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The Stolen Singer
by Martha Idell Fletcher Bellinger
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So Jimmy, aided now and then by Agatha, delivered a Straker-ized version of the wreck and the arrival at Ilion.

"But before that," questioned the manager. "How did you happen to be on the Jeanne D'Arc?"

For the first time James hesitated. Not even Agatha knew that part of the story. "I was picked up by the Jeanne D'Arc in New York harbor," he replied slowly.

Mr. Straker frowned. "How—picked up?"

"Out of the water."

"What were you in the water for?"

"I had just dropped off a tug."

"What for?"

"Because I wanted the yacht to pick me up."

At this point Mr. Straker directed a commiserating look at Agatha. It said "Crazy" as plain as words.

"What were you on the tug for?"

"I had followed the yacht."

"What for?"

The pause before James's next answer was apparent. When it came, there came with it that same seven-year-old look of smiling ingenuousness. "I just wanted to see what they were going to do with Miss Redmond."

"Jimminy Christmas!" exploded Mr. Straker. "Any more kinks in this story? How'd you know they'd stolen Miss Redmond?"

And so Jimmy had to tell it all, with the abominable Straker growing more and more excited every minute, and Agatha standing mute and awe-struck, looking at him. It was plain that Jimmy, for the moment, had the upper hand. "And that's about all!" he laughed.

"What on earth, man, is the matter with you?" fumed Straker. "Didn't you know there were a hundred chances to one the yacht wouldn't pick you up?"

Jimmy nodded, unabashed. "One chance is good enough for me. Nothing can kill me this trip, I tell you. I'm good for anything. Lucky star's over me. I knew it all the time."

Straker turned a disgusted face toward Agatha. "He's crazy as a loon! Isn't he?" he questioned glumly. But Jimmy knew his man.

"No, not crazy, Mr. Straker. Only a touch o' sun! And it's glorious, isn't it, Miss Redmond?"

She loved him for his boyish laughter, for the rollicking spirit in his voice, but her eyes suddenly filled as she pondered the meaning back of his extraordinary story. With Mr. Straker gone at last, it was she who came to Jim with outstretched hands.

"You mean you heard me call for help, there on the hill?"

"Yep," he answered, suddenly sheepish.

"And you followed to rescue me if you could?"

"Yep—of course."

"Ah, James! Why did you do it?"

Jim's small-boy expression beamed from his eyes. "I followed the Voice and the Face—as I told you once before. Don't you remember?"

"I remember. But why?"

His seven-year-old mood was suddenly touched with poetic dignity. "I could naught else," he said, looking into her face. It was all tenderness; and she did not resist when he drew her gently down, till her lips touched his.



CHAPTER XXII

A MAN OF NO PRINCIPLE

Monsieur Chatelard's disappearance was as complete as though he had dropped off the earth. The sheriff, with his warrant in his pocket, hid his chagrin behind the sugar and flour barrels whose sale occupied his time when he wasn't losing malefactors. Chamberlain, having once freed his mind to the grave-like Hand, maintained absolute silence on the subject, so far as the audience at the old red house was concerned. But he went into consultation with Aleck, and together they laid a network of police inspection about Ilion and Charlesport.

"It won't do any good," grumbled Chamberlain. "We'll have to catch him and choke him with our own hands, if it ever gets done."

Nevertheless, they left nothing to chance. Telegraph and telephone were brought into requisition, and within twenty-four hours after the disappearance every station on the railroad, as well as every village along the coast, was warned to arrest the fugitive if he came that way. Mr. Chamberlain took the white motor and went off on long, mysterious journeys, coming back only to go into secret conclave with Aleck, or mysteriously to rush off again.

Aleck Van Camp stayed at home, keeping a dog-watch on Melanie and Madame Reynier, whether they were at the Hillside or at the old red house. Now that the purposes of the Frenchman had been made clear, and since he was still at large, the world was no safe place for unattended women. Aleck pondered deeply over the situation.

"Is your amiable cousin's henchman a man to be scared off by our recent little encounter, do you think?" he asked of Melanie.

She considered. "He might be scared, easily enough. But I know well that he has a contempt for the usual machinery of the law. He has evaded it so many times that he thinks it an easy matter."

Aleck smiled whimsically. "I don't wonder at that, if he has had many experiences like the last."

"He boasts that he can bribe anybody."

"Ah, so! But how much rope would the duke give him, do you think, on a pinch?"

"All the rope he cares to take. Stephen's protection is all-powerful in Krolvetz; and elsewhere Chatelard depends, as I have said, on his wits."

"But there must be some limit to the duke's stretch of conscience!"

Melanie's eyes took on their far-away look. "Perhaps there is," she said at last, "but who can guess where that limit is? Besides, all he asks of his henchmen is results. He never inquires as to methods."

"Well, what do you think is the exact result Duke Stephen wants, in this case?"

"He wants me either to return to Krolvetz and marry his brother, or—"

Melanie's hesitation was prolonged.

"Or—what?'

"Or to disappear so completely that there will be no question of my return. You see, it's a peculiar case. If I marry without his consent—"

"Which you are about to do—" cut in Aleck.

"I simply forfeit my estates and they go into the public treasury, where they will be strictly accounted for. But if I marry Lorenzo—"

"Which is impossible—"

"Then the money goes into the family, of course, as my dot. Or—or, if I should die—in that case Stephen inherits the money. And there is no doubt but that Stephen needs money."

Aleck pondered for several minutes, while grave shadows threatened his face. But presently his smiling, unquenchable good temper came to the surface, and he gleefully tucked Melanie's hand under his arm.

"As I said before, you need a husband very badly."

"Oh, I don't know," she laughed.

