Dorothy Dale's Queer Holidays
by Margaret Penrose
1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse




Author of Dorothy Dale: A Girl of To-Day, Dorothy Dale at Glenwood School, Dorothy Dale's Great Secret, The Motor Girls, etc.


New York Cupples & Leon Company




Cloth. 12mo. Illustrated

Price per volume, 60 cents, postpaid






(Other volumes in preparation)


Cloth. 12mo. Illustrated

Price per volume, 60 cents, postpaid

THE MOTOR GIRLS Or, A Mystery on the Road

THE MOTOR GIRLS ON A TOUR Or, Keeping a Strange Promise

(Other volumes in preparation)
































"She very probably will miss her train, we will miss her at the station, she will take a ride up with old Bill Mason, stay talking to him until dinner is too cold to wait any longer; then—then—well, she may steal in through a window and give you a midnight scare, just for a joke. That's my recollection of Miss Tavia."

"Nat, you're too mean—Tavia is not always late, and she doesn't purposely upset plans. Some things can't be prevented."

"Right, little coz, they can't. That's right. Tavia is one of the things that can't be prevented from—"

"Quit! quit there! Easy with young ladies' names! You don't have to—to put her up for the registry," and the last speaker swung around in mock challenge, with his fist very close to his brother's aristocratic nose.

The three were Dorothy, Ned and Nat. Dorothy Dale was the "coz," a very pretty and attractive young girl, while her two good-looking cousins, Ned the elder and Nat the jollier, were sons of Mrs. Winthrop White, of North Birchland.

Dorothy, with her father, Major Dale, and her two brothers, Joe and Roger, the latter about two years younger than his brother, who was not yet in his 'teens, made her home with Major Dale's sister, Mrs. White, where they had lived for the past few years. It was now holiday time, and Dorothy was awaiting the arrival of her chum, Tavia Travers, of Dalton, the former home of the Dales.

We may say Dorothy was waiting, but the boys were—well, they may have had to wait until Miss Tavia got there, but one of them, Nat, evidently did not find "waiting" very pleasant employment. The fact was, Tavia was a very good friend of Nat, and because of this his brother enjoyed teasing Dorothy about her chum's shortcomings, especially when Nat was within hearing.

"She said the 4:10, didn't she?" asked Nat for the fourth time in as many minutes.

"And meant the 10:04," put in Ned, before Dorothy could reply.

"Neddie, I've warned you—" and Nat "squared off" in a threatening manner.

"Boys! boys!" pleaded Dorothy, stepping in between them with her hands raised to prevent possible trouble.

"Well, if you insist," said Nat, with a very gallant bow. "In deference to a lady's presence I will not exterminate the—the bug."

"Bug!" echoed Ned, stepping closer.

"Yes, I said bug," repeated his brother. "They are such—such unpleasant things to have to exterminate."

The two boys had now assumed attitudes generally supposed to be the very best possible in preparation for a fistic encounter, and Dorothy had just jumped upon a chair to be able to reach her taller cousin and prevent anything serious happening, when a very gentle voice from the doorway interrupted the little scene.

"Children! children!" exclaimed Mrs. White, "Boxing in the library!"

Instantly the trio turned toward this beautiful woman, for she was beautiful indeed.

So stately, so tall, so queenly, and gowned in such a simple yet attractive house robe. Youth may have its glories, but surely mature womanhood has its compensations, for a queenly woman, in the ease and luxury of home costume, is to the eye of love and to the eyes of discriminating persons the most beautiful of all the pictures that femininity is capable of inspiring.

Such was Mrs. White, and no wonder, indeed, that she had such good-looking sons, and no wonder, either, that Dorothy Dale was proud to be told that she resembled her Aunt Winnie.

Mrs. White's Christian name was Ruth, but the Dale children, having another aunt of that name, had always called this one Aunt Winnie, a sort of contraction from the name of Mrs. White's late husband—Winthrop.

This afternoon, when our story opens, was one of those tiresome "strips of time," with nothing to mark it as different from any other occasion, but, as Nat expressed it, "everything seemed to be hanging around, waiting for Christmas, like New York, on Sunday, waiting for Monday."

The little party were vainly trying to make themselves happy in the library, where every reasonable comfort and luxury surrounded them, for The Cedars, as this country estate was called, was a very beautiful place, its interior arrangements reflected not only ample means, but a display of the finely original and cultured taste for which Mrs. White was famous.

Mrs. White was not afflicted with the "clutter" habit, and, in consequence, her room rested instead of tiring those fortunate enough to be welcomed within the portals of The Cedars.

So on this afternoon the wintry winds outside accentuated the comforts within, and our friends, while restless and naturally impatient for the arrival of Tavia, could not but appreciate their happy circumstances.

You may not all be acquainted with the books of this series, in which are related many important events in the lives of Dorothy Dale, her family and her friends, so something about the volumes that precede this will not be out of place.

In the first book, "Dorothy Dale; a Girl of To-day," was told of Dorothy's home life in the little village of Dalton. There Dorothy and her friend Tavia grew like two flowers in the same garden—very different from each other, but both necessary to the beauty of the spot.

The dangers of the country to children who venture too far out in the fields and woods were shown in the startling experience Dorothy and Tavia had when Miles Anderson, a cunning lunatic, followed them from place to place, terrifying them with the idea of obtaining from Dorothy some information which would enable him to get control of some money left to a little orphan—Nellie Burlock.

Real country life had its joys, however, as Dorothy and Tavia found, for they had many happy times in Dalton.

In the second volume, "Dorothy Dale at Glenwood School," there is given the natural sequence to such an auspicious beginning as the days at Dalton.

There were jolly girls at Glenwood, and some strange "doings" took place, all of which went to show that a girl need not go to college to have plenty of fun out of her schooldays, but that the boarding-school, or seminary, is well qualified to afford all the "prank possibilities" of real, grown-up school life.

In "Dorothy Dale's Great Secret," the third of the series, there is shown what it means for a girl to be allowed too much liberty; to grow ambitious before she has grown wise; to act imprudently, and then to have to suffer the consequences.

It was Tavia who ran away to go on the stage, it was Dorothy who found her and brought her back. And Dorothy kept her "secret," though what it cost her only she knew.

The book immediately preceding this volume, entitled "Dorothy Dale and her Chums," tells the story of Dorothy, Tavia, Urania, a gypsy girl, and Miette, a little French lass. Dorothy had plenty of trouble trying to civilize Urania, and quite as much trying to save Miette some strange hardships. Dorothy was instrumental in bringing Miette into her own family rights, and if she did not entirely succeed in "taming" Urania, she at least improved her marvelously.

In all four of the preceding books the friends, whose acquaintance some of you are forming for the first time, played their respective parts as best they might, and now, as we find them on this wintry afternoon, they are ready to take part in other scenes, no less interesting, I hope.

Dorothy, Ned and Nat, at the sound of Mrs. White's admonition as she entered the library, turned to look at her in some surprise, for they were taken unawares.

Ned and Nat were always going to "fight," but they never actually did get at it. In fact, they were both blessed with a reasonable amount of good nature, and this, coupled with correct training, was destined to make them men of patience and common sense.

Of course, this time they were only joking, so the "boxing" their mother had somewhat jestingly accused them of was all part of the game.

Dorothy smoothed the cushions of the divan as her aunt advanced into the room. Ned and Nat both attempted to poke the same log in the open grate with the same poker, and the blaze that most unexpectedly shot up at this interference with a well-regulated fire, attending strictly to its own affairs, caused both young men to leap quickly back out of reach of a shower of sparks.

"Whew!" exclaimed Nat, falling over an ottoman that Dorothy had been lately sitting on, and landing very ungracefully at his mother's feet. "Mother, I adore you!" he suddenly exclaimed as he found himself in a suppliant attitude. "Only," he went on ruefully, rubbing his shins, "I did not intend to adore you quite so hard."

"A three-bagger," joked Ned, for indeed his brother's position over the "bag" was not unlike that of a baseball player "hugging the base."

"But you were just saying, as I came in," spoke Mrs. White, "something about Tavia's coming. She has not sent any word—any regrets, or anything of that sort, has she?"

"Why, no," answered Dorothy, "We were just saying that she might be here before we know it—"

"Who said that?" demanded Nat, promptly scrambling to his feet.

"Before we know it," repeated Ned, with special emphasis on the "before."

"However do you bear with them, Doro dear?" asked Mrs. White. "They seem to grow more unmanageable every day."

Then Dorothy, making herself heard above the argument, said:

"Boys, if we are going to meet Tavia—"

"If we are going to meet her!" exclaimed Nat, interrupting his pretty cousin, and putting a great deal of emphasis on the first word. "There's no 'if' in this deal. We are going," and he sprang up and continued springing until he reached his own room, where he proceeded to "slick up some," as he expressed it, while Ned, and Dorothy, too, prepared for the run to the depot in the Fire Bird, as speedy an automobile as could be found in all the country around North Birchland.

"Take plenty of robes," cautioned Mrs. White as the machine puffed and throbbed up to the front door. "It's getting colder, I think, and may snow at any moment."

"No such luck," grumbled Nat. "I never saw such fine, cold weather, and not a flake of snow. What's that about a 'green Christmas, and a fat graveyard'? Isn't there some proverb to that effect?"

