The three weeks that followed were more fraught with unpleasantness, not to say misery, than any Stephanie Maynard and George Harnash had ever passed. Of the two, Harnash was in the worse case. Stephanie had two things to distract her.
The approaching wedding meant the preparation of a trousseau. What had been got ready the year before would by no means serve for the second attempt at matrimony. Now no matter how deep and passionate a woman's feelings are she can never be indifferent to the preparation of a trousseau. Even death, which looms so horribly before the feminine mind, would be more tolerable if it were accompanied by a similar demand upon her activities. Yet a woman's grief in bereavement is never so deep as to make her careless as to the fit or becomingness of her mourning habiliments. Much more is this true of wedding garments.
Now if these somewhat cynical and slighting remarks be reprehended, nevertheless there is occupation even for the sacrificial victim in the preparation of a trousseau which, were it not so pleasant a pursuit, might even be called labor. The fit of Stephanie's dresses on her beautiful figure was not accomplished without toil, albeit of the submissive sort, on the part of the young lady. That was her first diversion.
For the second relief the girl had a great deal more confidence in her lover's promise than he had himself in his own prowess. Try as he might, plan as he could, he found no way out of the impasse so long as the solution of it was left entirely to him, and the woman was determined to be but a passive instrument.
The obvious course was to go frankly to his friend and lay before him the whole state of affairs in the hope that Beekman himself would cut the Gordian knot by declining the lady's hand. Two considerations prevented that. In the first place, Beekman had confidingly placed his love affair, together with his business affairs, in the hands of his partner. Harnash had not meant to play the traitor but he had been unable to resist the temptation that Stephanie presented, and he simply could not bring himself to make such a bare-faced admission of a breach of trust. Besides, he reasoned shrewdly that even if he did make such a confession it was by no means certain that Derrick Beekman would give up the girl. His letters, since his cable from Hawaii, had rather indicated a strengthening of his affection, and Harnash suspected that the realization that his betrothed was violently desired by someone else would just about develop that affection into a passion which could hardly be withstood.
In the second place, even if Beekman's affection for Harnash would lead him to take the action desired by his friend, there would still be Mr. Maynard to be won over. Harnash had not been associated with Maynard as a broker in various transactions which the older man had engineered, without having formed a sufficiently correct judgment of his character to enable him to forecast absolutely what Maynard's position would be in that emergency. Maynard had a considerable liking and a growing respect for young Harnash. He had casually remarked to his daughter on more than one occasion that Harnash was a young man who would be heard from. Maynard had observed that Harnash strove for many things and generally got what he wanted.
Perhaps that remark, which the poor girl had treasured in her heart, had something to do with her confidence that somehow or other Harnash would work out the problem. But Harnash knew very well how terrible, not to say vindictive, an antagonist and enemy Maynard could be when he was crossed. If Beekman withdrew from the engagement, broke off the marriage, about which there had been sufficient notoriety on account of the first postponement after the older Beekman's death, Maynard's rage would know no bounds. He would assuredly wreak his vengeance upon Beekman, and if Harnash were implicated in any way the punishment would be extended to him.
Harnash knew that Beekman would not have cared a snap of his finger for the older Maynard's wrath. He was not that kind of a man. Nor would he himself have been deterred by the thought of it had he been a little more sure of his position financially. Whatever else he lacked, Harnash had courage to tackle anything or anybody, if there were the faintest prospect of success. But to fight Maynard at that stage in his career was an impossibility. These weighty reasons accordingly decided him that it was useless and indeed impossible to appeal to his friend.
Again, while Harnash was accustomed to stop at nothing to procure his ends, and while he had declared that he would murder Beekman, he knew that although he meant it more than Stephanie supposed, he did not mean it enough to be able to do anything like that. His mind was in a turmoil. He really was fond of Beekman, and if Stephanie and Derrick had been wildly in love with each other Harnash believed that he would have been man enough to have kept out of the way and have fought down his disappointment as best he could. As it was, there was reason and justice in what he urged. Since Stephanie loved him and did not love Beekman, and since Beekman's affection was of a placid nature, the approaching union was horrible.
The wildest schemes and plans ran through his head or were suggested to him after intense thought, only to be rejected. The problem finally narrowed itself down to a question of time. Harnash was a great believer in the function of time in determining events. If he could postpone the marriage again he would have greater opportunity to work and plan. He had enough confidence in himself, backed by Stephanie's undoubted affection, to make him believe that with time he could bring about anything. Therefore he must eliminate Derrick Beekman, temporarily, at least, and he must do it before the wedding. The longer he could keep him away from Stephanie, the better would be his own chance. If even on the eve of the wedding the groom could disappear, the fact would tend greatly to his ultimate advantage, provided Beekman were away long enough.
