"Must have been the doctor," said Diane, rising and adding wood to the fire. "Johnny went into the village for him."
"Hum!" said Philip doubtfully.
"He had very nice hands," went on Diane calmly. "They were very skillful and gentle, as you say. Moreover, he was young and exceedingly good-looking."
"Hum!" said Philip caustically. "With all those beauty points, he must be a dub medically. What stung so?"
"Strong salt brine, piping hot," said the girl discouragingly. "It's a wildwood remedy for washing wounds."
"Didn't the dub carry any conventional antiseptics?"
"You are talking too much!" flashed Diane with sudden color. "The wound is slight, but you bled a lot; and the doctor made particular reference to rest and quiet."
"Good Lord!" said Philip in deep disgust. "There's your pretty physician for you! 'Rest and quiet' for a knife scratch. Like as not he'll want me to take a year off to convalesce!"
"He left you another powder to take to-night," remarked Diane severely. "Moreover, he said you must be very quiet to-day and he'd be in, in the morning, to see you."
Something jubilant laughed and sang in Philip's veins. A day in Arcadia lay temptingly at his feet.
"Great Scott," he protested feebly. "I can't. I really can't, you know—"
"You'll have to," said Diane with unsmiling composure. "The doctor said so."
"After all," mused Philip approvingly, "it's the young medical fellows who have the finest perceptions. I do need rest."
Off in the checkered shadows of the forest a crow cawed derisively.
"Did you like your shirt?" asked Diane with a distracting hint of raillery under her long, black lashes.
"It's substantial," admitted Philip gratefully, "and democratic."
"You've still another," she said smiling. "Johnny bought them in the village."
"Johnny," said Philip gratefully, "is a trump."
Diane filled a kettle from a pail of water by the tree and smiled.
"There's a hammock over there by the tent," she said pleasantly. "Johnny strung it up this morning. The trees are drying nicely and presently I'm going to wander about the forest with a field glass and a notebook and you can take a nap."
Philip demurred. Finding his assistance inexorably refused, however, he repaired to the hammock and watched the camp of his lady grow neat and trim again.
On the bright embers of the camp fire, the kettle hummed.
"There now," said Philip suddenly, mindful of the hot, stinging wound-wash, "that is the noise I heard last night just after you stamped your foot and before the doctor came."
"Nonsense!" said Diane briskly. "Your head's full of fanciful notions. A bump like that on the back of your head is bound to tamper some with your common sense." And humming lightly she scalded the coffeepot and tin cups and set them in the sun to dry. Philip's glance followed her, a winsome gypsy, brown and happy, to the green and white van, whence she presently appeared with a field glass and a notebook.
"Of course," she began, halting suddenly with heightened color, "it doesn't matter in the least—but it does facilitate conversation at times to know the name of one's guest—no matter how accidental and mysterious he may be."
"Philip!" he responded gravely but with laughing eyes. "It's really very easy to remember." Diane stamped her foot.
"I do think," she flashed indignantly, "that you are the most trying young man I've ever met."
"I'm trying of course—" explained Philip, "trying to tell you my name. I greatly regret," he went on deferentially, "that there are a number of exceptional circumstances which have resulted in the brief and simple—Philip. For one thing, a bump which muddles a man's common sense is very likely to muddle his memory. And so, for the life of me, I can't seem to conjure up a desirable form of address from you to me except Philip. And Philip," he added humbly, "isn't really such a bad sort of name after all."
There was the whir and flash of a bird's wing in the forest the color of Diane's cheek. An instant later the single vivid spot of crimson in Philip's line of vision was the back of his lady's sweater.
A BULLET IN ARCADIA
"It's time you were in bed," said Diane. "Johnny's out staring at the moon and that's the final chore of the evening. Besides, it's nine o'clock."
"I shan't go to bed," Philip protested. "Johnny spread this tarpaulin by the fire expressly for me to recline here and think and smoke and b'jinks! I'm going to! After buying me two shirts yesterday and tobacco to-day—to say nothing of bringing home an unknown chicken for invalid stew, I can't with decency offend him."
"I can't see why he's taken such a tremendous shine to you!" complained Diane mockingly.
"Nor I!" agreed Philip, knocking the ashes from his pipe.
"You've been filling his pockets with money!" accused Diane indignantly. "It's the only explanation of the demented way he trots around after you."
"Disposition, beauty, singular grace and common sense all pale in the face of the ulterior motive," Philip modestly told his pipe. "What a moon!" he added softly. "Great guns, what a moon!"
Beyond, through the dark of the trees, softly silvered by the moon above the ridge, glimmered the river, winding along by peaceful forest and meadows edged with grass and mint. There was moon-bright dew upon the clover and high upon the ridge a tree showed dark and full against the moon in lonely silhouette. It was an enchanted wood of moonlit depth and noisy quiet, of shrilling crickets, the plaintive cries of tree frogs, the drowsy crackle of the camp fire, or the lap of water by the shore, with sometimes the lonely hoot of an owl.
"A while back," mused Diane innocently, "there was a shooting star above the ridge—"
"Yes?" said Philip puffing comfortably at his pipe.
"I meant to call your attention to it but 'Hey!' and 'Look!' were dreadfully abrupt."
"There is always—'Philip!'" insinuated that young man. Diane bit her lip and relapsed into silence.
"You didn't tell me," said Philip presently, "whether or not you found any more flowers this morning."
"Only heaps of wild blackberry," Diane replied briefly. "But the trees were quite as devoid of new birds as Johnny's detective trip of clues."
"Too bad!" sympathized Philip. "I'll go with you in the morning."
"The bump on your head," suggested Diane pointedly, "is growing malignant!"
"By no means!" said Philip lazily. "With the exception of certain memory erasures, it's steadily improving."
"Why," demanded Diane with an unexpected and somewhat resentful flash of reminiscence, "why did you tell me your motor was deaf and dumb and insane when it wasn't?"
"I didn't," said Philip honestly. "If you'll recall our conversation, you'll find I worded that very adroitly."
Thoroughly vexed Diane frowned at the fire.
"Was it necessary to affect callow inexperience and such a happy-go-lucky, imbecile philosophy?" she demanded cuttingly.
"Hum!" admitted Philip humbly. "I'm a salamander."
"And you said you were waiting to be rescued!" she accused indignantly.
"Well, in a sense I was. I saw you coming through the trees—and there are times when one must talk." He met her level glance of reproach with one of frank apology. "If I see a man whose face I like, I speak to him. Surely Nature does not flash that subtle sense of magnetism for nothing. If I am to live fully, then must I infuse into my insular existence the electric spark of sympathetic friendship. Why impoverish my existence by a lost opportunity? If I had not alighted that day upon the lake and waited for you to come through the trees—" he fell suddenly quiet, knocking the ashes from his pipe upon the ground beside him.
"The moon is climbing," said Diane irrelevantly, "and Johnny is waiting to bandage your shoulder."
"Let him wait," returned Philip imperturbably. "And no matter what I do the moon will go on climbing." He lazily pointed the stem of his pipe at a firelit tree. "What glints so oddly there," he wondered, "when the fire leaps?"
"It's the bullet," replied Diane absently and bit her lip with a quick flush of annoyance.
"What bullet?" said Philip with instant interest. "It's odd I hadn't noticed it before."
"Some one shot in the forest last night while Johnny was off chasing your assailant. Likely the second man he saw cranking the car. It struck the tree. Johnny and I made a compact not to speak of it and I forgot. My aunt is fussy."
"Where were you?" demanded Philip abruptly.
"By the tree. It—it grazed my hair—"
Philip's face grew suddenly as changeless as the white moonlight in the forest.
"Accidental knives and bullets in Arcadia!" said he at length. "It jars a bit."
"I do hope," said Diane with definite disapproval, "that you're not going to fuss. I didn't. I was frightened of course, for at first I thought it had been aimed straight at me—and I was quite alone—but startling things do happen now and then, and if you can't explain them, you might as well forget them. I hope I may count on your silence. If my aunt gets wind of it, she'll conjure up a trail of accidental shots to follow me from here to Florida and every time it storms, she'll like as not hear ghost-bullets. She's like that."
"Florida!" ejaculated Philip—and stared.
"To be sure!" said Diane. "Why not? Must I alter my plans for somebody's stray bullet?"
Philip frowned uneasily. The instinctive protest germinating irresistibly in his mind was too vague and formless for utterance.
"I beg your pardon," he stammered. "But I fancied you were merely camping around among the hills for the summer."
The girl rose and moved off toward the van looming ghostlike through the trees.
"Good night—Philip!" she called lightly, her voice instinct with delicate irony.
Philip stirred. His voice was very gentle.
"Thank you!" he said simply.
Diane hastily climbed the steps at the rear of the van and disappeared.
"I hate men," thought Diane with burning cheeks as she seated herself upon the cot by the window and loosened the shining mass of her straight black hair, "who ramble flippantly through a conversation and turn suddenly serious when one least expects it."
By the fire, burning lower as the moon climbed higher, Philip lay very quiet. Somehow the moonlit stillness of the forest had altered indefinably. Its depth and shadows jarred. Fair as it was, it had harbored things sinister and evil. And who might say—there was peace of course in the moon-silver rug of pine among the trees, in the gossamer cobweb there among the bushes jeweled lightly in dew, in the faint, sweet chirp of a drowsy bird above his head—but the moon-ray which lingered in the heart of the wild geranium would presently cascade through the trees to light the horrible thing of lead which had menaced the life of his lady.
Well, one more pipe and he would go to bed. Johnny must be tired of waiting. Philip slipped his hand into his pocket and whistled.
"So," said he softly, "the hieroglyphic cuff is gone! It's the first I'd missed it."
"Like as not it dropped out of my pocket when I fell last night," he reflected a little later. "I'd better go to bed. I'm beginning to fuss."
A WOODLAND GUEST
There was gray beyond the flap of Philip's tent, a velvet stillness rife with the melody of twittering birds. Already the camp fire was crackling. Philip rose and dressed.
Beyond, through the ghostly trees where the river glimmered in the gray dawn with a pearly iridescence, a girl was fishing. There were deeper shadows in the hollows but the sky behind the wooded ridge to the east was softly opaline. As the river grew pink, mists rose and curled upward and presently the glaring searchlight of the sun streamed brilliantly across the river and the forest, flinging a banner of shadow tracery over the wakening world.
The girl by the river caught a fish, deftly strung it on a willow shoot beside some others and bathed her hands in the river. Turning she smiled and waved. Philip went to meet her.
