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Opis ebooka Deep Lake Mystery - Carolyn Wells

The quaint town of Deep Lake, Wisconsin is rocked to its core when millionaire Sampson Tracy is found murdered in a locked room -- with a nail driven into his skull and his corpse festooned with bizarre ritualistic items. Is the rich man’s slaying the work of a local cult or is someone closer to the Tracy household trying to make it look that way? Curl up with this classic locked-room whodunit from Carolyn Wells, author of The Clue.

Opinie o ebooku Deep Lake Mystery - Carolyn Wells

Fragment ebooka Deep Lake Mystery - Carolyn Wells

Deep Lake Mystery

Carolyn Wells

Published by Mystery Mavens, 2017.

Copyright

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Deep Lake Mystery by Carolyn Wells. First published in 1928.

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Cover, interior design and editing © Copyright 2017 Mystery Mavens.

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First e-book edition 2017.

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ISBN: 978-1-387-32341-8.

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

CHAPTER I | “A STATELY PLEASURE DOME ...”

CHAPTER II | THE GIRL IN THE CANOE

CHAPTER III | THE TRAGEDY

CHAPTER IV | THE NAIL

CHAPTER V | THE LADY OF THE LAKE

CHAPTER VI | THE WATCH IN THE WATER PITCHER

CHAPTER VII | THE INQUEST

CHAPTER VIII | ALMA’S STATEMENTS

CHAPTER IX | CLUES

CHAPTER X | DISCUSSION

CHAPTER XI | EVIDENCE

CHAPTER XII | MY SECRET

CHAPTER XIII | AS TO TUESDAY AFTERNOON

CHAPTER XIV | POSY MAY

CHAPTER XV | JENNIE

CHAPTER XVI | WHISTLING REEDS

CHAPTER XVII | AMES TAKES A HAND

CHAPTER XVIII | ALL RIGHT AT LAST

Further Reading: British Mystery Multipack Vol. 15

CHAPTER I

“A STATELY PLEASURE DOME ...”

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AS I LOOK BACK ON MY life, eventful enough in spots, but placid, even monotonous in the long stretches between spots, I think the greatest thrill I ever experienced was when I saw the dead body of Sampson Tracy.

Imagine to yourself a man, dead in his own bed, with no sign of violence or maltreatment. Eyes partly closed, as he might be peacefully thinking, and no expression of fear or horror on his calm face.

Now add to your mental picture the fact that he had round his brow a few flowers arranged as a wreath. More flowers diagonally across his breast, like a garland. Clasped in his right hand, against his heart, an ivory crucifix, and in his left hand an orange.

Sticking up from behind his head showed the plume of a red feather duster!

And draped round all this, like a frame, was a red chiffon scarf, a filmy but voluminous affair, deftly tucked in here and there, and encircling all the strange and bizarre details I have enumerated.

On a pillow, near the dead face, lay two small crackers and a clean, folded handkerchief.

As I stared, my imagination flew to the Indians or the ancient Egyptians, who provided their dead with food and toilet implements, which were buried with them.

But in this case ...

I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who said: “If you have a story to tell, begin at the beginning, go through with the tale, and leave off at the ending.” So, as I most assuredly have a story to tell, I will begin at the beginning and follow the prescribed directions.

It all began, I suppose, the night Keeley Moore came to see me about fishing tackle. Kee is a wonderful detective and all that, but when it comes to fishing he’s mighty glad to ask my advice.

And Lord knows I’m glad to give it to him.

We used to go fishing together, every summer. Then Kee took it into his silly head to get married, and to a girl who cares nothing about fishing.

So from that you can see how things are.

But this time Kee seemed really excited about his prospects of fishing through the summer months.

“We’re going to Wisconsin,” he told me, with a note of joyousness in his voice, “and, Gray, do you know, there are more than two thousand lakes in one county out in that foolish old state?”

“I’d like to fish in all of ’em,” I said, with my usual lack of moderation.

“You can’t do that, but you can fish in a few, if you like. Lora sends you, and I back it up, an invitation to come out there as soon as we get settled and stay as long as you can.”

“That’s a tempting bid,” I told him, “but I can’t impose on newlyweds like that. I’ll go to the inn or lodge or whatever they have out there, and see you every day.”

“No, we want you with us. We’ve taken a fairly good-sized house for the season, and you must be our guest. Lora’s asking a few of her friends and I want you.”

