Chapter X. The Night of Victory
 

It was an hour after the match. They were gathered in the old rendezvous of the hockey teams in pre-war days. And they were all wildly excited over the Great Victory.

"Just think of it, Mamma, dear," Patricia shouted, pirouetting now on one foot and then on the other, "Eight to six! Oh, it is too glorious to believe! And against that wonderful team, the Cornwalls! Now listen to me, while I give you a calm and connected account of the game. I shall always regret that you were not present, Mamma. Victory! And at half time we were down, five to two! I confess disaster and despair stared me in the face. And we started off so gloriously! Captain Jack and Snoopy in the first five minutes actually put in two goals, with that back goal play of theirs. You know, I explained it to you, Mamma."

"Yes, dear, I know," said her mother, "but if you will speak a little more quietly and slowly--"

"I will, Mamma," said her daughter, sitting down with great deliberation, in front of her. "I will explain to you again that 'round the goal' play."

"I am afraid, my dear, that I could hardly grasp just what you mean."

"Well, never mind, Mamma. It is a particular and special play that Captain Jack worked out. They rush down to the goal and instead of trying to shoot, the one with the puck circles round the back and delivers the puck immediately in front of the goal, where another takes and slips it in. Two goals in about five minutes, wasn't it, Hugh?"

"About eight minutes, I should say," replied Hugh Maynard, the big Captain of the Eagles.

"Well, eight minutes," continued Patricia, taking up the tale, "and then they began the roughhouse business. Jumbo Larson--a terribly big Swede, Mamma--put it all over little Snoopy. Chucked him about, wiped the ice with him!"

"My dear!" exclaimed her mother.

"Well, you know what I mean. A great big, two-hundred-pound monster, who simply threw Snoopy and Georgie Ross all about the rink. It took Captain Jack all his time to stand up against him. And then they ran in goals at a perfectly terrific rate. Two-- three--four--five! And only Fatty Findlay's marvelous play kept down the score. I adore Fatty! You know, Mamma, that dear old Scotchwoman--"

"Scotchwoman?" exclaimed Mrs. Templeton.

"Yes. Oh! you don't know about her. Captain Jack brought her along. Mrs. Mc-something."

"McNish," supplied Adrien.

"Yes, McNish," continued Patricia, "a perfect dear! She did everything but swear. Indeed, she may have been swearing for I could not understand half of what she said."

Adrien interrupted: "She is perfectly priceless, Mother. I wish you could meet her--so dignified and sweet."

"Sweet!" exclaimed Patricia, with a laugh. "Well, I didn't see the sweetness, exactly. But at half time, Mamma, fancy! they stood five to two against us. It was a truly awful moment for all of us. And then, after half time, didn't those Cornwalls within five minutes run in another goal, and, worse than all, Jumbo Larson laid out Snoopy flat on the ice! Now the game stood six to two! Think of it, Mamma!"

Then Adrien put in: "It was at this point that the old lady made a remark which, I believe, saved the day. What was it exactly, Hugh?"

"I didn't quite get it."

"I know," said little Vic Forsythe, himself a star of the Eagle forward line. "You poor Sassenach! You couldn't be expected to catch the full, fine flavour of it. Maitland was trying to cheer the old lady up when she said to him: 'Yon half backs, A'm thinkin''--she was a soccer fan in the old land, I believe--'yon half backs, A'm thinkin', are gey confident. It is a peety they cudna be shaken a bit in their nerves.' By Jove! Maitland jumped at it. 'Mrs. McNish, you're right! you're right. I wonder I did not think of it before.'"

Then Adrien broke in: "Yes, from that moment there was a change in our men's tactics."

Then Patricia broke in: "Well, then, let me go on. Captain Jack knew quite well there was no use of allowing those little chaps, Snoopy and Geordie Ross, to keep feeding themselves to those horrid monsters, Jumbo Larson and Macnab, so what did they do but move up "Jack" Johnson and Macnamara. That is, you see, Mamma, the forwards would take down the puck and then up behind them would come the backs, Macnamara and "Jack" Johnson, like a perfect storm, and taking the puck from the forwards, who would then fall back to defence, would smash right on the Cornwall defence. The very first time when "Jack" Johnson came against Jumbo, Jumbo found himself sitting on the ice. Oh! it was lovely! Perfectly lovely! And the next time they did it, Jumbo came at him like a bull. But that adorable "Jack" Johnson just lifted him clear off his feet and flung him against the side. It seemed to me that the whole rink shook!"

Here Vic broke in: "You didn't hear what the old lady said at this point, I suppose. I was sitting next to her. She was really a whole play by herself. When Jumbo went smashing against the side, the old lady gave a grunt. 'Hum, that wull sort ye a doot.' Oh! she is a peach!"

