Johnny's dread of another Aunt Agathean visitation was wholly candid and sincere. He departed on a trot to telegraph, hailing Philip warmly by the way.
Here upon the following morning Diane and Keela parted—for the Indian girl was pledged to return to the lodge of Mic-co.
"Six moons, now," she explained with shining eyes, "I stay at the lodge of Mic-co, my foster father. When the Falling Leaf Moon of November comes, I shall still be there, living the ways of white men." She held out her hand. "Aw-lip-ka-shaw!" she said shyly, her black eyes very soft and sorrowful. "It is a prettier parting than the white man's. By and by, Diane, you will write to the lodge of Mic-co? The Indian lads ride in each moon to the village for Mic-co's books and papers." Her great eyes searched Diane's face a little wistfully. "Sometime," she added shyly, "when you wish, I will come again. You will not ride away soon to the far cities of the North?"
"No!" said Diane. "No indeed! Not for ever so long. I'm tired. Likely I'll hunt a quiet spot where there's a lake and trees and lilies, and camp and rest. You won't forget me, Keela?"
Keela had a wordless gift of eloquence. Her eyes promised.
Diane smiled and tightened her hold of the slim, brown Indian hand.
"Aw-lip-ka-shaw, Keela!" she said. "Some day I'm coming back and take you home with me."
The Indian girl drove reluctantly away; presently her canvas wagon was but a dim gray silhouette upon the horizon.
THE RIVAL CAMPERS
Northward by lazy canal and shadowy hummock, northward by a river freckled with sand bars, Diane came in time to a quiet lake where purple martins winged ceaselessly over a tangled float of lilies—where now and then an otter swam and dipped with a noiseless ripple of water—where ground doves fluttered fearlessly about the camp as Johnny pitched the tents at noonday.
But for all the whir and flash of brilliant birdlife above the placid water—for all the screams of the fish hawks and the noise of crows and grackle in the cypress—for all the presence of another camper among the trees to the west, the days were quiet and undisturbed. And at night when the birds were winging to the woods now black against the yellow west, and the lonely lake began to purple, the fires of the rival camps were the single spots of color in the heavy darkness along the shore.
Diane wrote of it, with disastrous results, to Aunt Agatha.
At sunset, one day, a carriage produced an aggrieved rustle of silk, a voice and a hand bag. Each fluttered a little as the driver accepted his fare and rolled away. The hand bag, in accordance with a sensational and ill-conditioned habit which had roused more than one unpopular commotion in crowded department stores and thoroughfares, leaped unexpectedly from a gloved and fluttering hand.
Aunt Agatha possessed herself of the bag with a sniff and rustled heedlessly into the nearest camp.
It was, of course, Mr. Poynter's.
Utterly confounded by the unexpected sight of a tall young man who was cooking a fish over the fire, Aunt Agatha gurgled fearfully and backed precipitately into the nearest tree, whence the ill-natured hand bag forcibly opened a grinning mouth, leaped into space and disgorged a flying shower of nickels and dimes, smelling salts and hairpins and a variety of fussy contrivances of sentimental value.
"God bless my soul!" bleated Aunt Agatha with round, affrighted eyes, "there's a dime in the fish! And I do beg your pardon, young man, but will you be so good as to poke the smelling salts out of the fire before they explode."
There was little likelihood of the final catastrophe, but Mr. Poynter obeyed. Laughing a little as he collected the scattered cargo, he good-humoredly suggested that he was not nearly so dangerous as Aunt Agatha's petrified gaze suggested, and that possibly she might remember him—his name was Poynter—and that Miss Westfall's camp lay a little farther to the east.
Aunt Agatha departed, greatly impressed by his gallantry and common sense. Arriving in the camp of her niece, she roused an alarming commotion by halting unobserved among the trees, staring hard at her niece's back-hair, dropping her hand bag, and bursting into tears that brought the startled campers to her side in a twinkling.
"Great Scott, Johnny!" exclaimed Diane, aghast. "It's Aunt Agatha!"
Aunt Agatha dangerously motioned them away with the hand bag Johnny had returned.
"I'll be all right in a minute!" she sniffed tearfully. "Mamma was that way, too—mamma was. Tears would burst right out of her, especially when she grew so stout. I can't help it! When I think of all I've gone through with you off in the Green-glades or the Never-glades or whatever they are—and worrying all the time about your scalp and alligators—and you sitting there so peaceful, Diane, with your hair still on—I've got to cry—I just have and I will. And Carl's mysteriously disappeared—Heaven knows where! I've not seen him for weeks. Nor did he condescend to write me—as I must say you did—and very good of you too!" Whether Aunt Agatha was crying because her mother was stout and eruptively lachrymose, or because Diane's hair was still where it belonged, or because Carl was missing, Diane could not be sure.
Aunt Agatha puffed presently to a seat by the fire, with hair and hat awry, and dropped her hand bag.
"Johnny," she said severely, "don't stare so. I'm sorry of course that I made you drop the kettle when I came, I am indeed, but I'm here and there's the kettle—and that's all there is to it."
"Of course it is!" exclaimed Diane, kissing her heartily. "And I'm mighty glad to see you, Aunt Agatha, tears and all!"
There was some little difficulty in persuading Aunt Agatha of the truth of this, but she presently removed her hat, narrowly escaped dropping it into the fire, and consigned it, along with the athletic hand bag, to Johnny.
Now Diane with a furtive glance at Philip's camp, had been hostilely considering the discouraging effect of Aunt Agatha's presence upon the rival camper. That Aunt Agatha would presently discern degenerative traces of criminality in his face by reason of his reprehensible proximity to her niece's camp, Diane did not doubt. That the aggrieved lady would call upon him within a day or so and air her rigid notions of propriety and convention, was well within the range of probability. Wherefore—
Aunt Agatha broke plaintively in upon her thoughts.
"If you would only listen, Diane!" she complained. "I've spoken three times of your grandfather's old estate and dear knows you ought to remember it—"
"I beg your pardon, Aunt!" stammered the girl sincerely.
"Certainly," said Aunt Agatha with dignity, "I deserve some attention. What with the dark, gloomy rooms of the house and the cobwebs and cranky spiders—and the people of St. Augustine believing it to be haunted—so that I could scarcely keep a servant—and green mould in the cellar—and a croquet set—and waiting down South when I distinctly promised to go back with the Sherrills in March—I take it very hard of you, Diane, to be so absent-minded. Ugh! How dark the lake has grown and the wind and the noise of the water. There's hardly a star. Diane, I do wonder how you stand it. The shore looks like bands of mourning crepe. And in the midst of it all, Diane, there in St. Augustine, the Baron aeroplaned the top off the Carroll's orchard—"
"Aunt Agatha!" begged the girl helplessly. "What in the world is it all about?"
Aunt Agatha flushed guiltily.
"Why is it," she demanded, "that no one ever seems to understand what I'm saying? Dear knows I haven't a harelip or even a lisp. Why, Baron Tregar, my dear. He's been staying in St. Augustine, too. It almost seemed as if he had deliberately followed me there—though of course that couldn't be. And the Prince too. And the Baron bought an aeroplane to amuse himself and annoy the Carrolls—"
Aunt Agatha flushed again, cleared her throat and looked away. Why Ronador was in St. Augustine she knew well enough. He had waited near her, successfully, for news of Diane. And though the Baron had been very quiet, he had kept his eye upon the Prince. Aunt Agatha had for once been the startled hub of intrigue.
"And what with the driver mumbling to himself this afternoon because I lost my umbrella and made him go back, and the horse having ribs," she complained, shying from a topic which contained dangerous possibilities of revealing a certain indiscretion, "I do wonder I'm here at all. And the young man was very decent about the dime in his fish—though I'm sure he burned his fingers digging for the smelling salts—for they'd already begun to sizzle—but dear me! Diane, you can't imagine how I jarred my spine and my switch—I did think for a minute it would tumble off—and he was so quick and pleasant to collect the nickels and hairpins. Such a pleasant, comfortable sort of chap. I remember now he was at the Sherrill's and very good-looking, too, I must say, and very lonely too, I'll wager, camping about for his health. He didn't say anything about his health, but one can see by his eyes that he's troubled about it."
"Aunt Agatha!" begged Diane helplessly in a flash of foreboding, "what in creation are you trying to say?"
"Why, Mr. Poynter, of course!" exclaimed Aunt Agatha. "The hand bag shot into his camp and spilled nickels, and I bumped into a tree and jarred my switch. And a very fine fellow he is, to be sure!"
It was like Aunt Agatha to blunder into the wrong camp. And surely it was like Philip to win her favor by chance.
THE TALE OF A CANDLESTICK
The friendship of Aunt Agatha and Mr. Poynter miraculously grew. Aunt Agatha, upon the following morning, took to wandering vaguely about the wooded shore and into Philip's camp, impelled by gracious concern for his health, which she insisted upon regarding as impaired, and by effusive gratitude for such trifling civilities as he had readily proffered the day before. From there she wandered vaguely back to her niece's camp fire in a chronic state of worry about Carl. Discontented, unfailing in her melancholy reminiscences of cannibalistic snakes and herons. Aunt Agatha plainly had no immediate intentions of any sort. She had no intention of lingering in camp, she said, accoutered solely with a hand bag! And she had no intention—no indeed!—of departing until Diane went back with her to the deserted Westfall house in St. Augustine, with the green mould and the cobwebs and cranky spiders and the croquet set in the cellar. Arcadia, if Diane had not crushed the memory out of her heart, had had a parallel.
Greatly disturbed by her aunt's melancholy state of uncertainty, Diane one morning watched her set forth to gather lilies in the region of Philip's camp.
The woodland about was very quiet. Diane lay back against the tree trunk and closed her eyes, listening to the welcome gypsy voices of wind and water, to the noisy clapper rails in the island grass at the end of the lake and to the drone of a motor on the road to the north. Dimly conscious that Johnny was briskly scrubbing the rude table among the trees, she fell asleep.
