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Title: Quick Action
Author: Chambers, Robert W. (Robert William), 1865-1933
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Quick Action" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



    QUICK ACTION

    [Illustration: "'Are you preaching?' asked Athalie, raising her eyes
    from the Green God."]



    QUICK ACTION

    _By_

    ROBERT W. CHAMBERS


    ILLUSTRATED BY

    EDMUND FREDERICK

    D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
    NEW YORK AND LONDON: MCMXIV


    COPYRIGHT, 1914, BY

    ROBERT W. CHAMBERS

    Copyright, 1913, by Harper's Bazaar, Inc.
    Copyright, 1914, by The Star Co.

    Printed in the United States of America


                  TO
            PENELOPE SEARS
               DEBUTANTE

        _To rhyme your name
    With something lovely, fresh and young,
        And sing the same
    In measures heretofore unsung,
      Is far beyond me, I'm afraid;
      I'll not attempt it, dearest maid._

        _No, not in verse,
    Synthetic, stately, classic, chaste,
        Shall I rehearse--
    Although in perfectly good taste--
      A catalogue of every grace
      That you inherit from your race._

        _Gracious and kind,
    The gods your beauty gave to you,
        And with a mind
    These same kind gods endowed you, too;
      That charming union is, I fear,
      Somewhat uncommon on this sphere._

        _I have no doubt
    That scores of poets chant your fame;
        No doubt, about
    A million suitors press their claim;
      And fashion, elegance and wit
      Are at your feet inclined to sit._

        _Penelope,
    The fire-light flickers to and fro:
        In you I see
    The winsome child I used to know--
      My little Maiden of Romance
      Still whirling in your Shadow Dance._

        _Though woman-grown,
    To my unreconciled surprise
        I gladly own
    The same light lies within your eyes--
      The same sweet candour which beguiled
      Your rhymster when you were a child._

        _And so I come,
    With limping verse to you again,
        Amid the hum
    Of that young world wherein you reign--
      Only a moment to appear
      And say: "Your rhymster loves you, dear."_

                _R. W. C._



PREFACE


Always animated by a desire to contribute in a small way toward
scientific investigation, the author offers this humble volume to a more
serious audience than he has so far ventured to address.

For all those who have outgrown the superficial amusement of mere
fiction this volume, replete with purpose, is written in hopes that it
may stimulate students to original research in certain obscure realms of
science, the borderlands of which, hitherto, have been scarcely crossed.

There is perhaps no division of science as important, none so little
understood, as the science of Crystal Gazing.

A vast field of individual research opens before the earnest, patient,
and sober minded investigator who shall study the subject and discover
those occult laws which govern the intimate relations between crystals,
playing cards, cigarettes, soiled pink wrappers, and the Police.


                     Amor nihil est celerius!



    LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


    "'Are you preaching?' asked Athalie, raising her eyes from the
    green god"

    "They inspected each other, apparently bereft of the power of
    speech"

    "The magnificent realism of it fascinated the Lady Alene"

    "'I am in possession of the dog and you merely claim
    possession'"



QUICK ACTION



I

There was a new crescent moon in the west which, with the star above it,
made an agreeable oriental combination.

In the haze over bay and river enough rose and purple remained to veil
the awakening glitter of the monstrous city sprawling supine between
river, sound, and sea. And its incessant monotone pulsated, groaning,
dying, ceaseless, interminable in the light-shot depths of its darkening
streets.

The sky-drawing-room windows of the Countess Athalie were all wide open,
but the only light in the room came from a crystal sphere poised on a
tripod. It had the quality and lustre of moon-light, and we had never
been able to find out its source, for no electric wires were visible,
and one could move the tripod about the room.

The crystal sphere itself appeared to be luminous, yet it remained
perfectly transparent, whatever the source of its silvery
phosphorescence.

At any rate, it was the only light in the room except the dulled glimmer
of our cigarettes, and its mild, mysterious light enabled us to see one
another as through a glass darkly.

There were a number of men there that evening. I don't remember, now,
who they all were. Some had dined early; others, during the evening,
strolled away into the city to dine somewhere or other, drifting back
afterward for coffee and sweetmeats and cigarettes in the
sky-drawing-room of the Countess Athalie.

As usual the girl was curled up by the open window among her silken
cushions, one smooth little gem-laden hand playing with the green jade
god, her still dark eyes, which slanted a little, fixed dreamily upon
infinite distance--or so it always seemed to us.

Through the rusty and corrugated arabesques of the iron balcony she
could see, if she chose, the yellow flare where Sixth Avenue crossed
the shabby street to the eastward. Beyond that, and parallel, a brighter
glow marked Broadway. Further east street lamps stretched away into
converging perspective, which vanished to a point in the faint nebular
radiance above the East River.

All this the Countess Athalie could see if she chose. Perhaps she did
see it. We never seemed to know just what she was looking at even when
she turned her dark eyes on us or on her crystal sphere cradled upon its
slender tripod.

But the sphere seemed to understand, for sometimes, under her still
gaze, it clouded magnificently like a black opal--another thing we never
understood, and therefore made light of.

"They have placed policemen before several houses on this street,"
remarked the Countess Athalie.

Stafford, tall and slim in his evening dress, relieved her of her coffee
cup.

"Has anybody bothered you?" he asked.

"Not yet."

Young Duane picked up a pack of cards at his elbow and shuffled them,
languidly.

"Where is the Ace of Diamonds, Athalie?" he asked.

"Any card you try to draw will be the Ace of Diamonds," replied the girl
indifferently.

"Can't I escape drawing it?"

"No."

We all turned and looked at Duane. He quickly spread the pack,
fan-shaped, backs up. After a moment's choosing he drew a card, looked
at it, held it up for us to see. It was the Ace of Diamonds.

"Would you mind trying that again, Athalie?" I asked. And Duane replaced
the card and shuffled the pack.

"But it's gone, now," said the girl.

"I replaced it in the pack," explained Duane.

"No, you gave it to me," she said.

We all smiled. Duane searched through the pack in his hands, once,
twice; then he laughed. The girl held up one empty hand. Then, somehow
or other, there was the Ace of Diamonds between her delicate little
thumb and forefinger.

She held it a moment or two for our inspection; then, curving her wrist,
sent it scaling out into the darkness. It soared away above the street,
tipped up, and describing an aerial ellipse, returned straight to the
balcony where she caught it in her fingers.

Twice she did this; but the third time, high in the air, the card burst
into violet flame and vanished.

"That," remarked Stafford, "is one thing which I wish to learn how to
do."

"Two hundred dollars," said the Countess Athalie, "--in two lessons;
also, your word of honour."

"Monday," nodded Stafford, taking out a note-book and making a
memorandum, "--at five in the afternoon."

"Monday and Wednesday at five," said the girl, lighting a cigarette and
gazing dreamily at nothing.

From somewhere in the room came a voice.

"Did they ever catch that crook, Athalie?"

"Which?"

"The Fifty-ninth Street safe-blower?"

"Yes."

"Did _you_ find him?"

She nodded.

"How? In your crystal?" I asked.

"Yes, he was there."

"It's odd," mused Duane, "that you can never do anything of advantage to
yourself by gazing into your crystal."

"It's the invariable limit to clairvoyance," she remarked.

"A sort of penalty for being super-gifted," added Stafford.

"Perhaps.... We can't help ourselves."

"It's too bad," I volunteered.

"Oh, I don't care," she said, with a slight shrug of her pretty
shoulders.

"Come," said somebody, teasingly, "wouldn't you like to know how soon
you are going to fall in love, and with whom?"

She laughed, dropped her cigarette into a silver bowl, stretched her
arms above her head, straightened her slender figure, turned her head
and looked at us.

"No," she said, "I do not wish to know. Light is swift; Thought is
swifter; but Love is the swiftest thing in Life, and if it is now
travelling toward me, it will strike me soon enough to suit me."

Stafford leaned forward and arranged the cushions for her; she sank back
among them, her dark eyes still on us.

"Hours are slow," she said; "years are slower, but the slowest thing in
Life is Love. If it is now travelling toward me, it will reach me soon
enough to suit me."

"I," said Duane, "prefer quick action, O Athalie, the Beautiful!"

"Athalie, lovely and incomparable," said Stafford, "I, also, prefer
quick action."

"Play _Scheherazade_ for us, Athalie," I said, "else we slay you with
our compliments."

A voice or two from distant corners repeated the menace. A match flared
and a fresh cigarette glowed faintly.

Somebody brought the tripod with its crystal sphere and set it down in
the middle of the room. Its mild rays fell on the marble basin of the
tiny fountain,--Duane's offering. The goldfish which I had given her
were floating there fast asleep.

When we had placed sweetmeats and cigarettes convenient for her, we all,
in turn, with circumstance and ceremony, bent over her left hand where
it rested listlessly among the cushions, saluting the emerald on her
third finger with our lips.

Then the dim circle closed around her, nearer.

"Of all the visions which have passed before your eyes within the depths
of that crystal globe," said Duane, "--of all the histories of men and
women which, unsuspected by them, you have witnessed, seated here in
this silent, silk-hung place, we desire to hear only those in which Fate
has been swiftest, Opportunity a loosened arrow, Destiny a flash of
lightning."

"But the victims of quick action must be nameless, except as I choose to
mask them," she said, looking dreamily into her crystal.

After a moment's silence Duane said in a low voice:

"Does anybody notice the odour of orange blossoms?"

We all noticed the fragrance.

"I seem to catch a whiff of the sea, also," ventured Stafford. "Am I
right?"

"Yes," she nodded, "you will notice the odour of the semi-tropics, even
if you miss the point of everything I tell you."

"In other words," said I, "we are but a material bunch, Athalie, and may
be addressed and amused only through our physical senses. Very well:
transpose from the spiritual for us if you please a little story of
quick action which has happened here in the crystal under your matchless
eyes!"



II


With her silver tongs she selected a sweetmeat. When it had melted in
her sweeter mouth, she lighted a cigarette, saluted us with a gay little
gesture and smilingly began:

"Don't ask me how I know what these people said; that is _my_ concern,
not yours. Don't ask me how I know what unspoken thoughts animated these
people; that is _my_ affair. Nor how I seem to be perfectly acquainted
with their past histories; for _that_ is part of my profession."

"And still the wonder grew," commented the novelist tritely, "that one
small head could carry all she knew!"

"Why," asked Stafford, "do you refuse to reveal your secret? Do you no
longer trust us, Athalie?"

She answered: "_Comment prétendons-nous qu'un autre garde notre secret,
si nous n'avons pas pu le garder nous-même?_"

Nobody replied.

"Now," she said, laughingly, "I will tell you all that I know about the
_Orange Puppy_."

       *       *       *       *       *

Plans for her first debut began before her birth. When it became
reasonably certain that she was destined to decorate the earth, she was
entered on the waiting lists of two schools--The Dinglenook School for
Boys, and The Idlebrook Institute for Young Ladies--her parents taking
no chances, but playing both ends coming and going.

When ultimately she made her first earthly appearance, and it was
apparent that she was destined to embellish the planet in the guise of a
girl, the process of grooming her for her second debut, some eighteen
years in the future, began. She lived in sanitary and sterilized
seclusion, eating by the ounce, sleeping through accurately measured
minutes, every atom of her anatomy inspected daily, every pore of her
skin explored, every garment she wore weighed, every respiration, pulse
beat, and fluctuation of bodily temperature carefully noted and
discussed.

When she appeared her hair was black. After she shed this, it came in
red; when she was eight her hair was coppery, lashes black, eyes blue,
and her skin snow and wild-strawberry tints in agreeably delicate
nuances. Several millions were set aside to grow up with her and for
her. Also, the list of foreign and aristocratic babyhood was scanned and
several dozen possibilities checked off--the list running from the
progeny of down-and-out monarchs with a sporting chance for a crown, to
the more solid infant aristocracy of Britain.

At the age of nine, the only symptom of intellect that had yet appeared
in her was a superbly developed temper. That year she eluded a governess
and two trained nurses in the park, and was discovered playing with some
unsterilized children near the duck-pond, both hands full of slime and
pollywogs.

It was the only crack in the routine through which she ever crawled.
Lessons daily in riding, driving, dancing, fencing, gymnastics, squash,
tennis, skating, plugged every avenue of escape between morning school
and evening sleep, after a mental bath in sterilized literature. Once,
out of the window she saw a fire. This event, with several runaways on
the bridle-path, included the sensations of her life up to her release
from special instructors, and her entry into Idlebrook Institute.

Here she did all she could to misbehave in a blind and instinctive
fashion, but opportunities were pitiably few; and by the time she had
graduated, honest deviltry seemed to have been starved out of her; and a
half year's finishing abroad apparently eliminated it, leaving only a
half-confused desire to be let alone. But solitude was the luxury always
denied her.

Unlike the usual debutante, who is a social veteran two years before her
presentation, and who at eighteen lacks no experience except
intellectual, Miss Cassillis had become neither a judge of champagne nor
an expert in the various cabaret steps popular at country houses and the
more exclusive dives.

"Mother," she said calmly, on her eighteenth birthday, "do you know that
I am known among my associates as a dead one?" At which that fat and
hard-eyed matron laughed, surveying her symmetrical daughter with grim
content.

"Let me tell you something," she said. "America, socially, is only one
vast cabaret, mostly consisting of performers. The spectators are few.
You're one. Conditions are reversed across the water; the audience is
in the majority.... How do you like young Willowmere?"

The girl replied that she liked Lord Willowmere. She might have added
that she was prepared to like anything in trousers that would give her a
few hours off.

"Do you think," said her mother, "you can be trusted to play in the
social cabaret all next winter, and then marry Willowmere?"

Said Cecil: "I am perfectly ready to marry anybody before luncheon, if
you will let me."

"I do not wish you to feel _that_ way."

"Mother, I _do_! All I want is to be let alone long enough to learn
something for myself."

"What do you not know? What have you _not_ learned? What accomplishment
do you lack, little daughter? What is it you wish?"

The girl glanced out of the window. A young and extremely well-built man
went striding down the avenue about his business. He looked a little
like a man she had seen playing ball on the Harvard team a year ago. She
sighed unconsciously.

"I've learned about everything there is to learn, I suppose....
Except--where do men go when they walk so busily about their business?"

"Down town," said her mother, laughing.

"What do they do there?"

"A million things concerning millions."

"But I don't see how there's anything left for them to do after their
education is completed. What is there left for me to do, except to marry
and have a few children?"

"What do you want to do?"

"Nothing.... I'd like to have something to do which would make me look
busy and make me walk rather fast--like that young man who was hurrying
down town all by himself. Then I'd like to be let alone while I'm busy
with my own affairs."

"When you marry Willowmere you'll be busy enough." She might have added:
"And lonely enough."

"I'll be occupied in telling others how to busy themselves with my
affairs. But there won't be anything for _me_ to do, will there?"

"Yes, dear child; it will be one steady fight to better a good position.
It will afford you constant exercise."

The tall young girl bit her lip and shook her pretty head in silence.
She felt instinctively that she knew how to do that. But that was not
the exercise she wanted. She looked out into the February sunshine and
saw the blue shadows on the snow and the sidewalks dark and wet, and
the little gutter arabs throwing snow-balls, and a yellow pup barking
blissfully. And, apropos of nothing at all, she suddenly remembered how
she had run away when she was nine; and a rush of blind desire surged
within her. What it meant she did not know, did not trouble to consider,
but it stirred her until the soft fire burned in her cheeks, and left
her twisting her white fingers, lips parted, staring across the wintry
park into the blue tracery of trees. To Miss Cassillis adolescence came
late.

They sang _Le Donne Curiose_ at the opera that evening; she sat in her
father's box; numbers of youthful, sleek-headed, white-shirted young men
came between the acts. She talked to all with the ardor of the young and
unsatisfied; and, mentally and spiritually still unsatisfied, buried in
fur, she was whirled back through snowy streets to the great grey
mansion of her nativity, and the silence of her white-hung chamber.

All through February the preparatory régime continued, with preliminary
canters at theatre and opera, informal party practice, and trial
dinners. Always she gave herself completely to every moment with a
wistful and unquenched faith, eager novice in her quest of what was
lacking in her life; ardent enthusiast in her restless searching for
the remedy. And, unsatisfied, lingering mentally by the door of Chance,
lest she miss somewhere the magic that satisfies and quiets--lest the
gates of Opportunity swing open after she had turned away--reluctantly
she returned to the companionship of her own solitary mind and
undeveloped soul, and sat down to starve with them in spirit, wondering
wherein might lie the reason for this new hunger that assailed her, mind
and body.

She ran up her private flag the next winter, amid a thousand other gay
and flaunting colours breaking out all over town. The newspapers roared
a salute to the wealthiest debutante; and an enthusiastic press, not yet
housebroken but agile with much exercise in leaping and fawning, leaped
now about the debutante's slippers, grinning, slavering and panting.
Later, led by instinct and its Celebrated Nose, it bounded toward young
Lord Willowmere, jumped and fawned about him, slightly soiling him,
until in midwinter the engagement it had announced was corroborated, and
a million shop-girls and old women were in a furor.

He was a ruddy-faced young man who wore his bowler hat toward the back
of his head, a small, pointed moustache, and who walked always as
though he were shod in riding boots.

He would have made a healthy studgroom for any gentleman's stable.
Person and intellect were always thoroughly scrubbed as with
saddle-soap. Had he been able to afford it, his stables would have been
second to none in England.

Soon he would be able to afford it.

To his intimates, including his fiancée, he was known as "Stirrups." All
day long he was in the saddle or on the box, every evening at the
Cataract Club or at a cabaret. Between times he called upon Miss
Cassillis--usually finding her out. When he found her not at home, he
called elsewhere, very casually.

Two continents were deeply stirred over the impending alliance.



III


Young Jones, in wildest Florida, had never heard of it or of her, or of
her income. His own fortune amounted to six hundred dollars, and he had
been born in Brooklyn, and what his salary might be only he and the
Smithsonian Institution knew.

He was an industrious young man, no better than you or I, accepting
thankfully every opportunity for mischief which the Dead Lake region
afforded. No opportunities of that kind ever presenting themselves in
that region, he went once a month to Miami in the _Orange Puppy_, and
drank too many swizzles and so forth, et cetera.

Having accomplished this, he returned to the wharf, put the _Orange
Puppy_ into commission, hoisted sail, and squared away for Matanzas
Inlet, finding himself too weak-minded to go home by a more direct
route.

He had been on his monthly pilgrimage to Miami, and was homeward bound
noisily, using his auxiliary power so that silence should not descend
upon him too abruptly. He had been, for half an hour now, immersed in a
species of solitaire known as The Idiot's Delight, when he caught
himself cheating himself, and indignantly scattered the pack to the four
winds--three of which, however, were not blowing. One card, the deuce of
hearts, fluttered seaward like a white butterfly. Beyond it he caught
sight of another white speck, shining like a gull's breast.

It was a big yacht steaming in from the open sea; and her bill of lading
included Miss Cassillis and Willowmere. But Jones could not know that.
So he merely blinked at the distant _Chihuahua_, yawned, flipped the
last card overboard, and swung the _Orange Puppy_ into the inlet, which
brimmed rather peacefully, the tide being nearly at flood.

Far away on the deck of the _Chihuahua_ the quick-fire racket of Jones's
auxiliary was amazingly audible. Miss Cassillis, from her deck-chair,
could see the _Orange Puppy_, a fleck of glimmering white across a
sapphire sea. How was she to divine that one Delancy Jones was aboard of
her? All she saw when the two boats came near each other was a noisy
little craft progressing toward the lagoon, emitting an earsplitting
racket; and a tall, lank young man clad in flannels lounging at the
tiller and smoking a cigarette.

Around her on the snowy deck were disposed the guests of her parents,
mostly corpulent, swizzles at every elbow, gracefully relaxing after a
morning devoted to arduous idleness. The Victor on deck, which had
furnished the incentive to her turkey-trotting with Lord Willowmere, was
still exuding a syncopated melody. Across the water, Jones heard it and
stood looking at the great yacht as the _Orange Puppy_ kicked her way
through the intensely blue water under an azure sky.

Willowmere lounged over to the rail and gazed wearily at the sand dunes
and palmettos. Presently Miss Cassillis slipped from her deck-chair to
her white-shod feet, and walked over to where he stood. He said
something about the possibilities of "havin' a bit of shootin'," with a
vague wave of his highly-coloured hand toward the palmetto forests
beyond the lagoon.

If the girl heard him she made no comment. After a while, as the
distance between the _Chihuahua_ and the _Orange Puppy_ lengthened, she
levelled her sea glasses at the latter craft, and found that the young
man at the helm was also examining her through his binoculars.

While she inspected him, several unrelated ideas passed through her
head; she thought he was very much sunburned and that his hatless head
was attractive, with its short yellow hair crisped by the sun. Without
any particular reason, apparently, she recollected a young man she had
seen the winter before, striding down the wintry avenue about his
business. He might have been this young man for all she knew. Like the
other, this one wore yellow hair. Then, with no logic in the sequence of
her thoughts, suddenly the memory of how she had run away when she was
nine years old set her pulses beating, filling her heart with the
strange, wistful, thrilling, overwhelming longing which she had supposed
would never again assail her, now that she was engaged to be married.
And once more the soft fire burned in her cheeks.

"Stirrups," she said, scarcely knowing what she was saying, "I don't
think I'll marry you after all. It's just occurred to me."

"Oh, I say!" protested Willowmere languidly, never for a moment
mistrusting that the point of her remark was buried in some species of
American humour. He always submitted to American humour. There was
nothing else to do, except to understand it.

"Stirrups, dear?"

"What?"

"You're very pink and healthy, aren't you?"

He shrugged his accustomed shrug of resignation.

"Oh, I say--come, now----" he murmured, lighting a cigarette.

"What a horrid smash there would be if I didn't make good, wouldn't
there, Stirrups?" She mused, her blue eyes resting on him, too coldly.

"Rather," he replied, comfortably settling his arms on the rail.

"It might happen, you know. Suppose I fell overboard?"

"Fish you out, ducky."

"Suppose I--ran away?"

"Ow."

"What would you do, Stirrups? Why, you'd go back to town and try to
pick another winner. Wouldn't you?"

He laughed.

"Naturally that is what you would do, isn't it?" She considered him
curiously for a moment, then smiled. "How funny!" she said, almost
breathlessly.

"Rather," he murmured, and flicked his cigarette overboard.

The _Orange Puppy_ had disappeared beyond the thicket of palmettos
across the point. The air was very warm and still.

Her father waddled forward presently, wearing the impressive summer
regalia of a commodore in the Siwanois Yacht Club. His daughter's blue
eyes rested on the portly waistline of her parent--then on his fluffy
chop-whiskers. A vacant, hunted look came into her eyes.

"Father," she said almost listlessly, "I'm going to run away again."

"When do you start?" inquired that facetious man.

"Now, I think. What is there over there?"--turning her face again toward
the distant lagoon, with its endless forests of water-oak, cedar, and
palmetto.

"Over there," said her father, "reside several species of snakes and
alligators. Also other reptiles, a number of birds, and animals, and
much microbic mud."

She bit her lip. "I see," she said, nodding.

Willowmere said: "We should find some shootin' along the lagoon. Look at
the ducks."

Mr. Cassillis yawned; he had eaten too heavily of duck to be interested.
Very thoughtfully he presented himself with a cigar, turned it over and
over between his soft fingers, and yawned again. Then, nodding solemnly
as though in emphasis of a profound idea of which he had just been
happily delivered, he waddled slowly back along the deck.

His daughter looked after him until he disappeared; gazed around her at
the dawdling assortment of guests aboard, then lifted her quiet eyes to
Willowmere.

"Ducky," she said, "I can't stand it. I'm going to run away."

"Come on, then," he said, linking his arm in hers.

The Victor still exuded the Tango.

She hesitated. Then freeing herself:

"Oh, not with you, Stirrups! I wish to go away somewhere entirely alone.
Could you understand?" she added wistfully.

He stifled a yawn. American humour bored him excessively.

"You'll be back in a day or two?" he inquired. And laughed violently
when the subtlety of his own wit struck him.

"In a day or two or not at all. Good-bye, Stirrups."

"Bye."

The sun blazed on her coppery hair and on the white skin that never
burned, as she walked slowly across the yacht's deck and disappeared
below.

While she was writing in her cabin, the _Chihuahua_ dropped her anchors.
Miss Cassillis listened to the piping, the thud of feet on deck, the
rattle and distant sound of voices. Then she continued her note:

     I merely desire to run away. I don't know why, Mother, dear.
     But the longing to bolt has been incubating for many years. And
     now it's too strong to resist. I don't quite understand how it
     came to a crisis on deck just now, but I looked at Stirrups,
     whose skin is too pink, and at Father, who had lunched too
     sumptuously, and at the people on deck, all digesting in a
     row--and then at the green woods on shore, and the strip of
     white where a fairy surf was piling up foam into magic castles
     and snowy battlements, ephemeral, exquisite. And all at once
     it came over me that I must go.

     Don't be alarmed. I shall provision a deck canoe, take a tent,
     some rugs and books, and paddle into that lagoon. If you will
     just let me alone for two or three days, I promise I'll return
     safe and sound, and satisfied. For something has got to be done
     in regard to that longing of mine. But really, I think that if
     you and Father _won't_ understand, and if you send snooping
     people after me, I won't come back at all, and I'll never marry
     Stirrups. Please understand me, Mother, dear.

                                                              CECIL.

This effusion she pinned to her pillow, then rang for the steward and
ordered the canoe to be brought alongside, provisioned for a three days'
shooting trip.

So open, frank, and guileless were her orders that nobody who took them
suspected anything unusual; and in the full heat and glare of the
afternoon siesta, when parents, fiancé, and assorted guests were all
asleep and in full process of digestion and the crew of the _Chihuahua_
was drowsing from stem to stern, a brace of sailors innocently connived
at her escape, aided her into the canoe, and, doubting nothing, watched
her paddle away through the inlet, and into the distant lagoon, which
lay sparkling in golden and turquoise tints, set with palms like a
stupid picture in a child's geography.

Later, the _Chihuahua_ fired a frantic gun. Later still, two boats left
the yacht, commanded respectively by one angry parent and one fiancé,
profoundly bored.



IV


When Miss Cassillis heard the gun, it sounded very far away. But it
irritated as well as scared her. She pushed the canoe energetically
through a screen of foliage overhanging the bank of the lagoon, it being
merely her immediate instinct to hide herself.

To her surprise and pleasure, she discovered herself in a narrow, deep
lead, which had been entirely concealed by the leaves, and which wound
away through an illimitable vista of reeds, widening as she paddled
forward, until it seemed like a glassy river bordered by live-oak,
water-oak, pine, and palmetto, curving out into a flat and endless land
of forests.

Here was liberty at last! No pursuit need now be feared, for the
entrance to this paradise which she had forced by a chance impulse
could never be suspected by parent or fiancé.

A little breeze blew her hair and loosened it; silently her paddle
dipped, swept astern in a swirl of bubbles, flashed dripping, and dipped
again.

Ahead of her a snake-bird slipped from a dead branch into the water; a
cormorant perched on the whitened skeleton of a mango, made hideous
efforts to swallow a mullet before her approach disorganized his
manoeuvres.

So silently the canoe stole along that the fat alligators, dozing in the
saw-grass, dozed on until she stirred them purposely with a low tap of
her paddle against the thwarts; then they rose, great lumbering bodies
propped high on squatty legs, waddled swiftly to the bank's edge, and
slid headlong into the water.

Everywhere dragon-flies glittered over the saw-grass; wild ducks with
golden eyes and heads like balls of brown plush swam leisurely out of
the way; a few mallard, pretending to be frightened, splashed and
clattered into flight, the sunlight jewelling the emerald heads of the
drakes.

"Wonderful, wonderful," her heart was singing to itself, while her
enchanted eyes missed nothing--neither the feebly flying and strangely
shaped, velvety black butterflies, the narrow wings of which were
striped with violent yellow; nor the metallic blue and crestless jays
that sat on saplings, watching her; nor the pelicans fishing with
nature's orange and iridescent net in the shallows; nor the tall,
slate-blue birds that marched in dignified retreat through the sedge,
picking up their stilt-like legs with the precision of German
foot-soldiers on parade.

These and other phenomena made her drop her paddle at intervals and clap
her hands softly in an ecstasy beyond mere exclamation. How restfully
green was the world; how limpid the water; how royally blue the heavens!
Listening, she could hear the soft stirring of palmetto fronds in the
forests; the celestial song of a little bird that sat on a sparkle-berry
bush, its delicate long-curved bill tilted skyward. Then the deep note
of splendour flashed across the scheme of sound and colour as a crimson
cardinal alighted near her, crest erect.

But more wonderful than all was that at last, after eighteen years, she
was utterly alone; and liberty was showering its inestimable gifts upon
her in breathless prodigality--liberty to see with her own eyes and
judge with her own senses; liberty to linger capriciously amid mental
fancies, to move on impulsively to others; liberty to reflect unurged
and unrestricted; liberty to choose, to reject, to ignore.

[Illustration: "They inspected each other, apparently bereft of the
power of speech."]

Now and then a brilliant swimming snake filled her with interest and
curiosity. Once, on a flat, low bush, she saw a dull, heavy,
blunt-bodied serpent lying asleep in the sun like an old and swollen
section of rubber hose. But when she ventured to touch the bush with her
paddle, the snake reared high and yawned at her with jaws which seemed
to be lined in white satin. Which fortunately made her uneasy, and she
meddled no more with the Little Death of the southern swamps.

She was now passing very close to the edge of the "hammock," where
palmettos overhung the water; and as the cool, dim woodlands seemed to
invite her, she looked about her leisurely for an agreeable landing
place. There were plenty to choose from; and she selected a little sandy
point under a red cedar tree, drove her canoe upon it, and calmly
stepped ashore. And found herself looking into the countenance of Jones.

For a full minute they inspected each other, apparently bereft of the
power of speech.

She said, finally: "About a year ago last February, did you happen to
walk down Fifth Avenue--very busily? Did you?"

It took him an appreciable time to concentrate for mental retrospection.

"Yes," he said, "I did."

"You were going down town, weren't you?"

"Yes."

"On business?"

"Yes," he said, bewildered.

"I wonder," she said timidly, "if you would tell me what that business
was? Do you mind? Because, really, I don't mean to be impertinent."

He made an effort to reflect. It was difficult to reflect and to keep
his eyes on her but also it is impolite to converse with anybody and
look elsewhere. This he had been taught at his mother's knee--and
sometimes over it.

"My business down town," he said very slowly, "was with an officer of
the Smithsonian Institution who had come on from Washington to see
something which I had brought with me from Florida."

"Would you mind telling me what it was you brought with you from
Florida?" she asked wistfully.

"No. It was malaria."

"What!"

"It was malaria," he repeated politely.

"I--I don't see how you could--could show it to him," she murmured,
perplexed.

"Well, I'll tell you how I showed it to him. I made a little incision in
my skin with a lancet; he made a smear or two----"

"A--what?"

"A smear--he put a few drops of my blood on some glass plates."

"Why?"

"To examine them under the microscope."

"Why?"

"So that he might determine what particular kind of malaria I had
brought back with me."

"Did he find out?" she asked, deeply interested.

"Yes," said Jones, displaying mild symptoms of enthusiasm, "he
discovered that I was fairly swarming with a perfectly new and
undescribed species of bacillus. That bacillus," he added, with modest
diffidence, "is now named after me."

She looked at him very earnestly, dropped her blue eyes, raised them
again after a moment:

"It must be--pleasant--to give one's name to a bacillus."

"It is an agreeable and exciting privilege. When I look into the culture
tubes I feel an intimate relationship with those bacilli which I have
never felt for any human being."

"You--you are a----" she hesitated, with a slight but charming colour in
her cheeks, "a naturalist, I presume?" And she added hastily, "No doubt
you are a famous one, and my question must sound ignorant and absurd to
you. But as I do not know your name----"

"It is Jones," he said gloomily, "--and I am not famous."

"Mine is Cecil Cassillis; and neither am I," she said. "But I thought
when naturalists gave their names to butterflies and microbes that
everything concerned immediately became celebrated."

Jones smiled; and she thought his expression very attractive.

"No," he said, "fame crowns the man who, celebrated only for his wealth,
names hotels, tug-boats, and art galleries after himself. Thus are
Immortals made."

She laughed, standing there gracefully as a boy, her hands resting on
her narrow hips. She laughed again. A tug-boat, a hotel, and a cigar
were named after her father.

"Fame is an extraordinary thing," she said. "But liberty is still more
wonderful, isn't it?"

"Liberty is only comparative," he said, smiling. "There is really no
such thing as absolute freedom."

"_You_ have all the freedom you desire, haven't you?"

"Well--I enjoy the only approach to absolute liberty I ever heard of."

"What kind of liberty is that?"

"Freedom to think as I please, no matter what I'm obliged to do."

"But you do what you please, too, don't you?"

"Oh, no!" he said smiling. "The man was never born who did what he
pleased."

"Why not? You choose your own work, don't you?"

"Yes. But once the liberty of choice is exercised, freedom ends. I
choose my profession. There my liberty ends, because instantly I am
enslaved by the conditions which make my choice a profession."

She was deeply interested. A mossy log lay near them; she seated herself
to listen, her elbow on her knee, and her chin cupped in her hand. But
Jones became silent.

"Were you not in that funny little boat that passed the inlet about
three hours ago?" she asked.

"The _Orange Puppy_? Yes."

"What an odd name for a boat--the _Orange Puppy_!"

"An orange puppy," he explained, "is the name given in the Florida
orange groves to the caterpillar of a large swallow-tail butterfly,
which feeds on orange leaves. The butterfly it turns into is known to
entomologists as _Papilio cresphontes_ and _Papilio thoas_. The latter
is a misnomer."

She gazed upon this young man in undisguised admiration.

"Once," she said, "when I was nine years old, I ran away from a
governess and two trained nurses. They found me with both hands full of
muddy pollywogs. It has nothing to do with what you are saying, but I
thought I'd tell you."

He insisted that the episode she recalled was most interesting and
unusual, considered purely as a human document.

"Would you tell me what you are doing down here in these forests?" she
asked, "--as we are discussing human documents."

"Yes," he said. "I am investigating several thousand small caterpillars
which are feeding on the scrub-palmetto."

"Is that your _business_?"

"Exactly. If you will remain very still for a moment and listen very
intently you can hear the noise which these caterpillars make while
they are eating."