"And the next time they came down," cried Patricia, taking up the tale again, "Jumbo avoided him. For Macnamara, 'Jack' Johnson and Captain Jack came roaring down the ice at a terrific pace, and with never a stop, smashed head on into Jumbo and Macnab and fairly hurled them in on Hepburn--that is their goal keeper, you know--and scored. Oh! Oh! Oh! Such a yell! Six to three, and ten minutes to play."

"But Patricia," said Mrs. Templeton, "do moderate your tone. We are not in the rink. And this terrible excitement can't be good for you."

"Good for me?" cried Patricia. "What difference does that make? Ten minutes to play, Mamma! But that was the end of the roughhouse game by the Cornwall defence."

Then Hugh stepped in: "It really did break up that defence. It was a wonderful piece of generalship, I must say. They never seemed to get together after that."

"Let me talk, Hugh," exclaimed Patricia, "I want to tell Mamma what happened next, for this was really the most terribly exciting part of the game. And I think it was awfully clever of Captain Jack. You know, next time, Mamma, when they came down--I mean our men-- they pretended to be playing the same game, but they weren't. For Captain Jack and Snoopy went back to their old specialty, and before the Cornwalls knew where they were at, they ran in three goals--one-two-three, just like that! Oh! you ought to have seen that rink, Mamma, and you ought to have heard the yelling! I wish you had been there! And then, just at that last goal didn't that horrid Jumbo make a terrible and cruel swing at Snoopy's ankle, just as he passed. Knocked him clean off his feet so that poor Snoopy lay on the ice quite still! He was really nearly killed. They had to carry him off!"

"Well, I wouldn't say that exactly," said Hugh. "The fact of the matter is, Snoopy is a clever little beggar and I happened to catch his wink as Maitland was bending over him. I was helping him off the ice, you know, and I heard him whisper, 'Don't worry, Captain, I'm all right. Get me another pair of skates. It will take a little time.'"

"Do you mean he wasn't hurt?" exclaimed Patricia indignantly. "Indeed he was; he was almost killed, I am sure he was."

"Oh, he was hurt right enough," said Hugh, "but he wasn't killed by any means!"

"And then," continued Patricia, "there was the most terrible riot and uproar. Everybody seemed to be on the ice and fighting. Hugh ran in, and Vic--I should loved to have gone myself--Hugh was perfectly splendid--and all the Eagles were there and--"

Then Mrs. Templeton said: "What do you mean--a fight, a riot?"

"A real riot, Mother," said Adrien, "the whole crowd demanding Jumbo's removal from the ice."

"Yes," continued Patricia impatiently, pushing her sister aside, "Hugh went straight to the umpire and it looked almost as though he was going to fight, the way he tore in. But he didn't. He just spoke quietly to the umpire. What did you say, Hugh?"

"Oh," cried Vic, "Hugh was perfectly calm and superior. He knows the umpire well. Indeed, I think the umpire owes his life to Hugh and his protecting band of Eagles."

"What did he say," cried Patricia. "I wish I could have heard that."

"Oh," said Vic, "there was an interesting conversation. 'Keep out of this, Maynard. You ought to know better,' the umpire said, 'keep out.' 'Baker, that man Larson must go off.' 'Rubbish,' said the umpire, 'they were both roughing it.' 'Look here, Baker, that's rot and you know it. It was a deliberate and beastly trick. Put him off!' 'He stays on!' said the umpire, and he stuck to it, I'll give him credit for that. It was old Maitland that saved the day. He came up smiling. 'I hope you are taking off the time, umpire,' he said, with that little laugh of his. 'I am not going to put Larson off,' shouted the umpire to him. 'Who asked you to?' said Maitland. 'Go on with the game.' That saved the day. They all started cheering. The ice was cleared and the game went on."

"Oh, that was it. I couldn't understand. They were so savage first, and then suddenly they all seemed to quiet down. It was Captain Jack. Well, Mamma, on they came again! But when poor Snoopy came out, all bandaged round the head and the blood showing through--"

"Quite a clever little beggar," murmured Vic.

"Clever? What do you mean?" cried Patricia.

"Oh, well, good psychology, I mean--that's all. Bloody bandages-- demanding vengeance, Jack's team, you know--Macnamara, for instance, entreating his captain for the love of heaven to put him opposite Jumbo--shaking the morale of the enemy and so forth-- mighty good psychology."

"I don't know exactly what you mean," said Patricia, "but the Cornwall defence was certainly rattled. They pulled their men back and played defence like perfect demons, with the Mill men on to them like tigers."

"But Patricia, my dear," said her mother, "those are terrible words."

"But, Mamma, not half so terrible as the real thing. Oh, it was perfectly splendid! And then how did it finish, Hugh? I didn't quite see how that play came about."

