He awoke at seven, and looked in upon Hood, who lay sprawled upon his be_eading one of the battered volumes of Borrow he carried in his bag.
“Get your tub, son; I’ve had mine and came back to bed to let you have you_leep out. Marvellous man—Borrow. Spring’s the time to read him. We’ll hav_ome breakfast and go out and see what the merry old world has to offer.”
With nice calculation he tossed the book into the open bag on the further sid_f the room, rose, and stretched himself. Deering stifled an impulse to scof_t his silk pajamas as hardly an appropriate sleeping garb for one wh_rofessed to have taken vows of poverty. Hood noted his glance.
“Found these in some nabob’s house at Bar Harbor last fall. Went up i_ovember, after all the folks had gone, to have a look at the steely blu_cean; camped in a big cottage for a few days. Found a drawer full of thes_hings and took the pink ones. Wrote my thanks on the villa’s stationery an_inned ’em to the fireplace. I hate to admit it, son, but I verily believe _ould stand a little breakfast.”
“We’re going out for breakfast,” Deering remarked with affected carelessness.
“I accepted an invitation for you last night. A girl up there at the bungalo_sked me; I told her about you, and she seemed willing to stand for it.”
“The thought pleases me! You are certainly doing well, my boy!” Hood replied, dancing about on one foot as he drew a sock on the other.
He explained that a man should never sit down while dressing; that th_xercise he got in balancing himself was of the greatest value as a stimulu_o the circulation.
“She’s a very nice girl, I think,” Deering continued, showing his lathere_ace at the bathroom door.
He hadn’t expected Hood to betray surprise, and he was not disappointed in th_atter-of-course fashion in which his companion received the invitation.
“Breakfast is the one important meal of the day,” Hood averred as he execute_ series of hops in his efforts to land inside his trousers. “All grea_dventures should be planned across breakfast tables; centrepiece of coo_ruits; coffee of teasing fragrance, the toast crisp; an egg perhaps, if th_orning labors are to be severe. I know a chap in Boston who cuts ou_reakfast altogether. Most melancholy person I ever knew; peevish till on_’clock, then throws in a heavy lunch that ruins him for the rest of the day.
What did you say the adorable’s name was?”
“Pierrette,” Deering spluttered from the tub.
“Delightful!” cried Hood, flourishing his hair-brushes. “Then you met th_ancing-girl! I must say——”
“She had hung a moon in a tree! I followed the moon and found the girl!”
“Always the way; it never fails,” Hood commented, as though the finding of th_irl had fully justified his philosophy of life. “But we can’t fool away muc_ime at the bungalow; we’ve got a lot to do to-day.”
“Time!” cried Deering, “I’m going to stay forever! You can’t expect me to fin_ girl whose post-office address is the Little Dipper, and then go coolly of_nd forget about her!”
“That’s the right spirit, son,” Hood remarked cautiously; “but we’ll see. I’l_ave a look at her and decide what’s best for you. My business right now is t_eep you out of trouble. You can’t tell about these moon girls; she may have _art on her nose when you see her in daylight.”
“And she probably has parents who may not relish the idea of having tw_trange men prowling about the premises looking for breakfast. There are stil_ few of those old-fashioned people left in the world. It may be only _ackdoor hand-out for us, but I’ve sawed wood for breakfast before now. I’l_ait for you below; I want to see how old Cassowary’s standing the racket. Th_oy seemed a little cheerfuller last night.”
They walked to the bungalow which, to Deering’s relief, was still perched o_he ridge as he had left it. He was beset with misgivings as they entered th_ate and followed a hedge-lined path that rose gradually to the house; i_ight be a joke after all; but Hood’s manner was reassuring. He swung hi_tick and praised the landscape, and when they reached the veranda banged th_nocker noisily. A capped and aproned maid opened the door immediately.
Deering, struck with cowardice, found his legs quaking and stepped back t_llow Hood to declare their purpose.
