Inconsistencies in the hyphenation and variations in spelling have been retained as in the original.
WINGS OF THE WIND
Author of "TOBY," "SUNLIGHT PATCH," "WHERE THE SOULS OF MEN ARE CALLING," ETC.
BOSTON SMALL, MAYNARD & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1920 BY SMALL, MAYNARD & COMPANY (INCORPORATED)
TO S. THRUSTON BALLARD WITH WHOM THE AUTHOR HAS SHARED MANY A PLEASANT CAMP-FIRE THIS BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED
I. "TO ADVENTURE AND ROMANCE!" 9
II. THE MYSTERIOUS MONSIEUR 16
III. THE GIRL IN THE CAFE 29
IV. NIRVANA 43
V. "TO THE VERY END!" 54
VI. A VOICE FROM THE WATER 70
VII. A BOMB AND A DISCOVERY 80
VIII. THE CHASE BEGINS 94
IX. A SHOT FROM THE DARK 104
X. A SILENT ENEMY 117
XI. A STRANGE FIND 129
XII. THE HURRICANE 140
XIII. ON TO DEATH RIVER! 153
XIV. SMILAX BRINGS NEWS 161
XV. EFAW KOTEE'S DEN 174
XVI. THE CAVE MAN SETS FORTH 190
XVII. THE RESCUE 202
XVIII. DOLORIA 212
XIX. ENLIGHTENING A PRINCESS 228
XX. SLEEPING BENEATH GOD'S TENT 238
XXI. PLANTING A MEMORY 249
XXII. I LOVE YOU 266
XXIII. THE ATTACK 275
XXIV. GERMAN CRUELTY 289
XXV. A FLYING THRONE 304
XXVI. A TREASURE BOX 319
XXVII. THE FINAL HOCUS-POCUS 330
WINGS OF THE WIND
"TO ADVENTURE AND ROMANCE!"
At last out of khaki, and dressed in conventional evening clothes, I felt as if I were indeed writing the first words of another story on the unmarred page of the incoming year. As I entered the library my mother, forgetting that it was I who owed her deference, came forward with outstretched arms and a sound in her voice like that of doves at nesting time. Dad's welcome was heartier, even though his eyes were dimmed with happy tears. And old Bilkins, our solemn, irreproachable butler, grinned benignly as he stood waiting to announce dinner. What a wealth of affection I had to be grateful for!
I did not lack gratitude, but with the old year touching the heels of the new, and Time commanding me to get in step, my return to civil life held few inducements. Instead of a superabundance of cheer, I had brought from France jumpy nerves and a body lean with over training—natural results of physical exhaustion coupled with the mental reaction that must inevitably follow a year and a half of highly imaginative living.
But there was another aspect less tangible, perhaps more permanent—and all members of combat divisions will understand exactly what I mean. When America picked up the gauntlet, an active conscience jerked me from a tuneful life and drove me out to war—for whether men are driven by conscience, or a government draft board, makes no difference in the effect upon those who come through. Time after time, for eighteen months, I made my regular trips into hell—into a hell more revolting than mid-Victorian evangelists ever pictured to spellbound, quaking sinners. Never in this world had there been a parallel to the naked dangers and nauseous discomforts of that western front; never so prolonged an agony of head-splitting noises, lacerations of human flesh, smells that turned the body sick, blasphemies that made the soul grow hard, frenzied efforts to kill, and above all a spirit, fanatical, that urged each man to bear more, kill more, because he was a Crusader for the right.
Into this red crucible I had plunged, and now emerged—remolded. In one brief year and a half I had lived my life, dreamed the undreamable, accomplished the unaccomplishable. Much had gone from me, yet much had come—and it was this which had come that distorted my vision of future days; making them drab, making my fellows who had not taken the plunge seem purposeless and immature. Either they were out of tune, or I was—and I thought, of course, that they were. What freshness could I bring to an existence of peace when my gears would not mesh with its humdrum machinery!
My mother, ever quick to detect the workings of my mind as well as the variations of my body, had noticed these changes when I disembarked the previous week, and had become obsessed with the idea that I stood tottering on the brink of abysmal wretchedness. So, while I was marking time the few days at camp until the hour of demobilization, she summoned into hasty conference my father, our family doctor, and the select near relatives whose advice was a matter of habit rather than value, to devise means of leading me out of myself.
This, I afterward learned, had been a weighty conference, resulting in the conclusion that I must have complete rest and diversion. But as my more recent letters home had expressed a determination to rush headlong into business—as a sort of fatuous panacea for jumpy nerves, no doubt—and since the conferees possessed an intimate knowledge of the mulish streak that coursed through my blood, their plans were laid behind my back with the greatest secrecy. Therefore, when entering the library this last night in December and hurrying to my mother's arms, I had no suspicion that I was being drawn into a very agreeable trap, gilded by my father's abundant generosity.
We sat late after dinner. Somewhere in the hall Bilkins hovered with glasses and tray to be on hand when the whistles began their screaming. In twenty years he had not omitted this New Year's Eve ceremony.
"Your wound never troubles you?" my mother asked, her solicitation over a scratch I had received ten months before not disguising a light of pride that charmed me.
"I've forgotten it, Mater. Never amounted to anything."
"Still, you did leave some blood on French soil," Dad spoke up, for this conceit appealed to him.
"Enough to grow an ugly rose, perhaps," I admitted.
"I'll bet you grew pretty ones on the cheeks of those French girls," he chuckled.
"Pretty ones don't grow any more, on cheeks or anywhere else," I doggedly replied. "Materialism's the keynote now—that's why I'm going back to work, at once."
"Oh," the Mater laughed, "don't think of your father's stupid office, yet!"
"There's nothing left to think of," I grumbled.
"Isn't there?" he exclaimed. "What'd you say if Gates has the yacht in commission, and you take a run down to Miami——"
"Or open the cottage, if you'd rather," she excitedly interrupted him. "I hadn't intended leaving New York this winter, but will chaperon a house party if you like!"
"Fiddlesticks! Cruise, by all means," he spoke with good-natured emphasis. "Get another fellow, and go after adventures and romances and that kind of thing! Go after 'em hammer and tongs! By George, that's what I'd do if I were a boy, and had the chance!"
They waited, rather expectantly.
"Cruising's all right," I said, without enthusiasm. "But it's a waste of time to go after romance and adventure. They died with the war."
"Ho!—they did, did they?" he laughed in mock derision. "What's become of your imagination—your vaporings? You used to be full of it!" And the Mater supported him by exclaiming:
"Why, Jack Bronx! And I used to call you my Pantheist! Don't tell me your second sight for discovering the beautiful in things has failed you!"
"It got put out by mustard gas, maybe," I murmured, remembering with bitterness some of the fellows who had been with me.
What was romance here to the colorful, high-tensioned thing I had seen in devastated areas where loves of all gradations were torn and scattered and trampled into the earth like chaff! Fretfully I told them this.
They exchanged glances, yet she continued in coaxing vein:
"You're such a big baby to've been such a big soldier! Don't you know that romance is always just over the hill, hand in hand with adventure—both lonely for someone to play with? Wars can't kill them! It's after wars, when a nation is wounded, that they become priceless!"
"By George, that's right," Dad cried. "Come to think of it, that's exactly right! And Gates has the same crew of six—men you've always known! Even that rascal, Pete, cooks better 'n ever! The Whim, you can't deny, is the smartest ninety-six foot schooner yacht that sails! I say again that if I had the chance I'd turn her free on whatever magic course the wings of the wind would take her! That I would—by George!"
And there was a note of deep appeal in the Mater's voice as she asked:
"Why not get that boy you wrote so much about—Tommy what's-his-name, the Southerner? I like him!"
This plan, which I now saw had been so carefully prepared—fruit of the secret conference—was but one in the million or so of others throughout America nurtured and matured by the brave army of fathers, mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, who stayed at home and gave their all, waiting with alternate hopes and fears, looking with prayerful eyes to the day that would bring a certain one back into their arms. What difference if some plans were elaborate and some as modest as a flower? Who would dare distinguish between the cruise on a private yacht and the cake endearingly made in a hot little kitchen for the husky lad just returned from overseas? Each was its own best expression of pride and love. Each said in its tenderest way: "Well done, my own!"
A lump came into my throat.
"It's rather decent of a fellow to have two such corking forbears," I murmured.
The Mater turned her gentle eyes to the fire, and Dad, clearing his throat in a blustering way—though he was not at all a blustering man—replied:
"Perhaps it's rather decent of us to have a son who—er, I mean, who—well, er——"
"A cruise hits me right," I exclaimed, hurriedly coming to his rescue, for neither of us wanted a scene. "And I'll wire Tommy Davis, Mater—the chap you mentioned. He's a corking fellow! I didn't write you how the battalion started calling him 'Rebel' till he closed up half a dozen eyes, did I? You see, in the beginning, when we were rookies, the sergeant had us up in formation to get our names, and when he came to Tommy that innocent drawled: 'Mr. Thomas Jefferson Davis, suh, of Loui'ville, Jefferson county, Kentucky, suh.' You could have heard a pin drop. The sergeant, as hard-boiled as they come, stood perfectly still and let a cold eye bore into him for half a minute, then gasped: 'Gawd! What a wicked little rebel!'"
"Why didn't you bring him home with you?"
"Same reason he couldn't take me home with him. There were people waiting, and turkey, and—but he won't want to go," I added. "He's crazy about a girl down there!"