"Oh, I surely think it will snow before Christmas," said Dorothy. "And we have plenty of robes, auntie, if the storm should come up suddenly."

"Come down, you mean," teased Ned, who seemed to be in just the proper mood for that sort of thing.

Dorothy laughed in retort. She enjoyed her cousins' good nature, and was never offended at their way of making fun at her expense.

Presently all was in readiness, and the Fire Bird swung out on the cedar-lined road and into the broad highway that led to the railroad station.

"I would just like to bet," remarked the persistent Ned as the station came into view at the end of the long road, "I would just like to bet almost anything that she will not come."

"Take you up!" answered Nat quickly. "I know she'll come."

"Oh, you feel her presence near," joked Ned. "Well, if she comes on time this trip there may be some hope for the poor wretch who may expect her to make good when he has fixed it up with the parson, the organist and—"

"Silly!" cried Dorothy gaily. "A man never pays the organist at—at an affair of that kind," and she blushed prettily.

"No?" questioned Ned in surprise. "Glad to hear it. Here, Nat, take this wheel while I make a note of it. A little thing like that is worth remembering," and he pretended to take out a notebook and jot it down.

When the train glided into the station, with a shrill screeching protest from the sparking wheels and brakes, and when quite a number of persons had alighted and gone their several ways, Dorothy and Nat, who had peered hopefully and anxiously at each passenger, looked rather ruefully at each other. Tavia had not come.

"Well?" asked Nat.

"Let's wait a little longer," suggested Dorothy.

Finally the train started up again, the private carriages and hired hacks had been driven off with scores of passengers and their baggage. Then, and not until she had looked up and down the deserted platforms, did Dorothy admit to Nat:

"She hasn't come!"

"Looks like it," replied the lad, plainly very much disappointed.

Ned, who could see what had happened, clapped his gloved hands in unholy glee.

"Didn't I tell you she'd duck?" he demanded triumphantly. "Didn't I tell you so?"

"Aw shut up!" growled Nat in pardonable anger.

"Ha! ha!" laughed his brother.

"Well, you're enough to hoodoo the whole thing," retorted Nat.

But Ned simply had to laugh—he couldn't help it, and when Dorothy and Nat took their places again in the machine Ned was chuckling and gasping in a manner that threatened to do serious damage to his entire vocal apparatus.

"It would have been a pity to have disappointed you in your fun," remarked Nat sarcastically after a particularly gleeful yelp from Ned. "What you would have missed had she come!"

"But I can't understand it," said Dorothy. "There is no other train until eight o'clock to-night."

"And that's a local that stops at every white-washed fence," added Nat.

"Oh, well, then she'll have plenty of time to think of the fine dinner she has missed," went on his brother. "Of all mean traits, I count that of being late the very meanest a nice girl can have."

"Oh, so then she is nice?" inquired Dorothy with a smile.

"Well, she can be—sometimes. But she was not to-day—eh, Nat?"

"For the land sake, say your prayers, or do—do something!" exclaimed his irritated brother.

"I might," retorted Ned, "but, being good is such a lonesome job, as some poet has remarked. Now, having fun is—"

"Look out there!" cautioned Nat suddenly. "You nearly ran over Mrs. Brocade's pet pup."

A tiny dog, of the much-admired, white-silk variety, was barking vigorously at the Fire Bird on account of the danger to which it had been subjected by the fat tires. And the dog's mistress, Mrs. Broadbent, nicknamed "Brocade" on account of her weakness for old-time silks and satins, was saying things about the auto party in much the same sort of aggrieved tones that the favorite dog was using.

"Wait until she meets you at the post-office," Nat reminded Ned. "Maybe she won't rustle her silks and satins at you."

But Ned only laughed, and kept on laughing as his mother appeared in the vestibule with a puzzled look at the empty seat in the tonneau of the Fire Bird.

Dorothy was the first to reach the porch.

"She didn't come," was her wholly unnecessary remark as Mrs. White opened the outer door.

"Isn't that strange!" replied the aunt. "Do you suppose anything could have happened?"

"I don't know. I hope not. She promised so definitely that I can't understand it," went on Dorothy.

Nat remained in the car as Ned drove it to the garage.

"I'm so sorry, after all the extra trouble to get up a good dinner," apologized Dorothy as she laid aside her wraps.

"Oh, well, we can all enjoy that," replied Mrs. White, "although, of course, we had counted on Tavia's presence. She is so jolly that the boys will be much disappointed."

"I'm just ashamed of her," went on Dorothy in a burst of indignation. "She should have learned by this time to keep her word, or else send some message."

"Yes, I am afraid Tavia does not care for the conventionalities of polite society," remarked Mrs. White. "In fact, I almost suspect she enjoys disregarding them. But never mind! we must not condemn her unheard."



It must not be understood that Nat was a very silly boy. Not at all. He did like Tavia, but he liked his own sweet cousin Dorothy, and would have been just as disappointed, if not more so, had it been Dorothy who had missed her train and not Tavia.

But the fact that all seemed to need Tavia to finish up the holiday plans, and that now she had not come put Nat in a very restless mood, and when the dinner, which was served immediately upon the return from the depot, was over, Nat decided he would find something to do that would occupy his time until the eight o'clock train, when, of course, they would again go to the station.

Electricity was this young man's "hobby," and he had already fitted up the cellar with all sorts of wires and attachments for regulating the household affairs, such as turning on the heat by touching a button in the stable where the hired man, John, had his quarters, and lighting the gas in the coal-cellar by touching a button at the cook's elbow; in fact, Nat really did arrange a number of most convenient contrivances, but the family, all except Joe and Roger, thought his talent misapplied. They insisted he ought to study "railroading."

"Or laying pipes," Ned would tell him when Nat pointed out some improvement in the miniature telephone system.

But Joe and Roger loved to watch their big cousin make the sparks and turn on the signals, the latter task always being assigned to Roger, who had a very small engine of his own to practice on.

"Come on, boys," said Nat to the youngsters, when, dinner being over, Major Dale and his sister, Mrs. White, went to "figure out Christmas secrets," and Dorothy turned to the piano to put in her time until the hour for going out again, "come on, and we'll rig up something."

Instantly both little fellows were at Nat's heels, through the back hall to the cellar-way, where Nat stopped to don his overalls, for he always insisted that the first principle of true mechanics was "good, stout overalls."

Nor were the clothes protectors unbecoming to Nat. In fact, he looked the ideal workman, except he was not exactly of the muscular build, being decidedly tall, and having such a crop of light, bushy hair.

"I'll show you how to make gas," said Nat as his two young cousins waited impatiently to hear the program announced. "We can produce a very superior article by the mere use of bark from a white birch tree, and a common clay pipe. You cut the bark up into little pieces with a pair of scissors, fill the bowl of the pipe, and then make a cover or plug for the bowl by using clay or a mixture of salt, ashes and water. Stick the bowl of the pipe in the stove or furnace like this," and he opened the door of the big heater; "the fire causes the birchbark to give off a gas, it comes up into the pipestem, and can be lighted at the end, thus—"

"What was that?" interrupted Joe. "A wagon outside?"

"Might be," admitted Nat, "but what's that got to do with making birchbark gas?"

"I thought I heard some one call," apologized Joe, again taking his place in front of the heater.

"There is some one calling," declared little Roger. "I just heard them."

"Well, I guess we had better give up the gas business," said Nat impatiently, "and you kids might as well go out and interview the night air." And with this he threw down the long-stemmed pipe, which broke into a dozen pieces. Then, while the younger boys made their way back to the kitchen, Nat started for the yard.

"My, it's cold!" he could not help exclaiming as he stepped out into the clear, frosty air.

Then he brushed against something.

"It's a wonder you wouldn't knock me down!" came a voice, struggling between cold and laughter.

"Tavia!" he gasped, recognizing the tones in spite of the chattering teeth and the forced laughter.

"Yes, it's yours truly, Nat. And for gracious' sake, do let me in. What isn't frozen is paralyzed."

"Where in the world did you come from?" asked the astonished boy as he led the way to the side door.

"From some place too dark for the earth and too cold for—any other place. I think, it must have been Mars," Tavia finished, "and Mrs. Mars forgot to light the lamps."

"But there was no train," remarked Nat, waiting for some one from within to open the door in answer to his hasty knock.

"As if I didn't know that, Mr. White," replied Tavia saucily. "Do you suppose I am the kind of girl who rides in a dump-cart in preference to taking a red plush seat in a train?"

By this time the commotion had been heard, and the door was opened by almost the entire family.

"Mercy sakes!" exclaimed Dorothy, dragging Tavia in bodily.

"No mercy about it," objected Tavia, giving Dorothy a peremptory hug. "I'm simply dead and buried, without insurance. Frozen stiff, and disjointed in every limb. Why, I rode here in a dump-cart!"

"Let the girl sit down," interrupted Major Dale, who left his armchair to welcome Tavia. "My, but you are cold! No, don't go too near the fire. Sit here on the couch. Children, run off and fetch a hot drink," he added, for he saw that Tavia was indeed too cold to be safe from possible harmful consequences.

Tavia dropped into the offered seat, and then she saw Nat—in the light.

"Glory be!" she exclaimed, staring at his costume, which he had entirely forgotten. "Is it the plumber?"

"Gas man!" sang out Roger gleefully. "We had just turned the meter on when we heard your noise outside."