She thought of the _Chihuahua_, and it occurred to her that she had
rather tired of seeing things eat. However, except in Europe, she had
never _heard_ things eat. So she listened.

He said: "These caterpillars are in their third moult--that is, they
have changed their skin three times since emerging from the egg--and are
now busily chewing the immature fruit of the scrub-palmetto. You can
hear them very plainly."

She sat silent, spellbound; and presently in the woodland stillness, all
around her she heard the delicate and continuous sound--the steady,
sustained noise of thousands of tiny jaws, all crunching, all busily
working together. And when she realized what the elfin rustle really
meant, she turned her delighted and grateful eyes on Jones. And the
beauty of them made him exceedingly thoughtful.

"Will you explain to me," she whispered, "why you are studying these
caterpillars, Mr. Jones?"

"Because they are spreading out over the forests. Until recently this
particular species of caterpillar, and the pretty little moth into which
it ultimately turns, were entirely confined to a narrow strip of
jungle, only a few miles long, lying on the Halifax River. Nowhere else
in all the world could these little creatures be found. But recently
they have been reported from the Dead Lake country. So the Smithsonian
Institution sent me down here to study them, and find out whither they
were spreading, and whether any natural parasitic enemies had yet
appeared to check them."

She gazed at him, fascinated.

"Have any appeared?" she asked, under her breath.

"I have not yet found a single creature that preys upon them."

"Isn't it a very arduous and difficult task to watch these thousands of
little caterpillars all day long?"

"It is quite impossible for me to do it thoroughly all alone."

"Would you like to have me help you?" she asked innocently.

Which rather bowled him over, but he said:

"I'd b-b-be d-d-delighted--only you haven't time, have you?"

"I have three days. I've brought a tent, you see, and everything
necessary--rugs, magazines, blankets, toilet articles, bon-bons,
books--everything, in fact, to last three days.... I wonder how that
tent is put up. Do you know?"

He went over to the canoe and gazed at the tent.

"I think I could pitch it for you," he said.

"Oh, thanks so much! May I help you? I think I'll put it here on this
pretty stretch of white sand by the water's edge."

"I'm afraid that wouldn't do," he said, gravely.

"Why?"

"Because the lagoon is tidal. You'd be awash sooner or later."

"I see. Well, then, anywhere in the woods will do----"

"Not _anywhere_," he said, smiling. "High water leaves few dry places in
this forest; in fact--I'm afraid that my shack is perched on the only
spot which is absolutely dry at all times. It is a shell mound--the only
one in the Dead Lake region."

"Isn't there room for my tent beside yours?" she asked, a trifle
anxiously.

"Y-es," he said, in a voice as matter of fact as her own. "How many will
there be in your party?"

"In my _party_! Why, only myself," she said, with smiling animation.

"Oh, I see!" But he didn't.

They lugged the tent back among the trees to the low shell mound, where
in the centre of a ring of pines and evergreen oaks his open-faced shack
stood, thatched with palmetto fans. She gazed upon the wash drying on
the line, upon a brace of dead ducks hanging from the eaves, upon the
smoky kettle and the ashes of the fire. Purest delight sparkled in her
blue eyes.

Erecting her silk tent with practiced hands, he said carelessly:

"In case you cared to send any word to the yacht----"

"Did I say that I came from the yacht?" she asked; and her straight
eyebrows bent a trifle inward.

"Didn't you?"

"Will you promise me something, Mr. Jones?"

The things he was prepared to promise her choked him for a second, but
when he regained control of his vocal powers he said, very pleasantly,
that he would gladly promise her anything.

"Then don't ask me where I came from. Let me stay three days. Then I'll
go very quietly away, and never trouble you again. Is it a promise?"

"Yes," he said, not looking at her. His face had become very serious;
she noticed it--and how well his head was set on his shoulders, and how
his clipped hair was burned to the color of crisp hay.

"You were Harvard, of course," she said, unthinkingly.

"Yes." He mentioned the year.

"Not crew?"

"No."

"Baseball?"

"'Varsity pitcher," he nodded, surprised.

"Then this is the third time I've seen you.... I wonder what it is about
you----" She remained silent, watching him burying her water bottles in
the cool marl.

When all was in order, he smiled, made her a little formal bow, and
evinced a disposition to retire and leave her in possession.

"I thought we were going to work at once!" she said uneasily. "I am
quite ready." And, as he did not seem to comprehend, "I was going to
help you to examine the little caterpillars, one by one; and the minute
I saw anything trying to bite them I was going to call you. Didn't you
understand?" she added wistfully.

"That will be fine!" he said, with an enthusiasm very poorly
controlled.

"You will show me where the little creatures are hiding, won't you?"

"Indeed I will! Here they are, all about us!" He made a sweeping gesture
over the low undergrowth of scrub-palmetto; and the next moment:

"I see them!" she exclaimed, delighted. "Oh, what funny, scrubby, busy
little creatures! They are everywhere--_everywhere_! Why, there seem to
be thousands and thousands of them! And all are eating the tiny green
bunches of fruit!"

They bent together over a group of feeding larvæ; he handed her a pocket
microscope like his own; and, enchanted, she studied the tiny things
while he briefly described their various stages of development from the
little eggs to the pretty, pearl-tinted moth so charmingly striped with
delicate, brown lines--a rare prize in the cabinet of any collector.



V


Through the golden forest light of afternoon, they moved from shrub to
shrub; and he taught her to be on the watch for any possible foes of the
neat and busy little caterpillars, warning her to watch for birds,
spiders, beetles, ichneumon flies, possibly squirrels or even hornets.
She nodded her comprehension; he went one way, she the other. For nearly
ten minutes they remained separated, and it seemed ages to one of them
anyway.

But the caterpillars appeared to be immune. Nothing whatever interfered
with them; wandering beetles left them unmolested; no birds even noticed
them; no gauzy-winged and parasitic flies investigated them.

"Mr. Jones!" she called.

He was at her side in an instant.

"I only wanted to know where you were," she said happily.

The sun hung red over the lagoon when they sauntered back to camp. She
went into her tent with a cheerful nod to him, which said:

"I've had a splendid time, and I'll rejoin you in a few moments."

When she emerged in fresh white flannels, she found him writing in a
blank-book.

"I wonder if I might see?" she said. "If it's scientific, I mean."

"It is, entirely."

So she seated herself on the ground beside him, and read over his
shoulder the entries he was making in his field book concerning the
day's doings. When he had finished his entry, she said:

"You have not mentioned my coming to you, and how we looked for
ichneumon flies together."

"I----" He was silent.

She added timidly: "I know I count for absolutely nothing in the
important experiences of a naturalist, but--I did look very hard for
ichneumon flies. Couldn't you write in your field book that I tried very
hard to help you?"

He wrote gravely:

"Miss Cassillis most generously volunteered her invaluable aid, and
spared no effort to discover any possible foe that might prove to be
parasitic upon these larvæ. But so far without success."

"Thank you," she said, in a very low voice. And after a short silence:
"It was not mere vanity, Mr. Jones. Do you understand?"

"I know it was not vanity, even if I do not entirely understand."

"Shall I tell you?"

"Please."

"It was the first thing that I have ever been permitted to do all by
myself. It meant so much to me.... And I wished to have a little record
of it--even if you think it is of no scientific importance."

"It is of more importance than----" But he managed to stop himself,
slightly startled. She had lifted her head from the pages of the field
book to look at him. When his voice failed, and while the red burned
brilliantly in his ears, she resumed her perusal of his journal,
gravely. After a while, though she turned the pages as if she were
really reading, he concluded that her mind was elsewhere. It was.

Presently he rose, mended the fire, filled the kettle, and unhooked the
brace of wild ducks from the eaves where they swung, and marched off
with them toward the water.

When he returned, the ducks were plucked and split for broiling. He
found her seated as he had left her, dreaming awake, idle hands folded
on the pages of his open field book.

For dinner they had broiled mallard, coffee, ash-cakes, and bon-bons.
After it she smoked a cigarette with him.

Later she informed him that it was her first, and that she liked it, and
requested another.

"Don't," he said, smiling.

"Why?"

"It spoils a girl's voice, ultimately."

"But it's very agreeable."

"Will you promise not to?" he asked, lightly.

Suddenly her blue eyes became serious.

"Yes," she said, "if you wish."

The woods grew darker. Far across the lagoon a tiger-owl woke up and
began to yelp like a half-strangled hobgoblin.

She sat silent for a little while, then very quietly and frankly put her
hand on Jones's. It was shaking.

"I am afraid of that sound," she said calmly.

"It is only a big owl," he reassured her, retaining her hand.

"Is that what it is? How _very_ dark the woods are! I had no idea that
there could be such utter darkness. I am not sure that I care for it."

"There is nothing to harm you in these woods."

"No bears and wolves and panthers?"

"There are a few--and all very anxious to keep away from anything
human."

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely."

"Do you mind if I leave my hand where it is?"

It appeared that he had no insurmountable objections.

After the seventh tiger-owl had awakened and the inky blackness quivered
with the witch-like shouting and hellish tumult, he felt her shoulder
pressing against his. And bending to look into her face saw that all the
colour in it had fled.

"You mustn't be frightened," he said earnestly.

"But I am. I'm sorry.... I'll try to accustom myself to it.... The
darkness is a--a trifle terrifying--isn't it?"

"It's beautiful, too," he said, looking up at the firelit foliage
overhead. She looked up also, her slender throat glimmering rosy in the
embers' glare. After a moment she nodded:

"It _is_ wonderful.... If I only had a little time to accustom myself to
it I am sure I should love it.... Oh! What was that very loud splash
out there in the dark?"

"A big fish playing in the lagoon; or perhaps wild ducks feeding."

After a few minutes he felt her soft hand tighten within his.

"It sounds as though some great creature were prowling around our fire,"
she whispered. "Do you hear its stealthy tread?"

"Noises in the forest are exaggerated," he said carelessly. "It may be a
squirrel or some little furry creature out hunting for his supper.
Please don't be afraid."

"Then it _isn't_ a bear?"

"No, dear," he said, so naturally and unthinkingly that for a full
second neither realised the awful break of Delancy Jones.

When they did they said nothing about it. But it was some time before
speech was resumed. She was the first to recover. Perhaps the
demoralisation was largely his. It usually is that way.

She said: "This has been the most perfect day of my entire life. I'm
even glad I am a little scared. It is delicious to be a trifle afraid.
But I'm not, now--very much.... Is there any established hour for
bedtime in the woods?"

"Inclination sounds the hour."

"Isn't that wonderful!" she sighed, her eyes on the fire. "Inclination
rules in the forest.... And here I am."

The firelight on her copper-tinted hair masked her lovely eyes in a soft
shadow. Her shoulder stirred rhythmically as she breathed.

"And here you live all alone," she mused, half to herself.... "I once
saw you pitch a game against Yale.... And the next time I saw you
walking very busily down Fifth Avenue.... And now--you are--here....
That is wonderful.... Everything seems to be wonderful in this place....
Wh-what _is_ that flapping noise, please?"

"Two herons fighting in the sedge."

"You know everything.... That is the most wonderful of all. And yet you
say you are not famous?"

"Nobody ever heard of me outside the Smithsonian."

"But--you _must_ become famous. To-morrow I shall look very hard for an
ichneumon fly for you----"

"But your discovery will make _you_ famous, Miss Cassillis----"

"Why--why, it's for _you_ that I am going to search so hard! Did you
suppose I would dream of claiming any of the glory!"

He said, striving to speak coolly:

"It is very generous and sweet of you.... And, after all, I hardly
suppose that you need any added lustre or any additional happiness in a
life which must be so full, so complete, and so care-free."

She was silent for a while, then:

"Is _your_ life then so full of care, Mr. Jones?"

"Oh, no," he said; "I get on somehow."

"Tell me," she insisted.

"What am I to tell you?"

"Why it is that your life is care-ridden."

"But it isn't----"

"Tell me!"

He said, gaily enough: "To labour for others is sometimes a little
irksome.... I am not discontented.... Only, if I had means--if I had
barely sufficient--there are so many fascinating and exciting lines of
independent research to follow--to make a name in----" He broke off with
a light laugh, leaned forward and laid another log on the fire.

"You can not afford it?" she asked, in a low voice; and for the moment
astonishment ruled her to discover that this very perfect specimen of
intelligent and gifted manhood was struggling under such an amazingly
trifling disadvantage. Only from reading and from hearsay had she been
even vaguely acquainted with the existence of poverty.

"No," he said pleasantly, "I can not yet afford myself the happiness of
independent research."

"When will you be able to afford it?"

Neither were embarrassed; he looked thoughtfully into the fire; and for
a while she watched him in his brown study.

"Will it be soon?" she asked, under her breath.

"No, dear."

That time a full minute intervened before either realised how he had
answered. And both remained exceedingly still until she said calmly:

"I thought you were the very ideal embodiment of personal liberty. And
now I find that wretched and petty and ignoble circumstances fetter even
such a man as you are. It--it is--is heartbreaking."

"It won't last forever," he said, controlling his voice.

"But the years are going--the best years, Mr. Jones. And your life's
work beckons you. And you are equipped for it, and you can not take it!"

"Some day----" But he could say no more then, with her hand tightening
in his.

"To--to rise superior to circumstances--that is god-like, isn't it?" she
said.

"Yes." He laughed. "But on six hundred dollars a year a man can't rise
very high above circumstances."

The shock left her silent. Any gown of hers cost more than that. Then
the awfulness of it all rose before her in its true and hideous
proportions. And there was nothing for her to do about it, nothing,
absolutely nothing, except to endure the degradation of her wealth and
remember that the merest tithe of it could have made this man beside her
immortally famous--if, perhaps, no more wonderful than he already was in
her eyes.

Was there no way to aid him? She could look for ichneumon flies in the
morning. And on the morning after that. And the next morning she would
say good-bye and go away forever--out of this enchanted forest, out of
his life, back to the _Chihuahua_, and to her guests who ate often and
digested all day long--back to her father, her mother--back to
Stirrups----

He felt her hand close on his convulsively, and turned to encounter her
flushed and determined face.

"You like me, don't you?" she said.

"Yes." After a moment he said: "Yes--absolutely."

"Do you like me enough to--to let me help you in your research work--to
be patient enough to teach me a little until I catch up with you?... So
we can go on together?... I know I am presumptuous--perhaps
importunate--but I thought--somehow--if you did like me well enough--it
would be--very agreeable----"

"It would be!... And I--like you enough for--anything. But you could not
remain here----"

"I don't mean here."

"Where, then?"

"Where?" She looked vaguely about her in the firelight. "Why,
everywhere. Wherever you go to make your researches."

"Dear, I would go to Ceylon if I could."

"I also," she said.

He turned a little pale, looking at her in silence. She said calmly:
"What would you do in Ceylon?"

"Study the unknown life-histories of the rarer Ornithoptera."

She knew no more than a kitten what he meant. But she wanted to know,
and, moreover, was perfectly capable of comprehending.

"Whatever you desire to study," she said, "would prove delightful to
me.... If you want me. Do you?"

"Want you!" Then he bit his lip.

"Don't you? Tell me frankly if you don't. But I think, somehow, you
would not make a mistake if you did want me. I really am intelligent. I
didn't know it until I talked with you. Now, I know it. But I have never
been able to give expression to it or cultivate it.... And, somehow, I
know I would not be a drag on you--if you would teach me a little in the
beginning."

He said: "What can I teach _you_, Cecil? Not the heavenly frankness that
you already use so sweetly. Not the smiling and serene nobility which
carries your head so daintily and so fearlessly. Not the calm purity of
thought, nor the serene goodness of mind that has graciously included a
poor devil like me in your broad and generous sympathies----"

"Please!" she faltered, flushing. "I am not what you say--though to hear
you say such things is a great happiness--a pleasure--very intense--and
wonderful--and new. But I am nothing, _nothing_--unless I should become
useful to you. I _could_ amount to something--with--you----" She checked
herself; looked at him as though a trifle frightened. "Unless," she
added with an effort, "you are in love with somebody else. I didn't
think of that. _Are_ you?"

"No," he said. "Are you?"

"No.... I have never been in love.... This is the nearest I have come to
it."

"And I."

She smiled faintly.

"If we----"

"Oh, yes," he said, calmly, "if we are to pass the balance of our
existence in combined research, it would be rather necessary for us to
marry."

"Do you mind?"

"On the contrary. Do you?"

"Not in the least. Do you really mean it? It wouldn't be disagreeable,
would it? You are above marrying for mere sentiment, aren't you?
Because, somehow, I seem to know you like me.... And it would be death
for me--a mental death--to go back now to--to Stirrups----"

"Where?"

"To--why do you ask? Couldn't you take me on faith?"

He said, unsteadily: "If you rose up out of the silvery lagoon, just
born from the starlight and the mist, I would take you."

"You--you are a poet, too," she faltered. "You seem to be about
everything desirable."

"I'm only a man very, very deep in--love."

"In love!... I thought----"

"Ah, but you need think no more. You _know_ now, Cecil."

She remained silent, thinking for a long while. Then, very quietly:

"Yes, I know.... It is that way with me also. For I no sooner find my
liberty than I lose it--in the same moment--to you. We must never again
be separated.... Do you feel as I do?"

"Absolutely.... But it must be so."

"Why?" she asked, troubled.

"For one thing, I shall have to work harder now."

"Why?"

"Don't you know we can not marry on what I have?"

"Oh! Is _that_ the reason?" She laughed, sprang lightly to her feet,
stood looking down at him. He got up, slowly.

"I bring you," she said, "six hundred dollars a year. And a _little_
more. Which sweeps away that obstacle. Doesn't it?"

"I could not ask you to live on that----"

"I can live on what you live on! I should wish to. It would make me
utterly and supremely happy."

Her flushed, young face confronted his as she took a short, eager step
toward him.

"I am not making love to you," she said, "--at least, I don't think I
am. All I desire is to help--to give you myself--my youth, energy,
ambition, intelligence--and what I have--which is of no use to me unless
it is useful to you. Won't you take these things from me?"

"Do you give me your heart, too, Cecil?"

She smiled faintly, knowing now that she had already given it. She did
not answer, but her under lip trembled, and she caught it between her
teeth as he took her hands and kissed them in silence.



VI


"Miami is not very far, is it?" she asked, as she sprang aboard the
_Orange Puppy_.

"Not very, dear."

"We could get a license immediately, couldn't we?"

"I think so."

"And then it will not take us very long to get married, will it?"

"Not very."

"What a wonderful night!" she murmured, looking up at the stars. She
turned toward the shore. "What a wonderful place for a honeymoon!...
And we can continue business, too, and watch our caterpillars all day
long! Oh, it is all too wonderful, wonderful!" She kissed her hand to
the unseen camp. "We will be back to-morrow!" she called softly. Then a
sudden thought struck her. "You never can get the _Orange Puppy_ through
that narrow lead, can you?"

"Oh, there is an easier way out," he said, taking the tiller as the sail
filled.

Her head dropped back against his knees. Now and then her lips moved,
murmuring in sheerest happiness the thoughts that drifted through her
enchanted mind.

"I wonder when it began," she whispered, "--at the ball-game--or on
Fifth Avenue--or when I saw you here? It seems to me as if I always had
been in love with you."

Outside in the ocean, the breeze stiffened and the perfume was tinged
with salt.

Lying back against his knees, her eyes fixed dreamily on the stars, she
murmured:

"Stirrups _will_ be surprised."

"What are you talking about down there all by yourself?" he whispered,
bending over her.

She looked up into his eyes. Suddenly her own filled; and she put up
both arms, linking them around his neck.

And so the _Orange Puppy_ sailed away into the viewless, formless,
starry mystery of all romance.

       *       *       *       *       *

After a silence the young novelist, who had been poking the goldfish,
said slowly: "That's pretty poor fiction, Athalie, but, as a matter of
simple fact and inartistic truth, recording sentimental celerity, it
stands unequalled."

"Straight facts make poor fiction," remarked Duane.

"It all depends on who makes the fiction out of them," I ventured.

"Not always," said Athalie. "There are facts which when straightly told
are far stranger than fiction. I noticed a case of that sort in my
crystal last winter." And to the youthful novelist she said: "Don't try
to guess who the people were if I tell it, will you?"

"No," he promised.

"Please fix my cushions," she said to nobody in particular. And after
the stampede was over she selected another cigarette, thoughtfully, but
did not light it.



VII


"You are queer folk, you writers of fiction," she mused aloud. "No
monarch ordained of God takes himself more seriously; no actor lives
more absolutely in a world made out of his imagination."

She lighted her cigarette: "You often speak of your most 'important'
book,--as though any fiction ever written were important. Painters speak
of their most important pictures; sculptors, composers, creative
creatures of every species employ the adjective. And it is all very
silly. Facts only can be characterised as important; figments of the
creative imagination are as unimportant----" she blew a dainty ring of
smoke toward the crystal globe--"as that! '_Tout ce qu'ont fait les
hommes, les hommes peuvent le détruire. Il n'y a de caractères
inéffaçables que ceux qu' imprime la nature._' There has never been but
one important author."

I said smilingly: "To quote the gentleman you think important enough to
quote, Athalie, '_Tout est bien sortant des mains de l'Auteur des
choses: tout dégénere entre les mains de l'homme_.'"

Said the novelist simply: "Imagination alone makes facts important.
'_Cette superbe puissance, ennemie de la raison!_'"

"O Athalie," whispered Duane, "night-blooming, exquisite blossom of the
arid municipal desert, recount for us these facts which you possess and
which, in your delightful opinion, are stranger than fiction, and more
important."

And Athalie, choosing another sweetmeat, looked at us until it had
dissolved in her fragrant mouth. Then she spoke very gravely, while her
dark eyes laughed at us:

       *       *       *       *       *

When young Lord Willowmere's fiancée ran away from him and married
Delancy Jones, that bereaved nobleman experienced a certain portion of
the universal shock which this social seismic disturbance spread far and
wide over two hemispheres.

That such a girl should marry beneath her naturally disgusted everybody.
So both Jones and his wife were properly damned.

England read its morning paper, shrugged its derision, and remarked that
nobody ought to be surprised at anything that happened in the States.
"The States" swallowed the rebuke and squirmed.

Now, among the sturdy yeomanry, gentry, and nobility of those same
British and impressive Isles there was an earnest gentleman whose ample
waist and means and scholarly tastes inclined him to a sedentary life of
research. The study of human nature in its various native and exotic
phases had for forty years obsessed his insular intellect. Philologist,
anthropologist, calm philosopher, and benignant observer, this
gentleman, who had never visited the United States, determined to do so
now. For, he reasoned--and very properly--a country where such a thing
could happen to a British nobleman and a Peer of the Realm must be worth
exploring, and its curious inhabitants merited, perhaps, the
impersonally judicial inspection of an F. R. B. A. whose gigantic work
on the folk manners of the world had now reached its twentieth volume,
without as yet including the United States. So he determined to devote
several chapters in the forthcoming and twenty-first volume to the
recent colonies of Great Britain.

Now, when the Duke of Pillchester concluded to do anything, that thing
was invariably and thoroughly done. And so, before it entirely realised
the honour in store for it, the United States was buttoning its collar,
tying its white tie, and rushing down stairs to open its front door to
the Duke of Pillchester, the Duchess of Pillchester, and the Lady Alene
Innesly, their youthful and ornamental daughter.

For a number of months after its arrival, the Ducal party inspected the
Yankee continent through a lens made for purposes of scientific
investigation only. The massed wealth of the nation met their Graces in
solid divisions of social worth. The shock was mutual.

Then the massed poverty of the continent was exhibited, leaving the
poverty indifferent and slightly bored, and the Ducal party taking
notes.

It was his Grace's determination to study the folk-ways of Americans;
and what the Duke wished the Duchess dutifully desired. The Lady Alene
Innesly, however, was dragged most reluctantly from function to
function, from palace to purlieu, from theatre to cathedral, from Coney
Island to Newport. She was "havin' a rotten time."

All day long she had nothing to look at but an overdressed and alien
race whose voices distressed her; day after day she had nothing to say
except, "How d'y do," and "Mother, shall we have tea?" Week after week
she had nothing to think of except the bare, unkempt ugliness of the
cities she saw; the raw waste and sordid uglification of what once had
been matchless natural resources; dirty rivers, ruined woodlands, flimsy
buildings, ignorant architecture. The ostentatious and wretched hotels
depressed her; the poor railroads and bad manners disgusted her.

Listless, uninterested, Britishly enduring what she could not escape,
the little Lady Alene had made not the slightest effort to mitigate the
circumstances of her temporary fate. She was civilly incurious
concerning the people she met; their social customs, amusements,
pastimes, duties, various species of business or of leisure interested
her not a whit. All the men looked alike to her; all the women were
over-gowned, tiresomely pretty, and might learn one day how to behave
themselves after they had found out how to make their voices behave.

Meanwhile, requiring summer clothing--tweeds and shooting boots being
not what the climate seemed to require in July--she discovered with
languid surprise that for the first time in her limited life she was
well gowned. A few moments afterward another surprise faintly thrilled
her, for, chancing to glance at herself after a Yankee hairdresser had
finished her hair, she discovered to her astonishment that she was
pretty.

For several days this fact preyed upon her mind, alternately troubling
and fascinating her. There were several men at home who would certainly
sit up; Willowmere among others.

As for considering her newly discovered beauty any advantage in America,
the idea had not entered her mind. Why should it? All the men looked
alike; all wore sleek hair, hats on the backs of their heads, clothing
that fitted like a coster's trousers. She had absolutely no use for
them, and properly.

However, she continued to cultivate her beauty and to adorn it with
Yankee clothing and headgear befitting; which filled up considerable
time during the day, leaving her fewer empty hours to fill with tea and
three-volumed novels from the British Isles.

Now, it had never occurred to the Lady Alene Innesly to read anything
except British fact and fiction. She had never been sufficiently
interested even to open an American book. Why should she, as long as the
three props of her national literature endured intact--curates, tea, and
thoroughbred horses?

But there came a time during the ensuing winter when the last of the
three-volumed novels had been assimilated, the last serious tome
digested; and there stretched out before her a bookless prospect which
presently began to dismay her with the aridness of its perspective.

The catastrophe occurred while the Ducal party was investigating the
strange folk-customs of those Americans who gathered during the winter
in gigantic Florida hotels and lived there, uncomfortably lodged, vilely
fed, and shamelessly robbed, while third-rate orchestras play cabaret
music and enervating breezes stir the cabbage-palmettos till they rustle
like bath-room rubber plants.

It was a bad place and a bad time of year for a young and British girl
to be deprived of her native and soporific fiction; for the livelier and
Frenchier of British novelists were self-denied her, because somebody
had said they were not unlike Americans.

Now she was, in the uncouth vernacular of the country, up against it
for fair! She didn't know what it was called, but she realised how it
felt to be against something.

Three days she endured it, dozing in her room, half awake when the
sea-breeze rattled the Venetian blinds, or the niggers were noisy at
baseball.

On the fourth day she arose, went to the window, gazed disgustedly out
over the tawdry villas of Verbena Inlet, then rang for her maid.

"Bunn," she said, "here are three sovereigns. You will please buy for me
one specimen of every book on sale in the corridor of this hotel. And,
Bunn!----"

"Yes, my lady."

"What was it you were eating the other day?"

"Chewing-gum, my lady."

"Is it--agreeable?"

"Yes, my lady."

"Is it nourishing?"

"No, my lady. It is not intended to be eaten; it is to be chewed."

"Then one does not swallow it when one supposes it to be sufficiently
masticated?"

"No, my lady."

"What does one do with it?"

"Beg pardon, my lady--one spits it out."

"Ow," said the girl.



VIII


She was lying on the bed when a relay of servants staggered in bearing
gaudy piles of the most recent and popular novels, and placed them in
tottering profusion upon the adjacent furniture.

The Lady Alene turned her head where it lay lazily pillowed on her left
arm, and glanced indifferently at the multi-coloured battlement of
books. The majority of the covers were embellished with the heads of
young women, all endowed with vaudeville-like beauty--it having been
discovered by intelligent publishers that a girl's head on any book
sells it.

On some covers were displayed coloured pictures of handsome and athletic
American young men, usually kissing beautiful young ladies who wore
crowns, ermines, and foreign orders over dinner dresses. Sometimes,
however, they were kicking Kings. That seemed rather odd to the Lady
Alene, and she sat up on the bed and reached out her hand. It
encountered a book on which rested a small, oblong package. She took
book and package. On the pink wrapper of the latter she read this verse:

    Why are my teeth so white and bright?
    Because I chew with all my might
    The gum that fills me with delight
    And keeps me healthy day and night.
            Five cents.

The Lady Alene's unaccustomed fingers became occupied with the pink
wrapper. Presently she withdrew from it a thin and brittle object,
examined it, and gravely placed it in her mouth.

For a while the perplexed and apprehensive expression remained upon her
face, but it faded gradually, and after a few minutes her lovely
features settled into an expression resembling contentment. And,
delicately, discreetly, at leisurely intervals, her fresh, sweet lips
moved as though she were murmuring a prayer.

All that afternoon she perused the first American novel she had ever
read. And the cumulative effect of the fiction upon her literal mind was
amazing as she turned page after page, and, gradually gathering mental
and nervous speed, dashed from one chapter, bang! into another, only to
be occultly adjured to "take the car ahead"--which she now did quite
naturally, and on the run.

Never, never had she imagined such things could be! Always heretofore,
to her, fiction had been a strict reflection of actuality in which a
dull imagination was licensed to walk about if it kept off the grass.
And it always did in the only novels to which she had been accustomed.

But good heavens! Here was a realism at work in these pages so
astonishing yet so convincing, so subtle yet so natural, so matter of
fact yet so astoundingly new to her that the book she was reading was
already changing the entire complexion of the Yankee continent for her.

It had to do with a young, penniless, and athletic American who went to
Europe, tipped a king off his throne, pushed a few dukes, counts, and
barons out of the way, reorganized the army, and went home taking with
him a beautiful and exclusive princess with honest intentions.

The inhabitants of several villages wept at his departure; the abashed
nobility made unsuccessful attempts to shoot him; otherwise the trip to
the Cunard Line pier was uneventful, and diplomatic circles paid no
attention to the incident.

When the Lady Alene finished the story her oval face ached; but this was
no time to consider aches. So with a charming abandon she relieved her
pretty teeth of the morceau, replaced it with another, helped herself to
a second novel, settled back on her pillow, and opened the enchanted
pages.

And zip! Instantly she became acquainted with another athletic and
penniless American who was raising the devil in the Balkans.

Never in her life had she dreamed that any nation contained such
fearless, fascinating, resourceful, epigrammatic, and desirable young
men! And here she was in the very midst of them, and never had realised
it until now.

Where were they? All around her, no doubt. When, a few days later, she
had read some baker's dozen novels, and in each one of them had
discovered similar athletic, penniless, and omniscient American young
men, her opinion was confirmed, and she could no longer doubt that, like
the fiction of her own country, the romances of American novelists must
have a substantial foundation in solid fact.

There could be no use in quibbling. The situation had become exciting.
Her youthful imagination was now fired; her Saxon blood thoroughly
stirred. She knew perfectly well that there were in her own country no
young men like these she had read about--not a man-jack among them who
would ever dream of dashing about the world cuffing the ears of
reprehensible monarchs, meting out condign punishment to refractory
nobility, reconstructing governments and states and armies, and escaping
with a princess every time.

Not that she actually believed that such episodes were of common
occurrence. Young as she was she knew better. But somehow it seemed very
clear to her that a race of writers who were so unanimous on the subject
and a nation which so complacently read of these events without denying
their plausibility, must within itself harbour germs and seeds of
romance and reckless deeds which no doubt had produced a number of young
men thoroughly capable of doing a few of the exciting things she had
read about.

Now she regretted she had not noticed the men she had met; now she was
indeed sorry she had not at least taken pains to learn to distinguish
them one from the other. She wished that she had investigated this
reckless, chivalrous, energetic, and distinguishing trait of the
American young man.

It seemed odd, too, that Pa-_pa_ had never investigated it; that
Ma-_ma_ had never appeared to notice it.

She mentioned it at dinner carelessly, in the midst of a natural and
British silence. Neither parent enlightened her. One said, "Fancy!" And
the other said, "Ow."

And so, as both parents departed the following morning to investigate
the tarpon fishing at Miami, the little Lady Alene made private
preparations to investigate and closely observe the astonishing,
reckless, and romantic tendencies of the American young man. Her tour of
discovery she scheduled for five o'clock that afternoon.

Just how these investigations were to be accomplished she did not see
very clearly. She had carefully refrained from knowing anybody in the
hotel. So how to go about it she did not know; but she knew enough after
luncheon to have her hair done by somebody besides her maid, selected
the most American gown in her repertoire, took a sunshade hitherto
disdained, and glanced in the mirror at a picture in white, with gold
hair, violet eyes, and a skin of snow and roses.

Further she did not know how to equip herself, except by going out doors
at five o'clock. And at five o'clock she went.

From the tennis courts young men and girls looked at her. On the golf
links youth turned to observe her slim and dainty progress. She was
stared at from porch and veranda, from dock and deck, from garden and
walk and orange grove and hedge of scarlet hibiscus.

From every shop window in the village, folk looked out at her; from
automobile, wheeled chair, bicycle, and horse-drawn vehicle she was
inspected. But she knew nobody; not one bright nod greeted her; not one
straw hat was lifted; not one nigger grinned. She knew nobody. And,
alas! everybody knew her. A cold wave seemed to have settled over
Verbena Inlet.

Yet her father was not unpopular, nor was her mother either; and
although they asked too many questions, their perfectly impersonal and
scientific mission in Verbena Inlet was understood.

But the Lady Alene Innesly was not understood, although her indifference
was noted and her exclusiveness amusedly resented. However, nobody
interfered with her or her seclusion. The fact that she desired to know
nobody had been very quickly accepted. Youth and the world at Verbena
Inlet went on without her; the sun continued to rise and set as usual;
and the nigger waiters played baseball.

She stood watching them now for a few minutes, her parasol tilted over
her lovely shoulders. Tiring of this, she sauntered on, having not the
slightest idea where she was going, but very calmly she made up her mind
to speak to the first agreeable looking young man she encountered, as
none of them seemed at all inclined to speak to her.

Under her arm she had tucked a novel written by one Smith. She had read
it half through. The story concerned a young and athletic and penniless
man from Michigan and a Balkan Princess. She had read as far as the
first love scene. The young man from Michigan was still kissing the
Princess when she left off reading. And her imagination was still on
fire.

