Black Caesar's Clan
Albert Payson Terhune
Part 1 out of 4
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED, MOST GRATEFULLY
TO MY FRIEND
JOHN E. PICKETT
"THE COUNTRY GENTLEMAN"
A wiggling, brainless, slimy atom began it. He and trillions
of his kind. He was the Coral Worm ("Anthozoa," if you prefer).
He and his tribe lived and died on the sea-bottom, successive
generations piling higher on the skeletons and lifework--or
the life-loafing, for they were lazy atoms--of those that went
before. At last the coral reef crawled upward until in
uncharted waters it was tall enough to smash a wooden
Then, above the surface of the waves it nosed its way, grayish
white, whalebacked. From a hundred miles distant floated a
cigar-shaped mangrove-bud, bobbing vertically, through the
ocean, until it chanced to touch the new-risen coral reef.
The mangrove, alone of all trees, will sprout and grow in salt
water. The mangrove's trunk, alone of all trunks, is
impervious to the corrosive action of the sea.
At once the bud set to work. It drove an anchor-root into the
reef, then other roots and still others. It shot up to the
height of a foot or two, and thence sent thick red-brown roots
straight downward into the coral again.
And so on, until it had formed a tangled root-fence for many
yards alongshore. After which, its work being done, the
mangrove proceeded to grow upward into a big and glossy-leaved
shade-tree, making buds for further fences.
Meanwhile, every particle of floating seaweed, every dead fish
or animal, all vegetation, etc., which chanced to wash into
that fence-tangle, stayed there. It is easier for matter, as
well as for man, to get entangled in mangrove roots than to
get out again.
The sun and the rain did their work on this decaying stuff.
Thus, soil was formed, atop the coral and in the hollows
scooped out of its surface by wind or tide.
Presently, a coconut, hurled from its stem in the Bahamas or
in Cuba, by a hurricane, set its palmleaf sail-sprout and was
gale-driven across the intervening seas, floating ashore on
the new-risen land. There it sprouted. Birds, winds, waves,
brought germs of other trees. The subtropical island was
Island, key, reef--reef, key, island--with the intervening
gaps of azure-emerald water, bridged, bit by bit, by the
coral,--to-day a sea-surface, to-morrow a gray-white reef,
next day a mangrove hedge, and the next an expanse of
spectacular verdure and glistening gray-white sand.
So Florida was born.
So, at least, its southern portion was born, and is still in
daily process of birth. And, according to Agassiz and many
another, the entire Peninsula may have arisen in this fashion,
from the green-blue sea.
Dredge and shovel are laboring hard to guide or check the
endless undersea coral growth before bay and channel and
lagoon shall all be dry land. The wormlike, lazy,
fast-multiplying Anthozoa is fighting passively but with
terrific power, to set at naught all man's might and wit.
In time, coral sand-spit and mangrove swamp were cleared for a
wonderland playground, of divine climate whither winter
tourists throng by the hundred thousand. In time, too, these
sand-spits and swamps and older formations of the sunny
peninsula furnished homes and sources of livelihood or of
wealth to many thousands more, people, these, to whom Florida
is a Career, not a Resort.
As in every land which has grown swiftly and along different
lines from the rest of the country, there still are mystery
and romance and thrills to be found lurking among the keys and
back of the mangrove-swamps and along the mystic reaches of
With awkward and inexpert touch, my story seeks to set forth
some of these.
Understand, please, that this book is rank melodrama. It has
scant literary quality. It is not planned to edify. Its only
mission is to entertain you and,--if you belong to the
action-loving majority, to give you an occasional thrill.
Perhaps you will like it. Perhaps you will not. But I do not
think you will go to sleep over it. There are worse
recommendations than that for any book.
ALBERT PAYSON TERHUNE.
BLACK CAESAR'S CLAN
THE HIDDEN PATH
Overhead sang the steady trade wind, tempering the golden
sunshine's heat. To eastward, under an incredibly blue sky,
stretched the more incredibly multi-hued waters of Biscayne
Bay, the snow-white wonder-city of Miami dreaming on its
Dividing the residence and business part of the city from the
giant hotels, Flagler Avenue split the mass of buildings, from
back-country to bay. To its westward side spread the shaded
expanse of Royal Palm Park, with its deep-shaded short lane of
Australian pines, its rustling palm trees, its white church
and its frond-flecked vistas of grass.
Here, scarce a quarter-century ago, a sandspit had broiled
beneath an untempered sun. Shadeless, grassless, it had been
an abomination of desolution and a rallying-place for
mosquitoes. Then had come the hand of man. First, the Royal
Palm Hotel had sprung into stately existence, out of
nothingness. Then other caravansaries. Palm and pine and
vivid lawn-grass had followed. The mosquitoes had fled far
back to the mangrove swamps. And a rarely beautiful White
City had sprung up.
It was Sunday morning. From the park's bandstand, William J.
Bryan was preaching to his open-air Sunday School class of
tourists, two thousand strong. Around the bandstand the
audience stood or sat in rapt interest.
The Australian-pine lane, to the rear, was lined with all
manner of automobiles, from limousine to battered flivver.
The cars' occupants listened as best they could could--through
the whirr of sea-planes and the soft hum of Sabbath traffic
and the dry slither of a myriad grating palm-fronds in the
trade-wind's wake--to the preacher's words.
The space of shaded grass, between lane and hotel-grounds and
bandstand, was starred by white-clad children, and by men who
sprawled drowsily upon the springy turf, their straw hats
tilted above their eyes. The time was mid-February. The
thermometers on the Royal Palm veranda registered
seventy-three. No rain had fallen in weeks to mar the
"Scientists are spending $5,000,000 to send an expedition into
Africa in search of the 'missing-link'!" the orator was
thundering. "It would be better for them to spend all or part
of that money, in seeking closer connection with their
Heavenly Father, than with the Brutes!"
A buzz of approval swept the listeners. That same buzz came
irritatingly to the ears of a none-too-sprucely dressed young
man who lay, with eyes shut, under the shifting shade of a
giant palm, a hundred yards away. He had not caught the
phrase which inspired the applause--thanks to the confusion of
street sounds and the multiple dry rattle of the palm-fronds
and the whirring passage of a sea-plane which circled above
park and bay. But the buzz aroused him.
He had not been asleep. Prone on his back, hat pulled over
his upper face, he had been lying motionless there, for the
best part of an hour. Now, stretching, he got to his feet in
leisurely fashion, brushed perfunctorily at his rumpled
clothes, and turned his steps toward the double line of plumy
Australian pines which bordered the lane between hotel grounds
Only once did he hesitate in his slouching progress. That was
when he chanced to come alongside one of the cars, in the long
rank, drawn up in the shade. The machine's front seat was
occupied by a giant of a man, all in white silk, a man of
middle age, blonde and bearded, a man who, but for his modern
costume, might well have posed as a Norse Viking.
The splendid breadth of shoulder and depth of chest caught the
wanderer's glance and won his grudging approval. Thence, his
elaborately careless gaze shifted to the car's rear seat where
sat a girl. He noted she was small and dainty and tanned and
dressed in white sport-clothes. Also, that one of her arms
was passed around the shoulder of a big young gold-and-white
collie dog,--a dog that fidgeted uneasily and paid scant heed
to the restraining hand and caressing voice of his mistress.
As the shabby man paused momentarily to scan the car's three
occupants, the girl happened to look toward him. Her look was
brief and impersonal. Yet, for the merest instant, her eyes
met his. And their glances held each other with a momentary
intentness. Then the girl turned again toward the restless
dog, seeking to quiet him. And the man passed on.
Moving with aimless slowness--one is not long in Southern
Florida without acquiring a leisurely gait the lounger left
the park and strolled up Thirteenth Avenue, towards the bridge
which spans the Miami River and forms a link between the more
thickly settled part of the town and its southerly suburbs.
As he crossed the bridge, a car passed him, moving rapidly
eastward, and leaving a choky trail of dust. He had bare time
to see it was driven by the Norse giant, and that the girl had
moved to the front seat beside the driver. The collie
(fastened by a cord running through his collar from one side
of the tonneau to the other) lay fidgetingly on the rear seat.
For miles the man plodded on, under the wind-tempered
sunshine. Passing Brickell Avenue and then the last of the
city, he continued,--now on the road, now going
cross-country,--until he came out on a patch of broken beach,
with a background of jungle-like forest.
The sun had gone beyond the meridian mark during his ramble
southward, and the afternoon was hurrying by. For the way was
long, though he had tramped steadily.
As he reached the bit of sandy foreshore, he paused for the
first time since stopping to survey the car. An unpainted
rowboat was drawn up on the beach. Half way between it and
the tangle of woodland behind, was a man clad only in
undershirt and dirty duck trousers. He was yanking along by
the scruff of the neck a protesting and evidently angry
The man was big and rugged. Weather and sea had bronzed him
to the hue of an Arab. Apparently, he had sighted the dog,
and had run his boat ashore to capture the stray animal. He
handled his prize none too gently, and his management was
calling forth all the collie's resentment. But as the man had
had the wit to seize the dog by the scruff of the neck and to
keep himself out of the reach of the luckless creature's
vainly snapping jaws, these protests went for nothing.
Within thirty feet of the boat, the dog braced himself for a
new effort to tear free. The man, in anger, planted a
vigorous kick against the collie's furry side. As his foot
was bare, the kick lost much of its potential power to injure.
Yet it had the effect of rousing to sudden indignation the
dusty youth who had stopped on his tramp from Miami to watch
"Whose dog is that?" he demanded, striding forward, from the
shade, and approaching the struggling pair.
