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   Chapter 22 THE WHITE FLARE

The Phantom Violin / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 8347

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"That scream! What was it?" The figure of Percy O'Hara had suddenly grown tense. In the gathering darkness he seemed cast in bronze.

To the slim girl who but the moment before had thought of this marvelous violinist as a phantom, the whole thing seemed unreal. "Have you never heard it before?" she asked with a voice that trembled.

"Heard that scream before?" He stared at her.

"I heard it two nights ago. But that was late, near midnight," she said. "There are people down below by a narrow lake. They come and go in an airplane. There's a lodge of some sort and a small rowboat. They carried someone into the lodge, someone who was helpless, crippled or bound. I could not tell."

"You know all this, you who have been here so short a time?"

"Yes."

"I knew that someone came and went over there." He spoke slowly. "But I-you see I've wanted to be alone. If you go about spying on others you're likely to be found out yourself. I did not hear the scream at midnight. Sound asleep. But we must do something. We-"

"Look!" The girl gripped his arm impulsively. "Look! It's Florence! The white flare!"

Even as she spoke night shadows were banished and every smallest shrub and bush stood out as in the light of day.

"Come!" she cried. "We must go! It is Florence. That is a signal, a sign of danger. But-" her tone changed, "how could that be a signal? I never told her about the white flares. They were given to me as a signal to be used in case of danger."

"A signal to whom?"

"Vincent Stearns," she replied, her voice all atremble. "He will come. Something terrible has happened! We must hurry!"

"In just one moment. I will be back. Don't go without me. I know a short trail. We'll be there at once." Her new found friend disappeared into the night.

At once the girl's mind was awhirl with questions. So this was the phantom. Why had this wonderful musician hidden himself away here on Isle Royale? Had he committed some grave crime? It was unthinkable. And yet, why was he here? Would she ever know?

Then her thoughts took another turn. Who had screamed? Why had Florence lighted the white flare? Because of the scream? She would hardly do that, and besides she did not know of the flares.

"Oh why did we come here?" Greta said the words aloud.

Then turning instinctively, she looked to see if Percy O'Hara might have heard.

Percy O'Hara was not to be seen. That which met her gaze set her knees trembling afresh. Once again she was looking into what appeared to be a hundred pairs of green and gleaming eyes.

"Here we are!" She started violently.

Percy O'Hara was at her side. "We'll go this way. Follow the ridge. I'll lead the way." Without another word he marched straight ahead, leaving her to follow on.

He walked unerringly as some wild creature of the forest, straight to the small tent beside the big flat rock.

They found Florence quite unharmed, but in a state of great agitation. "Oh, Greta!" she exclaimed. Then, catching sight of Percy O'Hara, broke short off to stare.

"Wha-what happened?" Greta panted. "This is Mr. O'Hara. Tell me what happened!"

"Nothing happened-that is, nothing much. Did you hear that scream?"

"Yes. We-"

"Well, I heard it and came dashing from the tent. My foot struck something and sent it bounding into the fire. Before I could grab it, there came a blinding white flare. I jumped back just in time to save myself. And now-"

"And now," Greta broke in, "Vincent Stearns will come all the way up the ridge from-from wherever he is. He-he'll bring others, like as not, to-to save us from some-something terrible. Oh!" she fairly wailed, "that's what one gets for keeping secrets! He gave me those flares before we started. And I-I never told you!" Greta seemed ready for tears.

"It might be a great deal worse," Percy O'Hara broke in. His tone was reassuring. He seated himself comfortably on a mossy rock. "I think that scream really meant trouble of some sort. It would seem to be our duty to investigate. And when there's investigating to be done there's safety in numbers. I think we'll do well to await the arrival of your friend. Perhaps someone wi

ll come with him.

"By the way," his tone changed and his bright eyes gleamed in the firelight. "Have I been smelling bacon, coffee and all that these days, or have I not?"

"Pure imagination!" Florence laughed. "We live on nuts and berries." For all her laughing denial, she set about the task of sending delicious aromas drifting along the slope of Greenstone Ridge.

The "phantom's" delight in the food set before him could not have been denied. No empty words of praise were his. For all that, fingers that trembled ever so slightly, eyes that smiled in a way one could not forget, told Florence her skill as brewer of coffee and broiler of bacon was appreciated fully.

When the simple meal had ended, with a low fire of bright coals gleaming red on the great flat rock, they settled themselves upon cushions of moss to wait.

"Wait for what?" Greta asked herself. "For the coming of Vincent Stearns. And then?"

Who could find an answer? Before her mind's eye the seaplane once more soared aloft to at last settle down upon that narrow lake. She looked again upon those black waters, saw the rowboat, the moving figures, the helpless one being carried away.

"What does it mean?" she whispered. Then again she seemed to hear that piercing scream.

All this occupied her alert mind only a few short moments. Then her dark enquiring eyes were upon the face of that man who sat staring dreamily at the fire.

"Percy O'Hara!" she whispered low. "The Phantom Violin! Why is he here?"

As if feeling her eyes upon him, he turned half about, favored her with a matchless smile, opened his lips as if to speak, then seeming to think better of it, turned his face once more toward the fire.

"Oh!" she thought, "he was going to tell me!"

But he did not speak. Instead he continued to stare at the fire. She studied his face. Well worth her study, that face. A rather handsome, strong, sensitive face, an honest, kindly face it was. She looked in vain for traces of deep sorrow. They were not to be found. She tried casting him in the role of a man fleeing from justice. It could not be done.

"And yet-"

Once again his eyes were upon her.

This time he took his violin from its case by his side. Tucking it under his chin, he began to play. The music that came to her ears did not seem human. So fine, so all but silent was it, yet so exquisitely beautiful, it might have been the song of a bird on the wing, or angels in heaven.

"Oh!" she breathed as the last faint note died away, and again "Oh!"

Wrapping the priceless instrument carefully, he returned it to its case.

"Now," she whispered, "now the Phantom will tell his story." Still he did not speak.

"Perhaps," she told herself, "he is wondering what lies in the future for him, the immediate future, when he goes down the hill to that-that place."

She looked at his fingers. Slim, delicate, they were the fingers of a true artist. "And with these he will defend someone," she told herself as a little thrill crept up her back. "How-how impossible that seems!

"And yet, great musicians are not cowards." She was thinking of that celebrated Polish patriot who, having played for the rich and great of all lands, had put aside his music when his country called.

"He will not tell us tonight," she assured herself, "The Phantom will not speak, perhaps never at all. Secrets are our own. No one has a right to pry into our lives."

Only once during that long wait did the Phantom speak. Turning to Greta, he said, "Where are you staying on the island?"

Greta nodded at the small tent.

"But before that?"

"We have been living on the wreck of the Pilgrim."

"The wreck!" His eyes shone. "How wonderful! Better than Greenstone Ridge. Only," he added, "people would come to see you there."

"Yes. And you will come?" Greta's tone was eager.

Once again his eyes shone upon her. "Yes," he said quietly, "I fancy I shall be doing just that sometime."

It was a promise in answer to a prayer. The girl could ask no more.

Ten minutes later there came the sound of movement in the bushes some distance down the ridge. This was followed by a loud, "Yoo Hoo!"

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