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´╗┐Title: The Corner House Girls Among the Gypsies - How They Met, What Happened, and How It Ended
Author: Hill, Grace Brooks
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 Corner House Girls Among the Gypsies - How They Met, What Happened, and How It Ended" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

GYPSIES***


[Illustration: One young woman brought a great pan of stew and bread
and three spoons to the van. _Frontispiece._]


THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS AMONG THE GYPSIES

How They Met
What Happened
And How It Ended

by

GRACE BROOKS HILL

Author of "The Corner House Girls," "The Corner House
Girls on a Houseboat," etc.

Illustrated by Thelma Gooch



Barse & Hopkins
Publishers
Newark, N. J.        New York, N. Y.


                   *       *       *       *       *


                BOOKS FOR GIRLS
         The Corner House Girls Series
              By Grace Brooks Hill
          _12mo. Cloth. Illustrated._

    THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS
    THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS AT SCHOOL
    THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS UNDER CANVAS
    THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS IN A PLAY
    THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS' ODD FIND
    THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON A TOUR
    THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS GROWING UP
    THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS SNOWBOUND
    THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON A HOUSEBOAT
    THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS AMONG THE GYPSIES

                   Publishers
                BARSE & HOPKINS
      Newark, N. J.        New York, N. Y.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Copyright, 1921,
by
Barse & Hopkins

_The Corner House Girls Among the Gypsies_
Printed in U. S. A.



CONTENTS

  CHAPTER                                        PAGE
        I The Fretted Silver Bracelet               9
       II A Profound Mystery                       20
      III Sammy Pinkney in Trouble                 31
       IV The Gypsy Trail                          40
        V Sammy Occasions Much Excitement          50
       VI The Gypsy's Words                        60
      VII The Bracelet Again To the Fore           70
     VIII The Misfortunes of a Runaway             81
       IX Things Go Wrong                          90
        X All Is Not Gold That Glitters           100
       XI Mysteries Accumulate                    108
      XII Getting in Deeper                       114
     XIII Over the Hills and Far Away             122
      XIV Almost Had Him                          134
       XV Uncertainties                           143
      XVI The Dead End of Nowhere                 149
     XVII Ruth Begins To Worry                    157
    XVIII The Junkman Again                       165
      XIX The House Is Haunted                    175
       XX Plotters at Work                        184
      XXI Tess and Dot Take a Hand                195
     XXII Excitement Galore                       206
    XXIII A Surprising Meeting                    217
     XXIV The Captives                            234
      XXV It Must Be All Right                    244



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

  One young woman brought a great pan of stew and bread and three
    spoons to the van                                              Title

  "You have found it!" he chattered with great excitement            112

  The girls could sit under the trees while Luke reclined on a
    swinging cot                                                     158

  "They want that silver thing back. It wasn't meant for you"        203



THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS AMONG THE GYPSIES



CHAPTER I--THE FRETTED SILVER BRACELET


If Sammy Pinkney had not been determined to play a "joey" and hooked
back one of the garage doors so as to enter astride a broomstick with a
dash and the usual clown announcement, "Here we are again!" all would
not have happened that did happen to the Corner House girls--at least,
not in just the way the events really occurred.

Even Dot, who was inclined to be forgiving of most of Sammy's sins both
of omission and commission, admitted that to be true. Tess, the next
oldest Corner House girl (nobody ever dignified her with the name of
"Theresa," unless it were Aunt Sarah Maltby) was inclined to reflect the
opinion regarding most boys held by their oldest sister, Ruth. Tess's
frank statement to this day is that it was entirely Sammy's fault that
they were mixed up with the Gypsies at all.

But--

"Well, if I'm going to be in your old circus," Sammy announced doggedly,
"I'm going to be a joey--or _nothin'_."

"You know very well, Sammy, that you can't be that," said Tess
reprovingly.

"Huh? Why can't I? I bet I'd make just as good a clown as Mr. Sully
Sorber, who is Neale's half-uncle, or Mr. Asa Scruggs, who is
Barnabetta's father."

"I don't mean you can't be a clown," interrupted Tess. "I mean you can't
be just _nothing_. You occupy space, so you must be something. Our
teacher says so."

"Shucks!" ejaculated Sammy Pinkney. "Don't I know that? And I wish you
wouldn't talk about school. Why! we're only in the middle of our
vacation, I should hope."

"It seems such a long time since we went to school," murmured Dot, who
was sitting by, nursing the Alice-doll in her arms and waiting her turn
to be called into the circus ring, which was the cleared space in the
middle of the cement floor.

"That's because all you folks went off cruising on that houseboat and
never took me with you," grumbled Sammy, who still held a deep-seated
grouch because of the matter mentioned. "But 'tain't been long since
school closed--and it isn't going to be long before the old thing opens
again."

"Why, Sammy!" admonished Tess.

"I just _hate_ school, so I do!" vigorously announced the boy. "I'd
rather be a tramp--or a Gypsy. Yes, I would."

"Or a pirate, Sammy?" suggested Dot reflectively. "You know, me and you
didn't have a very nice time when we went off to be pirates. 'Member?"

"Huh!" grumbled Sammy, "that was because you was along. Girls can't be
pirates worth shucks. And anyway," he concluded, "I'm going to be the
joey in this show, or I won't play."

"It will be supper time and the others will be back with the car, so
none of us can play if we don't start in pretty soon," Tess observed.
"Dot and I want to practice our gym work that Neale O'Neil has been
teaching us. But you can clown it all you want to, Sammy."

"Well, that lets me begin the show anyway," Sammy stated with
satisfaction.

He always did want to lead. And now he immediately ran to hook back the
door and prepared to make his entrance into the ring in true clowning
style, as he had seen Sully Sorber do in Twomley & Sorber's Herculean
Circus and Menagerie.

The Kenway garage opened upon Willow Street and along that pleasantly
shaded and quiet thoroughfare just at this time came three rather odd
looking people. Two were women carrying brightly stained baskets of
divers shapes, and one of these women--usually the younger one--went into
the yard of each house and knocked at the side or back door, offering
the baskets for sale.

The younger one was black-eyed and rather pretty. She was neatly dressed
in very bright colors and wore a deal of gaudy jewelry. The older woman
was not so attractive--or so clean.

Loitering on the other side of the street, and keeping some distance
behind the Gypsy women, slouched a tall, roughly clad fellow who was
evidently their escort. The women came to the Kenway garage some time
after Sammy Pinkney had made his famous "entrance" and Dot had abandoned
the Alice-doll while she did several handsprings on the mattress that
Tess had laid down. Dot did these very well indeed. Neale O'Neil, who
had been trained in the circus, had given both the smaller Corner House
girls the benefit of his advice and training. They loved athletic
exercises. Mrs. McCall, the Corner House housekeeper, declared Tess and
Dot were as active as grasshoppers.

The two dark-faced women, as they peered in at the open doorway of the
garage, seemed to think Dot's handsprings were marvelously well done,
too; they whispered together excitedly and then the older one slyly
beckoned the big Gypsy man across the street to approach.

When he arrived to look over the women's heads it was Tess who was
actively engaged on the garage floor. She was as supple as an eel. Of
course, Tess Kenway would not like to be compared to an eel; but she was
proud of her ability to "wriggle into a bow knot and out again"--as Sammy
vociferously announced.

"Say, Tess! that's a peach of a trick," declared the boy with
enthusiasm. "Say! Lemme--Huh! What do _you_ want?" For suddenly he saw
the two Gypsy women at the door of the garage. The man was now out of
sight.

"Ah-h!" whined the old woman cunningly, "will not the young master and
the pretty little ladies buy a nice basket of the poor Gypsy? Good
fortune goes with it."

"Gee! who wants to buy a basket?" scoffed Sammy. "You only have to carry
things in it." The bane of Sammy Pinkney's existence was the running of
errands.

"But they _are_ pretty," murmured Tess.

"Oh--oo! See that nice green and yellow one with the cover," gasped Dot.
"Do you suppose we've got money enough to buy that one, Tess? How nice
it would be to carry the children's clothes in when we go on picnics."

By "children" Dot meant their dolls, of which, the two smaller Corner
House girls possessed a very large number. Several of these children,
besides the Alice-doll, were grouped upon a bench in the corner of the
garage as a part of the circus audience. The remainder of the spectators
were Sandyface and her family. Sandyface was now a great, _great_
grandmother cat, and more of her progeny than one would care to catalog
tranquilly viewed the little girls' circus or rolled in kittenish frolic
on the floor.

It sometimes did seem as though the old Corner House demesne was quite
given up to feline inhabitants. And the recurrent appearance of new
litters of kittens belonging to Sandyface herself, her daughters and
granddaughters, had ceased to make even a ripple in the pool of Corner
House existence.

This explanation regarding the dolls and cats is really aside from our
narrative. Tess and Dot both viewed with eager eyes the particular
covered basket held out enticingly by the old Gypsy woman.

Of course the little girls had no pockets in their gymnasium suits. But
in a pocket of her raincoat which Tess had worn down to the garage over
her blouse and bloomers, she found a dime and two pennies--"just enough
for two ice-cream cones," Sammy Pinkey observed.

"Oh! And my Alice-doll has eight cents in her cunning little beaded
bag," cried Dot, with sudden animation.

She produced the coins. But there was only twenty cents in all!

"I--I--What do you ask for that basket, please?" Tess questioned
cautiously.

"Won't the pretty little ladies give the poor old Gypsy woman half a
dollar for the basket?"

The little girls lost hope. They were not allowed to break into their
banks for any purpose without asking Ruth's permission, and their
monthly stipend of pocket money was very low.

"It is a very nice basket, little ladies," said the younger Gypsy
woman--she who was so gayly dressed and gaudily bejeweled.

"I know," Tess admitted wistfully. "But if we haven't so much money, how
can we buy it?"

"Say!" interrupted the amateur joey, hands in pockets and viewing the
controversy quite as an outsider. "Say, Tess! if you and Dot really want
that old basket, I've got two-bits I'll lend you."

"Oh, Sammy!" gasped Dot. "A whole quarter?"

"Have you got it here with you?" Tess asked.

"Yep," announced the boy.

"I don't think Ruth would mind our borrowing twenty-five cents of you,
Sammy," said Tess, slowly.

"Of course not," urged Dot. "Why, Sammy is just like one of the family."

"Only when you girls go off cruising, I ain't," observed Sammy, his face
clouding with remembrance. "_Then_ I ain't even a step-child."

But he produced the quarter and offered it to Tess. She counted it with
the money already in her hand.

"But--but that makes only forty-five cents," she said.

The two Gypsy women spoke hissingly to each other in a tongue that the
children did not, of course, understand. Then the older woman thrust the
basket out again.

"Take!" she said. "Take for forty-fi' cents, eh? The little ladies can
have."

"Go ahead," Sammy said as Tess hesitated. "That's all the old basket is
worth. I can get one bigger than that at the chain store for seven
cents."

"Oh, Sammy, it isn't as bee-_you_-tiful as this!" gasped Dot.

"Well, it's a basket just the same."

Tess put the silver and pennies in the old woman's clawlike hand and the
longed-for basket came into her possession.

"It is a good-fortune basket, pretty little ladies," repeated the old
Gypsy, grinning at them toothlessly. "You are honest little ladies, I
can see. You would never cheat the old Gypsy, would you? This is all the
money you have to pay for the beautiful basket? Forty-fi' cents?"

"Aw, say!" grumbled Sammy, "a bargain is a bargain, ain't it? And
forty-five cents is a good deal of money."

"If--if you think we ought to pay more--"

Tess held the basket out hesitatingly. Dot fairly squealed:

"Don't be a ninny, Tessie Kenway! It's ours now."

"The basket is yours, little ladies," croaked the crone as the younger
woman pulled sharply at her shawl. "But good fortune goes with it only
if you are honest with the poor old Gypsy. Good-bye."

The two strange women hurried away. Sammy lounged to the door, hands in
pockets, to look after them. He caught a momentary glimpse of the tall
Gypsy man disappearing around a corner. The two women quickly followed
him.

"Oh, what a lovely basket!" Dot was saying.

"I--I hope Ruth won't scold because we borrowed that quarter of Sammy,"
murmured Tess.

"Shucks!" exclaimed their boy friend. "Don't tell her. You can pay me
when you get some more money."

"Oh, no!" Tess said. "I would not hide anything from Ruth."

"You couldn't, anyway," said the practical Dot. "She will want to know
where we got the money to pay for the basket. Oh, _do_ open it, Tess.
Isn't it lovely?"

The cover worked on a very ingeniously contrived hinge. Had the children
known much about such things they must have seen that the basket was
worth much more than the price they had paid for it--much more indeed
than the price the Gypsies had first asked.

Tess lifted the cover. Dot crowded nearer to look in. The shadows of the
little girls' heads at first hid the bottom of the basket. Then both saw
something gleaming dully there. Tess and Dot cried out in unison; but it
was the latter's brown hand that darted into the basket and brought
forth the bracelet.

"A silver bracelet!" Tess gasped.

"Oh, look at it!" cried Dot. "Did you _ever_? Do you s'pose it's real
silver, Tess?"

"Of course it is," replied her sister, taking the circlet in her own
hand. "How pretty! It's all engraved with fret-work--"

"Hey!" ejaculated Sammy coming closer. "What's that?"

"Oh, Sammy! A silver bracelet--all fretted, too," exclaimed the highly
excited Dot.

"Huh! What's that? 'Fretted'? When my mother's fretted she's--Say! how
can a silver bracelet be cross, I want to know?"

"Oh, Sammy," Tess suddenly ejaculated, "these Gypsy women will be cross
enough when they miss this bracelet!"

"Oh! Oh!" wailed Dot. "Maybe they'll come back and want to take it and
the pretty basket, Tess. Let's run and hide 'em!"



CHAPTER II--A PROFOUND MYSTERY


Tess Kenway was positively shocked by her sister Dot's suggestion. To
think of trying to keep the silver bracelet which they knew must belong
to the Gypsy woman who had sold them the green and yellow basket, was
quite a horrifying thought to Tess.

"How _can_ you say such a thing, Dottie Kenway?" she demanded sternly.
"Of course we cannot keep the bracelet. And that old Gypsy lady said we
were honest, too. She could _see_ we were. And, then, what would Ruthie
say?"

Their older sister's opinion was always the standard for the other
Corner House girls. And that might well be, for Ruth Kenway had been
mentor and guide to her sisters ever since Dot, at least, could
remember. Their mother had died so long ago that Tess but faintly
remembered her.

The Kenways had lived in a very moderately priced tenement in Bloomsburg
when Mr. Howbridge (now their guardian) had searched for and found them,
bringing them with Aunt Sarah Maltby to the old Corner House in Milton.
In the first volume of this series, "The Corner House Girls," these
matters are fully explained.

The six succeeding volumes relate in detail the adventures of the four
sisters and their friends--and some most remarkable adventures have they
had at school, under canvas, at the seashore, as important characters in
a school play, solving the mystery of a long-lost fortune, on an
automobile tour through the country, and playing a winning part in the
fortunes of Luke and Cecile Shepard in the volume called "The Corner
House Girls Growing Up."

In "The Corner House Girls Snowbound," the eighth book of the series,
the Kenways and a number of their young friends went into the North
Woods with their guardian to spend the Christmas Holidays. Eventually
they rescued the twin Birdsall children, who likewise had come under the
care of the elderly lawyer who had so long been the Kenway sisters' good
friend.

During the early weeks of the summer, just previous to the opening of
our present story, the Corner House girls had enjoyed a delightful trip
on a houseboat in the neighboring waters. The events of this trip are
related in "The Corner House Girls on a Houseboat." During this outing
there was more than one exciting incident. But the most exciting of all
was the unexpected appearance of Neale O'Neil's father, long believed
lost in Alaska.

Mr. O'Neil's return to the States could only be for a brief period, for
his mining interests called him back to Nome. His son, however, no
longer mourned him as lost, and naturally (though this desire he kept
secret from Agnes) the boy hoped, when his school days were over, to
join his father in that far Northland.

There was really no thought in the mind of the littlest Corner House
girl to take that which did not belong to her. Most children believe
implicitly in "findings-keepings," and it seemed to Dot Kenway that as
they had bought the green and yellow basket in good faith of the two
Gypsy women, everything it contained should belong to them.

This, too, was Sammy Pinkney's idea of the matter. Sammy considered
himself very worldly wise.

"Say! what's the matter with you, Tess Kenway? Of course that bracelet
is yours--if you want it. Who's going to stop you from keeping it, I want
to know?"

"But--but it must belong to one of those Gypsy ladies," gasped Tess. "The
old lady asked us if we were honest. Of course we are!"

"Pshaw! If they miss it, they'll be back after that silver thing fast
enough."

"But, Sammy, suppose they don't know the bracelet fell into this
basket?"

"Then you and Dot are that much in," was the prompt rejoinder of their
boy friend. "You bought the basket and all that was in it. They couldn't
claim the _air_ in that basket, could they? Well, then! how could they
lay claim to anything else in the basket?"

Such logic seemed unanswerable to Dot's mind. But Tess shook a doubtful
head. She had a feeling that they ought to run after the Gypsies to
return to them at once the bracelet. Only, neither she nor Dot was
dressed properly to run through Milton's best residential streets after
the Romany people. As for Sammy--

Happily, so Tess thought, she did not have to decide the matter.
Musically an automobile horn sounded its warning and the children ran
out to welcome the two older Corner House girls and Neale O'Neil, who
acted as their chauffeur on this particular trip.

They had been far out into the country for eggs and fresh vegetables, to
the farm, in fact, of Mr. Bob Buckham, the strawberry king and the
Corner House girls' very good friend. In these times of very high prices
for food, Ruth Kenway considered it her duty to save money if she could
by purchasing at first cost for the household's needs.

"Otherwise," this very capable young housewife asked, "how shall we
excuse the keeping of an automobile when the up-keep and everything is
so high?"

"Oh, _do_," begged Agnes, the flyaway sister, "_do_ let us have
something impractical, Ruth. I just hate the man who wrote the first
treatise on political economy."

"I fancy it is 'household economy' you mean, Aggie," returned her
sister, smiling. "And I warrant the author of the first treatise on that
theme was a woman."

"Mrs. Eva Adam, I bet!" chuckled Neale O'Neil, hearing this controversy
from the driver's seat. "It has always been in my mind that the First
Lady of the Garden of Eden was tempted to swipe those apples more
because the price of other fruit was so high than for any other reason."

"Then Adam was stingy with the household money," declared Agnes.

"I really wish you would not use such words as 'swipe' before the
children, Neale," sighed Ruth who, although she was no purist, did not
wish the little folk to pick up (as they so easily did) slang phrases.

She stepped out of the car when Neale had halted it within the garage
and Agnes handed her the egg basket. Tess and Dot immediately began
dancing about their elder sister, both shouting at once, the smallest
girl with the green and yellow basket and Tess with the silver bracelet
in her hand.

"Oh, Ruthie, what do you think?"

"See how pretty it is! And they never missed it."

"_Can't_ we keep it, Ruthie?" This from Dot. "We paid those Gypsy ladies
for the basket and all that was in it. Sammy says so."

"Then it must be true of course," scoffed Agnes. "What is it?"

"Well, I guess I know some things," observed Sammy, bridling. "If you
buy a walnut you buy the kernel as well as the shell, don't you? And
that bracelet was inside that covered basket, like the kernel in a nut."

"Listen!" exclaimed Neale likewise getting out of the car. "Sammy's a
very Solomon for judgment."

"Now don't you call me that, Neale O'Neil!" ejaculated Sammy angrily. "I
ain't a pig."

"Wha--what! Who called you a pig, Sammy?"

"Well, that's what Mr. Con Murphy calls _his_ pig--'Solomon.' You needn't
call me by any pig-name, so there!"

"I stand reproved," rejoined Neale with mock seriousness. "But, see
here: What's all this about the basket and the bracelet--a two-fold
mystery?"

"It sounds like a thriller in six reels," cried Agnes, jumping out of
the car herself to get a closer view of the bracelet and the basket.
"My! Where did you get that gorgeous bracelet, children?"

The beauty of the family, who loved "gew-gaws" of all kinds, seized the
silver circlet and tried it upon her own plump arm. Ruth urged Tess to
explain and had to place a gentle palm upon Dot's lips to keep them
quiet so that she might get the straight of the story from the more
sedate Tess.

"And so, that's how it was," concluded Tess. "We bought the basket after
borrowing Sammy's twenty-five cent piece, and of course the basket
belongs to us, doesn't it, Ruthie?"

"Most certainly, my dear," agreed the elder sister.

"And inside was that beautiful fretted silver bracelet. And that--"

"Just as certainly belongs to the Gypsies," finished Ruth. "At least, it
does not belong to you and Dot."

"Aw shu-u-cks!" drawled Sammy in dissent.

Even Agnes cast a wistful glance at the older girl. Ruth was always so
uncompromising in her decisions. There was never any middle ground in
her view. Either a thing was right, or it was wrong, and that was all
there was to it!

"Well," sighed Tess, "that Gypsy lady _said_ she knew we were honest."

"I think," Ruth observed thoughtfully, "that Neale had better run the
car out again and look about town for those Gypsy women. They can't have
got far away."

"Say, Ruth! it's most supper time," objected Neale. "Have a heart!"

"Anyway, I wouldn't trouble myself about a crowd of Gypsies," said
Agnes. "They may have stolen the bracelet."

"Oh!" gasped Tess and Dot in unison.

"You know what June Wildwood told us about them. And she lived with
Gypsies for months."

"Gypsies are not all alike," the elder sister said confidently in answer
to this last remark by Agnes. "Remember Mira and King David Stanley, and
how nice they were to Tess and Dottie?" she asked, speaking of an
incident related in "The Corner House Girls on a Tour."

"I don't care!" exclaimed Agnes, pouting, and still viewing the bracelet
on her arm with admiration. "I wouldn't run _my_ legs off chasing a band
of Gypsies."

They were all, however, bound to be influenced by Ruth's decision.

"Well, I'll hunt around after supper," Neale said. "I'll take Sammy with
me. You'll know those women if you see them again, won't you, kid?"

"Sure," agreed Sammy, forgiving Neale for calling him "kid" with the
prospect of an automobile ride in the offing.

"But--but," breathed Tess in Ruth's ear, "if those Gypsy ladies don't
take back the bracelet, it belongs to Dot and me, doesn't it, Sister?"

"Of course. Agnes! do give it back, now. I expect it will cause trouble
enough if those women are not found. A bone of contention! Both these
children will want to wear the bracelet at the same time. Don't _you_
add to the difficulty, Agnes."

"Why," drawled Agnes, slowly removing the curiously engraved silver
ornament from her arm, "of course they will return for it. Or Neale will
find them."

This statement, however, was not borne out by the facts. Neale and Sammy
drove all about town that evening without seeing the Gypsy women. The
next day the smaller Corner House girls were taken into the suburbs all
around Milton; but nowhere did they find trace of the Gypsies or of any
encampment of those strange, nomadic people in the vicinity.

The finding of the bracelet in the basket remained a mystery that the
Corner House girls could not soon forget.

"It does seem," said Tess, "as though those Gypsy ladies couldn't have
meant to give us the bracelet, Dot. The old one said so much about our
being honest. She didn't expect us to _steal_ it."

"Oh, no!" agreed Dot. "But Neale O'Neil says maybe the Gypsy ladies
stole it, and were afraid to keep it. So they gave it to us."

"M-mm," considered Tess. "But that doesn't explain it at all. Even if
they wanted to get rid of the bracelet, they need not have given it to
us in such a lovely basket. Ruth says the basket is worth a whole lot
more than the forty-five cents we paid for it."

"It _is_ awful pretty," sighed Dot in agreement.

"Some day they will surely come back for the bracelet."

"Oh, I hope not!" murmured the littlest Corner House girl. "It makes
such a be-_you_-tiful belt for my Alice-doll, when it's my turn to wear
it."



CHAPTER III--SAMMY PINKNEY IN TROUBLE


Uncle Rufus, who was general factotum about the old Corner House and
even acted as butler on "date and state occasions," was a very brown man
with a shiny bald crown around three-quarters of the circumference of
which was a hedge of white wool. Aided by Neale O'Neil (who still
insisted on earning a part of his own support in spite of the fact that
Mr. Jim O'Neil, his father, expected in time to be an Alaskan
millionaire gold-miner), Uncle Rufus did all of the chores about the
place. And those chores were multitudinous.

Besides the lawns and the flower gardens to care for, there was a
good-sized vegetable garden to weed and to hoe. Uncle Rufus suffered
from what he called a "misery" in his back that made it difficult for
him to stoop to weed the small plants in the garden.

"I don't know, Missy Ruth," complained the old darkey to the eldest
Corner House girl, "how I's goin' to get that bed of winter beets
weeded--I dunno, noways. My misery suah won't let me stoop down to them
rows, and there's a big patch of 'em."

"Do they need weeding right now, Uncle Rufus?"

"Suah do, Missy. Dey is sufferin' fo' hit. I'd send wo'd for some o' mah
daughter Pechunia's young 'uns to come over yere, but I knows dat all o'
them that's big enough to work is reg'larly employed by de farmers out
dat a-way. Picking crops for de canneries is now at de top-notch, Missy;
and even Burnejones Whistler and Louise-Annette is big enough to pick
beans."

"Goodness me!" exclaimed Agnes, who overheard the old man's complaint.
"There ought to be kids enough around these corners to hire, without
sending to foreign lands for any. They are always under foot if you
_don't_ want them."

"Ain't it de truf?" chuckled the old man. "Usual' I can't look over de
hedge without spyin' dat Sammy Pinkney and a dozen of his crew. They's
jest as plenty as bugs under a chip. But now--"

"Well, why not get Sammy?" interrupted Ruth.

"He ought to be of some use, that is sure," added Agnes.

"Can yo' put yo' hand on dat boy?" demanded Uncle Rufus. "'Nless he's in
mischief I don't know where to look for him."

"I can find him all right," Agnes declared. "But I cannot guarantee that
he will take the job."

"Offer him fifty cents to weed those beet rows," Ruth said briskly. "The
bed I see is just a mat of weeds." They had walked down to the garden
while the discussion was going on. "If Sammy will do it I'll be glad to
pay the half dollar."

She bustled away about some other domestic matter; for despite the fact
that Mrs. McCall bore the greater burden of housekeeping affairs, Ruth
Kenway did not shirk certain responsibilities that fell to her lot both
outside and inside the Corner House.

After all was said and done, Sammy Pinkney looked upon Agnes as his
friend. She was more lenient with him than even Dot was. Ruth and Tess
looked upon most boys as merely "necessary evils." But Agnes had always
liked to play with boys and was willing to overlook their shortcomings.

"I got a lot to do," ventured Sammy, shying as usual at the idea of
work. "But if you really want me to, Aggie--"

"And if you want to make a whole half dollar," suggested Agnes, not much
impressed by the idea that Sammy would weed beets as a favor.

"All right," agreed the boy, and shooing Buster, his bulldog, out of the
Corner House premises, for Buster and Billy Bumps, the goat, were sworn
enemies, Sammy proceeded to the vegetable garden.

Now, both Uncle Rufus and Agnes particularly showed Sammy which were the
infant beets and which the weeds. It is a fact, however, that there are
few garden plants grown for human consumption that do not have their
counterpart among the noxious weeds.

The young beets, growing in scattered clumps in the row (for each
seed-burr contains a number of seeds), looked much like a certain weed
of the lambs'-quarters variety; and this reddish-green weed pretty well
covered the beet bed.

Tess and Dot had gone to a girls' party at Mrs. Adams', just along on
Willow Street, that afternoon, so they did not appear to disturb Sammy
at his task. In fact, the boy had it all his own way. Neither Uncle
Rufus nor any other older person came near him, and he certainly made a
thorough job of that beet bed.

Mrs. McCall "set great store," as she said, by beets--both pickled and
fresh--for winter consumption. When Neale O'Neil chanced to go into the
garden toward supper time to see what Sammy was doing there, it was too
late to save much of the crop.

"Well, of all the dunces!" ejaculated Neale, almost immediately seeing
what Sammy had been about. "Say! you didn't do that on purpose, did you?
Or don't you know any better?"

"Know any better'n _what_?" demanded the bone-weary Sammy, in no mood to
endure scolding in any case. "Ain't I done it all right? I bet you can't
find a weed in that whole bed, so now."

"Great grief, kid!" gasped the older boy, seeing that Sammy was quite in
earnest, "I don't believe you've left anything _but_ weeds in those
rows. It--it's a knock-out!"

"Aw--I never," gulped Sammy. "I guess I know beets."

"Huh! It looks as though you don't even know _beans_," chortled Neale,
unable to keep his gravity. "What a mess! Mrs. McCall will be as sore as
she can be."

"I don't care!" cried the tired boy wildly. "I saved just what Aggie
told me to, and threw away everything else. And see how the rows are."

"Why, Sammy, those aren't where the rows of beets were at all. See!
_These_ are beets. _Those_ are weeds. Oh, great grief!" and the older
boy went off into another gale of laughter.

"I--I do-o-on't care," wailed Sammy. "I did just what Aggie told me to.
And I want my half dollar."

"You want to be paid for wasting all Mrs. McCall's beets?"

"I don't care, I earned it."

Neale could not deny the statement. As far as the work went, Sammy
certainly had spent time and labor on the unfortunate task.

