Title: The Girl Scouts at Bellaire; Or, Maid Mary's Awakening
Author: Lilian Garis
Release date: May 27, 2008 [eBook #25626]
E-text prepared by Al Haines
Maid Mary's Awakening
"The Girl Scout Pioneers,"
"The Girl Scouts at Sea Crest," Etc.
Cupples & Leon Company
By LILIAN GARIS
THE GIRL SCOUT PIONEERS,
Or, Winning the First B. C.
THE GIRL SCOUTS AT BELLAIRE
Or, Maid Mary's Awakening
THE GIRL SCOUTS AT SEA CREST
Or, The Wig Wag Rescue
CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, NEW YORK
Copyright, 1920, by
Cupples & Leon Company
"Next to a honeymoon I think a vacation out in Bellaire is about the best," decided Grace.
"And, pray, what is your idea of a honeymoon?" inquired Cleo.
"Well, it's something like a trip to Europe in one way, because it's hard to arrange; that is, a real honeymoon is, and it's almost as thrilling because it's so entirely different. Sister Mabel is trunking what she can't get in her hope chest, and she says a wedding is the one unlimited wonder of life."
"But why the trip to Europe?" persisted the logical Cleo.
"Oh, you don't have to be so exact," retorted Grace, unwilling to show defeat. "I was only thinking that when some one goes away—far away, all sorts of nice things are said about them; and when a girl gets married her maw" (and Grace drawled the ma) "says she has been a perfect daughter."
"Oh, I see," Cleo replied, somewhat satisfied at the diagraming, "and our vacation out at Bellaire is to be a cross between a wedding and a trip to Europe. I'll take the wedding wing, please," and she hummed the march that always echoes orange blossoms.
"Wedding ring, you mean. Well, I'll take the port that puts me beyond criticism, not too far away, of course," qualified Grace. "But do you know, Cleo, your aunt is a perfect fairy godmother to come to the rescue now. Think of early summer in the New Jersey mountains! No end of bunnies and wood nymphs out there!"
"Well, you see, mother and father have to travel this summer, and Aunt Audrey is going to stay home. Here's Madaline. Let's see what she thinks about it all. Maybe she'll add the christening to our wedding and honeymoon," suggested Cleo.
"Oh, girls, you should see the dearest little piccaninny I just saw——"
A gale of laughter interrupted Madaline.
"There!" exclaimed Cleo. "Didn't I tell you she would bring the christening!"
"What's the joke? One black baby is cute and funny, but not bad enough to give you two girls a fit," Madaline remarked rather peevishly.
"Oh, come on, Madie," coaxed Cleo, linking her arm into that of the dimply girl, "we were just waiting for you to decide all the details. Your dad, and my dad, and Grace's dad may be traveling about all summer, and our mothers are lovely to let us all go off together. We have just been saying this vacation promises to be the biggest event in our lives, next to going on a honeymoon, or having the unlimited joy of the—those who get all sorts of unsolicited compliments," she patched up the "far-away" possibilities. "And when you said 'kinky' kid we thought that supplied the missing link, the christening. But isn't it glorious to go away out to Jersey in a touring car, with trunks strapped on——"
"And our feet on a mountain of boxes," put in Madaline with a rather discounting tone of voice. "Of course, I adore motoring, but I think we should decide on the exact size and number of hat boxes."
"Practical Packie!" declared Cleo, "and that's a good joke, isn't it? Speaking of packing, I never knew they called Patsies Packies, until Mother told me the other day that's the most common of the little Irish nicknames. Isn't it cute? Packie Mower! I believe we will christen you Madie," suggested Cleo.
"No, please don't. You know I am a little bit truly Irish, and that might sound like a parody."
"I can just see how we will get ready for that vacation if we keep on wandering," Cleo reminded her companions. "Makes me think of the song about the butcher who rambled, and rambled until the butcher cut him down. Oh, no, it was some one else who rambled, because the butcher, of course, did the cutting. They always do. But we do the rambling, and we always do that. Now, let us plan for that tour, and the vacation to follow."
"First, Cleo," said Madaline quite seriously, "let me say, I think your aunt is a dear to take us in for our vacation. Mother may go to the beach later, but I think the country first is just wonderful."
"And we are sure to have a great and glorious adventure," said Grace.
"Three of us couldn't miss finding that."
"Like a wedding!" Cleo teased Grace.
"Oh, you're horrid!" Grace pouted. "I'll withdraw that illustration if it will make peace in the family. But about the hat boxes. I must take my leghorn hat in the car, and in a box."
"And I have my brown poke. I couldn't possibly travel in that," added
Cleo, "yet I must take it."
"There's my frilly georgette. It would look like a rag if it were not packed in special tissue paper for traveling," affixed Grace, "but one small trunk certainly won't take in big hats."
"Oh, I'll tell you!" Cleo discovered. "We try our best hats in one box all fitted in together. If they won't go we'll pack them in a big strong wooden box, and express them. I do hate boxes to spoil a nice long ride like that, when we want to snooze off, and feel luxurious."
"And they look so common when they're all strapped around like gypsies moving. As if we couldn't wait for the express," added Madaline.
"There, don't you see how near we are coming to a honeymoon?" said Grace. "I'm sure no hope chest of mine will ever be more important than this vacation trunk. Shall we take our Scout uniforms?"
"Shall we?" echoed Madaline.
"Oh, certainly," replied Cleo. "The mountains are wonderful for hikes."
"But we are going to make it an absolute vacation," Grace reminded the others.
"We will surely want a hike for the fun of it," resumed Cleo, "and I don't believe we could enjoy the mountains, if bush and bramble bite at our regular skirts. The khaki is so strong and durable, it defies even the wild black berries, and you know what pests they are."
"Well, I brought each of us a little note book; daddy gave them to me," said Madaline, "and let's sit down, and make out our lists and schedules. Isn't it thrilling? Surely this is as good as a honeymoon, just as Grace says. We might call it a 'Junior Jaunt,' I'm going to put that at the head of my note book," and the dimples dotted in advance the precious page of preparations.
While we leave the chums to their plans for the vacation at Bellaire, which is to be much more than a vacation in its exploits, experiences, and adventures, we may renew our acquaintance with these same girls met in the first volume of the series: "The Girl Scout Pioneers; or, Winning the First B. C." As told in this story it was through the mill town of Pennsylvania, known as Flosstown, because of its noted silk industries, that the True Tred Troop of Girl Scouts found scouting a delightful means of getting in touch with girls in the mills, whose characteristics and peculiar foreign traits stamped them as picturesque, novel and fascinating. Tessie and Dagmar, two girls of the Fluffdown Mills, decide to break away from their surroundings and do actually run away, falling into the "hands of the police," in a most peculiar way.
Dagmar is housed in a novel jail, while Tessie is "at large" still, trying to make her way to the beckoning city, with its alleged thrills and glories. After disastrous experiences Tessie obtains employment in the home of the fairy-like Jacqueline Douglass, and through the jolly scouting of Cleo, Grace and Madaline (the trio who tied a man to a tree in River Bend Woods) the runaway girls are finally brought together at a Fairy-Fantasy in the wildwoods, all secretly planned by Jacqueline. The identity of the man who was the "victim of scouts" is finally disclosed, and the mystery is eventually unraveled. A hidden deed, worthy of particular merit, was privately marked to the credit of Cleo, who had risked her life to save that of another girl, and, in doing so, had promised herself no one would know of the adventure. But for this she is finally awarded the Bronze Cross, much to her own and her companions' surprise.
The story has a purpose, and to both the American girls and those of foreign extraction it shows the value of such safe and sane agencies as the Girl Scouts, while the book is absorbing in its plot, quite irrespective of the Scout detail.
And now the three girls of True Tred Troop are deciding to shed their drills and meetings, while seeking adventure in the pretty town of Bellaire, nestled against the New Jersey mountains. Madaline had furnished the note books, while she and her companions were furnishing the notes.
"There," decided Cleo, jerking her head to one side in the bird-like way that had earned for her the name of Perky, "if we carry all these plans out we will surely have a wonderfully neat trip. I want it to be neat, and I positively protest against bananas, oranges, or other slushy fruit en route. When we want to eat à la carte we must dismount. Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful if our car should break down, and we would have to finish our journey on muleback!"
"Or take a stage coach!" suggested Grace.
"I prefer an express wagon, it's more roomy," put in Madaline, "and a stage coach in Jersey would be nothing but a plain jitney, full of women, and bundles——"
"And nary a bandit to hold us up, except the charity campaigners demanding their toll," finished Cleo. "Well, I guess we had best stick to the good touring car, and thank our lucky stars dad has business in New York, and momsey wants to do some shopping, that includes everybody and everything. Now there is nothing left but the horrible details, all written down in Madie's nice little books. Thank you, Madie, for the contribution, and now let's adjourn. There is no end of things to attend to. Isn't it just glorious to think of having at least a month in the best part of young summer?"
They all thought it was, and with the decision their actual preparations were begun.
The great day had come, and with it the girls arrived in Bellaire, after a delightful motor trip from Pennsylvania. Stopping in the morning at New York, Mr. Harris, whose guests they were, piloted them to one of the big hotels, where their own touring car took its place in the long line of handsome motors, and where Collins, the Harris chauffeur, looked quite as important as any of the other uniformed drivers.
"Now, suppose we were all piled up with hat boxes," whispered Grace to
Madaline, for Grace had a distinct liking for good style.
"But isn't it warm?" remarked Cleo, whose tangled tresses had a way of gathering heat. "I almost wish I had worn a thin blouse."
"We'll order a light lunch, Kimball," remarked Mrs. Harris to her husband, "as the girls can scarcely wait to get out to Bellaire. Then I'll return with you, and we will leave them to their fate. I'm sure it will be a kind fate when directed by your good natured sister. Hope she won't spoil them." And the waiter returning with the order would surely have smiled, had he been human, and not a waiter, for the group awaiting his approach made small effort to conceal his welcome.
En route once more from New York to Bellaire it seemed but a few minutes' run, when finally they drew up to the big rustic house, set back in a rocky nook against the mountain.
"Oh, isn't it lovely!" exclaimed Madaline, "and everything is so clear after smoky Pennsylvania."
"Yes, Bellaire is beautiful," Cleo replied, with a show of pride that her relation should be the benefactor. "I know we'll have a wonderful time. Aunt Audrey is like a girl herself, and she knows what girls enjoy."
"Oh, her husband is the author, isn't he?" Grace remembered. "We'll have a chance to see how he writes all his funny books."
"'Fraid not," said Cleo, "Uncle Guy is away. We are going to have everything to ourselves but his study. You can be sure that's all locked up. But look! See that queer woman dressed like a gypsy! See her going along by the hedge! What—do you suppose she is looking for?"
"Early dandelions, perhaps," ventured Mrs. Harris, who had overheard the question as she stopped in her luggage directions to Collins.
"But she isn't like a gypsy either," Cleo insisted. "Look at the lace head dress!"
"And the girl with her," interposed Grace. "My, but she's dressed queer, too. Looks like something from the stage or movies."
The old woman and child had now come up to the big gateway, where the touring car was parked awaiting the exit of another motor that happened to be standing in the Dunbar driveway. As the strange little girl gazed at the tourists she dropped something—a book—and the woman with her, evidently a caretaker, shook her violently at the trivial accident.
"Oh!" exclaimed Grace. "How rough, just for dropping a book!"
"But look! how that girl stares!" whispered Madaline. "As if she couldn't get her eyes off us."
"Isn't the girl pretty," commented Cleo. The tourists were now gazing with fascinated interest at the old woman in her remarkable garb, and the brown-haired child, with the strange, glaring eyes, that seemed to affix themselves on the three scout girls. Altogether she seemed quite unlike other children. Her heavy brown braids hung over her shoulders like a picture of Marguerite in the opera, while her white gauzy dress was banded around with rows of black velvet, just like the artistic costumes worn in Greek plays. This style on so young a child gave a very stagy and quaint effect. She, like the woman, had a piece of lace on her head, but the one was white, the other black.
"See, they have been gathering flowers," decided Cleo, and at that moment the woman picked up the book, and attempted to drag the child away in spite of the latter's very evident desire to stare longer at the faces in the big touring car. "I should like to know where they live. We must find out if Aunt Audrey knows them."
"Can't get at my note book," remarked Grace, as Collins started in the drive, "but I am sure not to forget that girl."
"Nor the old woman," added Madaline. "I shouldn't want her for a nurse." And the last glimpse of the strangers showed the child still dragging behind the woman.
The excitement of arriving at Cragsnook, with its joys of new-found interest, however, soon erased the picture of the pathetic little child and her caretaker from the minds of the three scouts, and when next morning Mrs. Harris bade them good-by and started back to New York, she had no idea what part that first incident of their arrival would play in the children's vacation at Bellaire. In the care of Mrs. Guy Dunbar, otherwise Audrey Harris, sister to Cleo's father, the girls were indeed well placed and safely established, but Bellaire, being a mountain town near New York, possessed many possibilities for exploration, and at this delightful task the girls determined to set out promptly, for even vacation is not interminable.
"You may roam as far as you like," Aunt Audrey told them next morning, when the call of summer fairly shouted in each pair of expectant ears. "The girls next door, Lucille and Lalia, are coming over to meet you, and they will show you all the roads, and ways to get lost and found in."
"But, Aunt Audrey," began Cleo, "we saw the queerest woman yesterday just as we arrived. She was dressed like—well, like a circus person, and she had a little girl with her who just looked scared to death. Do you know who she could be?"
Aunt Audrey burst into a musical laugh. "Many Bellairites dress like circus folks," she answered. "In fact Uncle Guy often charges me with that sort of thing. But what was the special offense of your circus lady? What did she look like particularly?"
"Oh, she wore a black lace scarf on her head, and had some sort of big flowered skirt, and a waist with sleeves like airships. Then the little girl looked like a Greek dancer, and seemed scared to death," illustrated Cleo.
"I don't happen to place that piece of scenery," replied Mrs. Dunbar facetiously, "but if you see her again, and I'm within call, give me a whistle, and I'll report for inspection duty. You know I do quite a bit of painting, and I might like to have a model of that sort. I am sure old Sophia (or is she Azirah?) would fill in beautifully on an oil I am making of yon mountain," with a hand wave in the direction of the gray hills looming in hazy tints and shadowy glows against the early morning sky. Mrs. Dunbar was a beautiful woman, just young enough, rompish enough, and wise enough to get a very good time out of life, and pass some of the pleasure on. With her ashen blonde hair and very deep blue eyes, she looked like a "piece of scenery" herself, as she fluttered about the breakfast room—which was a porch opening from the dining-room, while she made her young visitors happy with her charming grace and genial hospitality.
Grace and Madaline were fascinated by the artistic arrangements of the Dunbar home, but with one member an author and the other a painter, surely unusual taste and effect were to be expected.
"What wonderful plants and vines, and how early for them to be so—profuse!" Grace felt safe in remarking, growing things always seeming exempt from the rule against remarks and criticism.
"Yes, we have a patent hot-house," replied Mrs. Dunbar, "and it works better than the big one out at the garage. You see, Jennie, our cook, is an old fashioned Jersey woman, and she is resourceful, I must admit. See that little shed made of boxes against the kitchen window? Well, Jennie does all her winter gardening in that, heats and irrigates it directly from the kitchen. She claims the steam of cooking is the very best propagator, and we all have to agree with her. Just see the sweet potato vine and the peanuts. Don't they look like the very finest ivies?"
The girls examined the fine growing tendrils that climbed so gracefully from a tiny brick wall, just edging the breakfast room. The "wall" was composed of white tile bricks, and the soft green vines, tumbling over the edges, and capering up on the window ledges, made an effect at once free and conventional.
"Peanuts and sweet potatoes!" exclaimed Madaline. "Who would think they grew such beautiful, soft green vines!"
"I'll leave Cleo to show you about," announced Mrs. Dunbar. "I'm going to a town meeting this morning. We are working for a circulating library, to give reading to the people tied up in the hills. You see stretched out there, over the golf links as far as you can see, are farmers' homes. The folks are always so busy, and always so tired, they very seldom get to our pretty library, so we can see no good reason why we can't send our library put to them by motor. And you youngsters will be interested in knowing this plan includes Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts as distributors. Help yourselves to investigating," she concluded, snatching up her white sailor hat and jabbing it on her head with a most determined if a bit reckless slam. "I'm off till lunch, one thirty, you know. Have a nice time," and Audrey Dunbar was off to tackle the novel project of a traveling library for New Jersey farmers.
Left to themselves the girls literally broke loose, and it was not surprising that Jennie should leave her work more than once, to watch surreptitiously, lest some of her choice baby begonias, set out in their tiny and perishable hand painted pots, come to grief in the rampage of the romping girls.
"Good to populate this big house," commented Jennie, "but swoopy to start out with." At the same time Jennie smiled approvingly as she stopped to watch the three girls run from vase to picture, and from curios to brasses, in their tour of inspection through the artistic home of Guy and Audrey Dunbar. Just now all three chums were squatted on a beautiful old blue Chinese rug, noses almost buried in the silky fiber, each declaring the tones were different blues from those discovered by the other.
A tap-tap of the brass knocker on the "pig-door" off the side porch announced the callers, Lalia and Lucille Hayden, and brought the scout girls up from their rug inspection.
Having met their neighbors the evening previous, the three visitors were soon ready to join them in the proposed tramp over Second Mountain.
"Our violets are just violeting," began Lucille, a jolly little girl who looked like a Japanese doll, with her glossy hair all drawn back in the ultra fashioned style, quite novel to the girls from Pennsylvania. "And there's no end of bunnies, if you like them," she went on, "although I must confess a rabbit or a rat is apt to make me jump at any time. Some of the boys from the academy are in the cross-country run, and they're due over the Ridge this morning. We may get a chance to cheer them if we hurry along," she finished.
No need to urge the girl scouts toward that prospective goal, and a few minutes later the mountain paths registered the first steps in the vacation days of the True Tred Girls.
And the path trodden pointed the way to strange adventures—strange even for such experienced hikers as were the visiting girl scouts.
"Cheers! Joy! Also thrills!" called Lalia, from her lookout on top of a big green rock. "There come the boys! See their red shirts!"
"Oh, yes," agreed her sister, almost pushing her off the big bowlder in an attempt to get the desired view. "Sure enough. Come on, girls. Slide down the rocks on that side and we'll just about meet their line! Oh! there's Bob Bennet, I know his red head; and Andy MacMurry, I know his biplane arms. See them swing!" and Lucille all but lost her balance on the steep down grade, in her attempt to imitate the dauntless Andy, who was just then making famous strides toward the golf links, in the last lap of the Academic Cross Country run.
Along the line of contestants for honors were five boys in all, representing the survival of the fittest in the Spring Sporting Event. Two red shirts were easily distinguishable, as representing the home team, and as these were none other than Bob Bennet and Andy MacMurry mentioned by Lucille, the girls' interest immediately centered in the flying red specks, moving along the great, green golf links like some animated brightly painted automatons. Heads back, chests out, feet scarcely seeming to move, the two red figures were keeping well up with those in gray, and the others in yellow.
"Andy's winning!" shouted Grace, who had quickly made distant acquaintance with the lightsome runner.
"No, it's Bob!" insisted Lucille. "See his red head like a torch bearer?"
"I think Grace is right," corrected Lalia. "That's Andy—see the arms swing!"
"If we could only get over to the club house to see the finish," suggested Lucille. "Oh, there are the Morgans in their car! They will give us a lift. Come on, girls, we can get to the avenue before they pass down," and giving an extra spurt to their already overstrained runners, the girls vied with the real contestants in the honors of marathon.
No need to ask for the lift in the Morgan car, for it seemed all Bellaire was making for the club house to see the finish of the Cross Country Run, and the girls piled on the big car exactly as girls do, when coming and going, to and from the ocean, in the height of bathing season.
"If our boys only hold out!" breathed Lalia. "We'll have the loveliest time at the club house, all our crowd are invited, and we may take our guests, of course," indicating the three visitors who were quite as eagerly interested in the race as were the local members of the party.
"We are starting pretty well," remarked Cleo, holding tightly to her support on the side of the auto. "We didn't expect to fall into a race first day!"
"Oh, vacation is always one grand frolic out here," responded Lucille, "and we always like to make a good start. Here we are," as the car followed the long line of autos threading their way in to the driveway, leading to the big, crowded club house on the emerald golf links.
By this time the runners were almost on their last lap, and cheering and shouting made the air vibrant with the joy of youth and the glory of healthful sport.
"Andy! Andy! Come on, Andy!" yelled the crowd.
"At-a-boy! At-a-boy!" came the shouts of youngsters who seemed to be suspended in the air, hanging on to everything they could grasp, with reckless risk to life and limb.
The club house orchestra had stopped its entertaining tunes, for guests cared no more for music, the scholaristic runs being of more than usual importance in deciding the season's championship.
"Bob! Go it, Bob!" went up a newly invigorated yell, as the runners turned from the broad field into a narrow stretch, that was outlined by the "tape" or finishing line.
"Oh!" screamed Cleo suddenly. "Look! That girl is directly in the way!" and just as she spoke the figure of a girl was seen to dart from somewhere directly into the first runner's path. She had raised her slim arms as if to stop him, and in the surprise of her sudden appearance Andy, who was well in the lead, stopped, staggered and then toppled over in a heap!
Instantly everything was in wild confusion. The crowds closed in around the finishing runners, so that from the cars or club house it was impossible to see more than a solid mass of persons.
"Is he dead?" boys were asking.
"Who was the ghost?" demanded others.
"She ought to be shot," insisted some of the academy boys.
"It was bad enough, to be on the last lap, but to have a ghost shoot out like that would finish any fellow's heart," declared the boy at Cleo's ear. "I hope they teach her a lesson."
"Grace!" Madaline exclaimed. "Did you see that dress? It was the same we saw on the queer girl who stared at us so! Maybe—she's crazy or something. I'm sure I could tell that was the same white dress with the black winders."
"Yes," declared Cleo to the other girls, "we saw her yesterday, and she was with the oddest-looking woman."
"Oh, I'll bet she's the girl they call Mary! Lives somewhere in the mountain, and has that funny old woman with her!" declared Lucille. "If she isn't crazy she's very queer. And however did she get in that line without being seen?"
"Why, she just jumped from behind the hedge," said Angela Morgan, who was driving the car slowly out of the heavy traffic, "and I have seen her with that foreign woman down by the springs, always hunting flowers. They are a queer pair."
"Do you think the crowd will be rough with her?" asked Cleo anxiously. "I never saw such eyes as that child looked out of. Like eyes that looked and couldn't see, sort of dazed," explained Cleo.
"Well, we can't hear who won or what happened until some of the crowd passes out," said Lalia, "If Bob or Andy didn't win I'll be just sick in bed."
"And if anything happened to that queer little girl I'll have more than a mere collapse," added Madaline, who had been almost a silent spectator of the whole proceedings.
Just then there was a break in the line of cars, and directly in front of the Morgan machine dashed the little girl in her white dress, her two big braids flopping up and down on her slight shoulders.
And before anyone could reach the roadway, she had again slipped behind the dense hedge and was lost to view.
"Well, I never!" gasped Cleo.
"We'll have to find that woodland fairy some day," declared Lucille, and just then they heard that Bob had won the race.
It took but a few days for the visitors to become so well acquainted in their surroundings that even the generous assistance of Lalia and Lucille was no longer necessary at "the steering wheel." The diversity of scenery in Bellaire furnished such a contrast to that of Flosston that every day unfolded new wonders, and more interesting exploits.
But it was the mystery of the queer little girl, who frightened Andy MacMurry out of his race, and who had met the girls on their arrival in Bellaire, that furnished the real peak to their mountain interest and adventure. They were determined to hunt her out and unravel the mystery.
"The strange part of it is," said Cleo, as she and her chums were making a schedule for next day in the faithful little note books provided by Madaline at the beginning of their trip, "the very queer part of it is," she continued, "how the girl pops out of nowhere at almost any time, and she seems to disappear just when one thinks she is well within reach."
"Yes," added Grace, "I heard the drug store boy say this morning that a girl named Mary from Second Mountain was getting medicines without leaving any name, and under the new law some drugs, not poisons either, have to be signed for. And Dave, that's the druggist's name, said he supposed now she wouldn't come any more, because when he told her that, she gave him a look like a scared owl. I guess he means an owl looks without seeing, because that's the way our mystery girl looks."
"But she isn't blind," commented Cleo, "for I saw her look straight at us the day we came."
"And now, because we are determined to run her down I suppose it will be ages before we get a glimpse of her again," Grace complained, impatient for the promised excitement. "I asked the druggist if he knew her, and he laughed sort of queer, and said someone in the family must be a root and herb fiend, for she bought the queerest old dried roots and foreign herbs, that no one else ever called for. They even had to send to New York to get some of her orders filled. What do you suppose anyone wants old dried up roots for?"
"You can well guess that old Turkish woman, or whatever she is, can do woozy things with 'yarbs,'" said Cleo, giving the provincial pronunciation to the word "herbs." Then they noted the chime in the hall calling the hour for lights out, and consequently folded their note books to comply with the rules. "But just suppose she is feeding them to Mary! Oh, maybe that's what's the matter with her!" and Cleo bounced from the divan over to the desk to make one last note in the day's records. "There! I shall be sure to remember it was I who—originated that. I'm sure it is going to be part of our plot!"
"And I guess," ventured Grace, "that they get the roots—for—well, for hair tonic," she floundered. "Roots ought to be good for bald heads!"
"Hair roots would be, of course," put in Madaline, excusing a yawn, "but I never saw them advertised."
"When I go in business I shall advertise real hair roots, planted on bald heads. Satisfaction guaranteed or money refunded," quoted Grace.
"Anyone may have marvelous hair by applying Madame Gracia's hair roots," added Cleo. "Just rub it on and watch it sprout! Well, we will go over Second Mountain to-morrow morning, as Aunt Audrey is away, and we will be left entirely to ourselves. But I must not forget very first thing to write to mother. You know she and dad are going West next week, and I may spend the entire summer with Aunt Audrey. You girls are to stay as long as you like, for Flosston Mill magnates, including both your fathers, may have to come to New York for headquarters, and then all our families will leave Pennsylvania."
"Isn't that glorious!" Grace exclaimed. "I think it's a perfectly splendid idea to have all our dads in the one firm. They can't do anything to separate us," and she gave Cleo an appreciative hug.