Well, he had little trouble in persuading me, once I felt convinced that his wife’s invitation was in good faith, and I planned to go out there early in August.

They were going in July, which left them time enough to get settled and get their home in running order.

So I went to Wisconsin in August, glad enough to get away from the city’s heat and noise and dirt.

Deep Lake, the choice of the Moores, was in Oneida County, which is designated among the Scenic Sections of Wisconsin as North Woods—Eastern.

And scenic it surely was. The last part of the train ride had shown me that, and when we were motoring from the railroad station to the Moore bungalow, I was impressed with the weird beauty all about.

It was dusk, and the tall trees looked black against the sky. Long shadows of hemlocks and poplars fell across the road, as the last glow of the sunset was fading, and the reflection in the lakes of surrounding scenery was clear, though dark and eerie-looking.

We passed several lakes before we reached the journey’s end.

“Here we are!” Moore cried at last, as we turned in at the gates of a most attractive estate.

A short road led to the front door and Lora came out to greet us.

I liked Kee Moore’s wife, though I never felt I knew her very well. She was of a reserved type and while amiable and cordial, she was not responsive and never seemed to offer or invite confidence.

But she greeted me heartily, and expressed real pleasure at having me there.

She was very good looking—a wholesome, bonny type, with an air of executive ability and absolute savoir faire.

Her hair was dead gold, bobbed and worn straight, I think they call it a Dutch bob. Anyway, she had a trace of Dutch effect and reminded me of that early picture of Queen Wilhelmina.

She sent me to my room to brush up but told me I needn’t change as the bungalow was run informally.

The place rejoiced in the name of “Variable Winds,” and though the Moores guyed the idea of having a name for such an unpretentious affair, they admitted it was at least appropriate.

I returned to the living room to find the group augmented by a few more people: one house guest and two or three neighbours.

Cocktails appeared and the cheery atmosphere dispelled the darksome and gloomy effects that had marked our drive from the station.

I found myself next my fellow guest, a pleasant-faced lady, who introduced herself.

“I’m Maud Merrill,” she vouchsafed. “I’m staying here, so you must learn to like me.”

“No trouble at all,” I told her, and honestly, for I liked her at once.

She was a widow, perhaps thirty or so, with white hair and deep blue eyes. I judged her hair was prematurely grayed, for her face was young and attractive.

“I’m an old schoolmate of Lora Moore’s,” she disclosed further, “and I’m up here for a fortnight. Are you staying long?”

“I’m invited indefinitely,” I returned. “I’ll stay a month, I think, if they seem to want me.”

“Oh, they will. They’ve both looked forward to your coming with real delight. And you’ll like it here. There’s no end of things to do. Fishing of course, and bathing and boating and golf and tennis and dancing and flirting—in fact, you can have just whatever sport you want.”

“Sounds rather strenuous. I had hoped for a restful time.”

“Yes, you can have that if you really want it. Let me give you a hint of the other guests. The beautiful woman is Katherine Dallas. She’s about to be married to our next-door neighbour. He isn’t here tonight. But one of his house guests is here. That tall, thin man,—he’s Harper Ames.”

I thanked her for her hints, though I wasn’t terribly interested. But it’s good to know a little about new acquaintances, and often prevents unfortunate speeches. Especially with me. For I’ve a shocking habit of saying the wrong thing and making enemies thereby.

At the table I found myself seated at my hostess’s right hand and the beautiful Mrs. Dallas on my other side.

It was a comfortable sort of party. The conversation, while not specially brilliant, was unforced and gaily bantering. Two youngsters were present, who added their flapper slang to the general fund of amusement.

These two were Posy May and Dick Hardy, and though apparently about twenty they seemed to have world-wide knowledge and world-old wisdom.

“My canoe upset this afternoon,” Posy told the company with an air of being a heroine.

“You upset it on purpose,” declared Dick.

“Didn’t, either. I turned around too quickly——”

“Yes, and if I hadn’t been on the job you’d be turning around there yet.”

“Posy,” Keeley said, reproachfully, “you must be more careful. Deep Lake is one of the deepest and most treacherous lakes in all Wisconsin. Now, don’t cut up silly tricks in a canoe.”

“Oh, I know how to manage a canoe.”

