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Title:  The Daughter of the House
Author: Carolyn Wells
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1900801h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  August 2019
Most recent update: August 2019

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cover

titlepage

The Daughter of the House

by
Carolyn Wells

CONTENTS

Chapter 1. - The Daughter Herself
Chapter 2. - A Mercenary Wretch
Chapter 3. - A Futile Errand
Chapter 4. - The Terrible Face
Chapter 5. - Nurse Brace
Chapter 6. - The Mother
Chapter 7. - The Queer Man Again
Chapter 8. - A Wedding Day
Chapter 9. - Where Is Mary?
Chapter 10. - Futile Search
Chapter 11. - Billy Budd, Detective
Chapter 12. - A New Tragedy
Chapter 13. - Like A Story Book
Chapter 14. - Three Letters
Chapter 15. - A Bargain
Chapter 16. - Forry’s Story
Chapter 17. - Fleming Stone At Work
Chapter 18. - The Daughter Of The House

Chapter 1
The Daughter Herself

DAVID LANG HAD such a nice, sensible, square sounding name, it was a pity that he wrote it with a final curlicue of a flourish.

But that flourish was the key note to his whole nature. It was that flourish that made him wear obvious patterned suits, and a collar whose points flared up and out over a black bow tie in an almost Pecksniffian manner.

It was that flourish that made him call his home-site Langdene, after rejecting Langfield, Langlands and even Lang Manor.

His whole life was a flourish.

Successful, rich, retired, he gave himself over to fatuous self-appreciation, and promptly became self-centred, self-important and decidedly selfish.

Yet he was a lovable man, and those who loved him ignored his colossal self-esteem, and rated him at their own values. And those values were high. Lang had hosts of friends, he was adored by his family and household, and his neighbors had nothing but good words for him.

He was a bore only when he indulged in his pet faults of bumptiousness and braggadocio. To be sure he would have indignantly denied the possession of these traits, but nevertheless he had them and had them bad.

With a flourish of his hand he would sweep the acreage of Langdene and descant on its expensive appointments. With a flourish of rhetoric he would eulogize his charming wife and beautiful daughter, to their everlasting chagrin and embarrassment. With a flourish of erudition he would inform weary listeners of the rarity and value of the specimens in his collection of early glass.

This was his hobby—not an objectionable one, save when he flourished about it. And most praiseworthy were the zeal and patience he had shown and the efficiency he had exercised in his many and long searchings for the rare and curious treasures of which he now had cabinets full.

In this avocation of his he was ably helped by a young man who rejoiced in the picturesque name of Dane Wyatt, but who signed it without a flourish.

Wyatt was not a confidential secretary, indeed, he was not a secretary at all; his official title seemed to be merely the assistant. And it expressed his work, for he knew the old glass as well as if not better than his employer and his aid was invaluable.

Some people waggishly said that Langdene was built like a ladder lying on the ground. This was far from being strictly true, but it was long and straight, and most of the ground floor rooms could be entered at the front and exit made at the back, if one chose.

But there were breaks and juts and angles and there were steps between rooms and pleasant alcoves and balconies, so that the house, though of no strictly adhered to type of architecture, was roomy, light and airy, and most delectable to live in.

Midway of the length was the great front entrance, wide and hospitable, with porch and porte cochère, and a descending series of terraces to a broad sweep of lawn.

Straight through the house ran the hall, used as a lounge and made comfortable accordingly. Then, at the back were long porches, a tea porch and an uncovered deck that overlooked the Long Garden, as the landscape gardener had dubbed his floral masterpiece.

All of which, you see, was the direct result of that flourish after David Lang’s autograph.

His own two personal rooms were at one end of the house. These did not each run full depth, but with his library in front and his museum back of it, took up the space. The house faced north, leaving the southern exposure for the lovely back porches and gardens.

Lang’s rooms, at the east end opened onto a sun parlor, which also boasted a fireplace, for the library chimney at that end made it practicable.

Therefore, the sun parlor, always warmed, naturally or artificially, and yet cool and shaded when desired, by reason of its many and various shades and blinds was a favorite gathering place at all seasons. It gave no access to the house except through the library, but David Lang was no curmudgeon and minded this not a whit. Young people might traipse through while he was reading but it never bothered him at all.

Yet this was merely his own little reading room. The real library came next, with its shelves of sets and bindings. In David’s reading room were only his reference works and books of which he was himself fond.

The larger library opened on into the lounge hall. Then there was the great drawing room, the smaller living room and the dining rooms, all superbly appointed and adorned with flourishes.

And there you have Langdene. Beautiful in spite of its excessive claims to beauty, charming in spite of its evident insistence on its charm.

Lang himself didn’t look like Pecksniff, except for his foolish collar. He was a well set up man of fifty-two, with hair almost white, and with a silvery sheen. Also it curled a little, and was worn a trifle long—with a slight flourish.

For the rest, he had dark eyes, clear, healthy skin and a mouth and chin a little weak, but dignified, even pompous.

Eleanor Lang, his wife, had no flourishes—she scorned boasting and rather belittled herself and her belongings than otherwise.

Except for her cherished possession of chronic ill health. She would have summarily dismissed a doctor who encouraged her to believe she was growing better physically, and, knowing this, her physician humored her until she bid fair to become a contented hypochondriac.

Young looking for her half century, modish and careful in her dress, she was as deeply absorbed in her collection of symptoms and minor ailments as her husband was in his glassware.

Her daughter she loved in a mild impassive way, but her nature was not of the maternal, and she had always felt that when she had properly looked after Rosemary’s food, attire and manners, her duty by her offspring was done.

The girl was called Mary by her own choice, and most of the rest of her life was ordered by her own choice.

Her father loved her, but his own self loomed so large, and his collection was growing so numerous that there was small room left in his heart for Mary, the daughter of the house.

The two Langs and the valued assistant, Wyatt, sat in the sun parlor, one July afternoon.

It was fortunate that Dane Wyatt bore a well sounding name, for his physical appearance was far from distinguished.

A square-jowled face surmounted an almost equally square torso, the whole supported by short legs and long feet. Yet the ever present and world-embracing smile that decorated the homely face was so engaging and so infectious that most people who knew him liked Dane.

“You see,” David Lang was saying, “I shall never be content until I get a Henry Clay cup plate with the right sort of border. The one I have is all very well, but I want—”

An interruption arrived in the shape of a young man who burst in upon them impetuously, and flung himself on a wicker lounge.

“Mary’s broken the engagement again!” he groaned, and his lugubrious face left no room for doubt as to the truth of his statement.

“H’m,” said David Lang, superiorly. “And for the same reason, I suppose.”

“Yep,” admitted the sad one, forlornly, then recovering a trifle, he reached out for a small smoking stand, and proceeded to solace himself with a cigarette.

“What have you been up to with Giulia?” Mrs. Lang inquired, in a disinterested, detached manner.

“Oh, just sauntering about—”

“Why do you do it?” Dane Wyatt demanded. He was by no means of the lower classes. “Why saunter with the serpentine Giulia when Mary is perfectly able to walk?”

At this juncture Mary made her appearance.

Just the regulation type of the modern damozel.

Pretty, of course; slim, of course; lithe, graceful, dainty—all those things, and exquisitely groomed and garbed. Her smart sports suit was a marvel of green and white stuff, and from her perfectly hatted head to her perfectly shod feet, she was a joy to look upon.

Incidently, she had hair, eyes and skin of varying shades of brown, and as she flung her hat on a bench, it transpired that her hair was bobbed and was very dark and very straight.

The glance she threw at the young man was also dark and straight, and her heavy brows drew together in anger as she replied to Wyatt’s question.

“Just because Giulia is serpentine!” she cried; “she glides up to Forrester just like her prototype in the Garden of Eden slid around, and she tries to lure him away from me! Good Lord, she’s welcome to him! I don’t want him!”

She gave a look of intense scorn at the contrite figure on the couch and went on with her tirade.

“You needn’t think, Forrester Carr, that I’m so daft over you I can’t see straight! Giulia Castro is a horrid old Italian—”

“She isn’t horrid and she isn’t old and she isn’t Italian—” Carr returned with a decided show of spirit. “I don’t care for her at all, but I can’t hear her slandered—”

“Oh, slandered!” Mary glared at him. “She’s old compared to me—”

“Yes,” said her fiancé, “and she’s horrid compared to you, and she’s Italian compared to you.” Clearly, he meant to make up.

Mary was mollified at this, but not yet ready to show it.

“Where’d you go with her?” she demanded.

“To the end of the rainbow,” Carr returned, for he saw she was melting and delighted to tease her.

Forrester Carr was a first class fiancé. He had all the ear-marks of a proper husband for Mary, and both families were pleased with the trothplight.

More pleased than, at times, the young people were themselves.

For Carr was impulsive, dictatorial and a born tease. Mary was imperious, exacting and a little spoiled. So there was now and then friction.

A new thorn had showed itself with the arrival of Giulia Castro, a young widow, who had taken a rentable cottage on the Lang estate.

She was not Italian but her husband had been and she had revamped her name to please him.

She was a siren if not a serpent, and though Carr jested about his liking for her, she had rather bewitched him, and he turned it to good account for a chance to torment Mary.

Not that Carr didn’t love the girl he was engaged to. But he was mercurial and a little fickle and, too, he had a bit of Petruchio about him in his determination to tame Mary. So Giulia was made part of the taming process.

Mrs. Lang rose to go into the house. She was always a little bored by these engagement breakings and she wished the children would be more reasonable.

“Don’t forget, Mary, it’s Hester’s day,” she said, as she left them. “Come in very shortly.”

“Yes, Mother,” and Mary’s naturally sweet voice was a contrast to her shrill notes of anger.

“You may go now,” she said, looking at Carr with indifference. “I don’t think I shall ever want to see you again, but if I do, I’ll send for you.”

“May as well stick around a while,” returned the irrepressible one. “You might change your mind suddenly, you know.”

“All right, stick it, then. I’m going in to see Nurse Brace.” Picking up her hat, Mary sauntered to the house door, and after politely seeing her through it, Forry Carr returned laughing.

“Don’t think I tease her too much, Mr. Lang,” he said, “really, she can do with a bit of taking down—”

“Oh, all right—all right—” and David Lang showed his impatience of the subject; “now, Dane, as I say, I must have a Henry Clay cup plate, and you must run up to New England somewhere and stalk it.”

“All right, sir,” agreed Wyatt, and then their talk became technical beyond Carr’s comprehension.

He was glad when another man appeared on the sun porch.

Alexander Lang, a few years younger than his brother David, lived at Langdene, and lived, it must be confessed, on his brother’s bounty.

Not that David minded this. He had been successful, financially, poor Alex hadn’t. Why not give him a share? No reason, whatever.

That settled the matter for David. Alex was welcome to a home, a living, recreations—in fact, pretty much whatever he wanted, and David didn’t begrudge him a cent.

No one else objected, for Uncle Alex was a good sort, always ready to sympathize or advise, and quite capable of doing so.

“Come for a walk, Forry,” Alex said, and the two men strolled away.

“What’s up?” the elder asked, briefly.

“Mary’s jealous of Mrs. Castro.”

“Again or yet.”

“Both. But, I say, Uncle Alex, I did it on purpose—provoked her, I mean. I can’t let that girl ride over me roughshod!”

“No, I suppose not. But—aren’t you playing with fire?”

“Of course I am. Fire is my pet toy.”

“Well, my boy, you know your own business, but I’d hate to see a real break between you and Mary.”

“Oh, it won’t come to that. Mary’s too fond of me—”

“Tut, tut, that’s a shameful attitude to hold—”

“Yes, it is. I apologize all round. And I didn’t exactly mean it that way. I mean, we’re too fond of each other—”

“That’s better. Well, did you tame your little Shrew?”

“Dunno yet. It’s Miss Brace’s day. But I’m not worrying. And Mary isn’t a shrew. She’s an obstinate little cat, but I’d not like her without spunk, you know.”

Meanwhile the obstinate little cat was transformed into a sweet, pliable girl as she and her mother sat in the lounge talking to Nurse Brace.

A stalwart, gaunt looking woman, there was yet the sure smile of motherliness in the deep gray eyes and an inflection of tenderness in the hard voice.

Nurse Brace had helped to bring Mary into the world. She had tended her through her babyhood, and even now, when her charge was a grown-up young woman the nurse journeyed to see her once every month as regular as the day came round.

Mrs. Lang looked on Hester more as an old friend than a servant, and all through Mary’s life the mother and the nurse had discussed the child’s well-being in all its phases, whether mental, moral or dietary.

“Yes, Mary’s all right,” Mrs. Lang was saying, “but I’m poorly. I think now I have heart trouble.”

“Oh, Hesty,” Mary smiled at her, “don’t listen to mother’s symptoms, let me tell you my troubles.”

It was clear to be seen Nurse Brace was the repository of the secrets of both these women, and it was equally plain that she was eager and glad to hear all they had to tell.

The merest glance showed the contrast in the two natures of the older women.

Mrs. Lang, delicate, refined, haughty, and with but slight interest in her daughter, and Hester Brace, less fine of fibre, but fairly tingling with love and affection that might have been given to the daughter she never bore.—

Some women are born maternal yet never have a child on which to lavish tender care. Others marry and bear children with no more real love for them than that of an animal for its offspring.

Hester looked long and intently at Mary.

“You’ve not changed in the month,” she said, critically, “yet you look different, too—”

“It’s my bobbed hair,” Mary said, “isn’t it just darling?”

“No,” Brace said, bluntly, “I’m not keen about it. But I suppose it’s the fashion.”

“Yes,” said Eleanor Lang, “it’s the fashion. I didn’t like it at first, but I’m getting used to it. You’ll learn to like it, Hester. Now, I’d like you to listen while I tell you about this pain in my heart.”

“Oh, Mother, Hesty isn’t a doctor. Do consult Mason about your symptoms and let’s have a pleasant chat with nurse.”

“Meaning gossip of your own affairs, I suppose. I do think, Mary, you might have a little consideration for your own mother!”

“You stay here by me, Lamb,” the nurse said, drawing Mary down by her side. “We’ll listen to the symptoms—I may be able to help, if they’re within my experience and knowledge. If not, no harm done.”

So Mary sat by, and heard again rehearsed aches and pains which, she felt sure were largely imaginary, and which Nurse Brace listened to with anxious attention.

“I doubt if I can help you, Mrs. Lang,” she said, at last, compassion in her tone. “I’m not sure you’re affected quite as you say you are, but if so, you need a doctor not a nurse. That is, a doctor first. And if he says a nurse, and if you want me, I’ll be glad to come.”

“Oh, could you, Nurse? Could you leave the hospital and come to me I’m not sure I need you—yet—”

“Oh, land, Mrs. Lang, dear, you have no need for me. You see a doctor and he’ll put you straight. But, if you ever should need me—yes, I could come. I’m thinking of giving up hospital work anyway, and taking only private cases. So if ever you want me, just let me know, and I’ll come if it’s possible. And now, Mary, dearie, it’s your turn. Tell old Hester what’s it all about.”

“You sha’n’t call yourself old,” and Mary looked reproachfully into the gray eyes that were indeed still young in their expression, though the hair above them was fairly gray, too.

“Will you have tea here, Nurse, or go outside?” asked her hostess, kindly. “It’s cooler out there.”

“No, ma’am, I don’t want to see the menfolks. Let me have it here. I must be going soon. I’m late today. But I felt I must see you—both.”

“Yes, of course,” and Mary patted the large, strong hand.

And then, as she had done ever since she could talk, Mary unburdened her heart to Nurse Brace. She told her all about the perfidy of Forrester Carr, and Brace listened to every word, gravely and with the deepest interest and sympathy. But when the tragic tale was finished, she smiled at the girl.

“Going to hold him off long?” she asked, understandingly.

Mary pouted. “Now, Brace dear, do take it seriously,” she pleaded.

“Nonsense, Mary,” her mother laughed, as she poured out the tea. “Brace can’t take your foolish quarrels seriously any more than your father and I can. It’s too silly—”

“I guess it isn’t silly when the man who is engaged to you goes skylarking off with a snake-in-the-grass widow that’s just trying her best to steal him away! I guess you wouldn’t like it Hesty, if a horrid widow person tried to steal your young man!”

“I never had a ‘young man,’ Mary dear,” and the nurse spoke wistfully, “but” and her gray eyes flashed, “if I had had—nobody should have stolen him from me—nobody!”

Her voice rang out so determinedly that Mrs. Lang opened her eyes.

“Why, Brace,” she cried, “you’re quite dramatic! Really, you ought to be on the stage.”

The nurse looked a trifle ashamed, and smiled uncomfortably.

“It’s nonsense, ma’am,” she said. “But I don’t hold with lovers’ quarrels. I think they’re dangerous to both sides. Now, Miss Mary, dear, you take my advice, don’t you have tiffs with your beau unless you want to lose him. I know how you think it piques him, and makes you seem more precious and worth while—but it isn’t really so. The real thing is faith and loyalty and agreement on both sides.”

“Why, Hesty,” Mary’s eyes filled, “how well you put it. And I do believe you are right. I shall whistle Forry back this very evening. But I say, Nursie, do you know the Castro person?”

“I think I saw her, as I passed the cottage. She sat on the verandah, or rather, she lounged in a hammock. She held a book, but she wasn’t reading. She was peering up the road—”

“Oho! Looking for Forry to come! I see. And, Nursie,” Mary could be a very wheedling, “let me off now, and I’ll run after my swain. I’ll see you for a longer time when you come again—but I must snatch my brand from the burning!”

With a butterfly kiss on the cheek of the grimfaced woman, Mary ran off to the sun parlor and joined the group of men there.

Hester Brace was grim-faced, but it was because of the sorrow and pain that had filled her life, both her own and others. Joys she had had, but far more of grief, and it had left its ineradicable mark.

One of her bright spots was this occasional visit to the Langs, and though mother and daughter appreciated what it meant to the lonely woman, yet each was a bit glad when the visit was over.

“Mary’s looking well,” Eleanor Lang said, as conversation flagged.

“Yes—except for that bobbed hair. Oh, well, girls will be girls. Does she use paint and powder?”

“I’m afraid she does, Hester,” the mother admitted.

“And—” Brace’s voice dropped low, “does she—smoke?”

Mrs. Lang almost laughed outright at the horror in the gray eyes.

“Why—yes, she does,” she declared. “But all the girls do now, and if her parents don’t object, surely you needn’t worry.”

This was meant as a slight rebuke and was taken as such.

“No,” Hester Brace said, gravely, “no, I needn’t worry. And I sha’n’t, Mrs. Lang. You see, I’ve suspected these things for some time, and I wanted to be sure.”

“Well, be sure, Hester.” Eleanor Lang smiled. “But be sure, too, that Mary is moderate in her use of these things you condemn, and that she does nothing that does not have my full sanction. And I’m rather conservative, as you know, Hester.”

“I do know, ma’am—none better than I. From the day I first saw you in the hospital, before Mary had seen the light of day, until now, never have I known you to err in taste or judgment.”

Eleanor Lang did not deem this speech impertinent or presumptuous. Nurse Brace was a privileged person. Usually she was in merrier mood. Seldom indeed had she been as serious as today. But Eleanor Lang ascribed it to some hard work or some hopeless case, and was a bit more kind and attentive herself in consequence.

And soon after Hester Brace went away.

“In the grumps, wasn’t she?” Mary asked, as her mother reappeared.

“Not that, exactly. But a little downcast over something, poor soul.”

Chapter 2
A Mercenary Wretch

THE WHOLE OF the Westchester area boasted few larger estates than Langdene, and its wide expanse of field and woodland gave room for two or three pleasant cottages that in no wise hindered or intruded upon the seclusion and privacy of the main house.

The prettiest of these cottages was Willow Dell, a cozy little nest, on the bank of a small stream edged with drooping weeping-willows.

Mary called the place Willow Willow Waly, but the present occupant amended it to Willow Dell.

It was situated at the other end of the Long Gardens and so was of very easy access from the Lang home.

These long gardens were each about twenty feet wide, and with a path between extended straightaway for a long distance from the south porches. The vista was bewilderingly beautiful, beginning as it did with low-growing flowers which gave way to higher and higher plants until it ended far away with tall blossoming shrubs.

The straight path led to the brook, and a rustic bridge spanned the babbling, stony-bedded little stream.

The tenant of Willow Dell was usually persona grata with the Langs and so the bridge was handy and useful.

But a recent change had been made and the new incumbent, Mrs. Castro was a bit of a mystery, or at least, an unknown quantity.

In appearance she was slim, dark and daring. She affected black gowns with a splash of red, or yellow with a touch of black. But she was possessed of that particular quality which is called charm, and which, in its stronger moments becomes fascination, and, on occasion, diablerie.

She defied modern fashions, and wore her sleek, black hair in shining bands. Her costumes showed an Egyptian influence and her jewelry was both bizarre and barbaric.

Yet Giulia Castro was not loud or self-assertive. On the contrary, she was exclusive and retiring. She was wont to show a seeming diffidence that might have been shyness, but was, more likely, a clever simulation of it.

The uncertainty one felt, in her presence, as to when she was sincere and when mocking, lent a glamorous yet absorbing interest to her every word and deed.

Her instincts and intuitions were so quick and so true, that she gained a reputation for clairvoyance. This, however, she did not possess, making her natural shrewdness and experience serve her quite as well.

Mr. Alexander Lang was calling upon her.

She had made him most comfortable on her vine clad little porch, and ensconced in a long wicker steamer chair, with smokes and drinks at his elbow, he idly watched his hostess as she sat near and talked to him.

“I’ve come to lecture you,” he observed suddenly and apropos of nothing.

“Yes,” she said, an amused smile curving her red lips.

“Yes. And I daresay you know what about.”

“I know everything. It is about young Carr.”

“Correct. Now, look here—you’re not to butcher that pretty little love affair to make a Roman holiday.”

“Me being the Roman?”

“Yes, you being the Roman.”

“What about Forry? He does his full share of the butchering.”

“No, he doesn’t. At least, he wouldn’t, if you didn’t egg him on.”

“I egg him on! Why, Mr. Lang, I never egged a man on in my life—I never had to. They always egg themselves.”

“Yes, I know, but you whisk the egg-beater. Oh, don’t try to fool me, I know you, heart and soul—and that’s why I want you to marry me.”

“You’re so ambiguous. Do you mean you want me to marry you so I won’t fascinate Mary’s young man away from her?”

“Well, I do mean that—but it’s one word for him and two for myself.”

“H’m—I see. And what about me?”

“You’re the king pin—the queen bee. What you say, goes. Now, Giulia mia, play pretty and say you’ll marry me, and then I’ll tell you how much I love you.”

“You’re original. Most men tell me that before they ask the question.”

“I’m not most men. I’m a law unto myself. So say yes, and get that part over.”

“It’s a woman’s privilege to dally a bit. Let me think it over. This is about the fourth time you’ve proposed to me. How many more times have you set yourself?”

“Not many.” Alex shook his head. “I only planned for three, at the outside. But I’ve extended it to four, and—well, it may be your last chance.”

“In the absence of father or brother or guardian, I feel I am justified in asking a few questions. What approximately, is your annual income? This may sound mercenary, as indeed it is, but I am my only advisory board, and so I have to find out things for myself.”

“You’re welcome to the knowledge. As a matter of fact, I’ve only what David chooses to give me. But, I may add, it can be called a living wage.”

“Is it definitely arranged? Is it permanent?”

“It will be made so, if you consent to become my wife. Otherwise, I’ve no reason for raising the subject with my brother.”

“No, I suppose not. Do you know, this is a strange wooing.”

“This isn’t the wooing o’t. Just give me a word of promise, and I’ll woo like a nightingale. I’ll roar you as gently as any sucking dove.”

“There’s only one thing about you I really like, that’s your unshakable savoir faire. Few men could make your proposition—it’s scarcely a proposal—”

“Few men are at all like me. I’m nearly a unique specimen. Oh, Giulia take me—for better, for worse—I assure you it will be for better. For richer, for poorer—I promise you it shall be for richer. You are very beautiful, we are congenial, we shall be happy together. Come dear, say yes—” Alex Lang scarcely looked his forty-eight years as he threw his whole soul into the pleading of his cause. He was deeply in love with the lovely widow, but he hoped to appeal to her by his unusual way of asking. He knew that she was besieged by suitors, and he felt that cleverness might win out against the offers of younger men.

Moreover, he felt sure she was not at all in love with Forrester Carr, and that her flirtation with him was merely a roguish trick to irritate Mary.

Not that Giulia was cattish or mean, but she was a woman to whom men’s attentions were as the breath of life, and even an engaged man, like Forry Carr, was not rebuffed if he made a few careless advances.

“Dear Alex,” she began, speaking slowly, “I am fond of you—but—”

She ceased speaking, her eyes fixed on a faraway hill, and her lovely mouth quivering a little.

“But what, dear?” he prompted, softly.

“There are only two things I ask of this world,” she resumed, still speaking slowly and thoughtfully. “They are life and love.”

“What more can any one want?” Lang said, understandingly.

“Yes, but I want them both to the extreme—to the limit—”

“So do I.”

“And to me love means devotion, adoration, tenderness, passion—” Again the silence and the faraway gaze.

“All those I will give you in full measure, pressed down and running over.”

“Yes—I know it. And life—Alex, do you know what I mean by life?”

“What?”

“Luxury, extravagance, beautiful things in abundance, houses, travel, all the things that money can buy.”

“Mercenary wretch!’”

“I know it—though I don’t know why mercenary people are always called wretches. However, it’s the truth. All my life I have wanted luxury—Sybaritic luxury. I am happy and content in this tiny home, because I have to be, but I want to blossom out, to find myself, my real self, in the surroundings that I crave and that only wealth can give me. Yet wealth with a man I do not love has no appeal for me. I want life and love—the kind of life and the kind of love that I have described.”

“Good Lord, Giulia, I wish I had David’s millions. They do him no good, and with them I could buy you.”

“Do him no good? He is not a miser. He spends freely and for beautiful things.”

“Yes, but he doesn’t spend a quarter of his income. Eleanor’s tastes are modest, and Mary is too young to want much. David’s collecting hobbies are not of an extravagant sort—not like pictures or jewels—and so, most of his fortune just lies quiet and gathers fat.”

“Oh,” she sighed gently. “Things are not fairly distributed in this world.”

“No; David ought to give me half his wealth. He would never miss it. It will be mine at his death—”

“Really, has he left you half?”

“Not half, but a third. His wife and daughter and myself are his only heirs, except for some minor bequests.”

“Then, he surely ought to be willing to settle a good part of that money on you at once. Would he do so, do you suppose?”

“I doubt it. Yet, he might. He’s an impulsive sort, and if I asked him at the right moment, I’m not sure he wouldn’t do just that. And then—Giulia—”

“Then—we’d see about it.”

“And meantime, you’ll give me a crumb—a word to live upon. Tell me you will love me—if, when and as I receive a third of my brother’s fortune.”

The whimsical note in his voice took away the sting of the mercenary words and his reward was a long glance from the dark eyes that seemed to promise any and all things the heart of man could desire.

“When you are married, Alex dear,” she said, “your wife will adore you.”

“But I never shall marry, unless I marry you,” he returned.

“Yes, I know that,” she said quietly, and a slow, dawning smile gave her words force and color.

Impulsively Alex grasped her hand and drew her to him.

“Oh, no no no,” she laughed. “We’re not engaged yet—and I’m a fearful prude!”

“Your eyes belie your tongue,” he murmured. “Oh, damn—here are the children!”

Forrester Carr and Mary came across the bridge and neared the porch steps.

“Are you having tea?” Mary sang out. “Dad and mother are away, and I told Hattie we’d pick up a cup over here.”

“Surely,” said Mrs. Castro, and touched a bell nearby, as the two young people came up and looked about for the best seats. “What have you been doing?”

“Tennis, and the courts are like a fiery furnace. Make it iced tea, will you?”

This from Carr as he ensconced Mary in the low chair, and himself, appropriated a rattan couch. His lingering glance remained on the face of his hostess with an admiration not lost on Mary Lang.

“I say, how restful and cool you look,” he exclaimed, noting the soft lingerie gown with a few tiny frills.

“Why not—sitting quietly in the shade? How you can chase about a tennis court on a day like this, I can’t see.”

“Nor I,” said Alex. “But you’re both so ridiculously young—”

“Hold hard, Uncle Alex,” cried Forry, who adopted the prospective relationship, “you don’t class Giulia with yourself against us, do you?”

“I don’t propose to class myself alone, if I can help it, if Giulia objects to being classed with me, I’ll just—class myself with her.”

“Of course you will,” and Giulia’s smile and tone made Carr look up sharply.

“Fixed it up, you two, have you?” he asked, impertinently, but his eyes sought Giulia’s with an anxious look.

“Don’t ask rude questions,” she returned, “or you will get no tea.”

“Yes, I will, I’ll help myself,” and then, the tea things having arrived, Forry made himself useful, and he and his hostess dispensed food and drink.

After which, he took a low bench by her side and conversed with her in undertones.

Giulia, the situation thoroughly in hand, enjoyed herself immensely.

She would say a few words low to Forry, which would bring a smile or a frown to his handsome, boyish face, and then quickly turn to the others and talk to them with deepest interest.

Mary could put her finger on no tangible breach of etiquette or even unkind intent, but she knew Giulia was tormenting her on purpose, and she blamed her for it all, and Forry not a bit.

Alex Lang, seeing through the whole thing was not annoyed for himself, but he thought the older woman ought to spare the girl. Her flattering attitude toward Carr meant just nothing at all, but Forry was caught by it, and Mary was miserable.

The girl was not at her best, for the warm weather and the vigorous tennis game had left her a bit rumpled, both in dress and temper.

And the contrast of the calm, cool, immaculate hostess did not make her more at ease.

Mary was a chameleonic little piece, and quickly reflected the mood of those about her.

She sensed the fact that Mrs. Castro was merely amusing herself, but not having the requisite nerve or wit to come back at her, Mary suffered in silence, laying up hatred in her heart.

Finishing her tea, she declared she must be going home, and told Forrester she would run back alone, as there was no need for him to go with her.

“All right,” Forry returned, most unexpectedly to his fiancée, and perforce the girl started off.

But Alex felt sorry for her, and called out, cheerily, “Wait, Puss, I’m going along.”

He made brief adieus and stalked away with Mary, leaving Forry Carr in full possession of the field.

“What is the matter with that boy?” he exclaimed, as soon as they had passed beyond earshot. “Is he in love with the gay widow?”

“She isn’t gay,” Mary returned, with a sudden burst of perspicuity, “that’s just the trouble. If she were a gay, careless creature, I shouldn’t be afraid of her, but she’s that deep, designing sort, and she winds Forry round her little finger. He can’t help it.”

Mary was on the verge of tears.

“Now, now, Rosemary, dear, you listen to your Uncle Alex. Don’t make the mistake of showing Forry how much you care. Pretend not to notice it. The whole thing is really beneath your notice, and you must ignore it.”

“Ignore it! I should say not! I tell you, Uncle Alex, today is just about the last straw. I supposed of course, when I told Forry he might stay, he would come along with me.”

“Oh, you did, did you? What a little ignoramus you are! Why didn’t you say, ‘Come along, boy, it’s time for us to move on,’ then he would have gone willingly.”

“Do you suppose I would make him come with me—willingly or otherwise? Uncle Alex, I’ve a little pride, I hope! If he is so intrigued by that woman that he’d rather stay and talk with her than to walk home with me—he can stay, that’s all. I’m about through with him, anyway—”

Mary held her head high, but there was a quiver in her voice, and Alex saw a tear roll down her cheek.

“Puss,” he said, suddenly, “would it help matters if the deep designing widow were to marry another man?”

“It would help very materially, Uncle. Why, is there a chance of it?”

“That’s just what there is, a chance of it. At least I gathered from some confidences she reposed in me this afternoon that there is a chance. So, be a good girl, and have patience a little longer. Then, if she gets tied up to someone else, we can get her claws out of Forry’s mane.”

Mary looked up with a smile, she was naturally light hearted and hopeful, and too, she was sure of Carr’s love. Only she feared that a sudden temporary infatuation for the siren might mean trouble, for a time, at least.

She went to her room and Alex sat down to ruminate and to await his brother’s return.

It was late that night before he got a chance to talk to David alone, and then he plunged at once into his subject.

“Davy,” he said, and the elder Lang, who was not dull-witted himself, knew something special portended, and guessed what it was.

“Want a marriage portion?” he said, smiling and Alex was dumfounded.

“What do you mean?” he growled, but his smile broke through his frown.

“You tell me,” David said, and Alex did.

“I’ve never been in love before,” he wound up his story. “And you have, Dave, so you know all about it.”

“I remember my own love affair,” David said, with a tender smile of memory, “but, don’t come the young lover act, Alex, it isn’t fitting. I’m sure you do love Mrs. Castro, and let it go at that. Don’t have transports.”

Alex bit his lips, for transports were what he had relied on to influence his brother’s feelings and enlist his sympathy. Beside, it hurt his pride to have it implied that at his age a love affair must be treated practically and not as a romance.

However, it was no part of his plan to irritate David, so he smiled and tried to turn the situation to his own advantage.

“You’re right. And that’s why I want a plain talk with you. You’ve been a brick, Dave, supporting me all these years, and Lord knows I appreciate it. I should feel ashamed, but you persuaded me long ago that I needn’t do that.”

“Surely not,” David Lang’s voice was hearty. “I told you, Alex, and I meant it, that you were more than welcome to your living. Now—I confess, the possibility of your marriage never occurred to me.”

“Nor to me, until I met Giulia Castro,” Alex said, with a smile of surprise at himself. “But she upset all my preconceived notions of confirmed bachelorhood, and here I am, forty-eight, deeply in love; my love—I have reason to think—returned; and yet, without visible means of support.”

“By whose fault?” said David, slowly.

“Yours!” Alex almost shouted. “You made me an idler, a loafer, a parasite! You taught me to live without work, on a brother’s bounty, and now, I am both sorry and ashamed.”

David stared at him, amazed at this outburst. But after a moment he said, gently, “You’re largely right, Alex. And had I foreseen this contingency, as perhaps I should have done, I would have made you go to work. I daresay it’s too late now—to start earning a livelihood at your age is not feasible. So let’s get down to figures, and see what’s to be done.”

Alex breathed more easily. This was a step in the right direction. Now if he could have his way a bit further, he asked no more of Fate.

“Well, he began, in an easy voice, but with an anxious heart, “you’ve been giving me my home here with you. In a way, I suppose that isn’t like a regular outlay.”

“You bet it isn’t! Why, you’re being here doesn’t make any perceptible difference in the running expenses. You know yourself in a place run as lavishly as Langdene is, one or two or three extra mouths at table don’t count at all.”

“No, I suppose not.”

Clearly, a poor beginning. Not much to hope for in that part of the budget.

“Well, there is my own motor car, and my golf club dues and outfit—”

“Oh, I know. But those personal expenses I’ve always been glad to stand and I shall certainly continue them, if you choose to go away from us.”

“But Dave, that’s the point, I can’t go away I can’t get married unless I have enough to live on.”

“It’s a bit serious, Alex. You see, if your wife was one whom we could welcome here, we could all live together, but—well, Eleanor doesn’t care much for Mrs. Castro, nor does Mary.”

“Oh, she wouldn’t live here! We couldn’t live with anybody.”

“What do you plan then?”

When David Lang chose he could make his voice sound like icicles.

“I’m not planning, Dave. I’m asking you to plan for me. As we agreed, it was your suggestion that I do no work, but live here with you. As we agreed it was not supposed by either of us that I should want to marry. But I do, so there’s the situation.”

“Up to me, I suppose you mean. Well, Alex, I acknowledge it was my doing that you lived without work of any sort, and so, I feel I should help you out now. But it will mean a modest income for you. I will give you the Willow Dell cottage and I will allow you twenty-five thousand a year to live on. There’s my offer, and if I may say so, I feel it is a generous one. I hope you feel so, too.”

“Generous! Twenty-five thousand! When you have the income of twenty millions! Generous!”

Alex gave a short, bitter laugh and stared at his brother.

“Yes, but I earned those millions—”

“Earned them! By sitting in a swivel chair, reading a ticker tape!”

“By knowing how to read the ticker tape! That’s what counted. And that knowledge was built up on hard work and experience.”

“Oh, come now, Davy, don’t be mean. But, I say, a settled income isn’t what I had in mind anyway.”

“Isn’t it? What is?”

“Why—I thought—I hoped that as you have—you have said so, remembered me in your will, I thought that maybe you’d be willing to give me my inheritance now—or—or a good part of it.”

“Oh, you did! Well, Brother Alex, I’m truly sorry to disappoint your hopes, but I don’t propose to do anything of the sort.”

“Why not?”

“There are several very good reasons, which I am in no way bound to tell you; but one is, that there is always the possibility of my investments failing, or of my meeting with unexpected losses, and it might easily be that I may die a poor man.”

“Absurd!”

“Not absurd at all, but even if so, it is my own business. No, sir, I give none of my inheritors his or her bequest until it falls due by reason of my death. So, brother, if you wait to marry until you realize on your inheritance of part of my estate, you wait until after my funeral. See?”

Alex saw. He knew, moreover, that the most moving entreaties, the most piteous pleas would be worse than useless. He knew that David would never depart one iota from the decision he had just announced, and that he, Alex, might take it or leave it.

And though he said not another word on the subject, he felt deeply angry and resentful.

Chapter 3
A Futile Errand

“FINE, DANE, PERFECTLY fine! You are certainly a go-getter! How did you nail it so quickly?”

“By the merest chance. Just happened to strike a dealer who had one.”

“It’s a perfect specimen,” David Lang eyed lovingly the little glass plate. “Bust of Henry Clay, curled hair, ruffled neck-cloth—and the single-scalloped edge. It almost completes my collection of early cup-plates.”

“We’ll complete it before long, Mr. Lang. And here’s a bit of a salt cellar that I’m quite sure is Stiegel. What do you say?”

Eagerly Lang grasped the piece. It was a small salt cellar in the shape of a section of hollow log, with a squirrel climbing it.

“Splendid!” exclaimed the connoisseur. “Of course, it’s Stiegel. I know the design. I’ve long wanted one of these. By gracious, Wyatt, you’re invaluable.”

“I don’t claim to be that, but I can run around to places, and save your time and energy.”

“That you can, and you sure do get results. Well, put these in the catalogue, and I’ll place them in the cabinet. I say, Dane, I’m building up about the finest collection of early glass that there is in the country.”

“Or in any other country. You have plenty of foreign stuff, as well as American.”

“I have. Some day this lot of mine will be world-renowned. Well, if not, it will be the first time I’ve ever failed in an undertaking. David Lang usually accomplishes what he sets out to do. Eh?”

“Usually? Always!” Dane Wyatt gave his employer a flattering glance. He was not a sycophant or fawner, but he knew Lang’s inordinate desire for expressed appreciation, and he good-naturedly humored it.

Not that Dane Wyatt was blind to his own interests. He well knew on which side his bread was buttered, and since both policy and inclination led him to put his heart and soul into the furtherance of Lang’s hobby, he did so.

Many a rare piece of glass, many a unique specimen stood on the cabinet shelves because of Wyatt’s clever search and shrewd bargaining.

Caring little for the stuff at first, he had grown interested more and more until he was eager and insistent in his quests.

He had scoured New England, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and had returned, bringing his sheaves with him. He had accompanied Lang abroad, and had been of decided assistance to him in unearthing treasures in England and France.

So the two had become cronies and fellow-workers, and the relations of employer and assistant were pretty well lost sight of.

From the business in hand the talk drifted to personal matters.

“I’m worried about my wife, Dane,” the elder man said; “she’s really ill, I fear.”

“Oh, come now, you know how prone Mrs. Lang is to exaggerate her ailments.”

“Yes, I do know that. But she is more languid than usual, more despondent and listless.”

“How about a trip somewhere?”

“I proposed that, but she says she isn’t up to it.”

“Sanitarium?”

“No, she surely isn’t ill enough for that! I’ll get Mason over, and see what he advises.”

“Do. He’s a fine physician, and he ought to know.”

Wyatt didn’t say that in his opinion Mrs. Lang’s illness was nothing but imagination and tantrums. But he had sagaciously watched the lady and that was what he thought.

Nor was his decision ill-founded. Eleanor was capricious. She would order the car and prepare for a motor ride, then as suddenly fling off her hat and declare she was not well enough to go.

She would invite guests to tea or to dinner, and at the last moment decide to stay in her room, saying she was not able to see them.