"Wait a minute," said Neale, as Sammy started away in anger. "Maybe all
those beet plants you pulled up aren't wilted. We can save some of them.
Beets grow very well when they are transplanted--especially if the ground
is wet enough and the sun isn't too hot. It looks like rain for
to-night, anyway."

"Aw--I--"

"Come on! We'll get some water and stick out what we can save. I'll help
you and the girls needn't know you were such a dummy."

"Dummy, yourself!" snarled the tired and over-wrought boy. "I'll never
weed another beet again--no, I won't!"

Sammy made a bee-line out of the garden and over the fence into Willow
Street, leaving Neale fairly shaking with laughter, yet fully realizing
how dreadfully cut-up Sammy must feel.

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune seem much greater to the
mind of a youngster like Sammy Pinkney than to an adult person. The
ridicule which he knew he must suffer because of his mistake about the
beet bed, seemed something that he really could not bear. Besides, he
had worked all the afternoon for nothing (as he presumed) and only the
satisfaction of having earned fifty cents would have counteracted the
ache in his muscles.

Harried by his disappointment, Sammy was met by his mother in a stern
mood, her first question being:

"Where have you been wasting your time ever since dinner, Sammy Pinkney?
I never did see such a lazy boy!"

It was true that he had wasted his time. But his sore muscles cried out
against the charge that he was lazy.

He could not explain, however, without revealing his shame. To be
ridiculed was the greatest punishment Sammy Pinkney knew.

"Aw, what do you want me to do, Maw? Work _all_ the time? Ain't this my
vacation?"

"But your father says you are to work enough in the summer to keep from
forgetting what work is. And look how grubby you are. Faugh!"

"What do you want me to do, Maw?"

"You might do a little weeding in our garden, you know, Sammy."

"Weeding!" groaned the boy, fairly horrified by the suggestion after
what he had been through that afternoon.

"You know very well that our onions and carrots need cleaning out. And I
don't believe you could even find our beets."

"Beets!" Sammy's voice rose to a shriek. He never was really a bad boy;
but this was too much. "Beets!" cried Sammy again. "I wouldn't weed a
beet if nobody ever ate another of 'em. No, I wouldn't."

He darted by his mother into the house and ran up to his room. Her
reiterated command that he return and explain his disgraceful speech and
violent conduct did not recall Sammy to the lower floor.

"Very well, young man. Don't you come down to supper, either. And we'll
see what your father has to say about your conduct when he comes home."

This threat boded ill for Sammy, lying sobbing and sore upon his bed. He
was too desperate to care much what his father did to him. But to face
the ridicule of the neighborhood--above all to face the prospect of
weeding another bed of beets!--was more than the boy could contemplate.

"I'll run away and be a pirate--that's just what I'll do," choked Sammy,
his old obsession enveloping his harassed thoughts. "I'll show 'em!
They'll be sorry they treated me so--all of 'em."

Just who "'em" were was rather vague in Sammy Pinkney's mind. But the
determination to get away from all these older people, whom he
considered had abused him, was not vague at all.



CHAPTER IV--THE GYPSY TRAIL


Mr. Pinkney, Sammy's father, heard all about it before he arrived home,
for he always passed the side door of the old Corner House on his return
from business. He came at just that time when Neale O'Neil was telling
the assembled family--including Mrs. McCall, Uncle Rufus, and Linda the
maid-of-all-work--about the utter wreck of the beet bed.

"I've saved what I could--set 'em out, you know, and soaked 'em well,"
said the laughing Neale. "But make up your mind, Mrs. McCall, that
you'll have to buy a good share of your beets this winter."

"Well! What do you know about that, Mr. Pinkney?" demanded Agnes of
their neighbor, who had halted at the gate.

"Just like that boy," responded Mr. Pinkney, shaking his head over his
son's transgressions.

"Just the same," Neale added, chuckling, "Sammy says you showed him
which were weeds and which were beets, Aggie."

"Of course I did," flung back the quick-tempered Agnes. "And so did
Uncle Rufus. But that boy is so heedless--"

"I agree that Sammy pays very little attention to what is told him,"
said Sammy's father.

Here Tess put in a soothing word, as usual: "Of course he didn't mean to
pull up all your beets, Mrs. McCall."

"And I don't like beets anyway," proclaimed Dot.

"He certainly must have worked hard," Ruth said, producing a fifty-cent
piece and running down the steps to press it into Mr. Pinkney's palm. "I
am sure Sammy had no intention of spoiling our beet bed. And I am not
sure that it is not partly our fault. He should not have been left all
the afternoon without some supervision."

"He should be more observing," said Mr. Pinkney. "I never did see such a
rattlebrain."

"'The servant is worthy of his hire,'" quoted Ruth. "And tell him, Mr.
Pinkney, that we forgive him."

"Just the same," cried Agnes after their neighbor, "although Sammy may
know beans, as Neale says, he doesn't seem to know beets! Oh, what a
boy!"

So Mr. Pinkney brought home the story of Sammy's mistake and he and his
wife laughed over it. But when Mrs. Pinkney called upstairs for the boy
to come down to a late supper she got only a muffled response that he
"didn't want no supper."

"He must be sick," she observed to her husband, somewhat anxiously.

"He's sick of the mess he's made--that's all," declared Mr. Pinkney
cheerfully. "Let him alone. He'll come around all right in the morning."

Meanwhile at the Corner House the Kenway sisters had something more
important (at least, as they thought) to talk about than Sammy Pinkney
and his errors of judgment. What Dot had begun to call the "fretful
silver bracelet" was a very live topic.

The local jeweler had pronounced the bracelet of considerable value
because of its workmanship. It did not seem possible that the Gypsy
women could have dropped the bracelet into the basket they had sold the
smaller Corner House girls and then forgotten all about it.

"It is not reasonable," Ruth Kenway declared firmly, "that it could just
be a mistake. That basket is worth two dollars at least; and they sold
it to the children for forty-five cents. It is mysterious."

"They seemed to like Tess and me a whole lot," Dot said complacently.
"That is why they gave it to us so cheap."

"And that is the very reason I am worried," Ruth added.

"Why don't you report it to the police?" croaked Aunt Sarah Maltby.
"Maybe they'll try to rob the house."

"O-oh," gasped Dot, round-eyed.

"Who? The police?" giggled Agnes in Ruth's ear.

"Maybe we ought to look again for those Gypsy ladies," Tess said. "But
the bracelet is awful pretty."

"I tell you! Let's ask June Wildwood. She knows all about Gypsies,"
cried Agnes. "She used to travel with them. Don't you remember, Ruth?
They called her Queen Zaliska, and she made believe tell fortunes. Of
course, not being a real Gypsy she could not tell them very well."

"Crickey!" ejaculated Neale O'Neil, who was present. "You don't believe
in that stuff, do you, Aggie?"

"I don't know whether I do or not. But it's awfully thrilling to think
of learning ahead what is going to happen."

"Huh!" snorted her boy friend. "Like the weather man, eh? But he has
some scientific data to go on."

"Probably the Gypsy fortune tellers have reduced their business to a
science, too," Ruth calmly said.

"Anyhow," laughed Neale, "Queen Zaliska now works in Byburg's candy
store. Some queen, I'll tell the world!"

"Neale!" admonished Ruth. "_Such_ slang!"

"Come on, Neale," said the excited Agnes. "Let you and me go down to
Byburg's and ask her about the bracelet."

"I really don't see how June can tell us anything," observed Ruth
slowly.

"Anyway," Agnes briskly said, putting on her hat, "we need some candy.
Come on, Neale."

The Wildwoods were Southerners who had not lived long in Milton. Their
story is told in "The Corner House Girls Under Canvas." The Kenways were
very well acquainted with Juniper Wildwood and her sister, Rosa. Agnes
felt privileged to question June about her life with the Gypsies.

"I saw Big Jim in town the other day," confessed the girl behind the
candy counter the moment Agnes broached the subject. "I am awfully
afraid of him. I ran all the way home. And I told Mr. Budd, the
policeman on this beat, and I think Mr. Budd warned Big Jim to get out
of town. There is some talk about getting a law through the Legislature
putting a heavy tax on each Gypsy family that does not keep moving.
_That_ will drive them away from Milton quicker than anything else. And
that Big Jim is a bad, bad man. Why! he's been in jail for stealing."

"Oh, my! He's a regular convict, then," gasped Agnes, much impressed.

"Pshaw!" said Neale. "They don't call a man a convict unless he has been
sent to the State prison, or to the Federal penitentiary. But that Big
Jim looked to be tough enough, when we saw him down at Pleasant Cove, to
belong in prison for life. Remember him, Aggie?"

"The children did not say anything about a Gypsy man," observed his
friend. "There were two Gypsy women."

She went on to tell June Wildwood all about the basket purchase and the
finding of the silver bracelet. The older girl shook her head solemnly
as she said:

"I don't understand it at all. Gypsies are always shrewd bargainers.
They never sell things for less than they cost."

"But they made that basket," Agnes urged. "Perhaps it didn't cost them
so much as Ruth thinks."

June smiled in a superior way. "Oh, no, they didn't make it. They don't
waste their time nowadays making baskets when they can buy them from the
factories so much cheaper and better. Oh, no!"

"Crackey!" exclaimed Neale. "Then they are fakers, are they?"

"That bracelet is no fake," declared Agnes.

"That is what puzzles me most," said June. "Gypsies are very tricky. At
least, all I ever knew. And if those two women you speak of belonged to
Big Jim's tribe, I would not trust them at all."

"But it seems they have done nothing at all bad in this case," Agnes
observed.

"Tess and Dot are sure ahead of the game, so far," chuckled Neale in
agreement.

"Just the same," said June Wildwood, "I would not be careless. Don't let
the children talk to the Gypsies if they come back for the bracelet. Be
sure to have some older person see the women and find out what they
want. Oh, they are very sly."

June had then to attend to other customers, and Agnes and Neale walked
home. On the way they decided that there was no use in scaring the
little ones about the Gypsies.

"I don't believe in bugaboos," Agnes declared. "We'll just tell Ruth."

This she proceeded to do. But perhaps she did not repeat June Wildwood's
warning against the Gypsy band with sufficient emphasis to impress
Ruth's mind. Or just about this time the older Corner House girl had
something of much graver import to trouble her thought.

By special delivery, on this evening just before they retired, arrived
an almost incoherent letter from Cecile Shepard, part of which Ruth read
aloud to Agnes:

  "... and just as Aunt Lorina is only beginning to get better! I feel
  as though this family is fated to have trouble this year. Luke was
  doing so well at the hotel and the proprietor liked him. It isn't
  _his_ fault that that outside stairway was untrustworthy and fell with
  him. The doctor says it is only a strained back and a broken wrist.
  But Luke is in bed. I am going by to-morrow's train to see for myself.
  I don't dare tell Aunt Lorina--nor even Neighbor. Neighbor--Mr.
  Northrup--is not well himself, and he would only worry about Luke if he
  knew.... Now, don't _you_ worry, and I will send you word how Luke is
  just the minute I arrive."

"But how can I help being anxious?" Ruth demanded of her sister. "Poor
Luke! And he was working so hard this summer so as not to be obliged to
depend entirely on Neighbor for his college expenses next year."

Ruth was deeply interested in Luke Shepard--had been, in fact, since the
winter previous when all the Corner House family were snowbound at the
Birdsall winter camp in the North Woods. Of course, Ruth and Luke were
both very young, and Luke had first to finish his college course and get
into business.

Still and all, the fact that Luke Shepard had been hurt quite dwarfed
the Gypsy bracelet matter in Ruth's mind. And in that of Agnes, too, of
course.

In addition, the very next morning Mrs. Pinkney ran across the street
and in at the side door of the Corner House in a state of panic.

"Oh! have you seen him?" she cried.

"Seen whom, Mrs. Pinkney?" asked Ruth with sympathy.

"Is Buster lost again?" demanded Tess, poising a spoonful of breakfast
food carefully while she allowed her curiosity to take precedence over
the business of eating. "That dog always _is_ getting lost."

"It isn't Sammy's dog," wailed Mrs. Pinkney. "It is Sammy himself. I
can't find him."

"Can't find Sammy?" repeated Agnes.

"His bed hasn't been slept in! I thought he was just sulky last night.
But he is _gone_!"

"Well," said Tess, practically, "Sammy is always running away, you
know."

"Oh, this is serious," cried the distracted mother. "He has broken open
his bank and taken all his money--almost four dollars."

"My!" murmured Dot, "it must cost lots more to run away and be pirates
now than it used to."

"Everything is much higher," agreed Tess.



CHAPTER V--SAMMY OCCASIONS MUCH EXCITEMENT


"I do hope and pray," Aunt Sarah Maltby declared, "that Mrs. Pinkney
won't go quite distracted about that boy. Boys make so much trouble
usually that a body would near about believe that it must be an occasion
for giving thanks to get rid of one like Sammy Pinkney."

This was said of course after Sammy's mother had gone home in tears--and
Agnes had accompanied her to give such comfort as she might. The whole
neighborhood was roused about the missing Sammy. All agreed that the boy
never was of so much importance as when he was missing.

"I do hope and pray that the little rascal will turn up soon," continued
Aunt Sarah, "for Mrs. Pinkney's sake."

"I wonder," murmured Dot to Tess, "why it is Aunt Sarah always says she
'hopes and prays'? Wouldn't just praying be enough? You're sure to get
what you pray for, aren't you?"

"But what is the use of praying if you don't hope?" demanded Tess, the
hair-splitting theologian. "They must go together, Dot. I should think
you'd see that."

Mrs. Pinkney had lost hope of finding Sammy, however, right at the
start. She knew him of course of old. He had been running away ever
since he could toddle out of the gate; but she and Mr. Pinkney tried to
convince themselves that each time would be the last--that he was
"cured."

For almost always Sammy's runaway escapades ended disastrously for him
and covered him with ridicule. Particularly ignominious was the result
of his recent attempt, which is narrated in the volume immediately
preceding this, to accompany the Corner House Girls on their canal-boat
cruise, when he appeared as a stowaway aboard the boat in the company of
Billy Bumps, the goat.

"And he hasn't even taken Buster with him this time," proclaimed Mrs.
Pinkney. "He chained Buster down cellar and the dog began to howl. So
mournful! It got on my nerves. I went down after Mr. Pinkney went to
business early this morning and let Buster out. Then, because of the
dog's actions, I began to suspect Sammy had gone. I called him. No
answer. And he hadn't had any supper last night either."

"I am awfully sorry, Mrs. Pinkney," Agnes said. "It was too bad about
the beets. But he needn't have run away because of _that_. Ruth sent him
his fifty cents, you know."

"That's just it!" exclaimed the distracted woman. "His father did not
give Sammy the half dollar. As long as the boy was so sulky last
evening, and refused to come down to eat, Mr. Pinkney said let him wait
for that money till he came down this morning. _He_ thought Ruth was too
good. Sammy is always doing something."

"Oh, he's not so bad," said the comforting Agnes. "I am sure there are
lots worse boys. And are you sure, Mrs. Pinkney, that he has really run
away this time?"

"Buster can't find him. The poor dog has been running around and
snuffing for an hour. I've telephoned to his father."

"Who--_what_? Buster's father?"

"Mr. Pinkney," explained Sammy's mother. "I suppose he'll tell the
police. He says--Mr. Pinkney does--that the police must think it is a
'standing order' on their books to find Sammy."

"Oh, my!" giggled Agnes, who was sure to appreciate the comical side of
the most serious situation. "I should think the policemen would be so
used to looking for Sammy that they would pick him up anywhere they
chanced to see him with the idea that he was running away."

"Well," sighed Mrs. Pinkney, "Buster can't find him. There he lies
panting over by the currant bushes. The poor dog has run his legs off."

"I don't believe bulldogs are very keen on a scent. Our old Tom Jonah
could do better. But of course Sammy went right out into the street and
the scent would be difficult for the best dog to follow. Do you think
Sammy went early this morning?"

"That dog began to howl soon after we went to bed. Mr. Pinkney sleeps so
soundly that it did not annoy him. But I _knew_ something was wrong when
Buster howled so.

"Perhaps I'm superstitious. But we had an old dog that howled like that
years ago when my grandmother died. She was ninety-six and had been
bedridden for ten years, and the doctors said of course that she was
likely to die almost any time. But that old Towser _did_ howl the night
grandma was taken."

"So you think," Agnes asked, without commenting upon Mrs. Pinkney's
possible trend toward superstition, "that Sammy has been gone
practically all night?"

"I fear so. He must have waited for his father and me to go to bed. Then
he slipped down the back stairs, tied Buster, and went out by the cellar
door. All night long he's been wandering somewhere. The poor, foolish
boy!"

She took Agnes up to the boy's room--a museum of all kinds of "useless
truck," as his mother said, but dear to the boyish heart.

"Oh, he's gone sure enough," she said, pointing to the bank which was
supposed to be incapable of being opened until five dollars in dimes had
been deposited within it. A screw-driver, however, had satisfied the
burglarious intent of Sammy.

She pointed out the fact, too, that a certain extension bag that had
figured before in her son's runaway escapades was missing.

"The silly boy has taken his bathing suit and that cowboy play-suit his
father bought him. I never did approve of that. Such things only give
boys crazy notions about catching dogs and little girls with a rope, or
shooting stray cats with a popgun.

"Of course, he has taken his gun with him and a bag of shot that he had
to shoot in it. The gun shoots with a spring, you know. It doesn't use
real powder, of course. I have always believed such things are
dangerous. But, you know, his father--

"Well, he wore his best shoes, and they will hurt him dreadfully, I am
sure, if he walks far. And I can't find that new cap I bought him only
last week."

All the time she was searching in Sammy's closet and in the bureau
drawers. She stood up suddenly and began to peer at the conglomeration
of articles on the top of the bureau.

"Oh!" she cried. "It's gone!"

"What is it, Mrs. Pinkney?" asked Agnes sympathetically, seeing that the
woman's eyes were overflowing again. "What is it you miss?"

"Oh! he is determined I am sure to run away for good this time," sobbed
Mrs. Pinkney. "The poor, foolish boy! I wish I had said nothing to him
about the beets--I do. I wonder if both his father and I have not been
too harsh with him. And I'm sure he loves us. Just think of his taking
_that_."

"But what is it?" cried Agnes again.

"It stood right here on his bureau propped up against the glass. Sammy
must have thought a great deal of it," flowed on the verbal torrent.
"Who would have thought of that boy being so sentimental about it?"

"Mrs. Pinkney!" begged the curious Agnes, almost distracted herself now,
"_do_ tell me what it is that is missing?"

"That picture. We had it taken--his father and Sammy and me in a group
together--the last time we went to Pleasure Cove. Sammy begged to keep it
up here. And--now--the dear child--has--has carried--it--away with him!"

Mrs. Pinkney broke down utterly at this point. She was finally convinced
that at last Sammy had fulfilled his oft-repeated threat to "run away
for good and all"--whether to be a pirate or not, being a mooted
question.

Agnes comforted her as well as she could. But the poor woman felt that
she had not taken her son seriously enough, and that she could have
averted this present disaster in some way.

"She is quite distracted," Agnes said, on arriving home, repeating Aunt
Sarah's phrase. "Quite distracted."

"But if she is extracted," Dot proposed, "why doesn't she have Dr.
Forsyth come to see her?"

"Mercy, Dot!" admonished Tess. "_Dis_tracted, not _ex_tracted. You do so
mispronounce the commonest words."

"I don't, either," the smaller girl denied vigorously. "I don't
mispernounce any more than you do, Tess Kenway! You just make believe
you know so much."

"Dot! Mis_per_nounce! There you go again!"

This was a sore subject, and Ruth attempted to change the trend of the
little girls' thoughts by suggesting that Mrs. McCall needed some
groceries from a certain store situated away across town.

"If you can get Uncle Rufus to harness Scalawag you girls can drive over
to Penny & Marchant's for those things. And you can stop at Mr.
Howbridge's house with this note. He must be told about poor Luke's
injury."

"Why, Ruthie?" asked little Miss Inquisitive, otherwise Dot Kenway. "Mr.
Howbridge isn't Luke Shepard's guardian, too, is he?"

"Now, don't be a chatterbox!" exclaimed the elder sister, who was
somewhat harassed on this morning and did not care to explain to the
little folk just what she had in her mind.

Ruth was not satisfied to know that Cecile had gone to attend her
brother. The oldest Kenway girl longed to go herself to the resort in
the mountains where Luke Shepard lay ill. But she did not wish to do
this without first seeking their guardian's permission.

Tess and Dot ran off in delight, forgetting their small bickerings, to
find Uncle Rufus. The old colored man, as long as he could get about,
would do anything for "his chillun," as he called the four Kenway
sisters. It needed no coaxing on the part of Tess and Dot to get their
will of the old man on this occasion.

Scalawag was fat and lazy enough in any case. In the spring Neale had
plowed and harrowed the garden with him and on occasion he was harnessed
to a light cart for work about the place. His main duty, however, was to
draw the smaller girls about the quieter streets of Milton in a basket
phaeton. To this vehicle he was now harnessed by Uncle Rufus.

"You want to be mought' car'ful 'bout them automobiles, chillun," the
old man admonished them. "Dat Sammy Pinkney boy was suah some good once
in a while. He was a purt' car'ful driber."

"But he's a good driver _now_--wherever he is," said Dot. "You talk as
though Sammy would never get back home from being a pirate. Of course he
will. He always does!"

Secretly Tess felt herself to be quite as able to drive the pony as ever
Sammy Pinkney was. She was glad to show her prowess.

Scalawag shook his head, danced playfully on the old stable floor, and
then proceeded to wheel the basket phaeton out of the barn and into
Willow Street. By a quieter thoroughfare than Main Street, Tess Kenway
headed him for the other side of town.

"Maybe we'll run across Sammy," suggested Dot, sitting sedately with her
ever-present Alice-doll. "Then we can tell his mother where he is being
a pirate. She won't be so extracted then."

Tess overlooked this mispronunciation, knowing it was useless to object,
and turned the subject by saying:

"Or maybe we'll see those Gypsies."

"Oh, I hope not!" cried the smaller girl. "I hope we'll never see those
Gypsy women again."

For just at this time the Alice-doll was wearing the fretted silver
bracelet for a girdle.



CHAPTER VI--THE GYPSY'S WORDS


That very forenoon after the two smallest girls had set out on their
drive with Scalawag a telegram came to the old Corner House for Ruth.

As Agnes said, a telegram was "an event in their young sweet lives." And
this one did seem of great importance to Ruth. It was from Cecile
Shepard and read:

  "Arrived Oakhurst. They will not let me see Luke."

Aside from the natural shock that the telegram itself furnished,
Cecile's declaration that she was not allowed to see her brother was
bound to make Ruth Kenway fear the worst.

"Oh!" she cried, "he must be very badly hurt indeed. It is much worse
than Cecile thought when she wrote. Oh, Agnes! what shall I do?"

"Telegraph her for particulars," suggested Agnes, quite practically. "A
broken wrist can't be such an awful thing, Ruthie."

"But his back! Suppose he has seriously hurt his back?"

"Goodness me! That would be awful, of course. He might grow a hump like
poor Fred Littleburg. But I don't believe that anything like that has
happened to Luke, Ruthie."

Her sister was not to be easily comforted. "Think! There must be
something very serious the matter or they would not keep his own sister
from seeing him." Ruth herself had had no word from Luke since the
accident.

Neither of the sisters knew that Cecile Shepard had never had occasion
to send a telegram before and had never received one in all her life.

But she learned that a message of ten words could be sent for thirty-two
cents to Milton, so she had divided what she wished to say in two equal
parts! The second half of her message, however, because of the mistake
of the filing clerk at the telegraph office in Oakhurst, did not arrive
at the Corner House for several hours after the first half of the
message.

Ruth Kenway meanwhile grew almost frantic as she considered the possible
misfortune that might have overtaken Luke Shepard. She grew quite as
"extracted"--to quote Dot--as Mrs. Pinkney was about the absence of Sammy.

"Well," Agnes finally declared, "if I felt as you do about it I would
not wait to hear from Mr. Howbridge. I'd start right now. Here's the
time table. I've looked up the trains. There is one at ten minutes to
one--twelve-fifty. I'll call Neale and he'll drive you down to the
station. You might have gone with the children if that telegram had come
earlier."

Agnes was not only practical, she was helpful on this occasion. She
packed Ruth's bag--and managed to get into it a more sensible variety of
articles than Sammy Pinkey had carried in his!

"Now, don't be worried about _us_," said Agnes, when Ruth, dressed for
departure, began to speak with anxiety about domestic affairs, including
the continued absence of the little girls. "Haven't we got Mrs.
McCall--and Linda? You _do_ take your duties so seriously, Ruth Kenway."

"Do you think so?" rejoined Ruth, smiling rather wanly at the flyaway
sister. "If anything should happen while I am gone--"

"Nothing will happen that wouldn't happen anyway, whether you are at
home or not," declared the positive Agnes.

Ruth made ready to go in such a hurry that nobody else in the Corner
House save Agnes herself realized that the older sister was going until
the moment that Neale O'Neil drove around to the front gate with the
car. Then Ruth ran into Aunt Sarah's room to kiss her good-bye. But Aunt
Sarah had always lived a life apart from the general existence of the
Corner House family and paid little attention to what her nieces did
save to criticise. Mrs. McCall was busy this day preserving--"up tae ma
eyen in wark, ma lassie"--and Ruth kissed her, called good-bye to Linda,
and ran to the front door before any of the three actually realized what
was afoot.

Agnes ran with her to the street. At the gate stood a dark-faced,
brilliantly dressed young woman, with huge gold rings in her ears,
several other pieces of jewelry worn in sight, and a flashing smile as
she halted the Kenway sisters with outstretched hand.

"Will the young ladies let me read their palms?" she said suavely. "I
can tell them the good fortune."

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Agnes, pushing by the Gypsy. "We can't stop to
have our fortunes told now."

Ruth kept right on to the car.

"Do not neglect the opportunity of having the good fortune told, young
ladies," said the Gypsy girl shrewdly. "I can see that trouble is
feared. The dark young lady goes on a journey because of the threat of
_ill_ fortune. Perhaps it is not so bad as it seems."

Agnes was really impressed. Left to herself she actually would have
heeded the Gypsy's words. But Ruth hurried into the car, Neale reached
back and slammed the tonneau door, and they were off for the station
with only a few minutes to catch the twelve-fifty train.

"There!" ejaculated Agnes, standing at the curb to wave her hand and
look after the car.

"The blonde young lady does not believe the Gypsy can tell her something
that will happen--and in the near future?"

"Oh!" exclaimed Agnes. "I don't know." And she dragged her gaze from the
car and looked doubtfully upon the dark face of the Gypsy girl which was
now serious.

The latter said: "Something has sent the dark young lady from home in
much haste and anxiety?"

The question was answered of course before it was asked. Any observant
person could have seen as much. But Agnes's interest was attracted and
she nodded.

"Had your sister," the Gypsy girl said, guessing easily enough at the
relationship of the two Corner House girls, "not been in such haste, she
could have learned something that will change the aspect of the
threatened trouble. More news is on the way."

Agnes was quite startled by this statement. Without explaining further
the Gypsy girl glided away, disappearing into Willow Street.

Agnes failed to see, as the Gypsy quite evidently did, the leisurely
approach of the telegraph messenger boy with the yellow envelope in his
hand and his eyes fixed upon the old Corner House.

Agnes ran within quickly. She was more than a little impressed by the
Gypsy girl's words, and a few minutes later when the front doorbell rang
and she took in the second telegram addressed to Ruth, she was pretty
well converted to fortune telling as an exact science.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Sammy Pinkney had marched out of the house late at night, as his mother
suspected, lugging his heavy extension-bag, with a more vague idea of
his immediate destination than was even usual when he set forth on such
escapades.

To "run away" seemed to Sammy the only thing for a boy to do when home
life and restrictions became in his opinion unbearable. It might be
questioned by stern disciplinarians if Mr. and Mrs. Pinkney had properly
punished Sammy after he had run away the first few times, the boy would
not have been cured of his wanderlust.

Fortunately, although Sammy's father was stern enough, he very well knew
that this desire for wandering could not be beaten out of the boy.
Merely if he were beaten, when he grew big enough to fend for himself in
the world, he would leave home and never return rather than face
corporal punishment.

"I was just such a kid when I was his age," admitted Mr. Pinkney. "My
father licked me for running away, so finally I ran away when I was
fourteen, and stayed away. Sammy has less reason for leaving home than I
had, and he'll get over his foolishness, get a better education than I
obtained, and be a better man, I hope, in the end. It's in the Pinkney
blood to rove."

This, of course, while perhaps being satisfactory to a man, did not at
all calm Sammy's mother. She expected the very worst to happen to her
son every time he disappeared; and as has been shown on this occasion,
the boy's absence stirred the community to its very dregs.

Had Mrs. Pinkney known that after tramping as far as the outskirts of
the town, and almost dropping from exhaustion, Sammy had gone to bed on
a pile of straw in an empty cow stable, she would have been even more
troubled than she was.

Sammy, however, came to no harm. He slept so soundly in fact on the rude
couch that it was mid-forenoon before he awoke--stiff, sore in muscles,
clamorously hungry, and in a frame of mind to go immediately home and
beg for breakfast.

