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   Chapter 12 No.12

It Pays to Smile By Nina Wilcox Putnam Characters: 34091

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Once inside the room I sank upon a chair for an instant, gasping for breath and quite all of a tremble. But after a little I regained some control of my faculties, which I now directed toward effecting my escape.

From the adjoining room came the noises of a heavy sleeper-snores and wheezy breathing. The head butler, without doubt; a great hulk of a man whom it would be no easy task to rouse even if I were in a position to rouse any one, which, of course, I was not-now less than ever. Aside from his strenuous slumbers the wing was silent, yet somehow portentously so, as only a house of sleepers can be. Beyond my refuge a night light was burning in the hall. I could discern this from the crack beneath the door. Obviously I had no choice but to leave in that direction, even though it was highly probable that I should encounter Wilkes in the corridor. Still, such misadventure must be chanced. With madly beating heart I crossed the room and stealthily tried the handle. Imagine my amazement when I found that the door was locked-from the inside! The man must be in the room with me!

This thought so filled me with terror that throwing caution to the winds I unlocked and opened the door, fleeing down the dimly lighted corridor like a bat out of Hades, as Peaches would put it, and plunging down the first staircase that appeared.

The hall below was completely dark, and I must have taken a wrong turning, because in what seemed about two minutes I was completely lost. For once my nerves gave way completely. I wanted to shriek but could only make a little clicking sound which nobody seemed to hear. Then I began to run, because I thought something was after me-I did not know what. I couldn't see anything, and yet I felt overpowered by terror. It flashed across my brain that perhaps Sandro-or rather, Wilkes-did not need to unlock his door in order to leave his room; perhaps he came through the closed door and only kept it locked to prevent people from discovering that he didn't really exist.

The thought gave new impetus to my speed, and for time uncounted I flew about that horribly vast and silent mansion as noisily and irrationally as if I were myself some poor lost spirit. I seemed wholly unable to find my way back to my own apartment or to locate any familiar door at which I might venture to knock and beg for help. And the realization that those two night prowlers in the garden might at any moment break into whatever part of the house I was in at the instant did nothing to induce a greater serenity of mind.

Moreover, I could not seem to find a flight of stairs leading upward, and when at length I emerged from the service wing it was to find myself in the ghostly main hall once more. And there it was that a sudden unexpected encounter with reality shocked me back to some degree of common sense.

From this main hall, which was two stories in height a corridor led directly to the library at the extreme left end of the main building.

Other rooms opened from the corridor, of course, but the door directly at the end was that of the Madonna room, as I called it, and as I, emerging from the servants' entrance, advanced toward the foot of the main stair I stood as if rooted to the ground, for from that far doorway gleamed a faint light.

Now though it is true that anything pertaining to the supernatural, mesmeric or ghostly is capable of upsetting my equanimity to a very considerable degree, in the realm of obviously human activity I have never been a coward or a laggard. Never shall it be said that the last Freedom Talbot, the tenth to bear that illustrious name, ever disgraced it by cowardice, though but a mere woman. Not for nothing did I bear the title of those men who had given their lives and made their fortunes in the cause for which they were baptized.

"In time of danger an ounce of action is worth a pound of theory," my dear father used to say; and his precepts are in my blood no less than in my mind. And upon this occasion I was not backward.

There was no time now to give the alarm; it was, as the saying goes, up to me. Waiting only long enough to put my right foot back into its knitted slipper, the heel of which had come off during my flight, I immediately stalked to one of the suits of armor which guarded the staircase, and removed the great sword which lay within its hollow grasp. Thus armed I began a stealthy progress toward the library door.

The sword was heavy and difficult to carry but I was in no mood to be put off by a trifle of that kind. Whatever those two villains were up to in that library I was determined to put an end to immediately. I had no fear that a common thief would dare to shoot at my gray head, and the now perfect respectability of my situation gave me confidence. Nevertheless I took care to make no unnecessary noise. Grasping my weapon in such a manner as to be ready for any emergency I sidled along the wall of the corridor, concealing myself behind the portière which hung at the door, and cautiously peeked within.

