Infomotions, Inc.Dorothy Dale's Queer Holidays / Penrose, Margaret



Author: Penrose, Margaret
Title: Dorothy Dale's Queer Holidays
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Title: Dorothy Dale's Queer Holidays


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DOROTHY DALE'S QUEER HOLIDAYS

by

MARGARET PENROSE

Author of _Dorothy Dale: A Girl of To-Day_, _Dorothy Dale at Glenwood
School_, _Dorothy Dale's Great Secret_, _The Motor Girls_, etc.

Illustrated

New York
Cupples & Leon Company

1910







BOOKS BY MARGARET PENROSE


THE DOROTHY DALE SERIES

Cloth. 12mo. Illustrated

Price per volume, 60 cents, postpaid

    DOROTHY DALE: A GIRL OF TO-DAY

    DOROTHY DALE AT GLENWOOD SCHOOL

    DOROTHY DALE'S GREAT SECRET

    DOROTHY DALE AND HER CHUMS

    DOROTHY DALE'S QUEER HOLIDAYS

    (Other volumes in preparation)




THE MOTOR GIRLS SERIES

Cloth. 12mo. Illustrated

Price per volume, 60 cents, postpaid

    THE MOTOR GIRLS
    Or, A Mystery on the Road

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

(Other volumes in preparation)





[Illustration: "SHE PROCEEDED TO BRING OUT FROM THE CLOSET THE
'GHOST'"--_Page 78_.]



CONTENTS

    CHAPTER

        I THE SAME OLD TAVIA

       II WHAT HAPPENED TO TAVIA

      III A LIGHT IN THE WINDOW

       IV THE TANGLED WEB SHE WOVE

        V SHOPPING AND SHOPLIFTERS

       VI WHO STOLE THE RING

      VII THE HAUNTED WOODS

     VIII A MAGAZINE GHOST

       IX THE LITTLE WOMAN IN BLACK

        X THE THORNS OF A HOLLY WREATH

       XI GATHERING EVERGREENS

      XII THE SCREAM FROM THE CASTLE

     XIII COLLEGE BOYS AND GLENWOOD GIRLS

      XIV TAVIA'S TROUBLES

       XV DOROTHY AS A COMFORTER

      XVI A DELICATE DISCOVERY

     XVII SPRUCE BOUGHS AND LAUREL WREATHS

    XVIII DOROTHY'S DISTRESS

      XIX BETWEEN THE LINES

       XX THE ENTERTAINMENT

      XXI A STRANGE CONFESSION

     XXII STORMBOUND AT TANGLEWOOD

    XXIII THE GHOST THAT REALLY WALKED

     XXIV THE RESCUE

      XXV YOUTH AND OLD AGE

     XXVI THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS

    XXVII ALL IS WELL





CHAPTER I

THE SAME OLD TAVIA


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Bug!" echoed Ned, stepping closer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Well?" asked Nat.

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

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

"She hasn't come!"

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

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

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

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

"Ha! ha!" laughed his brother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorothy was the first to reach the porch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




CHAPTER II

WHAT HAPPENED TO TAVIA


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he brushed against something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why?" asked Dorothy in surprise.

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

"And you went all the way out to--"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And the boys?" asked Dorothy archly.

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

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

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

"Palate?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




CHAPTER III

A LIGHT IN THE WINDOW


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

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

"Break it?" asked Ned slyly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorothy hastened to relieve the tension.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But the haunted house?" questioned Joe.

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

"The Mayberry mansion?" suggested Ned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But Tavia saw it," he insisted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Searchlight," suggested Joe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




CHAPTER IV

THE TANGLED WEB SHE WOVE


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

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

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

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

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

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

"So I did--then, but I lost it since."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorothy smiled and hurried on, with Tavia following.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




CHAPTER V

SHOPPING AND SHOPLIFTERS


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorothy turned deathly pale.

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




CHAPTER VI

WHO STOLE THE RING?


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

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

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

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

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

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

"In my bag!" faltered Dorothy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorothy could have hugged her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presently the clerk called for entered.

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

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

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

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

Miss Allen fairly glared at the other clerk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But several of the clerks--"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some one jostled them as they neared the arch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




CHAPTER VII

THE HAUNTED WOODS


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hush! she might be awake!"

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

"Not unless you tell," said Tavia.

"As if I would," spoke Nat again.

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

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

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

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

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

"It must be late?" asked Dorothy.

"Not so very," answered Tavia evasively.

"Good-night," called Dorothy.

"Good-night," replied Tavia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then Tavia was asleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




CHAPTER VIII

A MAGAZINE GHOST


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tavia trembled and seemed about to fall in a faint.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Look there!" she cried to Ned.

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

She had the courage to look again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




CHAPTER IX

THE LITTLE WOMAN IN BLACK


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                     MISS ESTELLE BROOKS
                         _Expert Penman_
    _Envelopes addressed, etc.   Benson Road, Ferndale._

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I'll tell her," she said simply.

"She is just a friend?" ventured Miss Brooks questioningly.

"A very dear friend," replied Dorothy warmly, at the same moment making up
her mind that the stranger would not learn from her any more concerning
Tavia or her character.

"I thought so," went on her companion. "Well, she is evidently impetuous;
that is why I feel I may help her. Ordinarily I would not interfere--it is
really a trifle risky for me, but she seems so young; and--well, I'll take
my chances this time."

Dorothy was completely mystified. She could not guess at any business or
circumstances which might occasion such remarks. But somehow she felt that
the woman spoke with knowledge of something about Tavia. What that
something might be Dorothy was absolutely at a loss to conjecture.

"I know I surprise you," said Miss Brooks, divining her thoughts, "but
some girls do strange things. Miss Travers is evidently one of them."

Dorothy's cheeks flamed at this remark. Why should she speak so of Tavia?

"I have known Miss Travers since she was a child," flashed Dorothy, "and I
have never thought her--strange."

Scarcely had the words been uttered than all Tavia's pranks and follies
seemed to come up before Dorothy's memory like some horrid, mocking
specters.

Surely Tavia had always done "strange things," and very likely only
Dorothy's powerful influence had kept her from risking greater dangers.

But Dorothy could not listen to anything against her nearest and dearest
friend. No stranger had a right to condemn her.

The train was slacking up as it steamed into the big, arched station. Here
Miss Brooks would go her way, while Dorothy would be left to think over
the unexpected happenings of the brief railroad journey.

There seemed to Dorothy something almost patronizing in the stranger's
manner as she bade her good-by. Perhaps she did pity her--but why? What
was wrong, or what might happen on this day's shopping venture?

"I really do believe I'm getting queer myself," mused the girl, trying
vainly to shake off her fears and suspicions. "Well, so many queer things
do manage to happen in a single holiday vacation I don't wonder that I
catch the germ; it must be infectious."

Dorothy's little fur toque fitted gracefully on her beautiful blonde head.
Her cheeks matched the poinsettia, or Christmas flower, and her eyes were
as blue as the sapphires in the jewel shops.

With some slight agitation she entered Boardman's. It was in this store
that the ring incident had occurred, and the thought of her experience
was not exactly pleasant to the sensitive girl.

"But I saw such pretty things in there," she insisted secretly. "I must go
back and get some of them."

Timidly she approached the jewelry counter. Surely the clerks, or Miss
Allen, at least, recognized her. The latter stepped directly up to the
place where Dorothy stood.

"Good-morning," began the clerk, smiling pleasantly. "What can I do for
you?"

Dorothy was hardly ready to make her purchases. She answered the greeting
and said so. Then Miss Allen leaned over the counter.

"I wanted to tell you that Miss Dearing, the woman detective, has been
discharged."

"Oh, has she?" asked Dorothy. "I'm sorry."

"Well, you needn't be," Miss Allen assured her. "She didn't much care how
you fared."

"But she only made a mistake," pleaded Dorothy.

"Perhaps," and Miss Allen shrugged her shoulders; "but she took the
trouble to come to me and ask your address."

"My address!"

"Yes; wanted it awfully bad, too. I wouldn't take any customer's address
off a tag; not for all the detectives in the house. But I happen to know
some one else did."

"But what did she want my address for?" asked Dorothy as quietly as her
voice could speak in spite of her agitation.

"Don't know," replied the clerk, indicating she might be able to guess;
"but it might be handy some day. When she gets time to think it over, you
know."

Dorothy was now almost as greatly mystified as she had been when the woman
on the train spoke of Tavia. But Miss Allen went to wait on another
customer, and when Dorothy had finally succeeded in selecting some
trinkets she left the counter with Miss Allen's words ringing in her ears.

"Whatever does it all mean?" she asked herself. It was some time before
she had her answer.




CHAPTER X

THE THORNS OF A HOLLY WREATH


"Loafing is not resting; labor is the grindstone of life's dull edges,"
quoted Dorothy Dale on the evening of her return from the city.

"Copyrighted?" asked Tavia in a grave tone of voice.

"No; but all rights are reserved," answered her chum. "It took me all the
way from the city to North Birchland station to work that out. What do you
think of it?"

"Great for the grindstone, but hard on life," commented Tavia. "No
sharpening for mine. I make it 'Labor is the sharp knife that cuts all the
good things out of life.'"

"But your motto will not stand the test," declared Dorothy. "I happen to
know--I found out to-day. Going in on the train I 'loafed' all the way,
and the process tired me. Coming out I was tired from shopping, and that
tire rested me."

"Well, if you're all right, I'm glad I'm crazy," declared Tavia
facetiously. "There's just one thing I want to get to heaven for--one
great, long, delicious loaf! If I cannot rest without labor, then please
pass along the 'loaf.'"

"But, seriously, Tavia, I particularly want to speak to you," began
Dorothy, putting away numerous small packages and then dropping into her
favorite seat--the window-bench in her own room.

"Go ahead and speak, then," answered Tavia. "I hope what you have to say
has nothing to do with work."

"Now, dearie, listen," commanded Dorothy. "Who do you think was on the
train with me this morning?"

"The conductor?"

"Likely," replied Dorothy; "but he did not occupy the entire ten coaches,
although he managed to circulate through them rather successfully. But I
did not refer to him. I sat in the same seat with--our little woman in
black!"

"_Our_ little woman in black! Please do not include me in that class. Did
she want your purse?"

"Now, really, Tavia, I am almost convinced that we have greatly wronged
that woman--she was just as nice as she could be--"

"Oh, of course, she was--nice. That's what the laws are for, keeping
people nice. They don't have much trouble to make that clear to you,
Doro, dear."

"Well, of course, you are entitled to your own opinion, but I do wish you
would listen. She sent you a message."

"Sent me a message! It was to you she owed the apology. She has her cases
mixed."

"Tavia, she gave me this card to hand you with the request that you call
upon her on Thursday morning."

Tavia glanced at the card. Then she read the inscription aloud.

"Of all the--nerve!" she exclaimed, seemingly at a total loss to grasp any
other word. "To ask me to call on a handwriting expert! Does she think I
want her services?"

"I was, and am still, just as puzzled as you are, Tavia; but she seemed so
serious. Said you were young, and that perhaps she could help you--"

Tavia seemed to catch her breath. The next moment she had recovered
herself. "I might call--just for fun. Then, again--I might not," she said
indifferently.

"So many queer things contrived to happen," continued Dorothy, noting the
slight agitation her chum betrayed. "The clerk at the jewelry
counter--Miss Allen, the pleasant girl--told me the woman detective, Miss
Dearing, had been discharged."

"Nothing queer about that," exclaimed Tavia. "The wonder is they ever
employed such a person in that capacity. Why, I fancy she would arrest a
baby to fix her case. Too ambitious, I guess."

"Perhaps," acquiesced Dorothy. "But Miss Allen said she asked for my
address. Now, what could she want that for?"

"To apologize, likely. Surely she owes you some sort of apology."

"She was merely mistaken," corrected Dorothy, "and did what she considered
her duty."

"The sweetness of forgiving," soliloquized Tavia.

"Simply a matter of justice," added Dorothy. "But it does seem strange to
me. However, we will have to await developments. Meantime, we must get
ready for Christmas."

"I sent my things off to-day," said Tavia in a relieved tone.

"So early?"

"It is a little early, but they say express packages are always sure to be
delayed at this season, and I would simply not live through it if Johnnie
did not have his steam engine for Christmas morning. It was awfully sweet
of you, Doro, to lend me that money."

"Why shouldn't I when you had to spend yours for needed things? I only
wish it had been twice as much. You would have been welcome to it, Tavia.
I don't forget chewing-gum days in dear old Dalton."

Tavia's brow was clouded. What an opportunity for her confession! Why did
she so dread to tell Dorothy what her own five dollars had gone for? Nat
said it would positively leak out some day. Yet he promised not to tell.

"Do you want me to go with you to see Miss Brooks?" asked Dorothy
suddenly.

"Why," stammered Tavia, "I don't know that I will go at all. Such a
wild-goose chase! I am really not so curious as some might think me. I can
overcome a desire for further knowledge of that peaked little thing. In
fact, she makes me--creepy."

"Just as you like, of course," replied Dorothy, her manner somewhat
strained. "I only thought you might not like to go alone."

But Tavia had made up her mind to precisely that thing.

"I must sew the ribbons on Aunt Winnie's bag," went on Dorothy pleasantly
after a pause. "Don't you think it pretty?" and she displayed a small bag
made of white oiled silk and fitted up with all the little pockets needed
in traveling. One for the wet sponge, another for the toothbrush, then a
place for soap; in fact, a place for everything necessary in the emergency
of traveling.

"It is dear," agreed Tavia, looking the prospective gift over carefully.
"I don't see how you have patience to do such fine work."

"Oh, that is not fine," replied Dorothy. "See my lace pieces. They are
what I call fine."

"Oh, they are simply beyond my understanding altogether. Like geometry,
you know. But I forgot to ask Nat something. I wonder if he has gone up to
his room yet?" and Tavia rose to ascertain.

"It's nearly ten," Dorothy told her, "and he usually retires before ten
o'clock."

"Well, I'll just run down to the library and find out. I may forget it by
morning."

Dorothy could not help thinking that so urgent a matter as one which
required that attention would scarcely be so easily forgotten, but when
Tavia left the room she put her little gifts away and soon forgot all
about Tavia's sudden determination to seek Nat. Dorothy had so many other
more interesting things to dwell upon.

"But I do hope she will not sit up late," came the thought, when some time
after Tavia's exit Dorothy remembered that no sound had since indicated
that her chum had come toward the room. "Aunt Winnie does not like these
little late conferences."

Then she turned off her light and continued to listen for Tavia's
footstep.

Meanwhile, Tavia was talking very seriously to Nat. She had told him about
Dorothy's message from the strange woman, and he had suggested that the
handwriting expert might in some way be connected with the Chicago firm to
which Tavia had written, and through which she had made her
financial--mistake.

"But how would she know me?" asked Tavia, deeply perplexed.

"You said she saw your name on the envelope that dropped in the car," Nat
reminded her, "and she might have had an envelope with your name on.
Those--sharks send names all over the country."

"Then do you think I ought to go see her?" asked Tavia in a whisper.

"Certainly. She can't eat you," replied the young man, "and she might be
able to help you."

"Then I'll go--next Thursday," decided Tavia. "But I'll have trouble to
slip away from Dorothy."

"Course you will," Nat assured her promptly; "and you'll have trouble all
along the line if you don't do as I say, and make a clean breast of it."

But Tavia, having so long delayed that telling, felt unequal to going
through with it now. She would simply "await developments," as Dorothy
herself had suggested doing in the other matter.




CHAPTER XI

GATHERING EVERGREENS


"I have it all planned," announced Mrs. White the next morning. "The boys
are to go for evergreens, and the girls are to assist me here. It is
rather early, but it is best to have the greens on time."

Ned and Nat groaned. It would be dull enough to go for evergreens, but
with the possibility of "a scare in the woods" for Dorothy and Tavia it
might be bearable, whereas, if the girls would be obliged to remain at
home--

But Mrs. White's sons did not object. She had "planned the day," and that
settled it.

Joe and Roger were delighted. They felt that girls often proved unequal to
all "the bear hunts and wild beast chasing," so dear to the hearts of
healthy, young boys.

"We might build a campfire," suggested Roger enthusiastically when Joe
told him he was to go to the woods.

"Too cold for camping," Joe reminded his small brother. But the fact of
it being very cold seemed to Roger all the more reason why a campfire
should be built, and he said so.

"Well, I'll ask Ned," agreed Joe, "and if he says so we'll take bacon and
things to roast."

Ned and Nat thought seriously over the prospect of hunting evergreens with
two "kids." They liked their little cousins--in fact, were very fond of
them--but it did seem to the larger boys that there would not be much fun
in scouring the woods for greens, and answering small boys' questions,
unlimited.

"Let's ask Roland Scott and Tom Jennings," suggested Nat. "They came home
yesterday, and likely would enjoy a fly in the Fire Bird."

"Good idea," agreed Ned. "Just run over, and do the asking. I saw Tom
cross the lawn a short time ago. He is sure to stick close to Roland."

One hour later the Fire Bird was "on the wing," and in the car were the
boys from The Cedars and their guests, two young men just home from
college for the holidays.

"Whew!" whistled the handsome Roland as soon as the party got away from
The Cedars. "What a stunner your blonde cousin is, Ned! Seems to me you
might have prepared a fellow. I almost had a spell when she came to greet
me."

Now, Ned White never relished hearing other fellows admire Dorothy. It was
a strange fact that while he knew Dorothy to be pretty he was never
prepared to hear others say so. Nat picked up the end of Roland's remark.
He knew Ned would not say anything very agreeable to it.

"But what do you think of the other?" asked Nat. "Now, I prefer the
burnished type."

"A tomboy, isn't she?" ventured Tom, referring to Tavia.

"Oh, just a good fellow," answered Nat. "Always ready for a lark, if
that's what you mean."

"Jolly! I thought so," responded Tom. "Well, I do like a girl with some go
in her, if she doesn't happen to put all the go in my direction."

"In other words," assumed Nat, "you like the tomboy type--in the
abstract."

"Guess that's it," answered Tom. "But certainly those two girls are equal
to putting you through a lively holiday. Wish we had a pair like them down
to The Elms for this spell. Gee--I just dread this Christmas stuff. Aunts
and uncles have my bedroom lined with 'secret packages' already. I went on
the 'collar button crawl' this morning, and nearly fainted when I saw the
stuff under my bed. Aunt Molly runs some kind of a charity jinks, you
know, and she has picked out my room as the safest place to hide her
trash."

"Oh, yes," remarked Ned, "I heard Dorothy say something about it
yesterday. Seems to me she said she was going to help."

"Oh, then the stuff may remain under my bed," quickly spoke Tom. "If Miss
Dorothy is interested--so am I."

"I had her first," objected Roland, joking. "I may buy a couple of rag
dolls myself. Does Miss Dorothy prefer the rag variety?"

Ned seemed all attention to the car. Occasionally he turned to speak to
Joe and Roger, but otherwise he took little part in his friends' badinage.

"Where are you bound for?" asked Tom as Ned guided the Fire Bird into a
narrow lane.

"We'll try old Hemlock Grove first. There should be plenty of green stuff
there," replied Ned.

"Yes, and if I mistake not," added Nat, "there is in those woods a
cabin--old Hume's place. We may be able to lay out there for dinner."

"Goody!" exclaimed Roger, whose eyes had been continually on the big
basket of stuff which Norah, the good-natured cook at The Cedars, had put
up for the boys.

"Right," concluded Ned; "there's a chimney and all. Just the place for a
layout. Let me see, where did that shanty used to stand?"

"I see something like a cabin over there," said Joe, pointing to a corner
in the woods where great oak trees towered above all others in the grove.
Even in December some brown leaves clung to these giants of the forest,
that now rustled a gentle welcome to the boys in the Fire Bird.

Ned swung up as close as the wagon road would allow, and presently the
party had "disembarked," and were scampering through the woods toward the
abandoned hut of an old woodchopper.