He had more money tied up in his handkerchief, however, than he had ever
possessed before when he had run away. There was a store in sight at the
roadside not far ahead. He hid his bag in the bushes and bought
crackers, ham, cheese, and a big bottle of sarsaparilla, and so made a
hearty if not judicious breakfast and lunch.

At least, this picnic meal cured the slight attack of homesickness which
he suffered. He was no longer for turning back. The whole world was
before him and he strode away into it--lugging that extension-bag.

While his troubled mother was showing Agnes Kenway the unmistakable
traces of his departure for parts unknown, Sammy was trudging along
pretty contentedly, the bag awkwardly knocking against his knees, and
his sharp eyes alive to everything that went on along the road.

Sammy had little love for natural history or botany, or anything like
that. He suffered preparatory lessons in those branches of enforced
knowledge during the school year.

He did not care a bit to know the difference between a gray squirrel and
a striped chipmunk. They both chattered at him saucily, and he stopped
to try a shot at each of them with his gun.

To Sammy's mind they were legitimate game. He visualized himself
building a fire in a fence corner, skinning and cleaning his game and
roasting it over the flames for supper. But the squirrel and the
chipmunk visualized quite a different outcome to the adventure and they
refused to be shot by the amateur sportsman.

Sammy struck into a road that led across the canal by a curved bridge
and right out into a part of the country with which he was not at all
familiar. The houses were few and far between, and most of them were set
well back from the road.

Sometimes dogs barked at him, but he was not afraid of watch dogs. He
did not venture into the yards or up the private lanes. He had bought
enough crackers and cheese to make another meal when he should want it.
And there were sweet springs beside the road, or in the pastures where
the cattle grazed.

Few vehicles passed him in either direction. It was the time of the late
hay harvest and everybody was at work in the fields--and usually when he
saw the haymakers at all, they were far from the road.

He met no pedestrians at all. Being quite off the line of the railroad,
there were no tramps on this road, and of course there was nothing else
to harm the boy. His mother, in her anxiety, peopled the world with
those that would do Sammy harm. In truth, he was never safer in his
life!

But adventure? Why, the world was full of it, and Sammy Pinkney expected
to meet any number of exciting incidents as he went on.

"Sammy," Dot Kenway once said, "has just a _wunnerful_ 'magination. Why!
if he sees our old Sandyface creeping through the grass after a poor
little field mouse, Sammy can think she's a whole herd of tigers. His
'magination is just wunnerful!"



CHAPTER VII--THE BRACELET AGAIN TO THE FORE


While Sammy's sturdy, if short, legs were leaving home and Milton
steadily behind him, Dot and Tess were driving Scalawag, the calico
pony, to Penny & Marchant's store, and later to Mr. Howbridge's house to
deliver the note Ruth had entrusted to them.

Their guardian had always been fond of the Kenway sisters--since he had
been appointed their guardian by the court, of course--and Tess and Dot
could not merely call at Mr. Howbridge's door and drive right away
again.

Besides, there were Ralph and Rowena Birdsall. The Birdsall twins had of
late likewise come under Mr. Howbridge's care, and circumstances were
such that it was best for their guardian to take the twins into his own
home.

Having two extremely active and rather willful children in his household
had most certainly disturbed Mr. Howbridge out of the rut of his old
existence. And Ralph and Rowena quite "turned the 'ouse hupside down,"
to quote Hedden, Mr. Howbridge's butler.

The moment the twins spied Tess and Dot in the pony phaeton they tore
down the stairs from their quarters at the top of the Howbridge house,
and flew out of the door to greet the little Corner House girls.

"Oh, Tessie and Dot!" cried Rowena, who looked exactly like her brother,
only her hair was now grown long again and she no longer wore boy's
garments, as she had when the Kenways first knew her. "How nice to see
you!"

"Where's Sammy?" Ralph demanded. "Why didn't he come along, too?"

"We're glad to see you, Rowena and Rafe," Tess said sedately.

But Dot replied eagerly to the boy twin:

"Oh, Rafe! what do you think? Sammy's run away again."

"Get out!"

"I'm going to," said Dot, considering Ralph's ejaculation of amazement
an invitation to alight, and she forthwith jumped down from the step of
the phaeton.

"You can't mean that Sammy has run off?" cried Ralph. "Listen to this,
Rowdy."

"What a silly boy!" criticised his sister.

"I don't know," chuckled Ralph Birdsall. "'Member how you and I ran away
that time, Rowdy?"

"Oh--well," said his sister. "We had reason for doing so. But you know
Sammy Pinkney's got a father and a mother--And for pity's sake, Rafe,
stop calling me Rowdy."

"And he's got a real nice bulldog, too," added Dot, reflectively
considering any possibility why Sammy should run away. "I can't
understand why he does it. He only has to come back home again. I did it
once, and I never mean to run away from home again."

Meanwhile Tess left Ralph to hitch Scalawag while she marched up the
stone steps of the Howbridge house to deliver Ruth's note into Hedden's
hand, who took it at once to Mr. Howbridge.

Dot interested the twins almost immediately in another topic. Rowena
naturally was first to spy the silver girdle around the Alice-doll's
waist.

"What a splendid belt!" cried Rowena Birdsall. "Is it real silver, Dot?"

"It--it's fretful silver," replied the littlest Corner House girl. "Isn't
it pretty?"

"Why," declared Ralph after an examination, "it's an old, old bracelet."

"Well, it is old, I s'pose," admitted Dot. "But my Alice-doll doesn't
know that. _She_ thinks it is a brand new belt. But of course she can't
wear it every day, for half the time the bracelet belongs to Tess."

This statement naturally aroused the twins' curiosity, and when Tess ran
back to join them in the front yard the story of the Gypsy basket and
the finding of the bracelet lost nothing of detail by being narrated by
both of the Corner House girls.

"Oh, my!" cried Rowena. "Maybe those Gypsies are just waiting to grab
you. Gypsies steal children sometimes. Don't they, Rafe?"

"Course they do," agreed her twin.

Dot looked rather frightened at this suggestion, but Tess scorned the
possibility.

"Why, how foolish," she declared. "Dot and I were lost once--all by
ourselves. Even Tom Jonah wasn't with us. Weren't we, Dot? And we slept
out under a tree all night, and a nice Gypsy woman found us in the
morning and took us to her camp. Didn't she, Dot?"

"Oh, yes! And an owl howled at us," agreed the smaller girl. "And I'd
much rather sleep in a Gypsy tent than have owls howl at me."

"The owl _hooted_, Dot," corrected Tess.

"Well, what's the difference between a hoot and a howl?" demanded Dot,
rather crossly. She did so hate to be corrected!

"Well, of course," said Rowena Birdsall thoughtfully, "if you are
acquainted with Gypsies maybe you wouldn't be scared. But I don't
believe they gave you this bracelet for nothing."

"No," agreed Dot quickly. "For forty-five cents. And we still owe Sammy
Pinkney twenty-five cents of it. And he's run away."

So they got around again to the first exciting piece of news Tess and
Dot had brought, and were discussing that when Mr. Howbridge came out to
speak to the little visitors, giving them his written answer to Ruth's
note. He heard about Sammy's escapade and some mention of the Gypsies.

"Well," he chuckled, "if Sammy Pinkney has been carried off by the
Gypsies, I sympathize with the Gypsies. I have a very vivid recollection
of how much trouble Sammy can make--and without half trying.

"Now, children, give my note to Ruth. I am very sorry that Luke Shepard
is ill. If he does not at once recover it may be well to bring him here
to Milton. With his aunt only just recovering from her illness, it would
be unwise to take the boy home."

This he said more to himself than to the little girls. Because of their
errand Tess and Dot could remain no longer. Ralph unhitched the pony and
Tess drove away.

Around the very first corner they spied a dusty, rather battered
touring-car just moving away. A big, dark man, with gold hoops in his
ears, was driving it. There was a brilliantly dressed young woman in the
tonneau, which was otherwise filled with boxes, baskets, a crate of
fruit, and odd-shaped packages.

"Oh, Tess!" squealed Dot. "See there!"

"Oh, Dot!" rejoined her sister quite as excitedly. "That is the young
Gypsy lady."

"Oh-oo!" moaned Dot. "Have we _got_ to give her back this fretful silver
bracelet, Tessie?"

"We must _try_," declared Tess firmly. "Ruth says so. Get up, Scalawag!
Come on--hurry! We must catch them."

The touring-car was going away from the pony-phaeton. Scalawag objected
very much to going faster than his usual easy jog trot--unless it were to
dance behind a band! _He_ didn't care to overtake the Gypsies'
motor-car.

And that car was going faster and faster. Tess stopped talking to the
aggravating Scalawag and lifted up her voice to shout after the Gypsies.

"Oh, stop! Stop!" she called. "Miss--Miss Gypsy! We've got something for
you! Why, Dot, you are not hollering at all!"

"I--I'm trying to," wailed the smaller girl. "But I do so hate to make
Alice give up her belt."

The Gypsy turned his car into a cross street ahead and disappeared. When
Scalawag brought the Corner House girls to that corner the car was so
far away that the girls' voices at their loudest pitch could not have
reached the ears of the Romany folk.

"Now, just see! We'll never be able to give that bracelet back if you
don't do your share of the hollering, Dot Kenway," complained Tess.

"I--I will," promised Dot. "Anyway, I will when it's your turn to wear
the bracelet."

The little girls reached home again at a time when the whole Corner
House family seemed disrupted. To the amazement of Tess and Dot their
sister Ruth had departed for the mountains. Neale had only just then
returned from seeing her aboard the train.

"And it's too late to stop her, never mind what Mr. Howbridge says in
this note," cried Agnes. "That foolish Cecile! Here is the second half
of her telegraph message," and she read it aloud again:

  "Until afternoon; will wire you then how he is."

"Crickey!" gasped Neale, red in the face with laughter, and taking the
two telegrams to read them in conjunction:

  "Arrived Oakhurst. They will not let me see Luke until afternoon. Will
  wire you then how he is."

"Isn't that just like a girl?"

"No more like a girl than it is like a boy," snapped Agnes. "I'm sure
all the brains in the world are not of the masculine gender."

"I stand corrected," meekly agreed her friend. "Just the same, I don't
think that even you, Aggie, would award Cecile Shepard a medal for
perspicuity."

"Why--_why_," gasped the listening Dot, "has Cecile got one of those
things the matter with her? I thought it was Luke who got hurt?"

"You are perfectly right, Dottie," said Agnes, before Neale could laugh
at the little girl. "It _is_ Luke who is hurt. But this Neale O'Neil is
very likely to dislocate his jaw if he pronounces many such big words.
He is only showing off."

"Squelched!" admitted Neale good-naturedly. "Well, what do you wish done
with the car? Shall I put it up? Can't chase Ruth's train in it, and
bring her back."

"You might chase the Gypsies," suggested Tess slowly. "We saw them
again--Dot and me."

"Oh! The Gypsies? What do you think, Neale? I do believe there is
something in that fortune-telling business," Agnes cried.

"I bet there is," agreed Neale. "Money for the Gypsies."

But Agnes repeated what the Gypsy girl had said to Ruth and herself just
as the elder Corner House girl was starting for the train.

"I saw that Gyp of course," agreed Neale. "But, pshaw! she only just
_guessed_. Of course there isn't any truth in what those fortune tellers
hand you. Not much!"

"There was something in that basket they handed Tess and me," said Dot,
complacently eyeing the silver girdle on the Alice-doll.

"Say! About that bracelet, Aggie," broke in Neale. "Do you know what I
believe?"

"What, Neale?"

"I believe those Gypsies must have stolen it. Then they got scared,
thinking that the police were after them, and the women dropped it into
the basket the kids bought, believing they could get the bracelet back
when it was safe for them to do so."

"Do you really suppose that is the explanation?"

"I am afraid the bracelet is 'stolen goods.' Perhaps the children had
better not carry it away from the house any more. Or until we are sure.
The police--"

"Mercy me, Neale! you surely would not tell the police about the
bracelet?"

"Not yet. But I was going to suggest to Ruth that she advertise the
bracelet in the Milton _Morning Post_. Advertise it in the 'Lost and
Found' column, just as though it had been picked up somewhere. Then let
us see if the Gypsies--or somebody else--comes after it."

"And if somebody does?"

"Well, we can always refuse to give it up until ownership is proved,"
declared Neale.

"All right. Let's advertise it at once. We needn't wait for Ruth to come
back," said the energetic Agnes. "How should such an advertisement be
worded, Neale?"

They proceeded to evolve a reading notice advertising the finding of the
silver bracelet, which when published added not a little to the
complications of the matter.



CHAPTER VIII--THE MISFORTUNES OF A RUNAWAY


In this present instance Sammy Pinkney was not obliged to exert his
imagination to any very great degree to make himself believe that he was
having real adventure. Romance very soon took the embryo pirate by the
hand and led him into most exciting and quite unlooked-for events.

Sammy's progress was slow because of the weight of the extension-bag.
Yet as he trudged on steadily he put a number of miles behind him that
afternoon.

Had his parents known in which direction to look for him they might
easily have overtaken the runaway. Neale O'Neil could have driven out
this road in the Kenway's car and brought Sammy back before supper time.

Mr. Pinkney, however, labored under the delusion that because Sammy was
piratically inclined, he would head toward the sea. So he got in touch
with people all along the railroad line to Pleasant Cove, suspecting
that the boy might have purchased a ticket in that direction with a part
of the contents of his burglarized bank.

The nearest thing to the sea that Sammy came to after passing the canal
on the edge of Milton was a big pond which he sighted about
mid-afternoon. Its dancing blue waters looked very cool and refreshing,
and the young traveler thought of his bathing suit right away.

"I can hide this bag and take a swim," he thought eagerly. "I bet that
pond is all right. Hullo! There's some kids. I wonder if they would
steal my things if I go in swimming?"

He was not incautious. Being mischievously inclined himself, he
suspected other boys of having similar propensities. The boys he had
observed were playing down by the water's edge where an ice-house had
once stood. But the building had been destroyed by fire, all but its
roof. The eaves of this shingled roof, which was quite intact, now
rested on the ground.

The boys were sliding from the ridge of the roof to the ground, and then
climbing up again to repeat the performance. It looked to be a lot of
fun.

After Sammy had hidden his extension-bag in a clump of bushes, he
approached the slide. One boy, who was the largest and oldest of the
group, called to Sammy:

"Come on, kid. Try it. The slide's free."

It looked to be real sport, and Sammy could not resist the invitation
given so frankly. He saw that the bigger boy sat on a piece of board
when he slid down the shingles; but the others slid on the seat of their
trousers--and so did Sammy.

It proved to be an hilarious occasion. One might have heard those boys
shouting and laughing a mile away.

A series of races were held, and Sammy Pinkney managed to win his share
of them. This so excited him that he failed for all of the time to
notice what fatal effect the friction was having upon his trousers.

He was suddenly reminded, however, by a startling happening. All the
shingles on that roof were not worn smooth. Some were "splintery." Sammy
emitted a sharp cry as he reached the ground after a particularly swift
descent of the roof, and rising, he clapped his hand to that part of his
anatomy upon which he had been tobogganing, with a most rueful
expression on his countenance.

"Oh, my! Oh, my!" cried Sammy. "I've got two big holes worn right
through my pants! My good pants, too. My maw will give me fits, so she
will. I'll never _dare_ go home now."

The big boy who had saved his own trousers from disaster by using the
piece of board to slide on, shouted with laughter. But another of the
party said to Sammy:

"Don't tell your mother. I aren't going to tell _my_ mother, you bet. By
and by she'll find the holes and think they just wore through
naturally."

"Well," said Sammy, with a sigh, "I guess I've slid down enough for
to-day, anyway. Good-bye, you fellers, I'll see you later."

He did not feel at all as cheerful as he spoke. He was really smitten
with remorse, for this was almost a new suit he had on. He wished
heartily that he had put on that cowboy suit--even his bathing
suit--before joining that coasting party.

"That big feller," grumbled Sammy, "is a foxy one, he is! He didn't wear
through his pants, you bet. But _me_--"

Sammy was very much lowered in his own estimation over this mishap. He
was by no means so smart as he had believed himself to be. He felt
gingerly from time to time of the holes in his trousers. They were of
such a nature that they could scarcely be hidden.

"Crickey!" he muttered, "she sure will give me fits."

The boys he had been playing with disappeared. Sammy secured his bag and
suddenly found it very, very heavy. Evening was approaching. The sun was
so low now that its almost level rays shone into his eyes as he plodded
along the road.

A farmer going to Milton market in an auto-truck, its load covered with
a brown tarpaulin, passed Sammy. If it had not been for the holes in his
trousers, and what his mother would do and say about it, the boy surely
would have asked the farmer for a ride back home!

His hesitancy cost him the ride. And he met nobody else on this road he
was traveling. He struggled on, his courage beginning to ebb. He had
eaten the last crumbs of his lunch. After the pond was out of sight
behind him the runaway saw no dwellings at all. The road had entered a
wood, and that wood grew thicker and darker as he advanced.

Fireflies twinkled in the bushes. There was a hum of insect life and
somewhere a big bullfrog tuned his bassoon--a most eerie sound. A bat
flew low above his head and Sammy dodged, uttering a startled squawk.

"Crickey! I don't like this a bit," he panted.

But the runaway was no coward. He was quite sure that there was nothing
in these woods that would really hurt him. He could still see some
distance back from the road on either hand, and he selected a big
chestnut tree at the foot of which, between two roots, there was a
hollow filled with leaves and trash.

This made not a bad couch, as he very soon found. He thrust the bag that
had become so heavy farther into the hollow and lay down before it. But
tired as he was, he could not at once go to sleep.

Somewhere near he heard a trickle of water. The sound made the boy
thirsty. He finally got up and stumbled through the brush, along the
roadside in the direction of the running water.

He found it--a spring rising in the bank above the road. Sammy carried a
pocket-cup and soon satisfied his thirst by its aid. He had some
difficulty in finding his former nest; but when he did come to the
hollow between two huge roots, with the broadly spreading chestnut tree
boughs overhead, he soon fell asleep.

Nothing disturbed Sammy thereafter until it was broad daylight. He awoke
as much refreshed as though he had slept in his own bed at home.

Young muscles recover quickly from strain. All he remembered, too, was
the fun he had had the day before, while he was foot-loose. Even the
disaster to his trousers seemed of little moment now. He had always
envied ragged urchins; they seemed to have so few cares and nobody to
bother them.

He ran with a whoop to the spring, drank his fill from it, and then
doused his face and hands therein. The sun and air dried his head after
his ablutions and there was nobody to ask if "he had washed behind his
ears."

He returned to the chestnut tree where he had lain all night, whistling.
Of course he was hungry; but he believed there must be some house along
the road where he could buy breakfast. Sammy Pinkney was not at all
troubled by his situation until, stooping to look into the cavity near
which he had slept, he made the disconcerting discovery that his
extension-bag was not there!

"Wha--wha--_what_?" stammered Sammy. "It's gone! Who took it?"

That he had been robbed while he went to the spring was the only
explanation there could be of this mysterious disappearance. At least,
so thought Sammy.

He ran around the tree, staring all about--even up into the thickly
leaved branches where the clusters of green burrs were already formed.
Then he plunged through the fringe of bushes into the road to see if he
could spy the robber making away in either direction.

All he saw was a rabbit hopping placidly across the highway. A jay flew
overhead with raucous call, as though he laughed at the bereft boy. And
Sammy Pinkney was in no mood to stand being laughed at!

"You mean old thing!" he shouted at the flashing jay--which merely
laughed at him again, just as though he did know who had stolen Sammy's
bag and hugely enjoyed the joke.

In that bag were many things that Sammy considered precious as well as
necessary articles of clothing. There was his gun and the shot for it!
How could he defend himself from attack or shoot game in the wilds, if
either became necessary?

"Oh, dear!" Sammy finally sniffed, not above crying a few tears as there
was nobody by to see. "Oh, dear! Now I've _got_ to wear this good
suit--although 'tain't so good anyway with holes in the pants.

"But all my other things--crickey! Ain't it just mean? Whoever took my
bag, I hope he'll have the baddest kind of luck. I--I hope he'll have to
go to the dentist's and have all his teeth pulled, so I do!" which, from
a recent experience of the runaway, seemed the most painful punishment
that could be exacted from the thief.

Wishing any amount of ill-fortune for the robber would not bring back
his bag. Sammy quite realized this. He had his money safely tied into a
very grubby handkerchief, so that was all right. But when he started off
along the road at last, he was in no very cheerful frame of mind.



CHAPTER IX--THINGS GO WRONG


Of course there was no real reason why life at the old Corner House
should not flow quite as placidly with Ruth away as when the elder
sister was at home. It was a fact, however, that things seemed to begin
to go wrong almost at once.

Having written the notice advertising the silver bracelet as though it
had been found by chance, Agnes made Neale run downtown again at once
with it so as to be sure the advertisement would be inserted in the next
morning's _Post_.

As the automobile had not been put into the garage after the return from
taking Ruth to the station, Neale used it on this errand, and on his way
back there was a blowout. Of course if Ruth had been at home she could
scarcely have averted this misfortune. However, had she been at home the
advertisement regarding the bracelet might not have been written at all.

Meanwhile, Mrs. McCall's preserve jars did not seal well, and the next
day the work had to be done all over again. Linda cut her finger "to the
bone," as she gloomily announced. And Uncle Rufus lost a silver dollar
somewhere in the grass while he was mowing the lawn.

"An' dollars is as scarce wid me as dem hen's teef dey talks about,"
said the old darkey. "An' I never yet did see a hen wid teef--an' Ah
reckon I've seen a million of 'em."

"Oh-oo!" murmured Dot Kenway. "A million hens, Unc' Rufus? _Is_ there
that many?"

"He, he!" chuckled the old man. "Ain't that the beatenes' chile dat ever
was? Always a-questionin' an' a-questionin'. Yo' can't git by wid any
sprodigious statement when she is around--no, suh!"

Nor could such an expression as "sprodigious" go unchallenged with Dot
on the scene--no, indeed! A big word in any case attracted Miss Dorothy.

"What does that mean, Unc' Rufus?" she promptly demanded. "Is--is
'sprodigious' a dictionary word, or just one of your made-up words?"

"Go 'long chile!" chuckled the old man. "Can't Uncle Rufus make up words
just as good as any dictionary-man? If I knows what Ah wants to say, Ah
says it, ne'er mind de dictionary!"

"That's all very well, Unc' Rufus," Tess put in. "But Ruthie only wants
us to use language that you find in books. So I guess you'd better not
take that one from Uncle Rufus, Dottie."

"Howcome Missy Ruth so pertic'lar?" grumbled the old man. "Yo' little
gals is gettin' too much l'arnin'--suah is! But none of hit don't find de
ol' man his dollar."

At this complaint Tess and Dot went to work immediately to hunt for the
missing dollar. It was while they were searching along the hedgerow next
to the Creamers' premises that the little girls got into their memorable
argument with Mabel Creamer about the lobster--an argument, which, being
overheard by Agnes, was reported to the family with much hilarity.

Mabel, an energetic and sharp-tongued child, and Bubby, her little
brother, were playing in their yard. That is, Bubby was playing while
Mabel nagged and thwarted him in almost everything he wanted to do.

"Now, don't stoop over like that, Bubby. Your face gets all red like a
lobster does. Maybe you'll turn into one."

"I _ain't_ a lobs'er," shouted Bubby.

"You will be one if you get red like that," repeated his sister in a
most aggravating way.

"I won't be a lobs'er!" wailed Bubby.

"Of course you won't be a lobster, Bubby," spoke up Tess from across the
hedge. "You're just a boy."

"Course I's a boy," declared Bubby stoutly, sensing that Tess Kenway's
assurance was half a criticism. "I don't want to be a lobs'er--nor a
dirl, so there!"

"Oh-oo!" gasped Dot.

"You will be a lobster and turn all red if you are a bad boy," declared
Mabel, who was always in a bad temper when she was made to mind Bubby.

"Why, Mabel," murmured Dot, who knew a thing or two about lobsters
herself, "you wouldn't boil Bubby, would you?"

"Don't have to boil 'em to make 'em turn red," declared Mabel, referring
to the lobster, not the boy. "My father brought home live lobsters once
and the big one got out of the basket on to the kitchen floor."

"Oh, my!" exclaimed the interested Dot. "What happened?"

With her imagination thus spurred by appreciation, Mabel pursued the
fancy: "And there were three little ones in the basket, and that old,
big lobster tried to make them get out on the floor too. And when they
wouldn't, what do you think?"

"I don't know," breathed Dot.

"Why, he got so mad at them that he turned red all over. I saw him--"

"Why, Mabel Creamer!" interrupted Tess, unable to listen further to such
a flight of fancy without registering a protest. "That can't be so--you
know it can't."

"I'd like to know why it can't be so?" demanded Mabel.

"'Cause lobsters only turn red when they are boiled. They are all green
when they are alive."

"How do you know so much, Tess Kenway?" cried Mabel. "These are my
lobsters and I'll have them turn blue if I want to--so there!"

There seemed to be no room for further argument. Besides, Mabel grabbed
Bubby by the hand and dragged him away from the hedge.

"My!" murmured Dot, "Mabel has _such_ a 'magination. And maybe that
lobster did get mad, Tess. We don't know."

"She never had a live lobster in her family," declared Tess, quite
emphatically. "You know very well, Dot Kenway, that Mr. Creamer wouldn't
bring home such a thing as a live lobster, when there are little
children in his house."

"M--mm--I guess that's so," agreed Dot. "A live lobster would be worse
than Sammy Pinkney's bulldog."

Thus reminded of the absent Sammy the two smaller Corner House girls
postponed any further search for Uncle Rufus's dollar and went across
the street to learn if any news had been gained of their runaway
playmate. Mrs. Pinkney was still despairing. She had imagined already a
score of misfortunes that might have befallen her absent son, ranging
from his eating of green apples to being run over by an automobile.

"But, Mrs. Pinkney!" burst forth Tess at last, "if Sammy has run away to
sea to be a pirate, there won't be any green apples for him to eat--and
no automobiles."

"Oh, you can never tell what trouble Sammy Pinkney will manage to get
into," moaned his mother. "I can only expect the very worst."

"Well," Dot remarked with a sigh, as she and Tess trudged home to
supper, "I'm glad there is only one boy in _my_ family. My boy doll,
Nosmo King Kenway, will probably be a source of great anxiety when he is
older."

"I wouldn't worry about that," Tess told her placidly. "If he is very
bad you can send him to the reform school."

"Oh--oo!" gasped Dot, all her maternal instincts aroused at such a
suggestion. "That would be awful."

"I don't know. They do send boys to the reform school. Jimmy Mulligan,
whose mother lives in that little house on Willow Wythe, is in the
reform school because he wouldn't mind his mother."

"But they don't send Sammy there," urged Dot.

"No--o. Of course," admitted the really tender-hearted Tess, "we know
Sammy isn't really naughty. He is only silly to run away every once in a
while."

There was much bustle inside the old Corner House that evening. Because
they really missed Ruth so much, her sisters invented divers occupations
to fill the hours until bedtime. Tess and Dot, for instance, had never
cut out so many paper-dolls in all their lives.

Another telegram had arrived from Cecile Shepard (sent, of course,
before Ruth had reached Oakhurst), stating that she had been allowed to
see her brother and that, although he could not be immediately moved, he
was improving and was absolutely in no danger.

"If Ruthie had only waited to get _this_ message," complained Agnes,
"she would not have gone up there to the mountains at all. And just see,
Neale, how right that Gypsy girl was. There was news on the way that
changed the whole aspect of affairs. She was quite wonderful, _I_
think."

By this time Neale saw that it was better not to try to ridicule Agnes'
budding belief in fortune telling. "Less said, the soonest mended," was
his wise opinion.

"I like Cecile Shepard," Agnes went on to say, "and always shall; but I
don't think she has shown much sense about her brother's illness.
Scaring everybody to death, and sending telegrams like a patch-work
quilt!"

"Maybe Ruth will come right home again when she finds Luke is all
right," said Tess hopefully. "Dear, me! aren't boys a lot of trouble?"

"Sammy and Luke are," agreed Dot.

"All but Neale," said the loyal Agnes, her boy chum having departed. "I
don't see what this family would do without Neale O'Neil."

In the morning the older sister's absence seemed to make quite as great
a gap in the household of the old Corner House as at night. But Neale
rushed in early with the morning paper to show Agnes their advertisement
in print. Under the "Lost and Found" heading appeared the following:

  "FOUND:--Silver bracelet, antique design. Owner can regain it by
  proving property and paying for this advertisement. Apply Kenway,
  Willow and Main Streets."

"It sounds quite dignified," decided Agnes admiringly. "I guess Ruth
would approve."

"Crickey!" ejaculated Neale O'Neil, "this is _one_ thing Ruth is not
bossing. We did this off our own bat, Aggie."

"Just the same," ruminated Agnes, "I wonder what Mr. Howbridge will
say if he reads it?"

"I am glad," said Neale with gratitude, "that my father doesn't
interfere with what I do. And I haven't any guardian, unless it is
dear old Con Murphy. Folks let me pretty much alone."

"If they didn't," said Agnes saucily, "I suppose you would run away as
you did from the circus."

"No," laughed her chum. "One runaway in the neighborhood is enough.
Mr. Pinkney has been up half the night, he tells me, telephoning and
sending telegrams. He has about made up his mind that Sammy hasn't
gone in the direction of Pleasant Cove, after all."

