The Despoiler by
Forrest paused when his explorations had brought him to the edge of the
beechwood, all dappled with golden lights and umber shadows, and stood
for a time brooding upon those intimate lawns and flowery gardens that
seemed, as it were, but roofless extensions of the wide, open house.
It is probable that his brooding had in it an estimate of the cost of
these things. It was thus that he had looked upon the blooded horses in
the river-fields and the belted cattle in the meadows. It was thus that
his grave eyes passed beyond the gardens and moved from corner to corner
of the house, from sill to cornice, relating the porticos and
interminable row of French windows to dollars and cents. He had, of
course, been of one mind, and now he was of two; but that octagonal slug
of California minting, by which he resolved his doubts, fell heads, and
he stepped with an acquiescent reluctance from the dappled shadows into
the full sunlight of the gardens and moved slowly, with a kind of
awkward and cadaverous grandeur, toward the house. He paused by the
sundial to break a yellow rose from the vine out of which its fluted
supporting column emerged. So standing, and regarding the rose slowly
twirled in his fingers, he made a dark contrast to the brightly-colored
gardens. His black cape hung in unbroken lines from his gaunt shoulders
to his knees, and his face had the modeling and the gentle gloom
The rose fell from his hand, and he moved onward through the garden and
entered the house as nonchalantly as if it had been his own. He found
himself in a cool dining-room, with a great chimney-piece and beaded
white paneling. The table was laid for seven, and Forrest's intuitive
good taste caused his eyes to rest with more than passing interest upon
the stately loving-cup, full of roses, that served for a centre-piece.
But from its rosy garlands caught up in the mouths of demon-heads he
turned suddenly to the portrait over the chimney-piece. It was darker
and more sedate than the pictures to which Forrest was accustomed, but
in effect no darker or more sedate than himself. The gentleman of the
portrait, a somewhat pouchy-cheeked, hook-nosed Revolutionary, in whose
wooden and chalky hand was a rolled document, seemed to return Forrest's
glance with a kind of bored courtesy.
"That is probably the Signer," thought Forrest, and he went closer. "A
great buck in your time," he approved.
The butler entered the dining-room from the pantry, and, though a man
accustomed to emergencies, was considerably nonplussed at the sight of
the stranger. That the stranger was a bona fide stranger, James, who had
served the Ballins for thirty years, knew; but what manner of stranger,
and whether a rogue or a man upon legitimate business, James could not
so much as guess.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, "were you looking for some one?"
"Yes," said Forrest, perfectly at his ease, "and no."
"Shall I tell Mr. Ballin that you are here, sir?"
"I shall find him for myself, thank you," said Forrest, and he moved
toward an open door that seemed to lead into the hall.
"By the way," he said, "there will be an extra at luncheon."
Very stately in his long, black cape, and with his pensive Dantesque
face, Forrest continued on his slow progress to the open door and went
out of the dining-room. He crossed the hall with half an eye to its
quiet tones and bowls of roses, and entered a room of bright chintz with
a pattern of cornflowers, and full of sunlight. It was a very spacious
room, and lively—a proper link between the gardens and the house; and
here were many photographs in silver frames of smart men and women; and
the Sunday papers with their colored supplements were strewn in
disorder upon the floor. And it seemed to Forrest, so comfortable and
intimate did it look, as if that room had been a part of his own life.
Upon the blotter of a writing-table sprawled a check-book bound in
yellow leather. And when Forrest saw that, he smiled. It came as a
surprise that the teeth in that careworn face should be white and even.
And in those rare and charming moments of his smiling he looked like a
young man who has made many engagements with life which he proposes to
fulfil, instead of like a man for whom the curious years reserve but one
But Forrest did not remain any appreciable time in the cheerful
living-room. A desire to explain and have it all over with was upon him;
and he passed, rapidly now, from room to room, until in a far corner of
the house he entered a writing-room furnished in severe simplicity with
dark and dully-shining rosewood. This room was of an older fashion than
any he had yet entered, and he guessed that it had been the Signer's
workshop and had been preserved by his descendants without change. A
pair of flintlock pistols, glinting silver, lay upon the desk; quill
pens stood in a silver cup full of shot; a cramped map, drawn and
colored by hand and yellow with age, hung above the mantel and
purported, in bold printing with flourishes, to be The Proposed Route
for the Erie Canal. Portraits of General Greene and Thomas Jefferson,
by Stuart, also hung upon the walls. And there stood upon an octagonal
table a bowl of roses.