The result of Aleck's moment of grave thought came a few days later, with the arrival of two quietly-dressed, unostentatious men. He told Melanie that one man was her chauffeur for the white machine, and the other was an extra hand he had engaged for the return trip on the Sea Gull. The chauffeur, however, for one reason or another, rarely took the wheel, and could have been seen walking at a distance behind Melanie whenever she stirred abroad. The extra hand for the Sea Gull did just the same as the chauffeur.

From the day of the arrival of the manager, Mr. Hand's rather mysterious but friendly temper underwent a change for the worse. He not only continued silent, which might easily be counted a virtue, but he became almost sulky, which could only be called a crime. There was no bantering with Sallie in the kitchen, scarcely a friendly smile for Agatha herself. Mr. Hand was markedly out of sorts.

On the morning following Mr. Straker's request that Hand should repair the car, the manager found him tinkering in the carriage shed near the church. The car was jacked up on a horse-block, while one wheel lay near the road. Mr. Hand was as grimy and oily as the law allows, working over the machinery with a sort of vicious earnestness. Mr. Straker hovered around for a few moments, then addressed Hand in that tone of pseudo-geniality that marks a certain type of politician.

"Look here, Colonel, I understand you were in the employ of that French anarchist."

It was an unlucky moment for attack, though Mr. Straker did not at once perceive it. Hand carefully wiped the oil from a neat ring of metal, slid down on his back under the car and screwed on a nut. As Mr. Straker, hands in pockets and feet wide apart, watched the mechanician, there came through the silence and the sweet air the sound of thrushes calling from the wood beyond. Mr. Straker craned his head to look out at the church, then at the low stone wall, as if he expected to see the songsters performing on a stage before a row of footlights. He turned back to Mr. Hand.

"That's right, is it? You worked for the slippery Mounseer?"

"Uh-m," Hand grumbled, with a screw in his mouth. "Something like that."

"What'd you do?"

"I've found where she was wrenched in the turn-over. Got to have a new pin for this off wheel before she goes much farther."

"All right, I'll order one by telegraph to-day. What 'd you do, I asked."

Hand wriggled himself out from under the car and got on his feet. He thrust his grimy hands deep into his pockets, stood for a moment contemplative and belligerent, as if undecided whether to explode or not, and then silently walked away.

As Mr. Straker watched his figure moving slowly toward the kitchen, he started a long low whistle, expressive of suspicion and doubt. Midway, however, he changed to a lively tune whose title was "I've got him on the run"—a classic just then spreading up and down Broadway. He took a few turns about the car, looked at the gearing with a knowing air, and then went into the house.

If he had been a small boy, his mother would have punished him for stamping through the halls; being a grown man and a visitor, he may be described as walking with firm, bold tread. Finally he was able to run down Agatha, who was conferring with Sallie in the library.

Sallie sniffed in scorn of Mr. Straker, whom she disliked far worse than Mr. Hand; nevertheless, as she left the room she twisted up her gingham apron and tucked it into its band in a vague attempt at company manners. Mr. Straker lost no time in attacking Agatha.

"What d'you know about that chauffeur-nurse and general roustabout that's taking care of your young gentleman up-stairs?" he inquired bluntly.

Innocent of subtlety as Mr. Straker was, he was nevertheless keen enough to see that Agatha's instincts took alarm at his words. Indeed, one skilled in reading her face could have detected the nature of the uneasiness written there. She could not lie again, as she had unhesitatingly lied to the sheriff; neither could she abandon her position as protector to Mr. Hand. She wished for cleverness of the sort that could throw her manager off the scent, but saw no way other than the direct way.

"Nothing—I know almost nothing about him."

"Comes from N'York?"

"I fancy so."

"Well, take it from me, the sooner you get rid of him the better. Chances are he's a man of no principle, and he'll do you."

Agatha was silent. Meantime Mr. Straker got his second wind.

"Of course he knows what he's about when it comes to a machine," the manager continued, "but mark me, he knows too much for an honest man. Looks to me as if there wasn't anything on this green earth he can't do."

"Green ocean, too—he's quite as much at home there," laughed Agatha.

"Humph!" Mr. Straker grunted in disgust. "Let me assure you, Miss Redmond, that it's no joking matter."

Tradition to the contrary, Agatha was content to let the man have the last word. Mr. Straker turned to some business matters, wrote out telegraphic material enough to occupy the leisurely Charlesport operator for some hours, and then disappeared.

Agatha was impressed by the manager's words somewhat more than her manner implied. She had no swift and sure judgment of people, and her experience of the world, short as it was, had taught her that recklessness is a costly luxury. She was meditating as to the wisest course to pursue, when the ex-chauffeur appeared.

Hand wore his accustomed loose shirt and trousers without coat or waistcoat, and it seemed as if he had never known a hat. His thick hair was tumbled back from the forehead. His hands were now spotless, and his whole appearance agreeably clean and wholesome. He even looked as if he were going to be frank, but Agatha knew that must be a delusion. It was impossible, however, not to be somewhat cajoled—he was so eminently likable. Agatha took a lesson from his own book, and waited in silence for him to speak.

"Mademoiselle?" His voice had an undertone of excitement or nervousness that was wholly new.

"Well, Mr. Hand?"

He remained standing by the door for a moment, then stepped forward with the abrupt manner of a stripling who, usually inarticulate, has suddenly found tongue.

"Why did you do it, Mademoiselle?"

"Do what, my friend?"

"Back me up before the sheriff. Give me a slick walkout like that."

Agatha laughed good-humoredly.

"Why should I answer your questions, Mr. Hand, when you so persistently ignore mine?"

Hand made a gesture of impatience.

