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   Chapter 2 THE GIRL IN THE CANOE

The Deep Lake Mystery By Carolyn Wells Characters: 21578

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


My room at Variable Winds was cheery and comfortable. Bright-hued curtains, painted furniture and bowls full of exquisitely tinted California poppies gave the place a colourful effect that pleased my aesthetic tastes. A perfectly appointed bathroom added to my content and I concluded I would stay with the Moores as long as I could keep my welcome in good working order.

Keeley Moore was one of the best if not the best known detectives of the day, and while a quiet vacation would do him good, I was certain he was already itching to get back to his problems and mysteries, with which the city always supplied him.

I threw off my coat and put on a dressing gown, for the lake breezes were chill, and sat at a window for a final smoke.

I felt at peace with the world. Some houses give you that feeling, just as some others make you unreasonably nervous and irritable.

The moon had risen, a three-quarter or nearly full moon, and its shimmering light across the lake made me turn off my room lights and gaze out at the scene before me.

My room looked out on the lake, and the house itself was not more than a dozen yards from the water. The ground sloped gently down to a tiny bit of beach, a little crescent that had been selected for the site of the house. On the right of this placid little piece of shore was the boathouse, a large one, with canoes, rowboats and motor boats. Under the same roof was the bath house, and in front of that, out in the lake, were springboards, diving ladders and all the contrivances on which the bathers like to disport themselves.

To the left was a bit of wild, rocky shore, for the edge of the lake was greatly diversified and rocks abounded, both in and out of the water.

A line of light came across the lake, but was now and then blotted out as the swiftly drifting clouds obscured the moon.

I liked it better in the darkness, for the sight was impressive.

From my window I could see a great stretch of water, and as a background, dense black growth of trees, which came in many places down to the water's edge.

Often these trees were on a slope and rose to a height almost to be called a hill, while again the ground stretched on a low-lying level.

As I looked, the details of the landscape became clearer and I discerned a few faint lights here and there in the houses.

The big house nearest us I took to be Pleasure Dome. Not only because it was the next house, but because I could dimly distinguish a large building surmounted by a gilded dome.

How could any man in his sober senses construct such a place to live in?

It seemed like a cross between the Boston State House and the Taj Mahal.

I was really anxious to go over there and see the thing at closer range. I decided to ask Moore to take me over the next day.

Suddenly the lights all went out and the house and its dome disappeared from view. Looking at my watch I saw it was just one o'clock and concluded that the master of the house had his home darkened at that hour.

But after I again accustomed my eyes to the darkness I could see the outlines of Pleasure Dome, and it looked infinitely more attractive in the half light than it had done in the brightness of its own illumination.

As a whole, though, the lake scene was depressing. It had a melancholy, dismal air that seemed to lay a damper on my spirits. It was like a cold, clammy hand resting on my forehead. I even shook my head impatiently, as if to fling it off, and then smiled at my own foolishness. But it persisted. The lake was mournful, it even seemed menacing.

With an exclamation of disgust at my own impressionableness, I sprang up from my chair, flashed on the lights and prepared for bed.

The bright, pleasant room restored my equilibrium or equanimity or whatever it was that had been jarred, and I found myself all ready for bed, in a peaceful, happy frame of mind.

I turned off the lights, and then the lake lured me back to a last glimpse of its wild, eerie beauty.

Again I flung on my robe and sat at the window. It seemed as if I couldn't leave it. The black, sinister water, the dark shores, with deep hollows here and there, the waving, soughing trees, with thick underbrush beneath them, all seemed possessed of a spirit of evil, a frightful, uncanny spirit, that made me shiver with an unreasonable apprehension, that held me in thrall.

I have no use for premonitions, I have no faith in presentiments, but I had to admit to myself then a fear, a foreboding of some intangible, ghastly horror. Then would come the moonlight, pale and sickly now, and lasting but a moment before the clouds again blotted it out.

Yet I liked the darkness better, for the moon cast such horrendous shadows of those black trees into the lake that it seemed to people the lake with monstrous, maleficent beings, who leered and danced like devils.

Though I knew the hobgoblins were only the waving trees, distorted in the moonlight, I was none the less weak-minded enough to see portentous spectres that made my flesh creep.

With a half laugh and a half groan at my utter imbecility, I declared to myself that I would go to bed and go to sleep.

But as I started to rise from my chair, I saw something that made me sink back again.

The moon now was behind a light, translucent cloud, that caused a faint light on the lake.

Round a jutting corner I saw a canoe come into my line of vision.

