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´╗┐Title: Bobs, a Girl Detective
Author: Norton, Grace May
Language: English
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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 "Bobs, a Girl Detective" ***

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[Illustration: _During his absence she went back of the counter._
(frontispiece)]


BOBS, A GIRL DETECTIVE

by

CAROL NORTON



The Saalfield Publishing Company
Akron, Ohio    New York

Copyright MCMXXVIII
By the Saalfield Publishing Co.
Printed in U.S.A.



BOBS, A GIRL DETECTIVE



                               CHAPTER I
                       FOUR GIRLS FACE A PROBLEM


"Now that the crash is over and the last echo has ceased to reverberate
through our ancestral halls, the problem before the house is what shall
the family of Vandergrifts do next?"

"Gloria, I do wish you wouldn't stand there grinning like a Cheshire cat.
There certainly is nothing amusing about the whirlwind of a catastrophe
that we have just been through and are still in, for that matter."
Gwendolyn tapped her bronze-slippered toe impatiently as she sat in a
luxuriously upholstered chair in what, until this past week, had been the
library in the Long Island home of the proud family of Vandergrifts.

Gloria, the oldest of the four girls, ceased to smile but the pleasant
expression, which was habitual to the blue eyes, did not entirely vanish
as she inquired, "What would you have me do, Gwen? Fret and fume as you
are doing? That is no way to readjust your life to new and changed
conditions. Face the facts squarely, say I, and then try to find some way
to surmount your difficulties. Now first of all, we ought----"

The dark, handsome Gwendolyn, whose natural selfishness was plainly
portrayed in a drooping mouth and petulant expression, put her fingers in
her ears, saying: "If you are going to preach, I can assure you that I am
not going to listen; so you might as well save your breath until----"

"Hush. Here comes Lena May in from the garden. Don't let her hear us
scrapping. It effects her sensitive soul as discord effects a true
musician."

Lena May entered through the porch door, her arms filled with blossoming
branches.

"Look, sisters, aren't apple blossoms even sweeter than usual this year?"
the slip of a girl began, then paused and glanced from one face to the
other. "Gwen, what is wrong?" she asked anxiously.

But it was Gloria who replied, "Nothing at all, Pet. That is, nothing
'wronger' than usual, if you will permit my lapse of grammar."

But the dark-eyed sister threw down the book which she had been trying to
read, as she exclaimed, "You both know perfectly well than nothing could
be in more of a muddle than our lives are at the present moment and your
'look for the silver lining,' philosophy, Gloria Vandergrift, doesn't
help _me_ in the least."

The fawn-like eyes of the frail, youngest sister turned inquiringly
toward the oldest. "Has anything more happened, I mean, anything new?"
she asked.

"Yes, dear, we had a letter from Father's lawyer and he states than
beyond a doubt our place here on Long Island does not belong to us and,
for that matter, it never did really. Grandfather bought it in good
faith, I am sure, but he did not receive a clear title."

"Then why doesn't our lawyer clear it up? That's what I'd like to know,"
Gwen said, throwing herself petulantly into another position. "Why did
Father employ him, if he cannot attend to our legal matters?"

"But, Gwen, dear, can't you understand?" Gloria began to explain with
infinite patience. "When Father died, leaving four orphaned daughters, we
knew that the fortune he had inherited had been lost through unwise
investments, but we did think that the income from this vast acreage and
the tenants would be sufficient to permit us to live in about the same
comfortable way that we always have, but now we find that even this place
is not ours and that we are--well, up against it, as Bobs would say."

"Where is Bobs?" This from Lena May, who was arranging the sprays of
apple blossoms in a large pale-green bowl on a low wicker stand.

"Look out of yonder window and you will see the object of your inquiry,"
Gloria laughed as she pointed toward the park-like grounds where a
hoidenish young girl of 17 could be seen riding astride a slender
high-spirited black horse with a white star in his forehead.

"I do wish Roberta wouldn't wear that outlandish costume," Gwendolyn
began, "and what's more I can't see why she wants to be galloping around
the country in that fashion when a calamity like this is staring us in
the face."

The horse had disappeared beyond the shrubbery. The sisters supposed that
the young rider would go down to the stables and so they were somewhat
startled, a second later, by seeing Bobs vault over the sill of an open
window and land in their midst.

Gwendolyn, of course, rebuked her. "Roberta Vandergrift, aren't you ever
going to become ladylike?" she admonished.

The newcomer was about to retort that she hoped not if Gwen was a sample,
but Gloria intervened. "Don't be ladylike, Bobs," she said. "Now, more
than ever, we need a man in the family. But come, let's talk peaceably
together and decide what we are to do."

"All right," Roberta tossed her hat to one side and sat tailor-wise on
the floor, adding: "Fire ahead, I'm present."

"Such language," was what Gwendolyn refrained from saying, but Bobs
chuckled in wicked glee. She thought it jolly fun to shock "Miss Prunes
and Prisms," as she called the sister but one year her senior.

"Gloria, whatever you suggest, I know will be best," little Lena May
said, as she slipped a trusting hand into that of the oldest sister.
"Now, tell us, what is your plan?"

The oldest girl was thoughtful for a moment, then said: "Honestly, I
don't know that I have made one very far ahead, but of course we must
leave here. That is the inevitable, and, equally of course, we must find
some way of earning our daily bread."

"Bread, indeed," sniffed the disdainful Gwendolyn. "You know that I never
eat such a plebian thing as bread."

"Well, you may work to earn cake if you prefer," Bobs told her, then
leaning forward she added eagerly: "I say, Gloria, it's going to be a
great adventure, isn't it? I've always been so envious of people who
actually earned their own way in the world. It shows there is something
in them. Anyone can be a parasite, but the person who is worth while
isn't contented to be one. Ever since Kathryn De Laney went to little old
New York town to take a course in nursing that she might do something big
in the world, I've had the itch to do likewise. Getting up at noon and
then dwaddling away the hours until midnight is all very well for those
who like it, but not for mine! I've been wishing that something would jar
us out of the rut we're in, and I, for one, am glad that it has come."

"Kathryn De Laney is a disgrace to her family." This, scornfully, from
Gwen. "A girl with a million in her own name could hire people to do all
the nursing she wished done without going into dirty, slummy places
herself, and actually waiting on immigrants, the very sight of whom would
make me feel ill. I never even permit Hawkins to drive me through the
poorer sections of the city and, if I am obliged to pass through the
tenement district, I close the windows that I need not breath the
polluted air; and I also draw the curtains."

"I've no doubt that you do," Bobs said, eyeing her sister almost coldly.
"I sometimes wonder where our mother got you, anyway. You haven't one
resemblance to that dear little woman who, when the squalid hamlet down
by the sound was burned, opened her home and took them all in. We were
too small to remember it ourselves, but I've heard Father tell about it
time and again, and he would always end the story by saying, 'My dearest
wish is that my four girls each grow up to be just such an angel woman as
their mother was.'"

"Nor was that all," Lena May put in, a tender light glowing in her soft
brown eyes. "Mother herself superintended the rebuilding of the hamlet
which has now grown to be the model town along the sound." Then, looking
lovingly up at the oldest sister, she continued: "I'm glad, Gloria, that
you are so like our mother. But you haven't as yet told me your plan and
I am sure that you must at least have the beginning of one."

"Well, as I said before, we must leave here and go to work," Gloria
replied. "I suppose the best thing would be for us to go to New York,
where so many varieties of endeavor await us. Mr. Corey thinks that there
will be about one hundred dollars a month for us to live on. That will be
twenty-five dollars for each of us, and----"

"Twenty-five dollars, indeed? I can't even get a hat for that, and I
certainly shall need one to wear to Phyllis De Laney's lawn party on the
18th of June if----"

"But you won't be here then, Gwen, so you might as well not plan to
attend," Gloria said seriously. "We are obliged to vacate this place by
the first of June. The Grabbersteins, who claim their ancestors were the
original owners, will move in on that day, bag and baggage, and so my
suggestion is that we leave the week previous, that we need not meet
them."

"Have you thought what you will do to earn money?" Lena May asked Gloria.

"Yes. Miss Lovejoy of the East Seventy-seventh Street Settlement has
asked me to take charge of the girls' clubs and I have accepted."

"Gloria Vandergrift; you, a daughter of one of the very oldest families
in this country, to work, actually work in those dreadful smelling
slums."

Gloria looked almost with pity at the speaker, who, of course, was
Gwendolyn, as she said: "Do you realize that being born an aristocrat is
merely an accident? You might have been born in the slums, Gwen, and if
you had been, wouldn't you be glad to have someone come to you and give
you a chance?"

There being no reply, Gloria continued: "I take no credit to myself
because I happened to be born in luxury and not in poverty, but we'll
have to postpone this conversation, for our neighbors are evidently
coming to call."

Bobs sprang to her feet and leaped to the open window. "Hello there, Phyl
and Dick! Come around this way and I'll open the porch door."

Gwendolyn shrugged her shoulders. "Why doesn't Roberta allow Peter to
admit our visitors," she began, but Gloria interrupted: "One excellent
reason, perhaps, is that all our servants except the cook left this
morning. You, of course, were still asleep and did not know of the
exodus."

The sharp retort on the tongue of Gwendolyn was not uttered, for Phyllis
De Laney and her big, good-looking brother, Richard, were entering the
library.

"You poor dear girls! Just as soon as I heard the news I came right
over," Phyllis De Laney exclaimed as she sank down in a deep, comfortable
chair and looked about at her friends with an expression of frank
curiosity on her doll-pretty face. "However, I told Ma Mere that I knew
there wasn't a word of truth in the scandalous gossip, and so I came to
hear how it all started that I may be able to contradict it." Phyllis
took a breath and then continued her chatter: "Your maid, Gwen, told my
Fanchon, and she said that every servant in your employ had been
dismissed with two weeks' advance pay; and she said a good deal more than
that too, which, of course, isn't true. Just listen to this and then tell
me if it isn't simply scandalous. That maid declared that you girls are
going to work, actually work, to earn your own living."

"I'll say it's true!" Roberta put in, grinning with wicked glee. Her good
pal, Dick, smiled over at her as he remarked with evident amusement: "You
don't look very miserable about it, Bobs. In fact, quite the contrary,
you appear pleased. If the truth were known, I envy you, honestly I do!
I'd much rather go to work than go to college. I'm no good at Latin or
Greek. If languages are dead, bury them, I say. I'm not a student by
nature, so what's the use pretending; but the pater won't hear to it.
Just because our grandfather left us each a million, we've got to dwaddle
away our lives spending it. Of course I'm nineteen now, but you wait
until I'm twenty-one years old and see what will happen."

His sister Phyllis lifted her eyebrows ever so slightly and looked her
disapproval. "In that time you will have changed your mind," she
remarked. Then turning to her particular friend, she added: "But, Gwen,
you aren't going to work, are you? Pray, what could you do?"

Gwendolyn was in no pleasant frame of mind as her sisters well knew, and
her reply was most ungraciously given. Curtly she stated that she did not
care to discuss her personal affairs with anyone.

Phyllis flushed and rose at once, saying coldly: "Indeed? Since when have
you become so secretive? You always tell me everything you do and so I
had no reason to suppose that you would object to my friendly inquiry;
but you need have no fear, I shall never again intrude upon your privacy.
I will bid you all good afternoon and good-bye, for, of course, since you
are going to New York to work, I suppose as clerks in the shops, we will
not likely meet again."

"Aw, I say, Sis, cut it out! What's the big idea, anyway? A friend is a
friend, isn't he, whether he wears broadcloth or overalls?" Then as his
sister continued to sweep out of the room, the lad crossed to the oldest
sister and held out his hand, saying, with sincere boyish sympathy,
"Gloria, I'm mighty sorry about this--er--this--well, whatever it is, and
please let me know where you go, and as soon as you're settled I'll run
over and play the big brother act, if you'll let me."

Then, turning to Bobs, he said: "Go riding with me at sunrise tomorrow
morning, will you, like we used to do before I went away to school.
There's a lot I want to say, and the day after I'm going to be packed off
to the academy again to be tortured for another month; then, thanks be,
vacation will let me out of that prison for a while." Roberta hesitated,
and Dick urged: "Go on, Bob! Be a sport. Say yes."

"All right. I'll be at the Twin Oaks, where we've met ever since we were
little shavers."

When the door closed behind the departing guests Gloria turned to the
sister, who was but one year her junior, and said: "Gwendolyn, I am sorry
to say this, but the good of the larger number requires it. If you cannot
face the changed conditions cheerfully with us, I shall have to ask you
to make your plans independent of us. We three have decided to be brave
and courageous, and try to find joy and happiness in whatever may present
itself, just as our mother and father would wish us to do, and just as
they would have done had similar circumstances overtaken them."

Gwendolyn rose and walked toward the door, but turned to say, "You need
not concern yourselves about me in the least. I shall not go with you to
New York. I shall visit my dear friend Eloise Rochester in Newport, as
she has often begged me to do."

"An excellent plan, if----" Gloria began, then paused.

Gwendolyn turned and inquired haughtily, "If what?"

"If Eloise wants you when she hears that you have neither home nor
wealth. If I am anything of a character reader, I should say that the
invitation about which you have just told was merely a bait, so to speak,
for a return invitation. It is quite evident that Eloise has decided to
marry Richard De Laney's million-dollar inheritance, and since Phyllis
will not invite her to their home you, as a next-door neighbor, can be
used to advantage."

