It was a little station made gloomy by a single light. Once in so often a fas_rain stopped, if properly flagged. Fitzgerald, feeling wholly unromantic, no_hat he had arrived, dropped his hand-bag on the damp platform and took hi_earings. It was after sundown. The sea, but a few yards away, was _urmuring, heaving blackness, save where here and there a wave broke. The win_as chill, and there was the hint of a storm coming down from the northeast.
"Any hotel in this place?" he asked of the ticket agent, the telegrap_perator, and the baggageman, who was pushing a crate of vegetables off _ruck.
"Swan's Hotel; only one."
"Do people sleep and eat there?"
"If they have good digestions."
"Whisky's no good, either."
"Thanks again. This doesn't look much like a summer resort."
"Nobody ever said it was. I beg your pardon, but would you mind taking an en_f this darned crate?"
"Not at all." Fitzgerald was beginning to enjoy himself. "Where do you wan_t?"
"In here," indicating the baggage-room. "Thanks. Now, if there's anything _an do to help you in return, let her go."
"Is there a house hereabouts called the top o' the hill?"
"Come over here," said the agent. "See that hill back there, quarter of a mil_bove the village; those three lights? Well, that's it. They usually have _arriage down here when they're expecting any one."
"Who owns it?"
"Old Admiral Killigrew. Didn't you know it?"
"Oh, Admiral Killigrew; yes, of course. I'm not a guest. Just going up ther_n business. Worth about ten millions, isn't he?"
"That and more. There's his yacht in the harbor. Oh, he could burn up th_illage, pay the insurance, and not even knock down the quality of his cigars.
He's the best old chap out. None of your red-faced, yo-hoing, growlin_eadogs; just a kindly, generous old sailor, with only one bee in his bonnet."
"What sort of bee?"
"Pirates!" in a ghostly whisper.
"Pirates? Oh, say, now!" with a protest.
"Straight as a die. He's got the finest library on piracy in the world, everything from _The Pirates of Penzance_ to _The Life of Morgan_."
"But there's no pirate afloat these days."
"Not on the high seas, no. It's just the old man's pastime. Every so often, h_oals up the yacht, which is a seventeen-knotter, and goes off to the Sout_eas, hunting for treasures."
"By George!" Fitzgerald whistled softly. "Has he ever found any?"
"Not so much as a postage stamp, so far as I know. Money's always been in th_amily, and his Wall Street friends have shown him how to double what he has, from time to time. Just for the sport of the thing some old fellows go in fo_rockery, some for pictures, and some for horses. The admiral just hunt_reasures. Half-past six; you'll excuse me. There'll be some train despatche_n a minute."
Fitzgerald gave him a good cigar, took up his bag, and started off for th_ain street; and once there he remembered with chagrin that he had not aske_he agent the most important thing of all: Had the admiral a daughter? Well, at eight o'clock he would learn all about that. Pirates! It would be as goo_s a play. But where did he come in? And why was courage necessary? Hi_nterest found new life.
Swan's Hotel was one of those nondescript buildings of wood which are no_orth more than a three-line paragraph even when they burn down. It wa_melly. The kitchen joined the dining-room, and the dining-room the office, which was half a bar-room, with a few boxes of sawdust mathematically arrange_long the walls. There were many like it up and down the coast. There wer_ictures on the walls of terrible wrecks at sea, naval battles, and a rac_orse or two.
The landlord himself lifted Fitzgerald's bag to the counter.
"A room for the night and supper, right away."
"Here, Jimmy," called the landlord to a growing, lumbering boy, "take thi_atchel up to number five."
The boy went his way, eying the labels respectfully and with some awe. Thi_as the third of its kind he had ported up-stairs in the past twenty-fou_ours.
Fitzgerald cast an idle glance at the loungers. There were half a dozen o_hem, some of them playing cards and some displaying talent on a pool table, badly worn and beer-stained. There was nothing distinctive about any of them, excepting the little man who was reading an evening paper, and the onl_istinctive thing about him was a pair of bright eyes. Behind their gold- rimmed spectacles they did not waver under Fitzgerald's scrutiny; so th_atter dismissed the room and its company from his mind and proceeded int_inner. As he was late, he dined alone on mildly warm chicken, greas_otatoes, and muddy coffee. He was used often to worse fare than this, and n_omplaint was even thought of. After he had changed his linen he took the roa_o the house at the top of the hill. Now, then, what sort of an affair wa_his going to be, such as would bend a girl of her bearing to speak to him o_he street? Moreover, at a moment when he was playing a grown-up child's game?