"I didn't see, either," said Hugh.

"Didn't you?" cried Adrien, "I did. Jack and Geordie Ross were going down the centre at a perfectly terrific speed, big Macnamara backing them up. Out came Macnab and Jumbo Larson following him. Macnab checked Geordie, who passed to Jack, who slipped it back to Macnamara. Down came Jumbo like a perfect thunderbolt and fairly hurled himself upon Macnamara. I don't know what happened then, but--"

"Oh, I do!" cried Vic. "When old Jumbo came hurtling down upon Macnamara, this was evidently what Macnamara was waiting for. Indeed, what he had been praying for all through the game. I saw him gather himself, crouch low, lurch forward with shoulder well down, a wrestler's trick--you know Macnamara was the champion wrestler of his division in France--he caught Jumbo low. Result, a terrific catapult, and the big Swede lay on his back some twenty feet away. Everybody thought he was dead."

"Oh, it was perfectly lovely!" exclaimed Patricia, rapturously.

"But, my dear," said her mother, "lovely, and they thought the man was dead!"

"Oh, but he wasn't dead. He came to. I will say he was very plucky. Then just as they faced off, time was called. Six to six! Think of it, Mamma, six to six! And we had been five to two at half time!"

"Six to six?" said Mrs. Templeton. "But I thought you said we won?"

"Oh, listen, Mamma, this is the most wonderful thing of the whole match," said Adrien, trying to break in on the tornado of words from her younger sister.

"No, let me, Adrien! I know exactly how it was done. Captain Jack explained it to me before. It was Captain Jack's specialty. It was what they call the double-circle. Here is the way it was worked." Patricia sprang to her feet, arranged two chairs for goal and proceeded to demonstrate. "You see, Mamma, in the single circle play, Captain Jack and Snoopy come down--say Snoopy has the puck. Just as they get near the goal Snoopy fools the back, rushes round the goal and passes to Jack, who is standing in front ready to slip it in. But of course the Cornwalls were prepared for the play. But that is where the double-circle comes in. This time Geordie had the puck, with Captain Jack immediately at his left and Snoopy further out. Well, Geordie had the puck, you see. He rushes down and pretends to make the circle of the goal. But this time he doesn't. He tears like mad around the goal with the puck, Snoopy tears like mad around the goal from the other side, the defence all rush over to the left to check them, leaving the right wide open. Snoopy takes the ball from Geordie, rushes around the goal the other way, Mamma, do you see?--passes back to Reddy, his partner, who slips it in! And poor Jumbo was unable to do anything. I believe he was still dazed from his terrible fall!"

Then Hugh breaks in: "It really was beautifully done."

"It certainly was," said Vic.

"Seven to six, Mamma, think of it! Seven to six, and two minutes of the first overtime to play. Two minutes! It just seemed that our men could do as they liked. The last time the whole forward lines came down, with Macnamara and 'Jack' Johnson roaring and yelling like--like--I don't know what. And they did the double- circle again! Think of it! And then time was called. Oh, I am perfectly exhausted with this excitement!" said Patricia, sinking back into her chair. "I don't believe I could go down to that rink, not even for another game. It is terribly trying!"

At this moment Rupert Stillwell came in, full of enthusiasm for the Cornwalls' scientific hockey, and with grudging praise for the local team, deploring their roughhouse tactics. But he met a sharp and unexpected check, for Adrien took him in hand, in her quiet, cool, efficient manner.

"Roughhouse!" she said. "What do you mean exactly by that?"

"Well," said Rupert, somewhat taken aback, "for instance that charge of Macnamara on Jumbo Larson at the last."

"I saw that quite clearly," said Adrien, "and it appeared to me quite all right. It was Larson who made the most furious charge upon Macnamara."

"Of course it was," cried Patricia, indignantly. "Jumbo deserved all he got. Why, the way he mauled little Snoopy and Geordie Ross in the first part of the game was perfectly horrid. Don't you think so, Hugh?"

"Oh, well, hockey is not tiddly-winks, you know, Patricia, and--"

"As if I didn't know that!" broke in the girl indignantly.

"And Jumbo and Macnab," continued Hugh, "really had to break up the dangerous combination there. Of course that was a rotten assault on Snoopy. It wasn't Jumbo's fault that he didn't break an ankle. As it was, he gave him a very bad fall."

At this Rupert laughed scornfully. "Rot," he said, "the whole town is laughing at all that bloody bandage business. It was a bit of stage play. Very clever, I confess, but no hockey. I happen to know that Maitland was quite hot about it."

But Hugh and Vic only laughed at him.

"He is a clever little beggar, is Snoopy," said Vic.

