The Girls of Central High Aiding the Red Cross
AMATEUR THEATRICALS FOR A WORTHY CAUSE
GERTRUDE W. MORRISON
CHAPTER I THE ODDEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED II THE RED CROSS GIRL III ODD! IV THE MYSTERY MAN V SAND IN THE GEARS VI THE BANK-NOTE VII SOMETHING EXCITING VIII THE FOREFRONT OF TROUBLE IX THE ICE CARNIVAL X BUT WHO IS HE? XI A REHEARSAL XII BUBBLE, BUBBLE XIII MOTHER WIT HAS AN IDEA XIV CHAINS ON HIS WHEELS XV PIE AND POETRY XVI EMBER NIGHT XVII A STARTLING ANNOUNCEMENT XVIII WHERE WAS PURT? XIX LAURA LISTENS XX TWO THINGS ABOUT HESTER XXI AND A THIRD THING XXII THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST PURT XXIII THE LAST REHEARSAL XXIV MR. NEMO, OF NOWHERE XXV IT IS ALL ROUNDED UP
THE ODDEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED
"Well, if that isn't the oddest thing that ever happened!" murmured Laura Belding, sitting straight up on the stool before the high desk in her father's glass-enclosed office, from which elevation she could look down the long aisles of his jewelry store and out into Market Street, Centerport's main business thoroughfare.
But Laura was not looking down the vista of the electrically lighted shop and into the icy street. Instead, she gave her attention to that which lay right under her eyes upon the desk top. She looked first at the neat figures she had written upon the page of the day ledger, after carefully proving them, and thence at the packet of bills and piles of coin on the desk at her right hand.
"It is the oddest thing that ever happened," she affirmed, as though in answer to her own first declaration.
It was Saturday evening, and it was always Laura's duty to straighten out her father's books for him on that day, for although she was a high school girl, she was usually so well prepared in her studies that she could give the books proper attention weekly. Laura had taken a course in bookkeeping and she was quite familiar with the business of keeping a simple set of books like these.
She never let the day ledger and the cash get far apart. It was her custom to strike a balance weekly, and this she was doing at this time. Or she was trying to! But there seemed to be something entirely wrong with the cash itself.
She knew that the figures on the ledger were correct. She had asked her father, and even Chet, her brother, who was helping in the store this evening, if either of them had taken out any cash without setting the sum down in the proper record.
"It is an even fifty dollars—neither more nor less," she had told them, with a puzzled little frown corrugating her pretty forehead.
They had both denied any such act—Chet, of course, vigorously.
"What kind of hardware are you trying to hang on me, Mother Wit?" he demanded of his sister. "I know Christmas will soon be on top of us, and a fellow needs all the money there is in the world to buy even one girl a decent present. But I assure you I haven't taken to nicking papa's cash drawer."
"I don't know but mother is right," Laura sighed. "Your language is becoming something to listen to with fear and trembling. And I am not accusing you, Chetwood. I'm only asking you!"
"And I'm only answering you—emphatically," chuckled her brother.
"It is no laughing matter when you cannot find fifty dollars," she told him.
"You'd better stir your wits a little, then, Sis," he advised. "You know Jess and Lance will be along soon and we were all going shopping together, and skating afterward. Lance and I want to practice our grapevine whirl."
But being advised to hurry did not help. For half an hour since Chet had last spoken the girl had sat in a web of mystery that fairly made her head spin! Her ledger figures were proved over and over again. But the cash! Then once more she bent to her task.
The piles of coin were all right she finally decided. She counted them over and over again, and they came to the same penny exactly. So she pushed the coin aside.
Then she slowly and carefully counted again the bank-notes, turning them one by one face down from left to right. The amount, added to the sum of the coins, was equal to the figures on the ledger. Then she did what she had already done ten or a dozen times. She recounted the bills, turning them from right to left.
She was fifty dollars short!
Christmas was approaching, and the Belding jewelry store was, of course, rather busier than at other seasons. That was why Chet Belding was helping out behind the counters. Out there, he kept a closer watch on the front door than Laura, with her financial trouble, could.
Suddenly he darted down the long room to welcome a group of young people who pushed open the jewelry-store door. They burst in with a hail of merry voices and a clatter of tongues that drowned every other sound in the store for a minute, although there were but four of them.
"Easy! Easy!" begged Mr. Belding, who was giving his attention to a customer near the front of the store. "Take your friends back to Laura's coop, Chetwood."
Hushed for the moment, the party drifted back toward Laura's desk. The young girl was still too deeply engaged with the ledger and cash to look up at first.
"What is the matter, Mother Wit?" demanded the taller of the two girls who had just come in—a most attractive-looking maiden, whom Chet had at once taken on his arm.
"Engine trouble," chuckled Laura's brother. "The old thing just won't budge! Isn't that it, Laura?"
The tall youth—dark and delightfully romantic-looking, any girl would have told you—went around into the little office and looked over Laura's shoulder.
"What's gone wrong, Laura?" he asked, with sympathy in his voice and manner.
"You want to get a move on, Mother Wit!" cried the youngest girl of the troop, saucy looking, and with ruddy cheeks and flyaway curls. This was Clara Hargrew, whom her friends called Bobby, and whose father kept the big grocery store just a block away from the Belding jewelry store. "Everybody will have picked over the presents in all the stores and got the best of everything before we get there."
"That's right," said the last member of the group; and this was a short and sturdy boy who had the same mischievous twinkle in his eye that Bobby Hargrew displayed.
His name was Long, and because he was short, everybody at Central High (save the teachers, of course) called him "Short and Long." He and Bobby Hargrew were what hopeless grown folk called "a team!" When they were not hatching up some ridiculous trick together, they were separately in mischief.
"But you say Short and Long has done some of his Christmas shopping already," Jess Morse, the tall visitor, said. "Just think, Laura! He has sent Purt Sweet his annual present."
"So soon?" said Laura Belding, but with her mind scarcely on what her friends were saying. "And Thanksgiving is only just passed!"
"I thought I'd better be early," said Short and Long, with solemn countenance. "I wrote 'Not to be opened till Christmas' upon the package."
Bobby and Jess and Lance burst into giggles. "Let's have the joke!" demanded Chet. "What did you send the poor fish, Short?"
"You guessed it! You guessed it, Chet Belding!" cried Bobby. "Aren't you a clever lad?"
"What do you mean?" asked Laura, now becoming more seriously interested.
"Why," Jess Morse said, "he got a codfish down at the market and wrapped it up in a lot of paper and put it in a long, beautifully decorated Christmas box. If Purt Sweet keeps that box without opening it until Christmas, I am afraid the Board of Health will be making inquiries about the Sweet premises."
"You scamp!" exclaimed Laura sternly, to Short and Long.
"He's all right!" declared Bobby warmly. "You know just how mean and stingy Purt Sweet is—and his mother has more money than anybody else in Centerport. Last Christmas, d'you know what Purt did?"
"Something silly, of course," Laura said.
"I don't know what you call silly. I call it mean," declared the smaller girl. "Purt got it noised abroad that he was going to give a present to every fellow in his class—didn't he, Short?"
"That's what he did," said Billy Long, taking up the story. "And the day before Christmas he got us all over to his house and offered each of us a drink of ice-water! And some of the kids had been foolish enough to buy him things—and give 'em to him ahead of time, too!"
"Serves you right for being so piggish," commented Chet.
"It was a mean trick," agreed Laura, "for some of the boys in Purt's grade are much younger than he is. But this idea of giving Christmas presents because you expect something in return——"
"Is pretty small potatoes," finished Lance Darby, the dark youth. "But what's the matter here, Laura?" he added. "I've counted these bills and they are just exactly right by those figures you have set down there."
"You turned them from left to right as you counted, Lance," cried Laura.
"Sure! I counted the face of each bill," was the answer.
"Now count them the other way!" exclaimed Laura in despair.
Her friends gathered around while Laura did this. Even Chet gave some attention to his sister's trouble now. From right to left the packet of bank-notes came to fifty dollars less than the sum accredited to them on the ledger.
"Well, what do you know about that?" breathed Lance.
"That's the strangest thing!" declared Jess Morse.
"Why," said Bobby of the quick mind, "must be some of the bills are not printed right."
"Nonsense!" ejaculated Chet.
"Who ever heard of such a thing as a banknote being printed wrong unless it was a counterfeit?" demanded Laura.
Mr. Belding, having finished with his customer, came back to the little office and heard this. "I am quite sure we have taken in no counterfeits— eh, Chet?" he said, smiling.
"And there's only one big bill—this hundred," said Chet, who had taken the package of bills and was flirting them through his fingers. "I took that in myself when I sold that lavalliere to the man I told you about, Father. You remember? He was a stranger, and he said he wanted to give it to a young girl. I———"
"Let's see that bill, Chet!" exclaimed Bobby Hargrew suddenly.
Chet slipped the hundred-dollar note out of the packet and handed it to the grocer's daughter. But she immediately cried:
"I want to see the hundred-dollar bill, Chet. Not this one."
"Why, that's the hundred———"
"This is a fifty," interrupted Bobby. "Can't you see?"
She displayed the face of a fifty-dollar bank-note to their wondering eyes. Their exclamations drowned Mr. Belding's voice, and he had to speak twice before Bobby heard him.
"Turn it over!"
The grocer's daughter did so. The other side of the bill was the face of a hundred-dollar bank-note! At this there certainly was a hullabaloo in and around the office. Mr. Belding could scarcely make himself heard again. He was annoyed.
"What is the matter with that bank-note? Whether it is counterfeit or not, you took it in over the counter, Chetwood," he said coldly.
"This very day," admitted his oldest son.
"Then, my boy, it is up to you," said the jeweler grimly.
"What——Just what do you mean?" asked Chet, somewhat troubled by his father's sternness.
"In a jewelry store," said Mr. Belding seriously, "as I have often told you, a clerk must keep his eyes open. You admit taking in this bill. If the Treasury Department says it is worth only fifty dollars, I shall expect you to make good the other fifty."
The young people stared at each other in awed silence as the jeweler turned away. They could feel how annoyed he was.
"Gee!" gasped Chet, "if I'm nicked fifty dollars, how shall I ever be able to buy Christmas presents, or even give anything for the Red Cross drive?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, Chet!" Jess Morse murmured.
