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Title: The Boarded-Up House
Author: Seaman, Augusta Huiell, 1879-1950
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Boarded-Up House" ***

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[Illustration: Both girls gasped and stared incredulously]



THE BOARDED-UP HOUSE


BY
AUGUSTA HUIELL SEAMAN
Author of "Jacqueline of The Carrier Pigeons," etc.


WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
C. CLYDE SQUIRES


NEW YORK
THE CENTURY CO.


Copyright, 1915, by
THE CENTURY CO.



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE

     I GOLIATH LEADS THE WAY                                           3

    II IN SEARCH OF ADVENTURE                                         22

   III AMATEUR DETECTIVES                                             33

    IV THE ROOM OF MYSTERY                                            46

     V JOYCE MAKES A NEW DISCOVERY. SO DOES GOLIATH                   56

    VI JOYCE'S THEORY                                                 68

   VII GOLIATH MAKES ANOTHER DISCOVERY                                79

  VIII CYNTHIA HAS AN IDEA                                            90

    IX THE MEMORIES OF GREAT-AUNT LUCIA                              107

     X AN EXCITING DISCOVERY                                         122

    XI THE ROOM THAT WAS LOCKED                                      135

   XII A SLIGHT DISAGREEMENT                                         145

  XIII THE GREAT ILLUMINATION                                        154

   XIV THE MEDDLING OF CYNTHIA                                       166

    XV THE STRANGER AT THE DOOR                                      173

   XVI JOYCE EXPLAINS                                                184

  XVII IN WHICH ALL MYSTERIES ARE SOLVED                             192



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


  Both girls gasped and stared incredulously              _Frontispiece_

  A flight of stairs could be dimly discerned                         19

  They stared with the fascination of horror                          43

  "Well, what do you suppose that can be?" queried Cynthia            61

  "Do you know any real elderly people, father?"                      99

  "Oh, I wish I were Sherlock Holmes!"                               125

  There was nothing to do but sit and enjoy the spectacle            161

  Then, with one accord they began to steer their way around the
    furniture                                                        213



CHAPTER I

GOLIATH LEADS THE WAY


Cynthia sat on her veranda steps, chin in hand, gazing dolefully at the
gray September sky. All day, up to half an hour before, the sky had been
cloudlessly blue, the day warm and radiant. Then, all of a sudden, the
sun had slunk shamefacedly behind a high rising bank of cloud, and its
retiring had been accompanied by a raw, chilly wind. Cynthia scowled.
Then she shivered. Then she pulled the collar of her white sweater up to
her ears and buttoned it over. Then she muttered something about
"wishing Joy would hurry, for it's going to rain!" Then she dug her
hands into her sweater pockets and stared across the lawn at a blue
hydrangea bush with a single remaining bunch of blossoms hanging heavy
on its stem.

Suddenly there was a flash of red on a veranda farther down the street,
and a long, musical whistle. Cynthia jumped up and waved madly. The
flash of red, speeding toward her, developed into a bright red sweater,
cap, and skirt.

"Don't scold! Now you mustn't be cross, Cynthia. Anne was just putting a
big batch of sugar-cookies in the oven, and I simply _had_ to wait till
they were done! I've brought a lot over for you. Here!" The owner of the
red sweater crammed a handful of hot cookies into Cynthia's pocket.

"You did keep me waiting an age, Joy," Cynthia began, struggling with a
mouthful of cooky; "but I forgive you. I'd almost begun to be--angry!"
Joy (her right name was Joyce) ignored the latter remark.

"We can't go! Momsie positively forbade it. Why on earth couldn't it
have kept sunny a little longer? It'll rain any minute now, I suppose."

"I know," Cynthia sympathized. "Mother forbade me too, long before you
came out, and we counted on it so! Won't be much more chance to go
canoeing _this_ season." They sat down listlessly on the veranda steps,
and solaced themselves with the last remnants of the cookies. Life
appeared a trifle drab, as it usually does when cherished plans are
demolished and the sun goes in! Very shortly there were no more cookies.

"What on earth has happened to your hydrangea bush? It was full of
blossoms yesterday," Joyce suddenly exclaimed.

"Bates's pup!" replied Cynthia, laconically. There was no need of
further explanation. Joyce giggled at its shorn appearance, and then
relapsed into another long silence. There were times when these two
companions could talk frantically for hours on a stretch. There were
other seasons when they would sit silent yet utterly understanding one
another for equally prolonged periods. They had been bosom friends from
babyhood, as their parents had been before them. Shoulder to shoulder
they had gone through kindergarten and day-school together, and were now
abreast in their first high-school year. Even their birthdays fell in
the same month. And the only period of the year which saw them parted
was the few weeks during vacation when their respective parents (who had
different tastes in summer resorts) dragged them unwillingly away to
mountain and sea-shore. Literally, nothing else ever separated them save
the walls of their own dwellings--and the Boarded-up House.

It is now high time to introduce the Boarded-up House, which has been
staring us out of countenance ever since this story began! For the
matter of that, it had stared the two girls out of countenance ever
since they came to live in the little town of Rockridge, one on each
side of it. And long before they came there, long before ever they were
born, or Rockridge had begun its mushroom growth as a pretty, modern,
country town, the Boarded-up House had stared the passers-by out of
countenance with almost irritating persistence.

It was set well back from the street, in a big inclosure guarded by a
very rickety picket-fence, and a gate that was never shut but hung
loosely on one hinge. Unkempt bushes and tall rank grass flourished in
this inclosure, and near the porch grew two pine-trees like sentinels at
the entrance. At the back was a small orchard of ancient cherry-trees,
and near the rear door a well-curb, with the great sweep half rotted
away.

The house itself was a big, rambling affair of the Colonial type, with
three tall pillars supporting the veranda roof and reaching above the
second story. On each side of the main part was a generous wing. It
stood rather high on a sloping lawn, and we have said that it "stared"
at passers-by--with truth, because very near the roof were two little
windows shaped like half-circles. They somehow bore a close resemblance
to a pair of eyes that stared and stared and _stared_ with calm,
unwinking blankness.

As to the other windows and doors, they were all tightly boarded up. The
boards in the big front door had a small door fashioned in them, and
this door fastened with a very rusty lock. No one ever came in or out.
No one ever tended the grounds. The place had been without an occupant
for years. The Boarded-up House had always been boarded up, as long as
its neighbors could recollect. It was not advertised for sale. When the
little town of Rockridge began to build up, people speculated about it
for a while with considerable interest. But as they could never obtain
any definite information about it, they finally gave it up, and accepted
the queer old place as a matter of course.

To Cynthia Sprague and Joyce Kenway, it had, when they first came to
live on either side of it, some five years before, afforded for a while
an endless source of attraction. They had played house on the broad
veranda, climbed the trees in the orchard, organized elaborate games of
hide-and-seek among the thick, high bushes that grew so close to the
walls, and in idle moments had told each other long stories about its
former (imaginary) inmates. But as they grew older and more absorbed in
outside affairs, their interest in it ceased, till at length it came to
be only a source of irritation to them, since it separated their homes
by a wide space that they considered rather a nuisance to have to
traverse.

So they sat, on this threatening afternoon, cheated of their anticipated
canoe-trip on the little stream that threaded its way through their town
to the wide Sound,--sat munching sugar-cookies, glowering at the
weather, and thinking of nothing very special. Suddenly there was a
flash of gray across the lawn, closely pursued by a streak of yellow.
Both girls sprang to their feet, Joyce exclaiming indignantly:

"Look at Bates's pup chasing Goliath!" The latter individual was the
Kenways' huge Maltese cat, well deserving of his name in appearance, but
not in nature, for he was known to be the biggest coward in cat-dom. The
girls stood on tiptoe to watch the chase. Over the lawn and through an
opening in the picket-fence of the Boarded-up House sped Goliath, his
enemy yapping at his heels, and into the tangled thicket of bushes
about the nearer wing. Into the bushes also plunged Bates' pup, and
there ensued the sound of sundry baffled yelps. Then, after a moment,
Bates's pup emerged, one ear comically cocked, and ambled away in search
of other entertainment. Nothing else happened, and the girls resumed
their seat on the veranda steps. Presently Joyce remarked, idly:

"Does it strike you as queer, Cynthia, what could have become of
Goliath?"

"Not at all," replied Cynthia, who had no special gift of imagination.
"What _could_ have happened to him? I suppose he climbed into the
bushes."

"He couldn't have done that without being in reach of the pup," retorted
Joyce. "And he couldn't have come out either side, or we'd have seen
him. Now where can he be? I vote we go and look him up!" She had begun
with but a languid interest, seeking only to pass the time, and had
suddenly ended up with tremendous enthusiasm. That was like Joyce.

"I don't see what you want to do that for," argued Cynthia. "I don't
care what became of him as long as he got away from Bates's pup, and I'm
very comfortable right here!" Cynthia was large and fair and plump, and
inclined to be a little indolent.

"But don't you see," insisted Joyce, "that he must have hidden in some
strange place,--and one he must have known about, too, for he went
straight to it! I'm just curious to find out his 'bunk.'" Joyce was slim
and dark and elfin, full of queer pranks, sudden enthusiastic plans, and
very vivid of imagination, a curious contrast to the placid, slow-moving
Cynthia. Joyce also, as a rule, had her way in matters, and she had it
now.

"Very well!" sighed Cynthia, in slow assent. "Come on!" They wandered
down the steps, across the lawn, through the gap in the fence, and tried
to part the bushes behind which Goliath had disappeared. But they were
thick lilac bushes, grown high and rank. Joyce struggled through them,
tearing the pocket of her sweater and pulling her hair awry. Cynthia
prudently remained on the outskirts The quest did not greatly interest
her.

"There's nothing back there but the foundation of the house," she
remarked.

"You're wrong. There is!" called back Joy, excitedly, from the depths.
"Crawl around the end of the bushes, Cyn! It will be easier. I want to
show you something." There was so much suppressed mystery in Joy's voice
that Cynthia obeyed without demur, and back of the bushes found her
examining a little boarded-up window into the cellar. One board of it
had, through age and dampness, rotted and fallen away. There happened to
be no glass window-frame behind it.

"Here's where Goliath disappeared," whispered Joyce, "and he's probably
in there now!" Cynthia surveyed the hole unconcernedly.

"That's so," she agreed. "He will probably come out after a while. Now
that you've discovered his 'bunk,' I hope you're coming back to the
veranda. We might have a game of tennis, too, before it rains." Joyce
sat back on her heels, and looked her companion straight in the eye.

"Cynthia," she said, in a tense whisper, "did it ever occur to you that
there's something _strange_ about the Boarded-up House?"

"No," declared Cynthia, honestly, "it never did. I never thought about
it."

"Well, I have--sometimes, at least--and once in a long while, do you
know, I've even dreamed I was exploring it. Look here, Cynthia, wouldn't
you _like_ to explore it? I'm just crazy to!" Cynthia stared and
shrugged her shoulders.

"Mercy, no! It would be dark and musty and dirty. Besides, we've no
business in there. We'd be trespassers. What ever made you think of it?
There's probably nothing to see, anyway. It's an empty house."

"That's just where you're mistaken!" retorted Joyce. "I heard Father say
once that it was furnished throughout, and left exactly as it was,--so
some one told him, some old lady, I think he said. It's a Colonial
mansion, too, and stood here before the Revolution. There wasn't any
town of Rockridge, you know, till just recently,--only the turnpike road
off there where Warrington Avenue is now. This house was the only one
around, for a long distance."

"Well, that sounds interesting, but, even still, I don't see why you
want to get inside, anyhow. I'm perfectly satisfied with the outside.
And, more than that, we couldn't get in if we tried. So there!" If
Cynthia imagined she had ended the argument with Joyce by any such
reasoning, she was doomed to disappointment. Joyce shrugged her
shoulders with a disgusted movement.

"I never saw any one like you, Cynthia Sprague! You've absolutely _no_
imagination! Don't you see how Goliath got in? Well, I could get in the
same way, and so could you!" She gave the boards a sharp pull, and
succeeded in dislodging another. "Five minutes' work will clear this
window, and then--"

"But good gracious, Joy, you wouldn't break in a window of a strange
house and climb in the cellar like a burglar!" cried Cynthia, genuinely
shocked.

"I just would! Why, it's an _adventure_, Cynthia, like the kind we've
always longed for. You know we've always said we'd love to have some
adventures, above everything else. And we _never_ have, and now here's
one right under our noses!" Joyce was almost tearful in her earnestness
to convince the doubting Cynthia. And then Cynthia yielded, as she
always did, to Joy's entreaties.

"Very well. It is an adventure, I suppose. But why not wait till some
bright, sunny day? It'll be horridly dark and gloomy in there this
afternoon."

"Nonsense!" cried Joyce, who never could bear to wait an instant in
carrying out some cherished plan. "Run back to your house, Cynthia, and
smuggle out a candle and a box of matches. And _don't_ let any one see
what you take!" But this Cynthia flatly refused to do, urging that she
would certainly be discovered and held up for instant explanation by the
lynx-eyed Bridget who guarded the kitchen.

"Very well, then I'll have to get them from mine, I suppose. Anne never
asks what I'm doing," said Joyce, resignedly. "You stay here and wait!"
She sped away toward her own house, but was soon back, matches and
candle under her sweater, her hands full of fresh cookies.

"We'll eat these when we're inside. Here, stuff them into your pockets!
And help me break these other boards away. My! but they're rotten!"
Cynthia helped, secretly very reluctant and fearful of consequences, and
they soon had the little window free of obstructions. Joyce poked in her
head and peered about.

"It's as dark as a pocket, but I see two things like balls of
fire,--that's Goliath up on a beam, I suppose. It isn't far to the
ground. Here goes!" She slipped in, feet first, let herself down, hung
on to the sill a moment, then disappeared from view.

"Oh, Joyce!" gasped Cynthia, sticking her head through the opening into
the dark, "where _are_ you?"

"Right here!" laughed Joyce from below. "Trying to light the candle.
Come along! The stones of the wall are like regular steps, you can put
your feet on 'em!"

"Oh, but the _mice_, and the _spiders_, and--and all sorts of things!"
groaned Cynthia. "I'm afraid of them!"

"Nonsense! _they_ can't hurt you!" replied Joyce, unsympathetically. "If
you don't come soon, I'm going on. I'm so impatient to see things, I
can't wait. You'd better hurry up, if you're coming."

"But it isn't _right_! It's trespassing!" cried Cynthia, making her last
stand. Joyce scorned to argue further along this line.

"We talked that all over before. Good-by! I'm off! I've got the candle
lit." Cynthia suddenly surrendered.

"Oh, wait, wait! I'm coming!" She adopted Joyce's mode of ingress, but
found it scarcely as easy as it looked, and her feet swung in space,
groping wildly for the steps described.

"I'm stuck! I can't move! Oh, why am I so fat and clumsy!" she moaned.
Joyce laughed, placed her companion's feet on a ledge, and hauled her
down, breathless, cobwebby, and thoroughly scared.

[Illustration: A flight of stairs could be dimly discerned]

The lighted candle threw but a feeble illumination on the big, bare
space they stood in. The beams overhead were thick with cobwebs hanging
like gray portières from every projection. Otherwise the inclosure was
clear except for a few old farm implements in a distant corner. As Joyce
raised the candle over her head, a flight of stairs could be dimly
discerned.

"This way!" she ordered, and they moved toward it cautiously. At that
moment, there came from behind them a sudden scratching and scrambling,
and then a thud. Both girls uttered a low, frightened shriek and clung
together. But it was only Goliath, disturbed in his hiding-place. They
turned in time to see him clambering through the window.

"Joyce, this is horrid!" gasped Cynthia. "My heart is beating like a
trip-hammer. Let's go back."

"It's lovely!" chuckled Joyce. "It's what I've always longed for. I
feel like Christopher Columbus! I wouldn't go back now for worlds! And
to think we've neglected such a mystery at our front doors, as you might
say, all these years!" And she dragged the protesting Cynthia toward the
cellar stairs.



CHAPTER II

IN SEARCH OF ADVENTURE


They stumbled up the cellar steps, their eyes growing gradually used to
the semi-darkness. At the top was a shut door which refused to be moved,
and they feared for a moment that failure awaited them in this early
period of the voyage of discovery. But after some vigorous pushing and
rattling, it gave with an unexpected jerk, and they were landed
pell-mell into a dark hallway.

"Now," declared Joyce, "this is the beginning of something interesting,
I hope!" Cynthia said nothing, having, indeed, much ado to appear calm
and hold herself from making a sudden bolt back to the cellar window.
With candle held high, Joyce proceeded to investigate their
surroundings. They seemed to be in a wide, central hall running through
the house from front to back. A generous stairway of white-painted wood
with slender mahogany railing ascended to an upper floor. Some large
paintings and portraits hung on the walls, but the candle did not throw
enough light to permit seeing them well. The furniture in the hall
consisted of several tall, straight-backed chairs set at intervals
against the walls, and at one side a massive table covered thick with
the dust of years. There was a distinctly old-fashioned, "different" air
about the place, but nothing in any other way remarkable.

"You see!" remarked Cynthia. "There isn't anything wonderful here, and
the air is simply horrid. I hope you're satisfied. _Do_ come back!"

"But we haven't seen a quarter of it yet! This is only the hall. Now for
the room on the right!" Joyce hauled open a pair of closed
folding-doors, and held the candle above her head. If they were
searching for things strange and inexplicable, here at last was their
reward! Both girls gasped and stared incredulously, first at the scene
before them, then at each other.

The apartment was a dining-room. More portraits and paintings shone
dimly from the walls. A great candelabrum hung from the ceiling, with
sconces for nearly a hundred candles and ornamented with glittering
crystal pendants. An enormous sideboard occupied almost an entire end of
the room. In the middle, a long dining-table stood under the
candelabrum.

But here was the singular feature. The table was still set with dishes,
as though for a feast. And the chairs about it were all pushed awry, and
some were overturned. Napkins, yellowed with age, were fallen about,
dropped apparently in sudden forgetfulness. The china and glassware
stood just as they had been left, though every ancient vestige of food
had long since been carried away by the mice.

As plain as print, one could read the signs of some feasting party
interrupted and guests hastily leaving their places to return no more.
The girls understood it in a flash.

"But why--why," said Joyce, speaking her thought aloud, "was it all left
just like this? Why weren't things cleared up and put away? What could
have happened? Cynthia, this is the strangest thing I ever heard of!"
Cynthia only stared, and offered no explanation. Plainly, she was
impressed at last.

"Come on!" half whispered Joyce, "Let's see the room across the hall.
I'm crazy to explore it all!" Together they tiptoed to the other side of
the hall. A kind of awe had fallen upon them. There was more here than
even Joyce had hoped or imagined. This was a house of mystery.

The apartment across the hall proved to be the drawing-room. Though in
evident disarray it, however, exhibited fewer signs of the strange,
long-past agitation. In dimensions it was similar to the dining-room,
running from front to back of the house. Here, too, was another
elaborate candelabrum, somewhat smaller than the first, queer,
spindle-legged, fiddle-backed chairs, beautiful cabinets and tables, and
an old, square piano, still open. The chairs stood in irregular groups
of twos and threes, chumming cozily together as their occupants had
doubtless done, and over the piano had been carelessly thrown a long,
filmy silk scarf, one end hanging to the floor. Upon everything the dust
was indescribably thick and cobwebs hung from the ceiling.

"Do you know," spoke Joyce, in a whisper after they had looked a long
time, "I think I can guess part of an explanation for all this. There
was a party here, long, long ago,--perhaps a dinner-party. Folks had
first been sitting in the drawing-room, and then went to the dining-room
for dinner. Suddenly, in the midst of the feast, something happened,--I
can't imagine what,--but it broke up the good time right away. Every one
jumped up from the table, upsetting chairs and dropping napkins. Perhaps
they all rushed out of the room. Anyway, they never came back to finish
the meal. And after that, the owner shut the house and boarded it up and
went away, never stopping to clear up or put things to rights. Awfully
sudden, that, and awfully queer!"

"Goodness, Joy! You're as good as a detective! How did you ever think
all that out?" murmured Cynthia, admiringly.

"Why, it's very simple," said Joyce. "The drawing-room is all
right,--just looks like any other parlor where a lot of people have been
sitting, before it was put to rights. But the dining-room's different.
Something happened there, suddenly, and people just got their things on
and left, after that! Can't you see it? But what _could_ it have been?
Oh, I'd give my _eyes_ to know, Cynthia!

