Bachelors' dinners, masculine pre-nuptial festivities, that is, like everything else with which poor humanity deals, may roughly be divided into two kinds, which fall under the generic names of good or bad. Of course, in practice, as in life, goodness often degenerates into badness and badness is sometimes lifted into goodness. Such is the perversity of human nature even at its best that when the declaration is made that Beekman's bachelor dinner was a good one all interest in it is immediately lost! Bad is so much more attractive in literature and in life. Perhaps it may be said that while the dinner had not descended to the unbridled license which sometimes characterized such affairs, and while there were no ladies present in various stages of-shall it be said dress or undress-nevertheless, the young fellows who were present had a delightful time which if not as innocent as the festivities of Stephanie's final entertainment to her lovely attendants, was nevertheless quite what might have been expected from clean, healthy, well-bred young Americans with a reasonable amount of restraint.
The dinner was chosen with fine discrimination and epicurean taste; it was cooked by the best chef, served at the most exclusive club and accompanied by wines with which even the most captious bon vivant could not take issue. Perhaps some of the youngsters drank more than was good for them-which instantly raises the question, how much, or how little, if any, is good for a young man? They broke up at a decently early hour in the morning in much better condition than might have been expected.
Beekman was one of the most temperate of men. He took pride in his athletic prowess and he still kept himself in fine physical trim. A very occasional glass of wine usually limited his indulgence. In this instance, however, under conditions so unusual, he had partaken so much more freely than was his wont-his course being pardonable or otherwise in accordance with the viewpoint-that he was not altogether himself. This was not much more due to the plan of Harnash than to the solicitations of the other friends who found nothing so pleasant on that occasion as drinking to his health, and generally in bumpers. Indeed, not once but many times and oft around the board they pledged him and were pledged in return.
At the insistence of Harnash, Beekman had arranged to spend the night at the former's apartment in Washington Square. Harnash made the point that he was expected to look after him and produce him the next morning in the best trim, therefore he did not wish him to get out of his sight. Accordingly, Beekman had dismissed his own car and when the party broke up about two o'clock in the morning he went away with Harnash in the latter's limousine.
At somebody's suggestion-Beekman could never remember whose, whether it was his or his friend's-they stopped at several places on the way down town for further liquid refreshment of which Beekman partook liberally, Harnash sparingly or not at all. It was not difficult for an adroit man like Harnash, confronted by a rather befuddled man like Beekman, to introduce the infallible knock-out drops, with which he had been provided by Woywod, into the liquor.
As they crossed Twenty-third Street on their way down town Harnash stopped the car. His chauffeur lived on East Twenty-third Street, and Harnash dismissed him, saying he would drive the car down to his private garage back of his residence in Washington Mews himself. There was nothing unusual in this; the chauffeur subsequently testified that he had received the same thoughtful consideration from his employer on many previous occasions. When the chauffeur left the car, the drug had not yet got in its deadly work. Beekman was still all right apparently and the chauffeur subsequently testified that when Beekman bade him good-night he noticed nothing strikingly unusual. Beekman seemed to be himself, although the chauffeur could see that he was slightly under the influence of wine.
By the time the car, driven by Harnash with considerable ostentation and as much notice as possible, for he wanted to attract attention to his arrival, reached the garage, Beekman was absolutely unconscious on the floor of the tonneau, to which he had fallen. Harnash ran the car into the garage, closed the doors with a bang, and ran across the intervening court rapidly and noisily and up to his own apartments. He was ordinarily a considerate young man, and coming in at that hour he would have made as little noise as possible, but on this occasion his conduct was different. He stumbled on the stairs, banged the door behind him, fell over a chair in his room, swore audibly. People subsequently testified that they had heard him coming in and one even saw him, quite alone.
