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slightly, and took up the narrative, as she paused for words.

“I saw Miss Standish and yourself, at Miami, this morning,” said he, “and the collie, here, on the back seat of your car. Then, this afternoon, as I was walking out in this direction, I saw the dog again. I recognized him, and I guessed he had strayed. So he and I made friends. And as we were strolling along together, we met Miss Standish. At least, I met her. Bobby met a prematurely gray Persian cat, with the dreamy Bagdad name of ‘Simon Cameron.’ By the time the dog and cat could be sorted out from each other–“

“Oh, I see!” laughed Milo. “And I don’t envy you the job of sorting them. It was mighty kind of you to–“

He broke off and added, with a tinge of anxiety:

“You say you happened to be walking near here. Are you a neighbor of ours?”

“Not yet,” answered Gavin, with almost exaggerated simplicity. “But I was hoping to be. You see I was out looking for a job in this neighborhood.”

“A job?” repeated Milo, then, suspiciously: “Why in this neighborhood, rather than any other? You say you were at Miami–“

“Because this chanced to be the neighborhood I was wandering in,” replied Gavin. “As I explained to Miss Standish, I’d rather do some kind of outdoor work. Preferably farm work. That’s why I left Miami. There seemed to be lots of farms and groves, hereabouts.”

“Yet you were on your way back toward Miami, when Bobby overtook you? Rather a long walk, for–“

“A long walk,” gravely agreed Brice. “But safer sleeping quarters when one gets there. Up North, one can take a chance, and sleep in the open, almost anywhere except on a yellow-jacket’s nest. Down here, I’ve heard, rattlesnakes are apt to stray in upon one’s slumbers. Out in the country, at least. There aren’t any rattlesnakes in the Royal Palm’s gardens. Besides, there’s music, and there’s the fragrance of night jasmine. Altogether, it’s worth the difference of ten or twelve miles of tramping.”

“You’re staying at the Royal Palm, then?”

“Near it,” corrected Brice. “To be exact, in the darkest corner of its big gardens. The turf is soft and springy. The solitude is perfect, too–unless some nightwatchman gets too vigilant.”

He spoke lightly, even airily, through his pain and weakness. But, as before, his every faculty was on guard. A born and trained expert in reading human nature, he felt this giant somehow suspected him and was trying to trap him in an inaccuracy. Wherefore, he fenced, verbally, calmly confident he could outpoint his clumsier antagonist.

“You don’t look like the kind of man who need sleep out of doors,” replied Standish, speaking slowly, as one who chooses his every word with care, and with his cold blue eyes unobtrusively scanning Gavin’s battered face. “That’s the bedroom for bums. You aren’t a bum. Even if your manner, and the way you fought out yonder, didn’t prove that. A bum doesn’t walk all this way and back, on a hot day, unless for a handout. And you–“

“But a handout is just what I asked for,” Gavin caught him up. “When I brought Bobby Burns back I traded on the trifling little service by asking Miss Standish if I could get a job here. It was impertinent of me, I know. And I was sorry as soon as I’d done it. But she told me, in effect, that you were ‘firing, not hiring.’ So I–“

“Why did you want a job with me?” insisted Standish. “Rather than with any of a dozen farmers or country house people along here?”

And, this time, any fool could have read the stark suspicion in his tone and in the hard blue eyes.

“For several reasons,” said Brice, coolly. “In the first place, I had brought home your dog. In the second, I had taken a fancy to him, as he had to me, and it would be pleasant working at a place where I could be with such a chum. In the third place, Miss Standish was kind enough to say pretty much the same things about me that you’ve just said. She knew I wasn’t a tramp, who might be expected to decamp with the lawn-mower or the spoons. Another landowner might not have been so complimentary, when I applied for work and had no references. In the fourth, you seem to have a larger and more pretentious place here than most of your near neighbors. I–I can’t think of any better reasons, just now.”

“H’m!” mused Standish, frowning down on the recumbent man, and then looking across in perplexity at Claire.

What he read in the girl’s eyes seemed to shame him, just a little. For, as he turned back to Gavin, there was an apologetic aspect on his bearded face. Brice decided to force the playing. Before his host could speak or Claire could interfere, he rose to a sitting position, with some effort and more pain, and, clutching the head of the couch, lurched to his feet.

“No, no!” called Claire, running forward to support him as he swayed a bit. “Don’t try to stand! Lie down again! You’re as white as a ghost.”

But Gavin drew courteously away from her supporting arm and faced Milo.

“I can only thank you,” said he, “for patching me up so well. I’m a lot better, now. And I’ve a long way to go. So, I’ll be starting. Thanks, again, both of you. I’m sorry to have put you to so much bother.” He reeled, cleverly, caught at the couch-head again, and took an uncertain step toward the door. But now, not only Claire but her brother barred his way.

“Don’t be an idiot!” stormed Milo. “Why, man, you couldn’t walk a hundred yards, with that groggy head on your shoulders! You’re all beaten up. You’ll be lucky if you’re on your feet in another three days. What sort of cur do you think I am, to let you go like this, after all you’ve done for me, to-night? You’ll stay with us till to-morrow, anyhow. And then, if you still insist on going back to Miami, I’ll take you there in the car. But you’re not going a step from here, to-night. I–“

Gavin strove to mutter a word of disclaimer, to take another wavering stride toward the front door. But his knees gave away under him. He swayed forward, and must have fallen, had not Milo Standish caught him.

“Here,” Milo bade his sister, as he laid the limp body back on the couch. “Go and tell the maids to get the gray room ready as quickly as possible. I’ll carry him up there. It was rotten of me to go on catechizing him, like that, and letting him see he was unwelcome. But for him, I’d be–“

“Yes,” answered Claire, over her shoulder, as she hurried on her errand. “It was ‘rotten.’ And more than that. I kept trying to signal you to stop. You’ll you’ll give him work, here, won’t you, please?”

“We’ll talk about that, afterward,” he said, ungraciously. “I suppose it’s the only thing a white man can do, after the chap risked his life for me, to-night. But I’d rather give him ten times his wages–money to get out and keep out.”

“Thanks, neighbor!” said Brice, to himself, from the depths of his stage-faint. “I’ve no doubt you would. But the cards are running the other way.”

Again, his eyes apparently shut, he watched through slitted lids the progress of Claire, as she passed out of the hall, toward the kitchen quarters. She was leading the reluctant Bobby Burns away, by the collar. Standish was just behind her, and had his back turned to Gavin. But he glanced at him, suddenly, over his shoulder, and then strode swiftly forward to close the door which Claire had left open behind her on her way to the kitchen wing of the house.

Something in the big man’s action aroused in Brice the mystic sixth sense he had been at much pains to develop,–a sense which often enabled him to guess instinctively at an opponent’s next probable move. As Milo took his first step toward the open door, Brice went into action.

Both hands slipped into his pockets, and out again. As he withdrew them, one hand held his battered but patently solid gold watch. The other gripped his roll of bills and as much of his small change as he had been able to scoop up in one rapid grab.

On the stand at the head of the couch reposed a fat tobacco jar and pipes. The jar was more than half full. Into it, Gavin Brice dumped his valuables, and with a clawing motion, scraped a handful of loose tobacco over them. Then he returned to his former inertly supine posture.

The whole maneuver had not occupied three seconds. And, by the time Standish had the door closed and had started back toward the couch, the watch and money were safe-hidden. At that, there had been little enough time to spare. It had been a matter of touch-and-go. Nothing but the odd look he had read in Milo’s face as Standish had glanced at him over his shoulder, would have led Brice to take such a chance. But, all at once, it had seemed a matter of stark necessity.

The narrow escape from detection set his strained nerves to twitching. He muttered to himself:

“Come along then, you man-mountain! You wanted to get your sister out of the way, so you could go through my clothes and see if I was lying about being flat broke and if I had any incriminating papers on me. Come along, and search! If I hadn’t brains enough to fool a chucklehead, like you, I’d go out of the business and take in back-stairs to clean!”

Milo was approaching the couch, moving with a stealthy lightness, unusual in so large a man. Leaning over the supposedly unconscious Gavin, he ran his fingers deftly through Brice’s several pockets. In only two was he lucky to find anything.

From a trousers pocket he exhumed seventy-eight cents. From the inner pocket of the coat he extracted a card, postmarked “New York City,” and addressed to “Gavin Brice, General Delivery, Miami, Florida.” The postcard was inscribed, in a scrawling hand:

“Good time and good luck and good health to you, from us all. Jack 0’G.”

Gavin knew well the contents of the card, having written it and mailed it to himself on the eve of his departure from the North. It was as mild and noncommittal a form of identification as he could well have chosen.

Standish read the banal message on the soiled card, then restored cash and postal to their respective pockets. After which he stood frowning down in puzzled conjecture on the moveless Gavin.

“Well, old chap!” soliloquized Brice. “If that evidence doesn’t back up all I said about myself, nothing will. But, for the Lord’s sake, don’t help yourself to a pipeful of tobacco, till I have time to plant the loot deeper in the jar!”

He heard the light footfalls of women, upstairs, where Claire, in person, seemed to be superintending the arrangement of his room. At the sound, a twinge of compunction swept Brice. But, at memory of her brother’s stealthy ransacking of an unconscious guest’s clothes, the feeling passed, leaving only a warm battlethrill.

Drowsily, he opened his eyes, and stared with blank wonder up at Milo. Then, shamefacedly, he mumbled:

“I–I hope I wasn’t baby enough to–to keel over, Mr. Standish?”