"But, meantime," said Mrs. Templeton, "where is Jack! He was going to be here, was he not?"

"Feasting and dancing, I expect," said Rupert. "There is a big supper on, given by the Mill management, and a dance afterwards-- 'hot time in the old town,' eh?"

"A dance?" gasped Patricia. "A dance! Where?"

"Odd Fellows' Hall," said Rupert. "Want to go? I have tickets. Don't care for that sort of thing myself. Rather a mixed affair, I guess. Mill hands and their girls."

"Oh," breathed Patricia, "I should love to go. Couldn't we?"

"But my dear Patricia," said her mother, "a dance, with all those people? What nonsense. But I wish Jack would drop in. I should so like to congratulate him on his great victory."

"Oh, do let us go, just for a few minutes, Mamma" entreated Patricia. "Hugh, have you tickets?"

The men looked at each other.

"Well," confessed Vic, "I was thinking of dropping in myself. After all, it is our home team and they are good sports. And Maitland handled them with wonderful skill."

"Yes, I am going," said Hugh. "I am bound to go as Captain of the Eagles, and that sort of thing, but I would, anyway. Would you care to come, Adrien, if Mrs. Templeton will allow you? Of course there are chaperons. Maitland would see to that."

"I should like awfully to go," said Adrien eagerly. "We might, for a few minutes, Mother? Of course, Patricia should be in bed, really."

Poor Patricia's face fell.

"It is no place for any of you," said the mother, decidedly. "Just think of that mixed multitude! And you, Patricia, you should be in bed."

"But oh, Mamma, dear," wailed Patricia, "I can rest all day to- morrow."

At this point a new voice broke in to the discussion and Doctor Templeton appeared. "Well, what's the excitement," he enquired. "Oh, the match, of course! Well, what was the result?"

"Oh, Daddy, we won, we won!" cried Patricia, springing at him. "The most glorious match! Big Jumbo Larson, a perfect monster on the Cornwall defence, was knocked out! Oh, it was a glorious match! And can't I go down to see the dance? Adrien and Hugh and Vic are going. Only for a few minutes," she begged, with her arms around her father's neck. "Say yes, Daddy!"

"Give me time; let me get my breath, Patricia. Now, do begin somewhere--say, with the score."

They all gave him the score.

"Hurrah!" cried the old doctor. "No one hurt--seriously, I mean?"

"No," said Patricia, "except perhaps Jumbo Larson," she added hopefully.

"The Lord was merciful to this family when he made you a girl, Patricia," said her father.

"But, Daddy, it was a wonderful game." Quite breathlessly, she went once more over the outstanding features of the play.

"Sounds rather bloody, I must say," said her father, doubtfully.

But Hugh said: "It was not really--not quite so bad as Patricia makes it, sir. Rough at times, of course, but, on the whole, clean."

"Clean," cried Patricia, "what about Jumbo's swing at Snoopy?"

"Oh, well, Snoopy had the puck, you know. It was a little off- colour, I must confess."

"And now, Daddy," said Patricia, going at her father again, "we all want to go down to the dance. There will be speeches, you know, and I do want to hear Captain Jack," she added, not without guile. "Won't you let me go with them? Hugh will take care of me."

"I think I should rather like to go myself," said her father. A shout of approval rose from the whole company. "But," continued the doctor, "I don't think I can. My dear, I think they might go for a few minutes--and you can bring me in a full account of the speeches, Patricia," he added, with a twinkle in his eye.

"But, my dear," exclaimed his wife, "this is one of those awful public affairs. You can't imagine what they are like. The Mill hands will all be there, and that sort of people."

"Well, my dear, Jack Maitland will be there, I fancy, and you were thinking of going, Hugh?"

"Yes, sir, I am going. Of course there will be a number of the friends of both teams, townspeople. Of course the Mill hands will be there, too, in large numbers. It will be great fun."

"Well, my dear," said the doctor, "I think they might go down for a few minutes. But be sure to be back before midnight. Remember, Patricia, you are to do exactly as your sister says."

Then Vic said: "I shall keep a firm hand on her, sir."

"Oh, you darling," Patricia cried, hugging her father rapturously. "I will be so good; and won't it be fun!"

Odd Fellows' Hall was elaborately decorated with bunting and evergreens. The party from the Rectory, arriving in time to hear the closing speeches of the two team captains, took their places in the gallery. The speeches were brief and to the point.

The Captain of the visiting team declared that he had greatly enjoyed the game. He was not quite convinced that the best team had won, but he would say that the game had gone to the team that had put up the best play. He complimented Captain Maitland upon his generalship. He had known Captain Maitland in the old days and he ought to have been on the lookout for the kind of thing he had put over. The Maitland Mill team had made a perfectly wonderful recovery in the last quarter, though he rather thought his friend Macnamara had helped it a little at a critical point.

