Six months after the departure of the Susquehanna with its unwilling member of the crew, Harnash found himself in a position of advantage far beyond his wildest dream. The active search for Beekman had of necessity been abandoned long since, although the authorities still kept the matter in view. No one had yet connected his disappearance with the Susquehanna because her clearance papers had been taken out the day before, although her actual sailing had been delayed. She had slipped away unmarked in the early dawn, under her own canvas, the wind being favorable, and as Captain Fish knew the channel well she had even dispensed with the pilot.
In the search and the negotiations connected with it George Harnash had been thrown rather intimately and closely with John Maynard. There had been no business associations between them at first, but Maynard's growing appreciation of the ability of Harnash, which was very considerable, was heightened by a rather brilliant coup which the young man pulled off and from which Maynard suffered; not seriously, of course, from Maynard's point of view, although the results were of a very considerable financial gain to Harnash.
Now there was none of the mean spirit of revenge in Maynard. It was his policy to convert a brilliant enemy into a friend, if possible. Of course, some enemies were too big for that purpose, and those Maynard fought to a finish. Harnash was not in that category. Maynard was getting along in years. The excitement of battle had begun somewhat to pall upon him. He loved fighting for its own sake, but he had fought so long and so hard and so successfully that he was willing to withdraw gradually from the more active conflict, leaving warfare to youth, to which indeed it appertains.
Among the young men he gathered around him there was none who stood quite as high in his good graces as Harnash. No suspicion of the love affair between Harnash and Stephanie had arisen in the old man's mind, but he was not unaware that Stephanie greatly liked the young man. At first he had thought that the liking had developed from the other man's affection for Beekman.
Against that young man his resentment grew hotter and hotter. The police scouted the conclusion that Beekman was dead. His case, they alleged, was just one of the many mysterious disappearances from New York, most of which were eventually explained. There was not a scrap of evidence anywhere to account for Beekman's disappearance. Probably the labels had been torn from his clothing before it had been disposed of, if it had been sold. His watch case might have been melted down for old gold, obviously, if it had not accompanied him. At any rate, the works had not been traced. And no pawn shop or fence yielded the slightest clew to any other jewelry. The great reward still standing brought no information whatever.
Maynard was finally convinced that Beekman had deliberately run away from his daughter, and the world also accepted that solution. Only Harnash and Stephanie knew the contrary. Seeing them so much together, it had often occurred to Maynard that possibly Harnash might succeed in consoling his daughter. It was not on that account, however, that he took him into business after three months of association and finally made him his personal representative and confidential man.
Now Harnash had been unremitting in his attentions to Stephanie. She did not hesitate to avow her affection to him and to continue in that avowal, but she had not receded an inch from her position that before Harnash could even speak to her father, and certainly before he could claim her, Beekman must be found and his consent gained.
Harnash had concealed nothing from the woman he loved except what he had done with Beekman. He met her refusal to marry him with a refusal to reveal that. In keeping that secret he was as obstinate in his way as she was in hers. Of course, Harnash would ultimately be compelled to tell the whole story, and as the months slipped by and the time of the arrival of the Susquehanna at Vladivostok, where she would be in cable communication with the rest of the world, approached he naturally grew more and more apprehensive and showed it to Stephanie's keen and searching eyes, at least.
When Maynard trusted a man he trusted him all in all. It was a part of his policy. If a man were not worth trusting he did not want him around and he did not have him around, as a matter of fact. Therefore among other duties devolved upon the new confidential assistant was the opening of the great financier's mail. Harnash had never made up his mind just what he should do when the necessity for confession and explanation was presented. He had tried to plan his course, but so much depended upon circumstances that he had always put the decision by. Stephanie loved him-and it was easy to see that her passion for him was growing and that it almost matched his own-but she was a high spirited girl with certain unspoiled notions of right and wrong, and with a certain amount of her father's unyielding firmness which made her conduct in the threatening emergency something of a problem.