She had wandered down to the lagoon without finding anybody sufficiently
attractive to speak to. The water was blue and pretty and very inviting.
So she hired a motor-boat, seated herself in the stern, and dabbled her
fingers in the water as the engineer took her whizzing across the lagoon
and out into the azure waste, headed straight for the distant silvery
inlet.



IX


She read, gazed at the gulls and wild ducks, placed a bit of gum between
her rose-leaf lips, read a little, glanced up to mark the majestic
flight of eight pelicans, sighed discreetly, savoured the gum, deposited
it in a cunning corner adjacent to her left and snowy cheek, and spoke
to the boatman.

"Did you ever read this book?" she asked.

"Me! No, ma'am."

"It is very interesting. Do you read much?"

"No, ma'am."

"This is a very extraordinary book," she said. "I strongly advise you to
read it."

The boatman glanced ironically at the scarlet bound volume which bore
the portrait of a pretty girl on its covers.

"Is it that book by John Smith they're sellin' so many of down to the
hotel?" he inquired slowly.

"I believe it was written by one Smith," she said, turning over the
volume to look. "Yes, John Smith is the author's name. No doubt he is
very famous in America."

"He lives down here in winter."

"Really!" she exclaimed with considerable animation.

"Oh, yes. I take him shooting and fishing. He has a shack on the Inlet
Point."

"Where?"

"Over there, where them gulls is flying."

The girl looked earnestly at the point. All she saw were snowy dunes and
wild grasses and seabirds whirling.

"He writes them books over there," remarked the boatman.

"How extremely interesting!"

"They say he makes a world o' money by it. He's rich as mud."

"Really!"

"Yaas'm. I often seen him a settin' onto a camp chair out beyond them
dunes a-writing pieces like billy-bedam. Yes'm."

"Do you think he is there now?" she asked with a slight catch in her
breath.

"Well, we kin soon find out----" He swung the tiller; the little boat
rushed in a seething circle toward the point, veered westward, then
south.

"Yaas'm," said the boatman presently. "Mr. Smith he's reclinin' out
there onto his stummick. I guess he's just a thinkin'. He thinks more'n
five million niggers, he does. Gor-a-mighty! _I_ never see such a man
for thinkin'! He jest lies onto his stummick an' studies an' ruminates
like billy-bedam. Yaas'm. Would you want I should land you so's you can
take a peek at him?"

"Might I?"

"Sure, Miss. Go up over them dunes and take a peek at him. He won't
mind. Ten to nothin' he won't even see ye."

There was a little dock built of coquina. A power boat, a sloop, several
row-boats, and a canoe lay there, riding the little, limpid,
azure-tinted wavelets. Under their keels swam gar-pike, their fins and
backs also shimmering with blue and turquoise green.

Lady Alene rose; her boatman aided her, and she sprang lightly to the
coquina dock and walked straight over the low dune in front of her.

There was nothing whatever in sight except beach-grapes and scrubby
tufts of palmetto, and flocks of grey, long-legged, long-billed birds
running to avoid her. But they did not run very fast or very far, and
she saw them at a little distance loitering, with many a bright and
apparently friendly glance at her.

There was another dune in front. She mounted it. Straight ahead of her,
perhaps half a mile distant, stood a whitewashed bungalow under a
cluster of palms and palmettos.

From where she stood she could see a cove--merely a tiny crescent of
sand edged by a thin blade of cobalt water, and curtained by the
palmetto forest. And on this little crescent beach, in the shade of the
palms, a young man lay at full length, very intent upon his occupation,
which was, apparently, to dig holes in the sand with a child's toy
shovel.

He was clad in white flannels; beside him she noticed a red tin pail,
such as children use for gathering shells. Near this stood two
camp-chairs, one of which was piled with pads of yellow paper and a few
books. She thought his legs very eloquent. Sometimes they lay in
picturesque repose, crossed behind him; at other moments they waved in
the air or sprawled widely, appearing to express the varying emotions
which possessed his deep absorption in the occult task under his nose.

"Now, what in the world can he be doing?" thought Lady Alene Innesly,
watching him. And she remained motionless on top of the dune for ten
minutes to find out. He continued to sprawl and dig holes in the sand.

Learning nothing, and her interest increasing inversely, she began to
walk toward him. It was her disposition to investigate whatever
interested her. Already she was conscious of a deep interest in his
legs.

From time to time low dunes intervened to hide the little cove, but
always when she crossed them, pushing her way through fragrant thickets
of sweet bay and sparkle-berry shrub, cove and occupant came into view
again. And his legs continued to wave. The nearer she drew the less she
comprehended the nature of his occupation, and the more she decided to
find out what he could be about, lying there flat on his stomach and
digging and patting the sand.

Also her naturally calm and British heart was beating irregularly and
fast, because she realised the fact that she was approaching the
vicinity of one of those American young men who did things in books that
she never dreamed could be done anywhere. Nay--under her arm was a novel
written by this very man, in which the hero was still kissing a Balkan
Princess, page 169. And it occurred to her vaguely that her own good
taste and modesty ought to make an end of such a situation; and that she
ought to finish the page quickly and turn to the next chapter to relieve
the pressure on the Princess.

Confused a trifle by a haunting sense of her own responsibility, by the
actual imminence of such an author, and by her intense curiosity
concerning what he was now doing, she walked across the dunes down
through little valleys all golden with the flowers of a flat, spreading
vine. The blossoms were larger and lovelier than the largest golden
portulacca, but she scarcely noticed their beauty as she resolutely
approached the cove, moving forward under the cool shadow of the border
forest.

He did not seem to be aware of her approach, even when she came up and
stood by the camp-chairs, parasol tilted, looking down at him with
grave, lilac-blue eyes.

But she did not look at him as much as she gazed at what he was doing.
And what he was doing appeared perfectly clear to her now.

With the aid of his toy shovel, his little red pail, and several
assorted shells, he had constructed out of sand a walled city. Houses,
streets, squares, market place, covered ways, curtain, keep, tower,
turret, crenelated battlement, all were there. A driftwood drawbridge
bridged the moat, guarded by lead soldiers in Boznovian uniform.

And lead soldiers were everywhere in the miniature city; the keep
bristled with their bayonets; squads of them marched through street and
square; they sat at dinner in the market place; their cannon winked and
blinked in the westering sun on every battlement.

And after a little while she discovered two lead figures which were not
military; a civilian wearing a bowler hat; a feminine figure wearing a
crown and ermines. The one stood on the edge of the moat outside the
drawbridge: the other, in crown and ermines, was apparently observing
him of the bowler hat from the top of a soldier-infested tower.

It was plain enough to her now. This amazing young man was working out
in concrete detail some incident of an unwritten novel. And the
magnificent realism of it fascinated the Lady Alene. Genius only
possesses such a capacity for detail.

Without even arousing young Smith from his absorbed preoccupation, she
seated herself on the unincumbered camp-chair, laid her book on her
knees, rested both elbows on it, propped her chin on both clasped hands,
and watched the proceedings.

The lead figure in the bowler hat seemed to be in a bad way. Several
dozen Boznovian soldiers were aiming an assortment of firearms at him;
cavalry were coming at a gallop, too, not to mention a three-gun battery
on a dead run.

The problem seemed to be how, in the face of such a situation, was the
lead gentleman in the bowler hat to get away, much less penetrate the
city?

Flight seemed hopeless, but presently Smith picked him up, marched him
along the edge of the moat, and gave him a shove into it.

"He's swimming," said Smith, aloud to himself. "Bang! Bang! But they
don't hit him.... Yes, they do; they graze his shoulder. It is the only
wound possible to polite fiction. There is consequently a streak of red
in the water. Bang--bang--bang! Crack--crack! The cavalry empty their
pistols. Boom! A field piece opens---- Where the devil is that
battery----"

[Illustration: "The magnificent realism of it fascinated the Lady
Alene."]

Smith reached over, drew horses, cannoniers, gun and caisson over the
drawbridge, galloped them along the moat, halted, unlimbered, trained
the guns on the bowler hatted swimmer, and remarked, "Boom!"

"The shell," he murmured with satisfaction, "missed him and blew up in
the casemates. Did it kill anybody? No; that interferes with the
action.... He dives, swims under water to an ancient drain." Smith stuck
a peg where the supposed drain emptied into the moat.

"That drain," continued Smith thoughtfully, "connects with the royal
residence.... Where's that Princess? Can she see him dive into it? Or
does she merely suspect he is making for it? Or--or--doesn't she know
anything about it?"

"She doesn't know anything about it!" exclaimed Lady Alene Innesly. The
tint of excitement glowed in her cheeks. Her lilac-tinted eyes burned
with a soft, blue fire.



X


Slowly as a partly paralysed crab, Smith raised himself to a sitting
posture and looked over his shoulder into the loveliest face that he had
ever beheld, except on the paper wrappers of his own books.

"I'm sorry," said the Lady Alene. "Shouldn't I have spoken?"

The smoke and turmoil of battle still confused Smith's brain;
visualisation of wall and tower and crowns and ermines made the Lady
Alene's fresh, wholesome beauty very unreal to him for a moment or two.

When his eyes found their focus and his mind returned to actuality, he
climbed to his feet, hat in hand, and made his manners to her. Then,
tumbling books and pads from the other camp-chair, he reseated himself
with a half smiling, half shamed glance at her, and a "May I?" to which
she responded, "Please! And might I talk to you for a few moments?"

Smith shot a keen glance at the book on her knees. Resignation and pride
altered his features, but when again he looked at the Lady Alene he
experienced a pleasure in his resignation which hitherto no curious
tourist, no enterprising reporter had ever aroused. Smilingly he
composed himself for the impending interview.

"Until now," said the girl earnestly, "I think I have not been entirely
convinced by your novels. Somehow or other I could not bring myself to
comprehend the amazing realism of your plots. But now I understand the
basis of great and fundamental truth on which you build so plausibly
your splendid novels of love and life."

"What?" said Smith.

"To see you," she continued, "constructing the scenes of which later you
are to write, has been a wonderful revelation to me. It has been a
privilege the importance of which I can scarcely estimate. Your devotion
to the details of your art, your endless patience, your almost austere
absorption in truth and realism, have not only astounded me but have
entirely convinced me. The greatest thing in the world is Truth. _Now_ I
realise it!"

She made a pretty gesture of enthusiasm:

"What a wonderful nation of young men is yours, Mr. Smith! What
qualities! What fearlessness--initiative--idealism--daring--! What
invention, what recklessness, what romance----"

Her voice failed her; she sat with lips parted, a soft glow in her
cheeks, gazing upon Smith with fascinated eyes. And Smith gazed back at
her without a word.

"I don't believe," she said, "that in all England there exists a single
man capable even of conceiving the career for which so many young
Americans seem to be equipped."

After a moment Smith said very quietly:

"I am sorry, but do you know I don't quite understand you?"

"I mean," she said, "that you Americans have a capacity for conceiving,
understanding, and performing everything you write about."

"Why do you think so?" asked Smith, a trifle red.

"Because if Englishmen could understand and do such things, our
novelists would write about them. They never write about them. But you
Americans do. You write thousands of most delightful novels about young
men who do things unheard of, undreamed of, in England. Therefore, it is
very clear to me that you Americans are quite capable of doing what you
write about, and what your readers so ardently admire."

"I see," said Smith calmly. His ear-tips still burned.

"No doubt," said the girl, "many of the astonishing things you Americans
write about are really done. Many astounding episodes in fiction are of
not uncommon occurrence in real life."

"What kind of episodes?" asked Smith gravely.

"Why, any of them you write about. They all are astonishing enough. For
example, your young men do not seem to know what fear is."

"No," said Smith, "they don't."

"And when they love," said the girl, "nothing can stop them."

"Nothing."

"Nothing!" she repeated, the soft glow coming into her cheeks again.
"--Nothing! Neither rank nor wealth nor political considerations nor
family prejudices, nor even the military!"

Smith bit his lip in silence. He had heard of irony; never had he
dreamed it could be so crushing: he had heard of sarcasm; but the quiet
sarcasm of this unknown young girl was annihilating him. Critics had
carved him in his time; but the fine mincemeat which this pretty
stranger was making of him promised to leave nothing more either to
carve or to roast.

"Do you mind my talking to you?" she asked, noting the strained
expression of his features.

"No," he said, "go ahead."

"Because if I am tiring you----"

He said he was not tired.

"--or if it bores you to discuss your art with a foreigner who so truly
admires it----"

He shot a glance at her, then forced a laugh.

"I am not offended," he said. "What paper do you represent?"

"I?" she said, bewildered.

"Yes. You are a newspaper woman, are you not?"

"Do you mean a reporter?"

"Naturally."

"No," she said very seriously, "I am not a reporter. What an odd idea!"

"Do you think it odd?"

"Why, yes. Do not many admirers of your works express their pleasure in
them to you?"

He studied her lovely face coolly and in detail--the dainty arch of the
questioning eyebrows, the sensitive curve of the mouth, the clear, sweet
eyes. Could it be possible that such candour masked irony? Could all
this be the very essence of the art of acting, concealing the most
murderous sarcasm ever dreamed of by a terrified author?

And suddenly his face went red all over, and he understood that the
essence of this young girl was a candour so utterly free of
self-consciousness--a frankness so absolutely truthful, that the
simplicity of her had been a miracle too exquisite for him to
comprehend.

"You _do_ like what I write!" he exclaimed.

Her blue eyes widened: "Of course I do," she said, amazed. "Didn't you
understand me?"

"No," he said, cooling his burning face in the rising sea-wind. "I
thought you were laughing at me."

"I'm sorry if I was stupid," she said.

"_I_ was stupid."

"You!" She laughed a little.

The sinking sun peered through the palm forest behind them and flung a
beam of blinding light at her.

"Am I interrupting your work, Mr. Smith? I mean, I know I am, but----"

"Please don't go away."

"Thank you.... I have noticed what agreeable manners you Americans have
in novels. Naturally you are even more kindly and polite in real life."

"Have you met many Americans?"

"No, only you. In the beginning I did not feel interested in Americans."

"Why?"

"The young men all seemed to resemble one another," she said frankly,
"like Chinese. But now that I really know an American I am intensely
interested."

"You notice no Mongolian monotony in me?" he inquired gravely.

"Oh, no----" She coloured; then discovering that he was laughing, she
laughed, too, rather faintly.

"That was a joke, wasn't it?" she said.

"Yes, that was a joke."

"Because," she said, "there is no Mongolian uniformity about _you_. On
the contrary, you remind me in every way of one of your own heroes."

"Oh, really now!" he protested; but she insisted with serious
enthusiasm.

"You are the counterpart of the hero in this book," she repeated,
resting one hand lightly on the volume under her elbow. "You wear white
flannels, you are tall, well built, straight, with very regular
features and a fasci---- a smile," she corrected herself calmly, "which
one naturally associates with your features."

"Also," she continued, "your voice is cultivated and modulated with just
enough of the American accent to make it piquantly agreeable. And what
you say is fasci---- is well expressed and interesting. Therefore, as I
have said, to me you resemble one of your own heroes."

There was enough hot colour in his face to make it boyishly bashful.

"And you appear to be as modest as one of your own heroes," she added,
studying him. "That is truly delightful."

"But really, I am nothing like any of my heroes," he explained, terribly
embarrassed.

"Why do you say that, Mr. Smith?"

"Because it's true. I don't even resemble 'em superficially."

She made a quick, graceful gesture: "Why do you say that, when here you
are before me, the exact and exciting counterpart of the reckless and
fasci---- the reckless and interesting men you write about?"

He said nothing. She closed the parasol and considered him in silence
for a moment or two. Then:

"And I have no doubt that you are capable of doing the very things that
your heroes do so adroitly and so charmingly."

"What, for example?" he asked, reddening to his temples.

"Reconstructing armies, for instance."

"Filibustering?"

"Is that what it is called?"

"It's called that in the countries south of the United States."

"Well, would you not be capable of overturning a government and of
reconstructing the army, Mr. Smith?"

"Capable?"

"Yes."

"Well," he said cautiously, "if it was the thing I wanted to do, perhaps
I might have a try at it."

"I knew it," she exclaimed triumphantly.

"But," he explained, "I never desired to overturn any government."

"You probably have never seen any that you thought worth while
overturning."

Her confident rejoinder perplexed him and he remained silent.

"Also," she continued, still more confidently, "I am certain that if you
were in love, no obstacles would prove too great for you to surmount.
Would they?"

"Really," he said, "I don't know. I'm not very enterprising."

"That is the answer of a delightfully modest man. Your own hero would
return me such an answer, Mr. Smith. But I--and your heroine
also--understand you--I mean your hero."

"Do you?" he asked gravely.

"Certainly. I, as well as your heroine, understand that no obstacles
could check you if you loved her--neither political considerations,
diplomatic exigencies, family prejudices, nor her own rank, no matter
what it might be. Is not that true?"

Eager, enthusiastic, impersonally but warmly interested, she leaned a
little toward him, intent on his reply.

He looked into the lovely, flushed face in silence for a while. Then:

"Yes," he said, "it is true. If I loved, nothing could check me
except----" he shrugged.

"Death?" She nodded, fascinated.

He nodded. He had meant to say the police.

She said exultantly: "I knew it, Mr. Smith! I was certain that you are
the living embodiment of your own heroes! The moment I set eyes on you
playing in the sand with your lead soldiers, I was sure of it!"

Thrilled, she considered him, her soft eyes brilliant with undisguised
admiration.

"I wish I could actually _see_ it!" she said under her breath.

"See what?"

"See you, in real life, as one of your own heroes--doing some of the
things they do so cleverly, so winningly--careless of convention,
reckless of consequences, oblivious to all considerations except only
the affair in hand. That," she said excitedly, "would be glorious, and
well worth a trip to the States!"

"How far," he asked, "have you read in that book of mine?"

"In this book?" She opened it, impulsively, ran over the pages,
hesitated, stopped.

"He was--was kissing the Balkan Princess," she said. "I left them--_in
statu quo_."

"I see.... Did he do _that_ well?"

"I--suppose so."

"Have you no opinion?"

"I think he did it--very--thoroughly, Mr. Smith."

"It ought to be done thoroughly if done at all," he said reflectively.

"Otherwise," she nodded, "it would be offensive."

"To the reader?"

"To her, too. Wouldn't it?"

"You know better than I."

"No, I don't know. A nice girl can not imagine herself being
kissed--except under very extraordinary circumstances, and by a very
extraordinary man.... Such a man as you have drawn in this book."

"Had you been that Balkan Princess, what would you have done?" he asked,
rather pale.

"I?" she said, startled.

"Yes, you."

She sat considering, blue eyes lost in candid reverie. Then the faintest
smile curved her lips; she looked up at Smith with winning simplicity.

"In your story, Mr. Smith, does the Balkan Princess return his kiss?"

"Not in that chapter."

"I think I would have returned it--in that--chapter." Then, for the
first time, she blushed.

The naïve avowal set the heart and intellect of Mr. Smith afire. But he
only dropped his well-shaped head and didn't look at her. Which was
rather nice of him.

"Romance," he said after a moment or two, "is all well enough. But real
life is stranger than fiction."

"Not in the British Isles," she said with decision. "It _is_ tea and
curates and kennels and stables--as our writers depict it."

"No, you are mistaken! Everywhere it is stranger than fiction," he
insisted--"more surprising, more charming, more wonderful. Even here in
America--here in Florida--here on this tiny point of sand jutting into
the Atlantic, life is more beautiful, more miraculous than any fiction
ever written."

"Why do you say that?" she asked.

"I am afraid I can't tell you why I say it."

"Why can't you tell me?"

"Only in books could what I might have to tell you be logically
told--and listened to----"

"Only in books? But books in America reflect actual life," she said.
"Therefore, you can tell me what you have to tell. Can't you?"

"Can I?" he asked.

"Yes...." Far in the inmost recesses of her calm and maiden heart
something stirred, and her breath ceased for a second.... Innocent, not
comprehending why her breath missed, she looked at him with the
question still in her blue eyes.

"Shall I tell you why real life is stranger than fiction?" he asked
unsteadily.

"Tell me--yes--if----"

"It is stranger," he said, "because it is often more headlong and
romantic. Shall we take ourselves, for example?"

"You and me?"

"Yes. To illustrate what I mean."

She inclined her head, her eyes fixed on his.

"Very well," he said. "Even in the most skillfully constructed
story--supposing that you and I were hero and heroine--no author would
have the impudence to make us avow our love within a few minutes of our
first meeting."

"No," she said.

"In the first chapter," he continued, "certain known methods of
construction are usually followed. Time is essential--the lapse of time.
How to handle it cleverly is a novelist's business. But even the most
skillful novelist would scarcely dare make me, for example, tell you
that I am in love with you. Would he?"

"No," she said.

"And in real life, even if a man does fall in love so suddenly, he does
not usually say so, does he?" he asked.

"No," she said.

"But he _does_ fall in love sometimes more suddenly than in fiction. And
occasionally he declares himself. In real life this actually happens.
And _that_ is stranger than any fiction. Isn't it?"

"Yes," she said.

"One kind of fiction," he continued very unsteadily, "is that in which,
when he falls in love--he doesn't say so--I mean in such a case as
ours--supposing I had already fallen in love with you. I could not say
so to you. No man could say it to any girl. He remains mute. He observes
very formally every convention. He smiles, hat in hand, as the girl
passes out of his life forever.... Doesn't he? And that is one kind of
fiction--the tragic kind."

She had been looking down at the book in her lap. After a moment she
lifted her troubled eyes to his.

"I do--not know what men do--in real life," she said. "What would they
do in the--_other_ kind of fiction?"

"In the other kind of fiction there would be another chapter."

"Yes.... You mean that for us there is only this one chapter."

"Only one chapter."

"Or--might it not be called a short story, Mr. Smith?"

"Yes--one kind of short story."

"Which kind?"

"The kind that ends unhappily."

"But this one is not going to end unhappily, is it?"

"You are about to walk out of the story when it ends."

"Yes--but----" She bit her lip, flushed and perplexed, already
dreadfully confused between the personal and the impersonal--between
fact and fancy.

"You see," he said, "the short story which deals with--love--can end
only as ours is going to end--or the contrary."

"How is ours going to end?" she asked with candid curiosity.

"It must be constructed very carefully," he said, "because this is
realism."

"You must be very skillful, too," she said. "I do not see how you are to
avoid----"

"What?"

"A--an--unhappy--ending."

He looked gravely at his sand castle. "No," he said, "I don't see how it
can be avoided."

After a long silence she murmured, half to herself:

"Still, this is America--after all."

He shrugged, still studying his sand castle.

"I wish I had somebody to help me work it out," he said, half to
himself.

"A collaborator?"

"Yes."

"I'm so sorry that I could not be useful."

"Would you try?"

"What is the use? I am utterly unskilled and inexperienced."

"I'd be very glad to have you try," he repeated.



XI


After a moment she rose, went over and knelt down in the sand before the
miniature city, studying the situation. All she could see of the lead
hero in the bowler hat were his legs protruding from the drain.

"Is this battery of artillery still shelling him?" she inquired, looking
over her shoulder at Smith.

He went over and dropped on his knees beside her.

"You see," he explained, "our hero is still under water."

"All this time!" she exclaimed in consternation. "He'll drown, won't
he?"

"He'll drown unless he can crawl into that drain."

"Then he must crawl into it immediately," she said with decision.

So he of the bowler was marched along a series of pegs indicating the
subterranean drain, and set down in the court of the castle.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed the Lady Alene. "We can't leave him here! They
will know him by his bowler hat!"

"No," said Smith gloomily, "we can't leave him here. But what can we do?
If he runs out they'll fire at him by platoons."

"_Couldn't_ they miss him?" pleaded the girl.

"I'm afraid not. He has already lived through several showers of
bullets."

"But he can't die _here_!--here under the very eyes of the Princess!"
she insisted.

"Then," said Smith, "the Princess will have to pull him through. It's up
to her now."

The girl knelt there in excited silence, studying the problem intently.

It was bad business. The battlements bristled with bayonets; outside,
cavalry, infantry, artillery were massed to destroy the gentleman in the
bowler hat.

Presently the flush deepened on the girl's cheeks; she took the bowler
hat between her gloved fingers and set its owner in the middle of the
moat again.

"Doesn't he crawl into the drain?" asked Smith anxiously.

"No. But the soldiers in the castle think he does. So," she continued
with animation, "the brutal commander rushes downstairs, seizes a
candle, and enters the drain from the castle court with about a thousand
soldiers!"

"But----"

"With about ten thousand soldiers!" she repeated firmly. "And no
sooner--_no sooner_--does their brutal and cowardly commander enter that
drain with his lighted candle than the Princess runs downstairs, seizes
a hatchet, severs the gas main with a single blow, and pokes the end of
the pipe into the drain!"

"B-but----" stammered Smith, "I think----"

"Oh, _please_ wait! You don't understand what is coming."

"_What_ is coming?" ventured Smith timidly, instinctively closing both
ears with his fingers.

"Bang!" said Lady Alene triumphantly. And struck the city of sand with
her small, gloved hand.

After a silence, still kneeling there, they turned and looked at each
other through the red sunset light.

"The explosion of gas killed them both," said Smith, in an awed voice.

"No."

"What?"

"No. The explosion killed everybody in the city except those two young
lovers," she said.

"But why?"

"Because!"

"By what logic----"

"I desire it to be so, Mr. Smith." And she picked up the bowler hat and
the Princess and calmly set them side by side amid the ruins.

After a moment Smith reached over and turned the two lead figures so
that they faced each other.

There was a long silence. The red sunset light faded from the sand.

Then, very slowly, the girl reached out, took the bowler hat between her
small thumb and forefinger, and gently inclined the gentleman forward at
the slightest of perceptible angles.

After a moment Smith inclined him still farther forward. Then, with
infinite precaution, he tipped forward the Princess, so that between her
lips and the lips of the bowler hat only the width of a grass blade
remained.

The Lady Alene looked up at him over her left shoulder, hesitated,
looked at bowler hat and at the Princess. Then, supporting her weight on
one hand, with the other she merely touched the Princess--delicately--so
that not even a blade of grass could have been slipped between their
painted lips.

She was a trifle pale as she sank back on her knees in the sand. Smith
was paler.

After both her gloved hands had rested across his palm for five full
minutes, his fingers closed over them, tightly, and he leaned forward a
little. She, too, swayed forward a trifle. Her eyes were closed when he
kissed her.

Now, whatever misgivings and afterthoughts the Lady Alene Innesly may
have had, she was nevertheless certain that to resist Smith was to fight
against the stars in their courses. For not only was she in the toils of
an American, but more hopeless still, an American who chronicled the
most daring and headlong idiosyncrasies of the sort of young men of whom
he was very certainly an irresistible example.

To her there was something Shakespearean about the relentless sequence
of events since the moment when she had first succumbed to the small,
oblong pink package, and her first American novel.

And, thinking Shakespeareanly as she stood in the purple evening light,
with his arm clasping her waist, she looked up at him from her charming
abstraction:

"'If 'twere done,'" she murmured, "'when 'tis done, then 'twere well it
were done quickly.'" And then, gazing deep into his eyes, a noble idiom
of her adopted country fell from her lips:

"Dearest," she said, "my father won't do a thing to you."

And so she ran away with him to Miami where the authorities, civil and
religious, are accustomed to quick action.

It was only fifty miles by train, and preliminary telephoning did the
rest.

The big chartered launch that left for Verbena Inlet next morning poked
its nose out of the rainbow mist into the full glory of the rising sun.
Her golden head lay on his shoulder.

Sideways, with delicious indolence, she glanced at a small boat which
they were passing close aboard. A fat gentleman, a fat lady, and a
boatman occupied the boat. The fat gentleman was fast to a tarpon.

Up out of the dazzling Atlantic shot three hundred pounds of quivering
silver. Splash!

"Why, Dad!" exclaimed the girl.

Her father and mother looked over their shoulders at her in wooden
amazement.

"We are married----" called out their pretty daughter across the sunlit
water. "I will tell you all about it when you land your fish. Look
sharp, Dad! Mind your reel!"

"Who is that damned rascal?" demanded the Duke.

"My husband, Dad! Don't let him get away!--the fish, I mean. Put the
drag on! Check!"

Said his Grace of Pillchester in a voice of mellow thunder:

"If I were not fast to my first tarpon----"

"Reel in!" cried Smith sharply, "reel or you lose him!"

The Duke reeled with all the abandon of a squirrel in a wheel.

"Dearest," said Mrs. John Smith to her petrified mother, "we will see
you soon at Verbena. And _don't_ let Dad over-play that fish. He always
over-plays a salmon, you know."

The Duchess folded her fat hands and watched her departing offspring
until the chartered launch was a speck on the horizon. Then she looked
at her husband.

"Fancy!" she said.

"Nevertheless," remarked the youthful novelist, coldly, "there is
nothing on earth as ignoble as a best-seller."

"I wonder," ventured Duane, "whether you know which books actually do
sell the best."

"Or which books of bygone days were the best-sellers?"

"Some among them are still best-sellers," added Athalie.

"A truly important book----" began the novelist, but Athalie interrupted
him:

"O solemn child," she said, "write on!--and thank the gods for their
important gifts to you of hand and mind! So that you keep tired eyes
awake that otherwise would droop to brood on pain or sorrow you have
done well; and what you have written to this end will come nearer being
important than anything you ever write."

"True, by the nine muses!" exclaimed Stafford with emphasis. Athalie
glanced at him out of sweetly humourous eyes.

"There is a tenth muse," she said. "Did you never hear of her?"

"Never! Where did you discover her, Athalie?"

"Where I discover many, many things, my friend."

"In your crystal?" I said. She nodded slowly while the sweetmeat was
dissolving in her mouth.

Through the summer silence a bell here and there in the dusky city
sounded the hour.

"The tenth muse," she repeated, "and I believe there are other sisters,
also. Many a star is suspected before its unseen existence is proven....
Please--a glass of water?"



XII


She sipped the water pensively as we all returned to our places. Then,
placing the partly empty glass beside her jar of sweetmeats, she opened
her incomparable lips.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is a fine thing when a young man, born to travel the speedway of
luxury, voluntarily leaves it to hew out a pathway for himself through
life. Brown thought so, too. And at twenty-four he resolutely graduated
from Harvard, stepped out into the world, and looked about him very
sternly.

All was not well with the world. Brown knew it. He was there to correct
whatever was wrong. And he had chosen Good Literature as the vehicle for
self expression.

Now, the nine sister goddesses are born flirts; and every one of them
immediately glanced sideways at Brown, who was a nice young man with
modesty, principles, and a deep and reverent belief in Good Literature.

The nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne seemed very attractive to him
until the tenth and most recent addition to the Olympian family
sauntered by with a flirt of her narrow skirt--the jade!

One glance into the starry blue wells of her baby eyes bowled him over.
Henceforth she was to be his steady--Thalomene, a casual daughter of
Zeus, and muse of all that is sacredly obvious in the literature of
modern realism.

From early infancy Brown's had been a career of richest promise. His
mother's desk was full of his earlier impressions of life. He had, in
course of time, edited his school paper, his college paper; and, as an
undergraduate, he had appeared in the contributor's columns of various
periodicals.

His was not only a wealthy but a cultivated lineage as well. The love of
literature was born in him.

To love literature is all right in its way; to love it too well is to
mistake the appreciative for the creative genius. Reverence and devotion
are no equipment for creative authorship. It is not enough to have
something to say about what other people have said. And the inspiration
which comes from what others have done is never the true one. But Brown
didn't know these things. They were not revealed unto him at Harvard; no
inward instinct made them plain to him.

He began by foregathering with authors. Many, many authors foregather,
from various causes--tradition, inclination, general shiftlessness. When
they do that they produce a sort of serum called literary atmosphere,
which is said to be delightful. And so Brown found it. However, there
are authors who seem to be too busy with their profession to foregather
and exhale atmosphere. But these are doubtless either literary hacks or
the degraded producers of best-sellers. They are not authors, either;
they are merely writers.

Now, in all the world there is only one thing funnier than an author;
and that is a number of them. But Brown didn't know that, either.

All authors are reformers. Said one of them to Brown in the Empyrean
Club:

"When an author in his own heart ceases to be a reformer he begins to be
a menace!"

It was a fine sentiment, and Brown wrote it in his note-book.
Afterward, the more he analyzed it the less it seemed to mean.

Another author informed him that the proper study for man is man. He'd
heard that before, but the repetition steeled his resolve. And his
resolve was to reproduce in literature exactly what he observed about
him; nothing more, nothing less.

There was to be no concession to imagination, none to convention, none
to that insidious form of human weakness known as good taste. As for
art, Brown already knew what Art really was.

There was art enough for anybody in sheer truth, enough in the realism
made up of photographic detail, recorded uncompromisingly in ordered
processional sequence. After all, there was really no beauty in the
world except the beauty of absolute truth. All other alleged beauty was
only some form of weakness. Thus Brown, after inhaling literary
atmosphere.

Like the majority of young men, Brown realised that only a man, and a
perfectly fearless, honest, and unprejudiced one, was properly equipped
to study woman and tell the entire truth about her in literature.

So he began his first great novel--"The Unquiet Sex"--and he made heavy
weather of it that autumn--what with contributing to the literary
atmosphere every afternoon and evening at various clubs and cafés--not
to mention the social purlieus into which he ventured with the immortal
lustre already phosphorescent on his brow. Which left him little time
for mere writing. It is hard to be an author and a writer, too.

The proper study for man being woman, Brown studied her solemnly and
earnestly. He studied his mother and his sisters, boring them to the
verge of distraction; he attempted to dissect the motives which governed
the behaviour of assorted feminine relatives, scaring several of the
more aged and timorous, agitating others, and infuriating one or
two--until his father ordered him to desist.

House-maids, parlour-maids, ladies'-maids, waitresses, all fought very
shy of him; for true to his art, he had cast convention aside and had
striven to fathom the souls and discover the hidden motives imbedded in
Milesian, Scandinavian and Briton.

"The thing for me to do," said Brown rather bitterly to his father, "is
to go out into the world and investigate far and wide."

"Investigate what?" asked his father.

"Woman!" said Brown sturdily.

"There's only one trouble about that."

"What's that?"

"Woman," said his father, "is likely to do the investigating. This
household knows more about you than you do about it."

Brown smiled. So did his father.

"Son," said the latter, "what have you learned about women without
knowing anything about them?"

