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The Inn at the Red Oak by Latta Griswold

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[Illustration: "It's a treasure right enough!" cried Dan.]



























The Inn at the Red Oak





By the end of the second decade of the last century Monday Port had
passed the height of prosperity as one of the principal depots for the
West Indian trade. The shipping was rapidly being transferred to New York
and Boston, and the old families of the Port, having made their fortunes,
in rum and tobacco as often as not, were either moving away to follow the
trade or had acquiesced in the changed conditions and were settling down
to enjoy the fruit of their labours. The harbour now was frequently
deserted, except for an occasional coastwise trader; the streets began to
wear that melancholy aspect of a town whose good days are more a memory
than a present reality; and the old stage roads to Coventry and Perth
Anhault were no longer the arteries of travel they once had been.

To the east of Monday Port, across Deal Great Water, an estuary of the
sea that expanded almost to the dignity of a lake, lay a pleasant rolling
wooded country known in Caesarea as Deal. It boasted no village, scarcely
a hamlet. Dr. Jeremiah Watson, a famous pedagogue and a graduate of
Kingsbridge, had started his modest establishment for "the education of
the sons of gentlemen" on Deal Hill; there were half-a-dozen prospering
farms, Squire Pembroke's Red Farm and Judge Meath's curiously lonely but
beautiful House on the Dunes among them; a little Episcopalian chapel on
the shores of the Strathsey river, a group of houses at the cross roads
north of Level's Woods, and the Inn at the Red Oak,--and that was all.

In its day this inn had been a famous hostelry, much more popular with
travellers than the ill-kept provincial hotels in Monday Port; but now
for a long time it had scarcely provided a livelihood for old Mrs. Frost,
widow of the famous Peter who for so many years had been its popular
host. No one knew when the house had been built; though there was an old
corner stone on which local antiquarians professed to decipher the
figures "1693," and that year was assigned by tradition as the date of
its foundation.

It was a long crazy building, with a great sloping roof, a wide porch
running its entire length, and attached to its sides and rear in all
sorts of unexpected ways and places were numerous out houses and offices.
Behind its high brick chimneys rose the thick growth of Lovel's Woods,
crowning the ridge that ran between Beaver Pond and the Strathsey river
to the sea. The house faced southwards, and from the cobbled court before
it meadow and woodland sloped to the beaches and the long line of sand
dunes that straggled out and lost themselves in Strathsey Neck. To the
east lay marshes and the dunes and beyond them the Strathsey, two miles
wide where its waters met those of the Atlantic; west lay the great
curve, known as the Second Beach, the blue surface of Deal Bay, and a
line of rocky shore, three miles in length, terminated by Rough Point,
near which began the out-lying houses of Monday Port.

The old hostelry took its name from a giant oak which grew at its
doorstep just to one side of the maple-lined driveway that led down to
the Port Road, a hundred yards or so beyond. This enormous tree spread
its branches over the entire width and half the length of the roof.
Ordinarily, of course, its foliage was as green as the leaves on the
maples of the avenue or on the neighbouring elms, and the name of the Inn
might have seemed to the summer or winter traveller an odd misnomer; but
in autumn when the frost came early and the great mass of green flushed
to a deep crimson it could not have been known more appropriately than as
the Inn at the Red Oak.

It was a solidly-built house, such as even in the early part of the
nineteenth century men were complaining they could no longer obtain;
built to weather centuries of biting southeasters, and--the legend
ran--to afford protection in its early days against Indians. At the time
of the Revolution it had been barricaded, pierced with portholes, and had
served, like innumerable other houses from Virginia to Massachusetts, as
Washington's headquarters. When Tom Pembroke knew it best, its old age
and decay had well set in.

Pembroke was the son of the neighbouring squire, whose house, known as
the Red Farm, lay In the little valley on the other side of the Woods at
the head of Beaver Pond. From the time he had been able to thread his way
across the woodland by its devious paths--Tom had been at the Inn almost
every day to play with Dan Frost, the landlord's son. They had played in
the stables, then stocked with a score of horses, where now there were
only two or three; in the great haymows of the old barn in the clearing
back of the Inn; in the ramshackle garret under that amazing roof; or,
best of all, in the abandoned bowling-alley, where they rolled
dilapidated balls at rickety ten-pins.

When Tom and Dan were eighteen--they were born within a day of each
other one bitter February--old Peter died, leaving the Inn to his wife.
Mrs. Frost pretended to carry on the business, but the actual task of
doing so soon devolved upon her son. And in this he was subjected to
little interference; for the poor lady, kindly inefficient soul that she
was, became almost helpless with rheumatism. But indeed it was rather on
the farm than to the Inn that more and more they depended for their
living. In the social hierarchy of Caesarea the Pembrokes held
themselves as vastly superior to the Frosts; but thanks to the
easy-going democratic customs of the young republic, more was made of
this by the women than the men.

The two boys loved each other devotedly, though love is doubtless the
last word they would have chosen to express their relation. Dan was tall,
dark, muscular; he had a well-shaped head on his square shoulders; strong
well-cut features; a face that the sun had deeply tanned and dark hair
that it had burnished with gold. Altogether he was a prepossessing lad,
though he looked several years older than he was, and he was commonly
treated by his neighbours with a consideration that his years did not
merit. Tom Pembroke was fairer; more attractive, perhaps, on first
acquaintance; certainly more boyish in appearance and behaviour. He was
quicker in his movements and in his mental processes; more aristocratic
in his bearing. His blue eyes were more intelligent than Dan's, but no
less frank and kindly. Young Frost admired his friend almost as much as
he cared for him; for Dan, deprived of schooling, had a reverence for
learning, of which Tom had got a smattering at Dr. Watson's establishment
for "the sons of gentlemen" on the nearby hill.

One stormy night in early January, the eve of Dan Frost's twenty-second
birthday, the two young men had their supper together at the Inn, and
afterwards sat for half-an-hour in the hot, stove-heated parlour until
Mrs. Frost began to nod over her knitting.

"Off with you, boys," she said at length; "you will be wanting to smoke
your dreadful pipes. Nancy will keep me company."

They took instant advantage of this permission and went into the deserted
bar, where they made a roaring fire on the great hearth, drew their
chairs near, filled their long clay pipes with Virginia tobacco, and fell
to talking.

"Think of it!" exclaimed young Frost, as he took a great whiff at his
pipe; "here we are--the middle of the winter--and not a guest in the
house. Why we used to have a dozen travellers round the bar here, and the
whole house bustling. I've known my father to serve a hundred and more
with rum on a night like this. Now we do a fine business if we serve as
many in a winter. Times have changed since we were boys."

"Aye," Tom agreed, "and it isn't so long ago, either. It seemed to me as
if the whole county used to be here on a Saturday night."

"I'm thinking," resumed Dan musingly, "of throwing up the business,
what's the use of pretending to keep an inn? If it wasn't for mother
and for Nancy, I'd clear out, boy; go off and hunt my fortune. As it is,
with what I make on the farm and lose on the house, I just pull through
the year."

"By gad," exclaimed Tom, "I'd go with you, Dan. I'm tired to my soul with
reading law in father's office. Why, you and I haven't been farther than
Coventry to the county fair, or to Perth Anhault to make a horse trade.
I'd like to see the world, go to London and Paris. I've wanted to go to
France ever since that queer Frenchman was here--remember?--and told us
those jolly tales about the Revolution and the great Napoleon. We were
hardly more than seven or eight then, I guess."

"I would like to go, hanged if I wouldn't," said Dan. "I'm getting more
and more discontented. But there's not much use crying for the moon, and
France might as well be the moon, for all of me." He relapsed then into a
brooding silence. It was hard for an inn-keeper to be cheerful in
midwinter with an empty house. Tom too was silent, dreaming vividly, if
vaguely, of the France he longed to see.

"Hark!" exclaimed Dan presently. "How it blows! There must be a big sea
outside to-night."

He strode to the window, pushed back the curtains of faded chintz, and
stared out into the darkness. The wind was howling in the trees and about
the eaves of the old inn, the harsh roar of the surf mingled with the
noise of the storm, and the sleet lashed the window-panes in fury.

"You will not be thinking of going home tonight, Tom?"

"Not I," Pembroke answered, for he was as much at home in Dan's enormous
chamber as he was in his own little room under the roof at the Red Farm.

As he turned from the window, the door into the parlour opened, and a
young girl quietly slipped in and seated herself in the chimney-corner.

"Hello, Nance," Dan exclaimed, as she entered; "come close, child; you
need to be near the fire on a night like this."

"Mother is asleep," the girl answered briefly, and then, resting her
chin upon her hands, she fixed her great dark eyes upon the glowing
logs. She was Dan's foster-sister, eighteen years of age, though she
looked hardly more than sixteen; a shy, slender, girl, lovely with a
wild, unusual charm. To Tom she had always been a silent elfin
creature, delightful as their playmate when a child, but now though
still so familiar, she seemed in an odd way, to grow more remote.
Apparently she liked to sit with them on these winter evenings in the
deserted bar, when Mrs. Frost had gone to bed; and to listen to their
conversation, though she took little part in it.

As Dan resumed his seat, he looked at her with evident concern, for she
was shivering as she sat so quietly by the fireside.

"Are you cold, Nance?" he asked.

"A little," she replied. "I was afraid in the parlour with Mother asleep,
and the wind and the waves roaring so horribly."

"Afraid?" exclaimed Tom, with an incredulous laugh. "I never knew you to
be really afraid of anything in the world, Nancy."

She turned her dark eyes upon him for the moment, with a sharp
inquisitive glance which caused him to flush unaccountably. An answering
crimson showed in her cheeks, and she turned back to the fire. The colour
fled almost as quickly as it had come, and left her pale, despite the
glow of firelight.

"I was afraid--to-night," she said, after a moment's silence.

Suddenly there came the sound of a tremendous knocking on the door which
opened from the bar into the outer porch, and all three started in
momentary alarm.

Dan jumped to his feet. "Who's that?" he cried.

Again came the vigorous knocking. He ran across the room, let down the
great oaken beam, and opened the door to the night and storm.

"Come in, travellers." A gust of wind and sleet rushed through the
opening and stung their faces. With the gust there seemed to blow in the
figure of a little old man wrapped in a great black coat, bouncing into
their midst as if he were an India rubber ball thrown by a gigantic hand.
Behind him strode in Manners, the liveryman of Monday Port.