Nat was not proud, but he had not calculated on being in overalls when he met Tavia. Ned nearly went in kinks at his brother's discomfiture. Dorothy and Mrs. White had hurried off to fetch warm drinks for Tavia.

"You'll have to get up a 'visitor alarm,' I guess, Nat," said Joe, noting Tavia's plight and Nat's embarrassment. "If we had heard the dump-cart on the drive we would not have kept her so long out in the cold."

"That's right," answered Nat; "we will surely have to rig up something to send signals from the gate."

"Like the coal office scales," suggested Roger. "When any one stepped on a platform at the gate the clock would go off in the house."

"Say," interrupted Tavia, "I'm not a regular circus. Suppose you let me get my things off and give us all this signal business later."

"Great idea," acquiesced Nat, being glad of the chance to change his own costume.

"Come, now, drink this beef tea," commanded Dorothy, as she brought from the pantry a steaming cup of the fragrant beverage. "You must be perished inside as well as out."

"Oh, but you should have seen me in that cart!" began Tavia as she sipped the tea. "You know—I—"

"Missed the train," broke in Ned, who had been just a little joyful that all his predictions had turned out to be correct.

"Never," replied Tavia; "I was on the 4:10, but I stayed on it."

"Why?" asked Dorothy in surprise.

"Couldn't get off," replied Tavia. "I was talking to the cunningest little boy, and never knew it until the train was out on the branch, going for dear life toward—land knows where."

"And you went all the way out to—"

"Indeed I did. I went all the way, and then some. I thought I had gone even farther than that before the conductor would make up his mind to stop and let me come back."

"But that train couldn't stop nearer than a telegraph station," volunteered Ned. "If it did there might have been a collision."

"I would have welcomed even a collision if some one only had to walk back home my way," said Tavia. "But to be put off a train at such a place! Why, I just made a bolt for the first black speck I could see with a light in it. It turned out to be a farmhouse, and I simply told the man he must hitch up and drive me here."

"What was the name of the place?" asked the major.

"Oh, something like Gransville, or Grahamsville. I wasn't particular about remembering the name, major; I really hoped I would forget it."

"Do you mean to say you rode from Gransville in a cart? And we have let the man go away without giving him a warm drink or anything! Why, Ned, call up the stable and see if John can catch the fellow; he may not be out on the road yet," and at the major's order the three boys hurried to overtake the man, Roger and Joe wrapping quickly in their warm coats and running out toward the drive, while Ned 'phoned the stable for John to stop the cart if he could do so.

This interruption left Dorothy and Mrs. White with Tavia, for the major, too, had left the room, and presently, when Tavia had "thawed out" sufficiently to move about, she went with Dorothy to the alcove room, one of the twin guest chambers in the suite always given Dorothy and Tavia the girls were at The Cedars.

"My, how like Christmas you look already!" exclaimed Tavia as she glanced about at the table of packages, and at another table of things that were to be in packages.

"Isn't it time?" asked Dorothy, getting out one of her own pretty robes for Tavia. "Why? it is only ten days off."

"Please, Doro, dear, don't be exact. It makes me think of work—school is still in existence, I believe. Had a letter from 'Ned' the other day, and the old place hasn't burned down, or anything."

"From Edna? How are they all?" and Dorothy helped Tavia into her house garments.

"Able to sit up," answered Tavia facetiously. "Cologne is pining for you, I believe."

"I did hope Rose-Mary could come over for the holidays, but she has written she cannot."

"Sorry for you, Doro, dear, but I really like The Cedars all to myself."

"And the boys?" asked Dorothy archly.

"Well, if you like, I'll take the boys too. Don't care if I do." And Tavia stood before the oval mirror inspecting herself in Dorothy's blue and white empire gown with the long sash at the side.

"What a pretty new dress you have!" remarked Dorothy as she picked up the one that Tavia had so carelessly discarded.

"Like it? I suppose it's all rumples and crumples after the cart. But really, Doro, if I had had only some one to talk to, I believe I should have enjoyed it. It was too funny! The man had a mouth without any backstop in it—"


"Maybe that was it. Anyhow, when he spoke the words seemed to evaporate, and you had to guess what he meant. Likely there's a trail of frozen words all the way from here to—Mars."

"Hurry a little," urged Dorothy. "I am sure they are all impatient to talk to you. And the boys are just dying to hear about your adventure."

"All right, Doro, I'm ready. But say!" and Tavia stood still for a moment "You look—like—a picture in that princess. I do wish I could wear a 'clinger,' but I'm too fat. You have gotten—ahem—prettier in the short time since I saw you at school. But I don't wonder. Oh, that abominable old school!"

"Aunt Winnie had this gown made for me last week," replied Dorothy, ignoring all of Tavia's criticism save that which referred to the blended gold and white princess. "Isn't it sweet?"

"Matches you as if you had been made for it," replied Tavia, in her way of saying things backwards. "Your hair seems all of a piece."

"Come on down," called Roger at the foot of the stairs, "It will soon be bedtime, and we want to hear all about it."

"All right, honey," replied Tavia. "We're coming."

Mrs. White had Tavia's dinner brought into the dining-room, so it was there, between mouthfuls, that the tardy one tried to tell of her mishap on the train, and the strange adventure that followed it.



"I was worried thinking something had happened to you," said Dorothy as she poured Tavia's tea.

"And that was the very time that your worry was properly placed," said Tavia, "for something did happen to me. In the first place, I knew I would have bad luck, for I dropped my comb while I was dressing."

"Break it?" asked Ned slyly.

"Yep," replied Tavia; "and it was a nice one, too—dark, didn't show—"

"Tavia!" exclaimed Dorothy warningly, for Tavia usually kept Dorothy busy correcting her possibly impolite speeches.

"All right, Doro. It simply was 'a nice one,' and when I dropped it I knew perfectly well that I would 'bust' something."

"Did you?" asked Roger, not noticing Tavia's slang.

"Well, I don't know about the cart, but certainly I nearly strangled yelling at the man with the reins."

Dorothy looked annoyed. She did not mind Tavia's usual queer sayings, but she knew perfectly well that her aunt would not like such vulgar expressions. The boys might smile, but even they knew a girl should not forget to be ladylike in an attempt to be funny.

Dorothy hastened to relieve the tension.

"But when you got out to Gransville, was it dark?" she asked.

"Almost," continued Tavia. "The blackness seemed to be coming down in chunks. Well, I finally reached the old shack and bribed the man into hitching up the cart. Of course, it was awfully cold, and he didn't relish the drive."

"Don't blame him," put in Nat.

"What?" asked Ned. "Not even with Tavia?"

A sofa cushion flew in Ned's direction at that, but Tavia continued:

"The strange part of it was we had to pass a haunted house."

"Haunted house!" repeated Joe, all eager for the sensational part of Tavia's recital.

"So the man declared. At least, I think he declared, or tried very hard to do so. You see, I could scarcely tell when he was guessing, declaring or swearing—"

"What a time you must have had," remarked Mrs. White, with some show of anxiety.

"Well, I suppose I am exaggerating," said Tavia apologetically, "but I am so accustomed to tell things as big as I can make them. Brother Johnnie won't listen to any tame stories."

"But the haunted house?" questioned Joe.

"We are almost there," said Tavia as the dinner things were cleared away. "Did you ever see an old castle off toward Ferndale?"

"The Mayberry mansion?" suggested Ned.

"Perhaps," replied Tavia. "It is set in a deep woods or some sort of jungle."

"Why, that's Tanglewood Park," declared Nat. "How in the world did you get over that way?"

"Took a short cut through a lane," replied Tavia, "and when we got right in the thick of it the old man meekly pointed out the haunted house."

"Did you see the 'haunt'?" asked Dorothy jokingly.

"Saw what my friend declared was the haunt," Tavia replied, "A light running all over the place as if it might have been tied to a cat's tail."

"A light in the house?" asked Ned and Nat in one breath.

"Certainly. Not on the roof, but behind the big old stone walls. I could see the place was made of stone, although it was almost dark."

"Why, that place has been deserted for years," declared Nat.

"Then the deserter has returned," answered Tavia, "and the old man told me folks around there are just scared to death to be out after dark."

"Folks around there? Why, there isn't a house within half a mile of the park," Ned corrected.

"But don't they ever go to sleep in trains and have to take short cuts through the lane?" Tavia asked. "They don't exactly have to live in the park to have occasion to go past it now and then."

The boys laughed at Tavia's defense, but Joe and Roger were impatient to hear all about the ghost, and they begged Tavia to go on with her story.

"What did the light do?" asked Roger, edging up so close to Tavia that his curly head brushed her elbow.

"Why, Roger, dear," said Dorothy kindly, "you must not believe in such nonsense. There are no such things as ghosts."

"But Tavia saw it," he insisted.

"No, she only saw a light," corrected his sister. "There are lots of reasons for having lights, even in empty houses. Some one might have gone in there for the night—"

"Or the rats might be giving a pink tea," joined in Nat with a sly wink at Joe.

"Or some one might be trying to make gas," Joe fired back, "and perhaps they were interrupted by the sound of wheels."

"Will you please state, young lady," said Ned, imitating a lawyer questioning a witness, "just what you saw? Confine yourself to the question."

"I saw a light—l-i-g-h-t. And I saw it all over the place at the same time."

"A flame, like a fire?" asked Nat "Perhaps the place is all up in smoke by this time."

