I have resolved to buy the Stanislaws house on Long Island, as to which I hesitated when I wrote you last. Another communication has informed me that I must give an answer at once, or the place will pass into other hands. My fiancee, Miss Moore, admired the house when our party spent several nights there some time ago, and I may decide to give her the place as a wedding present. I must go to New York from Kidd's Pines to-morrow morning, and fix this business up. I will call on you at your office at five o'clock P. M. for a consultation, and should be glad if you would secure the presence of Stanislaws' old valet whom you have discovered. I should like to talk to him before he comes with me to Kidd's Pines.
MOLLY WINSTON TO MERCEDES LANE
I promised to write again soon, but there isn't yet the news I hoped to tell. Indeed, I'm a little depressed and worried, though I've nailed my flag of faith to the mast of the "Stormy Petrel!"
You shall know just what has happened.
I think I wrote you that Peter went to New York early the morning after our night rush from Great Barrington to Long Island. I took it for granted that his business there concerned the revelation he made to me in Aunt Mary's garret; but he had no time, and perhaps no inclination, to enter into details. He just said, "I'm off, and I hope everything will go well. I shall get back to my 'diggings,' and see you either at Awepesha or Kidd's Pines the minute I can finish up."
Caspian hung about till Peter was safely away, and then put in as much deadly work as possible before leaving for New York. He was nice (as nice as he knows how to be) to Larry and Pat, and bucked them up about Kidd's Pines. That was the proper thing; but was it proper, or was it simply Caspian-esque, to tell Patty at such a moment that he'd bought the beautiful Stanislaws house I wrote you about, as a present for her? Of course he mentioned the sum he was paying for it—a whacking one. He wouldn't be Caspian if he hadn't boasted!
I happened to be at Kidd's Pines when he was making this dramatic announcement. (I told you Jack and I were motoring over in the old car, but we went earlier than we expected, because just as I had finished your letter Patsey 'phoned to ask us for a "picnic luncheon in the burnt-up house.")
Caspian was telephoning like mad when we arrived, and only finished just as luncheon was ready, which gave him an excuse for letting his left hand, to say nothing of both feet, know what his right hand had been doing. I suppose he was afraid, if Jack and I were left to hear the news from Pat, a little of the gilt might be off the gingerbread. So he launched his own thunderbolt as we sat down at the table: Larry, Pat, Mrs. Shuster, Jack, and I.
I was so flabbergasted that I can't remember his words. But they were those of the noble, misunderstood hero of melodrama to his ungrateful sweetheart and her ruined father who have never appreciated his sterling worth. He let them jolly well know, and rubbed it in, that he would never have spent such an enormous sum on anything for himself: that indeed, though he ought to have received the Stanislaws house as an inheritance, he had abandoned all idea of possessing it until Pat expressed intense admiration for the place. With this incentive, the moment they were engaged he had begun negotiations. The price asked was so outrageous, however, that he was on the point of refusing when misfortune fell upon Kidd's Pines. It would now be impossible to continue living there in comfort for the present, so he (Caspian) had spent his morning in fixing up by 'phone the business of purchase. Of course he would have to go to New York, and see Mr. Strickland, who had the matter in hand. Indeed, he intended to start directly after luncheon; but he could not bear to go without relieving the family mind of its anxieties.
Poor little Pat was scarlet, and her eyes were—I was going to say like saucers, but I think they were more like large, expressive pansies. "Oh, you shouldn't have done that for me!" she exclaimed. "Of course, I'm grateful, and it was ver-r-y good of you, but——"
"Didn't you say you would love to live in that house?" Caspian cross-questioned her over a pickle. (He's disgustingly fond of pickles: makes a beast of himself on pickles!)
"Yes, I suppose I did," Patsey admitted; and got out a "but" again, but not a word further.
"Very well. That was enough for me. I wanted to prove that I was going to stand by you now, in every way, and I hope this is as big a proof as a man can give," said the noble saviour of the situation. "We must marry as soon as possible, of course. I'll get the license to-day. And then you can have your wish. You shall live in the Stanislaws house, and when your father and Mrs. Shuster get back from their honeymoon you can write them to visit us, and stay as long as they like."
Pat, as pale as she had been red, stammered confused thanks for his thoughtfulness. How could the girl, when he'd just announced the expenditure of five hundred thousand dollars for her beaux yeux, tell him not by any means to get the license?
I was sickeningly sorry for her. I knew exactly how she felt. As for me, I had rush of luncheon to the head, a frightful effect, considering that I'd just eaten a soft-shelled crab. With the little I knew of affairs between them I was still instinctively sure that Pat and the Stormy Petrel had come to some sort of a vague understanding the day of rain at Bretton Woods. I thought that the rain had melted down the wall between the two, and Peter had prematurely said more than he meant to say, perhaps begging her to break off with Caspian. Evidently she had refused (for Larry's sake), but had very likely hoped that somehow Peter would step in and save her before it was too late.
Now, all of a sudden, it was too late! And Peter wasn't even near. I could imagine the child's despair, with the present of a five-hundred-thousand-dollar house flung at her head—a house which would be "no use" to her fiance if it were not to be shared with her. Even knowing what I knew, I feared that the situation might become serious, more because of Peter's absence than anything else.
As soon as we finished luncheon and Caspian was saying good-bye to Pat (decorously in the presence of Larry, from whom she refused to be detached), I asked Jack what he thought. "If only we knew where to get at Peter in New York!" I wailed. "I'm afraid the girl will be married to that creature before Peter comes back; and then nothing will be of any use."
"We mustn't let that happen," said Jack. "Not that I believe Storm has turned his back without thinking of every contingency. And he must know about the sale."
"He didn't mention it when he told me the story," I said. "Not a word about the Stanislaws house!"
"Probably it didn't strike him as important in that connection," Jack argued; and I accepted the deduction; but I was far from comfortable and my peace of mind was not restored by a conversation I snatched with Pat when Caspian had gone. I begged her to do nothing rash, in a moment of generous impulse; but she exclaimed, "It is others who seem to have the generous impulses! I cannot afford to be generous. But dear Molly, I must be just. And now everything is against Larry and me. We must go where the tide takes us."
She didn't use as flowery language as that, but it's difficult to quote Patty in the vernacular.
Well, we crawled home after a while, Jack and I. And nothing more happened that day, except that Pat 'phoned me from her ruinous home about nine o'clock in the evening, to say "Mistaire" Caspian had come back. He had bought the Stanislaws house and paid for it, but she had refused to accept the gift. "It must be his, not mine," she said. "I understand that he would not have bought it except for my sake, so already I owe him a big debt of gratitude. I will not owe him more. It is now too much."
"Did he get the license?" I tremblingly ventured to inquire.
"Yes," Pat answered. But when I hurried on to the next question, "Have you fixed a date?" silence was my answer. She had dropped the receiver, and I was afraid I could guess why. She couldn't bear to discuss the sword hanging over her head. Few descendants of Damocles can!
