"And what have you accomplished?" flamed Ronador passionately. "Granberry, for all your ciphered pledges, lives and mocks me as he did tonight, as he did months back. I could kill him for the indignities he has heaped upon me, if for nothing else. And he knows more than you think. What did he mean to-night?"
"Circumstances," said Tregar coldly, "have made you unduly sensitive and suspicious. Granberry's costume was planned maliciously as an impersonal affront to me. He knew of my plans through a telegram of mine to Themar and made his own accordingly. It was not your past to which he referred. Surely it is not difficult to catch his meaning?"
"Blunders and blunders and quixotic scruples," raved Ronador, "and now this crowning indignity to-night! What has Themar been doing? . . . What have you done? . . . Why is Granberry still alive? Hereafter, Tregar, Themar will report to me. I personally will see that the thing is cleared up and silenced forever. I may trust at least to your silence?"
"My word as a gentleman is sufficient?"
"Consider me pledged to silence as I have been for a quarter of a century."
"Where is Themar?"
"He is here at my command to-night after an illness of weeks. He has been Granberry's prisoner. His illness alone won his release for him through some inconsistent whim of sympathy on the part of Granberry. He wears the garb of a gray monk."
"Send him here."
The Baron bowed and withdrew. At the path he turned.
"Ronador," he said quietly, "for the sake of the lifetime friendship I have borne your father, for the sake of the position of honor and trust I hold in your father's court, for the sake of my great love for Houdania, let me say that when you find you are sinking deeper and deeper into a pitfall of errors and unhappiness and treachery, I shall be ready and willing to aid and advise you as best I may. I think I know you better than you know yourself. You have an inheritance of wild passion, a nature that swayed by irresistible and fiery impulse, will for the moment dare anything and regret it with terrible suffering ever after. One such lesson you have had in early manhood. I hope you may not rush on blindly to another. Until you come to me, however," he added with dignity, "I shall not meddle again."
"I shall not come!" said Ronador imperiously. But the Baron was gone.
Later, by the cypress pool, the gray monk and the minstrel talked long and earnestly of one who knew overmuch of the affairs of both.
"There is but one thing more," faltered Themar at the end. "I may speak with freedom?"
"Yes," said Ronador impatiently, "what is it?"
"Miss Westfall—I spied upon her camp in Connecticut—"
"It is well to know all. For days she lived with Poynter in the forest—"
Ronador's eyes blazed.
"Go, go!" he cried, his face quite colorless, "for the love of God go before I kill you! I—I can not bear any more to-night."
Who had scored! For Ronador, at least, in the guileful hands of a traitor who by reason of a strong maternal sympathy desired the alliance of Ronador and Princess Phaedra, there was doubt and bitter suffering. And he might not return to the music-machine.
Themar's thin lips smiled but he wisely retreated.
Northward to Jacksonville had journeyed the camp of the Indian girl, bearing away Diane, to Aunt Agatha's unspeakable agitation. Now, joining forces, these two forest friends, linked in an idle moment by the nameless freemasonry of the woodland, were winding happily south along the seacoast. Nights their camps lay side by side.
Keela, with shy and delightful gravity, slipped wide-eyed into the niceties of civilization, coiled her heavy hair in the fashion of Diane and copied her dress naively. Diane felt a thrill of satisfaction at this singular finding of a friend whose veins knew the restless stir of nomadic blood, a friend who was fleeter of foot, keener of vision and hearing and better versed in the ways of the woodland than Diane herself. And Diane had known no peer in the world of white men.
There were gray dawns when a pair of silent riders went galloping through the stillness upon the Westfall horses, riding easily without saddles; there were twilights when they swam in sheltered pools like wild brown nymphs; there were quiet hours by the camp fire when the inborn reticence of the Indian girl vanished in the frank sincerity of Diane's friendship. Of Mr. Poynter and the hay-camp there was no sign.
"Doubtless," considered Diane disdainfully, "he has come at last to his senses. And I'm very glad he has, very glad indeed. It's time he did. I think I made my displeasure sufficiently clear at the exceedingly tricky way he and the Baron conducted themselves at Palm Beach. And the Baron was no better than Philip. Indeed, I think he was very much worse. If Philip hadn't wandered about in the garb of Herodotus and murmured that impertinence about 'frost in Florida' it wouldn't have been so bad. It's a very unfortunate thing, however, that he never seems to remember one's displeasure or the cause of it."
But for one who rejoiced in Mr. Poynter's belated inheritance of common sense, Diane's comment a few days later was very singular.
"I wonder," she reflected uncomfortably, "if Philip understands smoke signals. He may be lost."
But Philip was not lost. He was merely discreet.
A lonely beach fringed in sand hills lay before the camp. Beyond rolled the ocean, itself a melancholy solitude droning under an azure sky. There were beach birds running in flocks down the sand as the white-ridged foam receded; overhead an Indian file of pelicans winged briskly out to sea.
On the broad, hard beach to the north presently appeared a music-machine. Piebald horse, broad, eccentric wagon, cymbals and drum—there was no mistaking the outfit, nor the minstrel himself with his broad-brimmed sombrero tipped protectively over his nose.
Now despite the fact that the Baron had hinted that Ronador's masquerade was at an end, the music-machine steadily approached and halted. The minstrel alighted and fell stiffly to turning the crank, whereupon with a fearful roll of the drum and a clash of cymbals, the papier-mache snake began to unfold and "An Old Girl of Mine" emerged from the cataclysm of sound and frightened the fish hawks over the shallow water. A great blue heron, knee-deep in water, croaked with annoyance, flapped his wings and departed.
When the dreadful commotion in the wagon at last subsided, the minstrel came through the trees and sweeping off his sombrero, bowed and smiled.
"Merciful Heavens!" exclaimed the girl, staring.
It was Mr. Poynter.
"I'm sorry," regretted Mr. Poynter. "I'm really sorry I feel so well—but I've got a music-machine." And seating himself most comfortably by the fire, with a frankly admiring glance at his corduroy trousers, silken shirt and broad sombrero, he anxiously inquired what Diane thought of his costume. Indeed, he admitted, that thought had been uppermost in his mind for days, for he'd copied it very faithfully.
"It's ridiculous!" said Diane, "and you know it."
There, said Mr. Poynter, he must disagree. He didn't know it.
"Well," said Diane flatly, "to my thinking, this is considerably worse than blowing a tin whistle on the steps of the van!"
Mr. Poynter could not be sure. He said in his delightfully naive way, however, that a music-machine was a thing to arouse romance and sympathy with conspicuous success, that more and more the moon was getting him, and that he did hope Diane would remember that he was the disguised Duke of Connecticut. Moreover, his most tantalizing shortcoming up-to-date had seemed to be a total inability to arouse said romance and sympathy, especially sympathy, for, whether or not Diane would believe it, even here in this land of flowers he had encountered frost! Wherefore, having personal knowledge of the success incidental to unwinding a hullabaloo in proper costume, he had purchased one from a—er—distinguished gentleman who for singular and very private reasons had no further use for it. And though the negotiations, for reasons unnamable, had had to be conducted with infinite discretion through an unknown third person, he had eventually found himself the possessor of the hullabaloo, to his great delight. He had hullabalooed his way along the coast in the wake of a nomadic friend, but deeming it wise to await the dispersal of frost strangely engendered by a Regent's Hymn, had discreetly kept his distance and proved his benevolence, in the manner of his distinguished predecessor, by playing to all the nice old ladies in the dooryards. . . . And one of them had given him a piece of pie and a bottle of excellent coffee and fretted a bit about the way he was wasting his life. Mr. Poynter added that in the fashion of certain young darkies who infest the Southern roads, he would willingly stand on his head for a baked potato in lieu of a nickel, being very hungry.
"You probably mean by that, that you're going to stay to supper!" said Diane.
Mr. Poynter meant just that.
"Where," demanded Diane, "is the hay-camp?"
"Well," said Philip, "Ras is a hay-bride-groom. He dreamt he was married and it made such a profound impression upon him that he went and married somebody. He slept through his wooing and he slept through his wedding and I gave him the hay and the cart and Dick Whittington. I don't think he entirely appreciated Dick either, for he blinked some. All of which primarily engendered the music-machine inspiration. It's really a very comfortable way of traveling about and the wagon was fastidiously fitted up by my distinguished predecessor. The seat's padded and plenty broad enough to sleep on."
Mr. Poynter presently departed to the music-machine for a peace offering in the shape of a bow and some arrows upon which, he said, he'd been working for days. When he returned, laden with luxurious contributions to the evening meal, the camp had still another guest. Keela was sitting by the fire. Philip eyed with furtive approval the modish shirtwaist, turned back at the full brown throat, and the heavily coiled hair.
"The Seminole rig," explained Diane, "was an excellent drawing card for Palm Beach tourists but it was a bit conspicuous for the road. Greet him in Seminole, Keela."
"Som-mus-ka-lar-nee-sha-maw-lin!" said Keela with gravity.
Philip looked appalled.
"She says 'Good wishes to the white man!'" explained Diane, smiling.
"My Lord," said Philip, "I wouldn't have believed it. Keela, I thought you were joint by joint unwinding a yard or so of displeasure at my appearance. No-chit-pay-lon-es-chay!" he added irresponsibly, naming a word he had picked up in Palm Beach from an Indian guide.
The effect was electric. Keela stared. Diane look horrified.
"Philip!" she said. "It means 'Lie down and go to sleep!'"
"To the Happy Hunting Ground with that bonehead Indian!" said Philip with fervor. "Lord, what a civil retort!" and he stammered forth an instant apology.
Immeasurably delighted, Keela laughed.
"You are very funny," she said in English. "I shall like you."
"That's really very comfortable!" said Philip gratefully. "I don't deserve it." He held forth the bow and arrows. "See if you can shoot fast and far enough to have six arrows in the air at once," he said, smiling, "and I'll believe I'm forgiven."
With lightning-like grace Keela shot the arrows into the air and smiled.