"Looks as if hard times had camped on your trail, old boy," declared Lance.
"But maybe it is a hundred-dollar bill," Laura said.
"It's tough," Short and Long muttered.
"Try to pass it on somebody else," chuckled Bobby, who was not very sympathetic at that moment.
"Got it all locked up, Laura?" Jess asked. "Well, let us go then. You can't make that bill right by looking at it, Chet."
"I—I wish I could get hold of the man who passed it on me," murmured the big fellow.
"Would you know him again?" Lance asked.
"Sure," returned his chum, getting his own coat and hat while his sister put on her outdoor clothing. "All ready? We're going, Pa."
"Remember what I said about that bill, Chetwood," Mr. Belding admonished him. "You will learn after this, I guess, to look at both sides of a hundred-dollar bill—or any other—when it is offered to you."
"Aw, it's a good hundred, I bet," grumbled Chet.
"If it is, I'll add an extra fifty to my Red Cross subscription," rejoined his father with some tartness.
"Well, that's something!" Bobby Hargrew said quickly. "We want to boost the fund all we can. And what do you think?"
"My brain has stopped functioning entirely since I got so bothered by that bank-note," declared Laura Belding, shaking her head. "I can't think."
"Mr. Sharp and the rest of the faculty have agreed that we shall give a show for the Red Cross," declared Bobby, with enthusiasm. "Just what we wanted them to do!"
"Oh, joy!" cried Jess, clasping her hands in delight.
"Miss Josephine Morse, leading lady, impressarioess, and so forth," laughed Lance Darby, "will surely be in on the theatricals."
"Maybe they will let you write the play, Jess," said Chet admiringly.
They reached the door and stepped into the street. There had been rain and a freeze. The sidewalks, as well as the highway itself, were slippery. Bobby suddenly screamed:
"See there! Oh! He'll be killed!"
A rapidly-driven automobile turned the corner by the Belding store. A man was crossing Market Street, coming toward the group of young people.
The careless driver had not put on his chains. The car skidded. The next instant the pedestrian was knocked down, and at least one wheel ran over his prostrate body.
Instead of stopping, the car went into high speed and dashed up the street and was quickly out of sight. The young people ran to the prostrate man. Nobody for the moment thought of the automobile driver who was responsible for the affair.
The victim had blood on his face from a cut high up on his crown. He was unconscious. It was Chet Belding who stood up and spoke, first of all.
"I thought so! I thought so!" he gasped. "Do you know who this is?"
"Who?" asked Jess, clinging to his arm as the crowd gathered.
"This is the man who passed that phony hundred-dollar bill on me. The very one!"
"Is he dead?" whispered Bobby Hargrew, looking under Chefs elbow down at the crimson-streaked face of the unfortunate man.
THE RED CROSS GIRL
Market street was well lighted, but it was not well policed. That last fact could not be denied, or the recklessly driven automobile that had knocked down the stranger would never have got away so easily. People from both sides of the street and from the stores near by ran to the spot; but no policeman appeared until long after the automobile was out of sight.
The exciting statement that Chet Belding had made so interested and surprised his friends that for a few moments they gave the victim of the injury little of their attention. Meanwhile a figure glided into the group and knelt beside the injured man who lay upon the ice-covered street. It was a girl, not older than Laura and Jess, but one who was dressed in the veil and cloak of the Red Cross.
She was not the only Red Cross worker on Market Street that Saturday evening, for the drive for the big Red Cross fund had begun, and many workers were collecting. This girl, however seemed to have a practical knowledge of first-aid work. She drew forth a small case, wiped the blood away from the man's face with cotton, and then began to bandage the wound as his head rested against her knee.
"Somebody send for the ambulance," she commanded, in a clear and pleasant voice. "I think he has a fractured leg, and he may be hurt otherwise."
Her request brought the three girls of Central High to their senses. Bobby darted away to telephone to the hospital from her father's store. The older girls offered the Red Cross worker their aid.
For a year and a half the girls of Central High had been interested in the Girls' Branch League athletics; and with their training under Mrs. Case, the athletic instructor, they had all learned something about first-aid work.
The girls of Centerport had changed in character without a doubt since the three high schools of the city had become interested so deeply in girls' athletics. With the high schools of Keyport and Lumberport, an association of league units had been formed, and the girls of the five educational institutions were rivals to a proper degree in many games and sports.
How all this had begun and how Laura Belding by her individual efforts had made possible the Central High's beautiful gymnasium and athletic field, is told in the first volume of this series, entitled: "The Girls of Central High; Or, Rivals for All Honors." This story served to introduce this party of young people who have met in the jewelry store, as well as a number of other characters, to the reader.
In "The Girls of Central High on Lake Luna; Or, The Crew That Won," the enthusiasm in sports among the girls of the five high schools reaches a high point.
As the three cities in the league are all situated upon the beautiful lake named above, aquatic games hold a high place in the estimation of the rival associations in the league. Fun and sports fill this second volume.
"The Girls of Central High at Basket Ball; Or, The Great Gymnasium Mystery," the third book, tells of several very exciting games in which the basket-ball team of Central High takes part, and the reader learns, as well, a good deal more about the individual characters of the girls themselves and of some very exciting adventures they have.
"The Girls of Central High on the Stage; Or, The Play That Took the Prize," the fourth volume in the series, is really Jess Morse's story, although Laura and their other close friends have much to do in the book and take part in the play which Jess wrote, and which was acted in the school auditorium. It was proved that Jess Morse had considerable talent for play writing, and the professional production of her school play aided the girl and her mother over a most trying financial experience.
The fifth volume, "The Girls of Central High on Track and Field; Or, The Champions of the School League," is an all around athletic story in which rivalries for place in school athletics, excitement and interest of plot, and stories of character building are woven into a tale calculated to hold the attention of any reader interested in high school doings.
During the summer previous to the opening of the present story in the series, these friends spent a most enjoyable time camping on Acorn Island, and the sixth tale, "The Girls of Central High in Camp; Or, The Old Professor's Secret," is as full of mystery, adventure, and fun as it can be. Since the end of the long vacation the Girls of Central High, as well as the boys who are their friends, had settled down to hard work both in studies and athletics. Ice had come early this year and already Lake Luna was frozen near the shore and most of the steamboat traffic between the lake cities had ceased.
The great pre-holiday Red Cross drive had now enthralled the girls of Central High, as well as the bulk of Centerport's population. Everybody wanted to put the city "over the top" with more than its quota subscribed to the fund.
In the first place, the boys' and girls' athletic associations of Central High were planning an Ice Carnival to raise funds for the cause, and it was because of that exhibition that Chet Belding and Lance Darby wished to get down to the ice that evening and try their own particular turn, after the shopping expedition that also had been planned.
As it happened, however, neither the shopping nor the skating was done on this particular Saturday night.
As Bobby Hargrew ran to telephone to the hospital, Short and Long had grabbed the wrists of his two older and taller boy friends and led them out of the crowd in a very mysterious way.
"Did you get a good look at that car?" he whispered to Chet and Lance.
"Of course I didn't," said the latter. "It went up the street like the wind. Didn't it, Chet?"
"That rascal was going some when he turned the corner of Rapidan Street. I wonder he did not skid again and smash his car to pieces against the hydrant. Served him right if he had," Chet said.
"There were no chains on his wheels," said Short and Long, in the same mysterious way.
"You said it," agreed Lance. "What then?"
"There are not many cars in Centerport right now without chains on. The streets have been icy for more than twenty-four hours."
"Your statement is irrefutable," said Chet, grinning.
"Get it off your chest, Short and Long," begged Lance. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," said the earnest lad, "that I know a car that was out this afternoon without chains, and it was a seven-seater Perriton car—just as this one that knocked down Chet's friend was."
"It was a Perriton, I believe," murmured Lance.
But Chetwood Belding said: "I don't know whether that poor fellow is a friend of mine or not. If I have to give Pa fifty dollars—Whew!"
"But the car?" urged Lance Darby. "Who has a Perriton car, Short and Long?"
"And without chains?" added Chet, waking up to the main topic.
"Come along, fellows," said the younger lad. "I won't tell you. But I'll take you to where you can see the car I mean. If it still is without chains on the wheels, and has just been used—Well, we can talk about it then!"
"All right," said Chet. "We can't do any good here. Here comes the ambulance. That poor fellow is going to be in the hospital for some time, I bet."
There was such a crowd around the spot where the victim of the accident lay that the boys could not see the Central High girls, save Bobby Hargrew, who came running back from her father's store just as the clanging of the ambulance gong warned the crowd that the hospital had responded in its usual prompt fashion.
The boys hailed the smaller girl and told her they were off to hunt for the car that had knocked down the victim. Then the three hurried away.
Meanwhile, in the center of the crowd Laura Belding and Jess Morse had been aiding the girl in the Red Cross uniform as best they could to care for the man who was hurt. The latter had not opened his eyes when the ambulance worked its way into the crowd and halted beside the three girls on their knees in the street.
"What have you there?" asked the young doctor, who swung himself off the rear of the truck.
Laura and Jess told him. The third girl, the one who had done the most for the unfortunate man, did not at first say a word.
The driver brought the rolled stretcher and blanket. He laid it down beside the victim. When the doctor had finished his brief notes he helped his aid lift the man to the stretcher. They picked it up and shoved it carefully into the ambulance.
"I know you, Miss Belding," said the doctor. "And this is Miss Morse, isn't it? Do you mind giving me your name and address?" he asked the third girl.
Was there a moment's hesitation on the part of the Red Cross girl? Laura thought there was; yet almost instantly the stranger replied:
"My name is Janet Steele."
"Ah! Your address?" repeated the doctor.
This time there was no doubt that the girl flushed, and more than a few seconds passed before she made answer:
"Thirty-seven Whiffle Street."
At the same moment somebody exclaimed: "Here comes Fatty Morehead, the cop. Better late than never," and a general laugh went up from the crowd.
Jess seized Laura's wrist, exclaiming: "Oh, Laura! he will want to take down our names and addresses, too. Let's get away."
The Red Cross girl uttered an ejaculation of chagrin. She began pushing her way out of the press, and in an opposite direction from that in which the portly policeman was coming.
