Danny was a companion who did not obstruct thought, but encouraged it; and as Agatha sat resting on the stone with Danny close by, in that quiet yard full of the noiseless ghosts of the past, her thoughts went back to James. His unnatural eyes and restless spirit haunted her. She thought of that other night on the water, full of heartbreaking struggle as it was, as a happy night compared to the one which was yet to come. She recalled their foolish talk while they were on the beach, and smiled sadly over it. Her courage was at the ebb. She felt that the buoyancy of spirit that had sustained them both during the night of struggle could never revisit the wasted and disorganized body lying in Parson Thayer's house—her house. A certain practical sense that was strong in her rose and questioned whether she had done everything that could be done for his welfare. She thought so. Had she not even prayed, with all her concentration of mind and will? She heard again Susan Stoddard's deep voice: "No striving toward God is ever lost!" In spite of her unfaith, a sense of rest in a power larger than herself came upon her unawares. Danny, who had wandered away, came back and sat down heavily on the edge of her skirt, close to her. "Good Danny!" she praised, petting him to his heart's content.
It was thus that Aleck Van Camp found them, as he came over the stile from the house. His tones were slower and more precise than ever, but his face was drawn and marked with anxiety. He had a careful thought for Agatha, even in the face of his greater trouble.
"You have chosen a bad hour to wander about, Miss Redmond. The evening dews are heavy."
"Yes, I know; Danny and I were just going home. Have you been into the house?"
"Yes, I left Doctor Thayer there in consultation with the other physician that came to-day. They sent me off. Old Jim—well, you know as well as I do. With your permission, I'm going to stay the night. I'll bunk in the hall, or anywhere. Don't think of a bed for me; I don't want one."
"I'm glad you'll stay. It seems, somehow, as if every one helps; that is, every one who cares for him."
"Doctor Thayer thinks there will be a change tonight, though it is difficult to tell. Jim's family have my telegram by this time, and they will get my letter to-morrow, probably. Anyway, I shall wait until morning before I send another message."
The tension of their thoughts was too sharp; they turned for relief to the scene before them, stopping at the stile to look back at the steepled white church, standing under its spreading balm-of-Gilead tree.
"It seems strange," said Agatha, "to think that I sat out there under that big tree as a little girl. Everything is so different now."
"Ilion, then, was once your home?"
"No, never my home, though it was once my mother's home. I used to visit here occasionally, years and years ago."
Aleck produced his quizzical grin. "A gallant person would protest that that is incredible."
"I wasn't angling for gallantry," Agatha replied wearily. "I am twenty-six, and I haven't been here certainly since I was eight years old. Eighteen years are a good many."
"To youth, yes," acquiesced Aleck. "Which reminds me, by contrast, of the hermit; he was so incredibly old. It was he who unwittingly put me on Jim's track. He said that the owner or proprietor of the Jeanne D'Arc was dropped ashore on his island."
"Monsieur Chatelard?" cried Agatha.
"I don't know his name."
"If it was Monsieur Chatelard," Agatha paused, looking earnestly at Aleck, "if it was he, it is the man who tricked me into his motor-car in New York, drugged me and carried me aboard his yacht while I was unconscious."
Aleck turned a sharp, though not unsympathetic, gaze upon Agatha. "I have told no one but Doctor Thayer, and he did not believe me. But it is quite true; the wreck saved me, probably, from something worse, though I don't know what."
If there had been skepticism on Aleck's face for an instant it had disappeared. Instead, there was deep concern, as he considered the case.
"Had you ever seen the man Chatelard before?"
"Never to my knowledge."
"Did he visit you on board the yacht?"
"Only once. I was put into the charge of an old lady, a Frenchwoman, Madame Sofie; evidently a trusted chaperon, or nurse, or something like that. When I came to myself in a very luxurious cabin in the yacht, this old woman was talking to me in French—a strange medley that I could make nothing of. When I was better she questioned me about everything, saying 'Mon Dieu!' at every answer I made. Then she left me and was gone a long time; and when she came back, that man was with her. I learned afterward that he was called Monsieur Chatelard. They both looked at me, arguing fiercely in such a furious French that I could not understand more than half they said. They looked as if they were appraising me, like an article for sale, but Madame Sofie held out steadily, on some point, against Monsieur Chatelard, and finally it appeared that she converted him to her own point of view. He went away very angry, and I did not see him again, except at a distance, until the night of the wreck."
"Did you find out where they were going, or who was back of their scheme?"
"No, nothing; or very little. There was money involved. I could tell that. But no names were mentioned, nor any places that I can remember. You see, I was ill from the effects of the chloroform, and frightened, too, I think."
"I don't wonder," said Aleck, wrinkling his homely face. He remained silent while he searched, mentally, for a clue.
"I found out, through my maid, who arrived today, that some one of the kidnapping party had been clever enough to send a false message to the hotel, explaining my sudden departure."
"I see, I see," said Aleck, going over the story in his mind. And presently, "Where does Hand come in? And how did Jim happen to be aboard the Jeanne D'Arc?"
"Hand was some sort of henchman to Monsieur Chatelard, I believe. And he told me that your cousin was picked up in New York harbor, swimming for life, it appeared. No one seemed to know any more."
Aleck stopped short, looked at Agatha, pursed his lips for a whistle and remained silent. They had arrived at the porch steps, and were tacitly waiting for the doctors to descend and give them, if possible, some encouragement for the coming night. But the story of the Jeanne D'Arc had grown more complicated than Aleck had anticipated, and much was yet to be explained. Aleck was slow, as always, in thinking it through, but he figured it out, finally, to a certain point, and expressed himself thus: "That's the way with your steady fellows; they're all the bigger fools when they do jump."
"Pardon me, I didn't catch—"
"Oh, nothing," said Aleck, half irritably. "I only said Jim needed a poke, like that heifer over in the next field."
Agatha understood the boyish irritation, cloaking the love of the man. "You may be able to get more information about your cousin from Mr. Hand," she said. "He would be likely to know as much as anybody."
"Well, however it happened, he's here now!"
"Though if it had not been for his fearful struggle for me, he would not have been so ill," said Agatha miserably. Aleck, with one foot on the low step of the piazza, stopped and turned squarely toward her. His face was no less miserable than Agatha's, but behind his wretchedness and anxiety was some masculine reserve of power, and a longer view down the corridors of time. He held her eye with a look of great earnestness.
"I love old Jim, Miss Redmond. We've been boys and men together, and good fellows always. But don't think that I'd regret his struggle for you, as you call it, even if it should mean the worst. He couldn't have done otherwise, and I wouldn't have had him. And if it's to be a—a home run—why, then, Jim would like that far better than to die of old age or liver complaint. It's all right, Miss Redmond."
Aleck's slow words came with a double meaning to Agatha. She heard, through them, echoes of James Hambleton's boyhood; she saw a picture of his straight and dauntless youth. She held out to Aleck a hand that trembled, but her face shone with gratitude.
Aleck took her hand respectfully, kindly, in his warm grasp. "Besides," he said simply, "we won't give up. He's got a fighting chance yet."
THE TURN OF THE TIDE
Lights in a country house at night are often the signal of birth or death, sometimes of both. The old red house threw its beacon from almost every window that night, and seemed mutely to defy the onslaught of enveloping darkness, whether Plutonic or Stygian. Time was when Parson Thayer's library lamp burned nightly into the little hours, and through the uncurtained windows the churchyard ghosts, had they wandered that way, could have seen his long thin form, wrapped in a paisley cloth dressing-gown, sitting in the glow. He would have been reading some old leather-bound volume, and would have remained for hours almost as quiet and noiseless as the ghosts themselves. Now he had stepped across his threshold and joined them, and new spirits had come to burn the light in the old red house.
Agatha, half-dressed, had slept, and woke feeling that the night must be far advanced. The house was very still, with no sound or echo of the incoherent tones which, for now many days, had come from the room down the hall. She lit a candle, and the sputtering match seemed to fill the house with noise. Her clock indicated a little past midnight. It was only twenty minutes since she had lain down, but she was wide awake and refreshed. While she was pinning up her hair in a big mass on the top of her head, she heard in the hall slow, steady steps, firm but not heavy, even as in daytime. Susan Stoddard did not tiptoe.
Agatha was at the door before she could knock.
"You had better come for a few minutes," Mrs. Stoddard said. The tones were, in themselves, an adjuration to faith and fortitude.
"Yes, I will come," said Agatha. They walked together down the dimly lighted hall, each woman, in her own way, proving how strong and efficient is the discipline of self-control.
In the sick-room a screen shaded the light from the bed, which had been pulled out almost into the middle of the room. Near the bed was a table with bottles, glasses, a covered pitcher, and on the floor an oxygen tank. Doctor Thayer's massive figure was in the shadow close to the bed, and Aleck Van Camp leaned over the curved footboard. James lay on his pillow, a ghost of a man, still as death itself. As Agatha grew accustomed to the light, she saw that his eyes were closed, the lips under the ragged beard were drawn and slightly parted; his forehead was the pallid forehead of death-in-life. Neither the doctor nor Aleck moved or turned their gaze from the bed as Agatha and Mrs. Stoddard entered. The air was still, and the profound silence without was as a mighty reservoir for the silence within.
Agatha stood by the footboard beside Aleck, while Mrs. Stoddard, getting a warm freestone from the invisible Mr. Hand in the hall, placed it beneath the bedclothes. Aleck Van Camp dropped his head, covering his face with his hands. Agatha, watching, by and by saw a change come over the sick man's face. She held her breath, it seemed, for untold minutes, while Doctor Thayer reached his hand to the patient's heart and leaned over to observe more closely his face.
"See!" she whispered to Aleck, touching his shoulder lightly, "he is looking at us." When Aleck looked up James was indeed looking at them with large, serious, half-focussed eyes. It was as if he were coming back from another world where the laws of vision were different, and he was only partially adjusted to the present conditions. He moved his hands feebly under the bedclothes, where they were being warmed by the freestone, and then tried to moisten his lips. Agatha took a glass of water from the table, looked about for a napkin, but, seeing none, wet the tips of her fingers and placed them gently over James's lips. His eyes followed her at first, but closed for an instant as she came near. When they opened again, they looked more natural. As he felt the comfort of the water on his lips, his features relaxed, and a look of recognition illumined his face. His eyes moved from Agatha to Aleck, who was now bending over him, and back to Agatha. The look was a salute, happy and peaceful. Then his eyes closed again.