"Indeed? Well, luckily Miss Vandergrift, you are _not_ a character
reader, as you will learn in the near future. You three make whatever
plans you wish, but do not include me." So saying, Gwendolyn left the
room and a few moments later the three sisters heard her moving about in
the apartment overhead, and they correctly assumed that she was packing,
preparatory for her departure to Newport.

Gloria sighed: "I wonder why Gwen is so unlike our mother and father?"
she said.

"I have it," Bobs cried, whirling about with eyes laughingly aglow.
"She's a changeling! A discontented nurse girl wished to wreak vengeance
upon Mother for having discharged her, or something like that, and so she
stole the child who really was our sister and left this----"

"Don't, Bobsie!" Lena May protested. "Even if Gwen is selfish, maybe we
are to blame. She was ill for so long after Mother died that we couldn't
bear the thought of having two deaths, and so we rather spoiled her. I
believe that if we meet her contrariness with love and are very patient
we may find the gold that must be in her nature, since she _is_ our
mother's child."

"You can do it, if it's do-able, Lena May," Bobs declared. "Now, Gloria,
break the glad news! When do we hit the trail for the big town?"

"I'm going in tomorrow to find a place for us to live. If you girls wish,
you may accompany me."

"Wish? Why, all the king's oxen and all the king's men couldn't keep me
from going."

Gloria smiled at her hoidenish sister but refrained from commenting on
her language. She was so thankful that there was only one Gwen in the
family that she could overlook lesser failings. Bobs was taking the
mishap that had befallen them as a great adventure, but even she did not
dream of the truly exciting adventures that lay before them.



                              CHAPTER II.
                               A PROPOSAL


Soon after daybreak the next morning, down a deserted country road, two
thoroughbred horses were galloping neck and neck.

"Gee along, Star," Bobs was shouting. She had lost her hat a mile back
and her short hair, which would ripple, though she tried hard to brush
out the natural curls, was tossed about her head, making her look more
hoidenish than ever.

Dick, on his slender brown horse, gradually won a lead and was a length
ahead when they reached the Twin Oaks, which for many years had been
their trysting place. Roberta and Dick had been playmates and then pals,
squabbling and making up, ever since the pinafore days, more, however,
like two boys than a boy and a girl. Bobs, in fact, never thought of
herself as a young person who in due time would become a marriageable
young lady, and so it was with rather a shock of surprise that she heard
Dick say, when they had drawn their horses to a standstill in the shade
of the wide-spreading trees: "I say, Roberta, couldn't you cut out this
going to work stuff and marry me?"

"Ye gods and little fishes! _Me_ marry you?" Bobs' remark and the
accompanying expression in her round, sunburned face, with its pertly
tilting freckled nose, were none too complimentary.

Dick flushed. "Well, I say! What's the matter with me, anyhow? Anyone
might think, by the way you're staring, that I had said something
dreadful. I'm not deformed, am I? And I've got money enough so you
wouldn't have to work ever and----"

Roberta became a girl at once, a girl with a sincere nature and a tender
heart. Reaching out a strong brown hand, she placed it kindly on the arm
of her friend. "Dicky, boy, forgive me, if--if I was a little astonished
and showed it. Truth is, for so many years I've thought of you as the
playmate I could always count on to fight my battles, that I'd sort of
forgotten that we were grown up enough to even think of marrying. Of
course we aren't grown up enough yet to really marry, for you are only
nineteen, and I'm worse than that, being not yet seventeen. And as for
money, Dick, I'd like you heaps better if you were poor and working your
way, but I know that you meant what you said most kindly. You wanted to
save me from hard knocks, but, Dick, honest Injun, I revel in them. That
is, I suppose I will. Never having had one as yet, I can't speak from
past experience."

Then they rode slowly back to find the hat that had blown off into the
bushes. Dick rescued it, and when he returned it he handed her a spray
from a blossoming wild rose vine.

The lad did not again refer to his offer, and the girl, he noted with an
inward sigh, had evidently forgotten all about it. She was gazing about
her appreciatively. "Dicky boy," she exclaimed, "there's nothing much
prettier than early morning in the country, is there, with the dew still
sparkling--and a meadow lark singing," she added, for at that moment a
joyous song arose from a near-by thicket.

For a time they were silent as they rode slowly back by the way they had
come. Then Dick said, "Bobs, since you love the country so dearly, aren't
you afraid you'll be homesick in that human whirlpool, New York?"

The girl turned toward him brightly. "Perhaps, sometimes," she replied.
"But it isn't far to the country when I feel the need of a deep breath of
fresh air." Then her face saddened as she continued: "Of course we won't
be coming out here any more." She waved toward the vast estate which for
many years had been the home of Vandergrifts. "We couldn't stand it, not
one of us could, to see strangers living where Mother and Father were so
happy. They'll probably change things a lot." Then she added almost
passionately: "I hope they will. Then, if ever I _do_ see it again, it
will not look like the same place."

Dick did not say what was in his heart, but gloomily he realized that if
the girl at his side did not expect ever to return to that neighborhood,
it was quite evident that she would not be his wife, for his home
adjoined that of the Vandergrifts.

When he spoke, his words in no way betrayed his thoughts. "Have you any
idea, Bobs, what you'd like to do, over there in the big city; I mean to
make a living?"

The girl laughed; then sent a merry side glance toward her companion.
"You never could guess in a thousand years," she flung at him, then
challenged; "Try!"

The boy flicked his quirt at the drooping branches of a willow they were
passing, then frankly confessed that he couldn't picture Roberta in any
of the occupations for women of which he had ever heard. Mischievously
she queried, "Wouldn't I make a nice demure saleswoman for ladies'
dresses or----"

"Great guns, _No_!" was the explosive interruption. "Don't put such a
strain on my imagination." Then he laughed gaily, for he was evidently
trying to picture the hoidenish girl mincing up and down in some
fashionable emporium dressed in the latest styles, while women peered at
her through lorgnettes. Bobs laughed with him when he told his thoughts,
then said:

"I'll agree, as a model, I won't do." Then with pretended thoughtfulness
she flicked a fly from her horse's ear. "Would I make a good actress,
Dicky, do you think?"

"You'd make a better circus performer," the boy told her. "I'll never
forget the antics we used to pull, before----"

"Before I realized that I was a girl and _had_ to be ladylike." Bobs
laughed with him, then added merrily, "If it hadn't been for my prunes
and prisms, Sister Gwendolyn, I might _never_ have ceased to be a
tom-boy."

"I hope you never will become like Gwen," Dick said almost fiercely, "or
like my sister Phyllis, either. They're not _our kind_, though I'm sorry
to say it." Then noting a far-away, thoughtful expression which had crept
into the girl's eyes, the lad inquired: "Say, Bobs, have you any idea
_how_ Gwyn _can_ earn a living? You're the sort who can hold your own
anywhere. You'd be willing to work, but Gwyn--well, I can't picture her
as a daily-bread earner."

His companion shook her head; then quite unexpectedly she said: "Dick,
why _didn't_ you fall in love with Gwen? It would have solved her problem
to have had someone nice and rich to take care of her."

"Well, of all the unheard of preposterous suggestions!" The amazed youth
was so astonished that he unconsciously drew rein and stared at the girl.
He knew by her merry laugh that she had said it but to tease, and so he
rode on again at her side. Bobs feared that she had hurt her friend, for
his face was still flushed and he did not speak. Reining her horse close
to his, she again put a hand on his arm, saying with sincere earnestness:
"Forgive me, pal of mine, if I seemed to speak lightly. Honestly, I
didn't mean it--that is, not as it sounded. But I _do_ wish that someone
as nice and--yes, I'll say as rich as you are, _would_ propose to poor
Gwen. You don't know how sorry Gloria and I feel because Gwen has to be
poor with the rest of us." The boy had placed his hand over the one
resting on his arm, but only for a moment. "You see," Bobs explained,
"Glow and I honestly feel that an adventure of a new and interesting kind
awaits us, and, as for little Lena May, money means nothing to her. If
she can just be with Gloria, that is all she asks of Fate."

They had reached the Vandergrift gate and Bobs, drawing rein, reached out
her hand, saying: "Goodbye, Dick." Then, after a hesitating moment, she
added sincerely, "I'm sorry, old pal. I wish I could have said yes--that
is, if it means a lot to you."

The boy held her hand in a firm clasp as he replied earnestly, "I'm not
going to give up hoping, Bobsie. I'll put that question on the table for
a couple of years, but, when I am twenty-one, I'm going to hit the trail
for _wherever_ you are, and ask it all over again. You see if I don't."

"You won't if Eloise Rochester has anything to say about it," was the
girl's merry rejoinder. Then as Bobs turned her horse toward the stables,
she called over her shoulder: "O, I say, Dick, I forgot to tell you the
profession I've chosen. I'm going to a girl detective."



                              CHAPTER III.
                            VENTURING FORTH


When Roberta entered the breakfast room, she found Gloria and Lena May
there waiting for her. In answer to her question, the oldest sister
replied that Gwen would not unlock her door. Lena May had left her
breakfast on a tray in the hall. "We think she is packing to leave,"
Gloria sighed. "The way Gwen takes our misfortune is the hardest thing
about it."

Bobs, who was ravenously hungry after her early morning ride, was eating
her breakfast with a relish which contrasted noticeably with the evident
lack of appetite shown by her sisters. At last she said: "Glow, I'm not
so sure all this is really a misfortune. If something hadn't happened to
jolt us out of a rut, we would have settled down here and led a humdrum,
monotonous life, going to teas and receptions, bridge parties and
week-ends, played tennis and golf, married and died, and nothing real or
vital would have happened. But, now, take it from me, I, for one, am
going to really live, not stagnate or rust."

Gloria smiled as she hastened to assure her sister: "I agree with you,
Bobs. I'm glad something _has_ happened to make it possible for me to
carry out a long-cherished desire of mine. I haven't said much about it,
but ever since Kathryn De Laney came home last summer on a vacation and
told me about the girls of the East Side who have never had a real chance
to develop the best that is in them, I have wanted to help them. I didn't
know how to go about doing it, not until the crash came. Then I wrote
Kathryn, and you know what happened next. She found a place for me in the
Settlement House to conduct social clubs for those very girls of whom she
had told me."

Both of the listeners noted the eager, earnest expression on the truly
beautiful face of the sister who had mothered them, but almost at once it
had saddened, and they knew that again she was thinking of Gwen. Directly
after breakfast Gloria went once more to the upper hall and tapped on a
closed and locked door, but there was no response from within. However,
the breakfast tray which Lena May had left on a near table was not in
sight, and so, at least, Gwendolyn was not going hungry.

It seemed strange to the two younger girls to be clearing away the
breakfast things and tidying up the kitchen where, for so many years, a
good-natured Chinaman had reigned supreme.

"I'm going to miss Sing more than any servant that we ever had," Bobs was
saying when Gloria entered the kitchen. There was a serious expression on
the face of the oldest girl and Bobs refrained from uttering the
flippancy which had been on the tip of her tongue. Lena May, having put
away the dishes, turned to ask solicitously: "Wouldn't Gwen let you in,
Glow?"

"No, I didn't hear a sound, but the tray is gone." The gentle Lena May
was pleased to hear that.

"Poor Gwen, she is making it harder for herself and for all of us,"
Gloria said; then added, "Are you girls ready to go with me? I'd like to
get over to the city early, after the first rush is over and the midday
rush has not begun."

Exultant Bobs could not refrain from waving the dishcloth she still held.
"Hurray for us!" she sang out. "Three adventurers starting on they know
not what wild escapade. Wait until I change my togs, Glow, and I'll be
with you." Then, glancing down at her riding habit, "Unless this will
do?" she questioned her sister.

"Of course not, dear. We'll all wear tailored suits."

It was midmorning when three fashionably attired girls for the first time
in their lives ascended to the Third Avenue Elevated, going uptown. At
that hour there were few people traveling in that direction and they had
a car almost to themselves. As they were whirled past tenements, so close
that they could plainly see the shabby furniture in the flats beyond, the
younger girls suddenly realized how great was the contrast between the
life that was ahead of them and that which they were leaving. The
thundering of the trains, the constant rumble of traffic below, the
discordant cries of hucksters, reached them through the open windows.
"It's hard to believe that a meadow lark is singing anywhere in the
world," Bobs said, turning to Gloria. "Or that little children are
playing in those meadows," the older girl replied. She was watching the
pale, ragged children hanging to railings around fire escapes on a level
with the train windows.

"Poor little things!" Lena May's tone was pitying, "I don't see how they
can do much playing in such cramped, crowded places."

"I don't suppose they even know the meaning of the word," Bobs replied.

They left the train at the station nearest the Seventy-seventh Street
Settlement. Since Gloria was to be employed there, she planned starting
from that point to search for the nearest suitable dwelling. They found
themselves in a motley crowd composed of foreign women and children, who
jostled one another in an evident effort to reach the sidewalk where, in
two-wheeled carts, venders of all kinds of things salable were calling
their wares. "They must sell everything from fish to calico," Bobs
reported after a moment's inspection from the curbing.