“You managed to upset,” said Lora Moore, accusingly, and pretty Posy changed the subject.

After dinner there was a little bridge, but the youngsters were going to a dance, and Mrs. Dallas seemed to want to go home early, so Ames carried her off, and our own quartet was left alone.

I was glad of it, for I like a chat with a few better than the rattle of the crowd. And it was not very long before Lora and Mrs. Merrill left us, and Keeley and I had the porch to ourselves.

“Pleasant people,” I said, by way of being decently gracious.

“Good enough,” he agreed. “Tomorrow, Gray, we’ll fish. It’s open season for everything now and the limits are generous. Except muskellonge. You may bag only one per day of those. But trout, all kinds, bass, all kinds, pickerel, rock sturgeon—oh, we’ll have the biggest time!”

“Sounds good to me,” I returned, heartily. “I’m happy to be here, old scout, and we’ll fish and all that, but don’t put yourself about to entertain me.”

“I sha’n’t; but you must fall in with Lora’s plans, won’t you? I mean, seem pleased to attend her kettledrums and whatnot, even if it bores you.”

“Of course I will. Your lady’s word is law. She’s a brick, isn’t she?”

“Yes,” and Moore smiled happily at my somewhat crude compliment. “She’s just that. And such a help in my work.”

“Your detective work?”

“What else? She’s more than a Watson, she’s a real helpmate. Her insight and intuition are marvelous, and she sees through a bit of evidence and gets the very gist of it quicker than I can.”

“Then you surely got the right one.”

“I certainly did. But I hope to Heaven there’ll be no cases this summer. I want a real vacation, that’s why I came ’way off here, to get away from all crime calls.”

“Don’t crow before you’re out of the woods. Crimes can happen even in Wisconsin. And to me, this whole country round looks like a perfect setting for a first-class criminal to work in.”

“Hush! I’m not superstitious, but your suggestion of such a thing might bring it about. And I don’t want it!”

“You think you don’t,” I smiled a little, “but deep in your heart you do. You can’t fish all the time, and you’re even now restively hankering to be back in harness.”

“Shut up!” he growled. “Talk of something pleasanter. How do you like the Dallas queen?”

“Stunning, seductive, and serpentine,” I summed up the lady in question.

Moore laughed outright. “I must tell Lora that,” he said. “You see, she agrees with you. Now, I think the right words are stately, gracious, and charming.”

“All right,” I said, “you know her better than I do. She is very beautiful, I concede.”

“What do you mean, concede? Are you against her?”

“How you do snap a fellow up! No, not exactly. But I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could see her,—and I’m near-sighted.”

“Sometimes I think I’m no detective after all,” Moore said, slowly. “Now she gives me no effect of hypocrisy or insincerity.”

“But she does hint those things to Lora?”

“Y—yes, in a way.”

“Then Lora’s more of a detective than you are. But after I see more of the siren, I may change my mind. I didn’t talk with her alone at all. What about the grumpy Mr. Ames? Is he in love with the Dallas?”

“Not at all. In the first place, he wouldn’t dare be, for she is engaged to Sampson Tracy, and Tracy is not one to take kindly to any poaching on his domain. Besides that, Ames is a woman hater, also a man hater, and I think, an animal hater.”

“Pleasant man!”

“Yes. He’s always in a fierce mood. I don’t know, but I imagine he had an affair once....”

“Oh, crossed in love and it made him queer.”

“Rather say, queered in love and it made him cross.”

“Yes, he looks cross. Does he always?”

“Always. He and Samp Tracy are old friends, and Samp can manage him, but nobody else can.”

“Pleasant guest for Mr. Tracy to have about.”

“He doesn’t mind. Pleasure Dome is usually full of guests and if any want to sulk they are at liberty to do so.”

“Pleasure Dome?”

“Yes, that’s the Tracy place. It’s next to this, but it’s some distance off. You see, Deep Lake has a most irregular boundary line. It has all sorts of coves and inlets, and there’s one that juts in behind the Tracy house. It’s so deep and black and so surrounded by trees that it’s called the Sunless Sea.”

“Why, that’s from Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan,’ too.”

“Yes, these are the lines:

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately Pleasure Dome decree;

Where Alph, the sacred river ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

“You know it, of course, but that will refresh your memory. Well, old Tracy——”

“Is he old?”