"Who the blue blazes are you?" countered the barefoot man, his
eyes running contemptuously over the shabby and slight-built
"My name is Brice," said the other. "Gavin Brice. Not that
it matters. And now, perhaps you'll answer my question.
Whose dog is that?"
"Mine," returned the barefoot man, renewing his effort to drag
the collie toward the boat.
"If he's yours," said Brice, pleasantly, "stop hauling him
along and let him loose. He'll follow you, without all that
hustling. A good collie will always follow, his master,
"When I'm honin' for your jabber," retorted the other, "I'll
come a-askin' for it."
He drew back his foot once more, for a kick. But, with a lazy
competence, Brice moved forward and gave him a light push,
sidewise, on the shoulder. There was science and a rare
knowledge of leverage in the mild gesture. When a man is
kicking, he is on only one foot. And, the right sort of
oblique push will not only throw him off his balance, but in
such a direction that his second foot cannot come to earth in
position to help him restore that balance.
Under the skillfully gentle impact of Brice's shove, the man
let go of the snarling collie and hopped insanely for a second
or so, with arms outflung. Then he sat down ungracefully on
Scarce had he touched ground when he was up.
But the moment had sufficed for the collie to go free.
Instead of running off, the dog moved over to Brice, thrust
his cool muzzle into the man's hand, and, with wagging tail,
looked up lovingly at him.
A collie has brains beyond most dogs. And this collie
recognized that the pleasant-voiced, indolent-looking stranger
had just rescued him from a captor who had been treating him
abominably. Wherefore, in gratitude and dawning adoration, he
came to pay his respects.
Brice patted the silken head so confidingly upraised to him.
He knew dogs. Especially, he knew collies. And he was hot
with indignation at the needlessly brutal treatment just
accorded this splendid beast.
But he had scant time for emotions of any kind. The beach
comber had regained his feet, and in the same motion had lost
his self-control. Head lowered, fists swinging, he came
charging down upon the stripling who had the audacity to upset
Brice did not await his onset. Slipping lithely to one side
he avoided the bull-rush, all the time talking in the same
pleasantly modulated drawl.
"I saw this dog, earlier in the day," said he, "in a car, with
some people. They drove this way. The dog must have chewed
his cord and then jumped or fallen out, and strayed here. You
saw him, from the water, and tried to steal him. Next to a
vivisectionist, the filthiest man God ever made is the man who
kicks a dog. It's lucky--"
He got no further. Twice, during his short speech, he had
had to twist, with amazing speed, out of the way of
profanity-accompanied rushes. Now, pressed too close for
comfort, he halted, ducked a violent left swing, and ran from
under the flailing right arm of his assailant.
Then, darting back for fully twenty-five feet, he cried out,
"I won't buy him from you. But I'll fight you for him, if you
As he spoke, he drew from his pocket a battered and
old-fashioned gold watch. Laying it on the sand, he went on:
"How does this strike you as a sporting offer? Winner to take
both dog and watch? How about it?"
The other had halted in an incipient charge to take note of
the odd proposition. He blinked at the flash of the watch's
battered gold case in the sunshine. For the first time, he
seemed a trifle irresolute. This eel-like antagonist, with
such eccentric ideas as to sport, was something outside the
beach-comber's experience. Puzzled, he stood scowling.
"How about it?" queried Brice. "I hope you'll refuse. I'd
rather be kicked, any day, than have to fight. But--well, I
wouldn't rather see a good dog kicked. Still, if you're
content with what you've got, we'll call it a day. I'll take
the dog and be moving on."
The barefoot man's bewilderment was once more merging into
wrath, at the amused superiority in Brice's words and
demeanor. He glowered appraisingly at the intruder. He saw
Brice was a half-head shorter than himself and at least thirty
pounds lighter. Nor did Brice's figure betray any special
muscular development. Apparently, there could be but one
outcome to such a battle.
The man's fists clenched, afresh. His big muscles tightened.
Brice saw the menace and spoke again.
"It's only fair to warn you," said he, gently, "that I shall
thrash you worse than ever you've been thrashed before in all
your down-at-heel life. When I was a boy, I saw George Siler
beat up five men who tackled him. Siler wasn't a big man.
But he had made a life-study of leverage. And it served him
better than if he'd toted a machine gun. I studied under him.
And then, a bit, under a jui-jutsu man. You'll have less
chance against me than that poor collie had against you. I
only mention it as a friendly warning. Best let things rest
as they are. Come, puppy!" he chirped to the highly
interested dog. "Let's be on our way. Perhaps we can find
the people who lost you. That's what I've been wanting to do,
all day, you know," he added, in a lower voice, speaking
confidentially to the dog, and beginning to stroll off toward
But the barefoot man would not have it so. Now, he
understood. This sissyfied chap, with the high and-mighty
airs, was bluffing. That was what he was doing. Bluffing!
Did he think for a minute he could get away with it, and with
A swirl of red fury swept to the beach comber's brain.
Wordless, face distorted, he flung himself at the elusive
So sudden was his spring that it threatened to take its victim
unaware. Brice's back was turned to the aggressor, and he was
already on his way toward the woods.
Yet, with but a fraction of an inch to spare, he turned to
face the oncoming human whirlwind. This time he did not dart
back from the rush. Perhaps he did not care to. Perhaps
there was not time.
Instead, with the speed of light, he stepped in, ducking the
hammer-fist and plying both hands with bewildering quickness
and skill, in a shower of half-arm blows at the beach comber's
heart and wind. His strength was wiry and carefully
developed, but it was no match for his foe's. Yet the hail of
body-punches was delivered with all the effect that science
and a perfect knowledge of anatomy could compass.
The beach comber grunted and writhed in sharp discomfort.
Then, he did the one thing possible, by way of reprisal.
Before Brice could dodge out of his close-quarters position,
the other clasped him tight in his bulgingly powerful arms,
gripping the lighter man to his chest in a hug which had the
gruesome force of a boa-constrictor's, and increasing the
pressure with all his weight and mighty strength.
There was no space for maneuvering or for wriggling free.
Clear from the ground Brice's feet were swung. The breath was
squeezed out of him. His elastic strength was cramped and
made useless. His lungs seemed bursting. The pressure on his
ribs was unbearable. Like many a better man he was paying the
price for a single instant of overconfidence.
One arm was caught against his side. The other was impeded
and robbed of all efficient hitting power, being pinioned
athwart his breast. And steadily the awful pressure was
increased. There was no apparent limit to the beach comber's
powers of constriction. The blood beat into Brice's eyes.
His tongue began to protrude from a swollen throat.
Then, all at once, he ceased to struggle, and lay limp and
moveless in the conqueror's grasp. Perceiving which, the
beach comber relaxed the pressure, to let his conquered enemy
slide, broken, to the ground.
This, to his blank amaze, Gavin Brice neglected to do. The
old ruse of apparent collapse had served its turn, for perhaps
the millionth time. The beach-comber was aware of a
lightning-quick tensing of the slumped muscles. Belatedly, he
knew what had happened, and he renewed his vise-grip. But he
was too late. Eel-like, Gavin had slithered out of the
imprisoning arms. And, as these arms came together once more,
in the bear-hug, Brice shot over a burning left-hander to the
beach-comber's unguarded jaw. Up flew the big arms in belated
parry, but not soon enough to block a deliberately-aimed right
swing, which Brice drove whizzing into the jaw's point.
The brace of blows rocked the giant, so that he reeled
drunkenly under their dynamic force. The average man must
have been floored and even knocked senseless by such
well-directed smashes to so vital a spot. But the
beach-comber merely staggered back, seeking instinctively to
guard his battered face, and to regain his balance.
In at the reeling foe tore Gavin Brice, showering him with
systematic punches to every vulnerable spot above the belt
line. It was merciless punishment, and it was delivered with
Yet, the iron-bodied man on whom it was inflicted merely
grunted again and, under the avalanche of blows, managed to
regain his balance and plunge back to the assault. A born
fighter, he was now obsessed with but one idea, namely, to
destroy this smaller and faster opponent who was hurting him
so outrageously. As far as the beach comber was concerned: it
was a murder-battle now, with no question of mercy asked or
The collie had been viewing this astounding scene in eager
interest. Never before, in his short life, had he seen two
humans fight. And, even now, he was not at all certain that
it was a fight and not some intensely thrilling game. Thus
had he watched two boys wrestle and box, in his own puppyhood.
And, for venturing to jump into that jolly fracas, he had been
scolded and sent back to his kennel.
Yet, there was something about this clash, between the giant
who had mistreated him and the softer-voiced man who had
rescued him, which spoke of mad excitement, and which stirred
the collie's own excitable temperament to the very depths.
Dancingly, he pattered around the fighters, tulip ears cocked,
deep-set eyes aglow, his fanfare of barks echoing far back
through the silent woods.
The beach comber, rallying from the dual jaw-bombardment,
bored back at his foe, taking the heaviest and most scientific
punishment, in a raging attempt to gather Brice once more into
the trap of his terrible arms. But Gavin kept just out of
reach, moving with an almost insolent carelessness, and ever
flashing some painful blow to face or to body as he retreated.
Then, as the other charged, Gavin sidestepped with perfect
ease, and, when the beach-comber wheeled clumsily to face him,
threw one foot forward and at the same time pushed the larger
man's shoulder violently with his open palm. It was a
repetition of the "leverage theory" Gavin had so recently been
expounding to his antagonist. It caught the lunging giant at
precisely the right non-balance angle, as he was turning about.