The women, who wore shawls of many colors over their heads and who
carried market baskets and babies, were, some of them, Bohemians and
others Hungarian. Few words of English were heard by the interested
girls. "I see where I have to acquire a new tongue if I am to know what
our future neighbors are talking about," Bobs had just said, when,
suddenly, just ahead of them, a thin, sickly woman slipped and would have
fallen had not a laboring man who was passing caught her just in time.
The grateful woman coughed, her hand pressed to her throat, before she
could thank him. The girls saw that she had potatoes in a basket which
seemed too heavy for her. The man was apparently asking where she lived;
then he assisted her toward a near tenement.

"Well," Bobs exclaimed, "there is evidently chivalry among working men as
well as among idlers."

At the crossing they were caught in a jam of traffic and pedestrians.
Little Lena May clung to Gloria's arm, looking about as though terrorized
at this new and startling experience. When, after some moments' delay,
the opposite sidewalk was reached in safety, Bobs exclaimed gleefully:
"Wasn't that great?" But Lena May had not enjoyed the experience, and it
was quite evident to the other two that it was going to be very hard for
their sensitive, frail youngest sister to be transplanted from her
gardens, where she had spent long, quiet, happy hours, painting the
scenes she loved, to this maelstrom of foreign humanity. There was almost
a pang of regret in the heart of the girl who had mothered the others
when she realized fully, for the first time, what her own choice of a
home location might mean to their youngest. Perhaps she had been selfish,
because of her own great interest in Settlement Work, to plan to have
them all live on the crowded East Side, but her fears were set at rest a
moment later when they came upon a group of children, scarcely more than
babies, who were playing in a gutter. Lena May's sweet face brightened
and, smiling up at Gloria, she exclaimed: "Aren't they dears, in spite of
the rags and dirt? I'd love to do something for them."

"I'd like to put them all in a tub of soap-suds and give them a good
scrubbing for once in their lives," the practical Bobs remarked. Then she
caught Gloria by the arm, exclaiming, as she nodded toward a crossing,
"There goes that chivalrous laboring man. He steps off with too much
agility to be a ditch-digger, or anyone who does hard work, doesn't he,
Glow?"

The oldest sister laughed. "Bobs," she remarked, "I sometimes think that
you are a detective by nature. You are always trying to discover by the
cut of a man's hair what his profession may be."

Bobs' hazel eyes were merry, though her face was serious. "You've hit it,
Glow!" she exclaimed. "I was going to keep it a secret a while longer,
but I might as well confess, now that the cat is out of the bag."

"What cat?" Lena May had only heard half of this sentence; she had been
so interested in watching the excitement among the children caused by the
approach of an organ grinder.

"My chosen profession is the cat," Bobs informed her, "and I suppose my
brain, where it has been hiding, is the bag. I'm going to be a
detective."

Little Lena May was horrified. Detectives meant to her sleuths who
visited underground haunts of crooks of all kinds. "I'm sure Gloria will
not wish it, will you, Glow?"

Appealingly the soft brown eyes were lifted and met the smiling gaze of
the oldest sister. "We are each to do the work for which we are best
fitted," she replied. "You are to be our little housekeeper and that will
give you time to go on with your painting. I was just wondering a moment
ago if you might not like to put some of these black-eyed Hungarian
babies into a picture. If they are clean, they would be unusually
beautiful."

Lena May was interested at once and glanced about for possible subjects,
and so for the time being the startling statement of Bobs' chosen
profession was dropped. They were nearing the East River, very close to
which stood a large, plain brick building containing many windows. "I
believe that is the Settlement House," Gloria had just said, when Bobs,
discovering the name over the door, verified the statement.

A pretty Hungarian girl of about their own age answered their ring and
admitted them to a big cheerful clubroom. Another girl was practicing on
a piano in a far corner. The three newcomers seated themselves near the
door and looked about with great interest. Just beyond were shelves of
books. Bobs sauntered over to look at the titles. "It's a dandy
collection for girls," she reported as she again took her seat.

It was not long before Miss Lovejoy, the matron entered the room and
advanced toward them. The three girls rose to greet her.

Miss Lovejoy smilingly held out a hand to the tallest, saying in her
pleasant, friendly voice, "I wonder if I am right in believing that _you_
are the Miss Gloria Vandergrift who is coming to assist me."

"Yes, Miss Lovejoy, I am, and these are my younger sisters, Roberta and
little Lena May." Then she explained: "We haven't moved into town as yet.
I thought best to come over this morning and find a place for us to live;
then we will have our trunks sent and our personal possessions."

"That is a good idea," the matron said, then asked: "Have you found
anything as yet?"

"We thought, since we are strangers in the neighborhood, that you might
be able to suggest some place for us," Gloria told the matron.

After a thoughtful moment Miss Lovejoy replied: "The tenement houses in
this immediate neighborhood are most certainly not desirable for one used
to comforts. However, on Seventy-eighth Street, there is a new model
tenement built by some wealthy women and it is just possible that there
may be a vacant flat. You might inquire at the office there. You can take
the short-cut path across the playground and it will lead you directly to
the model tenement."

"Thank you, Miss Lovejoy," Gloria said. "We will let you know the result
of our search."



                              CHAPTER IV.
                            A HAUNTED HOUSE


The model tenement which Miss Lovejoy had pointed out to them was soon
reached. A door on the ground floor was labeled "Office," and so Gloria
pushed the electric button.

A trim young woman whose long-lashed, dark eyes suggested her
nationality, received them, but regretted to have to tell them that every
flat in the model tenement was occupied. She looked, with but slightly
concealed curiosity, at these three applicants who, as was quite evident,
were from other environments.

Gloria glanced about the neat courtyard and up at windows where flowers
were blossoming in bright window boxes, then glowingly she turned back to
the girl: "It was a splendid thing for those wealthy society women to do,
wasn't it," she said, "erecting this really handsome yellow brick
building in the midst of so much poverty and squalor. It must have a most
uplifting effect on the lives of the poor people to be able to live here
where everything is so sweet and clean, rather than there," nodding, as
she spoke, at a building across the street which looked gloomy,
crumbling, unsafe and unsanitary.

The office attendant spoke with enthusiasm. "No one knows better than I,
for I used to live in the other kind of tenement when I was a child, but
Miss Lovejoy's club for factory girls gave me my chance to learn
bookkeeping, and now I am agent here. My name is Miss Selenski. Would you
like to see the model apartment?"

"Thank you. Indeed we would," Gloria replied with enthusiasm; then she
added, "Miss Selenski, I am Miss Vandergrift, and these are my sisters,
Roberta and Lena May. We hope to be your neighbors soon."

If there was a natural curiosity in the heart of the dark-eyed girl, she
said nothing of it, and at once led the way through the neatly tiled
halls and soon opened a door admitting them to a small flat of three
rooms, which was clean and attractively furnished. The windows, flooded
with sunlight, overlooked the East River.

"This is the apartment that we show," Miss Selenski explained. "The
others are just like it, or were, before tenants moved in," she
corrected.

"Say, this _is_ sure cosy! Who lives in this one?" Bobs inquired.

"I do," Miss Selenski replied, hurrying to add, "But I did not fit it up.
The ladies did that. It has all the modern appliances that help to make
housekeeping easy, and once every week a teacher comes here to instruct
the neighborhood women how to cook, clean and sew; in fact, how to live.
And the lessons and demonstrations are given in this apartment."

When the girls were again in the office, Gloria turned to their new
acquaintance, saying, "Do you happen to know of any place around here
that is vacant where we might like to live?"

At first Miss Selenski shook her head. Then she added, with a queer
little smile, "Not unless you're willing to live in the old Pensinger
mansion."

Then she went on to explain: "Long, long ago, when New York was little
more than a village, and Seventy-eighth Street was country, all along the
East River there were, here and there, handsome mansion-like homes and
vast grounds. Oh, so different from what it is now! Every once in a while
you find one of these old dwellings still standing.

"Some of them house many poor families, but the Pensinger mansion is
seldom occupied. If a family is brave enough to move in, before many
weeks the 'for rent' sign is again at the door. The rent is almost
nothing, but--" the girl hesitated, then went on to say, "Maybe I ought
not to tell you the story about the old place if you have any thought of
living there."

"Oh, please tell it! Is it a ghost story?" Bobs begged, and Gloria added,
"Yes, do tell it, Miss Selenski. We are none of us afraid of ghosts."

"Of course you aren't," Miss Selenski agreed, "and, for that matter,
neither am I. But nearly all of our neighbors are superstitious. Mr.
Tenowitz, the grocer at the corner of First and Seventy-ninth has the
renting of the place, and he declares that the last tenant rushed into
his store early one morning, paid his bill and departed without a word of
explanation, but he looked, Mr. Tenowitz told me, as though he _had_ seen
a ghost. I don't think there is anything the matter with the old house,"
their informant continued, "except just loneliness.

"Of course, big, barnlike rooms, when they are empty, echo every sound in
a mournful manner without supernatural aid."

"But how did it all start?" Bobs inquired. "Did anything of an unusual
nature ever happen there?"

Miss Selenski nodded, and then continued: "The story is that the only
daughter of the last of the Pensingers who lived there disappeared one
night and was never again seen. Her mother, so the tale goes, wished her
to marry an elderly English nobleman, but she loved a poor Hungarian
violinist whom she was forbidden to see. Because of her grief, she did
many strange things, and one of them was to walk at midnight, dressed all
in white, along the brink of the dark swirling river which edged the wide
lawn in front of her home. Her white silk shawl was found on the bank one
morning and the lovely Marilyn Pensinger was never seen again.

"Her father, however, was convinced that his daughter was not drowned,
but that she had married the man she loved and returned with him to his
native land, Hungary. So great was his faith in his own theory that, in
his will, he stated that the taxes on the old Pensinger mansion should be
paid for one hundred years and that it should become the property of any
descendant of his daughter, Marilyn, who could be found within that time.

"I believe that will was made about seventy-five years ago and so, you
see, there are twenty-five years remaining for an heir to turn up."

"What will happen if no one claims the old place?" Gloria inquired.

"It is to be sold and the money devoted to charity," Miss Selenski told
them.

"That certainly is an interesting yarn," Bobs declared; then added
gleefully, "I suppose the people around here think that the fair Marilyn
returns at midnight, prowling along the shores of the river looking for
her white silk shawl."

Miss Selenski nodded. "That's about it, I believe." Then she added
brightly, "I'll tell you what, I'm not busy at this hour and if you wish
I'll take you over to see the old place. Mr. Tenowitz will give me the
keys."

"Thank you, Miss Selenski," Gloria said. "We would be glad to have you
show us the place. There seems to be nothing else around here to rent and
we might remain in the Pensinger mansion until you have a model flat
unoccupied."

"That will not be soon," they were told, "as there is a long waiting
list."

Then, after hanging a sign on the door which stated that she would be
gone for half an hour, Miss Selenski and the three interested young
people went down Seventy-eighth Street and toward the East River.

Bobs was hilariously excited. Perhaps, after all, she was going to have
an opportunity to really practice what she had, half in fun, called her
chosen profession, for was there not a mystery to be solved and an heir
to be found?



                               CHAPTER V.
                           A STRANGE NEW HOME


Lena May's clasp on the hand of her older sister grew unconsciously
tighter as they passed a noisy tobacco factory which faced the East River
and loomed, smoke-blackened and huge.

The old Pensinger mansion was just beyond, set far back on what had once
been a beautiful lawn, reaching to the river's edge, but which was now
hard ground with here and there a half-dead tree struggling to live
without care. A wide road now separated it from the river, which was
lined as far up and down as one could see with wharves, to which coal and
lumber barges were tied.

The house did indeed look as though it were a century old. The windows
had never been boarded up, and many of the panes had been broken by
stones thrown by the most daring of the street urchins, though, luckily,
few dared go near enough to further molest the place for fear of stirring
up the "haunt."

"A noble house gone to decay," Gloria said. She had to speak louder than
usual because of the pounding and whirring of the machinery in the
neighboring factory. Lena May wondered if anywhere in all the world there
were still peaceful spaces where birds sang, or where the only sound was
the murmuring of the wind in the trees.

"Is it never still here?" she turned big inquiring eyes toward their
guide.

"Never," Miss Selenski told her. "That is, not for more than a minute at
a time, between shifts, for when the day work stops the night work
begins."

"Many of the workers are women, are they not?" Gloria was looking at the
windows of the factory where many foreign women could be seen standing at
long tables.

"They leave their children at the Settlement House. They work on the day
shift, and the men, if they can be made to work at all, go on at night."

"Oh, Gloria!" this appealingly from the youngest, "will we ever be able
to sleep in the midst of such noise, when we have been used to such
silent nights at home?"

"I don't much wonder that you ask," Bobs laughingly exclaimed, as she
thrust her fingers in her ears, for at that moment a tug on the river,
not a stone's throw away from them, rent the air with a shrill blast of
its whistle, which was repeated time and again.

"You won't mind the noises when you get used to them," Miss Selenski told
them cheerfully. "I lived on Seventy-sixth Street, right under the Third
Avenue L, and the only time I woke up was when the trains stopped
running. The sudden stillness startles one, I suppose."

Lena May said nothing, but she was remembering what Bobs had said when
they had left the Third Avenue Elevated: "Now we are to see how the
'other half' lives."

