While Caroline Was Growing/The Pretenders
Midsummer dust lay ankle-deep in the road, white and hot. The asphalt sidewalk baked in the noon sun, the leaves hung motionless from the full trees; only the breathless nasturtiums flickered like flames along the fences, for the other flowers wilted in the glare. Caroline, hatless and happy as a lizard in the relentless heat, spun along on her bicycle, the only bit of movement on all the long stretch of the road. The householders had all retired behind their green blinds; even New England yielded to August's imperious siesta, and it might have been a deserted village, empty and mysterious, through which she glided.
By little and little she grew to feel this; her feet moved more and more slowly on the pedals, her brows knitted as the great idea grew. Her lips moved, inaudibly at first, but soon began the sing-song murmur so well known to those who crept upon her unawares.
"I am all alone; the rest have gone—where have they gone!—where could they go? Oh, they're dead. Murdered! No, the town was besieged, and we made ropes with our hair, and bowstrings.... And they all marched out, and they closed the city gates...." Slower and slower the pedals moved: Caroline was pushing uphill. "So then the Mayor said: 'No, this sacrifice is too great—I can not allow you to make it, my brave children. Death—and worse—await you beyond these walls. Let us die here together.'" Her chin quivered. At the summit of the hill she paused.
"'Then die! Die like the dogs you are!' cried the Captain"—with feet perched high she swooped down the slope, her heart pounding with excitement, narrowly escaping collision at the bottom with an empty van, crawling through the heat, manned by a somnolent, huddled driver. Its hollow, cumbrous rattling pointed sharply the loneliness of the silent road, almost bare now of houses, for they were on the very outskirts of the village, and in a flash Caroline knew it for what it was, and shuddered.
"It's the Tumbrel!" she murmured softly, and to her awed fancy the graceful, slim-necked figures in flowered gowns drooped dreadfully or stiffened in a last pathetic defiance as they rolled by.
"Courage, my sister, courage!" whispered the brave gentleman, while the hoarse crowd shouted.... "And I am Marie Antoinette!" cried Caroline in a burst of inspiration.
Dismounting, she walked proudly beside her wheel; scornfully she held her head above that vulgar, cruel mob; the driver, poor in illusions, drowsed stupidly in front of the baleful wagon-load he knew not of, and clattered down the hill. To the ill-fated Queen, who followed the curving line of the twelve-foot iron fence that had sprung up at her side, ten minutes seemed but one. Lost in tragic musing, she wandered swiftly on; had you, meeting her suddenly, asked her where she was going, there is little doubt that she would have told you she was escaping to her palace. And all at once, as she halted a moment opposite a clear space in the shrubbery and thickly planted trees that followed the inside line Of the iron fence, she beheld the palace, high on a terraced knoll. It was of clean-cut gray stone, rising into a square tower at one corner, from which the flag drooped in bright folds of red and blue. The windows shone like mirrors; trim, striped awnings broke the severe angles of the long building; brilliant flower-beds gleamed from the smooth turf and bordered the neat walks of crushed gray stone. It stood massively above its terraces, a very castle of romance to Caroline, who had never before seen it so polished and beflagged. Wonderingly she tried the great wrought-iron gate, but it was securely locked, and a new sign was attached to it:
All Trespassers are Warned
From the Premises!
Visitors Please Ring at the Lodge.
Caroline stared at it vaguely. So delicate are the oscillations of the imaginative imp, that it is hard to say just where he swings his slaves into determined self-delusion. If you had shaken Caroline severely and demanded of her in the character of an impatient adult the name of her castle, she would undoubtedly have informed you that it was Graystone Tower, a long deserted mansion, too expensive hitherto for any occupants but the children who roamed every inch of it for the first spring flowers and coasted down its terraces in winter. But no one was there to shake her, and so with parted lips and dreamy eyes she speculated as to whether they would fire the cannon on her arrival and whether she would scatter coins among her loyal servants or merely order an ox roasted whole in honor of her safe return.