"Nothing, naturally," said Brown.

"Then you will never have anything more than _that_ to say about them,"
remarked Brown senior.

"Why not?"

"Because the only thing possible for a man to say about them is what his
imagination dictates. He'll never learn any more concerning women than
that."

"Imagination is not literature," said Brown junior, with polite
toleration.

"Imagination is often the truer truth," said the old gentleman.

"Father, that is rot."

"Yes, my son--and it is almost Good Literature, too. Go ahead, shake us
if you like. But, if you do, you'll come back married."



XIII


So Brown, who was nourishing a theory, shook his family and, requiring
mental solitude to develop his idea, he went to Verbena Inlet. Not to
the enormous and expensive caravansary swarming with wealth, ennui,
envy, and fashion; not even to its sister hotel similarly infested. But
to West Verbena, where for a mile along the white shell road modest
hotels, boarding houses, and cottages nestled behind mosquito screens
under the dingy cabbage-palmettos.

Here was stranded the winter driftwood from the North--that peculiar
flotsam and jetsam which summered in similar resorts in the North,
rocked in rocking chairs on dreary rural verandas, congregated at the
village post-office, awaited its men folk every week-end from the filthy
and sweltering metropolis.

It was at a shabby but pretentious hostelry called the Villa Hibiscus
that Brown took up his quarters. Several rusty cabbage-palmettos waved
above the whitish, sandy soil surrounding it; one or two discouraged
orange trees fruited despondently near the veranda. And the place
swarmed with human beings from all over the United States, lured from
inclement climes, into the land of the orange and the palm--wistfully
seeking in the land of advertised perpetual sunshine what the restless
world has never yet discovered anywhere--surcease from care, from
longing, from the unkindliness of its fellow seekers.

Dowdiness filled the veranda rocking chairs; unlovely hands were folded;
faded eyes gazed vacantly at the white road, at the oranges; enviously
at the flashing wheels and fluttering lingerie from the great Hotel
Verbena.

Womanhood was there in all its ages and average phases; infancy, youth,
middle age, age--all were there in the rusty villas and hotels ranged
for a mile along the smooth shell road.

The region, thought Brown to himself, was rich in material. And the
reflection helped him somewhat with his dinner, which needed a fillip or
two.

In his faultless dinner jacket he sauntered out after the evening meal;
and the idea which possessed and even thrilled him aided him to forget
what he had eaten.

The lagoon glimmered mysteriously in the starlight; the royal palms
bordering it rustled high in the night breeze from the sea. Perfume from
oleander hedges smote softly the olfactories of Brown; the southern
whip-poor-wills' hurried whisper thrilled the darkness with a deeper
mystery.

Here was the place to study woman. There could be no doubt about that.
Here, untrammelled, uninterrupted, unvexed by the jarring of the world,
he could place his model, turn her loose, and observe her.

To concentrate all his powers of analytical observation upon a single
specimen of woman was his plan. Painters and sculptors used models. He
meant to use one, too.

It would be simple. First, he must discover what he wanted. This
accomplished, he had decided to make a plain business proposition to
her. She was to go about her own affairs and her pleasure without
embarrassment or self-consciousness--behave naturally; do whatever it
pleased her to do. But he was to be permitted to observe her, follow
her, make what notes he chose; and, as a resumé of each day, they were
to meet in some quiet spot in order that he might question her as he
chose, concerning whatever interested him, or whatever in her movements
or behaviour had seemed to him involved or inexplicable.

Thus and thus only, he had decided, could light be shed upon the
mysterious twilight veiling the inner woman! Thus only might carefully
concealed motives be detected, cause and effect co-ordinated, the very
source of all feminine logic, reason, and emotion be laid bare and
dissected at leisure.

Never had anybody written such a novel as he would be equipped to write.
The ultimate word concerning woman was about to be written.

Inwardly excited, outwardly calm, he had seated himself on the coquina
wall which ran along the lagoon under the Royal Palms. He was about to
study his subject as the great masters studied, coolly, impersonally,
with clear and merciless intelligence, setting down with calm simplicity
nothing except facts.

All that was worthy and unworthy should be recorded--the good with the
evil--nothing should be too ephemeral, too minute, to escape his
searching analysis.

And all the while, though Brown was not aware of it, the memory of a
face he had seen in the dining-room grew vaguely and faded, waxing and
waning alternately, like a phantom illustration accompanying his
thoughts.

As for the model he should choose to study, she ought to be thoroughly
feminine, he thought; young, probably blonde, well formed, not very
deeply experienced, and with every human capacity for good and bad
alike.

He would approach her frankly, tell her what he required, offer her the
pay of an artist's model, three dollars a day; and, if she accepted, she
could have her head and do what she liked. All that concerned him was to
make his observations and record them.

In the blue starlight people passed and re-passed like ghosts along the
shell-road--the white summer gowns of young girls were constantly
appearing in the dusk, taking vague shape, vanishing. On the lagoon, a
guitar sounded very far away. The suave scent of oleander grew sweeter.

Spectral groups passed in clinging lingerie; here and there a ghost
lingered to lean over the coquina wall, her lost gaze faintly accented
by some level star. One of these, a slender young thing, paused near to
Brown, resting gracefully against the wall.

All around her the whip-poor-wills were calling breathlessly; the
perfume of oleander grew sweeter.

As for the girl herself, she resembled the tenth muse. Brown had never
attempted to visualise his mistress; it had been enough for him that she
was Thalomene, daughter of Zeus, and divinely fair.

But now, as he recognised the face he had noticed that evening in the
dining-room, somehow he thought of his muse for the first time,
concretely. Perhaps because the girl by the coquina wall was young,
slim, golden haired, and Greek.

His impulse, without bothering to reason, was to hop from the wall and
go over to where she was standing.

She looked around calmly as he approached, gave him a little nod in
recognition of his lifted hat.

"I'm John Brown, 4th," he said. "I'm stopping at the Villa Hibiscus. Do
you mind my saying so?"

"No, I don't mind," she said.

"There is a vast amount of nonsense in formality and convention," said
Brown. "If you don't mind ignoring such details, I have something
important to say to you."

She looked at him unsmilingly. Probably it was the starlight in her
eyes that made them glimmer as though with hidden laughter.

"I am," said Brown, pleasantly, "an author."

"Really," she said.

"When I say that I am an author," continued Brown seriously, "I mean in
the higher sense."

"Oh. What is the higher sense, Mr. Brown?" she asked.

"The higher sense does not necessarily imply authorship. I do not mean
that I am a mere writer. I have written very little."

"Oh," she said.

"Very little," repeated Brown combatively. "You will look in vain among
the crowded counters piled high with contemporary fiction for anything
from my pen."

"Then perhaps I had better not look," she said so simply that Brown was
a trifle disappointed in her.

"Some day, however," he said, "you may search, and, perhaps, not wholly
in vain."

"Oh, you are writing a book!"

"Yes," he said, "I am, so to speak, at work on a novel."

"Might one, with discretion, make further inquiry concerning your novel,
Mr. Brown?"

"_You_ may."

"Thank you," she said, apparently a trifle disconcerted by the privilege
so promptly granted.

"_You_ may," repeated Brown. "Shall I explain why?"

"Please."

"You will not mistake me, I am sure. Will you?"

She turned her pretty face toward him.

"I don't think so," she said after a moment. The starlight was meddling
with her eyes again.



XIV


So Brown told her about his theory; how he desired to employ a model,
how he desired to study her; what were his ideas of the terms suitable.

He talked fluently, earnestly, and agreeably; and his pretty audience
listened with so much apparent intelligence and good taste that her very
attitude subtly exhilarated Brown, until he became slightly aware that
he was expressing himself eloquently.

He had, it seemed, much to say concerning the profession and practice of
good literature. It seemed, too, that he knew a great deal about it,
both theoretically and practically. His esteem and reverence for it were
unmistakable; his enthusiasm worthy of his courage.

He talked for a long while, partly about literature, partly about
himself. And he was at intervals a trifle surprised that he had so much
to say, and wondered at the valuable accumulations of which he was
unburdening himself with such vast content.

The girl had turned her back to the lagoon and stood leaning against the
coquina wall, facing him, her slender hands resting on the coping.

Never had he had such a listener. At the clubs and cafés other literary
men always wanted to talk. But here under the great southern stars
nobody interrupted the limpid flow of his long dammed eloquence. And he
ended leisurely, as he had begun, yet auto-intoxicated, thrillingly
conscious of the spell which he had laid upon himself, upon his young
listener--conscious, too, of the spell that the soft air and the perfume
and the stars had spun over a world grown suddenly and incredibly lovely
and young.

She said in a low voice: "I need the money very much.... And I don't
mind your studying me."

"Do you really mean it?" he exclaimed, enchanted.

"Yes. But there is one trouble."

"What is it?" he asked apprehensively.

"I _must_ have my mornings to myself."

He said: "Under the terms I must be permitted to ask you any questions I
choose. You understand that, don't you?"

"Yes," she said.

"Then--why must you have your mornings to yourself?"

"I have work to do."

"What work? What are you?"

She flushed a trifle, then, accepting the rules of the game, smiled at
Brown.

"I am a school-teacher," she said. "Ill health from overwork drove me
South to convalesce. I am trying to support myself here by working in
the mornings."

"I am sorry," he said gently. Then, aware of his concession to a very
human weakness, he added with businesslike decision: "What is the nature
of your morning's work?"

"I--write," she admitted.

"Stories?"

"Yes."

"Fiction?"

"Anything, Mr. Brown. I send notes to fashion papers, concerning the
costumes at the Hotel Verbena; I write for various household papers
special articles which would not interest you at all. I write little
stories for the women's and children's columns in various newspapers.
You see what I do is not literature, and could not interest you."

"If you are to act for me in the capacity of a model," he said firmly,
"I am absolutely bound to study every phase of you, every minutest
detail."

"Oh."

"Not one minute of the day must pass without my observing you," he said.
"Unless you are broad-minded enough to comprehend me you may think my
close and unremitting observation impertinent."

"You don't mean to be impertinent, I am sure," she faltered, already
surprised, apprehensive, and abashed by the prospect.

"Of course I don't mean to be impertinent," he said smilingly, "but all
great observers pursue their studies unremittingly day and night----"

"_You_ couldn't do _that_!" she exclaimed.

"No," he admitted, troubled, "that would not be feasible. You require,
of course, a certain amount of slumber."

"Naturally," she said.

"I ought," he said thoughtfully, "to study that phase of you, also."

"What phase, Mr. Brown?"

"When you are sleeping."

"But that is impossible!"

"Convention," he said disdainfully, "makes it so. A literary student is
fettered.

"But it is perfectly possible for you to imagine what I look like when
I'm asleep, Mr. Brown."

"Imagination is to play no part in my literary work," he said coldly.
"What I set down are facts."

"But is that art?"

"There is more art in facts than there are facts in art," he said.

"I don't quite know what you mean."

He didn't, either, when he came to analyse what he had said; and he
turned very red and admitted it.

"I mean to be honest and truthful," he said. "What I just said sounded
clever, but meant nothing. I admit it. I mean to be perfectly pitiless
with myself. Anything tainted with imagination; anything hinting of
romance; any weak concession to prejudice, convention, good taste, I
refuse to be guilty of. Realism is what I aim at; raw facts, however
unpleasant!"

"I don't believe you will find anything very unpleasant about me," she
said.

"No, I don't think I shall. But I mean to detect every imperfection,
every weakness, every secret vanity, every unworthy impulse. That is why
I desire to study you so implacably. Are you willing to submit?"

She bit her lip and looked thoughtfully at the stars.

"You know," she said, "that while it may be all very well for you to say
'anything for art's sake,' _I_ can't say it. I can't _do_ it, either."

"Why not?"

"Because I can't. You know perfectly well that you can't follow me about
taking notes _every_ minute of the twenty-four hours."

He said very earnestly: "Sir John Lubbock sat up day and night, never
taking his eyes off the little colony of ants which he had under
observation in a glass box!"

"Do you propose to sit up day and night to keep me under observation?"
she asked, flushed and astounded.

"Not at first. But as my studies advance, and you become accustomed to
the perfectly respectful but coldly impersonal nature of my
observations, your mind, I trust, will become so broadened that you will
find nothing objectionable in what at first might scare you. An artist's
model, for example----"

"But I am not an artist's model!" she exclaimed, with a slight shiver.

"To be a proper model at all," he said, "you must concede all for art,
and remain sublimely unconscious of self. _You_ do not matter. _I_ do
not matter. Only my work counts. And that must be honest, truthful,
accurate, minute, exact--a perfect record of a woman's mind and
personality."

For a few moments they both remained silent. And after a little the
starlight began to play tricks with her eyes again, so that they seemed
sparkling with hidden laughter. But her face was grave.

She said: "I really do need the money. I will do what I can.... And if
in spite of my courage I ever shrink--our contract shall terminate at
once."

"And what shall I do then?" inquired Brown.

The starlight glimmered in her eyes. She said very gravely:

"In case the demands of your realism and your art are too much for my
courage, Mr. Brown--you will have to find another model to study."

"But another model might prove as conventional as you!"

"In that case," she said, while her sensitive lower lip trembled, and
the starlight in her eyes grew softly brilliant, "in that case, Mr.
Brown, I am afraid that there would be only one course to pursue with
that _other_ model."

"What course is that?" he asked, deeply interested.

"I'm afraid you'd have to marry her."

"Good Lord!" he said. "I can't marry every girl I mean to study!"

"Oh! Do you mean to study very many?"

"I have my entire life and career before me."

"Yes. That is true. But--women are much alike. One model, thoroughly
studied, might serve for them all--with a little imagination."

"I have no use for imagination in fiction," said Brown firmly. After a
moment's silence, he added: "Is it settled, then?"

"About our--contract?"

"Yes."

She considered for a long while, then, looking up, she nodded.

"That's fine!" exclaimed Brown, with enthusiasm.

They walked back to the Villa Hibiscus together, slowly, through the
blue starlight. Brown asked her name, and she told him.

"No," he said gaily, "your name is Thalomene, and you are the tenth
muse. For truly I think I have never before been so thoroughly inspired
by a talk with anyone."

She laughed. He had done almost all the talking. And he continued it,
very happily, as by common consent they seated themselves on the
veranda.



XV


The inhabitants of the Villa Hibiscus retired. But Brown talked on,
quite unconscious that the low-voiced questions and softly modulated
replies were magic which incited him to a perfect ecstasy of
self-revelation.

Perhaps he thought he was studying her--for the compact by mutual
consent was already in force--and certainly his eyes were constantly
upon her, taking, as no doubt he supposed, a cold and impersonal measure
of her symmetry. Calmly, and with utter detachment, he measured her
slender waist, her soft little hands; noting the fresh, sweet lips, the
clear, prettily shaped eyes, the delicate throat, the perfect little
Greek head with its thick, golden hair.

And all the while he held forth about literature and its true purpose;
about what art really is; about his own art, his own literature, and
his own self.

And the girl was really fascinated.

She had seen, at a distance, such men. When Brown had named himself to
her, she had recognised the name with awe, as a fashionable and wealthy
name known to Gotham.

Yet, had Brown known it, neither his eloquence nor his theories, nor his
aims, were what fascinated her. But it was his boyish enthusiasm, his
boyish intolerance, his immaturity, his happy certainty of the
importance of what concerned himself.

He was so much a boy, so much a man, such a candid, unreasonable, eager,
selfish, impulsive, portentous, and delightfully illogical mixture of
boy and man that the combination fascinated every atom of womanhood in
her--and at moments as the night wore on, she found herself listening
perilously close to the very point of sympathy.

He appeared to pay no heed to the flight of time. The big stars frosted
Heaven; the lagoon was silvered by them; night winds stirred the orange
bloom; oleanders exhaled a bewitching perfume.

As he lay there in his rocking chair beside her, it seemed to him that
he had known her intimately for years--so wonderfully does the charm of
self-revelation act upon human reason. For she had said almost nothing
about herself. Yet, it was becoming plainer to him every moment that
never in all his life had he known any woman as he already knew this
young girl.

"It is wonderful," he said, lying back in his chair and looking up at
the stars, "how subtle is sympathy, and how I recognise yours. I think I
understand you perfectly already."

"Do you?" she said.

"Yes, I feel sure I do. Somehow, I know that secretly and in your own
heart you are in full tide of sympathy with me and with my life's work."

"I thought you had no imagination," she said.

"I haven't. Do you mean that I only imagine that you are in sympathy
with me?"

"No," she said. "I am."

After a few moments she laughed deliciously. He never knew why. Nor was
she ever perfectly sure why she had laughed, though they discussed the
matter very gravely.

A new youth seemed to have invaded her, an exquisite sense of lightness,
of power. Vaguely she was conscious of ability, of a wonderful and
undreamed of capacity. Within her heart she seemed to feel the subtle
stir of a new courage, a certainty of the future, of indefinable but
splendid things.

The manuscript of the novel which she had sent North two weeks ago
seemed to her a winged thing soaring to certain victory in the empyrean.
Suddenly, by some magic, doubt, fear, distress, were allayed--and it was
like surcease from a steady pain, with all the blessed and heavenly
languor relaxing her mind and body.

And all the while Brown talked on.

Lying there in her chair she listened to him while the thoughts in her
eased mind moved in delicate accompaniment.

Somehow she understood that never in her life had she been so
happy--with this boy babbling beside her, and her own thoughts
responding almost tenderly to his youth, his inconsistencies, to the
arrogance typical of his sex. He was _so_ wrong!--so far from the track,
so utterly astray, so pitiably confident! Who but she should know, who
had worked and studied and failed and searched, always _writing_,
however--which is the only way in the world to learn how to write--or to
learn that there is no use in writing.

Her hand lay along the flat arm of her rocking-chair; and once, when he
had earnestly sustained a perfectly untenable theory concerning success
in literature, unconsciously she laid her fresh, smooth hand on his arm
in impulsive protest.

"No," she said, "don't think that way. You are quite wrong. That is the
road to failure!"

It was her first expression of disagreement, and he looked at her
amazed.

"I am afraid you think I don't know anything about real literature and
realism," she said, "but I do know a little."

"Every man must work out his salvation in his own way," he insisted,
still surprised at her dissent.

"Yes, but one should be equipped by long practice in the art before
definitely choosing one's final course."

"I am practiced."

"I don't mean theoretically," she murmured.

He laughed: "Oh, you mean mere writing," he said, gaily confident.
"That, according to my theory, is not necessary to real experience.
Literature is something loftier."

In her feminine heart every instinct of womanhood was aroused--pity for
the youth of him, sympathy for his obtuseness, solicitude for his
obstinacy, tenderness for the fascinating combination of boy and man,
which might call itself by any name it chose--even "author"--and go
blundering along without a helping hand amid shrugs and smiles to a goal
marked "Failure."

"I wonder," she said almost timidly, "whether you could ever listen to
me."

"Always," he said, bending nearer to see her expression. Which having
seen, he perhaps forgot to note in his little booklet, for he continued
to look at her.

"I haven't very much to say," she said. "Only--to learn any art or trade
or profession it is necessary to work at it unremittingly. But to
discuss it never helped anybody."

"My dear child," he said, "I know that what you say was the old idea.
But," he shrugged, "I do not agree with it."

"I am so sorry," she said.

"Sorry? Why are you sorry?"

"I don't know.... Perhaps because I like you."

It was not very much to say--not a very significant declaration; but the
simplicity and sweetness of it--her voice--the head bent a little in the
starlight--all fixed Brown's attention. He sat very still there in the
luminous dusk of the white veranda; the dew dripped steadily like rain;
the lagoon glittered.

Then, subtly, taking Brown unawares, his most treacherous enemy crept
upon him with a stealth incredible, and, before Brown knew it, was in
full possession of his brain. The enemy was Imagination.

Minute after minute slipped away in the scented dusk, and found Brown's
position unchanged, where he lay in his chair looking at her.

The girl also was very silent.

With what wonderful attributes his enemy, Imagination, was busily
endowing the girl beside him in the starlight, there is no knowing. His
muse was Thalomene, slim daughter of Zeus; and whether she was really
still on Olympus or here beside him he scarcely knew, so perfectly did
this young girl inspire him, so exquisitely did she fill the bill.

"It is odd," he said, after a long while, "that merely a few hours with
you should inspire me more than I have ever been inspired in all my
life."

"That," she said unsteadily, "is your imagination."

At the hateful word, imagination, Brown seemed to awake from the spell.
Then he sat up straight, rather abruptly.

"The thing to do," he said, still confused by his awakening, "is to
consider you impersonally and make notes of everything." And he fumbled
for pencil and note-book, and, rising, stepped across to the front door,
where a light was burning.

Standing under it he resolutely composed his thoughts; but to save his
life he could remember nothing of which to make a memorandum.

This worried him, and finally alarmed him. And so long did he stand
there, note-book open, pencil poised, and a sickly expression of dismay
imprinted upon his otherwise agreeable features, that the girl rose at
last from her chair, glanced in through the door at him, and then came
forward.

"What is the matter?" she asked.

"The matter is," said Brown, "that I don't seem to have anything to
write about."

"You are tired," she said. "I think we both are a little tired."

"_I_ am not. Anyway, I have something to write about now. Wait a moment
till I make a note of how you walk--the easy, graceful, flowing motion,
so exquisitely light and----"

"But _I_ don't walk like that!" she said, laughing.

"--Graciously as a youthful goddess," muttered Brown, scribbling away
busily in his note-book. "Tell me; what motive had you just now in
rising and coming to ask me what was the matter--with such a sweetly
apprehensive expression in your eyes?"

"My--my motive?" she repeated, astonished.

"Yes. You had one, hadn't you?"

"Why--I don't know. You looked worried; so I came."

"The motive," said Brown, "was feminine solicitude--an emotion natural
to nice women. Thank you." And he made a note of it.

"But motives and emotions are different things," she said timidly. "I
had no motive for coming to ask you why you seemed troubled."

"Wasn't your motive to learn why?"

"Y-yes, I suppose so."

He laid his head on one side and inspected her critically.

"And if anything had been amiss with me you would have been sorry,
wouldn't you?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Why? Because--one is sorry when a friend--when anyone----"

"I _am_ your friend," he said. "So why not say it?"

"And I am yours--if you wish," she said.

"Yes, I do." He began to write: "It's rather odd how friendship begins.
We both seem to want to be friends." And to her he said: "How does it
make you feel--the idea of our being friends? What emotions does it
arouse in you?"

She looked at him in sorrowful surprise. "I thought it was real
friendship you meant," she murmured, "not the sort to make a note
about."

"But I've got to make notes of everything. Don't you see? Certainly our
friendship is real enough--but I've got to study it minutely and make
notes concerning it. It's necessary to make records of everything--how
you walk, stand, speak, look, how you go upstairs----"

"I am going now," she said.

He followed, scribbling furiously; and it is difficult to go upstairs,
watch a lady go upstairs, and write about the way she does it all at the
same time.

"Good-night," she said, opening her door.

"Good-night," he said, absently, and so intent on his scribbling that he
followed her through the door into her room.



XVI


"She goes upstairs as though she were floating up," he wrote, with
enthusiasm; "her lovely figure, poised on tip-toe, seems to soar upward,
ascending as naturally and gracefully as the immortals ascended the
golden stairs of Jacob----"

In full flood of his treacherous imagination he seated himself on a
chair beside her bed, rested the note-book on his knees, and scribbled
madly, utterly oblivious to her. And it was only when he had finished,
for sheer lack of material, that he recollected himself, looked up, saw
how she had shrunk away from him against the wall--how the scarlet had
dyed her face to her temples.

"Why--why do you come--into my bedroom?" she faltered. "Does our
friendship count for no more than that with you?"

"What?" he said, bewildered.

"That you do what you have no right to do. Art--art is _not_ enough
to--to--excuse--disrespect----"

Suddenly the tears sprang to her eyes, and she covered her flushed face
with both hands.

For a moment Brown stood petrified. Then a deeper flush than hers
settled heavily over his features.

"I'm sorry," he said.

She made no response.

"I didn't mean to hurt you. I _do_ respect you," he said.

No response.

Brown gazed at her, gazed at his note-book.

Then he hurled the note-book across the room and walked over to her as
she lifted her lovely head, startled and tearful.

"You are right," he said, swallowing nothing very desperately. "You can
not be studied this way. Will you--marry me?"

"What!"

"Will you marry me?"

"Why?" she gasped.

"Because I--want to study you."

"No!" she said, looking him straight in the eyes.

Brown thought hard for a full minute.

"Would you marry me because I love you?" he asked timidly.

The question seemed to be more than she could answer. Besides, the tears
sprang to her blue eyes again, and her under lip began to tremble, and
she covered her face with both hands. Which made it impossible for him
to kiss her.

"Isn't it wonderful?" he said earnestly, trembling from head to foot.
"Isn't it wonderful, dear?"

"Yes," she whispered. The word, uttered against his shoulder, was
stifled. He bent his head nearer, murmuring:

"Thalomene--Thalomene--embodiment of Truth! How wonderful it is to me
that at last I find in you that absolute Truth I worship."

"I am--the embodiment--of your--imagination," she said. "But you will
never, never believe it--most adorable of boys--dearest--dearest of
men."

And, lifting her stately and divine young head, she looked innocently at
Brown while he imprinted his first and most chaste kiss upon the fresh,
sweet lips of the tenth muse, Thalomene, daughter of Zeus.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Athalie," said the youthful novelist more in sorrow than in anger,
"you are making game of everything I hold most important."

"Provide yourself with newer and truer gods, dear child," said the girl,
laughing. "After you've worshipped them long enough somebody will also
poke fun at them. Whereupon, if you are fortunate enough to be one of
those who continues to mature until he matures himself into the
Ewigkeit, you will instantly quit those same over-mauled and worn out
gods for newer and truer ones."

"And so on indefinitely," I added.

"In literature," began the novelist, "the great masters must stand as
parents for us in our first infantile steps----"

"No," said the girl, "all worthy aspirants enter the field of literature
as orphans. Opportunity and Fates alone stand for them _in loco
parentis_. And the child of these is known as Destiny."

"No cubist could beat that, Athalie," remarked Duane. "I'm ashamed of
you--or proud--I don't know which."

"Dear child," she said, "you will never know the true inwardness of any
sentiment you entertain concerning me until I explain it to you."

"Smitten again hip and thigh," said Stafford. "Fair lady, I am far too
wary to tell you what I think of the art of incoherence as practised
occasionally by the prettiest Priestess in the Temple."

Athalie looked at me as the sweetmeat melted on her tongue.

"You promised me a dog," she remarked.

"I've picked him out. He'll be weaned in another week."

"What species of pup is he?" inquired Duane.

"An Iceland terrier," I answered. "They use them for digging out walrus
and seals."

"Thank you," said Duane pleasantly.

"After all," observed the girl, lifting her glass of water, "it does not
concern Mr. Duane what sort of a dog you have chosen for me."

She sipped it leisurely, looking over the delicate crystal rim at Duane.

"You are young," she said. "'_L'enfance est le sommeil de la raison._'"

"How would you like to have an Angora kitten?" he asked, reddening
slightly.

"But infancy," she added, "is always adorable.... I think I might like a
white one with blue eyes."

"Puppies, kittens, children," remarked Stafford--"they're all tolerable
while they're young."

"All of these," said the girl softly, "I should like to have."

And she gazed inquiringly at the crystal. But it could tell her nothing
of herself or of her hopes. She turned and looked out into the dark
city, a trifle wearily, it seemed to me.



XVII


After a silence, she lay back among her cushions and glanced at us with
a faint smile.

"One day last winter," she said, "after the last client had gone and
office hours were over, I sat here thinking, wondering what in the world
could be worse for a girl than to have no parents.... And I happened to
glance into my crystal, and saw there an incident beginning to evolve
that cheered me up, because it was a parody on my more morbid train of
thought. After all, the same Chance that gives a child to its parents
gives the parents to that child. You may think this is Tupper," she
added, "but it is Athalie. And that being the case, nobody will laugh."

Nobody did laugh.

"Thank you," she said sweetly. "Now I will tell you what I saw in my
crystal when I happened to be feeling unusually alone in the world." And
with a pretty nod to us, collectively, she began.

       *       *       *       *       *

The bulk of the cargo and a few bodies were coming ashore at the eastern
end of the island, and that is where the throngs were--people from the
Light House, fishermen from the inlet, and hundreds of winter tourists
from St. Augustine, in white flannels and summer gowns, all attracted to
Ibis Island by the grewsome spectacle of the wreck.

The West Indian hurricane had done its terrific business and had gone,
leaving a turquoise sky untroubled by a cloud, and a sea of snow and
cobalt.

Nothing living had been washed ashore from the wreck. As for the brig,
she had vanished--if there had been anything left of her to disappear
except the wreckage, human and otherwise, that had come tumbling ashore
through the surf all night long.

So young Gray, seeing that there was nothing for him to do, and not
caring for the spectacle at the eastern end of the island, turned on his
heel and walked west through thickets of sweet bay, palmetto, and
beach-grape.

He wore the lightest weight solaro, with a helmet and close-fitting
puttees of the same. Two straps crossed his breast, the one supporting a
well filled haversack, the other a water bottle. Except for fire arms he
was equipped for darkest Africa, or for anything else on earth--at least
he supposed so. He was wrong; he was not equipped for what he was about
to encounter on Ibis Island.

It happened in this manner: traversing the seaward dunes, because the
beach no longer afforded him even a narrow margin for a footing,
shoulder deep in a tangle of beach-grapes, he chanced to glance at the
little sandy cove which he was skirting, and saw there an empty fruit
crate tumbling in the smother of foam, and a very small setter puppy
clinging to it frantically, with every claw clutching, and his drenched
tail between his legs.

Even while Gray was forcing his eager way through the tangle, he was
aware of somebody else moving forward through the high scrub just west
of him; and as he sprang out onto the beach and laid his hand on the
stranded fruit crate, another hand, slimmer and whiter than his, fell
on the crate as he dragged it out of the foamy shallows and up across
the dry sand, just as a tremendous roller smashed into clouds of foam
behind it.

"I beg your pardon," said a breathless voice at his elbow, "but I think
I saw this little dog first."

Gray already was reaching for the shivering little thing, but two other
hands deprived him of the puppy; and he looked up, impatient and
annoyed, into the excited brown eyes of a young girl.

She had taken the dripping, clawing little creature to her breast, where
it shivered and moaned and whined, shoving its cold nose up under her
chin.

"I beg your pardon," said Gray, firmly, "but I am really very certain
that I first discovered that dog."

"I am sorry you think so," she said, clasping the creature all the
tighter.

"I _do_ think so," insisted Gray. "I _know_ it!"

"I am very sorry," she repeated. Over the puppy's shivering back her
brown eyes gazed upon Gray. They were very pretty, but hostile.

"There can be no question about the ownership of this pup," persisted
Gray. "Of course, I am sorry if you really think you discovered the
dog. Because you didn't."

"I _did_ discover him," she said, calmly.

"I beg your pardon. I was walking through the beach-grapes----"

"I beg yours! I also was crossing the sweet-bay scrub when I happened to
glance down at the cove and saw this poor little dog in the water."

"That is exactly what _I_ did! I happened to glance down, and there I
saw this little dog. Instantly I sprang----"

"So did I!--I _beg_ your pardon for interrupting you!"

"I was merely explaining that I first saw the dog, and next I noticed
you. But first of all I saw the dog."

"That is the exact sequence in my own observations," she rejoined
calmly. "First of all I saw the dog in the water, then I heard a crash
in the bush, and saw something floundering about in the tangle."

"And," continued Gray, much annoyed by her persistency, "no sooner had I
caught hold of the crate than _you_ came up and laid _your_ hand on it,
also. You surely must remember that I had my hand on the crate before
you did!"

"I am very sorry you think so. The contrary was the case. _I_ took firm
hold of the crate, and then you aided me to draw it up out of the
water."

"It is extraordinary," he said, "how mistaken you are concerning the
actual sequence of events. Not that I doubt for a moment that you really
suppose you discovered the dog. Probably you were a little excited----"

"I was perfectly cool. Possibly _you_ were a trifle excited."

"Not in the least," he retorted with calm exasperation. "I never become
agitated."

The puppy continued to shiver and drive its nose up under the girl's
chin.

"Poor little thing! Poor little shipwrecked baby!" she crooned. And, to
Gray: "I don't know why this puppy should be so cold. The water is warm
enough."

"Put it in the hot sand," he said. "We can rub it dry."

She hesitated, flushing perhaps at her own suspicions; but nevertheless
she said:

"You would not attempt to take it if I put it down, would you?"

"I don't intend to snatch it," he said with dignity. "_Men_ don't
snatch."

So they went inland a few paces where the sand was hot and loose and
deep; and there they knelt down and put the puppy on the sand.

[Illustration: "'I am in possession of the dog and you merely claim
possession.'"]

"Scrub him thoroughly," she suggested, pouring heaping handfuls of hot,
silvery sand over the little creature.

Gray did likewise, and together they rubbed and scrubbed and rolled the
puppy about until the dog began to roll on his back all by himself,
twisting and wriggling and waving his big, padded paws.

"What he wants is water," asserted Gray, unstrapping his haversack and
bottle. From the one he produced an aluminum pannikin; from the other he
filled it with water. The puppy drank it all while Gray and the
brown-eyed girl looked on intently.

Then Gray produced some beef sandwiches, and the famished little
creature leaped and whirled and danced as Gray fed him cautiously, bit
by bit.

"Do you think that is perfectly fair?" asked the girl gravely.

"Fair?" repeated Gray guiltily.

"Yes. Who first feeds a strange dog is recognised as the reigning
authority."

"Very well, you may feed him, too. But that does not alter the facts in
the case."

"The facts," said the girl, taking a sandwich from Gray, "are that I am
in possession of the dog and you merely claim possession."

They fed him alternately and in silence--until their opinion became
unanimous that it was dangerous, for the present, to feed him any more.

The puppy begged and pleaded and cajoled and danced--a most appealing
and bewitching little creature, silvery white and blue-ticked, with a
tiny tan point over each eye and a black and tan saddle.

"Lavarack," observed Gray.

"English," she nodded.

It wagged not only its little, whippy tail, but in doing so wriggled its
entire hind quarters, showing no preference for either of its rescuers,
but bestowing winning and engaging favours impartially.

The girl could endure it no longer, but snatched the puppy to her with a
soft little cry, and cuddled it tight. Gray looked on gloomily. Then,
when she released it, he took it and caressed it in masculine fashion.
There was no discernible difference in its affectionate responses.

