Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Automobile Girls Along the Hudson - Fighting Fire in Sleepy Hollow
Author: Crane, Laura Dent
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 Automobile Girls Along the Hudson - Fighting Fire in Sleepy Hollow" ***

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

HUDSON***


[Illustration: Run! Run for Your Lives!]


THE AUTOMOBILE GIRLS ALONG THE HUDSON

Or

Fighting Fire in Sleepy Hollow

by

LAURA DENT CRANE

Author of The Automobile Girls at Newport, The Automobile
Girls in the Berkshires, Etc., Etc.

Illustrated



Philadelphia
Henry Altemus Company

Copyright, 1910, by Howard E. Altemus



CONTENTS

          CHAPTER                                            PAGE
               I. The Unexpected Always Happens                 7
              II. Mr. Stuart Confides a Secret                 16
             III. Rocking Chair Adventures                     25
              IV. A Cry for Help                               45
               V. The Motor Cyclist                            52
              VI. A Forest Scrimmage                           58
             VII. A Night with the Gypsies                     76
            VIII. The Haunted Pool                             83
              IX. Ten Eyck Hall                                94
               X. An Attic Mystery                            107
              XI. José Has an Enemy                           117
             XII. Nosegays and Tennis                         129
            XIII. Cross Questions and Crooked Answers         141
             XIV. In the Deep Woods                           150
              XV. The Hermit                                  158
             XVI. A Surprise                                  168
            XVII. Zerlina                                     180
           XVIII. The Masquerade                              189
             XIX. A Recognition                               195
              XX. The Fire Brigade                            203
             XXI. Fighting the Fire                           210
            XXII. Explanations                                220
           XXIII. An Old Romance                              227
            XXIV. Good-bye To Ten Eyck Hall                   235
             XXV. Conclusion                                  253



THE AUTOMOBILE GIRLS ALONG THE HUDSON



CHAPTER I—THE UNEXPECTED ALWAYS HAPPENS


“I think I’d make a pretty good housemaid,” said Barbara, on her knees,
energetically polishing the floor of the cottage parlor.

“Only housemaids don’t wear gloves and all-over aprons and mobcaps,”
replied Mollie.

“And they don’t protect their skins from dust with cold cream,” added
Barbara, teasingly. “Do they, Molliekins?”

“Oh well,” replied Mollie, “duty and beauty rhyme, and every woman ought
to try and keep her looks, according to the beauty pages in all the
papers.”

“Poor old Molliekins!” exclaimed her sister. “Crowsfeet and gray hair at
fifteen!”

“Going on sixteen,” corrected Mollie, as she gave a finishing rub to the
mahogany center table, a relic of more prosperous days, and flourished
an old, oily stocking that made an excellent polisher. “But the papers
do say that automobiling is very harmful to the complexion and the face
should be protected by layers of cold cream and powder, and a veil on
top of that.”

“I’m willing to take the chance,” laughed Barbara, “if ever I get
another one.”

“I suppose Ruth is so busy getting ready for her six weeks’ trip abroad
that she won’t have much time for her ‘bubble’ this August,” observed
Mollie. “But, dear knows, we can’t complain. There never was a rich girl
who knew how to make other people happy as well as she does. Sometimes I
think she is really a fairy princess, disguised as a human being, who is
just gratifying her desire to do nice things for girls like us.”

“No, she is no fairy,” commented Barbara. “That is why we love her so.
She is just a jolly, nice girl and as human as anybody. When she asked
us to go to Newport it was because she really wanted us. She has often
told me, since, that she had been planning the trip for months, but the
girls she knew were not exactly the kind who would have fallen into such
a scheme. Gladys Le Baron would never have done, you see, at that time,
because she always wanted Harry Townsend hanging about.”

Harry Townsend, our readers will recall, appeared in a former volume of
this series, “The Automobile Girls at Newport.” He was the famous youth
known to the police as “The Boy Raffles,” whose mysterious thefts were
the puzzle of the society world. It was Barbara Thurston, by her grit
and intelligence, who finally brought the criminal to justice, though
not before Newport had been completely bewildered by a number of
inexplicable jewelry robberies.

Following the visit to Newport came another delightful trip to the
Berkshire Hills. The romantic rescue of a little girl whose birth had
been concealed from her rich white relatives by her Indian grandmother;
Mollie Thurston lost in an unexplored forest; the thrilling race between
an air ship and an automobile—these and other exciting adventures were
described in the second volume of the series entitled “The Automobile
Girls in the Berkshires.”

“How hot it is!” continued Bab. “Suppose we have some lemonade. These
forest fire mists are really fine ashes and they make me quite thirsty.”

She polished away vigorously while Mollie tripped off to make a cooling
drink in the spotless little kitchen. Except for the tinkle of ice
against glass the house was very still. Outside, not a breeze was
stirring, and the meadows were draped in a curious, smoky mist. The sun
hung like a red ball in the sky; the air was hot and heavy. The flowers
in the garden borders drooped their heads in spite of persistent and
frequent waterings. Three months’ drought had almost made a desert of
Kingsbridge. The neat little scrap of a lawn was turning brown in
patches, like prematurely gray hair, Barbara said. Even the birds were
silent, and Mollie’s cherished family of bantams, a hen, a rooster and
one chick, crouched listlessly in the shadow of the hedge.

Just then the stillness was broken by the distant crunch-crunch of an
automobile. But the girls were too intent on what they were doing to
take any notice until it stopped at their own front gate, and the sound
of gay laughter and voices floated up the walk. Mollie and Barbara
rushed together to the front porch.

“It’s Ruth herself!” they cried in the same breath, running down the
steps without stopping to remove their long gingham aprons and dusting
caps. “And there’s mother, too,” exclaimed Mollie.

“And Mr. Stuart and Aunt Sallie, all complete!” cried Barbara.

In a moment the three girls were engaged in a sort of triangular embrace
while the others looked smilingly on.

“Well, young ladies,” said Mr. Stuart, “are those automobile coats
you’re wearing, and bonnets, too?”

“I think they would do pretty well for motoring,” replied Barbara, “they
are specially made for keeping out the dust.”

“They are just as cute as they can be,” said loyal Ruth, who was too
tender-hearted to let her friends be teased.

“But where on earth did you come from, Ruth?” asked Mollie. “We were
just talking about you a moment ago. We thought, of course, you were
still in Denver, and lo and behold! you appear in person in
Kingsbridge.”

“Well, papa had a call East,” replied Ruth, bubbling with suppressed
joy, “and I had a call, too. Papa’s was business and mine was—well,
just to call on you.” By that time they had reached the cool,
half-darkened little parlor whose bare floor and mahogany furniture
reflected their faces in the recently polished surfaces.

“Oho!” cried Mr. Stuart. “I see now where Queen Mab and her fairies have
been working in their pinafores and caps.”

“Take them off now, girlies,” said Mrs. Thurston, “and get a pitcher of
ice water. I know our friends must be thirsty after their dusty ride.”

But Mollie, who had already disappeared, came back in a few minutes
bearing a large tray of glasses and a tall glass pitcher against whose
sides cracked ice tinkled musically.

“That’s the most delightful sound I’ve heard to-day,” exclaimed Mr.
Stuart, and even Aunt Sallie took a second glass without much urging.

“Where is our little Indian Princess from the Berkshire Hills?” asked
Mr. Stuart suddenly. “One of my reasons for coming East was to see
Eunice. Ruth says she is the prettiest, little brown bird that ever flew
down from a mountain to live in a gilded cage. What have you done with
her, Mrs. Thurston?”

“I have had to give her up, Mr. Stuart,” Mrs. Thurston replied, sadly.
“And I was beginning to love Eunice like one of my own children. You
cannot guess how quickly she learned the ways of our home. She soon
forgot the old, wild mountain life and her Indian grandmother’s
teaching. But just now and then, if one of us was the least bit cross
with her, she would run away to the woods; and then only Mollie, whom
she always loved best, could bring her home again.”

“Oh, how I hated to have her leave us!” Mollie declared. “But after the
one winter with mother, Eunice’s rich uncle, Mr. Latham, came here to
see her. He was so charmed with her beauty and shy lovely manners that
he took her back to his home in the Berkshires to spend the summer with
him. This fall Mr. Latham is going to put Eunice in a girl’s boarding
school in Boston, so that she can be nearer his place at Lenox. He wants
to be able to see her oftener. The dream of little Eunice’s life is to
some day ask ‘The Automobile Girls’ to visit her.”

“Well, girls,” said Ruth, as they moved toward the front porch, leaving
their three elders to chat in the parlor, “I suppose you know I’ve got
something in my mind again.”

“No, honor bright, we don’t,” declared Barbara. “Isn’t Europe about as
much as you can support at one time?”

“But Europe doesn’t happen until next month, children, and after
finishing his business in the East, papa is going to be kept very busy
for at least a month in the West. In the meantime Aunt Sallie and I have
no place to go but out, and nothing to do but play around until it’s
time to sail. And so, honored friends, I’m again thrown upon your
company for as long a time as you can endure my presence. And this is
the plan that’s been working in my head all the way on the train: What
do you say to a lovely motor trip up along the Hudson to Sleepy Hollow?
Don’t you think it would be fine? Grace can go, and we’ll have our same
old happy crowd. It’s really only one day’s trip to Tarrytown, where we
will stop for as long as we like, and from there we can motor about the
country and see some of the fine estates. It is a historic place, you
know, girls, full of romance and old stories and legends. We can even
motor up into the hills if we like.”

“It would be too perfect!” cried the other two girls.

“I’m just in the mood for adventures, anyway,” declared Barbara. “I’ve
been feeling it coming over me for a week.”

“When are we going?” asked Mollie.

“Well, why not to-morrow,” replied Ruth, “while the spirit moves us?”

“O joy, O bliss, O rapture unconfined!” sang Mollie, dancing up and down
the porch in her delight.

“You see, there is no special getting ready to do,” went on Ruth. “The
chauffeur will go over ‘Mr. A. Bubble,’ this afternoon, and put him in
good shape. He’s been acting excellently well for such a hardworking old
party. I mean ‘A. Bubble,’ of course.”

“Does mother know yet, Ruth?” asked Barbara, with a sudden misgiving.

“Oh, yes, she knows all about it. Papa and I laid the whole plan before
her when we picked her up in the village. She was agreeable to
everything, but of course she would be. She is such a dear! Aunt Sallie
was the only one who was a bit backward about coming forward. She seemed
to think that the forest fires would devour us if we dared venture
outside of New York. But, of course, they are only in the mountains and
there is no danger from them. It took me an age to gain her consent. If
she has any more time to think about it she may back out at the eleventh
hour.”

“Is it all settled, girls?” called Mr. Stuart’s voice through the open
window.

“Oh, yes,” chorused three gay voices at once.

“Well, I think we’d better be going up to the hotel, then,” cried Miss
Sallie. “If I’m to be suffocated by smoke and cinders I think I shall
need all the rest I can get beforehand.”

“But, dearest Aunt Sallie,” said Ruth, patting her aunt’s peach-blossom
cheek, “the fires are nowhere near Sleepy Hollow. They are miles off in
the mountains. And truly, in your heart, I believe you like these little
auto jaunts better than any of us.”

“Not at all,” replied the inflexible Miss Stuart. “I am much too old and
rheumatic for such nonsense.”

Whereupon she jumped nimbly into the car.

The others all laughed. They understood Miss Sallie pretty well by this
time. “She has a stern exterior, but a very melting interior,” Barbara
used to say of her.

“Don’t fail to be ready by ten, girls,” called Ruth as she followed her
aunt, while Mr. Stuart was offering his adieux to Mrs. Thurston.

“But, Bab,” whispered Mollie, as the automobile disappeared around a
curve in the road, “what about the forest fires?”

“Sh-h!” said Barbara, with, a finger on her lip.

And they followed their mother into the house.



CHAPTER II—MR. STUART CONFIDES A SECRET


The next day was like the day before, very hot and still, the air thick
with a smoke-like mist even in that seashore place. It hung over the sea
like a heavy fog, and the foghorn could be heard in the distance moaning
like a distracted animal calling for its young.

Barbara had refreshed herself by an early morning dip in the ocean, but
she felt the oppressive atmosphere in spite of the tingling the cool
salt water had given to her skin.

They were seated around the little breakfast table, always so daintily
set, for Mrs. Thurston had never lost that quality which had
characterized her in her youth and which still clung to her in the days
of her hardships and troubles.

“And now, girlies,” she said, “you must promise me one thing. Don’t lose
your heads at the wrong time. Not that you ever have before, and I am
sure I have no premonitions, now; but remember, my daughters, if
anything exciting should happen, to make a little prayer to yourselves;
then think hard and the answer is apt to come before you know it.”

“Do you remember how Gladys Le Baron shrieked the time the curtains in
her room caught fire?” asked Mollie. “She didn’t do anything but just
wring her hands and scream, and it was really Barbara who put the fire
out. Bab pulled down the curtains and threw a blanket over them. And
then Gladys had hysterics. But Barbara always keeps her head,” added
Mollie, proudly.

“Your head is all right, too, Molliekins,” exclaimed Barbara. “The night
the man tried to break in the house, don’t you remember, mummie, how
brave she was? She followed us up with a poker as bold as a lion.”

“So you did, my pet, and I’m not the least afraid that either one of you
ever will be lacking in courage. But, when I was very small, my mother
once taught me a little prayer which she made me promise to say to
myself whenever I felt the temptation to give way to fear or anger. And
many and many a time it has helped me. It was only a few words: ‘Heaven,
make me calm in the face of danger,’ but I have never known it to fail.”

“Dearest little mother,” cried Barbara, kissing her mother’s soft cheek,
“you’re the best and sweetest little mummie in the world and I’m sure I
can’t remember ever having seen you angry or hysterical or any of those
terrible things. But if ever I do get in a tight place I hope I shall
not forget the little prayer.”

“‘Heaven, make me calm in the face of danger,’” repeated Mollie, softly.

“But, dear me, how gruesome we are!” exclaimed Mrs. Thurston. “It is
time you were packing your bags, at any rate, children. Be sure and put
in your sweaters. You may need them in spite of this hot wave. And,
Mollie, don’t forget the cold cream for your little sunburned nose.”

The two girls ran upstairs to their room. In a few moments they were
deep in preparations. By the time the whir of an automobile was heard in
the distance they had got into their fresh linen suits and broad-brimmed
straw hats, and were waiting on the porch with suit cases and small
satchels. Mrs. Thurston looked them over with secret pride.

“Do you see anything lacking, mother?” asked Barbara.

“No, Bab, my dear. I haven’t a word to say. You made a very choice
selection in that pink linen, and Mollie was just as happy in her blue
one. I never saw neater looking dresses. I hope they won’t wrinkle much.
But you can have them pressed at the hotel, I suppose.”

“And don’t forget our automobile coats,” exclaimed Mollie proudly, as
she shook out her long pongee duster, last year’s Christmas gift from
Ruth. “This is the first time we’ve had a chance to wear them. I feel so
grand in mine!” she continued, as she slipped it on. “With all this veil
and hat I can almost imagine I am a millionaire.” And she swept up the
porch and back with a society air that was perfect. “Good morning,” she
said to her mother in a high, affected voice. “Won’t you take a little
spin with me in my car? Life is such a bore now at these barbarous
seaside places! There is really nothing but bridge and motoring, and one
can’t play bridge all the time. Oh, and by the way,” she continued,
pretending to look at Bab haughtily, through a lorgnette, “won’t you
bring your little girl along? She can sit with the chauffeur.”

They were still laughing when the automobile came spinning up with Ruth,
Grace Carter, Miss Sallie Stuart and her brother.

“On time, as usual, girls,” cried Ruth gayly. “And I am late as usual.
But who cares? It’s a lovely day and we’re going to have a perfect time.
I am so glad we’re going that I would like to execute a few steps on
your front porch for joy.”

“Go ahead,” said Barbara. “We’ve just been having one exhibition from
Miss Clare Vere de Vere Thurston, who is bursting with pride over her
automobile coat, and we would be pleased to see another.”

“By the way, I should like to have a few words in private with the young
party in the pink dress,” called Mr. Stuart, who was engaged in taking a
last look at the inner workings of the automobile.

“Meaning me?” asked Bab. “Come in, won’t you, Mr. Stuart?”

“Now, what could they be having secrets about?” exclaimed Ruth, and even
Miss Sallie looked somewhat mystified.

“I am dying to know what you two are confabbing about,” cried Ruth, as
Mr. Stuart and Barbara returned. “Have you given Bab permission to tell
us?”

“Miss Barbara Thurston is a young woman of such excellent judgment,”
replied Mr. Stuart, “that I shall leave the secret entirely in her
hands, and rely upon her to keep it or tell it as she thinks best.”

“Well!” exclaimed Miss Sallie, “here’s a nice mystery to commence the
day on! But come along, girls; we had better be starting.”

Mr. Stuart, with Bab’s assistance, gathered up the bags and suit cases
piled on the porch, packing the cases on the back with the others where
they were secured with straps, and putting the small hand satchels on
the floor of the car. Barbara seized her own satchel rather hastily and
placed it beside her on the seat.

“Why, Bab, one would think you were a smuggler,” cried Ruth. “Don’t you
want to put your satchel on the floor with the others?”

“Oh, never mind,” replied Barbara carelessly. “It’s all right here,” and
she exchanged a meaning look with Mr. Stuart.

“Dear me!” exclaimed Ruth. “You and papa grow ‘curiouser and
curiouser.’”

Then the good-byes were said, and the big automobile went skimming down
the road in a whirl of dust, leaving Mrs. Thurston and Mr. Stuart at the
gate waving their handkerchiefs, until it turned the curve and was lost
to sight.

The travelers lunched at Allaire, as usual, in the little open-air
French restaurant, and strolled about under the enormous elms of the
deserted village while the meal was being prepared. But they did not
linger after lunch. Ruth was hoping to make Tarrytown in time for dinner
that evening, instead of stopping for the night in New York, which, she
said, appeared to be suffering from the heat like a human being. “The
poor, tired city is all fagged out and fairly panting from the humidity.
If all goes well, I think we should get to New York by four o’clock,
have tea at the Waldorf and start for Tarrytown at five. We ought to
reach there by seven at the latest. It will be a long ride, but it’s
lots cooler riding than it is sitting still. Once we get to Tarrytown we
can linger as long as we please.”

They whizzed along the now familiar road, through the endless chain of
summer resorts that line the Jersey coast, up the Rumson Road between
the homes of millionaires, and finally struck the road to New York.

“It’ll be easy sailing now,” observed Ruth, “if we only catch the
ferries.”

By a stroke of good luck they were able to do so, and actually drew up
in front of the Waldorf at a few minutes before four o’clock.

“Well, Ruth, I must say you are a pretty good calculator,” exclaimed
Miss Sallie, “harum-scarum that you are.”

There was a brief interval for face-washing and the smoothing of
flattened pompadours; another longer one for consuming lettuce
sandwiches and tea, followed by ices and cakes, and the party was off
again, as swiftly as if it had been carrying secret government
dispatches.

Up Riverside Drive they sped, past the Palisades which loomed purple and
amethyst in the misty light. Then eastward to Broadway, which was once
the old Albany Post Road; along the borders of Van Courtlandt Park,
where, even on that hot day, the golfers were out; through Yonkers, too
citified to be interesting to the girls just then; and, finally, along
the river through the loveliest country Barbara and Mollie had ever
seen. Still the crags of the Palisades towered on one side, while on the
other were beautiful estates stretching back into the hills, and little
villages nestling down on the river front.

Miss Sallie and Grace were both sound asleep on the back seat. Mollie
had let down one of the small middle seats, and sat resting her chin on
the back of the seat in front of her, occasionally pressing her sister’s
shoulder for sympathy.

Ruth was in a brown study. She was very tired. It was no joke playing
chauffeur for more than a hundred miles in one day.

“Bab,” whispered Mollie, awed by the lovely vistas of river and valley,
“do you think the Vale of Cashmere could be more exquisite than this? Or
the Rhine, or Lake Como, or any other wonderful place we have never
seen?”

“Isn’t it marvelous, little sister? It’s like an enchanted country, and
it is full of legends and history, too. During the Revolution the two
armies were encamped all through here.”

“Oh, yes,” interrupted Ruth. “If I were not too tired, I might tell you
a lot of things about this historical spot, but we must take another
spin down here later and see it all again. This village we are now
entering is Irvington, the home of Washington Irving. His house is no
longer open to the public, however. Tarrytown is only a little distance
down the river. We shall soon be there.”

It was not long before a tired, sleepy party of automobilists drew up in
front of an old hotel shaded with immense elms.

“Wake up, Aunt Sallie, dear,” cried Ruth, giving her sleeping relative a
gentle shake. “Bestir yourselves, sweet ladies, for food and rest are at
hand and the hostelry is open to us.”

Supper was, indeed, ready, and rooms, too. For Mr. Stuart had notified
the hotel proprietor to expect an automobile containing five women to
descend upon him about sundown.

The five travelers mounted the steps to the supper room, and refreshed
themselves with beefsteak and hot biscuits; then mounted more steps to
their bedrooms, where they soon fell into five untroubled slumbers.



CHAPTER III—ROCKING CHAIR ADVENTURES


“Well, girls,” exclaimed Ruth, next morning at the breakfast table,
“here we are ready for adventures. But they will have to be early
morning or late evening ones. It’s already too hot to breathe.”

“For my part,” observed Miss Sallie, “the only adventure I am seeking is
to sit on the shady side of the piazza, in a wicker chair, and read the
morning paper.”

“But, Miss Sallie, even that might turn into something,” said romantic
Mollie.

“Yes, indeed,” pursued Ruth, “you know the way mamma met papa was by
staying at home instead of going to a ball.”

“Why, Ruth!” cried Miss Sallie.

“But it’s quite true, dear Aunt Sallie. Mamma was visiting at a house
party in the South, somewhere, and she had a headache and stayed home
from a ball, and was sitting in the library. Papa came a-calling on one
of the others, and was ushered into the library, by mistake, and
introduced himself to mamma—and she forgot her headache and he forgot
he was due to catch a train to New York at nine o’clock. It was simply a
case of love at first sight.”

“My dear, I am not looking for any such romantic adventures,” said Miss
Sallie, bridling. “Your father was an intimate friend of the family at
whose house your mother was stopping. It was perfectly natural they
should have met, if not that evening, at least another one. I always
said your mother showed extreme good sense in staying away from a party
and nursing her headache. Not many others would have done the same.”
Miss Stuart gave her niece a meaning look, while the four girls
suppressed their smiles and exchanged telegraphic glances of amusement.

Not long before Ruth had “doctored” herself up with headache medicine,
and had gone to a dance against her aunt’s advice. As a result she had
been obliged to leave before the evening was over, more on account of
the medicine than the headache, Miss Sallie had believed.

“Dearest little auntie, you have a touch of sun this morning, haven’t
you?” asked Ruth, leaning over and patting her aunt’s soft cheek; while
Miss Stuart, who was indeed feeling the general oppressiveness of the
weather, melted at once into a good humor and smiled at her niece
tenderly.

Two persons were rather curiously watching this little scene from behind
the shelter of the morning papers. One of them, a very handsome elderly
man, seated at a table by the window, had started perceptibly when the
party entered the room; and from that moment, he had hardly eaten a bite
of breakfast. He was occupied in examining not the fair young girls but
Miss Sallie herself, who was entirely unconscious of being the object of
such scouting.

The other individual was quite different in appearance. He was dressed
in black leather from head to foot, and a motor cap and glasses lay
beside him on the table. His evident interest in the conversation of the
girls was impersonal, perhaps the curiosity of a foreigner in a strange
country. There was some admiration in his eyes as they rested on pretty
Mollie’s golden curls and fresh smiling face; but his manner was
perfectly respectful and he was careful to conceal his glances by the
newspaper.

“That man is rather good-looking in a foreign sort of way,” whispered
Mollie.

“Too much blacky face and shiny eye, to suit my taste,” replied Bab. “He
looks like a pirate, or a smuggler, in that black leather suit.”

“Dear me, you are severe, Bab,” observed Ruth. “If he were not so young,
I should take him for an opera singer on a vacation. He would do nicely
dressed as a cavalier.”

“Be careful, my dears; you are talking much too loudly,” admonished Miss
Sallie, for the young foreigner had evidently overheard the
conversation, and had turned his face away to conceal an expression of
amusement.

“I vote we adjourn to the porch,” said Ruth, “until we decide where we
are going this morning. Come on, auntie, dear. There may be a rocking
chair adventure waiting for you on that shady piazza. I saw a white
haired gentleman giving you many glances of admiration, this morning,
around the corner of his newspaper. Did you notice it, girls?”

“I did,” replied Grace, somewhat hesitatingly, for she was just a little
fearful about entering into these teasing humors with Ruth.

“Don’t be silly, Ruth,” said Miss Sallie. But she glanced quickly over
her shoulder, nevertheless, as she led the little procession from the
dining room, her lavender muslin draperies floating in the breeze. She
stopped in the office and bought a newspaper, then proceeded to the
shady piazza, where she seated herself in a rocking chair and unfolded
the paper.

The girls leaned over the railing and looked down into the street, while
Ruth expounded her views on their morning’s ride.

“Suppose we have a lunch fixed up,” she was saying, “and spend the
morning at Sleepy Hollow? It’s lovelier than anything you ever imagined,
just what Washington Irving says of it, a place to dream in and see
visions.”

A charming tenor voice floated out from an upper window, singing a song
in some foreign language.

The girls looked at each other and laughed.

“He did hear us, and he is an opera singer,” whispered Grace.

“I knew it,” came Miss Sallie’s voice from the depths of the paper.

“Knew what?” demanded the four girls somewhat guiltily, as the singing
continued.

“Knew that we would all be cremated if we came into these dreadful wild
regions,” replied Miss Sallie, as she gazed tragically down the shaded
street lined with beautiful old homes.

“But, Miss Sallie,” interposed Barbara in soothing tones, “the fires are
up in the Catskills and the Adirondacks, aren’t they? It is only when
the wind blows in this direction that we get the smoke from them. Even
New York gets it, then; and certainly there is no danger of New York
burning up from the forest fires.”

“Very well, my dears, if we do run into one of those shocking
conflagrations, you may just recall my words to you this morning.”

The girls all laughed, and there is nothing prettier than the sound of
the light-hearted laughter of young girls; at least so thought the tall,
military-looking man they had seen at breakfast. He had strolled out on
the piazza, and was walking straight toward Miss Sallie with an air of
determination that was unmistakable even to the stately lady in
lavender.

A few feet from her chair he paused as if a sudden thought had arrested
him, and the two looked straight into each other’s faces for the space
of half a minute. The girls were fairly dumb with amazement as they
watched the little drama. Miss Sallie’s face had flushed and paled
before it resumed its natural peachy tone. They could not see the face
of the stranger whose back was turned to them.

“Is it possible,” asked Miss Sallie after a moment, in a strange voice,
“that this is John Ten Eyck?”

She had risen from her chair, in her excitement, and the newspapers had
fallen on the floor with her lavender silk reticule, her fan and
smelling salts, her lace-edged handkerchief and spectacle case, all in a
confused mass.

“You have not forgotten me, Sallie?” the man demanded, almost
dramatically. “I am John Ten Eyck, grown old and gray. I never dreamed
that any of my old friends would recognize me after all these years. But
are these your girls, Sallie?” he asked, turning with a courtly air to
the four young women.

“No, indeed, John,” replied Miss Sallie, rather stiffly, “I have never
married. This is my niece, Ruth Stuart, my only brother’s child.” And
she proceeded to introduce the others in turn. “Ruth, my child, this is
Major John Ten Eyck, an old friend of mine, whom I have not seen for
many years. I suppose you have lived in foreign lands for so long you
have completely lost sight of your American friends.”

“It has been a great many years,” answered Major Ten Eyck, after he had
taken each girl by the hand and had looked into her face with such
gentleness and charm of manner as to win them all completely. “It’s been
thirty years, has it not, Sallie?”

“Don’t ask me such a question, John Ten Eyck! I’m sure I have no desire
to be reminded of how old we are growing. Do you know, you are actually
getting fat and bald; and here I am with hair as white as snow.”

“But your face is as young as ever, Sallie,” declared the gallant major.

“Isn’t it, Major Ten Eyck?” exclaimed Ruth, who had found her voice at
last. “She is just as pretty as she was thirty years ago, I am certain.
Papa says she is, at any rate.”

“So she is, my dear,” agreed the old man as he gazed with undisguised
admiration into Miss Sallie’s smiling face.

“Do sit down,” said Miss Sallie, slightly confused, “and tell us where
you have been, and what you have been doing these last three decades.”

“It would take too long, I fear,” replied the major, looking at his
watch. “I am looking for my two nephews this morning.”

“You mean Martin’s sons, I suppose?” asked Miss Sallie.

“Yes, they are coming down to stay with me at my old place, back yonder
in the hills. They are bringing one or two friends with them, and we
shall motor over this afternoon if the weather permits. But tell me,
what are you doing here? Spending the summer? Don’t you find it a little
dull, young ladies?”

“Oh, we are just on a motor trip, too,” replied Ruth. “We are birds of
passage, and stop only as long as it pleases us.”

“And have you no men along, to look after you and protect you from
highwaymen, or mend the tires when they are punctured?”

“My dear Major,” replied Miss Sallie, “you have been away from America
for so long that you are old-fashioned. Do you think these athletic
young women need a man to protect them? I assure you that the world has
been changing while you have been burying yourself in Russia and Japan.
Ruth, here, is as good a chauffeur as could be found, and Barbara
Thurston can protect herself and us into the bargain. She rides
horseback like a man.” Barbara blushed at the memory of the stolen
horseback ride on the way to Newport. “Grace and Mollie are a little bit
more old-fashioned, perhaps, and I am as helpless as ever. But two are
quite enough. They have got us out of every scrape so far, the two of
them.”

The girls all laughed.

Only Barbara, who was leaning on the railing facing the window, saw a
figure move behind the curtain, which had stood so still she had not
noticed it before.

“Since you are off on a sort of wild goose chase for amusement,” began
the major (here the figure that was slipping away paused again),
“couldn’t you confer a great honor and pleasure on an old man by making
him a visit?”

“Oh!” cried the girls, breathless with delight, remembering the
automobile full of youths that would shortly appear.

“Now, Miss Sallie, you see they all want to come,” continued the major.
“Don’t, I beg of you, destroy their pleasure and my happiness by
declining this request of my old age.”

“Oh, do say yes, Aunt Sallie!” cried Ruth.

And still Miss Sallie hesitated. She had a curious smile on her face as
she looked out over the hills and meadows beyond.

“It’s an interesting old place, Sallie,” continued the major. “It was
built by my Dutch ancestors, a charming old house that has been added to
from time to time. I would like to see it full of young faces once more.
What do you say, Sallie? Won’t you make us all happy? The boys and me,
and the girls, too? For I can see by their faces they are eager to
come.”

“How far is it from here, John,” asked Miss Sallie, doubtfully. “Is it
anywhere near those dreadful forest fires?”

“It is fifteen miles back in the country, and I have heard no rumor of
any fires in that vicinity lately. The boys and I are leaving this
afternoon. We will see that everything is ship-shape, and you and the
girls could follow to-morrow. I have an excellent housekeeper. She and
her husband were a young couple when I went away, and they have lived at
the place ever since. I am certain she can make you comfortable. I will
give Miss Ruth explicit directions about the route. It is a fairly good
road for motoring. We have a fine place for dancing there, young ladies.
There’s a famous floor in what, in my grandmother’s time, we used to
call the red drawing-room. There are dozens of places for picnics,
pretty valleys and creeks that I explored and knew intimately in my
youth. I have some good horses in my stables, Miss Barbara, if you have
a fancy for riding,” he continued, turning to Barbara with such grace of
manner that she blushed for pleasure.

Looking from one eager face to another, and finally into the major’s
kindly gray eyes, Miss Sallie melted into acquiescence and the party was
made up forthwith.

The major then pointed out to Ruth and Barbara the street they were to
take, which would lead to the road to his old home. He drew a map on a
piece of paper, so that they could make no mistake.

“When you come to the crossroads,” he added, as a parting caution, “take
the one with the bridge, which you can see beyond. The other road is
roundabout and full of ruts besides.”

Just then the horn of an automobile was heard, as a large touring car
containing four young men and a deal of baggage, drew up in front of the
hotel. At the same time, Barbara, who was still facing the window, saw
the figure on the other side of the curtain steal quietly away.

Major Ten Eyck went forward to meet the newcomers, and he and his two
nephews had a little earnest conversation together for a few moments.
The young men looked up, saw Miss Sallie and the girls, and all four
caps came off simultaneously.

“Please don’t go yet,” called the major, as Miss Stuart rose to leave.
“I want to introduce the boys first.”

Stephen and Martin Ten Eyck were handsome, sturdy youths, with clear cut
features. The two visitors were far different in type; one, Alfred
Marsdale, a young English friend, who was spending the summer with the
Ten Eycks, and the other, Jimmie Butler, who seemed to have come from
nowhere in particular but to have been everywhere.

