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The Lightning Conductor Discovers America By A. M. Williamson Characters: 33810

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02



I believe that, next to the day Jack proposed to me at Taormina, and the day we were married in London, this has been the most exciting day of my life. I expected excitement, but nothing to what we have had!

I wrote you yesterday morning, after Pat went home to the boxful of sand and jewels which not even Larry was to know about. The note I wrote to Peter Storm had been left at his lodgings, so when he returned he would know that he was wanted at our house. The trouble was, we had no idea when he would return; and that poor child Pat was trembling in her extremely high-heeled shoes (she never wears boots to tremble in) lest Caspian should reappear upon the scene. I hardly dared hope that the letter Jack had sent to Mr. Strickland's office would reach Peter; but it was that which did the trick. Mr. Strickland was the lawyer he had been consulting about his complicated affairs, and when the note arrived, Mr. S. knew where to send it. No sooner was it read, than Peter bolted from New York to Long Island, and had the happy thought of coming to see us, to pick up the latest news from the front. I was so pleased to see him walk in, I could almost have kissed him! But I didn't stop to talk long. I ordered Hiawatha, and dashed off to fetch Pat. I was afraid if I merely sent for her, something might happen to keep the girl at home, or Caspian might have turned up, and insist on coming with her.

As it happened, I wasn't far wrong. Caspian had indeed turned up, bringing a strange man with him, and both were closeted with Larry. I whisked Pat away before she could be called into the council chamber. The poor child insisted on carrying the "Captain Kidd" box, wrapped in a silk tablecloth from Como! She wanted to place it in the hands of its owner and donor without delay, and Peter and she were to be given some moments alone together, Jack having prepared the mind of P. S. meanwhile.

The two men were in the library when I opened the door and walked in upon them. Jack had finished telling the tale of the night, and I felt pity as well as affection for Peter. He doesn't show his emotions easily, but I could see that he was pained and humiliated by the failure of his romantic scheme. I said not a word to him about it, but mentioned that Patsey was in my boudoir. "I think she has something to say to you," I added.

"I'll go to her at once, if I may!" he exclaimed.

"You not only may but must," I enjoined; then stopped him at the door. "I hope you're ready to tell her everything now?"

"I'm ready, yes," he answered promptly. "But is it the best time--"

"It's the only time there is!" I cut him short.

"She's right," Jack backed me up.

"Very well," said Peter. "If you both say it's the supreme moment, it is. But I shall have to go through with what she's got for me first."

With that, he went out and shut the door. And I confess to you, Mercédes, I should have liked to be a fly on the wall in my boudoir during the scene between those two. A fly has no conscientious scruples against eavesdropping, which is fortunate for it, as nature has equipped it so well for indulgence in that pursuit. As I couldn't be a fly on a ceiling, looking at Peter and Pat upside down, I went and sat on Jack's lap.

"Dearest," said I, "you tell me what you'd say if you were Peter, and I'll tell you what I'd say if I were Pat."

"I wouldn't say anything," replied Jack without an instant's hesitation. "I should just take you in my arms, and hug you hard. I should also kiss you. And one kiss leads to another, you know."

"I do know," I admitted. "By experience. You taught me that. It's one of the lessons of life."

"I'll bet Patricia Moore is learning it at this instant," Jack remarked thoughtfully. And we kissed each other in sheer vividness of imagination.

"But she's still engaged to Ed Caspian," I reminded him.

"Damn Caspian!" said Jack; and then jumped, staring at something over the back of my head.

I bounded off his lap as if a Jack Johnson had exploded at my feet. Wheeling round to stare where he stared, I saw the most deadly reputable of my dear late cousin's servants ushering into the room the person apostrophized. Behind that person followed one I had never seen before. Behind both lurked Larry Moore, for once in his life ill at ease; and by his side, urging him in, was Mrs. Shuster.

"How do you do?" I exclaimed, trying to look as if I had never seen Jack's knee, and feeling as if my toes were blushing.

What Jack did I don't know; but I suspect he put on a nonchalant air of "Well, we are married, anyhow!"