"Let me take your fish," he offered.
"Your arm—" began Diane,
"Pshaw!" insisted Philip. "It's ever so much better. I can even use my hand."
To prove it, Philip presently armed himself with a fork and developed considerable helpful interest in a pan of fish. Whereupon a general atmosphere of industry settled over the camp. Rex and Nero acrobatically locked forepaws and rolled over and over in a clownish excess of congeniality. Johnny trotted busily about feeding the horses. Diane made the coffee, arousing the frank and guileless interest of Mr. Poynter.
The fish began to sizzle violently. Considerably aggrieved by a variety of unexpected developments in the pan, Philip harpooned the smoking segments with indignant vim, burned his fingers, made reckless use of the wounded arm and regretfully resigned the task to Johnny who furtively bestowed certain hot sable portions of the rescued fish upon the dogs, thereby arousing a snarling commotion of intense surprise.
"That's a wonderful bed of mine," commented Philip at breakfast. "Tell me where in the world did you get your camp equipment?"
"I made the bed myself," said Diane happily, "of red willow shoots from the swamp, and I carved these forks and spoons out of wood Johnny gathered."
"I do wish I were clever!" grumbled Philip in acute discontent. "After breakfast I'm going to whittle out a wildwood pipe and make a birch canoe, and likely I'll weave a rush mat and a willow bed and carve some spoons and forks and a sundial."
"Will you be through by noon?" asked Diane politely.
"As a matter of fact," he said easily, "I'm going with you to lamp birds. I want to duck that fool doctor."
"You'll do nothing of the sort," said Diane with decision, "for I'm going to stay in camp and bake bread."
The bread was baking odorously and a variety of shavings flying ambitiously from an embryo pipe by ten o'clock. At noon the doctor had not yet arrived. Philip dexterously served a savory fish chowder from a pot hanging within a tripod of saplings and refused to dwell upon the thought of his eventual departure.
A man appeared among the trees to the east, switching absently at the underbrush with a cane.
"I thought so," he nodded. "That medical dub carries a cane on his professional rounds! Like as not he wears a flowing tie, a monocle and pink socks."
The man approached and raised his hat, smiling urbanely. It was Baron Tregar.
Philip leaped to his feet, reddening.
"Excellency!" he stammered.
"Pray be seated!" exclaimed the Baron with sympathy. "Such a disturbing experience as you have had affords one privileges."
"Permit me," said Philip uncomfortably to Diane, "to present my chief, Baron Tregar. Excellency, Miss Westfall, to whom I am eternally indebted." And Philip's eyes sparkled with laughter as he uttered her name.
There was an old world courtliness in the Baron's bow and murmured salutation.
"Ah," said he with gallant regret, "Fate, Miss Westfall, has never seen fit to temper misfortune so pleasantly for me. Poynter, you have been exceedingly fortunate."
Diane laughed softly. It was hers to triumph now.
"Mr. Poynter," she said with relish, flashing a sidelong glance at that discomfited young man, "Mr. Poynter has been good enough to make the chowder. It would gratify me exceedingly, Baron Tregar, to have you test it."
Heartily anathematizing his chief, who was gratefully expressing his interest in chowder, Mr. Poynter stared perversely at his cuff.
"I wonder," he reflected uneasily, "just what he wants and how in thunder he knew!"
The Baron, gracefully adapting himself to woodland exigencies, supplied the answer.
"Dr. Wingate," he boomed, "is at the Sherrill farm. Themar officiously fancied he could fly and had a most distressing fall yesterday from the smaller biplane." His deep, compelling eyes lingered upon Philip's face. "Dr. Wingate spoke some of an unlucky young man marooned in a forest with a knife wound in his shoulder—described him—and behold!—my missing secretary is found after considerable bewilderment and uneasiness on my part. Wingate will stop here later."
Philip civilly expressed regret that he had not thought to dispatch Johnny to the Sherrill farm with a message.
"It is nothing!" shrugged Tregar smoothly.
"One forgets under less mitigating causes." And, having begged the details of Philip's adventure, he listened with careful attention.
"It is exceedingly mysterious," he rumbled, after a frowning interval of thought. "But surely one must feel much gratitude to you, Miss Westfall. A night in the storm without attention and we have complications."
Over his coffee, which he sipped clear with the appreciation of an epicure, the Baron, in his suave, inscrutable way, grew reminiscent. He talked well, selecting, discarding, weighing his words with the fastidious precision of a jeweler setting precious stones. Subtly the talk drifted to Houdania.
There was a mad king—Rodobald—upon the throne. Doubtless the Baron's hostess had heard? No? Ah! So must the baffling twist of a man's brain complicate the destiny of a kingdom. And Rodobald was hale at sixty-five and mad as the hare of March. There had been much talk of it. Singular, was it not?
Followed a sparkling anecdote or so of court life and shrugging reference to the jealous principality of Galituria that lay beyond in the valley. To Galiturians the madness of King Rodobald was an exquisite jest.
Philip grew restless.
"Confound him!" he mused resentfully. "One would think I had deliberately contrived to linger here merely to give him a graceful opportunity to accomplish his infernal errand himself. Thank Heaven this lets me out!" He glanced furtively at Diane. The girl's interest was wholesomely without constraint.
"Great guns!" decided Philip fretfully. "I doubt if she's ever heard of his toy kingdom before and yet he's probing her interest with every atom of skill he can command." Puzzled and annoyed he fell quiet.
"It is somewhat inaccessible—my country," Tregar was saying smoothly. "One climbs the shaggy mountain by a winding road. You have climbed it perhaps—touring?"
"Excellency, no!" regretted Diane. "I fear it is quite unknown to me."
"Ah!" exclaimed the patriotic Baron, "that is indeed unfortunate. For it is well worth a visit." He turned to Philip. "You are pale and quiet, Poynter," he added kindly. "A day or so more perhaps here where it is quiet—"
Philip flushed hotly,
"Excellency!" he protested feebly.
The Baron bowed courteously to Diane.
"If I may crave still further hospitality and indulgence," he begged regretfully. "There is already much excitement at the Sherrill place owing to the officious act of my man, Themar, and his accident. Another invalid—my secretary—one flounders in a dragnet of unfortunate circumstances. And I am sensitive in the disturbance of my host's guests—"
Diane's eyes as they rested upon Philip were very kind.
"Excellency," she said warmly, "Mr. Poynter's tent lies there among the trees. I trust he will not hesitate to use it until he is strong again. Fortunately we are equipped for emergency."
The Baron bowed gratefully.
"You are a young woman of exceeding common sense!" he said with deep respect.
Philip was very grateful that the Baron had not misunderstood; a breath might shatter the idyllic crystal into atoms.
Later, when the Baron had departed, Philip flushed suddenly at the ugly suspicion rising wraithlike in his mind. He was accustomed to the Baron's subtleties.
"Mr. Poynter!" called Diane.
Mr. Poynter perversely went on whittling out the hollow of his wildwood pipe.
The bowl, already sufficient for a Titan's smoke, grew a trifle larger and somewhat irregular. Carving had conceivably injured Mr. Poynter's hearing, for he kept on whistling.
"Philip!" said Diane and stamped her foot.
"Yes?" replied Philip respectfully, and instantly discarded the Titan's pipe to listen.
"Why are you so quiet?" flashed Diane.
"Well, for one thing," explained Philip cheerfully, "I'm mighty busy and for another, I'm thinking."
"Do you withdraw into a sound-proof shell when you think?"
"Mr. Poynter does!" regretted Philip. "I do not."
"I do hope," said the girl demurely, "that you'll be able to hear when the doctor gets here. He's coming through the trees."
BY THE BACKWATER POOL
The sun had set with a primrose glory of reflection upon the river and the ridge. Over there in the west now there was a pale after-glow of marigold. It streamed across the dark, still waters of the backwater pool by the river and faintly edged the drowsy petals of white and yellow lilies. Already distant outline and perspective were hazy, there was purple in the forest, and birds were winging swiftly to the woods.
By the pool with a great mass of dripping lilies at his side to carry back to camp, Philip stared frowningly at the tangled float of foliage at his feet. Somehow that ugly flash of suspicion had persisted. Why had the Baron wished him to stay in the camp of Diane? . . . What was the portent of his peculiar interest anyway?
"Do you know, Nero," he confided suddenly, patting the dog's shaggy head, "my life is developing certain elements of intrigue and mystery exceedingly offensive to my spread-eagle tastes. There's a knife and a bullet now, Johnny's two men and the auto, and a cuff and a most mysterious link between our lady and the Baron. I'll be hanged if I like any of it. And why in thunder did Themar crib an aeroplane and bump his fool head?" He fell suddenly thoughtful.
"As for you, old top," he added presently, "you ought to go home. Dick will be fussing."
Nero waggled ambiguously. Philip nodded.
"Right, old man," he admitted with sudden gravity. "I can always depend upon you to set me right. It's nothing like so essential for you to go as it is for me. You did right to mention it. I ought to dig out—all the more because the Baron wants me to stay—but I've been thinking a bit this afternoon and unusual problems demand unusual solutions. You'll grant that?" Nero politely routed an excursive bug from his path and lay down to listen.
"Mr. Poynter!" called a voice from the darkling trees behind him.
Mr. Poynter smiled and fell deliberately to filling the bowl of his wildwood pipe. Gnarled and twisted and marvelously eccentric was this wildwood pipe and therefore an object of undoubted interest. The bowl had somehow eluded Philip's desperate effort to keep it of reasonable dimensions and required a Gargantuan supply of tobacco.
"My Lord!" murmured Philip, staring ruefully into the pipe-bowl, "the infernal thing is bottomless! Exit another can of tobacco. I'll have to ask Johnny to buy me a barrel." And Philip flung the empty can into the pool whence a frog leaped with a frightened croak.
"Mademoiselle!" said Philip pleasantly.
Darkly lovely, Diane's eyes met his with a glance of indignant reproach. Somehow her lips were like a scarlet wound in the gypsy brown skin and her cheeks were hot with color.
"A wildwood elf of scarlet and brown!" thought Philip and hospitably flicked away a twig or so with his handkerchief that she might sit down.
"There's water plantain over there in the bog," he said lazily, "and swamp honeysuckle. And see," he turned out his pockets, "swamp apples. Queer, aren't they? Johnny says they're good to eat. The honeysuckle was full of them."
Diane bit daintily into the peculiar juicy pulp.
