“Mischief?” I echoed.
“But this is nonsense you talk, Rosa!” broke in the little lady. “At the most, what have I written?—a little song from Gluck, the divine Gluck! Just a little song of Eurydice calling to Orfeo. Ah! you should have heard me sing it—in the days before my voice left me; in the opera, boy, and the King himself splitting his gloves to applaud us! Eh, but you are young, very young. I should not wonder to hear you were born after I left the stage. And you are pretty, but not old enough to be Orfeo yet. I must wait—I must wait, though I wait till I doubt if I am not changed to Proserpine with her cracked voice. Boy, if I kissed you—”
She advanced a step, but the negress caught her by the wrist violently, at the same moment waving me off. I felt faint and giddy, as though some exhalation from the graveyard—not wholly repellent, but sickly, overpowering, like the scent of a hothouse lily—had been suddenly wafted under my nostrils. I fell back a pace as the negress motioned me away. Her hand pointed across the stream, and across the meadow, to the gap in the ridge.
“Fast as you can run,” she panted; “and never come this way again.”
The strong scent yet hung around me and seemed to bind me like a spell, pressing on my arms and logs. I plunged knee-deep into the stream. The cool touch of the water brought me to my senses. I splashed across, waded up the bank, and set off running towards the gap.
THE MAN IN BLACK.
Before ever I gained the gap I was panting, and as I panted the blood ran into my mouth from a deep scratch across the eyebrows. I tasted it as I ran. My shirt hung in strips, and one stocking flapped open on a rip from knee to ankle. But on the farther side of the ridge I ran no longer. I flung myself and fell through the matted ferns that, veiling the trough of a half-dry watercourse, now checked my descent as I clutched at them, now parted and let me drop and bruise myself on the rocky bottom. In the end, I found myself on soft sand beside the blessed water of the creek, bloodied indeed—for I had taken a shrewd knock on the bridge of the nose—but with a wrenched shoulder and a jarred knee-pan for the worst of my hurts. I valued them nothing in comparison with the terrors left behind in the woods. The schooner lay in sight, scarcely half a mile below, and I sobbed with gratitude as I dipped my face in the tide and washed off its bloodstains.
The tide was still at flood, and wanted (as I guessed) less than an hour of high water; but it left an almost continuous stretch of sand between me and the creek-head, and I found that the short intervals where it narrowed to nothing could be waded with ease. At first the curve of the foreshore and the overhanging woods concealed the spit of beach where I had made fast my punt beside the dinghy; but at the corner which brought the boats in sight I was aware of two figures standing beside them—Captain Branscome and Mr. Rogers.