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Chapter 2 The Man-Eater by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Mr. Dick Gordon of New York, rich, indolent and bored, tossed his morning paper aside, yawned, rose from the breakfast table and strolled wearily into the living room of his bachelor apartments. His man, who was busying himself about the room, looked up at his master questioningly.

"I am wondering, Murphy," announced that young man, "what the devil we are going to do to assassinate time today."

"Well, sir," replied Murphy, "you know you sort o' promised Mr. Jones as how you'd make up a four-flush at the Country Club this morning, sir."

"Foursome, Murphy, foursome!" laughed Gordon, and then, shooting a sharp glance at his servant; "I believe you were handing me one that time, you old fraud."

But the solemn-visaged Murphy shook his head in humble and horrified denial.

"All right, Murphy; get my things out. I suppose I might as well do that as anything," resignedly.

Languidly, Mr. Dick Gordon donned his golf togs and stood at last correctly clothed and with the faithful Murphy at his heels bearing his caddie bag. He crossed the living room toward the door of the apartment, halted half way and turned upon his servant.

"Golf's an awful bore, Murphy," he said. "Let's not play today."

"But Mr. Jones, sir!" exclaimed Murphy.

"Oh, Jones's foursomes always start at the nineteenth hole and never make the first. They'll not miss me." His eyes fell upon a tennis racket, and lighted with a new interest.

"Say, Murphy, we haven't played tennis in a coon's age," he exclaimed. "Go put those clubs away. I'm going to play tennis."

"With yourself, sir?" questioned Murphy. "I never saw no one playing tennis at the club, sir, of a morning."

"I guess you're right, Murphy, and anyway I don't want to play tennis. Tiresome game, tennis."

"Yes, sir."

"Ha! I have it! Great morning for a ride. Hustle, you old snail, and fetch my things. Telephone Billy and tell him to bring Redcoat around. Get a move on!"

By the time Murphy had attended to the various duties assigned him and returned from the telephone he found his young master sitting on the edge of a chair with one boot on and the other half so, staring hard at the floor, a weary expression on his face.

"Can I help you, sir?" asked Murphy.

"Yes, you can help me take off this boot. It's too hot to ride, and besides I don't want to ride anyway. What the devil did you suggest riding for, eh?"

"Yes, sir."

"I wish that you would say no, sir, for a change, Murphy. You're getting to be a terrific bore in your old age. Go and tell Billy to never mind Redcoat."

"Yes, sir," replied Murphy, but he did not go.

"You'd better hurry, Murphy, and catch him before he leaves the stables," suggested Gordon after a moment, in which he had divested himself of his riding breeches and started to pull on the trousers of a street suit.

"It won't be necessary, sir," said Murphy. "I didn't telephone for Redcoat in the first place, sir. I knew as how you would change your mind, sir, and thought it wouldn't be worth while calling up, sir."

Gordon cocked his head on one side and surveyed his servant from head to foot for a long moment. "Yes, sir," he said, at last.

Clothed again he wandered back into the living room, wishing that there was something in the world to hold his interest for a moment. The photograph of a handsome woman caught his eye. He picked it up and looked at it for several seconds.

"She photographs well," he murmured, "and that is about all one can say for her. I'll bet an X-ray of her brain wouldn't show three convolutions."

Then he passed to another, the picture of a young debutante at whose feet were half the eligible males of New York Society—and all the ineligible. He tossed the photographs aside in disgust. One by one he examined others. All wearied him. Everything wearied him.

"I wish," he remarked, turning toward Murphy, "that there was something or some one on earth that could raise my temperature over half a degree."

"Yes, sir," said Murphy. "That must be the mail man, sir," as an electric bell rang in the rear of the apartment and Murphy turned toward the door.

A moment later he re-entered with a bundle of letters in his hand, laying them on Gordon's desk. The young man picked up the top envelope and opened it.

"Mrs. R___ requests the pleasure—" he read, half aloud, and dropped the invitation listlessly upon the desk to pick up and open the next. "The Blank Club announces—The Blank Club is always announcing tiresome things," he sighed, and dropped the communication into the waste basket.

"Mrs. F. Benton J___ and Miss J___ will be at home ___ which is a dang sight more than Mr. F. Benton J___ can ever say," commented Mr. Gordon, gathering up the next, which proved to be another invitation. One after another the young man opened the envelopes, nor did any succeed in erasing the bored expression from his countenance.

The last he glanced at with a faint tinge of curiosity before opening. The feminine hand writing was unfamiliar, which was nothing unusual, but it was the postmark that drew his interest—Scottsville, Virginia.

"Now, who the devil do I know in Scottsville, Virginia?" he asked himself as he drew his paper knife through the flap of the envelope.

"Oh, it's addressed to Dad!" he exclaimed, suddenly noting his father's name upon the envelope.