Jess whispered swiftly in Laura's ear: "Come on! Let's follow her! I'm awfully interested in that Red Cross girl, Laura!"
"Why should you be?" asked her chum. "Although she looks like a nice girl, I never saw her before."
"Neither did I," said Jess. "But did you hear the address she gave? That is the poor end of Whiffle Street, as you very well know, and mother and I used to live right across the street from that house. I did not know anybody lived in the old Eaton place. It has been empty for a long, long time."
Bobby Hargrew met Laura and Jess on the edge of the crowd, for she had been unable to worm herself into the middle of it again, and told them swiftly of the boys' departure to hunt for the car that had done the damage.
"And that's just like the boys!" exclaimed Jess Morse, with some exasperation. "To run away and desert us!"
"I don't know but I'm glad," said Laura. "I don't feel much like shopping after seeing that poor man hurt."
"Or skating, either," complained Jess.
Presently the three overtook the strange girl. Bobby, whom Chet had said was "just as friendly with strangers as a pup with a waggy tail," immediately got into conversation with her.
"Say! was he hurt badly?" she asked.
"I think his right leg was broken," the Red Cross girl replied. "And his head was badly hurt. Your friends, here, could see that."
"He bled dreadfully," sighed Laura. "But you had the bandage on so nicely that the doctor did not even disturb it, my dear."
"Thank you," said the Red Cross girl. She hesitated on the corner of the side street. "I fear I must leave you here. I am going home."
"Oh," cried Jess, who was enormously curious, "we can go your way just as well as not, Miss Steele! We live at the other end of Whiffle Street—up on the hill, you know."
"All but me," put in Bobby. "But I can run right through Laura's yard to my house."
She indicated Laura as she spoke. The Red Cross girl looked at Mother Wit with some expectancy. Jess came to the rescue.
"Let's get acquainted," she said. "Why not? We'll never meet again under more thrilling circumstances," and she laughed. "This is Miss Laura Belding, Miss Steele. On your other hand is Miss Hargrew—Miss Clara Hargrew. I am Josephine Morse. I used to live across the street from the old Eaton place where you live now."
"You are a stranger in town, are you not?" Laura asked, taking the new girl's hand.
"Yes, Miss Belding. We have only been here four weeks. But I have worked in the Red Cross before—and one must do something, you know."
"Do something!" burst forth Bobby. "If you went to Central High and had Gee Gee for one of your teachers, you'd have plenty to do."
"We are all three Central High girls," said Laura gently. "Have you finished school, Miss Steele?"
"I have not been able to attend school regularly for two years," admitted the new girl. "I am afraid," and she smiled apologetically, "that you are all much further advanced in your education than I am. You see, my mother is an invalid and I must give her a great deal of my time. It does not interfere, however, with my doing a little for the Red Cross."
"I am sorry your mother is ill," said Laura.
"We were advised to come up here for her sake," said Janet Steele hastily. "We have been living in a coast town. The doctors thought an inland climate—a drier climate—would be beneficial."
"I hope it will prove so," said Laura.
"It seems a shame you can't get out with the other girls," Jess added.
"And come to school and let Gee Gee get after you," joined in Bobby grimly.
"Is she such a very strict disciplinarian?" asked Miss Steele, smiling down at the irrepressible one as they walked through the side street toward Whiffle.
"She's the limit," declared Bobby.
"Oh," said Laura mildly, "I think Miss Carrington is nowhere near so strict as she used to be. Margit Salgo really has made her quite human, you know."
"Say!" grumbled Bobby, "she can hand out demerits just as easy as ever. And she had her sense of humor extracted years ago."
"Has that fault cropped up lately, my dear?" asked Laura, laughing. "It must be so. What happened, Bobby?"
The younger girl, who was a sophomore, whereas Laura and Jess were juniors, came directly under Miss Carrington's attention in several classes. Bobby was forever getting into trouble with the strict teacher.
"Why, look, now," said Bobby, warmly, "just what happened yesterday! English class. You know, that's nuts for Gee Gee. I was bothered enough, I can tell you, trying to correct a paper she had handed back to me, and she kept right on talking and asking questions, and the recitation period was almost ended. I didn't want to hang around there to correct that paper—"
"You know very well you should have taken it home to correct," Laura put in.
"Oh, don't tell me that! I take so much extra work home as it is, that Father Tom Hargrew asks me if I don't do anything at all in school. And, anyway, I didn't think Gee Gee saw me. But, of course, she did."
"And then what?" Jess asked.
"Why, she shot a question at me, and I didn't get it at first. 'Miss Hargrew! Pay attention!' she went on. Of course, that brought me up standing. 'What is a pseudonym?' she wanted to know. How silly! You know the trouble we've been having with that car Father Tom bought. 'I don't know what it is, Miss Carrington,' I told her. 'But if it is something that belongs to an automobile, father will have to buy a new one pretty soon, I'm sure.'"
"And she docked you for that!" exclaimed Jess, as though wildly amazed. "How cruel!"
"Really, I am afraid we are sometimes cruel to our dear teachers," laughed Laura. "But if they are too serious they are such a temptation to us witty ones."
"Now, don't be sarcastic, Mother Wit," said Jess, shaking her chum a little by the elbow. "You know very well you enjoy nagging the teachers a bit yourself, now and then. And Professor Dimp!"
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" gasped Bobby suddenly. "Did you hear the latest about Old Dimple?"
"Now, girls," said Laura, quite sternly, "I refuse to hear of Professor Dimp being made a goose of."
"Gander, dear! Gander!" exclaimed Jess, sotto voce.
"He's an old dear," declared Laura, quite as earnestly. "We found that out, I am sure, when we went camping on Acorn Island last summer."
"True! True!" admitted her chum.
"Oh, nobody wants to hurt the old fellow," chuckled Bobby. "But one day this week there was a bunch of the boys down at the post-office, and Professor Dimp came in to mail a letter. You know he is always reading on the street when he walks; never sees anybody, and goes stumbling about blindly with a book under his nose. He got into the revolving door and Short and Long declares Old Dimple went around ten times before he knew enough to come out—and then he was on the street again and had failed to mail the letter."
"Oh, Bobby!" cried Jess, while Miss Steele was quite convulsed by the statement.
"He's so absent-minded," said Laura sympathetically. "Why didn't Short and Long tell him he was in the revolving door?"
"Humph!" chuckled Bobby, "I guess Short thought the old fellow needed the exercise."
Just then the girls came to the corner of Whiffle Street The street was narrow and crooked in an elbow here. The houses were mostly small, and were out of repair. It was, indeed, the poor end of Whiffle Street. On the hill end were some of the best residences in Centerport.
"There's the Eaton place across the street," said Jess briskly. "I see there is a light, Miss Steele."
"That is mother's room on the first floor—right off the piazza. You know, we could not begin to use all the house," the girl added frankly. "There are only mother and I and Aunt Jinny."
"Oh! Your aunt?" asked Jess.
"She is mother's old nurse. She has come with us—to help do the housework, you know," Miss Steele said frankly, yet again flushing a little. "I—I guess I have never lived just as you girls do. We have moved around a great deal. I have got such education as I have by fits and starts, you see. I suppose you three girls have a perfectly delightful time at your Central High?"
"Especially when Gee Gee gets after us with a sharp stick," grumbled Bobby.
"Don't mind Bobby," said Laura, laughing. "She is dreadfully slangy, and sometimes quite impossible. We do have fine times at Central High. Especially in our games and athletic work."
"Miss Steele must be sure and come to our Ice Carnival next week," said Jess.
"'Ice Carnival'?" cried the Red Cross girl. "And I just love to skate!"
There came a sudden tapping on the window of the lighted room in the old Eaton house. The girls had crossed the street and were standing at the gate. Janet Steele wheeled quickly and waved her hand. A sitting figure was dimly outlined at the long, French window.
"Oh!" Janet said. "Mother wants us to come in. She doesn't see many people—and she enjoys young folk. Won't you come in? It will be a pleasure for us both."
Jess and Bobby looked at Laura. They allowed Mother Wit to decide the question, and she was but a few seconds in doing so.
"Why, of course! It's not late," she said. "We shall stay but a minute this time, Miss Steele."
"Call me Janet," whispered the Red Cross girl, squeezing Laura's arm as they went through the sagging gate.
The quartette climbed the steep steps to the piazza. That the Eaton house was in bad repair was proved by the broken boards in steps and piazza floor and the dilapidated condition of the railing. Even the lock of the front door was broken. Janet turned the knob and ushered them into the dimly-lit hall.
This was neatly if sparsely furnished. And everything seemed scrupulously clean. Their young hostess opened the door into her mother's room, which was that originally intended for the parlor.
The eager and curious girls of Central High saw first of all the figure of the woman in the wheel chair by the window. She had pulled down the shade now and dropped the curtains into place. The whole room was warm and well lighted. There was a gas chandelier lighted to the full and an open grate heaped with red coals. There was a good rug, comfortable chairs, and a canopied bed set in a corner. A tea-table with furnishings was drawn up near the fireplace. If one was obliged to spend one's time in a single room, this apartment seemed amply furnished for such a condition.
Mrs. Steele herself was no wan and hopeless-looking invalid. She was as buxom as Janet, and Janet was as well built a girl, even, as Laura Belding. The invalid had shrunken none in body or limbs. She owned, too, a very attractive smile, and she held out both hands to greet her young visitors.
"I am delighted!" she said in a strong, quick voice, which matched her smile and bright glance perfectly. "Why, Janey, you may go out every evening, if you will only bring back with you such a bevy of fresh, sweet faces. Introduce me—do!"
The introductions were made amid considerable gaiety. Mother Wit took the lead in telling Mrs. Steele who they were. Later Janet related the accident on Market Street, which had led to her acquaintance with the three girls of Central High.
Laura's keen eyes were not alone fixed upon Mrs. Steele while they talked. She took into consideration everything in the house. There was no mark of poverty; yet the Steeles lived in a house in a poor neighborhood and one that was positively out of repair, and they occupied only a small part of it.
When the three girls came out again and Janet had gone in and closed the door, Laura was in a brown study.
"Wake up, Mother Wit!" commanded Jess. "What do you think of the Steeles— and all?"
