THE MESSAGE

It was a sultry July afternoon, and in the azure arch of the firmament
flamed an unclouded sun. The corn was ripening to a rich yellow in
some meadows, and the newly mown hay in others was being piled on
lumbering wains by perspiring laborers. The red earth of the sunken
lanes was caked, and their blossoming hedges were burnt up by the
merciless heat. Under spreading foliage, or knee-deep in rapidly
drying pools, stood weary cattle, switching lazy tails to brush away
the teasing flies. Honey-bees, ostentatiously industrious, buzzed
noisily from flower to flower, and the sleepy birds twittered faintly
midst the grateful shade of leaves. The land was parched for want of
rain, and the languid hours dragged on slowly to the wished-for
evening. On some such day, long ago, must Elijah have sent his servant
up the mount to watch for the growing of the small black cloud.

Only by the trout stream was the weather endurable, for the
overhanging trees made the atmosphere of translucent green deliciously
cool. Yet here and there spears of dazzling light pierced through the
emerald twilight to smite the waters. These moved smoothly in amber
floods between the grassy banks, and in places swirled pearly-white
round moss-grown stones. The stream brawled over pebbles, gushed
through granite rifts, and gloomed mysteriously in deep and silent
pools, gleaming mirror-like under exposed tree trunks. May-flies
dipped to the waters, swallows darted through the warm air, and
kingfishers glanced here and there, each a flash of blue fire. And
ever the river talked to the voiceless woods as it babbled seawards.
From the woods came no reply, for the wind had died away, and the
tongues of multitudinous leaves could no longer speak. Had they been
able even to whisper, they surely would have rebuked the gay spirits
of the two young men who had invaded their sacred solitude.

“This is simply ripping,” murmured one, who lay on his back with a
battered Panama over his eyes, “we are doing ourselves up to the top
hole, I don’t think. Heavenly, ain’t it?”

“It would be, if you did not chatter,” retorted the other, fixing a
fly on his line; “why do you desecrate this beauty with slang?”

“Because I’m not a poet like you to spout blank verse.”

“There is a medium between mutilation of the language and pedantic
usage thereof.”

“Huh!” with scorn, “who’s pedantic now?”

“My dear Tod, as a lawyer, you should use better English.”

“It is only a barrister who requires a superfine jaw,” retorted Tod
elegantly, “and I’m only a solicitor of sorts. Don’t worry, Haskins.”

Aware of the futility of argument, the other man merely shrugged his
square shoulders and threw a skilful line in a pool wherein lurked a
famous wary trout. The fly fell lightly on the water, and would have
deceived any fish but the trout in question. There was no response to
his dilly-duck-come-and-be-killed invitation, and the angler made
another cast with still less success as the fly hit the stream
heavily, scaring the trout into retreat. Haskins said one word under
his breath, but Tod overheard and giggled. That was exactly like Tod
Macandrew: he had no sense of the fitness of things.

“Silly ass!” commented his friend savagely, spinning up the line, “you
frighten the fish.”

“Not on to your hook, anyhow,” chuckled Tod into the depths of his
hat, “what a sinfully bad angler you are, Jerry.”

“As bad an angler as you are a lover, perhaps,” snapped Gerald,
throwing his rod on the grass and squatting to manufacture a
cigarette.

Tod sat up abruptly with a wounded air. “I call that beastly: to taunt
a chap, because a girl won’t bite.”

“Won’t kiss, you mean.”

“I’m taking an illustration from your infernal angling,” said Tod,
with aggressive dignity. “If you were a lover yourself you would
understand.”

“Oh, I understand well enough,” replied the other lightly: he paused
to run his tongue along the tissue paper, then added calmly: “I was in
love with Charity Bird myself, before you came along, Tod.”

“Well, now that I have come along, perhaps you’ll call her Miss Bird.”

“Right oh! Miss Bird in the hand is worth two—-”

“There are not two,” interrupted Macandrew indignantly, “but only one
schoolgirl cousin. As if,” cried Tod to the woods, “I would sell
myself.”

Gerald Haskins cast a sly look on Tod’s ungraceful figure. “I see: you
present yourself to Miss Bird as a desirable gift?”

“Well, she wouldn’t have you as a gift, anyhow, for all your _Family
Herald_ good looks, and halfpenny journal fame.”

“Notoriety, Tod, notoriety only. A volume of verse, a book of stories
and a dozen of essays do not give me the right to class myself along
with the immortals. I’m a failure at thirty, Tod–in my own eyes, I
mean. Think of that, Tod, a failure at thirty.”