On the mantelpiece a little electric lantern was burning, and before it stood Wilkes the valet, his forearms resting upon the shelf, his chin upon his hands, and his face upturned to the Madonna as if in worship. Never have I seen a face more, as it were, glorified than was his at that moment. His very soul, if I may be so indelicate as to mention such a thing, seemed to be in his eyes, and an inner light illuminated his countenance, almost obliterating the lines and making him appear far younger than I had at first thought. The scar on his temple blazed like a white star as the lamplight struck it, giving him an uncanny aspect that was yet beautiful, and I could not but note the easy grace with which he maintained his posture. But most remarkable of all was the hunger with which he feasted his eyes upon that painting.

In the feeble illumination the Madonna herself was smiling back at him, and seemed almost to waver and lean gently toward him. It was a strangely intimate scene-almost I felt as if I had intruded upon an interview between lovers. And yet that was all nonsense, as I presently realized. Immensely relieved that the intruder was, after all, no intruder but one of the household servants, I quietly hid the sword behind the folds of the portière, leaning it against the inner wall as unobtrusively as possible. But the man before the picture would not, I think, have noticed had I dropped the clumsy thing, so absorbed was he. And then, when I had disposed of my armament, I entered the apartment and came within three feet of him before I spoke.

"Wilkes," I said quietly, "what are you doing here?"

The man jumped as though he had been shot, and spun round to face me. All self-control was momentarily gone from him, and that was a terrible thing to see. His jaw had dropped and the lips quivered pitifully, his whole face shook convulsively and his shoulders heaved. Then by a supreme effort he regained his self-mastery. His figure grew quiet, the shoulders drooped in the manner which seemed habitual to them, and the lines of his face hardened, adding the years which his enraptured pre-occupation had temporarily stripped from him. Once more he was the unobtrusive body servant.

"I beg pardon, Miss Talbot," he said. "I was startled."

"So was I," I commented dryly. "I thought you were-well, never mind. What are you doing down here?"

"I fancied I heard some one, miss," the man replied. "Prowlers, or cracksmen, perhaps; and thought I'd better just take a look round."

"H'm!" said I, unconvinced. "So you heard them, too, eh?"

A curious look passed over his face. I could have vowed the emotion was fright-that he had not the remotest idea I would have said such a thing.

"Did you hear anything, miss?" he asked.

"I certainly did."

"Perhaps it was myself you heard then, miss!"

"I don't know!" I replied, looking at him sharply. "Perhaps it was. At any rate I know positively that I saw two men stealing in the direction of these windows not over twenty minutes ago. But there is only one man here now, it seems."

"You saw two men!" he snapped, his voice keen with concern. Then he dropped it to his usual modulation. "Are you quite sure there was some one in the garden?"

"As sure as that I am standing here!" I retorted. "I saw them perfectly-at least plainly enough to be sure they were men; and up to no good, I am equally certain of that!" Surely there was nothing mysterious about this man-he was all too plainly just a stupid servant. I could have shaken him from sheer irritation, and began bitterly to regret having left that note in his chamber.

"Well?" I said impatiently. "Aren't you going to do something about it?"

"Ah-er-yes, certainly, miss," said he, "I'll have a look round of course. Did you say they came this way?"

"Headed for these very windows!" I said firmly.

He crossed to the long French casements and tried the fastenings, which were long bars that crossed them at two levels, making entrance impossible without breaking the leaded glass. They were undisturbed. The great rose window was, of course, impenetrable, both by construction and because of its height from the ground.

"It is all quite secure, miss," said he. "And the beggars will be frightened off by now, I think, for they will have seen the light."

"Look here, Wilkes, my man!" I said sharply. "If you were down here on a burglar hunt, why were you looking for them in the frame of the Madonna of the Lamp?"

He must have been prepared for that, for he replied composedly enough, with downcast eyes.

"I inadvertently stopped to have a look at it, miss," said he. "I have a liking for fine pictures, miss."

