Ghosts are queer things at the best of times, but they are particularly eerie around Christmas time.
ALMOST, Paul Quent wished himself at sea again. A dozen times this last few months he had tried to argue the thing out with himself, yet never had he solved his own vague problem.
Logically he ought to be contented and peaceful, having arrived at the goal for which he had fought persistently during the last decade and a half. Actually he was unsatisfied even restless. And it was in those movements of unrest that his mind flew back to the tangible factors in life which he had known and appreciated even though his object had been to get away from them—the scream of wind in the rigging, a deck that heaved under him, sea vagabondage.
It had always seemed such a desirable thing to aim at, a home on the cliff’s edge, his savings wisely invested, no cares, and a bed that stood rigid on its four legs o’ nights whatever wind was blowing outside. He was young, too, for a retired master mariner. Thirty-eight last birthday and full of vitality. True, the gods had been fairly kind to him, but he had kept his head screwed on squarely, his eyes open for such material favors as the gods might proffer anywhere on the seven seas. During the last five years, with his own ship, he had made money more quickly, trading in the West Indies. Finally came the moment when there was enough to keep him in decent comfort for the rest of his days, and he retired —to this!
He had bought the house and everything it-contained on characteristic impulse. He was a Canadian by birth', as also were his father and mother, but his grandfather was a sea rover who at one time lived not far from here on the Dover cliffs in England. Many a time when he Was a youngster he had listened to the tales his old grand-dad told of hard early days on wind jammers, of pirates, and of smugglers even close to this spot under the bold Dover headland. It was, perhaps, some whim of romance or sentiment which had prompted him to buy Cliff House as soon as he saw it, while he happened to be in England, even though it had always been his intention to spend his final days of leisure in Canada. The only thing he had since added was a big telescope, through which he watched other men go down to the sea in ships, each with a bone in her teeth—steamers that were making for the rushing muddy waters of the Hugli, passenger palaces outward bound for Sydney, sailing craft from whose poop tall spars would seem to comb the stars as the far flung canvas drew them to the ends of the earth.
Sometimes, watching these things, Paul Quent smiled queerly. He knew those ends of the earth. Knew the typhoons with which the proud outward-bound four-
masters must grapple, knew the wild welter that lay awaiting the haughty ocean greyhound in the Great Bight, knew the Hugli from Diamond Harbor to Calcutta where the sands thrust up implacable arms and with incredible speed draw down to their bosom a ship on which the pilot has blundered. He could afford to smile, there at the end of a telescope, aloof, watching that world through which he had won his way.
Almost, Captain Quent wished himself at sea again. For one thing, his problems there had been definite, understandable things. There were no ghosts out yonder where one’s face was lashed with spindrift and the good smell of Stockholm tar came, homelike, to the nostrils.
Ghosts! He looked around the queer old room. The house had been standing for more than a couple of centuries; you could feel the influence of other generations.
In a way he loved the place. His first quick decision to make it his, to crystallize his old visions within these boundaries, was one which he had never quite regretted. It wasn’t the rambling old house with its two-foot thick granite walls, nor the garden that probably hadn’t changed much since the eighteenth century, that kept him from peace. Nor could he actually have analyzed all this unrest faithfully and traced it to its source.
He turned from the telescope, and poked at the fire in the open grate with the heel of his boot. Here was warmth, comfort. There was no dam fool mate on the bridge who had to be watched lest he piled the vessel up somewhere, no icy blast into which one had to dodge at midnight for one final look round before turning in. Here one could grow old gracefully if only . if only . . . His eyebrows came together with a jerk. That eternal darned if!
He pressed a sturdy thumb on a bell push. Like a Jack-in-a-box there popped through the door Capt. Quent’s solitary servant. Higgins, also a Canadian, had been his steward at sea for years. He confessed to sixty, but he had been making that same confession ever since he’d known the skipper, even before they had started trading in the Indies. The skipper brought him ashore because Higgins would have been like a lost sheep had he remained at sea under some other captain.
“Higgins,” the skipper caught the man’s gaze for a moment, “what’s the matter with this place?”
The steward rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“I dunno. I done my best to keep it all right.”