"I'm sorry to interrupt a conversation evidently not meant for my ear," began Caspian. (Trust him always to do and say the wrong thing!) "But I understand Mrs. Winston called at Kidd's Pines and took Miss Moore away at a moment when both I and her father wanted her particularly. That being the case, I thought I had better come here and let her kind host and hostess learn the news at the same time."

"Meaning us?" I inquired, feeling dangerous.

"Meaning you and Captain Winston. The news will interest you both. It is about two dear friends of yours, Marcel Moncourt and-his son."

"We've never had the pleasure of meeting Marcel Moncourt Junior," said Jack.

"Oh, yes, you have, begging your pardon," said Ed. "Only you know him by another name. By the way, may I ask, before I go further, where is Patricia?"

"Pat's in my boudoir," I informed him airily. "She's engaged just now, talking to Mr. Storm. He--"

"Is the person I referred to a moment ago," Caspian sliced my sentence in two. "Marcel Moncourt Junior has good reason for taking an alias. It was known to everybody who knew him and his father that he was a wastrel, if not worse. Marcel Senior was a fool about him-brought him up like a prince, and suffered the consequences. The boy spent money like water, and was hauled out of one scrape only to fall into another. Then came the time of my cousin old Justin Stanislaws' death. It happened under strange circumstances; there was suggestion of foul play. Young Marcel was in the house at the time-had arrived secretly. I know that certain jewels disappeared mysteriously-couldn't be found afterward-jewels that Stanislaws always kept near him because of certain associations. Not only did they disappear, but young Marcel disappeared, too-whether with or without them was never proved. Stanislaws' son was alive then and protected the fellow: they'd been friends as boys. No inquiry was made till I became the heir. Then it was too late. Marcel Junior had gone abroad and couldn't be located. It was then it came to my knowledge that suspicion pointed to young Marcel not only as a thief but as a murderer--"

"Oh, come, sir, that's going a bit too far!" ventured the mean-looking little man who had come in with Caspian, and who had been growing more and more restless as Ed piled up his accusations.

"Why, too far, when you told me yourself that one of his handkerchiefs was found in my cousin's room the morning after the murder?"

"Well, you see, sir, there was never anything more than gossip to say it was a murder," persisted the little man. Turning anxiously to Jack, he hurried to explain himself. "I was valet to the old gentleman at the time of his death," he announced. "I'm an Englishman, as I think you are, sir. My name's Thomas Dawson. I've been living in Chicago and other cities of the Middle West since young Mr. Stanislaws (who was drowned later) paid me off and let me go. This gentleman, the heir to the estates, has had me looked up by a detective agency. I came to New York willing enough; but I didn't come to accuse no one of murder, whether I have any cause to remember them kindly or not!"

"You're not asked to accuse any one, you're asked to identify a man you know," snapped Caspian. He, too, turned to Jack. "It's very annoying as things have turned out, that Moncourt Senior didn't stop on at Kidd's Pines after the fire instead of going to New York. He ought to be here now, so we could confront him with--"

"Really, Caspian, I think 'confront' isn't the word to use in such a tone and in connection with our Marcel," Jack admonished him.

"What, not the word when he has passed off his wretched son upon us as a stranger, and let the fellow take a confidential situation with a rich woman like Mrs. Shuster? She might have suffered the same fate as my poor cousin. There's no excuse for such conduct. It's not weakness but wickedness. The whole mystery of Marcel's taking up the job at Kidd's Pines is explained by this impudent trick--"

"Hardly explained," objected Jack. "You haven't proved your point yet."

"What point haven't I proved?"

"That Mr. Storm is really Marcel Moncourt Junior."

"We came here to prove it, before every one concerned," blustered Ed. "All I ask is to have him brought in."

"He'll bring himself very willingly!" I couldn't resist sticking in my oar. "And Pat with him."

"I'll fetch my fiancée myself, if you please, Mrs. Winston," said Caspian, at his most caddish.