"Don't forget to dress in uniform to-morrow," Cleo reminded her chums. "We have had enough vacation from scouting I think. I'm really sick for my old, practical self."
"Well, I renew my pledge every day, of course," Madaline declared. "But I do feel lonely for my nice, tidy uniform. Do you suppose we shall attract attention around here?"
"No, indeed," answered Cleo. "I saw a group of girls yesterday in scout uniform. I suppose there is a troop here. But we don't have to look it up unless we get still more lonely. Well, good night, girlies. I am going to try the new dream pillow. Isn't it darling?" and she pressed her cheek to the tiny heart-shaped down pillow, with its embroidered motto case, the latest remembrance from her loving mother.
"We might make them for gifts," remarked Grace. "I think them too sweet for words!"
"And that perfume is—orchid, isn't it?" asked Madaline. "It is too delicate for anything else."
"Yes, momsey likes orchid, and dad buys it, so I guess that's her sachet. Good-night again, girls, and to-morrow we go hunting our wood-nymph; and, girls," with a premonitory perk of her shapely head, "be sure to lock your window because it is right off the porch roof, and with Aunt Audrey away, we can't be sure of old Michael's police ability."
"Oh, Cleo," gulped Madaline, who, being dimply, always seemed the baby of the trio, "do you think anyone would climb up the post poles?"
"No, certainly not, silly," replied Cleo with a show of scorn, "but you see, I must share the responsibility when Aunt Audrey is away, and it is always best to keep windows directly off low roofs locked. Then, if anyone should try to get in we would be sure to hear them. Run away now, and try on your new Billie Burkes. Maybe I'll come in and inspect them when I get myself ready."
The low mountain house presently echoed with the girls' laughter, for indulging in their usual propensity to prolong recreation, a dressing-up contest was crowded in the hour of undressing. Billie Burks and boudoir caps, under long capes and wild draperies, furnished equipment adequate and ridiculous, so that even Jennie, who was dragged from her mending out to the second hall to serve as audience, found herself laughing foolishly at the girl scouts' antics.
Cleo impersonated "Walla-Hoola," with a string of twenty neckties (borrowed from Uncle Guy's room) dangling around her waist, over a combination of pink crêpe and bluebird pajamas. At the back of her neck, in savage glee, was propped the piano feather duster, the same being somewhat supported by another necktie of Kelly green hue, that banded her classic brow.
Madaline "tried on" Circe, all swathed up in a billowy white mosquito netting, that might never again be used as a bed canopy. She found her "rock" on a third floor landing, and clung frantically to the stairs post, while the wild sea of perfectly good oak steps dashed savagely at her uncovered toes. She also pink-pinked Cleo's ukelele, according to Circean traditions.
Grace rolled around the floor in the ocean waves—the lost soul who was to be saved by someone, anyone would do, so far as Grace was concerned. All she had to worry about apparently was the roll. Had she been a little older, and just a little more rotund, one might have suspected her indulging in a treatment; but it required, finally, the combined strength of Cleo and Jennie to extricate the "lost soul" from the meshes into which that roll and a couple of fine silkoline quilts had engulfed her.
"Mrs. Dunbar wouldn't like to have the quilts soiled," interposed Jennie wisely, "and now, girls, dear, do run along to bed. You've had a fine time, and I enjoyed the show first rate."
"Thank you, Jennie!" panted Grace, crawling out of her cocoon like a human caterpillar. "We had a lovely time also. And, Jennie, will you please be sure to leave your door open? Michael may be a very sound sleeper, and you know we all have to be on guard to-night."
"Indeed, Grace, not a step could come up that gravel path, or through the grass itself, but I would hear it"—Jennie was proud of her nocturnally acute sense of sound, or suspicion of mere noises—"and you may sleep sound as Michael himself, for nothing will come near this lodge unbeknownst to Jennie Marlow."
"That's a good Jennie," Cleo patted the trusted servant, "and if I hear even the tiniest bit of a noise, like a chipmunk, or a tree toad, you can expect me to come pouncing into your nice big feather bed."
"And leave us!" protested Madaline, who was no longer the entrancing
"There'll be room for all of you, crosswise, like our old buckboard," Jennie assured them once more, and this time the "good-night" was allowed to take effect.
A half hour later Cragsnook was snuggled in the stillness of a beautifully soft night, pillowed against the Jersey mountains, and cradled in the sweet scented foliage of giant tulip trees and ambitious beeches. The trees at night seemed unfathomable, and this denseness increased the darkness and magnified the shadows.
But the three girl scouts under Jennie Marlow's protection, slept and dreamed of their next day's quest in search of Mary, the phantom wood nymph, or Mary the fleet-footed maid of Second Mountain.
She must surely live somewhere between Bellaire and that mountain, beyond which the girls had no definite idea of territory. A pretty lake formed the boundary, and up to that line they had planned their search.
After all their preparations for burglars or other scary visitors, it was rather disappointing to come down to breakfast next morning just as calm and complaisant as usual; in fact it was calmer, for the absence of Aunt Audrey was readily felt in something like loneliness. Madaline was even threatened with a fit of homesickness.
Jennie brought the muffins, and it struck Cleo she was quieter than usual. A snappy "good morning" in that tone that implies "eat in a hurry and clear out," added another note to the already discordantly charged atmosphere.
"Do you know, girls," announced Grace, pushing aside her grapefruit, "I feel exactly as if something were surely going to happen to-day."
"So do I," spoke up Cleo; "I feel as if a nice early hike over the big gray mountain is going to happen, and I am sure of it."
"But I mean something odd and queer," insisted Grace.
"Did you feel that way the day you tied the man to the tree?" teased
"If you did, I'm not going out with you," spoke up Madaline, disregarding table manners to the extent of making a pyramid from her yellow muffin crumbs. "I feel awfully queer, too, and I'm not going to take a risk with Grace, if she's going to be reckless."
"Can't see why you should fear me, Madie." Then noticing the homesick look on the usually dimpling face, Grace "broke out," as Cleo called her spells of exhilaration. "I'll tell you," offered Grace. "We'll take our mountain sticks, loaded water pistols, and I have Benny's air gun, and we'll go hunting. Of course we wouldn't really shoot bunnies, but—we'll shoo them. Andy Mack told me yesterday the woods are just full of all kinds of young hunters now, but they are mostly from the city, and after flowers. You can take a bag or a basket, Madaline, to carry home your precious roots in, because you know what a time we always have spoiling our hats that way."
Madaline gave a wan little smile, for her, and then surprised her chums with declaring she believed she would stay home and help Jennie transplant some lettuce, as she loved to do transplanting.
Whether or not the remark was overheard in the kitchen, Jennie swung open the door as Madaline finished speaking, and as she confronted the girls there was no mistaking the look on her closely lined face.
Jennie was mad!
"Lettuce!" she repeated. "Indeed we have none to transplant. My beautiful bed is entirely destroyed!"
"Oh, how?" exclaimed the girls.
"I don't know," replied the maid, still seething with indignation, "but I'm likely to think it wasn't a mountain rabbit that did the damage, for the plants were yanked up by the roots, and bunnies just nibble the tops!"
"Oh, that's such a shame!" declared Cleo, "and you were counting on having it just right when Uncle Guy returns. Who would do that?"
"Well, there's some awful queer folks around here lately," went on Jennie, as she slipped the breakfast dishes on the tray. "They don't know anything about folks' rights. Think everything growing is common property. There's one old woman who pretends she doesn't understand me when I tell her to stop digging in the lawn, and what she digs is nothing but old roots and weed stuff," and Jennie threw back her shoulders, assuming an attitude of righteous indignation.
"What kind of looking woman is she?" asked Cleo, thinking, of course, of the queer woman in the foreign costume.
"She looks like a circus parade," Jennie declared, "but she's no more circus than I am. It's lots easier to hide mistakes when one pretends she's foreign and doesn't understand."
"And has she a little girl with her?" questioned Grace. Even Madaline was interested now.
"Yes, poor child. A half-scared-to-death little thing, that runs like a bunnie if you speak to her," replied the maid.
"That's just whom we are looking for," declared Cleo. "We saw them the day we came, and felt that the little girl needed friends. Then at the Cross Country Run the other day she almost knocked Andy Mack down; she jumped out so suddenly just as he turned into the last lap. She is crazy, I think," finished Cleo.
"Then, I'm not going to hunt her," declared Madaline, "crazy folks are dangerous."
Jennie laughed at their expressed fears. "That child isn't crazy," she declared, "but it's a wonder she isn't, with that old woman tagging around. Well, I don't suppose she stole my lettuce, but I'm going to watch out for people on these grounds after this," and Jennie swung herself through the double acting door with such energy, the portal made a swift return trip on its hinges.
"There's some connection between buying roots in the drug store, digging roots from the lawns, and—maybe she took the lettuce," figured Cleo.
"Oh, come on," implored Grace. "I'm sure we will find that little fairy out to-day, and I promise you, Madie, I won't do anything rash. Come along, there's a dear," and Grace slipped her arms around the girl who threatened to come down with a fit of lonesomeness. "Come on, maybe we'll meet Andy's little brother."
"I'll go, not on account of the little brother though," quickly explained Madaline, to forestall a laugh.
But it was the little brother, Malcolm by name and Mally by adoption, who "happened to meet" the girls, just under the mountain.
"Where y'u goin'?" he inquired, winding up his kite string, regardless of the trees between the kite and his hand.
"Hunting," answered Grace. "Want to come?"
"Huntin' what?" asked Mally.
"We're not sure, but we'll take anything we can find, even little boys!" teased Cleo.
"Oh, will you!" Mally fired back. "You don't have to. Say, Madaline, I know where there's some Jack-in-the-Pulpits," he added, sidling up to Madaline. "The kind you were looking for the other day. Jack Hagan is going to meet me over by the creek at ten, and if you girls want to come along I'll show you where to hunt things."
"No bears?" protested Cleo.
"Well, there's weasles and mink in that creek, and you'd think they were bears if one of those grabbed you," Mally declared.
"Lead the way!" ordered Grace, mounting her staff on her shoulder, and the little hunters started off.
"Say, Mally," began Cleo, as they struck a clearance in the otherwise tangled brush and bramble path, "do you ever see a little girl who has big long braids, and never wears a hat?"
"Sure," replied the boy. "That's Mary. Her old granddad's a nut."
"Has she a granddad?" Cleo followed. "I knew it. A girl like that always has. Where do they live?"
"Don't you know? Huh!" Mally answered scornfully. "Thought everybody knew old Doc Benson. He's a nut on flowers and growin' things."
"But where does he live? Could we go near his house?" Grace asked eagerly.
"If the old lady doesn't chase you," replied the boy, making a running jump over a huge stone, one of the many bowlder rocks that continually roll down the mountain.
"Suppose she does. She can't hurt us, can she?" pursued Cleo.
"One of the fellows said she hurt him all right," declared Mally. "She shook him 'til he lost all his marbles. Hey, Jack!" he yelled, cupping his hands to his red lips. "Here we are, over near the swamp!"
Jack evidently spied his chum at that moment, for although tall brush obstructed his view of the hunters, he answered with a "Whoo-hoo," and ran along in their direction. It took but a few moments for him to reach the party.
"I'm late," he apologized, his grin and freckles supplying real local color to the dramatic statement. "Had to dig a big fern root for Mary."
"Oh, for our Mary—the queer Mary?" exclaimed Grace.
"They call her Maid Mary," went on Jack, "but she ain't big enough to be no maid. She couldn't cook nor nuthin'."
"Maid Mary!" repeated Cleo. "That's awfully romantic. Wherever did she get the maid tacked on?"
"That's her name," insisted Jack. "She al'lus says it is, when you ask her."
"But where is she now? We want to see her," said Grace.
"Come along then and I'll show you where she's diggin'. She's al'lus diggin' roots."
Now, all keyed up, and plainly excited that Jack and Mally should lead them so readily to their quarry, the girls followed the boys in silence—the boys, however, did plenty of talking to fill in the breach. They evidently cared less for Maid Mary than they did for "Sunnies," and as the creek was their hunting ground for the wily little fish and they were now going away from the pools and puddles that ran and swelled into the creek, both lads were inclined to travel faster than even scout girls could follow over the rough hills.
"There she is!" exclaimed Mally, pointing to a white speck in a green field. "Better run up quiet or she'll dash off like a deer," and making some mysterious sign to Jack, the erstwhile pathfinders darted off themselves toward their clew.
"There she is," repeated Grace, "and as brother Benny would say, Now it is up to us!"
"Do hurry, Madie, she may run away!" warned Cleo. They were hurrying indeed, and the request seemed superfluous, for never did three girls make more haste in crossing that stretch of meadow. In fact Grace and Cleo were running, and now Madaline jumped to their pace.
"Do you think maybe they keep goats?" the latter managed to ask, and in spite of their serious haste both Cleo and Grace shouted in laughter.
"Goats!" they both exclaimed.
"Because if they do I'm not going near the old place. I'm awfully afraid of goats and geese."
"Because you're so nice and fat!" teased Cleo. "You're afraid they'll take you for—for sausage. But—here we are! Don't let us frighten the child," and her voice was now lowered to a whisper.
The little girl, with the long brown braids, sat in a bed of beautiful pink clover, and with her back to the intruders she had not yet sensed their approach. As before, she wore a white dress and no hat.
"Hello!" spoke Grace cautiously.
She sprang up, but Cleo placed her hand kindly on the basket of ferns and clovers.
"Oh, don't go!" pleaded Cleo. "We want to talk to you."
"But I can't," faltered the child, and the rich cultured tone betrayed her good breeding. In fact she used the long "a" in can't and the girls at once decided she was English.
"Oh, why not?" Cleo followed up quickly. "Don't you want to know us?
We are strangers here."
"I should love to know you," the girl replied, and the tanned skin was suffused with a conscious blush, "but I am not permitted to make friends."
"But we are Girl Scouts," argued Grace, assuming her most cajoling air, "and we are supposed to make friends with everybody," she finished. Grace tactfully fondled a beautiful spray of clover that was making its way out of Mary's basket. This action evidently pleased the child, for she smiled, and handed the spray over to its admirer.
"I have read of Girl Scouts," answered the stranger, "and if only granddaddy would allow me what a wonderful time we could have! Do you all gather flowers in nature study, as your books say you should?"
"Oh, yes, indeed we do," replied Cleo heartily. "Do sit down on this little mound where you were when we came along, and let us have a nice quiet talk. No one is near to hear us!"
At that the strange girl glanced furtively toward a clump of blackberry bushes and put her finger to her lips.
"Reda is there, my nurse, you know, and she is very strict. I could win granddaddy over only for her," and the deep-set eyes seemed to freeze over in that glassy stare the girls had noticed before.
"Quick, tell us, where do you live? May we go to your house? Perhaps your grandfather would like us?" Cleo was crowding her questions, lest the woman called Reda should suddenly pounce upon them.
"Perhaps," said the girl, now so dreamy and vague the girls almost felt helpless to pursue their mission.
"Do tell us where, please!" pleaded Grace, watching the bushes swish back from the place she felt Reda was concealed in.
"By the big twin chestnuts," replied the child.
"What is your name?" asked Cleo eagerly.
"Maid Mary!" again came an answer, but the little stranger was now moving off in spite of all the efforts being made to detain her. Madaline was almost too far away to take part in the conversation, she was plainly afraid of the woman in the bushes.
"What is the rest of your name—Mary what?" insisted Grace.
"Reda says it is only Maid Mary, but I know the rest of it, and some day I am going to tell it!" flashed the child with a sudden blaze of defiance.
"Where are the twin chestnuts?" asked Cleo, determined not to thus leave the clew they had so eagerly sought.
"Over the mountain by the lake," replied Mary, and "Good-by," she almost sobbed. "I love you! There!" she cried, springing over the little stream at their feet, just as the unwelcome figure of old Reda emerged from the blackberry patch.
The girls stood staring at the fleeing child. They saw the old women put her hand up to shade her eyes, that she might better see who they were, for undoubtedly she suspected Mary had spoken to them. Then Cleo whispered to Grace:
"Make believe picking something! Don't let her see us looking."
"Here are some more!" called Grace loudly to Madaline, waving a bunch of quickly gathered daisies and clover. "Wait a minute, and see this one."
The call was given to throw the old woman off the track, and give her the impression that nothing more than flower gathering had been their intent.
Madaline appeared glad enough to see Grace and Cleo coming toward her, for at that very moment she had decided to run.
"Can you see what—the old woman is doing?" Grace asked Cleo. "Don't look—back—directly but stop to pick up something, then you can see."
"She must be scolding," replied Cleo, "for she's wagging her head, and shaking her old brown fist. Dear me, how I hated to let her swallow up that lovely girl. Do you suppose we can ever rescue her?"
"Do I?" flaunted Grace. "I just can't wait to get at that rescuing. I guess all our scouting will have to come back to a S.O.S., for never was there a clearer case of need than this. That hateful old woman has the child hoodooed, or hypnotized, or flimflammed," she declared, giving a wide choice of active transitive verbs for Cleo to choose from.
"But isn't the girl a darling?" enthused Cleo. "I could just love her like a picture in a book. And she said she loved us! Wasn't that quaint!"
"Oh, Madaline! You missed it!" Grace charged the girl who was too timid to interview Maid Mary. "We are going to find her house. And she's just wonderful." This last was pronounced with that effusion peculiar to the modern use of the word "wonderful." Nothing could possibly be more or at least so superlative.
"Why didn't you lasso the old woman?" teased Madaline, referring to the trick Grace played on another occasion told in our first volume.
"I would have, only you were too far away to pull the rope!" fired back Grace. Nevertheless her tone implied she would not stop at rope or swing, if she found such a feat necessary in the rescue of Maid Mary.
"What a queer name—Reda," Cleo reflected, when once again they started over the rough road toward Cragsnook. "It ought to be pronounced as it is spelled instead of 'ree'—she looks red enough in that blazing outfit."
"But what a pretty accent the girl used," remarked Grace. "Do you suppose she's English?"
"Maybe from Boston," suggested Cleo, "but the old woman, I should judge, is a native of the whole geography, well beaten with an oceanic egg beater, or if not that conglomeration, I should guess she owned an entire island in the wildest ocean, where there were nothing but ship-wrecked rummage sails and old crow squaks."
"That's bad enough, anyway," commented Madaline, who seemed a trifle out of the picture, "and I think she is all of that and more."
"Just you watch the True-Treds make for the twin chestnuts!" orated Cleo. "Old Lady Reda had better look out for her lace sun bonnet and flowered petticoat. They may get mixed up in the shuffle."
"How about grandpop?" asked Grace. "What do you propose to do with him?"
"Smother him in his 'yarbs' and roots," pronounced Cleo dramatically, and when they entered the path to Cragsnook, busy brains were concocting marvelously daring schemes to bring about the rescue of Maid Mary.
"Do you think your Aunt Audrey will mind?" questioned Madaline, always sure to find an alibi for anything too risky.
"No, indeed," stoutly declared Cleo. "I shouldn't wonder but she would want to adopt Maid Mary for a model, with those Marguerite braids, and her far-away eyes. Oh, isn't it too exciting? Do you think we need tell Jennie?"
"I—wouldn't," replied Grace, fully conscious such a risk was not to be even thought of.
Madaline was a nice little fat dimply girl, and no one could blame her for not wanting to run from horrid old women up on mountain tops, nevertheless she had never failed in her own peculiar way of performing scout duties, and even the braver girls loved her baby ways of accomplishing the tasks.
Mrs. Dunbar was busy in New York, taking an active part in an art convention, nevertheless she made a flying trip out to Cragsnook that afternoon, to make sure her young guests were happy and well. Being real girls and therefore pardonably human, in telling their adventure, the scouts did not enlarge on their meeting with Maid Mary; in fact the detail involving the displeasure of Reda, the old nurse, was quite lightly passed over in their account of the day as made to the hostess.
Mrs. Dunbar enjoyed the joke perpetrated by Madaline, in her suspicion of a possible goat farm being tucked away in the mountains, thence Maid Mary and the pompous Reda were wont to lug the roots; at the same time she felt unequal to a better guess at the puzzle, for it was now conspicuously clear that roots, all kinds of roots, were being gathered continuously by the little girl and her picturesque attendant.
The three visitors and Mrs. Dunbar were enjoying a refreshing west wind on the square porch, outside the library window, for their confab, and in their summer uniforms the girls made a picture not wasted on the artistic eye of Audrey Harris Dunbar.
"I can truthfully report," she remarked, smiling graciously and betraying considerable of her own good looks, "that you three little girls are already much improved by your visit. I have to make out a blanket statement, as we say in club work, when we make one report cover a number of items, and I would just like to illustrate that statement with a color picture of you girls. You are positively rosy."
The compliment was plainly merited, for Madaline and, Grace had taken on a generous coating of tan and color, and even Cleo's usually pale face was prettily suffused with a shell-pink glow, which brightened her gray eyes, and enhanced the attractive effect of a face all but plain, too keenly intelligent to be overlooked in beauty.
"We all feel better for getting back in service," Cleo replied to her aunt's favorable criticism. "I guess even vacation needs a little duty to keep the play part happily outlined."
"Yes, little niece, you show your daddy's wisdom there, and of course that means you are very like me," with a swoop of her graceful arm coming up to the breast in mock dramatic fashion. "I always knew brother Kimball and I were very much alike, and now I am positive. Of course Kim aimed to be practical, and he has succeeded, while I—just slosh around in my paints. But really, children, I must be off again to that convention. I suppose we will plan to make interior decorations in mural designs around the Capitol dome, to give neighborly effect to our friends in Mars or Saturn or even Venus. Now be good," and she embraced all three with her affectionate smile, "go hunting if you like, but better take Lucille or Lalia along. They are older, you know, and should be wiser, although you have quite astonished me with your applied good sense thus far. I shall send a be-ee-u-tiful report to Flosston. You know, of course, the factory is moving headquarters to New York, and all your families may tour this way eventually. By-by! I hate to go, but I can't let the other ladies do all the gold work on the Capitol."
Sheer admiration silenced the girls for some moments after her departure. Audrey Dunbar seemed like a breath of the refreshing west wind herself, and it was not to be wondered at that her guests should appreciate her generous hospitality and personal attention.
"Shall we have to take Lucille and Lalia?" It was Grace who put the gloomy question.
"I don't know," faltered Cleo. "You see, we don't really know what we may fall into on the other side of the mountain."
"Maybe bandits and caves—and—things," suggested Madaline, characteristically.
"There might be caves, natural ones, I mean," Cleo remarked, "but I don't fancy we would run into any real live bandits, Mally Mack and Jack Hagan seem to monopolize that title in Bellaire, and you know what perfectly little gallants they both are. But we have to live up to our reputation, I suppose, and be wise. It might be wisest to take the big girls along. When, do you suppose, will we ever be classed as big girls?" she almost grumbled.
"Then suppose I run over and see if they can go," Grace proposed, showing her impatience to be on the trail. "A shower might come up and then we couldn't go until to-morrow."
"All right," agreed Cleo. "I'll address the postals while you run over. I see you have both written letters home on your cards."
"And I am going into the garden with Jennie," declared Madaline. "You won't really mind, Cleo, if I don't go along?"
"No, indeed, Madie dear. You just suit your sweet self, and have a good time. That's the very best way for us all to be sure of enjoying ourselves. But look out for pinching beetles in the vines. They bite, you know."
When Grace returned with Lalia, the three, including Cleo, lost little time to taking up the mountain trail towards the Twin Chestnuts, indicated by Maid Mary as marking the spot where she and her mysterious grandfather, as well as the picturesque Reda, occupied some sort of cottage—just what kind even Lalia did not pretend to know.
"We rarely go into Second Mountain," she explained as they started off, "except for dogwood berries in the fall. We do go then in classes from school, for the hills are perfectly beautiful with the red dogwood and the dark blue 'bread and butter' vines. The berries make lovely decorations. And the milk weed pods, too—I have some still from last year."
"It must be glorious in autumn," Cleo answered. "If mother and father get back from their tour in time we might take a house out here, instead of a New York apartment."
"Let's cut through the golf links, then we will be up near the mountain house and we can stop in the observatory. Have you taken in the view yet?" asked Lalia.
"No, but we would love to," answered Cleo. "Auntie told us we should take her field glasses for it though."
"It would be better to look through the glasses, of course, but even with the naked eye you get a wonderful view. What's the matter, Grace? Getting too warm?"
Grace had taken off her neckerchief, and was carrying her hat, and puffing audibly.
"Yes, I am warm. Your mountains are lovely to look at, but a little hard to tread even for us True Treds. Either that or we are going to have a shower!" surmised Grace.
"Both!" declared Lalia, "just look at that cloud! It's swooping down like a big black blanket. Now we have got to hurry. We must get to the mountain house or we will be drenched. There's no other possible shelter."
"Away up there?" inquired Cleo, pointing to the hotel on top of the hill. "I don't believe we can ever get there before your blanket dumps its contents. See, it threatens to burst now!"
At that moment a vivid flash of lightning cut from one black hill in the clouds and buried itself behind another. As if piercing the fathomless blanket and renting holes in its inky cover, a downpour of rain broke through, and even before reaching the earth it could now be seen descending in a heavy mist at the hill top.
"There we are!" shouted Lalia, "and here we are—all dressed up and no place to duck! We can't reach the Mountain House. Let's make for that rock! It may afford some shelter."
Without thought of dissent Cleo and Grace followed their leader through the now pouring shower. The rain seemed almost solid, its sheets were so dense in the downfall, and the terrific peals of thunder, that echoed and rolled over the hills, gave such monstrous volumes of sound as only the big canyons between solid rocks emit. It seemed the stones themselves would be torn out from their pits in the frightful vibrations.
Already thoroughly drenched, the girls in scout uniform seemed scarcely better off than Lalia in her pretty gingham, the summer weight khaki of the skirts, and the soisette blouses shedding the heavy rain more readily, only because of the uniform straight lines and absence of frilly pockets to catch the "buckets'" spill. As for hats—the girls were utilizing these as shields, holding them at ever-swerving angles, to keep the blinding rain out of their eyes.
The big black rock with torrents of water how gushing down its furrows and rills, was reached at last and to the delight of the wayfarers it did offer shelter.
"Why, just see here!" exclaimed Grace, the first to reach port, "here is a cave. We said there ought to be caves in these mountains. And we can all fit in out of the storm. Isn't this wonderful?"
"Port haven in our story, surely," quoth Lalia, "I thought I knew these parts, but I never before discovered these Monte Cristo apartments. Shall we ring for the janitor?"