"No, no," said Tavia. "It was about as big as a candle and as rapid as a—a—"

"Searchlight," suggested Joe.

"See here, children," exclaimed Mrs. White, leaving her place on the cushioned leather couch and going toward the library, "if you do not stop telling ghost stories you will have the most dreadful dreams."

"Oh, I'm not afraid, Aunt Winnie," said Roger, taking the caution, as intended, entirely for his benefit.

"But you might walk downstairs," insisted his aunt, "and you know how dreadfully frightened you were the night after the party, when you did walk down in your sleep."

"Oh, that wasn't ghosts, auntie, dear. You said, don't you remember, that was cake with frosting on it."

"Do you prefer ghost-walks?" asked Nat. "I do believe most fellows like 'the ghost to walk.' That's what they call pay-day, you know."

"Well, that will be about all," said Tavia as a finish to the recital of her queer ride. "There is really nothing more to tell."

"Oh, pshaw!" exclaimed Roger, "you didn't tell us—about the light. When it—"

"Went out—" interrupted Ned, teasing his young cousin.

"Didn't wait for that," explained Tavia, "for the old man made the horse go, I tell you, when he saw that light floating 'round."

"Well, we will have to go and interview that ghost some day, dear," said Dorothy, putting her arm around her small brother. "Doro is not afraid of ghosts, and neither is her great big brother, Roger."

Interview the ghost? How little Dorothy knew that her promise would be fulfilled, and how little she dreamed how the strange interview would be brought about!

With the arrival of Tavia at The Cedars Dorothy felt her Christmas vacation had actually begun, for the days spent in expecting her guest were almost wasted in the little preparations that Dorothy always loved to make to welcome Tavia. But now the real holiday had come, and it was with hearts and heads filled with a joyous anticipation that the young folks at The Cedars finally consented to go to bed that night and start out on the morrow to fulfil at least some of the many plans already arranged as part of the Christmas holiday.



The day following was clear and crisp, with biting, wintry air, but there was no sign of snow to make the boys happy, and give them an opportunity of realizing the much wished for sleigh ride.

"We had better go to town and get some of the shopping over with," suggested Dorothy to Tavia, when they had convinced the boys that it was too cold to go auto riding, and that this was the very best day in the week to do Christmas buying.

"All right, Doro," answered Tavia. "You're the coacher. I'll go wherever you like, only please don't ask me to select anything to go out to Glenwood—I want to forget there is such a place as Glenwood School."

"Why, Tavia!" exclaimed Dorothy. "You are surely going to send some remembrance to Mrs. Pangborn! Surely you would not forget the principal, even if you do overlook the teachers."

"Not a thing," declared Tavia, shaking her bronze head decidedly. "Fact is, I'm awfully hard up, Doro, and I would rather forget Pangborn than—go without a month's supply of fudge."

"Hard up! Why, Tavia, you wrote me you had five dollars to spend."

"So I did—then, but I lost it since."

"Lost it? How? Wasn't that too bad!"

"I should say so," replied Tavia, turning to her memorandum book, as if to dismiss the subject.

"But how did you lose it, Tavia?" persisted the sympathetic Dorothy.

"Oh, I didn't exactly lose it, but I had to spend it for other things," said Tavia with a show of impatience.

"Then I'm just going to divide with you," declared Dorothy, for she knew perfectly well that Tavia was not in the circumstances that she herself enjoyed, surmised that indeed Tavia did have to spend her holiday money for some needed articles.

"Oh, no, thank you," objected Tavia, the color racing into her cheeks, "I suppose I might have done without—"

"Now, you must let me have my way, Tavia," insisted Dorothy, instantly opening her pretty beaded purse to divide its contents.

"But, Doro, dear," faltered Tavia, "you don't understand. It was not for anything for myself—"

"Then all the more reason that you should be reimbursed," insisted Dorothy. "I don't want to know anything about it, but you must let me share with you. Why, what fun would I have giving and buying, with you just looking on?"

So Tavia said no more, but as she accepted the money from her loyal little friend a guilty flush would persist in staining her cheeks, and she avoided Dorothy's wondering blue eyes when she asked:

"Now, what are you going to send home? We must get the things first that will have to be sent away."

"I've fixed all that," stammered Tavia. "I won't have to get anything to send home."

"I didn't want to take her money," Tavia tried to tell herself, "and I was willing to tell her all about it, but she wouldn't listen. Now, if only I can manage to get Nat to keep quiet. But, at any rate, I did not mean to deceive Dorothy."

But all the same Tavia did not relish the handling of Dorothy's Christmas savings, and somehow she took little interest in all the possible gifts Dorothy made notes of, in preparation for the day's shopping in the city.

"I will have to tell Nat, I suppose," she was thinking, as she finally picked up the little shopping bag and was ready to start off with Dorothy. "I'll tell him to-night—but I do hate to. I wish Doro would not be so over-generous," and she crushed the money in the leather case and put it securely within the satchel.

"Come, Tavia, we will surely miss that train if you do not make haste," declared Dorothy for she could not understand why Tavia should not be more alert and more interested.

"I forgot my muff," pleaded Tavia, "and had to go back for it. I suppose I would forget my head, as mother says, if it were not tied on."

Dorothy smiled and hurried on, with Tavia following.

Surely Christmas shopping was something any girl should love, Dorothy thought, as she wondered why Tavia appeared so indifferent.

Meanwhile, Tavia was struggling with her conscience. She had accepted Dorothy's money reluctantly, it might have been, but at the same time she had taken it. And she told Dorothy her own money was spent for—

Tavia jerked her fox fur boa impatiently. How complicated the whole thing was getting! What difference did it make to Dorothy for what the five dollars had been expended? It was Tavia's own money. Her mother—

"Dear me!" sighed the girl secretly. "That makes it so much worse! Mother did try so hard to save that money for me so that I might not always have to depend upon the goodness of Dorothy and her folks."

"There's the train," called Dorothy, who was somewhat in advance of Tavia. "We will have to run! Look out for your purse!"

The mere mention of purse or money brought the hot blood to Tavia's cheeks again.

"I'll just tell her the whole thing when we get on the train," she promised herself. "If there is one thing I simply cannot stand it is a secret that threatens to pop out every time one turns around," and with that satisfying assurance Tavia was able to put aside her worry for the time being, and was soon sitting comfortably beside Dorothy in the city express, awake at last to the joys of holiday shopping and the prospect of being able, after all, to get some gifts for dear ones, "and perhaps," she pondered, "the old five dollars will stop haunting me."

But alas for the hope of forgetting evil! How strange it is that when one is tempted all shame and all self-respect seem to vanish, only to return with such gigantic power when the deed is done.

Tavia wanted to tell Dorothy what had become of the precious Christmas money. In fact, she was on the very point of unburdening her mind when the attention of both girls was directed to a frail little woman, who occupied the seat directly opposite them.

She was dressed in black, and had the palest face, and such great hollow eyes.

As if by some magnetic attraction both Tavia and Dorothy discovered that this woman was watching them very closely. In fact, she had her eyes so fastened on Dorothy's money, which Dorothy had been counting in her lap, that it actually appeared the woman must be unconscious of her own actions.

"Good thing eyes are not magnets," whispered Tavia, and Dorothy understood her perfectly.

"But how ill she looks!" answered Dorothy. "Perhaps her mind is not—right."

"Perhaps," acquiesced Tavia. "But I wish she would turn those black eyes in the other direction. She makes me creep."

Dorothy tucked her little purse away securely, and once more consulted her memorandum.

"I must get a little more ribbon for Aunt Winnie's bag," she began, "and I must not forget about Joe's magnifying glass. He is so fond of his nature work at school it will be useful as well as enjoyable. Then Roger's steam engine. I wonder do boys ever outgrow steam engines?"

"I promised Johnnie one," said Tavia before she could repress the exclamation. But the next instant she realized her mistake in mentioning home things.

"Then we will get them both alike," said Dorothy, all enthusiasm. "The boys are both the same age, and what one would like the other would love. Oh, isn't it just splendid to have little brothers to get toys for? After all, the toys are the best part of Christmas."

Tavia wanted to speak then—it was the time to tell Dorothy, the very opportunity for confessing the whole miserable affair. But what would Dorothy think? She never made such blunders, if it might be called by so charitable a name. And Dorothy had always warned her against writing letters to strangers. Oh, if she had only taken that advice! If she had only been satisfied with that sacred five dollars, money so dearly saved by her good mother! How many things that mother might have bought for herself, for Johnnie, or for Tavia's father, Squire Travers, with that fresh, clean five-dollar bill! But with what a world of love the indulgent mother had, instead, placed the note in Tavia's hand, with the remark:

"Now my little girl will have her own Christmas money. Now my daughter will be as good as any one else."

"Oh, mother!" thought Tavia now, as she tried to summon courage to confide in Dorothy. "If I only could be 'as good as other people,' as good as Dorothy, and as—honorable!"

"Excuse me, miss," spoke the strange little woman in black, leaning over to Tavia's seat, "but you dropped a paper."

"Thank you," replied Tavia as she hurried to secure an envelope that had flurried to the floor from the depths of her muff.

"What was it?" asked Dorothy innocently, as Tavia hid the envelope again.

"Oh, just a letter," replied the other, avoiding Dorothy's glance. "I thought I had destroyed it."

