Black Caesar's Clan
Albert Payson Terhune
Part 2 out of 4
slightly, and took up the narrative, as she paused for words.
"I saw Miss Standish and yourself, at Miami, this morning,"
said he, "and the collie, here, on the back seat of your car.
Then, this afternoon, as I was walking out in this direction,
I saw the dog again. I recognized him, and I guessed he had
strayed. So he and I made friends. And as we were strolling
along together, we met Miss Standish. At least, I met her.
Bobby met a prematurely gray Persian cat, with the dreamy
Bagdad name of 'Simon Cameron.' By the time the dog and cat
could be sorted out from each other--"
"Oh, I see!" laughed Milo. "And I don't envy you the job of
sorting them. It was mighty kind of you to--"
He broke off and added, with a tinge of anxiety:
"You say you happened to be walking near here. Are you a
neighbor of ours?"
"Not yet," answered Gavin, with almost exaggerated simplicity.
"But I was hoping to be. You see I was out looking for a job
in this neighborhood."
"A job?" repeated Milo, then, suspiciously: "Why in this
neighborhood, rather than any other? You say you were at
"Because this chanced to be the neighborhood I was wandering
in," replied Gavin. "As I explained to Miss Standish, I'd
rather do some kind of outdoor work. Preferably farm work.
That's why I left Miami. There seemed to be lots of farms and
"Yet you were on your way back toward Miami, when Bobby
overtook you? Rather a long walk, for--"
"A long walk," gravely agreed Brice. "But safer sleeping
quarters when one gets there. Up North, one can take a
chance, and sleep in the open, almost anywhere except on a
yellow-jacket's nest. Down here, I've heard, rattlesnakes are
apt to stray in upon one's slumbers. Out in the country, at
least. There aren't any rattlesnakes in the Royal Palm's
gardens. Besides, there's music, and there's the fragrance of
night jasmine. Altogether, it's worth the difference of ten
or twelve miles of tramping."
"You're staying at the Royal Palm, then?"
"Near it," corrected Brice. "To be exact, in the darkest
corner of its big gardens. The turf is soft and springy. The
solitude is perfect, too--unless some nightwatchman gets too
He spoke lightly, even airily, through his pain and weakness.
But, as before, his every faculty was on guard. A born and
trained expert in reading human nature, he felt this giant
somehow suspected him and was trying to trap him in an
inaccuracy. Wherefore, he fenced, verbally, calmly confident
he could outpoint his clumsier antagonist.
"You don't look like the kind of man who need sleep out of
doors," replied Standish, speaking slowly, as one who chooses
his every word with care, and with his cold blue eyes
unobtrusively scanning Gavin's battered face. "That's the
bedroom for bums. You aren't a bum. Even if your manner, and
the way you fought out yonder, didn't prove that. A bum
doesn't walk all this way and back, on a hot day, unless for a
handout. And you--"
"But a handout is just what I asked for," Gavin caught him up.
"When I brought Bobby Burns back I traded on the trifling
little service by asking Miss Standish if I could get a job
here. It was impertinent of me, I know. And I was sorry as
soon as I'd done it. But she told me, in effect, that you
were 'firing, not hiring.' So I--"
"Why did you want a job with me?" insisted Standish. "Rather
than with any of a dozen farmers or country house people along
And, this time, any fool could have read the stark suspicion
in his tone and in the hard blue eyes.
"For several reasons," said Brice, coolly. "In the
first place, I had brought home your dog. In the second, I
had taken a fancy to him, as he had to me, and it would be
pleasant working at a place where I could be with such a chum.
In the third place, Miss Standish was kind enough to say
pretty much the same things about me that you've just said.
She knew I wasn't a tramp, who might be expected to decamp
with the lawn-mower or the spoons. Another landowner might
not have been so complimentary, when I applied for work and
had no references. In the fourth, you seem to have a larger
and more pretentious place here than most of your near
neighbors. I--I can't think of any better reasons, just now."
"H'm!" mused Standish, frowning down on the recumbent man, and
then looking across in perplexity at Claire.
What he read in the girl's eyes seemed to shame him, just a
little. For, as he turned back to Gavin, there was an
apologetic aspect on his bearded face. Brice decided to force
the playing. Before his host could speak or Claire could
interfere, he rose to a sitting position, with some effort and
more pain, and, clutching the head of the couch, lurched to
"No, no!" called Claire, running forward to support him as he
swayed a bit. "Don't try to stand! Lie down again! You're
as white as a ghost."
But Gavin drew courteously away from her supporting arm and
"I can only thank you," said he, "for patching me up so well.
I'm a lot better, now. And I've a long way to go. So, I'll
be starting. Thanks, again, both of you. I'm sorry to have
put you to so much bother." He reeled, cleverly, caught at
the couch-head again, and took an uncertain step toward the
door. But now, not only Claire but her brother barred his
"Don't be an idiot!" stormed Milo. "Why, man, you couldn't
walk a hundred yards, with that groggy head on your shoulders!
You're all beaten up. You'll be lucky if you're on your feet
in another three days. What sort of cur do you think I am, to
let you go like this, after all you've done for me, to-night?
You'll stay with us till to-morrow, anyhow. And then, if you
still insist on going back to Miami, I'll take you there in
the car. But you're not going a step from here, to-night.
Gavin strove to mutter a word of disclaimer, to take another
wavering stride toward the front door. But his knees gave
away under him. He swayed forward, and must have fallen, had
not Milo Standish caught him.
"Here," Milo bade his sister, as he laid the limp body back on
the couch. "Go and tell the maids to get the gray room ready
as quickly as possible. I'll carry him up there. It was
rotten of me to go on catechizing him, like that, and letting
him see he was unwelcome. But for him, I'd be--"
"Yes," answered Claire, over her shoulder, as she hurried on
her errand. "It was 'rotten.' And more than that. I kept
trying to signal you to stop. You'll you'll give him work,
here, won't you, please?"
"We'll talk about that, afterward," he said, ungraciously. "I
suppose it's the only thing a white man can do, after the chap
risked his life for me, to-night. But I'd rather give him ten
times his wages--money to get out and keep out."
"Thanks, neighbor!" said Brice, to himself, from the depths of
his stage-faint. "I've no doubt you would. But the cards are
running the other way."
Again, his eyes apparently shut, he watched through slitted
lids the progress of Claire, as she passed out of the hall,
toward the kitchen quarters. She was leading the reluctant
Bobby Burns away, by the collar. Standish was just behind
her, and had his back turned to Gavin. But he glanced at him,
suddenly, over his shoulder, and then strode swiftly forward
to close the door which Claire had left open behind her on her
way to the kitchen wing of the house.
Something in the big man's action aroused in Brice the mystic
sixth sense he had been at much pains to develop,--a sense
which often enabled him to guess instinctively at an opponent's
next probable move. As Milo took his first step toward the open
door, Brice went into action.
Both hands slipped into his pockets, and out again. As he
withdrew them, one hand held his battered but patently solid
gold watch. The other gripped his roll of bills and as much
of his small change as he had been able to scoop up in one
On the stand at the head of the couch reposed a fat tobacco
jar and pipes. The jar was more than half full. Into it,
Gavin Brice dumped his valuables, and with a clawing motion,
scraped a handful of loose tobacco over them. Then he
returned to his former inertly supine posture.
The whole maneuver had not occupied three seconds. And, by
the time Standish had the door closed and had started back
toward the couch, the watch and money were safe-hidden. At
that, there had been little enough time to spare. It had been
a matter of touch-and-go. Nothing but the odd look he had
read in Milo's face as Standish had glanced at him over his
shoulder, would have led Brice to take such a chance. But,
all at once, it had seemed a matter of stark necessity.
The narrow escape from detection set his strained nerves to
twitching. He muttered to himself:
"Come along then, you man-mountain! You wanted to get your
sister out of the way, so you could go through my clothes and
see if I was lying about being flat broke and if I had any
incriminating papers on me. Come along, and search! If I
hadn't brains enough to fool a chucklehead, like you, I'd go
out of the business and take in back-stairs to clean!"
Milo was approaching the couch, moving with a stealthy
lightness, unusual in so large a man. Leaning over the
supposedly unconscious Gavin, he ran his fingers deftly
through Brice's several pockets. In only two was he lucky to
From a trousers pocket he exhumed seventy-eight cents. From
the inner pocket of the coat he extracted a card, postmarked
"New York City," and addressed to "Gavin Brice, General
Delivery, Miami, Florida." The postcard was inscribed, in a
"Good time and good luck and good health to you, from us all.
Gavin knew well the contents of the card, having written it
and mailed it to himself on the eve of his departure from the
North. It was as mild and noncommittal a form of
identification as he could well have chosen.
Standish read the banal message on the soiled card, then
restored cash and postal to their respective pockets. After
which he stood frowning down in puzzled conjecture on the
"Well, old chap!" soliloquized Brice. "If that evidence
doesn't back up all I said about myself, nothing will. But,
for the Lord's sake, don't help yourself to a pipeful of
tobacco, till I have time to plant the loot deeper in the
He heard the light footfalls of women, upstairs, where Claire,
in person, seemed to be superintending the arrangement of his
room. At the sound, a twinge of compunction swept Brice.
But, at memory of her brother's stealthy ransacking of an
unconscious guest's clothes, the feeling passed, leaving only
a warm battlethrill.
Drowsily, he opened his eyes, and stared with blank wonder up
at Milo. Then, shamefacedly, he mumbled:
"I--I hope I wasn't baby enough to--to keel over, Mr.