“Oh, no, he’s forty-five, but he seems older, somehow. Well, anyway, he’s romantic and poetic and imaginative. And he has a fad for Coleridge. Collects editions of him and all that. So he built his enormous and gorgeous house and called it Pleasure Dome. And the deep arm of the lake, which is right beneath his own window, he calls the Sunless Sea. And it is. It’s on the north side of the house, and so hemmed in with great firs and cypresses that the sun never gets a look-in.”

“Must make a delightful sleeping room!”

“Oh, there’s plenty of sunlight from the east and west. His rooms are in a wing, a long L, and you bet they have sunlight and all other modern improvements. The house is a palace.”

“That all sounds nice for Mrs. Dallas.”

“It is. And Samp is so driveling, so besottedly in love with her, that she will have everything her own way when she takes up the scepter.”

“Nobody else in the family? The Tracy family, I mean.”

“No. Not now. There was. You see, Tracy’s sister, Mrs. Remsen, and her daughter used to live with him. Then Mrs. Remsen died, about a year ago, or a little more, and then Mrs. Dallas came into the picture, and some think it was at her request Tracy put his niece out——”

“The brute!”

“Oh, come now, you don’t know anything about it. Alma is a lovely girl, but she’s a high-handed sort—all the Tracys are—and her uncle gave her a beautiful home on a near-by island——”

“On an island? A girl, alone!”

“She has with her an old family nurse, who took care of her as a baby, and old nurse’s husband is her gardener and houseman, and old nurse’s daughter is her waitress, and oh, Lord, Alma Remsen is fixed all right.”

“But on an island!”

“But she likes being on an island. It was her own choice. She didn’t want to stay with the new wife any more than the new wife wanted to have her. You always fly off half-cocked!”

“All right, all right,” I soothed him. “Tell me more.”

“Well, that’s all about Alma. She’s a general favourite, has lots of friends, and all that, but of course, when the new mistress of Pleasure Dome comes in at the door, Alma’s prospects will fly out of the window.”

“Cut off entirely?”

“I’m not sure, but I’ve heard so. I suppose her uncle will always take care of her, but she will no longer be the Tracy heiress.”

“And how does Miss Alma take that?”

“Not so good. She has had several talks with the family lawyer, and she has tried to wheedle her uncle, but he’s a queer dick, is Samp Tracy, and he obstinately refuses to make a new will or even consider its terms until after he’s married.”

“And his present will?”

“Leaves everything to Alma. She’s his only living relative. But his marriage will automatically cancel that will, and his wife will be sole inheritor unless he fixes the matter up.”

“Which he will doubtless do.”

“Oh, I hope so. I hope the new wife will see to it that he does. But there’s where Lora has her doubts. She doesn’t like Katherine Dallas, somehow.”

“Lora is of great perspicacity,” I said. “Where does Ames come in?”

“Regarding the fortune? Nowhere that I know of. He is an old friend of Tracy’s, both socially and in a business way. They’re as different as day and night. Ames is surly, sulky, and blunt. Tracy is suave, gentle, and of the pleasantest manners.”

“Miss Remsen’s parents both dead?”

“Oh, yes. Her father died about fifteen years ago. Her mother recently. Had her mother lived, I suppose Tracy would have put them both out of the house, just the same. But Mrs. Remsen being gone, he sent Alma and the servants to the island house.”

“Then the girl is utterly alone in the world except for the suave uncle and her faithful servants.”

“Just that. There was a sister. Alma had a twin. But she died as a baby, or as a small child. Her little grave is in a small God’s Acre on the Pleasure Dome grounds. The mother and father are buried there too. And some other relatives.”

“I didn’t know they had homestead cemeteries in Wisconsin. I thought they were confined to the New England states.”

“It isn’t usual, I believe. But the Tracys are New England stock, and, anyway, the graves are there. And beautifully kept and tended, as everything about the place has to be.”

“Sounds interesting. Shall I see the high-strung Alma?”

“I didn’t say high-strung. She is a normal, lovely nature. But I did say high-handed, for she is a determined sort, and if she sets her mind to a thing it has to go through.”

“She has admirers?”

“Oh, of course. But she rather flouts them. One of Tracy’s secretaries is frightfully in love with her. But she scarcely notices him.”

“Our friend has a multiplicity of secretaries, then?”