Attaching no significance to the remark, although Tavia turned about uneasily, Dorothy put away her shopping notes, and as the train slacked up under the great iron sheds of the city depot the girls made their way through the crowds, out into the wintry day, along the broad pavements, where the shop windows beamed in all their splendor of holiday goods and Christmas finery.

"Be careful of your purse," cautioned Dorothy, making her own secure within her squirrel muff.

"Oh, yes," replied Tavia with some impatience. It did seem as if Dorothy thought of nothing but purses and money.

"We will have to be careful, too, where we buy," persisted Dorothy, "else our money will scarcely go around."

Again Tavia felt annoyed. Was it because Dorothy had shared her money with her that she made such a fuss about it?

"We must get the boys' things first," went on Dorothy. "The little fellows must have their steam engines."

Then the face of her little brother Johnnie seemed to come before Tavia's bewildered eyes. How he beamed when she promised him that engine! And how fondly he kissed her when she declared it would make real steam! But she had her own five dollars at that time. That was before she had made—the mistake.

"I wish I had had a chance to caution Nat," thought the girl, as Dorothy made her way into the big department store. "I will have to tell him, first thing when I get back. But what ever will he think of me?"

"Tavia! Tavia!" called Dorothy, who by this time was scanning the mechanical toys on the great center tables. "Why don't you come and see? We will be crowded away from the best things if you don't hurry."

"There's the little woman who was on the train with us," replied Tavia, making her way to the clear spot Dorothy was saving for her. She must be sightseeing."

"She hardly looks well enough off to be buying mechanical toys," agreed Dorothy. "But Christmas goods seem to attract every one. See, isn't this cute?" and she held up a small tin automobile, the details of which revealed to what a nicety the real machine could be made in miniature.

"I do believe she is following us," whispered Tavia without regarding Dorothy's remark. "Let us get out of the crowd."



Toy automobiles and steam engines were soon forgotten, for Dorothy and Tavia were anxious to free themselves from the jostling throng of eager shoppers, and from the risk of the deliberate elbowing of the little woman in black.

"Oh, dear!" sighed Dorothy, "I did intend to go right on with our list. And now we have to stop and wait. What can she mean by always keeping in our tracks? Perhaps she is weak and has not the strength to make her own way through the crowds."

"Then she should have stayed at home," replied the practical Tavia. "I see no reason why we should be inconvenienced by her infirmities."

"But she may have babies. Come, we will go to the jewelry counter. I must get a pretty comb for Mrs. Pangborn."

"Comb?" repeated Tavia indifferently. "I thought Mrs. Pangborn had a head full of combs."

"I know she wears them, which shows she is fond of them," replied Dorothy, "and I do think in her kind of lovely white hair pretty combs are so attractive. I want one with a band of enameled forget-me-nots."

With some remorse in her heart for the mother who had made such sacrifices to give her daughter "her own Christmas money," Tavila looked for the little neck pin for Mrs. Travers. It must be carefully selected, with a view to economy as well as with the purpose of obtaining the best possible value for the money.

It took some time to accomplish this, as the clerks were too busy to attend to customers, save as they might be able to note them by turns.

Finally Tavia had decided upon a pin. Dorothy was pleased with it—the enameled clover-leaf was simple yet effective.

"I do wish people would not crush so," complained Tavia, as some one crowded her against the glass showcase.

"Hush!" whispered Dorothy, "It is not well to let people see ill nature. We will get along better if we just take things as they come."

Tavia felt the rebuke—she had spoken loud enough to attract attention, and people did stare. At the same time it was not comfortable to be carried with the tide and be unable to direct one's own movements.

"Is that the little woman in black?" she asked as a dark figure glided past.

"Looks like her," replied Dorothy, smiling, anxious to have Tavia recover her good humor. "Seems as if we cannot lose her."

"I think it was she who pushed me that time," Tavia explained, "and it made me angry."

"I did not see her then," said Dorothy, somewhat surprised.

"No, she was directly back of you, and had your purse been in that open bag I fancy she might have—made a mistake in judging to whom the bag belonged."

"Nonsense," protested Dorothy. "She would not do anything like that. She simply happened to be interested in the same line of goods we were seeking."

"Well, I never saw such greedy eyes," insisted Tavia. "If she could get our cash with them I am quite sure we might walk home, for all of her. A muff is a great thing in a crowd."

"Suppose we go to the rest room and look over the list," suggested Dorothy. "I feel we have not begun to shop yet, although we have been in this store almost an hour. It will straighten us out to start fresh."

Dorothy turned, and Tavia was directly back of her. Both noticed that the clerks seemed excited—one was talking over the desk telephone, while others looked excitedly into trays and boxes.

Presently it seemed that all eyes were directed toward Dorothy. She felt the implied charge instantly, and her face crimsoned.

"What are they gawking at?" asked Tavia aloud, with her usual recklessness under excitement.

But before Dorothy could reply she was tapped lightly on the shoulder, and, turning, she beheld a young woman, tall, dark and most important-looking.

"You must step into the office," she said authoritatively, at the same time taking Dorothy's arm.

"Shoplifting!" exclaimed some one. Tavia clutched Dorothy's arm.

"Tell her she is mistaken!" exclaimed Tavia, holding Dorothy back.

"You had better come along quietly," the tall woman directed, urging the girl to accompany her. "There is no use or sense in making a scene."

Dorothy turned deathly pale.

"Arrested!" she heard people saying. Then she faced them and somehow walked with the woman detective toward the business office.



There were no preliminaries and less ceremony about searching Dorothy. Within the office she was confronted by the superintendent of the store, and then the woman detective explained that a valuable ring had been taken from a tray on the counter, and she had reason to believe Dorothy or Tavia knew something about the missing article.

Tavia could not, or would not, keep her anger within bounds. She simply declared the whole thing an outrage, and promised that Dorothy's father would demand satisfaction for the insult.

Dorothy almost forgot her own predicament in trying to calm Tavia. She assured her it would be all right—was all a mistake, and, after all, what would it matter? When the detective would be satisfied they knew nothing about the ring—

Dorothy's little Indian bag had been looked into by the superintendent, and now he stood before her with something in his hand.

"Is this it?" he asked of the woman detective.

Tavia and Dorothy stood speechless. He held up to their gaze a handsome ring!

"In my bag!" faltered Dorothy.

"If this is your bag," replied the man.

"Then some one put it there," declared Tavia promptly.

"No doubt of that, miss," said the man significantly. "It did not walk in there."

"I mean some one who tried to get us into trouble. The little woman in black!" she exclaimed suddenly. "I knew she had a motive in following us!"

But this assertion had no effect upon the store people. They were evidently accustomed to persons making ready excuses, and paid no heed to Dorothy's appealing eyes, her flaming cheeks, or her general astonishment.

"I never saw that ring before," she managed to say.

"You will have to explain all that to the police," the man declared, while the woman detective was smiling "audibly" at her catch.

"But I tell you it is all a mistake!" Dorothy almost shrieked, realizing now she must do or say something to defend herself.

"A woman has been following us all day," added Tavia, "and at the jewelry counter she almost pushed me through the case. I am positive she stole the ring, and got scared, or something. Then she must have tossed it in Dorothy's bag."

"You should go on the force," said the man with a sneer. "You know how to make a case out, all right."

"And you know how to impose on innocent girls," cried Tavia, while Dorothy begged her to be quiet.

Just then another young lady entered the office. She proved to be head clerk from the jewelry counter, and had been sent for by the superintendent.

He questioned her sharply as to the actions of Dorothy and Tavia while they were in her department. Did they appear hurried, or did they seem to crowd others? These and like questions were put to the clerk. Dorothy felt by this time that the whole thing was a farce. How could they help crowding? And why would they not appear in a hurry, when there were not half enough clerks to attend to the customers?

Miss Allen, the head clerk, looked at Dorothy keenly. She had that plain face, honest face, fearless in its simplicity, ready to stand up for the truth, whether to praise or denounce.

"This young lady," she said, still with her eyes fixed upon Dorothy, "could not possibly have taken the ring. I waited on these girls myself, and noticed they never left their stand at the counter. The tray with that ring in it was at the extreme other end of the case."

Dorothy could have hugged her.

"Oh, thank you so much!" she stammered. "I was sure some one would know."

"And did you notice the little woman with the pale face—" Tavia began, but the superintendent interrupted her.

"That will do, if you please," he ordered. "Miss Allen, we found the ring in this young lady's bag."

For an instant the clerk looked surprised. Then she regained that satisfied look, and seemed to wave her head defiantly.

"An open bag is a handy thing in a crowd," she said.

At this the woman detective flushed up and left her seat at the desk. She approached the young clerk.

"Are you in league with these—shoplifters?" she sneered.

"Very likely," replied Miss Allen with provoking coolness. "I can just about afford to lose my place for the sake of an opal ring."

The bitterness of her tone as she said this was as frank as were her eyes when she first looked at Dorothy and declared her innocent.

The superintendent bowed his head as if to say: "You are right, Miss Allen, you cannot afford to risk your reputation in this store, and I am convinced you would do nothing of the sort."

At this the woman detective, quick to see the possible turn in her case, hurried to strengthen her evidence. She picked up the telephone and called for another clerk from the jewelry counter. But her eagerness to fix the blame on Dorothy became all the more apparent and did not serve to help her case in the eyes of the superintendent.