He concentrated his mind on this proposition. How could he cause Derrick Beekman to disappear the day before his wedding, and how, having spirited him away, could he keep him away long enough to make that disappearance worth while from the Harnash point of view? That was the final form of the problem in its last analysis. How was he to solve it?
He could have Beekman kidnapped, and hold him for ransom in some lonely place in the country. That was a solution which he dismissed almost as soon as he formulated it. The thing was impracticable. He would have to trust too many people. He could never keep him long in confinement. He himself would probably become the victim of continuous blackmail. In the face of rewards that would be offered, his employees would eventually betray him. Sooner or later, unless something happened to Beekman, he would get out. Harnash had plenty of hardihood, but he shivered at the thought of what he would have to meet when Beekman came for an accounting, as sooner or later he would. He would have to find some other way. What way?
Now Harnash's misery was further increased by the fact that Beekman had cabled him to go ahead with the preparations for the wedding. The Beekman yacht had broken down in Honolulu Harbor after that long cruise, and instead of following his telegram straight home, there had been a week of delay. He had explained the situation by cables to Harnash, Stephanie, and her father.
After the yacht, her engines pretty well strained from the year's cruise, had been put in fair shape, ten days had been required for the return passage. Beekman had some business matters to attend to in San Francisco and he did not arrive in New York until a few days before the wedding, which was to take place at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the Bishop Suffragan and the Dean being the officiating clergymen designate.
It was fortunate in one sense that Beekman had been so delayed, for there was so much for him to do, so many people for him to see, that he had little opportunity for making love to his promised bride, and he had no chance to discern her real feelings any more than he had to find out Harnash's position. He had, indeed, remarked that Stephanie looked terribly worn and strained, and that George Harnash was haggard and spent to an extraordinary degree; but he attributed the one to the excitement of the marriage and the other to the fact that Harnash had been left so long alone to bear the burden of responsibility and decision in the rapidly increasing brokerage business.
When he had swept his unwilling bride-to-be to his heart and kissed her boisterously, he had told her that he would take care of her and see that the roses were brought back to her cheeks after they were married; and after he had shaken Harnash's hand vigorously he had slapped him on the back and declared to him that as soon as the honeymoon was over he would buckle down to work and give him a long vacation. Neither of the recipients of these promises was especially enthusiastic or delighted, but in his joyous breezy fashion Beekman neither saw nor thought anything was amiss.
Never a man essayed to tread the devious paths of matrimony with a more confident assurance or a lighter heart. Nothing could surpass his blindness.
"You see," said Stephanie in a last surreptitious interview with Harnash, "he hasn't the least suspicion. He hugged me like a bear and kissed me like a battering ram," she explained with a little movement of her shoulders singularly expressive of resentment, and even more.
"Damn him," muttered Harnash, under his breath. "He wrung my hand, too, as if I were his best friend."
"Well, you are, aren't you?"
"I was, I am, and I'm going to save him from-"
"From the misfortune of marrying me?"
"I don't see how you can jest under the circumstances."
"George," said the girl, "if I didn't jest I should die. I don't see how I can endure it as it is."
"Stephanie," he repeated, lifting his right hand as if making an oath-as, indeed, he was-"I'm going to take you from him if it is at the foot of the altar."
These were brave words with back of them, as yet, only an intensity of purpose and a determination, but no practical plan. It was Bill Woywod that gave the practical turn to that decision on the part of Harnash.
Now George Harnash came originally from a little down-east town on the Maine coast. That it was his birthplace was not its only claim to honor. It also boasted of the nativity of Bill Woywod. The two had been boyhood friends. Although their several pursuits had separated them widely, the queer friendship still obtained in spite of the wide and ever-widening difference in the characters and stations of the two men.
Running away from school, Bill Woywod had gone down to the sea as his ancestors for two hundred years had done before him. Left to himself, Harnash had completed his high school and college course and had gone down to New York as none of his people had ever done in all the family history. Both men had progressed. Harnash was already well-to-do and approaching brilliant success. He had thrust his feet at least within the portals of society and was holding open the door which he would force widely when he was a little stronger.
Woywod had earned a master's certificate and was now the first mate, technically the mate, of one of the ships of the Inter-Oceanic Trading fleet, in line for first promotion to a master. Woywod was a deep-water sailor. He cared little for steam, and although it was an age in which masts and sails were being withdrawn from the seven seas, he still affected the fast-disappearing wind-jamming branch of the ocean-carrying trade.
Indeed, the last full-rigged ship had been paid off and laid up in ordinary. Just because it was the last wooden sailing ship of the fleet, Maynard, whose fortune had been not a little contributed to by sailing vessels in the preceding century, had refrained from selling her. There was a sentimental streak in the hard old captain of industry, as there is in most men who achieve, and the Susquehanna had not been broken up or otherwise disposed of. On the contrary, every care had been taken of her.