For an hour Agatha and Aleck kept their watch, almost fearing to breathe. Doctor Thayer worked, gave quiet orders, tested the heartbeats, let no movement or symptom go unnoticed. For a time James kept even the doctor in doubt whether he was slipping into the Great Unknown or into a deep and convalescent sleep. By the end of the hour, however, Jimsy had decided for natural sleep, urged thereto, perhaps, by that unseen playwright who had decreed another time for the curtain; or perhaps he was kept by Doctor Thayer's professional persuasions, in defiance of the prompter's signal. However the case, the heart slowly but surely began to take up its job like an honest force-pump, the face began to lose its death-like pallor, the breathing became more nearly normal. Doctor Thayer, with Mrs. Stoddard quiet and efficient at his elbow, worked and tested and worked again, and finally sat moveless for some minutes, watch in hand, counting the pulsations of James's heart. At the end of the time he laid the hand carefully back under the clothes, put his watch in his pocket, and finally got up and looked around the room.
Mrs. Stoddard was pouring something into a measuring glass. Agatha was standing by the window, looking out into the blue night; and Aleck could be seen through the half-open door, pacing up and down the hall. Doctor Thayer turned to his sister.
"Give him his medicine on the half-hour, and then you go to bed. That man Hand will do now." Then he went to the door and addressed Aleck. "Well, Mr. Van Camp, unless something unexpected turns up, I think your cousin will live to jump overboard again."
Offhand as the words were, there was unmistakable satisfaction, happiness, even triumph in his voice, and he returned Aleck's hand-clasp with a vise-like grip. His masculinity ignored Agatha, or pretended to; but she had followed him to the door. As the old man clasped hands with Aleck, he heard behind him a deep, "O Doctor!" The next instant Agatha's arms were around his neck, and the back of his bald head was pressed against something that could only have been a cheek. Surprising as this was, the doctor did not stampede; but by the time he had got clear of Aleck and had reached up his hand to find the cheek, it was gone, and the arms, too. Susan Stoddard somehow got mixed up in the general Te Deum in the hall, and for the first time, now that the fight was over, allowed her feminine feelings—that is, a few tears—to come to the surface.
Aleck, however, went to pieces, gone down in that species of mental collapse by which deliberate, judicial men become reckless, and strong men become weak. He stepped softly back into the bedroom and leaned again over the curved footboard, his face quite miserable. He went nearer, and held his ear down close to the bedclothes, to hear for himself the regular beating of the heart. Slowly he convinced himself that the doctor's words might possibly be true, at least. He turned to Hand, who had come in and was adjusting the shades, and asked him: "Do you believe he's asleep?" in the tone of one who demands an oath.
"Oh, yes, sir; he's sleeping nicely, Mr. Van Camp. I saw the change the moment I came in."
Aleck still hesitated to leave, fearful, apparently, lest he might take the blessed sleep away with him. As he stood by the bed, a low but distinct whistle sounded outside, then, after a moment's interval, was repeated. Aleck lifted his head at the first signal, took another look at James and one at Hand, then light as a cat he darted from the room and down the stairs, leaving the house through one of the tall windows in the parlor. Mr. Chamberlain was standing near the lilac bushes, his big figure outlined dimly in the darkness.
"Shut up!" Aleck whispered fiercely, as he ran toward him. "He's just got to sleep, Chamberlain; gone to sleep, like a baby. Don't make an infernal racket!"
"Oh, I didn't know. Didn't mean to make a racket," began Chamberlain, when Aleck plumped into him and shook him by the shoulders.
"He's asleep—like a baby!" he reiterated. And Chamberlain, wise comrade, took Aleck by the arm and tramped him off over the hill to settle his nerves. They walked for an hour arm in arm over the road that lay like a gray ribbon before them in the night, winding up slantwise along the rugged country.
Dawn was awake on the hills a mile away, and by and by Aleck found tongue to tell the story of the night, which was good for him. He talked fast and unevenly, and even extravagantly. Chamberlain listened and loved his friend in a sympathy that spoke for itself, though his words were commonplace enough. By the time they had circled the five-mile road and were near the house again, Aleck was something like himself, though still unusually excited. Chamberlain mentioned casually that Miss Reynier had been anxious about him, and that all his friends at the big hotel had worried. Finally, he, Chamberlain, had set out for the old red house, thinking he could possibly be of service; in any case glad to be near his friend.
"And, by the way," Chamberlain added; "you may be interested to hear that accidentally I got on the track of that beggar who ate the hermit's eggs. Took a tramp this morning, and found him held up at a kind of sailor's inn, waiting for money. Grouchy old party; no wonder his men shipped him."
Aleck at first took but feeble interest in Chamberlain's discoveries; he was still far from being his precise, judicial self. He let Chamberlain talk on, scarcely noticing what he said, until suddenly the identity of the man whom Chamberlain was describing came home to him. Agatha's story flashed back in his memory. He stopped short in his tracks, halting his companion with a stretched-out forefinger.
"Look here, Chamberlain," he said, "I've been half loony and didn't take in what you said. If that's the owner or proprietor of the Jeanne D'Arc—a man known as Monsieur Chatelard, French accent, blond, above medium size, prominent white teeth—we want him right away. He kidnapped Miss Redmond in New York, and I shouldn't wonder if he kidnapped old Jim and stole the yacht besides. He's a bad one."
Mr. Chamberlain had the air of humoring a lunatic. "Well, what's to be done? Is it a case for the law? Is there any evidence to be had?"
"Law! Evidence!" cried Aleck. "I should think so. You go to Big Simon, Chamberlain, and find out who's sheriff, and we'll get a warrant and run him down. Heavens! A man like that would sell his mother!"
Chamberlain looked frankly skeptical, and would not budge until Aleck had related every circumstance that he knew about Agatha's involuntary flight from New York. He was all for going to the red house and interviewing Agatha herself, but Aleck refused to let him do that.
"She's worn out and gone to bed; you can't see her. But it's straight, you take my word. We must catch that scoundrel and bring him here for identification—to be sure there's no mistake. And if it is he, it'll be hot enough for him."
Chamberlain doubted whether it was the same man, and put up objections seriatim to each proposition of Aleck's, but finally accepted them all. He made a point, however, of going on his quest alone.
"You go back to the red house and go to bed, and I'll round up Eggs. I think I know how the trick can be done."
Aleck was stubborn about accompanying Chamberlain, but the Englishman plainly wouldn't have it. He told Aleck he could do it better alone, and led him by the arm back to the old red house, where the kitchen door stood hospitably open. Sallie was at work in her pantry. The kettle was singing on the stove, and the milk had already come from a neighbor's dairy.
Sallie's temper may not have been ideal, but at least she was not of those who are grouchy before breakfast. She served Aleck and Chamberlain in the kitchen with homely skill, giving them both a wholesome and pleasant morning after their night of gloom.
"You can't do anything right all day if you start behindhand," she replied when Aleck remarked upon her early rising. "Besides, I was up last night more than once, watching for Miss Redmond. The young man's sleeping nicely, she says."
She went cheerfully about her kitchen work, giving the men her best, womanlike, and asking nothing in return, not even attention. They took her service gratefully, however, and there was enough of Eve in Sallie to know it.
"By the way, Chamberlain," said Aleck, "we must get a telegram off to the family in Lynn." He wrote out the address and shoved it across Sallie's red kitchen tablecloth. "And tell them not to think of coming!" adjured Aleck. "We don't want any more of a swarry here than we've got now." Chamberlain undertook to send the message; and since he had contracted to catch the criminal of the Jeanne D'Arc, he was eager to be off on his hunt.
"Good-by, old man. You go to bed and get a good sleep. I'll stop at the hotel and leave word for Miss Reynier. And you stay here, so I'll know where you are. I may want to find you quick, if I land that bloomin' beggar."
"Thanks," said Aleck weakly. "I'll turn in for an hour or so, if Sallie can find me a bed."
Mr. Chamberlain made several notes on an envelope which he pulled from his pocket, gravely thanked Sallie for her breakfast and lifted his hat to her when he departed. Aleck dropped into a chair and was stupidly staring at the stove when Sallie returned from a journey to the pump in the yard.
"You'll like to take a little rest, Mr. Van Camp," she said, "and I know just the place where you'll not hear a sound from anywhere—if you don't mind there not being a carpet. I'll go up right away and show you the room before I knead out my bread." So she conducted Aleck to a big, clean attic under the rafters, remote and quiet. He was exhausted, not from lack of sleep—he had often borne many hours of wakefulness and hard work without turning a hair—but from the jarring of a live nerve throughout the night of anxiety. The past, and the relationships of youth and kindred were sacred to him, and his pain had overshadowed, for the hour at least, even the newer claims of his love for Melanie Reynier.
THE SPIRIT OF THE ANCIENT WOOD
Agatha's first thought on awakening late in the forenoon, was the memory of Sallie Kingsbury coaxing her to bed and tucking her in, in the purple light of the early morning. She remembered the attention with pleasure and gratitude, as another blessing added to the greater one of James Hambleton's turn toward recovery. Sallie's act was mute testimony that Agatha was, in truth, heir to Hercules Thayer's estate, spiritual and material.
She summoned Lizzie, and while she was dressing, laid out directions for the day. During her short stay in Ilion, Lizzie had been diligent enough in gathering items of information, but nevertheless she had remained oblivious of any impending crisis during the night. Her pompadour was marcelled as accurately as if she were expecting a morning call from Mr. Straker. No rustlings of the wings of the Angel of Death had disturbed her sleep. In fact, Lizzie would have winked knowingly if his visit had been announced to her. Her sophistication had banished such superstitions. She noticed, however, that Agatha's candles had burned to their sockets, and inquired if Miss Redmond had been wakeful.
"Mr. Hambleton was very ill. Everybody in the house was up till near morning," replied Agatha rather tartly.
"Oh, what a pity! Could I have done anything? I never heard a sound," cried Lizzie effusively.
"No, there was nothing you could have done," said Agatha.