And, for the second time, the beach-comber sat down on the
trampled sand, with unexpected suddenness and force.
Gavin Brice laughed aloud, with boyish mischief, and stood
back, waiting for the cursing madman to scramble to his feet
again. But, as the beach comber leaped up--and before he
could get fairly balanced on his legs--another foot-and-palm
maneuver sent him sprawling.
This time the puffing and foaming and insanely-badgered man
did not try at once to rise. Instead, his hand whipped back
to his thigh.
"My clumsy friend," Brice was saying, pleasantly, "I'm afraid
you'll never win that watch. Shall we call it a day and quit?
He broke off with an exclamation of genuine wrath. For, with
astonishing swiftness, the big hand had flown to the hip of
the ragged trousers, had plucked a short-bladed fishing knife
from its sheath, and had hurled it, dexterously, with the
strength of a catapult, straight at his smiling adversary's
The sub-tropic beach comber and the picaroon acquire nasty
tricks with knives, and have an uncanny skill at their use.
Brice twisted to one side, with a sharp suddenness that all
but threw his back out of joint. The knife whizzed through
the still air like a great hornet. The breath of its passage
fanned Gavin's averted face, as he wrenched his head out of
The collie had watched the supposed gambols of the two men
with keen, but impersonal, interest. But here at last was
something he could understand. Instinct teaches practically
every dog the sinister nature of a thrown object. The man on
the ground had hurled something at the man whom the collie
had begun to love. That meant warfare. To the canine mind
it could mean nothing else.
And, ruff a-bristle and teeth bared, the dog flew at the beach
comber. The latter had followed his throw by leaping to his
feet. But, as he rose, the collie was at him. For an
instant, the furry whirlwind was snarling murderously at his
throat, and the man was beating convulsively at this
unexpected new enemy.
Then, almost before the collie could slash to the bone one of
the hairy big hands that thrust him backward, Gavin Brice had
reached the spot in a single bound, had shoved the dog to one
side and was at the man.
"Clear out, puppy!" he shouted, imperatively. "This is my
meat! When people get to slinging knives, there's no more
sense in handling them with gloves!"
The debonaire laziness was gone from Brice's voice and manner.
His face was dead-white. His eyes were blazing. His mouth
was a mere gash in the grim face. Even as he spoke, he had
thrust the snarling collie away, and was at the beach-comber.
No longer was it a question of boxing or of half-jesting
horseplay. The use of the knife had put this fight on a new
plane. And, like a wild beast, Gavin Brice was attacking his
big foe. But, unlike a wild beast, he kept his head, as he
Disregarding the menace of the huge arms, he came to grips,
without striking a single blow. Around him the beach-comber
flung his constricting grasp. But this time the grip was
For, Brice's left shoulder jutted out in such manner as to
keep the arms from getting their former hold around the body
itself, and Brice's right elbow held off the grip on the other
side. At the same time the top of Brice's head buried itself
under the beachcomber's chin, forcing the giant's jaw upward
and backward. Then, safe inside his opponent's guard, he
abandoned his effort to stave off the giant's hold, and passed
his own arms about the other's waist, his hands meeting under
the small of the larger man's back.
The beach comber tried now to use his freed arms to gain the
grip that had once been so effective. But his clasp could
close only over the slope of Brice's back and could find no
While the man was groping for the right hold, Gavin threw all
his own power into a single move. Tightening his underhold,
and drawing in on the small of the giant's back, he raised
himself on his toes, and pressed the top of his head, with all
his might, against the bottom of the beach-comber's chin.
The trick was not new. But it was fearsomely effective. It
was, as Gavin had explained, all a question of leverage. The
giant's waist was drawn forward, His chin, simultaneously, was
shoved backward. Such a dual cross pressure was due, eventually,
to mean one of two things:--either the snapping of the spine or
else the breaking of the neck. Unless the grip could be broken,
there was no earthly help for its victim.
The beach comber, in agony of straining spine and throat,
thrashed wildly to free himself. He strove to batter the
tenacious little man to senselessness. But he could hit
nothing but the sloping back, or aim clumsily cramped hooks
for the top and sides of Gavin's protected head.
Meantime, the pressure was increasing, with a coldly scientific
precision. Human nature could not endure it. In his extremity,
the beach comber attempted the same ruse that had been so
successful for Brice. He slumped, in pseudo-helplessness. The
only result was to enable Gavin to tighten his hold, unopposed
by the tensing of the enemy's wall of muscles.
"I'm through!" bellowed the tortured giant, stranglingly, his
entire huge body one horror of agony. "'Nuff! I'm--"
He got no further. For, the unspeakable anguish mounted to
his brain. And he swooned.
Gavin Brice let the great body slide inert to the sand. He
stood, flushed and panting a little, looking down at the hulk
he had so nearly annihilated. Then, as the beach comber's
limbs began to twitch and his eyelids to quiver, Brice turned
"Come along, puppy," he bade the wildly excited collie. "He
isn't dead. Another couple of seconds and his neck or his
back must have gone. I'm glad he fainted first. A killing
isn't a nice thing to remember on wakeful nights, the killing
of even a cur like that. Come on, before he wakes up. I'm
going somewhere. And it's a stroke of golden luck that I've
got you to take with me, by way of welcome."
He had picked up and pocketed his watch. Now, lifting the
knife, he glanced shudderingly at its ugly curved blade. Then
he tossed it far out into the water. After which, he chirped
again to the gladly following collie and made off down the
beach, toward a loop of mangrove swamp that swelled out into
the water a quarter-mile farther on.
The dog gamboled gayly about him, as they walked, and tried to
entice him into a romp. Prancing invitingly toward Brice, the
collie would then flee from him in simulated terror. Next,
crouching in front of him, the dog would snatch up a mouthful
of sand, growl, and make pattering gestures with his white
forefeet at Gavin's dusty shoes.
Failing to lure his new master into a frolic, the dog fell
sober and paced majestically alongside him, once or twice
earning an absent-minded pat on the head by thrusting his
muzzle into the cup of the walker's hand.
As they neared the loop of the swamp, the collie looked back,
and growled softly, under his breath. Gavin followed the
direction of the dog's gaze. He saw the beach comber sit up,
and then, with much pain and difficulty, get swayingly to his
"Don't worry, old chap," Gavin said to the growling collie.
"He's had all he can carry, for one day. He's not going to
follow us. By this time, he'll begin to realize, too, that
his face is battered pretty much to a pulp, and that some of
my body-smashes are flowering into bruises. I pity him when
he wakes up to-morrow. He'll be too stiff to move an inch,
without grunting. His pluck and his nerve are no match for
his strength .... Here we are!" he broke off, beginning to
skirt the hither edge of the swamp. "Unless all my dope is
wrong, it ought to be somewhere close to this."
He walked more slowly, his keen eyes busily probing the
impenetrable face of the swamp. He was practically at the
very end of the beach. In front, the mangroves ran out into
the water, and in an unbroken line they extended far back to
The shining dark leaves made a thick screen, shutting from
view the interior of the swamp. The reddish roots formed an
equally impenetrable fence, two feet high, all along the edge.
It would have been easier to walk through a hedge of bayonets
than to invade that barrier.
"Where mangroves grow, puppy," exhorted Brice, "there is
water. Salt water, at that. The water runs in far, here.
You can see that, by the depth of this mangrove forest. At
first glance, it looks like an impasse, doesn't it? And yet
it isn't. Because--"
He broke off, in his ruminative talk. The collie, bored
perhaps, by standing still so long, had at first turned
seaward. But, as a wavelet washed against his white forefeet,
he drew back, annoyed, and began aimlessly to skirt the swamp,
to landward. Before he had traveled twenty yards, he
For a second or so, Gavin Brice stared stupidly at the
phenomenon of the jungle-like wall of mangroves that had
swallowed a seventy-pound dog. Then his brow cleared, and a
glint of eagerness came into his eye. Almost running, he
hurried to the spot where the dog had vanished. Then he
halted, and called softly:
"Come, puppy! Here!"
In immediate obedience to his call, the dog reappeared, at the
swamp's edge, wagging his plumy tail, glad to be summoned.
Before the collie could stir, Brice was at his side, taking
sharp note of the direction from which the dog had just
stepped out of the mangroves.
In front, the wall of leaves and branches still hung,
seemingly impenetrable. The chief difference between this
spot and any on either side, was that the mangrove boughs had
apparently been trained to hang so low that the roots were
Tentatively, Brice drew aside an armful of branches, just
above the waiting dog. And, as though he had pulled back a
curtain, he found himself facing a well-defined path, cut
through the tangled thicket of root and trunk and bough--a
path that wound out of sight in the dark recesses of the
Roots had been cleared away and patches of water filled with
them and with earth. Here and there a plank bridge spanned a
gap of deeper water. Altogether--so far as Brice could judge
in the fading light--the path was an excellent bit of rustic
engineering. And it was hidden as cunningly from casual eyes
as ever was a hermit thrush's nest.
Some one had been at much pains and at more expense, to lay
out and develop that secret trail. For it is no easy or cheap
task to build a sure path through such a swamp. From a
distance, forests of mangrove seemed to be massed on rising
ground, and to group themselves about the sides and the crests
of knolls. As a matter of fact, the presence of a mangrove
forest is a sign of the very lowest ground, ground covered for
the most part by salt tidewater. The lowest pine barren is
higher than the loftiest mangrove wilderness.