“Two, that’s all. But Sampson Tracy is a man of large interests, and I fancy he keeps the two busy. Billy Dean is the one in love with Alma, but the other, Charles Everett, is his superior.”

“He’s the chap who, they tell me, craves the Dallas lady.”

“Yes, though of course Tracy doesn’t know it. Everett wouldn’t be there if he did.”

“And Mrs. Dallas? What is her attitude toward the presumptuous secretary?”

“Hard to say. I think she favors him, but she is too good a financier to throw over her millionaire for his underling.”

“Well, I think I’ve had about all the local history I can stand for one night. Let’s go in the house.”

To my surprise, Lora Moore and Mrs. Merrill were in the lounge, waiting for us.

The house was admirably arranged. The great central room, with doors back and front, was called the lounge, and served as both hall and living room. Off this were two smaller rooms: the card room and the music room. To one side of these rooms were the bedrooms, and on the other side, the dining room and kitchen quarters.

The furnishings were simple and attractive, with no “Mission” pieces or attempts at camping effects.

I sat down on a wide davenport beside Lora, and said, tentatively:

“I believe you and I agree in our estimate of the Dallas beauty.”

“Then you have real good sense,” exclaimed Lora, heartily. “Kee won’t see her as I do.”

“I won’t either,” put in Maud Merrill. “It’s disgraceful to knock a woman just because she’s going to marry a rich man. Rich men want wives as well as poor men. I’m all for Katherine Dallas. You’re jealous, Lora, because she is so beautiful.”

Lora only smiled at this, and said:

“I’ve really nothing against her, except that I believe she had Alma turned out of her uncle’s house.”

“And why not?” demanded Maud Merrill. “No house is big enough for two families; and though I don’t know Miss Remsen well at all, I do know that she is a girl of strong will and decided opinions. They’d never be happy if Alma stayed there.”

“I can’t say as to all that,” I put in, determined to have my word, “but I think, with Lora, that the Dallas is a lady of deep finesse and Machiavellian cleverness.”

“Yes, just that!” cried Keeley Moore’s wife.

“Well, then,” said Maud, “if she snared that millionaire by her cleverness, she deserves her reward. And she deserves a peaceful home, which I doubt she’d have with a young girl bossing around, too.”

“Oh, you women!” and Moore wrung his hands in mock despair, “you’re making up all this. You don’t know a thing about it, really.”

“We can see,” said Lora, sagely. “And there’s no use prolonging this futile discussion. Time will show you how right I am, and meantime, we’d better all go to bed.”

CHAPTER II

THE GIRL IN THE CANOE

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MY ROOM AT VARIABLE Winds was cheery and comfortable. Bright-hued curtains, painted furniture and bowls full of exquisitely tinted California poppies gave the place a colorful effect that pleased my aesthetic tastes. A perfectly appointed bathroom added to my content and I concluded I would stay with the Moores as long as I could keep my welcome in good working order.

Keeley Moore was one of the best if not the best known detectives of the day, and while a quiet vacation would do him good, I was certain he was already itching to get back to his problems and mysteries, with which the city always supplied him.

I threw off my coat and put on a dressing gown, for the lake breezes were chill, and sat at a window for a final smoke.

I felt at peace with the world. Some houses give you that feeling, just as some others make you unreasonably nervous and irritable.

The moon had risen, a three-quarter or nearly full moon, and its shimmering light across the lake made me turn off my room lights and gaze out at the scene before me.

My room looked out on the lake, and the house itself was not more than a dozen yards from the water. The ground sloped gently down to a tiny bit of beach, a little crescent that had been selected for the site of the house. On the right of this placid little piece of shore was the boathouse, a large one, with canoes, rowboats and motor boats. Under the same roof was the bath house, and in front of that, out in the lake, were springboards, diving ladders and all the contrivances on which the bathers like to disport themselves.

To the left was a bit of wild, rocky shore, for the edge of the lake was greatly diversified and rocks abounded, both in and out of the water.

A line of light came across the lake, but was now and then blotted out as the swiftly drifting clouds obscured the moon.

I liked it better in the darkness, for the sight was impressive.

From my window I could see a great stretch of water, and as a background, dense black growth of trees, which came in many places down to the water’s edge.

Often these trees were on a slope and rose to a height almost to be called a hill, while again the ground stretched on a low-lying level.