"A man of your pernicious good humor," she said greatly provoked, "is a menace to civilization. You sap all the wholesome fire of one's most cherished resentment."
"I know," admitted Philip humbly. "I'll be hanged yet."
"I can't see what in the world you find so absorbing over here," she commented with marked disapproval. "All the while I was getting supper I watched you. And you merely smoked and flipped pebbles in the pool and kept supper waiting."
"You're wrong there," said Philip. "I've been thinking, too."
"I'd like to know just why you've been thinking so deeply!"
"Well," said Philip slowly, "I've been reviewing the possible mishaps incident to a caravan trip to Florida."
"Mishaps!" Diane studied him in frank displeasure. "Are you a fussy pessimist?"
"By no means. Merely—prudent." Philip's eyes narrowed thoughtfully and he fell silent.
The iris shadows beyond the river deepened. A firefly or so flickered brightly above the fields of clover. In the soft clear twilight, fragrant with the smell of clover and water lily and rimmed now by the rising moon, Philip found his resolution of the afternoon difficult to utter. The pool at his feet was a motionless mirror of summer stars. Surely there could be nothing but peace in this tranquil world of tree and grass and murmuring river. And yet—
"Do take that ridiculous pipe out of your mouth and say something!" exclaimed Diane restlessly. "You look as if you were smoking a pumpkin! Besides, the supper's all packed up in hot stones and grass to keep it hot. Why moon so and shoot pebbles at the frogs?"
"Well," said Philip abruptly, "do you mind if I say that your trip seems a most imprudent venture?"
"By no means!" replied Diane with maddening composure. "But it's only fair to warn you that my aunt's already said all there is to say on the subject. The horses may drop dead," she reviewed swiftly on her slim brown fingers, "Johnny may fall heir to an apoplectic fit and fall on a horse thereby inducing him to run away into a swamp and sink in quicksand. I may be kidnapped and held for ransom in the wilds of Connecticut and the van may burn up some night when I'm asleep in it. Then I may eat poison berries in a fit of absent-mindedness, I may fall into a river while I'm fishing, forget how to swim, and drown, Johnny may gather amanitas and kill us both, and something or other may bite me. There are one or two other little things like forest fires, floods and brigands—"
"Help!" murmured Philip.
"Can you add anything to that?" demanded Diane politely.
Philip laughed. Diane, delicately sarcastic, was irresistible.
"There is the bullet—" he reminded gravely.
"Please!" begged Diane faintly.
Philip flushed with a sense of guilt.
"Well," he owned, "I have bothered you a lot about it, that's a fact! But it sticks so in my mind. There's something else—"
"Yes?" said Diane discouragingly.
"Didn't you tell me yesterday that you'd had a feeling some one had been spying on your camp?"
"Yes," said Diane in serious disapproval. "I did. I get seizures of confidential lunacy once in a while. Are you going to fuss about that?"
"No," said Philip gently. "But the knife and the bullet and that have made me wonder—a lot. After all," he regretted sincerely, "my notions are very vague and formless, but I feel so strongly about them that—urging my friendship for Carl as my sole excuse for unasked advice to his cousin—"
Philip laid aside his pipe with a sigh. The crisp music of his lady's voice was not encouraging.
"I do hope you'll forgive me," he said quietly, "but I'm going to urge you to abandon your trip to Florida!"
"Mr. Poynter!" flashed Diane indignantly. "The bump on your head has had a relapse. Better let Johnny go for the doctor again."
"I know I'm infernally presumptuous," acknowledged Philip flushing, "but I'm terribly in earnest."
Diane's eyes, wide, black, rebuking, scanned his troubled face askance.
"I ought to be exceedingly angry," she said slowly, "and if it wasn't for the bump, like as not I would be—but I'm not."
"I'm truly grateful," said Philip with a sigh of relief. And added to himself, "Philip, old top, you're in for it."
"Why," exclaimed Diane, "I've never been so happy in my life as I have been here by this beautiful river!"
"Nor I!" said Philip truthfully.
Diane did not hear.
"Every wild thing calls," she went on, impetuously. "It always has. Fish—bird—wild flower—the smell of clover—the hum of bees—I can't pretend to tell you what they all mean to me. Even as a youngster I frightened my aunt half to death by running away to sleep in the forest. I'm sorry I'll ever have to go back to civilization!"
"And yet," insisted Philip inexorably, "to me it seems that you should go back—to-morrow!"
"I do seem to feel a stir of temper!" said Diane reflectively. "Maybe I'd better go back and look at supper. You can come after you're through pelting that frog."
"There's still another reason," said Philip humbly, "which I can't tell you. Indeed, I ought not mention it. I can only beg you to take it on trust and believe that it's another forcible argument against your trip. Somehow, everything in my mind weaves into a gigantic warning. So disturbing is the notion," added Philip unquietly, "that—"
"Yes?" queried Diane politely.
"That after much thought, I have decided to stay here in camp until you abandon your nomadic scheme and break camp for home. There'll come a time, I'm sure, when you'll think as I do to get rid of me."
Diane rose with suspicious mildness.
"I'm hungry," she said, "and Johnny's yodeling."
"Well," said Philip provokingly, "I don't believe I want any supper after all. The atmosphere's too chilly."
JOKAI OF VIENNA
It was insolent music, a taunt in every note. Carl laid aside his flute and inspected his prisoner with impudent interest.
"You are the most difficult person to entertain!" he accused softly. "Here Hunch has strained a sinuous spine performing our beautiful native dances, the tango and the hesitation, and I've fluted up all the wind in the room and still you glower."
"Monsieur," broke forth the prisoner, goaded beyond endurance by the stifling heat and the stench of Hunch's pipe, "is it not enough to imprison me here without reason, that you must taunt and gibe—" he choked indignantly and stared desperately at the boarded windows.
"Let your voice out, do!" encouraged Carl. "We dispensed with the caretaker days ago, fearing you'd feel restricted."
The other's face was livid.
"Monsieur!" he cried imperiously, his eyes flashing. "Take care!"
"I know," said Carl soothingly, "that you have deep, dark, sinister possibilities within you—dear, yes! You tried something of the sort on the Ridge Road. That's why your august head's so badly bruised. But why aggravate your blood pressure now when it's so infernally hot and you've work ahead. Hunch," he added carelessly to the admiring henchman who had once dealt away successive slices of his inheritance, "go get a pitcher of ice water and rustle up another siphon of seltzer and some whiskey. Likely His Nibs and I will play chess again to-night."
Hunch rose from a chair by the window where he had flattened his single good eye against a knot hole, and slouched heavily to the door.
The face of the prisoner slowly whitened. Every muscle of his body quivered suddenly in horrible revulsion. Nights of enforced drunkenness had left his nerves strained to the breaking point.
"Monsieur," he panted, greatly agitated, "the whiskey—the thought of it again to-night—is maddening."
Carl merely raised ironical eyebrows.
"You are not a man," choked the other, shaking. "You are a nameless demon! Such hellish originality in the conception of evil, such singular indignities as you have seen fit to inflict, they are the freaks of a madman!"
"Thank you," said Carl politely. "One likes to have one's little ingenuities appreciated."
"I—I am ill—and the room is stifling."
"If I do not mind it," said Carl in aggrieved surprise, "why should you?"
"You are a thing of steel and infernal fire. I am but human."
"There is a way to stop it all," reminded Carl, lazily relighting his cigar. "Why not give me a logical reason for your presence in America?"
"I have done so. Have I not said again and again that I am Sigimund Jokai, of Vienna, touring in America?"
"You have said so," agreed Carl imperturbably, "but you lie. There was an empty chamber in your revolver, you were perilously close to my cousin's camp. Why? Is it not better to tell me than foolishly to waste such splendid nerve and grit as you possess?"
The prisoner moistened his bloodless lips and shrugged.
"Monsieur," he accused coldly, "you tinge commonplace incidents with melodrama."
"Days ago—er—Jokai of Vienna," went on Carl thoughtfully, "I dispatched a formal communication to your country. Why has it been ignored? Why did my first inkling of its effect come in the sight of your face in suspicious territory? And why, Monsieur," purred Carl softly, "did you seek to kill me by a trick?"
"Monsieur, you delayed me. I am hot of temper—"
"And kill whoever angers you? My dear Jokai, that's absurd. As for your singular indifference to the burning car—that's easy. You'd stolen it. But why?"
He smiled slightly and picked up his flute. With infinite softness a waltz danced lightly through the quiet room. To such a fanciful, eerie piping might the ghost of a child have danced. Then without pause or warning it swung dramatically into a stirring melody of power and dignity.
The wretched man by the table buried his face in his hands and groaned.
"Ah!" said Carl softly. "So Monsieur has heard that tune before? That in itself is illuminating."
With a leer Hunch entered and deposited a tray upon the table. Carl poured himself some whiskey and pushed the decanter toward his guest with a significant glance. Jokai of Vienna poured and drank with a shudder of nausea.
"We've a new chessboard," said Carl. "It's most ingenious. Hunch spent a large part of his valuable morning shopping for it. The board and chessmen are metal and I myself have added one or two unique improvements. Help yourself to some more whiskey—do."
"Monsieur," faltered Jokai desperately, "I—I can not."
"Hunch," said Carl softly. "His Nibs won't drink."
Instantly from the wired metal points of Jokai's chair a stinging electric current swept fiendishly through his body. Last night it had goaded him unspeakably. To-night, with every tortured nerve leaping, it was unbearable. Shaking, he poured again and drank—great drops of sweat starting out upon his forehead. Where the rope bound his ankles the flesh was aching dully.
"Mercy!" he choked. "I—I can not bear it."
"There is a way to stop it!" reminded Carl curtly. "The ivory chessmen for me, Hunch. And whenever he refuses to drink—start the current."
With the metal chessboard before him, Carl idly arranged his ivory men. Jokai touched a metal pawn and shuddered violently. The metal board was wired. Thenceforth every move in the game he must play with the metal men would complete the circuit and send the biting needles through his frame. It was delicately gauged, a nerve-racking discomfort without definite pain, a thing to snap the dreadful tension of a man's endurance at the end.
"Ah! Monsieur!" cried Jokai wildly. "It is inconceivable—"
"Play!" said Carl briefly. White and grim his guest obeyed.
In terrible silence they played the game through to the end.
"Let me pour you some more whiskey," insisted Carl with infernal courtesy. "Let us understand each other. Whenever I drink, I expect you to do the same. As for you, Hunch, you'll kindly stay sober!"