"Great catch!" exclaimed Tom. "If there is one thing I like it is an
outdoor hut with an indoor place on a cold day."

"We've got a bag of charcoal, you know," Roger reminded them, for Norah
had secretly given that part of the equipment to Roger personally.

"That's right," assented Ned, "Then run over to the car and fetch it.
Norah is an all-right girl, isn't she?"

"I would call her a peach, whoever she may be," added Roland as he
gathered up some dry bits of wood on his way to the cabin.

"Norah's our cook," declared Roger with an implied rebuke in his voice,
for it did seem to him every one should have been aware of that important
fact.

"Beg your pardon," said Roland. "I have a profound respect for such a cook
as your refreshing Norah--I say refreshing advisedly," making a grab at
the basket Joe and Nat were carrying.

"Here we are," called Tom, who was somewhat in advance. "And the door is
not barred."

Roger was back with the bag of charcoal, and now they all entered the old
hut. The place had evidently been long ago left to the squirrels and wood
birds, but it was clean, save for the refuse of dry leaves and bits of
bark, remnants of other winters, when the broken windows accepted what the
winds chose to hurl in and scatter about the old woodchopper's cabin.

"Hurrah!" shouted Roger, inadvertently spilling his prized bag of
charcoal.

"We don't light the fire there," said Nat "Better pick that up and dump it
on the fireplace. Isn't this great, though? Glad I came! Fellows, help
yourselves," and he stretched out on a rude board bench that lined one
side of the place.

"Get up!" insisted Tom. "Do you suppose for one instant that you do not
have to work? I assign you to the task of striking the matches."

It occurred to Roger that some boys, big ones at that, might be just as
silly as girls--in fact, more silly than most girls, for when they said
foolish things they invariably took the trouble to laugh at their own
attempts. Now, thought Roger, girls never do that. Close upon the heels of
that thought sprang into the little fellow's heart the wish that Dorothy
might have been along. She would know just how to arrange the dinner so
that the big fellows did not get the best pieces.

Nat had already begun at his task--he was striking matches furiously by
the old stone fireplace, watching the dry leaves blaze up and then die out
quickly.

"Here, quit!" called Roland. "Do you think we fellows are lined with
matches? We really might want one for the fire, you know."

"Oh, certainly," assented Nat, discontinuing his pastime. "I was just
trying the flue."

"But I say, fellows," remarked Tom seriously, "isn't this great? What do
you suppose the place stands for?"

"A woodchopper's cabin," Ned replied. "There was fine wood in these parts
some years ago, before the telephone company bought up all the tall trees.
Uncle Frank--Major Dale, you know--was telling us only the other night
about it. Some ten years ago a telephone inspector came out here and
bargained for the whole grove--that is, all the good, sound trees. Then
the woodchoppers went back to Canada."

"Glad they left their hut, at any rate," remarked Tom, tossing an armful
of dry wood on to the stone hearth. "What do we cook?"

"Bacon, potatoes, cheese to toast, and--let me see. What else?" queried
Nat, rummaging through the basket of supplies.

"Bread and butter, pepper and salt, and a whole cake," announced Roger
with unconcealed glee.

"I guess that'll do," drawled Tom. "Sorry we didn't think to fetch
something ourselves."

"Oh, this is my treat," replied Nat.

"It was I who thought about the lunch," Roger reminded him.

"That's right, kid, you did. But then, you are always hungry, which may,
in a measure, account for your wonderful forethought."

The blazing fire had by this time warmed the place comfortably, and it was
jolly, indeed, to prepare the meal over the strong embers of good solid
oak.

An old grate had been found about the place, and upon this the sliced
bacon was spread, while the potatoes were dropped directly into the
embers. Norah had thought of everything, even paper napkins and picnic
knives and forks. There was, too, a bottle of olives and some cold ham in
the very bottom of the basket.

"What's to drink?" asked Ned, his tone implying that anything to drink had
been forgotten.

"Oh, the jug of coffee!" exclaimed Joe. "That's in the car. I'll run and
fetch it."

The jug of coffee had been placed in a deep, enameled pan, which was to
serve as coffee-pot in the warming process.

"Well, I say!" exclaimed Roland. "Think I'll change quarters. I would like
first rate to meet your Norah."

"I'm first there," put in Tom. "I met her at the kitchen door as I went
around for the oil can. And I must say I rather like that shade of hair.
Our shortstop had it, and he claimed it was classic--called it mahogany,
too."

The bacon sizzled merrily, the potatoes smelled "brown," and soon all was
ready.

It was a queer sort of picnic--a "smoker," Tom insisted, for something
happened with the fire that caused the smoke to flare back into the cabin
instead of going peaceably out of the little chimney. But the boys did not
mind that--they were too interested in the meal. Even Norah's good nature
could scarcely estimate on a dinner of this kind. Eating seemed to cause
hunger, instead of allaying the sensation.

But when everything was really gone, and each boy knew it was not possible
to get another crumb, each declared he had had plenty.

Certainly it was jolly, but when Ned glanced at his watch and discovered
that the noon hour had long since passed, he hurried his companions along.

"Look here," he reminded them, "we are out for evergreens. This is not a
food-grabbing affair. Let's get back to the car. I don't see a blade of
green around here."

"Nary a sprig," declared Tom, looking over the woodland. "Well, I suppose
we will have to leave this retreat. But I hope we find it next summer.
Wouldn't it be a great place to camp?"

All agreed the spot would be ideal for a summer camp, and when they had
entered the Fire Bird and swung again out upon the wagon road, some of the
party rather blamed the kind of holiday that required greens, when such a
fine day might have been spent in the woodchopper's cabin.




CHAPTER XII

THE SCREAM FROM THE CASTLE


Ned White thought he knew all the roads about Ferndale and the Birchlands,
but on this afternoon he stumbled with his party into a perfectly strange
byway. It did not seem to lead to any place in particular, but was one of
those wagon roads cut through private property and public places alike,
without regard to direction or terminus.

This meant that the Fire Bird was lost--couldn't tell which way to fly,
and its driver did not know which way to direct the big red machine.

"Where in the world is this?" asked Tom, noting Ned looking from one side
to the other in a puzzled sort of way.

"Well, if it is only in this world we are lucky," answered Ned. "I rather
feared we had slipped off into another planet."

"It's cold, too," murmured Joe, for as the afternoon sun slowly set the
bleak winter day hastened forward in all its penetrating bitterness.

"What time is it, anyway?" asked Roland of Ned.

"Four, and going to get dark in an hour. Jingo! I wish we had found some
greens. The girls want to get the wreaths made up to-morrow."

"Why didn't we go to Tanglewood Park?" asked Roger. "There were plenty of
nice evergreens there."

"Yes, why didn't we? That's the question. Let's try this road," and Ned
turned into a branch of the highway he was driving on. "Perhaps we may get
out there yet."

"Now, see here," interrupted Roland. "I've got a dinner date to-night.
Sort of a 'return of the prodigal,' you know. I can't be late. So please
don't go too far from Mother Earth. If necessary we can get the greens
some other day."

"All right," agreed Ned. "If we can't make the park in half an hour we'll
turn back. But I wonder some of you smart ones did not think of it before.
There certainly were plenty of green bushes out there."

The turn brought our friends out on the road they had been looking for,
and it took but a short time to reach the lane to Tanglewood Park.

Under the heavy trees it was almost like night, and it was not an easy
task to distinguish one bush from another, especially as Roland kept
hurrying everybody, in his anxiety to be on time at the dinner party.

Joe and Roger secured some fine branches of the spruces that Dorothy had
wished for, Ned got quite a supply of pine branches, which he declared,
"could go up just as they were," while the other boys devoted themselves
to the laurel hunt. Finally a large hedge of this all-winter green shrub
was discovered, and in a short time the Fire Bird was loaded up with a
splendid supply of Christmas evergreens.

"I guess that will do," announced Nat, as the little boys piled in their
armfuls. "We have to sit some place, you know."

"What's that?" asked Ned as something rustled along the path.

"A lady!" almost whispered Roland, as if fearful that they might be blamed
for their pillaging.

At that instant a small woman hurried down the other branch of the path,
and called lightly to some one on the roadway.

She evidently did not see the Fire Bird party, for she was on an opposite
path, with a deep hedge between them and her.

"The ghost!" whispered Roger, all eager for some new excitement.

[Illustration: "SHE CALLED LIGHTLY TO SOME ONE ON THE ROADWAY."--_Page_
108.]

"Sure as you live!" answered Nat. "That's not human--it's too flimsy
and--flighty."

It did seem that the person flitted about in a strange sort of way, first
calling, then whistling.

But there was some one waiting.

"There's a carriage," said Joe, crawling under a bush to get a better view
of the other path.

The boys held their breath. What if this might be the owner of the park,
who would object to their taking the evergreens?

It was well the automobile had been left in a secluded spot. Perhaps the
woman would go off without discovering them.

A light carriage entered the driveway. The woman stopped to give some
directions. The driver seemed to hesitate. She was urging him to go toward
the castle, and he evidently wanted to go out on the main road.

"That driver's old Abe," declared Roger, "the fellow from the station."

"It sure is," answered Ned; "but don't speak so loud."

"And he wants to go to the station, which I wish he would do promptly,"
observed Roland, in some suspense.

"But she wants him to drive up to the house. See, she points that way,"
said Nat.

The woman climbed into the carriage, and the driver turned toward the
castle. The boys prepared to make their escape.

"They'll go out the back way," ventured Nat. "Now's our time!"

At that instant a shrill scream rent the air. It was the same, only much
louder, that had startled the party before.

"The ghost!" gasped Roger, jumping into the car.

The others followed. The carriage had made a quick turn and was now almost
upon them.

Ned put on full speed, and was soon out on the open road.

"What's the answer?" asked Tom, who could not make out what all the fuss
was about.

"Did you see Abe's face?" asked Nat as they once more felt that it was
safe to exchange remarks.

"Almost went white," replied Ned. "None is so frightened at ghosts as a
darky."

"Ghost!" repeated Tom. "Do you mean to say there really is a ghost up
there in that old rat-trap?"

"Something," replied Nat. "We have heard that same scream before, and it
does not sound like anything human."

"Why in thunder didn't we go up and swat it?" asked Tom, quite disgusted
that such an opportunity should have been missed.

"Because Roland has a dinner date, and because we were trespassing. You
don't suppose we just want to walk into trouble like that, do you?"
inquired Nat.

"Well, I'd take chances when it came to bagging a real live ghost. I hope
we get another shot at it."

"There's the carriage," exclaimed Joe. "Just look at old Abe!"

"Scared stiff!" added Nat. "Well, I don't blame him. He was dangerously
near that scream. Perhaps his passenger is a ventriloquist and threw her
scream. The voice certainly came from the castle."

The carriage passed the Fire Bird at that moment. Ned had slackened speed
after his first spurt.

"That woman doesn't look as if she could throw anything--not even her
voice," remarked Roland, when the carriage had passed. "But I fancy the
old colored fellow is about ready to 'throw a fit,' at any rate."

"Wait till Abe tells it," said Joe, laughing. Abe had a reputation for
"telling things."

"It certainly is queer," mused Ned. "I'm not exactly a ghost fiend, but
there must be something uncanny up there in that old castle."

"Tavia says there are real magazine ghosts," spoke up Roger decidedly.

"What particular variety is that?" asked Tom.

"Oh, Tavia declares that in magazines scientific fellows are materializing
the immaterial," said Nat quite learnedly. "That is what we call magazine
ghosts."

"But that howl was never immaterial," persisted Tom. "I should say it
emanated from a well developed thorax."

The Fire Bird was spinning along at a lively rate now, for as night neared
it grew colder, and the party were anxious to get within doors.

"I hope the girls like the greenstuffs," remarked Roland as the home road
was reached.

"Let us out here," said Tom as Ned prepared to run into The Elms. "We can
get our blood in circulation before we reach the fire. Whew! it is cold!
Well, say, we've had an awfully jolly time, fellows. Hope we can make it
up to you--"

"Don't mention it," interrupted Ned as the young men alighted.

"Never had a better time," added Roland. "My love to the girls--"

"Norah's got a beau!" called back Nat as the Fire Bird rolled into The
Cedars and the carload of evergreens was stopped at the door. Dorothy,
Tavia and Mrs. White stood in rapt surprise and admiration over the
"greenstuff" that had been gathered, in spite of all the difficulties
which had been encountered in the attempt.




CHAPTER XIII

COLLEGE BOYS AND GLENWOOD GIRLS


"Isn't he stunning!" gasped Tavia.

"Do you think so? I never call a pretty boy 'stunning,'" replied Dorothy.
"I like Tom's looks best. He's so vigorous and athletic."

"But Roland's curly hair! And that complexion--so hyacinthy."

"Precisely my objection," argued Dorothy. "I always object to 'hyacinthy'
boys."

"Well, I'm just a little glad of it, Doro, for the fact is I think I might
inveigle him into taking care of me at the 'doings.' Now, I happen to know
he fancies you, and my only chance is that you may turn him down."

Dorothy laughed merrily. She was no prude, and made no pretense of being
one. She enjoyed most of the nonsense that girls between fifteen and
eighteen years of age usually enjoy. The strange young men, Tom Jennings
and Roland Scott, whom the White boys had taken to the woods on the
"evergreen hunt," called that very morning--came to make their "party
call," they said.

Dorothy and Tavia were busy with the Christmas wreaths when the strangers
happened in. Ned and Nat had gone to town, and it devolved upon the girls
to be "civil" to the new boys.

To be sure, Joe and Roger helped some, but Roger managed to say rather
embarrassing things about beaus, and Roland's love, that youth having
asked the little chap to take some "regards" to Norah.

Tom laughed, but Roland almost blushed. Dorothy and Tavia could scarcely
appreciate the joke, but managed to guess that the boys had been talking
about them.

Finally Tom came to the rescue by telling about the "ghost scream." Tavia
was much interested, but Dorothy laughed at the idea. She had any amount
of explanations to offer for the queer occurrence, but none of them was
accepted as being plausible.

Tom and Roland both declared they would go out again some day and look the
whole thing over carefully.

Then Dorothy told the visitors of the Christmas plans--at least, she
attempted to tell them, but was interrupted by the coming of Ned and Nat.
So the girls were excused and the boys left to their own resources.

It was after all this that Dorothy and Tavia gave their personal views of
the two young men from college.

"They may help along our charity play," suggested Dorothy. "They look as
if they might be able to act, especially Mr. Jennings."

"Yes, I fancy he could act some parts--a big part with a whole lot of
sitting down in it," said Tavia.

"And Mr. Scott might be something on the Christmas tree," returned
Dorothy. "In a pretty, striped dress he would make a dear little
cornucopia, his blond head sticking out of the top like a sweet little
doll."

"I'm just going to tell him that," threatened Tavia. "Then I will be more
sure than ever of--his attention."

"Tavia! you wouldn't do anything like that!"

"Why not? You were only complimenting him."

"Now, really, if you do, Tavia, I shall be positively angry," and Dorothy
frowned indignantly. "When we are exchanging confidences I don't think it
fair to betray them."

"Oh, all right, if you feel that way about it. But I really do think
these two boys quite an acquisition. They will help out wonderfully."

"But college boys are old enough to be engaged," said Dorothy, "and
perhaps we will get no more of their attention than was bestowed upon us
to-day," and she made a wry face to express her fears on that score.

"Engaged! All the more fun. I just simply love to make girls jealous. Now,
what girl on earth would be able to hold her admirers against you?"

"Don't be silly!" snapped Dorothy. "It's all very well to joke, but when
you get personal--"

"Oh, I beg your pardon! And there's Aunt Winnie. I promised to line the
darning bag--"

Tavia's love for idleness was no hidden sin--she seemed to glory in it.
But occasionally it betrayed her good intentions. She really did intend to
put the pretty blue lining in the dainty darning bag which Mrs. White was
making as a gift for old Mrs. Brown, the family mender. Now the chatter
about the college boys had completely driven the task from her mind.

As Mrs. White appeared in the hall Tavia grasped the neglected little
article. Dorothy had been sewing as she talked. She loved to do certain
kinds of stitches, particularly those of floss silk on fine flannel, and
this morning she had almost finished the shawl for John's wife's new baby.

Mrs. White had been out, and was just returning. She wore her handsome
prune-colored gown, with her mink-tail furs, and both Dorothy and Tavia
looked up in undisguised admiration as she entered the room.

Dorothy rose to assist her in removing her wraps.

"Well, it is finally settled," Mrs. White began. "I do think these charity
affairs are growing more complicated every year. I have not told you all
about it yet; in fact, I could not do so until this morning's meeting was
over. Now it is all arranged, so I must tell you about it."

"Aren't you cold, auntie?" asked Dorothy. "Shall I get you a warm drink?"

"No, my dear. We had chocolate at Mrs. Davis's. There, now, I am quite
comfortable," and as Dorothy laid the wraps aside her aunt settled among
the blue cushions, which, as Nat said, "grew in Dorothy's room."

"Is it to be a play?" asked Tavia, always impatient where acting might be
concerned.

"Well, not exactly," answered Mrs. White. "We think scenes from Mother
Goose will be simpler, and just as entertaining. Mrs. Brownlie has
offered her house, and I am to do most of the coaching."

This last was uttered with a note of dismay--to coach young people did not
seem a very delightful task, so many difficulties being sure to come up
unexpectedly.

"And we are to select the scenes," went on Mrs. White, "so you may start
in to think of Mother Goose just as soon as you like. For my part, all I
can remember is the old woman who lived in a shoe, and I am going to get
the boys to make me a shoe big enough to hold all the small children in
the Birchlands."

"And let me be the mother?" asked Tavia. "I want to whip those Mahon
children, and this would be my chance. They ran a pole out in the road
against my wheel last fall, and you may remember the consequences."

"Oh, yes," and Mrs. White laughed heartily, "that would be a great
opportunity for you, Tavia. But I rather thought of Miss Baker for the
'old woman.' She has that compelling manner, don't you think?"

"She ought to be splendid," agreed Dorothy.

"Are there to be boys?" asked Tavia.

"Why, of course, my dear, there are to be boys. Who ever heard of a
hospital benefit without them. We have to raise one hundred dollars this
year. And I feel the whole responsibility, as I am the local member of the
board of directors. I hope some day we will be able to have a hospital of
our own. Supporting a ward in a city institution is not very
satisfactory."

"But are there enough boys?" asked Tavia. "It seems to me the Birchlands
are populated mostly with girls."

"Oh, that is quite natural for you to think that way," teased Mrs. White.
"But haven't you taken into consideration Mr. Scott and Mr. Jennings? Why,
they are capable of impersonating a number of characters. Think it all up,
girls, and you will help me greatly. I have asked Ned to fetch a Mother
Goose book from the village, and this evening we will devote our time to
selecting the characters."

Somebody whistled outside, and going to the window the girls saw Ned with
Tom Jennings in the Fire Bird.

"Come on," called Ned, "We're going for a ride and want you to come along.
Don't keep us waiting." And he turned the machine without waiting for the
girls to answer.

"Run along," advised Mrs. White. "You have been in all morning, and the
air is delightful."

It took but a few minutes for Dorothy and Tavia to make ready. Storm-coats
and scarfs, besides their muffs, seemed sufficient for their touring
costumes.

Dorothy climbed into the machine and Tavia followed.

"Wouldn't one of you young ladies prefer to sit here?" inquired Tom, with
a view of making it more convenient for the boys to entertain the girls.

Tavia was out of the back seat and ready to take her place beside Ned
before any one had a chance to answer. This, of course, left Tom to
entertain Dorothy.

"As long as it is not Roland," whispered Tavia into Ned's ear, "you will
put up with me this time, won't you?"

Tavia was too frivolous to suit Ned's serious ways. She always bored him,
and she knew it, evidently.

Dorothy was glad to get acquainted with Tom. Somehow he made her think of
soldiers, of fearless brave men like Major Dale, and perhaps her Uncle
Winthrop White, who had died away off in a foreign country, fighting for
science. Perhaps he was of this type when at college.