“We have come for breakfast, lass,” Hood announced, “and have brought ou_ppetites with us if that fact interests you.”
“You are expected,” said the maid; “breakfast will be served immediately.”
She led the way across a long living-room to the dining-room beyond, where _able was set for three. The tangible presence of the third plate cause_eering’s heart to thump.
“The host or hostess—?” Hood inquired as the girl waited for them to b_eated.
“The lady of the house wished me to say that she would be here—in spirit!
Pressing duties called her elsewhere.”
Deering’s spirits sank. Pierrette, then, was only a dream of the night, an_ad never had the slightest intention of meeting him at breakfast! The mai_urtsied and vanished through a swing door.
Hood, accepting the situation as he found it, expressed his satisfaction as _owl of strawberries was placed on the table, and as the door ceased swingin_ehind the maid, laid his hand on Deering’s arm. “Don’t worry; mere shynes_as driven our divinity away: you can see for yourself that even a girl wh_angs moons in trees might shrink from the shock of a daylight meeting with _entleman she had found amusing by starlight. Let it suffice that she provide_he breakfast according to schedule—that’s highly encouraging. Wit_trawberries at present prices she has been generous. This littl_isappointment merely adds zest to the adventure.”
The hand of the maid as she changed his plate at once interested Deering. I_as a slender, supple, well-kept hand, browned by the sun. Her maid’s dres_as becoming; her cap merely served to invite attention to her golden-brow_air. Her coloring left nothing for the heart to desire, and her brown eye_alled immediately for a second glance. She was deft and quick; her gracefu_alk in itself compelled admiration. As the door closed upon her, Hood bent _ook of inquiry upon his brooding companion.
“Perhaps she’s the adorable—the true, authentic Pierrette,” he suggested.
Deering shook his head.
“No; the other girl was not so tall and her voice was different; it wa_onderfully sweet and full of laughter. I couldn’t be fooled about it.”
“There’s mystery here—a game of some kind. Mark the swish of silken skirts; unless my eyes fail me, I caught a glimpse of silken hose as she flitted int_he pantry.”
When an omelet had been served and the coffee poured (she poured coffe_harmingly!) Hood called her back as she was about to leave them.
“Two men should never be allowed to eat alone. If your mistress is no_eturning at once, will you not do us the honor to sit down with us?”
“Thank you, sir,” she said, biting her lip to conceal a smile.
Deering was on his feet at once and drew out the third chair, which sh_ccepted without debate. She composedly folded her arms on the edge of th_able as though she were in nowise violating the rules set down for th_uidance of waitresses. Hood, finding the situation to his taste, blithel_ssumed the lead in the conversation.
“It is perfectly proper for you to join us at table,” he remarked, “but forma_ntroductions would not be in keeping. Still, your employer doubtless has som_amiliar name for you, and you might with propriety tell us what it is, so w_on’t need to attract your attention by employing the vulgar ‘Say’ or ‘Listen’!”
“My mistress calls me Babette,” she answered, her lashes drooping becomingly.
“Perfect!” cried Hood ecstatically. “And we are two outlaws whose names it i_ore discreet for us to withhold, even if it were proper to exchange name_ith a mere housemaid.”
Deering winced; it was indecent in Hood to treat her as though she were _ousemaid when so obviously she was not.
“My friend doesn’t mean to be rude,” he explained; “the morning air alway_akes him a little delirious.”
“I hope I know my place,” the girl replied, “and I’m sure you gentlemen mea_o be kind.”
“You needn’t count the spoons after we leave,” said Hood; “I assure you w_ave no professional designs on the house.”
“Thank you, sir. Of course, if you stole anything, it would be taken out of m_ages.”
Deering’s interest in her increased.
She rested her chin on her hand just as his sister often did when the_ingered together at table. He was a good brother and Constance was hi_tandard. He was sure that Constance would like Pierrette’s maid. He resente_ood’s patronizing attitude toward the girl, but Hood’s spirits were soarin_nd there was no checking him.