Without pausing an unnecessary moment in the room he made his exit from his apartment by means of the fire escape, and this time not a cat could have moved more silently. Fortunately, the back of the house was in deep shadow and there were no lights adjacent. The shadow of the fence also served him. He reentered the garage, having taken precaution the day before secretly to oil the doors. He dragged his unfortunate friend and companion from the limousine, stripped him of his overcoat and automobile cap, which he put on himself. The coat he had previously worn had differed in every particular from that of Beekman. He removed Beekman's watch and other jewelry and his money, of which he carried a considerable sum. These articles he stowed away in his private locker to which his chauffeur did not have a key. He could remove them to his office safe at his leisure. In Beekman's vest pocket he put a large roll of his own money-he could not steal, though abduction was his intent-and then he lifted him to the floor of his runabout which stood in the garage by the side of the limousine.
He next removed the number plates from the car, replaced them with false ones, and ran the car out of the garage by hand. Every part of it had been oiled so that its movement was absolutely noiseless. Then he shoved the car down the street, which was now deserted, until he got some distance away from the garage. The only really risky part of the enterprise was at that moment. Fortune favored him-or not, as the case may be. At any rate, no one appeared. It was after three o'clock in the morning, the street was deserted, and there was not a policeman in sight. He climbed into the car, started it, and drove off.
He proceeded cautiously at first, seeking unfrequented and narrow streets until he got far enough from the garage to change his going to suit his purpose. After a time he sought the broader streets and passed several people, mostly police officers, but them he now took no care to avoid. He drove near them so that they would notice his general build, which was that of his friend, and the clothes he wore, which were those of his friend, and indeed they testified afterward that they had seen a man dressed as and looking like Beekman, exactly as he had anticipated. He drove past them rapidly so as not to give them time for too close a scrutiny. Also he doubled on his trail often.
When he reached a dark, lonely, and unfrequented block near South Water Street he drew up before the door of a dimly lighted, forbidding looking building, the sign on which indicated that it was a sailors' boarding house. He got out of the car, taking precaution to slip on a false mustache and beard with which he had provided himself, and tapped on a door in a certain way which had been indicated to him. The door was at once opened by a burly, rough, villainous looking individual, the boarding house master, obviously a crimp of the worst class.
"What d'ye want?" he growled out, scrutinizing the newcomer by the aid of a gas jet burning inside the dirty, reeking hall, whose feeble light he supplemented by a flash from an electric torch which really revealed little, since Harnash carefully concealed his already disguised face.
"I have something for Mr. Woywod."
"The mate of the Susquehanna?"
"Well, he told me to receive an' deliver what you got."
"That was our agreement," said Harnash, the little dialogue convincing each man that no doubt was to be entertained of the other.
"Well, where's the goods?"
"In the car."
"Fetch him in."
"He's rather heavy. Perhaps you'll give me a hand."
"Oh, all right," answered the man, putting his electric torch in his pocket.
The two went to the car and the man easily picked up the unconscious Beekman and unaided carried him within the door. Harnash followed. He observed the man glanced at the numbers on the car and was glad that he had taken the precaution to change them. The crimp now dropped the unconscious Beekman in the hallway and turned to Harnash. He found the latter standing quietly, but with an automatic pistol in his hand.
"You needn't be afraid of me," said the man.
"I'm not," answered Harnash. He was ghastly pale and extremely nervous, but not from fear of the crimp. "This is just a matter of precaution."
"Well, what do I git out of this yere job?" asked the man.
"I understand Mr. Woywod will settle with you for that."
"Well, he does, but what I gits from him is the price of a foremast hand, an' 'tain't enough."
The crimp bent over Beekman, flashed the light on him, and pulled out the roll of bills, which he quickly counted.
"It's fair, but I'd ought to git more. This here's a swell job; look at them clo'es."
"They're yours also, if you wish."
"That's somethin', but-"
"It's all you'll get," said Harnash, laying his hand on the door.
The man lifted the torch. Harnash lifted the pistol.
"Just put that torch back in your pocket," he said.
"You're a cool one," laughed the man, but he obeyed the order.
"If it is learned tomorrow that this man has disappeared you'll receive through the United States mail in a plain envelope a hundred dollar bill. If not, you get nothing."
"Suppose I croak him, how'd you know anything about it?"
"Mr. Woywod has arranged to inform me, and he will also put your part of the transaction on record, so if you say a word you'll be laid by the heels and get nothing for your pains. There are a number of things against you, I'm told. The police would be most happy to get you, I know. Just bear that in mind."
