E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE GIRL SCOUTS AT BELLAIRE
Maid Mary's Awakening
"The Girl Scout Pioneers," "The Girl Scouts at Sea Crest," Etc.
New York Cupples & Leon Company
THE GIRL SCOUT SERIES
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
THE GIRL SCOUTS AT BELLAIRE
I. JOYS AND JOY RIDING II. BEAUTIFUL BELLAIRE III. THE BROKEN MARATHON IV. THE EAGLE'S FEATHER V. ON THE TRAIL VI. A LITTLE MAID IN CLOVER VII. WITHIN A MOUNTAIN CAVE VIII. SUNSET'S INSPIRATION IX. THE SECRET SPRING X. NEW FRIENDS XI. A CRY IN THE NIGHT XII. A STARTLING EXPERIENCE XIII. MARY'S MYSTERIOUS PET XIV. AT THE STUDIO XV. ORCHIDIA XVI. PROFESSOR BENSON XVII. A SECRET SESSION XVIII. IN THE SHADOWS XIX. HIDDEN TREASURES XX. THE MASCOT'S RESCUE XXI. REDA'S RETURN XXII. THE ORPHAN OF THE ORCHIDS XXIII. MAID MARY AWAKE
THE GIRL SCOUTS AT BELLAIRE
JOYS AND JOY RIDING
"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 a 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.
THE BROKEN MARATHON
"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.
THE EAGLE'S FEATHER
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 crepe 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 Circe.
"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.
ON THE TRAIL
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 Cleo.
"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!"
A LITTLE MAID IN CLOVER
"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.
WITHIN A MOUNTAIN CAVE
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? Let's call."
"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!"
THE SECRET SPRING
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 naively. "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 reentered 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.