“Don’t chuck it,” advised Macandrew politely, “you may be a success at
forty.”

“That won’t compensate me for coming grey hairs and inevitable
wrinkles,” said the other bitterly, and smoked in dour silence.

Tod crossed his legs and held forth.

“Gerald Wentworth Julian Haskins,” he remarked solemnly, “all the
fairies came to your nasty little cradle with gifts save the one who
could have endowed you with gratitude. Consider your beastly good
looks, and abominably healthy constitution, and silly popularity, not
to speak of your undeserved five hundred a year private income, and
take shame to yourself. Why with half your advantages I could marry
Charity to-morrow.”

“H’m! The advantages you mention were practically offered to her, but
she didn’t seem to desire possession. I expect she prefers the last
representative of an ancient Scots family with an embarrassed estate,
a reputation as a rising solicitor, and a heart of gold enshrined in
an agreeable-looking body.”

“Agreeable-looking!” Words failed Tod, and he sprang up to wreath a
strong arm round Gerald’s neck. Haskins remonstrated as well as he
could for laughter, but was forced to the very verge of the bank. Here
Tod made him look into the mirror of the still pool below. “Caliban
and Ferdinand: Apollo and Vulcan: Count D’Orsay and John Wilkes,”
growled Macandrew. “Look at this picture and at that, you blighter.”

Almost choking, for Tod was powerful and none too gentle in his grip,
Gerald humored his friend sufficiently to stare into the water glass,
thinking meanwhile of a near revenge. He saw his own handsome brown
face with bronze-colored hair and mustache of the same hue, curling
under a straight Greek nose, which divided two hazel eyes. He saw also
Macandrew’s round, ruddy countenance, devoid of hair on chin and lips
and cheeks, but haloed with crisp red curls, suggestive of his foxy
nickname. Tod assuredly could not be called good-looking, with
freckles and wide mouth and aquiline nose, proof of high descent. But
so much good humor and genuine honesty gleamed from his sea-blue eyes
that he did himself a gross injustice in undervaluing a most
ingratiating appearance. Tod was Tod, when all was said and done; the
best fellow in the world, and the most unnecessarily modest. But
Haskins was not going to pander to Tod’s desire for compliments.

“You footling idiot,” he breathed, possessed by a spirit of mischief,
“as if you weren’t worth a dozen of me. Talk about ingratitude–you
shall be punished, my friend–thus!” and souse into the pool they
went. When Tod got his breath again, after some spluttering, he used
it to a bad purpose. Gerald, keeping himself afloat, watched the stout
little man climb the bank dripping like an insane river god, and heard
him excel himself in language which he could scarcely have used in
court.

“I’ll pay you out for this,” swore Tod, hastily stripping off his wet
flannels, and Haskins, fearing his righteous wrath, swam upstream,
clothes and all, with light easy strokes, laughing until the woods
rang.

“What about your confounded fish?” sang out Macandrew, when his
apparel was drying in the hot sun, and he was sitting unashamed amid
the grass. “You won’t catch any more.”

“I haven’t caught any as it is,” shouted Gerald, swimming back. “I
want to come ashore. Pax, Toddy, Pax, you–you unclothed biped.”

“Wait till I get you here,” cried Tod, shaking his fist.

“He is not wise who ventures into the enemy’s camp,” quoth Haskins,
and crossed to the opposite bank of the stream. Owing to the heat he
had earlier shed all his clothing save a silk shirt and a pair of
flannel trousers, so there was not much left to dry. In a few minutes
he also was sitting in Adamic simplicity on the farther shore,
imploring Tod to throw over a tobacco pouch and a pipe. But Tod
wouldn’t: and smoked, chuckling, on his side of the stream, while
Haskins remonstrated. “I’ll sleep then,” announced Gerald, seeing that
his efforts to soften Macandrew were unavailing.

“No, don’t,” shouted Tod. “I want to talk about her.”

“Not a word, unless I get my smoke.”

“Here you are then,” and Macandrew threw across the necessary
materials for the pipe of peace. “Now then!” he cried, and the woods
rang with his cry. “What am I to do about Charity?”

“Marry her,” cried back Haskins, lighting his briar; and after that
introduction the conversation resolved itself into high-pitched
talking from bank to bank, while the stream rippled between. It was
lucky that no one was within hearing–as the young men well knew–for
Tod shouted out his dearest secrets to the wide world.