All Laura Belding could say in comment, was:
THE MYSTERY MAN
The three boys who had set off to find the car that had knocked down the stranger on the icy street were as mysterious the next day as they could be. At least, so their girl friends declared.
Being Sunday, there was no general gathering of the Central High girls and boys, but Laura, naturally, saw her brother early. He was coming from his shower in bathrobe and slippers when Laura looked out of her own door.
"What sort of fox-and-goose chase did Short and Long take you and Lance away on?" she demanded.
"Oh, I don't know that he was altogether foolish," said Chet doubtfully.
"Then did you really find some trace of the car?" cried Laura, eagerly.
"Well, we found a car. Yes."
"'Goodness to gracious!' as poor Lizzie Bean says. You are noncommunicative, Chetwood Belding. What do you mean—you found a car?"
"Laura," said her brother, "I don't know—nor does Lance, or Short and Long—whether the fellow we suspect had anything to do with that accident or not."
"And we don't want to get him in wrong."
"Who is it?" demanded his sister, bluntly.
"No. We won't tell anybody who it is we suspect until we make further investigations."
"I declare, you are as mysterious as a regular detective! And suppose the police do make inquiries?"
"They will, of course,"
"And what will you boys tell them?"
"Pooh!" returned Chet, going on to his room to dress, "they won't ask us because they don't know we know anything about it"
"I guess you don't know much!" shouted Laura after him before he closed his door.
It was the same when Jess Morse met Lance Darby on the way to Sunday School.
"Ho, Launcelot!" she cried. "Tell us all the news—that is a good child. Who was that awful person who ran down the man last night? I hear from Dr. Agnew that they had to patch the poor victim up a good deal at the hospital. Did you boys find the guilty party?"
"I don't know that we did," said Darby. "You see, nobody seemed to see the license number of the automobile."
"But didn't Short and Long have suspicions?"
"Well, what are suspicions?" demanded the boy. "We all agreed to say nothing about it unless we have proof. And we haven't any proof—as yet."
"Why, I believe you are 'holding out' on your friends, Lance," declared Jess, in surprise. "For shame!"
"Aw, ask Chet—if you must know!" exclaimed Lance, hurrying away.
As it chanced it was Bobby Hargrew who attempted to play inquisitor with Short and Long, meeting the boy with the youngest Long, Tommy, on the slippery hill of Nugent Street Tommy was so bundled up in a "Teddy Bear" costume that he could scarcely trudge along, and he held tightly to his brother's hand.
"For goodness' sake!" exclaimed Bobby, when she saw Tommy slipping all over the icy sidewalk, "what is the matter with that boy?"
"He hasn't got his sea-legs on," grinned Short and Long.
"You mean to tell me he is nearly five years old and can walk no better than that?" exclaimed Bobby teasingly. "Why, we have a little dog at home that isn't even a year old yet, and he can ran right over this ice. He can walk twice as good as Tommy does."
"Hoh!" exclaimed that youngster defensively. "That dog's got twice as many legs as I have."
"Right you are, Kid!" chuckled his brother. "He got you there, Clara."
"And did you boys get that man who ran the poor fellow down on Market Street last night?" demanded Bobby, with interest. "Did you have him arrested?"
"No. What do you suppose? We're not going around snitching to the police," growled Short and Long.
"But if that man at the hospital is seriously hurt——"
"Oh, we're not sure it's the right car," said the boy, and evidently did not wish to talk about it.
"Billy Long!" exclaimed the girl. "Are you boys trying to defend the guilty person?"
"Suppose that man at the hospital dies?"
"Pshaw! He wasn't hurt as bad as all that."
"How do you know?"
"Because I've been to the hospital to find out He's got a broken leg and a broken head——"
"Is he conscious yet?" demanded Bobby Hargrew quickly.
"No-o. They say he doesn't know anybody—and nobody knows who he is."
"Now you see!" cried the girl "Maybe he will die! And you boys will let the man who did it get away."
"Oh, he won't get away," grumbled Short and Long. "We know where to find him when we want to."
"You'd better let the police know where to find him," said Bobby tartly.
"You're not the police, Bobby Hargrew!" returned Short and Long, grinning and going on with Tommy.
The girls, of course, got together and compared notes and decided that the boys were "real mean, so now!" To pay Chet and Lance and Billy Long for being so secretive about the person they suspected of having caused the injury to the stranger Saturday evening, the three girls went alone that Sunday afternoon to the hospital to inquire after the injured man.
And there they met Janet Steele again. The Red Cross girl had been making inquiries, too, about the same case.
"It really is a very serious matter," Janet said to her new friends. "The man who knocked him down should be found. Although the doctors think he has no internal injuries after all, there is a compound fracture which will keep him in bed for a long time, and in addition he seems unable to give any satisfactory explanation of who he is or where he comes from."
"Goodness!" exclaimed Jess Morse. "Do you mean he has lost his mind?"
"Merely mislaid it," said Janet with a smile. "Or, at least, he cannot remember his name and address."
"Didn't he have any papers about him that explain those points?" asked Laura.
"That seems to be odd, too," said Janet "No. Not a mark on his clothing, either. But he was plentifully supplied with money, and all the bills were brand new."
"Oh!" exclaimed Laura. "That reminds me. That funny bill he passed on Chet was brand new, too. I wonder if all his money is queer?"
"What do you mean?" asked Janet, wonderingly. "Is the man a criminal, do you think?"
Laura and Jess explained about the peculiarly printed bill, which had given the first named so much trouble in making up her father's accounts the evening before.
"But that may be all explained in time," said Janet.
"All right," grumbled Bobby Hargrew. "But suppose poor Chet has to lose fifty dollars?"
"Father is going to take the bill to the bank to-morrow to see if they can explain the mystery," Laura said.
"But that will not explain the mystery of the stranger." said Jess. "Why, he is a regular 'man of mystery,' isn't he?"
"Humph!" said Bobby. "And so is the fellow the boys think ran him down. He is a man of mystery as well."
SAND IN THE GEARS
Since the whole school had taken such a tremendous interest in "the profession" at the time Central High blossomed forth in Jess Morse's play, the M.O.R.s had given several playlets, and Mrs. Case, the physical instructor, had staged folk dances and tableaux in the big hall.
For the Red Cross the association of girls connected with the Girls Branch Athletic League that had carried forward these smaller affairs, had determined to stage "a real play." Nellie Agnew, the doctor's daughter, and secretary of the club, had sent to a publisher for copies of plays that could be put on by amateurs, and interest in the affair waxed high already.
The principal point of decision was the identity of the play they were to produce. Mr. Sharp and the other members of the school faculty had agreed to let the girls act, and the big hall, or auditorium, could be used for the production. At noon on Monday the girls interested in the performance met in the principals office to decide upon the play.
"And of course," grumbled Bobby Hargrew to the Lockwood twins, Dora and Dorothy, "all the teachers have got to come and interfere. We can't do a sol-i-ta-ry thing without Gee Gee, or Miss Black, or some of them, poking their noses into it."
"You can't say that Professor Dimp pokes his nose into our affairs," laughed Dora.
"No, indeed," said her twin. "Outside of his Latin and physics he doesn't seem to have a single idea."
"Doesn't he?" scoffed Bobby. "The boys say he's gone into the dressmaking business, or something."
"What is that?" asked Dora, smiling. "What do they mean?"
"Why, the professor's niece is living with him now. He is not much used to having a woman in his sitting-room, I guess. She sits and sews with him in the evening while he reads or corrects our futile work," said Bobby, grinning.
"The other night Ellie Lingard—that's his niece—lost her scissors and she said they hunted all over the room for them. The next morning in one of the physics classes the professor opened his book, and there were the lost scissors, which he had tucked into it for a bookmark while he helped Ellie Lingard hunt for her lost property."
"Oh, oh!" laughed the twins.
"The worst of it was," continued Bobby, with an elfish grin, "Old Dimple grabbed them up and said right out loud: 'Oh, here they are, Ellie!' The boys just hooted, and poor Old Dimp was as mad as a hatter."
"The poor old man," said Dorothy commiseratingly.
It was a fact that, although Professor Dimp did not interfere in this play business, most of the other teachers desired to have their opinions considered. The girls would not have minded Mr. Sharp. Indeed, they courted his advice. But when Miss Grace Gee Carrington stood up to speak, some of them audibly groaned.
Miss Carrington was Mr. Sharp's assistant and almost in complete control of the girls of the school. At least, the girls came in contact with her much more than they did with Mr. Sharp himself.
She was a very stiff and precise woman, with an acrid temper and a sharp tongue. She had been teaching unruly girls for so many years that she was to a degree quite soured upon the world—especially that world of school which she had so much to do with.
Of late, however, Miss Carrington had become interested "quite in a human way," her girls said, in a person who had first appeared to the ken of the girls of Central High as a Gypsy girl. Margit Salgo's father, a Hungarian Gypsy musician, had married Miss Carrington's sister, much against the desire of Miss Grace Gee Carrington herself. When the orphaned Margit found her way to Centerport she made such an impression upon her aunt's heart that the latter finally took the girl into her own home and adopted her as "Margaret Carrington."
That, however, could not change Miss Carrington's nature. She was severe and (in the opinion of fly-away Bobby Hargrew) she was much inclined to interfere in the girls' affairs. On this occasion the girls were not disappointed when Miss Carrington "said her little say."
"I approve of any acceptable attempt to raise funds for such a worthy object as this we have in mind," said Miss Carrington. "An exhibition which will interest the school in general and our parents and friends likewise, meets, I am sure, with the approval of us all. Some of our young ladies, I feel quite sure, show some talent for playing, and much interest therein. Without meaning to pun, I would add that I wish they showed as great talent for work as for play."
"She could not help giving us that dig, if she were to be martyred for it," Nellie Agnew whispered to Laura.
"Sh! She'll see your lips move," warned Dora Lockwood, on the other side of the doctor's daughter. "I believe she has learned lip reading."
Miss Carrington went on quite calmly: "The first consideration, however, it seems to me, is the selection of the play. I should not wish to see the standard of Central High lowered by the acting of a play that would cater only to the amusement-loving crowd. It should be educational. We should achieve in a small way what the Greek players tried to teach—a love of beauty, of form, of some great truth that can be inculcated in this way on the public mind."
