The dancers came crowding up to the table at the moment,
Ringold suggested loudly: “I’m hungry; let’s eat again.”
His proposal met with eager response.
“Where shall we go?” asked Anderson.
“I just fixed it with Padden for a private room upstairs,” Anthony said. “All the cafes are closed now, and this is the best place in town for chicken creole, anyhow.”
Accordingly he led the way, and the rest filed out after him; but as they left the ball-room a medium-sized man who had recently entered from the street caught a glimpse of them, craned his neck for a better view, then idled along behind.
THE TRAIL DIVIDES
Inspired by his recent rivalry with Mr. Jefferson Locke, Anthony played the part of host more lavishly than even the present occasion required. He ordered elaborately, and it was not long before corks were popping and dishes rattling quite as if the young men were really hungry. Mr. Locke, however, insisted that his friends should partake of a kind of drink previously unheard of, and with this in view had a confidential chat with the waiter, to whom he unostentatiously handed a five-dollar retainer. No one witnessed this unusual generosity except Higgins, who commended it fondly; but his remarks went unheeded in the general clamor.
The meal was at its noisiest when the man whom Locke had so generously tipped spoke to him quietly. Whatever his words, they affected the listener strongly. Locke’s face whitened, then grew muddy and yellow, his hands trembled, his lips went dry. He half arose from his chair, then cast a swift look about the room. His companions were too well occupied, however, to notice this by-play even when the waiter continued, in a low tone:
“He slipped me a ten-spot, so I thought it must be something worth while.”
“He—he’s alone, you say?”
“Seems to be. What shall I do, sir?”
Locke took something from his pocket and thrust it into the fellow’s hand, while the look in his eyes changed to one of desperation.
“Step outside and wait. Don’t let him come up. I’ll call you in a minute.”
Ringold was recounting his version of the first touchdown—how he had been forced inch by inch across the goal line to the tune of thirty thousand yelling throats and his companions were hanging upon his words, when their new friend interrupted in such a tone that Anthony inquired in surprise:
“What’s wrong, old man? Are you sick?”
Locke shook his head. “I told you fellows I’d been followed this evening. Remember? Well, there’s a man down-stairs who has given the waiter ten dollars to let him have his coat and apron so he can come in here.”
“Who is he?”
The men stared at the speaker with a sudden new interest.
“I’m not sure. I—think it’s part of a plan to rob me.” He let his gaze roam from one face to another. “You see—I just came into a big piece of coin, and I’ve got it with me. I’m—I’m alone in New York, understand? They’ve followed me from St. Louis. Now, I want you boys to help me dodge this—”