"Here's a guest for you, Mr. Frost. I confess I did my best to keep him
in town till morning, but nothing 'd do; he must get to the Inn at the
Red Oak to-night. We had a hellish time getting here too, begging the
lady's pardon; but here we are."

Good-naturedly he had taken hold of his fare and, as he spoke, was
helping the stranger unwrap himself from the enveloping cloak.

"He's welcome," said Dan. "Here, sir, let me help you." He put out his
hand to steady the curious old gentleman, who, at last, gasping for
breath and blinking the sleet out of his eyes, had been unrolled by
Manners from the dripping cloak.

He was a strange figure of a man, they thought, as Dan led him to the
fire to thaw himself out. He was scarcely more than five and a half feet
in height, with tiny hands and feet almost out of proportion even to his
diminutive size. He was an old man, they would have said, though his
movements were quick and agile as if he were set up on springs. His face,
small, sharp-featured and weazened, was seamed with a thousand wrinkles.
His wig was awry, its powder, washed out by the melting sleet, was
dripping on his face in pasty streaks; and from beneath it had fallen
wisps of thin grey hair, which plastered themselves against his temples
and forehead. This last feature was also out of proportion to the rest of
his physiognomy, for it was of extraordinary height, and of a polished
smoothness, in strange contrast to his wrinkled cheeks. Beneath shone two
flashing black eyes, with the fire of youth in them, for all he seemed so
old. The lower part of his face was less distinctive. He had a small,
Suddenly there came the sound of a tremendous knocking on the door which
opened from the bar into the outer porch, and all three started in
momentary alarm.

Dan jumped to his feet. "Who's that?" he cried.

Again came the vigorous knocking. He ran across the room, let down the
great oaken beam, and opened the door to the night and storm.

"Come in, travellers." A gust of wind and sleet rushed through the
opening and stung their faces. With the gust there seemed to blow in the
figure of a little old man wrapped in a great black coat, bouncing into
their midst as if he were an India rubber ball thrown by a gigantic hand.
Behind him strode in Manners, the liveryman of Monday Port.

"Here's a guest for you, Mr. Frost. I confess I did my best to keep him
in town till morning, but nothing'd do; he must get to the Inn at the Red
Oak to-night. We had a hellish time getting here too, begging the lady's
pardon; but here we are."

Good-naturedly he had taken hold of his fare and, as he spoke, was
helping the stranger unwrap himself from the enveloping cloak.

"He's welcome," said Dan. "Here, sir, let me sharply-pointed nose; a
weak mouth, half-hidden by drooping white moustaches; and a small sharp
chin, accentuated by a white beard nattily trimmed to a point. He was
dressed entirely in black; a flowing coat of French cut, black small
clothes, black stockings and boots that reached to the calves of his
little legs. These boots were ornamented with great silver buckles, and
about his neck and wrists showed bedraggled bits of yellowed lace."

He stood before the fire, speechless still; standing first on one foot
then on the other; rubbing his hands the while as he held them to the
grateful warmth.

Nancy had in the meanwhile drawn a glass of rum, and now advancing
held it toward him a little gingerly. He took it eagerly and drained
it at a gulp.

"_Merci, ma petite ange; merci, messieurs_" he exclaimed at last; and
then added in distinct, though somewhat strongly accented English, "I ask
your pardon. I forget you may not know my language. But now that this
good liquor has put new life in my poor old bones, I explain myself. I am
arrived, I infer, at the Inn at the Red Oak; and you, monsieur, though so
young, I take to be my host. I have your description, you perceive, from
the good postilion. You will do me the kindness to provide me with supper
and a bed?"

"Certainly, sir," said Dan. "It is late and we are unprepared, but we
will put you up somehow. You too, Manners, had best let me bunk you till
morning; you'll not be going back to the Port tonight? Nancy a fresh
bumper for Mr. Manners."

"Thankee, sir; I managed to get out with the gentleman yonder, and I
guess I'll manage to get back. But it's a rare night, masters. Just a
minute, sir, and I'll be getting his honour's bags.... Thank ye kindly,
Miss Nancy."

He drained the tumbler of raw spirit that Nancy held out. Then he opened
the door again and went out into the storm, returning almost at once with
the stranger's bags.

Dan turned to his sister. "Nancy dear, go stir up Susan and Deborah. We
must have a fire made in the south chamber and some hot supper got ready.
Tell Susan to rout out Jesse to help her. Say nothing to Mother; no need
to disturb her. And now, sir," he continued, turning again to the
stranger, "may I ask your name?"

The old gentleman ceased his springing seesaw for a moment, and fixed
his keen black eyes on the questioner.

"_Certainment, monsieur_--certainly, I should say," he replied in a high,
but not unpleasant, voice. "I am the Marquis de Boisdhyver, at your
service. I am to travel in the United States--oh! for a long time. I stay
here, if you are so good as to accommodate me, perhaps till you are weary
and wish me to go elsewhere. You have been greatly recommended to me by
my friend,--quiet, remote, secluded, an _auberge_--what you call it?--an
inn, well-suited to my habits, my tastes, my desire for rest. I am very
_fatigué_, monsieur."

"Yes," said Dan, with a grim smile, "we are remote and quiet and
secluded. You are welcome, sir, to what we have. Tom, see that Manners
has another drink before he goes, will you? and do the honours for our
guest, while Nance and I get things ready."

As he disappeared into the kitchen, following Nancy, the Marquis looking
after him with a comical expression of gratitude upon his face. Tom drew
another glass of rum, which Manners eagerly, if rashly, devoured. Then
the liveryman wrapped himself in his furs, bade them good-night, and
started out again into the storm for his drive back to Monday Port.

All this time the old gentleman stood warming his feet and hands at the
fire, watching his two companions with quickly-shifting eyes, or glancing
curiously over the great bar which the light of the fire and the few
candles but faintly illuminated.

Having barred the door, Tom turned back to the hearth. "It is a bad
night, sir."

"But yes," exclaimed the Marquis. "I think I perish. Oh! that dreary
tavern at your Monday Port. I think when I arrive there I prefer to
perish. But this, this is the old Inn at the Red Oak, is it not? And it
dates, yes,--from the year 1693? The old inn, eh, by the great tree?"

"Yes, certainly," Pembroke answered; "at least, that is the date that
some people claim is on the old cornerstone. You have been here before
then, sir?"

"I?" exclaimed Monsieur de Boisdhyver. "Oh, no! not I. I have heard from
my friend who was here some years ago."

"Oh, I see. And you have come far to-day?"

"From Coventry, monsieur--Monsieur--?"

"Pembroke," Tom replied, with a little start.

"Ah! yes, Monsieur Pembroke. A member of the household?"

"No--a friend."

"I make a mistake," quickly interposed the traveller, "Pardon. I am come
from Coventry, Monsieur Pembroke, in an everlasting an eternal stage, a
monster of a carriage, monsieur. It is only a few days since that I
arrive from France."

"Ah, France!" exclaimed Tom, recalling that only a little while before he
and Dan had been dreaming of that magic country. And here was a person
who actually lived in France, who had just come from there, who
extraordinarily chose to leave that delightful land for the Inn at the
Red Oak in mid-winter.

"France," he repeated; "all my life, sir, I have been longing to
go there."

"So?" said the Marquis, raising his white eyebrows with interest. "You
love _ma belle patrie_, eh? _Qui Sait_?--you will perhaps some day go
there. You have interests, friends in my country?"

"No, none," Tom answered. "I wish I had. You come from Paris, sir?"

"_Mais oui_."

For some time they chatted in such fashion, the Marquis answering Tom's
many questions with characteristic French politeness, but turning ever
and anon a pathetic glance toward the door through which Dan and Nancy
had disappeared. It was with undisguised satisfaction that he greeted
young Frost when he returned to announce that supper was ready.

"I famish!" the old gentleman exclaimed. "I have dined to-day on a
biscuit and a glass of water."

They found the kitchen table amply spread with food,--cold meats, hot
eggs and coffee, and a bottle of port. Monsieur de Boisdhyver ate
heartily and drank his wine with relish, gracefully toasting Nancy as he
did so. When his meal was finished, he begged with many excuses to be
shown to his bedroom; and indeed his fatigue was evident. Dan saw him to
the great south chamber, carrying a pair of lighted candles before. He
made sure that all had been done that sulky sleepy maids could be induced
to do, and then left him to make ready for the night.

Lights were extinguished in the parlour and the bar, the fires were
banked, and the two young men went up to Dan's own room. There on either
side of the warm hearth, had been drawn two great four-posted beds, and
it took the lads but a moment to tumble into them.

"It's queer," said Dan, as he pulled the comfort snugly about his
shoulders, calling to Tom across the way; "it's queer--the old chap
evidently means to stay awhile. What does a French marquis want in a
deserted hole like this, I'd like to know? But if he pays, why the longer
he stays the better."

"I hope he does," said Tom sleepily. "He has a reason, I fancy, for he
asked questions enough while you were out seeing to his supper. He seems
to know the place almost as well as if he had been here before, though he
said he hadn't. But, by gad, I wish you and I were snug in a little hotel
on the banks of the Seine to-night and not bothering our heads about a
doddering old marquis who hadn't sense enough to stay there."

"Wish we were," Dan replied. "Good-night," he called, realizing that his
friend was too sleepy to lie awake and discuss any longer their
unexpected guest.

"Good-night," murmured Tom, and promptly drifted away into dreams of the
wonderful land he had never seen. As for Dan he lay awake a long time,
wondering what could possibly have brought the old Marquis to the
deserted inn at such a time of the year and on such a night.



Toward daylight the storm blew itself out, the wind swung round to the
northwest, and the morning dawned clear and cold, with a sharp breeze
blowing and a bright sun shining upon a snow-clad, ice-crusted world and
a sparkling sapphire sea.

Dan had risen early and had set Jesse to clear a way across the court and
down the avenue to the road. The maids, astir by dawn, were no longer
sulky but bustled about at the preparation of an unusually good breakfast
in honour of the new guest.

Mrs. Frost, who habitually lay till nine or ten o'clock behind the
crimson curtains of her great bed, had caught wind of something out of
the ordinary, demanded Nancy's early assistance, and announced her
intention of breakfasting with the household.