There was a gentleman in the embrasure of a window, smoking a cigar and
looking out. But at the sound of Forrest's step he turned an alert,
close-cropped, gray head and stepped out of the embrasure.
"Mr. Ballin?" said Forrest.
"I am Mr. Ballin." His eyes perused the stranger with astonishing speed
and deftness, without seeming to do so.
"It was the toss of a coin that decided me to come," said Forrest. "I
have asked your butler to lay a place for me at luncheon."
So much assumption on the part of a stranger has a cheeky look in the
printing. Yet Forrest's tone and manner far more resembled those of old
friendship and intimacy than impertinence.
"Have I," said Ballin, smiling a little doubtfully, "ever had the
pleasure of meeting you before? I have a poor memory for faces. But it
seems to me that I should not have forgotten yours."
"You never saw me but the one time," said Forrest. "That was many years
ago, and you would not remember. You were a—little wild that night. You
sat against me at a game of faro. But even if you had been yourself—I
have changed very much. I was at that time, as you were, little more
than a boy."
"Good Lord!" said Ballin, "were you a part of that hectic flush that to
myself I only refer to as 'Sacramento'?"
"You do not look as if it had turned you into a drinking man," said
"It didn't," said Ballin, and without seeing any reason for confiding in
the stranger he proceeded to do so. "It was nip and tuck for a time," he
said, "and then money came to me, and this old place and
responsibilities, and I became, more from force of circumstances than
from any inner impulse, a decentish citizen."
"The money made everything smooth, did it?" said Forrest. "I wonder."
"You wonder—what?" said Ballin.
"If it could—money alone. I have had it at times—not as you have had
it—but in large, ready sums. Yet I think it made very little
"What have you been doing since—Sacramento?" asked Ballin.
"Up to a month ago," said Forrest, "I kept on dealing—in different
parts of the world—in San Francisco, in London—Cairo—Calcutta. And
then the matter which brings me here was brought to my attention."
"Yes?" said Ballin, a little more coolly.
"When you were in Sacramento," Forrest went on quietly and evenly as if
stating an acknowledged fact, "you did not expect to come into all
this. Then your cousin, Ranger Ballin, and his son went down in the City
of Pittsburgh; and all this"—he made a sudden, sweeping gesture with
one of his long, well-kept hands—"came to you."
"Yes?" Ballin's voice still interrogated coolly.
Forrest broke into that naïve, boyish smile of his.
"My dear sir," said he, "I saw a play last winter in which the question
is asked, 'Do you believe in Fairies?' I ask you, 'Do you believe in
"In what way?" Ballin asked, and he, too, smiled.
"Ranger Ballin," said Forrest, "had another son who was spirited away in
childhood by the gypsies. That will explain this visit, which on the
face of it is an impertinence. It will explain why I have entered this
house without knocking, and have invited myself to luncheon. You see,
sir, all this"—and again he made the sudden, sweeping gesture—"is
It speaks for Forrest's effect that, although reason told Ballin to
doubt this cataclysmic statement, instinct convinced him that it was
true. Yet what its truth might mean to him did not so convincingly
appear. That he might be ousted from all that he looked on as his own
did not yet occur to him, even vaguely.
"Then we are cousins," he said simply, and held out his hand. But
Forrest did not take it at once.
"Do you understand what cousinship with me means to you?" he said.
"Why," said Ballin, "if you are my cousin"—he tried to imply the
doubt that he by no means felt—"there is surely enough for us both."
"Enough to make up for the years when there has been nothing?" Forrest
"It is a matter for lawyers to discuss, then," said Ballin quietly.
"Personally, I do not doubt that you believe yourself to be my cousin's
son. But there is room, surely, in others for many doubts."
"Not in others," said Forrest, "who have been taught to know that two
and two are four."
"Have you documentary proof of this astonishing statement?" said Ballin.
"Surely," said Forrest. And he drew from an inner pocket a bundle of
documents bound with a tape. Ballin ran a perturbed but deft eye through
them, while Forrest stood motionless, more like a shadow than a man.
Then, presently, Ballin looked up with a stanch, honorable look.
"I pick no flaws here cousin," he said. "I—I congratulate you."
