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Hour of Enchantment / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 9284

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Erik Nord was to be found anywhere and everywhere. Young, very strong, full of the vigor of youth, he was in what was to him a strange land-America. Little wonder, then, that an hour after he had imparted valuable information to Petite Jeanne, Florence should have come upon him standing near the breakwater of the lagoon.

He was looking at a ship, a battered old windjammer tied up there by the shore.

"Stout little old boat, that!" he said to her with a friendly smile. "Can't help but admire her, can you?"

"Why?" Florence wondered.

"Don't you know the story? Come on board, and I'll tell you."

They mounted the gangplank, then wandered across the upper deck and descended to the deck below.

"See those!" Nord touched a ten-inch hand-hewn beam of ironwood. "Look at those knees! All hand-hewn. Know how old this ship is? Fifty years.

"And yet-" He paused. "And yet, when Richard Byrd wanted a ship that would carry him safely through the polar ice of the Antarctic, Roald Amundsen, who had sailed on this ship as a boy, said: 'She's the one you want.'

"They found her," his voice was mellow, almost tender, "tied up to a dock far north in Norway. They'd thought she was through; everyone who knew her thought that. And yet, isn't it magnificent! To-day she's about the most famous ship afloat. Byrd's Polar Ship, they call her.

"She's Scandinavian built," he said proudly. "My ancestors were Norsemen. Can you blame me for admiring this old ship?"

"No," said Florence. "I'm glad you told me. This ship was built right, wasn't it?"

"Right and honest. They took their time about it, too."

"And if we build our lives that way, right and honest, taking our time, we'll last, too."

"There's reason to hope so." He gave forth a low chuckle.

"Shall we go up on deck and sit a while?"

"I'd love to."

So it happened that they found themselves settled comfortably in a dark corner watching the parade of boats pass by.

It was a warm night. The lagoon was crowded. All manner of boats were there, speed boats and tiny motor boats, row boats, canoes, dugouts and gondolas. For some time Florence watched in vain for a certain type of boat. When at last her vigil was rewarded, she received a shock.

"Look!" she exclaimed, seizing Erik Nord by the arm. "Look there, at that Dodge-Em!"

"What's unusual about that?" He looked at her curiously.

"But see who's riding in it!"

"A Chinaman." Erik chuckled. "Suits their style. Goes only just so fast. A Chink is seldom in a hurry."

"But look who it really is-your long-eared Chinaman! The one who-"

There was not time to finish. One look and Erik Nord was away, dragging Florence by the hand across the deck.

* * * * * * * *

Having witnessed the astonishing performance of Indian magic, Jeanne spent an hour wandering about the Fair grounds in a sort of trance. It was impossible to drive from her highly sensitive mind the memory of the booming drum, squeaking flute and whirling magician. And this walking in a trance, as we have suggested, ended in her undoing.

She had wandered, without thinking much about it, into an all but deserted corner of the grounds, when with the suddenness of thought three figures swooped down upon her.

"Lorena! Lorena LeMar!"

The sound of their voices warned her of danger, but too late.

"The play-boys!" Her mind registered these words, then like a ship sinking at sea her brain went into a wild whirl.

Before she could scream or flee, they were upon her, all three of the play-boys. A hand went over her mouth, others lifted her from the earth. She was dropped with little ceremony onto an upholstered seat, a powerful motor purred, and they were away.

As the car shot down the drive an observer might have noticed that a tall, thin young man loitering near had suddenly leaped into action. Spinning about, he dashed to the nearest waiting taxi, delivered an order in a low tone, leaped in and went rushing away in the direction the car had taken.

Poor little French girl! Once inside that car she found her head spinning round with unimaginable terror. What was to happen? For a time she was unable to think.

When at last a certain degree of composure took possession of her, the car had passed from the Fair grounds and was speeding along the boulevard.

"They think me Lorena LeMar," she told herself. She shuddered afresh as she thought how she had tricked them on that other occasion.

"They must have been furious." Her heart sank. "Miss LeMar had been their playmate on other occasions; then to treat them like that!