"We ought to help hunt for Sammy," cried Agnes eagerly. "Let us take
Mrs. Pinkney in the auto, Neale, and search for that little rascal."

"No. She will not leave the house. She wants to greet Sammy when he
comes back--no matter whether it is day or night," chuckled Neale. "But
Mr. Pinkney is going to get away from the office this afternoon, and
we'll take him. He is afraid his wife will be really ill."

"Poor woman!"

"She cannot be contented to sit down and wait for Sammy to turn up--as
he always does."

"You mean, he always gets turned up," giggled Agnes. "Somebody is sure
to find him."

"Well, then, it might as well be us," agreed Neale. "I'll tune up the
engine, and see that the car is all right. We should be able to go
over a lot of these roads in an afternoon. Sammy could not have got
very far from Milton in two days, or less."



CHAPTER X--ALL IS NOT GOLD THAT GLITTERS


Quite unsuspicious of the foregoing plans for his apprehension, Sammy
Pinkney was journeying on, going steadily away from Milton, and
traveling much faster now that he did not have to carry the
extension-bag.

The boy had no idea who could have stolen his possessions; but he
rubbed his knuckles in his eyes, forced back the tears, and pressed
on, feeling that freedom even without a change of garments was
preferable to the restrictions of home and all the comforts there to
be found.

He walked two miles or more and was very hungry before he came to the
first house. It stood just at the edge of the big wood in which Sammy
had spent the night.

It was scarcely more than a tumbled-down hut, with broken panes of
glass more common than whole ones in the windows, these apertures
stuffed with hats and discarded garments, while half the bricks had
fallen from the chimney-top. There were half a dozen barefooted
children running about, while a very wide and red-faced woman stood in
the doorway.

"Hullo, me bye!" she called to Sammy, as he lingered outside the
broken fence with a longing eye upon her. "Where be yez bound so airly
in the marnin'?"

"I'm just traveling, Ma'am," Sammy returned with much dignity.
"Could--could you sell me some breakfast?"

"Breakfast, is it?" repeated the smiling woman. "Shure, I'd give yez
it, if mate wasn't so high now. Come in me kitchen and sit ye down.
There's tay in the pot, and I'll fry yez up a spider full o' pork and
taters, if that'll do yez?"

The menu sounded tempting indeed to Sammy. He accepted the woman's
invitation instantly and entered the house, past the staring children.
The two oldest of the group, a shrewd-faced boy and a sharp-featured
girl, stood back and whispered together while they watched the
visitor.

Sammy was so much interested in the bountiful breakfast with which the
housewife supplied him that he thought very little about the children
peering in at the door and open windows. When he had eaten the last
crumb he asked his hostess how much he should pay her.

"Well, me bye, I'll not overcharge ye," she replied. "If yez have ten
cents about ye we'll call it square--an' that's only for the mate, as I
said before is so high, I dunno."

Sammy produced the knotted handkerchief, put it on the table and
untied it, displaying the coins it held with something of a flourish.
The jingle of so many dimes brought a sigh of wonder in unison from
the young spectators at door and windows. The woman accepted her dime
without comment.

Sammy thanked her politely, wiped his mouth on his sleeve (napery was
conspicuous by its absence in this household) and started out the
door. The smaller children scattered to give him passage; the older
boy and girl had already gone out of the badly fenced yard and were
loitering along the road in the direction Sammy was traveling.

"Hullo! Here's raggedy-pants," said the girl saucily, when Sammy came
along.

"How did you get them holes in your breeches, kid?" added the boy.

"Never you mind," rejoined Sammy gruffly. "They're _my_ pants."

"Stuck up, ain't you?" jeered the girl and stuck out her tongue at
him.

Sammy thought these were two very impolite children, and although he
was not rated at home for his own chivalrous conduct, he considered
these specimens in the road before him quite unpleasant young people.

"Ne'er mind," said the boy, looking at Sammy slyly, "he don't know
everything. He ain't seen everything if he is traveling all by
himself. I bet he's run away."

"I ain't running away from you," was Sammy's belligerent rejoinder.

"You would if I said 'Boo!' to you."

"No, I wouldn't."

"Ya!" scoffed the girl, leering at Sammy, "don't talk so much. Do
something to him, Peter."

Peter glanced warily back at the house. Perhaps he knew the large,
red-faced woman might take a hand in proceedings if he pitched upon
the strange boy.

"I bet," he said, starting on another tack, "that he never saw a
cherry-colored calf like our'n."

"I bet he never did," crowed the girl in delight.

"A cherry-colored calf," scoffed Sammy. "Get out! There ain't such a
thing. A calf might be red; there _are_ red cows--"

"This calf is cherry-colored," repeated the boy earnestly. "It's down
there in our pasture."

"Don't believe it," said Sammy flatly.

"'Tis so!" cried the girl.

"I tell you," said the very shrewd-looking boy. "We'll show it to you
for ten cents."

"I don't believe it," repeated Sammy, but more doubtfully.

The girl laughed at him more scornfully than before. "He's afraid to
spend a dime--an' him with so much money," she cried.

"I don't believe you've got a cherry-colored calf to show me."

"Gimme the dime and I'll show you whether we have or not," said Peter.

"No," said the cautious Sammy. "I'll give you a dime _if_ you show it
to me. But no foolin'. I won't give you a cent if the calf is any
other color."

"All right," shouted the other boy. "Come on and I'll show you. Come
on, Liz."

"All right, Peter," said the girl, quite as eagerly. "Hurry up,
raggedy-pants. We can use that dime, Peter and me can."

The bare-legged youngsters got through a rail fence and darted down a
path into a scrubby pasture, as wild as unbroken colts. Sammy, feeling
fine after the bountiful breakfast he had eaten, chased after them
wishing that he had thought to remove his shoes and stockings too.
Peter and Liz seemed so much more free and untrammeled than he!

"Hold on!" puffed Sammy, coming finally to the bottom of the slope. "I
ain't going to run my head off for any old calf--Huh!"

From behind a clump of brush appeared suddenly a cow--a black and white
cow, probably of the Holstein breed. There followed a scrambling in
the bushes. Liz jumped into them with a shriek and drove out a little,
blatting, stiff-legged calf. It was all of a glossy black, from its
nose to the tip of its tail.

"That's him! That's him!" shrieked Liz. "A cherry-colored calf."

"What did I tell you?" demanded the boy, Peter. "Give us the dime."

"You go on!" exclaimed Sammy. "I knew all the time you were
story-telling. That's no cherry-colored calf."

"'Tis too! It's just the color of a black-heart cherry," giggled Liz.
"You got to give up ten cents."

"Won't neither," Sammy declared.

"I'll take it off you," threatened Peter, growing belligerent.

"You won't," stubbornly declared Sammy, who did not propose to be
cheated.

Peter jumped for him and Sammy could not run. One reason why he could
not retreat was because Liz grabbed him from the rear, holding him
around the waist.

She pulled him over backward, while her brother began to pummel Sammy
most heartily from above. It was a most unfair attack and a most
uncomfortable situation for the runaway. Although he managed to defend
his face for the most part from Peter's blows, he could do little
else.

"Lemme up! Lemme up!" bawled Sammy.

"Gimme the dime," panted Peter.

"I won't! 'Tain't fair!" gasped Sammy, too plucky to give in.

Liz had now squirmed from under the struggling boys. She must have
seen at the house in which pocket Sammy kept the knotted handkerchief,
for she thrust her hand into that pocket and snatched out the hoard of
dimes before the owner realized what she was doing.

"Hey! Stop! Lemme up!" roared Sammy again.

"I got it, Peter!" shrieked Liz, and, springing up, she darted into
the bushes and disappeared.

"Stop! She's stole my money," gasped Sammy in horror and alarm.

"She never! You didn't have no money!" declared Peter, and with a
final blow that stunned Sammy for the moment, the other leaped up and
followed his wild companion into the brush.

Sammy, weeping in good earnest now, bruised and scratched in body and
sore in spirit, climbed slowly to his feet. Never before in any of his
runaway escapades had he suffered such ignominy and loss.

Why! he had actually fallen among thieves. First his bag and all his
chattels therein had been stolen. Now these two ragamuffins had robbed
him of every penny he possessed.

He dared not go back to the house where he had bought breakfast and
complain. The other youngsters there might fall upon and beat him
again!

Sammy Pinkney at last was tasting the bitter fruits of wrong doing.
Even weeding another beet-bed could have been no more painful than
these experiences which he was now suffering.



CHAPTER XI--MYSTERIES ACCUMULATE


"And if you go to the store, or anywhere else for Mrs. McCall or
Linda, remember _don't_ take that bracelet with you," commanded Agnes
in a most imperative manner, fairly transfixing her two smaller
sisters with an index finger. "Remember!"

"Ruthie didn't say so," complained Dot. "Did she, Tess?"

"But I guess we'd better mind what Agnes says when Ruth isn't at
home," confessed Tess, more amenable to discipline. "You know, Aggie
has got to be responsible now."

"Well," muttered the rebellious Dot, "never mind if she is
'sponserble, she needn't be so awful bossy about it!"

Agnes did, of course, feel her importance while Ruth was away. It was
not often that she was made responsible for the family welfare in any
particular. And just now the matter of the silver bracelet loomed big
on her horizon.

She scarcely expected the advertisement in the _Morning Post_ to bring
immediate results. Yet, it might. The Gypsies' gift to the little
girls was a very queer matter indeed. The suggestion that the bracelet
had been stolen by the Romany folk did not seem at all improbable.

And if this was so, whoever had lost the ornament would naturally be
watching the "Lost and Found" column in the newspaper.

"Unless the owner doesn't know he has lost it," Agnes suggested to
Neale.

"How's that? He'd have to be more absent-minded than Professor Ware
not to miss a bracelet like that," scoffed her boy chum.

"Oh, Professor Ware!" giggled Agnes, suddenly. "_He_ would forget
anything, I do believe. Do you know what happened at his house the
other evening when the Millers and Mr. and Mrs. Crandall went to
call?"

"The poor professor made a bad break I suppose," grinned Neale. "What
did he do?"

"Why, Mrs. Ware saw the callers coming just before they rang the bell
and the professor had been digging in the garden. Of course she
straightened things up a little before she appeared in the parlor to
welcome the visitors. But the professor did not appear. Somebody asked
for him at last and Mrs. Ware went to the foot of the stairs to call
him.

"'Oh, Professor!' she called up the stairs, and the company heard him
answer back just as plain:

"'Maria, I can't remember whether you sent me up here to change my
clothes or to go to bed.'"

"I can believe it!" chortled Neale O'Neil. "He has made some awful
breaks in school. But I don't believe _he_ ever owned that bracelet,
Aggie."

                   *       *       *       *       *

The first person who displayed interest in the advertisement in the
_Post_ about the bracelet, save the two young people who put it in the
paper, proved to add much to the mystery of the affair and nothing at
all to the peace of mind of Agnes, at least.

Agnes was busy at some mending--actually hose-darning, for Ruth
insisted that the flyaway sister should mend her own stockings, which
Aunt Sarah's keen eyes inspected--when she chanced to raise her head to
glance out of the front window of the sewing room. A strange looking
turnout had halted before the front gate.

The vehicle itself was a decrepit express wagon on the side of which
in straggling blue letters was painted the one word "JUNK," but the
horse drawing the wagon was a surprisingly well-kept and good looking
animal.

The back of the wagon was piled high with bundles of newspapers, and
bags, evidently stuffed with rags, were likewise in the wagon body.
The man climbing down from the seat just as Agnes looked did not seem
at all like the usual junk dealer who passed through Milton's streets
heralded by a "chime" of tin-can bells.

He was a small, swarthy man, and even at the distance of the front
gate from Agnes' window the girl could see that he wore gold hoops in
his ears. He was quick but furtive in his motions. He glanced in a
birdlike way down the street and across the Parade Ground, which was
diagonally opposite the old Corner House, before he entered the front
gate.

"He'd better go around to the side door," thought Agnes aloud. "He
must be a very fashionable junkman to come to the front of the house.
And at that I don't believe Mrs. McCall has any rags or papers to sell
just now."

The swarthy man came straight on to the porch and up the steps. Agnes
heard the bell, and knowing Linda was busy and being likewise rather
curious, she dropped her stocking darning and ran into the front hall.

The moment she unlatched the big door the swarthy stranger inserted
himself into the house.

"Why! who are you?" she demanded, fairly thrust aside by the man's
eagerness.

She saw then that he had a folded paper in one hand. He thrust it
before her eyes, pointing to a place upon it with a very grimy finger.

"You have found it!" he chattered with great excitement. "That ancient
bracelet which has for so many generations been an heirloom--yes?--of
the Costello. Queen Alma herself wore it at a time long ago. You have
found it?"

Agnes was made almost speechless by his vehemence as well as by the
announcement itself.

"I--I--What _do_ you mean?" she finally gasped.

"You know!" he ejaculated, rapping on the newspaper with his finger
like a woodpecker on a dead limb. "You put in the paper--_here_. It is
lost. You find. _You_ are Kenway, and you say the so-antique bracelet
shall be give to who proves property."

"We will return it to the owner. Only to the owner," interrupted
Agnes, backing away from him again, for his vehemence half frightened
her.

"Shall I bring Queen Alma here to say it was her property?" he cried.

[Illustration: "You have found it!" he chattered with great excitement.]

"That would be better. If Queen Alma--whoever she is--owns the bracelet
we will give it to her when she proves property."

The little man uttered a staccato speech in a foreign tongue. Agnes
did not understand. He spread wide his arms in a gesture of seemingly
utter despair.

"And Queen Alma!" he sputtered. "She is dead these two--no! t'ree
hundred year!"

"Mercy me!" gasped Agnes, backing away from him and sitting suddenly
down in one of the straight-backed hall chairs. "Mercy me!"



CHAPTER XII--GETTING IN DEEPER


"You see, Mees Kenway," sputtered the swarthy man eagerly, "I catch
the paper, here." He rapped the _Post_ again with his finger. "I read
the Engleesh--yes. I see the notice you, the honest Kenway, have put in
the paper--"

"Let me tell you, sir," said Agnes, starting up, "_all_ the Kenways
are honest. I am not the only honest person in our family I should
hope!"

Agnes was much annoyed. The excitable little foreigner spread abroad
his hands again and bowed low before her.

"Please! Excuse!" he said. "I admire all your family, oh, so very
much! But it is to you who put in the paper the words here, about the
very ancient silver bracelet." Again that woodpecker rapping on the
Lost and Found column in the _Post_. "No?"

"Yes. I put the advertisement in the paper," acknowledged Agnes, but
wishing very much that she had not, or that Neale O'Neil was present
at this exciting moment to help her handle the situation.

"So! I have come for it," cried the swarthy man, as though the matter
were quite settled.

But Agnes' mind began to function pretty well again. She determined
not to be "rushed." This strange foreigner might be perfectly honest.
But there was not a thing to prove that the bracelet given to Tess and
Dot by the Gypsy women belonged to him.

"How do you know," she asked, "that the bracelet we have in our
possession is the one you have lost?"

"I? Oh, no, lady! I did not lose the ancient heirloom. Oh, no."

"But you say--"

"I am only its rightful owner," he explained. "Had Queen Alma's
bracelet been in my possession it never would have been lost and so
found by the so--gracious Kenway. Indeed, no!"

"Then, what have you come here for?" cried Agnes, in some desperation.
"I cannot give the bracelet to anybody but the one who lost it--"

"You say here the owner!" cried the man, beginning again the
woodpecker tapping on the paper.

"But how do I know you own it?" she gasped.

"Show it me. In one moment's time can I tell--at the one glance," was
the answer of assurance. "Oh, yes, yes, yes!"

These "yeses" were accompanied by the emphatic tapping on the paper.
Agnes wondered that the _Post_ at that spot was not quite worn
through.

Perhaps it was fortunate that at this moment Neale O'Neil came in.
That he came direct from the garage and apparently from a struggle
with oily machinery, both his hands and face betrayed.

"Hey!" he exploded. "If we are going to take Mr. Pinkney out on a
cross-country chase after that missing pirate this afternoon, we've
got to get a hustle on. You going to be ready, Aggie? Mr. Pinkney gets
home at a quarter to one."

"Oh, Neale!" cried Agnes, turning eagerly to greet the boy. "Talk to
this man--do! I don't know what to say to him."

The boy's countenance broadened in a smile.

  "'Say "Hullo!" and "How-de-do!"
  "How's the world a-using you?"'"

quoted Neale, and chuckled outright. "What's his name? What does he
want?"

"Costello--that me," interposed the strange junkman. He gazed curiously
at Neale with his snapping black eyes. "_You_ are not Kenway--here in
the pape'?"

Again the finger tapped upon the Lost and Found column in the _Post_.
Neale shook his head. He glanced out of the open door and spied the
wagon and its informative sign.

"You are a junkman, are you, Mr. Costello?"

"Yes, yes, yes! I buy the pape', buy the rag and bot'--buy anytheeng I
get cheap. But not to buy do I come this time to Mees Kenway. No, no!
I come because of this in the paper."

His tapping finger called attention again to the advertisement of the
bracelet. Neale expelled a surprised whistle.

"Oh, Aggie!" he said, "is he after the Gypsy bracelet?"

The swarthy man's face was all eagerness again.

"Yes, yes, yes!" he sputtered. "I am Gypsy. Spanish Gypsy. Of the
tribe of Costello. I am--what you say?--direct descendent of Queen Alma
who live three hunder'--maybe more--year ago, and she own that bracelet
the honest Kenway find!"

"She--she's dead, then? This Queen Alma?" stammered Neale.

"_Si, si!_ Yes, yes! But the so-antique bracelet descend by right to
our family. That Beeg Jeem--"

He burst again into the language he had used before which was quite
unintelligible to either of his listeners; but Neale thought by the
man's expression of countenance that his opinion of "Beeg Jeem" was
scarcely to be told in polite English.

"Wait!" Neale broke in. "Let's get this straight. We--we find a
bracelet which we advertise. You say the bracelet is yours. Where and
how did you lose it?"

"I already tell the honest Kenway, I do _not_ lose it."

"It was stolen from you, then?"

"Yes, yes, yes! It was stole. A long ago it was stole. And now Beeg
Jeem say he lose it. You find--yes?"

"This seems to be complicated," Neale declared, shaking his head and
gazing wonderingly at Agnes. "If you did not lose it yourself, Mr.
Costello--"

"But it is mine!" cried the man.

"We don't know that," said Neale, somewhat bruskly. "You must prove
it."

"Prove it?"

"Yes. In the first place, describe the bracelet. Tell us just how it
is engraved, or ornamented, or whatever it is. How wide and thick is
it? What kind of a bracelet is it, aside from its being made of
silver?"

"Ah! Queen Alma's bracelet is so well known to the Costello--how shall
I say? Yes, yes, yes!" cried the man, with rather graceful gestures.
"And when Beeg Jeem tell me she is lost--"

"All right. Describe it," put in Neale.

Agnes suddenly tugged at Neale's sleeve. Her pretty face was aflame
with excitement.

"Oh, Neale!" she interposed in a whisper. "Even if he can describe it
exactly we do not know that he is the real owner."

"Shucks! That's right," agreed the boy.

He turned to Costello again demanding:

"How can you prove that this bracelet--if it is the one you think it
is--belongs to you?"

"She belong to the Costello family. It is an heirloom. I tell it you."

"That's all right. But you've got to prove it. Even if you describe
the thing that only proves that you have seen it, or heard it
described yourself. It might be so, you know, Mr. Costello. You must
give us some evidence of ownership."

"Queen Alma's bracelet--" began Costello.

The junkman made a despairing gesture with wide-spread arms.

"Me? How can I tell you, sir, and the honest Kenway? It has always
belong to the Costello. Yes, yes, yes! That so-ancient bracelet, Beeg
Jeem have no right to it."

"But he was the one who lost it!" exclaimed Neale, being quite
confident now of the identity of "Beeg Jeem."

"Yes, yes, yes! So he say. I no believe. Then I see the reading here
in the pape', of the honest Kenway"--tap, tap, tapping once more of the
forefinger--"and I see it must be so. I--"

"Hold on!" exclaimed Neale. "You did not lose the bracelet. This other
fellow did. You bring him here and let him prove ownership."

"No, no!" raved Costello, shaking both clenched hands above his head.
"He shall not have it. It is mine. I am _the_ Costello. Queen Alma,
she give it to the great, great, great gran'mudder of _my_ great,
great, great--"

"Shucks!" ejaculated Neale. "Now you are going too deep into the
family records for me. I can't follow you. It looks to me like a case
for the courts to settle."

"Oh, Neale!" gasped Agnes.

"Why, Aggie, we'd get into hot water if we let this fellow, or any of
those other Gypsies, have the bracelet offhand. If this chap wants it,
he will have to see Mr. Howbridge."

"Oh, yes!" murmured the girl with sudden relief in her voice. "We can
tell Mr. Howbridge."

"Guess we'll have to," agreed Neale. "We certainly have bit off more
than we can chew, Aggie. I'll say we have. I guess maybe we'd have
been wiser if we had told your guardian about the old bracelet before
advertising it. And Ruth has nothing on us, at that! She did not tell
him.

"We're likely," concluded Neale, with a side glance at the swarthy
man, "to have a dozen worse than this one come here to bother us. We
surely did start something when we had that ad. printed, Aggie."



CHAPTER XIII--OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY


Costello, the junkman, could not be further ignored, for at this point
he began another excitable harangue. The Queen Alma bracelet, "Beeg
Jeem," his own sorrows, and the fact that he saw no reason why Agnes
should not immediately give up to him the silver bracelet, were all
mixed up together in a clamor that became almost deafening.

"Oh, what shall I do? What _shall_ I do?" exclaimed the Corner House
girl.

But Neale O'Neil was quite level-headed. Like Agnes, at first he had
for a little while been swept off his feet by the swarthy man's
vehemence. He regained his balance now.

"We're not going to do anything. We won't even show him the bracelet,"
said the boy firmly.

"But it is mine! It is the heirloom of the Costello! I, myself, tell
you so," declared the junkman, beating his breast now instead of the
newspaper.

"All right. I believe you. Don't yell so about it," said Neale, but
quite calmly. "That does not alter the fact that we cannot give the
bracelet up. That is, Miss Kenway cannot."

"But she say here--in the paper--"

"Oh, stop it!" exclaimed the exasperated boy. "It doesn't say in that
paper that she will hand the thing out to anybody who comes and asks
for it. If this other fellow you have been talking about should come
here, do you suppose we would give it up to him, just on his say so?"

"No, no! It is not his. It never should have been in the possession of
his family, sir. I assure you _I_ am the Costello to whose ancestors
the great Queen Alma of our tribe delivered the bracelet."

"All right. Let it go at that," answered Neale. "All the more reason
why we must be careful who gets it now. If it is honestly your
bracelet you will get it, Mr. Costello. But you will have to see Miss
Kenway's guardian and let him decide."

"Her--what you call it--does he have the bracelet?" cried the man.

"He will have it. You go there to-morrow. I will give you his address.
To-morrow he will talk to you. He is not in his office to-day. He is a
lawyer."

"Oh, la, la! The law! I no like the law," declared Costello.

"No, I presume you Gypsies don't," muttered Neale, pulling out an
envelope and the stub of a pencil with which to write the address of
Mr. Howbridge's office. "There it is. Now, that is the best we can do
for you. Only, nobody shall be given the bracelet until you have
talked with Mr. Howbridge."

"But, I no like! The honest Kenway say here, in the paper--"

As he began to tap upon the newspaper again Neale, who was a sturdy
youth, crowded him out upon the veranda of the old Corner House.

"Now, go!" advised Neale, when he heard the click of the door latch
behind him. "You'll make nothing by lingering here and talking.
There's your horse starting off by himself. Better get him."

This roused the junk dealer's attention. The horse was tired of
standing and was half a block away. Costello uttered an excited yelp
and darted after his junk wagon.

Agnes let Neale inside the house again. She was much relieved.

"There! isn't this a mess?" she said. "I am glad you thought of Mr.
Howbridge. But I _do_ wish Ruth had been at home. She would have known
just what to say to that funny little man."

"Humph! Maybe it would have been a good idea if she had been here,"
admitted Neale slowly. "Ruth is awfully bossy, but things do go about
right when she is on the job."

"We'll have to see Mr. Howbridge--"

"But that can wait until to-morrow morning," Neale declared. "We can't
do so this afternoon in any case. I happen to know he is out of town.
And we have promised Mr. Pinkney to take him on a hunt for Sammy."

"All right. It is almost noon. You'd better go and wash your face,
Neale," and she began to giggle at him.

"Don't I know that? I came in here just to remind you to begin to
prink before dinner or you'd never be ready."

She was already halfway up the stairs and she leaned over the
balustrade to make a gamin's face at him.

"Just you tend to your own apple cart, Neale O'Neil!" she told him. "I
will be ready as soon as you are."

At dinner, which was eaten in the middle of the day at this time of
year at the old Corner House, Agnes appeared ready all but her hat for
the car.

"Oh, Aggie! can we go too?" cried Dot. "We want to ride in the
automobile, don't we, Tess?"

"We maybe want to go riding," confessed the other sister slowly. "But
I guess we can't, Dot. You forget that Margie and Holly Pease are
coming over at three o'clock. They haven't seen the fretted silver
bracelet."

"That reminds me," said Agnes firmly. "You must not take that bracelet
out of the house. Understand? Not at all."

"Why, Aggie!" murmured Tess, while Dot grew quite red with
indignation.

"If you wish to play with it indoors, all right," Agnes said. "Whose
turn to have it, is it to-day?"

"Mine," admitted Tess.

"Then I hold you responsible. Not out of the house. We have got to get
Mr. Howbridge's advice about it, in any case."

"Ruth didn't say we couldn't wear the bracelet out-of-doors," declared
Dot, pouting.

"I am in Ruth's place," responded the older sister promptly. "Now,
remember! You might lose it anyway. And _then_ what would we do if the
owner really comes for it?"

"But they won't!" cried Dot, confidently. "Those Gypsy ladies gave it
to us for keeps. I am sure."

"You certainly would not wish to keep the bracelet if the person the
Gypsies stole it from came here to get it?" said Agnes sternly.

"Oh--oo! No-o," murmured Dot.

"Of course we would not, Sister," Tess declared briskly. "If we knew
just where their camp is we would take it to them anyway. Of course we
would, Dot!"

"Oh, of course," agreed Dot, but very faintly.

"You children are so seldom observant," went on Agnes in her most
grown-up manner. "You should have looked into that basket when you
bought it of the Gypsies. Then you would have seen the bracelet before
the women got away. You are almost _never_ observant."

"Why, Aggie!" Tess exclaimed, rather hurt by the accusation of her
older sister. "That is what your Mr. Marks said when he came into our
grade at school just before the end of term last June."

Mr. Curtis G. Marks was the principal of the High School which Agnes
attended.

"What was Mr. Marks doing over in your room, Tess?" Agnes asked
curiously.

"Visiting. Our teacher asked him to 'take the class.' You know,
visiting teachers always _are_ so nosey," added Tess with more
frankness than good taste.

"Better not let Ruth hear you use that expression, child," laughed
Agnes. "But what about being observant--or _un_observant?"

"He told us," Tess went on to say, "to watch closely, and then asked
for somebody to give him a number. So somebody said thirty-two."

"Yes?"

"And Mr. Marks went to the board and wrote twenty-three on it. Of
course, none of us said anything. Then Mr. Marks asked for another
number and somebody gave him ninety-four. Then he wrote forty-nine on
the board, and nobody said a word."

"Why didn't you?" asked Agnes in wonder. "Did you think he was
teaching you some new game?"

"I--I guess we were too polite. You see, he was a visitor. And he said
right out loud to our teacher: 'You see, they do not observe. Is it
dense stupidity, or just inattention?' That's _just_ what he said,"
added Tess, her eyes flashing.

"Oh!" murmured Dot. "Didn't he know how to write the number right?"

"So," continued Tess, "I guess we all felt sort of hurt. And Belle
Littleweed got so fidgety that she raised her hand. Mr. Marks says:
'Very well, you give me a number.'

"Belle lisps a little, you know, Aggie, and she said right out:
'Theventy-theven; thee if you can turn that around!' He didn't think
we noticed anything, and were stupid; but I guess he knows better
now," added Tess with satisfaction.

"That is all right," said Agnes with a sigh. "I heartily wish you and
Dot had been observant when those women gave you the basket and you
had found the bracelet in it before they got away. It is going to make
us trouble I am afraid."

Agnes told the little ones nothing about the strange junkman and his
claim. Nor did she mention the affair to any of the remainder of the
Corner House family. She only added:

"So don't you take the bracelet out of the house or let anybody at all
have it--if Neale or I are not here."

"Why, it would not be right to give the bracelet to anybody but the
Gypsy ladies, would it?" said Tess.

"Of course not," agreed Dot. "And _they_ haven't come after it."

Agnes did not notice these final comments of the two smaller girls.
She had given them instructions, and those instructions were
sufficient, she thought, to avert any trouble regarding the mysterious
bracelet--whether it was "Queen Alma's" or not.

The junkman, Costello, certainly had filled Agnes' mind with most
romantic imaginations! If the old silver bracelet was a Gypsy heirloom
and had been handed down through the Costello tribe--as the junkman
claimed--for three hundred years and more, of course it would not be
considered stolen property.