"See here!" she added, after a moment's thought. "I've the loveliest
idea! You just spoke of detectives, and that put it into my head. Let's
play we're detectives, like Sherlock Holmes, and ferret out this
mystery. It will be the greatest lark ever! We will come here often, and
examine every bit of evidence we can find, and gather information
outside if we can, and put two and two together, and see if we can't
make out the whole story. Oh, it's gorgeous! Did two girls ever have
such an adventure before!" She clasped her hands ecstatically, first
having presented the candle to Cynthia, because she was too excited to
hold it. Even the placid and hitherto objecting Cynthia was fired by the
scheme.

"Yes, let's!" she assented. "I'll ask Mother if she knows anything about
this old place."

"No you won't!" cried Joyce, coming suddenly to earth. "This has got to
be kept a strict secret. Never _dare_ to breathe it! Never speak of this
house at all! Never show the slightest interest in it! And we must come
here often. Do you want folks to suspect what we are doing and put a
stop to it all? It's all right, _really_, of course. We're not doing any
actual wrong or harming anything. But they wouldn't understand."

"Very well, then," agreed Cynthia, meekly, cowed but bewildered. "I
don't see, though, how you're going to find out things if you don't
ask."

"You must get at it in other ways," declared Joyce, but did not explain
the process just then.

"This candle will soon be done for!" suddenly announced the practical
Cynthia. "Why didn't you bring a bigger one?"

"Couldn't find any other," said Joyce. "Let's finish looking around here
and leave the rest for another day." They began accordingly to walk
slowly about the room, peering up at the pictures on the walls and
picking their way with care around the furniture without moving or
touching anything. Presently they came abreast of the great open
fireplace. A heavy chair was standing directly in front of it, but
curiously enough, with its back to what must have been once a cheery
blaze. They moved around it carefully and bent to examine the pretty
Delft tiles that framed the yawning chimney-place, below the mantel.
Then Joyce stepped back to look at the plates and vases on the mantel.
Suddenly she gave a little cry:

"Hello! That's _queer_! Look, Cynthia!" Cynthia, still studying the
tiles, straightened up to look where her companion had pointed. But in
that instant the dying candle-flame sputtered, flickered, and _went
out_, leaving only a small mass of warm tallow in Cynthia's hand For a
moment, there was horrified silence. The heavy darkness seemed to cast a
spell over even the irrepressible Joyce. But not for long.

"Too bad!" she began. "Where are the matches, Cynthia? I handed them to
you. We can light our way out by them." Cynthia produced the box from
the pocket of her sweater and opened it.

"Mercy! There are only three left!" she cried, feeling round in it.

"Never mind. They will light us out of this room and through the hall to
the cellar stairs. When we get there the window will guide us."

Cynthia struck the first match, and they hurriedly picked their way
around the scattered furniture. But the match went out before they
reached the door. The second saw them out of the room and into the long
hall. The third, alas! broke short off at its head, and proved useless.
Then a real terror of the dark, unknown spaces filled them both.
Breathless, frantic, they felt their way along the walls, groping
blindly for the elusive cellar door. At length Joyce's hand struck a
knob.

"Here it is!" she breathed. They pulled open the door and plunged
through it, only to find themselves in some sort of a closet, groping
among musty clothes that were hanging there.

"Oh it isn't, it isn't!" wailed Cynthia. "Oh I'll never, never come into
this dreadful house again!" But Joyce had regained her poise.

"It's all right! Our door is just across the hall. I remember where it
is now. She pulled the shuddering Cynthia out of the closet, and felt
her way across the wide hall space.

"Here it is! Now we are all _serene_!" she cried triumphantly, opening a
door which they found gave on a flight of steps. And as they crept down,
a dim square of good, honest daylight sent their spirits up with a
bound. It was raining great pelting drops as they scrambled out and
scampered for Cynthia's veranda. But daylight, even if dismal with rain,
had served to restore them completely to their usual gaiety.

"By the way, Joyce," she said, as they stood on the porch shaking the
rain from their skirts, "what was it you were pointing at just when the
candle went out? I didn't have time to see."

"Why, the _strangest_ thing!" whispered Joyce. "There was a big picture
hanging over the mantel. But what do you think? It hung there _with its
face turned to the wall_!"



CHAPTER III

AMATEUR DETECTIVES


While Cynthia was bending over her desk during study-hour, struggling
with a hopelessly entangled account in Latin of Cæsar and his Gallic
Wars, her next neighbor thrust a note into her hand. Glad of any
diversion, she opened it and read:

     This afternoon for the B. U. H. How much pocket-money have you?

  J.

Cynthia had no difficulty in guessing the meaning of the initials, but
she could not imagine what pocket-money had to do with the matter, so
she wrote back:

     All right. Only thirty cents. More next week.

  C.

She passed it along to Joyce at the other end of the room, and returned
to Cæsar in a more cheerful frame of mind. Joyce, she knew, would
explain all mysteries later, and she was content to wait.

Almost a week had passed since the first adventure of the Boarded-up
House, and nothing further had happened. Joyce and Cynthia were healthy,
normal girls, full of interests connected with their school, with
outdoor affairs, and with social life, so they had much to occupy them
beside this curious quest on which they had become engaged. A fraternity
meeting had occupied one afternoon, dancing-school another, a
tramping-excursion a third, and so on through the ensuing week. Not
once, however, in the midst of all these outside interests, had they
forgotten their strange adventure. When they were alone together they
talked of it incessantly, and laid elaborate plans for future amateur
detective work.

"It's just like a story!" Joyce would exclaim. "And who would ever have
thought of a _story_ in that old, Boarded-up House. And _us_ in the
midst of it!" Cynthia's first question that afternoon, on the way home
from high school, was:

"What did you ask about pocket-money for? I'm down pretty low on my
allowance, but I don't see what that's got to do with things." Joyce
laughed.

"Well, I'm lower yet--ten cents to last till the month's out! But hasn't
it struck you that we've got to have _candles_--plenty of them--and
matches, and a couple of candlesticks at least? How else can we ever get
about the place, pitch-dark as it all is? And if we tried to get them
from home, some one would suspect right away."

"Ten cents' worth of candles ought to last us quite a while," began the
practical Cynthia; "and ten cents more will buy a whole package of
safety-matches. And for five cents we can get a candlestick, but we'd
better stop at _one_ for the present, or we won't have a cent left
between us! Let's get them right now." While they were making their
purchases, Cynthia had another idea.

"I'll tell you what, Joyce, I'm going to take along a dust-cloth and
clean up around the window where we get in. My sweater was just black
with dirt and cobwebs last time, and Mother _almost_ insisted on an
explanation. Fortunately she was called away for something, just then,
and afterward didn't think of it. I've washed the sweater since!"

"Good idea!" assented Joyce. "Momsie wanted to know how I'd torn mine
and got it so mussy, too. I told her I'd been chasing up Goliath,--which
was really quite true, you know."

"I never _can_ think of things to say that will be the truth and yet not
give the whole thing away!" sighed the downright Cynthia. "I wish I were
as quick as you!"

"Never mind! You've got the _sense_, Cynthia! I never would have thought
of the dust-cloth."

Getting into the Boarded-up House this time was accompanied by less
difficulty than the first. Before entering, Cynthia thoroughly dusted
the window-ledge and as far about it as she could reach, with the result
that there was less, if any, damage to their clothes. Armed as they were
with plenty of candles and matches, there were no shudders either, or
fears of the unknown and the dark. Even Cynthia was keen for the quest,
and Joyce was simply bursting with new ideas, some of which she
expounded to Cynthia as they were lighting their candles in the cellar.

"You know, Cyn, I've been looking at the place carefully from the
outside. We haven't seen a third of it yet,--no, not even a _quarter_!
There's the wing off the parlor toward your house, and the one off the
dining-room toward mine. I suppose the kitchen must be in that one, but
I can't think what's in the other, unless it's a library. We must see
these to-day. And then there's all up-stairs."

"What I want to see most of all is the picture you spoke of that hangs
in the parlor," said Cynthia. "Do you suppose we could turn it around?"

"Oh, I'd love to, only I don't know whether we ought! And it's heavy,
too. I hardly think we could. Perhaps we might just try to peep behind
it. You know, Cynthia, I realize we're doing something a little _queer_
being in this house and prying about. I'm not sure our folks would
approve of it. Only the old thing has been left _so_ long, and there's
such a mystery about it, and we're not harming or disturbing anything,
that perhaps it isn't so dreadful. Anyhow, we must be _very_ careful not
to pry into anything we ought not touch. Perhaps then it will be all
right." Cynthia agreed to all this without hesitation. She, indeed, had
even stronger feelings than Joyce on the subject of their trespassing,
but the joy of the adventure and the mystery with which they were
surrounding it, outweighed her scruples. When they were half-way up the
cellar steps, Joyce, who was ahead, suddenly exclaimed:

"Why, the door is open! Probably we left it so in our hurry the other
day. We must be more careful after this, and leave everything as we find
it." They tiptoed along the hall with considerably more confidence than
on their former visit, pausing to hold their candles up to the pictures,
and peeping for a moment into the curiously disarranged dining-room.

But they entered the drawing-room first and stood a long while before
the fireplace, gazing at the picture's massive frame and its challenging
wooden back. A heavy, ropelike cord with large silk tassels attached the
picture to its hook, and the cord was twisted, as if some one had turned
the picture about without stopping to readjust it.

"How strange!" murmured Cynthia. But Joyce had been looking at something
else.

"Do you see that big chair with its back close to the mantel?" she
exclaimed. "I've been wondering why it stands in that position with its
back to the fireplace. There was a fire there. You can tell by the ashes
and that half-burned log. Well, don't you see? Some one pulled that
chair close to the mantel, stepped on it, and turned the picture face to
the wall. Now, I wonder why!"

"But look here!" cried Cynthia. "If some one else stood up there and
turned the picture around, why couldn't we do the same? We could turn it
back after we'd seen it, couldn't we?" Joyce thought it over a moment.

"I'll tell you, Cynthia (and I suppose you'll think me queer!), there
are two reasons why I'd rather not do it right now. In the first place,
that silk cord it's hanging by may be awfully rotten after all these
years, and if we touch it, the whole thing may fall. And then, somehow,
I sort of like to keep the mystery about that picture till a little
later,--till we've seen the rest of the house and begun 'putting two and
two together.' Wouldn't you?" Cynthia agreed, as she was usually likely
to do, and Joyce added:

"Now let's see what's in this next room. I think it must be a library.
The door of it opens right into this." Bent on further discovery, they
opened the closed door carefully. It was, as Joyce had guessed, a
library. Book-shelves completely filled three sides of the room. A long
library table with an old-fashioned reading-lamp stood in the middle.
The fourth side of the room was practically devoted to another huge
fireplace, and over the mantel hung another portrait. It was of a
beautiful young woman, and before it the girls stopped, fascinated, to
gaze a long while.

There was little or nothing in this room to indicate that any strange
happening had transpired here. A few books were strewn about as though
they had been pulled out and thrown down hastily, but that was all. The
one thing that attracted most strongly was the portrait of the beautiful
woman--she seemed scarcely more than a girl--over the fireplace. The two
explorers turned to gaze at it afresh.

"There's one thing I've noticed about it that's different from the
others," said Joyce, thoughtfully. "It's fresher and more--more modern
than the rest of the portraits in the drawing-room and hall. Don't you
think so?" Cynthia did.

"And look at her dress, those long, full sleeves and the big, bulging
skirt! That's different, too. And then her hair, not high and powdered
and all fussed up, but low and parted smooth and drawn down over her
ears, and that dear little wreath of tiny roses! She almost seems to be
going to speak. And, oh, Cynthia, isn't she beautiful with those big,
brown eyes! Somehow I feel as if I just loved her--she's such a
_darling_! And _I_ believe she had more to do with the queer things in
this house than any of those other dead-and-alive picture-ladies. Tell
you what! We'll go to the public library to-morrow and get out a big
book on costumes of the different centuries that I saw there once. Then,
by looking up this one, we can tell just about what time she lived. What
do you say?"

"As usual, you've thought of just the thing to do. I never would have,"
murmured Cynthia, still gazing at the picture of the lovely lady.
Suddenly Joyce started nervously:

"Hush! Do you hear anything? I'm almost certain I heard a sound in the
other room!" They both fell to listening intently. Yes, there _was_ a
sound, a strange, indefinable one like a soft tiptoeing at long
intervals, and even a curious, hoarse breathing. Something was certainly
outside in the drawing-room.

"What shall we _do_?" breathed Cynthia. "We can't get out of here
without passing through that room! Oh, Joyce!" They listened again.
The sound appeared to be approaching the door. It was, without doubt, a
soft tiptoeing step. Suddenly there was the noise of a chair scraping on
the floor as if it had been accidentally brushed against. Both girls
were now numb with terror. They were caught as in a trap. There was no
escape. They could only wait in racking suspense where they were.

[Illustration: They stared with the fascination of horror]

As they stared with the fascination of horror, the partially open door
was pushed farther open and a dim gray form glided around its edge.
Joyce clutched Cynthia, gave one little shriek, half-relief and
half-laughter, and gasped:

"Oh, Cynthia! _It's Goliath!_"



CHAPTER IV

THE ROOM OF MYSTERY


It was, indeed, Goliath. He was an enormous cat, and his purr was as
oversized as his body. That was the hoarse sound that they had thought
was heavy breathing. His footfalls too could be distinctly heard when
all else was quiet, and he had evidently rubbed against some light
article of furniture in the outer room and moved it. In the reaction of
relief, Cynthia seized Goliath, sat down on the floor, and--cried!
having first deposited her candlestick carefully on the table. Joyce did
quite the opposite, and laughed hysterically for several minutes. The
tension of suspense and terror had been very real.

"How _did_ he get in here?" sobbed Cynthia, at length.

"Why, through the window, of course. And he must have been in before we
came. Don't you remember, we found the door at the head of the cellar
steps open? I closed it when we came up, so he couldn't have got here
afterward." Joyce bent down and scratched Goliath's fat jowls, at which
he purred the louder.

"Well, let's let him stay, since he's here," sighed Cynthia, wiping her
eyes. "He'll be sort of company!" So Goliath was allowed to remain, and
the two girls, escorted by him, proceeded on their voyage of discovery.
Back across the drawing-room and hall they went, and through the
dining-room. There for a moment they stood, surveying anew the curious
scene.

"Does it strike you as strange," Joyce demanded suddenly, "that there's
no silver here, no knives, forks, spoons, sugar-bowls, or--or anything
of that kind? Yet everything else in china or glass is left. What do you
make of it?"

"Somebody got in and stole it," ventured Cynthia.

"Nonsense! Nobody's been here since, except ourselves, that's perfectly
plain. No, the people must have stopped long enough to collect it and
put it away,--or take it with them. Cynthia, why _do_ you suppose they
left in such a hurry?" But Cynthia, the unimaginative, was equally
unable to answer this query satisfactorily, so she only replied:

"I don't know, I'm sure!"

A room, however, beyond the dining-room was awaiting their inspection.
In a corner of the latter, two funny little steps led up to a door, and
on opening it, they found themselves in the kitchen. This bore signs of
as much confusion as the neighboring apartment. Unwashed dishes and
cooking utensils lay all about, helter-skelter, some even broken, in the
hurry with which they had been handled. But, apart from this further
indication of the haste with which a meal had been abandoned unfinished,
there was little to hold the interest, and the girls soon turned away.

"Now for up-stairs!" cried Joyce. "That's where I've been longing to
get. We will find something interesting there, I'll warrant." With
Goliath scampering ahead, they climbed the white, mahogany-railed
staircase. On the upper floor they found a wide hall corresponding with
the one below, running from front to back, crossed by a narrower one
connecting the wings with the main part of the house. Turning to their
left, they went down the narrow one, peering about them eagerly. The
doors of several bedrooms stood open.

Into the first they entered. The high, old-fashioned, four-post bed with
its ruffled valance and tester was still smoothly made up and
undisturbed. The room was in perfect order. But Joyce's eye was caught
by two candlesticks standing on the mantel.

"Here's a find!" she announced. "We'll take these to use for our
candles. They're nicer and handier than our tin one. We will keep that
for an emergency."

"But ought we disturb them?" questioned Cynthia.

"Oh, you are _too_ particular! What earthly harm can it do? Here! Take
this one and I'll carry the other. This must have been a guest-room,
and no one was occupying it when--it all happened. Let's look in the one
across the hall." This one also proved precisely similar, bed untouched
and furniture undisturbed. Another, close at hand, had the same
appearance. They next ventured down a narrower hall, over what was
evidently the kitchen wing. On each side were bedrooms, four in all,
with sparse, plain furnishings and cot-beds. Each room presented a
tumbled, unkempt appearance.

"I guess these must have been the servants' rooms," remarked Cynthia.

"That's the first right guess you've made!" retorted Joyce,
good-naturedly, as she glanced about. "And they all left in a hurry,
too, judging from the way things are strewn about. I wonder--"

"What?" cried Cynthia, impatient at the long pause.

"Oh, nothing much! I just wonder whether they went off of their own
accord, or were dismissed. I can't tell. But one thing I can guess
pretty plainly--they went right after the dinner-party and didn't stay
over another night. 'Cause why? Most of their beds are made, and they
left everything in a muss down-stairs. But come along. This isn't
particularly interesting. I want to get to the other end of the hall.
Something different's over there!" They turned and retraced their steps,
emerging from the servants' quarters and passing again the rooms they
had already examined.

On the other side of the main hall they entered an apartment that was
not a bedroom, but appeared to have been used as a sitting-room and for
sewing. An old-fashioned sewing-table stood near one window. Two chairs
and another table were heaped with material and with garments in various
stages of completion. An open work-box held dust-covered spools. But
still there was nothing special in the room to challenge interest, and
Joyce pulled her companion across the hall toward another partially open
door.

They had scarcely been in it long enough to illuminate it with the pale
flames of their candles, before they realized that they were very near
the heart of the mystery. It was another bedroom, the largest so far,
and its aspect was very different from that of the others. The high
four-poster was tossed and tumbled, not, however, as if by a night's
sleep, but more as if some one had lain upon it just as it was, twisting
and turning restlessly. Two trunks stood on the floor, open and
partially packed. One seemed to contain household linen, once fine and
dainty and white, now yellowed and covered with the dust of years. The
other brimmed with clothing, a woman's, all frills and laces and silks;
and a great hoop-skirt, collapsed, lay on the floor alongside. Neither
of the girls could, for the moment, guess what it was, this queer
arrangement of wires and tape. But Joyce went over and picked it up,
when it fell into shape as she held it at arm's-length. Then they knew.

"I have an idea!" cried Joyce. "This hoop-skirt, or crinoline, I think
they used to call it, gave it to me. Cynthia, we must be in the room
belonging to the lovely lady whose picture hangs in the library."

"How do you know?" queried Cynthia.

"I don't _know_, I just suspect it. But perhaps we will find something
that proves it later." She held the candle over one of the trunks and
peered in. "Dresses, hats, waists," she enumerated. "Oh, how queer and
old-fashioned they all seem!" Suddenly, with a little cry of triumph,
she leaned over and partially pulled out an elaborate silk dress.

"Look! look! what did I tell you! Here is the very dress of the
picture-lady, this queer, changeable silk, these big sleeves, and the
velvet sewed on in a funny criss-cross pattern! _Now_ will you believe
me?"

Truly, Cynthia could no longer doubt. It was the identical dress, beyond
question. The portrait must have been painted when the garment was new.
They felt that at last they had taken a long step in the right direction
by thus identifying this room as belonging to the lovely lady of the
portrait down-stairs. Joy grew so excited that she could hardly contain
a "hurrah," and Cynthia was not far behind her in enthusiasm. But the
room had further details to be examined.

An open fireplace showed traces of letters having been torn up and
burned. Little, half-charred scraps with faint writing still lay
scattered on the hearth. On the dressing-table, articles of the toilet
were littered about, and a pair of candlesticks were set close to the
mirror. (There were, by the way, no traces of _candles_ about the house.
Mice had doubtless carried off every vestige of such, long since.) A
great wardrobe stood in one corner, the open doors of which revealed
some garments still hanging on the pegs, woolen dresses mostly, reduced
now to little more than rags through the ravages of moths and mice and
time. Near the bed stood a pair of dainty, high-heeled satin slippers,
forgotten through the years. Everywhere a hasty departure was indicated,
so hasty, as Joyce remarked, "that the lady decided probably not to take
her trunks, after all, but left, very likely, with only a hand-bag!"