"Mademoiselle, you may think me all kinds of a scamp, but I'm not idiot enough to hide behind a woman. Don't you know me well enough to know that?" he demanded so earnestly that he seemed very cross.

Agatha looked into his face with a new curiosity. He was very young, after all. Something in the way of experience had been grinding philosophy, of a sort, into him—or out of him. Wealth and position had been his natural enemies, and he had somehow been led to an attitude of antagonism that was, at bottom, quite foreign to his nature.

So much Agatha could guess at, and for the rest, instinct taught her to be kind. But she was not willing now to take him quite so seriously as he seemed to be taking himself. She couldn't resist teasing him a bit, by saying, "Nevertheless, Mr. Hand, you did hide behind me; you had to."

He did not reply to her bantering smile, but, in the pause that followed, stepped to the bookcase where she had been standing, gingerly picked up a soft bit of linen and lace from the floor and dropped it into her lap. Then he faced her in an attitude of pugnacious irritation. For a brief moment his silence fell from him.

"I didn't have to," he contradicted. "I let it go because I thought you were a good sport, and you wouldn't catch me backing out of your game, not by a good deal! But there's a darned sight,—pardon me, Mademoiselle!—there's too much company round here to suit me! You know me, you know you can trust me, Mademoiselle! But what about Tom, Dick and Harry all over this place—casting eyes at a man?"

Agatha, almost against her will, was forced to meet his seriousness half-way. "I don't know what you mean," she said.

"Tell 'em!" he burst out. "Tell 'em the whole story. Tell that blamed snoopin' manager that I'm a crook and a kidnapper, and then he'll stop nosing round after me. I'll have an hour's start, and that's all I want. Dogging a man—running him down under his own automobile!" Hand permitted himself a dry smile at his own joke, but immediately added, "It goes against the grain, Mademoiselle!"

Agatha's face brightened, as she grasped the clue to Hand's wrath. "I've no doubt," she answered gravely. She knew the manager. "But why should I tell him, as you suggest?"

"Why?" Hand stopped a moment, as if baffled at the difficulty of putting such obvious philosophy into words. "Why? Because that's the way people are—never satisfied till they uncover and root up every blamed thing in a man's life. Yes, Mademoiselle, you know it's true. They'll always be uneasy with me around."

Agatha was aware that when a man utters what he considers to be a general truth, it is useless to enter the field of argument.

"Suppose you do have 'an hour's start,' as you express it. Where would you go?"

"Oh, I'll look about for a while. After that I'm going to Mr. Hambleton in Lynn. He's going to have a new car."

"Ah!" Agatha suddenly saw light. "Then there's only one thing. Mr. Hambleton must know the truth. It can concern no one else. Will you tell him?"

Mr. Hand produced his dry smile. "Nobody has to tell Mr. Hambleton anything. He looked straight into my face that day on the hill, as we were leaving the park."

"And he remembers?"

Something strange in Hand's expression arrested Agatha's attention, long before he found tongue to answer. It was a look of happiness and pride, as if he owned a treasure. "He remembers very well, Mademoiselle."

"And what—?"

"You can't help but be square with him, Mademoiselle. But as for these gentlemen of style—"

Hand paused in his oratory, his slow anger again burning on the surface. Before Agatha knew what he was about, he had picked up the handkerchief from her lap between thumb and forefinger, and was holding it at arm's length.

"You can't squeeze a man's history out of him, as you squeeze water out of a handkerchief, Mademoiselle," he flared out. "And you can't drop him and pick him up again, nor throw him down. You can't do that with a man, Mademoiselle!"

He tossed the flimsy linen back into her lap. "And I don't want any dealings with your Strakers—nor gentlemen of that stamp."

"Nor Chatelards?"

"He's slick—slick as they make 'em. But he isn't an inquisitive meddler."

Agatha laughed outright; and somehow, by the blessed alchemy of amusement, the air was cleared and Mr. Hand's trouble faded out of importance. But Agatha could not let him go without one further word. She met his gaze with a straightforward look, as she asked: "Tell me, have I failed to treat you as a friend, Mr. Hand?"

"Ah, Mademoiselle!" he cried; and there was a touch of shame and compunction in his voice. As he stood before Agatha, she was reminded of his shamed and cowed appearance in the cove, on the day of their rescue, when he had waited for her anger to fall on him. She saw that he had gained something, some intangible bit of manliness and dignity, won during these weeks of service in her house. And she guessed rightly that it was due to the man whom he had so ungrudgingly nursed.

"I'm glad you are going to Lynn, to be with Mr. Hambleton," she said at last. "As long as he is your friend, I shall be your friend, too, and never uneasy. You may count on that. And now will you do me another kindness?"

"I'll put that old racing-car in order, if that's what you mean. Of course."

"As soon as possible. But it would seem that from now on you are accountable to no one but Mr. Hambleton."

"I'm his man," said Mr. Hand simply. "I'd do anything for him." He turned away with his old-time puzzling manner, half deferential, half indifferent.

And so Mr. Straker was ready to depart for New York at last, leaving Agatha, much against his will, to "complete her recovery" at Ilion. At least, that was the way he felt in duty bound to put it.

"You have found a substitute now," Agatha urged. "It is only fair to let her have a chance. A week, more or less, can not make any difference, now that I've broken so many engagements already. I'll come back later and make a fresh start."

"You stay up here and New York'll forget you're living!" growled Mr. Straker.

"Not if you continue to be my manager," said Agatha.

"If I'm to be your manager, I ought never to let you out of my sight for a minute. It's too dangerous."