The man nodded. He knew when the cards were stacked against him. After all, this did not greatly differ from an ordinary job and he was getting, for him, very well paid for his part of it.
"I got relations with Woywod an' lots of other seafarin' men. My business would be ruined if I played tricks on 'em. You can trust me to keep quiet."
"I thought so," answered Harnash. "Good-night."
He opened the door, stepped outside, closed the door behind him, and waited a moment, but the crimp made no effort to follow him. After all, it was only an every day matter with him. Harnash next drove the car down the street near one of the wharves, where he met Woywod.
"Is it all right, George?" asked the latter.
"All right, Bill. He's at the place you told me to leave him. Can you keep the crimp's mouth shut?"
"Trust me for that," said Woywod confidently. "He's mixed up in too many shady transactions to give anybody any information."
"I'll never forget what you've done for me," said Harnash. "Remember, use him well."
"No fear," laughed his friend as the two shook hands and parted.
Then Harnash drove up the street, waited until he came to a dark alley, turned into it, unobserved, got out of the car, put Beekman's coat and hat into it, donned his own overcoat and cap, which he had brought with him, and still wearing the false mustache and beard changed the numbers on the car, started it, and let it wreck itself against the nearest water hydrant.
It was a long walk up town, even to Washington Square, and he had to go very circumspectly because he did not now wish to be seen by anyone. Again fortune favored him. He gained the garage, crossed the court, mounted the fire escape to his rooms, and sank down, utterly exhausted but triumphant.
His defense was absolutely impregnable. No one could controvert his story. He rehearsed it. He had come home with Beekman after the dinner had terminated. They had had one or two drinks on the way. They had dismissed the chauffeur at Twenty-third Street. When they reached the garage Beekman, moved by some sudden whim, had insisted upon going back to his own apartment up town in Harnash's little roadster. He had been drinking, of course. He was not altogether in possession of his normal faculties, but Harnash was in the same condition and therefore he had not been too insistent. Beekman was as capable of driving the car as Harnash had just showed himself to be. There was nothing he could do to prevent Beekman from going away. He could not even remember, when he was questioned, whether he had tried it or not. At any rate, Beekman had gone away in the roadster and Harnash had gone to bed. So dwellers in the building who heard him come in testified. One who happened to go to the window even had seen him come in. No one had seen or heard him go out. Harnash swore that he had not left the apartment until the next morning.
Beekman, or a man dressed as he was known to be dressed, had been seen by the police officers and others between three or four in the morning, driving through the lower part of the city in a small car the number of which no one had seen. What he was doing in that section of the city no one could imagine. During the course of the morning Harnash's car was found, badly smashed from a collision, lying on its side in a wretched alley off South Water Street. Beekman's overcoat and cap were in the car and that was all there was to it.
No matter what suspicions the crimp might have entertained, he kept his mouth shut and received the day after the one hundred dollar bill in an unmarked envelope which had been mailed at the general postoffice in the afternoon. Even if he had spoken, he could not have thrown much light on the situation. Not even the reward which was offered could tempt him. His business demanded secrecy, absolutely and inviolable, and too many men knew too much about him, which rendered it unsafe for him to open his head. He would not kill the goose that laid the golden egg for him by making further business on the same lines impossible. He really knew nothing, anyway.
The secret was shared between two men, Woywod on the sea and out of communication with New York, and Harnash himself. So long as they kept quiet no one would ever know. Even Beekman himself could not solve the mystery when he returned to New York. It was most ingeniously planned and most brilliantly carried out. Harnash congratulated himself. Stephanie Maynard would certainly be his long before Beekman could prevent it. Still, George Harnash was by no means so happy in the present state of affairs as he had planned and hoped to be. And his trials were not over. He had to meet Stephanie, the wedding party, old John Maynard, the public press, and the public-what would the day bring forth?
Stephanie Maynard had passed a sleepless night. Her love for George Harnash grew stronger and her abhorrence of the marriage increased in the same degree as the hour drew nearer. Too late she repented of her determination. She wondered why she had not allowed Harnash to take her away and end it all. What, after all, were her father's wishes, or her own promises, or the worldly advantages they would gain, or anything else, compared to love?
