HotFreeBooks.com
Diane of the Green Van
by Leona Dalrymple
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6
Home - Random Browse

* * * * * *

Nanca has fled from the Indian village with Grant and me. Oh, Ann, it had to come! I lost my head. The old Spaniard died three days ago. That was the cause of it. Nanca's grief was wild and terrible. Her wailing dirge was all Indian, yet immediately she cried out that the Indian way of life for her was impossible without her father. She begged me to take her away. And yet—Oh, Ann, Ann! How could I take that other man's child? We left her outside the old chief's wigwam.

Much as I have scoffed at marriage, I have married Nanca. Grant insisted. He was a little bitter. I do not know what makes him so.

I have seen Dad. We quarreled bitterly. Agatha was there with him. I can hardly write what followed. By some God-forsaken twist of Fate, a jealous, sullen-eyed young Indian who had loved Nanca and had been spurned by her father, followed us relentlessly from the Glades to St. Augustine. He told Dad that Nanca had not been married to the artist—that she was a mother and not a wife—and Dad believed it. I told him patiently enough that there is no ceremony among the Seminoles—that the man goes forth to the home of the girl at the setting of the sun, and that he is then as legally her husband as if all the courts in Christendom had tied the knot. Dad can not see it. I shall be in New York in two weeks. Nanca and I are going to Spain. I can not forget Dad's white, horror-struck face nor what he said. He is bigoted and unjust. God help me, I hope that I may never set eyes upon him again!

* * * * * *

We have been very happy here in Spain. I have run across a wonderful old room in a Spanish castle. Ceiling, doors, fireplace, paintings, table, chairs and lanterns, I am transplanting. What a setting for Nanca!

We are sailing for home. Nanca is not so well as I could hope. She grieves, I think, for the little girl in Florida. There are times when I am bitterly jealous of those two other men.

There was a lapse of weeks in the letters. Then came a long one from New York.

Grant came that night just after you had gone. He has been with me a week. His notions are more erratic than ever. For instance, last night, while we were smoking, I told him the story of Prince Theodomir. He was greatly interested.

"What a chance!" said he softly. "What a chance, Norman, for wild commotion in your ridiculous little court. I've been there. It's a kingdom of crazy patriots who grant freedom of marital choice to their princes to freshen and strengthen the royal blood; and they boast an ancient line of queens wiser than Catherine of Russia. A hidden paper purporting to be a deathbed statement of Prince Theodomir's—this little daughter of Nanca and the artist—and, Lord! what complications we could have immediately. How easily she might have been the child of Theodomir and a princess!"

And sitting there by the table, Ann, he drew up an ingenious document couched in the stilted English of a foreigner. Like most of Grant's notions, it was infernally clever. It suggested that my marriage to Nanca had been childless and that we had brought a child—the daughter of Theodomir and Nanca—away from the Indian village and had reared her with my name. Then he showed me with a laugh where three conflicting meanings might be read from the stilted phrasing and eccentric punctuation.

"Drop that, old man," said he, "into your chauvinistic little Punch and Judy court along with the name of the missing Theodomir and watch the blaze!"

After all, I do not think we will stay here in New York. Nanca is not at all well. She longs for trees and the open country. We are coming up to the lodge.

* * * * * *

I'm glad Dad sent for you. I think he is growing fonder of Carl, though of course his prejudices will probably always flash out now and then. . . . He's fond of us both, Ann, for all he raves so. No word of Grant since that night of which you told me. . . . I am sorry.

* * * * * *

You tell me Grant has written to you. Tell him when you write—to write to me. I miss him.

* * * * * *

Grant has sent me a giant pair of candlesticks from Spain. They are six feet tall, of age-old wood and Spanish carving. He begs that they may stand in the Spanish room and makes some incoherent reference to you in connection with them, out of which I can't for the life of me extract a grain of sense. If you could have cared for him a little, Ann!

