Chapter XIX. Kaiser Bill Mixes In
 

"Isn't it just too wonderful for anything?" said Hinpoha in an awed tone. Then she burst out triumphantly, "I told her there was a light-haired man coming into her life--and he did! Did you ever hear of anything so romantic as this, anyway? He said she was a dream of his come to life! When he first saw her in the train that day he thought she wasn't real! And then finding my locket on the floor that way and seeing her picture in it and thinking it was her locket, and wearing it all this time! I never heard of anything so wonderful. It's better than anything I ever read in a book. Such a nice-sounding name he has, too--Robert Allison; it's so--unanimous."

"Don't you mean 'euphonious'?" asked Migwan with a smile.

"Well, 'euphonious,' then," amended Hinpoha. Wrapped up as she was in this marvel of romance that had happened in the placid, everyday lives of the Winnebagos, she was not bothering about any carping correctness of words. She sat at the foot of Oh-Pshaw's bed, where Oh-Pshaw lay with her knee propped up on a pillow, and went over the details of Sahwah's case for the twentieth time with Agony and Migwan and Gladys, all of them foregathered in Oh-Pshaw's room to keep her company.

"It was just like a book!" Hinpoha went on impressively. "Sahwah passed by the door of his room over there last night after the doctors had gone, and it was open, and nobody was in the room with him because your grandmother had gone downstairs for something, and she saw that the curtain was blowing out of the window. She went in to pull it back and while she was in the room he opened his eyes and said, 'Is it really you?' He thought he was dreaming and she wasn't real at all. Then he told her all about his dream girl, and about seeing her in the train that day, and finding the locket, and everything. He said the locket had brought him good luck wherever he went, for half a dozen times he had escaped as by a miracle from being killed in accidents to his plane. And to think that the last time it was she herself who saved his life!" The utter romance of the thing struck Hinpoha momentarily speechless.

Then she thought of something else, and broke out afresh.

"Don't you remember, when I was telling her fortune there in the train, I told her that the light-haired man had already come into her life, and she made fun of me and said it must have been the Swede brakeman? Well, what I told her was true, because Lieutenant Allison had already seen her then! Now, will you say there isn't any truth in fortunes?"

The Winnebagos could only gasp at the workings of fate!

"But what about the other man you said you saw in her fortune, the light-haired man who was going to turn dark after a while?" asked Migwan.

"I don't know," replied Hinpoha. Then she added, "Give him time! He hasn't shown up yet, but he will, you see if he doesn't."

And in view of the success of her former prophecy the Winnebagos could not very well have any doubts.

"Wasn't it a miracle that Sahwah happened to be in the woods when the plane came down?" said Agony in a hushed voice.

"Yes, but she wouldn't have been there if we hadn't lost the contest," said Migwan musingly. "Isn't it queer the way things work out sometimes? Here, we wanted to win that contest so badly, and were disappointed when we didn't, and yet if we had won it Lieutenant Allison would have been killed!"

The rest looked at each other in silent awe at this marvelous working of fate! In a dim, groping way they all felt the touch of an unseen, mighty hand in their affairs, guiding them this way or that as it chose, regardless of their own plans or intentions.

"It was really Oh-Pshaw that saved his life," said Gladys, "because she made the mistake that made us lose."

"And I was so hateful about it, and said such mean things!" said Agony contritely. "I take it all back, Oh-Pshaw. It was the luckiest thing you ever did to get rattled then."

Oh-Pshaw smiled forgivingly and all was serene between the twins once more.

While the Winnebago tongues were wagging busily in Oh-Pshaw's room and Lieutenant Allison was lying quite comfortable in bed in the big square bedroom of the Wing home, where he had been carried when brought in from the woods the night before with a ragged cut in his left temple and a fractured arm, Sahwah, breathless with wonder at the strange new thing that had come into her life, fled from the chattering girls and went wandering by herself in the silence of the woods, where she could think and dream undisturbed.

So preoccupied was she that she had passed out of the gate of Carver House without even noticing Kaiser Bill, who had broken out of his confines and was pulling the honeysuckle vine off the fence. The Kaiser stopped pulling for a moment as she came out and eyed her warily, on guard for a well-aimed stone, but she passed by unheeding. It betokened deep abstraction indeed when Sahwah ignored the depredations of Kaiser Bill. The Kaiser executed a defiant caper under her very nose and then returned blandly to his vine pulling, sending a suspicious look after her from time to time as she passed down the hill.

Through the troubles that had overtaken Carver House, Kaiser Bill had gained a temporary reprieve. In the excitement over Nyoda's going away he had been forgotten entirely for a whole week, and of course nothing would be done about his execution until she returned. Kaiser Bill was making the most of his reprieve by breaking bounds every day and damaging property to his heart's content.

But not even Kaiser Bill in mischief could hold Sahwah's attention now. She walked on in the golden afternoon sunshine, her heart attuned to the song of the wild thrush that came pouring out of the stillness of the woods. She sought her own favorite haunt, a mossy seat beside the little singing stream, where she loved to sit and watch the water tumble and foam over the rocks, but when she got there she found the place already occupied. Eugene Prince, the artist, sat there, his head tilted back against the trunk of a tree, sound asleep, with his sketching portfolio beside him on the ground and his hat on the other side. Sahwah scowled at the sleeping man and passed swiftly on. She had no desire to sit near him, even if he was asleep. She found another place, far downstream, where there was a rocky seat close to the water, and, curling herself down in it, she watched the water tumble and foam, and gave herself over to pondering on the delightful mystery of life and fate.