“And now come along, boys,” urged the major, after he had given the
young people a chance to talk a few minutes. “These ladies want their
ride, I know, and we must be off for the hall before it gets too hot for
endurance.”

With a last caution to Ruth about the proper road to Ten Eyck Hall, and
a reminder to Miss Stuart not to break her promise, the major ushered
his boys into the hotel office, while “The Automobile Girls” went up to
their rooms.

“Isn’t this perfectly jolly, girls?” called Ruth from the mirror as she
pinned on her hat.

“De-lighted!” exclaimed Barbara and Mollie, joining the others.

“And listen, girlies, dear! Did you scent a romance?” whispered Ruth.

“It certainly looked very much like one,” replied Barbara.

“They were engaged once,” continued Ruth, “but they had some sort of
lovers’ quarrel. The poor major tried to make it up, but Aunt Sallie
wouldn’t forgive him, and he went away and never came back, except for
flying trips on business. Until to-day she has never seen or heard from
him.”

“But she must have cared some, because she didn’t marry anyone else,”
observed Mollie reflectively.

“I wonder what he did,” pondered Grace.

“Flirted with another girl,” answered Ruth. “Papa has often told me
about it. Aunt Sallie had another lover, at the same time, who was very
rich. She kept the two of them dangling on, and it was because she went
driving with the other lover that Major Ten Eyck paid devoted attention
to some other girl, one night at a ball. So they quarreled and
separated.”

“Poor old major!” sighed tender-hearted Mollie.

“But she _did_ have her rocking chair adventure after all,” laughed
Barbara, as they started downstairs in obedience to Miss Sallie’s tap a
few moments before.

The lovely vistas of valley and river, with intersecting hills, were
softened into dream pictures by a transparent curtain of mist, which hid
the parched look of the foliage from the long drought.

The five automobilists sped along over smooth roads between splendid
estates. Most of the great houses were screened by stretches of thickly
wooded parks, and each park was guarded by a lodge, after the English
fashion. But there were plenty of charming old houses in full view of
the passerby—rambling, comfortable homes set down on smooth lawns.

“How beautiful all this is!” sighed Mollie, as she leaned back in her
seat and gazed down the long avenue of trees.

“Yes,” called Ruth over her shoulder. “I took the longest way to the
church, because this road is so pretty.”

“Here’s the lane to Sleepy Hollow,” cried the ever-watchful Barbara, and
the automobile turned into a country road that appeared to lead off into
low-lying hills beyond.

“What is that cloud of dust behind us,” demanded Miss Sallie, looking
back.

“It’s a man on a motor cycle,” replied Grace. “He is turning in here,
too, but he is slowing up. I suppose he doesn’t want to give us a
dusting. Rather nice of him, isn’t it?”

“Fancy a motor cycle and a headless horseman riding in the same lane,”
observed Ruth.

“Well, if it came to a race,” replied Barbara, “I think I would take the
motor cycle. They do go like the wind.”

“And the noise of them is so terrifying,” went on Ruth, “that the poor
headless horseman would probably have been scared back to death again.”

Presently the girls came to a steep declivity in the land that seemed to
dip and rise with equal suddenness.

“Is this the Hollow?” asked Mollie a little awed.

“This land is full of hollows, my dear,” answered Miss Sallie, who did
not like uneven traveling. “We have been through several already, and,
with that hobgoblin on an infernal machine coming after us, and all
these dense forests packing us in on every side, and nothing but a
lonesome churchyard in front of us, it seems to me we should have
brought along some better protectors than two slips of girls.”

Here Miss Sallie paused in order to regain breath.

“I declare,” exclaimed Ruth, “I don’t know which one of these roads
leads to the churchyard. Of course we can explore both of them, but we
don’t want to miss seeing the old church, and we certainly don’t want to
miss lunch. It will be so cheerful picnicking in a graveyard.”

The automobile stopped and the motor cycle, catching up with them just
then, stopped also. The rider put his foot down to steady himself, and
removing his black leather cap and glasses, bowed courteously to Miss
Stuart.

“Is Madame looking for the ancient church?” he asked, in very excellent
English with just a touch of accent.

The five women remembered, at once, that this was the stranger whom they
had lately seen at breakfast. From closer quarters they saw that he was
good-looking, not with the kind of looks they were accustomed to admire,
but still undeniably handsome. His features had rather a haughty turn to
them, and his black eyes had a melancholy look; but even the heavy
leather suit he wore could not hide the graceful slenderness of his
figure.

“Yes; we were looking for the church,” replied Miss Sallie in a somewhat
mollified tone, considering she had just called him a hobgoblin on an
infernal machine. “Will you be good enough to tell us which one of these
roads we must take?”

“If you will follow me,” answered the stranger, “I also am going there.
You will pardon me if I go in front? If you will wait a moment I will
get somewhat ahead, so that madame and the other ladies will not be
dusted.”

“I must say he is rather a polite young man,” admitted Miss Sallie, “if
he is somewhat rapid in his movements.”

“He is curiously good-looking,” reflected Ruth. “Not exactly our kind, I
should say; but, after all, he may be just foreign and different. Just
because he is not an American type doesn’t keep him from being nice.”

All the time the foliage was getting more impenetrable. Tall trees
reared themselves on either side of the road, seeming vanguards of the
forests behind them. A cool, woodsy breeze touched their cheeks softly,
and Barbara closed her eyes for a moment that she might feel the
enchantment of the place.

“How many Dutch burghers and their wives must have driven up this same
grassy road,” she was thinking to herself. “How many wedding parties and
funeral trains, too, for here is their graveyard. No wonder a traveler
imagined he saw ghosts on this lonely road, with nothing but a cemetery
and an old church to cheer him on his way. And here is our auto running
in the very same ruts their funny old carriages and rockaways must have
made, and this stranger in front of us on something queerer still. I
wonder if ghosts of the future will ride in phantom autos or on motor
cycles. What a fearful sight! A headless man on an infernal machine——”

Her reflections were interrupted by the turning around of the
automobile. Ruth had evidently decided to go back by the way they had
come. Opening her eyes she saw before her a quaint and charming old
church set in the midst of a rambling graveyard.

There also stood the black cyclist, like a gruesome sentinel among the
tombs. He lifted his cap as they drew up, and, after hesitating a
moment, came forward to open the door and help Miss Sallie alight.

“Permit me, Madam,” he said, with such grace of demeanor that the lady
thanked him almost with effusion. Grace and Mollie were assisted as if
they had been princesses of the blood, as they described it later, while
the other two girls leaped to the ground before he had time to make any
overtures in their direction.

There was rather an awkward pause, for a moment, as the stranger, with
uncovered head, stood aside to let them pass. The silence was not broken
and Miss Stuart chose to let it remain so.

“One cannot be too careful,” she had always said, “of chance
acquaintances, especially men.” However, she was predisposed in favor of
the cyclist, whose manners were exceptional.

The girls were strolling about among the graves, examining the stones
with their quaint epitaphs, while the stranger leaned against a tree and
lit a cigarette.

Miss Stuart, with her lorgnette, was making a survey of the church.

“From the account of the supper party at the Van Tassels’ in Sleepy
Hollow,” said Ruth, “the early Dutch must have just about eaten
themselves to death. Do you remember all the food there was piled on the
table at the famous quilting party? Every kind of cake known to man, to
begin with; or rather, Washington Irving began with cakes. Roast fowls
and turkeys, hams and sausages, puddings and pies and the humming
tea-urn in the midst of it.”

“I don’t think the women had such big appetites as the men,” observed
Mollie. “At least Katrina Van Tassel is described as being very dainty,
and I can’t imagine a pretty young girl working straight through such a
bill of fare, and yet looking quite the same ever after.”

“But remember that they took lots of exercise,” put in Barbara, “of a
kind we know nothing about. All the Dutch girls were taught to scrub and
polish and clean.”

“What were we doing when Ruth and Miss Sallie and Mr. Stuart arrived,
Bab, I’d like to know?” interrupted Mollie indignantly. “Weren’t we
rubbing the parlor furniture and polishing the floor?”

“Yes,” returned Barbara, “but you could put our entire house down in the
parlor of one of those old Dutch farm houses, and still have room and to
spare.”

“And think of all the copper kettles they had to keep polished,” added
Grace.

“And the spinning they had to do,” said Ruth.

“And the cooking and butter making,” continued Bab. “Yes, Mistress
Mollie, I think there’s some excuse for sausages and all the rest. And I
am sure I could have forgiven Katrina if she ate everything in sight.”

“Ah, well,” replied Mollie, “no doubt she was fat at thirty!”



CHAPTER IV—A CRY FOR HELP


AS they talked the young girls wandered over the grassy sward of the
churchyard and their voices grew fainter and fainter to the cyclist and
Miss Sallie.

The latter had seated herself on the stump of an old tree and was busily
engaged in re-reading her mail, at which she had glanced only carelessly
that morning.

The air was very still and hot, and the hum of insects made a drowsy
accompaniment to the songs of the birds. The cyclist had stretched
himself at full length on the grass under an immense elm tree and was
lazily blowing blue rings of smoke skywards.

Presently there broke upon the noonday stillness a cry for help. It was
in a high, girlish voice—Mollie’s in fact—and it was followed by
others in quick succession.

Miss Stuart, scattering her mail on the ground in her fright, rushed in
the direction of the cries, the cyclist close behind her.

On a knoll near the church the sight which met Miss Sallie’s eyes almost
made her knees give way. But she had a cool head in danger, in spite of
her lavender draperies and pretended helplessness.

A tramp, who seemed to them all at the moment as big as a giant, with
matted hair and beard and face swollen from drink, had seized Ruth and
Barbara by the wrists with one of his enormous hands. A woman equally
ragged in appearance was tugging at the fellow’s other hand in an effort
to quiet him.

As Miss Sallie ran toward the group she heard Barbara say quietly:

“Let go our wrists and we shall be glad to give you all the money we
have with us.”

“I tell you I want more money than that,” said the man in a hoarse,
terrible voice. “I want enough money to keep me for the rest of my days.
Do you think I like to sleep on the ground and eat bread and water? I
tell you I want my rights. Why should you be rich and me poor? Why
should you be dressed in silks while my wife wears rags?”

As he raved, he jerked his hand away from the woman, almost throwing her
forward in his violence, and gesticulated wildly.

The two girls were both very pale and calm, but the poor tramp woman was
crying bitterly.

Barbara’s lips were moving, but she said nothing, and only Mollie knew
it was her mother’s prayer she was repeating.

“Don’t be frightened, young ladies,” sobbed the woman, “I will see that
no harm comes to you, even if he kills me.”

“Do you call this a free country,” continued the tramp, “when there are
thousands of people like me who have no houses and must beg for food? I
would like to kill all the rich men in this country and turn their
children loose to beg and steal, as we must do to get a living! Do you
think I would ever have come to this pass if a rich man had not brought
me to it? Do you think I was always a tramp like this, and my wife
yonder a tramp, too?”

At this point the drunken wretch began to cry, but he still held the two
girls tightly by the wrists.

“I tell you I’ll take a ransom for you and nothing less. I’ll get out of
the world all it’s taken from me, and your father will have to do the
paying. Come on!” he cried in a tone of command, to his trembling wife.

At this critical moment Miss Stuart and the motor cyclist came running
to the scene.

There was a look of immense relief on Miss Sallie’s face when she saw
the courteous stranger at her heels. She had been about to speak, but
was silent.

“Oh, ho!” cried the tramp, “so you’ve got a protector, have you? Well,
come on! I’ll fight the whole lot of you, women and men, too, and with
one hand, at that!”

He loomed up like a giant beside the small, slender cyclist, but he was
a drunken giant nevertheless and not prepared for what was about to
happen.

However, at first, it appeared to them all that a little persuasion
might be better than force.

“If you will let the young ladies go, my good man,” said the cyclist,
“you will not regret it. You will be well paid. I would advise you to
take a sensible view of the matter. You cannot kidnap us all, and it
would not take long to get help. Would you prefer a long term in jail to
a sum of money?” And the cyclist drew a leather wallet from his coat
pocket.

“You think you are mighty smart, young man,” sneered the tramp, “but I
can kidnap all of you, and nobody ever be the wiser. Do you think I’d
let a chance like this go? My pals are right over there.” He pointed
with his free hand to the woods back of him.

“You will be sorry,” said the cyclist.

With an oath, the tramp put his finger to his mouth and gave a long,
shrill whistle.

But in that moment he was off his guard, and the cyclist leaped upon him
like a leopard on a lion. One swift blow under the jaw and down tumbled
the giant as Goliath fell before David.

The poor woman, who was crouching in terror behind a tree, jumped to her
feet.

“Run!” she cried in a frightened whisper. “Run for your lives!”

The cyclist seized Miss Sallie by the arm.

“She is right. It is better to run. The others may be coming.”

And they did run. Terror seemed to lend wings to their feet. Even Miss
Stuart, assisted by their rescuer, fled over the grass as swiftly as her
charges.

Ruth and Barbara reached the automobile first. In an instant Ruth had
cranked up the machine while Barbara opened the door.

Another moment, and they were off down the road, the black-clad cyclist
following. Glancing back, they saw two other rough-looking men helping
their comrade to rise to his feet. Then they disappeared in the woods
while the woman, with many anxious backward glances, followed her
companions.

Nobody spoke for some time. The girls were too much terrified by the
narrow escape to trust to their voices. The bravest women will weep
after a danger is past, and all five of these women were very near the
point of tears.

Presently the cyclist came up alongside of the automobile, which had
slowed down somewhat when they reached the main road.

“I will go ahead and inform the police,” he called over his shoulder,
“but I fear it will not be of much use. Men like that will scatter and
hide themselves at the first alarm.”

Miss Sallie smiled at him gratefully. Touching his cap, which was
fastened under his chin with a strap and could not be lifted without
some inconvenience, the stranger shot ahead and soon disappeared in a
cloud of dust.

Miss Sallie was thinking deeply. She wished that Major Ten Eyck and the
boys had not left the hotel that morning. She felt need of the strong
support of the opposite sex. She felt also the responsibility of being
at the head of her party of young girls.

Should they dare start off again next day into the wilderness after such
an experience? Of course, as long as they were in the automobile, going
at full speed, nothing could stop them except a puncture, and punctures
on country roads were not as frequent as they were on city streets. What
would her brother say? Would he sanction such a trip after this fearful
experience? And still she hesitated.

The truth was, Miss Stuart was as eager as the girls to accept the
invitation that had been so unexpectedly made. She did not wish to
revive the romance of her youth, but she did have an overweening desire
to see the ancestral home of her old lover, and to talk with him on the
thousand subjects that spring up when two old friends come together
after many years.

It was, therefore, with half-hearted vehemence that she said to the four
rather listless girls:

“My dears, don’t you think it would be very dangerous for us to go over
to Major Ten Eyck’s, to-morrow, after this fearful attack?”

Everybody looked relieved that somebody had had the courage to say the
first word.

“Dear auntie, we’ll leave it entirely to you,” replied Ruth. “Although,
I don’t believe we are likely to be kidnapped as long as we keep the
automobile going. The fastest running tramp in Christendom couldn’t keep
up with us, even when we’re going at an ordinary rate. From what Major
Ten Eyck said, the road is pretty good. We ought to get there in an
hour, since it’s only fifteen miles from here, and the last mile or so
is on his estate.”

The other girls said nothing, it being a matter for the chaperon to
settle.

“Very well, my dear,” answered Miss Sallie, acquiescing so suddenly that
the others almost smiled in spite of the seriousness of their feelings
at the moment. “But I do feel that we had a narrow escape this morning.
If it had not been for the young man on the motor cycle I tremble to
think what would have been the consequences. And I certainly believe if
we are not going back to New York, the sooner we get into the society of
some male protectors the better for us. I am sorry that fifteen miles
separate us. I wish those boys had thought to motor back and get us
to-morrow.”

“Oh, well,” observed Barbara, “fifteen miles is a mere bagatelle, when
you come to think of it. Why, we shall be there before we know it.”



CHAPTER V—THE MOTOR CYCLIST


By this time the automobile had reached the hotel. Miss Sallie led the
way to the dining room and they formed rather a weak-kneed procession,
for they were beginning to experience that all-gone feeling that comes
after a fright.

The luncheon hamper full of good things had been carried back into the
hotel, since there had been neither time nor opportunity for the picnic
party the girls had planned.

“I think a little food is what we really need, now,” exclaimed Ruth.
“Cheer up, Mollie and Grace. Bab, smile for the ladies. It’s all over.
Here we are, safe, and we are going to have a beautiful time at Major
Ten Eyck’s. Please, dear friends, don’t begin to take this gloomy view
of life. As for the anarchist person who attacked us in the woods, you
may depend upon it that he and his friends are so frightened they will
be running in an opposite direction from Tarrytown for another week. As
for the foreign young man who stepped up to the rescue, he should
certainly be thanked.”

Ruth had by nature a happy temperament. She quickly threw off small
troubles, and depression in others made her really unhappy.

“It was truly a daring deed,” replied Barbara, “and all the more daring
considering that the tramp would have made about two of the cyclist. But
the blow he gave was as swift and sure as a prize fighter’s.”

“Did you notice that the poor woman was rather pretty?” commented
Mollie.

“My dear child,” cried Miss Sallie, “I really believe you would notice
people’s looks on the way to your own execution. Now, for my part, I
could not see anything. I was almost too frightened to breathe. I felt
that I should faint at any moment.”

“Why, Aunt Sallie, you are more frightened now than you were then,”
exclaimed her niece. “You were as calm as the night. As for Grace, she
looked like a scared rabbit. Mollie, darling, I’m glad you had the
presence of mind to scream. If you hadn’t Aunt Sallie and the motor
cyclist might have looked for us in vain.”

While she was speaking the cyclist came into the dining-room.

As soon as Miss Stuart saw him she rose from the table in her most
stately manner and walked over to meet him.

“Sir,” she said, and Ruth gave the merest flicker of a blink at Bab,
“you did a very brave thing to-day, and I want to thank you for all of
us. If you had not been there my niece and her friend would undoubtedly
have been kidnapped. You perhaps saved their lives. They might have been
killed by those ruffians. Won’t you give us your name and address? My
brother, I am sure, would like to write to you himself. We shall be
indebted to you always.”

The young man’s face flushed with embarrassment.

“It was nothing, I assure you, Madam,” he replied. “It was easy because
the man was intoxicated. He went over at the first blow. My name,” he
continued, “is Martinez. José Martinez. My address is the Waldorf, New
York.”

“I am Miss Stuart,” said Miss Sallie, “and I would like to present you
to my niece, Miss Ruth Stuart, and her friends Miss Grace Carter and
Misses Barbara and Mollie Thurston. It would give us great pleasure if
you would lunch with us, Mr. Martinez.”

“When a man saves your life you certainly can’t stand on ceremony,”
commented Miss Sallie to herself.

An animated discussion followed. Mr. Martinez had been to see the chief
of police, he said, who would call on Miss Stuart that afternoon, if
convenient. He could not offer any hope, however, of catching the men.

Miss Sallie replied that, for her part, she hoped they wouldn’t take the
creatures. It would do no good and she did not want to spend any time
cooped up in a court room in such scorching weather. But did Mr.
Martinez think it would be dangerous for them to take a trip up into the
hills the next day?

“It would depend upon the road,” replied Mr. Martinez. “That is, if the
trip were taken by automobile. Of course my motor cycle can run on any
road.”

“It is a good road,” replied Ruth. “At the crossroads there is a bad
road; but, fortunately, we do not have to take it, since the new road
with the bridge has been opened up, so Major Ten Eyck says.”

In which case Mr. José Martinez was of a mind with the young ladies that
the trip would be perfectly safe.

Miss Sallie gave a sigh of relief. If this estimable young man
sanctioned the trip she felt they might take it with clear consciences.
But she did hope her brother’s views on the subject would be the same.

Then the talk drifted into other channels.

“You are a Spaniard, I presume, Mr. Martinez?” questioned Miss Sallie.

“Yes, Madam, a Spaniard by birth, a Frenchman by education and at
present an American by choice. I have lived in England, also, but I
believe I prefer America to all other countries, even my own.”

Miss Stuart was much gratified at this avowal. She felt that in
complimenting America he was complimenting her indirectly.

“Have you seen the Alhambra and the Rock of Gibraltar?” demanded Mollie,
her wide, blue eyes full of interest.

“Oh, yes, Madamoiselle,” replied the handsome Spaniard, smiling at her
gently, “I have seen the Alhambra many times, and Gibraltar once only.”
A curious shade passed over his face as if Gibraltar held memories which
he was not anxious to revive.

“Does the Rock of Gibraltar really look like a lion?” asked Grace, who
had not noticed his distaste to the mere mention of the name.

“I do not know, Madamoiselle,” he replied shortly. “I saw it only from
land. I was,” he added hesitatingly, “very ill when I was there.”

The waiter announced the chief of police to see Miss Sallie, and the
luncheon party adjourned to the shady side of the piazza.

All this time Barbara had been very quiet, so quiet, indeed, that Ruth
had asked her in a whisper, as they left the dining room, if she were
still feeling the shock of the morning.

“Oh, no,” replied Barbara, “I am simply trying to stifle a ridiculous
fear I have that, maybe, we ought not to go to-morrow. It is absurd, so
please don’t mention it to the others, especially as even Miss Sallie
thinks it safe, and little coward Mollie is not afraid.”

“You are just tired, poor dear,” said sympathetic Ruth. “Come along up
to your room, and we shall have a little ‘relaxation,’ as my old colored
mammy used to say. We’ll spend a quiet afternoon in our rooms, and at
sunset we can take a spin along the river bank before supper. What do
you say?”

“I am agreeable,” replied Bab.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Martinez,” said Ruth, as the others came up. “You
will be wanting to take your siesta now, I suppose. Siestas, in Spain,
are like afternoon tea in England, aren’t they? Here in America we don’t
have either, much, but I think we shall need both to-day. Perhaps we
shall see you at dinner?”

“If I may have that pleasure,” replied the Spaniard, bowing low.

“Strangers of the morning are friends in the afternoon, in this, our
life of adventure,” laughed Ruth as they passed along the corridor to
the steps.

But they did not see the stranger again that day. For some mysterious
reason he left the hotel in the afternoon, and did not return until
nearly midnight, when Barbara, who happened to be awake, heard him
whistling softly as he went down the hall to his room.



CHAPTER VI—A FOREST SCRIMMAGE


It was really Miss Sallie Stuart’s fault that they were so late in
starting the next day to Major Ten Eyck’s home.

The automobile had been ordered to be on hand immediately after an early
luncheon, but another call from one of the town police caused the first
delay.

The tramps had securely hidden themselves, the officer said, and no
trace of them had been found in other towns in that vicinity.

The second delay was caused by a telegram from Miss Stuart’s dressmaker,
stating that a dress had been expressed to her which would reach
Tarrytown that morning. Bab and Mollie were also expecting an express
package of fresh clothes and their organdie dresses, which they felt,
now, they would assuredly need.

Consequently the party waited patiently for these ever-necessary
feminine adornments, and it was four o’clock before the girls started.

A third delay was caused by the puncture of a tire just as they were
leaving the hotel. Now they were obliged to go to the nearest garage and
have it repaired, which consumed another three quarters of an hour.

However, it was pleasanter riding in the cool of the afternoon, and they
still hoped to reach Ten Eyck Hall long before dark. It was a very gay
party that finally took the road, swathed in chiffon veils and dusters.

“I never felt so much interested in a visit as I do in this one,”
remarked Ruth. “Certainly we ought to be glad to get there after all
these mishaps and delays.”

Barbara was still in her silent humor. She sat with her small handbag
clasped tightly on her knees and looked straight before her, as though
she were watching for something.

“Bab, my child, what is it?” asked Ruth. “You have been in a brown study
all day.”

“Nothing at all, dear,” replied Bab, smiling. “Perhaps this haziness
goes to my head a little. But I am awfully glad, too, about the visit. I
always wanted to see an old colonial house, and the only way really is
to stay in it. If we have the run of the rooms, and all the halls and
galleries, we can get to know it much more intimately than if we were
just sight-seers being conducted through by an aged housekeeper.”

Meanwhile, on the back seat, Miss Sallie was in a reminiscent mood. It
was very agreeable to her to hark back to the joyous days of her youth,
for Miss Stuart had been a belle, and the two girls were listening with
pleasure to her accounts of the gallant major, who had been graduated
from West Point ahead of time in order to join the army during the Civil
War.

The conversation was interrupted by the sudden stoppage of the
automobile at the crossroads, one of which led straight into the woods,
while the other branched off into the open, crossing the now dry bed of
a river spanning which was the new bridge.

“This is the right road, of course,” said Ruth, taking the one with the
bridge.

“Wait!” cried Barbara. “There’s something stretched across the bridge.”

Sure enough, a rope blocked all passage over the bridge, which was quite
a long one. Secured to the rope with cords was a plank on which was
painted:

                   “DANGEROUS: TAKE THE OTHER ROAD!”

“The paint on the sign is still sticky,” exclaimed Barbara who had
jumped out and run over to take a good look at it. “And the bridge is
broken. There is a large hole, like a gash, on one side, and another
further down.”

“How remarkable!” replied Ruth. “It must have happened some time this
morning. I do not suppose Major Ten Eyck knows anything about it, or he
would have let us know. I’ll back up, anyway, to the crossroads, and we
can decide what to do. We could go on, I suppose. The major said the
other road passed his front gate, but it was a longer one and not such
good traveling. What do you say, Aunt Sallie? Speak up, girls, are you
all agreed?”

Miss Sallie was much troubled. She wanted to go and she did not want to
go, and her mind was in a turmoil.

Bab was silent, and Grace and Mollie looked ready for anything.

“Well,” said Miss Sallie, after a moment’s reflection, “it is very
dangerous and very venturesome; but, having got thus far, let us proceed
on our way.” She folded her hands resignedly, like a martyred saint.

“Then off we go!” cried Ruth. The automobile rolled into the wooded road
that penetrated a deeper part of the forest.

The dense shade was a relief after the open, dusty country. Tall trees
interlaced their branches overhead and the ground was carpeted with fern
and bracken.

But an uneasiness had come upon the automobilists. They did not attempt
to explain it, for there was no apparent cause. The road was excellent
so far, smooth and level; but something was in the air. Miss Sallie was
the first to break the silence.

“I am terribly frightened,” she admitted, in a low voice. “We must have
been bewitched to have attempted this ride. Ruth, my dear, I beg of you
to turn and go back. I feel that we are running into danger.”

Ruth slowed up the machine a little, and called over her shoulder:

“You are right, Aunt Sallie, but I am afraid we can’t turn just yet,
because there isn’t room. Anyway, we may be nearer to the other end of
the wood by this time.”

The car sped on again, only to stop with such a sudden jerk, in the very
depths of the forest, that the machinery ceased to whir and in a moment
was silent.

For a few moments all hands sat perfectly still, dumb with terror and
amazement.

Across the road was stretched another rope. There was no sign board on
it to tell them there was danger ahead, but the girls needed none. They
felt that there was danger ahead, behind, and all around them. They knew
they were in a trap, and that the danger that threatened them would make
itself known all too soon.

Barbara had whispered to Ruth.

“Back up as fast as you can!”

Ruth had replied in another whisper:

“I can’t before I crank up.”

Regaining her nerve, Ruth was about to leap to the ground when she saw,
and the four others saw at the same moment, the figure of a man standing
by a tree at the roadside. It would seem that he had been standing there
all along, but so still and motionless that he might been one of the
trees themselves. And for two reasons he was a terrifying spectacle: one
because his features were entirely concealed by a black mask, the other
because he carried in one hand a gleaming and remarkably sharp looking
knife, a kind of dagger, the blade slightly curved and pointed at the
end, the silver handle chased all over in an intricate design.

To her dying day Bab would never forget the picture he made.

He wore a dark green velveteen suit, like a huntsman’s, and a felt hat
with a hanging brim that covered his head.

“Pardon me, ladies,” he said in a curious, false voice, “but I must
request you to keep your places.”

Ruth, who was poised just over the step, fell back beside Barbara, who
had maintained her position, and sat with blanched cheeks and tightly
closed lips.

The highwayman then deliberately slashed all four tires with his
murderous looking weapon. At each explosion Miss Sallie gave a stifled
groan.

“Do not cry out, Madam,” said the robber sternly, “or it will go hard
with you.”

“Be still,” whispered little Mollie, bravely taking Miss Stuart’s hand
and patting it gently.

“And now, ladies,” continued the man more politely, “I must ask you to
put all your money and jewelry in a pile here. Stand up,” he said to
Barbara. “Put it on this seat and leave out nothing or you will regret
it.”

The five women began mechanically to remove what simple jewelry they
happened to be wearing, for the most part pins, rings, bracelets and
watches, the latter Ruth’s and Grace’s. Then came the pocket books,
Mollie’s little blue silk knitted purse topping the pyramid.

“But this is not all your money,” said the robber impatiently. “Do not
delay. It is getting late.”

“I have some more in my bag,” said Ruth faintly. “Mollie, it is on the
back seat. Will you hand it to me?”

Mollie searched with trembling hands for the bag which was stored
somewhere under the seat.

“And have you nothing in that bag?” asked the highwayman, turning
roughly to Barbara.

She did not answer at first. Her lips were moving silently and the
others thought she must be praying. Only Mollie knew she was repeating,
for the second time since they had left home, the words her mother had
taught her: “Heaven make me calm in the face of danger.”

The highwayman laid his hand on the bag, flourishing his knife in a
menacing way.

“Wait,” she said calmly, looking at him with such contempt that his eyes
dropped before her.

Placing the bag on Ruth’s lap, Bab slowly opened it, fumbled inside for
a moment and drew out a small pistol.

It caught a last ray of the setting sun, which had filtered through the
trees and gleamed dangerously, in spite of its miniature size.

Barbara pointed it deliberately at the robber, with a steady hand, and
said quietly:

“Drop that knife and run unless you want me to shoot you!”

The robber stared at her in amazement.

“Quick!” she said and gave the trigger an ominous click.

The pistol was pointed straight at his midwaist.

“Drop the knife,” repeated Barbara, “and back off.”

He dropped the knife and started backward down the road.

“Now, run!” cried Barbara. And the highwayman turned and walked swiftly
until he was out of sight.

“There’s no time to be lost,” cried Barbara. The other four women sat as
if in a trance. Their deliverance had been so unexpected that they were
still suffering from the shock.

Miss Sallie began to wring her hands in frantic despair.

“Girls, girls!” she wept, “I have brought you to this pass! What shall
we do? The man is sure to come back. We can’t stay here all night! Oh
mercy! why did I ever consent to take this dangerous trip? It’s all my
fault!”

[Illustration: Drop That Knife and Run!]

“Don’t cry, Aunt Sallie, dearest! It’s everybody’s fault, and you
mustn’t waste your strength,” urged Ruth, trying to comfort her aunt,
whose nerves had had about all they could endure by now. “What do you
think we’d better do?” continued Ruth, turning to Barbara, who, with her
pistol was keeping watch at the back of the automobile.

“I think we shall have to walk,” replied Barbara. “There is no other
way, and we must start at once, before it gets dark. Ruth, you and Grace
help Miss Sallie. Mollie, put all the valuables on the seat into my bag.
There is no time to divide them now. We had better not try to carry
anything except the small bags.”

The little company seemed to feel a kind of relief in submitting itself
to Barbara’s direction. Each doing as she was bid, they started down the
wood road, leaving the car with all their baggage behind them.

Miss Sallie had recovered her composure. The necessity of moving
quickly, had taken her mind off the situation for the present, and she
walked at as brisk a pace as did the girls.

Barbara had directed Mollie to walk a little in front and to keep a
sharp lookout, while Bab brought up the rear and watched the sides of
the road as vigilantly as a guard in war time, her pistol cocked, ready
to defend and fight for her friends and sister to her last breath.

Presently curiosity got the better of Ruth.

“Bab,” she asked, “where on earth did you get that pistol?”

“From your father,” answered Bab. “That was the secret. Don’t you
remember? But we must not risk talking now. The quieter we are the
better. Voices carry in these woods.”

“You are quite right, Bab, dear,” replied Ruth, under her breath, and
not another word was spoken.

Each one was engaged in her own thoughts as the silent procession moved
swiftly on.

Miss Sallie was wondering whether they would ever see morning alive.

Grace, who was very devout, was praying softly to herself.

Ruth, in the innermost depths of her mind, was secretly enjoying the
whole adventure, dangerous as it was.

Mollie was feeling homesick for her mother, while Bab had no time for
any thought than the one that the highwayman might appear at any moment,
and from any direction. Who knew but that he had turned and doubled on
them, and would spring at them from the next tree?

Presently Mollie, who was a few feet in advance of the others, paused.

“Look!” she whispered as the others came up. “I see the light of a fire
through the trees. I hear voices, too.”

Sure enough, through the interlacing branches of the trees, they could
distinctly see the glow of a large fire.

“Wait,” exclaimed Bah under her breath. “Stand here at the side of the
road, where you will be hidden. Perhaps we may find help at last.”
Creeping cautiously among the trees she disappeared in the darkness. It
seemed an age to the others, waiting on the edge of the narrow woodland
road, but it was only a few minutes, in reality, before Bab was back
again.