"But, Miss Carrington!" cried Bess Yeager, one of the seniors, almost interrupting the staid teacher, "we want to make money for the Red Cross. We could not get a room full with a Greek play."
"I beg Miss Yeager's pardon," said Miss Carrington stiffly. "We have our standard of education to uphold first of all."
"I hope you will excuse me, Miss Carrington," said Laura, likewise rising to object. "Our first object is to give the people something that will amuse them so that they will crowd the auditorium. Otherwise our object will not have been achieved. This is a purely money-making scheme," added the jeweler's daughter with her low, sweet laugh.
"I am amazed to hear you say so!" exclaimed the instructor, quick for argument at any time. "Have you young ladies no higher desire than to make the rabble laugh?"
"I want you to know," muttered Jess Morse, "that my mother is coming, and she isn't 'rabble.'"
Perhaps it was fortunate that Miss Carrington did not hear this comment. But she could not fail to hear some of the others made by the girls. There was earnest protest in all parts of the room. Mr. Sharp brought them to order.
"Miss Carrington has, under ordinary circumstances, made an excellent point, and I want you all to notice it," said the principal. "We are an educational institution here on the hill. If we were giving a class play, or anything like that, I should vote for Miss Carrington's idea. At such a time something primarily educational should be in order.
"But as I understand it, you young ladies are going to act for the benefit of the Red Cross fund, and what will benefit that fund the most is the drawing together of a well-paying crowd to see you act.
"I am afraid we shall have to set aside our own desires, Miss Carrington," he continued, smiling at his assistant. "We must let the actors choose their own play—as long as it is a proper one—and abide for once by the decision of those of our friends who wish to be amused rather than educated."
"He's half backing her up!" complained Dora.
"Well, he has to pour oil on the troubled waters," whispered Laura.
"Huh!" grumbled Bobby Hargrew. "But Gee Gee is determined to throw sand in the gears, not oil on the waters. She always does."
Really, Miss Carrington seemed in an interfering mood that day. Nellie had a collection of plays from which they were supposed to choose that very session the one to be acted. There was but brief time to learn the parts and the acting directions. But Mr. Mann, who had directed them in other plays, said he thought he would be able to whip the girls into shape for a performance in two weeks. Although they were amateurs, they had all had some experience.
When the girls themselves got a chance to talk it was shown that their desires were all for a parlor comedy with bright lines, some farcical turns to the plot, but a play of sufficient weight to gain the approval of sober-minded people. It was, however, far from being classic.
"Such a play is preposterous!" ejaculated Miss Carrington, breaking out again. "Don't you think so yourself, Mr. Sharp?"
The principal had the book in his hand and was skimming through some of the dialogue. If the truth was told he was on a broad grin.
"I don't know about that, Miss Carrington. It—it is really very funny."
"'Funny!'" gasped his assistant, with all the emphasis she dared show in the presence of the principal. "As though to make fun should be our target!"
"What would you like to have us play?" asked Bobby, daringly. "Julius Caesar? If we do, I want to play old Julius. He dies in the first act. The rest of us would be killed lingeringly by the audience, I know, before the last."
"Miss Hargrew!" snapped the teacher. Then she remembered that this was not a recitation and she could not easily punish the girl. She shook her head and looked offended during the remainder of the discussion.
"But you know very well," snapped Lily Pendleton, a rather overdressed girl, as they all crowded out of the schoolhouse after the meeting, "that Gee Gee will do her wickedest to spoil it all."
"Oh, no!" cried Laura. "Not when it is for the Red Cross!"
"It wouldn't matter what the object was," said Jess morosely. "She always does try to crab the game."
"Goodness, Josephine!" gasped her chum, "you are positively as slangy as Chet."
"I guess I catch it from him," admitted Jess Morse. "And she is a crab!"
"Now girls!" called Nellie, a regular Martha for trouble at the present moment. "Now girls, remember the 'sides' will be here day after tomorrow, and Mr. Mann will look us over and give out the parts that afternoon in the small hall. Nobody must be absent. We want this show to be the biggest success that ever was."
"It won't be if Gee Gee can help it," growled Bobby Hargrew, shaking her curls.
"There's one sure thing about it," Lance Darby said to Laura when she told him of the way in which Miss Carrington had tried to interfere with the girls' choice of the play, "she cannot butt into the Ice Carnival arrangements. Nobody but your Mrs. Case and our Mr. Haskins has anything to say about the Carnival Committee's arrangements."
"Oh! Indeed?" laughed Laura. "There you are mistaken about the far-reaching influence of our Miss Carrington."
"What do you mean?"
"You forget that our share of the Carnival is under the jurisdiction of the Girls Branch League, and in the constitution and by-laws of that association it is stated that none of us girls can take part in any exhibition without the consent of our teachers, and without, indeed, having a certain standing in all branches of study. Miss Carrington can get her word in right there."
"Wow, wow! That's so, I presume," admitted Lance.
"But we have gone so far now," said Laura complacently, "that I don't think even Bobby will be refused permission to join in the festivities—and Bobby is a splendid little skater, Lance."
"Bobby is all right," agreed the youth. "But here comes old Chet—and his face is as long as the moral law. He is still worried about that fifty dollars he may have to dig down into his jeans for—if your father sticks to what he said he'd do."
Chetwood had a cheerful word, however, despite his serious aspect.
"Have you seen the ice, Lance?" he demanded, brightening up.
"Not to-day, old boy."
"It's scrumptious—just!" exclaimed the big fellow. "They have been shaving it, and have got it all roped off."
"Better have somebody watch it, too, or the kids from downtown will get in there and cut it all up. Just like 'em," growled Lance.
"Don't fret. Old Godey is on guard. Trust him to keep the kids off the track," said Chet. "Is father at home, Laura?"
"He's just come in," said his sister. "Has he found out about that bank-note yet?"
"That is what I wanted to know," said the worried Chet. "I've been over to the hospital this afternoon—before I went down to the lake shore. That, chap who was hurt is off his nanny——"
"Chet! Don't let mother hear you," begged Laura, yet laughing.
"I wouldn't want the mater to be shocked," admitted Chet. "But that is exactly what is the trouble with that man who gave me the phony bill. The doctor told me the crack he got on the head had injured his brain."
"The poor man!" sighed his sister.
"What about 'poor me'?" demanded Chet indignantly. "And they say he carried a roll of brand new bills big enough to choke a cow! The doctor says he thinks the money is good, too. But he passed that hundred-dollar note on me——"
"If it is a hundred," interjected Lance.
"Now you said a forkful," grumbled Chet, shaking his head. "Let's go in and see what father has to say about it. He was going to see Mr. Monroe at the First National. They say Mr. Monroe knows all about money—knew the fellow who invented it, personally, I guess."
The young folks found Mr. Belding in the library, and he welcomed them with his customary smile when the three came in.
"The bank-note?" he repeated. "I left it for Mr. Monroe to look at. He was out of town. But he will tell me when he returns—if he knows about it. It is a curious thing. And I hope it will teach you a lesson, Chetwood."
"Sure!" grumbled Chet, "Of course, there is nothing so important in this world as learning lessons. Little thing about me being nicked fifty dollars isn't considered."
His father laughed at his rueful countenance. "Well, Son, I can't offer you much sympathy. Perhaps the Treasury Department will make it right. And how about that man who gave it to you? He can't get far with a broken leg."
"He's gone far enough already," declared Chet. "They say he has lost his memory."
"What's that?" cried Mr. Belding.
"Looks fishy, doesn't it?" said Lance. "Lots of folks who owe money lose their memories."
"No," said Chet, shaking his head. "This chap really got a hard bang on the head, and the doctors say he may never remember who he is."
"Lost his identity?" demanded Mr. Belding.
"Completely. At least, he doesn't know his name or where he came from. He remembers a part of his life, they say, for he seems to think he has been in Alaska. Asked the nurse, in fact, how long Sitka had had such a hospital as this. Thought he was in Sitka, you see."
"Why, isn't it strange?" Laura said. "The poor fellow!"
"He's not poor, I tell you," said the literal Chet.
"He's got a lot of money. But not a card, or a mark about him—not even on his clothes—to tell who he is."
"How about his hat?" questioned Lance. "And his suit? The labels, I mean."
"The hat was brand new," said Chet, "and was bought right here in Centerport. Oh, the hospital folks have been trying through the police to find out something about him. Nothing doing, they say."
"Why," said Mr. Belding thoughtfully, "there must be some way of discovering who the unfortunate is, even if he cannot remember himself."
"Who do you mean, Pa, by 'the unfortunate'?" demanded his son. "I should think I was the unfortunate. Especially if that bank-note is phony."
"But you did not get a broken leg—and a broken head—out of it," his father said dryly.
"That's all right," muttered Chet "But I am likely to have a broken pocketbook, all right all right!"
Mr. Belding was not unmindful of his son's anxiety regarding the odd bank-note that Chet had taken over the counter in the jewelry store. Besides, Laura sat herself upon the arm of his big Morris chair after dinner that Monday evening, and said:
"You know, dear Pa, Chet is a pretty good boy. And fifty dollars is much more money than he can afford to lose—all in one bunch."
"Indeed?" said her father indignantly. "And how about me? With my expensive family, do you think I can afford to lose fifty dollars? And the boy is careless."
"I deny it," said Laura briskly.
"Chet! not careless?"
"What is the difference?"
"Academic, or moral?" demanded Mother Wit, looking at him slyly.
"Oh, well, it doesn't pay to split hairs with you," declared her father, pinching a warm cheek until it was rosier than ever. "But what's the big idea, as Chet himself would say?"
"Why, now, Pa Belding——"
"Out with it! What do you want me to do?"
"I—I thought if you'd make Chet pay only half of the fifty dollars, that perhaps you lost——"
"Well?" he growled, in apparent indignation still.
"Why, I would pay the other twenty-five!" burst out Laura hurriedly. "Only you must promise not to tell Chet."
"What do you mean? To pay half his fine?"
"Well, you don't need to halloo so about it, Pa dear," she pouted.
"I wouldn't let you!"
"Oh, yes you would. You know it is going to be awfully hard on Chet to take that money out of the bank to pay you."