When she awoke, with a nervous start, Johnny was down at the edge of the lake scouring pans with sand and whistling blithely. Off there to the west, with Aunt Agatha fussing at his heels, Philip was good-naturedly gathering the lilies at the water's edge. And some one was approaching camp from the northern road.
Diane glanced carelessly to the north and sprang to her feet with wild scarlet in her cheeks.
Ronador was coming through the forest.
His color was a little high, his eyes, beneath the peak of his motoring cap profoundly apologetic, but he was easier in manner than Diane.
"I'm offending, I know," he said steadily, "and I crave forgiveness, but muster an indifferent gift of patience as best I may, I can not wait. It is weeks, you recall—"
Diane flushed brightly.
"Yes," she said. "I know. I have been in the Everglades."
"Your aunt told me." Ronador searched her face suddenly with peculiar intentness. He might have added, with perfect truth, that to Aunt Agatha, who had indiscreetly afforded him a glimpse of her niece's letter, might be attributed the halting of the long, black car on the road to the north. "You have no single word of welcome, then!" he reproached abruptly and impatiently brushed his hair back from his forehead with a hand that shook a little.
From the north came the clatter of a motorcycle.
Diane held out her hand.
"Let us make a mutual compact!" she exclaimed frankly. "I have overstrained your patience—you have startled me. Let us both forgive. In a sense we have neither of us kept strictly to the letter of our agreement."
Ronador bent with deference over the girl's outstretched hand and brushed it lightly with his lips, unconscious that her face had grown very white and troubled. Nor in his impetuous relief was he aware that other eyes had witnessed the eloquent tableau and that Aunt Agatha had arrived in camp with an escort who quietly deposited an armful of dripping lilies upon the camp table and oddly enough made no effort to retire.
When at length, conscious of the electric constraint of the atmosphere, Ronador wheeled uncomfortably and met Philip's level glance, he stared and reddened, hot insolent anger in the flash of his eyes and the curl of his lips.
"Dear me!" faltered Aunt Agatha, guiltily conscious of the letter, "I am surprised, I am indeed! Who ever would have thought of seeing you here, Prince, among the trees and—and the ground doves and—and all the lilies!" The unfortunate lady, convinced by now that Ronador's apparent resentment concerned, in some inexplicable way, her escort, herself and the lilies, glanced beseechingly about her. "And what with the lilies," she burst forth desperately in apology for the inopportune arrival of herself and her escort, "what with the lilies, Prince, and the water so wet—though, dear me! it was not to be wondered at, of course—growing wild in the water that way—and only one gown and the hand bag—though to be sure I can't wear the hand bag, and wouldn't if I could—-Mr. Poynter, with his usual courtesy was good enough to carry the lilies into camp when I asked him."
"Mr. Poynter was undoubtedly very good, Aunt Agatha," said Diane quietly, "but the lilies scarcely require any further attention."
Still Mr. Poynter did not stir.
"I regret exceedingly," he said formally to Diane, "that I am unable to avail myself of your cordial permission to retire. Unfortunately, I have urgent business with Prince Ronador. Indeed, I have waited for just such an opportunity as this."
He was by far the calmest of the four. Ronador's violent temper was rapidly routing his studied composure. Diane's lovely face was flushed and indignant. Aunt Agatha, making a desperate pretense of sorting the lilies, was plainly in a flutter and willing to be tearfully repentent over their intrusion. Not so Philip. There was satisfaction in his steady glance.
"There is scarcely any business which I may have with—er—Tregar's secretary," said Ronador with deliberate insolence, "which may not be more suitably discharged by Tregar himself."
There was a biting suggestion of rank in his answer at which Philip smiled.
"My spread-eagle tastes," he admitted, "have always protected my eyes from the bedazzlement frequently incident to the sight of royalty. Nor do I wish to flaunt unduly my excellent fortune in being born an American and a democrat, but for once. Prince, we must overlook your trifling disadvantage of caste and meet on a common footing. Permit me to offer my humble secretarial apology that the business is wholly mine—and one other's—and not my chief's."
Here Aunt Agatha created a singular diversion by dropping the lilies and gurgling with amazement.
"God bless my soul!" she screamed hysterically, conscious that her indiscretion was rapidly weaving a web around her which might not find favor in her niece's eyes, "it's Baron Tregar! I know his beard."
Now as it was manifestly impossible for the Baron and his beard to be secreted among the lilies which Aunt Agatha was wildly gathering up, Philip looked off in the wood to the north.
There was a motorcyclist approaching who had conceivably felt sufficient interest in the long black car to follow it.
The Baron arrived, gallantly swept off his cap and bowed, and suddenly conscious of an indefinable hostility in the attitudes of the silent quartet, stared from one to the other with some pardonable astonishment.
"Tregar!" shouted the Prince hotly, "you will account to me for this officious espionage."
The Baron stroked his beard.
"One may pay his respects to Miss Westfall?" he begged with gentle sarcasm. "It is a sufficiently popular epidemic, I should say, to claim even me. Besides," he added dryly, "in reality I have come in answer to a letter of Poynter's. It has interested me exceedingly to find you on the road ahead of me."
"Baron Tregar," said Diane warmly, "you are very welcome, I assure you. Mr. Poynter has been pleased to inject certain elements of melodrama into his chance intrusion. Otherwise you would not find us staring at each other in this exceedingly ridiculous manner!"
"Hum!" said the Baron blandly and glanced with interest at the undisturbed countenance of Mr. Poynter.
"A mere matter of justice and belated frankness to Miss Westfall!" said Philip quietly. "I must respectfully beg Prince Ronador to disclose to her the original motive of his singular and highly romantic courtship. I bear an urgent message of similar import from one who has had the distinction of playing—imperial chess!"
They were curious words but not so curious in substance as in effect. With a cry of startled anger, Ronador leaped back, his eyes flashing terrible menace at Philip. There was only one pair of eyes, however, quick and keen enough, for all their loveliness, to follow his swift movement or the glitter of steel in his hand.
With a cry of fear and horror, Diane leaped like a wild thing and struck his hand aside. A revolver fell at her feet. Aunt Agatha screamed and covered her eyes with her hands.
In the tense quiet came the tranquil lap of the lake, the call of a distant bird, the lazy murmur of many leaves in a morning wind. Philip stood very quietly by the table. He looked at Diane; he seemed to have forgotten the others, Tregar thought.
With terrible anger in her flashing eyes, Diane flung the revolver into the placid lake, and facing Ronador, her sweet, stern mouth contemptuous, she met his imploring gaze with one of scathing rebuke.
"Excellency," she said to Ronador, "whatever else Mr. Poynter may have in mind, there is surely now an explanation which it behooves you to make as a gentleman who is not a coward!"
Ronador moistened his white lips and looked away.
Trembling violently she turned to Philip.
"Philip!" she cried. "What is it?" As her eyes met his, her hand went to her heart and the color swept in brilliant tide from the slim brown throat to the questioning eyes. "Oh, Philip! Philip!" She choked and fell again to trembling. It was a cry of remorse and heart-broken apology for the memory of a moon above the marsh.
For somehow in that instant, by a freak of instinct, the rain and the wind of Okeechobee and the bird in the pines came into their own. Their subtle messages dovetailed with the hurt look in Philip's eyes—with the conviction of the girl's sore heart, unconquerable for all she had desperately fought it—with the revelation of treachery which lay now at the bottom of the lake.
Philip was very white.
"But," he said gently, "you could not know."
"I could have waited and trusted," cried the girl. "I could have remembered Arcadia!"
Was Ronador forgotten? Tregar thought so. These two mutely avowing with blazing eyes their utter trust and loyalty had for the moment forgotten everything but each other.
Ronador stalked viciously away to the lake, restlessly turned on his heel with a curse and came slowly back. There was despair in his eyes. Tregar thought of the black moments of impulse and the tearing conscience and pitied him profoundly.
"Excellency," reminded Diane, "there is an explanation—"
But Ronador's pallid lips were set in lines of fierce denial.
"Philip!" appealed the girl.
"Well," said Philip looking away, "it's a tale of a candlestick."
"And a hidden paper."
Ronador seemed about to speak, thought better of it and closed his lips in a tense white line of sullenness.
Philip glanced keenly at him, and his own mouth grew a little sterner.
"Excellency," he said to Ronador, "that you may not feel impelled again to violence in the suppression of this curious fragment of family history, let me warn you that the story has been entrusted in full to Father Joda, who knew and loved your cousin. Any spectacular irrationality that you may hereafter develop in connection with Miss Westfall, will lead to its disclosure. He is pledged to that in writing."
The color died out of Ronador's face. The fire, roused by the specter he had fought this many a day, burned itself quite to ashes and left him cold and sullen. He had played and lost. And he was an older and quieter man for the losing. Whatever else lay at the bottom of his contradictory maze of dark moods and passions, he had courage and the curse of conscience. There were black memories struggling now within him.
Tregar moved quietly to Ronador's side, an act of ready loyalty not without dignity in the eyes of Philip.
"Your letter hinted something of all this," he said. "Let us be quite fair, Poynter. Ronador feared only for his little son."
"Why must we talk in riddles?" cried Diane with a flash of impatience. "Why does Ronador fear for his son? Where is the candlestick? And the paper? Who found it?"
"Carl found it," said Philip. "It was written nearly a quarter of a century ago, by one—Theodomir of Houdania."
Diane glanced in utter mystification at Ronador's ashen face—there was a great fear in his eyes—and thence to Baron Tregar.
"Excellency," she appealed, "it is all very hard to understand. Who is Theodomir? And why must his life touch mine after all these years?"
The Baron cleared his throat.