Jokai gulped the nauseating torture to the end. He was faint and sick. By the end of the third game, every move had become convulsive. The insidious bite of the current was getting horribly on his nerves. Still with desperate will he played on. Drunk and dizzy—his veins hot and pounding, he stared in fascinated horror at the face of his merciless opponent. Through the film of smoke it loomed vividly dark, impudent, ironic, the mobile mouth edged satirically with a slight smile.
"Are you man or devil?" he whispered.
Carl laughed. His hand, for all his drinking, was calm and steady, his handsome eyes clear and cold and resolute.
"Hunch," he said curtly, "if you touch that bottle again, I'll break it over your head. You're drunk now."
To Jokai his voice trailed off into curious nothingness. Somewhere he knew in a room stifling hot and hazy with the fumes of vile tobacco there was a voice, musical, detached and very far away.
"Monsieur," it was saying, "there are still the questions."
With shaking hand Jokai touched a metal king and screamed. The heat and the hell-board hard upon his days and nights of enforced drinking were too much. With a strangled sob, Jokai of Vienna pitched forward upon the board unconscious.
Carl swept the metal men away with a shrug.
"Poor devil!" he said pityingly. "All this hell sooner than answer a question or two. By to-morrow night, with another dose of the same medicine, he'll feel differently. Likely I'll run up to Connecticut to-night, Hunch, to see my aunt. I'll be back by noon to-morrow. Tear off the window boards and give him some more air. You can move him to another room in the morning."
Hunch obeyed, and presently as the street door slammed behind his chief, Hunch's single eye roved expectantly to the forgotten whiskey on the table. Jokai lay in a motionless stupor by the window. It would be morning before the hapless drinker would be quite himself again. With brutal, powerful arms, Hunch bore his charge to an adjoining room and consigned him disrespectfully to a bed. Then with a fresh bottle of whiskey in his hand, he returned to the open window, leered pleasantly at the dizzy glare of city lights beyond and henceforth devoted himself to getting very drunk. Having gratified this bibulous ambition to the uttermost, he fell asleep. The morning sunlight flaming at last on his coarse, bloated face awoke him to resentful consciousness. Glowering at the bright, warm light with his single eye, Hunch rolled away into the shadow and went to sleep again.
Below on the porch, with an outraged caretaker's letter in her hand bag, Aunt Agatha turned her latchkey resolutely in the lock.
"I just will not have it!" reflected Aunt Agatha defiantly. "I certainly will not. And I'd have been here yesterday if Mary hadn't insisted upon my spending the night with her. Well do I remember how Carl installed himself here last year with a Japanese servant and invited that good-looking Wherry boy to come and scratch the furniture. I don't suppose Carl invited him for that purpose," added Aunt Agatha fairly, "but he did it, anyway. I can't for the life of me see why it is that young Mr. Wherry is perpetually making scratches where his feet rest. And I'm sure he left his footprint on the piano and thundered through every roll on the player, for they're all out of place, and the Williston caretaker heard him, though like as not it was Carl for that matter. He's a Westfall, and he'd do it if he felt like it, dear knows! Though I must say Carl detests bangy music."
Still rambling, Aunt Agatha, having fussed considerably over the extraction of the key, halted in the hallway, appalled by the utter loneliness of the darkened rooms. Beyond in the library a clock boomed loudly through the quiet. Somewhere upstairs a dull, choking rasp broke the soundless gloom. Aunt Agatha began to flutter nervously up the stairway.
"It's Carl of course!" she murmured in a panic. "I just know it is. I've never known him to even gurgle—much less snore in his sleep. Like as not his windows are still boarded up and he's suffocating. Only a Westfall would think of such a thing."
Puffing, Aunt Agatha halted at her nephew's door. That and the one adjoining were locked. There was a den beyond. Making her way to a door of which Hunch was ignorant. Aunt Agatha opened it and gasped. Fully clothed, a man whose feet and hands were securely bound, lay muttering upon the bed, his jargon incomprehensibly foreign.
"God deliver us from all Westfalls!" wept Aunt Agatha. "Carl's kidnapped an immigrant!"
With unwavering determination in her round, aggrieved eyes, she swept majestically to the bed and shook the sleeper severely.
"My good man," she demanded, "what do you mean by lying here on a lace spread with your feet tied and your head scarred?"
Jokai of Vienna stirred and moaned. Aunt Agatha fumbled for her smelling salts and administered a most heroic draft. Sputtering, Jokai awoke from his restless stupor and stared.
From the room adjoining came again the dull, choking rasp of Hunch's heavy slumber. Fluttering hurriedly to the doorway, Aunt Agatha stared in horror at the littered room and Hunch, the latter no reassuring sight at his best, and thence with fascinated gaze at Jokai of Vienna. With wild imploring eyes Jokai glanced at his hands and feet. Miraculously Aunt Agatha understood. After an interval of petrified indecision, during which she trembled violently and made inarticulate noises in her throat, she fluttered excitedly from the room and returned with a pair of scissors. Urged to noiseless activity by Jokai's fear of the sleeper in the farther room, she cut the ropes which bound him and led him stealthily to the hall below.
"You poor thing!" whispered Aunt Agatha in hysterical sympathy. "You're as pale as a ghost. I don't wonder—"
But Jokai of Vienna was already bolting wildly through the street door and down the steps. Aunt Agatha burst into aggrieved tears.
"I don't in the least know what it's all about," she sniffed, greatly frightened, "but what with the immigrant bolting out of the house in his shirt sleeves without so much as a word of thanks—such a nice distinguished fellow as he was, too, for all he smelt of liquor!—and Carl nowhere in sight—and a fat young man, with a hairy chest exposed, sleeping on a whiskey bottle and snoring like a prisoner file, it does seem most mysterious—that's a fact! And my knees have folded up and I can't budge. Mother's knees used to fold up this way, too. God bless my soul!" wept the unfortunate lady. "I do wish I were dead."
With a desperate effort Aunt Agatha unfolded her knees sufficiently to bear her weight and turning, screamed wildly. Hunch Dorrigan was stealing catlike down the stairs, his bloated vicious face leering threateningly at her over the railing.
"You old she-wolf!" roared that elegant young man. "Where's His Nibs?"
Aunt Agatha moistened her dry lips and, gurgling fearfully, fainted. When at length she became conscious again. Hunch, glowering fiercely, was returning from a futile chase. With a resentful flash of brutality he towered suddenly above her and began to curse. Aunt Agatha, bristling, sat up.
"Don't you dare speak to me like that after breathing vulgar liquor fumes all over my niece's house and tying up that nice foreign gentleman," she quavered weakly. "Don't you dare! I live in this house, young man, and Carl will see to it that I'm protected. He always has. He's very good to me."
Hunch glowered sullenly at her, fearful, in the face of her relationship to Carl, of committing still another unforgivable offense.
"I once knew a stout young man with a glass eye," she gulped with increasing courage, "and he was hanged by the neck until he was dead—quite dead—and then they cut his body down and his relatives took it away in a cart and on the way home it came to life—"
Aunt Agatha halted abruptly, vaguely conscious that this somewhat felicitous ending to the tragedy, as an object lesson to Hunch, left much to be desired.
"Leave the house!" she commanded with shrill magnificence, for all her hair and dress were awry, and her round face flushed. "Leave the house."
Hunch shrugged and obeyed. It was nearly noon and there was no single east-side acquaintance—no, not even Link Murphy, the terrible—whom he feared as he feared Carl Granberry.
Weeping, Aunt Agatha watched him go.
THE YOUNG MAN OF THE SEA
Diane was to learn that the infernal persistence of the Old Man of the Sea of Arabian origin could find its match in youth. A week slipped by. Philip wove an unsatisfactory mat of sedge upon a loom of cord and stakes, whittled himself a knife and fork and spoon which he initialed gorgeously with the dye of a boiled alder, invented a camp rake of forked branches, made a broom of twigs, and sunk a candle in the floor of his tent which he covered with a bottomless milk bottle. All in all, he told Nero, he was evoluting rapidly into an excellent woodsman, despite the peculiar appearance of the sedge mat.
When Diane was honestly indignant, Philip was quiet and industrious, and accomplished a great deal with his knife and bits of wood. When, finding his cheerful good humor irresistible, she was forced to fly the flag of truce, he was profoundly grateful.
"When do you think you'll go?" demanded Diane pointedly one morning as she deftly swung her line into the river. "Unless you contrive to get stabbed again," she added doubtfully, "I really don't see what's keeping you."
"When I may help you break camp and escort you back to your aunt," replied Philip pleasantly, "I'll pack up my two shirts and my wildwood pipe and depart, exceedingly grateful for my stay in Arcadia."
Diane bit her lip and frowned.
"Suppose," she flashed, with angry scarlet in her cheeks, "suppose I break camp and leave you behind!"
"I'll go with you," shrugged Philip. "Don't you remember? I told you so before. And I'll sit on the rear steps of the van all the way to Florida and play a tin whistle."
Appalled by the thought of the spectacular vagaries which this Young Man of the Sea might develop if she took to the road, Diane said nothing.
"No matter how I view you," she indignantly exclaimed a little later, "you're a problem."
"Settle the problem," advised Philip. "It's simple enough."
"He'll go presently," she told herself resentfully. "He'll have to."
"How it amuses these fish to watch me murder worms!" exclaimed Philip in deep disgust. "Look at the audience over there! I attract 'em and you get 'em! Miss Westfall, are you a slave driver?"
"What do you mean?" asked Diane cautiously.
Philip's most innocent beginnings frequently led into argumentative morasses for his opponent.
"Does Johnny have complete freedom in your camp?"
"Certainly!" exclaimed Diane warmly. "Johnny is old and faithful. He may do as he pleases."
Philip changed an angemic worm of considerable transparency for one of more interest to his river audience and smiled.
"Johnny," said he cheerfully, "has been good enough to invite me to stay in camp with him indefinitely. I'm his guest, in fact, until you go home. I imagine that as Johnny's guest I ought to enjoy immunity from sarcastic shafts, but I may be mistaken. I've washed and drained most of these worms. Will you lend me an inch or so of that stout invertebrate climbing out of the can by you?"
Thoroughly out of patience, Diane reeled in her line and returned to camp, whence she presently heard Philip blithely whistling a fisherman's hornpipe and urging Nero to retrieve certain sticks he had thrown into the river. A little later he caught a sunfish and swung into camp with such a smile of irresistible pride and good humor on his sun-browned face, that Diane laughed in spite of herself.