“How can I marry her?” bellowed Macandrew, lying on his stomach in the
attitude of Caliban reflecting on Setebos. “She hasn’t any money, and
I have very little also; there is the Dowager to be considered.”

The Dowager was Lady Euphemia Macandrew, Tod’s highly respected
grandmother, who had looked after him since his parents had died. She
wanted Tod to marry an heiress cousin, who was still at school, and
Tod wished for his wife a charming dancer who was absolutely proper
and extremely pretty. Consequently Tod and Lady Euphemia were fighting
with all the ardor of their fiery race, and the domestic peace of the
House of Macandrew was a thing of the past.

“You should consider the Dowager,” sang out Haskins, who knew and
approved of the grim old lady, “she’s your grandmother.”

“No one denies that,” yelled Tod crossly, “talk sense!”

“Hear then the sense of Gerald, son of his father,” shouted the other
in a high tenor. “Mrs. Pelham Odin, who is–as you know–the clever
old actress who looks after Charity, won’t let you marry her, seeing
that you have no money. Lady Euphemia is equally opposed to the match,
because Charity is not born, as the French say. If you marry against
the wishes of these two Mrs. Pelham Odin won’t leave Charity her
savings, which must be considerable, and Lady Euphemia won’t speak
either to you or to your wife. Isn’t this the case?”

“Ancient history–ancient history,” roared Macandrew, like an angry
bull, “but your advice, Jerry?”

“Chuck Charity and marry your cousin,” said Haskins tersely.

“I won’t.”

“Then why waste my time in asking for advice which you have no notion
of taking? Go on your own silly way, Tod, and don’t blame me if you
tumble into a quagmire of troubles.”

“I believe you want to marry Charity yourself,” shouted Tod angrily.

“No I don’t,” cried Haskins, feeling if his garments were dry. “She is
all that one can desire in the way of beauty: but I want something
more than a picture-wife. Marriages are made in heaven, and Charity’s
soul does not respond to mine.”

Tod rose sulkily and dressed himself. When clothed again he took up
the discarded rod to try his luck. “I love her,” he boomed, and cast
his fly with the air of a man who has brought forward an unanswerable
argument. Perhaps he had, for Macandrew was as obstinate as a
battery-mule.

Seeing that Tod’s attention was taken up with a peaceful sport which
precluded retaliation for the late ducking, Gerald made his trousers
and shirt into a ball, and flung them deftly across the river. They
hit Tod fairly, and made him stagger and swear. What he would have
said or done, it is impossible to say, for at this moment he
proclaimed with a triumphant yell that he had a bite. And at this
moment Gerald slipped into the water again. “Hang it, don’t,” screamed
Macandrew, “you’ll frighten the fish off the hook. Woosh! Come up!”
and Tod tugged hard while the rod bent to an arc. “Mighty big fish,”
breathed the angler.

“Don’t believe it’s a fish at all,” spluttered Haskins, seeing that
the line remained stationary, “you’re making no play. Caught a weed
maybe.”

He swam to the line, and dived under, while Macandrew danced and swore
on the bank. “Leave it alone, leave it alone,” cried Tod, in high
wrath, “it’s a big fish. Oh, beast; oh, animal: oh, jealous reptile,”
he went on as the line slackened, “you’ve done it.”

Even as he spoke Gerald rose to the surface, spitting water from his
mouth. In his right hand he held an object which he flung on to the
bank, and then crawled up himself. “There’s your fish, Tod,” he said,
rolling on the grass to dry himself, “your hook caught in that
cylinder, which had got wedged between two big stones. Look at it
while I dress.”

Tod handled the cylinder gingerly. It was made of tin, and had
apparently been covered with brown paper, for the remains of this
clung loose at either end from under splotches of red sealing-wax.
Oddly enough, there was also a string tied to the cylinder, at the end
of which dangled the remnant of a bladder. Evidently the bladder had
borne up the somewhat heavy cylinder for a certain time, and then had
burst, to drop it toward the big stones amid which it had been wedged
when Tod’s hook had caught it. “Look’s like a parcel of dynamite,”
said Tod, in a nervous tone; “poachers fishing by night with dynamite,
O Lord!”

Haskins, who was slipping on his socks and shoes, looked up. “It’s
been in the water a good time anyhow, judging from the rotten brown
paper and that decayed bladder. There’s no chance of an explosion. If
you are afraid to open it chuck it over.”