"And now," cried Joyce, the irrepressible, "we've seen everything in
this room. Let's hurry to look at the last one on this floor. That's
right over the library, I think, at the end of the hall. We've
discovered a lot here, but I've a notion that we'll find the best of all
in there!" As they were leaving the room, Goliath, who had curled
himself up on a soft rug before the fireplace, rose, stretched himself,
yawned widely, and prepared to follow, wherever they led.

"Doesn't he seem at home here!" laughed Cynthia. "I hope he will come
every time we do. He makes things seem more natural, somehow." They
reached the end of the hall, and Joyce fumbled for the handle, this
door, contrary to the usual rule, being shut. Then, for the first time
in the course of their adventures in the Boarded-up House, they found
themselves before an insurmountable barrier.

The door was locked!



CHAPTER V

JOYCE MAKES A NEW DISCOVERY. SO DOES GOLIATH


Yes, the door was locked, and there was no vestige of a key. Joyce was
suddenly inspired with an idea.

"Let's try the keys of the other doors! I noticed that they most all had
keys in the locks. Perhaps one will fit this." They hunted up several
and worked with them all, but not one made the slightest impression on
this obstinate lock.

"Now isn't this provoking!" exclaimed Joyce. "The only room in the house
that we can't get in, and the most interesting of all, I'm certain! What
_shall_ we do?" Cynthia made no reply, but looked at her little silver
watch.

"Do you know that it's quarter-past six?" she asked quietly.

"Mercy, no! We've got to go at once then. How the time has gone!"
Reluctantly enough they hunted up Goliath, who in thorough boredom had
returned to his place on the hearth-rug in the big bedroom, gathered
together their candles, and found their way to the cellar. Cynthia had
thoughtfully requested a tin biscuit-box from the grocer, and in this
they packed their candles, thus protecting them against the ravages of
mice, and left them in the cellar near the window. Then they clambered
out.

"To-morrow's Saturday," said Joyce. "In the morning we'll go to the
library and look up that book of costumes. After lunch we'll go back to
the B. U. H. and finish exploring. There's the attic yet, and maybe we
can find that key, too!" With a gay good-by they separated each to her
home, on opposite sides of the Boarded-up House.

The result of their researches in the library, next morning, was not
wholly satisfactory. They found that the most recent fashion of
hoop-skirts or crinolines had prevailed all the way from 1840 to 1870,
or thereabouts. And while these dates limited, to a certain extent the
time of the mysterious happening, it did not help them very much. They
felt that they must look for some more definite clue.

That afternoon they entered the Boarded-up House for the third time.
They found Goliath already in the cellar, owing, no doubt, to the fact
that Bates's pup was patrolling the front yard. So they invited him to
accompany them, an invitation which he accepted with arched back and
resounding purr. Deciding to explore the attic first, they found that a
door from the upper hall opened on a stairway leading to it.

At any other time, or in any other house, they would have found this
attic of absorbing interest. In its dusky corners stood spinning wheels
and winding-reels. Decrepit furniture of an ancient date had found a
refuge there. Antique hair trunks lined the sides, under the eaves, and
quaint garments hung about on pegs. The attic was the only apartment in
this strange house that received the light of day, for the two little
windows like staring eyes were not boarded up. So dim were they, however
with dirt and cobwebs, that very little daylight filtered through.

But the attic had no great holding interest at present, since it was
evident that it contained no clue to help them in the solution of the
mystery. And they soon left it, to search anew every room below, in the
hope of coming upon the missing key.

"These old-fashioned keys are so immense that it hardly seems possible
that any one would carry one off--far," conjectured Joyce. "But why in
the world should just that room be locked, anyway? What can be hidden
there? I'm wild,--simply wild with impatience to see it all!"

The search for the key was not exactly systematic. Neither of the girls
felt at liberty to open bureau-drawers or pry into closets and trunks.
Besides, as Cynthia wisely suggested, it was not likely that any one
would lock a door so carefully and then put the key in a drawer or trunk
or on a shelf. They would either carry it away with them or lay it
down, forgotten, or hide it in some unusual place. If it had been
carried away, of course their search was useless. But if it had been
thoughtlessly laid aside somewhere, or even hidden away in some obscure
corner, there _was_ a possibility that they might come upon it.

With this hope in mind, they went from room to room, searching on desks,
chairs, and tables, poking into dark corners, peeping into vases and
other such receptacles, and feeling about under the furniture; but all
to no purpose. They came at last to the great bedroom where were so many
signs of agitation and hurried departure, deciding that here would be
the most likely field for discovery. Goliath had evidently preceded
them, for they found him once more curled up on the soft rug before the
fireplace. He seemed to prefer this comfortable spot to all others, but
he rose and stretched when the girls came in. Joyce went straight for
the chimney-place.

"I'm going to poke among these ashes," she announced. "A lot of things
seem to have been burned here, mostly old letters. Who knows but what
the key may have been thrown in too!" She began to rake the dead ashes,
and suddenly a half-burned log fell apart, dropping something through to
the bottom with a "chinking" sound.

"Did you hear that?" she whispered. "Something clinked! Ashes or wood
won't make that sound. Oh, suppose it is the key!" She raked away again
frantically, and hauled out a quantity of charred debris, but nothing
even faintly resembling a key. When nothing more remained, she poked the
fragments disgustedly, while Cynthia looked on.

"See there!" Cynthia suddenly exclaimed. "It isn't a key, but what's
that round thing?" Joyce had seen it at the same moment and picked it
up--a small, elliptical disk so blackened with soot that nothing could
be made of it till it was wiped off. When freed from its coating of
black, one side proved to be of shining metal, probably gold, and the
other of some white or yellowish substance, the girls could not tell
just what. In the center of this was a curious smear of various dim
colors.

[Illustration: "Well, what do you suppose that can be?" queried Cynthia]

"Well, what do you suppose that can be?" queried Cynthia.

"I can't imagine. Whatever it was, the fire has pretty well finished it.
You can see that it must have been rather valuable once,--there's gold
on it. Here's another question to add to our catechism: what is it, and
why was it thrown in the fire? Whatever it was, it doesn't help much
now. If it had only been the key!-- Good gracious! is that a rat?" Both
girls jumped to their feet and stood listening to the strange sounds
that came from under the valance hanging about the bottom of the great
four-poster bed. It was a curious, intermittent, irregular sound, as of
something being pushed about the floor. After they had listened a
moment, it suddenly struck them both that the noise was somehow very
familiar.

"Why, it's Goliath, of course!" laughed Cynthia. "This is the second
time he has scared us. He has something under there that he's playing
with, knocking it about, you know. Let's see what it is!" They tiptoed
over and raised the valance.

Cynthia was right. Goliath was under the bed, dabbing gracefully with
one paw at something attached to a string or narrow ribbon. Despite the
rolls of dust that lay about, Joyce crawled under and rescued it. She
emerged with a flushed face and a triumphant chuckle. "Goliath beats us
all!! He's made the best find yet!"

"Is it the key?" cried Cynthia.

"No, it's this!" And before Cynthia's astonished eyes Joyce dangled a
large gold locket, suspended on a narrow black velvet ribbon. In the
candle-light the locket glistened with tiny jewels.

"Do you recognize it?" demanded Joyce.

"_Recognize_ it? How should I?"

"Why, Cynthia! It's the very one that hangs about the neck of our Lovely
Lady in the picture down-stairs!" It was, indeed, no other. Even the
narrow black velvet ribbon was identical.

"She must have dropped it accidentally, perhaps when she took it off,
and it rolled under the bed. In her hurry she probably forgot it," said
Joyce, laying it beside the curious disk they had raked from the
fireplace. "Isn't it a beauty? It must be very valuable." Cynthia bent
down and examined both articles closely.

"Did you notice, Joyce," she presently remarked, "that those two things
are exactly the same shape, and almost the same size?"

"Why, so they are!" exclaimed Joyce. "Oh, I have an idea, Cynthia! Can
we open the locket? Let's try." She picked it up and pried at the catch
with her thumb-nail. After a trifling resistance it yielded. The locket
fell open and revealed itself--empty. Joyce took up the disk and fitted
it into one side. With the gold back pressed inward, it slid into place,
leaving no shadow of doubt that it had originally formed part of this
trinket.

"Now," announced Joyce, "I know! It was a miniature, an ivory one, but
the fire has entirely destroyed the likeness. Question: how came it in
the fire?" The two girls stood looking at each other and at the locket,
more bewildered than ever by this curious discovery. Goliath, cheated of
his plaything, was making futile dabs at the dangling velvet ribbon.
Suddenly Joyce straightened up and looked Cynthia squarely in the eyes.

"I've thought it out," she said quietly. "It just came to me. The
miniature was taken out of the locket--on purpose, _to destroy_ it! The
miniature was of the same person whose picture is turned to the wall
down-stairs!"



CHAPTER VI

JOYCE'S THEORY


"Cynthia, what's your theory about the mystery of the Boarded-up House?"

The two girls were sitting in a favorite nook of theirs under an old,
bent apple-tree in the yard back of the Boarded-up House, on a sunny
morning a week later. They were supposed to be "cramming" for the
monthly "exams," and had their books spread out all around them. Cynthia
looked up with a frown, from an irregular Latin conjugation.

"What's a _theory_?"

"Why, you know! In Conan Doyle's mystery stories _Sherlock Holmes_
always has a 'theory' about what has happened, before he really knows;
that is, he makes up a story of his own, from the few things he has
found out, before he gets at the whole truth."

"Well," replied Cynthia, laying aside her Latin grammar, "since you ask
me, my theory is that some one committed a murder in that room we can't
get in, then locked it up and went away, and had the house all boarded
up so it wouldn't be discovered. I've lain awake nights thinking of it.
And I'd just as lief _not_ get into that room, if it's so!"

Joyce broke into a peal of laughter. "Oh, Cynthia! If that isn't exactly
like you! Who but you would have thought of such a thing!"

"I don't see anything queer about it," retorted Cynthia. "Doesn't
everything point that way?"

"Certainly not, Cynthia Sprague! Do you suppose that even years and
years ago any one in a big house like this could commit a murder, and
then calmly lock up and walk away, and the matter never be investigated?
That's absurd! The murdered person would be missed and people would
wonder why the place was left like this, and the--the authorities would
get in here in a hurry. No, there wasn't any murder or anything
bloodthirsty at all; something very different."

"Well, since you don't like _my_ theory," replied Cynthia, still
nettled, "what's yours? Of course you _have_ one!"

"Yes, I have one, and I have lain awake nights, too, thinking it out.
I'll tell you what it is, and if you don't agree with me, you're free to
say so. Here's the way it all seems to me:

"Whatever happened in that house must have concerned two persons, at
least. And one of them, you must admit, was our Lovely Lady whose
portrait hangs in the library. Her room and clothes and locket show
that. She looks very young, but she must have been some one of
importance in the house, probably the mistress, or she wouldn't have
occupied the biggest bedroom and had her picture on the wall. You think
that much is all right, don't you?" Cynthia nodded.

"Then there's some one else. That one we don't know anything at all
about, but it isn't hard to guess that it was the person whose picture
is turned to the wall, and whose miniature was in the locket, and who,
probably, occupied the locked-up room. That person must have been some
near and dear relation of the Lovely Lady's, surely. But--what? We can't
tell yet. It might be mother, father, sister, brother, husband, son, or
daughter, any of these.

"The Lovely Lady (I'll have to call her that, because we don't know her
name) was giving a party, and every one was at dinner, when word was
suddenly brought to her about this relative. Or perhaps the person was
right there, and did something that displeased her,--I can't tell which.
Whatever it was,--bad news either way,--it could only have been one of
two things. Either the relative was dead, or had done something awful
and disgraceful. Anyhow, the Lovely Lady was so terribly shocked by it
that she dismissed her dinner party right away. I don't suppose she felt
it right to do it. It was not very polite, but probably excusable under
the circumstances!"

"Maybe she fainted away," suggested Cynthia, practically. "Ladies were
always doing that years ago, especially when they heard bad news."

"Good enough!" agreed Joyce. "I never thought of it. She probably did.
Of course that would break up the party at once. Well when she came to
and every one had gone, she was wild, frantic with grief or
disappointment or disgust, and decided she just _couldn't_ stay in that
house any longer. She must have dismissed her servants right away,
though why she didn't make them clear up first, I can't think. Then she
began to pack up to go away, and decided she wouldn't bother taking most
of her things. And sometime, just about then, she probably turned the
picture to the wall and took the other one out of her locket and threw
it into the fire. Then she went away, and never, never came back any
more."

"Yes, but how about the house?" objected Cynthia. "How did that get
boarded up?"

"I have thought that out," said Joyce. "She may have stayed long enough
to see the boarding up done, or she may have ordered some one to do it
later. It can be done from the outside."

"I think she was foolish to leave all her good clothes," commented
Cynthia, "and the locket under the bed, too."

"I don't believe she remembered the locket--or cared about it!" mused
Joyce. "She was probably too upset and hurried to think of it again. And
I'm sure she lay on the bed and cried a good deal. It looks like that.
Now what do you think of my theory, Cynthia?"

"Why, I think it is all right, fine--as far as it goes. I never could
have pieced things together in that way. But you haven't thought about
who this mysterious relative was, have you?"

"Yes, I have, but, of course, that's much harder to decide because we
have so little to go on. I'll tell you one thing I've pretty nearly
settled, though. Whatever happened, it wasn't that anybody _died_! When
people die, you're terribly grieved and upset, of course, and you _may_
shut up your house and never come near it again. I've heard of such
things happening. But you generally put things nicely to rights first,
and you don't go away and forget more than half your belongings. If you
don't tend to these things yourself, you get some one else to do it for
you. And one other thing is certain too. You don't turn the dead
relative's picture to the wall or tear it out of your locket and throw
it into the fire. You'd be far more likely to keep the picture always
near so that you could look at it often. Isn't that so?"

"Of course!" assented Cynthia.

"Then it _must_ have been the other thing that happened. Somebody did
something wrong, or disappointing, or disgraceful. It must have been a
dreadful thing, to make the Lovely Lady desert that house forever. I
can't imagine what!"

"But what about the locked-up room?" interrupted Cynthia. "Have you any
theory about that? You haven't mentioned it."

"That's something I simply can't puzzle out," confessed Joyce. "The
Lovely Lady must have locked it, or the disgraceful relative may have
done it, or some one entirely different. I can't make any sense out of
it."

"Well, Joy," answered Cynthia, "you've a theory about what happened, and
it certainly sounds sensible. Now, have you any about what relative it
was? That's the next most interesting thing."

"I don't think it could have been her father or mother," replied Joyce,
thoughtfully. "Parents aren't liable to cause that kind of trouble, so
we'll count them out. She looks very young, not nearly old enough to
have a son or daughter who would do anything very dreadful, so we'll
count _them_ out. (Isn't this just like the 'elimination' in algebra!)'
That leaves only brother, sister, or husband to be thought about."

"You forget aunts, uncles, and cousins!" interposed Cynthia.

"Oh, Cyn! how absurd! They are much too distant. It _must_ have been
some one nearer than that, to matter so much!"

"I think it's most likely her husband, then," decided Cynthia. "He'd
matter most of all."

"Yes, I've thought of that, but here's the objection: her husband,
supposing she had one would probably have owned this house. Consequently
he wouldn't be likely to allow it to be shut up forever in this queer
way. He'd come back after a while and do what he pleased with it. No, I
don't think it was her husband, or that she was married at all. It must
have been either a sister or brother,--a younger one probably,--and the
Lovely Lady loved her--or him--better than any one else in the world."

"Look here!" interrupted Cynthia, suddenly. "There's the easiest way to
decide all this!"

"What is it?" cried Joyce, opening her eyes wide.

"Why, just go in there and turn that picture in the drawing-room
around!"

"Oh, Cynthia, you jewel! Of _course_ it will be the easiest way! What
geese we are to have waited so long! Only it will be a heavy thing to
lift. But the time has come when it must be done. Let's go right away!"

Full of new enthusiasm, they scrambled to their feet, approached the
cellar window by a circuitous route (they were always very careful that
they should not be observed in this), and were soon in the dim cellar
lighting their candles. Then they scurried up-stairs, entered the
drawing-room, and set their candlesticks on the table. After that they
removed all the breakable ornaments from the mantel and drew another
chair close to the fireplace.

"Now," commanded Joyce, stepping on the seat of one while Cynthia
mounted the other, "be awfully careful. That red silk cord it hangs by
is perfectly rotten. I'm surprised it hasn't given way before this.
Probably, as soon as we touch the picture the cord will break. If so,
let the picture down gently to rest on the mantel. Ready!"

They reached out and grasped the heavy frame. True to Joy's prediction,
the silk cord snapped at once, and the picture's whole weight rested in
their hands.

"Quick!" cried Cynthia. "I can't hold it any longer!" And with a thud,
the heavy burden slipped to the mantel. But there was no damage done
and, feeling on the other side Joyce discovered that it had no glass.

"Now what?" asked Cynthia.

"We must turn it around as it rests here. We can easily balance it on
the mantel." With infinite caution, and some threatened mishaps, they
finally got it into position, right side to the front, and sprang down
to get their candles. On holding them close, however, the picture was
found to be so coated with gray dust that absolutely nothing was
distinguishable.

"Get the dust-rag!" ordered Joyce. And Cynthia, all excitement, rushed
down cellar to find it. When she returned, they carefully wiped from the
painting its inch-thick coating of the dust of years, and again held
their candles to illumine the result.

For one long intense moment they stared at it. And then, simultaneously,
they broke into a peal of hysterical giggles.



CHAPTER VII

GOLIATH MAKES ANOTHER DISCOVERY


"Oh, Cynthia!" gasped Joy at length, "isn't it too comical! We're just
as far from it all as ever!" And they both fell to chuckling again.

They were certainly no nearer the solution of their problem. For, facing
the room once more, the mysterious picture looked forth--the portrait of
_two babies_! They were plump, placid babies, aged probably about two or
three years, and they appeared precisely alike. It took no great stretch
of imagination to conjecture what they were--twins--and evidently
brother and sister, for one youngster's dress, being a trifle severe in
style, indicated that it was doubtless a boy. These two cherubic infants
had both big brown eyes, fat red cheeks, and adorable, fluffy golden
curls. They were pictured as sitting, hand in hand, on a green bank
under a huge spreading tree and gazing solemnly toward a distant church
steeple.

"The poor little things!" cried Cynthia. "Think of them having been
turned to the wall all these years! Now what was the sense of it,--two
innocent babies like that!" But Joyce had not been listening. All at
once she put down her candle on the table and faced her companion.

"I've got it!" she announced. "It came to me all of a sudden. Of course
those babies are twins, brother and sister. Any one can tell that! Well,
don't you see, one of them--the girl--was our Lovely Lady. The other was
her twin brother. It's all as clear as day! The twin brother did
something she didn't like, and she turned his picture to the wall. Hers
happened to be in the same frame too, but she evidently didn't care
about that. Now what have you to say, Cynthia Sprague?"

"You must be right," admitted Cynthia. "I thought we were 'stumped'
again when I first saw that picture, but it's been of some use, after
all. Do you suppose the miniature was a copy of the same thing?"

"It may have been, or perhaps it was just the brother alone when he was
older. We can't tell about that." All this while Cynthia had been
standing, candle in one hand and dust-cloth in the other. At that point
she put the candlestick on the table and stood gazing intently at the
dust-cloth. Presently she spoke:

"Joyce, _do_ you think there would be any harm in my doing something
I've longed to do ever since we first entered this house?"

"What in the world is that?" queried Joyce.

"Why, I want to _dust_ this place, and clear out of the way some of the
dirt and cobwebs! They worry me terribly. And, besides, I'd like to see
what this lovely furniture looks like without such quantities of dust
all over it."

"Good scheme, Cyn!" cried Joyce, instantly delighted with the new idea.
"I'll tell you what! We'll come in here this afternoon with old clothes
on, and have a regular _house-cleaning_! It can't hurt anything, I'm
sure, for we won't disturb things at all. I'll bring a dust-cloth, too,
and an old broom. But let's go and finish our studying now, and get that
out of the way. Hurrah for house-cleaning, this afternoon!"

Filled with fresh enthusiasm, the two girls rushed out to hurry through
the necessary studies before the anticipated picnic of the afternoon. If
their respective mothers had requested them to perform so arduous a task
as this at home, they would, without doubt, have been instantly plunged
into deep despair. But because they were to execute the work in an old
deserted mansion saturated with mystery, no pleasure they could think of
was to be compared with it. This thought, however, did not enter the
heads of the enthusiastic pair.