A moment's attention convinced me that it was no ghostly craft, but an ordinary canoe, propelled by a pair of human arms.

This touch of human companionship put to rout all my feelings of fear and even my forebodings of tragedy.

Normally interested now, I watched to see who might be out at that time of night, and for what purpose.

The cloud dispersed itself, and the full clear moonlight shone down on the boat and its occupant. To my surprise it was a girl, a young-appearing girl, and she was paddling softly, but with a skilled stroke that told of long practice.

Her hair seemed to be silver in the moonlight, but I realized the light was deceptive and the curly bob might be either flaxen or gold.

She wore a white sweater and a white skirt-that much I could see plainly, but I could distinguish little more. She had no hat on, and I could see white stockings and shoes as the craft passed the house.

She seemed intent on her work, and her beautiful paddling aroused my intense admiration. She did not look up at our house at all; indeed, she seemed like an enchanted princess, doomed to paddle for her life, so earnestly did she bend to her occupation. She passed the house and kept on, in the direction of Pleasure Dome.

Could she be going there? I hardly thought so, yet I watched carefully, hanging out of my window to do so.

To my surprise she did steer her little craft straight to the great house next door, and turned as if to land there.

The Tracy house was on a line with the Moore bungalow, that is, on a curving line. They were both on the same large crescent of lake shore. Pleasure Dome had a cove or inlet behind it, Moore had told me, but that was not visible from my window. The front of the house was, however, and I distinctly saw the girl beach her canoe, step lightly out and then disappear among the trees in the direction of the house.

I still sat staring at the point where she had been lost to my vision. I let the picture sink into my mind. I could see her as plainly in retrospect as I had in reality. That lissome, slender figure, that graceful springy walk-but she had limped, a very little. Not as if she were really lame, but as if she had hurt her foot or strained her ankle recently.

I speculated on who she might be. Kee had told me of no young girl living in the Tracy house now, since the niece had left there.

Ah, the niece. Could this be Sampson Tracy's niece, perhaps staying at her uncle's for a visit and coming home late from a party? But she would have had an escort or chaperon or maid-somebody would have been with her.

Yet, how could I tell that? Kee had said she was high-handed, and might she not elect to go about unescorted at any hour?

I concluded it must be the niece, for who else could it be? Then I remembered that there might be other guests at Pleasure Dome besides the morose and glum-looking Ames. This, then, might be another house guest, and perhaps the young people of the Deep Lake community were in the habit of running wild in this fashion.

Anyway, the whole episode had helped to dispel the gloom engendered by the oppressive and harrowing atmosphere of the lake scene, and I felt more cheerful. And as there was no sign of the girl's returning, I concluded she had reached the house in safety and had doubtless already gone to bed.

I tarried quite a while longer, listening to the quivering, whispering sounds of the poplars, and an occasional note from a bird or from some small animal scurrying through the woods, and finally, with a smile at my own thoughts, I snapped off the lights and got into bed.

I couldn't sleep at first, and then, just as I was about to fall asleep, I heard the light plash of a paddle.

As soon as I realized what the sound was, I sprang up and hurried to the window. But I saw no boat. Whether the same girl or some one else, the boat and whoever paddled it, were out of sight, and though I heard, or imagined I heard, a faint and diminishing sound as of paddling, I could see no craft of any sort.

I strained my eyes to see if her canoe was still beached in front of Pleasure Dome, but the moon was unfriendly now, and I could not distinguish objects on the beach.

Again I began to feel that sickening dread of calamity, that nameless horror of tragedy, and I resolutely went back to bed with a determination to stay there till morning, no matter what that God-forsaken lake did next.

I carried out this plan, and when the morning broke in a riot of sunshine, singing birds, blooming flowers and a smiling lake, I forgot all the night thoughts and their burdens and gave myself over to a joyous outlook.

Breakfast was at eight-thirty and was served on an enclosed porch looking out on the lake.

"You know, you don't have to get up at this ungodly hour," Lora said, as she smiled her greeting, "but we are wideawakes here."

"Suits me perfectly," I told her. "I've no love for the feathers after the day has really begun."

Twice during our cosy breakfast I was moved to tell about the girl in the canoe, but both times I suddenly decided not to do so. I couldn't tell why, but something forbade the telling of that tale, and I concluded to defer it, at any rate.

The chat was light and trifling. Somehow it drifted round to the subject of happiness.

"My idea of happine

ss," Lora said, "which I know full well I shall never attain, is to do something I want to do without feeling that I ought to be doing something else."