After the dog had lavished enthusiasm and affection on its saviours to
the point of physical exhaustion, it curled up on the hot sand between
them. At first, when they moved or spoke, the little, silky head was
quickly lifted, and the brown eyes turned alertly from one to the other
of the two beings most beloved on earth. But presently only the whippy
tail stirred in recognition of their voices. And finally the little dog
slept in the hot sunshine.



XVIII


For a long while, seated on either side of the slumbering puppy, they
remained silent, in fascinated contemplation of what they had rescued.

Finally Gray said slowly: "It may seem odd to you that I should be so
firm and uncompromising concerning my right to a very small dog which
may be duplicated in the North for a few dollars."

She lifted her brown eyes to his, then let them fall again on the dog.

"The reason is this," said Gray. "The native dogs I dislike intensely.
Dogs imported from the North soon die in this region. But this little
pup was evidently born on shipboard and on tropical seas. I think he's
very likely to survive the climate. And as I am obliged to reside here
for a while, and as I am to live all alone, this pup is a godsend to
me."

The girl, still resting her eyes on the sleeping puppy, said very
quietly:

"I do not desire to appear selfish, but a girl is twice as lonely as a
man. And as I fortunately first discovered the dog it seems to me
absolutely right and just that I should keep him."

Gray sat pouring sand through his fingers and casting an occasional
oblique glance at the girl. She was not sunburned, so she must be a
recent arrival. She spoke with a northern accent, which determined her
origin.

_What_ was she doing down here on this absurd island? Why didn't she go
back to St. Augustine where she belonged?

"You know," he said craftily, "I can buy a very nice little dog indeed
for you in St. Augustine."

"I am not stopping in St. Augustine. Besides, there are only horrid
little lap-dogs there."

"Don't you like lap-dogs--Pomms, Pekinese, Maltese?" he inquired
persuasively.

"No."

"You are unlike the majority of girls then. What sort of dog do you
like?"

"Setters," she explained with decision.

And as he bit his lip in annoyed silence she added:

"Setter puppies are what I adore."

"I'm sorry," he said bluntly.

She added, not heeding his observation: "I am mad about setter puppies,
particularly English setter puppies. And when I try to realise that I
discovered a shipwrecked one all by myself, and rescued it, I can
scarcely believe in such an adorable miracle."

It was on the tip of his tongue to offer to purchase the pup, but a
quick glance at the girl checked him. She was evidently perfectly
sincere, and the quality of her was unmistakable.

Already, within these few minutes, her skin had begun to burn a delicate
rose tint from the sun's fierce reflection on the white sands. Her hair
was a splendid golden brown, her eyes darker, or perhaps the long, dark
lashes made them seem so. She was daintily and prettily made, head,
throat, shoulders, and limbs; she wore a summer gown so waistless and
limp that it conformed to the corsetless fashions in vogue, making
evident here and there the contours of her slim and supple figure.

From the tip of her white shoe to the tip of her hat she was the futile
and exquisite essence of Gotham.

Gray realised it because he lived there himself. But he could not
understand where all her determination and obstinacy came from, for she
seemed so young and inexperienced, and there was about her a childish
dewiness of eye and lip that suggested a blossom's fragrance.

She was very lovely; and that was all very well in its way, but Gray had
come down there on stern business, and how long his business might last,
and how long he was to inhabit a palmetto bungalow above the coquina
quarry he did not know. The coquina quarry was as hot as the infernal
pit. Also, snakes frequented it.

No black servant--promised him faithfully in St. Augustine the day
before--had yet arrived. A few supplies had been sent over from St.
Augustine, and he was camping in his little house of logs, along with
wood-ticks, blue lizards, white ants, gophers, hornets, and several
chestnut-colored scorpions.

"I wouldn't mind yielding the dog to you," he admitted, "if I were not
so horribly lonely on this miserable island. When evening comes, _you_
will go back to luxury and comfort somewhere or other, with dinner
awaiting you and servants to do everything, and a nice bed to retire to.
That's a pleasant picture, isn't it?"

"Very," she replied, with a slight shrug.

"Now," he said, "please gaze mentally upon this other picture. _I_ am
obliged to go back to a shack haunted by every species of creature that
this wretched island harbours.

"There will be no dinner for me except what I can scoop out of a tin; no
servants to do one bally thing for me; no bed.

"Listen attentively," he continued, becoming slightly dramatic as he
remembered more clearly the horrors of the preceding night--his first on
Ibis Island. "I shall go into that devilish bungalow and look around
like a scared dog, standing very carefully in the exact centre of the
room. And what will be the first object that my unwilling eyes
encounter? A scorpion! Perhaps two, crawling out from the Spanish moss
with which the chinks of that miserable abode are stuffed. I shall slay
it--or _them_--as the case may be. Then a blue-tailed lizard will frisk
over the ceiling--or perhaps one of those big, heavy ones with blunt,
red heads. Doubtless at that same instant I shall discover a wood-tick
advancing up one of my trousers' legs. Spiders will begin to move across
the walls. Perhaps a snake or two will then develop from some shadowy
corner."

He waved his arm impressively and pointed at the sleeping puppy.

"Under such circumstances," he said pathetically, "would you care to
deprive me of this little companion sent by Providence for me to rescue
out of the sea?"

She, too, had been steadily pouring sand between her white fingers
during the moving recital of his woes. Now she looked up, controlling a
shudder.

"Your circumstances, with all their attendant horrors, are my own," she
began. "I, also, since last night, inhabit a picturesque but most horrid
bungalow not very far from here; and every one of the creatures you
describe, and several others also, inhabit it with me. Do you wonder I
want _some_ companionship? Do you wonder that I am inclined to cling to
this little dog--whether or not it may seem ill bred and selfish to
you?"

He said: "I suppose all the houses in this latitude harbour tarantulas,
centipedes, and similar things, but you must remember that you do not
live alone as I do----"

"Yes, I do!"

"What?"

"Certainly. I engaged two black servants in St. Augustine, but they have
not arrived, and I was obliged to remain all alone in that frightful
place last night."

"That's very odd," he said uneasily. "Where _is_ this bungalow of
yours?"

She started to speak, checked herself as at a sudden and unpleasant
thought, looked up at him searchingly; and found his steel-grey eyes as
searchingly fixed on her.

"Where is _your_ bungalow?" she asked, watching him intently.

"Mine is situated at the west end of a coquina quarry. Where is yours?"

"Mine," she answered unsteadily but defiantly, "is situated on the
eastern edge of a coquina quarry."

"Why did _you_ choose a quarry bungalow?"

"Why did _you_ choose one?"

"Because the coquina quarry happens to belong to me."

"The quarry," she retorted, "belongs to _me_."

He was almost too disgusted to speak, but he contrived to say, quietly
and civilly:

"You are Constance Leslie, are you not?"

"Yes.... You are Johnson Gray?"

"Yes, I am," he answered, checking his exasperation and forcing a smile.
"It's rather odd, isn't it--rather unfortunate, I'm afraid."

"It _is_ unfortunate for you, Mr. Gray," she returned firmly. "I'm
sorry--really sorry that this long journey is in vain."

"So am I," he said, with lips compressed.

For a few moments they sat very still, not looking at each other.

Presently he said: "It was a fool of a will. He was a most disagreeable
old man."

"_I_ never saw him."

"Nor I. They say he was a terror. But he had a sense of humour--a grim
and acrid one--the cynic's idea of wit. No doubt he enjoyed it. No doubt
he is enjoying this very scene between you and me--if he's anywhere
within sight or hearing----"

"Don't say that!" she exclaimed, almost violently. "It is horrible
enough on this island without hinting of ghosts."

"Ghosts? Of course there are ghosts. But I'd rather have my bungalow
full of 'em than full of scorpions."

"We differ," she said coldly.

Silence fell again, and again was broken by Gray.

"Certainly the old fellow had a sense of humour," he insisted; "the will
he left was one huge joke on every relative who had expectations.
Imagine all that buzzard family of his who got nothing to amount to
anything; and all those distant relatives who expected nothing and got
almost everything!"

"Do you think that was humourous?"

"Yes; don't you? And I think what he did about you and me was really
very funny. Don't you?"

"Why is it funny for a very horrid old man to make a will full of grim
jokes and jests, and take that occasion to tell everybody exactly what
he thinks of everybody?"

"He said nothing disagreeable about _us_ that I recollect," remarked
Gray, laughing.

Pouring sand between her fingers, she said:

"I remember very well how he mentioned us. He said that he had never
seen either one of us, and was glad of it. He said that as I was an
orphan with no money, and that as you were similarly situated, and that
as neither you nor I had brains enough to ever make any, he would leave
his coquina quarry to that one of us who had brains enough to get here
first and stake the claim. Do you call that an agreeable manner of
making a bequest?"

Gray laughed easily: "_I_ don't care what he thought about my
intellectual capacity."

"I suppose that I don't either. And anyway the bequest may be valuable."

"There is no doubt about that," said Gray.

She let her brown eyes rest thoughtfully on the ocean.

"I think," she said, "that I shall dispose of it at once."

"The dog?" he asked politely.

Her pretty, hostile eyes met his:

"The quarry," she replied calmly.

"Good Lord!" he exclaimed. "Do you think also that _you_ arrived at the
quarry before I arrived?"

"You will find my stake with its written notice sticking in the sand on
the eastern edge of the quarry, about a hundred yards south of my
bungalow!"

"_My_ notice is very carefully staked on the western edge of the quarry
about the same distance from my bungalow," he said. "I placed it there
yesterday evening."

"I also placed my notice there yesterday evening!"

"By what train did you come?"

"By the Verbena Special. It arrived at St. Augustine yesterday at four
o'clock in the afternoon."

"_I_ also came on that train."

"I," she said, "waited in St. Augustine only long enough to telephone
for servants, and then I jumped into a victoria and drove over the
causeway to the eastern end of the quarry."

"I did exactly the same," he insisted, "only I drove to the western end
of the quarry. What time did you set your notice?"

"I don't know exactly. It was just about dusk."

"It was just about dusk when I drove in _my_ stake!"

After a moment's idling in the sand with her slim fingers, she looked up
at him a trifle pale.

"I suppose this means a lawsuit."

"I'm afraid it does."

"I'm sorry. If I wasn't in such desperate need of money----" But she
said no more, and he also remained silent for a while. Then:

"I shall write to my attorney to come down," he said soberly. "You had
better do the same this evening."

She nodded.

"It's got to be settled, of course," he continued; "because I'm too poor
to concede the quarry to you."

"It is that way with me also. I do not like to appear so selfish to
you, but what am I to do, Mr. Gray?"

"What am _I_ to do? I honestly believe that I staked the quarry before
you did.... And my financial situation does not permit me to relinquish
my claim on the quarry."

"What a horrid will that was!" she exclaimed, the quick tears of
vexation springing into her brown eyes. "If you knew how hard I've
worked, Mr. Gray--all these years having nothing that other girls
have--being obliged to work my way through college, and then take a
position as governess--and just as it seemed that relief was in
sight--_you_ come into sight!--you!--and you even try to take away my
little dog--the only thing I--I ever really cared for since I have--have
been alone in the world----"

Gray sprang up nervously: "I'm sorry--terribly sorry for you! You may
keep the dog anyway."

She had turned away her face sharply as the quick tears started. Now she
looked around at him in unfeigned surprise.

"But--what will _you_ do?"

"Oh, I can stand being alone. I don't mind. There's no doubt about it;
you must have the dog----" He glanced down at the little creature and
caught his breath sharply as the puppy opened one eye and wagged its
absurd tail feebly.

The girl rose lightly and gracefully from the sand, refusing his
assistance, and stood looking down at the puppy. The little thing was on
its clumsy feet, wagging and wriggling with happiness, and gazing up
adoringly from Gray to Constance Leslie.

The girl looked at the dog, then at Gray.

"It--it seems too cruel," she said. "I can't bear to take him away from
you."

"Oh, that's all right. I'll get on very well alone."

"You are generous. You are very generous. But after the way you
expressed yourself concerning the dog, I don't feel that I can possibly
take him."

"You really must. I don't blame you at all for falling in love with him.
Besides, one adores what one rescues, above everything in the world."

"But--but I thought that you thought _you_ had rescued him?" she
faltered.

"It was a close call. I think perhaps that you arrived just a fraction
of a second sooner than I did."

"Do you really? Or do you say that to be kind? Besides, I am not at all
sure. It is perfectly possible--even, perhaps, probable that you saw
him before I did."

"No, I don't think so. I think he's your dog, Miss Leslie. I surrender
all claim to him----"

"No! I can not permit you to do such a thing! Forgive me. I was excited
and a little vexed.... I know you would be very unhappy if I took the
little thing----"

"Please take him. I do love him already, but that is why it gives me a
p-p-peculiar pleasure to relinquish all claims in y-your favour."

"Thank you. It is--is charming of you--exceedingly nice of you--but how
can I accept such a real sacrifice?... You would be perfectly wretched
to-night without him."

"So would you, Miss Leslie."

"I shall be wretched anyway. So it doesn't really matter."

"It _does_ matter! If this little dog can alleviate your unhappiness in
the slightest degree, I insist most firmly that you take him!"

The girl stood irresolute, lifted her brown eyes to his, lowered them,
and gazed longingly at the puppy.

"Do you suppose he will follow me?"

"Try!"

So she walked one way and Gray started in the opposite direction, and
the bewildered puppy, who at first supposed it was all in play, dashed
from one back to the other, until the widening distance between them
perplexed and finally began to trouble him.

Nevertheless, he continued to run back and forth from Gray to Constance
Leslie as long as his rather wavering legs held out. Then, unable to
decide, he stood panting midway between them, whining at moments, until,
unable to understand or endure the spectacle of his two best beloveds
vanishing in opposite directions, he put up his nose and howled.

Then both best beloveds came back running, and Constance snatched him to
her breast and covered him with caresses.

"What on earth are we to do?" she said in consternation. "We nearly
broke his heart that time."

"_I_ don't know what to do," he admitted, much perplexed. "This pup
seems to be impartial in his new-born affections."

"I thought," she said, with an admirable effort at self-denial, "that he
rather showed a preference for _you_!"

"Why?"

"Because when he was sitting there howling his little heart out, he
seemed to look toward you a little oftener than he gazed in my
direction."

Gray rose nobly to the self-effacing level of his generous adversary:

"No, the balance was, if anything, in your favour. I'm very certain that
he will be happier with you. T-take him!"

The girl buried her pretty face in the puppy's coat as though it had
been a fluffy muff.

"What a pity," she said, in a muffled voice, "that he is compelled to
make a choice. It will break his heart; I know it will. He is too
young."

"He'll very soon forget me, once he is alone with you in your bungalow."

The girl shook her head and stood caressing the puppy. The soft, white
hand, resting on the dog's head, fascinated Gray.

"Perhaps," he ventured, "I had better walk as far as your bungalow with
you.... It may spare the dog a certain amount of superficial anguish."

She nodded, dreamy-eyed there in the sunshine. And of what she might be
thinking he could form no idea.



XIX


He fell into step beside her, and they walked up from the little cover
through the beach-grapes and out among the scrubby dunes, where in the
heated silence the perfume of sweet-bay and pines mingled with the odour
of the sea.

Everywhere the great sulphur-coloured butterflies were flying, making
gorgeous combinations with the smaller, orange butterflies and the
great, velvet-winged Palamedes swallow-tail.

Lizards frisked and raced away before them, emerald tinted, green with
sky-blue tails, grey and red; the little gophers scurried into their
burrows along the tangled hammock's edges. Over the palm-trees' feathery
crests sailed a black vulture, its palmated wing-tips spread like inky
fingers against the blue. Somewhere in the saw-grass a bittern boomed
and boomed; and the seagulls' clamour rang incessantly above the thunder
of the surf.

"I wonder," she murmured, "whether my sunburn makes me drowsy."

"It's the climate. You'll feel sleepy for a week before you are
acclimated," he said.... "Why don't you put down the puppy and let him
follow?"

She did so; and the little creature frisked and leaped and padded
joyously about among the bayberry bushes, already possessed with the
canine determination to investigate all the alluring smells in the
world, and miss none of them.

After a little while they arrived at the bungalow which Constance had
chosen. The girl pushed open the unlocked door; the puppy pranced in
like a diminutive hobby-horse, flushed a big lizard, and went into fits
of excitement till the solitary cabin rang with his treble barking.

They watched him through the doorway, laughingly; then Gray looked at
the claim notice stuck upright in the sand. Presently he walked to the
edge of the coquina quarry and looked down into it.

Thousands of dollars' worth of the shell deposit lay already exposed.
There were great strata of it; ledges, shelves, vast masses in every
direction. The quarry had been worked very little, and that little had
been accomplished stupidly. Either in the rough, or merely as lumps of
conglomerate for crushing, the coquina in sight alone was very, very
valuable. There could be no doubt of that.

Also, he understood that the strata deposited there continued at least
for half a mile to the westward, where his own bungalow marked its
probable termination.

He turned after a few minutes' inspection, and walked slowly back to
where Constance was standing by the open door. A slight constraint,
amounting almost to embarrassment, ensued for a few minutes, but the
puppy dissipated it when he leaped at a butterfly, fell on his nose with
a thump, and howled dismally until reassured by his anxious
foster-parents, who caught him up and generously passed him to each
other, petting him vigourously.

Twice Gray said good-bye to Constance Leslie and started to go on toward
his own bungalow, but the puppy invariably began a frantic series of
circles embracing them both, and he had to come back to keep the dog
from the demoralisation of utter exhaustion.

"You know," he said, "this is going to be awkward. I believe that dog
thinks we are mar--thinks we are sister and brother. Don't you?"

She replied with a slight flush on her fair face, that the dog
undoubtedly cherished some such idea.

"Take him inside," said Gray firmly. "Then I'll beat it."

So she took the puppy inside and closed the door, with a smiling nod of
adieu to Gray. But he had not gone very far when he heard her clear, far
call; and, turning, saw her beckon frantically.

Back he came at top speed.

"Oh, dear," she exclaimed. "Oh, dear! He's tearing 'round and 'round the
room moaning and whining and barking. I'm very certain he will have fits
if you don't speak to him."

Gray opened the door cautiously, and the little dog came out, projected
like a bolt from a catapult, fairly flinging his quivering little body
into Gray's arms.

The reunion was elaborate and mutually satisfying. Constance furtively
touched her brown eyes with a corner of her handkerchief.

"What on earth are we to do?" she asked, unfeignedly affected. "I would
give him to you in a minute if you think he would be contented without
me."

"We can try it."

So Constance started westward, across the dunes, and Gray went into the
bungalow with the dog. But it required only a second or two to convince
him that it wouldn't do, and he opened the door and called frantically
to Constance.

"There is no use in trying that sort of thing," he admitted, when
Constance hastened back to a touching reunion with the imprisoned dog.
"Strategy is our only hope. I'll sit here on the threshold with you, and
as soon as he goes to sleep I'll slink away."

So side by side they seated themselves on the sandy threshold of the
bungalow, and the little dog, happy and contented, curled up on the
floor of the room, tucked his blunt muzzle into his flank, and took a
series of naps with one eye always open. He was young, but suspicion had
already done its demoralising work with him, and he intended to keep at
least one eye on his best beloveds.

She in her fresh and clinging gown, with the first delicate sunmask
tinting her unaccustomed skin, sat silent and distrait, her idle fingers
linked in her lap. And, glancing askance at her now and then, the droop
of her under lip seemed to him pathetic, like that of a tired child in
trouble.

When he was not looking at her he was immersed in perplexed cogitation.
The ownership of the dog he had already settled in his mind; the
ownership of the quarry he had supposed he had settled.

Therefore, why was he so troubled about it? Why was he so worried about
her, wondering what she would do in the matter?

The only solution left seemed to lie in a recourse to the
law--unless--unless----

But he couldn't--he simply couldn't, merely for a sentimental impulse,
give up to a stranger what he honestly considered an inheritance. That
would be carrying sentimentalism too far.

And yet--and yet! He needed the inheritance desperately. Matters
financial had gone all wrong with him. How _could_ he turn his back on
offered salvation just because a youthful and pretty girl also required
a financial lift in a cold-blooded and calculating world?

And yet--and yet! He would sleep over it, of course. But he honestly saw
no prospect of changing his opinion concerning the ownership of the
quarry.

As he sat there biting a stem of sweet-bay and listening to the
cardinals piping from the forest, he looked down into the heated coquina
pit.

A snake was coiled up on one of the ledges, basking.

"Miss Leslie!"

She lifted her head and straightened her drooping shoulders, looking at
him from eyes made drowsy and beautiful by the tropic heat.

"I only wanted to say," he began gravely, "that it is not safe for you
to go into the quarry alone--in case you had any such intention."

"Why?"

"There are snakes there. Do you see that one? Well, he's harmless, I
think--a king-snake, if I am not mistaken. But it's a good place for
rattlers."

"Then you should be careful, too."

"Oh, I'm careful enough, but you might not know when to be on your
guard. This island is a snaky one. It's famous for its diamond-back
rattlers and the size of them. Their fangs are an inch long, and it
usually means death to be struck by one of them."

The girl nodded thoughtfully.

He said with a new anxiety: "As a matter of fact, you really ought not
to be down here all alone."

"I know it. But it meant a race for ownership, and I had to come at a
minute's notice."

"You should have brought a maid."

"My dear Mr. Gray, I have no maid."

"Oh, I forgot," he muttered--"but, somehow, you _look_ as though you
had been born to several."

"I am the daughter of a very poor professor."

He fidgetted with his sweet-bay twig, considering the aromatic leaves
with a troubled and concentrated scowl.

"You know," he said, "this wretched island is celebrated for its
unpleasant fauna. Scorpions and wood-ticks are numerous. The sting of
the one is horribly painful, and might be dangerous; the villainous
habits of the other might throw you into a fever."

"But what can I do?" she inquired calmly.

"There are other kinds of snakes, too," he went on with increasing
solicitude for this girl for whom, suddenly, he began to consider
himself responsible. "There's a vicious snake called a moccasin; and he
won't get out of your way or warn you. And there's a wicked little
serpent with rings of black, scarlet, and yellow around his body. He
pretends to be harmless, but if he gets your finger into his mouth he'll
chew it full of a venom which is precisely the same sort of venom as
that of the deadly East Indian cobra."

"But--what can I do?" she repeated pitifully. "If I go to St. Augustine
and leave you here in possession, it might invalidate my claim."

He was silent, knowing no more about the law than did she, and afraid to
deny her tentative assertion.

"If it lay with me," he said, "I'd call a truce until you could go to
St. Augustine and return again with the proper people to look out for
you."

"Even if you were kind enough to do that, I could not afford even a
servant under present--and unexpected--conditions."

"Why?"

"Because it has suddenly developed that I shall be obliged to engage a
lawyer. And I had not expected that."

He reddened to his hair but said nothing. After a while the girl looked
over her shoulder. The puppy slept, this time with both eyes closed.

When she turned again to Gray, he nodded his comprehension and rose to
his feet cautiously.

"I'm going to take a walk on the beach and think this thing all out," he
whispered, taking the slim, half-offered hand in adieu. "Don't go out in
the scrub after sun-down. Rattlers move then. Don't go near any swamp;
moccasins are the colour of sun-baked mud, and you can't see them. Don't
touch any pretty little snake marked scarlet, black, and yellow----"

"How absurd!" she whispered. "As though I were likely to fondle snakes!"

"I'm terribly worried about you," he insisted, retaining her hand.

"Please don't be."

"How can I help it--what with these bungalows full of scorpions and----"

"Yours is, too," she said anxiously. "You will be very careful, won't
you?"

"Yes, of course.... I'm--I'm uncertain about you. That's what is
troubling me----"

"Please don't bother about me. I've had to look out for myself for
years."

"Have you?" he said, almost tenderly. Then he drew a quick, determined
breath.

"You'll be careful, won't you?"

"Yes."

"Are you armed?"

"I have a shot-gun inside."

"That's all right. Don't open your door to any stranger.... You know I
simply hate to leave you alone this way----"

"But I have the dog," she reminded him, with a pretty flush of
gratitude.

He had retained her hand longer than the easiest convention required or
permitted. So he released it, hesitated, then with a visible effort he
turned on his heel and strode away westward across the scrub.

The sun hung low behind the tall, parti-coloured shaft of the Light
House, towering smooth and round high above the forest.

He looked up at Ibis Light, at the circling buzzards above it, then
walked on, scarcely knowing where he was going, until he walked into the
door of his own bungalow, and several large spiders scattered into
flight across the floor.

"There's no use," he said aloud to an audience of lizards clinging to
the silvery bark of the log-room. "I can't take that quarry. I can't do
it--whether it belongs to me or not. _How_ can a big, strong, lumbering
young man do a thing like that? No. No. _No!_"

He picked up a pencil and a sheet of paper:

"Oh, Lord! I really do need the money, but I can't do it."

And he wrote:

     DEAR MISS LESLIE:

     You arrived on the scene before I did. I am now convinced of
     this. I shall not dispute the ownership of the quarry. It is
     yours. This statement over my signature is your guarantee that
     I shall never interfere with your title to the coquina quarry
     on Ibis Island.

     So now I've got to return to New York and go to work. I'm going
     across to Augustine in a few moments; and while I'm there I'll
     engage a white woman as companion for you, and a white servant,
     and have them drive over at once so they will reach your
     bungalow before evening. With undisputed title to the quarry,
     you can easily afford their wages.

     Good-bye. I wish you every happiness and success. Please give
     my love to the dog.

                                      Yours very truly,
                                             JOHNSON GRAY.

"It's the only way out of it," he muttered. "I'll leave it with her and
bolt before she reads it. There is nothing else to do, absolutely
nothing."

As he came out of his cabin, the sun hung low and red above the palm
forest, and a few bats were already flying like tiny black devils above
the scrub.

There was a strip of beach near his cabin, and he went down to it and
began to tramp up and down with a vague idea of composing himself so
that he might accomplish what he had to do gracefully, gaily, and with
no suspicion of striking an attitude for gods and men to admire his
moral resignation and his heroic renunciation.

No; he'd do the thing lightly, smilingly, determined that she should not
think that it was a sacrifice. No; she must believe that a sense of
fairness alone moved him to an honest recognition of her claims. He must
make it plain to her that he really believed she had arrived at the
quarry before he had.

And so he meant to leave her the letter, say good-bye, and go.

When this was all settled in his mind he looked at the ocean very
soberly, then turned his back on the Atlantic and walked back to his
cabin to gather up his effects.

As he approached the closed door a desolate howl from the interior
greeted him: he sprang to the door and flung it open; and the puppy
rushed into his arms.

Then, pinned to the scorpion-infested wall, he saw a sheet of writing,
and he read:

     DEAR MR. GRAY:

     He woke up and howled for you. It was too tragic for me. I love
     him but I give him to you. I give the quarry to you, also.
     Under the circumstances it would be impossible for me to enjoy
     it, even if the law awarded it to me. Nobody could ever really
     know which one of us first arrived and staked the claim. No
     doubt you did.

     I am sorry I came into your life and made trouble for you and
     for the puppy.

     So I leave you in peaceful possession. It really is a happiness
     for me to do it.

     I am going North at once. Good-bye; and please give my love to
     the dog. Poor little darling, he thought we both stood _in loco
     parentis_. But he'll get over his grief for me.

                                           Yours truly,
                                                CONSTANCE LESLIE.

The puppy at his feet was howling uncomforted for the best beloved who
was so strangely missing from the delightful combination which he had so
joyously accepted _in loco parentis_.



XX


Gray gathered the dog into his arms and strode swiftly out into the
sunshot, purple light of early evening.

"What a girl!" he muttered to himself. "What a girl! What a corking
specimen of her sex!"

Presently he came in sight of her, and the puppy scrambled violently
until set down. Then he bolted for Constance Leslie, and it was only
when the little thing leaped frantically upon her that she turned with a
soft, breathless little cry. And saw Gray coming toward her out of the
rose and golden sunset.

Neither spoke as he came up and looked into her brown eyes and saw the
traces of tears there still. The puppy leaped deliriously about them.
And for a long while her slim hands lay limply in his. He looked at the
ocean; she at the darkening forest.

And after a little while he drew the note from his pocket.

"I had written this when I found yours," he said. And he held it for her
while she read it, bending nearer in the dim, rosy light.

After she read it she took it from him gently, folded it, and slipped it
into the bosom of her gown.

Neither said anything. One of her hands still remained in his,
listlessly at first--then the fingers crisped as his other arm encircled
her.

They were both gazing vaguely at the ocean now. Presently they moved
slowly toward it through the fragrant dusk. Her hair, loosened a little,
brushed his sunburned cheek.

And around them gambolled the wise little dog, no longer apprehensive,
but unutterably content with what the God of all good little doggies had
so mercifully sent to him _in loco parentis_.

       *       *       *       *       *

"That," said the novelist, "is another slice of fact which would never
do for fiction. Besides I once read a story somewhere or other about a
dog bringing two people together."

"The theme," I observed, "is thousands of years old."

"That's the trouble with all truth," nodded Duane. "It's old as Time
itself, and needs a new suit of clothes every time it is exhibited to
instruct people."

"What with new manners, new fashions, new dances, and the moral
levelling itself gradually to the level of the unmoral," said Stafford,
"nobody on the street would turn around to look at the naked truth in
these days."

"Truth must be fashionably gowned to attract," I admitted.

"We of the eccentric nobility understand that," said the little Countess
Athalie, glancing out of the window; and to me she added: "Lean over and
see whether they have stationed a policeman in front of the Princess
Zimbamzim's residence."

I went out on the balcony and glanced down the block. "Yes," I said.

"Poor old Princess," murmured the girl. "She detests moving."

"All frauds do," remarked Duane.

"She isn't a fraud," said Athalie quietly.

Our silence indicated our surprise. After a few moments the girl added:

"Whatever else she may be she is not a fraud in her profession. I think
I had better give you an example of her professional probity. It
interested me considerably as I followed it in my crystal. She knew all
the while that I was watching her as well as the very people she herself
was watching; and once or twice she looked up at me out of my crystal
and grinned."

"Can she see us now?" I inquired uneasily.

"No."

"Why not?" asked Duane.

"I shall not tell you why."

"Not that I care whether she sees me or not," he added.

"Do you care, Harry, whether I see you occasionally in my crystal?"
smiled Athalie.

Duane flushed brightly and reminded her that she was too honourable to
follow the movements of her personal friends unless requested to do so
by them.

"That is quite true," rejoined the girl, simply. "But once I saw you
when I did not mean to."

"Well?" he demanded, redder still.

"You were merely asleep in your own bed," she said, laughing and
accepting a lighted match from me. Then as the fragrant thread of smoke
twisted in ghostly ringlets across her smooth young cheeks she settled
back among her cushions.



XXI


"This," she said, "will acquaint you in a measure with the
trustworthiness of the Princess Zimbamzim. And, if the policeman in
front of her house could hear what I am going to tell you, he'd never
remain there while his legs had power to run away with him."

       *       *       *       *       *

They met by accident on Madison Square, and shook hands for the first
time in many years. High in the Metropolitan Tower the chimes celebrated
the occasion by sounding the half hour.

"It seems incredible," exclaimed George Z. Green, "that you could have
become so famous! You never displayed any remarkable ability in school."

"I never displayed any ability at all. But you did," said Williams
admiringly. "How beautifully you used to write your name on the
blackboard! How neat and scholarly you were in everything."

"I know it," said Green gloomily. "And _you_ flunked in almost
everything."

"In everything," admitted Williams, deeply mortified.

"And yet," said Green, "here we are at thirty odd; and I'm merely a
broker, and--_look_ what _you_ are! Why, I can't go anywhere but I find
one of your novels staring me in the face. I've been in Borneo: they're
there! They're in Australia and China and Patagonia. Why the devil do
you suppose people buy the stories you write?"

"I'm sure I don't know," said Williams modestly.

"I don't know either, though I read them myself sometimes--I don't know
why. They're all very well in their way--if you care for that sort of
book--but the things you tell about, Williams, never could have
happened. I'm not knocking you; I'm a realist, that's all. And when I
read a short story by you in which a young man sees a pretty girl, and
begins to talk to her without being introduced to her, and then
marries her before luncheon--and finds he's married a Balkan
Princess--good-night! I just wonder why people stand for your books;
that's all."

"So do I," said Williams, much embarrassed. "I wouldn't stand for them
myself."

"Why," continued Green warmly, "I read a story of yours in some magazine
the other day, in which a young man sees a pretty girl for the first
time in his life and is married to her inside of three quarters of an
hour! And I ask _you_, Williams, how you would feel after spending
fifteen cents on such a story?"

"I'm terribly sorry, old man," murmured Williams. "Here's your
fifteen--if you like----"

"Dammit," said Green indignantly, "it isn't that they're not readable
stories! I had fifteen cents' worth all right. But it makes a man sore
to see what happens to the young men in your stories--and all the queens
they collect--and then to go about town and never see anything of that
sort!"

"There are millions of pretty girls in town," ventured Williams. "I
don't think I exaggerate in that respect."

"But they'd call an officer if young men in real life behaved as they
do in your stories. As a matter of fact and record, there's no more
romance in New York than there is in the annual meeting of the British
Academy of Ancient Assyrian Inscriptions. And you know it, Williams!"

"I think it depends on the individual man," said Williams timidly.

"How?"

"If there's any romance in a man himself, he's apt to find the world
rather full of it."

"Do you mean to say there isn't any romance in me?" demanded George Z.
Green hotly.

"I don't know, George. Is there?"

"Plenty. Pl-en-ty! I'm always looking for romance. I look for it when I
go down town to business; I look for it when I go home. Do I find it?
No! Nothing ever happens to me. Nothing beautiful and wealthy beyond the
dreams of avarice ever tries to pick me up. Explain _that_!"

Williams, much abashed, ventured no explanation.

"And to think," continued Green, "that you, my old school friend, should
become a celebrity merely by writing such stories! Why, you're as
celebrated as any brand of breakfast food!"

"You don't have to read my books, you know," protested Williams mildly.

"I don't have to--I know it. But I do. Everybody does. And nobody knows
why. So, meeting you again after all these unromantic years, I thought
I'd just ask you whether by any chance you happen to know of any
particular section of the city where a plain, everyday broker might make
a hit with the sort of girl you write about. Do you?"

"Any section of this city is romantic enough--if you only approach it in
the proper spirit," asserted Williams.