"Pray do not," replied Cleo, swishing her reservoir hat around to empty its contents. "Let us woo the wooseys undisturbed. I should like to dump the mud out of my boots!"
The rain on the uncovered rocks was still splashing, and a strong wind howling through the trees added to the din. Only at close range could the girls make their voices intelligible. But it was so good to be within shelter. Welcome indeed is any port in a storm.
"There must be more dugouts in this rock," Cleo said, attempting to survey the curved bowlder that formed a huge support for the cedars growing from its top, in a great swerving hedge, clear up into Second Mountain.
"But one is enough for us," Grace reminded her. Then a sound penetrated the now ceasing roar of the torrent. Voices surely, somewhere!
"Hark!" All three girls uttered the exclamation simultaneously.
"It's at the other side!" whispered Cleo, "and it's a woman's voice."
They listened, scarcely breathing.
"That's Mary!" suddenly exclaimed Grace, in the same subdued voice. "I know it is."
They waited a few seconds, listening. The first voice was now answered by another. It was plainly that of the old woman Reda, for the queer, rapid flow of language was not English.
"Reda!" whispered Cleo. "Is that Spanish?"
"Who's Reda?" repeated Lalia.
"The queer old woman with the little girl Mary," replied Cleo. "Are you afraid of her?"
"No," answered Lalia with something of a sneer. "I guess we three could manage her if we had to. Shall we peek?"
"Listen!" commanded Cleo.
Came a small voice through the jagged rocks: "But I will not, Reda, I am not asleep. I saw other girls just like me, and I know I have not the sleeping fever. You always try to make me afraid!" This was Mary.
The angered tones of the old woman that followed this mild outburst of defiance could not be understood except through their accents and emphasis, for the dialect was part Spanish and part West Indian, such as might be used by natives of Central America.
"She's awfully mad!" warned Grace. "We better stay hiding!"
The other girls apparently held the same view of the situation, for while keeping necks craned and ears attentive to the intermittent voices, all were careful not to allow so much as the edge of a skirt to flutter out from behind the hiding rock.
"I do not believe grandpa has it at all," came the decided tones of Mary's round voice. "It is lost forever, and we shall never find it. And next time Janos comes I shall tell him I will not stay here. I am not a baby, and I feel strong and able—to—to go!" she finished, throwing a dramatic quiver into these last words, thereby proving the intensity of her emotion.
Almost a shriek from the old woman followed the declaration, and for a few seconds the girls felt as if something dreadful might happen to the child. Then, like some wild, reckless creature, the girl Mary was seen to dash out from her shelter in the rock, unmindful of the rain still falling, and before the eavesdroppers realized it, she was speeding down the hill, the long braids dangling over her shoulders, and her perpetual white dress soon climbing like a veritable swaddling cloth about her lithe form.
As if delighted with the play of the rain drops, she would toss up her face to defy them as she ran; then flop her arms up and down in a flying motion, not really unlike a wild mountain bird.
While the girls watched spellbound, they saw presently the old woman trudge along after her, still muttering the unintelligible gibberish, easily translatable into wrath and fury, whatever its peculiar language.
"Can we go now?" ventured Cleo.
"It's almost stopped raining," replied Lalia, and as they left the cave a sense of disappointment threw its shadow over all three.
They could not go to the Twin Chestnuts that afternoon, but they felt more positive than ever that Maid Mary was in danger, and their enforced delay in her rescue only served to heighten its purpose.
After explaining to Lalia as much as seemed due in point of politeness, the three girls stopped to arrange their disordered attire in the path, before taking the main thoroughfare through the village. As they adjusted their hats and straightened skirts, they were suddenly conscious of being watched—had that feeling of eyes questioning them.
All three turned suddenly as if answering a voice. As they did so they faced a man—actually confronted him, almost brushing against him.
"Oh!" exclaimed Grace involuntarily.
"Pardon, miss," spoke the man in a distinctly foreign accent, "but were you not with the child, the Maid Mary? Have you seen her to-day? Yes? No?"
Cleo was the first to realize the possible significance of this seemingly inoffensive query, and her look to the other girls signaled them to be cautious.
"We have only been in the mountain, and were caught in the shower," she replied evasively, "and it does not seem to be all over yet so we must hurry. Come on, girls!" she called, and when the foreigner asked the next question he had the echo of his own voice for an answer.
"Now, you see, we will have more trouble to reach her. That man knew we were in the cave, and he also knew Mary and old Reda were behind the next rock. He must have followed us all the way down the hill!" This was Cleo's almost breathless pronouncement, made directly she and Grace reached the porch of the cottage. Lalia had declined their invitation to rest a few minutes before getting into more comfortable attire, so she was not in the conference.
"You could see he was related to the old woman," replied Grace. "His eyes and that kinky hair made him look so much like her."
"They are surely natives of the same country," commented Cleo, "but they may not be related to each other. Oh, I'm so disappointed; I felt sure we could get to the girl's house this afternoon. And did you hear her courage voiced in that decided threat? That she would go away, and that it, whatever it was, is lost forever? Could they be holding Mary for ransom?"
"Kidnapped, do you mean?" gasped Grace.
"I don't know what I do mean, but I sort of wish Uncle Guy were home. If we run into too much danger he would surely know how to rescue us," concluded Cleo.
"Don't let's tell Madaline. She might be too nervous, and I guess she and Jennie had a fine time planting their lettuce after the shower," said Grace quietly.
"Oh, did you get caught in the shower?" anxiously asked Madaline with trowel in hand, and beautifully decked out in one of Mrs. Dunbar's artist's smocks, somewhat bedaubed with paint. "We were alarmed. The lightning struck a tree over in the orchard."
"But it couldn't strike us, for we were buried in a beautiful cave, and if we had only known what a perfectly fine little bandit hang-out we were going to discover, we would have brought our hike packs along. Sorry you missed it all, Madie," said Cleo affectionately.
"But we had a visitor," announced Madaline. "He came just after you left, and he asked so many questions, Jennie sent me out with an excuse to get Michael. He said he was looking for a place to board, but we knew better. He was looking for information," she declared. "We transplanted a whole bed of tomatoes though. Don't I bear evidence of the applied arts in my smock and with the aroma of the green vines proclaiming me—the man with the rake?" she finished grandly.
"A lovely little speech, Madaline. You are a very artistic farmer," Cleo complimented. "And I hope your tomatoes tomate beautifully. But tell us about your visitor?"
"Oh, he wore a yellow duster, like an automobile coat and——"
"That's the man we saw!" Grace interrupted, forgetting in her excitement the plan of keeping their adventure from Madaline.
"Yes, he went toward Second Mountain," continued Madaline, unsuspiciously, "and Jennie told Michael to be sure and let Shep loose, so he would know we had a big dog around. Jennie doesn't like Shep to run through her garden, of course, but she said it would be a good thing to have that man know we were guarded."
"Yes," answered Cleo, exchanging glances with Grace. "It's a good thing to have a dog in a big forest like this. Aunt Audrey home?"
"Nope," replied Madaline. "Come on, let's dress, Jennie promised to go to the Lake with us after dinner."
"Oh, goody, goody," exclaimed Cleo. "Come on, Grace. I feel like an escaped eel in these togs. We had a good time in our old scout uniforms, didn't we? Nothing like it in a good drenching downpour," and she spread out her khaki skirt at each hip in imitation pannier effect, although the effect was rather slippery, to say the least.
It was while Madaline was washing, Cleo and Grace made opportunity to exchange opinions on the strange visitor.
"Do you suppose he is following us?" asked Grace. "If so, don't you think we had better tell Jennie?"
"I shouldn't like to," demurred Cleo, "because you know that would surely put the kibosh on our hikes. If Aunt Audrey were home I feel certain she would allow us our liberty, conditionally, of course. Pshaw! I wish the horrid man had kept away. Isn't it mean!"
Madaline appeared, rosy and shining, from the lavatory; evidently her gardening experience had been both enjoyable and profitable.
Garbed in pretty dainty frocks, and carrying gorgeously brilliant sweaters, the trio, with Jennie as chaperon, raced off to the lake directly after dinner. The evening was delightfully clear and cool after the shower, and the promise of a row out through the willow-bound water was sufficient lure to banish from their minds all thoughts of the suspicious man and the threatening old woman.
A group of boys down on the little pavilion was found to include Andy and Mally Mack, as well as Jack Hagan, and very generously they offered to give the girls a boat ride.
"Anything from a tug to a canoe!" proffered Andy, "and you may row, sail or paddle."
"That's lovely," acknowledged Cleo, "but we promised to take a big flat boat so Jennie may come this time," she smiled gratefully. "We would love a canoe ride, some evening when Aunt Audrey is home."
Doing the next best thing to taking part in the sail, that of providing the big flat bottom boat for the party, the boys promptly rowed up to the clear end of the float and assisted Jennie to embark. Of course the girls hopped in, disdaining so much as the kind hand Andy offered them, and with a united push they were sent out into the pool, that now in sunset looked like "a rummage sail [Transcriber's note: sale?] in a paint shop," as Grace described the brilliantly lighted waters.
Regretful glances were sent after that "big flat bottom boat," but women like Jennie had to be humored, and even good natured boys realized this.
Grace and Cleo rowed up the stream. Many pleasure craft were afloat, and the visitors already knew a number of Bellaire girls and boys who called pleasant greetings.
The lake, wide at the basin, narrowed off into a tiny stream as it followed the course, tracing its origin in the mountain springs. Willows thick as a tasseled hedge hid the banks, and teased the boat as the girls ducked and dipped their way, determined to go to the end, or till they touched bottom.
"It will be almost dark in that dense thicket," Jennie warned them, "and you know we are a good mile from nowhere."
"Oh, just a little farther," begged Cleo; "we want to say we went to the very end."
"Very well," agreed Jennie, who was plainly enjoying the delightful sail in the colorful twilight.
"Look!" exclaimed Grace suddenly. "There's someone in wading! Oh! see, it's our little Mary."
"Sure enough," followed Cleo. "How can she be away down here so late?
"No, wait till we are a little nearer," suggested Grace, thinking quickly, a call meant for Mary might also be heard by someone else. "We can row almost up to her."
Pulling their oars with a firm stroke it took but a few minutes to come within speaking distance of the girl, who now, seeing the approaching boat, was standing knee deep in a golden path of water.
"Who is she?" asked Jennie, gazing intently at the odd figure, for as ever Mary wore white, and her heavy braids fell into the big pocket made of her up-turned skirt. She looked like some elfin sprite painted in pastels, with all the soft greens of foliage, and the wonderfully mellow tints of crimsoned gold shed from the sunset, surrounding the picture and forming an inimitable background.
"Oh, that's our little friend Mary," Cleo replied to Jennie's question. "She's lovely, and Aunt Audrey knows about her." This last of course was said to assure Jennie of the propriety of her charges making friends with the girl in wading.
"Mary! Mary!" called Grace. "Come on for a sail! We have room!"
It was typical of Grace to do a thing like that—to call out the invitation without consulting anyone, or considering possible consequences.
"Hello, girls!" came back Mary's response. "I'd love to go—if——"
As Cleo at least expected, there was someone in the background watching Mary, but the assurance in Mary's voice, that of a new note of courage, further emboldened Cleo. "Oh come on, Mary," she urged. "We will just row you around here if you like. Jump in!" Cleo insisted, while Mary, now clinging to the side of the boat with one hand, depended on the other to keep her light skirts clear of the water.
"Oh, I am so glad you came," she said. "I did not know just what to do. I thought I might see some of the boys who would help me. Is this your mother?" She stopped suddenly, and stared at the astonished Jennie.
"No, this is Jennie, our friend, our manager," Cleo replied kindly. "But she is just as safe as a mother; you need not fear to speak before her. How can we help you?"
"Janos came to-day," Mary almost whispered, "and I am so afraid of him now. He knows I have friends. He saw you in the cave, but I did not know you were there during the storm." She was speaking quickly, fearfully, in fact, and had no chance to observe the changes working through Jennie's quizzical expression. "And he knows where you live——"
"Was it he who came to our house this afternoon?" asked Madaline.
"Does he wear an auto duster?"
"Yes, that is Janos. And now he wants to get us all away again. O dear! poor granddaddy! I know he is sick, but he thinks he is all right," and the child almost sobbed in her helplessness.
"But is someone watching you now? Is Reda over there?" asked Cleo, indicating the willow banks.
"No, I ran down and said I was going to find my basket I left somewhere before the storm. But they surely will come soon."
"If you are afraid, child," spoke up Jennie, "just you come along with us. We can get a car in the village and I will take you home myself."
Four pair of grateful eyes sent their thanks to Jennie. Mary touched her hand as it rested on the side of the boat.
"Oh, that is so good of you. But—Janos and Reda are not like Americans, they are from the tropics, you know, and different. Oh, we are so miserable and unhappy!" Tears now glistened in the heavy lashes that fringed her dark eyes, and no one seemed to know just what to say next. Cleo was first to recover herself.
"If you could possibly come with us to the landing we might make some excuse for picking you up, and Jennie could go home with you. We might all go. I'll tell you!" a sudden inspiration breaking in on the difficult situation. "Jump in. We will row back as quickly as we can and send the boys over to Bailey's for a big car. Then we will all drive up the mountain with you. We will have the man for protection, and if your old Reda is not good-natured we will not let you stay there to-night. Would your grandfather care? Might he allow you to spend a night with us?"
All the hidden and suppressed hopes in that strangely veiled countenance seemed to burst through now, and Mary's expression, from one of almost impenetrable gloom, assumed a strange light—perhaps borrowed from the sunset.
"Oh, it is too good to be true!" she sighed. "Someone at last is not afraid to help me!"
That settled it. Before Mary realized her position she was sitting securely in the broad seat at the stern of the gliding boat, with Madaline's arm around her, while her delighted fingers trailed through the water, and her almost frightened gaze was fastened on Jennie's face.
"You are a real woman," she surprised her friends by declaring. "Do you know I have not seen anyone like you to talk to since Loved One went away. She was my mother," the child said solemnly.
"When did she die?" Jennie ventured.
"When I was eleven. I am thirteen now."
"And where did you live then?" pressed Cleo, feeling the time was opportune for obtaining something of Mary's history.
"Oh, very, very far away, on an island off Central America," came the surprising answer.
"Do your relatives live there?" inquired Grace, gently.
"No, they all died with the fever, that is, Loved One did, and daddy was lost at sea. Reda thinks I had it, and she says I must not do things like other girls or it will come back and kill me, but I don't believe her now. Since I have known you girls I feel so much stronger and wiser," she finished quaintly, with a significant toss of her head.
"The idea of telling you you were sick, and scaring you into it,"
indignantly spoke Jennie, in whom an instant dislike for the sinister
Reda had taken root. "A good way to make a child sick, I should say.
But what right has she over you? Is she a relative?"
"A relative?" and Mary almost laughed. "No, indeed. Nothing but an old nurse, and not my real nurse either. You see, when granddaddy—as I call him—had to leave the tropics, we had to take the first steamer to get away, and I had no one to care for me after Loved One went, so we just had to accept Reda. Then Janos is her brother, I guess, or some sort of relative, and I could get along with her if he would stay away. I can't tell you the whole story, for it is granddaddy's secret, and I have promised him I would never, never tell anyone why we are up here in the mountains, and why I can't use my own name!"
Again that veil dropped over the soft dark eyes. No one felt like speaking then, for they noticed the girl swallowing hard to choke back the sorrow that threatened to overcome her.
"Well, here we are almost in." It was Jennie who broke the silence, as the boat, now out in the broad open lake, became one of the many turning in at nightfall. "And there are the boys waiting to land us. You don't suppose, Mary, that old woman will make trouble for you?" This with a show of anxiety at the rather difficult position the party now found themselves in.
"No, I am not a bit alarmed. They may think I have got lost, or I might have fallen in the water. Perhaps she and Janos would be glad if I never came back. Then they would have granddaddy all to themselves, and I suppose they would torture him to find out his secret. Oh! dear!" she sighed, "if it were not for him I believe I would just run away."
"You must never think of that," Jennie counseled, "unless of course those foreigners torment you. Cleo, you tell Andy to charge the car to your uncle, Mr. Dunbar, and be sure to say we are in a hurry."
Arrangements were made so promptly Mary was almost bewildered. Another wonder had suddenly come into the life of the timid little girl. She was actually riding in an automobile. How magical is the power of true friends!
"It's just like my dream," she said naïvely. "I dreamed last night I had a ride in an airship, and I haven't been in an automobile since we came to Bellaire."
"When was that?" asked Madaline, who kept very close to Mary as if considering the stranger her own especial charge.
"About four months ago—in winter," Mary replied. "First we stopped in a city, then Janos brought us out here."
Cleo wanted to ask why Mary always gathered flowers and roots, but conscious that many personal questions were more necessary than these, she felt those less important must wait for another time.
"Oh, see!" suddenly exclaimed Mary. "There go Janos and Reda looking for me! Now we can all go in and be talking to granddaddy when they come back. Isn't that fortunate!"
Everyone thought so, for, in spite of all their scout courage, the girls were not especially anxious to run headlong into the arms of two foreigners, who would undoubtedly be angry. The prospect of meeting a benevolent old grandfather was much more comfortable to speculate upon.
"Turn in here," Mary told the driver, and her friends noticed a certain dignity in her command, usually found only among those accustomed to give orders. "There's grandie," she called. "See, he is coming to meet us. Drive slowly, he is not strong on his limbs."
The man they approached was not old, but very tall, stooped and distinguished looking. As the car drew up he threw back his shoulders and stood like some figure posed in defiance. "Granddaddy, here I am!" called Mary, attempting to climb out; "were you frightened about me?"
"Mary! Mary!" he exclaimed. "What does it mean?" and each word sounded like a low moan.
Plainly he was trying to figure out what had happened that the child should return with strangers. Likely he had feared an accident.
"It only means, Grandie, that we have friends, and you are not to refuse them. Let us hurry in before Reda returns. Can your man wait?" she asked Jennie.
"Not very long, I'm afraid," Jennie replied. "We too have folks who may be anxious about us. But we will be glad to meet your grandfather." How the girls blessed her for this!
"Call him professor. Everyone does," Mary managed to say as they alighted.
"Come in, welcome!" announced the man, turning to the foot path that outlined the drive leading to the house.
It was a queer party that left the auto and silently followed Mary and the professor up to the artistic cottage, that stood almost hidden in tall, heavy chestnut trees. In spite of the general loss of this sort of tree, those sheltering the terra cottage bungalow were especially healthy and majestic, as could be seen even in the fast descending nightfall.
Mary rushed on ahead and touched the electric light button inside the door, then she threw open the portal, quite like an experienced little hostess.
"This is the Imlay studio," remarked Jennie, who was the only one in the party familiar with Bellaire. "I thought it was closed when he died so suddenly."
"Did he die here?" asked the man Mary called Grandie, a note of alarm in his voice.
"Oh no, he was abroad and did not return," replied Jennie. It was evident this information brought relief to the questioner, for under the light that shone from the spray of brass lanterns his face perceptibly softened.
Somehow all the mysterious influence which had seemed to surround Mary at their first meeting with her was now oppressively noticeable within that house. It was scantily furnished with what remained of artist Imlay's belongings, but the air of suspicion usually associated with old, abandoned places seemed to fairly seethe through the air. Even Jennie felt it, and to the scout girls, more vividly conscious always of any antagonism, the surroundings were actually uncanny.
"Won't you sit down?" said Mary, observing the almost rigid attitude of her callers. But each politely declined to share the seat offered on the handsome low divan. Grace noticed its carvings looked rather ferocious, while Madaline clung to Jennie, without any pretense of apology. Cleo was now peering at something behind the stained glass door that separated the long living room from that adjoining. It was not exactly a light, yet it passed back and forth and threw weird shadows through the glass. She was wondering if the people kept any other servant than Reda, who was surely not in the house at the time.
Scuffling about aimlessly, the professor suddenly dropped wearily into a big oaken chair, and as Mary turned toward him she too caught sight of the shadows now flickering through the leaded glass, with sinister effect and creepy significance. It might be the shaded glow of a small flash light.
"Grandie!" Mary gasped. "Who are they? Did Janos bring—anyone? Oh, don't move! It may be a trap!"
"Mary, Mary!" he moaned, "must I leave you!" and choking sobs shook the man so convulsively that Jennie dashed across the room and put her hand on the trembling form.
"Sir!" she spoke almost in a whisper. "You must not fear any harm from those wild people. We know they are trying to injure you, but the little girls have found a way to help. We have a man and a car at the door," she said close to his ear. "Can't you and the child leave this horrible place at once?" She spoke quickly, in muffled tones.
"Oh, if we only could!" Mary sobbed. "Grandie dear, you are falling ill! What have they done to you? I heard Janos threaten Reda!"
The figure in the chair was now sagging into a helpless heap. Cleo and Grace, quick to sense the necessity for prompt action, had both hurried to the door to call the driver from the car. Even Madaline forgot her own timidity, and seeing a switch button for what she thought to be lights, she crossed to the corner and quickly pressed a tiny button. As she did so she felt something like a wire with a spool attached, and almost unconsciously she gave the spool a yank. Instantly a flood of light of marvelous brilliancy engulfed the room.
"Oh!" Madaline screamed, shocked by the glare and a queer sizzling noise that hissed through the room. Jennie covered her eyes and clung to a chair, but Mary jumped to her feet and stood staring silently at the leaded glass door.
"Don't move!" she ordered.
There was a sudden crash, the sound of splintering glass, and then the room fell again into the sullen light reflected only from the group of hanging brass lanterns, the artistic shades for the regulation electric lights.
"They are gone!" breathed Mary. "Oh, what a miracle that was! You touched the wire—that sent a current all about them! Grandie!" She threw her arms about the shaking form, "you and I would never have thought of that. Are you safe? Our friends have saved us!"
And Madaline in her fear had actually touched off that alarm!
"Why!" she stammered, recovering herself and springing over to the side of Cleo and Grace, who had reëntered the room. "How did I do that?"
"You touched the secret spring," said Mary. "Even I would have been afraid to do it, for it is so highly charged. But you see our—enemies got the shock, and we only saw the light. How—merciful to think they have gone!"
The very last to recover her composure was Jennie. Woman-like, she had courage enough to face the possibility of caring temporarily for a sick man, but the sudden manifestation of light and the unexplained racket and noise that followed were too much for the good-natured Jennie's nerves. She was now "going to pieces," and the girls found more to do for her than they did to care for Mary and the professor.
"Come on, Jennie," begged Cleo, "just get in the car and we will all hurry out of here as fast as we can. You and Professor Benson take the back seat, and we will all pile in as best we can. I could ride on the tool box if I had to."
"Oh, yes, do come away," Jennie managed to say between gasps of "oh dear me" and "gracious sakes alive." But she was following advice, and was soon being assisted to the back seat by Tom, the driver, who never for a moment lost the set hack-man's look, in spite of all the excitement. "Whatever will Mrs. Dunbar say to all this," further wailed Jennie.
"Don't you worry! Aunt Audrey will be glad we were able to help, and that you were with us," declared Cleo. "Mary says it will be all right to take her grandfather to the private sanitarium, the one we passed along the mountain. Tom knows all about it, and thinks it is almost like a hotel, specially for sick people. Then Mary is coming home with us," declared Cleo delightedly. "Isn't that too lovely?"
Everyone agreed it was, this being evinced by the display of alacrity with which the party were all hurried in the car. Mary had managed to put together somehow a grip filled with the most necessary things for her grandfather. This she directed Tom to take care of, while in her own hands she carried a deep, woven basket, heavy with some articles surely too weighty and compact to be clothing.
Finally "embarked," as Grace called it, they were just turning out into the roadway when Reda appeared alone. Seeing the car she stopped stock still in her tracks, so that Tom was obliged to jam on the brakes or run her down. He did not shift his gears and execute the change of speed without uttering the usual man's grumble, and no one could blame him for this.
"Reda!" called Mary, "we are going out with some friends. You lock up and take care of things. Go on now," she told Tom. "We don't want to hear what she thinks about it."
It was well they did not hear, for a more surprised and excited old woman than the self-same Reda it would not have been difficult to imagine. She gurgled, choked, gulped and stuttered in the foreign dialect, which only the professor and Mary could have understood.
Last seen she was going toward the Imlay studio, that was, and the house of terrors, as it had that evening proved to be for the young visitors at Bellaire.
But the evening was now delightfully changed, and just as her association with the girls had noticeably stimulated and enlivened Mary, so the meeting with the very much alive party had an encouraging effect on Professor Benson. He was now sufficiently recovered to sit up and talk with Mary, and seemed very much relieved to be saved from a bad night in the studio. He insisted he could walk unassisted when Tom drew up to Crow's Nest Retreat, and as he imparted a volume of mysterious instructions and warnings to Mary, besides offering the most profuse attestation of thanks to his rescuers, no one would have imagined him other than a man suffering from a slight nervous attack.
Mary went to the door of the sanitarium with him, and her friends discreetly allowed these two a few moments to themselves.
"Isn't it too wonderful!" breathed Grace as they passed from hearing.
"To think we are going to have Mary with us to-night," added Cleo with a gust of anticipation.
"Can she sleep with me?" asked Madaline. "My bed is the largest."
"Whatever Aunt Audrey says, of course," Cleo felt obliged to answer.
Tom and Mary were returning, and although it was fully dark now, as
Mary stepped again in the car the girls realized she had been crying.
"I have never been away from him before since Loved One asked him to care for me," she explained, "but I feel somehow different now. I do believe I was going to grow black and suspicious, like Reda, when you met me."
"No wonder," Jennie almost snapped. "I'm not what could be called a nervous woman, but this evening has been more than I would like to run into again. Not that I am not very glad to have been along, though I didn't help much, with my own fussing," she felt obliged to add, for Cleo had pinched her arm and Grace unbuttoned her sweater, in an attempt to give the cue not to hurt Mary's feelings.
"Will everything be all right at your cottage, Mary?" asked Cleo, kindly.
"It will have to be for to-night," she replied. "But granddaddy has such precious belongings I will have to attend to things early to-morrow morning. He is dreadfully worried about leaving things, of course, but Janos has gone, and those others——" Her hands went up in a gesture of consternation, and the girls withheld their questions as to who the others were, and what could have been the nature of the mysterious happening in the back room of Imlay Studio.
All this time Mary was guarding the hand-made basket with jealous care, keeping it on her lap, and steadying it with arms as the car rumbled down the mountain road.