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Philip admiringly. "Seven!"
With deft fingers she strung the bow again and shot, her cheeks as vivid as a wild flower, her poise and skill faultless.
"Eight!" said Philip incredulously. "Help!"
"Keela is easily the best shot I ever knew," exclaimed Diane warmly. "Try it, Philip."
"Not much!" said Philip feelingly. "I can shoot like a normal being with one pair of arms, but I can't string space with arrows like that. You forest nymphs," he added with mild resentment, "with woodland eyes and ears and skill put me to shame. You and I, Diane, quarreled once, I think, about the number of Pleiades—"
"They're an excellent test of eyesight," nodded Diane. "And you said there were only six!"
"There is no seventh Pleiad!" said Philip with stubborn decision.
"Eight!" said Keela shyly. And they both stared. Shooting a final arrow, she sent it so far that Philip indignantly refused to look for it.
BY THE WINDING CREEK
At dawn one morning a long black car shot out from Jacksonville and took to the open road. It glided swiftly past arid stretches of pine barrens streaked with stagnant water, past bogs aglow with iris, through quaint little cities smiling under the shelter of primeval oaks and on, stopping only long enough for the driver to ask a question of a negro on a load of wood—or a mammy singing plaintively in the flower-bright dooryard of a house.
Sometimes losing, sometimes finding, the trail of a green and white van, the long black car shot on, through roads of pleasant windings flanked by forest and river, beyond which lay the line of green-fringed sand hills which parallel the rolling Atlantic. Past placid lakes skimmed by purple martins, past orange groves heavy with fruit, past fences overrun with Cherokee roses, and on, but the driver, abroad with the sunrise glow, seemed somehow to see little or none of it. Sometimes he stared sombrely at a ghostly palmetto, tall and dark against the sky. Once with a grinding shudder of brakes he halted on the border of a cypress swamp and stared frowningly at the dark, dank trees knee-deep in stagnant water above which the buzzards flew, as if the loathsome spot matched his mood. As indeed it did.
For the words of Themar had done cruel work. Torn by black suspicion, Ronador saw no peace in this tranquil Florida world of sun and flower, of warm south wind and bright-winged bird. He saw only the buzzards, birds of evil omen. Swayed by fiery gusts of passion, of remorse, of sullenness and jealousy, he rode on, a prey to sinister resolution. To confront Diane with his knowledge of those days by the river, this resolution alternated as frequently with another—to put his fate to the test and passionately avow his utter trust in one immeasurably above the rank and file of women. He had racked Themar with insistent questions, he had quarreled again and again with the Baron since that night by the pool, until now he had at his finger-ends, the ways and days of Philip Poynter since the day the Baron had dispatched his young secretary upon the ill-fated errand to Diane. And as there were finer moments when his faith in the girl was unmarred by suspicion, so there were wild, unscrupulous hours of jealousy when he could have killed Philip and taunted her with insults.
Driving steadily, he came in course of time to a narrow, grass-banked creek. The nomads on the winding road beside it were many and beautiful. Here were yellow butterflies, sandpipers and kingfishers, and now and then an eagle cleaved the dazzling blue overhead with magnificent wing-strokes. Sand hills reflected the white sunlight. Beyond glistened a stretch of open sea with a flock of beautiful gannets of black and white whipping its surface. But Ronador did not thrill to the peaceful picture. He glanced instead at the buzzard which seemed curiously to hang above the long black car.
Now presently as he eyed the road ahead for a glimpse of the van, Ronador saw the familiar lines of a music-machine and drove by it with a glance of interest. Instantly the blood rushed violently to his face. For, as the horse and music-machine had been familiar, so was the driver, who swept a broad sombrero from his head and revealed the face of Philip Poynter.
With a curse Ronador abruptly brought the car to a standstill. The very irony of this masquerade fired him with terrible anger.
"You!" he choked. "You!"
"I guess you're right," he said.
The blazing dark eyes and the calm, unruffled blue ones met in a glance of implacable antagonism. Not in the least impressed Philip replaced his sombrero and spoke to his horse. Fish crows flew overhead with croaks of harsh derision.
Another buzzard! With a terrible jerk, Ronador drove on, his face scarlet.
So Poynter still dared to follow! By a trick he had bought the music-machine, by a trick he had given the Regent's Hymn to the curious ears at Sherrill's. Very well, there were tricks and tricks! And if one man may trick, so, surely, may another.
Passion had always hushed the voice of the imperial conscience, though indeed it awoke and cried in a terrible voice when passion was dead. So now with stiff white lips fixed in unalterable resolution, Ronador drove viciously on, turning over and over in his fevered brain the ways and days of Philip Poynter. . . . So at last he came to the camp he sought.
It was pitched upon the upland bank of the winding creek and as the car shot rapidly toward it, a great blue heron flapped indignantly and soared away to the marsh beyond the trees. Ronador jumped queerly and colored with a sense of guilt.
There was yellow oxalis here carpeting the ground among the low, dark cedars, yellow butterflies flitted about among the trees where Johnny was washing the van, and the inevitable buzzard floated with upturned wings above the camp. Ronador had grown to hate the ubiquitous bird of the South. Superstition flamed hotly up in his heart now at the sight of it.
Diane was sewing. He had caught the flutter of her gown beneath a cedar as he stopped the car. There was no one visible in the camp of the Indian girl. Ronador sprang from his car and waved to the girl, smiling, she came to meet him.
Now as Ronador smiled down into the clear, unfaltering eyes of the girl before him, he knew suddenly that he trusted her utterly, that the mad suspicion, sired by the words of Themar and mothered by jealousy, was but a dank mist that melted away in the sunlight of her presence. Only jealousy remained and a smouldering, unscrupulous hate for the persistent young organ-grinder behind him.
Chatting pleasantly they returned to camp.
Imperceptibly their talk of the fortunes of the road took on a more intimate tinge of reminiscence and presently, with searching eyes fixed upon the vivid, lovely face of the wind-brown gypsy beneath the cedar, Ronador asked the girl to marry him.
Very gently Diane released her hands from his grasp, her cheeks scarlet.
"Indeed, indeed," she faltered, "I could not with fairness answer you now, for I do not in the least know what I think. You will not misunderstand me, I am sure, if I tell you that not once in the long, pleasant days we journeyed the same roads, did I ever dream of the nature of your pleasant friendship." Her frank, dark eyes, alive with a beautiful sincerity, met his honestly. "There was always tradition—" she reminded.
Ronador's reply was sincere and gallant. Diane was lovelier than any princess, he said, and in Houdania, tradition had been replaced years back by a law which granted freedom.
"Though to be sure," he added bitterly, "each generation seeks to break it. Tregar tried, urging me persistently for diplomatic reasons to take a wife of his choosing. And when I—I fled to America to escape his infernal scheming and spying—he followed. Even here in America I have been haunted by spies—"
His glance wavered.
"And then," he went on earnestly, "I saw you and I knew that Princess Phaedra was forever impossible. There was a night of terrible wind and storm when I planned to beg shelter in your camp and make your acquaintance. . . . You are annoyed?"
"No," said Diane honestly. "Why fuss now?"
"Tregar must have suspected. I met his—his spy in the forest and we quarreled wildly. He tried to kill me but the bullet went wild."
Again his glance wavered but the lying words came smoothly. "My servant, Themar, leaped and stabbed him in the shoulder—"
"No! No!" cried Diane. "Not that—not that!" Her eyes, dark with horror in the colorless oval of her face, met Ronador's with mute appeal. "It—it can not be," she added quietly. "The man was Philip Poynter."
Ronador caught her hands again with fierce resolve. His eyes were blazing with excitement and anger at the utter faith in her voice.
"Why do you think I adopted the stained face—the disguise of a wandering minstrel?" he demanded impetuously. "It was to free myself from his infernal spying—to afford myself the opportunity of gaining your friendship without his knowledge! Why did he follow—always follow? Because at the command of his chief, he must needs obstruct my plan of winning you. There was always Princess Phaedra! Why did he watch by night in the forest. To spy! Can you not see it?"
"Surely, surely," said Diane, "you must be wrong!"
But Ronador could not be wrong. Themar, his servant, whom he had dispatched to seek employment with the Baron when the fortunes of the road had made further attendance upon himself inconvenient, had learned of the hay-camp and of Poynter's pledge to make his victim's advances ridiculous in the eyes of Diane.
"And when Themar followed—to warn me—Poynter beat him brutally," he went on fiercely, "beat him and sent him in a dirty barge to a distant city. All the while when I fancied my disguise impenetrable, he was laughing in his sleeve, for he is as clever as he is unscrupulous. He was even meeting his chief in a Kentucky woods to report. Tregar admitted it. Why did he make me ridiculous at the Sherrill fete? Purely because your eyes, Miss Westfall, were among those who watched the indignity! Why is he driving about now in the music-machine to mock me? Because having forced me from the road, he must needs see to it that I do not return. When I do, he must be near at hand to report to the Baron."
It was an artful network. Somehow, by virtue of the sinister skeleton of facts underlying the velvet of his logic, it rang true. Diane, as colorless as a flower, sat utterly silent, slender brown fingers tightened against the palms of her hands.
Philip false! Philip a spy! Philip—almost a murderer! It could not be!
Yet how insistently he had striven to force her to return to civilization. Away from Ronador? It might be. How insistently the Baron had urged him to linger in her camp! To spy? A great wave of faintness swept over her. And there was Arcadia and the hay-camp and the mildly impudent indignities—they all slipped accurately into place.
"I—I do not know!" she faltered at last in answer to his impetuous pleading. "If you will not see me again until I may think it all out—"
But there was danger in waiting. A hot appeal flashed in Ronador's eyes and eloquently again he fell to pleading.
But Diane had caught the clatter of the music-machine up the road where Philip was good-humoredly unwinding the hullabaloo for a crowd of gleeful young darkies, and suddenly she turned very white and stern.
"No! No!" she said. "It must be as I said."
And presently, with faith in his poisoned arrows Ronador went, pledged to await her summons.