“No.” Macandrew dropped on to the grass beside his friend. “We’ll go
to Kingdom Come together, if necessary. Lend me your knife!”

Between them, the young men prized off the lid of the cylinder, with
some difficulty, for it fitted tightly. The contents proved to be as
puzzling as the vessel itself, for Gerald drew out a moderately long
roller covered with brown wax, and scored delicately with regular
lines, almost invisible. There was nothing else in the cylinder but
this roller, and Tod eyed it with wonderment. “What the deuce is it?”
he asked, twirling it round.

Haskins pinched his nether lip and reflected. “It’s a phonograph
record,” he ventured to suggest, “see the marking, Tod, and the wax,
and here,” he tilted the cylinder end uppermost, “there’s a name
engraved on the butt, plainly, for all the world to see.”

“Jekle & Co.,” read Tod, fitting in his eye-glass to see clearly.
“H’m! I never heard of the firm.”

“That’s not improbable: your knowledge of many things being limited.”

“Oh, come now. Did you ever hear of the firm your own conceited self?”

“No. But it’s a firm that makes phonographs anyhow.” Gerald slipped
the treasure trove into his pocket. “We’ll take this back to the inn,
and see what it means.”

“We shall have to get a phonograph then.”

“That goes without the speaking, you bally ass. But when we do slip
this roller into its parent machine these marks will talk.”

“But how can we get a parent machine? I suppose you mean a Jekle & Co.
mechanism of sorts.”

“There must be a machine of that sort in the district, or this roller
wouldn’t be here.”

Tod stared at the waters blinking in the sunshine. “I wonder how it
got into the blessed river. By accident or by design?”

“By design assuredly,” said Haskins promptly. “It was wrapped in brown
paper and sealed at both ends. The bladder was attached to keep it
afloat. Then the bladder went bang and the cylinder sank until you
fished it out, Toddy.”

“Queer fish and queer chance, anyhow.”

“There is no such thing as chance,” said Haskins slowly; “some cause
we know not of, brought us to the stream to-day to get the cylinder.”

“Why, we only came holiday-making,” protested Tod; “you are always
talking this infernal psychology.”

“Supernal psychology, you mean,” retorted the other, “seeing that I
follow white magic and not black. This,” he patted his pocket, “has a
meaning. We must learn that meaning.”

“And so get into trouble.”

“Perhaps.” Haskins shrugged his shoulders. “But trouble is the sole
thing which urges us to rise.”

Tod groaned. He could not understand his friend’s mystical way of
looking at the seen world through the unseen. Keeping the conversation
on an ordinary level he inquired: “Why was the cylinder set afloat?”

“Why does the sun shine? Why does the fire burn? You ask too many
questions, Tod.”

“I am not likely to get an answer from you,” snapped Macandrew, taking
up the impedimenta which they had brought to the river bank.

“You will in this instance, my son. The record, when it talks through
the Jekle & Co. machine, will tell us why the cylinder was sent
downstream. Shipwrecked people throw bottles overboard with documents
to tell of their danger, as you well know.”

“H’m! It’s the first time I ever heard of a phonograph record being
used to convey news,” grunted Tod crossly.

“The person who floated the cylinder is evidently up-to-date.”

“Perhaps it’s a blessed joke.”

“Maybe. Anyhow, I’ll take it to the inn, and learn as much as is
possible. Don’t chatter about it though.”

“Why not?”

“Because–because—-” Haskins hesitated, not being able to express
himself with his usual decision. “I can’t say. Anyhow, hold your
tongue until we know what the record has to say.”

Macandrew nodded, and the two walked homeward.

“The Devon Maid” was a tumbledown inn, and the center of Denleigh
village, which lay, more or less concealed, among the folds of fertile
hills. Down the valley prattled a shallow stream, and the
comparatively few cottages, forming the secluded hamlet, were placed
confusedly on either side, each having its own tiny garden. A broad
stone bridge, of cyclopean build, spanned the brook in one low arch.
Across this ran the highway, which gave access to the interior world,
for it dipped down one hill and, after passing over the bridge,
ascended the other on its way inland to even more remote villages.
Near the bridge in question stood the two-story inn, built of rugged
stone, hewn into huge blocks, and roofed with curved red tiles, the
whole overgrown with ivy and wisteria and many-colored roses. With
three narrow windows above and two narrow windows with a moderately
wide door below, the house looked sullen and secretive. One could have
an adventure at such a hostel: it breathed the spirit of romance, and
cut-throat, trapdoor romance at that.