This was always tided over by Mary’s presiding, but the girl chafed at being obliged to entertain her mother’s guests.

“I do wish, Mother,” she said, “you wouldn’t ask people unless you’re prepared to take care of them! This is the second time I’ve had to give up a dance to stay home and play bridge with a lot of middle-aged married people. And I don’t like it!”

“I should think you’d be willing to make a little sacrifice for your poor sick mother,” Eleanor quavered, with a grieved air.

“A poor sick mother oughtn’t to invite company then,” Mary stormed on. “If you were only twenty, you wouldn’t want to have to bother with people of forty-five and fifty!”

“Oh, my, Mary, what a fuss you do make! I’ll never invite anybody again! I’ll just suffer alone and in silence.”

“Oh, Muddie,” and Mary was contrite at once, “I didn’t mean it. Ask anybody you like—if you’re not feeling well, I’ll look after ’em.”

“No—you needn’t sacrifice your pleasures for me.” Eleanor gave a deep sigh of resignation. “But you have no heart, Mary—you’re a spoiled child.”

“Of course I am. You and Dad have spoiled me all my life. A few more spankings when I was a child, would have made me a better girl now.”

“I wish you had had them, then. As it is, you have no consideration, no sympathy, no wish to help me bear my burdens.”

“Burdens! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Mother. If ever a woman had every blessing in life, it’s you. You haven’t a care or a sorrow—”

“How can you talk so? With my delicate health, my imminent danger of serious illness—”

“Tra la la! If you have a serious illness, it will be because you bring it on yourself by worrying over imaginary ones. Forget it, go out doors, mingle with your friends, take a brace—whoop yourself up—oh, Mother, live—don’t sit around dying!”

“You don’t know, my dear—you don’t understand.”

Eleanor Lang gave her careless daughter a queer little smile, and watched her wistfully as she danced out of the room.

Mary was in fine spirits. Forrester Carr had confessed that he was only teasing her by his attentions to Mrs. Castro, that he cared not a flip of his finger for the charmer, and that her wiles had no lure for him.

And Mary, knowing his bent for teasing, believed him implicitly, and was glad accordingly. Yet she had vague forebodings.

Sauntering down through the Long Gardens she met Alex, who was pacing to and fro, apparently in deep thought.

“Hello, Puss,” he said, as she came up to him. “Whither bound?”

“Nowhere. Just drifting about till lunch time.”

“Drift along by me, then, will you? I want a little confab.”

Willingly Mary complied, and fell into step as they turned into a cross path.

“Mary,” Alex said, “don’t you want to be the small mouse who helps the big lion?”

“Of course I do, Uncle Lion. What’s the best place to gnaw?”

“You’re a brick, dear, the way you catch on. Well—I suppose your alert wits have told you that I’ve fallen a victim to—”

“To the serpentine Giulia! Of course!”

“Don’t call her that! Sounds like Kensington Gardens! Well, do you think I have a chance?”

“I hope you have, for that would keep her away from Forry, and then we’d all be happy.”

“Yes—that’s why I’m talking to you about it. Well, Mary, it’s this way. My inamorata refuses to marry a poor man.”

“Are you a poor man, Uncle Alex? Why, I never thought of it, before, but I supposed you had as much money as Dad.”

“So I have, to all intents and purposes, as long as I live here. But if I strike out for myself, I’ve got just about next to nothing—at least, from Giulia’s point of view.”

“And she cares for that!” Mary’s youthful scorn of financial matters was self-evident. “Why, I’d marry Forry if he hadn’t a cent!”

“You say that, my child, in your blinking ignorance. You’ve always had wealth and you’ve no idea what it means to be without it.”

“Well, never mind that, what can this little mouse do to liberate the big lion?”

“just this, Rosemary. Here it is in a nutshell. When your father dies, and may that day be far distant, I shall inherit a big slice of his fortune. About a third, perhaps. Now, all I want, is to have that money, or part of it, now. It wouldn’t inconvenience your father one bit, and it would enable me to marry and live happy ever after.”

“Yes, and it would remove the only obstacle to my happiness,” Mary cried, quickly grasping the situation.

“Yes. So, as your father positively refuses to do what I ask, I’m wondering if you could persuade him.”

“Oh—I see.” The girl walked along in silence, thoughtfully interlacing and unlacing her fingers, as was her habit when preoccupied.

“Well, Uncle Alex,” she said, at last, “not to put too fine a point on it, I don’t believe for a minute that I could persuade him. But, I’ll try.”

“That’s my good girl. Soon?”

“Soon—yes. But I must watch my time, and catch him when he’s in high good humor. New bit of old glass, or something like that, you know. Oh, leave it to me—I’m a diplomat, and I’ll do all anybody could do. But, Dad’s not an easy mark—”

“I know it. I’m banking on your own anxiety about Carr quite as much as about my prospects.”

“Right you are! I have strong doubts as to whether I should go in for this job if it were not for my own interests.”

Uncle and niece gave one another a comprehending glance, and both burst into laughter.

“Now, don’t hurry me,” Mary went on. “As I said, I must bide my time and watch my chance and all that. Fathers are kittle cattle, and a daughter’s plea is not always granted.”

“Bide your time, watch your step, and do whatever your Machiavellian mind dictates. I wait on your Majesty’s pleasure.”

“No pleasure to me, I do assure you. But Forry is getting insufferable. Even if it is only to tease me, he’s going too far. I say, Uncle Alex, are you sure friend Giulia is all right?”

“As how?”

“Oh, I don’t know. She seems queer—mysterious—”

“That’s her rôle. She’s of the mysterious type—has to be queer. But I like it. I’d never care for a transparent woman. I want one that keeps me guessing.”

“Then I guess you’ve picked a winner! Well, I’ll leave you now, and begin to lay my deep, dark, desperate plans to get around Dad.”

The first move Mary made was to seek out Dane Wyatt.

It goes without saying that the assistant was hopelessly in love with the daughter of the house, but so sensible was he of the hopelessness, that he warded his secret well, and not even David Lang suspected it, much less Mary herself.

“Dane,” she said, sweetly, “do something for me?”

“Certainly, Mary,” he answered quietly, his heart jumping.

The years of association had brought about the use of first names, but the friendship went no further. Indeed, never before had Mary come to him with such an air of intimacy as now.

“It’s only this.” She looked bewitchingly in earnest and Mary was one of those girls at her best when in earnest.

“I want to ask something of Dad—something very—very important, and so—you see, I want to tackle him at just the psychological moment, when he’s in the best possible humor.”

“As if he would refuse you anything, at any time!”

“He may this. Anyway, that’s what I want of you, to tell me when he’s specially happy and contented and pleased with himself and all the world.”

“Well, if it comes to that, I’m not sure you’d ever have a better chance than this very minute. I happened to get some treasures that delight him, and he’s in the “seventh heaven” over it. Yes, to the best of my belief, your psychological moment is right now.”

“Here goes, then. Where is he?”

“In the museum.”

It was in keeping with David Lang’s flourish after his name, that he called the room that held his collection a museum.

Fine though it was for an amateur exhibition, it did not warrant the high-sounding name.

But, Lang held that it did, and his “museum” was classified and catalogued as carefully as a public collection.

Moreover, it was fitted up with the latest type and finest kind of cabinets and glass show-cases, and after all, it presented a brave show.

In the middle of it, on a great divan, David Lang sat, looking probably much as Moses did when he “viewed the landscape o’er.”

The master of the museum was sitting idle, merely gloating over his treasures and congratulating himself on their possession.

Surely a propitious moment, Mary told herself, as she entered the door.

She sidled to his side, and sat down close to him, taking his hand in hers.

“Huh,” he grunted, smiling at her, “what’s wanted now? Something big, judging from the show of affection!”

But he was only bantering, as she well knew, and she plunged boldly in.

“Yes, something big, Daddy dear.” Her tone was cajoling, and the sweet face, now close to his own, was wheedlesome with smiles.

“Make it snappy, my dear, I’ve some matters to attend to soon. What is it? Money? Overspent your paltry allowance?”

This was a joke, for Mary’s allowance was munificent.

“Yes, money, Daddums. But not for me.”

“Oh, a charity? How much?”

“N—no, not exactly a charity—I’ll tell you Dad. I want you to give Uncle Alex his inheritance now—”

“Hush!” Mary had rarely seen her father so stern. “Did Alex dare to put you up to this?”

“I wanted to be put up! I want him to marry that snake-in-the-grass, so she’ll keep off of Forry! I can’t stand it if she doesn’t let him alone! And if she marries Uncle Alex, she will let him alone. And she won’t marry Uncle unless he has a lot of money! And he can’t have it unless you give it to him! And I don’t see why you won’t—what difference can it make to you? Won’t you do that much for your own little girl? Your own daughter Rosemary?”

Mary knew her father preferred her full name, and used it accordingly. But to no avail.

“Child,” he said, severely, “you’re meddling in matters above your head. It is absurd for you to think you can swing a deal like this! Do you suppose for one minute that if I would not grant this act at my brother’s request I’d grant it at yours?”

“Of course I do!” Mary pouted. “I’m sure it’s a small thing to ask—”

“Oh, Lord!” Lang groaned, “a few millions a small thing to ask!”

“I’m not asking the millions! He’ll get them anyway. It’s only to hand them over to him now, instead of waiting till you die. You’d only lose the interest, and you could take that out first.”

“And then, suppose Alex dies before I do?”

“I never thought of that! But you can fix it with the lawyer. In that case, it can come back to you—like a trust fund or something. Oh, Father, please do! Then that horrid person can’t gobble up my Forry the way she’s doing now.”

“Rosemary,” David Lang looked serious, “if you can’t keep your Forry from being gobbled up by another woman—he isn’t worth keeping! What sort of girl are you, if you can’t hold your lover?”

“I know, Dad, I know. But Forry does it mostly to tease me—only—well, she is a siren, and I feel she’s getting him away for keeps.”

“Let her! Let him go! A man like that isn’t worth having.”

“I know it. And that’s what I say when I get mad. But then—when I’m alone—and think it over—I—I don’t want to let him go. I want to keep him. And I—I can’t.”

Mary burst into a silent weeping.

Unmoved, her father watched her shoulders shake with sobs as she buried her face on his breast.

David Lang was as sensitive as most men to a woman’s tears, but when the woman is your own daughter, whose crying spells you have seen from babyhood, it makes a difference.

“There, there, child, let up,” he said, kindly, as he shook out a large handkerchief and offered it to the weeping damsel.

“You know yourself that hysterics won’t affect me, and I may as well tell you that nothing else will, either. I’d do almost anything for your happiness darling, but I do not propose to give Alex his inheritance now, and I will not do it to buy back your fickle, errant lover. Even if you lose Forry Carr, there are others, and, let us hope one with an eye single to the girl he loves and is engaged to. Why, your wedding day is set, isn’t it?”

“Yes—that is, it will be my birthday—if at all.”

“Yes, I thought so. And when is your birthday?”

“The sixth of October.”

“Yes. And now it’s the fourth of August. Well, you try that impressionable youth out a few weeks longer, and if he still seems wayward, you give him the air.”

“Oh, Daddy, don’t you realize I love him?”

“Bah, what does a baby like you know of love? You do as I say. Keep him on a while longer, and then—well, I’ll watch him a little myself. And we’ll see who’s who in Langdene! And don’t let me hear another peep about Uncle Alex! My word! To think of his using you as a catspaw! I’ve a notion to cut him out of my will entirely!”

“Oh, Daddy, don’t do that! It’s bad enough that I’ve failed as his ambassador, but if I am the means of—”

“There, there, child, it isn’t your fault at all. It’s all his fault. I’ve spoiled him, as I’ve spoiled you—and spoiled your mother. I’m too darned good to people—that’s what I am! I must cultivate a spirit of—”

But Mary’s soft fingers stopped his speech.

“Don’t Dad, dear,” she begged. “You haven’t spoiled any of us, and we love and admire you for your kindness and generosity.”

“Goodness, Mary, what a speech! You sound like a Town Hall! Well, kiddy, promise me to put all this nonsense out of your mind and I’ll give you a new diamond bangle. How’s that?”

“Fine! I’ll do it. But I shouldn’t if I didn’t see how utterly useless and hopeless it is to keep nagging at you.”

“You bet it is, and I’m glad you see it so clearly. And—here—just a word in your ear. If you do decide to pitch out the Carr chap, let me know, because—I’ve a candidate.”

“Oh, pooh, you transparent young thing! As if I didn’t know who! You mean Fatty Wyatt.”

“He isn’t fat! He’s just square built. And he’s on the square, too. And that’s more than Forrester Carr is—according to your tales.”

“Forry’s all right. But, I say, Dad, what am I to tell Uncle Alex?”

“Nothing at all. Refer him to me.”

With a final kiss and a repeated permission to select herself a new bangle, Lang dismissed his idolized daughter, and after a few quick, hard thoughts about his brother, he returned to the contemplation of his treasures, and consideration of their arrangement.

As has been said, Dane Wyatt had given no hint of his heart interest in David Lang’s daughter, but that astute father had dimly surmised it, and moreover, had come to the conclusion that from his own standpoint it was a consummation devoutly to be wished. He knew Wyatt’s sterling qualities, and if he was not such a man of the world as Carr, he was far more stable and reliable.

Wyatt himself looked on the matter merely as a lovely dream. He let himself dream away at it, whenever he had spare time, and as often as not, this happened when he strolled about of an evening.

He walked alone, perforce, for while not of the servants’ class, he was yet not quite a member of the family.

This equivocal position troubled him not at all. He took his afternoon or evening strolls with a clear conscience and a contented mind.

Wyatt was a clever man, but one of circumscribed outlook. He was not ambitious, beyond the desire to do his duty in the work assigned him.

On this particular evening, he did some work after dinner, and started rather late for his walk round the grounds, and through the woods.

And thus it happened that it was well on toward midnight when he drew near Willow Dell on his way home.—

He thought little of it, as the engaging widow had no time or place for him, but he saw the front door of the house open just as he came in sight of it.

He paused, not at all in curiosity, but to avoid the awkwardness of running into a guest bidding good-night.

Standing in the shadow of a willow tree, he saw Mrs. Castro come out of the door and give a careful, searching look around. She even stepped down from the porch and peered between the trees.

Not knowing any reason to do otherwise, Wyatt stood silent and motionless.

“All right,” she said, in a low tone, returning to the porch.

And then a man stepped out from the door. It was no one Wyatt knew, he was sure he had never seen the man before.

Without a further word, Mrs. Castro watched him descend the few steps from the porch and walk away in an opposite direction from where Dane stood.

He watched until the stranger was hidden from sight by the numerous trees and then, as Mrs. Castro returned to her house, Wyatt resumed his way home.

The incident lingered in his memory.

It was nothing to him that the widow should have a caller who went away at midnight. That was not so very late. It was the lady’s attitude that gave him thought. She had seemed so stealthy, so furtive—he wondered why.

And then after reconnoitering, she had distinctly, though softly said, “all right,” and the man had appeared.

It was probably all right, as she had declared, but Wyatt didn’t understand it.

If an ordinary caller, why make sure the coast was clear? And if not an ordinary caller, what or who was he? And why?

Chapter 4
The Terrible Face

ALEXANDER LANG WAS of a persistent nature. A puppy at a root was no more determined, no more persevering than Alex. And as every day found him more and more in love with the Castro siren, so every day, in every way, he was trying harder and harder to get the fortune he needed to bring about a mating.

He was in no wise cast down at the failure of Mary to persuade her father, nor was he unduly dismayed at the dressing down David Lang gave him for bringing Mary into the game. His elder brother had given him dressings down all his life, and Alex was of a nature like unto a duck’s back or an armadillo.

Any way, he was now planning his next move, and he concluded it must be done through Eleanor. If she couldn’t influence her devoted husband, she was a poor wife, and if she wouldn’t, she was a poor sister-in-law.

So to Mrs. Lang he went with his troubles, and being of a persuasive tongue he secured her interest and attention.

“You’re too absurd, Alex,” she said, stifling her amusement. “Do you think you can buy this woman?”

“I know I can,” he returned, looking at her solemnly, “you see, she loves me, that is, she is fond of me—but, well, Eleanor, you know yourself how women love pretties and softies. Where would you be without all these gilded furnishings and lace flumadiddles?” He glanced round the boudoir where they sat, and which was truly a bower of luxury.

“I know; but few women have all these expensive trinkets—”

“Certainly. But she aims to be one of the few. Why, if I had even a million, she’d drop in my lap like a ripe plum! And, as you can see for yourself, it can’t really make any difference to David whether he gives me my rightful inheritance now, or years later, when it’s too late to do me any good.”

Alex cupped his chin in his hands, his elbows on his knees, and he looked so wistful, so beseeching, that Eleanor, who doted on a romance, was won over to his side.

“Well,” she said, finally, “I’ll speak to David. That’s all I can promise. I doubt if I can persuade him, but I’ll do my best.”

“If he doesn’t come through, I’ll do something desperate—I vow I will. There is another way out—but I don’t want to be forced to it—”

“Don’t talk like that. You’ll do nothing desperate. If David refuses again, you’ll stay right along just as you are now.”

“Oh, Eleanor, she is so beautiful—so ravishing—don’t you admire her?”—

“Not quite as much as you do, Alex—but, she is attractive and I’d be truly glad to see you happily married.”

But the marital conference which took place that night between the two Langs did not put Alex one bit forrader in his precarious love affair.

David Lang listened in silence to his wife’s plea. She was eloquent in her appeal, for she didn’t see herself why Alex shouldn’t have his way, and it seemed to her a most logical and sensible procedure.

“Give him a million, Dave,” she urged. “You’ll never miss it and you can make his inheritance less if you choose. Poor chap, he deserves some happiness—”

“Why does he? What has he ever done to deserve anything? I have supported him in idleness—now shall I pamper him still further? I will not, Eleanor. It’s too ridiculous. If he really loves Mrs. Castro and she really cares for him, they can be happy in the Dell cottage with a sufficient if modest income to run it.”

“It isn’t that Dave, it’s that she won’t marry him unless he is rich—”

“Then she’s a wicked woman. To marry a man for his money is bad enough, but to refuse to marry unless the man has a fortune is far worse. I’ll be no party to such a union. I’ve made Alex my offer, he can take it or leave it.”

“He’ll have to leave it, then,” Eleanor sighed. “She won’t marry him on what you offer.”

“Then he’s better off without her. Let her find herself some millionaire, our Alex is well out of her clutches.”

“Oh, you don’t understand, David. I know Giulia—she’s not a fortune hunter, she’s only a truly feminine person, who wants all the little delights of life that make for comfort and pleasure. I should be miserable if I had to live without my lovely things, and my servants and cars and beautiful home.”

“Yes,” David looked about with a satisfied air. “I have given you pretty much all you want, haven’t I, dear? Those Nattier pictures just suit this room, and the Fragonard is a gem. Are you glad you have a husband who can provide for your aesthetic wants?”

“Yes—and can’t you appreciate that Alex wants—”

“I fully appreciate all that Alex wants, I know perfectly just what Alex wishes. You need tell me no more about it. I am fully conversant with the whole subject in all its lights and shades. And if you want to know, I will tell you once and for all, that no arguments, no pleas, no threats will change my ultimatum. I stand pat on the offer I made him and I shall make no other. I do not re peat or emphasize this, for it is not necessary. I have spoken.”

With a flourish of his hand in the air, David Lang sat back complacently and regarded his wife.

He felt no regret for his brother’s disappointment, he was secure in the logic and justice of his own attitude. He had his money, why should he give it to a man who had none? When he died, it would perforce pass into other hands. But that had no bearing on the present.

He summarily dismissed the subject, and began to talk of other matters.

Eleanor knew she had lost out, but knew, too, there was not the least mite of use in keeping at it. When David was set, he was set. And that was all there was about it.

By way of a reward for her docility, David listened patiently, even with seeming interest to a rehearsal of her ailments and affections.

“I think it’s my heart,” she said, plaintively. “Don’t you think I look as if I had heart trouble? Organic, I mean.”

“I don’t know, dearie. I can’t diagnose. But I advise you to get Mason over tomorrow. He’ll know.”

“Oh, Doctor Mason! He doesn’t know anything!”

“Very well, get a specialist up from New York. You can find out who is the best man from some friend—if you don’t want to ask Mason.”

“Oh, I should think you’d find that out. Dear me, you take no more interest in your wife’s case than if it were a stranger’s!”

“Now, don’t talk like that, my dear. I’ll see to it. Perhaps Wyatt can find out who’s the best heart specialist, and we’ll get him up here—”

“No, no! I’m afraid to have him come! I’m afraid of what he’ll say—”

She broke into a series of stifled sobs, and David, rising strode nervously about the room.

“Oh, don’t cry, Eleanor. You’re not a hopeless case yet. Any good doctor ought to fix you up all right. Let’s get several—the best ones. I can afford it—”

“Money isn’t everything when it comes to illness. Oh, dear, what if I should die—”

“Heavens! You’re not going to die! Don’t be so silly—”

“Silly! I guess if you had the sharp, knife-like pains in your heart that I have, you wouldn’t think it silly!”

“Have you, dear? Have you sharp pains? You never told me that before. Maybe it is serious—”

“Of course it’s serious.” Eleanor decidedly brightened at his words. “If you insist, we’ll have some doctors up from the city.”

“All right, call all you want. Let me see ’em, though, when they’re here. I want to get their reports myself.”

The interview closed with mutual endearments, for the two were really affectionate and years of association had made them accustomed to one another’s peculiarities, and tolerant of weaknesses.

But again Alex had to get a dressing down for appointing a second ambassador to plead his cause.

Equally surely, again he reinflated himself, like a toy balloon, and cast about in his mind for another lead.

David’s dressings down were so short and curt that they didn’t last long, and, with Alex, their effects were even sooner over.

It was with renewed hopes, then, that he went to call on Giulia, and told her frankly of his latest failure to acquire the so necessary fortune.

The lady Castro appeared despairful.

“I wish I were not so mercenary,” she murmured, looking adorably penitent and wistful.

“You’re not,” Alex assured her, in accordance with her expectations. “You’re only a true woman, and you want the things that are the divine right of every true woman.”

“How sweetly you put it! But it is so. Only the truly feminine nature craves—even demands, delicate and beautiful belongings. I merely exist in this simple cottage. In a beautiful home of my own, I could blossom out into my true self, my regal, queenly self.”

A dramatic attitude, supposed to be indicative of royalty accompanied this speech and deeply affected her audience of one.

“You could! you could!” poor Alex groaned. “Oh, Giulia, my love, my queen, would I could crown you and put in your hand the sceptre that belongs to you! Empress of my heart, would that you might be queen of my home!”

“Is there no way?” Giulia ventured, sitting down beside him, and taking his hand in hers. “No way you can think of.”

“Yes—a wrong way—”

“Hush!” the slim fingers brushed his lips. “We want no evil in our life—”

“Then—then, yes, I have one more hope. One more legitimate hope—but if it fails—I shall not answer for my future proceedings.”

“Why, you look positively ferocious! However, I’ve no fear of your doing anything really wrong. My hero could never do that!”

He clasped her hands in fervor, but she would allow no further caress.

“No, no, bad man,” she said, playfully, “no kisses until we are really engaged.”

But the pleasant conversation that ensued was most enjoyable to Alex. He liked the wit and gayety of the captivating widow, he loved to watch the sparkle of her eyes and the play of her red lips. For himself he would have been more than content to live in the little cottage with her, on even less than David proposed to allow him.

But what could he do? No amount of persuasion would make her see things in that light, and apparently, no amount of persuasion would make David see them in any other.

And yet, there was another amount of persuasion that might be brought to bear on his pig-headed brother.

At least, it could be tried.

So Alex, the indefatigable, betook himself to Dane Wyatt.

To the assistant, who, he fondly hoped would assist him, Alex Lang stated his case.

He put it in a different light from that in which he had presented it to the two ladies who had tried to help him.

“I’m making it a business matter with you,” he told Wyatt, after he had explained in full. “If you can get my brother to do what I want, I will give you ten thousand dollars. That’s not poor pay for a few moments’ conversation.”

“Indeed, it isn’t,” Dane agreed. “And on those terms I accept your mission. Of course, I merely engage to ask Mr. Lang to do what you want, and I am in no way responsible for the results.”

“You may be fired,” said Alex, conscientiously.

“I think not. You see, I reserve the right to put the matter to him in my own way, and I think I know him well enough not to offend him beyond pardon.”

“All right, Dane, go to it. I hope to Heaven you will succeed—for I am really desperate. Think, man! A prize like that, just within your grasp and—”

“And no bait for your line! Well, you have my promise. I’ll have to wait my chance, of course, but I’ll report as soon as may be.”

His chance did not come at once, for an interruption of the daily routine was caused by an influx of doctors.

Eleanor Lang had taken her husband at his word, and had summoned a series of specialists, whose consecutive appearances made appalling havoc in the household. Their various visits and returns, examinations and consultations, took up the better part of a fortnight, and so elated was Eleanor at the excitement she was creating that she almost got well.

Not quite, however, for not all of the doctors were frank enough to declare that she had nothing the matter with her whatever.

Some of them hemmed and hawed, and referred to a run down condition and incipient nervous troubles, while some went so far as to hint possible organic disturbances.

But the majority agreed that rest and care were imperative and advised a capable resident nurse.

Eleanor’s thoughts flew to Nurse Brace, and as her name was known to two of the doctors and their recommendation was hearty and emphatic, a letter was despatched at once.

The bout with the doctors had raised Eleanor’s spirits materially, but by the time Nurse Brace arrived she had drooped back to her dull apathy.

“She wants coddling,” Brace said to David Lang, who asked her opinion. “I don’t think there’s much the matter with her—but I don’t know. Any way I’ll look after her, and I’ll soon know just where we stand.”

The woman was a tower of strength in herself, and Lang felt relieved to know there was somebody who could watch over his wife and ordain as to further doctoring or treatment.

And then, these things settled, Dane Wyatt prepared to make his great effort.

He chose a time when his employer was in good humor and comparatively idle.

“I say, Mr. Lang,” he began, “I’ve a chance to make ten thousand dollars if you’ll help me.”

“Fine,” Lang returned. “Give us the proposition.”

“Well, sir, as you know, your will leaves’—”

Here he was interrupted.

“Leaves about one-third of my fortune to my brother Alex,” he said, fixing Wyatt with a twinkling eye. “And you, I take it, are to get a bonus of ten thousand dollars, if you succeed in persuading me—”

“That’s enough, Mr. Lang. I see you know the formula, and unless you propose to help me earn my money, there’s no use in prolonging this conversation.”

“Not an atom—not a molecule—not an ion of use,” stated David Lang, calmly. “Good Lord, I wonder if my brother has any more agents up his sleeve!”

“But you know, Mr. Lang, it wouldn’t make one bit of difference to you, and it would be a boon to Mr. Alex—and, incidentally to me.”

Wyatt dared this because of the twinkling eye.

“I’m not giving out boons,” said the other, shortly now. “For your own sake, Dane, consider this incident closed.”

And closed it was.

When Wyatt reported this to Alex, the disappointed swain received it with a mere shake of his head.

“I knew it,” he exclaimed, pessimistically, “I knew it. Well—there’s a way out.”

His suddenly gripped hands and set jaws startled Wyatt, who cried, “Not desperate, are you?”

“Desperate is what I ain’t nothin’ else but,” returned Alex, who had his own notions of humorous repartee.

He walked away in dejection rather than in a belligerent mood, and Wyatt with a sigh for his lost ten thousand, returned to his work.

The advent of Nurse Brace affected the whole household as well as its mistress. There was something about Brace that made for peace and quiet. Mrs. Lang was far less restless, the servants, though not nominally under Brace’s control, behaved better, and even Mary was less pettish and wilful.

She confided in Hester, her lifelong friend, and not infrequently followed her wise advice.

She told her all about Forrester Carr and his teasing and Hester Brace laughed.

“Why, Mary, child,” she said, “the more you mind that, the more he’ll, cut up with that woman. Just ignore it—pretend not to notice it. Better still, pretend to like it, to approve of it—and mark my words, he’ll soon stop it.”

“Like it! Approve of it!” cried Mary, aghast. “Why, I couldn’t!”

“Yes, you can. Just try it once.”

So, that very afternoon, Mary decided to try it once.

Carr appeared soon after luncheon. His home was also on the outskirts of New Salem, but over on the other side of the town. He was much at Langdene, for his business hours, in a bank, were short.

Moreover, the wedding day was now less than two months away.

While it had not been officially set, it was tacitly accepted that it should occur on Mary’s birthday, and Eleanor Lang was reviving now sufficiently to take an interest in planning the trousseau.

Hester Brace was of great help, not in selection, Eleanor did all that herself, but in engaging work people, and managing dates and appointments.

Mary was not greatly concerned about her clothes. Her mother had always bought them, and the girl paid little attention to their choice.

Her interests were out-doorsy and she preferred golf or tennis or riding to any or all indoor occupations or amusements.

She met Carr with a smile and a kiss, and astounded him by proposing that they go and get Giulia and then ask Dane Wyatt to make up a tennis game.

Forry agreed, and was surprised further as they walked along to hear Mary eulogize the widow as she had never done before.

“Oh, I really like her,” the girl said, in answer to his look, “but sometimes I’m contrary. Shall you mind dear, if I’m contrary sometimes, after we’re married?”

“No, Mary, darling, I sha’n’t mind what you are, if you’re my wife.”

“And you won’t tease me?”

“That I can’t promise. I’m a natural born tease, you know, and if I have to vow to cut that out—”

“No, you needn’t,” Mary laughed. “I shouldn’t know you without that trait in your make-up.”

As they neared Willow Dell, they saw no one about. The cottage looked deserted.

“She must be out,” Mary opined, and then she gave a stifled scream, and grasped Carr’s arm.

“What is the matter?” he exclaimed, staring at her horrified look.

“Oh, Forry! I saw a face at that upper window! A terrible, dreadful face!”

“Nonsense! If you saw a face at all, it must be one of the servants. The dreadfulness of it, you imagined.”

“I didn’t! I didn’t! It was frightful! I just had a glimpse and then it disappeared. Who could it have been?”—

“Don’t be a silly, Mary. Who could it have been but one of Mrs. Castro’s people. Perhaps she has an Italian servant that we’ve never seen.”

“He looked Italian—it was a man—but oh, Forry, you can’t imagine how awful—”

“Awful, how?”

“Oh, I don’t know—like an ogre or—a ghoul—”

“Hush, Mary, you’re talking nonsense. But to quiet your nerves, I’ll ask Mrs. Castro who it could have been.”

“No, don’t—don’t speak of it—” Mary whispered, for they were nearly at the porch now, and Giulia had appeared in the doorway.

“Goody!” she cried, gaily. “I’m so glad you’ve come. I was lonesome as I could be! Come along in.”

“We want you to come out and play tennis,” said Mary, her best smile showing itself. “If you will, we’ll get Dane.”

“Of course I will. But sit still a few moments and rest, while I get into tennis togs.”

She disappeared and Mary repeated her injunction to Carr not to mention the face she had seen.

“You didn’t see any,” Carr, said laughing. “That’s why you’re so keen I shouldn’t ask her about it. You’re imaginative, dear, and you know it.”

“Of course I am, and I’m glad of it, but this wasn’t imagination.” She shook her head persistently, and Carr gave up the argument.

To punish her for such silliness, he devoted himself to Giulia, on her return.

Very young and attractive the widow looked, in her becoming sports clothes with short sleeves and short skirt.

She wore no hat, and her lithe arms swung her racket above her head in glee.

“I feel just like playing,” she declared. “Shall we trounce them, Forry?”

“You bet!” he cried, his eyes dancing, and Mary true to her promise to Hester said, blithely:

“Good! Dane is a better player, and I’ve been wanting to beat Forry!”

Giulia opened her eyes, and Carr gave Mary a quick glance. This was a new bit of contrariness. Wyatt was easily collected, and the game began. Notwithstanding the exigencies and demands of a brisk game of tennis there are many stray moments when partners have chance for a word or two of conversation, while the other side pick up balls or get ready to serve, or change courts.

These opportunities were not neglected by Carr and Giulia for a succession of laughing whispers.

Whereupon Miss Mary proceeded to give Dane Wyatt one blissful experience over which he doted and dreamed for many an hour afterward.

She chaffed him, she flirted with him, she whispered secrets to him, until he was bewitched and Carr was furious.

The latter saw through it all, however, and soon let up on his nonsense with Mrs. Castro.

That astute lady also saw through it, and so, all in all, the honors rested with the mischievous Mary, who had been so ably advised by the unromantic looking nurse.

“Your game,” said Carr, as they finished, looking deep into Mary’s eyes.

As a matter of fact Mary’s side had lost in tennis, but she knew what he meant.

Chapter 5
Nurse Brace

DANE WYATT WAS too clever and too observant of the proprieties to presume on Mary’s kindness to him, but her smiles perforce fanned the flame of his adoration, and he ventured to speak to her a little more frequently than he had done. One afternoon she stood out on the end of the deck, as they called the long porch that jutted out over a shelving bank of lawn.

From this vantage a full view of Willow Dell could be had and Mary was curiously gazing at the cottage, when Wyatt came to her side.

He was smoking an after luncheon cigar that Lang had just given him, and noting the girl’s preoccupied look, he drew near quietly and murmured:

“Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.”

She turned slowly with a slight smile, for his whimsical tone had robbed the words of any serious effect.

“But suppose,” she said, slowly, “a fairer luminary is arising above the horizon.”

“Fiddle-dee-dee!” said the assistant with comforting scorn. “I won’t pretend to misunderstand, but if you fear the light from Willow Dell, I can assure you it is only the flicker of a will-o’-the-wisp, arising from a swamp.”

Mary laughed outright.

“Dane,” she said, “sometimes you strike the nail on the head!”

“Always,” he responded, promptly, with a mock swagger. “And, being on the subject, how do you size up the gentle Giulia?”

“Meaning?”

“Do you think she rings true? Does she seem to you the real thing, the right associate for the daughter of this house?”

“What a strange question! You sound to me as if you knew something against her. Do you?”

“Not against her—no. And not very much for her. But I’m prepared to say she’s mysterious—a sort of unknown quantity.”

“Dane, I’m going to tell you something. Forry Carr won’t believe me, but it’s true. The other day we were walking over there, and I saw a face at an upper window—a terrible, frightful face—”

“Oh, come now, Miss Mary, that won’t do.”

“But I did—I vow I did! A distorted—”

“Imagination. Probably a damask curtain that puffed out in the breeze and took on the semblance—”

“Semblance nothing! I suppose I can use my eyes! I tell you it was a face—a human face, but the most repulsive, terrible countenance I ever saw!”

“Well, then, a servant with a bad toothache or faceache or earache.”

“Or shell shock or leprosy or bubonic plague!” she mocked. “I tell you Dane, it was as bad as any of those things!”

“H’m. Guess I’ll wait till you see it again, before I express a further opinion. But at this moment, I don’t believe it was a face at all.”

“Oh, you don’t! Well, that’s because you’re under the spell of that woman, just as everybody else is—and you won’t believe anything against her.”

“But is that against her? Suppose her cook did have a toothache or a tic douloureux, is that against the lady of the house? She can’t help it.”

“Don’t you stand up for her!” Mary looked almost angry. “She isn’t the real thing—as you put it. She isn’t true blue. She’s a trickster, a viper, an adventuress!”

“Oh, Mary, Mary, how young you are! An adventuress, my dear child, is ten times as subtle and wicked as that poor little woman you’re maligning. Why do you do it? But I know. Just because she dares make eyes at Forry Carr.”

“Yes, exactly that—but more because he makes eyes back at her. Oh, Dane, I am so miserable!”

“Oh, stuff and nonsense, Mary, cut it out. Forry worships the ground you walk on. He doesn’t care two cents for the wily widow, and you’re a little goose to give the matter two thoughts.”

“Dane, can’t you get her away? Can’t you trump up some reason why father would refuse to let her stay at the Dell? Please do this for me, won’t you, Dane?”

“My dear Mary, I’d do anything in the world for you that I could—you know that, I’m sure. But how can I work such a racket? What could I say to your father to make him fire a perfectly good tenant?”

“Oh, make up some story. Say you have doubts—and you know you have—of her—er—respectability—”

“Not quite that—but, Mary I’ll tell you something.”

And then Wyatt recounted in detail the occurrence of the night when, himself in the shadow of the willows, he saw Giulia step out the door and look carefully about before summoning her departing caller.

“Goodness!” Mary exclaimed, “what do you suppose it means?”

“I’ve no idea. Doubtless, something quite all right. But it was a little queer, wasn’t it?”

“Yes—a little. Not enough to put her off the place, though.”

Mary was sensible again. “I say, Dane, follow it up. Can’t you find out if she does it again?”

“Don’t see how I can, unless she’s good enough to make a special performance for my benefit; I can’t camp under the willows all night.”

“No. Well, try to think of some other plan to evict her. Get a grand new tenant—”

“Don’t be silly, Mary. And for heaven’s sake, don’t let Carr know you’re jealous! He’ll tease the life out of you! If you take my advice you’ll be very friendly with the serpent. That’s the way to draw her fangs.”

“That’s what Brace tells me, but it isn’t so easy. I’m not accustomed to being interfered with.”

“You’re not really interfered with. Don’t you know the charmer has her eye on your uncle?”

“I guess I know that!” Mary laughed. “Didn’t he get me to intercede with dad for him!”

Wyatt said no word of his own experience in that same way, but contented himself with saying, “Well, if she’s out for big game, can’t you see that her attentions to Carr mean nothing—except to bother you?”

“Yes, I suppose so—but with Forry and Giulia both bothering me, I’m not so awfully happy about it.”

“Poor kiddy,” and Wyatt had to get a stranglehold on his own impulses lest he blurt out his heart’s secret.

He had heard of catching affections on the rebound, but wisdom told him the time was not ripe for that sort of thing. All he could do was to be “the arm the Queen leant on,” and perhaps—sometime—

“Well,” he said, lightly, “I can’t see a way to scotch the snake or kill it either, but I’ll keep my eyes open, and do all and sundry that I can in the matter. And now, I’m sure even your good natured father is growing impatient for a sight of my countenance.”

He went off to the museum and found Lang waiting for him. But in tolerant mood, for David had a vague hope that perhaps Mary might even yet throw Carr over, and perhaps turn toward Wyatt.

Lang desired primarily his daughter’s happiness, and would have put no straw in its way. But if she did tire of Carr, he was glad that Wyatt was there in the offing.

He said no word of this, however, and the two men devoted themselves to the business planned for the afternoon.

Mary wandered into the house, and met the nurse in the hall.

“I’m worried about your mother, Mary,” Brace said, and her face showed her anxiety. “At times she’s all right, and then again, she seems so listless that I can’t help being alarmed.”

“Oh, she’s always like that,” the girl returned. “You see, Hesty, you don’t know mother as I do. When you’ve made your calls here, she was always keyed up because of the pleasure your visits gave her. Even a little mild excitement like that was enough to brace her up. Can’t you see yourself, that when there’s the least thing going on, or even if she just receives a pleasant letter or telephone call, she’s alert and alive, and then when the interest passes, she’s down in the dumps again.”

“Yes—that’s true.” Brace looked thoughtful. “But it isn’t right. She ought to be getting better, and well enough not to be so affected by such trifles. I’m not satisfied that the doctor is doing all that can be done, yet I’ve no call to advise.”

“Yes, you have, Brace. If you want some other doctor, if you know of one in your hospital, or elsewhere, you speak to dad about it, and I’m sure he’ll want you to make the change.”

“No, I don’t know of any one I specially want, but I think the one she has now humors her a little too much. Still it’s disastrous to cross her—”

“Poor Hesty,” Mary said, looking sympathetically at the worried face, “I know you’ll do whatever is best and right. My, but it’s a comfort to have you here! I’m left so free to do whatever I like. Now, I’m going to a garden party over in New Salem, and if Mr. Carr telephones, you tell him I’ve gone.”

The girl danced away to dress for the party and Nurse Brace looked after her with a little sigh.

“Small affection she has for her mother,” the woman soliloquized, “she has no thought or care for any one but Rosemary Lang. She thinks Rosemary Lang the greatest thing in the world! Well,” the grim lips curved into a smile, “so do I.”

It was clear to all the household that Brace adored the daughter of the house. She was never too busy to look after any of Mary’s interests that she could. She took the part of lady’s maid, for the maid that Mary and her mother shared had flounced off at the advent of the nurse.

A flighty French young person, she had declared that a nurse in the house made the place seem like a hospital and it depressed her.

“Let her go,” said Eleanor, “Mary can get another, and you can do for me, Hester.”