The mystery remained why the Gypsy women had left the bracelet in the
basket they had almost forced upon the Kenway children. The
explanation of this was quite beyond Agnes, unless it had been done
because the Gypsy women feared that this very Costello was about to
claim the heirloom, and they considered it safer with Tess and Dot
than in their own possession. True, this seemed a far-fetched
explanation of the affair; yet what so probable?

The Gypsies might be quite familiar with Milton, and probably knew a
good deal about the old Corner House and the family now occupying it.
The little girls would of course be honest. The Gypsies were shrewd
people. They were quite sure, no doubt, that the Kenways would not
give the bracelet to any person but the women who sold the basket,
unless the right to the property could be proved.

"And even if that Costello man does own the bracelet, how is he going
to prove it?" Agnes asked Neale, as they ran the car out of the garage
after dinner. "I guess we are going to hand dear old Mr. Howbridge a
big handful of trouble."

"Crickey! isn't that a fact?" grumbled Neale. "The more I think of it,
the sorrier I am we put that advertisement in the paper, Aggie."

There was nothing more to be said about that at the time, for Mr.
Pinkney was already waiting for them on his front steps. His wife was
at the door and she looked so weary-eyed and pale of face that Agnes
at least felt much sympathy for her.

"Oh, don't worry, Mrs. Pinkney!" cried the girl from her seat beside
Neale. "I am sure Sammy will turn up all right. Neale says
so--everybody says so! He is such a plucky boy, anyway. Nothing would
happen to him."

"But this seems worse than any other time," said the poor woman. "He
must have never meant to come back, or he would not have taken that
picture with him."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed her husband cheerfully. "Sammy sort of fancied
himself in that picture, that is all. He is not without his share of
vanity."

"That is what _you_ say," complained Sammy's mother. "But I just feel
that something dreadful has happened to him this time."

"Never mind," called Neale, starting the engine, "we'll go over the
hills and far away, but we'll find some trace of him, Mrs. Pinkney.
Sammy can't have hidden himself so completely that we cannot discover
where he has been and where he is going."

That is exactly what they did. They flew about the environs of Milton
in a rapid search for the truant. Wherever they stopped and made
inquiries for the first hour or so, however, they gained no word of
Sammy.

It was three o'clock, and they were down toward the canal on the road
leading to Hampton Mills, when they gained the first possible clue of
the missing one. And that clue was more than twenty-four hours old.

A storekeeper remembered a boy who answered to Sammy's description
buying something to eat the day before, and sitting down on the store
step to eat it. That boy carried a heavy extension-bag and went on
after he had eaten along the Hampton Mills road.

"We've struck his trail!" declared Neale with satisfaction. "Don't you
think so, Mr. Pinkney?"

"How did he pay you for the things he bought?" asked the father of the
runaway, addressing the storekeeper again. "What kind of money did he
have?"

"He had ten cent pieces, I remember. And he had them tied in a
handkerchief. Nicked his bank before he started, did he?" and the man
laughed.

"That is exactly what he did," admitted Mr. Pinkney, returning
hurriedly to the car. "Drive on, Neale. I guess we are on the right
trail."



CHAPTER XIV--ALMOST HAD HIM


Neale drove almost recklessly for the first few miles after passing
the roadside store; but the eyes of all three people in the car were
very wide open and their minds observant. Anything or anybody that
might give trace of the truant Sammy were scrutinized.

"He was at that store before noon," Agnes shouted into Neale's ear.
"How long before he would be hungry again?"

"No knowing. Pretty soon, of course," admitted her chum. "But I heard
that storekeeper tell Mr. Pinkney that the boy bought more than he
could eat at once and he carried the rest away in a paper bag."

"That is so," admitted Mr. Pinkney, leaning over the forward seat.
"But he has an appetite like a boa constrictor."

"A _boy_-constrictor," chuckled Neale. "I'll say he has!"

"He would not likely stop anywhere along here to buy more food, then,"
Agnes said.

"He could have gone off the road, however, for a dozen different
things," said the missing boy's father. "That child has got more
crotchets in his head than you can shake a stick at. There is no
knowing--"

"Hold on!" ejaculated Neale suddenly. "There are some kids down there
by that pond. Suppose I run down and interview them?"

"I don't see anybody among them who looks like Sammy," observed Agnes,
standing up in the car to look.

"Never mind. You go ahead, Neale. They will talk to you more freely,
perhaps, than they will to me. Boys are that way."

"I'll try," said Neale, and jumped out of the car and ran down toward
the roof of the old ice-house that the afternoon before had so
attracted Sammy Pinkney--incidentally wrecking his best trousers.

As it chanced, Neale had seen and now interviewed the very party of
boys with whom Sammy had previously made friends. But Neale said
nothing at first to warn these boys that he was searching for one whom
they all considered "a good kid."

"Say, fellows," Neale began, "was this an ice-house before it got
burned down?"

"Yep," replied the bigger boy of the group.

"And only the roof left? Crickey! What have you chaps been doing?
Sliding down it?" For he had observed as he came down from the car two
of the smaller boys doing just that.

"It's great fun," said the bigger boy, grinning, perhaps at the memory
of what had happened to Sammy Pinkney's trousers the previous
afternoon. "Want to try?"

Neale grinned more broadly, and gave the shingled roof another glance.
"I bet _you_ don't slide down it like those little fellows I just saw
doing it. How do their pants stand it?"

The boys giggled at that.

"Say!" the bigger one said, "there was a kid came along yesterday that
didn't get on to that--_till afterward_."

"Oh, ho!" chuckled Neale. "He wore 'em right through, did he?"

"Yes, he did. And then he was sore. Said his mother would give him
fits."

"Where does he live? Around here?" asked Neale carelessly.

"I never saw him before," admitted the bigger boy. "He was a good
fellow just the same. You looking for him?" he asked with sudden
suspicion.

"I don't know. If he's the boy I mean he needn't be afraid to go home
because of his torn pants. You tell him so if you see him again."

"Sure. I didn't know he was running away. He didn't say anything."

"Didn't he have a bag with him--sort of a suitcase?"

"Didn't see it," replied the boy. "We all went home to supper and he
went his way."

"Which way?"

"Could not tell you that," the other said reflectively, and was
evidently honest about it. "He was coming from that way," and he
pointed back toward Milton, "when he joined us here at the slide."

"Then he probably kept on toward--What is in that direction?" and Neale
pointed at the nearest road, the very one into which Sammy had turned.

"Oh, that goes up through the woods," said the boy. "Hampton Mills is
over around the pond--you follow yonder road."

"Yes, I know. But you think this fellow you speak of might have gone
into that by road?"

"He was headed that way when we first saw him," said the boy. "Wasn't
he, Jimmy?"

"Sure," agreed the smaller boy addressed. "And, Tony, I bet he _did_
go that way. When I looked back afterward I remember I saw a boy
lugging something heavy going up that road."

"I didn't see that that fellow had a bag," argued the bigger boy. "But
he might have hid it when he came down here."

"Likely he did," admitted Neale. "Anyway, we will go up that road
through the woods and see."

"_Is_ his mother going to give him fits for those torn pants?" asked
another of the group.

"She'll be so glad to see him home again," confessed Neale, "that he
could tear every pair of pants he's got and she wouldn't say a word!"

He made his way up the bank to the car and reported.

"I don't know where that woods-road leads to. I neglected to bring a
map. But it looks as though we could get through it with the car.
We'll try, sha'n't we?"

"Oh, do, Neale," urged Agnes.

"I guess it is as good a lead as any," observed Mr. Pinkney. "Somehow,
I begin to feel as though the boy had got a good way off this time.
Even this clue is almost twenty-four hours old."

"He must have stayed somewhere last night," cried Agnes suddenly. "If
there is a house up there in the woods--or beyond--we can ask."

"Right you are, Aggie," agreed Neale, starting the car again.

"Sammy Pinkney is an elusive youngster, sure enough," said the
truant's father. "Something has got to stop him from running away. It
costs too much time and money to overtake him and bring him back."

"And we haven't done that yet," murmured Agnes.

The car struck heavy going in the road through the woods before they
had gone very far up the rise. In places the road was soft and had
been cut up by the wheels of heavy trucks or wagons. And they did not
pass a single house--not even a cleared spot in the wood--on either
hand.

"If he started up this way so near supper time last evening, as those
boys say," Mr. Pinkney ruminated, "where was he at supper time?"

"Here, or hereabout, I should say!" exclaimed Neale O'Neil. "Why, it
must have been pretty dark when he got this far."

"If he really came this far," added Agnes.

"Well, let us run along and see if there is a house anywhere," Mr.
Pinkney said. "Of course, Sammy might have slept out--"

"It wouldn't be the first time, I bet!" chuckled Neale.

"And of course there would be nothing to hurt him in these woods?"
suggested Agnes.

"Nothing bigger than a rabbit, I guess," agreed their neighbor.

"Well--"

Neale increased the speed of the car again, turned a blind corner, and
struck a soft place in the road before he could stop. Having no
skidding chains on the rear wheels of course, the car was out of
control in an instant. It slued around. Agnes screamed. Mr. Pinkney
shouted his alarm.

The car slid over the bank of the ditch beside the road and both right
wheels sank in mud and water to the hubs.

"Some pretty mess--I'll tell the world!" groaned Neale O'Neil, shutting
off the engine, while Agnes clung to his arm grimly to keep from
sliding out into the ditch, too.

"Now, you _have_ done it!" shrilled the girl.

"Thanks. Many thanks. I expected you to say that, Aggie," he replied.

"M-mm! Well, I don't suppose you meant to--"

"No use worrying about how it was done or who did it," interposed Mr.
Pinkney, briskly getting out of the tonneau on the left side. "The
question is, how are we going to right the car and get under way
again?"

"A truer word was never spoken," agreed Neale O'Neil. "Come on, Agnes.
We'll creep out on this side, too. That's it. Looks to me, Mr.
Pinkney, as though we should need a couple of good, strong levers to
pry up the wheels. You and I can do that while Agnes gets in under the
wheel and manipulates the mechanism, as it were."

"You are the boss, here, Neale," said the older man, immediately
entering the wood on the right side of the road. "I see a stick here
that looks promising."

He passed under the broadly spreading branches of a huge chestnut
tree. There were several of these monsters along the edge of the wood.
Mr. Pinkney suddenly shouted something, and dropped upon his knees
between two outcropping roots of the tree.

"What is it, Mr. Pinkney?" cried Agnes, running across the road.

Their neighbor appeared, erect again. In his hand he bore the
well-remembered extension-bag which Sammy Pinkney had so often borne
away from home upon his truant escapades.

"What do you know about this?" demanded Sammy's father. "Here's his
bag--filled with his possessions, by the feel of it. But where is the
boy?"

"He--he's got away!" gasped Agnes.

"And we almost had him," was Neale's addition to the amazed remarks of
the trio of searchers.



CHAPTER XV--UNCERTAINTIES


The secret had now been revealed! But of course it did not do Sammy
Pinkney the least bit of good. His extension-bag had not been stolen
at all.

Merely, when that sleepy boy had stumbled away the night before to the
spring for a drink of water, he had not returned to the right tree for
the remainder of the night. In his excitement in the morning, after
discovering his loss, Sammy ran about a good deal (as Uncle Rufus
would have said) "like a chicken wid de haid cut off." He did not
manage to find the right tree at all.

The extension-bag was now in his father's hands. Mr. Pinkney brought
it to the mired car and opened it. There was no mistaking the contents
of the bag for anything but Sammy's possessions.

"What do you know about that?" murmured the amazed father of the
embryo pirate. He rummaged through the conglomeration of chattels in
the bag. "No, it is not here."

"What are you looking for, Mr. Pinkney?" demanded Agnes, feeling
rather serious herself. Something might have happened to the truant.

"That picture his mother spoke of," the father answered, with a sigh.

"Hoh!" exclaimed Neale O'Neil, "if the kid thinks as much of it as
Mrs. Pinkney says, he's got it with him. Of course."

"It looks so," admitted Mr. Pinkney. "But why should he abandon his
clothes--and all?"

"Oh, maybe he hasn't!" cried Agnes eagerly. "Maybe he is coming back
here."

"You think this old tree," said Mr. Pinkney in doubt, "is Sammy's
headquarters?"

"I--don't--know--"

"That wouldn't be like Sammy," declared Neale, with conviction. "He
always keeps moving--even when he is stowaway on a canalboat," and he
chuckled at the memory of that incident. "For some reason he was
chased away from here. Or," hitting the exact truth without knowing
it, "he tucked the bag under that tree root and forgot where he put
it."

"Does that sound reasonable?" gasped Agnes.

"Quite reasonable--for Sammy," grumbled Mr. Pinkney. "He is just so
scatter-brained. But what shall I tell his mother when I take this bag
home to her? She will feel worse than she has before."

"Maybe we will find him yet," Agnes interposed.

"That's what we are out for," Neale added with confidence. "Let's not
give up hope. Why, we're finding clues all the time."

"And now you manage to get us stuck in the mud," put in Agnes, giving
her boy friend rather an unfair dig.

"Have a heart! How could I help it? Anyway, we'll get out all right.
We sha'n't have to camp here all night, if Sammy did."

"That is it," interposed Sammy's father. "I wonder if he stayed here
all night or if he abandoned the bag here and kept on. Maybe the woods
were too much for his nerves," and he laughed rather uncertainly.

"I bet Sammy was not scared," announced Neale, with confidence. "He is
a courageous chap. If he wasn't, he would not start out alone this
way."

"True enough," said Mr. Pinkney, not without some pride. "But
nevertheless it would help some if we were sure he was here only
twelve hours ago, instead of twenty-four."

"Let's get the car out of the ditch and see if we can go on," Neale
suggested. "I'll get that pole you saw, Mr. Pinkney. And I see another
lever over there."

While Mr. Pinkney buckled the straps of the extension-bag again and
stowed the bag under the seat, Neale brought the two sticks of small
timber which he thought would be strong enough to lift the wheels of
the stalled car out of the ditch. But first he used the butt of one of
the sticks to knock down the edge of the bank in front of each wheel.

"You see," he said to Agnes, "when you get it started you want to turn
the front wheels, if you can, to the left and climb right out on to
the road. Mr. Pinkney and I will do the best we can for you; but it is
the power of the engine that must get us out of the ditch."

"I--I don't know that I can handle it right, Neale," hesitated Agnes.

"Sure you can. You've got to!" he told her. "Come on, Mr. Pinkney!
Let's see if we can get these sticks under the wheels on this side."

"Wait a moment," urged the man, who was writing hastily on a page torn
from his notebook. "I must leave a note for Sammy--if perhaps he should
come back here looking for his bag."

"Better not say anything about his torn trousers, Mr. Pinkney,"
giggled Agnes. "He will shy at that."

"He can tear all his clothes to pieces if he'll only come home and
stop his mother's worrying. Only, the little rascal ought to be
soundly trounced just the same for all the trouble he is causing us."

"If only I had stayed with him at that beet bed and made sure he knew
what he was doing," sighed Agnes, who felt somewhat condemned.

"It would have been something else that sent him off in this way, if
it hadn't been beets," grumbled Mr. Pinkney. "He was about due for a
break-away. I should have paid more attention to him myself. But
business was confining.

"Oh, well; we always see our mistakes when it is too late. But that
boy needs somebody's oversight besides his mother's. She is always
afraid I will be too harsh with him. But she doesn't manage him, that
is sure."

"We'd better catch the rabbit before we make the rabbit stew,"
chuckled Neale O'Neil. "Sammy is a good kid, I tell you. Only he has
crazy notions."

"Pooh!" put in Agnes. "You need not talk in so old-fashioned a way.
You used to have somewhat similar 'crazy notions' yourself. You ran
away a couple of times."

"Well, did I have a real home and a mother and father to run from?"
demanded the boy. "Guess not!"

"You've got a father now," laughed Agnes.

"But he isn't like a real father," sighed Neale. "He has run away from
me! I know it is necessary for him to go back to Alaska to attend to
that mine. But I'll be glad when he comes home for good--or I can go to
him."

"Oh, Neale! You wouldn't?" gasped the girl.

"Wouldn't what?" he asked, surprised by her vehemence.

"Go away up to Alaska?"

"I'd like to," admitted the boy. "Wouldn't you?"

"Oh--well--if you can take me along," rejoined Agnes with satisfaction,
"all right. But under no other circumstances can you go, Neale
O'Neil."



CHAPTER XVI--THE DEAD END OF NOWHERE


Mr. Pinkney and Neale went to work to hoist the motor-car into the
road again. No easy nor brief struggle was this. A dozen times Agnes
started the car and the wheels slipped off the poles or Neale or Mr.
Pinkney lost his grip.

Before long they were well bespattered with mud (for there was
considerable water in the ditch) and so was the automobile. Neale and
their neighbor worked to the utmost of their muscular strength, and
Agnes was in tears.

"Pluck up your courage, Aggie," panted her boy friend. "We'll get it
yet."

"I just feel that it is my fault," sobbed the girl. "All this slipping
and sliding. If I could only just get it to start right--"

"Again!" cried Neale cheerfully.

And this time the forewheels really got on solid ground. Mr. Pinkney
thrust his lever in behind the sloughed hind wheel and blocked it from
sliding back.

"Great!" yelled Neale. "Once more, Aggie!"

She obeyed his order, and although the automobile engine rattled a
good deal and the car itself plunged like a bucking broncho, they
finally got all the wheels out of the mud and on the firm road.

"Crickey!" gasped Neale. "It looks like a battlefield."

"And we look as though we had been in the battle all right," said Mr.
Pinkney. "Guess Mamma Pinkney will have something to say about _my_
trousers when we get home, let alone Sammy's."

"Do you suppose the car will run all right?" asked the anxious Agnes.
"I don't know what Ruth would say if we broke down."

"She'd say a-plenty," returned Neale. "But wait till I get some of
this mud off me and I'll try her out again. By the way she bucked that
last time I should say there was nothing much the matter with her
machinery."

This proved to be true. If anything was strained about the mechanism
it did not immediately show up. Neale got the automobile under way
without any difficulty and they drove ahead through the now fast
darkening road.

The belt of woods was not very wide, but the car ran slowly and when
the searchers came out upon the far side, the old shack which housed
the big, red-faced woman, who had been kind to Sammy, and her brood of
children, some of whom had been not at all kind, the place looked to
be deserted.

In truth, the family were berry pickers and had been gone all day
(after Sammy's adventure with the cherry-colored calf) up in the hills
after berries. They had not yet returned for the evening meal, and
although Neale stopped the car in front of the shack Mr. Pinkney
decided Sammy would not have remained at the abandoned place.

And, of course, Sammy had not remained here. After his exciting fight
with Peter and Liz, and fearing to return to the house to complain, he
had gone right on. Where he had gone was another matter. The
automobile party drove to the town of Crimbleton, which was the next
hamlet, and there Mr. Pinkney made exhaustive inquiries regarding his
lost boy, but to no good result.

"We'll try again to-morrow, Mr. Pinkney, if you say so," urged Neale.

"Of course we will," agreed Agnes. "We'll go every day until you find
him."

Their neighbor shook his head with some sadness. "I am afraid it will
do no good. Sammy has given us the slip this time. Perhaps I would
better put the matter in the hands of a detective agency. For myself,
I should be contented to wait until he shows up of his own volition.
But his mother--"

Agnes and Neale saw, however, that the man was himself very desirous
of getting hold of his boy again. They made a hasty supper at the
Crimbleton Inn and then started homeward at a good rate of speed.

When they came up the grade toward the old house beside the road, at
the edge of the wood, the big woman and her family had returned, made
their own supper, and gone to bed. The place looked just as deserted
as before.

"The dead-end of nowhere," Neale called it, and the automobile
gathered speed as it went by. So the searchers missed making inquiry
at the very spot where inquiry might have done the most good. The
trail of Sammy Pinkney was lost.

Neale O'Neil wanted to satisfy himself about one thing. He said
nothing to Agnes about it, but after he had put up the car and locked
the garage, he walked down Main Street to Byburg's candy store.

June Wildwood was always there until half past nine, and Saturday
nights until later. She was at her post behind the sweets counter on
this occasion when Neale entered.

"I am glad to see you, Neale," she said. "I'm awfully curious."

"About that bracelet?"

"Yes," she admitted. "What has come of it? Anything?"

"Enough. Tell me," began Neale, before she could put in any further
question, "while you were with the Gypsies did you hear anything about
Queen Alma?"

"Queen Zaliska. I was Queen Zaliska. They dressed me up and stained my
face to look the part."

"Oh, I know all about that," Neale returned. "But this Queen Alma was
some ancient lady. She lived three hundred years ago."

"Goodness! How you talk, Neale O'Neil. Of course I don't know anything
about such a person."

"Those Gypsies you were with never talked of her?"

"I didn't hear them. I never learned much of the language they use
among themselves."

"Well, we got a tip," said the boy, "that the bracelet belonged to
this Queen Alma, and that there is a row among the Gypsies over the
ownership of it."

"You don't tell me!"

"I am telling you. We heard so. Say, is that Big Jim a Spaniard? A
Spanish Gypsy, I mean?"

"I don't know. Maybe. He looks like a Spaniard, or a Mexican, or an
Italian."

"Yes. I thought he did. He comes of some Latin race, anyway. What is
his last name?"

"Why--I--I am not sure that I know."

"Is it Costello? Did you hear that name while you were with the
Gypsies, June?"

"Some of them are named Costello. It is a family name among them I
guess. And about that Jim. Do you know that I saw him yesterday
driving down Main Street in an automobile?"

"You don't mean it? Gypsies are going to become flivver traders
instead of horse swappers, are they?" and Neale laughed.

"Oh, it was a big, seven-passenger car," said June. "Those Gypsies
have money, if they want to spend it."

"Did you ever hear of a Gypsy junkman?" chuckled Neale.

"Of course not. Although I guess junkmen make good money nowadays,"
drawled June Wildwood, laughing too. "You are a funny boy, Neale
O'Neil. Do you want to know anything else?"

"Lots of things. But I guess you cannot tell me much more about the
Gypsies that would be pertinent to the bracelet business. We hear that
the Costello Gypsies are fighting over the possession of the
heirloom--the bracelet, you know. That is why one bunch of them wanted
to get it off their hands for a while--and so gave it into the keeping
of Tess and Dot."

"Mercy!"

"Does that seem improbable to you, June?"

"No-o. Not much. They might. It makes me think that maybe the Gypsies
have been watching the old Corner House and know all about the
Kenways."

"They might easily do that. You know, they might know us all from that
time away back when we brought you home from Pleasant Cove with us.
This is some of the same tribe you were with--sure enough!"

"I know it," sighed June Wildwood. "I've been scared a little about
them too. But for my own sake. I haven't dared tell Rosa; but pap
comes down here to the store for me every evening and beaus me home. I
feel safer."

"The bracelet business has nothing to do with you, of course?"

"Of course not. But those Gypsies might have some evil intent about
Ruth and her sisters."

"Guess they are just trying to use them for a convenience. While that
bracelet is in the Corner House no other claimant but those Gypsy
women are likely to get hold of it. Believe me, it is a puzzle," he
concluded. "I guess we will have to put it up to Mr. Howbridge, sure
enough."

"Oh! The Kenways's lawyer?" cried June.

"Their guardian. Sure enough. That is what we will have to do."

But when Neale and Agnes Kenway, after an early breakfast, hurried
downtown to Mr. Howbridge's office the next morning to tell the lawyer
all about the Gypsies and Queen Alma's bracelet, they made a
surprising discovery.

Mr. Howbridge had left town the evening before on important business.
He might not return for a week.



CHAPTER XVII--RUTH BEGINS TO WORRY


Oakhurst, in the mountains, was a very lovely spot. Besides the hotel
where Luke Shepard had worked and where he had met with his accident,
there were bungalows and several old-fashioned farmhouses where
boarders were received. There was a lake, fine golf links, bridlepaths
through the woods, and mountains to climb. It was a popular if quiet
resort.

Ruth and Cecile Shepard had rooms in one of the farmhouses, for the
hotel was expensive. Besides, the farmer owned a beautifully shaded
lawn overlooking the lake and the girls could sit there under the
trees while the invalid, as they insisted upon calling Luke, reclined
on a swinging cot.

"Believe me!" Cecile often insisted, "I will never send another
telegram as long as I live. I cannot forgive myself for making such a
mess of it. But then, if I hadn't done so, you would not be here now,
Ruthie."

"Isn't that a fact?" agreed her brother. "You are all right, Sis! I am
for you, strong."

Ruth laughed. Yet there were worried lines between her eyes.

"It is all right," she murmured. "I might have come in any case--for
Mr. Howbridge advised it by this letter that they remailed to me. But
I should not have left in such haste, and I should have left somebody
besides Mrs. McCall to look after the girls."

"Pooh!" ejaculated Luke. "What is the matter with Agnes?"

"That is just it," laughed Ruth again, but shaking her head too. "It
is Agnes, and what she may do, that troubles me more than anything
else."

"Goodness me! She is a big girl," declared Cecile. "And she has lots
of sense."

"She usually succeeds in hiding her good sense, then," rejoined Ruth.
"Of course she can take care of herself. But will she give sufficient
attention to the little ones. That is the doubt that troubles me."

"Well, you just can't go away now!" wailed Cecile. "You have got to
stay till the doctor says we can move Luke. I can't take him back
alone."

"Now, don't make me out so badly off. I am lying here like a poor log
because that sawbones and you girls make me. But I know I could get up
and play baseball."

[Illustration: The girls could sit under the tree while Luke reclined
on a swinging cot.]

"Don't you dare!" cried his sister.

"You would not be so unwise," said Ruth promptly.

"All right. Then you stop worrying, Ruth," the young fellow said.
"Otherwise I shall 'take up my bed and walk'--you see! This lying
around like an ossified man is a nuisance, and it's absurd, anyway."

Ruth had immediately written to Mr. Howbridge asking him to look
closely after family affairs at the Corner House. Had she known the
lawyer was not at home when her letter arrived in Milton she certainly
would have started back by the very next train.

She wrote Mrs. McCall, too, for exact news. And naturally she poured
into her letter to Agnes all the questions and advice of which she
could think.

Agnes was too busy when that letter arrived to answer it at all.
Things were happening at the old Corner House at that time of which
Ruth had never dreamed.

Ruth was really glad to be with Cecile and Luke in the mountains. And
she tried to throw off her anxiety.

Luke insisted that his sister and Ruth should go over to the hotel to
dance in the evening when he had to go to bed, as the doctor ordered.
He had become acquainted with most of the hotel guests before his
injury, and the young people liked Luke Shepard.

They welcomed his sister and Ruth as one of themselves, and the two
girls had the finest kind of a time. At least, Cecile did, and she
said that Ruth might have had, had she not been thinking of the
home-folk so much.

Several days passed, and although Ruth heard nothing from home save a
brief and hurried note from Agnes, telling of their unsuccessful
search for Sammy--and nothing much else--the older Kenway girl began to
feel that her anxiety had been unnecessary.

Then came Mrs. McCall's labored letter. The old Scotchwoman was never
an easy writer. And her thoughts did not run to the way of clothing
facts in readable English. She was plain and blunt. At least a part of
her letter immediately made Ruth feel that she was needed at home, and
that even her interest in Luke Shepard should not detain her longer at
Oakhurst.

                   *       *       *       *       *

"We have got to have another watchdog. Old Tom Jonah is too old; it is
my opinion. I mind he is getting deaf, or something, or he wouldn't
have let that man come every night and stare in at the window. Faith,
he is a nuisance--the man, I mean, Ruth, not the old dog.

"I have spoke to the police officer on the beat; but Mr. Howbridge
being out of town I don't know what else to do about that man. And
such a foxy looking man as he is!

"Neale O'Neil, who is a good lad, I'm saying, and no worse than other
boys of his age for sure, offers to watch by night. But I have not
allowed it. He and Aggie talk of Gypsies, and they show me that silver
bracelet--a bit barbarous thing that you remember the children had to
play with--and say the dark man who comes to the window nights is a
Gypsy. I think he is a plain tramp, that is all, my lass.

"Don't let these few lines worry you. Linda goes to bed with the stove
poker every night, and Uncle Rufus says he has oiled up your great
uncle's old shotgun. But I know that gun has no hammer to it, so I am
not afraid of the weapon at all. I just want to make that black-faced
man go away from the house and mind his own business. It is a nuisance
he is."

                   *       *       *       *       *

"I must go home--oh, I must!" Ruth said to Cecile as soon as she had
read this effusion from the old housekeeper. "Just think! A man spying
on them--and a Gypsy!"

"Pooh! it can't be anything of importance," scoffed Cecile.

"It must be. Think! I told you about the Gypsy bracelet. There must be
more of importance connected with that than we thought."

She had already told Luke and Cecile about the mystery of the silver
ornament.

"Why, I thought you had told Mr. Howbridge about it," Cecile said.

"I did not. I really forgot to when the news of Luke's illness came,"
and Ruth blushed.

"That quite drove everything else out of your head, did it?" laughed
the other girl. "But now why let it bother you? Of course Mr.
Howbridge will attend to things--"

"But he seems to be away," murmured Ruth. "Evidently Mrs. McCall and
Agnes have not been able to reach him. Oh, Cecile! I must really go
home."

"Then you will have to come back," declared Cecile Shepard. "I could
not possibly travel with Luke alone."

