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BRADSHAW "MAKES GOOD."
WARREN'S mad drive had not passed altogether unnoticed. May Mannering, with a growing appreciation of the qualities of the groom Wilson, was waiting for him in the quietest lane leading out of Arncliffe, the lane which led to Foxgill Moor. She had seen Warren go past with a companion whom she did not recognize. But her quick eye had taken in the bundle under the leather apron; and it seemed to her that there was a projecting foot which could not possibly belong to either Warren or his companion.
She had practically given up all hope of bringing Warren back to his allegiance, and the production of a bank-book, showing a credit balance of close on two hundred pounds, made Wilson distinctly a persona grata. So, of course, when Wilson arrived, she told him what she had seen, and the groom, still intensely jealous of Warren, was only too delighted to put a bad construction on the incident.
"Up to some devilment, you may bet," he said, yet really thinking nothing of the matter.
Between Bradshaw and Lester the close friendship which sprang up, although they had known each other for so short a time, was in no way weakened by recent events. Next morning, when the American learned that Lester had not been in the inn all night, he was genuinely disturbed. His first idea was that the young doctor had returned to London, but the presence of Lester's luggage, supplemented by an inquiry at the local station, effectually disposed of that theory. The individual who combined within himself the post of booking-deck, ticket collector, and station-master at Arncliffe said emphatically that Lester had not been near the station during the past three days. Obviously, he must have gone to the Hall and stayed there. To the Hall Bradshaw went without any delay.
In the grounds he met Phyllis Harland, who, indeed, expected him, and who had arranged a special curl on her forehead for his benefit.
Miss Harland knew perfectly well that he would arrive early. She had made a gratifying conquest in a record time, and the only thing which troubled her was a "nasty, mean, unfair" habit, to use her own adjectives, the American had of making her do as he told her. She was always planning how she would bring him to his knees, but, somehow, her plans just failed. He knelt metaphorically, and pleaded as nicely as she could wish; nevertheless his plea always seemed a command. It was intolerable.
Poor Phyllis had tried demureness, sauciness, and trustful dependence, without attaining that tyrannical ascendancy over him which she wished to establish. Now, as a last desperate resort, she tried being natural.
"How are you, Mr. Bradshaw?" she said, holding out her hand and looking at him with frank, honest eyes.
"I am very well," said Bradshaw, "but at the same time very worried. Dr. Lester has disappeared mysteriously, and this neighborhood appears to be so unhealthy that I am rather afraid he may have struck trouble of some sort."
"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Phyllis. "Poor Edith!"
"Poor Edith?" cried Bradshaw, curiously.
With true masculine density, he had not realized that there was any sort of tender feeling in existence between his friend and the young mistress of Arncliffe.
"How silly men are! And I think you are the silliest of all of them."
"Well, but —" began Bradshaw, rather ruffled.
"Silly, silly, silly! Come and tell dear Edith about Dr. Lester. I am sure the news will nearly kill the poor girl."
"Well," said Bradshaw again, mildly. "Why should it kill the poor girl?"
"Oh!" — Phyllis was out of patience — "if ever I have charge of you —" she stopped in utter confusion, and made what Bradshaw would have called a "bee line" to the Hall.
The American, alternating between effulgent joy and intense gloom, walked at her side. He was wondering whether Edith would relent and accept his proposal. Had it not been for that now appalling possibility, he was capable of prostrating himself at the feet of Miss Phyllis then and there, although he had known her only three days — and, be it confessed, Miss Phyllis was entirely capable of accepting him. She had met what she urgently needed, a man of whom she was afraid.
Edith, sunning herself on the balcony, gave them a smiling welcome, delighted, though, it may be, a trifle surprised, to see the pair such good friends. "Well, young people," she called out brightly.
Phyllis was full of her news. She adored Edith, but there was a breathless joy in telling of Lester's disappearance which overcame all other considerations. She arrested Bradshaw with an imperious gesture. "Stop there!" she said. Then, rushing to her friend and clasping her in her arms, she poured forth a narrative from which little was to be gathered save that some calamity had befallen Lester.
Edith stiffened and drooped her head. The situation justified a fainting fit; but she was not the fainting type of woman, though she had fainted once at the inquest under deep stress. Besides, there was Bradshaw looking on.