Gavin Brice's aspect of lassitude dropped from him like an
outworn garment. For hours--except during his brief encounter
with the beach comber--he had been steadily on the move, and
had covered a good bit of ground. Yet, any one, seeing him as
he traversed the miles from the Royal Palm Park at Miami,
would have supposed from his gait that he was on some aimless
ramble. Now, alert, quick-stepping, eager, he made his swift
way along the windings of the secret path.
Light as were his steps, they creaked lamentably at times on
the boards of a bridge-span. More than once, he heard
slitherings, in the water and marsh to either side, as some
serpent or other slimy swamp-dweller wriggled away, at his
passing. The collie trotted gravely along, just in front of
him, pausing once in a while, as if to make certain the man
The silence and gloom and sinister solemnity of the place had
had a dampening effect on the dog's gay spirits. The backward
glances at his self-chosen master were for reassuring himself,
rather than for
guidance. Surroundings have quicker and stronger effect on
collies than on almost any other kind of dog. And these
surroundings, very evidently, were not to the collie's taste.
Several times, when the path's width permitted, he dropped
back to Gavin's side, to receive a word of friendly
encouragement or a pat on the head.
Outside of the grove's shadows the sun was sinking. Not with
the glowing deliberation of sunsets in northern latitudes, but
with almost indecent haste. In the dense shade of the forest,
twilight had fallen. But the path still lay clear. And
Brice's footsteps quickened, as in a race with darkness.
Then, at a twist of the path, the way suddenly grew lighter.
And at another turn, twilight brightened into clearness. A
hundred feet ahead was a thin interlacing of moonflower vines,
compact enough, no doubt, to
prevent a view of the path to any one standing in the stronger
light beyond the grove, but making distinct to Brice a grassy
Upon this clearing, the brief bright afterglow was shining,
for the trim grass and shrubs of an upwardsloping lawn were
clearly visible. For some minutes the water and the swamp
underfoot had given place to firmer ground, and the character
of the trees themselves had changed. Evidently, the trail
had its ending at that screen of vineleaves draped between two
giant gumbo-limbo trees at the lawn's verge.
Thirty feet from the vines, Brice slackened his steps. His
lithe body was vibrant with cautious watchfulness. But, the
collie was not inclined to caution. He hailed with evident
relief the sight of open spaces and of light after the gloomy
trail's windings. And he broke into a canter.
Fearing to call aloud, Brice chirped and hissed softly at the
careering dog. The collie, at sound of the recall, hesitated,
then began to trot back toward Gavin. But, glancing wistfully
toward the light, as he started to obey the summons, his eye
encountered something which swept away all his dawning impulse
Athwart the bright end of the path, sprang a furry gray
creature, supple, fluffy, indescribably formless and immense
in that deceptive half-light.
Brice peered at the animal in astonishment, seeking to
classify it in his mind. But the collie needed no effort of
that sort. At first sight and scent, he knew well to what
tribe the furry gray newcomer belonged. And, with a
trumpet-bark of joyous challenge, he dashed at it.
The creature fluffed itself to double its former size. Then,
spitting and yowling, it ran up the nearer of the two
gumbo-limbo trees. The dog reached the foot of the tree a
fraction of a second too late to seize the fox-like tail of
his prey. And he circled wildly, barking at the top of his
lungs and making futile little running leaps up the shining
trunk of the tree.
As well hope for secrecy after the firing of a cannon as after
such a fanfare of barking! Gavin Brice ran forward to grasp
the rackety collie. As he did so, he was vaguely aware that a
slender and white-clad form was crossing the lawn, at a run,
toward the tree.
At the path-end, he and the figure came face to face. Though
the other's back was to the fading light, Gavin
knew her for the girl he had seen in the Australian pine lane,
at Miami, that day.
"Pardon me," he began, trying in vain to make himself audible
through the collie's frantic barking. "I found your dog, and
I have brought him back to you. We--"
The glib explanation died, in his amazement-contracting
throat. For, at his first word, the girl had checked her run
and had stood for an instant, gazing wideeyed at him. Then,
clapping one little hand to her side, she produced from
somewhere a flash of metal.
And Gavin Brice found himself blinking stupidly into the
muzzle of a small revolver, held, unwaveringly, not three feet
from his face. Behind the gun were a pair of steady gray eyes
and a face whose dainty outlines were just now set in a mask
of icy grimness.
"That isn't a bluff," ran his involuntary thoughts, as he read
the eyes behind the ridiculously tiny weapon. "She really
means to shoot!"
THE MAN IN THE DARK
For several seconds the two stood thus, the man dumfounded,
moveless, gaping, the girl as grimly resolute as Fate itself,
the little revolver steady, its muzzle unwaveringly menacing
Brice's face. The collie continued to gyrate, thunderously
around the tree.
"I don't want to shoot you," said the girl presently, and,
through her voice's persistent sternness, Gavin fancied he
could read a thrill of very feminine concern. "I don't want
to shoot you. If I can help it. You will put your hands up."
Meekly, Brice obeyed.
"Now," she resumed, "you will turn around, and go back the way
you came. And you will go as fast as you can travel. I shall
follow you to the second turning. Then I shall fire into the
air. That will bring--one or more of the men. And they will
see you don't turn back. I'm--I'm giving you that much chance
to get away. Because I--I don't want--"
She hesitated. The grimness had begun to seep out of her
sweet voice. The revolver-muzzle wobbled, ever so little.
"I'm sorry," began Brice. "But--"
"I don't care to hear any explanations," she cut him short,
sternly. "Your coming along that path could mean only one
thing. You will do as I say.--You will turn about and make
what use you can of the start I'm offering you. Now--"
"I'm sorry," repeated Brice, more determinedly, and trying
hard to keep his twitching face straight. "But I can't do
what you ask. It was hard enough coming along that path,
while the light lasted. If I were to go back over it in the
dark, I'd break my neck on a million mangrove roots. If it's
just the same to you, I'll take my chances with the pistol.
It'll be an easier death, and in pleasanter company. So, if
you really must shoot then blaze away!"
He lowered his upraised arms, folding them melodramatically on
his breast, while he sought, through the gloom, to note the
effect of his solemnly uttered speech. The effect was far
different and less sensational than he had expected. At the
first sound of his voice that was audible above the collie's
barks, the girl lowered the revolver and leaned forward to get a
clearer view of his face, beneath the shadow of the vine-leaves.
"I--I thought--" she stammered, and added lamely "I thought
you were--were--were some one else." She paused, then she
went on with some slight return of her earlier sternness "Just
the same, your coming here by that path..."
"There is no magic about it," he assured her, "and very little
mystery. I was taking a stroll along the shore, when I
happened upon that mass of dynamite and fur and springs,
yonder. (In his rare moments of calm, he is a collie,--the
best type of show collie, at that.) He ran ahead of me,
through the tangle of mangrove boughs. I followed, and found
a path. He seemed anxious to explore the path, and I kept on
following him, until--"
The girl seemed for the first time aware of the dog's noisy
"Oh!" she exclaimed, looking at the rackety and leaping collie
in much surprise. "I thought it was the stable dog that had
treed Simon Cameron! I didn't notice. He-- Why!" she cried,
"that's Bobby Burns! We lost him, on the way here from the
station! My brother has gone back to Miami to offer a reward
for him. He came from the North, this morning. We drove into
town to get him. On the way out, he must have fallen from the
back seat. We didn't miss him till we-- How did you happen
to find him?"
"He was on the beach, back yonder," explained Brice. "He
seemed to adopt me, and..."
"Haven't I met you, somewhere?" she broke in, studying his
dim-seen face more intently and at closer range.
"No," he made answer. "But you've seen me. At least I saw
you. You, and a big man with a gold beard and a white silk
suit, and this collie, were in a car, listening to Bryan's
sermon, this morning. I recognized the collie, as soon as I
saw him again. And I guessed what must have happened. I
guessed, too, that he was a new dog, and that he hadn't
learned the way home, yet. It's lucky I was able to bring him
to you. Or, rather, that he was able to bring himself to
"And to think I rewarded you for all your trouble, by
threatening to shoot you!" she said, in sharp contrition.
"Oh, please don't feel sorry for that!" he begged. "It wasn't
really as deadly as you made it seem. That is an old style
revolver, you see, vintage of 1880 or thereabouts, I should
say. Not a self-cocker. And, you'll notice it isn't cocked.
So, even if you had stuck to your lethal threat and had pulled
the trigger ever so hard, I'd still be more or less alive.
You'll excuse me for mentioning it," he ended in apology,
noting her crestfallen air. "Any novice in the art of slaying
might have done the same thing. Shooting people is an
accomplishment that improves with practice."
Coldly, she turned away, and crossed to where the collie was
beginning to weary of his fruitless efforts to climb the
shinily smooth bark of the giant gumbo-limbo. Catching him by
the collar, she said:
"Bobby! Bobby Burns! Stop that silly barking! Stop it at
once! And leave poor little Simon Cameron alone! Aren't you
Now, Bobby was not in the least ashamed--except for his
failure to reach his elusive prey. But, like many highbred
and highstrung collies, he did not fancy having his collar
seized by a stranger. He did not resent the act with snarls
and a show of teeth, as in the case of the beach comber. But
he stiffened to offended dignity, and, with a sudden jerk,
freed himself from the little detaining hand.
Then, loftily, he stalked across to Gavin and thrust his
muzzle once more into the man's cupped palm. As clearly as by
a dictionary-ful of words, he had rebuked her familiarity and
had shown to whom he felt he owed sole allegiance.