"You mean if my attitude toward romance is correct I'm likely to
encounter it almost anywhere?"

"That is my theory," admitted Williams bashfully.

"Oh! Well, what _is_ the proper attitude? Take me, for example. I've
just been to the bank. I carry, at this moment, rather a large sum of
money in my inside overcoat pocket. My purpose in drawing it was to blow
it. Now, tell me how to blow it romantically."

"How can I tell you such a thing, George----"

"It's your business. You tell people such things in books. Now, tell me,
face to face, man to man, how to get thoroughly mixed up in the sort of
romance you write--the kind of romance that has made William McWilliam
Williams famous!"

"I'm sorry----"

"What! You won't! You admit that what you write is bunk? You confess
that you don't know where there are any stray queens with whom I might
become happily entangled within the next fifteen minutes?"

"I admit no such thing," said Williams with dignity. "If your attitude
is correct, in ten minutes you can be up against anything on earth!"

"Where?"

"Anywhere!"

"Very well! Here we are on Madison Square. There's Admiral Farragut;
there's the Marble Tower. Do you mean that if I walk from this spot for
ten minutes--no matter in what direction--I'll walk straight into
Romance up to my neck?"

"If your attitude is correct, yes. But you've got to know the elements
of Romance when you see them."

"What are the elements of Romance? What do they resemble?" demanded
George Z. Green.

Williams said, in a low, impressive voice:

"Anything that seems to you unusual is very likely to be an element in a
possible romance. If you see anything extraordinary during the next ten
minutes, follow it up. And ninety-nine chances in a hundred it will lead
you into complications. Interfering with other people's business usually
does," he added pleasantly.

"But," said Green, "suppose during the next ten minutes, or twenty
minutes, or the next twenty-four hours I _don't_ see anything unusual."

"It will be your own fault if you don't. The Unusual is occurring all
about us, every second. A trained eye can always see it."

"But suppose the Unusual doesn't occur for the next ten minutes,"
insisted Green, exasperated. "Suppose the Unusual is taking a vacation?
It would be just my luck."

"Then," said Williams, "you will have to imagine that everything you see
is unusual. Or else," he added blandly, "you yourself will have to start
something. _That_ is where the creative mind comes in. When there's
nothing doing it starts something."

"Does it ever get arrested?" inquired Green ironically. "The creative
mind! Sure! _That's_ where all this bally romance is!--in the creative
mind. I knew it. Good-bye."

They shook hands; Williams went down town.



XXII


This picture is not concerned with his destination. Or even whether he
ever got there.

But it is very directly concerned with George Z. Green, and the
direction he took when he parted from his old school friend.

As he walked up town he said to himself, "Bunk!" several times. After a
few moments he fished out his watch.

"I know I'm an ass," he said to himself, "but I'll take a chance. I'll
give myself exactly ten minutes to continue making an ass of myself. And
if I see the faintest symptom of Romance--if I notice anything at all
peculiar and unusual in any person or any thing during the next ten
minutes, I won't let it get away--believe _me_!"

He walked up Broadway instead of Fifth Avenue. After a block or two he
turned west at hazard, crossed Sixth Avenue and continued.

He was walking in one of the upper Twenties--he had not particularly
noticed which. Commercial houses nearly filled the street, although a
few old-time residences of brownstone still remained. Once well-to-do
and comfortable homes, they had degenerated into chop sueys, boarding
houses, the abodes of music publishers, artificial flower makers, and
mediums.

It was now a shabby, unkempt street, and Green already was considering
it a hopeless hunting ground, and had even turned to retrace his steps
toward Sixth Avenue, when the door of a neighbouring house opened and
down the shabby, brownstone stoop came hurrying an exceedingly pretty
girl.

Now, the unusual part of the incident lay in the incongruity of the
street and the girl. For the street and the house out of which she
emerged so hastily were mean and ignoble; but the girl herself fairly
radiated upper Fifth Avenue from the perfectly appointed and expensive
simplicity of hat and gown to the obviously aristocratic and dainty
face and figure.

"Is _she_ a symptom?" thought Green to himself. "Is _she_ an element?
That is sure a rotten looking joint she came out of."

Moved by a sudden and unusual impulse of intelligence, he ran up the
brownstone stoop and read the dirty white card pasted on the façade
above the door bell.

                    THE PRINCESS ZIMBAMZIM
                    TRANCE MEDIUM. FORTUNES.

Taken aback, he looked after the pretty girl who was now hurrying up the
street as though the devil were at her dainty heels.

Could _she_ be the Princess Zimbamzim? Common sense rejected the idea,
as did the sudden jerk of soiled lace curtains at the parlour window,
and the apparition of a fat lady in a dingy, pink tea-gown. _That_ must
be the Princess Zimbamzim and the pretty girl had ventured into these
purlieus to consult her. Why?

"This _is_ certainly a symptom of romance!" thought the young man
excitedly. And he started after the pretty girl at a Fifth Avenue amble.

He overtook and passed her at Sixth Avenue, and managed to glance at her
without being offensive. To his consternation, she was touching her
tear-stained eyes with her handkerchief. She did not notice him.

What could be the matter? With what mystery was he already in touch?

Tremendously interested he fell back a few paces and lighted a
cigarette, allowing her to pass him; then he followed her. Never before
in his life had he done such a scandalous thing.

On Broadway she hailed a taxi, got into it, and sped uptown. There was
another taxi available; Green took it and gave the driver a five dollar
tip to keep the first taxi in view.

Which was very easy, for it soon stopped at a handsome apartment house
on Park Avenue; the girl sprang out, and entered the building almost
running.

For a moment George Z. Green thought that all was lost. But the taxi she
had taken remained, evidently waiting for her; and sure enough, in a few
minutes out she came, hurrying, enveloped in a rough tweed travelling
coat and carrying a little satchel. Slam! went the door of her taxi; and
away she sped, and Green after her in his taxi.

Again the chase proved to be very short. Her taxi stopped at the
Pennsylvania Station; out she sprang, paid the driver, and hurried
straight for the station restaurant, Green following at a fashionable
lope.

She took a small table by a window; Green took the next one. It was not
because she noticed him and found his gaze offensive, but because she
felt a draught that she rose and took the table behind Green, exactly
where he could not see her unless he twisted his neck into attitudes
unseemly.

He wouldn't do such things, being really a rather nice young man; and it
was too late for him to change his table without attracting her
attention, because the waiter already had brought him whatever he had
ordered for tea--muffins, buns, crumpets--he neither knew nor cared.

So he ate them with jam, which he detested; and drank his tea and
listened with all his ears for the slightest movement behind him which
might indicate that she was leaving.

Only once did he permit himself to turn around, under pretense of
looking for a waiter; and he saw two blue eyes still brilliant with
unshed tears and a very lovely but unhappy mouth all ready to quiver
over its toast and marmalade.

What on earth could be the matter with that girl? What terrible tragedy
could it be that was still continuing to mar her eyes and twitch her
sensitive, red lips?

Green, sipping his tea, trembled pleasantly all over as he realised that
at last he was setting his foot upon the very threshold of Romance. And
he determined to cross that threshold if neither good manners, good
taste, nor the police interfered.

And what a wonderful girl for his leading lady! What eyes! What hair!
What lovely little hands, with the gloves hastily rolled up from the
wrist! Why should she be unhappy? He'd like to knock the block off any
man who----

Green came to himself with a thrill of happiness: her pretty voice was
sounding in exquisite modulations behind him as she asked the waiter for
m-more m-marmalade.

In a sort of trance, Green demolished bun after bun. Normally, he
loathed the indigestible. After what had seemed to him an interminable
length of time, he ventured to turn around again in pretense of calling
a waiter.

Her chair was empty!

At first he thought she had disappeared past all hope of recovery; but
the next instant he caught sight of her hastening out toward the ticket
boxes.

Flinging a five-dollar bill on the table, he hastily invited the waiter
to keep the change; sprang to his feet, and turned to seize his
overcoat. It was gone from the hook where he had hung it just behind
him.

Astonished, he glanced at the disappearing girl, and saw his overcoat
over her arm. For a moment he supposed that she had mistaken it for her
own ulster, but no! She was wearing her own coat, too.

A cold and sickening sensation assailed the pit of Green's stomach. Was
it not a mistake, after all? Was this lovely young girl a professional
criminal? Had she or some of her band observed Green coming out of the
bank and thrusting a fat wallet into the inside pocket of his overcoat?

He was walking now, as fast as he was thinking, keeping the girl in view
amid the throngs passing through the vast rotunda.

When she stopped at a ticket booth he entered the brass railed space
behind her.

She did not appear to know exactly where she was going, for she seemed
by turns distrait and agitated; and he heard her ask the ticket agent
when the next train left for the extreme South.

Learning that it left in a few minutes, and finding that she could
secure a stateroom, she took it, paid for it, and hastily left without a
glance behind her at Green.

Meanwhile Green had very calmly slipped one hand into the breast pocket
of his own overcoat, where it trailed loosely over her left arm, meaning
to extract his wallet without anybody observing him. The wallet was not
there. He was greatly inclined to run after her, but he didn't. He
watched her depart, then:

"Is there another stateroom left on the Verbena Special?" he inquired of
the ticket agent, coolly enough.

"One. Do you wish it?"

"Yes."

The ticket agent made out the coupons and shoved the loose change under
the grille, saying:

"Better hurry, sir. You've less than a minute."

He ran for his train and managed to swing aboard just as the coloured
porters were closing the vestibules and the train was in motion.

A trifle bewildered at what he had done, and by the rapidity with which
he had done it, he sank down in the vacant observation car to collect
his thoughts.

He was on board the Verbena Special--the southern train-de-luxe--bound
for Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Palm Beach, Verbena Inlet, or Miami--or
for Nassau, Cuba, and the remainder of the West Indies--just as he
chose.

He had no other luggage than a walking-stick. Even his overcoat was in
possession of somebody else. That was the situation that now faced
George Z. Green.

But as the train emerged from the river tube, and he realised all this,
he grew calmer; and the calmer he grew the happier he grew.

He was no longer on the threshold of Romance; he had crossed it, and
already he was being whirled away blindly into the Unusual and the
Unknown!

Exultingly he gazed out of the windows upon the uninspiring scenery of
New Jersey. A wonderful sense of physical lightness and mental freedom
took delightful possession of him. Opportunity had not beckoned him in
vain. Chance had glanced sideways at him, and he had recognised the
pretty flirt. His was certainly some brain!

And now, still clinging to the skirts of Chance, he was being whisked
away, pell mell, headlong toward Destiny, in the trail of a slender,
strange young girl who had swiped his overcoat and who seemed
continually inclined to tears.

The incident of the overcoat no longer troubled him. That garment of his
was not unlike the rough travelling coat she herself wore. And it might
have been natural to her, in her distress of mind and very evident
emotion, to have seized it by mistake and made off with it, forgetting
that she still wore her own.

Of course it was a mistake pure and simple. He had only to look at the
girl and understand that. One glance at her sweet, highbred features was
sufficient to exonerate her as a purloiner of gentlemen's garments.

Green crossed his legs, folded his arms, and reflected. The overcoat was
another and most important element in this nascent Romance.

The difficulty lay in knowing how to use the overcoat to advantage in
furthering and further complicating a situation already delightful.

Of course he could do the obvious: he could approach her and take off
his hat and do the well-bred and civil and explain to her the mistake.

But suppose she merely said: "I'm sorry," handed over his coat, and
continued to read her magazine. That would end it. And it mustn't end
until he found out why she had emerged with tears in her beautiful eyes
from the abode of the Princess Zimbamzim.

Besides, he was sure of getting his coat, his wallet, and its contents.
His name and address were in the wallet; also both were sewed inside the
inner pocket of the overcoat.

What would ultimately happen would be this: sooner or later she'd come
to, wake up, dry her pretty eyes, look about, and find that she had
_two_ overcoats in her possession.

It would probably distress her dreadfully, particularly when she
discovered the wallet and the money. But, wherever she was going, as
soon as she reached there she'd send overcoat and money back to his
address--doubtless with a pretty and contrite note of regret.

Yes, but that wouldn't do! What good would the overcoat and the money be
to him, if he were South and she shipped them North? And yet he was
afraid to risk an abrupt ending to his Romance by explaining to her the
mistake.

No; he'd merely follow her for the present. He couldn't help it very
well, being aboard the same train. So it would not be difficult to keep
his eye on her as well as his overcoat, and think out at his leisure how
best to tend, guard, cherish, and nourish the delicate and unopened bud
of Romance.

Meanwhile, there were other matters he must consider; so he wrote out a
telegram to Washington ordering certain necessary articles to be brought
aboard the Verbena Special on its arrival there. The porter took charge
of it.

That night at dinner he looked for the girl in vain. She did not enter
the dining-car while he was there. Haunting the corridors afterward he
saw no sign of her anywhere until, having received his necessaries in a
brand new travelling satchel, and on his way to his stateroom, he caught
a glimpse of her, pale and agitated, in conversation with the porter at
her partly opened door.

She did not even glance at him as he entered his stateroom, but he could
not avoid hearing what she was saying because her enunciation was so
exquisitely distinct.

"Porter," she said in her low, sweet voice, "I have, somehow, made a
very dreadful mistake somewhere. I have a man's overcoat here which does
not belong to me. The cloth is exactly like the cloth of my own
travelling ulster, and I must have forgotten that I had mine on when I
took this."

"Ain't de gemman abohd de Speshul, Miss?" inquired the porter.

"I'm afraid not. I'm certain that I must have taken it in the station
restaurant and brought it aboard the train."

"Ain't nuff'n in de pockets, is dey?" asked the porter.

"Yes; there's a wallet strapped with a rubber band. I didn't feel at
liberty to open it. But I suppose I ought to in order to find out the
owner's name if possible."

"De gemman's name ain't sewed inside de pocket, is it, Miss?"

"I didn't look," she said.

So the porter took the coat, turned it inside out, explored the inside
pocket, found the label, and read:

     "Snipps Brothers: December, 1913. George Z. Green."

A stifled exclamation from the girl checked him. Green also protruded
his head cautiously from his own doorway.

The girl, standing partly in the aisle, was now leaning limply against
the door-sill, her hand pressed convulsively to her breast, her face
white and frightened.

"Is you ill, Miss?" asked the porter anxiously.

"I--no. Z--what name was that you read?"

"George Z. Green, Miss----"

"It--it _can't_ be! Look again! It can't be!"

Her face was ashen to the lips; she closed her eyes for a second,
swayed; then her hand clutched the door-sill; she straightened up with
an effort and opened her eyes, which now seemed dilated by some powerful
emotion.

"Let me see that name!" she said, controlling her voice with an obvious
effort.

The porter turned the pocket inside out for her inspection. There it
was:

     "George Z. Green: 1008-1/2 Fifth Avenue, New York."

"If you knows de gemman, Miss," suggested the porter, "you all kin take
dishere garmint back yo'se'f when you comes No'th."

"Thank you.... Then--I won't trouble you.... I'll--I'll ta-t-take it
back myself--when I go North."

"I kin ship it if you wishes, Miss."

She said excitedly: "If you ship it from somewhere South, he--Mr.
Green--would see where it came from by the parcels postmark on the
express tag--wouldn't he?"

"Yaas, Miss."

"Then I don't want you to ship it! I'll do it myself.... _How_ can I
ship it without giving Mr. Green a clue--" she shuddered, "--a clue to
my whereabouts?"

"Does you know de gemman, Miss?"

"No!" she said, with another shudder,--"and I do not wish to. I--I
particularly do not wish ever to know him--or even to see him. And above
all I do not wish Mr. Green to come South and investigate the
circumstances concerning this overcoat. He might take it into his head
to do such a thing. It--it's horrible enough that I have--that I
actually have in my possession the overcoat of the very man on whose
account I left New York at ten minutes' notice----"

Her pretty voice broke and her eyes filled.

"You--you don't understand, porter," she added, almost hysterically,
"but my possession of this overcoat--of all the billions and billions of
overcoats in all the world--is a t-terrible and astounding b-blow to
me!"

"Is--is you afeard o' dishere overcoat, Miss?" inquired the astonished
darkey.

"Yes!" she said. "Yes, I am! I'm horribly afraid of that overcoat!
I--I'd like to throw it from the train window, but I--I can't do that,
of course! It would be stealing----"

Her voice broke again with nervous tears:

"I d-don't want the coat! And I can't throw it away! And if it's shipped
to him from the South he may come down here and investigate. He's in New
York now. That's why I am on my way South! I--I want him to remain in
New York until--until all--d-danger is over. And by the first of April
it will be over. And then I'll come North--and bring him his coat----"

The bewildered darkey stared at her and at the coat which she had
unconsciously clutched to her breast.

"Do you think," she said, "that M-Mr. Green will _need_ the coat this
winter? Do you suppose anything would happen to him if he doesn't have
it for a while--pneumonia or anything? Oh!" she exclaimed in a quivering
voice, "I wish he and his overcoat were at the South Pole!"

Green withdrew his head and pressed both palms to his temples. Could he
trust his ears? Was he going mad? Holding his dizzy head in both hands
he heard the girl say that she herself would attend to shipping the
coat; heard the perplexed darkey take his leave and go; heard her
stateroom door close.

Seated in his stateroom he gazed vacantly at the couch opposite, so
completely bewildered with his first over-dose of Romance that his brain
seemed to spin like a frantic squirrel in a wheel, and his thoughts
knocked and jumbled against each other until it truly seemed to him that
all his senses were fizzling out like wet firecrackers.

What on earth had he ever done to inspire such horror in the mind of
this young girl?

What terrible injury had he committed against her or hers that the very
sound of his name terrified her--the mere sight of his overcoat left
her almost hysterical?

Helplessly, half stupefied, he cast about in his wrecked mind to
discover any memory or record of any injury done to anybody during his
particularly blameless career on earth.

In school he had punched the noses of several schoolmates, and had been
similarly smitten in return. That was the extent of physical injury ever
done to anybody.

Of grave moral wrong he knew he was guiltless. True, he had frequently
skinned the assembly at convivial poker parties. But also he had often
opened jacks only to be mercilessly deprived of them amid the unfeeling
and brutal laughter of his companions. No, he was not guilty of criminal
gambling.

Had he ever done a wrong to anybody in business? Never. His firm's name
was the symbol for probity.

He dashed his hands to his brow distractedly. What in Heaven's name
_had_ he done to fill the very soul of this young girl with fear and
loathing? What in the name of a merciful Providence had he, George Z.
Green, banker and broker, ever done to drive this young and innocent
girl out of the City of New York!

To collect and marshal his disordered thoughts was difficult but he
accomplished it with the aid of cigarettes. To a commonplace intellect
there is no aid like a cigarette.

At first he was inclined to believe that the girl had merely mistaken
him for another man with a similar name. George Z. Green was not an
unusual name.

But his address in town was also written inside his coat pocket; and she
had read it. Therefore, it was painfully evident to him that her
detestation and fear was for him.

What on earth had inspired such an attitude of mind toward himself in a
girl he had seen for the first time that afternoon? He could not
imagine. And another strange feature of the affair was that she had not
particularly noticed him. Therefore, if she entertained such a horror of
him, why had she not exhibited some trace of it when he was in her
vicinity?

Certainly she had not exhibited it by crying. He exonerated himself on
that score, for she had been on the verge of tears when he first beheld
her hurrying out of the parlours of the Princess Zimbamzim.

It gradually became plain to him that, although there could be no doubt
that this girl was afraid of him, and cordially disliked him, yet
strangely enough, she did not know him by sight.

Consequently, her attitude must be inspired by something she had heard
concerning him. What?

He puffed his cigarette and groaned. As far as he could remember, he had
never harmed a fly.



XXIII


That night he turned in, greatly depressed. Bad dreams assailed his
slumbers--menacing ones like the visions that annoyed _Eugene Aram_.

And every time he awoke and sat up in his bunk, shaken by the swaying
car, he realised that Romance had also its tragic phases--a sample of
which he was now enduring. And yet, miserable as he was, a horrid sort
of joy neutralised the misery when he recollected that it _was_ Romance,
after all, and that he, George Z. Green, was in it up to his neck.

A grey morning--a wet and pallid sky lowering over the brown North
Carolina fields--this was his waking view from his tumbled bunk.

Neither his toilet nor his breakfast dispelled the gloom; certainly the
speeding landscape did not.

He sat grimly in the observation car, reviewing a dispiriting landscape
set with swamps, razorbacks, buzzards, and niggers.

Luncheon aided him very little. _She_ had not appeared at all. Either
her own misery and fright were starving her to death or she preferred to
take her meals in her stateroom. He hoped fervently the latter might be
the case; that murder might not be added to whatever else he evidently
was suspected of committing.

Like the ticket he had seen her purchase, his own ticket took him as far
as Ormond. Of course he could go on if she did. She could go to the West
Indies and ultimately to Brazil. So could he. They were on the main
travelled road to almost anywhere.

Nevertheless, he was on the watch at St. Augustine; and when he saw her
come forth hastily and get into a bus emblazoned with the name and
escutcheon of the Hotel Royal Orchid, he got in also.

The bus was full. Glancing at the other occupants of the bus, she
included him in her brief review, and to his great relief he saw her
incurious blue eyes pass calmly to the next countenance.

A dreadful, almost hysterical impulse assailed him to suddenly rise and
say: "I am George Z. Green!"--merely to observe the cataclysmic effect
on her.

But it did not seem so funny to him on after thoughts, for the chances
appeared to be that she could not survive the shock. Which scared him;
and he looked about nervously for fear somebody who knew him might be
among the passengers, and might address him by name.

In due time the contents of the bus trooped into the vast corridors of
the Hotel Royal Orchid. One by one they registered; and on the ledger
Green read her name with palpitating heart--Miss Marie Wiltz and Maid.
And heard her say to the clerk that her maid had been delayed and would
arrive on the next train.

It never occurred to this unimaginative man to sign any name but his own
to the register that was shoved toward him. Which perfectly proves his
guilelessness and goodness.

He went to his room, cleansed from his person the stains of travel, and,
having no outer clothes to change to, smoked a cigarette and gazed
moodily from the window.

Now, his window gave on the drive-encircled fountain before the front
entrance to the hotel; and, as he was standing there immersed in tobacco
smoke and gloom, he was astonished to see the girl herself come out
hastily, travelling satchel in hand, and spring lightly into a cab. It
was one of those victorias which are stationed for hire in front of such
southern hotels; he could see her perfectly plainly; saw the darkey
coachman flourish his whip; saw the vehicle roll away.

The next instant he seized his new satchel, swept his brand new toilet
articles into it, snapped it, picked up hat and cane, and dashed down
stairs to the desk.

Here he paid his bill, ran out, and leaped into a waiting victoria.

"Where did that other cab drive?" he demanded breathlessly to his negro
coachman. "Didn't you hear what the young lady said to her driver?"

"Yaas, suh. De young lady done say she's in a pow'ful hurry, suh. She
'low she gotta git to Ormond."

"Ormond! There's no train!"

"Milk-train, suh."

"What! Is she going to Ormond on a milk-train?"

"Yaas, suh."

"All right, then. Drive me to the station."

It was not very far. She was standing alone on the deserted platform,
her bag at her feet, his overcoat lying across it. Her head was bent,
and she did not notice him at first. Never had he seen a youthful figure
so exquisitely eloquent of despair.

The milk-train was about an hour overdue, which would make it about due
in the South. Green seated himself on a wooden bench and folded his
hands over the silver crook of his walking-stick. The situation was now
perfectly clear to him. She had come down from her room, and had seen
his name on the register, had been seized by a terrible panic, and had
fled.

Had he been alone and unobserved, he might have attempted to knock his
brains out with his walking-stick. He desired to, earnestly, when he
realised what an ass he had been to sign the register.

She had begun to pace the platform, nervously, halting and leaning
forward from time to time to scan impatiently the long, glittering
perspective of the metals.

It had begun to grow dusk. Lanterns on switches and semaphores flashed
out red, green, blue, white, stringing their jewelled sparks far away
into the distance.

To and fro she paced the empty platform, passing and repassing him. And
he began to notice presently that she looked at him rather intently each
time.

He wondered whether she suspected his identity. Guiltless of anything
that he could remember having done, nevertheless he shivered guiltily
every time she glanced at him.

Then the unexpected happened; and he fairly shook in his shoes as she
marched deliberately up to him.

"I beg your pardon," she said in a very sweet and anxious voice, "but
might I ask if you happen to be going to Ormond?"

He was on his feet, hat in hand, by this time; his heart and pulses
badly stampeded; but he managed to answer calmly that he was going to
Ormond.

"There is only a milk-train, I understand," she said.

"So I understand."

"Do you think there will be any difficulty in my obtaining permission to
travel on it? The station-master says that permission is not given to
ladies unaccompanied."

She looked at him almost imploringly.

"I really must go on that train," she said in a low voice. "It is
desperately necessary. Could you--could you manage to arrange it for me?
I would be so grateful!--so deeply grateful!"

"I'll do what I can," said that unimaginative man. "Probably bribery can
fix it----"

"There might be--if--if--you would be willing--if you didn't object--I
know it sounds very strange--but my case is so desperate----" She
checked herself, flushing a delicate pink. And he waited.

Then, very resolutely she looked up at him:

"Would you--could you p-pretend that I am--am--your sister?"

"Certainly," he said. An immense happiness seized him. He was not only
up to his neck in Romance. It was already over his head, and he was out
of his depth, and swimming.

"Certainly," he repeated quietly, controlling his joy by a supreme
effort. "That would be the simplest way out of it, after all."

She said earnestly, almost solemnly: "If you will do this generous thing
for--for a stranger--in very deep perplexity and trouble--that stranger
will remain in your debt while life lasts!"

She had not intended to be dramatic; she may not have thought she was;
but the tears again glimmered in her lovely eyes, and the situation
seemed tense enough to George Z. Green.

Moreover, he felt that complications already were arising--complications
which he had often read of and sometimes dreamed of. Because, as he
stood there in the southern dusk, looking at this slim, young girl, he
began to realise that never before in all his life had he gazed upon
anything half as beautiful.

Very far away a locomotive whistled: they both turned, and saw the
distant headlight glittering on the horizon like a tiny star.

"W-would it be best for us to t-take your name or mine--in case they ask
us?" she stammered, flushing deeply.

"Perhaps," he said pleasantly, "you might be more likely to remember
yours in an emergency."

"I think so," she said naïvely; "it is rather difficult for me to
deceive anybody. My name is Marie Wiltz."

"Then I am Mr. Wiltz, your brother, for an hour or two."

"If you please," she murmured.

It had been on the tip of his tongue to add, "Mr. George Z. Wiltz," but
he managed to check himself.

The great, lumbering train came rolling in; the station agent looked
very sharply through his spectacles at Miss Wiltz when he saw her with
Green, but being a Southerner, he gallantly assumed that it was all
right.

One of the train crew placed two wooden chairs for them in the partly
empty baggage car; and there they sat, side by side, while the big,
heavy milk cans were loaded aboard, and a few parcels shoved into their
car. Then the locomotive tooted leisurely; there came a jolt, a resonant
clash; and the train was under way.



XXIV


For a while the baggage master fussed about the car, sorting out
packages for Ormond; then, courteously inquiring whether he could do
anything for them, and learning that he could not, he went forward into
his own den, leaving Marie Wiltz and George Z. Green alone in a baggage
car dimly illumined by a small and smoky lamp.

Being well-bred young people, they broke the tension of the situation
gracefully and naturally, pretending to find it amusing to travel in a
milk train to a fashionable southern resort.

And now that the train was actually under way and speeding southward
through the night, her relief from anxiety was very plain to him. He
could see her relax; see the frightened and hunted look in her eyes die
out, the natural and delicious colour return to her cheeks.

As they conversed with amiable circumspection and pleasant formality, he
looked at her whenever he dared without seeming to be impertinent; and
he discovered that the face she had worn since he had first seen her was
not her natural expression; that her features in repose or in fearless
animation were winning and almost gay.

She had a delightful mouth, sweet and humourous; a delicate nose and
chin, and two very blue and beautiful eyes that looked at him at moments
so confidently, so engagingly, that the knowledge of what her expression
would be if she knew who he was smote him at moments, chilling his very
marrow.

What an astonishing situation! How he would have scorned a short story
with such a situation in it! And he thought of Williams--poor old
Williams!--and mentally begged his pardon.

For he understood now that real life was far stranger than fiction. He
realised at last that Romance loitered ever around the corner; that
Opportunity was always gently nudging one's elbow.

There lay his overcoat on the floor, trailing over her satchel. He
looked at it so fixedly that she noticed the direction of his gaze,
glanced down, blushed furiously.

"It may seem odd to you that I am travelling with a man's overcoat," she
said, "but it will seem odder yet when I tell you that I don't know how
I came by it."

"That _is_ odd," he admitted smilingly. "To whom does it belong?"

Her features betrayed the complicated emotions that successively
possessed her--perplexity, anxiety, bashfulness.

After a moment she said in a low voice: "You have done so much for me
already--you have been so exceedingly nice to me--that I hesitate to ask
of you anything more----"

"Please ask!" he urged. "It will be really a happiness for me to serve
you."

Surprised at his earnestness and the unembarrassed warmth of his reply,
she looked up at him gratefully after a moment.

"Would you," she said, "take charge of that overcoat for me and send it
back to its owner?"

He laughed nervously: "Is _that_ all? Why, of course I shall! I'll
guarantee that it is restored to its rightful owner if you wish."

"Will you? If you do _that_----" she drew a long, sighing breath, "it
will be a relief to me--such a wonderful relief!" She clasped her gloved
hands tightly on her knee, smiled at him breathlessly.

"I don't suppose you will ever know what you have done for me. I could
never adequately express my deep, deep gratitude to you----"

"But--I am doing nothing except shipping back an overcoat----"

"Ah--if you only knew what you really are doing for me! You are helping
me in the direst hour of need I ever knew. You are aiding me to regain
control over my own destiny! You are standing by me in the nick of time,
sheltering me, encouraging me, giving me a moment's respite until I can
become mistress of my own fate once more."

The girl had ended with a warmth, earnestness and emotion which she
seemed to be unable to control. Evidently she had been very much shaken,
and in the blessed relief from the strain the reaction was gathering
intensity.

They sat in silence for a few moments; then she looked up, nervously
twisting her gloved fingers.

"I am sorry," she said in a low voice, "not to exhibit reticence and
proper self-control before a--a stranger.... But I--I have been--rather
badly--frightened."

"Nothing need frighten you now," he said.

"I thought so, too. I thought that as soon as I left New York it would
be all right. But--but the first thing I saw in my stateroom was _that_
overcoat! And the next thing that occurred was--was almost--stupefying.
Until I boarded this milk-train, I think I must have been almost
irresponsible from sheer fright."

"What frightened you?" he asked, trembling internally.

"I--I can't tell you. It would do no good. You could not help me."

"Yet you say I have already aided you."

"Yes.... That is true.... And you _will_ send that overcoat back, won't
you?"

"Yes," he said. "To remember it, I'd better put it on, I think."

The southern night had turned chilly, and he was glad to bundle into his
own overcoat again.

"From where will you ship it?" she asked anxiously.

"From Ormond----"

"Please don't!"

"Why?"

"Because," she said desperately, "the owner of that coat might trace it
to Ormond and--and come down there."

"Where is he?"

She paled and clasped her hands tighter:

"I--I thought--I had every reason to believe that he was in New York.
B-but he isn't. He is in St. Augustine!"

"You evidently don't wish to meet him."

"No--oh, no, I don't wish to meet him--ever!"

"Oh. Am I to understand that this--this _fellow_," he said fiercely, "is
_following_ you?"

"I don't know--oh, I really don't know," she said, her blue eyes wide
with apprehension. "All I know is that I do not desire to see him--or to
have him see me.... He _must_ not see me; it must not be--it _shall_ not
be! I--it's a very terrible thing;--I don't know exactly what I'm--I'm
fighting against--because it's--it's simply too dreadful----"

Emotion checked her, and for a moment she covered her eyes with her
gloved hands, sitting in silence.

"Can't I help you?" he asked gently.

She dropped her hands and stared at him.

"I don't know. Do you think you could? It all seems so--like a bad
dream. I'll have to tell you about it if you are to help me--won't I?"

"If you think it best," he said with an inward quiver.

"That's it. I don't know whether it _is_ best to ask your advice. Yet, I
don't know exactly what else to do," she added in a bewildered way,
passing one hand slowly over her eyes. "Shall I tell you?"

"Perhaps you'd better."

"I think I will!... I--I left New York in a panic at a few moments'
notice. I thought I'd go to Ormond and hide there for a while, and then,
if--if matters looked threatening, I could go to Miami and take a
steamer for the West Indies, and from there--if necessary--I could go to
Brazil----"

"But _why_?" he demanded, secretly terrified at his own question.

She looked at him blankly a moment: "Oh; I forgot. It--it all began
without any warning; and instantly I began to run away."

"From what?"

"From--from the owner of that overcoat!"

"Who is he?"

"His name," she said resolutely, "is George Z. Green. And I am running
away from him.... And I am afraid you'll think it very odd when I tell
you that although I am running away from him I do not know him, and I
have never seen him."

"Wh-what is the matter with him?" inquired Green, with a sickly attempt
at smiling.

"He wants to marry me!" she exclaimed indignantly. "_That_ is what is
the matter with him."

"Are you sure?" he asked, astounded.

"Perfectly. And the oddest thing of all is that I do not think he has
ever seen me--or ever even heard of me."

"But how can----"

"I'll tell you. I must tell you now, anyway. It began the evening before
I left New York. I--I live alone--with a companion--having no parents. I
gave a dinner dance the evening before I--I ran away;--there was music,
too; professional dancers;--a crystal-gazing fortune teller--and a lot
of people--loads of them."

She drew a short, quick breath, and shook her pretty head.

"Everybody's been talking about the Princess Zimbamzim this winter. So I
had her there.... She--she is uncanny--positively terrifying. A dozen
women were scared almost ill when they came out of her curtained corner.

"And--and then she demanded me.... I had no belief in such things.... I
went into that curtained corner, never for one moment dreaming that what
she might say would matter anything to me.... In ten minutes she had me
scared and trembling like a leaf.... I didn't want to stay; I wanted to
go. I--couldn't, somehow. My limbs were stiff--I couldn't control
them--I couldn't get up! All my will power--was--was paralysed!"

The girl's colour had fled; she looked at Green with wide eyes dark with
the memory of fear.

