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- The Romance of Elaine - 50/62 -

"I'd like to try it on," cried Elaine, fingering it rapturously.

"By all means," agreed Madame. "We are alone. Do so."

With deft fingers, Larenz helped her take off her own very pretty dress. As Elaine slipped the soft gown over her head, with her head and arms engaged in its multitudinous folds, Madame Larenz, a powerful woman, seized her. Elaine was effectually gagged and bound in the gown itself.

Instantly, Del Mar flung himself from the closet, disguising his voice. Together, they wrapped the dress about Elaine even more tightly to prevent her screaming.

Madame 'Larenz seized a blanket and threw that over Elaine's head, also, while Del Mar ran to the window. There were his men in the car, waiting below.

"Are you ready?" he called softly to them.

They looked about carefully. There was no one on that side of the hotel just at the moment.

"Ready," responded one. "Quick!"

Together, Del Mar and Madame Larenz passed Elaine, ineffectually struggling, out of the window. The men seized her and placed her in the bottom of the car, which was covered. Then they shot away, taking a back road up the hill.

Hurriedly the naturalist went through the lobby in the direction Elaine had gone, and a moment later reached the corridor above.

Down it, he could hear some one coming out of room twenty-two. He slid into an angle and hid.

It was Del Mar and the woman he had seen at the bungalow. They passed by without discovering him, nor could he make out anything that they said. What mischief was afoot? Where was Elaine?

He ran to the door and tried it. It was locked. Quickly, he took from his pocket a skeleton key and unlocked it. There was Elaine's hat and dress lying in a heap on the bed. But she was not there. He was now thoroughly alarmed.

She could not have passed him in the hall. Therefore she must have gone or been taken out through the window. That would never have been voluntary, especially leaving her things there.

The window was still open. He ran to it. One glance out was enough. He leaped to the ground. Sure enough, there were automobile tracks in the dust.

"Del Mar's car," he muttered to himself, studying them.

He fairly ran around the side of the hotel. There he came suddenly upon Elaine's car standing alone, and recognized it.

There was no time for delay. He jumped into it, and let the swift little racer out as he turned and gathered momentum to shoot up the hill on high speed.

Meanwhile, I had been jogging along through the country, lonely and disconsolate. I don't know how it happened, but I suppose it was by some subconscious desire. At any rate I found myself at the road that came out across one leading to the St. Germain and it occurred to me that Elaine might by this time have purchased enough frocks to clothe her for a year. At any rate I quickened my pace in the hope of seeing her.

Suddenly, my horse shied and a familiar little car flashed past me. But the driver was not familiar. It was Elaine's roadster. In it was a stranger--a man who looked like a "bugologist," as nearly as I can describe him. Was he running off with her car while she was waiting inside the hotel?

I galloped after him.

Del Mar's automobile, with Elaine bound and gagged in it, drove rapidly by back and unfrequented ways into the country until at last it pulled up before an empty two-story house in a sort of grove of trees.

The men leaped out, lifted Elaine, and carried her bodily into the house, taking her up-stairs and into an upper room. She had fainted when they laid her down and loosened the dress from about her face so that she could breathe. There they left her, on the floor, her hands and feet bound, and went out.

How long she lay there, she never knew, but at last the air revived her and she regained consciousness and sat up. Her muscles were sore and her head ached. But she set her teeth and began struggling with the cords that bound her, managing at last to pull the dress over herself at least.

In Elaine's car, the naturalist drove slowly at times, following the tracks of the automobile ahead. At last, however, he came to a place where he saw that the tracks went up a lonely side road. To approach in a car was to warn whoever was there. He ran the cat up alongside the road in the bushes and jumped out leaving it and following the tracks up the side roadway.

As he approached a single deserted house, he left even the narrow road altogether and plunged into the woods, careful to proceed noiselessly. Through the bushes, near the house, he peered. There he could see one of Del Mar's men in the doorway, apparently talking to others behind him.

Stealthily the naturalist crept around, still hiding, until he was closer to the house on the other side. At last he worked his way around to the rear door. He tried it. It was bolted and even the skeleton key was unavailing to slide the bolt. Seconds were precious.

Quickly, he went to the corner of the house. There was a water- leader. He began to climb it, risking its precarious support.

On the roof at last, the naturalist crawled along, looking for some way of getting into the house. But he could not seem to find any. Carefully, he crawled to the edge of the roof and looked over. Below, he could hear sounds, but could make nothing of them.

From his pocket, he took the leather case and opened it. There was a peculiar arrangement, like some of the collapsible arms on which telephone instruments are often fastened to a desk or wall, capable of being collapsed into small space or of being extended for some distance. On the thing was arranged a system of mirrors, which the naturalist adjusted.

It was a pocket periscope.

He thrust the thing over the edge of the roof and down, and looked through it. Below, he could see into the room from which came the peculiar sounds.

He looked anxiously. There he could see Elaine endeavoring still to loosen the cords and unable to do so. Only for a moment he looked. Then he folded up the pocket periscope into the case and shoved it back into his pocket. Quickly he crossed the roof again, and slid back down the rain-pipe.

At the door stood three of Del Mar's men waiting for Del Mar who had told them he would follow immediately.

The naturalist had by this time reached the ground and was going along carefully back of the house. He drew his revolver and, pointing it down, fired. Then he dodged back of an extension and disappeared for the moment.

Instantly, the three men sprang up and ran toward the spot where it seemed the shot had been fired. There was no one about the side of the house. But the wind had carried the smoke into some bushes beside the grove and they crashed into the bushes, beating about.

At the same time, the naturalist, having first waited until he saw which way the men were going, dashed about the house in the opposite direction. Then he slipped, unopposed and unobserved, in through the open front door, up the stairs and along to the room into which he had just been looking. He unlocked the door, and entered. Elaine was still struggling with the cords when she caught sight of the stranger.

"Not a word," he cautioned under his breath.

She was indeed too frightened to cry out. Quickly, he loosened her, still holding his finger to his lips to enjoin silence.

"Follow me," he whispered.

She obeyed mechanically, and they went out into the hall. On down- stairs went the naturalist, Elaine still keeping close after him.

He looked out through the front door, then drew back. Quickly he went through the lower hall until he came to the back door in the kitchen, Elaine following. He unbolted the door and opened it.

"Run," he said, simply, pointing out of the door. "They're coming back the other way. I'll hold them."

She needed no further urging, but darted from the house as he closed the door after her.

. . . . . . .

It was just at this point that Del Mar came riding along the main road on horseback. He pulled up suddenly as he saw a car run in alongside the road.

"That's Elaine's runabout," he muttered, as he dismounted and tied his horse. "How came it here?"

He approached the car, much worried by its unaccountable presence there instead of before the St. Germain. Then he drew his gun and hurried up the side road.

He heard a shot and quickened his pace. In the woods unexpectedly he came upon his three men still beating about, searching with drawn revolvers for the person who had fired the shot.

The Romance of Elaine - 50/62

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