Tavia showed her impatience—she could see no reason why they should be thus detained unjustly. Dorothy had lost her fear now, and appeared satisfied to await developments. Miss Allen's manner was reassuring.

Presently the clerk called for entered.

"Miss Berg," began the superintendent, interrupting the detective's attempt to put a question, "did you see these young ladies at your counter?"

The clerk glanced from Dorothy to Tavia. "Yes, sir," she replied. "I showed them some rings!"

"Rings!" exclaimed Dorothy. "We never looked at a ring!"

"There!" sneered the detective triumphantly, "I thought Miss Berg would know."

Miss Allen fairly glared at the other clerk.

"You showed them rings?" asked the superintendent. "What kind of rings?"

"Why, I had the tray—with the mixed pieces—"

"Just a minute," interrupted Miss Allen. "Miss Berg, what time did you ask permission to leave the floor?"

"At 10:15," replied the other promptly.

"And the ring was lost, or missed, at 10:20. You were not on the floor when it happened, at all."

"She ought to know her own business," snapped the detective.

"And I ought to know mine," replied Miss Allen. "I gave Miss Berg fifteen minutes, and she was not there when that tray was out of the case."

"You should be very careful in a matter of this kind," cautioned the superintendent.

Dorothy left her place and stood straight before the big flat-top desk.

"My name is Dorothy Dale," she began clearly, "and I tell you, honestly, I know nothing about this ring. I never looked at a ring at the counter, and never touched an article except those in the tray with the small pins. I feel you must believe me, but if you are not satisfied you may call up my father, Major Dale, of The Cedars, North Birchland. He will give you any security you may demand."

The speech was just like Dorothy, unexpected, simple, clear in its avowals, and sharp in its purpose. The superintendent looked pleased and Miss Allen smiled. Miss Berg was frightened—she had made a mistake, but the woman detective seemed to know, and she had followed her leading. The detective turned away to hide her disgust.

"Well," said the superintendent, "I am satisfied to drop the matter. I believe you, but should I be mistaken in the matter I am willing to let it drop at any rate because of your youth. You may go, young ladies." Then he continued to the employes: "Be careful not to leave tempting goods under the hands of a Christmas throng."

But the detective waited. She had missed a case—perhaps she would lose by it, if not money, some fame as a detective.

"Miss Dearing," said the superintendent, addressing her, "be very careful to cause no false arrests. It appears in this case you have missed the actual culprit, and followed a line pointed out by the clerks."

"But several of the clerks—"

"Mere hearsay," interrupted the gentleman. "Now, miss," to Dorothy, "I am sorry you have had your morning spoiled, and I hope you can make up the lost time."

His manner said plainly that he, too, had lost valuable time, so, with a hasty word of thanks, Dorothy and Tavia left the office.

"Well, you are the coolest kid," began Tavia with a loving little tug at Dorothy's arm. "You go to pieces on small things, but seem to glory in a good big scrape. I would simply have hauled off and landed one on that high-up lady's pug nose."

Dorothy laughed at Tavia's attempt to cover up the experience with her joke. She knew Tavia did not really want to use common slang, but understood her way of teasing and jesting under pretense that Dorothy would be shocked and give her a "good scolding." But this time Dorothy disappointed her—she was too well pleased to get out of "the scrape," and had no intention of checking Tavia's suddenly-freed spirits.

"Now for steam engines," she declared, "and if anything else happens to prevent us from buying our Christmas gifts—"

"We will make trouble ourselves," finished Tavia, and then they darted off in the direction of the toy department.

Some one jostled them as they neared the arch.

"That woman!" whispered Tavia. "I am perfectly sure she took that ring and threw it in your bag."

"Hush!" cautioned Dorothy. "She can hear you!"

"I intend her to," replied Tavia. "I guess she made enough trouble for us."

"But we only think she did," corrected Dorothy. "It is just as easy for us to be mistaken as it was for the others."

"If she did not intend some wrong, why in the world is she tagging around after us?" persisted Tavia.

"And if she did do wrong I cannot imagine why she would keep after us," objected Dorothy. "I am sure if she had anything to do with the ring she would be glad of a chance to get out of the store. Dear, I fancy every one is looking at me!" as some one turned at the sound of Dorothy's voice. "It must be awful to be tempted and actually do wrong."

"It is," replied Tavia, and Dorothy wondered how she would know enough about such things to speak as decidedly as she had spoken.



That night Dorothy Dale retired to her own cozy little room with her head swathed in cooling cloths. The excitement of the day had cost her more than mere experience and an unexplainable interest in the pale little woman in black.

When the whole matter had been discussed, Major Dale was naturally indignant, and declared in plain terms that the unwarranted zeal some detectives evinced in trying to convict supposed wrongdoers without sufficient evidence would some day bring these selfsame sleuths into serious trouble.

Mrs. White, too, was annoyed and anxious. Dorothy was not the type of girl who would soon forget her experience. The boys, even to little Roger, declared the whole thing an outrage, and they wanted to go right to town and tell somebody so.

But Dorothy tried to make the best of it, and said her head would be all right after a night's rest.

"If you are really better, Doro," whispered Roger, kissing her good-night, "we may go to Tanglewood Park for the Christmas tree. Nat promised we could—and then perhaps we will see Tavia's ghost."

"Tavia's ghost?" repeated his sister. "Oh, you mean the ghost Tavia was telling us about. Well, I am sure to be better, and then we may have a chance to prove that there is absolutely no such thing in this world as ghosts," and with a fond embrace Dorothy dismissed the boy with the yellow hair, so like her own, and eyes just as blue. Surely Roger and Dorothy belonged to the Dales, while Joe, with his dark, rich coloring, was like the other branch of their family.

It was not an easy matter, however, for Dorothy to actually get to sleep that night. So many thoughts crowded her brain: Tavia was acting queerly about something, and it was perfectly plain to everybody she wanted to talk to Nat alone, directly after the evening meal. Tavia was not a silly girl—she would never risk such criticism if something quite serious did not make it necessary. Then how that woman in black looked at Tavia when they entered the train for home! She had to take the same train to get back from town; that was easily understood, as few trains passed in and out to the city, even in holiday time. But why did she sit opposite them again?

And Tavia was sure she just wanted to confess—about the ring.

So Dorothy's thoughts ran riot, and her head ached proportionately. Finally she heard Tavia steal into the room; felt she was looking down to see if slumber had come; then, being satisfied that Dorothy was actually asleep, she went out and turned the hall light very low.

Dorothy was asleep. She dreamed of everything—the superintendent's office, of Miss Allen's sweet face, of how confused the other clerk became—it was all perfectly clear yet so closely interwoven as to be inextricable, after the manner of most feverish dreams.

It seemed she had been sleeping a long time when she heard whispering at her door—or, rather, just outside the second door that led into Tavia's room.

"But it was so foolish," she heard some one protest. "I wouldn't think it so wrong as so foolish."

It was Nat's voice. Then she heard Tavia whisper:

"Hush! she might be awake!"

"I'd advise you to make a clean breast of it," insisted the other. "It is bound to leak out some way."

"Not unless you tell," said Tavia.

"As if I would," spoke Nat again.

By this time Dorothy was wide awake, and realized that she had overheard a conversation not intended for her ears. She coughed and cleared her throat. Tavia was beside her almost instantly.

"Do you want anything?" she asked, with ill-concealed anxiety. "Is your headache better?"

"Yes, I guess so," faltered Dorothy. "I slept well, and just awoke."

She had no idea of deceiving Tavia, but she did intend to set her mind at ease concerning how much of the whispered conversation she might have heard.

"Then turn right over before you get too wide awake," advised Tavia. "Here is some lemonade Aunt Winnie said you were to drink." Tavia always called Mrs. White Aunt Winnie. "And you are to remain in bed for breakfast. Oh, for an aristocratic head that would ache! And oh, for one dear, long, luscious, lumpy day in bed! With meals a la tray, and beef tea in the intervals. But I must not talk you awake. There," and she kissed her friend lightly, "I'll tumble in, for I really am dead tired."

"It must be late?" asked Dorothy.

"Not so very," answered Tavia evasively.

"Good-night," called Dorothy.

"Good-night," replied Tavia.

But Tavia's head did not ache. She "tumbled in" as she promised, but did not immediately try to sleep. She was, instead, trying to arrange some things clearly before her much-confused faculties—trying to decide what she should write home. She had her mother's pin and Johnnie's steam engine, thanks to Dorothy's good nature, but what about paying Dorothy back? Where was the money to come from, and what possible explanation could she make? Tell her she had not spent her own five dollars, but instead had mailed it to a strange woman in a strange place, on the printed promise that in place of five she would get—

"But how on earth can I ever tell so silly a thing to Dorothy?" she found herself answering. "Why, it is too absurd—"

She deliberately got out of bed, went to the drawer of her dresser and took from it an envelope. It was the very one she had dropped in the train, and which the strange woman noticed.

Closing the door softly, Tavia took from the blue envelope a printed slip. She looked it over critically, then with a look of utter disgust replaced it in the envelope, and folding that so it would fit into a very small compass, put it away again.

"And to think I should have gotten Nat into such a thing!" she was thinking. "It was good of him to be so nice about it—but, all the same, I did feel awfully, and I wish this very minute I was at home in my own shabby little room, next to Johnnie's."