"It's very bad for your voice, Miss Redmond, staying up all night," went on Lizzie solicitously. "You're quite pale this morning. And with your western tour ahead of you!"
Agatha let these adjurations go unanswered. It occurred to Lizzie that possibly she had allied herself with a mistress who was foolish enough to ruin her public career by private follies, such as worrying about sick people. Heaven, in Lizzie's eyes, was the glare of publicity; and since she was unable to shine in it herself, she loved to be attached to somebody who could. Her fidelity was based on Agatha's celebrity as a singer. She would have preferred serving an actress who was all the rage, but considered a popular singer, who paid liberally, as the next best thing.
There was always enough common sense in Lizzie's remarks to make some impression, even on a person capable of the folly of mourning at a death bed. Agatha's spirits, freshened by hope and the sleep of health, rose to a buoyancy which was well able to deal with practical questions. She quickly formed a plan for the day, though she was wise enough to withhold the scheme from the maid.
Agatha drank her coffee, ate sparingly of Sallie's toast, and, leaving Lizzie with a piece of sewing to do, went first to James Hambleton's room. After ten minutes or so, she slowly descended the stairs and went out the front way. She circled the garden and came round to the open kitchen door. Sallie was kneeling before her oven, inspecting bread. Agatha, watched her while she tapped the bottom of the tin, held her face down close to the loaf, and finally took the whole baking out of the oven and tipped the tins on the table.
"That's the most delicious smell that ever was!" said Agatha.
Sallie jumped up and pulled her apron straight.
"Lor', Miss Redmond, how you scared me! Couldn't you sleep any longer?"
"I didn't want to; I'm as good as new. Tell me, Sallie, where all the people are. Mr. Hand is in Mr. Hambleton's room, I know, but where are the others?"
"I guess they're all parceled round," said Sallie with symptoms of sniffing. "I don't wanter complain, Miss Redmond, but we ain't had any such a houseful since Parson Thayer's last conference met here, and not so many then; only three ministers and two wives, though, of course, ministers make more work. But I wouldn't say a word, Miss Redmond, about the work, if it wasn't for that young woman that puts on such airs coming and getting your tray. I ain't used to that."
Sallie paused, like any good orator, while her main thesis gained impressiveness from silence. It was only too evident that her feelings were hurt.
Agatha considered the matter, but before replying came farther into the kitchen and touched the tip of a finger to one of Sallie's loaves, lifting it to show its golden brown crust.
"You're an expert at bread, Sallie, I can see that," she said heartily. "I shouldn't have got over my accident half so well if it hadn't been for your good food and your care, and I want you to know that I appreciate it." She was reluctant to discuss the maid, but her cordial liking for Sallie counseled frankness. "Don't mind about Lizzie. I thought you had too much to do, and that she might just as well help you, but if she bothers you, we won't have it. And now tell me where Mrs. Stoddard and the others are."
Sallie's symptoms indicated that she was about to be propitiated; but she had yet a desire to make her position clear to Miss Redmond. "It's all right; only I've taken care of the china for seventeen years, and it don't seem right to let her handle it. And she told me herself that anybody that had any respect for their hands wouldn't do kitchen work. And if her hands are too good for kitchen work, I'm sure I don't want her messing round here. She left the tea on the stove till it boiled, Miss Redmond, just yesterday."
Agatha smiled. "I'm sure Lizzie doesn't know anything about cooking, Sallie, and she shall not bother you any more."
Sallie turned a rather less melancholy face toward Agatha. "It's been fairly lonesome since the parson died. I'm glad you've come to the red house." The words came from Sallie's lips gruffly and ungraciously, but Agatha knew that they were sincere. She knew better, however, than to appear to notice them. In a moment Sallie went on: "Mrs. Stoddard, she's asleep in the front spare room. Said for me to call her at twelve."
"Poor woman! She must be tired," said Agatha.
"Aunt Susan's a stout woman, Miss Redmond. She didn't go to bed until she'd had prayers beside the young man's bed, with Mr. Hand present. I had to wait with the coffee. And I guess Mr. Hand ain't very much used to our ways, for when Aunt Susan had made a prayer, Mr. Hand said, 'Yes, ma'am!' instead of Amen."
There was a mixture of disapprobation and grim humor which did not escape Agatha. She was again beguiled into a smile, though Sallie remained grave as a tombstone.
"Mr. Hand will learn," said Agatha; and was about to add "Like the rest of us," but thought better of it. Sallie took up her tale.
"Mr. Van Camp and his friend came in just after I'd put you to bed, Miss Redmond, and ate a bite of breakfast right offer that table; and 'twas a mercy I'd cleared all the kulch outer the attic, as I did last week, for Mr. Van Camp he wanted a place to sleep; and he's up there now. Used to be a whole lot er the parson's books up there; but I put them on a shelf in the spare room. The other man went off toward the village."
Agatha, looking about the pleasant kitchen, was tempted to linger. Sallie's conversation yielded, to the discerning, something of the rich essence of the past; and Agatha began to yearn for a better knowledge of the recluse who had been her friend, unknown, through all the years. But she remembered her industrious plans for the day and postponed her talk with Sallie.
"I remember there used to be a grove, a stretch of wood, somewhere beyond the church, Sallie. Which way is it—along the path that goes through the churchyard?"
"No, this way; right back er the yard. Parson Thayer he used to walk that way quite often." Sallie went with Agatha to another stile beyond the churchyard, and pointed over the pasture to a fringe of dark trees along the farther border. "Right there by that apple tree, the path is. But don't go far, Miss Redmond; the woods ain't healthy."
"All right, Sallie; thank you. I'll not stay long." She called Danny and started out through the pasture, with the hound, sober and dignified and happy, at her heels.
The wood was cool and dim, with an uneven wagon road winding in and out between stumps. Enormous sugar-maples reared their forms here and there; occasionally a lithe birch lifted a tossing head; and, farther within, pines shot their straight trunks, arrow-like, up to the canopy above.
Farther along, the road widened into a little clearing, beyond which the birch and maple trees gave place entirely to pines and hemlocks. The underbrush disappeared, and a brown carpet of needles and cones spread far under the shade. The leafy rustle of the deciduous trees ceased, and a majestic stillness, deeper than thought, pervaded the place. At the clearing just within this deeper wood Agatha paused, sat down on a stone and took Danny's head in her lap. The dog looked up into her face with the wistful, melancholy gaze of his kind, inarticulate yet eloquent.
The sun was nearly at zenith, and bright flecks of light lay here and there over the brown earth. As Agatha grew accustomed to the shade, it seemed pleasant and not at all uncheerful—the gaiety of sunlight subdued only to a softer tone. The resolution which had brought her thither returned. She stood up under the dome of pines and began softly to sing, trying her voice first in single tones, then a scale or two, a trill. At first her voice was not clear, but as she continued it emerged from its sheath of huskiness clear and flutelike, and liquid as the notes of the thrushes that inhabited the wood. The pleasure of the exercise grew, and presently, warbling her songs there in the otherwise silent forest, Agatha became conscious of a strange accompaniment. Pausing a moment, she perceived that the grove was vocal with tone long after her voice had ceased. It was not exactly an echo, but a slowly receding resonance, faint duplications and multiplications of her voice, gently floating into the thickness of the forest.
Charmed, like a child who discovers some curious phenomenon of nature, Agatha tried her voice again and again, listening, between whiles, to the ghostly tones reverberating among the pines. She sang the slow majestic "Lascia ch'io pianga," which has tested every singer's voice since Haendel wrote it; and then, curious, she tried the effect of the aerial sounding-board with quick, brilliant runs up and down the full range of the voice. But the effect was more beautiful with something melodious and somewhat slow; and there came to her mind an old-fashioned song which, as a girl, she had often sung with her mother:
"Oh! that we two were maying Down the stream of the soft spring breeze."
She sang the stanza through, softly, walking up and down among the pines. Danny, at first, walked up and down beside her gravely, and then lay down in the middle of the path, keeping an eye on Agatha's movements. Her voice, pitched at its softest, now seemed to be infinitely enlarged without being made louder. It carried far in among the trees, clear and soft as a wave-ripple. Entranced, Agatha began the second part of the song, just for the joy of singing:
"Oh! that we two sat dreaming On the sward of some sheep-trimmed down—"
when suddenly, from the distance, another voice took up the strain. Danny was instantly up and off to investigate, but presently came back wagging and begging his mistress to follow him.
In spite of her surprise in hearing another voice complete the duet, Agatha went on with the song, half singing, half humming. It was a woman's voice that joined hers, singing the part quite according to the book:
"With our limbs at rest on the quiet earth's breast And our souls at home with God!"
The pine canopy spread the voices, first one and then the other, until the wood was like a vast cathedral filled with the softest music of the organ pipes.
There was nobody in sight at first, but as Agatha followed the path, she presently saw a white arm and skirt projecting from behind the trunk of a tree. Danny, wagging slowly, appeared to wish to make friends, and before Agatha had time to wonder, the stranger emerged and came toward her with outstretched hand.
"Ah, forgive me! I hid and then startled you; but I was tempted by the song. And this forest temple—isn't it wonderful?"
Agatha looked at the stranger, suddenly wondering if she were not some familiar but half-forgotten acquaintance of years agone. She was a beautiful dark woman, probably two or three years older than herself, mature and self-poised as only a woman of the cosmopolitan world can be. It might be that compared to her Agatha was a bit crude and unfinished, with the years of her full blossoming yet to come. She had no words at the moment, and the older woman, still holding Agatha's hand, explained.
"I did not mean to steal in upon you; but as I came into the grove I heard you singing Haendel, and I couldn't resist listening. Your voice, it is wonderful! Especially here!" As she looked into Agatha's face, her sincere eyes and voice gave the praise that no one can resist, the tribute of one artist to another.
"This is, indeed, a beautiful hall. I found it out just now by accident, when I came up here to practice and see if I had any voice left," said Agatha. She paused, as it suddenly occurred to her that the visitor might be James Hambleton's sister and that she was being delinquent as a hostess. "But come back to the house," she said. "This is not a hospitable place, exactly, to receive a guest."