I didn't intend to let him do that, but I was saved the trouble of a dispute by the door opening and Pat and Peter walking in, as if they had been hypnotically summoned. They hadn't heard the visitors' arrival, but had evidently expected to find Jack and me alone. I saw by a glance at Pat's face that the interview had made some call upon her emotions; but I didn't think she looked wild enough to have heard the whole secret. Besides, they'd hardly been away long enough for all that-and the other things Jack and I had so vividly imagined. They both paused for a second at the door, and Pat had the air of wishing she were somewhere else. She braced herself up, however, for a scene, and marched in with her head up-Peter Storm by her side. I saw Peter's eyes pick out the little man Thomas Dawson, whom Caspian pushed slightly forward. Peter was surprised, no doubt of that, but he seemed also amused, as if his quick mind had grasped the situation. His look travelled to Jack's face and mine. He smiled at us. Then, "Hello, Dawson!" said he.

"Good lord, sir!" gasped Dawson, turning green, and losing power over his knees. He grabbed at Caspian for support, was haughtily pushed away, and tumbled into a chair, like a jelly out of its mould. As it chanced, the chair was a rocking-chair, and the conjunction was undignified.

"What's the matter?" Ed questioned sharply. "Why don't you speak up? Is this man's name Marcel Moncourt?"

"No, sir, it's Stanislaws. He's-he's the young master-or else he's a ghost."

* * *

There, my dear, the Secret's out! Perhaps, if you've been able to keep track of Caspian's antecedents as described in my letters, you've guessed it already. But in case you haven't attached much importance to that part of the affair, I'll just remind you that Ed Caspian was lifted out of the ranks of his fellow socialists and capital haters, by becoming a capitalist himself, on the death of two distant cousins, Stanislaws' father and Stanislaws' son, tremendous millionaires. The old man died some time before the young one, who disappeared with the Lusitania and was reported drowned. You can imagine the effect on Ed when, instead of crushing the enemy, he found himself crushed. He turned tallow-white, glaring at Dawson, staring at Storm, and stammered out: "I don't believe you! It's a lie!"

"No, Caspian, it's not a lie," said Peter Storm, whom Jack and I have known since Wenham as Pietro Stanislaws. He spoke almost gently. "I meant to stay dead-not for your sake, but for my own. The only fun I'd ever got out of life was from knocking round the world with just enough money to put bread in my mouth and clothes on my back. My father never saw you, and never wanted to see you. He had reason to dislike socialists. I never saw you, and wanted to still less. I thought you would be a bore. But I respected what I heard of you. People told me you were sincere. They said your aim in life was to benefit your fellowman. You were a hard worker. You seemed to have every virtue. I thought you'd do more good with my father's money than I ever should, if I shouldered the responsibility. I was always a socialist at heart-but I was selfish. I'd hated the conventional life my father wanted me to live, and I'd kicked against the pricks. I came back to consciousness after that adventure on the Lusitania, and found that no one knew who I was. I'd babbled Russian when I was delirious! The next thing I learned, was that Pietro Stanislaws was drowned. I couldn't resist the big temptation to let him sleep under the sea. I'd happened to know something about a chap named Peter Sturm or Storm in the third class of the Lusitania. He hadn't turned up afterward, so I thought-as I'd done him a small kindness-he wouldn't grudge me his name. I felt at home with the name of Peter. So that's how it came about. And no matter what my own feelings might have been-no matter how much I might for any reason have wanted to change my mind-I wouldn't have gone back on my resolution if it hadn't been for your own conduct."

"I don't know what you mean!" Caspian choked. "I don't believe--"

"I think you do believe," Peter caught him up (I can't remember his precise words of course; but I give you the sense of them). "And if you'll reflect you must pretty well understand my meaning. What kind of a steward have you been of the great enterests intrusted to you? Have you done one person except yourself any good? No! The moment your circumstances changed, your nature changed to fit them; or, rather, you let your real nature have its way when you'd nothing more to gain by posing. You've not only thrown away my father's money-my money-on every sort of extravagance: you've been actually vicious. My lawyer James Strickland was the only person on earth, except Marcel Moncourt Senior, who knew that I hadn't gone down with the Lusitania. Marcel didn't know till I came back to New York, recalled by Strickland's accounts of your behaviour. Then I got Strickland to break the news to Marcel-for a purpose. I wanted a favour from him. I wanted him to help Laurence Moore. But even then you would have been safe from me, Caspian, if you'd shown yourself any sort of a man. I began a letter about you to Strickland on the ship coming home. It blew away, and so did some of my plans concerning you. It was Fate! But this isn't revenge for your petty persecutions of Storm! I hope I'm not little enough to take vengeance. I saw you weren't fit for the place I had given you. Seeing that, I decided that Pietro Stanislaws had a right to come back from the grave. But don't imagine that I intend to throw you out on the world with empty pockets. That would be unfair, after the way I've let you live. I was the owner of the Stanislaws house, as it's called. Strickland arranged the business for me; and at my wish he offered it to you, Caspian. You bought: now you can sell to me again at a profit; and you'll owe me no thanks for any favour, which is my reason for wanting such a deal. Talk to my lawyer. He'll be expecting you to call."