"That's all right," answered Milo. "It was my fault. I was a
boor. And, very rightly, you decided you didn't care to stay
any longer under my roof. But your strength wasn't up to your
spirit. So you fainted. I want to apologize for speaking as
I did. I'm mighty grateful to you, for your service to me,
this evening. And my sister and I want you to stay on here,
for the present. When you're feeling more like yourself,
we'll have a chat about that job. I think we can fix it, all
right. Nothing big, of course. Nothing really worth your
while. But it may serve as a stopgap, till you get a chance
to look around you."
"If nothing better turns up," suggested Brice, with a weak
effort at lightness, "you might hire me as a bodyguard."
"As a--a what?" snapped Milo, in sharp suspicion, the
geniality wiped from face and voice with ludicrous suddenness.
"As a bodyguard," repeated Gavin, not seeming to note the
change in his host. "If you're in the habit of being set
upon, often, as you were, this evening you'll be better off
with a good husky chap to act as-"
"Oh, that?" scoffed Milo, in ponderous contempt. "That was
just some panhandler, who thought he might knock me over, from
behind, and get my watch and wallet. The same thing isn't
likely to happen again in a century. Florida is the most
law-abiding State in the Union. And Dade County is perhaps
the most law-abiding part of Florida. One would need a
bodyguard in New York City, more than here. There have been a
lot of holdups there."
Gavin did not reply. His silence seemed to annoy Milo who
burst forth again, this time with a tinge of open amusement in
"Besides--even if there were assassins lurking behind every
bunch of palmetto scrub, in the county--do you honestly think
a man of your size could do very much toward protecting me?
I'm not bragging. But I'm counted one of the strongest men
"To-night," said Brice, drily, "I managed to be of some slight
use. Pardon my mentioning it. If I hadn't been there, you'd
be carrying eight inches of cold steel, between your shoulders.
And--pardon me, again--if you'd had the sense to stay out of
the squabble a second or so longer, the man who tackled you
would be either in jail or in the morgue, by this time. I'm
not oversized. But neither is a stick of dynamite. An
automatic pistol isn't anywhere as big as an old-fashioned
blunderbuss. But it can outshoot and outkill the blunderbuss,
with very little bother. Think it over. And, while you're
thinking, stop to think, also, that a 'panhandler' doesn't do
his work with a knife. He doesn't try to stab a man to death,
for the sake of the few dollars the victim may happen to have
in his pockets. That sort of thing calls for pluck and iron
nerves and physical strength. If a panhandler had those, he
wouldn't be a panhandler. Any more than that chap, to-night,
was a panhandler. My idea of acting as a bodyguard for you
isn't bad. Think it over. You seem to need one."
"Why do you say that?" demanded Milo, in one of his recurrent
flashes of suspicion.
"Because," said Gavin, "we're living in the twentieth century
and in real life, not in the dark ages and in a dime novel.
Nowadays, a man doesn't risk capital punishment, lightly, for
the fun of springing on a total stranger, in the dark, with a
razor-edge knife. Mr. Standish, no man does a thing like that
to a stranger, or without some mighty motive. It is no
business of mine to ask that motive or to horn in on your
private affairs. And I don't care to. But, from your looks,
you're no fool. You know, as well as I do, that that was no
panhandler or even a highwayman. It was an enemy whose motive
for wanting to murder you, silently and surely, was strong
enough to make him willing to risk death or capture. Now,
when you say you don't need a bodyguard--Well, it's your own
business, of course. Let it go at that, if you like."
Long and silently Milo Standish looked down at the nonchalant
invalid. Above, the sounds of women's steps and an occasional
snatch of a sentence could be heard. At last, Milo spoke.
"You are right," said he, very slowly, and as if measuring his
every word. "You are right. There are one or two men who
would like to get this land and this house and--and other
possessions of mine. There is no reason for going into
particulars that wouldn't interest you. Take my word. Those
reasons are potent. I have reason to suspect that the assault
on me, this evening, is concerned with their general plan to
get rid of me. Perhaps--perhaps you're right, about my need
of a bodyguard. Though it's a humiliating thing for a grown
man--especially a man of my size and strength--to confess.
We'll talk it over, tomorrow, if you are well enough."
Brice nodded, absently, as if wearied with the exertion of
their talk. His eyes had left Milo's, and had concentrated on
the man's big and hairy hands. As Milo spoke of the
supposititious criminals who desired his possessions enough to
do murder for them, his fists clenched, tightly. And to
Brice's memory came a wise old adage:
"When you think a man is lying to you, don't watch his face.
Any poker-player can make his face a mask. Watch his hands.
Ten to one, if he is lying, he'll clench them."
Brice noted the tightening of the heavy fists. And he was
convinced. Yet, he told himself, in disgust, that even a
child of six would scarce have needed such confirmation that
the clumsily blurted tale was a lie.
He nodded again, as Milo looked at him with a shade of
The momentary silence was broken by footsteps on the stairs.
Claire was descending. Brice gathered his feet under him and
sat upright. It was easier, now, to do this, and his head had
recovered its feeling of normality, though it still ached
At the same instant, through the open doorway, from across the
lawn in the direction of the secret path, came the quaveringly
sweet trill of a mocking bird's song. Despite himself,
Gavin's glance turned toward the doorway.
"That's just a mocker," Milo explained, loudly, his face
reddening as he looked in perturbation at his guest. "Sweet,
isn't he? They often sing, off and on, for an hour or two
"I know they do," said Gavin (though he did not say it aloud).
"But in Florida, the very earliest mocking bird doesn't sing
till around the first of March. And this isn't quite the
middle of February. There's not a mocking bird on the
Peninsula that is singing, yet. The very dulcet whistler, out
yonder, ought to make a closer study of ornithology. He--"
Brice's unspoken thought was shattered. For, unnoticed by
him, Milo Standish had drawn forth, with tender care, an
exquisitely carved and colored meerschaum pipe from a case on
the smoking-stand, and was picking up the fat tobacco jar.
THE STRANGER FROM NOWHERE
For a moment, Brice stared agape and helplessly flustered, as
Standish proceeded to thrust his meerschaum's rich-hued bowl
into the tobacco jar. Then, apparently galvanized into action
by the approach of Claire from the stairway, he stepped
rapidly forward to meet her.
As though his shaky powers were not equal to the task he
reeled, lurched with all his might against the unprepared
Standish and, to regain his balance, took two plunging steps
He had struck Milo at such an angle as to rap the latter's
right elbow with a numbing force that sent the pipe flying
half way across the hall. The tobacco jar must have gone too,
had not one of Gavin's outflung hands caught it in mid-air, as
a quarterback might catch a football.
Unable to recover balance and to check his own momentum.
Brice scrambled awkwardly forward. One stamping heel landed
full on the fallen meerschaum, flattening and crumbling the
beautiful pipe into a smear of shapeless clay-fragments.
At the sight. Milo Standish swore loudly and came charging
forward in a belated hope of saving his beloved pipe from
destruction. The purchase of that meerschaum had been a joy
to Milo. Its coloring had been a long and careful process.
And now, this bungler had smashed it into nothingness!
Down on hands and knees went the big man, fumbling at the
fragments. Claire, knowing how her brother valued the pipe,
ran to his side in eager sympathy.
Gavin Brice came to a sliding standstill against a heavy
hall-table. On this he leaned heavily for a moment or so
above the tobacco jar he had so luckily salvaged from the
wreckage. His back to the preoccupied couple he flashed his
sensitive fingers into the jar, collecting and thrusting into
his pockets the watch and the thick roll of bills and as much
of the small change as his fast-groping fingertips could
By the time Milo looked up in impotent wrath from his
inspection of the ruined meerschaum. Gavin had turned toward
him and was babbling a torrent of apology for his own
awkwardness. Milo was glumly silent as the contrite words
beat about his ears. But Claire, shamed by her brother's
ungraciousness, spoke up courteously to relieve the visitor's
"Please don't be unhappy about it. Mr. Brice," she begged.
"It was just an accident. It couldn't be helped. I'm sure my
"But--" stammered Gavin.
"Oh, it's all right!" grumbled Milo. scooping up the handful
of crushed meerschaum. "Let it go at that.
Again. the mocking bird notes fluted forth through the early
evening silences, the melody coming as before from the
direction of the grove's hidden path. Milo stopped short in
his sulky speech. Brother and sister exchanged a swift
glance. Then Standish got to his feet and approached Gavin.
"Here we've kept you up and around when you're still too weak
to move without help!" he said in very badly done geniality.
"Take my arm and I'll help you upstairs. Your room's all
ready for you. If you'd rather I can carry you. How about
But a perverse imp of mischief entered Gavin Brice's aching
"I'm all right now," he protested. "I feel fifty per cent
better. I'd much rather stay down here with you and Miss
Standish for a while, if you don't mind. My nerves are a bit
jumpy from that crack over the skull, and I'd like them to
quiet down before I go to bed."
Again. he was aware of that look of covert anxiety. between
sister and brother. Claire's big eyes strayed involuntarily
toward the front door. And her lips parted for some word of
urgence. But before she could speak. Milo laughed loudly and
caught Gavin by the arm.
"You've got pluck, Brice!" he cried admiringly. "You're
ashamed to give up and go to bed. But you're going just the
same. You're going to get a good night's rest. I don't
intend to have you fall sick. from that tap I gave you with
the wrench. Come on! I'll bring you some fresh dressings for
your head by the time you're undressed."
As he talked he passed one huge arm around Gavin and carried,
rather than led, him to the stairway.
"Good night, Mr. Brice," called Claire from near the doorway.
"I do hope your head will be ever so much better in the
morning. If you want anything in the night. there's a
call-bell I've put beside your bed."
Once more a dizzy weakness seemed to have overcome Gavin. For
after a single attempt at resistance. he swayed and hung
heavy on Standish's supporting arm. He made shift to mumble a
dazed good night to Claire. Then he suffered Milo to support
him up the stairs and along the wide upper hall to the open
doorway of a bedroom.