The physician had confided more to the girls than to Luke himself
about the young man's physical condition. The medical man feared some
spinal trouble if Luke did not remain quiet and lie flat on his back
for some time to come.

But the day following Ruth's receipt of Mrs. McCall's anxiety-breeding
letter, Dr. Moline agreed to the young man's removal.

"But only in a compartment. You must take the afternoon train on which
you can engage a compartment. He must lie at ease all the way. I will
take him to the station in my car. And have a car to meet him when you
get to the Milton station."

The first of these instructions Ruth was able to follow faithfully.
The cost of such a trip was not to be considered. She would not even
allow Luke and Cecile to speak about it.

Ruth had her own private bank account, arranged for and supervised, it
was true, by Mr. Howbridge, and she prided herself upon doing business
in a businesslike way.

Just before they boarded the train at Oakhurst station she telegraphed
home that they were coming and for Neale to meet them with the car,
late though their arrival would be. If on time, the train would stop
at Milton just after midnight.

When that telegram arrived at the old Corner House it failed to make
much of a disturbance in the pool of the household existence. And for
a very good reason. So much had happened there during the previous few
hours that the advent of the King and Queen of England (and this Mrs.
McCall herself said) would have created a very small "hooroo."

As for Neale O'Neil's getting out the car and going down to the
station to meet Ruth and her friends when they arrived, that seemed to
be quite impossible. The coming of the telegram was at an hour when
already the Kenway automobile was far away from Milton, and Neale and
Agnes in it were having high adventure.



CHAPTER XVIII--THE JUNKMAN AGAIN


When Ruth started home with Luke and Cecile Shepard several days had
elapsed since Neale O'Neil and Agnes had discovered that Mr. Howbridge
was out of town.

The chief clerk at the lawyer's office had little time to give to the
youthful visitors, for just then he had his hands full with a caller
whom Neale and Agnes had previously found was a person not easily to
be pacified.

"There is a crazy man in here," grumbled the clerk. "I don't know what
he means. He says he 'comes from Kenway,' and there is something about
Queen Alma and her bracelet. What do you know about this, Miss
Kenway?"

"Oh, my prophetic soul!" gasped Neale O'Neil. "Costello, the junkman!"

"Dear, me! We thought we could see Mr. Howbridge before that man
came."

"Tell me what it means," urged the clerk. "Then I will know what to
say to the lunatic."

"I guess he's a nut all right," admitted Neale. He told the lawyer's
clerk swiftly all they knew about the junkman, and all they knew about
the silver bracelet.

"All right. It is something for Mr. Howbridge to attend to himself,"
declared the clerk. "You hang on to that bracelet and don't let
anybody have it. I'll try to shoo off this fellow. Anyway, it may not
belong to his family at all. I'll hold him here till you two get
away."

Neale and Agnes were glad to escape contact with the junkman again. He
was too vehement.

"He'll walk right in and search the house for the thing," grumbled
Neale. "We can't have him frightening the children."

"And I don't want to be frightened myself," added Agnes.

They hurried home, and all that day, every time the bell rang or she
heard a voice at the side door, the girl felt a sudden qualm. "Wish we
had never advertised that bracelet at all," she confessed in secret.
"Dear, me! I wonder what Ruth will say?"

Nevertheless she failed to take her older sister into her confidence
regarding Queen Alma's bracelet when she wrote to her. She felt quite
convinced that Ruth would not approve of what she and Neale had done,
so why talk about it?

This was the attitude Agnes maintained. Perhaps the whole affair would
be straightened out before Ruth came back. And otherwise, she
considered, everything was going well at the Corner House in Milton.

It was Miss Ann Titus who evinced interest next in the "lost and
found" advertisement. Miss Ann Titus was the woman whom Dot called
"such a fluid speaker" and who said so many "and-so's" that
"ain't-so's." In other words, Miss Titus, the dressmaker, was a very
gossipy person, although she was not intentionally unkind.

She came in this afternoon, "stopping by" as she termed it, from
spending a short sewing day with Mrs. Pease, a Willow Street neighbor
of the Corner House girls.

"And I must say that Mrs. Pease, for a woman of her age, has young
idees about dress," Miss Titus confided to Mrs. McCall and Agnes, who
were in the sewing room. Aunt Sarah "couldn't a-bear" Miss Ann Titus,
so they did not invite the seamstress to go upstairs.

"Yes, her idees is some young," repeated Miss Titus. "But then,
nowadays if you foller the styles in the fashion papers nobody can
tell you and your grandmother apart, back to! Skirts are so skimpy--and
_short_!"

Miss Titus fanned herself rapidly, and allowed her emphasis to suggest
her own opinion of modern taste in dress.

"Of course, Mrs. Pease is slim and ain't lost all her good looks; but
it does seem to me if I was a married woman," she simpered here a
little, for Miss Titus had by no means given up all hope of entering
the wedded state, "I should consider my husband's feelings. I would
not go on the street looking below my knees as though I was twelve
year old instead of thirty-two."

"Maybe Mr. Pease likes her to look young," suggested Agnes.

"Hech! Hech!" clucked Mrs. McCall placidly. "Thirty-twa is not so very
auld. Not as we live these days, at any rate."

"But think of the example she sets her children," sniffed Miss Titus,
bridling.

"Tut, tut! How much d'you expect Margie and Holly Pease is influenced
by their mother's style o' dress?" exclaimed the housekeeper. "The twa
bairns scarce know much about that."

"I guess that is so," chimed in Agnes. "And I think she is a pretty
woman and dresses nicely. So there!"

"Ah, you young things cannot be expected to think as I do," smirked
Miss Titus.

"I take that as a compliment, my dear," said the housekeeper
comfortably. "And I never expect tae be vairy old until I die. Still
and all, I am some older than Agnes."

"That reminds me," said Miss Titus, more briskly (though it did not
remind her, for she had come into the Corner House for the special
purpose of broaching the subject that she now announced), "which of
you Kenways is it has found a silver bracelet?"

"Now, _that_ is Agnes' affair," chuckled Mrs. McCall.

"Oh! It is not Ruth that advertised?" queried the curious Miss Titus.

"Na, na! Tell it her, Agnes," said the housekeeper.

But Agnes was not sure she wished to describe to this gossipy
seamstress all the incidents connected with Queen Alma's bracelet. She
only said:

"Of course, you do not know anybody who has lost such a bracelet?"

"How can I tell till I have seen it?" demanded Miss Titus.

"Well, we have about decided that until somebody comes who describes
the bracelet and can explain how and where it was lost that we had
better not display it at all," Agnes said, with more firmness than was
usual with her.

"Oh!" sniffed Miss Titus. "I hope you do not think that _I_ have any
interest--any personal interest--in inquiring about it?"

"If I thought it was yours, Miss Titus, I would let you see it
immediately," Agnes hastened to assure her. "But of course--"

"There was a bracelet lost right on this street," said Miss Titus
earnestly, meaning Willow Street and pointing that way, "that never
was recovered to my knowledge."

"Oh! You don't mean it?" cried the puzzled girl. "Of course, we don't
_know_ that this one belongs to any of those Gypsies--"

"I should say not!" clucked Miss Titus. "The bracelet I mean was worn
by Sarah Turner. She and I went together regular when we were girls.
And going to prayer meeting one night, walking along here by the old
Corner House, Sarah dropped her bracelet."

"But--but!" gasped Agnes, "that must have been some time ago, Miss
Titus."

"It is according to how you compute time," the dressmaker said. "Sarah
and I were about of an age. And she isn't more than forty years old
right now!"

"I don't think this bracelet we have is the one your friend lost,"
Agnes said faintly, but confidently. She wanted to laugh but did not
dare.

"How do you know?" demanded Miss Ann Titus in her snappy way--like the
biting off of a thread when she was at work. "I should know it, even
so long after it was lost, I assure you."

"Why--how?" asked the Corner House girl curiously.

"By the scratches on it," declared Miss Titus. "Sarah's brother John
made them with his pocketknife--on the inside of the bracelet--to see if
it was real silver. Oh! he was a bad boy--as bad as Sammy Pinkney. And
what do you think of _his_ running away again?"

Agnes was glad the seamstress changed the subject right here. It
seemed to her as though she had noticed scratches on the bracelet the
Gypsies had placed in the basket the children bought. Could it be
possible--

"No! That is ridiculous!" Agnes told herself. "It could not be
possible that a bracelet lost forty years ago on Willow Street should
turn up at this late date. And, having found it, why should those
Gypsy women give it to Tess and Dot? There would be no sense in that."

Yet, when the talkative Miss Titus had gone Agnes went to the room the
little folks kept their playthings and doll families in, and picked up
the Alice-doll which chanced that day to be wearing the silver band.
She removed it from the doll and took it to the window where the light
was better.

Yes! It was true as she had thought. There were several crosswise
scratches on the inside of the circlet. They might easily have been
made by a boy's jackknife.

"I declare! Who really knows where this bracelet came from, and who
actually owns it? Maybe it is not Queen Alma's ornament after all.
Dear, me! this Kenway family is forever getting mixed up in
difficulties that positively have nothing to do with _us_.

"The silly old bracelet! Why couldn't those Gypsy women have sold that
basket to Margaret and Holly Pease, or to some other little girls
instead of to our Tess and Dot. Mrs. McCall says that some people seem
to attract trouble, just as lightning-rods attract lightning, and I
guess the Kenways are some of those people!"

Neale did not come over again that day, so she had nobody to discuss
this new slant in the matter with. And if Agnes could not "talk out
loud" about her troubles, she was apt to grow irritable. At least, the
little girls said after supper that she was cross.

"Ruth doesn't talk that way to us," declared Tess, quite hurt, and
gathering up her playthings from the various chairs in the sitting
room where the family usually gathered in the evenings. "I don't think
I should like her to be away all the time."

This was Tess's polite way of criticising Agnes. But Dot was not so
hampered by politeness.

"Crosspatch!" she exclaimed. "That's just what you are, Aggie Kenway."

And she started for bed in quite a huff. Agnes was glad, a few minutes
later, that the two smaller girls had gone upstairs, even if they had
gone away in this unhappy state of mind. Mrs. McCall had come in and
sat down at some mending and the room was very quiet. Suddenly a noise
outside on the porch made Agnes raise her head and look at the nearest
window.

"What is the matter wi' ye, lassie?" asked Mrs. McCall, startled.

"Did you hear that?" whispered the girl, staring at the window.

The shade was not drawn down to the sill, and the curtains were the
very thinnest of scrim. At the space of four inches below the shade
Agnes saw a white splotch against the pane.

"Oh! See! A face!" gasped Agnes in three smothered shrieks.

"Hech, mon! Such a flibbertigibbet as the lass is." Mrs. McCall
adjusted her glasses and stared, first at the frightened girl, then at
the window. But she, too, saw the face. "What can the matter be?" she
demanded, half rising. "Is that Neale O'Neil up tae some o' his
jokes?"

"Oh, no, Mrs. Mac! It's not Neale," half sobbed Agnes. "I know who it
is. It's that awful junkman!"

"A junkman?" repeated Mrs. McCall. "At this time o' night? We've
naethin' tae sellit him. The impudence!"

She rose, quite determined to drive the importunate junkman away.



CHAPTER XIX--THE HOUSE IS HAUNTED


"Why do ye fash yoursel' so?" demanded Mrs. McCall in growing wonder
and exasperation. "Let me see the foolish man."

She approached the window and raised the shade sharply. Then she
hoisted the sash itself. But Costello, the junkman, was gone.

"There is naebody here," she complained, looking out on the side
porch.

"But he _was_ there! You saw him," faintly declared Agnes.

"He was nae ghost, if that's what you mean," said the housekeeper
dryly. "But what and who is he? A junkman? How do you come to know
junkmen, lassie?"

"I only know that junkman," explained Agnes.

"Aye?" The housekeeper's eyes as well as her voice was sharp. "And
when did you make his acquaintance? Costello, d'you say?"

"So he said his name was. He--he is one of the Gypsies, I do believe!"

"Gypsies! The idea! Is the house surrounded by Gypsies?"

"I don't know, Mrs. McCall," said Agnes faintly. "I only know they are
giving us a lot of trouble."

"Who are?"

"The Gypsies."

"Hear the lass!" exclaimed the troubled housekeeper. "Who ever heard
the like? Why should Gypsies give us any trouble? Is it that bit
bracelet the bairns play wi'? Then throw it out and let the Gypsies
have it."

"But that would not be right, would it, Mrs. McCall?" demanded the
troubled girl. "If--if the bracelet belongs to them--"

"Hech! To this junkman?"

"He claims it," confessed Agnes.

"Tut, tut! What is going on here that I do not know about?" demanded
the Scotch woman with deeper interest.

She closed the window, drew the shade again, and returned to her seat.
She stared at Agnes rather sternly over her glasses.

"Come now, my lass," said the housekeeper, "what has been going on so
slyly here? I never heard of any Costello, junkman or not. Who is he?
What does he want, peering in at a body's windows at night?"

Agnes told the whole story then--and managed to tell it clearly enough
for the practical woman to gain a very good idea of the whole matter.

"Of course," was her comment, grimly said, "you and that Neale could
not let well enough alone. You never can. If you had not advertised
the bit bracelet, this junkman would not have troubled you."

"But we thought it ought to be advertised," murmured Agnes in defense.

"Aye, aye! Ye thought mooch I've nae doot. And to little good purpose.
Well, 'tis a matter for Mr. Howbridge now, sure enough. And what he'll
say--"

"But I hope that Costello does not come to the house again," ventured
the girl, in some lingering alarm.

"You or Neale go to Mr. Howbridge's clerk in the morning and tell him.
He should tell the police of this crazy man. A Gypsy, too, you say?"

"I think he must be. The bracelet seems to be a bone of contention
between two branches of the Gypsy tribe. If it belonged to that old
Queen Alma--"

"Fiddle-faddle!" exclaimed the housekeeper. "Who ever heard of a queen
among those dirty Gypsies? 'Tis foolishness."

The fact that Costello, the junkman, was lingering about the old
Corner House was not to be denied. They saw him again before bedtime.
Uncle Rufus had gone to bed and Linda was so easily frightened that
Mrs. McCall did not want to tell her.

So the housekeeper grabbed a broom and started out on the side porch
with the avowed intention of "breaking the besom over the chiel's
head!" But the lurker refused to be caught and darted away into the
shadows. And all without making a sound, or revealing in any way what
his intention might be.

Mrs. McCall and the trembling Agnes went all about the house, locking
each lower window, and of course all the doors. Tom Jonah, the old
Newfoundland dog, slept out of doors these warm nights, and sometimes
wandered away from the premises.

"We ought to have Buster, Sammy Pinkney's bulldog, over here. Then
that horrid man would not dare come into the yard," Agnes said.

"You might as well turn that old billy-goat loose," sniffed Mrs.
McCall. "He'd do little more harm than that bull pup--and nae more
good, either."

They went to bed--earlier than usual, perhaps. And that may be the
reason why Agnes could not sleep. She considered the possibility of
Costello's climbing up the porch posts to the roof, and so reaching
the second story windows.

"If he is going to haunt the house like this," Agnes declared to the
housekeeper in the morning, "let us make Neale come here and stay at
night."

"That lad?" returned the housekeeper, who had no very exalted opinion
of boys in any case--no more than had Ruth. "Haven't we all troubles
enough, I want to know? This is a case for the police. You go tell Mr.
Howbridge's clerk about the Gypsy, that is what you do."

But Agnes would not do even that without taking Neale into her
confidence. Neale at once was up in arms when he heard of the lurking
junkman. He declared he would come over and hide in the closet on the
Kenways' back porch and try to catch the man if he appeared again at
night.

"He is a very strong man, Neale," objected Agnes. "And he might have a
knife, too. You know, those Gypsies are awfully fierce-tempered."

"I don't know that he is," objected Neale. "He looked to me like just
plain crazy."

"Well, you come down to the office with me," commanded Agnes. "I don't
even want to meet that excitable Costello man on the street when I am
alone."

"I suppose you are scared, Aggie. But I don't think he would really
hurt you. Come on!"

So they went down to Mr. Howbridge's office again and interviewed the
clerk, telling him first of all of the appearance of the junkman the
night before.

"I had fairly to drive him out of these offices," said the clerk. "He
is of a very excitable temperament, to say the least. But I did not
think there was any real harm in him."

"Just the same," Neale objected, "he wants to keep away from the house
and not frighten folks at night."

"Oh, we will soon stop that," said Mr. Howbridge's representative. "I
will report it to the police."

"But perhaps he does not mean any harm," faltered Agnes.

"I do not think he does," said the man. "Nevertheless, we will warn
him."

This promise relieved Agnes a good deal. She was tender-hearted and
she did not wish the junkman arrested. But when evening came and he
once more stared in at the windows, and tapped on the panes, and
wandered around and around the house--

"Well, this is too much!" cried the girl, when Neale and Mrs. McCall
both ran out to try to apprehend the marauder. "I do wish we had a
telephone. I am going to _beg_ Ruth to have one put in just as soon as
she comes back. We could call the police and they would catch that
man."

Perhaps the police, had they been informed, might have caught
Costello. But Mrs. McCall and Neale did not. The latter remained until
the family went to bed and then the boy did a little lurking in the
bushes on his own account. But he did not spy the strange man again.

In the morning, without saying anything to the Kenway family about it,
Neale O'Neil set out to find Costello, the junkman. He certainly was
not afraid of the man by daylight. He had had experience with him.

From Mr. Howbridge's clerk he had already obtained the address the
junkman had given when he was at the office. The place was down by the
canal in the poorer section of the town, of course.

There were several cellars and first-floors of old houses given up to
ragpickers and dealers in junk of all kinds. After some inquiry among
a people who quite evidently were used to dodging the answering of
incriminating questions, Neale learned that there had been a junkman
living in a certain room up to within a day or two before, whose name
was Costello. But he had disappeared. Oh, yes! Neale's informant was
quite sure that Costello had gone away for good.

"But he had a horse and wagon. He had a business of his own. Where has
he gone?" demanded the boy.

He was gone. That was all these people would tell him. They pointed
out the old shed where Costello had kept his horse. Was it a good
horse? It was a good looking horse, with smiles which seemed to
indicate that Costello was a true Gypsy and was not above "doctoring"
a horse into a deceiving appearance of worthiness.

"He drove away with that horse. He did not say where he was going. I
guess he go to make a sale, eh? He will come back with some old plug
that he make look fine, eh?"

This was the nearest to real information that Neale could obtain, and
this from a youth who worked for one of the established junk dealers.

So Neale had to give up the inquiry as useless. When he came back to
the old Corner House he confessed to Agnes:

"He is hiding somewhere, and coming around here after dark. Wish I had
a shotgun--"

"Oh, Neale! How wicked!"

"Loaded with rock-salt," grinned the boy. "A dose of that might do the
Gyp. a world of good."



CHAPTER XX--PLOTTERS AT WORK


The adventures of the Corner House girls and their friends did not
usually include anything very terrible. Perhaps there was no
particular peril threatened by Costello, the Gypsy junkman, who was
lurking about the premises at night. Just the same, Agnes Kenway was
inclined to do what Mrs. McCall suggested and throw the silver
bracelet out upon the ash heap.

Of course they had no moral right to do that, and the housekeeper's
irritable suggestion was not to be thought of for a serious moment.
Yet Agnes would have been glad to get rid of the responsibility
connected with possession of Queen Alma's ornament.

"If it is that Costello heirloom!" she said. "Maybe after all it
belongs to Miss Ann Titus's friend, Sarah Whatshername. Goodness! I
wonder how many other people will come to claim the old thing. I do
wish Ruth would return."

"Just so you could hand the responsibility over to her," accused
Neale.

"M-mm. Well?"

"We ought to hunt up those Gypsies--'Beeg Jeem' and his crowd--and get
their side of the story," declared Neale.

"No! I will not!" cried Agnes. "I have met all the Gypsies I ever want
to meet."

But within the hour she met another. She was in the kitchen, and Linda
and Mrs. McCall were both in the front of the house, cleaning. There
came a timid-sounding rap on the door. Agnes unthinkingly threw it
open.

A slender girl stood there--a girl younger than Agnes herself. This
stranger was very ragged, not at all clean looking, and very brown.
She had flashing white teeth and flashing black eyes.

Agnes actually started back when she saw her and suppressed a scream.
For she instantly knew the stranger was one of the Gypsy tribe. That
she seemed to be alone was the only thing that kept Agnes from
slamming the door again right in the girl's face.

"Will the kind lady give me something to eat?" whined the beggar. "I
am hungry. I eat nothing all the day."

Agnes was doubtful of the truth of this. The dark girl did not look
ill-fed. But she had an appearance of need just the same; and it was a
rule of the Corner House household never to turn a hungry person away.

"Stay there on the mat," Agnes finally said. "Don't come in. I will
see what I can find for you."

"Yes, Ma'am," said the girl.

"Haven't you had any breakfast?" asked Agnes, moving toward the
pantry, and her sympathies becoming excited.

"No, Ma'am. And no supper last night. Nobody give me nothing."

"Well," said Agnes, with more warmth, expanding to this tale of woe,
as was natural, "I will see what I can find."

She found a plate heaped with bread and meat and a wedge of cake,
which she brought to the screen door. The girl had stood there
motionless, only her black eyes roved about the kitchen and seemed to
mark everything in it.

"Sit down there on the steps and eat it," said Agnes, passing the
plate through a narrow opening, as she might have handed food into the
cage of an animal at a menagerie. She really was half afraid of the
girl just because she looked so much like a Gypsy.

The stranger ate as though she was quite as ravenously hungry as she
had claimed to be. There could be no doubt that the food disappeared
with remarkable celerity. She sat for a moment or two after she had
eaten the last crumb with the plate in her lap. Then she rose and
brought it timidly to the door.

"Did you have enough?" asked Agnes, feeling less afraid now.

"Oh, yes, Lady! It was so nice," and the girl flashed her teeth in a
beaming smile. She was quite a pretty girl--if she had only been clean
and decently dressed.

She handed the plate to Agnes, and then turned and ran out of the yard
and down the street as fast as she could run. Agnes stared after her
in increased amazement. Why had she run away?

"If she is a Gypsy--Well, they are queer people, that is sure. Oh! What
is this?"

Her fingers had found something on the under side of the plate. She
turned it up and saw a soiled piece of paper sticking there. Agnes,
wondering, if no longer alarmed, drew the paper from the plate, turned
it over, and saw that some words were scrawled in blue pencil on the
paper.

"Goodness me! More mysteries!" gasped the Corner House girl.

Briefly and plainly the message read: _Do not_ _give the bracelet to
Miguel. He is a thief._

Agnes sat down and stared almost breathlessly at the paper. That it
was a threatening command from one crowd of Gypsies or the other, she
was sure. But whether it was from Big Jim's crowd or from Costello,
the junkman, she did not know.

Her first thought, after she had digested the matter for a few
moments, was to run with the paper to Mrs. McCall. But Mrs. McCall was
not at all sympathetic about this bracelet matter. She was only angry
with the Gypsies, and, perhaps, a little angry with Agnes for having
unwittingly added to the trouble by putting the advertisement in the
paper.

Neale, after all, could be her only confident; and, making sure that
no other dark-visaged person was in sight about the house, the girl
ran down the long yard beyond the garden to the stable and Billy
Bumps' quarters, and there climbed the board fence that separated the
Kenway yard from that of Con Murphy, the cobbler.

"Hoo, hoo! Hoo, hoo!" Agnes called, looking over the top rail of the
fence.

"Hoo, hoo, yerself!" croaked a voice. "I'd have yez know we kape no
owls on these premises."

The bent figure of Mr. Murphy, always busy at his bench, was visible
through the back window of his shop.

"Is it that young yahoo called Neale O'Neil that yez want, Miss
Aggie?" added the smiling cobbler. "If so--"

But Neale O'Neil appeared just then to answer to the summons of his
girl friend. He had been to the store, and he tumbled all his packages
on Con's bench to run out into the yard to greet Agnes.

"What's happened now?" he cried, seeing in the girl's face that
something out of the ordinary troubled her.

"Oh, Neale! what do you think?" she gasped. "There's been another of
them at the house."

"Not one of those Gypsies?"

"I believe she was."

"Oh! A _she_!" said the boy, much relieved. "Well, she didn't bite
you, of course?"

"Come here and look at this," commanded his friend.

Neale went to the fence, climbed up and took the paper that Agnes had
found stuck to the plate on which she had placed the food for the
Gypsy girl. When he had read the abrupt and unsigned message, Neale
began to grow excited, too.

"Where did you get this?"

Agnes told him about it. Of course, the hungry girl had been a
messenger from one party of Gypsies or the other. Which? was Agnes'
eager question.

"Guess I can answer that," Neale said gravely. "It does look as though
things were getting complicated. I bet this girl you fed is one of Big
Jim's bunch."

"How can you be so positive?"

"There are probably only two parties of Gypsies fighting over the
possession of that old bracelet. Now, I learned down there in that
junk neighborhood that Costello--the Costello who is bothering us--is
called Miguel. They are all Costellos--Big Jim's crowd and all. June
Wildwood says so. They distinguish our junkman from themselves by
calling him by his first name. Therefore--"

"Oh, of course I see," sighed Agnes. "It is a terrible mess, Neale! I
do wish Mr. Howbridge would get back. Or that the police would find
that junkman and shut him up. Or--or that Ruthie would come home!"

"Oh, don't be a baby, Aggie!" ejaculated Neale.

"Who is the baby, I want to know?" flashed back the girl. "I'm not!"

"Then pluck up your spirits and don't turn on the sprinkler," said the
slangy youth. "Why, this is nothing to cry about. When it is all over
we shall be looking back at the mystery as something great in our
young lives."

"You can try to laugh if you want to," snapped Agnes. "But being
haunted by a junkman, and getting notes from Gypsies like that! Huh!
who wouldn't be scared? Why, we don't know what those people might do
to us if we give up the bracelet to the wrong person."

"It doesn't belong to any of the Gypsies, perhaps."

"That is exactly it!" she cried. "Maybe, after all, it is the property
of Miss Ann Titus' friend, Sarah."

"And was lost somewhere on Willow Street--about where your garage now
stands--forty years ago!" scoffed Neale. "Well, you are pretty soft,
Agnes Kenway."

This naturally angered the girl, and she pouted and got down from the
fence without replying. As she went back up the yard she saw Mrs.
Pinkney, with her head tied up with a towel, shaking a dustcloth at
one of her front windows. It at least changed the current of the
girl's thought.

"Oh, Mrs. Pinkney!" she cried, running across the street to speak to
Sammy's mother, "have you heard anything?"

"About Sammy? Not a word," answered the woman. "I have to keep working
all the time, Agnes Kenway, or I should go insane. I know I should! I
have cleaned this whole house, from attic to cellar, three times since
Sammy ran away."

"Why, Mrs. Pinkney! If you don't go insane--and I don't believe you
will--I am sure you will overwork and be ill."

"I must keep doing. I must keep going. If I sit down to think I
imagine the most horrible things happening to the dear child. It is
awful!"

Agnes knew that never before had the woman been so much disturbed by
her boy's absences from home. It seemed as though she really had lost
control of herself, and the Corner House girl was quite worried over
Mrs. Pinkney.

"If we could only help you and Mr. Pinkney," said Agnes doubtfully.
"Do you suppose it would do any good to go off in the car again--Neale
and me and your husband--to look for Sammy?"

"Mr. Pinkney is so tied down by his business that he cannot go just
now," she sighed. "And he has put the search into the hands of an
agency. I did not want the police to get after Sammy. But what could
we do? And they say there are Gypsies around."

"Oh!" gasped Agnes. "Do you suppose--?"

"You never can tell what those people will do. I am told they have
stolen children."

"Isn't that more talk than anything else?" asked Agnes, trying to
speak quite casually.

"I don't know. One of my neighbors tells me she hears that there is a
big encampment of Gypsies out on the Buckshot Road. You know, out
beyond the Poole farm. They have autovans instead of horses, so they
say, and maybe could carry any children they stole out of the state in
a very short time."

"Oh, dear me, Mrs. Pinkney! I would not think of such things," Agnes
urged. "It does not sound reasonable."

"That the Gypsies should travel by auto instead of behind horse?"
rejoined Sammy's mother. "Why not? Everybody else is using automobiles
for transportation. I tell Mr. Pinkney that if we had a machine
perhaps Sammy might not have been so eager to leave home."

"Oh, dear, me!" thought Agnes, as she made her way home again, "I am
sorry for Mr. Pinkney. Just now I guess he is having a hard time at
home as well as at business!"

But she treasured up what she had heard about the Gypsy encampment on
the Buckshot Road to tell Neale--when she should not be so "put-out"
with him. The Buckshot Road was in an entirely different direction
from Milton than that they had followed in their automobile on the
memorable search for Sammy. Agnes did not suppose for a moment that
the missing boy had gone with the Gypsies.



CHAPTER XXI--TESS AND DOT TAKE A HAND


Up to this time Tess and Dot Kenway had heard nothing about the Gypsy
junkman haunting the house at night, or about other threatening things
connected with the wonderful silver bracelet.

Their young minds were quite as excited about the ornament as in the
beginning, however; for in the first place they had to keep run
exactly of whose turn it was to "wear" the Gypsies' gift.

"I don't see what we'll do about it when Alice grows up," Dot said.
She was always looking forward in imagination to the time when her
favorite doll should become adult. "She will want to wear that belt,
Tess, for evening dress. You know, a lady's jewelry should belong to
her."

