“No! No!” cried Diane. “Not that—not that!” Her eyes, dark with horror in the colorless oval of her face, met Ronador’s with mute appeal. “It—it can not be,” she added quietly. “The man was Philip Poynter.”
Ronador caught her hands again with fierce resolve. His eyes were blazing with excitement and anger at the utter faith in her voice.
“Why do you think I adopted the stained face—the disguise of a wandering minstrel?” he demanded impetuously. “It was to free myself from his infernal spying—to afford myself the opportunity of gaining your friendship without his knowledge! Why did he follow—always follow? Because at the command of his chief, he must needs obstruct my plan of winning you. There was always Princess Phaedra! Why did he watch by night in the forest. To spy! Can you not see it?”
“Surely, surely,” said Diane, “you must be wrong!”
But Ronador could not be wrong. Themar, his servant, whom he had dispatched to seek employment with the Baron when the fortunes of the road had made further attendance upon himself inconvenient, had learned of the hay-camp and of Poynter’s pledge to make his victim’s advances ridiculous in the eyes of Diane.
“And when Themar followed—to warn me—Poynter beat him brutally,” he went on fiercely, “beat him and sent him in a dirty barge to a distant city. All the while when I fancied my disguise impenetrable, he was laughing in his sleeve, for he is as clever as he is unscrupulous. He was even meeting his chief in a Kentucky woods to report. Tregar admitted it. Why did he make me ridiculous at the Sherrill fete? Purely because your eyes, Miss Westfall, were among those who watched the indignity! Why is he driving about now in the music-machine to mock me? Because having forced me from the road, he must needs see to it that I do not return. When I do, he must be near at hand to report to the Baron.”
It was an artful network. Somehow, by virtue of the sinister skeleton of facts underlying the velvet of his logic, it rang true. Diane, as colorless as a flower, sat utterly silent, slender brown fingers tightened against the palms of her hands.
Philip false! Philip a spy! Philip—almost a murderer! It could not be!
Yet how insistently he had striven to force her to return to civilization. Away from Ronador? It might be. How insistently the Baron had urged him to linger in her camp! To spy? A great wave of faintness swept over her. And there was Arcadia and the hay-camp and the mildly impudent indignities—they all slipped accurately into place.
“I—I do not know!” she faltered at last in answer to his impetuous pleading. “If you will not see me again until I may think it all out—”
But there was danger in waiting. A hot appeal flashed in Ronador’s eyes and eloquently again he fell to pleading.
But Diane had caught the clatter of the music-machine up the road where Philip was good-humoredly unwinding the hullabaloo for a crowd of gleeful young darkies, and suddenly she turned very white and stern.