Even at the threshold he seemed too uncertain of his footing
to cross the soft-lit room alone. And Milo supported him to
the bed. Gavin slumped heavily upon the side of it, his
aching head in his hands. Then, as if with much effort, he
lay down, burying his face in the pillow.
Milo had been watching him with growing impatience to be gone.
Now he said cheerily:
"That's all right, old chap! Lie still for a while. I'll be
up in a few minutes to help you undress."
Standish was hurrying from the room and closing the door
behind him. even as he spoke. With the last word the door
shut and Gavin could hear the big man's footsteps hastening
along the upper hall toward the stair-head.
Brice gave him a bare thirty seconds' start. Then, rising
with strange energy for so dazed and broken an invalid, he
left the room and followed him toward the head of the stairs.
His light footfall was soundless on the matting as he went.
He reached the top of the stairs just as Milo arrived at the
bottom. Claire was standing in the veranda doorway shading
her eyes and peering out into the darkness. But at sound of
her brother's advancing tread she turned and ran back to him,
meeting him as he reached the bottom of the stair and clasping
both hands anxiously about his big forearm.
She seemed about to break out in excited. even frightened
speech, when chancing to raise her eyes. she saw Gavin Brice
calmly descending from the hall above. At sight of him her
eyes dilated. Milo had begun to speak. She put one hand
warningly across her brother's bearded mouth. At the same
moment Gavin, halting midway on the stairs, said with
"You didn't tell me what time to be ready for breakfast. I'd
hate to be late and--"
He got no further. Nor did he seek to. His ears had been
straining to make certain of the ever approaching sound of
footsteps across the lawn. Now an impatient tread echoed on
the veranda, and a man's figure blocked the doorway.
The newcomer was slender, graceful, with the form of an
athletic boy rather than of a mature man. He was pallid and
black eyed. His face had a classic beauty which, on second
glance, was marred by an almost snakelike aspect of the small
black eyes and a sinister smile which seemed to hover
eternally around the thin lips. His whole bearing suggested
something serpentine in its grace and a smoothly half-jesting
So much the first glimpse told Brice as he stood thereon the
stairs and surveyed the doorway. The second look showed him
the man was clad in a strikingly ornate yachting costume.
Gavin's mind, ever taught to dissect trifles, noted that in
spite of his yachtsman-garb the stranger's face was untanned,
and that his long slender hands with their supersensitive
fingers were as white and well-cared-for as a woman's.
Yachting, in Florida waters at any time of year, means either
a thick coat of tan or an exaggerated sunburn. This yachtsman
Scarce taller than a lad of fifteen, yet his slender figure was
sinuous in its every line, and its grace betokened much wiry
strength. His face was that of a man in the early
thirties,--all but his eyes. They looked as old as the
He stood for an instant peering into the room, trying to focus
his night-accustomed eyes to the light. Evidently the first
objects he saw clearly were Milo and Claire standing with
their backs to him as they stared upward in blank dismay at
the guest they had thought safely disposed of for the night.
"Well?" queried the man at the door, and at sound of his
silken. bantering voice. brother and sister spun
about in surprise. to face him.
"Well?" he repeated, and now there was a touch of cold rebuke
in the silken tones. "Is this the way you keep a lookout for
the signals? I might very well have walked in on a convention
of half of Dade County, for all the guard that was kept. I
And now he broke off short in his sneering reproof, as his
eyes chanced upon Gavin half way down the stairs.
For a second or more no one spoke or moved. Claire and her
brother had an absurdly shamefaced appearance of two bad
children caught in mischief by a stern and much feared teacher.
Into the black depths of the stranger's eyes flickered a
sudden glint like that of a striking rattlesnake's. But at
once his face was a slightly-smiling mask once more. And
Gavin was left doubting whether or not he had really seen that
momentary gleam of murder behind the smiling eyes. It was
Claire who first recovered herself.
"Good evening. Rodney," she said. with a graciousness which
all-but hid her evident nerve strain. "You stole in on us so
suddenly you startled me. Mr. Brice, this is Mr. Rodney
As Gavin bowed civilly and as Hade returned the salutation
with his eternal smile. Milo Standish came sufficiently out
of his own shock of astonishment to follow his sister's mode
of greeting the new visitor. With the same forced joviality
he had used in coercing Brice to go to bed, he sauntered over
to the smiling Hade, exclaiming:
"Why, hello, old man! Where did you blow in from? You must
have come across from your house on foot. I didn't hear the
car .... I want you to know Brice here. I was tackled by a
holdup man outside yonder a while ago. And he'd have gotten
me too, if Brice hadn't sailed into him. In the scrimmage I
made a fool of myself as usual, and slugged the wrong man with
a monkey wrench. Poor Brice's reward for saving my life. was
a broken head. He's staying the night with us. He--"
The big man had spoken glibly, but with a nervousness which,
more and more, cropped out through his noisy joviality. Now,
under the coldly unwavering smile of Hade's snakelike eyes, he
stammered, and his booming voice trailed away to a mumble.
Again, Claire sought to mend the rickety situation. But now
Gavin Brice forestalled her. Passing one hand over his
bandaged forehead, he said:
"If you'll forgive me having butted in. again. I'll go up to
my room. I'm pretty shaky, you see. I just wanted to know
what time breakfast is to be, and if I can borrow one of your
brother's razors in the morning."
"Breakfast is at seven o'clock," answered Claire. "That's a
barbarously early hour, I suppose for a New Yorker like you.
But down here from six to ten is the glorious part of the day.
Besides, we're farmers you know. Don't bother to try to wake
so early, please. I'll have your breakfast sent up to you.
"I'll look in on you before I go to bed," called Milo. after
him as he started up the stairs for the second time. "And
I'll see that shaving things are left in your bathroom. Good
Hade said nothing, but continued to pierce the unbidden guest
with those gimlet-like smiling black eyes of his. His face
was expressionless. Gavin returned to the upper hall and
walked with needless heaviness toward the room assigned to
him. Reaching its door he opened and then shut it loudly,
himself remaining in the hallway. Scarce had the door slammed
when he heard. from below Rodney Hade's voice raised in the
"What does this mean? You've dared to--?"
"What the blazes else could I do?" blustered Milo--though
under the bluster ran a thread of placating timidity. "He
saved my life, didn't he? I was tackled by--"
"For one thing," suggested Hade. "you could have hit a little
harder with the wrench. If a blow is worth hitting at all
it's worth hitting to kill. You have the strength of an
elephant, and the nerve of a sheep."
"Rodney!" protested Claire, indignantly. "He--"
"I've seen his face. somewhere," went on Hade unheeding. "I
could swear to that. I can't place it. yet. But I shall.
Meantime get rid of him. And now I'll hear about this attack
on you .... Come out on the veranda. This hall reeks of
iodine and liniment and all such stuff. It smells like a
hospital ward Come outside."
Despite the unvarying sweet smoothness of his diction. he
spoke as if giving orders to a servant. But apparently
neither of the two Standishes resented his
dictation. For Brice could hear them follow Hade out of the
house. And from the veranda presently came the booming murmur
of Standish's voice in a recital of some kind.
Gavin reopened his bedroom door and entered. Shutting the
door softly behind him, he made a brief mental inventory of
the room, then undressed and got into bed. Ten minutes later
Miles Standish came into the room. carrying fresh dressings
and a bottle of lotion. Gavin roused himself from a half-doze
and was duly grateful for the dexterous applying of the new
bandages to his bruised scalp.
"You work like a surgeon," he told Milo.
"Thanks," returned Standish drily, making no other comment on
His task accomplished Standish bade his guest a curt good
night and left the room. A minute later Gavin got up and
stole to the door to verify a faint sound he fancied he had
heard. And he found he had been correct in his guess. For
the door was locked from the outside.
Brice crept to the windows. The room was in darkness, and,
unseen, he could look out on the darkness of the night. As he
looked a faint reddish spot of fire appeared in the gloom,
just at the beginning of the lawn. Some one, cigar in mouth,
was evidently keeping a watch on his room's windows. Gavin
smiled to himself, and went back to bed.
"Door locked, windows guarded," he reflected, amusedly. "I
owe that to Mr. Hade's orders. Seen me before, has he? I'll
bet my year's income he'll never remember where or when or
how. At that he's clever even to think he's seen me. It
looks as if I had let myself in for a wakeful time down here,
doesn't it? But I'm getting the tangled ends all in my
hands,--as fast as I had any right to hope. That rap on the
skull was a godsend. He can't refuse me a job after my fight
for him. No one could. I--oh, if it wasn't for the girl
this would be great! What can a girl, with eyes like hers, be
doing in a crowd like this?
"I'd--I'd have been willing to swear she was--was--one of the
women whom God made. And now--! Still, if a woman lets
herself in for this kind of thing she can't avoid paying the
bill. Only--if I can save her without-- Oh, I'm turning into
a mushy fool in my old age! ... And she sobbed when she
thought I was killed! ... I've got to get a real night's rest
if I want to have my wits about me to-morrow."
He stretched himself out luxuriously in the cool bed, and in
less than five minutes he was sleeping as sweetly and as
deeply as a child. Long experience in the European trenches
and elsewhere had taught him the rare gift of slumbering at
will, a gift which had done much toward keeping his nerves and
his faculties in perfect condition. For sleep is the keynote
to more than mankind realizes.
The sun had risen when Gavin Brice awoke. Apart from
stiffness and a very sore head his inured system was little
the worse for the evening's misadventures. A cold shower and
a rubdown and a shave in the adjoining bathroom. cleared away
the last mists from his brain.