"How ridiculous it is!" she mused uncomfortably. "Here I may not depart for fear a happy-go-lucky young man will play a tin whistle on the steps of the van, and I will not go home. What in the world am I to do with him? Are you an orphan?" she asked with guileful curiosity.
"No," said Philip.
"I'm sorry," said Diane maliciously. "For then I could take out papers of adoption—"
"I'll stay without them," promised Philip. And Diane added wood to the fire with cheeks like the scarlet sunset.
"I'm going to send for my aunt," she announced a few days later.
"Yes?" said Philip.
"Unconventionality of any sort shocks her dreadfully. Like as not she'll faint dead away at the sight of you domiciled in my camp as if you own it. She'll see that you go."
"Better not," advised Philip.
"I'll produce credentials proving I'm a reputable victim of circumstances. I'll suggest that in complete concurrence with her I deem it unsafe for a young and attractive girl to tour about the country—and that I do not feel that I can conscientiously depart. Between the two of us you'll likely have a most uncomfortable hour or so."
Aunt Agatha was impressionable. It needed but a spark of concurrence to arouse her dreadfully. Diane dismissed the project.
"I think," she said hopefully, "that you'll most likely go to-night."
"In any circumstances," said Philip easily, "I fear that would be impossible. Johnny's behind with the laundry and I haven't a collarable shirt." Whereupon he whistled for Nero and set off amiably through the woods to gather an inaccessible flower he knew his lady would prize.
By nine that night Diane was asleep in the van. Philip, with whom she had indignantly crossed swords a little earlier, lay thoughtfully by the fire watching the snowy curtains of the van windows billowing lazily in the warm night wind. He felt restless and perturbed and presently sought his tent, where he lit the bottled candle to look for the predecessor of his insatiable wildwood pipe, but halted suddenly with a peculiar whistle.
The silk shirt he had worn from Sherrill's lay conspicuously upon the bed, washed and ironed and beautifully mended up the slashed sleeve and along the shoulder. As a laundress of parts, Johnny was a jewel, but he could not mend!
Now oddly enough as Mr. Poynter stared at the shirt upon the bed, his appearance was that of a young man decidedly out of sorts. Presently with an ominous glint of temper in his fine eyes, he noiselessly rearranged his tent, viciously donned the offending shirt, whistled for Nero and leaving the camp of his lady as unexpectedly as he had entered it, set out for Sherrill's.
Even the most equable of tempers, it would seem, may now and then prove crotchety.
And who may say? Mr. Poynter was a young man of infinite resource. And there were other ways.
IN WHICH THE BARON PAYS
"Excellency," said Philip politely, "I have returned."
"Ah!" said the Baron cordially, marveling somewhat at the forbidding glint in the young man's eyes. He was to learn presently its portent.
Within doors, a few men chatted in the billiard room. A girl was singing. The Baron, however, was the only occupant of the comfortable porch-room with the green-shaded lamp, to which Philip had come, passing Themar, who had left a tray of ice and creme de menthe upon the table.
With his customary deliberation the Baron selected a glass, filled it with shaved ice, which he as carefully covered with green creme de menthe, and pushed the delectable result across the table to his secretary.
Philip accepted with a formal expression of thanks.
"I am delighted," rumbled the Baron, sipping his iced mint with keen appreciation, "to see that you are fully recovered."
"And Themar?" inquired Philip coldly.
"He was not injured so badly as I feared," admitted Tregar slowly. "His accident," commented Philip quietly, "was to say the least coincidental—and convenient."
"Just what do you mean?"
"Just why," begged Philip icily, "did you wish me to intrude further upon the hospitality of Miss Westfall?"
"There was an errand," reminded the Baron blandly. "Having discharged it myself, Poynter, I might—er—trust to you to report its consequences. There are possibilities of confidences over a camp fire—"
"You expected me to—spy upon Miss Westfall?"
"Pray believe," said Philip stiffly, "that any confidence of Miss Westfall's would have been to me—as your own."
"I am to understand then," commented His Excellency suavely, "that you made absolutely no effort—"
"You are to understand just that," said Philip quietly. "Moreover," he manfully met his chief's level glance with one of inexorable decision, "I sincerely regret that hereafter I shall be unable to discharge my duties as your secretary."
The Baron stirred.
"I may be honored by your reasons, Poynter?" he inquired quietly.
"The duties of a spy," flashed Philip, "are peculiarly offensive to me. So is Themar."
"Excellency," said Philip curtly, "to-night as I entered, the lamplight fell full upon the face and throat of your valet."
"Themar's throat, Excellency, bears peculiar scars."
"My dear Poynter! Themar's fall injured him severely about the face and hands."
"I have not forgotten," insisted Philip grimly, "that Miss Westfall's servant sunk his terrible fingers into the throat of the man whose knife scar I bear. Whether or not his knife was meant for me, I can not say. Nor have I sufficient proof openly to accuse him, but of this much I am convinced. Themar's presence near the camp of Miss Westfall is, in the face of your peculiar and secretive errand, ominously significant."
The Baron sighed. There was frank hostility in Philip's eyes.
"Miss Westfall," added Philip hotly, "is the unsuspecting victim of a peculiar network of mystery of which I feel you hold the key. Her camp is constantly spied upon. Upon the night of the storm there were two men lurking mysteriously in the forest near her camp fire. The knife of one I was unfortunate enough to receive. The other," Philip's eyes glinted oddly, "the other, Excellency," he finished slowly, "tried, I firmly believe—to kill Miss Westfall."
"Impossible!" exclaimed the Baron, greatly shocked.
"If I might know the nature of your peculiar interest in Miss Westfall," urged Philip bluntly, "I would have greater faith in your apparent surprise."
The Baron reddened.
"That is quite impossible," he regretted formally. "Pray believe that you have magnified its importance into exceedingly ludicrous proportions. I fear I am obliged to dispense with your faith in my integrity on the conditions you mention. Your resolution to leave me—that is final?"
"I am sorry," said the Baron simply. And, meeting his chief's eyes, Philip felt somewhat ashamed of one or two of his highly colored suspicions and reddened uncomfortably.
"It is at least—comforting," observed the Baron quietly, "to feel that whatever I may have said in confidence to you will be honorably forgotten."
"Excellency," said Philip with spirit, "though I may not speak to Miss Westfall of your interest or my suspicions, for reasons which need no naming among gentlemen, it is but fair to warn you that henceforth I shall regard myself as personally responsible for her safety."
"Gallantly spoken!" declared the older man, and watched his secretary, as he bowed and withdrew, with more regret than he had seen fit to express. Then, lying back in his chair he listened with unsmiling attention as Philip entered the billiard room with a laughing shot of abuse for Dick Sherrill which aroused an immediate uproar of welcome.
Watching the Baron's narrowed eyes, one might have wondered greatly. For Baron Tregar looked very tired and grim. At length, having smoked his cigar quite to the end, he went up to his room and summoned Themar.
"Ah, Themar!" said he softly, and laughed with peculiar relish.
Themar shifted restlessly.
"Excellency," he began, uncomfortably aware of unpleasant mockery in his chief's keen eyes.
The Baron matched the tips of his powerful fingers and studied them intently.
"Themar," said he acidly, "within a fortnight I have lost a car whose burned remains were found several miles from here, and a secretary whose friendship and invaluable service I prize more highly than your life. I feel that you can to some extent explain both of these disasters."
"Excellency knows," reminded Themar glibly, "that the car was stolen from the Sherrill garage."
"I have merely supposed so," corrected the Baron coldly. And rising he inspected the curious scars upon his valet's throat with interest. "Odd!" he purred, "that an aeroplane may simulate the marks of tearing fingers." Swept by a sudden gust of terrible anger, he gripped Themar's shoulders and shook him until the valet's face was dark with fear.
"Why," hissed the Baron, "did you lie? Why did you go to the Westfall camp and attack Poynter? Why did you swear these scars came from a disastrous flight in a stolen aeroplane? Why have you been spying upon Miss Westfall when I expressly forbade it?"
"Excellency," choked Themar, horrified by the Baron's unprecedented display of passion, "there was a blunder—I dared not tell."
"Who blundered?" thundered his chief.
"I. Granberry, I thought, was to go to his cousin's camp," panted Themar quaking. "I heard Sherrill telephone—later he told some men—"
"You took the car—" prompted the Baron icily.
"I—I did not know it was Poynter until he fell," urged Themar trembling. "Granberry and he are similar in build."
"Who attempted to kill Miss Westfall?" blazed the Baron, shaking his valet into chattering subjection.
"Excellency, I know not!" protested Themar swallowing painfully. "There was still another man—he dashed ahead and stole the car."
After all, reflected the Baron wryly, in this damnable muddle he must still use Themar. To antagonize him now would be foolhardy. Wherefore, with a civil expression of regret at his loss of temper and certain curt instructions, he dismissed Themar, sullen and chastened, and betook himself to an open window, where he sat smoking thoughtfully until the house grew quiet and one by one the lights in the valley faded out. In the web which had engulfed one by one, himself, Themar, Granberry, Miss Westfall and Poynter, a murderous stranger was floundering. Who and what he was, it behooved His Excellency to discover.
"It would seem," reflected the Baron with grim humor as he thought of his car and his secretary, "that I am paying heavily for my part in a task not greatly to my liking."
In the adjoining room behind locked doors, Themar worked feverishly upon a cipher inscribed upon a soiled linen cuff.
"Johnny!" said Diane in crisp, distinct tones, "Mr. Poynter has slept long enough. You'd better call him."
Now it is a regrettable fact that ordinarily this attack would have provoked a reply of mild impudence from Mr. Poynter's tent, but this morning a surprising silence lay behind the flapping canvas. Diane began to hum. When presently investigation proved that Mr. Poynter's tent was in exemplary order—that Mr. Poynter and his mended shirt were missing—she went on humming—but to Johnny's amazement, burned her fingers on the coffeepot; sharply reproved Johnny for staring, and then curtly suggested that he prepare to break camp that morning, as it was high time they were on the road.
"As for Mr. Philip Poynter," reflected Diane with delicate disdain, as she bent over the fire and rolled some baked potatoes away with a stick, "what can one expect? Men are exceedingly peculiar and inconsistent and impudent. I haven't the ghost of a doubt that he found that ridiculous shirt and went off in a huff. And I'm very glad he did—very glad indeed. I meant he should, though I didn't suppose with his unconscionable nerve it would bother him in the least. If a man's sufficiently erratic to blow a tin whistle all the way to Florida—as Philip certainly is—and maroon himself on somebody else's lake for fear he'd miss an acquaintance, he'd very likely fly into a rage when one least expected it and go tramping off in the night. I do dislike people who fall into huffs about nothing."