While the girl was still staring in rueful indignation at this
snub from her dog, Brice found time and thought to stare with
still greater intentness up the tree, at a bunch of bristling
fur which occupied the first crotch and which glared
wrathfully down at the collie.
He made out the contour and bashed-in profile of a huge
Persian cat, silver-gray of hue, dense of coat, green of eye.
"So that's Simon Cameron?" he queried. "What a beauty! And
what a quaintly Oriental name you've chosen for him!"
"He is named," said the girl, still icily, "for a statesman my
parents admired. My brother says our Persian's hair is just
the same color as Simon Cameron's used to be. That's why we
named him that. You'll notice the cat has the beautifullest
silvery gray hair--"
"Prematurely gray, I'm sure," put in Brice, civilly.
She looked at him, in doubt. But his face was grave. And she
turned to the task of coaxing the indignant Simon Cameron from
"Simon Cameron always walks around the grounds with me, at
sunset," she explained, in intervals of cajoling the grumpy
mass of fluff to descend. "And he ran ahead of me, to-day, to
the edge of the path. That must have been when Bobby caught
sight of him..."
"Come, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty!" she coaxed. "Do be a good little
cat, and come down. See, the dog can't get at you, now. He's
being held. Come!"
The allurement of his mistress's voice produced no stirring
effect on the temperamental Simon Cameron. Beyond leaving the
crotch and edging mincingly downward, a yard or so, the
Persian refused to obey the crooning summons. Plastered flat
against the tree trunk, some nine feet above the ground, he
"Hold Bobby's collar," suggested Brice, "and I think I can get
the prematurely grizzled catling to earth."
The girl came over to where man and dog stood, and took Bobby
Burns by the collar. Brice crossed to the tree and looked
upward at the yowling Simon Cameron.
"Hello, you good little cat!" he hailed, cooingly. "Cats
always like to be called 'good,' you know. All of us are
flattered when we're praised for something we aren't. A dog
doesn't care much about being called 'good.' Because he knows
he is. But a cat..."
As he talked, Gavin scratched gratingly on the tree trunk, and
gazed up in ostentatious admiration at the coy Simon Cameron.
The Persian, like all his kind, was foolishly open to
admiration. Brice's look, his crooning voice, his
entertaining fashion of scratching the tree for the cat's
amusement all these proved a genuine lure. Down the tree
started Simon Cameron, moving backward, and halting
coquettishly at every few inches.
Gavin reached up and lifted the fluffy creature from the
trunk, cradling him in expert manner in the crook of one arm.
Simon Cameron forgot his fear and purred loudly, rubbing his
snub-nose face against his captor's sleeve.
"Don't feel too much flattered," adjured the girl. "He's like
that, with all strangers. As soon as he has known most people
a day or two, he'll have nothing to do with them."
"I know," assented Gavin. "That's a trick of Persian cats.
They have an inordinate interest in every one except the
people they know. Their idea of heaven is to be admired by a
million strangers at a time. If
I'd had any tobacco-reek on me, Simon Cameron wouldn't have
let me hold him as long as this. Persian's hate tobacco."
He set the soothed animal down on the lawn, where, after one
scornful look at the tugging and helpless dog, Simon Cameron
proceeded to rub his arched back against the man's legs, thus
transferring a goodly number of fluffy gray hairs to Brice's
shabby trousers. Tiring of this, he minced off, affectedly,
toward the distant house that stood at the landward end of the
As he set the cat down, Brice had stepped out of the shadows
of the grove, into the open. And now, not only his face, but
his whole body was clearly visible in the dying daylight. The
girl's eyes ran appraisingly over the worn clothes and the
cracking and dusty shoes. Brice felt, rather than saw, her
appraisal. And he knew she was contrasting his costume with
his voice and his clean-shaven face. She broke the moment of
embarrassed silence by saying "You must be tired after your
long tramp, from Miami. Were you walking for fun and
exercise, or are you bound for any especial place?" He knew
she was fencing, that his clothes made her wonder if she ought
not to offer him some cash payment for finding her dog,--a
reward she would never have dreamed of offering on the
strength of his manner and voice. Also, it seemed, she was
seeking some way of closing the interview without dismissing
him or walking away. And he answered with per fect
"No, I wasn't walking for exercise or fun. There are better
and easier ways of acquiring fun than by plodding for hours in
the hot sunshine. And of getting exercise, too. I was on my
way to Homestead or to some farming place along the line,
where I might pick up a job."
"Yes. I could probably have gotten a place as dishwasher or
even as a 'bus' or porter, in one of the big Miami hotels," he
pursued, "or a billet with one of the dredging gangs in the
harbor. But somehow I'd rather do farm work of some sort. It
seems less of a slump, when a chap is down on his luck, than
to go in for scrubbing or for section-gang hustling. There
are farms and citrus groves, all along here, just back of the
bay. And I'm looking for one of them where I can get a decent
day's work to do and a decent day's wages for doing it."
He spoke with an almost overdone earnestness. The girl was
watching him, attentively, a furrow between her straight
brows. Somehow, her level look made him uncomfortable. He
continued, with a shade less assurance:
"I was brought up on a farm, though I haven't been on one
since I was eighteen. I might have been better off if I'd
stayed there. Anyhow, when a man's prospects of starving are
growing brighter every day, a farm-job is about the pleasantest
sort of work he can find."
"Starving!" she repeated, in something like contempt. "If you
had been in this region a little longer--say, long enough to
pronounce the name, 'Miami' as it's pronounced down here,
instead of calling it 'Me-ah-mee,' as you did--if you'd been
here longer, you'd know that nobody need starve in Florida.
Nobody who is willing to work. There's the fishing, and the
construction gangs, and the groves, and the farms, and a
million other ways of making a living. The weather lets you
sleep outdoors, if you have to. The..."
"I've done it," he chimed in. "Slept outdoors, I mean. Last
night, for instance. I slept very snugly indeed, under a
Traveler Tree in the gardens of the Royal Palm Hotel. There
was a dance at the hotel. I went to sleep, under the stars,
to the lullaby of a corking good orchestra. The only drawback
was that a spooning couple who were engineering a 'petting
party,' almost sat down on my head, there in the darkness.
Not that I'd have minded being a settee for them. But they
might have told one of the watchmen about my being there. And
I'd have had to hunt other sleeping quarters."
She did not abate that look of quizzical appraisal. And again
Gavin Brice began to feel uncomfortable under her scrutiny.
"You have an orange grove, back yonder, haven't you?" he
asked, abruptly, nodding toward a landward stretch of ground
shut off from the lawn by a thickset hedge of oleander.
"How did you know?" she demanded in suspicion. "By this light
you couldn't possibly see--"
"Oddly enough," he said, in the pleasant drawling voice she
was learning to like in spite of her better judgment, "oddly
enough, I was born with a serviceable pair of nostrils. There
is a scent of orange blossoms hanging fairly strong in the
air. It doesn't come from the mangrove swamp behind me or
from the highroad in front of your house or from the big
garden patch to the south of the lawn. So I made a Sherlock
Holmes guess that it must be over there to northward, and
pretty close. Besides, that's the only direction the Trade
Winds could bring the scent from."
Again, she was aware of a certain glibness in his tone,--a
glibness that annoyed her and at the same time piqued her
"Yes," she said, none too cordially. "Our orange groves are
there. Why do you ask?"
"Only," he replied, "because where there are large citrus
groves on one side of a house and fairly big vegetable gardens
on the other, it means the need for a good bit of labor. And
that may mean a chance for a job. Or it may not. You'll pardon
my suggesting it.
"My brother needs no more labor," she replied. "At least, I
am quite certain he doesn't. In fact, he has more men working
here now than he actually needs. I--I've heard him say so.
Of course, I'll be glad to ask him, when he comes back from
town. And if you'd care to leave your address--"
"Gladly," said Brice. "Any letter addressed to me, as 'Gavin
Brice, in care of Traveler Tree, rear gardens of Royal Palm
Hotel,' will reach me. Unless, of course, the night watchmen
chance to root me out. In that case, I'll leave word with
them where mail may be forwarded. In the meantime, it's
getting pretty dark, and I don't know this part of Dade County
as well as I'd like to. So I'll be starting on. If you don't
mind, I'll cross your lawn, and take the main road. It's
easier going, at night than by way of the mangrove swamp and
the beach. Good night, Miss--"
"Wait!" she interposed, worry creeping into her sweet voice.
"I--I can't let you go like this. Do you really mean you have
to sleep out of doors and that you have no money? I don't
want to be impertinent, but--"
"'Nobody need starve in Florida,'" he quoted, gravely.
"'Nobody who is willing to work. The weather lets you sleep
outdoors.' (In which, the weather chimes harmoniously with my
pocketbook.) And, as I am extremely 'willing to work,' it
follows that I can't possibly starve. But I thank you for
feeling concerned about me. It's a long day since a woman has
bothered her head whether I live or die. Good night, again,
A second time, she ignored his hint that she tell him her
name. Too much worried over his light words and the real need
they seemed to cover, to heed the subtler intent, she said, a
"I--I don't understand you, at all. Not that it is any
business of mine, of course. But I hate to think that any one
is in need of food or shelter. Your voice and your face and
the way you talk--they don't fit in with the rest of you.