"There, there!" said Mr. Belding gruffly. "We won't talk about it—yet. Perhaps we'll find the bank-note is all right."
But he said afterward to his wife that evening: "What are we going to do with such children, Mother? You can't punish one without hurting the other right to the quick."
"We have been blessed in our children, Henry," said Mrs. Belding proudly. "And—really—Chet should not be too much blamed."
"There, there!" exclaimed her husband in a disgusted tone of voice. "You're every whit as bad as Laura."
Mr. Monroe did not return to the bank for several days; and meanwhile other important and interesting things were happening. The three boys who seemed to have secret knowledge about the accident on Market Street refused to answer the questions of their girl friends as to the identity of the car that had run the victim down.
"You are just the meanest boys!" flared out Bobby Hargrew, as they all trooped down to Lake Luna to take almost the last look at the roped-off arena before the carnival would twinkle its lights that evening at six o'clock.
"I don't know, Bobby," drawled Chet. "I believe we really could be meaner if we tried."
"No you couldn't!" snapped Clara Hargrew with finality.
"Oh, girls!" gasped Laura suddenly, "tell me what this is coming up the hill? Or am I seeing something that you folks don't?"
"Gee!" exclaimed the slangy Bobby, forgetting her indignation with Chet and the other boys. "Is it? Can it be?"
"Pretty Sweet!" ejaculated Jess, beginning to laugh. "And he is in his forest green hunting suit. I call it his 'Robin Ridinghood' suit."
"It just matches him, all right," said Lance. "He's verdant green and so is the suit. And look how he is carrying that gun, will you?"
The gun was in its case, but the boy in question was carrying the shotgun in a most awkward manner. Without a doubt he was half afraid of it.
"And I bet he hasn't had a charge in it all the time he's been out. Who did he go with?" asked Chet.
"Some of the East Siders. They cater to him a lot, and you know," said Lance, with disgust, "tight as Purt is with money, if you flatter him you can pull his leg."
"Dear me!" murmured Laura, "it is not in your province to use such slang, Lance. Leave that to Chet and Bobby."
"Hey, Pretty!" Chet shouted to the very dandified lad, as he crossed the street toward them. "What luck, old top?"
Although when they had first seen him, Prettyman Sweet was undoubtedly footsore, he began to strut now and pride "fairly exuded from his countenance," as Jess whispered to her chum.
"Did you get any cottontails?" demanded Lance.
"Oh, a few—a few, muh boy," declared Pretty Sweet airily.
Then they saw that he had a game bag slung over his shoulder in true sportsman style.
"I did not suppose you would go out to shoot the poor, innocent little rabbits, Mr. Sweet," said Laura, with sober face but dancing eyes. "They have never done you any harm."
"I bet a real bad rabbit would make Purt run," muttered Bobby.
"Oh, Miss Belding!" said the school dandy. "You know I'm awf'ly keen on sport—awf'ly keen, doncher know. I just have to get a day now and then in the woods, when game is in season."
"He's as keen on it as the two Irishmen were, who went hunting for the first time," broke in Bobby. "When they sighted a bird sitting on a bush Meehan took very careful aim and prepared to fire. Said his friend, grabbing him by the arm:
"'Don't fire, Meehan! Shure an' yez haven't loaded yer gun.'
"'That's as it may be, me lad,' retorted Meehan, 'but fire I must. The bur-rd won't wait!'"
Prettyman Sweet was used to being laughed at, yet he flushed at the gibe.
"Never mind," he said. "I bring home the game, just the same."
"You 'bring home the bacon,' in other words," said Chet, approaching him. "Let's see the bunnies?"
Nothing loath, the overdressed boy opened the bag and displayed his plunder. He brought two big hares out of the bag by their ears and held them up with pride.
"Bet they were trapped," said Bobby in an undertone.
"They were not trapped!" cried Purt Sweet sharply. "See! That is where one was shot! And there is the other—see?"
"Jinks!" said Lance. "Both through the head. You never did it, Purt?"
"I did so!" cried the huntsman angrily. "I shot them both."
Chet was looking them over closely. He shook his head.
"They have been shot all right," he said. "And you shot them over there on Cavern Island?"
"I can prove it," said Purt haughtily.
"That's all right," said Chet thoughtfully. "You may have shot them—and on Cavern Island. But whose rabbits were they before you bought them?"
Bobby and Jess began to giggle. Chet grinned as he added:
"Those are Belgian hares, not rabbits, Pretty. Somebody has put something over on you. Belgian hares don't run wild in the woods of Cavern Island— that is sure."
"Bet he shot them hanging up on a fence," snapped Short and Long, who thus far had said never a word to Prettyman Sweet.
"And I know the market to-day is full of Belgian hares," chuckled Chet. "Oh, Purt! you never could pull off anything like that on us in a hundred years."
"I don't care—I—I—"
The angry Purt snatched up his game bag and marched away.
"That he's been caught in the trick puts a crimp in him," chuckled Chet Belding.
"And that isn't all that ought to happen to him," muttered Short and Long, who seemed to have become suddenly very bitter against the dandified Sweet.
"Can it, Billy, can it," advised Lance. "Give a calf rope enough and he will hang himself."
"And maybe that fellow ought to be hung," was Short and Long's further comment.
"Why, Billy!" exclaimed Laura, "what ever do you mean?"
"Yes, Short and Long," said Jess. "Why the 'orrid hobservation about poor Purt?"
Perhaps Billy Long would have blurted out something, had not another incident taken place which so excited all the young people that they forgot Purt Sweet and his foibles.
The group had reached Lakeside Avenue, which overlooked many shore estates and some private docks. This was the residential end of Centerport, and the vicinity in summer was lovely. Now the outlook on Lake Luna's sparkling surface—frozen in a sheen of ice to the shore of Cavern Island in the middle of the lake—was wonderfully attractive.
At the foot of Nugent Street, which they now reached, the girls and boys from Central High heard suddenly a great shouting and peals of laughter from up the hill. Some snow still lay on the side of Nugent Street; and the hill was a glare of ice. Down the steep descent were coming three or four heavy sleds loaded with young folks. Many of them were girls and boys of Central High.
"Some coasting!" exclaimed Chet. "I had no idea it was so good. We ought to get our bob out, Lance."
"Oh, see, Laura!" murmured Jess. "There comes Janet Steele. She must have been canvassing for Red Cross members away over here. I wish we had time to do some of that work."
The Red Cross girl appeared from around a turn in the avenue, and the instant she spied her new friends she waved her gloved hand.
"Is that the girl who gave first-aid to the man on Market Street Saturday night?" asked Chet.
"Some little queen, isn't she?" rejoined Lance, with twinkling eyes.
"Oh," said Laura placidly, "you needn't think that you can get us girls jealous about Janet Steele. She is an awfully sweet girl."
"And she isn't little at all," put in Jess, tossing her head. "She is as husky as Eve Sitz."
Before they could say more, or further hail the Red Cross girl, there was a crash and terrific rattling around the turn of the avenue. The next instant a horse appeared, madly galloping along the roadway, and drawing the shattered remains of a grocery wagon after him.
The maddened beast would, so it seemed, cross the foot of Nugent Street just as the bobsleds shot down to that point. Across the avenue was a steep bank against which the sleds were easily halted. But they could not be stopped before they crossed Lakeside Avenue!
THE FOREFRONT OF TROUBLE
The three boys drew Laura and her girl friends into the gateway of a residence that faced the lake. The Red Cross girl was on the other side of Nugent Street, and the runaway horse was coming along the avenue behind her.
Chet would have leaped away to her assistance had not Jess grabbed him by the arm and screamed. The sleds were almost at the crossing, and surely Chet Belding would have been knocked down.
Janet Steele proved to be perfectly able to look out for herself. And on this occasion she could even do more than that.
She whirled and saw the horse coming with the wrecked wagon. She could not see up the hill of Nugent Street, for the corner house barred her vision in that direction. But without doubt she had heard the eager shouts of the coasters and understood what was ahead of them.
The runaway would cross the foot of the hill just in time, perhaps, to collide with one or more of the bobsleds.
Almost opposite the foot of Nugent Street and right beside the steep bank against which the coasters had been wont to stop their sleds, was a narrow lane pitching toward the lakeshore. This lane was near Janet Steele.
Chet saw it and realized how the horse might be turned. But the boy was too far away. Even as he shook off Jess Morse's frenzied hold on his arm, the runaway was upon Janet Steele.
The latter had whipped off the Red Cross veil she wore. Seizing it by both extremes she allowed the veil to float out on the brisk winter breeze, darting with it into the street.
The runaway's glaring eyes caught sight of the flapping folds of the veil, and he swerved, his hoofs sliding on the slippery drive. The eyes of a horse magnify objects tremendously, and the girl's figure and her flowing veil probably looked to the frightened animal like some awful and threatening bogey.
Scrambling and snorting, he swerved to the side of the road, saw the open lane, and the next moment thundered into it, the broken wagon skidding across the lane and smashing into a gatepost.
It was at the same instant that the head sled came sweeping down Nugent Street, crossed the avenue, and stood almost on end against the bank, stopping abruptly in the snow bank.
The other sleds poured down and stopped; but none had been in so much danger as that first one. Laura and Chet and their friends started on the run for the spot—and for Janet Steele.
"Oh! Oh! OH!" shrieked in crescendo one girl who had ridden on the first bobsled. "We might have been killed!"
Some of the boys ran after the horse. The rest of the young people surrounded Janet Steele.
"How brave you were," murmured Jess Morse admiringly.
"You've got a head on you, sure enough!" exclaimed Bobby Hargrew, while the Red Cross girl, blushing and with downcast eyes, began hastily to adjust her veil again.
"Oh, it was nothing," murmured Janet.
"Tell it to Lily. Here comes Lily Pendleton," said Jess, smiling again. "She won't think it was nothing."
The girl who had shrieked so loudly came up quickly to the group of Central High girls.
"Did you turn that horse?" she demanded of Janet Steele. "You are a regular duck! We might have all been killed! I never will ride down a hill with Freddy Brubach again! There should have been somebody down here to signal that we were coming!"
"Guess the horse would not have paid much attention to signals, Lil," laughed Laura.
"Only the kind that Miss Steele waved," added Bobby.