"Well, I suppose that's all right enough," I said, still somehow very much troubled in my mind, I scarcely knew why. "A love of art is probably one of the requisites in newfangled help, but dear knows Galadia never showed any! Well, be that as it may, we'd better make the round of the house and be sure that everything is safe!"

"Very well, miss!" said he. "But need you come, miss? I'll just find the watchman-he's usually in the back hall."

"Well, I'll go that far with you," I compromised. "I want to make sure that he thinks everything is all right before I go to bed."

"Very well, miss," said Wilkes again. But I could not help feeling he was uncommonly anxious to get rid of me.

Switching the lights on ahead of us as we went, and revealing the cheerful normal aspect of the house as it really was, composed my nerves to a considerable extent; and finding the watchman at his post in the back hall was also reassuring. One thing struck me as curious, however. The man, a Latin of some sort, was not dozing in the expected manner of night watchmen, curled upon a comfortable chair or nodding over an extinct pipe. He was standing in the middle of the floor, knocking one boot against the other, and though the door, leading presumably to the kitchen garden, was shut I at once got a strong impression of his having been out of doors a moment before. There was that waft of fresh air that comes in with a person from the coolness of the night clinging to his clothing, and the room itself was fresh instead of close as might have been anticipated. This in itself was, of course, in no way extraordinary, and might indeed have passed unnoticed had it not been for what he said.

"Everything all right, Pedro?" asked Wilkes, who had entered ahead of me.

"Yas-was' ell matt'?" replied the fellow, evidently surprised by having visitors at such an hour. "You tink you hear sometin'?"

"Yes-Miss Talbot saw two men in the garden-and I also thought I heard something out of the ordinary-someone breaking in-like at a lower window."

"No-no!" said Pedro. "Everytin' all ri'. Me just maka da round."

"Then you must have seen those men," I said quietly. He gave me a stare and laughed, white teeth gleaming.

"No, no!" he said again. "No two-me-you see one men-das me-you see me, signora!"

His confidence was perfect, and argument failed to move him. Finally I gave it up and went to bed, thinking it unnecessary to rouse the other members of the household, for after all were not two of the menservants awake and in charge? And what could I prove? Nothing except that I was a nervous, imaginative old woman. It was not until I had actually got into bed that I recalled one fact which was sufficient in itself to justify the most alarming conclusions.

Wilkes' door had been locked on the inside, and yet I had found him inside the house, while his window had been opened wide. The thought caused me to sit bolt upright in bed. And once this wide awake again, I realized further that the obvious conclusion that Wilkes had left by way of his open window was absurd. How could he possibly have left the third story of the house in such a fashion? I was positive that no rope ladder or such contraption had been attached to the sill. If there had been it would scarcely have escaped my notice. And even if he had got down in some way how could he have got back?

Yet there had been two men in the garden. I had positively seen them with my own eyes, and no Italian watchman could persuade me in broken English to the contrary. Also there had been two men downstairs and awake in the house-Wilkes and Pedro. Still further, Pedro was an Italian and had just been out of doors. Were the two whom I had seen in the garden these two? If so, what had been their object in meeting outside, when both had the run of the house and were already in it?

On the other hand, Pedro had been obviously surprised at seeing us. Or had it been merely my presence which had occasioned the surprise?

By this time my head was simply stupid from thinking, and when I at length composed myself to sleep I had formed but one line of action-to do nothing and say nothing until somebody else did. I would hold my tongue in the morning and see what sort of report of the night's activities the two men made before I said a word. And upon this resolve I at length fell asleep.

My dear father used to say that often the best way to prove the guilt of a suspected party is to give him the opportunity of denying something of which you have not yet accused him. And with this axiom in mind next morning when I descended to breakfast, I held high hopes of having a practical demonstration of its truth. Buoyed up more by my lively interest in the situation than by the brief slumber in which I had indulged, I dressed in a printed gingham as a refreshing, light and springlike costume calculated to improve my appearance, which showed some ravages from the night before, and with mind and marcel all composed and in good order, I presented as calm and cheerful an appearance to the company which slowly gathered in the charming breakfast room as if nothing at all out of the usual had occurred during the night.