CHAPTER XXIII

JIMMY MUFFS THE BALL

It will sometimes happen that young gentlemen, skipping confident, even under their lucky star, will get a fall. Fortune had been too constant to Jimmy not to be ready to turn her fickle face away the moment he wasn't looking. But such is the rashness born of success and a bounding heart, that young blood leaps to its doom, smiling, as it were, on the faithless lady's back.

Jimmy had no forebodings, but rioted gorgeously in returning health, in a whole pack of new emotions, and in what he supposed to be his lady's favor. Aleck, more philosophical, took his happiness with a more quiet gusto, not provoking the frown of the gods. But for Jim the day of reckoning was coming.

One day Aleck joined him, walking up and down the porch. Jim was in one of his boyish, cocksure moods.

"I know what you're going to say," he began, before Aleck could spring his news. "You're going to marry the princess."

"Just so," said Aleck. "How'd you know? Clairvoyance?"

"Nope."

"Well, you needn't look so high and mighty about it, old man. Why don't you do the same thing yourself? Then we'll have a double wedding."

"I've thought of that," said Jim.

As the two men talked, Agatha and Melanie, both dressed in white, strolled side by side down the garden path toward the wall. They were deep in conversation, their backs turned toward the veranda.

"I don't see that they look so much alike," announced Jim, who had but recently learned all the causes and effects of the Chatelard business. Aleck's eyes gleamed.

"Which one, as they stand there now, do you take to be Miss Redmond?" he asked.

"One on the left," answered Jim promptly.

Aleck gave a signaling whistle which caused both the women quickly to turn. Agatha was on the right.

Aleck grinned broadly. "So that Yahoo of a Frenchman wasn't so stupid after all."

"I'd like to get my hands on him!" muttered Jim.

"Frenchman or not, there's going to be a wedding right here in the old red house on Wednesday," said Aleck.

"Hoopla! I knew that was it!"

"And then Melanie and I are going to cruise back to New York. Awfully sorry—but you're not invited."

"You couldn't get me aboard any gilt-edged yacht that floats!"

At Jimmy's words—wholly untrue, by the way—Aleck's happy mood suddenly dimmed, as he thought of the dangers and anxieties of the past month. He turned and laid an arm, boy-fashion, over Jim's shoulder, pulling his hair as his hand went by.

"You're a fool of a kid!" he said, choking.

When Jim looked into his cousin's face, he knew. "Oh, I say, old man, it wasn't so bad as all that."

Aleck stiffened up. "Who said anything about its being bad? You'd better get some togs to wear at the wedding. I'm going to need these clothes myself."

It turned out, actually enough, that the wedding was to come off on a certain Wednesday in September.

"Would you like New York and a bishop and a big church better than the old red house and the Charlesport minister?" Aleck anxiously asked of Melanie.

"Oh, no," she protested; and Aleck knew she was sincere. So they prepared to terminate their holidays by celebrating the wedding in the pine grove. Melanie spent the intervening days happily with Agatha, or walking with Aleck, or with the delightful group that foregathered in Parson Thayer's library. Jimmy made extravagant and highly colored verses to the bride-to-be, to Sallie Kingsbury, and even to himself. His feet were often lame, but he solemnly assured the company that it was entirely due to circumstances over which he had no control. A wedding was a wedding, said he, and should have its bard; also its dancers and its minstrels.

"We'll have all our friends in Ilion, anyway," said Aleck. They counted up the list. Besides the occupants of the house and those from the Hillside, there would be Doctor Thayer, Susan Stoddard and Angie, Big and Little Simon, and the lawyer.

"And they're all going to dance with the bride," announced Jim. "After me. I'm first choice."

"A dance led, so to speak, by the elusive Monsieur Chatelard?"

The name alone made Jimmy wroth. "It's a dance for which he will pay the fiddler yet!" he prophesied.

"Oh, he's gone this time. Scared out of the country for keeps!" was Aleck's expressed opinion. But that it might or might not be so, was what they all secretly thought.

The day before the wedding was a jewel of a day, such as New England at her best can fling into the lap of early autumn. A wind from the sea, flocks of white cloud scudding across the sapphire sky, and a sun all kindness—such was the day. It was never a "weather breeder" either; but steady, promising good for the morrow.

Many times during the week James and Chamberlain and Agatha had their heads together, planning surprises for the bridal pair. The result was that on Tuesday Jim and Chamberlain borrowed the white motor-car, loaded it down with a large variety of junk, such as food from Sallie's kitchen, flowers and so on, and started for Charlesport. They ran down to the wharf, transferred their loot to the rowboat, and pulled out to the Sea Gull, swinging at her mooring in deep water.

A half-hour of work, and the yacht was dressed for festival. There were strings of flags to stretch from bow to masthead and to stern; pennants for topmasts; the Stars and Stripes in beautiful silk for a standard, and a gorgeous banner with an embroidered A and M intertwined, for special occasions. Flowers were placed in the cabins, and food in the lockers. The seamen had been aboard, made the yacht clean and shipshape as a war vessel on parade, and had got permission to leave for their last night ashore. Everything was in readiness, even to the laying of the fire in the engine hold.

The bride and groom were to come aboard the next day about noon, and cruise down the coast leisurely, as weather permitted. Hand, in charge of the white motor-car, with Madame Reynier, Chamberlain, Agatha and Jimmy, were to start for New York, touring as long as their inclination lasted. The sophisticated Lizzie was to travel to what was, for her, the center of the universe, by the fastest Pullman.

Jimmy and Chamberlain, on the way home from their visit to the Sea Gull, came very near being confidential.

"I want to say, Mr. Hambleton, that I shall never forgive myself for bungling about that Chatelard business."

"As I understand the matter, it wasn't your bungling, but the sheriff's."

"It's all the same," conceded Mr. Chamberlain mournfully. "And in my opinion, the Frenchman's not done with his tricks yet. He's a dangerous character, Mr. Hambleton."