Nor did it take Tom long to discover what sort of conversation would
interest Dorothy. He talked of his school, and asked about Glenwood. Then
she introduced the Mother Goose subject, and he told of a college play his
class had given wherein all the characters were taken by the students.

"And you should have seen Roland," declared Tom laughing. "If he didn't
make the prettiest Yum-yum! The house went mad over him."

"I'm sure he could assume such a role," replied Dorothy. "And you
were--"

"The Mikado, of course. I always come in for the 'Turrible Turk'
proposition."

"We have to select the scenes this evening," remarked Dorothy prudently.

"Then I'm going to get Ned to let me come over," said her companion. "It
will help fill in; our folks are just choked to death in Christmas stuff.
Aunt Emily is interested in the hospital benefit, too, I believe."

"Yes, Aunt Winnie said so," replied Dorothy. "I guess most of the
Birchland ladles help with this benefit. Mrs. Brownlie has offered her
house."

"The lady with the fluffy-haired daughters?" asked Tom.

"Yes, the twins," said Dorothy. "Eva and Edith Brownlie are considered
the very prettiest girls around."

"Oh, are they?" remarked Tom in seeming earnestness. "Well, to tell you
the truth I have given up attempting to judge of girls' looks lately. It
seems to me to be all a question of hair--how deep it can be piled up."

Dorothy laughed. To call hair deep, like so much grass!

But Tom did not notice the discrepancy. Tavia turned around and shouted so
Ned covered his ear.

"Are you going to be the 'Piper's Son?'" she asked Tom.

"If there's anything to be stolen, you may put me down for the steal,"
replied Tom good-naturedly. "Even the proverbial porker might be pressed
into service for a camp outfit, eh, Ned?"

Ned replied that there were some real attractive porkers about the
Birchlands, and that they would probably not mind being stolen for a
hospital benefit.

During all this time the Fire Bird had been gliding along at the even pace
which Ned always selected for a real pleasure ride.

"A joy-ride, with no business end," he argued, "should be run off gently.
No fun in trying to talk above an atmospheric buzz-saw."

"I suppose Nat and Roland have bowled till they're stiff," remarked Tom.
"For my part, I prefer the open to those alleys on a day like this."

"Mother told me to ask you both over this evening to help fix up the play
business," said Ned, "if you have nothing else on."

"Gladly," replied Tom. "I was just hinting for an invitation. You know how
I love classics--Mother Goose will be just pie for me."

"Oh, I forgot," exclaimed Tavia suddenly. "I have an engagement for this
afternoon. I ought to go back, Ned. It must be lunch-time." And, as she
spoke, Dorothy remembered that the day was Thursday, and that Tavia was to
go on that day to see Miss Estelle Brooks, the little woman in black.




CHAPTER XIV

TAVIA'S TROUBLES


"You must contrive to help me, Nat," urged Tavia, when, an hour or so
later, she managed to get a word alone with him. "I can never deliberately
go off alone on an afternoon like this, when every one is so busy."

"You certainly cannot walk out to Ferndale on a day like this," answered
Nat. "I'll have to take you if you must go. But why don't you wait until
next week, when we might get a better chance?"

"Oh, I simply can't," sighed Tavia. "I feel so mean over the whole thing.
And, honestly, I'm so nervous about it. Do you suppose that woman has
anything to do with--the matter?"

"Seems to understand it, at any rate. It won't do any harm to talk with
her. I'll manage to get the machine out, and then, all in a flash, you ask
if I won't take you, pretending you did not plan it. I don't see any other
way out of it."

"Oh, Nat, you are a dear!" exclaimed Tavia in real joy. "But I do hate so
to get you into trouble."

"Oh, never mind me," replied the youth good-naturedly. "Guess I'm big
enough to take care of myself. Clear off, now, and when you hear three
toots you will know that is the signal. I'll get ready under pretense of
going into town for something, and it won't take long to get out to
Ferndale."

Tavia ran back to where Dorothy and Mrs. White were busy putting bows of
bright ribbon on gifts, and sealing up parcels with the Merry Christmas
stamps. Her cheeks were blazing and her eyes dancing from pent-up nervous
strain. She grew more nervous each moment. Surely Dorothy would notice it,
she thought. And then, too, Dorothy had told her Miss Brooks had asked to
see her on Thursday. Would she remember that now?

Tavia picked up the unfinished darning bag, but her fingers trembled so
she could scarcely thread her needle. Mrs. White glanced up from her work.

"You have had a lot of trouble with that bag, Tavia, dear," she said, "I
guess you don't like lining things."

"Oh, I don't mind it at all," stammered Tavia, "but, you see, I have had
no practice. I'll know how better next time."

She fancied she heard Nat coming along the drive. Yes, surely that was the
machine. She waited for the toots. Her thimble rolled to the floor. Then
her thread tangled.

Toot! toot! toot!

"Are the boys going out?" asked Dorothy suddenly.

"I didn't think so," replied Mrs. White.

"Oh, I have to go on an errand!" exclaimed Tavia, as if she had just
thought of it. "Perhaps Nat will take me. I have a package I have to
mail."

She was down the stairs before either Dorothy or Mrs. White had a chance
to speak. They looked at each other questioningly.

"Nat! Nat!" called Tavia from the front door. "Take me! Wait a moment!"

She had her things on and was out instantly.

"Oh, I'm just scared to death!" she exclaimed as she climbed into the seat
beside Nat. "Good-by!" she called up to the window. And then they were
off.

"Neat little job," exclaimed Nat. "Didn't they ask you where?"

"I didn't give them a chance. I just stammered something about a package
at the post-office. But, Nat, it is such mean work! I can't bear to
deceive Dorothy!" and Tavia felt dangerously like crying.

"And do you fool yourself that you are deceiving her?" asked the cousin.
"I'll bet she comes pretty near guessing it all, and for my part I cannot
see why you do not up and tell her. It is no great crime to--"

"Oh, please, don't, Nat!" begged the girl. "It's bad enough, goodness
knows, but don't let's go over it again."

"The Griswold is quite a swell place," remarked Nat. "She must either have
money, or make money, to put up there."

"And I feel that she put that ring in Dorothy's bag. Oh, perhaps she is
only trying to get me into some other trouble."

"Well, don't get," advised Nat. "I'll be outside within call, and if you
get suspicious just raise your finger and I'll be Johnnie on the spot."

The Griswold was a large, stone building, originally intended to be used
as a handsome private residence, but of late years converted into a
rest-resort or sanitarium. Tavia mounted the broad steps timidly and
touched the old-fashioned knocker. In a moment a butler appeared and took
her card for Miss Brooks, while Tavia waited in the spacious
reception-room. She noticed that this apartment was almost overcrowded
with gilt-framed pictures, some paintings, others evidently family
portraits.

Presently Miss Brooks entered. She wore a simple, close-fitting black
gown, and Tavia felt instinctively that this little woman possessed a
powerful personality. She was even inclined to fear her, although this
sentiment might be a matter of nervous excitement rather than the result
of well-founded antipathy.

Tavia noticed she was not poorly dressed--she looked very different now;
the woman in black on the train had presented such a distressed, worn-out
appearance.

"Come right up to my room," said Miss Brooks pleasantly. "I received your
note, and have been expecting you."

Tavia smiled and murmured something as she followed Miss Brooks up the
soft, carpeted stairs. At the first landing the woman opened a door, and
motioned Tavia to step in. The room was large and well-furnished after the
regulation boarding-house plan--dressing-table, desk, couch-bed, and
curtained bookcase, but no article of furniture indicated any line of
business that might be carried on in the room, Tavia observed.

Miss Brooks closed the door gently, but made sure it was well closed. Then
she took a chair directly opposite Tavia.

"You are Miss Travers," she began in a most business-like way.

"Yes," replied Tavia simply.

"Well, I asked you to come, Miss Travers, because I felt I could help you.
I make few friends--the world played me false long ago--but when I see a
young girl like you in danger, I am not too bitter to warn her."

"Thank you," Tavia managed to utter.

"You no doubt think me a strange woman--every one does--but I have a
motive in traveling about. I had a very dear sister whom I lost years ago.
Lately I have learned that she died in this section of the country. She
left a child--a baby girl--and I hope some day I may find that child."
Miss Brooks paused to cover her eyes with her slim hand. Tavia noticed
that her hands were white and shapely. After a moment's hesitation Miss
Brooks continued in the same business-like voice she had at first assumed.

"As I have said, I think I can help you." She crossed to the
dressing-table, opened a drawer and took from it a large envelope. From
this envelope she unfolded a sheet of closely typewritten paper. This she
showed to Tavia.

"Is that your signature?" she asked, pointing to the name signed to the
letter.

"Why, yes," stammered Tavia, startled and surprised.

"You are astonished that I should have your letter," said the woman. "But
so-called confidential correspondence travels many miles these days. I
address letters and do penwork for business firms, and have received your
letter among hundreds of others."

A flash of indignation crossed Tavia's face. She wanted to snatch that
letter and tear it into a thousand pieces.

But Miss Brooks was quick to discern her indignation.

"Of course, I am responsible for every letter," she said. "In fact, I run
a great risk in even showing this to you. But I felt I would have to make
sure--that you were the party--involved."

Tavia felt like a culprit.

Involved!

She sighed heavily as Miss Brooks fumbled with the telltale letter.

"You lost five dollars?" asked Miss Brooks.

"Yes. Five of my own, and ten of a--friend's."

"Oh!" and the woman's eyebrows went up in surprise. "Yes, I see. Nathaniel
White," and she ran her fingers through a package of coupons. "Of course,
he belongs here. He is one of the gentlemen from The Cedars?"

"Yes," stammered Tavia, feeling as if her cheeks would ignite if something
did not promptly relieve the tension.

"Strange, I had overlooked that. I thought you were the only party about
here whose name I had received. Is he the young man outside?"

"Yes--but I would rather not bring him in," Tavia said. "He knows, of
course, the money is lost, but--"

"I had not the slightest intention of speaking to him, child. In fact, it
would not do for me to make known my business to the patrons of this
house. You see, I came here, as I was told this was one of the
oldest-established sanitariums in the State, and I hoped, in a vague way,
to hear something of my poor sister Marie."

Tavia was silent. She felt instantly relieved at the idea that Nat would
not hear all Miss Brooks might choose to say.

"The only way I might be of service to you," said Miss Brooks, as she
folded up the letter, "would be by giving you some advice. You see, I
cannot betray a firm I am employed by. But the method I would advise you
to follow is being used every day by--victims. It is merely a matter of
threatening to expose the scheme--they know the business is unlawful."

"Oh, I could never do that!" exclaimed Tavia. "My father is so well known;
he is a squire, you know."

"All the more reason why they would pay attention to your letter," argued
Miss Brooks. "But, of course, if you feel that way about it, all I can say
is that you know how easily a young girl may be deceived, and, in the
future, avoid such alluring promises. You could never expect any return
from that sort of advertising."

Tavia was on her feet to go. She was disappointed. She felt the advice
painfully unnecessary. In making mistakes she boasted of the faculty of
always finding a new one--she never was known to repeat a downright error.

"I am very much obliged," she faltered, "and would do as you ask, but I am
afraid to write any more letters."

Miss Brooks smiled. "I shall drop you a line," she offered, "if I find any
other way of assisting you."

Tavia thanked her again, made her way down the stairs, and, with a sigh of
relief, climbed up beside Nat in the car awaiting her.

"What did she say?" asked Nat impatiently.

"Oh, let me get my breath," begged Tavia. "I don't know what she did say,
except she wanted me to write a letter and threaten to expose it--as if I
could do that!"

"Why couldn't you?" asked Nat pointedly.

"Oh, I am just sick of it all," replied Tavia helplessly. "I want to drop
it. I see no good in keeping it up now."

"Well, Tavia," said Nat not unkindly, but with more determination than it
was usual for him to show, "I don't believe in letting money go as easily
as all that, and if there is any possibility of us recovering it, it is
'up to us' to try. You know I am no 'knocker,' but I would rather have my
'tenner' than that slip of baby-blue paper."

Tavia did not answer. She was beginning to feel the consequences of her
error. She never could stand being thus obligated to Nat--and she a guest
at his house! Her humiliation was crushing. Nat had never spoken to her
that way before.

The ride home was made with little conversation. Tavia was planning; Nat
was evidently thinking very seriously about something--something he could
not care to discuss.

All the Christmas preparations had lost interest for Tavia now, and when,
that afternoon, Dorothy and Mrs. White went on with their work of love,
she sat up in her own room writing and re-writing a letter. Finally it
read:

    "DEAR OLD MUMSEY: I hope you have received your pin,
    and that you have carefully hidden away Johnnie's steam engine.
    I know he will be delighted with it. Now, mumsey, dear, I have a
    great favor to ask. Could you possibly let me have five dollars
    more? I will send it back before my holiday is over, because I
    only want to lend it to some one, and I am sure to get it back.
    But, you see, no one has ever asked such a favor of me before,
    and I do wish I could accommodate them. Don't say anything to
    dad about it, but just send it along if you possibly can, and I
    will surely send it back very soon. I am having a lovely time,
    but feel I ought to be home with you all for my real Christmas.

                               "Lovingly, your daughter,

                                         "OCTAVIA."

"There," she finished, "I guess that will do. I do hate to bother poor,
darling, little hard-working mother, but what can I do? Perhaps I will be
home for Christmas, too."

Then she wrote another letter--to her father. She made the same request,
couched in different terms. Perhaps they would each send the money, and
then she could pay Nat.




CHAPTER XV

DOROTHY AS A COMFORTER


Roland Scott and Tom Jennings were on hand that evening, when the young
folks at The Cedars "put their heads together" for the selection of Mother
Goose characters.

Mrs. White "presided," and in the matter of reading rhymes and
impersonating the characters, it must be admitted the young gentlemen had
the advantage.

It was decided that the tableaux, or charades, would be presented "without
labels," and the audience would be permitted to guess what they stood for
in nursery lore.

"They won't need another guess on Dorothy's 'Bo Peep,'" said Tom. "That
crook is more famous in history than that of the original shepherds. 'Bo
Peep' is always a winner."

"I am sure," retaliated Dorothy, "they will know yours instantly. But it
is a pity we have to make them living pictures. You will hardly be able
to refrain from actually putting in your thumb if we provide one of
Norah's pies."

"And what a perfectly darling 'Little Jack Horner!'" added Tavia, for the
characters were being selected with a view to making them as ridiculous as
possible, and Tom would make a very funny "Jack Horner." Tom surveyed his
thumb in anticipation.

Roland and Tavia were assigned "Jack Spratt and His Wife." Roland could be
made up to look very lean, indeed, and Tavia was just stout enough to be
"practical for building purposes." Her face was of the broad, good-natured
type, and so her figure could readily be built up to correspond.

Nat insisted on being "Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater," and wanted to have
the privilege of selecting the pretty Eva Brownlie to put in the pumpkin
shell, "for," argued Nat, "that is the only way any fellow will ever be
able to keep the wily Eva."

The character of "Old King Cole" was assigned to Ned, with the
instructions that he should get his "fiddlers three."

"Also the pipe and bowl," insisted Nat; "and see to it that you don't take
my pipe or the 'bumper' I brought from the doings the other night. You
wouldn't carry one home yourself."

"I'll tell you a tableau hard to guess," suggested Dorothy. "'The Beggars
Coming to Town.' We could have half a dozen ragged people in that, and Nat
could bark behind the scenes."

"And we could have 'Mary, Mary, quite contrary,'" proposed Tavia. "Make
Lily Bently take that."

"Lily is a real sweet girl," spoke Mrs. White. "I hardly think she would
like such a character."

"She would make a dear 'Miss Muffet,'" said Dorothy, "and I'm sure Nat can
make up a wonderful spider--all strung by electrical wire, squirming
and--"

"Wiggling," added Tom. "That ought to make a hit."

And so they went on, selecting from the familiar rhymes and their
illustrations. There was some discussion as to just what this part of the
entertainment should be called. Living pictures seemed to the young folks
rather too ordinary, and it was finally decided to call it "Mother Goose
illustrated." A large frame was to be built, and Mrs. White offered to go
to town to procure what costumes could be found appropriate to assist the
young people's auxiliary.

In order to give a dozen illustrations the same persons had to impersonate
more than one character. When the last were being decided upon, Roland
took "Jack Be Nimble," and to show how well he understood the part he
jumped over the piano stool for the "candlestick." It was not a difficult
matter at all, but Roland landed wrong and strained his ankle painfully.

At first he pretended it was nothing, and tried to laugh it off, saying if
that was the only accident they encountered during the "show" they would
indeed be fortunate.

But a strained ankle has the faculty of getting more painful as the victim
begins to realize that something hurts. In about an hour it becomes almost
like a very bad toothache.

This was how it was with Roland, and on account of the trifling accident
the party was obliged to break up before all the arrangements had been
completed, and Tom had to assist Roland back to The Elms.

"How unfortunate!" sighed Mrs. White. "Do you think it will be very bad,
Ned?"

"Oh, nothing at all, mother," answered Ned. "We often do that at school,
and it is all gone in twenty-four hours."

"I do hope his will be," she added in concern.

"Don't let it worry you the least bit," continued Ned. "Roland will be
around for rehearsal as spry and as pretty as ever to-morrow evening."

From that time on "the play was the thing" at The Cedars, and, indeed, the
whole little village of North Birchland seemed deeply interested in the
affair to be held for the Hillside Hospital benefit. Naturally, there was
considerable rivalry when the parts were assigned, but Mrs. White, with
the other ladies on the board of managers, understood and expected this,
so they were ready to meet the objections of some and the requests of
others.

"We have decided upon these pictures," said Mrs. White at the first
rehearsal, "and if any one is unwilling to take the part assigned we must
simply look for substitutes."

Roland was there, as Ned had promised, "spry and as pretty as ever." He
appeared to "hang around Dorothy," but she was too busy to notice the
attention. Tavia, however, did not miss observing the young man's attempts
to attract Dorothy, and she also noted that the same matter seemed
distasteful to Ned.

Tom had a way of helping every one. He laughed with all the girls, and had
plenty of jollity left for the boys--he was considered an "all-around good
fellow." Naturally, Dorothy felt at ease with him, but Edith Brownlie made
no pretense of hiding her intentions--she wanted to be in a picture with
Tom.

Agnes Sinclair, considered the richest girl in Ferndale, proposed "doing a
picture" with Ned--"The Maiden All Forlorn!"

To this Ned readily agreed, with the result that the rehearsal of the part
caused no end of merriment. Agnes was a jolly girl, and showed a decided
preference for the White boys--those from Ferndale never appeared to
interest the wealthy Agnes.

When the rehearsal was finally over Dorothy was very tired, for she felt a
personal interest in the affair, as it was almost entirely in Mrs. White's
hands. The others had all congregated about Mrs. Brownlie's tea-table,
where that lady was dispensing the refreshing beverage, but Dorothy sank
down for a few moments in a secluded corner of the parlor where the
practice had been held.

Presently she thought she heard something stir near her, then she
distinctly heard a sob. Brushing aside the heavy portiere, Dorothy found
little Mary Manning, her face hidden in her hands, and her whole slender
form shaking convulsively.

"What is the matter, Mary dear?" asked Dorothy, her arms instantly about
the little sufferer.

"Oh, I'm so unhappy!" sobbed Mary. "I wanted a part and nobody thought of
me."

It then occurred to Dorothy that surely enough no one had thought of Mary,
for from the time when the parts were given out until all the rehearsal
was over Mary had never once either been seen or heard from. She was poor,
not pretty, and not popular, but since she belonged to the auxiliary it
was certainly too bad to have overlooked her.

"Why, I guess no one saw you," faltered Dorothy. "You surely would have
been given a part had auntie seen you."

"Well, the girls looked--so queer at me," sobbed the miserable Mary. "I
felt I had to keep back. But I do know how to play. My own mother was a
real actress."