Diane sat very still beneath the cedars, with the noise of the music-machine wild torture to her ears.
THE MOON ABOVE THE MARSH
The moon silvered the marsh and the creek. Off to the east rippled a silent, moon-white stretch of sea, infinitely lonely, murmuring in the star-cool night.
Restless and wakeful Diane watched the stream glide endlessly on, each reed and pebble silvered. Rex lay on the bank beside her, whither he had followed faithfully a very long while ago, snapping at the insects which rose from the grass. So colorless and fixed was the face of his mistress that it seemed a beautiful graven thing devoid of life.
Now presently as Diane stared at the moon-lit pebbles glinting at her feet, a shadow among the cedars, having advanced and retreated uncertainly a score of times before, suddenly detached itself from the wavering stencil of tree and bush upon the moonlit ground and resolved itself into the figure of a tall, determined sentinel who approached and seated himself beside her.
"What's wrong?" begged Philip gently. "I've been watching you for hours, Diane, and you've scarcely moved an inch."
"Nothing," said Diane. But her voice was so lifeless, her lack of interest in Philip's sudden appearance so pointed, that he glanced keenly at her colorless face and frowned.
"There is something, I'm sure," he insisted kindly. "You look it." Finding that she did not trouble to reply, he produced his wildwood pipe and fell to smoking.
"Likely I'll stay here," said Philip quietly, "until you tell me. Surely you know, Diane, that in anything in God's world that concerns you, I stand ready to help you if you need me."
It was manfully spoken but Diane's lips faintly curled. Philip's fine frank face colored hotly and he looked away.
In silence they sat there, Philip smoking restlessly and wondering, Diane staring at the creek, with Ronador's impassioned voice ringing wildly in her ears.
In the east the sky turned faintly primrose, the creek glowed faintly pink. The great moon glided lower by the marsh with the branch of a dead tree black against its brilliant shield. Marsh and oak were faintly gray. The metallic ocean had already caught the deepening glow of life. Where the stream stole swampwards, a mist curled slowly up from the water like beckoning ghosts draped in nebulous rags.
Suddenly in the silence Diane fell to trembling.
"Philip!" she cried desperately.
"Yes?" said Philip gently.
"Why are you following me with the music-machine?"
"I could tell you," said Philip honestly, "and I'd like to, but you'd tell me again that the moon is on my head."
The girl smiled faintly.
"Tell me," she begged impetuously, "what was that other reason why I must not journey to Florida in the van? You spoke of it by the lily pool in Connecticut. You remember?"
"Yes," said Philip uncomfortably. "Yes, I do remember."
"What was it?" insisted Diane, her eyes imploring. "Surely, Philip, you can tell me now! I—I did not ask you then—"
"No," said Philip wistfully. "I—I think you trusted me then, for all our friendship was a thing of weeks."
"What was it?" asked Diane, grown very white.
"I am sorry," said Philip simply. "I may not tell you that, Diane. I am pledged."
"It is better," said Philip, "if I do not tell."
Diane sharply caught her breath and stared at the sinister wraiths rising in floating files from the swamp stream.
"Philip—was it—was it Themar's knife?"
"Yes," said Philip.
"And the man to whom you are pledged is—Baron Tregar!"
"Yes," said Philip again.
"Why were you in the forest that night of storm and wind?"
Philip glanced keenly at the girl by the creek. Her profile was stern and very beautiful, but the finely moulded lips had quivered.
"What is it, Diane?" he begged gently. "Why is it that you must ask me all these things that I may not honorably answer?"
"I—I do not see why you may not answer."
"An honorable man respects his promise scrupulously!" said Philip with a sigh. "You would not have me break mine?"
"Why," cried Diane, "did you fight with Themar in the forest? Why have you night after night watched my camp? Oh, Philip, surely, surely, you can tell me!"
Philip sighed. With his infernal habit of mystery and pledges, the Baron had made this very hard for him.
"None of these things," he said quietly, "I may tell you or anyone."
Diane leaned forward and laid her hand upon his arm.
"Philip," she whispered with dark, tragic eyes fixed upon his face, "who—who shot the bullet that night? Do you know?"
"Yes," said Philip, "I—I am very sorry. I think I know—"
"You will not tell me?"
Diane drew back with a shudder.
"I know the answers to all my questions!" she said in a low voice, and there was a great horror in her eyes. "Oh, Philip, Philip, go! If—if you could have told me something different—"
"Is it useless to ask you to trust me, Diane?"
"Go!" said Diane, trembling.
By the swamp the gray ghosts fell to dancing with locked, transparent hands.
Blood-red the sun glimmered through the pines and struck fire from a gray, cold world.
Philip bent and caught her hands, quietly masterful.
"What you may think, Diane," he said unsteadily, "I do not know. But part of the answer to every question is my love for you. No—you must listen! We have crossed swords and held a merry war, but through it all ran the strong thread of friendship. We must not break it now. Do you know what I thought that day on the lake when I saw you coming through the trees? I said, I have found her! God willing, here is the perfect mate with whom I must go through life, hand in hand, if I am to live fully and die at the last having drained the cup of life to the bottom. If, knowing this, you can not trust me and will tell me so—"
But Ronador's eloquent voice rang again in the girl's ears. Her glance met Philip's inexorably. And there was something in her eyes that hurt him cruelly. For an instant his face flamed scarlet, then it grew white and hard and very grim.
"Go!" said Diane and buried her face in her hands.
With no final word of extenuation Philip went.
Diane stumbled hurriedly through the trees to Keela's camp and touched the Indian girl frantically upon the shoulder.
"Keela," she cried desperately, "wake! wake! It's sunrise. Let us go somewhere—anywhere—and leave this treacherous world of civilization behind us. I—I am tired of it all."
"Very well," she said sedately a little later. "You and I, Diane, we will journey to my home in the Glades. There—as it was a century back—so it is now."
THE WIND OF THE OKEECHOBEE
Southward along the beautiful Kissimmee river, where the fabled young grandee of Spain kissed the plaintive Seminole maid, rumbled the great green van and the camp of Keela. Southward, unremittingly protective, followed the silent music-machine. For though the dear folly and humor were things of the past, like Arcadia, a true knight may surely see that his willful lady comes to no harm though he must worship from afar. And at length they came to the final fringe of civilization edging the Everglades where, despite repeated protests, Johnny must stay behind with the cumbrous van.
And now the Southern woods were gloriously a-riot with blossoms; with dogwood and magnolia, with wild tropical blossoms of orange and scarlet; and the moon hung wild and beautiful above the Everglades.
"Little Spring Moon!" said Keela softly in Seminole.
Diane thought suddenly of a late moon above a marsh.
"He—he can not follow me into those terrible wilds ahead," she thought with sudden bitterness. "I shall be free at last from his dreadful spying."
At sunrise one morning they bade Johnny adieu and struck off boldly with the Indian wagon into the melancholy world of the Everglades.
"It is better," said Keela gravely, "if you wear the Seminole clothes you wore at Sherrill's. They are in the wagon. My people love not the white man."
"But—" stammered Diane.
"They will think," explained Keela shyly, "that you are a beautiful daughter of the sun from the wilderness of O-kee-fee-ne-kee. You are brown and beautiful. Such, they tell, was my grandmother. It is a legend of my mother's people, but I do not think," added Keela majestically, "that the wild and beautiful tribe of mystery who were sons and daughters of the Sun, are half so beautiful as you!"
To the dull baying of the alligators in the saw grass, and the melancholy croak of the great blue herons, Keela's wagon penetrated the weird and terrible wilds of the Everglades, winding by the gloomy border of swamps where the deadly moccasin dwelt beneath the darkling shadow of cypress, on by ponds thick with lilies and tall ghostly grasses, over tangled underbrush, past water-dark jungles of dead trees where the savage cascade of brush and vine and fallen branches had woven a weird, wild lacery among the trees, through mud and saw grass, past fertile islands and lagoons of rush and flag—a trackless water-prairie of uninhabitable wilds which to Keela's keen and beautiful eyes held the mysteriously blazed home-trail of the Seminole.
As Keela knew the trail, so surely from the rank, tropical vegetation of the great Southern marshland she knew the art of wresting food. Bitter wild oranges, pawpaws, oily palmetto cabbage, wild cassava, starred gorgeously now with orange colored blossoms, and guavas; these, with the wild turkeys and mallard ducks, turtles and squirrels and the dark little Florida quail with which the wild abounded, gave them varied choice.
Cheerfully fording miles of mud and water, his discomforts not a few, came Philip, greatly disturbed by the incomprehensible whims of his lady. By day he followed close upon the trail of the canvas wagon, patterning his conquest of the aquatic wilderness about him after that of Keela, hunting the wild duck and the turkey and discarding the bitter orange with aggrieved disgust. And if Keela occasionally found a brace of ducks by the camp fire or a bass in a nest of green palmetto, she wisely said nothing, sensing the barrier between these two and wondering greatly.
By night when the great morass lay in white and sinister tangle under the wild spring moon, when the dark and dreadful swamps were rife with horrible croaks and snaps, the whirring of the wings of waterfowl or the noise of a disturbed puff adder, Philip stretched himself upon the seat of the music-machine and slept through the twilight and the early evening. When the camp ahead, glimmering brightly through the live oaks, was silent, Philip awoke and watched and smoked, a solitary sentinel in the terrible melancholy of the moonlit waste of ooze and dead leaf and sinister crawling life.
So they came in time to the plains of Okeechobee and thence to the wild, dark waters of the great inland sea—a wild, bleak sea, mirroring cloud and the night-lamp of the Everglades. The wind wafting across on night-tipped wings rippled the great water shield and brought its message to the silent figure on the shore.
"So," sighed the wind of the Okeechobee, "he still follows!"
"Yes," said Diane, shuddering at the howl of a cat owl, "he has dared even that!"
"Brave and resolute to plunge into the wilds with a music-machine! Would he, think you, dare all this for the sake of—spying?"