Soon she reached the smaller gate, but before she tried the handle the sign warned her that it would be useless. She frowned: no one could keep up the spirit of a royal home-coming under these disadvantages. Suddenly her eyes brightened, she tossed her head, and following what was apparently a little blind alley of shrubbery, she plunged into a tangle of undergrowth and disappeared. Only her bicycle, resting against the fence, showed that some one had passed that way. Working herself through the screen of leaves, she emerged into a fairly cleared path that her accus tomed feet followed to its logical climax—a deep depression scooped out under the sharp, down-pointed iron prongs, worn smooth by the frequent pressure of small bodies. The fence had lost its shiny blackness by now and the grass grew rank and untended around the mouth of the gap. Wriggling through, Caroline straightened herself and strolled unconcerned toward the castle, not so near her now. Soon she reached a newly rolled tennis court; farther on two saddled horses pawed beside a little summer-house, impatient for the start; an iridescent fountain tossed two gleaming balls high into the air. Caroline moved like one in a dream; her fancy, grown so overwhelmingly real, dazzled her, fairly. But it was like the court of the Sleeping Beauty—no one came or called.
At length, wandering on, she came upon a gardener in a neat gray livery, clipping with a large, distorted pair of scissors the velvet edge of a flower-bed. He resembled so undeniably the gardeners in that ageless chronicle of Alice that Caroline smiled approvingly upon him.
"You are one of my gardeners, I suppose," she said regally.
"Yes, Miss," he replied, respectfully, touching his banded cap, "I am that."
"You garden very well," said Marie Antoinette, dizzy with delight at his manner.
"Yes, Miss; thank you, Miss, I'm sure," and the cap came off.
She walked on superbly. At last it had happened, and she, Caroline in the flesh, had fought her way through the prickly hedge of every-day appearance and won into the garden of romance, where dreams were true and anything might happen.
At that moment there came to meet her from behind a great beech tree a slender little lady. She had gray hair puffed daintily and fancifully about her small, pale face, and knots of pale blue ribbon, woven in and out of her lacy, trailing gown, repeated the color of her mild, round eyes. Half consciously Caroline muttered: "Here is one of my ladies-in-waiting," when the little lady rushed at her, smiling delightedly.
"Are you a queen, then?" she cried in a high, sweet voice. "How very pleasant. Dear me, how very pleasant!"
Caroline smiled with equal delight. Very few persons of this little lady's age had such quick sense; mostly they had to be taught the game.
"Yes," she answered, "I am. I am Queen Marie Antoinette."
The little lady fell back a step. Her blue eyes clouded and she pouted like a big baby.
"Why—why, how can you be?" she demanded, fretfully, "when that is who I am, myself!"
For a moment Caroline scowled; such flexibility was almost disconcerting. Then her natural good-humor and the training resulting from many summers with Miss Honey, who claimed all the best roles at once and shifted often, prompted her generous reply:
"All right. I'll be Mary Queen of Scots, then—I like it about as well."
The little lady beamed again.
"That will be very pleasant," she said, "I trust your majesty is quite well?"
"Yes, indeed," Caroline assured her, adding airily; "How well the castle is looking this morning! I think I'll have the flag out every day, now that I'm back."
Marie Antoinette flushed angrily and pouted once more.
"You! You!" she mimicked. "What have you to do with my flag? That goes up by my orders, let me inform you! Here, gardener—" and she waved her little parasol at the man in gray, who was already walking rapidly towards them—"is that flag in my honor or not?"
"Yes, Miss," he said promptly. "Sure it is, Miss," and he nodded politely at them both. For a moment the rival queens confronted each other fiercely, then her Majesty of France smiled at Scottish Mary.
"You see," she said, in her high, bright voice; "you see, I was right. But then, I always am. I shall have to leave your Royal Highness now, for I see one of my subjects coming whom I don't care for at all—she is not very pleasant."
Sweeping a low courtesy, the little lady glided away with a graceful, dipping motion; the white hand that lifted her trailing skirts was covered with turquoises.
Caroline looked where her royal sister had pointed, and saw a tall, handsome young woman hurrying toward her. She was dressed plainly in black, but with a rich plainness that could not have escaped the youngest of womankind. Opposite Caroline she paused, her hand on her heart.
"John! Oh, John! This—this is a child!"
"Yes, Miss; sure it is," said the gardener politely.
"But how did she get here? Surely no children come here?" Her hands were trembling.
"Yes, Miss, many of 'em—sure they do," he said pleasantly, with a good Irish smile.
But it was plain that his good-nature did not please the handsome lady. She bit her lip angrily.
