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- The Window-Gazer - 1/55 -


THE WINDOW-GAZER

ISABEL ECCLESTONE MACKAY

So in ye matere of Life's goodlie showe Some buy what doth them plese. While others stand withoute and gaze thereinne-- Your eare, good folk, for these! --OLD ENGLISH RHYME.

THE

WINDOW-GAZER

BY

ISABEL ECCLESTONE MACKAY

AUTHOR OF "MIST OF MORNING," "UP THE HILL AND OVER," "THE SHINING SHIP," ETC.

THE WINDOW-GAZER

CHAPTER I

Professor Spence sat upon an upturned keg--and shivered. No one had told him that there might be fog and he had not happened to think of it for himself. Still, fog in a coast city at that time of the year was not an unreasonable happening and the professor was a reasonable man. It wasn't the fog he blamed so much as the swiftness of its arrival. Fifteen minutes ago the world had been an ordinary world. He had walked about in it freely, if somewhat irritably, following certain vague directions of the hotel clerk as to the finding of Johnston's wharf. He had found Johnston's wharf; extracted it neatly from a very wilderness of wharves, a feat upon which Mr. Johnston, making boats in a shed at the end of it, had complimented him highly.

"There's terrible few as finds me just off," said Mr. Johnston. "Hours it takes 'em sometimes, sometimes days." It was clear that he was restrained from adding "weeks" only by a natural modesty.

At the time, this emphasizing of the wharf's seclusion had seemed extravagant, but now the professor wasn't so sure. For the wharf had again mysteriously lost itself. And Mr. Johnston had lost himself, and the city and the streets of it, and the sea and its ships were all lost--there was nothing left anywhere save a keg (of nails) and Professor Benis Hamilton Spence sitting upon it. Around him was nothing but a living, pulsing whiteness, which pushed momentarily nearer.

It was interesting. But it was really very cold. The professor, who had suffered much from sciatica owing to an injury of the left leg, remembered that he had been told by his medical man never to allow himself to shiver; and here he was, shivering violently without so much as asking his own leave. And the fog crept closer. He put out his hands to push it back--and immediately his hands were lost too. "Really," murmured the professor, "this is most interesting!" Nevertheless, he reclaimed his hands and placed them firmly in his coat pockets.

He began to wish that he had stayed with Mr. Johnston in the boat shed, pending the arrival of the launch which, so certain letters in his pocket informed him, would leave Johnston's wharf at 5 o'clock, or there-abouts, Mondays and Fridays. Mr. Johnston had felt very uncertain about this. "Though she does happen along off and on," he said optimistically, "and she might come today. Not," he added with commendable caution, "that I'd call old Doc. Farr's boat a 'launch' myself."

"What," asked Professor Spence, "would you call her yourself?"

"Don't know as I can just hit on a name," said Mr. Johnston. "Doesn't come natural to me to be free with language."

It had been pleasant enough on the wharf at first and certainly it had been worth something to see the fog come in. Its incredible advance, wave upon wave of massed and silent whiteness, had held him spellbound. While he had thought it still far off, it was upon him-- around him, behind him, everywhere!

But perhaps it would go as quickly as it had come.

He had heard that this is sometimes a characteristic of fog. Fortunately he had already selected a keg upon which to sit, so with a patient fatalism, product of a brief but lurid career in Flemish trenches, he resigned himself to wait. The keg was dry, that was something, and if he spread the newspaper in his pocket over the most sciatic part of the shrapneled leg he might escape with nothing more than twinges.

How beautiful it was--this salt shroud from the sea! How it eddied and funneled and whorled, now massing thick like frosted glass, now thinning to a web of tissue. Suddenly, while he watched, a lane broke through. He saw clearly the piles at the wharf's end, a glimpse of dark water, and, between him and it, a figure huddled in a cloak--a female figure, also sitting upon an upturned keg. Then the magic mist closed in again.

"How the deuce did she get there?" the professor asked himself crossly. "She wasn't there before the fog came." He remembered having noticed that keg while choosing his own and there had been no woman sitting on it then. "Anyway," he reflected, "I don't know her and I won't have to speak to her." The thought warmed him so that he almost forgot to shiver. From which you may gather that Professor Spence was a bachelor, comparatively young; that he was of a retiring disposition and the object of considerable unsolicited attention in his own home town.

He arose cautiously from the keg of nails. It might he well to return to the boatshed, even at the risk of falling into the Inlet. But he had not proceeded very far before, suddenly, as he had hoped it would, the mist began to lift. Swiftly, before the puff of a warmer breeze, it eddied and thinned. Its soundless, impalpable pressure lessened. The wharf, the sea, the city began to steal back, sly, expressionless, pretending that they had been there all the time. Even Mr. Johnston could be clearly seen coming down from the boatshed with a curious figure beside him--a figure so odd and unfamiliar that he might have been part of the unfamiliar fog itself.

"Well, you've certainly struck it lucky today," called the genial Mr. Johnston. "This here is Doc. Farr's boy. He's going right back over there now and he'll take you along--if you want to go."

There was a disturbing cadence of doubt in the latter part of his speech which affected the professor's always alert curiosity, as did also the appearance of the "boy" reputed to belong to Dr. Farr. How old he was no one could have guessed. The yellow parchment of his face was ageless; ageless also the inscrutable, blank eyes. Only one thing was certain--he had never been young. For the rest, he was utterly composed and indifferent, and unmistakably Chinese.

"I hope there is no mistake," said Professor Spence hesitatingly. "Dr. Farr certainly informed me that this was the wharf at which his launch usually--er--tied up. But--there could scarcely be two doctors of that name, I suppose? It's somewhat uncommon."

"Oh, it's him you want," assured Mr. Johnston. "Only man of that name hereabouts. Lives out across the Narrows somewheres. Used to live here in Vancouver years ago but now he don't honor us much. Queer old skate! They say he's got some good Indian things, though-- if it's them you're after?"

The professor ignored the question but pondered the information.

"I think you are right. It must be the same person," he said. "But he certainly led me to expect--"

A chuckle from the boat-builder interrupted him. "Ah, he'd do that, all right," grinned Mr. Johnston. "They do say he has a special gift that way."

"Well, thank you very much anyway." The professor offered his hand cordially. "And if we're going, we had better go."

"You'll be a tight fit in the launch," said Mr. Johnston. "Miss Farr's down 'ere somewhere. I saw her pass."

"Miss Farr!" The professor's ungallant horror was all too patent. He turned haunted eyes toward the second nail keg, now plainly visible and unoccupied.

"Missy in boat. She waitee. No likee!" said the Chinaman, speaking for the first time.

"But," began the professor, and then, seeing the appreciative grin upon Mr. Johnston's speaking countenance, he continued blandly-- "Very well, let us not keep the lady waiting. Especially as she doesn't like it. Take this bag, my man, it's light. I'll carry the other."

With no words, and no apparent effort, the old man picked up both bags and shuffled off. The professor followed. At the end of the wharf there were steps and beneath the steps a small floating platform to which was secured what the professor afterwards described as "a marine vehicle, classification unknown." Someone, girl or woman, hidden in a loose, green coat, was already seated there. A pair of dark eyes looked up impatiently.

"I am afraid you were not expecting me," said the professor. "I am Hamilton Spence. Your father--"

"You're getting your feet wet," said the person in the coat. "Please jump in."

The professor jumped. He hadn't jumped since the sciatica and he didn't do it gracefully. But it landed him in the boat. The Chinaman was already in his place. A rattle and a roar arose, the air turned


The Window-Gazer - 1/55

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