"Fiddlesticks," my father chuckled. "Any normal fellow'll want to cruise! I'll wire him myself—this very night!"
Bilkins entered with the tray, wishing us a happy new year. Outside the whistles were beginning to blow. After we had pledged each other, and drunk to 1919, the Mater, a light of challenge in her eyes, looked at me and gave another toast:
"To a cruise and an adventure, Jack!"
"To romance," Dad cried, gallantly raising her fingers to his lips.
There was no use being a wet blanket, so with a laugh I said:
"To adventure and romance!—Mater, if they're still on earth I'll bring them home to you!"
I knew it was a very silly toast, but let it go to please them—for why disillusion those who believe in the actuality of nonexistence?
THE MYSTERIOUS MONSIEUR
Ten days later Tommy and I—and Bilkins, whom I had begged of my father at the eleventh hour—stepped off the train at Miami, stretched our arms and breathed deep breaths of balmy air. Gates, his ruddy face an augury of good cheer, was there to meet us, and as he started off well laden with a portion of our bags, Tommy whispered:
"Reminds me of the old chap in that picture 'The Fisherman's Daughter'!"
The description did fit Gates like an old glove, yet his most dominant characteristic was an unfailing loyalty to our family and an honest bluntness, both of which had become as generally recognized as his skill in handling the Whim—"the smartest schooner yacht," he would have told you on a two-minute acquaintanceship, "that ever tasted salt."
"We might open the cottage for a few days, Gates," I said, as we were getting into the motor.
"Bless you, sir," he replied, caressing a weather-beaten chin with thumb and finger, "the Whim's been tugging at her cable mighty fretful this parst fortnight! The crew hoped you'd be coming aboard at once, sir. Fact is, we're wanting to be told how you and Mr. Thomas, here, licked those Germans."
"Angels of the Marne protect me," Tommy groaned. "Gates, I wouldn't resurrect those scraps for the Kaiser's scalp!"
"Yes, he will," I promised, smiling at the old fellow's look of disappointment. "He'll probably talk you to death, though; that's the only trouble."
"I'll tell you what," Tommy said, "we'll chuck the cottage idea and go aboard; then tonight, Gates, you pipe the crew—if that's the nautical term—whereupon I'll hold a two-hour inquest over our deceased war, on condition that we bury the subject forever more. We came down here to lose the last eighteen months of our lives, Gates, not keep 'em green. Maybe you don't know it, but we're after the big adventure!"
His eyes twinkled as he said this, and his face was lighted by a rare smile that no one possessed more engagingly than Tommy. While he treated the probability of an adventure with tolerant amusement, such was his inherent love of it and so developed was his capacity for "playing-true," that he sometimes made me think almost anything might turn up. I was quite unaware that my mother had written him, or that he, in return, had promised to keep her fully advised of my improvement—a state which was already beginning.
"I carn't see how you help talking of it, sir—all that gas, and liquid fire, and bursting shells," Gates stared at him in perplexity.
"It's an effort, but I refuse to turn phonograph like some of the old timers—not that I love 'em any less for it, Lord knows!" Then he began to laugh, and turned to me, adding: "One of the first things I did after getting home was to drop in on a very dear gentleman who's been a friend of our family since the Ark. He came at me with open arms, crying: 'Well, Thomas, sit right down and tell me about your experiences!' I side-tracked that—for I hate the word. We didn't go over for experiences! But he wouldn't be denied. 'Try to think,' he commanded. 'Why, Thomas, old as I am, I remember when Stonewall Jackson struck that brilliant blow——' and you can shoot me for a spy, Jack, if he didn't keep me there five hours while he fought the entire Civil War! No sir-ee! After tonight, never again!"
But Tommy's talk, to which the crew listened in rapt attention, consumed nearer six than two, or even five hours. These men were hungry for authentic first-hand information—being too old to have sought it for themselves.
It must not be inferred that the Whim's crew consisted of the ancient and decrepit. More than once my father had said that if ever he should get in a tight place there was no band of six he would rather have at his back than this one headed by Gates; nor did he except Pete, the prince of cooks. Yet who, by the wildest stretch of fancy, could have contemplated tight places or dangers as the trim yacht rode peacefully at anchor an eighth of a mile off our dock at smiling Miami? To every man aboard such things as death and the shedding of blood had ceased with the armistice, and Gates would have taken his oath, were it asked of him, that our course pointed only toward laughing waters, blue skies, and emerald shore-lines.
Early next morning we were under way when Tommy pounded on my stateroom door, challenging me to a dip overboard. There was a glorious joy in his voice, as far reaching as reveille, that found response in the cockles of my heart. Gates, never happier than when standing beneath stretched canvas, hove-to as he saw us dash stark naked up the companionway stairs and clear the rail head-first, but he laid by only while we had our splash and continued the course southward the moment our hands grasped the gangway.
"We're cruising, not swimming," he said bluntly, as we reached the deck. "But I'll say this," he called after us, "you're both in about as fine condition as men get to be. I'll give that to the Army!" Which was true, except for the fact that I might have been pronounced overtrained. Tommy and I were as hard as nails, our skin glowed like satin—but, better than this, his spirit was quick with the love of living, charged with a contagion that had already begun to touch my own.
Half an hour later he mumbled through a crumbling biscuit:
"If Pete ever cooked better grub than this it was in a previous incarnation!"
"Man achieves his greatest triumph but once in life," I admitted. "It's self-evident."
One loses track of time while sailing in south Florida waters. There is a lassitude that laughs at clocks; the lotus floats over the waves even as over the land, and a poetic languor steals into the soul breeding an indifference to hours and days—wretched things, at best, that were only meant for slaves! Neither of us realized our passing into Barnes Sound, and saw only that the Whim, sails gracefully drawing, cut the water as cleanly as a knife.
Another day passed during which we shot at sharks, or trawled, or lay on deck smoking and occasionally gazing over the side at displays of fish and flora twenty feet beneath us. But upon the third morning I asked:
"Where are we bound, Gates?"
"Mr. Thomas says Key West, sir, and then Havana."
"Mr. Thomas, indeed," I laughed, for it was exactly like Tommy to take over the command of a ship, or anything else that struck his fancy.
Before leaving Miami he had received a twenty page letter from the Bluegrass region of Kentucky which threw him into a state of such volatile ineptitude that I was well satisfied to let him give what orders he would, sending us to the world's end for all I cared. In a very large measure Tommy's happiness was my own, as I knew that mine would always be dear to him.
During our most trying hours in France, thoughts of this wonderful girl, whose name was Nell, unfailingly kept his spirits high. In moments of confidence that come to pals on the eve of battle I saw that some day they might be eternal "buddies"—certainly if he had his way; and toward this achievement he had been, since graduating from the University of Virginia, directing every effort to build up a stock farm which his family had more or less indifferently carried for generations. Next to winning Nell, his greatest ambition was to raise a Derby winner—according to him a more notable feat than being President.
The sixth of April, 1917, had caught him with a promising string of yearlings, each an aristocrat in the equine world of blue-bloods, each a hope for that most classic of American races. But he had thrown these upon the hands of a trainer and submerged his personal interests six hours after Congress declared war. At the same moment, indeed, all of Kentucky was turning to a greater tradition than that of "horses and whiskey"; and, by the time the draft became operative, the board of one county searched it from end to end without finding a man to register—because those in the fighting age, married or single, with dependents or otherwise, had previously rushed to the Colors. This, and the fact that his state, with three others, headed the nation with the highest percentage in physical examinations, added luster to the shield of his old Commonwealth—though he roundly insisted that 'twas not Kentucky's manhood, but her womanhood, who deserved the credit. After our cruise he was going back to the thoroughbreds, now within a few months of the required Derby age; and of course I had promised to be on hand at Churchill Downs when his colors flashed past the grandstand.
Late in the afternoon the Whim docked at Key West and, while Gates was ashore arranging for our clearance, Tommy and I ambled up town in search of daily papers. We were seated in the office of a rather seedy hotel when its proprietor approached, saying:
"'Scuse me, gents,—are you from that boat down there?"
I answered in the affirmative.
"Going to Havana?"
This, too, I admitted.
"Well, there's a feller by the desk who missed the steamer, and he hoped—er——"
"We'd take him over," Tommy supplied the halting words. "Where is he?"
Turning, we easily distinguished the man by his timid glances in our direction.
"Whiz-bang," Tommy whispered. "What the deuce would you call it, Jack?"
Except for his age, that might have been sixty, he was most comical to look upon—in stature short and round, suggesting kinship with a gnome. His head seemed too large for the body, yet this might have been because it carried a plenteous shock of straw-colored hair, with mustache and beard to match. He was attired in "knickers" and pleated jacket, that looked as if he'd slept in them, and his fat legs were knock-kneed. On the floor about his feet lay almost every conceivable type and age of traveling bag, with the inevitable camera.
"What's his name?" Tommy asked, not that that would have made any difference if his passport were in order.
"Registered as 'Monsieur Dragot, of Roumania,'" the proprietor answered.
"Roumania!" Tommy looked at me. "Let's go meet him, Jack."
Monsieur Dragot turned out to be the original singed cat, for assuredly he possessed more attractive qualities inside than were exteriorly visible, and from a first shyness that did not lack charm he expanded briskly. After visiting a "dry" cafe, to seal this fortunate acquaintanceship—as he insisted upon calling it—he warmed up to us and we to him, with the result that his bags were soon carried down and stowed in our spare stateroom. Leaving him there, we went on deck.