The problem changed from the abstract to the concrete one morning about a half year after that bachelor dinner. The Susquehanna was overdue at Vladivostok. From the shipping experts in the Inter-Oceanic Trading Company Harnash had found that out and it had greatly increased his anxiety by giving it a new turn-suppose something had befallen the ship? Every day of delay added to his mental distress. And although the shipping people manifested no special apprehension-ships were often longer overdue, especially sailing ships-Harnash grew more and more uneasy.
One morning while he was going over the mail at the office prior to Maynard's arrival a messenger boy brought in a cable from Honolulu. He signed for it, dismissed the boy, and without the slightest apprehension tore open the envelope. This is the message that stared at him:
Regret to report Susquehanna burned at sea, sunk by explosion of cargo. Third officer and six survivors landed here yesterday in small boat. Captain refused to abandon ship. One other boat got away, probably lost. Cable instructions.
It was signed by Smithfield, the agent of the Inter-Oceanic Trading Company in the Hawaiian Islands. One glance, one horrified inspection stamped the facts on Harnash's brain and consciousness. The Susquehanna was lost with all her people except the third officer and six men; that meant Woywod too. Was Beekman among those six, or had Harnash sent him to his death? Could he have been in the other boat? Was there a chance that it would turn up? Somehow Harnash jumped at a conviction, of which he could not disabuse his mind, that Beekman was among the missing. This he had not planned. That it could happen he had never dreamed, even remotely.
Now Harnash faced the greatest temptation of his life. He was quick enough to see that if Woywod and Beekman had been lost, in all probability the secret would never be known and all he had to do was to say nothing to be safe. But Harnash had never liked Beekman so much as at that very moment. Forgetful for the time being even of Stephanie, his mind reverted to their college associations, their subsequent business career, the unfailing courtesy and kindness and trust which Beekman, high-placed and rich, had extended to him, relatively humble and poor, his cordial cooperation and confidence, his help. While Harnash was the business and brains of the firm, he could have accomplished little without Beekman.
He recalled the genial, pleasant humor of his friend, the good times they had enjoyed together, and as he did so he put his head in his hands and groaned aloud. Harnash felt like a murderer. He believed indeed that he was one. It was the turning point in his career. If he spoke he would brand himself in the eyes of all to whom the story might become known-John Maynard, of course, and Stephanie, the woman he loved truly and whole heartedly, even though his love had made him do an unworthy and ignoble thing. If he kept silent, with the start he had gained in John Maynard's graces and with Stephanie's affection, he would eventually marry her. If he did not tell her, if he put her off with some carefully manufactured story, he could probably persuade her after a time to marry him. In that event he saw himself doomed to a long life with the woman he loved so passionately and whom he would fain trust with everything, with a hideous secret between them. To win her under such conditions was to lose her. Which was the better course?
Many a man gives way to an evil impulse under the strain of a great temptation, but it does not necessarily follow that he cannot recover from that impulse, that his moral nature is broken down completely by the one lapse, even though it be a great one. As a matter of fact, a woman like Stephanie Maynard could scarcely have loved George Harnash as she did if he had not been on the whole much better than his worst.
Then and there Harnash came to a decision. Not without much inward wrestling and many groanings of spirit did he reach the conclusion that it was better not to try to cover up what he had done. To him entered Maynard. The cheery good morning of the elder man died on his lips as he noted the strain and anxiety in his young friend's face.
"What's the matter?" he began abruptly.
"Mr. Maynard," said Harnash, summoning his courage up to the self-accusing point, "I've something very important to say."
"What is it?" asked the financier, sitting down at the big desk, disregarding his mail, and staring at Harnash.
"It begins somewhat far back."
"Get to the point quickly."
"I will. I love your daughter. I have loved her ever since I met her, long before she became engaged to Beekman."
"Wait a minute before you condemn him."
"What's he got to do with your trouble?"
"I think Stephanie has about forgotten him, and, frankly, if you want to marry her-well, I had other views for her, but I don't see why you shouldn't," was the old man's surprising answer.
"There may be reasons to the contrary of which you know nothing, Mr. Maynard."
"What are they? Why all this beating around the bush?"
"You've thought hardly of Beekman because he disappeared on his wedding day."
"I was the cause of it."
