THE FOUR STRAGGLERS
FRANK L. PACKARD
IF YOU read this, you can start the story now.—Four men meet in a shell-hole in France, near the end of the war—
the Four Stragglers. The reader identifies three of them in the first instalment as Captain Newcombe, Paul Cremarre and Runnells. Every evidence indicates that they are crooks of international repute, but who is the Fourth Straggler? Newcombe has a ward, Polly Wickes, formerly a Cockney flower girl, whom he is educating at an expensive finishing school in the 'V. S. The first instalment ends where Cremarre and Runnells are about to “burgle” the Earl of Cloverley’s residence. Newcombe is supposed to have made •everything easy for them, while a guest at the Earl’s.
FIVE, ten minutes passed. And now the two reached the farther edge of the wooded park, and halted there, drawn back a little in the shadow of the trees. Before them was a narrow breadth of lawn; and beyond, a great, rambling, turreted pile lay black even against the darkness, its castellated roof and points making a jagged fringe against the sky line.
Runnells appeared suddenly to find vent for his ill humor in a savage chuckle.
“What, is it, Runnells?” demanded the Frenchman. “I was just thinking that in the five or six years since I was here with Lord Seeton, you know, I ain’t forgotten his nibs the Earl of Cloverley. I’d like to see his face in the morning! He’s a crabbed old bird. My word! He’ll die of apoplexy, he will'! And if he don’t, he won’t be so keen on his ’ouse parties to visiting nabobs and cabinet ministers. He didn’t send into London and get his gold service out of the bank for us when we were here/’
“Perhaps,” said the Frenchman gently, “he did not know that you were valeting Lord Seeton at the time—or perhaps it was because he did!”
“Aw, chuck it!” said Runnells gruffly. He stared at the black shadowy building for a minute. Then abruptly: “It’s two o’clock, ain’t it? You looked, didn’t you?” “Yes/’ said Paul Cremarre. “I looked when we left the motor. The time’s right. It was just ten minutes of two.” “Well, what the blinking ’ell’s the matter now, then?” complained Runnells. “The place is as black as a cat. 'They’re all in bed, aren’t they?”
“That is not for me to say,” replied the Frenchman calmly. “We will wait, Runnells.”
Runnells, with another grunt, sat down on one of the ’bags, his back against a tree. The Frenchman remained standing, his eyes glued on the great house across the ’lawn.
“Aye,” said Runnells after a moment, and chuckled ^savagely to himself again, “I’d give a bob or two, I would, to see the old boy in the morning! A fussy, nosey, old 'fidge-budget, that’s what he is! A-poking of his sharp little nose into everything, and always afraid some ’un won’t earn the measely screw he’s paying for work he’d ought to pay twice as much for! It’s no wonder he’s rich!” “You seem to have very pleasant recollections of your "visit, Runnells,” said the Frenchman slyly. ‘T wonder what he caught you at?”
“He didn’t catch me/” said Runnells defiantly. “Though I'll say this, that if I’d known then that I was ever coming 'back now, I’d have kept my eyes peeled, and he’d be going into mourning for more’n his blessed gold plate to-riight! He didn’t bother me none, me being Lord Seetori’s man, but at that I saw enough of him so that the talk that went on in the servants’ hall wasn’t in any foreign 'language that 1 couldn’t tumble 'to. My eye!” said Runnells.
“A rare state he’ll be in!” _
The Frenchman said nothing.
TT'HE minutes dragged along..
Runnells too had relapsed into silence. A quarter of an hour passed. Then Runnells commenced to mutter under his breath and move restlessly on his improvised seat; and then ■getting up suddenly, he moved over close beside the Frenchman.
“I say!” whispered Runnells •uneasily. “I don’t like this, I don’t! What d’you suppose is -up?”
“A great deal, I have no doubt, my Runnells,” said the Frenchman imperturbably. “‘More perhaps than you and I
could overcome in the same time—if we could at all.”
“That’s all right!” returned Runnells. “I’m not saying it ain’t, but it’s getting creepy standing here and staring your eyes out. I’m beginning to see the trees moving round and coming at you, and in every bit of breeze the leaves are like a lot of bloody voices whispering in your ears. I wish you hadn’t said anything about that night!”
“Look!” said the Frenchman suddenly.
From an upper window, out of the blackness of the building across the lawn, there showed a faint spot of light that held for a few seconds—and then, in quick succession, a series of little flashes came from the room.
The two men stood motionless, intent, staring at the window.
The flashes ceased.
The Frenchman laid his hand on Runnells’ arm.
Do you pride yourself on your ability to solve the author s riddle before he reveals it? Then, see if you can guess the identity of the Fourth Straggler.
“No need for a repeat,” he said quickly. “You got it, didn’t you?”
“My word!” exclaimed Runnells. “Two guards— butler’s pantry—all clear! Strike me pink!”
The Frenchman laughed purringly under his breath.
“Did I not say he was incomparable? Come on, then, Runnells—quickly now!”
And now it was as though two shadows moved, flitting swiftly across the lawn, and along the edge of the building and around to the rear. And here they crouched before a doorway, and the Frenchman w h i spered:
“Don’t be delicate about it, Runnels. This isn’t any inside job! N ck it up badly enough so’s a blind man could see where we got in.”
“That’s what I’m doing,” said Run-
nells mechanically. His mind seemed obsessed with other things. “Two guards!” he muttered. And again: “Strike me pink!”
And after a moment, with both door and frame eloquent of the rough surgery that had been practised upon them, the door opened.
The two men entered, and closed the door silent’y behind them. An electric torch stabbed suddenly through the blackness and played for a moment inquisitively over its surroundings. ;
“ ’Tain’t changed a bit, as I said when I saw the plan,” commented Runnells.
They went on quickly. But where before there had been a steady play of the electric torch it winked now through the darkness only at intervals. A door opened here and there noiselessly; the footsteps of the men were cautious, wary, almost without sound. And then, as they halted finally, and the torch shot out its ray again, Runnells drew in his breath with a low, catchy, whistling sound.
The torch disclosed a narrow serving pantry, and, on the floor at one sfSe, a great metal box or chest— obviously the object of their visit. But Runnells for the moment was apparently not interested in the chest.
“Look at that!” he breathed hoarsely—and pointed to the farther end of the pantry w7here a swinging door was ajar, and through which an upturned foot protruded.
The Frenchman set his bags down beside the metal chest, moved swiftly forward, pushed the swinging door open, and stepped silently into w-hat was obviously the dining room. And Runnells, beside him, whispered hoarsely aga;n, but this time with a sort of amazed admiration in his voice. “Neat, I calls that! Neat! What?”
f I 'WO men lay upon the floor, gagged, bound and apparently unconscious. Oxe from his livery, was a servant in the house; the other was in civilian clothes.
Paul Cremarre pointed to the latter.
“The man that came out from London with the box from the bank,” he observed complacently. He pushed Runnells back through the swing ng door into the pantry. “Well, my Runnells, you were grumbling over a few minutes’ delay; let us see if we can be equally as expeditious and efficient with infinitely less to do.” He reached the chest and examined it. “Padlocks, eh? Let me see if I can persuade them!” He bent over the chest, and from his pocket came a little kit of tools.
Runnells stood silently by. There was no sound now7 save the breathing of the two men, and, as the minutes passed, an occasional faint, metallic rasp and click from Paul Cremarre at work.
And then the Frenchman flung back the lid, and straightened up.
“Quick now, Runnells—to work!’/ he said briskly. “Pere Mouche is waiting for his ragout!”
“My eye!” said Runnells with enthusiasm, as the electric torch bored into the interior of the box. “Fipe it! I’ve served with the swells, I have, and Lord Seeton was one of the biggest of ’em, but I never saw7 the likes of this before. Gold plate to eat off of! My eye!”
“They are very beautiful,” said the Frenchman judicially; “but it w7ould be a sacrilege against art to appraise them in haste and in a poor light. Work quickly, Runnells! And do not fill any one of the bags too full. You wrill find it heavy. The four w7ill hold it all comfortably.”
Runnells bent to his task.
The men worked sw7iftly now7, without words, transferring the Earl of Cloverley’s priceless service of gold plate to the four travelling bags. The Frenchman, the quicker of the two, completed his task first, and locked his two bags. And then suddenly he touched Runnells on the shoulder. “Listen!” he whispered. “What’s that?”
'T'AINTLY, scarcely audible, there came a * curiously padded, swishing sound—like slippered feet. It came from the direction, not of the swung door where the two guards lay, but from beyond the door through w7hich Runnells and the Frenchman had entered the pantry.
“It’s some one coming all right,” Runnells w7hispered back
“But only one,” said the Frenchman instantly. “Quick! Finish your job—but don’t make a sound.” There w7as a sudden vicious snarl in his whisper. “Pull that hat of yours dowrn over your eyes. I’ll answer the door, as you English say!”
He moved back along the pantry with the noiseless tread of a eat, and took up his position against the wall at the edge of the closed door. From his pocket he drew a revolver. It was quite black, quite silent now —save for the approaching footsteps.
Perhaps a minute passed.
And then the door opened, and a light went on. A graywhiskered little man in a dressing gown, with bare feet thrust into slippers, stood on the threshold. He cast startled eyes on a crouching figure in the center of the pantry, the tell-tale travelling bags, the gaping treasure chest, and wrenched a revolver from the pocket of his dressing gown. But the Frenchman, reaching out. struck from the edge of the doorway. The revolver sailed ceilingwards from the other’s hand, and exploded in midair. And coincidentally the Frenchman struck again— with the butt of his own weapon—and the man went limply to the floor.
Runnells came staggering forward under the load of
“Strike me dead!” he gasped, “if it ain't the nosey old bird himself! Serves him proper—sneaking around to make sure he ain’t paying money for nothing, and hoping he'll catch ’em asleep on sentry-go!”
The Frenchman snatched up two of the bags.
'■Quiek," he said tersely.
CAPTAIN FRANCIS NEWCOMBE raised his head from his pillow, and propped himself up on his elbow A door nearby suddenly opened. Other doors were being rapped, upon. Voices came.
The ex-captain of territorials sprang from his bed, thrust his feet into slippers, threw a bathrobe over his pajamas, opened his door and stepped out into the hall. Some one had already turned on a light. He found himself amongst a group of fellow guests, whose number was being constantly augmented. From other doorways, wary of their extreme dishabille, women’s faces peered out timidly—their voices, less restrained, demanding to know what was the matter, added an hysterical note
A shot was certainly fired somewhere in the house, though. I couldn’t place where it came from,” declared some ore. “I am quite sure of it.”
“There is no question about it,” corroborated another. "It woke me up. and I ran out here into the hall.”
“The Ear! is not in his room!" announced a third excitedly. "I’ve just been there."
"Ring for the servants!” screeched an elderly female voice. "Some one may be killed !”
"For Ctod’s sake!" snapped a man gruffly. “I didn't hèar it myself, but if a shot was fired it’s fairly obvious by now that it wasn’t fired up here! What are we standing around like a pack of sheep for?”
"That’s what I was wondering,” said Captain Francis Newcombe softly to h:m«elf—and joined the now concerted rush down the stairway.
Lights were going on all over the house now, and the men servants began to appear. The rush scurried from one mom to another. A cry went up from some one ahead. It brought everybody into the dining room, and there, in their motley garbs, chorusing excited exclamations. they surrounded the two gagged and bound guards.
Then some one else shouted from the pantry that the metal chest had been broken open, and that the gold service was gone. There was another rush in that direction. Captain Francis Newcombe accompanied this rush. On the floor lay a revolver. The ex-captain of territorial' picked it up.
“Hello!” he ejaculated. “It’s rather queer this has been left behind—or perhaps it belongs to one of the two out there in the dining room.”
"No. sir,” said one of the servants at his elbow. “It’s the Earl’s, sir. I’d know it anywhere. And, begging your pardon, sir, it’s a bit strange that he hasn’t been seen since—”
“Here he is!” cried a voice from beyond the farther pantry door. “Here, lend a hand! The Earl’s been hurt."
CAPTAIN FRANCIS NEWCOMBE aiding, the Earl was carried back to the dining room, and restoratives hastily applied. Here, the man in livery, released now, his voice weak and unsteady, was telling his story; his companion was still unconscious.
. . . ."Gawd knows,” the man was saying. '‘WTe was in the pantry, and Brown there ’e thought ’e ’eard a sound out ’ere in the dining room. And ’e gets up and pushes the swinging door open and goes through, and a minute later I 'ears what I thinks is ’im calling me. ‘ ’Ere, quick. Johnston!’ ’e says. And I goes through the door, and something bashes me over the ’ead. and I goes out. What 'appened though is as clear as daylight now. Brown goes through the door and gets hit on the ’ead, and I goes through the door and gets hit on the ’ead. And it wasn’t Brown as called me, it was the blighter that did us in, and—”
The Earl’s voice broke in suddenly.
“I’m all right, I tell you!” he insisted weakly.
“There were two of them....one behind the door
knocked the revolver out of my hand as I fired, and smashed me over the head with something.... bags, travelling bags for the plate. . . .that’s the way they’re carrying it... . I—”
The Earl’s voice trailed off.
“It can’t have been more than five minutes ago then,” said the man with the gruff voice, “for they were therefore in the house when the shot was fired. They can’t have got very far carrying the load. Quick now! We’ll search the park.”
“But they wouldn’t attempt to carry it very far anyway,” objected some one. “They’d have a motor, of course.”
“Exactly!” retorted the other. “But not near enough to the house to be heard. Did any one hear a motor after that shot was fired? Of course not! We may get them before they get their motor. Also, we’ll use a motor too! Any one of the chauffeurs here?”
“Yes, sir,” answered a man.
“Good! Any one armed?”
“I’ve got the Earl’s revolver,” said Captain Francis Newcombe.
