It was thatched like the Seminole wigwams in palmetto and set in a cluster of giant trees. Trailing moss and ferns and vines hung from the boughs, weaving a dense, cool shade about the dwelling. The exuberant air plants brought memories of Lanier’s immortal poem:
“Glooms of the live oaks, beautiful-braided
With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven
Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs,—”
There were brilliant vistas of bloom beyond the shadow. The odor of orange hung heavily in the still, warm air. A pair of snowy herons flapped tamely about among the pines.
Utter peace and quiet, alive with the chirp of many birds, brilliant sunshine and deep, dark shadow! But Carl stared most at the figure that came to greet them, a tall, broad man of dark complexion and wonderful, kindly eyes of piercing darkness. His hair and beard were snow-white and reached nearly to his waist, his attire buckskin, laced at the seams. But his slender, sensitive hands caught and held attention.
“Mic-co,” said Keela gravely, “he is very tired in his head. Philip would have him rest.”
Mic-co held out his hand with a quiet smile. Whatever his searching eyes had found in the haggard face of his young guest was reflected in his greeting.
“You are very welcome,” he said simply.
“No,” said Carl steadily, “I may not take your hand, sir, until you know me for what I am. There are none worse. I have been through the mire of hell itself. I have dishonorably betrayed a kinsman in the hope of gold. I had thought to kill. Only a freak of fate has stayed my hand. And there is more that I may not tell—”
[Illustration: “No, I may not take your hand.”]
“So?” said Mic-co quietly.
Flushing, Carl took the outstretched hand.
“I—I thank you,” he said, and looked away.
IN MIC-CO’S LODGE
The rooms of Mic-co’s lodge opened, in the fashion of the old Pompeian villas, upon a central court roofed only by the Southern sky. This court, floored with split logs, covered with bearskin rugs and furnished in handmade chairs of twisted palmetto and a rude table, years back Mic-co and his Indian aides had built above a clear, lazy stream. Now the stream crept beneath the logs to a quiet open pool in the center where lilies and grasses grew, and thence by its own channel under the logs again and out. Storm coverings of buckskin were rolled above the outer windows and above the doorways which opened into the court.
Here, when the moon rose over the lonely lodge and glinted peacefully in the tilled pool, Mic-co listened to the tale of his young guest. It was a record of bodily abuse, of passion and temptation, which few men may live to tell, but Mic-co neither condoned nor condemned. He smoked and listened.