The stranger laughed gently. "Have you guessed who I am, then? No? Well, you see I had the advantage of you from the first. You are Miss Redmond, and I followed you here from the house, where your servant gave me the directions. I am Miss Reynier, Melanie Reynier, and I am staying at the Hillside. Mr. Van Camp—" and to her own great surprise, Melanie blushed crimson at this point—"that is, we, my aunt and I, were Mr. Van Camp's guests on board the Sea Gull. When he heard of the wreck of the Jeanne D'Arc we put in to Charlesport; though he has probably explained all this to you. It was such a relief and pleasure to Mr. Van Camp to find his cousin, ill as he was; for he had feared the worst."
Agatha had not heard Miss Reynier's name before, but she knew vaguely that Mr. Van Camp had been with a yachting party when he arrived at Charlesport. Now that she was face to face with Miss Reynier, a keen liking and interest, a quick confidence, rose in her heart for her.
"Then perhaps you know Mr. Hambleton," said Agatha impulsively. "The fever turned last night. Were you told that he is better?"
"No, I don't know him," said Melanie, shaking her head. "Nevertheless, I am heartily glad to hear that he is better. Much better, they said at the house."
They had been standing at the place where Agatha had first discovered her visitor, but now they turned back into the clearing.
"Come and try the organ pipes again," she begged. They walked about the wood, singing first one strain and then another, testing the curiously beautiful properties of the pine dome. They were quickly on a footing of friendliness. It was evident that each was capable of laying aside formality, when she wished to do so, and each was, at heart, frank and sincere. Melanie's talent for song was not small, yet she recognized in Agatha a superior gift; while, to Agatha, Melanie Reynier seemed increasingly mature, polished, full of charm.
They left the wood and wandered back through the pasture and over the stile, each learning many things in regard to the other. They spoke of the place and its beauty, and Agatha told Melanie of the childhood memories which, for the first time, she had revived in their living background.
"How our thoughts change!" she said at last. "As a child, I never felt this farm to be lonely; it was the most populous and entertaining place in all the world. I much preferred the wood to anything in the city. I love it now, too; but it seems the essence of solitude to me."
"That is because you have been where the passions and restlessness of men have centered. One is never the same after that."
"Strangely enough, the place now belongs to me," went on Agatha. "Parson Thayer, the former owner and resident, was my mother's guardian and friend, and left the place to me for her sake."
"Ah, that is well!" cried Melanie. "It will be your castle of retreat, your Sans-Souci, for all your life, I envy you! It is charming. Pastor—Parson, do you say?—Parson Thayer was a man of judgment."
"Yes, and a man of strange and dominating personality, in his way. Everything about the house speaks of him and his tastes. Even Danny here follows me, I really believe, because I am beginning to appreciate his former master."
Agatha stooped and patted the dog's head. Youth and health, helped by the sympathy of a friend, were working wonders in Agatha. She beamed with happiness.
"Come into the house," she begged Melanie, "and look at some of his books with me. But first we'll find Sallie and get luncheon, and perhaps Mr. Van Camp will appear by that time. Poor man, he was quite worn out. Then you shall see Parson Thayer's books and flowers, if you will."
They strolled over the velvet lawn toward the front of the house, where the door and the long windows stood open. Down by the road, and close to the lilac bushes that flanked the gateway, stood a large silver-white automobile—evidently Miss Reynier's conveyance. The driver of the machine had disappeared.
"I mustn't trespass on your kindness for luncheon to-day, thank you," Melanie was saying; "but I'll come again soon, if I may." Meantime she was moving slowly down the walk. But Agatha would not have it so. She clung to this woman friend with an unwonted eagerness, begging her to stay.
"We are quite alone, and we have been so miserable over Mr. Hambleton's illness," she pleaded quite illogically. "Do stay and cheer us up!"
And so Melanie was persuaded; easily, too, except for her compunctions about abusing the hospitality of a household whose first care must necessarily be for the sick.
"I want to stay," she said frankly. "The house breathes the very air of restfulness itself; and I haven't seen the garden at all!" She walked back over the lawn, looked admiringly out toward the garden, with its purple and yellow flowers, then gazed into the lofty thicket above her head, where the high elm spread its century-old branches. Agatha, standing a little apart and looking at Melanie, was again struck by some haunting familiarity about her face and figure. She wondered where she could have seen Miss Reynier before.
Aleck Van Camp, appearing round the corner of the house, made elaborate bows to the two ladles.
"Good morning, Miss Redmond!" He greeted her cordially, plainly glad to see her. "I slept the sleep of the blest up there in your fragrant loft. Good morning, Miss Reynier!" He walked over and formally took Melanie's hand for an instant. "I knew it was decreed that you two should be friends," he went on, in his deliberate way. "In fact, I've been waiting for the moment when I could have the pleasure of introducing you myself, and here you have managed to dispense with my services altogether. But let me escort you into the house. Sallie says her raised biscuits are all ready for luncheon."
Agatha, looking at her new friend's vivid face, saw that Mr. Van Camp was not an unwelcome addition to their number. She had a quick superstitious feeling of happiness at the thought that the old red house, gathering elements of joy about its roof, was her possession and her home.
"I've promised to show Miss Reynier some queer old books after luncheon," she said.
Aleck wrinkled his brow. "I'll try not to be jealous of them."
MR. CHAMBERLAIN, SLEUTH
Unbeknown to himself, Mr. Chamberlain possessed the soul of a conspirator. Leaving Aleck Van Camp at the crisp edge of the day, he fell into deep thought as he walked toward the village. As he reviewed the information he had received, he came more and more to adopt Agatha's cause as his own, and his spirit was fanned into the glow incident to the chase.
He walked briskly over the country road, descended the steep hill, turning over the facts, as he knew them, in his mind. By the time he reached Charlesport, he regarded his honor as a gentleman involved in the capture of the Frenchman. His knowledge of the methods of legal prosecutions, even in his own country, was extremely hazy. He had never been in a situation, in his hitherto peaceful career, in which it had been necessary to appeal to the law, either on his own behalf or on that of his friends.
Legal processes in America were even less known to him, but he was not daunted on that account. He remembered Sherlock Holmes and Raffles; he recalled Bill Sykes and Dubosc, dodging the operations of justice; and in that romantic chamber that lurks somewhere in every man's make-up, he felt that classic tradition had armed him with all the preparation necessary for heroic achievement. He, Chamberlain, was unexpectedly called upon to act as an agent of justice against chicanery and violence, and it was not in him to shirk the task. His labors, which, for the greater part of his life, had been expended in tracing the evolution of blind fish in inland caves, had not especially fitted him for dealing with the details of such a case as Agatha's; but they had left him eminently well equipped for discerning right principles and embracing them.
Chamberlain's first move was to visit Big Simon, who directed him to the house of the justice of the peace, Israel Cady. Squire Cady, in his shirt-sleeves and wearing an old faded silk hat, was in his side yard endeavoring to coax the fruit down gently from a flourishing pear tree.
"You wait just a minute, if you please, until I get these two plump pears down, and I'll be right there," he called courteously, without looking away from his long-handled wire scoop.
Mr. Chamberlain strolled into the yard, and after watching Squire Cady's exertions for a minute or two, offered to wield the pole himself.
"Takes a pru-uty steady hand to get those big ones off without bruising them," cautioned the squire.
But Chamberlain's hand was steadiness itself, and his eyesight much keener than the old man's. The result was highly satisfactory. No less than a dozen ripe pears were twitched off, just in the nick of time, so far as the eater was concerned.
"Well, thank you, sir; thank you," said Squire Cady. "That just goes to show what the younger generation can do. Now then, let's see. Got any pockets?"
He picked out six of the best pears and piled them in Chamberlain's hands, then took off his rusty, old-fashioned hat and filled it with the rest of the fruit. Chamberlain carefully stowed his treasures into the wide pockets of his tweed suit.
"Now, sir," Squire Cady said heartily, "we'll go into my office and attend to business. I'm not equal to Cincinnatus, whom they found plowing his field, but I can take care of my garden. Come in, sir, come in."
Chamberlain followed the tall spare old figure into the house. The squire disappeared with his pears, leaving his visitor in the narrow hall; but he returned in a moment and led the way into his office. It was a large, rag-carpeted room, filled with all those worsted knickknacks which women make, and littered comfortably with books and papers.
Squire Cady put on a flowered dressing-gown, drew a pair of spectacles out of a pocket, a bandana handkerchief from another, and requested Chamberlain to sit down and make himself at home. The two men sat facing each other near a tall secretary whose pigeonholes were stuffed with papers in all stages of the yellowing process. Squire Cady's face was yellowing, like his papers, and it was wrinkled and careworn; but his eyes were bright and humorous, and his voice pleasant. Chamberlain thought he liked him.
"Come to get a marriage license?" the squire inquired. Chamberlain immediately decided that he didn't like him, but he foolishly blushed.
"No, it's another sort of matter," he said stiffly,
"Not a marriage license! All right, my boy," agreed Squire Cady. "'Tisn't the fashion to marry young nowadays, I know, though 'twas the fashion in my day. Not a wedding! What then?"
Then Chamberlain set to work to tell his story. Placed, as it were, face to face with the law, he realized that he was but poorly equipped for carrying on actual proceedings, even though they might be against Belial himself; but he made a good front and persuaded Squire Cady that there was something to be done. The squire was visibly affected at the mention of the old red house, and fell into a revery, looking off toward the fields and tapping his spectacles on the desk.
"Hercules Thayer and I read Latin together when we were boys," he said, turning to Chamberlain with a reminiscent smile on his old face. "And he licked me for liking Hannibal better than Scipio." He laughed heartily.
The faces of the old sometimes become like pictured parchments, and seem to be lighted from within by a faint, steady gleam, almost more beautiful than the fire of youth. As Chamberlain looked, he decided once more, and finally, that he liked Squire Cady.
"But I got even with Hercules on Horace," the squire went on, chuckling at his memories. "However," he sighed, as he turned toward his desk again, "this isn't getting out that warrant for you. We don't want any malefactors loose about Charlesport; but you'll have to be sure you know what you're doing. Do you know the man—can you identify him?"
"I think I should know him; but in any case Miss Redmond at the old red house can identify him."
"We don't want to arrest anybody till we're sure we know what we're about—that's poor law," said Squire Cady, in a pedagogical and squire-ish tone, as if Chamberlain were a mere boy. But the Englishman didn't mind that.