“They are Gypsies,” she whispered. “I can tell by their wagons and
tents.”

“Gypsies!” exclaimed Miss Sallie, with a tragic gesture of both hands.
“We shall all be murdered as well as robbed!”

“No, no,” protested Mollie. “I have a friend who is a Gypsy. This may be
her tribe. Suppose I go and see. Let me go. Now, Bab,” as her sister
touched her with a detaining hand, “I want to do something.”

And little Mollie, with set lips and pale cheeks, her courageous heart
throbbing with repressed excitement, stole off into the dense shadows of
the forest.

It seemed another age before the stillness was broken again by the sound
of crackling underbrush, and Mollie’s figure was gradually outlined in
the blackness.

“I couldn’t tell,” she said. “They seemed to be only men sitting around
the fire smoking. I was afraid to get any nearer for fear one of them
might be the robber. They say Gypsies can be very kind, but I think it
would be better if we all went together and asked for help, if we go at
all. The men looked very fierce,” she added faintly, slipping her hand
into her sister’s for sympathy.

“Dearest little sister,” whispered Bab, kissing her, “don’t ever say
again you are a coward.”

Then two persons emerged from between the trees on the other side of the
road.

The five women held their breath in fear and suspense as the figures
approached, evidently without having seen these women standing in the
shadow. They were close enough now for the automobilists to make out
that they were two women, one young and the other old apparently.

Suddenly, with a cry of joy and relief, Mollie sprang upon the elder of
the two women, threw her arms about the stranger’s neck and burst into
uncontrollable sobs.

“O Granny Ann, Granny Ann!” cried Mollie. “At the very time we needed
your help most you have come to us. I hoped and prayed it was your
tribe, but I couldn’t tell. There were only men.”

The old Gypsy woman patted Mollie’s cheek tenderly, while the little
girl sobbed out the story of their evening’s adventure.

The others had been so surprised at Mollie’s sudden outburst that they
stood silently by without interrupting the story; but all felt that a
light was beginning to break on what a short time before had looked like
a hopeless situation.

Granny Ann, the sixty years of whose life had been spent in wandering
over many countries, was as unperturbed as if they had met by
appointment. Her companion, a young Gypsy girl, stood quietly by without
speaking a word.

“The ladies will be safe with us,” said the old Gypsy, taking them all
in with a comprehensive sweep of her small beady eyes; “as safe as if
they were in their own homes. I have had shelter and food from the young
lady, and a Gypsy never forgets a kindness. Come with me,” she added,
with a commanding gesture, and led the way to the encampment.

The Gypsy girl brought up the rear and the others trailed along in
between, Ruth and Grace still assisting Miss Sallie over the rough
places.

When they reached the camp the four Gypsy men, picturesquely grouped
around the fire, rose to their feet and looked curiously but
imperturbably at the party of women.

Granny Ann called a grizzled old man from the fireside speaking rapidly
in a strange language, her own Romany tongue, in fact. After conferring
with him a few moments, she turned to Miss Sallie.

“My rom,” she said (which in Gypsy language means husband), “thinks you
had better stay here to-night. It would not be easy to find the
gentleman’s house on such a dark night, but we can make you comfortable
in one of our tents. He and the other men will take the horses and draw
the steam carriage down the road until it is near enough to be
guarded—if one of the young ladies will show the way. There is no
danger,” she continued, sternly, as Miss Sallie began to protest at the
idea of one of her girls going off with all those strange men. “A Gypsy
does not repay a kindness with a blow. Come,” she called to the men,
“that young lady will show the way.” And she pointed at Barbara, who had
slipped the pistol into her belt, and was talking to Ruth in a low
voice.

Miss Sallie explained to the girls what Granny Ann had decided was the
best course for them to take, while the four men untethered the four
lean horses and half-harnessed them, and the old Gypsy man gathered some
coils of rope together.

Ruth insisted on accompanying Barbara, and the two girls led the way
through the wood to the road, the men following with the horses.

They found the automobile exactly as it had been left, save in one
particular. The murderous-looking dagger was gone. But the suit cases
and numerous dress boxes were untouched.

The girls waited at one side while the Gypsies secured the ropes to the
car and then to the collars of the horses. Two Gypsies walked on either
side, holding the reins, while the other two ran to the back and began
to push the machine. The horses strained at the ropes; then in an
instant the automobile was moving easily, urged from the back and pulled
from the front like a stubborn mule.

When the girls again reached that part of the road opposite the camp,
the caravan came to a full stop.

Ruth directed that all the cushions be carried to the tent, together
with the steamer rugs stored under the seats, the tea-basket and other
luggage. The dismantled automobile was then left for the night.

Ruth and Bab found Miss Sallie waiting at the tent, a tragic figure in
the darkness.



CHAPTER VII—A NIGHT WITH THE GYPSIES


“I think we shall be comfortable enough, Aunt Sallie,” said her niece,
after their belongings had been deposited in the tent. “We will fix you
a nice bed, auntie, dearest, with steamer rugs and your rubber air
cushion, and for the first time in your life you will be almost sleeping
under the stars.”

But poor Miss Sallie only smiled in reply. She was too weary and
exhausted to trust the sound of her own voice, now that danger was over
and they had found protectors.

While Grace and Ruth arranged three beds inside the tent (Ruth and Bab
having joyfully elected to sleep just outside) the two sisters made tea
and opened up boxes of tea biscuits and Swiss chocolate which were
always kept in the provision basket for emergencies.

Granny Ann had offered them food, but they had courteously declined,
remembering tales they had heard of the unclean Gypsy, and giving as an
excuse that they had a light supper with them. “Very light indeed,”
commented Ruth later; “but I don’t think we’ll starve.”

“Now that everything is comfy,” observed Grace, “I, for one, think it is
great fun. Our little house in the woods! For one night, it is almost as
good as the cabin in the Berkshires.”

“Yes, for one night; but give me a roof when the rain comes,” cried
Ruth.

“You are safe for to-night, at any rate, Ruth,” said Barbara, looking up
at the sky through the branches of the tall forest trees. “There’s not a
cloud, even as small as a man’s hand. And how bright the stars are!
There comes the harvest moon. It looks like a great, red lantern.”

“Money, money!” cried Mollie excitedly.

“What is the matter with you, child?” said Miss Sallie, startled into
finding her voice at last.

“Didn’t you see it?” said Mollie. “It was a splendid shooting star. It
had a tail that reached halfway across the heavens. Don’t you know that,
if you remember to say ‘money, money, money,’ before it fades out of
sight or goes wherever it disappears to——”

“‘Oh, mother, where do the shooting stars go’?” laughed Ruth, breaking
in upon Mollie—“you will inherit a large sum of money,” continued
Mollie.

“We shall be sleeping at the feet of an heiress, then,” said Bab. “Or
did the star fade out before you had finished, Molliekins?”

“I don’t know,” replied Mollie. “I was so excited that I forgot to
look.”

By this time tea was ready and a rug had been spread in front of the
tent for the guests to sit upon. Miss Sallie with her air cushion
between her shoulders and the trunk of a tree that spread its branches
over the tent, was beginning to feel that life, after all, held a number
of pleasant things, including a certain favorite blend of tea that was
as delicious, fragrant and expensive as heart could wish.

The night breeze touched their faces gently, and the stillness and sweet
scents of the woods soothed them into forgetfulness of their troubles.
While they sipped their tea and talked, in subdued voices, of the
mystery of the forest at night, the Gypsy girl crept up and gazed
curiously, almost wistfully, at them.

“Do have some chocolate,” called Ruth, as she held the box toward the
girl. “Come over and sit down, won’t you? What is your name?”

“My name is Zerlina,” replied the Gypsy, as she nibbled gingerly at a
piece of chocolate.

“And is Granny Ann your mother?” asked Ruth.

“She is my grandmother,” replied Zerlina. “My mother died many years
ago.”

Ruth looked at her sympathetically. They had, she thought, at least one
thing in common in their widely separated circumstances.

“Would you like,” she asked gently, “to live in a city and go to
school?”

For a moment Zerlina’s face flushed with a deep glow of color. Her eyes
traveled from one to another of the automobile party. She noted their
refined, well-bred faces, their dainty dresses, the luxurious pile of
long silk coats and chiffon veils. Nothing escaped the child, not even
the elegant little tea basket with its fittings of silver and French
china.

“There are times when I hate this life,” Zerlina said finally, turning
to Ruth, who was watching her curiously. “There are times in the winter
when we have been too poor to go far enough South to keep warm. It is
then that I would like the city and the warm houses. But my grandmother
is very strict.”

She paused and bit her lip. She had spoken so fiercely that the girls
had felt somewhat embarrassed at their own prosperity. “But,” continued
Zerlina in a quieter tone, “when summer comes, I would rather be here in
the woods. Gypsies do not live in houses,” she went on a little proudly.
“My grandmother has told me that they have been wanderers for thousands
of years. They do not go to school. They teach each other. My
grandmother has taught me to read and write. She was taught by her
mother, who was adopted and educated by a noble lady. But she came back
to the Gypsies afterwards.”

“And your mother?” asked Mollie.

“My mother is dead,” returned Zerlina, and closed her lips tightly, as
if to block all further inquiries in that direction.

“It is very interesting!” exclaimed Ruth. “And your education is then
really inherited from your great-grandmother.”

“Yes,” assented the girl, “but I have inherited more than that—from my
mother.”

The girls waited for Zerlina to finish. They hesitated to question her
about her mother since it was evidently a forbidden subject with her.

“I have inherited her voice,” she added confidentially. “It may be that
I shall be a singer some day.”

“Oh, really?” cried all the girls in unison.

“You will sing for us now, won’t you?” added Ruth.

“If you wish,” said Zerlina. “I will get my guitar.” And she disappeared
in the darkness.

“Isn’t she pretty?” commented Mollie.

“How soft her voice is, and what good English she speaks,” marveled
Ruth. “But then, we must remember her great-grandmother was educated by
a noble lady and transmitted her learning and manners straight to her.”

“Poor thing!” exclaimed Bab. “I am really very sorry for her. The
instincts of her great-grandmother and her grandmother keep up a sort of
warring inside of her. In the winter time she’s her great-grandmother,
and in the summer time she’s a real Gypsy. There are times when she
sighs for a steam-heated house, and times when she sighs for the open.”

“But it’s mostly the open she gets,” said Grace. “What do you suppose
she meant when she said that Granny Ann was very strict?”

“I can’t imagine,” replied Ruth, “unless Granny Ann refuses to allow her
to buy herself a warm house. Seriously, though, I should like to do
something for a girl like Zerlina. She strikes me as being far from
ordinary. But here she comes. We will hear her sing first. This beggar
girl may be a future prima-donna.”

Zerlina emerged from the darkness, with an old guitar, and, sitting
crosslegged on the ground, began to thrum an accompaniment. Then she
sang in a deep, rich voice a song of the Gypsies. The song was in
Spanish and the beat of the music was so weird and insistent that the
listeners could hardly restrain themselves from joining hands and
dancing in time to the rhythm.

They were thrilled by the romance of the Gypsy camp and the charm of the
girl’s singing. When she had finished they begged for more, and Zerlina
was about to comply when a voice called her from the encampment. It was
her grandmother’s, and what she said was not understood, since it was in
the Romany language. But the girl leaped hurriedly to her feet.

“I will not sing again to-night,” she said. “The ladies are tired.
Another time. Good-night,” And she slipped away in the darkness.

“Granny Ann is strict,” said Ruth. “You wouldn’t think she would object
to Zerlina’s associating with a few girls her own age. I wonder why she
doesn’t like to have her sing? Perhaps she is afraid she will run away,
some day, and go on the stage.”

“I wish I had her beautiful voice,” sighed Grace. “Think what it could
be made with proper training.”

“If she does not coarsen in feature, as so many of these dark women do,”
observed Miss Sallie, “she will be very handsome some day.”

“And now for our lowly beds,” cried Ruth. “Barbara, you and I will sleep
at the door of the tent like faithful slaves guarding their noble
ladies. Nobody need be afraid. Granny Ann has promised to have a Gypsy
man keep watch, and I have pinned my faith to Granny Ann. I believe
she’s a woman of her word.”

“Mollie, you seem to be on such friendly terms with these people. What
is your opinion?” asked Miss Sallie.

“I believe we shall be as safe as if we were in our own homes,” replied
Mollie. “Granny Ann will keep faith with us. You will see. Perhaps she
wouldn’t if she didn’t feel under obligations for a few sandwiches and
lemonades, and things that I have made for her occasionally in the
summer on hot days. But I know she’s a kind of queen in the tribe, and
used to being obeyed.”

Fifteen minutes had hardly slipped past when Miss Sallie and “The
Automobile Girls” were sound asleep, Bab with her pistol at her side.



CHAPTER VIII—THE HAUNTED POOL


To be awakened early in the morning by the songs of birds and
innumerable woodland sounds, and find one’s self in the very center of a
forest, is no common experience. To the girls, as they looked up through
the leafy canopies, and then across the green aisles formed by trees
that looked as if they might have stood there since the beginning of
time—it was all very wonderful.

“How beautiful this is!” exclaimed each one, as she opened her eyes upon
the wooded scene.

“Girls,” cried Ruth, “I wouldn’t have missed this for worlds! No wonder
Zerlina hates to live in a house in the summer time. Isn’t this fun?
Shall we go over there and wash our faces in that little brook!”

Off they scampered, a curious procession for the deep woods, each with a
burden of toilet articles, soaps and sponges, wash rags, mirrors and
brushes.

“Well,” exclaimed Miss Sallie Stuart as she knelt beside the stream and
dipped her hands into its cool depths, “I never expected to come to
this; but it is very refreshing, nevertheless.”

“This is Nature’s bathtub, auntie, dear. We should be thankful to have
it so near. I suppose that is the reason the Gypsies chose this spot to
camp in,” said Ruth.

“My dear child,” replied her aunt, “I know very little about the Gypsy
race; but I do know one thing: that a Gypsy never took advantage of any
kind of a bathtub, wooden, tin, porcelain or Nature’s.”

The girls all laughed joyously.

The fright of the day before had not left a very deep impression. Sleep
and a feeling of safety had almost effaced it.

Presently they were back at the tent making tea and boiling eggs
supplied by Granny Ann from the Gypsy larder. Ruth wanted to build a
fire, but they decided that the ground was too dry to risk it. The
Gypsies had dug a small trench all around their camp fire. If they had
not, those splendid old woods would have been in serious danger of
burning, explained Barbara, who had been reading a great deal in the
papers about forest fires.

It was arranged, after breakfast, that one of the men should ride over
with a note to Major Ten Eyck’s, asking the major to send for them at
once, and also to dispatch his chauffeur to mend the slashed tires.

The Gypsy camp had been astir long before the automobilists arose, and
the men were now sitting at their ease around the clearing, smoking
silently, while Granny Ann and two other women were moving about the
tents, “cleaning up,” as Ruth expressed it.

“They have a lovely chance to learn housework,” said Grace. “But they do
seem to air their bedclothes. Look at all those red comforts hanging on
the bushes.”

“It’s easier to air them than to make up the beds,” observed Mollie.
“All you have to do in the morning, is to hang your blanket on a hickory
limb, and when you go to bed, snatch it off the limb and wrap up in it
for the night.”

“Do you suppose they sleep in their clothes?” pondered Barbara.

“Why, of course they do,” replied Ruth. “You don’t for a moment imagine
they would ever go to the trouble of undressing, only to dress again in
the morning?”

“Girls, girls,” remonstrated Miss Sallie, “we must not forget that we
are accepting their hospitality. Besides, here comes that young woman
with the voice.”

“Let’s take Zerlina as a guide, and go for a walk,” cried Ruth. “I’m so
full of life and spirits this morning that I couldn’t possibly sit down
like those lazy men over there, who seem to have nothing to do but smoke
and talk. Auntie, dear, will you go, or shall we fix you a comfortable
seat with the cushions under this tree and leave you to read your book?”

“I certainly have no idea of going for a walk,” replied Miss Stuart,
“after what I’ve been through with these last two days. Nor do I want
you to go far, either, or I shall be terribly uneasy.”

But Miss Sallie was not really uneasy. It was one of those enchanting
mornings when the mind is not troubled with unpleasant feelings. Perhaps
the Gypsies had bewitched her. At any rate she sat back comfortably
among the cushions and rugs, with her writing tablet, the new magazines
and the latest novel all close at hand, and watched the girls until they
disappeared down the leafy aisles of the forest. How charming their
voices sounded in the distance! How sweet was the sound of their young
laughter! Miss Stuart closed her eyes contentedly. The spell of the
place was upon her, and she fell asleep before she had opened a single
magazine or cut one leaf of the new novel.

In the meantime, the four girls, led by Zerlina and her dog, were
following the little stream in its capricious windings through the
forest.

A squirrel darted in front of them with a flash of gray and jumped to
the limb of a tree.

Zerlina made a sign for the girls to be silent. Then speaking to her dog
in her own language, he sat down immediately on his haunches and never
moved a muscle until she spoke to him again. She walked slowly toward
the tree, where the squirrel sat watching them uneasily. A few feet off
she paused and gave a shrill, peculiar whistle. The squirrel pricked up
his ears and cocked his head on one side. Zerlina whistled again and
held out her hand. The charm was complete. Down the limb he crept until
he reached the ground, paused again, surveyed the scene with his little
black eyes, and with one leap, settled himself on her shoulder.

“Oh!” cried the impulsive Ruth and the spell was broken.

Away scampered the frightened little animal.

“How wonderful!” exclaimed the others as they gathered around Zerlina,
who held herself with a sort of proud reserve as they plied her with
questions.

“It is because I have lived in the woods so much of the time,” she
explained. “One makes friends with animals when one has no other
friends.”

“Zerlina,” said Ruth, “let me be your friend.”

“Thank you,” replied the girl simply, “but perhaps we shall not meet
again. You will be going away in a little while.”

“You must come and sing for us at Major Ten Eyck’s,” said Ruth, “and
then we shall see if we cannot meet again.”

They were walking in single file, now, along the stream. Mollie was
gathering ferns which grew in profusion on the bank. Barbara, who was
behind the others, had stopped to look at a bird’s nest that had fallen
to the ground and shattered the little blue eggs it had held.

As she knelt on the ground, something impelled her to look over her
shoulder. At first Bab saw only the green depths of the forest, but in a
moment her eyes had found what had attracted them. Stifling a cry she
rose to her feet. What she had seen was gone in an instant, so quickly
that she wondered if she had not been dreaming. Peering at her through
the leaves of parted branches she had seen a face, a very strange, old
face, as white as death. It was the face of an old person, she felt
instinctively, but the eyes had something childlike in their expression
of wonder and surprise.

When it was gone, Barbara felt almost as if she had seen a ghost. She
leaned over and dipped her hands into the stream to quiet her throbbing
veins.

“Truly this wood is full of mysteries,” she thought to herself as she
turned to follow the others. But she decided not to say anything about
it. They had had enough frights lately, and she was determined not to
add another to the list.

By this time the girls had reached a lovely little pool set like a
mirror in a mossy frame. On one side the bank had flattened out and was
carpeted with luxuriant, close-cropped grass, almost as smooth as the
lawn of a city park. The trees had crowded themselves to the very edge
of the greensward. They closed up on the strip of lawn like a wall and
stretched their branches over it, as if to shield it from the sun.

“Did you ever see anything so sweet in all your life?” cried Ruth, as
she flung herself on the turf.

“Never!” agreed the others with enthusiasm, following her example.

“This pool is supposed to be haunted,” said Zerlina, and Bab started,
remembering the face she had just seen.

“Haunted by what, Zerlina?” she asked.

“It is not known,” replied the Gypsy girl, mysteriously; “but on
moonlight nights some one is often seen sitting on this bank.”

“What some one—a man or a woman?” persisted Bab.

“It is not known,” repeated Zerlina. “But it has been seen,
nevertheless. Besides,” she continued, “this is supposed to be the
meeting-place of fairies. Though people do not believe in fairies in
this country.”

“I do,” declared Mollie, and the other girls laughed light-heartedly.

“And,” went on Zerlina, “the deer who live in this wood come here to
graze and drink water from the pool.”

“Now, that I can believe,” said Ruth.

“Well, it is an enchanted spot,” cried Mollie. “It must be. Look at
Zerlina’s dog.”

The shepherd dog had taken his tail in his mouth and was circling
slowly. The girls watched him breathlessly as he turned faster and
faster. Once he fell into the stream, but he never stopped and continued
to circle so rapidly, as he clambered out, that he lost all sense of
direction and waltzed over the girls’ laps, staining their dresses with
his wet feet, while they laughed until the tears rolled down their
cheeks, and the woods rang with the merry sound.

At a word from the Gypsy girl the dog stopped and stretched himself
exhausted, on the ground.

“Zerlina, you must have bewitched that animal,” cried Ruth. “But wasn’t
it beautiful? If we had been lying down he would have waltzed right over
our faces.”

“Girls,” proposed Grace, after they had recovered from the exhibition of
the waltzing dog, “let’s go in wading.”

“What a great idea, Grace!” cried Ruth. In a jiffy they had their shoes
and stockings piled together on the bank and had slipped into the little
pool of clear, running water.

Zerlina watched them from the bank. Perhaps Miss Sallie was right, and
water had no charms for this Gypsy child.

As they clung to each other, giving little shrieks of pleasure and
making a great splashing, Mollie exclaimed suddenly:

“Look, look! Here comes a man!”

Sure enough there was a man emerging from the trees on the other side of
the stream. The girls scampered excitedly out of the water, giggling, as
girls will do, and sat in a row on the bank, tailor-fashion, hiding
their wet feet under their skirts.

By this time the stranger had come up to the pool and stood gazing in
amazement at the party of young women.

“Well, for the love of Mike!” he exclaimed.

It was Jimmie Butler, one of the major’s house party.

Then he caught sight of the pyramid of shoes and stockings; his face
broke into a smile and he laughed so contagiously that everybody joined
in. Once more the enchanted pool was given over to merriment.

“Where on earth did you come from?” demanded Ruth.

“And where have you been?” he echoed.

Whereupon everybody talked at once, until all the adventures had been
related.

“And you’re actually alive, after all these hairbreadth escapes, and
able to amuse yourselves in this simple fashion?” gasped Jimmie Butler.
“Ladies, putting all joking aside, permit me to compliment you on your
amazing nerve. I don’t think I ever met a really brave woman before, and
to be introduced to five at once! Why, I feel as if I were at a meeting
of suffragettes!”

“But how did you happen to be here?” repeated Ruth.

“Oh, I’m just out for a morning stroll,” he replied. “I came to see the
haunted pool.”

“Just take another little stroll, for five minutes, until we get on our
shoes and stockings. Then we’ll all go back to our home of canvas,” said
Ruth.

By the time they had reached the encampment Bab had almost forgotten
about the strange face she had seen, and they were all talking happily
together about Ten Eyck Hall, which, according to Jimmie Butler, was the
finest old house in that part of the country.

In the meantime the major himself had arrived in his automobile, while
the boys had ridden over on horseback. When the others came up, they
found the chauffeur busily engaged in repairing the tires of Ruth’s
automobile. Miss Stuart and Major Ten Eyck were deep in conversation,
while the Gypsies stood about in groups, looking at the strangers
indifferently.

“Miss Ruth,” said the major, after greetings had been exchanged, “if you
can run this machine, suppose we start at once and leave my chauffeur to
follow with yours. You ladies must be very hungry. We will have an early
luncheon.”

The girls said good-bye to the Gypsies and thanked them graciously. Ruth
had tried to compensate Granny Ann, but the old woman had haughtily
refused to accept a cent.

“A Gypsy takes nothing from his guest,” she said, and Ruth was obliged
to let the matter drop. However, she made the old Gypsy promise to bring
her granddaughter over to see them very soon, and as they disappeared
down the road, they saw Zerlina leaning against a tree, watching them
wistfully.

At last, the journey which had been so full of peril and adventure was
ended, and “The Automobile Girls” arrived safely at Ten Eyck Hall.



CHAPTER IX—TEN EYCK HALL


Ten Eyck Hall, with its high-peaked roofs, its rambling wings and
innumerable dormer windows, seemed to the four girls the very home of
romance.

It was an enormous house built of brick, turned a faded pink, now, from
age, which made a delicate background for the heavy vines that shaded
the piazzas and balconies and clambered up to the roof itself.

The handsome old master of this charming house leaped to the ground as
lightly as one of his nephews, the moment the automobile drew up at the
front door. Lifting his hat he made a low, old-fashioned bow.

“Dear ladies,” he said, “you are as welcome to my home as the flowers in
spring!” Giving his arm to Miss Stuart, he conducted her up the front
steps. The great double doors flew open as if by magic, and the party
filed into the vast center hall, on each side of which stood the
servants of the household, headed by the butler and his wife, the
housekeeper.

“Dear me,” exclaimed Miss Sallie, “I feel as if I were entering a
baronial castle. Why did you never tell me years ago you owned such a
fine place, John Ten Eyck?”

“Because I didn’t in those days, Sallie,” answered the major. “There
were several heirs ahead of me then. But I always wanted you to come and
see it. Don’t you remember my mother wrote and asked you to make us a
visit? But you were going abroad, that summer, and couldn’t come.”

“Well, I was a very foolish girl,” replied Miss Sallie. “But better late
than never, John, and it will be a pleasure to see the young people
enjoy themselves in this beautiful house.”

Some of the young people were already plainly showing their delight and
pleasure in the visit. The major made a smiling gesture toward the four
young girls, who, with arms around each other’s waists, were strolling
up the great hall toward the fireplace at the far end, pausing here and
there to look at the fine old portraits and curious carved cabinets and
settees. Many of the latter had been collected by the major during his
travels abroad.

“I feel like a princess in a castle, Major,” called Ruth.

“And here comes one of the princes, my dear,” answered the major,
glancing up at the broad staircase which occupied one side of the hall.
All eyes followed the direction of his gaze, and an exclamation of
surprise escaped the lips of the automobilists. For there, on the
landing of the staircase, looking down at the little group of people
below as calmly as a real prince might regard his subjects, was the
motor cyclist.

“Why, it’s Mr. Martinez!” exclaimed Miss Sallie. “How are you?” she said
graciously, as he descended the broad staircase. “We had no idea you
were a friend of the major’s, too.”

“Nor had I, Madam,” replied the young man, as he bowed low over Miss
Stuart’s hand and acknowledged the greetings of the girls. “I did not
know who Major Ten Eyck was when he was stopping at the hotel, or I
should have presented my letter there. It was a surprise to find in him
the same gentleman I had come down to meet, and it is, indeed, a great
pleasure and surprise to meet you and the young ladies so soon again.”

“Martinez is the son of an old friend of mine, José Martinez of Madrid,”
broke in the major. “But how did you happen to meet him?”

Miss Stuart explained that he was the brave young man who had saved them
from the attack of the drunken tramp.

“My dear José,” exclaimed the major, grasping him cordially by the hand,
“you were brave. It was an act worthy of your father, and I can say no
more for you than that.”

The young man flushed, and for the first time in their acquaintance
showed signs of real embarrassment.

“It was nothing,” he said. “The man was drunk and drunken men are easy
to manage.”

“But he was not easy to manage,” exclaimed Ruth. “He was a giant in size
and strength.”

The young foreigner shrugged his shoulders and the flush deepened on his
face.

“Well, well,” laughed Major Ten Eyck, “we won’t embarrass you any more
by insisting on your being a hero whether you will or no. Here comes
Mary to show you to your rooms, ladies. You look as fresh as the
morning, but after a night spent in a Gypsy camp perhaps you would like
to spruce up a bit before luncheon. Come along, José, and let me show
you my library. I am very proud of my collection of Spanish books. I
want your opinion of them.”

The major waved his hand gallantly to the five women who were following
the housekeeper up the carved oak staircase to the regions above.

“Am I awake, or asleep?” asked Mollie. “This whole morning has seemed
like a dream, and now this lovely old house——”

“And the lovely old major, in the lovely old house,” added Ruth.

“Isn’t he a dear!” pursued Mollie. “I wonder if Miss Sallie is sorry
now,” she continued to herself. “If he were as gentle and charming when
he was young as he is now, I don’t think I could have been cross with
him, ever.”

Meanwhile, Barbara was saying to Miss Stuart:

“No; we never told Mr. Martinez where we were going, or mentioned the
major’s name, so of course he had no way of knowing that we were coming
here. It is curious, though,” she went on thoughtfully, “our meeting him
here. I wonder when he arrived?”

“Yesterday, I suppose,” replied Miss Sallie. “Or it may have been this
morning. However, it doesn’t make any difference. I am glad, at least,
that a friend of ours can show him some hospitality in return for his
courageous act.”

By this time they had reached the top of the stairs and had a glimpse of
another hall corresponding to the one below, at one end of which was a
great casement window with a broad cushioned window-seat under it. The
other end, where the stairs turned, was lighted by an enormous stained
glass window.

Little exclamations of rapture escaped the girls as they tripped over
the softly carpeted floors to their rooms, which were on the left side
of the hall. Opposite were the major’s rooms, so Mary explained, while
the young men were all quartered in the right wing except Mr. Martinez,
who had a room at the end of the hall on the same side as the major’s
suite.

“I could live and die in a house like this, and never want to leave it,”
cried Bab, her eyes sparkling with pleasure as Mary opened the door
leading to the room that had been assigned to Ruth and her.

They could have a room apiece, if they wished it, the housekeeper said,
but when it was discovered that this would necessitate two of the girls
taking rooms in the right wing, many passages and corridors away from
the others, all said they would rather share the rooms on the main hall.
Mary looked somewhat relieved at this. It was evident she was not in
favor of the right wing for the girls, either; although she did not
explain her reasons.

In the large old-fashioned bedrooms, hung with chintz curtains and
furnished with mahogany that would have been the joy of the antique
dealers, were already placed the boxes and satchels of the
automobilists. Two neat housemaids were engaged in unpacking their
things and placing them in the drawers of the massive highboys and
wardrobes.

“Bab,” exclaimed Ruth, giving her friend an affectionate little shake,
“this is worth two highwaymen and a night in a Gypsy camp. I feel as if
I were in an English country house. I feel we are going to have a
perfectly wonderful time. And, somehow, the young Spaniard adds muchly
to the whole thing. He seems to belong in the midst of carved oak and
Persian rugs, doesn’t he, Barbara, dear? As he stood on those steps he
looked like an old Spanish portrait. All he needed was a velvet cape, a
sword and a plumed hat.”

“Well, that seems a good deal to complete the picture, considering he
was wearing an ordinary pepper and salt suit,” observed Barbara.

“I don’t believe you like Senor José Martinez,” said Ruth.

“Oh, yes I do,” replied the other. “I like him and I don’t like him. His
eyes are just a bit too close together, and still he is very handsome.
But give me time, give me time. I don’t enjoy having my likes hurried
along like this. If he can play tennis, ride horseback and dance as well
as he can knock down a tramp, he will be a perfect paragon among men.
Look here, Ruth,” she continued, exploring the various closets, “do you
know we have a bathroom all to ourselves? Did you say that Major Ten
Eyck was poor when Miss Sallie threw him over?”

“Well, he wasn’t rich at that time,” replied Ruth; “that is, not
according to Aunt Sallie’s ideas, but since then, she tells me, an uncle
has left him lots of money.”

“Now, for a bath!” cried Barbara, as she turned the water on in the tub.

“Don’t use too much of it,” called Ruth. “I never saw a country house
where the water didn’t run short, no matter how grand a place it was.
Remember the drought, Bab, and leave a little for your fainting friend.”

The girls had barely time to bathe and dress, when a deep gong sounded
in the hall. The five automobilists, refreshed by their belated baths,
and dainty in crisp ducks and muslins, filed down the great staircase at
the sound. Miss Stuart, in a lavender organdie, her white hair piled on
top of her head, led the procession.

The major, waiting for them at the foot of the steps, smiled rather
sadly as he watched the charming picture. The five young men grouped
together at the end of the hall, came forward at sight of the ladies.
Three of them at least were rather shy in their greetings, especially
the English boy, Alfred Marsdale, who was only seventeen and still
afraid of American girls. Stephen and Martin Ten Eyck, boys of sixteen
and seventeen, were also rather green in the society of girls. They had
no sisters and their vacations had been spent either at Ten Eyck Hall or
out West on their father’s ranch. And an avalanche of four pretty,
vivacious young women, advancing upon them in this way, was enough to
make them tongue-tied for the moment. Jimmie Butler, who was nineteen
and had seen a deal of life all over the world with his mother, a
well-to-do widow, was proof against embarrassment, and the young
Spaniard also seemed perfectly at his ease.

“Come along, young people,” said the major, giving his arm to Miss
Sallie and leading the way to the dining room.

Soon they were all gayly chatting at an immense, round table of black
oak, so highly polished that it reflected the silver and china and the
faces of the guests in its shining board.

“Miss Barbara,” said the major, “suppose you let us have a history of
the attempt at robbery? Since it was your courage and presence of mind
that drove the robber away you ought to be the one to give the most
connected account. Miss Stuart tells me that he was a giant with a deep
bass voice, but that the sight of a pistol made him cut and run like a
rabbit. You have not heard, José,” continued the major, turning to
Martinez, “that our ladies were in danger of being robbed last night and
would have been but for Miss Barbara, who drove off the robber with a
pistol?”