“That’s all right,” answered Milo. “It was my fault. I was a boor. And, very rightly, you decided you didn’t care to stay any longer under my roof. But your strength wasn’t up to your spirit. So you fainted. I want to apologize for speaking as I did. I’m mighty grateful to you, for your service to me, this evening. And my sister and I want you to stay on here, for the present. When you’re feeling more like yourself, we’ll have a chat about that job. I think we can fix it, all right. Nothing big, of course. Nothing really worth your while. But it may serve as a stopgap, till you get a chance to look around you.”

“If nothing better turns up,” suggested Brice, with a weak effort at lightness, “you might hire me as a bodyguard.”

“As a–a what?” snapped Milo, in sharp suspicion, the geniality wiped from face and voice with ludicrous suddenness. “A–?”

“As a bodyguard,” repeated Gavin, not seeming to note the change in his host. “If you’re in the habit of being set upon, often, as you were, this evening you’ll be better off with a good husky chap to act as-“

“Oh, that?” scoffed Milo, in ponderous contempt. “That was just some panhandler, who thought he might knock me over, from behind, and get my watch and wallet. The same thing isn’t likely to happen again in a century. Florida is the most law-abiding State in the Union. And Dade County is perhaps the most law-abiding part of Florida. One would need a bodyguard in New York City, more than here. There have been a lot of holdups there.”

Gavin did not reply. His silence seemed to annoy Milo who burst forth again, this time with a tinge of open amusement in his contempt:

“Besides–even if there were assassins lurking behind every bunch of palmetto scrub, in the county–do you honestly think a man of your size could do very much toward protecting me? I’m not bragging. But I’m counted one of the strongest men in–“

“To-night,” said Brice, drily, “I managed to be of some slight use. Pardon my mentioning it. If I hadn’t been there, you’d be carrying eight inches of cold steel, between your shoulders. And–pardon me, again–if you’d had the sense to stay out of the squabble a second or so longer, the man who tackled you would be either in jail or in the morgue, by this time. I’m not oversized. But neither is a stick of dynamite. An automatic pistol isn’t anywhere as big as an old-fashioned blunderbuss. But it can outshoot and outkill the blunderbuss, with very little bother. Think it over. And, while you’re thinking, stop to think, also, that a ‘panhandler’ doesn’t do his work with a knife. He doesn’t try to stab a man to death, for the sake of the few dollars the victim may happen to have in his pockets. That sort of thing calls for pluck and iron nerves and physical strength. If a panhandler had those, he wouldn’t be a panhandler. Any more than that chap, to-night, was a panhandler. My idea of acting as a bodyguard for you isn’t bad. Think it over. You seem to need one.”

“Why do you say that?” demanded Milo, in one of his recurrent flashes of suspicion.

“Because,” said Gavin, “we’re living in the twentieth century and in real life, not in the dark ages and in a dime novel. Nowadays, a man doesn’t risk capital punishment, lightly, for the fun of springing on a total stranger, in the dark, with a razor-edge knife. Mr. Standish, no man does a thing like that to a stranger, or without some mighty motive. It is no business of mine to ask that motive or to horn in on your private affairs. And I don’t care to. But, from your looks, you’re no fool. You know, as well as I do, that that was no panhandler or even a highwayman. It was an enemy whose motive for wanting to murder you, silently and surely, was strong enough to make him willing to risk death or capture. Now, when you say you don’t need a bodyguard–Well, it’s your own business, of course. Let it go at that, if you like.”

Long and silently Milo Standish looked down at the nonchalant invalid. Above, the sounds of women’s steps and an occasional snatch of a sentence could be heard. At last, Milo spoke.

“You are right,” said he, very slowly, and as if measuring his every word. “You are right. There are one or two men who would like to get this land and this house and–and other possessions of mine. There is no reason for going into particulars that wouldn’t interest you. Take my word. Those reasons are potent. I have reason to suspect that the assault on me, this evening, is concerned with their general plan to get rid of me. Perhaps–perhaps you’re right, about my need of a bodyguard. Though it’s a humiliating thing for a grown man–especially a man of my size and strength–to confess. We’ll talk it over, tomorrow, if you are well enough.”

Brice nodded, absently, as if wearied with the exertion of their talk. His eyes had left Milo’s, and had concentrated on the man’s big and hairy hands. As Milo spoke of the supposititious criminals who desired his possessions enough to do murder for them, his fists clenched, tightly. And to Brice’s memory came a wise old adage:

“When you think a man is lying to you, don’t watch his face. Any poker-player can make his face a mask. Watch his hands. Ten to one, if he is lying, he’ll clench them.”

Brice noted the tightening of the heavy fists. And he was convinced. Yet, he told himself, in disgust, that even a child of six would scarce have needed such confirmation that the clumsily blurted tale was a lie.

He nodded again, as Milo looked at him with a shade of anxiety.

The momentary silence was broken by footsteps on the stairs. Claire was descending. Brice gathered his feet under him and sat upright. It was easier, now, to do this, and his head had recovered its feeling of normality, though it still ached ferociously.

At the same instant, through the open doorway, from across the lawn in the direction of the secret path, came the quaveringly sweet trill of a mocking bird’s song. Despite himself, Gavin’s glance turned toward the doorway.

“That’s just a mocker,” Milo explained, loudly, his face reddening as he looked in perturbation at his guest. “Sweet, isn’t he? They often sing, off and on, for an hour or two after dark.”

“I know they do,” said Gavin (though he did not say it aloud). “But in Florida, the very earliest mocking bird doesn’t sing till around the first of March. And this isn’t quite the middle of February. There’s not a mocking bird on the Peninsula that is singing, yet. The very dulcet whistler, out yonder, ought to make a closer study of ornithology. He–“

Brice’s unspoken thought was shattered. For, unnoticed by him, Milo Standish had drawn forth, with tender care, an exquisitely carved and colored meerschaum pipe from a case on the smoking-stand, and was picking up the fat tobacco jar.

CHAPTER IV

THE STRANGER FROM NOWHERE

For a moment, Brice stared agape and helplessly flustered, as Standish proceeded to thrust his meerschaum’s rich-hued bowl into the tobacco jar. Then, apparently galvanized into action by the approach of Claire from the stairway, he stepped rapidly forward to meet her.

As though his shaky powers were not equal to the task he reeled, lurched with all his might against the unprepared Standish and, to regain his balance, took two plunging steps forward.

He had struck Milo at such an angle as to rap the latter’s right elbow with a numbing force that sent the pipe flying half way across the hall. The tobacco jar must have gone too, had not one of Gavin’s outflung hands caught it in mid-air, as a quarterback might catch a football.

Unable to recover balance and to check his own momentum. Brice scrambled awkwardly forward. One stamping heel landed full on the fallen meerschaum, flattening and crumbling the beautiful pipe into a smear of shapeless clay-fragments.

At the sight. Milo Standish swore loudly and came charging forward in a belated hope of saving his beloved pipe from destruction. The purchase of that meerschaum had been a joy to Milo. Its coloring had been a long and careful process. And now, this bungler had smashed it into nothingness!

Down on hands and knees went the big man, fumbling at the fragments. Claire, knowing how her brother valued the pipe, ran to his side in eager sympathy.

Gavin Brice came to a sliding standstill against a heavy hall-table. On this he leaned heavily for a moment or so above the tobacco jar he had so luckily salvaged from the wreckage. His back to the preoccupied couple he flashed his sensitive fingers into the jar, collecting and thrusting into his pockets the watch and the thick roll of bills and as much of the small change as his fast-groping fingertips could locate.

By the time Milo looked up in impotent wrath from his inspection of the ruined meerschaum. Gavin had turned toward him and was babbling a torrent of apology for his own awkwardness. Milo was glumly silent as the contrite words beat about his ears. But Claire, shamed by her brother’s ungraciousness, spoke up courteously to relieve the visitor’s dire embarrassment.

“Please don’t be unhappy about it. Mr. Brice,” she begged. “It was just an accident. It couldn’t be helped. I’m sure my brother–“

“But–” stammered Gavin.

“Oh, it’s all right!” grumbled Milo. scooping up the handful of crushed meerschaum. “Let it go at that. I–“

Again. the mocking bird notes fluted forth through the early evening silences, the melody coming as before from the direction of the grove’s hidden path. Milo stopped short in his sulky speech. Brother and sister exchanged a swift glance. Then Standish got to his feet and approached Gavin.

“Here we’ve kept you up and around when you’re still too weak to move without help!” he said in very badly done geniality. “Take my arm and I’ll help you upstairs. Your room’s all ready for you. If you’d rather I can carry you. How about it?”

But a perverse imp of mischief entered Gavin Brice’s aching head.

“I’m all right now,” he protested. “I feel fifty per cent better. I’d much rather stay down here with you and Miss Standish for a while, if you don’t mind. My nerves are a bit jumpy from that crack over the skull, and I’d like them to quiet down before I go to bed.”

Again. he was aware of that look of covert anxiety. between sister and brother. Claire’s big eyes strayed involuntarily toward the front door. And her lips parted for some word of urgence. But before she could speak. Milo laughed loudly and caught Gavin by the arm.

“You’ve got pluck, Brice!” he cried admiringly. “You’re ashamed to give up and go to bed. But you’re going just the same. You’re going to get a good night’s rest. I don’t intend to have you fall sick. from that tap I gave you with the wrench. Come on! I’ll bring you some fresh dressings for your head by the time you’re undressed.”

As he talked he passed one huge arm around Gavin and carried, rather than led, him to the stairway.

“Good night, Mr. Brice,” called Claire from near the doorway. “I do hope your head will be ever so much better in the morning. If you want anything in the night. there’s a call-bell I’ve put beside your bed.”