All that was yesterday. I've waited to-day to write you in the hope of having something new to tell. But it's now ten o'clock P. M. and there is nothing good; rather the contrary. Pat has almost if not quite promised to marry Ed Caspian at the end of the week, Saturday, and Mrs. Shuster has hinted at her willingness to become Mrs. Moore on the same day. The knots are to be tied (devil permitting) very quietly, at home, in the water-logged drawing-room at Kidd's Pines. My pleadings to Pat of no avail. The combination of pawned rings, debts, five-hundred-thousand-dollar houses, etc., and Peter's absence at the crucial moment is too strong for her. As for Larry, he seems to be as hopeless as his daughter. I fancy from a chance word which Pat inadvertently let drop that, with the prospect of a millionaire son-in-law, Larry desperately attempted to free himself, but Mrs. Shuster "persuaded" him to stick to his bargain. How she managed I don't know, but there are lots of ways, and Larry with all his faults is a gentleman. He even has a chivalrous vein which, though lying deep under selfishness, crops up near the surface occasionally. I wish he'd been chivalrous with his daughter, while there was time for it to do good, instead of at the last moment with this silly middle-aged woman who wants to get "into society" through him.
Oh, just one other thing which I nearly forgot to mention! At my urgent suggestion Jack wrote a line to Peter Storm, in care of a man named James Strickland, said by Caspian to have looked after the interests of a family with whom Peter is connected. He's a well-known lawyer, so we easily found his address in the New York directory. He has his office there, of course, though I believe he has a house somewhere on Long Island, I don't know where. There's just the merest chance that Peter Storm may go to him in New York. He's going to some lawyer, so why not Strickland? Anyhow, we have no other means of getting at this extremely Stormy Petrel until his return. May it not be put off too long!
Jack, like all other men, hated to interfere, for P. S. has never spoken to either of us, in so many words, of his "intentions" toward Patty Moore. But I cooked up a specious-sounding note, saying that, if Peter didn't want Caspian to complicate matters for everybody, he had better hurry up and come back before C—— was actually married.
That letter went off by special delivery this morning.
Au revoir, till I can give you the sequel!
Your battered but not yet broken
MOLLY WINSTON TO MERCEDES LANE
Hurrah! There's a thing I may tell you without giving away Peter's confidences till the cat's ready to jump from the bag.
Jack and I were restless last evening. When I finished my letter to you, it was only half-past ten; and I felt as if I could jump up and down and scream.
"If I don't do something, I shall have a conniption fit!" I threatened.
Jack doesn't know what a conniption fit is, not having been brought up in an American nursery, but lest it might be something appalling, he asked how I should like to go out in the car for a short spin. By this time Hiawatha had been brought home by our chauffeur; and the moon was soon due to rise, so it seemed an attractive prospect that Jack held out.
"I'll tell you what let's do!" said I. "Go over to Patty's. If there's a light in the drawing-room windows we'll ring. If not, we'll just spin round outside the wall to the side gate, and go into the grounds for a look at the moon from the Point of the Pines."
In fifteen minutes we were off. And as I've told you, it's only a short spin to Kidd's Pines. There was a light in the drawing-room, so we did ring, and Pat was thankful for the excuse to get out of doors. Larry had gone to town—on "business," he had said, and Mrs. Shuster was sulking as if she doubted the statement. The Boys had been over from some weird inn, not far off, where they are lurking now, in order to rally round their goddess, but luckily Pat had sent them away just before we arrived. They would have been too noisy to please the moon! Patsey had been playing the piano at Mrs. Shuster's request, while the latter forlornly knitted impossible socks for Brobdinag-footed soldiers.
Of course we politely asked Mrs. S. to join our expedition, at the same time intensely willing her to refuse. Will prevailed. Mrs. Shuster said she "must write to the poor dear Senator, and send him good wishes for a lecture he is to deliver in New York." So she was disposed of; and we three went out into the fragrant night. I suppose she calls her Senator "poor dear" as a delicate way of letting us guess that she has refused him.
Have I told you about the Point of the Pines, I wonder? I feel sure I must have done so. The Pines are those under which Captain Kidd is supposed to have buried some of his treasure—the pines which have given the place its name. There is a narrow slip of land on which the principal members of this pine family grow. Instead of stretching straight out into the water, it curves toward the lawn, as if the back of your hand and your four fingers composed the lawn, and your thumb, slightly but not far extended, were the Point of the Pines. There are only a few trees, for the Point is small; they're seven in number and they reach beautifully toward the Sound, like running dryads holding out eager arms to the sea. They aren't ordinary pines, such as you may see almost anywhere on Long Island, but are of the "umbrella" sort, like those of Italy, just as beautiful if not nearly so large as those at Rome in the Pincian gardens, or at Naples, where their branches seem sketched in straight, horizontal black lines against the blue background of sea and sky. Shelter Island has one such pine, under which also Captain Kidd is supposed to have deposited a sample of treasure. I think there are no more in our part of the world.
Well, you can imagine that it's wonderful to sit by the water, lapping and whispering as it mumbles to the shore with toothless baby mouths; to sit there and wait for the moon to come up behind those dark umbrella pines.
None of us three felt like talking. There wasn't much to say which interested us just then, and at the same time went well with the exquisite romance of the place. Besides, it was lovely to listen to the water.
We grouped together, sitting on the grass, Jack with his back against a big chestnut tree, I leaning against his shoulder, and Patsey reclining, with her elbow in my lap. Far away a clock musically struck the half-hour after eleven, and as the sound died away a creamy light began to run along the sky. We sat very still, knowing what was coming to pass. In a minute more we saw a ruddy rim rise out of purple dusk; and with that almost incredible quickness in which the miracle is accomplished, the whole moon was up, red and slightly concave, for it was past the full.
Then the thing we had come out to see, happened. We saw the molten lamp directly behind the biggest of the seven pines out on the Point. The tree, black as ink, looked suddenly like a gigantic suit of armour, with an immense heart-shaped jewel—perhaps that magic carbuncle from the hidden pool of the White Mountains—suspended in its breast.
While we looked something else happened: a small rowboat with a man in it skimmed into sight, and slowed down at the Point of the Pines. Silent as a water bird it glided into the tiny cove between the point and the wide stretch of lawn, stopping dead under the moon-illumined tree.
By common consent we were as still as statues. Where we sat at a distance from the shore, and under the big chestnut, we were invisible to the man in the boat. We thought we should see him climb onto the bank, where his figure would be silhouetted against the moonlight; but he didn't appear.
"Perhaps it's a rendezvous of sweethearts," I whispered. "Presently another boat will come with the girl."
"Perhaps," Patsey whispered back. "Yes, it must be that. There is nothing he can do with the cave."
"Cave!" echoed Jack, interested as a boy. "Is there a cave?"