Diane burned her fingers again, felt that the fire was unnecessarily hot upon her face, and indignantly resigning the preparation of breakfast to Johnny, went fishing.
"He should have gone long ago," mused Diane, flinging her line with considerable force into the river. "It's a great mercy as it is that Aunt Agatha didn't appear and weep all over the camp about him. I'm sorry I mended the shirt. Not but that I was fortunate to find something that would make him go, but a shirt's such a childish thing to fuss about. And, anyway, I preferred him to leave in a friendly, conventional sort of way!"
There are times, alas, when even fish are perverse! Thoroughly out of patience, Diane presently unjointed her rod, emptied the can of worms upon the bank, and returned to camp, where she found Johnny industriously piling up a heap of litter.
"What are you going to do with these?" demanded Diane, indicating an eccentric woodland broom and a rake of forked twigs and twine. "Throw them out?"
"Well, I guess you're not!" sniffed Diane indignantly. "They're mighty convenient. That rake is really clever."
Johnny's round eyes showed his astonishment. He had heard his perverse young mistress malign these inventions of Philip's most cruelly.
Then what a woodland commotion arose after breakfast! What a cautious stamping out of fire and razing of tents! What a startled flutter of birds above and bugs below! What an excited barking on the part of Rex, who after loafing industriously for a week or so, felt called upon to sprint about and assist his mistress with a dirt-brown nose! What a trampling of horses and a creaking of wheels as the great green wagon wound slowly through the shadowy forest road and took to the open highway with Rex at His mistress's feet haughtily inspecting the wayside.
And what a wayside, to be sure! Past fields of young rye from which a lazy silver smoke seemed to rise and follow the wind-billowing grain; past fields of dark red clover rife with the whir and clatter of mowing machines as the farmers felled the velvety stalks for clover hay; past snug white farmhouses where perfumed peonies drooped sleepily over brick walks; on over a rustic bridge, skirting now a tiny village whose church spire loomed above the trees; now following a road which lay rough and deeply rutted, among golden fields of buttercups fringed with bunch grass.
Farmers waved and called; housewives looked and disapproved; children stared and jealous canines pettishly barked at the haughty Rex; but Johnny only chuckled and cracked his whip. Day by day the green and white caravan rumbled serenely on, camping by night in field and forest.
A country world of peace and sunshine—of droning bees and the nameless fragrance of summer fields it was! And the struggling nomads of the dusty road! Diane felt a kindred thrill of interest in each one of them. Now a Syrian peddler woman, squat and swarthy, bending heavily beneath her pack amid a flurry of dust from the sun-baked roads her feet had wearily padded for days; now a sleepy negro on a load of hay, an organ grinder with a chattering monkey or a clumsy bear, another sleepy negro with another load of hay, and a picturesque minstrel with an elaborate musical contrivance drawn by a horse. Now a capering Italian with a bagpipe, who danced grotesquely to his own piping, and piped the pennies out of rural pockets as if they had been so many copper rats from Hamelin!
Peddlers and tramps and agents, country drummers and country circuses, medicine men who shouted the versatile merits of corn salve by the light of flaring torches, eccentric orators of eccentric theology, tent-shows of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," with real bloodhounds and unreal painted ice, gypsies who were always expected to steal some one's children and never did, peddlers with creaking, clinking wagons, hucksters and motorcyclists, motorists and dusty hikers—one by one in the days to come Diane was to meet them all and learn that the nomads of the summer road were a happy-go-lucky guild of peculiar and cooeperative good humor.
But the girl herself was a truer nomad than many to whom with warm friendliness she nodded and spoke.
Late one afternoon Diane espied a woodland brook. Shot with gold and shadow, it laughed along, under a waving canopy of green, freckled with cool, clean pebbles and hiding roguishly now and then beneath a trailing branch. A brook was a luxury. It was mirror and spring and lullaby in one.
By six the tents of the nomad were pitched by the forest brook and the nomad herself was smoothing back her ruffled hair over a crystalline mirror.
A drowsy negro on a load of hay drove by on the road beyond.
Diane studied him with critical interest.
"Johnny," she said, "just why are there so many drowsy negroes about driving loads of hay? Or is that the same one? And if it is, where under Heaven has he been driving that hay for the last three days?"
Johnny didn't know. Wherefore he pursed his lips and shook his head.
The hay wagon turned on into the forest on the farther side of the road and halted. The drowsy negro leisurely alighted and shuffled through the trees until he stood before Diane with a square of birch bark in his hand. Greatly astonished—for this negro was apparently too lazy to talk when he deemed it unnecessary—Diane took the birch bark and inspected it in mystification. A most amazing message was duly inscribed thereon.
"Erastus has acquired a sinewy chicken from somebody's barn yard," it read. "Why not bring your own plate, knife, fork, spoon and a good saw over to my hay-camp and dine with me?
Diane stared with rising color at the load of hay. From its ragged, fragrant bed, a tall, lean young man with a burned skin, was rising and lazily urging a nondescript yellow dog to do the same. The dog conceivably demurred, for Philip removed him, yelping, by the simple process of seizing him by the loose skin at the back of his neck and dropping him overboard. Having brushed his clothes, the young man came, with smiling composure, through the forest, the yellow dog waggling at his heels.
"I've read so much about breaking the news gently," apologized Philip, smiling, "that I thought I'd better try a bit of it myself. Hence the sylvan note. Ras, if you go to sleep by that tree, I'll like as not let you sleep there until you die. Go back to camp and build a fire and hollow out the feathered biped."
Ras slouched obediently off toward the hay-camp.
"You've hay in your ears!" exclaimed Diane, biting her lips.
"I'm a nomad!" announced Philip calmly. "So's Erastus—so's Dick Whittington here. I'm likely to have hay in my ears for months to come. Dick Whittington," explained Philip, patting the dog, "is a mustard-colored orphan I picked up a couple of days ago. He'd made a vow to gyrate steadily in a whirlwind of dust after a hermit flea who lived on the end of his tail, until somebody adopted him and—er—cut off the grasping hermit. I fell for him, but, like Ras, a sleep bug seems to have bitten him."
"Most likely he unwinds in his sleep," suggested Diane politely. And added, acidly, "Where are you going?'
"Florida!" said Philip amiably.
The girl stared at him with dark, accusing eyes.
"The trip is really no safer now," reminded Philip steadily, "than it was when I left camp."
"In a huff!" flashed Diane disparagingly.
"In a huff," admitted Philip and dismissed the dangerous topic with a philosophic shrug.
"I won't have you trailing after me on a hay-wagon!" exclaimed Diane in honest indignation.
"Hum! Just how," begged Philip, "does one go about effecting a national ordinance to keep hay-carts off the highway?"
As Philip betokened an immediate desire to name over certain rights with which he was vested as a citizen of the United States, Diane was more than willing to change the subject. Persistence was the keynote of Mr. Poynter's existence.
"Johnny," begged Philip, "get Miss Diane some chicken implements, will you, old man? And lend me some salt. You see," he added easily to Diane, "Ras and I are personally responsible for an individual and very concentrated grub equipment. It saves a deal of fussing. I carry mine in my pocket and Ras carries his in his hat, but he wears a roomier tile than I do and never climbs out of it even when he sleeps. Thank you, Johnny. I'll send Ras over with your supper. But if it seems to be getting late, look him up. He may fall asleep."
After repeated indignant refusals which Mr. Poynter characteristically splintered, Diane, intensely curious, went with Mr. Poynter to the hay-camp for supper.
Now although the somnolent Ras had been shuffling drowsily about a fresh fire with no apparent aim, he presently contrived to produce a roasted chicken, fresh cucumbers, some caviare and rolls, coffee and cheese and a small freezer of ice cream, all of which he appeared to take at intervals from under the seat of the hay-cart.
"Ice cream and caviare!" exclaimed the girl aghast. "That's treason."
"I've my own notions of camping," admitted Philip, "and really our way is exceedingly simple and comfortable. Ras loads up the seat pantry at the nearest village and then we cast off all unnecessary ballast every morning. Of course we couldn't very well camp twice in the same place—we decorate so heavily—but that's a negligible factor. Oh, yes," added Philip smiling, "we've blazed our trail with buns and cheese for miles back. Ras thinks whole processions of birds and dogs and tramps and chickens are already following us. If it's true, we'll most likely eat some of 'em."
"Where," demanded Diane hopelessly, "did you get this ridiculous outfit?"
"Well," explained Philip comfortably, "Ras was drowsing by Sherrill's on a load of hay and I bought the cart and the hay and the horses and Ras at a bargain and set out. Ras is a free lance without an encumbrance on earth and I can't imagine a more comfortable manner of getting about than stretched out full length on a load of hay. You can always sleep when you feel like it. And every morning we peel the bed—that is, we dispense with a layer of mattress and presto! I have a fresh bed until the hay's gone. We bought a new load this morning."
Swept by an irresistible spasm of laughter, Diane stared wildly about the hay-camp.
"And Ras?" she begged faintly.
"Well," said Philip slowly, "Ras is peculiarly gifted. He can sleep anywhere. Sometimes he sleeps stretched out on the padded seat of the wagon, and sometimes he sleeps under it—the wagon I mean; not in the pantry. And then of course he sleeps all day while he's driving and once or twice I've found him in a tree. I don't like him to do that," he added with gravity, "for he's so full of hay I'm afraid the birds will begin to make nests in his ears and pockets."
"Mistah Poynteh," reflected Ras, scratching his head through his hat, "is a lunatict. He gits notions. I cain't nohow understan' him but s'long as he don' get ructious I'se gwine drive dat hay-cart to de Norf Pole if he say de word. I hain't never had a real chanst to make my fortune afore."
"And what," begged Diane presently, "do you do when it rains?"
Mr. Poynter agreed that that had been a problem.
"But with our accustomed ingenuity," he added modestly, "we have solved it. Back there in a village we induced a blacksmith with brains and brawn to fit a tall iron frame around the wagon and if the sun's too hot, or it showers, we shed some more hay and drape a tarpaulin or so over the frame. It's an excellent arrangement. We can have side curtains or not just as we choose. In certain wet circumstances, of course, we'll most likely take to barns and inns and wood-houses and corncribs and pick up the trail in the morning. You can't imagine," he added, "how ready pedestrians are to tell us which way the green moving van went."