He dressed quickly, glanced at his watch and saw the hour was
not quite seven. Then he faced his bedroom door and
"If he's a born idiot," he mused. "it's still locked. If he
isn't it's unlocked and the key has been taken away. I've
made noise enough while I was dressing."
He turned the knob. The door opened readily. The key was
gone. In the hallway outside the room and staring up at him
from widely shallow green eyes. sat Simon Cameron, the big
"That's a Persian all over. Simon my friend," said Brice,
stooping down to scratch the cat's furry head in greeting. "A
Persian will sit for hours in front of any door that's got a
stranger behind it. And he'll show more flattering affection
for a stranger than for any one he's known all his life.
Isn't that true. Simon?"
By way of response. the big cat rubbed himself luxuriously
against the man's shins, purring loudly. Then, at a single
lithe spring he was on Gavin's shoulder, making queer little
whistling noises and rubbing his head lovingly against Brice's
cheek. Gavin made his way downstairs the cat still clinging
to his shoulder, fanning his face with a swishing gray foxlike
tail, digging curved claws back and forth into the cloth of
his shabby coat, and purring like a distant railroad train.
Only when they reached the lower hallway did the cat jump from
his shoulder and with a flying leap land on the top of a
nearby bookcase. There, luxuriously,
Simon Cameron stretched himself out in a shaft of sunlight,
and prepared for a nap.
Brice went on to the veranda. On the lawn, scarce fifty feet
away, Claire was gathering flowers for the breakfast table.
Very sweet and dainty was she in the flood of morning
sunshine, her white dress and her burnished hair giving back
waves of radiance from the sun's strong beams.
At her side walked Bobby Burns. But, on first sound of
Brice's step on the porch, the collie looked up and saw him.
With a joyous bark of welcome Bobby came dashing across the
lawn and up the steps. Leaping and gamboling around Gavin.
he set the echoes ringing with a series of trumpet-barks. The
man paused to pet his adorer and to say a word of
friendliness, then ran down the steps toward Claire who was
advancing to meet him. Her arms were full of scarlet and
"Are you better?" she called, noting the bandage on his head
had been replaced by a neat strip of plaster. "I hoped you'd
sleep longer. Bobby Burns ran up to your room and scratched
at the door as soon as I let him into the house this morning.
But I made him come away again. Are--"
"He left a worthy substitute welcoming-committee there, in
the shape of Simon Cameron," said Gavin. "Simon was
overwhelmingly cordial to me, for a Persian .... I'm all right
again, thanks," he added. "I had a grand night's rest. It
was fine to sleep in a real bed again. I hope I'm not late
A shade of embarrassment flitted over her eyes, and she made
"My brother had to go into Miami on--on business. So he had
breakfast early. He'll hardly be back before noon he says.
So you and I will have to breakfast without him. I hope you
As there seemed no adequate reply to this useless question.
the man contented himself with following her wordlessly into
the cool house. She seemed to bring light and youth and
happiness indoors with her, and the armful of flowers she
carried filled the dim hallway with perfume.
Breakfast was a simple meal and soon eaten. Brice brought to
it only a moderate appetite, and was annoyed to find his
thoughts centering themselves about the slender white-clad
girl across the table from him. rather than upon his food or
even upon his plan of campaign. He replied in monosyllables
to her pleasant table-talk, and when his eye chanced to meet
hers he had an odd feeling of guilt.
She was so pretty, so little, so young, so adorably friendly
and innocent in her every look and word! Something very like
a heartache began to manifest itself in Gavin Brice's
supposedly immune breast. And this annoyed him more than
ever. He told himself solemnly that this girl was none of the
wonderful things she seemed to be, and that he was an idiot
for feeling as he did.
To shake free from his unwonted reverie he asked abruptly, as
the meal ended:
"Would you mind telling me why you drew a revolver on me last
evening? You don't seem the kind of girl to adopt Wild West
tactics and to carry a pistol around with you here in peaceful
Florida. I don't want to seem inquisitive, of course, but ?"
"And I don't want to seem secretive," she replied. nervously.
"All I can tell you is that my brother has--has enemies (as
you know from the attack on him) and that he doesn't think it
is safe for me to go around the grounds alone, late in the
day, unarmed. So he gave me that old pistol of his, and asked
me to carry it. That was why he sent North for Bobby Burns--
as a guard for me and for the place here. When I saw you
appearing out of the swamp I--I took you for some one else.
"I'm not," he made answer. "I--"
"You must have a charming idea of our hospitality," she went
on with a nervous little laugh. "First I threaten to shoot
you. Then my brother stuns you. And both times when you are
doing us a service."
"Please!" he laughed. "And if it comes to that. what must
you people think of a down-at-heel Yankee who descends on you
and cadges for a job after he's been told there's no work here
"Oh, but there is!" she insisted. "Milo told me so. this
morning. And you're to stay here till he comes back and can
talk things over with you. Would you care to walk around the
farm and the groves with me? Or would the sun be bad for your
"It would be just the thing my head needs most," he declared.
"Besides, I've heard so much of these wonderful Florida farms.
I'm mighty anxious to inspect one of them. We can start
whenever you're ready."
Ten minutes later they had left the lawn behind them, and had
passed through the hedge into the first of the chain of citrus
groves. In front of them stretched some fifteen acres of
"This is the worst soil we have," lectured Claire. evidently
keenly interested in the theme of agriculture and glad of an
attentive listener. "It is more coral rock than anything
else. That is why Milo planted it in grapefruit. Grapefruit
will grow where almost nothing else will, you know. Why, last
year wasn't by any means a banner season. But he made $16,000
in gross profits off this one grapefruit orchard alone. Of
course that was gross and not net. But it--"
"Is there so much difference between the two?" he asked
innocently. "Down here, I mean. Up North, we have an idea
that all you Floridians need do is to stick a switch into the
rich soil, and let it grow. We picture you as loafing around
in dreamy idleness till it's time to gather your fruit and to
sell it at egregious prices to us poor Northerners."
"It's a lovely picture," she retorted. "And it's exactly
upside down, like most Northern ideas of Florida. When it
comes to picking the fruit and shipping it North--that's the
one time we can loaf. For we don't pick it or ship it.
That's done for us on contract. It's our lazy time. But
every other step is a fight. For instance, there's the woolly
white fly and there's the rust mite and there's the purple
scale. and there are a million other pests just as bad. And
we have to battle with them. all the time. And when we spray
with the pumping engine. the sand is certain to get into the
engine and ruin it. And when we--"
"I had no notion that--"
"No Northerners have," she said, warming to her theme. "I
wish I could set some of them to scrubbing orange-trunks with
soap-and-water and spraying acre after acre, as we do, in a wild
race to keep up with the pests, knowing all the time that some
careless grove owner next door may let the rust mite or the
black fly get the better of his grove and let it drift over
into ours. Then there's always the chance that a grove may
get so infected that the government will order it destroyed,
--wiped out .... I've been talking just about the citrus fruits,
the grapefruit and the tangeloes and oranges and all that.
Pretty much the same thing applies to all our crops down here.
We've as many blights and pests and weather-troubles as you have
in the North. And now and then, even in Dade County, we get a
frost that does more damage than a forest fire."
As she talked they passed out of the grapefruit grove, and
came to a plantation of orange trees.
"These are the joy of Milo's heart," she said with real pride,
waving her little hand toward the well-ranked lines of
blossoming and bearing young trees. "Last year he cleared up
from this five-acre plot alone more than--"
"Excuse me," put in Gavin. "I don't mean to be rude. But
since he's made such a fine grove of it and takes such pride
in its looks. why doesn't he send a man or two out here with
a hoe, and get rid of that tangle of weeds? It covers the
ground of the whole grove, and it grows rankly under every
tree. If you'll pardon me for saying so. it gives the place
an awfully unkempt look. If--"
Her gay laugh broke in on his somewhat hesitant criticism.
"Say that to any Floridian," she mocked, "and he'll save you
the trouble of looking for work by getting you admitted to the
nearest asylum. Why Milo fosters those weeds and fertilizes
them and even warns the men not to trample them in walking
here. If you should begin your work for Milo by hoeing out
any of these weeds he'd have to buy weed-seeds and sow them
all over again. He--"
"Then there's a market for this sort of stuff?" he asked,
stooping to inspect with interest a spray of smelly ragweed.
"I didn't know--"
"No," she corrected. "But the market for our oranges would
slump without them. Here in the subtropics the big problem is
water for moistening the soil. Very few of us irrigate. We
have plenty of water as a rule. But we also have more than a
plenty of sun. The sun sucks up the water and leaves the soil
parched. In a grove like this the roots of the orange trees
would suffer from it. These weeds shelter the roots from the
sun, and they help keep the moisture in the ground. They are
worth everything to us. Of course, in some of the fields we
mulch to keep the ground damp. Milo bought a whole carload of
Australian pine needles. last month at Miami. They make a
splendid mulch. Wild hay is good. too. So is straw. But
the pine needles are cheapest and easiest to get. The rain
soaks down through them into the ground. And they keep the
sun from drawing it back again. Besides, they keep down weeds
in fields where we don't want weeds. See!" she ended,
pointing to a new grove they were approaching.
Gavin noted that here the orange tree rows were alternated
with rows of strawberry plants.
"That was an idea of Milo's, too," she explained. "It's
'intercrop' farming. And he's done splendidly with it so far.
He thinks the eel-worm doesn't get at the berry plants as
readily here as in the open, but he's not sure of that yet.
He's had to plant cowpeas on one plot to get rid of it."
"The experiment of intercropping orange trees with
strawberries isn't new," said Brice thoughtlessly. "When the
plants are as thick as he's got them here. it's liable to
harm the trees in the course of time. Two rows, at most, are
all you ought to plant between the tree-ranks. And that mulch
over there is a regular Happy Home for crickets. If Standish
The girl was staring up at him in astonishment. And Gavin was
aware for the first time that he had been thinking aloud.