"I—I do not know. I have wondered greatly. Still he has dared much for it before."
"He asked you to remember—his love—"
"I—I dare not think of it. For every admission he made that night by the marsh tallied with the terrible tale of Ronador. I had thought he followed and watched by night for another reason."
"I—do not know. A finer, holier reason—"
The wind fluttered and fell, and rose again with a plaintive sigh.
"You know, but you will not tell!"
"It—it may be so. He is false—he is false!" cried the voice of the girl's sore heart; "a false sentry and a false protector. I can not bear it. Philip! Philip! It was Themar's knife—and the bullet was his—and all that seemed fine and noble was black and false!"
"You will not trust him as he begged!"
"I can not. For he will not tell me the reason for all these things!"
"You will wed Prince Ronador?"
"Yes. It is the one way out."
"He is a gallant lover and the victim of much that is vile and unfair."
"Yes—he has said so."
"He has suffered much through me."
"And he is honorable and devoted."
"It may be."
"He told me all, though he found it difficult."
"He was not bound by a pledge."
"Well, there is wisdom, the wisdom of the world, in your choice. Flashing jewels, robes of state, maids of honor—"
"These things," spurned Diane with beautiful insolence, "I may buy with gold."
"Ah!" crooned the wind, "but the vassalage of this elfin nation that plays at empire, the romance and adventure of an imperial court! And when the mad King dies and the Prince Regent, then Ronador will be king—"
"I have thought of it all. I can not go back to the old shallow life with Aunt Agatha. No! No! And I am very lonely. If in the days to come wind and moon and the call of the wilderness stir my gypsy blood to rebellion—if I am ever to forget—"
"What must you forget?"
"It was foolish to speak so. I do not know. Then when the call of the wildwood comes I must have crowded days and fevered gayety to hush it. And surely this will come to me in the court of Ronador."
The wild moon drifted behind a cloud, the sea darkened, something huge and shadowy lumbered down to the water and splashed heavily away, the cat owl hooted. A mist drooped trailing fingers over the water as the wind died away.
A profoundly dreary setting for a dream of empire!
UNDER THE LIVE OAKS
"See!" said Keela shyly. "It is the camp of my people."
It lay ahead, a fire-blot in the darkling swamp, a primitive mirage of primitive folk, of palmetto wigwams and log-wheel fires among the live oaks of a lonely island.
Keela's wagon presently forded a shallow creek and crossed an island plain. Thence it came by a winding road to the village, where, with the halting of the wagon, the travelers became the hub of a vast and friendly wheel of excitement.
Hospitable hands were already leading Keela's horses away when Mr. Poynter rode sedately into camp and, descending to terra firma in the light of the nearest camp fire, guilefully proceeded to assure himself of a welcome and immediate attention by spectacular means; he simply unwound the hullabaloo.
Cymbals clashed, the drum cannonaded fearfully and to the sprightly measures of "The Glowworm," the Indians who had collected about Keela's wagon to stare at Diane, decamped in a body to the side of Mr. Poynter, who smiled and proceeded in pantomime to make friends with all about him.
This, by virtue of the entertaining music-machine, was not difficult. Having exhausted the repertoire of the hullabaloo, he initiated the turbaned warriors into the mystery of unwinding tunes, thereby cementing the friendship forever.
The general din and excitement grew fearful. Presently the Thunder-Man was warmly assigned a wigwam, made of palmetto and the skins of wild animals above a split-log floor, to which he retired at the heels of Sho-caw, a copper-colored young warrior who had learned a little English from the traders.
Already rumor was rife among the staring tribe that Diane had strayed from the legendary clan of beautiful Indians in the O-kee-fee-ne-kee wilderness. The assignment of her wigwam, therefore, had been made with marked respect.
Here, as the Indian camp settled into quiet and the fires died lower, as the wild night sounds of the Glades awoke in the marsh outside, Diane lay still and wakeful and a little frightened. Wilderness and Seminole were still primeval. The world seemed very far away. The thought of the music-machine brought with it somehow a feeling of security.
With the broad white daylight, courage returned. From her wigwam Diane watched the silent village, wrapped in fog, wake to the busy life of the Glades. Somber-eyed little Indian lads carried water and gathered wood, fires brightened, there was a pleasant smell of pine in the morning air. Later, by Keela's fire, she furtively watched Philip ride forth with a band of hunters.
So at last in the heart of the wildwood, among primitive folk whose customs had not varied for a century, Diane drank deep of the wild, free, open life her gypsy heart had craved. There were times when a great peace dwarfed the memory of the moon above the marsh; there were times when the thought of Ronador and Philip sent her riding wildly across the plains with Keela; there were still other times when a nameless disquiet welled up within her, some furtive distrust of the gypsy wildness of her blood. But in the main the days were quiet and peaceful.
"It is a wild world of varied color and activity," she wrote to Ann. "The trailing air plants in the trees beside my wigwam weave a dense, tropical jungle of shadow shot with sunlight. Keela's wigwam lies but a stone's throw beyond. It is lined with beaded trinkets, curious carven things of cypress, pots of dye made of berries and barks, and pottery which she has patterned after the relics in the sand mounds. There is an old chief with all the terrible pathos of a vanishing race in his eyes. I find in his wistful dignity an element of tragedy. He is very kind to Keela and talks much of her in his quaint broken English.
"Moons back, he declares, when E-shock-e-tom-isee, the great Creator, made the world of men by scattering seeds in a river valley, of those who grew from the sand, some went to the river and washed too pale and weak—the white man; some, enough—the strong red man; some washed not at all—the shiftless black man. But Keela came from none of these.
"Ann, the squaws are hideous! Their clothes, an indescribable potpourri of savage superstition and stray inklings (such as a disfiguring bang of hair across the forehead, a Psyche knot and a full skirt) from the white man's world of fashion—years back. The pounds and pounds of bead necklaces they wear give the savage touch. I don't wonder Keela's delicate soul rebelled and drove her to the barbaric costume of a chief. It is infinitely more picturesque and beautiful.
"There are thrilling camp fire tales of Osceola, the brilliant, handsome young Seminole chief who blazoned his name over the pages of Florida history, but here among Osceola's kinsmen, pages are unnecessary. The sagas of the tribe are handed down from mouth to mouth to stir the youth to deeds of daring. Keela, like Osceola, had a white father and a Seminole mother. Ann, I sometimes wonder what opportunity might have done for Osceola. As great as Napoleon, some one said. What might opportunity do for this strange, exotic flower of Osceola's people? She has brains and beauty and instinctive grace enough to startle a continent. I am greatly tempted. Ann, I beg of you, don't breathe any of this to Aunt Agatha. Some day I may carry Keela away to the cities of the North for an experiment quite my own. Her delicate beauty—her gravity—her shy, sweet dignity, hold me powerfully. It would make life well worth the living—the regeneration of a life like hers.
"No, I am not mad. If I am, it is a delicious madness indeed, this craving to do something for some one else. I need the discipline of thinking for another.
"I don't know when you will get this. Once in a while an Indian rides forth to civilization, and this letter will perforce await such a messenger. I wrote to Aunt Agatha from the little hamlet where Johnny is waiting with the van. I know she is fussing.
"You wrote me something in one of your letters, that Dick and Carl were planning to camp and hunt wild turkeys in the Glades. Let me know what luck they had and all the news.
Now, if Diane proved readily adaptable to the wild life about her, no less did Philip. At night he smoked comfortably by his camp fire, unwound the hullabaloo upon request or lent it to Sho-caw. He rode hard and fearlessly with the warriors, hunted bear and alligator, acquired uncommon facility in the making of sof-ka, the tribal stew, and helped in the tanning of pelts and the building of cypress canoes.
Presently the unmistakable whir of a sewing machine which Sho-caw had bought from a trader, floated one morning from Philip's wigwam. Keela reported literally that Mr. Poynter had said he was building himself a much-needed tunic, though he had experienced considerable difficulty in the excavation of the sleeves.
IN THE GLADES
"What the devil is the matter with you, Carl?" demanded Dick Sherrill irritably. "If I'd known you were going to moon under a tree and whistle through that infernal flute half the time, I'd never have suggested camping. Are you coming along to-night or not?"
"No. I've murdered enough wild turkeys now."
Sherrill plunged off swampwards with the guides.
Left to himself Carl laid aside his flute and sat very quiet, staring at the cloud-haunted moon which hung above the Glades. He had been drinking and gaming heavily for weeks. Now floundering deeper and deeper into the mire of debt and dissipation, forced to a fevered alertness by distrust of all about him, he found the weird gloom of the Everglades of a piece with the blackness of his mood. For days he had taken wild chances that horrified Sherrill inexpressibly; drinking clear whiskey in the burning white tropical sunlight, tramping off into trackless wilds without a guide, conducting himself, as Sherrill aggrievedly put it, with the general irrationality of a drunken madman.
"The climate or a moccasin will get you yet!" exclaimed Sherrill heatedly. "And it will serve you right. Or you'll get lost. And to lose your way in this infernal swamp is sure death. They used to enter runaway niggers who came here, on the undertaker's list. I swear I won't tell your aunt if you do disappear. That's a job for a deaf mute. And only yesterday I saw you corner a moccasin and tantalize him until the chances were a hundred to one that he'd get you, and then you blazed your gun down his throat and walked away laughing. Faugh!"
With the perversity of reckless madmen, however, Carl went his foolhardy way unharmed. But his nights were fevered and sleepless and haunted by a face which never left him, and the locked hieroglyphics on Themar's cuff danced dizzily before his eyes.
Carl presently lighted a lantern, seated himself at the camp table and fell moodily to poring over the tormenting hieroglyphics which had haunted him for days.
The night was cloudy. Only at infrequent intervals the moon soared turbulently out from the somber cloud-hills and glinted brightly through the live oaks overhead.