“Is it possible?” replied José, looking at Barbara with admiration. “But
there must be a great many robbers in this country. Almost as numerous
as in the mountains of my own country. And what was the appearance of
the robber, may I ask, Miss Thurston? Was he again a tramp?”

“He was not a giant,” answered Barbara. “He struck me as being rather
short and very slender, so slender that it made him appear taller than
he was. His voice was curious. I could not describe it, and I think
really it was disguised. He spoke only a few times. He wore a mask that
completely covered his face, and a slouch hat, so there was no telling
what his hair was like; but he gave me the impression of being dark. I
think he was a coward, because he ran so fast when I pointed the pistol
at him.”

“Do you suppose he’s hiding in the woods now, Major?” asked Mollie. “We
were walking there all morning, but we had nothing to be robbed of.”

“Oh, he is probably running still,” replied the major. “But what is
quite plain to me is that it was somebody who knew you expected to make
the trip. This robber had evidently prepared beforehand for the attack.
He had chopped holes in the bridge, painted the sign, fastened the ropes
across, and had arranged the whole thing during the morning. But he had
not reckoned on your little pistol, Miss Barbara, had he? Ah, you are a
brave girl, my dear, and they tell me that this is only one among many
acts of heroism of yours.”

Barbara blushed.

“I am sure any of the others would have done the same thing, Major, if
Mr. Stuart had given them the pistol.”

“Do the ladies in America carry firearms?” asked Alfred Marsdale,
looking from one to another in a hesitating, embarrassed way.

“Why, certainly, Alfred, my boy,” replied Jimmie Butler. “Don’t you know
it’s dangerous, in this country, for a woman to walk on the streets
unarmed unless she is dressed like a suffragette? And then she doesn’t
need a pistol to make people run from her.”

“Now, you’re joking, Jimmie,” said Alfred.

At which everybody laughed until they all felt that they had known each
other much longer than just a few hours.

“While I think of it,” observed the major, “I have only one request to
make of my guests, and that may seem like a very inhospitable one, but
you will all understand, I know. Don’t be too lavish with the water.”

Ruth and Barbara looked at each other and smiled.

“I mean,” continued the major, “don’t fill the tubs to the brim. A
hand’s depth is the allowance; or we shall be high and dry without any
water and no prospect of any unless a rain comes. This interminable
drought has dried up every brook on the place and the cisterns are lower
than they have ever been before. We keep one cistern always full—not so
much in case of drought as in case of fire; it might be needed some
day.”

They all promised to bathe in what Jimmie Butler called “two-fingers of
water.”

“If the water gives out,” said Jimmie, “we’ll beautify our complexions
by bathing in milk. I think I need a lotion for a delicate skin,
anyhow.” Jimmie’s nose was a mass of freckles.

“You would have to have your face peeled, Jimmie,” said Stephen, “before
you could call it delicate.”

“Excuse me,” replied Jimmie, “my indelicate skin then.”

“I have not made any plans for your entertainment this afternoon, young
ladies,” the major was saying. “Miss Stuart is determined that you must
lie down and sleep off the effects of the Gypsy camp. But to-morrow we
shall have a picnic to make up for it, and Miss Ruth may take her tea
basket, since we have none in this household.”

“I’m not a bit tired now,” said Ruth.

“Neither are we,” echoed the other girls as they rose from the table.

“Well, suppose we make a compromise,” said the major, “by showing you
over the house? After that sleep must be your portion, eh, Sallie?”

“It must, indeed,” replied that lady firmly, and all adjourned to the
library.



CHAPTER X—AN ATTIC MYSTERY


The library of Ten Eyck Hall was, to Bab, the most beautiful of all the
rooms. The walls were literally lined with books from floor to ceiling,
and there were little galleries halfway up for the convenience of
getting books that were too high to reach from the floor. Big leather
chairs and couches were scattered about and heavy curtains seemed to
conceal entrances to mysterious doors and passages leading off somewhere
into the depths of the old house.

“This is just the place for a secret door or a staircase in the wall,”
exclaimed Grace.

“There is a secret door, I believe, in this very room,” replied the
major; “but it is really a secret, for the location was lost long ago
and nobody has ever been able to find it since.”

“How interesting!” said Ruth. “Can’t you thump the walls and locate it
by a hollow sound?”

“But, even if you discovered a hollow sound, you wouldn’t know how to
open the door,” said Martin.

“Press a panel, my boy. That is all that is necessary,” replied Jimmie.
“With a wild shriek Lady Gwendolyn rushed through the portals of the
lofty chamber. With trembling hands she pressed a panel in the wainscot.
Instantly it flew back and disclosed a secret passage. Another instant
and she had disappeared. The panel was restored to its place and Sir
Marmanduke and her pursuers were foiled.”

All this, the irrepressible Jimmie had acted out with wild
gesticulations.

They all laughed except Alfred Marsdale, who stood looking at Jimmie in
a dazed sort of way.

“Wake up, Al, old man! What’s the matter with you?”

“Oh, nothing,” replied Alfred, “I was only wondering where I had read
that before.”

There was another laugh, and the major led the way to the red drawing
room. It had been the ball room in the old days.

“It’s a long time,” observed the major, “since anyone has danced on
these floors.”

The room took its name, evidently, from the red damask hangings and
upholstering of the furniture. The walls were paneled in white and gold
and there was a grand piano at one end.

“We’ll have to take turn about playing,” said Ruth. “Grace and I each
play a little.”

“Oh, Jimmie can play,” replied Martin. “Is there anything Jimmie can’t
do?”

“Jimmie, you’re a brick,” said Alfred.

Back of the red drawing room was another smaller room which, the major
said, had always been called a morning parlor, but it had been a
favorite room of the family when he was a young man, and had been used
as a gathering place in the evening as well as after breakfast.

“This is the prettiest room of all, I think,” observed Mollie.

And it was certainly the most cheerful, with its brightly flowered
chintz curtains and shining mahogany chairs and tables.

After that came a billiard room, a small den used as a smoking room, and
a breakfast room.

“Who wants to see the attic?” said Martin.

“We all do?” came in a chorus from the young people.

“Now, girls,” protested Miss Sallie, “remember you were to take your
rest this afternoon.”

“Oh, we shan’t be up there long,” said Martin. “We promise you to bring
them back in time for the beauty sleep.”

“Very well,” answered Miss Sallie; “go along with you. It’s very hard to
be strict, Major. Don’t you find it so!”

“I never even tried the experiment, Sallie,” replied the gentle old
soldier, “because I always found it harder on me than on the boys. It’s
really a certain sort of selfishness on my part, I suppose. Cut along
now, boys, and don’t keep the girls from their rest too long.”

The pilgrimage started up the great front staircase, led by Martin and
his older brother, who together had made many excursions to the attic
and knew the way by heart.

On the second floor the explorers followed a passage that led to another
flight of stairs, and this in turn to another passage, and finally to
one last narrow flight of steps with a mysterious door at the top.

“This reminds me of the House of Usher,” said Jimmie, “only it goes up
instead of down. Can’t you imagine all these doors opening and closing,
and the sound of footsteps on the stairs, down, down?”

Just then Martin opened the door and a gust of wind blew in their faces.
Something flashed past that almost made the whole party fall backwards
down the steps.

Mollie gave a little shriek.

“Don’t be frightened,” said José, who was standing just behind her. “It
is only a bird.”

“Somebody must have left the window open,” exclaimed Stephen in
surprise. “I wonder who it was? The servants are afraid to come up here.
They believe it is haunted. Lights have been seen at midnight, shining
through some of these windows, and the only persons who are not afraid
are the housekeeper and the butler, who come twice a year, and clean out
the dust.”

The young people found themselves in a vast attic whose edges were
hidden by dense shadows. The center was lighted by dormer windows, here
and there, that gleamed like so many eyes from the high sloping roof.
Scattered about were all sorts of odds and ends of antiquated furniture,
chests of drawers, hair trunks, carved boxes and spinning wheels.

“Isn’t this great!” cried Jimmie Butler. “Just the place for
handsprings,” and he began to turn somersaults like a professional,
while the girls looked on delighted.

“Stop that, Jim,” protested Stephen. “You’ll get yourself filthy and
break your neck into the bargain. You are much too old for such child’s
play. You’ll have rush of blood to the head and strain a nerve, and
heaven knows you’ve got enough to strain.”

  “‘In my youth, Father William replied to his son,
  I feared it would injure the brain,
  But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none;
  Why, I do it again and again!’”

sang Jimmie as he wheeled over the floor toward a partition wall which
cut off one end of the great room. Over and over he circled, without
looking where he was going, until suddenly, bang, his heels hit against
the wall.

There was a curious grating noise, a creaking of rafters, and before
their amazed eyes the wall slid along and disclosed another attic as
large as the first.

Jimmie was so bewildered he forgot to pull himself up from the dusty
floor, and lay with his head propped against an old trunk looking across
the enormous space.

Then everybody began talking at once.

“This looks to me like smugglers,” cried Alfred. “I was in an old house
in England, where there was the same sort of wall, only not so large.”

“And look,” called Bab, “there are footsteps in the dust. Who could have
been here lately, to have left those marks. Do you see? They come from
over there in the right hand corner.”

“Yes, is it not curious,” replied José, “that they are going away from
the wall and not approaching it? He must have walked out of the wall.
Perhaps there is a secret door there, too.”

They rushed across pell mell, and began thumping the walls, but nothing
happened.

“I say, Stephen,” said Martin, “do you suppose we had smugglers in our
family?”

“I don’t know,” answered Stephen. “They managed to keep it secret if
they had.”

“I’d like to be a smuggler,” cried Martin. “There would be some
excitement in life then. But how did you manage to do it, Jimmie? You
are always having things happen to you.”

“I don’t know,” replied Jimmie. “I must have kicked the panel that
worked the spring. Let’s see if we can move it back again. Here’s the
place in the floor,” and bending over he pressed on a sliding board in
the floor. Instantly the wall began slipping back in place. The others
leaped back into the first attic, and in a moment the partition had
fitted itself as snugly as if it never had been moved.

“All is as if it never had been,” exclaimed Jimmie. “Now let’s find the
place I kicked.”

But try as they would, no one could locate the spot again.

“Well, of all that’s curious and mysterious!” said Stephen. “Jimmie, go
and turn a few more wheels and see if it happens again.”

Jimmie did as he was bade, and kicked the wall vociferously from one end
to the other but it never budged an inch.

In the meantime, Martin and the girls were diving into some old trunks
and carved chests which were filled with clothes of another date,
old-fashioned silks and dimities that had been worn by the major’s
grandmother and aunts.

“There is a trunkful of men’s things, too,” called Stephen, leaving the
sliding partition, to join in the rummage.

“I say, girls,” cried Jimmie, “wouldn’t it be fun to give a fancy dress
party some day, and surprise the major and Miss Stuart?”

“How delightful!” exclaimed the girls in one voice.

“Oh, pshaw!” said Martin, disgusted.

“Oh, I say now, Jimmie, what a beastly idea!” exclaimed Alfred, equally
disgusted.

“Come on, fellows; don’t throw cold water on the scheme if the girls
like it,” put in Stephen.

And so the party was arranged.

All this time José had never left the partition, but had kept up a
continuous thumping to find the sliding panel.

“Everybody take a hand, and we will carry down everything we can find,
and then we won’t have to make another trip,” called Stephen. “Come,
José, we’re going to dress up. You’ll have to be a pirate. Here’s a red
sash and a three cornered hat that will just suit your style.”

So saying, the cavalcade departed from the dark old attic, laden with
spoils.

“If this is to be a surprise on uncle and Miss Stuart, we had better
hide the things, hadn’t we?” observed Martin, who was very cautious and
always thought ahead, once he had decided to do a thing.

“Very well. We’ll let Mary take charge of them and divide them later,”
replied Stephen. “You had better go take your naps now, girls,” he added
in a whisper, “or we’ll have the old lady and gentleman on our necks.”

The young people separated, the boys taking a corridor leading to the
left wing, the girls following the main hall. Bab left the others and
started downstairs.

“I’ll be right back,” she called. “I left my handkerchief in the
library.”

She confessed to herself, as she descended the stairs, that she was
rather tired. The excitement of the two past days, her uncomfortable bed
made of a steamer rug spread on the ground, the night before, and
finally the close, dusty air of the attic had combined to give her a
headache and a feeling of extreme weariness.

When she reached the cool, darkened library, she sat down for a moment
in one of the big chairs and closed her eyes. It was very restful in
there. The sun had left that side of the house in the shade and the room
with its heavy hangings, its dark leather furniture and rich rugs was
full of shadows.

She was almost asleep, a slender little figure in a great armchair of
carved black oak. Her head dropped to one side and her eyes closed, when
she was awakened with a start by a draught of cold air. One of the
curtains next the book shelves bulged out for a moment and Barbara’s
eyes were fastened on a long, white hand that drew them aside. Then a
face she had seen in the wood looked from around the curtain. The eyes
met hers, and again that strange, childlike look of sorrow and amazement
filled them.

A dizziness came over Barbara. She closed her eyes for a moment, and,
when she opened them again, the face, or phantom, or whatever it was,
had gone.

Holding her breath to keep from crying out, Barbara ran from the room as
fast as her trembling knees could carry her. In the hall she met José.
He looked at her curiously.

“Mademoiselle, have you seen a ghost?” he asked as he stood aside to let
her pass.

She was afraid to answer, for fear of bursting into tears.

“I am sorry,” he continued. “Has anything really happened?”

But still she refused to speak, and ran up the stairs.

He turned and went into the library, closing the door after him.

There was a queer little smile on his face. Perhaps he, too, had seen
the old man and understood her look of terror.

By the time she reached her room, Bab had regained her self-composure,
and had again determined to say nothing about the adventure. It would
only frighten the girls and take away from the pleasure of the visit.



CHAPTER XI—JOSÉ HAS AN ENEMY


  “I like them all, the pretty girls,
  I like them all whether dark or fair,
  But above the rest, I like the best
  The girl with the golden hair!”

rang out the charming tenor voice of José, while he thrummed a
delightful accompaniment on the piano.

Dinner was over, and the major, and his guests were sitting in the
moonlight on the broad piazza. Windows and doors were stretched as wide
as possible; the curtains in the red drawing room were drawn back and
José was entertaining the company.

“I sing it translated,” he called, as he finished the song, “that it may
be understood.”

Whereupon Jimmie winked at Stephen, and looked at Mollie; the major
smiled indulgently, and the others were all more or less conscious that
Spaniards always liked blond girls because they were so rare in Spain.

Mollie herself, however, was unconscious that she was being sung about.
She was looking out across the moonlit stretches of lawn and meadows,
her little hands folded placidly in her lap.

“Do you dance as well as sing, Mr. Martinez?” she asked in her high,
sweet voice.

“I can dance, yes,” replied José, “but I like best dancing with another.
I do not like to dance alone.”

“But there is no one else here who dances Spanish fancy dances, is
there?” demanded Miss Sallie.

There was a silence.

“Don’t all speak at once,” cried Jimmie. “I will play for you, José, if
you will try dancing alone,” he added. “I am afraid we can’t help you in
any of your Spanish dances.”

“Very well,” replied José. “I will, then, try a dance of the Basque
country, if Madamoiselle Mollie will be so kind as to lend me her scarf.
I must have a hat also.”

He disappeared through the window and returned in a moment with a
broad-brimmed felt hat he had found in the hall. Mollie handed him her
pink scarf with a border of wild roses, and walking composedly up to the
end of the long piazza he stood perfectly still, waiting for the music
to begin. Jimmie struck up a Spanish dance with the sound of castanets
in the bass.

“How’s that for a tune?” he called out.

“Very good, very good,” answered José. Then he started the strange dance
while the others watched spellbound.

The boys, who had been rather scornful of a man’s dancing fancy dances,
confessed afterwards that there was nothing effeminate in José’s
dancing, no pirouetting and twisting on one toe like Jimmie Butler’s one
accomplishment in ballet-dancing. They gathered that it was a sort of
bullbaiting dance. It began with a series of advances and retreats, with
a springy step always in time to the throb of the music.

The young Spaniard was very graceful and lithe. He seemed to have
forgotten that he was on the piazza of foreigners in a strange country.
The dance grew quicker and quicker. Suddenly he drew a long curved
dagger from his belt and made a lunge at some imaginary obstacle,
probably the bull he was baiting.

Bab, who was nearest the dancer, rose to her feet quickly, and then sat
down rather limply.

“The knife, the knife!” she said to herself. “It is the highwayman’s
knife!”

And now the handsome dancer was kneeling at Mollie’s feet offering her
the scarf.

He had risen and was bowing to the company, when whir-r-r! something had
whizzed past his head, just scratched his forehead and then planted
itself in the wooden frame of the window behind him.

Was Barbara dreaming; or had she lost her senses?

The knife in the wall was the same, or exactly like the knife José had
been using in the dance.

In a moment everything was in wild confusion.

“Go into the house, ladies!” commanded the major.

The four boys leaped from the piazza, to run down the assassin, so they
thought, but the figure vaguely outlined for an instant in the shadows
of the trees, was as completely hidden as if the earth had opened and
swallowed it up.

José, in a big chair in the drawing room, was being ministered to by
Miss Sallie and the girls, while the major, with a glass of water, was
standing over him on one side and the housekeeper, on the other, was
binding his head with a linen handkerchief.

[Illustration: Whir-r-r! Something Whizzed Past His Head.]

“Major,” Miss Sallie was saying, “this country is full of assassins and
robbers. I believe we shall all be murdered in our beds. I am really
terribly frightened. We have had nothing but attacks since we left New
York. And, now, this poor young man is in danger. Who could it have
been, do you suppose, and what good did it do to hurl a knife into the
midst of a perfectly harmless company like that!”

“The country is a little wild, Sallie,” replied the major
apologetically, “but I have never heard of anything like this happening
before. Of course, there are highwaymen everywhere. There are those
Gypsies in the forest. Perhaps it was one of them.”

Just then the boys returned, and the attention of the others was
distracted from José, who still sat quietly, his lips pressed together.

Barbara, who had been standing a little way off, turned to him quickly.

“The knife?” she asked, but stopped without finishing, for José had
fixed her glance with a look of such appeal that she could say no more.

“By the way,” observed Jimmie Butler, “where is the knife?”

“Sticking in the wall of course,” replied Stephen.

The two boys ran out on the piazza, but returned empty-handed.

“Mystery of mysteries!” cried Jimmie, “the knife is gone!”

“It is impossible,” exclaimed the major. “We have not left this room. We
could see anyone who came upon the piazza.”

“Well, it’s gone,” said Jimmie. “While you were nursing José, somebody
must have crept up and got it.”

“Good heavens!” exclaimed Miss Sallie. “Do you mean to say that the
murderer has been that close to us again? Do close those windows and
draw the curtains.”

“Yes, do so,” said the major. “Mary,” he continued to the housekeeper,
who was entering at that moment with a basin of water, “I wish you would
have all the men on the place sent to me. Some of them may be asleep,
but wake them up. We shall scour every part of the estate to-night. If
there’s anybody hiding around here we shall rout him out.”

Mary hurried off to deliver her orders, while the boys ran to their
rooms to get on tennis shoes and collect various weapons.

“I am sorry José was scratched,” Martin confided to Alfred, “but—well,
this is pretty good sport, old man. Don’t you think so?”

“By Jove, it is,” replied Alfred with enthusiasm. “If that assassin
should leap at us in the dark I should like to give him a nip with this
shillalah. What a beastly coward he was to attack a man when his back
was turned!”

And with that, he waved a big knotted club, one of Stephen’s
possessions, around his head, and glared ferociously.

“Come on, boys,” called Stephen. “We haven’t a moment to lose. The man
will be well away if we don’t hurry. We are going to ride in twos and
divide the place in sections.”

In another ten minutes a company of horsemen rode off in the moonlight,
two by two, while the frightened maid-servants locked and barred the
house doors and windows.

José had begged to be allowed to go along, but the major had silenced
him by saying that Miss Sallie and the girls needed a protector, and
that under the circumstances it was better for him to stay at home and
look after them. Even the old major was rather enjoying the zest of a
man-hunt, and his eyes flashed with a new fire under his grizzled
eyebrows.

But nothing happened and the assassin remained at large. The hunters
scoured the country, searched the forest on the outskirts of the Ten
Eyck estate, and woke the sleeping Gypsies to demand what they knew. The
Gypsies knew nothing, and at midnight the horsemen returned.

The house was silent. Everyone had gone to bed except José, who sat in
the library listening for every sound that creaked through the old
place. He met Major Ten Eyck and the boys at the front door, holding a
candle high and peering anxiously into the dark to see what quarry they
had brought home.

And, when he saw they had no prisoner bound to the horse with the ropes
that the major had ordered his man to take along, a look of strange
relief came into the Spaniard’s face. He breathed a deep sigh, smiled as
he thanked them, said good-night and went up the broad stairway with the
same smile still clinging to his lips.

In the meantime Bab was stretched out beside the sleeping Ruth, wide
awake, going over the events of that tumultuous day.

She felt that these events had no connection with each other, and yet
deep down in her inner consciousness she was searching for the link that
bound all the strange happenings together. She was not quite sure now
whether she had seen the face in the library or not. She had been so
tired and hot. It might, after all, have been a dream. But the footsteps
in the dust on the attic floor, coming from the wall, what of them?

And last, though most strange and mysterious of all, the two daggers?
José had been saved just in time from the stigma of suspicion by the
appearance of the other dagger, for, in the moment she had seen the two,
Bab had realized they were absolutely alike.

She could not believe José was a highwayman, and yet there were certain
things that looked very black. It was true he had not known where they
were going, but she imagined he could have found it out.

Was it his figure she had seen behind the curtain that morning,
listening? Whoever it was heard the exact route of their trip, with
explicit directions from the major. Undoubtedly, Bab believed, the
eavesdropper was the highwayman.

Furthermore, what did they know about José? It is true he had come
bearing credentials, but such things were easily fixed up by experts,
and the major was a simple old fellow who never doubted anybody until he
had to.

On the other hand, José had every appearance of being a gentleman. He
had proved himself to be brave by knocking down the tramp twice his size
at Sleepy Hollow. There was an air of sincerity about him which she
could not fail to recognize. He was graceful and charming. Everybody
liked him, even those who had been inclined to feel prejudiced at first.

Would the Spaniard have dared to use the same dagger in the dance that
he had used to slash their tires with? It was assuredly amazingly
reckless, and yet he might have trusted to the darkness and risked it.

But the look he gave her when she started to speak of the twin daggers!
What could that have meant? Was he trying to shield his own enemy?

Should she speak to the major or should she say nothing?

On the whole, Barbara thought it would be better to keep quiet for a day
or two. It might be that Miss Sallie would insist on taking them away
after this last attack; but she believed Ruth’s and the major’s prayers
would prevail, and that they would all stay through the visit.

They had planned so many delightful parties it seemed a shame to break
up on the very first day of their visit. And, after all, Miss Sallie had
a great tenderness for the major, a tenderness lasting through thirty
years.

Then Barbara dropped off to sleep, and in the old house only one other
soul was still awake as the clock in the hall chimed the hour of two.

In his room, by the light of a flickering candle, José sat examining the
dagger that had so baffled Bab’s curiosity. On his face was an
expression of sorrow and bitterness that would certainly have aroused
her pity had she seen him that moment. At last he shook his head
hopelessly, muttered something in Spanish, and blew out the candle.

But before getting into bed he picked up the dagger again.

“Even in America,” he said in English, “even in this far country it is
the same. But I will not endure it,” he muttered. “It is too much!”

Putting his dagger under the pillow, he crept to bed.



CHAPTER XII—NOSEGAYS AND TENNIS


The household was late in pulling itself together next morning. At
half-past nine, Mary and her husband, John, had carried trays of coffee
and rolls to the rooms of the guests, informing them, at the same time,
that luncheon would be served at half-past twelve.

Mollie and Grace, in dressing gowns and slippers, had carried their
trays into the room shared by Ruth and Barbara. Miss Sallie had
followed, looking so charming in her lavender silk wrapper, elaborately
trimmed with lace and ribbons that all the girls had exclaimed with
admiration; which put the lady in a very good humor at the outset. Who
does not like to be complimented, especially in the early morning when
one is not apt to feel at one’s best?

To add to the gayety of the company there was a knock on the door,
which, when opened, disclosed John bearing a large tray of flowers, a
small nosegay for each of the girls and a large bunch of dewy sweet peas
for Miss Sallie, all with the major’s compliments.

“What a man he is!” she cried. “He disarms me with his bunches of
flowers just as I was about to tell him something very disagreeable. I
really don’t see how I can do it.”

“Oh, please don’t, auntie, dear!” exclaimed Ruth. “I know what it is. We
all do. But if we broke up the party, and went trailing off home, now
that the worst is over, it wouldn’t do anybody much good, and think of
what a beautiful time we would be missing. To tell you the truth,
auntie, we are just dying to stay. In spite of everything we are. Aren’t
we, girls?”

“Yes, indeed,” came in a chorus from the other three girls, a little
faintly from Bab perhaps, but very eagerly from Mollie and Grace.

“Well, we’ll see,” replied Miss Sallie. “But it does seem to me that
this trip has started off very badly. Three attacks in as many days.”

“That’s true,” said Ruth. “Yet by the magic Rule of Three we should have
no more. We have finished now and the curse is lifted.”

“When Mollie’s old Gypsy comes over we must ask her to tell a few
things,” observed Grace. “I believe she really can predict the future.
That night when you and Bab had gone with the Gypsies to get the
automobile I asked her if she told fortunes, and all she said was: ‘I
can tell when there is blood on the moon.’”

“What a horrible idea!” exclaimed Miss Sallie. “Weren’t you frightened?”

“No, I wasn’t frightened, because she seemed to have forgotten me
entirely. I really thought, at the time, she must be talking about her
own affairs. She looked so black and fierce.”

“Perhaps she meant José’s blood,” remarked Mollie from behind her
nosegay of honeysuckle and mignonette.

“Well, there wasn’t much of it,” replied Bab, “because José received
only a scratch, and lost scarcely any blood. It was a close shave,
though. Just half an inch nearer and it would have gone straight through
his head.”

“He seems to be a very remarkable young man,” said Miss Sallie. “Did you
notice he never said one word? Just sat there as quietly as if nothing
had happened.”

“He was thinking,” answered Barbara. “But of course most people would
have been too frightened to think. Did you notice the knife?” she
ventured.

But nobody had, evidently. They had all been too excited and
horror-struck at the time to have noticed anything.

“I saw it was a knife, and that was all,” said Ruth.

“I never saw a man dance before,” observed Mollie, as if following aloud
a train of thoughts she had been pursuing while the others talked. “I
was almost sorry he said he would, but when I saw what kind of dancing
it was I was glad. It was really and truly a man’s dance. I think it
must have been a toreador’s dance, don’t you?”

“Something like this,” said Ruth, using a towel for a scarf and a comb
for a dagger. “And, by the way,” she continued, pausing as she pranced
around the room, “how did he happen to have a dagger so handy!”

“That’s because he is a Spaniard, my dear,” remarked Miss Sallie. “These
foreigners carry anything from dynamite bombs to carving knives. They
are always murdering and slashing one another.”

“Perhaps,” cried Mollie, excitedly, “it was the Black Hand that tried to
kill him.”

The others all laughed.

“Really, Mollie,” cried Miss Sallie, “don’t add any more horrors to the
situation. We are already surrounded by Gypsies, and tramps and
assassins.”

“But protected, Aunt Sallie, dear,” protested Ruth, “protected by five
‘gintlemin frinds,’ as Irish Nora used to say.”

“Well, dress yourselves now,” said Miss Stuart, making for the door with
her silken draperies trailing after her. “And remember, Ruth, dear, if
your father scolds us for staying I shall lay all the blame on you.”

“Oh, I will manage Dad,” replied Ruth.

When the two girls were left alone they did not speak for a little
while. Barbara, who was sitting on the floor near the window with her
head propped against a pillow, closed her eyes, and for a moment Ruth
thought she was asleep. A breeze laden with the perfume of the
honeysuckle vines stirred the curtain. Barbara took in a deep breath,
opened her eyes and sat up.

“Ruth,” she said, “do you know, the smell of the honeysuckles gives me
the queerest sensation? I feel as if I had been here before, once long
ago, ever so long. I can’t remember when, and of course I haven’t been,
but isn’t it curious? These old rooms are as familiar to me as if I had
lived in them. I believe I could find my way blindfolded around the
house.”

“I should like to see you try it,” replied Ruth, “especially when you
struck one of those back passages that lead off into nowhere in
particular. But you are tired, Bab, dear,” continued her friend, leaning
over and patting her on the cheek. “Come along, now, and get dressed. I
told Stephen and Alfred we would play them a game of tennis some time
this morning.”

The girls found the two boys waiting in the hall to keep their
appointment. Alfred was fast losing his shyness in the presence of these
two wholesome and unaffected girls who could play tennis almost as well
as he could, ride horseback, run a motor car, repel a highwayman with a
pistol and not lose their heads when they needed to keep them most. But,
what was more to the purpose, they were not in the least shy or afraid
to speak out. They were full of high spirits and knew how to have a good
time without appealing constantly to some everlasting governess who was
always tagging after them, or asking mamma’s permission. In fact, Alfred
had suffered a change of heart. When he had heard the house party was to
be increased by a number of girls he had bitterly repented ever having
left England. By this time, however, he could not imagine a house party
without girls, especially American girls.

“I say, you know,” he said to Ruth as they strolled toward the beautiful
tennis court that was shaded, at one side, by a row of tall elm trees,
“must I call you Ruth? I notice the other fellows do?”

“Oh, well,” replied Ruth, “we are none of us actually grown yet and what
is the use of so much formality before it is really necessary? What do
you do in England?”

“In England,” replied Alfred, “we don’t call them anything. We don’t see
them except in the holidays, and then they are only sisters and
cousins.”

“Isn’t there any fun in sisters and cousins?” asked Ruth.

“Well, they’re not very jolly,” replied the candid youth; “not as jolly
as you, that is.”

Ruth laughed. By this time they had reached the court and were selecting
racquets and tossing for sides.

“Stephen, Ruth and I will play against you and Barbara,” said Alfred
rather testily. “What is the use of tossing when it was arranged
beforehand?”

“You seem rather eager, Alfred, my boy,” replied Stephen. “I’m sure we
have no objections, have we, Barbara?”

“None,” said Barbara, “At least I haven’t. You may, however, when you
hear that Ruth won the championship at Newport last summer.”

“You look to me like a pretty good player, too,” said Stephen.

Just then Jimmie Butler appeared, bearing a hammock and a book.

“You can get in the next set, Jimmie,” called Stephen. “We are just
starting in on this one.”

“I don’t care for the game,” replied Jimmie. “I prefer a book ’neath the
bough, especially as this house party seems to go in companies of twos.
Every laddie has a lassie but me, so I’ve taken to literature.”

He waved his hand toward the garden, and then toward the walk leading
from the house.

In the old-fashioned flower garden, a stone’s throw from the court,
could be seen Miss Sallie and the major strolling along the paths,
stopping occasionally to examine the late roses and smell the
honeysuckle trained over wicker arches.

In the direction of the house appeared Mollie and Grace, followed by
Martin and José. The sound of their laughter floated over to Jimmie as
he swung in his hammock.

“Keep away, all,” he called as he spread himself comfortably among the
cushions and opened his book. “I intend to enter a monastery and take
the vow of silence, and this is a good time to begin. It’s easy because
I have nobody to talk to.”

“What are you grumbling about, Jimmie?” asked the major, who came up
just then with Miss Sallie.

“Oh, nothing at all, Major,” replied Jimmie. “I was only saying how
delightful it was to see all you young people walking around this sylvan
place in couples. It reminds me of my lost youth.”

“Jimmie’s lonesome,” exclaimed Martin. “We’ll have to get up some more
excitement if we want to keep him happy.”

“Very well,” replied the major. “We will. The most exciting thing I can
think of, just now, is to take a long ride in the automobiles, or go
driving, whichever the ladies prefer, and wind up at the forest pool for
tea. How does that strike you, Jimmie?”

“It sounds fine,” said Jimmie, “if you mean the haunted pool. It is a
beautiful spot, and it has a new haunt since last you saw it, Major.
It’s haunted by water nymphs now.”

“Only nymphs in wading,” cried Mollie, blushing. “Jimmie caught us in
the act yesterday morning.”

“Oho!” exclaimed the major. “You really are little girls, after all, are
you?”

“Think of going in wading in that lonesome spot,” said Grace, “and
actually meeting somebody as casually as if you were walking up Fifth
Avenue?”

“You’re likely to meet Jimmie anywhere,” said Martin. “He’s a regular
Johnnie-on-the-spot. He is the first person to get up and the last one
to go to bed. Excitements have a real attraction for him. Haven’t they,
Jimsy?” and Martin gave the hammock such an affectionate shake that
Jimmie nearly fell out on his face.