“Well, there’s the gunroom,” said the man who had assumed command. “And you servants get lanterns and things. Look lively, now! Sharp’s the word!”
And for some reason Captain Francis Newcombe smiled grimly to himself as he attached his person to the chauffeur, and, accompanied by three other pajama clad guests, raced from the house.
AT THE garage Captain Francis Newcombe appropriated the front seat beside the chauffeur, his fellow guests scrambled into the tonneau, and a moment later the big car shot around the end of the house, and began to sweep down the driveway. The ex-captain of territorials screwed around in his seat for a backward g’ance as they tore along. Every window in the great, rambling castle-like edifice appeared to be alight; this caused a filmy lighted zone without, and through this raced ghostly figures in bathrobes and dressing gowns that were almost instantly swallowed up in the shadows of the trees; and from amongst the trees, dancing in and out, like huge fireflies in their effect, there showed in constantly increasing numbers the glint of lanterns.
But now the motor was at the lodge gates, nosing the main road, and the chauffeur pulled up.
“Which way would you say, sir?” he added anx’ously. “I’d vote for whichever is the shortest way to London —that’s to the left, isn’t it?” Captain Francis Newcombe responded promptly. He turned to his fellow guests. “I don’t know what you think about it?”
“Yes,” one of the others answered. “I’d say that’s the way they’d most likely take.”
“Very good, sir!” said the chauffeur. “Left, it is, and—” He broke short off. “There they are!” he cried excitedly. “Listen! They’re coming out of that lane there, over to the right!” He swung the motor sharply into the straight of the main road. “There they are! See ’em!” he cried again, as the headl’ghts brought the rear of a speeding motor into view. “The old general back there in the house was right. They didn’t bring their motor any nearer for fear it would be heard. That’s where it has been—up the lane there. Bùt we’ve got ’em now! This old girl’ll touch seventy and never turn a hair.” “Corking!” contributed Captain Francis Newcombe enthusiastically.. “You’re sure of the seventy, are you?” “Rather!” exclaimed the chauffeur. “Look for yourself, sir. We’re overhauling them now like one o clock.” The ex-captain of territorials for a moment stared intently along the headlight’s rays to where, gradually, the other motor was coming more and more into focus.
“By Jove, I believe you’re right!” he agreed heartily— and from the pocket of his dressing gown produced the Earl’s revolver.
THE motor was lurching now with the speed. A hundred yards intervening between the flying cars diminished to seventy-five—to fifty. Still c oser ! The men in the tonneau clung to their seats. Twenty-five yards!
Captain Francis Newcombe shouted to his companions over the roar and sweep of the wind.
“I’ll take a pot at the beggars, and see if that’ll stop ’em!” he yelled. “Better chance over the top of the windshield, what!”
Captain Francis Newcombe stood up, swayed with the car, fired twice in quick succession and once after a short pause over the top of the windshield—but the ex-captain of territorials’ mark seemed curiously comprehensive in expanse for his eyes were at the same time searching the side of the road ahead. And now there showed at the end of the headlight’s path a hedgerow bordering close against the side of the road.
Captain Francis Newcombe fired again, but as the car lurched now the ex-captain of territorials seemed momentarily to lose his balance, and with the lurch swayed heavily against the chauffeur’s arm.
There was a startled yell from the chauffeur; a vicious swerve—and the big motor leaped at the hedge. Came a crash of splintering glass as Captain Francis Newcombe
was pitched head first against the windshield; a rip and rend and tear as the motor backed and plunged and twisted in its conflict with the thick, heavy hedge; and then a terrific jolt that in its train brought a full stop.
And Captain Francis Newcombe, flung back and half out of the car, put his hands to his eyes and brought them away wet from a great gush of blood.
“Carry on! Carry on!” he cried weakly. “You’ll never 1 ave a better chance to get them.”
“My God!” screamed the chauffeur. “Carry on? We’re a bally wreck!”
“What beastly luck!” mumured Captain Francis Newcombe—and lost consciousness.
CHAPTER 5 “Dear Guardy”
pAPTAIN FRANCIS NEWCOMBE, a bandage swathing his head from the tip of his nose upward, groped out with his hand for a glass that stood on the bedside table, succeeded only in upsetting it and swore savagely under his breath. At the same moment he heard the front door of his apartment open and close.
“Runnells!” he shouted irritably. “D’ye hear, Runnells? Come here!”
A footstep came hurriedly along the hall, and the door of the bedroom opened.
Paul Cremarre stood on the threshold.
“It is not Runnells,” said the Frenchman, staring at the bed. “I used my key. I saw Runnells and another man go out a few minutes ago.”
“You, Paul!” exclaimed Captain Francis Newcombe quickly. “I did not expect you to return from France until to-morrow. I thought Runnells had forgotten something and come back. That was the doctor with him. Runnells has gone out for supplies. They've only just brought me back from Cloverley's this morning, and the place here was pretty well cleaned out of necessities.”
The Frenchman moved over to the bedside, and grasped ’ Captain Francis Newcombe’s hand.
“Monsieur,” he said earnestly, “I am desolated to see you like this. How am I to tell you of my gratitude? How am I to tell you what I owe you? We would have been caught. In two or three more little minutes, Runnells and I would have been—pouf!”
“That seemed rather obvious,” said Captain Francis Newcombe dryly.
“Bon Dieu!” ejaculated the Frenchman. “Yes! I heard from Runnells, of course—the whole story in code. There is only one man who would have done that. I, Paul Cremarre, will never forget it. Never! And I say again that I am desolated to see you like this. Runnells said your eyes were very badly injured.”
“That is Runnells’ lack of balance in the use of English,” said the ex-captain of territorials. “There is nothing whatever the matter, with my eyes. If I am blind for the moment, it is because my eyelids are kept shut by some damned medical method of torture, and because of this bandage. When I took a header into the broken windshield, I got a bit of a cut that beginning with the bridge of my nose had a go straight across on each side just under the eyebrows. They’ve made a bit of a fuss over it, wouldn’t let me come home until now, and I must still be tucked up in bed, but—”
“It is more than you make out,” said the Frenchman gravely. “I know that. But that your eyes are saved— that is luck!”
“Quite so!” Captain Francis Newcombe shrugged his shoulders. “And you?—speaking of luck.”
“The best!” replied the Frenchman in a low quick, tone. “Pere Mouche has had his ragout, and afterwards another that was so hot that—would you believe it?— it melted the dishes. And, besides, he has had a stroke of good fortune in getting rid of some other stock, a lot of it, on the continent. There will be a nice bank account in a day or so—to-morrow, if you want any.” His voice grew suddenly less buoyant. “But just the same, it is well that we are taking a holiday. It has caused a furore. The papers, the Earl, Scotland Yard—how they buzz! And the Prefecture more suspicious than ever! Your English journals are like spoiled children. They will not stop crying, and they are very bad tempered about it. This morning, for instance. I have one here. Shall I read to you what it says?”
“Good heavens—no!” expostulated Captain Francis Newcombe hastily. “Everybody from the Earl down to Runnells has read that stuff to me for a week! If you want to do anything that smacks of intelligence you can get me another drink in place of the one I knocked over when you came in—you know where the Scotch is; and if you want to do any reading see if there is any mail for me. I mentioned letters but the doctor said no. However, the doctor is gone, so look on the desk in the living room.
“All right,” said the Frenchman, as he turned briskly away. “ Un petit coup is decidedly in order this morning. I will have one with you.”
He was back presently from his errand. He filled the glasses, and placed one in Captain Francis Newcombe’s hand.
“Salut, mon capitaine !” he said. “Here’s to the cash
the little Pere Mouche is getting ready for us_a fat, a
very nice fat little dividend!”
“Good!” said the ex-captain of territorials. “How about the mail? Any letters?”
“I’ve got them here,” Paul Cremarre answered. “There were only three.”
“Well, what are they?” demanded Captain Francis Newcombe.
The Frenchman examined the first of the letters in his hand.
‘ ‘A city letter from Hipplewaite, Jones & Simpkins, Solicitors—”
Gaptain Francis Newcombe chuckled.
“That’s about a hen Runnells ran over a month or so ago.' Extremely valuable fowl! Poultry show stock, and all that, you know. What has the price risen to now?”
Paul Cremarre tore the letter open.
“Two pounds, ten and six,” he said.
“Still much too cheap!” grinned Captain Francis Newcombe. “The man is simply robbing himself. Chuck it away before Runnells sees it. He could have settled for a pound three weeks ago. What’s next?”
The Frenchman examined another envelope.
“City letter again,” he said. “From the Sabbath House.”
“Ah, yes!” said Captain Francis Newcombe gravely. “Most worthy object. Gave ’em ten quid last month. A mission down in Whitechapel, you know. Elevation of the unelevated, and all that. Shocking conditions! I must see that your name goes on that list.”
“Shall I tear it up?” drawled the Frenchman.
“Yes,” said Captain Francis Newcombe.
The Frenchman remained silent for a moment.
“Well?” prompted the ex-captain of territorials. “You said there were three.”
“I have put the other on the table beside you,” said the Frenchman. “It is intime. The stamp from America. The handwriting of a lady. You will read it yourself when you are able.”
“Able!” echoed Captain Francis Newcombe, with sudden asperity. “I won’t be able to do anything for another week, let alone read. Open it! You know damned well it’s only from my ward in America. And since I’m going out there as soon as I’m fit again, I’m rather keen to know what her immediate plans are. She was going to a school friend’s home for the summer. I’ve explained
to you before that her mother did a rather big thing for me once, and I’m trying to repay the debt. Open it, and read it to me. There’s nothing private about it.”
“But certainly!” agreed the Frenchman, as he opened the letter. “It is only that you are both young, and that the thought crossed my mind you—”
“Read the letter!” snapped Captain Francis Newcombe. “If there’s any enclosure for her mother, you can lay that aside.”
“There is no enclosure,” returned the Frenchman goodhumoredly. “Well, then, listen! I read:
Manwa Island, Florida Keys,
Tuesday, June 30th.
You knew, of course, I was going to visit Dora Marlin and her father, Mr. Jonathan P. Marlin, this summer, so you won’t be altogether surprised at the above address. You see, we came here a little sooner that I expected, so that your last letter, forwarded on from New York, has just' reached me.
I am wild with delight to know that you have decided to come out to America for a visit. I showed your letter at once to Dora and Mr. Marlin, and they absolutely insist that you come here as their guest. You will, won’t you? You old dear! You’ll have to, else you won’t see me—so there! You see, we’re on an island in the Florida Keys, and it’s ever so far from the mainland, and there’s no other place on it to stay except with us. I wonder, I wonder if you’ll know me? I’m not the little Polly I was, you know.
Oh, Guardy, it’s simply wonderful here! The house is really a castle, and it’s built mostly of coral, and is so pretty; and the foliage is a dream—the whole island, and it’s really an awfully big one, is just like a huge garden. And, too, it’s just like a little world all of your own. The servants are mostly negroes, with pickaninnies running around, and they live in jolly little bungalows, ever and ever so many of them, that peep out of the trees at you everywhere you go. And then there is the aquarium. It’s Mr. Marlin’s hobby. I couldn’t begin to describe it. I never knew such beautiful and wonderful and queer creatures existed in the sea.
Dora’s a dear, of course. I’m sure you’ll lose your heart to her at once. And I’ve already grown so fond of Mr. Marlin, and the more so, perhaps, because Dora is frightfully worried about him.
I am afraid there is something very seriously the matter with his mind, though a great deal of the time he appears to be quite normal. I don’t understand it, of course, because it is all about the financial conditions in the w'orld; but anyway--
Paul Cremarre stopped reading aloud abruptly. There was a moment of silence while his eyes swept swiftly on to the end of the paragraph.
“Well?” inquired Captain Francis Newcombe. “What’s the matter? Have you lost your place?”
The Frenchman drew' in his breath sharply.
“Bon Dieu!” he exclaimed excitedly. “Listen to this! It is the lamp of Aladdin ! It is the Isle of Croesus! We are rich ! It is superb ! Is is magnificent ! Listen ! I read again :
—he has a great sum of money in banknotes here; half a million dollars, he said. He showed it to me.
It was hard to believe there was so much. Why, you could just make a l'ttle bundle of it and put it under your arm. I asked him why he had it here, and he patted it and smi ed at me, and told me it was the only safe thing to do. And then he tried to explain a lot o things to me about money that I couldn’t understand at all.
Paul Cremarre looked up, and waved the letter about jubilantly.
“Yes, yes!” he'cried. “I am awake! See! I pinch myself ! It is amazing ! In banknotes! In American money ! That is valuable, eh? And a little bundle that one could put under one’s arm!”
Captain Francis Newcombe’s lips were a straight line under the bandages.
“I’m afraid I don’t get the point,” he said coldly.
“The point!” Paul Cremarre’s face was flushed now, his eyes burned with excitement. “But, sacre nom, the point is—a half million dollars in cash. And so easy’ It is ours for the taking. The man is—ha, ha!—yes, I learned something in the war from the Americans—he is what they call a nut!” He tapped his forehead. “And from the nut we extract the kernel! Yes?”
“I think not!” said Captain Francis Newcombe evenly. “Heh?” The Frenchman stared incredulously. “But it must be that you joke—a little joke of exquisite irony.
Yes. of course; for what could be better—or suit us better? We were about to lay low for a while because it was becoming too hot for us on this side of the water —and. presto, like a gift of the gods, there immediately awaits us fortune on the other side!"
pAPTAIN FRANCIS NEWCOMBE suddenly thrust
1 out a clenched hand toward the other.
" -Vo ?" he said in a low voice.
"BOH Dieu!” gasped the Frenchman helplessly. "But I do not understand."