"Heavens and earth," exploded her husband, "any one would think you a veritable slave! What are these onerous duties you have to perform that keep you from doing your ruthers?"

Lora laughed. "Oh, not all the time, but there is much to do in a house where the servants are ill-trained and incompetent--"

"And where one has guests," Maud Merrill smiled at her, and I smiled, too.

"I'm out of it," I cried. "You ought to help your friend out, Mrs. Merrill, but, being a mere man, I can't do anything to help around the house."

Lora laughed gaily, and said, "Don't take it all too seriously. I do as I please most of the time, but-well, I suppose the truth is, I'm too conscientious."

"That's it," Kee agreed. "And you know, conscience is only a form of vanity. One wants to do right, so one can pat oneself on the back, and feel a glow of holy satisfaction."

"That's so, Kee," Lora quickly agreed, "and I oughtn't to pamper my vanity. So, I won't make that blackberry shortcake you're so fond of this morning, I'll read a novel, and bear with a smile the slings and arrows of my conscience as it reproves me."

"No," Kee told her, "that's carrying your vanity scourging too far. Make the shortcake, dear girl, not so much for me, as for Norris here. I want him to see what a bird of a cook you are."

Lora shook her head, but I somehow felt that the shortcake would materialize, and then Kee and I went out on the lake.

We went in a small motor launch, and he proposed that I should have a survey of the lake before we began to fish.

"It's one of the most beautiful and picturesque lakes in the county," he said, and I could easily believe that, as we continually came upon more and more rugged coves and strange rock formations.

"Those are dells," Kee said, pointing to weird and wonderful rocks that disclosed caves, grottoes, chasms, natural bridges and here and there cascades and waterfalls. "Please be duly impressed, Gray, for they are really wonderful. You know Wisconsin is the oldest state of all, I mean as to its birth. Geologists say that this whole continent was an ocean, and when the first island was thrust up above the surface of the waters, it was Wisconsin itself. Then the earth kindly threw up the other states, and so, here we are."

"I thought all these lakes were glacial."

"Oh, yes, so they are. But you don't know much, do you? The glacial period came along a lot later, and as the slow-moving fields of ice plowed down through this section they scooped out the Mississippi valley, the beds of the Great Lakes and also the beds of innumerable little lakes. There are seven thousand in Wisconsin, and two thousand in Oneida County alone."

"I am duly impressed, Kee, but quite as much by the way you rattle off this information as by the knowledge itself. Where'd you get it all?"

"Out of the Automobile Book," he returned, unabashed. "Most interesting reading. Better have a shy at it some time."

"I will. Now is this Pleasure Dome we're coming to?"

"Yes. Thought you'd like to see it. It's really a wonder house, you know. We'll be invited there to dine or something, but I want you to see it now as a picture."

It was impressive, the great pile rising against the background of dark trees, and with a foreground of brilliant flower beds, fountains, and arbours.

A critic might call it too ornate, too elaborate, but he would have to admit it was beautiful.

A building of pure white marble, its lines were simple and true, its proportions vast and noble, and save for the gilded dome, all its effects were of the utmost dignity and perfection.

And the dome, to my way of thinking, was in keeping with the majesty of it all. No lesser type of architecture could have stood it, but this semi-barbaric pile proudly upheld its glittering crown with a sublime daring that justified the whole.

There were numerous and involved terraces, all of white marble, that disappeared and reappeared among the trees in a fascinating way. White pergolas bore masses of beautiful flowers or vines, and back of it all rose the black, wooded slopes that surrounded most of the lake.

"We'll slip around for a glimpse of the Sunless Sea," Kee said, and I almost cried out as we came upon the place.

A strange chance had made a huge pool of water, almost square, as an arm of the lake, and this, stretched behind the house, was like a midnight sea.

Dark, even in broad daytime, because of the dense woods all round it, it also looked deep and treacherous. A slight breeze was blowing but this proved enough to ruffle the waters of the Sunless Sea in a dangerous-looking way.

"Don't go in there!" I cried, and Kee turned aside.

"I didn't intend to," he said, "I was just throwing a scare into you. It's really devilish. A sudden wave can suck you down to interminable depths. You're not afraid, really?"

"Oh, no," I assured him, "but it's pesky frightensome to look at, especially--"

Again I was on the verge of telling him of the scene on the lake the night before, and again I stopped, held back by some force outside myself.

"Especially why?" he asked, curiously, but I evaded the issue by saying, "Especially when one is on a holiday."

He laughed and we turned away from Pleasure Dome.