"I'm not going to give up my share to your Alice-doll," announced
Tess, quite firmly for her. "And, anyway, you must not be so sure that
it is going to be ours all the time. See! Aggie says we can't take it
out of the house to play with."

"I don't care!" whined Dot. "I don't want to give it back to those
Gypsy ladies."

"Neither do I. But we must of course, if we can find them. Honest is
honest."

"It--it's awful uncomfortable to be so dreadful' honest," blurted out
the smaller girl. "And I think they meant us to have the bracelet."

"All right, then. It's only polite to offer it back to them. Then if
they don't want it we'll know that it is ours and even Ruth won't say
anything."

"But--but when my Alice-doll grows up--"

"Now, don't be a little piggie, Dot Kenway!" exclaimed Tess, rather
crossly. "When your wrist gets big enough so the bracelet won't slip
over your hand so easy, you will want to wear it yourself--just as I
do. And Agnes wants it, too."

"Oh! But it's ours--if it isn't the Gypsy ladies'," Dot hastened to
say.

Two claimants for the ornament were quite enough. She did not wish to
hear of any other people desiring to wear it.

As it chanced, Tess and Dot heard about the Gypsy encampment on the
Buckshot Road through the tongue of neighborhood gossip, quite as had
Sammy's mother. Margaret and Holly Pease heard the store man tell
their mother; and having enviously eyed the silver bracelet in the
possession of the Kenway girls, they ran to tell the latter about the
Gypsies.

"They've come back," declared Margaret decidedly, "to look for that
bracelet you've got. You'll see them soon enough."

"Oh, Margie! do you think so?" murmured Tess, while Dot was
immediately so horror-stricken that tears came to her eyes.

"Maybe they will bring the police and have you locked up," continued
the cheerful Pease child. "You know they might accuse you of stealing
the bracelet."

"We never!" wailed Dot. "We never! They gave it to us!"

"Well, they are going to take it back, so now!" Margaret Pease
declared.

"I don't think it is nice of you to say what you do, Margie," said
Tess. "Everybody knows we are honest. Why! if Dot and I knew how to
find them, we would take the bracelet right to the Gypsy ladies.
Wouldn't we, Dot?"

"But--but we don't know where to find them," blurted out the youngest
Corner House girl.

"You can find them I guess--out on the Buckshot Road."

"We don't know that _our_ Gypsy ladies are there," said Tess, with
some defiance.

"You don't dare go to see," said Margaret Pease.

It was a question to trouble the minds of Tess and Dot. Should they
try to find the Gypsies, and see if the very ladies who had given them
the bracelet were in that encampment?

At least it was a leading question in Tess Kenway's mind. It must be
confessed that Dot only hoped it would prove a false alarm. She was
very grateful to the strange Gypsy women for having put the silver
ornament in the green and yellow basket; but she hoped never to see
those two kind women again!

The uncertainty was so great in both of the small girls' minds that
they said nothing at all about it in the hearing of any other member
of the family. Had Ruth been at home they might have confided in her.
They had always confided everything to their eldest sister. But just
now the two smaller Corner House girls were living their own lives,
very much shut away from the existence Agnes, for instance, was
leading.

Agnes had a secret--several of them, indeed. She did not take Tess and
Dot into her confidence. So, if for no other reason, the smaller girls
did not talk to Agnes about the Gypsies.

The Kenways owned some tenement property in a much poorer part of the
town than that prominent corner on which the Corner House stood. Early
in their coming to Milton from Bloomsburg, the Corner House girls had
become acquainted with the humble tenants whose rents helped swell the
funds which Mr. Howbridge cared for and administered.

Some of these poorer people, especially the children near their own
age, interested the Kenway girls very much because they met these
poorer children in school. So when news was brought to Agnes one
afternoon (it was soon after lunch) that Maria Maroni, whose father
kept the coal, wood, ice and vegetable cellar in one of the Stower
houses and who possessed a wife and big family of children as well,
had been taken ill, Agnes was much disturbed.

Agnes liked Maria Maroni. Maria was very bright and forward in her
studies and was a pretty Italian girl, as well. The Maronis lived much
better than they once had, too. They now occupied one of the upstairs
tenements over Mrs. Kranz's delicatessen store, instead of all living
in the basement.

The boy who ran into the Kenway yard and told Agnes this while she was
tying up the gladioli stems after a particularly hard night's rain,
did not seem to be an Italian. Indeed, he was no boy that Agnes ever
remembered having seen before.

But tenants were changing all the time over there where Maria lived.
This might be a new boy in that neighborhood. And, anyway, Agnes was
not bothered in her mind much about the boy. It was Maria's illness
that troubled her.

"What is the matter with the poor girl?" Agnes wanted to know. "What
does the doctor say it is?"

"They ain't got no doc," said the boy. "She's just sick, Maria is. I
don't know what she's got besides."

This sounded bad enough to Agnes. And the fact that the sick girl had
no medical attention was the greater urge for the Kenway girl to do
something about it. Of course, Joe and his wife must have a doctor for
Maria at once.

Agnes went into the house and told Mrs. McCall about it. She even
borrowed the green and yellow basket from the little girls and packed
some jelly and a bowl of broth and other nice things to take to Maria
Maroni. The Kenways seldom went to the tenements empty-handed.

She would have taken Neale with her, only she felt that after their
incipient "quarrel" of the previous morning she did not care
immediately to make up with the boy. Sometimes she felt that Neale
O'Neil took advantage of her easy disposition.

So Agnes went off alone with her basket. Half an hour later a boy rang
the front door bell of the Corner House. He had a note for Mrs.
McCall. It was written in blue pencil, and while the housekeeper was
finding her reading glasses the messenger ran away so that she could
not question him.

The note purported to be from Hedden, Mr. Howbridge's butler. It said
that the lawyer had been "brought home" and had asked for Mrs. McCall
to be sent for. It urged expedition in her answer to the request, and
it threw Mrs. McCall into "quite a flutter" as she told Linda and Aunt
Sarah Maltby.

"The puir mon!" wailed the Scotch woman who before she came to the old
Corner House to care for the Kenway household had been housekeeper for
Mr. Howbridge himself for many years. "There is something sad happened
to him, nae doot. I must go awa' wi' me at aince. See to the bairns,
Miss Maltby, that's the good soul. Even Agnes is not in the hoose."

"Of course I will see to them--if it becomes necessary," said Aunt
Sarah.

Her idea of attending to the younger children, however, was to remain
in her own room knitting, only occasionally going to the head of the
back stairs to ask Linda if Tess and Dot were all right. The Finnish
girl's answer was always "Shure, Mum," and in her opinion Tess and Dot
were all right as long as she did not see that they were in trouble.

To tell the truth, Linda saw the smaller girls very little after Mrs.
McCall hurried out of the house to take the street car for the
lawyer's residence. Once Linda observed Tess and Dot in the side yard
talking to a boy through the pickets. She had no idea that the
sharp-featured boy was the same who had brought the news of Maria
Maroni's illness to Agnes, and the message from Hedden to Mrs. McCall!

The boy in question had come slowly along the pavement on Willow
Street, muttering to himself as he approached as though saying over
several sentences that he had learned by rote. He was quite evidently
a keen-minded boy, but he was not at all a trustworthy looking one.

Tess and Dot both saw him, and that he was a stranger made the little
girls eye him curiously. When he hailed them they were not quite sure
whether they ought to reply or not.

[Illustration: "They want that silver thing back. It wasn't meant for
you."]

"I guess you don't know us," Tess said doubtfully. "You don't belong
in this neighborhood."

"I know you all right," said the boy. "You're the two girls those
women sold the basket to. I know you."

"Oh!" gasped Tess.

"The Gypsy ladies!" murmured Dot.

"That's the one. They sold you the basket for forty-five cents. Didn't
they?"

"Yes," admitted Tess.

"And it's _ours_," cried Dot. "We paid for it."

"That's all right," said the boy slowly. "But you didn't buy what was
in it. No, sir! They want it back."

"Oh! The basket?" cried Tess.

"What you found in it."

The boy seemed very sure of what he was saying, but he spoke slowly.

"They want that silver thing back. It wasn't meant for you. It was a
mistake. You know very well it isn't yours. If you are honest--and you
told them you were--you will bring it back to them."

"Oh! They did ask us if we were honest," Tess said faintly. "And of
course we are. Aren't we, Dot?"

"Why--why-- Do we have to be so dreadful' honest," whispered the
smallest Corner House girl, quite borne down with woe.

"Of course we have. Just think of what Ruthie would say," murmured
Tess. Then to the boy: "Where are those ladies?"

"Huh?" he asked. "What ladies?"

"The Gypsy ladies we bought the basket from?"

"Oh, _them_?" he rejoined hurriedly, glancing along the street with
eagerness. "You go right out along this street," and he pointed in the
direction from which he had come. "You keep on walking until you reach
the brick-yard."

"Oh! Are they camped there?" asked Tess.

"No. But a man with an automobile will meet you there. He is a man who
will take you right to the Gypsy camp and bring you back again. Don't
be afraid, kids. It's all right."

He went away then, and the little girls could not call him back. They
wanted to ask further questions; but it was evident that the boy had
delivered his message and was not to be cross-examined.

"What _shall_ we do?" Tess exclaimed.

"Oh, let's wait. Let's wait till Ruth comes home," cried Dot, saying
something very sensible indeed.

But responsibility weighed heavily on Tess's mind. She considered that
if the Gypsy women wished their bracelet returned, it was her duty to
take it to them without delay. Besides, there was the man in the
automobile waiting for them.

Why the man had not come to the house with the car, or why he had not
brought the two Gypsy women to the Corner House, were queries that did
not occur to the little girls. If Tess Kenway was nothing else, she
was strictly honest.

"No," she sighed, "we cannot wait. We must go and see the women now. I
will go in and get the bracelet, Dot. Do you want your hat? Mrs.
McCall and Agnes are both away. We will have to go right over and tend
to this ourselves."



CHAPTER XXII--EXCITEMENT GALORE


When Agnes Kenway reached the tenement where Maria Maroni resided and
found that brisk young person helping in the delicatessen store as she
did almost every day during the busy hours and when there was no
school, the Corner House girl was surprised; but she was not
suspicious.

That is, she was not suspicious of any plot really aimed at the
happiness of the Corner House family. She merely believed that the
strange boy had deliberately fooled her for an idle purpose.

"Maria Maroni! What do you think?" Agnes burst out. "Who could that
boy be? Oh, I'd like to catch him! I'd make him sorry he told me such
a story."

"It is too bad you were troubled so, Agnes," said Maria, when she
understood all about it. "I can't imagine who that boy could be. But I
am glad you came over to see us, never mind what the reason is that
brings you."

"A sight you are for sore eyes yet," declared the ponderous Mrs.
Kranz, who had kissed Agnes warmly when she first appeared. "Come the
back room in and sit down. Let Ikey tend to the customers yet, Maria.
We will visit with Agnes, and have some tea and sweet crackers."

"And you must tell me of somebody in the row, Mrs. Kranz, who needs
these delicacies. Somebody who is ill," said Agnes. "I must not take
them home again. And Maria looks altogether too healthy for jelly and
chicken broth."

Mrs. Kranz laughed at that. But she added with seriousness: "There is
always somebody sick here in the tenements, Miss Agnes. They will not
take care themselfs of--no! I tell them warm flannels and good food is
better than doctors yet. But they will not mind me." She sighed.

"Who is ill now?" asked Agnes, at once interested. She loved to play
"Lady Bountiful"; and, really, the Kenway sisters had done a great
deal of good among their poor tenants and others in the row.

"Mrs. Leary. You know, her new baby died and the poor woman," said
Maria quickly, "is sick of grief, I do believe."

"Ach, yes!" cried Mrs. Kranz. "She needs the cheerful word. You see
her, Miss Agnes. Then she be better--sure!"

"Thank you!" cried Agnes, dimpling and blushing. "Do you really think
I can help her?"

"And there is little Susie Marowsky," urged the delicatessen
shopkeeper. "That child is fading away like a sick rose. She iss doing
just that! If she could have country eggs and country milk--Ach! If we
were all rich!" and she sighed ponderously again.

"I'll tell our Ruth about her," said Agnes eagerly. "And I'll see her,
too, before I go home. I'll give her the broth, yes? And Mrs. Leary
the jelly, bread, and fruit?"

"No!" cried Mrs. Kranz. "The fruit to Dominic Nevin, the scissors
grinder. He craves fruit. You know, he cut his hand and got blood
poisoning, and it was so long yet that he could not work. You see him,
too, Miss Agnes."

So altogether, what with the tea and cakes and the visits to the sick,
Agnes was away from the Corner House quite three hours. When she was
on her way home she was delayed by an unforeseen incident too.

At the corner of Willow Street not far from the brick-yard a figure
suddenly darted into Agnes' path. She was naturally startled by the
sudden appearance of this figure, and doubly so when she saw it was
the Costello that she knew as the junkman, and whose first name she
now believed to be Miguel.

"What do you want? Go away!" cried the girl faintly, backing away from
the vehement little man.

"Oh, do not be afraid! You are the honest Kenway I am sure. You have
Queen Alma's bracelet," urged the little man. "You will give her to
me--yes?"

"I--I haven't it," cried Agnes, looking all about for help and seeing
nobody near.

"Ha!" ejaculated the man. "You have not give it to Beeg Jeem?"

"We have given it to nobody. And we will not let you or anybody have
it until Mr. Howbridge tells us what to do. Go away!" begged Agnes.

"I go to that man. He no have the Queen Alma bracelet. _You_ have it--"

"Just as sure as I get home," cried the frightened Agnes, "I will send
that bracelet down to the lawyer's office and they must keep it. It
shall be in the house no longer! Don't you dare come there for it!"

She got past him then and ran as hard as she could along Willow
Street. When she finally looked back she discovered that the man had
not followed her, but had disappeared.

"Oh, dear me! I don't care what the children say. That bracelet goes
into Mr. Howbridge's safe this very afternoon. Neale must take it
there for me," Agnes Kenway decided.

She reached the side door of the Corner House just as Mrs. McCall
entered the front door, having got off the car at the corner. The
housekeeper came through the hall and into the rear premises a good
deal like a whirlwind. She was so excited that Agnes forgot her own
fright and stared at the housekeeper breathlessly.

"Is it you home again, Agnes Kenway?" cried Mrs. McCall. "Well, thanks
be for _that_. Then you are all right."

"Why, of course! Though he did scare me. But what is the matter with
you, Mrs. McCall?"

"What is the matter wi' me? A plenty. A plenty, I tellit ye. If I had
that jackanapes of a boy I'd shake him well, so I would!"

"What has Neale been doing now?" cried the girl.

"Not Neale."

"Then is it Sammy?"

"Nor Sammy Pinkney. 'Tis that other lad that came here wi' a lying
note tae get me clear across town for naething!"

"Why, Mrs. McCall! what can you mean? Did a boy fool you, too?"

"Hech!" The woman started and stared at the girl. "Who brought you
news of that little girl being sick?"

"But she wasn't sick!" cried Agnes. "That boy was an awful little
story-teller."

"Ye was fooled then? That Maria Maroni--"

"Was not ill at all."

"And," cried Mrs. McCall, "that boy who brought a note to me from
Hedden never came from Mr. Howbridge's house at all. It nearly scar't
me tae death! It said Mr. Howbridge was ill. He isn't even at home
yet, and when Mr. Hedden heard from his master this morning he was all
right--the gude mon!"

"Oh, Mrs. McCall!" gasped Agnes, gazing at the housekeeper with
terrified visage. "What can it mean?"

"Somebody has foolit us weel," ejaculated the enraged housekeeper.

"But why?"

The woman turned swiftly. She had grown suddenly pale. She called up
the back stairs for Linda. A sleepy voice replied:

"Here I be, mum!"

"Where are the children? Where are Tess and Dot?" demanded Mrs.
McCall, her voice husky.

"They was in the yard, mum, the last I see of them."

"That girl!" ejaculated the housekeeper angrily. "She neglects
everything. If there's harm happened to those bairns--"

She rushed to the porch. Uncle Rufus was coming slowly up from the
garden, hoe and rake over his shoulder. It was evident that the old
colored man had been working steadily, and for some time, among the
vegetables.

"Oh, Uncle Rufus!" cried the excited woman.

"Ya-as'm! Ya-as'm! I's a-comin'," said the old man rather querulously.

"Step here a minute," said Mrs. McCall.

"I's a-steppin', Ma'am," grumbled the other. "Does seem as though dey
wants me for fust one t'ing an' den anudder. I don't no more'n git
t'roo one chore den sumpin' else hops right out at me. Lawsy me!" and
he mopped his bald brown brow with a big bandanna.

"I only want to ask you something," said the housekeeper, less
raspingly. "Are the little ones down there? Have you seen them?"

"Them chillun? No'm. I ain't seen 'em fo' some time. They was playin'
up this-a-way den."

"How long ago?"

"I done reckon it was nigh two hours ago."

"Hunt for them, Agnes!" gasped the housekeeper. "I fear me something
bad has happened. You, Linda," for the Finnish girl now appeared, "run
to the neighbors--all of them! See if you can find those bairns."

"Tess and Dottie, mum?" cried the Finnish girl, already in tears. "Oh!
they ain't losted are they?"

"For all _you_ know they are!" declared Mrs. McCall. "Look around the
house for them, Uncle Rufus. I will look inside--"

"They may be upstairs with Aunt Sarah," cried Agnes, getting her
breath at last.

"I'll know that in a moment!" declared Mrs. McCall, and darted within.

Agnes ran in the other direction. She felt such a lump in her throat
that she could scarcely speak or breathe. The possibility of something
having happened to the little girls--and with Ruth away!--cost the
second Corner House girl every last bit of her self-control.

"Oh, Neale! Neale!" she murmured over and over again, as she ran to
the lower end of the premises.

She fairly threw herself at the fence and scrambled to her usual
perch. There he was cleaning Mr. Con Murphy's yard.

"Neale!" she gasped. At first he did not hear her, but she drubbed
upon the fence with the toes of her shoes. "Neale!"

"Why, hullo, Aggie!" exclaimed the boy, turning around and seeing her.

"Oh, Neale! Come here!"

He was already coming closer. He saw that again she was much
overwrought.

"What has happened now?"

"Have you seen Tess and Dot?"

"Not to-day."

"I--I mean within a little while? Two hours?"

"I tell you I have not seen them at all to-day. I have been busy right
here for Con."

"Then they are gone! The Gypsies have got them!"

For Agnes, without much logic of thought, had immediately jumped to
this conclusion. Neale stared.

"What sort of talk is that, Agnes?" he demanded. "You know that can't
be so."

"I tell you it is so! It must be so! They got Mrs. McCall and me out
of the house--"

"Who did?" interrupted Neale, getting hastily over the fence and
taking the girl's hand. "Now, tell me all about it--everything!"

As well as she could for her excitement and fear, the girl told the
story of the boy who had brought her the false message about Maria
Maroni, and then about the message Mrs. McCall had received calling
her across town.

"It must be that they have kidnapped the children!" moaned Agnes.

"Not likely," declared the boy. "The kids have just gone visiting
without asking leave. In fact, there was nobody to ask. But I see that
there is a game on just the same."

He started hastily for the Corner House and Agnes trotted beside him.

"But where _are_ Tess and Dot?" she demanded.

"How do I know?" he returned. "I want to find out if there is
something else missing."

"What do you mean?"

"That bracelet."

"Goodness, Neale! Is it that bracelet that has brought us trouble
again?"

"It looks like a plot all right to me. A plot to get you and Mrs.
McCall out of the house so that somebody could slip in and steal the
bracelet. Didn't that ever occur to you?"

"Goodness me, Neale!" cried Agnes again, but with sudden relief in her
voice. "If that is all it is I'll be glad if the old bracelet is
stolen. Then it cannot make us any more trouble, that is one sure
thing!"



CHAPTER XXIII--A SURPRISING MEETING


Tess and Dot Kenway, with no suspicion that anything was awaiting them
save the possible loss of the silver bracelet, but otherwise quite
enjoying the adventure, walked hurriedly along Willow Street as far as
the brick-yard. That they were disobeying a strict injunction in
taking the bracelet out of the house was a matter quite overlooked at
the time.

They came to the corner and there, sure enough, was a big, dusty
automobile, with a big, dark man in the driver's seat. He smiled at
the two little girls and Tess remembered him instantly.

"Oh, Dot!" she exclaimed, "it is the man we saw in this auto with the
young Gypsy lady when we were driving home with Scalawag from Mr.
Howbridge's the other day. Don't you remember?"

"Yes," said Dot, with a sigh. "I guess it is the same one. Oh, dear,
me!"

For the nearer the time came to give up the silver bracelet, the worse
Dot felt about it.

The big Gypsy looked around at the two little girls and smiled
broadly.

"You leetle ladies tak' ride with Beeg Jeem?" he asked. "You go to see
the poor Gypsy women who let you have the fine bracelet to play with?
Yes?"

"He knows all about it, Tess," murmured Dot.

"Yes, we will give them back the bracelet," Tess said firmly to the
Gypsy man. "But we will not give it up to anybody else."

"Get right into my car," said Big Jim, reaching back to open the
tonneau door. "You shall be taken to the camp and there find the ones
who gave you the bracelet. Sure!"

There was something quite "grownupish" in thus getting into the big
car all alone, and Tess and Dot were rather thrilled as they seated
themselves on the back seat and the Gypsy drove them away.

Fifteen minutes or so later Agnes came to this very corner and had her
unpleasant interview with Miguel Costello. But of course by that time
the children were far away.

The big Gypsy drove them very rapidly and by lonely roads into a part
of the country that Tess and Dot never remembered having seen before.
Whenever he saw anybody on the road, either afoot or in other cars,
Big Jim increased his speed and flashed by them so that there was
little likelihood of these other people seeing that the two little
girls were other than Gypsy girls.

He did nothing to frighten Tess and Dot. Indeed, he was so smiling and
so pleasant that they enjoyed the drive immensely and came finally in
a state of keen enjoyment to the camp which was made a little back
from the highway.

"Well, if we have to give up the bracelet," sighed Tess, as they got
out of the car, "we can say that we have had a fine ride."

"That is all right. But how will my Alice-doll feel when she finds out
she can't wear that pretty belt again?" said Dot.

There were many people in the camp, both men and women and children.
The latter kept at a distance from Tess and Dot, but stared at them
very curiously. They kept the dogs away from the visitors, too, and
the little girls were glad of that.

"Where can we find the two ladies that--that sold us the basket?" asked
Tess politely, of Big Jim.

"You look around, leetle ladies. You find," he assured them.

There were four or five motor vans of good size in which the Gypsies
evidently lived while they were traveling. But there were several
tents set up as well. It was a big camp.

Timidly at first the two sisters, hand in hand, the silver bracelet
firmly clutched inside Tess's dress against her side, began walking
about. They tried to ask questions about the women they sought; but
nobody seemed to understand. They all smiled and shook their heads.

"Dear me! it must be dreadful to be born a foreigner," Dot finally
said. "How can they make themselves understood _at all_?"

"But they seem to be very pleasant persons," Tess rejoined decidedly.

The children ran away from them. Perhaps they had been ordered to by
the older Gypsies. By and by Tess, at least, grew somewhat worried
when they did not find either of the women who had sold them the
yellow and green basket. Dot, secretly, hoped the two in question had
gone away.

Suddenly, however, the two Kenway girls came face to face with
somebody they did know. But so astonished were they by this discovery
that for a long minute neither could believe her eyes!

"Sammy Pinkney!" gasped Tess at last.

"It--ain't--_never_!" murmured the smaller girl.

The figure which had tried to dodge around the end of a motor van to
escape observation looked nothing at all like the Sammy Pinkney the
Kenway girls had formerly known. Never in their experience of
Sammy--not even when he had slipped down the chimney at the old Corner
House and landed on the hearth, a very sooty Santa Claus--had the boy
looked so disgracefully ragged and dirty.

"Well, what's the matter with me?" he demanded defiantly.

"Why--why there looks to be most _every_thing the matter with you,
Sammy Pinkney," declared Tess, with disgust. "What _do_ you s'pose
your mother would say to you?"

"I ain't going home to find out," said Sammy.

"And--and your pants are all tored," gasped Dot.

"Oh, that happened long ago," said Sammy, quite as airy as the
trousers. "And I'm having the time of my life here. Nobody sends me
errands, or makes me--er--weed beet beds! So there! I can do just as I
please."

"You look as though you had, Sammy," was Tess's critical speech. "I
guess your mother wouldn't want you home looking the way you do."

"I look well enough," he declared defiantly. "And don't you tell where
I am. Will you?"

"But, Sammy!" exclaimed Dot, "you ran away to be a pirate."

"What if I did?"

"But you can't be a pirate here."

"I can be a Gypsy. And that's lots more fun. If I joined a pirate crew
I couldn't get to be captain right away of course, so I would have to
mind somebody. Here I don't have to mind anybody at all."

"Well, I never!" ejaculated Tess Kenway.

"Well, I never!" repeated Dot, with similar emphasis.

"Say, what are you kids here for?" demanded Sammy, with an attempt to
turn the conversation from his own evident failings.

"Oh, we were brought here on a visit," Tess returned rather haughtily.

"Huh! You _was_? Who you visiting? Is Aggie with you? Or Neale?" and
he looked around suddenly as though choosing a way of escape.

"We are here all alone," said Dot reassuringly. "You needn't be
afraid, Sammy."

"Who's afraid?" he said gruffly.

"You would be if Neale was with us, for Neale would make you go home,"
said the smallest Kenway girl.

"But who brought you? What you here for? Oh! That old bracelet I bet!"

"Yes," sighed Dot. "They want it back."

"Who want it back?"

"Those two ladies that sold us the basket," explained Tess.

"Are they with this bunch of Gypsies?" asked Sammy in surprise. "I
haven't seen them. And I've been here two whole days."

"How did you come to be a Gypsy, Sammy?" asked Dot with much
curiosity.

"Why, I--er--Well, I lost my clothes and my money and didn't have much
to eat and that big Gypsy saw me on the road and asked me if I wanted
to ride. So I came here with him and he let me stay. And nobody does a
thing to me. I licked one boy," added Sammy with satisfaction, "so the
others let me alone."

"But haven't you seen either of those two ladies that sold us the
basket?" demanded Tess, beginning to be worried a little.

"Nope. I don't believe they are here."

"But that man says they are here," cried Tess.

"Let's go ask him. I--I won't give that bracelet to anybody else but
one of those ladies."

"Crickey!" exclaimed Sammy. "Don't feel so bad about it. Course there
is a mistake somehow. These folks are real nice folks. They wouldn't
fool you."

The three, Sammy looking very important, went to find Big Jim. He was
just as smiling as ever.

"Oh, yes! The little ladies are not to be worried. The women they want
will soon come."

"You see?" said Sammy, boldly. "It will be all right. Why, these
people treat you _right_. I tell you! You can do just as you please in
a Gypsy camp and nobody says anything to you."

"See!" exclaimed Tess suddenly. "Are they packing up to leave? Or do
they stay here all the time?"

It was now late afternoon. Instead of the supper fires being revived,
they were smothered. Men and women had begun loading the heavier vans.
The tents were coming down. Clotheslines stretched between the trees
were now being coiled by the children. All manner of rubbish was being
thrown into the bushes.

"I don't know if they are moving. I'll ask," said Sammy, somewhat in
doubt.

He went to a boy bigger than himself, but who seemed to be friendly.
The little girls waited, staring all about for the two women with whom
they had business.

"I don't care," whispered Dot. "If they don't come pretty soon, and
these Gypsies are going away from here, we'll just go back home, Tess.
We _can't_ give them the bracelet if we don't see them."

"But we do not want to walk home," her sister said slowly in return.
"And we ought to make Sammy go with us."

"You try to _make_ Sammy do anything!" exclaimed Dot, with scorn.

Their boy friend returned, swaggering as usual. "Well, they are going
to move," he said. "But I'm going with them. That boy--he was the one I
licked, but he's a good kid--says they are going to a pond where the
fishing is great. Wish I had my fishpole."

"But you must come back home with us, Sammy," began Tess gravely.

"Not much I won't! Don't you think it," cried Sammy. "But you might
get my fishing tackle and jointed pole and sneak 'em out to me.
There's good kids!"

"We will do nothing sneaky for you at all, Sammy Pinkney!" exclaimed
Tess indignantly.

"Aw, go on! You can just as easy."

"We can, but we won't. So there! And if you don't go home with us when
the man takes us back in his car we certainly will tell where you
are."

"Be a telltale. _I_ don't care," cried Sammy, roughly. "And I won't
say just where we are going from here, so you needn't think my folks
will find me."

One of the closed vans--something like a moving van only with windows
in the sides, a stove-pipe sticking out of the roof, and a door at the
rear, with steps--seemed now to be ready to start. A man climbed into
the front seat to drive it. Several women and smaller children got in
at the rear after the various bales and packages that had been tossed
in. The big man suddenly shouted and beckoned to Tess and Dot.

"Here, little ladies," he said, still smiling his wide smile. "You
come go wit' my mudder, eh? Take you to find the Gypsy women you want
to see."

"But--er--Mr. Gypsy," said Tess, somewhat disturbed now, "we must go
back home."

"Sure. Tak' you home soon as you see those women and give them what
you got for them."