"Let me try to make it simpler," he said gravely. "Theodomir, Miss Westfall, was a lovable, willful, over-democratic young crown prince of Houdania who, many years ago, refused the responsibilities of a royal position whose pomp and pretensions he despised—quoting Buddha—and fled to America where in the course of time he married, divorced his wife and later died—incognito. He was Ronador's cousin, and his flight shifted the regency of the kingdom to Ronador's father."
"Yes," said the girl steadily, "that is very clear."
"Theodomir married—and divorced—your mother," said Philip gently.
Diane grew very white.
"And even yet," she said bravely, "I—can not see why we must all be so worked up. There is more?"
"Yes. Later, after her divorce from Theodomir, your mother married Norman Westfall—"
"My father," corrected Diane swiftly.
Philip looked away.
"Her second marriage," he said at last, "was childless."
"Philip!" Diane's face flamed. "And I?"
"You," said Baron Tregar, "are the child of Theodomir."
In the strained silence a bird sent a sweet, clear call ringing lightly over the water.
"That—that can not be!" faltered Diane. "It—it is too preposterous."
"I wish to Heaven it were!" said Philip quietly. "Whether or not it was Theodomir's wish that his daughter be reared, in the eyes of the world, as the daughter of Norman Westfall, to protect her from any consequences incident to his possible discovery and enforced return to Houdania, it is impossible to say. Hating royalty as he did, he may have sought thus to shield his daughter from its taint. Why he weakened and consigned the secret to paper—how or when he hid it in an ancient candlestick in the home of Norman Westfall, remains shrouded in utter mystery. It is but one of the many points that need light."
Again the Baron cleared his throat.
"And," said he, "since unwisely, Miss Westfall, for eugenic reasons, we grant a certain freedom of marital choice to our princes—since wisely or not as you will, the Salic Law does not, by an ancient precedent, obtain with us, and a woman may come in the line of succession, the danger to Ronador's little son, is, I think, apparent."
"Surely, surely!" exclaimed Diane hopelessly, "there is some mistake. There is so much that is utterly without light or coherence. So much—"
For the first time Ronador spoke.
"What," said he sullenly to Philip, "would you have us do?"
"I would have you eliminate the secrecy, the infernal intrigue, the scheming to smother a fire that burned wilder for your efforts," said Philip civilly. "I would have you face this thing squarely and investigate it link by link. I would have you abandon the damnable man-hunt that has sent one man to his death in a Florida swamp and goaded another to a reckless frenzy in which all things were possible. Themar is dead. That Granberry is alive is attributable solely to the fact that he was cleverer and keener than any of those who hounded him. But he has paid heavily for the secret he tried in a drunken moment to sell to Houdania."
"I do not understand Carl's part in it," said Diane. "Nor can I see—"
But whatever it was that Diane could not see was not destined for immediate revealment. At the mention of Carl's name by her niece, Aunt Agatha came unexpectedly into the limelight with a gurgle and fainted dead away. Her white affrighted face had been turned upon Ronador in fearful fascination since Diane had struck his arm. Whether or not she had comprehended any of the talk that followed is a matter of doubt.
When at last, after an interval of flurry and excitement in the camp, Aunt Agatha gasped, sat up again and stared wildly at the sympathetic line of faces about her, Ronador was gone. When or where he had gone, no one knew. Only Diane caught the whir of his motor on the road to the north.
"It is better so," said Tregar compassionately. "Though his love began in treachery, Miss Westfall, and drove him through the mire, it was, I think, genuine. A man may not see his hopes take wing with comfort. And Ronador's life has not been of the happiest."
"Excellency," said Philip who had been wandering restlessly about among the trees, "I know that you are but an indifferent gypsy, and strongly averse to baked potatoes, but such as it is, let me extend to you the hospitality of my camp. Doubtless Miss Westfall will dispatch Johnny for your motorcycle."
The Baron accepted.
"There is one thing more, Miss Westfall," he added as they were leaving. "Frankness is such a refreshing experience for me, that I must drink of the fount again. Days back, a headstrong young secretary of mine of considerable nerve and independence and—er—intermittent disrespect for his chief—-having come to grief through a knife of Themar's intended for another—refused, with a habit of infernal politeness he has which I find most maddening, refused, mademoiselle, to execute a certain little commission of mine because he quixotically fancied it savored of spying!"
"Tregar!" said Philip with an indignant flush. And added with an uncomfortable conviction of disrespect, "Er—Excellency!"
"I said—intermittent disrespect," reminded Tregar. "Moreover," he continued, stroking his beard and selecting his words with the precision of the careful linguist that he was, "this secretary of mine, after an interview of most disconcerting candor, took to the road and a hay-cart in a dudgeon, constituting himself, in a characteristic outburst of suspicion, quixotism, chivalry and protection, a sentinel to whom lack of sleep, the discomforts of a hay-camp—and—er—spying black-and-tans were nothing. I have reason for suspecting that he may have been misrepresented and misjudged—"
"Excellency," said Philip shortly, "my camp lies yonder. And Mrs. Westfall will doubtless rejoice when her niece's camp is quiet."
Diane met the Baron's glance with a bright flush.
"Excellency," she said, "I thank you."
The two men disappeared among the trees.
THE GYPSY BLOOD
It was a curious puzzle which, through the quiet of the afternoon that followed, Diane sought desperately to assemble from the chaos of highly-colored segments which the morning had supplied. There were intervals when she rejected the result, with its maddening gaps and imperfections, with a laugh of utter derision—it was so preposterous! There were quieter intervals when she pieced the impossible segments all together again and stared aghast at the result. No matter how incredulous her attitude, however, when the scattered angles slipped into unity, riveted together by a painful concentration, the result, with its consequent light upon the wooing of Ronador, though more and more startling, was in the main convincing.
Days back in Arcadia Diane remembered the Baron had suavely spoken of his kingdom, and Philip had told her much. There was a mad king without issue upon the throne. There were two brothers of the mad king, each of whom had a son. Theodomir, then, had been the son of the elder, Ronador of the younger. Theodomir had fled at the death of his father, unwilling to take up the regency under a mad king. So Ronador's father had come to the regency of the kingdom and Ronador himself and his little son had stood in the direct line of succession until the ghost arose from the candlestick and mocked them all. And she—Diane—was the child of Theodomir.
Diane was still dazedly sorting the pieces of the puzzle when the sun set in a red glory beyond the lake, matching the flame of Philip's fire by which he and the Baron sat in earnest discussion.
The west was faintly yellow, the forest dark, when from the tent to which she had retired at noon, quite distraught and incoherent. Aunt Agatha begged plaintively for a cup of tea.
"Diane," she said, when the girl herself appeared with it, "I—I can't forget his face. I—I never shall. Twice now I've tried to get up, but I thought of his eyes and the revolver, and my knees folded up. It—it was just so this morning. What with the ringing in my ears—and the dizziness—and his face so dark with anger—and digging my heels in the ground to keep my knees from folding up under me—I—I thought I should go quite mad, quite mad, my dear. He—he meant to kill Mr. Poynter?"
"Yes," said Diane with a shudder. "Yes. I—think so."
"I'm sorry I told him where you were," fluttered Aunt Agatha, taking a conscience-stricken and somewhat tearful gulp of very hot tea. "I—I am indeed, but I couldn't in the least know that he went about killing people, could I, Diane?"
"No," said Diane patiently. "No, of course not. Don't bother about it. Aunt Agatha. Why not wait until your tea is a little cooler?"
"I'll have to," said Aunt Agatha with an aggrieved sniff. "For I do believe I'm filled with steam now. Why are you so white and quiet, Diane? Is it the revolver?"
"Aunt Agatha," exclaimed the girl impetuously, "why have you always been so reticent about my mother?"
The effect of the girl's words was sufficient proof that the frightened lady had absorbed but little of Philip's revelation. Tired and nervous, hazily aware that the scene of the morning had been portentous, and now confounding it in a panic with something that by a deathbed pledge had lain inexorably buried in her heart for years, Aunt Agatha screamed and dropped her teacup. It rolled away in a trail of steam to the flap of the tent. Covering her face with her hands, Aunt Agatha burst hysterically into a shower of tears.
"Aunt Agatha," she exclaimed, "what is it? For heaven's sake, don't sob and tremble so."
"I—I might have known it!" sobbed Aunt Agatha, wringing her plump hands in genuine distress. "I might have guessed they would tell you that, though how in the world they found it out is beyond me. If I'd only listened instead of worrying about my knees and the revolver, and staring so. And you in the Everglades—where your father went to hunt alligators. Oh, Diane, Diane, not a single night could I sleep—and it's not to be wondered at that I was scared. And the dance you did for Nathalie Fowler and me—and the costume that night at Sherrill's. I was fairly sick! I knew it would come out—though how could I foresee that the Baron and Mr. Poynter and the Prince would know? I—I told your grandfather so years ago, but he pledged me on his deathbed—and your father was wild and clever like Carl and singular in his notions. I'll never forget your grandfather's face when you ran away into the forest to sleep as a child. He was white and sick and muttered something about atavism. It—it was the Indian blood—"
Diane caught her aunt's trembling arm in a grip that hurt cruelly.
"Aunt Agatha," she said, catching her breath sharply, "you must not talk so wildly. Say it plainer!"
But Aunt Agatha tranquil was incoherent.
Aunt Agatha frightened and hysterical was utterly beyond control.
"And very beautiful too," she sobbed. "And Norman, poor fellow, was quite mad about her—for all she was an Indian girl—though her father was white and a Spaniard, I will say that for her. Not even so dark as you are, Diane, and shy and lovely enough to turn any man's head—much less your father's—though your grandfather stormed and threatened to kill them both and only for Grant he would have. And when an Indian from the Everglades told Norman that—that she really hadn't been married before but just a—mother like Carl's mother, my dear—"
But Diane was gone, stumbling headlong from the tent. Aunt Agatha was to remember her white agonized face for many a day.