Before the inn stood a horse trough, in front of the door, the two
rude benches under the windows. But those who frequented the Devon
Maid preferred to take their beer mugs and bovine conversation on to
the bridge. It was their Rialto, whereon they met in the cool of the
evening to discuss the doings of their small world, and such news as
might filter into the isolated villages through carriers and tourists
and newspapers. The population of Denleigh consisted almost wholly of
agricultural laborers and their wives, a slow-thinking lot, with
infinitely more muscle than brains. Both men and women were of great
stature, and even their children looked bulky and overgrown for their
age. It seemed as though the children of Anak had gathered to design a
new Tower of Babel.

The room in which Haskins and Macandrew sat at dinner was small, with
a low ceiling, and one inefficient window smothered with curtains. It
was crowded with Early Victorian furniture of the most cumbersome and
inelegant description. Table and chairs, sofa and sideboard, bookcase
and desk were all of solid mahogany, deposited on a flowery
Kidderminster carpet, somewhat worn. Antimacassars adorned the
horsehair chairs, wax fruit under a glass shade embellished the
sideboard, and green glass ornaments, with dangling prisms, appeared
on either side of the black marble clock which disfigured the
mantelpiece. On the faded pattern of a Prussian blue wall-paper were
steel engravings representing “The Death of Nelson” and the “Meeting
of Wellington and Blucher after Waterloo,” together with colored
hunting scenes and illustrations from “The Book of Beauty,” and “The
Keepsake.” There were also samplers, and a fender-stool, and a canary
in a gilt cage, and a cupboard of inferior china, and two screens of
worsted-work representing parrots and macaws. The apartment was stuffy
and unwholesome, and more like a curiosity-shop than a place to dine
in.

The young men had changed to easy smoking suits, and were doing full
justice to an admirable meal, consisting of roast beef with
vegetables, superfine apple pie, Devonshire cream, and first-rate
Stilton. They drank cider out of compliment to the county, and knew
that when eating was at an end two fragrant cups of coffee would add
to the enjoyment of their after-dinner pipes. And this satisfactory
state of things was presided over by a stout and genial waiter, who
was as black as the dress clothes he wore in honor of the guests.

A bull in a china-shop would not have seemed much more out of keeping
than was this negro in the heart of the Devon hills. How he had
drifted into such a locality heaven only knows, but he appeared exotic
and strange, like some tropical bird which had flown from Equatorial
Regions to make a nest in cool, gray, misty England. Adonis Geary was
the incongruous name of the man, and he was at once landlord and
waiter. Save that he possessed but one eye there was nothing
unpleasant in his looks, and from his constant smiling and ready
service he appeared to be of an amiable disposition. For over fifteen
years–so he told his guests–he had owned the inn, and also had
married a six-foot girl from Barnstaple, who was as meek as she was
tall. This oddly-matched pair had five or six coffee-colored children,
who tumbled about the small house and made it lively. The _ménage_ was
unusual, to say least of it, and like the inn itself. The presence of
the negro hinted at romance and mystery.

As yet Haskins had said nothing about the phonograph. Some instinct
told him to be silent about the discovery of the cylinder before this
suave son of Ham, although he had absolutely no reason to mistrust the
man. All the same he intended to use Geary’s wits to obtain a Jekle &
Co. phonograph in such a way as would not arouse suspicion concerning
the particular use he intended to put it to. Yet why suspicions should
be aroused by frankness Gerald could not say, for, on the face of it,
there was nothing to point out that the cylinder was dangerous.
Nevertheless Haskins’ sixth sense made him hold his tongue and impose
secrecy upon Tod. Consequently Macandrew held his peace while Gerald
cautiously approached his aim of getting the machine. It seemed
incredible that a phonograph of the special make required should be
found in that unpretentious inn, or even in the village itself, seeing
how buried both were. Still Haskins argued from the discovery of the
roller, so marked, that a Jekle & Co. phonograph was to be had in the
district. Being a novelist, Gerald had already spun a web of romance
round the adventure, and was conducting the same to a close with
constructive skill. Tod watched the progress of this real and tangible
romance with careless interest. He thought that it was all moonshine
and would end in smoke. “The Story of A Mare’s Nest,” Tod called it
with fine irony, and giggled when Haskins stalked Mr. Adonis Geary.

“There is very little to do in the evening here,” began Gerald,
finishing the last of his cheese, and addressing the landlord-waiter.

