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August 01 , 2007

Hour of Enchantment (Illustrated)


Florence Huyler took one look at the Chinaman. He was wearing a long yellow coat and carrying a huge yellow umbrella. His back was toward her.

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  A classic action and adventure western written for young readers, but thoroughly enjoyable by all.   

“I can’t be sure,” she whispered. “If—”

She paused, uncertainly. In a moment he would move, and then she would know—by his ears.

Again, for a moment, she gave herself over to a study of the magnificent panorama that lay before her. She was poised, like a pigeon in a belfry, but oh, so high up! Six hundred and twenty feet in the air, she could look down upon every skyscraper in the city.


She had been doing just this until her eyes had fallen by chance upon this Chinaman. She had been looking for a Chinaman, looking hard—for a Chinaman with prodigiously long ears. But she had decided to forget him for a time, to enjoy the Sky Ride and its observation towers. And now here he was, haunting her still.

The Sky Ride! Ah, there was a marvel indeed! Eiffel Tower, not the Ferris wheel, could be compared with this. Two steel towers reared themselves to dizzy heights. Between these there were steel cables. And darting from one tower to the other over these cables, like veritable rockets which they were made to represent, were cars of steel and glass from which one might view the magnificent spectacle of the fairgrounds at night. All aflame with a million lights, truly alive with a hundred thousand merrymakers, the grounds seemed a picture from another world.

With great eagerness she had paid her fee and entered the express elevator to go shooting upward toward the stars.


She had decided not to take her sky ride at once. Truth was, Fate had decreed that she should not take it at all that night. This, of course, she could not know. So, quite joyously, she had shot up and up until she was at the very top of that steel tower.

She had shuddered as she left the elevator. The tower appeared to sway, as indeed it did.

“What if, by some secret power of rhythmic motion, it should be made to sway too far?” she whispered to herself now. “What if it should swing and swing, and at last bend and bend—then go crashing down!

“Nonsense!” She got a grip on herself. “That could not happen. This is one of the marvels created by our American engineers. They figure and figure for days and days. Then they set mill wheels revolving, turning out steel. They send steel workers to their tasks, and here we are. Nothing could go wrong. It’s all been figured out.”

Having settled this problem to her own satisfaction, she walked to the rail and began studying the city she had learned to love.


“It looks so strange!” she told herself. And so it did. Streets were steel-gray ribbons where automobiles, mere bugs all black, blue and yellow, crept along, blinking their fiery eyes.

Her eye was caught by twinkling lights atop a skyscraper.

Drawing forth her binoculars she focussed them upon that spot. Then she laughed. Atop that skyscraper was a home, a pent house, a gorgeous affair that shone like marble. About it, all gay with flowers, was a garden.

“A garden party,” she whispered, as if afraid they might hear. “That’s the reason for the strings of lights.”

She could see graceful women in gorgeous gowns with men all in white and black evening dress swaying to the rhythm of some entrancing music.

“They are rich,” she thought to herself. “Bankers, perhaps, or managers of great corporations. Members of Society spelled with a big S. They don’t know I am looking at them.” She turned away again.


“Ah, well!” she sighed. “Even a mouse may look upon a queen. If—”

Had the tower indeed begun to sway in an ominous manner it could not have startled her more than the vision that met her gaze. The little yellow man in the long yellow coat had turned about. She could see his ears now.

“The—the long-eared Chinaman! I—I’ve got him!” she hissed.

At that instant the wind blew his long yellow coat aside, exposing to view the hilt of the three-bladed knife. And in the hilt of that knife jewels shone.


She spoke too soon, for without appearing to see her at all the man glided to an elevator and before she could cry: “Stop him!” shot downward.

“Oh!” she breathed, and again, “Oh!”

The next instant she too had leaped to an elevator and went shooting down after him. “I’ll get him yet!” But would she?


Even as her elevator shot downward from those dizzy heights, she had time to think of the circumstances leading up to this, one of the most thrilling moments of her not uneventful life.

* * * * * * * *

It had been night, deep, silent, mysterious night, when first she had seen that three-bladed knife, and the long-eared Chinaman. No stars had shone. No moon had cast its golden gleam across the black and sullen waters of Lake Michigan. From afar, as in a dream, seated with Petite Jeanne, her companion, on the sand before a little fire of sticks, she had caught the ceaseless rumble of the city.

“The hour of enchantment, it is near at hand,” Jeanne, the little French girl, murmured.

“The—the hour of enchantment?” Florence murmured after her. Not understanding, but being too full of dreams to care, she said no more.

“Yes, my good friend, Florence Huyler, the enchanted hour.”

Once more the little French girl lapsed into silence.


Florence moved her lips as if about to speak. But she remained silent. Why break a magic spell with mere talk?

And to her this was indeed a magic moment. For hours, earlier in the day, she had listened to the roar of the greatest carnival the world has ever known. About her had swarmed a thousand children. Brown heads, golden heads, laughing eyes, weeping eyes, dancing feet, all that goes to make up a host of youngsters on a holiday. And every day was a holiday on the grounds of this great show.

Nor did Florence miss a day of it. Indeed she could not, for she was a part of it.