"Dragot," Tommy mused. "Speaks with a slight accent, but I can't make out what!"
"Roumanian, possibly," I suggested, "as he comes from there."
"You rather excel yourself," he smiled. "Registering from Roumania, however, isn't prima facie evidence that he's a Roumanian."
"He's a clever little talker, all the same."
"Right O! Too clever. I'm wondering if we aren't a pair of chumps to take him."
"He may be a crook, for all we know. Did you notice what he said about holding a commission from Azuria, and then hurrying to explain that Azuria isn't on the ordinary maps—just a wee bit of a kingdom up in the Carpathians, yet in the confines of Roumania? I call that fishy!"
"Not entirely so, Tommy. When you said it might now be turning into a republic, did you notice how proudly he declared that the descendants of Basil the Wolf couldn't be humbled?—that, situated in Moldavia, and escaping the ravages of the Bulgarian army, they were stronger today than ever?"
"Sounds like raving, sonny. Who the dickens is Basil the Wolf? No, Jack, that doesn't tell us anything."
"It tells us he couldn't have been inspired like that unless the place and people were real to him!"
"Well, pirate or priest," Tommy laughed, "he'll do if he waltzes us up to the big adventure. You're about fit enough to tackle one now!" During the past forty-eight hours he had openly rejoiced with Gates at my improvement and tried, with the indifferent success of an unbeliever, to play up at top speed that silly idea of an approaching adventure.
We had strolled aft, and now stopped to watch a tall Jamaica negro—or so we thought him to be—asking Gates for a place in the crew. His clothing was too scant to hide the great muscles beneath, and Tommy touched my arm, saying:
"There's a specimen for you!"
Had he been cast in bronze a critic might have said that the sculptor, by over-idealizing masculine perfection, had made the waist too small, the hips too slender, for the powerful chest and shoulders; the wrists and ankles might have been thought too delicate as terminals for the massive sinews leading into them. He smiled continually, and spoke in a soft, almost timid voice.
"I like that big fellow," I said. Perhaps I had been well called a pantheist, having always extravagantly admired the perfect in form or face or the wide outdoors.
Feeling my interests he turned from Gates, looking at me with dog-like pathetic trustfulness. Among the things he told us briefly—for the crew stood ready to cast off—was that he once followed the sea, but in more recent years lived by fishing up sponges and at times supplying shark meat to the poorer quarter of Key West. The carcass of a water fowl tied to his boat, while he occupied himself with sponges, would sometimes attract a shark; then he would strip, take a knife in his teeth, and dive.
I glanced at Gates, but saw no incredulity in his face.
In another hour, at nearly dusk, Key West had grown small and finally sank below the horizon, leaving only its three skeleton-like towers standing against the sky—standing erect with all nerves strained, watch-dogs of the darkening sea; ears cocked, to catch a distressed cry from some waif out in the mysterious night.
Looking back along our wake I imagined the big black man standing as we had left him on the dock, gazing after us with patient regret; and I was glad to have given him the handful of coins at parting, little dreaming how many times that loaf upon the water would come floating in to me.
Monsieur Dragot revealed himself more and more to our astonished eyes as we sat that night on deck. He had been a professor in the University of Bucharest, and hinted at an intimate entente with the reigning house of Azuria. Besides being versed in many sciences, including medicine, he spoke seven languages and read several others. But these things were drawn from him by Tommy's artful questions, rather than being said in boastfulness. Indeed, Monsieur was charmingly, almost touchily, modest. Of his business in Havana he gave no hint, yet this happened to be the one piece of information that Tommy seemed most possessed to find out.
"You'll be in Cuba long, Monsieur?" he asked.
"No one can say. A day, a week, a month, a year—it is an elusive search I follow, my young friends. May I call you that?"
We bowed, and I deferentially suggested:
"If we can help you in any way?——"
"It is the beautiful spirit of America," he sighed, "to help those in distress, yet there is nothing to do but watch—watch. For you have not yet been here long enough to see a child in these waters—no?"
Tommy, perhaps because he came from the South and was on more or less friendly terms with superstitions, glanced over the rail as if an infant might be floating around almost anywhere. Our strange guest's mysterious hints were, indeed, rather conducive to creeps.
Then, without further comment, he arose, tossed his cigar overboard, ran his fingers through his mass of hair, and went below.
"What d'you suppose he meant?" I asked, in a guarded voice.
"Simple enough," Tommy whispered. "He's got apartments to let upstairs."
"Get out, man," I laughed. "That chap has more sense than either of us!"
"Then he'd better come across with some of it. You remember the freckled lad at Soissons who got fuzzy-headed from too much concussion? Well, he saw children around everywhere, too! It's a sure sign, Jack!" But now he laughed, adding: "Oh, I suppose our little Roumanian's all right, only——"
He was interrupted by Monsieur, himself, who emerged from the companionway door.
"I come again," he smiled apologetically, "because tomorrow our journeys part, and I have shown scant consideration for your kindness."
"It's we who feel the obligation," Tommy murmured. "Now, if we could only help you find the child—supposing, of course, that's what you're watching for!"
Monsieur gave a deep sigh, appearing to be quite overcome by a secret grief; but after a moment he looked at us, asking ingenuously:
"You think my behavior unusual?"
"Well, since you make a point of it," I laughed, and hesitated.
"I see, I see! But, my young friends, you must take my word that I cannot tell you much." He drew us nearer. "This I may say: that, after Roumania dropped out of the war, the new Chancellor of Azuria wired imploringly for me to leave my classes at the University and come to him—because for years I have advised with Azurian statesmen, frequently going on special missions. By the recent death of the old Chancellor a certain paper came to light. This was a secret agent's report sent from Havana in 1914——I may not divulge its contents. But for the war it would have been followed up at once. Whether the same hopes exist now—well, I am here to discover. Ah, my young friends," his voice trembled, "much depends upon this! I must—I must find the child if it lives!"
Tommy's eyes grew round.
"I can say no more," Monsieur added. "Accept my thanks and gratitude for the help you have given me. And now—bon soir."
He bowed, backing himself toward the stairs as though leaving a royal presence, doing it so easily, so naturally, that we did not even smile. When he had quite disappeared we turned and faced each other.
"What do you think now?" I asked.
"I think he's a treasure," Tommy cried. His face had lighted with a new excitement. "If we want any fun on this trip, don't let him get out of our sight! Stick to him! I won't deny he has a screw loose, but——"
"That makes it all the better," I laughed, adding: "Looks like the Mater's toast might come true, after all, doesn't it!"—for I had described our New Year's Eve to Tommy.
"Sonny, I've a hunch we won't even have to tiptoe over the hill to find adventures with him around! He's their regular hanging-out place!"
Gates came up, and seemed vastly amused when we told him of our hopes.
"He doesn't look like much of an adventurer, sir, but he's certainly a change from the great run of people I've met. Still, I carn't see how we're going to keep him against his will!"
"Neither can I, Tommy."
"Use a little persuasion."
"But suppose he won't persuade?"
"What's the use of crossing bridges," Tommy grinned. "If he won't persuade, then sit on his head—anything, I don't care! The main thing is—keep him!"
THE GIRL IN THE CAFE
Next morning began the conversion, or rather the persuasion, of Monsieur Dragot to remain a while longer with the Whim. Pete started off with another triumphant breakfast and before our guest had gone far with it his face was agleam with pleasure. Tommy and I put ourselves out to be agreeable, telling him jokes that sometimes registered but frequently did not. Yet we were on most affable terms when, stuffed to repletion, we leaned back and lighted cigarettes.
"Professor," Tommy suggested, "I think if you stay with us you'll have a better chance to find that child!"
Our guest beamed agreeably at the appelative, then looked toward me.
"I'm sure of it," I said. "We've nowhere to go but anywhere, and that ought to fall in with your plans."
"Pardieu, you overwhelm me! You mean I may sail about with you, searching?"
"Nothing simpler," I assured him. "We've rather taken a fancy to you, haven't we, Tommy?"
"Double it," Tommy laughed. "We agreed last night that you looked like a million-dollar bill to us!"
"Oh, my boys," Monsieur sputtered with embarrassment and pleasure, "you disarm my power to thank you—see, I blush!"
"Damned if he isn't," Tommy grinned at me. "What d'you know about this little gezabo, anyhow!"
Monsieur's face grew more composed as he showed his interest in a new word.
"You say—gazebo?" he asked, blandly. "Is that not a belvedere?"
"Gazebo is, yes; but I said gezabo—that's you!"
"Your American Indian language?"
"Sure thing. Pure talk. If you're interested in Indians, stick around. Why not get the Havana police to help us hunt the kiddie?"—I had known that before long Tommy would be using a first personal pronoun.
"Bah! They are of no value! But even I have small hope of finding her. The report was written nearly six years ago, and she has been gone upwards of twenty years."
"So it's a she," Tommy looked over at me and nodded. "Well, nearly six years, and upwards of twenty, plus what she was when she left home, leads me to believe the lady's almost old enough to take care of herself!"
Monsieur considered this a great joke, exclaiming:
"It is not so much as that! She is but three—to me, always three! Yet, as you say, I might better find her with you than anywhere! A despairing search, my boys!"
Tommy's eyes were twinkling as he murmured sympathetically:
"If it's a three-year-old you want, there's a place in Havana called 'Casa de Beneficencia Maternidad,' where furtive-eyed damsels leave kiddies at twilight, ring the doorbell, and beat it. You might pick up one there, as a last resort."