Peaches was at the table, looking lovelier than ever in sports clothes-a form of unsexed semifemale attire most distasteful to me ordinarily, and as I took my seat beside her she managed a brief whisper.

"When are you going to?" she breathed cryptically.

"I already have!" I whispered back, and then could say no more because Mr. Pegg emerged from the produce sheet of the newspaper behind which he had been growling, and attacked the orange upon the plate before him.

"Florida! Bah!" he commented, scattering the seeds wildly. "Mornin', Miss Free. Can't raise anything down there but the kind of stuff we refuse to market! Ugh! Surprised at Markheim's Chinaboy. Well, Miss Free, you look like you'd just eaten the canary. What's up?"

"Why, Mr. Pegg!" I protested. "How you talk!"

And then mercifully, before he had any opportunity of enlarging further upon the subject, Sebastian Markheim came into the room, his face red and moist with excitement. He seemed fairly about to burst out of his light gray tweed clothing, and his walk, usually a waddle, now assumed the proportion of a trot.

"Good morning, good morning!" he said, taking his seat. "Dear me, what on earth do you suppose? Attempted robbery here last night, 'pon my word! But the beggars don't seem to have got away with anything except--?"

Here he paused, unaccountable.

"Except what?" I asked sharply.

"Most curious thing!" he gasped. "Very extraordinary, very extraordinary! A Damascus sword!"

"Holy mackerel!" said Mr. Pegg impatiently. "Damn it! Orange juice in my eye-stings like the devil. California orange juice never stings you like that! What did you say, Mark?"

"I said that the only thing the burglars took was one of the swords from the suits of armor!" yelled the banker. "What did they want it for, what did they want it for, that's what I'd like to know, eh?"

"Who told you such a nonsensical thing?" I asked.

"My man Wilkes," replied Mr. Markheim. "It seems the watchman, Pedro, has disappeared as well, but it's hardly likely the robbers took him."

"

More likely he was one of them!" said I. "And as for the missing sword-it's too bad your servants don't dust more carefully. Sebastian Markheim, that's all I've got to say about that!"

"What do you mean, Free?" Alicia put in. "Do you know anything about the burglars?"

"Only that I heard 'em and came downstairs," I said. "What else did your man Wilkes tell you?"

"Why, it seems he heard a noise," replied Markheim, "and came out of his room to listen. Then the sounds ceased, but he thought best to make the rounds. He had got as far as the library when he encountered you, Miss Talbot. Then he saw the watchman and you left him and went back upstairs-right, eh?"

"Yes, that's right," I admitted.

"The watchman denied having heard or seen anything out of the way," Sebastian went on, "and they went over the whole place together, to make sure everything was all right. But the funny part of it is that Pedro-that's the watchman chap-Pedro can't be found."

"Well, he's done nothing to send a posse after him for, far as I can see," observed Mr. Pegg. "And if you do send one he's likely to slew at it with that sword-better lay off him."

"I took that sword myself," I announced with dignity. "It is behind the portière to the library, where I left it. I am sorry to have been so untidy, but in the excitement of the moment I confess I neglected to put it back in place."

There was a general laugh at this, though I must say I failed to see any humor in a maiden lady having armed herself before facing a supposed burglar.

"You didn't take the watchman, too, did you?" asked Mr. Pegg.

"Of course not!" said I. "But I think he was a very evil, suspicious-looking character, with a decided accent and quite unwashed. I would never have engaged him as a watchman myself. He seemed to me obviously a bandit."

"Not at all, not at all!" exclaimed Sebastian. "Came to me with the very highest credentials-recommended strongly by the Italian consul himself."

"When did he come to you, Mark?" asked Peaches.

"Let's see," said he. "About three weeks ago."

"Then you don't know if he is a good burglar hound or not," said she. "But he may turn up, you know. Don't judge him too soon."

"I shan't," replied Markheim. "Devil his due, innocent until guilty and all that. But it's odd they can't find him. Generally sleeps in the gardener's cottage. Room's down there."