"Cousin," said Forrest, "it has been my business in life to see others
take their medicine. But I have never seen so great a pill swallowed so
calmly. Will you offer me your hand now?"
Ballin offered his hand grimly.
Then he tied the documents back into their tape and offered the bundle
"I am a careless man," said Forrest; "I might lose them. May I ask you
to look after them for me?"
"Would you leave me alone with them?" asked Ballin.
"Of course," said Forrest.
Ballin opened an old-fashioned safe in the paneling and locked it upon
the despoiling documents. Yet his heart, in spite of its dread and
bitterness, was warmed by the trustfulness of the despoiler.
"And now what?" he said.
"And now," said Forrest, "remember for a little while only that I am,
let us say, an old friend of your youth. Forget for the present, if you
can, who else I am, and what my recrudescence must mean to you. It is
not a happiness"—he faltered with his winning smile—"to give pain."
"Your father," said Forrest, "says that I may have his seat at the head
of the table. You see, Miss Dorothy, in the world in which I have lived
there were no families. And I have the strongest desire to experiment in
some of those things which I have missed…. Ballin," he exclaimed,
"how lovely your daughters are!"
The young Earl of Moray glanced up mischievously.
"Do you think, sir," he drawled, "that I have made the best selection
under the circumstances? Sometimes I think I ought to have made up to
Ellen instead of Dorothy."
"What's the matter with us?" said Alice, and she laid her hand upon
"Oh, you little rotters!" exclaimed the earl, whom they sometimes teased
to the point of agony. "No man in his senses would look at you."
"Right-O!" said young Stephen Ballin, who made the eighth at table.
"They're like germs," he explained to Forrest—"very troublesome to
"It's because we're twins," said Evelyn. "Everybody who isn't twins is
down on them."
"It's because they are always beautiful and good," said Alice. "Why
don't you stand up for us, father?"
It was noticed that Mr. Ballin was not looking well; that the chicken
mousse upon his plate was untouched, and that he fooled with his
bread, breaking it, crumbling it, and rolling it into pellets. He pulled
himself together and smiled upon his beloved twins.
Forrest had turned to the Earl of Moray.
"Was it your ancestor," he said, "who 'was a bra' gallant, and who raid
at the gluve'?"
"I am confident of it," said the young Englishman.
"By all accounts," said Forrest, "he would have been a good hand with a
derringer. Have you that gift for games?"
"I'm a very good golfer." said the earl, "but I thought a derringer was
a kind of dish that babies ate gruel out of." He blushed becomingly.
"As ever," said Alice, "insular and ignorant."
"You prickly baby!" exclaimed the earl. "What is a derringer, Mr.
Forrest, having succeeded in drawing the attention of his immediate and
prospective family from the ill looks of Mr. Ballin, proposed to keep
"I will show you," he said. "Are my hands empty?"
"Quite so," said the earl.
"Keep your eyes on them," said Forrest, "so. Now, we will suppose that
you have good reason to believe that I have stolen your horse. Call me a
"Sir," said the earl, entering into the spirit of the game, "you are a
There appeared in Forrest's right hand, which had seemed empty, which
had seemed not to move or to perform in any celeritous and magic manner,
a very small, stubby, nickel pistol, with a caliber much too great for
it, and down whose rifled muzzle the earl found himself gazing. The earl
was startled. But he said, "I was mistaken, sir; you are not a horse
thief." As mysteriously as it had come, the wicked little derringer
disappeared. Forrest's hands remained innocently in plain view of all.
"Oh," said Alice, "if you had only pulled the trigger!"
"Frankly, Mr. Forrest," said the earl, "aren't the twins loathsome? But
tell me, can you shoot that thing as magically as you play tricks
"It's not a target gun," said Forrest. "It's for instantaneous work at
close range. One could probably hit a tossed coin with it, but one must
have more weight and inches to the barrel and less explosion for fine
"What would you call fine practice?" asked Stephen.
"Oh," said Forrest, "a given leg of a fly at twenty paces, or to snip a
wart from a man's hand at twenty-five."
Mr. Ballin rose.