"But—but," Monsieur began to sputter, when I threw an orange at Tommy, explaining to our agitated guest that he was a cut-up devoid of ideas, really an intellectual outcast.
"Well," he cried, seeming to exude pleasure, "I will stay with you a while, eh? Maybe we can teach him something—this cut-upping Tommy of yours!"
He had fallen in with our scheme most agreeably, and later Tommy confided to me that he was glad we wouldn't have to sit on the old fellow's head.
Passing that afternoon beneath Morro Castle, the Whim tacked prettily through the entrance of Havana harbor and in another scant two miles dropped anchor.
Havana Bay is a dancing sheet of water, as bright as the skies and hardly less contagious than the city's laughter. But when one drops anchor and then hoists it up, one recoils from the black and slimy mud those blue waves hide; and this circumstance, slight as it may seem, held a potent influence on our future.
Riding nearby was another yacht, in size and design very much like the Whim, except that her rigging had an old-fashioned cut. Her masts were checked with age and, where our craft showed polished brass, she long ago had resorted to white paint. At the same time, she gave the impression of aristocracy—broken-down aristocracy, if you choose. No bunting fluttered at her masthead, no country's emblem waved over her taffrail, and the only hint of nationality or ownership was a rather badly painted word Orchid on her name plate. Taken altogether, she was rather difficult to place.
These signs of poverty would have passed unobserved by us, had we not in coming to anchor swung between her moorings and the Machina wharf. Not that it made any serious difference, Gates explained, nor were we impertinently near, but it just missed being the scrupulously polite thing to have done—and Gates was a stickler on matters of yacht etiquette. So he felt uncomfortable about it, while at the same time being reluctant to hoist anchor and foul our decks with the bottom of Havana Bay. To be on the safe side he determined to megaphone apologies and consult her wishes. Twice he hailed, receiving no answer. Two sailors were seated forward playing cards—a surlier pair of ruffians would have been hard to find—but neither of them so much as glanced up.
"Let the professor try in Spanish," Tommy said.
Monsieur took the megaphone and did so, but with no better success. Then to our profound admiration he called in half a dozen languages; finally growling: "Lascars, likely!"—and proceeded to hail in something he afterwards explained was Lascar gibberish. All of which failed to attract the surly pair who played at cards.
"Now you might try Airedale and Pekinese," Tommy suggested, but this was lost on the serious little man. Yet he did call in another strangely sounding tongue, then with a sigh laid the megaphone down, saying:
"They must be stuffies!"
"Dummies, sir, dummies," Tommy corrected. "Nice people don't say stuffies, ever!"
"Your Tommy does so much cut-upping, eh!" he smiled at me. I had noticed that when preoccupied or excited the idioms of his various languages got tumbled into a rather hopeless potpourri.
Quarantine and customs were passed in the leisurely fashion of Cuban officials, and Monsieur asked to be sent immediately ashore, promising to return at sundown. There was a man, the secret agent, he explained, who held important information.
"I'll have the launch for you at Machina wharf, sir," Gates told him, but he refused to consider this, declaring that he could hire any of the boatmen thereabout to bring him out.
"He's that considerate, sir," Gates later confided to me. "But I carn't make head nor tail of him. Bilkins says he went in to lay out his clothes, and the things he's got stuck in those bags would astonish you!"
Nearing six o'clock a skiff drew alongside, being propelled by one oar—a method much in vogue with Havana harbormen—and when Monsieur came aboard we saw at once evidences of disappointment. His arms hung listlessly, and his large head drooped forward as if at last its weight had proven too great for the squat body.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"How do you know there is anything wrong, my boy Jack?"
"You look so killingly happy," Tommy said, joining us.
Monsieur's pale eyes stared for a moment, then blinked several times before he murmured:
"The man I went to see is dead—murdered, just after he mailed that report. So I have no information. These police called it suicide because a knife lay in his hand. Bah! I could place a knife in the hand of any man I kill!"
"Was he a friend of yours?"
"No. I have never seen him. But he knew something!"
"He evidently knew too much," Tommy suggested.
"You speak true, my boy. It seems to be a dangerous thing here to know too much of certain matters!"
"Well," I laughed, trying to put a heartiness in my voice and drive away his depression, "let's go ashore for dinner! Then the Opera—and afterwards another bite where the high life eats? What-say, Professor?"
As it turned out, however, neither the dinner, nor all of Tommy's banter, nor Madame Butterfly sung in Spanish (as if it could!) succeeded in restoring Monsieur to a normal temper.
"We've simply got to make him laugh," I whispered to Tommy. "It's a matter of principle now!"
"Then wait till we have supper, and get him soused," my confederate cautiously replied. "That'll do it. But you'd better not drink much," he added. "How are the nerves this evening?"
"I've almost forgotten them," I answered.
But Tommy was persistent at times. Unknown to me he was now preparing a report to wire the Mater.
"Sleeping better?" he asked.
"Lying to me?"
"A little," I laughed outright. "But honestly I'm in heaps better shape!"
"Oh, I've seen you improving from day to day, but we want to put it over right. So don't hit the asphalt too hard tonight."
And in all justice to myself and my friendship to Tommy I really did not intend to. What place was it that some one said is paved with good intentions?
Leaving the Opera House we mixed with the laughing tide that flowed along the Prado, and by the merest chance—destinies of nations, much less our own, sometimes rest upon a merest chance—dropped in for supper at a fashionable place patronized by those who wish to see the brightest of Havana life. There were other places, of course, that might have offered quite as much, but this one happened to be on the route we had taken.
Midnight passed, but still we lingered, seated on the latticed balcony that encircles an inner court where cabaret features are held—suggestive of a bull ring. One rather piquant Spanish girl, playing her accompaniment on a guitar, gazed softly up at Tommy while singing about some wonderful Nirvana, an enchanted island that floated in a sea of love. It was a pretty song, even if more intense than temperate, and pleased with it he tossed her a coin; whereupon she tilted her chin and raised a shoulder, asking in the universal language of cabarets if she should not come up and drink a health with the imperioso Senor. But he, whose heart was beating against a twenty-page letter from a nymph in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, laughed a negative, this time throwing her a flower that she kissed lightly and put in her hair.
We had supped well, the mandolins were now tinkling, incessantly, and this, mingled with the silvery tones of glasses touched in eager pledges, created an ensemble of sounds dear to the heart of every true Bohemian. Effects were good here. The ceilings and walls of our balcony were lighted by vari-colored electric bulbs artfully placed amidst growing vines that drooped in festoons above the tables, producing a fairy-like enchantment. And, indeed, the cafe proved to be a mart not only of enchantments but entertainments, including a popular gambling salon.
At last, in desperation seeing that Monsieur refused to be cheered, Tommy sprang up, saying:
"Come, gezabo, let's court Dame Roulette! Join us, Jack?"
This I declined, and watched them move off arm in arm. But a strange thing arrested my attention for, as they preceded down the corridor, I saw a man in yachting clothes—the uniform of a captain—draw quickly back into an alcove as if wanting to escape discovery. When they had passed he looked out, more fearfully than curiously, and after a moment of indecision slowly followed them. Urged by a suspicion that this was in some way associated with the professor, I arose and also followed. Yet upon reaching the salon the stranger was nowhere to be seen. Tommy and Monsieur were each buying a stack of chips, the place seemed quiet and orderly, so without being observed I returned to my table.
Now left alone I leaned back, idly twisting the stem of my glass, looking over the sea of merry people who made a picture that quickened interest. For I am particularly fond of sitting apart and watching an assemblage of handsomely groomed men and women laughing, talking and making love. I like to guess whether fears or tears or desperate courage hide behind their gayety; whether the rapidly wagging tongues are uttering inanities or planning naughty things; whether the love-making will stop with coffee and liqueur, or, lighted by them, burn into eternity.
All phases of human banality and human enigma seemed to be represented. There were languid beauties of the Latin type whose drooping eyes might have expressed ennui, passion, pride—anything, in fact, that one's humor chose to fancy; the blonde by adoption was there, with heavy ear-rings of jet, whose habit was that of looking slant-wise through her cigarette smoke and raising one black, though carefully plucked, eyebrow; also there were a few American women, by far the most smartly dressed. Great was the throb of life in this discreet and fashionable cafe. I felt its tremendous emphasis, and was content.
Then, quite without warning, I caught my breath as my glance fell upon a girl dining with an old chap but three tables away. Among the habitues of the Ritzes of two continents there could not have been found another like her, for never had I beheld a face as exquisite—and I've seen many. It possessed a beauty that left me helpless—yet there was an indefinable sadness in it that might have suggested a haunting fear.
One of the lights among the vines hung close to her, and I could see these things. Even could I see the color of her eyes, deep purple eyes—the tone the wild iris takes at twilight. When she leaned one way I might have thought the rich abundance of her hair contained spun copper or deep red gold, and again I would have sworn it matched the mellow brown of chestnuts; in all forming an arrangement of waves, each refusing to stay in place yet never really getting out of order, each coquetting with a subtle mischief that found an echo in her lips. Her neck and shoulders were of that perfection that men realize but can not analyze; and her mouth, laughing or in repose, was maddening.