IN THE FOREST
With the darkening of the night a wind sprang up over the bleak, black expanse of lake and swept with a sigh through the forest on the shore. It was a wind from the east which drove a film of cloud across the stars and bore a hint of rain in its freshness. The rain itself pattering presently through the forest fell upon the huddled figure of a girl who lay face downward upon the ground among the trees.
She lay inert, her head pillowed upon her arm, face to face with the unspeakable shadow that had haunted Carl. Not married. Aunt Agatha had said, but just a mother! Now the pitiful fragments of a hallowed shrine lay mockingly at her feet. How scornfully she had flashed at Carl!
Diane quivered and lay very still, torn by the bitter irony of it.
And the Indian mother! Carl had known and Ronador. She had caught a startled look in the eyes of each at the Sherrill fete. Every wild instinct, if she had but heeded the warning, had pointed the way; the childhood escapade in the forest, the tomboy pranks of riding and running and swimming that had horrified Aunt Agatha to the point of tears, and later the persistent call of the open country.
What wonder if the soft, musical tongue of the Seminole had come lightly to her lips? What wonder if Indian instincts had driven her forth to the wild? What wonder if the nameless stir of atavism beneath a Seminole wigwam had frightened her into flight. Indian instincts, Indian grace, Indian stoicism and courage, Indian keenness and hearing—all of these had come to her from the Indian mother with the blood of white men in her veins.
But the stain of illegitimacy—
That brought the girl's proud head down again with a strangled sob of grief. Shaking pitifully, she fell forward unconscious upon the ground.
Some one was calling. There was rain and a lantern.
"Diane! Diane!" called the voice of Philip.
At the memory of Philip and Arcadia, Diane choked and lay very still.
"Diane!" The lantern shone now in her face and Philip was kneeling beside her, his face whiter than her own.
"Great God!" said Philip and stared into her haunted eyes with infinite compassion.
But Philip, as he frequently said, was preeminently a "practician," wherefore he gently covered the girl with his coat, busied himself with the lantern and, for various reasons, sought to create a general atmosphere of commonplace reality.
"Your aunt sent me," he said at length. "She's awfully upset."
"She told you?"
"Of—of the Indian mother?"
"I knew," said Philip. "Carl told me. I withheld it this morning purposely. Why fuss about it, Diane? Lord Almighty!" added this exceedingly practical and democratic young man, "I shouldn't worry myself if my grandfather was a salamander! . . . And, besides, your true Indian is an awfully good sport. He's proud and fearless and inherently truthful—"
"I know," said Diane. "It isn't that I mind—so much. It—it's the other."
"Of course!" said Philip gently, "but, somehow, I can't believe it's true, Diane. There's logic against it. Why, Great Scott!" he added cheerfully, for all there was a lump in his throat at the wistful tragedy in the girl's eyes, "there's Theodomir's own statement in the candlestick—have you forgotten?"
"It spoke of—of marriage?"
"It said that Theodomir had gone into the Glades hunting and had come upon the Indian village. There he met and married your mother and later divorced her."
"If I could only be sure!" faltered Diane.
"You can," said Philip, "for I am going back to the Glades to-morrow to hunt this thing to earth. The old chief will know."
"But the trail, Philip?"
"There are ways of finding it," said Philip reassuringly.
He was so cool and matter-of-fact, so entirely cheerful and resourceful, that Diane found his comfortable air of confidence contagious. Only for a time, however. A little later she glanced mutely into his face, met his eyes, flushed scarlet and fell to shaking again.
"Philip!" she whispered.
"Yes?" There was a wonderful gentleness in Philip's voice.
"I—I can't go back to camp yet, for all it's raining."
"Well," said Philip comfortably, "rain be hanged. We'll wait a bit."
Diane gave a sigh of relief and lay very quiet.
Philip wisely said nothing. He shifted the lantern so his own face might be in the shadow and for some reason of his own, fell to speaking of Carl. He told of Mic-co, of the quiet hours of healing by the pool, of another night of storm and stress when Carl had gone forth into the wilds with the Indian girl.
For the first time now he felt that he had pierced the girl's shell of tragic introspection and caught her interest. Though the rain came faster and the lantern flickered, Philip went on with his quiet story.
He spoke of the forces that had fired Carl to drunken resentment, the defection of his comrades, his conviction of injustice in the apportionment of the Westfall estate, the climax of his sensitive rebellion against Diane's attitude toward his mother, the morose and morbid loneliness which had driven him relentlessly to ruin.
"What did he hope to gain by writing to Houdania?" asked the girl a little bitterly.
"Money!" said Philip firmly. "He fancied he could frighten them and put a heavy price upon his silence. Later when his letter to Houdania was ignored he altered his plans. If he could prove that you were the daughter of Theodomir and not of Norman Westfall—then the great estate of his uncle would revert to him. Before he could act further, things began to happen. And then," added Philip thoughtfully, "comes another dark patch in the mystery. Carl's story must have crossed wires with something else—something that frightened them and made his death imperative. The hysterical desperation of these men was out of all proportion to the cause. Baron Tregar, baffling as he is at times, is not the man to lend himself to deliberate assassination merely to keep the succession of Ronador's son free from incumbrances. Later still, Carl planned to sell the secret to the rival province of Galituria, but the net closed in so rapidly and he fell to drinking so heavily, that brain and body revolted and the first shadow of insanity whispered another way—"
"To murder me!" flashed the girl. For the first time there was warmth and color in her face.
Philip was glad. He had struck fire from her stony calm at last.
"Yes," he said, and catching her chilled hands, compelled the glance of her wistful eyes. "Diane," he said deliberately, "let us withhold our censure. Carl has a curious and tragic psychology and he has paid in full. Thanks to a habit of wonderful alertness and ingenuity, he has made his enemies respect and fear him. But the tangle aroused the blackest instincts of his soul."
But the girl was very bitter. The old impatience and intolerance flashed suddenly in her face.
Philip fell silent for an instant. Then he shot his final barb with deliberate intention—not so much to reproach—though there was utter honesty and loyalty to Carl in what he said—but more to touch the girl's tragedy with something sharp enough to pierce her morbidness.
"Carl blames no one but himself," he said gently. "But—but if you had been a little kinder, Diane—"
"Philip!" He had hurt and knew it.
"Yes, I know!" said Philip quickly, "but you're not going to misunderstand, I'm sure. Let me say it with all gentleness and without reproach. If you could have forgotten his mother's history and made him feel that he was not quite alone—that there was some one to whom his careless whims made a difference! But you were a little scornful and indifferent. I wonder if you'll believe that he can tell you each separate moment in his life when you were kind to him."
"I too was alone and lonely!" defended the girl. "And the call of the forest had made me most unhappy."
"Yes. But Carl was not mocking any sensitive spot in your life—"
"No—I was cruel—cruel!"
"I remember in college," said Philip, "he talked so much of his beautiful cousin, and the rest of us were wild to see her. We used to rag him a lot, but you held aloof and we told him we didn't believe he had a cousin. We discovered after a while that he was sensitive because you didn't come when he asked you, and we quit ragging him about it. You didn't even come when he took his degree."
"No. I—Oh, Philip! I am sorry."
"Your aunt," went on Philip, "was not mentally adapted to inspire his respect. He merely laughed and petted her into tearful subjection. You were the only one, Diane, who was his equal in body and brain, and you failed him at a period when your influence would have been tremendous. I can't forget," added Philip soberly, "that much of this I knew in college and carelessly enough I ignored it all later. I let him drift when I might have done much to help him."
Philip's instinct was right and kindly.
He had provided a counter wound to dwarf, at saving intervals, the sting of Aunt Agatha's frightened revelation. Thereafter, the memory of Philip's loyal rebuke was to trouble her sorely, temper a little the old intolerance and arouse her keen remorse. The consciousness that Philip disapproved was quite enough.
With a sudden gesture of solicitude, Diane touched the sleeve of his shirt. It was very wet.
"Philip!" she exclaimed, springing to her feet. "We must go back."
"Lord," said Philip lazily, "that's nothing at all. I'm a hydro-aviator."
She glanced wistfully up into his face.
"You're right about Carl," she said. "I'm very sorry."
Philip felt suddenly that it behooved him to remember a certain resolution.
Later, as he hurried through the rainy wood to his own camp, where the Baron sat huddled in the Indian wagon in a state of deep disgust about the rain, he halted where the trees were thick and lighted his pipe.
"There's the Baron's aeroplane at St. Augustine," he said. "We can go there in the morning. And the old chief will know. His memory's good for half a century." Philip flung away his match. "But I can't for the life of me see which is the lesser of the two evils. If her mother wasn't married, it was bad enough, of course. But with Theodomir a crown prince—it's worse if she was!"
And a little later with a sigh—
"A princess! God bless my soul, with my spread-eagle tastes I shouldn't know in the least what to do with her!"
Huddled in the Indian wagon, the Baron and his secretary talked until daybreak.
"THE MARSHES OF GLYNN"
For the rides over the sun-hot plains, the poling of cypress canoes, the days of hunting and the tanning of hides, there was now a third of fearless strength and endurance. Keela had come with the Mulberry Moon to the home of her foster father, a presence of delicate gravity and shyness which pervaded the lodge like the breath of some vivid wild flower.
"Red-winged Blackbird," said Carl, one morning, laying aside the flute which had been showering tranquil melody through the quiet beneath the moss-hung oaks, "why are you so quiet?"
"I am ever quiet," said Red-winged Blackbird with dignity. "Mic-co says it is better so."
"Mic-co only understands, and even to him I may not always talk." She went sedately on with the modeling of clay, her slender hands swift, graceful, unfaltering. Mic-co's lodge abounded in evidences of their deftness.
"You have more grace," said Carl suddenly, "than any woman I have ever known."
"Diane!" said Keela with charming and impartial acquiescence.
"Yes, Diane has it, too," assented Carl, and fell thoughtful, watching Mic-co's snowy herons flap tamely about the lodge.