"Then I’ll try to make it plain." said Captain Francis Newcombe in level tones. "There are limits to what even I wilt do. and it is well over that limit here. To go there as a guest of—”
"Monsieur was a guest, I understand, of the Earl of Cloverley a few days ago." interrupted the Frenchman quickly.
"Yes!” said Captain Francis Newcombe tersely. "And the guest before that of many others. But I did not have a ward to consider upon whose reputation I was to trade, and which I would wreck.
Do you understand that?”
"Damn!” said the Frenchman. "There is always a woman! Damn all women. I say!"
"You may damn them as much as you please.” said Captain Francis Newcombe, a grim savagery in his voice; “but there'll be none of that sort of thing here.
And you keep your hands off! Do you also understand that? There’s going to be one decent thing in my life!” He stretched out his clenched hand again.
"Curse these bandages! I ¿wish I could see your face! But I cell you now that if any attempt is made to get that . money I'll crush you with as little compunction as I would crush a snake. Is that plain?”
“But. monsieur!” protested the Frenchman.
"That is enough!
Why should you say this to me?
I am drstressed.
And it is not just.
You asked me to read a letter, and I read it. That was not my fault.
And surely it was but natural, what I said. Has it not been our business to do that sort of thing together? I did not know how you felt about this. But now that I know it is at an end. I have forgotten it, my friend. It is as though it had never been.”
"All right, then!” said the ex-captain of territorials in a softer tone. “As you say, that ends it.”
“Shall I go on with the letter?” asked the Frenchman pleasantly.
“No.” said Captain Francis Newcombe. “Give it to me. I’ve had enough of it for now.” He smiled suddenly, as the Frenchman placed the letter in his hand. “I’m afraid I’m a bit off color this morning, Paul. Sorry! The trip down from Cloverley’s has done me in a bit, and my eyes hurt like hell. I’d give a hundred pounds for a few good hours of sleep.”
“Try, then,” suggested the Frenchman. “I’ll be where I can hear you if you want anything. I won’t go out until Runnells gets back.”
“Good enough!” agreed Captain Francis Newcombe; and then abruptly, as the Frenchman rose from his chair: "Speaking of Runnells, Paul—you will oblige me by saying nothing to him of the contents of this letter.”
“I will say nothing to any one, let alone Runnells,” replied the Frenchman quietly7. “It is already forgotten. Call, if you want anything.”
“I will,” said Captain Francis Newcombe.
The Frenchman’s footsteps died away in an outer room.
Captain Francis Newcombe’s fingers tightened around tr.e letter he held in his hand, crushed it, and carefully
smoothed it out again. He lay there motionless then, his face turned away from the door, his lips thinned, his under jaw outhrust a little.
“Three years in the planting!” he muttered to himself. “It has ripened well! Very well! Paul—bah! What does it matter, after all, that he read the letter? I am not sure but that he has already outlived his usefulness—and Runnells too!” He thrust the letter suddenly underneath his pillow. “Damn the infernal pain!” he gritted between his teeth. “If I could only sleep for a bit—sleep—sleep!”
And for a time he tossed restlessly from side to side, and then presently he slept.
O UNNELLS, in response to a demand from the bedroom, brought in the luncheon tray.
“You’ve had a rare whack of sleep,” he said, as he laid the tray down on the table beside the bed.
There he is now,” she said in a low voice.
“What time is it?”, inquired Captain Francis Newcombe.
“Three o’clock,” said Runnells. “Here, sit up a bit, and I’ll bolster the pillows in behind you.”
“Where’s Paul?” asked the ex-captain of territorials.
Runnells did not answer immediately. In arranging the pillows he had found a letter. He looked at it coolly. It ought to be worth looking at if Captain Francis Newcombe kept it under his pillow.
“Well?” snapped the ex-captain of territorials.
Runnells placed the letter on the table within easy reach beside the tray, pulled the table a little closer, and sat down on the edge of the bed.
“He went out after I got back,” said Runnells. “Said he’d sleep here to-night, that’s all I know. This is a bit of stew.”
Runnells, with one hand presented a forkful of meat to Captain Francis Newcombe’s lips, and with the other hand possessed himself of the letter again.
Runnells read steadily now. He conveyed food to Captain Francis Newcombe’s mouth mechanically.
“Damn it!” spluttered the ex-captain of territorials suddenly. “Do you take me for a boa constrictor? I can’t bolt food as fast as that!”
Runnells’ eyes were curiously, feverishly alight.
“Yesterday you said I went too slow,” he mumbled.
“In a great many respects, Runnells,” said Captan Francis Newcombe tartly, “you are an irritating, tactless
ass. But not to be too hard on you, and especially in view of the last week, I have to admit you possess one redeeming feature that I am bound to give you credit for.”
“What’s that?” Runnells was at the end of the letter now. He stared at the bandaged face with eyes a little narrowed, and with lips that twisted in a strange, speculative smile.
“A fidelity of the same uninitiative quality that a dog has,” said Captain Francis Newcombe, motioning for more to eat. “And in that sphere you’re a success. I hope you’ll always stick to it.”
Runnells made no answer. His eyes were on the letter again—re-reading it.
The lunch proceeded in silence.
At its conclusion, Runnells stood up, slipped the letter behind the pillow again, and gathered the various dishes together on the tray.
“America, eh?” confided Runnells to himself, as he carried the tray from the room. “So that's the bit of all right, is it? And Paul don’t know anything about it! And the captain don’t know—I know! Half a million d ollars ! Strike me pink ! ”
CHAPTER 6 The Writing on the Wall
IT WAS a night of storm. The rain, wind driven, swept
the decks in gusty, stinging sheets; the big liner rolled and pitched, disgruntled, in the heavy sea.
, Within the smoking room at a table in the corner Captain Francis Newcombe turned from a companion who sat opposite to him to face a steward who had just
arrived with a tray.
“How about this, steward?”' he asked. “Is this weather going to delay our getting in? I understand that if we don’t pass quarantine early enough they hold us up all night.”
“So they do, sir,” the steward answered. “But this isn’t holding us up any, a bit nasty though it is. We’II be docked at New York by two o’clock to-morrow afternoon at the latest. Thank you, sir!” He pocketed a generous tip as he departed.
The young man at the opposite side of the table, dark-eyed, dark-haired, with fine, clean-cut features, a man of powerful physique, whose great
breadth of shoulder was encased in an immaculate dinner jacket, lifted the glass the steward had just set beforehim.
‘ ‘Here’s how, captain!” he smiled.
“The same, Mr. Locke!” returned Captain Francis Newcombe cordially.
Howard Locke extracted a cigarette from his case, and lighted it.
“The end of as chummy a crossing as I’ve ever had,” hesaid. “Thanks to you. And I’ve been lucky all round. Cleaned up well in London, and I’ll get a pat on the back for it from dad—and a holiday, which, without throwing any bouquets at myself, I’ll say I’ve earned. I think ITT do a bit of coast cruising in that little old fifty-footer of mine that I’ve filled your ear full of during the last few days. Wow! And not least of all my luck was Joyce introducing me to you at lunch that day in the club.”
“It’s very good of you to say so,” said Captain Francis Newcombe.
“Good, nothing!” exclaimed the young American. “I mean it! You’ve made the trip for me. And now how about your plans? I know you’re going on South somewhere, for you mentioned it the other day. But what about New York? You’ll be a little while there, and I feel pleasurably responsible for the stranger in thestrange land. The house is barred, for the family is away for the summer; but there are the clubs, and I’d like toput you up and show you around a bit.”
Captain Francis Newcombe studied the young man’s face for a moment—he smiled disarmingly as he did so. Howard Locke was the son of a man of great wealth, the head of a great financial house, and of a family whose social status left nothing to be desired—and America was the Land of Promise! But one could be too eager!
“I’d like to,” he said heartily; “but I fancy I’ve still quite a little trip ahead of me, and I’m afraid I’m a bit overdue already. As you say, I mentioned that I was going South. To be precise, I’m going down Florida way —or do you call it up?—as the guest of a Mr. Marlin.”
Howard Locke removed the cigarette from his lips.
“Marlin?” he repeated. “Not Jonathan P. Marlin, by any chance?”
Captain Francis Newcombe nodded.
“Whew!” The young American whistled softly under his breath.
Captain Francis Newcombe lifted his eyebrows inquiringly.
“You know him?” he asked.
“"^TO,” Locke answered. “Not personally. I know of him, of course. Everybody does. And I don’t want to be nosey and butt in, and you can heave that glass at me by way of reply if you like, but how in the world do you happen to know him?”
Captain Francis Newcombe smiled.
“I don’t,” he said. “My ward, who has been over here at school for the past few years, has been a classmate of Miss Marlin, and she is spending part of the summer with them.”
“Oh, I see!” Howard Locke tapped the end of his cigarette on the edge of an ash tray once or twice, and glanced in evident indecision at his companion.
“Go on!” invited Captain Francis Newcombe. “What is it?”
Howard Locke laughed a little awkwardly.
“Well, I don’t know,” he said. “Nothing very much. And I’m afraid it’s not done, as you English put it, for me to say anything, since he is your prospective host; still, as you say you are not personally acquainted with him yourself, I think perhaps you ought to know just the same. I haven’t anything definite to go on, no authoritative source of information, but it is rather generally understood that old Marlin’s gone a bit queer in the head.”
“Really!” ejaculated Captain Francis Newcombe. “Good lord! I had no idea of any such thing! And my ward’s on this island of his in the Florida Keys, and—”
“There’s nothing whatever to be alarmed about,” said the young American hastily. “It’s nothing like that. He’s as harmless as you are, or as I am. It’s only on one subject—money. I suppose he was one of the wealthiest men in America at the close of the war, and since then he’s been wiped out.”
“Wiped out?” Captain Francis Newcombe echoed incredulously.
“Comparatively, of course,” said Howard Locke. “I don’t know how much he has got left—nobody does. It’s been the talk of the financial district. There isn’t a share of stock anywhere to be found standing in his name. He sold everything; and how much was used to cover losses, and how much remained to himself no one knows. You see, the last few years, to put it mildly, have been hell in a financial and business way. The foreign exchange situation has been a big factor in helping to play the devil with all sorts of holdings. Values have depreciated; the market has gone smash. Industries that were big dividend payers haven’t been able to meet their overhead. You may not believe it, but hundreds and hundreds have taken their money out of the banks, and, insisting on being paid in American gold certificates, when they couldn’t get the actual gold itself, have hoarded it in the safety deposit banks. God knows why! Just instances the general panicky conditions everywhere, I suppose. The aftermath of the war! History repeating itself, so the writers on economics tell us. Small consolation! However Marlin met with crash after crash. He lost millions. He’s not a young man, you know, and it evidently got him finally in the shape of a monomania. Finance! You understand? He was on a dozen big directorates and his trouble began to show itself in the shape of an obsession that everything should be turned into cash, buildings, plants, everything—into American cash. Naturally, he was quietly and unostentatiously dropped. Poor devil! Certainly, his losses were terrific. I don’t know whether he’s got anything left or not.”
“By Jove!” said Captain Francis Newcombe gravely. “I’m glad you told me. Pretty rough that, I call it.”
“Yes,” said Locke. “It is! Damned rough! I think everybody was sorry for him. And so he’s down there at this place of his now on an island in the Florida Keys, eh?”
“Yes,” said Captain Francis Newcombe.
THE young American selected another cigarette from his case, rolled it slowly between his fingers—and leaned suddenly across the table.
“Look here!” he said. “I’ve an idea. I’m going cruising somewhere—why not there? The Florida coast hits
me down to the ground. How would you like to make the trip with me?”
Captain Francis Newcombe leaned back in his chair, and laughed a little.
“I’m afraid not,” he said. “I—”
“Oh, come on, be a sport!” urged Howard Locke enthusiastically. “The more I think of it, the better I like it. I’ll have good company on a cruise, and you’ll enjoy it. And it’s quite all right so far as my showing up there is concerned. It ain’t as though I were foisting myself on their hospitality. The little old boat’s my home; and, for that matter, I can drop you and sail solemnly away. You’ll have the time of your life. What’s the objection?”
“Time,” said Captain Francis Newcombe. “It would take a long while, wouldn’t it?”,
“Well,” said Howard Locke, “I wouldn’t guarantee to get you there as fast as a train would, but what difference does a few days make? It isn’t as though it were a business engagement you had to keep.”
“No; that’s so,” acknowledged Captain Francis Newcombe. “And frankly I must admit it appeals to me; but”
—-he looked at his watch—“I don’t know whether I can manage it or not. Anyway I promise to sleep on it. It’s after twelve, and time to turn in. What do you say?”
“That suits me,” said Howard Locke, “so long as you promise to say ‘yes’ in the morning.”
“We’ll see,” said Captain Francis Newcombe.
The two men rose from their chairs, and, crossing the room where several games of bridge were in progress, stepped out on the deck. And here, their respective cabins lying in different directions, they bade each other goodnight.
But now Captain Francis Newcombe, despite the pitching of the ship and the general unpleasantness of the night, appeared in no hurry.
He walked slowly. It was the lee side, and under the covered deck he was protected from the rain. He looked behind him. The young American, evidently in no mind for anything but the snugger shelter of his cabin, had disappeared. The deck was deserted.
' I 'HE ex-captain of territorials stepped to the rail, and stared out into t
the murk, through which there showed, like pencilled streaks on a black background, the white, irregular shapes of the cresting waves.
The howl of the wind, the boom and crash of the seas made thunderous tumult, conflict, turmoil. And he laughed. And the spume, flying, struck his face. And he laughed again because a sort of fierce exaltation was upon him, .and he found something akin in
these wild, untramelled voices of the elements—a challenge, far-flung and savage, and contemptuous of all who would say them nay.
And then his eyes narrowed thoughtfully, and his fingers played a soft tattoo upon the dripping rail.
