A New Serial Story by a Brilliant Writer
NEVER had life seemed more fair and smiling than at the moment when Aunt Jane’s letter descended upon me like a bolt from the blue. The fact is, I was taking a vacation from Aunt Jane. Being an orphan, I was supposed to be under Aunt Jane’s wing, but this was the merest polite fiction. and I am sure that no hen with one chicken worries about it more than I did about Aunt Jane. I had spent the last three years, since Aunt Susan died and left Aunt Jane with all that money and no one to look after her but me, in snatching her from the brink of disaster. Her most recent and narrow escape was from a velvet-tongued person of half her years who turned out to be a convict on parole. She had her hand-bag packed for the elopement when I confronted her with this unpleasant fact. When she came to she was bitter instead of grateful, and went about for weeks presenting a spectacle of blighted affections which was too much for the most self-approving conscience. So it ended with my packing her off to New York, where I wrote to her frequently and kindly, urging her to stay as long as she liked.
Meanwhile I came up to the ranch for a long holiday with Bess and the baby, a holiday which had already stretched itself out to Thanksgiving, and threatened to last until Christmas. People wrote alluringly from town, hut what had town to offer compai’ed with a saddle-horse to yourself, and a litter of collie pups to play with, and a baby just learning to walk? I even began to consider ranching as a career, and to picture myself striding over my broad acres in top-boots and corduroys.
As to Aunt Jane, my state of mind was fatuously calm. She was staying with cousins, who live in a suburb and are frightfully respectable. I was sure they numbered no convicts among their acquaintance, or indeed anyone from whom Aunt Jane was likely to require i’escuing. And if it came to a retired missionary I was perfectly willing.
But the cousins and their respectability are of the passive order, whereas to manage Aunt Jane demands aggressive and continuous action. Hence the bolt from the blue above alluded to.
I was swinging tranquilly in the hammock, I remember, when Bess brought my letters and then hurried away because the baby had fallen downstairs. Unwarned by the slightest premonitory thrill, I kept Aunt Jane’s letter till the last and skimmed through all the others. I should be thankful, I suppose, that the peace soon to be so rudely shattei’ed was prolonged for those few monments. I recalled afterwards, but dimly, as though a gulf of ages yawned between, that I had been quite interested in six pages of prattle about the Patterson dance.
At last I came to Aunt Jane. I ripped open the envelope and drew out the letter—a fat one, but then Aunt Jane’s letters are always fat. She says herself that she is of those whose souls flow freely forth in ink but are frozen by the cold eye of an unsympathetic listener. Nevertheless, as I spread out the close-filled pages I felt a mild wonder. Writing so large, so black, so staggering, so madly underlined, must indicate something above even Aunt Jane’s usual emotional level. Perhaps in sober truth there was a missionary—
Twenty minutes later I staggered into Bess’s room.
“Hush!” she said. “Don’t wake the baby!”
“Baby or no baby,” I whispered savagely, “I’ve got to have a time-table. I leave for the city to-night to catch the first steamer for Panama!”
Later, while the baby slumbered and I packed, I explained. This was difficult; not that Bess is as a general thing obtuse, but because the picture of Aunt Jane embarking for some wild, lone isle of the Pacific as the head of a treasure-seeking expedition was enough to shake the strongest intellect. And yet, amid the welter of ink and eloquence which filled those fateful pages, there was the cold hard fact confronting you. Aunt Jane was going to look for buried treasure, in company with one Violet HigglesbyBrowne, whom she sprung on you without the slightest explanation, as though alluding to the Queen of Sheba or the Siamese twins. By beginning at the end and reading backward—Aunt Jane’s letters are usually most intelligible that way—you manage to piece together some explanation of this Miss Higglesby-Browne and her place in the scheme of things. It was through Miss Browne, whom she had met at a lecture upon Soul-Development, that Aunt Jane had come to realize her claims as an Individual upon the Cosmos, also to discover that she was by nature a woman of affairs with a talent for directing large enterprise, although adverse influences had hitherto kept her from recognizing her powers. There was a
dark significance in these italics, though whether they meant me or the family lawyer I was not sure.
by-Browne, however, had assisted Aunt Jane to find herself, and as a consequence Aunt Jane, for the comparatively trifling outlay needful to finance the Harding-Browne expedition, would shortly be the richer by onefourth of a vast treasure of Spanish doubloons. The knowledge of this hoard was Miss Higglesby-Brownc’s alone. It has been revealed to her by a dying sailor in a London hospital, whither she had gone on a mission of kindness — you gathered that Miss Browne was precisely the sort to take advantage when people were helpless and unable to fly from her. Why the dying sailor chose to make Miss Browne the repository of his secret, I don’t know — this still remains for me the unsolved mystery. But when the sailor closed his eyes the secret and the map — of course there was a map—had become Miss Higgle s b yBrowne’s.