The luncheon gong rang out in the summer stillness, and they started
toward the house, leaving the players to finish the game.

“José,” asked the major, putting his arm through the young Spaniard’s,
“have you any theories about last night?”

“Yes,” replied José. “I do not think it will do any good to hunt for the
one who threw the knife. I have, in my country, an enemy. I believe it
was he.”

“What?” cried the major. “He has followed you all the way to America,
and your life is constantly in danger?”

“I do not think he will come again,” answered José. “At any rate, I am
not afraid,” he added, shrugging his shoulders, “and I can do nothing.”

“You could have him arrested,” said Miss Sallie.

“Yes, Madam, I could. But it would not be easy to catch him.”

“Dear, dear!” exclaimed Miss Sallie. “What a dangerous country Spain
must be to live in!”

“No more dangerous than America, Madam, I find,” replied José.

“True enough,” assented Miss Sallie, “since this is America and not
Spain, and we find ourselves in a perfect hotbed of criminals. My dear
John, I think we shall need a body-guard if we go out in the open this
afternoon.”

“Well, Sallie,” answered the courteous old man, “you shall have one in
me and my nephews and their friends—a devoted body-guard, I assure
you.”

At luncheon the feeling of good will which comes to friends who have
just found each other, so to speak, had spread itself. Enjoyment was in
the air and there were no discordant elements. All their troubles were
of the past, and Bab determined to cast aside her suspicions and regard
José in the light of a mysterious but otherwise exceedingly attractive
foreigner. When she looked across the table into his clear, brown eyes,
which regarded her sadly but without a single guilty quiver of the lids,
she could not but believe that there had been some bitter mistake
somewhere. He was lonely and strange, and there was something about him
that aroused her pity. Everybody liked him; even Miss Sallie was
attracted by his graceful and gentle manners.

Luncheon over, everyone made ready for the auto trip, and it was not
long before the two autos carrying a merry party, had set forth.



CHAPTER XIII—CROSS QUESTIONS AND CROOKED ANSWERS


After a long ride through the country, skirting the edge of the forest
in which the highwayman had lurked, and where the smoke from the
Gypsies’ camp fire could be seen curling up in the distance, the two
automobiles took to the river road.

Ruth was steering her own car with Alfred beside her; behind them on the
small seat sat José and Mollie, and on the back seat were Bab and
Stephen. As they skimmed over the bridge, which had been repaired by the
major’s men, Mollie said to José:

“Was the bridge all right, Mr. Martinez, when you came over it the other
day?”

The Spaniard flushed and his eye caught Bab’s, who was gazing at him
curiously.

“Yes, no—or rather, I do not know,” he stammered. “I did not come by
the bridge but through the forest.”

“But how did you find the way?” asked Mollie, wondering a little at his
embarrassment.

“I asked it,” he replied, “of a Gypsy.”

“Oh, really?” cried Mollie. “And did she tell you?”

“It was not a woman,” went on José. “It was a man.”

“And did he know the way? Because they told us they did not, perhaps
because they didn’t want to be disturbed so late in the evening.”

“Perhaps,” said José, and changed the subject by asking Stephen whose
was the large estate they were now approaching. It was that of a famous
millionaire, and their attention was for the moment distracted. José
seemed to breath a sigh of relief and engaged Mollie in conversation for
the rest of the ride, telling her about his own country, the bull fights
and carnivals and a hundred other things of interest until the little
girl had quite forgotten his confusion at the mention of the damaged
bridge.

On the way back the automobiles turned into the wooded road, but before
they reached the Gypsy camp they turned again into another road pointed
out by Martin in the first car. The road led directly through the forest
to the haunted pool, where the automobiles drew up. The pool, in the
late afternoon sunlight, was more enchanting than ever.

“This is a famous spot in the neighborhood,” observed the major. “When I
was a boy it was the scene of many a picnic and frolic. People in these
parts were more neighborly in those days. The girls and boys used to
meet and ride in wagons or on horseback over here. We ate our luncheons
on this mossy bank; then strolled about in couples until dark and drove
home by moonlight.”

“The Gypsy girl told us it was really haunted, Major,” said Ruth. “She
even said she had seen the ghost.”

“Indeed,” replied the major, looking up a little startled, “and what
sort of ghost was it?”

“Just a figure sitting here on the bank,” answered Ruth.

“Oh!” he exclaimed in a tone of evident relief.

“Why, Major,” cried Miss Sallie, “one would think you believed in
ghosts.”

“And so I do, Sallie, my dear,” declared the gentle old major, “but only
in the ghosts of my lost youth, which seem to appear to me to-day in the
forms of all these delightful young people. What about tea, Miss Ruth
Stuart?” he demanded, turning to Ruth.

The chauffeur brought out the elaborate tea basket which had served them
so well at the Gypsy camp and Ruth and Barbara proceeded to make the tea
while the other girls unpacked boxes of delicious sandwiches and tea
cakes.

“This is a very beautiful spot,” observed José. “If it were perpetual
summer I could live and die on this mossy bank and never tire of it!”
Walking a little apart from the others he stretched himself out at full
length on the ground, staring up into the branches overhead.

Then the other boys, who had been strolling about under the trees,
returned, but they were not alone. They had espied Zerlina in the depths
of the woods, with her guitar slung over her shoulder, and persuaded her
to go back with them to the pool.

“You see we’ve brought a wandering minstrel with us,” cried Jimmie. “She
has promised to sing us a song of the Romany Rye, haven’t you, Zerlina?”

The girls greeted Zerlina cordially. She was presented to the major, but
José, as she approached, had turned over on his side and flung his arm
over his head, as if he were asleep.

“Leave him alone. He’s dreaming,” said Jimmie. “Give Zerlina some tea
and cake, and then we’ll have a song.”

Zerlina ate the cake greedily and drank her tea in silence. She examined
the fresh summer dresses of “The Automobile Girls,” and a look of envy
came into her eyes as she cast them down on her cotton skirt full of
tatters from the briars and faded from red into a soft old pink shade.
But she was very pretty, even in her ragged dress, which was turned in
at the collar showing her full, rounded throat and shapely neck. She was
lithe and graceful, and as she thrummed on the guitar with her slender,
brown fingers her ragged dress and rough shoes faded into
insignificance. The group of people sitting on the bank saw only a
beautiful, dark-haired girl with a glowing face and eyes that shone with
a smouldering fire. After a few preliminary chords she began to sing in
a rich contralto voice. The song again was in the Romany tongue. It
seemed to convey to the listeners a note of sadness and loneliness.

The kind old major was much impressed by the performance.

“Zerlina,” he said, “you have a very beautiful voice, much too beautiful
to be wasted. You must ask your grandmother to bring you over to Ten
Eyck Hall. I should like to hear you sing again.”

“Zerlina will be a great opera singer, one of these days,” predicted
Jimmie. “She will be singing Carmen, yet, at the Manhattan Opera House.
How would you like that, Zerlina?”

The Gypsy girl made no reply. Her eyes were fastened on José, who still
lay as if asleep, his back turned to the circle.

“She can dance, too,” cried Ruth. “She told me she could. This would be
a pretty place to dance, Zerlina, where the fairies dance by moonlight.”

“I have no music,” objected Zerlina.

“Oh, I can make the music all right,” said the irrepressible Jimmie,
seizing the guitar and tuning it up. Then he began to whistle. The tone
was clear and flute-like and the tune the same Spanish dance he had
played for José. Zerlina pricked up her ears when she heard the music
and the rhythm of the guitar. It is said that no Gypsy can ever resist
the sound of music. Now the body of the girl began swaying to the beat
of the accompaniment. Presently she began to dance, a real Spanish dance
full of gestures and movement. They half guessed the story woven in, a
lover repelled and called back, coquetted with and threatened;
threatened with a knife which she drew from the blouse of her dress and
then restored to its hiding place; for the dance ended quickly without
disaster, imaginary or otherwise. Miss Sallie had given a little cry at
sight of another murderous weapon. But the knife! Had no one seen it, no
one recognized the chased silver handle and the slightly curved blade?
Bab sat as if rooted to the spot, waiting for somebody to speak, to cry
out that the knife was the same that had whizzed past José’s head the
other night. After all, nobody had really seen it but herself. She had
learned by a former experience to keep her own counsel, and she decided
to wait, and not to tell until matters took a more definite turn.

Was it possible this beautiful Gypsy girl could be a murderess, or one
at heart? But, on the other hand, would she have dared to display the
mysterious dagger in the presence of the same company? Bab was puzzled
and worried. Was Zerlina a robber also, or was José, after all, the
robber? Perhaps there was some connection between them. There must be,
since they had exchanged knives on several occasions.

Her reflections were interrupted by a general movement toward the
automobiles. Zerlina was evidently pleased at the praises she had
received, for her cheeks were flushed with pride.

“Won’t you let us see your dagger, Zerlina?” asked Bab.

“Oh, yes, do!” begged Mollie. “It will be the third dagger we have seen
this week; but this is the first chance we have had to take a good look
at any of them.”

Zerlina looked at them darkly. Her lips drew themselves together in a
stubborn line.

“I cannot, now,” she said. “Perhaps, another time. Good-bye.” She
slipped off into the woods as quietly as one of the spirits which were
said to haunt the place.

“Gypsies are so tiresome,” exclaimed Miss Sallie. “Why shouldn’t she
show her dagger, I’d like to know? And who cares whether she does or
not, anyhow?”

“If you had ever read any books on Gypsies, Sallie,” replied the major,
“you would know that their lives are full of things they must keep
secret if they want to keep out of jail. However, these Gypsies seem
peaceable enough,” he added, his kindly spirit never liking to condemn
anything until it was necessary. “But what a beautiful girl she is!” he
continued. “If she were properly dressed she would be as noble and
elegant looking as”—he paused for a comparison—“as our own young
ladies here. I wonder if her grandmother would ever consent to her being
educated and taught singing?”

“Now, Major,” cried the impetuous Ruth, “keep on your own preserves! I
asked her first, and I’m just dying to do it. I know papa would let me,
and wouldn’t it be a beautiful thing to launch a great singer upon the
public?”

“It certainly would, my dear,” replied the major, “and I promise not to
meddle, if you had first choice.”

“Why, where’s Mr. Martinez?” asked Mollie, as they climbed into the
automobiles and she missed her companion of the ride over.

One of the boys gave a shrill whistle and the others began calling and
shouting. Presently the answer came from up the stream. “I’m coming,” he
called and José appeared. “I was only taking a little stroll.”

“Why did you wish to miss the Gypsy song and dance?” demanded Mollie.
“It was charming.”

“Pardon, Mademoiselle,” he replied, stiffly, “but I do not care to hear
the songs of my country, or to see its dances in a foreign land.”

Mollie was a little piqued by José’s short answer, but she forgave him
when he said sadly:

“Did you ever know, Madamoiselle, what it is to be homesick?”

“But I thought you said you liked America?” she persisted.

“So I do,” he replied; “nevertheless, there are times when I feel very
lonely. You will forgive me, will you not. Was I rude?”

In the meantime Stephen said to Barbara:

“Bab, are you a good walker? How would you like to take a short cut
through the woods to-morrow morning, and visit the hermit who lives on
the other side? We can’t ride or drive very well, because it is too far
by the road, but it is only about five miles when we walk. I haven’t
been there for several years, but I know the way well. I suppose the
hermit is still alive. At least, he was all right last summer, so John
the butler told me. Anybody else who wishes may go along, but nobody
shall come who will lag behind and complain of the distance.”

“I am good for a ten mile walk,” replied Barbara. “I have done it many a
time at home.”

“The woods grow more and more interesting the deeper you go into them,”
continued Stephen. “There are places where the sun never comes through,
and the whole way is cool and shaded. It is full of people, too. You
would be surprised to find how many people make a living in a forest.
They are perfectly harmless, of course, or else I wouldn’t be taking you
among them. Besides the Gypsies, there are woodcutters, old men and
women who gather herbs, and a few lonely people who live in cabins on
the edge of the forest and have little gardens. Uncle has always helped
them, in the winter, without asking who they were or why they were
there. Then there’s the hermit. He is the most interesting of the lot.
He is as old as the hills and he has a secret that he would never tell,
the secret of who he is and why he has lived alone for some forty
years.”

“How interesting!” exclaimed Bab. “I hope Miss Sallie won’t object.”

“We shall have to get the major on our side,” replied Stephen, “and
perhaps win her over, too.”

“Oh, she is not really so strict,” replied Bab, “but she feels the
responsibility of looking after other peoples’ children, she says.”

“Here we are,” said Stephen, as the cars stopped at Ten Eyck Hall.



CHAPTER XIV—IN THE DEEP WOODS


It was not such a difficult matter, after all, to win permission from
Miss Sallie and the major to take the walk through the forest. The major
explained to Miss Sallie that Stephen was a safe and careful guide who
knew the country by heart, and that if the girls were equal to the walk
there would be no danger in the excursion. The party, however, dwindled
to five persons, Bab and Ruth, Stephen, Jimmie and Alfred. The latter
appeared early, equipped for the walk, carrying a heavy cane, his
trousers turned up over stout boots.

“Now, Stephen,” said Miss Sallie, “I want you to promise me to take good
care of the girls. You say the woods are not dangerous, although a
highwayman stepped out of them one evening and attacked us with a knife.
But I take your word for it, since the major says it is safe and I see
Alfred is armed.”

Everybody laughed at this, and Alfred looked conscious and blushed.

“Doesn’t one carry a cane in this country?” he asked.

“Not often at your age, my boy,” replied Jimmie. “But I daresay it will
serve to beat a trail through the underbrush.”

“Come along, girls; let’s be off,” cried Stephen, who at heart was
almost a Gypsy, and loved a long tramp through the woods. He had
strapped over his shoulder a goodly sized box of lunch, and the
cavalcade started cheerfully down the walk that led toward the forest, a
compact mass of foliage lying to the left of them.

“Isn’t this fun?” demanded Jimmie. “I feel just in the humor for a
lark.”

“I hope you can climb fences, girls,” called Stephen over his shoulder,
as he trudged along, ahead of the others.

“We could even climb a tree if we had to,” answered Bab, “or swim a
creek.”

“Or ride a horse bareback,” interrupted Jimmie, who had heard the story
of Bab’s escapade on the road to Newport.

“This is the end of uncle’s land,” said Stephen, at last. “We now find
ourselves entering the black forest. Here’s the trail,” he called as the
others helped the two girls over the dividing fence.

“All right, Scout Stephen,” replied Jimmie. “We are following close
behind. Proceed with the march.”

Sure enough, there was a distinct road leading straight into the forest,
formed by ruts from cartwheels, probably the carts of the woodcutters,
Stephen explained. The edges of the wood were rather thin and scant,
like the meagre fringe on a man’s head just beginning to turn bald at
the temples; but as they marched deeper into the forest, the trees grew
so thickly that their branches overhead formed a canopy like a roof.
Squirrels and chipmunks scampered across their path and occasionally a
rabbit could be seen scurrying through the underbrush.

“Isn’t this great!” exclaimed Stephen, after they had been walking for
some time. “Uncle says there’s scarcely such another wood in this part
of the country.”

“Don’t speak so loud, Stephen,” said Jimmie. “It is so quiet here, I
feel as if we would wake something, if we spoke above a whisper.”

“Let’s wake the echoes,” replied Stephen and he gave a yodel familiar to
all boys, a sort of trilling in the head and throat that is melodious in
sound and carries further than an ordinary call. Immediately there was
an answer to the yodel. It might have seemed an echo, only there was no
place for an echo in this shut-in spot.

They all stopped and listened as the answer died away among the branches
of the trees.

“Curious,” said Jimmie. “It was rather close, too. Perhaps one of your
woodcutters is playing a trick on us, Stephen. Suppose we try again, and
see what happens!” Jimmie gave another yodel, louder and longer than the
first. As they paused and listened, the answer came again like an echo,
this time even nearer.

“Let’s investigate,” proposed Alfred. “I think it came from over there,”
and he led the way through the trees toward the echo.

“Halloo-o,” he called, “who are you?” and the answer came back
“Halloo-o, who are you?” followed by a mocking laugh.

“Well, after all, it isn’t any of our business who you are,” cried
Stephen, exasperated, “and I don’t think we had better leave the trail
just here for a fellow who is afraid to come out and show himself,” he
added in a lower tone.

There was no reply and they returned to the cartwheel road and began the
march again.

“You were quite right, Stephen,” said Ruth, “why should we waste our
time over an idler who plays tricks on people?”

There was another laugh, which seemed to come from high up in the
branches; then sounds like the chattering of squirrels, followed by low
whistles and bird calls. They examined the branches of the trees around
them, but there was nothing in sight.

“Oh, go along!” exclaimed Alfred angrily. “Only cowards hide behind
trees. Brave men show themselves.”

Silence greeted this sally, also, and they trudged on through the forest
without any further effort to see the annoyer. Several times acorn
shells whizzed past their heads, and once Jimmie made a running jump,
thinking he saw some one behind a tree, but returned crestfallen. A
surprise was in store for them, however. They had been walking for some
time when the trail, which hitherto had run straight through the middle
of the wood, gave a sudden and unexpected turn, to avoid a depression in
the land, overgrown with vines and small trees, and now dry from the
drought.

They paused a moment on the curve of the path to look across at the
graceful little hollow which seemed to be the meeting place of slender
young pine trees and silver birches gleaming white among the dark green
branches.

“How like people they look,” Bab whispered. She never knew just why she
did so. “Like girls in white dresses at a party.”

“And the pine trees are the men,” whispered Jimmie. “Look,” he said
excitedly, under his breath, “there’s a man! Perhaps it’s the——”

He stopped short and his voice died away in amazement. Barbara said
“Sh-h-h!” and the others paused in wonder. Just emerging from the hollow
on the other side, was the figure of a man. All eyes saw him at the same
moment and two pairs of eyes at least recognized a green velveteen
hunting suit. As the figure turned for one brief instant and scanned the
forest they saw his face in a flash.

“It’s José!” they gasped.

“Bab,” exclaimed Ruth, “he is wearing the green velveteens!”

“I know it,” replied her friend. “But are we sure it was José?”

“No; we aren’t sure,” answered Stephen. “It certainly looked like José,
but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, at any rate.”

From beyond the hollow came another yodel.

“By Jove!” said Jimmie, “nothing but a tricky foreigner, after all, and
I was just beginning to like him too.”

“He’s more than a trickster,” Bab whispered. “He’s wearing a green
velveteen suit.”

“Well, what of it?” asked Stephen.

“It’s the same suit the highwayman wore who slashed the tires of the
automobile.”

“Whew-w-w!” cried the boys.

“Be careful,” whispered Ruth. “Don’t let him hear us. Do you think he
saw us?”

“No,” replied Alfred, “or he would never have yodeled.”

Barbara began to consider. Should she tell about the knife, or should
she wait? She believed that if she told it would only complicate matters
and bring Zerlina, the Gypsy girl, into the muddle. Suppose she told,
and then, when they reached home, they found that José had been away
that morning? It would immediately call down upon him the suspicions of
the whole party, suspicions perhaps undeserved. Bab had never had cause
to regret her ability to keep a secret, and she concluded to test it
again by holding her peace a little longer.

“José or no José, let’s go on and have our good time,” exclaimed
Stephen. “Everything depends on whether José was at home or not this
morning. If he wasn’t, why, then he’ll have to give an account of
himself. And if he was, we shall have to consult uncle about what to do.
We will hunt the man out of these woods, anyway. He has no business
lurking around here.”

Once more they started off, and were not troubled again by the yodler.

Presently the jangle of a bell was heard in the distance, a pleasant
musical tinkle in the midst of the green stillness of the forest.

“What on earth is _that_?” exclaimed Ruth, a little nervous now from the
nearness of the robber.

“If I am not mistaken,” replied Stephen, “that is old Adam, the
woodcutter. He has been living in these woods all his life, seventy
years or more. He looks almost like a tree himself, he is so gnarled and
weather-beaten and bent.”

In a few moments the woodman’s cart hove into sight, drawn by a bony old
horse from whose collar jangled the little bell. The cart was loaded
with bundles of wood, and Adam walked at the side holding the rope lines
in one hand and flourishing a whip in the other, the lash of which he
carefully kept away from his horse, which was ambling along at its
pleasure.

“Good day, Adam,” said Stephen. “How are you, and how is the wood
business?”

“Why, it’s Mr. Stephen!” cried the old man, touching his cap with one of
his knotted hands. “The wood business is good, sir. We manage to live,
my wife and I. Although I’m wishin’ t’was something else kept us going.
I never fell a tree, sir, I don’t feel I’m killin’ something alive. They
are fine old trees,” he went on, patting the bark of a silver birch
affectionately. “I would not kill one of these white ladies, sir, if you
was to pay me a hundred dollars!”

“It’s a shame, Adam,” replied Stephen. “It must be like cutting down
your own family, you have lived among them for so many years. How is the
hermit? Do you give him enough wood to keep him alive in the winter?”

“He’s not been himself of late,” answered Adam, lowering his voice.
“He’s always strange at this time of the year.”

“Do you think he’ll see us if we go over?” asked Stephen.

“I think so, sir,” replied Adam. “No matter how bad off he is, he’s
always kind. I never see him angry.”

“Well, good-bye, Adam, and good luck to you,” said Stephen, dropping a
piece of money into the wrinkled palm, and they continued their journey
through the wood.

The little bell resumed its tinkle, and the cart was soon out of sight.



CHAPTER XV—THE HERMIT


“Do you know,” exclaimed Ruth, “I feel as if I were in an enchanted
forest, and these strange people were witches and wizards! The robber
might have been a wood-elf, and now here comes the old witch. Perhaps
she will turn us into trees and animals.”

“Oh, that is old Jennie, who gathers herbs and sells them at all the
drugstores in the towns around here,” replied Stephen, as a strange
figure came into view.

The gatherer of herbs and roots was not, however, very witchlike in
appearance. She was tall and erect, and walked with long strides like a
grenadier. What was most remarkable about her were her wide, staring
blue eyes, like patches of sky, that looked far beyond the young people
who had grouped themselves at the side of the path almost timidly,
waiting for her to come up. She carried with her a staff, and as she
walked she poked the bushes and grasses with it as if it had been a long
finger feeling for trophies. The other hand grasped the end of an apron
made of an old sack, stuffed full of herbs still green, and fragrant
from having been bruised as she crushed them into the bag.

“She is blind,” whispered Stephen, “but in a minute she will perceive
that some one is near. She has a scent as keen as a hunting dog’s.”

A few yards away from them old Jennie paused and sniffed the air like an
animal. Reaching out with her stick she felt around her. Presently the
staff pointed in the direction of the boys and girls, and she came
toward them as straight as a hunter after his quarry. The girls, a
little frightened, started to draw back.

“She won’t hurt you,” whispered Stephen. “Why, Jennie,” he said in a
louder voice, “don’t you know your old friend and playmate?”

A smile broke out on Jennie’s handsome face, which, in spite of her age,
was as smooth and placid as a child’s.

“It’s Master Stephen!” she cried, in a strange voice that sounded rusty
from lack of use. “I be glad to hear you, sir. It’s a long time since
we’ve had a frolic in the woods. You don’t hunt birds’ nests in the
summer now, or go wading in the streams. I found a wasps’ nest for you,
perhaps it was a month, perhaps a year ago, I cannot remember. But I
saved it for you. And how is young Master Martin? He was a little fellow
to climb so high for the nests.”

“We are both well, Jennie, and you must come over to the hall and see
us. We may have something nice for you, there, that will keep you warm
when the snow comes.”

“Ah, you’re a good boy, Master Stephen, and I’ll bid ye good day now,
and good day to your friends. There be four with you I think,” she added
in a lower voice, sniffing the air again. “I’ll be over on my next trip
to the village.” Old Jennie moved off as swiftly as she had come,
tapping the path with her long stick, her head thrown back as if to see
with her nostrils, since her eyes were without sight.

“What a strange old woman!” cried Stephen’s companions in one voice.

“And the strangest thing about her,” replied Stephen, “is that she has
no sense of time. She can’t remember whether a thing happened a year ago
or month ago, and she thinks Martin and I are still little boys. We
haven’t hunted birds’ nests with her for six years. I have not even seen
her for two or three years, but she sniffed me out as quickly as if I
always used triple extract of tuberose.”

“Where does she live?” asked Bab.

“She lives in a little cabin off in the forest somewhere. Her father and
mother were woodcutters. She was born and brought up right here. She
doesn’t know anything but herbs and roots, and night and day are the
same to her. She knows every square foot of this country, and never gets
lost. Martin and I used to go about with her when we were little boys,
and she was as faithful a nurse as you could possibly find.”

“No wonder you love these woods, Stephen,” said Bab. “There is so much
to do and see in them. I wish we had something better than scrub oak
around Kingsbridge.”

“Wait until you see the chief treasure of the woods, Barbara, and you’ll
have even more respect for them.”

“Meaning the hermit?” asked Jimmie.

“But he won’t tell anything, will he?” demanded Ruth. “Didn’t you say he
was a mystery?”

“The greatest mystery of the countryside,” replied Stephen. “Nobody
knows where he came from, nor why he has been living here all these
years—it’s about fifty, they say. You see, he is not ignorant, like the
other wood people. He is a gentleman. His manners are as fine as
uncle’s, and the people who live in the woods all love him. They come to
him when they are sick or in trouble.”

“How does he live?” asked Alfred.

“He must have some money hidden away somewhere, for he always has enough
to eat, and even to give when others need help. But nobody knows where
he keeps it. In a hole in the ground somewhere, I suppose.”

While they were talking they had approached a clearing on the side of a
hill. Most of the big trees had been cut away, and only the silver
birch, “the white ladies,” as old Adam had christened them, and the
dogwood, mingled their shade over the smooth turf. The grass was as
thick and well kept as on the major’s lawn, only somewhat browned now
for lack of water. All the bushes and undergrowth had been cleared away
years before, and the place had a lived-in, homelike look in contrast to
the great black forest that seemed to be crouching at its feet like a
monster guarding it from the enemy. And indeed, that must have been what
the mysterious man had intended when he built his little house at the
top of the hill, for five miles of woods intervened between him and the
outer world on one side, while on the other, was a high precipice that
marked the end of the forest.

The house, a log cabin with a big stone chimney at one end, commanded a
view, from the back, of a long stretch of valley. The portico in front
was shaded by honeysuckle vines. Here, in an old-fashioned armchair, sat
the master smoking a meerschaum pipe.

Stephen approached somewhat diffidently, taking off his cap.

“May we rest here a little, sir?” he asked. “We have walked a long way
this morning.”

“You are most welcome,” said the old man in a deep, musical voice that
gave the young people a thrill of pleasure. They looked at him
curiously. He was tall and erect, with a beak-nose and black eyes that
still had some of their youthful fire in them, despite the man’s great
age and his snow white hair.

“Come in, and we will bring some chairs out for the young ladies.”

Stephen followed their host into the house while, through the open door,
the others caught a glimpse of an enormous open fireplace and walls
lined with books. The girls took the proffered chairs and sat down
rather stiffly, while the old man reappeared, carrying a bucket and a
gourd.

“Perhaps you are thirsty. Will you draw some water from the well?” he
asked, turning to Stephen. He stopped abruptly and looked closely at the
boy. “Why, it’s little Stephen,” he exclaimed, and with an expression
half of pain, half pleasure, he added, “grown to be a man and how
like”——But he paused and turned hastily away.

“I am glad to see you, sir,” replied Stephen, politely. He never knew
exactly how to address the hermit, and he found not knowing his name
somewhat awkward. “May I introduce my friends? Miss Ruth Stuart, Miss
Barbara Thurston, Alfred Marsdale and Jimmie Butler.”

The old man bowed to the company as gracefully as if he had been
receiving guests in a fine mansion.

“The names are,” he repeated gently, “Miss Ruth Stuart and—did I hear
you aright—Miss——?”

“Barbara Thurston,” finished Stephen.

“Barbara Thurston?” repeated the old man under his breath. “Barbara
Thurston! Come here, my child, and let me look at you,” he added, in an
agitated voice.

Barbara obediently came forward and stood before the hermit, who had
covered his eyes with his hand for a moment, as if he were afraid to see
her face.

“Barbara Thurston!” he exclaimed again. “Little Barbara!” And drawing
from his pocket a pair of horn spectacles, he put them on and examined
her features. He seemed to have forgotten the others. Suddenly he
removed the spectacles and looked up in a dazed way.

“On the very day! The very day!” he cried, and waving his arms over his
head in a wild appeal to heaven, he turned and rushed down the hillside.
In another moment the forest had swallowed him up, while the five young
people stood staring after him in amazement.

“Well, of all the rummy old chaps!” exclaimed Alfred.

“Oh, he’s touched of course,” said Stephen, tapping his head. “He must
be. You know old Adam said he’s always pretty bad at this time of the
year. I suppose it is the anniversary of something. But, Barbara, what
do you mean by going and stirring up memories?”

“It wasn’t I; it was my name,” replied Barbara. “Once there was a girl
named Barbara, but the rest of the story can never be written, because
he won’t tell what it is.”

“Let’s have a peep at the house before we go,” said Jimmie, “and then
let’s eat. I’m starving.”

“All right,” said Stephen. “Step right in and have a look for
yourselves, but hurry up before the old gentleman comes back.”

The place was certainly comfortable and cosy-looking, in spite of the
wooden walls and bare floors. It was spick and span and clean, kept that
way by Adam’s wife, Stephen explained. There were a great many books,
some of them in foreign languages, two big easy-chairs near the open
fireplace, and on an old mahogany table, the only other piece of
furniture in the room, a brown earthenware jar filled with honeysuckle.
Only one picture hung on the wall, a small miniature suspended from a
nail just over the pot of flowers. Ruth examined the picture closely.
Besides his books, she thought, this little miniature was perhaps the
only link with the outer world that the old man had permitted himself to
keep.

“Come here, everybody, quick,” she called, “and look at this miniature.
As I live, it’s enough like Bab to be a picture of her, except for the
old-fashioned dress and long ringlets.”

They looked at the picture carefully, taking it down from its nail in
order to see it in the light.

“My word!” exclaimed Jimmie. “It’s as good a likeness as you could wish
to find. It must have been the resemblance that gave the old man the
fit, then, and not the name.”

The miniature showed the face of a young girl, somewhat older than
Barbara, but certainly very like her in features and expression. She had
the same laughing mouth and frank, brown eyes, the same chestnut hair
curling in crisp ringlets around the forehead, but caught up loosely in
the back in a net and tied with a velvet snood. She wore a bodice of
rose-colored taffeta cut low in the neck, and fastened coquettishly
among the curls was a pink flower.

“Who is it, Barbara?” asked Stephen. “Have you any idea?”

“I can’t imagine,” replied Bab. “Perhaps it’s just a coincidence. I am
not an uncommon type and may have lots of doubles. There are many people
in this world who have brown eyes and brown hair. You meet them at every
turn.”

“Yes,” said Ruth, “but all of them haven’t regular features and little
crisp curls, and just that particular expression. However, we must go.
We shouldn’t like the hermit to come back and find us prying into his
affairs. And that is why he is here, evidently—to hide from pryers.”

“Yes,” agreed Stephen, “I really do think we had better be going. I know
a pretty little dell where we can eat lunch if Jimmie can restrain his
appetite until we get there.”

“Well, cut along, then,” ordered Jimmie, “and let us hasten to the
banquet hall.”

Closing the door carefully behind them the young folks hurried toward
the woodcutters’ road.



CHAPTER XVI—A SURPRISE


When the last sandwich had been eaten, and the last crumb of cake
disposed of, the picnic party leaned lazily against the moss-covered
trunk of a fallen tree to discuss the events of the morning.

José was the subject of the talk. All were inclined to believe, now,
that they had been deceived by the strong resemblance between the young
Spaniard and the mischievous person who had mystified them in the woods
that morning. It seemed impossible that José was a thief, or that he
could have been guilty of such trifling trickery as the individual in
the robber’s clothes. José, quiet and reserved though he was, had become
a favorite with the young people.

“It is strange,” said Ruth. “He must have the nameless charm, because
there is not one of us who does not like him. As for me, I feel sorry
for him. And why, I’d like to know?”

“It’s his mournful black eye, my dear young lady,” replied Jimmie.

“Whatever it is,” said Stephen, decisively, “we must not make any
accusations without knowing, for certain, that we are right. It is
rather an uncomfortable situation, I think, considering he is uncle’s
guest.”

“It is, indeed,” replied Alfred, “and I vote that we say not a word to
anyone until we find out where José spent the morning.”

“Agreed by all,” cried Jimmie. “Am I right, girls?”

The two girls assented, and the matter was settled.

“I think we had better be moving on toward home, now,” said Stephen, “if
we want to escape a scolding from Miss Stuart.”

“All right, general,” replied Jimmie. “The bivouac is at an end. Rise,
soldiers, and follow your leader.” He cocked his hat, turned up his coat
collar and struck a Napoleon pose.

There was a stifled laugh, from behind a clump of alder bushes—a coarse
laugh that made the boys look up quickly and uneasily.

“What was that?” asked Ruth, frightened.