"Poor other half!" the young girl thought. "I ought to be willing to live
here for a time and bring a little of the brightness I have known into
their lives, for they must be very drab."

"Just wait here a minute," Miss Selenski was saying, "and I'll run over
to the grocery and get the key."

She was back in an incredibly short time and found the three girls
examining with great interest the heavy front door, which had wide
panels, a shapely fan light over them, with beautiful emerald glass panes
on each side.

"I simply adore this knocker," Bobs declared, jubilantly. "Hark, let's
hear the echoes."

The knocker was lifted and dropped again, but though they all listened
intently, a sudden confusion on the river made it impossible to hear
aught else.

"My private opinion is that Marilyn's ghost would much prefer some other
spot for midnight prowls," Bobs remarked, as the old key was being fitted
into the queerly designed lock. "Imagine a beautiful, sensitive girl of
seventy-five years ago trying to prowl down there where barges are tied
to soot-black docks and where derricks are emptying coal into waiting
trucks. No really romantic ghost, such as I am sure Marilyn Pensinger
must be, would care to prowl around here."

Miss Selenski smiled at Bobs' nonsense. "I'm glad you feel that way," she
said, "for, of course, if you don't believe in the ghost, you won't mind
renting the house."

At that moment the derrick of which Bobs had spoken emptied a great
bucket of coal with a deafening roar, and a wind blowing from the river
sent the cloud of black dust hurling toward them.

"Quick! Duck inside!" Bobs cautioned, as they all leaped within and
closed the door with a bang.

"Jimminy-crickets!" she then ejaculated, using her favorite tom-boy
expression. "The man who has this place to rent can't advertise it as
clean and quiet, a good place for nervous people to recuperate." Then
with a wry face toward her older sister. "I can't imagine Gwen in this
house, can you?"

There was a sudden troubled expression in Gloria's eyes. "No, dear, I
can't. And I'm wondering, in fact I have often been wondering this
morning, if we ought not to select some place where Gwen and little Lena
May would be happier, for, of course, Gwen _can't_ keep on visiting her
friends forever. She will have to come home some day." The speaker felt a
hand slip into hers and, glancing down, she saw a pleading in the
uplifted eyes of their youngest. "I'd _like_ to live here, Glow, for a
while, if you would."

"Little self-sacrificing puss that you are." Gloria smiled at Miss
Selenski, then said: "May we look over the old house and decide if we
wish to take it? Time is passing and we have much packing to do if we are
to return in another day or two."

Although she did not say so, Bobs and Lena May knew that their mothering
sister was eager to return to their Long Island home that she might see
Gwendolyn before her departure.

The old colonial mansion, like many others of its kind, had a wide hall
extending from the front to the back. At the extreme rear was a fireplace
with built-in seats. In fact, to the great delight of Bobs, who quite
adored them, a fireplace was found in each of the big barren rooms. Four
of these were on that floor, with the old kitchen in the basement, and
four vast silent rooms above, that had been bed chambers in the long ago.
Too, there was an attic, which they did not visit.

When they had returned to the front hall, Bobs exclaimed: "We might rent
just one floor of this mansion and then have room to spare."

But the oldest sister looked dubious. "I hardly think it advisable to
attempt to live in this place--" she began. "There is enough room here to
home an orphanage, and the kiddies wouldn't be crowded, either."

Roberta was plainly disappointed. "Oh, I say, Glow, haven't you always
told us younger girls not to make hasty conclusions, and here you have
hardly more than crossed the threshold and you have decided that we
couldn't make the old house livable. Now, I think this room could be made
real cozy."

How the others laughed. "Bobs, what a word to apply to this old
high-ceiled salon with its huge chandeliers and----"

"Say, girls," the irrepressible interrupted, "wouldn't you like to see
all of those crystals sparkle when the room is lighted?" Then she
confessed, "Perhaps cozy isn't exactly the right word, but nevertheless I
like the place, and now, with the door closed, it isn't so noisy either.
It's keen, take it from me."

"Roberta," Gloria sighed, "now and then I congratulate myself that you
have actually reformed in your manner of speech, when----"

"Say, Glow, I'll make a bargain," Bobs again interrupted. "I'll talk like
the daughter of Old-dry-as-dust-Johnson, if you'll take this place. Now,
my idea is that we can just furnish up this lower floor. Make one of the
back rooms into a kitchen and dining-room, put in gas and electricity,
and presto change, there you are living in a modern up-to-date apartment.
Then we could lock up the basement and the rooms upstairs and forget they
are there."

"If you are permitted to forget," Miss Selenski added, with her pleasant
smile. Then, for the first time, the girls remembered that the old house
was supposed to be supernaturally occupied.

It was Bobs who exclaimed: "Well, if that poor girl, Marilyn Pensinger,
wants to come back here now and then and prowl about her very own
ancestral mansion, I, for one, think we would be greatly lacking in
hospitality if we didn't make her welcome."

Then pleadingly to her older sister: "Glow, be a sport! Take it for a
month and give it a try-out."

Lena May's big brown eyes wonderingly watched this enthusiastic sister,
who was but one year her senior, but whose tastes were widely different.
Her gentle heart was already desperately homesick for the old place on
Long Island, for the gardens that were a riot of flowers from spring
until late fall.

Gloria walked to one of the windows and looked out meditatively. "If this
is the only place in the neighborhood in which we can live," she was
thinking, "perhaps we would better take it, and, after all, Bobs may be
right: this one floor can be made real homelike with the furniture that
we will bring, and what we do not need can be stored in the rooms
overhead."

Bobs was eagerly awaiting her older sister's decision, and when it was
given, that hoidenish girl leaped about the room, staging a sort of wild
Indian dance that must have amazed the two chandeliers which had in the
long ago looked down upon dignified young ladies who solemnly danced the
minuet, and yet, perhaps the lonely old house was glad and proud to think
that it had been chosen as a residence for three girls, and that once
again its walls would reverberate with laughter and song.

"We must start for home at once," Gloria said. Then, to Miss Selenski,
"We will stop on our way to the elevated and tell Mr. Tenowitz that we
will take the place for a time; and thank you so much for having helped
us find something. We shall want you to come often to see us."

Bobs was the last one to leave, and before she closed the heavy
old-fashioned door, she peered back into the musty dimness and called,
"Good-bye, old house, we're going to have jolly good times, all of us
together."



                              CHAPTER VI.
                             A LOST SISTER


Two weeks later many changes had taken place. Mr. Tenowitz had agreed to
have one of the two large back rooms transformed into a modern kitchen at
one end, and the other end arranged so that it might be used as a
dining-room. In that room the early morning sun found its way, and when
Lena May had filled the windows with boxes containing the flowering
plants brought from the home gardens, it assumed a cheerfulness that
delighted the heart of the little housekeeper.

Too, the huge chandeliers in the salon had been wired with electricity,
and great was the joy in the heart of Bobs on the night when they were
first lighted. The rich furnishings from their own drawing-room were in
place and the effect was far more homelike than Gloria had supposed
possible.

The two large rooms on the other side of the wide dividing hall had been
fitted up as bed chambers and the furniture that they did not need had
been stored in the large room over the kitchen.

How Lena May had dreaded that first night they had spent in the old
house, not because she believed it to be haunted. Gloria had convinced
her that that could not possibly be so, but because of the unusual
noises, she knew that she would not be able to sleep a wink. Nor was she,
for each time that she fell into a light slumber, a shriek from some
passing tug awakened her, and a dozen times at least she seized her
roommate, exclaiming, "Glow, what was that?" Sometimes it was a band of
hoodlums passing, or again an early milk wagon, or some of the many
noises which accompanied the night activities of the factory that was
their next-door neighbor.

It was a very pale, sleepy-eyed Lena May who set about getting breakfast
the next morning, with Gloria helping, but Bobs looked as refreshed as
though she had spent the night in her own room on Long Island, where the
whippoorwill was the only disturber of the peace.

"You'll get used to it soon," that beaming maiden told Lena May, and
then, when the youngest girl had gone with a small watering pot to attend
to the needs of her flower gardens at the front of the house, Bobs added
softly: "Glow, how have you planned things? It never would do to leave
Lena May all alone in the house, would it? And yet you and I must go out
and earn our daily bread."

"I shall take Lena May with me wherever I go; that is, I will at first,
until we have things adjusted," the older sister replied. Then she
inquired: "What do you intend to do, Bobsie, or is it a secret as yet?"

"It sure is," was the laughing reply, "a secret from myself, as well as
from everyone else, but I'm going to start out all alone into the great
city of New York this morning and give it the once over."

"Roberta Vandergrift, didn't you promise me that you would talk like a
Johnsonian if we would rent this house?" Gloria reprimanded.

The irrepressible younger girl's eyes twinkled. "My revered sister," she
said, solemnly, "my plans for the day are as yet veiled in mystery, but,
with your kind permission, I will endeavor to discover in this vast
metropolis some refined occupation, the doing of which will prove
sufficiently remunerative to enable me to at least assist in the
recuperation of our fallen fortunes." Then rising and making a deep bow,
her right hand on her heart, that mischievous girl inquired: "Miss
Vandergrift, shall I continue conversing in that way during our sojourn
in this ancient mansion, or shall I be--just natural?"

Lena May, who had returned, joined in the laughter, and begged, "Do be
natural, Bobs, please, but not too natural."

"Thank you, mademoiselles, for your kind permission, and now I believe I
will don my outdoor apparel and go in search of a profession."

Gloria looked anxiously at the young girl before her, who was of such a
splendid athletic physique, whose cheeks were ruddy with health, and
whose eyes were glowing with enthusiasm. Ought she to permit Bobs to go
alone into the great surging mass of humanity so unprotected?

"Roberta," she began, "do not be too trusting, dear. Remember that the
city is full of dangers that lurk in out-of-the-way places."

The younger girl put both hands on the shoulders of the oldest sister
and, looking steadily into her eyes, she said seriously: "Glow, dear, you
have taught us that the greatest thing a parent can do for her daughter
is to teach her to be self-reliant that she may stand alone as, sooner or
later, she will have to do. I shall be careful, as I do not wish to cause
my sisters needless worry or anxiety, but I _must_ begin to live my own
life. You really wish me to do this, do you not, Gloria?"

"Yes, dear," was the reply, "and I am sure the love of our mother will
guide and guard you. Good-bye and good luck."

When Bobs was gone, Lena May slipped up to the older sister, who had
remained seated, and, putting a loving arm over the strong shoulders, she
said tenderly: "Glow, there are tears in your eyes. Why? Do you mind
Bobs' going alone out into the world?"

"I was thinking of Mother, dear, and wishing I could better take her
place to you younger girls, and too, I am worried, just a little, because
Gwendolyn does not write. It was a great sorrow to me, Pet, to find that
she had left without saying good-bye, and I can't help but fear that I
was hasty when I told her that she must plan her life apart from us if
she could not be more harmonious."

Then, rising, she added: "Ah, well, things will surely turn out for the
best, little girl. Come now, let us do our bit of tidying and then go
over to the Settlement House and find out what my hours are to be."

But all that day, try as she might to be cheerful, the mothering heart of
Gloria was filled with anxiety concerning her two charges. Would all be
well with the venturous Bobs, and why didn't Gwen write?



                              CHAPTER VII.
                        BOBS SEEKS A PROFESSION


There was no anxiety in the heart of Roberta. In her short walking suit
of blue tweed, with a jaunty hat atop of her waving brown hair, she was
walking a brisk pace down Third Avenue. Even at that early hour foreign
women with shawls over their heads and baskets on their arms were going
to market. It was a new experience to Roberta to be elbowed aside as
though she were not a descendant of a long line of aristocratic
Vandergrifts. The fact that she was among them, made her one of them, was
probably their reasoning, if, indeed, they noticed her at all, which she
doubted. Gwen would have drawn her skirts close, fearing contamination,
but not so Bobs. She reveled in the new experience, feeling almost as
though she were abroad in Bohemia, Hungary or even Italy, for the
dominant nationality of the crowd changed noticeably before she had gone
many blocks. How wonderfully beautiful were some of the young Italian
matrons, Bobs thought; their dark eyes shaded with long lashes, their
natural grace but little concealed by bright-colored shawls.

At one corner where the traffic held her up, the girl turned and looked
at the store nearest, her attention being attracted by a spray of lilacs
that stood within among piles of dusty old books. It seemed strange to
see that fragrant bit of springtime in a gloomy second-hand shop so far
from the country where it might have blossomed. As Bobs gazed into the
shop, she was suddenly conscious of a movement within, and then, out of
the shadows, she saw forms emerging. An old man with a long flowing beard
and the tight black skull cap so often worn by elderly men of the East
Side was pushing a wheeled chair in which reclined a frail old woman,
evidently his wife. In her face there was an expression of suffering
patiently borne which touched the heart of the young girl.

The chair was placed close to the window that the invalid might look out
at the street if she wished and watch the panorama passing by.

Instantly Bobs knew the meaning of the lilac, or thought that she did,
and, also, she at once decided that she wished to purchase a book, and
she groped about in her memory trying to recall a title for which she
might inquire. A detective story, of course, that was what she wanted.
Since it was to be her chosen profession, she could not read too many of
them.

The old man had disappeared by this time, but when Bobs entered the dingy
shop the woman smiled up at her, and, to Roberta's surprise, she heard
herself saying, "Oh, may I have just one little sniff of your lilac? I
adore them, don't you?"