Once more a dizzy weakness seemed to have overcome Gavin. For after a single attempt at resistance. he swayed and hung heavy on Standish’s supporting arm. He made shift to mumble a dazed good night to Claire. Then he suffered Milo to support him up the stairs and along the wide upper hall to the open doorway of a bedroom.

Even at the threshold he seemed too uncertain of his footing to cross the soft-lit room alone. And Milo supported him to the bed. Gavin slumped heavily upon the side of it, his aching head in his hands. Then, as if with much effort, he lay down, burying his face in the pillow.

Milo had been watching him with growing impatience to be gone. Now he said cheerily:

“That’s all right, old chap! Lie still for a while. I’ll be up in a few minutes to help you undress.”

Standish was hurrying from the room and closing the door behind him. even as he spoke. With the last word the door shut and Gavin could hear the big man’s footsteps hastening along the upper hall toward the stair-head.

Brice gave him a bare thirty seconds’ start. Then, rising with strange energy for so dazed and broken an invalid, he left the room and followed him toward the head of the stairs. His light footfall was soundless on the matting as he went.

He reached the top of the stairs just as Milo arrived at the bottom. Claire was standing in the veranda doorway shading her eyes and peering out into the darkness. But at sound of her brother’s advancing tread she turned and ran back to him, meeting him as he reached the bottom of the stair and clasping both hands anxiously about his big forearm.

She seemed about to break out in excited. even frightened speech, when chancing to raise her eyes. she saw Gavin Brice calmly descending from the hall above. At sight of him her eyes dilated. Milo had begun to speak. She put one hand warningly across her brother’s bearded mouth. At the same moment Gavin, halting midway on the stairs, said with deprecatory meekness:

“You didn’t tell me what time to be ready for breakfast. I’d hate to be late and–“

He got no further. Nor did he seek to. His ears had been straining to make certain of the ever approaching sound of footsteps across the lawn. Now an impatient tread echoed on the veranda, and a man’s figure blocked the doorway.

The newcomer was slender, graceful, with the form of an athletic boy rather than of a mature man. He was pallid and black eyed. His face had a classic beauty which, on second glance, was marred by an almost snakelike aspect of the small black eyes and a sinister smile which seemed to hover eternally around the thin lips. His whole bearing suggested something serpentine in its grace and a smoothly half-jesting deadliness.

So much the first glimpse told Brice as he stood thereon the stairs and surveyed the doorway. The second look showed him the man was clad in a strikingly ornate yachting costume. Gavin’s mind, ever taught to dissect trifles, noted that in spite of his yachtsman-garb the stranger’s face was untanned, and that his long slender hands with their supersensitive fingers were as white and well-cared-for as a woman’s.

Yachting, in Florida waters at any time of year, means either a thick coat of tan or an exaggerated sunburn. This yachtsman had neither.

Scarce taller than a lad of fifteen, yet his slender figure was sinuous in its every line, and its grace betokened much wiry strength. His face was that of a man in the early thirties,–all but his eyes. They looked as old as the Sphinx’s.

He stood for an instant peering into the room, trying to focus his night-accustomed eyes to the light. Evidently the first objects he saw clearly were Milo and Claire standing with their backs to him as they stared upward in blank dismay at the guest they had thought safely disposed of for the night.

“Well?” queried the man at the door, and at sound of his silken. bantering voice. brother and sister spun about in surprise. to face him.

“Well?” he repeated, and now there was a touch of cold rebuke in the silken tones. “Is this the way you keep a lookout for the signals? I might very well have walked in on a convention of half of Dade County, for all the guard that was kept. I compliment–“

And now he broke off short in his sneering reproof, as his eyes chanced upon Gavin half way down the stairs.

For a second or more no one spoke or moved. Claire and her brother had an absurdly shamefaced appearance of two bad children caught in mischief by a stern and much feared teacher. Into the black depths of the stranger’s eyes flickered a sudden glint like that of a striking rattlesnake’s. But at once his face was a slightly-smiling mask once more. And Gavin was left doubting whether or not he had really seen that momentary gleam of murder behind the smiling eyes. It was Claire who first recovered herself.

“Good evening. Rodney,” she said. with a graciousness which all-but hid her evident nerve strain. “You stole in on us so suddenly you startled me. Mr. Brice, this is Mr. Rodney Hade.”

As Gavin bowed civilly and as Hade returned the salutation with his eternal smile. Milo Standish came sufficiently out of his own shock of astonishment to follow his sister’s mode of greeting the new visitor. With the same forced joviality he had used in coercing Brice to go to bed, he sauntered over to the smiling Hade, exclaiming:

“Why, hello, old man! Where did you blow in from? You must have come across from your house on foot. I didn’t hear the car …. I want you to know Brice here. I was tackled by a holdup man outside yonder a while ago. And he’d have gotten me too, if Brice hadn’t sailed into him. In the scrimmage I made a fool of myself as usual, and slugged the wrong man with a monkey wrench. Poor Brice’s reward for saving my life. was a broken head. He’s staying the night with us. He–“

The big man had spoken glibly, but with a nervousness which, more and more, cropped out through his noisy joviality. Now, under the coldly unwavering smile of Hade’s snakelike eyes, he stammered, and his booming voice trailed away to a mumble. Again, Claire sought to mend the rickety situation. But now Gavin Brice forestalled her. Passing one hand over his bandaged forehead, he said:

“If you’ll forgive me having butted in. again. I’ll go up to my room. I’m pretty shaky, you see. I just wanted to know what time breakfast is to be, and if I can borrow one of your brother’s razors in the morning.”

“Breakfast is at seven o’clock,” answered Claire. “That’s a barbarously early hour, I suppose for a New Yorker like you. But down here from six to ten is the glorious part of the day. Besides, we’re farmers you know. Don’t bother to try to wake so early, please. I’ll have your breakfast sent up to you. Good night.”

“I’ll look in on you before I go to bed,” called Milo. after him as he started up the stairs for the second time. “And I’ll see that shaving things are left in your bathroom. Good night.”

Hade said nothing, but continued to pierce the unbidden guest with those gimlet-like smiling black eyes of his. His face was expressionless. Gavin returned to the upper hall and walked with needless heaviness toward the room assigned to him. Reaching its door he opened and then shut it loudly, himself remaining in the hallway. Scarce had the door slammed when he heard. from below Rodney Hade’s voice raised in the sharp question:

“What does this mean? You’ve dared to–?”

“What the blazes else could I do?” blustered Milo–though under the bluster ran a thread of placating timidity. “He saved my life, didn’t he? I was tackled by–“

“For one thing,” suggested Hade. “you could have hit a little harder with the wrench. If a blow is worth hitting at all it’s worth hitting to kill. You have the strength of an elephant, and the nerve of a sheep.”

“Rodney!” protested Claire, indignantly. “He–“

“I’ve seen his face. somewhere,” went on Hade unheeding. “I could swear to that. I can’t place it. yet. But I shall. Meantime get rid of him. And now I’ll hear about this attack on you …. Come out on the veranda. This hall reeks of iodine and liniment and all such stuff. It smells like a hospital ward Come outside.”

Despite the unvarying sweet smoothness of his diction. he spoke as if giving orders to a servant. But apparently neither of the two Standishes resented his dictation. For Brice could hear them follow Hade out of the house. And from the veranda presently came the booming murmur of Standish’s voice in a recital of some kind.

Gavin reopened his bedroom door and entered. Shutting the door softly behind him, he made a brief mental inventory of the room, then undressed and got into bed. Ten minutes later Miles Standish came into the room. carrying fresh dressings and a bottle of lotion. Gavin roused himself from a half-doze and was duly grateful for the dexterous applying of the new bandages to his bruised scalp.

“You work like a surgeon,” he told Milo.

“Thanks,” returned Standish drily, making no other comment on the praise.

His task accomplished Standish bade his guest a curt good night and left the room. A minute later Gavin got up and stole to the door to verify a faint sound he fancied he had heard. And he found he had been correct in his guess. For the door was locked from the outside.

Brice crept to the windows. The room was in darkness, and, unseen, he could look out on the darkness of the night. As he looked a faint reddish spot of fire appeared in the gloom, just at the beginning of the lawn. Some one, cigar in mouth, was evidently keeping a watch on his room’s windows. Gavin smiled to himself, and went back to bed.

“Door locked, windows guarded,” he reflected, amusedly. “I owe that to Mr. Hade’s orders. Seen me before, has he? I’ll bet my year’s income he’ll never remember where or when or how. At that he’s clever even to think he’s seen me. It looks as if I had let myself in for a wakeful time down here, doesn’t it? But I’m getting the tangled ends all in my hands,–as fast as I had any right to hope. That rap on the skull was a godsend. He can’t refuse me a job after my fight for him. No one could. I–oh, if it wasn’t for the girl this would be great! What can a girl, with eyes like hers, be doing in a crowd like this?

“I’d–I’d have been willing to swear she was–was–one of the women whom God made. And now–! Still, if a woman lets herself in for this kind of thing she can’t avoid paying the bill. Only–if I can save her without– Oh, I’m turning into a mushy fool in my old age! … And she sobbed when she thought I was killed! … I’ve got to get a real night’s rest if I want to have my wits about me to-morrow.”

He stretched himself out luxuriously in the cool bed, and in less than five minutes he was sleeping as sweetly and as deeply as a child. Long experience in the European trenches and elsewhere had taught him the rare gift of slumbering at will, a gift which had done much toward keeping his nerves and his faculties in perfect condition. For sleep is the keynote to more than mankind realizes.

The sun had risen when Gavin Brice awoke. Apart from stiffness and a very sore head his inured system was little the worse for the evening’s misadventures. A cold shower and a rubdown and a shave in the adjoining bathroom. cleared away the last mists from his brain.

