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The Crown of Pine by  Alfred J. Church

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CLEONICÉ TO THE RESCUE

[241] WHEN Cleonicé got back to the Mansion-house she found her father and the Corsican still engaged in the discussion of the problem before them, and still far from any reasonable solution of it. She had been struck, as indeed was every one, with the energy and common sense which were obvious characteristics of the captain, and she determined to enlist him as her ally. Her scheme was as yet but dimly outlined in her mind, but she felt that it was one which it would be prudent to keep to herself. The first thing to be done was to have a confidential conversation with her new ally. This could be easily managed under cover of the hospitality which it was only common politeness to offer to a guest.

"Don't you think, father," she said, "that your friend would like some little refreshment? It is past noon, and I am sure that something to eat and drink would be welcome."

"By all means," said Archias. "It was very [242] remiss of me not to think of it before. My daughter," he went on, turning to the Corsican, "will take you to the steward's room."

"Many thanks," said the Corsican, who had an intuition that the girl had something of importance to communicate. A touch of eagerness in her manner had suggested the idea, and he had caught it with the rapidity which made him so invaluable an assistant where promptitude of action was required. Cleonicé, however, was too hospitable to broach the subject that was uppermost in her mind till she had seen him seated at his meal, and indeed fairly well advanced towards the end.

"You see no way," she said, "of helping the young man?"

"No," he said, "I do not."

"Well then," she went on, "if you don't mind taking a hint from a woman, I think I do see a way."

My dear lady," replied the man, "I not only don't mind taking such a hint, but I shall be delighted. I am quite sure that when the ladies condescend to trouble themselves about any matter whatever, they have a readier wit and a finer sense of what can and what cannot be done than we men can ever pretend to."

"Thanks for your compliment," said Cleonicé [243] with a smile, "but mind what I say is in confidence; you must tell no one, least of all my father and mother. And I look to you for help."

"Whatever you may tell me will be an absolute secret," said the captain.

"Listen then," replied the girl with a prettily imperious air which sat very well upon her. "I have a scheme for getting Eubulus back, and back in time to run the race, and that neither by force nor by purchase."

"Go on, madam, I am all attention."

"My foster-mother lives in the village close to the robber's headquarters: I mean her to do the thing for me, her or her husband."

"But," said the captain, "how will you communicate with her?"

"I shall go myself."

The girl had been thinking hard all the time, and had come to the conclusion that this was the only thing to be done. Even if she could find a messenger, he could not do such an errand. Only a practical appeal could avail. It would try this woman's love to the utmost, for it was a dangerous service; only a personal appeal, backed up by all the influence that she could bring to bear upon the heart of her foster-mother could possibly succeed. The Corsican was fairly [244] taken aback. He was, a man of audacious expedients, but this staggered him.

"You, dear lady, you?" he stammered out.

"Yes," answered the girl, "I—I myself, and I look to you to help me. Mind, I have your promise. You will keep the secret, and you will do what you can to back me up."

"I am not one to go back from my word," said the man, "but I must confess that I don't like it. The risk is too awful."

"Never mind about the risk—that is my look-out. I shall, of course, disguise myself as a boy. But that I have done for a joke before, and now the cause is serious enough in all conscience. I have thought out the whole plan. I have a little horse of my own that is kept in my father's stables; I shall ride that. There will be no difficulty about getting it. By good luck the man who looks after the horses does anything I tell him without asking a question. Will you come with me? I don't mean the whole way; the last bit, when I get near the end of my journey, I must be alone. But will you go with me as far as I think fit? If so, I will find a horse for you too. I must own that I should like to have your company as far as it is possible."

"Of course, my dear lady, I will come."

The captain had begun to recover from his [245] surprise, and saw that the best thing he could do was to help this determined young woman as much as he could. After all, though it looked like a wild scheme, it was not wholly without promise. Then a thought flashed across his mind. Why not get Rufus to come also? A grim smile passed over his face as the idea occurred.

"Yes, I will come," he repeated, "and if you agree, I will bring some one else with me who may be very useful. To tell you the truth, my friend was a robber himself not very long ago. But he is as true as steel. I was able to help him when he wanted help very much, and he is never likely to forget it. He is a stout man of his hands, if there ever was one, and, besides that, his old experiences may come in useful."


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