Dr. Stone was the lion of the hour for the next few weeks in Minton. The social world was at his feet. No lawn fete, private picnic or excursion was thought complete without his presence. Doting mothers courted his favor and men of high and low degree vied with each other in expressions of respect for him. If Lotus had not been unusually well balanced, so much patronage would have turned his head. To his credit it can be said that through it all he was wise enough to see the morbid curiosity that prompted the most of the attentions paid him. The young girls like to look at his hands, callous from toil; to hear him tell again and again some indignity he was made to suffer. He grew tired of recounting his experiences and fain would have stolen away from the prying eyes of the curious crowds, but where and how? He could not refuse the invitations sent him, for whatever the motive he was grateful for the consideration and intended kindness everywhere showered upon him.
Clement at last came to his rescue. "When are you going to be strong enough to make the trip to Mt. Clare?" he asked one day as he and Lotus were sitting in the office of "The Events."
"Strong enough?" said Lotus, laughing. "A man who can endure the round of picnics, balls and receptions I have been forced to attend for the past few weeks, can be trusted to take a voyage around the world and steer his own yacht."
"I have been waiting for somebody to declare a flag of truce," said Clement, "and during the armistice I thought we might slip away to Mt. Clare."
"Anything or anywhere to deliver me from the gentle hands of my friends," replied Lotus.
"Mt. Clare and the road to the lighthouse will be sufficiently exciting to create at least a healthy reaction from the too much joy business you have been indulging to distraction for some time past," Clement replied.
"I can be ready for the night boat," said Lotus. "You know I am a gentleman of leisure these days."
"Suppose we say to-morrow evening," said Clement. "By that time the weekly edition will be off and I shall be more at liberty."
"You shall be the judge. I have been so long under orders that I find it somewhat novel to decide for myself."
The evening following found the two friends seated in the recess of the cabin of one of the splendid lake steamers, which ply the waters between Minton and Mt. Clare.
"I am willing to wager that I can indicate your mental processes for the past five minutes," said Clement, after they had been sitting for some time watching the lights of Minton one by one disappear.
"Doughnuts to dollars that you cannot," responded Lotus.
"As I have neither, I am safe in taking the wager," said Clement.
"Well, what was I thinking," asked Lotus.
"First, of a night two years ago when you and I and a number of friends sat whiling the hours away enroute from Mt. Clare to Minton. Second, of Mt. Clare. Third, of Regenia Underwood."
"You must be a mind reader. The doughnuts are yours. I was thinking a little of that night, less of Mt. Clare, and a great deal of Miss Underwood," said Lotus.
"Do you know," said Clement, "it has puzzled me to understand why you have always been so reticent, when Miss Underwood's name was mentioned. I have studiously managed to speak of her as infrequently as possible, gathering from your manner in the few times I did speak of her that the subject was painful to you. I am at loss to account for your indifference, possessing as I do such undoubted proofs of her devotion to you."
"Yes, rather devoted. A girl who could heartlessly desert a man because he was in trouble, refuse to come near him because he was under the ban of dishonor, hurry off to the seashore to flirt to her heart's content when the man she pretended to love is lingering between life and death in a convict mine. I know that a convict has no claim on the affections of such a woman, but a decent show of belief in my innocence—"
"Don't you say another word, Lotus. If you do I'll think you unworthy of the noble little woman whose pleading secured your pardon. I did not get that pardon, she went from office to office and from mansion to the governor's chamber, rehearsing, as only a loving heart could portray, the story of your wrongs. She was unconscious for days after your arrest from a shock received at the hands of Dr. Leighton the night before. You were imprisoned for weeks before the doctor would allow her to know of your condition, and when she did learn the truth, did she sit down and weep and wring her hands? Not she. She wrote letter after letter, begging me to come and try to secure your release. At last, broken in health and fearing for her reason, her friends persuaded her, through a ruse, to go to Lucile. She was taken to the seashore and has only been kept there through the most gigantic fabrications, for which may heaven forgive me."
"I am unworthy of her," said Lotus now thoroughly repentant. "Why have you not told me all of this before?" he asked sorrowfully.
"Simply because you did not deserve to know it. Your high blown pride had nearly brought me to the resolution never to tell you and to let you lose the only woman in the world you care for. But I could not bring myself to do it, old man," he said laughing heartily as he thought how rapidly he had taken the wind from Lotus' inflated sails.
"You would have served me right," said Lotus. "I had gone on hardening my heart against Regenia, notwithstanding I was morally certain, that there must be some extenuating circumstances. What I could not make out was why she went to Breeze Nook."
"You expected her to be sitting at the depot day after day awaiting your arrival, I suppose," said Clement sarcastically. "The display made over you here in Minton has turned your head, I suspect." He did not think so, but as he had Lotus eating humble pie, it was with a kind of fiendish delight he tried to keep him at the table.