"It is only a little one," said Pat. "Not a nice cave. I have been in it when I was small. One gets there if one slides down a bank from the Point, just as well as from the water. I would run away from my nurse, and she would scold and call out, but she would not come after me, because it is a very low roof. To get to the very end, one must go on the hands and knees, but I liked that the best of all. I tried to find the treasure of Captain Kidd, which Larry told me about. But that was only a child's thought. He would nevaire have hidden it where one had only to push through some bushes, then to crawl in and pull it out."
"No," said Jack, who had never put much faith in the treasure's tale, much as he would have enjoyed doing so. "All the same, a cave's a big attraction. Lots of people must have tried their luck exploring, in the hope of some secret hidie-hole."
"Not so many know of the cave, that it is there," said Pat. "Some bushes grow in front and hide the mouth. If not, you would have seen it yourself. But Larry told all the people who came to stay this spring. He thought it would amuse them to look for the treasure. And it was promised—if there had not been the fire!—that when we came home from our trip we would give a party to dig under the pines. Each one was to have a spade; and it would be allowed to dig down some feet, but not enough to hurt the pines. The gardeners were to decide on that. Larry thought it would be fun. But I am not sure if Mistaire Caspian would not have persuaded him to forget the plan. He told me, if there were a treasure, it would be best to keep it for ourselves."
"All in the family," said I. And to myself I added, "Catch him giving something for nothing!"
"Shall I take a peep at that fellow down there?" suggested Jack. "He has no right trespassing anyhow, whether he's prospecting for treasure or waiting for his girl."
"Let's all three go and stare at him with calm reproach," I said. "The moonlight will shine on our faces and turn us into accusing spirits."
We got up and walked across the lawn, threading our way among trees till we came to the bank where we could look down to the water and straight across to the Point. There was the boat, tethered to a bush, but the man had vanished.
"By Jove! He must be in the cave!" said Jack. "I'll go——"
"No, you won't!" I cut him short fiercely. "If you do I'll scream at the top of my voice and yell for help. He may be a murderer!"
"Xantippe!" Jack retorted; but he couldn't help laughing when Pat and I both seized his dinner-jacket.
"Look!" whispered the girl at that instant. "Just there! A light—a little faint light—behind the bushes."
"The fellow's coming out," said Jack.
"Oh, then we can all stand behind this tree and watch," I proposed. "When he's getting into his boat Jack can challenge him. He'll probably be so scared he'll fall into the water."
The tree I meant was a large-waisted willow, of the weepiest variety, with girth enough and tears enough to hide us all, especially as Pat and I were darkly dressed—she in green and I in gray.
We hadn't many minutes to wait; indeed, it was but half an hour since we came out, for the clock we had heard struck again: midnight. We felt deliciously creepy! Of course I hadn't wanted Jack not mended yet from the trenches to go crawling on all fours into perfectly irrelevant caves with no Orders of Merit or Victoria Crosses attached to them. At the same time, we were keyed for comedy, and just excited enough to forget the skeletons in our closets at home: Caspians, and Shusters, and money-lenders, and unpleasant things like that.
It was just as the clock finished striking that the light in the cave (if you can call a gleam like an exaggerated glowworm a light) went out, or in Jack's words "dowsed its glim." This meant, we surmised, that the man had finished his mysterious (probably ridiculous) errand, and could now get along with no lamp but the moon. There was a faint rustle, rustle among the bushes which discreetly veiled the opening, and from behind them came a man. For a second or two he stood up straight as if he were stretching himself and taking a full breath. The moon shone behind him, outlining his figure; and, Mercedes, if you were here I would bet anything you couldn't guess who it was. As it is I can't hope to win money from you. I must just tell you, and have done with it!
The man was Peter Storm.
We recognized him in time for Jack not to give that challenge we had planned. Whether J. decided not to give it because the man was Peter, or because he was dumbfounded, I didn't know then, but he told me afterward that he instantly decided to keep still for Peter's sake. He knew, of course, whatever Peter was up to there was nothing mean or underhand about it, and as it was evidently meant for a secret expedition it would annoy Peter to be caught. I had exactly the same impression myself; and Pat said later that she would have "cr-r-umpled all up" if Jack had called out.
We hardly breathed while Peter was getting into his boat and untying the painter that had moored it to a bush. Even then we had to wait before coming back to life, for he sat still a minute or two, with his hands on the sculls, and looked our way, as if he were gazing at us. Of course we knew we were safely concealed from sight, and that he was only staring past trees and shrubbery at the dark, distant house. From that point of view there wasn't a twinkle of light to be seen through a blind; and if Jack and I hadn't taken the unusual whim into our heads to motor over from home, Patty would have been in bed and perhaps fast asleep for an hour.
I never realized before how hard it is, with the best intentions, to keep utterly, absolutely still: except once when I was a little girl and a nurse I had took me to a Quaker meeting. It was a silent one. I thought something awful would be done to me if I moved; and I tell you I could hear my ribs creak when I breathed! So I could again now, huddled behind the tree. And I thought I could hear Patty's hair curl.
When Peter had rowed away, and he and his boat had disappeared round the Point, we all three drew a deep sigh of relief. Then we looked at each other.
"Jiminy Christmas!" said I.
"Exactly!" said Jack.
Only Pat said nothing. Then she clasped her hands on an inspiration. "Do you know what I think?" she exclaimed. "Yes—it must be that! There is nothing else which can explain. Mr. Storm is ver-ry sorry for us, Larry and me, because once more we are in ruin. Not even Marcel can do us good now! But if it were true about the tr-reasure of the Captain Kidd, it would be ours. It would save me from—I mean, it would save us from all the trouble we are in. Don't you see, Molly and Jack, that is it? He went into the cave to search. If he would find the tr-reasure, he would tell us we were rich."
While she was talking, explaining her theory, my mind worked fast. What she said put an idea into my mind. It was different from her idea, because I had a clue—when I came to think of it—that she didn't possess. As it turned out, Jack's brain was working in the same direction as mine, at the same moment. I guessed this, before he told me, from what he said in answer to Pat.
"Perhaps you're right," he told her. "I'm afraid Storm must have been disappointed, though, if he was looking for Captain Kidd's treasure to give you. He came out with empty hands. Maybe, though, now you've got the inspiration you'll be more lucky, you and your father. I agree with Caspian on this subject: you'd better not invite too many people to your treasure-hunting bee. In fact, I think it had better confine itself to members of the family."
"No use," sighed Pat. "There's not a hole nor a corner of that cave I didn't search like a needle for a haystack—I mean the othaire way round—when I was petite."
"Do you give me leave to explore?" asked Jack.
"Yes, indeed," said Pat. Yet I thought she hesitated before she spoke. "When will you like to go?"
"I must dress for the job, I suppose," said Jack. "Shall we say to-morrow at ten o'clock in the morning, with you and Molly and nobody else in a stage box to watch the performance?"