On her ear drums had beat the noisy blare of the merry-go-round and the shrill whistle of the miniature train, the hilarious shouts of the joy-makers.

“And now,” she breathed, “it is night. They are home, tucked in bed, those blessed children. I have only to rest here by the fire with Jeanne.” She threw out her splendid arms in an air of abandon, then curled herself up on the dry sand before the fire.


“Only just look!” Jeanne began all over again a moment later. “See what I found to-day in the chest. That last one we bought; the oh, so mysterious chest with a dragon on its cover.”

In her hand she held an object that cast back the light of the dying fire.

For the moment Florence could not be roused from her dreamy stupor. Never had she worked so hard as on these days of the great Fair. Never had life seemed so full of joy. Jeanne was with her once more; a whole half year the French girl had been in her native land. Now she was back. There was, too, a spirit of glorious madness about this great exhibition, that somehow entered into her very soul. Cars packed with screaming visitors rocketing across the sky, airplanes drumming and dipping, speed boats thundering down the lagoon; speed, light, joy—who could resist it all?


But when day was done, the throngs departed, it was good to pick up a few broken bits of wood, kindle a small fire here on the beach and play the vagabond through one wee hour of the night. To sip black tea, to stare at the fire, to dream—who could ask for more? And yet here was Petite Jeanne insisting that she “only look.” Look at what?

Ah, well, Jeanne had not worked that day. She had no need to work. She was rich. Fortune had overtaken her at last—given her a chateau in France and much else.

“Jeanne,” she grumbled like some good-natured bear, “you have been curled up among the pillows all day, petting the cat. And now you ask me to look, to think—I, who have done nothing all day but lead children in play, march them up the magic mountain and down again, lift them on the little train and off again, follow them on—”

“Stop!” Jeanne stamped her pretty foot. “It is enough. I would not say ‘Look’ but it is yours, yours and mine, this curious dagger. You must tell me what it is. Only see! It has three blades!”

“Dagger! Three blades!” Florence found herself at last.


“Yes, yes! Three blades! A very strange dagger!”

The thing Florence took from Jeanne’s hand was indeed a curious affair. A knife with a hilt of ordinary length, it had not one blade, but three, extending in triangular formation, ten inches from the hilt.

“That,” Florence declared emphatically, “is something!”

“And see the handle!” Jeanne was her old enthusiastic self. “See how it shines in the light! Jewels, some red, some white—”

“Glass, I suppose.” Absent-mindedly Florence drew one of the white spots that glistened in the light across the crystal of her watch. Then she sat up quite abruptly.

“Dumb! Now I’ve scratched my crystal and it will break. Jeanne! Don’t ask me to buy another chest. No need to buy trouble. That, at least, you may get free.”


“But see!” Jeanne snatched the curious dagger from her. “If it indeed scratches glass, then truly it is a diamond. And see! There are one, two, three, four—oh, how is one to count them? There are many jewels, and they go round and round the handle.”


“Yes. Surely! They are diamonds. And the red ones are rubies. Half belong to you and half to me. For see, we bought the box together, the box with the dragon on the cover.

“Truly!” she cried, dancing across the sand, waving the dagger over her head. “Truly this is for me the hour of enchantment!

“Listen!” The little French girl’s voice changed abruptly. She held up a hand.

From somewhere in the distance came the slow D-o-n-g, D-o-n-g, of a clock striking two.

“The enchanted hour!” Her tone was solemn.

Once again she swung her hands high. Next instant a sharp cry escaped her lips. The three-bladed knife with all its jewels was gone. Some one half concealed in the darkness at her back had snatched it from her.

It was the stout Florence who sprang to her feet and, but for Jeanne, would have dashed away in mad pursuit.


But Jeanne prevented this. She leaped forward just in time to seize her friend about the waist.

“No! No! My friend, you must not! You will be killed! He has a knife!” she exclaimed in a hoarse whisper. “He has that dagger with three blades! You—you have nothing!”

“I have my two hands!” Florence continued to struggle. “He is small, only a little Chinaman. I—I saw him. I’d break his back if he did not give me the knife!”

“But think!” Jeanne loosed her hold as Florence ceased to struggle. “It is only a dagger, a dagger I found in a box, and we paid so little for that box.”

“Only a dagger with a hilt encrusted with jewels!” Florence dropped to her place beside the dying fire.

“Rich for a moment,” she sighed, “then poor forever.


“But I’ll know that man if I ever see him again,” she added hopefully. “He had the longest ears of any person I ever saw. He wore an orange-colored cap, and there was a bit of bright glass—oval-shaped it was—shining from his forehead. And those ears!” she exclaimed. “Who could mistake them?”

“We will find him. Truly we must!” Jeanne spoke with confidence. “This is the enchanted hour. My enchanted hour!”

* * * * * * * *

And now, twenty-four hours later, shooting down, down, down, a hundred, two, three, four hundred feet, Florence was in pursuit of that very long-eared Chinaman. From his belt had shone the jeweled hilt of the three-bladed knife.

“It’s ours!” she muttered low to herself. “Jeanne’s and mine. I’ll get him yet!”

But would she?


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