Carl had been drinking heavily since the morning, with vicious recourse to the flute when his mood was darkest. Now he felt strung to a curious electric tension, with pulse and head throbbing powerfully like a racing engine. Still there was satanic keenness in his mind to-night, a capacity for concentration that surprised him. Somewhere in his head, taut like an overstrung ligament or the string of a great violin, something sinister droned and hummed and subtly threatened. For the hundredth time he made a systematic list of recurrent symbols, noting again the puzzling similarity of the twisted signs, but no sign appeared frequently enough to do vowel work.
To-night somehow the cipher mocked and gibed and goaded him to frenzy. The mad angles pointing up and down and right and left—it was impossible to sort them. They danced and blurred and crept irresistibly into the wrong list.
And in error came solution. Carl glanced intently at the jumbled list and fell feverishly to working from a different viewpoint. From the cryptic snarl came presently the single English word in the cipher—his name. The keen suspicion of his hot brain had, at last, been right. For every letter in the alphabet, four symbols had been used interchangeably but whether they pointed up or down or right or left, their significance was the same. There were no word divisions.
When at last Ronador's frantic message to the Baron lay before him, Carl was grateful for the quiet monastery days in Houdania with Father Joda. They had given him an inkling of the language.
Some of the message, to be sure, was missing—for Themar had been interrupted—and some of it unintelligible. But clear and cold before his fevered eyes lay the words which marked him irrevocably for the knife of a hired assassin. There was no suggestion of sealing his lips with gold, as in a drunken moment he had suggested in his letter. The seal of death was safer than the seal of gold. Seeing the sinister command there before him, even though the knowledge was not new, Carl felt a nameless fury rise in his reeling brain. He must live—live—live! he told himself fiercely. With the vivid, lovely face of Keela tormenting him to sensual conquest, he must live no matter what the price! How safeguard his life from the men who were hunting him?
What if Diane were to—die? Carl shuddered. Then the sirocco of fear and hate centering about her, would blow itself out forever and his own life would be safe, for the secret would be worthless. These men—Tregar, Ronador, Themar—scrupled for vastly different reasons to take the life of a woman.
Money! Money! He must have money! And if Diane were to die, the great estate of Norman Westfall would revert to him of course; there was no other heir. Why had he not thought of that before? In that instant he knew that barely a year ago the treacherous thought would have been for him impossible, that slowly, insistently he had been sliding deeper and deeper into the dark abyss of degradation where all things are possible.
There had been intrigue and dishonor of a sort in the letter to Houdania, but not this—Oh, God! not this horrible, beckoning Circe with infamous eyes and scarlet robes luring him to the uttermost pit of the black Inferno.
But Diane had flashed and mocked him as a child when he was sensitive and lonely. She had always mocked the memory of his mother. Brown and lovely his cousin's face rose before him in a willful moment of tenderness—and then from the shadows came again the flash of topaz and Venetian lamps and the lovely face of Keela.
Something in Carl's haunted brain snapped. With a groan of horror and suffering, he pitched forward upon the ground, breathing Philip Poynter's name like an invocation against the things of evil crowding horribly about him.
It was Dick Sherrill who at last found him.
"Nick!" he called in horror to one of the guides. "For God's sake bring some brandy! No! he's had too much of that already. Water! Water—can't somebody hurry!"
"Leave him to me, Mr. Sherrill!" said Nick with quiet authority. And bending over the motionless figure under the oak, he gently loosened the flannel shirt from the throat, laid a wet cloth upon the forehead and fell to rubbing the rigid limbs.
Presently, with a long, shuddering sigh, Carl opened his eyes, stared at the scared circle of faces about him and instantly tried to rise.
"Don't, don't, Carl," exploded Dick Sherrill solicitously. "Lie still, man! I was afraid something would get you."
Carl fell back indifferently.
Presently with a slight smile he sat up again.
"I'm all right now, Dick," he insisted. "It's nothing at all. I've had something like it once before. Don't mention it to my aunt. She'd likely fuss."
Dick readily promised.
"Nevertheless," he insisted, "we're going to break camp in the morning. This infernal bog's got on my nerves. There are more creepy, oozy things in that cypress swamp over there than a man can afford to meet in the dark. To the devil with your wild turkeys, Nick! Quail and duck are good enough for me."
The camp wagons drove back to Palm Beach in the morning. Carl was very quiet and evaded Sherrill's anxious eyes. He seemed to be brooding morosely over some inner problem which frequently furrowed his forehead and made him very restless.
"Cheer up!" exclaimed Dick reassuringly. "You'll feel better when you get a shower and some other clothes. As for me, I'm going to hunt field mice and ground doves from now on. Lord, Carl, I'll never forget that beastly swamp. Did I tell you that last night, after all our discomfort, I got nothing but a smelly buzzard? Ugh!" Dick's hunting interest was steadily on the wane. He finally came down to birds and humble bees, though when they started he had talked magnificently of alligators and bears.
Carl laughed and relapsed into brooding silence.
A little later on the Sherrill porch he found himself listening with tired patience to Aunt Agatha's opinion of camping in the Everglades.
"What with your Esquimaux," she puffed tearfully, "and the immigrant who wasn't an immigrant—and I must say this once, Carl, for all I promised to ask no further questions, that you never attempted to explain that performance to my satisfaction—the young man with the eye, you know, and the immigrant with his feet on the lace spread—to say nothing at all of Diane's losing herself in the flat-woods over a cart wheel of flame, I wonder I'm not crazy, I do indeed! And riding off to Jacksonville with the Indian girl, for all I've lain awake night after night seeing her scalp lying by the roadside! It was bad enough to have you in those horrible Glades, but Diane—"
"Aunt Agatha," said Carl patiently, "what in thunder are you driving at anyway?"
"Why," said Aunt Agatha in aggrieved distress, "Diane's gone and left Johnny at some funny little hamlet and she's gone into the Everglades to a Seminole village with the Indian girl. There's a letter in my room. You can read for yourself."
Aunt Agatha burst into tears. Carl patiently essayed a comforting word of advice and followed Dick indoors to seek relief in less calamitous showers. Before he did so, however, he read his cousin's letter.
For that night and the night following Carl did not sleep. On the morning of the third day, after a careless inquiry he went to West Palm Beach and interviewed some traders who were reported to be on the eve of an expedition into the Everglades with a wagonload of scarlet calico and beads to trade for Indian products.
The fourth day he was missing.
IN PHILIP'S WIGWAM
For hours now, Carl had lain hidden in the waist-high grass, staring at the Seminole camp. The sun had set in a wild red glory in the west, staining dank pool and swamp with the color of blood. The twilight came and with it the eerie hoot of the great owls whirring by in the darkness. Unseen things crept silently by. Once a great winged wraith of ghostly white flapped by with a croak, a snowy heron, winging like a shape of Wrath Incarnate, above the crouching man in the grass. The wheel fires of the Seminoles flared among the live oaks, silhouetting dusky figures and palmetto wigwams.
By the swamp the night darkened. Carl had thrown himself upon the grass now, his white, haggard face buried upon his arm. Back there scarcely a mile to the east lay the camp of the traders. In the morning they would ride into the Indian camp saddled with bright beads and colored calicoes. In the morning—Carl shuddered and lay very quiet, fighting again the ghastly torment that had racked and driven him into the melancholy solitude of the Everglades. Now the firelit palmetto roof of the wigwam he knew to be Diane's seemed somehow, to his distorted fancy, redder than the others—the color of blood. There, too, was the wigwam of Keela, bringing taunting desire.
A crowd of Seminoles rode into camp and, dismounting, led their horses away. Carl watched them gather about the steaming sof-ka kettles on the fires, handing the spoon from mouth to mouth. One, a tall, broad young warrior in tunic and trousers and a broad sombrero—disappeared in a wigwam on the fringe of camp.
A great wave of dizziness and burning nausea swept over Carl. Again he was conscious of the taut, over-strung ligament droning, droning in his head. The camp ahead became a meaningless blur of sinister scarlet fire, of bloodred wigwams and dusky figures that seemed to dance and lure and mock. The wild wind that bent the grasses, the horrible persistent hoot of the owl in the cypress tree, the night noises of the black swamp to the west, all mocked and urged and whispered of things unspeakable.
The camp fell quiet. A black moonless sky brooded above the dying camp fires. Not until this wild world of swamp and Indian seemed asleep did the man in the grass stir.
Silently then he crept forward upon hands and knees until he had passed the first of the Indian wigwams. Here he dropped for a silent interval of caution into shadow and lay there scarcely breathing. On toward the door of Diane's shelter he crept and once more lay inert and quiet.
Thunder rumbled disquietingly off to the east, The wind was rising over the Glades with a violent rustle of grass and leaves. Now that his arm was nerved at last to its terrible task, it behooved him to hurry, ere the rain and thunder stirred the camp.
Noiselessly he crawled forward again. As he did so a ragged dart of lightning glinted evilly in his eyes. With a leap something bounded from the shadows behind him and bore him to the ground.
In the thick pall of darkness, he fought with infernal desperation. The rain came fiercely in great gusts of tearing wind. There was the strength of a madman to-night in Carl's powerful arms. Relentlessly he bore his assailant to the ground and raised his knife. The lightning flared brilliantly again. With a great, choking cry of unutterable horror, Carl fell back and flung his knife away.
"Oh, God!" he cried, shaking. "Philip!" He flung himself face downward on the ground in an agony of abasement.
With a roar of wind and rain the hurricane beat gustily upon the wigwams. Neither man seemed aware of it. Philip, his face white, had risen. Now he stood, tall, rigid, towering above the man upon the ground, who lay motionless save for the shuddering gusts of self-revulsion which swept his tortured body.
It was Philip at last who spoke. Bending he touched the other's shoulder.
"Come," he said. "Diane must not know."
"No," said Carl dully. "No—she must not know. I—I am not myself, Philip, as God is my witness—" He choked, unable to voice the horror in his heart. A man may not raise the knife of death to his one friend and speak of it with comfort.
Rising, Carl stumbled blindly in the wake of the tall figure striding on ahead. They halted at last at a wigwam on the fringe of the camp. Philip lighted a lantern, his white face fixed and expressionless as stone.