They were now within sight of Cragsnook and Jennie shifted about in evident relief.
"Here comes Shep!" exclaimed Madaline, as the big, shaggy dog rushed out from the heather-edged driveway.
"And there is Aunt Audrey," added Cleo. "I'm so glad she's home."
At the sight of another stranger Madaline could feel Mary shrink back, and the faint sigh that escaped her lips was noticed by Grace as well.
"You will love Aunt Audrey," said Grace in Mary's ear. "She is only aunt to Cleo, but we all call her Aunt Audrey, and she's just lovely." This in the most reassuring tones.
"Oh, yes," Mary answered, conscious her tremor of timidity had been noticed. "She looks so—so like my own Loved One as I remember her. I was thinking I may make a lot of mistakes, but you will excuse them?"
The round of chuckles, and the merry twitters given her in lieu of formal opinions, restored her sinking spirits somewhat, but each of the three attentive, sympathetic girls keenly realized Mary's discomfiture.
"Well, well!" exclaimed Mrs. Dunbar as they drew in. "Whatever became of you all? If Mally Mack had not met me at the station, and told me you were going for a mountain drive, I should have been a little bit worried."
"We brought you company, Aunt Audrey," Cleo answered, before Jennie had a chance to offer any explanation. "This is Mary Benson, you know. The little girl we met when we first came to Bellaire."
"Oh, yes. How do you do, Mary?" Mrs. Dunbar greeted the now really frightened little girl. "It's so lovely to have you come and visit my little ones. You see, they thought three would be really a crowd, and that they would never grow lonely for home, but I have noticed the tell-tale signs lately. Now, a real visitor will be the very best thing to effect a cure," and she was urging Mary into the house, quite as if her presence were indispensable for the evening's happiness.
The big, soft, dark eyes set so deep in the olive skin, just tinted now with a trace of excitement's color, gazed up into Mrs. Dunbar's face with all the yearning and longing of a lonely, forsaken child.
"Thank you," Mary managed to articulate, but the effort was mingled with a little choking sob.
Jennie drew Mrs. Dunbar into the library while the girls proceeded to the living room.
"Such a time as we have had," she exclaimed, "and I can't say it was all my fault. You see those children were so determined to help that poor friendless child that I just had to go along, or let them go alone, and I was sure you would not want that, Mrs. Dunbar."
"Hush!" putting a finger on her lip and a smile with it. "It is perfectly all right. I have known the children were on the trail of the poor little dear, and I'm just glad they rescued her, to-night especially. I saw three men running for the train I got off, and Mally Mack told me one was a Turk the officers are after! Don't say anything about it, but I know one of these was the man who meets the Indian woman, she who cares for Mary."
"Indian?" repeated Jennie. "Is she that?"
"Likely that—or part negro. I am sure she is from some Central American territory. I have used her type in painting. But come on. Let us give the children a little spread. Phone for some cream, and we will soon have them all happy enough to forget their fright. I know they are just dying to tell me all about it."
No mistake about that. Even the presence of Mary did not appease the children's eagerness to take Mrs. Dunbar into their exciting secret, if a matter known to so large a number can be classified as a secret or even a mystery.
In the rooms above the oak lined hall the girls could now be heard welcoming Mary, with all the natural excitement of her peculiar situation. Grace wanted her to try on her pale green organdie, because it would go so beautifully with her topaz eyes. Madaline insisted her baby blue was much more attractive, as one of Mrs. Dunbar's pictures showed a girl with brown braids gowned in heavenly blue, while Cleo offered her choicest frock, the coral pink with all the dinglely-danglely pink rose-buds dropping around the tunic. But Mary shook her head, and declined all the kindly offered finery.
"You see," she exclaimed, her eyes fairly glaring in unrestricted admiration at the gorgeous display of clothes, "I have to wear white. Reda says if I do not I shall get the fever and die as Loved One did."
"Oh, how perfectly ridiculous!" exclaimed Cleo. Then, fearing Mary would take offense, she hastened to add: "I am sure Reda is simply superstitious. I have known a child who wore white until she was seven, because her mother favored that as a sort of prayer, a consecration, and of course that was all right when its meaning was sincere, but to wear white to ward off a fever looks uncanny, foolish. Can't you put on a color if you choose?" and the beautiful pink dress threw a covetous glow up into Mary's classic face.
"Oh, of course I could," she demurred, "but——"
"But we wouldn't ask you to," and Cleo gave the sign for returning the pretty gowns to their respective closets, by putting the pink voile on its white silk hanger. "White is lovely, and it becomes you beautifully. Don't you think so, girls?"
They did, of course, and when just then Jennie called them to the dining-room for the spread, so delightful on any summer evening, Mary seemed to forget the terrors of that hour, when Professor Benson so barely escaped the trap that had been set for him at the Imlay Studio.
It was while Jennie served a dainty sherbet—an extra, considering ice cream and cake were a sufficiently delightful treat—that Cleo slipped out into the library where Mrs. Dunbar was writing letters. Grace and Madaline were outdoing each other in entertaining the guest, and altogether the evening was one of enjoyment, especially for Mary. Her eyes were now almost as bright as those of the girls who surrounded her, and had Reda been able to see her, she surely could not have honestly warned her against "being like other girls." Only that occasional shadow of fear that crossed her face, blotting the life out of her eyes, and glazing them with the ice of terror, did actually mark her as being "different." Even now this fear flitted into her gaze, and with it her slim, brown hands were seen to grasp tightly any object within their reach.
Cleo retold to her aunt that part of the evening's experience which Jennie had begun, but it was concerning the professor and his unprepared retreat to the Sanitarium that she particularly asked advice.
"Do you suppose he will be very anxious about Mary?" asked Cleo. "He does not know us, and when we left him he still seemed dazed from the fright."
"We might call Crow's Nest on the telephone and ask how he is," suggested Mrs. Dunbar. "I think we should do so. Do you want to ask Mary about it?"
Cleo bit her lip in serious consideration. For a little girl she was rather wise, as her aunt had before acknowledged.
"You see, Auntie," she finally said, "we three are trained Girl Scouts. Every day we renew our pledges to help others, and every evening we make a sort of survey of the day to be sure we are not allowing our delightful vacation to monopolize all our interests. We say, you know, that happiness was born a twin, and we know from experience we have lots better times when we share happiness with someone who needs it."
"Wonderful wisdom for such a little girl," replied the aunt with an embracing smile, absolutely devoid of ridicule, but plainly illumined with appreciation. "I know about your wonderful scout activities, and I have not so soon forgotten how you won your bronze cross——"
"Oh, I don't mean to attach any glory to myself," Cleo interrupted, somewhat embarrassed at the turn in the conversation.
"I understand, dear. You just want to be perfectly sure you are doing all you can for the case of Mary, as that has come your way in scouting?"
"Yes, that is our vacation case, we are sure, so of course I just had to insist on Jennie coming with us to-night. I am afraid she was awfully frightened."
"She was, but maybe you can convert her to your ranks. At any rate she was astonished at the way you carried things through. Now, about Mary. Shall we speak to her about phoning the Sanitarium?"
"I guess we had better not mention it to her until we find out if he is all right. If he were very ill do you think we need tell her to-night?" Cleo asked.
"You are right, Tody," the aunt replied, using the pet name given Cleo by her mother on special occasions. "Just go out with the others and shut the door while I phone."
There was no possibility of Mrs. Dunbar's voice being heard over the din of merry-making in the dining-room, for just then Grace was making a speech, and Madaline was applauding, while Cleo quickly fell in with the fun, by parading around the room with a table candle in each hand, and an upturned fruit basket on her head.
Mary sat back on the window seat, spellbound. Being a real girl in spite of her peculiarities, she would occasionally burst into the most musical ripple of laughter, then suddenly check herself, as if fearful of violating some obligation to be sad or melancholy.
Presently Mrs. Dunbar appeared at the door to suggest bed time, and when she gave no message to Mary from her telephone call Cleo surmised the news was not what they had hoped for. Passing by her aunt in the hall, Mrs. Dunbar whispered, "Sleeping," and Cleo knew Mary might take alarm at that report, for the dread fever she so often mentioned was always termed the "sleeping fever." But it was bed time and in the delicious process of undressing and donning gowns or pajamas the girls enjoyed the usual pranks that are ever unusual, and seem different every time they are indulged in. There were pillow fights, parades, sponge splashes, ghost dances, and other stunts "too numerous to mention," but it must be recorded that it required the combined persuasion of Jennie, with her two funny pig tails hanging over her voluminous night dress, and Mrs. Dunbar in the most fragile of negligees to induce the girls to turn out lights, and finally get settled for the night.
It had been possible to decide with whom Mary should sleep. Each bed would have held her in addition to its usual occupant, but on drawing straws the lot fell to Madaline, who had coveted it from the first, as her bed was really of double size.
"Mine is the only big, full grown straw!" declared Madaline proudly, waving the whisk that had been plucked from Jennie's broom, "and now, ladies, we bid you a fond farewell. Come on, Mary."
The exit was quite dramatic in character, for Madaline accidentally tripped over a fur rug, and was spilled rather rudely all over the hall floor, but a little thing like that had no effect on the delighted Madaline, who rather expected Mary would unfold her confidence once in the quiet of their own room.
"I hope dear Grandie is all right," Mary sort of sighed as they each took to their own side of the big roomy bed. "I have never been away from him before."
"Oh, he will have the very best of attention at that retreat," Madaline declared, although she knew absolutely nothing of the place. "Has he money with him?" she ventured.
"Oh, yes. He always has his check book and his deposits are all in a good New York bank," returned Mary without offense, realizing the question was plainly one made out of simple kindness.
She had donned the white night dress, the girls reasoned she would prefer it to the colored crêpe pajamas, and Madaline, watching her shake out all the glory usually bound in those two heavy braids of chestnut hair, was lost in admiration.
"However did your hair grow so beautifully long and thick?" she inquired, lifting the cloak of many tresses in both her hands.
"Loved One had wonderful hair," replied Mary, "and I guess hot countries are supposed to be best for the growth also," she added. Then, as if unhappy thoughts would torment her, she sighed a little.
"Are you lonely?" Madaline asked gently.
"Oh no," brightening up with a correct sense of politeness. "I was just thinking how Reda blames my hair for what she thinks is a symptom of the fever. You know her people have such tight kinky hair, they cannot understand ours. Those who do grow longer hair are of a different race, and they have that very straight, stiff Indian kind. But daddy told Grandie mine should never be cut, so Reda didn't dare to cut it, as she has often wanted to. Madaline," Mary suddenly exclaimed, a certain timid appeal in her voice, "did you notice the little basket I brought with me?"
"Oh yes, where did you put it?" eagerly inquired the girl on the other side of the bed.
"I put it out on a little porch I saw back of the dining-room. Do you think it will be all right?"
"Oh, yes, but why did you set it outside?"
"It's better in the air," replied Mary, and Madaline had not the courage to ask if "it" were alive, and why it should need air. Instead she hurried her preparation, and both were soon ready, so the light was snapped out. Madaline thrilled as she recalled what happened when she touched the button of another light a few hours earlier.
In less than an hour every tousled head was buried deep in its fragrant pillow, and even we are not permitted to "tap the tank of dreams." Surely a girl scout and her visitor may dream her own dreams; why should outsiders pry into their secrets?
Mrs. Dunbar, however, had not retired as early as did her young guests. In fact she phoned again to the Sanitarium to find out, if possible, how Professor Benson seemed, then whether his sleep was natural, his respiration normal, and to obtain such other information as might indicate the man's condition.
Word came back over the wire that his sleep did not seem natural, although he showed no fever, but he called constantly for protection, as if in fear of someone harming him. Mrs. Dunbar gave orders that everything possible be done for his comfort, and she promised to call the next day personally to look after him. As everyone in Bellaire knew Mrs. Guy Dunbar, her wishes were sure to be respected, and no doubt her interest obtained for the sick man all possible "special attention."
A little later even the lights in the study and Mrs. Dunbar's room were extinguished, and the tranquillity of slumber fell softly over the sloped roof of Cragsnook.
It must have been past midnight—no one had at the moment any thought of time—when something aroused the household!
Cleo jumped out of bed and rushed to her aunt's door! Mrs. Dunbar heard her step, and the door was opened when she reached it.
"Oh, what was that?" gasped Cleo.
"I don't know, but it sounded like a cry! Listen!"
A low, moaning wail, almost like wind through the attic chimney, sounded again.
"There! That's someone calling," replied Mrs. Dunbar. She snatched a small revolver from under her pillow, threw on a dressing gown, stuck her feet into her slippers, all at the same moment. Cleo threw around her own shoulders a cape she found over a chair and both were ready now to investigate.
Down the hall pattering feet told of the other girls' alarm.
"Oh, Cleo," begged Grace, "where are you? What is that dreadful noise?"
"Come in," answered Mrs. Dunbar, "and just don't be too alarmed. I am able to fight anything that groans that way. Come along, Cleo. You're not afraid, are you?"
"I would be if I stood still and listened to that," replied the little scout. "Here, girls, get some weapon. These old swords are all right," springing to a chair and bringing down from their hanging place at the hall door two glittering Turkish blades. "You won't have to use them, but it's best to be armed," insisted Cleo. "Where's Mary?"
"Oh, I forgot all about her!" gasped Madaline.
"We must look for her," said Mrs. Dunbar promptly, and leading the way, she, with the revolver, Cleo, Grace and Madaline with swords, and also carrying an East Indian spear each, they made their way down the hall to Madaline's room.
Cleo pushed open the door.
The bed was empty!
"She's gone!" exclaimed Cleo excitedly.
"And the screen is out of the window. Look!" cried Grace.
Beyond the bed the low latticed window was flung wide open, its screen lay where it had fallen, and the pretty draperies were almost torn from their hangings.
"Oh!" gasped Madaline. "Someone has stolen her!"
But Mrs. Dunbar thoughtfully shook her head.
Mary was gone and through the window! That was plain even to the excited girls who, in the night, stood around Mrs. Dunbar, aghast with wonder, and fearful for the safety of the little girl, so lately their companion.
"No one could have dragged her through the window without disturbing us," Mrs. Dunbar said. "One of you girls call Jennie, and I will phone the garage for Michael."
All the fear that at first seemed to paralyze the girls was now dispelled in their anxiety for the safety of Mary.
"Come on!" Grace replied promptly. "I'll run down to Jennie's room and get her to help us!"
"And I'll go with you," declared Madaline without a tremor in her voice.
"I shall have to go to my room to phone, Cleo," said Mrs. Dunbar. "But we haven't searched any yet. She may be somewhere about, although the window has been so pulled apart."
"Better get Michael at once, I should think," Cleo suggested. "I'll stay here till you come back."
"Not afraid alone——"
"Not a bit. This is like one of our real scout experiences. Do hurry, Auntie, I am so afraid those people may have carried Mary off!" she urged.
It took a few minutes to arouse the man in the garage, with the telephone call. Meanwhile, Cleo was cautiously and quietly looking about the room. First, naturally, she looked under the bed, next she threw open the door of the closet, being wise enough to jump to the hall door as she did so, but not so much as a piece of clothing stirred. Other articles of furniture in the room that could possibly serve as a screen were then scrutinized, but they offered no clew.
Finally Cleo stepped to the window ledge, and peered out into the thick trees that surrounded the house. She put her hands to her eyes to shade them from the light—wasn't that something white in the button ball tree?
Neither Mrs. Dunbar nor the girls had come back to the room, and for a moment Cleo hesitated, perched there at the window. Should she turn off the light to be able the better to see into the darkness?
The white object appeared to move a trifle, and it seemed large, even like a girl's form.
Cleo jumped from the window seat and touched the button to shut off the light. At the same moment Grace and Madaline entered the room.
Both screamed as they encountered the darkness.
"Oh, Cleo, where are you?" begged Grace.
"She's gone, too!" wailed Madaline.
"Hush!" whispered Cleo, as soon as she could make herself heard.
"There's something white out in the tree!"
"Oh, where is Aunt Audrey?" Madaline pleaded, turning to run.
"Never mind," Grace assured her. "Whatever it is it can't get in here.
Let us help Cleo."
Cleo was now standing on the window ledge with her feet inside the room and her head and shoulders out in the darkness. Grace and Madaline got hold of her somehow, for her leaning position out of the high window seemed apt to overbalance her at the slightest move.
"It must be Mary!" Cleo whispered, "and in the tree. How ever can we get her?"
"How did she get there?" Grace asked, meaning the question to answer
"The limbs touch the piazza roof. But listen, girls, she may be asleep, and if we should wake her suddenly she would fall. You go tell Aunt Audrey while I stay and watch. No, Madaline, wait a moment, get me the flash light I laid on the dresser. You can see it from the hall light. Yes, that's it. Let me have it."
"What are you going to do?" Madaline asked under her breath, but with a show of alarm.
"I must see if that is Mary. If it is, she is in danger of falling if asleep; if awake she may jump. There, did you hear that! It was a shot—out by the front gate!"
"Oh!" shuddered Madaline. "Do come in, Cleo, they may shoot you."
"No, they can't see me, and I must go to the edge of the roof," and breathing her scout prayers for safety, Cleo climbed over the sill, and cautiously crept to the edge of the slanting roof.
All this time the figure in the tree remained stationary as a gray shadow, just blanching white as Cleo slowly turned her little flash light upon it.
"It is Mary!" she whispered to Madaline, back at the window. "Quick, get Aunt Audrey and the girls out under the tree! I can reach her! Have them pull out the porch mattresses!"
Almost choked with excitement, Madaline managed to reach Mrs. Dunbar, repeat Cleo's orders, then hurry with her and Grace, who was now dragging Jennie along, down the stairs to the front door.
Mrs. Dunbar held her revolver in her right hand while Jennie unbolted the big heavy door.
"Let me go first!" Mrs. Dunbar ordered. "Jennie, flash the light ahead of us."
As the maid followed this order a small streak of light made a safe path out to the edge of the porch.
"There comes Michael," exclaimed Jennie, venturing out next, and no one could have misunderstood the note of relief in her voice.
Above them Cleo had climbed in the tree as quietly as the green limb, swaying under her light weight, permitted. Her flash light now was in the pocket of her pajamas, and as she mounted a strong branch and pulled herself nearer the tree trunk, she seemed scarcely more than some wild night bird seeking refuge.
She could now see Mary's face, and as it showed no expression of recognition she was confident the girl was sleeping. Crawling nearer with slow, sure moves, holding to small branches from overhead, and then balancing to the strong limb on which she sat and hitched herself along, Cleo paid no heed to the commotion under the tree.
She must first grasp the girl who sat so silently, her one arm wound around the light tree trunk, her head leaning against it in the most matter-of-fact attitude, almost caressing the gray button ball wood, while even in the dark those two dark braids of hair were tragically outlined against the white of her clinging night robe.
One more shift of her body and Cleo had her arm around Mary. With the other she held firmly to the tree.
"Quick!" she called now, realizing the mattresses were placed beneath them. "We may fall!"
As she spoke Mary shuddered, and gasped.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, "Reda, I am here!"
"It is not Reda," Cleo answered in that droning voice she believed necessary to use.
"It is I, Cleo. Be careful. We are safe. Don't move!" for the one bare arm was relinquishing its hold on the tree. "Wait a minute. We can climb down. See, Michael has fetched a ladder."
Somehow realizing her strange predicament, the girl at once became obedient to Cleo's orders. She turned exactly as directed, made her way down the branches to the unobstructed tree trunk, where she backed to the tall, strong ladder, placed securely against the bark by Michael.
Willing hands assisted her as she reached the lower rounds, then Cleo followed, descending so quickly she reached the ground almost as soon as did Mary.
It was a strange sight. All the girls in their pajamas. Grace had secured an extra green jersey sweater. Madaline was garbed in the lavender cape Cleo had discarded when she climbed through the window, while Mary stood like a statue, in her clinging white, with Cleo beside her, looking as if she had stepped out of a comic opera in her blue bird pajamas. But the audience was unresponsive.
Michael, the dignified, was too busy to notice costumes. Jennie had troubles of her own with her quickly arranged attire, and Mrs. Dunbar was far more concerned with the whole situation than to take any notice of its special, striking effect.
"Oh, what was it?" Mary murmured, rubbing her hand across her head as if in pain. "I thought Reda called. She said Grandie wanted me, and I hurried to her!"
"You likely did hear a call," said Mrs. Dunbar, "but it may have been our pet owl. Come, let us all get inside. Isn't it fortunate no one was hurt? Cleo, however did you get out on that tree without shocking Mary from her perch?"
But Cleo had observed she, of ail the group, was alone in a real pajama outfit, and consequently took herself off promptly to more secluded quarters, and was then not at hand to answer for her courage.
It was almost an hour before the excitement had sufficiently abated to permit thoughts of returning to bed, and then it was arranged that all four girls should pile into the room with the twin beds, while Mrs. Dunbar's room was thrown open between, by rolling back the folding doors.
Such chattering, such gabbing and such giggling! Naturally the night's experience was entitled to a thorough review, and it must be said the girls did the subject full justice.
Mary, however, was inclined to be taciturn. Every now and then her eyes would "shoot," as Grace called the queer expression, and when the lights were still on, and this peculiar look could be noticed, her friends made no apology for their good natured remonstrance.
"Here, now, Mary!" Grace would then call. "Don't you dare go off walking trees in your sleep again. This was a wonderful night, but—let's call it a day."
"One night of this kind is a regular week," Cleo added, "and I vote we make this very minute the end of a perfect day."
It really was "a lot of fun" to be all tucked into one room, and Mrs. Dunbar remained down stairs for a considerable time while the youngsters toned themselves down. Cleo made an opportunity to whisper to Madaline and Grace not to speak of the shot they had heard fired, but Mrs. Dunbar and her gardener were just then quietly discussing that phase of the affair.
"Michael, what was that shot, do you know?" she asked. "I did not want to mention it before the girls."
"Nor did I, madam," and the old gardener shifted uneasily. "Yes, I know what it was. They got—poor—Shep."
"You—can't—mean our lovely—Shep has been shot!"
"I wish I didn't, but we may be able to bring him around. He's not dead. They struck his thigh, and I was after him as quick as I heard his first whine. That is why I could not answer the telephone at once."
"Oh, Michael. Do everything possible to save our dog. You know how much we think of him, and we expect Mr. Dunbar home from his trip soon. Do you think we can save him?"
"I'll take him to the vet's first thing comes daylight," replied the man. "I wouldn't want to take a year's wages in exchange for Shep." He snapped these last words with rather a vengeful meaning. "And I'd like to say, madam, if I might," he continued, "it was a blessing those little girls went after that other youngster to-night, from what I heard later. Seems to me sometimes the babies do know more than their elders."
"Yes, Michael," replied Mrs. Dunbar to whom the news that her dog having been shot was distinctly a shock. "I, too, heard rumors of strange men in town, as I came up from the station. Of course, the police will investigate to-morrow."
The morning dawned on Cragsnook quite as complaisantly as if the night had shed nothing but joy. And quite as indifferently did the girls take up the fun where they left off past midnight, when sheer fatigue had put an end to their tireless pranks. Kicking themselves happily into the new day, vague remembrances of the wild excitement forging through more welcome emotions, the Scouts and their visitor were actually ready for breakfast when Jennie chimed the gong.
Madaline, secretly cherishing the mystery of "something alive" being in Mary's hidden away basket, could scarcely wait for the meal to end before asking Mary about it.
But there were a number of interruptions. Mrs. Dunbar was called twice from the table to answer the telephone, and her monologue hinted the police might be anxious to make an investigation at Cragsnook. Always affable, especially to officials, the last answer given simply was:
"Very well, as early as you please."
That was but a few minutes ago, and now a car was rumbling up the drive.
"You girls may run off and show Mary the grounds," suggested the hostess. "I have to attend to some business with these men."
Mary still wore the white dress, of some open wrought material, like drawn work, and not usually made up into frocks. It was soft and clinging, and her velvet ribbon wound around the waist fell in an artistic sash clear to the end of her full skirt. Her braids were unbound and finished in their own natural curls, this tendency to really curl having been hailed by the girls as worthy of an entirely different mode of hair dressing.
Ginghams for mornings, as customary, gave the other girls quite a different appearance, and in a stolen moment, while dressing, Cleo managed to show Mary a scout uniform. The simple khaki outfit seemed to Mary the most remarkable "rig" she had ever seen, even books had not given her such an idea of a practical girl's uniform.
The polite dismissal of Mrs. Dunbar's followed just as two very business-like men stepped into the oaken hall.
"Do you remember about your basket?" Madaline asked. She was wildly wondering if the live thing had crawled away.
"Oh, yes, indeed. I am going to it directly. Come on, girls, till I show you my pet."
Everyone thought of snakes, varied with a pretty baby bunnie, or perhaps a bird's nest of helpless fledglings, but Mary's pet was none of these.
Out on the small window nook, just off the breakfast room, she found the basket quite as she had left it. The girls watched her eagerly as she first drew out a soft white covering. It was now becoming apparent that this self-same Mary possessed an entirely undeveloped sense of humor, for as she watched the eager faces crowding about her she was surely, deliberately delaying the process of displaying her "pet."
"Guess!" she asked naïvely.
"A snake!" from Grace.
"A-a—new bird!" from Madaline
"A baby bunnie!" from Cleo.
"I thought you would all say a doll," she replied, "for I had one old doll I never could quite give up. But I didn't bring her, and none of you have guessed. I am afraid you are going to be dreadfully disappointed."
Without further ado she drew from the basket nothing more than a small ordinary looking plant!
"Oh!" sighed Madaline, betraying her chagrin. "Only a flower!"
"That's all," admitted Mary, "but I don't believe you ever saw just this kind," and her voice was as soft and crooning as if she had been petting a real baby.
Cleo and Grace exchanged significant glances. Was the girl queer after all? they were asking.
The little plant looked like nothing more than the ordinary Jack-in-the-Pulpit, but Mary's tenderness in handling the beautifully wrought brass jar, in which the plant was growing, betokened something much more precious than our wood friend Jack.
"He's hungry," went on the child, and at this Grace burst into laughter. Cleo was tittering, and Madaline all but pouting her disappointment.
"I know what you think," Mary said with a good natured smile, "but this little flower really eats—and for his breakfast I must find a fly or spider."
"Oh mercy!" shrieked Grace. "Mary, what are you talking about?"
"Well, you just wait and see. There, catch that little fly or just shoo it over this way."