       *       *       *       *       *

Smuggling the house-cleaning paraphernalia into the cellar window,
unobserved, that afternoon, proved no easy task, for Cynthia had added a
whisk-broom and dust-pan to the outfit. Joyce came to the fray with an
old broom and a dust-cloth, which latter she thought she had carefully
concealed under her sweater. But a long end soon worked out and trailed
behind her unnoticed, till Goliath, basking on the veranda steps, spied
it. The lure proved too much for him, and he came sporting after it, as
friskily as a young kitten, much to Cynthia's delight when she caught
sight of him.

"Oh, let him come along!" she urged. "I do love to see him about that
old house. He makes it sort of cozier. And, besides, he seems to belong
to it, anyway. You know he discovered it first!" And so Goliath followed
into the Boarded-up House.

They began on the drawing-room. Before they had been at work very long,
they found that they had "let themselves in" for a bigger task than they
had dreamed. Added to that, performing it by dim candle-light did not
lessen its difficulties, but rather increased them tenfold. First they
took turns sweeping, as best they could, with a very ancient and frowsy
broom, the thick, moth-eaten carpet. When they had gone over it once,
and taken up what seemed like a small cart-load of dust, they found
that, after all, there remained almost as much as ever on the floor.
Cynthia was for going over it again.

"Oh, never mind it!" sighed Joyce. "My arms ache and so do yours. We'll
do it again another time. Now let's dust the furniture and pictures."
And they fell to work with whisk-broom and dust-cloths. Half an hour
later, exhausted and grimy, they dropped into chairs and surveyed the
results. It was, of course, as but a drop in the bucket, in comparison
with all the scrubbing and cleaning that was needed. Yet, little as it
was, it had already made a vast difference in the aspect of the room.
Surface dust at least had been removed, and the fine old furniture gave
a hint of its real elegance and polish. Joyce glanced at the big hanging
candelabrum and sighed with weariness. Then she suddenly remarked:

"Cynthia, we have the _dimmest_ light here with only those two candles!
Why not have some more burning?"

"We've only three left," commented Cynthia, practical as ever. "And my
pocket-money is getting low again, and you haven't any left, as usual.
So we'd better economize till allowance day!"

"Tell you what!" cried Joyce, freshly inspired. "I've the loveliest
idea! Don't you just long to know what this room would look like with
that big candelabrum going? I do. They say illumination by candle-light
is the prettiest in the world. Sometime I'm going to buy enough wax
candles to fill that whole chandelier--or candelabrum rather--and we'll
light it just once and see how it makes things look. What do you say?"

"It'll cost you a good deal more than a dollar," remarked Cynthia, after
an interval spent in calculation. "Of course I'd like to see it too, so
I'll go halves with you on the expense. And I don't believe we can get
nice _wax_ candles, only penny tallow ones. But they'll have to do. I
wonder, though, if people could see the light from the street, through
any chinks in the boarding?"

"Of course not," said Joyce. "Don't you see how all the inside shutters
are closed and the velvet curtains drawn? It isn't possible. Then we'll
have the illumination for a treat, sometime, and I'll begin to save up
for it. And I hope before that time we'll have puzzled out this mystery.
I'm afraid we aren't very good detectives, or we'd have done it long
before this. Sherlock Holmes would have!"

"But remember," suggested Cynthia, "that those Sherlock Holmes mysteries
were usually solved very soon after the thing happened. This took place
years and years ago. I reckon we're doing pretty nearly as well as
Sherlock, when you come to think of it."

"Perhaps that's so," admitted Joyce, thoughtfully. "It's not so easy
after goodness knows how many years! But I'm rested now. Come and see
what we can do with the library. I'm wild to look at the Lovely Lady
again. I really think I _love_ that picture!" And so, in the adjoining
room, they stood a while with elevated candles, gazing fascinated at the
portrait of the beautiful woman.

"She's lovely, lovely, lovely!" sighed Joyce. "Oh, wouldn't I like to
have known her! And do you notice, Cynthia, she has the same big brown
eyes of the girl-baby in the parlor. There isn't a doubt but what that
baby was she."

They tore themselves away from the portrait after a time, and commenced
digging at the dust and cobwebs of the library. But they were thoroughly
tired after their heroic struggles with the drawing-room, and made, on
the whole, but little progress. Added to this, their enthusiasm for
cleaning-up had waned considerably.

"I guess we'll have to leave this for another day," groaned Joyce at
last. "I'm just dog-tired!"

"All right," assented Cynthia, in muffled tones, her head being under a
great desk in the corner. "But wait till I finish sweeping out under
here. _Mercy!_ what's that? I just touched something soft!" On the
instant, Joyce was at her side with the candle.

"Why, it's Goliath as usual!" they both cried, peering in. "Isn't he the
greatest for getting into odd corners!" Far at the back sat Goliath,
curled into a comfortable ball, his front paws tucked under, and purring
loudly.

"He's sitting on an old newspaper, I think," said Joyce. "He always does
that if he can find one, because they're warm." Suddenly she snatched at
the paper so violently that Goliath went tobogganing off with a
protesting "meouw."

"Look, look, Cynthia!" she exclaimed, brushing off a cloud of dust with
the whisk-broom, and pointing to the top of the sheet. "Here's one of
the biggest discoveries yet!" And Cynthia, following her index-finger,
read aloud:

"'Tuesday, April 16, 1861.'"

"Which proves," added Joyce, "that whatever happened here didn't take
place much _earlier_ than this date, or the paper wouldn't be here. What
we want to do now is hunt around and see if there are any newspapers of
a _later_ date. Let's do it this minute!"

Forgetting all their weariness, they seized their candles and scurried
through the house, finding an occasional paper tucked away in some odd
corner. But upon examination these all proved to be of earlier date than
that of their first discovery. And when it was clear that there were no
more to be found, Joyce announced:

"Well, I'm convinced that the Boarded-up House mystery happened not
earlier than April 16, 1861, and probably not much later. That's over
forty years ago, for this is 1905! Just think, Cynthia, of this place
standing shut up and untouched and lonely all that time! It's
wonderful!" But Cynthia had turned and snatched up Goliath.

"You precious cat!" she crooned to him as he struggled unappreciatively
in her embrace. "You're the best detective of us all! We ought to change
your name to 'Sherlock Holmes'!"



CHAPTER VIII

CYNTHIA HAS AN IDEA


"It's no use, Cynthia. We've come to the end of our rope!" Joyce sat
back on her heels (she had been rummaging through a box of old trash in
the kitchen of the Boarded-up House) and wiped her grimy hands on the
dust-cloth. Cynthia, perched gingerly on the edge of a rickety chair,
nodded a vigorous assent.

"_I_ gave it up long ago. It seemed so hopeless! But you _would_
continue to hunt, so I've trotted around after you and said nothing."

More than three weeks had elapsed since the finding of the old newspaper
and the definite settling of the date. Filled with new hope over this
find, the girls had continued to search diligently through the neglected
old mansion, strong in the belief that they would eventually discover,
if not the missing key, at least a trail of clues that would lead to the
unraveling of the mystery. The mystery, however, refused to be
unraveled. They made no further discoveries, and to-day even Joyce
expressed herself as completely discouraged.

"There's just one thing that seems to me thoroughly foolish," Cynthia
continued. "It's your still insisting that we keep from mentioning the
Boarded-up House to outsiders. Good gracious! do you think they're all
going to suspect that we're inside here every other day, just because
you happen to speak of the place? If you do, it's your guilty conscience
troubling you!" Cynthia had never spoken quite so sharply before. Joyce
looked up, a little hurt.

"Why, Cynthia, what's the matter with you? One would think I'd been
doing something _wrong_, the way you speak!"

"Oh, I didn't mean it that way," explained Cynthia, contritely. "But you
don't know how this remembering _not_ to speak of it has got on my
nerves! I catch myself a dozen times a day just going to make some
innocent remark about the B. U. H., generally at the table, and then I
stutter and blush, and they all ask what's the matter, and I don't know
what in the world to answer! Now I have an idea. Perhaps it isn't worth
anything; mine generally aren't! But it's this: why wouldn't it be a
good scheme to get the older folks to talk about this house, without
letting them know you have any special interest in it--just start the
subject, somehow? I notice folks are liable to talk quite a long while
on most any subject that's started. And they might have something to say
that would interest us, and we _might_ get some new clues. And I don't
see any reason why they should connect us with it, specially."

Joyce considered the subject in thoughtful silence.

"I believe you're right," she said at last. "It is silly to continue
keeping so 'mum' about it, and we might get some good new points.
Anyhow, in the detective stories Sherlock Holmes didn't keep everything
so quiet, but talked to lots of outside people, and got ideas that way,
too. Why didn't I think of it before! Good old Cynthia! You had the
right notion that time. Come, let's go home now. I'm tired and sick of
this dusty grubbing, and we're not going to do any more of it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning, Joyce came flying over to Cynthia's house half an hour
before it was time to start for high school. She seemed rather excited.

"Come on! Do hurry, Cyn! I've something important to tell you."

"But it isn't time to start yet," objected Cynthia, "and I'm only half
through breakfast. Tell me here!" Joyce gave her a warning glance before
turning away.

"Oh, later will do," she remarked casually, and strolled into the
sitting-room to chat with Mrs. Sprague. This was sufficient to hasten
Cynthia, who usually loved to linger cozily over her morning meal. She
had her hat and coat on and her books under her arm inside of seven
minutes, and the two girls hurried away together. They were no sooner
down the steps than Joyce began:

"Last night an idea came to me, just through some remark that Father
happened to make. It's queer we never thought of it before. There's a
real-estate agent over the other side of the town--Mr. Wade--and he
ought to know everything about all the property here. That's his
business. Let's go to his office and ask him about the old house. He
doesn't know us, and won't suspect anything. We'll go this afternoon,
right after school!"

"But there's a meeting of the Sigma Sigma Society this afternoon,"
Cynthia remonstrated, "and they're going to give that little play. I'm
crazy to see it!"

"I don't care!" cried Joyce, recklessly. "What's the meeting of an old
literary society compared to an important thing like this?"

"But we could do it just as well to-morrow."

"I can't wait till to-morrow, Cynthia Sprague!" And that settled the
matter. They started on their expedition that very afternoon.

It was a bleak, raw day, and they found Mr. Wade huddled over a red-hot
stove in his little office. He stared at them in some surprise as they
entered.

"Pardon me," began Joyce, always the spokesman, "but I'd like to ask a
question or two about the old boarded-up house on Orchard Avenue." Now
the agent was apparently not in the best of spirits that day. Business
had been very dull, he had two children at home sick with measles, and
he himself was in the first stage of a cold.

"I don't know anything about it!" he mumbled crossly. "It ain't in the
market--never was!"

"Oh, we don't want to _buy_ it or _rent_ it!" explained Joyce, politely.
"We only wanted to know if you knew the owners, where they live and what
their names are."

"No, I don't!" he reiterated. "Tried to find out once. It's some estate.
Business all transacted through lawyers in New York, and they won't
open their heads about it. Plain as told me it was none of my affairs!"

"Then perhaps you could tell us--" Joyce was persisting, when the agent
suddenly interrupted, turning on her suspiciously:

"Say, what do you want to know all this for? What's the old place to
you, anyhow?"

"Oh, nothing--nothing at all!" protested Joyce, alarmed lest their
precious secret was about to be discovered. "We only asked out of
curiosity. Good day, sir!" And the two girls fled precipitately from the
office.

"I was going to ask him the name of the lawyers," Joyce explained as
they hurried away. "But it wouldn't do any good, I guess, if we knew. We
couldn't go and question _them_, for it's plain from what the agent said
that they don't want to talk about it. My, but that man was cranky,
wasn't he!"

"I think he was sick," said Cynthia. "He looked it. Well, I suppose we
will have to give it all up! We've tried just about everything."
Suddenly she stopped and stood perfectly still, staring blankly at
nothing.

"Come on!" urged Joyce. "Whatever is the matter with you, standing here
like that?"

"I was just thinking--seems to me I remember something about the first
day we got into the B. U. H. Didn't you tell me that you knew the house
was left furnished, that somebody had told your father so?"

"Why, _of course_!" cried Joyce, excited at once. "I certainly did, and
what a stupid I am not to have thought of it since!" And she herself
stopped short and stood thinking.

"Well, what is it?" demanded Cynthia, impatiently. "Who's stopping and
staring now?"

"The trouble is," said Joyce, slowly, "that the whole thing's not very
clear in my mind. It was several years ago that I heard Father mention
it. Somebody was visiting us when we first moved here, and asked him at
the table about the old house next door. And Father said, I think, that
he didn't know anything much about it only that it was a queer old
place, and once he had met an elderly lady who happened to mention to
him that she knew the house was left furnished, just as it was, and she
didn't think the owners would ever live in it again. I don't know why I
happened to remember this. It must have made quite an impression on me,
because I was a good deal younger and didn't generally listen much to
what they were saying at table."

"Well," announced Cynthia, still standing where she had stopped, and
speaking with great positiveness, "there's only one thing to do now, and
that is, find out who the old lady is and hunt her up!"

"I suppose I can find out her name from Father--if he remembers it--but
what then? I can't go and scrape up an acquaintance with a perfectly
strange person, and she _may_ live in Timbuctoo!" objected Joyce.

"It's the only thing left, the 'last resort' as they say in stories,"
said Cynthia. "But, of course, you can do as you like. You're
engineering this business!"

"Well, I will," conceded Joyce, not very hopefully, however. "I'll lead
Father round to talking of her this evening, if I can, and see what
comes of it."

Joyce was as good as her word. That evening when she and her father were
seated cozily in the library, she studying, her father smoking and
reading his paper, while her mother was temporarily out of the room, she
began diplomatically:

[Illustration: "Do you know any real elderly people, Father?"]

"Do you know any real elderly people, Father?" He looked up with a
quizzical expression.

"Well, a few. Most people do, don't they? What do you inquire for,
Duckie? Thinking of founding an old people's home?" he asked teasingly.

"Oh, no! But who are they, Father? Do you mind telling me?"

"Mercy, Joyce! I can't think just now of all of them!" He was deep in a
preëlection article in his paper, and wanted to return to it.

"But can't you think of just a _few_?" she implored.

"Well, you are the queerest child! There's Grandfather Lambert, and your
Great-aunt Lucia, and old Mr. Selby, and--oh, I can't think, Joyce!
What's all this foolishness anyway?" Joyce saw at once that she was
getting at nothing very definite along this line and determined on a
bold move.

"Well, who is the old lady that you spoke of once, who, you said, knew
something about that queer old boarded-up house next door?"

"Now, why in the world didn't you say so at once, without first making
me go through the whole list of my elderly acquaintances?" he laughed.
"That was your Great-aunt Lucia."

"_What!_" Joyce almost shouted in her astonishment.

"Why, certainly! What's queer about that? She used to live in New York
City, and knew all the best families for miles around. When we first
moved here, next to that ramshackle old place, I remember her telling me
she'd known the people who used to live there."

"Who were they?" demanded Joyce, eagerly.

"Oh, I don't remember their name! I don't know that she ever mentioned
it. She only said she knew them, and they'd gone away rather suddenly
and left their house all furnished and never came back. Now _do_ let me
finish my paper in peace, Duckie dear!"

Joyce said no more, and turned again to her studies; but her brain was
in a whirl, and she could not concentrate her thoughts on her work.
_Great-aunt Lucia!_--of all people! And here she had been wondering how
she could ever get to know some stranger well enough to put her
questions. But, for that matter, there were difficulties in the way of
questioning even Great-aunt Lucia. She was a very old lady, a confirmed
invalid, who lived in Poughkeepsie. For many years she had not left her
home, and the family seldom saw her; but her father paid a visit to the
old lady once in a while when he was in that vicinity.

Joyce then fell to planning how she could get into communication with
this Great-aunt Lucia. She couldn't _write_ her inquiries,--that
certainly would never do! If she could only visit her and get her to
talk about it! But Joyce had never visited this relative in her life,
and never particularly wanted to, and it would appear strange to seem
suddenly so anxious to see the old lady. This, however, was obviously
the only solution, and she began to wonder how it could be arranged.
Very prudently, she waited till her father had finished his pipe and
laid aside his paper. Then she commenced afresh, but casually, as though
the idea had just entered her mind:

"Great-aunt Lucia must be a very interesting old lady, Father!"

"She is, she certainly is! I was always very fond of her. My! how she
can talk, and the stories she can tell about old times!" said Mr.
Kenway, waxing enthusiastic.

"Oh, I _wish_ I could visit her!" exclaimed Joyce.

"Well, you certainly may, if you really want to. I've always wanted her
to see you since you've grown so, and I've proposed a number of times
that you go with me on the trip. But you've always refused to be
separated from your precious Cynthia, and I couldn't think of
inflicting _two_ youngsters on her." Joyce remembered now, with a good
deal of self-reproach, how many times she had begged off from
accompanying her father. It had not seemed very interesting then, and,
as he had said, she did not want to leave Cynthia, even for two or three
days. She realized now that she had not only been a little selfish about
it, but had plainly missed a golden opportunity.

"Oh, Father," she cried in real contrition, "I was mean to refuse you! I
didn't realize that you _wanted_ me to go. I thought you only did it to
give me a good time, and, somehow, it didn't seem like a good
time--then! When are you going again? And won't you take me?"

"I haven't been there in two years," he mused. "I _ought_ to go again
soon. The old lady may not live very long, she's so feeble. Let's see!
Suppose we make it the week-end before election. I'll write to her
to-morrow that we're all coming, you and Mother and I."

"Oh, but, Father!" exclaimed Joyce. "Couldn't we go sooner? That's
nearly a month off!"

"Best I can do, Duckie dear! I simply can't get away before. What's your
hurry anyway? First you won't be hired to go and see her, and then you
want to rush off and do it at once! What a funny little daughter it is!"
He kissed her laughingly, as she bade him good night.

But Joyce slept little that night. She was wild for morning to come so
that she could tell Cynthia, and wilder with impatience to think of the
long dragging month ahead before the visit to Great-aunt Lucia, and the
solution of the mystery.



CHAPTER IX

THE MEMORIES OF GREAT-AUNT LUCIA


Cynthia sat at her desk in high school, alternately staring out of the
window, gazing intently across the room at Joyce, and scowling at the
blackboard where the cryptic symbols

  (a + b)^2 = a^2 + 2ab + b^2

were being laboriously expounded by the professor of mathematics. Of
this exposition, it is safe to say, Cynthia comprehended not a word for
the following simple reason. Early that morning Joyce had returned from
the visit to her great-aunt Lucia and had entered the class-room late.
Cynthia had not yet had a moment in which to speak with her alone. It
was now the last period of the day, and her impatience had completely
conquered her usual absorbed attention to her studies.

The professor droned on. The class feverishly copied more cryptic
symbols in its notebooks. But at last the closing-bell rang, and after
what seemed interminable and totally unnecessary delays, Cynthia found
herself out of doors, arm-in-arm with Joyce. Then all she could find to
say was:

"Now--_tell me_!" But Joyce was very serious, and very mysterious too.

"Not here," she answered. "I couldn't! Wait!"

"Well, where and when, then?" cried Cynthia.

"Home," said Joyce. Then, after a moment,--"No, I'll tell you in the
Boarded-up House! That's the most appropriate place. We'll go there
straight after we get home." So Cynthia was obliged to repress her
impatience a little longer. But at length they had crept through the
cellar window, lighted their candles, and were proceeding up-stairs.

"Come into the library," said Joyce. "I want to stand right where I can
look at the Lovely Lady when I tell you this. It's all so strange--so
_different_ from what we thought!" So they went through the
drawing-room, entered the library, and placed their candlesticks on the
mantel where the light would best illuminate the portrait of the Lovely
Lady. Then Joyce began.

"Great-aunt Lucia is very old and very feeble. She seemed _so_ glad to
see us all,--especially me. She talked to me a great deal, but I did not
have a chance to mention this place to her at all till the last evening
we were there. Mother and Father had gone out to call on some friends,
but it was raining and I had a sore throat, so they decided not to take
me. I was so glad, because then I could stay home and talk to Great-aunt
Lucia, and it was the first time I'd been with her long alone.