Pat agreed, laughing, yet there was something peculiar—an arriere pensee—in her laugh. She had suddenly become absent-minded—or else she was sleepy; and I reminded Jack that it was growing late. We took the girl back to the house, into which she disappeared with a dreamy, "la Somnambula" air; and for once I was glad to see the last of the dear child. I was dying to talk to Jack. But I'm not going to inflict our discussion upon you. Instead, I'll tell you what happened in the morning (that's to-day!). We got up early and Jack sported a shocking old suit of knickerbockers, just right for an up-to-date cave man. You see, he really meant to keep his engagement. If he found anything, as he thought quite probable, it would bear out his theory and save unsuspecting Peter the trouble of working the Moore family up to an interest in the cave. We were just attacking our coffee and rolls, however, at eight-thirty, when Pat appeared, hovering at the end of the vine covered pergola which we use for a breakfast-room.
"Come to remind me of my promise?" laughed Jack, jumping up. But as she drifted slowly in, we saw that, whatever her errand might be, for her it was no laughing matter.
"I have to confess a thing to you both," she said. "I have been in the cave. Even before you went away, I made up my mind I would go in. I did not sleep too much. I got up when it was light. I put on a bad dress. I slid down the bank like when I was a little one. I creeped into the cave, with a candle, the way I used to do. It is not distant to the end, where one can squeeze. I looked all over, everywhere, as always when I was small. I remembered a hole far at the back—not a big hole—where I used to put pretty pebbles and play I was Captain Kidd with my pockets full of diamonds. The hole was there, but stuffed up with stones. I pulled them all out. And behind I saw a box—a queer old oak box. But oh, Molly, I have seen that box before, it was only a few days ago!"
"Not possible!" I cried, anxious to defend poor Peter and his quixotic plot.
"You would say not. Yet it is so. I saw the box—or its twin box—at that dear old Robinson house which is made into a curiosity shop at Bennington."
"You must have been dreaming," said Jack, backing me up.
"No. I saw it. But Mr. Storm did not know I saw it, because he did think I was not in the room where it was. He thought I was always with Mr. Caspian. And so I was, except for a minute. I went to look for you, in a back room. You were not there. You must have gone upstairs——"
"I did, to see a table Miss Robinson spoke of," I admitted.
"Only Mr. Storm was in the back room. He had in his hand the box, with a large date carved in the wood. If he bought it I am not sure, for I went away quickly when I saw he was alone. And after, there was nothing in his hand. But maybe when he wanted an old box with a date of 1669—yes, that particular date of all others!—he remembered, and went back to Bennington—or sent."
"Good gracious, but why a box of that 'particular' date?" I wanted to know. Which was stupid of me. I ought to have recalled at once the fact that Captain Kidd was supposed to be burying treasure in 1669.
"It was the year of Captain Kidd!" Pat reminded me; and went on, as if in desperation: "In the hole of our cave, to-day, was that box, from Miss Robinson's house in Bennington. There was no lock to it; and I suppose Mr. Storm could not wait to have one made. He was in a hurry. I understand why, but I cannot tell you that. All I can tell is, it was there. I pulled it out from the hole—it was not so heavy!—and not more than thirty centimetres long. Inside was sand, and mixed up with the sand many, many jewels—oh, a fortune in jewels. I know, because I took the box to my room—nobody was up, so no one saw me. I spread on the floor a bed-coverlet and poured out the sand on it. Then I could count the beautiful stones without the fear they would roll away. There are a hundred pearls, oh, but large ones, big as peas; and some rubies, and diamonds in the dozen—emeralds, too. I do not know too much of such things, but they must all have cost ten, twenty, or maybe more thousands of dollars."
As she finished, breathless, Pat looked from one to the other of us. And Jack and I dared not look at each other, or our eyes would have said, "Told you so!"
"He put these things to make us rich, where we would think they were ours," the girl went on. "It was noble. He would never have confessed—never let us know what we owed to him. If you and me had not seen him last night—and if I had not known the box—we should have believed. We should have sold the jewels and paid our debts. And I—but what use to think of what I could have done? What I must do, is to tell him I know—yes, the minute he comes back to our house. It will be to-day, for now we can guess what has kept him so busy. He has somehow got these jewels—not set, so they may seem to be very old. But how—how did he get them—a poor man like him?"
"However he got them, it's all right," Jack soothed her.
"I am sure!" she said proudly. "He was to try and find money. He told me that at Bretton Woods. He finds it. But he does not keep. He gives it to me, like this! Of course it does no good. Of course I cannot take. I wish I could see him here at this house, with you to help me talk of last night."
Well, so it was arranged, according to her wish: that we should send over to his "diggings," as he calls them, and see if Peter had arrived. The car was despatched with the chauffeur and a hasty note from me; and Patty waited with us for news. But there was no news. Mr. Storm had not come, and his landlady, the village dressmaker, knew nothing of his movements.
There, my dear, I must leave my story. About this episode you now know as much as I do, or any of us. But doesn't it make you love Peter? When he told me his secret, he never breathed a word of this intention.
If only one chance in a million hadn't placed his best girl and two of his best friends within spying distance, the poor fellow's plan would have been a brilliant success. No doubt his idea was to propose (as if jokingly) to Larry a search for Captain Kidd's alleged treasure, to replenish the family fortunes after the fire. They would have been indebted to no one for what the cave might yield. A rich Larry and Patty could have arisen like a pair of phoenixes hand in hand from their own ashes, and flown high above Caspian and Shuster level!
The thing is now to let Peter know his plan has failed before he begins talking about buried treasure. We must manage it somehow. By the pricking in my thumbs, I feel he'll come this afternoon! And luckily, if all is well, the treasure troving won't be his only errand.
To-morrow I shall perhaps be able to let you into the whole secret. If he but realizes that time is the great object now!
Your MOLLY IN SUSPENSE.
P. S. I do think it was fun about the box from Miss Robinson's, don't you?
MOLLY WINSTON TO MERCEDES LANE
I believe that, next to the day Jack proposed to me at Taormina, and the day we were married in London, this has been the most exciting day of my life. I expected excitement, but nothing to what we have had!
I wrote you yesterday morning, after Pat went home to the boxful of sand and jewels which not even Larry was to know about. The note I wrote to Peter Storm had been left at his lodgings, so when he returned he would know that he was wanted at our house. The trouble was, we had no idea when he would return; and that poor child Pat was trembling in her extremely high-heeled shoes (she never wears boots to tremble in) lest Caspian should reappear upon the scene. I hardly dared hope that the letter Jack had sent to Mr. Strickland's office would reach Peter; but it was that which did the trick. Mr. Strickland was the lawyer he had been consulting about his complicated affairs, and when the note arrived, Mr. S. knew where to send it. No sooner was it read, than Peter bolted from New York to Long Island, and had the happy thought of coming to see us, to pick up the latest news from the front. I was so pleased to see him walk in, I could almost have kissed him! But I didn't stop to talk long. I ordered Hiawatha, and dashed off to fetch Pat. I was afraid if I merely sent for her, something might happen to keep the girl at home, or Caspian might have turned up, and insist on coming with her.