"You see," he expounded. smiling vaingloriously down at her.
"I amused myself at the Miami library Saturday by browsing
over a sheaf of Government plant reports. And those two solid
facts stuck in my memory. Now. won't I be an invaluable aide
to your brother if I can remember everything else as easily?"
Still puzzled she continued to look up at him.
"It's queer that a man who has just come down here should
remember such a technical thing," said she. "And yesterday
you warned me against letting Bobby Burns wander in the
palmetto scrub, for fear of rattlesnakes. I--"
"That deep mystery is also easy to solve," he said. "In the
smoker on the way South several men were telling how they had
lost valuable hunting dogs. hereabouts from rattlesnakes. I
like Bobby Burns. So I passed along the warning. What are
those queer trees?" he asked shifting the dangerous subject.
"I mean the ones that look like a mixture of horse-chestnut
"Avocadoes," she answered, interest in the task of farm guide
making her forget her momentary bewilderment at his scraps of
local knowledge. "They're one of our best crops. Sometimes a
single avocado will sell in open market here for as much as
forty cents. There's money in them, nearly always. Good
money. And the spoiled ones are great for the pigs. Then the
Northern market for them--"
"Avocadoes ?" he repeated curiously. "There! Now you see how
much I know about Florida. From this distance. their fruits
look to me exactly like alligator pears or--"
Again. her laugh interrupted him.
"If only you'd happened to look in one or two more government
reports at the library," she teased. "you'd
know that an avocado and an alligator pear are the same
"Anyhow," he boasted. picking up a gold-red fruit at the edge
of a smaller grove. they were passing. "anyhow. I know what
this is, without being told. I've seen them a hundred times
in the New York markets. This is a tangerine."
"In that statement," she made judicial reply. "you've made
only two mistakes. You're improving. In the first place,
that isn't a tangerine, though it looks like one--or would if
it were half as large. That's a king orange. In the second
place, you've hardly ever seen them in any New York market.
They don't transport as well as some other varieties. And
very few of them go North. Northerners don't know them. And
they miss a lot. For the king is the most delicious orange in
the world. And it's the trickiest and hardest for us to
raise. See, the skin comes off it as easily as off of a
tangerine, and it breaks apart in the same way. The rust mite
has gotten at this one. See that russet patch on one side of
it? You'll often see it on oranges that go North. Sometimes
they're russet all over. That means the rust mite has dried
the oil in the skin and made the skin thinner and more
brittle. It doesn't seem to injure the taste. But it--"
"There's a grand tree over toward the road," he said. his
attention wandering. "It must be nearly a century old. It
has the most magnificent sweep of foliage I've seen since I
left the North. What is it?"
"That?" she queried. "Oh, that's another of Milo's prides.
It's an Egyptian fig. 'Ficus Something or
other.' Isn't it beautiful? But it isn't a century old. It
isn't more than fifteen years old. It grows tremendously
fast. Milo has been trying to interest the authorities in
Miami in planting lines of them for shade trees and having
them in the city parks. There's nothing more beautiful. And
nothing, except the Australian pine, grows faster .... There's
another of Milo's delights," she continued, pointing to the
left. "It's ever so old. The natives around here call it 'The
They had been moving in a wide circle through the groves.
Now, approaching the house from the other side, they came out
on a grassy little space on the far edge of the lawn. In the
center of the space stood a giant live-oak towering as high as
a royal palm, and with mighty boughs stretching out in vast
symmetry on every side. It was a true forest monarch. And
like many another monarch. it was only a ghost of its earlier
For from every outflung limb and from every tiniest twig hung
plumes and festoons and stalactites of gray moss. For perhaps
a hundred years the moss had been growing thus on the giant
oak, first in little bunches and trailers that were scarce
noticeable and which affected the forest monarch's appearance
and health not at all.
Then year by year the moss had grown and had taken toll of the
bark and sap. At last it had killed the tree on which it fed.
And its own source of life being withdrawn itself had died.
So, now the gaunt tree with its symmetrical spread of branches
stood lifeless. And its tons of low-hanging festooned moss
was as void of life as was the tree they had killed.
Tinder-dry it hung there, a beauteous, tragic, spectacle,
towering high above the surrounding flatness of landscape,
visible for miles by land and by sea.
Fifty yards beyond a high interlaced hedge of vines bordered
the clearing. Toward this Gavin bent his idle steps,
wondering vaguely how such a lofty and impenetrable wall of
vine was supported from the far side.
Claire had stopped to call off Bobby Burns who had discovered
a highly dramatic toad-hole on the edge of the lawn and who
was digging enthusiastically at it with both flying fore-feet,
casting up a cloud of dirt and cutting into the sward's neat
border. Thus she was not aware of Brice's diversion.
Gavin approached the twenty-foot high vine-wall, and thrust
his hand in through the thick tangle of leaves. His sensitive
fingers touched the surface of a paling. Running his hand
along. he found that the entire vine palisade was,
apparently, backed by a twenty-foot stockade of solid boards.
If there were a gate, it was hidden from view. It was then
that Claire, looking up from luring Bobby Burns away from the
toad-hole, saw whither Gavin had strayed.
"Oh," she called. hurrying toward him. "That's the enclosure
Milo made years ago for his experiments in evolving the
'perfect orange' he is so daft about. He's always afraid some
other grower may take advantage of his experiments. So he
keeps that little grove walled in. He's never even let me go
in there. So--"
A deafening salvo of barks from Bobby Burns broke in on her
recital. The collie had caught sight of Simon Cameron mincing
along the lawn, and he gave rapturous and rackety chase.
Claire ran after them crying out to the dog to desist. And
Gavin took advantage of the brief instant when her back was
turned to him.
His fingers in slipping along the wall had encountered a
rotting spot at the juncture of two palings. Pushing sharply
against this he forced a fragment of the decayed wood inward.
Then, quickly, he shoved aside the tangle of vines and applied
one eye to the tiny aperture.
"A secret orange-grove. eh?" he gasped. under his breath.
"Good Lord! Was she lying to me or did she actually believe
him when he lied to her?"
TRAPS AND TRAPPER
To south and to southeast, the green-blue transparent sea.
Within sight of the land, the purple-blue Gulf Stream,--a
mystic warm river a half mile deep, thousands of miles long,
traveling ever at a speed of eighty miles a day through the
depth of the ocean, as distinct and as unswerving from its
chosen course as though it flowed through land instead of
through shifting water.
Studded in the milk-tepid nearer waters, innumerable coral
islets and keys and ridges. Then the coral-built tongue of
land running north without so much as a respectably large
hillock to break its flatness. Along the coast the tawny
beaches, the mangrove-swamps, the rich farms, the groves, the
towns, the villages, the estates, snow-white Miami, the
nation's southernmost big city.
Back of this foreshore, countless miles of waving grass,
rooted in water, and with a stray clump of low trees, dotted
here and there, the Everglades, a vast marsh that runs north
to the inland sea known as Lake Okeechobee. Then the solid
sandy ground of the main State.
Along the foreshore, and running inland, miles of sand-barren
scattered with gaunt pines and floored with harsh
palmetto-scrub. Strewn here and there through this sandy
expanse lovely oases, locally known as "hammocks", usually in
hollows, and consisting of several acres of rich soil where
tropic and sub-tropic trees grow as luxuriantly as in a
jungle, where undergrowth and vine run riot, where orchid and
airplant and wondrous-hued flowers blaze through the green
gloom of interlaced foliage.
This, roughly, is a bird's-eye glimpse of the southeastern
stretch of Florida, a region of glory and glow and fortunes
and mystery. (Which is perhaps a momentary digression from
our story, but will serve. for all that to fix its setting
more vividly in the eyes of the mind.)
When Milo Standish came back from Miami that noon he professed
much loud-voiced joy at seeing his guest so well recovered
from the night's mishaps. At lunch. he suggested:
"I am running across to Roustabout Key this afternoon. in the
launch. It's an island I bought a few years ago. I keep a
handful of men there to work a grapefruit grove and a mango
orchard and some other stuff I've planted. I go over to it
every week or so. Would you care to come along?"
He spoke with elaborate carelessness, and looked anywhere
except at his guest. Gavin, not appearing to note the
concealed nervousness of his host's voice and manner, gave
eager consent. And at two o'clock they set forth.
They drove in Milo's car a half-mile or more to southwestward
along the road which fronted the house. Then turning into a
sand byway which ran crookedly at right angles to it and which
skirted the southern end of the mangrove-swamp, they headed
for the sea. Another half-mile brought them to a
handkerchief-sized beach, much like that on the other side of
the swamp. where Gavin had found the hidden path. Here, on
mangrove-wood piles, was a short pier with a boathouse at its
"I keep my launch and my fishing-boats in there," explained
Milo. as he climbed out of the car. "If it wasn't for that
pesky swamp. I could have had this pier directly back of my
house, and saved a lot of distance."
"Why not cut a road through the swamp?" suggested Brice,
following him along the pier.
Again Standish gave vent to that great laugh of his--a laugh
outwardly jovial, but as hollow as a shell.
"Young man," said he. "if ever you try to cut your way
through an East Coast mangrove-swamp you'll find out just how
silly that question is. A swamp like that might as well be a
quick-sand, for all the chance a mortal has of traveling
Gavin made no reply. Again, he was visualizing the cleverly
engineered path from the beach-edge to Milo's lawn. And he
recalled Claire's unspoken plea that he say nothing to
Standish about his chance discovery of it. He remembered,
too, the night-song of the mocking bird from the direction of
that path, and the advent of Rodney Hade from it.