* * * * * *

I will not take this thing that fate has whipped into my face with a scornful jeer. Nanca is dead! Her life went out with the life she gave my daughter. Oh, Ann, Ann, why are you not with me now when I need you most. After all what is this mortal tegument but a shell which a man sloughs off in eternal evolution. Outside, the moon is very bright upon the lake. The "Mulberry Moon," Nanca called it, and loved its light. It shines in at her window now, but she can not see it. Ann, because the moon is so bright to-night—because the name of the moon goddess bears within it your name—let the name of my poor, motherless little girl be Diane. Nanca called her "Little Red-winged Blackbird!" I believe at the end she was thinking of the little girl we left in the Indian village. They are very much alike. Poor Nanca!

The writing broke off with a wild scrawl. With agonized eyes Diane pushed the letters away and stared at the quiet firelit room, building again within its log walls the tragedy of her father's death. He had lain there by the fire, his life snuffed out like a candle by his own hand. The broken-hearted old man down South had carried the child of his son away, fiercely denied the Indian blood, and pledged Aunt Agatha to the keeping of the secret. And this was the net that had driven Carl to the verge of insanity and sent Themar to his death in a Florida swamp!

There was no princess—no child of the exiled Theodomir. The paper stuffed in the candle-stick in a reckless moment had been but the ingenious figment of a man's brain for the entertainment of an hour. The old chief and Sho-caw with their broken tale to Philip had but tangled the net the more. As the blood of the Indian mother had driven Diane forth to the forest, so had the blood of the artist father driven Keela forth from the Indian village, a wanderer apart from her people, and Fate had relentlessly knotted the threads of their lives in a Southern pine wood.



CHAPTER LIII

BY MIC-CO'S POOL

To the dark, old-fashioned house in St. Augustine in which Baron Tregar was a "paying guest" came one twilight, a man for whom compassionately he had waited. His visitor was sadly white and tired, with heavy lines about his sullen mouth and the dust of the highway upon his motoring rig. There was no fire in his eyes; rather a stupid apathy which in a man with less strength about the mouth and chin might easily have become commonness.

"Tregar," he said with an effort, "you told me to come when I needed you. I am here. I can not see my way—"

Tregar held out his hand in silence. Only he knew the sacrifice of insolent pride that had brought his guest so low.

Ronador took his hand and reddened.

"My father rightly counts upon your loyalty," he choked and walked away to the window.

Suddenly he wheeled with blazing eyes of agony.

"Why must that old horrible remorse grind and tear!" he cried, "now when I can not bear it! It is keener and crueler now than it was that day when you found me in the forest. Every new twist of this damnable mess has been a barb tearing the old wound open afresh. And now—I—I can not even find Miss Westfall. I have motored over the roads in vain. The van is gone from the lake shore. It seemed that I must make one final desperate effort to make her understand—"

With the memory of the eyes of Diane and Philip flashing messages of utter trust that day beneath the trees, the Baron sighed.

"Ronador," he said kindly, "it would have been in vain."

"And now," Ronador moistened his pallid lips, "there is a rumble of war from Galituria."

"Yes," said Tregar sadly, "Themar was a traitor."

"I told him much," said Ronador, great drops of moisture standing forth upon his forehead. "It seemed that I must, to make him understand the urgent need of silencing Granberry forever. He cabled the news to Galituria and sold it. I am ill and discouraged. There is fever in my blood, Tregar, from this climate of eternal summer—a fever in my head—"

Tregar stroked his beard.

"There is a doctor," he said quietly, "of whom Poynter has told me much—a doctor who healed Granberry's mind as well as his body. I had thought to go to him myself—to rest. I, too, am tired, Ronador. One goes to a little hamlet and an old man guides by a road to the south into the Everglades. Let us go there together."

"No!" said Ronador sullenly. "Let us rather go home. I am sick of this land of insolent men like Granberry and Poynter, who bend the knee to no man."