She had known that he was prevaricating when he had stated that he represente_ charitable organization; and he knew that she knew he knew it. What, then?
It could not be a joke; women never rise to such extravagant heights. Pirate_nd treasures; he wouldn't have been surprised at all had Old Long John Silve_obbled out from behind any one of those vine-grown fences, and demanded hi_urse.
The street was dim, and more than once he stumbled over a loose board in th_ooden walk. If the admiral had been the right kind of philanthropist he woul_ave furnished stone. But then, it was one thing to give a country tow_omething and another to force the town council into accepting it. The lamp- posts, also of wood, stood irregularly apart, often less than a hundred feet, and sometimes more, lighting nothing but their immediate vicinity. Fitzgeral_ould see the lamps, plainly, but could separate none of the objects round o_eneath. That is why he did not see the face of the man who passed him in _urry. He never forgot a face, if it were a man's; his only difficulty was i_lacing it at once. Up to this time one woman resembled another; feminin_aces made no particular impression on his memory. He would have remembere_he face of the man who had just passed, for the very fact that he had though_f it often. The man had come into the dim radiance of the far light, then ha_elted into the blackness of the night again, leaving as a sign of hi_resence the creak of his shoes and the aroma of a cigarette.
Fitzgerald tramped on cheerfully. It was not an unpleasant climb, only dark.
The millionaire's home seemed to grow up out of a fine park. There was a grea_ron fence inclosing the grounds, and the lights on top of the gates set th_ull red trunks of the pines a-glowing. There were no lights shining in th_indows of the pretty lodge. Still, the pedestrians' gate was ajar. He passe_n, fully expecting to be greeted by the growl of a dog. Instead, he hear_ysterious footsteps on the gravel. He listened. Some one was running.
"Hello, there!" he called.
No answer. The sound ceased. The runner had evidently taken to the silen_oing of the turf. Fitzgerald came to a stand. Should he go on or return t_he hotel? Whoever was running had no right here. Fitzgerald rarely carrie_rms, at least in civilized countries; a stout cane was the best weapon fo_eneral purposes. He swung this lightly.
"I am going on. I should like to see the library."
He was not overfond of unknown dangers in the night; but he possessed a kee_ar and a sharp pair of eyes, being a good hunter. A poacher, possibly. At an_ate, he determined to go forward and ring the bell.
Both the park and the house were old. Some of those well-trimmed pines ha_cored easily a hundred and fifty years, and the oak, standing before th_ouse and dividing the view into halves, was older still. No iron deer o_arble lion marred the lawn which he was now traversing; a sign of good taste.
Gardeners had been at work here, men who knew their business thoroughly. H_reathed the odor of trampled pine needles mingled with the harsher essence o_he sea. It was tonic.
In summer the place would be beautiful. The house itself was built on sever_nd simple lines. It was quite apparent that in no time of its history had i_een left to run down. The hall and lower left wing were lighted, but th_nner blinds and curtains were drawn. He did not waste any time. It wa_xactly eight o'clock when he stepped up to the door and pulled the ancien_ire bell. At once he saw signs of life. The broad door opened, and an Englis_utler, having scrutinized his face, silently motioned him to be seated. Th_oung man in search of an adventure selected the far end of the hall seat an_andled his hat. An English butler was a good beginning. Perhaps three minute_assed, then the door to the library opened and a young woman came out.
Fitzgerald stood up.
Yes, it was she.
"So you have come?" There was welcome neither in her tone nor face, nor wa_here the suggestion of any other sentiment.
"Yes. I am not sure that I gave you my name, Miss Killigrew." He was secretl_onfused over this enigmatical reception.
She nodded. She had been certain that, did he come at all, he would come i_he knowledge of who she was.
"I am John Fitzgerald," he said.
She thought for a space. "Are you the Mr. Fitzgerald who wrote the lon_rticle recently on the piracy in the Chinese Seas?"
"Yes," full of wonder.
Interest began to stir her face. "It turns out, then, rather better than _xpected. I can see that you are puzzled. I picked you out of many yesterday, on impulse, because you had the sang-froid necessary to carry out your jest t_he end."
"I am glad that I am not here under false colors. What I did yesterday was, a_ou say, a jest. But, on the other hand, are you not playing me one in kind? _ave much curiosity."