“I wonder!” said Captain Francis Newcombe to himself. “I wonder if it suits my book?”
His mind began to moil over the problem in a cold, unprejudiced, judicial way. Was the balance for or against the acceptance of the young American’s offer? To arrive at Marlin’s place in the company of a man of the standing of Howard Locke was an endorsation that spoke for itself. But he already had an unqualified endorsation. Polly supplied it. Still, he could not have too much of that sort of thing. Would, then, the man be in
the way, a hindrance, a complication? He could not answer that offhand, but it did not seem to be a vital point. What he proposed to do on Manwa Island in a general way he knew well enough; but just how he proposed to do it, and just how long he proposed to stay there, a week, or a month, or longer, only local conditions as he found them must decide.
He shrugged his shoulders suddenly. Neither Howard Locke nor any other man would make of himself a hindrance—hindrances were removed. But there was another point, an outstanding point. After Manwa Island there was—America. True, he had brought Runnells with him; while he had said good-by to Paul Cremarre, who had departed for Paris, and thereafter for destination as his fancy prompted, for the period, mutually agreed upon, of six months—but he, Captain Francis Newcombe, was not prepared to say when, or where, if ever, he intended to utilize, in the same manner as before, the services of either Runnells or the Frenchman again. Certainly not in America, if a lone hand promised better there! He proposed to play a lone hand at this Manwa Island. It might well be that he would continue to do so thereafter.
• And in America an intimacy with
Howard Locke, such as this projected cruise offered, would help amazingly to spread and germinate the seed already sown by Polly Wickes. Polly Wiekes was his private property!
Captain Francis Newcombe smiled confidentially at the angry waters.
“Yes,” he said, “I think it is quite possible that he may be able to persuade me.”
He turned abruptly away from the rail, making for his cabin, which was on the deck above and on the opposite side of the ship. And presently, halting in the lighted alleyway before his door, he turned the key in the lock and entered.
AND then, just across the threshold, he stood for the fraction of a second like a man dazed—and the door, torn from his hand by a fierce gust of wind, slammed with a bang behind him. The cabin was on the windward side, the window w’as open, and outside the window, indistinct, shadowTy, as though almost it might be an 1 allucination of the mind, a man’s form suddenly loomed up. There was a flash, the roar of a revolver shot, muffled, almost drowned out in the thunder of the storm—and Captain Francis Newcombe lay flat upon the cabin floor.
The next instant he flung himself over beside the settee, and protected here from another shot, raised his head. The form had vanished from the window.
A cold fury seized upon the man. From his pocket he drew his own revolver, and covering the window as he backed swiftly for the door, wrenched the door open and made for the first egress to the deck. Too late, of course! The deck was deserted. He stood there, grim-faced, tight-lipped, straining his eyes up and down the length of the deck through the darkness, the rain beating into his face.
And then he began to run again—like a dog seeking scent. There were a dozen places up here w-here a man might hide—the juts of the superstructure, the great, grotesque, looming ventilators, the openings through to the other side of the deck. But he found nothing, no one—there wras only the deserted deck, the drenching rain. And the howi of the wind metamorphosed itself into ironical shrieks.
Captain Francis NewTcombe returned along the deck, and halted outside his cabin window. He examined it critically. It had been pried open from the outside—the marks were distinctly indented on the sill, as though a jimmy, or iron bar of some kind, had been used.
He stared at it, his jawrs clamped. It w-as unpleasant. Some one on the ship had deliberately, premeditatively Continued on page 38
Continued from page 19
attempted to murder him. There was something of hideous malignancy in it. To pry the window open, and wait there patiently in the storm for the sole purpose of ending a man’s life! It hadn’t succeeded because intuition, or, perhaps, better, an exaggerated instinct of selfpreservation born of the years in which he had flaunted defiance of every law in the face of his fellow men, had prompted him, though taken unawares, to act even quicker than his assailant who lay in wait, and to fling himself instantly to the floor of the cabin.
Who was it? Why was it? Who, on board ship, had any incentive, any reason, any cause to murder him? Save for Locke, the young American, he knew no one on board, barring Runnells, of course, except in the ordinary, casual way of shipboard acquaintanceship struck up since the ship had left Liverpool. It could not be any one of these—at least, not logically. And of them all, it certainly could not be Locke. The ship’s company? Absurd! Runnells? __ Still more absurd! And so he had eliminated everybody, and yet somebody had done it!
He began to work with the window. Reaching inside he drew the curtains carefully together, and then lowered the window itself. When he re-entered his room, even providing he were still watched, he
would not be exposed in the same way as a target again !
He stood there now in the rain, his face hard, with savage, drooping lines at the corners of his mouth. Was he being watched now? Was there a cat-andmouse game in play? Well, two could play at that! He, too, could prowl about the ship. His bed held little of invitation for him! He went to Runnells’ room. The man was in bed asleep. That definitely disposed of Runnells!
He returned and made another circuit of the upper deck; and then, forward, by one of the open companionways, he descended to the deck below. His mind was in a strange state of turmoil. It was not physical fear. It was as though a host of haunting shapes were being marshalled against him, were rising up out of the past to disturb him, jeering at him, mocking him, plaguing him with sinister possibilities. The past was peopled with shapes, shapes that had lived in the world of Shadow Varne; shapes which might well be accused of this attempt to do away with him, could they but take tangible form, could their presence but be reconciled with the here and now, with this ship, with these damp, slippery decks, with the drive and sting of the rain, with thescreamand howl of the wind, with the plunge and roll of the great liner.
the buffeting of the waves—if they could but be reconciled with material things. He clenched his hands. He was not as a man who could search his memory in vain for one who owed him such a debt as this: it was, rather, that his memory became crowded and confused with the number that came thronging in upon it, each vying with the others to shriek the loudest its boasted claim to the attempted retribution tonight.
He set his teeth. Where had he failed? When had he left ajar behind him the door of the past that allowed any of these ghostly shapes to slip through upon his heels? Ghostly? There was little of the ghostly here! He must have been recognized by someone on board the ship. It seemed incredible, impossible—but it was equally incontrovertible. Who? And what did it portend? To-night he
had won the first hand, but--
Locke! He was starring beside the smoking room window. Locke was in there, his back turned, standing beside one one of the bridge tables, watching a game. It was a little strange! He had parted with Locke out here on the deck—and Locke was going to his cabin to turn in.
FOR an instant Captain Francis Newcombe remained there, his brows knitted in a perplexed frown. Howard Locke! It was preposterous; it would not hold water; it was childish—unless the young American were some one other than he pretended to be, and there wasn’t a chance in a thousand of that! His mind worked swiftly now. Locke had been introduced to him at lunch in the club by a fellow member a few days before they had sailed. That certainly vouched for the man sufficiently, didn’t it? Locke had volunteered the information that he had booked passage on this ship, and they had not met again until here on board ship. If Locke was what he passed for, if he was of one of the best families of America, the son of a millionaire,a clever, hard-working andthoroughly ambitious young business man, it was untenable to assume for an instant that he was a potential murderer. It was even laughable. There wasn’t even that one chance in a thousand that he could be any other than he seemed, not a chance in a million, and yet—
“Chance,” said Captain Francis Newcombe, “is the play-ground of fools. We will see!”
He turned and ran swiftly along the deck. A minute later he was standing before one of the two doors of the young American’s suite. A little metal instrument was in his hand, but it went instantly back into his pocket—the door was not locked. He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. Locke had one of the best and most expensive reservations on the ship—a suite of two rooms and a private bath, but there was a separate door from each of these rooms to the passageway without, since naturally, they were not always booked en suite. And the room he stood in now was the one Locke used for his sitting room, and always as the entrance to the suite itself.
CAPTAIN FRANCIS NEWCOMBE was quick in every movement now. He ran through to the other room—the bedroom—closing the connecting door behind him. He switched on the light, and turned at once to the door that gave here on the passageway. The key was in the lock, and the door was locked. He unlocked it.
The next instant he had a portmanteau open and was delving into its contents. It contained nothing but clothing —shirts, collars, ties, underwear, and the like. He opened another, and still another with the same result. Papers! It was the man’s papers that interested him.
He snarled a little savagely to himself. There was nothing for it then but the steamer trunk under the couch—and Locke might be back at any moment. He dragged out the trunk—and snarled again savagely. It was locked. He began to work with it now, swiftly, deftly, with the little steel picklock. It yielded finally, and he flung back the lid. Yes, this was what he wanted! On the top lay a leather despatch case. But this also was locked. Again Captain Francis Newcombe set to work—and presently was glancing through a mass of papers and documents that the despatch case
had contained: letters from the father’s firm to the son, signed by Locke senior; a letter of credit in substantial amount; an underwriting agreement with a London house for the floating of a huge issue of bonds, signed and sealed, the tangible evidence of young Locke’s successful trip of which he had spoken. Incontrovertible evidence that Howard Locke was no other than he appeared to be, and — Captain Francie Newcombe sprang for the electric-light switch and turned off the light. There was Locke now! The pound of the ship, the noise of the storm, had of course deadened any sound in the passageway, büt he could hear the other at the sitting room door. There was no time to replace the despatch case and push the trunk back under the couch, let alone attempt to lock either one. The man was coming now—across the other room. Captain Francis Newcombe laid the despatch case silently down on the floor, opened the door as silently, stepped out into the passageway and ran noiselessly along it.
He quickly reached the door of his own cabin. His excursion to Locke’s cabin and the evidence of intrusion he had been forced to leave behind him had put an end to any more “prowling” on his part to-night. Locke would probably kick up a fuss. There would be a very strict search for “prowlers.” He snapped his jaws together viciously. That did not at all please him. He would very much prefer that the would-be assassin should have another opportunity of showing his hand, that the man would be inspired to make a second attempt. He, Captain Francis Newcombe, would be a little better prepared this time!
HE PUSHED open the door of his cabin cautiously—and for an instant stood motionless, a little back from the threshold, and at one side. There was always the possibility, remote though it might be, that while he had been out searching for the other, the man had slipped inside and, waiting, had made of the cabin a death trap which he, Captain Francis Newcombe, was now invited to enter. It was not likely. It would require a little more nerve than the firing of a shot through the window, and then running away. But, for all that, having failed the first time, the other might be moved to take what might be considered more certain measures on the next attempt. And in that case—No; the cabin was empty! The light from the passageway, filtering in through the open door, showed that quite plainly.
Captain Francis Newcombe stepped inside, and, before closing the door, looked curiously over the woodwork near the door and on a line with the window. Yes, there it was! The writing on the wall! The bullet had splintered a piece of the wall panelling, and had embedded itself in the wall a little to the right of the door casing.
He closed and locked the door now, shutting out the light, and, revolver in his hand, sat down in the darkness, out of direct range himself, but where he could command the window. It was a bit futile. He was conscious of that. But there was always the possibility of the man’s return, and there was no other possibility that promised any better—or, indeed, promised anything at all.
His mind began to weigh, and sift, and grope as through a mass, battling with the problem again. Not Locke! He was rather definitely prepared to set Locke apart from everybody else on board the ship, and say that it was not Locke. Who, then? Who had any—
He straightened up, suddenly even more alert. There was some one out in the passageway now—some one outside his door. There came a low, quick rap.
“Who’s there?” demanded Captain Francie Newcombe sharply.
Locke’s voice answered:
“It’s Locke. May I come in?”
CAPTAIN FRANCIS NEWCOMBE
crossed to the door, unlocked it and flung it open.
“Hello!” ejaculated the young American, as the light from the passageway fell upon the other. “Notin bed, and in the dark! What’s the idea? Why no light?” “Because I fancy it’s safer in the dark,” said Captain Francis Newcombe. “Come in.”
“Safer!” Howard Locke stepped into the cabin, and closed the door behind him.
“How safer? Say, look here! Some one’s been turning my stateroom inside out —been going through my things.” You’re lucky!” said Captain Francis N’ewcombe tersely.
"Lucky!” echoed the young American quickly. What do you mean?”
"That it wasn’t anything worse,” said Captain Francis Newcombe coolly. "Someone’s been trying to put a bullet through me—only it went into the wall over there instead. Here, take a look!” He switched on the light. "Sin? it -there by the door casing!”
"Good Heavens!” exclaimed Locke. "Yes: I see it! When was this?”
"Shortly after I left you. As 1 opened the door here and stepped into the cabin.
1 »as fired at through the window. And the window had been opened from the outside there are the marks on it—and whoever it was, was waiting for me.”
iamned queer,” said Howard Locke. "When 1 left you I went to my rooms, and everything wrs all right.
I went back to the smoking room be*ause I had left my cigarette case there.
I stayed a few minutes watching several hands of bridge, and when I went back to my rooms again I found my steamer trunk open and a case of papers on the floor."
"Anything missing?" asked Captain Francis Newcombe.
"No: not so far as I know,” Locke answered. “What do you think had better be done?”
"I think you had better switch that light off. and stand away from the line of the window.”
The young American shook his head. "No.” he said. "I^’s hardly likely that the same game would be tried twice in the same night. Say. what do you make of it? It seems mighty queer that you and I should have been picked out for some swine's attentions! What should be done?”
"What have you done?”
"Nothing, so far,” Locke replied. “I came here at once to tell you about it, and ask your advice. I suppose the commander ought to be told.”
Cap*ain Francis Newcombe sat down on the edge of his bunk.
“I can’t see the good of it.” he said slowly. "We're landing to-morrow. It would mean the shore police aboard, and no end of a fuss: and an almost certain delay, nobody allowed off the ship, and all that, you know. I can’t see how it would get us anywhere. You haven’t lost anything: and I—well. I’m still alive.”
"That’s true,” said Locke. He was staring at the bullet hole in the wall. "And worst of all there’d be the reporters. Three-inch headlines! I’m not for that! I agree with you. We’ll say nothing.”