"You would go back then, ill, sullen, resentful, with the news that we must lay before your father? By Heaven, no!" thundered the Baron with one of his infrequent outbursts. "Let us go back smiling, for all we have lost, and seek to tell of this child of Theodomir with what grace we can muster. Poynter is at the bedside of his father. Granberry has gone to learn the tale of the other candlestick. These men, Ronador, we must see again before we sail. In the meantime, there is Poynter's physician."

"Very well," said Ronador, goaded to a sudden consent by a fevered wave of nausea and shaking, "let us go to him."

So came Prince Ronador and the Baron to the island lodge of Mic-co.

Though Ronador in the first disorder of rebellious mind and body, had fancied himself sicker than he really was, he was suffering more now than even Tregar guessed. The last stage of the journey to a man of less indomitable grit and courage would have been impossible. It was no sickness of the mind alone. His body was wildly ravaged by a fever.

Through a dizzy blur which distorted every object and which frowningly he sought to drive away with clenched hands, he stared at the lodge, stared at Keela, stared at the grave and quiet face of Mic-co. He was still staring vaguely about him when night curtained the lilied pool and the stars flashed brightly overhead.

"I am not ill, Tregar!" he insisted curtly. "Let me rest by the pool. There is peace here and I am tired. We traveled rapidly—"

Nevertheless, for all his feverish denial, his desperate attempts to keep to the thread of desultory talk were pitiful. He frowned heavily, began his sentences slowly and trailed off incoherently to a halt and silence.

The Baron turned compassionately away from him to Mic-co with a question.

"Names," said Mic-co, "are nothing to me, Baron Tregar. They are merely a part of that great world from which I live apart. I am a Heidelberg man, since you feel sufficiently interested to inquire. Though my choice of a profession was merely a careless desire to know some one thing well, I have never regretted it."

"I—I beg your pardon," stammered the Baron and glanced keenly at Mic-co.

"It is a habit of mine," hinted Mic-co, "to take what confidence a man may offer and let him withhold what he will."

"There is nothing to withhold!" flashed Ronador with sudden fierceness. "Why do you speak of it?"

Mic-co thought of a white-faced young fellow who had stubbornly refused to accept his hospitality, one morning beneath the live oaks, until he might name aloud his offenses in the sight of God and Man. This man before him, sweeping rapidly into the black gulf of delirium, was of a different caliber.

By the pool Ronador leaped suddenly, his face quite colorless save where the flame of fever burned in his cheeks.

"That Voice!" he said, standing in curious attitude of listening. "You hear it, Tregar? Always—always it comes so in the quietest hours. Tell him! Tell him! Why should I tell him? What is he to me? I may not purchase relief at the price of any man's respect. Only Tregar knows. Hush!—In God's name, hush! Thou shalt not kill! Thou shalt not kill!" He seemed, without conscious effort, to be repeating the words of this Voice with which he held this terrible communion, and waved Tregar back with an imperious gesture of defiance. Facing Mic-co he flung out his arm.

"I am a murderer in the sight of God and Man!" he choked. "I murdered my cousin Theodomir for a dream of empire. I can not forget—Oh, God! I can not forget. The Voice bids me tell!"

He dropped wildly to his knees, his eyes imploring.

"Oh, God!" he prayed with pallid lips, "hear this, my prayer. I have paid in black hours of bitter suffering. I have played and lost and the fire of life is but ashes in my hand. Give me peace—peace!"

He stayed so long upon his knees that Tregar touched him gently on the shoulder.

"Ronador," he said gently. "Come. You are very ill and know not what you say."

Ronador staggered blindly to his feet. Once more he waved the Baron aside and took up his terrible dialogue with the inner Voice.

"The Voice! The Voice!" he whispered. "Thou shalt not kill! Thou shalt not kill! You lie!" he cried in a sudden outburst of terrible fierceness. "He was not a fool. He loved men more than the mockery and cant of courts. He loved—he trusted me—and I betrayed him. Who knew when he fled wildly away from the pomp and inequalities he hated? I! Who watched for his secret letters? I! Who came to America when his letter of homesick pleading came? I! I! I! Who killed him when conscience and duty would have sent him back to the court of his father? I, his cousin whom he loved above all men. You lie. I did love him. I was drunk with the royal glitter ahead. I craved it even as he hated it. Thou shalt not kill! Thou shalt not kill! Mercy! Mercy! I can not bear it."