Becoming serious now, serious enough to see the fun out at any rate, the girls waved hands and handkerchiefs around some perfectly innocent little flies, and presently they made for the plant which Mary had again deposited on the window box. For a minute or two the insects buzzed around, then made for the flower of the plant.
"Mercy!" screamed Grace.
"Land sakes!" added Cleo.
"Oh!" ejaculated Madaline.
But the little fly was gone. The plant had actually eaten it up!
Swallowed it whole!
The girls looked at Mary now, as if she were almost uncannily wise, or in some way magical. She expected their attitude, evidently, for her own low musical laugh followed.
"I know you think it is very queer, girls," she explained, "but in the country I come from this is a common plant. Grandie calls it by a long name, but most people call it the Pitcher Plant. You see, it is filled with something that attracts insects, and when they go in for the nectar they can't get out. This kind is rare, and I have watched it lest Janos would get it. In New York he could sell it and I know he would have taken it, but I have kept it hidden for a long time. See how pretty its colors are, and how wonderfully it is shaped and formed?"
"Oh, I remember now," said Cleo. "I have heard Daddy talk of such plants, but of course I never saw one. It is something of an orchid, isn't it?"
All three were now examining Mary's "Pet" closely, getting innocent little flies in line for the scent, which might attract them, and otherwise enjoying the novelty.
"Is it valuable?" asked Madaline, noting the rare crimson color inside the cup.
"Yes, I think this one is, but I like it more than any of the others because I raised it myself. But when you come to our place I will show you our wonders," she offered.
"Is that why you always gather roots?" asked Cleo.
"Not exactly," Mary replied, just a trace of her cloud threatening to darken her face. "But I can't talk about all of it now. I am sure it must be time to go visit Grandie. Do you suppose we may go soon?" This question was addressed to Cleo.
"I'll see if Auntie has finished," Cleo answered, running back to the house. Mary arranged a safer place for her pitcher plant, out where insects might find its fatal honey. Then, gathering up the basket, she, with the others, hurried back to the veranda. They found the three men just leaving, and as Mrs. Dunbar smiled frankly it was easy to guess the result of their interview had not been altogether unpleasant.
Michael had also been in the conference, and he delayed a moment to speak privately with Mrs. Dunbar.
"How is Shep?" she asked aside, so that her voice could not reach the girls.
"Coming around all right," replied the man, gladly. And he brought in a clew to his enemy. "Step inside and look at this." He took from his pocket a handkerchief. It was yellow in color, silk in texture, and was bordered with drawn work. Mrs. Dunbar examined it closely.
"Foreign, of course," she replied. "Those people seem to be pretty well organized. Take care of that, Michael; we may easily match it up later. Now I have to see what we are going to do about Professor Benson. The girls seem to need very little assistance, but we must watch closely to see they make no mistakes. This is more of a plot than I supposed, but our police are glad to get on the track of these men. Here are the children. If they ask for Shep make some reasonable excuse."
The wonderful story of the pitcher plant, of how it ate breakfast of flies and bugs, also what especial value it was—this and much more was poured into the ears of Mrs. Dunbar before she had a chance to grasp the meaning of the newest excitement.
"Wonderful! wonderful!" replied the hostess, really deeply interested in the "fly catcher." "I have always wanted to see one of those plants act."
"I am going to give you this one—please, Mrs. Dunbar," said Mary, timidly. "Janos, that is Reda's brother, has been watching for it. He said a New York woman had offered him a lot of money for one. That is why I brought this one with me. Will you—accept it?"
"Oh gladly, Mary dear. It is a real curiosity, and when Mr. Dunbar comes home he too will be delighted with it. But now I have such good news about Professor Benson. He is getting much stronger. The doctor saw him this morning, and thinks he has been suffering from shock and fear. He advised, however, that we leave him quiet this morning. I knew that would be a disappointment to you, Mary dear, but you wouldn't want to delay his progress."
"Oh, no indeed," and the two hands clasped excitedly. "If only he can recall—get back his memory," Mary corrected hurriedly, "perhaps after all it might all come back."
"You will be able to help the doctors in a day or two, I am sure," suggested Mrs. Dunbar. "It appears to be a case of stagnated memory. Something registered in his brain as extremely important is simply clogged there. When he is stronger, then suggestion may be the key to open that congested memory valve."
"I know—yes—I know," replied Mary, and the far-away look in her own eyes gave the girls a hint which they were sure to follow promptly.
They immediately changed the subject.
"You don't mind my running away again, girls?" Mrs. Dunbar asked, folding the yellow telegram into the most unnecessarily minute squares. "It is such a nuisance, but I have to see some of those delegates safely out of New York. Mere artists are not always prudent tourists."
"Auntie dear, we hate to have you go." Cleo dipped her head in the quaint bird-like perk. "But we can have a lovely time here even alone—I mean without you. Oh, no, not without you——" And the burst of laughter that applauded her confusion was like a full colored illustration of a verbal mistake. "Now, you all know what I mean," she finished, pouting prettily.
"Of course we do," acceded her aunt. "You can have a perfectly lovely time without me, and get into the most delicious mischief, tagging poor Jennie along. I have given her orders, you know, to report to me by phone if you take a notion to go up in an airship, or tie a kite by hand to the moon, so don't venture too far from good old earth. Mary, you are getting rosy already. It seems to me, for an old nurse your Reda has rather suddenly given up her charge, not to have inquired for you this morning."
"Oh, Reda wouldn't. She is dreadfully afraid of strangers," replied
"Why—pray?" asked Mrs. Dunbar simply. Mary shifted uneasily, shrugging her shoulders in the only foreign mannerism she carried, and answering with nothing more than a fleeting expression of annoyance.
"Oh, Reda is so queer, Aunt Audrey," Grace assisted, "she would run like an Indian if you just looked at her square in the eye."
"Is she Indian, Mary?" pressed Mrs. Dunbar gently.
"Yes, that is, she is from a Pacific Island outside of Central America.
You see, we were there when Loved One—went away."
Jennie was dusting the rails of the porch, and the little family kept moving about to accommodate her brush and polishing cloth.
"I must take a bag this time," Mrs. Dunbar said, reverting to her necessary New York trip. "I rather envy you chickens running around with no other cares than the next hour's adventure. Mine are all cut and antiseptically dried."
"And we never know what ours are going to be," remarked Madaline who was vainly trying to trap a feeble little fly, to feed to the pitcher plant.
"Come on," suggested Grace, "if we are not going to the Sanitarium let's go to the village. I haven't spent every single cent of my allowance yet, and I should hate to have my princely remittance overlap."
"Whackies on the nut-sundae!" cried Madaline. "I am bankrupt till my ship comes in."
"And I have to send home my Scout Sacrifice," said Cleo. "I promised mother I would not forget a little personal contribution to a charity case we are interested in. A child has to have an operation on her eyes, and we scouts are providing the comforts."
"Oh yes, Mumsey gave mine. She was afraid I would disgrace the troop by forgetting to remit," confessed Madaline.
"And daddy turned mine in, likely for the same reason," said Grace.
"Cleo, you are the only one trusted to do her part at this distance.
Mary, when you are a scout, you will better understand all our secrets.
They're just deli-cious," and she rolled her round eyes till they
threatened to take tucks in her dimples.
It required some coaxing to induce Mary to go to the village with them, but they finally won out, and when Mrs. Dunbar embarked for her train, the four little girls waved a happy good-by, interspersed with reiterated promises to be good, and all mind Jennie.
"Can you come to my house now?" asked Mary after the luxury of nut sundaes, purchased with the combined balance of Madaline's and Grace's cash on hand had been disposed of, and the girls faced the early afternoon on Bellaire Center.
"I don't know," faltered Cleo. "We didn't ask Jennie."
"But I am so anxious to see if our things are all right," Mary almost begged. "You needn't be afraid of Reda, I am sure she is gone away."
"How do you know?" Grace asked frankly.
"She would be too frightened to remain at our house after last night. Besides she often goes to New York with Janos. She gets all my clothes there."
"Doesn't she take you to see them, or be fitted?" asked the literal
"Oh no, I am not allowed to go on trains. Someone might see me."
Everyone laughed at this, and Mary saw the joke herself. Nevertheless, she made no attempt to explain why she was not supposed to be seen by people outside of the little mountain town.
"I am afraid I shall have to go alone, if you girls feel you ought not to come," she said presently. "I really have to attend to some important things, and we all left in such a hurry last evening."
"Oh, if you have to go we simply must go with you," Cleo decided promptly.
"Surely, Captain Cleo," spoke up Grace. "You see, Mary, Cleo is our captain when we are away from headquarters. Oh, Mary, I do wish you were a scout, you would just love it."
"I am sure I should, I know it takes a lot of courage, and one must do many noble deeds to keep up to the pledges. I should just love to know all about it, and I hope you will tell me some day. Still," and she shrank a little in that timid self-conscious way, "I don't want you to take any risks with me, on account of your scout pledge."
"Please don't think that way, Mary," begged Madaline, always ready with sympathy. "We all just love you, and want to be with you, it has nothing to do with scouting."
"No, indeed," Grace enthusiastically seconded this opinion. "What we are doing with you is a positive joy."
"I don't know what would have become of us in Bellaire if we hadn't met you," Cleo chimed in, serious beyond contention. "Of course, we met a few girls, but we are so accustomed to adventures and activities. I guess we require more things to happen than do most girls. Now, Mary, we will go with you up to the studio, if I can find a boy to take a message to Jennie. I don't want to phone, as she might not understand."
The small boy, not difficult to find around soda fountains on summer afternoons, was glad to accept the offer of a nickel to take a note to Cragsnook, and thereupon the girls set out for Second Mountain.
Mary led the way, romping over vacant lots, climbing fences and otherwise taking short cuts to the hillside.
"We accidentally found your mountain cave one day in a shower," Cleo told her, as they neared that cedar covered mountain table. "We were up here in that dreadful storm the other day."
"Oh, were you? Reda and I had been to the village for Grandie's medicine, and we were also caught in it," said Mary.
No reference was made to the overheard conversation. Not that Cleo wanted to be secretive, but because she felt it might be embarrassing to refer to it.
In spite of the fortifying sunshine, and the fact that Mary had talked of neighbors not far from the studio, the girls each felt a certain apprehension as they neared the scene of their recent exciting adventure. Madaline was noticeably quiet, and not even a beautiful gray squirrel, that hopped directly in their path, with a saucy flirt of its bushy tail, evoked so much as a joyous shout from her. Still she wanted to go to the studio, and now they were in full sight of the low terra cottage lodge.
"Oh, it will seem so strange without Grandie," Mary commented, "but I am so happy that his memory is coming back. If only he could remember—" She checked herself, as she always did, when accidentally she might mention the urgent necessity for Professor Benson "remembering."
In a very business-like way, quite astonishing to her companions, Mary slipped her finger in a tiny pocket, made in her black velvet belt, produced from it a latch key, and with this opened the big, heavy door.
Grace and Cleo were at her heels, determined to show their courage, but within the room everything was still, too still to be pleasant.
"Reda put things in order before she left," Grace remarked. "What a pretty, low, rumbly place this is!"
"How can you be sure Reda is gone?" Cleo asked, staring at the glass door through which the queer lights had warned them of the intruders' danger the night before.
"Here's her everyday fichu," Mary replied. "She never goes out without one—even wears it around the house, so she has donned her best. Yes, she has gone to New York. Here's her yellow handkerchief; she has dressed all up in her nicest things. Let's see if she has taken her bag."
Opening a small door off the hall, opposite the sinister glass portal, Mary entered a sleeping room profusely trimmed up with the brightest of chintz draperies and colorful hangings.
"Yes, her bag is also gone. Well, girls," and Mary turned to them with a frank smile, "I did like Reda, of course, but sometimes she has frightened me so, and then Janos was so awfully rough with dear Grandie."
"But whatever will you do without a housekeeper?" asked Cleo.
"I don't know really"—and she blinked threateningly—"but at any rate
I am glad to be free!"
A sense of security had now come to the girls, and they were flitting around, looking at this thing and that, quite as if they had just stepped into some attractive shop to inspect its wares. But they did not go near the leaded glass door!
"Now, girls," Mary called quite soberly, emerging from Reda's room, "I am going to give you a real treat. Just watch."
She sprang to the big glass door and, pressing the set in the lock, the portal slid smoothly back.
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" The exclamation was a soft cadenza, uttered by all three spectators.
The open door revealed a glorious collection of blooming orchids!
"Oh, how perfectly gorgeous!" This a solo from Grace.
"Heavenly, I think!" Cleo chimed in.
"Wherever did you get them all?" asked Grace.
Like a little floral queen, Mary ushered her visitors into this mysterious room, the orchid sanctum of Professor Benson. It was all that the girls had proclaimed it, gorgeous, heavenly and wonderful! The variegated tones of lavendar, known only as orchid, were as elusive as the subtle scent of this tropical bloom. The whole diffusing into something so indescribable that even the spontaneous girls failed for once to rally immediately to a sense of reality. It seemed like a dream, like a picture book, or even a wonderful pastel!
Never before had Mary's quaint personality seemed so well set as she flitted about, bringing her face down to the affectionate shade of flower upon flower, yet never touching with so much as a finger tip the perishable bloom.
The room was, or always had been, a conservatory—the original owner, the famous artist Imlay, delighting in bringing to perfection there the many rare plants and flowers. So the place lent itself exactly to the work of Professor Benson. Many of the orchids hung in leafy baskets, seemingly not requiring soil, but subsisting, as they so peculiarly do, almost in air.
"What are they all for?" stammered Grace.
"Girls, I wish I could tell you all about our orchids, but you see——"
Mary hesitated, put her finger to her lips and her eyes went blank.
"I am sure you will soon, Mary-love," Cleo assisted the perplexed child, "and we wouldn't want to know anything of your affairs that you are not at liberty to tell. Whenever we ask a question that is out of order, as we say at our scout meetings, just you answer 'secret' and we will at once change the subject. There, isn't that fair?"
"You are all so fair and thoughtful," Mary replied. "I just feel I can hardly wait to see Grandie, and get his permission to tell you at least a part of our story. But now let me show you some of our rarest orchids. Come over here and see these growing on the side of this rubber tree."
Time passed quickly in such delightful surroundings, and when Cleo glanced at her wrist watch she discovered two hours had been consumed in the time since leaving home, and Jennie should not be made anxious, they had subsequently decided. Consequently the orchid room could not longer be enjoyed on this first visit.
"You see, the wires Grandie uses to give a very light heat," Mary explained. "He is working on a new electric system, and had just turned the current on to try it last night. It is off now. I know how to throw on and off the switch," she assured the girls, as Madaline edged gingerly from the room.
"Don't be afraid, Madie," said Grace. "The wires are now all as dead as fish hooks, and much less dangerous."
"What do you suppose the strange men intended to do?" ventured Cleo.
"Just say 'secret' if I am on the wrong track."
"Oh, I know they meant to harm Grandie," replied Mary, soberly. "They pretended, I suppose, that they came to buy orchids, but more likely they came to steal them. Then Janos is always wanting Grandie to take his old queer medicines, and I know they do not make him better. But do come along, girls, they really might be daring enough to come back."
At this Grace and Madaline made a bee-line for the front door, which stood safely wide open. Cleo remained back with Mary, who was most particular about spraying a few precious plants with water from an atomizer before she left.
"No danger of those men coming back to Bellaire by train," said Cleo, as Mary finally sprang the lock on the big door, "but, of course, they might come by auto," she added.
"I heard Janos say he could not get a license to drive a car," Mary said, "and I was glad of that. You see, these foreigners know very little about machinery."
"But they could hire a driver," suggested Grace.
"They would not," Mary insisted, shaking her head. "They are too secretive, and would be afraid others would find them out. Oh dear," and she sighed deeply. "I do not see why we have to suffer so. I have been so happy with you girls I can almost forget, but when I come up here it all rushes back!"
"Now—now, now," warned Grace in her boyish way. "No fair getting glumpy. You are just exactly like a perfectly different girl, Mary-love. We do not intend to let you do any back-sliding. You can learn that much scouting right off, and I think, Cleo, as soon as we get back home we will make her—yes, make her," and she raised her voice in mock severity, "take our scout pledge of good cheer."
Mary smiled through misty eyes. All three scouts had attempted to take one of her arms, and as she really had not enough members to go around that way, Madaline grabbed the ends of her big long braids, and declared she just had to hold on to something.
They tramped along, down the broad path and again out into the roadway from the once famous artist's estate.
"You have neighbors within call, should yon have needed them, Mary,"
Cleo said. "I am glad you were not too lonely before we met you."
"Yes, but I have never known the folks who live in that house," she replied, drawing in her lips to a very thin red line. "I heard one of the maids make a remark about us one day, and I never wanted to know any of them after that."
"I don't blame you," agreed Madaline. "Mean maids are so mean, and lovely ones are as nice as Jennie, and she's perfect. I hope she won't mind us coming up here?" a little anxiously.
"As long as we are getting back in such good time I am sure she won't,"
Cleo assured them.
"You know, girls," said Mary, stopping suddenly to better gain their entire attention, "I did not forget to bring some flowers back. I am sure Mrs. Dunbar would have loved them, and I should have so enjoyed giving her some, but I promised Grandie never to bring any through the streets. He is so queer about them, you see," and once more the secret topic was inadvertently touched upon. "I may have all I like always," she hurried to explain, "in fact I have many named, and they are my very own, but just yet I would not risk letting people know we have them."
"Oh," said Grace so simply, and so softly that the expression might have been an echo from the sigh of a passing summer breeze.
"But the queer wild bushes and things all growing around the windows?" asked Madaline. "Why do you have them near the glorious orchids?"
"Grandie thinks they are a protector. You can only see them when you look in through the glass, and so no one would ever guess they really hide orchids," Mary explained.
"And that is why you get all the wild roots from the fields?" Grace exclaimed, delighted to have solved that much of the mystery.
"Yes, that is partly the reason, but Grandie makes a fine fertilizer out of the roots, also. You see our beauties are very tender, and must have special heat and special nourishment."
"And how will you know your house is safe while you are away?" pressed
"Of course we don't know," Mary replied, "but there wasn't anything else to do. I feel you girls have done it all. I have been such a baby and, as Reda always insisted, I have seemed half asleep. But honestly, girls," and again Mary pulled them up to a standstill in their walk, so that her remarks would not possibly go astray. "I am like someone who really was asleep, and was just waking up. At least that is the way I feel."
"And you are getting such a lovely color," Grace complimented. "Even if things did get stolen from your house for want of caretakers it seems to me worth while for you and the professor to grow strong," declared the practical little scout.
"It is, indeed," agreed Mary. "You really can't know how much it means just yet. Secret!" she called out, inaugurating Cleo's idea of avoiding the forbidden topic by giving the cry of warning.
They all joined in the laugh that followed, and when they took to the road that slanted down over Second Mountain like an inclined pole, they trotted along, almost running down the steep grade.
"We ought to have brakes to go down here safely," said Cleo. "But I do love to run down a big, high hill. Let's!"
"I'll race you," challenged Madaline, and the words were no more than uttered when the four girls dashed off, throwing back shoulders and bracing heads high to avoid rolling "head over heels" down the steep mountain road.
Past the vineyard, past the quarry pole, and still on past the mountain house, they kept up the uncertain pace, and finally, reaching a smooth, almost level lawn, that stole out to play on the roadside, they all flopped down so suddenly and so unceremoniously that they all but rolled in sheer disregard of possible grown-up dignity.
Recovering their equilibrium, the quartette at once set to their popular lawn-loved task of searching for four-leaf clovers. So intent were they in the hunt they did not observe the approach of two maids, coming towards them from the house they sat directly in front of. But they heard them presently!
"I know it's that queer old gypsy that comes over the mountain every day," said one. "I told Officer Brennen if he wanted to get her—he might stop in here."
At that remark the girls paused in their hunt, and listened intently.
"Hush!" said the other maid. "There's the little girl now with those visitors at Cragsnook."
Mary dropped all her clovers as if they suddenly burned her fingers.
Her face flushed deeply.
"Come on, girls!" said Cleo, aloud. "We are all rested enough now, I guess," and it was a much sobered group that again picked up the trail down the mountain into Bellaire Center.
Trust to girls to solve problems. There were those wonderful orchids, to be aired and watered daily, that beautiful studio which had been rented furnished, and for which Professor Benson was personally responsible, yet the girls managed it all beautifully.
Tom, the trusted taxi driver, was engaged to take them to the studio and back every morning, and quite as if the task were a joy, and it really was; the girls went back and forth, saw that everything was all right, and daily Mary became more and more accustomed to the change in her surroundings.
Following orders at the sanitarium, Mary had not yet visited her "Grandie," but this morning the telephone permission had been called in, and on their way from the studio she was to stop at Crow's Nest.
"I am so glad you decided to lay off your pure white, Mary dear," said Mrs. Dunbar as the girls were ready to leave. "It was pretty and becoming, but having worn it so long must have been depressing. Now you just look like a rose bud in that soft pink, and I feel certain Professor Benson will be delighted with the improvement."
"It was so good of you to shop for me, Mrs. Dunbar," answered Mary. "I suppose I would have had pretty things before, if anyone could have bought them, but you see Reda didn't know," she finished loyally.
"Course not," chimed in Madaline. "So long as she drained the rainbow dry of colors for herself, she didn't care what happened to anyone else. Aunt Audrey, you just ought to see her room at the studio. It looks like a leaky paint shop."
"Yes, Reda loves colors herself," agreed Mary, "but I think one reason why she thought I ought always wear white was for Loved One. But I am sure she would dress me in flower colors if she were here," said Mary, gently, smoothing the soft pink voile she now wore so becomingly.
"All aboard!" cried Cleo, climbing into her place on the seat beside Tom. Since she was too young to drive a car, she did the next best thing—took a seat beside the driver. No wonder Mary was a changed child, to see her as she sat between Grace and Madaline, her cheeks as pretty and pink as the new dress; her heavy braids, though braided still, unbound half way with the ends floating around in curls, the delight, if not the envy, of her companions. Surely Mary was already a much changed girl. As Grace had threatened, she had been initiated into the Girl Scout secrets to the extent of taking the "good cheer and helpful" pledge, and that this had furnished the stray child with a practical motto, was very evident in the almost complete effacement of her former wistful, dejected and often gloomy moods. Altogether it was a delightful achievement, due principally to the subtle and gentle influence of the sincere little Girl Scouts.
Over the hill now to Second Mountain seemed almost too short a run, save that to-day when "Orchidia," the house of orchids, had been looked after, there was to be the visit to Professor Benson, the long wished-for meeting of Maid Mary and her "Grandie."
Everything seemed as usual at the studio. The flowers were blossoming riotously, and the place was heavy with the glory of the tropics confined in a mere glassy room of this temperate zone.
"It must be wonderful in the land where these come from, Mary-love," said Cleo, as she bent over a magnificent gray lavender bloom, melting into liquid purple, and shading again into misty pinks, like tints from a spring sunrise over the ocean—a sunrise that steals the gray mists and snatches up the pearly foam, to paint its unnamed colors on an expectant sky. "Oh, it must be too wonderful to describe," said Cleo, enthused to rapture.
"It is, indeed," said Mary, "but I often thought the wealth of flowers there was too much for earth. You see, it is very near the equator, very hot and so unbearably oppressive. That is what gave us all the deadly fever." She was trimming off a few withered leaves from a plant in its hanging basket, and standing on the high rustic stool, her face above the blossoms, brought sighs of admiration even to Grace, who ordinarily disclaimed so small a thing as mere vanity.
"But, Mary, how did you become so well educated away out there?" asked
"Oh, I had an English nurse, and a governess always," replied Mary, surprise at the question toning her answer.
"And your daddy?" Grace had asked the question before she had a chance to "feel her way to it."
"Daddy!" answered Mary, a tear falling into the heart of an orchid.
"In the sea?" Cleo felt impelled to ask further.
"Yes, he had the fever, and some sailors took him out on the water to refresh him—and he was lost, overboard!"
"Oh, how dreadfully sad!" murmured Grace, putting her arm around Mary, who sat now on a bench in a bower of ferns. "But, Mary-love, see all the sisters you have now, and you know how dearly we all do love you!"
"Yes," Mary finally answered, "but I feel little bit guilty, that is not exactly guilty, but deceitful, as I cannot tell you who I am really. There! I should cry 'Secret' to myself, for I am getting on dangerous ground. Come along! I am going to keep my scout pledge in mind, and smile away my tears. See!" and she brushed two living pearls from her cheeks. "There now, all our work is done, and we are ready for Grandie."
"Oh!" exclaimed Madaline, in evident delight. "See the perfectly gorgeous butterfly! However did it get in here?"
"Oh, we coax them in once in a while, but they soon fly out to freedom again. Yes, that is a beauty. He has taken some of the orchid colors," said Mary.
The brilliant, noiseless, flying creature soared up and sailed down from flower to flower, resting finally on a humble little clover bloom.
"See, he likes the field blossoms best," remarked Cleo. "I suppose if we opened a window he would turn his back on all this vain-glory, and float away to a roadside buttercup."
"Come along, pretty maidens, we must away!" quoted Mary. "Grace, please be sure the latch is tightly fastened on the fern window. Did I put enough water in their fountain?"
"Oh, plenty," replied Grace. "See the hose is still dripping."
"All right. Come, I am just all a-quiver to see Grandie. And, girls, will you mind if I ask you to go out first? I must bring one little thing to Grandie, and it's part of our secret." She smiled sweetly and the girls answered with just as pretty, dimpled acquiescence.
No one would dream of inquiring what Mary was bringing to the sick man at Crow's Nest, but it seemed to be associated with the orchids. Just why anything there should be made a secret of puzzled the girls.
In a few minutes Mary joined them on the porch, and Tom threw in the clutch of the car, rather impatiently, as they piled in the machine again.
It was a perfect day, and the girls fairly bubbled with the joy of it, as the taxi rattled on.
"You come in with me, won't you, Cleo?" Mary asked, when the car swung into Crow's Nest tan-barked drive.
"If you want me to," assented Cleo, "but do you think your Grandie would like a third party to spoil your fairy confab?"
"Oh, I am sure he would like to meet all the girls again," Mary spoke politely, "but just to-day among those strangers, perhaps two of us would be best."
So it was agreed, and Cleo jumped out with Mary, while Grace and Madaline prepared to play "finger scotch" while they waited outside in the car.