"You know very well, John, that you are not to talk to me in that idiotic way," she said decidedly. "You know that there is no necessity for it as well as I do."
"All right, Miss," he replied, soothingly.
"And you are lying when you say that children come here," she went on, controlling herself with a great effort, "for they do not."
The gardener scratched his head doubtfully and walked away, muttering to himself. The girl turned to Caroline.
"Tell me," she demanded eagerly, her voice low and hurried, "how did you come here? Are you with friends? Where are they? What were you saying to that queen woman?"
"I—I—we were—I was Mary Queen of Scots," Caroline stammered, struggling, as the happy dreamer struggles, not to wake.
The girl started back from her, pale with an emotion that left her handsome face drawn and old.
"Good Heavens!—it can't be—a child! A child!" she cried. Tears stood in her dark eyes.
"How pitiful!" she said, softly, to herself. Then, forcing a smile, she leaned coaxingly over Caroline.
"I am only too delighted to make your Majesty's acquaintance," she said, her voice a little husky, but very sweet. "I have read of you often. But surely your Majesty has not been here long? I do not recall having seen you before to-day."
"N—no, you haven't," Caroline answered, a little grudgingly, "I only just came."
"Ah!" said the girl, "and how did you come? Not through the house surely?"
"I came under the fence," said Caroline, "the gates were locked. I was Marie Antoinette then, but I changed after she said she was."
"Oh! Oh!" the girl groaned, covering her face with slender, ringless hands.
"But I'd just as soon," Caroline assured her—"honestly I would. Only you need a Bothwell for her. I only thought of Marie Antoinette after the tumbrel went by. I suppose she's used to Marie Antoinette, prob'ly, and so you can't get her to change."
She nodded in the direction of the little lady, now far from them, white against the shrubbery.
The girl drew in her breath in little gasps, as if she had been running.
"Y—yes," she assented, "she's used to being Marie Antoinette. Where is the hole you got through? Is it big enough for—for anybody?"
"Oh, yes," said Caroline indifferently, "but nobody knows about it but me and a few other k—prisoners, I mean; I've used it when I was escaping before. I think it was a rabbit-hole first, and then we made it bigger. Isn't that funny—Alice got in by a rabbit-hole, too, didn't she? I thought of her as soon as I saw the gardener. He's very polite, isn't he?"
The girl pressed her lips together. "They are all polite here," she said briefly. "Do you mean that you go in and out of this hole as you like? Do they know of it? Is it far from here?"
"It's over there," Caroline waved, vaguely. "Why? Do you want to escape, too? Are you a queen?"
"No." The girl said it with a slight shudder. "No, I'm not. I'm—I'm—Oh, I'm Joan of Arc! You know about her, don't you, dear?"
Caroline nodded. "Are you trying to escape?" she repeated, interested at last.
"Yes," said the girl, "I am. But don't tell any one, will you? Don't tell that gardener, for instance."
"Oh, no," Caroline assured her, "I won't tell. Wouldn't he help you?"
The girl laughed, an excited, sobbing laugh.
"No, he wouldn't help me at all," she said. "Come on, walk a little. He is watching us. Don't tell him about the hole, will you? Promise me faithfully." She turned and seized the child's wrist. "Can you keep a promise?" she panted.
"Of course I can."
"And if any one should ask you, could you—oh, could you say you came in by the gate?"
Caroline wriggled free.
"Of course," she said scornfully. "Do you think I'm a baby?"
"Don't be angry—don't," the girl pleaded. "I don't mean to frighten you—your Majesty, I mean—but I am so excited, and—and I don't quite do what I intend to do or say just what I mean. I am quite all right now. You see, that gardener—he isn't really a gardener." She watched Caroline narrowly, quite unprepared for the sudden delight in her eyes.
"Oh, he's pretending, too!" cried Mary of Scots joyfully. "What is he, really?"
"He's—he's one of my jailers," said the girl somberly. "And the first thing he would do would be to stop up your hole under the fence."
"Oh!" Caroline stared respectfully at the gardener, not far from them now.
"Were you ever in chains?" she said, in an awed voice.
"No," said Joan of Arc, "I never was. I wouldn't be in this—this fortress if I had to be in chains. This is for well-behaved prisoners."
"Is Marie Antoinette a prisoner, too?"
"Yes," said the girl, wearily, "she is. And she has kept me one. I should not be here now but for her. She prevented my escape."