But Brace had begged to be allowed to do for Mary, too.

“She’s my baby,” she said, smiling at Mrs. Lang. “I held her in my arms before you did. I saw the little black head and the screwed-up eyes before you realized she was in the world.”

“So you did,” agreed Eleanor, who had no pleasant recollections of the occasion. She had not wanted Mary, she had never cared for children, and as the years went by, though she did her duty as a mother, she had never felt the deep interest that maternity should awaken and foster.

So Nurse Brace capably attended to her patient and to the daughter of the house as well.

Never before had Mary’s wardrobe been so carefully looked after or her rooms kept in such spick and span condition. And Brace helped with her correspondence, looked after her engagement calendar, and unostentatiously smoothed off every rough corner and made easy every thorny path, if any such appeared.

Mary appreciated all this, and was duly grateful, in her careless way. Petted, indulged and spoiled, she accepted all good as a matter of course and the real wonder was that she was patient at all when things did not go to suit her.

But the girl was saved by her sense of humor. Most things she took lightly, and not until the advent of Mrs. Castro had she known a real grievance.

Giulia, however, was a thorn in her flesh, and even with Wyatt’s assistance, seemed impossible of elimination.

And one night, without effort on his own part, Dane saw another mysterious occurrence.

The assistant had a pleasant room overlooking the long gardens, and consequently commanding a view of Willow Dell.

Unable to sleep because of a night of unusual and excessive heat, he prowled restlessly about, and flinging on a light dressing gown stepped out on the balcony on which his French windows gave.

The moon was at full, and the whole landscape almost as bright as day.

So that from his high vantage he could see clearly the front door of the cottage. And to his surprise, he saw repeated the very procedure he had watched that other night.

He saw the front door opened slowly, cautiously, and saw Giulia step slowly outside.

Her white gown gleamed and he could even see her face as she came to the edge of the porch and peered about.

Then she turned, and without hearing, he felt sure she summoned somebody.

And sure enough, immediately issued from the door the same man he had seen the other time. He was almost certain it was the same man—a tall, but slightly stooped figure, walking with slow step and with arms hanging listlessly at his side.

The listlessness, Wyatt assumed, was due to the heat, for the other time the man had seemed more alert.

He paused on the second step as if saying goodnight, then, went down the steps and along the path. Shortly, he turned into the woodland road, which hid him from sight.

As he disappeared, Mrs. Castro went back into the house, and closed the door.

A moment later, Dane saw a light appear in a second story room, and as it soon went out, he concluded the lady had retired, and he himself went back to bed.

But, as he ascertained, it was half past two o’clock.

It did seem queer. Why should a widow, entitled to have her own way, dismiss a caller with such caution and secrecy? If she chose to have such late guests, why make a mystery of it—unless there was something wrong?

Nor could Wyatt theorize any wrong, except the obvious thought that the man was some citizen of New Salem, who had no business away from his own home at that hour.

This was his only explanation, and it seemed to him the only possible one. For if the man was unknown in the town, he would betake himself off openly and with no fear of being observed.

Wyatt wondered who it could be, and planned to watch the cottage every night.

He remembered Mary’s story about the fearful face. That, of course, happened in the daytime, and in any event could have no connection with the stealthy caller.

Moreover, he hadn’t the least idea that Mary really saw any face. He had often seen wind-blown curtains make an appearance of human shapes, and the terrible face that Mary described was altogether too dreadful to be a fact.

Any way, there was a mystery at Willow Dell, and Wyatt decided he would pluck the heart out of it, before he suggested to David Lang that his tenant was a bit undesirable.

The man had plunged into the wood as if in a hurry.

Doubtless the wily one had kept him enchained longer than he had intended.

It was all a hackneyed if a sordid situation. She had enslaved some respectable citizen of New Salem. He had fallen into the habit of calling on her and their intrigue had led to late hours, and hence to secret departure.

That was all there was to it, except to discover who the citizen might be.

But the following nights brought no further information.

Though he watched, more or less, Dane did not again see from his window anything to interest him at the Dell cottage.

Until one night, when he himself came home very late from a dance in the town.

Rarely did the assistant attend balls, but this was exceptional, and he yielded to the entreaties of some friends.

He didn’t enjoy it much, however, and as he walked home, to get some fresh air after the heated ballroom, he concluded to go round Willow Dell way.

Softly he drew near the cottage, and paused under the same trees that had sheltered him before.

A light in the living room, held him waiting, for it was after three, and surely the man must appear soon.

And he did. The inevitable reconnoiter on the part of Mrs. Castro, was followed by the advent of the same tall, quiet man.

This time he stood for a longer space saying good-night, and at last with a gesture of sweet tenderness, she put her arm about his neck, as he stood a step below her, and kissed him.

He seemed to return the embrace and the shadowy figures were close together, until she straightened up with a little laugh.

“Run along, dear,” she said, “and come back whenever you like.”

Wyatt could not catch the man’s response, but he watched him, as usual, disappear into the woods.

He was strongly tempted to follow, but he felt he had no right to do that. He was in no way responsible for Mrs. Castro’s behavior, she was not his tenant, and he had not been authorized by David Lang to keep up any espionage.

Mary had asked him, but Mary had no rights in the matter.

It was nearly four o’clock by this time, and soon it would be dawn.

Pondering deeply on the whole matter, Dane went on home, wondering how long this affair could be kept secret by the principals.

He found the Lang household in a state of excitement.

Mrs. Lang had had a “spell,” of what sort no one seemed quite certain.

But the doctor had been hastily summoned and Nurse Brace looked grave and anxious.

Wyatt liked Brace and he asked her the details, as he caught her for a moment, hurrying through the hall.

“I don’t know, Mr. Wyatt,” she said, “but I’m afraid Mrs. Lang is in a bad way. She has no ambition, no wish to make any effort. I am quite sure there’s nothing organically wrong, but she just loses ground right along. We’ll know better tomorrow after the new specialist comes up from New York.”

Dane Wyatt went on to his room, with a new subject to ponder over.

“It’s a queer world,” he thought. “Here’s Mrs. Lang very ill, so that a hired nurse is all worked up over it, and David Lang has gone back to bed as if he didn’t care a red cent. As for that blessed little girl, Mary, I’ll bet she didn’t even get up! She cares about as much for her mother as a Red Indian. I wonder if she has any heart. But of course she has, only it has never been really awakened. And young Carr can’t stir it, either. She thinks she’s in love with him, but she isn’t. That foolishness about Giulia is only a touch of most natural jealousy. Well, I’ll intrude on nobody’s preserves, but if she should discover before her birthday that Forry Carr is no Tin God on Wheels, I might try to persuade her that Dane Wyatt is just that very thing.”

He gave himself up to most pleasant waking dreams which carried on into his sleep equally pleasantly.

Next morning the new specialist arrived, and the result was that Eleanor Lang was ordered off to a sanitarium.

This, he stated, was because she was too much bothered and annoyed by household matters, and away from any sort of excitement and social exactions, she would improve rapidly.

The plan appealed to the invalid, as almost any sort of change did, and she was anxious to set off at once.

David Lang agreed, perforce, but Wyatt, closely watching him, opined that a short respite from his wife’s querulousness and complaining was not altogether distasteful to him.

Mary was non-committal, but here too, Dane sensed a hidden feeling of relief.

For the invalid had so dominated the atmosphere of the whole place that both husband and daughter had chafed at the restrictions and demands on their time and energies.

However, both appeared duly sympathetic and regretful at the impending absence, though resigned to it if for the benefit of the sick woman.

“Hypocrites!” Dane said to himself, and then as suddenly rebuked the thought. With all love and affection for Eleanor Lang, it was yet possible for her husband to be glad that she was going away where treatment and surroundings would work together for her complete recovery.

A housemaid from Langdene was detailed to accompany Mrs. Lang and Brace, but she was to return after they were settled, for Brace scorned the need of assistance other than that provided by the institution.

Cliff Lake, the learned specialist had declared was the very place for Mrs. Lang, as the bracing air of its Adirondack surroundings and its fine corps of skilled doctors and attendants made it among the finest sanitariums in the country.

So away went the cortege, and quite secretly both Mary and her father drew a long breath and turned their attention to their own personal plans.

Two or three aunts and cousins offered to come and stay with Mary during her mother’s absence, but the girl sweetly and firmly declined these proposals.—

She said the preparations for her wedding were practically completed, that her trousseau was all but finished, and that she was glad of a few weeks’ rest and quiet. It was now late August, and the doctor assured her that Mrs. Lang would be her own old self and fully able to return well before the wedding day.

So Mary drifted along in a lazy, happy sort of way. She most enjoyed an idle, unplanned life, and she did as she pleased, accepted or refused invitations with no thought of what she “ought” to do about them, and went about singing like a care-free bird.

Nor was David Lang less contented.

He devoted himself to uninterrupted enjoyment of his hobby, and was relieved of the overhanging necessity of constant attention to his wife.

“I’m mighty glad she’s being well taken care of,” he said to Wyatt, in a moment of confidence. “I do want her to get well and strong again. But it is a relief not to feel hanging over me the necessity of running up every few minutes to see how she is.”

“Yes, I know,” said the assistant, sympathetically, “and she’ll get better much more quickly without people running in and out.”

“Yes, that’s what the doctors say,” agreed Lang.

So David and Mary planned to go up to see the patient once a week, and to make a pleasant excursion of it, carrying fruit and flowers and any delicacies or comforts they could think of.

“I shall take her some lace pillows,” Mary said. “Mother loves such things and I doubt if they give her those.”

“I shall take her some oysters,” said the more practical David. “They can’t get decent ones up there, of course, and I shall have them packed carefully in ice and carry them myself. Eleanor loves oysters.”

Chapter 6
The Mother

THE VISIT CAME off as planned.

Mary took her mother some lingerie pillows, which delighted the eyes of the sick woman. And David Lang carried some fresh oysters, carefully packed in a large pail of ice.

Nurse Brace looked a little dubiously at the oysters, but consented to let her patient eat them, as they were guaranteed fresh and wholesome.

But Eleanor Lang, though glad to see her husband and daughter was listless and languid. She took almost no interest in Mary’s tales of her parties and entertainments, and seemed utterly oblivious to David’s efforts to amuse her or rouse her attention.

“Brace up, Mother,” Mary said, losing patience. “You’ll never get well if you don’t use a little energy. Will she, Hesty?”

Nurse Brace hid her own anxiety, and answered cheerily, “She’s going to, Mary. She’s better today than yesterday, and I’m sure she’ll improve right along now.”

And with that the visitors were forced to be content.

But as they went back home, Mary said, “I’m terribly worried about mother, Dad. She seems so much weaker—sort of lost her grip, you know.”

“That’s probably due to the fact that she has no excitement, no interests of any sort up there. I daresay it’s the best thing for her, at any rate that’s the prescribed treatment. It’s a fearfully expensive place—but I don’t begrudge the price, if she only gets well.”

And then, David Lang dismissed the thoughts of his wife from his mind and returned to the absorbing business of his collections.

The man was not heartless, and he really loved Eleanor, but having placed her in good hands, he felt his responsibility was over for the time being, and he shook off all care and worry.

But Mary was more deeply impressed with the seriousness of her mother’s condition. Her more sensitive nature missed the querulousness and petulance that Eleanor Lang had always shown.

She talked it over with Carr.

“You see, Forry,” she said, “if muddie had been irritable or snappish I should have thought she was getting better. But she was so quiet, so dull, that I can’t understand it. Dad says it’s because she has nothing to trouble her up there. It’s all peace and quiet.”

“Of course, that’s it, dear. The idea of your wanting her to be irritable.”

“Oh, I don’t exactly want it—but she’d seem more like herself that way. Why, she just smiled faintly, when I told her things that ought to make her mad as hops.”

“It seems to me a cause for rejoicing rather than discontent on your part. If she is getting more placid by reason of the sanitarium’s treatment, surely that’s the best thing that could happen to her.”

“Yes, but it’s queer. I’m going up again soon, and I want to see Hester alone and find out what she really thinks.”

So it was only a few days later that Mary declared her intention of going again to see her mother.

To her surprise Mrs. Castro begged to accompany her.

David Lang declared he couldn’t leave home that day, and he advised that Mary take Mrs. Castro along.

The girl consented, for she liked Giulia, except when Forrester Carr was around, and laden with gifts for the invalid they started off.

But they were not allowed to see the patient, for she was not so well.

“We fear it is typhoid,” Nurse Brace told them, her dark, brooding eyes filled with tears. “And, oh, Mary, the doctor says it is because of those oysters your father brought up here.”

“No!” cried Mary, aghast. “Well, I’m not going to let him know that. The poor man would go frantic! He so enjoyed getting them for her, and having them packed so as to reach here in perfect condition. Oh, Brace, I hope it wasn’t that.”

“I don’t know, Mary dear. The doctor can’t think of any other explanation. She has had nothing else that could give her typhoid.”

“Did she eat them raw?” Giulia asked.

“Yes,” said the nurse, “she wanted them that way.”

“Then it must have been the oysters.” Giulia said, thoughtfully. “I’m surprised she was allowed to eat them.”

“It was only because Mr. Lang brought them, and she was so keen to have them, oh, I wish I had forbidden it! But I’m not in entire authority, you see. I’m under the head nurse’s orders, and, of course, the doctor.”

“And they said Mrs. Lang could have the oysters?” Giulia inquired.

“Yes, of course, or she wouldn’t have had them.”

“She’ll come through all right, won’t she, Hesty?” said Mary, wistfully.

“I don’t know, Mary. My heart is heavy. If she were in robust health to start with it would be different. But she’s so run down, that I’m terribly afraid of typhoid fever. It will be a long pull, at best. If she pulls through recuperation will be slow. I hate to speak so discouragingly, but I think, Mary dear, you ought to be aware of the real facts of the case. Your father doesn’t seem to realize how low her vitality is—”

Nurse Brace paused, because of a lump in her throat. She knew far better than the others how ill Eleanor Lang really was, and how unfitted to stand a fever attack.

Giulia, too, realized the seriousness of it all, but Mary, though alarmed, was less experienced in sickness, and buoyantly hoped for the best.

She was glad Giulia was with her, for as a friend she proved sympathetic and consoling.

Mrs. Castro hid her own fears, and agreed with Mary’s hopes, a significant glance at the nurse, explaining her attitude.

“Yes,” she said, “we must look on the bright side. Mrs. Lang may be quite able to get through the typhoid and after her recovery be better than she has been for a long time.”

“It is possible,” Brace said, and tried to make her words sound sincere and hopeful.

The two guests left the sanitarium, and, it being a lovely afternoon, walked down to the station.

The scenery all about was superb, and on the surrounding hills they could see many buildings and small settlements.

“There’s a blind asylum over that way,” Mary pointed out, “and that fine building opposite is an insane asylum. Father told me, when we were up here before. Of course, this locality is ideal for institutions of any sort.”

“Small use to the blind,” Giulia commented.

“But they can enjoy the air, and the birds and flowers and all that. Oh, I say, Giulia, you don’t think mother will die, do you?”

“I don’t know dear. But while we can hope, we must be prepared for the worst. I think it’s better you should know there is danger.”

“Dad doesn’t think so.”

“He doesn’t know about the typhoid.”

“And I don’t want him to. Don’t tell him—Giulia. I mean don’t tell him his oysters may have been the cause of it.”

“No, I’ll not tell him. Doubtless he’ll think of that himself.”

“If he does, we can’t help it. But he mustn’t be told.”

And at Mary’s insistence, Giulia Castro promised not to tell anybody.

On the way home, Mary acted on a sudden impulse, and asked Giulia about the face she had seen at the cottage window.

She introduced the subject by asking the widow about her servants.

“Fortunately, I have no trouble on that score,” Giulia said, smiling. “I have trusted and tried ones, who have been with me for many years.”

“How many have you?” Mary asked, with an air of interest.

“Only three—in the house. But they are father, mother and daughter, so they are contented to stay, and there’s no bickering or trouble.”

“That’s fine. And the father is your butler?”

“Yes—you must have seen him about.”

“I have. But, I say, Giulia, the other day, I saw a face at an upper window of your house. A man’s face—and a terrible one. Who could it have been?”

Mrs. Castro gave a sudden start. She suppressed it immediately, but Mary had noticed her agitation.

“I can’t think what you mean,” she said, quite calmly now, “you must have imagined that, dear. For old Joseph is not handsome, but he has not a terrible face. Nor have either of the women. My chauffeur, who is also handy man about the place may have been in the house, fixing a window shade or something of that sort.”

“Is he a terrible looking person? Really frightful, I mean.”

“No, not that. Gregory is fairly decent looking, though often grumpy.”

“Well, this face was enough to scare the life out of anybody. Distorted, uncanny, almost inhuman—”

“Come, come, now, Mary, you know of your own common sense, I’ve nobody like that in my little home. You simply must have imagined it—there’s no other explanation. Probably it was a twisted curtain or something that took the shape of a face.”

“No, it wasn’t. I’m positive I saw it—in that room in the east gable.”

“Nobody uses that room. If you really saw any one, it was an intruder, and in that case, I’m frightened myself. I’ll have Joseph search the house thoroughly as soon as I get home.”

“Do, for I’m as sure I saw that face as that I see yours now.”

Giulia smiled as if humoring the silly notion, and the talk drifted to other subjects.

Mary gave her father a faithful report of all she had learned of her mother’s condition, except that she made no reference to the oysters. This, of course, to spare his feelings, and, too, there was a chance that it was not typhoid after all.

But it was only three days later that Nurse Brace sent for Mary and begged her to come up prepared to stay two or three days, as her mother longed to see her.

David Lang approved this plan, for it made it unnecessary for him to go, and yet it relieved his conscience to know that somebody was there with Eleanor.

His work just now was very absorbing and important, and he hated to have it interrupted in any way.

So Mary packed a suitcase and started off.

She was not greatly pleased at the prospect of several days in the atmosphere of the hospital, for the sanitarium was that also, in cases of severe illness.

Eleanor Lang was glad to see her daughter, but she was even more weak and languid than the week previous.

“What does ail her, Nurse?” Mary exclaimed to Brace, when they were alone. “She isn’t so very ill, yet she has no apparent desire to get better.”

“Yes, Mary, she is very ill. It’s typhoid, and though not a severe case now, there’s grave danger of pneumonia or something of that sort, and she hasn’t the strength to combat it. That’s why I want you here, for she may get worse any moment.”

“Or she may get better?” asked the girl, hopefully.

“Yes, that is a possibility.”

Brace knew the possibility was of the slightest, but she thought it wiser to let Mary hold to her hope as long as she could.

Two days after the girl’s arrival, Nurse Brace proposed they go for a motor ride.

“I have to have a few hours off for a breath of outdoor air,” she said. “I’ll leave your mother with the head nurse, and she will be all right. Come, we’ll have a good ride over the hills.”

They went and were gone for nearly two hours. Brace pointed out places of interest, and chatted on various subjects to give the girl’s thoughts a respite from the sadness of her mother’s condition.

They stopped at one or two places, including a tea room, and when they reentered the sanitarium, Nurse Brace seemed quite refreshed, while the girl was eager for news of her mother.

But the news was not favorable.

“She is sinking,” the head nurse whispered to Brace.

“Shall I let her daughter see her?” Hester asked.

“It won’t matter to Mrs. Lang. I doubt if she’ll know her. I think she has settled into a coma.”

It was so, and the end came that very night.

Hester called Mary, who threw on a dressing gown and reached the bedside in time to see her mother draw her last breaths.

“Oh,” cried the girl, “it’s too awful. Take me away, Hester—I never saw any one die before—I can’t stand it!”

“There, there, Lamb,” and Brace soothed her gently, “don’t cry so. Come away now, dearie.”

She led the sobbing girl back to her own room, gave her a mild sedative and tucked her into bed again.

Then, with a sigh, she began on the necessary routine of duty.

The formalities had to be gone through with, and worse than that, she must notify the Lang household.

She concluded to get Dane Wyatt on the telephone and ask him to break the news to David Lang, then he would make what arrangements he chose.

It took some time, but finally she had Wyatt on the wire.

He agreed to waken Mr. Lang and tell him and then advise Brace what to do.

Somewhat to her surprise, her instructions were to bring the body home as soon as possible and not expect Mr. Lang to come for it.

Wyatt told her that Mr. Lang felt he could be of more use making arrangements for the funeral and attending to the house, than to go up to escort the cortege home.

Wyatt said that he would come up if needed, but Brace told him it was not necessary as she could attend to all details, and would bring Mary home herself.—

Yet the nurse wondered that none of the men of the family insisted on making the journey.

Or, she thought, at least, Mr. Carr might have come to be of use or comfort to Mary.

“They’re a hard hearted lot,” she thought, a little indignantly.

Mary said no word of surprise or disappointment at the decisions and made ready to go home in a sort of dazed quietness.

She seemed unable to realize that her mother was really dead, and when she went into the room and stood gazing at the still white face, the tears rolled down her cheeks and she broke into a crying spell that was almost hysterics.

But Nurse Brace cared for her, and Mary was quiet and composed when at last they were ready to start.

To the girl’s surprise, they found Langdene in a state of bustle and preparation. The house was filled with flowers, chairs were being arranged in the various rooms, furniture was being moved, and the whole place was being made ready for a large and magnificent funeral.

David Lang met his daughter with a tender embrace and a flood of loving, sympathetic words.

Uncle Alex, too, was affectionately sorry for her, and Dane Wyatt expressed cordial if formal sympathy.

Mary went to her room, exhausted with the nerve strain of it all, and declared she would see nobody for the rest of the day.

Even Forrester Carr was denied a sight of her, for Brace said the girl was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and must rest for twenty-four hours.

David Lang sanctioned this, and went on with his plans for the finest funeral that could be arranged.

He ordered beautiful music from New York, regretting that he had not a big church organ in the house.

He ordered mourning for all servants, looked after garments for the men of the household, and begged Brace to see to it that Mary’s mourning was deep and expensive.

“Good heavens!” Brace exclaimed to Dane Wyatt, with whom she had to have much consultation, “anyone would think Mr. Lang was fixing up a garden party! A string of choir boys, and Lord knows what instruments of music!”

“It is only his exaggerated notion of respect to his wife’s memory.” Wyatt returned. “His one idea of doing a thing is overdoing it. He positively enjoys getting up this pageant—for it’s nothing more or less than a pageant.”

“Pageant!” said Brace, “it’s more like a circus! And the food that’s being prepared! A luncheon like a king’s lawn party! Most elaborate foods and enough of them for an army!”

“He means well,” Wyatt defended. “He’s not conscious of any absurdity.”

“Well, I am,” the plain-spoken nurse declared. “However, it’s not my business to criticize. Now I have to run down to the city to get Mary’s clothes. The poor child has to be togged up in the heaviest crape and a veil a yard long!”

“Doesn’t she object?”

“No, she’s very docile today, and says whatever her father orders must be done.”

“Well, she won’t have to wear the heavy crape after the funeral, I hope. I can’t imagine Mary in black—she’s always loved color so.”

And Mary in black was a decided innovation.

It was becoming to her, as it is to almost everybody, but it seemed to change her whole appearance.

Her straight dark hair, falling thickly over her ears in a levelled bob, and banged low on her forehead, framed her sweet face and sad, dark eyes with almost Indian effect.

Her heavy black costume, and her string of dull, jet beads gave her an older air than the volatile nature had ever before shown.

The shock and sorrow of her mother’s deathbed had left an indelible impression on the girl, and she felt within herself she would never be quite the same again.

Forry Carr stood aghast when he saw her.

“Mary,” he cried, “dearest, have you always to wear those awful clothes?”

“No, I don’t think so,” she returned, slowly. “But I shall if dad wants me too.”

“But I don’t want you to—and I suppose I have some say in the matter.”

“Of course you have. Don’t worry, I’m sure he won’t expect me to keep them on for long.”

The funeral ceremonies were carried out just as David Lang ordered. It was like the funeral of Enoch Arden.

“And when they buried him the little port,
Had seldom seen a grander funeral.”

Only in this case, the seldom could read never.

The long talked of funeral of a mayor had not been one-half so elaborate as the obsequies of Eleanor Lang, and David was satisfied with himself and all concerned and felt that nothing had been omitted that could add to the impressiveness or grandeur of the occasion.

He sat by his daughter’s side during the ride to the cemetery, and in the same car were Nurse Brace and Alex Lang.

“I hope, Brace,” David said, “you can remain for a time with Mary. She needs some one to look after her until she gets married.”

“I shall be glad to stay, Mr. Lang. As you remember, I was with your wife when Mary was born, and I have always felt the deepest love for the child and interest in her welfare.”

“I know it, nurse. Well do I remember your devotion to my wife at that time. And I am sure that to your early care of the baby is due Mary’s healthy happy disposition of today. Now, I’ve been thinking matters over, and I feel that the wedding day need not be postponed. I know my wife would wish that Mary’s happiness should come to her, just the same, as if she had lived to see it. I propose, therefore, that Mary’s wedding shall occur on her birthday, as arranged, but that in view of the circumstances it shall be a small affair, with only the relatives and a few friends present. What do you say, dear?”

He turned to the girl, and she spoke with a little hesitation.

“But it seems very soon, Dad. Only a little over a month—”

“It would seem soon to have a large and elaborate wedding. But, my dear, marriage is a sacrament not an entertainment, and there is no impropriety in going on with the wedding, if we do not make a gay occasion of it. And why wait? To wait long enough to have a conventional wedding would mean waiting six months or a year. Why delay that long, just for the sake of the festival?”

“I suppose that is true,” Mary said, thoughtfully.

“If your dear mother could speak, I am sure she would say she wanted you to go on with it as planned, and she would approve, too, of the smaller affair.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’re right, Daddy dear, and I will do whatever you think best.”

“My goodness, Mary, you’re very docile. You must do as you think best, child. Speak your own mind.”

“I do feel docile, Father, and meek and sad, I am not myself at all, since mother’s death. But I suppose I am not permanently changed. It’s just the strangeness of it all. I feel dazed—stunned.”

“Yes, dear, I understand. Well, you take a few days to think things over before you decide finally. Talk it over with Carr, and whatever you two agree upon I will abide by. Don’t think I’m trying to get rid of you—I shall be lonely indeed, when you are gone. But I want you to consider only your own happiness, not mine.”

With a sigh as of a martyr, David Lang closed his eyes, thereby closing the conversation.

They rode on in silence, broken at last by Alex, who said:

“Where do you propose to live, Mary?”

“I don’t know,” she said, slowly.

“Don’t bother the child, Alex,” David broke in, his eyes opening. “They are quite welcome to live at Langdene, either permanently, or until they choose a home for themselves. You tell Carr, Mary that I say this, and he can make my home his own for as long as it suits his convenience. Of course I shall give you a large dowry—all that has yet to be arranged for. But I shall not stint you, be sure of that.”

“Perhaps, David,” Alex began, and then, instinctively feeling this was not the time to refer to his own affairs, he subsided, leaving his sentence unfinished.

David gave him a comprehending and slightly amused look, but said nothing.

The burial service was quite in keeping with the rest of the funeral, and as the casket was lowered into its flower-lined grave, Mary shivered as if with a chill.

Brace slipped an arm about her, and the girl pulled herself together.

David Lang, though he looked sad, was evidently bent on keeping up his dignity and importance, and when it was over, he offered his arm to Mary, and followed by the others in order of rank, they returned home.

On reaching there they found all traces of the funeral gone. Not even the white, heavily scented flowers remained.

Instead were some bright, gay blossoms, and the blazing fires and lighted lamps gave a cheer and warmth which was grateful indeed after the strain of the occasion.

Forrester Carr came at once, and took Mary in his arms.

“My life is devoted to yours, dearest,” he whispered. “I will do whatever you decree.”

“Then let’s not talk about the future now,” Mary said, smiling at him through her tears. “Leave all that for a few days. And Daddy, dear, mayn’t I take off this heavy frock and wear—white?”

“Yes, my child, that was only for the services. You need never wear it again.”

So Mary went away, returning in a soft gown of white crêpe that suited her far better than the black.

“Here’s my own girl back again.” said Carr, as with admiring eyes he gazed at her. “No more black, Mary dear.”

“No,” she returned, “except, perhaps on formal occasions, when it may seem necessary.”

Chapter 7
The Queer Man Again

AS SEPTEMBER DRIFTED by, life at Langdene fell into a quiet routine, in which every one pursued his own business.

David Lang was especially interested in the acquisition of some new specimens of early glass, and kept Wyatt busy arranging and cataloguing them.

When so absorbed, it would seem that the death of his wife had made but slight impression on his heart. But this was not so. David had truly loved Eleanor, but his impatient and selfish nature made him chafe at her exactions. And he begrudged her demands on his time and attention.

Now all that was over, and he was free to spend his days on his chosen hobby. But when, finishing the day’s work, he longed for his wife’s company, he realized his loss.

Having been with Wyatt all day, he desired a change of atmosphere, and Alex was not entirely satisfactory.

He tried to chat with Mary, but there seemed to be a sort of constraint between them. David wondered at this, for he had always been a sympathetic friend of his daughter, though they had spent little time alone together.

“What’s the matter, kiddy?” he said one evening, as they were sitting in the sun parlor, alone for the moment. “You seem so preoccupied. I don’t mean your natural sorrow at the loss of our dear one, but you seem to be brooding over something else.”

“No, Daddy,” and the girl looked up brightly. “Except for my grief at muddie’s death, I haven’t a trouble in the world. What could I have? I’m about to be married to the dearest man on earth—except you—” she smiled lovingly at him, “and I have everything that heart can wish.”

“Yes, girlie, I want you to have everything. Tell me if there’s a single trinket or gewgaw of any sort that you lack. I shall have your mother’s jewelry brought home from the bank and turn it all over to you. There is more than you know of.”

“Leave it until our return from our trip—our wedding trip, won’t you—”

“No, I want it here on your wedding day It will make a gorgeous display and, though the wedding is to be small and informal, it is right that the Lang jewels should be on exhibition.”

“Oh, very well, then. But you must take care of them for me. I can’t assume the responsibility of such a great treasure. Forry says, Father, that we will go for a trip, then return here for a time, and then take our time in making up our mind as to a permanent home.”

“Yes, that is right. Stay here as long as you like. This great house would be empty indeed, if you should go away.”

“I know it. It seems a pity to let it go to waste. And it is so beautiful. This sun parlor is one of my favorite spots. By day, in the sunshine, or by night, as it is now, the soft light of the lamps shining through the palms and orange trees—it is wonderful!”

“Why, Mary child, I didn’t know you cared so much for it! You’d better decide to live here. You can be mistress, and Forry and I won’t quarrel as to who shall be master.”

“Probably that’s just what we shall do. Uncle Alex is an old dear, and Mr. Wyatt is a pleasant companion always.”

“Why do you call him Mr. Wyatt, all of a sudden?”

Mary blushed a little. “I—I thought I’d better as I’m so soon to be Forry’s wife, and it seems—”

“Oh, you old fashioned little piece! Why, a married woman has more freedom with other men than a girl does.”

“I sha’n’t,” and Mary looked almost prim. “I believe in a wife being formal with all men but her own husband.”

“You’ll get over that, chickabiddy. Lord knows, I don’t want you to be a frisky young matron, but don’t be a prude, either. You’re shivering, child, are you cold?”

“Yes. Let’s have a little fire in the porch fireplace, It would be such fun!”

“I believe you shivered on purpose to bring that about! You always love a fire in that fireplace. By the way I’ll tell you something about it—ah, Hattie,” as the butler came, “Miss Mary wants a fire out here. See to it.”

The butler went off and shortly a fire was kindled, and Mary hovered over its warmth. Though only mid-September, there was a cold snap, and the porch was chilly.

Attracted by the crackling flames, Uncle Alex sauntered out.

To reach the porch he had to pass through David’s own little library, and he paused to look at some papers on the library table.

“David,” he said to his brother, as he stepped through the door to the sun porch, “I see there are papers in your library that look like business settlements.”

“Yes,” said his brother, “my lawyer is coming tomorrow morning to fix up Mary’s dowry. She must have a goodly sum settled upon her, as befits a bride of the house of Lang.”

“I wish the House of Lang would realize that his brother is in a similar case,” said Alex, plaintively.

He sat down on a low wicker settle, near the fire, and continued:

“Your daughter is about to be married, so you give over to her her portion of your fortune. Now, your brother wants to be married, and all he asks is an advance of all or part of the money that you will eventually leave him.”

“I know, Alex—I know,” and David put up a silencing hand. “But I don’t see it as you do, and as I’ve told you repeatedly—”

“Yes, yes—but now that Eleanor is gone—”

“That has nothing to do with the matter—”

“Yes, it has David. You’ll have to alter your will—I suppose you’ll divide Eleanor’s share between Mary and me—”

“Good Lord, Alex, are you making my will, or am I? Why should you suppose anything of the sort? I suppose that I am quite capable of making disposition of my property, and I suppose further, that I have the right to do it as and when I choose.”

“Of course—of course, brother.—Only—heavens, David, don’t you have any sympathy for me? You married, you had a beloved wife—I want the same happiness. It would make no difference to you whether I had my money now, or after your funeral. And I can tell you it would make a lot of difference to me!”

“Oh, let him have it, Father,” Mary said, half laughing at the lugubrious face of the pleader.

Alex Lang, though nearly fifty, looked younger, and his manner, just now, was that of a coaxing schoolboy. His hands were clasped together in his earnestness and his eyes were pathetic like those of a begging dog.

“No, said David, sternly. “You keep out of this Mary. You interceded for your uncle once before—and I won’t have it! I might consider it, Alex, if I thought it was for your good. But I don’t want you to throw yourself away on an adventuress—”

“Stop!” Alex cried, angrily. “I won’t have you speak like that of the woman I adore. She’s the dearest, sweetest, most honest and sincere nature—

“No. If she were all that, she would not frankly declare she will not marry except for money.”

“Oh, how crudely you put it! It isn’t like that at all. Giulia loves me, but she also loves luxury—just as Eleanor did. Just as Mary does. Why may those women have all heart can desire, and my beautiful goddess be denied? Fate is very cruel—”

“If by fate you mean me,” David smiled a little, “then I can tell you I am cruel only to be kind. Now, look here, Alex, I shouldn’t tell you this, but I want to cure your infatuation. Mrs. Castro is—that is she has done—is doing some very queer, or at least, questionable things.”

“I don’t believe it. That spy Wyatt, of yours, makes up a lot of stuff that isn’t true—”

“How do you know Wyatt told me?”

“Who else?”

“Well, it’s true. She has strange men staying at her house till three or four o’clock in the morning and then lets them out stealthily, and they disappear into the woods.”

“It’s a lie.”

“It’s the truth. And that other thing. Mary, tell him about the face you saw at the window—”

“Oh, don’t drag me into it, Dad. I love Uncle Alex, and I’d like to see him have his own way—”

“Good girl Mary. You do love your old uncle, don’t you?”

“Yes—and I can’t see, Father, why you can’t give uncle a portion of his—”

“Mary, hush! You must not meddle with my affairs, and I forbid you to speak to me on this subject again.”

“Oh, all right,” and Mary rose and stepped outside on the terrace that surrounded the three sides of the sun parlor.

The night was beautiful—crisply cool and splendid with the starry glory of the autumn skies.

Forrester Carr came striding across the lawn, and stood by her side slipping his arm around her and drawing her close.

“Dear heart,” he said, “only two weeks more now, and I shall have you for all my own. Were you waiting here for me, Mary?”

“I came out because daddy and uncle are having an argument, and they refused to let me take part in it. But I—hoped you’d come.”

“Mary, you are adorable when you take on that little shy air. But you’re not shy with me, are you? You’re such a creature of moods, I never quite know whether you’re going to be a touch-me-not, or—or welcome my caresses.”

Unrepulsed, he drew her to him, and lifting the soft, rounded chin with one finger, he kissed the quivering lips.

“Mary!” he exclaimed, “are you afraid of me? You tremble so.”

“No, Forry, no—not afraid of you—just afraid—that—oh, but we will be happy together, won’t we?”

“You bet we will! I suppose it’s natural you should have foolish fears, but forget them, darling. Trust me—oh, Mary girl, you do trust me, don’t you?”

“Indeed I do Forry. Would I marry you if I didn’t? I trust you fully, implicitly—but I don’t trust myself—”

“Hush, little girl, those are wrong thoughts. Put them out of your mind and remember only that we love and trust each other.”

Tacitly, Mary agreed to this, and they wandered down the path between the long gardens, talking happily of their future together.

As they neared Willow Dell, the girl said, plaintively, “Forry, dear, don’t flirt so with Giulia, will you?”

“Silly baby,” he replied. “Did that bother you so? Why, I only did it, because I wanted to tease you.”

“Don’t tease me—don’t want to tease me. Promise me you won’t tease me any more.” The big dark eyes raised to his face were earnest, even agonized in their appeal.

“Of course I won’t, darling—but you didn’t seem to mind it much. What has come over you to make you so sensitive all at once?”

“I don’t know, dear. I daresay it is because of mother’s death. You see, I never had anyone die before. I never saw a death before—and it seemed to change my whole nature, I mean, it makes me feel different, see things differently.”

“Yes, I understand. It has given you a new viewpoint on the serious side of life. Well, don’t see me different, for I’m just the same old Forry Carr. I say, Mary, what about Uncle Alex? Is your father going to give him the money he wants?”

“Oh, do you know about that? No, I don’t think he will. You see, dad thinks Giulia is—is—well, queer.”

“Yes, I know,” and Carr nodded. “Let’s walk down by the house, and see if we notice anything peculiar.”

They strolled on, and nearing Willow Dell, they looked curiously about.

Not only did they see nothing to rouse their further curiosity, but there was no sign of life anywhere in the house.

It was only about ten o’clock, but there was no light in the upper rooms, and merely a low glimmer in the lower hall.

“Giulia must be out,” Mary said, in a low tone.

“Hush, somebody’s coming,” Carr whispered, and they retreated a few steps and stood silently, hid by a clump of willows.

From the edge of the woods, two figures emerged and walked slowly toward the cottage.

They saw at once that one was Giulia and the other was a man neither of them recognized.

To be sure, his back was toward them as he went to the house, but the tall figure was not that of any acquaintance they could remember.

“Who is he?” Mary whispered almost soundlessly, but Carr said, “hush,” and she waited and watched in silence.

Giulia and her friend went slowly into the house, and closed the door.

Immediately lights flashed up in the living room, and as quickly the raised shades were pulled down.

“Awful ’fraid she’ll be seen!” Forry said, as they looked at each other. “Who do you s’pose it is, Mary?”

“I don’t know, I’m sure. But, Forry, why make so much of it? Surely Mrs. Castro has a right to walk in the woods if she chooses.”

“I know, but she’s so sly about this man. If he’s a proper friend why doesn’t she tell us he’s staying with her, and introduce him to us?”

“Is he staying with her?”

“I don’t know. But I mean to find out. I’m going to stay here until he goes home—”

“Why, Forrester Carr! I should think you’d be ashamed of yourself! Spying on a friend—”

“No, Mary, if she’s a wrong ’un, she isn’t a friend. But, you see, dear, your dad asked me to find out what I could, because if there’s anything really wrong he wants to know it. He was going to get Dane Wyatt to watch the step of the fair Giulia, and then he thought I could do it better, so he said for me to have a hack at it. Wherefore, I shall hang about here for a while. If you’re cold, I’ll take you home first.”

“And so lose your chance at anything you might find out! No, Forry, if dad told you to do this, it’s all right. Perhaps if you find out there’s no wrong anywhere, he’ll give Uncle Alex some money after all.”

“That’s what I think. He didn’t say that, he only implied that he didn’t want a tenant about whom queer stories were told, whether they are true or not. But as you say, if I leave my post, I may miss something. So, you run along home. I can see you all the way, and if any bears come out of the bushes after you, I’ll rush ’em! Wave your hand after you get back on the terrace. I’ll see you all right.”

With a long, fond kiss Forrester let her go, and she faithfully followed out his directions. From the terrace she waved her hand to him, and then went through the glass door into the sun parlor.

Her father still sat by the now dying fire, and roused himself to greet her.

“Well, my pretty one, I’m glad to see you. I was just about asleep. Where’s your faithful swain?”

Mary told him and he said, thoughtfully:

“Queer about that woman. She seems a nice engaging young person, yet these stories they tell about her call for investigation.”

“Do you think it’s right to spy on her, Dad?”

“In the circumstances, yes. If she’s doing someing wrong, this mild surveillance can’t hurt her. If not innocent, she ought to be spied on.”