Whereupon the nomad of the hay-camp and his ruffled guest crossed swords again over a pot of coffee, with inglorious defeat for Diane, who departed for her own camp in a blaze of indignation.
"I'll ignore him!" she decided in the morning as the green van took to the road again. "It's the only way. And after a while he'll most likely get tired and disgruntled and go home. He's subject to huffs anyway. It's utterly useless to talk to him. He thrives on opposition."
Looking furtively back, she watched Mr. Poynter break camp. It was very simple. Ras, yawning prodigiously, heaved a variety of unnecessary provisions overboard from the seat pantry, abandoned the ice-cream freezer to a desolate fate by the ashes of the camp fire and peeled the hay-bed. Philip slipped a small tin plate, a collapsible tin cup, a wooden knife, fork and spoon into his pocket. Ras put his in his hat, which immediately took on a somewhat bloated appearance. Having climbed languidly to the reins, the ridiculous negro appeared to fall asleep immediately. Mr. Poynter, looking decidedly trim and smiling, summoned Dick Whittington, climbed aboard and, whistling, disappeared from view with uncommon grace and good humor. The hay-wagon rumbled off.
Diane bit her lips convulsively and looked at Johnny. Simultaneously they broke into an immoderate fit of laughter.
"Very well," decided the girl indignantly a little later, "if I can't do anything else, I can lose him!"
But even this was easier of utterance than accomplishment. Diane was soon to learn that if the distance between them grew too great, Mr. Poynter promptly unloaded all but a scant layer of hay, took the reins himself, and thundered with expedition up the trail in quest of her, with Dick Whittington barking furiously. It was much too spectacular a performance for a daily diet.
Diane presently ordered her going and coming as if the persistent hay-gypsy on the road behind her did not exist, but every night she caught the cheerful glimmer of his camp fire through the trees, and frowned.
A NOMADIC MINSTREL
Striking west into New York State, Diane had come into Orange County, whence she wound slowly down into northern Jersey, through the Poconos. For days now the dusty wanderers had followed the silver flash of the Delaware, coming at length from a rugged, cooler country of mountain and lake into a sunny valley cleft by the singing river. It was a goodly land of peaceful villages tucked away mid age-old trees, of garrulous, kindly folks and covered bridges, of long, lazy canals with grassy banks banding each shore of the rippling river, of tow-paths padded by the feet of bargemen and bell-hung mules and lock-tenders.
At sunset one night Diane paid her toll at a Lilliputian house built like an architectural barnacle on to the end of a covered bridge, and with a rumble of boards wound slowly through the dusty, twilight tunnel into Pennsylvania. A little later a drowsy negro passed through with a load of hay, a barking dog and a mysterious voice, with a lazy drawl, which directed the payment of the toll from among the hay. Still later a musical nomad driving an angular horse from the seat of a ramshackle cart, accoutered, among other orchestral devices, with clashing cymbals, a drum and a handle which upon being turned a trifle by the curious tollgate keeper aroused a fearful musical commotion in the cart.
From her camp on a wooded spot by the river, Diane presently watched the hay-camp anchor with maddening ease for the night. Ras built a fire, unhitched the horses, produced a variety of things from the seat of the pantry and took his table equipment from his hat. Philip smoked, removed an occasional wisp of hay from his hair and shied friendly pebbles at Richard Whittington.
Diane was busy making coffee when the third nomad appeared with his music machine, and, halting near her, alighted and fell stiffly to turning the eventful crank.
Instantly two terrible drumsticks descended and with globular extremities thumped, by no visible agency, upon the drum. The cymbals clashed—and a long music record began to unfold in segments like a papier-mache snake.
"Well," exclaimed Diane fervently, "I do wish he'd stop! For all we've seen him so often he's never bothered us like this before."
The unfortunate and frequently flagellated "Glowworm," however, continued to glow fearfully, impelled to eruptive scintillation by the crank, and the vocal lady "walked with Billy," and presently the minstrel came through the trees with his hat in his hand, his dark eyes very humble and deferential.
Now as Diane nodded pleasantly and smiled and held forth a coin, the wandering minstrel suddenly swayed, clapped his hand to his forehead with a choking groan and pitched forward senseless upon the ground at her feet. Diane jumped.
"Johnny!" she exclaimed in keen alarm, "we've another invalid. Turn him over!" But it was not Johnny who performed this service for the unfortunate minstrel. It was Mr. Poynter.
"Hum!" said Philip dryly. "That's most likely retribution. A man can't unwind all that hullabaloo without feeling the strain. Water, Johnny, and if you have some smelling salts handy, bring 'em along."
After one or two vigorous attentions on the part of Mr. Poynter, the nomad of the music machine opened his eyes and stared blankly about him. That he was not yet quite himself, however, was readily apparent, for meeting Mr. Poynter's unsmiling glance, he grew very white and faint and begged for water.
Philip supplied it without a word. After an interval of unsympathetic silence, during which the minstrel's eyes roved uncertainly about the camp and returned each time to Philip's face in a fascinated stare, he feebly strove to rise but fell back groaning.
"If—if I might stay here for but the night," he begged pathetically, his accent slightly foreign.
"That's impossible!" said Philip curtly. "I'll help you to your rumpus machine and back there in the village you will find an inn. My man will go with you."
"Philip!" exclaimed Diane with spirit. "The man is ill."
"I'm not denying it," averred Philip stubbornly. "Nor is there any denying the existence of the inn."
"How can you be so heartless!"
"One may also be prudent."
"He'll stay here of course if he wishes. The inn is a mile back."
"Is he the first?" flashed Diane impetuously.
Philip reddened but his eyes were sombre. The knife and the bullet had engendered a certain cynicism.
"As you will!" said he. And consigning to Johnny the care of the invalid, who watched him depart with furtive relief, Philip strode off through the woods. Hospitality, reflected Philip unquietly, was all right in its place, but Diane was an extremist. After supper, however—for Philip was inherently kind hearted and sympathetic—he dispatched Ras to unhitch the minstrel's snorting steed and remove the eccentric music machine from the highway. Johnny had already accomplished both.
Smoking, Philip stared at the firelit hollow where his lady's fire-tinted tents glimmered spectrally through the trees. He was relieved to see that the camp's unbidden guest lay comfortably upon his own blankets by the fire.
Somehow the minstrel's face, clean-shaven, strikingly brown of skin and unmistakably foreign beneath the thatch of dark hair sparsely veined in grey, lingered hauntingly in his memory.
"Where in thunder have I seen him before?" wondered Philip restlessly. "There's something about his eyes and forehead—on the road probably, for of course I've passed him a number of times. Still—Lord!" added Philip with a burst of impatience, "what a salamander I am, to be sure! Whittington, old top, ever since I've known our gypsy lady, I've done nothing but fuss."
But, nevertheless, when Diane's camp finally settled into quiet for the night, there was a watchful sentry in the forest who did not retire to his bed of hay until Johnny was astir at daybreak. And Philip was to find his bearings in a staggering flash of memory and know no peace for many a day to come.
THE ROMANCE OF MINSTRELSY
"I am glad to see that you are better," said Diane pleasantly.
The minstrel, who had bathed his hands and face in the river until they were darkly ruddy, bowed with singular grace and ease. That he was grave and courtly of manner and strikingly handsome to boot, Diane had already noticed with a flash of wonder.
"I owe you much," said he simply. "My life perhaps—"
"I am sure," protested Diane, "that you greatly overrate my small service."
"Day by day," exclaimed the minstrel sombrely, "I travel the summer roads in quest of health."
Not a little interested, Diane raised frankly sympathetic eyes to his in diffident question.
"The music?" said the minstrel with his slow, grave smile. "Is there not more romance and adventure in the life of a wandering minstrel than in that of an idle seeker after health? In the open one finds happiness, health, color and life!"
Diane felt a sudden tie of sympathy link her subtly to this mysterious nomad of the summer road. Simply and naturally she spoke of her own love of the wild things that filled the sylvan world with life and color.
"You look much then at the wild flowers!" he exclaimed delightedly. "There was a leaf back there on a mountain, the edge of white, a white blossom in the heart like a patch of snow—"
"Snow-on-the-mountain!" exclaimed Diane. "I've looked for it for days."
"It shall be my ambition to bring you some," said the minstrel gallantly. "I shall not forget."
Diane glanced furtively at the picturesque attire which her nomadic guest wore with a certain dashing grace, and marveled afresh. It was of ragged corduroy with a brightly colored handkerchief about the throat which foiled his vivid skin artistically. Indeed there was more of sophistication in the careful blending of colors than even the normal seeker after health might deem expedient for his purpose.
"It is to few—to none indeed save you that I have confided the secret of my minstrelsy," he said deferentially a little later. "Illness, love of adventure, a longing to brush elbows with the world, a hunger for the woodland—in the eyes of unromantic men these things are weaknesses. You and I know differently, but nevertheless it is best that I seem but a poor vagrant grinding forth a hapless tune for the coppers by the wayside."
The minstrel gazed idly at the hay-camp.
"One does not quite understand," he suggested raising handsome eyebrows in subtle disapproval; "the negro, the hay—the curious camp?"
Diane recalled Philip's unfeeling attitude of the night before.
"A happy-go-lucky young man with a taste for hay," she said. "I know little of him."
"One treasures one's confidence from the unsympathetic," ventured the minstrel. "Now the young man of the hay, I take it, is intensely practical and let us say—unromantic. Lest he laugh and scoff—" he shrugged and glanced furtively at the girl's face. It was brightly flushed and very lovely. The velvet dusk of Diane's eyes was sparkling with the zest of woodland adventure. To repose a confidence in one so spirited and beautiful was fascinating sport—and safe.
Now the minstrel found as the morning waned that he was not so strong as he had fancied. Wherefore he lay humbly by the fire and talked of his fortunes by the roadside. Bits of philosophy, of sparkling jest, of vivid description, to these Diane listened with parted lips and eyes alive with wholesome interest as her guest contrived to veil himself in a silken web of romance and mystery.
It was sunset before the girl felt uncomfortably that he ought to go. A little later, on her way to the van, she found a volume of Herodotus in the original Greek which with a becoming air of guilt the minstrel owned that he had dropped.
"Ah, Herodotus!" he murmured, smiling. "After all, was he not the wandering, romantic father of all of us who are nomads!"
"I wonder," said a lazy voice among the trees, "I wonder now if old Herodotus ever heard of a hay-camp."