"My dear girl," she cried with a forced laugh, "Dr. Lester is not a child. You must not think that because there have been two extraordinary incidents here, the place is abounding in murderers and brigands."
Yet she had become exceedingly pale, and her mouth was awry with what she meant to be a smile of indifference.
"Of course," said Bradshaw, coming to the rescue. "Lester's all right. So far as I could judge him, he is a man who could easily lick his weight in wildcats. At the same time, I'd feel pretty good if he'd put in an appearance."
"Do not let us worry ourselves about Dr. Lester," repeated Edith. "He is, I am sure, quite capable of taking care of himself. If you will come in, Phyllis, I will give you some of the loveliest chocolates you have ever tasted."
Bradshaw, slightly surprised by her seeming flippancy, strolled away with Phyllis toward a flight of steps leading to the veranda. But, when they reached the top, Edith had left the garden to see Wilson, who had sent an earnest request for an interview.
Edith was beloved and respected by all the servants -- respected all the more because, whether as Lord Arncliffe's paid secretary or as the mistress of Arncliffe Hall, she had always treated them with the same unfailing and kindly dignity.
"Well, Wilson?" she asked, as the groom stood twirling his cap uneasily in his hand. " What is it?"
"Why, miss, I — I — of course it may be nothing, but I thought it my duty to tell you. I heard down at the inn that Dr. Lester has not been there all night, and something has come to my knowledge which makes me think it possible the gentleman has met foul play."
"Yes," said Edith, wondering what there could be behind all this mystery, "yes, go on!"
"Well, miss, there's a young lady I — I am keeping company with, and last night she saw Master Harry driving like mad with some one in the gig. There seemed to be a sort of bundle under the apron, and she's pretty sure that there was a foot sticking out at the side of the trap, I know it's not my place to speak against Mr. Warren, but there are some queer rumors. Any one could see that Master Harry was jealous of the doctor —"
"That will do, Wilson," interrupted Edith, haughtily. "You will remain here until I return."
She walked back to Bradshaw and Phyllis, outwardly calm, but feeling that every onward step was a miracle.
The pair were laughing together, but Edith's haggard face arrested their mirth. She told them what she had heard from Wilson, calmly, as she thought and without emotion, but her mouth was quivering, and her hands, when she unclenched them, trembled pitiably. "What do you think, Mr. Bradshaw?" she concluded, looking up at him with eyes of anguish.
"I think," answered Bradshaw, still dense, as men always are where women are concerned, "I think that things look very black for our friend Lester."
"Oh, no, no!" cried Edith, clasping his hand between hers and forgetting everything save that her lover might be in peril. "Oh, no! But you will save him, won't you? You are so good and brave and strong. Oh, for my sake, save him!"
"Why sure, I'll save him if there's any saving to be done. Can you give me a horse?"
"Oh, yes, of course. A dozen if you like."
"Never could ride more than one at a time," said Bradshaw, cheerily pretending not to notice her emotion. "Perhaps, under the circumstances, Miss Harland will go and order it for me, while I arrange matters with you. And say, Miss Harland, just tell that groom to fix up a horse for himself. I want him to show me where Mr. Warren was driving that peculiar load."
Phyllis tripped away elegantly. She would be elegant on the Day of Judgment. And when she had gone Bradshaw turned and took Edith's hands in his.
"Little girl," he said gravely, "I think I had better withdraw that proposal of mine. You told me a dreadful fib. There is another man, after all. What are you going to do if I bring him back? Will you promise not to say any more nasty things to me about Lord Arncliffe's money?"
"I will promise anything!" said Edith, fervently. Wilson cantered up, leading a horse for Bradshaw, who turned to bid farewell to the two girls.
"Don't worry, Miss Holt," he said. "Ten to one Lester is all right; but if he isn't I will see him through the game."
"But you won't run any risks?" pleaded Phyllis, with the nearest approach to real anxiety she had ever exhibited.
When an Englishman boasts, his hearers put him down rightly as a mere braggart, but it is dangerous to judge an American on the same lines. He may boast, but, in his own language, he "makes good."
"Say," remarked Bradshaw, confidently, "there aren't any two men in the county who are going to get ahead of me when I spread myself."
He swung himself lightly into the saddle, took his hat off, with a kindly smile to Edith and an ardent glance at Phyllis, and cantered off with the easy swing of a horseman bred on the Western prairies.