He dressed quickly, glanced at his watch and saw the hour was not quite seven. Then he faced his bedroom door and hesitated.

“If he’s a born idiot,” he mused. “it’s still locked. If he isn’t it’s unlocked and the key has been taken away. I’ve made noise enough while I was dressing.”

He turned the knob. The door opened readily. The key was gone. In the hallway outside the room and staring up at him from widely shallow green eyes. sat Simon Cameron, the big Persian cat.

“That’s a Persian all over. Simon my friend,” said Brice, stooping down to scratch the cat’s furry head in greeting. “A Persian will sit for hours in front of any door that’s got a stranger behind it. And he’ll show more flattering affection for a stranger than for any one he’s known all his life. Isn’t that true. Simon?”

By way of response. the big cat rubbed himself luxuriously against the man’s shins, purring loudly. Then, at a single lithe spring he was on Gavin’s shoulder, making queer little whistling noises and rubbing his head lovingly against Brice’s cheek. Gavin made his way downstairs the cat still clinging to his shoulder, fanning his face with a swishing gray foxlike tail, digging curved claws back and forth into the cloth of his shabby coat, and purring like a distant railroad train.

Only when they reached the lower hallway did the cat jump from his shoulder and with a flying leap land on the top of a nearby bookcase. There, luxuriously,
Simon Cameron stretched himself out in a shaft of sunlight, and prepared for a nap.

Brice went on to the veranda. On the lawn, scarce fifty feet away, Claire was gathering flowers for the breakfast table. Very sweet and dainty was she in the flood of morning sunshine, her white dress and her burnished hair giving back waves of radiance from the sun’s strong beams.

At her side walked Bobby Burns. But, on first sound of Brice’s step on the porch, the collie looked up and saw him. With a joyous bark of welcome Bobby came dashing across the lawn and up the steps. Leaping and gamboling around Gavin. he set the echoes ringing with a series of trumpet-barks. The man paused to pet his adorer and to say a word of friendliness, then ran down the steps toward Claire who was advancing to meet him. Her arms were full of scarlet and golden blossoms.

“Are you better?” she called, noting the bandage on his head had been replaced by a neat strip of plaster. “I hoped you’d sleep longer. Bobby Burns ran up to your room and scratched at the door as soon as I let him into the house this morning. But I made him come away again. Are–“

“He left a worthy substitute welcoming-committee there, in the shape of Simon Cameron,” said Gavin. “Simon was overwhelmingly cordial to me, for a Persian …. I’m all right again, thanks,” he added. “I had a grand night’s rest. It was fine to sleep in a real bed again. I hope I’m not late for breakfast?”

A shade of embarrassment flitted over her eyes, and she made answer:

“My brother had to go into Miami on–on business. So he had breakfast early. He’ll hardly be back before noon he says. So you and I will have to breakfast without him. I hope you don’t mind?”

As there seemed no adequate reply to this useless question. the man contented himself with following her wordlessly into the cool house. She seemed to bring light and youth and happiness indoors with her, and the armful of flowers she carried filled the dim hallway with perfume.

Breakfast was a simple meal and soon eaten. Brice brought to it only a moderate appetite, and was annoyed to find his thoughts centering themselves about the slender white-clad girl across the table from him. rather than upon his food or even upon his plan of campaign. He replied in monosyllables to her pleasant table-talk, and when his eye chanced to meet hers he had an odd feeling of guilt.

She was so pretty, so little, so young, so adorably friendly and innocent in her every look and word! Something very like a heartache began to manifest itself in Gavin Brice’s supposedly immune breast. And this annoyed him more than ever. He told himself solemnly that this girl was none of the wonderful things she seemed to be, and that he was an idiot for feeling as he did.

To shake free from his unwonted reverie he asked abruptly, as the meal ended:

“Would you mind telling me why you drew a revolver on me last evening? You don’t seem the kind of girl to adopt Wild West tactics and to carry a pistol around with you here in peaceful Florida. I don’t want to seem inquisitive, of course, but ?”

“And I don’t want to seem secretive,” she replied. nervously. “All I can tell you is that my brother has–has enemies (as you know from the attack on him) and that he doesn’t think it is safe for me to go around the grounds alone, late in the day, unarmed. So he gave me that old pistol of his, and asked me to carry it. That was why he sent North for Bobby Burns– as a guard for me and for the place here. When I saw you appearing out of the swamp I–I took you for some one else. I’m sorry.”

“I’m not,” he made answer. “I–“

“You must have a charming idea of our hospitality,” she went on with a nervous little laugh. “First I threaten to shoot you. Then my brother stuns you. And both times when you are doing us a service.”

“Please!” he laughed. “And if it comes to that. what must you people think of a down-at-heel Yankee who descends on you and cadges for a job after he’s been told there’s no work here for him?”

“Oh, but there is!” she insisted. “Milo told me so. this morning. And you’re to stay here till he comes back and can talk things over with you. Would you care to walk around the farm and the groves with me? Or would the sun be bad for your head?”

“It would be just the thing my head needs most,” he declared. “Besides, I’ve heard so much of these wonderful Florida farms. I’m mighty anxious to inspect one of them. We can start whenever you’re ready.”

Ten minutes later they had left the lawn behind them, and had passed through the hedge into the first of the chain of citrus groves. In front of them stretched some fifteen acres of grapefruit trees.

“This is the worst soil we have,” lectured Claire. evidently keenly interested in the theme of agriculture and glad of an attentive listener. “It is more coral rock than anything else. That is why Milo planted it in grapefruit. Grapefruit will grow where almost nothing else will, you know. Why, last year wasn’t by any means a banner season. But he made $16,000 in gross profits off this one grapefruit orchard alone. Of course that was gross and not net. But it–“

“Is there so much difference between the two?” he asked innocently. “Down here, I mean. Up North, we have an idea that all you Floridians need do is to stick a switch into the rich soil, and let it grow. We picture you as loafing around in dreamy idleness till it’s time to gather your fruit and to sell it at egregious prices to us poor Northerners.”

“It’s a lovely picture,” she retorted. “And it’s exactly upside down, like most Northern ideas of Florida. When it comes to picking the fruit and shipping it North–that’s the one time we can loaf. For we don’t pick it or ship it. That’s done for us on contract. It’s our lazy time. But every other step is a fight. For instance, there’s the woolly white fly and there’s the rust mite and there’s the purple scale. and there are a million other pests just as bad. And we have to battle with them. all the time. And when we spray with the pumping engine. the sand is certain to get into the engine and ruin it. And when we–“

“I had no notion that–“

“No Northerners have,” she said, warming to her theme. “I wish I could set some of them to scrubbing orange-trunks with soap-and-water and spraying acre after acre, as we do, in a wild race to keep up with the pests, knowing all the time that some careless grove owner next door may let the rust mite or the black fly get the better of his grove and let it drift over into ours. Then there’s always the chance that a grove may get so infected that the government will order it destroyed, –wiped out …. I’ve been talking just about the citrus fruits, the grapefruit and the tangeloes and oranges and all that. Pretty much the same thing applies to all our crops down here. We’ve as many blights and pests and weather-troubles as you have in the North. And now and then, even in Dade County, we get a frost that does more damage than a forest fire.”

As she talked they passed out of the grapefruit grove, and came to a plantation of orange trees.

“These are the joy of Milo’s heart,” she said with real pride, waving her little hand toward the well-ranked lines of blossoming and bearing young trees. “Last year he cleared up from this five-acre plot alone more than–“

“Excuse me,” put in Gavin. “I don’t mean to be rude. But since he’s made such a fine grove of it and takes such pride in its looks. why doesn’t he send a man or two out here with a hoe, and get rid of that tangle of weeds? It covers the ground of the whole grove, and it grows rankly under every tree. If you’ll pardon me for saying so. it gives the place an awfully unkempt look. If–“

Her gay laugh broke in on his somewhat hesitant criticism.

“Say that to any Floridian,” she mocked, “and he’ll save you the trouble of looking for work by getting you admitted to the nearest asylum. Why Milo fosters those weeds and fertilizes them and even warns the men not to trample them in walking here. If you should begin your work for Milo by hoeing out any of these weeds he’d have to buy weed-seeds and sow them all over again. He–“

“Then there’s a market for this sort of stuff?” he asked, stooping to inspect with interest a spray of smelly ragweed. “I didn’t know–“

“No,” she corrected. “But the market for our oranges would slump without them. Here in the subtropics the big problem is water for moistening the soil. Very few of us irrigate. We have plenty of water as a rule. But we also have more than a plenty of sun. The sun sucks up the water and leaves the soil parched. In a grove like this the roots of the orange trees would suffer from it. These weeds shelter the roots from the sun, and they help keep the moisture in the ground. They are worth everything to us. Of course, in some of the fields we mulch to keep the ground damp. Milo bought a whole carload of Australian pine needles. last month at Miami. They make a splendid mulch. Wild hay is good. too. So is straw. But the pine needles are cheapest and easiest to get. The rain soaks down through them into the ground. And they keep the sun from drawing it back again. Besides, they keep down weeds in fields where we don’t want weeds. See!” she ended, pointing to a new grove they were approaching.

Gavin noted that here the orange tree rows were alternated with rows of strawberry plants.

“That was an idea of Milo’s, too,” she explained. “It’s ‘intercrop’ farming. And he’s done splendidly with it so far. He thinks the eel-worm doesn’t get at the berry plants as readily here as in the open, but he’s not sure of that yet. He’s had to plant cowpeas on one plot to get rid of it.”