The woman in the chair nodded, and her reply was in broken English, which
charmed her listener. She said that her "good man" bought her a "blossom
by the flower shop" every day, though she did tell him he shouldn't, she
knowing that to do it he had to go without himself, but it's the only
"bit of brightness he can be giving me," my good man says.

Then she was silent, for from a little dark room at the back of the shop
the old man, bent with years, shuffled forward. Looking at him, Roberta
knew at once why he bought flowers and went without to do it, for there
was infinite tenderness in the eyes that turned first of all to the
occupant of the wheeled chair.

Then he inquired what the customer might wish. Roberta knew that she had
a very small sum in her pocket and that as yet she had not obtained work,
but buy something she surely must, so she asked for detective stories.

The old man led her to a musty, dusty shelf and there she selected
several titles, paid the small sum asked and inquired if he would keep
the parcel for her until she returned later in the day.

Then, with another bright word to the little old woman, the girl was
gone, looking back at the corner to smile and nod, and the last thing
that she saw was the spray of lilacs that symbolized unselfish love.

With no definite destination in mind, Roberta crossed Third Avenue and
walked as briskly as the throngs would permit in the direction of Fourth.
In a mood, half amused, half serious, she began to soliloquize: "Now,
Miss Roberta Vandergrift, it is high time that you were attempting to
obtain employment in this great city. Suppose you go over to Fifth Avenue
and apply for a position as sales girl in one of the fine stores where
you used to spend money so lavishly?"

But, when the Fourth Avenue corner was reached, Roberta stopped in the
middle of the street heedless of the seething traffic and stared at an
upper window where she saw a sign that fascinated her:

                       BURNS FOURTH AVENUE BRANCH
                            DETECTIVE AGENCY

The building was old and dingy, the stairway rickety and dark, but
Roberta in the spirit of adventure climbed to the second floor without a
thought of fear. A moment later she was obeying a message printed on a
card that hung on the first door in the unlighted hall which bade her
enter and be seated.

This she did and admitted herself into a small waiting room beyond which
were the private offices, as the black letters on the frosted glass of a
swinging door informed her. Roberta sat down feeling unreal, as though
she were living in a story book. She could hear voices beyond the door;
one was quiet and calm, the other high pitched and excited.

The latter was saying: "I tell you I don't want no regular detective that
any crook could get wise to, I want someone so sort of stupid-looking
that a thief would think she wouldn't get on to it if he lifted something
right before her eyes."

It was harder for Roberta to hear the reply. However she believed that it
was: "But, Mr. Queerwitz, we only have one woman in our employ just now,
and she is engaged out of town. I----"

The speaker paused and looked up, for surely the door to his private
office had opened just a bit. Nor was he mistaken, for Bobs, as usual,
acting upon an impulse, stood there and was saying: "Pardon me for
overhearing your conversation. I just couldn't help it. I came to apply
for a position and I wondered if I would do." There was a twinkle in her
eyes as she added: "I can look real stupid if need be."

The good-looking young man in the neat grey tweed, arose, and his
expression was one of appreciative good humor.

"This is not exactly according to Hoyle," he remarked in his pleasant
voice, "but perhaps under the circumstances it is excusable. May I know
your name and former occupation?"

Roberta did a bit of quick mental gymnastics. She did not wish to give
her real name. A Vandergrift in a Fourth Avenue detective agency! Even
Gloria might not approve of that. Almost instantly and in a voice that
carried conviction, at least to the older man, the girl said: "Dora
Dolittle."

Were the gray-blue eyes of the younger man laughing? The girl could not
tell, for his face was serious and he continued in a more business-like
manner: "Miss Dolittle, I am James Jewett. May I introduce Mr. Queerwitz,
who has a very fine shop on Fifth Avenue, where he sells antiques of
great value? Although he has lost nothing as yet, he reports that
neighboring shops have been visited, presumably by a woman, who departs
with something of value, and he wishes to be prepared by having in his
employ a clerk whose business it shall be to discover the possible thief.
Are you willing to undertake this bit of detective work? If, at the end
of one week you have proved your ability in this line, I will take you on
our staff, as we are often in need of a wide-awake young lady."

It was difficult for Roberta not to shout for joy.

"Thank you, Mr. Jewett," she replied as demurely as a gladly pounding
heart would permit. "Shall I go with Mr. Queerwitz now?"

"Yes, and report to me each morning at eight o'clock."

The two departed, although it was quite evident that the merchant was not
entirely pleased with the arrangement.

"Mr. Queerwitz! What a name!" Bobs was soliloquizing as she sat on the
back seat of the big, comfortable limousine, and now and then glanced at
her preoccupied companion. He was very rich, she decided, but not
refined, and yet how strange that a man with unrefined tastes should wish
to sell rarely beautiful things and antiques. Mr. Queerwitz was not
communicative. In fact, he had tried to protest at the suddenly made
arrangement and had declared to Mr. Jewett, in a brief moment when they
were alone, that he shouldn't pay a cent of salary to that "upstart of a
girl" unless she did something to really earn it. Mr. Jewett had agreed,
saying that he would assume the responsibility; but of this Roberta knew
nothing.

They were soon riding down Fifth Avenue in the throng of fine equipages
with which she was most familiar, as often the handsome Vandergrift car
had been one of the procession.

Bobs felt that she would have to pinch herself as she followed her portly
employer into an exclusive art shop to be sure that she was that same
Roberta Vandergrift. Then she reminded herself that she must entirely
forget her own name if she were to be consistently Dora Dolittle.

How Bobs hoped that she would be successful on this, her first case, that
she might be permanently engaged by that interesting looking young man
who called himself James Jewett.



                             CHAPTER VIII.
                              A NEW FRIEND


At that early hour there were no customers in the shop, but Roberta saw
three young women of widely varying ages who were dusting and putting
things in order for the business of the day. Mr. Queerwitz went at once
to a tall, spare woman of about fifty whose light, reddish hair suggested
that the color had been applied from without.

"Miss Peerwinkle," he said rather abruptly, "here's the new clerk I was
telling you about. You'd better show her the lay of things before it gets
busy."

Miss Peerwinkle turned, and her washed-out blue eyes seemed to look down
at Roberta from the great height where, at least, she believed that her
position as head saleslady at the Queerwitz antique shop had placed her.

"Your name, Miss?" she inquired when the proprietor had departed toward a
rear door labeled "No admittance."

Bobs had been so amused by all that she had seen that she hardly heard
the inquiry, and when at last she did become conscious of it, for one
wild moment she couldn't recall her new name, and so she actually
hesitated. Luckily just then one of the girls called to Miss Peerwinkle
to ask her about a tag, and in that brief moment Bobs remembered.

When the haughty "head lady" turned her coldly inquiring eyes again
toward the new clerk, Roberta was able to calmly reply, "Dora Dolittle."

Miss Peerwinkle sniffed. Perhaps she was thinking it a poor name for an
efficient clerk to possess. Bobs' sense of humor almost made her exclaim:
"I ought to have chosen Dora Domuch." Then she laughingly assured herself
that _that_ wouldn't have done at all, as she did not believe that there
_was_ such a name and surely she _had_ heard of Dolittle.

Bobs' soliloquy was broken in upon by a strident voice calling: "Miss
Dolittle, you're not paying any attention to what I am saying. Right here
and now, let me tell you day-dreaming isn't permitted in this shop. I was
telling you to go with Nell Wiggin to the cloakroom, and don't be gone
more'n five minutes. Mr. Queerwitz don't pay salaries for prinking."

Bobs was desperately afraid that she wouldn't be able to get through the
morning without laughing, and yet there was something tragic about the
haughtiness of this poor Miss Peerwinkle.

Meekly she followed a thin, pale girl of perhaps twenty-three. The two
who were left in the shop at once began to express their indignation
because a new clerk had been brought in for them to train.

"If ever anybody looked the greenhorn, it's her," Miss Peerwinkle
exclaimed disdainfully, and Miss Harriet Dingley agreed.

They said no more, for the new clerk, returning, said, "What am I to do
first?" Unfortunately Roberta asked this of the one nearest, who happened
to be Miss Harriet Dingley. That woman actually looked frightened as she
said, nodding toward her companion, "Don't ask me. I'm not head lady. She
is."

Again Bobs found it hard not to laugh, for Miss Peerwinkle perceptibly
stiffened and her manner seemed to say, "You evidently aren't used to
class if you can't tell which folks are head and which aren't." But what
she really said was: "Nell Wiggin will show you around, and do be careful
you don't knock anything over. If you do, your salary's docked."

"I'll be very careful, Miss Peerwinkle," the new clerk said, but she was
thinking, "Docked! My salary docked. I know what it is to dock a coal
barge, for I have one in front of my home, but----"

"Oh, Miss Dolittle, please do watch where you go. You almost ran into
that Venetian vase." There was real kindness and concern in the voice of
the pale, very weary-looking young girl at her side, and in that moment
Bobs knew that she was going to like her. "Poor little thing," Bobs
thought. "She looks as though some unkind Fate had put out the light that
ought to be shining in her heart. I wish that I might find a way to
rekindle it."

Very patiently Miss Nell Wiggin explained the different departments in
the antique shop. Suddenly she began to cough and sent a frightened
glance toward the closed door that bore the sign "No Admittance," then
stifled the sound in her handkerchief. Nothing was said, but Roberta
understood.

The old furniture greatly interested Bobs. In her own home there were
many beautiful antiques. Casually she inquired, "How does Mr. Queerwitz
manage to obtain so much rare old furniture?"

To her surprise, Nell Wiggin looked quickly around to be sure that no one
was near, then she said: "I'd ought not to tell you, but I will if you'll
keep it dark."

"Dark as the deepest dungeon," Roberta replied, much puzzled by her
comrade's mysterious manner. The slight girl drew close. "He makes it
behind that door that nobody's allowed to go through," she said in a low
voice; then added, evidently wishing to be fair, "but that's nothing
unusual. Lots of dealers make their antiques and the public goes on
buying them knowing they may not be as old as the tags say. Here, now,
are the old books, and at least they are honest."

Bobs uttered a cry of joy. "Oh, how I do wish I could have charge of this
department," she said. "I adore old books."

There was a light in the pale face of little Miss Wiggin. "I do, too,"
she said. "That is, I love Dickens; I never read much else." Then, almost
wistfully, she added: "I didn't have much chance to go to school, but
once, where I went to live, I found an old set of Dickens' books that
someone had left, and I've just read them over and over. I never go out
nights and the people living in those books are such a lot of company for
me."

Again Bobs felt a yearning tenderness for this frail girl, who was
saying, "They're all the friends I've ever had, I guess."

Impulsively the new clerk exclaimed, "I'll be your friend, if you'll let
me." Just then a strident voice called, "Miss Wiggin, forward!"

"You stay with the books," Nell said softly, "and I'll do the china."

Bobs watched the slight figure that was hurrying toward the front, and
she sighed, with tears close to the hazel eyes, and in her heart was a
prayer, "May I be forgiven for the selfish, heedless years I have lived.
But perhaps now I can make up for it. Surely I shall try."

Roberta had been told by Mr. Jewett that she must not reveal to anyone
her real reason for being at the antique shop, and, as Mr. Queerwitz had
no faith in the girl's ability to waylay a pilferer, he did not care to
have Miss Nell Wiggin devote more time to teaching her the business of
selling antiques. This information was conveyed by Miss Peerwinkle to
Nell, who was told to stay away from the new clerk, with the added
remark: "If she didn't get on to the ropes with one hour's showing, she's
too stupid for this business, anyhow."

Why the head lady had taken such a very evident dislike to her, Bobs
could not understand, for surely she was willing to do whatever she was
told. Ah, well, she wasn't going to worry. "Worrying is what makes one
old," she thought, as she mounted a small step-ladder on casters that one
could push along the shelves. From the top of it she examined the books
that were highest. Suddenly she uttered an exclamation of delight, then
looked about quickly to be sure that she had not been heard. Customers in
the front part of the store occupied the attention of the three clerks,
so Roberta reached for a volume that had attracted her attention. It was
indeed rare and old, so very old that she wondered that the covers did
not crumble, and it had illumined letters. "Perhaps they were made by
early monks," Bobs was thinking. She sat down on the ladder and began
turning the fascinating pages that were yellow with age. Suddenly she was
conscious that someone stood near her. She looked up to find the accusing
gaze of the head clerk fixed upon her.

Bobs was startled into exclaiming: "Say, Miss Peerwinkle, a cat has
nothing on you when it comes to walking softly, has it?"

The reply was frigidly given: "Miss Do-little," with emphasis, "you are
supposed to dust the books, not read them; and what's more, that
particular book is the rarest one in the whole collection. There's a mate
to it somewhere, and when Mr. Queerwitz finds it, he can sell the two of
them to Mr. Leonel Van Loon for one thousand dollars in cool cash."

Roberta was properly impressed, and replaced the book; then, taking a
duster, she proceeded to tidy her department.

At eleven o'clock Bobs wondered if she ought to wander about the shop and
watch the occasional customer. This she did, and was soon in the
neighborhood of Miss Wiggin. "You're to go out to eat when I do," Nell
told her.

"I'm glad to hear it," was the reply.