"You were going to kill her!" he said abruptly.
"Yes," said Carl. He shuddered.
In the silence the storm battered fiercely at the wigwam.
Philip wheeled furiously.
"What is it?" he demanded. "In God's name what threatens her, that even here in these God-forsaken wilds she is not safe?" He towered grim above the crouching man on the floor of the wigwam. "For months I have guarded her day and night," he went on fiercely, "from some damnable mystery and treachery that has almost muddled my life beyond repair. What is it? Why were you creeping to her wigwam to-night with a knife in your hand?"
Carl flinched beneath the blazing anger and contempt in his eyes. The droning in his head grew suddenly to a roar. The nausea flamed again over his body. For a dizzy interval he confused the noise of the storm with the drone in his head. Philip seized the lantern and bending, stared closely into his white face and haunted eyes.
"You're ill!" he said gently.
"Yes," said Carl. "I—I think so." He met Philip's glance of sympathy with one of wild imploring. It was the man's desperate effort to keep this one friend from sweeping hostilely out of his life on the wings of the dark, impious tempest he had roused himself. To his disordered brain nothing else mattered. Philip had trusted him always—and his knife had menaced Philip. In Philip's hand lay then, though he could not know it, the future of the man at his feet. In the silence Carl fell pitifully to shaking.
"Steady, Carl!" exclaimed Philip kindly and setting the lantern down, slipped a strong, reassuring arm about the other's shoulders.
In that second Philip proved his caliber. With big inherent generosity he saw beyond the bloated mask of brutal passion and resolve. Miraculously he understood and said so. This white, haggard face, marked cruelly with dissipation and suffering, was the face of a man at the end of the way. In his darkest hour he needed—not an inexorable censor—but a friend. With heroic effort Philip put aside the evil memory of the past hour, though his sore heart rebelled.
"Carl," he said gently, "you've got to pull up. You've come to the wall at last. You know what lies on the other side?"
"Yes," he whispered. "Madness—or—or suicide. One of the two must come in time."
"Madness or suicide!" repeated Philip slowly and there was a great pity in his eyes.
Carl caught the look and his face grew whiter beneath its tan. Chin and jaw muscles went suddenly taut.
"Philip," he choked, unnerved by the other's gentleness, "you don't—you can't mean—you believe in me—yet?"
"Yes," said Philip steadily. "God help me, I do."
Carl flung himself upon the floor, torn by great dry sobs of agony. Shaking, Philip turned away. Presently Carl grew quieter and fell to pouring forth an incoherent recital about a candlestick. From the meaningless raving of the white, drawn lips came at last a single sentence of lucid revelation. Philip leaped and shook him roughly by the shoulder.
"Carl, think! think!" he cried fiercely. "For God's sake, think! You—don't know what you are saying!"
But Carl repeated the statement again and again, and Philip's eyes grew sombre. With quick, keen questions he reduced the chaotic yarn to order.
The wild tale at an end, Carl fell back, limp and very tired.
"In God's name," thundered practical Philip, "why didn't you look in the other candlestick?"
Carl stared. Then suddenly without a word of warning, he pitched forward senseless upon the floor.
Philip loosened his clothing, rubbed his icy hands and limbs and bathed his forehead, but the interval was long and trying before the stark figure on the floor shuddered slightly and struggled weakly to a sitting posture.
"I'm all right now," said Carl dully. "And I've got to go on. I—I can't meet Diane." He drew something from his pocket and jabbed it in his arm.
Philip looked on with disapproval.
"No," said Carl, meeting his glance. "No, not so very often, Philip. Just lately, since Sherrill and I camped in the Glades. There's something—something very tight here in my head whenever I grow excited. When it snaps I'm done for a while, but this helps."
Philip's fine, frank mouth was very grim.
"Carl," he said quietly, "off there to the south is the eccentric swamp home of a singular man, a philosopher and a doctor. He's Keela's foster father. I've met and smoked with him. I want you to go to him and rest. The Indians do that. He's what you need. And tell him you're down and out. You'll go—for me?"
"Anywhere," said Carl.
"Tell him about the dope and every other hell-conceived abuse with which you've tormented your body. Tell him about the infernal tightness in your head."
"Yes," said Carl.
"But this thing of the candlestick," added Philip bitterly, "tell to no man. You're strong enough to start now?"
Philip left the wigwam. When at length he returned, there was a dark, slight figure at his heels, turbaned and tunicked, a guide whom he trusted utterly.
A burning wave swept suddenly over Carl's body and left him very cold. Philip could not know, of course.
"Keela will guide you," said Philip. "She could follow the trail with her eyes closed. The horses are saddled at the edge of camp. You'll be there by daylight."
He smiled and held out his hand and his eyes were encouraging. The hands of the two men tightened. Carl stumbled blindly away at the heels of the Indian girl. Philip watched them go—watched Keela lead the way with the lithe, soft tread of a wild animal, and mount—watched Carl swing heavily into the saddle and follow. Silhouetted darkly against the watery moon, the silent riders filed off into the swamp-world to the south. For an instant Philip experienced a sudden flash of misgiving but Philip was just and honorable in all things and having disciplined himself to faith in his friend, maintained it.
Then his eyes wandered slowly to the wigwam of Diane. Thinking of the story of the candle-stick, with his mouth twisted into a queer, wry smile, Philip fumbled for his pipe.
"Requiescat in pace," said Philip, "the hopes of Philip Poynter!"
UNDER THE WILD MARCH MOON
Southward under the watery moon and the wild, dark clouds rode the Indian girl, following a trail blazed only for Indian eyes. The aquatic world about them had grown steadily wilder, more remote from the haunts of men. Fording miry creeks, silver-streaked with moon-light, trampling through dense, dark, tangled brakes and on, under the wild March moon, followed Carl, a prey to the memory of the Indian girl as he had seen her that night at Sherrill's.
Keela's face, vividly dark and lovely, had mocked his restless slumbers this many a day. Keela's eyes, black like a starless night or the cloud-black waters of Okeechobee had lured and lured to sensual conquest.
But a great shame was adding its torment to the terrible pain in his head and the fevered singing of his pulses. In the torture of his self-abasement, the over-strung ligament in his head fell ominously to droning again. Everything seemed remote and unreal. He hated the awful silence about him—the crash of his horse's feet through the matted brush and the twist of palmetto, resolved itself into dancing ciphers.
Ahead Keela stopped. Motionless, like a beautiful sculptured thing, she sat listening as Carl rode up beside her.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I fancied some one followed," said Keela soberly. "It may not be." She rode forward, glancing keenly at the trail behind her.
Thus they rode onward until the east grew pale and gray. A bleak dawn was breaking in melancholy mists over the Everglades. The lonely expanse of swamp and metallic water, of grass-flats and tangled wilds, loomed indistinctly out of the half light in sinister skeleton.
Keela glanced with furtive compassion at the haggard face of the rider behind her. Since midnight he had ridden in utter silence, growing whiter it seemed as the night waned.
"Another hour!" said Keela in her soft, clear voice. "Be of courage. When the sun rises there behind the cypress, we shall be at our journey's end."
"I—I am all right," stammered Carl courageously, but he bit his lips until they bled, and swayed so violently in the saddle that Keela slid to the ground in alarm.
"Put your arms about my shoulders—so!" she commanded imperiously. "You will fall! Philip surely could not know how ill you are. Can you get down?"
With an effort Carl dismounted and fell forward on his knees.
"You must sleep for a while," said Keela. "I will build a fire. We can breakfast here and rest as long as you like." She took a blanket from his saddle and spread it on the ground.
Carl crept on hands and knees to the Indian blanket and lay very still. A drowsiness numbed his senses. When he awoke after a brief interval of restless slumber, it was not yet daylight, though the sky in the east was softly streaked with color. The moon hung low.
A fire crackled in the center of a clearing. The horses were tethered to a tree. Keela was off somewhere with bow and arrow to hunt their breakfast.
Now suddenly as he lay there, tired and apathetic, Carl was conscious of a face leering from among the trees close at hand, a dark, thin-lipped foreign face with eyes black with hate and malicious triumph. There was a horse hitched to a tree in the thicket beyond. In that instant Carl knew that the Houdanian had furtively followed the camp of the traders into the wilds of the Everglades, spurred on by the fierce command of Ronador. But he did not move. A terrible apathy made him indifferent to the knife of the assassin. He had had his day of masterful torment back there in the attic of the farm, he told himself. Now he must pay. The knife would quiet this unbearable agony in his head.
Themar met his eyes, smiled evilly and raised his knife. But the weapon fell suddenly from his hand. With an ominous hum an arrow whizzed fiercely through the trees and anchored in the flesh above his heart.
Themar stumbled and fell forward on his face. Like the stricken moose who seeks to press his wound against the earth, he drove the arrow home to his heart. He sobbed, and choked and lay very still, a scarlet wound dying his flannel shirt.
Carl's horrified eyes turned slowly to the west.
Keela was coming through the trees, proud eyes fierce with terrible anger; halting beside the dead man, she spurned him with moccasined foot.
The tense, droning string in Carl's head whirred again—and snapped. He lay in a heavy stupor, dozing fitfully until the moon climbed high again above the Glades.
When consciousness and a restful sense of returning strength came at last Keela was bending anxiously over him.
"You have been quiet so long," she said gravely, "that I grew afraid. Drink." She held forth a cup of woven leaves, and the glance of her great black eyes was very soft and gentle.
Carl flushed and taking the cup with shaking hand, drank. There was a flash of gratitude in his eyes.
"Themar?" he whispered. "Where is he?" He looked toward the trees beyond.
"In the swamp!" said Keela, her face stern and beautiful. "It is better so."
"You—you dragged him there?"
"I am very strong," said Keela simply. "The vultures will get him. It is the Indian way with one who murders."