“The experiment of intercropping orange trees with strawberries isn’t new,” said Brice thoughtlessly. “When the plants are as thick as he’s got them here. it’s liable to harm the trees in the course of time. Two rows, at most, are all you ought to plant between the tree-ranks. And that mulch over there is a regular Happy Home for crickets. If Standish isn’t careful–“

The girl was staring up at him in astonishment. And Gavin was aware for the first time that he had been thinking aloud.

“You see,” he expounded. smiling vaingloriously down at her. “I amused myself at the Miami library Saturday by browsing over a sheaf of Government plant reports. And those two solid facts stuck in my memory. Now. won’t I be an invaluable aide to your brother if I can remember everything else as easily?”

Still puzzled she continued to look up at him.

“It’s queer that a man who has just come down here should remember such a technical thing,” said she. “And yesterday you warned me against letting Bobby Burns wander in the palmetto scrub, for fear of rattlesnakes. I–“

“That deep mystery is also easy to solve,” he said. “In the smoker on the way South several men were telling how they had lost valuable hunting dogs. hereabouts from rattlesnakes. I like Bobby Burns. So I passed along the warning. What are those queer trees?” he asked shifting the dangerous subject. “I mean the ones that look like a mixture of horse-chestnut and–“

“Avocadoes,” she answered, interest in the task of farm guide making her forget her momentary bewilderment at his scraps of local knowledge. “They’re one of our best crops. Sometimes a single avocado will sell in open market here for as much as forty cents. There’s money in them, nearly always. Good money. And the spoiled ones are great for the pigs. Then the Northern market for them–“

“Avocadoes ?” he repeated curiously. “There! Now you see how much I know about Florida. From this distance. their fruits look to me exactly like alligator pears or–“

Again. her laugh interrupted him.

“If only you’d happened to look in one or two more government reports at the library,” she teased. “you’d know that an avocado and an alligator pear are the same thing.”

“Anyhow,” he boasted. picking up a gold-red fruit at the edge of a smaller grove. they were passing. “anyhow. I know what this is, without being told. I’ve seen them a hundred times in the New York markets. This is a tangerine.”

“In that statement,” she made judicial reply. “you’ve made only two mistakes. You’re improving. In the first place, that isn’t a tangerine, though it looks like one–or would if it were half as large. That’s a king orange. In the second place, you’ve hardly ever seen them in any New York market. They don’t transport as well as some other varieties. And very few of them go North. Northerners don’t know them. And they miss a lot. For the king is the most delicious orange in the world. And it’s the trickiest and hardest for us to raise. See, the skin comes off it as easily as off of a tangerine, and it breaks apart in the same way. The rust mite has gotten at this one. See that russet patch on one side of it? You’ll often see it on oranges that go North. Sometimes they’re russet all over. That means the rust mite has dried the oil in the skin and made the skin thinner and more brittle. It doesn’t seem to injure the taste. But it–“

“There’s a grand tree over toward the road,” he said. his attention wandering. “It must be nearly a century old. It has the most magnificent sweep of foliage I’ve seen since I left the North. What is it?”

“That?” she queried. “Oh, that’s another of Milo’s prides. It’s an Egyptian fig. ‘Ficus Something or other.’ Isn’t it beautiful? But it isn’t a century old. It isn’t more than fifteen years old. It grows tremendously fast. Milo has been trying to interest the authorities in Miami in planting lines of them for shade trees and having them in the city parks. There’s nothing more beautiful. And nothing, except the Australian pine, grows faster …. There’s another of Milo’s delights,” she continued, pointing to the left. “It’s ever so old. The natives around here call it ‘The Ghost Tree.'”

They had been moving in a wide circle through the groves. Now, approaching the house from the other side, they came out on a grassy little space on the far edge of the lawn. In the center of the space stood a giant live-oak towering as high as a royal palm, and with mighty boughs stretching out in vast symmetry on every side. It was a true forest monarch. And like many another monarch. it was only a ghost of its earlier grandeur.

For from every outflung limb and from every tiniest twig hung plumes and festoons and stalactites of gray moss. For perhaps a hundred years the moss had been growing thus on the giant oak, first in little bunches and trailers that were scarce noticeable and which affected the forest monarch’s appearance and health not at all.

Then year by year the moss had grown and had taken toll of the bark and sap. At last it had killed the tree on which it fed. And its own source of life being withdrawn itself had died.

So, now the gaunt tree with its symmetrical spread of branches stood lifeless. And its tons of low-hanging festooned moss was as void of life as was the tree they had killed. Tinder-dry it hung there, a beauteous, tragic, spectacle, towering high above the surrounding flatness of landscape, visible for miles by land and by sea.

Fifty yards beyond a high interlaced hedge of vines bordered the clearing. Toward this Gavin bent his idle steps, wondering vaguely how such a lofty and impenetrable wall of vine was supported from the far side.

Claire had stopped to call off Bobby Burns who had discovered a highly dramatic toad-hole on the edge of the lawn and who was digging enthusiastically at it with both flying fore-feet, casting up a cloud of dirt and cutting into the sward’s neat border. Thus she was not aware of Brice’s diversion.

Gavin approached the twenty-foot high vine-wall, and thrust his hand in through the thick tangle of leaves. His sensitive fingers touched the surface of a paling. Running his hand along. he found that the entire vine palisade was, apparently, backed by a twenty-foot stockade of solid boards. If there were a gate, it was hidden from view. It was then that Claire, looking up from luring Bobby Burns away from the toad-hole, saw whither Gavin had strayed.

“Oh,” she called. hurrying toward him. “That’s the enclosure Milo made years ago for his experiments in evolving the ‘perfect orange’ he is so daft about. He’s always afraid some other grower may take advantage of his experiments. So he keeps that little grove walled in. He’s never even let me go in there. So–“

A deafening salvo of barks from Bobby Burns broke in on her recital. The collie had caught sight of Simon Cameron mincing along the lawn, and he gave rapturous and rackety chase. Claire ran after them crying out to the dog to desist. And Gavin took advantage of the brief instant when her back was turned to him.

His fingers in slipping along the wall had encountered a rotting spot at the juncture of two palings. Pushing sharply against this he forced a fragment of the decayed wood inward. Then, quickly, he shoved aside the tangle of vines and applied one eye to the tiny aperture.

“A secret orange-grove. eh?” he gasped. under his breath. “Good Lord! Was she lying to me or did she actually believe him when he lied to her?”

CHAPTER V

TRAPS AND TRAPPER

To south and to southeast, the green-blue transparent sea. Within sight of the land, the purple-blue Gulf Stream,–a mystic warm river a half mile deep, thousands of miles long, traveling ever at a speed of eighty miles a day through the depth of the ocean, as distinct and as unswerving from its chosen course as though it flowed through land instead of through shifting water.

Studded in the milk-tepid nearer waters, innumerable coral islets and keys and ridges. Then the coral-built tongue of land running north without so much as a respectably large hillock to break its flatness. Along the coast the tawny beaches, the mangrove-swamps, the rich farms, the groves, the towns, the villages, the estates, snow-white Miami, the nation’s southernmost big city.

Back of this foreshore, countless miles of waving grass, rooted in water, and with a stray clump of low trees, dotted here and there, the Everglades, a vast marsh that runs north to the inland sea known as Lake Okeechobee. Then the solid sandy ground of the main State.

Along the foreshore, and running inland, miles of sand-barren scattered with gaunt pines and floored with harsh palmetto-scrub. Strewn here and there through this sandy expanse lovely oases, locally known as “hammocks”, usually in hollows, and consisting of several acres of rich soil where tropic and sub-tropic trees grow as luxuriantly as in a jungle, where undergrowth and vine run riot, where orchid and airplant and wondrous-hued flowers blaze through the green gloom of interlaced foliage.

This, roughly, is a bird’s-eye glimpse of the southeastern stretch of Florida, a region of glory and glow and fortunes and mystery. (Which is perhaps a momentary digression from our story, but will serve. for all that to fix its setting more vividly in the eyes of the mind.)

When Milo Standish came back from Miami that noon he professed much loud-voiced joy at seeing his guest so well recovered from the night’s mishaps. At lunch. he suggested:

“I am running across to Roustabout Key this afternoon. in the launch. It’s an island I bought a few years ago. I keep a handful of men there to work a grapefruit grove and a mango orchard and some other stuff I’ve planted. I go over to it every week or so. Would you care to come along?”

He spoke with elaborate carelessness, and looked anywhere except at his guest. Gavin, not appearing to note the concealed nervousness of his host’s voice and manner, gave eager consent. And at two o’clock they set forth.

They drove in Milo’s car a half-mile or more to southwestward along the road which fronted the house. Then turning into a sand byway which ran crookedly at right angles to it and which skirted the southern end of the mangrove-swamp, they headed for the sea. Another half-mile brought them to a handkerchief-sized beach, much like that on the other side of the swamp. where Gavin had found the hidden path. Here, on mangrove-wood piles, was a short pier with a boathouse at its far end.

“I keep my launch and my fishing-boats in there,” explained Milo. as he climbed out of the car. “If it wasn’t for that pesky swamp. I could have had this pier directly back of my house, and saved a lot of distance.”

“Why not cut a road through the swamp?” suggested Brice, following him along the pier.

Again Standish gave vent to that great laugh of his–a laugh outwardly jovial, but as hollow as a shell.

“Young man,” said he. “if ever you try to cut your way through an East Coast mangrove-swamp you’ll find out just how silly that question is. A swamp like that might as well be a quick-sand, for all the chance a mortal has of traveling through it.”

Gavin made no reply. Again, he was visualizing the cleverly engineered path from the beach-edge to Milo’s lawn. And he recalled Claire’s unspoken plea that he say nothing to Standish about his chance discovery of it. He remembered, too, the night-song of the mocking bird from the direction of that path, and the advent of Rodney Hade from it.