"She had been telling me a lot about when she was a little girl, and
asking me about myself. And I had told her about you and how we'd been
together so many years, and what we did when we weren't in school. And
finally I mentioned, just casually, that we often played in the grounds
of this old house next door and described the place a little to her.
Well, that started her, as I was sure it would! She began telling me
that it was so strange,--that she had been in this house once, and
curiously enough, just before it was closed for good. Then, you can
warrant, I listened with all my ears!

"She said she had become acquainted with the lady through meeting her a
short time before at the house of a friend in New York. This friend had
then introduced them,--'Mrs. Hubert Kenway--Mrs. Fairfax Collingwood'!"

"_Mrs._ Collingwood!" cried Cynthia. "And we thought she wasn't
married!--"

"Well, she was,--and we've made several mistakes beside that, Cynthia
Sprague, as you'll find out later! It seems that Great-aunt Lucia took
quite a fancy to young Mrs. Collingwood. She was so sweet and gracious
and charmingly pretty. Later, Great-aunt Lucia discovered that she was a
widow, living out here. Her husband had been dead a number of
years,--ten, I think. She was a Southerner, having come originally from
South Carolina.

"Great-aunt Lucia did not see her again till a few weeks later, when she
received an invitation to go with her friend, take luncheon, and spend
the day at Mrs. Collingwood's. There were several others invited, about
a dozen in all. They all came out by train and drove here in hired
carriages from the station, which was a long way off then. It was a
beautiful, soft, balmy April day, and spring seemed well begun.

"Great-aunt Lucia said the place was delightful,--an old, Colonial house
(it seemed so strange to hear her describe everything just as we've seen
it!). And Mrs. Collingwood was a charming hostess. But they were just
finishing luncheon when the strangest thing happened!

"A servant came in and handed Mrs. Collingwood a telegram as she sat at
the head of the table. She excused herself to them, tore open the
envelope and read it. Then, to their astonishment, she turned first a
fiery red, and afterward white as a sheet. Then she sprang to her feet
saying, 'Oh!' in a sort of stifled voice. Everyone jumped up too, some
so quickly that they knocked over their chairs and asked if anything
dreadful was the matter. Then, all of a sudden, she toppled over and
slipped to the floor in a dead faint."

"Didn't I _tell_ you so, long ago!" exclaimed Cynthia. "I _said_ she
probably fainted!"

"Yes, you were right. Well, two or three began to chafe her hands and
face, and the rest sent the servants flying for smelling-salts and
vinegar. Everything was confusion for a few minutes, till she presently
came to. Then they all began again to question her about what was the
matter, but she wouldn't tell them. She just said:

"'I've had bad news, dear friends, and it has made me feel quite ill. It
is something I cannot speak about. I hope you will not think me
thoroughly inhospitable, if I go to my room for a while.' They all told
her she must certainly go and lie down, and that they would leave
immediately. She begged them not to hurry, but of course they saw that
it wasn't best to stay, since she wouldn't let them do anything for her.
So, fifteen minutes later they were all driving away in the carriages
which had remained for them at the house. And--" here Joyce paused
dramatically,--"not one of them, except my great-aunt's friend, Mrs.
Durand, ever saw her again!"

"But--but--" began Cynthia.

"Wait," said Joyce. "I haven't finished yet! Of course, all of them were
crazy to know what happened, but most of them never did,--not till long,
long afterward, anyway. There was one that did know soon, however, and
that was Mrs. Durand. Two nights afterward, Mrs. Durand was astounded to
have Mrs. Collingwood arrive at her house in New York, and beg to be
allowed to stay there a day or two. She was dressed entirely in black,
and carried only a small grip. Of course, Mrs. Durand took her right in,
and that night Mrs. Collingwood told her what had happened.

"But first, I must tell you that Mrs. Collingwood had a son--"

"_What?_" gasped Cynthia, staring up at the girlish picture.

"Yes, a son! And not a baby, either, but a fine, handsome young fellow
of seventeen. Great-aunt Lucia says that Mrs. Collingwood was married
when she was only seventeen, and that she was thirty-five when all this
happened. But she looked much younger. So that accounts for our mistake!
The son was away at Harvard College,--or at least they _thought_ he was,
at the time of the luncheon. But Great-aunt Lucia says that the same
afternoon, as they were driving to the station, they met a splendid
young fellow with yellow hair and bright brown eyes, hurrying along the
road in the opposite direction. He took off his cap to them gaily, and
Mrs. Durand whispered that it was young Fairfax Collingwood, evidently
coming home unexpectedly. Great-aunt Lucia says she will never forget
his excited, happy look!

"Now, I'll go back to Mrs. Durand and Mrs. Collingwood. (And all that
follows, Mrs. Durand told Great-aunt Lucia long, long long afterward.)
Mrs. Collingwood came into the house, and her face looked set like a
stone, and she seemed twenty years older than when she was having the
luncheon. And Mrs. Durand cried:

"'Oh, my dear, you have lost some one? You are dressed in mourning!'

"'Yes,' said Mrs. Collingwood. 'I have lost my son! I am going away.'
And Mrs. Durand said:

"Oh, how--how sudden! He can't be _dead_! We saw him!' And Mrs.
Collingwood answered:

"'He is dead to me!' And for the longest time, Mrs. Durand couldn't get
another word from her, except that she had shut up the house and was
going home South, to live for good. Well, Mrs. Durand put her right to
bed,--she was fairly sick with nervousness and exhaustion. And late that
night, she broke down and cried and cried, and told Mrs. Durand
everything.

"And, oh, Cynthia! _What_ do you think it was? You'd never guess!-- You
know, the Civil War had just broken out,--Fort Sumter had surrendered
and Mrs. Collingwood was a South Carolina woman, and was heart and soul
with the Confederacy. She had married a Northern man, and had lived ever
since up here, but that didn't make any difference. And all the time war
had been threatening, she had been planning to raise a company in South
Carolina for her son Fairfax, and put him in command of it. They did
those things at that time. Her son didn't know about it, however. She
was keeping the news to surprise him.

"And then, that day at luncheon, she received a telegram from him saying
he had left college and enlisted--_in the Union army_--and was coming
home at once to bid her good-bye before going to the front! The shock of
it almost killed her! But later she thought that surely, when he came,
she could persuade him out of it.

"And he came that very afternoon. The ladies had met him walking up from
the train. She would not tell Mrs. Durand just what happened, but
intimated that they had had a dreadful scene. You see, the young fellow
had been born and brought up in the North, and _his_ sympathies were all
with _that_ side, and he was just as enthusiastic about it as his mother
was about the other. And besides, she'd never talked to him much about
the Southern cause, so he didn't realize how she felt. At last, when he
wouldn't give in, she admitted to Mrs. Durand that she disowned him, and
told him never to see her face again.

"When he had gone to his room to pack his things, she went and dismissed
her servants, and told them to go at once. Then she locked herself in
her room till her boy went away. She never saw him again! After he had
gone, that night, she collected all her silver and hid it, and partially
packed her own things, and then decided she wouldn't take them with her.
And when she had gone around shutting up the house, it was morning. As
soon as it was daylight, she went out and got an old colored carpenter
who lived nearby to come and board up the windows and doors. She had
the boarding all in the cellar, for it had been made two years before
when she went to Europe for six months. It took him nearly all day to
finish the work, while she stood around and gave directions. I don't see
how she had the strength to do it! When it was all done, she locked the
door, walked to the station, took the train for New York, and came to
Mrs. Durand." Joyce paused in her recital, from sheer lack of breath,
and Cynthia took advantage of the silence.

"So _that_ was the way of it! And _we_ thought it was her brother, and
that he'd done something awful,--committed a robbery or forged
something! I don't see why that young Fairfax should have been treated
so! I think what he did was fine!"

"You must remember," said Joyce, "that people felt so differently about
such things in those days. We can't quite realize it now, and shouldn't
judge them for the way they acted. I suppose Mrs. Collingwood could have
forgiven him more easily if he'd committed a burglary instead! And
Great-aunt Lucia says she was terribly high-tempered, too.

"I _can't_ understand it, even so!" insisted Cynthia. "But did your
great-aunt say anything about those pictures?"

"No, but I asked her if Mrs. Collingwood had any other children, and she
said she understood that Fairfax had been a twin, but his little sister
had died when she wasn't much more than three years old. So that's the
explanation of the two babies in the other room. I suppose Mrs.
Collingwood didn't tell all,--in fact I said she didn't tell any details
about what happened that night. Probably she turned the portrait around
and tore out the miniature when she was alone. But I haven't finished my
story yet!"

"Oh, do go on then!" implored Cynthia.

"Mrs. Collingwood stayed at her friend's house two days," continued
Joyce, "and then left for her old home in a little town in South
Carolina and never came North again. Mrs. Durand never saw her again,
either, but used to hear from her at very long intervals. But here's
where the awful thing comes in. After the battle of Shiloh, a year
later, when the papers published the list of killed--Fairfax
Collingwood's name was among the first! So he did not live very long,
you see. But what a terrible thing for the poor mother to think that she
and her son had parted in anger, and now were never, never to meet
again, and make it all up! Oh, I can hardly bear to think of it!"
Joyce's eyes were full of tears, as she gazed up at the proud, beautiful
face above them.

"Well, that's the end of the story, and that's the tragedy and mystery
about this Boarded-up House. Oh!--there's one other thing,--Great-aunt
Lucia says she thinks Mrs. Collingwood is still alive,--a very old lady,
living down in the little old South Carolina town of Chesterton. She
will never allow this old house to be touched nor let any one enter it.
But she has made a will, leaving it to the Southern Society when she
dies. That's positively all, and you see everything is explained."

"No, it isn't!" retorted Cynthia. "You haven't explained _one_ thing, at
all!"

"What's that?" asked Joyce.

"The mystery of the locked-up room!" replied Cynthia.



CHAPTER X

AN EXCITING DISCOVERY


The autumn of that year ended, the winter months came and went with all
their holiday festivities, and spring entered in her appointed time. The
passing winter had been filled with such varied outside activities for
the two girls, that there was little time to think of the Boarded-up
House, and still less to do any further investigating within it. Added
to that, the cold had been so constant and intense that it would have
been unsafe to venture into the unlighted, unheated, and unventilated
old mansion.

But, in spite of these things, its haunting story was never out of their
minds for long, and they discussed and re-discussed it in many a spare
hour when they crouched cozily by themselves over the open fire during
that long winter. It was a wonderful and appealing secret that they
somehow felt was all their own. It was better, more interesting than the
most engrossing story they had ever read. And the fascination of it was
that, though they now knew so much, they did not yet know all. The
mystery of the locked room always confronted them, always lured them on!

Once, on a day that was unusually mild, they ventured into the old house
for a few moments, and looked long and intently at the Lovely Lady over
the library mantel, and at the two pretty children in the drawing-room.

"Yes, that is the boy," said Cynthia. "You can see, even there, what a
fine young fellow he must have made, with those big brown eyes and that
curly golden hair. Oh, the poor mother!-- How she must have grieved, all
these years! You can see that she has never gotten over it, or she would
have come back here sometime. I wonder if she is alive yet!"

In the library, Joyce picked up the paper that had been discovered
through the help of Goliath, and looked it over curiously.

"Why in the world didn't we _read_ this paper when we found it!" she
exclaimed disgustedly. "Just see here,--the big headlines--'Fort Sumter
Surrenders. War Formally Declared. Troops Rushing To Washington!' Why,
Cynthia, it would surely have given us the clue!"

"I don't think it would have," declared Cynthia, sceptically. "I never
would have connected anything in the paper with what happened here."

"Sherlock Holmes would have," mused Joyce. "Well, anyway, we got at the
story in another fashion. But oh, Cynthia, will we ever know about the
locked-up room?" As Cynthia could cast no further light on this vexed
question, they were forced to drop it.

Then came spring, and the ancient cherry-trees in the enclosure back of
the Boarded-up House blossomed anew. One brilliant Saturday morning
early in May, the girls clambered through the fence with their books and
fancy-work, to spend some of the shining hour under the white canopy of
blossoms. They were reading aloud the "Sign of Four," (they inclined
much toward mystery and detective stories at this time) turn and turn
about, while the one who not have the book sewed or embroidered.
Presently Joyce laid down the volume with a big sigh.

[Illustration: "Oh, I _wish_ I were Sherlock Holmes!"]

"Oh, I _wish_ I were Sherlock Holmes!"

"Mercy! what for?" cried Cynthia. "I'm sure _I_ don't!"

"Why, do you suppose Sherlock would have been all this time getting at
the final facts about our Boarded-up House? Of course not! He'd have had
it all worked out and proved by now!" Joyce got to her feet and began
roaming about restlessly. Suddenly she stopped in front of her
companion.

"I tell you, Cynthia, it _haunts_ me! I can't explain to you why, but I
feel there is something we haven't discovered yet,--something we _ought_
to know. It isn't just 'idle curiosity' as Professor Marlow would call
it! I never knew or heard of anything that went so--so _deep_ in me as
this thing has. That poor, loving, proud mother, and her terrible
misunderstanding with her splendid son!-- He was _right_, too, I can't
help but think. But was she in the wrong? I suppose we can't judge about
how people felt in those days. The whole thing is so different now,--all
forgotten and forgiven! But I've read that the Confederates considered
their cause almost a--a _religion_. So of course she would have felt the
shock of what her son did, terribly. And think how he must have felt,
too!

"And then to lose his life, almost in the beginning! Perhaps he and his
mother might have made it all up after the war was over, if he'd only
lived. It's--it's the saddest thing I ever heard!" Cynthia had risen
too, and they linked arms, strolling up and down the little orchard as
they talked.

"I feel exactly as you do about it, though I don't often speak of it,"
said Cynthia. "But, by the way, did it ever strike you that we might
find it interesting to look over some of the books in that old library?
Some of them looked very attractive to me. And even if it didn't lead to
anything, at least it would be good fun to examine them. I love old
books! Why not do it this afternoon?"

"Just the thing!" agreed Joyce. "I've thought of that too, but we've
never had much chance to do it, till now. This afternoon, right after
lunch!"

So the afternoon found them again in the dim, musty old library,
illuminating the scene extravagantly with five candles. Three sides of
the room were lined with book-shelves, reaching nearly to the ceiling.
The girls surveyed the bewildering rows of books, puzzled where to
begin.

"Oh, come over here!" decided Joyce, choosing the side opposite the
fireplace. "These big volumes look so interesting." She brushed the
thick dust off their backs, revealing the titles. "Look!-- They're all
alike, with red backs and mottled sides." She opened one curiously.
"Why!--they're called 'Punch'! What a strange name! What kind of books
can they be?" And then, on further examination,--"Oh! I see. It's a
collection of English papers full of jokes and politics and that sort
of thing. And this one is from way back in 1850 Why, Cynthia, these are
the most _interesting_ things!--"

But Cynthia had already extracted another volume and was absorbed in it,
chuckling softly over the old-time humor. Joyce grouped the five candles
on the floor and they sat down beside them, from time to time pulling
out fresh volumes, reading aloud clever jokes to each other, and
enjoying themselves immensely, utterly unconscious of the passing
moments.

At length they found they had skimmed through all the volumes of
"Punch," the last of which was dated 1860, and had them piled up on the
floor beside them. This left a long space on the shelf from which they
came, and the methodical Cynthia presently rose to put them back. As she
fitted in the first volume, her eye was suddenly caught by something
back of the shelves, illuminated in the flickering candle-light.

"Joyce, come here!" she called in a voice of suppressed excitement. And
Joyce, who had wandered to another corner, came over in a hurry.

"What is it?"

"Look in there!" Joyce snatched a candle and held it close to the
opening made by the books. Then she gave a long, low whistle.

"What do you make of it?" demanded Cynthia.

"Just what it is! And that's as 'plain as a pikestaff'--a _keyhole_!"
Cynthia nodded.

"Yes, but what a strange place for it--back of those shelves!--" They
brought another candle and examined the wall back of the shelves more
carefully. There was certainly a keyhole--a rather small one--and around
it what appeared to be the paneling of a door, only partially visible
through the shreds of old, torn wall-paper that had once covered it.

"I have it!" cried Joyce, at length. "At least, I think this may be an
explanation. That's a small door, without a doubt,--perhaps to some
unused closet. Maybe there was a time, when this house was new, when
this room wasn't a library. Then somebody wanted to make it into a
library, and fill all this side of the room with book-shelves. But that
door was in the way. So they had it all papered over, and just put the
shelves in front of it, as though it had never been there. You see the
paper has fallen away, probably through dampness,--and the mice seem to
have eaten it too. And here's the keyhole! Isn't it _lucky_ we just
happened to take the books out that were in front of it!"

"But what are we going to do about it?" questioned Cynthia.

"_Do?_ Why, there's just one thing to do, and that is move the shelves
out somehow,--they seem to be movable, just resting on those
end-supports,--and get at that door!"

"But suppose it's locked?"

"We'll have to take a chance on that! Come on! We can't move these books
and shelves away fast enough to suit me!"

They fell to work with a zest the like of which they had not known since
their first entrance into the Boarded-up House. It was no easy task to
remove the armfuls of books necessary to get at the door behind, and
then push and shove and struggle with the dusty shelves. In a
comparatively short time, however, the floor behind them was littered
with volumes hastily deposited, and the shelves for a space nearly as
high as their heads were removed. Then they tore at the mouldy shreds of
wall-paper till the entire frame of the paneled wooden doorway was free.
Handle there was none, it having doubtless been removed when the place
was papered. There seemed, consequently, no way to open the door. But
Cynthia was equal to this emergency.

"I've seen an old chisel in the kitchen. We might pry it open with
that," she suggested.

"Go and get it!" commanded Joyce, bursting with excitement. "I think
this is going to be either a secret cupboard or room!"

Cynthia seized a candle and hurried away, coming back breathless with
the rusty tool.

"Now for it!" muttered Joyce. She grasped the chisel and inserted it in
the crack, pushing on it with all her might. But the door resisted, and
Cynthia was just uttering the despairing cry,--

"Oh, it's locked too!" when it suddenly gave way, with a wholly
unexpected jerk, and flew open emitting a cloud of dust.

"Mercy!" exclaimed Joyce, between two sneezes, "That almost knocked me
off my feet. Did you ever see so much dust!" Snatching the candles
again, they both sprang forward, expecting to gaze into the dusty
interior of some long unused cupboard or closet. They had no sooner put
their heads into the opening, than they started back with a simultaneous
cry.

The door opened on a tiny, narrow stairway, ascending into the dimness
above!



CHAPTER XI

THE ROOM THAT WAS LOCKED


Before Cynthia could realize what had happened or was happening, Joyce
seized her and began waltzing madly around the library, alternately
laughing, sobbing, hugging, and shaking her distractedly.

"Stop, stop, Joyce! _Please!_" she begged breathlessly. "Have you gone
crazy? You act so! What is the matter?"

"_Matter!_-- You ask me _that_?" panted Joyce. "You great big
_stupid_!--Why, we've discovered the way to the locked-up room!-- That's
what's the matter!" Cynthia looked incredulous.

"Why, certainly!" continued Joyce. "Can't you _see_? You know that room
is right over this. Where else could those stairs lead, then? But come
along! We'll settle all doubts in a moment!" She snatched up a candle
again and led the way, Cynthia following without more ado.

"Oh, Joyce! It's horribly dirty and stuffy and cobwebby in here!
Couldn't we wait a few moments till some air gets in?" implored Cynthia
in a muffled voice.

"I sha'n't wait a moment, but you may if you wish," called back Joyce.
"But I know you won't! Mind your head! These are the tiniest, lowest
stairs I've ever seen!" They continued to crawl slowly up, their candles
flickering low in the impoverished air of the long-inclosed place.

"What if we can't open the door at the top?" conjectured Cynthia. "What
if it's behind some heavy piece of furniture?"

"We'll just _have_ to get in somehow!" responded Joyce. "I've gone so
far now, that I believe I'd be willing to break things open with a
charge of dynamite, if we couldn't get in any other way! Here I am, at
the top. Now you hold my candle, and we'll see what happens!" She handed
her candle to Cynthia, braced herself, and threw her whole weight
against the low door, which was knobless like the one below.

Then came the surprise. She had expected resistance, and prepared to
cope with it. To her utter amazement, there was a ripping, tearing
sound, and she found herself suddenly prone upon the floor of the most
mysterious room in the house! The reason for this being that the door at
the top was covered on the inner side with only a layer or two of
wall-paper, and no article of furniture happened to stand in front of
it. Consequently it had yielded with ease at the tremendous shove Joyce
had given it, and she found herself thus forcibly and ignominiously
propelled into the apartment.