“Don’t talk like a fool, Higgins. I’m not complaining about you. I asked you what was the matter with this place.”
The steward’s eyes wandered from his employer to the fire, to the window, back to Captain Quent.
“What’s the matter with it, did you say, sir?” came from him, finally. “Why, it’s sure haunted, that’s all, sir.”
THIS was the first time either of them had actually expressed such a view, yet Paul Quent refrained from scoffing. He picked up an old pipe and began stuffing the blackened bowl.
“It—it sounds peculiar to hear you say that, Higgins. You’re not going to stand right there in the sunlight and seriously tell me you believe in ghosts?”
Higgins blinked. He had a habit of doing that, which gave him an owlish appearance, when perplexed.
“Have you ever heard tell of the Break o' Day up the Hoogli, sir?”
“Yes. Merely fo’c’sle chatter.”
“Maybe, I dunno. But I’ve met scores of men who’ve seen her since, sailin’ hell for leather over the Mayapur Bar, just as she went twenty years ago and ran aground. She got sucked under in five minutes, she did, with every mother’s son aboard. But on a dark night you can still hear the women screamin’.”
“Well, so the story goes, Higgins. But there’s nothing like that here, is there?”
The steward blinked.
“Why, no. Not like that."
“Yet you don’t like the place?”
Higgins’ eyes opened wide arid his face cracked i nto a smile.
“Not like it? I never said so, sir. Why, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to see Canada again, but we couldn’t be comfortabler than we are.”
“Yet you said it was haunted.”
Higgins glanced about him, not nervously, but as one who was sensing the atmosphere.
“I ain’t afraid of ghosts, sir. Leastwise not here.”
Paul Quent laughed.
“We’ve spent a good many years together, Higgins. Tell me, are you sorry you left the sea to come to this place?”
The master mariner applied a match to his pipe, puffed at it slowly.
“Tell me, exactlyhe said presently, “what makes you say Cliff House is haunted.”
To a bristly chin the steward applied a thumb* pensively.
“Well, sir, it’s only my idea, but that’s what I think. It feels haunted, as you might say, and—and there’s one or two other things.”
“Yes, yes. Go on. It’s those other things I want you to talk about.”
“Sometimes I’ve heard strange noises at nights, sir.” “Maybe. You’ll hear noises in any house—windows rattling, doors creaking or even floor boards squeaking. Nothing unnatural in that, you know, Higgins.”
“No, sir.” Then he blinked, by which the skipper saw there might be more to come.
“Out with it, Higgins. You’ve got something on your chest, haven’t you?”
“Only this, sir. Things don’t move themselves.”
Captain Quent’s lips tightened. He had tried to make full allowance for the man’s imagination, but this promised interest.
“Tell me all about it.”
“Why, sir, you know how it is when you begin to think things. You can’t hardly be sure which is true and which is fancy. I’m always wondering that now, but something happened last week while you were in London that didn’t leave no loophole. That's when I made sure the place v/as haunted. I’d locked up and gone to bed. About three minutes before the big clock in the hall struck midnight I woke up with a start, hearing a banging and a clatter. At first I thought you’d come back, sir. I hopped out of bed quick, slipped on my pants, and came downstairs with a candle. But nobody was there.”
“For the love of Mike, why haven’t you told me this before?” demanded Quent.
“Wait a bit, sir, then maybe you’ll understand. I went from one room to another till I got to the library, and there I saw what had made the clatter. Half a dozen books had fallen off a shelf on to the old brass coal scuttle. You’ll say I wras dreaming, sir, but I knoiv. I was wide awake as I am this minute.”
“Even so, Higgins, I don’t see why you should think ghosts had been there. Books might fall by themselvesbegin slipping, you know, and end up with a pile of ’em on the floor.”
“Maybe, sir, but hear me out. While I was standing there holding the candle, some of the grease dripped down on to the brass coal scuttle. I saw it fall and straightened the candle. The grease was there next morning.”
“That doesn’t prove anything, Higgins, except that you weren’t dreaming.”