Harnash had sent word to her the day before that she was not to give up hope, that something would happen surely, but now the last minute was at hand and nothing had happened. A dozen times she started to call her lover on the telephone and a dozen times she refrained. Finally the hour arrived when the victim must be garlanded for the sacrifice. At least, that is the way she regarded it.
She had not heard a word from her husband-to-be during the morning. Under other circumstances that would have alarmed her, but as it was she was only relieved. The wedding party was assembled at the brand new Maynard mansion on upper Fifth Avenue. Two of the attendants were school friends from other cities and they were guests at the house. The wedding was to be followed by a breakfast and a great reception which the Maynard money and the Beekman position was to make the most wonderful affair of the kind that had ever been given in New York.
With the publicity which modern society courts and welcomes, while it pretends to deprecate it, the papers had published reams about the most private details of the engagement, even to descriptions and pictures of the most intimate under-linen of the bride. Presents of fabulous value, which lost nothing in their description by perfervid pens, were under constant guard in the mansion. Details of police kept back swarms of unaccredited reporters and adventurous sightseers. On the morning of the wedding day the street before the Cathedral was packed with the vulgarly curious long before eleven o'clock. The wedding was to be solemnized at high noon, and was to be the greatest social event which had excited easily aroused and intensely curious New York for a year or more.
The newer members of the exclusive social circle frankly enjoyed it. And such is the contagion of degeneration that the older members, while they affected disdain and annoyance, enjoyed it too. The newspapers had played it up tremendously, and the affair had even achieved the signal triumph of a veiled but well understood cartoon by F. Foster Lincoln, the scourge and satirist of high society, in a recent number of Life.
Everything was ready. The most famous caterer in New York had prepared the most sumptuous wedding breakfast. The most exclusive florist had decorated the church and residence. Society had put on its best clothes, slightly deploring the fact that as it was to be a noon wedding its blooming would be somewhat limited thereby. More tickets had been issued to the Cathedral than even that magnificent edifice could hold and it was filled to its capacity so soon as the doors were opened. The famous choir was in attendance to render a musical program of extraordinary beauty and appropriateness.
As it approached the hour of mid-day the excitement was intense. Women in the crowd were crushed, many fainted. Riot calls had to be sent out and the already strong detachment of police supplemented by reserves. Thus is the holy state of matrimony entered into among the busy rich. With the idle poor it is, fortunately, a simpler affair.
It had been arranged that Derrick Beekman and George Harnash should present themselves at the Maynard mansion not later than eleven o'clock. From there they would drive to the Cathedral in plenty of time to receive the wedding party at the chancel steps. At eleven o'clock a big motor forced its way through the crowd and drew up before the door. From it descended George Harnash alone.
That young man showed the effect of the night he had passed. He was excessively nervous and as gray as the gloves he carried in his hands. He was admitted at once and ushered into the drawing room, which was filled with a dozen young ladies in raiment which even Solomon in all his glory might have envied, who were to make up the wedding party. There also had just arrived the young gentlemen who were to accompany them, who had all been at the bachelor dinner. None of them exhibited any evidence of unusual dissipation. They had slept late and were in excellent condition.
"George, alone!" cried young Van Brunt, who was next in importance to the best man, as Harnash entered the room.
"Where's Beekman?" asked Harnash apparently in great surprise, as he glanced at the little group.
"Not here. You were to bring him. It's time for us to get up to the Cathedral anyway. I'll bet the people are clamoring at the doors now."
"They weren't to be opened till eleven-fifteen," said Grant, one of the fittest members of the party. "It's only eleven now. We've plenty of time."
"Well, you better beat it up now, then. Beekman will be here in a minute, I'm sure," said Harnash. "We'll follow you in half an hour."
As the young men who were to usher left the room the girls fell upon Harnash.
"Mr. Harnash," said Josephine Treadway, who was the maid-of-honor, "will you please tell us where Derrick Beekman is, and why you didn't bring him along?"
"I can't," said Harnash. "As a matter of fact I-"
"You'll tell me, certainly," interposed the voice that he loved.