Tavia rarely cried, but this time she felt there was simply nothing else left to do. Bravely she struggled to choke her sobs; then at last fixing her mind successfully upon a plan to straighten out her difficulties (or, at least, she thought it would adjust them), the girl with the tear-stained, hazel eyes and the much-tangled, bronze braids, found herself forgetting where she was, what she was thinking about, whether she was Nat or Dorothy.

And then Tavia was asleep.

The cracking of everything out of doors next morning brought both Tavia and Dorothy to the realization of the fact that another day had come—another day bitterly cold.

They had hoped for snow, but Tavia, being first to reach the window, called to Dorothy that not a single flake had fallen.

"Then perhaps we can ride out to the woods and get a Christmas tree," said Dorothy, mindful of little Roger's wish of the previous night.

"We would freeze," declared Tavia. "Why, everything is snapping and cracking—but there must be fine skating," she broke off abruptly.

"Likely," answered Dorothy, "but I am anxious to get the tree, and if we do not get it before the storm comes we will have to take a boughten one. But I do so love a hand-picked tree. It has always been a part of our Christmas to get one."

Tavia was not at all particular about that part of it—whether it was hand-picked or peddler-purchased, and she said so promptly.

But the severe cold of the morning precluded the idea of an auto ride in search of the tree, and the time was spent in many little preparations for the holiday—odds and ends that ever hang on, in spite of the most carefully-laid plans to get through in good time.

By noon, however, the weather had moderated. Clouds hung thick and heavy, and not a glimmer of sun appeared, but the cold was less keen and the winds had almost entirely subsided.

Joe and Roger went off to the skating-pond directly after luncheon, and Dorothy, eager to get the tree before the storm should break (for every one said it would surely snow before nightfall), proposed the trip to the woods.

Nat and Ned, as well as Tavia, readily agreed, and with plenty of extra wraps, as well as the patent foot-warming attachment from the auto radiator in operation, the party started off.

"Now, where?" asked Ned, who was at the wheel.

"I saw a dear little tree over Beechwood way," said Dorothy, "but perhaps you boys know where we might find a larger one."

"Never bother about pines or cedars," answered Nat, "but I would first rate like a spruce—I love the smell of a good fresh spruce. Makes me think of—a good smoke!"

"Next day in the best lace curtains," added Tavia. "That's about how much spruce smells like real smoke."

"Try the Duncan place," interposed Nat. "Used to be plenty of pretty trees about there."

Following this suggestion the Fire Bird was directed toward the Glen, where, set in a deep clump of trees, could be seen one of the very old residences of the township.

"Is it inhabited?" asked Tavia as they swung into the rough drive.

"Oh, yes," replied Nat. "Old Cummings and his wife live there. It's a fine old place, too. Pity all the old places are allowed to go to rack and ruin."

"No Christmas trees around here," declared Ned, wheeling about along the turn in the drive. "Queer, I would have bet I saw spruce in this grove."

"I'll tell you," exclaimed Nat. "Tanglewood Park. That's the very place for a choice selection of real old cheroot spruces."

"Yes," groaned Ned, "five miles away."

"I don't think it's very cold," ventured Dorothy.

"But the air is full of snow," announced Ned.

"Well, do we go to Tanglewood Park or back to The Cedars?" asked Ned.

"How long will it take to go to the Park?" questioned Dorothy.

"Oh, we may as well try it," concluded Ned, turning the Fire Bird in the direction of the open road and starting off.

"Your haunted house, you know, Tavia," said Nat as they whizzed along. "Now we will, have a chance to make the very intimate acquaintance of a real, up-to-date ghost."

"Oh, is that the place?" said Tavia in surprise. "Well, I'll just be tickled to death to pay a visit there. I have never quite made up my mind whether the light was in the house or—"

"A halo around the head of old Bagley, your tongue-tied driver. Now, take it from me, Tavia, it was simply the brilliancy of your own—"

"Oh, here, quit!" called Ned from the front seat. "If there is one thing I like more than another on a day like this it isn't spooning."

"There's the snow!" announced Dorothy as some very large, lazy flakes tumbled down into the laps of the party in the Fire Bird.

"Won't amount to much," Nat predicted. "Never does when it starts that way. The larger the flakes the shorter the storm. Like a kid howling—the louder he starts the sooner he quits."

"Well, that's worth knowing," said Tavia, laughing. "I won't feel so badly next time the baby on my right starts in."

Meaning Nat, Tavia enjoyed her little joke, but the young man pretended not to understand.

Lightly the Fire Bird flew along the hard road, and soon the tall trees of old Tanglewood Park could be seen against the dull, dark landscape.

"We won't have time to get half a dozen trees, Doro," said Ned, "so if you have it in mind to supply all the poor kids between here and Ferndale, as you usually do, you had best cancel the contract."

"I did hope to get one for little Ben," confessed Dorothy. "He is always so delighted when I tell him how things grow away out in the woods. Poor little chap! Isn't it a pity he can never hope to be better?"

"It sure is," replied Ned, with more sympathy in his voice than in, his words. "But I really think it will be dark very early this evening."

"Almost that now," put in Nat, who had been listening.

"Better for ghosts," declared Tavia. "I have always heard that no respectable ghost ever comes out in the bold, broad light of day."

"Here we are!" announced Ned as he turned into the darkly-arched driveway of Tanglewood Park.

"My, but it's spooky!" murmured Tavia, trying to crawl under the robes.

"I thought you particularly wanted to see the ghost?" teased Nat. "There, what's that? I am sure I saw something up in the castle. Come on, let's get out and try the old knocker. If some of the antique fellows knew old brass affair was on that door they would come over and get the door."

"Oh, don't go up to the house," faltered Tavia, who really showed signs of fear.

"Not pay our respects to the light of ages—or whatever you might call it? And we on the very spot! For shame, girl!" continued Nat. "Methinks thou art a coward."

"Think away, then," snapped Tavia, "but if you go up to that old ramshackle house I'll just—"

"Scream! Oh, do; it will add greatly to the effect," and Nat, in his boyish way, continued to joke and tease, until Tavia was obliged to laugh at her own fears.

Presently Dorothy espied a tree—a pretty young spruce—that seemed to meet all the requirements of a Christmas tree.

"Over there," she directed Nat, who with hatchet in hand was making for the desired tree.

The particular tree was situated near a side path, quite close to the old mansion. Dorothy left her seat and followed Nat, but Tavia remained behind in the car with Ned.

Suddenly they were all startled by a noise—a shrill scream—or perhaps it was some wild bird.

"Oh!" cried Tavia, "let's get out of this creepy place. Dorothy! Dorothy!" she called, "do come along and never mind the tree. I feel I shall die, I am so—frightened!"

"You!" said Ned with a light laugh. "Why, I thought you just loved ghosts."

"Now, just stop!" insisted the girl. "If you had gone through the scare before, as I did, perhaps you would not be so merry."

Dorothy and Nat came toward the car. They had heard the shriek, and could not understand it. The tree still stood on its frozen mound and was likely to remain there, for one more night, at least.

"I was not frightened," explained Dorothy, "but I heard you call. Perhaps we had better go. It is almost dark."

"But I would first rate like to bag that owl," said Nat. "I believe I could teach a bird like that to talk English."

"It certainly said some thing," his brother added. "Well, I suppose we will have to please the ladies and turn out," he finished. Then Dorothy and Nat climbed back into the car, and the pretty Christmas tree was left behind with the other queer things in Tanglewood Park.



That evening the boys had no end of fun teasing the girls. That Dorothy and Tavia should have been so easily frightened, that Tavia should have "turned turtle," as Ned put it, and that Dorothy "should have run under fire," and left the coveted tree behind, seemed to the boys beyond explanation.

Listening to their telling of the affair, Major Dale became interested, and soon discovered that the old Mayberry Mansion, in Tanglewood Park, was none other than the former home of a veteran of the war, who had been in the same regiment with the major.

"I knew him well," volunteered Dorothy's father. "He was a fine fellow, but always a little queer. Seems to me he had a sister or step-sister. Her name was—Pumfret. Yes, that was it. I always thought it such a queer name, and many a time saw it written by the captain on his letters home."

"And was he killed?" asked Tavia. "Do you suppose it is his ghost that haunts the castle?"

This provoked a very gale of laughter, even little Roger considering it a great joke that Tavia should take the matter so seriously.

"Indeed, he was not killed," replied the major. "He had done good service and was made captain. Seems to me the last I heard of him he was traveling abroad."

"Then it's Miss 'Plumpet's' ghost," declared Nat. "I'm sure, Uncle Frank, you must have forgotten that name. More likely to be Plumpet than Pumfret."

"Oh, no; I remember very well. It was Pumfret, and I used to think she would have plenty to 'fret' about when Nick Mayberry went home, for he could keep a whole regiment busy while in service."

"Then he has turned the castle into a barracks," declared Joe. "I'll wager that solves the mystery. He has got a lot of old 'vets' walled up in there, and they—"

"Go on parade every night about time for reveille. Now we have it. And I propose we take a trip out there some evening at about the same hour," put in Nat.

"Leave the girls at home," suggested Ned, with an arch glance at Dorothy.

"Indeed, I'm not the least bit afraid," declared his cousin. "I did hear something like a scream, and I don't believe in ghosts. Therefore I should very much like to have a chance to investigate the matter."