And there was an added charm quite apart from hair and eyes and lips. This I had never before seen in any face. Animation? Yes, and more. Interest in the life about her? Assuredly, to a very marked degree. Wildness? That was it!—a wildness, subtly blended with refinement, that found expression in every quick look; as if someone had put a fawn there from the forest and it was trying, half humorously, half confidently, to keep itself from running away in fright. It was this glory of wildness that she typified which made my cheeks grow hot with watching.
But who has ever made a picture worthy of his dreams! How, then, can I describe this girl, when painter, sculptor, writer—all—would miserably fail at attempting to portray a beauty whereon imagination might gaze in frank amazement and admit itself surpassed! Here, indeed, was all the vital, colorful magnetism of a type that men are quick to die for!
Her gown—yet how can man describe a woman's gown? It was a very rich affair and added to the picture. But this I did observe distinctly, that in revealing her arms and shoulders there was no slightest hint of that abandonment of decollete which denotes the approach of feminine despair, nor was the color in her cheeks a result of anything less pure than the kiss of air and sunshine.
Her vis-a-vis, almost too old to have been her father, was one of those whose nationality is difficult to place. His hair, mustache and Vandyke beard were gray; he was tall, thin, and perhaps seventy-five years old. His complexion impressed one most unpleasantly because of its sallow, almost yellow, hue; and although I had not yet had a full-face view of him I intuitively knew that his teeth were long and thin and yellow. A slight palsy never let his head be still, as if some persistent agent were making him deny, eternally deny, an inarticulate accusation—as accusations of the conscience perforce must be.
Despite his grumpy silence he showed an air of repressed excitement, sending frequent, shifty glances over the room; and that he possessed the temper of a fiend I did not doubt after seeing him turn upon the waiter for some trifling omission and reduce that usually placid individual to a state of amazed incapacity. Then a quick, really a pitiful, look of terror came into the girl's eyes as she shrank back in her chair. It lasted but a second before she was again making herself agreeable—acting, of course—and I wanted to cross to him and demand: "Why is this lady afraid?"
I hated the man; at first sight I loathed him. It was one of those antipathies sometimes observed in dogs that see each other from a distance—hair up and teeth bared. The feeling is spontaneous, unpredictable, and the usual result is fight.
Up to this time she had not seen me, or even known of my insignificant existence; but suddenly, as though it were a sally of banter whose blade he parried in the nick of time, her laughter-bathed eyes darted past him and squarely met my own; her lips sobered into a half parted expression of interest and, some strange thought—perhaps unbidden—coming into her mind, sent the blood surging to her cheeks. As quickly as this happened it had gone, and again she seemed to be absorbing the attention of her vis-a-vis.
Once, years ago in the Dolomites, I thoughtlessly struck my staff upon a piece of rock when, lo, a wonderful tone arose therefrom. And the memory of that rich, unbidden sound was re-awakened now as the contact of our glances stirred something which thrilled me with a maddening sense of harmony. As an E string vibrates when another E is struck somewhere near to it, so my being vibrated with each tilt of her head, each movement of her lips. Yet however much I conjured the magnet of my will to make her look again, she successfully, if coquettishly, resisted.
The Spanish waiter came up softly to refill my glass; an attention I permitted, murmuring happily:
"Right, kiddo! Stay me with flagons, comfort me with champagne, for my heart is faint with love!"—only Solomon didn't sing it quite like that, the fickle old dog, nor did my waiter understand me, which was just as well.
Engrossed with watching her I saw a new look come into her face as she quickly whispered something across the table. Her vis-a-vis turned impatiently as a man approached them, who to my surprise was the yacht captain—the fellow who had apparently followed Tommy and Monsieur. He was a well-built blond, with a bullet-shaped head, high cheek bones and deep set eyes—pig eyes. His right cheek bore several scars which, considering his type, strongly suggested a German of University dueling experiences. So I looked on him with a livelier suspicion, even as she seemed to be doing.
In an undertone he now said something that brought the old man to his feet. With fear written on their faces they talked for several minutes, during which the blond jerked his head once or twice toward the gambling rooms. The girl had leaned forward watching them intently. Then with a peremptory order the old one sent him away and sank back into his chair; but a moment later, clutching the tablecloth, he spoke a few words that made her recoil in evident horror.
I did not know what to do or what to think, so I merely watched with every sense alert. I saw him call the waiter for his settlement, I saw him take out a large roll of money and with trembling fingers peel off the outside bill—a new and crinkly fifty-dollar note. I saw the girl idly marking on the winecard with a small gold pencil, though her eyes were veiling an intense excitement; and when the waiter returned with a pile of change which the old man began to count, I saw her furtively slip the winecard to her lap. A moment later it fell to the floor as she arose to leave.
Together they started toward the exit, but having taken a few steps she left him with a brief word and returned, presumably for her glove. Partially free from his eternal vigilance, she raised her eyes without dissimulation and looked quickly, appealingly into mine; then down at her hand, on which she leaned, whose fingers were unfolding from a little ball of paper. Again into my eyes she looked—a look of infinite appeal.
Across the void from her world to my own she was signaling—trying to tell me what?—and frantically my fancy sprang to translate the message. But as the man, with growing agitation, had been watching narrowly throughout this—a condition of which I felt sure she must be acutely aware—I dared not make the slightest sign. Yet she seemed to understand and, joining him, they passed out.
I pounced upon that crumpled ball of paper and was back in my chair unfolding it with nervous fingers. Feverishly pressing out the creases I saw that it was, indeed, a corner torn from the winecard, and written upon it—nothing. Absolutely nothing!
Perhaps I should have laughed, but as a matter of fact I cursed. Deep in my soul I cursed. Her little joke, her pretty bit of acting, had left a stinging sense of loss. As suddenly as this ruthless comet swept into my orbit it had swung out and on; for one delicious moment we had touched across the infinite, but now my harmony was shattered, the strings of my harp were snapped, curled up, and could not be made to play again.
But the Spanish girl was playing her guitar, once more singing her impassioned song of the enchanted island in its sea of love, which made me pity myself so much that I permitted the waiter again to fill my glass. What a wondrous adventure this night might have brought!
Such thoughts wore not to be profaned by the companionship of Tommy and Monsieur, so I slipped away, hailed a cab and alighted at the Machina wharf. The boatman there, whom I aroused to take me out, was one of the most stupid fellows I've ever encountered. At any rate, someone was stupid.
Going aboard the yacht I stood for a moment listening to the lonely sweep of his oar sculling shoreward through the murky night. Over the castellated walls of La Cabana raced low, angry clouds. Was it a storm brewing, or had some supernal madness touched the night?
The watch forward called in a guarded voice: "All right, sir?" to which I answered, "All right," then went cautiously across deck and crept down the companionway stairs. The cabin was dark so I felt for my stateroom, passed in and closed the door. Somehow my fingers could not locate the light jet, but what matter? In three minutes I had undressed and was fast asleep.
A pleasant sense of motion came over me that suggested cradling waves, and I was sleepily wondering why we had gone out on a day that portended storms, when a tapping at my stateroom door was followed by someone whispering:
"Aren't you ever going to get up, you lazy old dear?"
It was a girl's voice.
Gradually and cautiously I drew the sheet about my chin, feeling no little confused to have a girl five feet away whispering pet names at me through a thin partition.
"Aren't you?" she repeated, more sweetly imperious.
"You bet," I stammered.
"Then do hurry! It's almost ten, and I've been waiting such a long time!"
Whereupon I heard her moving off, pressing her hands against the panels for steadiness, and there struck me as having been an endearing pathos in the way she said: "such a long time!"
This was, no doubt, some of Tommy's doing. He had invited friends aboard for luncheon, and was now daring one of them to play this joke. But my glance turned to the room, to its equipment and toilette articles which were large and curiously shaped, and the numbing truth crept into my brain that the stupid boatman had put me on the wrong yacht.
I had known some tight places in France, but this one simply squeezed me all over. There was nothing for it, of course, but go out and explain—yet how could a chap appear at noon draped in a sheet! The situation confused me, but I decided to search the wardrobe, of my unknown host, to borrow his razor, appropriate a new toothbrush that should be found in a box somewhere, and select flannels and linens in keeping with the hour. Still balanced between confusion and panic I must have done these things because, fittingly attired though with no very good fit, I opened my door, stepped softly along the passageway, and entered the cabin.
On a wide couch built in at one side a girl lay reading. Her head was toward me, but as I advanced she arose with a low cry of gladness, saying:
"So you're here at last——!" then with a little gasp drew back, facing me in the most entrancing attitude of bewilderment.
It was the girl who had left that ball of paper!
The sea, always my friend, at this moment did a rather decent thing; it gave the yacht a firm but gentle lurch and sent us into each other's arms. Perhaps nothing else in all the world of chances could so effectively have broken the ice between us, for we were laughing as I helped her back to the couch; and, as our eyes met, again we laughed.
"I didn't know," she said, "that Father brought a guest aboard last night!"
"Awkward of him, wasn't it?" I stammered, sparring for time.
"One is apt to be awkward in weather like this," she graciously admitted.
"You don't know how profoundly aware I am of—of how terribly true that is," I stumbled along. "Is he on deck?" For, oh, if I could only get to see him five minutes alone!
"No, he's unusually lazy this morning; but I've called, him, the old dear!"
A chill crept up my spine—crept up, crept down, and then criss-crossed. But she must know of her mistake before we had gone so far that putting me ashore would be a serious inconvenience—for I knew he would put me ashore at the nearest point, if not, indeed, set me adrift in an open boat. Therefore I suggested:
"Wouldn't it be a good idea to call him again? It's rather important!"