“But it does prove so much, and that’s everything. Well, sir, I went around the windows. Every one was
fastened. The front door was properly latched. The back door was still locked, with the key on the inside. Nobody could have got in. I left the books just where they wrere, and went to bed again to think it over. I mightn't have thought anything more about it, but next morning when I went down the books were back on the shelf! Holy sufferin’ cats, sir! You could have knocked me down with a feather when I saw it!”
The black eyes of Captain Quent were fixed piercingly on Higgins.
“Why have you kept this from me?” The voice was curiously stern.
“Well, sir, I can’t say exactly, but I didn’t expect anybody to believe a yarn like that. I thought you’d think I was going crazy if I told you.”
“I don’t think anything of the kind, Higgins,” said the skipper quietly. “Tell me, has anything else like that happened?”
“N-no. Nothing I could be certain of, except maybe one afternoon when you and me were out in the sail boat. Just before we went you sat down on that oak chair by the side of the grandfather’s clock, tying your shoe-lace. I remembered, afterwards, just wdiere you were. Well, the chair was then in the same place as it alw'ays is, but when we got back it had shifted itself to the other side of the clock. Maybe you recollect I asked you if you’d moved it, sir, and you said you didn’t think so.”
“I remember something about it, but I didn’t know1 what you were getting at.”
“And I didn’t like to say too much, sir, because you might easy have thought I w'as going plumb funny in the
Paul Quent nodded two or three times, then slowly strode over to the wdndow.
“Is that all, sir?” asked the steward.
The master mariner looked around at the man strangely. “Yes, that’s all for the present, Higgins. And it’s quite enough to get on with, isn’t it?”
Covtinned on page 62
Continued from page 13
The steward drifted noiselessly out of the room while Paul Quent stood at the window watching one corner of the garden as the light faded. It was where an old elm shaded a bit of the lawn. Dozens of times during the last fortnight his eyes had been drawn to that spot, more especially at night when the moonlight was dripping through the trees. It was a thing one couldn’t talk to Higgins about, couldn’t, perhaps, talk to anyone about. In away he was glad, even relieved, to have heard the steward’s story. It didn’t prove anything, but it relieved his mind. Lots of times he had laughed at himself, told himself it was sheer imagination, but a man doesn’t like to feel that his brain is playing tricks—especially such tricks.
He had seen her so extraordinarily clearly out there in the moonlight, within a few feet of the window. She had stood motionless for maybe a full minute, looking almost straight at him. It was her eyes that he remembered most vividly— great blue eyes filled with sorrow. Then she moved away toward the elm tree— more a glide than a walk—and the figure grew filmy, etherial. At the instant that
she vanished Paul Quent became conscious of a fierce longing for her to come back. He rushed across the room and out into the night, but she had disappeared into the flood of moonlight. Everything was quiet. No breeze stirred the pines. Faintly the bark of a dog at a farm half a mile away came over the clear wintry air.
“Is somebody there?” He could recall even now the surprise at hearing his own words—foolish words, he realized, even as he uttered them. In no direction could a living girl have run out of sight in that time. For long moments he had stood deeply puzzled. If it were a mere figment of the brain, nothing remained, yet if it were a ghost she might still be near though intangible.
At last, still perplexed, he had walked back to the house and from this same window looked out into the night until the clock struck twelve. Neither then nor now was he conscious of that uneasiness which is usually evoked by the supernatural. At the time this girl of the shadows had seemed so real, so vitally appealing, until she began to drift into that nothingness from which, apparently, there was no recall.’
Two weeks ago! The incident had never since been wholly from his mind. Even though he continually assured himself that it was just a trick of the brain, he was amazed, still, at the effect produced upon himself of conjuring up the vision. It stirred longings, thrust fuel upon the fire of his unrest, so that at times he tramped miles in the crisp, wintry air wondering whether something more satisfying might have come with the fight to live, had he continued it at sea, or whether this old pile of granite and mortar about which was interwoven the atmosphere of other generations, should in itself be sufficient to content a man. A year ago when his ship at times was almost a plaything of the four winds, when perhaps for days on end nothing but keen judgment and grit kept the vessel above water, this had seemed a sufficiently pleasing prospect; now he was less sure of it. He was free as the air, but with that freedom had come a tinge of emptiness.