"The mean old thing!" Caroline cried, indignantly, "did she tell?"
"She called that gardener," said the girl, "just as I was walking out of the little gate. Of course I had to walk slowly. She is very malicious—poor thing," she added quickly.
They were close to a little arbor now, and not so far from the castle. Caroline could see figures here and there strolling on the upper terraces and sitting on the piazzas. The tinkle of a mandolin cut the soft air and the new-mown grass smelled sweet.
"I think this castle is lovely, though, don't you, Joan of Arc?" she burst out.
"It is an abominable castle," said the girl, in a muffled voice. "Abominable!"
"Well, then," said Caroline, practically, "if you feel that way, you'd better escape."
The girl stared at her.
"Tell me," she said, earnestly, "have you ever been in this place before? Where do you live?"
Caroline shrugged her shoulders impishly.
"I am Mary Queen of Scots," she replied, obstinately, "and I live in Scotland. Of course, I've been here before. Who are all those other people in the castle?"
The girl drew a long, worried breath. "I believe I should go mad if I stayed here much longer," she said, to herself. She drew Caroline down beside her behind the arbor.
"Listen to me, Mary Queen of Scots," she murmured, very low, with anxious glances all about her.
"I don't know who you are nor where you come from, but I believe you will help me—I believe you're sorry for me. You know how badly Joan of Arc's friends felt when she was in prison? I'm sure you do. Well I have a—a dear friend who would die for me, if it would help me. He has no idea where I am. He thinks I don't want to see him. He thinks—he must think—I'm no longer his—his—his friend. If I could only get to him, I should be safe."
"Why don't you write to him?" Caroline suggested.
The girl laughed bitterly.
"If you had prisoners in your fortress, and they wrote letters to their friends to come and get them out, would you mail the letters?" she demanded.
"I s'pose not," said Caroline gravely. Joan of Arc gulped.
"My letters never went," she said. "Now listen: I must go up to my room and get some money—I can't do anything without money. Will you wait here till I come back and not let anyone see you if you can help it? And if they do, will you say that you slipped in at the gate with a party that came in an automobile? One was here lately. Ask if you mayn't stay and see the flowers. And then I will meet you."
She looked hard in Caroline's eyes. "You're only playing," she said, suddenly. "You aren't—you aren't—What is your real name, dear?"
"You better hurry up," she said, "or that gardener'll catch us. You're just like Marie Antoinette," she added irritably. "You think nobody can be anything but only yourself!"
Without a word the girl turned and left her, half running. Caroline heard her sobs.
At the same moment she caught the crunch of footsteps on the stone path that led to the arbor and crouched low behind it. Two men, talking idly, entered the spot of shade and sank down on the rustic bench.
"Look here, Ferris," said one voice, "is she really dippy—that one?"
"What do you mean?" This was a deeper voice, attached evidently to blue serge legs, for the speaker leaned to Caroline's eye level to scratch a match on one of them.
"Oh, I mean what I say." A gray striped coat sleeve poked through the lattice work, as the first speaker leaned hard on it. "If she is, then I am, that's all. It looks queer to me."
The blue legs crossed themselves tightly under the seat.
"Look here yourself, Riggs," said the second voice. "If you're curious in this matter, I advise you to ask the doctor. He's boss here, not I—thank God! I obey orders and draw my forty per, as per contract. The same to you, only it's hardly forty, I suppose."
"No, it's not," grunted Graycoat. "Not by a good sight. I see myself asking the old man. I only asked your private opinion, Ferris,—you needn't get sore about it."
"My young friend," said Bluelegs, slowly, "there's only one thing you can ask me in this place that I won't tell you, and that's my private opinion!"
There was a little pause. Caroline, reveling in conspiracy, lay quiet, wondering who these people were and what they were talking about.
"You are perfectly welcome to anything I know about Miss Aitken," Bluelegs continued, puffing at a fresh cigarette and throwing the old one through the lattice at Caroline's feet.
"Her brother was a pronounced epileptic—died in a fit. I have seen the doctor's certificate. She was greatly worried over his death, and the manner of it, and showed signs of incipient melancholia."
"As how?" interrupted Graycoat.
"Don't know," said Bluelegs briefly. "Uncle said so. Wouldn't speak to anybody; cried all day; off her feed—that sort of thing. Very obstinate."