Captain Francis Newcombe inspected Locke's back.
“How much of a crew do you carry on this fifty-footer of yours?” he inquired softly.
“Why not necessarily any one but the two of us and your man, if you’ll come along." Howard Locke turned around suddenly to face the other. “Why?”
“Well.” said Captain Francis Newcombe quietly, “under those conditions, as the two victims of to-night, we’d form a sort of mutual protective society— and perhaps, if the offer is still open, it would be the safest way for me to reach my destination. There wouldn’t be any windows for any one to fire through.” Howard Locke lighted a cigarette. ’That's a go!" he said. “I’m very keen to make the trip with you. And if all this has decided it. I'm glad it’s happened. That’s fine! And now—what are you going to do for the rest of the night?” "Why, I'm going to bed,” said Captain Francis Newcombe casually: “and at the risk_ of appearing inhospitable, I should advise you to do likewise.”
“Right!” agreed Locke. “There’s nothing else to do.” He stepped toward the door, but paused, staring at the bullet markjn the wall again.
"That bullet hole seems to fascinate you.” smiled Captain Francis Newcombe.
“Yes,” said Locke, as he opened the door. “I was thinking what a rotten thing it was to be fired at cold-bloodedly in the dark. Good-night!”
The door closed.
Captain Francis Newcombe did not go to bed. With the light out again, he sat there on the bunk.
Long minutes passed; they drifted into hours.
TPHE man’s figure became crouched, 1 became a shape that lost semblance, that was like unto some creature huddled in its lair; and tlie face was no longer human, for upon it was stamped the passions of hell; and the head became cocked curiously sideways in a strained attitude of attention, as though listening, listening, listening, always listening.
And there came a time when he spoke aloud, and called out hoarsely:
"Who's that? Who’s whispering there? Who's calling Shadow Yarne. Shadow Yarne Shadow Yarne. ...”
And in answer the ship’s bell struck the hour of dawn.
THE ISLE OF PREY
The Spell of the Moonbeams
IT WAS a night of white moonlight; a languorous night. It was a night of impenetrable shadows, deep and black; and, where light and shadow met and merged, the tree tops were fringed against the sky in tracery as delicate as a cameo. And there was fragrance in the air, exotic, exquisite, the fragrance of growing things, of semitropical flowers and trees and shrubs. And very faint and soft there fell upon the ear the gentle lapping of the water on the shore, as though in her mother tenderness nature were breathing a lullaby over her sea-cradled isle.
On a verandah of great length and spacious width, moon-streaked where the light stole in through the row of ornamental columns that supported the roof and through the interstices of vine-covered lattice work checkering the flooring in fanciful designs, a girl raised herself suddenly on her elbow from a reclining chair, and, reaching out her hand, laid it impulsively on that of another girl who sat in a chair beside her.
“Oh, Dora,” she breathed, “it’s just like fairyland!”
Dora Marlin smiled quietly.
“What a queer little creature you are, Polly!” she said. “You like it here, don’t you?”
“I love it!” said Polly Wickes. “Fairyland!” Dora Marlin repeated the word. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a real fairyland just like the stories they used to read to us as children?”
Polly Wickes nodded her head slowly. “I suppose so,” she said; “but I never had any fairy stories read to me when I was a child, and so my fairyland has always been one of my own—one of dreams. And this is fairyland because it’s so beautiful, and because being here doesn’t seem as though one were living in the same world one was born in at all.”
“You poor child!” said Dora Marlin softly. “A land of dreams, then! Yes; I know. The nights ore like that sometimes, aren’t they? They make you dream any dream you want to have come true, and, while you dream wide awake, you almost actually experience its fulfilment then and there. And so it is nearly as good as a real fairyland, isn’t it? And anyway, Polly, you look like a really, truly fairy yourself to-night.”
“No,” said Polly Wickes. “You are the fairy. Fairies aren’t supposed to be dark; they have golden hair, and blue eyes, and—”
“A wand,” interrupted Dora Marlin, with a mischievous little laugh. “And if it weren’t all just make-believe, and I was the fairy, I’d wave my wand and have him appear instantly on the scene; but, as it is, I’m afraid he won’t come to-night after all, and it’s getting late, and I think we’d better go to bed.”
“And I’m sure he will come, and any-, way I couldn’t go to bed,” said Polly Wickes earnestly. “And anyway I couldn’t go to sleep. Just think, Dora, I haven’t seen him for nearly four years, and I’ll have all the news, and hear everything ! want to know about mother. He said they’d leave the mainland to-day, and it’s only five hours across. I’m sure he’ll still come. And, besides, I’m certain I heard a motor boat a few minutes ago.” “Very likely,” agreed Dora Marlin; “but that was probably one of our own men out somewhere around the island. It’s very late now, and in half an hour it will be low tide, and they would hardly start at all if they knew they wouldn’t make Manwa by daylight. There are the reefs, and—”
“The reefs are charted,” said Polly Wickes decisively. “I know he’ll come.”
A LITTLE ripple of laughter came FY from Dora Marlin’s chair. “How old is Captain Newcombe, dear?” she inquired naively.
“Don’t be a beast, Dora,” said Polly Wickes severely. “He’s very, very old— at least he was when I saw him last.” “When you weren’t much more than fourteen,” observed Dora Marlin judicially. “And when you’re fourteen anybody over thirty is a regular Methuselah. I know I used to think when I was a child that father was terribly, terribly old, much older than he seems to-day when he really is an old man; and I used to wonder then how he lived so long.”
Polly Wickes’ dark eyes grew serious. “It doesn’t apply to me,” she said in a low tone. “I wasn’t ever a child. I was old when I was ten. I’ve told you all about myself, because I couldn’t have come here with you if I hadn’t; and you know why I am so eager and excited and so happy that Guardy is coming. I owe him everything in the world I’ve got; and he’s been so good to mother. I—I don’t know why. He said when I was older I would understand. And he’s such a wonderful man himself, with such a splendid war record.”
Dora Marlin rose from her chair, and placed her arm affectionately around her companion’s shoulders.
“Yes, dear,” she said gently. “I know. I was only teasing. And you wouldn’t be Polly Wickes if you wanted to do anything else than just sit here and wait until you were quite, quite sure that he wouldn’t come to-night. But as I’m already sure he won’t because it’s so late, I’m going to bed. You don’t mind, do you, dear? I want to see if father’s all right, too. Poor old dad!”
“Dora!” Polly Wickes was on her feet. “Oh, Dora, I’m so selfish! I—I wish I could help. But I’m sure it’s going to be all right. I don’t think that specialist was right at all. How could he be? Mr. Marlin is such a dear!”
Dora Marlin turned her head away, and for a moment she did not speak. When she looked around again there was a bright, quick smile on her lips.
“I am counting a lot on Captain Ne_wcombe’s and Mr. Locke’s visit,” she said. “I’m sure it will do father good. Goodnight, dear—and if they do come, telephone up to my room and I’ll be down in a jiffy. Their rooms are all ready for them but they’re sure to be famished, and—” “I’ll do nothing of the sort!” announced Polly Wickes. “The idea of upsetting a household in the middle of the^ night! I’ll send them back to their yacht.”
“You won’t do anything of the kind!’” said Dora Marlin.
“Yes, I will,” said Polly Wickes.
“Well, he won’t come anyway,” said Dora Marlin.
“Yes, he will!”
“No, he won’t!”
They both berrán to laugh.
“But I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” said Polly Wickes. “After he’s gone I’ll creep into bed with you and tell you all about it. Good-night, dear.”
“Good-night, Polly fairy,” said Dora Marlin.
POLLY WICKES watched the white slender form weave itself in and out of the checkered spots of moonlight along the verandah, and finally disappear inside the house; then she threw herself down upon the reclining chair again, her hands clasped behind her head, and lay there, strangely alert, wide-eyed, staring out on the lawn.
She was quite sure he would come— even yet—because when they had sent over to the mainland for the mail yesterday there had been a letter from him saying he would arrive sometime to-day.
How soft the night was !
Would he be changed; would he seem very different? Had what Dora had said about the viewpoint from which age measures age been really true? And if it were? She was the one who would seem changed—from a little girl in pigtails to a woman not a very old woman, but a woman. Would he know her, recognize her again?
What a wonderful, glorious, dreamy night it was!
Dreams! Was she dreaming even now, dreaming wide awake, that she was here; a dream that supplanted the squalor of narrow, ill-lighted streets, of dark, creaking staircases, of lurking, hungry shapes,
of stalking vice, of homes that were single, airless rooms gaunt with poverty— a dream that supplanted all that for this, where there was only a world of beautiful things, and where even the airs that whispered through the trees were balmy with some rare perfume that intoxicated the senses with untold j oy?
She startled herself with a sharp little cry. Pictures, memories, vivid, swift in succession, were flashing, unbidden, through her mind—a girl in ragged clothes who sold flowers on the street corners, in the parks, a gutter-snipe the London “bobbies” had called her so often that the term had lost any personal meaning save that it classified the particular species of outcasts to which she belonged; a room that was reached through the climbing of a smutty, dirty staircase in a tenement that moaned in its bitter fight against dissolution in common with its human occupants, a room that was scanty in its furnishings, where f single cot bed did service for two, and a stagnant odor of salt fish was never absent; a woman that was gray-haired, sharp-faced, of language and actions at times bordering even the license of Whitechapel, but one who loved, too; the smells from the doors of pastry shops on the better streets that made her cry because they made her more hungry than ever; the leer of men when she had grown a few years older who thought a gutter-snipe both defenseless and fair game.
She had never been a child.
POLLY WICKES had turned in the reclining chair, and her face now was buried in the cushion.
And then into her life had come—had come—this “Guardy.” He did not leer at her; he was kind and courtly—-like what she had thought a good f atner might have been. But she had not understood the cataclysmic, bewildering and stupendous change that had then taken place in her life, and so she had asked her mother. She had always remembered the answer; she always would.
“Never you mind, dearie,” Mrs. Wickes had said. “Wot’s wot is wot. ’E’s a gentleman is Captain Newcombe, a kind, rich gentleman, top ’ole, ’e is. An^ if ’e’s a-goin’ to adopt yer, I ain t gom to ’ave to worry any more abaout wot^s goin’ into my mouth; an’ though I ain t got religion, I says, as I says to ’im when ’e asks me, thank Gawd, I says. An if we’re a-goin’ to be separated for a few years, dearie, wye it’s a sacrifice as both
of us’as got to myke for each other.
They had been separated for nearly four years. As fourteen understood it, she had understood that she was to be taught to live in a different world, to acquire the viewpoints of a different station in life, in order that she might fit herself to take her place in that world and that station where her guardian lived and moved. To-day she understood this in a much more mature way. And she had tried to do her best but she could never forget the old life no matter how completely severed she might be from it, or how far from it she might be removed even in a physical sense; though gradually, she was conscious, the past had become less real, less poignant, and more like some dream that came at times, and lingered hauntingly in her memory.
The hardest part of it all had been the separation from her mother, but she would see her mother soon now, for Captain Newcombe had promised that she should go back to England when her education was finished in America. And her education was finished now-—the last term was behind her. Four years—her mother! Even if that separation had seemed necessary and essential to her guardian, how wonderful and dear he had been even in that respect. How happy he had made them both! Indeed, her greatest happiness came from the knowledge that her mother, since those four years began, had removed from the squalor and distress that she had previously known all her life, and had lived since then in comfort and ease. Her mother could not read or write, of course, but—
POLLY WICKES caught her breath in a little, quick, half sob. Could not read or write! It seemed to mean so much, to visualize so sharply that other world, to—to bring the odor of salt fish, the nauseous smell of guttering tallow candles. No, no; that was all long gone now, gone forever, for both her mother and herself. What did it matter if her
mother could not read or write? It had not mattered. Even here Guardy had filled the breach—written the letters that tier mother had dictated, and read to her mother the letters that she, Polly, sent in her guardian’s care. And her mother had told her how happy she was, and how comfortable in a cozy little home on a pretty little street in the suburbs.
Was it any wonder that she was beáide herself with glad excitement to-night, when at any moment now the one person in all the world who had been so good to her, to whom she owed a debt of gratitude that she could never even be able to express, much less repay, would—would actually, really be here? For he would come! She was sure of it. After all, it wasn’t so very late, and—
She rose suddenly from the reclining chair, her heart pounding in quickened, excited throbs, and ran lightly to the edge of the verandah. He was here now. She had heard a foot step. She could not have been mistaken. It was as though some one had stepped on loose gravel. She peered over the balustrade, and her forehead puckered in a perplexed frown. There wasn’t any one in sight; and there wasn’t any gravel on which a footstep could have crunched. All around the house in this direction there was only the soft velvet sward of the beautifully kept lawn. The driveway was at the other side of the house. She had forgotten that. And yet it did not seem possible she could have been mistaken. Imagination, fancy, could hardly have reproduced so perfect an imitation of such a sound.
It was very strange! It was very strange that she should have— No; she hadn’t been mistaken! She had heard a footstep—but it had come from under the verandah, and some one was there now. She leaned farther out over the balustrade, and stared with widened eyes at a movement in the hedge of tall, flowering bush that grew below her along the verandah’s length. A low rustle came now to her ears. Sheltered by the hedge, some one was creeping cautiously, stealthily along there under the verandah.
HER hands tightened on the balustrade. What did it mean? No good, that was certain. She was afraid. And suddenly the peace and quietness and serenity of the night was gone. She was afraid. And it had always seemed so safe here on this wonderful little island, so free from intrusion. There was something snakelike in the way those bushes moved.