"Play!" said Keela shyly.
Carl drew the flute from his pocket again and obeyed.
"Like a brook of silver!" said the Indian girl with an abashed revealment of the wild sylvan poetry with which her thoughts were rife.
"The one friend," said Carl, "to whom I have told all things. The one friend, Red-winged Blackbird, who always understood!"
"I," said Keela with majesty, "I too am your friend and I understand."
Carl reddened a little.
"What do you understand, little Indian lady?" he asked quietly.
He was totally unprepared for the keenness of her unsmiling analysis.
"That you have been very tired in the head," she nodded, her delicate, vivid face quite grave. "So tired that you might not see as you should, so tired that the medicine of white men could not reach it, but only the words of Mic-co, who knows all things. So tired that a moon was not a moon of lovely brightness. It was a thing of evil fire to scorch. Uncah? Mic-co would say warped vision. I must talk in simpler ways for all I study."
They fell quiet.
"Read me again that live oak poem of Lanier's," said Carl. "After a while Mic-co will be back to spirit you away to his Room of Books."
She read, as she frequently read to Carl and Mic-co in the long quiet afternoons, with an accent musical and soft, of the immortal marshes of Glynn.
"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,—"
What vivid memories it awoke of the morning the swamp had revealed to him the island home of Mic-co!
"Ay, now, when my soul all day hath drunken the soul of the oak, And my heart is at ease from men, and the wearisome sound of the stroke Of the scythe of time and the trowel of trade is low, And belief overmasters doubt, and I know that I know, And my spirit is grown to a lordly great compass within, That the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn Will work me no fear like the fear they have wrought me of yore When length was fatigue, and when breadth was but bitterness sore, And when terror and shrinking and dreary unnameable pain Drew over me out of the merciless miles of the plain."
Lanier, dying of heartbreak! How well he had understood!
"Oh, what is abroad in the marsh and the terminal sea? Somehow my soul seems suddenly free From the weighing of Fate and the sad discussion of sin, By the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn."
And Keela too had guessed.
"In the rose-and-silver evening glow, Farewell—"
Keela broke off and laid aside the book.
"I may not read more," she said, bending to the pottery with wild color in her face. "I—I am very tired, Carl. You go in the morning?"
"You are strong—and sure?"
"Yes. Quite. I've promised Mic-co not to lose my grip again."
"And sometime you will come here again?"
A little later she went quietly away to the Room of Books with Mic-co.
When the evening star flashed silver in the lilied pool, Carl sat alone. Mic-co had been summoned away by an Indian servant. A soft light gleamed in the corner of the court in a shower of vines. Its light was a little like the soft rays of the Venetian lamp that had shone in the Sherrill garden, but Carl ruthlessly put the memory aside. It had grown once into a devouring flame of evil portent. It must not do so again.
His thoughts were so far away that a soft footfall behind him and the rustle of satin seemed part of that other night until turning restlessly, he caught the sheen of satin, brightly gold in the lantern-glow. The dark, vivid skin, the hair and eyes that were somehow more Spanish than Indian—the golden mask—Carl's face went wildly scarlet.
"Keela!" he cried, springing toward her, "Keela!"
There was much of his old intolerance, much of his impudent immunity to the world's opinion in the curious flash of adjustment which leveled barriers of caste and convention and bridged, for him, in the fashion of a willful uncle, the gulf of race and breeding.
The golden mask dropped.
"Is it not a pretty farewell?" she faltered, with a wistful glance at the shimmering gown. "Diane gave it all. As you saw me first, so—now!"
Some lines of Lanier's poem of the morning were ringing wildly in Carl's ears.
"The blades of the marsh grass stir; Passeth a hurrying sound of wings that westward whir; Passeth, and all is still; and the currents cease to run; And the sea and the marsh are one."
"Why do you look at me so?" asked Keela.
"I have been a fool," said Carl steadily, "a very great fool—and blind."
Keela's lovely, sensitive mouth quivered.
"Is it—" she raised glistening, glorified eyes to his troubled face, "is it," she whispered naively, "that you care like the lovers in Mic-co's books?"
"Yes. And you, Keela?"
"I—I have always cared," she said shyly, "since that night at Sherrill's. I—I feared you knew."
Trembling violently the girl dropped to her knees with a soft crash of satin and buried her face in her hands. She was crying wildly.
Carl gently raised her to her feet again and squarely met her eyes.
"Red-winged Blackbird," he said quietly, "there is much that I must tell you before I may honorably face this love of yours and mine—"
Keela's black eyes blazed in sudden loyalty.
"There is nothing I do not know," she flung back proudly. "Philip told me. And for every wild error you made, he gave a reason. He loves and trusts you utterly. May I not do that too?"
"He told you!"
"Some that night in the storm when he and I were saddling the horses to ride to Mic-co's. Some later. He pledged me to kindness and understanding."
For every break in the thread there had always been Philip's strong and kindly hand to mend it. A little shaken by the memory of the night in Philip's wigwam, Carl walked restlessly about the court.
"But there is more," he said, coloring. "There was passion and dishonor in my heart, Keela, until, one night, I fought and won—"
"Is it not enough for me that you won?" asked Keela gently and broke off, wild color staining her cheeks and forehead.
Mic-co stood in the doorway.
"Mic-co," she said bravely, "I—I would have you tell him that he is strong and brave and clean enough to love. He—he does not know it."
She fled with a sob.
"Have you forgotten?" asked Mic-co slowly.
"I care nothing for race!" cried Carl with a flash of his fine eyes. "Must I pattern my life by the set tenets of race bigotry. I have known too many women with white faces and scarlet souls."
"If I know you at all," said Mic-co with a quiet smile, "there will be no pattern, save of your own making."
"I come of a family who rebel at patterns," said Carl. "My mother—my uncle—my cousin. Let me tell you all," and he told of the night in the Sherrill garden; of the brutal desire that had later come with the brooding and the wild disorders of his brain, to drive him deeper and deeper into the black abyss until he fought and won by the camp fire; of his consequent panic-stricken rebound of horror and remorse when he had put it all aside, fighting the call with reason, seeking desperately to crush it out of his life, until the sight of Keela in the satin gown had sent him back with a shock to that finer, cleaner, quieter call that had come in the Sherrill garden. Then the disordered interval between had fled to the limbo of forgotten things.
Mic-co heard his story to the end without comment. He was silent so long that Carl grew uncomfortable.
"Since Keela was a little, wistful, black-eyed child," said Mic-co at last, "I have been her teacher. We have worked very hard together. Peace came to me through her." He broke off frowning and spoke of the alarming mine of inherited instincts from the white father which his teaching had awakened. Keela had been restless and unhappy, fastidiously aloof with the Seminoles, shy and reticent with white men. He must not make another mistake, he said, for Keela was very dear to him.
"The white father?" asked Carl curiously.
"She has a marvelous gift in modeling," said Carl. "I know a famous young sculptor whose work is nothing like so virile. Might not something utterly new and barbaric come of it with proper direction? If she could interpret this wild life of the Glades from an Indian viewpoint—"
"I have frequently thought of it," agreed Mic-co. "You would help her, Carl?"
"It would give a definite and unselfish direction to your own life, would it not, like those weeks at the farm with Wherry?"
"Yes. You trust me, Mic-co?"
Carl held out his hand.
"One by one," said Mic-co, "fate is slipping into the groove of your life people who are destined to care greatly—"
"It shall be Keela's to decide."
"Mic-co, I—cannot thank you. You and Philip—"
But he could not go on.
A little later he went to bed and lay restless until morning. He was up again at sunrise, tramping over the island paths with Mic-co.
The quiet of the early morning was rife with the chirp of countless birds, with the crackle of the camp fire where the turbaned Indians in Mic-co's service were preparing the morning meal. There was young corn on the fertile island to the east. Over the chain of islands lay the promise of early summer.
There was a curious drone overhead as they neared the lake.
"Look!" exclaimed Carl. "A singular sight, Mic-co, for these island wilds of yours."
An aeroplane was whirring noisily above the quiet lake, startling the bluebills floating about on the surface.
"A singular sight!" nodded Mic-co, "and a prophetic one. Symbolic of the spirit of progress which hangs now above the Glades, is it not? The world is destined to reap much one day from the exuberant fertility of this marshland of the South."
The aeroplane glided gracefully to the bosom of the lake, alighted like a great bird and came to shore with its own power.
The aviator swept off his cap and smiled.
It was Philip.
ON THE LAKE SHORE
With the departure of Philip and the Baron for St. Augustine, a fever of energy had settled over Diane. Riding, rowing, swimming, tramping miles of Florida road, taking upon herself much of Johnny's camp labor, she ruthlessly tired herself out by day that she might soundly sleep by night. Youth and health and Spartan courage were a wholesome trio.
Aunt Agatha watched, sniffed and frequently groaned.
How much the kindly ruse of Philip had helped, Diane herself could not suspect, but her remorseful thoughts were frequently busy with memories of the old childhood days with Carl. He had been an excellent horseman, a sturdy swimmer, an unerring shot, compelling respect in those old, wild vacation days on the Florida plantation. If the cruelty had crept into her manner at an age when she could not know, it had been a reflex of the attitude of the stern old planter whose son and daughter had been so conspicuously erratic.
Gently enough, too, the girl sought to make Aunt Agatha comprehend the curious facts that had come to light that morning beneath the trees. Quite in vain. That good lady refused flatly to absorb it, grew ludicrously plaintive and aggrieved and flew off at tearful tangents into complicated segments of family history from which it was possible to extricate only the most ridiculous of facts, chief among them the reiterated assurance that her own father had been, in the bosom of his family, of a delightfully sportive nature, but nothing like the Westfalls—dear no!—that he had a genteel figure, my dear, for all he had developed a somewhat corpulent tendency in later years; that the corn-beef which mother procured was highly superior to those portions of salted quadruped which Johnny obtained in the village—and facts of similar irrelevancy.
