Albert Payson Terhune.

Black Caesar's Clan : a Florida Mystery Story online

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in disappointment. For, no longer was it singing its heart
out in the magic of an immortal melody. Instead, it swung
into the once-popular strains of "Oh, Promise Me!"

And now it seemed as though Hade were wantonly making fun of
his earlier beautiful playing and of the effect he must have
known it had had upon his hearers. For he played heavily,
monotonously, more like a dance-hall soloist than a master.
And, as though his choice of an air were not sharp enough
contrast to his other selections, he strummed amateurishly and
without a shred of technique or of feeling.

Jarring as was the result upon Brice, it seemed even
more so on Simon Cameron. The cat had stopped in his progress
toward the stairs, and now stared round-eyed at the music-room
doorway, his absurd little nostrils sniffing the air. Then,
deliberately, Simon Cameron walked to the doorway and sat down
there, his huge furry tail curled around round him, staring
with idiotic intentness at the player.

Gavin noted the cat's odd behavior. Simon Cameron was far too
familiar with Hade's presence in the house to give Rodney a
second glance. Indeed, he had only jumped up into Claire's
lap, because the fascinatingly new Secret Service men at the
front door smelt strongly of tobacco, - the smell a Persian cat
hates above all others. But now, he was gazing in delighted
interest at the violinist.

At the sight, a wild conjecture flashed into Gavin's brain.
With a sharp order to the Jap, he sprang up and rushed into
the music room.

Leaning against the piano, playing the rebellious violin, was - Roke!

Rodney Hade had vanished.

The windows were still shuttered. No other door gave exit
from the music room. There were no hangings, except the
door-curtains, and there was no furniture behind which a child
could hide unseen. Yet Hade was no longer there.

Roke laid aside his violin, at sight of Gavin and the Jap. At
the former's exclamation of amaze, two more of the Secret
Service men left their post at the front door and ran in. The
tramp of their hurrying feet made the guards outside the open
windows of the music room fling wide the closed shutters.
Clearly, Hade had not escaped past them.

Folding his arms, and grinning impudently at the astounded
cordon of faces, Roke drawled:

"I just dropped in to say 'Howdy' to Mr. Standish. Nobody was
around. So I made bold to pick up the fiddle and have a
little spiel. I ain't done any harm, and there's nothing
you-all can hold me on."

For ten seconds nobody answered. Nobody spoke or moved.
Then, Gavin Brice's face went crimson with sudden fury at his
own outwitting. He recalled the musical afternoon at
Roustabout Key which his presence had interrupted, and Roke's
fanatical devotion to Hade.

"I begin to understand," he said, his voice muffled in an
attempt to subdue his anger. "You and Hade were fond of the
violin, eh? And for some reason or other you long ago worked
up a series of signals on it, as the mind-reader with the
guitar-accompanist used to do in the vaudeville shows. Those
discordant phrases he started off with were your signal to
come to the rescue. And you came. But how did you come? And
how did he go? Both by the same way, of course. But - there
isn't even a chimney-piece in the room."

Once more, Roke grinned broadly. "I ain't seen hide nor hair
of Mr. Hade, not since this afternoon," said he. "I been
spendin' the evenin' over to Landon's. Landon is a tryin' to
sell me his farm. Says the soil on it is so rich that he
ships carloads of it up North, to use for fertilizer. Says - "

"Sato!" broke in Brice. "Can you make him talk? Miss
Standish, will you please go somewhere else for five minutes?
This is not going to be a pretty sight."

As the girl turned, obediently yet reluctantly, from the room,
the Jap, with a smile of perfect bliss on his yellow face,
advanced toward Roke.

The big man wheeled, contemptuously, upon him. Sato sprang at
him. With a hammerlike fist, Roke smote at the oncoming
pigmy. The arm struck, to its full length. But it did not
reach its mark, nor return to the striker's side. By a
queerly crablike shift of his wiry body, the Jap had eluded
the blow, and had fastened upon the arm, above the elbow and
at the wrist.

A cross-pull wrench of the Jap's body brought a howl of pain
from Roke and sent him floundering helplessly to his knees,
while the merest leverage pressure from his conqueror held him
there. But the Jap was doing more. The giant's arm was
bending backward and sideways at an impossible angle. Nor
could its owner make a move to avert the growing unbearable
torture. It was one of the simplest, yet one of the most
effective and agonizing, holds in all jiujutsu.

Thirty seconds of it, and Roke's bull-like endurance went to
pieces under the strain. Raucously and blubberingly he
screeched for mercy. The Jap continued happily to exert the
cross-pull pressure.

"Will you speak up?" queried Brice, sickened at the sight, but
steeling himself with the knowledge of the captive's crimes
and of the vast amount at stake.

Roke rolled his eyes horribly, grinding his yellowed teeth
together to check his own cries. Then, sobbingly, he blurted:

"Yes! Lemme loose!"

"Not till you tell," refused Gavin. "Quick, now!"

"Second panel from left-hand window," moaned the stricken and
anguished Roke. "Push beading up and then to right. He's - he's
safe away, by now, anyway," he blubbered, in self-justification
of the confession which agony had wrung from him. "All you'll
get is the - the - "

And, the pain having eaten into his very brain, he yelled

Ten minutes later, Milo Standish sought out his sister, in the
upper room whither she had fled, in fear, to escape from the
racket of Roke's outcries.

"Listen!" he jabbered boyishly, in utter excitement. "Brice
made him tell how Rodney got out! How d'you s'pose? One of
the old panels, in the music room, slides back, and there's a
flight of stone steps down to a cellar that's right alongside
our regular cellar, with only a six inch cement-and-lath wall
between. It leads out, to the tunnel. Right at that turn
where the old-time shoring is. The shoring hides a little
door. And we never dared move the props because we thought it
held up the tunnel-roof. It's all part of the old
Indian-shelter stunts that this house's builders were so daft
about, a hundred years ago. Hade must have blundered on it or
studied it out, one of those times when he used to go poking
around in the tunnel, all by himself. And - "

"Did Mr. Brice find him?" interposed Claire.