"Dear old Dad," sighed the young man; "I never lacked bully good company when you were alive, and I didn't know then what it meant to be bored. I wonder if you know how I miss you."

He turned first to the signature at the close of the letter. "Ruth Morton Scott," he read. "H'm, I've heard Dad speak of you, and Jefferson Scott, Jr., your husband, and the tragedy at the mission. Lord, what an awful place that must have been for a young girl! It was bad enough three years ago when Dad and I camped among its ruins; but twenty years ago the country must have been awful for white women."

As Dick Gordon read the letter through slowly his face reflected for the first time in days a real interest. Toward the close he muttered something that sounded like "Damned cad," and then he carefully re-read the letter. After the second reading he sat upon the edge of his desk, the letter still in the hand that had dropped to his knee, and stared fixedly and unseeingly at the barbaric patterns of the Navajo rug at his feet.

For ten minutes he sat thus; then he sprang up, animation reflected upon his face and determination in his every movement. Weariness and lassitude had been swept away as by magic. Seating himself at the desk he drew writing materials from a drawer and for ten minutes more was busily engaged in framing a letter. This done he rang for Murphy.

"Skip out and post this, you old tortoise," he shouted, "and then go and book passage for the two of us on the first boat that sails direct or makes good connections for Mombasa—do you know where it is?"

"Yes, sir; Africa, sir," replied the imperturbable Murphy, in as matter of fact a tone as though White Plains was to have been their destination.

Mr. Dick Gordon always had been an impulsive young man, his saving characteristic being an innate fineness of character that directed his impulses into good channels, if not always wisely chosen ones. His letter to Mrs. Scott had been written upon the impulse of the moment—an impulse to serve his father's friend coupled with a longing for adventure and action—for a change from the monotony of his useless existence.

The following day, as Scott Taylor, mounted upon General Scott's favorite saddle horse, rode leisurely about "my plantation," as he now described the Scott estate, he chanced to meet the little wagon of the Rural Free Delivery carrier coming from town.

"Anything for The Oaks?" he asked, reining in.

The man handed him a packet of letters and papers, clucked to his bony old horse and drove on. Taylor ran through the letters. There was one that interested him—it bore the name and address of Richard Gordon on the flap. This he thrust into his inside pocket. Then he rode up the driveway, turned his horse over to a negro, and entered the library. It was empty, and laying the balance of the mail upon the table he made his way to his own room. Here he quickly opened and read Gordon's letter to Mrs. Scott. His eyes narrowed and his brows contracted with the reading of the last paragraph:

"Father has been dead two years; but I know all about the location of the mission, as I visited it three years ago while lion hunting with him. As I am just about to leave for Africa again I shall make it a point to recover the papers you wish."

Taylor crumpled the letter angrily in his hand. "The fool!" he muttered, "what does he want to butt in for?"

Then came a knock upon the door and Taylor hastily crammed the letter into the pocket of his coat.

"Come in!" he snapped, and an old negress entered with fresh towels and bed linen. As she moved in her slow and deliberate way about her duties Taylor sat with puckered brows and narrowed lids gazing through the window. It was not until the woman had left the room that he arose. Now he seemed to have reached a decision that demanded rapid action. He snatched off his coat, throwing it across the bed, where it dropped over the side to the floor beyond. His trousers he flung on the floor; his shirt, collar and tie upon the center table, and in fifteen minutes he was dressed in fresh linen and another suit and cramming his belongings into his bag.

Running downstairs and out to the stables, he shouted to a hostler to harness the team and take him to the station. Mrs. Scott and Virginia had the car out, so he was forced to content himself with the slower method of transportation. Forty-five minutes later he boarded a northbound train for New York, and late that night rang the bell of an apartment in West One Hundred and Forty-Fifth Street.

A bleached blonde in a green kimono opened the door in response to his ring.

"Why, hello, kid!" she cried when the dim light in the hallway revealed his features to her. "You're just in time for a snifter. Where you been keepin' yourself? Jim and me were talkin' about you not five minutes ago. Come on in; the gang's all here," and she grasped him by the lapel of his coat, drew him in from the hall and slammed the door.

"I've been doing the rural," replied Taylor with a laugh; "and, take it from me, it's mighty good to be back again where there are some live ones."

He preceded the girl into the dining room of the little apartment, where two men, seated at the dining table with a deck of cards, a bottle of Scotch, a syphon and three glasses rose as he entered and greeted him with a noisy welcome.

"Well, well! Little ol' kid back again!" cried one.

"Hello, Jim! Hello, Bill!" cried Taylor, grasping their outstretched hands. "You sure look good to me."

"Get another glass, Blanche,"

Jim called to the girl. "Sit in, kid, and we'll have a little round o' roodle—dollar limit—whatd'yu say?"

"Piker game," sneered Taylor, with a grin. "I'm dealing in millions, just now. Throw your cards in the goboon and listen to me, if you want to make a hundred thou apiece." He paused to note the effect of his remark.