“I suppose so. What do you think about it?”

“I think it’s a matter in which you have no concern. If we prove her wrong, you’ll have to drop her acquaintance. Otherwise, go on as you are.

“Oh, I’m not crazy about her,” and Mary gave a slight shrug. “She was nice to me at the time of mother’s death, but I’ve not seen much of her since.”

“Tell me again about your mother’s death bed, Mary.”

It was not a morbid interest but a genuine desire to hear the story of his wife’s last hours on earth, that made David Lang now and then repeat this request. And dutifully, Mary told and retold the story of those last hours.

It was not a harrowing tale, for Eleanor Lang had peacefully slept her life away, and the recital always seemed to bring father and daughter into a closer sympathy.

“You love your old dad, don’t you, Mary?” and he looked fondly on the face of his daughter.

“‘Deed I do,” and the soft, slender arms went round his neck, as she gave him heartfelt kisses.

“You’re more dear and loving, Mary, since your mother’s death. I’m glad you are, for I sadly miss her beautiful devotion. People think I’m a hard hearted, tight fisted old money-grubber! I’m not, am I, dear?”

“Of course not! And nobody says that, either, my darling Daddy. If anyone says the leastest mite of a word against you, it’s somebody who doesn’t know you. And that’s that!”

“You’re a great comfort, kiddy girl. Did you and Forry fix it up to live here?”

“We didn’t talk much about it tonight, but I know we will if you want us to.”

“Yes, do. You can have all your own way, entertain your own parties and be absolute mistress. And Carr can be master, as far as your doings are concerned. If I want guests, I’ll see to it myself.”

“Gracious, Father dear, there won’t be any friction! There couldn’t be in this house!”

“No, there never has been. Well, Mary, the time is drawing near. Don’t you want Aunt Allie to come and stay with you—”

“No, Daddy, please. Nurse Brace is such a good helper, and she’s nurse and lady’s maid and general manager, all in one. No, I don’t want anybody else.”

“Very well, dear. And of course, you can dictate to Brace, as you couldn’t to your aunt.”

“True enough. Aunt Allie likes to do the dictating herself! If I want any real big advice, I’ll appeal to you. In little things, Nurse Brace is all that is necessary.”

Forrester Carr stood under the willow trees until he was chilled through. But he was possessed of a dogged perseverance, and he stuck to his post.

At last his vigilance was rewarded, though not in the way he expected.

At about eleven o’clock, he distinctly heard the sound of a big key turned in the lock of the front door of the cottage.

The man, then, was going to stay the night.

No reason why he shouldn’t. No reason that Carr knew of, why Mrs. Castro shouldn’t have guests who remained as long as she chose to have them.

It was only the veil of mystery that surrounded the man. The uncertainty of his identity, the doubt as to his character.

Forry watched the lights put out in the living room, and then in the lower hall. A moment more and he saw lights gleam in the second story.

The front room, which he knew to be Mrs. Castro’s was lighted and also a room at the side of the house. That then, was the guest’s room.

After another hour or so, the whole house was dark, and it seemed positive that nothing could be learned by waiting longer.

Forry went home, thinking deeply.

It might mean nothing at all. It might be all right, and the man might be her brother or uncle, or—he concluded whimsically—her second cousin.

Then, again, it might be all wrong, and the man beneath that roof might be there secretly and without a right.

He tried to plan for a way to find out.

He thought rapidly, and as rapidly discarded plans that included running to the cottage at five or six in the morning with the news that an escaped prisoner was hiding in the neighborhood and all houses must be searched. Or that he was looking for a friend of his, who was of unsound mind and had wandered away from his keeper.

But all these things were foolish, and he concluded the only thing he could do was to go for an early tramp and stop in casually at Willow Dell.

This he did do, and shortly after sunrise he was striding across the fields and along country roads.

About half past seven, having watched from the willows for an hour, he rang the Castro bell.

A surprised looking maid admitted him, and went to tell Mrs. Castro.

“Why, Forry Carr,” Giulia cried, coming down in an engaging morning gown.

“What does this mean? Nothing wrong, I hope?”

The wording of her sentence, so like the one he had been using about her of late, startled him.

“I hope not,” he returned, gravely.

Then, with a sudden change of manner, he said:

“Of course not. I’m out for a brisk morning sprint, and being by chance near here, I stopped in to beg a cup of coffee.”

“Of course, of course, we’ll have it at once.”

She didn’t ask him why he didn’t go to Langdene for his breakfast, but simply told the maid to lay another place at the table.

“I’m lucky to find you up,” Carr said, easily. “I feared you breakfasted in your room.”

“Not when I can have a vis-a-vis,” she smiled back, and the siren look overspread her face.

“This is too charming,” she went on, as they seated themselves at the exquisitely appointed and flower decked table. “I do hate to eat alone.”

“Won’t your guest come down and eat with you?”

She looked up quickly.

“I haven’t any guest—what made you think I had?”

“Beg pardon, I’m sure. I had a mistaken notion—”

“Yes, it was mistaken. Will you have some marmalade?”

“Thank you, yes.”

Chapter 8
A Wedding Day

FORRESTER CARR WAS not lacking in bravery, but he found himself unable to contradict the calm assertion that he was mistaken.

Mrs. Castro’s serene air and hospitable manner roused his chivalry and involuntarily he fell under the spell that she seemed to exercise on all men.

Yet she was not flirtatious then. Instead, she was sweetly interested in the coming wedding and the future of the newlyweds.

“I’m glad,” she said, “the wedding will come off as planned. I’m sure Mrs. Lang would have wished it too. And Mary seems a little different since her mother’s death. I don’t mean sad—but, more understanding, more considerate.”

“Yes, it has had that effect on her. I think we’ll have quite a long wedding trip, for I want her to get over her sadness as much as possible, and there’s nothing like diversion and change of scene for that.”

“Where are you going? I’m sure you don’t mind my asking.”

“First, off on a little trip nearby, and then to Europe. Mary has never been abroad, and she’ll love it. And I shall love showing her about.”

“Yes,” Giulia sighed “It will be wonderful. Some people seem to have fortune’s favors fall in their laps.—I—” she sighed again, “I am very lonely—”

“Well, I know a very pleasant gentleman who would be glad to share your loneliness.”

“Meaning Alex. Yes—he is rather a dear.”

But Carr declined to follow the lead. He had small interest in Giulia’s romances, he merely wanted to know if she was what he termed “all right.” He could not have said, himself, exactly what he feared about her, but her long, dark eyes and their sidewise glances seemed to him anything but honest and ingenuous.

Moreover, she did not tell the truth. She had a guest in the house—unless the man had departed before sun-up, and that was unlikely, at any rate, peculiar.

Yet he felt he had done his share of investigation. If more was to be done it ought to be put in the hands of a detective, or someone who was not bound by the conventions of hospitality.

One could scarcely sit at a pleasant breakfast table, and accuse one’s hostess of untruth.

So Carr chatted on other subjects, and the meal over, he took his departure with courteous thanks.

Giulia looked after him as he swung down the path.

Transparent youth, she thought to herself. Came to quiz me and then didn’t dare do so! Suspicious, but too polite to say so. Well, what he doesn’t know, he can’t tell.

She laughed lightly and went upstairs to the room that was her guest chamber.

Meanwhile Mary was in confab with Dane Wyatt.

“You see,” she was saying, “I want some sort of place that I can lock. Not that I have anything very private or secret to conceal, but every girl ought to have a desk or a cabinet that she can lock. Not one of my pieces of furniture has a safe lock—”

“What do you mean by a safe lock?” Wyatt smiled at her.

“That’s just what father asked? I don’t mean I want a safe—but something with a lock that can’t be opened with an ordinary key. I asked dad and he turned me over to you, saying it was in your province, and you would see to it.”

“Of course, I’ll see to it, and of course I’ll get you what you want at once. It is perfectly right you should have it. I suggest a small cabinet of good wood, with a Yale lock—”

“That’s just it! Just what I want.”

“Then that’s just what you’ll have. Now, I’m going to New York tomorrow, and I’ll look it up—but, don’t you want to see it, before I buy it?”

“I’m going to New York tomorrow, too. I have to go to the dentist’s. Suppose I meet you afterward, and we can go for it together.”

“Fine. What time is your dentist’s appointment.”

“Two o’clock. I can meet you by three.”

“Just the thing. Here’s the card of the shop where we shall probably buy it. Can you come there by yourself at three?”

“Certainly. I sha’n’t be late.”

That’s the way Wyatt did things. Clear, clean-cut arrangements—and that was why he had proved invaluable as an assistant to Lang, who put all bothers—some errands confidently into his hands.

Mary, too, was definite and accurate in matters of the kind, and both she and Wyatt felt sure the other would remember the place and the time.

She left him, and he looked after her contemplatively.

Wonder why she wants the thing in such a hurry, he mused. She’s never cared to lock things up before. Of course, it has to do with the wedding, and I suppose it’s matters she means to leave behind when she goes on her honeymoon. And of course, that’s all right—but—oh, I’ve got it! She wants to lock up the key of the jewel safe. Of course! But why didn’t she say so?

Next day, Wyatt attended to his other errands in New York, and as the day passed, he began to fear he could not meet Mary just on time.

This bothered him, for he hated to have his plans interfered with. But it was a circumstance he couldn’t control, and as he had to wait for an interview with an agent about a matter of vital importance to his employer, he concluded to telephone Mary about it.

It’s just two-thirty, he thought, looking at his watch. I shall certainly be fifteen or twenty minutes late. Yes, I’ll call her up.

He knew the family dentist, and called his office.

“Mr. Wyatt speaking,” he said to the attendant who answered. “Miss Lang is at your place, and is probably now in the chair. Don’t disturb her, but just tell her that Mr. Wyatt is unavoidably detained and will be fifteen or twenty minutes late in keeping his appointment.”

“But Miss Lang isn’t here,” returned the girl.

“Oh, has she gone?”

“She hasn’t been here. She has no appointment today.”

“What! I think you must be mistaken—”

“Oh, no, I’m not. I know Miss Lang very well. And of course, I know all about our appointments. Miss Lang has none for today. There is someone else in the chair now, and others scheduled for the rest of the afternoon.”

“All right—thank you—goodby.”

Wyatt hung up the receiver, a little dazed.

Mary had a perfect right to tell him she was going to the dentist’s when she was really going somewhere else—but why should she? There was no reason why she should have told him where she was going at all. Why tell a falsehood about it?

He could do nothing further in the matter, so he went about his business and at last went to meet Mary just fifteen minutes behind time.

She was waiting, and greeted him laughingly.

“Wonder of wonders!” she cried gaily. “The impeccable Dane Wyatt not on time!”

“Awfully sorry—but I couldn’t possibly help it—”

“Oh, it’s all right, it doesn’t make a bit of difference. I came right here from the dentist’s and I’ve only waited a quarter of an hour. Now, let’s look up the cabinet.”

They did so, and were soon suited with a beautiful little piece of furniture that possessed several drawers and small cupboards—an ideal place to store private papers.

Then they went home together.

Wyatt hesitated to speak of the matter, but his curiosity was strong, and he said, casually:

“I hope the dentist didn’t hurt you too much.”

“Oh, no,” she replied, “almost not at all. It was just a tiny filling to be put in, but it had to be done before the wedding, so I thought I’d go today.”

“Yes, it’s well to attend to such things early. Are there any errands I can do for you? Anything you want looked after?”

“Not a thing, thanks. Now, I’ve my little cabinet, I want nothing else.”

“What are you going to put in the thing?” Wyatt’s gay smile robbed the words of rudeness. “Love letters of former swains?”

“Oh, yes. And locks of hair and photographs and mementoes of long ago flirtations.”

“And the key of the jewel safe?”

“The what?”

“You needn’t pretend. Your father told me that he had told you where it is. Of course, since your mother’s death, only you and he share that secret.

“Oh—of course. I didn’t know you knew—”

“I don’t know where the safe is. Don’t think that. Mr. Lang merely told me that when your mother went away, he told you about it, because he thought it a wise plan.”

“Of course.”

“And shall you take the key of your new cabinet with you? Don’t think me unduly curious, but you know, Mary, I am your father’s confidential secretary and I think I ought to know.”

“Yes,” she spoke slowly, “I think I shall take the key with me—unless—oh, I don’t know what I shall do. I haven’t thought about it yet.”

“Let me know your decision,” Wyatt spoke rather gravely. “Of course you won’t take the jewels with you?”

“No, indeed. It would be both dangerous and foolish to carry those around, travelling.”

The incident was closed, and Wyatt said nothing to anybody about Mary’s story of the dentist, but he thought over it a lot She elaborated it so, he pondered. She had no earthly reason to mention the dentist, much less to say she had a small cavity filled, when she hadn’t been to the office at all! I don’t get it. Miss Rosemary Lang is getting too deep for me!

And he was more mystified as the wedding day drew nearer.

For Mary became gayer and much lighter-hearted.

In a way, this was not surprising, for it was natural that the wedding plans should divert her mind from her loss.

And plans there were.

But David Lang had to put a curb on his extravagant impulses, indeed. Dane Wyatt had to restrain him almost forcibly, from ordering such elaborate and gorgeous appointments as would be entirely out of place in the simple affair that had been decided upon.

Aunt Allie had arrived, and as she had a firm, just sense of the fitness of things, and as Nurse Brace was her staunch supporter, David Lang was somehow managed and his suggestions of a great orchestra and a Lucullian feast were overruled.

Preparations went along for a quiet, simple wedding, and as the day was almost at hand, Mary’s spirits became positively buoyant.

But to Dane Wyatt, watching her closely, there seemed something forced about her gayety. At times he would notice she started suddenly from deep reverie, to enthuse and exclaim over some new wedding gift, or to answer some question.

There was something very strange about the girl’s attitude, and he wondered deeply.

Mary’s manner to Carr was tender and affectionate, but showed that same shyness, which allured while it surprised him.

“You darling,” he said, one evening, when they were alone, “I can scarcely wait for next Saturday! Then, my girl, then, when you are Mrs. Forrester Carr, you won’t be quite so afraid of me, will you?”

“I’m not afraid of you, Forry,” and the dark eyes looked troubled, “I am not, truly. I’m—I’m afraid of myself—”

“Not afraid that you don’t love me—that isn’t it, is it?”

“No—that isn’t it—”

“Then I don’t care what it is. You can be afraid of anything else on the face of the earth! I’ll banish all your fears—if you love me.”

“Of course I do,” and a dazzling smile made his heart leap.

“Why do you never interlace your fingers any more, Mary?”

She laughed outright, and twined her fingers in one another.

“You funny boy,” she said, “what made you think of that just this minute?”

“It’s such a queer little trick of yours, and I love it. Your fingers are so pretty—” he took up her hand and kissed them lingeringly, one by one, as he looked into her eyes.

“You’ll adore my best man, Billy Budd,” he said, “I hoped he’d be up here a few days before the wedding, but he can’t come till the last moment.”

“That’s too bad,” she said, but he interrupted her.

“You don’t care a cent. You’re not even interested—”

She laughed. “Only if it bothers you. Why should I care when Mr. Budd comes, except as you care?”

“Of course, that’s so. He has never seen you, you know. I want to see him bowled over. I showed him your picture, but it was one with your hair long and curled. Not a bit like this straight bob.”

“But you like it this way?”

“Yes, but after we’re married, s’pose you let it grow.”

“Of course, if you prefer. I’m tired of it like this anyhow. We can grow it out on the trip, and I’ll come home a proper matron.”

“Billy won’t get here till the morning of the wedding. I expect him Saturday about noon. But he’s motoring down from Boston, and may be a little late. He’ll be here in time for the ceremony, though. I’m sure of that.”

“Everybody thinks it’s so queer that I’m having no bridesmaids. But I want such a simple wedding—it doesn’t seem right to have a showy one—and I think bridesmaids in gay frocks would be out of place.”

“I think whatever you think, my darling. You’ll have your father—”

“And that’s all. Nurse Brace will hover in the background.”

“Like a Greek chorus!”

“Yes,” she laughed. “But you see dear, after dad, Hester comes next nearest to me. She was with mother when I was born and she is like a foster mother to me.”

“I know she is. I wish I had a mother. Hester will have to take me under her wing, too.

“She’ll do it. She loves you already.”

“I’m glad of that. Now, sweetheart, I’ve the wedding ring with me, I want you to try it on.”

“Oh, no! I can’t—”

“Nonsense! You bet you can! Not superstitious, are you? You’ve never been that.

He drew the platinum circlet from his pocket and slowly slipped it on her trembling finger.

“Fits perfectly,” he said, with satisfaction. “Remember our pact—”

He paused and she smiled up at him.

“Dearest,” he whispered, “don’t you remember?”

“Of course,” she said, smiling again, and nestling in his arms with more warmth of affection than she had ever before shown.

“It almost seems as if I were already your wife,” she whispered, and her arms stole around his neck.

“Almost,” he returned, but his voice shook. “But, dear—”

“Break away,” called out a cheery voice, and David Lang came into the room. “Don’t mind me, but I just want to say one thing. It’s about the jewels, the Lang Jewels. They have arrived, and I’d like you both to see them now.”

They followed him to his library, and saw the wonderful jewels spread on a table for their inspection.

Wonderful, they surely were. In his early married life, David had bought them lavishly for his beautiful wife.

Eleanor, with her fickle nature, had tired of them—her tastes were far more simple than her husband’s, and of late years they had lain undisturbed in the hidden safe.

Now, reset and rearranged, they presented a brilliant, shining array that was really startling.

Both Carr and Mary stood, fascinated.

“It’s too much,” the girl whispered, looking awed. “I can’t stand it!”

“Oh, pshaw, Mary dear, nothing is too much for my daughter.”

There was a slight but perceptible emphasis on the my.

The young people gazed and admired until even the pride of David Lang was satisfied. He loved display, he loved extravagance, and here it was, in full measure.

Aunt Allie and Nurse Brace were called in to look at them, and then the exhibition was over.

“I should think you’d be afraid to keep them in the house,” Aunt Allie said.

“No, for I have a safe that no burglar could ever find. No one alive knows where it is, except Mary and myself. Eleanor knew, of course, but when she went away to the sanitarium, I told Mary the secret hiding place. No one could ever discover it, no one could even suspect where it is. Isn’t that so, Mary?”

“Yes, Daddy dear, that’s perfectly true.”

“I have a key, and Mary has a key. But a key would be of no use to any burglar or marauder, because he could never find the safe itself. Even Wyatt doesn’t know where it is. Nobody knows but Mary and me. The man who built the secret safe has been dead many years.”

“I think I ought to know,” Carr said, “not out of curiosity, but because there should be no secrets between husband and wife.”

“That is true,” Lang said, cordially, “and after you two are husband and wife, Mary has my permission to tell you.”

“Remember that, Mary,” Carr laughed, “on our wedding trip you are to tell me the secret of the safe! Sounds like a story book!”

“Yes,” said the girl, “it does.”

Her laugh was a little forced, Carr thought, and he wondered if she resented his insistence on knowing the secret.

And it was not undue curiosity, but his honest opinion that it was his right to know.

All present assisted in putting the jewels back in their cases and boxes, and then they were left in the custody of their owner.

They were to be displayed at the wedding, for David Lang refused to be denied that satisfaction. Then they would be left with him until the return of the bridal pair.

The wedding day was ideal.

It was a crisp, cool October morning, and Hester Brace stood, looking down at her sleeping charge.

The face on the pillow was pure and sweet, the short, dark hair was tumbled about it, like a wind-tossed halo.

Loath to waken her, Brace continued to gaze and her thoughts flew back to the night the girl was born.

Hester Brace had always loved children, Eleanor Lang cared not for them.

And so, really, more love had been given to the child by the nurse than by the mother.

Maternal instinct is strong in most women, but Eleanor chanced not to possess it, and though she had done her best by her daughter, at this moment Brace loved the girl as her mother never had done.

With a sigh and a whispered, “May you always be happy, my darling,” she gently tweaked one of the dark locks.

This was her usual way of waking her and Mary’s eyes opened at once.

“Up, up,” cried Hester, gaily. “Your wedding day, dear. Up with you, now!”

Mary sat up in bed, and Brace brought her chocolate tray.

The girl gazed at the woman with a queer, obstinate look in her eyes.

“I won’t be—”

“There, there,” Brace interrupted. “You’re only half awake. Pull yourself together. Take a sip of chocolate. I’ll run your bath, and when you get back into the swing of things, you’ll be all right.”

It was a queer way to put it, but it was the truth.

Once back “into the swing of things,” Mary was all right—or seemed to be.

Carr came over in the morning, and when he left, he kissed her goodby for the last time, he reminded her, as Mary Lang.

“This afternoon,” he said, “I shall kiss Mary Carr.”

“Rosemary Carr,” she amended. “I shall be married under my full name.”

“Of course, Rosemary—my October Rose!” Almost as he left her, Dane Wyatt came to her.

“You’re sure I can do nothing for you?” he said, with a gentle note in his voice. “Sure you have no last errands for me to do, no last messages for me to give?”

“No, Dane—no, thank you. But, I say—did you ask what I wanted you to—of Doctor Mason?” Her fingers were interlaced now, twining in and out, and Wyatt watched them.

“Oh, about the oysters? Yes, I asked him. He said, he was perfectly certain that they did not cause your mother’s illness. So, put your mind at rest about that. He said, he was sure the oysters were not to blame. I meant to tell you, I knew you would feel relieved.”

“Yes—yes—I do. Thank you, Dane.”

With an absorbed air, Mary walked away from him.

She went to her room, and calling a maid, told her that she must be left undisturbed for an hour or two.

“Tell Miss Brace,” she gave orders, “not to come until it is time to dress me for the wedding. I want a little time alone.”

“Yes, Miss Mary,” said the girl, and her sapient nod showed her understanding of the wish for a little solitude.

The ceremony was set for four o’clock, and about three, Nurse Brace decided she must tell Mary it was time to dress.

She went to the door and tapped lightly, but receiving no response, knocked more loudly.

The child had fallen asleep, she said to herself, and turning the knob she walked in.

There was no one there. The wedding gown and veil were spread out on the bed. The satin shoes stood in readiness, and Brace looked around, startled.

She ran down stairs and looked in the lounge and library, and then on to David Lang’s rooms.

“Where’s Mary?” she said, a dawning horror in her eyes.

“I don’t know,” Mary’s father replied, “where is she?”

Chapter 9
Where Is Mary?

“SHE’S—SHE’S gone!” and Brace looked the picture of despair.

“We’ll, find her. She can’t be gone far. The ceremony’s at four, and it’s after three now.”

“I know it—and that’s what scares me! Oh, where is Mary?”

“For heaven’s sake, Brace, don’t take on so! She’s probably in the garden. Call Wyatt, he’ll help you find her.”

David Lang’s sovereign remedy for any ill was to “call Wyatt.”

So Wyatt was called, and he was a little more disturbed by Brace’s agitation than Lang had been.

“You look all over the house, Miss Brace,” he said, “and I’ll look outside. She’s around some place, of course.”

“Of course,” and David Lang returned to his study of a new catalogue that had just come in the mail.

“You’d best be getting dressed yourself, Mr. Lang,” Wyatt adjured, and then he went out to the gardens.

He went hastily down the path to the rose-garden, across the lawn to the Japanese summer house, through the arbor walk and on to the edge of the woods.

Then he turned back, thinking hard.

She’s likely telephoning to Forry, he said to himself. Or some last message to a girl friend—but it’s queer—

He went into the house, and found Aunt Allie wringing her hands in consternation.

“We can’t find Mary anywhere!” she exclaimed. “Where can she be, Mr. Wyatt?”

“Oh, we’ll find her,” he said with a determined cheerfulness. “She may be hiding to kid us. Girls cut up funny tricks, you know.”

“Yes, that’s like Mary,” and Aunt Allie looked relieved. “And you know the child has been in such high spirits for the last few days.”

So they searched the house. The parlor-maid and the butler were told to look in every closet or cupboard. The gardener was directed to make further search of the grounds, and Dane Wyatt himself went to the cellar.

He felt a strange foreboding of impending tragedy. His thoughts were unformulated, but he peered fearfully into the recesses of the spacious basement, finding, however, no trace of the missing girl.

Then he went to the attic. He would depute his task to no one. He went himself over the whole house, even where the others had faithfully looked.

But all in vain.

At last David Lang was roused to a sense of the seriousness of the situation.

“Good gracious,” he cried, “find her—find her, Wyatt. She can’t be out of existence, you know! Why, man, the guests will begin to arrive soon.”

“Of course they will,” said Alex, who had, in a way, taken command.

With David absorbed in his own affairs, with Aunt Allie almost in hysterics and with Nurse Brace dazed with horror, Alex and Dane Wyatt had to give orders.

“My little girl! My little girl!” Brace moaned, rocking back and forth in her grief. “She’s gone—she’s gone!”

“Come now,” Alex said, “don’t make a tragedy out of this thing, until you are sure it isn’t merely a comedy. I’ll tell you where she is. She ran over to see Mrs. Castro, and they two fell a-talking and forgot the time.”

Aunt Allie looked up hopefully, and David said, “Yes, yes, that’s it. Go over there, Wyatt, and bring her home. Of course, of course—where else could she be?”

“Go on, Wyatt,” Alex said. “I’ll look after things here. Bring her back as quickly as you can. Now Allie,” Aunt Allie was Eleanor Lang’s sister, “you pull yourself together, and get into your togs. The people will begin to come at any minute now. You must be dressed and ready to receive them. You get dressed, too, David. It won’t matter if the ceremony is a little late, but don’t let anyone think there’s any trouble. I’ll take care of the bridegroom when he comes. He and his best man will be here at quarter of four. Miss Brace go and get dressed yourself, and you can look after Mary when she comes. Don’t hurry her too much—a wedding ceremony is always late.”

They had all obeyed him. And left alone Alex Lang stood in the lounge, and allowed himself a minute to think.

He looked into the great drawing room, decked with flowers, and fragrant with soft, fresh perfume. At the far end, he saw the dais, arranged for the sacrament, and a shudder of apprehension passed through his heart, lest it might never be used.

For Alex knew things that other people did not know.

Then, with a grim, set face, he strode to a bell and summoned the butler.

“Hattie,” he said, “Miss Mary is delayed somewhere and the ceremony will perhaps be a little late. Usher in the guests, let everything go on as planned, and when Mr. Carr and his friend arrive send them to me, in the small library. That is, if I’m not here in sight. Miss Mears and Mr. Lang will be down shortly, I’ll be here until they come, anyway.”

“Yes, sir. There’s—there’s no harm come to Miss Mary, sir?”

“No, of course not. Get on the door now. I hear a car coming.”

Hattie got on the door, and the cars came rapidly. It was nearing four, and David Lang, properly garbed, received the guests with as much savoir faire as if Mary were really in her room dressing as she should have been.

Miss Allie Mears, in resplendent attire, joined her brother-in-law, and if not quite as serene as he, she did her part prettily.

Meantime Dane Wyatt was at Willow Dell.

“Mary here?” he had said, as he entered.

“No,” and Giulia looked at him in surprise. She was already dressed to go and looked very beautiful in her afternoon costume of white with strong touches of black.

A black hat had a drooping lace frill that partly shaded her face.

“No,” she repeated, “why in the world should Mary be here? Why, it’s well after three, and the wedding is at four.”

“I know it, but we can’t find Mary—”

“What do you mean—you can’t find her?”

“Just exactly that. She’s—well, she’s missing, that’s all. We’ve searched the house and grounds—perhaps they’ve found her by now—”

“Of course they have. It’s some foolish prank, or she has dropped to sleep in a hammock—”

“Don’t be silly! Brides elect don’t drop to sleep an hour before their wedding! I believe she’s here!”

“What!” and Giulia looked angry. “You believe I’ve kidnapped her—”

“No, I don’t mean that at all. I believe—oh, it sounds awful put into words, but I believe she doesn’t want to marry Carr—”

“Of course she wants to marry him! She’s crazy over him—”

“Are you?” The question was shot at her suddenly, and she turned a startled face to him.

“What! Do you suppose I’m crazy over every man I see?”

As a matter of fact, Wyatt did pretty nearly think this, but especially in regard to Carr.

“I think you have tried to cut Mary out,” he said, bluntly, “whether you care for Carr himself, or not. I think you are a born coquette and you can’t help—”

“Stop where you are. I refuse to be insulted in my own house. You may go!”

“I shall not go until you tell me where Mary is. I’m sure you know, and whether you’re detaining her against her will or at her own request, I’m sure she’s in this house.”

“You are mistaken, and, moreover, what you say is utterly absurd. If I were the veriest flirt on earth, I shouldn’t be fool enough to kidnap a bride on her wedding day!”

“But if she ran away purposely, would you harbor her—”

“Yes, if Mary came to me for sanctuary, of course I’d take her in.”

“Well, one way or the other, I’m convinced she’s here. Will you let me go through your house?”

“That I most certainly will not! What do you mean by this talk? I believe you’ve lost your mind!”

“No,” Wyatt spoke steadily. “I haven’t lost my mind. But a strange thing has happened, Mary has disappeared—if they had found her, they would have sent word over here—and there’s no place she could possibly be, except here. So, when you refuse to let me go through the house—what am I to think?”

“Think what you choose, it is of no interest to me. Now, I am going over to Langdene. It is quarter to four, and I shall start now. I advise you not to try to go through my house by force, for my butler is a strong man and would most certainly do his best to restrain you.”

“No, I shall not attempt force—if it comes to that, I shall put the matter up to Mr. Lang.”

“If any further explanation is demanded from me, Mr. Lang is the only one to whom I shall give it.”

And then a flash of inspiration struck Wyatt. This woman, this siren, and, as he believed, this adventuress, had her eye on Lang, matrimonially! Now, that he was a widower, what more likely than that she should set her busy little cap for him?

How this bore on the subject of Mary’s disappearance, he could not see. But he felt vaguely certain that Giulia knew something about the girl’s whereabouts.

But it seemed to him best to let the question drop until he could get Lang’s advice. To tell the truth, Mr. Wyatt, for one of the few times in his career, was in that state of mind commonly known as “at sea.”

So, together the two walked up the path of the long garden to Langdene.

They were silent, each busily thinking, and as they approached, they saw that many people had arrived. There were many cars parked already, and guests were strolling on the porches and looking out over the gardens.

“Mingle with the crowd,” Wyatt said, authoritatively, “and say nothing about Mary. Probably it is all right.”

“Probably,” she returned, and Wyatt was disturbed at the quizzical look she gave him.

Wyatt went straight to the small library and found Alex there.

“Any news?” he asked.

“No, not a trace of the girl can we find. Thank goodness, Carr hasn’t turned up yet. Every moment that he is late gives us that much more respite.”

“Is his father here?”

“Yes, the elder Mr. Carr is here and in blandest humor. Of course, he’s no idea of the trouble we’re in.”

“Are there any other Carr relatives?”

“Only some cousins, I Believe. Forry has no family but his father. I say, Wyatt, it begins to look serious.”

“Serious! I should say so! What’s your idea of the truth?”

“Well,” Alex hesitated, “I can’t think of anything but some accident to her. Say, she was in the garden and fell in the pond—”

“Oh, no—”

“It’s all very well to say ‘oh, no,’ but what else can you suggest? If she had met with an accident in the house—fallen down stairs or that—of course, we’d find her. So I’ve told the gardeners to hunt all over the place. There are lots of possibilities. She may have wandered into the wood—”

“And been eaten by bears! Come, come, man, be sensible, at least.”

“How can I be sensible in a case where there’s no sense in it?”

Then David Lang joined them.

“What are we to do?” he said, dropping his manner of affable host and giving way to his real feelings, “Where is Mary? Where is my daughter?”

“We must look at it as sanely as we can,” Wyatt said. “I can’t imagine where Mary can be, but it is impossible that any harm should have come to her.”

“But I have heard of rich men’s daughters being kidnapped and held for ransom,” said Lang, his hands working nervously and his lips trembling.

“But such a thing couldn’t happen in this instance,” Dane assured him. “Mary was safely in the house—in her own room, and too, if any strange men had entered the grounds, the people about would have seen them. The place is full of gardeners and decorators and attendants, you know.”

“Hasn’t Forrester come yet? Why, it’s five minutes of four!”

“No, he hasn’t. But do you think we ought to call his father in here, and tell him about Mary?” Dane asked, dubiously.

“No,” and Lang shook his head. “Wait for Forry. He must be told first. He’ll be here any minute, and—and he may know something about Mary.”

“There’s that possibility,” Wyatt agreed, and then he told of his visit to Willow Dell.

“I can’t help the feeling,” he said, “that Mrs. Castro knows something about the matter. She said Mary wasn’t there with her, but she refused to let me search her house—”

“And rightly, too,” declared Lang. “Absurd, to think of such a thing! I mean, to think she would be keeping Mary there secretly. Why should she?”

“But what else is there to think? If Mary is voluntarily absent, it is because she doesn’t want to marry Carr. And that’s unthinkable. They are deeply in love, as we all know. Very well, then, Mary is kept away against her will. Now, is there a human being that would wish to do that, unless it is Mrs. Castro—”

“And pray why should Mrs. Castro want to do it?” Alex burst in, his face flaming with anger at the implication.

“I don’t know I’m sure.” Dane looked puzzled enough. “But there is some mystery about that woman—some mystery connected with her house. By the way, Mr. Lang, she told me that if any further explanation were demanded of her, she would give it to you and to you only.”

“Very well, but that will keep till another time. Of course, she’s in no way implicated in Mary’s absence. Well, the time is passing. We must do something. Where in the world can Carr be?”

The three men looked at one another in utter consternation.

“You’d better go back to the drawing room, David,” Alex advised.

“No, I can’t. I stood that just as long as I could. My nerves are giving way. Allie will look after them, she hasn’t become really alarmed yet.”

“Well, let’s do something,” Alex urged. “Let’s telephone to Carr and see when he will be here.”

There was a telephone in the library, and Alex soon had the Carr home.

“No, sir,” a servant replied to his question, “nobody’s at home. Mr. Carr, he’s gone to his son’s wedding.”

“But Mr. Forrester Carr, the bridegroom, where is he?”

“He’s gone too, and Mr. Budd. They’ve all gone to the wedding.”

“How long ago did Mr. Forrester leave?”

“I don’t know, sir. I’m the parlor-maid. But I think quite a time ago.” Alex hung up the re-receiver.

“No use asking them anything more?” he said. “Mr. Carr, senior, is here, and Forry and Budd have started. They must have had a breakdown or something.”

“I think we’d better tell the audience that there will be a delay—” David Lang said.

“No, don’t do that,” Wyatt advised. “They know there’s a delay, but that won’t surprise anybody. It’s only just four, even if nothing is said for fifteen or twenty minutes, they won’t worry. Keep this thing quiet as long as we can. Then, when Carr comes, we’ll tell him, of course, and he must help advise us. Get in that girl who saw Mary last. Let’s quiz her a little.”

The maid was summoned, and came in, red-eyed and tearful.

“Don’t be frightened, Ellen,” David Lang said, kindly. “Miss Mary is all right, I’m sure. Now, you tell us just what she said to you.”

“She only said, sir, that I was to let her alone for an hour or so, and to tell Miss Brace not to disturb her until time to dress.”

“And you told Miss Brace that?”

“Yes, sir, and she said all right.”

“Is that all she said?”

“She said, ‘Bless the lamb, let her take her rest,’ or something like that.”

“So nobody went to Miss Mary’s room until Miss Brace went to dress her?”

“No, sir, nobody.”

“How do you know?” Alex broke in, so suddenly, that the girl jumped.

“Why, sir, I was around the halls and up and down stairs, and I passed Miss Mary’s room a dozen times, and the door was still shut.”

“You may go,” David Lang said, “and send Miss Brace here.”

In a few moments Nurse Brace came, pale with grief, but trying to maintain her composure.

“Miss Brace,” said David Lang, gently, “tell us what you think has happened to Mary?”

“God knows, sir,” said the woman, and her eyes showed an agony of despair. “Oh, I don’t know what can have happened to my lamb! Oh, sir, what do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think, Brace. We’re all utterly in the dark. Was Mary just her usual self this morning?”

“Just as always, sir. Gay and happy and lighthearted as a bird. Then when Ellen told me she wanted to be alone for a bit, I thought it but natural, sir, and I didn’t disturb her until three o’clock, which I thought was as late as she ought to wait to be dressed properly.”

“Yes, of course. And, you’ve no idea how she left her room or when or why?”

“Not the least hint of it, sir?” The wide, gray eyes looked at him imploringly almost like a beseeching dog. “Oh, please find her, Mr. Lang! Find my little girl, my baby!”

She broke down at last, and left the room sobbing convulsively.

They did not keep her, for she could tell them nothing more, and after her departure the men looked at each other with renewed distress.

“It’s a mystery,” Wyatt said, frowning in deep thought. “You’ve no idea, have you Mr. Lang, that Mary had any—er, you know—any secrets in her life—in her affairs?”

“Good Lord, no, Dane. That child is as innocent as the dawn. I suppose you mean clandestine love affairs, or that, but there is nothing of the sort. Of that I’m certain.”

Wyatt was remembering the matter of the falsehood about the dentist’s appointment, and wondered if he ought to tell of it. And then, as he still wondered, the door burst open and a wild-eyed young man flung himself into the room.

“I’m Budd,” he cried, “Billy Budd, and I’m Carr’s best man. Is Carr here?”

Though attired in correct afternoon dress, his appearance showed signs of some great excitement. He was a big, tall chap, with not a little of the “caveman” effect. Handsome, in a way, but so wrought up at present, that his face was working and his eyes bulging as he looked from one to another.

“Which is Mr. Lang?” he said, “which is Mary Lang’s father?”

“I am,” said David, trying to keep his poise. “No, Forry Carr isn’t here yet.”

“Where is he, then? I can’t find him!”

“Can’t find him!” and the newcomer’s looks of consternation were fully matched by the others.

“No, and I don’t know what to do! You see, I came down from Boston by motor, and though I drove like the wind, I had one or two setbacks and I didn’t get to Forry’s house until about half past three o’clock. I flew into the house, expecting he’d half kill me for being so late, and—he wasn’t there—and he isn’t there, and I don’t know where he is!” Dane Wyatt checked with a warning gesture the words about to fall from David Lang’s lips, and said, “Tell us more details. What did his father say?”

“His father had already started. I saw only their man, Kinney. He’s a sort of handy man, and valets both Forry and his father. Well, Kinney said, that Mr. Carr, the father, had already started for the wedding, but that Forry was not in the house and he didn’t know where he was. To be honest, my first feeling was one of relief that at least I had reached there to be in time to come over here with him. So I began on my own toilet. Kinney looked after me but as the minutes went by we both began to think it very queer.”

“I should say it was queer!” Lang broke in. “Why—”

But Wyatt silenced him again.

“Let’s hear Mr. Budd’s story first,” he urged, and as always, his quiet advice bore weight.

“Well, at first, I didn’t like to say much to Kinney, and he didn’t like to say much to me. But at last, we had to. And I said, ‘where can he be?’ and the man trembled like a leaf, and he said. ‘Before God, sir, I don’t know.’ Just like that, as if I had accused him of something.”

“Well, and then?” Wyatt prompted.

“And then, we had to admit to each other that we were both scared. We went into Forry’s room, and there were all his things laid out in readiness.”

“Kinney had put them out, of course. Why, right on the dresser there lay the wedding ring and the fee for the minister, ready for me to take care of, I suppose. I didn’t know what to do. I was flabbergasted.”—

“What did you really think?” Dane asked.

“There seemed to me to be only one thing to think. Forry had gone out on some errand or other, and had met with a bad accident. I know that sounds absurd, for surely somebody would telephone the house in such a case. But I just simply couldn’t think of anything else. Neither could Kinney.”

“Then what did you do?” Dane kept up his questions.

“Then I fussed and fumed around—doing—why nothing. At last I told Kinney to call up this house, and see if Forry could be over here. He got a butler or somebody like that, but he was told positively that Forrester was not here. So, I just ran round in circles. I blamed myself terribly for having been so late. Had I been there sooner, I should of course have known where he went.”

“Did you call up any other places?”

“Yes, I told Kinney to telephone his club, but to do it guardedly, for the whole thing was so confoundedly mysterious that I didn’t want to let it get out, you know.”

“And the club people knew nothing of him?”

“Not a word. So, I couldn’t think of anything to do but to rush over here and tell you. It’s such a shame to keep Miss Lang waiting.”

Wyatt looked at David Lang as if to say. “Tell him.”

“You’re not keeping Miss Lang waiting,” said Mary’s father, gravely! “Miss Lang has also unaccountably disappeared.”