“Very little, sah,” replied Mr. Geary, who spoke moderately good
Anglo-Saxon, yet betrayed his negro origin in an occasional word, and
by a guttural intonation, “but you can walk to Silbury with the odder
jemplem, for howlin’ fun, sah.”

“Howling fun in a country town? My eyes,” muttered Tod, still eating.

“Dere’s walking and de bicycle and fishin’ and—-”

“Yes! yes! yes!” broke in Gerald artfully, “but I mean evening
amusement–indoor doings. What you call—-”

“Parlor tricks,” interpolated Macandrew.

“Exactly! Well, Mr. Geary, have you a piano, or a harmonium?”

“Dere’s a harmonium in de chapel whar I preach,” explained Adonis
doubtfully, “but de instrument of de Lawd no good for debble’s
singing.”

“I have no intention of going to the devil for my amusement,” said
Gerald tartly, while Tod choked over his cider. “Have you any cards?”

“Dem’s de debble’s pictures, sah.”

“Then pass along a concertina,” remarked Tod, pushing back his chair
with a sigh of repletion, “or even a Jew’s harp, or a—-”

“Why not say a phonograph, while you’re about it, Macandrew?” said
Haskins, with feigned crossness, “we’re as likely to find the one as
the other in this place at the Back-of-Beyond.”

“With great respect, Mr. Haskins, sah,” said Geary, falling into the
trap promptly, “dere’s my wife’s phonograph. My wife Hannah let you
hab dat phonograph to hear de godly hymns.”

“Just what I want to hear,” said Gerald untruthfully, “but what on
earth made you get a phonograph?”

Geary smiled expansively, displaying magnificent teeth. “Dere was a
traveler who came dis way wid phonographs, and he stop here. He so
pleased wid my wife Hannah’s cooking dat he gave her de phonograph,
and den sell many, many, many all round–all round,” and the landlord
stretched his arms to embrace the globe.

“What kind of a phonograph is it?” asked Gerald, with a triumphant
look at Tod to bid him watch how Romance was working golden threads
into the gray fabric of the commonplace. “I don’t want to hear a bad
one.”

Before Geary could reply there sounded through the window an
up-to-date note from the outer world. The “Toot! toot! toot!” of a
motor horn brought the young men to their feet and to the window,
which looked out on to the bridge. A motor car draws the attention of
the grown-up as much as a military band attracts the notice of a
child. Mr. Geary departed with dignified haste to see what new and
aristocratic visitor was coming, and–since Tod’s bulky form filled in
the whole small window–Gerald followed at his leisure. The coming of
the motor car stirred up the same bustle in this lonely inn as did
the mail coach in the days of old. Even Mrs. Geary emerged from the
back-kitchen to view the spectacle with three small children clinging
to her lengthy skirts, like the Lilliputians to Gulliver’s coat-tails.

“Toot! toot! toot!” The horn sounded cheerfully and close at hand. A
magnificent Hadrian, scarlet as the sunset, swung down the long
descent and hummed across the bridge with a powerful drone. There were
two men in front, disguised in the orthodox goggles and caps and
shapeless coats, but the body of the car was empty, save for a
large portmanteau and some small parcels done up in brown paper. The
rustics crowded round the car, to comment thereon, and to misname it
“a steam-engine,” while the foremost man, who was handling the
steering-gear, slipped from his seat to stretch himself and to salute
Geary.

“Hello, Adonis, is that you?” he said, nodding brusquely. “I want a
wash and a glass of brandy. Then I’m off again. I must reach Leegarth
before sundown.”

“Come dis way, Major,” said the landlord obsequiously. He seemed to
know the traveler extremely well, and from his concluding remark
Gerald was positive that he did. “Dere’s a lil’ glass of your own
pertic’ler brandy, Major. Dis way, sah. Glad to see you, Major.”

“Major!” From the title, and the tone of the arrival’s voice, Haskins
had an idea that he also knew the owner of the motor car. When the
goggles were shoved up over the cap, and the high collar of the coat
was loosened, suspicion became certainty. “Major Rebb,” said Haskins,
advancing a step. “I guessed it was you.”

“Oh–Haskins,” drawled the newcomer, and Gerald could have sworn that
not only did he start, but that he darted an inquiring look at the
negro landlord. It was Geary who replied:

“Dis jemplem and his friend, dey stop wid me for one, two week,
Major.”