She was fretful during the complicated process of her toilette and so
hurt the feelings of her foster-daughter, that when Dan came to take her
into the breakfast room, Nancy found an excuse for not accompanying them.

The Marquis was awaiting their appearance. He stood with his back-to the
fire, a spruce and carefully-dressed little figure, passing remarks upon
the weather with young Pembroke, who leaned his graceful length against
the mantelpiece.

The noble traveller was presented with due ceremony to Mrs. Frost, who
greeted him with old-world courtesy. She had had, indeed, considerably
more association with distinguished personages than had most of the dames
of the neighbouring farms who considered themselves her social superiors.
She welcomed Monsieur de Boisdhyver graciously, enquiring with interest
of his journey and with solicitude as to his rest during the night. She
received with satisfaction his rapturous compliments on the comforts that
had been provided him, on the beauty of the surrounding country upon
which he had looked from the windows of his chamber, and on her own
condescension in vouchsafing to breakfast with them. She was delighted
that he should find the Inn at the Red Oak so much to his taste that he
proposed to stay with them indefinitely.

They were soon seated at the breakfast-table and had addressed
themselves to the various good things that black Deborah had provided.
The native Johnny cakes, made of meal ground by their own windmill, the
Marquis professed to find particularly tempting.

Despite Mrs. Frost's questions, despite his own voluble replies, Monsieur
de Boisdhyver gave no hint, that there was any deeper reason for his
seeking exile at the Inn of the Red Oak than that he desired rest and
quiet and had been assured that he would find them there. And who had so
complimented their simple abode of hospitality?

"Ah, madame," he murmured, lifting his tiny hands, "so many!"

"But I fear, monsieur," replied his hostess, "that you, who are
accustomed to the luxuries of a splendid city like Paris, to so many
things of which we read, will find little to interest and amuse you in
our remote countryside."

"As for interest, madame," the Marquis protested, "there are the beauties
of nature, your so delightful household, my few books, my writing; and
for amusement, I have my violin;--I so love to play. You will not
mind?--perhaps, enjoy it?"

"Indeed yes," said Mrs. Frost. "Dan, too, is a fiddler after a fashion;
and as for Nancy, she has a passion for music, and dreams away many an
evening while my son plays his old tunes."

"Ah, yes," said the Marquis, "Mademoiselle Nancy, I have not the pleasure
to see her this morning?"

"No," replied Mrs. Frost, flushing a trifle at the recollection of why
Nancy was not present, "she is somewhat indisposed--a mere trifle. You
will see her later in the day. But, monsieur, you should have come to us
in the spring or the summer, for then the country is truly beautiful;
now, with these snow-bound roads, when not even the stagecoach passes, we
are indeed lonely and remote."

"It is that," insisted the Marquis, "which so charms me. When one is
old and when one has lived a life too occupied, it is this peace,
this quiet, this remoteness one desires. To walk a little, to sit by
your so marvellously warm fires, to look upon your beautiful country,
_cest bou_!"

He held her for a moment with his piercing little eyes, a faint smile
upon his lips, as though to say that it was impossible he should be
convinced that he had not found precisely what he was seeking, and
insisting, as it were, that his hostess take his words as the compliment
they were designed to be.

Before she had time to reply, he had turned to Dan. "What a fine harbour
you have, Monsieur Frost," he said, pointing through the window toward
the Cove, separated from the river and the sea by the great curve of
Strathsey Neck, its blue waters sparkling now in the light of the
morning sun.

"Yes," replied Dan, glancing out upon the well-known shoreline, "it is a
good harbour, though nothing, of course, to compare with a Port. But it's
seldom that we see a ship at anchor here, now."

"There is, however," inquired the Marquis with interest, "anchorage for a
vessel, a large vessel?"

"Yes, indeed," Tom interrupted, "in the old days when my father had his
ships plying between Havana and the Port, he would often have them anchor
in the Cove for convenience in lading them with corn from the farm."

"And they were large ships?"

"Full-rigged, sir; many of 'em, and drawing eight feet at least."

"_Eh bien_! And the old Inn, madame, it dates, your son tells me,
from 1693?"

"We think so, sir, though I have no positive knowledge of its existence
before 1750. My husband purchased the place in '94, and it had then been
a hostelry for some years, certainly from the middle of the century. But
we have made many additions. Danny dear, perhaps it will interest the
Marquis if you should take him over the house. We are proud of our old
inn, sir."

"And with reason, madame. If monsieur will, I shall be charmed."

"I will leave you then with my son. Give me your arm, Dan, to the
parlour. Unfortunately, Monsieur le Marquis, affliction has crippled me
and I spend the day in my chair in the blue parlour. I shall be so
pleased, if you will come and chat with me. Tommy, you will be staying to
dinner with us?"

"Thank you, Mrs. Frost, but I must get to the Port for the day. Mother
and Father are leaving by the afternoon stage, if it gets through. They
are going to spend the winter in Coventry. But I shall be back to-night
as I have promised Dan to spend that time with him."

"We shall be glad to have you, as you know."

Soon after Mrs. Frost had left the breakfast-room and Tom had started
forth with horse and sleigh, Dan returned. The Marquis promptly reminded
him of the suggestion that he should be taken over the Inn. It seemed to
Dan an uninteresting way to entertain his guest and the morning was a
busy one. However, he promised to be ready at eleven o'clock to show the
Marquis all there was in the old house.

As Dan went about the offices and stables, performing himself much of the
work that in prosperous times fell to grooms and hostlers, he found
himself thinking about his new guest. Dan knew enough of French history
to be aware there were frequent occasions in France when partisans of the
various factions, royalist, imperialist, or republican, found it best to
expatriate themselves. He knew that in times past many of the most
distinguished exiles had found asylum in America. But at the present, he
understood, King Louis Philippe, was reigning quietly at the Tuileries
and, moreover, the Marquis de Boisdhyver, mysterious as he was, did not
suggest the political adventurer of whom Dan as a boy had heard his
parents tell such extraordinary tales. In the few years immediately after
the final fall of the great Bonaparte there had been an influx of
imperialistic supporters in America, some of whom had even found their
way to Monday Port and Deal. One of these, Dan remembered, had stayed
for some months in '14 or '15 at the Inn at the Red Oak, and it was he
whom Tom had recalled the night before as having told them stories of his
adventurous exploits in the wars of the Little Corporal. But it was too
long after Napoleon's fall to connect his present guest with the imperial
exiles. He could imagine no ulterior reason for the Marquis's coming and
was inclined to put it down as the caprice of an old restless gentleman
who had a genuine mania for solitude. Of solitude, certainly, he was apt
to get his fill at the Inn at the Red Oak.

At eleven o'clock he returned to keep his appointment. He found the
Marquis established at a small table in the bar by an east window, from
which was obtained a view of the Cove, of the sand-dunes along the Neck,
and of the open sea beyond. A writing-desk was on the table, ink and
quills had been provided, a number of books and papers were strewn about,
and Monsieur de Boisdhyver was apparently busy with his correspondence.

"Enchanted" he exclaimed, as he pulled out a great gold watch. "Punctual.
I find another virtue, monsieur, in a character to which I have already
had so much reason to pay my compliments. I trust I do not trespass upon
your more important duties." As he spoke, he rapidly swept the papers
into the writing-desk, closed and locked it, and carefully placed the
tiny golden key into the pocket of his gayly-embroidered waistcoat.

"Not at all," Dan replied courteously, "I shall be glad to show you
about. But I fear you will find it cold and dismal, for the greater part
of the house is seldom used or even entered."

"I bring my cloak," said the Marquis. "Interest will give me warmth. What
I have already seen of the Inn at the Red Oak is so charming, that I
doubt not there is much more to delight one. I imagine, monsieur, how gay
must have been this place once."

He took his great cloak from the peg near the fire where it had been hung
the night before to dry wrapped himself snugly in it; and then, with a
little bow, preceded Dan into the cold and draughty corridor that opened
from the bar into the older part of the house.

This hallway extended fifty or sixty feet to the north wall of the main
part of the inn whence a large window at the turn of a flight of stairs
gave light. On the right, extending the same distance as the hall
itself, was a great room known as the Red Drawing-room, into which Dan
first showed the Marquis. This room had not been used since father's
death four or five years before, and for a long time previous to that
only on the rare occasions when a county gathering of some sort was held
at the inn. It had been furnished in good taste and style in colonial
days, but was now dilapidated and musty. The heavy red damask curtains
were drawn before the windows, and the room was dark and cheerless. Dan
admitted the dazzling light of the sun; but the Marquis only shivered and
seemed anxious to pass quickly on.

"You see, sir," observed the young landlord, "it is dismal enough."

"_Mais oui_--_mais oui_," exclaimed the Marquis.

At the foot of the stairway the corridor turned at right angles and ran
north. On either side opened a number of chambers in like conditions of
disrepair, which had been used as bedrooms in the palmy days of the
hostelry. This corridor ended at the bowling-alley, where as children Tom
and Dan had loved to play. Half-way to the entrance to the bowling-alley
a third hallway branched off to the right, leading to a similar set of
chambers. Into all these they entered, the Marquis examining each with
quick glances, dismissing them with the briefest interest and the most
obvious comment.

Dan saved the _piéce-de-resistance_ till last. This was a little room
entered from the second corridor just at the turn--the only room indeed,
as he truthfully said, that merited a visit.

"This," he explained, "we call the Oak Parlour. It is the only room on
this floor worth showing you. My father brought the wainscoting from an
old English country-house in Dorsetshire. My father's people were
Torries, sir, and kept up their connection with the old country."

It was a delightful room into which Dan now admitted the light of day,
drawing aside the heavy green curtains from the eastern windows. It was
wainscoted from floor to cornice in old black English oak, curiously and
elaborately carved, and divided into long narrow panels. The ceiling, of
similar materials and alike elaborately decorated, was supported by heavy
transverse beams that seemed solid and strong enough to support the roof
of a cathedral. On one side two windows opened upon the gallery and court
and looked out upon the Cove, on the other side stood a cabinet. It was
the most striking piece of furniture in the room, of enormous dimensions
and beautifully carved on the doors of the cupboards below and on the
top-pieces between the mirrors were lion's heads of almost life-size.
Opposite the heavy door, by which they had entered, was a large
fireplace, containing a pair of elaborately ornamented brass and irons.
There was not otherwise a great deal of furniture,--two or three tables,
some chairs, a deep window-seat, a writing-desk of French design; but
all, except this last, in keeping with the character of the room, and all
brought across the seas from the old Dorsetshire mansion, from which
Peter Frost had obtained the interior.

