Thirty feet from the vines, Brice slackened his steps. His lithe body was vibrant with cautious watchfulness. But, the collie was not inclined to caution. He hailed with evident relief the sight of open spaces and of light after the gloomy trail’s windings. And he broke into a canter.
Fearing to call aloud, Brice chirped and hissed softly at the careering dog. The collie, at sound of the recall, hesitated, then began to trot back toward Gavin. But, glancing wistfully toward the light, as he started to obey the summons, his eye encountered something which swept away all his dawning impulse of obedience.
Athwart the bright end of the path, sprang a furry gray creature, supple, fluffy, indescribably formless and immense in that deceptive half-light.
Brice peered at the animal in astonishment, seeking to classify it in his mind. But the collie needed no effort of that sort. At first sight and scent, he knew well to what tribe the furry gray newcomer belonged. And, with a trumpet-bark of joyous challenge, he dashed at it.
The creature fluffed itself to double its former size. Then, spitting and yowling, it ran up the nearer of the two gumbo-limbo trees. The dog reached the foot of the tree a fraction of a second too late to seize the fox-like tail of his prey. And he circled wildly, barking at the top of his lungs and making futile little running leaps up the shining trunk of the tree.
As well hope for secrecy after the firing of a cannon as after such a fanfare of barking! Gavin Brice ran forward to grasp the rackety collie. As he did so, he was vaguely aware that a slender and white-clad form was crossing the lawn, at a run, toward the tree.
At the path-end, he and the figure came face to face. Though the other’s back was to the fading light, Gavin knew her for the girl he had seen in the Australian pine lane, at Miami, that day.
“Pardon me,” he began, trying in vain to make himself audible through the collie’s frantic barking. “I found your dog, and I have brought him back to you. We—”
The glib explanation died, in his amazement-contracting throat. For, at his first word, the girl had checked her run and had stood for an instant, gazing wideeyed at him. Then, clapping one little hand to her side, she produced from somewhere a flash of metal.
And Gavin Brice found himself blinking stupidly into the muzzle of a small revolver, held, unwaveringly, not three feet from his face. Behind the gun were a pair of steady gray eyes and a face whose dainty outlines were just now set in a mask of icy grimness.
“That isn’t a bluff,” ran his involuntary thoughts, as he read the eyes behind the ridiculously tiny weapon. “She really means to shoot!”
THE MAN IN THE DARK
For several seconds the two stood thus, the man dumfounded, moveless, gaping, the girl as grimly resolute as Fate itself, the little revolver steady, its muzzle unwaveringly menacing Brice’s face. The collie continued to gyrate, thunderously around the tree.