Their eyes met, a great wave of crimson suddenly dyed Keela's throat and face and swept in lovely tide to the brilliant turban. A constrained silence fell between them, broken only by the whir of a great heron flapping by on snowy wings. And there was something in Keela's eyes that sent the blood coursing furiously through Carl's fevered veins.
The Indian girl busied herself with the wild duck roasting in the hub of coals. Carl ate a little and lay down again. He saw now that Themar's horse was tethered beside Keela's—that the dead man's saddlebags lay by the fire. Furtive recourse to the drug in his pocket presently flushed his veins with artificial calm. He fell asleep to find his dreams haunted again by the lovely face of Keela, kinder and gentler now than that proud, imperious face above the line of flashing topaz.
He awoke with a start.
The Indian girl lay asleep on a blanket by the fire. The world of moon-haunted jungle and water was very quiet. Firelight faintly haloed Keela's face and brought mad memories of the soft light of the Venetian lamp at the Sherrill fete. He noted the pure, delicate regularity of feature, the delicate, vivid skin—it was paler than Diane's—and flaming through his brain went the dangerous reflection that conquest lay now perhaps in the very hollow of his hand.
Desire had driven him on to things unspeakable. It had clouded his brain, fired his blood to ugly resolve, blinded every finer instinct with its turbulent call, until the siren who beckons men onward through the marshland of passion had flung the gift at his feet in the haunted wilds.
Staring at the tranquil, delicate face of the sleeper by the camp fire, a great horror of the scarlet hours behind him awoke suddenly in Carl's heart. There had been a girl who cried. And he had laughed and shrugged and voiced an ironical philosophy of sex for her consolation. There was no philosophy of sex, only a hideous injustice which Man, the Hunter, willfully ignored. There were faces in the fire—faces like that of Keela, that had lured to sensual conquest and faded.
Trembling violently, Carl stared long and steadily at the Indian girl. There had been a time, before he sank to the bottom of the pit, when her face had awakened in him an eager deference. The moon darkened. A white wall of mist settled thickly over the Glades. Then came other thoughts. Philip trusted him. He must not forget. And the immortal spark of control lay somewhere within him. Unbridled passion of mind and body had made him very ill. Very well, then, it behooved him to exorcise the demon while this tormenting clarity of vision whirled the dread kaleidoscope of his careless life before him in honest colors.
Unleashed by drug and drink and ceaseless brooding, nerve centers had rebelled, an infernal blood pressure born of mental agony had inspired the droning, his will had slipped its moorings. That his body was not ill, he now knew for the first time. Fever, nausea, pain and droning, they had all leaped at the infernal manipulation of his disordered mind with sickening intensity. Now with a terrible effort he summoned each tattered remnant of the splendid mental strength he had indifferently abused, disciplined his fleeing faculty of concentration and sat very quiet.
Philip trusted him. He must not forget! Keela's face had made its delicate appeal to his finer side until that appeal had been hushed by the call of his blood. And there were times when Diane had been kind. He must not forget. Like the stirring of a faint shadow, he felt the first dawning sense of self-mastery he had known for days.
The horrible Circe with infamous eyes and scarlet robes no longer lured . . . the terrible sirocco of unbridled passion which had dominated his body almost to destruction was burning itself out . . . the droning in his head was very faint. He must not forget Philip, truest and best of friends.
Carl lay down again beside the fire with a great sigh. He was very tired—very sleepy.
He slept soundly until morning.
When he awoke it was broad daylight. There was a curious sense of utter rest in his veins and meeting Keela's solicitous glance, he said, a little diffidently, that he was better and that he thought they might go on. After a breakfast of quail and wild cassava they rode on, Keela on Themar's horse. Her own obediently followed.
An hour later they came to an aquatic jungle haunted by noisome reptiles. Here fallen trees and a matted underbrush of poisonous vines lay submerged in dank black water. Cypress gloomed in forbidding shadow above the stagnant water; the swamp itself was rife with horrible quacks and croaks and off somewhere the distant bellow of an alligator.
So dense and dark this terrible haunt of snake and bird and brilliant lizard that Carl shuddered, but Keela, dismounting, tethered her horses to the nearest tree and struck off boldly across a narrow trail of dry land above the level of the water. Carl followed. Presently the matted jungle thinned and they came to a rude foot-bridge made of twisted roots. It led to the first of a series of fertile islands which threaded the terrible swamp with a riot of color. Here royal poinciana flared gorgeously beside the orange-colored blossoms of wild cassava, and hordes of birds flamed by on brilliant wings.
Through rude avenues of palm and pine and cypress, through groves of wild orange and banana fringed with mulberry and persimmon trees, over rustic bridges which led from island to island, they came at last to a larger hummock and the wild, vine-covered log lodge of Mic-co, the Indians' white friend.
It was thatched like the Seminole wigwams in palmetto and set in a cluster of giant trees. Trailing moss and ferns and vines hung from the boughs, weaving a dense, cool shade about the dwelling. The exuberant air plants brought memories of Lanier's immortal poem:
"Glooms of the live oaks, beautiful-braided and woven With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs,—"
There were brilliant vistas of bloom beyond the shadow. The odor of orange hung heavily in the still, warm air. A pair of snowy herons flapped tamely about among the pines.
Utter peace and quiet, alive with the chirp of many birds, brilliant sunshine and deep, dark shadow! But Carl stared most at the figure that came to greet them, a tall, broad man of dark complexion and wonderful, kindly eyes of piercing darkness. His hair and beard were snow-white and reached nearly to his waist, his attire buckskin, laced at the seams. But his slender, sensitive hands caught and held attention.
"Mic-co," said Keela gravely, "he is very tired in his head. Philip would have him rest."
Mic-co held out his hand with a quiet smile. Whatever his searching eyes had found in the haggard face of his young guest was reflected in his greeting.
"You are very welcome," he said simply.
"No," said Carl steadily, "I may not take your hand, sir, until you know me for what I am. There are none worse. I have been through the mire of hell itself. I have dishonorably betrayed a kinsman in the hope of gold. I had thought to kill. Only a freak of fate has stayed my hand. And there is more that I may not tell—"
"So?" said Mic-co quietly.
Flushing, Carl took the outstretched hand.
"I—I thank you," he said, and looked away.
IN MIC-CO'S LODGE
The rooms of Mic-co's lodge opened, in the fashion of the old Pompeian villas, upon a central court roofed only by the Southern sky. This court, floored with split logs, covered with bearskin rugs and furnished in handmade chairs of twisted palmetto and a rude table, years back Mic-co and his Indian aides had built above a clear, lazy stream. Now the stream crept beneath the logs to a quiet open pool in the center where lilies and grasses grew, and thence by its own channel under the logs again and out. Storm coverings of buckskin were rolled above the outer windows and above the doorways which opened into the court.
Here, when the moon rose over the lonely lodge and glinted peacefully in the tilled pool, Mic-co listened to the tale of his young guest. It was a record of bodily abuse, of passion and temptation, which few men may live to tell, but Mic-co neither condoned nor condemned. He smoked and listened.
"Let us make a compact," he said with his quiet smile. "I may question without reserve. You may withhold what you will. That is fair?"
"Have you ever endured hardship of any kind?"
"I have hunted in the Arctics," said Carl. "There was a time when food failed. We lived for weeks on reindeer moss and rock tripe. I have been in wild territory with naturalists and hunters. Probably I have known more adventurous hardship than most men."
"I fancied so," he said. "What is your favorite painting?" he asked unexpectedly.
The answer came without an instant's hesitation.
"Paul Potter's 'Bull.'"
"A thing of inherent virility and vigor, intensely masculine!" said Mic-co with a smile, adding after an interval of thought, "but there is a danger in over-sexing—"
"I have sometimes thought so. The over-masculine man is too brutal."
"And the over-feminine woman?"
"Kindly, sentimental, helpless and weak. I have lived with such an aunt since I was fifteen. No, I beg of you, do not misunderstand me! I blame nothing upon her. Like many good women whose minds are blocked off in conventional squares, she is very loyal and sympathetic—and very trying. The essence of her temperament is ineffectuality. My cousin and I were a wild, unmanageable pair who rode roughshod over protest. That Aunt Agatha was not in fault may be proved by my cousin. She is a fine, true, splendid woman."
An ineffectual aunt in the critical years of adolescence! Mic-co did not suggest that his cousin's sex had been her salvation.
So nights by the pool Mic-co plumbed the depths of his young guest with the fine, tired eyes.
"Tell me," he said gently another night; "this inordinate sensitiveness of which you speak. To what do you attribute it?"
"My mother," he said, "was courageous and unconventional. She recognized the fact that marriage and monogamy are not the ethical answers of the future—that though ideal unions sometimes result, it is not because of marriage, but in spite of it—that motherhood is the inalienable right of every woman with the divine spark in her heart, no matter what the disappointing lack of desirable marriage chances in her life may be. Therefore, when the years failed to produce her perfect and desirable human complement, she sought a eugenic mate and bore me, refusing to saddle herself to a meaningless, man-made partnership with infinite possibilities of domestic hell in it, merely as a sop to the world-Cerberus of convention. Marriage could have added nothing to her lofty conceptions of motherhood—but I—I have been keenly resentful and sensitive—for her. I think it has been the feeling that no one understood. Then, after she died, there was no one—only Philip. I saw him rarely."
"And your cousin?"
"She had been taught—to misunderstand. There was always that barrier. And she is very high spirited. Though we were much together as youngsters she could not forget."
A singular maternal history, a beautiful, high-spirited, intolerant cousin who had been taught to despise his mother's morality! What warring forces indeed had gone to the making of this man before him.
"You have been lonely?"
"Yes," said Carl. "My mother died when I needed her most. Later when I was very lonely—or hurt—I drank."
"And brooded!" finished Mic-co quietly.
"Yes," said Carl. "Always." He spoke a little bitterly of the wild inheritance of passions and arrogant intolerance with which Nature had saddled him.
"All of which," reminded Mic-co soberly, "you inflamed by intemperate drinking. Is it an inherited appetite?"
"It is not an appetite at all," said Carl.
"You like it?"