He turned and found that Stephanie, having completed her toilet, had descended the stair and entered the room. She was whiter than Harnash himself, but her lack of color was infinitely becoming to her in her sumptuous bridal robes, and the adoring young man decided then and there that whatever happened she was worth it.
"Mr. Beekman," continued the girl, "was to be here at eleven o'clock with you. It's after that now and you're here alone. Where is he? Why didn't you bring him?"
"Miss Maynard," said Harnash formally, and in spite of himself he could not prevent his lip from trembling, "I don't know where he is."
"What!" exclaimed the girl, really astonished, as the whole assembly broke into exclamations. Had Harnash accomplished the impossible, as he had threatened?
"I can't find him," went on Harnash. He could scarcely sustain Stephanie's direct and piercing gaze. He forced himself to look at her, however. "I don't know where he is," he repeated.
"But have you searched?"
"Everywhere. I called up his apartment on Park Avenue at ten o'clock. They said he wasn't there and hadn't been there all night. I started my man out at once in a taxicab, jumped into my own car, and I've been everywhere-the office, his clubs-I've even had my secretary and clerks telephone all the hotels on the long chance that he might be at one of them."
"And you haven't found a trace of him? George Harnash-" began Stephanie, but Harnash was too quick for her; he did not allow her to finish.
"You will forgive me," he went on; "I did even more than that in my alarm. I finally notified the police on the chance that he might have been er-er-brought in."
He shot a warning look at Stephanie that checked further inquiries from her.
"Why should he be brought in?" asked Josephine Treadway, who had no reason for not asking the question.
"Why, you see," went on Harnash, "it's desperately hard to tell, and I'd rather die than mention it, but under the circumstances I suppose-"
"Out with it at once," cried Stephanie.
"Well, we had a little dinner last night at-well, never mind where."
"We had a dinner, too," said Josephine.
"Yes, but I imagine ours was-er-different. At any rate, it didn't break up until quite late, or, I should say, early in the morning, and we were not-quite ourselves."
"But Derrick is the most abstemious of men."
"Exactly; so am I, and when that kind go under it's worse than-you understand," he added helplessly.
"When did you see him last?"
"Why-er-I'll make a clean breast of it."
"Do so, I beg you."
"Well, then, we were right enough when the dinner broke up. Derrick and I left the others to their own devices. He had arranged to spend the night with me. We stopped at one or two places down town, but reached my quarters in Washington Square about two or three o'clock."
Harnash paused and swallowed hard. It was an immensely difficult task to which he had compelled himself, although so far he had told nothing but the truth.
"Go on," said Josephine Treadway impatiently as the pause lengthened.
"He changed his mind after we put the limousine in the garage and insisted on going back to his own rooms."
"Did you let him go?"
"Well, Miss Treadway, I couldn't help it, and, to be frank, I didn't try. You see we were neither of us very sure of ourselves and-and-"
"He took my runabout, drove off and-that's all."
"Have you found the runabout?"
"Yes, the police found it in an alley near South Water Street, badly smashed. Beekman's overcoat and cap were in the car."
"Do you think he has been hurt?" questioned Stephanie, who had listened breathlessly to the conversation between her lover and her maid-of-honor.
"I'm sure that he can't have been," returned Harnash with definiteness which carried conviction to his questioner, and no one else caught the meaning look he shot at her.
"And that's all?" asked Josephine.
"Absolutely all I can tell you," he replied truthfully, none noticing the equivoke but Stephanie, who of course could not call attention to it.
"You poor girl," said Josephine, gathering Stephanie in her arms.
"It's outrageous. It's horrible," cried the girl, biting her lip to keep back her tears.
She really could scarcely tell whether she was glad or sorry, now that it had come; not that her feelings had changed, but there was the public scandal, the affront, the-but she had not time to speculate.
"What is outrageous, what is horrible?" asked John Maynard, coming into the room and catching her words. "What can be outrageous or horrible in such a wedding as we have arranged? Why, Stephanie, what's the matter? You're as white as a sheet, and Harnash, are you ill? You're a pretty looking spectacle for a best man."
