“What can it all mean? Not a line from father since Colombo, five months gone.”
“Do you think——”
“No, no!” replied Kathlyn hastily. “Father sometimes forgets. He may be hunting miles from telegraph wires and railroads; it is only that he should forget us so long. Who knows? He may have dropped down into Borneo. He wanted some pythons, so I heard him say.”
The elder sister did not care to instil into the heart of her charge the fear which was in her own.
“Who knows but there may be good news in the envelope? Dad’s always doing something like that. New Year’s!”
The collie, released from the kitchen, came bounding in. In his exuberance he knocked over a cloisonne vase. Both girls were glad to welcome this diversion. They rose simultaneously and gave chase. The dog headed for the outdoor studio, where they caught him and made believe they were punishing him.
Quietly the watcher entered through the window, alert and tense. He flew to the desk, found the envelope, steamed it open at the kettle, extracted the sealed envelope and Colonel Hare’s note. He smiled as he read the letter and changed his plans completely. He would not play messenger; he would use a lure instead. With his ear strained for sounds, he wrote and substituted a note. This houri of Sa’adi would not pause to note the difference in writing; the vitalness of the subject would enchain her thoughts. It was all accomplished in the space of a few minutes. Smiling, he passed out into the fast settling twilight.
They were shipping a lion to San Francisco, and the roaring and confusion were all very satisfactory to the trespasser.
Midnight. From afar came the mellow notes of the bells in the ancient Spanish mission. The old year was dead, the new year was born, carrying with it the unchanging sound of happiness and misery, of promises made and promises broken, of good and evil.
“The packet!” cried Winnie.
Kathlyn recognized in that call that Winnie was only a child. All the responsibility lay upon her shoulders. She ripped the cover from the packet and read the note.
“Kathlyn: If not heard from I’m held captive in Allaha. Sealed document can save me. Bring it yourself to Allaha by first steamer.
“I knew it,” said Kathlyn calmly. The fear in her heart had, as the brown man had anticipated, blinded her to the fact that this was not her father’s characteristic blunt scrawl.
“Oh, Kit, Kit!”
“Hush, Winnie! I must go, and go alone. Where’s the evening paper? Ah, there it is. Let me see what boat leaves San Francisco to-morrow. The Empress of India, six a. m. I must make that. Now, you’re your father’s daughter, too, Winnie. You must stay behind and be brave and wait. I shall come back. I shall find father, if I have to rouse all India. Now, to pack.”