Miss Browne now had clear before her the road to fortune, but unfortunately it led across the sea and quite out of the route of steamer travel. Capital in excess of Miss Browne’s resources was required. London proving cold before its great opportunity,
Miss Browne had shaken off its dust and come to New York, where a mysteriously potent influence had guided her to Aunt Jane. Through Miss Browne’s great organizing abilities, not to speak of those newly brought to light in Aunt Jane, a party of staunch comrades had been assembled, a steamer engaged to meet them at Panama, and it was ho for the island in the blue Pacific main!
With this lyrical outburst Aunt Jane concluded the body of her letter. A small, cramped postscript informed me that it was against Miss H.-B.’s wishes that she revealed their plans to anyone, but that she did want to hear from me before they sailed from Panama, where a letter might reach her if I was prompt. However, if it did not she would try not to worry, for Miss Browne was very psychic, and she felt sure that any strong vibration from me would reach her via Miss B., and she was my always loving Jane Harding.
“And of course,” I explained to Bess as I hurled things into my bags, “if a letter can reach her so can I. At least I must take che chance of it. What those people ai*e up to I don’t know—probably they mean to hold her for ransom and murder her outright if it is not forthcoming. Or perhaps some of them will marry her and share the spoils with Miss HigglesbyBrowne. Anyway, I must get to Panama in time to save her.”
“Or you might go along to the island,” suggested Bess.
I paused to glare at her.
“Bess! And let them murder me too?”
“Or marry you—” ccoed Bess.
One month later I was climbing out of a lumbering hack before the Tivoli hotel, which rises square and white and imposing on the low green height above the old Spanish city of Panama. In spite of the
melting tropical heat there was a chill fear at my heart, the fear that Aunt Jane and her band of treasure seekers had already departed on their quest. In that case I foresaw that whatever narrow margin of faith my fellow-voyagers on the City of Quito had had in me would shrink to nothingness. I had been obliged to be so queer and clam-like about the whole extraordinary rendezvous—for how could I expose Aunt Jane’s madness to the multitude?—that I felt it would take the actual bodily presence of my aunt to convince them that she was not a myth, or at least of the wrong sex for aunts. To have travelled so far in the desperate hope of heading oft' Aunt Jane, only to be frustrated and to lose my character besides! It would be a stroke too much from fate, I told myself rebelliously, as I crossed the broad gallery and plunged into the cool dimness of the lobby in the wake of the bellboys who, discerning a helpless prey, had swooped en masse upon my bags.
“Miss Jane Harding?” repeated the clerk, and at the cool negation of his tone my heart gave a sickening downward swoop. “Miss Jane Harding and party have left the hotel!”
. “For-—for the island?” I gasped.
He raised his eyebrows. “Can't say, I’m sure.”
He gave me an appraising stare. Perhaps the woe in my face touched him, for he descended from the eminence of the hotel clerk where he dwelt apart sufficiently to add, “Is it important for you to see her?”
^ “I am her niece. I have come all the way from San Francisco expecting to join her here.”
The clerk meditated, his shrewd eyes piercing the very secrets of my soul.
“She knew nothing about it,” I hastened to add. “I intended it for a surprise.”
This candor helped my cause. “Well,” he said, “that explains her not leaving any |vord. As you are her niece, I suppose it will do no ' m to tell you that Miss Harding and her party er ked this morning on the freighter Rufus Smith, ? think it very likely that the steamer has not lef If you like I will send a man to the waterfro’ you and you may be able to go on board and h with your aunt.” Did I thank him? I hr wondered when I waked up in the night, ’ision of myself dashing out of the hot the hack that brought me is bearing lboys hurled my bags in after me, ar largesse reek-
lessly. Some arch-bellboy or other potentate had mounted to the seat beside the driver. Madly we clattered over cobbled ways. Out on the smooth waters of the roadstead lay ships great and small, ships with stripped masts and smokeless funnels, others with faint gray spirals wreathing upward from their stacks. Was one of these the Rufus Smith, and would I reach her—or him—before the thin grey feather became a thick black plume? I thought of my aunt at the mercy of these unknown adventurers with whom she had set foi-th, helpless as a little fat pigeon among hawks, and I felt, desperately, that I must reach her, must save her from them and bring her safe back to snore. How I was to do this at the eleventh hour plus about fiftyseven minutes as at present I hadn’t considered. But experience had
taught me that once in my clutches Aunt Jane would offe^r about as much resistance as a slightly melted wax doll. She gets so soft that you are almost afraid to touch her for fear of leaving dents.