Dorothy looked down at the child in wonderment. Mary's mother an actress!
No one seemed to know who the child's mother was, as she had always lived
with the Mannings, an elderly couple.

"Well, we must give you a pretty part," promised Dorothy. "And I tell you,
just come over to The Cedars to-morrow and Aunt Winnie--Mrs. White--will
have it all made out for you. There, now, don't cry another tear. Come out
to the tea-room with me and forget all your troubles. No, your eyes are
not red. Come along," and she slipped her arm through that of little
Mary, while she led the child out to the party of gay young folks, there
to entertain her and bring to the queer little girl that sort of enjoyment
which often follows acute grief--a reaction as uncontrollable as had been
the bitterness which had caused the sorrow.




CHAPTER XVI

A DELICATE DISCOVERY


It was very near Christmas, and events were crowding about The Cedars.
Dorothy, as usual, had assumed more than her share of responsibility, for
Tavia somehow acted queerly. She spent much time running back and forth to
the post-office, and it was evident to all that she and Nat were not the
friends they had been previously. Besides this, Ned had spoken to Dorothy,
and had actually asked her not to "flirt" with those college boys!

This was unlike Ned, and a positive shock to Dorothy. To be sure, he chose
the word "flirt" indifferently, but to Dorothy it had an ugly sound, and
that night, after all her worries at the rehearsal, she went to bed with a
pair of very red eyes.

Perhaps it was the rush and excitement that caused every one to be so
irritable and to so misunderstand things. Certainly Tavia had some worry,
and Ned did not act like himself, while Nat looked miserable. It would be
a queer holiday unless things mended promptly.

It was a pleasant morning, and Dorothy, feeling that a run in the open air
would do her nerves good, seized upon some excuse to go to the village.

She wanted to be alone--to think about what Ned had said, to look over
everything carefully, and see if he had any excuse for such a remark. Had
she acted foolishly? Could her innocent freedom with Tom Jennings be
misunderstood? Was it not possible for a girl to act naturally after she
had passed the age of fifteen years?

Her head filled with such thoughts as these, in all the power that they
may assume when first encountered by a young girl, Dorothy hurried along.
She would simply tell Ned all about it, she decided. He surely would
understand that she never dreamed of "flirting."

From the main highway she was obliged to turn into a branch of the road
from Ferndale to reach the post-office, that little building being
situated at the junction of both thoroughfares.

In her excitement she had scarcely glanced before her, but now, as she
turned into the Ferndale road, she observed a woman coming along the same
path. It was Miss Brooks.

Somehow Dorothy was glad to meet her. After all, it was not pleasant to
think too seriously.

"Good-morning," said Dorothy with all the vivacity she could summon.
"Looking for Christmas mail too?"

"Yes," replied Miss Brooks, with something of a sigh. "There are many
kinds of Christmas mail, I suppose."

The reply confused Dorothy. She did not want to bring sad reflections to
the "little woman in black."

"I guess we will have pleasant weather," Dorothy hurried to say vaguely.
"I hope so, at any rate, for we must depend considerably upon the weather
for the success of our hospital entertainment. You know, we are to have
one."

"Yes, I've seen the tickets," said Miss Brooks, walking along with
Dorothy. Then both paused. Both had evidently exhausted the commonplace.

Miss Brooks looked keenly at Dorothy. The latter could feel her searching
gaze, and wondered secretly what it could mean. Presently Miss Brooks
said:

"I believe you are a prudent girl, Miss Dale, and I wonder if I might
trust you with a delicate--matter?"

"If I can help you--yes," answered Dorothy promptly.

"It is not to help me," said the other, "but to help your friend, Miss
Travers."

Dorothy felt instantly that she referred to Tavia's troubles--those
troubles which Tavia herself had refused to confide in her. Should she
hear them from another?

In her direct way, without mincing words or risking any misunderstanding,
Dorothy said decidedly:

"If you are sure I can help my friend I will be glad to do so, but I have
no wish to interfere in any personal affair of hers."

Miss Brooks did not weaken. Dorothy's honesty in speaking as she did only
seemed the more to convince her that Dorothy Dale could and ought to help
Tavia Travers.

"I know," she went on, "that Miss Travers is greatly worried over a matter
of money. I advised her how she could be relieved of that worry, but in
spite of my advice I have reason to think that she has only made matters
worse by writing to her folks at home and asking them for more money."

"Writing home for money!" gasped Dorothy.

"Yes; I am sorry to seem a meddler, but I feel that she will greatly
complicate matters unless you are clever enough to step in and interfere.
It is the old story of the tangled web; Miss Travers had no idea of doing
anything--irregular. She simply did as thousands of others do, though I
must say boys are usually the victims. A girl rarely takes such chances."

Dorothy was too surprised to speak. They were near the post-office, and
both stood in the road to finish the conversation.

"How can I help her?" asked Dorothy simply.

"Well, I must confess it may be difficult, but I see no other way to get
her out of her troubles, for she is surely multiplying them. The latest
phase of her difficulty I may tell you of without any risk of betraying
professional confidence," and Miss Brooks smiled faintly. "She has lately
written to her father and to her mother for money--urging some trifling
excuse. Letters intended for her have fallen into her father's hands. He
is a lawyer, or in some way connected with legal affairs, is he not?"

"A squire."

"Oh, yes, that's it. Well, he has put two and two together, and has sent
the last letter she wrote him out to a firm in Chicago, asking them to
state clearly, and at once, what their business has been with his
daughter, as he has reason to believe that it is because of this business
that his daughter is worried about money and is trying to get it for some
secret purpose. You see, he has inferred that she is trying to get the
money on account of her dealings with this firm. The letters written to
her show that."

Dorothy tried to understand, but it was all very strange. What sort of
business dealings could be so dishonorable?

"And how can I help her?" she repeated.

"In one of two ways. Either get ten dollars for her in some way that she
may return the money to her parents if they have already sent it, or
induce her to write at once to her father, telling him frankly all about
the matter and stating that she does not now require the ten dollars. She
evidently wants that amount to pay some one who has lost on her account."

Dorothy was amazed. She could scarcely believe that Tavia would have
gotten into any complex affair. And that some one should lose money on her
account!

"Could it be Nat?" was the thought flashed through her brain. She had
overheard some part of a conversation between Nat and Tavia, and now Tavia
showed some ill-feeling toward Nat.

"Well, I must get along," said Miss Brooks finally. "I am glad I met you,
and hope I have not given you too great a task. Good-morning."

Dorothy smiled and bowed, but her anxiety had promptly written the lines
of care on her fair young face, and even the aged postmaster did not fail
to ask her if anything was wrong at The Cedars when he handed her the
mail.

Among the many letters was one for Tavia, and it bore the Dalton
postmark.




CHAPTER XVII

SPRUCE BOUGHS AND LAUREL WREATHS


Mrs. Brownlie's immense parlors were stripped of all movable furniture in
preparation for the charity entertainment.

Strong linen crash covered the handsome carpets, and the camp stools to be
used on the evening of the performance had already arrived.

That afternoon the Fire Bird brought the evergreens from The Cedars--those
which had been gathered some few days before and had since been stored
carefully in the garage--and an additional supply came from Ferndale, the
result of an enterprising expedition to the woods, under the management of
Miss Agnes Sinclair.

Besides a necessary rehearsal, the evening was to be spent in decorating
for the play. Mrs. White had requested every one to be on hand early, and
now the young folks were arriving.

Little Mary Mahon was the first to come--in accordance with Dorothy's
arrangements, for Mary was to rehearse her part before the others would
get there, and just what her number would be was to be kept secret.

The Brownlie girls, Eva and Edith, understood the remark Dorothy made as
she entered, and so left the parlors entirely at her disposal, even
locking the door from the hall and throwing open the library to
accommodate any one who might come before Mary's "practice" was over.

A recitation had been selected for Mary--one that afforded ample
opportunity for the child's natural talent to act--for she had talent, and
both Mrs. White and Dorothy were delighted with the prospect of what the
queer child would add to the program.

There was something so weird about Mary--if that word might be fitly used
to denote her peculiar characteristics.

She was not deformed, but she surely was deficient physically. She was
thin to emaciation, she had fiery red hair, and Roger always declared "her
eyes and eyebrows were just as red as her hair."

The recitation chosen for her was "Guilty or Not Guilty?" and it seemed to
suit her strangely. Of course, when a child is almost constantly in the
company of aged persons, and takes no pleasure in play, besides being
over-studious, she is bound to be "queer."

And such was Mary Mahon.

When Dorothy threw open the parlor door after the rehearsal her face was
radiant. She was pleased--delighted with Mary, and the girls waiting to be
admitted to the "hall" exchanged knowing glances when Dorothy told them
the room was ready.

Tom and Roland were there, Agnes Sinclair, Mabel Hastings, Ned, and Nat,
of course; Tavia was with Eva Brownlie, chatting as if there was nothing
else to be done that evening; Betty Bindley managed to get her dainty
little self secure with Harold Osborne (Handsome Harold, they called him),
and other members of the auxiliary and their friends were there ready to
begin the work of rehearsing and decorating.

Besides the pictures there was to be music--the Brownlie girls played the
violin beautifully, and Dorothy was an acknowledged pianist; then Agnes
Sinclair was to entertain with monologues, and the boys were to have a
vocal double quartette.

The arranging of this program involved considerable work, so to-night
there was no time to be wasted.

"Let's get the wreaths first," proposed Dorothy. "We shall need such long
strings to go all around the room. While some of us are at these, others
can be going through their parts."

Tom grabbed a huge mass of broken laurel branches, made his way to a
corner, placed two chairs before the pile of greens and deliberately
sought out Dorothy.

"Come," he said very kindly, "I've got a quiet job for you. You usually
get too much of the all-around business. Let us run a race making the
wreath, or strings, I suppose you want. Here, Ned," he called across the
room, "get your stuff and your girl, and I'll race you for a mile of green
string."

Could anything be more inopportune? To select Dorothy to be his partner
against Ned in a race!

But the idea of a contest was quickly taken up by the others, so that soon
the party had paired off, and racing with the strings of laurel became a
matter of enjoyment, and not a question of work.

Dorothy took her place with Tom; Agnes Sinclair was with Ned; Nat went to
work with Eva Brownlie, and Tavia sat beside Roland.

How quickly the fingers flew! And how soon the small sprigs of green were
twined into long, soft garlands!

"I'll keep tally," proffered Edith Brownlie, glad to escape the more
certain duty of tying the cords about the boughs.

For an hour all worked and chatted gaily, the boys continually "betting
against bets," while the girls would complain that too much conversation
interfered with the progress of the race.

When the full hour had passed Edith called "Time!" Then the measuring
began.

"No stretching!" warned Ned as he held his rope of green against that
which Tom and Dorothy had woven.

"Ours!" called Tom, as the one string pulled out two yards longer than the
other.

Then every other strand was measured against that. Not one came up to the
garland made by Dorothy and Tom.

"Oh, of course," pouted Eva, "Dorothy and Tom could not possibly have been
beaten. They're such a strong team!"

The others laughed, although Dorothy did not like the remark.

Ned lifted his eyebrows thoughtfully, but never once smiled at Dorothy's
triumph.

"Tavia has the 'Booby,'" announced Tom, who had done all the measuring,
"Now distribute the prizes, please."

Tavia protested, of course, and soon the room was in an uproar. Finally
the ladies insisted the wreaths should be put up, and when the chairs and
stepladders had been brought the boys began festooning the long strings of
green about the room, over windows and doors, and about the finely-fluted
posts that marked the arches.

Dorothy purposely took Ned's rope to hold for him.

"Won't it look pretty?" she asked, trying to show her interest in his
work.

"Guess so," he answered indifferently, without looking at his cousin.

"Here, Dorothy," called Tom. "You are not to work. This sofa is especially
provided for our comfort. Here, sit down," and taking her arm, he
attempted to lead her away from the ladder upon which Ned stood.

"Let me have it," said Ned, jerking the rope from Dorothy's grasp.
Instinctively she held to it, and looked up in some astonishment at her
cousin.

A moment later Ned swayed toward her. She had released her hold of the
rope, and the sudden easing of the strain which the youth put upon it
caused him to lose his balance. He swayed still farther away from the
ladder, and thrust out his hands to grasp the rungs. He dropped the rope,
and as Dorothy gave a frightened scream he crashed to the floor, right at
her feet, narrowly missing striking her.

She had barely time to jump aside when the ladder crashed down beside the
prostrate form of Ned.

Instantly the room was in an uproar. Ned was hurt--he did not attempt to
move, but lay there almost unconscious.

"Oh, my boy!" cried Mrs. White, bending over him.

"Ned! Ned!" implored the frightened Dorothy, with her white face very
close to his. "It was all my fault!"

"No," spoke up Tom, "I should not have distracted him while he was up so
high. Come, boy," to Ned, "let me lift you."

The strong arms of Tom Scott encircled the helpless one, and very tenderly
Ned was lifted, then carried to a lounge in the library.

"Oh, I'm all right," he managed to say, when Tom had placed him on the
couch. "I just hurt my--knee, I guess."

The expression of pain that crossed his face showed plainly some member
was injured, and Mrs. Brownlie, in spite of his protests, insisted on
calling a doctor.

[Illustration: "HE CRASHED TO THE FLOOR, RIGHT AT HER FEET."--_Page_
158.]

Dorothy wanted to cry. She felt it was somehow her fault. If only Tom had
not interfered! But of course he meant no harm. Yet she knew how Ned felt.

"Oh, dear," she sighed aloud, "I did feel that something would happen!"

"I'm sorry," said Ned feebly. "I was a--goose to snap it so, Doro."

Tom had gone out to the telephone in the hall. Mrs. White and Mrs.
Brownlie advised the others to leave off the decorating until the next
day, as it would be best to get the house quiet.

"Every shock has a nervous reaction," explained Mrs. Brownlie in
dismissing her guests thus suddenly, "and it will be best to keep him
quiet until the doctor comes."

Tavia wanted to stay, but not even Dorothy was accorded that privilege.
Tom remained with Mrs. White, and Nat went for the Fire Bird, in which to
take his brother and mother home, there being no room for the others in it
now.

"How ever did it happen?" Tavia asked of Dorothy as they walked the short
distance home in Roland's company.

"I had hold of his rope," replied Dorothy, still showing her distress,
"and he attempted to take it--"

"He acted so queerly all evening," commented Tavia. "I never saw him so
cross."

"I did not notice it," said Roland, touching the bell at the door of The
Cedars. "I thought him in the best of spirits."

"Of course, it was simply an accident," added Dorothy. "How he felt could
have had nothing to do with it."

"Well, everything seems queer," declared Tavia. "I just wonder how it will
all turn out."

"That must depend entirely upon ourselves," insisted the practical
Dorothy. "But we will have trouble in getting some one to take Ned's
place-- Oh, dear, if I had only--but there's no use lamenting." And when
Roland said good-night at the door Dorothy went directly to her own
room--she was too much depressed to join the family's expression of
anxieties.

The queer holidays were surely nearing a climax.




CHAPTER XVIII

DOROTHY'S DISTRESS


Complication upon complication!

Dorothy could scarcely think--she was stunned, bewildered.

The thought of Ned's disapproval of Tom's attention to her seemed the most
bitter thought of all.

She did love Ned, her own cousin. How could any girl not appreciate the
joy of being a cousin to Ned White?

And that he should misunderstand her! Think her frivolous, and even accuse
her of flirting!

Dorothy felt that even The Cedars now belonged to Ned, and she, with her
father and brothers, were merely his guests.

How ever could she make him understand?

Why are girls neither women nor children in all the troublesome "between"
years?

Then Tavia's troubles. Dorothy had thought to do all Miss Brooks advised,
but how could she do so to-night? And the letter Dorothy had given Tavia
was certainly from Mr. Travers.

Thoughts of the play, of little Mary's part, then the responsibility of
insuring a success, crowded through Dorothy's confused brain.

If the play was a success she had hoped to get little Bennie Baglin into
the hospital. He suffered so, and surely could be helped, if not cured, by
proper treatment. But the hospital would only accept patients from the
Birchlands according as money was contributed from the place, and it would
cost considerable to have an incurable (as Bennie was) taken in.

But Dorothy had quietly planned his Christmas. She had saved a little tree
from the decorating greens, and had already gathered and bought enough
trinkets to trim it.

"If only Ned is not badly hurt," she prayed as the night grew very late.
"I do wish they would come."

The sound of automobile wheels on the path answered her wish. The next
moment she was at the door.

"Open both doors," Mrs. White said to Major Dale, who stood beside
Dorothy. "He cannot walk, and must not be jarred."

Mrs. White's voice betrayed excitement and anxiety. Dorothy was too
anxious to speak--she dreaded to know the actual trouble.

Tom and Dr. Whitethorn carried the injured boy into the library.

"How's that?" asked the doctor as Ned fell back amid the cushions of a
couch.

"All--right," replied the latter with evident effort.

"Now just keep quiet, and don't attempt to move unaided," said the doctor,
"and we'll see how it is in the morning. I think, Mrs. White, you might
make him comfortable to-night on this floor. It will be safer."

Ned was very pale. Dorothy could not bear to see his white face with the
deep dark rings under his eyes. Tom did what he could, and then was ready
to leave.

He took Dorothy's arm and led her out into the hall.

"See here, little girl," he began, "you are not to blame yourself in any
way for this. If any one was at fault it was I. I saw how he--felt, and
should not have tantalized him."

"It was simply an accident," argued Dorothy feebly.

"Certainly," answered Tom; "but Ned was out of sorts. He seemed to have a
personal grudge against me."

"Oh, you must have imagined that," answered Dorothy. "Ned is sensitive,
but not--unreasonable."

Tom pressed her hand warmly in parting. The action brought warm color to
her cheeks. He was trying to cheer her, of course, but Ned would not have
liked it.

When the doctor had left, Mrs. White told the major that her son's hip was
hurt.

"And that does take so long to mend," she lamented. "The hip is such a
network of ligaments."

Acting on the doctor's advice, the injured young man was made comfortable
in the library for the night. Nat wanted to stay with him--there were
plenty of divans and couches that might be used in the emergency--but Mrs.
White insisted upon caring for the boy herself. She noticed he was
becoming feverish, and so hurried the others off to bed that the house
might be quiet.

Dorothy took Ned's warm hand in hers and touched his forehead with her
lips. But she knew better than to utter one word--he must be quiet, very
quiet.

How strangely depressing was the house now with the gloom of sickness
upon it! The awful uncertainty of an accident, what the result might be,
how serious or trifling--every possibility seemed weighted with terrible
consequences.

Dorothy fell upon her knees beside her bed. Her heart was very full,
everything seemed dark and gloomy now. All the difficulties of yesterday
were engulfed in that one sorrow--Ned's accident. Dorothy seemed unable to
pray, and in her sadness came the thought of her own unwilling part in the
little tragedy.

"If only I had told Tom--asked him not to! But how could I do that?" she
argued against argument. "What would he think of Ned? Of me?"

A step in the hall roused her from her reverie. There was a slight tap on
the door, then Tavia entered. Although it was late she was still entirely
dressed, and her face showed she had been crying.

"Dorothy," she said, her voice trembling and the tears welling into her
eyes, "I must--go home!"

"Why?" asked Dorothy, surprised and startled.

"Dad says so. I must go first thing in the morning."

"Your letter?"

"Yes, it was from father."

"Has anything happened?"

"Yes, and no. Father has--misunderstood some letters of mine. He found
them since I came away--and he blames me-- Oh, Doro!" and Tavia covered
her face with her hands. "How I wish I had told you before!"

Tavia was sobbing bitterly. Instantly there came to Dorothy's mind the
thought of Miss Brooks' warning, her advice to tell Tavia before it was
too late, before all the harm was done. And had she delayed too long? Even
that one day might have been sufficient time in which the threatened
danger had become a certainty.

"Tavia, dear, don't go on so! It cannot be--so very dreadful."

