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    Chapter 52

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    Chapter 52
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    Now, you may find it hard to believe a confession which I have put off making--the fact that at this time I was engaged to be married. There was a certain member of what is called the "younger set," whom I had given reason to expect that I would think about her at least once in a while. But here for precisely three days I had been chasing about at the skirts of a prophet fresh from God, getting my name into the newspapers in scandalous fashion, and not daring even to call the young lady on the telephone and make apologies. That evening there was a dinner-dance at her home, and I supposed I was supposed to be there; but no one had bothered to invite me, and as a matter of fact I would not have known of the affair if I had not seen the announcement in the papers. I was too late for the dinner, but I got myself a taxicab, and drove to my room and changed my clothes, and hurried in my own car to the dance.

    You would not be interested in the fact that when I arrived I was treated as an unwelcome guest, and Miss Betty even went so far as to remind me that I had not been invited. But after I had pleaded, she consented to dance with me; and so for an hour or two I tried to forget there were any people in the world who had anything to do but be happy. Just as I was succeeding, the butler came, calling me to the telephone, and I answered, and who should it be but Old Joe!

    My surprise became consternation at his first words: "Billy, your friend Carpenter is in peril!"

    "What do you mean?"

    "They are going to get him tonight."

    "Good God! How do you know?"

    "It's a long story, and no time to tell it. Somebody's tipped me off. Where can I meet you? Every minute is precious."

    "Where are you?" I asked, and learned that he was at his home, not far away. I said I would come there, and I hurried to Betty and had another scene with her, and left her weeping, vowing that she would never see me again. I ran out and jumped into my car--and I would hate to tell what I did to the speed laws of Western City. Suffice it to say that a few minutes later I was in Old Joe's den, and he was telling me his story.

    Part of it I got then, and part of it later, but I might as well tell it all at once and be done with it. It happened that at the restaurant where Old Joe and I had dined before we went to the mass-meeting, he had met a girl whom he knew too well, after the fashion of young men about town. In greeting her on the way out, he had told her he was going to hear the new prophet and had laughingly suggested that the meeting was free. The girl, out of idle curiosity, had come, and had been touched by Carpenter's physical, if not by his moral charms. It chanced that this girl was living with a man who stood high in the secret service department of "big business" in our city; so she had got the full story of what was being planned against Carpenter. That afternoon, it appeared, there had been a meeting between Algernon de Wiggs, president of our Chamber of Commerce, and Westerly, secretary of our "M. and M.," and Gerald Carson, organizer of our "Boosters' League." These three had put up six thousand dollars, and turned it over to their secret service agents, with instructions that Carpenter's agitations in Western City were to be ended inside of twenty-four hours.

    A plan had been worked out, every detail of which had been phoned to Old Joe. A group of ex-service men, members of the Brigade, had been hired to seize the prophet and treat him to a tar and feathering. It had not taken much to move them to action, for the afternoon papers were full of accounts of Carpenter's speech on Main Street, his denunciation of war, and of soldiers as "murderers" and "wolves."

    But that was not all, said Old Joe; and I saw that his hand was trembling as he spoke. It appeared that there was an "operative" named Hamby, who was one of Carpenter's followers.

    "By God!" I burst out, in sudden fury. "I was sure that fellow was a crook!"

    "Yes," said the other. "He's been telephoning in regular reports as to Carpenter's doings. And now it's been arranged that he is to put an infernal machine in the Socialist headquarters where Carpenter has been staying!"

    I was almost speechless. "You mean--to blow them up?"

    "No, to blow up their reputations. Hamby is to lure Carpenter out to the street, and when the gang grabs him, Hamby will fire a shot, and there will be three or four secret agents in the crowd, who will incite the others, and see to it that Carpenter is lynched instead of being tarred and feathered!"
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