Abruptly he strode across the room and pressed a bell '
“Higgins,” he said, as the man appeared, “I don’t understand that business in the library, nor one or two other matters. Maybe I never shall, but I’d like to, get me? If anything else of the same sort happens, come and tell me instantly.”
“Yes, sir. I hope it won’t,” replied Higgins.
“You do, eh?” muttered Paul Quent, staring into the fire, alone once more a moment later. “I wonder . . . I wonder if I hope it won’t.”
There were days in the December sunshine when Higgins doubted his own judgment. It seemed incredible that ghostly influences could dwell about the house. There were nights when he sat up in bsd, listening to the moaning wind and the tapping of a branch on his window, picturing dark moving outlines coming through the closed door of his room. Once when he awoke unaccountably at three o'clock in the morning he was certain that some presence was in the room.
He was sure it was coming nearer and nearer with uncanny silence. He tried to speak but a croak only came from his lips. Then for an apparent eternity he lay motionless, his heart pounding violently until he felt that he would suffocate if the tension were not broken. Scarcely knowing what he was doing, he extended a trembling hand. His fingers closed on a box of matches. With a sudden movement he struck a light.
The door rattled. He fancied there came a rush of wind through the room and a sighing, but of the latter he could not afterwards be sure, for the pounding of his blood was affecting his ears. The clock on his mantelpiece was ticking away consolingly, in the light of the candle to which he had put the match, his pants lay where he had folded them on a sea chest, a picture of Lord Kitchener looked sternly down upon him. Everything appeared natural, just as when he had gone to bed.
“Holy cats! What was it, anyway?”
Remaining unconvinced, he left the candle burning, even as he drifted back into troubled sleep. Higgins said nothing of this incident to the “old man.” It wouldn’t be easy to tell exactly what had happened—to separate fancy horn fact. And as for fact, he couldn’t swear to a thing.
It was a singularly un-festive Christmas Eve for Paul Quent. He had intended to spend a few days with friends, but the party had been cancelled owing to illness. So Paul remained at his house by the sea, more conscious of his loneliness, perhaps, than at any time since he had settled down ashore. He was reading in a big comfortable arm chair before the open fire, at ten o’clock at night, when the kerosene lamp began to burn low. At first he readjusted the angle of his book, then finding it more difficult to follow the print, looked around at the dwindling flame. The lamp was almost empty.
“Darn that idiot Higgins!” muttered the master mariner, remembering that the man was out and might not be back until the early hours. Paul Quent turned the flickering flame out altogether and sat a while dreamily in the fire light. He was not quite sure where the kerosene tin was, he had tramped fifteen miles over the frozen roads that day, the chair was seductive, and his book was not particularly enthralling, anyway. He lay back contemplatively.
A log tumbled out on to the hearth. Lazily he fished for it with the tongs and then sank into the chair again. After all,
he had spent worse Christmas Eves. One, he remembered vividly, was when he was second mate, in the Torres Strait, and the ship had piled itself up on an outer reef in a rough sea. The vessel had broken her back and most of the boats had carried away in heavy green seas. Darkness came, shutting off everything but sound— the sound of implacable water with immeasurable power and no mercy.
He and others who were not swept overboard, lashed themselves as far above the welter as possible, not with any hope of being saved, but because it is the instinct of man to postpone the moment of death. Then came a crash: in that blackness nobody knew what happened. For a fraction of a second Paul was aware of a blow on the head, and everything remained a blank until next day when by degrees he found himself in the sick bay of some British cruiser that had poked her nose into his affairs just when he was drifting unconcernedly into eternity.
The retired master mariner settled to a more comfortable position on the cushion. No danger of seas washing him out of this arm chair. No danger of anything.
Of a sudden his head moved, then for a few seconds he sat still as a rock. His quick ears had detected a slight sound somewhere in the hall. First his mind flew to the possibility of Higgins having returned unexpectedly, but that was not probable. Besides, Higgins never did anything quietly in his life.
The skipper’s impulse was to open the door and see what was happening in the hall, but still he remained motionless, filled with a sense of being on the brink of some discovery.
It was eerie waiting. A minute—two.