"Oh, but it is! I never should have done such a thing. I knew better, and
I tried to convince myself that I did not. Then I should never have taken
your money. Oh, Doro, I deceived you, and I have deceived everybody!"

"You are excited and everything seems worse to you now, dear. Try to be
calm and tell me how I can help you."

"You cannot--nobody can. Father is angry--he wrote such a terrible letter,
and how I dread to face him!"

"Perhaps we can arrange it so you will not have to go," said Dorothy in
her own way of promptly attempting to save Tavia from the consequences of
her own folly. "It is all about money, I know."

"You know?"

"Yes; Miss Brooks told me that much."

"Miss Brooks told you!"

"She merely said you were in some difficulty and asked me to advise
you--to tell your father all about it," Dorothy said cautiously.

"Miss Brooks has no right to interfere!" snapped Tavia, immediately taking
offense. "Advice is always cheap!"

"But she surely did it out of kindness," continued Dorothy, "and she
really seemed very much concerned."

"I don't want to hear or know anything more about that--person. She is
evidently trying to cover up her little mistake in putting a ring in the
wrong bag. She knows absolutely nothing about me--she is merely guessing."

Tavia felt she was making bad worse; it was not a time to attempt further
deception. But somehow the idea of Miss Brooks speaking to Dorothy angered
her--she was the one to do that. Then followed the accusing voice of
conscience:

"But why did you not do so? Why do you not do so now?"

"I suppose she told you that I--"

"She told me nothing," interrupted Dorothy, "but that you had made some
mistake in a money matter and then suggested that the way for you to
rectify it would be to write to your father and tell him all about it."

"I wonder she did not essay to do that herself--she seems perfectly
qualified to attend to it all for me."

"Now, Tavia," began Dorothy, assuming a voice at once commanding and kind,
"it is utterly useless for you to take that view of the matter. If you
dislike Miss Brooks' interference, pay no attention to it. Do what you
think best. Look the whole question squarely in the face, and then
decide."

All Tavia's contrition and her determination to do what was right, which
sentiment had entirely possessed her when she entered the room, seemed to
have gone with the mention of Miss Brooks' name.

"If she has told Dorothy," thought Tavia, "there is no need for me to
repeat it."

So vanished the blessed power, truth, and so did the confusing and
conflicting powers of deceit throng about her, and more than ever preclude
the possibility of a happy solution for her difficulties.

"I must go home," she said dejectedly. "Dad said I should be home by noon
to-morrow."




CHAPTER XIX

BETWEEN THE LINES


When Tavia had left her, Dorothy felt utterly helpless in facing the
problems that now confronted her.

"One thing is certain," Dorothy told herself. "Tavia must not go home. In
her state of mind, and with her temper, there is no telling what she might
do--leave home, or something else dreadful. If I could only see Squire
Travers first," she argued, "I am sure I could manage it some way."

"But I cannot possibly go to Dalton now," she decided, "with Ned sick, and
the play to-morrow night.

"And how can I persuade Tavia not to go? I suppose she has her bag packed
already."

Dorothy seemed incapable of reasoning further. She threw herself down on
her bed and gazed fixedly at the ceiling, as if expecting some inspiration
to come from the dainty blue and gold papering.

How long she lay there she had no idea of computing--it was not now a
question of time, although the night must be far advanced, but to the
perplexed girl everything about her seemed to surge in one great sea of
difficulties.

She jumped up suddenly.

"I wonder how Ned is?" she thought. "If only he is not seriously hurt. The
doctor said if he slept, and no fever arose, he would do well. I wonder
how I can find out. I might slip downstairs and listen."

She drew her heavy blue robe around her, put on her slippers and softly
opened the door. There was no light in the upper hall, and a turn from the
first flight of stairs hid the dim light below. Directly at this turn a
push-button connected with an electric drop lamp, and this button Dorothy
touched as she passed.

At the broad window-seat she hesitated for a moment, looked out at the
clear, wintry night, and then slipped down the stairs so lightly that even
the cushioned velvet carpet took no impress of her footfall.

At the last step she stopped--a terrible fear clutched her heart. The
library door was open, but no sound came from the room.

She clung to the broad post and listened. Could Ned be worse? Then the
chime of the hall clock startled her. It was just midnight! Dorothy had
no idea it was so very late.

She would just go to the library door--

Involuntarily she turned toward the vestibule. A strange sensation of some
one watching her from without possessed her, terrified her, and at the
same instant a light tap sounded upon the plate-glass door.

Some one was watching her!

For the moment Dorothy could not move or utter a sound. Then the thought
of her sick cousin brought her back to a realization of the emergency. She
must answer the knock and not arouse any one.

Summoning all her self-control Dorothy moved toward the front door. Only
the glass and a thin lace drapery separated her from without, as the storm
door had been left open. Some one stood within the small entrance
hall--the shadow was clearly outlined.

She drew aside the lace curtain.

There stood Tom Scott!

"Open the door," he whispered "I--don't want to detain you."

More surprised now than frightened, Dorothy shoved back the heavy bolt and
gently opened the huge door.

"I had no idea of startling you," began Tom, without waiting for her to
speak, "but I have been so anxious! I've been watching the house, and when
I saw the light flash upstairs I felt as if something must have happened.
The doctor said by midnight--"

"Oh!" exclaimed Dorothy, now realizing the cause of Tom's unexpected
visit, "I was coming downstairs to see how he was. If you just wait I'll
peek in at the door and see. Won't you step inside?"

"Oh, no, indeed," Tom replied in an undertone. "I had no idea of
disturbing any one. I thought just to look around the house and see if all
was well. I am on my way home from the telegraph office. Aunt Margaret
thought of an important message which she insisted had to go out
to-night."

Dorothy turned toward the library. Scarcely had she rounded the alcove
when Tom noticed some one at the top of the stairs.

It was Tavia.

She stood for a moment looking at Tom, then she nodded her head in a
friendly way and disappeared as quietly as she had come.

"Awkward," thought Tom, "but any one would know I am here to hear about
Ned."

Dorothy was coming back now, and she was smiling.

"Sound asleep," she whispered.

"Good," breathed Tom. "Now I won't keep you another second. Awfully good
of you to let me in."

"Not at all," stammered Dorothy. "I was just a little frightened first. I
will know better than to light up at midnight again."

"The midnight alarm!" quoted Tom, making his way out. "Don't stand in the
draft. It's cold enough. Good-night!"

Then he was gone.

Dorothy flew back to her room, agitated, but comforted that Ned was
resting. This knowledge seemed to assure her that he was not seriously
injured, and now she took up the Tavia question.

"She must not go home," Dorothy repeated. "I will see if she is still up."

A glimmer of light stole under Tavia's door. Dorothy tapped lightly, but
opened the door unbidden. She found her chum bent over pen and paper, but
as Dorothy came in Tavia dropped the pen and looked up in surprise.

"Tavia," began Dorothy, "I came to coax you to stay--you must not go home
to-morrow. I will telegraph your father. He was always so--kind to me.
And when he hears all about it--about Ned and all--I am sure he will not
be angry."

"I cannot," answered Tavia. "I must go."

"Oh, please, Tavia, do listen! If you go, what will you say? What will you
do?"

"I don't know."

"Tavia!" pleaded Dorothy, a note of distress in her voice.

The two girls looked into each other's eyes. Dorothy's were brimful, but
Tavia's were too "frozen" for tears.

"Tavia, dear," whispered Dorothy.

Tavia's arm stole about Dorothy's neck. She touched the flushed cheek with
her dry lips. Then she straightened up in an attitude of defiance.

"I'll stay!" she exclaimed. "I don't care what they think of me."




CHAPTER XX

THE ENTERTAINMENT


How the following day passed Dorothy did not want to remember. From the
early morning, when she sent the telegram to Mr. Travers, stating that
Tavia could not possibly leave, and that a letter to follow would explain,
until the hour set for the charity performance, the girl was in one
continuous whirl of excitement.

Ned's accident did not prove to be as serious as had been feared, although
there was no possibility of him being about for several days, at least.

In the excitement and emergency Tavia had marshaled all her individual
forces, and proved herself worthy to be a friend and chum of Dorothy Dale.
With her change of heart--her resolution to "stick to Dorothy"--there
seemed to come to her a new power, or, at least, it was a return of the
power with which she had previously been accredited.

So the final work of preparation was accomplished, and now it seemed to be
merely a matter of raising and lowering the curtain.

The characters which Ned was to have impersonated were divided among the
other young men, it being necessary of course, to "double up" on three or
four parts. Agnes Sinclair openly deplored her loss of a partner, but the
others smiled incredulously when she said she preferred to play with Ned
and "hated that big bear, Tom Scott."

Tom made this his excuse for being particularly "grizzly" with the pretty
Agnes, and at the afternoon rehearsal he nearly went through the big gilt
picture frame, in which the illustrations were posed, when he attempted to
introduce a little impromptu "business" in "The Maiden all Forlorn."

Then when Roland attempted to do "There was a Man in Our Town," another of
Ned's parts, his efforts were so absurd and so utterly unlike what the
tableau was expected to be, that it was decided to make it "I Had a Little
Husband, no Bigger than my Thumb." Roland certainly looked diminutive
enough to fit into a pint pot, and also seemed qualified to do as he might
be told with the drum.

Finally all was arranged, or rearranged, and the hour for the play was
almost at hand.

No more delightful weather could have been wished for. It was clear and
cold, while outside a big silvery moon threw a fairy-like illumination
over the scene, and filtered in through the big windows of the
drawing-room of the home of Mrs. Justin Brownlie.

Dorothy laughed her light, happy laugh. After all, perhaps everything
would come out right--it was such a relief to feel that Ned would soon be
better. The worry about him was the very worst part of her troubles. Then,
suddenly, like the recurrence of an unpleasant dream, the thought of Tom's
midnight visit flashed before her mind.

"Oh, I didn't tell you, Tavia," she said quickly. "I had the awfullest
scare the other night. I just stole downstairs to see how Ned was, when
all at once some one rapped at the vestibule door."

Tavia gazed upon Dorothy, pride and admiration beaming in her deep, hazel
eyes.

"Oh, you needn't tell me, Doro," she interrupted. "I saw the midnight
marauder, as the poets say. Lucky for him he stood directly under the
light."

"Wasn't it--wasn't it kind of him to be--so--so anxious?" went on Dorothy,
making fast her scarf picking up her pretty party-bag.

"Perhaps," assented Tavia, smiling broadly.

"Tom's the sort of fellow who dares to do right, no matter what happens.
He would as soon call at midnight as midday, if the occasion warranted
it. And that's saying a good deal for Tom--from me," she concluded.

Nat was waiting at the door. He took particular pains to be nice to Tavia.
In fact, most of the difficulties that had for some weeks been
accumulating about The Cedars seemed to take wings with the occurrence of
Ned's accident. The oft-quoted saying about an "ill wind" was once more
being verified, although it was hard for Ned to be left at home.

The house was already crowded when our friends arrived at Mrs. Brownlie's.

"We will have a good attendance," commented Dorothy with a smile of
satisfaction. "If we can only make our hundred dollars, and then get
little Bennie into the hospital, how lovely it will be!"

"There must be a hundred persons here now," Nat assured her, "and at a
dollar per--"

"Oh, do hurry along," interrupted Eva Brownlie. "We are all waiting for
you, Dorothy. We were worried to death for fear something else dreadful
might have happened."

Eva surely looked like an angel. She was entirely in white, her hair
hanging loosely over her shoulders, with a band of gold, in Roman style,
confining it at her brow.

Roland was dancing attendance on Eva--any one could see that he was
fascinated by the pretty twin. Tom came up to Dorothy as she entered the
broad hall.

"How's the boy?" he inquired kindly. "Has he forgiven me yet?"

"Of course," replied Dorothy, smiling. "He's getting better. But it was
hard to leave him alone with his hurt--and Norah. Not that Norah is to be
classed with the injuries," she hurried to add, laughing merrily.

"They are waiting for the orchestra," Tom reminded her, taking her music
and escorting her to the piano.

The girls, with their violins, were already in place. Dorothy felt some
embarrassment in facing a room filled with those she considered critical
spectators, for the best society of all the Birchlands, as well as
cultured persons from Ferndale near by, had come to the entertainment.

The Brownlie girls played the violins. Dorothy gave them the "A" note, and
they put their instruments in tune, with that weird, fascinating
combination of chords which prelude the opening strains of enthralling
music. Then they began.

The first number received a generous encore, and the girls played again.
Then there was a suppressed murmur of expectancy--a picture was about to
be presented.

Slowly the curtains were drawn aside. The lights had been "doused" as Nat,
the acting stage manager, expressed it, and only a dim glow illuminated
the tableau.

An immense gilt frame, containing a landscape as a background. In front of
that the living pictures were posed. It was Jack Spratt and his
Wife--presented by Tavia and Roland.

The audience instantly recognized the illustration, and vigorous applause
greeted the tableau. Tavia was surely funny--so fat, and so comical, while
Roland looked like a human toothpick. The clean platter was cleaner than
even Mother Goose could have wished it, and, altogether, the first picture
was an unqualified success.

Tavia was shaking with nervousness when the curtain was pulled together,
and when, in response to an imperative demand from the audience, it was
parted again, Tavia could scarcely keep from laughing outright. It was one
of the difficult pictures, but the girl's talent for theatricals stood her
in good stead, while, as for Roland, he seemed too lazy to make any
blunders.

Tom, as "Jack Horner," came next. Fat! Numbers in the audience insisted
that he was the original "Roly-poly," but the big paper-covered pie
precluded all further argument. Tom held his thumb in that pie as
faithfully as ever a real, picture Jack Horner did. He had to pose for a
second view, and at that the throng was not satisfied, but Nat declared
that one encore was enough.

Then Little Bo-Peep appeared--fast asleep, lying on some fresh hay from
the Brownlie barn. And what a charming picture Dorothy did make!

She wore a light-blue skirt, with a dark bodice, and a big, soft straw
hat, tossed back on her head, did not hide the beauty of her abundant
locks. Her crook had fallen from her hand, and rested at the bottom of the
little mound of hay. It was a delightful representation, and Dorothy
seemed actually painted upon the canvas, so naturally did she sleep. Mrs.
Brownlie nodded approvingly to Mrs. White. Dorothy's picture was not only
pretty, but it artistically perfect.

The audience seemed loath to disturb the little scene by applause, and
instead of answering to an encore Dorothy was obliged to keep her Bo-Peep
attitude for the length of time that it would have required to present her
tableau a second time.

Tom grasped Dorothy's hand as she left the frame.

"Great!" he exclaimed enthusiastically. "I wish Ned could have seen you!"

Dorothy was glad--pardonably glad. She had thought a "solo" difficult, and
had doubted her ability to make it attractive, but now she was quite
satisfied.

There was some delay in presenting the next number, but the wait was
forgotten when the curtains were pulled apart.

It was a depiction of "Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater," with Eva's fair head
sticking out of an immense paper pumpkin shell. Nat's face, in the
character of Peter, was in a most satisfactory smile, consequent,
probably, upon his ability to "keep her very well," and it was surely a
very funny picture. Eva assumed a distressed look, and was thankful that
only her face had to act, for the quarters of the pumpkin shell were
rather limited.

Other tableaux followed, each one more or less well impersonated, until
Tom and Agnes went at "The Maiden all Forlorn."

As the "Man all Tattered and Tom," Tom was a veritable scarecrow, with a
fringe of rags all over him, and the familiar battered hat well turned
down to conceal any accidental smile that might detract from his serious
pose. He was bending over Agnes in the regulation picture-lover attitude,
and as the curtains were pulled together Tom did what any other young man
on earth might have done--he kissed the Maiden all Forlorn.

Everybody behind the scenes saw it.

"I never want to act with him again!" declared Agnes loudly and
scornfully, as she scrubbed her offended cheek with her handkerchief. "Ned
White is always a gentleman."

Dorothy was sorry, but it seemed a natural joke. Every one but Agnes
thought the same thing, but somehow the forlorn maiden could not be
convinced that Tom was simply thoughtless in his joking.

The incident, trifling as it was, somewhat marred the good humor of the
players. Roland came near falling for a second time in his "Jack be
Nimble." As it was, the big candlestick did topple over just as the
curtain bell sounded. Then Edith Brownlie looked decidedly miserable as
"The Queen was in the Kitchen, Eating Bread and Honey." She liked Tom
Scott--everybody knew that--and now Tom, in addition to having lately
favored Dorothy, had kissed Agnes! Of course, the girls, and boys too,
teased the sensitive Edith, and she lost interest in her picture.

Dorothy breathed a sigh of relief when Mary Mahon's number was announced.
Mary was actually quivering with excitement. She wanted to act, and
Dorothy was confident that she would do well.

Her recitation was entitled "Guilty or Not Guilty?" and as she stepped out
and made her bow, the house was hushed in silence. In a plaintive voice
she began that well-known poem:

    "She stood at the bar of justice,
       A creature wan and wild,
     In form too young for a woman,
       In feature too old for a child."

How the lines seemed to suit her! Surely the features of Mary were too old
for those of a child. Her face had a drawn, pinched look, and her eyes
were so deeply set.

But the pathos of her voice! When she pleaded with the judge for mercy
against the charge that she was a thief she mentioned the starving
children.

    "I took--oh, was it stealing?--
       The bread to give to them!"

The women pressed their handkerchiefs to their eyes. There was something
almost too real in the child's plea. Who was she? they asked. A
professional?

Dorothy was delighted at Mary's success. The girl was her "find," and it
was she who had taught her how to use her voice so well in the pathetic
lines. True, she found an apt pupil in Mary, and Dorothy was but too glad
to accord her the entire triumph, when the recitationist bowed again in
response to the hearty applause and retired.

A gentleman in the audience left his chair, and, walking over, spoke to
Mrs. White. He was Dr. Baker, one of the hospital staff.

"I think I know that child," he said. "Does she not live with an aged
couple named Manning?"

"I believe she does," replied Mrs. White, making a place for Dr. Baker to
sit down beside her. "My niece Dorothy is much interested in the
child--she seems to have a faculty for discovering genius, has Dorothy."

"Well, I have not seen little Mary for some years, but there is no
mistaking her. Her mother, an actress, died in one of the charity wards of
the hospital, and I am afraid the child has inherited the fatal malady
from her mother. She looks now like a consumptive."

Mrs. White was startled. Certainly Mary was delicate in appearance, but
she had not thought of her as having a disease.

"There's no time to spare in her case," said the physician in a low
voice. "Bring her to me as soon as you can."

"Dorothy did not expect to have a real case assisted so promptly,"
remarked Mrs. White. "It is rather out of the ordinary--a patient playing
for her own benefit."

"I suspect that your pretty niece brought this child out with the sole
purpose of making her happy," said Dr. Baker, "and she evidently has no
idea how much real happiness she is destined to confer on her. Perhaps a
month later it would have been too late to save her. Now I think we can,
though there is a flush on her cheeks that I do not like."

The curtains were separated to disclose the last number. It was a tableau
of all the girls and boys, posing as the "Haymakers." It made a beautiful
picture, the girls in their gaily-colored dresses, with great,
broad-brimmed hats, and the boys dressed in equally rural costumes.

Dorothy was so glad that it was all over--that this was the last picture.
Agnes stood next to her. The curtains were drawn, and then separated again
in response to insistent applause. There was a moment more of posing, and
then it was all over.

As the curtain shut out the sight of the audience, Agnes slipped her arm
around Dorothy's waist. Then she leaned over and whispered in her ear.

"I am sorry to have made all that fuss about--about him kissing me. But,
Doro, dear, I do hate a flirt, and everybody knows Tom Scott is in love
with you."




CHAPTER XXI

A STRANGE CONFESSION


Had Agnes actually struck her, Dorothy could not have been more surprised.
In the excitement and confusion of the finish of the performance, there
was neither the time nor the opportunity for Dorothy to resent such a
remark. But after she had reached The Cedars and her quiet, little room,
the words seemed to burn themselves into her mind. How dared any one to
speak so to her--a mere schoolgirl, with no thoughts of love?