On to the village; two minutes of hasty chat with Inspector Hobson, who, according to custom, had gone down to the post-office, and then onward, accompanied by Wilson, until he reached the point where May Mannering had seen Warren drive past.
"That will do," said Bradshaw. "I will play a lone hand now. Keep your mouth shut, partner, and you are liable to earn money."
The American trotted slowly along the narrow lane, scanning it closely as he went. There was no trail that it was possible to follow. But he was not looking for tracks on the road. There were altogether too many of them. What he wanted was an indication of tracks leaving the road. And presently he found them. The line of the dog-cart over the moor was so distinct that he could follow it at a hard gallop. To a man who had ridden the prairies, the inequalities of the ground offered no obstacles. He just hung his rein loose and left matters to the horse.
He held on until he came in sight of the deserted shooting-box, a place built almost like a Martell tower. He pulled up his horse.
"I guess," he murmured softly, and then, as the face of Leigh appeared at one of the windows, "Surest thing, you know," he added, still quietly. Without further ado, he tethered his horse to a stump and walked briskly toward the door.
Leigh met him. Bradshaw had expected him to meet him, and the two men stood a little apart eyeing each other warily.
"Now," said Bradshaw, in placid self-communing, "if I didn't have a little gun in my pocket, thirty-eight caliber, self-cocking, safety trigger, I'd get licked out of my socks. I wouldn't fight that man in a square rough and tumble for eleven and a half million dollars."
Leigh, however, did not seem inclined to fight. He had often seen Bradshaw at the inn, and he made a clumsy attempt to pass matters over.
"Good day, sir," he said, pulling at his greasy cap.
"I know," replied Bradshaw. "But where is Dr. Lester?"
The gypsy started, and then stepped forward threateningly. "You know too much, maister," he growled.
"Not a bit," said Bradshaw, cheerfully. "You can never learn too much. But you had better show me up to Dr. Lester, who, I presume, is partaking of your hospitality at the present moment."
Leigh cast a comprehensive eye around; he saw that Bradshaw was alone. The American's lean figure seemed to amuse him.
"Meister," he said, "I am either going to put you with Dr. Lester up there, or else I am going to hurt you. But if I do that, it will be your own fault."
Bradshaw smiled grimly. "Partner," he said cheerfully, "there are two notches on the butt of my gun, and they represent two men who are probably complaining of the drought at this very moment. Throw up your hands, quick!"
And now that thirty-eight was covering the burly figure of the poacher.
"I am giving you a little license because people don't seem to know how to get shot in this Godforsaken country, but I'll surely kill you in a minute," cried Bradshaw again.
He was indeed right when he said that English people did not understand getting shot. Leigh did not realize the peril of a pistol pointed at him by a man who meant to shoot, and he ran forward like a bull. Bradshaw, cool as ice, took a quiet aim at his antagonist's body. He was going to hit him in the solar plexus — that spot beloved of the prize-fighter. If you hit a man there he goes down, and in addition there is always the pleasing possibility of cutting his spine in two. And so Bradshaw pulled the trigger of his pistol. The hammer dropped, but no report followed. He pulled the trigger again, but the hammer did not answer.
That beautiful thirty-eight "gun," which had faithfully killed two men, had gone out of order at one of the most crucial moments of his life.
Bradshaw dodged away alertly, still pulling the trigger in desperation, though he knew well that it was hopeless to expect any result. Then he flung the useless weapon at his adversary and bolted.
It was not a retreat, but merely a strategic retirement. He could see clearly that he must be worsted in a hand-to-hand fight with the gigantic poacher, and he was looking around for some weapon with which to equalize matters a little. He lighted presently on a gnarled stick, a fair enough cudgel, and returned to the fray with set teeth. Leigh sent the disabled revolver spinning through the air to him, and greeted this new attack with a burst of bucolic laughter.
"Don't do it, maister," he cried. "You're a rare plucked 'un, but there's nobody on all the border that can stand against me, old as I am."
"Isn't there?" said Bradshaw, dangerously calm. "I don't belong here. The only border I know is the Mexican border, and down there we see things through to a finish."
He was still advancing, and Leigh, realizing that in the matter of activity he was at a serious disadvantage, stood firm, watching for an opening. He began to understand that this lean, wiry young man was a formidable antagonist.