Milo had unlocked the boat-house, and was at work over a fifteen-foot steel motorboat which was slung on chains above the water. A winch and well-constructed pulleys-and-chains made simple the labor of launching it in so quiet a sea.

Out they fared into the gleaming sunlit waters of the bay. Far to eastward gleamed the white city of Miami, and nearer, across the bay from it the emerald stretch of key with Cape Florida and the old Spanish Light on its southern point and the exquisite “golden house” of Mashta shining midway down its shoreline. Miles to eastward gleamed the gray viaduct, the grain elevator outlines of the Flamingo rising yellow above a fire-blue sea.

“I used to hear great stories about this region years ago,” volunteered Brice as the launch danced over the transparent water past Ragged Keys and bore southward. “I heard them from a chap who used to winter hereabouts. It was he who first interested me in Florida. He says these keys and inlets and changing channels used to be the haunts of Spanish Main pirates.”

“They were,” said Milo. “The pirates knew these waters. The average merchant skipper didn’t. They’d build signal flares on the keys to lure ships onto the rocks, and then loot them. At least that was the everyday (or everynight) amusement of their less venturesome members and their women and children. The more adventurous used to overhaul vessels skirting the coast to and from Cuba and Central America. They’d sally out from their hiding-places among the keys and lie in wait for the merchant-ships. If the prey was weak enough they’d board and ransack her and make her crew walk the plank,–(that’s how Aaron Burr’s beautiful daughter is supposed to have died on her way North, you know,)–and if the ship showed fight or seemed too tough a handful the pirates hit on a surer way of capture. They’d turn tail and run. The merchant ship would give chase, for there were fat rewards out for the capture of the sea rovers, you know. The pirates would head for some strip of water that seemed perfectly navigable. The ship would follow, and would pile up on a sunken reef that the pirates had just steered around.”

“Clever work!”

“They were a thrifty and shrewd crowd those old-time black-flaggers. After they were wiped out the wreckers still reaped their fine harvest by signaling ships onto reefs at night. Their descendants live down among some of the keys still. We call them ‘conchs,’ around here. They’re an illiterate, uncivilized, furtive, eccentric lot. And they pick up some sort of living off wrecked ships and off what cargo washes ashore from the wrecks. A missionary went down there and tried to convert them. He found the ‘conch’ children already had religion enough to pray every night. ‘Lord, send a wreck!’ The conchs gather a lot of plunder every year. They–“

“Do they sell it or claim salvage on it. or–?”

“Not they. That would call for too much brain and education and for mixing with civilization. They wear it, or put it to any crazy use they can think of. For instance fifty sewing-machines were in the cargo of a tramp steamer bound from Charleston to Brazil one winter. She ran ashore a few miles south of here. The conchs got busy with the plunder. The cargo was a veritable godsend to them. They used the sewing machines as anchors for their boats. Another time a box of shoes washed ashore. They were left-hand shoes. all of them. The right-hand box must have landed somewhere else. And a hundred conchs blossomed forth with brand new shoes. They could wear the left shoe. of course, with no special bother. And they slit down the vamp of the shoe they put on the right foot, so their toes could stick out and not be cramped. A good many people think they still lure ships ashore by flares. But the lighthouse service has pretty well put a stop to that.”

“This chap I was speaking about,–the fellow who told me so much about this region,” said Gavin. “told me there is supposed to be pirate gold buried in more than one of these keys.”

“Rot!” snorted Milo with needless vehemence. “All poppycock! Look at it sanely for a minute, and you’ll see that all the yarns of pirate gold-including Captain Kidd’s–are rank idiocy. In the first place. the pirates never seized any such fabulous sums of money as they were credited with. The bullion ships always went under heavy man-o’-war escort. When pirates looted some fairly rich merchant ship there were dozens of men to divide the plunder among. And they sailed to the nearest safe port to blow it all on an orgy. Of course, once in a blue moon they buried or hid the valuables they got from one ship while they went after another. And if they chanced to sink or be captured and hanged during such a raid the treasure remained hidden. If they survived, they blew it. That’s the one off-chance of there ever being any buried pirate treasure. And there would be precious little of it. at that. A few hundred dollars worth at most. No, Brice. this everlasting legend of buried treasure is fine in a sea-yarn. But in real life it’s buncombe.”

“But this same man told me there were stories of bullion ships and even more modern vessels carrying a money cargo that sank in these waters, during storms or from running into reefs,” pursued Brice, with no great show of interest, as he leaned far overside for a second glimpse at a school of five-foot baracuda which-lay basking on the snowy surface of the sand. two fathoms below the boat. “That, at least, sounds probable. doesn’t it?”

“No,” snapped Milo flushing angrily and his brow creasing, “it doesn’t. These water are traversed every year by thousands of craft of all sizes. The water is crystal clear. Any wrecked ship could be seen at the bottom. Why, everybody has seen the hull of that old tramp steamer a few miles above here. It’s in deep water, at that. What chance–?”

“Yet there are hundreds of such stories afloat,” persisted Brice. “And there are more yarns of buried treasure among the keys than there are keys. For instance didn’t old Caesar, the negro pirate, hang out here. somewhere?”

Milo laughed again, this time with a maddening tolerance.

“Oh, Caesar?” said he. “To be sure. He’s as much a legend of these keys as Lafitte is of New Orleans. He was an escaped slave, who scraped together a dozen fellow-ruffians, black and white and yellow–mostly yellow–about a century ago, and stole a long boat or a broken-down sloop, and started in at the trade of pirate. He didn’t last long. And there’s no proof he ever had any special success. But he’s the sea-hero of the conchs. They’ve named a key and a so-called creek after him, and in my father’s time there used to be an old iron ring in a bowlder known as ‘Caesar’s Rock.’ The ring was probably put there by oystermen. But the conchs insisted Caesar used to tie up there. Then there’s the ‘Pirates’ Punchbowl,’ off Coconut Grove. Caesar is supposed to have dug that. He–“

An enormous sailfish–dazzlingly metallic blue and silver– broke from the calm water just ahead, and whirled high in air, smiting the bay again with a splash that sounded like a gunshot.

“That fellow must have been close to seven feet long,” commented Milo as the two men watched the churned water where the fish had struck. “He’s the kind you see when you aren’t trolling. He’s after a school of ballyhoos or mossbunkers …. There’s Roustabout Key just ahead,” he finished as their launch rounded an outcrop of rock and came in view of a mile-long wooded island a bare thousand yards off the weather bow.

A mangrove fringe covered the shoreline, two thirds of the way around the key. At the eastern end was a strip of snowy beach backed by an irregular line of coconut palms, and with a very respectable dock in the foreground. From the pier a wooden path led upward through the scattering double row of palms to a corrugated iron hut, with smaller huts and outbuildings half seen through the foliage-vistas beyond.

“I’ve some fairly good mango trees back yonder,” said Standish as he brought the launch alongside the dock’s wabbly float, “and grapefruit that is paying big dividends at last. The mangoes won’t be ripe till June, of course. But they’re sold already, to the last half-bushel of them.”

“‘Futures,’ eh?” suggested Gavin,

“‘Futures,'” assented Milo. “And ‘futures’ in farming. are just about as certain as in Wall Street. There’s a mighty gamble to this farm-game.”

“How long have–?” began Gavin, then stopped short and stared.

One or two negro laborers had drifted down toward the dock, as the boat warped in at the float. Now, from the corrugated iron hut appeared a white man, who, at sight of the boat, broke into a limping run and was in time to catch the line which Milo flung at him.

The man was sparsely and sketchily clad. At first. his tanned face seemed to be of several different colors and to have been modeled by some bungling caricaturist. Yet, despite this eccentricity of aspect, something about the obsequiously hurrying man struck Brice as familiar. And, all at once, he recognized him.

This was the big beach comber with whom Gavin had fought barely twenty-four hours earlier. The man bore bruises and swellings a-plenty on his rugged features, where Brice’s whalebone blows had crashed. And they had distorted his face almost past recognition. He moved, too, with manifest discomfort, as if all his huge body were as sore as his visage.

“Hello, Roke!!” hailed Milo genially, then in amaze. “what in thunder have you been doing to yourself? Been trying to stop the East Coast Flyer? Or did you just get into an argument with one of the channel dredges?”

“Fell,” said Roke. succinctly, jerking his thumb back toward the corrugated iron hut. “Climbed my roof to mend a leak. Fell. My face hit every bump. Then I landed on a pile of coconuts. I’m sore all over. I–“

He gurgled, mouthingly, as his swollen eyes chanced to light on Gavin Brice. who was just following Milo from the launch to the float. And his discolored and unshaven jaw went slack.

“Oh, Brice,” said Standish carelessly. “This is my foreman here, Perry Roke. As a rule he looks like other people, except that he’s bigger, just now his cravings for falling off corrugated roofs have done things to his face. Shake hands with him. If you like the job I’m going to offer you he and you will be side-partners over here.”

Gavin faced his recent adversary, grinning pleasantly up at the battered and scowling face, and noting that the knife sheath at Roke’s hip was still empty.

“Hello!” he said civilly, offering his hand.

Roke gulped again, went purple, and, with sudden furious vehemence, grabbed at the proffered hand, enfolding it in his own monstrous grip in an industrious attempt to smash its every bone.

But reading the intent with perfect ease. Brice shifted his own hand ever so little and with nimbly practised fingers eluded the crushing clasp, at the same time slipping his thumb over the heel of Roke’s clutching right hand and letting his three middle fingers meet at the exact center of that hand’s back. Then, tightening his hold, he gave an almost imperceptible twist. It was one of the first and the simplest of the tricks his jiu-jutsu instructor had taught him. And, as ever with an opponent not prepared for it, the grip served.