"You do not think that, do you, Clement?" asked Lotus, somewhat dejected.
"Not exactly. But I warn you if you ever say an unkind word, nay think an unkind thought of that little angel who kissed me for you when in Grandville—you didn't know that either, did you? Well, Lucile does and she thinks Regenia never displayed such good taste before in her life."
"When she kissed you for me," said Lotus with a merry twinkle.
"She left me to draw my own conclusions. I did not take your view of it," said Clement.
They arrived at Mt. Clare the next morning and went out to the Elms. They found the place looking much as it did the summer of the conclave. The servants were still there and Dr. Leighton spent a month or two during the year, looking after the estate. No time was lost dreaming of the past under the elms; but securing a two seated carriage, they drove down to the ferry, took the left hand road, keeping a sharp lookout for the lighthouse.
"We can drive on all night," said Clement, "and if we see no signs of the light house, why to-morrow we can drive back."
The lingering twilight had gone and the shades of evening closed in upon them before they saw in the distance the welcome rays emitted from the lighthouse windows. They drove their horses into the woods below the house and thought best to reconnoitre before approaching and demanding the release of Mrs. Levitt. Following a ravine which led them near the back part of the house, they stopped to listen.
From an open window in Mrs. Levitt's part they could hear the old woman talking to herself. She was calling: "Regenia, Regenia, will that child never come," she said. "I have been standing here night after night calling and waiting." She came to the open window and stood gazing at the moon.
"How she has changed!" said Lotus.
"She talks rather wildly," said his companion.
"Hush!" said Lotus. "I thought I heard footsteps approaching."
Mrs. Levitt began to sing in a low, crooning tone some old plantation hymn. As she continued, someone within yelled "Stop that. I can't bear to hear it."
The old woman sang on, repeating the same words. "Do you hear what I say? If you don't come away from that window and shut your old mouth, I'll come in there to you," repeated the hoarse voice.
The singing stopped and then the old woman began again to call, "Regenia, Regenia, oh Regenia! Where is that child? I've been standing by this window calling her, but she seems to never come." Having repeated this several times, she commenced to sing the same weird song with the same repetitions. From their watching place they saw a man come to the window and snatch the old woman away, uttering oath after oath as he covered her with blows.
Lotus, setting his teeth, would have rushed to the rescue, but the cooler head beside him counseled patience. "Not yet, not yet," whispered Clement. "He will leave for the lighthouse pretty soon and then we can seize our prize without bloodshed."
For an hour they lay there awaiting events. Finally the man left the cabin for the lighthouse. On his way he heard a horse neigh and following the ravine, came upon Clement and Lotus. He started on a run for the house, but Clement, divining his purpose, beat him to the door and turning closed with him. They had been scuffling but a moment when the door flew open and the lighthouse keeper's wife, gun in hand, came to her husband's rescue. Lotus covered her with his revolver and demanded that she drop the gun.
By this time Clement had brought the man to the earth and tying his hands behind him, forbade him at the risk of his life to move. While Lotus stood guard, Clement went into the house and led Mrs. Levitt out. The woman did not seem sorry to see Mrs. Levitt get her liberty.
They put her in the carriage and drove rapidly to Mt. Clare. As the sun scattered the fog that gathered over river and lake the next morning, the two friends and Mrs. Levitt were alighting from the carriage at the gate of the "Elms."
Mrs. Levitt was taken into the house, but did not recognize the old servants, nor did she know Lotus or Clement.
The young men took their horses to the stable and as they had eaten nothing since the morning before, they were in prime condition for eating without being coaxed. After breakfast they returned to the "Elms" to find Mrs. Levitt washed and dressed and apparently in her right mind. The old servant said she had wandered about the house calling Regenia and apparently demented until she went upstairs and by chance walked into Regenia's old room. Stopping before a large painting, she gazed upon it wildly for awhile and then, bursting into tears, for the first time she was conscious of her surroundings.
Sitting in the parlor, surrounded by the old servants, Mr. St. John and Lotus, she related the story of her stay in the home of the lighthouse tender.
She did not spare Dr. Leighton. "He wanted this property, but I never intended that my child should be swindled out of it."
"He got it anyway, you know, he found the will," said Clement.
"He did?" said the old lady, bounding out of her chair and leaving the room.
They followed her, thinking she was again losing her mind. She went up into the garret and with a hatchet pried off the mantle and taking out a brick or two, she drew from the chimney a tin box and bore it in triumph to the parlor.
The box contained the deeds and securities for the Underwood estates and the lost will. Mr. St. John took the papers and put them into the hands of old Judge Underwood's former law partner, and Mrs. Levitt swore out a warrant against Dr. Leighton for kidnapping. That night Lotus and Clement left for Minton, taking Mrs. Levitt with them.
Chapter 30 -- Chapter 32