"He did that," exclaimed Jumbo Larson, with marked emphasis.

After the roar of laughter had quieted down, the Cornwall Captain closed by expressing the hope that the Maitland Mill team would try for a place next season in the senior hockey. In which case he expressed the hope that he might have the pleasure of meeting them again.

Captain Maitland's speech was characteristic. He had nothing but praise for the Cornwalls. They played a wonderful game and a clean game. He shared in the doubt of their Captain as to which was the better team. He frankly confessed that in the last quarter the luck came to his team.

"Not a bit of it," roared the Cornwalls with one voice.

As to his own team, he was particularly proud of the way they had taken the training--their fine self-denial, and especially the never-dying spirit which they showed. It was a great honour for his team to meet the Cornwalls. A hard team to meet--sometimes--as Snoopy and himself had found out that evening--but they were good sports and he hoped some day to meet them again.

After the usual cheers for the teams, individually and collectively, for their supporters, for the Mill management and for the ladies, the dinner came to an end, the whole party joining with wide open throats and all standing at attention, in the Canadian and the Empire national anthems.

While the supper table was being cleared away preparatory to the dance, Captain Jack rushed upstairs to the party in the gallery. Patricia flung herself at him in an ecstasy of rapture.

"Oh! Captain Jack, you did win! You did win! You did win! It was glorious! And that double-circle play that you and Snoopy put up-- didn't it work beautifully!"

"We were mighty lucky," said Captain Jack.

The others, Hugh, Vic and Rupert, crowded round, offering congratulations. Adrien waited behind, a wonderful light shining in her eyes, a faint colour touching her pale cheek. Captain Jack came slowly forward.

"Are you not going to congratulate us, too, Adrien?" he said.

She moved a pace forward.

"Oh, Jack," she whispered, leaning toward him and breathing quickly, "it was so like the old, the dear old days."

Into Maitland's eyes there flashed a look of surprise, of wonder, then of piercing scrutiny, while his face grew white.

"Adrien," he said, in a voice low, tense, almost stern, which she alone heard. "What do you mean? Then do you--"

"Oh, Captain Jack," cried Patricia, catching his arm, "are you going to dance? You are, aren't you? And will you give me-- Oh, I daren't ask! You are such a great hero to-night!"

"Why, Patsy, will you give me a dance?"

The girl stood gazing at him with eyes that grew misty, the quick beating of her loyal heart almost suffocating her.

"Oh, Captain Jack," she gasped, "how many?"

Maitland laughed at her, and turned to her sister.

"And you, Adrien, may I have a dance?"

Again Adrien leaned toward him.

"One?" she asked.

"And as many more as you can spare."

"My program is quite empty, you see," she said, flinging out her hands and laughing joyously into his face.

"What about me? And me? And me?" said the other three men.

"I suppose we are all nowhere to-night," added Rupert, with a touch of bitterness in his voice.

"Well, there is only one conquering hero, you know," replied Adrien, smiling at them all.

"Now I must run off," said Maitland. "You see, I am on duty, as it were. Come down in a few minutes."

"Yes, go, Jack," said Adrien, throwing him a warm smile. "We will follow you in a few minutes."

"Oh, I am so excited!" said Patricia, as Maitland disappeared down the stairs. "I mean to dance with every one of the team. I know I am going to have a perfectly lovely time! But I would give them all up if I could have Captain Jack all the time."

"Pig," said her sister, smiling at her.

"Wretch," cried Vic, making a face.

But Patricia was quite unabashed. "I am going to have him just as often as I can," she said, brazenly.

For a few minutes they stood watching the dancers on the floor below. It was indeed, as Mrs. Templeton had said, a "mixed multitude." Mill hands and their girls, townsfolk whose social standing was sufficiently assured to endure the venture. A mixed multitude, but thoroughly jolly, making up in vigour what was lacking in grace in their exposition of the Terpsichorean art.

"Rather ghastly," said Rupert, who appeared to be quite disgusted with the whole evening's proceedings.

"Lovely!" exclaimed Patricia.

"They are enjoying themselves, at any rate," said Adrien, "and, after all, that is what people dance for."

"Stacks of fun. I am all for it, eh, Pat?" said Vic, making adoring eyes at the young girl.

But Patricia severely ignored him.

"Oh, Adrien, look!" she cried suddenly. "There is Annette, and who is the big man with her? Oh, what an awful dancer he is! But Annette, isn't she wonderful! What a lovely dress! I think she is the most beautiful thing." And Patricia was right, for Annette was radiant in colour and unapproachable in the grace of her movement.

"By Jove! She is a wonder!" said Vic. "Some dancer, if she only had a chance."