"Oh, if I get out of that I'll-"

What w

ould she do? That mattered very little now. What truly mattered was the problem of her immediate conduct and ultimate escape.

"Of course," she assured herself, "I could tell them I am not Lorena LeMar. But would they believe it? Probably not. And if they did?"

She thought of her hopes and plans, of the movie that had inspired her, of the young Italian actor who was dreaming dreams, and of Jensie.

"No," she whispered, "not if I can help it.

"I know what I'll do! I'll play up to them. Let them think I am Miss LeMar. They will want me to dance. Very good, I shall dance.

"They will-"

She dared think no further.

"I'll escape," she told herself stoutly. "I must! But how?"

Her heart sank. Too often she had read of the cruelties practiced by these rich play-boys.

"They should not be permitted to be at large!" she told herself bitterly.

"But none of this! I must seem happy, full of spirits, gay. I must sing, I must dance. And then-"

Before a three-story gray stone building the car came to a grinding halt. All the curtains were drawn, but lights shone through the cracks.

"Some sort of club," she told herself.

If it indeed was a club it was a very little frequented place. She did not see a person beside her escort as, carrying out her well-formed plan, she romped with them up the steps and into a rather large room where there were numerous chairs and a rather large wood-topped table.

At the far end of the room was a broad fireplace and near it were card tables with cards scattered over them.

"A kindergarten for rich play-boys," Jeanne smiled to herself in spite of her predicament.

Throwing off her dull coat, with an air of abandon she did a dozen fancy steps across the polished floor.

"Oh, look!" exclaimed the tallest of the three play-boys. "Lorena's a gypsy to-night!"

Truth was, until that moment Jeanne had forgotten her gown.

"Yes!" she exclaimed in a tone of forced gaiety. "I'm a gypsy to-night. Shall I dance my gypsy dance?"

"Yes, yes!"

"On the table!" A pair of stout arms caught her to toss her up.

Catlike, she landed on her feet. She was angry. "But I must not! I must not be angry!" she told herself fiercely. "I must dance. Time must pass. Surely something will happen."

Forgetting time and place, she began the weird, wild dance of the gypsies. That her audience was impressed she knew at once. So she prolonged the dance.

All things must have an end. The end of the dance found her heart all aflutter. What next?

"Bravo! Bravo!" they applauded. "That calls for refreshments."

Taking a bottle from a concealed locker, the shortest of the trio filled four glasses.

"Now! A toast!" He passed one glass to her. "Here's to Lorena LeMar! Here's to the new picture!"

When the play-boys lifted their glasses Jeanne followed their example. The stuff in the glass burned her lips. The glass slipped from her hand to go crashing upon the table.

"Oh! She dropped it! Too bad! Here's another." There was a note of insolence in the voice of the youth as he poured a second glass. "Here! Drink this!"

"No, my friend!" Her voice was like thin, clear ice. "No, I will not drink it." No longer was she Lorena LeMar. She was Jeanne, the gypsy. In her veins there coursed the wild, free, fighting spirit of a true vagabond. Had she possessed a knife.... Ah, well, she had no knife.

One weapon alone she possessed, truly a woman's weapon-a scream.

This weapon she used. Not in vain had she practiced for hours a stage scream. When her slender voice rose shrill and high the three play-boys became rigid as stone.

The effect of that scream was sudden and most astonishing. Some bulk struck the door. Again; yet again. Then the lock broke and a tall, slim youth half stepped, half fell into the room. He was followed by a taxi driver.

Recovering from his shock, the leader of the play-boys took a step forward. Hot words were on his lips. They were not spoken. He was met by a heavy chair thrown with lightning-like speed by the astonishing stranger.

Taking him in the pit of the stomach the chair hurled the play-boy backward into his companions. Like so many tenpins they went down with a crash.

Not a word was spoken as the tall stranger gathered Jeanne up in his arms, marched out of the room and down the steps, deposited his burden in the taxi, sprang in beside her, gave the driver orders, then watched the building narrowly as they drove away.

"And I would take my oath I never saw him," Jeanne whispered to herself. Sinking deep among the cushions, she suddenly felt very small, very young and quite helpless.

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