He fell groveling upon the floor and crawled to Mic-co's feet.

"The Voice bids me tell!" he whispered, clutching fearfully at Mic-co's hand. "Twice, since, I would have killed to keep this thing of the candlestick from creeping back and back until that thing of long ago lay uncovered and I disgraced! . . . Theodomir hid in the Seminole village. No—no, you must listen—the Voice bids me tell or lose my reason. I came there at his bidding—his marriage to the Indian girl had been unhappy. He was homesick and this fair land of liberty had a rotten core. I struck him down and fled. You will heal and fight the Voice—"

Mic-co bent and raised the groveling figure.

"Peace!" he said, his face very white. "We will heal and quiet the Voice forever. Come!" Gently he led the sick man away.

"He will sleep now, I think," he said a little later. "A drug is best when a Voice is mocking?—"

The Baron leaned forward and caught Mic-co's arm in a grasp of iron.

"Who are you," he whispered, "that you suffer with him now? You are white and shaking. Who are you that you know the tongue of my country?"

Mic-co sighed.

"I," said he sadly, "am that man he thought to kill!"

White-faced, the Baron stared at the snowy beard and hair and the fine, dark eyes.

"Theodomir!" he whispered brokenly. "Theodomir! It—it can not be."

He fell to pacing the floor in violent agitation.

"The eyes are quieter," he said at length with an effort, "but the hair and heard so white! I would not have guessed—I would not have guessed!" Again he stared.

"Are you man or saint," he cried at last, "that you can forgive as I have seen your eyes forgive to-night?"

"May a man look upon such remorse as that," asked Mic-co, "and not forgive? I loved him greatly. Had I loved him less—had I loved her less—that Indian wife who had no love in her heart for me, this hair of mine would not have turned snow-white when the Indians were fanning the flickering spark of life into a blaze again."

"There is peace in your face," said Tregar a little bitterly, "and none of the old fretful discontent. Have you no single thought of regret for that fair land of ours you left?"

"For that fatherland of rugged mountain and silver waterfall—yes!" cried Theodomir with sudden fire. "For the festering core of imperialism that darkens its beauty with sable wing—no! No single thought of regret. How pitiful and absurd our Lilliputian game of empire! What man is better than another? Tolstoi and Buddha, they are the men who knew. Was not my wildest error," he demanded reverting afresh to the other's reproach, "that homesick letter that brought him to my side? Peace came to me, Tregar, in building this lodge, in working in the field and hunting, in doctoring these primitive people who saved my life, in teaching the child of my Indian wife—"

"The child of your wife! You mean your daughter?"

"I have no child," said Theodomir. "The girl you saw to-night is my foster daughter, the child of my wife and the man for whose whim she begged me to divorce her."

"No child!" exclaimed the Baron with a sickening flash of realization. "My poor Ronador!"

"My kindness to her," said Mic-co, "was at first a discipline. Her mother deserted her and the old chief granted me half her life. I could not bear the touch of her hands or the look in her eyes for many months, but through her, Tregar, at last I learned peace and forgiveness and forbearance, as men should. I built the lodge for her and me. I taught her the ways of her white father. I made myself proficient in the English tongue that those traders and hunters and naturalists who stray here might guess nothing of my origin. I shall never again leave the peace and quiet of this island home. And you and I, Tregar, must quiet that Voice forever!"

"Is that possible?" choked Tregar.

"I think so," said Mic-co. "I think we may some day send him home with the Voice quieted forever and the remorse and suffering healed. Had I thought he was strong enough to bear it, I would have told him to-night."