As I looked, the details of the landscape became clearer and I discerned a few faint lights here and there in the houses.

The big house nearest us I took to be Pleasure Dome. Not only because it was the next house, but because I could dimly distinguish a large building surmounted by a gilded dome.

How could any man in his sober senses construct such a place to live in?

It seemed like a cross between the Boston State House and the Taj Mahal.

I was really anxious to go over there and see the thing at closer range. I decided to ask Moore to take me over the next day.

Suddenly the lights all went out and the house and its dome disappeared from view. Looking at my watch I saw it was just one o’clock and concluded that the master of the house had his home darkened at that hour.

But after I again accustomed my eyes to the darkness I could see the outlines of Pleasure Dome, and it looked infinitely more attractive in the half-light than it had done in the brightness of its own illumination.

As a whole, though, the lake scene was depressing. It had a melancholy, dismal air that seemed to lay a damper on my spirits. It was like a cold, clammy hand resting on my forehead. I even shook my head impatiently, as if to fling it off, and then smiled at my own foolishness. But it persisted. The lake was mournful, it even seemed menacing.

With an exclamation of disgust at my own impressionableness, I sprang up from my chair, flashed on the lights and prepared for bed.

The bright, pleasant room restored my equilibrium or equanimity or whatever it was that had been jarred, and I found myself all ready for bed, in a peaceful, happy frame of mind.

I turned off the lights, and then the lake lured me back to a last glimpse of its wild, eerie beauty.

Again I flung on my robe and sat at the window. It seemed as if I couldn’t leave it. The black, sinister water, the dark shores, with deep hollows here and there, the waving, soughing trees, with thick underbrush beneath them, all seemed possessed of a spirit of evil, a frightful, uncanny spirit, that made me shiver with an unreasonable apprehension, that held me in thrall.

I have no use for premonitions, I have no faith in presentiments, but I had to admit to myself then a fear, a foreboding of some intangible, ghastly horror. Then would come the moonlight, pale and sickly now, and lasting but a moment before the clouds again blotted it out.

Yet I liked the darkness better, for the moon cast such horrendous shadows of those black trees into the lake that it seemed to people the lake with monstrous, maleficent beings, who leered and danced like devils.

Though I knew the hobgoblins were only the waving trees, distorted in the moonlight, I was none the less weak-minded enough to see portentous specters that made my flesh creep.

With a half laugh and a half groan at my utter imbecility, I declared to myself that I would go to bed and go to sleep.

But as I started to rise from my chair, I saw something that made me sink back again.

The moon now was behind a light, translucent cloud, that caused a faint light on the lake.

Round a jutting corner I saw a canoe come into my line of vision.

A moment’s attention convinced me that it was no ghostly craft, but an ordinary canoe, propelled by a pair of human arms.

This touch of human companionship put to rout all my feelings of fear and even my forebodings of tragedy.

Normally interested now, I watched to see who might be out at that time of night, and for what purpose.

The cloud dispersed itself, and the full clear moonlight shone down on the boat and its occupant. To my surprise it was a girl, a young-appearing girl, and she was paddling softly, but with a skilled stroke that told of long practice.

Her hair seemed to be silver in the moonlight, but I realized the light was deceptive and the curly bob might be either flaxen or gold.

She wore a white sweater and a white skirt—that much I could see plainly, but I could distinguish little more. She had no hat on, and I could see white stockings and shoes as the craft passed the house.

She seemed intent on her work, and her beautiful paddling aroused my intense admiration. She did not look up at our house at all; indeed, she seemed like an enchanted princess, doomed to paddle for her life, so earnestly did she bend to her occupation. She passed the house and kept on, in the direction of Pleasure Dome.

Could she be going there? I hardly thought so, yet I watched carefully, hanging out of my window to do so.

To my surprise she did steer her little craft straight to the great house next door, and turned as if to land there.

The Tracy house was on a line with the Moore bungalow, that is, on a curving line. They were both on the same large crescent of lake shore. Pleasure Dome had a cove or inlet behind it, Moore had told me, but that was not visible from my window. The front of the house was, however, and I distinctly saw the girl beach her canoe, step lightly out and then disappear among the trees in the direction of the house.

I still sat staring at the point where she had been lost to my vision. I let the picture sink into my mind. I could see her as plainly in retrospect as I had in reality. That lissome, slender figure, that graceful springy walk—but she had limped, a very little. Not as if she were really lame, but as if she had hurt her foot or strained her ankle recently.