The Major recovered himself. “Yes, of course; what am I thinking
about, Haskins? Mrs. Crosbie told me that you and Macandrew were on a
walking tour in Devonshire. Why are you stationary here of all
places?”

“Why not here, as well as anywhere else?” replied Gerald carelessly,
“we struck this inn–Tod and I, that is–and intended only to stop a
night or so, but the food is so good, and the fishing so capital, and
the expenses so small, that we decided to remain. We’re off in a
couple of days. Tod goes back to London, and I make for St. Ives to
write a new book. But you, Major? What are you doing in this galley?”

“I have come down to see a relative at Leegarth–an elderly aunt!”
Tod sniggered at the window. From what he knew of Major Rebb–and he
knew a great deal from club gossip–that retired officer was not the
man to waste his time in looking after elderly relatives, unless,—-

“How much money has she got?” asked Tod impudently.

Rebb laughed, for Tod was a licensed jester, and said things without
reproof for which other men would have been kicked. “Enough to make it
worth my while to come down here,” said Rebb coolly, “but I won’t give
the business into your hands, Tod, so there will be no pickings.”

“I’m jolly well sure of that, when you’re about,” retorted Macandrew,
in a soft voice.

“Dis way, sah,” cried Geary, like a parrot, “dis way, Major.”

“You know Adonis then?” said Rebb, entering the inn followed by
Haskins; “he’s a decent sort, isn’t he? I have put up here sometimes
for a night. Where’s the brandy, Adonis? Hurry up; and give my man a
glass of beer.”

Gerald had unconsciously led the way to the sitting-room occupied by
himself and Tod. Here Rebb sat down, drawing off his gloves, while
the brandy was brought. He was a tall, thin, upright man, eminently
well-bred and somewhat stiff. His closely clipped hair and
well-trimmed moustache were so dark, and his complexion was of such a
deep olive color, that people declared that he had in him a touch of
the tar-brush. And the scandal was emphasized by the significant fact
that Major Rebb had commanded a West Indian regiment in Jamaica before
retiring from the army. But whether tainted by the African or not, he
certainly was a handsome man, and wonderfully well-preserved for his
fifty years. Mrs. Crosbie, to whom Rebb had alluded when first
addressing Haskins, was a wealthy widow who greatly admired the
fascinating Major. Report hinted at a match between them, and report
said that Mrs. Crosbie might do worse, for Rebb was well-off and much
respected by the outside world. Those–of whom Tod was one–who knew
more than the Major approved of declared that Rebb’s character was not
without blemish, and that he gambled both on the turf and on the green
table. But no one could positively say that the man was a rascal. He
had the vices of his generation. That was all.

While Rebb drank his brandy he told Haskins and Macandrew the latest
club gossip, and stated–not without a roguish glance at Tod–that
Mrs. Pelham Odin wanted Charity to marry a titled fool, who had lately
come into much money. Tod was very indignant at this, and said many
things which Rebb had heard before, since the little man’s infatuation
was an open secret. In the middle of his eloquence the Major went off
to wash his hands and face, and Haskins dragged his friend out to see
the start of the car. In five minutes Rebb was in his place and his
chauffeur swung up alongside.

“Good-night, you fellows,” cried the Major amiably. “I’ll see you in
London. Night, Adonis,” and then the car spun round the curve to mount
the hill on its way to Leegarth, wherever that might be. Tod yawned
and sauntered back into the inn, hinting that he would go to bed soon.

“Funny thing that we should meet Rebb, here,” said Gerald.

Tod raised his thick red eyebrows. “Upon my soul I don’t see it,” he
remarked, “you don’t want the whole country to yourself.”

“He seemed to be startled when he saw me, and he knows Geary well.”

“He admitted that he knew Geary, and as to being startled, he well
might be, dropping across a pal in these wilds.”

“I am not a pal of Rebb’s,” said Gerald stiffly. “I don’t like him,
and I’m very sorry that such a jolly little woman as Mrs. Crosbie
should think of marrying him. There’s something queer about him.”

“Bosh!” said Tod, lightly whiffing away his friend’s suspicions, which
indeed had little foundation. “Rebb is no worse, nor no better, than
any other man. We all have turned-down pages in our life’s book, which
we should like no one to read.”

“That’s quite a high flight of oratory for you,” said Haskins dryly.

“Oh I can gas as well as most, when necessary,” retorted the other,
“but you are asinine, seeing a bird in every bush.”