"My!" she gasped, sitting up and dusting her hands, "but that was
sudden! I don't care, though! I'm not a bit hurt, and--we're _in_!" They
were indeed "in"! The mysterious, locked room was at last to yield up
its secret to them. They experienced a delicious thrill of expectation,
as, with their candles raised above their heads, they peered eagerly
about.

Now, what they had expected to find within that mysterious room, they
could not perhaps have explained with any definiteness. Once they stood
within the threshold, however, they became slowly conscious of a vague
disappointment. Here was nothing so very strange, after all! The room
appeared to be in considerable disorder, and articles of clothing,
books, and boyish belongings were tossed about, as in a hurry of
packing. But beyond this, there was nothing much out of the ordinary
about it.

"Well," breathed Cynthia at length. "Is _this_ what we've been making
all the fuss about!"

"Wait!" said Joyce. "You can't see everything just at one glance. Let's
look about a little. Oh, what a dreadful hole we've made in the
wall-paper! Well, it can't be helped now, and it's the only damage we've
done." They commenced to tiptoe about the room, glancing curiously at
its contents.

It was plainly a boy's room. A pair of fencing-foils hung crossed on one
wall, a couple of boxing-gloves on another. College trophies decorated
the mantel. On a center-table stood a photograph or daguerreotype in a
large oval frame. When Cynthia had wiped away the veil of dust that
covered it, with the dust-cloth she had thoughtfully tucked in her belt,
the girls bent over it.

"Oh, Cynthia!" cried Joyce. "Here they are--the Lovely Lady and her boy.
He must have been about twelve then. What funny clothes he wore! But
isn't he handsome! And see how proudly she looks at him. Cynthia, how
_could_ he bear to leave this behind! I shouldn't have thought he'd ever
want to part with it."

"Probably he went in such a hurry that he couldn't think of everything,
and left this by mistake. Or he may even have had another copy," Cynthia
added in a practical after-thought.

Garments of many descriptions, and all of old-time cut, were flung
across the bed, and on the floor near it lay an open valise, half
packed with books.

"He had to leave that too, you see, or perhaps he intended to send for
it later," commented Joyce. "Possibly he didn't realize that his mother
was going to shut up the house and leave it forever. Here's his big,
businesslike-looking desk, and in pretty good order too. I suppose he
hadn't used it much, as he was so little at home. It's open, though."
She began to dust the top, where a row of school-books were arranged,
and presently came to the writing-tablet, which she was about to polish
off conscientiously. Suddenly she paused, stared, rubbed at something
with her duster, and bending close, stared again. In a moment she raised
her head and called in a low voice:

"Cynthia, come here!" Cynthia, who had been carefully dusting the
college trophies on the mantel, hurried to her side.

"What is it? What have you found?" Joyce only pointed to a large sheet
of paper lying on the blotter. It was yellow with age and covered with
writing in faded ink,--writing in a big, round, boyish hand. It began,--

"My dearest Mother--" Cynthia drew back with a jerk, scrupulously
honorable, as usual. "Ought we to read it, Joyce? It's a letter!"

"I did," whispered Joyce. "I couldn't help it for I didn't realize what
it was at first. I don't think it will harm. Oh, Cynthia, _read_ it!"
And Cynthia, doubting no longer, read aloud:

     MY DEAREST MOTHER,--the best and loveliest thing in my life,--I
     leave this last appeal here, in the hope that you will see it
     later, read it, and forgive me. We have had bitter words, but I am
     leaving you with no anger in my heart, and nothing but love. That
     we shall not see each other again in this life, I feel certain.
     Therefore I want you to know that, to my last hour, I shall love
     you truly, devotedly. I am so sure I am right, and I have pledged
     my word. I cannot take back my promise. I never dreamed that you
     feel as you do about this cause. My mother, my own mother, forgive
     me, and God keep you.

  Your son,
  FAIRFAX.

When Cynthia had ended, there was a big lump in Joyce's throat, and
Cynthia herself coughed and flourished a handkerchief about her face
with suspicious ostentation. Suddenly she burst out:

"I think that woman must have had a--a heart of _stone_, to be so
unforgiving to her son--after reading this!"

"_She never saw it!_" announced Joyce, with a positiveness that made
Cynthia stare.

"_Well!_-- I'd like to know how you can say a thing like that!" Cynthia
demanded at once. "It lay right there for her to see!"

"How do you account for this room being locked?" parried Joyce,
answering the question, Yankee fashion, by asking another. Cynthia
pondered a moment.

"I _don't_ account for it! But--why, of course! The boy locked it after
him when he went away, and took the key with him!" Joyce regarded her
with scorn.

"That _would_ be a sensible thing to do, now, wouldn't it. He writes a
note that he is hoping with all his heart that his mother will see.
Then he calmly locks the door and walks off with the key! What for?"

"If he didn't do it, who did?" Cynthia defended herself. "Not the
servants. They went before he did, probably. There's only one person
left--his mother!"

"You've struck it at last. What a good guesser you are!" said Joyce,
witheringly. Then she relented. "Yes, she must have done it, Cynthia.
She locked the door, and took the key away, or did something with
it,--though what on earth _for_, I can't imagine!"

"But what makes you think she did it _before_ she read the note?"
demanded Cynthia.

"There are just two reasons, Cynthia. She couldn't have been _human_ if
she'd read that heart-rending letter and not gone to work at once and
made every effort to reach her son! But there's one other thing that
makes me _sure_. Do you see anything _different_ about this room?"
Cynthia gazed about her critically. Then she replied:

"Why, no. I can't seem to see anything so _different_. Perhaps I don't
know what you mean."

"Then I'll tell you. Look at the windows! Are they like the ones in the
rest of the house?"

"Oh, no!" cried Cynthia. "Now I see! The curtains are not drawn, or the
shutters closed. It's just dark because it's boarded up outside."

"That's precisely it!" announced Joyce. "You see, she must have gone
around closing all the other inside shutters tight. But she never
touched them in this room. Therefore she probably never came in here.
The desk is right by the window. She couldn't have helped seeing the
letter if she had come in. No, for some reason we can't guess, she
locked the door,--and never knew!"

"And she never, never will know," whispered Cynthia. "That's the saddest
part of it!"



CHAPTER XII

A SLIGHT DISAGREEMENT


The Friday afternoon meeting of the Sigma Sigma literary society broke
up with the usual confused mingling of chatter and laughter. There had
been a lively debate, and Joyce and Cynthia, as two of the opponents,
had just finished roundly and wordily belaboring each other. They
entwined arms now, amiably enough, and strolled away to collect their
books and leave for home. Out on the street, Cynthia suddenly began:

"Do you know, we've never had that illumination in the Boarded-up House
that we planned last fall, when we commenced cleaning up there."

"We never had enough money for candles," replied Joyce.

"Yes, I know. But still I've always wanted to do it. Suppose we buy
some and try it soon,--say to-morrow?" Joyce turned to her companion
with an astonished stare.

"Why, Cynthia Sprague! You _know_ it's near the end of the month, and
I'm down to fifteen cents again, and I guess you aren't much better off!
What nonsense!"

"I have two dollars and a half. I've been saving it up ever so long--not
for that specially--but I'm perfectly willing to use it for that."

"Well, you are the queerest one!" exclaimed Joyce. "Who would have
thought you'd care so much about it! Of course, I'm willing to go in for
it, but I can't give my share till after the first of the month. Why do
you want to do it so soon?"

"Oh, I don't know--just because I _do_!" replied Cynthia, a little
confused in manner. "Come! Let's buy the candles right off. And suppose
we do a little dusting and cleaning up in the morning, and fix the
candles in the candelabrum, and in the afternoon light them up and have
the fun of watching them?" Joyce agreed to this heartily, and they
turned into a store to purchase the candles. Much to Joyce's amazement,
Cynthia insisted on investing in the best _wax_ ones she could obtain,
though they cost nearly five cents apiece.

"Tallow ones will do!" whispered Joyce, aghast at such extravagance. But
Cynthia shook her head, and came away with more than fifty.

"I wanted them _good_!" she said, and Joyce could not budge her from
this position. Then, to change the subject, which was plainly becoming
embarrassing to her, Cynthia abruptly remarked:

"Don't forget, Joyce, that you are coming over to my house to dinner,
and this evening we'll do our studying, so that to-morrow we can have
the whole day free. And bring your music over, too. Perhaps we'll have
time to practise that duet afterward."

"I will," agreed Joyce, and she turned in at her own gate.

Joyce came over that evening, bringing her books and music. As Mr. and
Mrs. Sprague were occupying the sitting-room, the two girls decided to
work in the dining-room, and accordingly spread out their books and
papers all over the big round table. Cynthia settled down methodically
and studiously, as was her wont. But Joyce happened to be in one of her
"fly-away humors" (so Cynthia always called them), when she found it
quite impossible to concentrate her thoughts or give her serious
attention to anything. These moods were always particularly irritating
to Cynthia, who rarely indulged in causeless hilarity, especially at
study periods. Prudently, however, she made no remarks.

"Let's commence with geometry," she suggested, opening the text-book.
"Here we are, at Proposition XVI."

"All right," assented Joyce, with deceptive sweetness. "Give me a pencil
and paper, please." Cynthia handed them to her and began:

"Angle A equals angle B."

"_Angel_ A equals _angel_ B," murmured Joyce after her.

"Joyce, I wish you would _not_ say that!" interrupted Cynthia, sharply.

"Why not?" inquired Joyce with pretended surprise, at the same time
decorating the corners of her diagram with cherubic heads and wings.

"Because it confuses me so I can't think!" said Cynthia. "Please call
things by their right names."

"But it makes no difference with the proof, what you call things in
geometry," argued Joyce, "whether it's angles or angels or caterpillars
or coal-scuttles,--it's all the same in the end!" Cynthia ignored this,
swallowed her rising wrath, and doggedly began anew:

"Angle A equals angle B!" But Joyce, who was a born tease, could no more
resist the temptation of baiting Cynthia, than she could have refused a
chocolate ice-cream soda, so she continued to make foolish and
irrelevant comments on every geometrical statement, until, in sheer
exasperation, Cynthia threw the book aside.

"It's no use!" she groaned. "You're not in a studying frame of mind,
Joyce--certainly not for geometry. I'll go over that myself Monday
morning; but what _you're_ going to do about it, I don't know--and I
don't much care! But we've got to get through somehow. Let's try the
algebra. You always like that. Do you think you could put your mind on
it?"

"I'll try," grinned Joyce, in feigned contrition. "I'll make the
greatest effort. But you don't seem to realize that I'm actually working
_very_ hard to-night!" Cynthia opened her algebra, picked out the
problem, and read:

"'A farmer sold 300 acres--'" when Joyce suddenly interrupted:

"Do you know, Cynthia, I heard the most interesting problem the other
day. I wonder if you could solve it."

"What is it?" asked Cynthia, thankful for any awakening symptom of
interest in her difficult friend.

"Why, this," repeated Joyce with great gravity. "'If it takes an
elephant ten minutes to put on a white vest, how many pancakes will it
take to shingle a freight-car?'" Cynthia's indignation was rapidly
waxing hotter but she made one more tremendous effort to control it.

"Joyce, I told you that I was serious about this studying."

"But so am I!" insisted the wicked Joyce. "Now let's try to work that
out. Let _x_ equal the number of pancakes--" The end of Cynthia's
patience had come, however. She pushed the books aside.

"Joyce Kenway, you are--_abominable_! I wish you would go home!"

"Well, I won't!" retorted Joyce, giggling inwardly, "but I'll leave you
to your own devices, if you like!" And she rose from the table, walked
with great dignity to a distant rocking-chair, seated herself in it, and
pretended to read the daily paper which she had removed from its seat.
From time to time she glanced covertly in Cynthia's direction. But there
was no sign of relenting in that young lady. She was, indeed, too deeply
indignant, and, moreover, had immersed herself in her work. Presently
Joyce gave up trying to attract her attention, and began to read the
paper in real earnest,--a thing which she seldom had the time or the
interest to do.

There was a long silence in the room, broken only by the scratch of
Cynthia's pencil or the rustling of a turned page. Suddenly Joyce looked
up.

"Cynthia!" she began. Her voice sounded different now. It had lost its
teasing tone and seemed a little muffled. But Cynthia was obdurate.

"I don't want to talk to you!" she reiterated. "I wish you'd go home!"

"Very well, Cynthia, I will!" answered Joyce, quietly. And she gathered
up her books and belongings, giving her friend a queer look as she left
the room without another word.

Later, Cynthia put away her work, yawned, and rose from the table. She
was beginning to feel just a trifle sorry that she had been so short
with her beloved friend.

"But Joyce was simply impossible, to-night!" she mused. "I never knew
her to be quite so foolish. Hope she isn't really offended. But she'll
have forgotten all about it by to-morrow morning.... I wonder where
to-day's paper is? Joyce was reading it--or pretending to! I want to see
the weather report for to-morrow. I hope it's going to be fair....
Pshaw! I can't find it. She must have gathered it up with her things and
taken it with her. That was mighty careless--but just like Joyce! I'm
going to bed!"



CHAPTER XIII

THE GREAT ILLUMINATION


The next morning the two girls met, as though absolutely nothing
unpleasant had happened. These little differences were, as a fact, of
frequent occurrence, and neither of them ever cherished the least grudge
toward the other when they were over. Not a word was said in reference
to it by either, but Cynthia noticed Joyce looking at her rather
curiously several times. Finally she asked:

"What are you staring at me so for, Joyce?"

"Oh, nothing! I wasn't staring," Joyce replied, and began to talk of
something else.

"By the way, Cyn, why wouldn't it be a good idea to wait till next week
before we have our illumination? Perhaps we could get more candles by
that time, too. I vote for next Saturday instead of to-day."

"I can't see why you want to wait," replied Cynthia. "To-day is just as
good a time as any. In fact, I think it's better. Something might happen
that would entirely prevent it next week. No, let's have it to-day. My
heart is set on it."

"Very well then," assented Joyce. "But, do you know, I believe, if this
time is a success, we might have it again next Saturday, too."

"Well, you can have it if you like, and if you can raise the money for
candles," laughed Cynthia; "but you mustn't depend on me. I'll be
'cleaned out' by that time!"

That morning they carefully dusted the drawing-room and library of the
Boarded-up House.

"We'll put the candles in the drawing-room, in the big candelabrum. That
will take about forty--and we'll have enough for the library too," said
Cynthia, planning the campaign. "And the rest of the candles we'll put
in the 'locked-up room.' Let's go right up there now and dust it!"

"Oh, what do you want to light _that_ room for!" cried Joyce. "Don't
let's go in there. It makes me blue--even to think of it!" But Cynthia
was obdurate.

"I want it lit up!" she announced. "If you don't feel like going up,
I'll go myself. I don't mind. But I want candles there!"

"Oh, if you insist, of course I'll go! But really, Cynthia, I don't
quite understand you to-day. You want to do such queer things!"

"I don't see anything _queer_ about that!" retorted Cynthia, blushing
hotly. "It just seemed--somehow--appropriate!"

But Joyce, in spite of her protests, accompanied Cynthia up the tiny,
cramped stairway, the entrance to which they had not blocked by
restoring the book-shelves.

"What a strange thing it is,--this secret stairway!" she marveled aloud.
"I'm sure it _is_ a secret stairway, and that it was long unused, even
before Mrs. Collingwood left here. I even feel pretty certain that she
never knew it was here."

"How do you figure that out?" questioned Cynthia.

"Well, in several ways. For one thing, because it was all closed up and
papered over. That could have been done before she came here, and you
know she only lived in this house eighteen years. But mainly because
there wouldn't have been much sense in her locking up the room (if she
_did_ lock it) had she known there was another easy way of getting into
it. No, I somehow don't think she knew!"

They did their dusting in the locked-up room, and tried to make it look
as ship-shape as possible, carefully avoiding, however, the vicinity of
the desk. Cynthia arranged six candles in holders, ready to light, and
they went down stairs again to arrange the others,--a task that was
accomplished with some difficulty, as the candelabrum was rather high,
and they were obliged to stand on chairs. At last all was ready and they
hurried home to luncheon, agreeing to meet at two for the "great
illumination"!

When they returned that afternoon, Cynthia had smuggled over the
gas-lighter, which they found a boon indeed in lighting so many candles
at such a height. When every tongue of flame was sparkling softly, the
girls stepped back to admire the result.

"Isn't it the prettiest thing you ever saw?" cried Joyce in an ecstasy
of admiration. "It beats a Christmas-tree all hollow! I've always heard
that candle-light was the loveliest of all artificial illumination, and
now I believe it. Just see how this room is positively transformed! We
never _saw_ those pictures properly before."

"Now it looks as it did fifty years ago," said Cynthia, softly. "Of
course, houses _were_ lighted by gas then, but only city ones or those
near the city. I know, because I've been asking about it. Other people
had to use horrid oil-lamps. But there were _some_ who kept on having
candles because they preferred that kind of light--especially in
country-houses. And evidently this was one of them."

Joyce eyed her curiously.

"You've certainly been interested in the question of illumination, half
a century ago,--but _why_, Cynthia? I never knew you to go so deeply
into anything of this kind before!" Cynthia started, and blushed again.

"Do you think so," she stammered. "Oh, well!--it's only because
this--this house has taken hold of me--somehow. I can't get it out of my
mind, day or night!"

"Yes," cried Joyce, "and I remember the day when I could hardly induce
you to enter it! I just had to _pull_ you in, and you disputed every
inch of the way!"

"That's the way with me," returned Cynthia. "I'm not quick about going
into things, but once I'm _in_, you can't get me out! And nothing I ever
knew of has made me feel as this house has. Now I'm going to light the
candles in the locked-up room."

"That's the one thing _I_ can't understand!" protested Joyce, as they
climbed the tiny stairs once more. "You seem perfectly crazy about that
room, and it makes me so--so _depressed_ that I hate to go near it! I
like the library and the picture of the Lovely Lady best."

[Illustration: There was nothing to do but sit and enjoy the spectacle]

Cynthia did not reply to this but lit the candles and gave a last look
about. Then they returned to the drawing-room. As there was nothing
further to do but sit and enjoy the spectacle, the two girls cuddled
down on a roomy old couch or sofa, and watched with all the fascination
that one watches the soft illumination of a Christmas-tree. Sometimes
they talked in low voices, commenting on the scene, then they would be
silent for a long period, simply drinking it in and trying to photograph
it forever on their memories. Joyce frankly and openly enjoyed it all,
but Cynthia seemed nervous and restless. She began at length to wriggle
about, got up twice and walked around restlessly, and looked at her
watch again and again.

"I wonder how long these candles will last?" questioned Joyce, glancing
at her own timepiece. "They aren't a third gone yet. Oh, I could sit
here and look at this for hours! It's all so different from anything
we've ever seen."

"_What's that!_" exclaimed Cynthia, suddenly and Joyce straightened up
to listen more intently.

"I don't hear anything. What _is_ the matter with you to-day, Cynthia
Sprague?"

"I don't know. I'm nervous, I guess!"

"There-- I _did_ hear something!" It was Joyce who spoke. "The queerest
_click_! Good gracious, Cynthia! Just suppose somebody should take it
into his head to get in here to-day! Of _all_ times! And find this going
on!" But Cynthia was not listening to Joyce. She was straining her ears
in another direction.

"There it is again! Somebody is at that front door!" cried Joyce. "I
believe they must have seen these lights through some chink in the
boarding and are breaking in to find out what's the matter! Perhaps they
think--"

_Cr-r-r-rack!_-- Something gave with a long, resounding noise, and the
two girls clasped each other in an agony of terror. It came from the
front door, there was no shadow of doubt, and somebody had just
succeeded in opening the little door in the boarding. There was still
the big main door to pass.

"Come!--quick!--quick!" whispered Joyce. "It will _never_ do for us to
be found here. We might be arrested for trespassing! Let's slip down
cellar and out through the window, and perhaps we can get away without
being seen. Never mind the candles! They'll never know who put them
there!-- Hurry!" She clutched at Cynthia, expecting instant
acquiescence. But, to her amazement, Cynthia stood firm, and boldly
declared:

"No, Joyce, I'm not going to run away! Even if we got out without being
seen, they'd be sure to discover us sooner or later. We've left enough
of our things around for that. I'm going to meet whoever it is, and tell
them we haven't done any real harm,--and so must you!"