Jim laughed, remembering certain incidents on the Jeanne D'Arc.

"Do you know," Chamberlain continued, "I'm convinced the bloomin' beggar is hiding about here somewhere. I'm glad Aleck is getting away."

"I thought the evidence favored the theory that Chatelard had made straight for New York."

"Not a bit of it. Aleck and I let you all believe that, for the sake of the ladies. But the evidence is all the other way. We would surely have caught him if he had been on any of the New York trains. I believe he's about here and means mischief yet."

"If he's about here, there's no doubt about the mischief."

"I'm going down to-night to bunk on the Sea Gull. Aleck let the men off, to go to a sailor's dance over on one of the islands. They'll probably be at it all night, so I'm going back."

"Why not let me go? I'm fine as a fiddle. You've had your full share of nasty detective work."

"Not at all. I'm booked to see this thing through."

"All right!" laughed Jimsy. "But if you change your mind, let me know."

Arriving at the house, the men found it deserted. Windows were open and doors unlatched, but no one, not even Danny, responded to Jim's call. Chamberlain started for the Hillside in the car, and Jim wandered about lonesomely, wondering where everybody was. With Jim, as in most cases, everybody meant one person; and presently Sallie, appearing slowly from the upper regions, gave him his clue. He started nimbly for the pine wood.

The wagon road stretched alluringly into the sunflecked shade of the grove. A hush like that of primeval day threw its uncanny influence over the world. Jim felt something tugging at his spirit that was unfamiliar, disquieting. He began to whistle just for company, and in a moment, as if at a signal call, Danny came along the path, sedately trotting to meet him.

"Hullo, old pardner! So this is where you are."

Danny said yes, and led Jim into the clearing and up to a pine stump, where everybody sat, quite alone, chin propped on hand. No singing, no book, and—or did Jimmy imagine it?—a spirit decidedly quenched. Her eyelids were red and her face was pale.

"So, dear lady, I have found you. But I was listening for the song."

"There is no song to-day." Agatha's manner resembled an Arctic breeze.

"May one ask why?"

"One can not always be singing."

"No? Why not? I could—if I could."

Agatha was obliged to relax a trifle at Jimmy's foolishness, but only to reveal, more and more distinctly, a wretchedness of spirit that was quite baffling. It was not feminine wretchedness waiting for a masculine comforter, either, as James observed with regret; it was a stoical spirit, braced to meet a blow—or to deal one.

Jimmy was not used to being snubbed, and instinctively prepared for vigorous protest. He began with a little preliminary diplomacy.

"You haven't inquired what I'm going to do with the remainder of my holiday," he remarked.

"I supposed you would return soon to Lynn. Shall we walk back to the house?"

The unkind words were spoken in a rare-sweet voice, courteously enough. Jim looked at the speaker a moment, then emphatically said "No!"

"It is quite time I was returning."

"Have you anything there to do that is more important than listening to me for fifteen minutes?"

Agatha did not pretend not to understand him. She turned toward him with unflinching eyes.

"Truth to say, yes, Mr. Hambleton, I have. I don't wish to listen to—anything."

"Oh—if you feel like that! Your 'Mr. Hambleton' is enough to strike me dumb."

"Believe me, it is the best way."

"Again, may one ask why?"

"You are going back to your own people, to your own work. And I to mine."

"But that's the very point. My idea was to—to combine them."

"I guessed it."

Jimmy smiled his ingenuous smile as he suavely asked, "And don't you—er—like the idea?"

Agatha turned her wretched white face toward him. Into it there had come a grim determination that left Jimmy quite out in the cold.

"I have no choice in liking or disliking it," she said quite evenly. "But there are plenty of reasons why I can't think of it. And you shouldn't think of it any more. I assure you, you are making a mistake."

She got up as if ready to walk away, her face averted.

"Agatha!"

At the name she turned to Jim, as much as to say she would be quite reasonable if he would be. But her face suddenly flushed gloriously.

"Agatha, dear, hear me. I did not intend to tell you all my secret to-day; not until I should be on neutral ground, so to speak. But I can't let you leave me this way."

"You will have to. I am going back to the house."

Up to this point, James had merely been playing tag, as it were. The game wasn't really on. A little skirmishing on either side was in order. But Agatha's last words were the call to action. They roused the ghost of some old Hambleton ancestor who meant not to be beaten. Jim squared himself in the middle of the path, touched Agatha's shoulder with the lightest, most respectful finger, and requested: "But I would ask you, as a special favor, to stay a few minutes longer."

Jim's tone left Agatha no choice. She sat down again on the pine stump, but she could not meet Jimmy's eyes. He stood a few feet away from her. When he spoke, his voice was firm and steady, ringing with earnestness. There was no doubt now but that he was in the game for all he was worth.

"Agatha, you shall not turn me down like this. Wait until you know me better, and know yourself better. You've had no time to think this matter over, and it involves a good deal, I admit. But we have lived through a good deal together in these few weeks. I'm here; I'm here to stay. You can't say now, dear, that you care nothing for me—can you?"



"What is the use of all this, I ask! You will always be my friend, my rescuer, to whom I am eternally grateful."

Jimmy emitted a sound halfway between "Shucks" and "Damn" and swung impatiently clean round on his heels.

"Grateful be hanged! I don't want anybody to be grateful. I want you to love me—to marry me. Why, Agatha," he argued boyishly, his hopes rising as he saw her face soften a little, "you're mine, for I plucked you out of the sea. I had to have you. I guess I knew it that Sunday, only it was 'way off, somewhere in the back of my brain. You're a dream I've always loved. Just as this old house is. You're the woman I could have prayed for. I'll do, I'll be, anything you wish; I'll change myself over, but oh, don't say you won't have me. Agatha, Agatha, you don't know how much you mean to me!"