"Let me tell you," said Tregar with strong emotion, "how I found him in the forest, when years back I came to know this secret I have tried so hard to keep for him. I had been hunting with the King and lost my way in the forests of Grimwald. I found him there in the thickest part—naked, slashing his body wildly with a knife in an agony of remorse and penance and the most terrible grief I have ever witnessed. Before he well knew what he was about he had blurted forth the whole pitiful story—that he had killed his cousin in a moment of passion—that he must scourge and torture his body to discipline his soul. I—I shall not forget his face."

"Poor fellow!" said Mic-co. "My poor cousin!"

They wheeled suddenly at a choking sound in the doorway. Some wild memory of the Grimwald had surged through the fevered brain of the sick man. His clothes were gone, his body slashed cruelly in a dozen places. He had torn down the buckskin curtain at his window and bound it about his body in the fashion of earlier ages. How long he had stood there in the doorway they did not know. Now as they turned, he rushed forward and flung himself with a great heart-broken sob at the feet of his cousin.

"Theodomir! Theodomir!" he cried.

Tregar turned away from the sound of his terrible sobbing.



CHAPTER LIV

ON THE WESTFALL LAKE

Hurrying clouds curtained the silver shield of a full moon and found themselves fringed gloriously with ragged light. It was a lake of white, whispering ghosts locking spectral branches in the wind, of slumbering lilies rustled by the drift of a boat; a lake of checkered lights and shadows fitfully mirroring stars at the mercy of the moon-flecked clouds. On the western shore of the wide, wind-ruffled sheet of water, on a wooded knoll, glimmered the lights of the village.

To Diane, stretched comfortably upon the cushions of the boat, which had drifted idly about since early twilight, the night's sounds were indescribably peaceful. The lap and purl of water, the rustle of birch, the call of an owl in the forest, the noise of frog and tree toad and innumerable crickets, they were all, paradoxically enough, the wildwood sounds of silence.

With a sigh the girl presently paddled in to shore. As she moored her boat, the moon swept majestically from the clouds and shone full upon a second boatman paddling briskly by the lily beds. The boat came on with a musical swirl of water; the bareheaded boatman waved his hand lazily to the girl standing motionless upon the moonlit wharf, and as lazily floated in.

"Hello!" he called cheerfully.

The moon, doomed to erotic service, was again upon the head of Mr. Poynter.

"It's the milkman's boat!" explained Philip smiling. "He's a mighty decent chap."

Diane's face was as pale as a lily.

"How did you know?" she asked, but her eyes, for Philip, were welcome enough.

"I saw Carl," said he, dexterously rounding to a point at her feet. "He told me."

He lazily rocked the boat, met her troubled glance with frank serenity and said with his eyes what for the moment his laughing lips withheld.

"Come, row about a bit," he said gently. "There's a lot to tell—"

"The other candlestick?"

"That," said Philip as he helped her in, "and more."

The boat shot forth into the moonlit water.

"And your father, Philip?"

"Better," said Philip and feathered his oars conspicuously in a moment of constraint. Then flushing slightly, he met her glance with his usual frank directness. "Dad and I had quarreled, Diane," he said quietly, "and he was fretting. And now, though the fundamental cause of grievance still remains, we're better friends. Ames, the doctor, said that helped a lot." He was silent. "A dash of Spanish," he began thoughtfully, "a dash of Indian, and the blood of the old southern cavaliers—it's a ripping combination for loveliness, Diane!"

Not quite so pale, Diane glanced demurely at the moon.

"Yes, I know," nodded Philip with slightly impudent assurance; "but the moon is kind to lovers."

"Tell me," begged Diane with a bright flush, "about the second candlestick."

Somewhat reluctantly, with the moon urging him to madness, Philip obeyed. To Diane his words supplied the final link in the chain of mystery.

"And Satterlee's yacht," finished Philip, leaning on his oars, "was laid up in Hoboken for repairs. Carl phoned his attorneys."

"You spoke of seeing Carl?"