The door opened silently and a figure entered the room. In the fire glow Paul Quent recognized her. It was his girl of the shadows. The click of heels on the polished floor beyond the carpet told its own story. At least his unknown visitor was material. But even more than that was he concerned with the change in her. So far she had not seen him, buried in the depths of that big chair, but he could see her fairly distinctly now. And he could hear her. She was humming softly but jubilantly, and on her features, which he had remembered always as a picture of tragic unhappiness, there was mirthful excitement. Paul Quent smiled. Yes, clearly he was on the brink of some discovery. Truly a piquant Christmas Eve!
After standing in a listening attitude for a moment she turned toward an old bureau. A drawer slid open. Paul craned his neck. The girl was on her knees, her back toward him. He watched, vaguely thrilled. With the aid of a flash lamp she was exploring the drawer. An up-to-date ghost this!
The humming had ceased. Whatever she was after, the girl was intent enough now. It was as good as any staged drama. Paul Quent intended to go on watching, prepared for developments, but bis arm touched the pipe balanced on the edge of the chair. It fell with a soft thud on to the carpet: in the stillness of the room that thud was as significant as a burglar alarm.
A quick suppressed cry from the girl as she sprang to her feet; at the same moment Quent rose.
“Who is it?”
She turned her little searchlight on to him, but there was terror in her voice.
“Can I help you?” His answer was grimly ironic.
“Oh—oh—it’s you! I thought you were out. You went down the road half an hour ago.”
• The ingenuousness of it made Quent want to lau¿h.
“Yes, but I came back across the fields. Do you mind?”
“Yes, I do, very much indeed.” It was a quaint position. The man wasn’t sure whose move ought to come next. There was a weighted pause.
“In that case—I’m sorry I came back,” he said at length. “But wouldn’t you care to explain? Is there any way I can help you?”
“No. No, I’m afraid not.”
“Think again. There must be. This isn’t the first time you’ve been here.”
“How did you know that? I thought --” she stopped.
“Once you knocked several books off a shelf.”
“Yes, and when I heard someone coming I got behind a curtain. Afterwards I put the books back because I didn’t think they had been noticed on the floor.”
“Higgins is convinced a ghost did it.
Also he is convinced that when you took a chair out of the hall, presumably to stand on, and put it back in another position, the same ghost was at work.”
“That was careless of me. Please let me go now.”
“I shouldn’t dream of detaining you— against your wish.” He strode across the room, went into the hall, and returned a moment later with a burning lamp. This was the first really clear view he had ever had of the girl. He stared, even a little rudely; his shadow lady was charming in a way he had never anticipated. She was regarding him in an oddly puzzled fashion.
“You mean—you can’t mean you didn’t mind my coming here?”
“I shouldn’t mind your coming as often as you like if you’d only tell me what you want.”
The girl shook her head, but Quent sensed hesitation.
“You want something here in my house?”
“Do I?” She said it with a non-committal smile. He hadn’t seen her smile before: it made him wonder why other girls didn’t smile in the same way.
“And you want it very badly, or you wouldn’t have taken such chances.”
“I didn’t really think I was taking any chance. I have a key for the front door, and when both you and the man were out—”
“True, but though I don’t want to frighten you, it is risky going into other people’s houses.”
She gave a slight shrug.
“I didn’t think at first that it would be necessary to come in more than once.” “Dear, dear, the old story!” he said, with mock solemnity. “One crime leads to another.”
A flicker of anxiety played about her features for a moment.
“It wasn’t really a crime,” she protested.
“All right,” he replied resignedly. “But what are we going to do about the future? Am I to understand that you intend to come a burgling regularly, every time the coast is clear, until you get what you want?”
Some deep problem was Doubling her. She was searching the face of this man anxiously.
“If only you’d let me!” came from her at last.
For a space Paul Quent considered the position in silence.
“My dear young lady, doesn’t it strike you that such a proceeding would-be, well, distinctly irregular? Why not* tell me exactly what you are after? If the idea is reasonable—I’ll go further and say if it’s only a little unreasonable—you shall take the thing, whatever it is.”
The girl gazed at her shoe pensively. “That’s very kind of you, Captain Quent,” she said. “May I think it over until to-morrow?”