Before this speech was finished, James, according to the good old fashion, was down on his knees before his lady, and had imprisoned one of her hands. Stoic she was, not to yield! Her eyes had a suspicious moistness, as she shook her head.

"You will always be the most gallant, unselfish friend I have ever known. But—"

"But—what?"

"Marry you I can not."

"Why not?"

"I can not marry anybody."

Then Jimsy said a disgraceful thing. "You kissed me once. Will you do it again?"

At this impudence, she neither got angry nor changed her mind—a bad sign for Jimmy. She put his hand away, saying, "You must forgive me the kiss."

Jimmy jumped to his feet with another inarticulate sound, every whit as bad as an oath, and stood before her.

"Agatha Redmond, will you marry me?"

"No."

Jim turned in his tracks and left the wood.

Two hours later, at supper, Jim was inquired for.

"Our last supper together, and Mr. Hambleton not here!" mourned Chamberlain.

Agatha felt guilty, but could scarcely confess it. "You are all invited for next year, you know," she said.

"And we're all coming," announced Melanie. "But poor Mr. Hambleton will miss his supper tonight."

The "poor Mr. Hambleton" struck Agatha. "I think Mr. Hambleton is doing very well indeed. I saw him start off for a walk this afternoon."

"Jim's a chump. Give him a cold potato," jeered Aleck.

But after supper was over, and the twilight deepened into darkness, Agatha sought Aleck where she could speak with him alone.

"I—I think Mr. Hambleton was troubled when he left here this afternoon," she said. "Can you think where he would be likely to go? He is not strong enough to bear much hard exercise yet."

Aleck looked at her keenly.

"If he went anywhere, I think he'd go straight to the yacht."

"I feel a little anxious, someway," confessed Agatha.

Chamberlain's voice broke in upon them. "Anybody ready to take me down to the Sea Gull in the car?"

As Aleck started for the machine, the anxiety in Agatha's face perceptibly lightened. "And may I go with you?" she asked eagerly.



CHAPTER XXIV

AFTER YOU, MONSIEUR?

Jim had no desire to create a sensation among his friends at the old red house; but as he left the pine grove all his instincts led him to flee in another direction. He did not fully realize just what had happened to him, but he was conscious of having received a very hard jolt, indeed. The house, full of happy associations as it was, was just now too tantalizing a place. Aleck had won out, and he and Melanie were radiating that peculiar kind of lover's joy which shines on the eve of matrimony. Jim wished them well—none better—but he also wished they wouldn't make such a fuss over these things. Get it done and out of the way, and the less said about it the better. In fact, Jim's buoyant and sunny spirit went into eclipse; he lost his holiday ardor, and trudged over the hill and into the shore road in a state of extreme dejection.

But he lingered on the way, diverted almost against his will by the sight of fishing smacks putting into harbor, an island steamer rounding a distant cliff, and the Sea Gull lying motionless just within the breakwater. Women may be unkind, but a ship is a ship, after all. One can not nurse the pain even of a shattered heart when running before a stiff wind with the spinnaker set and an open sea ahead.

The thought decided him. The sea should be his bride. Jim did not stop to arrange, at the moment, just how this should be brought about, but his determination was none the less firm. He became sentimental to the extent of reflecting, vaguely, that this was but philosophic justice. The sea had not conquered him—far from it; neither should She conquer him. He would follow the sea, the path of glamour, the home of the winged foot and the vanishing sail, the road to alien and mysterious lands—

Thus Jimmy, in reaction from the Arctic douche to which his emotional self had been subjected. He was, figuratively speaking, blue with the cold, but trying valiantly to warm himself.

As he gazed at the Sea Gull, asleep on the flood tide, cutting a gallant figure in the glowing sunset, he felt an overmastering longing to be aboard. He would stay on the yacht until Chamberlain came, at least; possibly all night.

Having made up his mind on this point, James persuaded himself that he felt better. Philosophy is a friend in need, after all. Why should one failure in getting one's desires crush the spirit? He would make a right-about-face, travel for a year on a sailing vessel, see the world. That was it. Hang the shoe business!

Immersed in mental chaos such as these fragments of thought suggest, Jim did not perceive that he was being overtaken, until a slow greeting came to his ears.

"Good evening, friend." It was the deliberate, wide-eyed youth of the Reading-room.

"Ah, good evening."

"If you are on your way to the Sailors' Reading-room, I wish to inform you that I have been obliged to lock up for to-night, on account of an urgent errand at the village." Jimmy stared vacantly for a moment at the pale, washed-out countenance of his interlocutor. "I thought I'd tell you," the youth went on in his copy-book style, "so as to save your taking the long walk. I am the librarian of the Reading-room."

"Ah, thank you. But I wasn't going to the Reading-room to-night. I am on my way to the village."

"Well, there's a large majority of people do go to the Reading-room, first and last," the youth explained with pride. "And some of them are not worthy of its privileges. I am on my way now to prevent what may be a frightful accident to one who has enjoyed the benefits of our work."

Jim gazed at the youth. "A frightful accident! Then why in Heaven's name don't you hurry?"

The youth exhibited a slightly injured air, but did not hasten.

"I was just about to continue on my way," he said, "when it occurred to me that you might be interested to know."

"That's good of you. But what is it all about?"

"Some time ago, a very profane and impatient gentleman, waiting for money to be telegraphed to him from New York—"

"Well, man, go on! Where is he?"

"I know nothing about the movements of this ungodly person, but it appears that to-day, for the first time in its history, the quarry up yonder has been robbed. Circumstances lead the manager to suspect that this same gentleman was the perpetrator of the theft, and I am on my way to further the ends of justice."

