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   Chapter 24 THE BATTLE IN THE ORANGE GROVE

Hour of Enchantment / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 5916

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


It was Florence who next saw the mysterious Chinaman, and that not an hour from the time he disappeared from Jeanne's delectable mountain. Her day's work at an end, she had retired to the orange grove on the banks of the lagoon for a short period of rest. She had been here often of late. There was something very unusual and charming about this orange grove thriving here in the very front yard of Chicago.

The place was in reality a tropical garden. As she lay there, propped up on an elbow, the fragrance of tropical flowers, the pungent odor of ripe tropical fruit suggested that she might be thousands of miles from her native city, at the edge of some Central American jungle.

And yet, as she opened her eyes to look away across the lagoon, her eyes told her that she was in truth at the very heart of a fantastical world of play.

"How like a theatre it is!" she exclaimed.

And indeed, as she allowed her eyes to follow the lagoon until it lost itself in the broader waters of the lake, she found them filled with the ever-changing lights of a stage on opening night. Gayly decorated barges drawn by small power boats drifted past. A bevy of girls, all garbed in gowns of bright red, shot past in a speed boat. They were singing, "Sailing! Sailing!"

From a floating platform came the martial music of a band. Overhead an airplane motor droned. The plane was shooting out a spiral of smoke. The smoke formed itself into clouds and on these clouds there played living, moving pictures.

As she lay there on the grass, head propped on elbow, watching, dreaming, like Petite Jeanne, she caught an unusual sound.

"Not far away," she whispered. "Over there among the banana leaves, perhaps." She thought of investigating this. But she was tired, and as she had promised to wait for Jeanne's preview she wished to rest.

So she dismissed the matter from her mind and once again allowed her mind to drift.

"Wonderful spot, this," she whispered to herself. "Probably never be seen in Chicago again, orange trees loaded with fruits and flowers."

This was true. With endless pains men had grown trees in boxes, then had shipped them to the Fair. There were lemon trees, and mangoes, and tall trees that grew tropical melons. In one spot there was a perfect tangle of tropical vegetation.

"Yes, and banana trees."

Once again her eyes were upon that cluster of banana trees.

"There is something moving there."

Getting a grip on herself, she kept up the semblance of dreaming. In reality she was very much alert, quite alive-watching.

Nor did she watch in vain.

As she watched, fascinated, waiting for she knew not what, ready on the instant to go dashing away, she saw the banana leaves stir, move to one side, then fall back into their original position.

Every muscle in her splendid body was tense now. Had she caught a glimpse of a face? She believed so.

"And yet, one is so easily deceived."

She should lea

ve the place. This was plain enough; yet stubbornly she stayed.

She watched the darting rocket cars as they flashed across the sky, followed the course of an airplane by its spark of light, allowed her mind to wander for an instant to Jeanne and her problems. But all the time she was thinking, "I must be on my guard."

With all this, when at last the banana leaves parted and a form crept out, she was surprised beyond measure. She recognized the person on the instant. The very stealth of his movements gave him away. It was the long-eared Chinaman.

She gasped. "Has he seen me?

"If he has, he's playing a game." He did not look her way.

Then it was that, as though it were some picture on the clouds, she saw faces of children, hundreds of faces, cute Chinese children, and above them all, resolute, determined, hopeful, the serious face of Erik Nord, the white man from China.

"Ah! Now I have you!" Was it she who thought this? Or was it Erik Nord thinking through her? She did not pause for an answer. Instead, she sprang squarely at the crouching figure.

Her plan, if she might be said to have one, was to snatch the precious three-bladed knife from beneath his long coat, then to run for it.

In this she failed. With a panther-like spring, the yellow man eluded her. Then, perceiving perhaps that escape was impossible, he took the offensive.

He did not draw the knife. There was not time. Then, too, it was for demons, not for men, nor for girls either. Instead, with a leap and the swing of an arm he encircled her neck in such a vice-like grip that for a space of ten seconds she was helpless.

"You shall give the bell!" he hissed. "The bell and the banners you shall give!"

Too close to the point of strangulation to reply or so much as think clearly, she placed her hands against his chest, then suddenly threw all her superb strength into one tremendous thrust.

Did she hear a bone crack in his wrist? Was her own neck being broken?

For a space of seconds, with head ready to burst, she could not tell. Then, with a sighing groan the intruder relaxed his hold and all but fell to the ground.

Following up this advantage she fell toward him in such a manner as to start him rolling down the hill. And then, all in a flash, she caught a gleam of white on the grass at her feet.

"The knife! The three-bladed knife! If only-"

With one more tremendous push she set the yellow man into a spin that landed him with a splash into the water of the lagoon.

"He swims well enough," she assured herself.

Then, with heart thumping wildly, she snatched up the much coveted knife with the jeweled hilt and went sprinting away up the slope, away to the south and across the bridge over the lagoon, to lose herself at last in a throng that had gathered about a wandering Egyptian street fakir.

"Have I lost him?" she whispered.

The answer, though she could not know it now, was "Yes, but not for long."

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