He gestured vaguely with one hand. “Think it over as long as you wish. In any case I shan’t lock up the silver and things. You understand what I mean?” She bit her lip quickly.
“I understand. You mean you realize I shan’t steal anything. I—I am grateful to you for that. B-but all the same I feel dreadfully humiliated. I think I’ll go now, please.”
Quent stood a little on one side.
“And you won’t even tell me your— ” “My name? Not to-night. To-morrow, perhaps, if”—a brilliant smile flashed— “if you’re in when 1 call.”
“I wish you’d tell me one thing,” he said. “I saw you once before. You stood in front of that window and looked in, but apparently couldn’t see me. Then you walked away. I ran after you but you’d disappeared as completely as if you were a real ghost. How did you manage it?” “You’d make a wonderful detective,” she scoffed, a merry twinkle in her eyes. “When I heard you coming I simply stepped behind the big elm tree.”
“That’s queer!” he observed.
“That’s what you said at the time, only you added another word.” She walked past him. Unhesitatingly her fingers turned the latch and then she was gone. From somewhere out in the darkness a ripple of laughter tricked back. After a while he closed the door and returned to his room. He stared at the open bureau drawer. But for that, he reflected, there was nothing to prove he hadn’t just risen from a dream in the big arm chair.
It was absurd, of course, that Paul Quent should have been depressed because
«o burglar came to his premises next day nor the next, but on the third morning the mail carrier brought something which was not without considerable significance. An ordinary latch key with a tie-on label attached. Mechanically he compared it with the key he always carried: they were identical.
“Maybe she got what she wanted last time,” he ruminated lugubriously. But he rarely left the house now. Always there was the chance that she might come back. The place seemed different these last few days. Something of her personality lingered. In a way he felt that something would remain indefinitely. This was his home, the first real home he had known since boyhood, but, he was beginning to realize acutely, arm chairs to sit in, fires to keep him warm, and three square meals a day, do not necessarily constitute a home.
That rippling laughterwhich had trailed out of the darkness came to him now at odd moments—when his eyes strayed from a book to the warm glow of the fire, when he sat alone at dinner, when his thoughts wandered to the sea and ships and the voyages that might yet be his if life didn’t offer something more complete, more satisfying than a house which after all was only a shell.
And then, of a sudden, came a slim form along the garden path, snow glistening on her furs. At sight of her the pulse of Paul Quent quickened. Each day’s waiting taught him the more clearly that his lady of the shadows had brought fresh ideals into his life, and that if she came no more to this house of his by the sea he must, sooner or later, turn his back upon it and, at least for a space, seek forgetfulness in the old sea vagabondage.
“I still feel dreadfully humiliated,” she said, sinking into one of his chairs before the fire. “It is largely my own fault, though. When I arrived in England six weeks ago I intended to call on you at once, but when I talked it over with a lawyer and said you were a retired sailor, he told me to be careful. And you see if you had been a sort of sea-ogre it would have been dangerous—”
Quent’s lip twitched.
“You’re laughing at me,” she went on, “but it would have been dangerous. Captain Quent, first of all I must ask you to forgive me.”
“The only thing for me to forgive is your staying away five days.” There was a quality, a seriousness in his voice that arrested her for a moment.
“That is kind of you,” she added. “But it would have been a difficult position—' very difficult—if you had been, well, different. My name is Margaret Rainsford. I was born in this house, Captain Quent.”
“You mean that the Mr. Rainsford who died here was your father?”
“Precisely. For over a year I have been staying with my aunt in Australia. I went out there with my father,who was interested in certain mining ventures in the Fiji Islands. He felt sure there was trickery going on, and decided to investigate. Dad was easy-going up to a point, but when anyone tried to cheat him he was a terror. His partner must have found this out when dad arrived at Suva. There was a shipment of platinum, worth nearly three thousand pounds, ready for market. His partner had assured him all along that though he was optimistic, no platinum had yet been discovered. Dad threatened to shoot the man, and found that several smaller shipments of platinum had already been sent away: The metal was in bars, packed in a small wooden box. Three thousand pounds’ worth of it doesn’t weigh much. Dad took possession of the box, claiming it as his own, and wrote saying he was coming to join me at Sydney almost immediately. He had heart trouble and I expect the scene with his partner made it worse. Anyway, the ship in which he left Suva caught fire and everyone took to the boats. By this time daddy was so ill that he did not expect to live, but he took the platinum along with him, and the open boat he was in landed at Fresnin Island. It’s a small place, about a hundred miles south of Suva. There are a few planters living on it—a Dutchman, a German and two rough Australians. The men who had landed with daddy were just the kind you’d expect to find working on those boats—raw humanity who would rob anyone. More than one of them had a suspicion that there was something valuable in the box. Moreover, remember, daddy was afraid he might die any day, in which case there would not have been
much chance of my ever seeing that platinum. Anyway in his weak state they could easily have stolen it from him.