"No need to be so particular about calling him a gentleman. But what is the 'accident' likely to be?"

"It is feared that the thief may not be aware of the nature of the article he has stolen, and it is very dangerous."

"What on earth is it?"

"It is a fairly large-sized stick of dynamite."

The youth might have been discussing a fancy dance, so suave and polite was he. Jim interrupted rudely.

"Dynamite, is it? Good. If it's old Chatelard, he ought to blow up. Serve him right."

"I'm surprised and pained at your words, my dear friend. No soul is utterly—"

"Yes, it is. Which way did he go? Where is he?"

"I don't know. The manager sent me to inform the sheriff."

"It won't do any good. But you'd better go, all the same."

The judge in chancery went on his dignified way. He would not have hurried if he had heard Angel Gabriel's trump. The news he had brought was in the class to be considered important if true, but there was nothing in it to alter Jimmy's plans. He took the shortest cut to the shore, found a fiat-bottomed punt that was regarded by the village as general property, and pushed off.

The Sea Gull was a tidy craft, and looked very gay with even the half of her festival flags on view. But the gaiety did not beguile Jim's dampened spirits. He went aboard feeling that he'd like to rip the idiotic things down; but the yacht, at least, offered a place where he could think. The sunset light on the water blazed vermilion—just the color that Jim all at once discovered he hated. He looked down the companionway, but finally he decided to stretch out on deck for a few minutes' rest. He was very tired.

Off in the stern was a vague mass which proved to be a few yards of canvas carefully tented on the floor. Some gimcrack belonging to the ship's ornamentation had been freshly gilded and left to dry, protected by an old sail-cloth. This, weighted down by a rusty marlinespike, spread couchwise along the taffrail, and offered to Jim just the bed he longed for.

He lay down, face to the sky, and gave himself up to thoughts that were very dark indeed. He had been thrown down, unexpectedly and quite hard, and that was all there was to it. Agatha, lovely but inexplicable maid, was not for him. She had been deceptive—yes, that was the word; and he had been a fool—that was the plain truth. He might as well face it at once. He had been idiot enough to think he might win the girl. Just because they had been tossed together in mid-ocean and she had clung to him. The world wasn't an ocean; it was a spiritual stock-exchange, where he who would win must bid very high indeed for the prizes of life. And he had so little to bid!

Communing thus with his unhappiness, Jim utterly lost the sense of time. The shameless vermilion sunset went into second mourning and thence to nun's gray, before the figure on the sail-cloth moved. Then, through senses only half awake, Jim heard a light sound, like a scratch-scratch on the hull of the yacht. Chamberlain, no doubt, just rubbing the nose of his tender against the Sea Gull. Jim was in no hurry to see Chamberlain, and remained where he was. The Englishman would heave in sight soon enough.

But though Jim waited several minutes, with half an eye cocked on the stairway, nobody appeared. The wind was still, the sea like glass; not a sound anywhere. Struck by something of strangeness in the uncanny silence, Jim sat up and called "Ahoy, Chamberlain!" There was no answer. But in the tense stillness there was a sound, and it came from below—the sound of a man's stealthy tread.

Jim sprang to his feet and made the companionway at a bound. He listened an instant to make sure that he heard true, cleared the steps, and landed in the darkness of the ship's saloon. As he groped along, reaching for the door of the principal cabin, the blackness suddenly lighted a little, and a dim shadow shot out and up the stairway. Jim's physical senses were scarcely cognizant of the soft, quick passing, but his thumbs pricked. He dashed after the shadow, up the stairs, out on deck, and aft. There he was—Chatelard, armed, facing his enemy once more, cool but not smiling, desperately at bay. Below him, riding just under the stern of the yacht, was the tender whose scratch-scratch had awakened Jim. A man, oars in hand, was holding the boat close to the Sea Gull.

Jim saw all this during the seconds between his turning at the stair-top and his throwing himself plump against the figure by the railing. He was quick enough to pass the range of the weapon, whose shot rang out in the clear air, but he was not quick enough to get under the man's guard. Chatelard was ready for him, holding his weapon high.

As he pressed forward, Jim felt something under his foot. He ducked quickly, as if to dodge Chatelard's hand, and on the downward swing he picked up the rusty marlinespike. It was a weapon of might, indeed. Jim's blow caused Chatelard's arm to drop, limp and nerveless. But in gaining his enemy's weapon, Jim was forced to drop his own. He put a firm foot upon the spike, however, while he held Chatelard at arm's length and looked into his face.

"So we meet once more, after all!" he cried. "And once more I have the pistol." Even as Jim spoke, his adversary made a spring that almost enabled him to seize the weapon again. Jim eluded his clutch, and quick as thought threw the gun overboard. It struck far out on the smooth water.

It was a sorry thing to do, as it proved, for Chatelard, watching his chance, stooped, wrenched the spike from under Jim's foot, and once more stood defiantly at bay. And at this point, he opened his thin lips for one remark.

"You'll go to hell now, you pig of an American!"

"But after you, Monsieur!" Jim cried, and with the words, his arms were about the other in a paralyzing grip.

Had Jim been as strong as when the two men measured forces weeks before, in the fo'cas'le of the Jeanne D'Arc, the result might have been different. But the struggle was too long, and Jim's strength insufficient. Chatelard freed himself from his antagonist sufficiently to wield the spike somewhere about Jim's head, and there came over him a sickening consciousness that he was going down. He dropped, hanging like a bulldog to Chatelard's knees, but he knew he had lost the game. He gathered himself momentarily, determined to get on his feet once more, and had almost done it, when sounds of approaching voices mingled with the scuffle of their feet and their quick breathing. Before Jim could see what new thing was happening, Chatelard had turned for one alert instant toward the port side, whence the invading voices came. He was cut off from the stairway, caught in the stern of the yacht, his weapon gone. He gave a quick call in a low voice to the boat below, stepped over the taffrail and then leaped overboard.