“H’m!” murmured Gerald, unconvinced. “All the same, I shall keep my
eye on Major Rebb.”

“And so take a lot of trouble for nothing. So long as he does not
cross your path I don’t see why you should worry. Hello!” Tod had
entered the sitting-room by this time. “Here’s the phonograph.” He
examined it narrowly in the failing light. “And Jekle & Co. at that.
By gum!”

“What do you say now?” cried Haskins, pleased that his surmise had
proved correct. “I’ll bet that we are on the verge of discovering a
mystery. Wait until we hear a few hymns, and then we can experiment
with our river record.”

“But why bother about the hymns?” grumbled Macandrew, who by this time
was quite as curious as Haskins himself.

Gerald glanced at the door, and closed it. “I don’t want the nigger to
think that anything unusual has happened.”

“More suspicion,” said Tod, and glanced in his turn, but at the
window, “you needn’t fash yourself, as we say in Scotland. There’s
Geary walking down to the village.”

It was indeed the negro strolling with a crony along the brookside,
and when he had sauntered out of earshot Haskins did not worry about
the hymn tunes. He slipped the cylinder record on to the machine, and
set the thing going. Then, for the next minute, he and Tod listened in
amazement to a message from Fairyland.

“This to the wide world,” babbled the machine in the sweetest and most
melodious of voices. “This to the Fairy Prince, who will come and
waken me from dreams. Come, dear Prince, to the Pixy’s House, and
watch that the jealous ogress, who guards me, does not see you. I
cannot read, I cannot write; but I talk my message to you, dear
Prince. To the stream I commit the message on this first day of April
in this year five. May the river bear the message to you, dear Prince.
Come to me! Come to me! Come to me! and waken your Princess to life
with a kiss.”

The machine still continued to work, but the voice became abruptly
silent. There was no more of the message, so when the point of the
phonograph reached the end of the inscribed wax Gerald removed it.
When it was again in his pocket he turned toward the amazed Tod. “What
do you think of that?” he demanded triumphantly.

“I think that the date explains the whole thing,” said Tod grimly.
“See: the first of April. Five! That means, nineteen hundred and five,
which is this very year. Some one’s having a joke.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Haskins, and began to scribble in his
pocketbook what the machine had said. He had a good memory, and
reproduced the message from the Fairy Princess very correctly. Later
he determined to verify the same, but meanwhile kept the precious
roller in his pocket and asserted his determination to search for the
Pixy’s House.

“What bosh!” grumbled Tod, disdainfully. “Maybe there’s no such place.
But if you will be a lunatic, ask Geary about the matter.”

“No,” said Gerald decidedly. “I shall not say a word to Geary, and I
must ask you to say nothing either. This is the first piece of romance
which has come my way, and I don’t want it spoiled by sharing it with
other people.”

“My way,” echoed Macandrew, staring. “I like that. You forget that I
found the cylinder, my son. I am the person who is supposed to have
received the letter.”

“Toddy, you are not a Turk or a Mormon, so this delicious Princess,
who speaks like a silver bell, is not for you. Keep to Charity Bird,
and allow me a chance of finding a wife.”

“O Lord! Jerry, you ain’t serious?”

“Yes and no! After all I am young, and–as the cook said–of that
‘appy disposition that I can love any one. Why shouldn’t I seek in
some Fairy Woods for the Sleeping Beauty?”

“Sleeping!” sniggered Tod, lighting his pipe, “then she must have
written that silly message in her sleep. Or perhaps she talks in it,”
he added, recollecting that the message was a spoken one. “A nice wife
to have, upon my word. You won’t get a wink of sleep.”

“Toddy, you are of the earth, earthy, and an unimaginative beast.
Romance doesn’t appeal to you. I shall search for the Pixy’s House!”

“In what direction?” jeered Macandrew.

“Up the stream. This Princess is apparently imprisoned in the house
and must have flung the cylinder therefrom into the water. Ergo, the
Pixy’s House must be near the water. I shall go to Exeter and bring
back a canoe. Then I shall explore and find—-”

“A mare’s nest! Don’t be an ass. It’s all bosh.”

“It’s romance! romance! romance! But not a word, Toddy, either to any
one here, or to any one in London. Promise!”

“Oh, I promise. But—-”

“Silence! you profane the Mysteries of Fairyland. I shall explore and
learn the end of this adventure. And you, Tod Macandrew?”

“I’ll see what’s the best lunatic asylum for you to occupy,” said Tod
caustically.