"You'll have to prove that you're Pietro Stanislaws!" Caspian still weakly protested. "The story doesn't ring true to me. You may be taking advantage of some resemblance. You may be another Tichborne claimant. Why, now I think of it, I always heard there was a likeness between young Moncourt and young Stanislaws-that Moncourt did all he could to cultivate it!"

"Well, of that you can judge to-day," said Peter, keeping his temper. "Thanks to Miss Moore, Marcel Senior and I learned where Marcel Junior was hanging out. Marcel Senior has thought for a while that he had some cause to be grateful to me: that's why he stepped into the breach at my request, at Kidd's Pines. And I wanted him to do it-for one reason-because when I was a boy of thirteen or fourteen Mrs. Moore was very good to me. I was at a school on Long Island. I ran away, as I generally did: stole a ride on a freight train-fell off, got hurt, was seen by Mrs. Moore as she was driving with her little daughter, and instead of letting me be taken to hospital she brought me home to her house. I'm not sure if her husband approved. All the same he allowed me to stay and get well. It wasn't till I was able to get about that I told them who I was. But all that's an aside! It explains why I wanted to do a decent turn to Kidd's Pines if I could. Miss Moore mentioned to me when we were spending a few days at the Stanislaws house some weeks ago that a young man named Marcel de Moncourt was visiting friends of hers in France, and claiming to be their cousin. Well, that was a true claim, as Marcel Senior informed me. He himself came to America when he was young, to make his fortune, and dropped the "de" out of his name. He says he'd be

en rather a black sheep, and didn't deserve to be identified with his family. We had a powwow, he and I, about young Marcel. There was, and is, nothing against him in the matter of my father's death. I won't go into that question at the moment, but I can show good cause for protecting him then, and protecting him now. When we communicated with Marcel in France, where he'd arrived from the Argentine he decided to sail at once for this side, with his cousins the Marquise de Moncourt and her daughter Adrienne, to whom he is engaged. I've just been telling Miss Moore that her best friends-present company excepted"-(Peter smiled at Jack and me) "that her best friends arrived this morning, from Bordeaux to New York, where Marcel Senior met them and his son at the dock. He meant to escort them to Kidd's Pines; and they may arrive there at any minute. When the Marquise and her daughter find that Mr. and Miss Moore are here, perhaps they'll let Marcel bring them on."

I glanced at Larry. (From hints Pat had innocently let drop, I was sure the Marquise had been in love with Larry for years: that she'd kept Pat under her thumb in France, hoping to keep Larry, too. It occurred to me that things said by the girl in letters to Adrienne-things about Mrs. Shuster, or Idonia, or both-had probably brought the Marquise flying to the rescue. Or else, that unspeakable maid of Pat's-Angéle-was engaged by the Marquise to let her know what was "doing" at Kidd's Pines.) Larry's face was a study! Not a study of "detected guilt." Nothing like that. He looked sheepish, yet relieved. I read in his beautiful eyes of a boy, "Hurray! I bet she'll somehow rescue me from Shuster yet!"

I should have bet the same, if there'd been any one to bet with, but there wasn't-unless Mrs. Shuster herself. And she didn't yet realize what the advent of the Frenchwoman might mean for her future. She was beginning to recover from the shock of Caspian's fall, and to preen herself because she was about to meet a real, live Marquise.