Diane had heard of the corn-beef and father's corpulency before, but she was now somewhat gentler and less impatient and checked the old careless flashes of annoyance. And, having supplemented the hand bag by a shopping trip to the nearest village, Aunt Agatha, to the girl's dismay, announced one day:
"It's my duty to stay, Diane, and stay I will. Mother would have stayed, I'm sure, and mother's judgment was usually correct, though she would wear smoked glasses."
Rowing in one morning with a string of fish, Diane was a little fluttered at the sight of a tall, broad-shouldered young man upon the shore, who waved his hat and quietly waited for her boat to come in. His dark skin was clear and ruddy and very brown, his mouth resolute, the careless grace and impudence of his old manner replaced by something steadier, quieter and possibly a shade less assured.
The meeting was by no means easy for either, and with remorseful memories leaping wildly in the heart of each, they smiled and called cheerfully to one another until the girl's boat glided in under the ready assistance of a masculine hand that shook a little.
"Let me moor it for you!" said Carl and busied himself with the rope for longer than the careless task would seem to warrant. When at length he straightened up again and briskly brushed the sand from his coat sleeve to cover his emotion, he forced himself to meet his cousin's troubled glance directly.
Instantly the careless byplay ceased. The desperate imploring in the eyes of each keyed the situation to electric tensity. Curiously enough, both were thinking of Philip. Curiously enough, in this hour of reckoning Philip was an invisible arbiter urging them to generous understanding.
Diane was the first to speak. And, in the fashion of Diane since childhood, she bravely plunged into the heart of the thing with glistening eyes.
"Carl," she said, "I am very sorry."
It was heartfelt apology for the old offense.
Carl's face went wildly scarlet. The girl's gentleness, prepared as he was for the inevitable flash of fire, had caught him unawares. Springing forward, he caught her hands roughly in his own.
"Don't!" he said roughly. "For God's sake, Diane, don't! It's awfully decent of you—but—but I can't stand it! Have you forgotten—" he choked. "Surely," he said, "Philip told you all. He promised—"
"Yes," said Diane, "and—and that's why—" She was very close to tears now, but with the old imperiousness, with the Spartan pride of the Westfall training behind her, she flung back her head with a quick dry sob, her eyes imploring.
"Let's both forget," she said. "Oh, Carl, I was cruel, cruel! I—I can not see now what made me so. Philip is right. He is always just and honorable. He blames himself and me. You'll forgive me?"
"I forgive!" faltered Carl.
"There were forces driving you," said Diane steadily, "but I—was deliberate. Let's pledge to a new beginning. Let me be your friend as Philip is."
Their hands tightened in a clasp whose warmth was prophetic.
Mic-co's words rang again in Carl's ears.
"Fate is slipping into the groove of your life people who are destined to care greatly!"
Diane was another!
Deeply moved, Carl glanced away over the sunlit water, rippling and sparkling with myriad shafts of light.
"Let's sit here on the bank a minute," he said. "There's something I must tell you. It's all right," he added with a smile, interpreting her glance aright, "I made my peace with Aunt Agatha before you came in. She burst into tears at the sight of me and retired to her tent. I can't make out just why, but I think she said it was either because I'm so tanned and a little thinner, or because none of her family were ever addicted to disappearing, or because she has an uncle who's a bishop. I came from Philip."
"Yes. He came to Mic-co's the morning I was leaving. Later we met again at a village on the outskirts of the Glades. He waited for me. There was a telegram there from the Baron. Philip said he knew you'd forgive him if he sent his message on by me—his father is very ill."
"Poor Philip!" exclaimed the girl. In the fullness of her swift compassion she forgot why Philip had gone back to the Indian village. It flooded back directly and her wistful eyes implored.
"It was a jealous lie," said Carl gently. "The old chief knew. The Indian who told it hated your father."
Diane sat so white and still that Carl touched her diffidently upon the arm.
"Don't look so!" he pleaded. "There was some difficulty at first, for Philip's Seminole is nearly as fragmentary as the old chief's English, but they called in Sho-caw and after a host of blunders and misunderstandings, Philip ran the thing to earth at last. Theodomir married and divorced your mother in the Indian village just as the paper in the candlestick said."
Still the girl did not speak or move and Carl saw with compassion that the veins of her throat were throbbing wildly. He fell quietly to talking of Keela, caught her interest and watched with a sense of relief the rich color flood back to his cousin's lips and cheeks.
It was plain the tale of the golden mask had startled her a little, for she laid her hand impetuously upon his arm, and her eyes searched his face with troubled intentness.
"It will all be very singular and daring," she faltered after a while. "I had thought of something like it myself—to help her, I mean. You are so—different, Carl! I know of no man who might dare so much and win." Then with unconscious tribute to one whose opinion she valued above all others, she added: "Philip trusts you utterly. He has said so. And Philip knows!"
Carl glanced furtively at her face and cleared his throat.
"Diane," he asked gravely, "I wonder how much that incredible tale of the old candlestick pleased you?"
"I don't know," said Diane honestly. "I wish I did. I've wondered and wondered. No matter how hard I think, it doesn't somehow come right. It's like shattering a cherished crystal into fragments to think that every tie of blood and country I valued is meaningless—that every memory is a mockery—that grandfather and you and Aunt Agatha—" she paused and sighed. "When I try to realize," she finished, "I feel very lonely and afraid."
"And Philip?" hinted Carl.
"I don't think he is pleased."
"You're right," said Carl with decision. "It upset him a lot. But that night by the old chief's camp fire, Philip discovered—"
"That some imperfection in the stilted wording of the hidden paper had led us all astray. Philip said he could not be sure—there was so much fuss and trouble and misunderstanding—but the old chief had nursed Theodomir through some dreadful illness and knew it all. They were staunch friends. Norman Westfall came into the Glades hunting with a friend. He persuaded your mother to go away with him, but they went—alone!"
"That they did not take a child away from the Indian village as the paper in the candlestick declares—"
"And the daughter of Theodomir?"
"Is Keela. They left her by the old chief's wigwam."
Carl, traveling north after a day of earnest discussion in his cousin's camp, thought much of the second candlestick. Since that night in Philip's wigwam, it had haunted him persistently. Now with Diane's permission to probe its secret—if, indeed, it had one like its charred companion—he was fretting again, as he had intermittently fretted in the lodge of Mic-co, at the train of circumstances that had interposed delay.
Train and taxi were perniciously slow. Carl found his patience taxed to the utmost.
The grandfather's clock was booming eight when at length, after a gauntlet of garrulous servants, he pushed back the great, iron-bound doors of the old Spanish room in his cousin's house and entered. The war-beaten slab of table-wood, the old lanterns, the Spanish grandee above the mantel, the mended candlestick and its unmarred mate, all brought memories of another night when Starrett's glass had struck the marble fireplace. Vividly, too, he recalled how the firelight had stained the square-paneled ceiling of oak overhead, and how Diane had stood in the doorway. The room was the same. It was a little hard, however, to reconcile the sullen, resentful, impudent young scapegrace of that other night with the man of to-night.
He put out his hand to touch the second candlestick—the telephone bell rang.
Carl frowned impatiently and answered it.
"Hello," said he. "Yes, this is Carl Granberry speaking . . . Who? . . . Oh! Hello, Hunch, is that you?"
It plainly was. Moreover, Mr. Dorrigan was very nervous and ill at ease. Carl laughed with relish.
"What's the trouble?" he demanded. "You're stuttering like a kid . . . Shut up and begin over again. . . . Hello. . . . Yes. . . . Well, I've been out of town since January. . . . Hum! . . . Well," he hinted dryly, "there was sufficient time for an explanation before I went. . . . I guess you're right. . . . I went up to the farm in October with Wherry."
Mr. Dorrigan desperately admitted that some of the time between the escape of His Nibs and Carl's departure for the farm had been spent in panic-stricken remorse and dread—some in the hospital due to an altercation with Link Murphy, who for reasons not immediately apparent wished jealously to obliterate his other eye. He begged Carl to give him an immediate opportunity of squaring himself, for he had telephoned the house so frequently of late that the butler had grown insulting. Mr. Dorrigan added that he hoped Mr. Granberry's wholly justified wrath had somewhat abated, but that for purposes of initial communication the telephone had seemed more prudent.
He was plainly relieved at the answer.
Carl glanced at the tormenting candlestick and sighed. Another delay!
"All right," he said finally to Hunch, "come along. I'll give you twenty minutes. If you're not through then, like as not I'll stir up the grudge again—"
The telephone at the other end clicked instantly. Conceivably Hunch was already on his way up town.
Carl impatiently busied himself with some mail upon the table. It had followed him from the farm to Palm Beach and from Palm Beach to New York. There were half a dozen wild letters of gratitude from Wherry and a letter from the old doctor, Wherry's father, that brought a flush of genuine pleasure to Carl's face.
"Wherry, too!" said he softly. "Of course. He stuck that other night. I've been too blind to see." Drawing his flute from his pocket, he glanced with a curious smile and glow at a row of notches in the wood. The first notch he had cut in the flute after the rainy night in Philip's wigwam, the second by Mic-co's pool, the third was subtly linked with the marshes of Glynn, and a fourth had been furtively added in the camp of his cousin. Now with a glance at Wherry's letters, he was quietly carving a fifth. Who may say what they portended—this record of notches carved upon the one friend who had always understood!
Carl was to carve another, of which he little dreamed, before the summer waned; and the spur to its making was close at hand.
The doorbell rang as he finished, and dropping the flute back into his pocket, he rang for some whiskey and cigars for the entertainment of Mr. Dorrigan, who presently appeared, at the heels of a servant, twirling his hat with a nonchalant ease much too elaborate and at variance with the look in his good eye to be genuine.
"'Lo!" said Hunch uncomfortably.
