“Will you please step into the outer office and make sure that no one is within earshot?” said Brandt, quietly.
When Mr. Alford returned, the elderly man apparently had disappeared, and a smiling smooth-faced young fellow with short brown hair sat in his place. His host stared, the transformation was so great.
“Mr. Alford,” said the detective, “I understand my business and the risks it involves. All I ask of you is that I may not be interfered with so far as you are concerned; and my chief object in calling is to prevent you being surprised by anything you may see or hear. About three miles or thereabouts from here, on the road running east, there is a fellow who keeps a tavern. Do you know him?”
“I know no good of him. He’s the worst nuisance I have to contend with, for he keeps some of my men disabled much of the time.”
“Well, I knew Bute years ago, and I can make him think I am now what I was then, only worse; and I will induce him to go with me to raid that tavern. If this plan fails, I shall try another, for I am either going to take Bute alive or else get ample proof that he is dead. There may be some queer goings-on before I leave, and all I ask is that you will neither interfere nor investigate. You may be as ignorant and non-committal as you please. I shall report progress to you, however, and may need your testimony, but will see to it that it is given by you as one who had nothing to do with the affair. Now please show me your quarters, so that I can find you at night if need be; also Bute’s sleeping-place and the lay of the land to some extent. You’ll find that I can take everything in mighty quick. See, I’m the elderly gentleman again,” and he resumed his disguise with marvellous celerity.
Mr. Alford led the way through the outer office; and the two clerks writing there saw nothing to awaken the slightest suspicion. The superintendent’s cottage stood on the road leading to the mine and somewhat apart from the other buildings. On the opposite side of the highway was a thicket of pines which promised cover until one plunged into the unbroken forest that covered the mountain-side.
Brandt observed this, and remarked, “I’ve studied the approaches to your place a little at I came along; but I suppose I shall have to give a day or two more to the work before making my attempt.”
“Well,” rejoined Mr. Alford, who was of rather a social turn and felt the isolation of his life, “why not be my guest for a time? I’ll take the risk if you will remain incog., and keep aloof from the men.”
“That I should do in any event till ready to act. Thank you for your kindness, for it may simplify my task very much. I will see to it that I do not compromise you. When I’m ready to snare my bird, you can dismiss me a little ostentatiously for New York.”
Brandt’s horse was now ordered to the stable. The two men entered the cottage, and soon afterward visited the different points of interest, Mr. Alford giving the natural impression that he was showing an interested stranger the appliances for working the mine. At one point he remarked in a low tone, “That’s Bute’s lodging-place. A half-breed, named Apache Jack, who speaks little English lives with him.”