“Madame!” exclaimed Jeanne, “it was divine! But, quelle mystere!”
Dunwody joined Jamieson below, and the latter now called for his horse, the two walking together toward the door. They hardly had reached the gallery when there became audible the sound of hoof-beats rapidly approaching up the road across the lawn. A party of four horsemen appeared, all riding hard.
[Illustration: A party of four horsemen appeared.]
“Who’re they?” inquired the doctor. “Didn’t see any of them on the road as I came in.”
“They look familiar,” commented Dunwody. “That’s Jones, and that’s Judge Clayton, down below—why, I just left both of them on the boat the other day! It’s Desha and Yates with them, from the other side of the county. There must be something up.”
He advanced to meet the visitors. “Good morning, gentlemen. Light down, and come in.”
All four got down, shook hands with Dunwody, gave their reins to servants, and joined him on his invitation to enter. Jamieson was known to all of them.
“Well, Colonel Dunwody,” began the Honorable William Jones, “you didn’t expect to see us so soon, did you? Reckon you’d ought to be all the gladder.
“You live here, my dear Colonel,” he continued, looking about him, “in much the same state and seclusion remarked by Mr. Gibbon in his immortal work on the Decline and Fall of Rome—where he described the castles of them ancient days, located back in the mountainous regions. But it ain’t no Roman road you’ve got, out thar.”
“I was going to remark,” interrupted Judge Clayton, “that Colonel Dunwody has anticipated all the modern requirements of hospitality as well as embodied all those of ancient sort. Thank you, I shall taste your bourbon, Colonel, with gladness. It is a long ride in from the river; but, following out our friend’s thought, why do you live away back in here, when all your best plantations are down below? We don’t see you twice a year, any more.”
“Well,” said the owner of Tallwoods, “my father might be better able to answer that question if he were alive. He built this for a summer place, and I use it all the year. I found the place here, and it always seemed too big to move away. We set three meals a day, even back here in the hills, and there’s quite a bunch of leaves we can put on the table. The only drawback is, we don’t see much company. I’m mighty glad to see you, and I’m going to keep you here now, until—”
“Until something pops open,” remarked the Honorable William, over the rim of his glass. Dunwody’s neighbors nodded also.
Their host looked at them for a moment. “Are you here on any special errand—but of course there must be something of the sort, to bring you two gentlemen so close on my trail.”