She had only a few minutes to wait, for Peter's prophecy came true. The great Marcel did bring the Marquise and Adrienne on, by their urgent request, to Awepesha. Pat, it seems, had written so much about Jack and me, they almost felt as if they knew us! And young Marcel, already assured that he'd nothing to fear in America, was with his father and the ladies. (I'll tell you presently the story of old Justin Stanislaws' death and young Marcel's connection with it: but I'd never heard it properly myself when the Moncourt party arrived. You see Marcel didn't come much into Peter Storm's "Secret," as he'd confessed it to me.)

There was hardly time to wonder what the Marquise and young Marcel would be like (and Adrienne) when the visitors were announced by our bewildered butler. If you have felt any sympathy for Larry you'll be glad to hear that the Marquise is a Charmer from Charmerville. How Larry ever resisted her all these years I can't think, unless he valued his freedom beyond the lure of woman, and refrained from going to France for fear of striking his colours. She's the Frenchiest creature you ever saw: you know, the fascinating kind with magnolia-white skin, languishing eyes, black hair worn over the ears, red lips, and any age you like between twenty-eight and forty-five. Adrienne, compared to her mother, is a mere lump. But she has fine eyes and a bright smile, and Pat loves her, so she must be nice.

As for Marcel Junior, he really does look a little like Peter; a sort of a Christmas-card resemblance to a strong type. He's really engaged to Adrienne, it appears, and is an entirely reformed character; but I expect that the ménage will be mostly enriched by Marcel Père-and Peter.

I hope you are dying to know how Pat took Peter Storm's transformation into Pietro Stanislaws. But I'm going to save that bit for the last. I must explain to you some of the things Peter explained to me at Aunt Mary's, and other things I've learned since, else you won't be able to understand him as we do.

That running-away-from-school affair was characteristic, but not as anarchic as it sounds. His father, Justin Stanislaws, was Polish in ancestry but American by birth. He got to know Marcel Moncourt Senior soon after Marcel's bolt from France to New York. They both married Italian girls, who were beautiful and intimate friends. The father of Stanislaws' love was rich, and lived in terror of the "Black Hand." Stanislaws won her by saving the life of his father-in-law elect; and that was the starting-point of his great fortune. Once he had the nucleus, his genius for making money began to pile dollars up by the million. Marcel hadn't "found" himself yet. Stanislaws lost sight of him for years; but after Pietro's mother died, Marcel appeared again, also a widower, with one little boy. He was as poor as Stanislaws was rich. Yet he felt in himself the quality to supply the millionaire with something money had failed to give: social success. He explained his ideas; Stanislaws had the sense to see that they were good. Marcel "took him on," so to speak, organized his establishment, arranged magnificent and original entertainments; got him known and sought for by the right "set," and so, each man "made" the other.

Marcel started out on his new career with a thumping salary; Stanislaws advised investments and speculations. Marcel began to grow rich as well as famous, and might have been happy but for his son. Marcel Junior was a "caution!" From his early boyhood he was always falling into trouble, and having to be helped out by his adoring father or the indulgent Stanislaws, who seemed for a while to care more for young Marcel Moncourt than for his own high-spirited and independent Pietro. But at last he grew tired of the constant calls upon his generosity, and relations became strained.

By this time both the boys were grown up. Pietro's greatest joy was wandering over the world like a gypsy or a tramp, or anything but a "tourist." When his father's health failed he was summoned back from a glorious adventure in Russia, and expected to "settle down." He couldn't bear to disappoint the old man, and did his best to live up to expectations; but he was like a young lion caught in the Libyan Desert and shut in a gilded cage. The people his father wanted him to entertain bored him to tears. He saw that they valued Justin and Pietro Stanislaws for what could be got out of them: invitations, dinners, financial "tips," tours en automobile; and there was no reward for which Peter cared. "Our houses were practically hotels," he said to me, "and our hearts were utilized as snake hospitals. I might as well have been a chauffeur for all the choice of guests or destination I had when I drove my father's friends in our cars. I never did anything I wanted to do, and I never got any gratitude for doing what they wanted me to do. I might as well have been a goldfish, swimming round and round in the same globe, month after month, year after year. It wasn't my job! Nature hadn't made me for a fat, tame life. But young Marcel wasn't as much use as an understudy for a dutiful son as I'd once hoped. So I made up my mind to stick it while father lived and wanted me."