Such men as yourself don't drift, penniless, through Lower
Florida, looking for day-laborer jobs. I can't understand--"
"Every one who speaks decent English and yet is down-and-out,"
he said, quietly, "isn't necessarily a tramp or a fugitive
from justice. And he doesn't need to be a man of mystery,
either. Suppose, let's say, a clerk in New York has been too
ill, for a long time, to work. Suppose illness has eaten all
his savings, and that he doesn't care to borrow, when he knows
he may never be able to pay. Suppose his doctor tells him he
must go South, to get braced up, and to avoid a New York
February and March. Suppose the patient has only about money
enough to get here, and relies on finding something to do to
keep him in food and lodging. Well--there's nothing
mysterious or especially discreditable in that, is there? ...
The dew is beginning to fall. And I'm keeping you out here in
the damp. Good night, Miss--Miss--"
"Standish," she supplied, but speaking absently, her
mind still perturbed at his plight. "My name is Standish.
"Mine is Gavin Brice," he said. "Good night. Keep hold of
Bobby Burns's collar, till I'm well on my way. He may try to
follow me. Good-by, old chap," he added, bending down and
taking the collie's silken head affectionately between his
hands. "You're a good dog, and a good pal. But put the soft
pedal on the temperamental stuff, when you're near Simon
Cameron. That's the best recipe for avoiding a scratched
nose. By the way, Miss Standish, don't encourage him to roam
around in the palmetto scrub, on your outings with him. The
rattlesnakes have gotten many a good dog, in Florida. He--"
"Mr. Brice!" she broke in. "If I offend you, I can't help it.
Won't you please let me--let me lend you enough money to keep
you going, till you get a good job? Please do! Of course,
you can pay me, as soon as--"
"'I have not found such faith,--no, not in Israel!'" quoted
Brice, a new note in his voice which somehow stirred the
embarrassed girl's heart. "You have only my bare word that
I'm not a panhandler or a crook. And yet you believe in me
"You will let me?" she urged, eagerly. "Say you will! Say
"I'll make cleaner use of your faith," he returned, "by asking
you to say a good word for me to your brother, if ever I come
back here looking for a job. No, no!" he broke off, fiercely,
before she could answer. "I don't mean that. You must do
nothing of the kind. Forget I asked it."
With which amazing outburst, he turned on his heel, ran across
the lawn, leaped the low privet hedge which divided it from
the coral road, and made off at a swinging pace in the
direction of Coconut Grove and Miami.
"What a fool--and what a cur--a man can make of himself," he
muttered disgustedly as he strode along, without daring to
look back at the wondering little white-clad figure, watching
him out of sight around the bend, "when he gets to talking
with a woman--a woman with--with eyes like hers! They--why,
they make me feel as if I was in church! What sort of
bungling novice am I, anyhow, for work like this?"
With a grunt of self-contempt, he drove his hands deep into
the pockets of his shabby trousers and quickened his pace.
His fingers closed mechanically around a roll of bills, of
very respectable size, in the depths of his right-hand pocket.
The gesture caused a litter of small change to give forth a
muffled jingle. A sense of shame crept over the man, at the
"She wanted to lend me money!" he muttered, half-aloud.
"Money! Not give it to me, as a beggar, but to lend it to
me.... Her nose has the funniest little tilt to it! And she
can't be an inch over five feet tall! ... I'm a wall-eyed
He stood aside to let two cars pass him, one going in either
direction. The lamps of the car from the west, traveling
east, showed him for a moment the occupant of the car that was
moving westward. The brief ray shone upon a pair of shoulders
as wide as a steam radiator. They were clad in loose-fitting
white silk. Above them a thick golden beard caught the ray of
shifting light. Then, both cars had passed on, and Brice was
resuming his trudge.
"Milo Standish!" he mused, looking back at the car as it
vanished in a cloudlet of white coral-dust. "Milo Standish!
... As big as two elephants .... 'The bigger they are, the
harder they fall.'"
The road curved, from the Standish estate, in almost a "C"
formation, before straightening out, a mile to the north, into
the main highway. Gavin Brice had just reached the end of the
"C" when there was a scurrying sound behind him, in a
grapefruit grove to his right. Something light and agile
scrambled over the low coral-block wall, and flung itself
rapturously on him.
It was Bobby Burns.
The collie had suffered himself to be led indoors by the girl
whom he had never seen until that morning, and for whom, thus
far, he had formed no affection. But his wistful, deepset
dark eyes had followed Gavin Brice's receding form. He could
not believe this dear new friend meant to desert him. As
Brice did not stop, nor even look back, the collie waxed
doubtful. And he tugged to be free. Claire spoke gently to
him, a slight quiver in her own voice, her dark eyes, like
his, fixed upon the dwindling dark speck on the dusky white
"No, Bobby!" she said, under her breath, as she petted the
restless head. "He won't come back. Let's forget all about
it. We both behaved foolishly, you and I, Bobby. And he
--well, let's just call him eccentric, and not think about
him any more."
She drew the reluctant collie into the house, and closed the
door. But, a few minutes later, when her back chanced to be
turned, and when a maid came into the room leaving the door
ajar, Bobby slipped out.
In another five seconds he was in the road, casting about for
Brice's trail. Finding it, he set off, at a hard gallop,
nostrils close to the ground. Having once been hit and
bruised, in puppyhood, by a motor car, the dog had a wholesome
respect for such rapid and ill-smelling vehicles. Thus, as he
saw the lights and heard the engine-purr of one of them,
coming toward him, down the road, he dodged back into the
wayside hedge until it passed. Which is the reason Milo
Standish failed to see the dog he had been hunting for.
A little later, Brice's scent became so distinct that the
collie could abandon his nose-to-the-ground tactics and strike
across country, by dead-reckoning, guided not only by his nose
but by the sound of Gavin's steps. Then, in an access of
delight, he burst upon the plodding man.
"Why, Bobby!" exclaimed Brice, touched by the dog's rapture in
having found him again. "Why, Bobby Burns! What on earth
made you follow me? Don't you know I'm not your master?
Don't you, Bobby?"
He was petting the frisking collie as he talked. But now he
"I've got to take you back to her, old man!" he informed the
highly interested dog. "You belong to her. And she'll worry
about you. I'll just take you into the dooryard or to the
front lawn or whatever it is, and tie you there, so some one
will find you. I don't want to get my plans all messed up by
another talk with her, to-night. It's a mean trick to play on
you, after you've taken all the trouble to follow me. But
you're hers. After this rotten business is all over, maybe
I'll try to buy you. It's worth ninety per cent of your value
to have had you pick me out for your master. Any man with
cash enough can be a dog's owner, Bobby. But all the cash in
the world won't make him the dog's master without the dog's
own consent. Ever stop to think of that, Bobby?"
As he talked, half incoherently, to the delighted collie,
Gavin was retracing his way over the mile or so he had just
traversed. He grudged the extra steps. For the day had been
long and full of exercise. And he was more than comfortably
tired. But he kept on, wondering vexedly at the little throb
of eagerness in his heart as Claire Standish's home at last
bulked dimly into view around the last curve of the byroad.
Bobby Burns trotted happily beside him, reveling in the man's
occasional rambling words, as is the flattering way collies
have when they are talked to, familiarly, by the human they
love. And so the two neared the house, their padding
footsteps noiseless in the soft white dust of the road.
There were lights in several windows. One strong ray was cast
full across the side lawn, penetrating almost as far as the
beginning of the forest at the rear. Toward this vivid beam,
Gavin bent his steps, fumbling in his pocket as he went, for
something with which to tie Bobby to the nearest tree.
As he moved forward and left the road for the closecropped
grass of the lawn, he saw a dim white shadow advancing
obliquely in his direction. And, for an instant, his
heartbeats quickened, ever so slightly. Then, he was
disgusted with his own fatuousness. For the white form was
double the size of Claire Standish. And he knew this was her
brother, crossing from the garage to a door of the house.
The big man swung along with the easy gait of perfect physical
strength. And as the window, whence flowed the light-ray, was
alongside the door he intended to enter, his journey toward
the house lay in the direct path of the ray.
Brice, in the darkness, just inside the gateway, stood
moveless and waited for him to traverse the hundred feet or so
that remained between him and the veranda. The collie
fidgeted, at sight of the man in white, and began to growl,
inquiringly, far down in his throat.
Gavin patted Bobby Burns reassuringly on the head, to quiet
him. He was of no mind to introduce himself at the Standish
home, a second time, as the returner of a runaway dog.
Wherefore, he sought to remain unseen, and to wait with what
patience he could until the householder should have gone
Apparently, on reaching home, Standish had driven the car to
the garage and had pottered around there for some minutes
before starting for the house. He was carrying something
loosely in one hand, and he did not seem in any hurry.
"My friend," said Gavin, soundlessly, "if a girl like Claire
Standish was waiting for me, beyond, that shaft of light, I'd
make the trip in something better than no time at all. But
then--she's not my sister, thank the good Lord!"
He grinned at his own silly thoughts concerning the girl he
had talked to for so brief a time. Yet he found himself
looking at her elder brother with a certain reluctant
friendliness, on her account.
Suddenly, the grin was wiped from his face, and he was tense
from head to foot.
Standish, on his way homeward, was strolling past a clump of
dwarf shrubbery. And, idly watching him, Gavin could have
sworn that one end of the shrubbery moved.
Then, he was no longer in doubt. The bit of darkness detached
itself from the rest of the shrubbery, as Milo lounged past,
and it sprang, catlike, at the unsuspecting man's back.
Into the path of light it leaped. In the same atom of time,
Gavin Brice shouted aloud in sharp warning, and dashed forward,
the collie at his side.
But he was fifty feet away. And his shout served only to make
Standish halt, staring about him.