I speculated on who she might be. Kee had told me of no young girl living in the Tracy house now, since the niece had left there.

Ah, the niece. Could this be Sampson Tracy’s niece, perhaps staying at her uncle’s for a visit and coming home late from a party? But she would have had an escort or chaperon or maid—somebody would have been with her.

Yet, how could I tell that? Kee had said she was high-handed, and might she not elect to go about unescorted at any hour?

I concluded it must be the niece, for who else could it be? Then I remembered that there might be other guests at Pleasure Dome besides the morose and glum-looking Ames. This, then, might be another house guest, and perhaps the young people of the Deep Lake community were in the habit of running wild in this fashion.

Anyway, the whole episode had helped to dispel the gloom engendered by the oppressive and harrowing atmosphere of the lake scene, and I felt more cheerful. And as there was no sign of the girl’s returning, I concluded she had reached the house in safety and had doubtless already gone to bed.

I tarried quite a while longer, listening to the quivering, whispering sounds of the poplars, and an occasional note from a bird or from some small animal scurrying through the woods, and finally, with a smile at my own thoughts, I snapped off the lights and got into bed.

I couldn’t sleep at first, and then, just as I was about to fall asleep, I heard the light plash of a paddle.

As soon as I realized what the sound was, I sprang up and hurried to the window. But I saw no boat. Whether the same girl or someone else, the boat and whoever paddled it, were out of sight, and though I heard, or imagined I heard, a faint and diminishing sound as of paddling, I could see no craft of any sort.

I strained my eyes to see if her canoe was still beached in front of Pleasure Dome, but the moon was unfriendly now, and I could not distinguish objects on the beach.

Again I began to feel that sickening dread of calamity, that nameless horror of tragedy, and I resolutely went back to bed with a determination to stay there till morning, no matter what that God-forsaken lake did next.

I carried out this plan, and when the morning broke in a riot of sunshine, singing birds, blooming flowers and a smiling lake, I forgot all the night thoughts and their burdens and gave myself over to a joyous outlook.

Breakfast was at eight-thirty and was served on an enclosed porch looking out on the lake.

“You know, you don’t have to get up at this ungodly hour,” Lora said, as she smiled her greeting, “but we are wide-awake here.”

“Suits me perfectly,” I told her. “I’ve no love for the feathers after the day has really begun.”

Twice during our cozy breakfast I was moved to tell about the girl in the canoe, but both times I suddenly decided not to do so. I couldn’t tell why, but something forbade the telling of that tale, and I concluded to defer it, at any rate.

The chat was light and trifling. Somehow it drifted round to the subject of happiness.

“My idea of happiness,” Lora said, “which I know full well I shall never attain, is to do something I want to do without feeling that I ought to be doing something else.”

“Heavens and earth,” exploded her husband, “anyone would think you a veritable slave! What are these onerous duties you have to perform that keep you from doing your rathers?”

Lora laughed. “Oh, not all the time, but there is much to do in a house where the servants are ill-trained and incompetent——”

“And where one has guests,” Maud Merrill smiled at her, and I smiled, too.

“I’m out of it,” I cried. “You ought to help your friend out, Mrs. Merrill, but, being a mere man, I can’t do anything to help around the house.”

Lora laughed gaily, and said, “Don’t take it all too seriously. I do as I please most of the time, but—well, I suppose the truth is, I’m too conscientious.”

“That’s it,” Kee agreed. “And you know, conscience is only a form of vanity. One wants to do right, so one can pat oneself on the back, and feel a glow of holy satisfaction.”

“That’s so, Kee,” Lora quickly agreed, “and I oughtn’t to pamper my vanity. So, I won’t make that blackberry shortcake you’re so fond of this morning, I’ll read a novel, and bear with a smile the slings and arrows of my conscience as it reproves me.”

“No,” Kee told her, “that’s carrying your vanity scourging too far. Make the shortcake, dear girl, not so much for me, as for Norris here. I want him to see what a bird of a cook you are.”

Lora shook her head, but I somehow felt that the shortcake would materialize, and then Kee and I went out on the lake.

We went in a small motor launch, and he proposed that I should have a survey of the lake before we began to fish.