"I think I can satisfy you that we've got the right man," he answered. "If I find him and bring him to the old red house this afternoon, so that Miss Redmond can identify him, will you have a sheriff ready to serve the warrant?"
"Yes, I can do that."
"Very well, then, and thank you, sir," said Chamberlain, moving toward the door. "And I'm keen on hearing how you got even with Mr. Thayer on the Horace."
The light behind the squire's parchment face gleamed a moment.
"Come back, my boy, when you've done your duty by the law. Every citizen should be a protector as well as a keeper of the law. So come again; the latch-string is always out."
It was mid-morning before the details connected with the sheriff were completed. By this time Chamberlain's heavy but sound temperament had lifted itself to its task, gaining momentum as the hours went by. His next step was to search out the Frenchman. The meager information obtained the day before was to the effect that the marooned yacht-owner had taken refuge in one of the shacks near the granite docks in the upper part of the village. He had persuaded the caretaker of the Sailors' Reading-room to lend him money with which to telegraph to New York, as the telegraph operator had refused to trust him.
It was not difficult to get on his trade, even though the village people were constitutionally reluctant to let any unnecessary information get away from them. A mile or so farther up the shore, beyond the road that ran like a scar across the hill to the granite quarry, Chamberlain came upon a saloon masquerading as a grocery store. A lodging house, a seaman's Bethel and the Reading-room were grouped near by; the telegraph office, too, had been placed at this end of the town; obviously for the convenience of the operators of the granite quarry. The settlement had the appearance of easy-going and pleasant industry peculiar to places where handwork is still the rule.
Chamberlain applied first at the grocery store without getting satisfaction. The foreign looking boy, who was the only person visible, could give him no information about anything. But at the Reading-room the erstwhile yacht-owner was known. Borrowing money is a sure method of impressing one's personality.
The Frenchman had been in the neighborhood two or three days, latterly becoming very impatient for a reply to his New York telegram. A good deal of money had been applied for, was the opinion of the money-lender. This person, caretaker and librarian, was a tall, ineffective individual, with eyes set wide apart. His slow speech was a mixture of Doctor Johnson and a judge in chancery. It was grandiloquent, and it often took long to reach the point. He informed Chamberlain, with some circumlocution, that the Frenchman had been extremely anxious over the telegram.
"I tried to persuade him that it was useless to be impatient over such things," said he. "And I regret to say that the man allowed himself to become profane."
"I dare say."
"But it would appear that he has received his telegram by this time," continued the youth, "for it is now but a short time since he was summoned to the station."
Chamberlain, thinking that the sooner he got to the telegraph station the better, was about to depart, when the placid tones of the librarian again casually broke the silence.
"If I mistake not, the gentleman in question is even now hastening toward the village." He waved a vague hand toward the open door through which, a little distance away, a man's figure could be seen.
"Why don't you run after him and get your money?" asked Chamberlain; but he didn't know the youth.
"What good would that do?" was the surprising question, which Chamberlain could not answer.
But the Englishman acted on a different principle. He thanked the judge in chancery and made after the Frenchman, who was casting a furtive eye in this and that direction, as if in doubt which way he ought to go. Nevertheless, he seemed bent on going, and not too slowly, either.
The Englishman swung into the road, but did not endeavor to overtake the other. They were traveling toward the main village, along a road that more or less hugged the shore. Sometimes it topped a cliff that dropped precipitately into the water; and again it descended to a sandy level that was occasionally reached by the higher tides.
Near the main village the road ascended a rather steep bluff, and at the top made a sudden turn toward the town. As Chamberlain approached this point, he yielded more and more to the beauty of the scene. The Bay of Charlesport, the rugged, curving outline of the coast beyond, the green islands, the glistening sea, the blue crystalline sky over all—it was a sight to remember.
Not far from the land, at the near end of the harbor, was the Sea Gull, pulling at her mooring. A stone's throw beyond Chamberlain's feet, a small rocky tongue of land was prolonged by a stone breakwater, which sheltered the curved beach of the village from the rougher waves. Close up under the bluff on which he was standing, the waters of the bay churned and foamed against a steep rock-wall that shot downward to unknown depths. It was obviously a dangerous place, though the road was unguarded by fence or railing. Only a delicate fringe of goldenrod and low juniper bushes veiled the treacherous cliff edge. It was almost impossible for a traveler, unused to the region, to pass across the dizzy stretch of highway without a shuddering glance at the murderous waves below.
On the crest of this cliff, each of the two men paused, one following the other at a little distance. The first man, however, paused merely for a few minutes' rest after the steep climb. Chamberlain, hardened to physical exertions, took the hill easily, but stood for a moment lost in speculative wonder at the scene. He kept a sharp eye on his leader, however; and presently the two men took up their Indian file again toward the village.
Some distance farther on, the road forked, one spur leading up over the steep rugged hill, another dropping abruptly to the main village street and the wharves. A third branch ran low athwart the hill and led, finally, to the summer hotel where Chamberlain and the Reyniers had been staying. At this division of the road Chamberlain saw the other man ahead of him sitting on a stone. He approached him leisurely and assumed an air of business sagacity.
"Good day, sir," said Chamberlain, planting himself solidly before the man on the stone. He was rather large, blond, pale and unkempt in appearance; but nevertheless he carried an air of insolent mockery, it seemed to Chamberlain. He glanced disgustedly at the Englishman, but did not reply.
"Rather warm day," remarked Chamberlain pleasantly. No answer. The man sat with his head propped on his hands, unmistakably in a bad temper.
"Want to buy some land?" inquired Chamberlain. "I'm selling off lots on this hill for summer cottages. Water front, dock privileges, and a guaranty that no one shall build where it will shut off your view. Terms reasonable. Like to buy?"
"Non!" snarled the other.
Chamberlain paused in his imaginative flight, and took two luscious yellow pears from his bulging pockets.
"Have a pear?" he pleasantly offered.
The man again looked up, as if tempted, but again ejaculated "Non!"
Chamberlain leisurely took a satisfying bite.
"I get tired myself," he went on, "tramping over these country roads. But it's the best way for me to do business. You don't happen to want a good hotel, do you?"
Coarse fare and the discomforts of beggars' lodgings had told on the Frenchman's temper, as Chamberlain had surmised. He looked up with a show of human interest. Chamberlain went on.
"There's a fine hotel, the Hillside, over yonder, only a mile or so away. Best place in all the region hereabouts; tip-topping set there, too. Count Somebody-or-Other from Germany, and no end of big-wigs; so of course they have a good cook."
Chamberlain paused and finished his second pear. The man on the stone was furtive and uneasy, but masked his disquiet with the insolent sneering manner that had often served him well. Chamberlain, having once adopted the role of a garrulous traveling salesman, followed it up with zest.
"Of course, a man can get a good meal, for that matter, at the Red House, a little way up yonder over the hill. But it wouldn't suit a man like you—a slow, poky place, with no style."
The man on the stone slowly turned toward Chamberlain, and at last found voice for more than monosyllabic utterances.
"I was looking for a hotel," he said, in correct English but with a foreign accent, "and I shall be glad to take your advice. The Hillside, you say, is in this direction?" and he pointed along the lower road.
"Yes," heartily assented Chamberlain, "about two miles through those woods, and you won't make any mistake going there; it's a very good place."
The man got up from the stone.
"And the other inn you spoke of—where is that?"
"The Red House? That's quite a long piece up over the hill—this way. Straight road; house stands near a church; kept by a country woman named Sallie. But the Hillside's the place for you; good style, everything neat and handsome. And fine people!"
"Very well, thanks," cut in the other, in his sharp, rasping tones. "I shall go to the Hillside."
He slid one hand into a pocket, as if to assure himself that he had not been robbed by sleight-of-hand during the interview, and then started on the road leading to the Hillside. Chamberlain said "Good day, sir," without expecting or getting an answer, and turned down the hill toward the village.
As soon as he had dropped from sight, however, he walked casually into the thick bushes that lined the road, and from this ambush he took a careful survey of the hill behind him. Then he slowly and cautiously made his way back through the underbrush until he was again in sight of the cross-roads. Here, concealed behind a tree, he waited patiently some five or ten minutes. At the end of that time, Chamberlain's mild and kindly face lighted up with unholy joy. He opened his mouth and emitted a soundless "haw-haw."
For there was his recent companion also returning to the cross-roads, taking a discreet look in the direction of the village as he came along. Seeing that the coast was clear, he turned and went rapidly up the road that led over the hill to the old red house.
When Chamberlain saw that the man was well on his way he stepped into the road and solemnly danced three steps of a hornpipe, and the next instant started on a run toward the village. He got little Simon's horse and buggy, drove into the upper street and picked up the sheriff, and then trotted at a good rattling pace around by the long road toward Ilion.
MONSIEUR CHATELARD TAKES THE WHEEL
Sallie Kingsbury would have given up the ghost without more ado, had she known what secular and unministerial passions were converging about Parson Thayer's peaceful library. As it was, she had a distinct feeling that life wasn't as simple as it had been heretofore, and that there were puzzling problems to solve. She was almost certain that she had caught Mr. Hand using an oath; though when she charged him with it, he had said that he had been talking Spanish to himself—he always did when he was alone. Sallie didn't exactly know the answer to that, but told him that she hoped he would remember that she was a professor. "What's that?" inquired Hand.
"It's a Christian in good and regular standing, and it's what you ought to be," said Sallie.
And now that nice Mr. Chamberlain, whom she had fed in the early morning, had dashed up to the kitchen door behind Little Simon's best horse, deposited a man from Charlesport, and then had disappeared. The man had also unceremoniously left her kitchen. He might be a minister brought there to officiate at the church on the following Sabbath, Sallie surmised; but on second thought she dismissed the idea. He didn't look like any minister she had ever seen, and was very far indeed from the Parson Thayer type.
Hercules Thayer's business, including his ministerial duties, had formed the basis and staple of Sallie's affectionate interest for seventeen years, and it wasn't her nature to give up that interest, now that the chief actor had stepped from the stage. So she speculated and wondered, while she did more than her share of the work.
She picked radishes from the garden for supper, threw white screening over the imposing loaves of bread still cooling on the side table, and was sharpening a knife on a whetstone, preparatory to carving thin slices from a veal loaf that stood near by, when she was accosted by some one appearing suddenly in the doorway.