"Oh, you think we shouldn't have gone out in a storm like this? I've been dreadfully uneasy!"
"No danger at all," I declared, with affected indifference, adding: "The weather isn't half as rough as 'the old dear' will be, take my word for it!"
A shadow of mystification passed over her wonderful face, yet she smiled with well-bred tolerance, saying:
"You are quite droll."
"Drollery is the brother of good fellowship," I replied, helping her across the reeling cabin. As I had feared, she went directly to my room where the door had swung back showing an empty bunk.
"Why, he's up, after all," she glanced over her shoulder at me.
"I believe he is," I idiotically affirmed.
"But where?"—this more to herself.
"Hiding, maybe," I ventured, taking a facetious squint about.
"Hiding?" she asked, in mild surprise.
"Er—playing a trick on us! He's a funny old dog at tricks!"
"Funny old dog?" She drew slightly away from me. "Do you mean my father, Mr.—er?"
"Jack," I prompted, more than ever embarrassed and wishing the ocean would come up and swallow me; for I realized, alas, that my gods, by whom I was reasonably well remembered in so far as concerned physique, had been shamelessly remiss in their bestowal of brains.
"Jack?" she slowly repeated. "What an odd name!"
This made me feel queer.
"Where do you live," I asked, "that you think it's an odd name? The States are crawling with Jacks! It's even the Democratic emblem!"
Her perplexity was fast approaching alarm when we heard a muffled report above, followed by a trembling of the yacht. Someone called an order that sounded far away in the wind.
"Hold tight," I said, "while I see if anything's wrong!"
But I did not leave her side, knowing exactly what had happened. We had snapped our mainsheet, that was all; letting the boom swing out and putting us in the trough of the waves where we might expect a few wobbly minutes until the sailors could work in a new line. There was no danger and I reassured her at once, but she merely asked:
"Was my father on deck?"
"I didn't look," I answered, wondering why she thought I knew.
"Won't you see?" Her patience was becoming exhausted.
"I'm crazy to. But first let me help you back—you can't make it alone!"
"Oh, yes, I can," she murmured. "I always make things alone!"
I tried to fathom the meaning of this, but gave it up and started to go on deck. If I could take her father off to one side and explain, well and good. He would perhaps sympathize with my mistake when he understood that it was partially the result of a desire to fill Monsieur with spirits. Considering this, I spoiled everything by asking:
"What does he look like?"
"My father?" she gasped, in a wondering way.
"No—yes—certainly not! I mean—oh, this is intolerable! I don't know your father, never saw him in my life—unless he was the one with you last night when you drove me frantic with that ball of paper trick! But what you did has nothing to do with my being here. I've not wilfully followed. A stupid boatman mistook your yacht for my own when I was—I mean to say, when I was too engrossed with the memory of you to notice his mistake."
From alarm her look gave way to wonderment, then almost to mirth. It was a hard place for a girl to be in, and I expected her to leave me now, find the old chap and promptly have me hanged to a yard-arm. The fact that there are no yard-arms on schooner yachts made no difference. And I do believe she was considering that when a sailor passed us, looking enough like Tommy to have been his twin brother.
"Jack," she said to him, "tell Mr. Graham to come below!"
The fellow saluted and left, and I stared at her in surprise, saying:
"Then my name can't seem very odd to you, Miss Graham!"
She was regarding me as though trying to discover what kind of a species I was that had got on her father's yacht, when the sailor came back followed by a husky brute in uniform. Intuitively I stiffened to meet the crisis, but even at this eleventh hour a respite came.
"He ain't aboard," the other Jack whispered, and the captain—for the burly one was only the captain, after all—saluted, saying:
"I've just now found out, ma'am, he ain't aboard!"
"Not aboard? What do you mean?"
"After bringing you on last night he went ashore again to get a little ball of paper, but told me to sail the minute he returned. I don't understand it, ma'am, for later the watch woke me to say Mr. Graham had come."
"Good Lord," I groaned. "It was I, and not your father, who answered the watch."
For several minutes we stared blankly into each other's faces, but it was she who broke the deadly silence.
"We must hurry back," she calmly told him, adding with a nervous catch in her breath: "What a joke on Daddy!"
"A scream of a joke," I muttered, "——one he'll roar over till God-knows-when!"
"We can't go back, Miss Sylvia," the captain now said. "When our mainsheet parted the boom gybed so hard that it opened a seam. It may hold on this tack, and it may not, but we'd sink if the weather hit us on the other side. So I'm making for Key West."
A suspicious quiver played over her lips as the big fellow turned and went upstairs, and I began to hate myself rather cordially.
"Do you happen to have that—that ball of paper?" she asked, when the threatened storm of tears had been controlled.
"No, I threw it down."
A look of terror came into her eyes as she gasped:
"Then he'll find it!"
"It won't matter if he does! You hadn't written anything on it!"
"Did you look on both sides of it?"
"I—I think so; of course, I must have. Did you write on the other side?"
"I don't know which the other side is that you refer to," she answered with some show of anger. "There were two sides, you know. Still, it can't much matter now whether it had any sides or not."
This was very perplexing, the words no more so than the way she looked at me while pronouncing them. Yet I hardly thought it should give her as much concern as our leaky boat. The storm had grown worse, and more than once she glanced anxiously at the portholes whose glass, over half the time, were submerged by swirls of greenish water.
"It'll turn out all right," I said, gently. "And you mustn't be afraid of this storm."
"I'm not afraid!"
"Yes, you are," I tenderly persisted, "but your skipper looks like a man who'll bring us through."
"Your concern is most flattering," she frigidly replied. "But fear of storms, and distress over the unhappiness one may be causing others, are quite different phases of emotion."
"I stand corrected and rebuked," I humbly acknowledged. "Yet I want you to know that my concern springs from a deeper source than flattery. I want honestly to assure you——"
"Of course, there's less danger here than in port," she continued in the same icy tone, utterly ignoring me, "for here, at least, we can't be boarded at night by irresponsible people."
"By people who drink," she added.
I winced again, for I seemed to be getting the winces now, and couldn't stop.
"That isn't fair, Miss Graham! Circumstances are against me, but you might suspend judgment till you know me better!"
"The circumstances require no further evidence," she said, with supreme indifference.
"But circumstantial evidence," I felt pleased at turning her phrase, "often wears the cap and bells, instead of the wig and gown!"
"I'm discovering that," she murmured, and added with a touch of sarcasm: "The knack of making a catch phrase is often very agreeable, but presupposes no presence of an idea."
Now I thought this most unkind of her, because I had been quite set up by my retort; so, arising with as much dignity as the waves would permit, I buttoned my coat, remarking:
"Then I'll go on deck, and leave you."
The coat was tight and, while fastening it, I felt something in an inner pocket press against my side. There are few impulses more natural than to investigate anything that has a curious feel in one's pocket, so thrusting in my hand I brought forth a small round frame of brass, made in the imitation of a porthole, encircling her photograph. This would not have happened had I remembered being in her father's clothes, but it was done, and I stood looking first at the picture and then at her.
"Give it to me," she cried.
"I don't see why," I temporized, not at all loath at having this chance for revenge.
"It's mine," she imperiously announced.
"It may be a picture of you, but, as you perceive, not at this moment your picture," and my eyes lowered again and lingered on it, for it was indeed a wonderful likeness, moving me strangely by its amazing beauty. The frame, too, gave it added charm, as she seemed really to be looking out of a porthole.
"Give that to me this instant," she said, with such a show of passion that I passively surrendered it, and started to walk away. Yet some cruel power held my feet. I tried again to move, but could not.
Overhead the men were working desperately at the pumps to keep us afloat. One of them left his place and passed us, whispering:
"It's no use—we're gone!"
The cabin was in twilight as I again turned to her. She had crawled to the far corner of the couch, and lay staring at the ceiling—waiting. Here in this dismal room, alone and facing death with a courage amazing to behold, she made a picture which so stirred me that despite earlier wounded feelings I went to her side. The little hands were cold and inert when I took them, but her fingers tightened ever so gently.
"Did he say we're going down?" she quietly asked, without turning her head.
"Yes," I answered—though both of us spoke in whispers.
"I'm sorry to have been unkind," she said, withdrawing one of her hands and laying it on the back of my own—for Death is a great leveler of conventions.
The pathetic resignation in her voice brought hot tears to my eyes and, raising her fingers to my lips, I murmured:
"You're the sweetest angel I ever knew!"
For a long time we sat in the gathering darkness, holding to each other as two little children lost in the night. Finally I heard her whisper:
"Why am I not afraid—now?"
I turned and looked down at her; down into those eyes gazing back at me through a magnetizing moisture that drew my face nearer, nearer.
"Because," I said, "we've found something which outlives death!"
"Yes," she whispered, as her arms moved sweetly up around my neck—but the next instant they held me off, as she gasped: "Look! Look! The end is here!"
Quite a foot of water was swashing back and forth over the cabin floor, while a steady stream poured down the companionway stairs. Yes, the end was here!
"Take this," she hurriedly pressed into my hand the round brass frame that held her picture—the frame fashioned after a porthole. "Keep it—then come to me! Swear!"
"I swear," I gasped. "But where shall I find you? In what strange land will you be?"