All during this speech they could hear the rattle of some one working at
the lock of the main door. And a second after Cynthia finished, it
yielded with another loud crack. Next, footsteps were heard in the hall.
By this time, Joyce was so paralyzed with fright that she could scarcely
move a limb, and speech had entirely deserted her. They were caught as
in a trap! There was no escape now. It was a horrible position.
Cynthia, however, pulled her to her feet.

"Come!" she ordered. "We'd better meet them and face it out!" Joyce
could only marvel at her astonishing coolness, who had always been the
most timid and terror-ridden of mortals.

At this instant, the drawing-room door was pushed open!



CHAPTER XIV

THE MEDDLING OF CYNTHIA


To Joyce, the moment that the drawing-room door was pushed open will
always seem, with perhaps one exception, the most intense of all her
life. She fully expected to see a man stride in--more likely half a
dozen!--and demand the meaning of the unwarrantable intrusion and
illumination. Instead of that, the slight figure of a woman dressed all
in black, and with a long heavy dark veil over her face, stepped into
the room!

For a moment she paused, surprised, uncertain, almost trembling. Then,
with a firm movement, she threw back her veil, and, in the soft light of
the candles, stood revealed. Joyce gave a tiny gasp. In all her life she
had never seen so beautiful an old lady. Masses of soft wavy white hair
framed a face of singular charm, despite its age, and the biggest,
saddest brown eyes in all the world, looked out inquiringly on the two
girls. There was complete silence. The three could hear each other
breathe. Then the newcomer spoke:

"Which of you two friends was it, may I ask, who sent me the letter?"
Her voice was sweet and low and soft, and as sad as her eyes. Joyce gave
a start and opened her lips to speak, but Cynthia was before her.

"_I did!_" she announced calmly. The lady turned to her.

"That was very lovely of you,--and very thoughtful. I began planning to
come soon after I received it, and tried to arrive at about the time you
mentioned. But I do not quite understand all--all this!" She glanced
toward the burning candles. "And I'm afraid I do not understand how
you--how you came to be in here!"

"Oh," began Cynthia, stumblingly, "I--I couldn't quite explain it all
in a letter--and I didn't even know you'd pay any attention to what I
wrote, anyway. But we'll tell you all about it right now, if you care
to hear." A light was beginning to dawn on the bewildered Joyce.
Suddenly she sprang forward and seized the lady's hand.

"Tell me--oh, please tell me," she cried, "_are_ you Mrs. Collingwood?"

"Yes, my dear!" said the lady.

And to the amazement of every one Joyce broke down and began to sob
hysterically, exclaiming, "Oh, I'm so glad--so glad!" between every
other sob.

"I think I'll sit down," said Mrs. Collingwood, when Joyce had regained
control of herself. "I'm very tired--and very, very--bewildered!" She
sat down on the sofa, and drew each of the girls down beside her.

"Now tell me," she said to Cynthia. "Explain it all, and then show me
what you think will interest me so. You see, I have traveled many weary
miles to hear this strange story."

So Cynthia began at the beginning and told how they had first found
their way in, and had then become interested in unraveling the mystery
of the old house. Mrs. Collingwood listened with deep attention; but
when Cynthia reached the tale of the hidden stairway, she started in
surprise.

"Why, I never dreamed there was such a thing in the house!" she
exclaimed. "The rooms were re-papered once, but I was away when it was
done. None of us knew!"

"No, we thought you didn't," continued Cynthia. "And so we went into the
locked-up room. And there we found something,--oh!--Mrs. Collingwood! We
felt sure you had never seen it, and that you _ought_ to! You see, we
knew all the rest of the--the story, from Joyce's great-aunt, Lucia
Kenway. And we felt you _ought_ to see it,--at least _I_ felt that way,
and so I wrote you the letter. I didn't even tell Joyce I'd done it,
because--because I was afraid she'd think I was _meddling_ in what
didn't concern me! But I couldn't help it. I couldn't sleep nights till
I'd sent that letter, because it all haunted me so! I just sent it to
Chesterton, South Carolina, because that was all the address I knew. I
didn't even feel sure it would ever reach you.

"And I set a special date for you to get here on purpose, because--well,
because I thought we ought to be here to receive you, and have the place
look sort of--homelike. It would be terrible, seems to me, to come back
to a dark, deserted house that you'd left so long ago, and nobody here
to--to welcome you. Well, that's all, I guess. But Mrs. Collingwood, I'm
so afraid we haven't done right,--that we meddled in what was no
business of ours, and trespassed in a house we should never have
entered! I only hope you can forgive us!" Thus ended Cynthia, brokenly,
and Mrs. Collingwood put out her hands to take a hand of each girl in
her clasp.

"You dear little meddlers!" she exclaimed. "This is all so astonishing
to me; but I feel sure, nevertheless, that you have done nothing but
good! And now will you--will you show me what you spoke of?"

Cynthia rose, handed her a lighted candle, and led her to the opening of
the little stairway in the library. "It's up these stairs, in the room
above--on the desk," she said. "You will find it all lit up there. And
I think that--you would rather go--alone!" Mrs. Collingwood took the
candle, and Cynthia helped her into the opening at the foot of the
stairs. Then she went back to Joyce.

When they were alone, the two girls stood staring at one another and
Cynthia's cheeks grew fiery red.

"I don't know what--what you must think of me, Joyce!" she stammered. "I
ought never to have done this, I suppose, without telling you."

"Why didn't you tell me?" demanded Joyce.

"Why, I was so afraid you'd think me silly and--and meddling, and you
mightn't approve of it. I was unhappy,--I--somehow felt as though I'd
committed a crime, and the only way to right it was this!"

"How long ago did you send your letter?" asked Joyce, presently.

Cynthia considered. "I think I posted it a week ago Thursday."

"And you knew all the time, last night, that this was going to happen
to-day?" asked Joyce incredulously.

"Well, I sort of expected it,--that is, I really didn't know whether
she'd come or not. It made me dreadfully nervous, and that's the reason
I was so cross to you, Joyce, I suppose. Will you forgive me, now that
you know?"

"Why, of course!" said Joyce. Then, suddenly, "But, oh!-- I _wish_ I'd
known this all at the time!"

"What for? What difference would it have made?" demanded Cynthia.

But Joyce only replied: "Hush! Is that Mrs. Collingwood coming down?"



CHAPTER XV

THE STRANGER AT THE DOOR


Mrs. Collingwood remained a long time up-stairs,--so long, indeed, that
the girls began to be rather uneasy, fearing that she had fainted, or
perhaps was ill, or overcome--they knew not what.

"Do you think we ought to go up?" asked Cynthia, anxiously. "Perhaps she
needs help."

"No, I think she just wants to be by herself. It was fine of you,
Cynthia, to send her up alone! I really don't believe I'd have thought
of it."

At length they heard her coming slowly down, and presently she reëntered
the drawing-room. They could see that she was much moved, and had
evidently been crying. She did not speak to them at once, but went and
stood by the mantel, looking up long and earnestly at the portrait of
the twins.

"My babies!" they heard her murmur unconsciously, aloud. At last,
however, she came to them, and sat down once more between them on the
sofa. They wondered nervously what she was going to say.

"My little girls--" she began, "forgive me!--you seem little and young
to me, though. I suppose you consider yourselves almost young ladies;
but you see, I am an old woman!-- I was going to tell you a little about
my life, but I suppose you already know most of the important things,
thanks to Great-aunt Lucia!" She patted Joyce's hand.

"There are some things, however, that perhaps you do not know, and,
after what you have done for me, you deserve to. I was married when I
was a very young girl--only seventeen. I was a Southerner, but my
husband came from the North, and brought me up North here to live. I
always hated it--this Northern life--and, though I loved my husband
dearly, I hated his devotion to it. We never agreed about those
questions. When my twin babies were born, I secretly determined that
they should be Southerners, in spirit, and _only_ Southerners. I planned
that when they were both old enough, they should marry in the South and
live there--and my husband and I with them.

"But, in this life, things seldom turn out as we plan. My little girl
died before she was three; and I had scarcely become reconciled to this
grief when my husband was also taken from me. So I centered all my hopes
on my son--on Fairfax. As he grew older, however, and as the Civil War
came nearer, I noticed that he talked more and more in sympathy with the
North, and this distressed me terribly. However, I thought it best not
to say much about it to him, for he was a headstrong boy, and had always
resented opposition. And I felt sure that he would see things
differently when he was older.

"I wished to send him to a Southern college, but he begged me to send
him to Harvard. As his heart was so set on it, I couldn't deny him,
thinking that even this would make little difference in the end. Then
came the crisis in the country's affairs, and the Confederacy was
declared. I had already begun to correspond with Southern authorities,
to arrange about raising a company for Fairfax. I never doubted that he
would comply with my wishes. But I little knew him!

"I hardly need to tell you of the awful day that he came home. You are
already acquainted with the history of it. That afternoon, shortly after
he arrived, we had our interview. I have always possessed the most
violent temper a mortal had to struggle with. And in those earlier
years, when I got into a rage, it blinded me to everything else, to
every other earthly consideration. And during that interview,
well,--need I say it?--Fairfax was simply immovable,--gentle and loving
always,--but I could no more impress him with my wishes than I could
have moved the Rock of Gibraltar. The galling part to me was--that he
kept insisting he was only doing what was _right_! Right?-- How _could_
he be right when it was all directly contrary-- But never mind that
now! I have learned differently, with the passing, sorrowful years.

"But, to go back,--I stood it as long as I could, and then,--I turned
from him, disowned him, bade him leave the house at once and never see
my face again, and informed him that I myself would abandon the place on
the morrow, and return to the South. He left me, without another word,
and went to his room. I immediately summoned the servants and dismissed
them on the spot, giving them only time to get their things together and
go. Then I locked myself in my room till--he was gone. He came several
times, knocked at my door, and begged me to see him, but I would not.
Heaven forgive me!-- I would not! So he must have left me--that note!"
She covered her eyes with her hand a moment. Then she went on:

"I never saw or knew of it till this day. If I had--" Just at this
point, they were all startled by a loud knock, coming from the direction
of the front door. So unexpected was the sound that they could only
stare at each other inquiringly without stirring. In a moment it came
again,--a thumping of the old knocker on the front inner door.

"I guess I'd better go," said Joyce. "Some one may have seen the little
boarded-up door open-- _Did_ you leave it open?" she asked, turning to
Mrs. Collingwood.

"I think I did. I was too hurried and nervous, when I came in, to think
of it."

"That's it, then. Some one has seen it open, and has stopped to inquire
if everything is all right." She hurried away to the front door, and,
after an effort, succeeded in pulling it open. A man--a complete
stranger to her--stood outside. They regarded each other with mutual
surprise.

"Pardon me!" he said. "But perhaps you can inform me--is any one living
in this house at present?"

"Why, no!" replied Joyce, rather confusedly. "That is--no, the house is
empty, except just--just to-day!"

"Oh! er--I see! The fact is," the stranger went on, "I was passing
here and noticed this outer door open, which seemed a little queer. I
used to know the people who lived here--very well indeed--and I have
been wondering whether the house was still in their possession. It
seemed to be untenanted." At his mention of knowing the family, Joyce
looked him over with considerably more interest. He was tall, straight
and robust, though rather verging on the elderly. His iron-gray hair was
crisply curly, and his dark eyes twinkled out from under bushy gray
brows. His smile was captivating. Joyce decided at once that she liked
him.

"Oh! did you know the family, the--the--"

"Collingwoods!" he supplemented, with his twinkling smile. "Yes, I knew
them--quite intimately. Might I, perhaps, if it would not be intruding,
come in just a moment to look once more at the old place? That is," he
added hastily, seeing her hesitate, "only if it would be entirely
convenient! I do not know, of course, why the house is open. Perhaps
people are--are about to purchase it."

Joyce was, for a moment, tongue-tied with perplexity. She hated to
refuse the simple wish of this pleasant stranger, yet how was she to
comply with it, considering the presence of Mrs. Collingwood, and the
almost unexplainable position of herself and Cynthia? What would he
think of it all! While she was hesitating, an idea came to her.

"There is one of the family here to-day on--on business," she said, at
last. "If you will give me your name, I will ask if--that person would
like to see you."

"Oh, that is hardly worth while!" he said, hastily. "My name is
Calthorpe,--but I'm sure they wouldn't remember me after all this time,
and I do not wish to trouble them." But Joyce had excused herself and
turned away, as soon as she heard the name, leaving him standing there.
Mrs. Collingwood, however, shook her head when Joyce announced who was
outside.

"I do not remember any one named Calthorpe, and I scarcely feel that I
can see a stranger now. But we must not be inhospitable. Miss Cynthia
and I will go and sit in the library, and you can bring him into the
drawing-room a few moments. There is no other part of the house that can
very well be shown." She took Cynthia's arm, walked into the library,
and partly closed the door, while Joyce went out to admit the stranger.

"If you care to look around the drawing-room, you will be most welcome,"
she announced politely. He accepted the invitation gratefully, and
entered with her. At the first glance, however, he started back
slightly, as with a shock of surprise.

"Why, how strange--how very singular!" he murmured. "These
candles--everything--everything just the same as though it were
yesterday!"

"Did you often come here?" inquired Joyce. "You must be very well
acquainted with the house!"

"Yes. I came often. I was almost like an inmate." He began to wander
slowly about the room, examining the pictures. In front of the baby
twins he paused a long time.

"Then you must have known young Mr. Fairfax very well," suggested Joyce.
"That's he, on the right in the picture." The stranger eyed her
curiously.

"Why, yes, I knew him well. But you, little lady, seem quite intimate
with the Collingwood family history. Tell me, are you a--a relative?"
This confused Joyce anew.

"Oh, no! Just a--just a friend!" she explained. "But I have been told a
good deal about them."

"An unhappy family!" was his only comment, and he continued his tour
around the room. In front of the old, square, open piano he paused
again, and fingered the silk scarf that had, at some long ago date, been
thrown carelessly upon it. Then he ran his fingers lightly over the
yellow keys. The tones were unbelievably jangling and discordant, yet
Joyce thought she caught the notes of a little tune. And in another
moment he broke into the air, singing softly the opening line:--

  "There never was a sweetheart like this mother fair of mine!--"

He had sung no more when the face of Mrs. Collingwood appeared in the
doorway. Her eyes were wide and staring, her features almost gray in
color.

"Who--who _are_ you?" she demanded, in a voice scarcely louder than a
whisper. The stranger gazed at her with a fixed look.

"Arthur-- Arthur Calthorpe!" he faltered.

"No--you are not!"

They drew toward each other unconsciously, as though moving in a dream.

"No one--no one ever knew that song but--" Mrs. Collingwood came closer,
and uttered a sudden low cry:

"_My son!_"

"_Mother!_"

The two girls, who had been watching this scene with amazement
unutterable, saw the strange pair gaze, for one long moment, into each
other's eyes. Then, with a beautiful gesture, the man held out his arms.
And the woman, with a little gasp of happiness, walked into them!



CHAPTER XVI

JOYCE EXPLAINS


"Joyce, will you just oblige me by pinching me--real hard! I'm perfectly
certain I'm not awake!"

Joyce pinched, obligingly, and with vigor, thereby eliciting from her
companion a muffled squeak. The two girls were sitting on the lower step
of the staircase in the dark hallway. They had been sitting there for a
long, long while.

It was Joyce who had pulled Cynthia away from staring, wide-eyed, at the
spectacle of that marvelous reunion. And they had slipped out into the
hall unobserved, in order that the two in the drawing-room might have
this wonderful moment to themselves. Neither of them had yet
sufficiently recovered from her amazement to be quite coherent.

"I can't make anything out of it!" began Cynthia, slowly, at last.
"_He's dead!_"

"Evidently he isn't," replied Joyce, "or he wouldn't be here! But
oh!--it's true, then! I hardly dared to hope it would be so! I'm _so_
glad I did it!" Cynthia turned on her.

"Joyce Kenway! _What_ are you talking about? It sounds as though you
were going crazy!"

"Oh, of course you don't understand!" retorted Joyce. "And it's your own
fault too. I'd have been glad enough to explain, and talk it over with
you, only you were so hateful that I just went home instead, and thought
it out myself."

"Well, I may be stupid," remarked Cynthia, "but for the life of me I
can't make any sense out of what you're saying!"

"Listen, then," said Joyce, "and I'll explain it all. You remember last
night how I sat reading the newspaper,--first, just to tease you, and
afterward I really got interested in it? Well, I happened to be glancing
over the news about people who had just landed here from abroad, when a
little paragraph caught my eye. I can't remember the exact words but it
was something like this,--that among the passengers just arrived in New
York on the _Campania_ was Mr. _Fairfax Collingwood_, who was interested
in Western and Australian gold mines. He had not been here in the East
for nearly forty years, and it said how astounded he was at the
remarkable changes that had taken place during his long absence. Then it
went on to say that he was staying at the Waldorf-Astoria for only a few
days, as he was just here on some important business, and was then going
to cross the continent, on his way back to Australia.

"Well, you'd better believe that I nearly jumped out of my skin at the
name--Fairfax Collingwood. It's an unusual one, and it didn't seem
possible that more than one person could have it, though of course it
might be a distant connection of the same family. And then, too, _our_
Fairfax Collingwood was dead. I didn't know what to think! I tried to
get your attention, but you were still as mad as you could be, so I
made up my mind I'd go home and puzzle over it by myself, and I took the
paper with me.

"After I got home, I sat and thought and _thought_! And all of a sudden
it occurred to me that perhaps he wasn't killed in the war after
all,--that there'd been some mistake. I've read that such things did
happen; but if it were so, I couldn't imagine why he didn't go and make
it up with his mother afterward. It seemed very strange. And then this
explanation dawned on me,--he had left that note for his mother, and
perhaps thought that if she really intended to forgive him, she'd have
made some effort to get word to him in the year that elapsed before he
was reported killed. Then, as she never did, he may have concluded that
it was all useless and hopeless, and he'd better let the report stand,
and he disappear and never come back. You see that article said he
hadn't been East here for forty years.

"And when I'd thought this out, an idea popped into my head. If what I'd
imagined was true, it didn't seem _right_ to let him go on thinking
that, when I knew that his mother never saw that letter, and I decided
I'd let him know it. So I sat right down and wrote a note that went
something like this:

     "MR. FAIRFAX COLLINGWOOD:

     "If you are the same Mr. Fairfax Collingwood who, in 1861, parted
     from your mother after a disagreement, leaving a note for her
     which you hoped she would read, I want to tell you that she never
     saw that note.

  "Joyce Kenway.

"I signed my name right out, because Father has always said that to
write an anonymous letter was the most despicable thing any one could
do. And if he ever discovered who I was, I wouldn't be ashamed to tell
him what we had done, anyway. Of course, I ran the chance of his not
being the right person, but I thought if that were so, he simply
wouldn't pay any attention to the note, and the whole thing would end
there. I addressed the letter to his hotel, and decided that it must be
mailed that very night, for he might suddenly leave there and I'd never
know where else to find him. It was then nearly ten o'clock, and I
didn't want Father or Mother to know about it, so I teased Anne into
running out to the post-office with me. He must have received it this
morning."

Cynthia had listened to this long explanation in astonished silence.
"Isn't it the most remarkable thing," she exclaimed when Joyce had
finished, "that each of us should write, I to the mother and you to the
son, and neither of us even guess what the other was doing! And that
they should meet here, just this afternoon! But there are a whole lot of
things I can't understand at all. Why, for instance, did he give the
name of Arthur Calthorpe when he came in, and pretend he was some one
else?"

"That's been puzzling me too," replied Joyce, "and I can't think of any
reason."

"But the thing that confuses me most of all," added Cynthia, "is this.
Why, if you had written that note, and had an idea that he was alive,
were _you_ so tremendously astonished when he and his mother recognized
each other? I should have thought you'd guess right away, when you saw
him at the door, who he was!"

"That's just the queer part of it!" said Joyce. "In the first place, I
never expected him to come out here at all,--at least, not right away. I
never put the name of this town in the letter, nor mentioned this house.
I supposed, of course, that he'd go piling right down to South Carolina
to find his mother, or see whether she was alive. Then, later, when
they'd made it all up (provided she was alive, which even _I_ didn't
know then), I thought they might come back here and open the house. That
was one reason I wanted to have our illumination next week, on the
chance of their arriving.