"Hello!" said Carl pleasantly, pushing the decanter across the table.
Hunch stared at his host, fidgeted, poured himself a generous drink and waited suggestively.
Carl merely laughed good-humoredly and lighted a cigar.
"Sorry, Hunch," he regretted, "but I've joined the Lithia League!"
"My Gawd!" burst forth Hunch despairingly, adding in heartfelt memory of his host's enviable steadiness of head, "My Gawd, Carl, what a waste o' talents!"
"Sit down," he invited, "and get it off your mind."
But Hunch's single eye was wandering in fascinated appraisal over Carl's dark, pleasant face. Even he, coarse and brutal in perception as he was, was conscious of a difference not wholly attributable to the Lithia League and felt himself impelled to some verbal recognition of his host's conspicuous well-being.
"Ye're on the level all right," he swore obscurely. "Ye're white! Ye're lookin' good, ye're lookin' fine— By the Lord Harry, Carl, I don't know as I blame yuh!"
Unable to fathom the nature of the censure thus withheld, Carl remained silent and Hunch fell again to staring, his immovable eye ridiculously expressive in stony conjunction with the other. Whatever he found in Carl's face this time plainly afforded him intense relief, for he seated himself with a long breath and drew a yellowish paper from his pocket.
"I says to meself," he explained, "'Hunch, old sport, ye're in for it. He'll like as not drop yuh out of the window with an electric wire, feed yuh to an electric wolf or make yuh play hell-for-a-minute chess or some other o' them woozy stunts 'at pop up in his bean like mushrooms, but yuh gotta square yerself with that paper. Yuh gotta get up yer nerve an' hike up there to the brownstone with it.' I ask yuh," he finished dramatically, and evidently laboring under the momentary conviction that Carl, too, was optically afflicted, "I ask yuh, Carl, to cast yer good lamp over that there paper."
Carl opened the paper and stared.
"Hunch," he exclaimed with an involuntary glance at the mended candlestick, "where in the devil did you get this?"
"I ask yuh to remember," went on Hunch in some excitement, "that I was drunk an' the old she-wol—Gr-r-r-r-r!" Hunch cleared his heavy throat in a panic, with a rasp like the stripping of gears, and corrected himself. "The Old One," he spoke somewhat as if this singular title was a degree, "the Old One put one over on me."
"My aunt, I imagine," said Carl, "has given me a fairly accurate version of His Nibs' escape. I'll admit a pardonable anxiety to interview you for a while. As a matter of fact there was a night—when I was not in the Lithia League—that I drove down to look you up. Tell me," he added, "where you found this."
"It was not, stric'ly speakin', found," said Hunch with a modest cough. Once more, overwhelmed afresh by Carl's appearance, he let his good eye go roving.
"Tell it," said Carl with what patience he could muster, "in your own way."
"I ask yuh to remember," urged Hunch with a firm belief in the dignity of this phrase, "that I was still drunk an' batty in me thinker when the old she-wol—Gr-r-r-r-r-r—the Old One told me to dig out. So I halts on the corner to collect me wits an' by'm'by I sees a guy wid a darkish face an' lips like Link. He comes along, looks up an' down suspicious, sees the door ain't tight shut an' heel-taps it up the steps. He opens the door an' by'm'by he helps the Old One to a taxi an' makes out to walk off—see—whiles she's a watchin'. Later, when the taxi turns the corner, back he goes, heel-taps it up the steps ag'in, an' goes in at the door he ain't locked, though he'd made out he had. An' right there," said Hunch impressively, "right there is where yer Uncle Hunch feels a real glimmer in his bean an' goes back. Thin-lips ain't in sight. Yer Uncle Hunch softly heel-taps it upstairs an' finds the darkish guy adoptin' a paper with a fatherly pat, which he slips in his coat pocket. Whereupon—whiles he's lockin' the desk drawer ag'in, aforesaid uncle slips downstairs an' out. By'm'by, Thin-lips trots out with an ugly grin on his mug—an' Uncle Hunch, gettin' soberer an' soberer by the minute, trots after him with his good lamp workin' overtime."
Carl glanced at the paper.
"Yes?" he encouraged.
"Well," said Hunch with a sheepish grin that was rendered somewhat sinister by the fixed eye, "I jostled him real rude in a crowd an' picked his pocket. An' there yuh are!"
There was some slight rustle of greenish paper in the handshake.
"I'm mighty grateful," said Carl. "That paper cost me a couple of hours of laborious preparation. It's a duplicate, Hunch, for the purpose of decoy. The original's in safe deposit."
THE OTHER CANDLESTICK
The closing of the outer door betokened the departure of Mr. Dorrigan.
Carl swiftly marked the second candlestick where the shallow receptacle in the other had begun and applied the thin, fine edge of a craftsman's saw. When at length the candled branches lay upon the table, the light of the lanterns overhead revealed, as he had hoped, a second paper.
He was to read the faded sheets, with staring, incredulous eyes, and learn that its contents were utterly unrelated to the contents of the other.
I am impelled by one of the damnable whims which sway me at times to my own undoing, to trust to some chance discovery that which under oath I may never deliberately reveal with my lips. It is the history of certain events which have heavily shadowed my life and brought me up with a tight rein from a life of reckless whim and adventure to one of terrible suffering. I write this with a wild hope that may never be gratified.
The first foreshadowing of this singular cloud came one night in the Adirondack hunting lodge of Norman Westfall, a young Southerner whose inheritance of a childless uncle's millions had made him a conspicuous figure months before. He was living there with his sister and both, as usual, were at odds with the grim old father down South who resented the wild, unconventional strain that had come into his family through the blood of his wife.
They were a wild, handsome, reckless pair—Ann and Norman Westfall—inseparable companions in wild adventure for which another woman would have neither the endurance nor the inclination.
Ann was a strong, beautiful, impetuous woman with rich coloring; deliciously feminine in her quieter moments, incredibly daring in others; keen-brained, cultured, and utterly unconventional; generous, sympathetic and a splendid musician. Norman worshiped her. She was older than he and without the occasional strain of flippancy which so maddened his father.
Norman and Ann and I had traversed the whole length of the Mississippi to New Orleans on a raft and had traveled thence to this recently inherited Adirondack tract of Norman's to rest.
"Grant," he said one night after Ann had gone to bed, "you've more brains and brawn and breeding than any man I know, and you've splendid health."
Naturally enough, I flushed.
Norman narrowed his handsome, impudent eyes and regarded me intently.
"And you're sufficiently clear-cut and good-looking," he said thoughtfully, "for the purpose. Not so handsome as Ann to be sure, but Ann's an exceptionally beautiful woman."
I was utterly at a loss to understand his reference to a purpose and said so. He laughed and shrugged and enlightened me.
"My dear fellow," he said in answer to my stammered suggestion that marriage was simpler and less fraught with perilous possibilities, "Ann and I are not in the least hoodwinked by marriage. It has enervated the whole race of womankind and led to their complete economic dependence upon a polygamous sex who abuse the trust. Now Ann believes firmly in the holiness of maternity, but she flatly refuses to take upon herself the responsibility of an unwelcome tie. In this, as in everything, I cordially endorse her views. Ann is past the callow age. She has refused a number of men who were conspicuously her inferiors, though Dad has stormed a bit. Now you are the one man whom I consider her physical and mental equal, the one man to whom I may talk in this manner without fear of bigoted misunderstanding, but—while Ann's friendship for you is warm and wholly sincere—she doesn't love you. If she did," said my impudent young friend, "she'd likely shrug away her aversion to marital custom and marry you before you were well aware of it. As it is, she declines to sacrifice the maternal inheritance of her sex and she refuses to marry. And there you are!"
Looking back now after five years of readjustment and metamorphosis, I marvel at the cool philosophy with which two adventurous young scapegraces settled the question of a little lad's unconventional birth.
I pass over now the heartbroken reproaches of Ann's father when my son was born. We told him the truth and he could not understand. He looked through the eyes of the world and it widened the gulf forever. Thereafter Norman and Ann lived in the lodge.
Ann was a wonderful mother and the boy as sturdy and handsome a little lad as the mother-heart of any woman ever worshiped. But I! How easy it had been to promise to make no particular advance of affection to my son—to suggest in no way my claim upon him—to take up the thread of my life again as if he had never been born—to regard myself merely as the physical instrument necessary to his creation!
I was to learn with bitter suffering the truth that my act bound me irrevocably in soul and heart to my boy and his mother.
I shall not forget the night when I faced the truth. It was in the great room of the lodge, the blazing wood fire staining the bearskin rugs. Outside, in the early twilight, there was wind, and trees hung with snow, and the dull, frozen lap of a winter lake. I had come up to the lodge at Norman's invitation. As far as he and Ann were concerned, my claim upon Ann's boy was quite forgotten.
He had grown into a dark, ruddy, handsome little lad, this son of mine, with a brain and body far beyond his years, thanks to Ann's marvelous gift of motherhood, her care and her teaching.
Ann sat by the old, square piano singing some marvelous mother's lullaby of the Norseland, her full contralto ringing with splendid tenderness. Mother and son were alone when I entered. Carl was busily at play on a rug by the fire.
In that instant, with the plaint of the Norse mother in my ears, I knew. The tie was too strong to fight. I loved my little son—I loved his mother.
I do not remember how I stumbled across the room and told her. I only know that she was greatly shocked and troubled and very kind, that she told me as gently as she could that I must try to conquer it all—that there must be no one in Carl's life but herself—that man's part in the scheme of creation was but the act of a moment; a woman's part, her whole life.
I think now that her great love for the little chap had crowded everything else out of her mind; that living up there in those snowy acres of trees away from the world, she was so calmly contented and happy that she feared an intrusive breath of any sort. And she did not love me.
Suddenly in a moment of impulsive tenderness, she bent over and caught Carl up in her arms.
"My little laddie!" she cried, her face glorified, and he nestled his head in her full, beautiful throat and laughed.