"Not he!" said Milo, less buoyantly. "Rodney had a good ten
minutes start of us. And with a start like that, they'll never
lay hands on him again. He's got too much cleverness and he
knows too many good hiding places. But Brice found the next best
thing. You'd never guess! Rodney's secret cache for the treasure
was that walled-up cellar. It's half full of canvas bags. Right
under our feet, mind you, and we never knew a thing about it. I
supposed he was shipping it North in some way. Roke says that
Rodney kept it there because, when he got it all, he was going to
foreclose and kick us out, and then dispose of it at his leisure.
The swine!"


"The crypt seems to have been a part of our own cellar till it
was walled off. It - "

"But how in the world did Roke?"

"He was with the crew. Rodney and he went together to the
yacht for them. The Secret Service men didn't get him, in the
round-up. He crept as close to the house as he dared. And he
heard Rodney sounding the signal alphabet they had worked up,
on the violin. He got into the tunnel and so to the cellar,
and then sneaked up, and took Rodney's place at fiddling. He
seems to have been as willing to sacrifice himself for his
master as any dog would have been. Or else he counted on
Brice's not having any evidence to hold him on.

"By the way, do you remember that conch, Davy, over at
Roustabout Key? Brice says he's a Secret Service man. He and
Brice used to fish together, off the keys, when they were
boys. Davy volunteered for the war. And Brice made good use
of him, over there, and got him into the Secret Service when
they came back. It's all so queer - so - !"

"Is Mr. Brice still downstairs?" interrupted Claire, her eyes
straying involuntarily toward the door of the room.

"No. He had to go. He left his good-byes for you. His work
here is done. And he has to start for Washington on the 2
A.M. train from Miami. By the way, the best part of it all
is that he says a fugitive from justice can't bring legal
proceedings in a civil court. So Rodney can never foreclose
on us or take up those notes of mine. Lord, but that chap,
Brice, is a wonder!"

Vital as was the news about the notes and the mortgage, Claire
scarce heard it. In, her ears, and through the brain and
heart of her, rang drearily the words:

"He had to go. He left his good-byes for you. His work here
is done."

His work was done! Yes. But was that to be all? Had the
light in his eyes and the vibrant tremor in his voice as he
talked with her - had these been part of his "work," too? Was
it all to end, like this, - and before it had begun?

To her own surprise and to her brother's greater astonishment,
the usually self-contained Claire Standish burst into a
tempest of weeping.

"Poor, poor little girl!" soothed Milo. "It's all been too
much for you! No one could have stood up under such a strain.
I'll tell you what we're going to do: We're going to Miami,
for a week or two, and have a jolly time and make you try to
forget all this mystery and excitement. We'll go to-morrow
morning, if you say so."

The Miami season was at its climax. The half-moon driveway
outside the front entrance to the Royal Palm Hotel was crowded
thick with waiting motor cars, whose occupants were at the
hotel's semi-weekly dance. On the brightlit front veranda men
in white and in dinner-clothes and women in every hue of
evening dress were passing to and fro. Elderly folk, sitting
in deep porch chairs, watched through the long windows the
gayly-moving dancers in the ballroom. Out through wide-open
doors and windows pulsed the rhythmic music.

Above hung the great white stars in the blue-black Southern
skies. The bay stretched glimmering and phosphorescent away
from the palm-girt hotel gardens. The trade-winds set the
myriad dry palm-fronds to rustling like the downpour of summer

Up the steps from the gardens drifted promenaders and dancers,
in groups or in twos and threes. Then, up the stairway moved
a slender, white-clad figure, alone.

Claire Standish had sought to do as her brother had wished,
and to forget, in the carefree life of the White City, the
happenings she had been through. Dutifully she had come to
Miami with him. Dutifully, for the past three days, she had
joined him in such gayeties as he had suggested. Dutifully,
to-night, she had come with him to this dance. And all the
time her heart had been as heavy as lead.

Now, getting rid of her partner on some pretext, she had gone
out into the softly illumined gardens to be alone with the
yearning and heartache she could not shake off. Then, fearing
lest Milo, or some other of the men she knew, might come in
search of her and wonder at her desire to mope alone under the
stars, she had turned back to the hotel.

As she mounted the last stair to the veranda, a man in dinner
clothes stepped forward from one of the porch's great white
pillars, and advanced to meet her.

"There's a corner table at the Cafe de la Paix, in Paris," he
greeted her, striving to control his voice and to speak
lightly, "that every one on earth must pass by, sooner or
later. The front veranda of the Royal Palm is like that.
Soon or late, everybody crosses it. When I got back this
afternoon, I heard you had left home and that you were
somewhere in Miami. I couldn't find you. So I came here - and

Claire had halted, at first sound of Gavin Brice's pleasantly
slow voice, and she stood facing him, wide-eyed and pale, her
breath failing.

"I had to go to Washington to make my report," said he,
speaking low and fast. "I came back to you by the first train
I could catch. Didn't you know I would?"

"Yes," she breathed, her gaze still lost in his. "Yes. I - I

And now she realized she had known, even while she had told
herself she would never see him again.

"Come!" he said, gently, holding out his hand to her.

Unashamed, under the battery of a hundred curious eyes, she
clasped the proffered hand. And, together, they turned back
toward the sheltering dimness of the gardens.


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Online LibraryAlbert Payson TerhuneBlack Caesar's Clan : a Florida Mystery Story → online text (page 15 of 15)