"Well, why don't you go down, Vic," said Patricia sharply. "You know you are just aching to show off your fox trot. Run away, little boy, I won't mind."

"I don't believe you would," replied Vic ruefully.

For some minutes longer they all stood watching the scene below.

"They are a jolly crowd," said Adrien. "I don't think we have half the fun at our dances."

"They certainly get a lot for their money," said Vic. "But wait till they come to 'turkey-in-the-straw!' That is where they really cut loose."

"Oh, pshaw!" cried Patricia. "I can 'turkey' myself. Just wait and you'll see."

"So can I," murmured Vic. "Will you let me in on it? Hello," he continued, "there is the Captain and Annette. Now look out for high art. I know the Captain's style. And a two-step! My eye! She is a little airy fairy!"

"How beautifully she dances," said Adrien. "And how charmingly she is dressed."

"They do hit it off, don't they," said Rupert. "They evidently know each other's paces."

Suddenly Adrien turned to Hugh: "Don't you think we should go down?" she asked. "You know we must not stay late."

"Yes, do come along!" cried Patricia, seizing Victor by the arm and hurrying to the stairs, the others making their way more leisurely to the dancing room.

The hall was a scene of confused hilarity. Maitland was nowhere to be seen.

"Oh! let us dance, Vic!" cried Patricia. "There is really no use waiting for Captain Jack. At any rate, Adrien will claim the first dance."

No second invitation was needed and together they swung off into the medley of dancers.

"We may as well follow," said Hugh. "We shall doubtless run into Maitland somewhere before long."

But not in that dance, nor in the three successive dances did Maitland appear. The precious moments were slipping by. Patricia was becoming more and more anxious and fretful at the non- appearance of her hero. Also, Hugh began to notice and detect a lagging in his partner's step.

"Shall we go out into the corridor?" he said. "This air is beginning to be rather trying."

From the crowded hall they passed into the corridor, from which opened side rooms which were used as dressing and retiring rooms, and whose entrances were cleverly screened by a row of thick spruce trees set up for the occasion.

"This is better," said Hugh, drawing a deep breath. "Shall we sit a bit and rest?"

"Oh, do let us," said Adrien. "This has been a strenuous and exciting evening. I really feel quite done out. Here is a most inviting seat."

Wearily she sat down on a bench which faced the entrance to one of the rooms.

"Shall I bring you a glass of water or an ice, Adrien?" inquired Hugh, noting the pallor in her face.

"Thank you. A glass of water, if you will be so kind. How deliciously fragrant that spruce is."

As her partner set off upon his errand, Adrien stepped to the spruce tree which screened the open door of the room opposite, and taking the bosky branches in her hands, she thrust her face into the aromatic foliage.

"How deliciously fragrant," she murmured.

Suddenly, as if stabbed by a spine in the trees, she started back and stood gazing through the thick branches into the room beyond There stood Maitland and Annette, the girl, with her face tearfully pale and pleading, uplifted to his and with her hands gripped tight and held fast in his, clasped against his breast. More plainly than words her face, her eyes, her attitude told her tale. She was pouring out her very soul to him in entreaty, and he was giving eager, sympathetic heed to her appeal.

Swiftly Adrien stepped back from the screening tree, her face white as if from a stunning blow, her heartbeats checking her breath. Quickly, blindly, she ran down the corridor. At the very end she met Hugh with a glass of water in his hand.

"What is the matter, Adrien? Have you seen a ghost?" he cried in an anxious voice.

She caught the glass from his hand and began to drink, at first greedily, then more slowly.

"Ah!" she said, drawing a deep breath. "That is good. Do you know, I was almost overcome. The air of that room is quite deadly. Now I am all right. Let us get a breath from the outside, Hugh."

Taking him by the arm, she hastened him to the farther end of the corridor and opened the door. "Oh, delicious!" She drew in deep breaths of the cold, fresh air.

"How wonderful the night is, Hugh." She leaned far out, "and the snow was like a cloth of silver and diamonds in this glorious moon." She stooped, and from a gleaming bank beside the door she caught up a double handful of the snow and, packing it into a little ball, flung it at her partner, catching him fairly on the ear.

"Aha!" she cried. "Don't ever say a woman is a poor shot. Now then," she added, stamping her feet free from the clinging flakes and waving her hands in the air to dry them, "I feel fit for anything. Let us have one more dance before we go home, for I feel we really must go."

"You are sure you are quite fit?" inquired Hugh, still anxious for her.

"Fit? Look at me!" Her cheeks were bright with colour, her eyes with light.

"You surely do look fit," said Hugh, beaming at her with frank admiration. "But you were all in a few moments ago."

"Come along. There is a way into the hall by this door," she cried, catching his hand and hurrying him into the dancing room again.