"Is that your name?" Lily Pendleton asked the Red Cross girl. "I'm awfully glad to know you."
"And much gladder that she was right on the job here when the horse came along, aren't you, Lil?" chuckled Bobby.
"She ought to have a medal," declared one of the other girls.
"Let's write to Mr. Carnegie about her," proposed Jess, but good-naturedly, and hugged Janet now that she had rearranged her veil.
"Oh, dear me!" gasped Janet Steele, "please don't make so much over so little. I shall almost be sorry that I turned the horse into the lane. And it was a little thing. I am not afraid of horses."
"A mere medal is nothing to Miss Steele, I bet," said Bobby, the emphatic. "I expect she has a trunk full of 'em. Like the German army officer who had his chest covered with iron crosses and medals and the like. Somebody asked him how he came to get them all.
"'Vell,' he said, pointing to the biggest and shiniest medal, 'I got dot py meestake; undt dey gif me de odders pecause I got dot one!'"
"Oh, you and your jokes, Bobby!" said Lily Pendleton, with some scorn. "This was a serious business. And there is another very serious matter, girls, that I have to call to your attention," she added, turning to Laura and Jess.
"What has gone wrong? Nothing about the play, I hope!" cried Jess.
"It is worse, because it is right at hand," said Lily, shaking her head. "What do you suppose Miss Carrington has done?"
"Oh, Gee Gee!" groaned Bobby, in despair. "I knew she would break out in a fresh spot."
"Do tell us what it is," begged Jess Morse.
"It is about Hessie," said Lily.
"Hester Grimes?" demanded Laura, with a rather grim expression. "What has happened to her now?"
"Why!" cried Lily, rather sharply, "you speak as though Hessie was always getting into trouble."
"You cannot deny but that she has frequently made a faux pas, as it were," said Jess, smiling.
"And what she does wrong," added Laura, with some bitterness, "usually affects the rest of us."
"She did not do a thing wrong!" cried Lily stormily. "You girls are just too mean!"
"Oh, come on, Lil," said Bobby. "Tell us the worst. We're prepared for murder, even."
"You are very rude, Clara Hargrew," declared Lily Pendleton. "Hessie is not to blame. She failed in rhetoric, and when Miss Carrington tried to put a lot of home work on her she refused to take it."
"What?" gasped Jess.
"Oh! She did refuse, did she?" snapped Bobby. "And a fat lot that would help her!"
"Well, I don't care!" cried Lily. "Gee Gee is just as mean——"
"Granted!" agreed Bobby, with emphasis. "But tell us how much Hessie has been set back?"
"Of course Miss Carrington has punished her if she was impudent," said Laura decidedly.
"She has punished us all!" cried Lily. "She refuses to allow Hessie to skate to-night. She's out of it."
"Out of the carnival?" cried several of her listeners in chorus.
"And Hester," cried Bobby, "is in the Dress Parade. What did I tell you? Gee Gee was just hoping to queer us."
"It is Hester Grimes who has queered us," Laura said, much more sternly than she usually spoke. "And we were all warned to be so careful!"
"Now, don't blame Hessie!" cried Hester's chum angrily.
"I'd like to know who we are to blame, then?" demanded Jess Morse, with disgust, "Knowing that Gee Gee is what she is, why couldn't Hester keep her own temper?"
"Well! I just guess—"
But after all it was Mother Wit who, though greatly offended, became peacemaker.
"There, there!" she said. "Enough is done already. We shall miss Hester. But we mustn't get angry with each other and therefore spoil the whole Dress Parade. That masquerade should be the most spectacular number on the program."
"But who will take Grimes' place?" demanded Bobby.
Laura stood beside Janet Steele, whose eyes were wide open, her cheeks glowing, and even her lips ajar with excitement. Laura had a very keen mind, and already she had apprehended that Janet was more deeply interested in this discussion, and the subject of it, than a stranger naturally would be. She turned now to stare into the Red Cross girl's face.
"Oh, Miss Steele!" she said, "didn't you tell us that you loved to skate?"
"Ye-es," admitted Janet.
"And she's as big as Hessie Grimes!" exclaimed Jess on the other side, and catching her chum's idea.
"Would you take Hester's part in the masquerade?" asked Laura pointblank.
"But she doesn't belong to Central High!" wailed Lily Pendleton.
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Jess. "What does it matter? This is all for a show. It is no competition with other members of the League."
"Right-o, Jess!" crowed Bobby Hargrew.
"We-ell!" murmured Lily doubtfully.
"Come, Miss Steele—Janet," said Laura, pleadingly. "I know you can help us. Hester, being the biggest girl, was to lead in certain figures on the ice. You could easily learn them. And you can wear her costume, I know."
"You don't know anything of the kind, Laura Belding," snapped Lily, interrupting Janet. "I don't believe Hessie would let any other girl wear her masquerade suit."
"Sure she wouldn't!" exclaimed Bobby, with disgust. "She'll crab the whole game if she can. Hester Grimes always was a nuisance."
But Laura suddenly clapped her hands in real joy. "Oh, no!" she cried. "We won't ask Janet to wear any other girl's costume. I know what would be fine."
"Let's hear it, Laura dear," said Jess, eagerly. "Of course, you would have a bright idea. You always do."
"Why," said the pleased Laura, "if Janet will come and skate with us, she need only wear the very cloak and veil she has on now. What could be more fitting for a leader of our costume parade? The whole carnival is for the Red Cross, and with a Red Cross girl to lead the procession, and Chet in his Uncle Sam suit to lead the boys—Why! it will be the best ever."
"Hooray!" shouted Bobby, wild with enthusiasm.
"It is splendid!" agreed Jess.
Everybody in hearing agreed, save, perhaps, Lily Pendleton. Laura turned to Janet again and clasped her gloved hands over the new girl's arm.
"Will you, dear? Will you help us out?" she asked.
THE ICE CARNIVAL
"Oh, Miss Laura! Do you really mean it?" murmured Janet Steele, her full pink cheeks actually becoming white she was so much in earnest.
"Of course we mean it," Jess Morse said practically. "And glad to have you."
"I don't know—"
Janet looked for a moment at the sulky-faced Lily Pendleton. Jess immediately pulled that young girl forward.
"Why, Lil isn't half as bad as she sounds," declared Jess, laughing. "This is our very particular friend, Janet Steele, Lil. You've got to treat her nicely. If you don't," she added sharply, "you'll never get a chance to go camping with us girls again as you did last summer. You and your Hester Grimes can go off somewhere by yourselves."
Really, Lily Pendleton had improved a good deal since the time Jess mentioned, and the latter's blunt speech brought her to a better mind at once.
"Well, of course," she said, offering Janet her hand, "I did not mean it just that way. You know how cranky Hessie is when she does get mad. But Laura has suggested a perfectly splendid idea. Miss Steele as a Red Cross girl and Chet as Uncle Sam will be fine to lead the grand march on skates."
So it was decided, and they hurried Janet down to the girls' boathouse, which had a warm, cozy clubroom at one end where Mr. Godey, the watchman, stayed, and where, at this time of year, he was often busy sharpening skates. Laura found a pair of skates for the Red Cross girl, and for an hour the latter practiced with the girls of Central High the steps and figures of the masquerade parade, which Laura and her friends already had worked out to perfection.
"Don't worry a bit about to-night, Janet," Laura told her, when they all hurried away from the lakeshore about dusk. "We'll push you through the figures. Jess and I will be on either side of you, except when we pair off with the boys. And then you will be with my brother Chet. And if he isn't nice to you he'll hear from me!" she added with vigor.
"Oh, but Laura!" whispered Jess Morse, as they separated from Janet, "Chet mustn't be too nice to her. For Janet Steele is an awfully pretty girl."
"Now, dear!" exclaimed her laughing chum, "don't develop incipient jealousy."
With only two hours before them in which to do a hundred things, the girls were as busy as bees for the remainder of the afternoon. That Hester Grimes had been forbidden to take part in the carnival by Gee Gee troubled the girls of Central High less than they might have been troubled had it been almost any other of their number that the strict teacher had demerited. For, to tell the truth, Hester Grimes was not well loved.
The daughter and much-indulged only child of a wealthy butcher, Hester had in the beginning expected to be catered to by her schoolmates. With such rather shallow schoolmates as Lily Pendleton, Hester was successful. Lily toadied to her, to use Bobby Hargrew's expression; nor was Lily alone in this.
Upon those whom Hester considered her friends she spent her pocket money lavishly. She was not a pretty girl, but was a tremendously healthy one—strong, well developed, and tomboyish in her activities. Yet she lacked magnetism and the popularity that little Bobby Hargrew, for instance, attained by the exercise of the very same traits Hester possessed.
Hester antagonized almost everybody—teachers and students alike. Even placid, peace-loving Mother Wit, found Hester incompatible. And because Laura Belding was a natural leader and was very popular in the school, Hester disliked her and showed in every way possible that she would not follow in Laura's train. Yet there had been a time when Hester had felt under obligation to Laura.
Laura was secretly glad to see Lily Pendleton weaned slowly away from the butcher's daughter. The last summer had started Lily in the right direction, and although the overdressed girl had still some weaknesses of character to overcome, she had greatly improved, as this incident of the afternoon revealed.
Lily was not alone in complaining about Miss Carrington's harshness, however. It was the principal topic of conversation when the girls gathered in the boathouse rooms to prepare for the races and the features that were to precede the principal attraction of the carnival—the masquerade grand march.
"Sh! She's right here now," whispered Bobby Hargrew sepulchrally, coming into the dressing-room. "She's on watch at the door."
"Who?" asked Jess Morse.
"Not Hester?" cried Lily. "She told me she wouldn't come down here!"
"Gee Gee," shot back Bobby, with pursed lips. "She is going to be sure that Hester doesn't appear."
"Mean thing!" Nellie Agnew said. And when the doctor's gentle daughter made such a statement she had to be fully aroused. "She thinks she has spoiled the whole act!"
"I believe you," Bessie Yeager said. "I wonder if Miss Carrington really sleeps at night?"
"Why not, Bess?" cried Dora Lockwood.
"I think she lies awake thinking up mean things to do to us."
"Oh, oh!" murmured Nellie.
"I bet you!" exclaimed the slangy Bobby.