As it happened, I wasn't far wrong. Caspian had indeed turned up, bringing a strange man with him, and both were closeted with Larry. I whisked Pat away before she could be called into the council chamber. The poor child insisted on carrying the "Captain Kidd" box, wrapped in a silk tablecloth from Como! She wanted to place it in the hands of its owner and donor without delay, and Peter and she were to be given some moments alone together, Jack having prepared the mind of P. S. meanwhile.
The two men were in the library when I opened the door and walked in upon them. Jack had finished telling the tale of the night, and I felt pity as well as affection for Peter. He doesn't show his emotions easily, but I could see that he was pained and humiliated by the failure of his romantic scheme. I said not a word to him about it, but mentioned that Patsey was in my boudoir. "I think she has something to say to you," I added.
"I'll go to her at once, if I may!" he exclaimed.
"You not only may but must," I enjoined; then stopped him at the door. "I hope you're ready to tell her everything now?"
"I'm ready, yes," he answered promptly. "But is it the best time——"
"It's the only time there is!" I cut him short.
"She's right," Jack backed me up.
"Very well," said Peter. "If you both say it's the supreme moment, it is. But I shall have to go through with what she's got for me first."
With that, he went out and shut the door. And I confess to you, Mercedes, I should have liked to be a fly on the wall in my boudoir during the scene between those two. A fly has no conscientious scruples against eavesdropping, which is fortunate for it, as nature has equipped it so well for indulgence in that pursuit. As I couldn't be a fly on a ceiling, looking at Peter and Pat upside down, I went and sat on Jack's lap.
"Dearest," said I, "you tell me what you'd say if you were Peter, and I'll tell you what I'd say if I were Pat."
"I wouldn't say anything," replied Jack without an instant's hesitation. "I should just take you in my arms, and hug you hard. I should also kiss you. And one kiss leads to another, you know."
"I do know," I admitted. "By experience. You taught me that. It's one of the lessons of life."
"I'll bet Patricia Moore is learning it at this instant," Jack remarked thoughtfully. And we kissed each other in sheer vividness of imagination.
"But she's still engaged to Ed Caspian," I reminded him.
"Damn Caspian!" said Jack; and then jumped, staring at something over the back of my head.
I bounded off his lap as if a Jack Johnson had exploded at my feet. Wheeling round to stare where he stared, I saw the most deadly reputable of my dear late cousin's servants ushering into the room the person apostrophized. Behind that person followed one I had never seen before. Behind both lurked Larry Moore, for once in his life ill at ease; and by his side, urging him in, was Mrs. Shuster.
"How do you do?" I exclaimed, trying to look as if I had never seen Jack's knee, and feeling as if my toes were blushing.
What Jack did I don't know; but I suspect he put on a nonchalant air of "Well, we are married, anyhow!"
"I'm sorry to interrupt a conversation evidently not meant for my ear," began Caspian. (Trust him always to do and say the wrong thing!) "But I understand Mrs. Winston called at Kidd's Pines and took Miss Moore away at a moment when both I and her father wanted her particularly. That being the case, I thought I had better come here and let her kind host and hostess learn the news at the same time."
"Meaning us?" I inquired, feeling dangerous.
"Meaning you and Captain Winston. The news will interest you both. It is about two dear friends of yours, Marcel Moncourt and—his son."
"We've never had the pleasure of meeting Marcel Moncourt Junior," said Jack.
"Oh, yes, you have, begging your pardon," said Ed. "Only you know him by another name. By the way, may I ask, before I go further, where is Patricia?"
"Pat's in my boudoir," I informed him airily. "She's engaged just now, talking to Mr. Storm. He——"
"Is the person I referred to a moment ago," Caspian sliced my sentence in two. "Marcel Moncourt Junior has good reason for taking an alias. It was known to everybody who knew him and his father that he was a wastrel, if not worse. Marcel Senior was a fool about him—brought him up like a prince, and suffered the consequences. The boy spent money like water, and was hauled out of one scrape only to fall into another. Then came the time of my cousin old Justin Stanislaws' death. It happened under strange circumstances; there was suggestion of foul play. Young Marcel was in the house at the time—had arrived secretly. I know that certain jewels disappeared mysteriously—couldn't be found afterward—jewels that Stanislaws always kept near him because of certain associations. Not only did they disappear, but young Marcel disappeared, too—whether with or without them was never proved. Stanislaws' son was alive then and protected the fellow: they'd been friends as boys. No inquiry was made till I became the heir. Then it was too late. Marcel Junior had gone abroad and couldn't be located. It was then it came to my knowledge that suspicion pointed to young Marcel not only as a thief but as a murderer——"
"Oh, come, sir, that's going a bit too far!" ventured the mean-looking little man who had come in with Caspian, and who had been growing more and more restless as Ed piled up his accusations.
"Why, too far, when you told me yourself that one of his handkerchiefs was found in my cousin's room the morning after the murder?"
"Well, you see, sir, there was never anything more than gossip to say it was a murder," persisted the little man. Turning anxiously to Jack, he hurried to explain himself. "I was valet to the old gentleman at the time of his death," he announced. "I'm an Englishman, as I think you are, sir. My name's Thomas Dawson. I've been living in Chicago and other cities of the Middle West since young Mr. Stanislaws (who was drowned later) paid me off and let me go. This gentleman, the heir to the estates, has had me looked up by a detective agency. I came to New York willing enough; but I didn't come to accuse no one of murder, whether I have any cause to remember them kindly or not!"
"You're not asked to accuse any one, you're asked to identify a man you know," snapped Caspian. He, too, turned to Jack. "It's very annoying as things have turned out, that Moncourt Senior didn't stop on at Kidd's Pines after the fire instead of going to New York. He ought to be here now, so we could confront him with——"
"Really, Caspian, I think 'confront' isn't the word to use in such a tone and in connection with our Marcel," Jack admonished him.
"What, not the word when he has passed off his wretched son upon us as a stranger, and let the fellow take a confidential situation with a rich woman like Mrs. Shuster? She might have suffered the same fate as my poor cousin. There's no excuse for such conduct. It's not weakness but wickedness. The whole mystery of Marcel's taking up the job at Kidd's Pines is explained by this impudent trick——"
"Hardly explained," objected Jack. "You haven't proved your point yet."
"What point haven't I proved?"
"That Mr. Storm is really Marcel Moncourt Junior."
"We came here to prove it, before every one concerned," blustered Ed. "All I ask is to have him brought in."
"He'll bring himself very willingly!" I couldn't resist sticking in my oar. "And Pat with him."
"I'll fetch my fiancee myself, if you please, Mrs. Winston," said Caspian, at his most caddish.