“It’s one of the most beautiful and picturesque lakes in the county,” he said, and I could easily believe that, as we continually came upon more and more rugged coves and strange rock formations.

“Those are dells,” Kee said, pointing to weird and wonderful rocks that disclosed caves, grottoes, chasms, natural bridges and here and there cascades and waterfalls. “Please be duly impressed, Gray, for they are really wonderful. You know Wisconsin is the oldest state of all, I mean as to its birth. Geologists say that this whole continent was an ocean, and when the first island was thrust up above the surface of the waters, it was Wisconsin itself. Then the earth kindly threw up the other states, and so, here we are.”

“I thought all these lakes were glacial.”

“Oh, yes, so they are. But you don’t know much, do you? The glacial period came along a lot later, and as the slow-moving fields of ice plowed down through this section they scooped out the Mississippi valley, the beds of the Great Lakes and also the beds of innumerable little lakes. There are seven thousand in Wisconsin, and two thousand in Oneida County alone.”

“I am duly impressed, Kee, but quite as much by the way you rattle off this information as by the knowledge itself. Where’d you get it all?”

“Out of the Automobile Book,” he returned, unabashed. “Most interesting reading. Better have a shy at it some time.”

“I will. Now is this Pleasure Dome we’re coming to?”

“Yes. Thought you’d like to see it. It’s really a wonder house, you know. We’ll be invited there to dine or something, but I want you to see it now as a picture.”

It was impressive, the great pile rising against the background of dark trees, and with a foreground of brilliant flower beds, fountains, and arbors.

A critic might call it too ornate, too elaborate, but he would have to admit it was beautiful.

A building of pure white marble, its lines were simple and true, its proportions vast and noble, and save for the gilded dome, all its effects were of the utmost dignity and perfection.

And the dome, to my way of thinking, was in keeping with the majesty of it all. No lesser type of architecture could have stood it, but this semi-barbaric pile proudly upheld its glittering crown with a sublime daring that justified the whole.

There were numerous and involved terraces, all of white marble, that disappeared and reappeared among the trees in a fascinating way. White pergolas bore masses of beautiful flowers or vines, and back of it all rose the black, wooded slopes that surrounded most of the lake.

“We’ll slip around for a glimpse of the Sunless Sea,” Kee said, and I almost cried out as we came upon the place.

A strange chance had made a huge pool of water, almost square, as an arm of the lake, and this, stretched behind the house, was like a midnight sea.

Dark, even in broad daytime, because of the dense woods all round it, it also looked deep and treacherous. A slight breeze was blowing but this proved enough to ruffle the waters of the Sunless Sea in a dangerous-looking way.

“Don’t go in there!” I cried, and Kee turned aside.

“I didn’t intend to,” he said, “I was just throwing a scare into you. It’s really devilish. A sudden wave can suck you down to interminable depths. You’re not afraid, really?”

“Oh, no,” I assured him, “but it’s pesky frightensome to look at, especially——”

Again I was on the verge of telling him of the scene on the lake the night before, and again I stopped, held back by some force outside myself.

“Especially why?” he asked, curiously, but I evaded the issue by saying, “Especially when one is on a holiday.”

He laughed and we turned away from Pleasure Dome.

“Now I’ll show you the island,” he said, “and then we’ll tackle the tackle.”

We went rapidly back past Pleasure Dome, on down the lake, past Moore’s own place, and then on a bit farther to the Island.

“They call it ‘Whistling Reeds’, and it’s a good name,” he said. “When the wind’s a certain way, and it’s quiet otherwise, you can hear the reeds whistle like birds.”

“You do have most interesting places,” I said. “And who lives here? And where’s the house?”

“Alma Remsen lives here, the niece of Sampson Tracy I told you about last night. You can’t see the house, the trees are so thick.”

“I should say they were!” and I stared at the dense black mass. “Why doesn’t she cut a vista, at least?”

“She doesn’t want it, I believe. Thinks it’s more picturesque like this.”

“I’d be scared to death to live there!”

“No reason to be. Nothing untoward ever happens up here. All peaceable citizens.”

“But fancy living in such a place. How do they get provisions and all that?”

“Oh, that’s easy. Lots of the dealers deliver their stuff in canoes or motor boats. See, there’s the boathouse. Someday we’ll call here. Alma likes my wife, she’ll be glad to see us.”

“I suppose she’s a canoeist.”