"Quick, Blanche!" cried Jim. "Get the poor devil a drink. Can't you see he's dying of thirst and gone bug?"

Taylor grinned. "I'm sure dying of thirst alright," he admitted, "but I'm not bug. Now listen—here's how, thanks!—you guys are broke. You always have been and always will be till you stop piking. Once in a while you pull down a couple of simoleons and then sweat blood for a week or so for fear you'll be pinched and get a couple of years on the Island. I've got a real proposition here; but it's a man's job, though there isn't any chance of a comeback because we'll pull it off where there's no lamp posts and no law."

He paused and eyed his companions.

"Spill!" said Bill.

Taylor narrated the events that had taken place during the past week.

"And now," he concluded, "if this Buttinsky Gordon brings back that marriage certificate I can kiss all my chances goodbye, for there isn't a court in that neck of the woods that would give me a look in with that Scott chicken if she had a ghost of a case."

"And you want us to?" Jim paused.

"You guessed it the first time," said Taylor. "I want you to help me follow Gordon, take that paper away from him—croak him."

For a moment the four sat in silence.

"Why do you have to croak him?" asked the girl.

"So he can't come back and swear that he seen the certificate," said Bill. "That would be just as good as the certificate itself in any court, against the kid."

"There isn't the least chance of our getting in wrong either," explained Taylor, "because we can lay it all onto the natives or to an accident and there won't be anybody to disprove it—if we are suspected; but the chances are that we can pull it off without anyone being the wiser."

"And what did you say we got out of it?" asked Bill.

"A hundred thou apiece the day I get the property in my hands," replied Taylor. "If you could get hold of the certificate first it would be fine and dandy, but we've got to follow Gordon to Central Africa to find where it is, and by that time he'll have it. So the only chance we have is to pass him the K. O. and take it away from him. I'll sure breathe easier after I've seen that piece of paper go up in smoke."

James Kelley and William Gootch were, colloquially, short sports. They had rolled many a souse and separated more than a single rube from his bank roll by such archaic means as wire tapping and fixed mills, but so far they never had risen to the heights of murder. The idea found them tremulous but receptive. Their doubts were based more upon the material than the ethical. Could they get away with it without danger of detection. Ah, that was the question—the only question.

"Well?" said Taylor, after a long pause, during which the other two had drained their glasses while the girl sat revolving hers upon the table cloth between her fingers.

"I'm game," announced Kelley, dodging the girl's eyes and looking sideways at Gootch.

"So'm I!" declared the latter.

And so it happened that when Mr. Dick Gordon walked up the gang plank of the liner that was to bear him as far as Liverpool in his journey to Africa, three men, leaning over a rail on an upper deck, watched him with interested eyes.

"That's him," said Taylor, "the tall one, just in front of the solemn looking party that resembles a Methodist minister crossed in love—only he ain't. He's Gordon's man."

As neither Gordon nor Murphy were acquainted even by sight or repute with any of the precious three, the latter made no attempt to avoid them during the trip. It was Taylor's intention to scrape an acquaintance with Gordon after they had changed ships at Liverpool, when he would then know for certain Gordon's destination, and could casually announce that he and his companions were bound for that very point on a hunting expedition.

All went well with his plans until after they had sailed from Liverpool for Mombasa, when the depravity which was inherent in Kelley and Gootch resulted in an unpleasantness which immediately terminated all friendly relations between Gordon and the three. Taylor had succeeded in drawing Gordon into conversation soon after sailing from Liverpool, when he casually remarked that he and his friends were bound for the country about Victoria Nyanza in search of lions.

"Is that so?" exclaimed Gordon. "I am going into the neighborhood of Albert Edward Nyanza myself, and shall take the route from Mabido around the north end of Victoria Nyanza." And a common interest established, the two became better acquainted.

Then Taylor introduced his two friends and later on Kelley suggested cards. Taylor tried to find all opportunity to warn his accomplices against the crookedness which he knew was second nature with them.

He would have preferred to let Gordon win, but the estimable Messieurs Kelley and Gootch, considering a bird in the hand worth two in the jungle, swooped down upon the opportunity thus afforded them to fleece their prey. The result was that after half an hour of play Gordon rose from the table, a rather unpleasant light in his eyes, cashed in his remaining checks and quit the game.

"Why, what's the matter, old man?" queried Taylor, inwardly cursing Gootch and Kelley.

"I wouldn't force an explanation if I were you," replied Gordon coldly. "The captain might overhear."

Taylor flushed and Gordon walked away, which was the end of the acquaintance upon which Taylor had based such excellent plans.

"You boobs are wonders," sneered Taylor. "You must have made all of fifty dollars apiece out of it—and ruined every chance we had to travel right to the mission in Gordon's company," and he turned disgustedly away and sought his cabin.

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