Still Bradshaw came on, so slowly that the suspense became wearing — ten feet, nine feet, only six feet.
"Look here, sir," — began the poacher.
Bradshaw sprang forward, his stick uplifted to strike. It was just the sort of foolishness Leigh looked for, and, while one arm went up like a flash to ward the blow, the other was swung forward to clutch the American in a grip that would hold him helpless as a child.
But the blow did not fall as Leigh expected. The heavy stick swished through the air, but the parrying arm was untouched, and an instant afterward Leigh was rolling on the ground in uncontrollable agony from the swift stroke that had fallen on his knee-cap.
As Bradshaw explained afterward, there was no "fair fight" nonsense about him. He knew that in a moment Leigh would be up again, envenomed by his sufferings, and for that reason more formidable than ever. So he coolly stepped over the prostrate man and dealt him a vicious blow on the head, not extremely particular whether it might prove fatal or not.
"I guess, partner, you've miscalculated on borders, this trip," he muttered, looking at his fallen foe, from whose head there ran an ugly trickle of blood. "And now for Lester."
He strode into the house and instinctively made his way to the upper rooms, coming at length to a locked door.
"Lester!" he shouted: "Lester!"
There was no answer.
"Good Lord! They've wiped him out! I must go and see if that old border champion has the key."
He went down again, and, to his surprise, found Leigh sitting up and rubbing his head, a little dazed, but apparently not much the worse for his injuries. Bradshaw was frankly afraid even now of this man with the sinister face and enormous chest development, but he went up to him with all the arrogance of a conqueror.
"Now, then," he said, sharply, "Where is Dr. Lester? No, no, sit quiet, my friend, or this time I'll kill you for keeps!"
Leigh was thoroughly cowed. He had not forgotten that merciless blow, dealt him when he lay helpless on the ground. This slightly built man, with the thin mouth and unflinching eyes, was a revelation to him.
"Don't be hard on a poor chap," he whined. "The doctor is up-stairs, as well as you are. I'd just taken him a bit of grub when you came."
"You're a liar!" was Bradshaw's uncompromising retort. "I've shouted myself hoarse without obtaining any reply."
Leigh almost chuckled.
"By gum!" he cried, "I told Maister Warren the doctor was a real gentleman! He gave his word he wouldn't utter a sound if we didn't gag him, and I trusted him."
"Here," said Bradshaw, "go up ahead of me and let him out. No nonsense, mind, or I'll brain you."
Thus politely adjured, Leigh led the way to Lester's prison-room, and in a minute rescued and rescuer were clasping hands.
"Why in thunder didn't you answer when I called just now?" asked Bradshaw.
"I could not," answered Lester, simply. "I had given my word."
"Say," exclaimed his rescuer with some disgust, "you are too good to be true. However, it's all right now, and the sooner I restore you to your sorrowing friends the better. Do you know that Miss Holt is worrying about you just a million times more than you deserve?"
"Yes, of course, Miss Holt. But come along — you can ride behind me on my horse — and tell me about things on the way. As for you, my friend," to Leigh, "I guess the British policeman will get hold of you whenever you are wanted."
"I give up, sir," said Leigh, calmly. "I saw Mr. Warren knock the old gent on the head, and he's been bribing me ever since to keep quiet. But I've got the books he did it for, and I'm ready to hand them over whenever they're wanted."
"I have settled all that," interposed Bradshaw. "I suspected you directly Dr. Lester disappeared, and by this time Detective Hobson has been through your place with a search-warrant. Anyway, you can vamoose now; but if you take my advice you will stay and face the music."
Lester and Bradshaw mounted the horse and left Leigh to consider the situation. Their mount was a fine up-standing animal, and entirely capable of carrying double weight for at least a fair portion of the journey. Luckily, however, they fell in with a farmer driving into the village when they reached the road, and so Lester was given a lift.
Bradshaw was naturally eager for details of the kidnapping of Lester, but, strangely enough, the subject seemed utterly uninteresting to the young doctor, who kept delicately engineering the conversation round to Edith. What he heard filled his heart with happiness. Edith was true, after all! And then came the despairing thought — would she forgive him?
Phyllis was right. Lester was going to be abject, indeed.