"Is this the Red House?" It was a cool, sharp voice, sounding even more outlandish than Mr. Hand's. Sallie turned deliberately toward the door and surveyed the new-comer.
"Well, yes; I guess so. But you don't need to scare the daylights outer me, that way."
The stranger entered the kitchen and pulled out a chair from the table.
"Give me something to eat and drink—the best you have, and be quick about it, too."
Sallie paused, carving-knife in hand, looking at him with frank curiosity. "Well, I snum! You ain't the new minister either, now, are you?"
The stranger made no answer. He had thrown himself into the chair, as if tired. Suddenly he sat up and looked around alertly, then at Sallie, who was returning his gaze with interest.
"Where are you from, anyway?" she inquired. "We don't see people like you around these parts very often."
"I dare say," he snarled. "Are you going to get me a meal, or must I tramp over these confounded hills all day before I can eat?"
"Oh, I'll get you up a bite, if that's all you want. I never turned anybody away hungry from this door yet, and we've had many a worse looking tramp than you. I guess Miss Redmond won't mind."
"Miss Redmond!" The stranger started to his feet, glowering on Sallie. "Look here! Is this place a hotel, or isn't it?"
"Well, anybody'd think it was, the way I've been driven from pillar to post for the last ten days! But you can stay; I'll get you a meal, and a good one, too."
Sallie's good nature was rewarded by a convulsion of anger on the part of the guest. "Fool! Idiot!" he screamed. "You trick me in here! You lie to me!"
"Oh, set down, set down!" interrupted Sallie. "You don't need to get so het up as all that! I'll get you something to eat. There ain't any hotel within five miles of here—and a poor one at that!" Thus protesting and attempting to soothe, Sallie saw the stranger make a grab for his hat and start for the door, only to find it suddenly shut and locked in his face. Mr. Chamberlain, moreover, was on the inside, facing the foreigner.
"If you will step through the house and go out the other way," Mr. Chamberlain remarked coolly, "it will oblige me. My horse is loose in the yard, and I'm afraid you'll scare him off. He's shy with strangers."
The two men measured glances.
"I thought you traveled afoot when pursuing your real estate business," sneered the stranger.
"I do, when it suits my purposes," replied Chamberlain.
"What game are you up to, anyway, in this disgusting country?" inquired the other.
"Ridding it of rascals. This way, please;" and Chamberlain pointed before him toward the door leading into the hall. As the stranger turned, his glance fell on Sallie, still carving her veal loaf. "Idiot!" he said disgustedly.
"Well, I haven't been caught yet, anyhow," said Sallie grimly.
Chamberlain's voice interrupted her. "This way, and then the first door on the right. Make haste, if you please, Monsieur Chatelard."
At the name, the stranger turned, standing at bay, but Chamberlain was at his heels. "You see, I know your name. It was supplied me at the Reading-room. Here—on the right—quickly!"
The hall was dim, almost dark, the only light coming from the open doorway on the right. Whether he wished or no, Monsieur Chatelard was forced to advance into the range of the doorway; and once there, he found himself pushed unceremoniously into the room.
It was a large, cool room, lined with bookcases. Near the middle stood an oblong table covered with green felt and supporting an old brass lamp. Four people were in the room, besides the two new-comers. Aleck Van Camp was on a low step-ladder, just in the act of handing down a book from the top shelf. Near the step-ladder two women were standing, with their backs toward the door. Both were in white, both were tall, and both had abundant dark hair. One of the French windows leading out on to the porch was open, and just within the sill stood the man from Charlesport.
"Here's a wonderful book—a rare one—the record of that famous Latin controversy," Aleck was saying, when he became conscious of the entrance of Chamberlain and a stranger.
"Ah, hello, Chamberlain, that you?" he cried. Agatha and Melanie, turning suddenly to greet Chamberlain, simultaneously encountered the gimlet-gaze of Chatelard. It was fixed first on Melanie, then on Agatha, then returned to Melanie with an added increment of rage and bafflement. But he was first to find tongue.
"So!" he sneered. "I find you after all, Princess Auguste Stephanie of Krolvetz! Consorting with these—these swine!"
Melanie looked at him keenly, with hesitating suspicions. "Ah! Duke Stephen's cat's-paw! I remember you—well!" But before the words were fairly out of her mouth, Agatha's voice had cut in:
"Mr. Van Camp, that is he! That is he! The man on the Jeanne D'Arc!"
"We thought as much," answered Chamberlain. "That's why he is here."
"We only wanted your confirmation of his identity," said the man who had been standing by the window, as he came forward. "Monsieur Chatelard, you are to come with me. I am the sheriff of Charlesport County, and have a warrant for your arrest."
As the sheriff advanced toward Chatelard, the cornered man turned on him with a sound that was half hiss, half an oath. He was like a panther standing at bay. Aleck turned toward Melanie.
"It seems that you know this man, Melanie?"
"Yes, I know him—to my sorrow."
"What do you know of him?"
"He is the paid spy of the Duke Stephen, my cousin. He does all his dirty work." Melanie laughed a bit nervously as she added, turning to Chatelard: "But you are the last man I expected to see here. I suppose you are come from my excellent cousin to find me, eh? Is that the case?"
Chatelard's eyes, resting on her, burned with hate. "Yes, your Highness. I am the humble bearer of a message from Duke Stephen to yourself."
"And that message is—?"
"A command for your immediate return to Krolvetz. Matters of importance await you there."
"And if I refuse to return?"
Chatelard's shoulders went up and his hands spread out in that insolent gesture affected by certain Europeans. Chamberlain stepped forward impatiently.
"Look here, you people," he began, "you told me this chap was a bloomin' kidnapper, and so I rounded him up—I nabbed him. And here you are exchangin' howdy-do. What's the meaning of it all?"
As he spoke, Chamberlain's eyes rested first on Melanie, then on Agatha, whom he had not seen before. "By Jove!" he ejaculated.
"Whom did he kidnap?" questioned Melanie.
"Why, me, Miss Reynier," cried Agatha. "He stole my car and drugged me and got me into his yacht—Heaven knows why!"
"Kidnapped! You!" cried Melanie.
"Just so," agreed Aleck. "And now I see why—you scoundrel!" He turned upon Chatelard with contemptuous fury. "For once you were caught, eh? These ladies are much alike—that is true. So much so that I myself was taken aback the first time I saw Miss Redmond. You thought Miss Redmond was the princess—masquerading as an opera singer."
"Her Highness has always been admired as a singer!" cut in Chatelard.
"No doubt! And even you were deceived!" Aleck laughed in derision. "But when you take so serious a step as an abduction, my dear man, be sure you get hold of the right victim."
"She was even singing the very song that used to be a favorite of her Highness!" remarked Chatelard.
"Your memory serves you too well."
But Chatelard turned scoffingly toward Agatha. "You sang it well, Mademoiselle, very well. And, as this gentleman asserts, you deceived even me. But you are indiscreet to walk unattended in the park."
Agatha, unnerved and weak, had grown pale with fear.
"Don't talk with him, Mr. Van Camp, he is dangerous. Get him away," she pleaded.
"True, Miss Redmond. We only waste time. Sheriff—"
Again the sheriff advanced toward Chatelard, and again he was warned off with a hissing oath. At the same moment a shadow fell within the other doorway. As Chatelard's glance rested on the figure standing there, his face gleamed. He pointed an accusing forefinger.
"There is the abductor, if any such person is present at all," said he. "That is the man who stole the lady's car and ran it to the dock. He is your man, Mister Sheriff, not I."
The accusation came with such a tone of conviction on the part of the speaker, that for an instant it confused the mind of every one present. In the pause that followed, Chatelard turned with an insolent shrug toward Agatha. "This lady—" and every word had a sneer in it—"this lady will testify that I am right."
Agatha stared with a face of alarm toward the doorway, where Hand stood silent.
"If that is true, Miss Redmond," began the sheriff.
"No—no!" cried Agatha.
"He had nothing to do with it?" questioned the sheriff.
As he waited for her answer, Agatha suddenly came to herself. Her trembling ceased; she looked about upon them all with her truthful eyes; looked upon Hand standing unconcernedly in the doorway, upon Chatelard in the corner gleaming like an oily devil.
"No—he had nothing to do with it," she said.
Chatelard's laugh beat back her words like a bludgeon.
"Liars, all liars!" he cried. "I might have known!"
But Chamberlain was impatient of all this. "And now, Monsieur Kidnapper, you can walk off with this gentleman here. And you can't go one minute too soon. The penitentiary's the place for you."
Chatelard turned on him with another laugh. "You need not feel obliged to hold on to me, Mister Land-Agent. I know when I'm beaten—which you Englishmen never do. Got another of those pears you offered me this morning?"
Before Chamberlain could make reply, or before the sheriff and his prisoner could get to the door, there was the chug of an automobile. A second later urgent and loud voices penetrated the room, first from the steps, then from the hall. One was the hearty voice of a man, the other was Lizzie's.
"Can't see her! Tell me I can't see her after I've run a hundred miles a day into the jungle on purpose to see her! The idea! Where is she? In here?" And in stalked Mr. Straker, with cap, linen duster, and high gaitered boots. He was pulling off his goggles. "Well, what's this? A family party? Where's Miss Redmond?"
"Mr. Straker—" cried Agatha.
"That's me! Oh, there you are! Why don't you open up and get some light? I can't see a thing."
"Wait a minute, Mr. Straker—" Agatha was saying, when suddenly the attention of everybody in the room was drawn outside.
When Chamberlain had told Chatelard that his horse was loose in the yard, it happened to be the truth; now, excited by fear of the strange machine that had just arrived, the horse, with flying bridle-rein, was snorting and prancing on his way to the vegetable garden. It was almost beyond masculine power to resist the impulse of pursuit. Aleck and Chamberlain sprang through the window, the sheriff went as far as the lawn after them, and in that instant Chatelard slipped like an eel through the open door and out to the gate to Straker's machine, still chugging. The sheriff saw him as he jumped in.
"Hey, there!" he shouted, and made a lively run for the gate. But before he reached it, Chatelard had jerked open the lever, loosened the brake, and was passing the church at half speed.
"Hey, there, quick!" called the sheriff. "He's got away!"