"Yes. He was with his father then. Telegraphed me Monday. I have yet to see such glow and warmth in the faces of men. They're going back to Mic-co's lodge together for a while. Odd!" he added thoughtfully. "I've known Satterlee for years, a quiet chap of wonderful kindliness and generosity. But I've heard Dad tell mad tales of his reckless whims when he was younger."

"And the first paper?"

"Satterlee had almost forgotten it. It's so long ago. If he thought at all of its discovery it was to doubt any other fate for it than a waste-paper basket or a fire. Anything else was too preposterous. But he brooded a lot over the other. The most terrible results of his foolhardy whim Carl pledged me not to tell him. Says the blame is all his and he'll shoulder it. What little we did reveal, horrified Satterlee inexpressibly. You see he'd found the candlesticks in a ruined castle. They were sadly battered and he consigned them to a queer old wood-carver to patch up. In the patching, the shallow wells came to light, packed with faded, musty love letters from some young Spanish gallant to somebody's inconstant wife, and the carver spoke of them. Satterlee impetuously bade him halt his work and wrote a wild letter to Ann Westfall begging her to let him hide the truth in the well of the candlestick with the forlorn hope that one day Carl might know. This she granted. Later he had the candlesticks brought to his apartments to be sealed in his presence. As he took from his pocket the written account intended for Carl, another paper fluttered to the floor. It was the deathbed statement of Theodomir which in a whimsical moment he had drawn up for the entertainment of your father. He promptly consigned it to the other well with a shrug. He was greatly agitated and thought no more about it."

"A careless act," said Diane, "to be fraught with such terrible results." Then she told the history of her father's letters.

"A persistent moon!" said Philip, glancing up at its mild radiance. "And my head is queer again. Likely that very moon is shining on the minister in the village yonder."

"Likely," said Diane cautiously.

The boat swept boldly toward the western shore.

Diane raised questioning eyes to his.

"Where are you going?" she asked.

"I'm sorry," said Philip. "I did mean to tell you before. It's abduction."

"Abduction!"

"I'm to be married in the village to-night. And I'm awfully afraid the benevolent old gentleman in the parsonage is waiting. He promised. Diane, I can't pretend to swing this function without you!"

"Philip!" faltered Diane and meeting his level, imploring gaze, laughed and colored deliciously.

"A matrimonial pirate!" said Philip. "That's what I am. I've got to be."

"Aunt Agatha!" whispered Diane despairingly.

"I'll patch it up with Aunt Agatha," promised Philip. "You forget I'm in strong with her now. Didn't I rescue a dime from the fish?"

"And the Seminole girl makes her lover a shirt—it's always customary—"

"You've forgotten," said that young practician with his most charming smile, "I've a shirt mended nicely along the sleeve and shoulder by my lady's fingers. Indeed, dear, I have it on! And to-morrow—it's Arcadia for you and me—"

Somehow, with the words came a flood of memory pictures. There was Philip by the camp fire in Arcadia whittling his ridiculous wildwood pipe; Philip aboard the hay-camp and Philip in the garb of a nomadic Greek; Philip unwinding the music-machine for the staring Indians and building himself a tunic with Sho-caw's sewing machine; Philip and a moon above the marsh—

Utter loyalty and unchanging protection! Shaking, the girl covered her face with her hands.

The boat's bow touched the shore; whistling softly, Philip leaped ashore and moored it.

"Diane!" he said gently.

The girl raised glistening, glorified eyes to his face and smiled, a radiant smile for all her eyes were bright with unshed tears.

Philip held out his arms.

The silvered sheet of water rippled placidly at their feet. There was wind among the birches. They watched the great moon sail behind a cloud and emerge, flooding the sylvan world with light.

"Sweetheart," said Philip suddenly, "I thought that Arcadia was back there in Connecticut by the river, but it's here too! Dear little gypsy, it is everywhere that you are!"

"It will be Arcadia—always!" said Diane, "for Arcadia is Together-land, isn't it, Philip?"

The moon and Philip answered.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6
Home - Random Browse