"Um," Graycoat muttered thoughtfully, "so am I. But I'd hate to be shut up on that account."
"So her uncle," proceeded Bluelegs, "wishing to save her, if possible, from her brother's fate, decided to—er—take steps in that direction and—and here she is."
"So I see," said Graycoat. "Was the brother's epilepsy hereditary?"
"I believe not," Bluelegs returned. "I believe the young gentlemen inherited a little too much a little too soon for his best good, and hit up a rather fast pace; his constitution wasn't the best."
"Did she know about all this?"
"I believe she did. Thought she might have saved him if she'd known sooner, her uncle said."
"Ah," said Graycoat. "Why didn't this kind uncle put his nephew with the doctor?"
"He wasn't his trustee," Bluelegs answered, quietly.
"Dear me," said Graycoat gently, "how fortunate for the nephew!"
"That's as you look at it," responded Bluelegs.
Caroline dozed in the warm shade; in dreams she chased the French Queen around the iridescent fountain.
"Uncle any business—besides trusteeship?" asked Graycoat.
"You can search me," said Bluelegs.
"Niece about twenty-one, I take it?" asked Graycoat.
"Search me again," said Bluelegs.
"Should you think," Graycoat demanded, after a pause, "that this incipient melancholia was likely to last long—speaking, of course, professionally?"
"Really, Dr. Riggs, I don't know." Bluelegs replied. "I am not at all in touch with the case. The doctor has entire charge of it. He mentioned to me last week that he was sorry to see both in her and young Dahl evidences of clearly formed delusions—"
"Young Dahl!" cried Graycoat, "why, the boy is an admitted paranoiac!"
"Really?" said Bluelegs, "you know I don't do much but cocaine and morphia, these days. Did you know the doctor was going to print my pamphlet?"
"He can afford it, I judge," growled Graycoat. "He gets a hundred a week from Miss Aitken."
Bluelegs got up and sent a second cigarette after the first.
"Riggs," he said gravely, "if you're aiming to succeed as a magazine writer, you're beginning well; if it's your ambition to succeed in this business, and succeed right here, you're beginning badly. You were keen enough to get this place. If you talk much this way, you won't keep it long—you can take it from me. Let's come in to lunch."
Their tread on the arbor floor roused the sleeping conspirator; she sat up, rubbing her eyes half afraid that the clipped terraces, the floating, flag, the inhabited castle, were only parts of her dream. But even as she peered around the arbor, Joan of Arc rushed toward her. She wore a black shade hat and carried a fluffy black parasol under her arm.
"Be careful!" she panted. "We can't go yet—I was stopped. I had to talk. You say yes to whatever I say, will you? Then you can escape with me—" she smiled sweetly at Caroline—"a real escape, as they do in story books! Won't that be fine?" Her hand was at her heart again; a red circle burned in either cheek.
Caroline nodded eagerly.
"That will be grand!" she said. She had forgotten till that moment that she wanted to escape.
"Ah, Miss Aitken! Late for lunch again!"
Caroline started guiltily, for it was the voice of Bluelegs.
Joan threw her arm over Caroline's shoulder carelessly.
"Yes, Dr. Ferris, I'm afraid I am," she said. "I was delayed by this little visitor."
He looked suspiciously at them. "Who is she?" he asked.
"I don't know." Joan led Caroline along quickly. "She says she is Mary Queen of Scots."
He stared blankly.
"I found her conversing with Marie Antoinette," she went on easily, "and she seems to have slipped in with an automobile party—was there one? Children are so secretive, you know. She is trying to get out, but she says all the gates are locked."
"Oh, yes, that was the Dahls—they came to see Frederick," he explained.
"I see. You were left with the chauffeur, Mademoiselle, and it's easy to imagine the rest," he added with a smile. He had a very attractive smile, and Caroline slipped her hand into his offered one readily.
"You are fond of children?" said Joan, abruptly.
"Very," he answered simply. "Why not! And they are fond of me, as you see. My dear young lady, did you think we are all brutes because we must obey orders?"
She set her teeth and walked swiftly forward.
"I know you think us cruel," he went on frankly, "because we can not do for you the one thing that you want; but, except for that, have you anything to complain of?"
She smiled scornfully.