Chapter 10
Futile Search

“WHAT!” CRIED BUDD, in utter amazement.

And then his big, handsome face broke into a smile.—

“Oh, that explains all, then. They’ve eloped because they couldn’t stick the wedding festivities! They’ve run away together, of course. But what a rotten thing to do! A low down trick, I call it.”

“I’m not sure that’s the explanation,” David Lang said, slowly. “Get Mr. James Carr in here, Wyatt.”

Dane left the room, and returned with Forry’s father.

He was a brisk, energetic looking man, in his fifties. He wore his hair a la brosse, and his manners were equally bristling.

“Hello, Budd,” he said, greeting his son’s friend. “Where’s Forry? Why all this delay?”

“It’s a strange situation, Mr. Carr,” David Lang said; “neither your son nor my daughter can be found.”

Carr looked bewildered.

“Can’t be found! What, exactly, do you mean?”

“Just what I say. Forrester and Mary are unexplainably absent, and we have no idea where they are.”

“But—but I left Forry dressing for his wedding—”

“Did you, Mr. Carr? Are you sure?” Billy Budd cried, eagerly. “Did you see him?”

“Why, no—I merely assumed he was in his room, dressing. I told Kinney I’d dress and get away a bit early, to leave him free to look after the boy. It’s not every day a chap dresses for his wedding! Ha, ha!”

Clearly, James Carr saw no gravity in the situation, as yet.

“But he didn’t dress,” Budd informed him. “When I got to your house, Forrester had gone out, and nobody knew where. He didn’t come back, at all.”

“Didn’t come back at all—isn’t he here? Where is he?”

James Carr looked blankly about him, and seeing the grave, concerned faces, waited for no answer, but went on: “Then he must be at home. I’ll ring him up.”

“No, sir, he isn’t at home.” Budd said. I left word with Kinney to call up this house the moment Forry returned. No message has come through.”

“But—but—” Carr tried to grasp this.

“The only obvious explanation is they have eloped,” Lang said. “But I can’t think that, for, why should they? They are not the sort to balk at the idea of the wedding gayeties. And, anyway, it is a simple affair, not at all what we planned before my wife’s death. And both Mary and Forrester were greatly interested in the plans and arrangements, and last evening talked it over with enthusiasm. It is absurd to think of their eloping! It is ridiculous! In the first place, Mary is too gentle and considerate of us all to submit us to the embarrassment and chagrin of this awkward situation. Nor would Forrester go off in such unmanly fashion, without a word of farewell or explanation!”

“No, that he would not!” agreed James Carr. “That boy is too well brought up to do any such thing! But where can they be?”

“My heavens!” cried Billy Budd, “if that isn’t the truth—an elopement, I mean—then there’s no explanation! Positively none! What accident could have happened to both of them, and we have no news of it? If they had gone for a last walk or drive before the wedding, they would have been home in time unless something pretty awful had happened. And in that case, we must have learned of it, somehow.”

“I think,” Wyatt put in, “that we shall have to say something to the waiting audience. It is half past four. The minister should be told, at any rate.”

“They must all be told,” Lang said, his face drawn with dismay as he realized what lay ahead of them.

“Get the minister in here first,” Alex suggested.

“And Allie Mears, too. They should be informed before the others.”

So the strange news was told to Aunt Allie and to the bewildered clergyman, who had expected to perform the ceremony.

Miss Mears was too stunned to say a word, and she sat, with dazed eyes as the men talked.

“Perhaps I am the best one to make the announcement,” the Reverend Colby said. “Shall I go now, and say there will be no wedding today—or, shall we wait a bit longer?”

And then Aunt Allie had an inspiration.

“I’ll tell you what,” she said. “Let the supper be served, and tell the guests that the feast will precede the ceremony, instead of the other way. That will keep them pleasantly occupied, and give us time to consider what to do.”

David Lang approved of this, and Wyatt was sent out to arrange for the plan.

He found Hattie, and told him to open the dining room doors.

Then Doctor Colby appeared to the assembly in the drawing room, and said, in a pleasant, informal manner, that owing to unavoidable detentions, the wedding would be still further delayed, and the guests were invited out to supper now.

He gave no other explanation, and with varying expressions of surprise and bewilderment, the assemblage filed out to the dining room.

Here the beautiful decorations and lavish array of viands claimed their attention, and for the moment the strangeness of the proceeding was forgotten in the enjoyment of the occasion.

The caterer’s people moved about, waiting on the tables, and the conversation resumed the joyous tone which had been threatened by the ominous appearance of the minister alone.

In the little library, behind closed doors, the confab went on.

“I say, you know,” Billy Budd was protesting, “we can’t sit here like bumps on logs! Something must be done! I can stand anything but inaction!”

James Carr spoke slowly.

“I feel like that, too, Billy. But we must proceed with caution. I suppose Mr. Lang and I are the principally interested ones, and we must decide what is best to do. I suppose there’s no use searching the two houses—”

“That has been thoroughly done over here,” Lang assured him.

“And of course, over home,” Carr mused. “Kinney would not omit such an obvious proceeding as to search our place. I—I can’t think of any—any possibility—”

“That’s it, Mr. Carr,” Budd cried, eagerly. “You and Mr. Lang are too hard hit—to—er—flabbergasted to think rationally. It comes too close to you. Now, really, as best man, it’s up to me to do all I can to find the bridegroom. Let me get out of here—let me do something!”

“Do anything you like, my boy, that can be of possible help,” David Lang said, “but what have you in mind to do?”

“Nothing,” and Budd looked gloomy. “Only I want to do something, if it’s only to telephone to the railroad station or—or, the police.”

“Oh, Lord, no! not the police!” and James Carr showed a horrified face. Goodness knows I’m for action, too, but I can’t see the police in this!”

“What earthly good could they do?” Alex said, sharply. “You don’t think those two children have met with foul play?”

“I had thought of kidnapping,” Lang said, to Carr. “But while that might be the truth about Mary, it surely isn’t what has happened to Forrester!”

“No, there’s no sense in that idea,” Forrester’s father agreed. “Nor do I think Mary has been abducted. How could she be?”

“All right!” Budd fairly shouted. “Then what has happened? And how do you think you’ll find out by sitting here shut into this little room?”

“As soon as we go out from this little room,” Lang said, quietly, “this matter must be made public. We cannot keep the people in the dining room all the evening. Soon we must tell them the truth, and—and send them home.”

“Let them dance,” said Miss Allie, whose ideas ran toward entertaining the guests until the missing pair could be found.

“Yes,” Budd said, “that’s a good thought. After the supper is over, tune up the orchestra and let them dance in the drawing room and in the lounge. That will keep them occupied.”

“All very well for the young people,” Lang returned, “but the older ones won’t be satisfied with that.”

“No, we must tell them,” James Carr said, with an air of finality. “And, I think it is best to tell them, for they may be of help.”

“That’s right,” Budd said. “Let them all get busy and search the grounds. Oh, I know they have been looked over, but let the young people scout around. Why, suppose Forry and Miss Lang went into the woods and were held up by some thugs who were prowling round the wedding doings. Suppose the robbers took their jewelry and money and tied them to trees, or—”

Alex had to smile at the picture of this highwayman business in the trim little wood of Langdene, but he had nothing better to offer by way of suggestion.

“Wait until the supper is over, then,” David adjured Budd. “And, don’t you want to go to the dining room yourself?”

“I shouldn’t mind it, sir. I’ve had nothing but a sandwich all day.”

“Then go and refresh yourself. Be discreet in what you say, but hear all you can. It might be a help to know how the people feel about this matter.”

He sighed deeply, and then, at Alex’s suggestion, he asked Budd to have some food sent to the library, for those who remained there.

“We’ll make this our headquarters,” he went on. “If any news comes, someone of us can be found here.”

Budd went to the dining room.

All eyes were on him, for though he had few acquaintances in the place, there were some who knew him, and, too, his fine, impressive figure, in festival garb, proclaimed him one of the principals at the wedding.

He took a seat at a table with some young people, of whom he already knew one.

Introductions were quickly made, and then he was bombarded with questions. The men restrained their curiosity somewhat, but the girls clamored to know the meaning of the strange delay.

Budd looked at them chaffingly, yet with an air of importance and mystery.

“Don’t ask me,” he said, as he gratefully accepted a plate of salad; “I’m not allowed to tell quite yet. You’ll know in due time.”

And then he gracefully turned the subject, and they could gain no further knowledge from him.

But his quick eyes and ears took in the general situation, and from the nearby tables he overheard curious comments and dismayed opinions of the surprised guests.

“I think Mary’s in a tantrum,” said one of the merry girls at Budd’s table.

“Does she have them?” he asked, quickly. “I’ve never met her, you see. I was Carr’s college chum, and I’m best man, but I’ve never seen the bride-to-be.”

“Oh, she doesn’t exactly have tantrums, but she’s a spoiled child, and she is wilful and wayward, and really quite capable of doing anything bizarre or outré on her wedding day.”

This gave Budd food for thought. What sort of vixen was Forry marrying he wondered. Had she persuaded him to elope and leave her father and all the invited guests in the lurch?

But the ices were now being served, and even though there was dancing, Budd felt that the growing unrest in the audience demanded some sort of explanation and soon.

With a heavy heart he went back to the library.

“No word—of either?” he asked, knowing full well what the answer would be.

All shook their heads, and David Lang, pushing back his plate of untasted food, said:

“No, no word. And the time has come for the news to break. We owe it to the guests to explain. Doctor Colby will tell them, and I know they will feel sympathy as well as curiosity.”

“I think it better to let it pass as an elopement,” James Carr said, in his decided way. “That’s the least disgraceful construction we can put upon it, and, too, it is most likely to be the truth.”

“It’s no elopement,” David Lang told him, for perhaps the dozenth time. “All we can do is to say they are not here. We can draw no conclusions, we can only state the facts.”

“Well, get them stated,” Carr said, testily. “He was more angered than David was, and felt rancor and indignation at the young couple.

Lang, of gentler nature, and wider tolerance, felt sorrow and even fear, but not resentment.

“I have faith in my daughter,” he said, with a fond simplicity. “She would not willingly do a thing that must so thoroughly grieve and trouble me. If she and Carr had eloped, she would have left a note for me—of that I am certain.”

“Has a note been carefully looked for?” asked Budd.

“Yes,” and Lang passed his hand across his aching brow. “Miss Mears has looked for one, but nothing was found.”

So, at the direction of the master of the house, the clergyman called the audience to attention, and told them simply and briefly the bare facts of the matter.

“We do not know,” he concluded, “what has happened. Whether by a sudden whim Miss Lang and Mr. Carr decided to elope or whether something untoward has occurred. The latter supposition is scarcely probable, but we do not know. It is requested that you consider this occasion at an end, and depart without offering sympathy or suggestion to the families concerned. Mr. Lang and Mr. Carr thank you for your kind observation of this favor.” There was a hubbub of whispering, an irrepressible, though restrained wave of curiosity and astonishment.

Yet, perforce, the guests did as they were asked, and in less than a half hour Langdene was empty save for its own inmates and a few near friends.

“Now I shall get busy,” Billy Budd declared. “Have I your permission, Mr. Lang to use your telephones and if necessary, your servants and cars?”

“Do what you like, my boy.” David sighed, hopelessly. “I can see no glimmer of light in the darkness.”

“Nor I,” Budd agreed. “But there are some things that must be done. It is now a case of missing persons, and as such should be reported to the police. Don’t start so at that suggestion, and don’t think it possible to avoid publicity. You must know that the reporters who were here to write up the wedding will do full justice to this far more important story. And, while you may get word from your daughter tomorrow morning, on the other hand, you may not. And the machinery of search should be at once set in motion.”

“Budd is right,” said James Carr. “My views are changing somewhat. I believe we must tell the police, and I propose we send for them at once.”

“I will leave that part to Mr. Wyatt,” Lang told him. “I cannot face the officers, and there’s no reason why I should, unless they especially ask it. Wyatt will do all that is needful, and I shall remain in this small library of mine. They can use the other library for the conferences. I can do nothing to help, or, if I can, let me know. But it cannot help for me to be badgered and tortured by trite and meaningless questions.”

“Then,” Budd said, “Mr. Wyatt and I will work together. Mr. Carr will do as he pleases about appearing in the matter. Of course everybody will be questioned.”

“Oh,” groaned David, “you talk as if it were already a Coroner’s Inquest! My child hasn’t been killed!”

His voice rose to a sharp wail, and Miss Mears gently urged the others to leave him to himself for a time.

“I will see to it that he eats a simple supper, and retires early,” she said.

She was a motherly sort of person, though a spinster, and she well knew how to care for the worn out body and frayed nerves of her brother-in-law.

So Alex Lang, Wyatt, Budd and the elder Carr, went into confab, with the result that the constable soon arrived, bringing with him a deputy sheriff.

But beyond a dumfounded amazement and an attitude of blank incapability these two showed no appreciation of the trouble.

The constable, one Herrick, was a stolid, unimaginative man, who was not only unable to suggest a line of action, but obviously ill at ease.

“I don’t see the case,” he said, after slow and laborious thought. “You don’t report any crime committed, you got no reason to suspect anybody of doin’ wrong, and you don’t know’s any wrong’s been done. Two missin’ persons—yes, but’s far’s I can see, they’ve just as likely gone off on their own hook.”

“Well, they’re missing, all the same,” the other man put in.

He was Pierce, and of more seeming intelligence than his colleague.

“Yes, they’re missing,” Billy Budd stated, sternly. “And they must be found. If they went off of their own accord, and don’t want to be found, let that side of the matter take care of itself. But so far as we know, and so far as our duty is concerned, we must do all we can to find them. We must assume that they did not go away voluntarily, but that something untoward has occurred. What that could be, I can’t say, but I know we must use strenuous and unremitting efforts to find them.”

Herrick blinked. “Yes, sir,” he said, “but just how you goin’ about it?”

“Search,” said Budd, briefly, but with emphasis.

“Search where?”

“Everywhere. This place, Mr. Carr’s place, the surrounding country, the town, the houses and clubs in the town—everywhere and then, some more places! I’m in this thing up to the neck. I’ve other engagements, but I propose to break them, and devote all my time to this affair. If they turn up safe and sound, no one will be more glad than I. Even if they resent my interference.”

“That’s the talk, Budd,” Carr said, admiringly. “You have my backing as to money, influence, help in any way I can give it. Stay at my house all you wish, or over here, if you choose. I know Lang will put you up.”

“Sure to. Now this search I speak of, begins tonight, right now. You police people must get some of your scouts, or the state police or whoever you like to search the Langdene woods. It may be a futile hunt, but it must be made. Are you with me, Mr. Wyatt?”

“You bet I am! To the last ditch. But I propose that while the men search, we do a little detective work ourselves. Put the Lang staff of servants on your scouting expeditions, and let us do our work with our brains.”

“That’s right,” Budd agreed. “I don’t fancy myself much as a detective, but that may be largely due to lack of experience. I suppose you mean looking over the effects of Forry and Miss Lang. I say—I’d hate to look into letters and such things.”

“It may be necessary,” Wyatt said, gravely. “If you object, though, we’ll get a regular detective. He’d make short work of locked drawers or desks.” With a start, Wyatt suddenly remembered Mary’s request for a desk with a safe lock. Had she then thought of disappearing? Well, that desk lock must be forced.

The question was, whether they were justified in such drastic measures before they were sure there was any real trouble.

If for any reason those foolish young things had eloped, they wouldn’t greatly relish having their belongings tampered with in their absence.

“I don’t want to be too precipitate,” Wyatt said, “you see, Mr. Lang has left the matter to me, but I do not want to exceed my prerogatives.”

“Well, then,” Carr put in, in his brisk fashion. “Suppose we go ahead with Billy’s search plan tonight, but leave the prying into papers and that until tomorrow. If it is an elopement, surely they will write to me or to Mr. Lang at once. And yet,” he added, gloomily, “why in the Devil should they elope? Or if they wanted to do that, why wait until the very day of the wedding?”

“Those are important whys, and very hard to answer,” Budd said, meditatively.

“Just a few things,” urged Wyatt, who had a deductive mind. “How was Forrester fixed for money?”

“Oh, he had a wad of it,” his father answered. “I didn’t stint him, for I wanted him to have a good time on his honeymoon. I gave him five thousand, and he had more beside.”

“Has it disappeared?” Wyatt went on.

“I’ve no idea. I haven’t been home, you see, since I left for the wedding this afternoon.”

“I saw the wedding ring, and a hundred dollar bill in an envelope,” said Budd, suddenly. “I felt sure the money was for the parson’s fee. I think so still, and I think they were laid out there for me to pocket until time for their use.”

“Doubtless,” and Dane nodded in satisfaction. “Don’t you see, there’s a point learned without leaving our chairs. Now, it looks to me, as if he left home, fully intending to return and dress for the wedding. If an elopement were intended, surely he would take the ring with him!”

“Yes—I suppose so,” and Budd thought that over. “Unless,” he added, “they were out together, and decided on impulse, to run away. Thinking it a joke, you know.”

“Some might do that, but it isn’t a bit like Forry,” James Carr informed them. “We’ve lived alone together so long, we’re very chummy, my boy and I. I just can’t see him eloping for a joke!”

“I don’t get it either,” Wyatt said. “Nor Mary. She was keen for the wedding here. She wanted it simple, but fine and beautiful. A day that she could remember all her life. Those were her very words.”

“Then it ain’t no eloping,” said the heavy voiced Herrick. “No, sir, if the young lady felt that way about the weddin’ party, she didn’t run away to get married. I’ve had to do with elopin’ couples, and they always go because there’s opposition at home, or else to save the expense and all that of a weddin’. Now, you mark my words, sumpin’s happened to them two. And sumpin’ mighty queer, too. Say, did they have their duds packed? They must of, seein’s they were startin’ off right after the splicin’.”

Clearly, Herrick was waking up.

“We can learn all such things without undue prying,” Wyatt said. “A few questions over the telephone, and we’ll know about Forry’s kit. And we can ask Miss Mears to see what Mary took away. I say, Mr. Herrick, leave it to me to dig up such information, and you hustle that search party. I’m free to confess, I seem to see Carr and Mary in some strange and maybe awful accident.”

“Very good, sir,” and the strong arm of the law faded away.

They called up Kinney, and James Carr interviewed him.

“Yes, sir,” the man said, “Mr. Forry, sir, he must have taken his suit case with him. It isn’t any where about, and I packed it for him myself. His trunk is still here, just as I packed it for him, but the suitcase is gone.”

“Do you see any money about?”

“Only a bill in an envelope on the dresser. And the ring beside it, sir. Oh, Mr. Carr, please tell me, is there anything wrong?”

“We don’t know yet, Kinney,” James Carr replied.

Chapter 11
Billy Budd, Detective

“NOW, LOOK HERE,” Billy Budd spoke with emphasis. “I hereby constitute myself a detective force of one to solve this whole business. If my friend Carr went away of his own accord and for reasons of his own, it’s all right. But if there’s anything doing that ought not to be doing, I’m going to see about it. I can’t help thinking it’s a plain elopement, but there seem to be arguments against that theory and they must be met. Wyatt, if you’ll help at this end, we can work together. I assume you’re as anxious to find Miss Lang as I am to lay hands on Forrester.”

“Yes,” Wyatt declared. “But I can’t see them eloping? It’s too senseless. I know Miss Lang, and you don’t. She was the life of the party in getting ready for the wedding. She looked after all the important details herself, and she was terribly fussed because her shower bouquet wasn’t quite as it had been ordered. Now, a girl as full of interest as that, isn’t going to turn her back on all the doo-daddles and run away to get married by a justice of the peace.”

“Not much she isn’t,” Budd agreed. “I say, let’s find out more about Miss Lang’s exit. What she took and all that. Oh, Lord, there’s such lots to find out! And if it gets really mysterious, I suppose they’ll have a detective. I’d like to peek around a little myself before the sleuths arrive.”

“I’ll call Miss Brace,” Wyatt suggested, “and ask her.”

So the two men went to the lounge and sent for Nurse Brace to come to them there.

The woman came in, her eyes red with weeping and her whole attitude dejected. But she was quiet and respectful, and willingly answered their questions.

“No, she said,” to Billy Budd’s first inquiry, “Miss Mary didn’t take her suitcase with her. It’s in her room, all packed and ready for her honeymoon trip. I looked after the packing myself, and it’s filled with her lovely new things—”

Brace broke down at the thought of the dainty finery she had folded and packed for the bride’s use on her trip.

“What is missing?” Budd continued, feeling that a word of sympathy would only make the woman more agitated.

“What is missing?” she repeated, blankly.

“Yes—what dress? What clothes? What did Miss Lang wear or take away with her?”

“Why I don’t know.” Brace replied. “I never thought of it. I suppose the frock she had on.”

“What was that?”

“A white knitted silk sports suit. Miss Lang wears only white and black since her mother’s death.”

“Mourning?”

“Not heavy mourning, but white trimmed with black, or all white.”

“Did she have on white shoes and stockings and all that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, then she didn’t go off on the train dressed that way,” and Billy wagged his head in approval of his own sagacity. “Looks more like abduction.”

“Who ever thought of her going off on the train?” the nurse exclaimed, with something almost like indignation. “Why should she go off on the train, within an hour of her own wedding?”

“Now, look here, Miss Brace,” Billy said, seeing the woman was of a sensible sort, “we’ve got to assume one of two things—either Miss Lang went away of her own accord or she was made to go.”

“You mean somebody carried her off?”

“Not necessarily by force, but by persuasion—or maybe she received a letter—”

“No,” said the nurse, “I’d have known it if she had received a letter—a letter that would make her go away—it’s not possible.”

“Then what do you think she did? Come, now, you know Miss Lang better than most of us—what do you think is the explanation of her disappearance?”

Nurse Brace, though gaunt and gray haired, was still a handsome woman. Her large, strong face worked convulsively as she tried to speak with composure.

“I cannot think,” she said, wearily. “Ever since I went to her room at three o’clock, and she wasn’t there, I’ve been trying to think where she can be—where she can have gone—and I cannot imagine any explanation. It’s as if she had been spirited away by magic.”

“Well, we know she wasn’t spirited away by magic,” Billy was a little brusque now. “I think, Miss Brace, if you know of any—any little affair, any secret, you know—in Miss Lang’s life—”

“There was nothing of that sort, sir, if you mean any acquaintance or friendship with any man other than Mr. Carr. Mary is as devoted to him as he is to her. They adore each other.”

“Then they must have gone off together,” Budd declared.

Wyatt looked up in surprise.

“Did you for a minute think they went away separately?” he asked.

“Why not?” Budd returned. “I mean, we have no real reason to assume they went together.”

“But—but it’s too much of a coincidence to have both bride and groom disappear at the hour of the wedding, for different reasons!”

“I didn’t say for different reasons. But I do say they may not have gone together. I wish, Miss Brace, you’d look over her wardrobe, and tell me if you can, just what Miss Lang must have worn. See if the white costume you speak of is gone.” Nurse Brace left the room, and returned shortly, with a puzzled expression on her face.

“I can’t understand it,” she said; “all of Mary’s clothes are in their places. All of her gowns and coats and hats are just where they belong—I know, because I have full charge of her clothes. And not a piece is missing!”

She looked aghast, for the situation seemed impossible.

“Even the white suit you said she had on?”

“Yes, that is there, hanging in its place. I tell you there is no gown gone! What does it mean?” Budd looked perplexed. “How about her negligees and that sort of thing?” he asked. “Come this is no time to mince matters. Do you mean Miss Lang disappeared without any gown on?”

“I mean that every one of her gowns is on its hook. Every one of her kimonos or lounging robes is there, too. And her coats. You see, I know her garments, every one, even better than she does herself, for I look after them and keep them in order. Her dressing gown and bathrobe are where they belong and not one single hat is missing.”

Nurse Brace spoke with a sort of awe, as if reciting some incredible miracle, as indeed, it seemed to the two men listening.

“But that won’t do,” and Billy Budd shook his head. “Lord knows the disappearance of Miss Lang is weird enough without adding the fact that she went away unclothed. Could she have had on a nightdress?”

“No,” Brace said. “She never put one on of an afternoon. Mrs. Lang used to do that, but Miss Mary, never. Indeed, she very seldom would lie down for a nap in the daytime, and I was surprised when Ellen told me she was doing so today.”

“There’s the root of the matter,” and Billy Budd nodded his head. “We must assume, Wyatt, that this is no simple, every-day occurrence. There’s something strange and deep behind this disappearance. Now, I’m confident that Mary Lang went away on purpose. I can’t explain her costume part of it, but either Miss Brace is mistaken or else Miss Lang had a gown of which the nurse knew nothing.”

“She couldn’t have,” the woman protested. “She never bought her clothes in secret or on the sly. Why should she?”

“To expedite this going away business,” Billy said gravely. “She went on purpose, secretly, and she shut herself in her room in order to manage it.”

“All very well,” Dane Wyatt said, after a moment’s thought, “if Mary were that sort of girl. But she isn’t. She’s as open as the day about her affairs. A clandestine lover is too absurd. If she had cared for another man, more than for Carr, all she had to do was to say so, and her father would have yielded to her wishes. Even to her whims.

No—whatever Mary Lang wanted, she had, without resort to subterfuge or deceit.”

Yet even as Wyatt spoke, he remembered with a sudden shock, the incident of the dentist’s appointment.

That day Mary had most certainly lied to him. More, she had followed it up with unnecessary elaboration.

Was there then, another man in her life? Or where was she when she claimed to have been in the office of the dentist, who denied it?

He was minded to tell either Budd or Miss Brace, or both about that incident, and then concluded to keep his own counsel for the present.

For, if Mary appeared, safe and sound, and free from all suspicion of deceit, he had no wish to stir up trouble.

“How about her jewelry?” Billy Budd asked of the nurse.

“I don’t know,” she said, “I didn’t look.”

“See here,” Billy said, suddenly. “I wish you’d take me to Mary’s room, Miss Brace. It may seem queer, but the detectives will be here tomorrow, and the first thing they’ll do will be to search her room. Let us go there first and perhaps save trouble all round.”

Miss Brace hesitated.

“It’s not for me to say, sir,” she said. “Why not ask Miss Mears, and if she likes, she can take you.”

“Yes, you’re right. Get Miss Allie, will you, if she hasn’t gone to bed yet.”

Aunt Allie had not gone to bed, and she came bobbing in, a little amazed at the summons.

Budd explained, and being a sensible sort, Allie Mears said at once:

“Certainly, you’re quite right. Come along. Brace, you come, too, to show us where things are.

It was a strange procedure.

The two men, both reluctant to intrude on the girl’s intimate belongings, yet sure it was better for them to do so than for the less sensitive detectives to come the next day. Miss Mears, mildly excited, rather curious herself, and honestly eager to do all she could to help. Nurse Brace, quietly helpful, yet watching them with a sad-eyed hopelessness that bespoke belief in their powers.

The room, daintily appointed in rose color and silver, was a shock in itself. For, spread out on the bed lay the wedding gown, shimmering white, and the tulle veil, carefully disposed beside it. On the pillows rested the long shower bouquet, some of the valley lilies already beginning to wither.

On a chair were the delicate satin slippers and cobweb silk hose, and on a table the white prayer-book was waiting.

Billy Budd, though he considered himself unemotional, brushed his hand across his eyes as the beautiful white array, now pathetically useless, met his sight.

“Here is her jewel case,” and Brace walked to the dresser and opened a drawer.

“What’s there?” queried Aunt Allie, eagerly. “What did she take?”

“Nothing, seemingly,” Brace replied. “Here’s her pearl pin and her diamond bracelet. And all her little trinkets. Oh, yes, her string of jade beads is gone—that’s all.”

“Then,” observed the astute Billy, “she was in proper costume. She must have had some gown, Miss Brace, which you have forgotten.”

“Yes, sir,” said the nurse, but an obstinate look on her face belied her words.

Truly, she said to herself, she knew her lamb’s clothes as well as she did her own, and not a single solitary frock was out of its place.

Brace didn’t attempt to explain this to herself, she only knew it was so, and that was all there was about it. But there was no use insisting on it to these pig-headed men.

“Blow about her money?” continued the amateur detective, who, however, was collecting important facts.

Brace opened another drawer.

“She always keeps her purse in here. But, it’s gone!” she turned a horrified face, for this seemed to point to all sorts of possibilities.

“No!” said Wyatt, who had kept in the background, though an interested observer. “Had she much cash in hand, Brace?”

“Yes,” the nurse replied, “she had. Her father gave her a large sum to take on her wedding trip, for he didn’t want her to be entirely dependent on her husband, just at first.”

“I know,” said Wyatt, “I drew the cash from the bank for him only yesterday. A thousand dollars, is that gone?”

“I don’t see it,” and Brace searched the drawer. And, her jade beads are gone, you see—oh, what does it all mean? And what did she wear?”

The distracted woman turned again to the wardrobe, where gowns hung in tidy rows on their padded hangers.

Clearly she was obsessed with the wonder that no costume was missing.

“Perhaps she took a frock from her suitcase and put it on,” suggested Aunt Allie.

“No, her frocks are all in her trunk. The suitcase holds only her toilet things and lingerie and gloves and such like. It is one of those things with a fitted tray, that leaves little room for other contents.

“She took a dress from the trunk,” Miss Mears continued.

“No, the trunk is locked, all ready to go. I have the key,” and Brace showed a Yale key that lay on the table nearby, with gloves, handkerchief and a silver mounted bag. “I put everything ready for her going away—”

Only by a supreme effort did the woman control herself.

“Look in the bathroom will you?” said Budd, thoughtfully. “You can tell perhaps if she went off hurriedly. Are towels flung about?”

“No,” and Miss Mears herself went into the bathroom and returned at once. “It is all in order.”

“Just as I left it for her bath,” Nurse Brace almost wailed. “I allowed only just time enough, and I was going to run her bath and dress her for her wedding—oh, my lamb, my baby!”

She rushed from the room, unable to stand any more.

“Poor thing,” said Aunt Allie, “she just worships the ground Mary walks on. Always has, ever since the child was born. Now, Mr. Budd, if you want to look any further—”

“I do, Miss Mears—or rather, I want you to. Will you glance through Miss Lang’s desk—”

“Oh, I don’t like to!”

“But it is most important. If you don’t, the detectives will. Isn’t it better, if there’s anything to be found, for us to find it?”

So the desk was opened, but it disclosed nothing but the usual girlish looking collection of notes, letters and engagement books.

In fact, its contents were few, as if perhaps, some had been taken away. At least, it seemed so to Billy Budd, as he looked in.

“Nothing of any account,” he said, and he seemed a little relieved, for he had rather dreaded the revelations a writing desk might offer.

Wyatt glanced around for the “cabinet with a safe lock” and soon discovered it, standing in an alcove.

But as the self constituted detective seemed not to notice it, Wyatt concluded to say nothing about it.

To be sure, he thought, the thousand dollars Mr. Lang had given his daughter might well be in there, but Wyatt was not entirely in favor of this wholesale searching, and he kept his own counsel.

It was all right to look over things and try to deduce some circumstances of Mary’s departure, but quite another matter to pry into her locked belongings.

To his mind, the girl could not be far away. He had vague thoughts of the mistletoe bough and wondered if Mary could be locked in some cupboard or chest with a spring catch.

Then he shook off these absurd notions and tried to formulate a sensible theory.

But in vain. Neither he nor Budd could get a glimmer of light on the dark mystery.

“Well,” Billy said, “I’ll go home now. I mean I’ll go over to the Carr house. My things are there, and I’ll make that my headquarters, though I’ll be over here more or less. I suppose they’ll have to put regular detectives on the case, if you don’t hear anything tomorrow. I admit I’m stumped. Oh, I don’t mean to give up—but I feel I haven’t the knowledge or experience to cope with a case like this. I’ll chase up Forry’s things, and see if I can get a line that way—but I doubt it. Good night, Miss Mears, try to sleep, you’ll need all your energies for tomorrow.”

Budd went away and when he arrived at the Carr home, everybody was in bed except Kinney who had waited up for him.’

“Now, my man,” Billy said, “you and I are going to find out all we can about Mr. Forry, and we’re going to do it now.”

“Yes, sir,” and Kinney was all attention.

“Take me to his room, I’m going to rake it through.”

And Budd did.

With Kinney’s assistance Billy examined all his friend’s belongings.

“I sha’n’t pry open anything that’s locked,” he said to the man, “that is, not tonight. Tomorrow I may. But I must see into his wardrobe and all that.”

The search disclosed that if Mary had gone off with little, Carr, on the contrary had taken a lot.

Kinney informed that his biggest suitcase was missing and that many of his clothes were gone.

“It’s one he intended to carry on his wedding trip, sir, but he has taken out some things and put in others. I can tell, of course, for here’s his evening clothes, you see. He has taken his tuxedo. And he has taken another suit, that I didn’t pack for him.”

“What sort of suit?”

“A dark gray lounge suit, sir. It wasn’t quite new, but it was good, and it isn’t here now.”

“Perhaps he wore it away.”

“Perhaps he did, sir. But how he got away at all, without anyone seeing him fair beats me! He must have gone when all us servants were at luncheon, sir. That’s the only time he could manage it.”

“Where did he go?” Billy fairly groaned, “and why?”

“Lord bless you, sir, if we could answer them questions, we’d know it all!”

“Yes, that we should. Now, Kinney, about his money? Where does he keep it?”

“In that desk, sir. In that little drawer with a Yale lock.”

“I see. And where does he keep the key?”

“Always on his key ring, in his pocket.”

“Well, then, we can’t tell how much money he took with him. And he took his suitcase that he meant to carry on his wedding trip?”

“One of them. He had two, the other is still here. But he took the one with his clothes in. The one left here has odds and ends like smoking things and a tennis racket and some books and caps and such.”

“Then, Kinney, we are forced to the conclusion that Mr. Carr went away purposely and intentionally a few hours before his wedding. That’s a pretty grave state of affairs.”

“But he took the lady with him, sir.”

“No, I don’t think he did. And, yet, I hate to believe that that old top-of-the-heap Forry would desert his bride at the church door! By Jove, I won’t believe it! I tell you he was abducted, or something of the sort. The suitcase proves nothing. He may have taken it down to the railroad station to pick it up as they started.”

Kinney looked hopeful.

“He might have done that, sir—though it wouldn’t be like him. And why should he? I always look after his luggage.”

“Do you, Kinney? Always?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then that theory is no good. Wow, man, this thing gets thicker every minute! Look here, wherever he went, he wouldn’t go off without his tobacco and pipes. Is a bag gone?”

“Yes, sir, his Gladstone. Not a new one, but a good one—and a big one.”

“ ‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ said Alice.”

“I beg your pardon, sir.”

“Nothing; I only said it’s damned queer.”

“Yes, sir.”

Budd continued round the room. Then he went into the bathroom.

“Have you spruced up in here, Kinney?”

“Not much, sir. I put it in readiness for his bath, and then I waited for him to come to dress for the wedding. But—” the man gulped.

“Look here, Kinney, as man to man, now, had Mr. Carr—er—lost his affection for Miss Lang at all? Was there—er—anybody else—”

“Oh, no, sir! Why Mr. Forry, he fair worshipped Miss Mary, sir.”

“And she cared for him?”

“Just as much, sir. They was two turtle doves, sir. Oh, what did happen? What did happen?”

“We don’t know, Kinney,” and Budd spoke very gravely, “but I fear it’s some deeper plot than any of us has yet conceived of. I think some powerful influence—”

“Are you thinking of kidnappers, sir? But Mr. Forry he repacked that big suitcase himself, sir. I know—because here’s quite a few things he took out of it, and he must have put others in.”

“Oh, that’s nothing. He may have concluded he wanted them or didn’t want them on his wedding trip. And he never deliberately repacked that kit, and then started blithely off by himself, leaving Miss Lang, without a word! Never in this world! If I know my Forry Carr—and I do! Why it would be a scoundrel deed, Kinney! Do you think Mr. Forry is a scoundrel?”

“No, sir—but,” he added, doggedly, “he took Miss Mary with him, sir.”

“That’s more absurd still! And equally scoundrelly. Would those two, nice, decent people, go off and leave their two fathers to face the music of an awful, a terrible situation? They would not! And you know it, Kinney!”

“Yes, sir—you must be right, sir. But, then, what could it have been?”

“I don’t know. But by heaven, I’m going to find out! They can get all the detectives they like, but I’m going to solve this mystery myself—of myself, for myself and by myself! And that’s that!”

Chapter 12
A New Tragedy

THE NEXT DAY, when Billy Budd went over to Langdene and saw the detective whom the police had sent to solve the mystery, the impetuous young man was more than ever determined to work on his own.

They can let that fathead flat foot find Mary if they like, he told himself, but I shall do the finding of my friend Forrester.

However, he joined the small group in David Lang’s library, and listened avidly to the proceedings.

The detective, McCann, was a solid, stolid sort of person, who looked like a drummer and talked like a college professor.

“I think,” he said, carefully fitting his finger tips together, “I think we must investigate slowly. There are many—er—bypaths, into which we may stray, and thus be diverted from the main issue—yes, the main issue.”

“The main issue,” Billy Budd instructed him, “is to find the two people who have turned up missing. And the sooner the quicker. I’m not for slow investigation, myself.”

McCann’s head turned, as if on a pivot, toward the speaker, and Billy was given a mildly reproving glance.

“Haste makes waste,” the detective said, “in this sort of work as in everything else. No, we must proceed with deliberation—with great deliberation.”

“Ass!” Billy said to himself, “super-ass!”

But McCann wasn’t an ass, at least, not a super one. He was slow, but he had had experience and he was possessed of a certain flair for clues.

He asked for a photograph of Mary and was given several.

“But all of these,” Dane Wyatt told him, “show Miss Lang with her hair long. At present she wears it bobbed, but she has had no photograph taken since it was cut short.”

“H’m,” McCann grunted, “the picture is of small use, then. I dare say this picture scarcely resembles her at all.”

“Oh, yes it does,” Dane assured him. “But of course it changes her whole face.”

“ ’Twill be of small use as an advertisement,” the detective went on. “No one seeing the real girl would know her from this likeness. I’m sure of that.”

“But good heavens, man, we’re not going to advertise for her!”

“You may not, but the police most certainly will. Though, as I say, the picture is misleading.”

Budd picked up the photograph as the other laid it down, and gazed long and earnestly at the fine, intellectual face.

For Mary was not at all of the flapper type, in fact, she looked more sedate and dignified in the picture than she really was.

Her dark eyes, wide apart and her broad brow were serious and thoughtful in effect, but the curved lips on which a smile seemed to hover, betrayed her sense of humor and love of fun.

The slight petulance, which was the result of her indulged life, was not in evidence and Budd gazed in admiration.

Her hair, softly waving, was gathered into a knot at the back of her neck and fell over her ears in a looped tangle that was charming, though utterly different from the straight bang and boyish bob that Mary wore now.

To Wyatt and those present who knew her, it seemed old-fashioned and out of date, but to Budd and to McCann it was just the picture of a beautiful girl.

“Now,” the detective was saying, as Budd came out of his reverie, “we must get all the facts. First had these two young people had any disagreement or—er—quarrel lately?”

“Certainly not,” and David Lang frowned. He chose to be present at the confab as was Alex and Miss Mears.

“How can you be so sure?” and McCann’s black pop-eyes fixed themselves on Lang’s face.

In no wise disconcerted by this stare, Lang replied, “because I have been in constant touch with both of them. Because my daughter is rather confidential with me, and would tell me if anything of the sort had happened. Because young Carr is a fine chap, and deeply in love with my girl. Because, in a word, I know them both, know their affection for one another, and know their candor and honesty. Therefore, I know there was no quarrel or misunderstanding between them.”

“No little rift within the lute, eh? Well, well, that’s as may be. Then, let us ask next, had either of them, possibly, met someone, of late who, let us say, had—er—dimmed the affection toward—”

“No, Mr. McCann, no,” and David Lang spoke with decision. “Omit, if you please, all suggestion of any trouble between the two. Go ahead from the time of their disappearance, and find why they disappeared.”

“Yes, that’s it,” cried Billy. “Not surmises and conjectures that get you nowhere, but busy work as to what happened.”

Again the head pivoted slowly around toward the audacious interrupter, and Billy changed his seat.

“It takes you so long to get around to see me, I’ll sit over here,” he said, obligingly.

“Thank you. Now, I take it you’ve made inquiries as to whether any one saw Miss Lang leave the house.”

“You take that just right,” Wyatt assured him.

“Yet she must have left it, for we have searched it thoroughly and she is most certainly not in it.”