She watched them now fascinated. Something bade her run into the house and cry out an alarm; something held her there clinging to the balustrade, her eyes fixed on that spot below her just a few yards along from where she stood. She could make out a figure now, the figure of a man crawling warily out through the hedge toward the lawn. And then instinctively she caught her hand to her lips to smother an involuntary cry, and drew quickly back from the edge of the balustrade. The figure was in plain sight now on the lawn in the moonlight—a figure in a long dressing gown; a figure without hat, whose silver hair caught the sheen of the soft light and seemed somehow to give the suggestion of ghostlike whiteness to the thin, strained face beneath.
It was Mr. Marlin.
For a moment Polly watched the other as he made his way across the lawn in a diagonal direction toward the grove of trees that surrounded the house. Fear was gone now, supplanted by a wave of pity. Poor Mr. Marlin! The specialist had been right. Of course, he had been right! She had never doubted it—nor had Dora. What she had said to Dora had been said out of sympathy and love. They both understood that. It—it
helped a little to keep up Dora’s courage; it kept hope alive. Mr. Marlin was so kindly, so lovable and good. But he was an incurable monomaniac. And now he was out here on the lawn in the middle of the night in his dressing gown. What was it that he was after? Why had he stolen out from the house in such an extraordinarily surreptitious way?
She turned and ran softly along the verandah, and down the steps to the lawn, and stood here again watching. There was no need of getting Dora out of bed, because in any case Mr. Marlin could certainly come to no harm; and, besides, she, Polly, could tell Dora all about it in the morning. But, that apart, she was not
quite certain what she ought to do. The strange, draped figure of the old man had disappeared amongst the trees now, apparently having taken the path that led to the shore. Mechanically she started forward, half running—then slowed her pace almost immediately to a hesitatirg walk. Had she at all any right to spy on Mr. Marlin? Ir was not as though any harm could come to him, or that he—
And then with a low, quick cry, her eyes wide, Polly Wickes stood motionless in the centre of the lawn.
The Voice in the Night
CAPTAIN FRANCIS NEWCOMBE, from the dock where he had been making fast a line, surveyed for a moment the deck of the Talofa below. His eyes rested speculatively on Howard Locke, who, with sleeves rolled up and grimy to the elbows, was busy over the yacht’s engine; then his glance passed to Runnells on the forward deck of the little vessel, who was assiduously engaged in making shipshape coils of a number of truant ropes. Captain Francis Newcombe permitted a flicker to cross his lips._ It was a new experience for Runnells, this playing at sailorman—and Runnells had earned ungrudging praise from Locke all the way down from New York. Runnells had taken to the job even as a child takes to a new toy. Well, so much the better! Runnells and Locke had hit it off together from the start. Again, so much the better!
He lit a cigarette and stared shoreward along the dock. Manwa Island! Well, in the moonlight at least it was a place of astounding beauty, and if its appearance was any criterion of its material worth, it was a— He laughed softly, and languidly exhaled a cloud of cigarette smoke. There was a lure about the place—or was it the moonlight that, stealing with dreamy treachery upon the senses, carried one away to a land of make-believe? That stretch of sand there like a girdle between sea and shore, as fleecy as driven snowr; the restless shimmer of the moonbeams on the water like the play of clustered diamonds in a platinum setting; the trees and open spaces etched against a myriad stars; the smell of semi-tropical growing things, just pure fragrance that made the nostrils greedy with insatiable desire.
He drew his hand suddenly across his eyes.
“What a night!” he exclaimed aloud. “It’s like the eyes and the lips of a dream woman; like a goblet of wine of the vintage of the gods! No song of the sirens could compare with this! I’m going ashore, Locke. What do you say?”
Locke looked up with a grunt, as he swabbed his arms with a piece of waste.
“I’m done in with this damned engine!” he said irritably. _ “It’s too late to go ashore. They’ll all be asleep.”
“I’m not going to ring the doorbell,” said Captain Francis Newcombe pleasantly. “I’m simply going to stroll in paradise. You don’t mind, do you?”
“Go to it!” said Locke. “I’m going to bed.”
“Right!” said Captain Francis Newcombe.
He turned and walked shoreward along the dock. Over his shoulder he saw Runnells pause in the act of coiling rope to stare after him—and again an ironical little flicker crossed his lips. Runnells was no doubt prompted to call out and ask what this midnight excursion was a’l about, but Runnells in the eyes of Howard Locke wras a valet, and Runnells must therefore be dumb. Runnells on occasions knew his place!
HE NODDED in a sort of self-commendatory fashion to himself, as, reaching the shore, he started forward along a roadway that opened through the trees. He w!as wrell satisfied wdth his decision to bring Runnells along on the trip. “Captain Francis Newcombe and man” looked wrell, sounded well, and was well—-since Runnells, for once in his life, even though it w'as due to no moral regeneration on the part of Runnells, but due entirely to Runnells’ belief that he wras on an innocent holiday, could be made exceedingly useful in bolstering up his master’s social standing without bagging any of the game!
“Blessed is he who expects little,” murmured Captain Francis Newcombe softly
to himself, “for he shall receive—still less!”
He paused abruptly, and stared ahead of him. Curious road, this! Like a great archway of trees! And all moon-flecked underfoot! Where did it lead? To the house probably! This was Manwa Island —the home of the mad millionaire! Queer freak of nature, these Florida Keys—if what he had been able to read up about them was true. Almost a continuous bow of islands, some fruitful, some barren, some big, some small—such a heterogeneous mess!—stretching along off the coast, some near, some far, for two hundred miles. Nothing but rocks on one; tropical fruits and verdure in profusion on another. Well, the mad millionaire, if the night revealed anything, had picked the gem of them all!
He walked on again. The road wound tortuously through what appeared to be a glade of great extent. It seemed to beckon, to lure, to intrigue him the farther he went, to promise something around each moon-flecked turning. He laughed aloud softly. Promised what? Where was he going? Why was he here ashore at all? Was it possible that he had no ulterior motive in this stroll, that for once the sheer beauty of anything held him in thrall? Well, even so, it at least afforded him a laugh at himself then. This road, for instance, was like an enchanted pathway, and there was magic in the night.
Or was it Polly?
CAPTAIN Francis Newcombe shook his head. Hardly! Not at this hour! Thanks to the engine trouble that had delayed them, she would long since have given up expecting him to-night, even though he had written her that he would be here
The house, then? A surreptitious inspection; an entry even?—there were half a million dollars there!
Again he shook his head. He was not so great a fool as to invite disaster. Tomorrow, and for days thereafter, he would be an inmate of the house when he would have opportunities of that nature without number, and without entailing any risk or suspicion—and time was no object.
He smiled complacently to himself. Things were shaping up very well—very well indeed. The seed so carefully planted years ago was to bear fruit at last. The greatest coup of his life was just within his grasp; and, if he were not utterly astray, that very coup in itself should prove but the stepping stone to still greater ones. Polly! Yes, quite true! The future depended very materially upon Polly. How amenable would she be to influence?—granting always that the said influence be delicately and tactfully enough applied!
He fell to whistling very softly under his breath. He had plans for Polly. And if they matured the future looked very bright—for himself. He wondered what she was like—particularly as to character and disposition. Was she affectionate, romantic— what? A great deal, a very great deal, depended on that. Not in the present instance—Polly had fully served her purpose in so far as a certain half million dollars in cash was concerned, and being innocent of any connivance must remain so—but thereafter. England was an exploited field; it had become dangerous; the net there was drawing in. Oh, yes, he had had all that in mind on the day he had first sent Polly to America, but only in a general way then, while to-day it had become concrete. Locke would make a most admirable “open sesame” to the New Land—if Locke married Polly. Polly,as Mrs. Locke,would step at once into a social sphere than which there was no higher—or wealthier— and, ipso facto, Captain Francis Newcombe would do likewise. And given a half million as stake money, Captain Francis Newcombe, if he knew Captain Francis Newcombe at all, would not fail in his opportunities! He had expected Polly in due course to make a place for herself in social America; that was what he had paid money for—-but Howard Locke was a piece of luck. Locke conserved time; Locke opened the safety vault of possibilities immediately.
He frowned suddenly. Suppose Polly did not prove amenable? Nonsense! Why shouldn’t she—if the man weren’t flung at her head! Locke was the kind of chap a girl ought to like, and all girls were more or less romantic, and the element of romance had just the right spice to it here —the guardian she has not seen in years
who is accompanied by a young man, who, from any standpoint, whether of looks, physique, manner or position, would measure up to the most exacting of young ladies’ ideals! And to say nothing of the magic spells that seemed to have their very home in this garden isle— a veritable wooer’s bower! There would be other moonlight nights. Bah! There was nothing to it—save to put a few minor obstacles in the way of the turtle doves!
WHERE the devil did this road lead to? Well, no matter! It was like a tunnel, dreamy black with its walls of leaves, dreamy with its sweet smelling odors. In itself it was well worth while. It continued to invite him. And he accepted the invitation. His thoughts roved farther afield now. Locke. . . .the trip down on the fifty-foot Talofa. . . .not an incident to mar the days—nothing since the night that shot had been fired on shipboard through his cabin window.
His face for a moment grew dark—then cleared again. If, as through the hours thereafter when he had sat there in the cabin, it had seemed as though the shot had come from some ghostly visitor out of the past, there was no reason now w’hy it should bother him further; for, granting such a diagnosis as true, Locke and the Talofa had thrown even so acute a stalker as a supernatural spirit off the trail. As a matter of fact, it had probably been some maniacal or drug-crazed idiot running for the moment amuck. To-night, with these soft, whispering airs around him, and serenity and loveliness everywhere in contrast with that night of storm, the incident did not seem so virulent a thing anyway; it seemed to be smoothed over, to be relegated definitely to where it belonged—to the realm of things ended and done with. Certainly, since that night nothing had happened.
And yet, now, his lips tightened.
It was unfortunate he had not caught the man. He would have liked to have seen the other’s face; to have exchanged memory with memory—and to have slammed forever shut that particular door of the by-gone days if by any chance he found he had been careless enough to have left one, in passing, ajar.
He swore sharply under his breath; but the next moment shrugged his shoulders. The incident was too immeasurably far removed from Manwa Island to allow it to intrude itself upon him now. Why think of things such as that when the very night itself here with its languor, its beauty, and—yes, again—its magic, sought to bring to the senses the gift of delightful repose and contentment? When the—
He stood suddenly still, and in sheer amazement rubbed his eyes. He had come to the end of the tree-arched road, and it seemed as though he gazed now on the imaginative painting of a master genius, daring, bold in its conception, exquisite in its execution. Either that, or there was magic in the night, and he had been transported bodily through enchantment into the very land of the Arabian Nights!
A few yards away, he faced what looked in the moonlight like a great marble balustrade, and rising above this, painted into a hue of softest white against the night, towered what might well have been a caliph’s palace. It stretched away in lines unusual in their beauty and design; columns above the balustrade; little domes like minarets against the skyline; quaint latticed windows. And the effect of the whole was that of a mirage on a sea of emerald green; for, sweeping away from the balustrade, wondrous in its color under the moonlight, was a wide expanse of lawn, level, unbroken until the eye met again the horizon rim beyond in the wall of encircling trees, a wall of inky blackness.
HE MOVED forward out on to the lawn—and as suddenly halted again, as there seemed to float into his line of vision from around the corner of the balustrade, like some nymph of the moonlight, the slim, graceful figure of a girl in white, clinging draperies, whose clustering masses of dark hair crowned a face that in the soft light was amazingly beautiful. And he caught his breath as he gazed. And the girl, with a low cry, stood still— and then came running toward him.
“Oh, Guardy! Guardy! Guardy!” she cried. “I knew you’d come! I knew' it!”
It was Polly’s voice. It hadn’t changed.
Was the nymph Polly? She was running with both hands outstretched. He caught them in his own as she came up to him, and stared into her face almost unbelievingly. Polly! This wasn’t Polly! Polly’s photographs were of a very pretty girl— this girl was glorious! She stirred the pulses. Damn it, she made the blood leap!
She hung back now a little shyly, the color coming and going in her face.
He laughed. He meant it to be a laugh of one entirely in command both of himself and the situation; but it sounded in his ears as a laugh forced, unnatural, a poor effort to cover a suddenly routed composure.
“And is this all the welcome I get?” he demanded. He drew her closer to him. Gad, why not take his rights? She was worth it!
She held up her cheek demurely.
“I—I wasn’t quite sure,” she said coyly. “One’s deportment with one’s guardian wasn’t in the school curriculum, you know—Guardy!”
“Then I should have been more particular in my selection of the school,” he said. It was strange, unaccountable! His voice seemed to rasp. He kissed her— then held her off at arm’s-length. Polly! This bewitching creature was Polly! How the color came and fled; and something glistened in the great, dark eyes—like the dew glistening in the morning sunlight.
“Oh, Guardy!” she murmured. “It’s so good to see you!”
“You waited up for me, Polly?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered. “Dora was sure you wouldn’t come to-night because it was so late, and on account of it being low tide; but I was equally sure you would.”
“Of course I would!” said Captain Francis Newcombe glibly. “And I’m here. We’re just in. I was afraid it was hopelessly late; but I didn’t want to disappoint you in case you might still be clinging to what must have seemed a forlorn hope, and so I came ashore on the chance.”
“Guardy,” she said delightedly,“you’re the only guardy in the world! But what happened? You were to have left the mainland to-day, and it’s only five hours across.”
“You’ll have to ask Locke,” he smiled. “That is, as to details—when he’s in a better humor. In a general way, however, the engine broke down. We’ve been since one o’clock this afternoon getting over.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “What perfectly wretched luck! And where’s Mr. Locke now? And—no—first, you must tell me about mother. Is she changed any? Is she well, and quite, quite happy? And does she like her home? Is it pretty? And how—”
“Good heavens, Polly!” expostulated Captain Francis Newcombe with assumed helplessness. “What a volley!” But his mind was at work swiftly, coldly, judicially. To preface his visit with the announcement of Mrs. Wickes’ untimely— or was it timely?—end, would create an atmosphere that would not at all harmonize with his plans. Polly in mourning and retirement! Locke! Impossible! Nor did' it suit him to explain that Mrs. Wickes was not her mother. He was not yet sure when that particular piece of information might best be used to advantage. And so Captain Francis Newcombe laughed disengagingly. “I can’t possibly answer all those questions to-night—we’d be here until daylight. The mother’s quite all right, Polly—quite all right. You can pump me dry to-morrow.”