"Good God! Did you murder him?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Do you know what you're saying?"
"You must be crazy."
"I think I am. This came this morning."
The unhappy Harnash held out the telegram.
"Well," said Maynard, reading it over quickly. "That's a bad job, of course, but the Susquehanna is fully insured. It's unfortunate about the men, and the Russians have been cabling us for that shipment of munitions and war material, but what's this got to do with Beekman?"
"He was on the burned ship."
"Her mate, Woywod, was a boyhood friend of mine. I told him I loved your daughter and she loved me-"
"Oh, it's got that far, has it?"
"And you had him shanghaied by this Woywod," said Maynard, frowning, as the whole situation became instantly clear to him.
"Does Stephanie know?"
"Not a thing."
"Was she a party to this transaction?"
"In no way. I always knew I loved her, but we only found out she loved me while Beekman was away during the year after his father's death. I begged her to confess the truth, to appeal to you and to Beekman, and to break the engagement. She refused to do any of these things. She said it was the most cherished desire of your heart, that you and old Beekman, who were bound together by affection of long standing, had agreed upon it, that she had given her word with her eyes open."
"And you did this thing with what in view, pray?"
"To delay the marriage in the hope that something might turn up and I might win her."
"Something has turned up."
"I'm afraid so."
"But isn't it just possible that Beekman may be one of those six men who survived?"
"We should have heard from him in that event."
"Right, but isn't it just possible that the other boat may turn up or its men may have landed on some Pacific island?"
"It's possible," said Harnash, "but not likely."
"It's generally the unlikely thing that happens in life," said Maynard, coolly, staring hard at the unfortunate young man to whom confession was obviously difficult. "For instance, the most unlikely thing that I could think of is that I should be sitting here quietly listening to you confess this treacherous and dastardly crime without being able to determine whether I shall hand you over to the authorities or give you my daughter as a wife."
"I don't think the disposition of your daughter's hand rests with you now."
"Does it rest with you?"
"No. She has told me that she would never even allow me to speak to you or consent to marry me until she had been released by you and Beekman."
Maynard thought deeply. He was, as he had said, in a state of indecision most unusual and extraordinary with him. To be unable to settle upon his course was most annoying to him.
"You haven't told her what you did?"
"Not a word."
"You'll have to tell her now," he said at last, thinking that perhaps she might throw some light on the problem.
"I intend to."
Maynard reached for the telephone. He called up the house, got his daughter on the wire, and asked her to take her car and come to the office immediately. He brushed away questions and objections by assuring her that it was a matter of life and death. Having thus aroused her curiosity and greatly alarmed her, he disconnected.
"Now," he said, turning to Harnash, who had waited, "what have you to suggest?"
"Cable our agent at Honolulu to send the survivors to San Francisco by the first steamer."
"Good so far."
"I'll go out there in time to meet them and ascertain the facts. If Beekman is there I'll tell him the truth and bring him home, if he doesn't kill me."
"If he is not?"
"I'll turn everything I have into money and on the chance that he may be somewhere in the South Seas I'll charter a ship and go and hunt for him."
"I wouldn't like to be in your shoes when you meet him, if you do."
"I don't much fancy the situation myself," admitted Harnash, "but that's neither here nor there. I've got to do it."
"You must have been desperately in love with Stephanie to have done this thing."
"I was. I am. I don't want to plead anything in justification," answered the other, "but if Stephanie had loved Beekman I don't think I should have interfered, although she probably would have found out that I loved her because I couldn't help letting her see it. You have seen it yourself, haven't you?"
"Now that you say it, I recall things that looked that way and, yes, I had begun to suspect it."
"But when I found out that she didn't love him and that she did love me and that she was only going through with it to please you and the elder Beekman-well, it seemed horrible. I swore to her that I would prevent it if I had to snatch her away from him at the foot of the altar."
"Instead of which you snatched him from her the day before."
"It was the same day."
"I wonder why none of us ever thought of the Susquehanna."
"She is on record as having sailed the evening before. Her clearance papers were so made out and as she probably got away without tug or pilot in the early dawn nobody connected him with her."