A boy in white duck uniform opened the door and showed the girls into a very restful waiting room. Presently a white robed nurse appeared, took Mary's name simply as "Mary to see Professor Benson," went to a wall phone, and returned to conduct the girls to the waiting patient.
What a lovely surprise! There sat the professor out in a big, comfortable steamer chair, on the loveliest little porch, right out of the window from his own room.
"Grandie! Grandie, dear!" cried Mary, almost running to throw her arms around him.
"Mary, Mary darling!" he answered, extending his hands to meet her embrace.
Cleo held back. She would not intrude on that moment of happiness, as the two, speechless with affection, held each other in fond embrace. Then Mary threw up her head to look in the face of the man who seemed the only parent and protector she had known for so long a time.
"How perfectly lovely you look, Grandie!" she exclaimed. "Why, whatever did they do to you? You—look so—different."
She was studying a change, unable to name it, but impossible to escape it. He was different. His eyes were bright, and they looked at her with a focus directed from a clear mind.
"And you, baby!" he answered. "At last you have taken on the sunlight.
What is it—with you?"
"Oh, my pink dress!" Mary answered promptly. "See, here is Cleo in her sea-green, and the other girls outside are wearing, one a blue and the other yellow. You always loved the bright colors so, Grandie, but you know Reda would not let me have anything but white."
"Oh, yes, that was it," he replied, including a smiling greeting to Cleo in his pleasant bow. "Yes, Reda wanted white, and it always made me think of death."
"Now, Grandie, don't you think I am waking up, if not actually awake?" and Mary made a pretty little curtsey with a sweep of her skirts. "Oh, you won't know me. All the ghosts of our tropical home are melting away. The girls are too lovely, and Mrs. Audrey Dunbar is simply the most charming woman——"
"Dunbar, did you say, Mary? Dunbar?" he repeated a question of memory in his voice.
"Yes," spoke Cleo quickly. "Did you ever know the name, Professor?"
"I may have, child. You see, my brain, as it grows stronger, fancies it knows many more things than it really does. The cells seem to be jealous of each other, and they keep prodding me to recognize their claims on memory, one before the other, as quickly as any new, interesting topic is mentioned. But the doctors here know, and I am certain they will untangle the snarl presently. Then, Mary-love, we may be able to trace our lost prize." He kissed her forehead to make the hope more emphatic, and she, leaning close to him in his big chair, tilted her head nearer still, acknowledging the caress.
"Perhaps you may have known some of Uncle Guy Dunbar's people," suggested Cleo. "I know they were all scientists. Uncle Guy is a writer, you know." She was addressing the professor.
"It might be, little girl," he replied, a thoughtful look overspreading his handsome, scholarly face. "But, Mary, dear, how is the studio?" he asked.
"Just lovely, Grandie. Everything is behaving beautifully, and we go every day to attend to things——"
"Doesn't Reda look after things properly?"
"Oh, yes, certainly," Cleo answered before Mary could do so. She saw the professor was ignorant of the changes at the studio, and wisely guessed he should not be taxed with too many cares, without permission from the sanitarium nurse. Mary took Cleo's cue quickly, and, after making a few general comments, tactfully changed the subject.
Then remembering Mary had planned some secret for the professor, Cleo stepped out in the hall, ostensibly to read a big, framed testimonial, but really to give Mary some time alone with him. A nurse stepped up to Cleo and spoke very cordially.
"Isn't he wonderfully better?" asked the white gowned young woman, with the capable air, so characteristic of professional women.
"Yes, he seems greatly improved," replied Cleo.
"His mind is unfolding like a child's," went on the nurse. "The doctors think his home life has been against him. He is such a profound student, and has had no relaxation. The wheels just buzz in one direction all the time," said the nurse with a very attractive smile. Cleo had always a high regard for the graduate nurse, but she decided this girl was her ideal of the type.
"Are you cousins?" asked the nurse kindly.
"No," replied Cleo, "but very dear friends."
"I must go now," Mary's voice floated from the little veranda off the professor's room, and Cleo turned back from the corridor. "Cleo, come here a moment," called Mary. "Grandie wants to say something to you."
Cleo advanced to take the professor's hand as he held it to her.
"Little girl," he said, as his eyes lighted with a soft, affectionate glow. "Mary has been telling me—and it is all remarkable. You are wonderful little girls to have rescued her, and I feel, daughter, the time is coming when we shall be able at least to thank you, though we never can do that adequately. I have given Mary permission to break a pledge we took when we came back to New York months ago. Months!" he repeated. "It seems like years. But I believe now it was all a question of health; we were both sick from fright. There!" and he reluctantly raised his voice to the note of dismissal. "I must not anger my good nurse, and this interview was restricted to just thirty minutes by that faithful little clock."
"Then you think the—other matter—will be all right that way." Mary faltered with the evident intention of being understood by the professor only.
"Oh yes, child, that is splendid. Just do it as we planned—and, Mary, remember to use your cheeks. Daughter," this to Cleo, "see that my little girl draws some money for the good things you all like. She has plenty of it," and he shook his head definitely. "She must not want for anything a little girl should have."
More puzzled than ever, Cleo made her adieux, and when she and Mary joined Grace and Madaline in the auto she personally felt like a wonderful book with uncut pages—overburdened with hidden information and delicious secrets.
"Girls!" Mary addressed all three, just before dinner on the evening of the day she had called at Crow's Nest, "we must have a real conference—the kind you have told me about in your scout talks. How shall we begin, and where can we go to make sure no one will overhear us?"
"In our play-room over the garage," suggested Cleo, "that's really our club room, you know."
"Yes, that is the safest place," Grace agreed, while Madaline wagged "yes" with her bobbed head. "Besides, we can leave Shep outside, and he will warn us if anyone should come around," finished Grace.
But in spite of their serious business, they were really human little girls after all, for even the prospect of Mary's secrets did not forestall a vigorous romp to the garage. Madaline fell in first on Michael's sponges, tools and accessories, for the Dunbar car, which had been laid up for repairs during the absence of the owner, Mr. Guy Dunbar, was now being overhauled—a sign the owner was expected soon to return.
"Oh, Michael!" Madaline apologized, gathering up her feet in their pretty pomps, and shaking herself free from the accessories, "I couldn't help tumbling in, and I hope I didn't scatter your nuts and bolts and things!"
"All right, little girls," Michael greeted them. "The room up-stairs is all aired, and Jennie was down to-day with some fixin's. Why don't you ask her and me to join your club?" he joked inquiringly.
"Yes, of course we should," assented Cleo, who was regarded as Captain.
"That will be lovely; you could be our—our——"
"Grand Marshal!" suggested Michael.
"Yes," and Grace clapped her hands joyfully.
"And Jennie could be our—our——" But Madaline, who attempted to assign
Jennie, was failing miserably in the attempt.
"Don't give Jennie too high an office," interposed Michael with a twinkle in his eye. "I wouldn't exactly care to have her for my boss."
"Come along to the meeting, girls!" called Cleo, "and we will vote on the new members. Michael, if you are black-balled you may blame Madaline, you know," and as a protest against such a contingency, Michael pegged his biggest sponge at Madaline, who ducked just in time to give the wet flap to Grace. The jolly interlude somewhat delayed the business session originally set out for, but it evidently acted as a stimulant to the proceedings when they finally got under way, for a livelier session could scarcely be imagined.
Cleo explained some of the routine of regular meetings to the new member, inscribed on the scout book simply as "Maid Mary," then all further formalities were wavered and business plunged into.
"I am so anxious to tell you at least some of our story, girls," began Mary, "and I know, as Grandie gets stronger, he will be able to remember some of the important missing details. You know, of course, he is not my grandfather, but a gentleman who rescued me," she said.
"Rescued you from what?" asked Madaline, impulsively.
"That's all in the story," replied Mary, "and honestly, girls, I don't know how to begin, but I think I ought to go backwards."
"Yes, do," urged Cleo. "It will be clearer to us if we can connect with the parts we have actually experienced."
"You wonder, of course," Mary began again, "what actually happened that first night I came here. Really someone did call me," Mary insisted with wide eyes. "I can hear the voice yet. I know it was someone who knew me, therefore it must have been Reda."
"We all thought someone was around," Cleo ventured, "and did you know
Shep was shot in the leg that night?"
"No, really," exclaimed Mary in astonishment. "I am sure Reda did not do that. She is dreadfully afraid of a revolver. Once when Grandie had one, as he thought someone was prowling about, he left it under his pillow, and Reda wouldn't touch it, and you would never imagine what a silly thing she did. She scooped it up on a dust-pan and dumped it in the bureau drawer. Can you imagine anyone doing that with a loaded revolver?"
"Oh, how absurd!" exclaimed Grace.
"It was lucky it was not self-cocked," declared Cleo.
"Well, I know Reda wouldn't touch a revolver, so no one I knew could have injured lovely Shep," said Mary, somewhat dismayed.
"But you remember, Mary, the man you called Janos was out from New York that day," suggested Madaline.
"Yes, I know," said Mary, "but I hope it was in no way my fault poor Shep was injured."
"Of course it was not," Cleo said quickly, seeing a possible unpleasant trend in their review. "It must have been someone who was just prowling around. You know, girls, all Jennie's lettuce was pulled up by the roots the night before Shep was shot."
At the mention of lettuce Mary flushed. Then recovering her composure, she remarked:
"Reda would pull up garden things. She couldn't seem to understand that growing things were private property. You see, in her country every sort of stuff grows so luxuriously Reda never could understand why it is different here. She was always searching for greens to cook for Grandie, and I was often afraid she would give him something poisonous," Mary said. "Poor Reda," she sighed. "I wonder where she is?"
"But, Mary," urged Cleo, "do you know actually that you climbed out the window in your nightie, and sat on a limb of the tree exactly like Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens? I shall never forget how cute you looked, even in lantern lights, as you hugged the button ball tree!" and at the joyous memory all the girls fairly rolled in glee. Grace slid off the improvised couch; Madaline doubled up on the steamer rug which was serving as an Oriental on the floor, and Cleo put her perky little head through such a course of exercises as would have done credit to a beauty specialist in neck treatment. It was so very funny a thing to remember. Mary perched in a tree à la Peter Pan, in her white night robe, Cleo climbing out after her in her bluebird pajamas, then the spectators around the base of the tree in various improvised garbs, not really passed by the censor. Yes, it was howlingly—shriekingly funny, just now!
"But do let us get along with the mysteries," begged Grace, unwinding herself. "Mary, you were going backwards and you haven't got past the first tree."
"Well, I guess I will have to jump to the most interesting part," said Mary. "You see, girls, my mother's folks didn't want her to marry my daddy, because he wasn't rich. He was a scientist, and I am sure a wonderful man, but mother's folks were very wealthy, and when she went off exploring with daddy her folks sort of deserted her. Then, when she fell ill, and daddy fell ill, and I was going to be all alone——" She paused to choke back too determined a sigh, then continued. "When they feared they were going, one of the other explorers promised to look out for me. He is Grandie, but his name isn't Benson, but he doesn't know that I know that. He lost a very precious treasure, and on account of that he is sort of hiding, although he really never did a single thing wrong," declared Mary, loyally.
"Did they go out on a regular exploring expedition?" asked Cleo very seriously, a new thought coming to her active brain.
"Yes, I suppose so. Why?" Mary inquired in turn.
"I was just thinking—but never mind. Don't let me interrupt you, Mary.
Tell us about your daddy."
"Daddy was determined not to let the fever take him, so, sick as he was, he insisted on going out to sea, but he—didn't come back."
Quick to save Mary from the threatening tears, Grace asked, "What were they exploring for?"
"Why, for orchids. I thought you knew," replied Mary, rather surprised at the question.
"No, we didn't know," Cleo said very thoughtfully, "but we guessed those wonderful orchids must have come from a tropical clime."
"Yes, we brought the bulbs with us, and that's where I still have to say 'secret,' Cleo dear," Mary responded, smiling to assure her friends she would have told them more of the mystery if she had been free to do so.
"And what is your name, really?" ventured Madaline.
"You may think it very strange, but I am not sure. Daddy used a book name, out on his exploration trips, and mother's family name was never mentioned. Grandie had my papers but you see"—and she hesitated quite a long time, then in a subdued voice she continued—"you see Grandie became ill, and he forgot. That is one reason why I am so happy his memory is returning."
"Oh, wouldn't it be lovely if you turned out to be a great lady!"
Madaline rhapsodized, true to form in a girl's love of excitement.
"I wouldn't want to be a great lady!" replied Mary, tossing back her head disdainfully. "I would rather just be a little girl scout like you!"
"Hurrah! Hurrah! for our new Tenderfoot. Let's put her through an initiation, girls!" suggested Cleo. "Mary, don't forget where you left off, and we'll take a recess. Come on. First you must slide down that pole. Look out for Michael; he has a pail of water he might like to see you slide into."
Romping and racketing took the place of serious reminiscences for the time, and if Mary felt inclined to be sorrowful at her revived memories the True Treds quickly vanquished the gloom foe, until tiring of the very vigorous exercise, they settled down again for a last word before closing the meeting.
"Was Reda with you all the time?" Cleo asked Mary when they were finally quieted to rational speech. Somehow Cleo seemed to sense a solution to the mystery Mary was so cautiously unfolding.
"She left the island with us. We must have been very near the equator off of Central America, and when the fever broke out all the English left. We came on a very miserable ship, but we were very glad to escape."
"And those men Reda knows," went on Cleo, like a little inquisitor, "did you meet them on the ship?"
"I don't really know, but I have heard Grandie declare to Reda that they followed us. I blame them for most of our trouble, of course."
"And I would, too," declared Grace. "Good thing you scared them off with your flare-up, Madaline. Will you ever forget that movie scene, with all the lights!"
"But, girls," insisted Mary, serious again, "you know I do not feel I should stay here, as I am staying, any longer than I actually have to. I know you are all perfectly lovely, and Mrs. Dunbar is like a—young woman who lives in a shoe, with so many children and so forth, but I also know something about propriety, and it seems an imposition for me to bother you so much."
"There, now," wailed Cleo, "just when everything is being so beautifully fixed. Mary-love, I have a real scheme, but it's a secret. Can't I have a secret same as you?" Cleo twisted her head characteristically. "At any rate," she continued, "we haven't any idea of letting out Peterina Panna (that's my feminine for Peter Pan); we haven't any idea of letting her escape. She must stay right here until all this delicious mystery is cleared up. You see, Peterina Panna, we are only beginning to know your fairyland story, and now I for one am determined to put all the pieces together and make a beautiful real dream out of it, only, of course, the dream must be true."
"Yes, and I just wrote home begging an extension of time, so I could be in the fairy play at the end," declared Madaline, "for I am going to have you worked into a princess or something beautiful like that," decided romantic little Madaline.
"I know you are all sincere," Mary said gently, "and of course it would be difficult to arrange about going away just now, with Grandie not strong. But he suggested that I ask Mrs. Dunbar's advice on a boarding school."
"Don't you dare!" cried Cleo. "She might just pack us all off, and of course we couldn't blame her, for we have turned Cragsnook into a regular institution for noisy girls. But, hark ye! Aunt Audrey loves it that way, and she is planning more noise for Uncle Guy's return. And wait until you see him! You will love him. But please to remember he is especially my uncle. And now, scouts, I am going to call this meeting adjourned. I can smell harvest apples all the way up here. Is there anything better than those juicy early apples!"
The girls made that opinion unanimous, and what was left of Michael's apples fifteen minutes later would not even make pickings for Jennie's pet gray hen.
"Cleo, come here," Grace beckoned her chum, as Mary and Madaline started for a fishing trip to the little brook that capered through the Cragsnook lands, at the foot of an ambitious group of hills. "I am just so anxious to talk to you," Grace almost implored.
"And I am just dying to talk to you," declared Cleo, "so we ought to have a lovely time. Come on for a walk down to the stone bridge. No one is going that way at this hour."
"Because lovers are scarce around here, I suppose," Grace guessed, "for twilight, lovers and stone bridges are always combined in the movies."
"Then we will be the lovers," proposed Cleo. "Come along, darling," and she twined her arm around the shoulders of her friend, in sincere affection, if in pretended affectation.
"I know what you are going to say," Grace began. "It's about Mary's secret."
"Of course," admitted Cleo. "I have been breathless with excitement since she told us. Grace, do you see what may have happened? Just what may have, of course."
"You mean she may belong to people in America who would love to know about her?"
"Yes, that is an easy guess. But why should Professor Benson deny her identity?"
"He is also denying his own. Why does he do that?"
"And there is not the slightest possibility he could ever have committed a crime. No man with his personality is ever a criminal."
"No, indeed," vouched Grace, quite unconscious of posing as an expert on character.
"It's very mysterious," went on Cleo, "and when Mary mentioned the name Dunbar to him he seemed to recall it somehow. I asked him if he ever knew anyone named Dunbar, and he passed it off on his brain playing queer tricks on him. But all the same he did seem to have a memory of it."
"Now, Cleo Harris, don't you dare go getting Mary in your family," ordered Grace, jokingly. "It would be just Cleoistic to have it turn out that way. No, Mary is going to be a princess, to suit Madaline this time. Let's sit down here on the bridge and try to figure it all out," she proposed.
The broad stone coping over the little stream offered an attractive resting place for the self-appointed delegates, and the twilight hour a most opportune time for their conference.
"I am going to do two things first——" began Cleo.
"Oh, I wouldn't," mocked Grace. "I would do one thing first, the other way would be woozy."
"Now you know what I mean, and this isn't a grammar test," pouted Cleo. "Well, then, first, I am going to write to Uncle Guy. He knows so much about detective work—all writers do, you know, and I feel he could help us solve the mystery. I am going to send him that picture we took the other day, so he can see what Mary looks like."
"I think that is really a brilliant idea, Cleo," said Grace, seriously. "There might be some reason for Professor Benson noticing the name Dunbar. Even if I do take the risk of you getting in a claim, still, I have to be fair," and she squeezed the arm that lay over her own. "I think the pictures are splendid. I sent one to Margaret. Somehow I feel a little lonely for Margaret, don't you?"
"Yes, it would have been lovely for her to share all this, but perhaps they may come to New York before the season is over. Let us hope so. Now, for my second big idea: I am going to make inquiries at the New York museum about exploring parties. They may have records of the scientific men who went to the tropics for orchids, and I may be able to solve some of the mystery that way."
"Say, Cleo," said Grace, dimpling and making pretty faces at the slanting rays dipping into the brook from the early nightfall, "I do believe you are related to your Uncle Guy, the writer, for you have such original ideas. However did you think of that?"
"Oh, it is not original, really, Grace. I saw an account of a report of such an expedition in one of Uncle Guy's magazines, and that gave me the idea."
"But it wouldn't give me such an idea in a thousand years," admitted
Grace. "However would you go about it?"
"I'll try to get some dates and other facts from Mary, and then I'll just write a letter. Maybe I will ask you to do the writing, as your hand is much better than mine."
"Oh, I'll be glad to help out even as your secretary, but suppose we accidentally betray Mary's secret—then what would happen?"
"I have thought of that," Cleo reflected, "and I have decided, since Professor Benson and Mary are both so good, nothing but good can eventually be discovered about them. Even a lot of mistakes can't be really held against one, and I am hoping there won't even be mistakes, but glories to unfold. Isn't it exciting! Aunt Audrey is just fascinated with Mary, and is going to paint her as soon as things straighten out, and I for one can feel the tangles putting out into a straight line right now. Here they come, with their fish poles. Don't they both look like a picture? Mary is so quaint, and Madaline is such an adorable baby. Come on, and see the fish they didn't catch."
"We did, too, catch something," declared Madaline, when all four girls met on the bridge. "We caught a lovely big fat turtle. Just see!"
It was indeed a lovely turtle she set down on the rough country walk, and, perhaps scenting the damp grass near the brook, Mr. Turtle promptly crawled off to possible seclusion and hoped for safety. Even turtles have preferences, and do not always appreciate the personal attention of Girl Scouts. They seem to prefer the company of hop toads and toad stools.
"Oh, I'll lose him!" cried Madaline; "and I wanted him for Michael's garden. He would chase all the other little eating bugs and worms, wouldn't he, Mary?" and down the side of the bank, running to the brook, Madaline pursued the recalcitrant reptile. But the hill was very steep, the stones loose, and the sand slippery, and Madaline began to slide.
"Oh, look out, Madie!" yelled Grace. "You'll slide right in the brook!"
But it was too late. Madaline had no chance to "look out." All she could do was to slide, and that she kept at, rolling stones and tossing sand down in a perfect avalanche.
"Oh! oh! oh!" screamed Mary, digging her heels deep in the loose bank in an attempt to follow the sliding figure ahead. "You'll go right in the brook and it's deep. We're so near the dam!"
"And you'll be in with her," screamed Cleo—"Madaline, grab that bush, never mind the old turtle!"
But Madaline had now reached the bottom, and feet first she struck the water, just as Mary grabbed her skirt and held on tight enough to keep her from sliding in further.
"Oh, my!" cried Madaline, trying to back out. "I thought I was gone."
"You were!" insisted Grace, who had come to the edge by way of a safer track through bushes instead of on an avalanche. "You almost frightened us to death! Just see how swift the water is here."
"I don't want to see it. The earth is swift enough for me," declared Madaline, shaking the water out of her slippers, which fortunately had not fallen off in the water. "I have been both fishing and turtle hunting to-night, and all I got was—wet," she groaned. "And my nice clean gingham! Whatever will Jennie say!"
"Nothing, dearie, don't you mind," soothed Cleo. "We are so glad to see you safely landed we can even forgive the turtle. It was a perfectly foolish thing to do, to fall in the brook at this hour, with not even a boy scout to perform a daring, dashing rescue. Madie, I'm surprised at your lack of judgment. Think how Mally Mack would have loved to pull you out by the hair!"
"And carry you home in his manly arms!" chimed in Grace. "What a chance wasted!"
"And think of rolling our little fat girl on a big bumple barrel——"
But Madaline had recovered her poise and posture, not to mention proclivities, and, taking to the better foot-hold on the clumps of grass along the bank, a little farther from the bridge, she managed to scamper after both her tormentors. Mary was also in the race, and on reaching the road safely even the turtle was forgotten.
"Am I all mud?" asked Madaline, shaking her skirts.
"No, really you are not," Mary assured her. "It is only your slippers and stockings, and it is so dark they won't show. But I hope my pretty dress is not soiled. I was foolish to put it on for fishing, but I was so proud I wanted to try it."
"Oh, come on. It's getting dark and Aunt Audrey is having company," said Cleo. "Madaline, you will have to change your shoes, of course, then we can come out again, and go for a walk. It's all right to go toward the village, but we must turn our backs on the mountains with sundown. Mary-love, when may we go up to the studio to do some exploring?" she changed the subject. "You know you said you wanted to look over Reda's things and send them to her, if you knew where she might get them?"
"Yes, I have been anxious about that," said Mary, falling in step with Cleo, while Grace went ahead with Madaline. "I would so like to know about Reda. I wonder where she is?"
"Wouldn't she go to friends?" Cleo asked.
"Oh, those men would frighten her, and you remember what that woman on the mountain road said about police the other day," and Mary shuddered as she recalled the maid's careless speech about the police looking for the gypsy woman. "I feel so helpless sometimes," the child sighed.
"But please don't, Mary," Cleo spoke up. "You have no idea how much we girls have done already in difficult matters. Why, I wouldn't be afraid to go to New York with Aunt Audrey and look for Reda, if you are worried about her," Cleo volunteered.
"Oh, I wouldn't have you think of such a thing," Mary quickly replied with something like fear in her voice. "I hope Mrs. Dunbar is not taking any trouble about her?"
"No, indeed. Aunt Audrey is so busy with her pictures I don't see what she does when Uncle Guy is home, and he wants any attention," Cleo remarked. "Mary, I wondered if we might not pack up Reda's things? She won't come back now, surely, and I think you might feel better to be sure her folks would not come around for anything. Have you any address we might send to?"
"No, but she kept papers. I could understand them if we could find them. Perhaps we better look to-morrow. Here we are home, and the girls have gone in already. I guess we must have crawled slower than Madaline's turtle."
"And it's quite dark," said Cleo. "Mary," she whispered, "isn't that a man over there behind that tree? See, he just stepped back from the light. Let us talk as if we saw the other girls so he won't think we're alone," she hastily muttered. Then in a clear voice she called—"Wait a minute, Benny, I want you to carry this" (it was the fishing rod). "Oh, all right," she kept on to the imaginary boy. "Here it is," and with that both girls ran into the driveway and up to the house like two frightened deer. At the porch they stopped breathless. Mrs. Dunbar and two friends were sitting there.
"Well, what's the trouble, girls?" she asked. "Running away from the new moon?"
"No, Auntie," Cleo replied, "but we thought we saw someone back of the tree—a man, and when he saw us he seemed to hide. Where's Michael?"
"I'll call him if you are timid, but we are going to have some gentlemen callers this evening. Maybe you are running away from one of them," she said with a light laugh. "But you girls set such store by Michael, I am afraid I shall have to have the garage moved up nearer the house. Never mind, our good watchman will be home soon. Uncle Guy will be in Chicago this week," she finished with an inflexion of pleasure anticipated.
Cleo was just deciding she must get her letter off to her Uncle Guy's hotel quickly, as she calculated wisely he would give more attention to a letter than he would be able to give to conversation for some days after his home-coming.
Leaving her guests for a few moments, Mrs. Dunbar touched the call button for Michael, and when he came up the path Cleo and Mary went to meet him. They told him the shadow story, of course, even offered to go down the walk and point out the tree, but he declined their assistance.
"Now, I'll tell you girls," he said, shaking his head as he always did when uttering an important fact, "we have a special watchman guarding this place and maybe it was him" (he might have said he, but grammar is not so important to a handy man as are good tools, and Michael always had these).
"Oh, a watchman!" exclaimed Cleo. "I'm so glad. Now, Mary dear, don't you go climbing any more trees," she warned with a pinch for Mary's elbow.
"No, you had better all behave," added Michael, "for our man is a regular hawk for night watching. I had to introduce him to Shep; knows his step clear down the road. Not that he makes a sound we can hear, but a dog, you know—a dog has ears in his paws, and they hear sounds for a long distance in the ground," he declared.
"I guess so," said Mary, simply, "for I have seen dogs listen to things so far off. But the watchman—would he shoot anyone who came around?" There was anxiety in her voice.
"Well, no," conceded Michael; "he wouldn't exactly shoot first shot; he might fire that over a prowler's head. Why?"