"_Charmant_!" exclaimed the Marquis. "You have a jewel, _mon ami_; a bit
of old England or of old France in the heart of America; a room one finds
not elsewhere in the States. It is a _creation superbe_."

With enthusiastic interest he moved about, touching each article of
furniture, examining with care the two of three old English landscapes
that had been let into panels on the west side of the room, pausing in
ecstacies before the great cabinet and standing before the fireplace as
if he were warming his hands at that generous hearth.

"Ah, Monsieur Frost, could I but write, read, dream here...!"

"I fear that would be impossible, sir," replied Dan. "It is difficult to
heat this portion of the house; and in fact, we never use it."

"_Hélas_!" exclaimed the Marquis, "those things which allure us in this
world are so often impossible. Perhaps in the spring, in the summer, when
there is no longer the necessity of the fire, you will permit me."

"It may be, monsieur," Dan replied, "that long before the summer comes
you will have left us."

"_Mais non_!" cried M. de Boisdhyver. "Every hour that I stay but proves
to me how long you will have to endure my company."

Somewhat ungraciously, it seemed, young Frost made no reply to this
pleasantry; for already he was impatient to be gone. Although the room
was intensely cold and uncomfortable, still his guest lingered, standing
before the massive cabinet, exclaiming upon the exquisiteness of the
workmanship, and every now and then running his dainty fingers along the
carving of its front. As Dan stood waiting for the Marquis to leave, he
chanced to glance through the window to the court without, and saw Jesse
starting out in the sleigh. As he had given him no such order he ran
quickly to the window, rapped vigourously and then, excusing himself to
the Marquis, hurried out to ask Jesse to explain his errand.

The Marquis de Boisdhyver stood for a moment, as Dan left him, motionless
in front of the cabinet. His face was bright with surprise and delight,
his eyes alert with interest and cunning. After a moment's hesitation he
stole cautiously to the window, and seeing Frost was engaged in
conversation with Jesse, he sprang back with quick steps to the cabinet.
He hastily ran the tips of his fingers along the beveled edges of the
wide shelf from end to end several times, each time the expression of
alertness deepening into one of disappointment. He stopped for a moment
and listened. All was quiet. Again with quick motions he felt beneath the
edges. Suddenly his eyes brightened and he breathed quickly; his
sensitive fingers had detected a slight unevenness in the smooth
woodwork. Again he paused and listened, and then pressed heavily until he
heard a slight click. He glanced up, as directly in front of him the eye
of one of the carved wooden lion's heads on the front of the board winked
and slowly raised, revealing a small aperture. With a look of
satisfaction, the Marquis thrust his fingers into the tiny opening and
drew forth a bit of tightly folded yellow paper; he glanced at it for an
instant and thrust it quickly into the pocket of his waistcoat. Then he
lowered the lid of the lion's eye. There was a slight click again; and he
turned, just as Dan reappeared in the doorway.

"Excuse my leaving you so abruptly," said Frost, "but I saw Jesse going
off with the sleigh, and as I had given him no orders, I wanted to know
where he was going. But it was all right. Are you ready, sir? I am afraid
if we stay much longer you will catch cold." This last remark was added
as the Marquis politely smothered a sneeze with his flimsy lace

"_C'est bien_, monsieur. I fear I have taken a little cold. Perhaps it
would be just as well if we explore no further to-day."

"If you prefer, sir," answered Dan, holding the door open for his guest
to go out. Monsieur de Boisdhyver turned and surveyed the Oak Parlour
once more before he left it. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "this so charming
room--it is of a perfection! Dorsetshire, you say? ... To me it would
seem French." They walked back rapidly along the dark cold corridors to
the bar. All the way the Marquis, wrapped tightly in his great cloak,
kept the thumb of his left hand in his waistcoat pocket, pressing
securely against the paper he had taken from the old cabinet in the Oak



The household of the Inn at the Red Oak soon became accustomed to the
presence of their new member; indeed, he seemed to them during those
bleak winter months a most welcome addition. Except for an occasional
traveller who spent a night or a Sunday at the Inn, he was the only
guest. He was gregarious and talkative, and would frequently keep them
for an hour or so at table as he talked to them of his life in France,
and of his adventures in the exciting times through which his country had
passed during the last fifty years. He was the cadet, he told them, of a
noble family of the Vendée, the head of which, though long faithful to
the exiled Bourbons, had gone over to Napoleon upon the establishment of
the Empire. But as for himself--Marie-Anne-Timélon-Armand de
Boisdhyver--he still clung to the Imperial cause, and though now for many
years his age and infirmities had forced him to withdraw from any part in
intrigues aiming at the restoration of the Empire, his sympathies were
still keen.

When he talked in this strain, of his thrilling memories of the Terror
and of the extraordinary days when Bonaparte was Emperor, Dan and Tom
would listen to him by the hour. But Mrs. Frost preferred to hear the
Marquis's reminiscences of the _ancien régime_ and of the old court life
at Versailles. He had been a page, he said, to the unfortunate Marie
Antoinette; he would cross himself piously at the mention of the magic
name, and digress rapturously upon her beauty and grace, and bemoan, with
tears, her unhappy fate. She liked also to hear of the court of Napoleon
and of the life of the _faubourgs_ in the Paris of the day. On these
occasions the young men were apt to slip away and leave the Marquis alone
with Mrs. Frost and Nancy.

For Nancy Monsieur de Boisdhyver seemed to have a fascination. She would
listen absorbed to his voluble tales, her bright eyes fixed on his
fantastic countenance, her head usually resting upon her hand, and her
body bent forward in an attitude of eager attention. She rarely spoke
even to ask a question; indeed, her only words would be an occasional
exclamation of interest, or the briefest reply.

During the day their noble guest would potter about the house or, when
the weather was fine, stroll down to the shore, where he would walk up
and down the strip of sandy beach in the lee of the wind hour after hour.
Now and then he wandered out upon the dunes that stretched along the
Neck; and once, Dan afterwards learned, he paid a call upon old Mrs.
Meath who lived by herself in the lonely farmhouse on Strathsey Neck,
that was known as the House of the Dunes.

After supper they were wont to gather in Mrs. Frost's parlour or in the
old bar before the great hearth on which a splendid fire always blazed;
and when the Marquis had had his special cup of black coffee, he would
get out his violin and play to them the long evening through. He played
well, with the skill of a master of the art, and with feeling. He seemed
at such times to forget himself and his surroundings; his bright eyes
would grow soft, a dreamy look would steal into them, and a happy little
smile play about the corners of his thin pale lips. Obligingly he gave
Dan lessons, and often the young man would accompany him, in the songs
his mother had known and loved in her youth, when old Peter had come
wooing with fiddle in hand.

But best of all were the evenings when the Marquis chose to improvise.
Plaintive, tender melodies for the most part; prolonged trembling,
faintly-expiring airs; and sometimes harsh, strident notes that evoked
weird echoes from the bare wainscoted walls. Mrs. Frost would sit, tears
of sadness and of pleasure in her eyes, the kindly homely features of her
face moving with interest and delight. Nancy was usually by the table,
her sharp little chin propped up on the palms of her hands, never taking
her fascinated gaze from the musician. Sometimes Tom would look at her
and wonder of what she could be thinking. For certainly her spirit seemed
to be far away wandering in a world of dreams and of strange
inexpressible emotions. For Tom the music stirred delicate thoughts
bright dreams of beauty and of love; the vivid intangible dreams of
awakening youth. He had not had much experience with emotion; the story
of his love affairs contained no more dramatic moments than the stealing
of occasional kisses from the glowing cheeks of Maria Stonywell, the
beauty of the Tinterton road, as he had walked back to the old farm with
her on moonlight evenings.

They would all be sorry when Monsieur pleaded weariness and bade them
good-night. Sometimes his music so moved the old Frenchman that the tears
would gather in his faded blue eyes and steal down his powdered cheeks;
and then, like as not, he was apt to break off suddenly, drop violin and
bow upon his knees, and exclaim, "_Ah! la musique! mon Dieu, mon Dieu!
elle me rappelle ma jeunesse. Et maintenant--et maintenant_!" And then,
brushing away the tears he would rise, make them a courtly bow, and hurry
out of the room.

Dan alone did not fall under his spell. He and Tom would often talk of
their strange guest after they were gone to bed in the great chamber over
the dining-room.

"I don't know what it is," Dan said one night, "but I am sorry he ever
came to the Inn; I wish he would go away."

"How absurd, old boy!" protested Tom. "He has saved our lives this
frightful winter. I never knew your mother to be so cheerful and
contented; Nancy seems to adore him, and you yourself are making the most
of his fiddle lessons."

"I know," Dan replied, "all that is true, but it is only half the truth.
Mother's cheerfulness is costing me a pretty penny, for I can't keep her
from ordering the most expensive things,--wines, and the like,--that we
can't afford. Maybe Nance adores him, as you say,--she is such a strange
wild child; but I have never known her to be so unlike herself. We used
to have good times together--Nance and I. But this winter I see nothing
of her at all." For the moment Dan forgot his complaint in the tender
thought of his foster-sister. "It probably is absurd," he added
presently, "but I don't like it; I don't like him, Tom! He plays the
fiddle well, I admit but he is so queer and shifty, nosing about, looking
this way and that, never meeting your eyes. It's just as though he were
waiting, biding his time, for--I don't know what."

"Nonsense, Dan; you're not an old woman."

"It may be, Tom, but I feel so anyway. The place hasn't seemed the same
to me since that Frenchman came. I wish he would go away; and apparently
he means to stay on forever."

"I think you would miss him, if he were to go," insisted Pembroke, "for
my part I'm glad he is here. To tell the truth, Dan, he's been the life
of the house."

"He has fascinated you as he has fascinated Mother and Nance," Dan
replied. "But it stands to reason, boy, that he can't be quite all
right. What does he want poking about in a deserted old hole like Deal?"

"What he has said a thousand times; just what he so beautifully
gets--quiet and seclusion."

"Perhaps you are right and I am wrong; but all the same I shall be glad
to see the last of him."