Pained and distressed, she put aside all the play finery and threw herself
across the bed. Scarcely had she done so ere she heard her aunt's step
approaching.

"I came to congratulate you, my dear," said Mrs. White warmly. "Most of
the success of the entertainment was due to-- Why--what--you are almost
crying," and she stopped in some confusion.

"Oh, aunty!" wailed Dorothy. "I seem to be so misunderstood lately. And
Agnes Sinclair made such a queer--such a strange remark to me--just as I
was leaving the last tableau."

"Why, what could she say, child?"

"She said--she said," and Dorothy hesitated, while the warm blood coursed
to her pale cheeks--"she said--everybody knew Tom Scott was in--in love
with me!"

Mrs. White simply stared at her niece. Then she shook her head ruefully,
but she hardly knew what to say, for fear of further embarrassing Dorothy.

"Why, you dear, precious baby!" she exclaimed at length, as she placed her
hand caressingly on Dorothy's head. "Doesn't everybody know what Agnes
thinks of Tom? She is old enough to have such thoughts, and her reason for
inflicting them on you, my dear, is merely a consequence of you--of you
doing the work that older girls usually do. I should not have allowed you
to take so much responsibility, Dorothy. We know, however," continued Mrs.
White very gently, "that the pretty Agnes admires Mr. Scott very much. So
you must excuse her seeming indiscretion."

Dorothy's mind was instantly relieved. If Agnes did like Tom, of course
she might have thought he was neglecting her for Dorothy. And he had only
been trying to help Dorothy--there were so many things to do.

"But Agnes seemed so fond of Ned," spoke Dorothy after a pause.

"You are too tired to think about such things now," said Mrs. White
firmly. "You are over-sensitive. Why should you care about so trifling a
thing as that?"

Dorothy did not answer. She was tired--very tired. Perhaps she was
over-sensitive. But when she reflected that Ned had said almost the same
thing--

To change the subject Mrs. White told her niece about Dr. Baker, what he
had said, and how interested he was in little Mary.

"Oh, I'm so glad of that," said Dorothy. "I hope--"

But at that moment Tavia poked her head in the door to see what was going
on in Dorothy's room, that she had not come to her chum, or summoned her,
to talk over the events of the evening.

"Ned is calling for you, Mrs. White," said Tavia.

"I'll go at once; but remember," she commanded playfully to the two girls,
"no more chattering to-night. To-morrow is another day."

"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Tavia, when the door had closed on Mrs. White and
the two girls were alone in Dorothy's room, "I'm so frightened, Doro,
dear. I should have gone home. What am I going to say to my father?"

"I will do all the saying that is necessary," bravely offered Dorothy. "It
was I who kept you."

"Yes, and I know why."

"Why, then?"

"Simply to fix it up for me. You never could intrust me with such an
important commission."

"Well, I am sure when I have a chance to speak to your father--but, dear
me, there are so many things!"

"Oh, Doro, I just want to ask you if you saw the 'Babbling Brook' in the
audience? She was fairly eating up little Mary with those big optics of
hers."

"Miss Brooks? I did not see her," answered Dorothy. "Did she like Mary's
effort?"

"Like her? I should, say she fairly loved her, but then, you see, a sister
of hers had a baby girl once," and Tavia laughed to cover up the mistake
she had made in mentioning the affairs of Miss Brooks. "There, Doro, dear,
I'm going now. To-morrow is another day, as your aunt says," finished
Tavia, kissing Dorothy fondly and leaving her chum to think over all the
matters that now confused her tired, weary brain.

It was Roger who first tapped at his sister's door the next morning.

"Doro," he called, "when are we going out to see that ghost?"

"Ghost?" repeated the girl, rubbing her eyes and trying to collect her
scattered thoughts.

"Yes; you know you promised," and by this time Roger was in the room and
had his arms around her neck.

"Oh," she laughed, "we'll take a ride out to the castle just as soon
as--as Ned is able to go."

"He's going out riding to-day--I heard him say so," persisted the boy.

"Well, we'll see," replied Dorothy. "But you must run out now. My! it's
almost nine o'clock. I didn't think it was so late."

The entertainment had been so engrossing that all the thoughts of
Tanglewood Park and the mystery concerning it had entirely escaped
Dorothy's memory for the time being. But Roger had determined to know all
about that "scream," and only yesterday he had had a long talk with old
Abe down at the station; a long, serious talk. Abe told the little fellow
that there "sure was a ghost up at the castle," and when Joe, who was with
Roger, asked about the lady the old liveryman had driven up there, Abe
rolled up his eyes in an unpleasant fashion, and declared that the lady
was a "near-ghost" herself.

Roger told all this, and more, to Dorothy, so she was obliged to make a
tentative promise, at least, that she would go with him to the castle the
very first moment she could spare.

The boy renewed his request after breakfast, and was quite insistent.

"I can't go to-day," said his sister. "You know I have many little things
to attend to, Roger. It is almost Christmas, you remember, and--"

"Oh, here are your letters; I almost forgot!" cried the little fellow
suddenly, drawing from his pocket several envelopes. "Nat went to the
post-office while you were at breakfast."

The boy tossed the missives down and ran off. Dorothy glanced over her
mail. There were several letters from her school friends, as she could
tell by the writing, and some from acquaintances in Dalton. Then this
one--who could it be from?--postmarked in a city from which she had never
received any mail, and the address written in a strange hand.

She opened this one first, and this is what she read:

    "MY DEAR MISS DALE--This letter will undoubtedly
    surprise you. It is a strange Christmas letter for me to have to
    write. You may have forgotten my name, but I am the woman
    detective whom you met in Boardman's. I hardly know how to pen
    the words, but--_I put that ring into your bag_!

    "I am a very wretched woman, but to make this confession to you
    may, in a measure, at least, tend to soften the bitterness that
    rankles in my heart.

    "It would be useless for me to try to explain why I did you such
    a wrong--perhaps if I could talk with you it would be different.

    "Try to forgive me--try to know how wretched I am--sick, without
    work and without means.

    "But even pity seems bitter to me now--life has all gone wrong,
    and only the thought of your innocent face, and the black guilt
    I tried to fasten on you, has given me the strength to write
    this letter.

    "Ah, what a mockery Christmas is to the unfortunate!

                      "Yours, in sorrow,

                             "LOUISE DEARING."




CHAPTER XXII

STORMBOUND AT TANGLEWOOD


Dorothy dropped the letter in her lap. She was awed, surprised,
distressed. Then, Miss Brooks did not take the ring? And why should the
woman detective do such a thing?

For an instant only that thought occupied her. The next she pitied Miss
Dearing.

"Poor woman!" she sighed to herself. "After all, perhaps she is really a
victim of circumstances. And what a letter! If I only could help her--see
her before Christmas."

A smile, unbidden, stole across Dorothy's face as she pictured all the
tasks she had undertaken to accomplish "before Christmas."

"Luckily there are a few days left," she concluded "One can crowd a great
many things into two real, living days."

She hurried upstairs to read the letter again in seclusion. The positive
tone of sorrow in the missive touched her heart. There certainly did seem
many things to do, but here was plainly an emergency case. If she could
manage to go to the city, obtain Miss Dearing's address from the store, go
to see her, and then stop at Dalton on her way back--"

"I ought to be able to do that," she told herself. "And it would be such a
joy to take away all Tavia's worry before Christmas Day."

Then came the recollection that she really knew nothing to tell Squire
Travers--she really did not know what Tavia's trouble was. All the girl's
conversation on that point amounted to nothing more than inferences, vague
and uncertain.

"I am positive Tavia thinks I know all about it," concluded Dorothy, "and
I have just a mind to ask her outright. It would be so much easier than
beating about the bush this way."

"Doro! Doro!" screamed Roger at her door. "Come on! Get ready! We're going
out--for another--Christmas tree! Out to ghost park."

"I--can't!" called back his sister, but the next moment Nat was beside
her.

"Come on," he ordered, "get on your togs. We've got to get a hospital
tree. The ladies insist it shall be handpicked, and we've got to go to
Tanglewood Park."

"But do I really have to go?" begged Dorothy. "It's cold to ride, and I
wanted to--?"

"Put pink bows on red slippers! Oh, chuck it, Doro! I perfectly hate the
smell of Christmas. Tom and Roland are going, and so is Tavia."

He made a queer face as he said this--one of those indescribable boy
illustrations quite beyond interpretation.

"Is she?" asked Dorothy, not knowing anything better to say.

"And Tom and Roland, I repeat. We are going to duck the kiddies. Too cold
for little boys."

"Oh, then I shan't go," declared Dorothy. "We've been promising Joe and
Roger so long."

"But they don't want to go," insisted Nat. "Sammy Blake is launching his
iceboat."

"Oh, I suppose that is a superior attraction even to ghosts," said
Dorothy, laughing, "But why do we have to get a tree from the park?
Couldn't we buy one?"

"Just like a girl. We couldn't possibly buy trees last week, because--they
would not be hand-picked. This week why can't we buy them and--hang the
handpicked," he finished. "Now, do you understand, little girl, that the
tree is to be in the near-infant ward in the hospital?"

"Oh, I suppose there's no use arguing," decided Dorothy. "I may as well
give in."

"May better. Hurry along, now. We're to have a buffet lunch, and get gone
directly after. It's time to eat now," and he glanced at his watch.

Certainly the morning had passed--and the afternoon would no doubt be
equally short. Dorothy hurried to get her warm wraps, called to Tavia, and
was at the lunch-table before Nat had returned from the garage, whence he
brought the Fire Bird.

"If you do not get caught in a snowstorm this time," commented Major Dale,
"I will begin to lose faith in my prophetic bones. They ache for heavy
snow."

"Put it off until to-morrow, Uncle Frank," advised Nat. "Then we may get
the runners out."

"No, it's not that long off," insisted the major, cringing perceptibly
under the aches and pains for the coming storm. "I shouldn't wonder but it
reached us by sundown."

Ned was much better, able to sit near the window and wave to the departing
ones.

Tavia looked almost happy. Somehow, since she determined to "stick to
Dorothy," much of her apparent trouble seemed to have disappeared. She was
brighter than she had been for days, and even Nat threw off the restraint
he had shown toward her lately. At The Elms they picked up Tom, with
Roland's regrets, and with a dangerous-looking hatchet in hand--to bag
the game with.

"Roland had another dinner date," he explained. "I'm glad I'm not
handsome."

"But the ax?" asked Nat

"For the little tree, you know," replied Tom. "I've tried to catch
Christmas trees before."

"Well, we are pretty well loaded up," added Nat, producing from his pocket
a revolver.

"Oh!" screamed Tavia; "for goodness' sake is this a murderous plot?
I--want--my--mamma--"

"There, there, little girl, don't cry," simpered Tom. "A gun is a fine
thing in a jungle--"

"Where ghosts scream," added Dorothy.

"And buggies ride bugs," put in Nat, shifting the lever for more speed.
"Well, it's up to us to get there first, and then we may shoot up the
whole woods if we like. The girls may--may sit under a shady tree."

The deep gloom of an approaching storm made this proposal sound quite
ridiculous, and Dorothy declared she would prefer sitting in the Fire Bird
at a safe distance from the shooting. Tavia threatened to crawl under the
seat, and even vowed she would leave the car at once if the hatchet and
revolver were not at once put away--"out of her sight!"

"Well, I have made up my brilliant mind," said Nat, "that if that
screaming thing is in the woods I am going to get it dead or alive," and
he put up the pistol for the time being.

Talk of the play, and of Ned's condition, occupied much of the remaining
time consumed in the run to the woods, and when the tall chestnut trees of
Tanglewood Park finally faced the strip of road the Fire Bird was
covering, snowflakes were beginning to fall. And so fiercely did the winds
blow, that presently Nat had all he could do to manage the machine.

"No jollying about this," he made out to say, "I guess it's to the castle
for ours, whether we want to hunt ghosts or owls."

"Oh, will we really have to go in that dreadful place?" wailed Tavia. "I
think I would as soon die of freezing as die--"

"Of scaring," interrupted Tom, laughing. "Well, there is no immediate
cause for alarm in either direction," he went on, "but I think it will be
a good idea to get out of this gale as quickly as possible."

It surely was a gale now, and the wind seemed so solidified with the
biting specks of snow, that Dorothy and Tavia were quite satisfied to
bury their frost-bitten faces deep in the fur of muffs and scarfs, while
the young men turned up their overcoat collars and turned down the flaps
of the heavy auto caps, none too heavy, however, to keep out the
discomforts of the newly arrived blizzard.

Straight for the drive to the castle Nat directed the machine, and by the
time the old broken-down steps of the once spacious porch were reached,
even Tavia was glad to jump out of the Fire Bird and get her breath in a
secluded part of the old balcony.

"Whew!" whistled Tom. "This is something worth while for Christmas! I
never saw a storm develop any faster than this."

"Looks bad," commented Nat anxiously, for an automobile in a snowstorm is
not to be depended upon, "Hope it quits long enough for us to dash back
home."

"Well, we can't try it now, at any rate," replied Tom. "What do you say to
exploring?" and he went to the great, old oak door. "Open! Well, that's
luck," and as he spoke he pushed back the portal, although it seemed about
to fall, rather than swing on the rusty hinges.

The door opened, but no one attempted to enter the house. Nat looked in
gingerly, but the girls drew back to the shadow of a post, fearing
evidently some response to the intrusion.

"Oh, come on," suggested Tom. "Nobody's in here, and it's better, a good
sight, than being out in the storm."

Nat followed Tom's lead, and soon both young men had disappeared within
the old mansion.

The girls waited almost breathless--there was something so uncanny about
the place. But presently boyish shouts and merry calls from within assured
them that no trouble had been encountered, and it was Dorothy who proposed
that they follow and seek refuge from the winds, that found the girls'
ears and noses, in spite of the shelter of the old porch and the
protection of furs and wraps.

"Come on," suggested Dorothy. "Everything must be all right or the boys
would not be so jolly. I'm just dying to get indoors--anywhere."

"But the screaming ghost," Tavia reminded her. "And the traveling
lamp-post. I feel kind of scary--"

But Dorothy had poked her head in, and now stepped within the old hallway,
so that there was nothing left for Tavia to do but to follow.

"Here we are!" called Tom in that queer tone of voice peculiar to empty
houses.

"And look at the gorgeousness," announced Nat. "Ever see finer wood, or
better mantels? Why, I'll bet this was a regular castle, all right. Not so
bad now."

The young men were racing about from room to room, but the girls were not
so keen on investigating. Dorothy did walk through the great long parlors
and admire the handsome Italian marble mantels, and the library with
inlaid floor was also explored, but Tavia kept as near as possible to the
front door--ready to run, she explained.

"Why, there's nothing to be afraid of," said Dorothy, now quite at ease.
"The boys are in the very top of the house, over in the tower, and I am
sure if there was anything to fear, they would have discovered it by this
time."

"But the cellar," objected Tavia, who was really never as much frightened
as she pretended to be, for she had a way of "looking for trouble," as Nat
expressed it.

"When they come down I'll ask them to do the cellar," offered Dorothy,
with a laugh. "Then will you make yourself comfortable?"

Tavia sighed. "Oh, it's so spooky," she insisted. "I feel as if things are
getting ready to spring at us from every corner. And did you ever see so
many corners in one place in all your life?"

"Oh, come up and see the gallery room," called Nat from the top of the
stair-well. "If we don't bring the boys out here and have some doings!
This is the swellest kind of a place. Come on up, girls. Nary a ghost nor
a ghostie in the diggings."

Tom was singing snatches of songs, and Nat would join in when he came to a
"joining," so that the old house fairly rang with the echo of young voices
and merry laughter.

Ghost! What ghost could stand that? Tom Scott and Nat White singing coon
songs!

"Listen!" called Dorothy. "Tavia wants you to go down cellar to make
sure," she called to the boys.

"Oh, all right," agreed Tom. "We'll do the coal-bin and the wine cellar.
Now, if we only could chance upon an old bottle of home-made grape juice!"

He slid down the baluster rail in spite of Dorothy's protest, for the
floor below was of mosaics, and the rail might not be safe. But Tom landed
without accident, and presently was looking for a passageway to the
cellar.

With some difficulty the way was finally discovered, and Tom almost
tumbled down the dark passage as the door, first obstinate, suddenly gave
way to his pressure.

It was dark in the cellar--too dark for even Tom's comfort, but after
making a series of queer calls, and also supplying the answers, he
returned to the first floor, "intact," as Dorothy announced.

But Tom whispered something to Nat--when the girls were not near enough to
observe him.

"Things down there!" he said. "I could even smell them, and they did not
seem musty, either. Besides, look at everything. Nothing cut up or
damaged, like an old, deserted place. Some one may hang out here."

"The ghost," admitted Nat. "Let's see what it looks like outdoors."

Nat put his hand on the pocket, from which his diminutive revolver could
be seen to be outlined, and when the front door was opened a gust of wind
and snow forced him, as well as Tom, back into shelter.

"Rough," commented Tom, "and almost dark."

"Fierce!" exclaimed Nat in pardonable disgust. "How in the world are we to
get back?"

"Oh, can't we go now?" came from Dorothy. "It seems to be getting worse,
and if we don't get out of here before dark--"

"Oh, let us go!" pleaded Tavia. "I am just scared to death. This sort of
thing is all right for a page or two, but when it gets into a serial--"

"Not very interesting after the first glance, I'll admit," replied Tom;
"but the nearest house must be half a mile away."

"Suppose we run the machine into the shed and start off to walk?"
suggested Nat, now rather uncomfortable because of Tom's hint about the
cellar. "It will be better for the girls, at any rate. There's a farmhouse
at the turn into Glendale."

It did not take long for the party to follow out this proposal, and in
spite of the wind and snow the four young people started bravely off, Nat
supporting Dorothy, while Tom put his strong arm about the uncertain
Tavia--uncertain because she not only slipped continually, but threatened
to do so in between the actual occurrences.

"Awful!" called back Nat, who was somewhat in advance.

"And can't see even the path," yelled Tom, "This snow must have fallen all
in one piece."

"If it only would not get dark so quickly," Tavia sobbed, for, indeed, the
girl was almost crying--the matter had become very serious--darkness,
snowdrifts and wilderness.

"Wait!" called Tom, feeling that Tavia might not be so alarmed if all were
closer together.

Nat and Dorothy stood until the others came up.

Then all four trudged on again. However, could they cover a half mile at
that rate?

"We ought to have brought an auto lamp," said Nat.

No sooner had he uttered the words than he slipped, Dorothy fell with him,
Tom and Tavia tumbled, full drive, after them, and all were plunged into a
hole deep enough to terrify the girls and even to alarm the boys.

"Well," exclaimed Tom, as quickly as he could get speech, "that hole was
covered up with a light blanket."

Tavia and Dorothy succeeded in getting to their feet almost as promptly as
did the boys, but the shock and the heavy snow had now almost exhausted
both.

"Oh," sighed Dorothy, "I don't see how we can ever walk a half mile in
this?"

"Nor I," answered Nat "We've got to turn back. We can have shelter, at
least, in the castle, and there's likely to be some food in the machine.
Norah always pokes a bundle in for a trip like this."

Weary, depressed and bitterly cold, they made their way back to the old
mansion. Many a slip marked the way, and many a stifled cry escaped from
the girls in spite of their determination to be brave.

Nat hurried to the Fire Bird, and was not disappointed in his quest, for
he brought back to the waiting ones a bundle of such food as the
thoughtful Norah made a practice of slipping into the car when the young
folks went for a long run.

"Well, that's lucky," commented Tom. "And let us get right at it. Nothing
better to ward off cold than a good feed."

"Where?" asked Tavia, referring to the place to eat, not to the location
of a possible cold.

Nat brought the machine lamps and placed one on either corner of the
broad, low mantel in the dining-room. It was not difficult to know this
room from the others, for frescoed mottoes, still clear enough to be made
out, invited all strangers, as well as those who roofed therein, to "eat,
drink and be merry," and otherwise.

