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- The Spanish Chest - 20/39 -
shut Richard Lisle's letter. Perhaps opportunity would favor him to-day, some chance be provided to show that discovery to either Miss Connie or her father.
That its contents referred to Prince Charles was established beyond doubt by the existing legend of his entertainment at the Manor, but the letter said much more than that. Only some one thoroughly familiar with the Manor and its possessions could interpret further. As the rain beat on the terrace outside, Win chanced to look up at the portrait near the fireplace, and instantly recalled that curious dream.
"I dreamed all that stuff just because I've always been crazy to go treasure-hunting," he thought, "and because that old Cavalier was the last thing I saw before I went to sleep. Well, I might go and read for a while."
With a glance of admiration at some fine old armor passed on the way, Win went into the farther room to settle himself on the comfortable window seat with a fat history of the island of Jersey.
Fully an hour passed before the sound of low voices penetrated his consciousness. Gradually he became aware that two people were now occupying the seat before the smouldering fire. One was Constance Lisle, the other some one Win had never seen before, a dark distinguished-looking young man, evidently of foreign blood.
Connie was leaning back in the corner of the old settle, her white dress and the neighboring bowl of daffodils standing out as high lights in the shadowy surroundings. Her companion, beside her, was bending slightly forward, his face turned eagerly toward hers.
Had he wished to listen, Win could not distinguish the low words. That fact absolved him from the necessity of making his presence known, for leave he could not without passing through the room. Presently the young man raised his voice and Win realized that he was speaking in Italian.
For the moment, interest in the present dismissed the past. Win had heard the girls' chatter about their adored Miss Connie and the romance attributed to her by Mrs. Trott, but boy-like, paid very little attention to what he considered the foolish fancies of sentimental kids. Now he was startled into sudden interest.
That stranger must be Miss Connie's Italian prince. Very handsome and very much of a gentleman he looked and most earnest their conversation. Yet even to an inexperienced observer, it was not that of two happy young people, entering a sunny stretch of life, but of a boy and girl confronted with some stern and very present problem. Connie's hands were clasped too tightly, there was a sense of strain in the poise of her head. Her companion's pose was one of perplexity and doubt.
Win remembered what else he had heard of that rumored engagement, not much to be sure, save that strong pressure was being put upon the last of the Santo-Pontes in order to secure the estates and title of a great Roman house to the church of his ancestors.
Presently Win realized that he had no right even to look on. He turned his face to the storm and again buried himself in his old volume.
A long time later he heard his name and Constance strolled alone through the arch from the other room. She looked pale and tired but otherwise composed.
"I didn't know you were here, Win," she said as she came to his chosen window.
"I've been stuck in this book for ages. Miss Connie, I've found the most interesting thing ever."
"What is it?" Connie inquired listlessly, wondering, but not particularly caring whether Win knew of her interview with Louis di Santo-Ponte. She looked sweet and wistful as she stood leaning against the window seat, her mind down in the town where the boat for St. Malo was getting up steam. "Tell me about it, Win," she added, recalling her wandering thoughts. She liked Win as she liked most young people.
"Come and see," said Win, replacing his history in its case. Connie accompanied him to the fireplace in the main room.
"Did you ever look at that book?" he inquired, indicating the worn old Psalter.
"There are several thousand books here that I never looked at," said Connie promptly. "Max is the one who browses in this part of the library. Ah, he's been here lately, reading his horrid old German philosophers." With an air of disgust she pointed to the blue-bound modern volumes.
"What is this book that interests you so much!" she went on, taking It from the shelf. "Oh, an old copy of the Psalms. Look at its odd type."
"It isn't the book that interests me," said Win, "but this paper. I found it accidentally. Do read it, Miss Connie, and see what you make of it."
After her first perusal, Constance grew as excited as Win. With the deliberate purpose of putting her troubles from her mind, she concentrated her attention on this discovery.
"The prince of course refers to Charles, because it is an historical fact that he took refuge in Jersey," began Win.
"Yes, and there's the legend that he was entertained here at the Manor," exclaimed Connie. "Why Dad will be crazy about this, for it proves that story!"
"I hoped he'd be pleased," said Win happily.
"Oh, he will!" replied Connie. "Charles was just a boy, only sixteen, at the time he fled from England."
"Ever since I saw two letters in the British Museum, Charles the Second has seemed a very real person to me," said Win smiling. "Do you know them, Miss Connie? One is from Queen Henrietta Maria to Prince Charles, expressing great regret that the prince has refused to take the 'physick' prescribed for him, and hoping that he will consent to do so on the following day, for if he didn't she should be obliged to come to him and she trusted he would not give her that 'paine.' She had also requested the Duke of Newcastle to report to her whether he took it or not and so she 'rested.'
"But what I liked best," Win went on, "was the letter Prince Charles wrote. He evidently didn't reply to his mother, but sent a note to the Duke of Newcastle in which he flatly refused to take the 'physick' and advised the Duke not to take any either!"
Connie laughed. "That does seem a touch of real boy nature, doesn't it? But I'm afraid Prince Charles was rather a rotten young cub, not worth the affection expended on him nor the good lives laid down in his cause. The Richard Lisle who wrote this letter was my great-great--oh, I don't know how many times removed--grandfather! It's plain that Prince Charles came here to the Manor, was fed and provided with a change, and escorted to the castle, probably Orgueil. But what the 'relicks' are and what the 'safe place,' I can't tell. Nor do I know what is meant by the Spanish chest. If there was anything of that description around the Manor I'd jolly well know it."
"Would Colonel Lisle know?" asked Win eagerly.
"I wonder, will he?" mused Connie after a pause spent in close scrutiny of the document. "We'll ask. Anyway, he'll be awfully interested because here it is in black and white that Prince Charles was brought to the Manor. Win, it's storming desperately and I'm bored to death. I'm going to send Pierre to St. Aubin's to tell your mother that you won't be back for luncheon. We'll show Dad your find and bring our united minds to bear on the problem."
Win was sorely tempted. The walk through the storm had taxed his strength. Should he struggle back, the chances were that he would be too tired for any lessons after his arrival.
"Your tutor won't matter, will he?" asked Connie. "You're not expected to be so regular as Roger."
Wingate grinned. "I was thinking how angry Roger will be if he finds himself the sole object of Bill Fish's attention this afternoon. Thank you, Miss Connie. I want mightily to stay. I ought not to have come up here today when it was storming, but since I'm here the wisest thing is to wait for a time. And I'm wild to know what your father thinks of this paper. I will send a note to Mother if I may."
"I'll write, too," said Constance, "and I shall tell her that we'll keep you all night if the rain continues. I need somebody to play with me, Win. I'm jolly glad you did brave the storm."
ABOUT THE SPANISH CHEST
Roger's state of mind at finding himself destined to be the sole object of Bill Fish's ministrations that afternoon was laughable. He vowed to Frances that he also would take French leave and bitterly denounced Win for absconding, declaring it a "put up job."
"Perhaps Mr. Fisher won't come," consoled Frances. "The storm has really grown much worse since morning."
"Indeed he will," said Roger darkly. "Fishes like water. I only hope he'll wipe his fins when he comes in. The last rainy day he dripped all over the room. I was 'most drowned before we finished. But it was mean and sneaky of Win to go up to the Manor this morning. He might have known that I wanted help with my arithmetic."
"Perhaps I can help," offered Frances. Luncheon just over, the unwelcome Mr. Fisher was due in twenty minutes.
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