Propped up on an elbow, dazed and half blinded, blood flowing down his cheek, Jim stretched forward dizzily, as if to follow his disappearing enemy. He heard the splash of the water, and saw the rowboat move out from under the stern, but he saw no more. He thought it must have grown very dark.

"Blest if he didn't jump overboard hanging on to that marlinespike!" said Jim stupidly to himself. And then it became quite dark.

When Jimsy regained sight and consciousness, which happened not more than three minutes after he lost them, he found himself supported affectionately against somebody's shoulder, and a voice—the Voice of all voices he most loved—was in his ears.

"Here I am, dear. Do not die! I have come—come to stay, if you want me, James, dearest!" And bending over him was a face—the very Vision of his dream. "Look at me, speak to me, James, dear!"

The voice was a bit hysterical, but the face was eloquent, loving, adoring. It was too good to be true, though Jim was disposed to let the illusion prolong itself as far as possible. He put up his hand and smoothed her face gently, in gratitude at seeing it kind once more. Then he smiled foolishly.

"It's great, isn't it!" he remarked inanely, before thinking it necessary to remove his head. Her face was still the face of tenderness, full of yearning. It did not change. She took a handkerchief from her pocket and carefully pressed it to his cheek and chin. When she took it away, he saw that it was red.

"Lord, what a mess I'm making!" he exclaimed, trying at last to sit up. As he did so, it all came back to him—the flying shadow, the gun, the struggle. He leaned over to peer again through the crossed wires of the deck railing, down into the water. He turned back with an amazed expression.

"Did he jump overboard, honest-true, hanging on to that spike?"

Neither Aleck nor Agatha could say, nor yet Mr. Chamberlain, who had been searching the yacht. Wherever it was, the rusty marlinespike had disappeared. The rowboat, too, had gone into the darkness. Jim got up, dazedly thinking for a moment that it was necessary for him to give chase, but he quickly sat down on the sail-cloth again, overcome with faintness and a dark pall before his eyes.

"You are not hurt badly?" The voice was still tender, and it was all for him! As Jim heard it, the pall lifted, and his buoyant spirit came back to its own. He laughed ringingly.

"Lord, no, not hurt. But—"

"But what? What did you wish to say?"

"Is it true? Are you here, by me, to stay?"

For answer she pressed his hand to her lips.

Aleck and Chamberlain, once assured that Jim was safe, went below to make a search, and Jim and Agatha were left together on the sail-cloth. As they sat there, a young moon shone out delicately in the west, and dropped quickly down after the lost sun.

"It's the first moon we've seen together!" said Jim.

"But we've watched the dawn."

"Ah, yes; and such a dawn!"

Little by little, as they sat together, the story of the fight came out. Jim told it bit by bit, not eager. When it was done, Agatha was still puzzled. "Why should he come here? What could he do here?"

"I don't know, though we shall probably find out soon enough. But I don't care, now that you are here."

"James, dear, will you forgive me for this afternoon?"

"I'll forgive you if you'll take it all back, hide, hoofs and horns, for ever 'n ever, amen."

"I take it back. I never meant it."

"Then may one ask why—"

"Oh, James, I don't know why."

Anybody could have told them that it was only a phase of feminine panic in the face of the unknown, necessary as sneezing. But, as Jim said, it didn't matter.

"Never mind. Only I don't want you to marry me because you found me here all bluggy and pitied me."

"James! To talk like that! You know it wasn't—"

"Then, what was it?" Jim, suddenly grown serpent-like in craft, turned his well-known ingenuous and innocent expression upon her.

"The moment you left me, up there in the pine grove, I knew I couldn't do without you."

"How did you know?"

"Because—"

"Yes, because—" Jim prompted her.

"Oh, Jimsy, you know."

"No, I don't."

Agatha, loving his teasing, but too deeply moved, too generous and sincere to play the coquette, turned to him again a face shining with tenderness. Her eyes, like stars; her lips, all sweetness.

"Only love, James, dear—"

Something rose again in Jimmy's soft heart, choking him. As he had thrilled to the unknown ecstasy in Agatha's song, many days before, so now he thrilled to her voice and face, eloquent for him alone. Love and its power, life and its meaning, the long, long thoughts of youth and hope and desire—these held him in thrall. Agatha was in his arms. Time was lost to him, and earth.



EPILOGUE

No one ever knew whether the accomplished Frenchman reached shore, ultimately, in the rowboat, or descended to Sabrina beneath the waves. If that last hasty exit from the deck of the Sea Gull was also his final exit from life, certain it is that his departure into the realm of shades was unwept and unsung. The stick of dynamite was found, after a gingerly search, lying on one of the berths in the large cabin, where it had been dropped by the Frenchman in his flight.

Jimmy Hambleton did not let the shoe business entirely go to destruction, though his taste for holidays grew markedly after he brought his bride home with him to Lynn. One year, when the babies were growing up, he ordered a trim little yacht to be built and put into her berth at Charlesport. She was named the Sea Gull. Jimmy's chauffeur, called Hand, was her captain.

Sometimes, when James and Agatha were alone, in the zone of stillness that hung over the listening water, there would rise a song, clear and birdlike:

"Free of my pain, free of my burden of sorrow, At last I shall see thee—"

and again Jimmy's heart would rise buoyant, free, happy—the heart of unquenchable youth.

THE END

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