The demands of the great war brought every ocean-carrying ship into service again. The Susquehanna was refitted and commissioned. A retired mariner who had been more or less a failure under steam but whose seamanship was unquestioned was appointed to command. Captain Peleg Fish was one of those old-time sailors to whom moral suasion meant little or nothing. He was Gloucester born, and had served his apprenticeship in the fishing fleet. Thereafter he had been mate on the last of the old American clippers, had commanded a whaler out of New Bedford, and knew a sailing ship from truck to keelson.
He was a man of a hard heart and a heavy hand. His courage was as high as his heart was hard or his hand was heavy. He was also a driver. He drove his ship and he drove his men. He had been a success on the Susquehannain her time, and because of that he had been able to get crews and keep officers. Quick passages in a well-found ship, and good pay, had offset his proverbial fierceness and brutality. He was now an old man, but sailing masters were scarce. Officers and men were scarce, too, on account of the war, and although the Inter-Oceanic Trading Company had dismissed Captain Fish because of the way he had mishandled the steamer to which they transferred him when they laid up the Susquehanna, yet they were glad to call him into service when they decided again to make use of that vessel.
Grim old Captain Fish made but one condition. He was glad enough to get back to the sea on which he had passed his life on any terms, and doubly rejoiced that he could once more command a wooden sailing ship instead of "an iron pot with a locomotive in her," as he designated his last vessel. That condition was that he should have Bill Woywod for mate. The two had sailed together before. They knew each other, liked each other, worked together hand and glove, for Bill Woywod was a man of the same type as the captain. The captain was getting old, too. He wanted a stouter arm and a quicker eye at his disposal than his own. Besides, Bill hated steam as much as Fish did. He was a natural-born sailor, not a mechanic and engine driver. Among the bucko mates of the past, Bill Woywod would not have yielded second place to anybody. They had to give Woywod a master's pay to get him to ship, but once having agreed to do that, he entered upon his new duties with alacrity.
The Susquehanna was a big full-rigged clipper ship of three thousand tons. Given a favorable wind, she could show her heels to many a tramp steamer or lumbering freighter, and even not a few of the older liners. She was carrying arms and munitions for the Russians and ran between New York and Vladivostok through the Panama Canal.
If there was one person rough, hard-bitten Bill Woywod had an abiding affection for, it was George Harnash. Whenever his ship dropped anchor in New York the first person-and about the only respectable person-he visited was his boyhood friend. To be sure, there was not much congeniality between them. The only tie that bound them was that boyhood friendship, but both of them were men without kith or kin, and they somehow clung to that association. Woywod was proud of his friendship with the rising young broker, and there was a kind of refreshment in the person of the breezy sailor which Harnash greatly enjoyed, especially as the visits of the seaman were not frequent or long enough to pall upon the New Yorker.
Harnash usually took an afternoon and night off when Woywod arrived. They took in the baseball game at the Polo Grounds, dined thereafter at some table d'hote resort which Harnash would never have affected under ordinary circumstances, but which seemed to Woywod the very height of luxury. Then they repaired to some theatre, usually one of the high-kicking variety avowedly designed for the tired business man, which was extremely congenial to the care-free sailor; and not to go further into details it may be alleged that they had a good time together until far in the night or early in the morning, rather. Harnash was usually not a little ashamed next morning; Woywod, never! With sturdy independence Woywod would alternate being host on these occasions. On land and out of his element he was a fairly agreeable companion in his rough, coarse way. It was only on the ship that he became a brute. In the nature of things the devotion, if such it could be called, was all on Woywod's side. It was an aspiration on his part and a condescension on the part of Harnash, however much the latter strove to disguise it.
The Susquehanna had been loaded to her capacity and beyond with war equipment for the Russian Government and was about to take her departure from New York, when Woywod, who had been prevented before by the duties imposed by the necessity of getting the ship ready quickly for her next long voyage, paid his annual or semi-annual visit to his friend. Now these visits had become so thoroughly a matter of custom that Woywod had established the right of entrance. None of the clerks in the outer office would have thought of stopping him, and although Harnash was very strict in requiring respect for the sanctity of his private office Woywod made no hesitation about entering it unceremoniously.
Like all sailors, he moved with cat-like softness and quickness. He opened the door noiselessly and surprised his friend seated at his desk, his face buried in his hands in an attitude of the deepest dejection. Friendship has a discerning power as well as greater passions.
"Why, George, old boy," began Woywod, laying his hand on the other's shoulder, and that touch gave Harnash the first warning that he was not alone, "what's the matter?"
Harnash looked up quickly, rose to his feet as he recognized his visitor, and grasped him by the hand with a warmth he had not shown in years.