I don't know just how long Peter was in the "treadmill"-as he called it: two years, perhaps, then came Justin Stanislaws' sudden death. The old man was found by his valet one morning, lying dead on the marble floor of his gorgeous bedroom, with a wound at the back of his head, and a handkerchief marked "M.M." clutched in his hand. The wall safe where he kept his most precious treasures-photographs of his dead wife, her letters, and the favourite jewels which she had left for "Pietro's bride"-was open, the key was still in the lock, and the steel box containing the jewels had disappeared. Young Marcel Moncourt had also disappeared; and this was serious, because he had come to visit his father and had vainly begged for the loan of five thousand dollars from Justin Stanislaws.

You will wonder when you read this why Peter didn't set the police on Marcel's track, instead of doing all he could not only to protect him but to upset the theory of murder. But you see, in spite of the circumstantial evidence, Peter didn't believe that his father had been killed by Marcel or any one. The doctors said that the wound at the back of the head could quite well be the result of the fall; and that death might have been caused by heart failure. As for the handkerchief, Marcel Senior assured Peter that he and young Marcel used the same monogram: also that more than once his handkerchiefs and Justin Stanislaws' had been mixed together by the laundress, as they were of exactly the same size and quality, differing only in initials. He pleaded that the handkerchief was no clue, and no proof of a crime. He argued that the old man was a poor sleeper, and often unlocked the safe in the night, to look over the beloved letters and photographs. For that purpose he kept his bunch of keys under his pillow; and as for the absence of the jewels, that proved nothing because he-Marcel Senior-had himself warned Stanislaws that it was imprudent to have them there. Several other hiding-places, more secure and more secret, existed in the house; and some day, it was his opinion, the steel box might eventually be found in one of them, placed there by Stanislaws.

Peter listened, and pitied, and his own heart spoke for both Marcels. He decided to give his old playmate the benefit of the doubt, and you know already from what I've told you about Peter that, when he makes up his mind to do a thing, he does it thoroughly. The story that Justin Stanislaws had been murdered was denied, and scorn was poured upon it by the family. It survived only among sensation mongers and gossip lovers-like Caspian-who always believe the worst of every one and everything. Marcel Senior was grateful beyond words, but he was conscientious, too. Months passed with no word from his son (this was no new experience!), then a letter came from the Argentine.

"I'm doing well here," wrote Marcel Junior. "You won't have to worry about me in future. I know I've been a fool; but for once and for all I've had my lesson." And he went on to tell what the lesson was. "I was half crazy when you and old Stanislaws refused to let me have five thousand dollars," he said. "The scrape I'd got into was worse than I'd told you. I was at my wits' ends for money, and I dreamed about the safe in Stanislaws' wall. I knew what he kept there. He often showed Pietro and me the jewels. I dreamed that I went into his room, took the keys from under the pillow, and opened the safe. Then a noise woke me up. The dream was true. I waked standing at the open safe with the steel box in my hand. The noise that brought me to myself was Stanislaws falling on the marble floor. You know I've been a sleep walker all my life. But I realized in a second how hard it would be to prove myself innocent, whether Stanislaws lived or died. I thought my one chance was to be off before morning. I swear I didn't mean to steal the jewels. But the first thing I knew, I was out in the hall with the box in my hand, and I dared not go back!"

Marcel Junior went on to say that to his surprise the jewel-case wasn't locked. Because he had no money to get away with, he took out a diamond ring. The box, with the rest of its contents intact, he buried in the garden. In the hiding-place described it was found by Marcel Senior who carried it, with the letter, to Pietro.

It was soon after this that Peter finished settling up his father's affairs with the help of James Strickland, and sailed for England in the Lusitania, meaning to take a long holiday after his strenuous years as a budding millionaire. The recovered jewels he left in Strickland's care. And now you will have guessed, Mercédes, whence came those pearls, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds requisitioned for Miss Robinson's box with its convenient date of 1669! All that had to be done was to unstring the pearls and unset the stones, and they might be supposed to date from one century as well as another.