The night was one of bright moonlight at the end of February. The bedroom
windows were open to the cold clear air. Tom was not sleepy, and he lay
for a long time recalling the dreams and emotions that had so stirred him
earlier in the evening, as he had listened to the Marquis's playing. He
kept whistling softly to himself such bars of the music as he could
remember. Dan's chamber faced west, and Tom's bed was so placed that he
could look out, without raising his head from the pillow, over the court
in the rear of the Inn and into the misty depths of Lovel's Woods beyond
the offices and stables.

As he lay half-consciously musing--it must have been near midnight--his
attention was suddenly riveted upon the court below. It seemed to him
that he heard footsteps. He was instantly wide awake, and jumped from the
bed to the window, whence he peered from behind the curtain into the
courtyard. Close to the wall of the Inn, directly beneath the window, a
shadow flitted on the moonlight-flooded pavement, and he could hear the
crumbling of the snow. Cautiously he thrust his head out of the window.
Moving rapidly along near to the house, was a little figure wrapped in a
dark cloak, which looked to Tom for all the world like the Marquis de

For the moment he had the impulse to call to him by name, but the
conversation he had so recently had with Dan flashed into his mind, and
he decided to keep still and watch. The figure moved rapidly along the
west wall of the Inn almost the entire length of the building, until it
arrived at the entrance of the bowling-alley which abutted from the old
northern wing. Reaching this it paused for a moment, glancing about; then
inserted a key, fumbled for a moment with the latch, opened the door, and
disappeared within.

Tom was perplexed. He could not be sure that it was the Marquis; but
whether it were or not, he knew that there was no reason for any one
entering the old portion of the Inn at midnight. His first thought was to
go down alone and investigate; his second was to waken Dan.

He lowered the window gently, drew the curtains across it, and
bending over his friend, shook him gently by the shoulder. "Dan, Dan,
I say; wake up!"

"What's the matter?" exclaimed Dan with a start of alarm, as he sat
up in bed.

"Nothing, nothing; don't make a noise. I happened to be awake, and
hearing footsteps under the window, I got up and looked out. I saw some
one moving along close to the wall until he got to the bowling alley. He
opened the door and disappeared."

"The door's locked," exclaimed Dan. "Who was it?"

"He had a key, whoever he was then. To tell the truth, Dan, it looked
like the Marquis; though I couldn't swear to him. I certainly saw
some one."

"You have not been asleep and dreaming, have you?" asked his friend,
rubbing his eyes.

"I should say not. I'm going down to investigate; thought you'd like to
come along."

"So I shall," said Dan, jumping out of bed and beginning to dress. "If
you really have seen any one, I'll wager you are right in thinking it's
the old marquis. That is just the sort of thing I have imagined him
being up to. What he wants though in the old part of the house is more
than I can think. He has pestered me to get back there ever since I
showed him over the place the day he arrived. Are you ready? Bring a
candle, and some matches. Ill just take my gun along on general
principles. I don't care how soon we get rid of the Marquis de
Boisdhyver, but I shouldn't exactly like to shoot him out with a load of
buckshot in his hide."

Tom stood waiting with his boots in hand. Dan went to his bureau and took
out his father's old pistol, that had done duty in the West India trade
years ago, when pirates were not romantic memories but genuine menaces.

"Sh!" whispered Dan as he opened the door. "Let's blow out the candle.
It's moonlight, and we will be safer without it. Be careful as you go
down stairs not to wake Mother and Nancy."

Tom blew out the candle and slipped the end into his pocket, as he
tiptoed after Dan down the stairs. At every step the old boards seemed to
creak as though in pain. As they paused breathless half-way down on the
landing, they heard no sound save the loud ticking of the clock in the
hall below and the gentle whispering of the breeze without. The moon
gave light enough had they needed it, but each of them could have found
his way through every nook and corner of the Inn in darkness as well as
in broad day-light. They crept down the short flight from the landing,
paused and listened at the doors of Mrs. Frost's and Nancy's chambers,
and then slipped noiselessly into the bar where the logs still glowed on
the hearth.

"Shall we," asked Tom in a low tone, "go down the corridor or
around outside?"

"Best outside," Dan whispered. "If we go down the corridor we are like to
frighten him if he is the Marquis, or get a bullet in our gizzards if he
is not. Should he be inside, he'll have a light and we can find just
where he is. I have a notion that it's the Marquis and that he'll be in
the Oak Parlour. We'd better creep along the porch."

Very softly he unlocked the door, and stepped outside. Tom was close
behind him. They crept stealthily along next the wall well within the
shadow of the roof, pausing at every window to peer through the
cracks of the shutters. But all were dark. As they turned the corner
of the porch at the end of the main portion of the inn from which
the north wing extended, Dan suddenly put his hand back and stopped
Tom. "Wait," he breathed, "there's a light in the Oak Parlour. Stay
here, while I peek in."

With gun in hand he crept up to the nearest window of the Oak Parlour.
The heavy shutters were closed, but between the crack made by the warping
of the wood, he could distinguish a streak of golden light. He waited a
moment; and, then at the risk of alarming the intruder within, carefully
tried the shutter. To his great satisfaction it yielded and swung slowly,
almost noiselessly, back upon its hinges; the inside curtains were drawn;
but a slight gap had been left. Peering in through this, Dan found he
could get a view of a small section of the interior,--the end of the
great Dorsetshire cabinet on the farther side of the room and a part of
the wall. Before the cabinet, bending over its shelf, stood the familiar
form of the Marquis de Boisdhyver, apparently absorbed in a minute
examination of the carving. But Dan's attention was quickly diverted from
the figure of the old Frenchman, for by his side, also engaged in a
similar examination of the cabinet, stood Nancy. For a moment he watched
them with intent interest, but as he could not discover what so absorbed
them he slipped back to Tom, who was waiting at the turn of the porch.

"It's the Marquis," he whispered in his friend's ear.

"What is he up to?"

"I don't know. Apparently he is examining the old cabinet. But, Tom,
Nancy is with him and as absorbed in the thing as he is. Look!" he
exclaimed suddenly. "They've blown out the light."

As he spoke, he pointed to the window, now dark. "Come," he said, making
an instant decision, "let's hide ourselves in the hall and see if they
come back."

"But Nancy--?"

"No time for talk now. Come along."

They ran back along the porch, slipped into the bar, and thence into the
hall. Dan motioned to Tom to conceal himself in a closet beneath the
stairway, and he himself slipped behind the clock. Hardly were they
safely hidden thus, than they heard a fumble at the latch of the door
into the bar. Then the door was pushed open, and the Marquis stepped
cautiously in the hall. He paused for a moment, listening intently. Then
he held open the door a little wider; and another figure, quite enveloped
by a long black coat, entered after him. They silently crossed the hall
to the door of Nancy's chamber. This the Marquis opened; then bowed low,
as his companion passed within. They were so close to him that Dan could
have reached out his hand and touched them. As Nancy entered her room,
Dan distinctly heard Monsieur de Boisdhyver whisper, "More success next
time, mademoiselle!"

There was no reply.

The Marquis turned, stole softly up the stairs, and in a moment Dan heard
the click of the latch as he closed his door. He slipped out from his
hiding place, and whispered to Tom.

In a few moments they were back again in their bedroom.

"Heavens! man, what do you make of it?" asked Tom.

"Make of it!" exclaimed Dan, "I don't know what to make of it. It's
incomprehensible. What the devil is that old rascal after, and how has he
bewitched Nance?"

"Perhaps," suggested Tom, more for Nancy's sake than because he believed
what he was saying, "it is simply that he is curious, and knowing that
you don't want him in the old part of the Inn, he has persuaded Nancy to
take him there at night."

"Nonsense! that couldn't possibly account for such secrecy and caution.
No, Tom, he has some deviltry on foot, and we must find out what it is."

"That should be simple enough. Ask Nance."

"Ah!" exclaimed his friend, "you don't know Nance as well as I. You may
be sure he has sworn her to secrecy, and Nance would never betray a
promise whether she had been wise in making it or not."

"Then go to the old man himself and demand an explanation."

"He'd lie ..."

"Turn him out."

"I could do that, of course. But I think I would rather find out what he
is up to. It has something to do with the old cabinet in the Oak Parlour.
I'll find out the mystery of that if I have to hack the thing into a
thousand pieces. What I hate, is Nance's being mixed up in it."

"We can watch again."

"Yes; we'll do that. In the meanwhile, I am going to investigate that old
ark myself. There's something about, something concealed in it, that he
wants to get. When I took him in there the day after he came, he
couldn't keep his eyes off it. If you can get Nance out of the way
tomorrow afternoon, I'll send the Marquis off with Jesse for that
long-talked-of visit to Mondy Port; and I'll give Jesse instructions not
to get him back before dark. And while they are away, I'll investigate
the Oak Parlour myself. Can you get Nance off?"

"I might ask her to go and look over the Red Farm with me. She might like
the walk through the woods. I could easily manage to be away for three or
four hours."

"Good! You may think it odd, Tom, that I should seem to distrust Nance. I
don't distrust her, but there has always been a mystery about her. Mother
knows a good deal more than she has even been willing to tell to me, or
even to Nance, I guess. I know nothing except that she is of French
extraction, and I have sometimes wondered since she has been so often
with the old Marquis this winter, if he didn't know something about her.
It flashed over me to-night as I saw them in that deserted room. Whatever
is a-foot, I am going to get at the bottom of it. We will watch again
to-morrow night. I heard him whisper as he left Nance, 'More success next
time!' This sort of thing may have been going on for a month."

They undressed again, and Dan put his gun away in his bureau. "We may
have use for that yet, Tommy," he said. "It would do me good, after what
I have seen to-night, to put a bit of lead into the Marquis de Boisdhyver
as a memento of his so delightful sojourn at _L'Auberge au Chene Rouge_."



The two young men felt self-conscious and ill-at-ease the next morning at
the breakfast table, but apparently their embarrassment was neither
shared nor observed. Mrs. Frost had kept her room, but Nancy and the
Marquis were in their accustomed places; the old gentleman, chattering
away in a fashion that demanded few answers and no attention; Nancy,
speaking only to ask necessary questions as to their wants at table and
meeting the occasional glances of Dan and Tom without suspicion. Tom
could scarcely realize in that bright morning light, that only seven or
eight hours earlier he and his friend had spied upon their companions
prowling about in the abandoned wing of the inn.