"She told me to come to her for an hour's crystal gazing the following
afternoon. I--I didn't _want_ to go. But I couldn't seem to keep away.

"Then a terrible thing happened. I--I looked into that crystal and I saw
there--saw with my own eyes--_myself_ being married to a--a perfectly
strange man! I saw myself as clearly as in a looking glass;--but I could
see only his back. He--he wore an overcoat--like that one I gave to you
to send back. Think of it! Married to a man who was wearing an
_overcoat_!

"And there was a clergyman who looked sleepy, and--and two strangers as
witnesses--and there was I--_I!_--getting married to this man.... And
the terrible thing about it was that I looked at him as though I--I
l-loved him----"

Her emotions overcame her for a moment, but she swallowed desperately,
lifted her head, and forced herself to continue:

"Then the Princess Zimbamzim began to laugh, very horridly: and I asked
her, furiously, who that man was. And she said: 'His name seems to be
George Z. Green; he is a banker and broker; and he lives at 1008-1/2
Fifth Avenue.'

"'Am _I_ marrying him?' I cried. 'Am _I_ marrying a strange broker who
wears an overcoat at the ceremony?'

"And she laughed her horrid laugh again and said: 'You certainly are,
Miss Wiltz. You can not escape it. It is your destiny.'

"'When am I to do it?' I demanded, trembling with fright and
indignation. And she told me that it was certain to occur within either
three months or three days.... And--can you imagine my n-natural
feelings of horror--and repugnance? Can you not now understand the panic
that seized me--when there, all the time in the crystal, I could
actually see myself doing what that dreadful woman prophesied?"

"I don't blame you for running," he said, stunned.

"I do not blame myself. I ran. I fled, distracted, from that terrible
house! I left word for my maid to pack and follow me to Ormond. I caught
the first train I could catch. For the next three months I propose to
continue my flight if--if necessary. And I fear it will be necessary."

"Finding his overcoat in your stateroom must have been a dreadful shock
to you," he said, pityingly.

"Imagine! But when, not an hour ago, I saw his name on the register at
the Hotel Royal Orchid--_directly under my name!_--can you--oh, can you
imagine my utter terror?"

Her voice broke and she leaned up against the side of the car, so white,
so quivering, so utterly demoralised by fear, that, alarmed, he took her
trembling hands firmly in his.

"You mustn't give way," he said. "This won't do. You must show courage."

"How can I show courage when I'm f-frightened?"

"You must not be frightened, because--because I am going to stand by
you. I am going to stand by you very firmly. I am going to see this
matter through."

"Are you? It is so--so kind of you--so good--so generous.... Because
it's uncanny enough to frighten even a man. You see we don't know what
we're fighting. We're threatened by--by the occult! By unseen
f-forces.... _How_ could that man be in St. Augustine?"

He drew a long breath. "I am going to tell you something.... May I?"

She turned in silence to look at him. Something in his eyes disturbed
her, and he felt her little, gloved hands tighten spasmodically within
his own.

"It isn't anything to frighten you," he said. "It may even relieve you.
Shall I tell you?"

Her lips formed a voiceless word of consent.

"Then I'll tell you.... I know George Z. Green."

"W-what?"

"I know him very well. He is--is an exceedingly--er--nice fellow."

"But I don't care! I'm not going to marry him!... Am I? Do you think I
am?"

And she fell a-trembling so violently that, alarmed, he drew her to his
shoulder, soothing her like a child, explaining that in the twentieth
century no girl was going to marry anybody against her will.

Like a child she cowered against him, her hands tightening within his.
The car swayed and rattled on its clanging trucks; the feeble lamp
glimmered.

"If I thought," she said, "that George Z. Green was destined to marry me
under such outrageous and humiliating circumstances, I--I believe I
would marry the first decent man I encountered--merely to confound the
Princess Zimbamzim--and every wicked crystal-gazer in the world! I--I
simply hate them!"

He said: "Then you believe in them."

"How can I help it? Look at me! Look at me here, in full light--asking
protection of you!... And I don't care! I--think I am becoming more
angry than--than frightened. I think it is your kindness that has given
me courage. Somehow, I feel safe with you. I am sure that I can rely on
you; can't I?"

"Yes," he said miserably.

"I was very sure I could when I saw you sitting there on the platform
before the milk-train came in.... I don't know how it was--I was not
afraid to speak to you.... Something about you made me confident.... I
said to myself, 'He is _good_! I _know_ it!' And so I spoke to you."

Conscience was tearing him inwardly to shreds, as the fox tore the
Spartan. How could he pose as the sort of man she believed him to be,
and endure the self-contempt now almost overwhelming him?

"I--I'm not good," he blurted out, miserably.

She turned and looked at him seriously for a moment. Then, for the first
time aware of his arm encircling her, and her hands in his, she
flushed brightly and freed herself, straightening up in her little
wooden chair.

"You need not tell me that," she said. "I _know_ you _are_ good."

"As a m-matter of f-fact," he stammered. "I'm a scoundrel!"

"What?"

"I can't bear to have you know it--b-but I am!"

"_How_ can you say that?--when you've been so perfectly sweet to me?"
she exclaimed.

And after a moment's silence she laughed deliciously.

"Only to look at you is enough," she said, "for a girl to feel absolute
confidence in you."

"Do you feel that?"

"I?... Yes.... Yes, I do. I would trust you without hesitation. I have
trusted you, have I not? And after all, it is not so strange. You are
the sort of man to whom I am accustomed. We are both of the same sort."

"No," he said gloomily, "I'm really a pariah."

"You! Why do you say such things, after you have been so--perfectly
charming to a frightened girl?"

"I'm a pariah," he repeated. "I'm a social outcast! I--I know it, now."
And he leaned his head wearily on both palms.

The girl looked at him in consternation.

"Are _you_ unhappy?" she asked.

"Wretched."

"Oh," she said softly, "I didn't know that.... I am so sorry.... And to
think that you took all _my_ troubles on your shoulders, too,--burdened
with your own! I--I _knew_ you were that kind of man," she added warmly.

He only shook his head, face buried in his hands.

"I am _so_ sorry," she repeated gently. "Would it help you if you told
me?"

He did not answer.

"Because," she said sweetly, "it would make me very happy if I could be
of even the very slightest use to you!"

No response.

"Because you have been so kind."

No response.

"--And so p-pleasant and c-cordial and----"

No response.

She looked at the young fellow who sat there with head bowed in his
hands; and her blue eyes grew wistful.

"Are you in physical pain?"

"Mental," he said in a muffled voice.

"I am sorry. Don't you believe that I am?" she asked pitifully.

"You would not be sorry if you knew why I am suffering," he muttered.

"How _can_ you say that?" she exclaimed warmly. "Do you think I am
ungrateful? Do you think I am insensible to delicate and generous
emotions? Do you suppose I could ever forget what you have done for me?"

"Suppose," he said in a muffled voice, "I turned out to be a--a
villain?"

"You couldn't!"

"Suppose it were true that I am one?"

She said, with the warmth of total inexperience with villains, "What you
have been to me is only what concerns me. You have been good, generous,
noble! And I--like you."

"You must not like me."

"I _do_! I do like you! I shall continue to do so--always----"

"You can not!"

"What? Indeed I can! I like you very much. I defy you to prevent me!"

"I don't want to prevent you--but you mustn't do it."

She sat silent for a moment. Then her lip trembled.

"Why may I not like you?" she asked unsteadily.

"I am not worth it."

He didn't know it, but he had given her the most fascinating answer that
a man can give a young girl.

"If you are not worth it," she said tremulously, "you can become so."

"No, I never can."

"Why do you say that? No matter what a man has done--a young man--such
as you--he can become worthy again of a girl's friendship--if he wishes
to."

"I never could become worthy of yours."

"Why? What have you done? I don't care anyway. If you--if you want
my--my friendship you can have it."

"No," he groaned, "I am sunk too low to even dream of it! You don't
know--you don't know what you're saying. I am beyond the pale!"

He clutched his temples and shuddered. For a moment she gazed at him
piteously, then her timid hand touched his arm.

"I can't bear to see you in despair," she faltered, "--you who have been
so good to me. Please don't be unhappy--because--I want you to be
happy----"

"I can never be that."

"Why?"

"Because--I am in love!"

"What?"

"With a girl who--hates me."

"Oh," she said faintly. Then the surprise in her eyes faded vaguely into
wistfulness, and into something almost tender as she gazed at his bowed
head.

"Any girl," she said, scarcely knowing what she was saying, "who could
not love such a man as you is an absolutely negligible quantity."

His hands fell from his face and he sat up.

"Could _you_?"

"What?" she said, not understanding.

"Could you do what--what I--mentioned just now?"

She looked curiously at him for a moment, not comprehending. Suddenly a
rose flush stained her face.

"I don't think you mean to say that to me," she said quietly.

"Yes," he said, "I do mean to say it.... Because, since I first saw you,
I have--have dared to--to be in love with you."

"With _me_! We--you have not known me an hour!"

"I have known you three days."

"What?"

"_I_ am George Z. Green!"



XXV


Minute after minute throbbed in silence, timed by the loud rhythm of the
roaring wheels. He did not dare lift his head to look at her, though her
stillness scared him. Awful and grotesque thoughts assailed him. He
wondered whether she had survived the blow--and like an assassin he
dared not look to see what he had done, but crouched there, overwhelmed
with misery such as he never dreamed that a human heart could endure.

A century seemed to have passed before, far ahead, the locomotive
whistled warningly for the Ormond station.

He understood what it meant, and clutched his temples, striving to
gather courage sufficient to lift his head and face her blazing
contempt--or her insensible and inanimate but beautiful young form lying
in a merciful faint on the floor of the baggage car.

And at last he lifted his head.

She had risen and was standing by the locked side doors, touching her
eye-lashes with her handkerchief.

When he rose, the train was slowing down. Presently the baggage master
came in, yawning; the side doors were unbolted and flung back as the car
glided along a high, wooden platform.

They were standing side by side now; she did not look at him, but when
the car stopped she laid her hand lightly on his arm.

Trembling in every fibre, he drew the little, gloved hand through his
arm and aided her to descend.

"Are you unhappy?" he whispered tremulously.

"No.... What are we to do?"

"Am I to say?"

"Yes," she said faintly.

"Shall I register as your brother?"

She blushed and looked at him in a lovely and distressed way.

"What _are_ we to do?" she faltered.

They entered the main hall of the great hotel at that moment, and she
turned to look around her.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, clutching his arm. "Do you see that man? Do you
_see_ him?"

"Which man--dearest?----"

"_That_ one over there! That is the clergyman I saw in the crystal. Oh,
dear! Oh, dear! Is it going to come true right away?"

"I think it is," he said. "Are you afraid?"

She drew a deep, shuddering breath, lifted her eyes to his:

"N-no," she said.

Ten minutes later it was being done around the corner of the great
veranda, where nobody was. The moon glimmered on the Halifax; the
palmettos sighed in the chilly sea-wind; the still, night air was
scented with orange bloom and the odour of the sea.

He wore his overcoat, and he used the plain, gold band which had
decorated his little finger. The clergyman was brief and businesslike;
the two clerks made dignified witnesses.

When it was done, and they were left alone, standing on the moonlit
veranda, he said:

"Shall we send a present to the Princess Zimbamzim?"

"Yes.... A beautiful one."

He drew her to him; she laid both hands on his shoulders. When he
kissed her, her face was cold and white as marble.

"Are you afraid?" he whispered.

The marble flushed pink.

"No," she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

"That," said Stafford, "was certainly quick action. Ten minutes is a
pretty short time for Fate to begin business."

"Fate," remarked Duane, "once got busy with me inside of ten seconds."
He looked at Athalie.

"_Ut solent poetae_," she rejoined, calmly.

I said: "_Verba placent et vox, et quod corrumpere non est; Quoque minor
spes est, hoc magis ille cupit_."

In a low voice Duane replied to me, looking at her: "_Vera incessu
patuit Dea_."

Slowly the girl blushed, lowering her dark eyes to the green jade god
resting in the rosy palm of her left hand.

"Physician, cure thyself," muttered Stafford, slowly twisting a
cigarette to shreds in his nervous hands.

I rose, walked over to the small marble fountain and looked down at the
sleeping goldfish. Here and there from the dusky magnificence of their
colour a single scale glittered like a living spark under water.

"Are you preaching to them?" asked Athalie, raising her eyes from the
green god in her palm.

"No matter where a man turns his eyes," said I, "they may not long
remain undisturbed by the vision of gold. I was not preaching, Athalie;
I was reflecting upon my poverty."

"It is an incurable ailment," said somebody; "the millionaire knows it;
the gods themselves suffered from it. From the bleaching carcass of the
peon to the mausoleum of the emperor, the world's highway winds through
its victims' graves."

"Athalie," said I, "is it possible for you to look into your crystal and
discover hidden treasure?"

"Not for my own benefit."

"For others?"

"I have done it."

"Could you locate a few millions for us?" inquired the novelist.

"Yes, widely distributed among you. Your right hand is heavy as gold;
your brain jingles with it."

"I do not write for money," he said bluntly.

"That is why," she said, smiling and placing a sweetmeat between her
lips.

I had the privilege of lighting a match for her.



XXVI


When the tip of her cigarette glowed rosy in the pearl-tinted gloom, the
shadowy circle at her feet drew a little nearer.

"This is the story of Valdez," she said. "Listen attentively, you who
hunger!"

       *       *       *       *       *

On the first day it rained torrents; the light was very dull in the
galleries; fashion kept away. Only a few monomaniacs braved the weather,
left dripping mackintoshes and umbrellas in the coat room, and spent the
dull March morning in mousing about among the priceless treasures on
view to those who had cards of admission. The sale was to take place
three days later. Heikem was the auctioneer.

The collection to be disposed of was the celebrated library of Professor
Octavo de Folio--a small one; but it was composed almost exclusively of
rarities. A million and a half had been refused by the heirs, who
preferred to take chances at auction.

And there were Caxtons, first edition Shakespeares, illuminated
manuscripts, volumes printed privately for various kings and queens,
bound sketch books containing exquisite aquarelles and chalk drawings by
Bargue, Fortuny, Drouais, Boucher, John Downman; there were autographed
monographs in manuscript; priceless order books of revolutionary
generals, private diaries kept by men and women celebrated and notorious
the world over.

But the heirs apparently preferred yachts and automobiles.

The library was displayed in locked glass cases, an attendant seated by
each case, armed with a key and discretionary powers.

From where James White sat beside his particular case, he had a view of
the next case and of the young girl seated beside it.

She was very pretty. No doubt, being out of a job, like himself, she
was glad to take this temporary position. She was so pretty she made his
head ache. Or it might have been the ventilation.

It rained furiously; a steady roar on the glass roof overhead filled the
long and almost empty gallery of Mr. Heikem, the celebrated auctioneer,
with a monotone as dull and incessant as the business voice of that
great man.

Here and there a spectacled old gentleman nosed his way from case to
case, making at intervals cabalistic pencil marks on the margin of his
catalogue--which specimen of compiled literature alone cost five
dollars.

It was a very dull day for James White, and also, apparently, for the
pretty girl in charge of the adjoining case. Nobody even asked either of
them to unlock the cases; and it began to appear to young White that the
books and manuscripts confided to his charge were not by any means the
_chefs-d'oeuvre_ of the collection.

They were a dingy looking lot of books, anyway. He glanced over the
private list furnished him, read the titles, histories and pedigrees of
the volumes, stifled a yawn, fidgetted in his chair, stared at the
rain-battered glass roof overhead, mused lightly upon his misfortunes,
shrugged his broad shoulders, and glanced at the girl across the aisle.

She also was reading her private list. It seemed to bore her.

He looked at her as long as decency permitted, then gazed elsewhere. She
was exceedingly pretty in her way, red haired, white skinned; and her
eyes seemed to be a very lovely Sevres blue. Except in porcelain he
thought he had never seen anything as dainty. He knew perfectly well
that he could very easily fall in love with her. Also he knew he'd never
have the opportunity.

Duller and duller grew the light; louder roared the March rain. Even
monomaniacs no longer came into the galleries, and the half dozen who
had arrived left by luncheon time.

When it was White's turn to go out to lunch, he went to Childs' and
returned in half an hour. Then the girl across the aisle went
out--probably to a similar and sumptuous banquet. She came back very
shortly, reseated herself, and glanced around the empty galleries.

There seemed to be absolutely nothing for anybody to do, except to sit
there and listen to the rain.

White pondered on his late failure in affairs. Recently out of Yale, and
more recently still established in business, he had gone down in the
general slump, lacking sufficient capital to tide him over. His
settlement with his creditors left him with fifteen hundred dollars. He
was now waiting for an opportunity to invest it in an enterprise. He
believed in enterprises. Also, he was firmly convinced that Opportunity
knocked no more than once in a lifetime, and he was always cocking his
ear to catch the first timid rap. It was knocking then but he did not
hear it, for it was no louder than the gentle beating of his red-haired
neighbour's heart.

But Opportunity is a jolly jade. She knocks every little while--but one
must possess good hearing.

Having nothing better to do as he sat there, White drifted into mental
speculation--that being the only sort available.

He dreamed of buying a lot in New York for fifteen hundred dollars and
selling it a few years later for fifty thousand. He had a well developed
imagination; wonderful were the lucky strikes he made in these day
dreams; marvellous the financial returns. He was a very Napoleon of
finance when he was dozing. Many are.

The girl across the aisle also seemed to be immersed in day dreams. Her
Sevres blue eyes had become vague; her listless little hands lay in her
lap unstirring. She was pleasant to look at.

After an hour or so it was plain to White that she had had enough of her
dreams. She sighed very gently, straightened up in her chair, looked at
the rain-swept roof, patted a yawn into modest suppression, and gazed
about her with speculative and engaging eyes.

Then, as though driven to desperation, she turned, looked into the glass
case beside her for a few minutes, and then, fitting her key to the
door, opened it, selected a volume at hazard, and composed herself to
read.

For a while White watched her lazily, but presently with more interest,
as her features gradually grew more animated and her attention seemed to
be concentrated on the book.

As the minutes passed it became plain to White that the girl found the
dingy little volume exceedingly interesting. And after a while she
appeared to be completely absorbed in it; her blue eyes were rivetted on
the pages; her face was flushed, her sensitive lips expressive of the
emotion that seemed to be possessing her more and more.

White wondered what this book might be which she found so breathlessly
interesting. It was small, dingy, bound in warped covers of old
leather, and anything but beautiful. And by and by he caught a glimpse
of the title--"The Journal of Pedro Valdez."

The title, somehow, seemed to be familiar to him; he glanced into his
own case, and after a few minutes' searching he caught sight of another
copy of the same book, dingy, soiled, leather-bound, unlovely.

He looked over his private list until he found it. And this is what he
read concerning it:

     _Valdez, Pedro--Journal of. Translated by Thomas Bangs, of
     Philadelphia, in 1760. With map. Two copies, much worn and
     damaged by water. Several pages missing from each book._

     Pedro Valdez was a soldier of fortune serving with Cortez in
     Mexico and with De Soto in Florida. Nothing more is known of
     him, except that he perished somewhere in the semi-tropical
     forests of America.

     Thomas Bangs, an Englishman, pretended to have discovered and
     translated the journal kept by Valdez. After the journal had
     been translated--if, indeed, such a document ever really
     existed--Bangs pretended that it was accidentally destroyed.

     Bangs' translation and map are considered to be works of pure
     imagination. They were published from manuscript after the
     death of the author.

     Bangs died in St. Augustine of yellow fever, about 1760-61,
     while preparing for an exploring expedition into the Florida
     wilderness.

Mildly edified, White glanced again at the girl across the aisle, and
was surprised to see how her interest in the volume had altered her
features. Tense, breathless, utterly absorbed in the book, she bent over
the faded print, leaning close, for the sickly light that filtered
through the glass roof scarcely illumined the yellow pages at all.

The curiosity of White was now aroused; he opened the glass case beside
him, fished out his copy of the book, opened it, and began to read.

For the first few minutes his interest was anything but deep: he read
the well-known pages where Bangs recounts how he discovered the journal
of Valdez--and it sounded exceedingly fishy--a rather poorly written
fairy-tale done by a man with little invention and less imagination, so
worn out, hackneyed and trite were the incidents, so obvious the
coincidences.

White shrugged his shoulders and turned from the preface to what
purported to be the translation.

Almost immediately it struck him that this part of the book was not
written by the same man. Here was fluency, elegance of expression,
ease, the simplicity of a soldier who had something to say and but a
short time in which to say it. Even the apparent clumsiness of the
translation had not deformed the work.

Little by little the young man became intensely interested, then
absorbed. And after a while the colour came into his face; he glanced
nervously around him; suppressed excitement made his hands unsteady as
he unfolded the enclosed map.

From time to time he referred to the map as he read; the rain roared on
the glass roof; the light grew dimmer and dimmer.

At five o'clock the galleries closed for the day. And that evening,
sitting in his hall-bedroom, White made up his mind that he must buy
"The Journal of Valdez" if it took every penny that remained to him.

The next day was fair and cold; fashion graced the Octavo de Folio
exhibition; White had no time to re-read any passages or to re-examine
the map, because people were continually asking to see and handle the
books in his case.

Across the aisle he noticed that his pretty neighbour was similarly
occupied. And he was rather glad, because he felt, vaguely, that it was
just as well she did not occupy her time in reading "The Journal of
Valdez." Girls usually have imagination. The book might stir her up as
it had stirred him. And to no purpose.

Also, he was glad that nobody asked to look at the Valdez copy in his
own case. He didn't want people to look at it. There were reasons--among
others, he wanted to buy it himself. He meant to if fifteen hundred
dollars would buy it.

White had not the remotest idea what the book might bring at auction. He
dared not inquire whether the volume was a rare one, dreading even to
call the attention of his fellow employees to it. A word _might_ arouse
their curiosity.

All day long he attended to his duties there, and at five he went home,
highly excited, determined to arrive at the galleries next morning in
time enough to read the book a little before the first of the public
came.

And he did get there very early. The only other employee who had arrived
before him was the red-haired girl. She sat by her case reading "The
Journal of Valdez." Once she looked up at him with calm, clear,
intelligent eyes. He did not see her; he hastily unlocked his case and
drew out the coveted book. Then he sat down and began to devour it. And
so utterly and instantly was he lost amid those yellow, time-faded
pages that he did not even glance across the aisle at his ornamental
neighbour. If he had looked he would have noticed that she also was
buried in "The Journal of Valdez." And it might have made him a trifle
uneasy to see her look from her book to him and from him to the volume
he was perusing so excitedly.

It being the last day that the library was to be on view before the
sale, fashion and monomania rubbed elbows in the Heikem Galleries,
crowding the well known salons morning and afternoon. And all day long
White and his neighbour across the aisle were busy taking out books and
manuscripts for inspection, so that they had no time for luncheon, and
less for Valdez.

And that night they were paid off and dismissed; and the auctioneer and
his corps of assistants took charge.

The sale took place the following morning and afternoon. White drew from
the bank his fifteen hundred dollars, breakfasted on bread and milk, and
went to the galleries more excited than he had ever been before in his
long life of twenty-three years. And that is some time.

It was a long shot at Fortune he meant to take--a really desperate
chance. One throw would settle it--win or lose. And the idea scared him
badly, and he was trembling a little when he took his seat amid the
perfumed gowns of fashion and the white whiskers of high finance, and
the shabby vestments of monomania.

Once or twice he wondered whether he was crazy. Yet, every throb of his
fast-beating heart seemed to summon him to do and dare; and he felt,
without even attempting to explain the feeling to himself, that now at
last Opportunity was loudly rapping at his door, and that if he did not
let her in he would regret it as long as he lived.

As he glanced fearfully about him he caught sight of his pretty
neighbour who had held sway across the aisle. So she, too, had come to
watch the sale! Probably for the excitement of hearing an auctioneer
talk in thousands.

He was a little surprised, nevertheless, for she did not look
bookish--nor even intellectual enough to mar her prettiness. Yet,
wherever she went she would look adorable. He understood that, now.

It was a day of alarms for him, of fears, shocks, and frights
innumerable. With terror he heard the auctioneer talking in terms of
thousands; with horror he witnessed the bids on certain books advance by
thousands at a clip. Five thousand, ten thousand, twenty thousand were
bid, seen, raised, called, hiked, until his head spun and despair
seized him.

What did he know about Valdez? Either volume might bring fifty thousand
dollars for all he knew. Had he fifty thousand he felt, somehow, that he
would have bid it to the last penny for the book. And he came to the
conclusion that he was really crazy. Yet there he sat, glued to his
chair, listening, shuddering, teeth alternately chattering or grimly
locked, while the very air seemed to reek of millions, and the incessant
gabble of the auctioneer drove him almost out of his wits.

Nearer and nearer approached the catalogued numbers of the two copies of
Valdez; pale and desperate he sat there, his heart almost suffocating
him as the moment drew near. And now the time had come; now the
celebrated Mr. Heikem began his suave preliminary chatter; now he was
asking confidently for a bid.

A silence ensued--and whether it was the silence of awe at the priceless
treasure or the silence of indifference White did not know. But after
the auctioneer had again asked for a bid he found his voice and offered
ten dollars. His ears were scarlet when he did it.

"Fifteen," said a sweet but tremulous voice not far from White, and he
looked around in astonishment. It was his red-haired vis-a-vis.

"Twenty!" he retorted, still labouring under his astonishment.

"Twenty-five!" came the same sweet voice.

There was a silence. No other voices said anything. Evidently nobody
wanted Valdez except himself and his red-haired neighbour.

"Thirty!" he called out at the psychological moment.

The girl turned in her chair and looked at him. She seemed to be
unusually pale.

"Thirty-five!" she said, still gazing at White in a frightened sort of
way.

"Forty," he said; rose at the same moment and walked over to where the
girl was sitting.

She looked up at him as he bent over her chair; both were very serious.

"You and I are the only two people bidding," he said. "There are two
copies of the book. Don't bid against me and you can buy in the other
one for next to nothing--judging from the course this one is taking."

"Very well," she said quietly.

A moment later the first copy of Valdez was knocked down to James White.
An indifferent audience paid little attention to the transaction.

Two minutes later the second copy fell to Miss Jean Sandys for five
dollars--there being no other bidder.

White had already left the galleries. Lingering at the entrance he saw
Miss Sandys pass him, and he lifted his hat. The slightest inclination
of her pretty head acknowledged it. The next moment they were lost to
each other's view in the crowded street.

Clutching his battered book to his chest, not even daring to drop it
into his overcoat for fear of pickpockets, the young fellow started up
Broadway at a swinging pace which presently brought him to the offices
of the Florida Spanish Grants Company; and here, at his request, he was
ushered into a private room; a map of Seminole County spread on the
highly polished table before him, and a suave gentleman placed at his
disposal.

"Florida," volunteered the suave gentleman, "is the land of perpetual
sunshine--the land of milk and honey, as it were, the land of the
orange----"

"One moment, please," said White.

"Sir?"

They looked at each other for a second or two, then White smiled:

"I don't want dope," he said pleasantly, "I merely want a few facts--if
your company deals in them."

"Florida," began the suave gentleman, watching the effect of his words,
"is the garden of the world." Then he stopped, discouraged, for White
was grinning at him.

"It won't do," said White amiably.

"No?" queried the suave gentleman, the ghost of a grin on his own smooth
countenance.

"No, it won't do. Now, if you will restrain your very natural enthusiasm
and let me ask a few questions----"

"Go ahead," said the suave gentleman, whose name was Munsell. "But I
don't believe we have anything to suit you in Seminole County."

"Oh, I don't know," returned White coolly, "is it _all_ under water?"

"There are a few shell mounds. The highest is nearly ten inches above
water. We call them hills."

"I might wish to acquire one of those mountain ranges," remarked White
seriously.

After a moment they both laughed.

"Are you in the game yourself?" inquired Mr. Munsell.

"Well, my game is a trifle different."

"Oh. Do you care to be more explicit?"

White shook his head:

"No; what's the use? But I'll say this: it isn't the 'Perpetual Sunshine
and Orange Grove' game, or how to become a millionaire in three years."

"No?" grinned Munsell, lifting his expressive eyebrows.

White bent over the map for a few moments.

"Here," he said carelessly, "is the Spanish Causeway and the Coakachee
River. It's all swamp and jungle, I suppose--although I see you have it
plotted into orange groves, truck gardens, pineapple plantations, and
villas."

Munsell made a last but hopeless effort. "Some day," he began, with
dignity--but White's calm wink discouraged further attempts. Then the
young man tapped with his pencil lots numbered from 200 to 210, slowly,
going over them again for emphasis.

"Are those what you want?" asked Munsell.

"Those are what I want."

"All right. Only I can't give you 210."

"Why not?"

"Yesterday a party took a strip along the Causeway including half of 210
up to 220."

"Can't I get all of 210?"

"I'll ask the party. Where can I address you?"

White stood up. "Have everything ready Tuesday. I'll be in with the
cash."



XXVII


And on Tuesday he kept his word and the land was his for a few hundred
dollars--all except the half of Lot No. 210, which it appeared the
"party" declined to sell, refusing to consider any profit whatever.

"It's like a woman," remarked Munsell.

"Is your 'party' a woman?"

"Yes. I guess she's into some game or other, too. Say, what is this
Seminole County game, Mr. White?--if you don't mind my asking, now that
you have taken title to your--h'm!--orange grove."

"Why do you think there is any particular game afoot?" inquired the
young man curiously.

"Oh, come! _You_ know what you're buying. And that young lady knew, too.
You've both bought a few acres of cypress swamp and you know it. What do
you think is in it?"

"Snakes," said White coolly.

"Oh, _I_ know," said Munsell. "You think there's marl and phosphoric
rock."

"And isn't there?" asked White innocently.

"How should _I_ know?" replied Munsell as innocently; the inference
being that he knew perfectly well that there was nothing worth
purchasing in the Causeway swamp.

But when White went away he was a trifle worried, and he wondered
uneasily why anybody else at that particular time should happen to
invest in swampy real estate along the Spanish Causeway.

He knew the Spanish Causeway. In youthful and prosperous days, when his
parents were alive, they had once wintered at Verbena Inlet.

And on several occasions he had been taken on excursions to the
so-called Spanish Causeway--a dike-shaped path, partly ruined, made of
marl and shell, which traversed the endless swamps of Seminole County,
and was supposed to have been built by De Soto and his Spaniards.

But whoever built it, Spaniard, Seminole, or the prehistoric people
antedating both, there it still was, a ruined remnant of highway
penetrating the otherwise impassable swamps.

For miles across the wilderness of cypress, palmetto, oak, and depthless
mud it stretched--a crumbling but dry runway for deer, panther, bear,
black wolf, and Seminole. And excursion parties from the great hotels at
Verbena often picnicked at its intersection with the forest road, but
ventured no farther along the dismal, forbidding, and snake-infested
ridge which ran anywhere between six inches and six feet above the level
of the evil-looking marsh flanking it on either side.

In the care-free days of school, of affluence, and of youth, White had
been taken to gaze upon this alleged relic of Spanish glory. He now
remembered it very clearly.

And that night, aboard the luxurious Verbena Special, he lay in his bunk
and dreamed dreams awake, which almost overwhelmed him with their
magnificence. But when he slept his dreams were uneasy, interspersed
with vague visions of women who came in regiments through flowering
jungles to drive him out of his own property. It was a horrid sort of
nightmare, for they pelted him with iron-bound copies of Valdez,
knocking him almost senseless into the mud. And it seemed to him that he
might have perished there had not his little red-haired neighbour
extended a slender, helping hand in the nick of time.

Dreaming of her he awoke, still shaking with the experience. And all
that day he read in his book and pored over the map attached to it,
until the locomotive whistled for St. Augustine, and he was obliged to
disembark for the night.

However, next morning he was on his way to Verbena, the train flying
through a steady whirlwind of driving sand. And everywhere in the
sunshine stretched the flat-woods, magnificently green--endless miles of
pine and oak and palmetto, set with brilliant glades of vast, flat
fields of wild phlox over which butterflies hovered.

At Verbena Station he disembarked with his luggage, which consisted of a
complete tropical camping outfit, tinned food, shot-gun, rifle, rods,
spade, shovel, pick, crow. In his hand he carried an innocent looking
satchel, gingerly. It contained dynamite in sticks, and the means to
explode it safely.

To a hackman he said: "I'm not going to any hotel. What I want is a
wagon, a team of mules, and a driver to take me and my outfit to
Coakachee Creek on the Spanish Causeway. Can you fix it for me?"

The hackman said he could. And in half an hour he drove up in his mule
wagon to the deserted station, where White sat all alone amid his
mountainous paraphernalia.

When the wagon had been loaded, and they had been driving through the
woods for nearly half an hour in silence, the driver's curiosity got the
better of him, and he ventured to enquire of White why everybody was
going to the Spanish Causeway.

Which question startled the young man very disagreeably until he learned
that "everybody" merely meant himself and one other person taken thither
by the same driver the day before.

Further, he learned that this person was a woman from the North,
completely equipped for camping as was he. Which made him more uneasy
than ever, for he of course identified her with Mr. Munsell's client,
whose land, including half of Lot 210, adjoined his own. Who she might
be and why she had come down here to Seminole County he could not
imagine, because Munsell had intimated that she knew what she was
buying.

No doubt she meant to play a similar game to Munsell's, and had come
down to take a look at her villainous property before advertising
possibilities of perpetual sunshine.

Yet, why had she brought a camping outfit? Ordinary land swindlers
remained comfortably aloof from the worthless property they advertised.
What was she intending to do there?

Instead of a swindler was she, perhaps, the swindlee? Had she bought
the property in good faith? Didn't she know it was under water? Had she
come down here with her pitiful camping equipment prepared to rough it
and set out orange trees? Poor thing!

"Was she all alone?" he inquired of his cracker driver.

"Yaas, suh."

"Poor thing. Did she seem young and inexperienced?"

"Yaas, suh--'scusin she all has right smart o' red ha'r."

"What?" exclaimed White excitedly. "You say she is young, and that she
seemed inexperienced, except for her red hair!"

"Yaas, suh. She all has a right smart hank of red ha'r on her haid. I
ain't never knowed nobody with red ha'r what ain't had a heap mo'
'sperience than the mostest."

"D-d-did you say that you drove her over to the Spanish Causeway
yesterday?" stammered the dismayed young man.

"Yaas, suh."