"Oh, nothing," fluttered Mary, "except that my old nurse is odd and doesn't know American ways very well. And if she should come around looking for me, a watchman would not understand her, I'm afraid."
"Tell me what she looks like and I'll post Jim. He's a careful enough chap, but you know, young ladies, we have had some trouble about here lately."
Mary described Reda as best she could, and being assured the man behind the tree was really some passerby and not a prowler, the girls went back to the house to find Grace and Madaline.
The two latter could hardly wait to come down the stairs by steps, so impatient were they to reach Cleo and Mary.
"Oh, look!" exclaimed Grace. "Here's a letter for Mary. We picked it up out by the gate. It must have been left there just as we came along. But we couldn't see that it was a letter until we got into the light. Here, Mary," and she handed over a square, common business envelope. "It is only addressed to 'Maid Mary,'" finished Grace.
"Come on up to our room, to my room," suggested Cleo, surmising the letter might be better read privately. "Aunt Audrey has guests on the porch."
"All right," agreed Mary, crushing the letter in her hands. "Come along, girls. Whatever it is we may all know it, I don't want any new secrets; the old ones are heavy enough burdens."
Up in Cleo's room, under the softly shaded light, Mary tore open the envelope. She knew the hand was laboriously penned by some foreigner. Then she read aloud:
"Reda is sick. She says you can't come here, but wants her things.
Send the box by express. Reda will come out when she can walk.
An address was carefully spelled out, and there followed this postscript.
"I go to school, and we don't want Janos to get our letters. Dominic is going to take this out on the train; he is a good honest boy. Answer to this house by the number I give here. Carmia."
"Oh!" exclaimed Mary, staring at her companions. "That must have been the man we saw behind the tree. And this Carmia is a little girl I have heard Reda speak of. Now what shall I do! Poor Reda!" she sighed. "I hope she is not very sick."
"Let's go the first thing in the morning to pack her box," suggested Cleo. "Then we can send it to her by express," and this plan was promptly decided upon.
A feeling akin to relief, if not that of actual safety, brightened the girls next day when, with keen anticipation for the promised excitement, they started off for a hike to the studio, there to box up Reda's belongings, and also to hunt for possible clews to the ever-deepening mystery of Mary's identity, and the professor's secret.
Having assured Mrs. Dunbar that the next door neighbors to the studio were easily within call, as well as convincing her that gardeners and workmen were constantly in the fields and estates adjoining the studio, she consented to their going in charge of Shep, who was now fully recovered from his wound and lame leg.
It was early, and the dew still lay in a liquid veil over the grass and wild flowers along the way, but the Girl Scouts, Mary being a novice and on probation, were too much interested and excited to observe the beauties of nature this day.
"I suppose Reda has lots of queer things," ventured Madaline when they had passed the mountain house and started on the down-grade the other side.
"Yes," replied Mary. "She was always bringing things from New York. Her sort of people never seem to have enough. They keep storing and piling up every sort of trash. Grandie would get out of patience at times and threaten to throw it all out of doors."
Tangles of wild morning glories crept cautiously over the steps at the studio, where now the absence of human traffic was beginning to show in that vague, venturesome way vegetation has of creeping in where mortals have deserted. The grass grew so much higher on the lawn, the flowers were having such a joyous time spreading all over and blooming as they chose, while the trumpet vine had actually climbed down from its arch with the ramblers, and was shamelessly romping all over the fern patch, fairly strangling the wild maidenhairs in its reckless ramblings.
"Where shall we begin?" Cleo asked as the girls tramped into the long, quiet hall. "Isn't it cave-like to come into an empty house? Oh, I know; see the hall clock has stopped ticking, and when a tick goes out it seems to leave a smoke of silence," she finished. "There, don't you think I have an imaginative brain?"
"I'd call it a loony brain," replied Grace. "Talking about the smoke of silence! Sounds like a new name for a cigarette!" and they all enjoyed a good laugh at the comparison.
"At any rate," decided Cleo, "it is always more quiet after a clock stops than it is in any other room where no clock ever ticked. So there!"
"Let's wind the clock, start it up, and stop the argument," proposed practical Grace. "Tell me how many winds, Mary!" She had climbed on a wooden chair, had the door of the big clock open, and was examining the queer mechanism.
"I don't know a thing about the clock," Mary admitted. "Grandie always attended to it, but I suppose you just turn the key until it feels hard to turn. I have always heard a clock must not be wound too tight——"
At the side of the grandfather's antique time-piece a long door opened, Grace discovered, and being interested in the odd piece of furniture, she swung this out. As she did so a package rolled out on the floor.
"Something stored away here, I suppose," said Grace. "Shall I replace it, Mary?" picking up the newspaper package and holding it out to Mary.
"Let me see it?" Mary asked.
It was a long, slim package, wrapped in a faded and yellow newspaper. Unfolding the wrappings, nothing but a piece of bamboo-like cane, about as large as a flute, was revealed.
"That's queer," Mary commented. "I wonder what good that old piece of stick is?" She held it up and saw that the ends were sealed.
"Something is bottled up in that," declared Cleo. "Bamboo is always open and hollow between joints."
"Let's get something and press the ends in," suggested Grace. "It might be something breakable."
"Or explosive," ventured Madaline, who had not forgotten her first night's experience at the studio.
Mary was turning the piece of cane upside down, shaking it, listening for any rattle within, and otherwise examining it most carefully. Meanwhile Cleo had rescued the wrappings, and was trying to connect the line of print. She smoothed out the torn, yellow pieces, and presently her eye fell upon a ringed line paragraph, the ring being a penciled circle, usually made to attract the eye to a special item.
"Let's see what's marked here," she suggested, going closer to the window for better light. "Oh, look, Mary," she exclaimed again, "this tells of an exploring expedition leaving New York. Maybe that is a report of your folks and the professor! See, it reads," and she pressed the very much crinkled pieces to something of smoothness.
"'Left for the tropics to hunt orchids. Professor Blake and party——' Now, that's torn out into a real hole, and we can't get the names of the party. Did you ever see anything so aggravating?"
"But Professor Blake," repeated Mary. "That isn't our professor!"
"Didn't you say his name was not Benson?" Cleo reminded her.
"Yes, I knew it was not Benson, but I thought it was," she hesitated. Her grandie had not given his permission to the publication of his real name. "At least," continued Mary, "I didn't know it was Blake."
"How foolish we are!" exclaimed Cleo. "Surely there would have been more than one professor on that trip. And this may only, after all, be an item of general interest. But don't you think, Mary, we had better take it along and read it carefully when we have time?"
"That's a good idea," agreed Mary, "and I think I had better do the same thing with this shiny stick. It may be some kind of flute, but I would not like to try to blow on it. So many things from the tropics are poisonous. Let's wrap it up again," she suggested.
"But not in this paper," objected Cleo. "I want to read all of this again, and it must not be further damaged. Here, Shep," to the faithful dog, who lay nose deep in a big soft rug, "come along and I'll get you a nice cool drink. You are cooled off now, and I know you want a drink after that tramp over the mountain."
The shaggy shepherd dog followed Cleo to the faucet that dripped on a stone flagging near the back door. He drank the pan of water Cleo drew for him, shook himself vigorously, then started in for a "sniffing tour," as Madaline described the canine method of investigation. He was left quite alone and to his own resources while the girls continued in their attempt to gather up Reda's things.
"I feel queer to go among her trinkets," said Mary. "She was always so careful no one should see her belongings."
"All old people are that way," said Madaline, who was having the time of her life pulling trash out of the big rattan trunk. "You don't intend to send all this stuff, do you, Mary?" she asked.
"Oh, no, certainly not," Mary replied, "but it is rather hard to tell the hay from grass in Reda's wardrobe."
"And I must say," put in Grace, "she had a queer idea of the uses of a bureau. Just look at all the moldy roots and growing things!" Grace was gingerly touching the "moldy things" in a rather vain attempt at exploring the depths of the old mahogany bureau drawers.
"Don't throw any of those away," warned Mary, "because—well, because they might grow into pretty orchids, you know," she finished, with such a poor attempt at disguising her real meaning that it almost shouted out past her actual words.
"Of course they must be flower bulbs," assented Grace, "but fancy keeping them in a bureau drawer!"
Bits of bright ribbons, odds and ends of lace, so much lace of all kinds, and such a tangle of threads, strings, tapes and almost everything that could snarl up, was dragged out by Madaline from a work box, that she jammed the whole mass back in despair. "She won't need any of that," Cleo decided, "and I guess some new sewing stuff will be welcome whenever Reda gets a chance to use it."
"But she must have her thimble," insisted Mary. "Just wait until I get this dress and shawl in the box, and I'll try to find it—I think she kept it there."
"Oh, look here," called Madaline. "Here is a cute little secret place in the work box. See, the top comes out when you press here." As she pressed the indicated spot in the finely inlaid box a secret drawer shot out. This was literaly crammed with papers, printed and written, and even here were the remains of the dried roots, the dust of bulbs, and the powder of dried leaves.
"Should we look over her papers?" asked Madaline, again referring to
"Well, I don't believe we should," decided the girl, whose face was flushed with the excitement of the hunt. "Yet they might be important to Grandie. Suppose we tie them up in something and save them until he is strong enough to look over them? He brought Reda here penniless, and without any belongings, and whatever she has he would have a perfect right to look over," finished Mary.
"I think so, too," agreed Madaline, evidently disappointed her find had not yielded some exciting clew.
Gathering up the papers, a picture fell to the floor. Madaline quickly recovered it, and presently all the girls were scrutinizing the photograph.
"It is you and your mamma," declared Cleo. "Look at both your eyes, and her wonderful mound of hair."
"Yes, that is truly Loved One," said Mary, tenderly brushing the bits of leaves from the picture. "I have never seen this before. I wonder why Reda hid it away from me?"
"And here's another," called Grace. "This is some man dressed as a—tourist—I guess. See his big hat and the short trousers."
"Oh, that's daddy!" cried Mary. "Let me see it. Darling daddy," she exclaimed, grasping the new found treasure and holding it in close scrutiny. "Wasn't he handsome!"
All the girls pored over the picture of the tall, good-looking man, dressed in the light clothing usually worn in warm countries, the big helmet hat pushed back from his face, and his hand resting on a stout bamboo stick.
"See, he has that sort of cane," corrected Cleo. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if it were really a piece of his own walking cane?"
"It really might be," Mary reflected. "Dear me, I do wonder why Reda hid those things? And she must have taken them from Grandie or from my things. They certainly could not have been hers."
On the reverse side of the picture was the name of some photographer in Panama, and having made careful examination without success for possible notes or written names, as might give further information, Mary folded her two pictures carefully, and laid them aside with the bamboo stick.
All this time the girls kept wondering why Mary could not tell them what was the nature of the loss that had so affected the professor. Hiding himself and hiding Mary seemed a strange thing to do, except for some reason that might entail danger in discovery, and what possible danger could there be in two perfectly honest persons using their own names?
"I was to look for Reda's thimble," said Mary, jamming in the trunk some heavy coats and woolens that seemed necessary to take off the clothes hooks. "I guess I had best put all the little things in this flat basket," she decided, opening up a small hand-woven affair, such as girls use for embroidery cases.
Attacking the Philippine work box once more, Mary took all the movable compartments that she could locate by shaking and rattling, and at last found one in the very bottom of the box; released by such a snap spring, it surely must have originally been a trick box.
"Oh, my!" she exclaimed. "Just look here!" and, holding the small tray up to the astonished gaze of the girls, they beheld a glittering array of jewels.
"Oh, how beautiful," called out a voice in which all three were blended.
"These must have been Loved One's!" said Mary, in an awed voice, and her companions, too astonished to speak, simply stared at the glittering treasures.
There were several pins with beautiful sparkling stones, a number of rings, lockets; in fact the collection seemed to include a supply of fine jewelry, such as a woman of means and social prominence might covet.
"However will you carry them?" asked Madaline, first to recover from the surprise.
"I don't know," Mary replied, still dazed and overcome. To her the discovery meant more than a collection of jewelry; it meant that her mother must have been a wealthy and prominent woman. This fact, however, Mary always understood, but in her hands now were seemingly new proofs.
"Let us attend to the orchids to-day, Mary," suggested Grace, "while you finish your packing. Come on, Madie, get the small cans."
"All right," Cleo agreed. "I'll help Mary find something to carry her treasures in, and also help her finish packing. We will then likely all be finished about the same time. What a lot of things we have to look over when we get home! Mary, I am sure some of those lockets will have pictures in them," and all the while she was talking Cleo was running here and there, or hither and thither, as Jennie would have said, in a hurry to finish the tasks.
"I know where I can get a good strong bag," Mary said, "but I haven't been upstairs since we went away. This big bungalow, having the sleeping rooms on the first floor, always seemed complete without upstairs."
"I'm not afraid to go up," Cleo volunteered. "I'll take Shep. Where is he?"
At the sound of his name Shep sprang forward, carrying in his teeth the remnants of a yellow handkerchief he had torn almost to shreds.
"Why, Shep, what are you doing? You never tear things." Cleo charged, attempting to rescue the remains of the yellow silk handkerchief.
But Shep would not release his hold on the rags—instead he growled. Could Cleo have known why, she would have complimented him on being go clever a detective, for the handkerchief was one of Reda's and mate to the one Shep brought in with him the night he received the bullet in his leg. But the girls knew nothing of this.
"Shall we go up for the bag?" Cleo asked Mary, desisting in her efforts to unmask Shep.
"I suppose we better," Mary replied, as they made their way to the end of the hall from which point the hidden stairs were built. "It is so long since I have been up here I shall hardly know what it looks like."
Mary went first and Cleo followed close to her heels. At the top Mary stood still and drew back a little. Then she turned and motioned to Cleo.
"What's the matter?" whispered Cleo, seeing Mary make haste to collect the most important things.
"There are a lot of strange boxes and things up there," Mary said in a hushed voice. "Hark! What was that!"
Both girls stood breathless, afraid to move. Over in a far corner of the long, dark room, something chattered and squeaked, then squealed!
"What ever can it be?" asked Cleo. "It is surely something alive, but
I don't know what could make that sort of noise."
"I do," said Mary. "That's a monkey. How do you suppose it got in here?"
"You go over and look, if you are not afraid," suggested Cleo, "and I will stay here to guard Shep. Hear him! He would go wild for a monkey."
A clear line over the boxes, and through the long room showed nothing more sinister than that some small animal could be hidden there, so Mary stepped over the litter, and soon discovered the origin of the queer noise.
"Oh, the dearest little thing!" exclaimed Mary, putting out her arms to the frightened monkey, that immediately crawled into her safekeeping. "How did it get in here?"
"Come on," implored Cleo, fearful someone might be in bidding. "Let us get away. You are not afraid of him?"
"No, indeed. Just see how glad he is that we found him. I wonder how long he has been up here!"
But even a starving monkey would not be sufficient cause for longer delay, so, urging Mary down, Cleo held Shep fast while Grace hurriedly locked the door that led to the second floor of the studio.
Now surely they must make haste to get away.
"Oh, the poor little thing! See how he cuddles up! Wasn't he frightened to death!" and Mary hugged the chattering little animal under her arm, like a short haired terrier, or even an abused and exhausted little kitten. To the other girls it seemed quite impossible to realize this was really a monkey, and the domestic puppy or kitten naturally furnished a comparison.
"Oh, do let's hurry!" begged Madaline. "How do we know someone will not burst in upon us?"
"We don't," replied Cleo, without the hope of reassurance. "But we have to depend on Shep. I think he is behaving beautifully with a real monkey on the premises; no jealousy in good old Shep." She was making all possible haste with picking up the most important articles they had gathered to bring back with them to Cragsnook. "I have your treasures, Mary," she said, making a final hard knot in the shawl that held the jewelry. "The other girls are all ready. Come on, don't let us wait a moment longer," she cautioned.
"Can you carry the cane, and these pictures?" Mary asked. "I guess I can manage them if you cannot."
"Oh, no, you must take care of Chatterbox. He is lively enough to keep you busy. Here, Grace, you shoot the bolts on the doors as we pass out. Come on, Shep. Keep near the ladies, but let them pass out first," finished Cleo, determined to make the exit something of an imitation fire drill, if not in point of the numbers in line, at least in point of the caution applied.
The fright experienced when something "alive" had actually been discovered upstairs supplied enough excitement to make the whole situation extremely alarming. What could have brought a monkey there but humans, and what purpose had anyone in such an exploit? Between the finding of the monkey and the discovery of the jewels, the girls felt their day had thus far been one of unusual thrills, but a sense of actual danger seemed threatening to explode at their very heels now, and, making tracks over the mountain, away from the uncanny studio, they put into execution the Girl Scouts' danger drill, if not the school girls' fire drill. Once away from the house, Mary "collapsed into a dead silence," as Madaline expressed it in a whisper to Grace. Even the monkey's chattering was not answered.
Indeed, Mary was silent, almost to the point of a threatening "mood," since seeing the collection of empty boxes, and her friends were determined she would not relapse into anything so unpleasant. Plainly the boxes were ready to be packed; then the finding of the monkey convinced Mary that strangers had come into the studio, and were making preparations to loot it. Who they were, and just what they "were after, she could only surmise. But it was a most unpleasant surprise, amounting to a shock, and that to come just when things seemed to be shaping so favorably for everyone.
"Certainly I should not think of taking you up there again," said Mary finally, "but what can I do about the orchids?"
"They must be cared for," Madaline said sagely, "but we could never go up there, and perhaps—perhaps——"
"Get packed in one of the boxes, Madie?" teased Grace. "That surely would be dreadful. But don't you worry, Mary-love. We will find a way to take care of the studio until Professor is able to come back. Of course, I don't see how we are ever going to let you go there again, but since we don't have to decide that to-day let us postpone the evil. Too bad we didn't have a chance to look into the boxes; we might have been able to tell where they came from," she reasoned.
"Don't you dare go blaming Mally Mack for furnishing the boxes," objected Cleo. "I am sure no one in Bellaire would give away boxes to steal stuff from the studio," she declared. "At any rate someone has surely been busy up there, and I am glad our wires didn't cross again. Fancy us going up those stairs and seeing a couple of burglars squat among the boxes!"
This calamitous consideration acted as a spur to the romping girls, who were once more discovering short-cuts home from Second Mountain, and joining hands, they raced pell-mell through the daisy field, down to the path that edged the brook.
"I think it is too mean," grumbled Madaline. "We hadn't entirely searched all the places, nooks and boxes and things. We may have left a lot of valuables behind us for the robbers to pack in their boxes."
Everyone laughed at Madaline's literal and explicit surmise. It was characteristic of Madaline that she should stamp a mere guess with a most definite label, but the excitement of the flight with the treasures was too absorbing to admit of this trifle being noticed.
"I hope Aunt Audrey is in," said Cleo. "We must, of course, bring these things to her at once. She will know best what to do with them."
"And we better not mention them to anyone," cautioned Grace, "else we might again be visited with night prowlers."
That the strange child should fall back into a condition such as the scouts first found her in was additional cause for alarm. She scarcely spoke in answer to the questions piled upon her. Who might have been in the studio? What would they ever intend to do with so tiny a little baby monkey? What had they expected to put in all those boxes? Such questions came thicker than the stones they skipped over, but in reply the girls received nothing but skeleton answers from Mary, and these were built of simple, meager words.
"But the orchids? What can we do about them?" Grace insisted. This roused Mary. She was seen to shudder, and heard to sigh before replying:
"Girls, please forgive me for being so rude. But so much is rushing all about me, I can hardly think. I shall never let you go with me to the studio again——"
"Then you shan't go either!" promptly interrupted Cleo. "Your danger would be as great as ours, and we will never leave you until every thread of this mystery is untangled."
"Indeed, we will not," echoed Grace, while Madaline too offered her pledge of loyalty to their new member.
"You are sure the monkey will not bite you?" questioned Cleo, glad to change the subject.
"Oh, no indeed," Mary replied, patting the animal, that now seemed much at home, and quite content, in the hollow of her arm. "They are wise little creatures; we have many of them in South America, and this one seems to be trained."
"Whatever will your aunt say, Cleo?" Grace exclaimed. "Just think of fetching another surprise. We thought the fly catcher plant quite wonderful; but just imagine a real little monkey!"
"Oh, Aunt Audrey loves pets," declared Cleo, "and you see how well she has treated us!"
"I should say so," affirmed Madaline, "and we are pretty noisy pets at that."
"Uncle Guy will be delighted with this monkey, I am sure," continued Cleo, qualifying which monkey she referred to, "that is if he gets home in time, and if we are allowed to keep our chatterbox. Suppose someone takes him from us?"
"Can't have him," objected Grace, attempting to pat the dark spot of fur in Mary's arm. "He's going to be our mascot, aren't you—Peetootie? Wonder what we'll name him?"
"Let's have a real party for him——" But Grace had no time to finish out her party plans, for the roof of Cragsnook now loomed up through the trees.
"Mary," interrupted Cleo, "what do you think will be best to do about the orchids? We are almost home, and I think it would be better to have some suggestion to offer Aunt Audrey."
"Oh, it all seems so hopeless now," sighed Mary, "and just when Grandie is getting better and I felt so—so—happy!"
"Now don't you go worrying like that," Grace put in quickly. "These things are just new—new adventures," she declared, "and you will see how they all help to clear up the big mystery which is back of the whole thing," offered Grace. "Don't you think, Mary, we might get someone to go live in the studio, and take care of it? Someone whom you could trust, of course."
"If we only could—but then, you see, Grandie feels he is guarding something——"
As Mary faltered Cleo filled in the hesitation with a suggestion that they lay the whole story before Mrs. Dunbar and see what she might propose. It struck the girls as queer that the Professor should be "guarding" something in the deserted studio, but they were too considerate of Mary's feelings to press that point.
Cleo was carrying the hand-made basket, and in it the bundle of jewelry, tied up in Reda's black silk shawl, while each of the other girls was burdened with the most important of the articles unearthed in the search at the studio.
"I am so afraid someone may suspect we are carrying valuables," said Grace. "Cleo, do be careful, don't tip your basket, some jewel might slide out."
"No danger. They are all secure in the shawl," replied Cleo.
"Of course it is lovely to have these things if they all prove to be Loved One's," Mary said gently, "but do you know I really believe I care more about the pictures than anything else. They make me feel as if—as if—I just visited with daddy and mother again."
"There's Michael out in the back lots. Let's go through that way and we won't be apt to meet people on the road," suggested Grace, plainly anxious to get the jewels into Cragsnook without any possibility of molestation.
Greeting Michael pleasantly, they were attempting to hurry along, past the garage, when he called them to wait a moment.
"If you are going up to the house," he said, "would you mind telling Jennie that my cousin got in from Long Island to-day—a woman looking for a place out here? And ask Jennie if she can make room for her until I get a chance to look around for a place. I am sorry she came without giving me more time, but I just got the card on this mail."
"Certainly, Michael," offered Cleo. Then a thought struck her that seemed to offer some solution of the difficulties at the studio. Maybe Michael's cousin could keep house for Mary and her grandfather?
"Mary," she whispered, "do you mind if I ask Michael about his cousin?
She might go to the studio for us."
"Oh, wouldn't that be splendid!" and something like joy shot across
Mary's pale face. "I know any friend of Michael's would be faithful."
But Michael was just spying the little animal in Mary's arm. And the animal seemed to be just spying Michael!
"What on earth—have you got—there!" gasped the caretaker.
"Oh, the dearest little monkey——" Cleo attempted to explain, but was interrupted with a protest.
"A monkey!" cried Michael. "Of all the hated animals of the earth a monkey is the worst. Where ever did you pick the creature up?" He stepped nearer to examine the mascot, in spite of his denunciation.
"Now you couldn't hate a little thing like that," insisted Grace.
"Just see, he wants to shake hands with you."
Rather awkwardly the man extended one big brown finger. The queer little creature made a comical effort to grasp it, and at the same time shake his wizened head with a show of monkey intelligence.
"I don't exactly know why it is, but the Irish hate monkeys!" admitted
Michael, with a hearty laugh that interpreted the joke.
"But you will love this one," insisted Mary. "He is as tame as a kitten."
"And even Shep was kind to him," went on Grace. "Say, Michael," coaxingly, "couldn't we take him in your rooms for something to eat? He must be starved. We found him—in an empty house," explained Grace.
"And he needs it—I mean an empty house," declared Michael. "Can't you see him making himself at home in my little sitting room? I'll bet he would want to sleep in my best tea pot, or maybe he would prefer my new hat. They always like hats when they go around with the organ grinders. But tell me, girls, where did you get him? I don't want a couple of hurdy-gurdy pushers coming down on me for their monka," he finished, with a very weak imitation of the Italian accent.
"Someone left him in Mary's house, or else he came in by the chimney," said Madaline. "But at any rate he is ours, and we are going to have him for a pet. Now, Michael, please give him something to eat. See how pale he is."
Whether willingly or reluctantly, Michael now led the way to his quarters in the garage, and as quickly as the monkey smelled food Mary had her own troubles in restraining his appreciation. He wanted to walk all over everything and sample every article in sight that even looked like food.
"He surely was hungry," admitted Michael, showing an interest in the animal in spite of his voiced dislike for it. "They are kinda cute, ain't they now?" he ventured.
"And say, Michael," began Cleo at this favorable opening, "do you think your cousin would like to take a place up at Second Mountain? You see, Mary's folks are all away. You know her grandfather is in Crow's Nest, and they have some beautiful things at the studio that should be cared for."
"We can give her good wages," assured Mary, "and Grandie would so appreciate a real housekeeper."
"Say, listen!" said Michael. "I'll forgive the monkey now. That's the very place for Katie Bergen. Just you run along and fix it up with Jennie for to-night, and I'll take care of the monkey."
"There!" said Cleo, when they left the garage, "isn't that just like a good natured old Michael? He's petting our mascot already." And they all agreed it was just like Michael to pet a monkey.
When Mrs. Dunbar heard the story of the day's adventures, even she showed surprise.
"I hardly know how to excuse myself for allowing you girls to go up there alone," she said, when the scouts had unfolded the exciting story, "except that you always do seem so capable!" Then she laughed and tapped Cleo under the chin. "Of course you would be capable," she added, "when you are related to me."
"Oh, there really wasn't any danger," Grace hurried to say, fearful their wings of adventure might be clipped by the scissors of prudence. "Besides, we had Shep with us, you know."
"Yes, and, Auntie, he acted so queerly," said Cleo. "He found an old yellow handkerchief, and simply insisted on tearing it to shreds. I never saw him hate anything so."