Milo had unlocked the boat-house, and was at work over a
fifteen-foot steel motorboat which was slung on chains above
the water. A winch and well-constructed pulleys-and-chains
made simple the labor of launching it in so quiet a sea.
Out they fared into the gleaming sunlit waters of the bay.
Far to eastward gleamed the white city of Miami, and nearer,
across the bay from it the emerald stretch of key with Cape
Florida and the old Spanish Light on its southern point and
the exquisite "golden house" of Mashta shining midway down its
shoreline. Miles to eastward gleamed the gray viaduct, the
grain elevator outlines of the Flamingo rising yellow above a
"I used to hear great stories about this region years ago,"
volunteered Brice as the launch danced over the transparent
water past Ragged Keys and bore southward. "I heard them from
a chap who used to winter hereabouts. It was he who first
interested me in Florida. He says these keys and inlets and
changing channels used to be the haunts of Spanish Main
"They were," said Milo. "The pirates knew these waters. The
average merchant skipper didn't. They'd build signal flares
on the keys to lure ships onto the rocks, and then loot them.
At least that was the everyday (or everynight) amusement of
their less venturesome members and their women and children.
The more adventurous used to overhaul vessels skirting the
coast to and from Cuba and Central America. They'd sally out
from their hiding-places among the keys and lie in wait for
the merchant-ships. If the prey was weak enough they'd board
and ransack her and make her crew walk the plank,--(that's how
Aaron Burr's beautiful daughter is supposed to have died on
her way North, you know,)--and if the ship showed fight or
seemed too tough a handful the pirates hit on a surer way of
capture. They'd turn tail and run. The merchant ship would
give chase, for there were fat rewards out for the capture of
the sea rovers, you know. The pirates would head for some
strip of water that seemed perfectly navigable. The ship
would follow, and would pile up on a sunken reef that the
pirates had just steered around."
"They were a thrifty and shrewd crowd those old-time
black-flaggers. After they were wiped out the wreckers still
reaped their fine harvest by signaling ships onto reefs at
night. Their descendants live down among some of the keys
still. We call them 'conchs,' around here. They're an
illiterate, uncivilized, furtive, eccentric lot. And they
pick up some sort of living off wrecked ships and off what
cargo washes ashore from the wrecks. A missionary went down
there and tried to convert them. He found the 'conch'
children already had religion enough to pray every night.
'Lord, send a wreck!' The conchs gather a lot of plunder
every year. They--"
"Do they sell it or claim salvage on it. or--?"
"Not they. That would call for too much brain and education
and for mixing with civilization. They wear it, or put it to
any crazy use they can think of. For instance fifty
sewing-machines were in the cargo of a tramp steamer bound
from Charleston to Brazil one winter. She ran ashore a few
miles south of here. The conchs got busy with the plunder.
The cargo was a veritable godsend to them. They used the
sewing machines as anchors for their boats. Another time a
box of shoes washed ashore. They were left-hand shoes. all
of them. The right-hand box must have landed somewhere else.
And a hundred conchs blossomed forth with brand new shoes.
They could wear the left shoe. of course, with no special
bother. And they slit down the vamp of the shoe they put on
the right foot, so their toes could stick out and not be
cramped. A good many people think they still lure ships
ashore by flares. But the lighthouse service has pretty well
put a stop to that."
"This chap I was speaking about,--the fellow who told me so
much about this region," said Gavin. "told me there is
supposed to be pirate gold buried in more than one of these
"Rot!" snorted Milo with needless vehemence. "All poppycock!
Look at it sanely for a minute, and you'll see that all the
yarns of pirate gold-including Captain Kidd's--are rank
idiocy. In the first place. the pirates never seized any
such fabulous sums of money as they were credited with. The
bullion ships always went under heavy man-o'-war escort. When
pirates looted some fairly rich merchant ship there were
dozens of men to divide the plunder among. And they sailed to
the nearest safe port to blow it all on an orgy. Of course,
once in a blue moon they buried or hid the valuables they got
from one ship while they went after another. And if they
chanced to sink or be captured and hanged during such a raid
the treasure remained hidden. If they survived, they blew it.
That's the one off-chance of there ever being any buried
pirate treasure. And there would be precious little of it.
at that. A few hundred dollars worth at most. No, Brice.
this everlasting legend of buried treasure is fine in a
sea-yarn. But in real life it's buncombe."
"But this same man told me there were stories of bullion ships
and even more modern vessels carrying a money cargo that sank
in these waters, during storms or from running into reefs,"
pursued Brice, with no great show of interest, as he leaned
far overside for a second glimpse at a school of five-foot
baracuda which-lay basking on the snowy surface of the sand.
two fathoms below the boat. "That, at least, sounds probable.
"No," snapped Milo flushing angrily and his brow creasing, "it
doesn't. These water are traversed every year by thousands
of craft of all sizes. The water is crystal clear. Any
wrecked ship could be seen at the bottom. Why, everybody has
seen the hull of that old tramp steamer a few miles above
here. It's in deep water, at that. What chance--?"
"Yet there are hundreds of such stories afloat," persisted
Brice. "And there are more yarns of buried treasure among the
keys than there are keys. For instance didn't old Caesar, the
negro pirate, hang out here. somewhere?"
Milo laughed again, this time with a maddening tolerance.
"Oh, Caesar?" said he. "To be sure. He's as much a legend of
these keys as Lafitte is of New Orleans. He was an escaped
slave, who scraped together a dozen fellow-ruffians, black and
white and yellow--mostly yellow--about a century ago, and
stole a long boat or a broken-down sloop, and started in at
the trade of pirate. He didn't last long. And there's no
proof he ever had any special success. But he's the sea-hero
of the conchs. They've named a key and a so-called creek
after him, and in my father's time there used to be an old
iron ring in a bowlder known as 'Caesar's Rock.' The ring was
probably put there by oystermen. But the conchs insisted
Caesar used to tie up there. Then there's the 'Pirates'
Punchbowl,' off Coconut Grove. Caesar is supposed to have dug
An enormous sailfish--dazzlingly metallic blue and silver--
broke from the calm water just ahead, and whirled high in air,
smiting the bay again with a splash that sounded like a
"That fellow must have been close to seven feet long,"
commented Milo as the two men watched the churned water where
the fish had struck. "He's the kind you see when you aren't
trolling. He's after a school of ballyhoos or mossbunkers
.... There's Roustabout Key just ahead," he finished as
their launch rounded an outcrop of rock and came in view of a
mile-long wooded island a bare thousand yards off the weather
A mangrove fringe covered the shoreline, two thirds of the way
around the key. At the eastern end was a strip of snowy beach
backed by an irregular line of coconut palms, and with a very
respectable dock in the foreground. From the pier a wooden
path led upward through the scattering double row of palms to
a corrugated iron hut, with smaller huts and outbuildings half
seen through the foliage-vistas beyond.
"I've some fairly good mango trees back yonder," said Standish
as he brought the launch alongside the dock's wabbly float,
"and grapefruit that is paying big dividends at last. The
mangoes won't be ripe till June, of course. But they're sold
already, to the last half-bushel of them."
"'Futures,' eh?" suggested Gavin,
"'Futures,'" assented Milo. "And 'futures' in farming. are
just about as certain as in Wall Street. There's a mighty
gamble to this farm-game."
"How long have--?" began Gavin, then stopped short and
One or two negro laborers had drifted down toward the dock, as
the boat warped in at the float. Now, from the corrugated
iron hut appeared a white man, who, at sight of the boat,
broke into a limping run and was in time to catch the line
which Milo flung at him.
The man was sparsely and sketchily clad. At first. his
tanned face seemed to be of several different colors and to
have been modeled by some bungling caricaturist. Yet, despite
this eccentricity of aspect, something about the obsequiously
hurrying man struck Brice as familiar. And, all at once, he
This was the big beach comber with whom Gavin had fought
barely twenty-four hours earlier. The man bore bruises and
swellings a-plenty on his rugged features, where Brice's
whalebone blows had crashed. And they had distorted his face
almost past recognition. He moved, too, with manifest
discomfort, as if all his huge body were as sore as his
"Hello, Roke!!" hailed Milo genially, then in amaze. "what in
thunder have you been doing to yourself? Been trying to stop
the East Coast Flyer? Or did you just get into an argument
with one of the channel dredges?"
"Fell," said Roke. succinctly, jerking his thumb back toward
the corrugated iron hut. "Climbed my roof to mend a leak.
Fell. My face hit every bump. Then I landed on a pile of
coconuts. I'm sore all over. I--"
He gurgled, mouthingly, as his swollen eyes chanced to light
on Gavin Brice. who was just following Milo from the launch
to the float. And his discolored and unshaven jaw went slack.
"Oh, Brice," said Standish carelessly. "This is my foreman
here, Perry Roke. As a rule he looks like other people,
except that he's bigger, just now his cravings for falling off
corrugated roofs have done things to his face. Shake hands
with him. If you like the job I'm going to offer you he and
you will be side-partners over here."
Gavin faced his recent adversary, grinning pleasantly up at
the battered and scowling face, and noting that the knife
sheath at Roke's hip was still empty.
"Hello!" he said civilly, offering his hand.
Roke gulped again, went purple, and, with sudden furious
vehemence, grabbed at the proffered hand, enfolding it in his
own monstrous grip in an industrious attempt to smash its
But reading the intent with perfect ease. Brice shifted his
own hand ever so little and with nimbly practised fingers
eluded the crushing clasp, at the same time slipping his thumb
over the heel of Roke's clutching right hand and letting his
three middle fingers meet at the exact center of that hand's
back. Then, tightening his hold, he gave an almost
imperceptible twist. It was one of the first and the simplest
of the tricks his jiu-jutsu instructor had taught him. And,
as ever with an opponent not prepared for it, the grip served.