"'Except for that'?" she echoed, "no, Dr. Ferris, nothing in the world—but 'that'!"
"And you must remember," he continued, in his pleasant, soothing voice, "that it may not be for long, after all. If you continue to improve as you have—" She flung away impatiently. "Oh, yes, you have improved, you know; you eat better, you sleep better, your nerves are quieter. We get good reports of you. Many are ill longer than you. Do you like the new masseuse?"
She did not answer.
"Now, this little lady must have some lunch with us, and then, no doubt, we shall see that careless chauffeur again," he said easily. "Would you like to stay?" he asked Caroline.
"Yes, I would."
"Mary was always fickle, you know," he laughed, glancing at her clinging hand.
And, indeed, Caroline found him far more winning than the sulky, silent Joan, and leaned confidingly against him as they climbed the stone steps and passed through the rich, dark-paneled hall, hung with bright pictures, filled with bowls of flowers. Several men, uniformed like the gardener, stood about the steps and terraces; two stood by the door of a large, airy dining-room filled with hurrying waiters. About a long silver-laden table some twenty men and women, cool in lawn and lace and white flannel, were seated, eating and talking gaily. At the head was a large, tall man in a snowy vest; evidently the host, by his smiling, interested attention to everybody's wants. At his right was a vacant chair, and toward this Joan of Arc directed her steps. She had caught Caroline's hand in hers, and, as Bluelegs bent and whispered in the tall man's ear, she added:
"I think, doctor, if the little girl stays by me she will feel less shy, perhaps."
"Certainly, certainly—by all means. A good thought, Miss Aitken, a good thought," he answered in a rich, kind voice. He shook hands with Caroline warmly.
"So you find our grounds attractive?" he asked politely.
She nodded, a little shyly. All this company, so freshly dressed, so ceremoniously served, so utterly unconscious of her presence, embarrassed her a little. For not one of the ladies and gentle men—there were no children—paid the slightest attention to her arrival, even when a place was made for her by Joan and a mug of milk procured. They talked, or, as she noticed now, sat, many of them, listless and silent, playing with their rings and bracelets, answering only with monosyllables the questions of the large, cordial doctor.
"Where is Marie Antoinette?" she whispered to her friend, who seemed nearer, suddenly, than these cold table-mates.
"She does not eat with us," said Joan, helping her to chicken and green peas, and beginning her own meal.
The doctor turned to them, having recommended some asparagus to the stolid lady at his left.
"I am glad to see your appetite so good, Miss Aitken," he observed, lowering his voice a little, "at this rate we shall have no excuse for keeping you much longer."
"You have had none for six months," she replied curtly.
"I am sorry you feel so bitterly," he said, "but you know I can not agree with you there. You will think more kindly of me some day, I hope, when time has freed your mind of its prejudice."
"When will that be?" she asked, meeting his eyes full for a moment.
"I wrote only this morning to your uncle, stating your gradual but steady improvement, and assuring him that in my opinion—subject, of course, to circumstances—it would be a matter of a few months more only," he said. "Does not that make your feelings a little—only a little more tender—"
"What did you say?" a shrill voice interrupted, "say that again, please."
Caroline had beguiled the woman next her, a frail, anemic little creature with pathetic eyes, into a halting conversation.
"I said," she repeated, buttering her roll thickly and appreciatively with fresh, clover-scented butter, "I said that no weather was too hot for me. I love it."
("Now, really, I am pleased," the big doctor murmured to the girl beside him. "Mrs. Du Long hasn't seemed so interested for days. In fact, she's been quite silent; I was alarmed about her. It's the child's influence.")
"—Uncle Joe said," Caroline went on, the roll at her mouth, "and he said I was a regular little snake."
She heard a guttural, growling sound beside her, lifted her eyes innocently, and for one flashing, doubtful second beheld the swollen, distorted face, the bulging eyes, the back-drawn snarling lips beside her. She did not see the plunging fork above her head, so quickly did Joan's arm intervene between her and it; she did not hear its impact against the big doctor's plate nor the gurgling voice of what had been the sad-eyed little woman beside her, for her head was buried in Joan's stifling skirt.
"Kill the snake! Kill the snake!" some one—or something—yelled, and then a grip of iron caught her arm and the voice of Bluelegs said sternly:
"Look straight ahead of you—don't turn your head! Don't turn, Miss Aitken—you can do nothing—they have her safe. The guards are here."
