THE MYSTERIOUS TRIO

The whitewashed wooden walls of a hut, and a sickly sting of brandy in
his throat, were Bill’s first impressions of life on awakening. An old
brown face with blue eyes and a tuft of white beard below the chin
looked down at him.

“You’re better,” the man said grimly. “But I caught sight of you none
too soon.”

“Where am I?” Bill managed to ask.

“Never mind. Drink this.” As the man lifted a tin of boiling coffee from
a little stove, Bill saw that he was lean and lanky and dressed in a
sailor’s blue jersey and top-boots. “It’s heat you need, not
information.”

Bill sat up. A warm sweater and flannel trousers now covered him, and by
the time he had finished the coffee, he felt more like taking a sane
interest in his surroundings. He was about to try to express his thanks
to the old man when there was a knock on the door. The old fellow opened
the door and stepped outside.

A girl stood in the doorway. She was dressed in a white skirt and
sweater. She had a smooth olive skin and her black hair was cut close to
her head. Bill decided that she was pretty, and that she must be about
sixteen. Her eyes were smiling at him as he got to his feet.

“Please sit down,” she cried, for Bill was gripping a beam at his side
to steady himself. “Why, you must be feeling perfectly dreadful! Aren’t
you hungry? Won’t you let me get you something to eat?”

Bill was sure he detected the faintest shadow of a foreign accent in her
speech. He smiled. “In a little while, perhaps, thank you,” he said. “My
head is a bit on the blink. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to thank
that old man—”

“Oh, Jim won’t want any thanks. He’ll be offended if you try to thank
him. He saw you from the motor-boat. He’s a gruff old tar, but he’s as
good as gold.”

“It was lucky for me that there was somebody here—I suppose I’m on the
island?”

“You are. There’s the beach where Jim brought you in.” She pointed
through the open door.

“Are you yachting up this way?” ventured Bill.

“Good gracious, no!” cried the girl. “I live here.”

“_Live_ here?” Bill repeated in astonishment. “Why in the world—”

She laughed softly. “Well, I suppose I like it. I have a bungalow back
in the hollow. This is really Jim’s bunk. He sleeps in there. But you
haven’t told me about yourself. Where did you come from?”

The innocent question caught Bill up short. “Oh, I’m on a walking tour,”
he said as steadily as he could, then smiled wanly at his joke. “I—I
went down to the shore for a swim and that confounded current got me. I
thought I was bound for Davy Jones, all right!”

“Where did you go for a bath?” she asked anxiously, it seemed to him.

“Oh, there’s a little bay at the end of a lane off the main road to
Clayton. And the sea looked so tempting I couldn’t resist it.”

“Did you—did you see anybody in the woods as you came along?” She gave
him a quick glance.

“Not a soul. If I’d drowned, my clothes would have lain on the shore for
weeks.”

She nodded. “It’s a lovely old place, Turner’s,” she remarked casually.

“Oh, so that is its name!”

“You’ve seen it then—the house among the trees?”

“Well, I came past it, you know,” he dissembled. “I got only a glimpse
of it….”

The girl looked at him sharply, the carefree expression gone from her
eyes. She stared at him for several minutes.

“How long have you been on your walking tour?” she asked suddenly.

“Oh, about a week,” he answered easily. “I—”

The girl drew herself up. “I want to know the truth!” Her voice sounded
a challenge. “Your name is Harold Johnson, and you flew up here night
before last from Stamford, Connecticut!”

Bill was astounded. Still limp and sick from his exertions in the water,
this declaration—half truth that it was—literally took his breath away.
Of course she was mistaken in the name, but Stamford is only five or six
miles from New Canaan. Did she take him for someone else, or had she
only got the name wrong? In either case, would it be wise to reveal his
real identity? What if she were one of those working against Mr. Evans?

Yet she was but a young girl and these enemies of Charlie’s father had
already proven themselves to be villains of the first water. Weak as he
was, Bill’s brain was unable to cope with the problem. His bewilderment
was evidently clearly written on his face, for he could see a slow smile
appearing in the girl’s eyes as she stood in the doorway and looked down
on him.

