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    Chapter 58

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    Chapter 58
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    I went downstairs, and there was T-S, wandering around like a big fat monk in a purple dressing gown. And there was Maw, also--only her dressing gown was rose-pink, with white chrysanthemums on it. It took a lot to get those two awake at six o'clock in the morning, you may be sure; but there they were, very much worried. "Vot does he say?" cried the magnate.

    "He won't say what he is going to do."

    "He von't promise to stay?"

    "He won't promise anything."

    "Veil, did you lock de door?"

    I answered that I had, and then Maw put in, in a hurry: "Billy, you gotta stay here and take care of him! If he vas to gome downstairs and tell me to do someting, I vould got to do it!"

    I promised; and a little later they got ready a cup of coffee and a glass of milk and some rolls and butter and fruit, and I had the job of taking up the tray and setting it in the prophet's room. When I came in, I tried to say cheerfully, "Here's your breakfast," and not to show any trace of my uneasiness.

    Carpenter looked at me, and said: "You had the door locked?"

    I summoned my nerve, and answered, "Yes."

    Said he: "What is the difference to me between being your prisoner and being the prisoner of your rulers?"

    Said I: "Mr. Carpenter, the difference is that we don't intend to hang you."

    "And how long do you propose to keep me here?"

    "For about four days," I said; "until the convention disbands. If you will only give me your word to wait that time, you may have the freedom of this beautiful place, and when the period is over, I pledge you every help I can give to make known your message to the people."

    I waited for an answer, but none came, so I set down the tray and went out, locking the door again. And downstairs was one of T-S's secretaries, with copies of the morning newspapers, and I picked up a "Times," and there was a headline, all the way across the page:


    I understood, of icourse, that the secret agency which had engineered the mobbing of the prophet would have had their stories all ready for our morning newspapers--stories which played up to the full the finding of an infernal machine, and an unprovoked attack upon ex-service men by the armed followers of the "Red Prophet." But now all this was gone, and instead was a story glorifying the Klansmen as the saviors of the city's good name. It was evident that up to the hour of going to press, neither of the two newspapers had any idea but that the white robed figures were genuine followers of the "Grand Imperial Kleagle." The "Times" carried at the top of its editorial page a brief comment in large type, congratulating the people of Western City upon the promptness with which they had demonstrated their devotion to the cause of law and order.

    But of course the truth about our made-to-order mob could not be kept very long. When you have hired a hundred moving-picture actors to share in the greatest mystery of the age, it will not be many hours before your secret has got to the newspaper offices. As a matter of fact, it wasn't two hours before the "Evening Blare" was calling the home of the movie magnate to inquire where he had taken the kidnapped prophet; there was no use trying to deny anything, said the editor, diplomatically, because too many people had seen the prophet transferred to Mr. T-S's automobile. Of course T-S's secretary, who answered the phone, lied valiantly; but here again, we knew the truth would leak. There were servants and chauffeurs and gardeners, and all of them knew that the white robed mystery was somewhere on the place. They would be offered endless bribes--and some of them would accept!

    In the course of the next hour or two there were a dozen newspaper reporters besieging the mansion, and camera men taking pictures of it, and even spying with opera glasses from a distance. Before my mind's eye flashed new headlines:


    This was an aspect of the matter which we had at first overlooked. Carpenter was due at Judge Ponty's police-court at nine o'clock that morning. Was he going? demanded the reporters, and if not, why not? Mary Magna no doubt would be willing to sacrifice the two hundred dollars bail that she had put up; but the judge had a right to issue a bench warrant and send a deputy for the prisoner. Would he do it?

    Behind the scenes of Western City's government there began forthwith a tremendous diplomatic duel. Who it was that wanted Carpenter dragged out of his hiding-place, we could not be sure, but we knew who it was that wanted him to stay hidden! I called up my uncle Timothy, and explained the situation. It wasn't worth while for him to waste his breath scolding, I was going to stand by my prophet. If he wanted to put an end to the scandal, let him do what he could to see that the prophet was let alone.

    "But, Billy, what can I do?" he cried. "It's a matter of the law."

    I answered: "Fudge! You know perfectly well there's no magistrate or judge in this city that won't do what he's told, if the right people tell him. What I want you to do is to get busy with de Wiggs and Westerly and Carson, and the rest of the big gang, and persuade them that there's nothing to be gained by dragging Carpenter out of his hiding-place."

    What did they want anyway? I argued. They wanted the agitation stopped. Well, we had stopped it, and without any bloodshed. If they dragged the prophet out from concealment, and into a police court, they would only have more excitement, more tumult, ending nobody could tell how.

    I called up several other people who might have influence; and meanwhile T-S was over at his office in Eternal City, pleading over the telephone with the editors of afternoon papers. They had got the Red Prophet out of the way during the convention, and why couldn't they let well enough alone? Wasn't there news enough, with five or ten thousand war-heroes coming to town, without bothering about one poor religious freak?

    When you shoot a load of shot at a duck, and the bird comes tumbling down, you do not bother to ask which particular shot it was that hit the target. And so it was with these frantic efforts of ours. One shot must have hit, for at eleven o'clock that morning, when the case of John Doe Carpenter versus the Commonwealth of Western City was reached in Judge Ponty's court, and the bailiff called the name of the defendant and there was no answer, the magistrate in a single sentence declared the bail forfeited, and passed on to the next case without a word. And all three of our afternoon newspapers reported this incident in an obscure corner on an inside page. The Red Prophet was dead and buried!
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