At the conclusion of their dance they came upon Patricia near the main entrance, in great distress. "I have not seen Captain Jack anywhere," she lamented. "Have you, Adrien? I have just sent Vic for a final search. I simply cannot go home till I have had my dance." The girl was almost in tears.

"Never mind, dear," said Adrien. "He has many duties to-night with all these players to look after. I think we had better go whenever Vic returns. I am awfully sorry for you, Patricia," she added. "No! Don't! You simply must not cry here." She put her arm around her sister's shoulder, her own lips trembling, and drew her close. "Where has Vic gone, I wonder?"

That young man, however, was having his own trials. In his search for Maitland he ran across McNish, whom he recognised as Annette's partner in the first dance.

"Hello!" he cried. "Do you know where Captain Maitland is, by any chance?"

"No, how should I know," replied McNish, in a voice fiercely guttural.

"Oh!" said Vic, somewhat abashed. "I saw you dance with Annette-- with Miss Perrotte--and I thought perhaps you might know where the Captain was."

McNish stood glowering at him for a moment or two, then burst forth:

"They are awa'--he's ta'en her awa'."

"Away," said Vic. "Where?"

"To hell for all I ken or care."

Then with a single stride McNish was close at his side, gripping his arm with fingers that seemed to reach the bone.

"Ye're a friend o' his. Let me say tae ye if ony ill cames tae her, by the leevin' God above us he wull answer tae me." Hoarse, panting, his face that of a maniac, he stood glaring wild-eyed at the young man before him. To say that Vic was shaken by this sudden and violent onslaught would be much within the truth. Nevertheless he boldly faced the passion-distracted man.

"Look here! I don't know who you are or what you mean," he said, in as steady tones as he could summon, "but if you suggest that any girl will come to harm from Captain Maitland, then I say you are a liar and a fool." So speaking, little Vic set himself for the rush which he was firmly convinced would come. McNish, however, stood still, fighting for control. Then, between his deep-drawn breaths, he slowly spoke:

"Ye may be richt. A hope tae God A am baith liar and fule." The agony in his face moved Vic to pity.

"I say, old chap," he said, "you are terribly mistaken somehow, I can swear to that. Where is Maitland, anyway, do you know?"

"They went away together." McNish had suddenly gotten himself in hand. "They went away in his car, secretly."

"Secretly," said Vic, scornfully. "Now, that is perfect rot. Look here, do you know Captain Maitland? I am his friend, and let me tell you that all I ever hope to own, here and hereafter, and all my relatives and friends, I would gladly trust with him."

"Maybe, maybe," muttered McNish. "Ye may be richt. A apologise, sir, but if--" His eyes blazed again.

"Aw, cut out the tragedy stuff," said Vic, "and don't be an ass. Good-night."

Vic turned on his heel and left McNish standing in a dull and dazed condition, and made his way toward the ballroom.

"Who is the Johnny, anyway?" he said to himself. "He is mad-- looney--utterly bughouse. Needs a keeper in the worst way. But what about the Captain--must think up something. Let's see. Taken suddenly ill? Hardly--there is the girl to account for. Her mother--grandmother--or something--stricken--let's see. Annette has a brother--By Jove! the very thing--I've got it--brother met with an accident--run over--fell down a well--anything. Hurry call--ambulance stuff. Good line. Needs working up a bit, though. What has happened to my grey matter? Let me think. Ah, yes--when that Johnny brought word of an accident, a serious accident to her brother, Maitland, naturally enough, the gallant soul, hurries her off in his car, sending word by aforesaid mad Johnny."

Vic went to the outer door, feeling the necessity for a somewhat careful conning of his tale to give it, as he said himself, a little artistic verisimilitude. Then, with his lesson--as he thought--well learned, and praying for aid of unknown gods, he went back to find his partner.

"If only Patricia will keep out of it," he said to himself as he neared the hall door, "or if I could only catch old Hugh first. But he is not much of a help in this sort of thing. Dash it all! I am quite nervous. This will never do. Must find a way--good effect--cool and collected stuff." So, ruminating and praying and moving ever more slowly, he reached the door. Coming in sight of his party, he hurried to meet them. "Awfully sorry!" he exclaimed excitedly. "The most rotten luck! Old Maitland's just been called off."

"Called off!" cried Patricia, in dismay. "Where to!"

"Now, don't jump at me like that. Remember my heart. Met that Johnny--the big chap dancing with Annette, you know--just met him-- quite worked up--a hurry call for the girl--for the girl, Annette, you know."

"The girl!" exclaimed Patricia. "You said Captain Jack."

"I know! I know!" replied Vic, somewhat impatiently. "I am a bit excited, I confess. Rather nasty thing--Annette's brother, you know--something wrong--accident, I think. Couldn't get the particulars."