Removing a wisp of hay from his shoe with a certain matter-of-fact grace characteristic of him, Mr. Poynter, who had been invisible all day, arrived in the camp of the enemy. Diane saw with a fretful flash of wonder that he was immaculate as usual. She saw too that the minstrel was annoyed and that he dropped the volume of Herodotus into his pocket with a flush and a frown.
"I trust," said Philip politely, "that you are better?"
Save for a slight dizziness, the minstrel said, he was.
"And yet," urged Philip feelingly, "I'm sure you'll not take to the road to-night, feeling wobbly. The inn back there in the village is immensely attractive. And a bed is the place for a sick man."
"He will remain where he is," flashed Diane perversely, "until he feels quite able to go on."
"Will you?" asked Philip pointedly.
The minstrel rose weakly and glanced at Diane with profound gratitude.
"After all," he said hurriedly, "he is doubtless right. Ill or not I must go on."
"An excellent notion!" approved Philip cordially. "I'll go with you."
Now whether or not the hurry and excitement of rising in these somewhat frictional circumstances brought on a recurrence of the nomad's singular disease, Diane did not know, but certainly he staggered and fell back, faint and moaning by the fire, thereby arousing an immediate commotion.
Philip grimly took his pulse and met Diane's sympathetic glance with one of honest indignation.
"Diane," he said in a low voice, "he is tricking you into sympathy merely for the comfort of your camp. Twice now his fainting has been attended by an absolutely normal pulse. Let Ras and Johnny carry him back to his rumpus machine and I'll drive him to the inn."
"You'll do nothing of the sort!" exclaimed the girl with flaming color. "Why are you so suspicious?"
AT THE GRAY OF DAWN
It was very quiet in the wood by the river. A late moon swung its golden censer above the water by invisible chains, marking checkered aisles of light in the silent wood, burnishing elfin rosaries of dew, touching with cool, white fingers of benediction the leaf-cowled heads of stately trees. Like lines of solemn monks they stood listening raptly to the deep, full chant of the moving river. The sylvan mass of the night was a thing of infinite peace and mystery, of silence and solemnity.
Into the hush of the moonlit night came presently a jarring note, the infernal racket of a motorcycle. Philip, a lone sentry by the camp of his lady, stirred and frowned. The clatter ceased. Once again the lap of the restless river and the rustle of trees were the only sounds in the silent wood. Philip glanced at the muffled figure of the minstrel asleep on the ground by the dead embers of the camp fire, and leaning carelessly upon his elbow, fell again into the train of thought disturbed by the clatter.
"Herodotus!" said Philip. "Hum!" And roused to instant alertness by the crackle of a twig in the forest, he glanced sharply roadwards where the trees thinned.
There was something moving stealthily along in the shadows. With narrowed eyes the sentry noiselessly flattened himself upon the ground and fell to watching.
A stealthy crackle—and silence. A moving shadow—a halt!
A patch of moonlight lay ahead. For an interval which to Philip seemed unending, there was no sound or movement, then a figure glided swiftly through the patch of moonlight and approached the camp. It was a man in the garb of a motorcyclist.
Noiselessly Philip shifted his position. The cyclist crept to the shelter of a tree and halted.
The moon now hung above the wood. Its light, showering softly through the trees as the night wind swayed the branches, fell presently upon the camp and the face of the cyclist.
It was Themar.
Now as Philip watched, Themar crouched suddenly and fell to staring at the muffled figure by the camp fire. For an interval he crouched motionless; then with infinite caution he moved to the right. A branch swept his cap back from his forehead and Philip saw now that his face was white and staring.
And in that instant as he glanced at the horrified face of the Houdanian, Philip knew. The stained skin, the smooth-shaven chin and lip of the minstrel—if Themar had found them puzzling, the revealment had come to him, as it had come to Philip, in a flash of bewilderment.
With a bound, the startled American was on his feet, stealing rapidly toward the man by the tree. To the spying, the mystery, the infernal trickery and masquerading which dogged his lady's trail, Themar held the key, wherefore—
Cursing, Philip forged ahead. The carpet of dry twigs beneath him had betrayed his approach and Themar was running wildly through the forest.
On and on they went, stumbling and flying through the moonlit wood to the towpath. But Philip was much the better runner and soon caught the fleeing cyclist by the collar with a grip of steel.
"Poynter!" panted Themar, staring.
"At your service!" Mr. Poynter assured him and politely begged instant and accurate knowledge of a number of things, of a knife and a bullet, of Themar's spying, of a cuff, of the man by the fire who read Herodotus, of a motorcyclist seeking for days to overtake a nomad.
"I—I dare not tell," faltered Themar, moistening his lips. "I—I am bound by an oath—"
"To spy and steal and murder!"
Themar stared sullenly at the river, gray now with the coming dawn. His dark face was drawn and haggard.
And again Mr. Poynter shot a volley of questions and awaited the answers with dangerous quiet.
Shaking, Themar refused again to answer. With even more quietness and courtesy Philip obligingly gave him a final opportunity and finding Themar white and inexorable, smiled.
"Very well, then," said Mr. Poynter warmly, "I'll take it out of your hide." Which he proceeded to do with that consummate thoroughness which characterized his every action, husbanding the strength of his long, lean arms until a knife appeared in Themar's hand. Then in deadly silence Mr. Poynter reduced his treacherous assailant to a battered hulk upon the towpath.
A mule bell tinkled in the quiet.
Upstream on the path between canal and river two mules appeared with a man slouching heavily behind them. The towline led to a grimy scow which loomed out of the misty stillness like a heavier drift of the dawn itself.
"Hello!" Philip hailed the mule driver.
"What's wantin'?" asked the man and halted.
Philip indicated Themar with his foot.
"Here is a gentleman," he explained, "whom I discovered lurking about my camp a while ago. He showed me his knife and I've mussed him up a bit."
The mule-driver bent over Themar and sharply scanned the dark, foreign face.
"One o' them damned black-and-tans, eh?" he growled. "They're too ready with their knives. What ye goin' to do with him?"
"I'm wondering," shrugged Philip, smoothing his rumpled hair back from his forehead with the palm of his hand, "if you'll permit me to pay his passage to a hospital, the farther away, the better."
The mule-driver glanced searchingly at Mr. Poynter's face. Apparently satisfied, he cupped his mouth with his hands and called "Ho, Jem!"
"Jem" jerked sharply at the tiller and presently the scow scraped the shore. The mule-driver consigned the care of his mules to Philip and scrambled down the grassy bank to the edge of the water.
"Where ye want him took?" demanded Jem, scratching a bristling shock of hair which glimmered through the dawn like a thicket of spikes.
"Well," said Mr. Poynter indifferently, "where are you going?"
Jem named a town many miles away. The mule-driver looked hard again at Philip.
"Gawd, young feller," he admired, "you're a cool un all right!"
"Take him there," said Philip with the utmost composure. "Deliver him somewhere a reasonable distance off for repairs and I'll pay you fifty dollars."
"See here," broke in Jem, somewhat staggered by the careless manner in which Mr. Poynter handled fortunes, "hain't no foul play about this here, eh? Asher says he's mussed up considerable."
"Asher's right," admitted Mr. Poynter modestly. "I did the best I could, of course. Come up and look him over. He's decorated mournfully with fist marks, but nothing worse. There's his knife."
After a somewhat cautious inspection, Themar was hoisted aboard the scow and harnessed discreetly with ropes. Jem shared his companion's distrust of black-and-tans. With a tinkle of mule-bells the cortege faded away into the gray of dawn.
Later, Mr. Poynter discovered an abandoned motorcycle by the roadside, which with some little malice he had crated at the nearest town and dispatched to Baron Tregar.
Thereafter, after a warning talk with Johnny, Philip slept by day and watched by night.
Southward wound the green and white van; southward the hay-camp with infrequent scurries to inn and barn for shelter; southward, his health still improving, went the musical nomad, unwinding his musical hullabaloo for the torture of musical crowds.
Now the world was a-riot with the life and color of midsummer. Sleepy cows browsed about in fields dotted with orange daisies, horses switched their tails against the cloudless sky on distant hillsides, sheep freckled the sunny pastures, and here and there beneath an apple tree heavy with fruit, lumbered a mother-sow with her litter of pigs. Sun-bleached dust clouded the highway and the swaying fields of corn were slim and tall.
The shuttle of Fate clicked and clicked as she wove and crossed and tangled the threads of these wandering, sun-brown nomads. How frequently the path of the music machine crossed the path of the van, no one knew so well perhaps as Philip, but Philip at times was tantalizing and mysterious and only evidenced his knowledge in peculiar and singularly aggravating ways.
For the friendship between Diane and the handsome minstrel was steadily growing. By what subtle hints, by what ingenuous bursts of confidence, by what bewildering flashes of inherent magnetism he contrived to cement it, who may say? But surely his romantic resources like his irresistible charm of speech and manner, were varied. A rare flower, an original and highly commendable bit of woodland verse, some luxury of fruit or camping device, in a hundred delicate ways he contrived to make the girl his debtor, talking much in his grave and courtly way of the gratitude he owed her. Adroitly then this romantic minstrel spun his shining, varicolored web, linking them together as sympathetic nomads of the summer road; adroitly too he banned Philip, who by reason of a growing and mysterious habit of sleeping by day had gained for himself a blighting reputation of callous indifference to the charm of the beautiful rolling country all around them.
"I'm exceedingly sorry," read a scroll of birch bark which Ras drowsily delivered to Diane one sunset, "but I'll have to ask you to invite me to supper. Ras bought an unhappy can of something or other behind in the village and it exploded.
"If I refuse," Diane wrote on the back, "you'll come anyway. You always do. Why write? Will you contribute enough hay for a cushion? Johnny's making a new one for Rex."
It was one of the vexing problems of Diane's nomadic life, just how to treat Mr. Philip Poynter. It was increasingly difficult to ignore or quarrel with him—for his memory was too alarmingly porous to cherish a grudge or resentment. When a man has had a bump upon his only head, held Mr. Poynter, things are apt to slip away from him. Wherefore one may pardon him if after repeated commands to go home, and certain frost-bitten truths about officious young men, he somehow forgot and reappeared in the camp of the enemy in radiant good humor.
Philip presently arrived with a generous layer of hay under his arm and a flour bag of tomatoes.
"Hello," he called warmly. "Isn't the sunset bully! It even woke old Ras up and he's blinking and grumbling like fury." Mr. Poynter fell to chatting pleasantly, meanwhile removing from his clothing certain wisps of hay.