“Babette,” he began, “I’m going to trouble you with a question, not doubtin_ou will understand that my motives are those of a philosopher whose whol_ife has been devoted to the study of the human race. May I ask you to stat_n all sincerity whether you consider apple sauce the essential accompanimen_f roast duck?”
“I do not; nor do I care for jelly with venison,” she answered readily.
“Admirable! You are clearly no child of convention but an independent thinker!
May I smoke? Thanks!”
He drew out his pipe and turned beaming to the glowering Deering.
“There, my boy! Babette is one of us—one of the great company of the stars!
Wonderful, how you find them at every turn! Babette, my sister, I salute you!”
She smiled and turned toward Deering.
“Are you, too, one of the Comrades of Perpetual Youth?” she inquired gravely.
“I am,” Deering declared heartily, and they smiled at each other; “but I’_nly a novice—a brother of the second class.”
She shook her head.
“There can be no question of classes in the great comradeship—either we are o_e are not.”
“Well spoken!” Hood assented, pushing back his chair and crossing his leg_omfortably.
“And you—do you and Pierrette think about things the same way?” Deering asked.
“We do—by not thinking,” Babette replied. “Thinking among the comrades i_orbidden, is it not?”
“Absolutely,” Hood affirmed. “Our young brother here is still a little weak i_he faith, but he’s taking to it splendidly.”
“I’m new myself,” Babette confessed.
“You’re letter-perfect in the part,” said Hood. “Perhaps you were driven t_t? Don’t answer if you would be embarrassed by a confession.”
The girl pondered a moment; her face grew grave, and she played nervously wit_he sugar-tongs.
“A man loved me and I sent him away, and was sorry!” The last words fell fro_er lips falteringly.
“He will come back—if he is worthy of one of the comradeship,” said Hoo_onsolingly. “Even now he may be searching for you.”
“I was unkind to him; I was very hard on him! And I’ve bee_fraid—sometimes—that I should never see him again.”
Deering thought he saw a glint of tears in her eyes. She rose hastily an_sked with a wavering smile:
“If there’s nothing further——”
“Not food—if you mean that,” said Hood.
“But about Pierrette!” Deering exclaimed despairingly. “If she’s likely t_ome, we must wait for her.”
“I rather advise you against it,” the girl answered. “I have no idea when sh_ill come back.”
They rose instinctively as she passed out. The door fanned a moment and wa_till.
“Well?” demanded Deering ironically.
“Please don’t speak to me in that tone,” responded Hood. “This was you_reakfast, not mine; you needn’t scold me if it didn’t go to suit you! Ah, what have we here!”
He had drawn back a curtain at one end of the dining-room, disclosing a studi_eyond. It was evidently a practical workshop and bore traces of recent use.
Deering passed him and strode toward an easel that supported a canvas on whic_he paint was still wet. He cried out in astonishment:
“That’s the moon girl—that’s the girl I talked to last night—clown clothes an_ll! She’s sitting on the wall there just as I found her.”
“A sophisticated brush; no amateur’s job,” Hood muttered, squinting at th_anvas. “Seems to me I’ve seen that sort of thing somewhere lately—Pantaloon, Harlequin, Columbine, and Clown—latest fad in magazine covers. We’re in th_tudio of a popular illustrator—there’s a bunch of proofs on the table, an_hose things on the floor are from the same hand. Signature in the corner _rifle obscure—Mary B. Taylor.”
“She may be Babette,” Deering suggested. “Suppose I call her and ask?”
Hood, having become absorbed in a portfolio of pen-and-ink sketches of clowns, harlequins, and columbines, subjects in which the owner of the studi_pparently specialized, paid no heed to the suggestion. When Deering returne_e was gazing critically at a sketch showing a dozen clowns executing _pirited dance on a garden-wall.
“She’s skipped! There isn’t a soul on the place,” Deering announce_ejectedly.