So to get there, get there, get there, was the one prayer of my soul.
I got there, in a boat hastily commandeered by the hotel clerk’s deputy-. I suppose he thought me a belated passenger for the Rufus Smith, for my baggage followed me into the boat. “Pronto!” he shouted to the native boatman as we put. off. “Pronto!” I urged at intervals, my eyes upon the funnels of the Rufus Smith, where the outpouring smoke was thickening alarmingly-. We brought up under the side of the little steamer, and the wide surprised face of a Swedish deck-hand stared down at us.
“Let me aboard! I must come aboard!” I cried.
Other faces appeared, then a rope-ladder. Somehow I was mounting it—a dizzyfeat to which onlythe tumult of myemotions made me indifferent. Bare, brawny arms of sailors clutched at me and drew me to the deck. There at once I was the centre of a circle of speechless and astonished persons, all men but one.
“Well?” demanded a large breezy voice. “Well, what’s this mean? What do you want aboard my ship?”
I looked up at a red-faced man in a large straw hat.
“I want my aunt,” I explained.
“Your aunt?” he roared. “Why the devil should you think I ve got y-our aunt?”
‘A ou have got her,” I replied with firmness. “I don t see her, but she’s here somewhere.”
The captain of the Rufus Smith shook two large red fists above his head.
Another lunatic!” he shouted. “I’d as soon have a white horse and a minister aboard as to go to sea in a floating bedlam!”
As the captain s angrythunder died away came the small anxious voice of Aunt Jane.
“What’s the matter? Oh, please tell me what’s the matter!” she was saying as she edged her way into the group. In her severely cut khaki suit she looked like a plump little dumpling which had got into a sausage wrapping by mistake. Her eyes, round pale, blinking a little in the tropical glare, roved over the circle until they lit on me. Right where she stood Aunt Jane petrified. She endeavored to shriek, but achieved instead only a strangled wheeze. Her’poor little chin dropped until it disappeared altogether in the folds of her plump neck, and she remained speechless, stricken, immobile as a wax figure in an exhibition.
Aunt Jane, ’ I said, “you must come right 'back to shore with me.” I spoke calmly, for unless you are perfectly calm with Aunt Jane you fluster her
She replied only by a slight gobbling in her throat, but the other woman spoke in a loud voice, addressed not to me but to the universe in general.
The Young Person is mad!” It was an unmistakably British intonation.
This then was Miss Violet Higglesby-Browne. I saw a grim, bony, stocky shape, in a companion costume to my aunt’s. Around the edges of her cork helmet her short iron-gray hair visibly bristled. She had a massive head, and a seamed and rugged countenance which did its best to live down the humiliation of a ridiculous little nose with no bridge. By what prophetic irony she had been named Violet is the secret of those powers which seem to love a laugh at mankind’s expense.
But what riveted my eyes was the deadly glare with which hers were turned on me. I saw that not only was she as certain of my identity as though she had guided me from my first tottering steps, but that in a flash she had grasped my motives, aims and purposes, and meant once for all to face, out-general and defeat me with great slaughter.
So she announced to the company with deliberation, “The Young Person is rhad!”
It nettled me extremely.
“Mad!” I flung back at her. “Because I wish to save my poor aunt from such a situation as this? It would be charitable to infer madness in those who have let her into it!” When I reviewed this speech afterwards I realized that it was not, under the circumstances, the best calculated to win me friends.
“Jane!” said Miss Higglesby-Browne in deep and aw-ful tones, “the time has come to prove your strength!”
Aunt Jane proved it by uttering a shrill yelp, and clutching her hair with a reckless disregard of its having originally been that of a total stranger. So severe were her shrieks and struggles that it was with difficulty that she was borne below in the arms of two strong men.
I had seen Aunt Jane in hysterics before—she had them that time about the convict. I was not frightened, but I hurried after her—neck and neck with Miss Browne. It was fifteen minutes before Aunt Jane came to, and then she would only moan. I bathed her head, and held her hand, and did all the regulation things, under the baleful eye of Miss Brow-ne, who steadfastly refused to go away, but sat glaring like a gorgon w-ho sees her prey about to be snatched from her.
In the midst of my ministration I awoke suddenly to a rhythmic heave and throb which pervaded the ship. Dropping Aunt Jane’s hand I rushed on deck. There lay the various pieces of my baggage, and in the distance the boat with the two brown rowers was skipping shoreward over the ripples. As for the Rufus Smith, she was under weigh, and heading out of the roadstead to the open sea.
I dashed aft to the captain, who stood issuing orders in the voice of an aggrieved foghorn.