"But Annette's brother is in Toronto," said Adrien, gravely.

"Exactly!" cried Vic. "That is what I have been telling you. A hurry call--phone message for Annette--horrible accident. Maitland rushed her right away in his car to catch the midnight to Toronto."

"By Jove! That is too bad," said Hugh, a genuine sympathy in his honest voice. "That is hard luck on poor Annette. Tony is not exactly a safe proposition, you know."

"Was he--is he killed?" cried Patricia, in a horror-stricken voice.

"Killed! Not a bit of it," said Vic cheerfully. "Slight injury-- but serious, I mean. You know, just enough to cause anxiety." Vic lit another cigarette with ostentatious deliberation. "Nasty shock, you know," he said.

"Who told you all this?" inquired Rupert.

"Who told me?" said Vic. "Why, that mad Johnny."

"Mad Johnny? What mad Johnny?"

Vic said: "Eh! What? You know, that--ahr--big chap who was falling over her in the fox trot. Looked kind of crazy, you know-- big chap--Scotch."

"Where is he now?" enquired Rupert.

"Oh, I fancy about there, somewhere," replied Vic, remembering that he had seen McNish moving toward the door. "Better go and look him up and get more particulars. Might help some, you know."

"Oh, Adrien, let us go to her," said Patricia. "I am sure Annette would love to have you. Poor Annette!"

"Oh! I say!" interposed Vic hurriedly. "There is really no necessity. I shouldn't like to intrude in family affairs and that sort of thing, you know what I mean."

Adrien's grave, quiet eyes were upon Vic's face. "You think we had better not go, then," she said slowly.

"Sure thing!" replied Vic, with cheerful optimism. "There is no necessity--slight accident--no need to make a fuss about it."

"But you said it was a serious accident--a terrible thing," said Patricia.

"Oh, now, Patricia, come out of it. You check a fellow up so hard. Can't you understand the Johnny was so deucedly worked up over it he couldn't give me the right of it. Dash it all! Let's have another turn, Patricia!"

But Adrien said: "I think we will go home, Hugh."

"Very well, if you think so, Adrien. I don't fancy you need worry over Annette. The accident probably is serious but not dangerous. Tony is a tough fellow."

"Exactly!" exclaimed Vic. "Just as I have been telling you. Serious, but not dangerous. At least, that was the impression I got."

"Oh, Vic, you are so terribly confusing!" exclaimed Patricia. "Why can't you get things straight? I say, Adrien, we can ride round to Annette's on our way home, and then we will get things quite clearly."

"Certainly," said Hugh. "It will only take us a minute. Eh, what!" he added to Vic, who was making frantic grimaces at him. "Well, if you ladies will get your things, we will go."

"But I am so disappointed," said Patricia to Adrien, as they went to their dressing room together.

After they had gone, Hugh turned upon Vic: "Now then, what the deuce and all are you driving at?"

"Driving at!" cried Vic, in an exasperated tone. "You are a sweet support for a fellow in distress. I am a nervous wreck--a perfect mess. Another word from that kid and I should have run screaming into the night. And as for you, why the deuce didn't you buck up and help a fellow out?"

"Help you out? How in the name of all that is reasonable could I help you out? What is all the yarn about? Of course I know it isn't true. Where's Maitland?"

"Search me," said Vic. "All I know is that I hit upon that Scotch Johnny out in the hall--he nearly wrenched an arm off me and did everything but bite--spitting out incoherent gaspings indicating that Maitland had 'gone awa' wi' his gur-r-l, confound him!' and suggesting the usual young Lochinvar stuff. You know--nothing in it, of course. But what was I to do? Some tale was necessary! Fortunately or unfortunately, brother Tony sprang to the thing I call my mind and--well, you know the mess I made of it. But Hugh, remember, for heaven's sake, make talk about something--about the match--and get that girl quietly home. I bag the back seat and Adrien. It is hard on me, I know, but fifteen minutes more of Patsy and I shall be counting my tootsies and prattling nursery rhymes. Here they come," he breathed. "Now, 'a little forlorn hope, deadly breach act, if you love me, Hardy.' Play up, old boy!"

And with commendable enthusiasm and success, Hugh played up, supported--as far as his physical and mental condition allowed--by the enfeebled Vic, till they had safely deposited their charges at the Rectory door, whence, refusing an invitation to stop for cocoa, they took their homeward way.

"'And from famine, pestilence and sudden death,' and from the once- over by that penetrating young female, 'good Lord, deliver us,'" murmured Vic, falling into the seat beside his friend. "Take me home to mother," he added, and refused further speech till at his own door. He waved a weak adieu and staggered feebly into the house.