“So he buried it, where it would be perfectly safe, and where it could easily be found again. A trading cutter took them off the island and by that time daddy was so ill that he didn’t dare to take the platinum along with him. It is there now, Captain Quent, where he left it.”
_ “I thought you were going to say it was hidden somewhere in this house,” said Quent. “Of course, if it had been, you’d have been at liberty to—”
“Wait a minute. The trading cutter that took them off the island fell in with a ship bound for England and so daddy came straight here. When he reached England he died. I could not bear the thought of coming back here alone so I cabled his lawyers to sell the house and furniture and then the last letter my father ever wrote reached me in Sydney. In it he said he had drawn a rough map of Fresnin Island and marked on it the exact spot where the platinum was buried.” “And the map? Where is that?” Quent asked.
“He put it into the leaves of a book— Walker’s ‘Studies of Geology.’ It ought to be on one of the shelves in the library, but it isn’t. If it had been, perhaps you would never have heard of me, but I’ve hunted everywhere.”
Quent sat back with a puzzled frown. Suddenly his face brightened.
“I remember putting several books into the lumber room to make room for some of my own,” he said. “Please come with me.” Together they made their way to a little room on the second floor, filled with old trunks. A small pile of books lay on the floor. Quent stooped and after a moment’s search handed a well-worn volume to his lady of the shadows.
“You look inside,” he said. “It’s—it’s sort of sacred, isn’t it?”
From between the pages Margaret recovered a half sheet of notepaper. On it was written “Map of Fresnin Island. Platinum buried between two palms marked with a cross.”
Big tears trickled down the girl’s cheeks. “Poor daddy,” she said. “He told me in the letter he’d made it quite clear on this map, so that nobody could make a mistake. You see—I had to be careful, hadn’t I?”
Quent took the map and examined it closely, but his mind was thousands of miles away from such things as platinum and remote islands. He noticed the paper was shaking absurdly in his fingers, and he knew that the unsteadiness of those fingers of his was due to something suspiciously like fear. He knew also thr.t within another minute he must inevitably say that which might drive this magnetic mortal away from him into the shadows forever.
“I—I don’t believe —a girl should go on a long journey like that—alone,” he said a little hoarsely, handing the map back to her. As he did so his hand touched hers, and the contact brought him crashing back into the world of reality. Here, he knew in that instant, was the answer to all the unrest and longing that had tormented him. For weeks he had ached for fulfilment of ideals which she had created. “And yet,” he went on under merciless self-control, “you’ve only seen me once before to-night!”
Again that rippling laughter trailed: she was fleeing down the stairs that had known her footfall from babyhood. In the hall he caught her up. His arms went about her shoulders and as he drew her face gently toward his he looked steadily into her eyes and saw no fear in their depths.
“Wonderful, wonderful shadow lady!” he said. “Promise me you won’t disappear again just yet.”
“I must. It’s after ten o’clock,” she smilingly told him, her fingers clinging tentatively to his coat sleeve.
“Yes, but to-morrow—and all the other days,” he urged. “I feel that it will take me years—a whole life-time—to tell you half the things I have to say. And then there’s that trip out to Fresnin Island. It would be a glorious honey-m—”
It all seemed to happen in one bewildering second. Her lips touched his shyly and she had wriggled free. He stood rooted to the spot even though the click of her heels told him she was disappearing once more. But this time he realized that fact without dismay. Life had become a strangely beautiful thing into which he was only just entering.