“Captain!” I cried, “wait; turn around! You must put my aunt and me ashore!”
He whirled on me, showing a crimson angry face. “Turn around, is it, turn around?” he shouted. “Do you suppose I can loaf about the harbor here a-waitin’ on your aunt’s fits? You come aboard without me
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askin’. Now you can go along with the rest. This here ship has got her course set for Frisco, pickin’ up Leeward Island on the way, and anybody that aint goin’ in that direction is welcome to jump overboard.”
• That is how I happened to go to Leeward Island.
AT'HE Rufus Smith, tramp freighter, -*• had been chartered to convey the Harding-Browne expedition to Leeward Island, which lies about three hundred miles west of Panama, and could be picked up by the freighter in her course. She was a little dingy boat with such small accommodation that I cannot imagine where the majority of her passengers stowed themselves away. My aunt and Miss Browne had a stateroom between them the size of a packing-box, and somebody turned out and resigned another to me. I retired there to dress for dinner after several dismal hours spent in attendance on Aunt Jane, who had passed from great imaginary suffering into the quite genuine anguish of seasickness. In the haste of my departure from San Francisco I had not brought a trunk, so the best I was able to produce in the way of a crusher for Miss Higglesby-Browne and her fellow-passengers was a cool little white gown, which would shine at least by contrast with Miss Browne's severely utilitarian costume. White is becoming to my hair, which narrow-minded persons term red, but which has been known to cause the more discriminating to draw heavily on the dictionary for adjectives.
My face is small and heai’t-shaped, with features strictly for use and not for I ornament, but fortunately inconspicuous. As for my eyes, I think tawny quite the nicest word, though Aunt Jane calls them hazel and I have even heard whispers of green.
Five minutes after the gong sounded I walked into the cabin. Miss Browne, the captain, and a half a dozen men were already at the table. I slid unobtrusively into the one vacant place, fortunately remote from the captain, who glared at me savagely, as though still embittered by the recollections of my aunt’s fits.
“Gentlemen,” said Miss Browne in icy tones, “Miss Virginia Harding.”
Two of the men rose, the others stared and ducked. Except for Miss Browne and the captain, I had received on coming aboard only the most blurred impression of my fellow-voyagers.
I remembered them merely as a composite of khaki and cork helmets and astounded staring faces. But I felt that as the abetters of Miss Browne a hostile and sinister atmosphere enveloped them all. ,
Being thus in the camp of the enemy,
I sat down in silence and devoted myself to my soup. The majority of my companions did likewise—audibly. But presently I heard a voice at my left:
“I say, what a jolly good sailor you seem to be—pity your aunt’s not!”
I looked up and saw Apollo sitting beside me. Or rather, shall I say a young man who might have walked straight out of an advertisement for a ready-made clothing house, so ideal and impossible was his beauty. He was very ¡ tall-—I had to tilt my chin quite painfully i to look up at him—and from the loose j collar of his silk shirt his throat rose like a column. His skin was a beau! tiful clear pink and white just tinged j with tan—like a meringue that bas been ! in the oven for two minutes exactly, j He had a straight, chiseled profile and ■ his hair was thick and chestnut and j wavy and be bad clear sea-gray eyes, j To give him at once his full name and I titles, be was the Honorable Cuthbert j Patrick Ruthmore Vane, of High Staun¡ ton Manor, Kent, England. But as I I was ignorant of this, I can truthfully say that his looks stunned me purely on their own merits.
Outwardly calm, I replied, “Yes, it’s too bad, but then who ever dreamed that Aunt Jane would go adventuring at her time of life? I thought nobody over the age of thirteen, and then boys, ever went treasure bunting.”
“Ah, but lads of thirteen couldn’t well come such a distance on their own, you know,” returned Apollo, with the kindest air of making allowance for the female intellect.
I hurriedly turned the subject.
“I really can’t imagine Aunt Jane on a desert island. You should see her behave on the mere suspicion of a mouse ! What will she do if she meets a cannibal and he tries to eat her?” “Oh, really, now,” argued the paragon earnestly, “I’m quite sure there’s no danger of that, don’t you know? I believe there are no natives at all on the island, or else quite tame ones, I forget which, and here are four of us chaps, with no end of revolvers and things—shooting-irons, as you call them in America. Mr. Shaw—sitting opposite Miss Browne, you know'—is rather running things, so if you feel nervous you should talk to him. Was with the South Polar Expedition and all that— knows no end about this sort of thing— wouldn’t for a moment think of letting ladies run the risk of being eaten. Really I hope you aren’t in a funk about the cannibals—especially as with so many missionary Johnnies about they are most likely all converted.”