"Father," said his daughter, "they can't find Derrick."
"Can't find him!" exclaimed Maynard. "Does he have to be sought for on his wedding day? If I were going to marry a stunning girl like you, for all you're as pale as a ghost, I-"
"There's not going to be any wedding," said Stephanie, mechanically.
"No wedding!" roared Maynard, surprised intensely. "What do you mean? Are you backing out at the last minute?"
"No, it's not I."
"Look here, will some one explain this mystery to me?" asked the man, turning to the rather frightened bevy of girls. "It's eleven-thirty; we ought to be starting. What's the meaning of this infernal foolishness? You, Harnash, what are you standing there looking like a ghost for? One would think you were going to be married yourself."
"Mr. Maynard," said Josephine, taking upon herself the task, "Stephanie has told you the truth. Mr. Harnash has just come and he doesn't know where Mr. Beekman is."
"Doesn't know where he is?"
"He can't be found, sir," said Harnash.
"Do you mean to tell me that he has run away and left my girl in the lurch? By God, he'll-"
"I'm sure it isn't that," said Harnash earnestly, "but the fact is we had a bachelor dinner last night."
"Of course you did, but what has that to do with it?"
"Everything. I guess we indulged a little too much."
"Well, bachelors have done that fool thing since time and the world began."
"Yes, but Beekman hasn't been seen since early this morning, two or three o'clock."
"Who saw him last?"
"I did," said Harnash, briefly repeating his explanation.
"What did you do?"
"I 'phoned to his house and they said he hadn't been there all night. I dressed, sent my man out in a taxi, took my own car, summoned the office force to my assistance, and Dougherty's detectives, and I've scoured the city for him."
"I have notified them, of course, as soon as they reported the finding of my runabout. They're on the hunt, too. We have even called up every hotel in the city. He's not to be found."
"It must be foul play," said Maynard, taking Harnash's account of it at its face value.
"I suppose so," said Harnash, wincing a little, although he would fain not, and again shooting a quick glance at Stephanie, and then daringly following it with a quick gesture of negation to reassure her.
"Where that car was found it wouldn't take much to interest a thief."
"No. He had a watch, jewelry, money. Indeed, I have a dim remembrance of his flashing a roll in some place or other."
"That will be it."
"Meanwhile what is to be done, sir?"
"It's a quarter to twelve now," said Josephine Treadway.
"God, how I hate this," said old Maynard. "Here," he stepped to the door and called his private secretary, "Bentley, drive up to the Cathedral like mad, tell the Bishop that the wedding is called off. Yes, don't stand there like a fish; get out."
"But we'll have to give some reason to the people, explain to the guests in the church," expostulated the secretary.
"Reason be damned," said Maynard, roughly.
"Excuse me," said Harnash, "it would be better for all concerned, and especially Miss Maynard, if the matter were explained at once, and fully. You wouldn't like to have anyone think for a moment that she had been left in the lurch."
"Mr. Harnash is right, sir. It must be explained as well as it can."
"Very well, Bentley," said his employer. "Tell the Bishop that Mr. Beekman has disappeared, that we are of the opinion that he has met with foul play, that under the circumstances there is nothing to do but call off the wedding and have the explanation announced in the Cathedral in any way he likes, and then get back here as quickly as possible. Stephanie, I'd rather have lost half my fortune than have this happen, but keep up your courage. I feel that nothing but some dastardly work would have kept Beekman away. He is the soul of honor and he was passionately devoted to you. Don't faint, my dear girl."
"I'm not going to faint," said Stephanie, resolutely. "Girls, I'm awfully sorry for your disappointment," she faltered.
"Don't mind us," said Josephine.
"I'm afraid that perhaps you-you-"
"We're going at once," explained one of the bridesmaids, "if you will have our motors called up."
"Of course," said Maynard. "Harnash, you attend to that and then come to me in the library. William," he added to the footman who came in obedience to his summons, "get me the chief of police on the telephone and when the reporters come, and they will be here just as soon as the announcement is made at the church, show them into the library in a body. I've got to see them and I'll see them all at once. Harnash, you come, too. You can tell the story better than anyone."