Monsieur de Boisdhyver assented readily enough when Dan proposed that
Jesse should take him that day to Monday Port. He was curious to see the
old town, he said, having heard much of it from his friend; much also
from his celebrated compatriot, the Marquis de Lafayette.

Tom took occasion during the discussion to ask Nancy if she would walk
across the woods with him after dinner, that he might pay a visit to the
Red Farm and see that all was going well in the absence of his parents.
He felt that the tones of his voice were charged with unwonted
significance; but Nancy accepted the invitation with a simple expression
of pleasure. When Mrs. Frost was informed of the plans for the day, she
came near thwarting Dan's carefully laid schemes. She had counted upon
Jesse to do her bidding and had, she declared, arranged that Nancy should
help her put together the silken patches of the quilt upon which she was
perennially engaged. Her foster-daughter's glance of displeasure at this
was tinder to the old lady's temper, and Dan entered most opportunely.

"So!" she was exclaiming, "I am always the one to be sacrificed when it
is a question of some one's else pleasure."

"Mother, Mother," Dan protested good-naturedly, as he bent over to kiss
her good-morning, "aren't you ever willing to spend a day alone with me?"

"Danny dear," cried the old lady, as she began to smile again, "you know
I'm always willing. Of course, if Tom wants Nancy to go, the quilt can
wait; it has waited long enough, in all conscience. There, my dear," she
added, turning to the girl, "order an early dinner, and since you are
going to the Red Farm, you might as well come back by the dunes and
enquire for old Mrs. Meath. We have neglected that poor woman shamefully
this winter."

"Yes, Mother,--if we have time."

"Take the time, my dear," added Mrs. Frost sharply.

"Yes, Mother."

The Marquis started off with Jesse at eleven o'clock, as eager for the
excursion as a boy; and by half-past twelve Nancy and Tom had set out
across the woods for the Red Farm. Dan was impatient for them to be gone.
As soon as he saw them disappear in the woods back of the Inn, he made
excuses to his mother, and hurried to the north wing. He found the door
of the bowling alley securely locked, which convinced him that either the
Marquis or Nancy had taken the key from the closet of his chamber. Having
satisfied himself, he went directly to the Oak Parlour.

It was cold and dark there. He opened the shutters and drew back the
curtains, letting in the cheerful midday sun, which revealed all the
antique, sombre beauty of the room, of the soft landscapes and the
exquisite carving of the Dorsetshire cabinet. But Dan was in no mood to
appreciate the old-world beauty of the Oak Parlour. In that cabinet he
felt sure there was something concealed which would reveal the mystery of
the Marquis's stay at the inn and possibly the nature of his influence
over Nancy. Whatever had been the object of the Marquis's search, it had
not been found: his parting words to Nancy the night before showed that.

Dan took a long look at the cabinet first, estimating the possibility of
its containing secret drawers. Hidden compartments in old cabinets,
secret chambers in old houses, subterranean passageways leading to
dungeons in romantic castles, had been the material of many a tale that
Dan and Tom had told each other as boys. For years their dearest
possession had been a forbidden copy of "_The Mysteries of Udolpho_"
which they read in the mow of the barn lying in the dusty hay. However
unusual, the situation was real; and he felt himself confronted by as
hard a problem as he had ever tried to solve in fiction. He knew
something about carpentry, so that his first step, after examining the
drawers and cupboards and finding them empty, was to take careful
measurements of the entire cabinet, particularly of the thicknesses of
its sides, back, and partitions. It proved a piece of furniture of
absolutely simple and straightforward construction. After long
examination and careful soundings he came to the conclusion that a secret
drawer was an impossibility.

Suddenly an idea occurred to him and he returned to the sitting-room.
"Mother," he said, "I have been looking over the old cabinet in the Oak
Parlour, thinking perhaps that I would have it brought into the
dining-room. I wonder, if by chance, there are any secret drawers in it.

"Secret drawers? What an idea!" exclaimed Mrs. Frost.

"You never knew of any did you?"

"No.... Stop, let me think. Upon my word, I think there was something of
the sort, but it has been so long ago I have almost forgotten."

"Try to remember, do!" urged Dan, striving to repress his excitement.

"It was not a secret drawer, but there were little hidden
cubby-holes--three or four of them. I remember, now, your father once
showed me how they opened. They were little places where the Roman
Catholics used to hide the pages of their mass-books and such like in the
days of persecution in England."

"Yes, yes," said Dan, "that makes it awfully interesting. Did father
ever find anything in them?"

"No, I think not; but, dear me, it was over thirty years ago we brought
that old cabinet from England,--long before you were born, Dan."

"Can you remember how to open the secret places? I have been looking it
over, but I can't see where they can be, much less how to get into them."

"There were four of them, I think; all in the carving on the front, in
the eyes of the lions it seems to me, and in the lion's mouth, or in the
leaves somewhere. One spring that opened them I recollect, was under the
ledge of the shelf, another at the back of the cabinet and,--but no, I
really can't remember where the others were."

Dan was impatient to try his luck at finding them, and hurried back to
the Oak Parlour. He ran his fingers many times under the ledge of the
shelf before he heard the click of a tiny spring, and, looking up, saw
the lion's eyelid wink and slowly open. With an exclamation of
satisfaction, he thrust his fingers into the tiny aperture, felt
carefully about, and was chagrined to find it empty. "More success next
time, _monsieur le marquis_!" he muttered.

At length he found the spring that released the eyelid on the carved lion
on the other side of the panel. He glanced into the little opening and,
to his delight, saw the end of a bit of paper tucked away there. He dug
it out with the blade of his pocket knife and unfolded it. It was yellow
and brittle with age, covered with writing in a fine clear hand. But he
was annoyed to discover, as he bent closely over to read it, that it was
written in French, still worse, part of the paper was missing, for one
side of it was ragged as if it had been torn in two.

Remembering with relief, that Pembroke had acquired a smattering of
French at Dr. Watson's school for the sons of gentlemen, he put the paper
carefully away in his pocket to wait for Tom's assistance in deciphering
it. Then he set to work to find the missing half.

He fumbled about at the back of the cabinet for a spring that would
release another secret cubby-hole, and was rewarded at last by an
unexpected click, and the seemingly solid jaws of the lion fell apart
about half-an-inch. But the little aperture which they revealed was
empty. Further experiment at last discovered the fourth hiding place, but
this also contained nothing.

It occurred to him then that the Marquis had already discovered the other
half of the paper, and like himself was searching for a missing portion.
As he stood thinking over the problem, he suddenly noticed that the room
was in deep shadow, and realized that the sun had set over the ridge of
Lovel's Woods. The Marquis would soon be returning. Carefully closing the
four openings in the carving he pushed the old cabinet back against the
wall, closed the shutters and drew the curtains. Then with a last glance
to see that all was as he found it, he went out and closed the door the
precious bit of paper in his inside pocket.

He went directly to Mrs. Frost's parlour. "Mother," he said, "please
don't tell anyone that I have been in the north wing today. I have good
reasons which I will explain to you before long. Now, I shall be deeply
offended if you give the slightest hint."

"Gracious! Dan, what is all this mystery about?"

"You will never know, mother, unless you trust me absolutely. Mind! not
a word to Tom, Nancy or the Marquis."

"Very well, Danny. You know I am as safe with a secret as though it had
been breathed into the grave."

Dan did not quite share his mother's confidence in her own discretion,
but he knew he could count on her devotion to him to keep her silent even
where curiosity and the love of talk would render her indiscreet. He also
knew, and had often deplored it, that fond as she was of Nancy she was
not inclined to take the girl into her confidence.

Having said all he dared to his mother, Dan went to his room and
carefully locked up the mysterious paper. He returned to the first
floor just as the Marquis and Jesse drove up in the sleigh to the door
of the inn.

Monsieur de Boisdhyver was enthusiastic about all that he had seen--the
headquarters of General Washington, the house in which the Marquis de
Lafayette had slept, the old mill in the parade, the fort at the Narrows,
the shipping, the quaint old streets.... "But, O Monsieur Frost," he
exclaimed, "the weariness that is now so delightful! How soundly shall I
sleep to-night!"

Dan smiled grimly as he assured his guest of his sympathy for a good
night and a sound sleep; thinking to himself, however, that if the
Marquis walked, he would not walk unattended. He had no intention of
trusting too implicitly to that loudly proclaimed fatigue.



While Dan Frost was hunting for the secret places of the old cabinet, Tom
and Nancy were picking their way across the snowcovered paths of Lovel's
Woods to the Red Farm. These woods were a striking feature in the
landscape of the open coast country around Deal. Rising somewhat
precipitously almost out of the sea, three ridges extended far back into
the country, with deep ravines between. They were thickly wooded, for the
most part with juniper and pine. In some places the descent to the
ravines was sheer and massed with rocks heaped there by a primeval
glacier; in other parts they dipped more gently to the little valleys,
which were threaded with many a path worn smooth by the dwellers on the
eastern shore. Nearly two miles might be saved in a walk from the Inn to
Squire Pembroke's Farm by going across the Woods rather than by the
encircling road.

As they were used to the frozen country Tom and Nancy preferred the
shorter if more difficult route. They had often found their way together
through the tangled thickets of the Woods or along the shores of the
Strathsey River, in season accompanied by dog and gun hunting fox and
rabbit or partridge and wild duck. In Tom's company Nancy seemed to
forget her shyness and would talk freely enough of her interests and her
doings. He had always been fond of her, though until lately she had
seemed to him hardly more than a child. This winter, as so frequently he
had watched her sitting in the firelight listening to the old Marquis's
playing and dreaming perhaps as he also dreamed, he realized that she was
growing up. A new beauty had come into her face and slender form, her
great dark eyes seemed to hold deeper interests, she was no longer in the
world of childhood. The mystery enveloping her origin, which for some
reason Mrs. Frost had never chosen to dispel, gave a certain piquancy to
the interest and affection Tom felt for her. In the imaginative tales he
had been fond of weaving for his own amusement, Nancy would frequently
figure, revealed at last as the child of noble parents, as a princess
doomed by some strange fate to exile. He thought of these things as from
time to time he glanced back at her, holding aside some branch that
crossed the path or giving her his hand to help her over a boulder in the
way. The red scarf about her neck, red cap on her dark hair, flashing in
and out of the tangled pathway against the background of the snow-clad
woods, gave a bright note of colour to the scene.

