by the glamour of this Vigilante movement. They seem to her strong men. She contrasts them with us men of the world, and as she cannot see that a polished exterior is not incompatible with strength, she has a faint growing contempt for us. Women like strength, masterfulness. It is the chance of your life to show her that a man comme il faut is the equal of these squalid brutes in that respect. She is in love with you already, but she doesn't know it. All that is necessary is a show of masterfulness to make her realize it." He stifled a yawn. "Lord, what dreary piffle!" he confided to himself. He painted Keith as a contemptible renegade from his own class, currying favour with those below him, a cheap demagogue, a turncoat avid for popular power.

"At heart he's a coward--all such men are. And he's so wrapped up in his ambition that his wife is a small matter to him. There's no danger from him, for he's away; and after the first flare-up we'll be able to handle him among us, never fear!" But after impressing this point, Morrell always was most careful to interpose the warning: "If it should come to trouble, don't let him get near you! He's absolutely rotten with a gun--you saw him in that farce of a duel--but he's a strong beggar. Don't let him get his hands on you!"

"I won't," promised Sansome, a trifle shakily.

Then Morrell, lighting a fresh cigar and fortifying his bored soul with another drink, skilfully outlined a portrait of Sansome himself as a hero, a dashing man of the world, a real devil among the ladies, the haughty and proud exponent of aristocratic high-handedness. He laid this on pretty thick, but Sansome had by now consumed a vast number of drinks, and was ready to swallow almost anything in addition. Morrell's customary demeanour was rather stolid, silent, and stupid; but when he was really interested and cared to exert himself, he became unexpectedly voluble and plausible. Mid-evening he drove this creature of his own fashioning out to Jake's Place, and deposited him in the parlour with the open fire, the table of drinks, and the easy chairs.

His plans from this point on were based on the fact that he had started Keith out on an expedition that should last all night. Had there been the slightest chance that the injured husband could appear, you may be sure Morrell would not have been present. Of course witnesses were necessary to the meeting at the road house. With Keith imminent, hirelings would have been arranged for. With Keith safety away, Morrell saw no reason why he should not enjoy the situation himself. Therefore he had arranged a little supper party. Teeny McFarlane and Jimmy Ware were his first thought. Then he added Pop McFarlane. If he wanted Teeny as a witness, the party must be respectable!

At the sound of wheels outside Morrell arose and slipped out the back door of the parlour.

"Now, remember!" he told Sansome from the doorway. "Now's the chance of your life! You've got her love, and you must keep her. She'll cut up rough at first. That's when you must show what's in you. Go right after her!"

As Nan burst into the room by one door he softly closed--and locked--the other behind him.