“I notice you don’t deny it, Mr. Johnson,” she remarked abruptly.

Bill shook his head. “I don’t see the good of denying it,” he replied
quietly. “You appear to know all about me. But as a point of interest,
I’d be glad to know how you got your information.”

“No doubt it’s a point of great interest to you,” she said with
deliberation. “But you really can’t expect me to answer that question.
To tell the truth, I was a little doubtful about you at first—I only
mentioned your name to make quite certain who you were. But now we know
what to do.”

“And that is?”

“Ah! but you go too fast!” She took a step nearer and her voice
softened. “Mr. Johnson, why did you decide to come to Maine? Do you
really think it is going to bring you luck?”

Bill looked at her closely, unable to decide what was in her mind.
Perhaps her object was to sound him delicately on how much he really
knew. He did not reply.

“Well,” she went on, and her tone was low and serious, “if I were you, I
wouldn’t be too sure about that luck. Some things, you know, are better
left alone.”

“Frankly, I don’t get you,” said Bill.

“And yet my meaning is perfectly plain. If you only knew what you are up
against, you would not complicate your affairs by—well, by taking on
another risk.”

Bill had not the slightest idea what this dark-eyed girl was driving at.
He couldn’t give anything away. Mr. Evans’ plans—the very nature of this
mysterious business he had dropped into with the thunderstorm was still
an unsolved enigma, so far as he was concerned.

This girl, no matter who she was, appeared to be conversant with details
of the situation. If he continued to play Mr. Johnson, in whom she
seemed vastly interested, some real news might pop out unawares.

“Another risk?” he repeated, taking up the threat of her last remark.
“What if I say I don’t mind taking risks?”

“Mr. Johnson, you talk lightly because you do not know. It is one thing
to keep out of the hands of the police, but if you knew the truth about
your new venture—”

Bill began to think that she was older than he first surmised. Her eyes
were half closed, and the curves of her mouth had moulded into a firm
line. It gave him quite a shock of surprise to see that look on her
face—a look of grim defiance, the look of one who would not hesitate to
shoot, and shoot straight, in an extremity.

“You don’t mind risks? Well, Mr. Johnson, you’ll have risks in plenty
before you’re much older!”

Bill smiled. “Maybe. But I’ll never have a closer shave than I had this
morning. You must admit that. If you and old Jim hadn’t been on this
island, I should have gone under for keeps.”

“Don’t speak of it any more,” said the girl. Her expression changed and
a gentler note came into her voice. “Try to get some sleep. That’s what
you need more than anything else at present. In a few hours I’ll bring
you something to eat and you’ll feel better.”

“You’re very kind, and I’ll never be able to thank you properly. But,
really, if you could see your way to help me get back to the mainland
quickly, I’d be more than obliged.”

She shook her head. “I won’t hear of it. You’re not fit for any such
thing. I insist on your having some sleep first. Perhaps you don’t
realize it, but you’re still looking dreadfully white and shaky.”

Bill saw that there was nothing to do but comply with her orders, so he
lay down again on the cot.

“That’s better,” she said. “Now I must go. I’ll be back later on and I
hope you’ll be comfortable in the meantime.”

With that she went out and shut the door. Bill heard a click. She had
turned the key in the lock! He started up at the sound, but dropped
back, a faint smile on his lips. If she wanted to be sure that he kept
to the hut—well, that was her business. He was, to all purposes, a
prisoner anyway, lock or no lock. Unless he could get hold of a boat,
there would be no leaving the island. Swimming was out of the question.
One try at the currents surrounding this rocky shore was quite enough.

But who were this girl and the old man? She said she lived here—but that
could mean anything. Had Charlie been able to get back to the house? The
youngster evidently hated the spooky place. Would he stay there, now
that he was alone? With these thoughts buzzing through his tired brain,
Bill fell into sleep.