The subject being then to all appearances exhausted it was dropped, and in as short a time as would decently avoid suspicion Peaches finished her meal and strolled out of the room on to the terrace. Ostentatiously avoiding all appearance of haste I joined her a few minutes later and slipping my arm about her waist strolled out of earshot. The morning was exceedingly mild and fair, and choosing a secluded nook where the sun beat down warmly we seated ourselves upon a stone bench.

"Free!" Peaches demanded. "What happened? Shoot me the whole story, and be quick or they'll be getting too damn sociable before you're through." She nodded back toward the breakfast room.

Well, I told her as briefly as was consistent with accuracy. And when I had finished she simply sat and stared at me for a moment, quite wordless, though her mouth was open.

"Freedom Talbot!" she gasped at length. "I am horrified. The only safe place for you is the ranch. The moment I take you out into the civilized world it becomes necessary for me to sit up nights chaperoning you."

"Never mind chaperoning me!" I retorted. "My character is perfectly sound, no matter how my actions may at times appear. The main problem before us is to extricate you from the position you have got yourself into through making an appointment to meet this man who I am now absolutely convinced is simply a common servant."

"Who you have got me dated up to meet," corrected Peaches. "And believe me, kid, I'm going to meet him. There's more to this than you think, my worthy nurse!"

"But, Peaches!" I wailed. "When did you tell him to meet you, and where? Oh, why did I ever suggest such a thing?"

"How did you ever do such a stunt as walk that gutter? That's what gets me, old thing!" she retorted. "Free, you-you little gutter snipe! And as for my date, it's for one o'clock at the fountain."

"One o'clock!" I said. "Why, everybody will see you."

"Then they'll have some eyes!" said she. "I mean one o'clock to-night. And you are to come along with me, dear confidential companion, and listen in on the whole thing."

"Well, if you are determined to do it, of course, it is my duty to accompany you," I replied. "But I am beginning to be more and more convinced that you have simply let yourself in for a situation which is going to have dreadfully embarrassing consequences. If I had talked with that man before I delivered your note I would never, never have consented. You are merely making a fool of yourself."

"Suppose I am mistaken?" said she with a sudden fierceness, the irises of her golden eyes contracting as if she were a female tiger cat. "Suppose I am? Isn't it worth risking? Heavens, how I have suffered these six years! You don't know! You can't know! And now perhaps-a miracle! I feel, I know without proof, that this man is my man. I could no more stay away than I could stop breathing. And if you refuse to go with me I swear I will go alone-yes, if I go by the same route you took last night!"

"Alicia!" I exclaimed, shocked at this strange and unladylike upheaval. "Of course I will go with you and make it as little improper as the circumstances permit. If nothing develops-er-nothing need be said, if you understand what I mean."

"I get you!" said Peaches with sudden weariness.

And a few moments later the gentlemen joined us, preferring to take their after-breakfast tobacco in the open air; a habit which I trusted Peaches would encourage when she became mistress of the mansion, as most beneficial for her rugs and hangings.

At any rate while they chatted and smoked, my charge maintaining a most casual, undisturbed exterior, I bent my energies upon the problem of just how Wilkes had reached the ground the night before, scanning the service wing of the house with critical eye, though ostensibly engaged upon my crochet work, for I was completing a handsome set of table mats which I intended as a wedding gift to Peaches. But being skilled in the art of crochet I could do it automatically, a gift which now served me well. But study the wall as I might I could not discover how he had come down it, much less returned by the same route. He simply must have gone in at another window. But why? It was a puzzle.

Somehow-I scarcely know with what series of small incidents-the day was passed. To me, and no doubt to my charge, it was but a channel to the goal of our midnight tryst. As for me I kept, as it were, mentally upon tiptoe, hourly expecting that some word would come from Wilkes; that he would show some sign signifying that he knew of the impending meeting, or perhaps send a note, his opportunity for answering Alicia's missive being so infinitely greater than had been ours in conveying it to him. Indeed all he had to do was to choose a moment when she would be comparatively unobserved, and present his own note upon a silver salver. As a matter of fact I fully expected some such incident, but the day passed without any occurring.