Without waiting for a reply, Alfred divided the bushes with his cane
disclosing three pairs of eyes gazing impudently at them. Three figures
untangled themselves from the bushes and rose stiffly, as if they had
been lying concealed there for a long time. The girls gave a stifled cry
of alarm, for each recognized the giant tramp, who had attacked them
near the churchyard of Sleepy Hollow; and his companions were probably
the same, although the girls had not seen them at that time. The leader
of the three roughs did not recognize them, however. He had been too
much intoxicated to remember their faces; but he was sober, now, and in
an uglier mood than when he had been in his cups.

“So ho!” he cried. “We have here five rich, young persons—rich with the
money they have no right to—stolen money—stolen from me and mine.
While we beg and tramp, and dress in rags, you throw away the money we
have earned for you. Well, we won’t have it. Will we, pals? We’ll get
back some of the money that belongs to us by rights. You’ll hand out
what you’ve got in your pockets, and, if it ain’t enough, we’ll keep you
into the bargain until your fathers they pays for your release. D’ye
see? Ho! Ho!” He roared out a terrible laugh until the woods resounded.

The three boys had lined up in front of the two girls and Stephen had
called to them reassuringly over his shoulder:

“Start on, girls. You know the path. Follow it the way we came. If you
meet Adam, ask him to go with you, or even old Jennie. Don’t be
frightened. It’ll be all right, but we’ve got to fight.”

Barbara and Ruth, both very calm and pale, were standing silently,
waiting for orders.

“Do you think we could help by staying, Bab?” asked Ruth.

“I don’t know, dear,” replied Bab. “Wait, and let me think a moment.”
She closed her eyes and her moving lips repeated the little prayer:
“Heaven, make me calm in the face of danger,” but in that moment the
fight had begun. The two girls stood fascinated, rooted to the spot.

Stephen, who was a trained boxer, had tackled the leader and had managed
to give him several straight blows, at the same time dodging the
badly-aimed blows from the big fist of his opponent. Alfred had
purposely chosen the next largest tramp, leaving a small, wiry man for
Jimmie to grapple with. Alfred, also, had been carefully trained in the
arts of boxing and wrestling; but his opponent was no mean match for
him, and the two presently were rolling over and over on the ground,
their faces covered with dust and blood. Poor Jimmie was not a fighter.
All his life he had shunned gymnasiums, preferring to thrum the piano or
the guitar, or invent models for airships. However, the boy was no
coward and he went at his enemy with a will that was lacking in force
only because he himself lacked the muscle to give it. But the wiry
fellow who had been his portion was evidently the best-trained fighter
of the three tramps, and it was only a few moments before Jimmie was
bleeding from the nose and one eye was blacked. It looked as if Alfred,
too, were getting the worst of it, while Stephen and his tramp were
still raining blows upon each other, jumping about in a circle. Bab
longed to help Jimmie, but she saw, and Ruth agreed, that they would do
more harm than good.

The two girls decided to run for help, even if they had to run all the
way to Ten Eyck Hall, especially as, in the midst of the scrimmage,
Stephen had called out to them to hurry up.

Making the best speed they could through the brambles and ferns, they
had gone not more than a few rods when, pausing in their flight, they
found themselves face to face with blind Jennie.

“What is happening?” demanded the old woman in a terrified whisper. “I
hear the sound of blows. I smell blood.”

“There is a fight, Jennie,” replied Bab, almost sobbing in her
excitement. “We must get help quickly from somewhere. Are the Gypsies
far from here?”

“Yes,” answered Jennie. “Not so near as the hall. But wait! Come with
me,” and her face was illumined by the expression of one who is about to
reveal a well-kept secret.

“But, Jennie, is it help you are bringing us?” asked Ruth, demurring a
little.

“You may trust old Jennie,” exclaimed the blind woman. “Be ye not the
friends of young Master Stephen?”

The two girls followed without a word.

Almost in sight of the fighters, she paused by the stump of a hollow
tree which, when rolled away by her strong arm, disclosed a sort of
trapdoor underneath. Lifting the door, crudely constructed with strips
of wood, the bark still on, the girls saw a small underground chamber
dug out like a cellar. The walls were shored up with split trees which
also did duty as cross beams. There was a rough, hand-made ladder at the
opening, and at one side a shelf on which was neatly folded—could they
believe their eyes—the suit of green velveteen. Old Jennie, who seemed
to be peering down into the cavity with her sightless blue eyes, shook
Bab’s arm impatiently.

“Get the firearms,” she whispered. “They be on the shelf. I felt them
there last time.”

Sure enough, lying in the shadow at the far end of the shelf the girls
made out two pistols gleaming ominously in the dark. Without a word, Bab
bounded down the ladder, and seizing the pistols was up again almost as
quickly.

“Ruth,” she said, “have you forgotten our rifle practice in the
Berkshires?”

“No,” replied her friend. “All you have to do is to cock it and pull the
trigger, isn’t it?”

“That’s right,” answered Bab. “Take this one and come on. They are both
loaded, I see. Don’t fire unless I tell you, and be careful where you
aim. You had better point up so as not to hit anybody. Jennie, wait for
us over here. I believe you have saved us all.”

So saying, Bab ran, followed by Ruth, to the scene of the battle. And it
was indeed a battle! Jimmie was lying insensible on the ground, while
his opponent had joined in the fight against Stephen, who was rapidly
losing strength. Alfred and his tramp were still rolling over and over,
locked in each other’s arms.

A few feet away from the fighters Bab fired her pistol in the air. The
explosion stopped the fight. So intent had the combatants been that they
had forgotten time and place. At the report of the pistol they came to
themselves almost with a jump. Everybody, except poor, unconscious
Jimmie, paused breathless, perspiration pouring from their faces. Alfred
had got the better of his opponent and his hands gripped the man’s
throat. Bab, followed by Ruth, dashed up, and both girls pointed their
pistols at the two tramps who were engaging Stephen.

“Shall we shoot them, Stephen?” asked Bab as calmly as if nothing had
happened.

“Throw up your hands,” cried Stephen to the tramps; which they proceeded
to do in prompt order. “Now, give me your pistol, Ruth; give yours to
Alfred, Bab.”

In the meantime, Alfred had risen, hardly recognizable in a coating of
dust and blood, ordering his man to lie quiet or be killed.

“Suppose we herd them together, Stephen,” he suggested, “and drive them
up to the hall like the cattle they are?”

“Just what I was thinking,” replied Stephen, “only what about Jimmie?”

“The girls will see to him,” answered Alfred.

“No, no,” retorted Stephen. “We can’t leave the girls here alone with
him in that condition, not after this. There may be more tramps lurking
around, for all we know.”

Just then an exclamation from Ruth, who was kneeling beside the
prostrate Jimmie, caused the two boys to turn their heads involuntarily,
and in that moment, the two men who were standing with their arms up at
the point of Stephen’s pistol, ran for the underbrush, Stephen shot and
missed his aim. He shot again and hit the small fellow in the leg,
having aimed low; not wishing to kill even in self-defense. But the
tramps had plunged into the woods, and were out of sight in an instant.

“Better not go after them, Stephen,” called Alfred. “We’ve got one here
and we may catch the others later. I wish we had a rope to tie this
fellow’s hands with.”

“Try this,” suggested Ruth, and she calmly tore the muslin ruffle off
her petticoat and handed the strip to Alfred, who bound the man’s hands
behind his back and ordered him to sit still until he was wanted.

Meanwhile, the two girls had turned their attention to Jimmie, who
showed no signs of returning consciousness, but lay battered and
bleeding, a sad sight in comparison to the joyous Jimmie of half an hour
before. Blind Jennie had come from her hiding place behind a tree, and
was kneeling beside the wounded boy. Feeling the abrasions on his face
with her sensitive fingers, she shuddered.

“He should have water,” she whispered. “There is a brook not far from
here. I will show you,” and she turned her sightless eyes in the
direction of Stephen, who was guarding the remaining tramp.

“Ruth, you and Alfred take our three hats and go with Jennie for the
water. Alfred, take the pistol with you in case of another attack. Bab,
you stay and look after Jimmie, please.”

Ruth and Alfred followed after old Jennie, while Bab, kneeling beside
Jimmie, began chafing his wrists. Not a sound broke the stillness.
Stephen, on a log, had his pistol cocked and pointed straight at the
tramp who was huddled in a heap on the ground, gazing sullenly into the
barrel of the pistol. Bab had not looked around for some time, so intent
was she on her efforts to bring some life back into poor Jimmie. But
feeling a sudden, unaccountable loneliness, she called:

“Stephen, aren’t you curious to know where we found the pistols?”

There was no answer, and, looking over her shoulder, Bab was horrified
to see Stephen lying prone on the ground in a dead faint, the pistol
still grasped tightly in his hand, while the tramp had evidently lost no
time in joining his pals.

Leaving Jimmie, Bab rushed to Stephen. First releasing the pistol from
his hand, she laid it on a stump. Then she began rubbing his wrists and
temples.

“Poor old Stephen!” she murmured. “You were hurt all the time and never
said a word.”

Slowly he opened his eyes and looked at Bab in a sort of shamefaced way.

“I suppose the tramp got away?” he asked.

“Who cares,” replied his friend, “if you aren’t hurt?”

“Oh, I’m not,” he answered. “I was only winded. That big fellow gave me
a blow, just as you shot the pistol off, that nearly did for me. But I
thought I could keep up until the others came back. I knew I couldn’t go
for the water. How did you get the pistols?”

By the time Bab had finished her story the others had come up with the
water.

“It’s just as well the tramp has gone,” said Alfred, when he had heard
what had happened. “I don’t believe we could have managed him and
Jimmie, too.”

They bathed Jimmie’s face and wrists with the cold spring water, and it
was a battered and disconsolate young man who finally opened his one
good eye on the company.

“I think,” said Stephen, “we had better put these pistols back where
they were. If they are gone, the robber will take alarm and we’ll never
catch him. I don’t think we’ll be attacked by those tramps any more
to-day. They’ll never imagine we have left the pistols.”

The others agreed, and the pistols were left on the shelf by Bab, who
remembered exactly where they had been when she found them. All the
others, even Jimmie, peered curiously down into the underground room.

“I don’t think it’s been very long dug,” observed Alfred. “There is so
much fresh earth around the door. The fellow carted most of it away, I
suppose, and put leaves and sticks over what was left. But there is
plenty of evidence of fresh earth, just the same.”

“So there is,” replied Stephen. “Jennie, you did a good day’s work when
you found that hole in the ground. You may have saved our lives, for all
we can tell.”

But the old woman only muttered, as she punched the leaves with her
staff. The somewhat dilapidated picnic party resumed its homeward
journey, Jimmie supported by his two friends and stopping often to rest,
while the two girls followed, keeping a sharp lookout on both sides. Old
Jennie brought up the rear.



CHAPTER XVII—ZERLINA


When they reached Ten Eyck Hall, it was with relief that the young
people learned that the others had gone motoring for the afternoon, and
would probably not be back until dinner time. Stephen put Jimmie under
the care of the housekeeper, who bound up his wounds in absorbent cotton
saturated with witch hazel. The girls disappeared into their own room,
but not before Bab had cautioned Stephen to bring them word about José.

The information came in the form of a few scribbled lines on the tea
tray.

“John tells me,” the note ran, “that José was off on his motor cycle
until lunch time. S.”

The two girls read the note excitedly.

“Bab, dear,” cried Ruth, “I simply can’t believe it of that nice boy,
can you?”

“I don’t want to believe it,” replied Bab, “even though appearances are
against him.”

“But who could the joker in the woods have been, if not José?” continued
Ruth. “And, come to think of it, he might have been the highwayman, too.
It would not have been difficult for him to have found out at the hotel
where we were going. I am afraid he is in an awful mess, yet, in spite
of everything, there is something about him that disarms suspicion.”

Ruth was a loyal friend to people she liked. She believed that her
chosen circle consisted of a superior class of beings, and she was as
blind to their faults as a mother to those of her favorite child. There
was a tap on the door, and the maid informed them that Zerlina, the
Gypsy girl, wished to speak to them.

“Send her up,” said Ruth, and presently Zerlina was ushered into the
room.

There was a scared look in her eyes as they wandered hastily around the
charming apartment and finally rested on the two girls who were
stretched on the bed in muslin kimonos.

“How do you do, Zerlina?” said Ruth. “Excuse our not getting up. We are
just dead tired. Won’t you have a cup of tea?”

“Thank you,” replied the Gypsy stiffly, “I do not care for tea. I
came——” she paused. “I thought——” she hesitated again.

“Well, Zerlina, what did you think?” asked Ruth.

Bab was looking at the girl curiously.

“I came because you asked me,” she said finally.

“So we did,” replied Ruth, “and we are delighted to see you. Did your
grandmother come with you?”

“No,” answered Zerlina and paused again.

“Perhaps you had some special reason for coming, Zerlina,” hinted Bab.
“Was it to ask us a question?”

The girl’s face took on the same stubborn expression it had worn when
Bab had asked her to show the knife used in the dance.

“I came because you asked me,” she repeated, in the same sing-song tone.

Again there was a tap at the door and Bridget appeared, bringing a note
for Bab.

“Another note from Stephen,” observed Bab, reading it carefully and
handing it to Ruth. The note said:

“If you and Ruth don’t mind, kindly keep the fight, if possible, a
secret from everybody for a day or two. It would be necessary to explain
about the pistols, and if José is the man who owns them, telling would
give everything away. I shall tell uncle, of course. People will think
that Jimmie fell out of a tree or down into a hollow. Keep as quiet as
possible about the particulars of our adventure. S.”

“I’m sorry,” exclaimed Ruth; “it would have been such fun to tell it
all.”

“The telling is only a pleasure deferred for a while,” said her friend.

In the meantime, the Gypsy girl had lost nothing of the conversation
except the contents of the note, which Bab had rolled into a little ball
and thrown into a waste paper basket.

“Will the ladies not show me some of their beautiful dresses?” asked
Zerlina presently.

“We haven’t much to show,” replied Ruth, “but we’ll be glad to show what
we have.” She pulled herself lazily from the bed and opened the door of
a wardrobe at one side of the room.

“Ruth, you show her your fine things,” called Bab. “I haven’t a rag
worth seeing. Get out your pink lingerie and your leghorn with the
shaded roses. They would please her eye.”

“Why don’t you show her your organdie, Bab?” asked Ruth. “It’s just as
pretty as my pink, any day.”

“Oh, very well,” returned Bab, opening her side of the massive clothes
press and spreading the dress on the bed before the admiring eyes of
Zerlina. “‘A poor thing, but mine own,’” she said. “I certainly never
thought to be displaying my rich wardrobe to anyone. It’s entirely a new
sensation.”

In the meantime Ruth had piled her own gauzy finery on the bed beside
Bab’s, and Zerlina feasted her gaze on the pink lace-trimmed princess
dresses and the flower bedecked hats.

“Some day you must have pretty dresses, too, Zerlina,” said Ruth from
the depths of the wardrobe, as she replaced the things; “some day when
you are a great singer.”

There was no reply, and Bab, who was busy folding her dress, looked
quickly around. Zerlina’s arm was in the scrap basket. She had looked up
as Ruth spoke, and catching Bab’s eye, dropped the crumpled note she had
just seized. An angry blush overspread her face and she bit her lip in
embarrassment.

“I must be going,” she said. “It is late.”

Bab did not answer. She was thinking deeply. Here was positive proof
that Zerlina and José were working together in some way.

“Wait a minute, Zerlina,” called Ruth, kindly. “Won’t you accept this
red velvet bow? It would look pretty in your black hair.”

“Thank you,” exclaimed the girl, her eyes filling with tears. “You are
very good to me.” Her lip trembled as if she were about to burst into
tears, but she conquered them with an effort and started to the door.
“Good-bye,” she said, looking at Bab so reproachfully that the latter’s
heart was melted to pity.

At dinner that night there was much concern expressed for poor Jimmie
who, with his face swathed in bandages, was sound asleep in his own
room. Stephen had been closeted with his uncle for half an hour before
the gong sounded, and the major’s usually placid face was haunted by an
expression of deep worry.

“Do tell us about the hermit, Stephen,” cried Grace, and that being a
safe subject the four adventurers plunged into a description of the
strange old man and the miniature that so resembled Bab.

“Do you remember when he came, Major?” asked Miss Stuart.

“Only vaguely,” replied the major, “I was quite a little chap then,
eight or ten, I think I was, and we were living in France at the time.
He had become a fixture when we came back, but he always shunned
advances from my family. Undoubtedly he was a fugitive from somewhere.
However, this is not such an out-of-the-way place but that he could have
been found if they had looked for him very hard. I have not seen him for
many years. How does he look?”

“Like an exiled prince,” answered Ruth. “He is a very noble looking old
man.”

“José, did you play croquet with the girls this morning?” asked Stephen.

“Wasn’t he mean?” interrupted Mollie. “No sooner had you gone than he
was off on his motor cycle.”

The young Spaniard’s face had flushed scarlet at the question, but he
smiled at Mollie’s teasing reply and looked Stephen squarely in the eye.

“It must have been rather hot work motoring this morning, wasn’t it,
José?” went on Stephen.

“I went only to the forest,” answered José.

The four friends stirred uneasily, and the major looked down at his
plate. It hurt him deeply to see José put on the rack in this way.

“How far did you go into the woods, José? It’s curious we didn’t meet
you.”

“Only to the haunted pool,” replied José.

“You were not far off, then,” said Stephen. “Did you hear us yodeling?”

“No,” answered José; “er—that is, yes. I did hear something like that,
but I was not there long.” His face was still flushed and he looked as
if he would like to run away from his inquisitors; but the soft-hearted
major could endure the painful situation no longer and he changed the
conversation to another topic.

“Why don’t you young people ever dance?” he asked. “I had planned to see
young couples whirling around the red drawing room. It would be a pretty
sight, Sallie. Would it not?”

“I have a plan,” broke in Mollie, “but I can’t tell it now. It’s to be a
surprise for Miss Sallie and the major.”

“Dear me!” exclaimed Miss Sallie. “Are we to feel honored or slighted,
Major?”

“Oh, not slighted,” protested Mollie. “It is something that will amuse
you.”

“What is it?” asked a voice from the doorway. “I am palpitating to
know.”

Everybody looked up in surprise at the apparition of Jimmie regarding
the company gravely with his one good eye. His other eye was swathed in
a bandage, and his nose was swollen and red. There was a joyous peal of
laughter from the assembled party.

“Why, Jimmie,” cried Martin, “you look like an exhausted Dutchman.”

“Don’t throw stones, my son,” replied Jimmie. “You’re a Dutchman
yourself, remember.”

“Come in and have some dinner, Jimmie,” coaxed the major.

“I’ve dined, thank you, sir. My kind nurse saw to that, and I feel
considerably better.”

“How did you happen to black your eye, you poor boy?” asked Mollie.

Stephen cleared his throat audibly. Why on earth had he not cautioned
Mollie not to ask Jimmie any questions? But Ruth came to the rescue and
he breathed a sigh of relief.

“You mustn’t ask Jimmie embarrassing questions, Mollie. A black eye and
a red nose are enough to bear for the present.”

The major relieved the situation by saying:

“Now, Mistress Mollie, we are ready to be surprised.”

“Come on,” said Stephen, taking Jimmie by the arm, and as they stood
aside, he whispered into his ear: “Keep it dark about the tramps. Uncle
will explain.”

“The surprise is this,” explained Mollie, detaining the young people in
the hall. “Why not give our masquerade to-night?”

“This is as good a time as any other,” agreed Martin.

“Oh, you children!” exclaimed Stephen.

“Don’t be a wet blanket, Stephen,” said Martin.

“Oh, I simply thought perhaps the girls might be tired or something,”
replied Stephen. “We’ll all dress up if you like.”

“What fun!” cried Mollie. “José, you’re to be a pirate, remember.”

“I think José would make a good highwayman,” observed Bab, “with a knife
in his belt and a slouch hat on.” She had no sooner spoken than she
repented her words.

“Perhaps I would, Mademoiselle,” he replied gently, with a deep sigh.



CHAPTER XVIII—THE MASQUERADE


The picture they made as they filed down the oak staircase two by two
and all attired in their antique costumes was one long remembered by the
servants of Ten Eyck Hall, who had gathered below to see the
masqueraders. Miss Stuart and the major, standing together at the door
of the red drawing room, were amazed and delighted.

“Is this a company of ghosts,” cried the major, “ghosts of my dear
departed ancestors returned to the halls of their youth?”

“Look at the dears!” exclaimed Miss Sallie. “How pretty they are in
their ancient finery! Ruth, my child, you are the very image of the
portrait of your great-grandmother at home. And here is Bab, who might
have stepped out of an old miniature.”

“So she has,” replied Ruth. “In that pink dress she is a perfect
likeness of the miniature the hermit had.”

“José,” said the major kindly, for he could not insult a guest by
believing evil of him until it had been actually proved, “you do not
belong to this company of belles and beaux. You look more like a Spanish
gallant of an earlier day, in that velvet coat and cavalier hat. As for
you two slips of girls,” he continued, smiling at Mollie and Grace, “you
might be my two colonial great-aunts stepped down from their frames. But
come along, now. We must have a little fun, after all this trouble you
have taken to amuse us. Strike up, my poor bruised Jimmie, and we’ll
have a dance.”

Jimmie had volunteered to furnish the music. His face, in its present
state, needed no further disguise, he said. The furniture was moved
back, the rugs rolled up, and in a few minutes the dancers were whirling
in a waltz. There was a change of partners at the second dance, and Bab
found herself dancing with José. He was not familiar with the American
two-step, so, after a few rounds, they stepped out upon the piazza for a
breath of the cool evening air.

“Aren’t you afraid to stay out here, José, after your experience of the
other night?” Bab asked.

“Are you afraid, Barbara?” he replied.

“Why should I be?” she answered. “It was evidently you the assassin was
after.”

He winced at the word “assassin,” and did not reply. The two stood
gazing silently out onto the stretch of lawn in front of the house.
Presently José sighed deeply.

“I am afraid you are unhappy,” said Bab sympathetically.

“Madamoiselle Barbara,” he replied, “I am in great trouble. I tell you
because you have already been more observing than the others, and
because I see you keep your counsel.”

“Why don’t you ask Major Ten Eyck’s advice, José?” asked Barbara, “he is
so kind and gentle. I know he would love to help you.”

“In this case,” replied the Spaniard, with a frightened look in his
eyes, “he might not be so kind. I am afraid to tell him. To-night I
shall decide what to do. It may be that it would be better to go away. I
cannot tell, now.”

“Tell me, José, have your troubles any connection with the Gypsies?”

“Yes,” he assented.

A shadowy figure moved up the lawn and approached the house. José
stirred uneasily.

“Who is that?” he whispered. “Don’t you think you had better go in?”

“No,” replied Barbara. “I am not afraid, if you are not.”

It was Zerlina, and, seeing the two people on the porch, she paused
irresolutely.

“What is it, Zerlina?” called Barbara. “Do you want to see anyone?”

“My grandmother is over there,” replied the girl, pointing to the
shrubbery. “She has come to tell fortunes, if it pleases the ladies.”

Zerlina did not look at Bab, as she spoke. She was looking at José, long
and curiously. And he returned the gaze with interest.

“You have not seen Mr. Martinez, Zerlina?” asked Bab, recalling how he
had stolen away in the woods when the Gypsy danced for them.

Zerlina bowed coldly, and José took off his cavalier hat; but neither
said a word, and Bab felt somewhat embarrassed at the silence.

“Wait a moment, Zerlina, and I will ask the major about the fortunes,”
she said, stepping through the French window. Just as she parted the
curtain, she turned to say something to José, and saw Zerlina quickly
hand him a note. Bab’s face flushed angrily.

“This business ought to be stopped,” she said to herself. “We’ll all be
slain in our beds some fine night. Why can’t José be frank? The entire
band of Gypsies might be a lot of robbers, for all we know.”

The revelers inside were all interested to know that Granny Ann had come
at last to tell fortunes, and Zerlina was dispatched at once to bring
her grandmother back. When the old woman passed through the room on her
way to the library, where the fortunes were to be told, she took a rapid
survey of everybody there. She examined the girls and boys in their
masquerade costumes, looked curiously at Jimmie’s bandaged countenance,
and finally her eyes rested on José leaning on a balcony rail outside.

While the fortunes were being told, there was a concert in the drawing
room. Grace sang in her high, sweet soprano voice, followed by another
of Zerlina’s Gypsy songs. Then José was induced to sing a beautiful
Spanish love song, and finally Jimmie gave a comic version of “The Old
Homestead” in which he himself acted every part.

After the fortunes were told Granny Ann sent word that there was one
person she had not seen, and go she would not until she had seen him.

“Who has not yet been in?” demanded the major.

There was no reply.

“José, you have not seen her, have you?” asked Mollie.

“No,” replied José; “I do not wish to go.”

Word was sent in to Granny Ann, who sent a message back that she
insisted on seeing the young man.

“Oh, go ahead, José,” urged Stephen. “It’s only for a few minutes, and
we want to have another dance before bedtime.”

José bowed and disappeared from the room. Soon after Mollie touched Bab
on the arm.

“Bab,” she whispered, “come out on the porch. I have something to tell
you.”

The two girls stole out onto the moonlit piazza, while Mollie continued
in a low voice: “I know I should not have done it, but I followed José
into the library, by the dining-room door, and hid behind a curtain. I
was curious to see what Granny Ann would do. He had hardly got into the
room before she commenced talking in a loud voice. She spoke in a
foreign language, but she seemed terribly angry, and shook her fist in
his face. He was quite gentle with her, and just stood there, pale and
quiet. I felt so sorry for him. Once I thought she would strike him, but
he never flinched or dodged. What do you suppose it means, Bab, dear?”

“I don’t know, Mollie,” replied Barbara, “There is some mystery about
José. Something happened to-day that put him in a very unfortunate
light, but I’d rather not tell you until to-morrow. Don’t dance with him
any more to-night, but be kind to him, little sister,” Bab added, “for I
do feel sorry for him.”



CHAPTER XIX—A RECOGNITION


The masqueraders had separated for the night; Bab, however, had asked to
speak with the major before he went to his room. For half an hour she
was closeted with him in his library. The time had arrived to tell him
everything she knew about José.

The major had listened to her attentively. He had felt reluctance to
believe anything against a guest, just on a mere chance resemblance, but
certainly the circle was closing in around José.

“Do you think we had better do anything about it to-night?” he asked the
girl, almost childishly. He felt obliged to ask advice in this very
difficult situation, and who could give any better counsel than this
fine, young woman, who had been able to keep a secret, and who was so
wholesome and sweet with all her reserve?

“I don’t see what you could do, Major, in case he admitted he was
guilty. You couldn’t arrest him very well to-night, unless you wanted to
bind his arms and feet and take him to the nearest town. I don’t believe
he has any idea of running away, because he doesn’t know we suspect him.
At least he only vaguely knows it.”

“And, after all,” said the kindly old major, “it’s a pity to rout him
out of his comfortable bed to-night. We will give the poor fellow
another good night’s rest, and take one ourselves, too. Shall we not,
little woman?”

“Yes, indeed, Major,” agreed Barbara, looking into his kindly, troubled
eyes with respect and admiration. “And who knows? Maybe, in the morning,
he can explain everything.”

“Indeed, my dear, I hope so,” he replied, opening the door for her and
bowing good-night as if she had been Miss Sallie herself.

As Barbara started up the long staircase she felt lonely. The hall below
looked vast and dark. Only a dim light was burning and every door was
closed. Emerging from the shadows around the staircase she might have
been a ghost of one of the early Ten Eycks in her old-fashioned
peach-colored silk, with its full trailing skirt and pointed bodice. She
hurried a little and wished she had got over the long space of hall
which lay between her and her room; but she had scarcely taken a dozen
steps before the door behind her opened. She stopped and looked back,
thinking perhaps it was one of the servants waiting to put out the
lights.

Standing in the doorway was a very old man. He carried a candle in one
hand, and was peering at her in the darkness with that same expression
of wonder and surprise on his face that she had remembered to have seen
before, for this was their third encounter, once in the woods, once in
the library, and now.

“Barbara! Barbara Thurston!” he called in a quavering voice. “I have
been waiting for you so long, so many years. I am old now and you are
still young.” He stretched out his arms and came toward her.

Bab flew and almost ran into José, who opened his door at that moment.
When they recovered themselves the old man was gone.

“Which way did he go?” asked José.

Bab pointed to the door without speaking, and, still trembling from
fright, burst into her own room, where a strange scene was taking place.
Three high-backed chairs were arranged in a row. Ruth in a dressing gown
was crouching behind them, while Mollie and Grace sat hand in hand on
the bed, giving little gasps of excitement and horror.

“This is the clump of bushes,” Ruth was saying, “and the three fights
took place here and here, and here,” she went on, marking the spots with
her toe. “Stephen and his man, who was none other than the giant tramp,
fought straight out from the shoulder like this,” and she hit the air
furiously with her doubled fists. “Then came Alfred and his friend. They
didn’t hit. They gripped and rolled over and over in the dust. And last
of all, poor Jimmie, who, in five minutes, lay like a warrior taking his
rest.”

“Why, Ruth Stuart,” interrupted Bab, “I thought we were not to tell.”

“Sh-h! Don’t make so much noise, Bab. Aunt Sallie thinks we were safe in
bed long ago. I’m not betraying confidence. Stephen told me I could tell
Mollie and Grace if he could tell Martin. But, Bab, dear, what is the
matter? Have you seen a ghost?”

“Yes,” replied Bab, “or rather the next thing to one. Really, girls, I’m
getting more than my fair share this time. Ruth was in the fight, of
course, but none of you have seen the old man who haunts the place, and
I have seen him three times. He seems to be a perfectly harmless old
man, but it does give one a start to meet him at midnight in a dark
hall.”

“Why, Barbara, are you dreaming? What does it mean?” cried Mollie,
seizing her sister’s hand and pulling her over on the bed beside them.
“Why haven’t you told us before?” she added with a sisterly reproach.
“It’s no fair keeping secrets all the time.”

“I am tired of secrets, too,” said Bab, “I started with major and I’ll
just finish the thing before I lay me down this night to rest.”

When Bab had concluded her ghostly tale the girls were really
frightened. They tried the doors, opened all the closets and wardrobes
and peered under the beds of both rooms.

“No one could climb up to these windows,” exclaimed Mollie. “But suppose
there should be a secret door into one of these rooms?”

“What a horrible idea, Mollie Thurston!” exclaimed Ruth.

There was a sharp tap on the door. The four girls jumped as if they had
been shot, and rushed together like frightened chickens.

“Girls,” said Miss Sallie’s voice, “go to bed this instant!”

“Right away, Aunt Sallie, dear,” answered her niece. When they were
comfortably tucked in for the night, Ruth said to Bab:

“How do you suppose he knew your name?”

“I don’t know,” replied her friend, “unless I had a twin ancestor.”

At eleven o’clock the next morning the major’s guests assembled for a
late breakfast. The boys were stiff from their encounters with the
tramps, and Jimmie, especially, was an object of pity. The major looked
serious. He had a disagreeable duty to perform, and he wished to avoid
it as long as possible. Miss Sallie, alone, was animated and talkative.
She had been entrusted with no confidences, and she felt the burden of
no secrets. Neither did she guess that something was impending that was
bound to surprise and horrify her.

José had not made his appearance and the major was relieved. The hour of
reckoning was at hand, and he wished it over and done with. His old
friend’s son! Was it possible that a child of José Martinez could have
so far forgotten the laws of hospitality as to rob and intrigue, and
play tricks on his fellow guests?

“What a quiet, dull lot of people you are,” exclaimed Miss Sallie, who
at last began to notice the gloom that had settled on the party. “What
is the matter?”

“I think it must be the weather, Miss Stuart,” replied Stephen, coming
to the rescue of the others. “It’s a very oppressively warm day, and the
air is so dry it makes me thirsty.”

“It’s the sort of weather, I imagine, they must have in plague-stricken
southern countries,” observed Ruth, “where there’s no water,” she
continued drawing the picture which held her imagination, “and people
are dropping around with cholera or the bubonic plague.”

“Cheerful!” exclaimed Jimmie.

“I wonder where José is this morning,” said Stephen, voicing the thought
of everybody in the room except the unconscious Miss Sallie.

“Suppose you run up and see,” suggested the major. “Tell him, Steenie,”
he added, patting his nephew affectionately on the shoulder, “that I
wish to see him in the morning room when he finishes his breakfast. And,
Stephen, my boy, don’t be rough with him. Remember what an ordeal we’ll
have to put him through later. Good heavens!” he groaned, “such a lovely
boy! If it only had not happened in my house!”

“Perhaps he can explain, in spite of everything,” replied Stephen.

Presently he returned to the library.

“José is not in his room. He didn’t sleep there last night. His bed is
made up and there’s not a wrinkle on it.”

“Why, where can he be?” cried the major. “He couldn’t have run away,
could he?”

“Perhaps he is taking a morning walk,” suggested Martin.

“Did he take anything with him!” asked Jimmie. “I mean are his things in
his room?”

“I didn’t notice,” replied Stephen. “We’d better ask some of the
servants, first, if they have seen him this morning, and then go back
and have a look for ourselves.”