To the heedlessly watching Standish he seemed merely to be accepting the invitation to shake hands with Roke. But the next instant, under the apparently harmless contact, Roke’s big body veered sharply to one side. from the hips upward, and a bellow of raging pain broke from his puffed lips.

“Oh, I beg your pardon!” cried Brice in quick contrition: “You must have hurt your hand when you fell off that roof. I’m sorry if I made it worse.”

Nursing his wrenched wrist. Roke glowered hideously at the smiling Gavin. Brice could feel no compunction for his own behavior. For he remembered the hurled knife and the brutal kicking of the dog. Yet he repented him of the hand-twisting trick. For if he and Roke were expected to work together as Milo had said, he had certainly made a most unfortunate beginning to their acquaintanceship, and just now he had added new and painful aggravation to his earlier offense.

Milo was surveying the sufferer with no great pity, as Roke bent over his hurt wrist.

“Too bad!” commented Standish. “I suppose that will put a crimp in your violin-playing for a while.”

Turning to Gavin who looked in new surprise at the giant on hearing of this unexpected accomplishment. Milo explained:

“I hired Roke to run this key for me and keep the conchs and the coons at work. But I’ve got a pretty straight tip that, as soon as my back is turned, he cuts indoors and spends most of his day whanging at that disreputable old violin of his. And when Rodney Hade comes over here. I can’t get a lick of work out of Roke, for love or money. Hade is one of the best amateur violinists in America, and he’s daft on playing. He drops in here. every now and then–he has an interest with me in the groves–and as soon as he catches sight of Roke’s violin. he starts playing it. That means no more work out of Roke till Hade chooses to stop. He just stands, with his mouth wide open, hypnotized. Can’t drag him away for a second. Hey. Roke?”

Roke had ceased nursing his wrist and had listened with sheepish amusement to his employer’s guying. But at this question, he made answer:

“I’m here now.”

He jerked the thumb of his uninjured hand toward a spic- and-span launch which lay moored between two sodden scows, and then nodded in the direction of the corrugated iron hut among the trees.

Listening–though the wind set the wrong way for it–Brice could hear faintly the strains of a violin. played ever so softly and with a golden wealth of sweetness. Even at that distance, by listening closely, he could make out a phrase or so of Dvorak’s “Hiawatha” music from the “New World Symphony.” Milo’s loud laugh broke in on his audition and on the suddenly rapt look upon Roke’s bruised face.

“Come along!” said Standish, leading the way toward the house. “Music’s a fine thing, I’m told. But it doesn’t spray a grapefruit orchard or keep the scale off of mango trees. Come up to the house. I want to show you over the island and have a chat with you about the job I have in mind.”

As Milo strode on the two others fell in step behind him. Brice lowered his voice and said to the sulking Roke:

“That collie belongs to Mr. Standish. I did you a good turn it seems by keeping you from stealing him. You’d have been in a worse fix than you are now, if Mr. Standish had come over here to-day and found him on the island.”

Roke did not deign to reply, but moved a little farther from the speaker.

“At this rate,” said Brice pleasantly. “you and I are likely to have a jolly time together, out here. I can’ imagine a merrier chum for a desert island visit. I only hope I won’t neglect my work chatting with you all day.”

Roke eyed him obliquely as he plodded on, and his battered lip-corner lifted a little in what looked like a beast snarl. But he said nothing.

Then they were at the shallow porch of the hut and Milo Standish had thrown open its iron door letting out a gush of golden melody from the violin. At his hail. the music ceased. And Rodney Hade, fiddle in hand, appeared in the doorway.

“You’re late,” said the violinist, speaking to Milo with that ever-smiling suavity which Gavin recalled from the night before, and ignoring Gavin entirely “You’ve kept me waiting.”

Despite the smooth voice and the eternal smile there was an undernote of rebuke in the words, as of a teacher who reproves a child for tardiness. And, meekly, Standish replied:

“I’m sorry. I was detained at Miami. And lunch was late. I got here as soon as I could. I–“

With an impatient little wave of one white hand. Hade checked his excuses and dismissed the subject. In the same moment his snakelike black eyes fixed themselves on Brice whom he seemed to notice for the first time. The eyes were smiling. But he granted the guest no further form of salutation, as he asked abruptly:

“Where have I seen you before?”

“You saw me last night,” returned Gavin. still wondering at this man’s dictatorial attitude toward the aggressive Milo Standish and at Milo’s almost cringing acceptance of it. “I was at the Standishes. I was just starting for bed when you dropped in. Miss Standish introduced–“

“I’m not speaking about last night,” curtly interrupted Hade, though his voice was as soft as ever and his masklike face was set in its everlasting smile. “I mean, where did I run across you before last night?”

“Well. Mr. Bones,” answered Gavin with flippant insolence, “Dat am de question propounded. Where did you-all run acrost me befo’ las’ night?”

Milo and Roke stirred convulsively, as if scandalized that any one should dare speak with such impudence to Hade. Rodney himself all but lost the eternal smile from his thin lips: and his voice was less suave than usual as he said:

“I don’t care for impertinence, especially from employees. You will bear that in mind. Now you will answer my question. Where did I see you?”

“If you can’t remember,” countered Gavin. “you can hardly expect me to. I live in New York. I have lived there or thereabouts for a number of years. I was overseas–stationed at Bordeaux and then at Brest–for a few months in 1918. As a boy I lived on my father’s farm in northern New York State, near Manlius. That’s the best answer I can give you. If it will make you recall where you’ve seen me–all right. If not I’m afraid I can’t help you out. In any case what does it matter? I don’t claim to be anybody especial. I have no references. Mr. Standish knows that. If he’s willing to give me some sort of job in spite of such drawbacks. it seems to be entirely his affair.”

“The job I had–have–in mind for you,” spoke up Milo. at a glance from Hade, “is on this key, here. I need an extra man in the main storehouse to oversee the roustabouts there. At this season Roke is too busy outdoors to keep the right kind of eye on them. The pay won’t be large to start with. But if you make good at it. I may have something better to offer you on the mainland. Or I may not. In any case. I understand this is only a stopgap for you, and that you are down here for your health. If you are interested in the idea, well and good. If not–“

He paused and glanced at Hade as if for prompting. Throughout his harangue Standish had given Brice the impression of a man who recites a lesson taught him by another. Now Hade took up the tale.

“I think,” said he smilingly–his momentary impatience gone –“I think, before answering–in fact before coming down to terms and other details–you might perhaps care to stroll around the island a little, and get an idea of it for yourself. It may be you won’t care to stay here. It may be you will like it very much. Mr. Standish and I have some routine business to talk over with Roke. Suppose you take a walk over the place? Roke, assign one of the men to go with him and show him around.”

With instant obedience. Roke started for the door. Indeed, he had almost reached it before Hade ceased speaking. Gavin raised his brows at this swift anticipation of orders. And into his mind came an odd thought.

“You seemed surprised to see me this afternoon,” said he as he followed Roke to the porch and closed the door behind them. “Yet Mr. Hade had told you I was coming here. He had told you, and he had told you to have some one ready to show me over the island.”

As he spoke Gavin indicated with a nod a man who was trotting across the sandy clearing toward them.

“Didn’t know it was you!” grunted Roke. too surprised by the direct assertion to fence. “Said some feller would come with Mr. Standish. He–. How’d you know he told me?” he demanded in sudden angry bewilderment.

“There!” exclaimed Gavin admiringly. “I knew we’d chat along as lovingly as two turtle-doves when once we’d get really started. You’re quite a talker when you want to be, Rokie my lad! If only you didn’t speak as if you were trying to save words on a telegram. Here’s the chap you’d ordered to be cruising in the offing as my escort, eh?” as the barefoot roustabout reached the porch. “All right. Good-by.”

Leaving the grumbling and muttering Roke scowling after him. Brice stepped out onto the sand to meet the newcomer. The roustabout apparently belonged to the conch tribe of which Milo had spoken. Thin. undersized. swarthy. with features that showed a trace of negro and perhaps of Indian blood as well, he had a furtive manner and seemed to cringe away from the
Northerner as they set off across the clearing. toward the distant huts and still more distant orchards.

He was bareheaded and stoop-shouldered. Beyond a ragged pair of drill trousers–indescribably dirty–his only garment was a still dirtier and raggeder undershirt. His naked feet flapped awkwardly, like a turtle’s. He was not a pretty or prepossessing sight.

Across the clearing he pattered, head down, still cringing away from the visitor. As the two entered the shadows of the nearest grove Gavin Brice glanced quickly around him on all sides. The conch did the same. Then the two moved on with the same distance between them as before.

And as they went Gavin spoke. He spoke in a low tone. not moving his lips or looking directly toward the other man.

“Good boy. Davy!” he said, approvingly. “How did you get the job of taking me around? I was afraid I’d have to look for you.”

“Two other men were picked out to do it sir,” said the conch without slackening his pace or turning his head. “One after the other. One was a nigger. One was a conch. Both of ’em got sick. I paid ’em to. And I paid the nigger an extra five to tell Roke I’d be the best man to steer you. He said he’d been on jobs with me before. He and the conch are malingering in the sick shed. Ipecac. I gave it to ’em.”

“Good!” repeated Gavin. “Mighty good. Now what’s the idea?”

“You’re to be kept over here, sir,” said the conch. “I don’t know why. Roke told me you’re a chum of Hade’s, and that Hade’s doing it to have a bit of fun with you. So I’m to lead you around awhile, showing you the plant and such. Then I’m to take you to the second storage hut and tell you we’ve got a new kind of avocado stored in there, and let you go in ahead of me, and I’m to slam the spring-lock door on you.”