They were obliged for the most part to walk in single file until the last
ridge descended over a mass of rocks to the marshes along Beaver Pond.
Then having given her his hand to help her down, he kept hold of it as
they went along the free path to the open meadows. The feeling of Nancy's
cool little hand in his gave Tom an odd and conscious sense of pleasure.

"You have been uncommonly silent, Nance, even for you," he said at last.

"Oh, I'm always silent, Tom," she replied. "It is because I am stupid and
have nothing to say."

"Nonsense, my dear, you always have a lot to say to me. But you are
forever reading, thinking ... what's it all about?"

"Oh, I think, Tom, because I have little else to do; but my thoughts
aren't often worth the telling. In truth there is no one, not even you,
who particularly cares to hear them. Tom," she said, "I am restless and
discontented. Sometimes I wish I were far away from the Inn at the Red
Oak and Deal, from all that I know,--even from you and Dan."

Pembroke suddenly realized that he could not laugh at these
fancies, as he had so often done, and dismiss as if they were the
vagaries of a child.

"Why are you restless and discontented, Nancy?" he asked seriously.

"Aren't you ever?" she questioned for reply. "Don't you ever get weary
with the emptiness of it all, the everlasting round, the dullness? Don't
you ever want to get away from Deal, and know people and see things and
be somebody?"

"I do that, Nance. I mean to go as soon as I am a lawyer. I won't poke
about Deal long after that, nor Monday Port either. I mean to set up in

"Coventry!" exclaimed the girl with an accent of disdain. "That is just a
provincial town like the Port, only a little more important because it is
the capital of the state."

"Being the capital means a lot," protested Tom in defense of his
ambitions of which for the first time he felt ashamed. "Men are sent to
Congress from there. Nance, girl, ours is a wonderful country; we are
making a great nation."

"Some people may be. None of us are, Tom. I wonder at you more than I do
at Dan, for you have had more advantages. As for me, I am only a girl;
there's nothing for girls but to sit and sew, and prepare meals for men
to eat, and wait until some one comes and chooses to marry them. Then
they go off and do the same thing some place else."

"But what have you to complain of, Nancy? you have the kindest brother, a
good mother, a comfortable home...."

"The kindest brother, yes. But you know Mrs. Frost is not my mother. She
doesn't care for me and I can't care for her as if she were. I have never
loved any one but Dan."

"You can't help loving Dan," said Tom, thinking of his good friend.
"But then, little girl, you love me too." And he pressed the hand in
his warmly.

Nancy quickly withdrew her hand. "I am not a little girl. I have been
grown up in lots of ways ever so long."

"But you love me?"

"I like you. Oh, Tom, the life we all lead is so futile. If I weren't a
girl, I should go away."

They had reached the stile by now that led into the meadow which sloped
down from the clump of poplars a hundred rods or so above, in the midst
of which the Red Farmhouse stood. Instead of helping his companion over
the steps in the wall, Tom stopped and stood with his back to them.
"Let's stay here a minute, Nance, and have it out."

"Have what out?" she asked a trifle sharply.

"You haven't any queer wild plan in your head to go away, have you?"

"I don't know--sometimes I think I have. I dare say there are things
somewhere a girl could find to do."

"But Mrs. Frost--?"

"Oh, Mother would not miss me long--she'd have Dan."

"But Dan would miss you."

"Yes, Dan might. I couldn't go, if Dan really needed me here. I think
sometimes he doesn't. But, Tom, if you were in my position, if you didn't
know who your parents were, if all your life you had been living on the
charity of others--good and kind as they are, wonderful even as Dan has
always been--you couldn't be happy. I'm not happy."

"But, Nance, what has come over you?"

"No--nothing in particular; I have often felt this way."

"But, dear, I couldn't let you go. I'd mind a lot, Nance."

She looked at him with a sudden smile of incredulity. "You, Tommy?"

"You can't go--you musn't go," Tom repeated, as he drew nearer to her.

Suddenly he reached out and seized her hands. "Don't you realize it?--I
love you, Nance; I've always loved you!" He drew her close to him. She
did not resist nor did she yield, but still with her eyes she questioned
him. "Kiss me, Nancy," he whispered. She let him press his lips to hers
but without responding to the pressure, as though she still were
wondering of the meaning of this sudden unforeseen passion. But at last,
caught up in its intensity, she gave him back his kisses. He took her
face then between his hands and looked into it with a gaze that in itself
was a caress. "Oh my sweetheart!" he said softly.

Slowly she disengaged herself. "Tom, Tom," she said, "this is
foolishness. We musn't do this."

"Why not?" demanded Pembroke. "I tell you I love you!"

"No--not that way, not that way. I didn't mean that. Why, you foolish
boy, haven't we kissed each other hundreds of times before?"

"No, Nancy, not like that--not like this," he added, as again he put his
arm around her and drew her face to his. And again she yielded. "Say
it--say it, Nance--you love me."

She drew back from him. "I think I must, Tom. I don't think I could let
you kiss me that way if I didn't. But now come ... Tom ... dear Tom ...
do come ... don't kiss me again."

"But say it," he insisted, "say you love me."

"Please help me over the stile."

He gave her his hand and she sprang lightly to the top of the steps. In a
second he was by her side, both of them balancing somewhat uncertainly on
the top of the stone wall. "I won't let you down till you say it."


"No--you love me?"

"Yes--there--I love you--now--".

"No, kiss me again."

"Tom--no." But the negative was weak and Pembroke took it so.

"Now," he said, as they began to cross the meadow, "we must tell Mrs.
Frost and Dan."

"Tell them what?"

"Why, that we are in love with each other, and that you are going to
marry me. What else?"

"No, no," exclaimed Nancy, "You must say nothing. I am not in love. I
don't mean to marry you."

"But why not? You are. You do."


"In love--you do mean to marry me."

"No--Tom, listen--you know your father and mother would hate it. You have
at least two years before you can practice. We couldn't marry--we can't
marry. Oh, there are things I must do, before I can think of that."

"Not marry me? Good Lord, what does it mean when people are in love with
each other, what does it mean when a girl kisses a fellow like that?"

"I don't know! what it means--madness, I guess. Do you think I could
marry as I am, not knowing who I am?"

"Oh, what do I care who your parents were! We'll find out. I swear we
will. Good Lord, I love you, Nancy; I love you!"

"Please, please don't make me talk about it now."

"But soon--?"

"Yes, soon--only promise you'll say nothing to Dan or to Mother till we
have talked again. I must think; it is all so queer and unexpected; I
never dreamed that you cared for me except as a little girl."

"I didn't know I did. But come to think of it, Nance, it has been you as
much as Dan that has brought me to the Inn at the Red Oak. Why it was you
I wanted to walk and talk and play with."

"Please,--dear Tom--G--ive me time to think what it all means. Now be
careful, there's the farmer. You have a lot to do, and we have been
lingering too long. Mother wants us to go back by the dunes and enquire
for old Mrs. Meath; so we must hurry."

The sun had set before they started on the homeward journey in one of
the squire's sleighs. As they turned the bend at the beach and started
across the dune road close to the sea, a great yellow moon rose over
Strathsey Neck.

Tom had been so preoccupied with his own emotions and the unexpected and
absorbing relation in which he found himself with Nancy, that he had
altogether forgotten why he had asked her to go off with him that
afternoon. As they skimmed along over the snow-packed road across the
sands, Tom spied another sleigh on the Port road, the occupants of which
he recognized as Jesse and the Marquis. Suddenly the memory of the night
before flashed over him. He pointed with his whip in their direction.
"There's the old Marquis coming back from Monday Port," he said.

Nancy looked without comment, but Tom thought the colour deepened in
her cheeks.

"See here, Nance," he exclaimed impulsively; "has the Marquis anything to
do with the mood you were in this afternoon? Has he said anything to make
you discontented?"

He was sure that now she paled.

"What makes you ask?"

"Oh--a number of things. I've seen you with him more or less; felt he had
some influence over you."--Tom was blundering now and knew it.--

She looked at him coldly. "I have been with the Marquis very little save
when others have been about. He has no influence over me. I don't care to
discuss such queer ideas."

"Oh, all right ... I dare say I'm mistaken ... I only thought..."
He hesitated... "If you care for me, I don't mind what you think of
the Marquis."

"Remember, Tom--you promised to say nothing until I gave you leave.
You're not fair..."

"But you do love me?"

Nancy was silent.

"There is nothing between you and the old Frenchman--no mystery?"

There was no reply. Nancy sat with compressed lips and drawn brows,
gazing fixedly at the distant House on the Dunes at the end of their
road. For a long while they drove on in silence.

At the House on the Dunes they chatted for a while with old Mrs. Meath,
who lived there alone with a maid-of-all-work. She was a source of much
anxiety to Mrs. Frost, who sent several times each week to learn if all
was going well. But Mrs. Meath was a Quaker and apparently never gave a
thought to loneliness or fear.

"They will never guess," she said to Nancy and Tom as they sat in the
tiled kitchen talking with her, "what I am going to do."

"Not going to leave the House on the Dunes, Mrs. Meath?"

"Deary me! no; but I am going to take a boarder."

"Really?--you are setting up to rival the Inn, eh?" said Tom.

"No", Tommy, nothing of the sort. But I am offered good pay for my front
room, and as Jane Frost is always nagging me about living here alone, I
thought I'd take her."

"And who pray is your new boarder?" asked Nancy.

"That is the funny part of it," replied Mrs. Meath, "I know nothing but
her name--Mrs. Fountain. Everything has been arranged by a lawyer man
from Coventry, and she is coming in a few days. Tell thy mother, Nancy
dear, that she need worry about me no longer."

"I will, Mrs. Meath. I think it is a splendid idea, and I hope you will
like the lady. Mother will be so glad that you have some one with you."

Soon they were on their way across the dunes and marshes to Tinterton
road and home. Dan was preoccupied, not with the news that was so
exciting to Mrs. Meath, but with the recollection of his conversation
with Nancy as they had driven toward the house. Despite her implicit
denial he knew there was a secret between the Marquis de Boisdhyver and
herself. He could not imagine what it might be, and it was evident
that she did not mean to tell him at present. But his anxieties on this
or kindred subjects were not relieved by his companion during the
remainder of the drive. Moreover his attempts to speak again of his
newly discovered passion were received coldly--so coldly indeed that he
had no heart for pleading for such proofs as she had given him earlier
in the afternoon that she shared his emotion. So despite the splendid
moon, the bright cold night, the merry jangle of the sleigh bells, the
drive back was not the unmixed joy Tom had promised himself; and he
felt his role of a declared and practically-accepted lover anything but
a satisfactory one.

