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   Chapter 18 THE SLIM STRANGER

Hour of Enchantment / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 6988

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


When Erik Nord and Florence caught sight of the long-eared Chinaman placidly cruising the lagoon in a Dodge-Em, Erik, as we have said, led the girl away in hot pursuit.

Unfortunately, on reaching the nearest available craft, they found it to be but another slow going, doddering old Dodge-Em.

"We'll take it," Erik decided on the instant.

"Have to. Nothing else in sight. Probably he hasn't seen us. Slip up on him without the least trouble."

"And if he goes ashore I'll get him. I can run. No Chinaman has out-distanced me yet." He stepped on the gas and they were away, away at the breakneck speed of four miles an hour.

"Think of finding him right here in Chicago!" Erik exulted. "How'd you come to know him?"

Florence did not reply.

"Look!" She leaned far forward. "There he goes! He's headed straight down the lagoon."

"He'll never go outside. Probably land. We'll get him!" Erik trod angrily on the lever that kept the motor going. "If only a fellow could get one burst of speed out of this thing!"

He was making that same remark a quarter of an hour later. The long-eared one had not gone ashore. Instead, he had headed straight down the lagoon and out into the open lake where darkness and silence reigned. And Erik Nord, with all the stubbornness of his race, had followed in slow pursuit.

"It's a turtle race," he said without apparent emotion. "Two turtles. The question is, which will tire first?"

"We'll run out of gas," Florence murmured.

"Something like that."

"And be stuck out here for the night." Florence thought this, but did not say it. The moon would be out in an hour. And then-

Slowly but doggedly the Dodge-Em pushed its stout rubber nose through the black water. The Chinaman, a dark spot above the water, was ever before them. They did not lose. They did not gain. They only followed on.

"I've been told that a man crossed the lake in one of these," Erik rumbled. "Safe enough, I guess. Anyway, when you've lived in China you get used to any mode of travel."

Florence wondered if they would cross the lake. "And after that?" she whispered to herself. The rumble of the city was dying away in the distance, the lights of the Fair were growing dim. It was strange to be out here in the night with one she had known for so short a time. And yet this was the turn chance had taken.

Leaning back, she closed her eyes. It had been a long day. The night air sweeping in from the lake fanned her cheek. The darkness had been kind to her tired eyes. Now she felt the need for rest.

Did she fall asleep? Perhaps. Perhaps not. All she knew was that when she opened her eyes at last she became conscious of a change. "Wha-what is it?"

"Motor stopped. We lose," Erik grumbled. "We lose."

"And here we are." She caught a long breath. The moon was just beginning to roll, a ball of red, along the black horizon.

"Here we are," Erik agreed, then settled back comfortably in his corner.

* * * * * * * *

It was at about this same moment that Jeanne found herself speeding away in a taxi with a man she had never seen before.

"He saved me," she told herself. "Saved me from a horrible night. He knew I was there. How? He willed to get me out of that place. Why?" To these questions she could find no answers. There was, she believed, but one thing to do; to sit back and allow the future to unfold itself.

They were entering the Loop. There was comfort in that. In the Loop were many people. And in numbers ther

e is always a degree of safety.

"You'll be in need of a cup of coffee after that," her companion suggested. "Supposing we stop in here." The cab had stopped before a well lighted coffee house.

Without a word Jeanne followed him inside and back to a small table in the rear. "Who is he? What does he want?" She was determined now to see the thing through.

"I'm Tom Tobin of the News," the strange rescuer announced when coffee had been ordered.

"Oh!" Jeanne caught her breath. "You were after news! And-and I-I will be in the paper! That explains-"

"It explains nothing." Tom Tobin's smile was disarming. "I wasn't looking for news, and this will not get you in the paper. Far from it.

"I was keeping tab on you," he added.

"Tab on me?" Her wide eyes registered astonishment.

"Well, sort of guarding you, if that sounds better. I did it for a very good reason, too.

"You see," he leaned forward over the table, speaking in a voice scarcely above a whisper, "I know you better than you think. You are not Lorena LeMar."

"Not-"

He held up a hand for silence. "No use!" he warned. "You are the little French girl, Petite Jeanne.

"No, I'll not betray you." He had read the consternation in her eyes. "Why should I? You-you're doing a big thing for me."

"For you?"

"You are planning to make a success of the scenario I wrote, 'When the Dogwood Is in Bloom.'"

"You wrote it? How-how wonderful!" Jeanne stretched a slim white hand across the table. Tom Tobin grasped it frankly. "Here's luck!" His frank eyes shone.

"And here's our coffee. How jolly!" Fear had flown from Jeanne's eyes. She was her own bright, joyous self once more.

"But how could you know I am to make a success of your picture?" she demanded eagerly. "I do not know it myself."

"Old Sollie, Mr. Soloman, your producer, told me. He's all het up about it; says you showed him how to make a great picture of it and get a lot of free publicity. He's working on the scene, got men after real mountain ivy and rhododendrons and dogwood. Sent for two log cabins like the ones in the Lincoln Group, and all that.

"Say!" he exclaimed, "Suppose we get together and work over the dialogue and all that! Sollie says you know a lot about the mountains."

"No, I've never been there."

"But he told me-"

"Yes, I know." Jeanne smiled. "I have a friend who prompted me. She has lived there all her life."

"Then she'll help us. We'll work it over together, beginning to-morrow afternoon."

"That-" Jeanne favored him with her loveliest smile. "That-how do you say it? That is a go! Eh, what?"

"That's it!" Tom grinned. "We'll get on grand. You're a regular guy!"

"And why not?" Jeanne laughed a merry laugh.

A half hour later, as Jeanne entered the lobby of the hotel after bidding Tom Tobin a heartfelt "Happy dreams!" the porter stared at her for a moment as if uncertain of her identity, then said in a matter-of-fact tone: "Your trunk has gone up, Miss LeMar."

"My trunk?" She stared. "Oh, but I have not-"

She broke short off. Was she about to betray her secret? She was Miss LeMar. Perhaps the real Lorena LeMar had ordered a trunk sent over without informing her.

Her tone changed. "Very well. Thank you." She dropped a coin into his hand, then hurried away.

"But a trunk?" she thought. "A trunk in our apartment!" An unreasoning terror swept upon her.

"But only a trunk!" She shook herself free of this wild fear. "What is a trunk?"

What indeed?

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