"If you mean that to abandon it is to suffer—no. I enjoyed it—-yes."
The wind that blew through the open windows and doors of the lodge stirred the moonlit water lilies in the pool. To Carl they were pale and unreal like the wraith of the days behind him. Like a reflected censer in the heart of the bloom shone the evening star. The peace of it all lay in Mic-co's fine, dark, tranquil face as he talked, subtly moulding another's mind in the pattern of his own. He did not preach. Mic-co smoked and talked philosophy.
Carl had known but little respect for the opinions of others. He was to learn it now. He was to find his headstrong will matched by one stronger for all it was gentler; his impudent philosophy punctured by a wisdom as great as it was compassionate; his own magnetic power to influence as he willed, a negligible factor in the presence of a man whose magnetism was greater.
Mic-co had said quietly by the pool one night that he had been a doctor—that he loved the peace and quiet of his island home—that years back the Seminoles had saved his life. He had since devoted his own life to their service. They were a pitiful, hunted remnant of a great race who were kindred to the Aztec.
He seemed to think his explanation quite enough. Wherefore Carl as quietly accepted what he offered. There was much that he himself was pledged to withhold. Thus their friendship grew into something fine and deep that was stronger medicine for Carl than any preaching.
"My mother and I were friends!" said Carl one night. "When I was a lad of ten or so, as a concession to convention she married the man whose name I bear, a kindly chap who understood. He died. After that we were very close, my mother and I. We rode much together and talked. I think she feared for me. There was peace in my life then—like this. That is why I speak of it. I needed a friend, some one like her with brains and grit and balance that I could respect—some one who would understand. There are but few—"
"She spoke of your own father?"
"No. I do not even know his name. We were pledged not to speak of it. I fancied as I grew older that she was sorry—"
The subject was obviously painful.
"And you've never been honestly contented since?" put in Mic-co quickly.
"Once." Carl spoke of Wherry. "They were weeks of genuine hardship, those weeks at the farm, but it's singular how frequently my mind goes back to them."
"Ah!" said Mic-co with glowing eyes, "there is no salvation like work for the happiness of another. That I know."
So the quiet days filed by until Mic-co turned at last from the healing of the mind to the healing of the body.
"Let us test your endurance in the Seminole way," he said one morning by the island camp fire where his Indian servants cooked the food for the lodge. Beyond lay the palmetto wigwams of the Indian servants who worked in the island fields of corn and rice and sugar cane, made wild cassava into flour, hunted with Mic-co and rode betimes with the island exports into civilization by the roundabout road to the south which skirted the swamp. Off to the west, in the curious chain of islands, lay the palmetto shelter of the horses.
Mic-co placed a live coal upon the wrist of his young guest and quietly watched. There was no flinching. The coal burned itself out upon the motionless wrist of a Spartan.
Thereafter they rode hard and hunted, day by day. Carl worked in the fields with Mic-co and the Indians, tramped at sunset over miles of island path fringed with groves of bitter orange, disciplining his body to a new endurance. A heavy sweat at the end in a closed tent of buckskin which opened upon the shore of a sheltered inland lake, hardened his aching muscles to iron.
Upon the great stone heating in the fire within the sweat-lodge an Indian lad poured water. It rose in sweltering clouds of steam about the naked body of Mic-co's guest, who at length plunged from the tent into the chill waters of the lake and swam vigorously across to towels and shelter.
Carl learned to pole a cypress canoe dexterously through miles of swamp tangled with grass and lilies, through shallows and deep pools darkened by hanging branches. He learned to tan hides and to carry a deer upon his shoulders. Nightly he plunged from the sweat-lodge into the lake and later slept the sleep of utter weariness under a deerskin cover.
So Mic-co disciplined the splendid body and brain of his guest to the strength and endurance of an Indian; but the quiet hours by the pool brought with them the subtler healing.
Carl grew browner and sturdier day by day. His eyes were quieter. There was less of arrogance too in the sensitive mouth and less of careless assertiveness in his manner.
So matters stood when Philip rode in by the southern trail with Sho-caw.
Now Philip had wisely waited for the inevitable readjustment, trusting entirely to Mic-co, but with the memory of Carl's haggard face and haunted eyes, he was unprepared for the lean, tanned, wholly vigorous young man who sprang to meet him.
"Well!" said Philip. "Well!"
He was shaken a little and cleared his throat, at a loss for words.
"You—you infernal dub!" said Carl. It was all he could trust himself to say.
It was a singular greeting, Mic-co thought, and very eloquent.
THE RAIN UPON THE WIGWAM
To the heart of the gypsy there is a kindred voice in the cheerful crackle of a camp fire—in the wind that rustles tree and grass—in the song of a bird or the hum of bees—in the lap of a lake or the brilliant trail of a shooting star.
A winter forest of tracking snow is rife with messages of furry folk who prowl by night. Moon-checkered trees fling wavering banners of gypsy hieroglyphics upon the ground. Sun and moon and cloud and the fiery color-pot of the firmament write their symbols upon the horizon for gypsy eyes to read.
What wonder then that the milky clouds which piled fantastically above the Indian camp fashioned hazily at times into curious boats sailing away to another land? What wonder if the dawn was streaked with imperial purple? What wonder if Diane built faces and fancies in the ember-glow of the Seminole fire-wheel? What wonder if like the pine-wood sparrow and the wind of Okeechobee the voice of the woodland always questioned? Conscience, soul-argument—what you will—there were voices in the wild which stirred the girl's heart to introspection.
So it was with the rain which, at the dark of the moon, pattered gently on the palmetto roof of her wigwam.
"And now," said the rain with a soft gust of flying drops, "now there is Sho-caw!"
"Yes," said Diane with a sigh, "there is Sho-caw. I am very sorry."
"But," warned the rain, "one must not forget. At Keela's teaching you have fallen into the soft, musical tongue of these Indian folk with marvelous ease. And you wear the Seminole dress of a chief—"
"Yes. After all, that was imprudent—"
"You can ride and shoot an arrow swift and far. Your eyes are keen and your tread lithe and soft like a fawn—"
"It is all the wild lore of the woodland I learned as a child."
"But Sho-caw does not know! To him the gypsy heart of you, the sun-brown skin and scarlet cheeks, the night-black hair beneath the turban, are but the lure and charm of an errant daughter of the O-kee-fee-ne-kee wilderness. What wonder that he can not see you as you are, a dark-eyed child of the race of white men!"
"I do not wonder."
"He has been grave and very deferential, gathered wood for you and carried water. Yesterday there was a freshly killed deer at the door of the wigwam. It is the first shy overture of the wooing Seminole."
"I know. Keela has told me. It has all frightened me a little. I—I think I had better go away again."
"There was a time, in the days of Arcadia, when Philip would have laughed, and a second deer would have lain at the door of your wig-wam—"
"Philip is changed."
"He is quieter—"
"A little sterner—"
"Like one perhaps who has abandoned a dream!"
"Why does he ride away for days with Sho-caw?"
"I have wondered."
The wind, wafting from the rain which splashed in the pool of Mic-co's court, might have told, but the wind, with the business of rain upon its mind, was reticent.
"I have not forgotten."
"He is waiting."
"Yes. Day by day I have put off the thought of the inevitable reckoning. It is another reason why presently I must hurry away."
"A singular trio of suitors!" sighed the rain. "A prince—an Indian warrior—and a spy!"
"Not that!" cried the girl's heart. "No, no—not that!"
"You breathed it but a minute ago!"
"And of the three, Sho-caw, bright copper though he is, is perhaps braver—"
"He is not so tall as Philip."
"To be sure Philip is brown and handsome and sturdy and very strong, but Ronador—ah!—there imperial distinction and poise are blended with as true a native grace as Sho-caw's—"
"Humor and resource are better things."
"Sho-caw's grace is not so heavy as Ronador's—and not so sprightly as Philip's—"
"It may be."
"One may tell much by the color and expression of a man's eye. Sho-caw's eyes are keen, alert and grave; Ronador's dark, compelling and very eloquent. What though there is a constant sense of suppression and smouldering fire and not quite so much directness as one might wish—"
"Philip's eyes are calm and steady and very frank," said the girl, "and he is false."
"Yes," said the rain with a noise like a shower of tears, "yes, he is very false."
The wind sighed. The steady drip of the rain, filtering through the vines twisted heavily about the oak trunks, was indescribably mournful. Suddenly the nameless terror that had crept into the girl's veins that first night in the Seminole camp came again.
"When the Mulberry Moon is at its full," she said shuddering, "I will go back to the van with Keela. I do not know what it is here that frightens me so. And I will marry Ronador. Every wild thing in the forest loves and mates. And I—I am very lonely."
But by the time the Mulberry Moon of the Seminoles blanketed the great marsh in misty silver Diane was restlessly on her way back to the world of white men.
Philip followed. Leaner, browner, a little too stern, perhaps, about the mouth and eyes, a gypsy of greater energy and resource than when he had struck recklessly into the Glades with the music-machine he had since exchanged for an Indian wagon, Philip camped and smoked and hunted with the skill and gravity of an Indian.
So the wagons filed back again into the little hamlet where Johnny waited, daily astonishing the natives by a series of lies profoundly adventurous and thrilling. Rex's furious bark of welcome at the sight of his young mistress was no whit less hysterical than Johnny's instant groan of relief, or the incoherent manner in which he detailed an unforgettable interview with Aunt Agatha, who had appeared one night from heaven knows where and pledged him with tears and sniffs innumerable to telegraph her when from the melancholy fastnesses of the Everglades, Diane or her scalp emerged.
"She wouldn't go North," finished Johnny graphically, his apple cheeks very red and his eyes very bright, "she certainly would not—she'd like to see herself—she would indeed!—and this no place for me to wait. Them very words, Miss Diane. And she went and opened your grandfather's old house in St. Augustine—the old Westfall homestead—and she's there now waitin'. Likely, Miss Diane, I'd better telegraph now—this very minute—afore she takes it in her head to come again!"