“Oh, I’m so glad—and so happy!” she cried. She clapped her hands together. “All right, to-morrow! We’ll talk all day long. Well, then, about Mr. Locke— where is he? And how did you come to make such a trip? You know, you just wrote that you were coming down from New York in his yacht. Who is he? Tell me about him.”
LOCKE! Damn it, the girl was incredibly beautiful—the figure of a young goddess! What hair! Those lips! Fool! What was the matter with him? Polly was only a tool to be used; not to turn his head just because she had proved to be a bit of a feminine wonder. Fool! The downfall of every outstanding figure in his profession had been traceable to a woman. It was a police axiom. It did not apply to Shadow Varne! A girl—bah— the world was full of them! And yet— His hand at his side clenched, while his lips smiled.
“That’s something else for to-morrow,’” he said. “You’ll meet him then, and”— what was it he had said to himself a little* while ago about slight obstacles in the way of the turtle doves?— “I hope you’ll’ like him, though I’ve an idea that perhaps you won’t.”
“Why won’t I?” demanded Polly instantly.
“Well, I don’t know—upon my word, I don’t,” said Captain Francis Newcombe* with a quizzical grin. “He certainly isn’t strikingly handsome; and I’ve an idea he’s anything but a ladies' man—though not altogether a bad sort in spite of that,, you know.”
“Oh!” said Polly Wickes, with a little pout that might have meant anything. “Well, who is he, t en—and where did you meet him?”
“I met him at the club in London, and we chummed up on he way over. It’s quite simple. He was off for a holiday with no choice as to where he went, whereas I wanted to come here—so we came down in his motor cruiser. As to who he is, he’s just young Howard Locke, the son of Howard Locke, senior, the American financier.”
“Oh!” said Pol’y Wickes again.
What a ravishing little pout! Where had the girl learned the trick? Was it a trick? Those eyes were wonderfully frank, steady, ingenuous—wonderfully deep and self-reliant. He wondered if he looked old in those eyes? Young Locke? Fool again! Go on, tempt the gods! Ask her if thirty-three fell within her own category of youth, or—
“Don’t make a sound!” she cautioned suddenly. “Quick! Here!”
He found himself, obedient to the pressure on his arm, standing back again within the shadows of the tree-arched road.
“What is it, Polly?” he asked in surprise.
“Look!” she whispered, and pointed out across the lawn.
A FIGURE was emerging from the trees some hundred yards away,, and, in the open now, began to approach the house. Captain Francis Newcombe stared. It was a bare-headed, white-haired old man in a dressing gown that reached almost to his heels. The man walked quickly, but with a queer, birdlike movement of his head which he cocked from side to side at almost every step, darting furtive glances in all directions around him.
Captain Francis Newcombe felt the girl’s hand tighten in a tense grip on his arm. Rather curieus, this! The figure was making for that hedge of bushes that seemed to inclose the verandah from below. And now, r aching the hedge, and pausing for an instant to look around him again in every direction, the man parted the bushes and disappeared under the verandah.
“My word!” observed Captain Francis Newcombe tersely. “What’s it about?' A thief in the night—or what? I’ll see what the beggar’s up to anyway!”
He took a step forward, but Polly held him back.
“Keep quiet!”’ she breathed. “It's — it’s only Mr. Marlin.”
Captain Francis Newcombe whistled low under his breath.
“As bad as that, is he?”
Polly nodded herhead.
“Yes,” she said, a little miserably. “I’m. afraid so; though it’s the first time I ever saw anything like this.”
“But what is he doing under the verandah there at this hour?” demanded Captain Francis Newcombe.
Polly shook her head this time.
“I don’t know,” she said, “but I think there must be some way in and out of the house under there, for I am certain he was in bed less than an hour ago, because when Dora left me she was going to see that her father was all right for the night, and if she hadn’t found him in his room. I am sure she would have been alarmed and would have come back to me. I—I saw him come out of there a little while ago. I was sitting on the verandah waiting for you. I started to follow him across the lawn, and then I thought I had no right to do so, and then I saw you, and—and I forgot all about him.”
Captain Francis Newcombe was a master of facial expression. He became instantly grave and concerned.
“Well, I should say then,” he stated thoughtfully, “that, from what I've jus
seen, and from what you wrote in your letter about the fabulous sum of money he keeps about him, he ought to have a good deal of medical attention, and the money taken from him and put in some safe place. Don’t you know Miss Marlin well enough to suggest something like that?”
Polly Wickes shook her head quickly. “Oh, you don’t understand, Guardy!” she said anxiously. “He has had medical ^attention. The very best specialist from, New York has been here since I wrote ;you. And he says there is really absolutely nothing that can be done. Mr. Marlin is just_ the dearest old man you ever knew. It’s just on that one subject, not so much money as finance, though I don’t quite understand the difference, that he is insane. If he were taken away from here and shut up anywhere it would kill him. And, as Doctor Daemer said, what better place could there be than this? And anyway Dora wouldn’t hear of it. And as for taking the money away from him, nobody knows where it is.”
CAPTAIN FRANCIS NEWCOMBE was staring at the bushes that fringed the verandah.
“Oh!” he said quietly. “That puts quite a different complexion on the matter. I didn’t understand. I gathered from your letter that the money was more or less always in evidence. In fact, I think you said he showed it to you—a half million dollars in cash.”
“So he did,” Polly answered; “butthat’s the only time I ever saw it; and I don’t think even Dora has ever seen it more than once or twice. He has got it hidden somewhere, of course; but as it would be the very worst thing in the world for him to get the idea into his head that any one was watching him in an effort to discover his secret, Dora has been very careful to show no signs of interest in it. Doctor Daemer warned her particularly that any suspicions aroused in her father’s mind would only accentuate the disease. Oh, Guardy, it’s a terribly sad case; and insanity is such a horribly strange thing! He never seems to—
Polly was still talking. Captain Francis Newcombe inclined his head from time to time in assumed interest. He was no longer listening. Polly, the beauty of the night, his immediate surroundings, were, for the moment, extraneous things. His mind was at work. Incredible luck ! The problem that had troubled him, that íe had never really solved, that he had, indeed, finally decided must be left to circumstances as he should find them here and be then governed thereby, was now solved in a manner that far exceeded anything he could possibly have hoped for. To obtain the actual possession of the money from a fuddle-brained old idiot had never bothered him—that was a very simple matter. But to get away with the money after the robbery had been committed had not appeared so simple. Some one on the island must be guilty. The circle would be none too wide. He must emerge without a breath of suspicion having troubled him. Not so simple! There would have been a way, of course; wits and ingenuity would have supplied it— but that had been the really intricate part of the undertaking. And now—incredible luck! He had naturally assumed that the household knew where the old madman kept his money; naturally assumed that there would be a beastly fuss and uproar over its disappearance—but now there would be nothing of the kind. It might take a few days to solve the old fool’s secret, but in the main that would be child’s play; after that,if by any unfortunate chance an accident happened to Mr. Jonathan P. Marlin, the whereabouts of the money would forever remain a mystery—save to one Captain Francis Newcombe. No one could, or would, be accused of having taken it!
“....Guardy, you quite understand, don’t you?” ended Polly Wickes.
Captain Francis Newcombe smiled at the upturned, serious face.
“Quite, Polly! Quite!” he answered earnestly. “Very fully, I might say. It must be very hard indeed on Miss Marlin. I am so sorry for her. I wish there were something we might do. Your being here must have been a blessing to her.”
The color stole into Polly Wickes’ cheeks.
“Guardy, you’re a dear !” she whis;pered.
“Am I?” he said—and took possession of her hand.
WHAT a soft, cool little palm it was!
What an entrancing little figure! Who would have dreamed that Polly would develop into so lovely—no, not lovely—damn it, she was divine! Polly and a half million! Why Locke? Curse Locke! The eyes and lips of a dream woman, he had said; a half million—both his for the taking! Did he ask still more? He was not so sure about Locke having her. No, it wasn’t the night drugging his senses and steeping his soul in fanciful possession of desires. It was real. If it pleased him, he had only to take, to drink his fill to satiation of this goblet of the gods. There was nothing to stay him. He had builded for it, and he was entitled to it; it wasn’t chance. Chance! There was strange laughter in his heart. Chance was the playground of fools! Why shouldn’t he laugh, aye, and boastingly! Who was to deny him what he would; this woman if he wanted her, the—
He stood suddenly like a man dazed and stunned. He let fall the girl’s hand. Was he mad, insane, his mind unbalanced; was reason gone? It had come out of the night, a mocking thing, a voice that jeered and rocked with wild mirth.
His eyes met Polly’s'. She was frightened, startled; her face had gone a little white.
Imagination? As he had imagined that night in his cabin on board ship? A voice of his own creation? No; it came again now, jarring, crashing, jangling through the stillness of the night:
“Shadow Varne! Shadow Varne! Ha, ha! Ha, ha!” It rose and fell; now almost a scream; now hoarse with wild, untrammelled laughter. “Shadow Varne! Shadow Varne! Ha, ha! Ha, ha!” And then like a long, drawn-out, eerie call: “Shad-ow Va-arne !"
And then the soft whispering of the leaves through the trees, and no other sound.
“What is it? What is it?” Polly cried out. “What a horrible voice!”
Captain Francis Newcombe’s hand, hidden in his pocket, held a revolver. To get rid of the girl now! The voice had come from the woods in the direction of the shore. A voice! Shadow Varne! Who called Shadow Varne here on this island where Shadow Varne had never been heard of? He was cold as ice now; cold with a merciless fury battering at his heart. He did not know—but he would know! And then—
“You run along into the house, Polly.” He forced a cool sang-froid into his voice. “It’s probably nothing more than some of the negroes you spoke of in your letter cat-calling out there on the water; or else some one with a perverted sense of humor in the woods here trying to spoof us—and in that case a lesson is needed. Quick now, Polly! It’s time you were in bed anyway. And say nothing about it—there’s no use raising an alarm over what probably amounts to nothing. I’ll tell you all about it in the morning.”
She was still staring at him in a frightened, startled way.
“But, Guardy,” she faltered, “you—” Damn the girl! She was wasting precious moments! But he could not explain that he had a personal interest in that cursed voice, could he?
He smiled reassuringly.
“I’ll tell you all about it in the morning —if there’s anything to tell,” he repeated. “Now, run along. Good-night, dear!”
“Good-night, Guardy,” she said hesitatingly.
HE WATCHED her start toward the house; then he swung quickly from the road into the woods. He swore savagely to himself. She had kept him too long. There was very little chance now of finding the owner of that voice. Had there ever been? What did it matter, the moment or so it had taken to get rid of Polly? The odds were all with the voice, and had been from the start. He was not only metaphorically; but literally, stabbing in the dark. What did it mean? Again he swore, and swore now through clenched teeth. He knew well enough what it meant. It meant what he knew now that shot through his cabin window had meant. It meant that he was known to some one as he should be known to no one. It meant that, of two men on this island, there was room for only one; otherwise it promised disaster, exposure— the end. A strangling, horrible end—on the end of a rope.
A door of the past ajar!
He w'as making too much noise! Rather than stalking his game, he was more likely to be stalked. He had been stalked— when that voice had cried out. He halted —listened. Nothing. But it was somewhere in here that the voice had come from. He could swear to that.
He worked forward again. Damn the trees and foliage! How could one go quietly when one had to fight one’s way through? And it was soggy and wet underfoot—one’s feet made squeaky, oozy noises.
He came out on the beach—a long, curving stretch of sand, glistening white in the moonlight, He was amazed that he had travelled so far. How far had he travelled? His mind, like his soul, was in a state of fury, of fear; there-was upon him a frenzy, the urge of self-preservation, to kill.
A structure of some kind, extending out into the sea, loomed up a distance away over to the right. He stared at it. It was a boathouse; and its ornate, exaggerated size stamped it at once as an adjunct to the mad millionaire’s mansion. But the voice had not come from the boathouse—it had come from the woods back in here behind him.
Captain Francis Newcombe retraced his steps into the woods again, but now with far greater caution than before; and presently, his revolver in his hand, he sat down upon the stump of a tree. He held his hand up close before his eyes. It was steady, without sign of tremor. That was better! He was cooler now—no, cool not cooler—quite himself. If he could not move here in the woods without making a noise, neither could any one else. And from the moment that voice had flung its threat and jeer through the night there had been no sound in the under-brush. He had listened, straining his ears for that very thing, even while he had manoeuvred to get Polly out of the road without arousing suspicion anent himself in her mind. He was listening now. It was the only chance. True, whoever it was might have been close to the beach, or close to the road, and had already escaped, and in that case he was done in; but on the other hand, the man, if it were a man and not a devil, might very well have done what he, Captain Francis Newcombe, was doing now, remained silent and motionless, secure in the darkness. If that were so then, sooner or later, the other must make a move.
Silly? Impossible? A preposterous theory? Perhaps! But there was no alternative hope of catching the other tonight. Why hadn’t he adopted this plan from the start? How sure was he after all, that covered by the noise he himself had made, the other had not got away?