He awoke to find the girl at his side, bearing a tray filled with food.
What hour it was he could not tell, and at the moment he did not
inquire. His main obsessions now were a racking thirst and an ardent
hunger for food. He’d had nothing to eat since early morning, and the
chops, fried potatoes and tea, with brown bread and honey, tasted
delicious. While he did justice to the fare, the girl sat on a packing
case in the doorway, chatting inconsequentially.

When the last morsel of his meal had disappeared, Bill thanked her
again. Then he rose to his feet, determined to bring matters to a head.

“I hope it won’t put you to any inconvenience,” he said quietly, “but I
will take it as a favor if you’ll help me get back to the mainland now.
Please don’t think I haven’t appreciated your hospitality. You have been
more than kind to me. But you understand it is vitally important for me
to get back.”

“Ah—your walking tour is so important as all that?” She cast an amused
glance up at him.

“Certainly.” Bill met her look firmly. “If you will be good enough to
give orders for the boat—”

“I’m afraid, Mr. Johnson,” she said slowly, “that that is impossible.”

“Impossible? You mean there’s no way of getting across? I thought you
said something about a motor boat—has anything gone wrong with it?”

“I don’t mean that, Mr. Johnson. I mean that you must remain here. To be
frank—I have my instructions.”

“Instructions! And from whom?” he demanded curtly.

The girl looked at him steadily. “You must not ask. It is too late now
for you to back out. You should have thought of the risks you ran before
you came up here on this errand.”

“I have no wish to back out of anything,” he exclaimed shortly. “And as
for risks, I told you before that I am willing to take them. But my mind
is made up on one thing—I’m going back to the mainland now!”

He made as if to pass her in the doorway.

She stepped aside, her eyes fixed smilingly on his.

“You may go,” she said. “I wish you a pleasant swim.”

“But the motor boat,” Bill cried, exasperated. “I intend to use that
motor boat, though I have to run her myself.”

The girl laughed. “You’ll have your work cut out, Mr. Johnson. The motor
boat has gone!”

Bill stared at her. Then abruptly he turned and walked out of the hut
and up a steep incline that led to the cliffs overlooking the sea.
Twenty-five feet below, deep water swirled about its base where year in
and year out the strong current had eaten into solid rock. He heard a
footstep beside him.

“Of course,” said the girl, her eyes twinkling, “there’s a dinghy locked
in the boat-house! But you can’t break the lock, because I tried one day
when I thought I’d lost the key. I’m sorry, Mr. Johnson, but I’m afraid
you’ll have to put up with my company for a little while longer.”

Bill did not reply. He was listening to the unmistakable sound of a
four-cylinder engine, one of whose cylinders intermittently missed fire.
A motor boat shot round the point to their left and swung in toward the
base of the cliff. It carried a single occupant.

“Here she comes now,” he said.

“That’s not our boat.”

“Whose is it then?”

“I don’t know—but I can guess.”

“That you, Bill?” shouted the man in the motor boat.

Bill, to his certain knowledge, had never laid eyes on him before. “It
sure is,” he shouted back. “Will you take me across?”

The man seemed to hesitate. Then he slowed down his small craft. “You’ll
have to jump, Bill,” was what he said, using his hands as a megaphone.

“But—I say!”

“Jump, you fool—and be quick about it.” There was authority as well as
power in the strident tones.

Bill kicked off the leather moccasins he wore, and stepped back a few
paces.

“You’re not Harold Johnson!” exclaimed the girl.

“Never said I was,” returned Bill. “Sorry to leave so hastily. But
there’s a reason. Thanks for everything—bye-bye!”

“What a perfect idiot I’ve been!” she cried. “You’re Bill Bolton, of
course.”

“Of course!” grinned Bill and sprang toward the edge.

“Don’t go!” she shrieked. “It’s Sanders—he’ll kill you—_don’t_—” She
screamed.

Bill’s body shot through the air, and he cut the water below in a very
pretty dive.