"Yellow handkerchief, did you say?" repeated Mrs. Dunbar, and when Cleo said "yes" the aunt just shook her head understandingly. She knew it was also a yellow handkerchief that Shep dragged in with him the night he received the bullet wound. The two articles must have belonged to the same person. No wonder Shep would hate both!
"But do let me get a look at those wonderful trinkets," said Mrs. Dunbar, when they finally did manage to reach the sitting room and there drop some of the bundles and baskets. "I have never hoard of such a story. To think old Reda had all those hidden away. Of course, you being so young, Mary dear, she may have just intended to keep them till you grew up," she concluded.
This explanation did not seem to satisfy some of her listeners, although Mary was inclined to accept it. Presently Mrs. Dunbar was examining the little cameos, the quaint foreign rings, and lockets—there were a number of lockets. Then Mary offered the photographs for her inspection. The trained eye of the artist lingered on these. Yes, Mary surely was like her pretty mother; and the tall soldierly man! What a pity he had to go so soon from the life of his daughter.
"Makes me think of Guy," Mrs. Dunbar remarked, "with his love of adventure. He must have been of the same temperament, for I am sure I will soon have to pack up my kit and go traveling if I am to be with my own good looking boy," and she gave one of her happy, rippling laughs. Audrey Dunbar was still a girl, and "her boy's" tour through the west had been her first separation from him since their marriage.
"But he will soon be home," she added, as if the girls had been following her thoughts. "Then let us be prepared for more surprises."
"Why?" asked Madaline shyly.
"Oh, because he is a very surprising boy!" declared the young wife, "and when he becomes a scout—Mercy me! what wonderful things will happen! But now I am going down to see your other find—the monkey. Cleo dear, you know my weakness for queer animals, and my love for monkeys often got me in trouble during my hand-organ days. Come along. It will be tea time before we know it."
In the few hours following it was difficult to make sure just which end of Cragsnook was most fascinating. The girls went from one "exhibit" to the other, with seemingly increasing interest, until Mrs. Dunbar finally locked all the valuables in the safe, and Michael, down in his quarters, had rigged up a cage for "Boxer." The girls decided he might be called Boxer because they found him in a box, and also because Michael had already discovered he could use his "fists."
After tea Mary declined an invitation to take a run to the village.
She seemed overdone with the day of excitement.
"But you girls go, and bring me some stamps, if you will," she said. "I want to write a whole book to Grandie to-night. It seems the most satisfactory way of talking to him now," she finished.
"But you will see him to-morrow," Cleo reminded her. "Why write?"
"Oh, I like him to get my good morning kiss with his breakfast," responded Mary, "and, besides, I may be able to prepare him for some of the surprises."
So Cleo, Grace and Madaline went off to the village, although reluctant to leave Mary alone. Still, her plea to write letters seemed a request not to be interrupted.
Almost before it could be realized thunder rolled over the mountains. A telephone announced the girls would stay with Lucille and Lalia, whom they had met in town, and that all would return by auto as soon as the shower passed. Mary sat by the low window looking ever the porch. Jennie was busy in the kitchen, and Mrs. Dunbar was in her study, writing to the home-coming boy. The storm came on so suddenly that Mary hurried to close the long French window off the living room, when something like a moan sounded, she thought, under the window!
She listened! Yes, surely that was someone moaning. Stepping through the window out onto the porch, a sheet of rain dashed in her face, blinding her so that, for the moment, she was forced to take refuge behind the swinging hammock.
Flashes of lightning now showed a blackened sky, and the terrifying peals of thunder seemed to swallow every other earthly sound.
"But I am sure I heard a human voice," Mary told herself. "I must see if anyone is about here suffering."
She was minded to attempt to call for Jennie, when again a low, pitiful moan came as an echo to a terrific thunder clap.
"Who is it?" called Mary, but the sound had died down, and was lost in the storm.
"It could not have been Shep," Mary was thinking, "and I can't go inside without finding out what it is. Who is there?" she called, bravely throwing her skirt over her head to ward off the beating rain.
"Mary! Marie, come to Reda!" came a faint reply, and at the sound of the voice, unmistakably that of her old nurse, Mary jumped from the porch, out into the blasting storm, and attempted to follow the direction whence came the sound.
"Reda! Reda! Where are you?" she called frantically. "It is I, Mary. Answer, where are you?" She stopped under a tree to avoid a very deluge that poured down on the path. For a moment she hesitated. What if that letter from New York had been a ruse to trick her into following someone with the idea of helping Reda? But surely that was Reda's cry.
Again she called and called, but no reply came back, and baffled, as well as frightened, she ran to the house, in through the hall, her dripping garment leaving a path of water as she went, until she reached Jennie in the kitchen.
"Oh, Jennie," she gasped, "someone is out in the storm! They called me. I am sure it is my old nurse, Reda! How can we find her in this awful downpour?"
"Out in the storm—who?" asked the maid, astonished at the plight of the girl who stood trembling before her.
"I am sure it is Reda, and she will perish," wailed Mary. "What shall
"Now don't take on so," commanded Jennie, beginning to realize what it all meant. "Just you wait until a few of these awful claps are over, and we will quickly find anyone who is out there. Just hear that! Mercy! what a dreadful storm! I am so glad the girls did not venture home. I could scarcely get the windows shut when it broke like a cloud-burst."
"Why, what is the matter?" came Mrs. Dunbar's voice from the hall.
"Jennie, I am sure someone is crying out in the storm," she called.
"Come, we must see who it can be."
"I am afraid it is Reda, my nurse," said Mary, now almost in tears.
"Oh, do you think she will perish? I was out but could not find her."
Hurried arrangements were made now to summon Michael, and as the storm had somewhat abated it was soon possible to go out with lanterns and search.
Clad in raincoats and rubbers, Mary, Jennie and Mrs. Dunbar went first along the path, toward the gate. Everything seemed quiet, except the late splashes of rain from the trees, and in spite of repeated calls no answer came, and no trace of the storm's victim could be found.
"Nobody about," announced Michael, as if satisfied the search had been futile.
Then a stir in the hedge attracted Mary's attention.
"Listen!" she exclaimed. "Something stirred in here!"
"Fetch the lantern, Michael," commanded Mrs. Dunbar. "I do see the bushes moving."
He brought the light, and swung it into the thick hedge.
"Oh, Reda," cried Mary. "Reda, are you dead!" she screamed, throwing herself down by a huddled figure that lay ominously still in the deep, wet grass.
"Mary, wait," ordered Mrs. Dunbar kindly. "Here, Michael, give me the light so you can lift her. She may be just overcome."
But Mary was on her knees beside the old nurse, whose face, bared to the glare of the lantern, looked so death-like!
"Reda! Reda!" called Mary, pressing her young face down to the shriveled features. "Oh, speak to Mary. It is I, Maid Mary! See, I am with you."
But no sound came from the frozen lips, nor did the wrinkled hands answer Mary's warm grasp.
"She is likely stunned," said Mrs. Dunbar, encouragingly. "Michael, can you carry her?"
"Certainly I can," declared the stalwart man, and shouldering the inert burden, her arms brought over his strong chest, and her limbs fetched around under his own strong arms, he carried the unconscious woman up the steps into Cragsnook.
Speechless with terror, Mary followed, while Mrs. Dunbar led the way with the light, and Jennie had hurried on ahead to make ready, scarcely knowing where the gruesome burden was to be rested.
"On the couch in the library," ordered Mrs. Dunbar, "and, Jennie, telephone at once for Dr. Whitehead. I feel sure she is only stunned. Mary dear, be brave," she continued. "We will surely bring your poor, old nurse back to you," she finished.
But Mary stood like one transfixed, gazing at the helpless figure huddled on the low, leather couch.
Anxious hours at Cragsnook followed that night's storm. Reda, who had been ill in New York, had somehow managed to make her way to Bellaire when she was overtaken by the cloud-burst and stunned from fright of lightning and thunder. But with the skillful work of Dr. Whitehead, assisted by Jennie, Kate Bergen (Michael's cousin who arrived after the shower), Mrs. Dunbar and the girls, the old nurse finally opened her eyes, and showed signs of life.
"Oh, I never knew how much I loved her until I saw her lying so deathlike," Mary murmured, when Mrs. Dunbar insisted the child should leave the bedside of Reda. "If she had died, and I had not found her in time——"
"Now, Mary-love," coaxed Grace, "you know you are a scout, and we never indulge in foolish fancies like that. Just think how fine it is that she has been saved, and think how good Mrs. Dunbar is."
"Oh, I know and think of that constantly," declared Mary. "This house is nothing short of an institution since I came to it," she went on. "And do you know, Cleo," turning to the one girl who had the right there of relationship to Mrs. Dunbar, "it all frightens me when I feel so much at home here, almost as if I too belonged at Cragsnook. It is presuming, and I can't account for that in me. I have always been so timid."
"You are cured, that's why," said Cleo, urging Mary to bed, for it was well past midnight. "A girl scout simply can't be timid, that is a really, truly good as gold scout girl, and we all know you are exactly that. But not one more word to-night. I have been appointed captain and it is my duty to sound taps, or, as Benny Philow or Mally Mack might say, 'douse the glim.' I think that's the cutest expression," and to demonstrate just how "cute" it was she snapped off the lights.
Next day everything was in confusion, and excitement was too weak a word with which to describe the conditions that existed at Cragsnook. Reda had come to with all the strength characteristic of her sturdy race, and nothing but main force kept her from running away. She was frightened to death of the place, of the people around her, and nothing that Mary could say would assure her no harm could come to anyone who was within the hospitality of that generous home. And Reda had explained to Mary it was the jewels she had hidden for the child that had caused her most anxiety. She feared Janos would find them.
The advent of Katie Bergen, Michael's cousin, seemed nothing short of providential, and to her was at once entrusted the care of the obstreperous patient.
"I think, dear Mrs. Dunbar," said Mary rather timidly, "it would really be much better to take Reda back to the studio. Once there she will quiet down, and that may save her from higher fever."
"Perhaps you are right," Mrs. Dunbar agreed; "the doctor says she has been a very sick woman, and her collapse was only natural, considering what she went through. Has she told you why she was so eager to see you?"
"Partly," Mary replied. "You see, she was sort of conscious
[Transcriber's note: conscience?] stricken that something would happen
to me, and she felt obliged to warn me. And she also wanted to give me
Loved One's jewels."
"But nothing did happen," blurted out Madaline, keen on the trail of the mystery.
"Oh, do tell us, Mary," begged Grace. "It seems to me we will have so much to find out all at once it will be rather overwhelming if we don't start in."
"Well, you little scouts run along and enjoy your story," suggested Mrs. Dunbar, "and I will see about having Reda sent up to the mountain. I am sure, Mary, you are right. She may be saved a real relapse if we agree with her. And, of course, Katie is going to be your housekeeper. I would envy you if I hadn't such a treasure in Jennie. This is really her house, and I am a guest, it seems to me," and it was hoped by every little girl present that the delicious compliment floated out to Jennie, who was busy in the breakfast room just at that moment.
"Please let me tell you something first," begged Cleo, when the girls were left to themselves. "I am fairly bursting with the news. You know I wrote out the whole story to Uncle Guy. I wanted him to know all about it when he came home and also, ahem"—and the perky little head perked perceptibly—"I may as well admit, girls, I am ambitious to keep the family honors up in the writing line, so I just wrote all this glorious vacation to Uncle Guy, making it just like a summer story. I sent our pictures——"
"Mercy me, Cleo!" interrupted Grace, "I guess you will be a story writer. Just see how you have us all keyed up, and won't tell us what happened. What did your Uncle Guy say?" she demanded.
Cleo laughed triumphantly. "There, I knew I would get you excited——"
"Cleo Harris!" shouted Madaline, almost forgetting the presence of a sick person out on the enclosed side porch, where Reda was being fixed up for her journey over the mountain. "Cleo," repeated Madaline, "you tell us instantly what your Uncle Guy said!"
"Your commands are my pleasures," replied Cleo in mock dramatic emphasis. "There, doesn't that sound like a book? Uncle Guy wrote to me and to Aunt Audrey, and he merely said not to let a single kid escape. That my letter had knocked him silly, and that his cousin, whom he discovered out in the western camp, was coming home with him."
"Who is the cousin?" asked Grace.
"A man, a lovely man, just like Uncle Guy. He was an explorer, or still is, and has been away for some years," she glanced rather anxiously at Mary, but the latter never changed her serious expression. Then Cleo said pointedly, "Mary, your father was an explorer, wasn't he?"
"Yes, he went away in search of orchids," faltered Mary, "and you know he never came back from the sea, when the men took him out to the ocean to cool him in that frightful fever."
"And you left the island with the professor a few days after?" pressed
"Yes, oh yes. We had to get away. Grandie was getting sick, you know; that is how he lost—his memory."
"Yes," said Cleo, simply, but Grace and Madaline had "seen a light," which Mary still appeared blind to.
Mrs. Dunbar was very busy arranging for the removal of Reda, but in a moment of cessation she was heard talking to Crow's Nest over the phone. She gave orders to the sanitarium that Professor Benson should be brought down to Cragsnook for a ride late that afternoon, as the girls would not go up there that day. Besides, Mrs. Dunbar was declaring, the ride would do him good.
"Oh, won't that be lovely!" and Mary almost danced out of her glumps.
"Just think of Grandie here!"
"Now, Mary-love, you promised some of Reda's news. Do tell us before something else happens to put off all our delicious mysteries," implored Madaline, quite as if the telling would give the same joy to Mary as the news would furnish to herself.
"What did she want to warn you of?" prompted Grace.
"Oh, Janos and his men. They were coming out here to take all Grandie's orchids away. And they brought the monkey to scare him. He was dreadfully frightened of a monkey once in the tropics, and Janos knew it, so he just planned that awful trick on him——"
"With our lovely little Boxer! How perfectly absurd," exclaimed Grace, at the risk of spoiling all the thrilling story Mary had undertaken to tell them.
"Yes," went on Mary, "and the night you girls came, that first night, you remember?"
"Yes, when I turned on the lights," inserted Madaline.
"That was the night they first planned to scare Grandie's secret from him. They were all three out in that orchid room, just waiting to break in and—oh, I can't say what they were going to do to get Grandie's secret from him." She was now on the verge of sobbing, and the girls had no idea of letting any such thing occur.
"But Madaline turned the tables," Cleo said cheerily, "and she shooed off the—desperate thieves!" and Cleo again reverted to type as a fiction fixer.
"And the really cruel part of it all was," continued Mary, "Grandie did not know and does not know yet what became of the treasure they are all seeking. He lost it with his memory," she said almost in a whisper. "And it was daddy's just as I was his. I was to be given mother's family with the treasure as a peace offering."
"What was it?" asked Cleo. "Can you tell us now, Mary-love?" she asked gently.
"Yes, Grandie said I might tell you now, for he does not fear things as he did before he went to the sanitarium. He has recovered courage, which was simply clogged up in his congested mind. Yes, he said I might tell you now that he lost the most famous orchid in the world, the 'Spiranthes Corale.' That means coral lady tresses. It was in search of that daddy and the expedition went out. Daddy found it. It was almost beyond price. Then Loved One died, dear daddy was stricken, and all the papers and this wonderful bulb were given Grandie. He lost them! Do you wonder he almost went crazy?"
For a few minutes the girls did not speak. It seemed rather disappointing that the whole mystery should center around the bulb of an orchid.
"Oh, I know," exclaimed Cleo presently. "I have read of the famous orchid hunts and the fabulous sums of money offered for the most rare species. Of course that was the sort of expedition your folks were on, Mary-love. And, of course—why, girls, that's just what our newspaper clipping was all about. The one we found wrapped around the old stick in Mary's big clock!"
"Get it! Get it!" cried Madaline, who literally tumbled after Grace, in haste to reach the old bit of newspaper that had been carefully stored away in the scouts' desk, for they had been assigned one general and especial desk in Cragsnook.
"And the precious bulb was never found?" Cleo said to Mary, seeming to embrace her with a look, so filled was her expression with genuine affection.
"No, it has gone, and with it the one hope of Loved One's last word to me, that the famous orchid which was to be given to her mother in this country would unite me with her family, and prove daddy a real explorer."
"And don't you know who her family are?" asked Cleo, unable to suppress her increasing excitement.
"Not exactly, for Grandie begged me not to ask until he had recovered the bulb. He always felt his memory must come back. Now, of course, it is months, and we have given up hope. But I don't care any more, for I have found so many other darling loves in life." She threw her arms around Cleo, and if the latter had ever given in to tears she might have been pardoned a few just then—the kind that come with too much joy.
"Mary!" she said gently, "now I know why Professor Benson once called you the orphan of the orchids, but suppose, suppose your daddy didn't die?" she ventured.
"I have often thought of that," said the child. "But even if he lived he could never find me, for he would think I died with so many others, and I suppose I could not even look for him, until I grow up like Loved One, and go off again to search among the orchids. I wouldn't fear that fever when the goal might mean daddy!"
"We had better tell her," said Mrs. Dunbar to Cleo, an hour later, after Cleo had talked things over with G-race, while she left Madaline to entertain Mary. "As you say, my dear, it does look as if your vacation story is going to have a very happy ending."
Cleo flitted back to her companions. They divined from her manner that the hoped-for good news was to be "thrown on the screen."
"Mary," began Cleo, who had dropped in a safe coil on the rug at Mary's feet, "are you prepared for the very biggest thing in all the world to happen? Can you stand the most astonishing kind of news?" and she managed to secure Mary's hand to give her confidence.
"Oh, yes, Cleo dear, but don't tell me if you are not sure? I have been dreaming such glorious things since—you talked of—daddy!"
"It is just about him, Mary, I want to speak. He may be alive——"
"Oh, how do you know? Who has found him——"
"Don't become too excited now," pleaded Cleo, while Grace and Madaline both closed in affectionately about Mary's chair. "Of course we cannot be too positive, but Uncle Guy has wired he is bringing back—your daddy!"
"Oh!" the sound was a sigh, a gasp, then Mary began to slip down deep into the chair.
"Now, don't you dare faint!" called Madaline, with the magic way she always exercised of averting evil through sheer innocent challenge. "Here, Grace, hold her head while I fetch water," and while Grace attempted to support the head Madaline had been fondling, Mary raised it with a look of unspeakable joy.
"Oh, girls!" she murmured, "how did you do it?"
"Oh, we didn't," disclaimed Cleo. "No girls really could; we just lived up to our laws and rules and inspirations, and all those powers united to bring our happy result. It would be perfectly silly to say girls could do such things."
"But we did all the same," came from Grace, "and it would be sillier to say the rules and the laws and the inspirations did them. Wouldn't it? You wrote the whole story and even sent Mary's picture to your uncle."
"But daddy!" Mary begged. "Tell me, where is he now? How did your uncle find him?"
"Our uncle," corrected Cleo. "I am almost afraid to tell you this part. The girls will say I was in the secret all the time, and I wasn't, truly. Mary—you are my cousin!"
"She is not—no fair!" cried Grace, actually slamming a pillow on Cleo's head. "I warned you long ago not to dare to claim her——" And the thumping of soft pillows supplied the omission of words.
"At least let me tell it," said Madaline in mock scorn. "Be generous enough to give us that much glory. You see, ladies and gentlemen (to an imagined audience), this little girl," slamming Cleo with another pillow, "wrote a letter to her cousin. Her cousin had found his cousin, and his cousin made Mary Cleo's cousin, because Cleo's cousin—was——"
Realizing Mary was not in a mood for such joking, Madaline apologized with a kiss on the softly pinked cheek. "Mary-love," she confessed, "I just did that to ward off tears. Cleo would have disgraced the scouts in another moment."
"We got the most important clew in the old bamboo cane," said Cleo, seriously. "That was literally stuffed with papers, and one was a baptismal certificate, giving your name, Mary, as Marie Hastings Dunbar."
"Dunbar!" repeated Mary, "and the men all called daddy Dunnie. That was his name, Dunbar!"
"Yea, and Aunt Audrey has found out that Constance Hastings, your mother's mother, is in one of the finest hotels in New York now! The Hastings own the most famous orchid collection in this country."
"They are millionaires," began Mary, but her voice was almost scornful.
"Yes, I know. Aunt Audrey has talked with Mrs. Gilmore Hastings over the telephone. She will be apt to take you from us, if you don't hold tight."
"Never! Never! Never!" defied Grace. "She is our Mary—yes, cousin Mary, for isn't Cleo's Aunt Audrey our Aunt Audrey—by vacation scout laws?"
Only the girls that they were could have absorbed so many surprises at a sitting, but such is the nature of nature's best product, and that product is always lively, happy girls!
What happened between that time and next morning would take volumes to relate, but it might as well be admitted that Jennie had to fairly camp out in the hall that night to stop the talking, and it was away past midnight when she succeeded. Even then it would be false to claim that Mary actually slept.
Early in the evening Mrs. Dunbar had very carefully unfolded the story to Professor Benson when he came down over the mountain in the car Mrs. Dunbar had ordered. So that he, too, was somewhat prepared for the astounding surprise. The return of Jayson Dunbar from the mystery of orchid land seemed almost too wonderful, but the Professor admitted he had always hoped Jay would "turn up."
"And every letter I wrote to mother I kept hinting that the glories of Bellaire were actually taking root in my soul," said Cleo, as the girl dressed next morning, almost unconscious of the task they were performing. "Now she will understand the metaphor."
"And Michael is going to give us all a ride up to the studio before breakfast," exclaimed Madaline. "He wants to try the car to make sure it is all right."
"Try it on us," laughed Grace. Nevertheless she was the first one to find the best seat, when the car directly honked at the door.
Reda was beautifully installed in her own room, and pompously accepting the ministrations of Katie Bergen, when the girls found her at the studio. How delightful it all was! Mary was speechless with sheer joy.
"It is perfectly glorious!" she kept exclaiming. "And to think that daddy is coming! How can I believe it after all my dark days!"
"Girls! Let's have one more blissful look in the orchid room!" begged
Grace. "It won't be the same when others come."
Almost like a little procession they wended their way into the conservatory. At the opening of the door they were almost overcome with the perfume of the tropics that burst from the riot of glory there.
They looked from one bloom to another. Mary told them how Professor Benson had made every sort of bulb bloom in the hope of finding the lost treasure, the rarest orchid in the world. Then she explained why she and Reda had gathered queer roots from which the botanist had ground fertilizer, but that all of this had not brought forth the priceless bloom.
They were reluctantly leaving when Madaline and Grace espied Mary's old home-made doll. It was so quaint and queer they both sought to reclaim it at once.
"Just look!" said Madaline. "What a funny old doll!"
"Isn't it jolly," added Grace, whose hand was on the discarded toy just as Madaline picked it up.
"Why, the orchids have taken root in it, Mary," declared Grace. "See, this sprout growing out of the arm!"
"Let me see!" almost cried Mary. "Oh, girls, it is it! It is the lost orchid. Grandie had sewed it up in the doll! Look. See that stem!" She was shouting almost wildly, for there, shooting from the broken arm pit of the queer old hand-made doll was the unmistakable tendril of the long sought for orchid.
"And we both found it at exactly the same minute!" announced Grace when the full value of their discovery dawned upon them. "Cleo found an adorable cousin, and you and I, Madie dear, found the lost orchid!"
Mary held the doll up to the astonished gaze of her companions. To think that tiny green shoot should mean so much! That hidden in the queer doll was a prize, almost beyond price, and for this prize covetous men had followed Mary and her guardian from the tropics!
The girls stood there almost reverently.
And, unconsciously, Mary posed again as the Orphan of the Orchids!
Michael had been off to Crow's Nest for the professor and he was now back with the splendidly improved man, a scholar and a scientist every inch, who stood there in sight of his orchid room.
"Grandie! Grandie!" called Mary, "see, we have found it. You sewed it up in the doll you made me! Don't you remember how you told me never to part with that old rag baby?"
Like a flash it all came back! Yes, when the fever threatened his life he had decided the child could keep her doll free from suspicion, and in this he had sewed the precious orchid bulb.
"Girls! Girls!" he exclaimed, "am I dreaming? And I didn't betray my trust! Dunnie, you may come back to us now; I have saved for you both your darling child and your precious orchid!"
Meanwhile the greatest of great preparations were being completed at Cragsnook. Only the freest use of telegraph had contented Guy Dunbar to stay with the train that bore him and his famous cousin back to civilization.
The train was in. Michael and Shep met it. Boxer had been compelled to stay home though Michael wanted to take him, and all the girls "with Mrs. Dunbar and Professor Benson stood on the porch, under the arch of growing roses that welcomed the comers to Cragsnook.
"Don't get too excited, Mary," begged Madaline, always to be depended upon for breaking too heavy a silence.
"There they come," shouted Cleo, and nothing but a firm hold laid on her very skirts by Mrs. Dunbar kept the impetuous little scout from running out too near the approaching motor.
Folded in her daddy's arms, Mary seemed for a moment miles and miles away. Then she turned to the girls and tried to speak, but she only managed to say:
"Girls, I am wide awake at last."
"Say, Audrey," said Guy Dunbar, after he had embraced his wife and looked about him at the group of girls, "this surely is a real old home week. I always knew you ought to run a boarding school!"
"Or a merry-go-round, Uncle Guy," Cleo supplemented. "This house, with
Aunt Audrey as leader, has been a regular picnic grounds all Summer."
"And to think I should literally fall over old coz, Jay Dunbar, in a western lumber camp," said jolly Guy Dunbar, thumping his own brilliant head.
Mary and her father (he did look like Guy Dunbar) were too spellbound to notice their surroundings. But as quickly as he could manage it Professor Benson spoke to the wanderer. "It's like the real page in our old log, Dunnie," said the professor, "and your precious Spiranthes Corale has been found. I lost it, but Mary's, friends have recovered it and now you are the famous explorer you set out to become." And he held up the quaint doll with the miraculous green shoot stealing through its arm pit.
"Some little Girl Scouts!" declared Guy Dunbar, leading the way to the house.
"How shall we end it?" asked Cleo. "Mary's daddy is found, the orchid is found, new cousins are found—oh, girls! I have so many wonderful endings for our vacation story we shall have to vote on the fade-out!" she decided, while the girls fell into line for a Scout parade to victory.
And the joys of that wonderful reunion must occupy our own interest in these self-same little girls until we meet them again in the next volume, to be entitled, THE GIRL SCOUTS AT SEA CREST—OR THE WIG WAG RESCUE.