But Mr. Hand had already thought what was best to be done.
"Come on, here's another machine. We'll chase him!" he cried, as he went for the white motorcar, standing farther back under the trees. It had to be cranked, which required some seconds, but presently they were off—Hand and the sheriff, in hot pursuit after Straker's car.
Chamberlain and Aleck, triumphantly leading the horse, came back in time to see the settling cloud of dust.
"Mr. Chamberlain—Mr. Van Camp!" cried Agatha. "They've gone! They've got away!"
"Who's got away?" demanded Chamberlain.
"All of them!" groaned Agatha, as she sank down on the piazza steps.
"Jimminy Christmas!" ejaculated Mr. Straker. "This beats any ten-twenty-thirty I ever saw. Regular Dick Deadwood game! And he's run off with my new racer!"
"What!" yelled Chamberlain. "Did that bloomin' sheriff let that bloomin' rascal get away?"
"He isn't anybody I'd care to keep!" chuckled Straker. "But you know that new racer's worth something."
"Did Chatelard go off in that machine?" again inquired Chamberlain slowly and distinctly of the two women.
"Precisely," said Melanie, while Agatha's bowed head nodded.
"By Jove, that sheriff's a duffer! Here, Van, give me the horse." And with the words Chamberlain grabbed Little Simon's best roadster, mounted him bareback, and turned his head up the road.
"I'll catch him yet!" he yelled back.
But he didn't. Three miles farther along he came upon the wreck. The racer was lying on its side in a ditch which recent rains had converted into a substantial volume of mire and mud. The white machine was drawn cosily up under a spreading hemlock farther on, but Mr. Hand and the sheriff were nowhere in sight.
As Chamberlain stopped to gaze on the overturned car, he heard the crashing of underbrush in the woods near by. The steps came nearer. It was evident the chase was up; they were off the scent and obliged to return.
"Humph!" grunted Chamberlain, and for once the clear springs of his disposition were made turbid with satire. "We're all a pack of bloomin' asses—that's what we are. What in hell's the matter with us!"
While he was tying the horse to a tree, Hand appeared, silent, with an unfathomable disgust written on his countenance. As usual, he who was the least to blame came in for the hottest of the censure; and yet, there was a sort of fellowship indicated by Chamberlain's extraordinary arraignment of them both. He was scarcely known ever to have been profane, but at this moment he searched for wicked words and interspersed his speech with them recklessly, if not with skill. It is the duty of the historian to expurgate.
"I don't know just how you happen to be in this game," pronounced Chamberlain hotly, "but all I've got to say is you're an ass—an infernal ass."
Hand, rolling up his sleeves, remained silent.
"I suppose if you'd had a perfectly good million-dollar bank-note, you'd have let it blow away—piff! right out of your hands!" he fumed. "Or the title deed to Mount Olympus—or a ticket to a front seat in the New Jerusalem. That's all it amounts to. Catch an eel, only to let him slip through your fingers—eh, you!"
Mr. Hand made no answer. Instead, he waded into the ditch-stream and placed a shoulder under the racing-car. Chamberlain's instinct for doing his share of work caused him to roll up his trousers and wade in, shoulder to shoulder with Hand, even while he was lecturing on the feebleness of man's wits.
"Good horse running loose into barb-wire fences had to be caught, but it didn't need a squadron of men and a forty-acre lot to do it in. Might have known he'd give us the slip if he could—biggest rascal in Europe!" And so on. Chamberlain, usually rather a silent man, blew himself empty for once, conscious all the time that he, himself, was quite as much to blame as Hand could possibly have been. And Hand knew that he knew, but kept his counsel. Hand ought to be prime minister by this time.
When the racing-car was righted, he went swiftly and skilfully to work investigating the damage and putting the machine in order, as far as possible. Chamberlain presently became impressed with his mechanical dexterity.
"By Jove, you can see into her, can't you!" Hand continued silent, and left it to his companion to put on the finishing verbal touches.
"Tow her home and fill her up and she'll be all right, eh?" said Chamberlain, but Hand kept on tinkering. The sudden neighing and plunging of Little Simon's poor tormented horse gave warning of the sheriff, crashing from the underbrush directly into the road.
He was voluble with excuses. The fugitive had escaped, leaving no traces of his flight. He might be in the woods, or he might have run to the railroad track and caught the freight that had just slowly passed. He might be in the next township, or he might be—
"Oh, go to thunder!" said Chamberlain.
If the occupants of the old red house felt over-much inclined to draw a long breath and rest on their oars after their anxiety and recent excitement, Agatha's manager was able to supply a powerful antidote. He was restlessness incarnate.
He was combining a belated summer holiday with what he considered to be good business, "seeing" not only his prima donna secluded at Ilion, but other important people all the way from Portland to Halifax. When he heard that the man who ran off with his racing-car was also responsible for the mysterious departure of Miss Redmond, his excitement was great.
"You mean to say that you were picked up and drugged in broad daylight in New York?" he demanded of Agatha.
"And you escaped?"
"The yacht foundered."
"And that scamp walked right into your hands and you let him go?"
Agatha forced a rueful smile. "I confess I'm not much used to catching criminals."
Mr. Straker paused, lacking words to express his outraged spirit
"I don't mean you, of course. This whole outfit here—what are they doing? Think they're put on in a walking part, eh? Don't they know enough to go in out of the rain?" Getting no reply to his fuming, he came down from his high horse, curiosity impelling. "What'd he kidnap you for—ransom?"
"No. It seems that he mistook me for Miss Reynier—the lady out there on the lawn talking with Mr. Van Camp."
Mr. Straker bent his intent gaze out of the window.
"I don't see any resemblance at all." His crusty manner implied that Agatha, or somebody, was to blame for all the coil of trouble, and should be made to pay for it.
"Even I was puzzled," smiled Agatha. "I thought she was some one I knew."
"Nonsense!" growled Mr. Straker. "Anybody with two eyes could see the difference. She's older, and heavier. What did the scoundrel want with her?"
"I don't know. She's a princess or something."
Mr. Straker jumped. "She is!" he cried. "Lord, why didn't you tell me?"
"I'm trying to."
"Advertising!" he shouted joyfully. "Jimminy Christmas! We'll make it up—all this time lost. Princess who? Where from? I guess you do look like her, after all. I see it all now—head-lines! 'Strange confusion of identity! Which is the princess?' It'll draw crowds—thousands."
Agatha escaped, leaving Mr. Straker to collect from others the details of his advertising story, which he did with surprising speed and accuracy. By the next morning he had pumped Sallie, Doctor Thayer and Aleck Van Camp, and had extracted the promise of an interview from Miss Reynier herself.
The only really unsatisfactory subject of investigation was Mr. Hand, whom Straker watched for a day or two with growing suspicion. Straker had sputtered, good-naturedly enough, over the "accident" to his racing-car, and had taken it for granted, in rather a high-handed manner, that Mr. Hand was to make repairs. His manner toward the chauffeur was not pleasant, being a combination of the patron and the bully. It was exactly the sort of manner to precipitate civil war, though diplomacy might serve to cover the breach for a time.
But the racing-car, ignominiously towed home by Miss Reynier's white machine, stood undisturbed in one of the open carriage sheds by the church. Eluded by Hand for the space of twenty-four hours, and finding that the injury to the car was far beyond his own mechanical skill to repair, Mr. Straker sent peremptory word to Charlesport and to the Hillside for the services of a mechanician, without satisfaction. Little Simon thought the matter was beyond him, but informed Mr. Straker that perhaps the engineer at the quarry—a native who had "been to Boston" and qualified as chauffeur—would come and look at it.
"Then for Heaven's sake, Colonel, get him to come and be quick about it," adjured Mr. Straker. "And tell him for me that there's a long-yellow for him if he'll make the thing right."
"He'll charge you two dollars an hour, including time on the road," solemnly announced Little Simon, unimpressed by any mention of the long-yellow. Had Little Simon "liked," he could probably have mended the car himself, but Mr. Straker's manner, so effective on Broadway, was not to the taste of these country people. He thought of them in their poverty as "peasants," but without the kindliness of the born gentleman. What Aleck Van Camp could have got for love, Mr. Straker could not buy; and he was at last obliged to appeal to Hand through Agatha's agency.
"I'll look at it again," Hand replied shortly, when Agatha addressed him on the subject.
The car being temporarily out of commission, it was necessary for Mr. Straker to adopt some other means of making himself and everybody about him extremely busy. He took a fancy for yachting, and got himself diligently instructed in an art which, of all arts, must be absorbed with the mother's milk, taken with the three R's and followed with enthusiastic devotion. In Mr. Straker every qualification for seamanship was lacking save enthusiasm, but as he himself never discovered this fact, his amour propre did not suffer, and his companions were partly relieved of the burden of his entertainment. Presently he made up his mind that it was time for him to see Jimmy. His nose, trained for scenting news, led him inevitably to the chief actor in the unusual drama which had indirectly involved his own fortunes, and he saw no reason why he should not follow it at once.
"You'd better wait a while," cautioned Doctor Thayer. "That young man pumped his heart dry as a seed-pod, and got some fever germs on top of that. He isn't fit to stand the third degree just yet."
"I'm not going to give him any third degree, not a bit of it. 'Hero! Saved a Princess!' and all that. That's what's coming to him as soon as the newspapers get hold of it. But I want to know how he did it, and what he did it for. Tell him to buck up."
Jimmy did buck up, though Mr. Straker's message still remains to be delivered. He gathered his forces and exhibited such recuperative abilities as to astonish the old red house and all Ilion. Doctor Thayer and each of his nurses in turn unconsciously assumed credit for the good work, and Sallie Kingsbury took a good share of pride in his satisfactory recovery.
"Two aigs regular," she would say, with all a housekeeper's glory in her guests' enjoyment of food.
There was enough credit to go round, indeed, and Jimmy presently became the animated and interesting center of the family. He might have been a new baby and his bedroom the sacred nursery. He was being spoiled every hour of the day.
"Did he have a good night?" Agatha would anxiously inquire of Mr. Hand.