Promptly at noon Miss Wiggin beckoned and said: "Come, Miss Dolittle, be
as quick as you can. We only have half an hour nooning, and every minute
counts. I go around to my room. You might buy something, then come with
me and eat it."

Roberta could hardly believe what she had heard. "Only half an hour to
wash, go somewhere, eat your lunch and get back?

"Why the mad rush?" she exclaimed. "Doesn't Mr. Queerwitz know there's
all eternity ahead of us?"

A wan smile was the only answer. Miss Nell Wiggin was not wasting time.
She led the way to the cloakroom, donned her outdoor garments, and then,
taking her new friend by the hand, she said: "Hold fast to me. We'll take
a short cut through the back stockroom. It's black as soot in there when
it isn't lit up. Mr. Queerwitz won't let us burn lights except for
business reasons."

Bobs found herself being led through a room so dark that she could barely
see the two walls of boxes that were piled high on either side, with a
narrow path between.

They soon emerged upon a back alley, where huge cans of refuse stood, and
where trucks were continually passing up and down or standing at the back
entrances of stores loading and unloading.

"Now walk as fast as you can," little Miss Wiggin said, as away she went
toward Fourth Avenue, with Roberta close behind her. If Bobs had known
what was going to happen that noon, she would not have left the shop.



                              CHAPTER IX.
                            A HURRIED LUNCH


Fourth Avenue having been reached, Miss Wiggin darted into a corner
delicatessen store. "What will you have for your lunch?" she turned to
ask of her companion. "I'm going to get five cents' worth of hot macaroni
and a dill pickle."

"Double the order," Bobs said, and then she added to the man who stood
behind the counter: "I'll also take two ham sandwiches and two chocolate
eclairs."

"Oh, Miss Dolittle, isn't that too much for you to spend at noon?" This
anxiously from pale, starved-looking little Miss Wiggin.

At the Vandergrift table there had always been many courses with a butler
to serve, and in her heedless, thoughtless way, Bobs had supposed that
everyone, everywhere, had enough to eat.

It was a queer little smile that she turned toward her new friend as she
replied: "This being our first lunch together, let's have a spread." Then
she paid the entire bill, which came to forty cents. "No," she assured
the protesting Nell Wiggin, "I won't offer to treat every day. After this
we'll go Dutch, honest we will! Now lead the way."

Again in the thronged street, little Miss Wiggin turned with an apology:
"Maybe I oughtn't to've asked you to come to my room. Probably you're
used to something better."

"Don't you believe it!" Bobs replied cheerily. "I live in the shabbiest
kind of a dump." She did not add that she had not as yet resided on New
York's East Side for more than twenty-four hours, at the longest, and
that prior to that her home on Long Island had been palatial. She was
eager to know how girls who had never had a chance were forced to live.
Miss Wiggin was descending rather rickety steps below the street level.
"Is your room in the basement?" Bobs asked, trying to keep from her voice
the shock that this revelation brought to her. No wonder there were no
roses in the wan cheeks of little Miss Wiggin.

"Yes," was the reply, "the caretakers of the buildings all live in the
basements, you know, and Mrs. O'Malley, the janitor of this one, is a
widow with two little boys. She had a room to rent cheap and so I took
it."

Then she led the way through a long, narrow, dark hall. Once Bobs touched
the wall and she drew back shuddering, for the stones were cold and
clammy.

The little room to which Bobs was admitted opened only on an air shaft,
but there was sunlight entering its one small window; too, there were
white curtains and a geranium in bloom on the sill.

"It's always pleasantest at noon, for that's the only time that the sun
reaches my window," the little hostess said, as she hurriedly drew a
sewing table out from behind the small cot bed, unfolded it and placed
the lunch thereon. Bobs' gaze wandered about the room, which was so small
that its three pieces of furniture seemed to crowd it. In one corner was
a bamboo bookcase which held the real treasure of Miss Wiggin. Row after
row of books in uniform dark red binding. They were all there--Oliver
Twist, David Copperfield, Old Curiosity Shop and the rest of them.

"Nights it would be sort of dismal sitting in here alone if 'twasn't for
those books," the little hostess confessed. "That's a real good kerosene
lamp I have. It makes a bright light. I curl up on the couch as soon as
my supper's eaten, and then I forget where I really am, for I go wherever
the story takes me. Come, everything is ready," she added, "and since
fifteen minutes of our time is gone already, we'd better eat without
talking."

This they did, and Gloria would have said that they gulped their food,
but what can one do with but half an hour for nooning?

They didn't even stop to put away the table. "I'll leave it ready for my
supper tonight," Miss Wiggin said, as she fairly flew down the dark, damp
basement hall.

Five minutes later they were entering the alley door of the antique shop
which had so fine an entrance on Fifth Avenue.

"May the Fates save us!" Bobs exclaimed. "I do believe we are one minute
late. Are we in for execution or dismissal?"

But that one minute had evidently escaped the watchful eye of Miss
Peerwinkle, for, when Nell Wiggin and Roberta entered the shop, they saw
the portly Mr. Queerwitz pacing up and down and in tragic tones he was
exclaiming: "Gone! Gone! I should have locked it up, but I didn't think
anyone else knew the value of it." Then, wheeling around, he demanded of
Bobs: "What good are you, anyway, in the book department? One of the
rarest books I possess was stolen this morning right beneath your very
eyes, and----"

Little Nell Wiggin, usually so timid, stepped forward and said: "It must
have happened while we were out at lunch. It couldn't have been while we
were here, for nobody at all went down to the books."

Mr. Queerwitz paid no more attention to the words of little Miss Wiggin
than he would at that moment to the buzzing of a fly.

"Dolittle, well-named, I should say," he remarked scathingly. How Roberta
wished that she had chosen a busier sounding name, but the deed was done.
One couldn't be changing one's name every few hours, but----

Her revery was interrupted by: "What have you to say for yourself?"

"Nothing," was the honest reply.

"You are discharged," came the ultimatum.

Bobs was almost glad. "Very well, Mr. Queerwitz," she replied, and
turning, she walked briskly toward the cloakroom.

When Bobs returned from the cloakroom, having donned her hat and jacket,
she was informed that Mr. Queerwitz had just driven away, but that he
hadn't said where he was going. Bobs believed that he was going to report
her uselessness as a detective to her employer, James Jewett. Ah, well,
let him go. Perhaps after all she had made a mistake in her choice of a
profession. As she was passing she heard the older women talking.

Miss Harriet Dingley was saying, "Now I come to think of it, just after
the girls went out to lunch, I did see a man come in, but I thought he
was looking at china."

The head lady shot a none too pleasant glance at the other clerk as she
said coldly, "Well, you aren't giving me any information. Didn't I watch
every move he made like a cat watches a mouse hole? Just tell me that!"

"Oh, yes, Miss Peerwinkle. I'm not criticizing anything you did. But you
remember when a boy ran by shouting fire, we did go to the door to see
where the fire was and a minute later the man went out and----"

"He went empty-handed," the head-woman said self-defendingly.

"I know he did. Now please don't think I'm criticizing you, but when he
went out I noticed that he was a hunch-back, and I'm certain that he
didn't have a hump when he came in."

"We'll not discuss the matter further," was said in a tone of finality as
Miss Peerwinkle walked away with an air of offended dignity.

Bobs looked about for Nell, to whom she wished to say good-bye. She was
glad that the youngest clerk was beyond the book shelves as Roberta was
curious to know which book had been taken. A gap on the top shelf told
the story. It was a rare old book for which one thousand dollars had been
offered if its mate could be found.

"Whoever has taken the book has the other volume. I'm detective enough to
know that," Roberta declared. Then she turned to find little Miss Wiggin
standing at her side looking as sad as though something very precious was
being taken away from her.

Impulsively Bobs held out both hands.

"Don't forget, Nell Wiggin, that you and I are to be friends, and what's
more, next Sunday morning at ten o'clock sharp I'm coming down to get you
and take you to my home for dinner. How would you like that?"

"Like it?" The dark eyes in the pale, wan face were like stars. "O, Miss
Dolittle, what it will mean to me!"

Miss Harriet Dingley did nod when she heard Bobs singing out "Good-bye,"
but Miss Peerwinkle seemed to be as deaf as a statue.

"I could laugh," Bobs said to herself as she joined the throng on Fifth
Avenue, "if my heart wasn't so full of tears. I don't know as I can stand
much more of seeing how the other half lives without having a good cry
over it. Dickens, the only friend and comforter of that frail little mite
of humanity!"

Then, as she turned again toward Avenue A, she suddenly remembered the
package of detective stories for which she had promised to call at the
shop where there was a spray of lilacs and a much-loved invalid woman.

"I guess I'll give up the detective game," she thought, as she hurried
along, "but I'll enjoy reading the stories just the same."

Half an hour later she had changed her mind and had decided that she
really was a very fine detective indeed.



                               CHAPTER X.
                           BOBS AS BOOKSELLER


It was three o'clock in the afternoon when Bobs entered the musty book
shop on the East Side and found the place unoccupied. However, the
tinkling of a bell sounded in the back room and the little old man
shuffled in. His expression was troubled, and when Roberta inquired for
his invalid wife, he replied that she wasn't so well. "Poor Marlitta," he
said, and there was infinite tenderness in his voice, "she's yearning to
go back to the home country where our children are and their children,
and the doctor thinks it might make her strong once again to be there,
but the voyage costs money, and Marlitta would rather die here than not
go honest."

The old man seemed to be overcome with emotion, then suddenly recalling
his customer's errand, he shuffled away to procure the package of
detective stories for which she had called. During his absence Roberta
went back of the counter, reached for a book on an upper shelf and, while
so doing, dislodged several others that tumbled about her, revealing, as
though it had been hidden in the dark recess back of them, the rare book
which that morning had been taken from the Queerwitz Antique Shop.

That, then, was what the old man meant when he said that his Marlitta
would not go unless she could "go honest."

The girl quickly replaced the books and then stood deep in thought. What
could she do? What should she do? She knew that the gentle bookseller had
taken the rare volume merely to try to save the life of the one dearest
to him. When he returned with the package the girl heard herself asking:

"But you, if your Marlitta went to the home country, would you not be
very lonely?"

There was infinite sadness in the faded eyes and yet, too, there was
something else, a light from the soul that true sacrifice brings.

"Ah, that I also might go," he said; then with a gesture that included
all of the small dark shop, he added, "but these old books are all I have
and they do not sell."

At that moment Roberta recalled the name of Lionel Van Loon, who, as Miss
Peerwinkle had assured her, would pay one thousand dollars for the rare
book and its mate. For a thoughtful moment the girl gazed at the lilac,
then decided to tell the little old man all that she knew.

At first she regretted this decision when she saw the frightened
expression in his gentle, child-like face, but she hastened to assure him
that she only wanted to help him, and so she was asking him to send the
stolen book back to the antique shop by mail.

When this had been done, Roberta, returning from the corner post box,
found the old man gazing sadly at another volume which the girl instantly
knew was the prized mate of the one she had just mailed.

"It's no use without the other," the bookseller told her, "and Mr.
Queerwitz wouldn't pay what it's worth. He never does. He crowds the poor
man to the wall and then crushes him."

"I have a plan," the girl told him. "Will you trust me with this book for
a little while?"

Trust her? Who would not? For reply the old man held his treasure toward
her. "Heaven bless you," was all that he said.

It was four o'clock when Bobs descended from a taxicab and mounted the
steps of a handsome brown stone mansion on Riverside Drive. Mr. Van Loon
was at home and, being a most kindly old gentleman and accustomed to
receiving all manner of persons, he welcomed Roberta into his wonderful
library, listened courteously at first, but with growing interest, when
he realized that this radiant girl had a book to sell which she believed
to be both rare and valuable. The eyes of the cultured gentleman plainly
revealed his great joy when he actually saw the long-sought first volume.

"My dear young lady," he said, "you cannot know what it means to me to be
able to obtain that book. I know where I can find its mate and so, I
assure you, I will purchase it, the price being?--" He paused
inquiringly.

Roberta heard, as though it were someone else speaking, her own voice
saying: "Would one thousand dollars be too much, Mr. Van Loon?"

To a man whose hobby was collecting books, and who was many times a
millionaire, it was not too much. "Will you have cash or a check?" he
inquired.

"Cash, if you please."

It was six o'clock when Bobs handed the money to the overjoyed
bookseller, who could not thank her enough. The little old woman again
was by the window and she smiled happily as she listened to the words of
the girl that fairly tumbled over each other in their eagerness to be
spoken.

Then reaching out a frail hand to her "good man," and looking at him with
a light in her eyes that Bobs would never forget, she said: "Caleb, now
we can both go home to our children."

Roberta promised to return the following day to help them prepare for the
voyage. She was turning away when the little woman called to her: "I want
you to have my lilac," she said, as she held the blossoming spray toward
the girl.

It was half past six o'clock when Bobs reached home. Gloria was watching
for her rather anxiously, but it was not until they were gathered about
the fireplace for the evening that Bobs told her story.

"Here endeth my experience as a detective," she concluded.

But Roberta was mistaken.



                              CHAPTER XI.
                              A QUEER GIFT


True to her promise Roberta had gone on the following afternoon to assist
her new friends to prepare for their voyage, but to her amazement she
found that they had departed, but the janitress living in the basement
was on the watch for the girl and at once she ascended the stone stairs
and inquired: "Are you Miss Dolittle?"