“Could she have left, that is, left the premises entirely, without being specially noticed?”

“I think she could,” Lang answered this. “You see, yesterday there were many people coming and going, many strangers, many persons on errands connected with the wedding plans.”

“And she could, of course, have slipped out inconspicuously, and made her way through the grounds and out into the highway?”

“She could—but why should she?” The father was impatient. “There’s no conceivable reason why she should do that voluntarily. On the other hand, she could have been lured away or kidnapped, which is what I fear, and it is equally true her departure might not have been noticed.”

“You are making up a theory of abduction, with no evidence to support it,” McCann said, as if he had caught Lang in a grave error. “I don’t say that may not be the true solution, but so far I can see no hint of kidnappers.”

“Can you see a hint of anything?”

“Hint isn’t just the word—but, yes, I’ve seen enough already to convince me that Miss Lang went away willingly. She must have done that, or some sounds of a struggle would have been heard. Now, we are sure that Mr. Carr went away of his own volition, taking luggage with him. Why evade the conclusion of an elopement? Two young people can’t vanish into thin air. Two young people can’t be abducted simultaneously. Moreover, if they were both or either of them kidnapped, the kidnappers would have already asked for ransom. The idea of abducting a bride and groom on their wedding day is a novel—a colossal plot, but it couldn’t be done. And you can’t theorize on abduction for one, and not for both. No, sir, the pair went off in collusion, whatever their reason or intent.”

“I don’t say they didn’t,” Lang said, testily, “I’ve never said they didn’t. But, if so, why? And where are they? Those are the problems for you to solve.”

“And they are difficult but perhaps not insuperable,” returned the detective, with some spirit. “Now, I’ve the main facts from you, I’ll go and interview some of the servants. Only they can tell me if anyone saw Miss Lang going out yesterday afternoon.”

“I’ll go with you,” Billy Budd offered, for this was a game he wanted to play at.

“How was she dressed?” McCann asked, affably, as the two went in search of the gardener or his assistants.

“That’s the queer part. We don’t know. Her nurse says every one of Miss Lang’s dresses and hats is still in her wardrobe.”

“Her nurse? Is she ill?”

“No, the nurse has been with Miss Lang ever since Mrs. Lang died. She is ladies’ maid as well, and she knows all about the clothes of her young mistress.”

“I see. And there is no costume missing?”

“So she says.”

“Then that proves Miss Lang went away in disguise.”

Billy Budd’s opinion of the detective took an upward turn. He hadn’t thought of this, and it was plausible.

“But that makes it appear she went off of her own accord.”

“Of course she did. It’s a deep laid plot. Why, I don’t know, but those two planned to get away secretly and they did so. Probably Mr. Lang will soon get a letter from his daughter explaining the whole thing.”

“Can you think of any reason why they should do that? Don’t say they wanted to avoid the fuss and feathers of the wedding festivities, for I know that isn’t so.”

“No, there’s a deeper reason than that.” McCann looked grave.

“What do you mean?”

“Look here, Mr. Budd, as a man of the world, you must know that there are often dark spots in a man’s life. Suppose—just suppose for a moment, that Mr. Carr had some sort of entanglement—say there was some woman—”

“Hush! Don’t you say a word against my friend!”

“Oh, cut the histrionics! Your friend is not exalted above other men. I say, suppose there was another woman who had a claim on him, either legal or moral. Suppose there was danger of her turning up at the ceremony and raising Cain. Don’t you see, how this could be checkmated by an elopement? How the disgraceful scene could be avoided and the plans of the intruder foiled by the disappearance of the pair?”

Billy Budd stared. There was a grain of truth, a shred of possibility in this—but Forry! Forrester Carr! Oh, never!

“Well, don’t bother yourself over it,” McCann went on, “that may not be the truth. I only meant there are explanations of an elopement beside the funking of the social formalities.”

To the head gardener the detective addressed a few straightforward questions.

“Did you see Miss Lang about the grounds at any time yesterday afternoon?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” returned the man. “She was flitting about a lot.”

“Ah. Early in the afternoon?”

“Yes, sir, I should say so.”

“Perhaps about three or half-past three?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Maybe at four?”

“It might be, sir. I’m not much for keeping track of the time.”

“You see the value of evidence!” McCann said, with a dry smile at Billy.

“Did you see any other young woman around?”

“Oh, yes, sir, there was a many.”

“So? What sort of people?”

“I don’t know that, but there was two or three gyurls at different times, as might have been dressmakers’ messengers or that. And there was two young ladies as was Miss Mary’s friends. And of course, there was Mrs. Castro.”

“I see. How was Miss Mary herself dressed, when you saw her flitting about?”

“All in white, sir. She’s ’most always in white—bless her!”

“Thank you,” and McCann turned away.

“You see,” he said to Budd, “how little evidence amounts to. That man has only the vaguest recollections of seeing Miss Lang about, in her white dress, and he doesn’t really know whether it was yesterday or the day before. His remembrance of the other young women is equally worthless. He saw some messenger girls and some of Miss Lang’s acquaintances, but it means nothing. What we want is clues, material clues, not human evidence. Who is this Mrs. Castro?”

Budd told him.

“Let’s go there.”

In silence, they strolled down the path of the long garden, and reached Willow Dell just as its mistress stepped out of the front door.

Billy gracefully introduced himself and then presented the detective and asked for a few minutes’ conversation.

A bit unwillingly, it seemed to the men, she took them back into the house, and they sat down in her pretty living room.

“I’ll detain you but a moment, madame,” McCann said, with more manner than Budd had deemed he possessed. “Please tell me if you know why Miss Lang and Mr. Carr eloped.”

“What! Eloped!” and the expression of utter bewilderment on her face gave the detective the information he wanted. Clearly, this woman had no knowledge of any motive.

“Well, we’re not sure they did,” McCann smiled a little, “but we have to consider every possibility, you know.”

“Yes, of course.”

“Then—one more question, Mrs. Castro. Why are you hiding Miss Lang here in your house?”

“What?” again the startled exclamation, but this time a dull red rose to the angry face, and a guilty look stole into the long, dark eyes.

But as quickly Giulia recovered her poise, and laughed lightly.

“Your methods are almost of the nature of a third degree, Mr. McCann,” she said lightly. “But you can’t really scare me, because I am not hiding Miss Lang here.”

“Then you can have no objection to showing me over your charming home.” The detective was all suavity.

“I have very decided objections. So many that I refuse to do what you suggest.”

“May I ask why?”

“Because you have no right to request it. I give you my word of honor that Mary Lang is not in this house.”

“I should not like to doubt your word of honor, Mrs. Castro, but if you were shielding Miss Lang, it would be of course, for such a serious reason that you would be willing to tell an untruth about it.”

“But I am not!”

“Then let me go into your upper rooms.”

“No, I shall not.”

“Why?”

His quiet tone was so incisive that it gave Giulia pause. She looked at him with a new interest.

“I see you are not a man to be put off,” she said, slowly. “So I will say to you as I have told others—if I have anything to tell, if I have a secret—I mean if there is any matter in my household I do not wish to make public, I will tell it only to Mr. David Lang. As my landlord, he has a right to know, but I am responsible to no one else.”

“That is sufficient, Mrs. Castro,” and McCann rose.

As they went back through the Long Garden, the detective said, “It’s just as I thought. She has a secret, she is hiding somebody, but it isn’t Mary Lang. At least, I don’t now think it is. It may be. Anyway, Mr. Lang must go to her and find out. It is his duty.”

“How did you know anything about this?”

“I’ve talked with all of them at Langdene. I picked it out of the air somehow. Now, I want a talk alone with that brother—Mr. Alex. You go tell Mr. David Lang he must run over to the cottage and ask Mrs. Castro about the matter. He’ll find out if his daughter is there, and if not, I’m not at all interested.”

As McCann entered the house, he was met by Miss Mears, who asked him if he would grant Nurse Brace a short interview.

“Glad to,” said the detective, “fetch her in.”

Miss Brace was nervous and her usual calm poise was much disturbed.

“I only want to say, Mr. McCann,” she began, “that I—I—oh, I mean, if there’s anything I can do to help—any least little thing, please call on me. I love that girl as if she was my own. I’ve loved her all her life from the very night she was born. I can’t rest till she is found. What do you think has become of her?”

“I think she eloped with Mr. Carr.”

Brace’s eyes showed her astonishment.

“But why would they do that?”

“Miss Brace, in your worldly experience, you must know that sometimes there are obstacles in the way of a marriage—”

“You mean—something—something wrong?”

“Yes, just that. Suppose Mr. Carr had a—well, a past—

“No, no—there’s nothing of that sort. Those two children are as innocent as the day!”

“Then where are they?”

“Oh, my God, if I only knew!”

The utter despair in her voice touched McCann’s heart. He was a good reader of character, and he saw that this woman had a truly maternal instinct toward her charge, and felt almost as keenly as a mother could the terrible suspense of the mystery. She pulled herself together.

“Well, that’s all, Mr. McCann. I only wanted to ask you what you thought about it, and to tell you that I’m anxious to do anything I can to help. I want that girl—oh, I want my darling. Can you give me any hope?”

The deep gray eyes were so sad, so pleading, that McCann turned away to hide his own emotion.

“I trust we can find her, Miss Brace,” he said, gently. “Rest assured I shall do all I can, and I shall be glad to call on you for help, if I find I can make use of you.”

It was after luncheon before the detective found time for his projected talk with Alex, and going in search of that gentleman, learned that he was closeted with his brother in the small library.

And he would have been surprised had he heard the nature of the fraternal confab.

“But I do think, David,” Alex was saying, “that now Mary is gone and Eleanor is gone, you might give me my inheritance now. What good can all your money do you, with no one to spend it on? Lord knows you’ve got enough for yourself and me too. I only want what will eventually come to me. I only ask an advance of what will be mine some day. Why keep me in agony when you could make me the happiest man on earth?”

“I’m not sure you’d be the happiest man on earth if you married Giulia Castro,” David said, smiling a little. “I’ve just been over there—”

“Did she tell you the secret—the mystery she is hiding?”

“Yes,” and David looked grave.

“Oh, what is it?”

“I’m pledged to secrecy. But it had nothing to do with Mary.”

“No, I didn’t think it had. But what is it? You can tell me.”

“No, Alex, I can’t. However, I don’t want you to marry that woman—”

“Don’t call her ‘that woman!’ I won’t have it!”

David laughed.

“Don’t tell me what you will have and what you won’t have, Alex. I prefer to tell you. And I’ll tell you now, once for all, you won’t have your inheritance until it is due—which is after I have breathed my last.”

“Well, I hope you breathe it soon!” and with a sneering laugh, Alex went out of the room.

“Will you see McCann now?” Wyatt asked, entering after the departure of Alex.

“Who? Oh,—yes. But wait a minute, Dane.

I want to see Brace first. Nurse Brace. I’ve something to ask her about Mary.”

“Very well. I’ll send her now, and McCann later.”

So it was mid-afternoon before the detective made his report to his principal.

“I’ve nosed around a lot, Mr. Lang,” McCann said, “and I’ve come to a conclusion. It may be the right one and it may not. But I believe that there was some obstacle in the way of the marriage.

“Obstacle! None, sir, none! There couldn’t be. Who would make it?”

“I mean—something a bit unpleasant. That is, some past episode or entanglement in Mr. Carr s life that would cause unpleasantness at the ceremony.

“Suppose another woman had come rushing in on the scene—”

“Bless my soul, man, what do you mean?”

“Just that. Suppose there was another woman who had a claim, of some sort on Forrester Carr. It isn’t an impossible thing. Suppose she threatened to make trouble at his wedding. Suppose he told Miss Lang of this, and there being no legal difficulty, they decided not to face the danger of an awkward and sensational scene, but go off by themselves and be married quietly.”

Lang thought this over.

“It might be,” he said, slowly, “it could be. But I think Mary would have told me.”

“No, for that would mean cancelling the invitations and all that.”

“Even that would have been less embarrassing than what did happen.”

“No, for what did happen was a surprise, a mystery. That is less awkward than rescinded invitations. Anyway, Miss Lang may have thought it would be. And, too, she may have feared your refusal to let her marry young Carr, if you knew the truth.”

“What is the truth?”

“Lord, I don’t know. I’m only assuming some youthful escapade, some mixup with a girl of, probably, the lower class, that is not a bar to his marriage, but means a vindictive woman in the background of his life, who intended to make things unpleasant on his wedding day.”

“You’ve no proof of all this?”

“Not an item. And that’s what I’m here to ask you about. Shall I proceed to investigate it—to get a line on Mr. Carr’s past—or, would you rather let sleeping dogs lie? Say, do nothing for a day or two, till you can hear from the runaways.”

“My God, I don’t know what to think. You’ve knocked me galley-west with this suggestion. Give me time to think it over. Wait till tomorrow, at any rate.”

“Very well, Mr. Lang, we’ll wait till tomorrow.”

Late into the night, David Lang sat alone in his small library, thinking the thing over. He locked the door against all intruders, and sat thoughtful and absorbed, wrestling with his problems.

And in the morning, the door was still locked.

Hattie knocked and banged at it, but received no response.

He fetched Wyatt, and the two called through the keyhole for David Lang to open the door, but there was no answer.

“Break in,” ordered Wyatt, curtly. “Mr. Lang is ill—or dead.”

Hattie brought a small crowbar, and the door not being bolted, was readily forced.

Wyatt’s second assumption was the true one. David Lang was dead.

Chapter 13
Like A Story Book

DANE WYATT HAD a sense of the dramatic. Often to him a situation showed a picturesque side not noticed by others.

Moreover, he was addicted to the reading of detective fiction.

And so, quite involuntarily, his brain picked out the salient features of the present circumstance.

Here was the master of the house, found dead in his library. Locked in, and entrance forced by the butler and the private secretary.

Quite in keeping with the conventional plot.

But, Wyatt thought to himself, this isn’t a murder.

For the natural pose and the calm expression on the face of the dead man suggested no foul play, but rather a sudden stroke or an attack of heart disease.

David Lang sat in his armchair, at his library table. Nearly upright, but leaning back a little, the body was quietly composed, the limbs relaxed, with the hands resting on the chair arms.

On the table were several books and papers, showing, apparently, that he had been engaged in his work when the end came.

Roused to action by Hattie’s groans of lament, Wyatt stepped forward and felt of the extended wrist.

“He’s dead,” he said, thoughtfully. “Wonder what we’d better do. There’s a detective in the house, but this is no murder mystery. I think we’ll just call Doctor Crawford, Hattie.”

“Yes, sir—anything you think best. Oh, my, Mr. Wyatt, whatever is the curse on this house? Mrs. Lang gone—and Miss Mary—and now, Mr. Lang himself!”

“Yes, yes—Hattie—it must be heart disease, I suppose. He was not the build for apoplexy. Well, you call the doctor. Just tell him to come right up here. Don’t say what for.”

Leaving Hattie in charge, Dane returned to his room, and completed his toilet, and was down stairs again before the doctor arrived.

He had a vague feeling that he ought to call McCann, yet there seemed no real reason to summon the detective.

So while he waited the coming of the physician, he studied the details of the room.

There was nothing out of place, no sign that David Lang had had any visitor after he had shut himself in his room.

Yet Wyatt sensed something strange, something unusual.

To begin with, he mused, Mr. Lang never sat like that when he was thinking things out. It was his habit to lean over his desk, his chin cupped in his hands. Wyatt had known him to sit for hours, almost motionless, but invariably leaning forward.

It might mean nothing that now he was seen leaning back, as he always did when engaged in conversation.

It might mean nothing that the open book in front of him—Dane Wyatt gave a sudden start. What foolishness was this?

The book was a volume about early American ceramics and glass, and it lay open at a chapter on Sandwich glassware.

Wyatt stared at the pages and as he pondered the doctor came.

With brisk movements Doctor Crawford went to the still form in the chair, and began his examination.

He looked more and more puzzled as he proceeded, and at last he straightened up and turned to Wyatt.

“There’s never an effect without a cause,” he said, oracularly, “but I cannot, in this case, find the cause. Mr. Lang, I know, had a perfectly sound heart. He had no organic weakness or trouble of any sort. Except for a touch of rheumatism now and then, he was absolutely hale and healthy. Yet here he is dead and with no symptoms to indicate the cause or agent of his death. It can be set down to heart failure, but hearts do not fail without some predisposing cause.”

Wyatt stood expectant. He made no response to the doctor’s words, there seemed none to make. He merely awaited further disclosures.

Again the doctor turned his puzzled attention to the case before him.

He was an experienced and skilled surgeon. He was familiar with the physical conditions of David Lang, and he could see no reason for this sudden death.

“He was locked in this room?” he inquired, with a preoccupied air.

“Yes.”

“There is no ingress except the door?”

“No. That is, the windows, as you see, are slightly opened, but they are held by patent catches and are not movable from outside.”

“So no one could get in here to molest him?”

“No. It would be impossible.”

Doctor Crawford examined the windows. As Wyatt had said, they were fastened in place, with an aperture of a few inches that admitted air, but would by no means give access to a person.

There was but the one door, and that Hattie had forced to gain entrance.

“Why?” asked Dane, “you don’t see any evidence of—of crime, do you?”

“No, no evidence of crime—except the lack of evidence for anything else. If there were any way to explain it, I should say the man had been killed. But, even so, I can’t discover by what means. It’s most baffling.”

Again he returned to his scrutiny of the dead face.

“He simply ceased to exist,” he said, turning to Dane with an air that was almost apologetic, as if deprecating his inability to explain.

“Well, then, what’s to be done?”

“Oh, I’ve got to find out how and why he died. I’ll have to perform an autopsy. But the coroner must come first—the medical examiner—and we’ll consult.”

“I’ll leave those matters with you, Doctor Crawford, then. I suppose my duty is to tell the family, and look after such affairs of Mr. Lang as are in my province. I admit I feel a little bewildered. I say, could he have been murdered?”

“As I told you, if there were any way for a murderer to get in and out, I’d say yes—but, I don’t see how—I don’t see how.”

“Do you want the butler or a maid servant, or anybody?”

“No. I see there is a telephone right here, I’ll call the coroner myself. No, I’d rather not have any of the servants in here, please.”

So Dane Wyatt went to tell the household of the new trouble that had fallen upon them.

He went first to the room of Alex Lang.

For it was not yet eight o’clock, and only the servants were about.

Alex was up and partly dressed. He greeted Wyatt with a look of surprise as he opened the door to his knock.

“What’s up?” he said, and then seeing Wyatt’s expression, his face showed a deeper concern. “Anything the matter? Heard from Mary?”

“No. No news of her. But,” he hesitated, and then concluded the most direct course was best. “Your brother is dead.”

“David! Dead! What do you mean?”

“What I say. He died suddenly some time last night. In his library.”

Wyatt watched Alex closely. He had been thinking, and had concluded that if there was any possibility of David having been murdered, there was a chance that Alex was the murderer.

He knew how anxious the brother was to get his inheritance and—oh, well, it was only a vague notion, but still, he watched Alex Lang.

He learned little, however. Alex took the news quietly, as a man might be expected to. He stared at Wyatt blankly, as if trying to take in the facts. Then he said, “Heart failure?”

“I suppose so,” Dane answered, non-committally. “Doctor Crawford is down there, you can ask him. I say, will you tell Miss Allie, or shall I?”

“You tell her. She’ll be shocked but she won’t fly into hysterics. My Lord! David gone!”

He continued brushing his hair, and Wyatt went away, his interest and curiosity seething under his calm and unexcited demeanor.

On second thoughts he concluded to summon Nurse Brace and tell her and then ask her to enlighten Miss Mears.

“It’s a woman’s task,” he told her, when she had appeared and he had imparted the main information. “I don’t think Miss Allie will faint or anything like that, but if she should, you can look after her better than I could.”

“Very well, Mr. Wyatt,” and the big, capable woman went off on her sad errand.

Miss Mears did not faint, on the contrary she took the news with calm placidity.

“One woe doth tread upon another’s heels, so fast they follow,” she quoted, and Nurse Brace, unfamiliar with poetry, said merely, “yes, ma’am.”

“In some ways,” Miss Mears went on, “it may be all for the best. Mr. Lang was lonely since his wife died, and now his daughter is gone, he was bored indeed. And, you know, nurse, there’s no telling what has happened to Mary. If it’s anything dreadful, perhaps her father is spared much suffering.”

“That is true, Miss Allie,” and Brace disappeared to return with a cup of hot tea. That being her invariable notion of treatment for shock.

And last of all, Detective McCann was notified. He had remained over night at Langdene, and proposed to remain there as long as he could manage it. For he liked the atmosphere of the place, and too, he was deeply interested in the problem of the two missing young people.

And now he was confronted with further mystery.

For Doctor Crawford had come to the conclusion that if there was the least possibility of an intruder, then there was some reason for David Lang’s death other than natural causes.

So it came about that, the coroner having arrived, he, the doctor and the detective consulted behind closed doors as to the truth of the matter.

And it was the detective who insisted on a murderer.

The coroner, a phlegmatic individual by the name of Meakin, contended that since the room was what he chose to call “hermetically sealed,” there was no earthly chance for a crime, and he was for giving a burial permit at once.

But Doctor Crawford’s perplexity and uncertainty roused McCann’s detective interest, and he began to ask questions.

“What would bring about such conditions of death as that man shows?” he inquired, pointedly.

“An apoplectic stroke might,” Crawford replied. “But Mr. Lang was no subject for apoplexy. I can’t think it was that. If so, all my diagnosis of his physical condition must have been wrong for years. And I am not such a zany as that!”

The doctor’s attitude was that of a man angry at himself, and yet unbelieving in his own wrong doing.

“No, Doctor Crawford, you’re not at fault,” Coroner Meakin said; “I know your skill and your reputation and I know how long you have been the family physician out here. But whatever this stroke is, it came from some condition you could not forsee—”

“Oh, shut up!” McCann said, testily. “Doctor Crawford made no mistake. And Mr. Lang didn’t die of a stroke. The man was murdered.”

“Indeed!” Meakin looked at the detective with scorn. “Perhaps you’ll enlighten us as to details.”

“I will, so far as I can. But you medical men must help me. I ask what conditions—physical conditions, I mean—would bring about the symptoms—or lack of symptoms, if you prefer, shown by the body of Mr. Lang?”

Meakin was about to make an impatient rejoinder, but Doctor Crawford interposed.

“I see what you’re getting at,” he said. “Now, this absolute lack of indicative symptoms could point to poisoning—say prussic acid, or some instantaneous poison. But there’s no odor on the lips, nor any vial about to hint at that. You see, it looks more like a cerebral hemorrhage—”

“Then see what could have caused a cerebral hemorrhage,” McCann said, quietly.

“Oh,” and with a sudden enlightenment, Crawford went back to the body of the dead man.

“You’re right,” he said, after a moment. “Mr. Lang was murdered—and with a diabolical cleverness!”

The doctor was feeling at the back of the neck of the dead man and he called Meakin’s attention to what he found there.

Pushing aside the hair, there could be seen a shining, silvery speck.

“Head of a pin,” Meakin said, in an awed tone. “Big pin—bank pin, you know. Pull it out.”

Carefully, Doctor Crawford extracted the long pin, such as banks use to pin checks together.

“Brute!” he exclaimed. “Who could have done this? It is too devilishly wicked to believe! Who killed David Lang in this dastardly manner?”

“And how did the murderer get in and out?” added McCann.

It would not be true to say the detective was glad David Lang had been murdered, but since he indubitably had been, Mr. McCann was greatly pleased to be on the ground floor from the outset.

Here was a case worthy of his powers. Missing persons were all very well, but when, as he felt sure, they had merely eloped, it was a minor matter compared to this murder mystery. And in a locked room, too! Just the sort of mystery that appealed to all good detectives.

At once he began to examine the room. The more he did so, and the more inaccessible he found it to be, when its door was locked, the better pleased he was. For here was a chance to distinguish himself.

Mr. Lang had shut himself into his room. He had been murdered there. The murderer did get in and out, leaving the door locked behind him.

No matter that it looked inexplicable, on the face of it. No matter that he could, at present, see no possible solution, the thing had been done, and he, McCann, would somehow ferret out the mystery and gain fame and glory.

The doctors continued to talk over the matter.

But there was no question. Lang had been killed by the long pin thrust in at the base of his brain.

With one quick motion of the murderer’s hand, it had pierced the brain and the result was instantly fatal.

There were no convulsions or struggles. The face retained its composure, the body its relaxed calm.

“My duties are over,” Crawford said, at last, as he finished his scrutiny. “It’s up to you, now, Meakin, to find the murderer. With Mr. McCann’s assistance,” he added, seeing the look of injured dignity on the detective’s face.

Alex was summoned then, and they told him their findings.

Although without being much given to expressed emotion, Alex Lang rose up in his wrath.

“David murdered!” he cried. “My brother murdered! Then I shall devote my life to the finding and punishing of the villain who did it! He shall not escape my vengeance. I shall track him, if need be, to the ends of the earth, but I will find him, and he shall pay the penalty.”

The deep fervor of the man’s tone robbed the words of their melodramatic effect, and Alex sank into a chair and buried his face in his hands.

McCann looked at him silently.

The detective was ready to suspect everybody and anybody. But he couldn’t believe the dead man’s brother had done this thing.

Nor could he see how anyone had entered the room and committed the fatal deed.

But that element of inquiry he put aside for the present. Somebody had done it, somebody did get in, and the first thing was to learn who, and later discover how and why.

“No,” Meakin said, when McCann voiced these thoughts to him, “first get the motive. Find out why Mr. Lang’s death was desired.”

“Thank you,” McCann returned, with deepest sarcasm. “If you please, I will proceed in my own way. Mr. Lang,” he turned to Alex, “have you any idea who could have killed your brother?”

“Not the slightest,” and Alex lifted a face already haggard with grief and anxiety.

“When did you last see him alive?” asked the coroner, his air of inquiry already apparent.

“Oh, last evening. We were all together, talking about Mary, you know, and wondering what has become of her and Carr.”

“Then, you left him in this room?”

“I did, yes. I went out, myself.”

“Where did you go?”

A slight rise of color was the only sign of embarrassment, as Alex answered frankly:

“Over to Willow Dell to call on Mrs. Castro.”

“You spent the evening there?”

“Yes.”

“Returning at what time?”

“About midnight or a little later.”

“You went straight up to your room?”

“Why, yes. I poked about the lounge a bit, getting some cigarettes and then I went up.”

“You didn’t come into this room?”

“Never even came toward it. I had no reason to think Dave was in here so late, and even if I had, I had no reason to bother him. When he does sit up late it’s to read or study and we don’t intrude.”

“All right. Now I want to talk to every member of the household, servants and all. Please give me a place where they can come to me one by one.”

“All right, Mr. Meakin,” and Alex at once became not only helpful but assumed command of the situation. “You go into this next room, it’s the museum, you know, but you won’t hurt anything. I’ll send the people to you. Who first?”

“The secretary, please, and also the lady—Mr. Lang’s sister.”

“Sister-in-law,” Alex corrected him.

Wyatt and Miss Allie came in together.

“No objections, I hope?” Dane asked him. “Miss Mears prefers it.”

“Oh, all right. Sit down.”

The coroner produced a note-book and went through some wearisome detail of names and professions and relationships.

But his queries brought forth no information that gave a spark of light on the dark mystery.

Wyatt was completely baffled. He had had a dim suspicion of Alex’s part in the tragedy, but he could not believe that he had with premeditation and deliberation conceived that ghastly method of murder.

Alex did want his inheritance, he had often begged his brother for it, but never, Wyatt was certain, would he get it by such terrible means.

And so the assistant had no theory, no opinion as to the murderer or his motives.

Miss Mears was equally at sea. She could conceive of nobody who harbored a grudge against David Lang, or who stood to gain by his death. She could not imagine who could have been so evil-hearted, so wicked-minded as to kill the inoffensive and kindly man.

“But,” she said, with one of her intuitive flashes, “I’ll tell you what I do think. I believe that whoever kidnapped those two blessed children, is also responsible for David’s death. I believe the two crimes are linked, and when you get news of Mary and Forrester, you will be on the track of the man who murdered David.”

“It is not impossible,” and Meakin looked at her interestedly. “You think then, that the bridal pair did not elope?”

“Of course they didn’t. Ridiculous! Why, Mary was keen for the wedding party, and Forrester too. You needn’t tell me they went off voluntarily. I know better.”

“But how could they have been abducted?”

“Not kidnapped, like a baby in its perambulator! But lured, hoodwinked by some letter or message—oh, I don’t know how I’m sure. But a villain capable of getting into David’s room and killing him with a pin, would be able to trump up some scheme to get those children away.”

Dane Wyatt looked thoughtful. Though not a detective, he felt a grave responsibility of the situation, and felt he must do all in his power to help those who had the case in charge.

He asked Miss Allie to leave them, and then he and Meakin talked together.

“I shall be outspoken,” he said to the coroner. “I don’t for a moment admit I suspect Mr. Alex Lang of any wrong doing, but we must face the facts. If he is entirely innocent, it can’t hurt him to be discussed. So far as I can see he is the only one who has a real motive. He is insanely anxious to inherit the money that will be his at David Lang’s death. He wants to marry, and cannot do so without this money.”

“And he came in late last night,” supplemented Meakin, “after everybody was in bed except the man in the library.”

“Yes—but how could he get in?”

“His brother could have let him in. Then, could he not have another key—”

“No,” Wyatt said, decidedly, “the key was in the door, on the inside. The regular key. And there’s only one. It’s a big, elaborate lock—”

“He could have had another key made—”

“Well, he didn’t. I’m not a detective, but I checked up on those details at once. I thought it might be useful later on. The key was in the lock, on the inside of the door, when Hattie broke in. The windows were so nearly shut as to allow of no entrance for a man. The patent catches that hold them in place are intact.”

“Then how did the murderer enter?”

“Don’t ask foolish questions. If I knew I should have told you before this. But he did get in—and get out. Therefore, what is there for it, but to assume a secret entrance?”

“You don’t know of one?”

“Of course not. But I simply say there must be one. It’s up to the detectives to find it.”

“Secret entrances and sliding panels and such things are not often found in modern houses,” Meakin demurred.

“Then find some other entrance. But entrance there must be. David Lang couldn’t have stuck that pin into his own brain. He couldn’t have left his chair and locked the door after he was killed. He was killed. And the door was locked. Is there any theory, any suggestion, any possible explanation except a secret entrance?”

“Sounds like fiction.”

“It is like fiction. The favorite plot of the story tellers is a murder in a room impossible of entrance. There are many solutions—in the stories. This case, to my way of thinking, has only one possible explanation. So, find your secret entrance.” Wyatt was so positive, that Meakin, who was a man of limited imagination, was pretty well convinced, and resolved to have the room torn out, if necessary, to find the mysterious panel or hidden door.

Chapter 14
Three Letters

IT WAS A week later. The funeral of David Lang had been a simple affair, far more so than he would have approved of, had he had any say in the matter.

But in view of the series of tragedies that had fallen on Langdene, Alex and Dane Wyatt, who made the arrangements, deemed it better to have little pomp and circumstance.

The mystery of David Lang’s taking off was as deep as ever and no clue or bit of evidence had so far helped toward any solution.

The most careful scrutiny had failed to reveal any secret entrance into the small library where the dead man had been found, locked in.

Detective McCann, following his usual policy of deliberation in all things, had investigated and inquired slowly. He had accomplished little or nothing, but he was by no means cast down or despairing.

He told Alex Lang and Wyatt that these things must move slowly, and that he would yet ferret out the truth and bring the criminal to justice.

But this did not satisfy the energetic Billy Budd.

“You may be right,” he said to McCann, “about the advisability of moving like a snail, but it doesn’t seem to get you anywhere after all. Now, I’ll tell you what. You go ahead on your own lines as to the murder of Mr. Lang. I admit that’s a problem above my powers. Incidentally, I think its above yours, too. But that’s none of my business. I’m out to find my friend, Forrester Carr. And Miss Lang, too—if possible. So you devote your time to the murder mystery, and leave the hunting of the missing persons to me.”

McCann demurred, for he wanted all the work and all the glory of the success he was sure would be his. He was of optimistic nature, and though making little progress, was ever hopeful of some great find or some stroke of good luck that would insure a triumphant climax.

The facts of the disappearance of the missing pair had been more or less advertised. Though Alex had tried his best to avoid the publicity of the press, holding that it would do no good, yet the police had chosen to advertise the matter rather widely and the papers had given it prominence.

To no avail, however, and both Carr and Mary were as lost in oblivion as they had been the day of their disappearance.

The pictures of both had been published. Full descriptions also, and Forry’s father, growing impatient, declared he should get a great detective, who could find out something about the children.

But just then, the tragedy of David Lang’s death had occurred, and Mr. Carr was stunned into inaction.

“I believe,” he said, “there is some organization, some gang, at the bottom of all this. But unless the police accomplish something soon, I shall certainly engage a detective myself.”

“Give me a few days longer,” said Billy Budd.

“A lot of letters have come, purporting to tell news of both our lost ones. Most of them are utter trash, not worthy of consideration at all. Wyatt and I have gone over them carefully, and of the whole lot, only three offer any chance of being useful. But these three, I propose to investigate. Strangely enough, they are all in reference to Mary Lang. None is about Forry. He seems to have vanished off the face of the earth.”

The three letters in question were all anonymous.

“But,” Budd said to Wyatt, “I haven’t the prejudice against an unsigned letter that many people have. It is obvious that the writers don’t court publicity, but that’s no argument against their sincerity.

One letter said that a girl greatly resembling the pictures of Mary Lang was employed as secretary in the office of John Perkins, an importer of Oriental goods. The address was in Forty-second Street, New York City.

To this place Billy Budd went.

He was handicapped by the fact that he had never seen Mary, but he felt sure he should recognize her, even though she did not now wear her hair as in her pictures.

He went in and addressed himself to Mr. Perkins, saying he had been advised by a friend that choice Chinese jade might be bought there.

Some pieces were shown him, and Billy took note of the demure secretary who sat at a desk in the corner.

Her eyes were like the pictures of Mary Lang, but her straight, bobbed hair so changed her face that he could not tell whether there was a real resemblance or not.

Impulsively, he went to her and held out his hand.

“Why, Jennie Carter,” he said, “how nice to see you again!”

The girl drew herself up and stared at him.

“I am not Jennie Carter,” she said, coldly. “You are mistaken.”

“I can’t be mistaken! Aren’t you really Jennie?”

“She certainly is not,” broke in Mr. Perkins, a little angrily. “She is Miss Rose Lawrence, my stenographer and secretary.”

“I beg a thousand pardons,” Billy said, apparently deeply apologetic.

“The resemblance is so marked as to be astonishing. Also, Miss Lawrence looks like the missing young lady that the papers are making such a todo about. I refer to Mary Lang.”

If he hoped to see any agitation or embarrassment on the face of the secretary, he was disappointed, for Miss Lawrence only turned her eyes to him for a moment and then dropped them to her work, with the utmost calm and indifference.

She proceeded to click rapidly on her typewriter, which, making little sound was not annoying to the others.

Satisfied that there was no chance of this girl’s being Mary Lang, Budd left the office and went back home.

“Not a chance,” said Wyatt, as Billy told him about it, “you see, in the first place, I know, positively, that Mary has no knowledge of stenography or typewriting. So that settles that once for all.”

“Well, there are two more that I mean to look up,” Billy said, “and if they fall through, too, I shall agree with Mr. Carr that it is time to call in a real detective.”

“A real detective can’t do any good,” Wyatt said, gloomily. “Look at McCann, he works like a beaver, but he gets nowhere—nowhere at all.”

The second attempt of Billy’s also led to naught. The girl he went to see turned out to be a parlor maid, who bore some resemblance to Mary’s photograph, but whose hands were red and rough, and who had quite evidently been engaged in housework for several years.

“The only other one,” Budd said, “is almost too absurd to tackle. It is a girl in an Insane Asylum.

I’ve almost decided not to go up there, it’s up in the Adirondacks, but you see, if Mary was kidnapped they might have put her there in order to keep her until they can demand ransom.”

“Doubtful,” Wyatt said. “If it is a case of ransom, it would have been demanded before this.”

“But Mr. Lang’s death coming just as it did, may have upset the kidnapper’s plans. They may have put Mary away, because they didn’t know what else to do with her.”

“All right, Billy, go ahead. Hunt down this trail, and then let’s not follow up any more of these letters.”

So Budd went up to the Insane Asylum.

Suspecting as he did, that there was something wrong, he was very careful of his procedure. He represented himself as being in search of a place to put his sister, who was only slightly demented and for whom he wanted a good home more than treatment.

The head of the institution, a tall gray bearded man, whose name was Doctor Fenwick, was suave and courteous, but feared he had no room for any more patients.

The doctor, it seemed to Billy, strongly resembled someone he knew, but he couldn’t think who it was.

Baffled at his failure to get anywhere, Billy begged permission to look round the building, saying he hoped some day there would be a vacancy and his sister might be accommodated.

A nurse was detailed to show him some of the rooms, and as they went along the corridors, Billy looked into various rooms.

The nurse, who was new to the place, made no objections when he did this and so it chanced that at last he opened a door into a room where a girl sat looking out of the window.

It was this that the letter had told them. That a girl sat all day and every day looking out of that particular window.

“Somebody’s calling you, nurse,” Billy said, suddenly. “Run down that way.”

Obediently the nurse fled in the direction he indicated.

“Miss Lang,” Billy said softly, and the girl by the window turned and faced him with a startled expression.

But he could not tell whether or not she was Mary Lang. All he knew was that she looked almost exactly like the other girl, the one he had seen in New York City.

And then a rude arm dragged him from the room and slammed the door shut.

“What do you mean, sir, by intruding upon my patients?” and Doctor Fenwick glowered at Billy in rage.

“You said I might look about, and my guide ran off and left me,” Budd returned. “I meant no harm, I assure you.”

The doctor calmed down at this, and having seen the girl he wanted to see the amateur detective went back home.

“Well, I’m no good at sleuthing,” Billy reported to Mr. Carr, senior, as he told of his experiences. “Wyatt says there’s not a chance of the girl in the New York office being Mary, as he knows positively that Mary has no knowledge of typewriting and this girl ran her typewriter licketty-split all the time I was there. And as to the girl in the Insane Asylum, there’s no chance there, either, for I learned from a nurse, that that girl has been there five or six weeks—so she went long before the wedding day. And that’s that.”

“I had no interest in those wild goose chases,” Mr. Carr said. “I felt sure they would amount to nothing.”

“The funny part is,” Billy continued, “the two girls are the image of each other. Twin sisters couldn’t be more alike. Queer, isn’t it?”

“It would be if it were true,” Mr. Carr said, smiling. “But you see, Billy, you don’t know one girl from another, when it comes to the exact features I’ve no doubt if those two girls were side by side there’d be little or no resemblance. But to you, every bobbed haired, smiling lassie is a beauty and they all look alike to you.”

Billy was studying a picture of Mary that stood on a table nearby.

“Well, they’re both like this picture, Mr. Carr. Of course, they both had short hair, and that does change a face, but both girls had eyes like Mary.”

“All right, my boy, we’ll say they did. But it doesn’t really affect us, for a girl who can typewrite is not Mary Lang, and a girl who has been at an asylum since September isn’t, either. Now, if you’re ready to give up your well meant but not very successful efforts, I’m about determined to get in a real sleuth and turn him loose on the whole set of mysteries. I can’t understand about Forry and Mary, but all the same, I don’t feel really alarmed, for if they were in the hands of kidnappers, who want ransom, we’d hear from them by this time.” Billy Budd didn’t say to Mr. Carr what was really in his mind, that the kidnappers, being baffled by the death of David Lang, had put a summary end to their captives. Yet this was Billy’s fear, and he was glad to give up the responsibility of the search and told James Carr so.

“But I don’t mean to quit,” Billy went on. “You can get your Fleming Stone or whatever his name is, and I shall keep up my hunting just the same. It won’t interfere with him, and I’d jolly well like to find old Forry myself.”

“I can’t understand it,” said James Carr for the hundredth time. “I know Forry would communicate with me if he could. Yet I can’t think he is held captive, or any such foolishness. He went off with his suitcase and his bag, all in proper shape, you see. Now where did he go?”

“I wonder,” Billy returned. He was a little annoyed at Mr. Carr’s attitude. The father seemed to refuse to take his son’s absence seriously, yet he was about to get a celebrated detective on the case.

“Well, I’ll go over to Langdene,” Billy said, “and see if there’s anything new. Do you want me to say you’re thinking of getting Stone?”