But the servants could give no information. On examining José’s room
they found everything just as he had left it. He had taken nothing in
his flight, not even a comb and brush.

“Even his pearl shirt studs are here,” said Jimmie.

“How about his leather motor clothes?” asked Stephen.

“Here they are,” replied his friend.

“How about his motor cycle?” asked the major with a sudden thought.

They ran down stairs and through the open door, followed by “The
Automobile Girls,” who were filled with excitement. At the garage the
chauffeur was busy cleaning the motor cars.

“Is Mr. Martinez’s motor cycle here, Josef?” demanded the major.

“Yes, sir,” answered the chauffeur looking up from his work, surprised
at the visit of so many people at once.

“Have you see him this morning?”

“No, sir.”

“Strange,” said the major. “I can’t understand it. He must simply have
slipped out of the house and gone for a long walk.”

“Uncle,” said Stephen, “suppose we wait until after lunch.”

“Wait for what, my boy?”

“Why, for José, I mean. And then, if he doesn’t turn up, we had better
search for him.”

The party sat about listlessly until lunch time. It was too hot to talk
and the oppressiveness of the atmosphere gave them an uneasy feeling.
José had not taken even a hat, so Stephen said, and it turned out that
only the day before the Spaniard had entrusted the major with a large
sum of money to be locked in the family strong box until his visit was
over.

“Stephen,” exclaimed the major, finally, as the afternoon began to wane,
“I can’t stand this any longer. The boy may have wandered into the woods
and been attacked by some of those tramp ruffians. Order the horses.
We’ll ride to the Gypsy camp and take the road to town. Tell the girls
to explain the situation to Miss Sallie while we are gone.”



CHAPTER XX—THE FIRE BRIGADE


Ruth and Barbara related to Miss Sallie their adventures of the day
before. She went through a dozen stages of emotion, and fairly wrung her
hands over the tramps. The part about José she could not believe.

“That nice boy!” she exclaimed. “It is impossible.” Then she grew
indignant. “What does John Ten Eyck mean by bringing us into this
lawless country, I should like to know?”

“But, auntie, the major declares it was never like this before. The
woods have always been perfectly safe. When Stephen and Martin were
little boys they used to play in them with only Old Jennie to look after
them.”

“Ruth,” cried Miss Sallie, “the major is one of the nicest men in the
world, but he always would overlook disagreeable things. He runs away
from anything that hurts. He may have overlooked the tramps and robbers,
just as he has been blind to ugliness whenever he could.”

“He’s a dear,” said Mollie.

“Dear or no dear,” cried Miss Sallie, “this time we really must go. Tell
the chauffeur to fix up the machine, Ruth, my child, for to-morrow we
shall leave this barbarous place.”

“All right, auntie,” replied her niece, relieved that they were not to
go immediately, since they all wanted to see the episode of José
through.

Time passed, but the four horsemen did not return. The girls were
sitting with Miss Sallie at the shady end of the piazza, watching the
sun sink behind the forest. There was a smell of burning in the air that
the sensitive nostrils of the chaperon had sniffed immediately.

“The wind must be blowing from the mountains to-day,” she observed. “I
smell burning as plainly as if it were at our gates.”

“But, Miss Sallie,” said Grace, “remember that it smelt like this in New
York last week.”

“My dear,” replied Miss Sallie, “I am perfectly familiar with the smell
of burning forests, I have smelt them so often in imagination. Why, see,
the air is filled with fine ashes,” she exclaimed, shaking out her
lavender skirts with disgust. She had hardly spoken before a tall figure
was seen hurrying across the lawn.

“It’s blind Jennie,” cried Ruth. “Perhaps she can give us news of the
major or José.”

As old Jennie approached they could see she was fearfully excited. Her
face was working and several times she waved her stick wildly in the
air. Just then a strange thing happened. Half a dozen terrified deer
appeared from the direction of the forest, dashed madly across the lawn
and disappeared in a grove on the other side. Squirrels and rabbits
followed by the dozens, while distracted birds flew in groups and
circled around and around the tops of the trees.

“What has happened, Jennie?” cried Ruth, shaking the blind woman by the
arm.

Jennie seemed to scan the company with her sightless eyes, sniffing the
air wildly.

“The woods are burning,” she said. “The flames are coming nearer. They
are slow, but they are sure. Everything is so dry. You must hurry, if
you would save the house!”

“Save the house?” repeated Miss Stuart mechanically. “Do you mean to say
there is danger of this house being burned down? Is the fire coming this
way? Great heavens! Order the car at once, children. We must leave at
any cost. This is the last straw!”

“But, Aunt Sallie,” urged Ruth, laying a detaining hand on her aunt’s
arm, “you wouldn’t have us desert the major’s house, would you, and
leave all these beautiful things to burn? Besides, we may be running
away from the major and the boys. How do we know but that they are in
the woods? They may need our help.”

“My child, we are not a fire department,” exclaimed Miss Sallie, “and if
we are to save this beautiful house, how do you propose to do it?”

“If worse comes to worst,” cried Bab, “we can form a bucket brigade
here, and keep the fire from getting to the house.”

“What about water?” demanded Miss Sallie.

“Don’t you remember the major said he had a well of water reserved for
fires?” said Ruth.

“It may not be necessary to use the water,” Bab continued. “The first
thing to do is to cut off the forest fire by having a trench dug on that
side of the house. Everybody will have to get to work. Come on! We must
not lose time.”

Miss Sallie ran into the hall and rang a bell violently. John, the
butler, came at once.

“John,” she cried, speaking very rapidly, “the forest is on fire. Get
every available person on the place as fast as you can, with shovels and
hoes and help the young ladies dig a trench to protect the major’s
house.”

John looked dazed, sniffed the air and ran without a word. Presently a
bell thundered out in the stillness. It had not been rung for many
years, but the employees on the place knew what it meant, and came
running from their cottages, and the work of digging a trench beyond Ten
Eyck Hall was begun. Each moment the air was growing more dense and a
darkness was settling down which was lit up, toward the west, by a lurid
glow. The heat was intense and fine ashes filled the toilers’ throats
and nostrils. Birds, blinded by the smoke dashed past, almost hitting
the workers’ faces. People came running from the burning forest, the old
Gypsy woman and her granddaughter and other women from the Gypsy band.
The men were bringing the wagons around by the road; old Adam and his
wife, driving their wood cart and frantically beating the worn-out
horse; and finally, the hermit, with his white locks flying. Ten Eyck
Hall would seem to have been the refuge of all these terrified dwellers
in the forest. They regarded it with pride and love. Even the Gypsies
had sought its protection, and the gray, rambling old place appeared to
stretch out its arms to them. Blind Jennie strode up and down the lawn,
wildly waving her stick, while old Adam called to Miss Sallie:

“Where is the master? Where are the young masters?”

And where were the old master and the young ones? If ever they were
needed, it was now!

In the meantime, the girls, leaving Miss Sallie to direct the digging of
the trench, had run to the house.

“I think, Ruth,” called Bab, “we had better collect all the buckets and
pails we can find.”

“Yes,” replied Ruth, “and the hose should be attached to the reserve
well. John is attending to that. Mollie and Grace, run and get whatever
blankets there are in the bed rooms, and close the windows all over the
house.”

While John was attaching the hose to the faucet of the reserve well,
Ruth and Bab invaded the enormous kitchen of the hall. The servants had
fled. Only Mary and John could be depended upon. The pumping engine had
been started and the tank was rapidly filling.

“O Ruth,” exclaimed Bab, “how careless of us to have forgotten the cars!
The garage is nearest to the forest and the automobiles should be run
out right off. We may need them if things get very bad.”

“Of course,” replied Ruth. “Where is the chauffeur? Did you ever know
any of these people to be on hand when they were needed?”

Dashing to the garage, they cranked up the two machines and ran them out
onto the lawn in an open space. José’s motor cycle came next.

“The fire has come,” cried Grace and Mollie running up with their arms
full of blankets. They could hear the roaring, crackling sound as the
flames licked their way through the dry underbrush.

“Where is Miss Sallie?” demanded Ruth. “She will faint in this terrible
atmosphere.”

“There she is,” answered Grace; “she is overseeing the trench-digging. I
think she has ordered them to make it broader.”

Miss Sallie, her lavender skirts caught up over her arm, was standing
near the men, giving her orders as calmly as if she were in her own
drawing room.

The line of forest about a quarter of a mile distant began to glow red.
The girls clutched each other.

“There it is!” they cried. “And now to save the major’s house!”

Bab organized a bucket brigade with Mollie, Grace and the Gypsy women.
John was ordered to manipulate the hose, while Bab and Ruth carried wet
blankets over to the garage, the building nearest the line of fire. Then
a cry went up from the men who were digging the trench. The flames,
which had been steadily devouring the dried grass of the meadow dividing
the garden from the wood, had reached the trench. A sudden gust of wind
carried them over. Instantly a group of bushes caught fire; and, like an
angry animal seeking its prey, a long, forked tongue licked the ground
hungrily for a moment, paused at the gravel walk, followed its edge,
eating up the short, dry grass in its path, and made for the garage. All
this happened in much quicker time than it takes to tell it—too
quickly, in fact for any precaution.



CHAPTER XXI—FIGHTING THE FLAMES


Never had “The Automobile Girls” displayed greater courage than at this
critical moment. It was the time for quick action and quicker thought.
The men who were digging the trench could not leave their work. They saw
that, unless the trench were dug wider, it would be necessary to fight
the flames back, and they were digging like mad to keep the fire from
leaping the ditch again.

It was Mollie who saved them from a terrible explosion by remembering
the house where the gasoline was stored just behind the garage, and John
and Adam rolled the tank to a distance temporarily safe at least.

Bab had found a ladder somewhere. Placing it against the garage she had
scaled it like a monkey, carrying under one arm a wet blanket the weight
of which she was too excited to notice. She never quite knew how she
shinned up the roof, but presently she found herself astride the
pinnacle. Zerlina had followed close behind, with more blankets and
together the two girls spread them over the smoking shingles. When the
roof was covered, they let themselves down and began dashing water on
the smouldering walls. The bucket brigade was working well under the
direction of Ruth, and the garage was saved.

Then a line of clipped bushes running from the garden to the forest,
suddenly burst into flames. A cry went up from the workers at this
terrifying spectacle. To the girls, it seemed like a gigantic boa
constrictor racing toward them, and, for a moment, they turned cold with
fear.

“All hands must help here!” cried Bab, taking command, as she naturally
did in times of danger. “Zerlina, tell the men to come from the trench
with their shovels. Bring pails of water, all of you,” she called to the
Gypsies, “and the rest of the wet blankets.”

There was a rush and a scramble. They tried to beat down the angry
little flames, dashed water on to them, choked them with wet blankets,
trampled on them, and finally fell back, stifled and blinded with smoke
and ashes, only to find the gasoline house a burning mass. It had gone
up like a tinder box in an instant, and was reduced to ruins.

“If we have any more gusts of wind like that last, Bab, we are lost!”
cried Ruth, sobbing a little under her breath. “But, of course, if the
worst happens, we can always take the automobiles. They can run faster
than the flames.”

Back of the garage they could see another line of flames advancing like
a regiment of cavalry.

“Great heavens!” cried Grace. “What shall we do now?”

“Don’t despair, yet,” answered Bab. “Those dividing hedges are very dry,
but the flames don’t spread from them so quickly; and, besides, I
believe the trench will stop them.”

“O Bab,” exclaimed Ruth, “do you think there will ever be an end to
this? We are too tired to dig trenches, and the water is getting
alarmingly low.”

“But there are two more cisterns,” replied the undaunted Bab.

Just then the wind, which, up to this time, except for a few brief
gusts, had been merely a breeze, gathered new strength. Sparks began to
fly from the burning underbrush in the wood. It had been a ground fire,
owing to the long drought, and the trees still waved their green
branches over the ruins at their feet.

Ruth seized Bab’s hand convulsively.

“Young ladies!” called a voice behind them. Turning, they confronted the
hermit. “I am a very old man, but, if you will permit me, I will make a
suggestion. Save what water is left for the roof, which should be
deluged as soon as possible. The trench will stop the fire, but it
cannot keep back the sparks and I see a wind has come up that is most
dangerous.”

“Oh, thank you,” cried the two girls, seeing the wisdom of his
suggestion immediately.

Miss Sallie, a tragic spectacle, came from around the house; her white
hair tumbling down her back, her face gray with ashes and her lavender
garments torn and wet.

“Girls,” she murmured, her voice trembling, from fatigue and excitement,
“we have done all we could do for the major. I think we had better give
it up and go while we can get away.”

“Let us have one more chance. Aunt Sallie, dearest,” begged Ruth, “and
if that fails there will still be time to get away in the motor car.”

“What are you going to do now, child?” asked the poor woman
distractedly.

“You go and sit down in one of the long chairs on the piazza and rest,”
replied her niece, patting her hand tenderly, “and leave everything to
us.”

The girls could hear the throbbing of the pumping engine somewhere
below, as they dashed up the steps. John had connected all the cisterns
and the machinery was working in good order. The candles and lanterns
they carried hardly made an impression in the blackness of the great
empty garret, but an exclamation from John called attention to the fact
that the sliding partition was down.

“I never knew it to happen before,” he said, “except once when I was too
small to understand.”

“How are we going to manage?” asked Grace, looking overhead.

“Through the scuttle to the roof,” replied Barbara, pointing to a ladder
leading to a trapdoor.

John climbed up first, opening the scuttle, and everybody lent a hand in
lifting out the hose he had brought along. Barbara and Zerlina followed
to the roof, which was steep and much broken by pinnacles and turrets;
yet in contrast with the attic it was quite light outside, and the girls
could see perfectly where to step without slipping.

Only two people were needed, it was decided. Bab would not hear of
Ruth’s coming, on account of the latter’s horror of high places. It was
certain that Mollie and Grace were not agile enough for the experiment,
and Bab and Zerlina had already proved what they could do when they
scaled the garage roof.

The three girls left behind climbed onto a balcony just outside one of
the attic windows and watched, with tremulous interest, what was
happening on the roof.

Thus Zerlina and Barbara, with old John, were left alone on top of Ten
Eyck Hall. They had a wonderful view of the smoking forest, the tops of
whose trees were waving in the steadily rising wind. The trench had,
indeed, stopped the course of the flames which had run along the meadow
hedges, and there were no more lines of fire to be seen; but there was a
bright glow toward the back and a sound of crackling wood. Then came a
burst of flames and the onlooker saw that the stable was burning. A
spark lit on Bab’s wrist; another touched her on the cheek, and
presently a gust of wind brought dozens of them twinkling like shooting
stars at night. They fell on the shingled roof, smouldered for a moment
and went out. Others followed. It could be only a matter of a little
while, thought Bab, before the hall would be in flames if they were not
prompt with the water.

“It’s all right, Miss,” called John’s voice from behind the tank on the
part of the roof over the attic. There was a gurgling noise and a swift
jet of water burst from the nozzle of the hose.

With Zerlina’s assistance, Bab began watering the roof. But the tallest
peak was beyond reach of the hose. There the sparks were smouldering
into life and Bab distinctly saw a a little puff of flame lick out and
then go back again like a cunning animal biding its time.

Bab ran over to the tank.

“John,” she called, “get a ladder and a pail.”

Together they unhooked the ladder attached to the tank and dragged it
over to the high center peak of the roof. There was a pail, also, which
they filled with water. While the old man held the ladder Bab climbed
up, taking the pail from Zerlina. Several times the brave girl dashed
water over the smoking shingles until every spark was dead. Then,
standing on one foot, on the top rung of the ladder, Bab braced herself
with a lightning rod running up the side of the turret, and leaned over
to see if all were well on its other section. Below her she could see
the girls on the balcony peering up at her with frightened eyes. Lifting
herself entirely off the ladder, for an instant, Bab glanced around the
turret. In slipping back, her foot missed the rung. The shock made her
lose her grip on the lightning rod, and like a flash she slid down the
steepest part of the roof now slippery from its recent wetting. There
was nothing to hold to, nothing to cling to, and she closed her eyes
from the horror that was before her.

[Illustration: Like a Flash She Slid Down the Steepest Part of the
Roof.]

It is said that a great many things pass through one’s mind at such
brief, tense moments as these, when death is almost certain.

The thought that came to Bab’s mind, however, was her mother’s prayer,
“Heaven make me calm in the face of danger.”

There was, of course, a shudder of horror, a wild, ineffectual effort to
save herself—a shock.

When she opened her eyes, three pairs of arms encircled her, and three
sobbing faces hovered over her. She had landed upon the roof of the
balcony where the girls were waiting. Except for a bruised arm, she had
met with no harm.

“Why, girlies,” she said, smiling a little weakly, “were you so
frightened?” and then closed her eyes again.

Zerlina and John came tumbling down the ladder. The Gypsy girl was as
white as a sheet and old John was openly sobbing.

“I’m all right,” Bab assured them, standing up and shaking herself to
bring her senses back. She bathed her throbbing wrists and temples, and
all climbed down into the lower regions of the house. It was decided to
water the side of the house, and after that nothing more could be done.
The whole place was lit up with the burning stable, and sparks were
flying in every direction. The wind had risen to a gale and the skies
were overhung with a black canopy of clouds kindled by occasional
flashes of lightning. There was a low grumbling sound of thunder. Down
the avenue came the clatter of horses’ hoofs. At the same time there was
a terrific clap, and the rain poured down in torrents.

“Here they are!” cried the girls as Major Ten Eyck and the boys leaped
from their horses and dashed up the piazza steps. José was not with
them.



CHAPTER XXII—EXPLANATIONS


The major and his nephews were shocked at the appearance of their
guests, who were hardly recognizable. Jimmie Butler retired behind a
curtain and give vent to one little chuckle. He would not, for anything,
have let them know how funny they looked.

“I shall never forgive myself for leaving you,” groaned Major Ten Eyck.
“Why did you not take the car and leave the old place to burn? How can
the boys and I ever thank you?” he continued, with emotion.

Before Stephen would give an account of the search for José he made Ruth
repeat the history of the afternoon from beginning to end. The major and
the boys were filled with admiration and wonder for these four brave
“Automobile Girls” and Miss Stuart.

“There is nothing we can do,” exclaimed Jimmie, “to show what we feel,
except to lie down and let you walk over us.”

“And now for José,” prompted Ruth, when she had finished her story.

“Well,” replied Stephen, “we got news of José almost as soon as we had
passed the Gypsy camp. A man on the road told us he had seen a boy who
answered the description exactly, walking on the edge of the forest. We
traced him back into the country to a farm house, where according to the
farmer, he had stopped for a drink of water and turned back again toward
the forest. It was necessary to come back by a roundabout way because of
the cliffs on the outer edge, and not until we reached the hermit’s
house did we realize there was a fire that must have been started by
those tramps, for it was at its worst about where they were yesterday.
We were frantic when we saw that it was blowing in the direction of the
hall, but we couldn’t get through and had to go the whole way around.
Our only comfort, when we saw the glow of the burning stable, was that
you had taken the automobile and gone back to Tarrytown.”

The faithful old butler appeared with lights, and informed the major
that the other servants had returned very repentant, and if agreeable,
dinner would be served in half an hour.

“But I think the ladies will be much too tired to come down again,”
protested the major.

“Oh, no, we won’t,” answered Ruth. “If there’s enough water left to wash
in I would rather dress and come downstairs for food.”

“So would we all,” chorused the others, except Miss Sallie, who took to
her bed immediately, and dropped off to sleep as soon as her head
touched the pillow.

“Stephen,” asked Ruth at dinner, “do you believe poor José was caught in
the fire?”

“It’s rather a horrible idea,” said Stephen, “yet I don’t know what else
to think. He must have caught wind, somehow, that we had found him out
and concluded to hide in the woods.”

“Old Jennie wishes to speak to you, sir,” announced John.

“Bring her in here,” ordered the major, and Jennie was ushered into the
dining-room. “How are you, Jennie? I am glad to see you,” said the
major, leading her to a chair. “I hope you were not injured by the
fire?”

“Be there anyone here but friends?” whispered Jennie.

“No one, Jennie. What is it?”

“When the storm came up I went straight to the forest,” said the old
woman. “Adam went with me and we took his horse and wagon. The fire had
not touched the road and the ground was wet where we walked. As we
passed by the place——” here she put her finger to her lips and gazed
wildly about, “you remember, young ladies? I went over to see if all was
well. The door was open and on the floor lay the young man. He is not
dead, but he is very ill here,” old Jennie pressed her hand to her
chest. “He has swallowed the smoke. We put him in the wagon and he is
outside.”

“José here? Outside?” they all cried at once, rushing to the front door.

In the pouring rain, Zerlina and her grandmother were leaning over a
young man stretched out prone in Adam’s wagon. He wore the green
velveteen suit now so familiar to “The Automobile Girls,” and through
his belt gleamed the dagger he had used to slash the tires with. When he
was lifted out, they caught a glimpse of his face. José it was, but José
grown thin and haggard in a day and a night. The boys carried him
tenderly upstairs and laid him on his own bed. Zerlina and her
grandmother followed close at their heels.

“Do you know him, then?” asked Stephen of the Gypsy girl.

“Yes,” she replied defiantly. “He is my brother. Antonio is his name.”

“Whew-w-w,” whistled Stephen under his breath. “So José was an impostor
after all. I must say I hoped till the last.”

“Well, well,” answered the major, “we won’t hit a man when he is down,
my son, and this boy is pretty sick. The girl is his sister, you say?
She and her grandmother had better nurse him, then. Send the old woman
to me. I want to speak with her in the library.”

After being closeted with Granny Ann for half an hour the major flung
wide the library door and called to the others to come in. His
good-natured, handsome face was wrinkled into an expression of utter
bewilderment, but relief gleamed through his troubled eyes.

“Children,” he cried, “come here, every one of you. José is vindicated.
Thank heavens for that. The boy upstairs is not our José at all, but his
half-brother, Antonio. Now, where do you suppose José has hidden
himself? I trust, I earnestly hope, not in the woods.”

“It seems,” continued the major, “José’s father was married twice. A
nice chap, José. I trust he is safe to-night, for his poor father’s sake
as well as for his own.”

“And his second wife, uncle?” interrupted Stephen.

“Yes, yes, my boy,” continued the major, patting his nephew
affectionately on the shoulder, “and the second wife was a beautiful
Gypsy singer, who had two children, Zerlina and Antonio, the unfortunate
young man now occupying José’s room. A Gypsy rarely marries outside her
own people and this one longed to return to her tribe. One day she ran
away taking her children with her, and Martinez never saw his wife
again, for she died soon after. He has tried, in every way, to recover
the children, but until now the Gypsies have always managed to hide them
effectually. Since they were children Antonio has hated his half brother
José and from time to time has threatened his life. Once, in Gibraltar,
the brother almost succeeded in killing him.” (The girls remembered how
much José had disliked the mention of Gibraltar.) “Antonio was a bad
boy, utterly undisciplined. He ran about Europe and this country, seeing
what harm he could do, but neither his father nor his brother could ever
locate him. José finally heard that the children were in America and
came over to try to reason with the Gypsies to let Zerlina, at least, go
to school. I do not suppose he reckoned on finding them so near, and,
when Antonio tried to rob and murder, José was divided in his mind as to
whether to give his brother up or let him go. He must have suffered a
good deal, poor fellow. I wish José had confided his troubles to me.
Now, maybe, it’s too late to help him.”

“And the knife?” asked Bab.

“There were two knives which belonged to the Martinez family. The Gypsy
took one away with her when she left her husband.”

“Will Antonio stay here to-night, Major?” said Mollie, timidly,
remembering the masked robber and his murderous weapon.

“He is too ill, now, to do any harm, little one,” replied the major,
taking her hand. “Besides, his grandmother and sister will watch over
him I feel certain, and who knows but the boy may have some good in him
after all?” he added, always trying to see the best in everybody.

“Nevertheless, we’ll lock our doors,” exclaimed Ruth. “It’s not so easy
to forget that our highwayman is sleeping across the hall.”



CHAPTER XXIII—AN OLD ROMANCE


Bab had hardly reached her room before she was summoned to the door by
Stephen, looking so serious and unhappy that she felt at once something
had happened.

“Bab,” he said, “I am afraid you are not done with your day’s work yet
for the Ten Eyck family. I am about to ask you a favor, and I must
confide something to you that has been a secret with us now for three
generations. First, are you afraid to go with me over to the right wing?
John and Mary will go, too, and you need really have nothing to fear,
but the dread——” he paused and bit his lip.

“Why, no, Stephen, I am not afraid,” replied Bab, “and I promise to
guard faithfully any secret you want to tell me,” she added, giving him
her hand in token of her pledge. She suspected they were going to visit
the old man she had seen wandering about the house and forest.

“I will tell you the secret as we go along,” Stephen said, leading the
way to the end of the hall, where they found Mary and John waiting. The
four started down a long passage opening into the right wing of the
building. “We are going, now,” continued Stephen, “to visit a very old
man who lives in the right wing. He is my great-uncle, Stephen Ten Eyck.
When he was quite a young man he met with a sorrow that unhinged his
mind and he—well, he committed a crime. It was never proved that he had
done it, but the Ten Eyck family knew he had. However, his most intimate
friend took the blame upon his shoulders.”

“Why did he do that?” asked Bab.

“Because, Bab,” replied Stephen, “they both loved a girl, and the girl’s
name was Barbara Thurston. She must have been your great-great-aunt. Did
you ever hear of her?”

“If I ever did, I have forgotten,” answered Bab. “You see, after
father’s death, we had no way to learn much about his family and mother
knew very little, I suppose.”

“Well, Barbara Thurston was engaged to marry my great-uncle. They were
all staying at the same hotel, somewhere in the Italian lake
country—Barbara and her mother and my great-uncle Stephen and his
friend. One day the friend persuaded Barbara to go out rowing with him.
There was a storm and the boat upset, and Barbara was drowned. It was
said that the friend and the boatman swam ashore and left her, but that
is hard to believe. Anyway, when my uncle got the news, something
snapped in his brain and he killed the boatman with an oar. The friend
made his escape and the flight proved to the authorities that he had
committed the crime. The Ten Eycks all knew that Uncle Stephen had done
it, but it seemed of little use, I suppose, to tell the truth, because
the slayer, Uncle Stephen, had gone clean crazy, and his friend could
not be found. They have never seen each other since, until——”

Stephen paused.

“Until when, Stephen?”

“Until to-night, Barbara. Can you guess who the friend is?”

“The hermit?” asked Barbara, with growing excitement.

“Yes,” replied Stephen; “the poor old hermit who has lived near his
friend all these years without ever letting anybody know.”

“And your uncle has been living in the right wing ever since?” asked
Bab.

“Yes. It was his father’s wish that the right wing be absolutely his for
life and that the secret be kept in the family. The old fellow has never
hurt a fly since the night he killed the Italian boatman. His attendant
is as old as he, almost, and sometimes Uncle Stephen gets away from him.
Have you ever seen him?” Stephen looked at her curiously.

“Yes,” replied Bab, “several times.”

“And never mentioned it? Really Bab, you are great.”

“Oh, I finally did tell the girls, only last night. I was just a little
frightened. Your Uncle Stephen called me by name. But, by the way, none
of you knew about the name before. How was that?”

“To tell the truth, I had never heard the girl’s name in my life, and it
was so long ago that Uncle Stephen had forgotten it. It was the hermit
who revealed the whole thing. He took refuge here from the fire, and
after you girls had gone upstairs he sent for Uncle John. It seems the
hermit has been with Uncle Stephen most of the afternoon, keeping him
quiet and away from the fire. The poor old fellow was scared, he said,
but he is himself again and they both want to see you. But that is not
the chief reason you are sent for. Uncle Stephen insists that he has
something he will tell only to you. All day long he has been calling for
you, and Uncle John Ten Eyck thinks it may quiet him if you will consent
to see him for a few minutes.”

The two had paused outside of a door at the end of the passage, to
finish the conversation, while Mary and John had gone quietly inside.
Presently John opened the door.

“It’s all right, sir,” he whispered. “You and the young lady may come
in.”

They entered a large room, furnished with heavy old-fashioned chairs and
tables. There were bowls of flowers about and Bab heard afterwards that
the poor, crazed old man loved flowers and arranged them himself.
Standing near the window was the hermit. When he saw Bab his face was
radiated by such a beautiful smile that tears sprang to the girl’s eyes.
Lying on a couch, somewhat back in the shadow, was Stephen’s uncle of
the same name. His attendant, also an old man, who had been with him
from the beginning, was sitting beside him.

Stephen Ten Eyck the elder opened his eyes when the door closed. He also
smiled, as the hermit had done, and Bab felt that she could have wept
aloud for the two pathetic old men.

“My little Barbara has come back at last,” Uncle Stephen said, taking
her hand. “I am very happy. And my old friend Richard, too,” he went on,
stretching the other hand toward the hermit. “Dick,” he went on, “I
always loved you so. I don’t know which I loved the most, you or sweet
Barbara here. Heaven is good to bring me all these blessings at once.
Don’t cry, little girl,” he added, tenderly, for the tears were rolling
down Barbara’s cheeks and dropping on his hand. “But I must not forget,”
he exclaimed suddenly. “I have something to tell you, Barbara, before it
clouds over here,” he tapped his brow. “Go away all of you. This is for
her ears alone. It is a secret.”

The others moved off to a corner of the room and the old man went on
whispering mysteriously. “We were the last who saw him, you and I. He
followed me that night. Do you remember? He fell. He is lying at the
foot of the stairs now. There is a gash in his head and—blood!” “Press
the panel in the attic——” The old man’s voice died away in a gasp.

“Which panel?” asked Bab, in an agony for fear he would not finish.

“The one with the knot hole in the right hand corner,” he added and fell
back on the couch.

Bab tried to make him tell more, but his mind was clouded over and he
had already forgotten she was there.

“Has he finished?” asked Stephen.

“Yes,” replied Bab, “but come quickly. We have no time to lose. José is
lying somewhere, dead or half dead, in the secret passage.”

Too much excited and amazed to say good-night to the hermit, the callers
rushed down the passage, followed by the two servants. At the foot of
the attic stairs they waited while John brought lights, and for the
second time that day Bab climbed into the vast old attic.

“Thank fortune the partition is down,” exclaimed Stephen. “I suppose
Uncle Stephen forgot to slide it back, he was in such a hurry to get
away from José.” Bab had explained the situation, to Stephen while they
waited for the candles. “Which panel did he say, Bab?”

“This must be it,” she answered; “the panel in the right-hand corner
that has a knot hole in it. Here is the knot hole all right. We are to
press it, he said.”

They pressed, but nothing happened.

“Press the knot hole, why don’t you?” suggested Bab.

One touch was enough. The panel opened and disclosed a long passage cut
apparently through the wall. There were several branch passages leading
off from the main one, marked with faded handwriting on slips of paper,
one “To the Cellar,” another “To the Library” and finally the last one
“To the Right Wing.”

“This must be the one,” said Stephen, as they groped their way along
single file. “Be careful,” he called; “there should be a flight of steps
along here somewhere.”

Presently they came to the steps. Up through the dense blackness they
could faintly hear a sound of moaning.

“All right, José, old fellow, we are coming to you,” cried Stephen,
while Bab’s heart beat so loud she could not trust herself to speak.

Groping their way down the narrow stairway, they came to a landing
almost on a level with the ceilings of the first floor rooms. At the far
end of the passage they could hear a voice calling faintly.

“He probably fell the length of the steps, and dragged himself across,”
exclaimed Stephen, holding his lantern high above his head.

They found José stretched out by a narrow door opening directly into the
right wing. There was a gash just above his temple which he himself had
bound with his handkerchief and his leg appeared to be broken at the
ankle.

“José, my poor boy,” cried Stephen, “we have found you at last!”

José smiled weakly and fainted dead away.

The two men carried him back up the flight of steps, not daring to try
the experiment of the passage leading to the library.

“I suppose Uncle Stephen has known these passages since he was a child,”
said Stephen in a low voice to Bab as they passed through the attic,
“and when his attendant is asleep, no doubt he steals off and wanders
about the house. I believe he has always had a mania that he was being
pursued by the Italian boatman; and when José followed him, right on top
of his meeting with you, it was too much for the old fellow.”

“He’s a dear old man,” returned Bab, “and how he must have suffered all
these years; that is, whenever his memory returned.”

“And think of the hermit, too, who sacrificed his entire career for you,
Miss, just because you never learned to swim.”

Bab smiled. “If my Aunt Barbara had lived by the sea as I have, she
would never have had to wait for boatmen and lovers to pull her out of
the deep water. Swimming is as easy as walking to me.”

“I am glad you’ve learned wisdom in your old age,” replied Stephen as
they paused at the door of the bedroom given to José.

“There is one thing I cannot believe,” declared Bab, “and that is that
the hermit swam off and left Aunt Barbara to drown.”

“Who knows?” answered Stephen. “People lose their heads strangely
sometimes.”

It was Alfred, destined to be a great doctor, who set José’s leg that
night.



CHAPTER XXIV—GOOD-BYE TO TEN EYCK HALL


Four days had passed since the exciting happenings of that eventful day
that had begun with the disappearance of José, and had ended with his
discovery.