"Careful, girls. If she hears you!" warned Laura.
"Then you would be 'perspicuous au grautin,' as the fellow said," chuckled Bobby. "There! the whistle has sounded."
"The fete has begun," sighed Jess. "I do hope everything will go off right."
"The boys are taking in money all right," Laura said with satisfaction. "I believe we shall make a thousand dollars for the Red Cross."
"I hope so," said her chum. "Come on, girls! It's first the fancy skating before the ice arena is all cut up."
The effort to make the Ice Carnival of the Central High a success was aided by a perfect evening and perfect ice. The latter had been shaved and smoothed over every gnarly place. There was not a single crack in which a skate could be caught to throw the wearer. The arena roped off from the spectators was as smooth as a ballroom floor.
It was about two acres in extent. Around three sides of the roped-off space there was a roped-off alley with boards laid upon the ice upon which the spectators could stand. Uprights held the strings of colored lights which were supplied with electricity from the city lighting company; for this was not the first exhibition of the kind that had been staged upon Lake Luna.
Around the alley allotted to the audience, each member of which had to pay a half dollar for a ticket, was a guarded space so that those who did not pay entrance fee could not get near enough to enjoy the spectacle.
The short-distance races, following the figure skating, were all within the oval of the principal arena. Then the ropes were taken down at one end and the long-distance races came off, a mile track having been marked with staffs upon the ice, staffs which now held the clusters of colored lanterns.
For two hours the company was so well amused that few were driven away by the cold—and it was an intensely cold night The ringing of the skates on the almost adamantine ice revealed the fact that Jack Frost had a tight clutch on the waters of Lake Luna.
"I wish my mother could have seen this," Janet Steele murmured to Laura Belding. "I think it is like fairyland."
"Isn't it pretty? Now comes the torchlight procession. The boys arranged this their own selves. See if it isn't pretty!"
The short end of the oval had been closed again after the long-distance races, and now there dashed into the arena from the boys' lane to the dressing-rooms a long line of figures in dominos, each bearing a colored light. They were the boys that could skate the best—the most sure-footed.
Back and forth, around and around, in and out and across! The swift movement of the figures was well nigh bewildering; while the intermingling of colored lights, their weaving in and out, made a brilliant pattern that brought applause again and again from the spectators.
Then the boys divided, taking stations some distance apart, and the torches were tossed from hand to hand, as Indian clubs are tossed in gymnasium exercises. The effect was spectacular and seemed a much more difficult exercise than it really was.
Meanwhile the girls selected for the masquerade were dressing in the boathouse. Their masquerade costumes were as diverse and elaborate as though it were a ball they were attending. There was no dress as simple as Janet Steele's Red Cross uniform; yet with her glowing face and sparkling eyes and white teeth there were few more effective figures in the party.
She had proved herself to be a fine and strong skater. Laura and Jess, who sponsored her, were delighted with the new girl's appearance on the ice. She had learned, too, her part quite perfectly. When the girls first came out and the boys darted back to get into their fancy costumes, the summary of the figures the girls wove on the ice were already known to Janet. She fulfilled her part.
Then returned the boys, "all rigged out," Bobby said, and the masquerade parade began. The crowd standing about the arena cheered and shouted. It really was a most attractive grand march, and there chanced, better still, to be no accident. Smoothly the young people wended their way about the ice, their skates ringing, their supple bodies swaying in time to the music, led by those two masks of Uncle Sam and the Red Cross girl.
"It is lovely," Mrs. Belding said to her husband. "What a fine skater our Chetwood is, Henry. And it is so near Christmas! I hope that bank-note will turn out to be a good one so that he will not lose the money," she finished wistfully.
"There, there!" said the jeweler. "I'll go to see Monroe to-morrow. He's at home again."
BUT WHO IS HE?
"Well, Mr. Monroe," the jeweler said, when he was ushered into the banker's office the following forenoon by the bank watchman, "I presume that bill is a counterfeit of some kind?"
"My dear Belding," said the banker, who was a portly and jolly man, who shook a good deal when he chuckled, and who shook now, "I thought you were old enough, and experienced enough, to discover the counterfeit from the real."
"My son took the bill in over the counter," said the jeweler, rather chagrined.
"But haven't you examined it?" said Mr. Monroe, taking the strange bank-note from a drawer of his desk.
"Well—yes," was the admission, made grudgingly.
"And are you not yet assured?"
"Neither one way nor the other," frankly confessed the jeweler. "It was taken by Chet for a hundred-dollar bill. And it is that on one side!"
"It certainly looks to be," chuckled Mr. Monroe.
"But who ever heard of such a thing?" demanded the exasperated customer of the bank. "A hundred printed on one side and a fifty on the other! The printers of bank-notes do not make such mistakes."
"Hold on! Nobody is infallible in this world—not even a bank-note printer," said the banker, reaching into another drawer and bringing forth a large indexed scrapbook.
"Here's a case that happened some years ago. I am a scrapbook fiend, Belding," chuckled Mr. Monroe. "There were once two bills issued for a Kansas bank just like this one you have brought to me. Only this note that we have here was printed for the Drovers' Levee Bank of Osage, Ohio, as you can easily see. This note went through that bank, was signed by Bedford Knox, cashier, and Peyton J. Weld, president, as you can see, and its peculiar printing was not discovered.
"Ah, here we have it!" added Mr. Monroe, fluttering the stiff leaves of the scrapbook and finally coming to the article in question. "Listen here: 'It was found on communication with Washington that a record was held there of the bill, and the department was anxious to recall it. With another bill it had been printed for a bank in Kansas, and the mistake had been made by the printer who had turned the sheet upside down in printing the reverse side. The first plate bore the obverse of a fifty-dollar bill at the top and of a hundred-dollar bill at the bottom, while the other plate held the reverse of both sides. By turning the sheet around for the reverse printing, the fifty-dollar impression had been made on the back of the hundred-dollar bill.'
"Do you see, now?" laughed the banker. "Quite an easy and simple mistake, and one that might often be made, only the printers are very careful men."
Oddly enough, Mr. Belding, although relieved by the probability that the Department at Washington would make the strange bill right for him, was suddenly attracted by another fact.
"I wonder," he said, "if that man came from Osage, Ohio?"
"What man? The one who passed the bank-note on your son?"
"Yes. You know, he was injured and is now in the hospital."
"I don't know. Go on."
Mr. Belding related the story of the accident and the unfortunate mental condition of the injured man. "They tell me all the money he had with him was new money—fresh from the Treasury."
"He probably did not make it himself," chuckled the jolly banker. "Poor chap! Don't the doctors think he will recover his memory?"
"That I cannot say," the jeweler said, rising. "Then you think I may relieve Chet's mind?"
"Oh, yes. I will give you another hundred for this bill, if you want me to. I will send this to Washington, where they probably already have a record of it. Bills of this denomination are printed by twos, and the other has probably turned up—as in the case of the Kansas bank-note."
Aside from the satisfaction this interview of his father's with Mr. Monroe accorded Chet Belding, further interest on the part of all the young people was aroused in the case of the injured stranger. Oddly enough, when Laura and Jess went to the hospital to inquire about the man, they found Janet Steele, the Red Cross girl, there on the same errand.
Since the Ice Carnival, that had proved such a money-making affair for the Red Cross, the Central High girls had considered Janet almost one of themselves. Although nobody seemed to know who or what the Steeles were, and they certainly lived very oddly in the old house at the lower end of Whiffle Street, Janet was so likable, and her invalid mother was evidently so much of a gentlewoman, that Laura and her chum had vouched for Janet and declared her to be "all right."
The matron of the hospital was the person whom the girls interviewed on this occasion. Mrs. Langworth had some interest in each patient besides the doctor's professional concern. She was sympathetic.
"We do not know what to call him," she explained. "He laughs rather grimly about it and tells us to call him 'John.' But that, I am sure, is not his name. He merely wishes us to have a 'handle' for him. And you cannot tell me," added the matron, shaking her head, "that he is one of those rough miners right out of Alaska!"
"Does he say he is?" asked Janet, with increased interest.
"He remembers of being in Alaska, he says. He was coming out, he tells us, when something happened to him. And that is the last he can remember. He believes he 'made his pile,' as he expresses it. Oh, he uses mining expressions, and may have lived roughly and in the open, as miners do, at some time in his life. But not recently, I am sure."
"And not a thing about him to identify him?" asked Laura.
"Not a thing. Plenty of money. Not much jewelry——"
"Oh! The lavalliere my brother sold him!" cried Laura. "He said it was for 'a nice little girl he knew.' It was only a ten dollar one—one of those French novelties, you know, that we sell so many of at this time of year."
"He had that in an envelope in his pocket," said Mrs. Langworth.
"Then he had not made the presentation of it to 'the nice little girl,'" murmured Laura. thoughtfully.
"It almost proves he is a stranger in town, does it not?" asked Jess. "He bought the chain in the morning, and he was not hurt until evening. Do you know if he had any lodging in Centerport?"
"The police have searched the hotels, I believe," said the matron, "and described the poor fellow to the clerks and managers. Nobody seems to know him."
"Do—do you suppose we might see him?" Laura asked hesitatingly.
"Oh, Laura! Would you want to?" Jess murmured.
"Why not?" said the matron, smiling. "Not just now, perhaps. But the next time you come—in the afternoon, of course. He will be glad to see young faces, I have no doubt I will speak to Dr. Agnew when he comes in," for Nellie's father was of importance at the Centerport Hospital.
"But who is he, do you suppose?" Jess Morse demanded, when the three girls left the hospital and walked uptown again. "He can't be any person who has friends in Centerport, or they would look him up."
"That seems to be sure enough," admitted her chum. Then: "Shall we walk along with Janet?"
"Of course," said Jess. "Are you going home, Miss Steele?"
"Yes," said the girl in the Red Cross uniform. "I have been on duty at the Central Chapter; but mother expects me now."
"How is your mother, dear?" asked Laura, with sympathy.
"She is as well as can be expected," said Janet gravely. "If she had nothing to worry her mind she would be better in health," and she sighed.
Janet did not explain what this worry was, and even Jess, blunt-spoken as she often was, could not ask pointblank what serious trouble Mrs. Steele had on her mind.