"Can't tell which is night; he sleeps all the time," would be the tenor of Mr. Hand's reply. Or Sallie would ask, as if her fate depended on the answer, "Did he eat that nice piece er chicken, Aunt Susan?" And Mrs. Stoddard would say, "Eat it! It disappeared so quick I thought he'd choke. Wanted three more just like it, but I told him that invalids were like puppy-dogs—could only have one meal a day."
"Well, how'd he take that?" asked the interested Sallie.
"He said if I thought he was an invalid any longer I had another guess coming. Says he'll be up and into his clothes by to-morrow, and is going to take care of me. Says I'm pale and need a highball, whatever that is."
"Never heard of it," said Sallie.
"He's a good young man, if he did get pitched overboard," went on Mrs. Stoddard. "But he doesn't need me any more, and I guess I'll be going along home."
"I don't know but what the rest of us need you," complained Sallie. "It's more of a Sunday-school picnic here than you'd think, what with a New York press agent and a princess, to say nothing of that Mr. Hand."
"He certainly knows how to manage a sick man," said Susan.
"He don't talk like a Christian," said Sallie.
Mrs. Stoddard made her way to Agatha in the cool chamber at the head of the stairs. Agatha, in a dressing-sack, with her hair down, called her in and sent Lizzie away.
"You're not going, are you, Mrs. Stoddard?" She took Susan's two hands and held them lovingly against her cheek. "It won't seem right here, without you."
"You've done your duty, Agatha, and I've done mine, as I saw it. I'm not needed here any more, but I'll send Angie over to help Sallie with the work, after I get the crab-apples picked."
Agatha held Mrs. Stoddard's hands closely. "Ah, you have been good to us!"
"There is none good but One," quoted Mrs. Stoddard; nevertheless her eyes were moist with feeling. "You'll stay on in the old red house?"
"I don't know; probably not for long. But I almost wish I could."
"I've learned a sight by you, Agatha. I want you to know that," said Susan, struggling with her reticence and her impulse toward confession.
"Oh, don't say that to me, Mrs. Stoddard. I can only remember how good you've been to us all."
But Susan would not be denied. "I thought you were proud and vain and—and worldly, Agatha. And I treated you harsh, I know."
"No, no. Whatever you thought, it's all past now, and you are my friend. You'll help me to take care of this dear old place—yes?"
"The Lord will establish the work of your hands, my child!" She suddenly turned with one of her practical ideas. "I wouldn't let that new city man in to see Mr. Hambleton just yet, if I were you."
"Is Mr. Straker trying to get in to see Mr. Hambleton?"
"Knocked at the door twice this morning, and I told him he couldn't come in. 'Why not?' said he. 'Danger of fever,' said I. Then Mr. Hambleton asked me who was there, and I said, 'I don't exactly know, but it's either Miss Redmond's maid's beau or a press agent,' and then Mr. Hambleton called out, as quick and strong as anybody, 'Go 'way! I think I've got smallpox.' And he went off, quicker'n a wink, and hasn't been back since." Mrs. Stoddard's grim old face wrinkled in a humorous smile. "I guess he'll get over his smallpox scare, but Mr. Hambleton don't want to see him, not yet. He wants to see you."
"I'm going in to see him soon, anyway," said Agatha.
But still she waited a little before going in for her morning visit with James. It meant so much to her! It wasn't to be taken lightly and casually, but with a little pomp and ceremony. Each day since the night of the crisis she had paid her morning call, and each day she had seen new lights in Jimmy's eyes. In vain had she been matter-of-fact and practical, treating him as an invalid whose vagaries should be indulged even though they were of no importance. He would not accept her on those terms. Back of his weakness had been a strength, more and more perceptible each day, touching her with the sweetest flattery woman ever receives. It was the strength of a lover's spirit, looking out at her from his eyes and speaking to her in every inflection of his voice. Moreover, while he stoutly and continuously denied his fever-sickness, he took no trouble to conceal this other malady. As soon as he could speak distinctly he proclaimed his spiritual madness, though nobody but Agatha, and possibly Mrs. Stoddard, quite understood.
"I'm not sick; don't be an idiot, Hand. And give me a shave, for Heaven's sake. Anybody can get knocked on the head—that's all the matter with me. Give me some clothes and you'll see." Even Hand had to give in quickly. Jimmy's resilience passed all expectations. He came up like a rubber ball; and now, on a fine September morning, he was getting shaved and clothed in one of Aleck's suits. Finally he was propped up in an easy chair by a window overlooking the towering elm tree and the white church.
"Er—Andy—couldn't you get me some kind of a tie? This soft shirt business doesn't look very fit, does it, without a tie?" coaxed Jim.
"If you ask me, I say you look fine."
"Where'd you get all your good clothes, I'd like to know?" inquired Jim sternly, looking at Hand's immaculate linen.
"Miss Sallie washes 'em after I go to bed in the morning," confessed Hand.
"Oh, she does, does she!" jeered Jimmy. "Well, you'll have to go to bed at night, like other folks, now. And then what'll you do?"
"I guess Miss Sallie'll have to sit up nights," modestly suggested Hand, when a slipper struck him in the back. "Good shot! What d'you want now—an opera hat?" he inquired derisively.
"Andy!" ejaculated Jim, dismay settling on his features. "I've just thought! Do you s'pose I'm paying hotel bills all this time at The Larue?"
Hand grinned unsympathetically. "If you engaged a room, sir, and didn't give it up, I believe it's the custom—"
"That'll do for now, Handy Andy, if you can't get up any better answer than that. Lord, what's that!" Jim suddenly exclaimed, as if he hadn't been waiting, all ears, for that very step in the passage.
"I guess likely that'll be Miss Redmond," replied the respectful Hand. And so it was.
Agatha, fresh as the morning, stood in the doorway for a contemplative moment, before coming forward to take Jim's outstretched hand.
"Samson—shorn!" she exclaimed gaily. "I hardly know you, all fixed up like this."
"Oh, I look much better than this when I'm really dressed up, you know," Jim asserted. Agatha patted his knuckles indulgently, looked at the thinness and whiteness of the hand, and shook her head.
"Not gaining enough yet," she said. "That isn't the right color for a hand."
"It needs to be held longer."
"Oh, no, it needs more quiet. Fewer visitors, no talking, and plenty of fresh milk and eggs."
Jimmy almost stamped his foot. "Down with eggs!" he cried. "And milk, too. I'm going to institute a mutiny. Excuse me, I know I'm visiting and ought to be polite, but no more invalid's food for me. Handy Andy and I are going out to kill a moose and eat it—eh, Andy?"
But Hand was gone. Agatha sat down in a big rocker at the other window. "In that case," she said demurely, "we'll all have to be thinking of Lynn and New York and work."
Jim shamelessly turned feather. "Oh, no," he cried. "I'm very ill. I'm not able to go to Lynn. Besides, my time isn't up yet. This is my vacation."
He looked up smiling into Agatha's face, ingenuous as a boy of seven.
"Do you always take such—such venturesome holidays?" she asked.
"I never took any before; at least, not what I call holidays," he said. "If you don't come over here and sit near me, I shall get up and go over to you. And Andy says I'm very wobbly on my legs. I might by accident drop into your lap."
Agatha pushed her chair over toward James, and before she could sit down he had drawn it still closer to his own. "The doctor says my hand has to be held!" he assured her, as he got firm hold of hers.
"For shame!" she cried. "Mustn't tell fibs."
"Tell me," he begged, "is this your house, really'n truly?" It brought, as he knew it would, her ready smile.
"Yep," she nodded.
"And is that your tree out there?"
"Ah!" he sighed. "It's great! It's Paradise. I've dreamed of just such a heavenly place. And Andy says we've been here two weeks."
"Yes—and a little more."
"My holiday half gone!" His mood suddenly changed from its jocund and boyish manner, and he turned earnestly toward Agatha.
"I don't know, dear girl, all that has happened since that night—with you—on the water. Hand shuts me off most villainously. But I know it's Heaven being here, with Aleck and every one so good to me, and you! You've come back, somehow, like a reality from my dreams. I watch for you. You're all I think of, whether I'm awake or asleep."
Agatha earnestly regarded his frank face, with its laughing, true eyes. "Jimmy," she said—he had begged her to call him that—"it seems as if I, too, had known you a long time. More than these little two weeks."
"It is more; you said so," put in Jim.
"Yes; a little more. And if it hadn't been for you, I shouldn't be here, or anywhere. I often think of that."
"You see!" he cried. "I had to have you, even if I followed you half-way round the globe; even if I had to jump into the sea. Kismet—you can't escape me!"
But Agatha was only half smiling. "No," she protested, "it is not that. I owe—"
Jim put his fingers on her lips. "Tut, tut! Dear girl, you owe nothing, except to your own courage and good swimming. But as for me, why, you know I'm yours."
"James," Agatha could not help preaching a bit, "just because we happen to be the actors in an adventure is no reason, no real reason, why we should be silly about each other. We don't have to end the story that way."
"Oh, don't we! We'll see!" shouted Jim. "And I'm not silly, if some other people are. I don't see why I should be cheated out of a perfectly good climax, if you put it that way, any more than the next fellow. Agatha, dearest—"
But she wouldn't listen to him. "No, no," she protested, slowly but earnestly. "Look here, Mr. James Hambleton, of Lynn! I promise to do anything, or everything, that you honestly want, after you get well. I'll listen to you then. But I'm not going to let a man who is just out of a delirium make love to me."
"But I'm not just out. I only had a whack on the head, and that's nothing. I'm strong as an ox. I'm saner than anybody. Do listen to me, Agatha."
"No—no, I mustn't."
"But tell me, dear. You're free? You're not—" he searched for the word that suited his mood—"you're not plighted?"
She smiled. "No, I'm not plighted."
"Ah!" he chortled, and seized both her hands, putting them to his lips. She stood over him, looking down tenderly.
"Time for your broth, Mr. Hambleton, and Mr. Straker wants to know if he can see you," interrupted Mr. Hand.
"Can't see him, Andy. I'm very busy," began Jim; then added, "By the way, who is Mr. Straker?"
"Tell him he may come in for a few minutes, Mr. Hand," directed Agatha. Presently the manager was being introduced in the properest manner to the invalid. Agatha, knowing James would need protection from quizzing, stayed by.
"Now, tell me," wheedled Mr. Straker, "the whole story just exactly as it happened to you, please. It's very important that I should know all the details."