It was then that the creature from the shrubbery made his
spring. He struck venomously at Standish, from behind. And
Gavin could see, in the striking hand, a glitter of steel.
Standish--warned perhaps by sound, perhaps by instinct--wheeled
half-way around. Thus the knifeblow missed its mark between
his shoulder-blades. Not the blade, but the fist which
gripped it, smote full on Standish's shoulder. The deflected
point merely shore the white coat from neck to waist.
There was no scope to strike again. And the assailant
contented himself with passing his free arm garrotingly around
Standish's neck, from behind, and leaping upward, bringing his
knees into the small of the victim's back.
Here evidently was no amateur slayer. For, even as the
knife-thrust missed its mark, he had resorted to the second
ruse, and before Standish could turn around far enough to
Down went the big man, under the strangle-hold and knee-purchase.
With a crash that knocked the breath out of him and dazed him, he
landed on his back, his head smiting the sward with a resounding
His adversary, once more, wasted not a jot of time. As
Standish struck ground, the man was upon him, knife again
aloft, poised above the helpless Milo's throat.
And it was then that Gavin Brice's flying feet brought him to
As he ran he had heard a door open. And he knew his warning
shout had reached the ears of some one in the house,--perhaps
of Claire. But he had no time nor thought for anything, just
then, except the stark need of reaching Milo Standish before
the knife could strike.
He launched himself, after the fashion of a football tackle,
straight for the descending arm. And, for a few seconds all
three men rolled and wallowed and fought in a jumble of flying
arms and legs and heads.
Brice had been lucky enough or dextrous enough to catch the
knife-wielder's wrist and to wrench it far to one side, as it
whizzed downward. With his other hand he had groped for the
Then, he found himself attacked with a maniac fury by the man
whose murderous purpose he had thwarted. Still gripping the
knife-wrist, he was sore put to it to fend off an avalanche of
blows from the other arm and of kicks from both of the
assailant's deftly plied feet.
Nor was his task made the easier by the fact that Milo
Standish had recovered from the momentary daze, and was
slugging impartially at both the men who rolled and tossed on
top of him.
This, for a short but excessively busy space of moments.
Then, wriggling free of Milo's impeding and struggling bulk,
Brice gained the throat-hold he sought. Still holding to the
ground the wrist of the knifehand, he dug his supple fingers
deep into the man's throat, disregarding such blows and kicks
as he could not ward off.
There was science in his ferocious onslaught. And his skilled
fingers had found the windpipe and the carotid artery as well.
With such force as Brice was able to exert, the other's breath
was shut off, while he was all but paralyzed by the digging
pressure into his carotid.
Such a grip is well understood by Japanese athletes, though
its possibilities and method are unknown to the average
Occidental. Rightly applied, it is irresistible. Carried to
its conclusion, it spells sudden and agonizing death to its
And Gavin Brice was carrying it to the conclusion, with all
the sinew and science of his trained arms.
The knifer's strength was gorilla-like. But that strength, at
every second, was rendered more and more futile. The man must
have realized it. For, all at once, he ceased his battery of
kicks and blows, and struggled frantically to tear free.
Each plunging motion merely intensified the pain and power of
the relentless throat-grip that pinioned him. And, strangling
and panic-struck, he became wilder in his fruitless efforts to
wrench loose. Then, deprived of breath and with his
nerve-centers shaken, he lost the power to strive.
It was the time for which Gavin had waited. With perfect
ease, now, he twisted the knife from the failing grasp, and,
with his left hand, he reinforced the throat-grip of his
right. As he did so, he got his legs under him and arose,
dragging upward with him the all but senseless body of his
It had been a pretty bit of work, from the start, and one upon
which his monkey-faced Japanese jui-jutsu
instructor would have lavished a grunt of approval.
He had conquered an armed and muscular enemy by his knowledge
of anatomy and by applying the simple grip he had learned.
And now, the heaving half-dead murderer was at his mercy.
Gavin swung the feebly twitching body out, more fully into the
streak of light from the house, noting, subconsciously that
the light ray was twice as broad as before, by reason of the
door's standing open.
But, before he could concentrate his gaze on the man he held,
he saw several million other things. And all the several
million were multi-hued stars and bursting bombs.
The entire universe seemed to have exploded and to have chosen
the inside of his brain as the site for such annoying
pyrotechnics. Dully he was aware that his hands were
loosening their death-grip and that his arms were falling to
his sides. Also, that his knees had turned to hot tallow and
were crumbling, under him.
None of these amazing phenomena struck him as at all
interesting. Indeed, nothing struck him as worth noting. Not
even the display of myriad shooting stars. It all seemed
quite natural, and it all lasted for the merest breath of
Through the universe of varicolored lights and explosions, he
was aware of a woman's cry. And, somehow, this pierced the
mist of his senses, and found its way to his heart. But only
for an instant.
Then, instead of tumbling to earth, he felt himself sinking
down, uncountable miles, through a cool darkness. The dark
was comforting, after all that bothersome display of lights.
And, while he was still falling, he drifted into a dead sleep.
THE MOCKING BIRD
After centuries of unconsciousness, Gavin Brice began to
return, bit by bit, to his senses.
The first thing he knew was that the myriad shooting stars in
his head had changed somehow into a myriad shooting pains. He
was in torment. And he was deathly sick.
His trained brain forced itself to a semblance of sanity, and
he found himself piecing together vaguely the things that had
happened to him. He could remember seeing Milo Standish
strolling toward the veranda in the shaft of light from the
window, then the black figure which detached itself from the
shrubbery and sprang on the unheeding man, and his own attempt
to turn aside the arm that wielded the knife.
But everything else was a blank.
Meanwhile, the countless shooting pains were merging into one
intolerable ache. Brice had no desire to stir or even to open
his eyes. The very thought of motion was abhorrent. The mere
effort at thinking was painful. So he lay still.
Presently, he was aware of something that touched his head.
And he wondered why the touch did not add to his hurt, but was
soothing. Even a finger's weight might have been expected to
jar his battered skull.
But there was no jar to this touch. Rather was it cooling and
of infinite comfort. And now he realized that it had been
continuing for some time.
Again he roused his rebellious brain to action, and knew at
last what the soothing touch must be. Some one was bathing
his forehead with cool water. Some one with a lightly
magnetic touch. Some one whose fingers held healing in their
And, just above him, he could hear quick, light breathing,
breathing that was almost a sob. His unseen nurse was taking
her job not only seriously but compassionately. That was
evident. It did not jibe with Gavin's slight experience with
trained nurses. Wherefore, it puzzled him.
But, perplexity seemed to hurt his brain as much as did the
effort to piece together the shattered fragments of memory.
So he forbore to follow that train of thought. And, again, he
strove to banish mentality and to sink back into the merciful
senselessness from which youth and an iron-and-whalebone
constitution were fighting to rouse him.
But, do what he would to prevent it, consciousness was
creeping more and more in upon him. For, now, he could not
only follow the motions of the wondrously gentle hand on his
forehead, but he could tell that his head was not on the
ground. Instead, it was resting on something warm, and it
was elevated some inches above the grass. He recalled a
war-chromo of a wounded soldier whose head rested on the knee
of a Red Cross nurse,--a nurse who sat on the furrowed earth
of a five-color battlefield, where all real life army
regulations forbade her to set foot.
Was he that soldier? Was he still in the hell of the Flanders
trenches? He had thought the war was over, and that he was
back in America,--in America and on his way South on some odd
and perilous business whose nature he could not now recall.
Another few seconds of mental wandering, and he was himself
again, his mind functioning more and more clearly. With
returning strength of brain came curiosity. Where was he?
How did he chance to be lying here, his head in some sobbing
woman's lap? It didn't make sense!
With instinctive caution, he parted his eyelids, ever so
slightly, and sought to peer upward through his thick lashes.
The effort was painful, but less so than he had feared.
Already, through natural buoyancy or else by reason of the
unseen nurse's ministrations, the throbbing ache was becoming
At first, his dazed eyes could make out nothing. Then he
could see, through his lashes, the velvety dark blue of the
night sky and the big white Southern stars shining through a
soft cloud. Inconsequentially, his vagrant mind recalled
that, below Miami, the Southern Cross is smudgily visible on
the horizon, somewhere around two in the morning. And he
wondered if he could descry it, if that luminous cloud were
not in the way.
Then, he knew it was not a cloud which shimmered between his
eyes and the stars. It was a woman's filmy hair.
And the woman was bending down above him, as be lay with his
head on her knee. She was bending down, sobbing softly to
herself, and bathing his aching head with water from a bowl at
He was minded to rouse himself and speak, or at least to get a
less elusive look at her shadowed face, when running footsteps
sounded from somewhere. And again by instinct, Brice shut his
eyes and lay moveless.
The footsteps were coming nearer. They were springy and
rhythmic, the footsteps of a powerful man.
Then came a panting voice out of the darkness
"Oh, there you are!" it exclaimed. "He got away. Got away,
clean. I reached the head of the path, not ten feet behind
him. But, in there, it's so black I couldn't see anything
ahead of me. And I had no light, worse luck! So he--"
A deep-throated growl interrupted him,--a growl so fierce and
menacing that Gavin once more halfparted his eyes, in sudden
From beside his feet, Bobby Burns was rising. The collie had
crouched there, evidently, with some idea of guarding Brice
from further harm. He did not seem to have resented the
woman's ministrations. But he was of no mind to let this man
come any closer to his stricken idol.