Upstream, in Sahwah's own private nook, the invader reclined at ease, steeped in the sound slumber of a drowsy midsummer afternoon. Upon this peaceful scene there appeared a sinister and menacing apparition, a shaggy body mounted on slender, adventurous legs, and terminating in a mischievous-shaped head with evilly glittering eyes and wicked-looking horns. It was none other than Kaiser Bill, on whom the taste of honeysuckle had palled, wandering far afield in search of something to tickle his discriminating palate. He stood still and surveyed the scene, eyeing the various articles spread out before him with an appraising eye, like a man in a Thompson's restaurant looking over the articles on the counter and trying to make up his mind what he will have. He looked at the pencil, he looked at the sketch pad; he sniffed experimentally at the hat and then at the portfolio. The portfolio went to the spot; it was made of leather with brass corners. He had not had such a treat in many a day. He licked his chops; the water of anticipation began to gather in his mouth. With a greedy movement he sank his teeth into the portfolio and began his feast In his sportive delight he played with his prize, tossing it to the ground and attacking it from all sides, while his eyes glittered maliciously at the sleeping artist. Then he; moved on down the wood path, dragging the portfolio with him until he found a place which struck him as a suitable banquet Chamber, and there he stood still and began chewing.

Sahwah, sitting on the rock beside the water, gazing off into space with her chin in her hand, suddenly became aware of a champing sound directly in her ear, accompanied by the noise of tearing. She raised her head, and there was Kaiser Bill right beside her tearing something to pieces. She put out her hand and snatched the thing away so quickly that it was gone before Kaiser Bill knew what had happened; then, realizing that to stay in the neighborhood after such a daring act was decidedly perilous, Sahwah sprang up into the branches of a great old willow tree that leaned invitingly near, drew herself up out of his reach and from her safe vantage point made triumphant grimaces down at him. Kaiser Bill, baffled, dashed his head against the tree several times in fury, then rushed into the woods.

Left to herself, Sahwah examined the thing she had rescued, and then it was that she recognized the artist's sketching portfolio. Her first feeling was regret that she hadn't let Kaiser Bill go on eating it Then she felt ashamed of such vicious thoughts and began looking over the portfolio to see how badly it was damaged. It was a sorry wreck, she decided, after a moment's inspection. Most of the seams were burst open and the soft leather which lined the stiffer outside was torn away in a dozen places. It was empty of sketches, these having been scattered along the path in the progress of Kaiser Bill's capers. Sahwah fingered the torn lining and wondered if the artist would make them pay for the damage. While she was wondering her fingers found something under the lining, and she drew out several sheets of paper, written over in a close hand. Under these were dozens of other sheets, thin as tissue, but very tough and strong, covered with lines and angles and circles and letters in complicated designs. She rummaged still further under the lining and drew out a black ribbon about an inch wide. On it in gold letters was stamped S.M.S. Eitel Friederich. After that out came a narrow envelope of exceedingly heavy correspondence paper addressed in a beautifully shaded handwriting to "Lieutenant Waldemar von Oldenbach, S.M.S. Eitel Friederich." Sahwah turned it over in her hands. It was sealed on the other side with a wafer of gold wax, the seal being a coronet The envelope was open at the top, disclosing a letter inside. Sahwah looked at it curiously, but did not open it. It was the superscription on the envelope and the gold letters on the black ribbon that were holding her attention. Sahwah knew from reading the papers that the S.M.S. Eitel Friederich was one of the German warships caught in American ports at the outbreak of the war and interned. The ribbon had evidently come from the ship, but what was it doing here under the lining of Eugene Prince's portfolio? Why was he carrying around a ship's ribbon from an interned German vessel? Who was Waldemar von Oldenbach? Evidently a lieutenant on the Eitel Friederich, from the address on the letter. But what was a letter addressed to such a person doing in the possession of the artist? A letter from a woman, it undoubtedly was. Something heavy was in the envelope beside the letter; it fell out into Sahwah's lap as she handled the letter. It was a little Maltese cross made of gray metal, with letters stamped in the ends of the crosspieces. Sahwah held it in her hand and spelled out the letters, and then all at once she knew what it was. She had seen a picture of such a thing in a magazine only a few days before. It was an Iron Cross of the First Class. She stared at it, fascinated, for a moment, then shuddered and dropped it back into the envelope.

She looked over the thin sheets of paper, but could make nothing of them; she then turned back to the first letter that had come to light. The sheets were open and she felt no hesitancy about reading them.

What Sahwah read sent her heart wildly pounding against her throat. "Atterbury?" "Strikes?"--and signed by Prince Karl Augustus of Hohenburg? This must be the very letter that was stolen from Mr. Wing's desk--the letter they accused Veronica of taking! Eugene Prince, the artist, had taken it and hidden it under the lining of his sketch book. But no one had ever thought of suspecting him! He had been so sure that Veronica was an enemy agent, and here he was one himself! She had been right after all, Veronica was innocent, and her faith in her had not been betrayed. For a moment that one great dazzling fact blotted out all other facts. It was not too late yet to save Veronica from internment. She must get to Mr. Wing as fast as she could with her great discovery. She must----Here Sahwah looked down, and directly into the face of Eugene Prince, standing on the ground beside the tree, his eye on the portfolio and the articles spread out in her lap. For a moment "they looked at each other, tense, speechless, then the artist sprang into the tree, snatched the portfolio and the letter away from her and darted away into the woods. Stunned by surprise Sahwah slid limply to the ground, vainly looking around to see where the artist had gone. The woods had swallowed him. At Sahwah's feet lay the gilt-lettered ship's ribbon, the letter addressed to Waldemar von Oldenbach and the thin sheets of paper, and in her hand she still clutched the bottom half of one of the pages of the stolen letter, the half that bore the prince's signature and the name of Atterbury in one of the lines."