Bobs replied that she was, and the large woman, in a manner which plainly
told that she had a message of importance to convey, whispered
mysteriously, "Wait here!"

Down into the well of a stairway she disappeared, soon to return with an
envelope containing something hard, which felt as though it might be a
key.

This it proved to be. The writing in the letter had been painstakingly
made, but the language was not English, and Bobs looked at it with so
frankly puzzled an expression that the woman, who had been standing near,
watching curiously, asked: "Can I read it for you?"

Strange things surely had happened since the Vandergrifts had gone to the
East Side to live, but this was the strangest of all. It was hard for
Roberta to believe that she heard aright. The old man had written that
his entire stock was worth no more than five hundred dollars, and since
Roberta had procured more than that sum for him, he was making her a gift
of the books that remained, and requested that she remove them at once,
as the rent on the shop would expire the following day.

The janitress, with an eye to business, at once said that her son, Jacob,
was idle and could truck the books for the young lady wherever she wished
them to go. It was two o'clock in the afternoon when this conversation
took place, and at five o'clock Gloria and Lena May, returning from the
Settlement House, were amazed to see a skinny horse drawing a two-wheeled
ash cart stopping at the curb in front of the Pensinger mansion. The
driver was a Hebrew lad, but at his side sat no less a personage than
Roberta, who beamed down upon her astonished sisters.

After a moment of explanation the three girls assisted the boy Jacob to
cart all the books to one of the unoccupied upper rooms, and when he had
driven away Roberta sank down upon a kitchen chair and laughed until she
declared that she ached. Lena May, busy setting the table for supper,
merrily declared: "Bobs, what a girl you are to have adventures. Here
Glow and I have been on the East Side just as long as you have, and
nothing unusual has happened to us."

"Give it time," Roberta remarked as she rose to wash her hands. "But now
I seem to have had a new profession thrust upon me. Glow, how would it do
to open an old book shop out on the front lawn?"

"I'll prophesy that these books will fill a good need some day, perhaps,
when we're least expecting it," was Gloria's reply.

Then, as they sat eating their evening meal together and watching the
afterglow of the sunset on the river, that was so near their front door,
at last Bobs said: "Do see those throngs of poor tired-out women trooping
from the factory. Now they will go to the Settlement House and get their
children, go home and cook and wash and iron and darn and--" she paused,
then added, "How did we four girls ever manage to live so near all this
and know nothing about it? I feel as though I had been the most selfish,
useless, good-for-nothing----"

"Here, here, young lady. I won't allow you to call my sister such hard
names," Glow said merrily as she rose to replenish their cups of hot
chocolate. Then, more seriously, she added as she reseated herself:
"Losing our home seemed hard, but I do believe that we three are glad
that something happened to make us of greater use in the world."

"I am," Lena May said, looking up brightly. She was thinking of the
sandpile at the Settlement House over which she had presided that
afternoon.

And Gloria concluded: "I know that I would be more nearly happy than I
have been since our mother died, if only I knew where Gwendolyn is."

And where was Gwendolyn, the proud, selfish girl who had not tried to
make the best of things? Gloria would indeed have been troubled had she
but known.



                              CHAPTER XII.
                           A YOUNG MAN ENTERS


It was early Sunday morning. "Since we are to have your little friend,
Nell Wiggin, to dinner today," Gloria remarked as the three sat at
breakfast, "suppose we also invite Miss Selenski. It will be a nice
change for her."

"Good!" Bobs agreed. "That's a splendid suggestion. Now what is the
program for the day?"

"Lena May has consented to tell Bible stories to the very little children
each Sunday morning at the Settlement House," Gloria said, "and I have
asked a group of the older girls who are in one of my clubs to come over
here this afternoon for tea and a quiet hour around the fireplace. I
thought it would be a pleasant change for them, and I want you girls to
become acquainted with them so when I mention their names you will be
able to picture them. They really are such bright, attractive girls! The
Settlement House is giving them the only chance that life has to offer
them." Then, smiling lovingly at the youngest, Gloria concluded: "Lena
May has consented to pour, and you, Bobs, I shall expect to provide much
of the entertainment."

Roberta laughed. "Me?" she asked. "What am I to do?"

"O, just be natural." Gloria rose and began to clear the table as she
added: "Now, Bobs, since you have to go after your friend, Miss Wiggin,
Lena May and I will prepare the dinner. We have it planned, but we're
going to surprise you with our menu."

It was nine o'clock when Roberta left the Pensinger mansion. It was the
first Sunday that the girls had spent on the East Side, and what a
different sight met the eyes of Bobs when she started down the nearly
deserted street, on one side of which were the wide docks.

Derricks were silent and the men who lived on the barges were dressed in
whatever holiday attire they possessed. They were seated, some on
gunwales, others on rolls of tarred rope, smoking and talking, and save
for an occasional steamer loaded with folk from the city who were sailing
away for a day's outing, peace reigned on the waterfront, for even the
noise of the factory was stilled.

Turning the corner at Seventy-eighth Street, Roberta was surprised to
find that the boys' playground was nearly deserted. She had supposed that
at this hour it would be thronged. Just as she was puzzling about it, a
lad with whom she had a speaking acquaintance emerged from a doorway and
she hailed him:

"You're all dressed up, Antovich, aren't you? Just like a regular little
gentleman. Are you going to Sunday school?"

"Oh, no, ma'am; that is, I donno as 'tis. Mr. Hardinian doesn't go to
call it that. He calls it a boys' club by Treasure Seekers. There's a
clubhouse over to Seventy-fifth Street. I say, Miss Bobs, I wish for you
to come and see it. I sure wish for you to."

Roberta assured the eager lad that she might look in a little later, then
bidding him good-bye, she turned in to the model tenement house to ask
Miss Selenski to a one o'clock dinner.

"Oh, how lovely and sunny and sweet smelling your little home is," Bobs
said three minutes later when she had been admitted to the small
apartment, the front windows of which overlooked the glistening blue
river.

"I like it," was the bright reply of the slender dark-eyed girl who lived
there.

Bobs continued: "How I wish the rich folk who built this would influence
others to do the same. Take that rookery across the street, for instance.
It looks as though a clap of thunder would crash it to the ground, and it
surely is a fire trap."

"It is indeed that," Miss Selenski said, "and though I have reported it
time and again, the very rich man who owns it finds it such excellent
income property that he manages to evade an injunction to have the place
torn down. Some day we'll have a terrible tragedy of some kind over
there, and then perhaps--" she paused and sighed. "But, since we can't
help, let's talk of pleasanter things."

Bobs then informed Miss Selenski that she had come to invite her to
dinner that day, and the little agent of the model apartments indeed was
pleased, and replied: "Some time soon I shall invite you girls over here
and give you just Hungarian dishes." Then Bobs departed, and as she
walked down Fourth Avenue she glanced with rather an amused expression up
at the windows of the Detective Agency of which, for so brief a time, she
had been an employee. She wondered what that good-looking young man,
James Jewett, had thought of her, for, surely, her recent employer would
have at once telephoned that as a detective she had been "no good." Then
she decided that she probably never would learn, as she most certainly
would not again return to the agency. But little do we know what fate
holds in store for us.

Nell Wiggin was ready and waiting, and she looked very sweet indeed, with
her corn yellow hair fluffed beneath her neat blue hat, her eyes eager,
her cheeks, usually pale, flushed with this unusual excitement. Her suit
was neat and trim, though made of cheap material.

"You're right on time to the very minute, aren't you, Miss Dolittle?" she
said happily, as she opened the door to admit her new friend.

"I sure am," was the bright reply. "I'm the original on the dot man, or
young lady, I should say." But while Bobs was speaking there was
misgivings in her heart. She had forgotten to ask Gloria what she ought
to do about her name. Should they all be Dolittles or Vandergrifts? She
decided to take Nell into her confidence and tell her the story of the
assumed name.

The listener did not seem at all surprised. "Lots of girls who go out to
work change their names," she said. "It's just as honest as writing
stories under a different name, I should think."

"That's so," Roberta agreed, much relieved. "A nom-de-plume isn't much
different."

"And so you are a detective?" Nell looked at her friend with a little
more awe, perhaps.

"Heavens no! Not now!" Bobs was quick to protest. "I merely tried it, and
failed."

"Well, as it turned out, a detective wasn't needed on that particular
case." Nell was giving Bob the very information she was eager to receive,
but for which she did not wish to ask. "The next day the stolen book came
back by mail." Roberta knew that she ought to register astonishment, but
instead, she laughed. "What did Mr. Queerwitz say?" she inquired.

"Oh, they all put it down to conscience. That does happen, you know. You
read about conscience money being returned every now and then in the
newspapers, but the strangest part was, that that very afternoon Mr. Van
Loon came in and said that he had been able to obtain the first volume
and wished to purchase the second. Mr. Queerwitz was out at the time, and
so Miss Peerwinkle sold it to him for five hundred dollars."

Bobs wanted to laugh again. It amused her to think that she had driven
the better bargain, but she thought it unwise to appear too interested in
the transaction, and so she changed the subject, and together they walked
up Third Avenue.

"How different it all is on Sunday," Nell Wiggin smiled happily at her
new friend. She had indeed spoken truly. The vendors' carts were
conspicuous by their absence and the stores, if they were open, seemed to
be more for the social gathering of foreign folk dressed in their gay
best, than for active business. Even the elevated trains thundered
overhead with much longer intervals in between, and sometimes, for as
long as fifteen minutes, the peace of Sunday seemed to pervade that
unlovely East Side.

Bobs, noting a Seventy-fifth Street sign, stopped and gazed down toward
the river, and sure enough she saw a long, low building labeled Boys'
Club House.

"Let's go through this way to Second," Bobs suggested. In front of the
clubhouse there was a group of boys with faces so clean that they shone,
and one of these, leaving the others, raced up to the girls, and taking
his friend by the hand, he said: "Oh, Miss Bobs, you did for to come,
didn't you? Please stop in by the clubhouse. It will to please Mr.
Hardinian."

Roberta's smile seemed to convey consent, and she found herself being
rapidly led toward a wide-open door. Nell willingly followed. The sound
of band practice came from within, but, when the lad appeared with the
smiling guest, a young man, who had been playing upon a flute, arose and
at once advanced toward them. What dark, beautiful eyes he had! "Why,"
Roberta exclaimed in surprise. "We saw Mr. Hardinian the very first day
we came in this neighborhood to live. He was helping a poor sick woman
who had fallen, and--" But she could say no more, for the small boy was
eagerly telling the clubmaster that this was his "lady friend" and that
her name was Miss Bobs. The young man smiled and said that he was always
glad to have visitors. "What a musical voice!" was Bobs' thought.

Then, turning to the girl who had remained by the open door, she held out
a hand. "This is my friend, Nell Wiggin. I am sure that we will both be
interested in knowing of your work, Mr. Hardinian, if you have time to
spare."

"Indeed I have, always, for those who are interested." Then the young man
told them of his many clubs for boys.

Roberta looked about with interest. "Why are there so many wide shelves
all around the walls, Mr. Hardinian?" she asked at last.

The young man smiled. "If you will come some night at ten o'clock you
will find a little street urchin, some homeless little fellow, tucked up
in blankets asleep on each of those shelves, as you call their bunks.
Maybe you do not know, but even in the bitterest winter weather many
small boys sleep out in the streets or creep into doorways and huddle
together to keep warm. That is, they used to before I came. Now they are
all welcome in here."

Roberta wished she might ask this wonderful young man where he came from,
but that would not do on so slight an acquaintance, and so thanking him
and bidding him good morning, with Nell and Antovich, she again started
for home.

Though Roberta little dreamed it, the wonderful young man had come into
the drama of their lives, and was to play a very important part.



                             CHAPTER XIII.
                          NELL WIGGIN'S STORY


Such a merry dinner party as it was in one corner of the big southeast
corner room of the old Pensinger mansion. The young hostesses by neither
word nor manner betrayed the fact that they were used to better things.
When at last the dishes had been washed and put away, a fire was started
on the wide hearth in the long salon and the girls gathered about it.

"Suppose we each tell the story of our lives," Gloria suggested, "and in
that way we may the sooner become really acquainted.

"For ourselves a few words will suffice. We three girls lived very
happily in our Long Island home until our dear mother died; then, last
year, our beloved father was taken, and since then I, because I am
oldest, have tried to be both parents to my younger sisters."

"And truly you have succeeded," Bobs put in. Gloria smiled lovingly at
her hoidenish sister, who sat on a low stool close to the fire, her arms
folded about her knees.

"But we soon found that in reality the roof that had sheltered us from
childhood was not really our own. The title, it seems, had not been clear
in the very beginning, when our great-grandfather had purchased it, and
so, because of this, we had to move. I wanted to do settlement work, and
that is what I am doing now. Lena May also loves the work, and is soon to
have classes for the very little boys and girls. Bobs, as we call this
tom-boy sister of ours, as yet, I believe, has not definitely decided
upon a profession."

Roberta's eyes were laughing as she glanced across at Nell Wiggin, but
since Miss Selenski did not know the story of her recent adventure,
nothing was said.

Turning to the slender, dark-eyed agent of the model tenements, Gloria
remarked: "Will you now tell us a little about yourself, Miss Selenski?"