I didn't intend to let him do that, but I was saved the trouble of a dispute by the door opening and Pat and Peter walking in, as if they had been hypnotically summoned. They hadn't heard the visitors' arrival, but had evidently expected to find Jack and me alone. I saw by a glance at Pat's face that the interview had made some call upon her emotions; but I didn't think she looked wild enough to have heard the whole secret. Besides, they'd hardly been away long enough for all that—and the other things Jack and I had so vividly imagined. They both paused for a second at the door, and Pat had the air of wishing she were somewhere else. She braced herself up, however, for a scene, and marched in with her head up—Peter Storm by her side. I saw Peter's eyes pick out the little man Thomas Dawson, whom Caspian pushed slightly forward. Peter was surprised, no doubt of that, but he seemed also amused, as if his quick mind had grasped the situation. His look travelled to Jack's face and mine. He smiled at us. Then, "Hello, Dawson!" said he.
"Good lord, sir!" gasped Dawson, turning green, and losing power over his knees. He grabbed at Caspian for support, was haughtily pushed away, and tumbled into a chair, like a jelly out of its mould. As it chanced, the chair was a rocking-chair, and the conjunction was undignified.
"What's the matter?" Ed questioned sharply. "Why don't you speak up? Is this man's name Marcel Moncourt?"
"No, sir, it's Stanislaws. He's—he's the young master—or else he's a ghost."
* * * * *
There, my dear, the Secret's out! Perhaps, if you've been able to keep track of Caspian's antecedents as described in my letters, you've guessed it already. But in case you haven't attached much importance to that part of the affair, I'll just remind you that Ed Caspian was lifted out of the ranks of his fellow socialists and capital haters, by becoming a capitalist himself, on the death of two distant cousins, Stanislaws' father and Stanislaws' son, tremendous millionaires. The old man died some time before the young one, who disappeared with the Lusitania and was reported drowned. You can imagine the effect on Ed when, instead of crushing the enemy, he found himself crushed. He turned tallow-white, glaring at Dawson, staring at Storm, and stammered out: "I don't believe you! It's a lie!"
"No, Caspian, it's not a lie," said Peter Storm, whom Jack and I have known since Wenham as Pietro Stanislaws. He spoke almost gently. "I meant to stay dead—not for your sake, but for my own. The only fun I'd ever got out of life was from knocking round the world with just enough money to put bread in my mouth and clothes on my back. My father never saw you, and never wanted to see you. He had reason to dislike socialists. I never saw you, and wanted to still less. I thought you would be a bore. But I respected what I heard of you. People told me you were sincere. They said your aim in life was to benefit your fellowman. You were a hard worker. You seemed to have every virtue. I thought you'd do more good with my father's money than I ever should, if I shouldered the responsibility. I was always a socialist at heart—but I was selfish. I'd hated the conventional life my father wanted me to live, and I'd kicked against the pricks. I came back to consciousness after that adventure on the Lusitania, and found that no one knew who I was. I'd babbled Russian when I was delirious! The next thing I learned, was that Pietro Stanislaws was drowned. I couldn't resist the big temptation to let him sleep under the sea. I'd happened to know something about a chap named Peter Sturm or Storm in the third class of the Lusitania. He hadn't turned up afterward, so I thought—as I'd done him a small kindness—he wouldn't grudge me his name. I felt at home with the name of Peter. So that's how it came about. And no matter what my own feelings might have been—no matter how much I might for any reason have wanted to change my mind—I wouldn't have gone back on my resolution if it hadn't been for your own conduct."
"I don't know what you mean!" Caspian choked. "I don't believe——"
"I think you do believe," Peter caught him up (I can't remember his precise words of course; but I give you the sense of them). "And if you'll reflect you must pretty well understand my meaning. What kind of a steward have you been of the great enterests intrusted to you? Have you done one person except yourself any good? No! The moment your circumstances changed, your nature changed to fit them; or, rather, you let your real nature have its way when you'd nothing more to gain by posing. You've not only thrown away my father's money—my money—on every sort of extravagance: you've been actually vicious. My lawyer James Strickland was the only person on earth, except Marcel Moncourt Senior, who knew that I hadn't gone down with the Lusitania. Marcel didn't know till I came back to New York, recalled by Strickland's accounts of your behaviour. Then I got Strickland to break the news to Marcel—for a purpose. I wanted a favour from him. I wanted him to help Laurence Moore. But even then you would have been safe from me, Caspian, if you'd shown yourself any sort of a man. I began a letter about you to Strickland on the ship coming home. It blew away, and so did some of my plans concerning you. It was Fate! But this isn't revenge for your petty persecutions of Storm! I hope I'm not little enough to take vengeance. I saw you weren't fit for the place I had given you. Seeing that, I decided that Pietro Stanislaws had a right to come back from the grave. But don't imagine that I intend to throw you out on the world with empty pockets. That would be unfair, after the way I've let you live. I was the owner of the Stanislaws house, as it's called. Strickland arranged the business for me; and at my wish he offered it to you, Caspian. You bought: now you can sell to me again at a profit; and you'll owe me no thanks for any favour, which is my reason for wanting such a deal. Talk to my lawyer. He'll be expecting you to call."
"You'll have to prove that you're Pietro Stanislaws!" Caspian still weakly protested. "The story doesn't ring true to me. You may be taking advantage of some resemblance. You may be another Tichborne claimant. Why, now I think of it, I always heard there was a likeness between young Moncourt and young Stanislaws—that Moncourt did all he could to cultivate it!"
"Well, of that you can judge to-day," said Peter, keeping his temper. "Thanks to Miss Moore, Marcel Senior and I learned where Marcel Junior was hanging out. Marcel Senior has thought for a while that he had some cause to be grateful to me: that's why he stepped into the breach at my request, at Kidd's Pines. And I wanted him to do it—for one reason—because when I was a boy of thirteen or fourteen Mrs. Moore was very good to me. I was at a school on Long Island. I ran away, as I generally did: stole a ride on a freight train—fell off, got hurt, was seen by Mrs. Moore as she was driving with her little daughter, and instead of letting me be taken to hospital she brought me home to her house. I'm not sure if her husband approved. All the same he allowed me to stay and get well. It wasn't till I was able to get about that I told them who I was. But all that's an aside! It explains why I wanted to do a decent turn to Kidd's Pines if I could. Miss Moore mentioned to me when we were spending a few days at the Stanislaws house some weeks ago that a young man named Marcel de Moncourt was visiting friends of hers in France, and claiming to be their cousin. Well, that was a true claim, as Marcel Senior informed me. He himself came to America when he was young, to make his fortune, and dropped the "de" out of his name. He says he'd been rather a black sheep, and didn't deserve to be identified with his family. We had a powwow, he and I, about young Marcel. There was, and is, nothing against him in the matter of my father's death. I won't go into that question at the moment, but I can show good cause for protecting him then, and protecting him now. When we communicated with Marcel in France, where he'd arrived from the Argentine he decided to sail at once for this side, with his cousins the Marquise de Moncourt and her daughter Adrienne, to whom he is engaged. I've just been telling Miss Moore that her best friends—present company excepted"—(Peter smiled at Jack and me) "that her best friends arrived this morning, from Bordeaux to New York, where Marcel Senior met them and his son at the dock. He meant to escort them to Kidd's Pines; and they may arrive there at any minute. When the Marquise and her daughter find that Mr. and Miss Moore are here, perhaps they'll let Marcel bring them on."