Her eyes were wide with a frightened look that even in our extremity gave the lie to fear. Through parted, expectant lips a trembling sigh of inexpressible sweetness seemed to carry her answer; it was brought by the mystery of her look, by the clasp of our senses—for I know she did not speak a word:
"I'll wait beneath the palms on one of many, many islands, Set as emerald jewels in an ever-changing sea; My hammock swings beside a pool of purling, crystal water Whisp'ring to the shadows of a lonely Arcady; The Spanish moss hangs solemn in long streamers from the cypress, The paths are soft and noiseless with dead needles of the pine, The nights are still and fragrant, and I'll wait——
Ah!" she broke the measure with a despairing cry and struggled to get from my arms, as another voice, far away but familiar, began to call my name. Then slowly my eyes opened and beheld Bilkins looking down at me, in my own stateroom, where my clothes were lying as I had thrown them off the night before.
"I've called you twice, sir," he was saying. "It's almost ten o'clock, and I'm afraid your bath is cold."
"I want it cold," I murmured, staring up at him. "God, Bilkins, I've had a most extraordinary dream!"
"If it's bad don't tell it before breakfast, sir, whatever you do! Just hold on a minute, and I'll bring your tray right in!"
"TO THE VERY END!"
I dressed hurriedly, wanting to be on deck and get a more searching view of the yacht near which we had anchored. Stepping out into the cockpit, therefore, I looked hungrily toward her mooring place, but it was vacant.
"Where has she gone?" I asked Tommy, who was the only one about.
"The etiquette of this yacht requires its owner first to say 'good morning' when he comes up at break of day," he grinned at me accusingly. "The little professor won eight hundred dollars from the proud Castilian last night—I hope Dame Fortune was as kind to you!"
"She was diverting," I admitted. "Where's Monsieur now?"
"'Sleep. We didn't turn in till an unholy hour. He got up at seven from force of habit, fussed around a while, took some pictures of the neighborhood and developed them, but by that time the poor old door-mat couldn't keep his eyes open. Do you know he wept all the way home last night, telling me how good we were to him?"
"But, Tommy, where's the yacht that was over there yesterday?"
"Her? Oh, she cleared this morning—and listen to me, boy, if you want to see a dream just cast your eye on that last film of Monsieur's!"
See a dream! Great heavens, if I wanted to see a dream!
He led the way aft to a ribbon of freshly developed film hanging from the boom to dry and, as I gingerly raised it to the light, he went on to explain:
"It was boorish of him, but I'm to blame. We were standing forward after breakfast snapping the harbor when that yacht weighed anchor and swung across our bow less than thirty feet off; and, Jack, with the prettiest girl I ever saw—barring Nell—looking out at us through a porthole. 'Shoot her,' I whispered. So he swung his camera and shot, and she gave a darling little gasp and ducked."
I had come to the last negative and there, with the porthole in exact imitation of the round brass frame, was the same beautiful face of the same beautiful girl I'd left in that wondrous dream!
"Sylvia Graham," I cried.
"The devil," Tommy straightened up. "Graham's the chap who owns that boat! Gates found it out this morning, but how did you know?"
My eyes were glued to the negative.
"They cleared for Key West, Tommy?"
"So Gates said. Has he told you?"
"I haven't seen him since yesterday," I murmured, still unable to look away from that strip of gelatine which held the image of my world.
"He didn't know anything about it yesterday, either," Tommy announced, and I felt him regarding me in some slight amusement, as though he thought I had a secret up my sleeve that I was trying to keep from him. "What's the cute little idea, son? I've told you where she cleared for, now clear me up!"
"Tommy," I let the film swing back and caught him by the shoulders, "Miss Graham's father carries a photograph like that in the inside pocket of a white flannel coat which hangs behind his stateroom door!"
He looked me up and down, this time more seriously, and murmured:
"Whiz-bang!—but you must have been heroically decorated last night! Still, I can't see that it hurt you much, for you look about twice as fit as when we left Miami."
"I'll bet I didn't drink an ounce more than you, or Monsieur," I declared. "The facts of the matter are, Tommy, that there's a lot mighty curious about this picture!"
"Really?" he grinned. "You go below and take something with a dash of bitters in it."
"Dry up," I snapped. "I tell you I'm going to catch up with that yacht if we have to follow her around the world!"
He gave a low whistle, saying with good-natured tolerance:
"Looks like the big adventure's on the wing, doesn't it! Well, I don't mind chasing the old tub, or doing any other damphule thing in reason, but what's the game? Put me next! When was this earthquake that loosened all your little rivets? Speak up, son—I'm your padre!"
"It's hard to explain," I turned again to the negative, feeling too serious for his asinine humor. "But I'll honestly try to before night. This girl needs me. I don't know why or how, but she does. What's more, I'm going to find her. It's the most unheard-of situation, old man."
"I'd be ashamed to belittle a situation like this by the mere term 'unheard-of,'" he now laughed outright. "Anyhow, she doesn't need you at present quite as much as you need scientific attention—and I hear the professor moving around!"
Stepping to the companionway door he bawled some nonsense to our guest about bringing up his medicine chest and a rope, then turned back to me.
"You see, Jack, I consider this to be serious. As long as I've known you that lady in the porthole is the first female you've ever thought of with any sign of, what I might call, ardeur. Where you met her is your business, but how you're going to get her must naturally concern us all. Hence Monsieur to consult with!"
We could hear Monsieur's grunts and wheezes before he appeared, and on catching sight of me he actually skipped to us. It was a grotesque exhibition that made me burst out laughing. His hair was tousled, his eyes were half closed, and he looked about as much like a scrambled egg as anything I could think of.
"We lost you last night," he cried. "You ran away from us?"
"He was poisoned," Tommy blandly answered, "and now his heart's kind of upside-down and twisty."
"Upside-down and twisty?" he gasped.
"Tommy doesn't mean it's anything dangerous, just an affection; a kind of—a kind of——"
"A kind of affectionate affection," Tommy put in. "You see, he was stung there, and it itches, and he can't scratch it."
"Stung on the heart? Sacre nomme!" The old fellow clasped his head in both hands and stared at us.
"You fascinating little ass," Tommy murmured, "did you ever hear of love?"
"Love?" the professor's face beamed into twice its usual breadth. "You, my boy Jack? Is she a Spanish mademoiselle?"
"Good Lord, whoever heard of a Spanish mademoiselle! No, Jack says that she's a lady in need, who lives in the pocket of her father's white serge coat that hangs behind his stateroom door; and she's in a helluva lot of trouble, but Jack doesn't know where else she is, so we're going to comb out the universe and find her! Get the idea?"
"I will drink some coffee," he stammered, and disappeared.
Tommy and I decided that we must be after the Orchid without losing a minute, as there was still a chance of drawing in sight of her before she could leave Key West. Yet I first had a mission to fulfill at the cafe, nor did I confide this at once to him lest he brand me a total wreck. I knew that he was delighted at the prospect of this bizarre chase, however chimeric it might seem to him, for he possessed the faculty of "playing-true" even in the veriest of fairy-tales. So for the moment I let the other matter rest, not realizing at the time that he had read more of it in my face than I meant to show.
Gates, also, had caught the excitement and was waiting with the launch to push off; and thus, while he concluded official duties at the port, I entered the cafe—in the present unfriendly light a changed place from the night before. As luck would have it, my own waiter was the first man I saw.
"Do you remember finding a small piece of crumpled paper on my table last night?" I asked.
"Si, Senor; the mad caballero came for it."
"Did he get it?"
"But, no, Senor," the waiter lowered his voice. "Yet he came near to, being much angry, and calling you—pardon me!"
"Well, what? What, man?"
He still hesitated, so I carelessly took out my wallet. It's amazing, the power of a wallet!
"He demanded the paper of our maitre d'hotel, saying you, Senor, were a pig of a detective—and as we admire the detective not at all, everyone searched for it. But I had seen other things, Senor," he smiled knowingly.
"You have it?"
"Si, si,—but not so loud! Could I give it to the old one? Even a poor waiter may sometimes observe! Mas vale saber que haber, Senor," he shrugged and smiled as the ancient proverb slipped from his tongue.
"You've a mighty level head on you, kid," I agreed; a metaphor he may or may not have understood. There was no doubt in my mind that his words, "wisdom is better than wealth," were never more aptly spoken.
"I saw it after you left, Senor, and put it away—so! The mad caballero soon came—he was not happy. We searched the floor, and all the time he was shaking his head and mumbling that Mademoiselle had confessed to writing it—and to a detective! He was quite crazy. Ah, with what care and sympathy did I help him, Senor, and how generously did he reward my careful search!"
He shrugged and smiled, then drew the paper from his pocket, and I slipped it into mine—passing him back another kind of paper that he slipped into his with a grateful bow.
"Do you know who the man is, or if that was his daughter?"
"No, Senor. I have seen them, but can not remember where. Carlos served their table—but Carlos is stupid," he shrugged compassionately.
The moment my cab turned the first corner I feverishly took out that precious paper. Sure enough, on one side were marks I had not seen, but the pencilling was very faint—having had the soft tablecloth for a desk, perhaps—and showed only a meandering line, curving in and out through a group of dots. From every angle I studied it, coming to two conclusions: first, that it could mean nothing; and second, that I must have imbibed more freely than I thought to have overlooked this.