Finally they reached the Inn and entered the bar where they found the
Marquis sitting alone before a cheerful fire. All of Tom's suspicious
jealousies returned with fresh force, for Nancy rapidly crossed the room,
spoke a few words to the old gentleman in an inaudible tone of voice, and
passed quickly on to her own apartments.





That evening Mrs. Frost made a particular request for music. Poor Dan,
impatient to be alone with Tom and show him the torn scrap of paper that
he had found that afternoon was forced to bring out his fiddle and
accompany the Marquis. Tom, for first part, was more concerned with his
own relations with Nancy than with the mysterious possibilities of the
previous night. The poignant notes of the violin set his pulses to
beating in tune with the throbbing of the music and transported him again
into the realms of youthful dreams. They were quaint plaintive songs of
old France that the Marquis chose to play that evening, folk tunes of the
Vendée, love songs of olden time.

From where he sat in the shadow Tom got a full view of Nancy seated on
the oaken setlle near the fire. Her brows were drawn a little in deep
thought, her lips for the most part compressed, though ever and anon
relaxing at some gentler thought. Her hands were clasped, her head was
bent a little, but her body was held straight and tense. Her eyes, dark
and lustrous in the light of the flaming logs, always fixed upon the
musician, not once wandering in his direction.

What was the influence, the fascination that strange old Frenchman seemed
to exert? It seemed to Tom impossible that there could be a secret which
she felt necessary to hide from them, her lifelong friends. But apart
from what he knew had taken place the night before as he looked back over
the past month, he was conscious that there had been a change in Nancy, a
change that mystified him. It was the danger in this change, he told
himself, that had awakened in him the knowledge of his love.

But then as he looked across at her so lovely, in the firelight, he felt
again the thrill as when first he had taken her hand that afternoon. In
that moment all the dreams, the vague longings of his boyhood had found
their reality.

Suddenly, while he was thinking thus, the Marquis laid his violin upon
his knees. "Ah, _ma jeunnesse_!" he exclaimed in a dramatic whisper, "_et
maintenant_--_et maintenant_!"

For a moment no one spoke or stirred. They looked at him curiously as
they always did when he brought his playing to an end in such fashion.
Then he rose. "_Bon soir, madame; bon soir, messieurs; bon soir,

Tom saw his little faded blue eyes meet Nancy's with a look of swift
significance. Then he bowed with a flourish that included them all.

"A thousand thanks, Monsieur le Marquis," murmured Mrs. Frost, "how much
pleasure you give us!"

They all rose then, as the Marquis smiled his appreciation and withdrew.

"Give me your arm, Dan," the old lady said. "It must be past my bedtime.
Come, Nancy."

"Yes, mother." The girl rose wearily, stopping a moment at the
mantelpiece to snuff the candles there. Tom seized his opportunity, and
was by her side. She started, as she realized him near her.

"Nance, Nance, I must have a word with you," he exclaimed in a tense
whisper, "don't go!"

"Nance, come," called Mrs. Frost from the hall.

"Yes, Mother, I am coming ... I must go, Tom. Don't delay me. You know
how Mother is ..."

"What difference will it make if you wait a moment? Good Lord! Nance, I
have been trying all evening to get a word with you, and you have not so
much as given me a glance. Don't go--please don't go! Oh, Nancy dear,--I
love you so!"

He seized her hands and kissed them passionately. "Nance, Nance ...
please ..." His arms were about her.

"Tom, you make it so hard ... Remember, you promised me ... No word
of love until I can think, until I have time to know ... Please, Tom,
let me go."

"I can't let you go. Oh sweetheart dear."

"Tom, we musn't--Dan, Mother! ..."

Unheeding her protest, he put his arms around her. An instant he felt
her yield, then quickly thrusting him aside, she ran from the room,
leaving him standing alone there, trembling with excitement, chagrin,
happiness, alarm.

In a moment his friend returned and Tom pulled himself together. "Come
on," said Dan, "I have a lot to tell you."

"Did you find anything this afternoon?" exclaimed Pembroke.

"Sh! for heaven's sake be careful. Don't talk here. Let's go upstairs."

A few minutes later they were closeted in Dan's chamber. The curtains
were tightly drawn and a heavy quilt was hung over the door. Good Lord!
thought Tom, could it be possible that these precautions in part at least
were taken against Nancy. The world seemed to have turned upside down for
him in the last twenty-four hours.

"Aren't we going to keep watch to-night?" he asked.

"Yes, but later. They are just getting to bed--or pretending to. Look
here, this may throw light on the mystery. I found this paper in a secret
cubby-hole in the old cabinet in the Oak Parlour. Draw a chair up to the
table so that you can see."

"The cabinet," he continued, as he took the paper out of his strong-box
and began to unfold it, "was brought from some old manor house in
England. It has four little secret cubby-holes, opened by hidden springs,
that Mother says were probably used by the Roman Catholics to hide pages
of their mass-books during the days of persecution. She remembered
fortunately a little about them. They were all empty but one, and in that
I found this torn scrap of paper."

He handed the yellowed bit of writing to Tom, who flattened it out on the
table before him.

"Why it's written in French," Pembroke exclaimed, as he bent over to
examine it.

"Yes, I know it is," said Dan. "I can't make head or tail of it. Besides
it seems to be only a part of a note or letter. I could hardly wait to
give you a chance at it. You can make something of it, can't you?"

"I don't know--I guess I can. It's hard to read the handwriting. The
thing's torn in two--haven't you the rest of it?"

"No, I tell you; that's all I could find; that's all, I am sure, that can
be in the cabinet now. My theory is that the old marquis has somehow come
across the other half and is still looking for this. God only knows who
hid it there.

"How the deuce could the Marquis know about it. Ah! look--it's signed
somebody, something _de Boisdhyver_--'_ançois_--that's short for
François, I guess. Evidently 't wasn't the Marquis himself. Wonder what
it means?"

For goodness' sake, try to read it."

"Wait. Get that old French dictionary out of the bookcase downstairs,
will you? I'll see if I can translate."

Dan crept softly out, leaving Tom bent over the paper. Again he smoothed
it out carefully on the table, bringing the two candles nearer, and tried
to puzzle out the faint fine handwriting.

"I can make out some of it," he remarked to Dan, when his friend returned
with the dictionary. "Let me have that thing; there are a few words I
don't know at all, but I'll write out as good a translation as I can."

While Tom was busy with the dictionary, Dan placed writing materials to
his hand, and sat down to wait as patiently as he could. His curiosity
was intensified by Pembroke's occasional exclamations and the absorption
with which he bent over the task.

"There!" Tom exclaimed after half-an-hour's labour, "that's the
best I can do with it. You see the original note was evidently torn
into two or three strips and we have only got the righthand one, so we
don't get a single complete sentence--, but what we have is mighty
suggestive. Listen--This is what it says: Make great efforts ... gap ...
glorious, I am about to leave' ... gap ... 'to offer my' ... gap ...
'that I should not return' ... gap ... 'directions' ... gap ... 'this
paper which I tear' ... gap ... 'the explanation' ... something
missing ... 'to discover' ... that's the end of a sentence. The next one
begins, 'This treasure' ... than another gap ... 'jewels and money' ...
'secret chamber' ... 'one can enter' ... something gone here ... 'by the
_salon de chene_'--that's the Oak Parlour, I suppose ... something
missing again ... 'by a spring' ... 'hand of the lady in the picture' ...
'chimney on the north side of the' ... 'side a panel which reveals' ...
'one will find the directions' ... more missing ... 'of the treasure in a
golden chest' ... That's the end of it. And, as I said before it is
signed,--'ançois de Boisdhyver.' There, you can read it. That's the best
I can make of it."

Dan bent over his friend's translation. "Whoever wrote it was
about to leave here to offer something to somebody, and if he did
not return, apparently he is giving directions, in this paper, which
he tears in to two or three parts, how to discover--a treasure?--jewels
and money, I guess,--that he is about to hide or has hidden in a secret
chamber, which is entered in some way from the Oak Parlour--? ... pushes
a spring,--Something to do with the hand of the lady in the picture,
near the chimney on the north side of the room ... then a panel which
reveals ...where? ... the directions will be found, for getting the
treasure, in a golden chest in the secret chamber? How's that for a
version? I reckon the other half doesn't tell as much ...'ançois de
Boisdhyver!--That can't be the Marquis, for none of his names end
'ançois; do they? Let's see, what are they?--Marie, Anne, Timélon,
Armand ... Tom,"--and Dan faced his friend excitedly,--"that old devil is
after treasure! Who the deuce is 'ançois de Boisdhyver, and how did he
come to leave money in the Oak Parlour? Hanged if I believe there's any
secret chamber! By gad, man, if I didn't hurt when I pinch myself, I'd
think I was asleep and dreaming. What do you make of it?"

"Pretty much what you do. Somebody sometime,--a good many years ago,
concealed some valuables here in the Inn. It must be some one who is
connected with our marquis, for the last names are the same. These are
directions, or half the directions, for finding it. The Marquis knows
enough about it to have been hunting for this paper. Who the devil is
the Marquis?"

"The Lord knows. But how does Nance come in?"

"Blamed if I can see; wish I could! This accounts for the Marquis's
mysterious investigations, anyway. Probably he's no right to the paper.
Maybe he isn't a Boisdhyver at all. I'll be damned if I can understand
how he has got Nance to league with him."

"And now what the deuce are we going to do about it?" asked Dan.

"Hunt for the treasure ourselves, eh?"

"Well, why not? but to do that we've got to get rid of the Marquis. He'll
be suspicious if we begin to poke about the north wing. Hanged if I
wouldn't like to have it all out with him!"

"Yes, but we'd better think and talk it over before we decide to do
anything. We can watch them. We'll watch to-night any way, and plan
something definite to-morrow."

"I tell you one thing, Tom, I am going to make Mother tell me all she
knows about Nancy. Perhaps she is mixed up in some way with all this. But
it's time to keep watch now. We'll put out the candles and I'll watch for
the first two hours. If you go to sleep, I'll wake you up to take the
next turn. How about it?"

"Hang sleep!" Tom replied.

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