"Now I'll show you the island," he said, "and then we'll tackle the tackle."

We went rapidly back past Pleasure Dome, on down the lake, past Moore's own place, and then on a bit farther to the Island.

"They call it 'Whistling Reeds', and it's a good name," he said. "When the wind's a certain way, and it's quiet otherwise, you can hear the reeds whistle like birds."

"You do have most interesting places," I said. "And who lives here? And where's the house?"

"Alma Remsen lives here, the niece of Sampson Tracy I told you about last night. You can't see the house, the trees are so thick."

"I should say they were!" and I stared at the dense black mass. "Why doesn't she cut a vista, at least?"

"She doesn't want it, I believe. Thinks it's more picturesque like this."

"I'd be scared to death to live there!"

"No reason to be. Nothing untoward ever happens up here. All peaceable citizens."

"But fancy living in such a place. How do they get provisions and all that?"

"Oh, that's easy. Lots of the dealers deliver their stuff in canoes or motor boats. See, there's the boathouse. Some day we'll call here. Alma likes my wife, she'll be glad to see us."

"I suppose she's a canoeist."

"Everybody's that, around here. I mean the people who live all the year round. A good many people live on islands. They like it. This island, you see, is a big one. About two or three acres, say. That gives Miss Remsen room for tennis courts and gardens and pretty much anything she wants, and the house is very pleasant. Nothing like Pleasure Dome, but a bigger house than the one we're in."

We turned then, and started off toward the spot where Kee elected to do his fishing.

"Hello," he said, as we moved on, "there's Alma now. That's Miss Remsen."

We were now about midway between the Moore bungalow and the Island of Whistling Reeds. I looked, to see a girl come down to the floating dock of the boathouse, spring into a canoe and paddle away.

I said nothing aloud, but to myself I said it was the girl I had seen in a canoe the night before.

There was no mistaking that slim, lithe figure, that graceful capable way of managing the boat, and she even wore what seemed to me to be the same clothes, a white skirt and white sweater. She had on a small white felt hat, and I noticed that she did not limp at all. As I had surmised, the limp was occasioned by some slight and temporary strain or bruise.

"Well, don't eat her up with your eyes!" exclaimed Moore, and I realized I had been staring.

Also I was just about to tell him of seeing her before, but the chaffing tone he used somehow shut me up on the subject.

So I only said, gaily: "Bowled over by the Lady of the Lake!" and laughed back at him.

"That's what she's called up here," he informed me. "She's in her canoe so much and manages it so perfectly, she seems like a part of it. Of course, wherever she goes, she has to go in that or in some boat. Can't get on and off an island in a motor car."

"Must be an awful nuisance."

"She doesn't find it so. Says she likes it better than a motor. Look at her paddle. Isn't she an expert?"

"She sure is." And I held my tongue tightly to refrain from saying that she seemed to me to have paddled even more beautifully the night before. But, I said to myself, that was doubtless the glamour loaned by the moonlight and the witchery of the night scene.

Miss Remsen soon reached Pleasure Dome, and we could see her beach her canoe and follow her with our eyes for a few steps until she disappeared behind a clump of tall trees.

We set to work then in good earnest and I saw in Keeley Moore for the time being an embodiment of perfect happiness.

He loved to fish, even alone, but better still, he loved to fish with a congenial companion. And we were that. Though not friends of such very long standing, we were similar in our likes and dislikes as well as in our dispositions.

We had an identical liking for silence at times, and as a rule we chose the same times. Often we would sit for half an hour in a sociable silence, and then break into the most animated conversation.

This morning, after we had begun to fish, such a spell fell upon us. I was glad, for I wanted to think things out; to learn, if possible, why I was so interested, or why, indeed, I was interested at all, in Alma Remsen.

Just because I saw her paddling over to her uncle's house the night before and again this morning, was that enough to make me feel that I must keep still about the first excursion? And, if so, why?

I didn't even know yet what she looked like. So it couldn't be that I had fallen for a pretty face-I didn't even know whether she had one.

I thought of asking Kee that, but decided not to. A strange, vague instinct held me back from mentioning Alma Remsen's name.

Suddenly he said, "Damn!" in a most explosive way, and not unnaturally I thought he had lost one of those biggest of all big fishes.

But as he began pulling in his empty line and making other evident preparations for bringing our fishing party to an end, I mildly asked for light on the subject.

"Got to go home," he said, like a sulky child.

"What for?"

"See that red flag in the bungalow window? That means come home at once. Lora only uses it in cases of real importance, so we've got to go."

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