“It’s so comforting to think of it in that light!” I said fervently. At the same time I peeped around Apollo for a glimpse of the experienced Mr. Shaw. I saw a strong-featured, weather-beaten profile, the face of a man somewhere in his thirties, and looking, from this side view at least, not only stern but grim. He was talking quietly to the captain, whose manner toward him was almost civil.
I made up my mind at once that the backbone of the party, and inevitably the leader in its projected villainies, whatever they might be, was this rugged-looking Mr. Shaw. You couldn’t fancy him as a misled follower of anybody, even the terrific Violet.
As it seemed an unpropitious moment for taking counsel with Mr. Shaw about cannibals, I tried another tack with the beautiful youth at my side.
“How did you like Panama? I fancy the old town is very picturesque.”
“Oh, rather!” assented Mr. Vane. “At least, that is what those painter chaps call it—met a couple of ’em at the hotel. Beastly little narrow streets and houses in a shocking state and all that. I like to see property kept up, myself.”
“I am afraid,” I said severely, “that you are a Philistine!”
He blinked a little. “Ah—quite so!” he murmured, recovering himself gallantly. “One of those chaps that backed Goliath against David, what?”
From this conversational impasse we were rescued by the interposition of the gentleman opposite, whose small twinkling eyes had been taking me in with intentness.
“I did some flittin’ about that little old burg on my own hook,” he informed us, “and what I got to say is, it needs wakin’ up. Yes, sir, a bunch of live ones from the U.S.A. would shake up that little old graveyard so you wouldn’t know it. I might have took a hand in it myself, if I hadn’t have met up with Miss Browne and your a’nt. Yes, sir, I had a slick little proposition or two up my sleeve. Backed by some of the biggest capital in the U.S.A.—in fact, there’s a bunch of fellers up there in God’s country that’s pretty sore on old H. H. for passin’ things up this way. Kep’ the wires hummin’ for two-three days, till they seen I wasn’t to be switched, and then the Old Man himself—no use mentionin’ names, but I guess you know who I mean—Wall Street would quick enough, anyway— the Old Man himself threatened to put his yacht in commission and come down to find out what sort of little game H. H. was playin’ on him. But I had done like Br’er Rabbit—jes lay low. Hamilton H. Tubbs knows a good thing when he sees it about as quick as the next one—and he knows enough to keep mum about it too!”
“None can appreciate more profoundly than myself your ability to maintain that reserve so necessary to the success of this expedition,” remarked Miss Browne weightily from the far end of the table. “It is to be wished that other members of our party, though tenderly esteemed, and never more than now when weakness of body temporarily overpowers strength of soul, had shared your powers of secrecy!”
This shaft was aimed quite obviously at me, and as at the moment I could think of nothing in reply short of hurling a plate I sank into a silence which seemed to be contagious, for it spread throughout the table. Three or four rough-looking men, of whom one, a certain Captain Magnus, belonged to our party and the rest to the ship, continued vig-orously to hack their way through the meal with clattering knives and forks. Of ether sounds there were none. Such gloom weighed heavily on the genial spirit of Mr. Tubbs, and he lightened it by rising to propose a toast.
“Ladies and gentlemen, to her now unfortunately laid low by the pangs of mal de mer—our friend and boney dear, Miss Harding!”
This was bewildering, for neither by friends nor foe could Aunt Jane be called boney. Later, in the light of Mr. Tubbs’s passion for classical allusion, I decided to translate it bona dea, and consider the family complimented. At the moment I sat stunned, but Miss Browne, with greater self-possession, majestically inclined her head and said :
“In the name of our absent friend, I thank you.”
In spite of wistful looks from the beautiful youth as we rose from the table, and the allurement of a tropic moon, I remained constant to duty and Aunt Jane, and immured myself in her stateroom, where I passed an enlivening evening listening to her moans. She showed a faint returning spark of life when I mentioned Cuthbert Vane, and raised her head to murmur that he was Honorable and she understood though not the heir still likely to inherit and perhaps after all Providence—
The unspoken end of Aunt Jane’s sentence pursued me into dreams in which an unknown gentleman broke his neck in an obliging manner riding to hounds and left Apollo heir to the title and estates.