THE minutes passed—five, ten of them. There was no sound. The silence itself became heavy. It began to palpitate. It grew even clamorous, thundering ghastly auguries, threats and gibes in his ears. And then it began to take up a horrible, sing-song refrain: “Who was it? Who was it? Who was it?” What would to-morrow bring? Shadow Varne! It was literally a death sentence, wasn’t it?—unless he could close forever those bawling lips! He felt the gray come creeping into his face. He, who laughed at fear, who had laughed at it all his life, save through that one night on board the ship, was made to fight over again his battle for composure. Shadow Varne ! Shadow Varne ! Hell itself seemed striving to shake his nerve.
Well, neither hell nor anything else could do it! There were those who had learned that to their cost! And, it seemed there was another now who was yet to learn it! His teeth clamped suddenly together in a vicious snap, and suddenly he was on his feet. Faintly there came the rustle of foliage—it came again. He could not place its direction at first. It might be an animal. No! The rustling ceased. Some one was running now on the road in the direction of the dock—but a long way off. He lunged and tore his way through trees and undergrowth, and broke into the clear of the road. He raced madly along it. He could see nothing ahead because of those infernal moon-flecked turnings that he had been fool enough to rave over on his way to the house. Nothing! He drew Up for a second and listened. Nothing! He spurted on again. A game of blindman’s-buff—and he was blindfolded!
He came out into the clearing with the dock in sight. Again he stopped and listened. Still nothing!
His lips tightened. It was futile. He would only be playing the fool to grope further around in the darkness in what now could be but the most aimless fashior, robbed even of a single possible objective. He could not search the island! There was nothing left to do but go on board.
He started out along the dock—and then suddenly, as his eyes narrowed, his stride became nonchalant, debonair. He fell to whistling softly a catchy air from a recent musical comedy. Runnells had not gone to bed. Runnells was stretched out on his back on the deck of the yacht smoking a pipe, his head propped up on a coil of rope.
Captain Francis Newcombe dropped lightly from the wharf to the deck.
“Hello, Runnells,” he observed, as he halted in front of the other, “the artistry of the night got you, too? Well, I must say, it’s too fine to waste all of it at an\ rate in sleep.”
“You’re bloody well right, it is!” sai” Runnells. “Strike me pink, if it ain’t! I’ve heard of these here places from the time I was born, but I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t laid here smoking my pipe and saying to myself, this here’s you, Runnells, and that there’s it. London! I can do without London for a bit!”
“Quite so!” said Captain Francis Newcombe. He leaned over and ran his fingers along the sole of Runnells’ upturned boot.
Runnells sat up with a jerk.
“What the ’ell are you doing?” he ejaculated.
“Striking a match,” said Captain Francis Newcombe, as he lighted a cigarette. “You don’t mind, do you? It saves the deck.”
Runnells, with a grunt, returned his head to the comfort of the coiled rope.
“Locke turned in?” inquired Captain Francis Newcombe casually.
“About ten minutes after you left,” said Runnells. “That engine did him down, if you ask me. I mixed him a peg, and he was off like a shot.”
“Well, I don’t know of anything to do myself,” said Captain Francis Newcombe.
HE TURNED and walked slowly to the cabin companionway; but aft by the rail he paused for a moment, and, flinging his cigarette overboard, watcher'1 it as it struck the water, and listened as it made a tiny hiss—like a serpent’s hiss.
His face for an instant became distorted, then set in hard, deep lines.
Who was it?
The sole of Runnells’ boot was dry— quite dry.
The Mad Millionaire
IT’S AN amazing place!” said Howard Locke.
“Yes; isn’t it?” said Polly. Wickes. “But, come along; you haven’t seen it all yet.”
“Is there more?” Howard Locke asked with pretended incredulity. “I’ve seen a private power plant; an aquarium that contains more varieties of fish than I ever imagined swam in the sea; a house as magnificent and spacious as a palace; stables; gardens; flowers; bowers of Eden. More! Really?”
“I think Guardy was right,” observed Polly Wickes naively.
“Yes?” inquired Howard Locke.
Polly Wickes arched her eyebrows.
“He said you weren’t a ladies’ man.” “Oh!” said Howard Locke with a grin. “So he’s been talking behind my back, has he?”
“I’m afraid so,” she admitted.
“And may I ask why you agree with him—why I am condemned?”
“Because,” said Polly Wickes,“it would have been ever so much nicer, instead of saying what you did, to have expressed delight that the tour of inspection wasn’t over—something about charming company, you know, even if everything you saw bored you to death.”
“Unfair!” Locked frowned with mock severity. “Most unfair! I was going to say something like that, and now I can’t because you’ll swear you put the words into my mouth and I simply parroted them.”
“Sir,” she said airily, “will you see the bungalows and the pickaninnies next, or the boathouse?”
“I am contrite and humble,” he said meekly.
Polly Wickes’ laughter rippled out on the air.
“Come on, then!” she cried, and, turning, began to run along the path through the grove of trees where they had been walking.
Locke followed. She ran like a young fawn! He stumbled once awkwardly— and she turned and laughed at him. He felt the color amount into his cheeks— felt a tinge of chagrin. Was she vamping him; did she know that if his eyes had been occupied with where he was going, and not with her, he would not have stumbled? Or was she just a little sprite of nature, full to overflowing with life, buoyant, and the more glorious for an unconscious expression of the joy of living? Amazing, he had called what he had seen on this island since he had been installed here as a guest that morning, but most amazing of all was Newcombe’s ward. Newcombe’s ward! It was rather strange! Who was she? How had a girl like this come to be Captain Newcombe’s ward? Newcombe had not been communicative save only on the point that since she had gone to America to school Newcombe had not seen her. Rather strange, that, too! He was conscious that she piqued him one moment, while the next found him possessed of a mad desire to touch, for instance, those truant wisps of hair that now, as she stood waiting for him on the edge of the shore, a little out of breath, the color glowing in her cheeks, she retrieved with deft little movements of her fingers.
Her color deepened suddenly.
“That's the boathouse over there,” she said.
“I—I beg your pardon,” said Locke in confusion. And then deliberately : “No; 1 don’t!”
DOLLY WICKES stared. Again the color in her cheeks came and went swiftly.
“Oh!” she gasped; then hurriedly: “Well, perhaps, that is better! Don’t you think those two little bridges from the rocks up to the boathouse are awfully pretty?”
“Awfully!” laughed Locke.
“You’re not looking at them at all,” said Polly Wickes severely.
“Yes, I am,” asserted Locke. “And just to prove it, I was going to ask why that amazing structure— you see, I said amazing again—that looks more like the home of a yacht club than a private boathouse, is built out into the water like that, and requires those bridges at all? Is it on account of the tide? I see there’s no beach here.”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Polly Wickes. “But they are pretty, aren’t they?—and the place does look like a clubhouse. And it looks more like one inside—there’s a lovely little lounging room with an open fireplace, and I can’t begin to tell you what else. Shall we go in?”
He was studying the place now with a yachtsman’s eye. It was built out from the rocky shore a considerable distance, and rested on an outer series of small concrete piers, placed a few feet apart; while, by stooping down, he could see beneath the overhang of the verandah, a massive center pier, wide and long, obviously the main foundation of the building. At the two corners facing the shore were the little bridges, built in shape like a curving ramp and ornamented with rustic railings, that she had referred to. These led from a point well above high water mark on the shore to the verandah of the boathouse itself.
“Mr. Marlin must be an enthusiast,” he said, as he followed his guide across one of the bridges.
Polly Wickes did not answer at once, and they began to make the circuit of the verandah.
Howard Locke glanced at her. Her face had become suddenly sobered, the dark eyes somehow deeper, a sensitive quiver now around the corners of her lips. His glance lengthened into an unconscious stare. She could be serious then—and, yes, equally attractive in that mood. It became her. He wondered if she knew it became her? That was cynical on his part. Was he trying to arm himself with cynicism? Well, it was easily pierced then, that armor! It was a very wonderful face; not fine in the sense of steadfastness, selfreliance and sincerity. He was a poor cynic! Why not admit that she at-
tracted him as no woman had ever attracted him before?
They had reached the seaward side of the verandah. Here a short dock was built out to meet a sort of sea-wall that gave protection to any craft that might be berthed there—but the slip was empty of boats.
She looked up at him now, as she answered his observation.
“He was,” she said slowly; “but all the boats are stowed away inside now. Poor Mr. Marlin!” She turned away abruptly, her eyes suddenly moist. ' “Let’s go inside.”
' I 'HEY found a cozy corner in the little •*lounging room of which she had spoken, and seated themselves.
Locke picked up the thread of their conversation.
“You’re very fond of him, aren’t you, Miss Wickes?” he said gently.
“Yes,” she said simply.
“It’s a very strange case,” said Howard Locke.
“And a very, very sad one,” said Polly Wickes. “I don’t know how much Dora— Miss Marlin—has said to you, or perhaps even Mr. Marlin himself, for he is sometimes just like—like anybody else, so I don’t—”
“I hardly think it could be a case of trespassing on confidence in any event,” Locke interrupted quietly. “It’s rather well known outside; that is, in what might be called the financial world, you know . .. What I can’t understand, though, is that, having lost all his money, a place like this could still be kept up.'”
Polly Wickes shook her head thoughtf idly.
“Guardy was speaking about the same thing,” she said; “but I don’t think it costs so very much now. You see, it is almost in a way self-supporting—the vegetables, and fruit, and fuel and all that. And the servants all have their little homes, and have lived on the island for years, and the wages are not very high, and anyway Dora has a fortune in her own name—from her mother, you know; and, besides, thank goodness, dear old Mr. Marlin hasn’t lost all his money anyway.”
“Not lost it?” ejaculated Locke.” Why, that was the cause of his mind breaking!”
Polly Wickes looked up in confusion.
“Oh, perhaps, I shouldn’t have said that,” she said nervously. “But—but, after all, I don’t see why I shouldn’t, for you could not help but know abdut it before very long. Indeed, I shouldn’t be a bit surprised if Mr. Marlin showed it to you himself, just as he did to me, for he seems to have taken a great fancy to you. He hardly let you out of his sight this morning.”
“He knows of my father in a business way,” said Locke. “I suppose that’s it. Do you mean that he showed you a sum of money here on this island?”
“Yes,” said Polly Wickes slowly, “after I had been here a little while; a very large sum—half a million, he said.”
“Good heavens!” exclaimed Locke. “That’s hardly safe, is it? I know the peculiar form his disease has taken is an antipathy to all investments, but can’t Miss Marlin persuade him to deposit it somewhere?”
“That’s exactly what Guardy said,” nodded Polly Wickes. “But it’s quite useless. Dora has tried, but her father won’t even tell her where lie keeps it.”
Howard Locke rose from his chair, walked over to the empty fireplace, and, standing with his back to Polly Wickes, opened his cigarette case.
“Captain Newcombe, of course, is quite au fait with the conditions?” he observed casually.
“Of course,” said Polly Wickes ingenuously. “I naturally wrote him all about it.”
“Naturally!” agreed Howard Locke.
He stepped over, and, striking a match on the edge of the fireplace, lighted his cigarette. So it seemed Captain Francis Newcombe had known all about it, had he, even before he had left England? And yet Captain Francis Newcombe in the smoking room of the liner on the way across had been densely in ignorance, and even alarmed for his ward’s safety at the first intimation that her host was a monomaniac! It was rather peculiar! More than peculiar!
LOCKE turned, and, leaning against the mantel over the fireplace, faced Polly Wickes. His mind was working
swiftly, piecing together strange and apparently irrelevant fragments, that, irrelevant. as they appeared, seemed to make a most suggestive whole. Captain Newcombe had lied that night on board the liner. Why? Who was it that had invaded his, Locke’s, stateroom and had searched through his belongings? And why? Why was it that now for the first time in four years Captain Newcombe should have come to visit his ward in America? He had more than Newcombe’s word for that—Polly here had said so herself; and Miss Marlin referred to it in the most natural way when welcoming Newcombe that morning. What had an insane old man, who hid away a halfmillion dollars on a little island in the Florida Keys, got to do with the letter received in London and containing those facts that Polly Wickes had just admitted she had written? What did it mean? Was a certain, insistent deduction to be carried to a logical conclusion, or was he hunting a mare’s nest in his mind? Was it a mere coincidence in life, where far stranger coincidences were daily happenings—or was it a half-million dollars? And Polly Wickes, here? Captain Francis Newcombe—and his ward! Was it a bird of paradise in cahoots with a vulture? No, he wouldn’t believe that! It was preposterous! There weren’t any grounds for it, anyway. He was an irresponsible fool. He became angry with himself. He was worse than a fool—he was a cad! The girl’s very ingenuousness in what she had said put to rout any possibility of connivance. But, damn it—Captain Newcombe’s ward! How? What was the explanation of that? And if—
Polly Wickes’ small foot beat the floor in a sharp little tattoo.
Locke straightened up with a start. In his fit of abstraction he had been gazing at the girl with abominable rudeness.
“I forgot to say,” said Polly Wickes severely, “that besides saying you were not a ladies’ man, Guardysaid something else about you.”
“No! Surely not!” Locke forced a mock dismay into his voice. “What was it?”
Polly Wickes took a critical survey of the toe of her spotless white shoe.
“He said he didn’t know whether I would like you or not.”
Locke took a step forward from the fireplace.
‘‘And do you?” he demanded.
“I do not,” she said promptly; “at least not when I am utterly ignored for a whole five minutes, except to be stared at as though I were a specimen under a microscope.”
“I’m awfully sorry,” said Locke contritely; “really I am. I was thinking of what we had been saying about Mr. Marlin, and—”
She suddenly lifted a warning finger.
“There he is now,” she said in a low voice.
Locke turned around. His back had been to the door, leading to the seaward side of the verandah, which they had left open behind them. Mr. Marlin was peering cautiously around the jamb of the door—and now, as the blue eyes under the silvered hair, which was rumpled and astray, caught his, Locke’s, the old man thrust a beckoning finger into view.
To be Continued