I glanced at Larry. (From hints Pat had innocently let drop, I was sure the Marquise had been in love with Larry for years: that she'd kept Pat under her thumb in France, hoping to keep Larry, too. It occurred to me that things said by the girl in letters to Adrienne—things about Mrs. Shuster, or Idonia, or both—had probably brought the Marquise flying to the rescue. Or else, that unspeakable maid of Pat's—Angele—was engaged by the Marquise to let her know what was "doing" at Kidd's Pines.) Larry's face was a study! Not a study of "detected guilt." Nothing like that. He looked sheepish, yet relieved. I read in his beautiful eyes of a boy, "Hurray! I bet she'll somehow rescue me from Shuster yet!"
I should have bet the same, if there'd been any one to bet with, but there wasn't—unless Mrs. Shuster herself. And she didn't yet realize what the advent of the Frenchwoman might mean for her future. She was beginning to recover from the shock of Caspian's fall, and to preen herself because she was about to meet a real, live Marquise.
She had only a few minutes to wait, for Peter's prophecy came true. The great Marcel did bring the Marquise and Adrienne on, by their urgent request, to Awepesha. Pat, it seems, had written so much about Jack and me, they almost felt as if they knew us! And young Marcel, already assured that he'd nothing to fear in America, was with his father and the ladies. (I'll tell you presently the story of old Justin Stanislaws' death and young Marcel's connection with it: but I'd never heard it properly myself when the Moncourt party arrived. You see Marcel didn't come much into Peter Storm's "Secret," as he'd confessed it to me.)
There was hardly time to wonder what the Marquise and young Marcel would be like (and Adrienne) when the visitors were announced by our bewildered butler. If you have felt any sympathy for Larry you'll be glad to hear that the Marquise is a Charmer from Charmerville. How Larry ever resisted her all these years I can't think, unless he valued his freedom beyond the lure of woman, and refrained from going to France for fear of striking his colours. She's the Frenchiest creature you ever saw: you know, the fascinating kind with magnolia-white skin, languishing eyes, black hair worn over the ears, red lips, and any age you like between twenty-eight and forty-five. Adrienne, compared to her mother, is a mere lump. But she has fine eyes and a bright smile, and Pat loves her, so she must be nice.
As for Marcel Junior, he really does look a little like Peter; a sort of a Christmas-card resemblance to a strong type. He's really engaged to Adrienne, it appears, and is an entirely reformed character; but I expect that the menage will be mostly enriched by Marcel Pere—and Peter.
I hope you are dying to know how Pat took Peter Storm's transformation into Pietro Stanislaws. But I'm going to save that bit for the last. I must explain to you some of the things Peter explained to me at Aunt Mary's, and other things I've learned since, else you won't be able to understand him as we do.
That running-away-from-school affair was characteristic, but not as anarchic as it sounds. His father, Justin Stanislaws, was Polish in ancestry but American by birth. He got to know Marcel Moncourt Senior soon after Marcel's bolt from France to New York. They both married Italian girls, who were beautiful and intimate friends. The father of Stanislaws' love was rich, and lived in terror of the "Black Hand." Stanislaws won her by saving the life of his father-in-law elect; and that was the starting-point of his great fortune. Once he had the nucleus, his genius for making money began to pile dollars up by the million. Marcel hadn't "found" himself yet. Stanislaws lost sight of him for years; but after Pietro's mother died, Marcel appeared again, also a widower, with one little boy. He was as poor as Stanislaws was rich. Yet he felt in himself the quality to supply the millionaire with something money had failed to give: social success. He explained his ideas; Stanislaws had the sense to see that they were good. Marcel "took him on," so to speak, organized his establishment, arranged magnificent and original entertainments; got him known and sought for by the right "set," and so, each man "made" the other.
Marcel started out on his new career with a thumping salary; Stanislaws advised investments and speculations. Marcel began to grow rich as well as famous, and might have been happy but for his son. Marcel Junior was a "caution!" From his early boyhood he was always falling into trouble, and having to be helped out by his adoring father or the indulgent Stanislaws, who seemed for a while to care more for young Marcel Moncourt than for his own high-spirited and independent Pietro. But at last he grew tired of the constant calls upon his generosity, and relations became strained.
By this time both the boys were grown up. Pietro's greatest joy was wandering over the world like a gypsy or a tramp, or anything but a "tourist." When his father's health failed he was summoned back from a glorious adventure in Russia, and expected to "settle down." He couldn't bear to disappoint the old man, and did his best to live up to expectations; but he was like a young lion caught in the Libyan Desert and shut in a gilded cage. The people his father wanted him to entertain bored him to tears. He saw that they valued Justin and Pietro Stanislaws for what could be got out of them: invitations, dinners, financial "tips," tours en automobile; and there was no reward for which Peter cared. "Our houses were practically hotels," he said to me, "and our hearts were utilized as snake hospitals. I might as well have been a chauffeur for all the choice of guests or destination I had when I drove my father's friends in our cars. I never did anything I wanted to do, and I never got any gratitude for doing what they wanted me to do. I might as well have been a goldfish, swimming round and round in the same globe, month after month, year after year. It wasn't my job! Nature hadn't made me for a fat, tame life. But young Marcel wasn't as much use as an understudy for a dutiful son as I'd once hoped. So I made up my mind to stick it while father lived and wanted me."
I don't know just how long Peter was in the "treadmill"—as he called it: two years, perhaps, then came Justin Stanislaws' sudden death. The old man was found by his valet one morning, lying dead on the marble floor of his gorgeous bedroom, with a wound at the back of his head, and a handkerchief marked "M.M." clutched in his hand. The wall safe where he kept his most precious treasures—photographs of his dead wife, her letters, and the favourite jewels which she had left for "Pietro's bride"—was open, the key was still in the lock, and the steel box containing the jewels had disappeared. Young Marcel Moncourt had also disappeared; and this was serious, because he had come to visit his father and had vainly begged for the loan of five thousand dollars from Justin Stanislaws.