“Why, yes, I don’t care. It’s no secret. McCann won’t like it, I daresay, but I sha’n’t stop for that. I’ve a right to do what I choose in the matter.” Budd went over to Langdene and found Wyatt alone in the small library.

“I’m trying to find the secret entrance,” Dane said, as he threw himself wearily into a chair. “I’ve sounded every bit of wall space, and rapped every panel, but there’s no hollow sound, nor any indication of a concealed aperture.”

“Let’s look some more,” and Billy felt a newly roused zest.

However, his efforts were no more successful than Wyatt’s, and they sat down to smoke and talk the thing over.

“I don’t feel I’m doing my duty by Mr. Lang not to keep at it,” Dane said. “I’d do anything to find out who killed that man. I don’t think our detective will ever get it.”

“Nor I,” Budd agreed. “But, I say, Mr. Carr is thinking of calling in Fleming Stone—you know, the celebrity.”

“I’m not sure celebrities are any better than the ordinary sort,” Wyatt said. “And, anyway, it’s been so long now, I doubt if Stone could find any clues—”

“You’re thinking of David Lang. But Mr. Carr is getting Stone to find the two young people!”

“Oh, well, while he’s here he can look into both matters. I know McCann thinks the two are connected.”

“Maybe, I say, don’t you think it’s queer the two girls I went to see looked so much alike?”

“How much?”

“Enough to be sisters. They had the same eyes—eyes, by the way like Mary Lang’s.”

“That makes three of them, then. Your two and Mary. Well, Budd, I begin to think all girls look alike to you.”

“They do, pretty much,” and Billy laughed. “I’m not awfully keen on them as a class. Some day, I’m going to pick out a good one and marry her, but until then, they are pretty much all of a piece to my eyes.”

“Me, too,” laughed Dane. “I guess I’m a confirmed bachelor. Well, I certainly shall take no interest in any social doings until matters here are settled up one way or another. It’s really up to Mr. Alex. You see, he’s sole heir, unless Mary turns up. I don’t see what the courts can do to keep Alex out of his inheritance, and as soon as he gets it he’ll marry Mrs. Castro. So that’s that.”

“Will he marry right away—so soon after his brother’s death?”

“Yes, I think so. But he’s a little worried. You see, the lady has a small mystery in her own home. David Lang knew about it, and he assured me it had nothing to do with Mary, but I think it bothers Alex.”—

“Why doesn’t he ask her right out about it?”

“Oh, Alex is queer, and I suppose he doesn’t want to seem too curious. Now, look here, Budd, as to this David Lang business. Somebody got in here and killed him. That we know. Now the only approach to a clue that I can see—and it’s so silly as to be no clue at all—is this book. See, this book lay open in front of Mr. Lang when we broke in. Now, it is a book that he wouldn’t think of reading. It’s about certain antiques and such things, but it is not authoritative. In fact, it is all wrong. So much so, that Mr. Lang had already told me to throw it away, he didn’t want it any more. Now, I deduce that the murderer put it in front of him to make it appear that he was studying it.”

“Silly performance!”

“No. You see, whoever was clever enough to kill him with that long pin, was shrewd enough to want to make it look as if he had been sitting here alone, reading and had died a natural death. So, to further that effect, the murderer put a book in front of Mr. Lang, after the crime had been committed. And the murderer, not knowing much about the books, but knowing of Mr. Lang’s hobby, took down this book on old glass and china from the shelf and used it for the purpose.”

“Why, you’re a real detective, Wyatt. But after all, what does that teach us? as the fables say.”

“Only that the murderer was not an entire stranger. Not a common burglar. But somebody who knew of David Lang’s tastes, yet did not know that he would scorn to read in that particular volume.”

“Well, your clue, is, to my mind, of no more real importance than my wild goose chase after those girls. But I say, I rather like that little Rose Lawrence. She was a snappy little piece, and I hope some day to look her up again. She had a way of looking sideways that was very fetching.”

At this moment Hester Brace appeared in the door way.

“I beg pardon, gentlemen, may I come in for a moment?” she said.

Her manner was not at all cringing, yet there was a pleading look on her face.

“Certainly, nurse,” Wyatt said, cordially. “Come right in. What can I do for you?”

“Not you, Mr. Wyatt, but—but the other gentleman. If you please,” she turned to Billy, “would you tell me where you saw Miss Rose Lawrence? That is a name I knew once, and I am interested.”

Now Billy Budd had a funny little streak of obstinacy that cropped out at times, and it possessed him just now.

“No,” he said, a little curtly, “I do not feel I am at liberty to tell you that.”

Wyatt looked astonished, but it was his nature to remain silent when another’s business was being discussed.

“Oh, please, sir, I beg you. Please tell me.”

Hester Brace clasped her hands in earnest appeal. Her large features worked almost convulsively, and she plead with her eyes.

Billy’s detective instinct was working hard. He jumped to the conclusion—a true one—that Nurse Brace had been listening at the half open door. He jumped also to the conviction that she knew Rose Lawrence and that she wanted to warn the girl against the advances of this young gentleman.

Naturally the nurse knew many young girls, as she knew Mary Lang. And as Rose was a working girl, he thought the nurse was alarmed for her safety if a wicked and worldly young chap showed an interest in her.

And as Billy’s interest in the girl was only half formulated at best and as it was rooted and grounded in the utmost respect and well meaning, he didn’t propose to have any young girl warned against him.

And so, he looked sternly at Miss Brace and said, “I am surprised that you should insist. Why do you want this information?”

“Only that I once knew the girl,” she said, and her voice shook. “And I’d love to see her again.”

“Very well. She is at Mr. Johnson’s office in West Fifty-third Street. Here is the number.”

The mendacious Billy pulled out a note-book from his pocket, and made a memorandum on a bit of paper, and offered it to Miss Brace.

She made no motion to take it.

“That is not true,” she said, quietly. “You are giving me a false address.”

He laughed shortly and returned the slip to his pocketbook.

“You don’t have to take it unless you choose,” he said. “But it’s all I can give you.”

“Mr. Budd,” and Hester Brace spoke almost solemnly, “I beseech of you to give me that address. The right one. You cannot know what it means to me! Oh, why, why will you not give it?”

“Come, Budd, give it to her,” Wyatt said, moved by the woman’s apparent agony. “Why won’t you let her have it?”

“Why should I?” said Billy, more than ever certain his deductions were right.

But Hester Brace was not so easily balked.

“Mr. Budd,” she said, and now her tone was business-like, rather than pleading. “If I can give you equivalent information will you give me that address?”

“What do you mean by giving equivalent information?”

“I mean if I can tell you something you greatly want to know, will you tell me that?”

“There’s nothing you can tell me that I want to know—unless you can tell me where Mr. Carr is.”

“No, I can’t tell you that. But I can tell you—” she paused impressively, “I can tell you where the secret entrance of this room is.”

“You can!” cried both men at once. “Where?”

“I shall only tell, if you give me the address I ask for. The true one. Mr. Wyatt will know if it is true.”

“For heaven’s sake, Brace,” cried Wyatt. “Do you really know the secret of this room? The secret entrance?”

“I do,” and the strange woman looked almost like a sphinx with a secret locked in her breast.

“How did you learn it?”

“Mr. David Lang told me—because—well, because he thought there was a reason why I should know it.”

“And was there?”

“There was.”

“And you will tell us in return for the address of Miss Lawrence?”

“I will. If you are honest with me.”

“Oh, of course,” and Wyatt shook his head impatiently. “What say, Budd? It’s your say.”

“Oh, yes, certainly. That is, if Miss Brace really knows about—”

“She does, or she wouldn’t say she did,” Dane said. He knew Hester and knew her strong, upright nature.

“Well,” said Budd, “I’ll write the address. Mr. Wyatt can confirm it. He knows the number. Then I’ll lay it on the table under this book. After Miss Brace has told us or shown us the concealed entrance she can take the paper.”

“Very well,” Brace agreed. “I’m not saying I don’t trust you, Mr. Budd. But I do trust Mr. Wyatt. I’ve known him many years. So, if you please, write the paper and let Mr. Wyatt hold it until I’ve carried out my part of the bargain. Then, if I have redeemed my promise, Mr. Wyatt can give me the paper!”

“Why do you want to know, nurse?” Dane asked, kindly. “Who is Miss Lawrence?”

“Only a girl I used to know, as I told you. I’ve lost track of her and I’d like to see her again. Though to be sure, this may be only another girl of the same name.”

“I hope she’s the one you want,” and Budd smiled at her. His contrary fit had gone now, and he was all agog for the information she might give.

Chapter 15
A Bargain

“I SUPPOSE YOU knew her the same way you knew our Mary,” Wyatt continued. “You took care of her as a baby.”

“Somewhat the same,” Brace said, gravely. Rose Lawrence was born in the same hospital Mary Lang was, and I nursed them both as babies. Now shall we carry out our bargain?”

“Yes,” said Billy, eagerly. “Here’s the address, Wyatt. See that it’s all right.”

Dane Wyatt looked at the written numbers and laid the paper on the table.

“Show us the door, nurse,” he said, “and the paper is yours.”

“It isn’t a door,” Hester Brace told them, “but it’s a concealed entrance to this room from outside.”

“Very well. Where is it?”

Brace locked the door first, that they might be free from interruption.

Then crossing the room to the fireplace, she said, “it’s in the chimney, you see. It’s nothing complicated, merely that the whole back of the fireplace runs like a sliding door. It goes sideways, into the wall. As you know the fireplace out in the sun parlor backs up against this one. You must push this spring, so—” she touched a certain knob in the ornamental border of the fireplace, “and then the whole back slides away. There is exit into the sun parlor, you see. A slight pressure and it is back again.”

She touched the knob and the back of the fireplace slid home to its original position.

“Simple enough,” said Wyatt staring in astonishment at the disclosure. “Why was it built?”

“I’m not sure I ought to tell that.” Brace looked serious. “Yet I think it better you should know. Mr. David Lang had it arranged so that Mr. Alex Lang could come in late at night without disturbing anybody.”

“Ah, yes,” and Wyatt nodded understandingly. “You see, Budd, sometimes Alex comes home late and—er—a little the worse for wear. Then, instead of rousing the servants he could sneak in this way and no one be the wiser.”

“That’s it, sir.” Brace said. “Of late, Mr. Alex hasn’t used it much. He, he’s been better of his weakness.”

“Yes. Since his friendship with Mrs. Castro, poor old Alex is better in lots of ways. How did Mr. David come to tell you about it, nurse!”

“I used to hear Mr. Alex coming in—my room is just above here, and I thought it was burglars and told Mr. Lang so. Then he explained. I never mentioned it to anyone till now. I thought you ought to know—as it is, in a way, a family matter.

And, too,” she smiled grimly, “it was the only way I could think of to get the information I wanted. But I am not betraying a secret. Mr. Lang told me to use my own discretion. That if I ever felt it wise to tell of the sliding fireplace, to do so.”

“Very well, Brace, you have earned your reward. Here is the address you want and I hope you will see the young lady. Do you want to go down to New York today?”

“No, sir, tomorrow, if you please.”

“Very well. And nurse, as to the future. I don’t know what will happen here at Langdene. We can’t tell from one day to the next. But at any rate I wish you’d stay on for the present. I am acting as sort of steward, and I account to Mr. Alex. But of course, if Miss Mary should return, she will be mistress here. So you stay on for a time, and later we can see about it.”

“Very well, Mr. Wyatt. And what will be my duties?”

“Oh, you can be general housekeeper. As long as Miss Mears stays, you can look after her, and you can have a supervision over the servants. Call yourself housekeeper, if you like, and there will be no trouble about your salary.”

Nurse Brace bowed with dignity and left the room.

“Well, there you are!” said Wyatt. “Now, who killed David Lang?”

“Alex!” returned Budd, speaking with a hushed awe, and looking over his shoulder as if afraid of being overheard. “No one else knows of the sliding fireplace.”

“Oh, I say, don’t jump at conclusions. You know, there’s a mystery over at the Castro house. The lovely widow has somebody hidden there. Maybe he—the hidden one, is a bad man, and maybe he heard Alex tell of the fireplace—or, perhaps saw him go through it one night, and maybe he came over here and did for David Lang.”

“Why?”

“So his money would go to Alex, and he could marry Giulia. Take it from me, Budd, David Lang’s money is at the root of all these mysteries. I don’t know how, but I’ll wager it’s the explanation of the disappearance of Mary and Forry Carr.”

“Kidnappers—ransom?”

“Yes. You know yourself there’s no other possible theory.”

“Well. But why not suspect Alex himself of his brother’s death as well as your hypothetical stranger?”

“I can’t quite see Alex murdering his brother in cold blood!”

“Oh, not in cold blood. He was in here coaxing for that money. You say yourself he’s often nagged his brother for it. Well, then David lost his temper and they quarrelled, and Alex—he’s a clever cuss, you know—he stuck the pin into his brother’s brain. Death instantaneous. Alex, the door being locked on the inside, places the book where it will look as if David was reading it and goes out by way of the fireplace. How about it?”

“Not impossible—not at all impossible. But highly improbable.”

“No, not even that. Most likely. In fact, the likeliest theory we’ve struck yet. Let’s put it up to McCann.”

Not much later the detective came along and they did put it up to him. He was deeply impressed and said that at last they had touched the root of the mystery.

“And to think that nurse should put us on the right track,” he said, surprisedly. “I’ve always thought her such a ninny. Physically strong and capable, but without her full allowance of brains. However, nurses don’t need brains outside their professional working mind. And so it was Brother Alex! Well, well!”

“I’m not at all sure of that,” Wyatt began, but McCann interrupted him:

“You may not be, but I am. Yes, it all fits into place. Now, here’s another thing. When that nurse goes to New York tomorrow, I shall follow her. I don’t see through her intense interest in Rose Lawrence. It may be just as she represents it, but I have a suspicion that Rose Lawrence is Mary Lang.”

“Can’t be,” said Wyatt, laconically. “Mary Lang is no experienced typist.”

“Maybe she learned it when you didn’t know it. At school, say.”

“Oh, maybe she did! And maybe she learned stenography and book-keeping and all the office accomplishments. But just why would she run away from her father’s house on the day of her wedding and take a position as secretary in a business office? I suppose you have a plausible explanation for that.”

“No, I haven’t. But,” McCann looked dogged. “I’m going to shadow friend nurse all the same. I have to know, you see.”

So, cleverly and unobtrusively, the detective followed the nurse the next day. He watched her go into the Perkins office and waited for her to come out. Then he went in, himself.

“What did that woman want?” he inquired, straightforwardly. “I’m a police detective so you may as well tell me right out.”

“Nothing to conceal, I’m sure,” said Perkins, pleasantly. “She said she wanted to see my secretary, Miss Lawrence.”

“Did she see her?”

Unfortunately, no. Miss Lawrence is not here today. She sent me a note this morning saying she was called away suddenly and was going out of town for a few days. That’s all I know about it.”

“Um. What is Miss Lawrence’s address?”

“That’s the queer part. When she came to me, she gave me an address up in the Bronx. I never had occasion to use it until today. I called up to see when she might be expected to return, and I was informed no such girl was there or had ever been there. What do you make of that?”

Mr. Perkins was so honest seeming, and so ingenuous that McCann was fain to believe him.

He took the Bronx address, though admitting it was of no use.—

Then he went away, wondering what the disappointed Nurse Brace had done.

He pondered deeply over the whole episode and still thinking it queer, he went back to call on Mr. Perkins a second time.

The importer was a little annoyed at this intrusion on his time, but McCann told him it was all in the interests of law and justice and must be accepted as such.

“All right, what do you want to know?” and Perkins thawed a little.

“Only anything you can tell me about the habits or idiosyncrasies of Miss Lawrence. Did she seem like a novice in the matter of secretarial work?”

“That she did not. She was experienced as an accountant, and as a stenographer and typist I’ve never seen her beat. She must have had several years’ experience as secretary with some exacting master. She is quick, ready and most up to date in her methods.”

“Does she look at all like this picture?” and McCann drew a photograph of Mary from his pocket.

“Oh, that’s the Lang girl who ran off on her wedding day. Why, yes, Miss Lawrence looks a little like her. They have similar eyes, but that’s the greatest resemblance. This picture is a laughing face. Miss Lawrence is a serious little piece. But Miss Lawrence has bobbed hair, and makes up her face a lot. Not that she needs it, she has a nice color. But all the girls do now-a-days.”

“Yes, they do,” and with a word of thanks the detective took his leave.

No Mary Lang about the secretary. Mary Lang knew nothing at all of business or accounts. She was certainly not an accomplished office stenographer, even if perhaps she knew the rudiments. And McCann had learned from various members of the household that Mary Lang scorned make-up for her face, save perhaps a bit of fine powder.

However, he hadn’t really thought the Lawrence girl could be the missing bride elect, so he wasn’t so much disappointed as perplexed.

And it let Brace out. If she was merely going to see a girl she used to know and who had no possible connection with Mary Lang, there was nothing of interest in that.

McCann went back to Langdene, prepared to turn his attention to the murder case. He switched from one mystery to the other as developments occurred.

He had about made up his mind to accuse Alex openly. If the man could defend himself or could prove his innocence, so much the better. If not, it was high time his possible guilt was investigated, and the truth discovered.

Alex Lang had, the detective mused, both motive and opportunity.

Exclusive opportunity, it might be said, and also, in a way, exclusive motive. For who else stood to benefit by David Lang’s death? The small bequests left to his servants and to his assistant were not sufficient to tempt to murder.

While in the case of Alex the inheritance of his money made it possible for him to win the woman he desired.

Therefore, having so many cards in his hand, McCann concluded the time had come to play them.

With Dane Wyatt and Billy Budd both present, the detective proceeded the very next day, to question Alex Lang seriously.

“Like the rest of us, Mr. Lang,” he began, diplomatically, “I assume you want the murderer of your brother discovered.”

“I surely do. Have you made any progress whatever? I haven’t inquired often for I felt sure you would tell me when you had anything to tell.”

“Quite right, sir, and at last, I think I may say I have something to tell.”

“That’s good news. Tell it out. What is it?”

“Well, for one thing, we’ve discovered the secret entrance into this room.”

They were sitting in the small library, which had come to be used more as an office than a book room.

“Ah, where is it?”

Alex spoke slowly, and it was plain to be seen he was embarrassed as well as interested.

“I think you know.” McCann looked at him pointedly.

“Well, and if I do. I ask you to tell me.”

Lang had suddenly acquired a new dignity, and the detective, who had expected to confound him, found himself confused.

“Why—er—of course. Of course, I’ll tell you. It is, as you know, Mr. Lang, it is through the chimney.”

“The chimney?”

“The fireplace, rather. You see, the fireplace out of doors, in the sun parlor, backs up against this one. They use the same chimney flue. So that between the two fireplaces is merely the sheet iron that serves as a back for both, and if this were removed, anyone could step through the opening into the house.”

“Yes.”

“Yes, Mr. Lang,” McCann grew brusque. “Yes sir. And that is the way the murderer came in. Or, at any rate, that is the way he went out.”

“Ah. And who is the murderer?”

“That we are not quite prepared to say, but as you must realize, it is someone who was cognizant of the entrance through the fireplace.”

“It would certainly seem so.”

“It certainly does seem so. Now, Mr. Lang, you knew of this entrance.”

“And so you deduce I killed my brother?” The words were spoken quietly enough, but a fierce light gleamed in the eye of Alex Lang. He gazed at McCann, not so much in anger or indignation, as with a cold, inquiring air.

A little nonplussed, the detective hesitated for his reply.

“Not quite that, Mr. Alex,” and Wyatt threw himself into the breach.

“Never mind, Dane, let this man answer for himself.”

“Mr. McCann, you think I killed my brother David? You think because I knew of the fireplace entrance, and sometimes used it, I availed myself of it for a murderous purpose? You think, because I want money, I killed my brother that I might at once receive the inheritance I knew would be mine at his death? You think these things?”

McCann eyed the speaker closely. He was experienced enough to know that a cornered criminal often took this tack of injured innocence, but he had never before seen it quite so well done. The man seemed in earnest—seemed truthful.

McCann decided to be truthful, too.

“I can’t yet say I think those things as you have stated them, Mr. Lang; but I do say, that they are among the possibilities, and I say that for your own sake, it would be wise for you to refute them if you can.”

“If I can? Well, I can. At least, I can tell the truth in a way that Mr. Wyatt here, and Mr. Budd, will believe me. Whether you will do so or not, I can’t say. I doubt if you recognize a gentleman’s word of honor when you meet it.”

“I doubt if I do,” and McCann accepted the insult cheerfully. “Moreover, I am not here as a gentleman or even as a guest. I am a detective, hunting out evidence and running down clues. A word of honor is not what I am seeking. I want a statement from you as to why you should not be suspected of this crime, when you and you alone knew of the secret entrance to the room.”

“Oh, I’m not the only one who knows the secret of the fireplace.” Alex spoke almost airily. “To my certain knowledge, my brother told several of the people in the house and a few neighbors. His wife and daughter both knew of it. Mr. Carr, I think knows of it. And I’ve no doubt more than I know of are aware of the fireplace door.”

“That alters the case,” and McCann saw his quarry slipping through the net. “Perhaps you will give me a list of the people you know of who know the secret.”

“Perhaps I won’t. I confess I am annoyed that you should suspect me of crime, but after all, your opinion means little to me. Others, however, may not be so indifferent to an accusation, and it might cause them hours of sleeplessness and worry.”

“All very well, Mr. Lang, to treat this matter so lightly, but it won’t do. You must be straightforward in your answers, or I shall have to take you where you will be more sternly questioned.”

“To headquarters? Well, McCann, go ahead—I’ll try to answer you by the card.”

“You knew of the fireplace entrance?”

“I’ve already practically admitted that. But—yes, I did.”

“You have used it yourself on occasion?”

“I have. Many times.”

“Why?”

“Because I sometimes come home late at night, with more or less unsteady step. Not wanting me to arouse a sleeping household, by ringing a doorbell, or fumbling with a night key, my brother arranged this clever little dodge, and I came in quietly and slipped up the little side staircase to my room.”

“I see. And on the night of Mr. Lang’s death, did you come in this way?”

“I most certainly did not. I was in my bed asleep when my brother met his death.”

“Yet you are the only one, at present, to benefit by your brother’s demise.”

“Yet that does not prove any fratricidal impulse on my part.”

“You repeatedly begged your brother to advance to you the money you would get when he died.”

“I did. He refused. Is that sufficient to build an accusation on?”

“It is sufficient to build a suspicion on. Yet, since you tell me others know of the fireplace door, the case against you is not so strong. Still, I know of no one else with motive. Do you?”

“No,” said Alex, gravely, “I don’t. That is what bothers me. Now, Mr. McCann, I’ll tell you, as man to man, I did not kill my brother. I hold no resentment against you for thinking I did, because you do not know me. You judged entirely from outward appearances and evident, though misleading facts. You have proved, however, your utter inability to deal with the case. You have been in it nearly a fortnight, and you have done nothing except to accuse the dead man’s brother. A brother, by the way, who loved and worshipped David Lang as few men are loved. I did want money, I did beg and urge him to give it to me, but I would have burned off my hand in the fire rather than have had any harm come to him. My brother’s memory is sacred to me, and his death shall not go unavenged.

Budd gazed at the speaker with interest. There was a ring to his words that was unmistakably true—indubitably sincere. Billy had had little conversation with Alex, and had thought him rather an uninteresting, colorless old chap. Now, he realized the man had deep feelings and of the finest. He saw a determination rising to the surface of the placid mind, and he began to think Alex meant to get busy after all.

Dane Wyatt was simply amazed. He knew Alex well, and never before had he known him to get so stirred up. Never had he known him to show more than a passing interest that quickly waned. And now, he spoke words of purpose, of meaning, and his voice rang true.

Not for a minute had Dane suspected Alex of killing his brother, but it had been partly because Wyatt didn’t believe him capable of the nerve force required for such a deed.

And even now Alex was showing no excitement putting no emphasis into his speech, merely stating it was his intention to avenge his brother’s death, which, of course, implied the discovery of the murderer.

“As I say, Mr. McCann, I have small opinion of your detective powers. I think I need not hesitate to say this, as you had no compunctions in stating that you deemed me capable of murder. As a police officer, you have your duties and you report to your superiors. These things I shall not interfere with, but I hold it my right to employ a detective, who, I feel confident, will find out the truth about the crime you attribute to me.”

“Oh, come now, Mr. Lang,” McCann was scared. “I didn’t mean anything definite, you know. Just wanted your word—”

“That’s your trouble, you never do mean anything definite. You never learn anything definite. Never discover anything definite. You mull along in your one-legged way, and if a clue jumps up and bites you, you don’t know it. Now, so far as I am concerned, I’m through with you. I propose to engage the best detective I can learn of.”

“Have you chosen your man?” asked McCann, eagerly.

“Yes, he is Fleming Stone. An expensive proposition, I understand, but he gets results.”

“I wish you joy of him,” said McCann, bitterly. “He’s a taciturn, grumpy sort, and sometimes he hits on the truth, and sometimes he doesn’t.”

“I rarely select a detective for his sunny disposition or powers of entertainment. Mr. Stone is coming here at the joint request of Mr. Carr and myself. He will not only try to discover the slayer of my dear brother, but he will endeavor to find our missing young folks. Pray God he succeeds on both counts.”

Alex left the room, and made his way slowly down the path of the long garden to the Willow Dell cottage.

He found a smiling face ready to welcome him.

But surprised at his own grave demeanor, Giulia said:

“What is it, dear? What has happened?”

“The astute detective on the case thinks I killed David.”

“Yes, lots of people think that. Why don’t you tell them you didn’t.”

“Good heavens! They wouldn’t believe me. But I’m going to do better than that. I’m going to have it proved that I didn’t kill David.”

“How?”

“By finding the man who did kill him.”

And then Alex sat down beside her and told her all about his plans for getting Fleming Stone to solve the mysteries.

“And, my beauty,” he said at last, “we’re not going to announce our engagement until after my name is cleared from all this suspicion you tell me is rampant. McCann told me practically the same thing. It isn’t a case of my living it down, it’s a case of quashing the silly talk at once.”

“Who did kill David?”

The long, beautiful, dark eyes raised themselves to his. In their depths lurked worldly knowledge, worldly wisdom, but there was also a gleam of affection for the man at her side and a deep shadow of regret for the brother who was gone. Giulia was always sympathetic.

Suddenly she gave a little start, and looked steadily out of the window.

“Who is that?” she cried, in quivering excitement. “It isn’t—it can’t be—and yet it is—Forrester Carr!”

“No!” and Alex looked quickly out.

“It is!” he fairly shouted, and making a dash for the door, he opened it to admit Forry!

Chapter 16
Forry’s Story

FORRY WAS AS good-looking and as well set up as ever, but his usual debonair effect was lacking.

He shook hands gravely with Giulia and then turned to Alex.

“I’ve been over to Langdene,” he said, “but as Hattie told me you were over here, I didn’t go in the big house at all. As you are now the head of the Lang family, I want to talk to you first.”

“Certainly, Carr. But the Lang family, as you express it, is now reduced to one—myself only. However, as Mrs. Castro will some day belong to it you may talk frankly before her. But for heaven’s sake, man, end our suspense. Where have you been? and why did you go? Were you kidnapped?”

“No. I went away of my own accord. I’ve been to London—”

“London!” Alex exclaimed, but Giulia said quickly:

“Oh, I begin to see! Mary ran away to London and you went flying after her—or, did you go together?”

“If you’ll let Forry tell his own story, dear—” and Alex smiled at her.

“My story is so strange, that I haven’t told it to anybody yet,” Carr said, “but I’ll begin this way. I’m just back from London; arrived this morning on the Mauretania. I went straight to the Public Library and read up every word of the terrible events that have happened at Langdene. That is, all that has been printed. I fancy there’s more to learn. But I haven’t seen my father yet, I haven’t seen Billy Budd, and I want to consult them as well as yourself, Mr. Lang, before I spin my yarn. Have you, either of you, any idea where Mary is?”

His face was drawn with anxiety, and Giulia’s quick intuition told her at once that whatever had happened, Forry Carr was true blue.

“No. Haven’t you?” and Alex’s glance was a bit accusing.

“No—my life’s work is to find her.”

“I hope to God you’ll succeed,” Alex spoke solemnly. “But your friend Budd has tried, McCann the detective has tried, Dane Wyatt has tried—oh, we’ve all tried, but to no avail. Didn’t she go away with you?”

“No. There is a deep mystery about it all, Alex Lang—far deeper than you know of. But it must be solved.”

“Perhaps it may, Forry. Your father and I have concluded to have Fleming Stone on the case. He’s coming this afternoon. Probably at the house now—”

“Our house?”

“No, Langdene. We’re going to put him up there—and, as your father’s chief interest was to find you, and you’re found—”

“Yes. But dad’ll want to put through the hunt for Mary. And, aren’t you tracing the Lang murderer?”

“You bet we are! Oh, there’s so much to tell you, Forry, and so much to hear from you!”

“Yes. But since you expect Fleming Stone, I shall tell my story first of all to him. Now, I’m going over home—nobody was there when I reached there, and then I’m coming back to see Stone—unless he prefers to come to see me. I want to get in touch with him as soon as possible. Don’t think me heartless, Alex, that I’m not expressing more sympathy for you in the loss of your brother, I feel it deeply. But the whole tragedy is so great, so terrible, that there’s no time for amenities. Do you suspect anyone of the murder?”

“Well, I’m the principal suspect myself,” said Lang, a little dryly. “But, no, I don’t really suspect anybody. Just a few hints of suspicion. That’s why I called Stone in. I shall give him full swing, and if he can’t find anyone else, I suppose I shall be accused.”

“Oh, he’ll do it. I’ve infinite faith in that man’s powers. But, after all, Mr. Lang is dead, and nothing can restore him. While Mary is alive—I hope and pray, and heaven grant he can find her.”

Even while this conversation was going on, the detective they spoke of was already learning the main facts of the matter from Dane Wyatt and McCann.

The latter, though jealous of Fleming Stone, had no intention of dropping out of the case, and he importantly told the story.

“I cannot feel sure, Mr. Stone,” McCann wound up his report, “that the two matters are connected. I mean, the disappearance of the two young people, and the death of Mr. Lang. Yet I cannot say they are not.”

“No, you couldn’t be expected to know,” Fleming Stone said kindly.

Dane Wyatt looked up quickly at the detective, wondering if this was an ironic comment on Mc-McCann’s inefficiency, but if so, no trace of it showed in the countenance of the speaker.

McCann had said Fleming Stone was grumpy and morose. So far as appearances went, nothing could be further from the truth.

Middle-aged, dark, grave, and with a general air of thoroughbred manliness, his demeanor was quietly capable, yet with an effect of gentle tolerance for the opinions of others. He sat in a high-backed chair, legs crossed, arms folded, and his deep-set, dark eyes noting details about the room, even while he was talking or listening.

They were in the small library, Wyatt having received the guest, in the absence of Alex. Only McCann was there beside, and with the direct questions Stone put, and the concise stories the others told, the great detective was learning the strange, almost unbelievable facts of this strange, almost unbelievable case.

“Whether the two matters are interdependent or not,” Stone said, “we will take up first the question of the disappearance of the pair, because that happened first. Your theory, Mr. McCann, of an unpleasant entanglement in Mr. Carr’s earlier life, is plausible, to say the least. Kidnapping for ransom is unlikely, since no demands for money have been received. In fact, judging merely from what you have told me, I may say that theory is the only one I can myself suggest at present.”

McCann preened himself. He would show this great detective a thing or two! He would teach him that other people had a bit of cleverness beside himself.

“Yes, Mr. Stone,” he said, “it is undoubtedly the true one.”

“Oh, no,” Stone returned, “it isn’t the truth at all.”

“What?” and McCann looked darkly at him.

“First of all, Miss Lang would have sent some word to her father before this. If those two went off and were married, they are not held or constrained in any way. There’d be no reason the two should not write to their respective fathers. And if this hypothetical entanglement was not serious enough to prevent the marriage, it was not serious enough to keep secret from the two fathers. But perhaps the fathers did hear from the runaways, and kept it dark.”

“No,” Wyatt said, positively. “I see all Mr. Lang’s correspondence, and, too, if the elder Mr. Carr had known of his son’s whereabouts, he never would have called you in, Mr. Stone.”

“That’s right. Now, what efforts did you make Mr. McCann, to trace the young lady?”

“Oh, we did everything that could be done. We left no clue unfollowed.”

“There were clues, then?”

“Well—not exactly. That is, nothing definite. We know they both took money with them. That Mr. Carr took suitcases, but Miss Lang did not.”

“What did Miss Lang wear away?” Stone interrupted curtly.

“That’s the queer thing. We can’t find out.”

“What! Can’t find out? Can’t the women of the household tell you?”

“Her maid can’t find a single gown missing. That’s why I say she went away in disguise!” McCann spoke triumphantly. “Perhaps in men’s clothes.”

“No, cried Dane Wyatt, involuntarily, “no, Mary never would do that!”

“How do you know?” Stone said.

“Oh, she was too feminine a nature. A lovely, sweet little thing. Besides, where would she get men’s clothes to fit her? All there are in this house would be miles too big. Forry Carr’s would be, too. Oh, it’s nonsense!”

“Nothing is nonsense that bears on the truth,” Stone said. “But it doesn’t ring true for a bride elect to cut up such a caper. Now, it must he discovered what Miss Lang wore when she vanished. No matter whether you have tried or not, you must try again. She had to wear something, and it must be learned what. That is the first definite thing I have found to do. Now, tell me more. Not theories, but facts. Describe every one in the household. I shall talk to them myself, but I want a catalogue.”

So all in the house were rapidly described, and then Stone asked for a description of the Carr household with similar intentness.

“And there are suspicions of murder against Mr. Alex Lang, the brother?” he asked, after listening to the word portraits he had requested.

“Yes, strong and well founded ones,” McCann informed him.

Information followed, enthusiastically given by McCann, and somewhat reluctantly corroborated by Wyatt.

“You’ve jumped to the other matter, the murder,” and McCann, looked a little surprised.

“Why not? you seem to have no more to tell of the missing couple.”

“Well there’s lots more to tell about the murder.”

“Get at it, then.” When Stone spoke shortly, his voice lost its charm but it got results.

A brief, but full history of the murder was given him, and then he asked to be shown the secret entrance.

But when the fireplace device was shown him, he expressed little interest and merely waved his hand as permission to replace it.

“You’ve built up a pretty strong case against Mr. Alex,” he said. “But would he send for me if he were himself the criminal?”

“That’s just what he would do!” declared McCann, eagerly. “A man smart enough to pull off that ingenious crime, would be smart enough to brave even your powers of detection. Then, when you failed to prove it against him, the case would be closed, and he could—”

“Live happy ever after,” Stone finished for him. “Well, as I said, you’ve raked up a lot of evidence against him, but I must reserve judgment until I see him. You know I’ve never met Mr. Lang.”

When this meeting did come about, not more than a half hour later, the two men were, at Stone’s request, alone.

The detective had repaired to the rooms assigned him, his personal comfort had been well looked after, and then, Alex, returning from Willow Dell, had tapped at his guest’s door.

They greeted each other gravely, and Stone, who relied greatly on first impressions, looked in the other’s eyes to see if he felt that he was looking at a criminal.

Whatever he divined, he saw that on the surface, Alex was full of excitement over some new bit of information.

“Mr. Stone,” he said, as he closed the door, “sit down, sir. You have heard the details of our tragedies, Mr. Wyatt tells me.”

“Yes, the main facts, so far as known. But you have something new?”

“I have. Forrester Carr is home!”

“The missing bridegroom?”

“Yes.”

“And the girl?”

“Nobody knows. I mean nobody knows what Forry has to tell. He’s coming over here this evening to tell it first of all to you. He says it is an astounding story!”

“Lord, it must be! Abduction?”

“No, he went to Europe—of his own accord.”

“Amazing! But there’s small use speculating on what this may mean until we know more about it. He’s coming here, tonight?”

“Yes, unless you prefer to go over to his home.”

“No. Let’s have the interview here. You’re making no secret of these revelations as they come along, Mr. Lang?”

“By no means. Now, Mr. Stone, who killed my brother?”

“I don’t believe you really think I am able to answer that question so soon, do you? You see, I’ve only heard McCann’s rather amateurish theories and Mr. Wyatt’s plain statement of some of the facts. But I will say it is the most amazing mystery I have ever been up against. So far, I have, of course no theories and few opinions. But in a case with so many strange occurrences, and such apparent interlocking, there must be a solution to find. It is not unlike the Cross Word Puzzles, Mr. Lang. The long words all interlock and hang on to one another, but if you can get a few little words to start with they are of incalculable help. Perhaps I can pick up a few little words this evening.”

“You think the two main matters are connected?”

“That I can’t say, as yet. I only said there is apparent interlocking.”

Later that evening the story of Forrester Carr was heard.

The group gathered in the library, the larger one, and anyone in the house who chose was privileged to come.

Miss Mears asked Nurse Brace to sit by her, not only because she knew how anxious the poor woman was for news of her beloved charge, but because she felt glad of her physical and mental support. Miss Allie, never of strong constitution, was sadly broken in health and in nerves from the experiences she had been through at Langdene. But her interest and anxiety were too great for her to leave the place. So the care of a trained nurse was most welcome, and the two women sat together, in almost equal eagerness and expectancy.

But of course, the principal audience was composed of the men, and Wyatt and McCann as well as Alex restlessly awaited the arrival of Budd and the two Carrs.

They came, Billy Budd in ill controlled excitement, while the elder Carr had a strange air, a sort of peace and content, really brought about by his son’s return.

Carr felt keenly the death of David Lang and the continued absence of Mary, but those matters were in the hands of others, far more able to cope with their mysteries than he was. So James Carr sat quietly, and feasted his eyes on his restored boy.

Forry Carr went straight to Stone and held out his hand.

He wanted no introduction, he gave but a brief greeting.

Then he looked the detective over, generally, and nodding his head, said:

“You’ll do it if anybody can. Now, let’s get busy.”

Stone first exchanged a few words with Forry’s father, courteously met the admiring overtures of Billy Budd, and then turned to Forry, saying:

“All set.”

The slang phrase took on a full meaning, as Stone announced it, for it seemed as if it raised the curtain on a great act of the drama.

“I must ask to be allowed to tell the story in my own way,” Forry began, “and though anyone who likes may ask pertinent questions, I don’t want a whole lot of interruptions. Now, don’t think I’m making too much fuss, but I want you all—especially, of course, Mr. Stone—to listen carefully.

“On that Saturday, the day we were to be married, after lunch, I went to my room and partly repacked a suitcase and bag, which Kinney had already arranged for me to take on the wedding trip. I put on a suit of dark gray, partly worn, and taking my luggage myself, I went out of the house. No one saw me go—for the servants were at their lunch and dad was out. At least, I assume no one saw me go. I took a chance on that.”

“You didn’t want to be seen?” Stone put in, quietly.

“I did not. I went across the fields to the trolley line, and took a car for New York. Reaching the city, I went straight to the pier of the Black Star Line, and asked if any ticket or cabin had been turned in. One had, and I bought it without any trouble. I had an unexpired passport, and I went on board and straight to my stateroom.”

“I am a poor sailor, and I was deathly sick for three days.”

“You sailed under your own name?” Stone inquired. Everyone else was too dumfounded to speak.

“My passport was, of course, in my own name, but it seemed I was booked by the name of Richard Hemingway, the original purchaser of the cabin. My steward and the purser seemed to understand that I was Mr. Hemingway, and I was too sick to care. After I was better, I went up on deck, but I didn’t mingle much with the passengers.”

“Did you learn from wireless bulletins anything of what was in the papers about you and Miss Lang?” Again it was Stone who spoke.

“No. The first four days I didn’t look at any bulletins, and after that, I merely glanced at a few headlines. I saw nothing. When I reached London, I went to the Savoy, to think things out. My voyage had been a nightmare of physical discomfort and mental distress. But of course, in London I found all the New York papers and I read of everything that had happened in my absence. And I decided to return home.”

“Why didn’t you cable your father that you were at least, alive?”

“Because, Mr. Stone, I gathered from the reports that father was little if any, worried about my safety. I thought I’d just come home and see what I could do.”

He paused, and the time seemed ripe for the great question.

Fleming Stone put it.

“Why did you leave for Europe on the day of your wedding?”

“Because of a discovery I made a few hours before I sailed.”

And now Alex Lang spoke. In the absence of his brother, he felt he was the one to show the family resentment of the treatment of Mary.