To the heedlessly watching Standish he seemed merely to be
accepting the invitation to shake hands with Roke. But the
next instant, under the apparently harmless contact, Roke's
big body veered sharply to one side. from the hips upward,
and a bellow of raging pain broke from his puffed lips.
"Oh, I beg your pardon!" cried Brice in quick contrition: "You
must have hurt your hand when you fell off that roof. I'm
sorry if I made it worse."
Nursing his wrenched wrist. Roke glowered hideously at the
smiling Gavin. Brice could feel no compunction for his own
behavior. For he remembered the hurled knife and the brutal
kicking of the dog. Yet he repented him of the hand-twisting
trick. For if he and Roke were expected to work together as
Milo had said, he had certainly made a most unfortunate
beginning to their acquaintanceship, and just now he had added
new and painful aggravation to his earlier offense.
Milo was surveying the sufferer with no great pity, as Roke
bent over his hurt wrist.
"Too bad!" commented Standish. "I suppose that will put a
crimp in your violin-playing for a while."
Turning to Gavin who looked in new surprise at the giant on
hearing of this unexpected accomplishment. Milo explained:
"I hired Roke to run this key for me and keep the conchs and the
coons at work. But I've got a pretty straight tip that, as soon
as my back is turned, he cuts indoors and spends most of his day
whanging at that disreputable old violin of his. And when Rodney
Hade comes over here. I can't get a lick of work out of Roke,
for love or money. Hade is one of the best amateur violinists
in America, and he's daft on playing. He drops in here. every
now and then--he has an interest with me in the groves--and as
soon as he catches sight of Roke's violin. he starts playing it.
That means no more work out of Roke till Hade chooses to stop.
He just stands, with his mouth wide open, hypnotized. Can't
drag him away for a second. Hey. Roke?"
Roke had ceased nursing his wrist and had listened
with sheepish amusement to his employer's guying. But at this
question, he made answer:
"I'm here now."
He jerked the thumb of his uninjured hand toward a spic-
and-span launch which lay moored between two sodden scows, and
then nodded in the direction of the corrugated iron hut among
Listening--though the wind set the wrong way for it--Brice
could hear faintly the strains of a violin. played ever so
softly and with a golden wealth of sweetness. Even at that
distance, by listening closely, he could make out a phrase or
so of Dvorak's "Hiawatha" music from the "New World Symphony."
Milo's loud laugh broke in on his audition and on the suddenly
rapt look upon Roke's bruised face.
"Come along!" said Standish, leading the way toward the house.
"Music's a fine thing, I'm told. But it doesn't spray a
grapefruit orchard or keep the scale off of mango trees. Come
up to the house. I want to show you over the island and have
a chat with you about the job I have in mind."
As Milo strode on the two others fell in step behind him.
Brice lowered his voice and said to the sulking Roke:
"That collie belongs to Mr. Standish. I did you a good turn
it seems by keeping you from stealing him. You'd have been in
a worse fix than you are now, if Mr. Standish had come over
here to-day and found him on the island."
Roke did not deign to reply, but moved a little farther from
"At this rate," said Brice pleasantly. "you and I are likely
to have a jolly time together, out here. I can' imagine a
merrier chum for a desert island visit. I only hope I won't
neglect my work chatting with you all day."
Roke eyed him obliquely as he plodded on, and his battered
lip-corner lifted a little in what looked like a beast snarl.
But he said nothing.
Then they were at the shallow porch of the hut and Milo
Standish had thrown open its iron door letting out a gush of
golden melody from the violin. At his hail. the music
ceased. And Rodney Hade, fiddle in hand, appeared in the
"You're late," said the violinist, speaking to Milo with that
ever-smiling suavity which Gavin recalled from the night
before, and ignoring Gavin entirely "You've kept me waiting."
Despite the smooth voice and the eternal smile there was an
undernote of rebuke in the words, as of a teacher who reproves
a child for tardiness. And, meekly, Standish replied:
"I'm sorry. I was detained at Miami. And lunch was late. I
got here as soon as I could. I--"
With an impatient little wave of one white hand. Hade checked
his excuses and dismissed the subject. In the same moment his
snakelike black eyes fixed themselves on Brice whom he seemed
to notice for the first time. The eyes were smiling. But he
granted the guest no further form of salutation, as he asked
"Where have I seen you before?"
"You saw me last night," returned Gavin. still wondering at
this man's dictatorial attitude toward the aggressive Milo
Standish and at Milo's almost cringing acceptance of it. "I
was at the Standishes. I was just starting for bed when you
dropped in. Miss Standish introduced--"
"I'm not speaking about last night," curtly interrupted Hade,
though his voice was as soft as ever and his masklike face was
set in its everlasting smile. "I mean, where did I run across
you before last night?"
"Well. Mr. Bones," answered Gavin with flippant insolence,
"Dat am de question propounded. Where did you-all run acrost
me befo' las' night?"
Milo and Roke stirred convulsively, as if scandalized that any
one should dare speak with such impudence to Hade. Rodney
himself all but lost the eternal smile from his thin lips: and
his voice was less suave than usual as he said:
"I don't care for impertinence, especially from employees.
You will bear that in mind. Now you will answer my question.
Where did I see you?"
"If you can't remember," countered Gavin. "you can hardly
expect me to. I live in New York. I have lived there or
thereabouts for a number of years. I was overseas--stationed
at Bordeaux and then at Brest--for a few months in 1918. As a
boy I lived on my father's farm in northern New York State,
near Manlius. That's the best answer I can give you. If it
will make you recall where you've seen me--all right. If not
I'm afraid I can't help you out. In any case what does it
matter? I don't claim to be anybody especial. I have no
references. Mr. Standish knows that. If he's willing to give
me some sort of job in spite of such drawbacks. it seems to
be entirely his affair."
"The job I had--have--in mind for you," spoke up Milo. at a
glance from Hade, "is on this key, here. I need an extra man
in the main storehouse to oversee the roustabouts there. At
this season Roke is too busy outdoors to keep the right kind
of eye on them. The pay won't be large to start with. But if
you make good at it. I may have something better to offer you
on the mainland. Or I may not. In any case. I understand
this is only a stopgap for you, and that you are down here for
your health. If you are interested in the idea, well and
good. If not--"
He paused and glanced at Hade as if for prompting. Throughout
his harangue Standish had given Brice the impression of a man
who recites a lesson taught him by another. Now Hade took up
"I think," said he smilingly--his momentary impatience gone
--"I think, before answering--in fact before coming down to
terms and other details--you might perhaps care to stroll
around the island a little, and get an idea of it for
yourself. It may be you won't care to stay here. It may be
you will like it very much. Mr. Standish and I have some
routine business to talk over with Roke. Suppose you take a
walk over the place? Roke, assign one of the men to go with
him and show him around."
With instant obedience. Roke started for the door. Indeed, he
had almost reached it before Hade ceased speaking. Gavin raised
his brows at this swift anticipation of orders. And into his
mind came an odd thought.
"You seemed surprised to see me this afternoon," said he as he
followed Roke to the porch and closed the door behind them.
"Yet Mr. Hade had told you I was coming here. He had told
you, and he had told you to have some one ready to show me
over the island."
As he spoke Gavin indicated with a nod a man who was trotting
across the sandy clearing toward them.
"Didn't know it was you!" grunted Roke. too surprised by the
direct assertion to fence. "Said some feller would come with
Mr. Standish. He--. How'd you know he told me?" he demanded
in sudden angry bewilderment.
"There!" exclaimed Gavin admiringly. "I knew we'd chat along
as lovingly as two turtle-doves when once we'd get really
started. You're quite a talker when you want to be, Rokie my
lad! If only you didn't speak as if you were trying to save
words on a telegram. Here's the chap you'd ordered to be
cruising in the offing as my escort, eh?" as the barefoot
roustabout reached the porch. "All right. Good-by."
Leaving the grumbling and muttering Roke scowling after him.
Brice stepped out onto the sand to meet the newcomer. The
roustabout apparently belonged to the conch tribe of which
Milo had spoken. Thin. undersized. swarthy. with features
that showed a trace of negro and perhaps of Indian blood as
well, he had a furtive manner and seemed to cringe away from
Northerner as they set off across the clearing. toward the
distant huts and still more distant orchards.
He was bareheaded and stoop-shouldered. Beyond a ragged pair
of drill trousers--indescribably dirty--his only garment was a
still dirtier and raggeder undershirt. His naked feet flapped
awkwardly, like a turtle's. He was not a pretty or
Across the clearing he pattered, head down, still cringing
away from the visitor. As the two entered the shadows of the
nearest grove Gavin Brice glanced quickly around him on all
sides. The conch did the same. Then the two moved on with
the same distance between them as before.
And as they went Gavin spoke. He spoke in a low tone. not
moving his lips or looking directly toward the other man.
"Good boy. Davy!" he said, approvingly. "How did you get the
job of taking me around? I was afraid I'd have to look for
"Two other men were picked out to do it sir," said the conch
without slackening his pace or turning his head. "One after
the other. One was a nigger. One was a conch. Both of 'em
got sick. I paid 'em to. And I paid the nigger an extra five
to tell Roke I'd be the best man to steer you. He said he'd
been on jobs with me before. He and the conch are malingering
in the sick shed. Ipecac. I gave it to 'em."
"Good!" repeated Gavin. "Mighty good. Now what's the idea?"
"You're to be kept over here, sir," said the conch. "I don't
know why. Roke told me you're a chum of Hade's, and that
Hade's doing it to have a bit of fun with you. So I'm to lead
you around awhile, showing you the plant and such. Then I'm
to take you to the second storage hut and tell you we've got a
new kind of avocado stored in there, and let you go in ahead
of me, and I'm to slam the spring-lock door on you."
"Hm! That all, Davy?"
"Yes, sir. Except of course that it's a lie. Hade don't play
jokes or have fun with any one. If he's trying to keep you
locked up here a while it's most likely a sign he don't want
you on the mainland for some reason. Maybe that sounds
foolish. But it's all the head or tail I can make out of it,
"It doesn't 'sound foolish,'" contradicted Brice. "As it
happens it's just what he wants to do. I don't know just why.
But I mean to find out. He wants me away from a house over
there. A house I had a lot of trouble in getting a foothold
in. It's taken me the best part of a month. And now I don't
mean to spend another month in getting back there."
"No, sir," said Davy, respectfully, still plodding on. in
front with head and shoulders bent. "No, sir. Of course.
But--if you'll let me ask, sir--does Hade know? Does he
suspicion you? If that's why he's framed this then Roustabout
Key is no place for you. No more is Dade County. He--"
"No," returned Gavin. smiling at the real terror that had
crept into the other's tone. "He doesn't know. And I'm sure
he doesn't suspect. But he has a notion he's seen me
somewhere. And he's a man who doesn't take chances. Besides
he wants me away from the Standish house. He wants every
outsider away from it. And I knew this would be the likeliest
place for him to maroon me. That's why I sent you word ....
I'm a bit wobbly in my beliefs about the Standishes,--one of
them anyhow. Now, where's this storehouse prison of mine?"
"Over there, sir, to the right. But--"
"Take me over there. And walk slowly. I've some things to
say to you on the way, and I want you to get them straight in
"Yes, sir," answered the conch, shifting his course. so as to
bring his steps in a roundabout way toward the squat
storeroom. "And before you begin there's an extra key to the
room under the second packing box to the right. I made it
from Roke's own key when I made duplicates of all the keys
here. I put it there this morning. In case you should want
to get out, you can say you found it lying on the floor there.
I rusted all the keys I made so they look old. He'll likely
think it's an extra key that was lost somewhere in there."
"Thanks," said Gavin. "You're a good boy. And you've got
sense. Now listen:--"
Talking swiftly and earnestly. he followed Davy toward the
square little iron building, the conch outwardly making no
sign that he heard. For, not many yards away, a handful of
conchs and negroes were at work on a half-completed shed.
Davy came to the store-room door, and opened it. Then.
turning to Brice he said aloud in the wretched dialect of his
"Funny avocado fruits all pile up in yon. Mighty funny. Make
yo' laugh. Want to go see? Look!"
He swung wide the iron door and pointed to the almost totally
"Funny to see in yon," he said invitingly. "Never see any
like 'em befo'. I strike light for you. Arter you, my boss."
One or two men working on the nearby shed had stopped their
labor and were glancing covertly toward them.
"Oh, all right!" agreed Brice. his uninterested voice
carrying well though it was not noticeably raised. "It seems
a stuffy sort of hole. But I'll take a look at it if you
like. Where's that light you're going to strike? It--"
As he spoke he sauntered into the storeroom. His lazy speech
was cut short by the clangorous slamming of the iron door
behind him. Conscientiously he pounded on the iron and yelled
wrathful commands to Davy to open. Then when he thought he
had made noise enough to add verity to his role and to free
the conch from any onlooker's suspicion he desisted.
Groping his way through the dimness to the nearest box. he
sat down, philosophically, to wait.
"Well," he mused sniffing in no approval at all at the musty
air of the place and peering up at the single eight-inch
barred window that served more for ventilation than for light.
"Well, here we are. And here, presumably, we stay till
Standish and Hade go back to the mainland. Then I'm to be let
out by Roke, with many apologies for Davy's mistake. There'll
be no way of getting back. The boats will be hidden or
padlocked. And here I'll stay, with Roke for a chum. till
whatever is going on at Standish's house is safely finished
with. It's a pretty program. If I can get away to-night
without Roke's finding it out till morning--"
His eyes were beginning to accustom themselves to the room.
Its corners and farther reaches and most of its floor were
still invisible. But, by straining his gaze, he could just
make out the shapes of a crate or two and several packing
boxes close to the wall. The central space was clear. In
spite of the stuffiness. there was a damp chill to the gloomy
place, by contrast to the vivid sunlight and the sweep of the
Gavin stretched himself out at full length on the long box,
and prepared to take a nap. First he reached toward the next
box--the one under which Davy had told him the key was hidden-
-and moved it an inch or so to make certain it was not full
enough to cause him any especial effort in case he should not
be released until next day and should have need of the key.
Then he shut his eyes, and let himself drift toward slumber.
It was perhaps two hours later when he was roused from a light
doze by hearing something strike the concrete floor of his
prison. not six feet from his head. The thing had fallen
with a slithering, uneven sound, such as might be made by the
dropping of a short length of rope.
Brice sat up. He noted that the room was no longer light
enough to see across. And he glanced in the direction of the
window. Its narrow space was blocked by something. And as he
looked he heard a second object slither to the floor.
"Some one's dropping things down here through that
ventilator," he conjectured.
And at the same moment a third fall sounded, followed almost
at once by a fourth. Then, for a second, the window space was
clear, only to be blocked again as the person outside returned
to his post. And in quick succession three more objects were
sent slithering down to the floor. After which the window was
cleared once more, and Brice could hear receding steps.
But he gave no heed to the steps. For as the last of the
unseen things had been slid through the aperture. another
sound had focused all his attention, and had sent queer little
quivers up his spine.
The sound had been a long-drawn hiss.
And Gavin Brice understood. Now he knew why the softly
falling bodies had slithered so oddly down the short distance
between window and floor. And he read aright the slippery
crawling little noises that had been assailing his ears.
The unseen man outside had thrust through the ventilator not
less than seven or eight snakes, carried thither, presumably,
Crouching on his long box Gavin peered about him. Faintly
against the dense gray of the shadowy floor. he could see
thick ropelike forms twisting sinuously
to and fro, as if exploring their new quarters or seeking
exit. More than once. as these chanced to cross one another's
path, that same long-drawn hiss quavered out into the dark
And now Brice's nostrils were assailed by a sickening smell as
of crushed cucumbers. And at the odor his fists tightened in
new fear. For no serpents give off that peculiar odor.
except members of the pit-viper family.
"They're not rattlesnakes," he told himself. "For a scared or
angry rattler would have this room vibrating with his whirr.
We're too far south for copperheads. The--the only other
pit-viper I ever heard of in Florida is the--cotton-mouth
At the realization he was aware of a wave of physical terror
that swept him like a breath of ice.
Without restoratives at hand the moccasin's bite is certain
death. The plan had been well thought out. At the very first
step the frantic prisoner might reasonably be relied on to
encounter one or more of the crawling horrors. The box on
which he crouched was barely eighteen inches high. The next
box--under which rested the key--was several feet away. The
door was still farther off.
Truly Standish and Hade appeared to have hit on an excellent
plan for getting rid of the man they wanted out of the way!
It would be so easy for Roke to explain to possible inquirers
that Brice had chanced to tread on a poisonous snake in his
wanderings about the key!
The slightest motion might well be enough to stir to active
hostility the swarm of serpents already angered by their
sudden dumping into this clammy den.
Weaponless, helpless, the trapped man crouched
there and waited,
IN THE DAY OF BATTLE
As Gavin Brice sat with feet drawn up under him, listening to
the gruesome slither of the mocca sinsalong the concrete
floor just below he was gripped for a minute by irresistible
terror. It was all so simple--so complete! And he had been
calmly self-confident of his ability to command the situation,
to play these people's own game and to beat them at it.
Grinning and open-eyed he had marched into the trap. He had
been glad to let Hade and Standish think him safely out of
their way, and had planned so confidently to return by stealth
to the mainland that night and to Milo's house!
And now they had had absolutely no difficulty in caging him,
and in arranging that he should be put forever out of their
way. The most stringent inquiry--should any such be made
--could only show that he had been bitten once or more by a
deadly snake. Any post-mortem would bear out the statement.
It was known to every one that many of the keys--even several
miles from the mainland--are infested by rattlesnakes and by
other serpents, though how such snakes ever got to the islands
is as much of a mystery to the naturalist world as is the
presence of raccoons and squirrels on the same keys. It is
simply one of the hundred unsolvable mysteries and puzzles of
the subtropic region.
In his jiu-jutsu instructions Brice had learned a rule which
he had carried into good effect in other walks of life.
Namely to seem to play one's opponent's game and to be fooled
by it, and then, taking the conquering adversary by surprise,
to strike. Thus he had fallen in with Standish's suggestion
that he come to the island, though he had thought himself
fairly sure as to the reason for the request. Thus, too, he
had let himself be lured into this storeroom, still smugly
confident that he held the whip hand of the situation.
And as a result he was looking into the ghastly eyes of death.
Like an engine that "races," his fertile brain was unduly
active in this moment of stark horror, and it ran uselessly.
Into his over-excited mind flashed pictures of a thousand bits
of the past--one of them. by reason of recent association far
more vivid than the rest.
He saw himself with four other A.E.F. officers, standing in a
dim corner of a high-ceiled old room in a ruined chateau in
Flanders. In the room's center was a table. Around this
were grouped a double line of uniformed Americans--a
court-martial. In came two provosts' men leading between them
a prisoner, a man in uniform and wearing the insignia of a
United States army major--the cleverest spy it was said in
all the Wilhehnstrasse's pay, a genius who had grown rich at
his filthy trade of selling out his country's secrets. and
who had been caught at last by merest chance.
The prisoner had glanced smilingly about the half-lit room as
he came in. For the barest fraction of a second his gaze had
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