The room, indeed, seemed full of gardeners; a bell rang noisily near by.
"But the others—the others!" Joan gasped.
"They are all right—it won't trouble them," he answered quietly; and as Caroline and the girl looked fearfully where they were bidden, they saw the men and women eating placidly, talking with each other or sitting listless, staring idly at four liveried men who fought furiously with one small, snarling creature. Like the cruel witnesses in dreams, they sat, and the waiters served them swiftly and handed the dishes between their shoulders, as deaf as they. And suddenly they became terrible to Caroline, and the castle menacing, a thing to flee from.
"Step out this way," said Bluelegs, when the sounds of struggle had died away, "and take the child through the grounds, will you, please? Try to occupy her thoughts, and your own, too, if you can. This is one of the unfortunate things that rarely happen, but when they do—Yes, indeed, Mr. Ogden, it was certainly fine asparagus—I am glad you enjoyed it. No, she was only a little indisposed—she'll soon be well again. The heat of the sun, undoubtedly. Don't be alarmed, Miss Arliss, she will have every attention."
The gardeners had vanished from the steps where they went down, and none were seen in the grounds. Joan of Arc clutched Caroline's waist.
"Now—now!" she said, between her teeth; "now is the time not to faint! I never fainted—never. Come and show me that hole in the fence. There is no one about. But don't run."
They hurried across the sunlit, smiling terrace.
"What was the matter?" Caroline queried fearfully, "was she—was she—"
"Yes," said Joan brusquely. "Yes. Don't think about it. Don't run and don't think. Only find the hole."
They stood beside it. No one was near them; no one called to them. Silently Caroline slid under the sharp prongs. Joan of Arc put her hands under her skirt a moment and a white ruffled petticoat slipped around her feet. She adjusted it over her dress and pulled herself with difficulty through. As she stood erect in the soiled, stained petticoat, Caroline saw her knees, tremble under it, and she drooped against the fence, white-cheeked.
"Don't faint," she said severely to Caroline.
With shaking hands she tied the petticoat under her dress again and they crouched through the underbrush to the outer walk. Caroline reached for her wheel and the two peered fearfully up and down the empty road.
"I can't—I can't," the girl moaned, "my dress is so black—they can see it from the hill. Oh, what shall I do? I thought I could, and I can't!"
The measured trot of a pair of horses sounded on the road. An empty station wagon came rapidly toward them; groom and driver regarded them curiously.
The girl straightened herself and raised her hand with a pretty, imperious gesture.
"One moment, please," she said, "but are you going to the village?"
"Yes, Miss," said the driver, "to the station. Was there anything—"
She opened a bag at her side and took out carelessly a small gold piece.
"My little friend here," she said, in an even, low voice, "was showing me this beautiful building and grounds and I utterly neglected to note the time. I fear I have lost my train, if we try to walk back. If you could take us—"
"Certainly, Miss," said the driver. "William, put the young lady's wheel on top. Was it the express you wanted, Miss? I'm to meet it—the 2.08. Party from Boston."
They climbed in, the bicycle settled noisily into the trunk-rack on top, and the big chestnuts pounded down the hill.
Joan stared straight before her. Presently she drew a pair of black gloves from her little bag and put them on. Her lips moved steadily, and Caroline knew from her closed eyes that she was praying.
They drew into the neat station as the train Snorted itself in. The girl handed the gold piece to the driver.
"Divide it, please," she said calmly. "I am much obliged."
She walked to the drawing-room car, and signaled the black porter.
"I shall be safe to-night," she said softly, to the child by her side, "and I won't tell you my name, because it will not be mine much longer. But what is yours? Tell me quick!"
"All aboard! Next stop One Hund' Twent'-fifth Street!" some one called, hoarsely.
Caroline looked dazed. She tried to speak sensibly, but her tongue played tricks with her, and the tension of her feelings was too much for her. As the girl paused a second on the platform, and the train shuddered for its start, Caroline called above the escaping steam:
"I'm Mary Queen of Scots—I am! I am!"
The white face of Joan of Arc broke into a wavering smile.
"You dear little idiot," she called, chokingly, "I'll find you out yet! You'll see! Good-by—God bless your Majesty."
And while she might, Caroline ran beside the window, waving her hand at that tearful, happy face.