"Now, see here, children," put in Mrs. White, "I want you all to retire early. There are so many little things to do for the holidays, and I will need a lot of help to-morrow."

This order broke up the evening party, and as the girls were quite tired after the run to the woods and its consequent incidents, they made no protest.

There was, however, some whispering between the boys before they left the room. Then Nat stayed behind and detained the girls—he had something very important to consult them about. Ned and the younger boys went directly upstairs.

A half hour might have passed, during which time Nat seemed at his wits' end in his efforts to keep the girls interested. Finally Dorothy jumped up and declared she was going upstairs. Tavia followed, but Nat managed to reach the second landing in advance of them by going up the servants' stairs.

He called good-night from the hall that led to his own room, and soon all was quiet, and the ghost of Mayberry Hall evidently forgotten.

Between the two alcove rooms, occupied by Dorothy and Tavia, was a long wardrobe closet. Into this both girls put such belongings as might not be used daily—a sort of "dress-up" clothes' closet. It was in this closet that street apparel was placed, so that on the night of the auto ride both Dorothy and Tavia had something to hang on the padded hooks there.

"I'm going to town in the morning," said Dorothy to her chum as she went to the hall closet. "I simply could not do any shopping the other day. Do you want to come, Tavia?"

"I don't think so," replied Tavia; and as she spoke a shadow crossed her face. "I simply hate to shop."

"Oh, very well," said Dorothy somewhat stiffly. "I only thought you might have some more things to buy."

"I'm—I'm—broke," declared Tavia frankly. "I always am at this time of the holiday season," and she seemed anxious to restore a more genial atmosphere.

A moment later she followed Dorothy out to the hall closet. Dorothy had stepped back to make room for her chum. Tavia pushed some garments rather roughly aside to make a place for the heavy cloak, thrusting her arm well into the depths of the closet. No sooner had she done so than she jumped back, uttering a scream of fright.

"What's that?" she cried. "I thought I felt—Dorothy, turn up the light!"

Then, as the fear took greater hold on her, she cried:

"Oh, help! There's a man in the closet! Run, Doro! run! Help, somebody!"

Dorothy did not pause to turn up the lights. She swung around and fled with Tavia, who continued to scream, while Dorothy, too, uttered frightened cries. There were calls sounding throughout the house—voices anxiously demanding to know what the matter was. The girls ran down the front stairs, and then swung around and darted up the rear flight that they might reach the room of the boys without passing the closet which contained something that had frightened them so terribly.

"Oh!" screamed Tavia, pounding on the boys' door. "Do come out—quick! There's a man in the big hall closet! He—he almost grabbed me!" she panted.

But somehow the boys could not seem to hurry. Dorothy and Tavia were almost in hysterics before Ned finally opened the door, just as if nothing had happened. He was fully dressed, and it did seem as if he might have responded more quickly to the frightened summons.

"What did you say?" he asked, as if just awakened from a sound sleep.

"A man—a man—in the hall closet—he nearly grabbed me!" cried Tavia, "I put my arm in—to hang up my cloak—I shoved the clothes aside—then I—I felt—something—terrible. Then I'm sure I saw—oh, for pity's sake get help—don't go alone—he may kill all of us!"

Tavia trembled and seemed about to fall in a faint.

"Oh, come on," exclaimed Ned as he stepped out into the hall. "I guess we can manage a little thing like this. Come on; we'll see what it is that frightened you. Likely it was only Tavia's excited imagination."

"Oh, please don't go alone!" pleaded Dorothy, holding her cousin back by the arm. "I—I saw—him—it—too. The awfullest-looking—"

"Ghost!" finished Ned with a laugh. "Well, I'm not afraid of anything, from ghosts to—gillies!"

At this he lightly shook off Dorothy's detaining hand, and started down the long hall toward the closet. Nat and the other boys were in the hall now, and in spite of her terror Dorothy noticed that they were all dressed, though it was supposed they had all retired—especially Roger and Joe, who should have been asleep long ago.

"Now, come on out, whoever you are!" exclaimed Ned as he strode up to the open closet. "Where is he?" he asked, poking through the garments hanging on the rear hooks. "Nothing doing here."

"Then he has hidden himself in some other part of the house," declared Tavia.

But at this Joe and Roger could hold back their laughter no longer. The others also joined in. But Tavia would not be convinced.

"I certainly saw—him—it," she insisted. "It did not look like anything human!"

"Come and see if it's here now," invited Ned, who could not seem to find a trace of whatever it was that had frightened the girls.

"Never! never!" cried Tavia. "I had enough in that one look! Didn't you, Doro? No more ghosts for mine, thank you!"

"Well," put in Nat, "it's a good thing to know when you've had enough—even of ghosts."

"I'll go and take a look," volunteered Dorothy. "There can be nothing harmful there if Ned did not discover it."

She advanced toward the closet, in which her cousin was partly hidden, seemingly hunting for the ghost.

"Be careful," cautioned Roger, "He'll eat you up, Doro."

At that moment Dorothy leaped back. She did see something.

"Look there!" she cried to Ned.

"Where?" he asked innocently, "I don't see anything. Look again, Doro."

She had the courage to look again.

Then she covered her face with her hands and burst out laughing.

"You horrid boys!" she exclaimed as soon as she could do so. "To play such a trick!" and she proceeded to bring out from the closet the "ghost." "I might have known you were up to something!"

"Then why didn't you?" asked Joe, still dancing about; jubilant over the success of their joke.

"Just look at this, Tavia," said Dorothy, dragging from the closet the stuffed figure of a man. "Isn't he perfectly lovely? Such a—"

"Fine figure," ventured Tavia, now quite calm, and perhaps a trifle embarrassed, for she had made such a fuss, saying he almost grabbed her, and all that.

The joke surely had been a success, and it took some time to allay the spirits of the boys, from Ned to Roger.

Each seemed to attribute the success of the "ghost" to his own particular talent in that line, and when finally Mrs. White insisted that every one go to bed, echoes of laughter would peal out from behind closed doors, and the girls promised to get even, if they had to do so out in Tanglewood Park, "where the real ghost would not stand for any nonsense."



Again Dorothy invited Tavia to go to the city with her, but Tavia refused on the plea that her head threatened to ache, and she thought it best to stay at home. So on the morning following the boys' joke with the stuffed man, Dorothy got ready early and hurried for the business train to the city.

She reached the station just in time—merely had her ticket bought when the train steamed in—and making her way among the crowds of men, she was able to reach a seat in one of the coaches where a few women were scattered in with the many gentlemen who patronized the express.

She had unconsciously followed the one woman who boarded the train at North Birchland, and now took the same seat—the other getting close to the window and leaving the half seat free for Dorothy.

It was some moments before the girl chanced to look up and observe her companion. When she did so, she was startled to find her none other than the little woman in black.

The stranger seemed to note Dorothy's surprise, and turned directly to her.

"We meet again," she said pleasantly, in a voice Dorothy thought at once cultured and peculiarly sweet.

"Yes," replied Dorothy, also smiling. Surely she and Tavia had been mistaken in their unkind opinion of this little body.

"I go into the city almost daily," continued the woman, "and now, in the busy time, I try to make this early train. I do so dislike to get in the dense crowd."

"It is unpleasant," said Dorothy a little guiltily, for at each word the woman spoke she felt more positive this gentle person could never be what they had supposed her—a shoplifter.

"I wanted to speak to your friend the other day," went on the stranger, "but I couldn't seem to get an opportunity. I suppose I might—send her a message—by you?"

"Why, yes—certainly," Dorothy stammered, really surprised this time.

"I saw when she dropped the envelope in the train that her name was Travers, and I thought if she would call on me I might be able to help her in a little business matter. It is of rather a delicate nature," the woman added, smiling, "so you will excuse me for being so mysterious."

"Why, of course," was all that Dorothy could think to answer. "I am sure Tavia—Miss Travers—would be glad—"

"Here is my card," interrupted the woman, evidently noting Dorothy's embarrassment. Dorothy accepted the piece of cardboard, and glancing at it read:

MISS ESTELLE BROOKS Expert Penman Envelopes addressed, etc. Benson Road, Ferndale.

As she read the card it flashed through Dorothy's mind that after all the woman might simply be trying to get trade. There seemed to be some connection between Tavia's envelope and the business advertised on Miss Brooks' card. But whatever could she want of Tavia? Surely she could not imagine a young girl needing the services of an expert penman?

"I saw your trouble in the store the other day," Miss Brooks ventured, "and was so sorry for you. I did want to help you—to tell that young woman detective just what I thought. But experience has taught me that it is not always best to interfere in such cases. It often only adds to the difficulty."

Dorothy could not find words in which to reply. Whatever she might say would either seem stupid or perhaps suspicious. And of the subtle ways of women "sharpers" Dorothy had often heard. It was, she decided, almost impossible to be sufficiently alert to offset their cunning. Perhaps this woman was one of that class—an adept at it.

"Is there any particular time you would like Miss Travers to call?" Dorothy asked, turning the subject sharply.

"I am always at home on Thursdays," replied Miss Brooks, "and she will have no trouble in finding me. I board at the Griswold."

Dorothy knew the Griswold to be a rest resort, a sort of sanitarium where fashionable people went to recuperate from home or social duties. This Miss Brooks did not appear to be in the circumstances of those who frequented the Griswold, the girl thought.

1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse