A night of stars, seen through swaying tree-tops whose leaves crisping to their fall, murmured gently of vanished hopes and approaching death.
Below, a long, low building with a lighted window here and there, surrounded by a heavy growth of trees which are but the earnest of the illimitable stretch of the Adirondack woods which painted darkness on the encircling horizon.
In the air, one other sound beside the restless murmur I have mentioned — the lap, lap of the lake whose waters bathed the bank which supported this building.
Such the scene without.
Within, Reuther seated in the glow of a hospitable fire of great logs, talking earnestly to Mr. Black. As they were placed, he could see her much better than she could see him, his back being to the blaze and she, in its direct glare.
He could, therefore, study her features, without offence, and this he did, steadily and with deep interest, all the while she was talking. He was looking for signs of physical weakness or fatigue; but he found none. The pallor of her features was a natural pallor, and in their expression, new forces were becoming apparent, which give him encouragement, rather than anxiety, for the adventure whose most trying events lay still before them.
Crouching low on the hearth could be seen the diminutive figure of Miss Weeks. She had no time to waste even in a solitude as remote as this, and was crocheting busily by the firelight. Her earnestness gave character to her features which sometimes lacked significance. Reuther loved to glance at her from time to time, as she continued her conversation with Mr. Black.
This is what she was saying:
“I cannot point to any one man of the many who have been about us ever since we started north. But that we have been watched and our route followed, I feel quite convinced. So does Miss Weeks. But, as you saw, no one besides ourselves left the cars at this station, and I am beginning to hope that we shall remain unmolested till we can take the trip to Tempest Lodge. How far is it, Mr. Black?”
“Twenty-five miles and over a very rough mountain road. Did I not confidently expect to find Oliver there, I should not let you undertake this ride. But the inquiries I have just made lead me to hope for the best results. I was told that yesterday a young man bound for Tempest Lodge, stopped to buy a large basket of supplies at the village below us. I could not learn his name and I saw no one who could describe him; but the fact that any one not born in these parts should choose to isolate himself so late in the year as this, in a place considered inaccessible after the snow flies, has roused much comment.”
“That looks as if — as if —”
“As if it were Oliver. So it does; and if you feel that you can ride so far, I will see that horses are saddled for us at an early hour to-morrow morning.”
“I can ride, but will Oliver be pleased to see us at Tempest Lodge. Mr. Black, I had an experience in Utica which makes it very hard for me to contemplate obtruding myself upon him without some show of permission on his part. We met — that is, I saw him and he saw me; but he gave me no opportunity — that is, he did not do what he might have done, had he felt — had he thought it best to exchange a word with me.”
“Where was this? You were not long in Utica?”
“Only one night. But that was long enough for me to take a walk down one of the principal thoroughfares and it was during this walk I saw him. He was on the same side of the street as myself and rapidly coming my way, but on his eye meeting mine — I could not mistake that unconscious flash of recognition — he wheeled suddenly aside into a cross-street where I dared not follow him. Of course, he did not know what hung on even a momentary interview. That it was not for myself I—” The firelight caught something new to shine upon — a tear on lashes which yet refused to lower themselves.
Mr. Black fidgeted, then put out his hand and laid it softly on hers.
“Never mind,” he grumbled; “men are —” he didn’t say what; but it wasn’t anything very complimentary. “You have this comfort,” said he: “the man at the Lodge is undoubtedly Oliver. Had he gone West, he wouldn’t have been seen in Utica three days ago.”
“I have never had any doubt about that. I expect to see him tomorrow, but I shall find it hard to utter my errand quick enough. There will be a minute when he may misunderstand me. I dread that minute.”
“Perhaps, you can avoid it. Perhaps after you have positively identified him I can do the rest. We will arrange it so, if we can.”
Her eyes flashed gratitude, then took on a new expression. She had chanced to glance again at Miss Weeks, and Miss Weeks was not looking quite natural. She was still crocheting, or trying to, but her attitude was constrained and her gaze fixed; and that gaze was not on her work, but directed towards a small object at her side, which Reuther recognised from its open lid to be the little lady’s workbox.
“Something is the matter with Miss Weeks,” she confided in a low whisper to Mr. Black. “Don’t turn; she’s going to speak.”
But Miss Weeks did not speak. She just got up, and, with a careless motion, stood stretching herself for a moment, then sauntered up to the table and began showing her work to Reuther.
“I’ve made a mistake,” she pettishly complained. “See if you can find out what’s wrong.” And, giving the work into Reuther’s hand, she stood watching, but with a face so pale that Mr. Black was not astonished when she suddenly muttered in a very low tone:
“Don’t move or show surprise. The shade of the window is up, and somebody is looking in from outside. I saw his face reflected in the mirror of my work-box. It isn’t any one I know, but he was looking very fixedly this way and may be looking yet. Now I am going to snatch my work. I don’t think you’re helping me one bit.”
She suited the action to the word; shook her head at Reuther and went back to her old position on the hearth.
“I was afraid of it,” murmured Reuther. “If we take the ride tomorrow, it will not be alone. If, on the other hand, we delay our trip, we may be forestalled in the errand upon which so much depends. We are not the only ones who have heard of the strange young man at Tempest Lodge.”
The answer came with quick decision. “There is but one thing for us to do. I will tell you what it is a little later. Go and sit on the hearth with Miss Weeks, and mind that you laugh and chat as if your minds were quite undisturbed. I am going to have a talk with our host.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50