Of course there was not much time offered for such a trick, inasmuch as we were out in the motor all morning, lunched at a hospitable neighbor's who entertained in Peaches' honor, while during the afternoon Peaches and Sebastian played golf together, remaining on the course until almost dinner time.

During the dressing hour that preceded that function, which was to be held at the house next door but was to terminate early by agreement because of Mr. Markheim having a most important appointment in the city at nine o'clock the following morning, I ran into Peaches' room to inquire if any developments had occurred unknown to me. She replied in the negative.

"Haven't even seen him all day," she replied. "Have you?"

"No," said I. "And I wish I never might again! I am terribly upset about the whole thing!"

"You don't look upset!" said Peaches, unexpectedly coming over and kissing me through the golden cloud of her loosened hair. "You look sweet in that gown. I'm glad you put it on again."

"Our hosts were not here last night, so I thought it would be all right!" I declared, smoothing it down. "And I thought it was good and dark to wear later," I added significantly.

"I've decided we will leave not later than eleven o'clock," Peaches announced, choosing a black dinner gown, doubtless with the same end in view as that with which my own costume had been selected. "I'll have a headache-and that will give 'em two hours to go to bed and settle down to sleep before the fatal hour. Here, hook me up, will you?"

"I understand that watchman has never shown up," I commented as I obliged her. "I hope to goodness he won't be round to-night!"

"It's a merciful providence that he chose this for a night off!" was her reply.

And then presently we descended to the world and a hollow pretense of careless gayety, including a game of bridge, at which I was rapidly becoming an adept under Mr. Pegg's kind tutelage, and must confess to a hearty enjoyment of. And if I did win a few dollars at it occasionally, I always turned the money right over to the home mission, so nobody could have accused me of gambling in any moral sense, the more so as Mr. Pegg always most gallantly insisted upon paying my losses. But I digress.

Promptly at eleven Peaches' headache developed according to schedule, and presently we four of the villa found ourselves walking the short distance which lay between the two houses, the night being uncommonly fine and the moon on the river a sight to see.

"Isn't it wonderful?" I breathed as I clung to Mr. Pegg's arm, the lovers, if so I may call them, walking ahead, much to Sebastian's ill-concealed disgust.

"Pretty nifty," replied Mr. Pegg reluctantly. "But you ought to see the moon in Calif-of course, that is, you must admit it's not a patch on California."

"Oh, I'm not so certain!" I replied. "The moon is the moon, you know, and I am addicted to it. It-er-renews my youth, as it were."

"You said it!" replied the dear man.

But unfortunately we reached our own door at this juncture, where Peaches and Mr. Markheim were waiting for us, and there was nothing left, under Peaches' firm direction of matters, but to say good night and separate at the foot of the stairs.

For what seemed hours Peaches and I waited in my room listening to the low rumble of the two men as they sat upon the terrace and indulged in a final smoke; and then, presumably, in another final smoke and another.

"Will they never go to bed?" Peaches asked more than once, keeping her voice down to a whisper, however, as we had extinguished the lights and opened the windows in both rooms in order to give the appearance of having retired. Across the court the servants' wing showed an occasional lighted window, including that of Wilkes, the valet. Of course he would not be free until Markheim dismissed him for the night. It seemed as if our vigil would never end. But at length we heard a crisp voice below articulate in the fact that the owner was going to bed, and three-quarters of an hour later the light in the valet's room snapped out. Our time had come.

Never in all my born days had I imagined that a well-built staircase could make so much noise when trod upon by two of the gentler sex as did that stair in the Markheim mansion as Peaches and I made our stealthy-or at least comparatively stealthy-descent of it. Nor could I have believed it possible that the floor of that majestic hall was so ill laid as to squeak; but it did. As for the French windows of the library, which we selected as our means of exit, they appeared, to our hypersensitive consciousness, to be one chorus of rattles and groans. Unbarring them was simple enough even in the dark, for we did not dare to use any lights save that from Peaches's pocket flash, and once outside we took good care to close them after us, first making sure that the latch was open.