"We must imagine ourselves a jolly hunting party," said Dorothy, "just
brought in from a sudden storm. The young lord has invited us, of course."

"An awful stretch," remarked Nat. "I would not be particular about the
lord's age if he would only make good just about now."

"And are we really here--for--the night?" gasped Tavia, swallowing a
morsel of the sandwich Nat handed her.

"Oh, we may get out," answered Tom, none too hopefully. "But if we don't
we must make the best of it. It's too bad for you girls, though."

"Yes," added Nat, his tone following Tom's in its unmistaken note of
regret. "I was a fool not to listen to Uncle Frank's knee."

The joke brought forth a very feeble laugh, but even that was better than
the groans Tavia had been indulging in. Perhaps an hour passed while our
friends were trying to "make the best of it," and then, after putting by
the remnants of the lunch for future use, the boys fairly exhausted
themselves doing "stunts" calculated to amuse the girls and make them
forget the terrors around them.

"Now, I'll just tell you," declared Nat. "There's a sort of couch under
each of those posts in the parlor. Tavia take one and Dorothy the other,
Tom and I will stand guard. You may as well rest, even if you cannot
sleep, for even in the morning it's going to be heavy traveling."

At first the girls declared they, too, would stand guard, but when Tom
added his reasoning to that of Nat's and the tired ones realised that if
they had to walk through the snow in the morning they surely would have
to rest their weary muscles, they finally consented to "stretch out" on
the low seat that marked the archway from parlor to parlor.




CHAPTER XXIII

THE GHOST THAT REALLY WALKED


It did seem absurd, in spite of the fact that they were snowbound in a
"haunted house." The big automobile lamps glared brilliantly from the
mantel, and Tom, with Nat, found another place to rest--on the long, low
bench that formed a really artistic seat at the foot of the broad
stairway.

"Many a gay fellow has rested here, between the dances, don't you think?"
asked Nat. "I fancy I hear the other fellow and his girl coming down the
stairs at this moment." He threw himself back in a mocking attitude, while
Tom bowed to the "girl coming down the stairs."

But the boys were tired; conversation broke into uneven sentences, then
words fell into syllables and finally there remained only the
punctuation--a full stop.

Dorothy was dreaming that the men in the boats on the Italian marble
mantel were coming to rescue her. Tavia had a weakness for brilliant
nightmares, and she dreamed that the crystal chandeliers were
coming--coming down, to strike her directly in the face.

She screamed, and every one started up.

"What was it?" cried Dorothy, on her feet in an instant.

Tom and Nat jumped up as quickly, Nat with revolver in hand, and Tom
grasping the hatchet.

"I certainly saw a light at the end of the hall," whispered Nat to Tom.
"Don't alarm the girls--just watch."

"What was it?" asked Dorothy again.

"Oh, I was dreaming," replied Tavia drowsily, "and that heavy old
chandelier came right down and hit me in the face."

"Keep your dreams quiet next time," said Nat, attempting to laugh. "You
gave us all a start."

"What time is it?" Dorothy inquired.

Tom glanced at his watch.

"Midnight!" he exclaimed. "Would you believe it? We must have all been
asleep."

"And you promised not to shut an eye?" accused Tavia. "How do we know but
that we are all kidnapped?"

Just then Nat grasped Tom's arm.

"The light!" he whispered.

"Oh!"

Dorothy and Tavia had both seen it.

Too frightened to speak, they clung to each other and stood terrified. Tom
and Nat stepped farther out into the hallway.

For an instant no one uttered a sound. The next a noise--distinct and
welcome--fell upon their ears--the sound of Major Dale's voice.

"It's father!" called Dorothy, breaking away from Tavia. "Oh, they've
found us! Let them in! Quick!"

No need to tell the boys that, for the front door was unbolted, and Major
Dale rushed in before any of them could actually realize that he had come.

"Oh, father!" gasped Dorothy, falling into his arms. "If you had not
come--I should have died!"

"You poor foolish--babies!" he said. "But let the man in. He's frozen, if
I am not."

Tavia had her arms around the major's neck--he was patting both girls
affectionately.

"There! there!" he soothed. "Now you are all right. Dad's here, and we
will be all right presently. Norah sent out the relief stuff--you be
starved and perished."

"He won't come in," called Nat, referring to the man outside, "Says he's
afraid."

"Oh, the foolish fellow," replied the major. "I had the greatest time to
get him here, once he found out I was coming to the castle. He vowed he
saw lights, and heard screams. He's the fellow who drove the woman out
here--Abe, you know."

"Oh, yes," said Nat. "That's it. Well, if he won't come in he'll freeze."

"Perhaps if he sees girls-- I'll go and ask him," volunteered Dorothy,
now somewhat composed.

Although they had passed from the rear hall to the front, Tom kept his eye
on the end of the long passageway. He had seen a light flash back
there--he could have sworn to it.

"Here he is!" called Dorothy. "I knew old Abe would come in when I asked
him. Right over here, Abe. See, we have plenty of light--"

As if by magic, or some uncanny power, no sooner had she uttered the word
"light" than a brilliant flash was plainly seen at the rear of the hall.

The next moment a piercing scream rang out--the same they had heard once
before--only so much more terrible to them now--so hideous--so fiendish!

The old colored man tried to move, but he stood as if transfixed.

Major Dale was major again, there ready to order, to command--erect,
brave, bold, defiant.

Nat never seemed to move.

Tom stood waiting for his orders.

Dorothy and Tavia fell back terrified.

"That scream came from a human being," spoke the major finally. "We must
investigate at once. Here, Abe, you take this lamp." Trembling as if he
had the ague, the old colored man took the lamp from the mantel. "Tom, you
have an ax. Nat, your gun may be handy. Now, girls, don't be alarmed. We
are too many for any one here. Just sit there in that corner while we look
about."

To all, save Abe and the girls, there was a fascination about this weird
hunt. Something or some one screamed. This was surely a vigorous type of
ghost.

"Easy, now!" whispered the major as they turned the end of the hall
"There!" he exclaimed. "I saw a light flash back of that double door!"

"So did I," agreed Tom, "Let's look in the room."

"Come on, Abe," urged the major, for Abe quickly fell behind.

The heavy folding-doors were pushed aside with some effort. This opened
the way into a small room like a butler's pantry.

"What was that?" asked Nat as a noise sounded.

"The shutting of a heavy door--and the light went with it," declared Major
Dale. "Now to find the door."

Nat took the light from Abe, and flashed it up and down the heavily
paneled walls.

"It's some secret passage, likely," said the major. "Every old house has
one, I believe."

"What's--this?"

Nat had come upon a joining in the woodwork.

"That's it!" declared the major, examining the crack carefully. "But where
might it open?"

All, even old Abe, felt the wall, up and down, covering every inch within
reach.

"There!" exclaimed the major finally. "I've covered a square. It opens
from the other side. Tom, here with your ax!"

Dorothy and Tavia had heard every word. Now they stopped their ears. It
was too dreadful.

Blow after blow fell on the heavy woodwork.

Chop! Chop! Chop!

But not a word was spoken.

Then the sound of splintered wood.

The panel was falling in.

"Careful!" cautioned Major Dale.

"There she goes!"

Another scream!

"Here, now!" cried the major, seizing the lamp and dashing through the
opening with the agility of a schoolboy. "Just surrender, and stop that!"

But he almost fell back--Tom's arm saved him.

"I never!" he exclaimed. "It's old Captain Mayberry!"




CHAPTER XXIV

THE RESCUE


The sight that had so suddenly shocked Major Dale and his helpers was
indeed appalling.

Within the secret room they had found a man, not a ghost nor a demon, but
a sick, almost helpless old man--the once popular Captain Mayberry.

At a glance it was plain he was in hiding in the wretched place, and the
surroundings showed he had food and some of life's necessities within
reach, although the very rats, whose presence were painfully evident, must
have enjoyed a keener advantage in the mansion, once proud of the name
"Mayberry."

Frightened almost into convulsions, the decrepit old man fell back into a
corner, his eyes glaring with the unmistakable gleam of insanity, and his
teeth chattering terribly.

A stove, barely alive with heat, served to shelter him from the intruders,
for he managed to get behind the old piece of iron, and there crouched and
shuddered.

"Come, come!" said Major Dale as quickly as he could command his voice.
"Don't you know me? Look! I'm Dale--of the Guards--come to save you, Cap.
We have no wish to frighten you!"

"Save me!" hissed the old man. "Go away! I'm crazy--crazy!"

"Not a bit of it," answered the major, stepping nearer to the stove. "Come
along. We are snowbound, and had to come in uninvited."

Assured that the specter was a man and nothing more nor less, Tom had
hurried back to reassure the girls. Nat turned his attention to old Abe,
and, between scolding and explaining, finally succeeded in quieting the
colored man's fears. But the major kept close to the lunatic--for such he
took Captain Mayberry to be.

"And don't you remember me?" he kept asking, satisfied that a gleam of
recognition did pass over the wrinkled face that now peered out into the
glare of the lamp from the Fire Bird. "Come! We are hungry, and you are
too, I'll wager. Let's have mess. Rations are plenty to-night."

Crawling like some animal, the old man was finally persuaded to come out
from behind the stove.

Major Dale laid his hand on the arm of Captain Mayberry.

[Illustration: "GO AWAY--I'M CRAZY, CRAZY!"--_Page_ 220.]

"Just out here," directed the major, leading the trembling one. "You see,
we have taken possession of your house. Tell me how you feel? How you
are?"

Major Dale wanted him to talk, both to quiet the girls' fears and to
determine his actual state of mind. But Captain Mayberry's speech was very
slow, and decidedly confused.

"I--guess--I'm all right--now," he managed to utter. "Where's--Jane?"

"Jane? Oh, yes, Jane," repeated the major. "That's your sister, Miss
Pumfret?"

"Was--not now. She locks me up--leaves me to die!"

"Oh, now, come. Isn't it Jane who brings you things to eat?" asked the
major, venturing a guess. "Why, didn't she send--the coal--and the bread?"

"Yes, yes," answered the old man, "but she will not let me go. She drove
me crazy. Yes, and I'm crazy now."

"Not a bit of it. Here, sit down on this seat," and Major Dale motioned to
Tom. "This young man will stay by you to keep you company while we prepare
the mess. Perhaps you will show us how to get water? And have you any way
of lighting up?"

A look of intelligence crossed Captain Mayberry's face. He shuffled over
to a corner, and actually pressed a button.

The chandeliers poured out a flood of electric light.

"Jane did that," he muttered. "She likes light."

"Well, I'll be hanged!" exclaimed Tom.

"And I'll be jiggered!" added Nat.

"The poor old man!" whispered Dorothy, venturing to take a step toward
him. "And to think we were afraid of him!"

"Were!" remarked Tavia significantly. "I'm just scared to death this very
minute. Suppose he screams again?"

"What if he does?" Dorothy whispered back. "Surely he has more cause to
fear us than we have to fear him. I'm going to--help--with things."

Abe stood with wide-open mouth surveying "the ghost."

Tom and Nat had brought the relief supplies from the wagon--old Abe's
strongest carry-all--which had successfully weathered the snowdrifts
between Tanglewood Park and The Cedars.

"It's stopped snowing," announced Nat cheerfully. "Guess we will be able
to make it all right by daylight."

"Fall in! fall in!" called the major, making a place for Captain Mayberry
on the end of the seat that served as table and chairs collectively.

It was a queer meal--but a delightful one.

The relief that Major Dale brought was not in food alone.

"And there's the coffee!" he announced. "Will one of you boys just let
that stand on the stove in the captain's private room?"

Tom jumped to comply. He readily found the means of lighting the secret
room, and soon found other conveniences, such as water and cooking
utensils.

Captain Mayberry had not forgotten how to eat. He was "almost human," as
Nat whispered to Dorothy.

"Here, guard!" called the major. "Fetch that coffee. Help yourself." This
to the captain. "We eat according to rank this time."

Captain Mayberry seemed to smile. He took the cup of coffee--then the
others raised their cups to drink a toast.

"To the Guards!" proposed the major. "Long life and happiness to the last
of them!"

It was a strange sight--the cracked and broken cups that Tom had secured
in the captain's quarters raised to drink the honored toast!

"And a merry Christmas to Captain Mayberry!" called out Dorothy.

Old Abe dropped his cup--spilled his coffee. He looked down ruefully at
the puddle on the floor.

"Any mo'?" he asked. It was the first word he had spoken since he entered
the house.

Tom refilled the cup.

"Take care of that," he cautioned Abe. "It's about all."

"What time?" asked the major, addressing Nat.

"Four! Would you believe it? It will be daylight soon."

"Glad of it," replied the major. "We can't leave here any too quickly. It
has cleared, you say?"

"Beautifully," answered Nat; "and the sun to-morrow will be a 'ringer' for
the moon to-night. I'll bet it will be one of those dazzling days--"

"Likely," agreed the major. "We must take Mayberry back with us," he said
in a low voice. "Poor old chap! To think that I should find him--and in
such a pitiable condition!"




CHAPTER XXV

YOUTH AND OLD AGE


When the first streak of dawn threw its shadow upon the fleecy blanket
that surrounded the old Mayberry Castle, there stood before the door the
Fire Bird and the wagon old Abe called his "carry-all."

Into the latter vehicle Captain Mayberry was almost lifted, wrapped in
every conceivable sort of warm covering that could be found in his strange
quarters. A heavy, and formerly handsome fur coat, besides thick, woolly
scarfs and great old army boots had been dug out from queer hiding places,
and these were heaped and piled upon the captain until scarcely the
outline of his pinched face was left to the danger of the winter morning.

On either side of Captain Mayberry sat Major Dale and Tom Scott, while old
Abe was directed to drive this party to the railroad station, as it had
been decided that the sick or insane man should at once be taken to the
hospital for treatment.

"To think," whispered Dorothy to Tavia as they started off, "that our
hospital play should have enabled us to send the poor old man directly to
the Institution. We never dreamed who would be our first patient."

"Lucky it's not me or you," commented Tavia, still taking a morbid view of
the night's experience.

"And father says he will send for the captain's sister, and try to have
them reconciled. That seems to be what worries the old man so much--Jane
is angry with him, he declares.

"And I wouldn't do a thing to Jane," declared Tavia. "In my opinion jail
would be too good for her. The idea of keeping that old scarecrow cooped
up there!"

"But perhaps she did it to keep him out of the institutions. You know,
some people have queer ideas about asylums."

"Did it to save cash, likely. Look out, there, Nat! Don't dump us in that
snowdrift!"

"No danger," called back Nat from the front seat. "This is all right--road
good and hard, and not so slippery."

"Suppose the old fellow should get hilarious," ventured Tavia. "Do you
suppose Tom and the major could hold him in that trap?"

"Oh, indeed he is too weak to be violent," responded Dorothy. "And I
rather think he will enjoy the ride. He said he made it a habit to go out
every day, just about nightfall. He had sense enough to know he must have
fresh air or die."

Tired from the night's vigil, the occupants of the Fire Bird soon wearied
of conversation, and the drive behind the stage coach was made in silence,
save for the creaking of the snow on the frosty roads, and the occasional
sounds of an early morning team bound for the town along the old turnpike.

At the Four Corners the Fire Bird cut ahead of the coach, and with a merry
call to the captain, the major, Tom and even to old Abe, the occupants of
the car soon left behind them the carry-all, as well as the road to
Tanglewood Park.

Arriving at The Cedars, in spite of all protests, Dorothy and Tavia were
"put to bed," while Norah brought from the kitchen great bowls of beef
tea, declaring each young lady should drink at least a quart, "to save
them from nemonie," and that the hot foot baths they had would be repeated
unless the girls were soon sound asleep.

So it was that now, two days before Christmas, The Cedars was suddenly
plunged into a state of subdued excitement. What might happen next not
even little Roger dared speculate about.

But that afternoon, when Major Dale was expected to return from his trip
to the hospital, and Dorothy and Tavia were sufficiently rested to be down
at the station waiting to meet them, the appearance of Miss Brooks brought
Tavia suddenly back to the realization of her own predicament.

The little woman ran into the station just in time to obtain her ticket
for a late city train, and had not a moment to spare, so that there was no
opportunity of either Dorothy or Tavia exchanging a word with her.

"Whew!" exclaimed Tavia, glancing after the woman. "What do you suppose it
all means? Did you observe the togs?"

"Didn't she look pretty?" commented Dorothy, "I never saw a person change
so with--a new outfit."

"Wonder if she found it--in somebody's bag?"

"Tavia!" exclaimed Dorothy, her voice ringing with indignation. "You must
never again speak that way of Miss Brooks. We did wrong to suspect her for
a moment. She had absolutely nothing to do with the ring."

"Oh, you know all about it, do you? Of course, she says she had absolutely
nothing to do with it."

"No, she has said nothing of the kind. The person who really took
it--that is, the one who put it in my bag--has admitted doing it."

"Who?"

"Well, you really must not ask, because, Tavia, dear, I know the person
was terribly pressed, somehow, and it does not seem right for me to spread
the story of her misfortune. I haven't even told Aunt Winnie."

"Oh, of course, you can keep it to yourself if you have a mind to,"
replied Tavia in injured tones, "but it strikes me that is rather too
interesting a story to be so selfish about."

Dorothy made no reply to this charge--she had not the slightest idea of
betraying the confidence Miss Dearing had given in her miserable
confession.

Further than this, to-morrow Dorothy was determined to go to the city and
search for Miss Dearing, even though it would be the day before Christmas.

The arrival of the city express, from which Major Dale alighted, stopped
further comment.

"I was so afraid you would miss this train," exclaimed Dorothy, embracing
him, "and I was so worried about you--things seem to be happening so
queerly these days."

"Yes, daughter," replied the major, "things are certainly happening. You
should have seen Captain Mayberry in his new quarters."

"Did they give him the new bed? The one our play paid for?"

"Indeed, they did. And, what's better, they say he is not by any means
incurable. In fact, I am very hopeful, with the proper treatment--"

"Well, I hope they won't forget the proper treatment for that sister,"
interrupted Tavia.

"Even that we hope to make right," replied the major. "I have sent for
Miss Pumfret, and expect she may arrive at The Cedars to-night."

"Good!" exclaimed Tavia, with what might be termed "unholy glee." "Just
let me introduce myself!" and she made a pretense of showing her muscle.

"There's the surrey," announced Dorothy, as Nat drove up. "We walked down,
it was so delightful in the snow. But Aunt Winnie insisted we should not
take out the big sleigh. She says the horses are always so skittish when
first put to the cutter, and she was afraid of some other accident."

Major Dale exchanged some words with old Abe before stepping into the
vehicle that served in place of the Fire Bird.

"The eight o'clock train," Dorothy overheard her father say. "And be sure
to have the light buggy."

"She's coming on the eight," whispered Tavia to Nat. "What do you say if
we waylay them and give her a snow bath to cool her off? I'd just like to
sail into that lady."

Nat did not reply--the major was now in the surrey, and the little horse
started off at a lively trot.

Numbers of cutters and sleighs passed them--every one seemed anxious to
make sure of the first sleigh-ride.

One particularly handsome rig was just approaching.

"Whew!" exclaimed Nat. "Look at Agnes Sinclair--and that's Tom Scott with
her."

It was indeed Agnes and Tom, in a new cutter with waving plumes at the
dashboard, and as the rig passed along, Dorothy noticed that the plumes
just matched Agnes' cheeks.

And it may as well be told now that when Agnes Sinclair and Tom Scott
stopped at the post-office that very evening Tom posted a number of little
notes for Agnes--an informal tea was to be given at Ferndale.

Every single person who got one of these notes knew exactly what it
meant--the announcement of the engagement of Miss Agnes Sinclair to
Thomas Dudley Scott.

Of course, Dorothy and Tavia were invited, and the card of Agnes' mother
came with that of the daughter. Mrs. Sinclair and Mrs. White were close
friends.