"Bill," he explained, "I'm in the deepest trouble that ever fell on a man, and you come like an angel in time to help me."
Harnash must have meant a dark angel, but Woywod knew nothing of that.
"What is it, old man?" he asked. "If it's money you're needin' I got a shot or two in the locker an'-"
"No, it's not money. I'm making more than ever."
"Been buckin' up agin the law an' want a free passage to safety? Well, me an' old man Fish is as thick as peas in a pod, an' the Susquehanna's at your service."
"It's not that, either."
"What in blazes is it, then?"
"Look here, George," said Woywod, "I'm about as rough as they make 'em an' there ain't no man as ever sailed with me that won't endorse that there statement, but I never done no harm to no woman an' if you've been-"
"You're on the wrong tack again, Bill," interposed Harnash, smiling. "It's a woman I love and who loves me."
"Well, I don't reckon I can help you there unless you want me to be best man at the weddin'."
That suggestion struck Harnash as intensely comical, as it well might, but he hastened to add diplomatically:
"I couldn't wish a better man if there were going to be any wedding, but-"
"Do you love a married woman?" asked Woywod, going directly to the point.
"What d'ye mean?"
"I'll explain if you'll only give me a chance," answered Harnash, and in as few words as possible he put the sailor in possession of the facts.
"So you want to get rid of the man, do you?" he asked, when the story had been told.
"Yes. I don't want him harmed. I just want him out of the way."
"And you think that I-"
"If you can't help me I don't know who can."
"Look here, George," said Woywod, earnestly. "Is this square an' above board? Are you givin' me the truth?"
"An' the gal loves you an' you love her an' she don't love this other chap which she wants to git out of marryin' him?"
"Then it's easy."
"I thought you'd find a way."
"It don't take much schemin' for that. Just p'int him out to me an' git him down on the river front some dark night where I can git a hold of him, with a few drinks in him, an' that'll be all there is to it. You won't hear from him until the Susquehanna gits to Vladivostok, an' mebbe not then."
"I don't want any harm to come to him."
"In course not. I'll use him jest as gentle as I do any man on the ship."
"And he must never know that I-"
"He won't know nothin'. When a man gits drunk enough he can't tell what happens. You might tell yer lady friend that this is a little weddin' present I'm makin' to my oldest an' best friend, that is, if you git spliced afore I gits back from Vladivostok."
"I'll surely let her know your part of the transaction. When does the Susquehanna sail?"
"Thursday morning. Tide turns at two o'clock. We'll git out about four."
"You don't touch anywhere?"
"Not a place unless we're druv to it by bad weather or some accident. But if we do git hold of a cable I'll see that he stays safe aboard, in case, which ain't likely, we're obliged to drop anchor in any civilized port."
"Have you got a wireless aboard?"
"Nary wireless. When we take our departure from Fire Island it's up to Cap'n Fish an' me an' the rest of us to bring her in."
"There's no danger?"
"Well, there's always danger in sailin' the seas, but nobody never thinks nothin' about it with a good ship, well officered, well manned an' well found. It's a damn sight safer than the streets of New York with all them automobiles runnin' on the wind an' by the wind an' across the wind an' every other way at the same time. It's as much as a man's life is worth to try to navigate a street. Never mind the danger. We've got to settle a few little details an' then the thing bein' off your mind we can have a royal good time. You ain't got anything on tonight?"
"No engagement that I can't break. If it had been tomorrow, Wednesday, it would have been different because that is the night my friend-"
"Oh, he's a friend of yourn. Why don't you tell-"
"No use, Bill; this is the only way. But because he is a friend of mine I tell you I don't want him to come to any harm or to get any bad treatment."
"If he buckles down to work an' accepts the situation he won't get no bad treatment from me."
This was perfectly honest, for in the brutal school in which he had been trained what he meted out to his men was what he had been taught was right and what he believed they indeed expected, without which indeed discipline could not be maintained and the work of the ship properly done. Harnash had some doubts as to Beekman's ability to buckle down or willingness, rather, but he had to risk something. The two friends put their heads together and the minor details were easily arranged.
"Better tell the gal it's goin' to be all right, hadn't you?" suggested Woywod.
"No," said Harnash, with a truer appreciation of the situation. "I think I'll surprise her."
"It'll be a surprise, all right," laughed the big sailor. "Well, you do your part an' I'll do mine an' if the man does his part he'll come back to find you married an' he can make the best of it. By the way, what's his name?"
"Is it necessary that I should tell you?"
"No, 'tain't necessary an' perhaps on the whole it wouldn't be best. If I don't know his name I can call him a damn liar whatever he says it is, with a clear conscience," went on the sailor blithely and guilelessly, as if conscience really mattered to him.