He strode across the camp to them. His smile was quite as wide, but
did not seem to forecast as much good-nature as at first.

"Come now! Get in!" he commanded.

"Hey!" cried Sammy. "What you doing? Those little girls are friends of
mine. You want to let them ride in that open car--not in that box. What
d'you think we are?"

"Get out the way, boy!" commanded Big Jim.

He seized Tess suddenly by the shoulders, swung her up bodily despite
her screams and tossed her through the rear door of the Gypsy van. Dot
followed so quickly that she could scarcely utter a frightened gasp.

"Hey! Stop that! Those are the Kenway girls. Why! Mr. Howbridge will
come after them and he'll--he'll--"

Sammy's excited threat was stopped in his throat. Big Jim's huge hand
caught the boy a heavy blow upon the side of his head. The next moment
he was shot into the motor-van too and the door was shut.

He heard Tess and Dot sobbing somewhere among the women and children
already crowded into the van. It was a stuffy place, for none of the
windows were open. Although this nomadic people lived mostly out of
doors, and never under a real roof if they could help it, they did not
seem to mind the smothering atmosphere of the van which now, with a
sudden lurch, started out of the place of encampment.

"Never you mind, Tess and Dot, they won't dare carry you far. Maybe
they are taking you home anyway," said Sammy in a low voice. "The
first time they stop and let us out we'll run away. I will get you
home all right."

"You--you can't get yourself home, Sammy," sobbed Dot.

"Maybe you like it being a Gypsy, but we don't," added Tess.

"I'll fix it for you all right--"

One of the old crones reached out in the semi-darkness and slapped
Sammy across the mouth.

"Shut up!" she commanded harshly. But when she tried to slap the boy
again she screamed. It must be confessed that Sammy bit her!

"You lemme alone," snarled the boy captive. "And don't you hit those
girls. If you do I--I'll bite the whole lot of you!"

The women jabbered a good deal together in their own tongue; but
nobody tried to interfere with Sammy thereafter. He shoved his way
into the van until he stood beside Tess and Dot.

"Let's not cry about it," he whispered. "That won't get us anywhere,
that is sure. But the very first chance we get--"

No chance for escape however was likely to arise while the Gypsy troop
were en route. The children could hear the rumble of the vans behind.
Soon Big Jim in his touring car passed this first van and shouted to
the driver. Then the procession settled into a steady rate of speed
and the three little captives had not the least idea in which
direction they were headed nor where they were bound.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Back at the old Corner House affairs were in a terrible state of
confusion. Linda had returned from her voyage among the neighbors with
absolutely no news of the smaller girls. And Agnes had discovered that
the silver bracelet was missing.

"It was Tess's day for wearing it, but she did not have it on when she
went out to play," the older sister explained. "Do you suppose the
house has been robbed, Neale O'Neil?"

Neale had been examining closely the piece of paper that Agnes had
found stuck to the plate on which she had fed the beggar girl the day
before and also the note Mrs. McCall had received purporting to come
from Mr. Howbridge's butler. Both were written in blue pencil, and by
the same hand without any doubt.

"It's a plot clear enough. And naturally we may believe that it was
not hatched by that Miguel Costello, the junkman. It looks as though
it was done by Big Jim's crowd."

"But what have they done with the bairns?" demanded the housekeeper,
in horror.

"Oh, Neale! have they stolen Tess and Dot, as well as the silver
bracelet?" was Agnes' bitter cry.

"Got me. Don't know," muttered the boy. "And what would they want the
children for, anyway?"

"Let us find out if any Gypsies have been seen about the house this
afternoon," Agnes proposed. "You see, Neale. Don't send Linda."

Linda, indeed, was in a hopeless state. She didn't know, declared Mrs.
McCall, whether she was on her head or her heels!

Neale ran out and searched the neighborhood over. When he came back he
had found nobody who had set eyes on any Gypsies; but he had heard
from Mrs. Pease that Gypsies were camped out of town. The store man
had told her so.

"Oh!" gasped Agnes, suddenly remembering. "I heard about that. Mrs.
Pinkney told me. They are on the Buckshot Road, out beyond where
Carrie Poole lives. You know, Neale."

"Sure I know where the Poole place is," admitted Neale. "We have all
been there often enough. And I can get the car--"

"Do! Do!" begged Mrs. McCall. "You cannot go too quickly, Neale
O'Neil. And take the police wi' ye, laddie!"

"Take me with you, Neale!" commanded Agnes. "We can find a constable
out that way if we need one. I know Mr. Ben Stryker who lives just
beyond the Pooles. And he is a constable, for he stopped the car once
when I was driving and said he would have to arrest me if I did not
drive slower."

"Sure!" said Neale. "Agnes knows all the traffic cops on the route, I
bet. But we don't _know_ that the children have gone with the
Gypsies."

"And we never will know if you stand here and argue. Anyway, it looks
as though the silver bracelet has been stolen by them."

"Or by somebody," granted the boy.

"Ne'er mind the bit bracelet," commanded the housekeeper. "Find Tess
and Dot. I am going to put on my bonnet and shawl and go to the police
station mysel'. Do you children hurry away in the car as you
promised."

It was already supper time, but nobody thought of that meal, unless it
was Aunt Sarah. When she came down to see what the matter was--why the
evening meal was so delayed--she found Linda sobbing with her apron
over her head in the kitchen and the tea kettle boiled completely dry.

That was nothing, however, to the condition of affairs at one o'clock
that night when Ruth, with Luke and Cecile Shepard, arrived at the old
Corner House. They had been delayed at the station half an hour while
Ruth telephoned for and obtained a comfortable touring car for her
visitors and herself. Agnes did not have to beg her older sister to
put in a telephone. After this experience Ruth was determined to do
just that.

The party arrived home to find the Corner House lit up as though for a
reception. But it was not in honor of their arrival. The telegram
announcing Ruth's coming had scarcely been noticed by Mrs. McCall.

Mrs. McCall had recovered a measure of her composure and good sense;
but she could scarcely welcome the guests properly. Aunt Sarah Maltby
had gone to bed, announcing that she was utterly prostrated and should
never get up again unless Tess and Dot were found. Linda and Uncle
Rufus were equally distracted.

"But where are Agnes and Neale?" Ruth demanded, very white and
determined. "What are they doing?"

"They started out in the machine around eight o'clock," explained Mrs.
McCall. "They are searching high and low for the puir bairns."

"All alone?" gasped Ruth.

"Mr. Pinkney has gone with them. And I believe they were to pick up a
constable. That Neale O'Neil declares he will raid every Gypsy camp
and tramp's roost in the county. And Sammy's father took a pistol with
him."

"And you let Agnes go with them!" murmured Ruth. "Suppose she gets
shot?"

"My maircy!" cried the housekeeper, clasping her hands. "I never
thought about that pistol being dangerous, any more than Uncle Rufus's
gun with the broken hammer."



CHAPTER XXIV--THE CAPTIVES


That ride, shut in the Gypsy van, was one that neither Tess nor Dot
nor Sammy Pinkney were likely soon to forget. The car plunged along
the country road, and the distance the party traveled was
considerable, although the direction was circuitous and did not, after
two hours, take the Gypsy clan much farther from Milton than they had
been at the previous camp.

By eleven o'clock they pulled off the road into a little glade that
had been well known to the leaders of the party. A new camp was
established in a very short time. Tents were again erected, fires
kindled for the late supper, and the life of the Gypsy town was
re-begun.

But Sammy and the two little Corner House girls were forbidden to
leave the van in which they had been made to ride.

Big Jim came over himself, banged Sammy with his broad palm, and told
him:

"You keep-a them here--you see? If those kids get out, I knock you
good. See?"

Sammy saw stars at least! He would not answer the man. There was
something beside stubbornness to Sammy Pinkney. But stubbornness stood
him in good stead just now.

"Don't you mind, Tess and Dot," he whispered, his own voice broken
with half-stifled sobs. "I'll get you out of it. We'll run away first
chance we get."

"But it never does _you_ any good to run away, Sammy," complained
Tess. "You only get into trouble. Dot and I don't want to be beaten by
that man. He is horrid."

"I wish we could see those nice ladies who sold us the basket," wailed
Dot, quite desperate now. "I--I'd be _glad_ to give 'em back the
bracelet."

"Sh!" hissed Sammy. "We'll run away and we'll take the bracelet along.
These Gyps sha'n't ever get it again, so there!"

"Humph! I don't see what you have to say about _that_, Sammy," scoffed
Tess. "If the women own it, of course they have got to have it. But I
don't want that Big Jim to have it--not at all!"

"He won't get it. You leave it to me," said Sammy, with recovered
assurance.

The van door was neither locked nor barred. But if the children had
stepped out of it the firelight would have revealed their figures
instantly to the Gypsies.

Either the women bending over the pots and pans at the fires or the
children running about the encampment would have raised a hue and cry
if the little captives had attempted to run away. And there were a
dozen burly men sitting about, smoking and talking and awaiting the
call to supper.

This meal was finally prepared. The fumes from the pots reached the
nostrils of Tess, Dot, and Sammy, and they were all ravenously hungry.
Nor were they denied food. The Gypsies evidently had no intention of
maltreating the captives in any particular as long as they obeyed and
did not try to escape.

One young woman brought a great pan of stew and bread and three spoons
to the van and set it on the upper step for the children.

"You eat," said she, smiling, and the firelight shining on her gold
earrings. "It do you goot--yes?"

"Oh, Miss Gypsy!" begged Tess, "we want to go home."

"That all right. Beeg Jeem tak-a you. To-morrow, maybe."

She went away hurriedly. But she had left them a plentiful supper. The
three were too ravenous to be delicate. They each seized a spoon and,
as Sammy advised, "dug in."

"This is the way all Gypsies eat," he said, proud of his knowledge.
"Sometimes the men use their pocket knives to cut up the meat. But
they don't seem to have any forks. And I guess forks aren't necessary
anyway."

"But they are nicer than fingers," objected Tess.

"Huh? Are they?" observed the young barbarian.

After they had completely cleared the pan of every scrap and eaten
every crumb of bread and drunk the milk that had been brought to them
in a quart cup, Dot naturally gave way to sleepiness. She began to
whimper a little too.

"If that big, bad Gypsy man doesn't take us home pretty soon I shall
have to sleep here, Sister," she complained.

"You lie right down on this bench," said Tess kindly, "and I will
cover you up and you can sleep as long as you want to."

So Dot did this. But Sammy was not at all sleepy. His mind was too
active for that. He was prowling about the more or less littered van.

"Say!" he whispered to Tess, "there is a little window here in the
front overlooking the driver's seat. And it swings on a hinge like a
door."

"I don't care, Sammy. I--I'm sleepy, too," confessed Tess, with a yawn
behind her hand.

"Say! don't _you_ go to sleep like a big kid," snapped the boy. "We've
got to get away from these Gyps."

"I thought you were going to stay with them forever."

"Not to let that Big Jim bang me over the head. Not much!" ejaculated
Sammy fiercely. "If my father saw him do that--"

"But your father isn't here. If he was--"

"If he was you can just bet," said Sammy with confidence, "that Big
Jim would not dare hit me."

"I--I wish your father would come and take us all home then," went on
Tess, with another yawn.

"Well," admitted Sammy, "I wish he would, too. Crickey! but it's awful
to have girls along, whether you are a pirate or a Gypsy."

"You needn't talk!" snapped Tess, quite tart for her. "We did not ask
to come. And you were here 'fore we got here. And now you can't get
away any more than Dot and I can."

"Sh!" advised Sammy again, and earnestly. "I got an idea."

"What is it?" asked Tess, without much curiosity.

"This here window in front!" whispered the boy. "We can open it. It is
all dark at that end of the van. If we can slide out on to the seat
we'll climb down in the dark and get into the woods. I know the way to
the road. I can see a patch of it through the window. What say?"

"But Dot? She sleeps so hard," breathed Tess.

"We can poke her through the window on to the seat. Then we will crawl
through. If she doesn't wake up and holler--"

"I'll stop her from hollering," agreed Tess firmly. "We'll try it,
Sammy, before those awful women get back into the van."

Fortunately for the attempt of the captives their own supper had been
dispatched with promptness. The Gypsies were still sitting about over
the meal when Sammy opened that front window in the van.

He and Tess lifted Dot, who complained but faintly and kept her eyes
tightly closed, and pushed her feet first through the small window.
The driver's seat was broad and roomy. The little girl lay there all
right while first Tess and then Sammy crept through the window.

It was dark here, and they could scarcely see the way to the ground.
But Sammy ventured down first, and after barking his shins a little
found the step and whispered his directions to Tess about passing Dot
down to him.

They actually got to the ground themselves and brought the smallest
Corner House girl with them without any serious mishap. Sammy tried to
carry Dot over his shoulder, but he could not stagger far with her.
And, too, the sleepy child began to object.

"Sh! Keep still!" hissed her sister in Dot's ear. "Do you want the
Gypsies to get you again?"

She had to help Sammy carry the child, however. Dot was such a heavy
sleeper--especially when she first went to sleep--that nothing could
really bring her back to realities. The two stumbled along with her in
the deep shadows and actually reached the woods that bordered the
encampment.

Suddenly a dog barked. Somebody shouted to the animal and it subsided
with a sullen growl. But in a moment another dog began to yap. The
guards of the camp realized that something was going wrong, although
as yet none of the dogs had scented the escaping children exactly.

"Oh, hurry! Hurry!" gasped Tess. "The dogs will chase us."

"I am afraid they will," admitted Sammy. "We got to hide our trail."

"How'll we do that, Sammy?" gasped Tess.

"Like the Indians do," declared the boy. "We got to find a stream of
water and wade in it."

"But I've got shoes and stockings on. And Mrs. McCall says we can't go
wading without asking permission."

"Crickey! how you going to run away from these Gypsies if you've got
to mind what you're told all the time?" asked Sammy desperately.

"But won't the water be cold? And why wade in it, anyway?"

"So the dogs can't follow our scent. They can't follow scent through
water. Come on. We got to find a brook or something."

"There's the canal," ventured Tess, in an awed whisper.

"The canal, your granny!" exclaimed the exasperated boy. "That's over
your head, Tess Kenway."

"Well! I don't know of any other water. Oh! Hear those dogs bark."

"Don't you s'pose I've got ears?" snapped Sammy.

"They sound awful savage."

"Yes. They've got some savage dogs," admitted the boy.

"Will they bite us? Oh, Sammy! will they bite us?"

"Not if they don't catch us," replied the boy, staggering on, bearing
the heavier end of Dot while Tess carried her sister's feet.

They suddenly burst through a fringe of bushes upon the open road.
There was just starlight enough to show them the way. The dogs were
still barking vociferously back at the Gypsy camp. But there seemed to
be no pursuit.

"Oh, my gracious! I've torn my frock," gasped Tess. "Do wait, Sammy."

The boy stopped. Indeed he had to, for his own breath had given out.
The three fell right down on the grass beside the road, and Dot began
to whimper.

"You stop her, Tess!" exclaimed Sammy. "You said you could. She will
bring those Gypsies right here."

"Dot! Dot!" whispered Tess, shaking the smaller girl. "Do you want to
be a prisoner again? Keep still!"

"My--my knees are cold," whined Dot.

"Je-ru-sa-lem!" gasped Sammy explosively. "_Now_ she's done it! We're
caught again."

He jumped to his feet, but not quickly enough to escape the
outstretched hand of the figure that had suddenly appeared beside
them. A dark face bent over the trio of frightened children.

"He's a Gyp!" cried Sammy. "We're done for, Tess!"



CHAPTER XXV--IT MUST BE ALL RIGHT


As Mrs McCall told Ruth Kenway when she arrived with Luke and Cecile
at the old Corner House, the other Kenway sister and Neale O'Neil had
not started out on their hunt for the Gypsy encampment alone. Mr.
Pinkney, hearing of the absence of the smaller girls, had volunteered
to go with the searchers.

"Somehow, my wife feels that Sammy may be with Tess and Dot," he
explained to Neale and Agnes. "I never contradict her at such times.
And perhaps he is. No knowing where that boy of mine is likely to turn
up, anyway."

"But you do not suppose for one instant, Mr. Pinkney, that Sammy has
come and coaxed my sisters to run away?" cried Agnes from the tonneau,
as the car started out through Willow Street.

"I am not so sure about that. You know, he got Dot to run away with
him once," chuckled Mr. Pinkney.

"This is nothing like that, I am sure!" declared Agnes.

"I am with you there, Aggie," admitted Neale. "I guess this is a
serious affair. The Gypsies are in it."

Between the two, the boy and the girl told Mr. Pinkney all about the
silver bracelet and the events connected with it. The man listened
with appreciation.

"I don't know, of course, anything about the fight between the two
factions of Gypsies over what you call Queen Alma's bracelet--"

"If it doesn't prove to be Sarah Turner's bracelet," interjected
Agnes.

"Yes. That is possible. They may have just found it--those Gypsy women.
And the story Costello, the junkman, told us might be a fake," said
Neale.

"However," broke in Mr. Pinkney again, "there is a chance that the
bracelet was given to Tess and Dot for a different purpose from any
you have suggested."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Neale and Agnes in unison.

"It is a fact that some Gypsies do steal children. Now, don't be
startled! It isn't commonly done. They are often accused without good
reason. But Gypsies are always more or less mixed up with traveling
show people. There are many small tent shows traveling about the
country at this time of year."

"Like Twomley & Sorber's circus," burst out Agnes.

"Smaller than that. Just one-ring affairs. And the shows are regular
'fly-by-nights.' Gypsies fraternize with them of course. And often
children are trained in those shows to be acrobats who are doubtless
picked up around the country--usually children who have no guardians.
And the Gypsies sometimes pick up such."

"Oh, but, Mr. Pinkney!" cried Agnes, "we are so careful of Tess and
Dot. Usually, I mean. I don't know what Ruth will say when she gets
home to-night. It looks as though we had been very careless while she
was gone."

"I know what children have to go through in a circus," said Neale
soberly. "But why should the Gypsies have selected Tess and Dot?"

"Because, you tell me, they were playing circus, and doing stunts at
the very time the Gypsy women sold them the basket."

"Oh! So they were," agreed Agnes. "Oh, Neale!"

"Crickey! It might be, I suppose. I never thought of that," admitted
the boy.

He was carefully running the car while this talk was going on. He soon
drove past the Poole place and later stopped at a little house where
the constable lived.

Mr. Ben Stryker was at home. It was not often that automobile parties
called at his door. Usually they did not want to see Mr. Stryker, who
was a stickler for the "rules of the road."

"What's the matter?" asked the constable, coming out to the car. "Want
to pay me your fine, so as not to have to wait to see the Justice of
the Peace?"

He said it jokingly. When he heard about the missing Kenway children
and of the reason to fear Gypsies had something to do with it, he
jumped into the car, taking Mr. Pinkney's place in the front seat
beside Neale.

"I've had my eye on Big Jim Costello ever since he has been back
here," Stryker declared. "I sent him away to jail once. He is a bad
one. And if he is mixed up in any kidnapping, I'll put him into the
penitentiary for a long term."

"But of course we would not want to make them trouble if the children
went to the camp alone," ventured Agnes. "You know, they might have
been hunting for the two women who sold them the basket."

"Those Gypsies know what to do in such a case. They know where I live,
and they should have brought the two little girls to me. I certainly
have it in for Big Jim."

But as we have seen, when the party arrived at the spot where the
Gypsies had been encamped, not a trace of them was left. That is, no
trace that pointed to the time or the direction of their departure.

"Maybe these Gypsies did not have a thing to do with the absence of
Tess and Dot," whispered Agnes.

"And maybe they had everything to do with it," declared Neale, aloud.
"Looks to me as though they had turned the trick and escaped."

"And in those motor-vans they can cover a deal of ground," suggested
Mr. Pinkney.

Agnes broke down at this point and wept. The constable had got out and
with the aid of his pocket lamp searched the vicinity. He saw plainly
where the vans had turned into the dusty road and the direction they
had taken.

"The best we can do is to follow them," he advised. "If I can catch
them inside the county I'll be able to handle them. And if they go
into the next county I'll get help. Well search their vans, no matter
where we catch them. All ready?"

The party went on. To catch the moving Gypsies was no easy matter.
Frequently Mr. Stryker got down to look at the tracks. This was at
every cross road.

Fortunately the wheels of one of the Gypsy vans had a peculiar tread.
It was easy to see the marks of these wheels in the dust. Therefore,
although the pursuit was slow, they managed to be sure they were going
right.

From eleven o'clock until three in the morning the motor-car was
driven over the circuitous route the nomad procession had taken
earlier in the night. Then they came to the new encampment.

Their approach was announced by the barking of the mongrel dogs that
guarded the camp. Half the tribe seemed to be awake when the car
slowed down and stopped on the roadway. Mr. Stryker got out and
shouted for Big Jim.

"Come out here!" said the constable threateningly. "I know you are
here, and I want to talk with you, Jim Costello."

"Well, whose chicken roost has been raided now?" demanded Big Jim,
approaching with his smile and his impudence both in evidence.

"No chicken thievery," snapped Stryker, flashing his electric light
into the big Gypsy's face. "Where are those kids?"

"What kids? I got my own--and there's a raft of them. I'll give you a
couple if you want."

Big Jim seemed perfectly calm and the other Gypsies were like him.
They routed out every family in the camp. The constable and Neale
searched the tents and the vans. No trace of Tess and Dot was to be
found.

"Everything you lay to the poor Gypsy," said Big Jim complainingly.
"Now it is not chickens--it is kids. Bah!"

He slouched away. Stryker called after him:

"Never mind, Jim. We'll get you yet! You watch your step."

He came back to the Kenway car shaking his head. "I guess they have
not been here. I'll come back to-morrow when the Gypsies don't expect
me and look again if your little sisters do not turn up elsewhere.
What shall we do now?"

Agnes was weeping so that she could not speak. Neale shook his head
gloomily. Mr. Pinkney sighed.

"Well," the latter said, "we might as well start for home. No good
staying here."

"I'll get you to Milton in much shorter time than it took to get
here," said the constable. "Keep right ahead, Mr. O'Neil. We'll take
the first turn to the right and run on till we come to Hampton Mills.
It's pretty near a straight road from there to Milton. And I can get a
ride from the Mills to my place with a fellow I know who passes my
house every morning."

Neale started the car and they left the buzzing camp behind them. They
had no idea that the moment the sound of the car died away the Gypsies
leaped to action, packed their goods and chattels again, and the tribe
started swiftly for the State line. Big Jim did not mean to be caught
if he could help it by Constable Stryker, who knew his record.

The Corner House car whirred over the rather good roads to Hampton
Mills and there the constable parted from them. He promised to report
any news he might get of the absent children, and they were to send
him word if Tess and Dot were found.

The car rounded the pond where Sammy had had his adventure at the
ice-house and had ruined his knickerbockers. It was a straight road
from that point to Milton. Going up the hill beside the pond in the
gray light of dawn, they saw ahead of them a man laboring on in the
middle of the road with a child upon his shoulders, while two other
small figures walked beside him, clinging to his coat.

"There's somebody else moving," said Mr. Pinkney to Agnes. "What do
you know about little children being abroad at this time of the
morning?"

"Shall we give them a lift?" asked Neale. "Only I don't want to stop
on this hill."

But he did. He stopped in another minute because Agnes uttered a
piercing scream.

"Oh, Tessie! Oh, Dot! It's them! It's the children!"

"Great Moses!" ejaculated Mr. Pinkney, forced likewise into
excitement, "is that Sammy Pinkney?"

The man carrying Dot turned quickly. Tess and Sammy both uttered eager
yelps of recognition. Dot bobbed sleepily above the head of the man
who carried her pickaback.

"Oh, Agnes! isn't this my day for wearing that bracelet? Say, isn't
it?" she demanded.

The dark man came forward, speaking very politely and swiftly.

"It is the honest Kenway--yes? You remember Costello? I am he. I find
your sisters with the bad Gypsies--yes. Then you will give me Queen
Alma's bracelet--the great heirloom of our family? I am friend--I bring
children back for you. You give me bracelet?"

Tess and Dot were tumbled into their sister's arms. Mr. Pinkney jumped
out of the car and grabbed Sammy before he could run.

Costello, the junkman, repeated his request over and over while Agnes
was greeting the two little girls as they deserved to be greeted.
Finally he made some impression upon her mind.

"Oh, dear me!" Agnes cried in exasperation, "how can I give it you? I
don't know where it is. It's been stolen."

"Stolen? That Beeg Jeem!" Again Costello exploded in his native
tongue.

Tess nestled close to Agnes. She lifted her lips and whispered in her
sister's ear:

"Don't tell him. He's a Gypsy, too, though I guess he is a good one. I
have got that bracelet inside my dress. It's safe."

They did not tell Costello, the junkman, that at this time. In fact,
it was some months before Mr. Howbridge, by direction of the Court,
gave Queen Alma's bracelet into the hands of Miguel Costello, who
really proved in the end that he had the better right to the bracelet
that undoubtedly had once belonged to the Queen of the Spanish
Gypsies.

It had not been merely by chance that the young Gypsy woman who had
sold the green and yellow basket to Tess and Dot had dropped that
ornament into the basket. She had worn the bracelet, for she was Big
Jim's daughter.

Without doubt it was the intention of the Gypsies to engage the little
girls' interest through this bracelet and get their confidence, to
bring about the very situation which they finally consummated. One of
the women confessed in court that they could sell Tess and Dot for
acrobats. Or they thought they could.

The appearance of Miguel Costello in Milton, claiming the rightful
ownership of the silver bracelet, made the matter unexpectedly
difficult for Big Jim and his clan. Indeed, the Kenways had much to
thank Miguel Costello for.

However, these mysteries were explained long after this particular
morning on which the children were recovered. No such home-coming had
ever been imagined, and the old Corner House and vicinity staged a
celebration that will long be remembered.

Luke Shepard had been put to bed soon after his arrival. But he would
not be content until he got up again and came downstairs in his
bathrobe to greet the returned wanderers.

Agnes just threw herself into Ruth's arms when she first saw her elder
sister, crying:

"Oh! don't you _dare_ ever go away again, Ruth Kenway, without taking
the rest of us with you. We're not fit to be left alone."

"I am afraid some day, Agnes, you will have to get along without me,"
said Ruth placidly, but smiling into Luke's eyes as she said it. "You
know, we are growing up."

"Aggie isn't ever going to grow up," grumbled Neale. "She is just a
kid."

"Oh, is _that_ so, Mr. Smartie?" cried Agnes, suddenly drying her
eyes. "I'd have you know I am just as much grown up as you are."

"Oh, dear, me, I'm so sleepy," moaned Dot. "I--I didn't sleep very well
at all last night."

"Goodness! I should think Sammy and I ought to be the ones to be
sleepy. We didn't have any chance at all!" Tess exclaimed.

As for Sammy, he was taken home by an apparently very stern father to
meet a wildly grateful mother. Mrs. Pinkney drew the sting from all
verbal punishment Mr. Pinkney might have given his son.

"And the dear boy! I knew he had not forgotten us when I found he had
taken that picture with him. Did you, Sammy?"

"Did I what, Mom?" asked Sammy, his mouth comfortably filled with
cake.

"That picture. You know, the one we all had taken down at Pleasant
Cove that time. The one of your father and you and me that you kept on
your bureau. When I saw that you had taken that with you to remember
us by----"

"Oh, crickey, Mom! Buster, the bull pup, ate that old picture up a
month ago," said the nonsentimental Sammy.


                                THE END



Charming Stories for Girls
THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS SERIES
By Grace Brooks Hill


Four girls from eight to fourteen years of age receive word that a
rich bachelor uncle has died, leaving them the old Corner House he
occupied. They move into it and then the fun begins. What they find
and do will provoke many a hearty laugh. Later, they enter school and
make many friends. One of these invites the girls to spend a few weeks
at a bungalow owned by her parents, and the adventures they meet with
make very interesting reading. Clean, wholesome stories of humor and
adventure, sure to appeal to all young girls.

   1 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS.
   2 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS AT SCHOOL.
   3 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS UNDER CANVAS.
   4 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS IN A PLAY.
   5 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS' ODD FIND.
   6 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON A TOUR.
   7 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS GROWING UP.
   8 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS SNOWBOUND.
   9 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON A HOUSEBOAT.
  10 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS AMONG THE GYPSIES.
  11 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON PALM ISLAND.
  12 THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS SOLVE A MYSTERY.

BARSE & HOPKINS

New York, N.Y., Newark, N.J.



"THE POLLY" SERIES
By Dorothy Whitehill


Polly Pendleton is a resourceful, wide-awake American girl who goes to
a boarding school on the Hudson River some miles above New York. By
her pluck and resourcefulness, she soon makes a place for herself and
this she holds right through the course. The account of boarding
school life is faithful and pleasing and will attract every girl in
her teens.

Cloth, large 12 mo. Illustrated

  1 POLLY'S FIRST SUMMER YEAR AT BOARDING SCHOOL
  2 POLLY'S SUMMER VACATION
  3 POLLY'S SENIOR YEAR AT BOARDING SCHOOL
  4 POLLY SEES THE WORLD AT WAR
  5 POLLY AND LOIS
  6 POLLY AND BOB
  7 POLLY'S RE-UNION
  8 POLLY'S POLLY

BARSE & HOPKINS

Publishers

New York, N.Y., Newark, N.J.





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