“Not at all surprising; probably gone to join her model, Pierrette. And we’_etter clear out before we learn too much; life ceases to be interesting whe_ou begin to find the answers to riddles. Pierrette is probably a friend o_he artist, and plays model for the fun of it. The same girl is repeated ove_nd over again in these drawings—from which I argue that Pierrette likes t_ose and Babette enjoys painting her. We mustn’t let this affect the genera_llusion. The next turn of the road will doubtless bring us to something tha_an’t be explained so easily.”
“If it doesn’t bring us to Pierrette—” began Deering.
“Tut! None of that! For all you know it may bring us to something infinitel_etter. Remember that this is mid-May, and anything may happen before Jun_indles the crimson ramblers. Let us be off.”
Half-way across the living-room Deering stopped suddenly.
“My bag—my suitcase!” he shouted.
A suitcase it was beyond question, placed near the door as though to arres_heir attention. Deering pounced upon it eagerly and flung it open.
“It’s all right—the stuff’s here!” he cried huskily.
He began throwing out the packets that filled the case, glancing hurriedly a_he seals. Hood lounged near, watching him languidly.
“Most unfortunate,” he remarked, noting the growing satisfaction on Deering’_ace as he continued his examination. “Now that you’ve found that rubbish, _uppose there’ll be no holding you; you’ll go back to listen to the ticke_ust when I had begun to have some hope of you!”
“It was Pierrette that took it; it couldn’t have been this artist girl,” sai_eering, excitedly whipping out his penknife and slitting one of the packages.
A sheaf of blank wrapping-paper fluttered to the floor. His face whitened an_e gave a cry of dismay. “Robbed! Tricked!” he groaned, staring at Hood.
Hood picked up the paper and scrutinized the seal.
“S. J. Deering, personal,” he read in the wax. “You don’t suppose that gir_as taken the trouble to forge your father’s private seal, do you?”
Deering feverishly tore open the other packages.
“All alike; the stuff’s gone!”
Perspiration beaded his forehead. He stared stupidly at the worthless paper.
“You ought to be grateful, son,” said Hood; “yesterday you thought yourself _hief—now that load’s off your mind, and you know yourself for an honest man.
General rejoicing seems to be in order. Looks as though your parent had robbe_imself—rather a piquant situation, I must say.”
He carried the wrappers to the window-seat and examined them more closely.
“Seals were all intact. ‘The Tyringham estate,’” he read musingly. “What d_ou make of that?” he asked Deering, who remained crumpled on the floor besid_he suitcase.
“That’s an estate father was executor of—it’s a long story. Old man Tyringha_ad been a customer of his, and left a will that made it impossible to clos_he estate till his son had reached a certain age. The final settlement was t_e made this summer. But my God, Hood, do you suppose father—my father coul_e——”
“A defaulter?” Hood supplied blandly.
“It’s impossible!” roared Deering. “Father’s the very soul of honor.”
“I dare say he is,” remarked Hood carelessly. “So were you till greed led yo_o pilfer your governor’s strong box. Let us be tolerant and withhol_udgment. It’s enough that your own skirts are clear. Put that stuff out o_ight; we must flit.”
Hood set off for the Barton Arms at a brisk pace, talking incessantly.
“This whole business is bully beyond my highest expectations. By George, it’_lmost too good to be true! Critics of the drama complain that the averag_mateur’s play ends with every act; but so far in our adventures ever_ncident leads on to something else. Perfectly immense that somebody ha_eaten you to the bonds!”
Deering’s emotions were beyond utterance. It was a warm morning, and he di_ot relish carrying the suitcase, whose recovery had plunged him into _espair darker than that caused by its loss.
At a turn in the road Hood paused, struck his stick heavily upon the ground, and drew out the slipper. He whirled it in the air three times and twice i_ointed east. He thrust it back into his pocket with a sigh of satisfactio_nd brushed the dust from his hands.
“Once more we shall follow the pointing slipper. Yesterday it led us to th_oon girl, the bungalow, and the suitcase; now it points toward the mysteriou_ast, and no telling what new delights!”