"I shall proceed to allay it, somewhat. This will be no jest. Did you com_rmed?"
"Oh, indeed, no!" smiling.
She rather liked that. "I was wondering if you did not believe this to be som_illy intrigue."
"I gave thought to but two things: that you were jesting, or that you were i_eed of a gentleman as well as a man of courage. Tell me, what is the danger, and why do you ask me if I am armed?" It occurred to him that her own char_nd beauty might be the greatest danger he could possibly face. More and mor_rew the certainty that he had seen her somewhere in the past.
"Ah, if I only knew what the danger was. But that it exists I am positive.
Within the past two weeks, on odd nights, there have been strange noises her_nd there about the house, especially in the chimney. My father, bein_lightly deaf, believes that these sounds are wholly imaginative on my part.
This is the first spring in years we have resided here. It is really ou_ummer home. I am not more than normally timorous. Some one we do not kno_nters the house at will. How or why I can't unravel. Nothing has eve_isappeared, either money, jewels, or silver, though I have laid many traps.
There is the huge fireplace in the library, and my room is above. I have hear_ tapping, like some one hammering gently on stone. I have examined the brick_nd so has my father, but neither of us has discovered anything. Three day_go I placed flour thinly on the flagstone before the fireplace. There wer_ootprints in the morning—of rubber shoes. When I called in my father, th_aid had unfortunately cleaned the stone without observing anything. So m_ather still holds that I am subject to dreams. His secretary, whom he had fo_hree years, has left him. The butler's and servants' quarters are in the rea_f the other wing. They have never been disturbed."
"I am not a detective, Miss Killigrew," he remarked, as she paused.
"No, but you seem to be a man of invention and of good spirit. Will you hel_e?"
"In whatever way I can." His opinion at that moment perhaps agreed with tha_f her father. Still, a test could be of no harm. She was a charming youn_oman, and he was assured that beneath this present concern there was _ively, humorous disposition. He had a month for idleness, and why not pla_etective for a change? Then he recalled the trespasser in the park. B_eorge, she might be right!
"Come, then, and I will present you to my father. His deafness is not so ba_hat one has to speak loudly. To speak distinctly will be simplest."
She thereupon conducted him into the library. His quick glance, thrown her_nd there absorbingly, convinced him that there were at least five thousan_olumes in the cases, a magnificent private collection, considering that th_wner was not a lawyer, and that these books were not dry and musty precedent_rom the courts of appeals and supreme. He was glad to see that some of hi_ld friends were here, too, and that the shelves were not wholly given over t_iracy. What a hobby to follow! What adventures all within thirty square feet!
And a shiver passed over his spine as he saw several tattered black flag_anging from the walls; the real articles, too, now faded to a rusty brown.
Over what smart and lively heeled brigs had they floated, these sinister joll_ogers? For in a room like this they could not be other than genuine. All hi_ournalistic craving for stories awakened.
Behind a broad, flat, mahogany desk, with a green-shaded student lamp at hi_lbow, sat a bright-cheeked, white-haired man, writing. Fitzgerald instantl_ecognized him. Abruptly his gaze returned to the girl. Yes, now he knew. I_as stupid of him not to have remembered at once. Why, it was she who ha_iven the bunch of violets that day to the old veteran in Napoleon's tomb. T_ave remembered the father and to have forgotten the daughter!
"I was wondering where I had seen you," he said lowly.
"Where was that?"
"In Napoleon's tomb, nearly a year ago. You gave an old French soldier _ouquet of violets. I was there."
"Were you?" As a matter of fact his face was absolutely new to her. "I am no_ery good at recalling faces. And in traveling one sees so many."
"That is true." Queer sort of girl, not to show just a little more interest.
The moment was not ordinary by any means. He was disappointed.
"Father!" she called, in a clear, sweet voice, for the admiral had not hear_hem enter.
At the call he raised his head and took off his Mandarin spectacles. Like al_ailors, he never had any trouble in seeing distances clearly; the difficult_ay in books, letters, and small type.
"What is it, Laura?"
"This is Mr. Fitzgerald, the new secretary," she answered blandly.
"Aha! Bring a chair over and sit down. What did you say the name is, Laura?"
"Sit down, Mr. Fitzgerald," repeated the admiral cordially.
Fitzgerald desired but one thing; the privilege of laughter!