IT was fortunate that I slept well in
my narrow berth on board the Rufus Smith, for the next day was one of trial. A.unt Jane had recovered what Mr. Tubbs, with deprecating coughs behind his hand, alluded to as her sea-legs, and staggered forth wanly, leaning on the arm of Miss Higglesby-Browne. Yes, of Miss Browne, while I, Aunt Jane’s own niece, trotted meekly in the rear with a cushion. Already I had begun to realize how fatally I had underrated the lady of the hyphen, in imagining I had only to come and see and conquer Aunt Jane. The grim and boney one had made hay while the sun shone— while I was idling in California, and those criminally supiine cousins were allowing Aunt Jane to run about New York at her own wild will. Miss Higglesby-Browne had her own collar and tag on Aunt Jane now, while she, so complete was. her perversion, fairly hugged her slavery and called it freedom. Yes, she talked about her Eman-
cipation and her Soul-force and her Individuality, prattling away like a child that has learned its lesson well.
“Mercy, aunty, what long words!” I tried gaily, sitting down beside her and patting her hand. Usually I can do anything with her when I pet her up a bit. But the eye of Miss Higglesby-Browne was on her—and Aunt Jane actually drew a little away.
“Really, Virginia,” she said, feebly endeavoring to rise to the occasion as she knew Miss Browne would have her rise, “really, while it’s very nice to see you and all that, still I hope you realize that I have had a—a deep Soul-experience, and that I am no longer to be—trifled with and—and treated as if I were —amusing. I am really at a loss to imagine why you came. I wrote you that I was in the company of trusted friends.”
“Friends?” I echoed aggrievedly. “Friends are all very well, of course, but when you and I have just each other, aunty, I think it is unkind of you to expect me to stay thousands of miles away from you all by myself.”
“But it was you who sent me to New York and insisted on my stàying there!” she cried. Evidently she had been living over her wrongs.
“Yes—but how different!” I interrupted hastily. “There were the cousins—of course I have to spare you
sometimes to the rest of the family!” Aunt Jane is strong on family feeling, and frequently reproaches me with my lack of it.
But in expecting Aunt Jane to soften at this I reckoned without Miss Higglesby-Browne. A dart from the cold gray eyes galvanized my aunt into a sudden rigid erectness.
“My dear Virginia,” she said with quavering security, “let me remind you that there are ties even dearer than those of blood—soul-affinities, you
know, and—and, in short, in my dear friend Miss Higglesby-Browne I have met for the first time in my life with a —a Sympathetic Intelligence that understands Me!”
So that was Violet’s line! I surveyed the Sympathetic Intelligence with a smiling interest.
“Really, how nice! And of course you feel quite sure that on your side you thoroughly understand—Miss Higglesby-Browne ?”
Miss Browne’s hair was rather like a clothes-brush in her mildest moods. In her rising wrath it seemed to quiver like a lion’s mane.
“Miss Harding,” she said, in the chest-tones she reserved for critical moments, “has a nature impossible to deceive, because itself incapable of deception. Miss Harding and I first met— on this present plane—in an atmosphere unusually favorable to soul-revelation. I knew at once that here was the appointed comrade, while in Miss Harding there was the immediate recognition of a complementary spiritual force.”
“It’s perfectly true, Virginia,” exclaimed Aunt Jane, beginning to cry. “You and Susan and everybody have always treated me as if I were a child and didn’t know what I wanted, when the fact is I always have known perfectly well!" The last words issued in a wail from the depths of her handkerchief.
“You mean, I suppose,” I exploded, “that what you have always wanted was to go off on this perfectly crazy chase after imaginary treasure!” There, now I had gone and done it. Of course it was my red hair.
“Jane,” uttered Miss HigglesbyBrowne in deep and awful tones, “do you or do you not realize how strangely prophetic were the warnings I gave you from the first—that if you revealed our plans malignant Influences would he brought to bear? Be strong, Jane— cling to the Dynamic Thought!”
“I’m clinging!” sniffed Aunt Jane, dabbing away her tears. I never saw anyone get so pink about the eyes and nose at the smallest sign of weeping, and yet she is always doing it. “Really, Virginia,” she broke out in a whimper, “it is not kind to say, I suppose, but I would just as soon you hadn’t come! Just when I was learning to expand my individuality—and then you come and somehow make it seem so much more difficult!”
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I rose. “Very well, Aunt Jane,” I said coldlyn “Expand all you like. When you get to the bursting point I’ll do my best to save the pieces. For the present I suppose I had better leave you to company so much more favorable to your soul development!” And I walked away with my head in the air.
It was so much in the air, and the deck of the Rufus Smith was so unstable, that I fell over a coil of rope and fetched up in the arms of the Honorable Cuthbert Vane. Fortunately; this occurred around the corner of the deck-house, out of sight of my aunt and Miss Browne, so the latter was unable to shed the lurid light on the episode which she doubtless would if she had seen it. Mr. Vane stood the shock well and promptly set me on my feet.
“I say!” he exclaimed sympathetically, “not hurt, are you? Beastly nuisance, you know, these ropes lying about—regular man-traps, I call ’em.”