“Hm! That all, Davy?”

“Yes, sir. Except of course that it’s a lie. Hade don’t play jokes or have fun with any one. If he’s trying to keep you locked up here a while it’s most likely a sign he don’t want you on the mainland for some reason. Maybe that sounds foolish. But it’s all the head or tail I can make out of it, sir.”

“It doesn’t ‘sound foolish,'” contradicted Brice. “As it happens it’s just what he wants to do. I don’t know just why. But I mean to find out. He wants me away from a house over there. A house I had a lot of trouble in getting a foothold in. It’s taken me the best part of a month. And now I don’t mean to spend another month in getting back there.”

“No, sir,” said Davy, respectfully, still plodding on. in front with head and shoulders bent. “No, sir. Of course. But–if you’ll let me ask, sir–does Hade know? Does he suspicion you? If that’s why he’s framed this then Roustabout Key is no place for you. No more is Dade County. He–“

“No,” returned Gavin. smiling at the real terror that had crept into the other’s tone. “He doesn’t know. And I’m sure he doesn’t suspect. But he has a notion he’s seen me somewhere. And he’s a man who doesn’t take chances. Besides he wants me away from the Standish house. He wants every outsider away from it. And I knew this would be the likeliest place for him to maroon me. That’s why I sent you word …. I’m a bit wobbly in my beliefs about the Standishes,–one of them anyhow. Now, where’s this storehouse prison of mine?”

“Over there, sir, to the right. But–“

“Take me over there. And walk slowly. I’ve some things to say to you on the way, and I want you to get them straight in your memory.”

“Yes, sir,” answered the conch, shifting his course. so as to bring his steps in a roundabout way toward the squat storeroom. “And before you begin there’s an extra key to the room under the second packing box to the right. I made it from Roke’s own key when I made duplicates of all the keys here. I put it there this morning. In case you should want to get out, you can say you found it lying on the floor there. I rusted all the keys I made so they look old. He’ll likely think it’s an extra key that was lost somewhere in there.”

“Thanks,” said Gavin. “You’re a good boy. And you’ve got sense. Now listen:–“

Talking swiftly and earnestly. he followed Davy toward the square little iron building, the conch outwardly making no sign that he heard. For, not many yards away, a handful of conchs and negroes were at work on a half-completed shed.

Davy came to the store-room door, and opened it. Then. turning to Brice he said aloud in the wretched dialect of his class:

“Funny avocado fruits all pile up in yon. Mighty funny. Make yo’ laugh. Want to go see? Look!”

He swung wide the iron door and pointed to the almost totally dark interior.

“Funny to see in yon,” he said invitingly. “Never see any like ’em befo’. I strike light for you. Arter you, my boss.”

One or two men working on the nearby shed had stopped their labor and were glancing covertly toward them.

“Oh, all right!” agreed Brice. his uninterested voice carrying well though it was not noticeably raised. “It seems a stuffy sort of hole. But I’ll take a look at it if you like. Where’s that light you’re going to strike? It–“

As he spoke he sauntered into the storeroom. His lazy speech was cut short by the clangorous slamming of the iron door behind him. Conscientiously he pounded on the iron and yelled wrathful commands to Davy to open. Then when he thought he had made noise enough to add verity to his role and to free the conch from any onlooker’s suspicion he desisted.

Groping his way through the dimness to the nearest box. he sat down, philosophically, to wait.

“Well,” he mused sniffing in no approval at all at the musty air of the place and peering up at the single eight-inch barred window that served more for ventilation than for light. “Well, here we are. And here, presumably, we stay till Standish and Hade go back to the mainland. Then I’m to be let out by Roke, with many apologies for Davy’s mistake. There’ll be no way of getting back. The boats will be hidden or padlocked. And here I’ll stay, with Roke for a chum. till whatever is going on at Standish’s house is safely finished with. It’s a pretty program. If I can get away to-night without Roke’s finding it out till morning–“

His eyes were beginning to accustom themselves to the room. Its corners and farther reaches and most of its floor were still invisible. But, by straining his gaze, he could just make out the shapes of a crate or two and several packing boxes close to the wall. The central space was clear. In spite of the stuffiness. there was a damp chill to the gloomy place, by contrast to the vivid sunlight and the sweep of the trade-winds. outside.

Gavin stretched himself out at full length on the long box, and prepared to take a nap. First he reached toward the next box–the one under which Davy had told him the key was hidden- -and moved it an inch or so to make certain it was not full enough to cause him any especial effort in case he should not be released until next day and should have need of the key. Then he shut his eyes, and let himself drift toward slumber.

It was perhaps two hours later when he was roused from a light doze by hearing something strike the concrete floor of his prison. not six feet from his head. The thing had fallen with a slithering, uneven sound, such as might be made by the dropping of a short length of rope.

Brice sat up. He noted that the room was no longer light enough to see across. And he glanced in the direction of the window. Its narrow space was blocked by something. And as he looked he heard a second object slither to the floor.

“Some one’s dropping things down here through that ventilator,” he conjectured.

And at the same moment a third fall sounded, followed almost at once by a fourth. Then, for a second, the window space was clear, only to be blocked again as the person outside returned to his post. And in quick succession three more objects were sent slithering down to the floor. After which the window was cleared once more, and Brice could hear receding steps.

But he gave no heed to the steps. For as the last of the unseen things had been slid through the aperture. another sound had focused all his attention, and had sent queer little quivers up his spine.

The sound had been a long-drawn hiss.

And Gavin Brice understood. Now he knew why the softly falling bodies had slithered so oddly down the short distance between window and floor. And he read aright the slippery crawling little noises that had been assailing his ears.

The unseen man outside had thrust through the ventilator not less than seven or eight snakes, carried thither, presumably, in bags.

Crouching on his long box Gavin peered about him. Faintly against the dense gray of the shadowy floor. he could see thick ropelike forms twisting sinuously
to and fro, as if exploring their new quarters or seeking exit. More than once. as these chanced to cross one another’s path, that same long-drawn hiss quavered out into the dark silences.

And now Brice’s nostrils were assailed by a sickening smell as of crushed cucumbers. And at the odor his fists tightened in new fear. For no serpents give off that peculiar odor. except members of the pit-viper family.

“They’re not rattlesnakes,” he told himself. “For a scared or angry rattler would have this room vibrating with his whirr. We’re too far south for copperheads. The–the only other pit-viper I ever heard of in Florida is the–cotton-mouth moccasin!”

At the realization he was aware of a wave of physical terror that swept him like a breath of ice.

Without restoratives at hand the moccasin’s bite is certain death. The plan had been well thought out. At the very first step the frantic prisoner might reasonably be relied on to encounter one or more of the crawling horrors. The box on which he crouched was barely eighteen inches high. The next box–under which rested the key–was several feet away. The door was still farther off.

Truly Standish and Hade appeared to have hit on an excellent plan for getting rid of the man they wanted out of the way! It would be so easy for Roke to explain to possible inquirers that Brice had chanced to tread on a poisonous snake in his wanderings about the key!

The slightest motion might well be enough to stir to active hostility the swarm of serpents already angered by their sudden dumping into this clammy den.

Weaponless, helpless, the trapped man crouched there and waited,

CHAPTER VI

IN THE DAY OF BATTLE

As Gavin Brice sat with feet drawn up under him, listening to the gruesome slither of the mocca sinsalong the concrete floor just below he was gripped for a minute by irresistible terror. It was all so simple–so complete! And he had been calmly self-confident of his ability to command the situation, to play these people’s own game and to beat them at it. Grinning and open-eyed he had marched into the trap. He had been glad to let Hade and Standish think him safely out of their way, and had planned so confidently to return by stealth to the mainland that night and to Milo’s house!

And now they had had absolutely no difficulty in caging him, and in arranging that he should be put forever out of their way. The most stringent inquiry–should any such be made –could only show that he had been bitten once or more by a deadly snake. Any post-mortem would bear out the statement.

It was known to every one that many of the keys–even several miles from the mainland–are infested by rattlesnakes and by other serpents, though how such snakes ever got to the islands is as much of a mystery to the naturalist world as is the presence of raccoons and squirrels on the same keys. It is simply one of the hundred unsolvable mysteries and puzzles of the subtropic region.

In his jiu-jutsu instructions Brice had learned a rule which he had carried into good effect in other walks of life. Namely to seem to play one’s opponent’s game and to be fooled by it, and then, taking the conquering adversary by surprise, to strike. Thus he had fallen in with Standish’s suggestion that he come to the island, though he had thought himself fairly sure as to the reason for the request. Thus, too, he had let himself be lured into this storeroom, still smugly confident that he held the whip hand of the situation.

And as a result he was looking into the ghastly eyes of death.

Like an engine that “races,” his fertile brain was unduly active in this moment of stark horror, and it ran uselessly. Into his over-excited mind flashed pictures of a thousand bits of the past–one of them. by reason of recent association far more vivid than the rest.

He saw himself with four other A.E.F. officers, standing in a dim corner of a high-ceiled old room in a ruined chateau in Flanders. In the room’s center was a table. Around this were grouped a double line of uniformed Americans–a court-martial. In came two provosts’ men leading between them a prisoner, a man in uniform and wearing the insignia of a United States army major–the cleverest spy it was said in all the Wilhehnstrasse’s pay, a genius who had grown rich at his filthy trade of selling out his country’s secrets. and who had been caught at last by merest chance.

The prisoner had glanced smilingly about the half-lit room as he came in. For the barest fraction of a second his gaze had