Now have I made everything clear, I wonder, up to the time when the Lusitania went down and Pietro Stanislaws was reborn as Peter Storm? Oh, but one thing I forgot! You remember I wrote about the Russian Military Attaché from Washington, who recognized Peter and was mesmerically suppressed by him at New London? There was no great mystery after all. They'd known each other in Russia, so you may imagine it was a shock to the Prince, seeing his dead friend suddenly walk into the hotel. That was a bad moment for Peter! He wanted to declare his identity when the time came, not to have it given away; so he pounced on the man and whispered, "Girl in the case. I'll explain." Which he did later and in private.

Now we come back at last to Pat: "the girl in the case!" But you haven't let yourself worry about her, have you, Mercédes?

Even I didn't worry much. From the moment she and Peter retired into my boudoir to "talk things over," and Jack and I sat supplying details out of our imagination, I knew that whatever happened all would be well. For that I trusted Peter.

If Ed Caspian had fallen from his high estate through no fault of his own, and could have posed as a martyr, Pat might have thought it her duty to be loyal. Even so she could never have said, "I will," when invited to take him for better or worse. As it was, Caspian could pose as nothing but a pig! He had given himself away, all along the line. And he was not to go pathetically out into the world alone as a pauper. He would have more money than he'd ever dreamed of until after the Lusitania tragedy. He would at worst be able to fight with Senator Collinge over the hand (and purse) of his dear old friend Mrs. Shuster, if Larry escaped her! The only difficulties I foresaw concerned the pawned engagement ring and Larry's debts to Lily. As to these I boldly decided that if worst came to worst I would betray my trust and tell Peter everything.

You will see, however, that my conscience was saved, and by Caspian.

Pat, of course, was petrified at seeing Peter Storm turn into Pietro Stanislaws. She listened dumbly to Peter's indictment of Caspian; and then, before she found time or words to speak, the little wretch turned to snap at her like a trapped jackal.

"You'll throw me over now!" he sneered. "That goes without telling. Rats desert a sinking ship. But-what do you mean to do about my ring? Maybe you thought I didn't know. Ask Mrs. Shuster! Angéle told her. I guess Mrs. Shuster's money and my ring have gone the same way!"

That was too much for Larry. "You'd better go after your d-d ring, then!" said he, looking like a handsome, angry schoolboy. "I can give you the pawn-ticket; and I bet Peter Storm-or Stanislaws-will lend the money to redeem the beastly thing. As for Mrs. Shuster, we won't bring her name into this. She and I will settle our affairs, official and unofficial, although you seem to be so deep in her confidence. I say, Captain Winston, do you mind my telling Caspian that the nearest way to the pawnbroker's is through your front door, and the quicker he finds it the better?"

"I don't mind in the least your telling him that," Jack replied pleasantly.

"And I should love you to!" I added breathlessly.

This brought Pat to me. "Oh, Molly!" she said.

"Oh, Patsey!" said I.

Then Peter came to us. "Oh, Peter!" said we both.

Somehow, I found that in his right hand was a hand of mine, and in his left (nearest the heart) was one of Patty's. "It's all right," he said. "It ends by my getting the treasure of Kidd's Pines."

"Well, I do think you've earned it!" I exclaimed. "If it were mine to give I'd give it with my blessing."

"I owe it largely to you-you and your Lightning Conductor." It was to me Peter spoke; but he looked at Pat, "I don't know what I should have done without you."

That was nice of him, wasn't it? I love praise, even when I don't deserve it. We have taken an interest, if we've done nothing more. And so have you, my kind Mercédes. Peter and Pat, and you and Monty, and Jack and I, are Perfect Dears, if I do say it myself. And I know those two are going to be as happy as we are.

I wish you could both be at the wedding. It will have to be soon, if Jack and I are to throw rice and slippers.

Ever your loving old




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Transcriber's note:

The page numbers of illustrations have been changed to reflect the new positions, and are now indicated in the illustration list by 'Page' instead of 'Facing Page'.

Obvious printer's errors have been corrected. All other inconsistencies are as in the original. The author's spelling has been retained.

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