“Thanks, I’m quite all right,” I said, and as I spoke, two large genuine tears welled up into my eyes. I hadn’t realized till I felt them smarting on my eyelids how deeply hurt I was at the unnatural behavior of Aunt Jane.
“Ah—I’m afraid you are really not quite all right!” returned the Honorable Cuthbert with profound concern. “Tell me what’s the matter—please do!”
I shook my head. “It’s nothing—you couldn’t help me. It’s just—Aunt Jane.”
“Your aunt? Has she been kicking up a, bit? I thought she looked rather a mild sort.”
“Oh—mild! That’s just it—so mild that she has let this awful HigglesbyBrowne person get possession of her, body and soul.”
“Oh, I say, aren’t you a bit rough on Miss Browne? Thought she was rather remarkable old party—goes in strong for intellect and all that, you know.”
“That’s just what fooled Aunt Jane so-—but I thought a man would know better.” My feathers were ruffled again.
“Well, fact is, I’m not so much up in that sort of thing myself,” he admitted modestly'. “Rather took her word for it and all that, you know. There’s Shaw, though—cleverest chap going, I assure you. I rather fancy Miss Browne couldn’t pull the wool over his eyes much.”
“She evidently did, though,” I .said snappishly', “since he’s let her rope him in for such a wild goose chase as this!” In my heart I felt convinced that the clever Mr. Shaw was merely' Miss Browne’s partner in imposture.
“Oh, really, now, Miss Harding, you don’t think it’s that—that the thing’s all moonshine?” He stared at me in grieved surprise.
“W’hy', what else can it be?” I demanded, driven by my wrongs to the cruelty of shattering his illusions. “Who ever heard of a pirate’s treasure that wasn’t moonshine? The moment I had read Aunt Jane’s letter telling of the perfectly absurd business she was setting out on I rushed down by the first boat. Of course I meant to take her back with me, to put a stop to .all this madness; but I was too late—and you’re glad of it, I dare say!”
“I can't help being glad, you know,” he replied, the color rising to his ingenuous cheeks. “It’s so frightfully jolly having you along. Only I'm sorry you came against your will. Rather fancy you had it in your head that we were a band of cut-throats, eh? Well, the fact is I don’t know much about the two 'haps Miss Browne picked up, though I expect they are a very decent sort. That odd fish, Captain Magnus, now— he was quite Miss Browne’s own find, I assure you. And as to old H. H. Tubbs, you know, Miss Browne met up with him on the boat coming down. The rum old chap got on her soft side somehow, and first thing she had appointed him secretary and treasurer—as though
we were a meeting or something. Shaw was quite a bit upset about it. He and I were a week later in arriving—came straight on from England with the supplies, while Miss Browne fixed things up with the little black-and-tan country that owns the island. I say, Miss Harding, you’re bound to like Shaw no end when you know him—he’s such a wonderfully clever chap!”
I had no wish to blight his faith in the superlative Mr. Shaw, and said nothing. This evidently pained him, and as we stood leaning on the rail in the shadow of the deck-house, watching the
blue water slide by, he continued to sound the praises of his idol. It seemed that as soon as Miss Browne had beguiled Aunt Jane into financingher scheme—a feat equivalent to robbing an infant-class scholar of his Sunday school nickel—she had cast about for a worthy leader for the forthcoming Harding-Browne expedition. All, the winds of fame were bearing abroad just then the name of a certain young explorer who had lately added another continent or two to the British Empire. Linked with his were other names, those of his fellow adventurers, which shone
only less brightly than that of their chief. One Dugald Shaw had been among the great man’s most trusted lieutenants, but now, on the organizing of the second expedition, he was left behind in London, only half recovered of a wound received in the Antarctic. The hook of a block and tackle had caught him, ripped his forehead open from cheek to temple, and for a time threatened the sight of the eye. Slowly, under the care of the London surgeons, he had recovered, and the eye was saved. Meanwhile his old companions had taken again the path of glory, and were far on their way back to the ice-fields of the South Pole. Only Dugald Shaw was left behind.
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“And so,” the even voice flowed on, “when I ran on to him in London he was feeling fearfully low, I do assure you. A chap of his sort naturally hates to think he’s on the shelf. I had known him since I was a little ’un, when we used to go to Scotland for our holiday, and he would be home from sea and staying with his cousin at the manse. He’d make us boats and spin all sorts of yarns, and we thought him a bigger man than the admiral of the fleet.