"You didn't have this end of the voyage in mind, of course?"
"As God is my judge I did not," answered Harnash, earnestly.
"The Susquehanna was overdue at Vladivostok by about three weeks, I believe," continued the old man. "That's why you've been so distrait and worried and generally knocked up during the last month?"
"Yes. I expected to get word from Beekman."
"He would naturally cable me, his business partner."
"Oh, then he doesn't know anything about your part, if he is alive."
"Certainly not, unless Woywod told him, which would be most unlikely."
"I see. Well, go and cable Smithfield and find out when the next steamer sails for the United States from Hawaii, and arrange to leave here four days before her scheduled arrival so you can get this third officer and his men before they scatter. You know what sailors are. By the way, who is the third officer?"
"I don't know."
"Well, find that out in the shipping department. And keep within call. When Stephanie gets here I shall want you to tell her," said the old man, still painfully undecided as to his course.
"Very good, sir," said Harnash, turning away, glad for the relief of the temporary duties devolved upon him.
By the time he had completed them Stephanie had reached the office building and had gone to her father's private room, where Harnash presently followed her.
"I hurried down here, of course," she began, "on receipt of your surprising message. What has happened since you left this morning? Oh, good morning, Mr. Harnash," she continued, her face brightening as she held out her hand to that unhappy man as he entered the office.
"This," said her father in answer to her question, meanwhile keenly observing the other two.
He handed her the cable. She read it over and looked up with a little bewilderment.
"The Susquehanna!" she said. "I remember it was the last sailing ship. It's too bad that she is lost, but you were insured. Of course, it's terrible about the brave captain and the poor men."
Old Maynard nodded. He looked at Harnash. That young man's hour had come.
"Beekman was on the Susquehanna," he said quietly.
For a moment Stephanie Maynard did not take in the tremendous import of the declaration that had just fallen from her lover's lips. For one thing, he had spoken so quietly that she had not at first sensed the meaning. She stared from Harnash to her father in no little bewilderment. Both men watched her keenly; the older curious to know what she would do and say, the younger as one might wait the death sentence of a court.
"I don't understand," she faltered at last. "Did you say that Derrick Beekman- It's impossible. How could that be?"
"I had him shanghaied by a friend of mine."
"Yes. After the dinner broke up we stopped at an uptown place and" – Harnash hesitated. It was bad enough to compass the main fact, but the necessary admission of the sordid, unlovely details seemed to make his turpitude much greater.
"Yes, go on. What then?"
"Yes. I'm curious to know how you did it, too," put in Maynard.
"I persuaded him to take a drink. He was utterly unsuspicious. It was easy-"
"Oh, you doctored it," said Maynard.
"Yes-but- Good God, this is the hardest thing I ever did," cried poor Harnash, looking at the girl. "Knock-out drops, you know, and then he was shanghaied."
"I don't understand," she said again.
"He was delivered to a friend of mine down on Water Street who was waiting for him with a gang. I had arranged it all beforehand and they put him on the ship."
"But his watch, his money, jewelry?"
"I have those," admitted Harnash. "They're in my safe deposit box. I put them there, you understand, for safe keeping."
"Of course," said Maynard. "I don't think you're a thief as well as an abductor."
"Thank you," said Harnash.
"Well, even if he were on that ship," began Stephanie, at last comprehending, "it doesn't follow that he was lost."
"No. It doesn't follow. He may have been one of those picked up in the third mate's boat."
"By the way, who is the third mate?" interposed Maynard.
"She didn't carry one, sir. Her officers were Captain Peleg Fish, Woywod, and Salver. She had a boatswain, carpenter, sail-maker, and a crew of forty."
"Strange. Who could that officer be? But go on."
"Yes, and the other boat," said Stephanie, looking at the telegram again. "She may be found. He may be in her."
"It is possible," said Harnash hopelessly, "but I am convinced that he has been lost and I alone am responsible for his death."