The garden was glorious in the moonlight, even though the barrenness of early spring was still upon it. A wealth of hyacinths sent up a heavy sweetness in the still night air, and on the lawn toward the river crocuses were whiter than the moonlight itself. Keeping close to the wall Peaches led the way to the fountain-a lovely thing, brought, like most of Sebastian's treasures, from overseas, and nestling against the wall as perfectly set as in the place for which it had originally been intended. A group of cedars, tall and dark, stood in a martial row on either side of it, casting a black shadow which afforded us perfect shelter from any prying eyes, and the tinkle of the water from the pipes of the ancient little Pan against the ivy-covered wall fell into the basin below with a sound that was music. A perfect night, a perfect spot, a perfect ladylove, Alicia-her face a white blur against the darkness-detached, ethereal, utterly lovely. And what of the man? Was he going to prove the ghost of a dead romance, or common clay? I fairly ached to know, being for once so absorbed in her love that I forgot to feel old and out of place.

But advancing years will manifest themselves, and often in the most annoying manner and at times least convenient. And as time went by and no lover appeared upon the scene I grew very, very tired.

"What do you suppose is the matter?" I asked at length.

"Something has detained him," Peaches replied. "Have patience. He can't be long now!"

Another period of silence went by, punctuated only by the hoot of a night boat going up the river like some great golden water beetle, and the occasional rustle of the budding branches overhead as a cool breeze sprang up and sent little clouds flecking across the wide face of the moon. Then came the sound of a step upon the gravel.

"There he is!" whispered Alicia, seizing me by the arm. Her hand was hot and trembling.

But the sound was not repeated, and no one approached, though we waited with straining ears.

"It's past the time now," said Peaches at length.

"Oh, Peaches-let us return!" I besought her. "I don't believe he's coming. Besides, I'm getting so tired!"

"Nonsense! Of course he'll come!" she said. But now there was a note of defiant doubt in her voice. "Wait-you must wait. There's a bench somewhere."

Fumbling about presently she found it, and together we sat down and again waited in a silence that seemed as if it would never end. The wind was growing more brisk and the clouds were thickening, hurrying across the irregular roof of the house like frightened sheep over a wigwag fence, and herding together in a rapidly growing mass beyond. There was a storm brewing; I could feel it in my bones. At length, when more than an hour had passed I could bear it no longer.

"Do you intend to wait all night for that-that servant?" I at length demanded in a fierce undertone.

"I'm going to wait a hundred years!" replied she. "If he got that letter he will come, servant or no servant."

"Peaches, you're a silly goose, and you have no consideration for me," I said. "My feelings are deeply wounded, and I'm quite worn out, what with two such nights in succession!" And with that I felt in my pocket for my handkerchief preparatory to beginning to cry. As I did so my fingers seized upon quite another object, which I drew forth with a sickening sense of what I had done-or rather of what I had most miserably failed to do, for the object which I drew forth was nothing less than the letter which Peaches had intrusted to me the evening before!

"Peaches!" I gasped painfully, confession coming hard. "Peaches, I climbed out of my window and risked my neck last night--"

"Yes, yes, I know," she said soothingly. "I appreciate it."

"But you don't!" I said. "I crossed those terrible ledges and endangered my reputation, to leave a set of directions for making a slip-on sweater in his room!"

"You what?" said Peaches, now thoroughly alive.

"Galadia sent them!" I endeavored to explain. "And it was my mistake. Here was your letter all the time!"

For a long period of silence I awaited the storm of her wrath. But it didn't come. Instead she drew a long sobbing breath of relief.

"Thank heaven he didn't turn me down!" was all she said.

And then slowly we made our way back to the house, our footless errand ended. Peaches stepped inside and feeling for the electric button flooded the room with light.

"No need for secrecy now," she remarked, "so we don't have to break our necks over the furniture as we--"

Her voice broke off into a shrill little scream, and raising her hand she pointed to the mantelpiece. The frame was there, but the Madonna of the Lamp was gone!

* * *

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