Horrified thoughts filled his mind. For there could be scarcely any
doubt that this intruder was his red-haired neighbour across the aisle
at the library sale.

No doubt at all that he already crossed her trail at Munsell's agency.
Also, she had bid in one of the only two copies of Valdez.

First he had seen her reading it with every symptom of profound
interest. Then she had gone to the sale and bid in one of the copies.
Then he had heard from Munsell about a woman who had bought land along
the Causeway the day before he had made his own purchase.

And now once more he had struck her swift, direct trail, only to learn
that she was still one day in advance of him!

In his mental panic he remembered that his title was secure. That
thought comforted him for a few moments, until he began to wonder
whether the land he had acquired was really sufficient to cover a
certain section of perhaps half an acre along the Causeway.

According to his calculations he had given himself ample margin in every
direction, for the spot he desired to control ought to lie somewhere
about midway between Lot 200 and Lot 210.

Had he miscalculated? Had _she_ miscalculated? Why had she purchased
that strip from half of Lot 210 to Lot 220?

There could be only one answer: this clever and astoundingly
enterprising young girl had read Valdez, had decided to take a chance,
had proved her sporting spirit by backing her judgment, and had started
straight as an arrow for the terrifying territory in question.

Hers had been first choice of Mr. Munsell's lots; she had deliberately
chosen the numbers from half of 210 to 220. She was perfectly ignorant
that he, White, had any serious intentions in Seminole County.
Therefore, it had been her judgment, based on calculations from the
Valdez map, that half of Lot 210 and the intervening territory including
Lot 220, would be ample for her to control a certain spot--the very spot
which he himself expected to control.

Either he or she had miscalculated. Which?

Dreadfully worried, he sat in silence beside his taciturn driver, gazing
at the flanking forest through which the white road wound.

The only habitation they passed was fruit-drying ranch No. 7, in the
wilderness--just this one sunny oasis in the solemn half-light of the
woods.

White did not remember the road, although when a child he must have
traversed it to the Causeway. Nor when he came in sight of the Causeway
did he recognise it, where it ran through a glade of high, silvery
grass set sparsely with tall palmettos.

But here it was, and the cracker turned his mules into it, swinging
sharply to the left along Coakachee Creek and proceeding for about two
miles, where a shell mound enabled him to turn his team.

A wagon could proceed no farther because the crumbling Causeway narrowed
to a foot-path beyond. So here they unloaded; the cracker rested his
mules for a while, then said a brief good-bye to White and shook the
reins.

When he had driven out of sight, White started to drag his tent and
tent-poles along the dike top toward his own property, which ought to
lie just ahead--somewhere near the curve that the Causeway made a
hundred yards beyond. For he had discovered a weather-beaten shingle
nailed to a water-oak, where he had disembarked his luggage; and on it
were the remains of the painted number 198.

Lugging tent and poles, he started along the Causeway, keeping a
respectful eye out for snakes. So intent was he on avoiding the playful
attentions of rattler or moccasin that it was only when he almost ran
into it that he discovered another tent pitched directly in his path.

Of course he had expected to find her encamped there on the Causeway,
but he was surprised, nevertheless, and his tent-poles fell, clattering.

A second later the flap of her tent was pushed aside, and his red-haired
neighbour of the galleries stepped out, plainly startled.



XXVIII


She seemed to be still more startled when she saw him: her blue eyes
dilated; the colour which had ebbed came back, suffusing her pretty
features. But when she recognised him, fear, dismay, astonishment, and
anxiety blended in swift confusion, leaving her silent, crimson, rooted
to the spot.

White took off his hat and walked up to where she stood.

"I'm sorry, Miss Sandys," he said. "Only a few hours ago did I learn who
it was camping here on the Causeway. And--I'm afraid I know why you are
here.... Because the same reason that brought you started me the next
day."

She had recovered her composure. She said very gravely:

"I wondered when I saw you reading Valdez whether, by any possibility,
you might think of coming here. And when you bought the other copy I was
still more afraid.... But I had already secured an option on my lots."

"I know it," he said, chagrined.

"Were you," she inquired, "the client of Mr. Munsell who tried to buy
from me the other half of Lot 210?"

"Yes."

"I wondered. But of course I would not sell it. What lots have you
bought?"

"I took No. 200 to the northern half of No. 210."

"Why?" she asked, surprised.

"Because," he said, reddening, "my calculations tell me that this gives
me ample margin."

She looked at him in calm disapproval, shaking her head; but her blue
eyes softened.

"I'm sorry," she said. "You have miscalculated, Mr. White. The spot lies
somewhere within the plot numbered from half of 210 to 220."

"I am very much afraid that _you_ have miscalculated, Miss Sandys. I did
not even attempt to purchase your plot--except half of 210."

"Nor did I even consider _your_ plot, Mr. White," she said sorrowfully,
"and I had my choice. Really I am very sorry for you, but you have made
a complete miscalculation."

"I don't see how I could. I worked it out from the Valdez map."

"So did I."

She had the volume under her arm; he had his in his pocket.

"Let me show you," he began, drawing it out and opening it. "Would you
mind looking at the map for a moment?"

Her dainty head a trifle on one side, she looked over his shoulder as he
unfolded the map for her.

"Here," he said, plucking a dead grass stem and tracing the Causeway on
the map, "here lie my lots--including, as you see, the spot marked by
Valdez with a Maltese cross.... I'm sorry; but how in the world could
you have made your mistake?"

He turned to glance at the girl and saw her amazement and misunderstood
it.

"It's too bad," he added, feeling profoundly sorry for her.

"Do you know," she said in a voice quivering with emotion, "that a very
terrible thing has happened to us?"

"To _us_?"

"To _both_ of us. I--we--oh, please look at my map! It is--it is
different from yours!"

With nervous fingers she opened the book, spread out the map, and held
it under his horrified eyes.

"Do you see!" she exclaimed. "According to _this_ map, my lots include
the Maltese cross of Valdez! I--I--p-please excuse me----" She turned
abruptly and entered her tent; but he had caught the glimmer of sudden
tears in her eyes and had seen the pitiful lips trembling.

On his own account he was sufficiently scared; now it flashed upon him
that this plucky young thing had probably spent her last penny on the
chance that Bangs had told the truth about "The Journal of Pedro
Valdez."

That the two maps differed was a staggering blow to him; and his knees
seemed rather weak at the moment, so he sat down on his unpacked tent
and dropped his face in his palms.

Lord, what a mess! His last cent was invested; hers, too, no doubt. He
hadn't even railroad fare North. Probably she hadn't either.

He had gambled and lost. There was scarcely a chance that he had not
lost. And the same fearful odds were against her.

"The poor little thing!" he muttered, staring at her tent. And after a
moment he sprang to his feet and walked over to it. The flap was open;
she sat inside on a camp-chair, her red head in her arms, doubled over
in an attitude of tragic despair.

"Miss Sandys?"

She looked up hastily, the quick colour dyeing her pale cheeks, her
long, black lashes glimmering with tears.

"Do you mind talking it over with me?" he asked.

"N-no."

"May I come in?"

"P-please."

He seated himself cross-legged on the threshold.

"There's only one thing to do," he said, "and that is to go ahead. We
must go ahead. Of course the hazard is against us. Let us face the
chance that Bangs was only a clever romancer. Well, we've already
discounted that. Then let us face the discrepancy in our two maps. It's
bad, I'll admit. It almost knocks the last atom of confidence out of me.
It has floored you. But you must not take the count. You must get up."

He paused, looking around him with troubled eyes; then somehow the sight
of her pathetic figure--the soft, helpless youth of her--suddenly
seemed to prop up his back-bone.

"Miss Sandys, I am going to stand by you anyway! I suppose, like myself,
you have invested your last dollar in this business?"

"Y-yes."

He glanced at the pick, shovel and spade in the corner of her tent, then
at her hands.

"Who," he asked politely, "was going to wield these?"

She let her eyes rest on the massive implements of honest toil, then
looked confusedly at him.

"I was."

"Did you ever try to dig with any of these things?"

"N-no. But if I _had_ to do it I knew I could."

He said, pleasantly: "You have all kinds of courage. Did you bring a
shot-gun?"

"Yes."

"Do you know how to load and fire it?"

"The clerk in the shop instructed me."

"You are the pluckiest girl I ever laid eyes on.... You camped here all
alone last night, I suppose?"

"Yes."

"How about it?" he asked, smilingly. "Were you afraid?"

She coloured, cast a swift glance at him, saw that his attitude was
perfectly respectful and sympathetic, and said:

"Yes, I was horribly afraid."

"Did anything annoy you?"

"S-something bellowed out there in the swamp----" She shuddered
unaffectedly at the recollection.

"A bull-alligator," he remarked.

"What?"

"Yes," he nodded, "it is terrifying, but they let you alone. I once
heard one bellow on the Tomoka when I was a boy."

After a while she said with tremulous lips:

"There seem to be snakes here, too."

"Didn't you expect any?"

"Mr. Munsell said there were not any."

"Did he?"

"Not," she explained resolutely, "that the presence of snakes would have
deterred me. They frighten me terribly, but--I would have come just the
same."

"You are sheer pluck," he said.

"I don't know.... I am very poor.... There seemed to be a chance.... I
took it----" Tears sprang to her eyes again, and she brushed them away
impatiently.

"Yes," she said, "the only way is to go on, as you say, Mr. White.
Everything in the world that I have is invested here."

"It is the same with me," he admitted dejectedly.

They looked at each other curiously for a moment.

"Isn't it strange?" she murmured.

"Strange as 'The Journal of Valdez.'... I have an idea. I wonder what
you might think of it."

She waited; he reflected for another moment, then, smiling:

"This is a perfectly rotten place for you," he said. "You could not do
manual labour here in this swamp under a nearly vertical sun and keep
your health for twenty-four hours. I've been in Trinidad. I know a
little about the tropics and semi-tropics. Suppose you and I form a
company?"

"What?"

"Call it the Valdez Company, or the Association of the Maltese Cross,"
he continued cheerfully. "You will do the cooking, washing, housekeeping
for two tents, and the mending. I will do the digging and the
dynamiting. And we'll go ahead doggedly, and face this thing and see it
through to the last ditch. What do you think of it? Your claim as
plotted out is no more, no less, valuable than mine. Both claims may be
worthless. The chances are that they are absolutely valueless. But there
_is_ a chance, too, that we might win out. Shall we try it together?"

She did not answer.

"And," he continued, "if the Maltese cross happens to be included within
my claim, I share equally with you. If it chances to lie within your
claim, perhaps I might ask a third----"

"Mr. White!"

"Yes?"

"You will take _two_ thirds!"

"What?"

"_Two_ thirds," she repeated firmly, "because your heavier labour
entitles you to that proportion!"

"My dear Miss Sandys, you are unworldly and inexperienced in your
generosity----"

"So are you! The idea of your modestly venturing to ask a _third_! And
offering me a _half_ if the Maltese cross lie inside your own territory!
That is not the way to do business, Mr. White!"

She had become so earnest in her admonition, so charmingly emphatic,
that he smiled in spite of himself.

She flushed, noticing this, and said: "Altruism is a luxury in business
matters; selfishness of the justifiable sort a necessity. Who will look
out for your interests if you do not?"

"_You_ seem to be doing it."

Her colour deepened: "I am only suggesting that you do not make a
foolish bargain with me."

"Which proves," he said, "that you are not much better at business than
am I. Otherwise you'd have taken me up."

"I'm a very good business woman," she insisted, warmly, "but I'm too
much of the other kind of woman to be unfair!"

"Commercially," he said, "we both are sadly behind the times. To-day the
world is eliminating its appendix; to-morrow it will be operated on for
another obsolete and annoying appendage. I mean its conscience," he
added, so seriously that for a moment her own gravity remained
unaltered. Then, like a faint ray of sunlight, across her face the smile
glimmered. It was a winning smile, fresh and unspoiled as the lips it
touched.

"You _will_ take half--won't you?" she asked.

"Yes, I will. Is it a bargain?"

"If you care to make it so, Mr. White."

He said he did, and they shook hands very formally. Then he went out
and pitched his tent beside hers, set it in order, lugged up the
remainder of his equipment, buried the jars of spring water, and,
entering his tent, changed to flannel shirt, sun-helmet, and khaki.



XXIX


A little later he called to her: she emerged from her tent, and together
they sat down on the edge of the Causeway, with the two maps spread over
their knees.

That both maps very accurately represented the topography of the
immediate vicinity there could be no doubt; the only discrepancy seemed
to lie in the situation of the Maltese cross. On White's map the cross
fell well within his half of Lot 210; in Jean Sandys' map it was
situated between her half of 210 and 220.

Plot it out as they might, using Mr. Munsell's diagram, the result was
always the same; and after a while they gave up the useless attempt to
reconcile the differences in the two maps.

From where they were sitting together on the Causeway's edge, they were
facing due west. At their feet rippled the clear, deep waters of the
swamp, lapping against the base of the Causeway like transparent little
waves in a northern lake. A slight current disclosed the channel where
it flowed out of the north western edges of the swamp, which was set
with tall cypress trees, their flaring bases like silvery pyramids deep
set in the shining ooze.

East of them the Coakachee flowed through thickets of saw-grass and
green brier, between a forest of oak, pine, and cedar, bordered on the
western side by palm and palmetto--all exactly as drawn in the map of
Pedro Valdez.

The afternoon was cloudless and warm; an exquisite scent of blossoms
came from the forest when a light breeze rippled the water. Somewhere in
those green and tangled depths jasmine hung its fairy gold from arching
branches, and wild oranges were in bloom. At intervals, when the breeze
set from the east, the heavenly fragrance of magnolia grew more
pronounced.

After a little searching he discovered the huge tree, far towering above
oak and pine and palm, set with lustrous clusters, ivory and palest
gold, exhaling incense.

"Wonderful," she said under her breath, when he pointed it out to her.
"This enchanted land is one endless miracle to me."

"You have never before been in the South?"

"I have been nowhere."

"Oh. I thought perhaps when you were a child----"

"We were too poor. My mother taught piano."

"I see," he said gravely.

"I had no childhood," she said. "After the public school, it was the
book section in department stores.... They let me go last week. That is
how I came to be in the Heikem galleries."

He clasped his hands around one knee and looked out across the
semi-tropical landscape.

Orange-coloured butterflies with wings like lighted lanterns fluttered
along the edges of the flowering shrubs; a lovely purplish-black one
with four large, white polka dots on his wings flitted persistently
about them.

Over the sun-baked Causeway blue-tailed lizards raced and chased each
other, frisking up tree trunks, flashing across branches: a snowy heron
rose like some winged thing from Heaven, and floated away into the
silvery light. And like living jewels the gorgeous wood-ducks glided in
and out where the water sparkled among the cypress trees.

"Think," he said, "of those men in armour toiling through these swamps
under a vertical sun! Think of them, starved, haggard, fever racked,
staggering toward their El Dorado!--their steel mail scorching their
bodies, the briers and poison-grass festering their flesh; moccasin,
rattler, and copperhead menacing them with death at every step; the
poisoned arrows of the Indians whizzing from every glade!"

"Blood and gold," she nodded, "and the deathless bravery of avarice!
That was Spain. And it inflamed the sunset of Spanish glory."

He mused for a while: "To think of De Soto being here--_here_ on this
very spot!--here on this ancient Causeway, amid these forests!--towering
in his armour! His plated mail must have made a burning hell for his
body!"

She looked down at the cool, blue water at her feet. He, too, gazed at
it, curiously. For a few feet the depths were visible, then a
translucent gloom, glimmering with emerald lights, obscured further
penetration of his vision. Deep down in that water was what they
sought--if it truly existed at all.

After a few moments' silence he rose, drew the hunting-knife at his
belt, severed a tall, swamp-maple sapling, trimmed it, and, returning to
the water's edge, deliberately sounded the channel. He could not touch
bottom there, or even at the base of the Causeway.

"Miss Sandys," he said, "there is plenty of room for such a structure as
the Maltese cross is supposed to mark."

"I wonder," she murmured.

"Oh, there's room enough," he repeated, with an uneasy laugh. "Suppose
we begin operations!"

"When?"

"Now!"

She looked up at him, flushed and smiling:

"It is going to take weeks and weeks, isn't it?"

"I thought so before I came down here. But--I don't see why we shouldn't
blow a hole through this Causeway in a few minutes."

"What!"

She rose to her feet, slightly excited, not understanding.

"I could set off enough dynamite right here," he said, stamping his heel
into the white dust, "--enough dynamite to open up that channel into the
Coakachee. Why don't I do it?"

Pink with excitement she said breathlessly: "Did you bring _dynamite_?"

"Didn't _you_?"

"I--I never even thought of it. F-fire crackers frighten me. I thought
it would be all I could do to fire off my shot-gun." And she bit her lip
with vexation.

"Why," he said, "it would take a gang of men a week to cut through this
Causeway, besides building a coffer-dam." He looked at her curiously.
"How did _you_ expect to begin operations all alone?"

"I--I expected to dig."

He looked at her delicate little hands:

"You meant to dig your way through with pick and shovel?"

"Yes--if it took a year."

"And how did you expect to construct your coffer-dam?"

"I didn't know about a coffer-dam," she admitted, blushing. After a
moment she lifted her pretty, distressed eyes to his: "I--I had no
knowledge--only courage," she said.... "And I needed money."

A responsive flush of sympathy and pity passed over him; she was so
plucky, so adorably helpless. Even now he knew she was unconscious of
the peril into which her confidence and folly had led her--a peril
averted only by the mere accident of his own arrival.

He said lightly: "Shall we try to solve this thing now? Shall we take a
chance, set our charges, and blow a hole in this Causeway big enough to
drain that water off in an hour?"

"Could you do _that_?" she exclaimed, delighted.

"I think so."

"Then tell me what to do to help you."

He turned toward her, hesitated, controlling the impulsive reply.

"To help me," he said, smilingly, "please keep away from the dynamite."

"Oh, I will," she nodded seriously. "What else am I to do?"

"Would you mind preparing dinner?"

She looked up at him a little shyly: "No.... And I am very glad that I
am not to dine alone."

"So am I," he said. "And I am very glad that it is with _you_ I am to
dine."

"You never even looked at me in the galleries," she said.

"Then--how could I know you were reading Valdez if I never looked at
you?"

"Oh, you may have looked at the _book_ I was reading."

"I did," he said, "--and at the hands that held it."

"Never dreaming that they meant to wield a pick-axe," she laughed, "and
encompass your discomfiture. But after all they did neither the one nor
the other; did they?"

He looked at the smooth little hands cupped in the shallow pockets of
her white flannel Norfolk. They fascinated him.

"To think," he said, half to himself, "--to think of those hands
wielding a pick-axe!"

She smiled, head slightly on one side, and bent, contemplating her right
hand.

"You know," she said, "I certainly would have done it."

"You would have been crippled in an hour."

Her head went up, but she was still smiling as she said: "I'd have gone
through with it--somehow."

"Yes," he said slowly. "I believe you would."

"Not," she added, blushing, "that I mean to vaunt myself or my
courage----"

"No: I understand. You are not that kind.... It's rather extraordinary
how well I--I _think_ I know you already."

"Perhaps you _do_ know me--already."

"I really believe I do."

"It's very likely. I am just what I seem to be. There is no mystery
about me. I am what I appear to be."

"You are also very direct."

"Yes. It's my nature to be direct. I am not a bit politic or diplomatic
or circuitous."

"So I noticed," he said smilingly, "when you discussed finance with me.
You were not a bit politic."

She smiled, too, a little embarrassed: "How could I be anything but
frank in return for your very unworldly generosity?" she said. "Because
what you offered _was_ unworldly. Anyway, I should have been direct with
you; I knew what I wanted; I knew what you wanted. All I had to do was
to make up my mind. And I did so."

"Did you make up your mind about me, also?"

"Yes, about you, also."

They both smiled.

She was so straight and slender and pretty in her white flannels and
white outing hat--her attitude so confident, so charmingly determined,
that she seemed to him even younger than she really was--a delightful,
illogical, fresh and fearless school-girl, translated by some flash of
magic from her school hither, and set down unruffled and unstartled upon
her light, white-shod feet.

Even now it amazed him to realise that she really understood nothing of
the lonely perils lately confronting her in this desolate place.

For if there were nothing actually to fear from the wild beasts of the
region, _that which the beasts themselves feared_ might have confronted
her at any moment. He shuddered as he thought of it.

And what would she have done if suddenly clutched by fever? What would
she have done if a white-mouthed moccasin had struck her ankle--or if it
had been the diamond-set Death himself?

"You don't mind my speaking plainly, do you?" he said bluntly.

"Why, no, of course not." She looked at him inquiringly.

"Don't stray far away from me, will you?"

"What?"

"Don't wander away by yourself, out of sight, while we are engaged in
this business."

She looked serious and perplexed for a moment, then turned a delicate
pink and began to laugh in a pretty, embarrassed way.

"Are you afraid I'll get into mischief? Do you know it is very kind of
you to feel that way?... And rather unexpected--in a man who--sat for
three days across the aisle from me--and never even looked in my
direction. Tell me, what am I to be afraid of in this place?"

"There are snakes about," he said with emphasis.

"Oh, yes; I've seen some swimming."

"There are four poisonous species among them," he continued. "That's one
of the reasons for your keeping near me."

She nodded, a trifle awed.

"So you will, won't you?"

"Yes," she said, taking his words so literally that, when they turned to
walk toward the tents, she came up close beside him, naïvely as a child,
and laid one hand on his sleeve as they started back across the
Causeway.

"Suppose either one of us is bitten?" she asked after a silence.

"I have lancets, tourniquets, and anti-venom in my tent."

Her smooth hand tightened a little on his arm. She had not realised that
the danger was more than a vague possibility.

"You have spring water, of course," he said.

"No.... I boiled a little from the swamp before I drank it."

He turned to her sternly and drew her arm through his with an
unconscious movement of protection.

"Are you sure that water was properly boiled--_thoroughly_ boiled?" he
demanded.

"It bubbled."

"Listen to me! Hereafter when you are thirsty you will use my spring
water. Is that understood?"

"Yes.... And thank you."

"You don't want to get break-bone fever, do you?"

"No-o!" she said hastily. "I will do everything you wish."

"I'll hang your hammock for you," he said. "Always look in your shoes
for scorpions and spiders before you put them on. Never step over a
fallen log before you first look on the other side. Rattlers lie there.
Never go near a swamp without looking for moccasins.

"Don't let the direct sunlight fall on your bare head; don't eat fruit
for a week; don't ever go to sleep unless you have a blanket on. You
won't do any of these things, will you?" he inquired anxiously, almost
tenderly.

"I promise. And I never dreamed that there was anything to apprehend
except alligators!" she said, tightening her arm around his own.

"Alligators won't bother you--unless you run across a big one in the
woods. Then keep clear of him."

"I will!" she said earnestly.

"And don't sit about on old logs or lean against trees."

"Why? Lizards?"

"Oh, they're not harmful. But wood-ticks might give you a miserable week
or two."

"Oh, dear, oh, dear," she murmured, "I am so glad you came here!" And
quite innocently she pressed his arm. She did it because she was
grateful. She had a very direct way with her.



XXX


When they came to their tents he went into hers, slung her hammock
properly, shook a scorpion out of her slippers, and set his heel on it;
drove a non-poisonous but noisy puff-adder from under her foot-rug, the
creature hissing like a boiling kettle and distending its grey and black
neck.

Terrified but outwardly calm, she stood beside him, now clutching his
arm very closely; and at last her tent was in order, the last spider and
lizard hustled out, the oil cook-stove burning, the tinned goods ready,
the aluminum batterie-de-cuisine ranged at her elbow.

"I wonder," he said, hesitating, "whether I dare leave you long enough
to go and dig some holes with a crow-bar."

"Why, of course!" she said. "You can't have me tagging at your heels
every minute, you know."

He laughed: "It's _I_ who do the tagging."

"It isn't disagreeable," she said shyly.

"I don't mean to dog every step you take," he continued, "but now, when
you are out of my sight, I--I can't help feeling a trifle anxious."

"But you mustn't feel responsible for me. I came down here on my own
initiative. I certainly deserve whatever happens to me. Don't I?"

"What comfort would that be to me if anything unpleasant did happen to
you?"

"Why," she asked frankly, "should you feel as responsible for my welfare
as that? After all, I am only a stranger, you know."

He said: "Do you really feel like a stranger? Do you really feel that I
am one?"

She considered the proposition for a few moments.

"No," she said, "I don't. And perhaps it is natural for us to take a
friendly interest in each other."

"It comes perfectly natural to me to take a v-very v-vivid interest in
you," he said. "What with snakes and scorpions and wood-ticks and
unboiled water and the actinic rays of the sun, I can't very well help
worrying about you. After all," he added lucidly, "you're a girl, you
know."

She admitted the accusation with a smile so sweet that there could be no
doubt of her sex.

"However," she said, "you should entertain no apprehensions concerning
me. I have none concerning you. I think you know your business."

"Of course," he said, going into his tent and returning loaded with
crow-bar, pick-axe, dynamite, battery, and wires.

She laid aside the aluminum cooking-utensils with which she had been
fussing and rose from her knees as he passed her with a pleasant nod of
_au revoir_.

"You'll be careful with that dynamite, won't you?" she said anxiously.
"You know it goes off at all sorts of unexpected moments."

"I think I understand how to handle it," he reassured her.

"Are you quite certain?"

"Oh, yes. But perhaps you'd better not come any nearer----"

"Mr. White!"

"What!"

"It _is_ dangerous! I don't like to have you go away alone with that
dynamite. You make me very anxious."

"You needn't be. If--in the very remote event of anything going
wrong--now don't forget what I say!--but in case of an accident to me,
you'll be all right if you start back to Verbena at once--instantly--and
take the right-hand road----"

"Mr. _White_!"

"Yes?"

"I was _not_ thinking of myself! I was concerned about _you_!"

"Me?--_personally_?"

"Of course! You say you have me on your mind. Do you think I am devoid
of human feeling?"

"Were you--really--thinking about _me_?" he repeated slowly. "That was
very nice of you.... I didn't quite understand.... I'll be careful with
the dynamite."

"Perhaps I'd better go with you," she suggested irresolutely.

"Why?"

"I could hold a green umbrella over you while you are digging holes. You
yourself say that the sun is dangerous."

"My sun-helmet makes it all right," he said, deeply touched.

"You won't take it off, will you?"

"No."

"And you'll look all around you for snakes before you take the next
step, won't you?" she insisted.

He promised, thrilled by her frank solicitude.

A little way up the path he paused, looked around, and saw her standing
there looking after him.

"You're sure you'll be all right?" he called back to her.

"Yes. Are you sure _you_ will be?"

"Oh, yes!"

They made two quick gestures of adieu, and he resumed the path.
Presently he turned again. She was still standing there looking after
him. They made two gestures of farewell and he resumed the path. After a
while he looked back. She--but what's the use!

When he came to the spot marked for destruction, he laid down his
paraphernalia, seized the crow-bar, and began to dig, scarcely conscious
of what he was about because he had become so deeply absorbed in other
things--in _an_-other thing--a human one with red hair and otherwise
divinely endowed.

The swift onset of this heavenly emotion was making him giddy--or
perhaps it was unaccustomed manual labor under a semi-tropical sun.

Anyway he went about his work blindly but vigorously, seeing nothing of
the surrounding landscape or of the immediate ground into which he
rammed his crow-bar, so constantly did the charming vision of her
piquant features shut out all else.

And all the time he was worrying, too. He thought of snakes biting her
distractingly pretty ankles; he thought of wood-ticks and of her snowy
neck; of scorpions and of the delicate little hands.

How on earth was he ever going to endure the strain if already, in these
few hours, his anxiety about her welfare was assuming such deep and
portentous proportions! How was he going to stand the worry until she
was safe in the snakeless, tickless North again!

She couldn't remain here! She must go North. His mind seemed already
tottering under its new and constantly increasing load of
responsibility; and he dug away fiercely with his bar, making twice as
many holes as he had meant to.

For he had suddenly determined to be done with the job and get her into
some safe place, and he meant to set off a charge of dynamite that
would do the business without fail.

Charging and tamping the holes, he used caution, even in spite of his
increasing impatience to return and see how she was; arguing very justly
with himself that if he blew himself up he couldn't very well learn how
she was.

So he attached the wires very carefully, made his connections, picked up
the big reel and the remainder of his tools, and walked toward the
distant tents, unreeling his wire as he moved along.

She was making soup, but she heard the jangle of his equipment, sprang
to her feet, and ran out to meet him.

He let fall everything and held out both hands. In them she laid her
own.

"I'm so glad to see you!" he said warmly. "I'm so thankful that you're
all right!"

"I'm so glad you came back," she said frankly. "I have been most uneasy
about you."

"I've been very anxious, too," he said. Then, drawing an unfeigned sigh
of relief: "It does seem good to get back again!" He had been away
nearly half an hour.

She examined the wire and the battery gingerly, asking him innumerable
questions about it.

"Do you suppose," she ended, "that it will be safe for you to set off
the charge from this camp?"

"Oh, perfectly," he nodded.

"Of course," she said, half to herself, "we'll both be blown up if it
isn't safe. And that is _something_!"

And she came up very close when he said he was ready to fire, and laid
her hand on his arm. The hand was steady enough. But when he glanced at
her he saw how white she had become.

"Why, Jean!" he said gently. "Are you frightened?"

"No.... I won't mind it if I may stand rather near you." And she closed
her eyes and placed both hands over her ears.

"Do you think I'd fire this charge," he demanded warmly, "if there was
the slightest possible danger to _you_? Take down your hands and
listen."

Her closed eyelids quivered: "We'll both--there won't be anything left
of either of us if anything does happen," she said tremulously. "I am
not afraid.... Only tell me when to close my ears."

"Do you really think there is danger?"

"I don't know."

He looked at her standing there, pale, plucky, eyes tightly shut, her
pretty fingers resting lightly on her ears.

He said: "Would you think me crazy if I tell you something?"

"W-What?"

"Would you think me insane, Jean?"

"I don't think I would."

"You wouldn't consider me utterly mad?"

"N-no."

"No--_what_?"

"No, I wouldn't consider you mad----"

"No--_what_?" he persisted.

And after a moment her pallor was tinted with a delicate rose.

"No--_what_?" he insisted again.

"No--Jim," she answered under breath.

"Then--close your ears, Jean, dear."

She closed them; his arm encircled her waist. She bore it nobly.

"You may fire when you are ready--James!" she said faintly.

A thunder-clap answered her; the Causeway seemed to spring up under
their feet; the world reeled.

Presently she heard his voice sounding calmly: "Are you all right,
Jean?"

"Yes.... I was thinking of you--as long as I could think at all. I was
ready to go--anywhere--with you."

"I have been ready for that," he said unsteadily, "from the moment I
heard your voice. But it is--is wonderful of _you_!"

She opened her blue eyes, dreamily looking up into his. Then the colour
surged into her face.

"If--if you had spoken to me across the aisle," she said, "it would have
begun even sooner, I think.... Because I can't imagine myself
not--caring for you."

He took her into his arms:

"Don't worry," he said, "I'll make a place for you in the world, even if
that Maltese cross means nothing."

She looked into his eyes fearlessly: "I know you will," she said.

Then he kissed her and she put both arms around his neck and offered her
fresh, young lips again.



XXXI


Toward sunset he came to, partially, passed his hand across his
enchanted eyes, and rose from the hammock beside her.

"Dearest," he said, "that swamp ought to be partly drained by this time.
Suppose we walk over before dinner and take a look?"

Still confused by the sweetness of her dream, she sat up, and he drew
her to her feet, where she stood twisting up her beautiful hair, half
smiling, shy, adorable.

Then together they walked slowly out along the Causeway, so absorbed in
each other that already they had forgotten the explosion, and even the
Maltese cross itself.

It was only when they were halted by the great gap in the Causeway that
Jean Sandys glanced to the left, over a vast bed of shining mud, where
before blue wavelets had lapped the base of the Causeway.

Then her vaguely smiling eyes flew wide open; she caught her lover's arm
in an excited clasp.

"O Jim!" she exclaimed. "Look! Look! It is true! It is true! _Look_ at
the bed of the lake!"

They stood trembling and staring at the low, squat, windowless coquina
house, reeking with the silt of centuries, crawling with stranded water
creatures.

The stones that had blocked the door had fallen before the shock of the
dynamite.

"Good God!" he whispered. "_Do you see what is inside?_"

But Jean Sandys, calmly looking untold wealth in its glittering face,
sighed, smiled, and turned her blue gaze on her lover, finding in his
eyes the only miracle that now had power to hold her undivided
attention.

For it is that way with some girls.

       *       *       *       *       *

But the novelist, unable to endure a dose of his own technique, could no
longer control his impatience:

"What in God's name was there in that stone house!" he burst out.

"Oh, Lord!" muttered Stafford, "it is two hours after midnight."

He rose, bent over the girl's hand, and kissed the emerald on the third
finger.

Figure after figure, tall, shadowy, leisurely followed his example,
while her little hand lay listlessly on the silken cushions and her
dreaming eyes seemed to see nobody.

Duane and I remained for a while seated, then in silence,--which Athalie
finally broke for us:

"Patience," she said, "is the art of hoping.... Good-night."

I rose; she looked up at me, lifted her slim arm and placed the palm of
her hand against my lips.

And so I took my leave; thinking.


    +-------------------------------------------------+
    | Novels by Robert W. Chambers                    |
    |                                                 |
    | Quick Action           The Business of Life     |
    | Blue-Bird Weather      The Gay Rebellion        |
    | Japonette              The Streets of Ascalon   |
    | The Adventures of a    The Common Law           |
    |  Modest Man            Ailsa Paige              |
    | The Danger Mark        The Green Mouse          |
    | Special Messenger      Iole                     |
    | The Firing Line        The Reckoning            |
    | The Younger Set        The Maid-at-Arms         |
    | The Fighting Chance    Cardigan                 |
    | Some Ladies in Haste   The Haunts of Men        |
    | The Tree of Heaven     The Mystery of Choice    |
    | The Tracer of Lost     The Cambric Mask         |
    |  Persons               The Maker of Moons       |
    | A Young Man in a       The King in Yellow       |
    |  Hurry                 In Search of the Unknown |
    | Lorraine                                        |
    | Maids of Paradise      The Conspirators         |
    | Ashes of Empire        A King and a Few         |
    | The Red Republic        Dukes                   |
    | Outsiders              In the Quarter           |
    +-------------------------------------------------+





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