The girl stared at the man, a strange look in her eyes. Harnash met her gaze bravely, although it took superhuman courage to do so. He loved her. There was no doubt about that. He had proved it in his perverted way. And she had loved him. There was no doubt of that, or there had not been. He even dared to hope that she would still love him, even in the face of his present confession; but whether she loved him or not he would rather have faced any judge on earth than Stephanie Maynard. The situation forced him to speak.
"It is no excuse that I did it for you," he began. "I said I'd be willing to kill him rather than he should have you; but while I want you just as much as ever, more, if possible, that doesn't prevent me from feeling like a murderer now. And it is all so useless, too. Your father never could give his consent now and you-with this hideous possibility before us, I've lost you, too."
He turned away. He could not control himself. He clenched his jaws together and walked toward the window, out of which he looked without seeing anything whatsoever. For a few moments nobody broke the silence. Old Maynard sat down quietly at his desk, leaned his face in his hands, and scrutinized his daughter. The air was surcharged with dramatic possibilities. He was too keen an observer not to recognize them. He had made up his own mind at last, but he wanted to see what his daughter would do before he disclosed his wishes or intentions. It seemed to Harnash, in whose breast a faint hope was still struggling as he also waited for the girl's decision, that Stephanie's silence lasted a long time. Really it was a very few moments. Singularly enough, her first word was not to her lover.
"Father," she began, facing the old man, "do you think it is likely that Derrick is lost?"
"If he were one of the survivors he would have cabled at once."
"He might be ill or-"
Maynard shook his head.
"I think we can discount that suggestion."
"Then his only chance would be the other boat?"
"And you think that chance-"
"A faint one. It was probably the bigger and better boat. It should have turned up before the other. It has not."
Every word carried conviction to the girl. The flicker of hope in Harnash's heart died away. It revived again when Stephanie, after pondering her father's words-and he allowed her to reflect upon them at her pleasure, volunteering nothing, suggesting nothing-began with another question.
"No one knew of Derrick's presence on the ship except those who were aboard her?"
"Obviously not, since all the detectives in New York, for the past six months, have been endeavoring to find out where he went, stimulated by a reward big enough to arouse them all to the most frantic endeavors."
"But the people on the ship would know?"
"I haven't any doubt that Beekman disclosed his name to the officers so soon as he came to his senses, but I imagine it wouldn't make much of an impression upon them. They wouldn't believe him. Sailors are proverbially happy-go-lucky people. Our agents at San Francisco will pay off these survivors, they will scatter, and that will be the end of them."
"And if he is lost the mystery of his disappearance would never have been solved," whispered the young woman, "unless Mr. Harnash himself had told."
The old man nodded. George Harnash, his back turned to them, listened as if his life hung upon the word.
"But if he had kept the secret," said the girl, illogically but with obvious meaning, "I could never have forgiven him, much as I loved him and still do love him. That doesn't seem to be news to you, father."
"It isn't. Go on."
"In that case I never could have married him, even though he did it for me, but now-"
She walked over toward Harnash and laid her hand on his shoulder. No knight ever received an accolade, no petitioner a benison, no penitent an absolution so precious as that. Harnash turned, coincident with the touch, transfigured.
"Stephanie," he burst out, "you don't mean-"
"A part of the blame is mine," said the girl, facing her father, her hand still on her lover's shoulder. "I was weak where I should have been strong. It was my duty to break with Derrick absolutely since I did not, could not, love him; but because I love you, Father, and because my word had been given, I proposed to go through with the marriage, knowing that I loved this man, letting him see that I did, and allowing myself to hope that he would effect what I refused to attempt; so that for this awful situation I am in a large part to blame."
"I cannot let that statement go unchallenged, Mr. Maynard," protested Harnash, passionately. "She is no more to blame than a baby. She couldn't help being beautiful. She couldn't help my loving her. As God is my judge, she has never done a thing to encourage me. She told me all along that she was going to marry Beekman, that she was in honor bound to do so, that duty and everything made it necessary. It was my own mad passion, for which she is not to blame, that made me do it. Not a vestige of reproach attaches to her. God knows, I wouldn't have had real harm come to him for anything on earth. I never dreamed of this. I never suspected it. I never anticipated it. It's an awful shock to me, but a man must fight for the woman he loves. Beekman didn't care. With him it was a matter of agreement, convenience, and I-" He turned and looked at the girl. "I think I'd do it again. I'll be honest. Now I'd cheerfully give my own life for Beekman's. If I am not to have you life isn't worth very much to me, and I'm terribly sorry for him; yet when I look at you, Stephanie, and think that in spite of everything I have lost you-"
"You haven't lost me," said the girl, quietly.