“A dastardly deed, Carr. What discovery could you make to condone your deserting your promised bride almost at the very altar?”

“The discovery that she was not my promised bride. That the girl here that day, getting ready for that wedding, preparing to don that bridal wreath was not my promised bride—was not Mary Lang.”

The ensuing silence was deep, but various expressions showed on the faces of his hearers.

Alex Lang was deeply, terribly angry. Miss Allie gave a little, hysterical giggle, at which Nurse Brace took her hand and held it closely.

Brace herself looked at Carr with a pitying glance which said clearly that she deemed him on the verge of insanity.

Father Carr looked both indignant and pained, Wyatt frankly unbelieving; while Billy Budd, went over and took his friend’s hand.

“Is this straight goods, Forry?” he said, and looked him in the eyes while he received an acquiescent nod.

“Then I believe you,” and Budd shook his hand vigorously.

“I don’t,” said McCannn, in a loud voice. “I don’t know, Mr. Forry Carr what you’ve done with that poor girl, but I don’t believe one word of this cock and bull story you’ve trumped up.”

“It doesn’t matter to me, Mr. McCann,” Forry said, wearily, “whether you believe it or not. It doesn’t matter to me who believes it. I am telling it to Mr. Stone, and I don’t even care whether he believes it. I only want my Mary found—my real Mary.”

“Forry,” Alex said, speaking more gently now, “I understand you. I used to study medicine myself, I expected to be a doctor. And I made a specialty of hallucinatory insanity. I’m not going to pass any judgment on you or on your story, until you’ve been examined by an alienist.”

“If you get a good alienist, I don’t care how often he examines me,” Carr retorted. “But don’t you spring any fakes or quacks on me. However, my story is every word true.”

“Of course it is,” Fleming Stone remarked, “because it’s too absurd a tale to make up. Tell us a little more. When did you discover that Miss Lang as she was supposed to be, was not really Miss Lang?”

“I can’t tell you that—it’s all hazy—and unreal—like a dream.”

“How long had the dream been going on?”

“Oh, a week, maybe, or more. You see, I know Mary so well—that I can’t be mistaken—I just simply can’t. I tried and I tried to convince myself that she was really Mary, and then, when the day came—when the hour almost came—I couldn’t marry her—I just couldn’t. I know this sounds like the ranting of a madman—but it’s true, I tell you it’s true.”

“Then, Mr. Carr,” Stone went on, “where is the girl everybody thought was Miss Lang?”

“That’s what I want to know! That’s why I came home? Where did she go? When did she go? Oh, I’ve read what was in the papers—they told nothing. What became of her? Nurse Brace, you loved her. Where is she?”

“Oh, Mr. Forry, I’ve no idea. I’d give my very life to know.” The tense voice and clenched white hands bespoke determined control of her emotion.

“Miss Brace,” McCann turned to her, “you know there’s no word of truth in this story that Mary Lang was not Mary Lang?”

“Of course I know it, sir.” The woman was indignant. Then her face softened as she looked at Forry’s evident suffering. “Poor Mr. Carr, he believes it, though. And he never harmed a hair of Mary’s head. I know that. But, oh, where is the child—where is she?”

“Now, suppose we get down to groundwork,” Fleming Stone, said, in his quiet tones that always compelled attention. “Mr. Carr, don’t bother about who does or does not believe your story. Just tell me a few things. You’re stating that you loved and were engaged to Mary Lang, the daughter of the late David Lang.”

“Yes, Mr. Stone.”

“And that on the day of the wedding you suddenly discovered that the girl who was expecting to be your bride was not Miss Lang, your fiancée, but another person?”

“Yes.”

“But so like Miss Lang that she fooled everybody—including her father, her uncle, her nurse, the servants in the house, and many others?”

“Yes—but—”

“That is your statement, Mr. Carr?”

“Yes,” and Forry straightened himself up. “That is my statement, Mr. Stone, and strange though it may sound to you all, I shall yet prove its truth!”

His voice rang out, and though some began a protest, Stone silenced them with a gesture.

“You have had much time to think this over, Mr. Carr, what is your own solution of your own mysterious tale?”

“I have none. That’s what I want you to help me learn.”

“And you have no idea why this girl, whoever she may have been, left her home almost at the same time you left yours?”

“I have not.”

“You didn’t know before you left this country that she was going to do so?”

“Before God, no! I know nothing of that girl after I left her about noon on our wedding day.”

Chapter 17
Fleming Stone At Work

“I’VE HAD ENOUGH of this foolery,” said McCann as he rose from his chair. “If you’ll give me your word of honor, Mr. Carr, not to leave town, you may sleep at home tonight. Otherwise, I’ll have to hold you on suspicion of having done away with Mary Lang.”

“I’ll be guaranty for Mr. Carr’s non-disappearance,” Stone said, looking sternly at the lesser detective. “And I advise you to watch your step, Mr. McCann. Mr. Carr’s story, in my opinion, is perfectly true. Now, follow your own ways, and I’ll go mine. Good evening.”

The detective went away, with a gruff, “Good night, all,” and those remaining looked at one another, with silent tongues, but busy thoughts.

“Come, Forry,” his father said, at last, “guess we’ll be going home.”

But Stone said, “no, I want a long, quiet talk with your son, and I’d like to have it tonight. Won’t you leave him here with me, and take Mr. Budd along with you instead?”

And so persuasive was Stone’s voice and so confident his air of helpfulness that Carr, senior did just as he was bid.

“Now, Carr,” Stone said, when the two were ensconced by themselves in Stone’s sitting room, “now for a good, quiet talk. You’re not really nervous or irrational, but trying to talk before all those people was an ordeal too great for anyone’s equanimity. Suppose you tell me as a starter, what were the chief differences between the girl you loved and the impostor who somehow took her place.”

“Well, you see, there weren’t any,” Forry almost smiled at this, himself. “Or if there were, they were so intangible, so vague, that they can’t be put in words.”

“As for instance. Just think of some one instance, and try to tell me of it. Remember, if you can do this it may mean my success in the search.”

“Well, to start with, Mary always seemed a little different after her mother’s death. This was to be expected. She lost her happy, sunny ways, and while she wasn’t morose or low-spirited, exactly, she seemed less capable of happiness.”

“Have to have something better than that, son,” Stone smiled at him. “What you’ve just said, is what would be the result to any affectionate daughter.”

“But Mary wasn’t an affectionate daughter—oh, I don’t mean that the way it sounds—but she and her mother were never devoted, you see. Never real good pals.”

“Still, you gave me no food for thought in your statement of her depression at her loss.”

“No, I suppose not. I tell you, Mr. Stone, I’ve mulled over this thing till I don’t know what is indicative and what isn’t. Now, how about this? I suppose it’s nothing. But Mary had always a dear little trick of interlacing her fingers when she was very much in earnest. Well, she didn’t seem to do it any more and when I asked her why not, she only laughed and turned it off. So I begged her to do it again, it was so pretty, and she did—but Mr. Stone, it wasn’t in the same way at all! She just jerked her fingers in and out like a stiff doll.”

“That’s a little better, go on.”

Encouragement helped, and Forry said, “well, then, the night I tried on her wedding ring, she didn’t want to try it on. She’s never superstitious. But I insisted, and she did—but we had made a pact—a foolish little pact, it was only that when I first slipped it on her finger she was to kiss me of her own accord, a thing she had never done. Well, I said, remember our pact, and she just looked vague, as if she had forgotten.”

“Perhaps she had.”

“No, our pact was made too—sacredly. This sounds maudlin to you, I daresay.”

“No, Forry, no. Go ahead.”

“Well, anyway, she didn’t kiss me. She let me kiss her, willingly enough, but she didn’t keep our pact, and she hadn’t forgotten it. Mr. Stone, it was another girl! She didn’t know a word about that pact!”

Fleming Stone sighed.

“I’ve had hard problems before,” he said, “but to believe these things you tell me is the hardest stunt I’ve ever encountered. You know, dear boy, she could have forgotten—”

“I tell you she couldn’t! Were you never in love, Mr. Stone? Did you never kiss the girl you loved and adored and reverenced above all the world? If so would you not have known it if another girl took her place?”

Carr was not a mere boy, he was a sane and sensible man, outside this subject, Stone reflected. Suppose there was some truth in his belief after all?

“Then, Carr,” he said, very seriously, “then the impostor—for she must have been an impostor—took the place of Mary Lang, purposely, knowingly, and with wrong intent!”

“But how could that be?” Forry flew to the other side of the argument. “How could there be another so like Mary that she would deceive everybody who saw her, except me?”

“There’s only one answer to that,” Stone said, “a twin sister. Is that a possibility?”

“Lord, no!” and Forry laughed at the thought. “But it is the only explanation—see, the only one. There are so-called doubles in the world, but they are not enough alike to deceive to that extent. Can we get at the family records, or something like that?”

“But it’s too ridiculous. Mr and Mrs. Lang worshipped Mary. How there could have been a twin—that nobody knew anything about? But you don’t need family records, ask Nurse Brace. She was with Mrs. Lang when Mary was born.”

“Call her in, will you?” said Stone, speaking absorbedly, from a brown study. He was utterly nonplussed, more absolutely at sea than he had ever been in his whole life.

Brace came willingly.

“You had not yet retired?” Stone asked, “it is late.”

“Yes, I know. I’ve been thinking over Mr. Carr’s amazing story.” The woman seemed apathetic, as if she had grieved so much for her lost darling, she had almost exhausted her powers of woe.

“So have we,” Stone said. “And Miss Brace, I’ve concluded the only possible solution is that Mary is one of twins.”

“Oh, no, sir,” Brace lifted her gray eyes to his, with what was almost a smile of amusement, that the great detective should fall back on such a solution.

“You’re sure?”

“Of course, I’m sure,” she returned. She still showed that lack of enthusiasm, but spoke positively enough. “I was there at Mrs. Lang’s confinement. I received the newborn child in my arms, and—I cared for her until Mrs. Lang was well.”

She broke down and wept softly a moment, and then, as if remembering her position, she said, respectfully:

“I assure you sir, Mary had no twin. She was a lovely baby and she grew up a lovely girl. Can’t you find her?”

She was imploring now, and her face was drawn with earnestness.

“Why do you love her so?” said Stone suddenly.

Brace answered simply and truly.

“I am one of those women of strong maternal instincts. I have never had a child; the man I was engaged to died in the war. I loved all the babies I nursed in the hospital work, but Mary best of all. And I have kept in touch with her and the family all her life. I think I cannot live without her.”

“How do you explain this strange story of Mr. Carr’s?”

“I can only say that he is laboring under an hallucination. It is a strange one, but I have seen even stranger ones in my work. But do you suppose I could be fooled by an impostor in place of the child I have known and tended from infancy?”

“Will you give us the address of the hospital where Mary was born?”

“Certainly, and the names of the doctor and matron and the other nurse who assisted me. I can give you them now.”

Fleming Stone wrote down the addresses, and kindly advised Nurse Brace to go to bed and for a time at least forget her troubles in slumber.

“Well, Forry,” the detective said, “I’m down and out. I banked on that twin sister story, and yet I can’t go back on that woman’s statements. And too, they can be verified.”

“Oh, yes, Nurse Brace knows all about Mary. She visited her at intervals all her life, and whenever Mrs. Lang or Mary were ill, Brace was always sent for at once. She went up to the sanitarium with Mrs. Lang and after the poor lady died, Brace stayed here to look after Mary’s wedding fixings. You see, Mary had aunts and cousins, but she preferred Brace.”

“I see. It is all very dark. I can’t get a tiniest streak of light on it. But, cheer up, boy, we’re scarcely started. We’ll find your Mary yet. And if she forgot a pact, or a certain way to twist her fingers, you’ll forgive her, won’t you?”

“I’ll forgive Mary anything and everything—but that other girl, never!”

Next day, Fleming Stone began operations by sending for Billy Budd and asking his help. Needless to say his request was exuberantly granted.

“First, tell me about these girls you tracked down because of letters about them.”

So, though he had heard it in part before, Stone listened thoughtfully to Budd’s account of the three girls they had visited.

Forry sat listening. He laughed outright at the notion of Mary’s knowing anything about stenography, or being capable of any office work. He felt sorry for the girl in the Insane Asylum, but said that whatever Mary was or was not, she wasn’t crazy. And at the parlormaid, he merely sniffed.

“Poor old Buddy,” he said, “I know you want to help me, and I know you think you’re a detective, but it’s no go. This mystery is too deep for you. And, too, Billy boy, you’ve small memory for faces, as is well known.”

“That’s true,” Budd agreed, calmly, “but Mr. Stone, if I can work under your orders, maybe I can get somewhere.”

“Maybe you can,” said Stone, nodding his head, “and the first place you can get to, is this hospital. It’s half a day’s trip, but make it as quickly as you can. Get positive data in black and white of the facts of the confinement of Mrs. David Lang. Here are all the dates and names.”

“I’ll do it,” Budd cried, eagerly. “I’ll see the records for myself. I’ll bring back duly sworn affidavits—”

“Oh, go along,” said Stone, smiling. “I just want positive affirmation. That’s all. But—on your way!”

Budd departed and soon Wyatt came in for a confab. Carr remained, and soon the intent of Dane’s call became evident.

“It’s something I think I ought to tell,” he began.

“For heaven’s sake tell anything you know, or can guess!” Stone cried. “I never was told so little.”

And then Wyatt told the episode of the dentist’s appointment.

The other two listened, and then Forry said, musingly. “That was the other girl. Mary never in the world would make up a yarn like that—and, why should she?”

“But she went into such details,” Dane continued, “and she put her hand up to her cheek, for all the world as if she had just had a tooth filled.”

“Well, she hadn’t,” Carr returned, “not if she didn’t go to the family dentist. Why, we all go there, and always have.”

“And that was the day we selected her cabinet,” Wyatt went on.

“What cabinet?” Forry asked.

“Oh, Mary wanted something she could lock up, you know. So we bought a nice little cabinet, with a peculiar lock.”

“What is in that cabinet?” said Stone, quietly.

“We don’t know. We haven’t looked.” Wyatt told him.

“Oh, what sleuthing!” Stone almost groaned. “Come, then, get a chisel and hammer.”

“I’ve only one more thing on my chest,” Wyatt said, hesitatingly.

“Get it off,” Stone commanded. “I don’t want to miss a trick.”

“Well, it’s something I overheard Alex say to his brother David one day. He was begging him, as he often did, for money, and David said, ‘no, you sha’n’t have your inheritance until I have breathed my last,’ and Alex flung back, ‘Well, I hope you breathe it soon!’ It may mean nothing—”

“It probably does mean nothing,” said Stone, wearily. “Those threats so often seem to point to justifiable suspicion, when they’re most frequently a mere outburst of temper.”

“Well, anyway, I’ve told you,” Dane said.

Then they went in search of the cabinet, on which Stone built his hopes.

The three men met Brace in the hall and told her what they were after.

“Yes,” she said, “I’ll show you the cabinet, but I don’t know where the key is. Mary may have taken it away with her.”

“No matter,” Stone said, we’ll force it open gently. We won’t mar it much.”

It required little mechanical skill to open the door. The cabinet was a small marquetry affair with several compartments. The first glance showed that its contents were mementoes of childhood days.

There was a doll, not large, but of exquisite fineness of materials and workmanship.

At sight of this Brace almost broke down.

“She loved that doll,” she said, the tears welling up in her eyes. “I didn’t know she still kept it.”

Then there was a valentine, of lace paper and cupids. A tiny gold ring. One or two worn juvenile books. A few toys, and odd trinkets. Clearly nothing that had been used or worn in recent years.

Also there was an envelope containing a few snapshot pictures.

“Yes, those are of Mary,” Wyatt said, looking at them. “See, here she is about five or six years old. In this one she is maybe, twelve or so.”

“And in this one,” Stone said, “she must be as much as sixteen.”

“Yes,” Forry agreed, looking at the one in question. It showed the girl on the deck of a yacht, her hair tossed by the breeze, her laughing face alight with enjoyment.

“Well,” Stone said, “we’ve seen it all. There are no letters, nothing of evidential value.”

He closed the door, which scarcely showed the mark of the chisel, and the three men went back to the detective’s sitting room, where they usually consulted.

“Now,” he said, when the door was closed, “I didn’t, of course, know Mary Lang. Did those pictures seem to you to tell any story, or show any cause for question?”

“You bet they did!” Forry exclaimed. “Why, Mr. Stone, Mary is scared to death of a sailboat! Always has been. How could there be a picture of her taken on board a yacht and positively enjoying it! That’s the other girl!”

“I can’t get this other girl business,” Wyatt said, with a puzzled frown. “But I’ll tell you one thing, Mary never could abide dolls. She loved outdoor things and even boyish games, but she never cared for dolls. Why would she cherish that one?”

“The other girl,” Forry said, looking off into vacancy.

“But, Carr,” Stone said, earnestly, “the other girl means a twin sister, and we know there wasn’t one.”

“Look here,” Wyatt said, slowly, “those are pictures of some friend of Mary’s. There can’t be any ‘other girl’ as Carr means it. You know Budd went to see some girls about whom we received those letters, and he said the girl in the Insane Asylum and the girl in the business office both looked exactly like Mary Lang. That makes three identical faces.”

“Good heavens, triplets!” said Stone, unable to repress a smile.

But Dane said, seriously, “No, I’m only trying to show how girls may look very much alike when they’re not together. Put them side by side and the resemblance is not nearly so strong.”

“Perfectly true,” Stone said, “and so?”

“And so, these pictures and this doll may be mementoes of a dear school friend of Mary’s—perhaps one who died—”

“You’re imaginative, Wyatt,” the detective told him, “but you may be right. At any rate, the girl in the yacht picture is a girl who loves sailing.”

“So that can’t be Mary,” broke in Forry. “It’s the other girl.”

“You sound like a chorus,” Stone said, smiling, “with your ‘it’s the other girl’!”

“But I’m right,” Carr said, doggedly. “You’ll see yet.”

“Well, the cabinet business doesn’t get us any forrader,” Wyatt said. “I bought the thing for Mary, she said she wanted it for old treasures, mementoes and such, and that’s what she used it for. Nothing doing.”

“Everything helps,” said Stone, cheerfully. “Now, leaving this matter for a moment, let’s go back to the murder business. Do you think, Mr. Wyatt, that Alex Lang killed his brother?”

“Only by elimination. I can’t think who else could have done it. It certainly wasn’t the work of a sheer outsider, a burglar or midnight prowler.”

“No, because nothing was stolen,” Forry put in.

“That doesn’t entirely prove,” Stone said. “Suppose some one from outside knew of the secret entrance—and I’m told several people do know about it—and wanted to force from Mr. Lang, not money or valuables, but some secret—some bit of important knowledge—”

“Yes,” mused Dane, “there’s that.”

“But,” Stone went on, “it would have to be some one who knew enough about surgery to drive that pin in with such accuracy and skill. Not everybody could do it.”

“Alex studied to be a doctor,” Wyatt said, suddenly staring at the detective.

“I know it,” said Stone. “That’s the strongest point against him yet.”

“Is that queer man down at Willow Dell yet?” asked Forry.

“What queer man?”

“Oh, there’s a mysterious person there—or was—”

“A possible murderer?” asked Stone, quizzically.

“Everybody is a possible murderer,” returned Carr, but he spoke absently. His thoughts were not on the murder mystery, but on the puzzle of the other girl.”

“Guess I’ll have to see about the queer man,” Stone said, rising, and thereby dismissing his guests.

They took the hint, and left alone, the detective sat down again, and made rapid notes in his pocket book.

“Three girls—all alike—yacht and doll—mother’s death—jade beads?—dentist—”

“Coming along fine!” he told himself with a nod of satisfaction. “Now for the queer man.”

He went in search of Alex Lang, and carried him off to the little library for a confab.

“Any progress, Mr. Stone?” Lang inquired.

“Why, yes. My puzzle is filling out. I’ve lots of two-letter words, even three-letter ones, and the long words are so interlaced as to be almost apparent. There are yet several unkeyed letters, but they will come in due time. And one utterly unkeyed letter is the question of this mystery at Willow Dell cottage. Between you and me, Mr. Lang, I don’t believe it’s much of a mystery—not a real one, such as I usually deal with. And, so, it will simplify my work if you’ll just give me the key to that. I know you don’t want to, but, you see, if you don’t, I’ll have to ferret it out for myself. And that will necessarily make more or less trouble for the lady who lives there. As I say, I don’t believe it’s a big matter, and I doubt if it has any bearing on our mysteries here.”

“You’re quite right in your opinions, Mr. Stone, and I shouldn’t hesitate to tell you, but that it isn’t my own secret. Have I a right to betray a trust—”

“In this instance, yes. It will remain a secret, for no one will ever learn it from me—that is, if it has no connection with the Langdene puzzles.”

“It certainly has not, and I suppose I’d better tell you than to have you pestering poor Mrs. Castro. Well, then, it’s only this. Her husband’s brother was terribly hurt in an automobile smashup. Oh, frightfully disfigured and just next to killed. He went to one of those skilled facial surgeons, who make over faces, you know, and was there for a long time. Dismissed from there, he had to stay somewhere until the scars healed. So Mrs. Castro took him into her home. The man, once very handsome, is extremely sensitive—even abnormally so, and would see no one and let no one see him. Indeed, he insisted that his presence in the cottage should not be known, lest his friends seek him out. So Giulia—Mrs. Castro, acceded to his wishes and kept his presence a profound secret from all but her servants. I didn’t know the truth for a long time. She said only David, as her landlord, was entitled to know. You see, the man is a dominant sort, and Mrs. Castro is so sorry for his pitiable state that she humors him. And she is a woman who carries through whatever she undertakes, in spite of censure or obstacles.”

“I think it noble of her,” Stone said, sincerely.

“Yes, it is. Well, you see, the man must get some exercise, so he walks in the woods, late at night. She often lets him out or in, and this has been seen and caused unfavorable comment. Also, his face has been seen once or twice at a window. It is still in bandages and all that, but I believe he will eventually come out a normal looking man, if not as handsome as formerly.”

“Mr. Lang, you are wise to tell me all this. I should have found it out of course, but you have simply saved Mrs. Castro a painful interview. Now, look here, tell me this. Are you positive—certain, that Mary Lang didn’t have a twin sister?”

“Of course I am certain!” Alex stared at him. “Of course she didn’t. Do you suppose my brother would have taken one twin and loved her and idolized her and disowned the other! Absurd!”

“Then you think the girl who ran away on her wedding day was the real Mary Lang?”

“As much as I think that I am the real Alexander Lang!”

Stone sighed. “Another unkeyed letter,” he said.

Billy Budd returned from his hospital errand.

“All checked up,” he reported. “Everything just as Nurse Brace said. They know Brace very well, she’s one of their finest. But I verified everything. Got all the names and addresses—Head Nurse Merridew, Doctor Fenwick, Matron Jamison,—everybody—all down in black and white. Only one Rosemary Lang.”

“Only one!” echoed the disappointed detective. “Only one! Well, we must find another!”

Chapter 18
The Daughter Of The House

“WYATT,” STONE SAID, the next day, “can you clear everybody out of the house this morning?”

“Servants and all?”

“Preferably. But everybody from the bedroom floors. I’ve got to search. I’ve got to do it myself, and I’ve got to do it alone. Get Miss Mears away for a motor ride out into the country. Brace can accompany her, and Alex, if you can persuade him. If not, carry Alex off with you, somehow, or get him to go to Willow Dell. Oh, use your head, but have the coast clear by eleven o’clock.”

“Same as done, sir,” and with a military salute Dane went about his errand.

He managed it with his usual diplomacy and Stone made his search. No room was excepted, but his hunt was swift and skilled. He knew how to search a room without leaving evidence of disturbance.

In an hour his work was done. In another half hour he had left the house. He left this note behind for Wyatt:

Gone to New York. Back tomorrow night. On no account let anyone leave the premises. Not one of the family, household or servants. Detain by force, if necessary, and keep strict watch. Of course this does not apply to Carr. He may do what he likes. Also Budd. I mean the Langdene household.

It seemed to Dane that this was more diffuse than Stone’s usual orders, which were laconic to a degree. However, he thought, it is definite and emphatic. It shall be obeyed.

Fleming Stone, in pursuit of the most elusive clue he had ever followed, went to New York, and from there started early next morning, in the swiftest of motors straight up to the Insane Asylum, where Billy Budd had seen the girl who looked like Mary Lang. His sole thought was that the asylum was kept by a Doctor Fenwick, and that a Doctor Fenwick had officiated at Mary’s birth.

Probably a wild goose chase, but it had to be made, and he had to make it himself.

With him, too, was a man in civilian dress, but who was an arm of the law, and who carried a warrant to be used if needful.

With a set jaw, Stone marched into the waiting room of the asylum, and asked for Doctor Fenwick.

The tall, suave personage who appeared was courtesy itself.

But Fleming Stone was in no mood for amenities.

“I’ve come for Mary Lang,” he said, “and I want her, quick.”

The detective staked his all on this throw, for success or failure depended on the way the man took this speech.

And Stone was satisfied. Beneath the bland smile showed a sudden pallor that meant fright—sheer fright.

Also the detective noted a marked resemblance between this man and somebody he knew. Billy Budd had seen this vaguely, but couldn’t think who the other was. Stone could.

“There’s no such person here—” Fenwick began.

But Stone had the whip hand.

“Get her,” he said, shortly. “I’ve a plainclothes man outside, and unless you give me that girl p d. q you’ll be in the worst trouble you ever were in in your life. You probably will anyway, but it will help you a lot if you give up Mary without any fuss. So have her fetched. No, you stay here. Send for her.”

As Fenwick still looked obstinate, Stone rang a bell nearby, and when an attendant came he said, “Bring Miss Lang here immediately.”

“Who is she?” said the nurse, with a wondering face.

“What do you call her?” Stone whirled on Fenwick.

“Graham,” he said, sullenly. He seemed to be doing some deep thinking.

“All right, bring Miss Graham. And make it snappy.”

The nurse looked toward Fenwick, and received an unwilling but affirmative nod, and disappeared.

In a few moments she reappeared with a girl that, to Stone’s eyes might or might not be Mary Lang. She was so thin, pale, despairing looking, that she bore small resemblance to any picture he had seen of her. Her hair was half length, and escaped easily from confining pins. Her eyes were deeply sunken and tragic.

“You poor child!” Stone cried out. “But come Mary, you are going home now.”

“Oh,” she scarcely breathed, “home!”

“Yes. And we can’t start too quick. Get her hat and coat, nurse. And don’t keep me waiting.” Impressed by this new authority, the nurse obeyed, and in an incredibly short time, Stone and the girl were speeding back to New York, while the officer remained behind on business of his own.

“Don’t try to talk,” Stone said, as he settled her comfortably, and wrapped rugs around her. “Just tell me one thing. Do you know who is to blame for your incarceration in that place?”

“No—that is I have a slight suspicion, or did have. But it is doubtless wrong and unjust, so I’d rather not mention it—not just yet, anyhow, please.”

“Very well,” Stone said, “it doesn’t matter. Now, just sit quietly, and enjoy the mere knowledge that you are on your way home. Are you hungry?”

“Yes—no—I don’t know. I believe I am!”

“Joy gives one an appetite. We’ll just stop for some sandwiches at a tea room. We’re in a hurry.” But as they neared New York, Mary, having had some refreshment and a long nap, was ready to talk, and talk they did, steadily for an hour or more.

In the city, they drove to two or three addresses, and finally started for Langdene. These addresses Stone had found when he searched the rooms.

It was dark now, but the swift motor bore them straight and true to the longed-for home of the daughter of the house.

The occupants of the car talked in strained, hushed voices, for the shock and surprise had been almost overwhelming.

The car approached Langdene, slowly, at last, and Stone whispered to Mary.

“Now, you understand. You know just how to work the secret fireplace?”

“Oh, yes, indeed; perfectly.”

“Well, wait till I get in the house, and have time to see that there is no one in the little library, and lock its door, and then you get in there, and wait till I let you out. It may be a tiresome wait, but it won’t be very long.”

“No matter how long it is, Mr. Stone. I love the little library. I can be happy there for hours, if necessary. I may have a light?”

“Yes, indeed. But don’t make any noise.”

“Of course not. I understand it all. I’ll manage everything—for both of us.”

Stone left the car, went into the house, and assuring himself no one was in the little room, he locked its door and pocketed the key.

Then, finding they were just concluding dinner, he dropped into his chair at the table, refusing to take anything but a cup of coffee.

“As a matter of fact,” he said, glancing round him, “my work here is finished. And when you are ready, I’ll ask you all to come into the library, and hear my report. Hattie, please telephone Mr. Carr and Mr. Budd to come over here at once. Not Mr. Carr, senior, only Mr. Forry.”

He turned to the others. “My revelations are necessarily unpleasant, even painful,” he said, “and since Mr. James Carr has no vital interest in the matter, I prefer not to disturb him unnecessarily. He is not a well man, and shock is bad for him.”

“You are going to tell us all?” said Dane Wyatt, fixing somewhat frightened eyes on Stone’s face.

“All,” said Stone, gravely. And his deep voice had the sound of a knell of doom.

Almost as if hypnotized, the group rose from the table, and filed into the large library. Stone himself arranged chairs for the two women, while the men seated themselves.

Then the detective placed chairs for Forry and Budd, who came very shortly, and the session began.

Stone looked at the faces before him. Wyatt looked simply wondering. Alex was fidgety and nervous. Miss Allie was tearful and trembling, and Nurse Brace watched over her.

Stone addressed himself first to Billy Budd.

“You helped a lot,” he said, to the astonished young man. “You failed to find the twin sister who, I was sure, must exist, but you found other statistics that brought about the unraveling of the maze.

“Mr. Carr, you too were of great help in your insistence on ‘the other girl.’ Mr. Wyatt, you clinched the thing by your tale of the dentist’s appointment. Another dentist, meant—another girl. But, Mr. Lang, you are sure your niece Mary had no twin?”

“Positive, Mr. Stone.”

“Miss Brace, you are sure your charge, Mary Lang, had no twin sister?”

“I am certain, Mr. Stone.”

Fleming Stone rose and walked to the door of the small library. Taking the key from his pocket, he unlocked the door, and threw it open.

Two girls came into the large library.

They were dressed differently, one was thinner and paler than the other, but the merest glance revealed the fact that they were—they must be twin sisters.

The men sprang to their feet, but Stone waved them back. He seated the girls on a sofa, side by side, and resumed his tale.

“Please be silent, all,” he said. “These girls are the twin daughters of David and Eleanor Lang. Their story is a strange one, and must be told briefly now. It can be checked up later.

“When the infants were born, Mrs. Lang was unconscious and did not know that she had borne twins. No one knew it but two of the hospital attendants. They, for reasons of their own, kept the fact secret, and presenting Mrs. Lang with one girl, made no mention of the other. Of course, Mr. Lang never knew of the second child, and after Mrs. Lang was well enough, she came back home with her baby girl, in utter ignorance of her other daughter.

“Nor did Mrs. Lang ever know of it. She died supposing Mary was her only child. Shall I go on, or will some one else tell why this twin child was stolen?”

“I will tell!” cried Hester Brace, her eyes blazing. “I stole her, oh, my God, how glad I am to see her again! My love, my darling lamb! Yes, I did it. But Mrs. Lang didn’t want her. She didn’t want one baby, let alone two! So no harm was done to anybody. I took the second little one, the blessed baby! and I brought her up as my own. I lavished on her such love and affection as her sister never received. Mrs. Lang’s baby never had a real mother,—mine had.”

The two girls sat silent, with clasping hands, and both their faces turned on that of Nurse Brace.

“I named my baby Rosemary, too, but I called her Rose. The other was called Mary. This is not a confession, it is a statement. I did the child no wrong. She was not wanted—neither of them was wanted—and I have given her everything—my love, my devotion, my life. She lacked for nothing. Oh, I wanted a baby so! You men cannot understand the craving of some women for a child. But let that pass. I worshipped my Rose, and I spent my life in the endeavor to bring her back and into possession of her birthright, her home and her fortune.”

“Therein committing crime,” said Fleming Stone, inexorably.

“Therein committing crime,” said Brace, flinging up her fine head, and giving him stare for stare. “I do not regret anything I have done—I only regret my failure. Yes,” she laughed a bit hysterically, “yes, I cleverly substituted my Rosemary for the other Rosemary at the time of her mother’s death.”

“Placing the real Rosemary in your brother’s Lunatic Asylum. I saw at once his likeness to you.”

“One is no more real than the other. They are both daughters of David and Eleanor Lang. It was only fair my girl should have her turn. The other was well cared for by my brother. She would have been let out soon, anyway. But I wanted to get my Rosemary well established here. I didn’t want her to marry Carr, especially, but it seemed impossible to stop that. So matters went on well, till my darling ran away on her wedding day.”

She glanced reproachfully at one of the girls, who burst into agonized tears?

“Let me speak, Mr. Stone—let me speak now,” she begged.

But Stone said, kindly, “Not yet, please, Rose.”

Forry Carr was already by Mary’s side, content to hold her hand in silence.

But Billy Budd’s mind was in an uproar. This girl, then, was the Rose Lawrence he had seen and liked in the business office. She was really Mary Lang’s twin sister! She would, she must, doubtless, take her rightful place now. He could see her again, could get acquainted, could perhaps teach her to love him—Billy’s brain whirled.

“I wish,” said Stone, “you two girls and Mr. Carr and Mr. Budd would go into the little library and close the door. There is more to be done here, and I’d rather spare you as far as possible.”

Awed by his tone, yet glad to go, the four young people did as they were bid. Brace sprang to follow but Stone peremptorily commanded her to sit down. “Miss Mears, go with the others, if you prefer.”

“No,” said Miss Allie, “I prefer to stay. I’ll make no trouble.”

She seemed to sense that she was losing Nurse Brace’s care and assistance, but a sudden access of bravery and self-control bore her up.

“Sit still, Miss Brace,” Stone said, in icy tones, “and listen to my accusations. Then speak—if you can.”

The woman showed no sign of breaking down, and Stone went on:

“In order to install your child, as you call her, here, you had to kill her mother.”

“She was doomed, anyway.” Brace’s voice was steady.

“Yes but she might have lived many years. You killed her with typhoid germs and pretended it was from certain oysters she ate.”

At last the armor was pierced. “My God!” was all Brace said, but it was confession, defiance and despair, all in one.

“Then, you left Mary with your brother—the Doctor Fenwick who helped you to steal the baby, and who is now in the hands of the police—and you brought Rose home in her place. How you persuaded the girl to do this, I know, and she is blameless. But to go on. Under your instructions and coercion, and plausible lies, Rose did pass herself off as Mary. But she discovered your guilt on her wedding day, and, appalled, ran away as the only course to take she could think of.”

No word now from the accused woman. Merely a baleful glare from eyes that were full of baffled rage.

“Then,” and Stone lowered his voice, “then David Lang discovered that you killed his wife—or else, you merely wanted him dead, that the child might inherit, but you killed him!”

Still no sound from the staring woman. Her indomitable will was not quite broken.

“In other words, you removed from your path any one you thought was an obstacle. First, Mrs. Lang, then Mary, then Mr. Lang. You knew just how to thrust that long pin to cause sure and instant death.”

“Yes, I did!” and now she lost her self-control and almost shrieked. “I would stop at nothing to gain my ends. And, all for naught—all for naught!”

She fell over in a sort of collapse, and as she dropped Stone thought he saw her hand go to her mouth.

But he made no move.

“Better so,” he said to himself, “and it’s too late, anyway.”

He was right. A deadly capsule, which Brace had always kept by her, in readiness for a possible scene like this, did its fatal work, almost instantly, and the poor woman went to her last account.

Stone rang for Hattie and a housekeeper to bear the body to another room, and to send for the doctor and coroner. Miss Mears went with them.

“A moral degenerate,” Alex said, a trace of pity in his tone. “A homicidal maniac—but most of all, a woman with a desperate maternal instinct.”

“She planned to have you suspected,” Stone said to him.

“She did have me suspected,” he returned. “How you picked all this out of the air, Stone, I don’t see!”

“I got the little words first,” Stone said, smiling, “and then the great—the stupendous big words came out of themselves. But there had to be a twin sister. There just had to be! I searched Brace’s room and found letters that at last led me straight to Rose.”

“And you found her,” said Wyatt, who was thoroughly awed at the whole scene. “Mr. Stone I am positively overcome. To you, of course, it is a case. But to me, it is the tragedy, the series of tragedies of this household that I have known and loved so long. May—may I see Mary?”

“Yes, but please be as light-hearted as you can manage. The poor girl knew nothing of her father’s death, she has suffered intensely—but let all that go for the present. Be cheerful with her, until she gets her strength and spirit back.”

He opened the door and summoning the four young people, learned that Mary had already recovered some of her poise, due, of course, to her restoration to Carr.

She ran and seated herself between Wyatt and her Uncle Alex, taking a hand of each.

“I’m so happy to be at home again,” she said, smiling through tears, “that I’m trying to forget my sorrows for a little time.”

“Forever, dear,” said Alex, kissing her. “You’ll serve no good purpose by mulling over the past. Just look to the future. Come, here, Rose—you are my dear niece, too.”—

Rose, frankly crying, came to him, and said, “Hear my story, Uncle Alex, before you judge me. You see, I lived with Hester all my life, until about a year ago, without knowing the truth about my birth. Then she told me that I was a twin sister of Mary, and that she had legally adopted me with my mother’s permission and sanction. She said that my mother was ill, and that Mary had heart disease and was liable to die suddenly. Then she sent word that Mary had died, and I must come at once, to ease my mother’s last moments letting her think I was Mary. I was sent to the place she directed and she came and fetched me and took me to the sanitarium. I was there when my mother died, but she was unconscious and never really saw me. Then Hester said I must continue the deception for the sake of my poor father, who, she said, didn’t know that Mary had died. Now, first, I was absolutely at the command of Hester, and always had been, and second, it didn’t seem to me so very wrong, as I was really my father’s child. So I did as she bade me.

I tried to do right. I tried to be my sister. And then, as it drew nearer to the wedding day, I found I couldn’t go through that sacred ceremony with a lie on my lips. I decided to tell Forry so, and then, that very day, I found out that the oysters were not responsible for my mother’s death, and that nurse had poisoned her! I ran to my room, saying I wanted to be alone. I dressed myself in an old brown dress I had brought with me when I went to meet Brace at the sanitarium. She didn’t know I had kept it. I took a hat and coat belonging to one of the maids, and I took my money—my own father had given it to me.”

A gentle pressure of Uncle Alex’s arm round her, and a clasp of Budd’s hand on the other side, reassured Rose, as well as her sister’s loving looks and friendly glances from the others.

“I went across the lawns, nobody noticed me, thinking I was an attendant of some sort for the wedding. I went to the station and took the train to New York. Not expecting to see the Lang bride, nobody paid any attention to me, and I went to a woman’s hotel in New York, and just to save my mind from distraction, I took a position for a time in an office. I am an accomplished stenographer. Yes, I went to my own dentist’s that day, Mr. Wyatt, not to the family one. And the things in the cabinet are mine, the doll and the pictures, too. I love yachting.”

Exhausted, Rose fell back into Alex’s kindly arms and began to cry.

“There, there,” he said, patting her hair. “Now, listen dear, while we tell you how glad we are to have you here. How we shall cherish and love our new-found Rosemary. For you are Rosemary Lang quite as much as your sister is. I can scarcely tell you apart, anyway.”

“That was Brace’s doing,” and Rose smiled a little. “Every month she came to visit Mary. She always came back with a new dress and other clothes for me. She always brought new instructions of what I was to do, to say, how I was to act, and certain mannerisms I must adopt. I never knew where she got these notions, I just did as I was bid, and so I grew up just like Mary.”

“And I’m glad you did, sister,” and Mary ran to kiss her.

“Then when I was here that month,” Rose wanted to get through with her tale, “Brace coached me every day. She made me be gay and merry when my heart was breaking with my burden of the terrible secret. Yet she made me think it was my duty not to tell the truth. Oh, it is like an awful dream—”

“But a happy awakening,” said Alex. “Tomorrow, I shall take my new-found niece over to see the lady who will some day be her aunt. You must remember her, Rose.”

“Giulia—of course I do! You’re so funny, Uncle Alex! I seem to be a stranger to you, and yet I lived here a month—”

“Yes—but I didn’t know it was you!”

He looked almost helplessly from one girl to the other.

“Oh, I shall call you both Rosemary,” he said, “it’s too much trouble to remember which is which.”

“Do,” she replied. “After all, I, too, am the daughter of the house.”


THE END

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