Brice was sore tempted to reach out his hand and give the
collie a reassuring pat and to thank him for the loyal guard
he had been keeping. Now, through the mists of memory, he
recalled snarls and the bruising contact of a furry body,
during the battle he so, dimly remembered, and that once his
foe had cried, out, as though at the impact of rending teeth.
Yes, Bobby Burns, presumably, had learned a lesson since his
interested but impersonal surveillance of Gavin's bout with
the beach comber, earlier in the afternoon. He had begun to
learn that when grown men come to a clinch, it is not mere
And Brice wanted to praise the gallant young dog for coming
to his help. But, as before, instinct and professional
experience bade him continue to "play dead."
"What's that?" he heard the man demand, in surprise, as Bobby
snarled again and stood threateningly between him and the
The woman answered. And at the first sound of her voice, full
memory rushed back on Gavin in a flood. He knew where he was,
and who was holding, his head on her knee. The knowledge
thrilled him, unaccountably. With mighty effort he held to
his, pose of inert senselessness.
"That's Bobby Burns," he heard Claire saying in reply to her
brother's first question. "He's guarding Mr. Brice. When I
ran out here with the water and the cloths, I found him
standing above him. But--oh, Milo--"
"Brice?" snapped Milo Standish, glowering on the fallen man
his sister was brooding over. "Brice? Who's Brice? D'you
mean that chap? Lucky I got him, even if the other one did
give me the slip! Let me take a look at him. If I hadn't
happened to be bringing the monkey-wrench from the garage to
fix that shelf-bolt in the study, I'd never have been able to
get even one of them. I yanked free of them, while they were
trying to down me, and I let this one have it with the wrench.
Before I could land on the other--"
"Milo!" she broke in, after several vain attempts to still his
vainglorious recital. "Milo! You've injured--maybe you've
killed--the man who saved you from being stabbed to death!
"What are you talking about?" he demanded, bewildered. "These
two men set on me in the dark, as I was coming from--"
"This man, here--Mr. Brice--" she flamed, "has saved you from
being killed. Oh, go and telephone for a doctor! Quickly!
And send one of the maids out here with my smelling salts.
"Thanks!" returned her brother, making no move to obey. "But
when I phone, it'll be to the police. Not to a doctor. I
don't know what notion you may have gotten of this fracas.
"Oh, we're wasting such precious time!" she cried. "Listen!
I heard a shout. I was on my way to the veranda to see what
was detaining you. For I had heard your car come in, quite a
while before that. I opened the door. And I was just in time
to see some man spring on you, with a knife in his hand. Then
Mr. Brice came running from the gateway, just as the man threw
you down and lifted his knife to stab you. Mr. Brice dragged
him away from you and throttled him, and knocked the knife out
of his hand. I could see it ever so plainly. For it was all
in that big patch of light. Just like a scene on a stage.
Then, Mr. Brice got to his feet, and swung the man to one
side, by the throat. And as he did, you jumped up, too, and
hit him on the head with that miserable wrench. As he fell, I
could see the other man stagger off toward the path. He was
so weak, at first, he could hardly move. I cried out to you,
but you were so busy glaring down at the man who had saved
your life that you didn't think to start after the other one
till he had gotten strength enough to escape from you. Then I
went for water to--"
"Good Lord!" groaned Standish, agape. "You're--you're
sure--dead sure you're right?"
"Sure?" she echoed, indignantly. "Of course I'm sure. I--"
"Hold that measly dog's collar," he broke in. "So! I don't
care to be bitten. I've had my share of knockabout stuff, for
Stooping, he picked up Brice as easily as though Gavin had
been a baby, and with rough tenderness carried him toward the
"There are a lot of things, about all this, that I don't
understand," he continued, irritably, as Claire and the still
growling but tight-held Bobby followed him to the veranda.
"For instance, how that dog happens to be here and trying to
protect a total stranger. For, Bobby only got to Miami, from
New Jersey, by this morning's train. He can't possibly know
this man. That's one thing. Another is, how this--Brice, did
you say his name is?--happened to be Johnny-on-the-spot when
the other chap tried to knife me. And how you happen to know
him by name. He's dressed more like a day-laborer than like
any one you'd be likely to meet .... But all that can wait.
The thing now is to find how badly he's hurt."
They had reached the veranda, and Standish carried his burden
through an open doorway, which was blocked by a knot of
excitedly inquisitive servants. A sharp word from Standish
sent them whisperingly back to the kitchen regions. Milo laid
Brice down on a wicker couch in the broad, flagged hallway,
and ran his fingers over the bruised head.
Gavin could hear Claire, in a nearby room, telephoning.
"Hold on, there!" called Standish, as his sister gave the
operator a number. "Wait! As well as I can tell, at a
glance, there doesn't seem to be any fracture. He's just
knocked out. That's all. A mild concussion of the brain, I
should think. Don't call a doctor, unless it turns out to be
more serious. It's bad enough for the servants to be all
stirred up like this, and to blab--as they're certain to-
-without letting a doctor in on it, too. The less talk we
cause, the better."
Reluctantly, Claire came away from the telephone and
approached the couch.
"You're sure?" she asked, in doubt.
"I've had some experience with this sort of thing, on the
other side," he answered. "The man will come to himself in
another few minutes. I've loosened his collar and belt and
"Have you any idea who could have tried to kill you?" she
"Yes!" he made sullen answer. "And so have you. Let it go at
"You--you think it was one of--?"
"Hush!" he ordered, uneasily. "This fellow may not be quite
as unconscious as he looks. Sometimes, people get their
hearing back, before they open their eyes. Come into the
library, a minute. I want to speak to you. Oh, don't look
like that, about leaving him alone! He'll be all right, I
tell you! His pulse is coming back, strong. Come in here."
He laid one big arm on her slight shoulder and led her,
half-forcibly, into the adjoining room. Thence, Gavin could
hear the rumble of his deep voice. But he could catch no word
the man said, though once he heard Claire speak in vehement
excitement, and could hear Milo's harsh interruption and his
command that she lower her voice.
Presently, the two came back into the hall. As Standish
neared the couch, Gavin Brice opened his eyes, with
considerable effort, and blinked dazedly up at the gigantic
figure in the torn and muddy white silk suit.
Then Brice's blinking gaze drifted to Claire, as she stood,
pale and big-eyed, above him. He essayed a feeble smile of
recognition, and let his glance wander in well-acted amazement
about the high-veiled hallway.
"Feeling better?" queried Milo. "Here, drink this."
Gavin essayed to speak. His pose was not wholly assumed. For
his head still swam and was intolerably painful.
He sipped at the brandy which Standish held to his sagging
lips. And, glancing toward Claire, he smiled, a somewhat
wavery and wan smile.
"Don't try to say anything!" she begged. "Wait till you are
"I'm I'm all right," he assured her, albeit rather shakily,
his voice seeming to come from a distance. "I got a rap over
the head. And it put me out, for a while. But--I'm
collecting the pieces. I'll be as good as--as new, in a few
The fragments of dialogue between brother and sister had
supplemented his returning memory. Mentally, he was himself
again, keen, secretive, alert, every bit of him warily on
guard. But he cursed the fact that Standish had drawn Claire
into the library, out of earshot, when he spoke of the man who
had attacked him.
Then, with a queer revulsion of feeling, he cursed himself for
an eavesdropper, and was ashamed of having listened at all.
For the first time, he began to hate the errand that had
brought him to Florida.
Bobby Burns caused a mild diversion, as Brice's voice trailed
away. At Gavin's first word, the collie sprang from his
self-appointed guard-post at the foot of the couch, and came
dancing up to the convalescent man, thrusting his cold nose
rapturously against Brice's face, trying to lick his cheek,
whimpering in joy at his idol's recovery.
With much effort Gavin managed to stroke the wrigglingly
active head, and to say a reassuring word to his worshiper.
Then, glancing again at Claire, he explained:
"I'd done about a mile toward Miami when he overtook me.
There was no use in trying to send him home. So I brought
him. Just as we got to the gate, here--"
"I know," intervened Claire, eager to spare him the effort of
speech. "I saw. It was splendid of you, Mr. Brice! My
brother and I are in your debt for more than we can ever hope
"Nonsense!" he protested. "I made a botch of the whole thing.
"No," denied Milo. "It was I who made a botch of it. I owe
you not only my life but an apology. It was my blow, not the
other man's, that knocked you out. I misunderstood, and--"
"That's all right!" declared Gavin. "In the dim light it's a
miracle we didn't all of us slug the wrong men. I--"
He stopped. Claire had been working over something on a table
behind him. Now she came forward with a cold compress for his
abraded scalp. Skillfully, she applied it, her dainty fingers
"Red Cross?" asked Brice, as she worked.
"Just a six-month nursing course, during the war," she said,
modestly, adding: "I didn't get across."
"I'm sorry," said Gavin. "I mean, for the poor chaps who
might have profited by such clever bandaging .... Yes, that's
a very dull and heavy compliment. I know it. But--there's a
lot of gratitude behind it. You've made this throbbing old
head of mine feel ever so much better, Miss Standish."
Milo was looking bewilderedly from one to the other, as if
trying to understand how this ill-clad man chanced to be on
such terms of acquaintanceship with his fastidious little
sister. Claire read his look of inquiry, and said:
"Mr. Brice found Bobby Burns, this afternoon, and brought him
home to me. It was nice of him, wasn't it? For it took him
ever so far out of his way."
Gavin noted that she made no mention of his having come to the
Standish home by way of the hidden path. It seemed to him
that she gave him a glance of covert appeal, as though
beseeching him not to mention it. He nodded, ever so
Back to Full Books