"What! You mean?"
"Where do I come in?" asked the elder Maynard with a calmness that matched his daughter's.
"Father," said the girl, "I'm not your daughter for nothing. I suppose I couldn't help loving George Harnash. I have the same fixity of purpose that you have. I showed it when I intended to carry out my agreement to marry Derrick, although it broke my heart. I know I will go on loving him to the end, no matter what he did, or what he is, but I wouldn't have married him if he hadn't of his own free will spoken out and told what he might as easily have concealed without anyone ever finding it out, if Derrick is really dead. And I feel here, somehow," said the girl, laying her hand on her heart, "that you hold the same views exactly."
"His prompt and open acknowledgment, his frank confession, makes all the difference," admitted Maynard. "It does seem to give the affair a different complexion."
"Well, it does, then. Go on."
"It was horribly wrong of George to do what he did, but he did it for me. It was my fault as much as his, and I take part of the blame."
"I swear I will not allow you."
"Let her finish," interposed Maynard. "She has more sense than you have, and I'll be hanged if I don't think she has more than I have."
Stephanie smiled faintly.
"If Derrick is dead none of us here is ever going to forget it. Neither Mr. Harnash, nor I, not even you."
"I fail to see any responsibility attaching to me."
"No, but there will be some."
"Oh, will there?"
"So far as intent goes we can absolve ourselves, but so far as consequences are concerned we shall have to expiate our wickedness."
"Oh, Stephanie, for God's sake don't say that of yourself," Harnash burst forth.
"I must. And we can expiate it together. We can help each other."
"Do you mean that you will actually marry me?"
"Of course," said the girl. "How could you for a moment think otherwise? I mean what I say when I assume part of the blame."
"And so you have settled it without me, have you?" asked her father.
"No. We are going to settle it this way with your approval and consent."
"And I am to give my daughter to a man who would administer knock-out drops to a friend and shanghai him on the eve of his wedding and appropriate that friend's promised wife?"
"It is just, sir," said Harnash bitterly. "Think what you do," he continued, turning to the girl with a gesture of renunciation.
"No," answered Stephanie to her father. "You are giving your daughter to a man who, however he sinned, and your daughter doesn't presume to pass condemnation upon him as she might were she not a party to it, has frankly and openly acknowledged his transgression and expressed himself willing to take the consequences."
"Humph," said the old man, a flicker of a smile appearing on his iron face.
"Remember, he might have kept silent."
"Well," said Maynard, "I believe you are right. There is good stuff in you, Harnash, and your unforced, voluntary confession shows it. I don't think you'll administer knock-out drops to anybody again, and eventually I suppose you'll get Stephanie, but there are conditions."
"You couldn't impose any conditions that I would not gladly meet."
"I was coming to those myself," said the girl.
"Oh, you had thought of this, too, had you?"
"What are they?"
"First of all there must be no public mention by any of us of the possible fate of Derrick until we are satisfied that he is dead."
"Certainly not," said old Maynard.
The assent of Harnash was obviously not necessary to that.
"That's where you come in, father-what is the legal term? – as an accessory after the fact to what we have done."
The old man laughed a little.
"Clever, clever," he murmured, "my own daughter."
"The next condition is that we must satisfy ourselves beyond peradventure that Derrick is dead before any marriage."
"That is a harder proposition," said the old man.
"Because," went on the girl, "I told George when I supposed Mr. Beekman was alive and would turn up some time that I would never marry him until I had got a release from Derrick's own lips, and as long as there is a chance that he is alive that condition holds."
"I'm so glad that I can look forward to getting you at any time under any circumstances," said Harnash fervently, "that I accede gladly to any conditions that you may lay down."