You will wonder when you read this why Peter didn't set the police on Marcel's track, instead of doing all he could not only to protect him but to upset the theory of murder. But you see, in spite of the circumstantial evidence, Peter didn't believe that his father had been killed by Marcel or any one. The doctors said that the wound at the back of the head could quite well be the result of the fall; and that death might have been caused by heart failure. As for the handkerchief, Marcel Senior assured Peter that he and young Marcel used the same monogram: also that more than once his handkerchiefs and Justin Stanislaws' had been mixed together by the laundress, as they were of exactly the same size and quality, differing only in initials. He pleaded that the handkerchief was no clue, and no proof of a crime. He argued that the old man was a poor sleeper, and often unlocked the safe in the night, to look over the beloved letters and photographs. For that purpose he kept his bunch of keys under his pillow; and as for the absence of the jewels, that proved nothing because he—Marcel Senior—had himself warned Stanislaws that it was imprudent to have them there. Several other hiding-places, more secure and more secret, existed in the house; and some day, it was his opinion, the steel box might eventually be found in one of them, placed there by Stanislaws.
Peter listened, and pitied, and his own heart spoke for both Marcels. He decided to give his old playmate the benefit of the doubt, and you know already from what I've told you about Peter that, when he makes up his mind to do a thing, he does it thoroughly. The story that Justin Stanislaws had been murdered was denied, and scorn was poured upon it by the family. It survived only among sensation mongers and gossip lovers—like Caspian—who always believe the worst of every one and everything. Marcel Senior was grateful beyond words, but he was conscientious, too. Months passed with no word from his son (this was no new experience!), then a letter came from the Argentine.
"I'm doing well here," wrote Marcel Junior. "You won't have to worry about me in future. I know I've been a fool; but for once and for all I've had my lesson." And he went on to tell what the lesson was. "I was half crazy when you and old Stanislaws refused to let me have five thousand dollars," he said. "The scrape I'd got into was worse than I'd told you. I was at my wits' ends for money, and I dreamed about the safe in Stanislaws' wall. I knew what he kept there. He often showed Pietro and me the jewels. I dreamed that I went into his room, took the keys from under the pillow, and opened the safe. Then a noise woke me up. The dream was true. I waked standing at the open safe with the steel box in my hand. The noise that brought me to myself was Stanislaws falling on the marble floor. You know I've been a sleep walker all my life. But I realized in a second how hard it would be to prove myself innocent, whether Stanislaws lived or died. I thought my one chance was to be off before morning. I swear I didn't mean to steal the jewels. But the first thing I knew, I was out in the hall with the box in my hand, and I dared not go back!"
Marcel Junior went on to say that to his surprise the jewel-case wasn't locked. Because he had no money to get away with, he took out a diamond ring. The box, with the rest of its contents intact, he buried in the garden. In the hiding-place described it was found by Marcel Senior who carried it, with the letter, to Pietro.
It was soon after this that Peter finished settling up his father's affairs with the help of James Strickland, and sailed for England in the Lusitania, meaning to take a long holiday after his strenuous years as a budding millionaire. The recovered jewels he left in Strickland's care. And now you will have guessed, Mercedes, whence came those pearls, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds requisitioned for Miss Robinson's box with its convenient date of 1669! All that had to be done was to unstring the pearls and unset the stones, and they might be supposed to date from one century as well as another.
Now have I made everything clear, I wonder, up to the time when the Lusitania went down and Pietro Stanislaws was reborn as Peter Storm? Oh, but one thing I forgot! You remember I wrote about the Russian Military Attache from Washington, who recognized Peter and was mesmerically suppressed by him at New London? There was no great mystery after all. They'd known each other in Russia, so you may imagine it was a shock to the Prince, seeing his dead friend suddenly walk into the hotel. That was a bad moment for Peter! He wanted to declare his identity when the time came, not to have it given away; so he pounced on the man and whispered, "Girl in the case. I'll explain." Which he did later and in private.
Now we come back at last to Pat: "the girl in the case!" But you haven't let yourself worry about her, have you, Mercedes?
Even I didn't worry much. From the moment she and Peter retired into my boudoir to "talk things over," and Jack and I sat supplying details out of our imagination, I knew that whatever happened all would be well. For that I trusted Peter.
If Ed Caspian had fallen from his high estate through no fault of his own, and could have posed as a martyr, Pat might have thought it her duty to be loyal. Even so she could never have said, "I will," when invited to take him for better or worse. As it was, Caspian could pose as nothing but a pig! He had given himself away, all along the line. And he was not to go pathetically out into the world alone as a pauper. He would have more money than he'd ever dreamed of until after the Lusitania tragedy. He would at worst be able to fight with Senator Collinge over the hand (and purse) of his dear old friend Mrs. Shuster, if Larry escaped her! The only difficulties I foresaw concerned the pawned engagement ring and Larry's debts to Lily. As to these I boldly decided that if worst came to worst I would betray my trust and tell Peter everything.
You will see, however, that my conscience was saved, and by Caspian.
Pat, of course, was petrified at seeing Peter Storm turn into Pietro Stanislaws. She listened dumbly to Peter's indictment of Caspian; and then, before she found time or words to speak, the little wretch turned to snap at her like a trapped jackal.
"You'll throw me over now!" he sneered. "That goes without telling. Rats desert a sinking ship. But—what do you mean to do about my ring? Maybe you thought I didn't know. Ask Mrs. Shuster! Angele told her. I guess Mrs. Shuster's money and my ring have gone the same way!"
That was too much for Larry. "You'd better go after your d—d ring, then!" said he, looking like a handsome, angry schoolboy. "I can give you the pawn-ticket; and I bet Peter Storm—or Stanislaws—will lend the money to redeem the beastly thing. As for Mrs. Shuster, we won't bring her name into this. She and I will settle our affairs, official and unofficial, although you seem to be so deep in her confidence. I say, Captain Winston, do you mind my telling Caspian that the nearest way to the pawnbroker's is through your front door, and the quicker he finds it the better?"
"I don't mind in the least your telling him that," Jack replied pleasantly.
"And I should love you to!" I added breathlessly.
This brought Pat to me. "Oh, Molly!" she said.
"Oh, Patsey!" said I.
Then Peter came to us. "Oh, Peter!" said we both.
Somehow, I found that in his right hand was a hand of mine, and in his left (nearest the heart) was one of Patty's. "It's all right," he said. "It ends by my getting the treasure of Kidd's Pines."
"Well, I do think you've earned it!" I exclaimed. "If it were mine to give I'd give it with my blessing."
"I owe it largely to you—you and your Lightning Conductor." It was to me Peter spoke; but he looked at Pat, "I don't know what I should have done without you."
That was nice of him, wasn't it? I love praise, even when I don't deserve it. We have taken an interest, if we've done nothing more. And so have you, my kind Mercedes. Peter and Pat, and you and Monty, and Jack and I, are Perfect Dears, if I do say it myself. And I know those two are going to be as happy as we are.
I wish you could both be at the wedding. It will have to be soon, if Jack and I are to throw rice and slippers.
Ever your loving old
* * * * *
The page numbers of illustrations have been changed to reflect the new positions, and are now indicated in the illustration list by 'Page' instead of 'Facing Page'.
For the benefit of certain readers, explanatory names have been added to some illustration tags and these have been identified with an asterisk.
Obvious printer's errors have been corrected. All other inconsistencies are as in the original. The author's spelling has been retained.