“Well, old Shaw was fancying there was nothing for it but to go back to his place with the P. & O., which seemed a
bit flat after what he’d been having, and meant he would never get beyond being the captain of a liner, and not that for a good many years tocome, when a cable came from this Miss Higg] esby-B rowne offering him command of this expedition. As neither of us had ever heard of Miss HigglesbyBrowne, we were both a bit floored for a time. But Shaw smoked a pipe on it, and then he said ‘Old chap, if they’ll give me my figure, I’m their man.’ And I said, ‘Quite so, old chap, and I’ll go along, too.’
“I had to argue quite a bit, but in the end the dear old boy let me come—after wiring the pater and what not. And I do assure you, Miss Harding, it strikes me as no end of a lark—besides ex-
pecting it to put. old Shaw on h:s feet and give us hatfuls of money all round.”
Well, it was a plausible story, and I had no doubt, so far as the Honorable Cuthbert was concerned, an absolutely truthful one. The beautiful youth was manifestly as guileless as a small boy playing pirate with a wooden sword. But as to Mr. Shaw, who could tell that it hadn’t after all been a trumped-up affair between Miss Browne and him—that his surprise at the message was not assumed'to throw dust in the eyes of his young and trusting friends? Are even the most valiant adventurers invariably honest? Left behind by his companions because of his injury, his chance of an enduring fame
cut off. with no prospects but those of an officer on an ocean liner, might he not lend a willing ear to a scheme for plucking a fat and willing pigeon? So great was my faith in Aunt Jane’s gullibility, so dark my distrust of Miss Browne, that, ail connected with the enterprise lay under the cloud of my suspicion. The Honorable Mr. Vane I had already so far exculpated as to wonder if he were not in some way being victimized too; but Mr. Shaw, after even a casual glimpse of him, one couldn’t picture as a victim. I felt that he must have gone into the enterprise with his eyes open to its absurdity, and fully aware that, the only gold to be won by anybody must come out of the pocket . of Aunt Jane.
.As these reflections passed through m\ mind I looked up and saw the subject of them approaching. He lifted his helmet, but met my eyes unsmilingly, with a sort of sober scrutiny. He had the tanned skin of a sailor, and brown hair cropped close and showing a trace of gray. This and a certain dour grim look he had made me at first consider him quite middle-aged, though I knew later that he was not yet thirty-five. As to the grimness, perhaps I unwillingly conceded, part, of it was due to the scar which seamed the right temple to the eyebrow, in a straight livid line. But it was a grim face anyway, strongjawed, with piercing steel-blue eyes.
He was welcomed by Mr. Vane with a joyous thump on the shoulder-blade. “I say, old man. Miss Harding has turned out to be the most fearful doubting Thomas—thinks whole scheme quite mad and all that sort of thing. I’m far too great a duffer to convert her, but perhaps you might, don’t you know?”
Mr. Shaw looked at me steadily. His eyes were the kind that seem to see all and reveal nothing. I felt a hot spark of defiance rising in my own.
“And indeed it is too bad,” he said coolly, “that the trip should not be more to Miss Harding’s liking.” The rough edges of his Scotch burr had been smoothed down by much wandering, but you knew at once on which side of the Solway he had seen the light.
“It is not a question of my liking," I retorted, trying to preserve an unmoved and lofty manner, though my heart was beating rather quickly at finding myself actually crossing swords with the redoubtable adventurer, this man who had often faced death, I could not refuse to believe, as steadily as he was facing me now.
“It is not at all a question of my liking or not liking the trip, but of the trip itself being—quite the wildest thing ever heard of out of a story-book.” Harsher terms had sprung first to my iips, but had somehow failed to get beyond them.
“Ah—yet the world would be the poorer if certain wild trips had not been taken. I seem to remember one Christopher Columbus, for instance.”
By a vivid lightning-flash of wrath I felt that this adventurer was laughing at me a little under his sober exterior —even stirring me up as one does an angry kitten.
“Yes,” I flared out, “but Columbus did not inveigle a confiding old lady to go along with him!” Of course Aunt Jane is not, properly speaking, an old lady, but it was much more effective to pose her as one for the moment.
It was certainly effective, to judge by the sudden firm setting of his mouth.
“Lad,” he said quietly, “lend a hand below, will you? They are overhauling some of our stuff ’tween decks.”
He waited until the Honorable Cuthbert, looking rather dazed, had retired. We stood facing each other, my breath coming rather hurriedly. There was a kind of still force about this mastered anger of the dour Scot, like the brooding of black clouds that at any moment may send forth their devastating fire. Y et I myself was not endowed with red hair for nothing.
“Miss Harding,” he said slowly, “that was a bitter word you said.”
My head went up.
“Bitter, perhaps,” I flung back, “but is it not true? It is for you to answer.” To be continued