“I have much to be thankful for,” said the major to Miss Sallie, who was
reclining in a steamer chair on the piazza. She had not left her bed
until the afternoon of the third day, and was still a little shaky and
nervous.

“I can’t think what they are, John,” she replied severely. “You have had
nothing but misfortunes since we came to stay under your roof. I hope
they may end when we leave.”

“The first one,” said the major, smiling good-humoredly, “is that I have
had the privilege of knowing how splendid American women can be in time
of danger. I always admired the women of my country, but never so much
as now,” he added, looking fondly at his old friend.

“Yes,” assented Miss Sallie proudly, “my girls are about as fine as any
to be found in the world, I think. They are wholesome, sensible, and
never cowardly. Undoubtedly they saved Ten Eyck Hall for you, Major, by
their combined efforts, and by Bab’s bravery in watering the roof when
the sparks began to fly.”

“You were just as wonderful as the girls, Sallie, my dear. They tell me
you superintended the digging of the trench and managed your men with
the coolness of a general; and that when the fire leaped over the trench
you were there with the bucket brigade to put it out. The girls were no
whit less courageous in your day than they are now, Sallie.”

“And what is the second blessing you have to be thankful for, John?”
interrupted Miss Sallie.

“That José is the boy I took him to be—a good, honest, noble fellow.”

“I must say I liked him from the first moment I set eyes upon him,” said
Miss Stuart.

“Yes,” continued the major; “his father might well be proud of him. He
deserves the highest commendation for his forbearance and unselfishness
in regard to that brother of his.”

“How is the brother, by the way?” asked Miss Sallie.

“You know he was taken to the hospital the day after he was brought
here; well, the boys went over in the car yesterday. Antonio is much
better. His sister is tending him. He is very repentant, she says, and
has consented to go to school and turn over a new leaf. In fact, I
myself have had a long talk with him. I can see that there is great good
in the boy. It has simply been perverted by evil associations.”

“Ah, Major,” exclaimed his old friend, smiling indulgently as she tapped
his arm with her fan, “you are truly the most optimistic soul in the
world. I hope all your golden dreams about this wretched boy’s future
will come true. But what about his sister!”

“José is anxious for her to go to a school in America. He believes she
could not endure the restraint of a European school after her free,
open-air life. She is only too anxious. She wants to cultivate her
voice, and the old grandmother appears really relieved at the turn
affairs have taken. She was willing to concede anything to keep the
grandson out of jail.”

“Then my Ruth will not be able to gratify her whim to educate the Gypsy
girl,” pursued Miss Sallie.

“Not exactly,” replied the major. “José’s father is very well-to-do, as
the world goes, but Ruth is to take charge of Zerlina’s education and
look after her generally. She has asked José to allow her that
privilege, as she put it.”

Just then the girls came around the corner of the piazza, after a stroll
in the garden.

“How fresh and delicious the air is since the rain!” exclaimed Barbara.
“There is still a faint smell of burning. Do you think all the trees in
the forest will die, Major?”

“Old Adam says they will not,” answered the major. “A three months’
unbroken drought will dry up almost anything but trees. Now, while the
underbrush and dried fern burned like tinder, the fire hardly touched
the trees. It was those dead bramble hedges dividing the fields and the
dried meadow grass that did the most damage, because the sparks from
them ignited the garage and the roof of the stable.”

“I am glad papa and Mrs. Thurston were not uneasy about us,” observed
Ruth. “If they had read the papers before you telegraphed, Major, they
would have been frantic, I suppose.”

“Make way for the Duke of Granada,” called Jimmie’s cheerful voice from
the hall, and presently he appeared, pushing José, done up in bandages
and lying flat on his back, on a rolling cot used by some invalid of the
Ten Eyck family long since dead and gone.

“José, my boy,” exclaimed the major, going to the foot of the cot to
ease it as it passed over the door sill, “do you think this is safe?”

“The doctor says it will not hurt him,” replied Jimmie. “He needs
company, but we won’t let him stay long.”

José smiled up at the faces leaning over him.

“You have all been so good to me,” he said. “I want to thank you for
your kindness and for believing in me when my character looked black
enough to have condemned me without any more proof. And I want to thank
you for my brother, too, and my poor little sister.”

His eyes filled with tears.

“There, there,” cried the major, pressing the boy’s hand. “It’s a little
enough we have done, I’m sure. I only wish we could have saved you from
your tumble,” he added, gazing sadly toward the right wing of Ten Eyck
Hall.

“And is it really true that our friends are going to leave us this
afternoon?” asked José.

“Yes,” answered the major; “all our girls and boys are going. We shall
be lonesome enough when they are gone.”

There was the sound of a motor horn down the avenue.

“Ah, here comes Stephen at last. I was afraid he would be late,” said
Major Ten Eyck, as his automobile pulled up at the door and Stephen,
Martin and Alfred jumped out.

“I’ve got them, uncle,” cried Stephen. “They arrived this morning.” And
he handed his uncle a registered package carefully done up and sealed
with red sealing wax.

The major took the box and disappeared into the house while the boys
exchanged significant looks.

“Stephen,” said Bab, as they strolled down to the end of the-piazza
while the others were examining the morning papers and reading their
mail, “did you ever ask José where he was the morning we went to see the
hermit!”

“Oh, yes,” replied her friend; “or, rather, he told me without being
asked. He was to meet his brother by appointment at the haunted pool. I
suppose he was there too soon, because Antonio chose to inflict us with
his antics before he went to see José, who heard a great deal of the
nonsense, so he said, and there was a quarrel afterwards, a very bitter
one, and José threatened to give Antonio over to the authorities unless
he consented to give up his lawless life. Zerlina was hovering around
later, and heard the pistol shots after the fight with the tramps. She
thought, of course, it was a duel between her two brothers. That is why
she paid you the mysterious visit and tried to read the note.”

“How does Antonio strike you?” asked Bab.

“Just as a mischievous boy might. I think he will outgrow his vicious
tendencies now that he has been taken hold of. For one thing he no
longer hates poor old José. I told him, plainly, what a fine fellow his
brother was, and that it was only on José’s account we were not going to
have him arrested. He seemed to be a good deal impressed, I think.”

“A note for you, Miss,” said John, handing Bab a three-cornered missive
on a tray.

“Will Miss Barbara Thurston grant one last interview to an old admirer?”
the note ran.

“It’s from your great-uncle,” exclaimed Bab, giving Stephen the note to
read.

Stephen smiled as his eye took in the crabbed, old-fashioned
handwriting.

“The poor old fellow can’t quite get the proper focus as to who you
really are,” he said. “You appear to represent two Barbaras to him. But
you will go over for a few minutes, won’t you, Bab? I doubt if Uncle
Stephen will last much longer, and seeing you may be a great comfort to
him.”

“Of course I will,” Bab replied. “If seeing me can bring a ray of
pleasure into his life, I am glad enough to be able to do it. I should
like to take him a few flowers. I know he loves them. Suppose we get
some honeysuckle and late roses out of the garden before we go.”

Together they strolled toward the major’s garden, which the flames had
spared, partly because it was protected by a high brick wall on three
sides, and partly owing to a daily watering it had received from the
gardener.

With Stephen’s penknife they clipped a bunch of dewy white roses with
yellow centers, and a few sprays of honeysuckle whose fragrance was
overpoweringly sweet.

The old man was watching for the young people at the window when the
attendant opened the door for them. He came forward with some of the
major’s grace and took Barbara’s hand in his.

“It was very good of you to come,” he said. “I heard you were going, and
I wanted to say a last good-bye. I feel happier than I have felt in many
years. You have forgiven me, have you not, little Barbara?” he went on,
his mind confusing her again with that other Barbara whose tragic death
had bereft him of his reason. “And you have brought me the roses, too?”

She nodded her head.

“Did they come from the bush near the arbor?”

“Yes,” she replied, wondering a little.

“Don’t you remember that it was our bush, the one we chose when you were
here on a visit? Our white rose bush, Barbara. That you should not have
forgotten, after all these years!” Then his memory came back. “But what
am I saying?” he exclaimed. “My mind often gets confused. It was the
likeness, I suppose. I want you to see this portrait of your
grand-aunt.”

He went over to a desk near the window and drew from one of its drawers
an old daguerreotype.

“It is very, very like,” he murmured, as he handed it to Barbara.

It was, indeed, even more like the present Bab than the miniature which
the hermit had treasured during his years of solitude.

“I want you to keep this picture, Barbara,” said Stephen’s uncle. “I
have another one, and it will be a pleasure to me, at the last, to know
that it belongs to another Barbara Thurston. This ring must also be
yours.” He drew from the desk a little black velvet case. “It was a ring
I gave to her after we were engaged. Will you wear it for me!”

Barbara opened the case and slipped the ring on her finger. It was a
very old ring of beaten silver with a sapphire setting.

“Thank you,” she said and gave him her hand.

“Good-bye, little Barbara!” cried the old man. “You have brought peace
to me at last. You and my dear friend, Richard. I have changed a great
deal, you see,” he was lapsing back into the old mania, “but you are as
young and pretty as ever, Barbara.”

“It is time to go,” whispered Stephen, hurriedly. The attendant had
already opened the door for them and they slipped out together.

“The hermit has promised to come and see him every day,” said Stephen,
as they hastened through the passage. “Indeed, Uncle John has invited
the hermit to live at Ten Eyck Hall for the rest of his days, and he has
all but consented. He is a wonderful old man, I think, and whether he
swam off and left ‘you’ or not, he has atoned for it after all these
years.”

“Stephen,” replied Barbara, “I shall never believe that he did that, no
matter if he were to tell me so himself.”

They reached the piazza just in time to hear Miss Sallie saying:

“Girls, I think we had better go up and get ready for the trip, before
luncheon is announced. We want to start promptly, this time, even if we
shall have such an excellent guard of young men. José, I am sorry you
are not well enough to come in to our last meal,” she added, turning to
the sick boy and taking his hand. “But we shall run up and say good-bye
to you before we leave, and if ever you go as far west as Chicago, I
want you to come and see us. Perhaps Ruth and I shall see you and your
father this autumn when we are in Europe.”

“Indeed, I hope you will come to Madrid and visit at my home,” cried
José. “Will you not arrange it?”

“That would be delightful” said Miss Sallie, “but we shall be over only
for six weeks. We must return in time for Ruth’s school, you know.”

The last luncheon at Ten Eyck Hall was a very gay one. The dangers of
the previous week were over and the mysteries cleared away.

The major fairly beamed on his guests across the hospitable board.

“It must have been Miss Sallie’s fault,” thought Mollie, watching his
handsome face with a secret admiration. “He is certainly the dearest old
man alive. I wonder if she isn’t sorry now?”

And as if in answer to her unspoken question, she heard Miss Sallie
saying:

“John, I hope this is not the last visit you will let us make to Ten
Eyck Hall. In spite of its fires and tramps I should like to come
again.”

“I should be the happiest man in the world if you only would,” he
answered. “I am greatly relieved that you haven’t got an everlasting
prejudice against it.”

“When I settle down for the winter,” Jimmie Butler was heard to remark
above the hum of conversation, “I mean to take up a certain study and
not leave off studying it until I have graduated with diploma and
honors.”

“What is it, Jimmie?” demanded the others.

“Prize fighting,” he replied. “I intend to learn wrestling and boxing,
likewise just plain hair-pulling and scratching. Prize fighting in all
its varieties for me before another year rolls round.”

“You will have to go into training, then, Jim,” exclaimed Alfred. “You
will not be permitted to eat anything you like and not too much of
anything else.”

“No more hot bread for you, Jimmie,” continued Stephen. “No more waffles
and Johnnie-cakes. You will have to punch the bag mornings, when you
would rather be sleeping, and give up theatres in the evenings for early
bedtime. It’s a fearful life, my boy.”

“Be that as it may,” persisted Jimmie, “I’m going to learn how to deal a
blow that will give a man a black eye the first time, and if ever I get
hold of that wiry individual who gave me these in the woods, yonder,” he
pointed to his red nose and discolored eye, “he’ll get such a ‘licking’
as he’ll remember to his last hour. Even Stephen’s giant won’t be a
match for me.”

There was joyous laughter at this, followed by remarks from Martin and
Alfred of a rather sarcastic character, such as “Give it to him, Jimmie!
Give him a bump in the ribs!”

“I am going to have the woods patrolled, hereafter, in the summer time,”
observed the major, “and all dangerous characters will be excluded. The
next time we have a house party there will be no tramps to threaten my
guests.”

“By the way,” said Stephen, “the giant tramp is in the hospital now. He
was drunk when the fire started, and fell asleep. He was badly burned
and almost suffocated, but his poor, long-suffering wife managed to save
him somehow. The other two had left him to die.”

“Will you have him arrested when he gets well, Major?” asked Ruth.

“No,” replied the major, somewhat confused. “I suppose I should, but he
tells me he was despoiled of his living by a dishonest master, and I
have concluded to make it up to him for being richer than he is by
giving him something to do. We have several farms back in the country
and I have put him in charge of the smallest one. It seems that farming
is the very thing he wants to do more than anything else in life. He
will have to travel a good distance before he can get anything to drink,
and his wife is the happiest woman over the prospect you ever saw.”

“Major, major!” protested Miss Sallie. “What will you do next?”

“Ah, well,” exclaimed the major, “it is good to be able to give a man a
chance to earn an honest living, especially if he wants to take it. And,
when this poor wretch heard about that bit of land and little cottage
back yonder in the hills, he looked as if he had had a glimpse of
heaven. His wife told me that he had really tried, again and again to
find something to do; but indoor life was very irksome to him because he
had been brought up on a farm, and working in factories and foundries
had been his undoing.”

“Stephen, how do you feel about it?” asked Alfred. “He was your opponent
in the fight, you know.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” replied Stephen. “He didn’t give me a black eye, and
I am glad for him to earn an honest living. Uncle’s a brick.”

When the meal was over Major Ten Eyck rose from the table, clearing his
throat as if he were about to make a speech, which indeed he was.

“I have something to say before this party breaks up, for myself and the
boys. We want to express to you, how deeply grateful we feel to you,
Miss Sallie and ‘The Automobile Girls,’ for what you have done for us.

“You have saved our old home for us, at the risk of your own precious
lives, and there is nothing we can really do or say to show how much we
appreciate it. The place has been in the family ever since there were
any Ten Eycks to live in it. I was born here and I love it, and I hope
to end my days here——”

“Don’t speak as if you were on the brink of the grave, Major, I beg of
you,” protested Miss Sallie. “You are not many years older than I am,
and I certainly will not allow such mournful thoughts to trouble me so
soon.”

“You will always be young, Sallie,” replied the gallant major.

“You are nothing but a boy yourself, John,” replied Miss Stuart,
blushing in spite of herself, while the young people exchanged stealthy
smiles at these elderly compliments.

“I was saying,” continued the major, who remained standing to finish his
speech, “that there was nothing we could do, the boys and I, to show how
we feel in this matter. But when you wear these little ornaments” (here
the major handed Miss Sallie and each of the girls a little jeweler’s
box) “we hope you will remember that we are your devoted friends always.
It was Stephen’s idea, and there was not much time to get them, but the
jeweler undertook a rush order for us, and I hope they are all right.”

“Hurray!” cried Jimmie, rolling his napkin into a ball and tossing it
into the air.

There were cries of pleasure when the boxes gave up their treasures,
small gold firemen’s helmets studded with pearls and a row of rubies on
the curve of the brim.

As if this were not enough, John came in with a tray of bouquets, each
one different, as on a former occasion. The major had picked and
arranged the flowers himself for Miss Sallie and “The Automobile Girls,”
as a last reminder of Ten Eyck Hall, he said.

“It is worth while going into the firemen’s business, if one is to be so
well repaid,” exclaimed Ruth.

Bab felt particularly rich in souvenirs of her visit, with a picture of
a new and hitherto unknown great-aunt, a ring and a beautiful pin.

“We are all much too excited to thank you properly, Major,” she said.

“I don’t want any thanks, my dear child,” replied the major. “I wish to
avoid them.”

“Somebody should make a speech,” cried Jimmie’s voice above the jollity.
“I think I’ll be the one.” He cleared his throat. “Major John Ten Eyck,”
he said bowing toward the major, “I know these young ladies appreciate
deeply the handsome souvenirs you have bestowed upon them, but youth and
inexperience have tied their tongues. However, mine is loosened and I
wish to thank you a thousand times for the souvenirs which I also am
carrying away from Ten Eyck Hall, namely my beautiful ruby nose and my
blue enameled eyes.”

There was more laughter and more exchange of jokes and fun, when Martin
who had slipped out of the room for a moment, returned with a small
bundle which he handed to Jimmie.

“We’ll give you a booby prize, Jimmie,” he said, “since the ladies have
been awarded the first prize.”

Jimmie opened the bundle and drew forth a boxing glove which he put on
immediately and chased Martin out of the room. This was the signal for
the breaking up of the lunch party.

The boxes and suit cases were already piled in their accustomed place on
the back of the car and there was nothing for the girls to do but to pin
on their hats and veils, slip on their silk dusters and go.

The servants had lined up in the hall to say good-bye. José had begged
to be permitted to remain downstairs until after the visitors had gone.
As the automobiles sped down the avenue, the major, standing by the sick
boy’s cot, waved good-bye from the piazza.

Only Bab saw another handkerchief waving its pathetic farewell from a
window in the right wing. She gave an answering wave with her own little
handkerchief which she hoped the old man would not miss.

“Good-bye to Ten Eyck Hall,” she said to herself as she looked back at
the beautiful old house. “You are full of tragic memories, but I love
you and I would have risked much to have saved you from crumbling to a
heap of ashes.”

As they passed over the bridge and came to the crossroads by the woods,
they were stopped by blind Jennie, who silently presented Bab and Ruth
each with a small cross she herself had carved from wood. Then to Bab
she gave a beautiful bunch of yellow roses, which the hermit had begged
the girl to accept with his best wishes.



CHAPTER XXV—CONCLUSION


In spite of the strange chain of events following so closely on each
other’s heels, “The Automobile Girls” had only pleasant memories of Ten
Eyck Hall and its occupants.

Among their trips they counted this as one of the most interesting, but
Ruth, who was ever planning future surprises, had a plan that would
outdo all other visits. This was nothing less than a journey to her own
home, Chicago.

This excursion, every moment of which was to throb with interest for our
four girls, involved the attempt to discover a hidden treasure buried in
what had once been the prairie home of an old Illinois family. These
adventures, with exciting scenes on the Stock Exchange where Barbara
Thurston learned of a plot to ruin her friends, and much more, all is
vividly described in the next volume of this series:

“The Automobile Girls at Chicago; or, Winning Out Against Heavy Odds.”

                                THE END.



Henry Altemus Company’s Catalogue Of

THE BEST AND LEAST EXPENSIVE BOOKS

FOR REAL BOYS AND GIRLS

Really good and new stories for boys and girls are not plentiful. Many
stories, too, are so highly improbable as to bring a grin of derision to
the young reader’s face before he has gone far. The name of ALTEMUS is a
distinctive brand on the cover of a book, always ensuring the buyer of
having a book that is up-to-date and fine throughout. No buyer of an
ALTEMUS book is ever disappointed.

Many are the claims made as to the inexpensiveness of books. Go into any
bookstore and ask for an Altemus book. Compare the price charged you for
Altemus books with the price demanded for other juvenile books. You will
at once discover that a given outlay of money will buy more of the
ALTEMUS books than of those published by other houses.

Every dealer in books carries the ALTEMUS books.

Sold by all booksellers or sent postpaid on receipt of price

Henry Altemus Company

507-513 Cherry Street, Philadelphia


The Motor Boat Club Series

By H. IRVING HANCOCK

The keynote of these books is manliness. The stories are wonderfully
entertaining, and they are at the same time sound and wholesome. No boy
will willingly lay down an unfinished book in this series.

  1 THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB OF THE KENNEBEC; Or, The Secret of Smugglers’
  Island.

  2 THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB AT NANTUCKET; Or, The Mystery of the Dunstan
  Heir.

  3 THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB OFF LONG ISLAND; Or, A Daring Marine Game at
  Racing Speed.

  4 THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB AND THE WIRELESS; Or, The Dot, Dash and Dare
  Cruise.

  5 THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB IN FLORIDA; Or, Laying the Ghost of Alligator
  Swamp.

  6 THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB AT THE GOLDEN GATE; Or, A Thrilling Capture in
  the Great Fog.

  7 THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB ON THE GREAT LAKES; Or, The Flying Dutchman of
  the Big Fresh Water.

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


The Range and Grange Hustlers

By FRANK GEE PATCHIN

Have you any idea of the excitements, the glories of life on great
ranches in the West? Any bright boy will “devour” the books of this
series, once he has made a start with the first volume.

  1 THE RANGE AND GRANGE HUSTLERS ON THE RANCH; Or, The Boy Shepherds
  of the Great Divide.

  2 THE RANGE AND GRANGE HUSTLERS’ GREATEST ROUND-UP; Or, Pitting
  Their Wits Against a Packers’ Combine.

  3 THE RANGE AND GRANGE HUSTLERS ON THE PLAINS; Or, Following the
  Steam Plows Across the Prairie.

  4 THE RANGE AND GRANGE HUSTLERS AT CHICAGO; Or, The Conspiracy of
  the Wheat Pit.

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


Submarine Boys Series

By VICTOR G. DURHAM

These splendid books for boys and girls deal with life aboard submarine
torpedo boats, and with the adventures of the young crew, and possess,
in addition to the author’s surpassing knack of story-telling, a great
educational value for all young readers.

  1 THE SUBMARINE BOYS ON DUTY; Or, Life on a Diving Torpedo Boat.

  2 THE SUBMARINE BOYS’ TRIAL TRIP; Or, “Making Good” as Young
  Experts.

  3 THE SUBMARINE BOYS AND THE MIDDIES; Or, The Prize Detail at
  Annapolis.

  4 THE SUBMARINE BOYS AND THE SPIES; Or, Dodging the Sharks of the
  Deep.

  5 THE SUBMARINE BOYS’ LIGHTNING CRUISE; Or, The Young Kings of the
  Deep.

  6 THE SUBMARINE BOYS FOR THE FLAG; Or, Deeding Their Lives to Uncle
  Sam.

  7 THE SUBMARINE BOYS AND THE SMUGGLERS; Or, Breaking Up the New
  Jersey Customs Frauds.

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


The Square Dollar Boys Series

By H. IRVING HANCOCK

The reading boy will be a voter within a few years; these books are
bound to make him think, and when he casts his vote he will do it more
intelligently for having read these volumes.

  1 THE SQUARE DOLLAR BOYS WAKE UP; Or, Fighting the Trolley Franchise
  Steal.

  2 THE SQUARE DOLLAR BOYS SMASH THE RING; Or, In the Lists Against
  the Crooked Land Deal.

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


Ben Lightbody Series

By WALTER BENHAM

  1 BEN LIGHTBODY, SPECIAL; Or, Seizing His First Chance to Make Good.

  2 BEN LIGHTBODY’S BIGGEST PUZZLE; Or, Running the Double Ghost to
  Earth.

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


Pony Rider Boys Series

By FRANK GEE PATCHIN

These tales may be aptly described as those of a new Cooper. In every
sense they belong to the best class of books for boys and girls.

  1 THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN THE ROCKIES; Or, The Secret of the Lost
  Claim.

  2 THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN TEXAS; Or, The Veiled Riddle of the Plains.

  3 THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN MONTANA; Or, The Mystery of the Old Custer
  Trail.

  4 THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN THE OZARKS; Or, The Secret of Ruby
  Mountain.

  5 THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN THE ALKALI; Or, Finding a Key to the Desert
  Maze.

  6 THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN NEW MEXICO; Or, The End of the Silver
  Trail.

  7 THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN THE GRAND CANYON; Or, The Mystery of Bright
  Angel Gulch.

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


The Boys of Steel Series

By JAMES R. MEARS

The author has made of these volumes a series of romances with scenes
laid in the iron and steel world. Each book presents a vivid picture of
some phase of this great industry. The information given is exact and
truthful; above all, each story is full of adventure and fascination.

  1 THE IRON BOYS IN THE MINES; Or, Starting at the Bottom of the
  Shaft.

  2 THE IRON BOYS AS FOREMEN; Or, Heading the Diamond Drill Shift.

  3 THE IRON BOYS ON THE ORE BOATS; Or, Roughing It on the Great
  Lakes.

  4 THE IRON BOYS IN THE STEEL MILLS; Or, Beginning Anew in the Cinder
  Pits.

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


West Point Series

By H. IRVING HANCOCK

The principal characters in these narratives are manly, young Americans
whose doings will inspire all boy readers.

  1 DICK PRESCOTT’S FIRST YEAR AT WEST POINT; Or, Two Chums in the
  Cadet Gray.

  2 DICK PRESCOTT’S SECOND YEAR AT WEST POINT; Or, Finding the Glory
  of the Soldier’s Life.

  3 DICK PRESCOTT’S THIRD YEAR AT WEST POINT; Or, Standing Firm for
  Flag and Honor.

  4 DICK PRESCOTT’S FOURTH YEAR AT WEST POINT; Or, Ready to Drop the
  Gray for Shoulder Straps.

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


Annapolis Series

By H. IRVING HANCOCK

The Spirit of the new Navy is delightfully and truthfully depicted in
these volumes.

  1 DAVE DARRIN’S FIRST YEAR AT ANNAPOLIS; Or, Two Plebe Midshipmen at
  the U. S. Naval Academy.

  2 DAVE DARRIN’S SECOND YEAR AT ANNAPOLIS; Or, Two Midshipmen as
  Naval Academy “Youngsters.”

  3 DAVE DARRIN’S THIRD YEAR AT ANNAPOLIS; Or, Leaders of the Second
  Class Midshipmen.

  4 DAVE DARRIN’S FOURTH YEAR AT ANNAPOLIS; Or, Headed for Graduation
  and the Big Cruise.

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


The Young Engineers Series

By H. IRVING HANCOCK

The heroes of these stories are known to readers of the High School Boys
Series. In this new series Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton prove worthy of
all the traditions of Dick & Co.

  1 THE YOUNG ENGINEERS IN COLORADO; Or, At Railroad Building in
  Earnest.

  2 THE YOUNG ENGINEERS IN ARIZONA; Or, Laying Tracks on the
  “Man-Killer” Quicksand.

  3 THE YOUNG ENGINEERS IN NEVADA; Or, Seeking Fortune on the Turn of
  a Pick.

  4 THE YOUNG ENGINEERS IN MEXICO; Or, Fighting the Mine Swindlers.

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


Boys of the Army Series

By H. IRVING HANCOCK

These books breathe the life and spirit of the United States Army of
to-day, and the life, just as it is, is described by a master pen.

  1 UNCLE SAM’S BOYS IN THE RANKS; Or, Two Recruits in the United
  States Army.

  2 UNCLE SAM’S BOYS ON FIELD DUTY; Or, Winning Corporal’s Chevrons.

  3 UNCLE SAM’S BOYS AS SERGEANTS; Or, Handling Their First Real
  Commands.

  4 UNCLE SAM’S BOYS IN THE PHILIPPINES; Or, Following the Flag
  Against the Moros.

_(Other volumes to follow rapidly.)_

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


Battleship Boys Series

By FRANK GEE PATCHIN

These stories throb with the life of young Americans on to-day’s huge
drab Dreadnaughts.

  1 THE BATTLESHIP BOYS AT SEA; Or, Two Apprentices in Uncle Sam’s
  Navy.

  2 THE BATTLESHIP BOYS FIRST STEP UPWARD; Or, Winning Their Grades as
  Petty Officers.

  3 THE BATTLESHIP BOYS IN FOREIGN SERVICE; Or, Earning New Ratings in
  European Seas.

  4 THE BATTLESHIP BOYS IN THE TROPICS; Or, Upholding the American
  Flag in a Honduras Revolution.

_(Other volumes to follow rapidly.)_

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


The Meadow-Brook Girls Series

By JANET ALDRIDGE

Real live stories pulsing with the vibrant atmosphere of outdoor life.

  1 THE MEADOW-BROOK GIRLS UNDER CANVAS; Or, Fun and Frolic in the
  Summer Camp.

  2 THE MEADOW-BROOK GIRLS ACROSS COUNTRY; Or, The Young Pathfinders
  on a Summer Hike.

  3 THE MEADOW-BROOK GIRLS AFLOAT; Or, The Stormy Cruise of the Red
  Rover.

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


High School Boys Series

By H. IRVING HANCOCK

In this series of bright, crisp books a new note has been struck. Boys
of every age under sixty will be interested in these fascinating
volumes.

  1 THE HIGH SCHOOL FRESHMEN; Or, Dick & Co.’s First Year Pranks and
  Sports.

  2 THE HIGH SCHOOL PITCHER; Or, Dick & Co. on the Gridley Diamond.

  3 THE HIGH SCHOOL LEFT END; Or, Dick & Co. Grilling on the Football
  Gridiron.

  4 THE HIGH SCHOOL CAPTAIN OF THE TEAM; Or, Dick & Co. Leading the
  Athletic Vanguard.

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


Grammar School Boys Series

By H. IRVING HANCOCK

This series of stories, based on the actual doings of grammar school
boys, comes near to the heart of the average American boy.

  1 THE GRAMMAR SCHOOL BOYS OF GRIDLEY; Or, Dick & Co. Start Things
  Moving.

  2 THE GRAMMAR SCHOOL BOYS SNOWBOUND; Or, Dick & Co. at Winter
  Sports.

  3 THE GRAMMAR SCHOOL BOYS IN THE WOODS; Or, Dick & Co. Trail Fun and
  Knowledge.

  4 THE GRAMMAR SCHOOL BOYS IN SUMMER ATHLETICS; Or, Dick & Co. Make
  Their Fame Secure.

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


High School Boys’ Vacation Series

By H. IRVING HANCOCK

“Give us more Dick Prescott books!”

This has been the burden of the cry from young readers of the country
over. Almost numberless letters have been received by the publishers,
making this eager demand; for Dick Prescott, Dave Darrin, Tom Reade, and
the other members of Dick & Co. are the most popular high school boys in
the land. Boys will alternately thrill and chuckle when reading these
splendid narratives.

  1 THE HIGH SCHOOL BOYS’ CANOE CLUB; Or, Dick & Co.’s Rivals on Lake
  Pleasant.

  2 THE HIGH SCHOOL BOYS IN SUMMER CAMP; Or, The Dick Prescott Six
  Training for the Gridley Eleven.

  3 THE HIGH SCHOOL BOYS’ FISHING TRIP; Or, Dick & Co. in the
  Wilderness.

  4 THE HIGH SCHOOL BOYS’ TRAINING HIKE; Or, Dick & Co. Making
  Themselves “Hard as Nails.”

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


The Circus Boys Series

By EDGAR B. P. DARLINGTON

Mr. Darlington’s books breathe forth every phase of an intensely
interesting and exciting life.

  1 THE CIRCUS BOYS ON THE FLYING RINGS; Or, Making the Start in the
  Sawdust Life.

  2 THE CIRCUS BOYS ACROSS THE CONTINENT; Or, Winning New Laurels on
  the Tanbark.

  3 THE CIRCUS BOYS IN DIXIE LAND; Or, Winning the Plaudits of the
  Sunny South.

  4 THE CIRCUS BOYS ON THE MISSISSIPPI; Or, Afloat with the Big Show
  on the Big River.

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


The High School Girls Series

By JESSIE GRAHAM FLOWER, A. M.

These breezy stories of the American High School Girl take the reader
fairly by storm.

  1 GRACE HARLOWE’S PLEBE YEAR AT HIGH SCHOOL; Or, The Merry Doings of
  the Oakdale Freshman Girls.

  2 GRACE HARLOWE’S SOPHOMORE YEAR AT HIGH SCHOOL; Or, The Record of
  the Girl Chums in Work and Athletics.

  3 GRACE HARLOWE’S JUNIOR YEAR AT HIGH SCHOOL; Or, Fast Friends in
  the Sororities.

  4 GRACE HARLOWE’S SENIOR YEAR AT HIGH SCHOOL; Or, The Parting of the
  Ways.

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.


The Automobile Girls Series

By LAURA DENT CRANE

No girl’s library—no family book-case can be considered at all complete
unless it contains these sparkling twentieth-century books.

  1 THE AUTOMOBILE GIRLS AT NEWPORT; Or, Watching the Summer Parade.

  2 THE AUTOMOBILE GIRLS IN THE BERKSHIRES; Or, The Ghost of Lost
  Man’s Trail.

  3 THE AUTOMOBILE GIRLS ALONG THE HUDSON; Or, Fighting Fire in Sleepy
  Hollow.

  4 THE AUTOMOBILE GIRLS AT CHICAGO; Or, Winning Out Against Heavy
  Odds.

  5 THE AUTOMOBILE GIRLS AT PALM BEACH; Or, Proving Their Mettle Under
  Southern Skies.

Cloth, Illustrated

Price, per Volume, 50c.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Automobile Girls Along the Hudson - Fighting Fire in Sleepy Hollow" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home