But now I saw, fainter than the dots, something that resembled written words. They were so obscure, indeed, that although the light was excellent my jostling cab made it impossible for me to decipher them. Telling the driver to stop, I bent over again, and laboriously read:
"I am on Mr. Graham's yacht in great da——"
At this place, as I looked back upon last night, the old chap had indicated his wish to leave, and she, tearing off a corner, had let the wine card slip to the floor. It explained the broken word, the sudden interruption; and this much was not a dream, neither was the disturbing message in my hands—for what else but "danger" could the "da" mean?
All was ready to weigh anchor when I stepped aboard, and when we were outside the harbor, drawing nicely toward the north, Tommy came up grumbling.
"This mystery's getting heavy," he said. "Put us wise!"
So I pushed him into a chair, and called the professor and Gates; then when the four of us were comfortably settled, the cushions fitting our shoulders, our pipes alight, our spirits glowing with that exhilaration which a yacht can bring as she lays over and cuts the waves, I told the story from beginning to end—sparing Sylvia where I should.
For some minutes they smoked with their eyes downcast. Then Monsieur looked up in his mild way, asking:
"May I see the paper?"
I passed it to him and we drew together, studying it.
"This is the most singular part of the affair," he said, leaning back, "because it first came to you in fact, although the man's returning for it was told in the dream—and later verified. The dots and line mean nothing, perhaps, but that interrupted message!—ah, truly it spells danger! What danger? She spoke of no danger in the dream?"
Now, it may seem strange or not, but I had begun to lose track of the places where the dream came in and where they left off. The actual was so woven with the unreal that I had to stop and consider this question. The paper episode, the vividness with which Sylvia had appeared to me, the brass frame made in the imitation of a porthole, and the camera's film, all contributed to a confusion not unshared by my three friends.
"It's a darned funny coincidence," said Tommy, in an awed voice. "But, Jack, you don't think more seriously of it, do you?"
"Would we be chasing these people if I didn't?" I temporized with another question.
He seemed to be troubled, glancing toward the thoughtful professor as if expecting him to speak, and when this was not forthcoming he asked again:
"Well, friend gezabo, what do you think?"
The little scientist lowered his pipe, sighed and impressively answered:
"It is not given to all men to see this invisible agency at work."
The profoundly solemn way he said this made Tommy's eyes grow round. Ghost and mystery tales imparted during his childhood by black mammies and other negro servants had endowed him with a considerable amount of superstition that not infrequently prevailed against his better judgment. So now, when the erudite Monsieur treated my experience with reverence, even introducing an element of mysticism, Tommy wavered.
"Whiz-bang! You don't really believe that spooky stuff, do you?"
"To my knowledge," Monsieur answered, "I have seen one case. You have heard me speak of Azuria. Well, many years ago a friend of mine, daughter of our King Christopher, fell to worrying about her cousin, a profligate who divided his time between the palace and Paris. As a punishment for various escapades the King had curtailed his allowance to a mere pittance, yet he seemed in spite of this to have as much money as before. It was this fact that worried my friend—the fear of a scandal.
"One night she dreamed that her child, a girl of nearly three, was being kidnaped. She arose in her sleep to follow, walking the length of the palace, and awoke to find herself in the cousin's room—standing, indeed, behind his chair as he bent beneath a shaded lamp earnestly working on a plate for spurious money. Instantly she threatened to expose him to the King.
"Well, to shorten a long story, that night he did actually kidnap the child, leaving a note to my friend in which he suggested a compromise. But there was no compromise with villainy in her make-up. The old King was much affected. Yet there were things in the air at that time, delicate situations of state, which demanded consideration. The kidnaping, if made public, would have produced a most disquieting effect in certain quarters. Our treaty with a powerful state had just been signed, based on the little princess' betrothal—you see? Therefore, her disappearance must be kept a secret for a while, so the police of the world were not notified. But that night ten men—a few of them loyal subjects and the others paid agents—left the capital. Thus a relentless search began, being carried to the ends of the world. A noted rogue, that fellow was—yet, strange to say, in earlier life a man of parts, an esthetic, an artist and musician of great ability; but mon Dieu, what a scoundrel!"
"Where did they find the little princess?" Tommy asked, after a pause.
"She was never found," he answered softly. "Word once came that she had died; again that she lived—but this I begin to doubt. So her mother reigns as regent, and in sorrow. Old Christopher had two daughters, the younger of whom——" but he stopped in confusion, his face turning very red. Later I remembered this.
We fell into a silence, a mutual sympathy for the bereaved lady who had been so wronged. At last Tommy asked:
"Do you cross your heart that Jack's dream was anything like the one she had?"
"Dream?" Monsieur ran his fingers through his shock of hair. "Who can say? Was she dreaming, or did she see a vision? If a vision, why did it mislead by urging her into the very step that brought disaster? That scoundrel might never have considered kidnaping the child had the mother remained unsuspicious of his occupation! Yet visions are sent to warn against, not to court dangers. Again, some hold that he happened to be contemplating this step as a means of escape should discovery come, and so it was his thought transmitted to her."
"For goodness sake talk sense," I cried. "What difference does it make whether they were dreams or nightmares, or how much the cousin was thinking! What we want to know is where does my dream come in!"
He looked so hurt that I apologized by saying his fairy talk had sent me off my head. Small wonder, for when our guest attempted to explain a theory he proceeded on the assumption that we were as well versed in it as himself. Anyway, we smoothed him down and now, looking at us solemnly, he said:
"Latter-day English-speaking psychologists to the contrary notwithstanding, we know in the East that souls do travel abroad; that they will speak, one to another, while our bodies sleep—while we are steeped in that mysterious period of mimic death which leads us so uncannily near their twilight zone! Some men hold that our dreams are vagaries, as a puff of air or a passing breeze; others that they are unfulfilled desires; still others that they are the impress made by another soul upon the subliminal part of us, that leaves to our active senses but imperfectly translatable hieroglyphics. Does that show you nothing?"
"Well," I temporized, "I can't say it shows me much. How about you, Tommy?"
"Smell a little smoke, but don't see any bright light yet. Elucidate, professor!"
He sighed, giving us a look of pity, I thought.
"If I call to a man, and the space is great, my voice may fail before reaching him. Yet if it hangs its vibrations on a puff of air, a passing breeze that blows in his direction, he hears me! So does the soul employ the passing breeze—by which I mean the capricious thing called dreaming—to enter our consciousness that might not otherwise be reached. The impossibility is to say which is which—that is, which is the unfulfilled desire, which is but the capricious passing breeze, and which is the message from another! If in the dark an uneducated fellow sits at a piano he might play several lovely chords, yet while they sounded well there would be no intelligence behind them. Such is the chance dream! But a master-player could produce a rhapsody, expressing to one who listened hope, love, desire, warning—everything. Such is the harmonious blending of soul and soul in sleep! And how can we tell which is which?"
He paused and gazed out at the water, and I saw in his face the peculiarly wistful expression that so often accompanies thoughts which are both elusive and far away. The index finger of his right hand was slightly raised, indicating a subconscious impulse to point upward. Slowly turning back to us, he said in a tone of solemnity that lingers with me even now, a year later, as I write of it:
"In the Psalms we find these merciful words: 'He giveth His beloved sleep.' Yet they are but an imperfect translation of the original, which reads: 'He giveth to His beloved in sleep.' Do you not see here a greater meaning? Do your minds not at once grasp the corollary?"
"Then you mean," Tommy asked, "that every dream is intended to express something?"
"I will not go quite that far, although there are men highly practiced in the science of psycho-analytical research who stoutly affirm it. Ah, the great difficulty is in drawing the line—in determining which dreams are but passing breezes and which are sent to us upon the wings of angels!"
"You've studied those things," I ventured. "Which was mine?"
"Study!" he cried, with a fine degree of scorn. "Yes, we study! We gather around the brink of a black well and steep ourselves in thought; we wrinkle our brows and tear our beards. Cries one: 'I know what is down there!' Another turns to him: 'You lie!' A third challenges: 'Prove yourselves!' And thus do professors, students, psychologists, churchmen, laymen, infidels, and fools, gather about the pit! This much for study," he snapped his finger. "Unless a man have faith, he is in darkness to the end of his days!"
"All the same, I believe someone tried to warn the princess," Tommy insisted. "And it couldn't have been anything less than a master-player that got off that rhapsody to Jack last night!" There was a note of teasing in this that the others did not detect.
"Well, Mr. Thomas, you're wrong, sir." Gates, who had been listening attentively, now uncrossed his legs and spoke. "There isn't a single curious thing in Mr. Jack's dream. Anyone can see how it came about—with my apologies to you, sir," he bowed to Monsieur.
We laughed, because Gates had not impressed us as being much of a psychologist, and Tommy said:
"If you explain how he knew what Graham's name was, I'll listen."
"Why, sir, he saw it on the paper the night before—for it was there, as sure as you live, and he says he looked at the paper. The only thing is, he didn't know he saw it—being a little gone in his cups, as you might say. But he did see it, and it soaked into his head, waiting till arfter he got to sleep before stirring around."
"That's my first clear idea," Tommy's face brightened; and Gates, thus encouraged, added:
"The reason he dreamed the old man went ashore for the paper was because he saw the lady being watched when she came back to her table—and I'll venture he thought right then that the old one was about to come back, too, and see what she was doing. Didn't you, sir?"
"I believe I did," I murmured.
"So that stuck in his mind and came out the wrong way, just like dreams sometimes will. As for the photograph and brass frame—why, Mr. Thomas, you and the professor took on so about that picture when he'd developed it that Mr. Jack could have heard you in his sleep, and got that part of his dream from what you said!"