An instant later he looked up and smiled and held out his hand with a curious instinct of kindliness he had, even as a very little fellow.
"Don't feel so awful bad, Uncle Grant!" he said shyly. "I love you too. Don't I, mother?" I don't know, but I think Ann cried.
I choked and stumbled from the room.
So, for me, ended the singular episode of my life that has condemned me again to the fate of a wanderer, drifting about like thistledown in the wind of fancy.
There is but one chance in many hundred that this paper, which bears upon the back the address of solicitors who will always know my whereabouts—sealed and buried after a whim of mine as it will be—will ever come to the eyes of him for whom it is intended, but maddened by the thought that I must go through life alone—and lonely—without hinting to my son the truth, I have desperately begged from Ann the boon of the single chance, forlorn as it is, that I may have some flickering hope to feed upon. And she, out of the compassionate recognition that for the single moment of creation I am entitled to this at least, has granted it. If this paper ever comes to the eyes of my son—and I am irrevocably pledged to drop no hint of its whereabouts—then—and not until then—are all my pledges void.
Who knows? In the years to come, some wild freak of destiny may guide the feet of my son to the secret of the candlestick. I shall live and pray and likely die a childless, unhappy old man, whose Fate lies buried profoundly in the sealed, invulnerable heart of a Spanish candlestick—a stranger to his son.
It was the name of a wealthy bachelor whose lonely austerity of life upon a yacht which rarely lingered in any port, whose quiet acts of philanthropy as he roved hermitlike about the world, had been the talk of continents.
Reading to the end, Carl dropped the scattering sheets and buried his face in his hands, unnerved and shaking.
IN THE ADIRONDACKS
To the wild, out-of-the-world hunting lodge in the Adirondack wilderness of tree and lake and trout-haunted mountain stream which had been part of Norman Westfall's heritage, came, one twilight of cloud and wind, Diane, tanned with the wind and sun of a year's wandering—and very tired.
Wild relief at Carl's tale of the jealous Indian, thoughts of Philip, of Carl, of Keela, of Ronador, all these, persistently haunting the girl's harassed mind, had wearied her greatly. Moreover, Aunt Agatha was not restful; nor would she depart.
Wherefore, with the old habit when the voice of the forest called—when school and city and travel had palled and tortured—Diane had traveled feverishly north with Aunt Agatha, and thence to the Adirondack lodge which had been her hermitage since early childhood and to which, by an earlier compact, Aunt Agatha might not follow.
She had telegraphed old Roger to meet her with the buckboard. Now, as they drove up at twilight, Annie, his wife, stood in the cottage doorway. Beyond among the rustling trees stood the log lodge of Norman Westfall, far enough away for solitude and near enough, as Aunt Agatha frequently recalled with comfort, to the cottage of the two old servants for safety.
The lake stretched away to a dusk-dimmed shore set in a whispering line of ghostly birches.
"There's wood in the fireplace, dearie!" said old Annie, patting the girl's shoulder. "It's a wee bit chill yet, for all the summer ought well be here. And you've not run away to the old lodge to cook and keep house and play gypsy this many a day!"
"No," said Diane, "I haven't." She spoke of the van and Johnny.
"Dear! Dear!" quavered Annie, raising wrinkled, wondering hands. "Think of that now! And like you, too! And you grown so like your father, child, that I can't well keep my eyes off your face. And brown as a berry from the sun. I've set a bit of a lunch in the great room yonder, dearie. You'll likely be too tired to-night to be a gypsy."
Old Roger, who had consigned the buckboard and horses to a tall awkward country lad who had slouched forward from the shadows, hurried off to light the fire in the lodge.
When Diane entered, the fire was crackling cheerfully in the great fireplace and dancing in bright waves over the china and glass upon a table by the fire.
The old room, extending the entire width of the lodge and half its generous depth, was much as it had been in the days of Norman Westfall. By the western wall stood the old piano. Uncovered rafters and an inner wall-lining of logs hinted nothing of the substantial plaster behind it. It was a great room of homely comfort, subtly akin to the forest beyond its walls.
It was the old fashioned desk in the corner, however, upon which Diane's thoughtful gaze rested as she ate her supper. The thought of it had primarily inspired her coming. Surely the old desk, locked this many a year, might hold some breath of the tragedy that had ghostlike trailed her footsteps. Ann Westfall had kept the key until her death. She had bravely put her brother's house in order at his tragic death and transferred all the papers of value. The key hung now in a sliding panel beneath the ledge of the desk. The spirit which had kept the old room unchanged, even to the faded books of Orientalism and the old pictures strangely mellowed, had led to the hiding of the key away from vandal fingers.
Once Diane herself had unlocked the desk and peered timidly within. She remembered now the faultless order of the few dry, uninteresting papers, an ink well made of the skull of a tiny monkey, a bamboo pen, a half-finished manuscript of wild adventure in some out-of-the-world spot in the South Pacific. There had been nothing more. But the desk was one of intricate drawers and panels.
With a sudden distaste for the food before her, Diane pushed the little table back, lighted a small lamp and crossed to her father's desk. She unlocked it with nervous fingers. The monkey skull, the bamboo pen, the few irrelevant papers were all as she remembered them.
Diane glanced hurriedly over the scribbled manuscript of adventure with a wild, choking sensation in her throat. There was no mention of the Indian wife. Hurriedly she opened each tiny drawer and panel. They were for the most part empty. Only in one, a small drawer within a drawer, lay a faded packet of letters directed to Ann Westfall in the hand that had penned the manuscript—Norman Westfall's.
EXTRACTS FROM THE LETTERS OF NORMAN WESTFALL
Reluctantly, Diane opened the letters of long ago and read them:
Grant and I have had wild sport killing alligators with the Seminoles. A wild, dark, unexplored country, Ann, these Florida Everglades! How I wish you were with us! Tyson had an Indian guide, evoked somewhere from the wild by smoke signals, waiting for us. We traversed miles and miles of savage, uninhabitable marsh before at last we came to the isolated Indian camp. Small wonder the Seminole is still unconquered. It is a world here for wild men. I'll write as I feel inclined and bunch the letters when there is an Indian going out to the fringe of civilization.
We hunt the 'gators by night in cypress canoes. Grant sat in the bow of our boat to-night with a bull's-eye lantern in his cap. The fan of it over the silent, black water, the eyes of the 'gators blazing in the dark, these cool, bronze, turbaned devils with axes to sever the spinal cord and rifles to shatter the skull—it's a wild and thrilling scene.
I'm sorry Carl was not so well. Now that Dad is kinder to the little chap, we could have left him at St. Augustine if he'd been well enough to make the trip. It bothers me that you're not along. It's my first time without you, and you're a better shot than Grant and more dependable in mood. I can't make out what's come over him of late. He's so moody and reckless that the Indians think he's a devil. He's more prone to wild whims than ever. We've shot wild turkey and bear but I like the 'gator sport the best.
There's a curious white man here who's lived a good part of his life with the tribe. He's a Spaniard, a dark-skinned, bitter, morose sort of chap—really a Minorcan—whose Indian wife is dead. He has a daughter, a girl of twenty or so whom the Seminoles call Nan-ces-o-wee. He calls her simply Nanca. She speaks Spanish fluently. The morose old Spaniard has taught her a fund of curious things. Her heavy hair, black as a storm-cloud, falls to her knees. Grant says her wonderful eyes remind him somehow of midnight water. Her eyebrows have the expressive arch of the Seminole. Her color is dark and very rich, but it's more the coloring of the Spanish father than the Seminole mother. Altogether, she's more Spanish than Indian, I take it, though she's a tantalizing combination of each in instinct. Her grace is wild and Indian—and she walks lightly and softly like a doe. Ann, her face haunts me.
Young as she is, this Nanca of whom I have written so much to you, has, they tell me, had a most romantic history. With her beauty it was of course, inevitable. Men are fools. At eighteen, urged into proud revolt against her Seminole suitors by her father, who for all his singular way of life can not forget his white heritage, she married a young foreigner who came into the Glades hunting. He seems to have been utterly without ties and decided to live with the Indians in the manner of the Spaniard. A year or so later, a young artist imitator of Catlin's made his way to the Seminole village with a guide. He had been traveling about among the Indians of the reservations painting Indian types, and had heard of this old turbaned tribe buried in the Everglades. Nanca's beauty must have driven him quite mad, I think. At any rate he wooed and won. Nanca begged the young foreigner to divorce her, which he did. The Seminole divorce custom is lenient when the marriage is childless. The artist, I fancy, was merely a wild, reckless, inconstant sort of chap who did not regard the simple Seminole marriage tie as binding. After the birth of his daughter, a tiny little elf whom Nanca has named "Red-winged Blackbird," he tried to run away, and the Indians killed him.
Red-winged Blackbird! Keela then was the child of the artist!
The old Spaniard in his gruff and haughty way has been kind to Grant and me. He's not well—some obscure cardiac trouble from which he suffers at times most horribly. He has confided to me a singular secret. The young foreigner who divorced Nanca is the crown prince of some obscure little mountain kingdom called Houdania. His name is Theodomir. He had wild revolutionary notions, hated royalty and fled at the death of his father. But America and its boasted liberty had cankers and inequalities too, and heartsick, Theodomir roamed about until at length on a hunting trip he came into the village of the Seminoles. Here was the communistic organization of which this aristocratic young socialist had dreamed—tribal ownership of lands, cooeperative equality of men and women—no jails, no poor-houses, no bolts or bars or locks—honorable old age and perfect moral order without law. What wonder that he lingered? Now that he is divorced from Nanca he wanders about from tribe to tribe. I'd like to see him.
* * * * * *
Ann, I must write the truth. The face of this Spanish girl haunts me day and night. There is a madness in my blood. I wish you were here! I am tormented by terrible doubts and misgivings. If Dad were not so intolerant!