"So you see I was quite unprepared to see him rushing out here at once;
and when he gave another name, that completely deceived me. And then,
there's one thing more. Somehow, I had in my mind a picture of Fairfax
Collingwood that was as different as could be from--well, from what he
is! You see, I'd always thought of him as the _boy_ whom Great-aunt
Lucia described having seen. I pictured him as slim and young looking,
smooth-faced, with golden curly hair, and big brown eyes. His eyes are
the same but,--well, I somehow never counted on the change that all
those forty years would make! You can't think how different my idea of
him was, and naturally that helped all the more to throw me off the
track."

"But why--" began Cynthia afresh.

"Oh, don't let's try to puzzle over it any more just now!" interrupted
Joyce. "My head is simply in a whirl. I can't even _think_ straight! I
never had so many surprises all at once in my life. I think he will
explain everything we don't understand. Let's just wait!"

There were faint sounds from the drawing-room, but they were
indistinguishable,--low murmurings and half-hushed sobs. The two
reunited ones within were bridging the gulf of forty years. And so the
girls continued to wait outside, in the silence and in the dark.



CHAPTER XVII

IN WHICH ALL MYSTERIES ARE SOLVED


At last the two on the staircase heard footsteps approaching the door,
and a pleasant voice called out:

"Where are you both, little ladies? Will you not come and join us? I
think we must have some things to be explained!" They came forward, a
little timidly, and their latest visitor held out a hand to each.

"You wonderful two!" he exclaimed. "Do you realize that, had it not been
for you, this would never have happened? My mother and I owe you a debt
of gratitude beyond all expressing! Come and join us now, and we will
solve the riddles which I'm sure are puzzling us all." He led them over
to the sofa, and placed them beside his mother.

Never was a change more remarkable than that which had come upon Mrs.
Collingwood. Her face, from being one of the saddest they had ever
seen, had grown fairly radiant. She looked younger, too. Ten years
seemed suddenly to have dropped from her shoulders. Her brown eyes
flashed with something of their former fire, and she smiled down at them
as only the Lovely Lady of the portrait had ever smiled. There was no
difficulty now in identifying her with that picture.

"Oh, please--" began Joyce, breathlessly, "won't you tell us, Mr.
Collingwood, how you come to be--_not dead!_--and why you gave another
name at the door--and--and--" He laughed.

"I'll tell you all that," he interrupted, "if you'll tell _me_ who
'Joyce Kenway' is!"

"Why, _I_ am!" said Joyce in surprise. "Didn't you guess it?"

"How could I?" he answered. "I never supposed it was a _girl_ who sent
me that note. I did not even feel sure that the name was not assumed to
hide an identity. In fact, I did not know what to think. But I'll come
to all that in its proper place. I'm sure you are all anxious to hear
the strange story I have to tell.

"In the first place, as it's easy to guess, I wasn't killed at the
battle of Shiloh at all,--but so very seriously wounded--that I came to
be so reported. As I lay on the field with scores of others, after the
battle, a poor fellow near me, who had been terribly hurt, was moaning
and tossing. My own wound did not hamper me so much at the time, so I
crawled over to him and tried to make him as comfortable as possible
till a surgeon should arrive. Presently he began to shiver so, with some
sort of a chill, that I took off my coat and wrapped it round him. The
coat had some of my personal papers in it, but I did not think of that
at the time.

"When the surgeons did arrive, we were removed to different army
hospitals, and I never saw the man again. But he probably died very soon
after, and evidently, finding my name on him, in the confusion it was
reported that _I_ was dead. Well, when I saw the notice of my own death
in the paper, my first impulse was to deny it at once. But my second
thought was to let it pass, after all. I believed that I had broken
forever with my home. In the year that had elapsed, I had never ceased
to hope that the note I left would soften my mother's feelings toward
me, and that at least she would send me word that I was forgiven. But
the word had never come, and hope was now quite dead. Perhaps it would
be kinder to her to allow her to think I was no more, having died in the
cause I thought right. The more I thought it over, the more I became
convinced that this was the wisest course. Therefore I let the report
stand. I was quite unknown where I was, and I decided, as soon as I was
able, to make my way out West, and live out my life far from the scenes
of so much unhappiness. My wound disqualified me from further army
service and gave me a great deal of trouble, even after I was dismissed
from the hospital.

"Nevertheless, I worked my way to the far West, partly on foot and
partly in the slow stage-coaches of that period. Once in California, I
became deeply interested in the gold mines, where I was certain, like
many another deluded one, that I was shortly going to amass an enormous
fortune! But, after several years of fruitless search and fruitless
toil, I stood as poor as the day I had first come into the region. In
the meantime, the fascination of the life had taken hold of me, and I
could relinquish it for no other. I had always, from a small child, been
passionately fond of adventure and yearned to see other regions and test
my fortune in new and untried ways. I could have done so no more
acceptably than in the very course I was now pursuing.

"At the end of those hard but interesting years in California, rumors
drifted to me of golden possibilities in upper Canada, and I decided to
try my luck in the new field. The region was, at that time, practically
a trackless wilderness, and to brave it at all was considered the limit
of folly. That, however, far from deterring me, attracted me only the
more. I got together an outfit, and bade a long farewell to even the
rough civilization of California.

"Those were strange years, marvelous years, that I spent in the mountain
fastnesses of upper Canada. For month on month I would see no human
being save the half-breed Indian guide who accompanied me, and most of
the time _he_ seemed to me scarcely human. And all the while the search
for gold went on, endlessly--endlessly. And the way led me farther and
farther from the haunts of men. Then,--one day,--I found it! Found it in
a mass, near the surface, and in such quantities that I actually had
little else to do but shovel it out, wash it, and lay the precious
nuggets aside, till at length the vein was exhausted. On weighing it up,
I found such a quantity that there was really no object in pursuing the
search any farther. I had enough. I was wealthy and to spare, and the
longing came upon me to return to my own kind again. By this time,
fifteen years had passed.

"You must not, however, think that in all these years and these
absorbing interests, I had forgotten my mother. On the contrary,
especially when I was in the wilderness, she was constantly in my
thoughts. Before I left California for Canada (the war was then over
some four or five years) I had contemplated writing to her, informing
her of the mistake about my death, and begging her once more to forgive
me. But, for several reasons, I did not do this. In the first place, I
had heard of the exceeding bitterness of the South, increased tenfold by
the period of reconstruction through which it was then passing. Old
grudges, they told me, were cherished more deeply than ever, and members
of the same family often regarded each other with hatred. Of what use
for me then, I thought, to sue for a reconciliation at such a time.

"Beside that, my very pride was another barrier. I had not been
successful. I was, in fact, practically penniless. Would it not appear
as though I were anxious for a reconciliation because I did not wish to
lose the property which would one day have been mine, had not my mother
disinherited me? No, I could never allow even the hint of such a
suspicion. I would wait.

"But, in the Canadian wilderness, I began to see matters in another
light. So far from the haunts of humanity and the clash of human
interests, one cannot help but look at all things more sanely. It
occurred to me that perhaps my mother, far from cherishing any bitter
feeling toward me, now that she thought me dead, might be suffering
agonies of grief and remorse because we had not been reconciled before
the end. If there were even a possibility of this, I must relieve it. So
I sat down one day, and wrote her the most loving, penitent letter,
begging anew for forgiveness, and giving her the history of my
adventures and my whereabouts. This letter I sent off by my guide, to be
mailed at the nearest trading-post.

"It took him a month to make the journey there and back. I waited three
months more, in great impatience, then sent him back to the same post,
to see if there might be a reply. He came back in due time, but bringing
nothing for me, and I felt that my appeal had been in vain.
Nevertheless, a few months later I wrote again, with no better result.
My guide returned empty-handed. And during the last year I was there, I
made the third and final trial, and, when again no answer came, I felt
that it was beyond all hope to expect forgiveness, since she could
ignore three such urgent appeals.

"I have just learned from my mother that these letters were never
received by her, which is a great surprise to me, but I think I know the
explanation. My guide was not honest,--indeed, few of them are,--but,
strangely enough, I never discovered any dishonesty in him, while he was
with me. At that time, the postage on letters from that region was very
high, sometimes as much as fifty or sixty cents, or even a dollar. This,
of course, I always gave to the guide to use in sending the letter when
he got to the trading-post. Now, though the sum seems small to us, it
was large to him. And though I never suspected it at the time, I have no
doubt that he pocketed the money and simply destroyed the letters. So
that explains why my mother never received any of them.

"Well, I returned to California a rich man, able to indulge myself in
any form of amusement or adventure that pleased me. I found that I still
felt the lure of foreign countries, and the less explored or inhabited,
the better. I shipped for a voyage to Japan and China, and spent several
more years trying to penetrate the forbidden fastnesses of Tibet. From
there, I worked down through India, found my way to the South Sea
Islands, and landed at length in Australia with the intention of
penetrating farther into that continent than any white man had yet set
foot.

"I think by this time, I had pretty well lost all desire ever to return
to America, especially to New York. But at intervals I still felt an
inexpressible longing to see or hear from my mother. Ten or twelve added
years had slipped by, and it did not seem human that she should continue
to feel bitterly toward me. I had almost decided to write to her once
more, when in Sydney, New South Wales, where I happened to be looking
over the files of an old New York paper in the public library, I
stumbled on the death-notice of a Mrs. Fairfax Collingwood of
Chesterton, South Carolina. The paper was dated seven years before.

"The knowledge was like a knife-wound in my heart. There could be no
doubt of the truth. I knew of no other of that name, and the town was
the very one in which she lived. My mother now tells me that she knew of
this mistake, an error of the New York paper in copying the item from a
Southern journal. As a matter of fact, it was a very distant cousin of
hers who had died, a Mrs. Fanshawe Collingwood, who also lived in the
town. She was my mother's only living relative, and the paper mentioned
this circumstance. But when the New York paper copied it, they left out
all about the surviving cousin, and merely mentioned the name of the
deceased as 'Mrs. Fairfax Collingwood.' My mother had this rectified in
a later publication of the paper, but that, of course, I never saw.

"Well, I went into the heart of Australia under the impression that I
was now really motherless, and under that impression I have lived ever
since. I cannot now detail to you all my wanderings and adventures. I
will only say that I became deeply interested in the Australian gold
mines, bought up one finally, and have superintended its running ever
since. Lately, it became necessary for me to make a business trip to New
York in connection with this mine, and I decided to come by way of
Europe, since I had never seen that portion of the globe. My business
would not keep me in New York more than a week, and I intended to travel
at once back to Australia across the continent, in order to see the
changes that had taken place since I left.

"I had absolutely no idea of visiting this old home. Why, indeed, should
I? My mother, as I supposed, was dead. Nothing else mattered. I had no
interest in the property. For aught I knew it might have changed hands
twenty times since we lived there. It might not even be in existence. At
any rate, I had no wish to revive the bitterness of that memory. Then
came the strange note this morning, which I believe you, Miss Joyce,
are responsible for!

"To say that I was completely bewildered by it, would be putting it
mildly. It made a statement that was new to me, indeed, and might
account for many things. But what was I to do about it? Which way should
I turn? No use to hurry down to South Carolina,--my mother being dead.
Of whom should I make inquiries? The firm of New York lawyers that I
remembered her as formerly retaining, I dreaded to consult, lest they
think I had come to make a claim on the property. There seemed to be
absolutely no clue.

"And then I happened to look at the envelope and saw that it was
postmarked Rockridge, a region which I speedily ascertained was right in
the vicinity of my old home. That decided me to come out here at once,
this afternoon, hunt up the spot, and try to discover in this way
whether there was any use of pursuing investigations further in this
direction.

"As I have said, I naturally supposed that the property had changed
hands many times before this; and that all its old belongings had long
since been sent to my mother or sold by her orders.

"When I arrived in this street and saw the old house still standing,
forlorn, unkempt, apparently deserted, and quite unchanged since I knew
it, I was still more astonished. But when I noticed the little door in
the boarding standing open, I resolved to begin my investigations right
there, and I boldly went up and knocked. Then Miss Joyce came out and
announced that a member of the Collingwood family was here on business.
That, too, seemed incredible, as I remembered no surviving member of the
family. Discretion, however, seemed to me the better part of valor, and
I decided to give the name that I had borne during my first years in
California, till I could ascertain more definitely just what the
situation was.

"So I came in--as Mr. Arthur Calthorpe--and the mystery deepened tenfold
when I saw this old room all lit up precisely as I had remembered it so
many years ago. It so carried me back into my youth that, for a few
moments, I quite lost track of the present. And when I came to the old
piano, the impulse seized me to play a few bars and hum the lines of a
little song I had once composed for my mother. I had at that time rather
a gift for music, and this song was a sort of secret of ours-- I never
sang or played it for any one else. And she remembered it!

"Well, you know the rest!--" And he stopped abruptly. They all drew long
breaths of relaxed tension.

"There's something that has puzzled me all along," began Joyce, at last.
"I wonder if Mrs. Collingwood would object to my asking about it?"

"No, indeed, dear child," replied that lady. "Have no hesitation in
asking what you wish."

"It's this, then. I have often and often wondered why you never came
back to this beautiful old home, or at least sent for the books and
pictures and lovely things that were going to ruin here. Did you never
think of it?"

"I do not wonder that you ask," answered Mrs. Collingwood, "for it must
have seemed very strange to an outsider. Of course, for the first few
years, my anger had been so great, and my grief was still so terrible,
that I felt I could never, never look upon the place or anything in it
again. Then, as you have heard, I willed the house itself and the land
to the Southern Society, as I had no one to whom I wished to leave it,
and my means were sufficient, so that I did not need to sell it. As the
years passed on, however, and my feelings altered, I did begin to think
it a pity that the place should run to neglect and ruin.

"So strong did this conviction become, that I decided to come North
myself, and personally superintend putting the house in order. I could
not bear to leave this task to outsiders. I even thought that, if I
found I could endure the memories, I would live in it a while, for the
sake of the old happy years with my little boy. I even had my trunks
packed and my ticket bought, when suddenly I came down with typhoid
fever, so severe an attack that it was thought I could not live. That
ended all thoughts of my coming North for a long while, as I was
miserably weak and helpless for months after, and in fact, have never
quite recovered my strength. The years drifted on and with them came old
age, and the reluctance to make the long journey and endure the strain
of it all. Had it not been for Miss Cynthia's letter, I should never
have come.

"But, to change the subject a trifle, my son is very anxious to know how
you two young things have come to be concerned in all this, and I have
not yet had time to tell him--fully. Will you not give him an account of
it now? It is very wonderful."

And so they began, first Joyce and then Cynthia,--interrupting and
supplementing each other. They were still rather anxious on the subject
of meddling and trespassing, but they did not try to excuse themselves,
recounting the adventures simply and hiding nothing. The older people
listened intently, sometimes amused, sometimes touched, often more
deeply moved than they cared to show.

"We began it at first just for fun,--we pretended to be detectives. But
as it went on, we got more and more deeply interested, till at last
this--this all seemed more important than our own lives," ended Joyce.
"Only, I know we did wrong in the beginning ever to come in here at all.
We are trespassers and meddlers, and I hope you can forgive us!"

"The dearest little meddlers in the world!" cried Mrs. Collingwood. "Can
any forgiveness be necessary?" And she cuddled them both in her arms.

"There's just one thing _I'd_ like to ask, if you don't mind," said
Cynthia, coming suddenly out of a brown study. "It's the one thing we
never could account for. Why was that room up-stairs locked, and what
has become of the key?" Mrs. Collingwood flushed.

"I locked the door and threw the key down the well--that night!" she
answered slowly. "I don't suppose you can quite understand, if you are
not afflicted with a passionate temper, as I was. When my son--when
Fairfax here--had gone, and I was shutting up the house and came to his
room,--I wanted to go in,--oh, you cannot know how I wanted to go in!
But I knew that if I once entered and stood among his dear belongings, I
should relent-- I should rush away to find him and beg him to come back
to me. And I--I did not _want_ to relent! I stood there five minutes
debating it. Then I suddenly locked the door on the outside, and before
giving myself time for a second thought, I rushed down-stairs, out of
doors, and threw the key into the old well,--where I could never get it
again!

"Children, I am an old woman. I shall be seventy-five next birthday.
Will you heed a lesson I have learned and paid for with the bitterest
years of my life? If you are blessed with a calm, even, forgiving
nature, thank God for it always. But if you are as I was, pray daily for
help to curb that nature, before you have allowed it to work some
desperate evil!" She hid her face in her hands.

"There, there, little Mother of mine!" murmured her son. "Let us forget
all that now! What does anything matter so long as we are together
again--for always?" He leaned over, pulled her hands from her face, and
kissed her tenderly. The moment was an awkward one, and Cynthia wished
madly that she had not been prompted to ask that unfortunate question.
Suddenly, however, the tension was broken by Mrs. Collingwood
exclaiming:

"Mercy me! See that enormous _cat_ walking in! Wherever did it come
from?" They all turned toward the door.

"Oh, that's Goliath!" said Joyce, calmly. "He feels very much at home
here, for he has come in with us often. He led the way that first day,
if you remember. And he's been _such_ a help!-- He's a better detective
than any of us!"

"Blessings on Goliath then, say I!" laughed Mr. Fairfax Collingwood,
and, approaching the huge feline with coaxing words, he gathered its
unresisting form in his arms and deposited the warm, furry purring beast
in his mother's lap.

And while they were all laughing over and petting Goliath, a queer thing
happened. The candles, which had been burning now for several hours,
had, unnoticed by all, been gradually guttering and spluttering out. At
length only four or five flames remained, feebly wavering in their pools
of melted wax. The occupants of the room had been too absorbed with
their own affairs to notice the gradual dimming of the illumination. But
now Joyce suddenly looked up and perceived what had happened.

"Why, look at the candles!" she cried. "There are only about three left,
and they won't last more than a minute or two!" Even as she spoke, two
of them flickered out. The remaining one struggled for another
half-minute, and flared up in one last, desperate effort. The next
instant, the room was in total darkness. So unexpected was the change,
that they all sat very still. The sudden pall of darkness in this
strange house of mystery was just a tiny bit awesome.

"Well! This _is_ a predicament!" exclaimed Fairfax Collingwood who was
first to recover from the surprise. "Fortunately I have a box of
matches!"

[Illustration: Then, with one accord they began to steer their way
around the furniture]

"Oh, don't worry!" added the practical Cynthia. "There's an extra candle
that I left on the mantel. It will do nicely to light us out." Groping
to the chimney-place with the aid of his matches, Mr. Collingwood found
the candle and lit it. Then, with one accord, they all rose and began to
steer their way around the furniture toward the hall, Goliath following.
In the hall, Mr. Collingwood looked at his watch, exclaiming:

"It is six-thirty! Who would believe it!" The two girls gave a
simultaneous gasp of dismay.

"Dinner!-- It was ready half an hour ago! What _will_ they think?" cried
Joyce.

"Never mind _what_ they think, just for to-night!" responded Mrs.
Collingwood, gaily. "You can tell them when you're explaining all this,
that what you've done for us two people is beyond the power of words to
express. They'll forgive you!" She bent down and kissed them both with a
caress that thrilled them to their finger-tips. Then they all passed out
through the great front door to the wide old veranda. Mr. Collingwood,
taking the key from his mother, locked the little door in the boarding,
after them. And in the warm, waning May afternoon, they filed down the
steps. At the gate, Mr. Collingwood turned to the girls:

"I am taking my mother back to New York for a few days. She must rest,
and we have much to talk over. I scarcely need tell you that I am _not_
returning to Australia!-- We shall come back here very soon, open up
this old home, put it in order, and probably spend the rest of our lives
between here and the South.

"Dear girls, I hardly need say to you that in all the world we shall
consider that we have no closer or more devoted friends than yourselves!
This house will always be open to you. You must look upon it as a second
home. You have given back to us the most priceless blessing,--the one
thing we neither hoped nor expected to enjoy again in this world,--_each
other_!" He could not go on. He was very much moved. And as for the two
girls, they were utterly speechless under the pressure of feeling.

They remained standing at the gate, watching the two go down the street
in the sunset, and waved to them wildly as they turned to look back,
just before rounding the corner. And at last the intervening trees shut
them from sight.

When they were gone, Cynthia and Joyce turned and looked long and
incredulously into each other's eyes. They _might_ have made, on this
occasion, a number of high-flown and appropriate remarks, the tenor of
which would be easy to imagine. Certainly the time for it was ripe, and
beyond a doubt they _felt_ them! But, as a matter of fact, they indulged
in nothing of the sort. Instead, Joyce suddenly broke into a laugh.

"We'll never have to go in there by the cellar window again!" she
remarked.

"Sure enough!" agreed Cynthia. "What a relief that'll be!"

And so ended the adventure of the Boarded-up House!





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