"I have been wondering why Mrs. Sinclair had not called to see Ned,"
commented Mrs. White when Dorothy handed her the cards. "This explains it,
of course. Dorothy, what did I tell you? See how well trained my eyes
are."

"But when Agnes showed plainly she wanted to pose with Ned," argued
Dorothy, "that was--"

"Just to throw you off the scent, of course," finished Mrs. White. "Well,
I am glad we are going to have an engagement for the holidays. It will
make a little round of gaieties for the young folks. Dorothy, you may give
Agnes her first shower."

"And make it something good to eat," suggested Nat. "No fun in giving a
girl a lot of drygoods--make it ice-cream."

Ned was recovering rapidly, and he too joined in suggesting plans for the
"handing around of Agnes." He insisted it was up to him and Nat to give
Tom a sendoff, and finally did obtain Mrs. White's permission to give a
bachelor dinner in the coach house. They wanted the affair given where
there would be no objection to either noise or "muss," as Nat put it, so
the coach house was decided upon.

"Plans, plans, nothing but plans," sang Tavia. "I wish some one would make
plans for me. I would like to elope this very evening. I am not particular
about having a partner in the going away; a railroad ticket would answer."

Dorothy glanced up quickly at Tavia. She knew the latter almost meant what
she said--that is, she would really like to run away before Christmas
morning.

"And shake me?" asked Nat in mock concern. "Now, Tavia, you and I have
been friends for a long, long time--"

But this was too much for Tavia. Suddenly she jumped up, put her hand to
her eyes and dashed from the room.

"She's crying!" whispered Ned.

Then Dorothy, too, left the room. She went to comfort Tavia.




CHAPTER XXVI

THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS


"Well, I never expected to forgive him--he was so mean and obstinate--"

The unpleasant, treble voice of Miss Jane Pumfret was interrupted by the
lower tones of Major Dale.

"But, my dear woman," he said, "Captain Mayberry is not responsible--he is
sick, mentally and physically."

"Well, I'll see," and she arose to go, "I am not much of a hand at making
up, anyway."

"But if you could have seen how he begged me to send for you. He seemed to
fear you would be angry with him for leaving the old place."

"Angry? More likely to be scared to death. I could not believe the old
stage driver that you had really brought him to a hospital. Well, I must
be going." She was almost at the door. "Don't mention my name to him, if
you please."

Major Dale was at his wits' end. He feared the old captain would be beyond
consolation if he did not do as he had promised--send Miss Pumfret to him
at once.

Dorothy was just on the stairs. At a glance she understood that her father
had failed to bring about a reconciliation between Captain Mayberry and
his sister. She approached them.

"You are Miss Pumfret, I know," she began, without waiting for her
father's introduction. "Isn't it perfectly splendid?--the news from
Captain Mayberry, I mean. He seemed as pleased as a child when I promised
him a merry Christmas, and to-morrow morning I am going into the hospital
to make sure he gets it. Won't you come with me? He will be delighted to
see you, I am sure."

Miss Pumfret looked at the impetuous girl who was going to make sure her
brother had a merry Christmas.

"You see," hurried on Dorothy, taking advantage of the moment to further
press her request, "we just had the place ready for him. We gave a play,
and had a new bed at our disposal."

"My brother a charity patient!" exclaimed the woman. "Why, there's plenty
of money in the property, but I won't touch pen to paper to sign--"

"Of course, we can take care of him," interrupted Dorothy; "but I thought
maybe you would like to make him a little Christmas present--it is
visiting day to-morrow and the day before Christmas."

Little Miss Pumfret glared at Dorothy. Then she stepped back and sank down
on the hall seat. "Well," she exclaimed finally, "I'm an old-fashioned
woman. Never was used to youngsters' interference, but I like your cheek
(this was said with evident sincerity and no idea of being frivolous).
I've just a good mind--"

"Oh, do, do, Miss Pumfret! Come with me to-morrow and tell him you will
sell Tanglewood Park and--fix it all up--"

"How you do race on! But it's getting late. Perhaps--"

"I'll meet you at the ten o'clock train," went on Dorothy, while even
Major Dale was forced to smile at her impetuosity. "I have so many places
to go, but I am going to the hospital first."

Miss Pumfret put out her hand--it shook visibly.

"Little girl," she said, "you are right. You have said it all for me. Come
to-morrow and say it all over again to--Nick."

Tears fell down the old pinched cheeks, but Dorothy kissed them away. She
had found the path to Jane Pumfret's affection--it was cheek, just plain
cheek, sometimes called courage.

Yes, it was late, but Dorothy still had Tavia to console--if only she
could insist upon Tavia spending Christmas at The Cedars--Dorothy had
unlimited faith in the magic of the day before Christmas. Nat called to
her as she started up to Tavia's room.

"I say, Doro, maybe I--could help. I'd like to tell her it's all right. I
was mean about it. You know, Tavia and I went--in it--together."

"Oh," replied Dorothy vaguely, "I really don't know what you mean."

Nat saw that he was about to betray a secret. He thought, naturally, that
Tavia had confided fully in Dorothy.

"Oh, I just meant," he stammered, "that if I can say anything to make
Tavia feel--more at home, you know--don't hesitate to ask me."

Tavia was at the head of the stairs looking straight at him.

"Thanks!" she spoke up, all the tears evidently gone. "But if it's all the
same to both of you, I would prefer that you keep your pretty saying for
Christmas. I'm just dead tired, and fully expect to be asleep in exactly
ten minutes."

Dorothy saw that the sudden burst of gloom had been overcome, and knew
that Tavia would actually be as good as her word and asleep in ten
minutes.

"Good-night, then," called Nat, "and don't forget that to-morrow is the
day before Christmas."

"Good-night," added Dorothy, "and don't forget you are to attend to
everything to-morrow while I am in the city. See what it is to be on a
charity committee! I'll have to have a substitute help with all the most
important things--there's heaps to be done yet."

"Good--nig-h-t!" drawled Tavia with a forced yawn. "I am not sure that I
will wake up until the day after Christmas."

"To bed! To bed, every one!" called Mrs. White, and then both troubles and
pleasant anticipations for a happy ending to the queer holiday became
hopelessly tangled in the dreams of the young folks at The Cedars.

Dorothy's last clear thought was: "To-morrow something must happen to make
it all right, for to-morrow is the day before Christmas."

The sun was streaming in her window when she opened her eyes. She jumped
up with a start, for she was to get an early train, go first to the
hospital, then search out the wretched Miss Dearing.

"I could never be happy on Christmas, and think perhaps she might be
starving. When I find her I will-- But how can I tell what I may have to
do?"

Hurriedly she partook of breakfast and jumped into the depot cart that Nat
had driven up to the door.

"Take care that Tavia does not worry," Dorothy cautioned the young man. "I
know she has a trouble, and I am sure somehow it will be all adjusted by
to-night. I depend upon the witches of Christmas Eve."

Nat laughed and assured her he "would keep track of Tavia." Then the train
steamed in, and Dorothy was gone.

"Suppose she fails to meet me," mused the girl, whose very red cheeks were
the source of some remarks from a lady in the opposite seat.

Dorothy always looked pretty, but she looked charming when the clear red
blood rose to her cheeks and made her deep blue eyes flash like stars,
actually ignited with the torch of anticipation.

"But I am sure she will be there. Miss Pumfret is the sort of woman I
should think would never break her word."

Nor was she disappointed in her estimate; Jane Pumfret waited--even had a
cab ready to drive with Dorothy to the hospital, there to see the new
patient, Captain Nick Mayberry.

"Perhaps I had better go first and prepare him," suggested Dorothy as they
reached the door of the private room and saw the one spotless bed--the
gift of the young ladies' auxiliary.

"No need, dear," objected Miss Pumfret. "Now that I've made up my mind to
it I actually can't wait."

The next moment Dorothy drew back to allow brother and sister their own
happy moment--Jane Pumfret had the old white-haired man in her arms, was
embracing him like a child, and the nurse smiled in complete satisfaction
as she, too, stepped aside with Dorothy.

"That is all he wants," she said, "He has worried constantly, and I was so
afraid she would not come--I know Miss Pumfret."

Just then the telephone rang. The nurse picked up the receiver. She
listened to the call from the office. Then she answered:

"I'm awfully sorry, but I cannot see how we can take her. We haven't a
single public bed unoccupied."

She waited a moment, then resumed: "Poor thing. I hate to have you turn
her away, but what can we do?"

"A bed," thought Dorothy. "Why, of course, Miss Pumfret will provide a
private one for her brother, and perhaps--"

But she did not wait to think further.

"Nurse," she interrupted, her voice carrying through the 'phone, "perhaps
that patient could have our bed. Captain Mayberry is to go to the private
wing."

In a few words the nurse gathered Dorothy's meaning.

Then she told the matron, speaking through the transmitter, to hold the
applicant.

"Would you like to come with me?" she asked Dorothy, as she prepared to
interview the prospective patient. "Miss Pumfret will be here for some
time yet."

Down the broad marble steps, that seemed to exude everything antiseptic
and sterilized, Dorothy hurried along after the head nurse. Into a large
hall, then across this into a small waiting-room they passed.

"The patient is only ill from neglect and nervous exhaustion," explained
the nurse, "or I would not invite you down."

A second white-capped and white-robed attendant opened the door. Dorothy
stepped in first. A woman sat on a leather chair in the far corner of the
room.

"She is very weak," explained the second nurse to the first, "and I really
was afraid to let her go."

The woman raised her head.

"Miss Dearing!" exclaimed Dorothy, too surprised to suppress her
astonishment, "Why, I am so--glad I have found you!"

The woman tried to open her lips, but a sudden movement of her head showed
that she had fainted.

"And you know her?" asked the nurses, quickly restoring the woman to
consciousness with simple restoratives.

"Slightly," replied Dorothy. "I will wait to see how she gets along."

From the scene in the waiting-room Dorothy hurried back to the side of
Captain Mayberry. She wanted to ask Miss Pumfret about the bed.

"Oh, here you are!" exclaimed the little woman pleasantly. "I was just
telling Nick what a girl you are. Perhaps you can tell us how to go about
getting him into the private ward. He liked it first-rate here," she
hurried to explain, "but there's no sense in keeping this bed from some
one who may need it."

Dorothy touched the button at the door to call an attendant. It was the
head nurse who answered.

"We can have this bed," stammered Dorothy, scarcely able to speak through
her excitement. "Miss Pumfret wishes Captain Mayberry removed to the
private wing."

"That will do nicely," answered the nurse, smiling. "Your friend has been
taken into the observation ward. She will remain there until her case is
diagnosed. It was providential that you spoke when you did, or she might
have fainted in the street if we had turned her away, and we are not
allowed to take patients who apply as she did, unless they are vouched
for. You see, it was well you happened to know her."

"Could I speak with her?" asked Dorothy timidly.

"That is precisely what I came up for. She wants very much to speak with
you."




CHAPTER XXVII

ALL IS WELL


"No, I'm not a bit excited," pleaded Miss Dearing when the nurse cautioned
her to keep quiet. "I'm only happy. I was dying long before I came here,
and now I can rest in a bed, and perhaps I will have the courage to get
well again."

"Of course you will," insisted Dorothy, delighted that she had been
instrumental in actually saving a life. "And perhaps Christmas will bring
you peace and courage."

"No, but you have brought it. When I look at your fair face-- Don't you
know, that was why I put the ring in your bag?" she asked suddenly. "I
knew your face would clear you before any accuser in the world."

Dorothy put her finger to her lips. She did not want Miss Dearing to
discuss the painful subject. But the sick woman was persistent.

"And from that moment some evil genius followed me. I did it because other
detectives had been praised for making arrests, and I had made none. I
could not afford to lose my place, for my mother--was dying. She died,
thank God, before she knew her daughter had lied for her, had herself
actually been accused of stealing--stealing to earn a dollar!"

"Now, please," begged Dorothy, "do not talk any more about it. When you
get well I will come in and see you. My aunt will want a great deal of
sewing done. Perhaps you may be able to come to her."

It was actually noon-time, and Dorothy had to hurry back to The Cedars.
Miss Pumfret and the captain were still talking about old family affairs,
and seemed supremely happy as she left them. The captain, explained the
nurse, was suffering more from neglect than any specific ailment, and he
had already responded remarkably to treatment.

"Isn't it a queer holiday?" Dorothy asked herself once more in the train,
getting back to The Cedars. "And now for Tavia's troubles."

Nat met her at the station, all smiles, but otherwise provokingly
uncommunicative.

He simply would not tell her a word of what might have occurred in her
absence, and she finally gave up asking him to do so.

"All right," she assured him. "If Tavia's gone I'll blame you, that's
all."

Roger met her at the door.

"Some one's waiting for you in the parlor, Doro," he said, without waiting
to "digest" his sister's greeting.

Dorothy opened the parlor door. There sat Miss Brooks and little Mary
Mahon.

"We came in to wish you a merry Christmas," said Miss Brooks, with her arm
about Mary. "This is my niece, my sister's only child. And I found her
through your hospital play."

In a few words Miss Brooks made it all clear to Dorothy, and repeated the
story told Tavia some time before.

"She is not very strong, and I am going to take her south at once," went
on Miss Brooks, while Mary fairly beamed with delight. She was so splendid
in her new fur coat; and to think she really had a relative!

"Aunt Stella," she ventured, "you never would have found me if Dorothy had
not given me that piece. It was because I acted--like mamma."

"And there is something else," said Miss Brooks, "The matter--about Miss
Travers. I received a letter this morning from the firm, refunding her
money. Of course, I had urged them to do so. I would not even address
envelopes for a house that would deliberately rob young girls."

Miss Brooks offered the slip of paper to Dorothy.

"Wouldn't you rather give it to Miss Travers?" asked Dorothy.

"Oh, yes," replied the other, remembering that Dorothy had refused to
listen to the explanation of Tavia's difficulties.

Tavia was in the hall, and Dorothy called her. Her eyes showed she had
been weeping. At the sight of Miss Brooks she turned as if to leave the
room. Dorothy put a detaining hand on her arm.

"She has good news for you. I am going to leave you alone to hear it."

"No," insisted Tavia, now conscious that there was good news in the air.
"Stay and listen, Doro. I did not tell you--because I was a--"

"Now stop!" insisted Dorothy. "No calling of names."

"You take too serious a view of it," interrupted Miss Brooks. "She simply
did what hundreds do every day--risked five dollars to make ten--"

"It is nothing in the world but gambling!" declared Tavia almost fiercely.

"I agree with you," answered Miss Brooks, "but you did not go into it with
that understanding. Neither did I offer to address their envelopes with a
thorough understanding of their methods. I simply was trying to find an
address, and I made use of every means I considered legitimate. Here is
your money--and your friend's. The address I was looking for came in
person," and once more she folded her arms about Mary.

"The money!" exclaimed Tavia, looking at the check in a dazed sort of way,
"This is your money, Dorothy," she said, reading the check--"yours and
Nat's. I gambled mother's, and spent yours, then I bought Christmas
presents."

The check called for fifteen dollars and was made out to bearer. Tavia
offered it to Dorothy, who did not take it.

Miss Brooks insisted upon going. She felt she had finished her business at
The Cedars.

Tavia drew Dorothy into the library as the door closed upon the visitors.
Her eyes were blazing, although her hands seemed cold as they touched
Dorothy's arm.

"You know I gambled," she stammered. "I deliberately bought a ticket in a
lottery."

"I know you made a mistake," insisted Dorothy. "I could never call that
gambling."

"Then take the check, if you are not afraid of it," went on Tavia. "Part
of it belongs to Nat--the other five is what I borrowed from you."

"Borrowed from me? Why, I gave you that--outright. It was my Christmas in
advance. Just jump into your things, and come down to send a telegram
home. Send them five dollars by wire--they will get it in the morning.
There is no present like the one that comes on Christmas morning, you
know."

"Dorothy!" exclaimed Tavia, "I can't oppose you this time. I know that
five dollars will make my father and my mother know that I--but it would
be deceiving them," she broke off. "I am not fit to even send the gift."

"Hurry! hurry!" begged Dorothy. "I want to send some Christmas greetings
by wire, and they will be too busy to take our messages if you wait
later."

Tavia threw her arms about Dorothy.

"You dear old nuisance!" she exclaimed. "I wonder you could not leave some
little thing for the angels to do to-morrow."

"Oh, I expect them to give me their undivided attention," declared
Dorothy. "I have had such a queer holiday up to this time that I have
simply asked for a great big lump of 'peace' in my stocking."

"You deserve it, Doro, dear," and Tavia, to hide the tears that would come
into her eyes, placed her arms about Dorothy and hid her face on her
shoulder.

Dorothy did get peace, and great happiness, too. Yet there were many
happenings still in store for her, and what some of them were will be told
in another book, to be called "Dorothy Dale's Camping Days." It was a
never-to-be-forgotten outing and one that produced some astonishing
results.

"And to-morrow is Christmas," said Dorothy softly. "I feel just like the
carol singers, when they used to chant: 'God rest you, merry
gentlemen--'"

"Only you're not a--" began Tavia, looking up.

"No, I'm not a gentleman, but I'm merry--quite happy now, and I certainly
need a rest. I guess you do, too."

"I certainly do," agreed Tavia. "Come on, let's hurry to the telegraph
office."

And here we will say good-by to Dorothy Dale for a while, leaving her and
her friends at The Cedars to enjoy their Christmas in their own delightful
way. For, after all, and in spite of the many queer happenings connected
with them, the holidays were most happy ones.


THE END





The Dorothy Dale Series

By Margaret Penrose

Cloth. 12 mo. Illustrated. Price per volume, 60 cents, postpaid


DOROTHY DALE: A GIRL OF TO-DAY

Dorothy is the daughter of an old Civil War veteran who is running a
weekly newspaper in a small Eastern town. When her father falls sick, and
the newspaper property is in danger of going to pieces, the girl shows
what she can do to support the family.

[Illustration]


DOROTHY DALE AT GLENWOOD SCHOOL

More prosperous times have come to the Dale family, and Major Dale
resolves to send Dorothy to a boarding school to complete her education.
At Glenwood School the girl makes a host of friends and has many good
times. But some girls are jealous of Dorothy's popularity, and they seek
to get her into trouble in more ways than one.


DOROTHY DALE'S GREAT SECRET

A splendid story of one girl's devotion to another. Dorothy's chum ran
away to join a theatrical company. What Dorothy did, and how she kept the
secret, makes a tale no girl will care to miss.


DOROTHY DALE AND HER CHUMS

A story of school life, and of strange adventures among the gypsies.
Dorothy befriends a little French girl and also a gypsy waif, in a manner
sure to touch the hearts of all readers.


DOROTHY DALE'S QUEER HOLIDAYS

Relates the details of a mystery that surrounded Tanglewood Park. There is
a great snowstorm, and the young folks become snowbound, much to their
dismay.


Cupples & Leon Co., Publishers, New York





The Motor Girls Series

By Margaret Penrose

Author of the highly successful Dorothy Dale Series


Cloth. 12mo. Handsomely illustrated and beautifully bound in decorated
cover, stamped in several colors. Price per volume, 60 cents, postpaid

       *       *       *       *       *

THE MOTOR GIRLS

_Or, A Mystery of the Road_


[Illustration: The Motor Girls]

When Cora Kinball got her touring car she did not imagine so many
adventures were in store for her. During a trip from one city to another a
rich young man lost a pocketbook containing valuable stocks and much cash.
Later, to the surprise of everybody, the empty pocketbook was found in the
tool box of Cora's automobile. A fine tale that all wide-awake girls will
appreciate.

       *       *       *       *       *

THE MOTOR GIRLS ON A TOUR

_Or, Keeping a Strange Promise_


A great many things happen in this volume, starting with the running over
of a hamper of good things lying in the road. A precious heirloom is
missing, and how it was traced up is told with absorbing interest. Mrs.
Penrose's books are as safe as they are interesting and should be on the
bookshelf of every girl in the land.

       *       *       *       *       *

Cupples & Leon Co., Publishers, New York



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