"I'm not feeling well," he said simply; "when the young people have
finished with you, Forrest, you will find me in the Signer's room." He
left the table and the room, very pale and shaky, for by this time the
full meaning of Forrest's incontestable claim had clarified in his
brain. He saw himself as if struck down by sudden poverty—of too long
leisure and too advanced Forrest finished as abruptly as he had begun
and rose from the piano. But for a few charged moments even the twins
"He used to sing that song," said Forrest, "so that the cold chills went
galloping the length of a man's spine. He was as like you to look at,"
he turned to the earl, "as one star is like another. I cannot tell you
how it has moved me to meet you. We were in a place called Grub Gulch,
placer-mining—half a dozen of us. I came down with the scarlet fever.
The others bolted, all but Charlie Stuart. He stayed. But by the time I
was up, thanks to him, he was down—thanks to me. He died of it."
Forrest finished very gravely.
"Good Lord!" said the earl.
"He might ha' been a king," said Forrest. And he swallowed the lump
that rose in his throat, and turned away so that his face could not be
seen by them.
But, presently, he flashed about with his winning smile.
"What, would all you rich young people do if you hadn't a sou in the
"Good Lord!" said Stephen, "everything I know how to do decently costs
"I feel sure," said Alice, her arm about Evelyn's waist, "that our
beauty and goodness would see us through."
"I," said Ellen, "would quietly curl up and die."
"I," said Dorothy, "would sell my earl to the highest bidder."
"I shouldn't bring tuppence," said the earl.
"But you," said Forrest to the earl, "what would you do if you were
"I would marry Dorothy to-morrow," said the earl, "instead of waiting
until September. Fortunately, I have a certain amount of assets that the
law won't allow me to get rid of."
"I wish you could," said Forrest.
"Why?" The earl wrinkled his eyebrows.
"I would like to see what you would do." He laid his hand lightly upon
the young Englishman's shoulder. "You don't mind? I am an old man," he
said, "but I cannot tell you—what meeting you has meant to me. I want
you to come with me now, for a few minutes, to Mr. Ballin. Will you?"
"Mr. Ballin," said Forrest, his hand still on the earl's shoulder, "I
want you to tell this young man what only you and I know."
Ballin looked up from his chair with the look of a sick man.
"It's this, Charlie," he said in a voice that came with difficulty.
"It's a mistake to suppose that I am a rich man. Everything in this
world that I honestly thought belonged to me belongs to Mr. Forrest."
The earl read truth in the ashen, careworn face of his love's father.
"But surely," he said anxiously, "Dorothy is still yours—to give."
Forrest's dark and brooding countenance became as if suddenly brightly
"My boy—my boy!" he cried, and he folded the wriggling and embarrassed
Stuart in his long, gaunt arms.
I think an angel bringing glad tidings might have looked as Forrest did
when, releasing the Earl of Moray, he turned upon the impulse and began
to pour out words to Ballin.
"When I found out who I was," he said, "and realized for how long—oh,
my Lord! how long—others had been enjoying what was mine, and that I
had rubbed myself bare and bleeding against all the rough places of
life, will you understand what a rage and bitterness against you all
possessed me? And I came—oh, on wings—to trample, and to dispossess,
and to sneer, and to send you packing…. But first the peace of the
woods and the meadows, and the beech wood and the gardens, and the quiet
hills and the little brooks staggered me. And then you—the way you took
it, cousin!—all pale and wretched as you were; you were so calm, and
you admitted the claim at once—and bore up…. Then I began to repent
of the bitterness in which I had come…. And I left the papers in your
keeping…. I thought—for I have known mostly evil—that, perhaps, you
would destroy them…. It never entered your head…. Your are clean
white—and so are your girls and your boy…. I did not expect to find
white people in possession. Why should I?… But I said, 'Surely the
Englishman isn't white—he is after the money.' But right away I began
to have that feeling, too, smoothed out of me…. And now, when he finds
that instead of Dorothy being an heiress she is a pauper, he says, 'But
surely, Dorothy is still yours to give!'
"I was a fool to come. Yet I am glad."
Neither Ballin nor the earl spoke.
"Could I have this room to myself for a little while?" asked Forrest.
"Of course," said Ballin; "it is yours."
Forrest bowed; the corners of his mouth turned a little upward.
"Will you come back in an hour—you, alone, cousin?"
Ballin nodded quietly.
"Come along, Charlie," he said, and together they left the room. But
when Ballin returned alone, an hour later, the room was empty. Upon the
Signer's writing-desk was a package addressed collectively to "The
Ballins," and in one corner was written, "Blood will tell."
The package, on being opened, proved to contain nothing more substantial
than ashes. And by the donor thereof there was never given any