All through the dinner hour the girls had noticed a happy light that
seemed to linger far back in the nearly black orbs of the Hungarian girl,
but they thought it was her optimistic nature that gladdened her eyes;
but now, in answer to Gloria's question, the dark, pretty face became
radiant as the girl replied: "The past holds little worth the telling,
but the future, I believe, will hold much."

"Oh, Miss Selenski," Bobs exclaimed, leaning forward eagerly and smiling
at their Hungarian friend, "something wonderful is about to happen in
your life, I am sure of that."

Shining-eyed, the dark girl nodded. "Do you want to guess what?"

It was Lena May who answered: "I think you are going to be married," she
said.

"I am," was the joyfully given reply. "To a young man from my own country
who has a business in the Bronx; nor is that all, he owns a little home
way out by the park and there is a real yard about it with flowers and
trees. Oh, can you understand what it will mean to me to be awakened in
the morning by birds instead of by the thundering noise of overhead
trains?"

"Miss Selenski," Gloria said, "we are glad indeed that such a happy
future awaits you." Then turning to little Nell Wiggin, who sat back
somewhat in the shadow, though now and then the flickering firelight
changed her corn-yellow hair to a halo of golden sheen, she asked kindly:
"Is there some bit of your past that you wish to tell us?"

There was something so infinitely sorrowful in the pale pinched face of
little Nell Wiggin that instinctively the girls knew that the story they
would hear would be sad, nor were they mistaken.

Nell Wiggin began: "It is not interesting, my past, and I fear that it is
too sad for a story, but briefly I will tell it: My twin brother, Dean,
and I were born on a farm in New England which seemed able to produce but
little on its rocky soil, and though our father managed to keep us alive,
he could not pay off the mortgage, and each year he grew more troubled in
spirit. At last he heard of rich lands in the West that might be
homesteaded and so, leaving us one spring, he set out on foot, for he
planned taking up a claim, and when he had constructed there a shelter of
some kind, Mother was to sell the New England farm, pay off the mortgage
and with whatever remained buy tickets that would take us west to my
father.

"It was May when he left us. He did not expect to reach his destination
for many weeks, as he knew that he would have to stop along the way to
work for his food.

"Dear little Mother tried to run the farm that summer. Dean and I were
ten years of age, and though we could do weeding and seeding, we could
not help with the heavier work, and since our mother was frail much of
this had to be left undone.

"Fate was against us, it would seem, for the rain was scarce and our
crops poor, and the bitterly cold winter found us with but little
provisions in store. In all this time we had not heard from Father, and
after the snows came we knew the post office in the town twenty miles
away could not be reached by us until the following spring, and so we
could neither receive nor send a letter.

"Our nearest neighbor was eight miles away, and he was but a poor
scrabbler in the rocky soil, a kind-hearted hermit of whom Brother and I
had at first been afraid, because of his long bushy beard, perhaps, but
when we once chanced to be near enough to see his kind gray eyes, we
loved him and knew that he was a friend, and the future surely was to
prove this. But, if possible, that dear old man, Mr. Eastland, was poorer
than we were.

"Our mother, we knew, was worried nearly to the point of heartbreak, but
I shall never forget how wonderful she was that winter. Whenever we
looked, she smiled at us, tremulously sometimes, and when our task of
shelling and pounding corn was over, she helped us invent little games
and told us beautiful stories that she made up. But for all her outward
cheer, I now realize, when we children were asleep on the mattress that
had been brought from the cold bedroom and placed on the floor near the
stove, that our mother spent many long hours on her knees in prayer.

"Our cow had been sold before the snow came, as money had been needed to
pay on the mortgage, and so we had no milk. Our few hens were kept in a
lean-to shed during the day, but Mother permitted them to roost behind
the stove on those bitterly cold nights, and so occasionally we had eggs,
and a rare feast it was, but at last our supply of corn was nearly
exhausted.

"There was usually a thaw in January, but instead, this exceptionally
cold winter brought a blizzard which continued day after day, burying our
house deep in snow. At last Mother had to tell us that unless a thaw came
that we might procure some provisions from our neighbors, we would have
to kill our three hens for food. What we would do after that, she did not
say; but, luckily, for the feathered members of our family, the thaw did
come and with it came Mr. Eastland, riding the eight miles on his stout
little mule, and fastened to the saddle, back of him, was a bag of corn
and potatoes. Dear, kind man! He must have brought us half of his own
remaining store. Eagerly our mother asked if there had been news from
town, but he shook his head. 'No one's been through with the mail, Mis'
Wiggin,' he said; then he added: 'I s'pose likely you're powerful
consarned about that man o' yourn. I s'pose you haven't heard from him
yet, Mis' Wiggin?'

"Mother tried to answer, but her lips quivered and she had to turn away.

"'Well, so long, folks!' the old man called, 'I'll be over agin 'fore
spring, the snow permittin'.'

"We children climbed on the gate and stood as high as we could to watch
our good friend ride away. What we did not know until later, was that as
soon as he was out of our sight, he turned and rode that twenty miles to
the village post office. A week later Mother was indeed surprised to see
Mr. Eastland returning, and this time he brought a letter. It was with
eager joy that Mother leaped forward to take it, but it was with a cry of
grief that she covered her face with her hands and hurried into the
house. The letter had fallen, and I picked it up and glanced at it.
Father never got there, it said, but when he knew he was going to die he
asked someone to write. He had worked days and walked nights and died of
exposure and exhaustion.

"Spring came and with the first balmy days our mother was taken from us.
We children were eleven years old then, and we knew not what to do.

"'We must go to Mr. Eastland,' Dean said. 'He would want us to.'

"We went, and that good man took us in, and made a home for us until--"
she paused and looked around, but as her listeners did not speak, she
added: "Perhaps this is all too sad, perhaps you will not care to hear
the rest."

"Please do tell us, dear Nell," Gloria said, and so the frail girl
continued her story.



                              CHAPTER XIV.
                            A PLEASANT PLAN


"The summer following our mother's death was hot and dry," the frail girl
continued, "and the grass around Mr. Eastland's shack, though tall from
early rains, was parched in August.

"One morning before he rode in town, our foster-father jokingly told my
brother Dean that he would leave the place in his care. 'Don't ye let
anything happen to it, sonny,' he said.

"Dean, who is always serious, looked up at the old man on the mule as he
replied: 'I'll take care of it, Daddy Eastland, even with my life.'

"We thought nothing of this. My brother was a dreamer, living, it
sometimes seemed, in a world of his own creating. I now realize that my
foster-father and I did not quite understand him.

"It was an intensely hot day. How the grass got on fire I do not know,
but about noon I heard a cry from Dean, who had been lying for hours on
the ground in the shade of the shack reading a book of poetry that a
traveling missionary had brought to him. He had visited us six months
before and had promised the next time he came that he would bring a book
for my brother.

"When I heard Dean's cry of alarm and saw him leap to his feet and run
toward a swiftly approaching column of smoke, I also ran, but not being
as fleet of foot, I was soon far behind him. He had caught up a burlap
bag as he passed a shed; then, on he raced toward the fire. I, too,
paused to get a bag, but when I started on I saw my brother suddenly
plunge forward and disappear.

"He had caught his foot in a briar and had fallen into a thicket which, a
moment later, with a crackle and roar leaped into flame.

"His cap had slipped over his face, thank heaven, and so his truly
beautiful eyes and features were spared, but his body was badly burned
when the fire had swept over him.

"The wind had veered very suddenly and turned the flame back upon the
charred land and so, there being nothing left to burn, it was
extinguished.

"It was at that moment that Daddy Eastland returned. He lifted my
unconscious brother out of the black, burnt thicket and carried him to
the shack.

"'Boy! Boy!' he said, and I never will forget the sob there was in his
voice. 'Why did you say ye'd take care of the old place with your life?
'Twasn't worth one hair on yer head.'

"But Dean was not dead. Slowly, so slowly he came back to life, but his
left arm was burned to the bone and his side beneath it. Then, because of
the pain, his muscles tightened and he could not move his arm.

"We were so far from town that perhaps he did not have just the right
care. Once a month a quack physician made the rounds of those remote
farms.

"However, he did the best that he could, and a year later Dean was able
to walk about. How like our mother he was, so brave and cheerful!

"'I am glad that it is my left arm that will not move, Sister,' he often
said. 'I have a use for my right arm.'

"Our foster-father, noting how it pleased the lad, invented tasks around
the farm that a one-armed boy could do to help, but when he was fourteen
years of age I discovered what he had meant when he said that he had a
use for his right arm. He had a little den of his own in the loft of the
old barn with a big opening that overlooked meadow lands, a winding
silver ribbon of a river and distant hills, and there he spent hours
every day writing.

"At last he confessed that he was trying to make verse like that in his
one greatly treasured book. It was his joy, and he had so little that I
encouraged him, though I could not understand his poetry. I am more like
our father, who was a faithful plodding farmer, and Dean is like our
mother, who could tell such wonderful stories out of her own head.

"At last, when I was eighteen years old, I told Daddy Eastland that I
wanted to go to the city to earn my own way and send some money back for
Dean. How the lad grieved when I left, for he said that he was the one
who should go out in the world and work for both of us, but I told him to
keep on with his writing and that maybe, some day, he would be able to
earn money with his poetry.

"So I came to town and began as an errand girl in a big department store.

"Now I earn eighteen dollars a week and I send half of it back to the
little rocky farm in New England. Too, I send magazines and books, but
now a new problem has presented itself. Mr. Eastland has died, and Dean
is alone, and so I have sent for him to come and live with me.

"How glad I shall be to see him, but I dread having him know where I
live. He will guess at once that I chose a basement room that I might
have money to send to him."

It was Miss Selenski who interrupted: "Miss Wiggin," she said, "while you
have been talking, I have chosen you to be my successor. Tomorrow I am to
be married, and I promised the ladies who built the model tenements that
I would find someone fitted to take my place before I left. The pay is
better than you are getting. It is twenty-five dollars a week, with a
sunny little apartment to live in. I want all of you girls to come to my
wedding and then, when I am gone, Miss Wiggin, you can move right in, and
you will be there to welcome that wonderful brother of yours."

It would be hard to imagine a happier girl than Nell when she learned
that a brighter future awaited her than she had dared to dream. She tried
to thank her benefactor, but her sensitive lips quivered and the girls
knew that she was so overcome with emotion that she might cry, and so
Miss Selenski began at once to tell them about her wedding plans, and
then, soon after she had finished, the girls who had been invited for tea
arrived. Miss Selenski knew many of them, and so the conversation became
general and little Nell Wiggin was permitted to quietly become accustomed
to her wonderful good fortune before she was again asked to join in the
conversation. Bobs walked with her to the elevated, and merry plans she
laid for the pleasant times the Vandergrifts were to have with their new
neighbors.



                              CHAPTER XV.
                         THE DETECTIVE DETECTED


One Monday, at high noon, the pretty Miss Selenski was married in the
Hungarian church and her four new friends were among the many foreign
women who came to wish their kindly neighbor much happiness in her new
life.

Gloria had been pleased with the earnest face of the man who had won the
love of little Miss Selenski, and when the smiling pair rode away on an
automobile delivery truck, which was their very own, the Vandergrift
girls, with Nell Wiggin, stood on a crowded street corner and waved and
nodded, promising that very soon they would visit the little home, with a
yard around it, that was out near the woodsy Bronx Park.

Bobs at the last moment had tied an old shoe to the back of the truck
with a white ribbon, and there it hung dangling and bobbing in a manner
most festive, while through a small hole in the sole of it a stream of
rice trickled, but in the thronging, surging masses of East Side humanity
this little drama was scarcely noticed.

When Mr. and Mrs. Cheniska had disappeared up Third Avenue, Gloria turned
to smile at little Nell Wiggin.

"Now, let us make haste to get your new apartment in order that you may
wire your brother to come at once; that is, if a wire will reach him."

"Yes, indeed it will, and he is eagerly awaiting it," Nell happily
replied. "Since our foster-father's death my brother has been living in
town with the missionary of whom I told you, the one who used to visit
the remote farms and who brought my brother, years ago, his first book of
poetry. They have been close friends ever since."

But when the girls reached the little apartment, they found that there
was nothing to be done. It was in perfect order, and the thoughtful bride
had even left part of her wedding flowers that they might be there to
welcome the new agent of the model tenements.

"There seems to be nothing to do here," beamingly Miss Wiggin said.
"Perhaps I would better go at once to my room and pack."

"I will go with you and help," Bobs told her.

"Then both of you come to the Pensinger mansion for lunch," Lena May
suggested.

"What did you do about notifying Mr. Queerwitz?" Bobs inquired an hour
later as the two girls started down Fourth Avenue toward the basement
home of Nell Wiggin.

"Nothing as yet. That is, I merely telephoned that I would not be there
today. I suppose I will have to give two weeks' notice. Let us go there
at once and I will do so."

When the two girls entered the Queerwitz Antique Shop, Miss Peerwinkle
seemed to be much excited because of their arrival and, hastening to the
rear door, which was labeled "No Admittance," she gave three sharp raps
and then hurried back and took up her post near the front door, as though
to prevent escape in that direction.

Bobs looked all around, wondering if there was a customer in the store
who was being watched, but she and Nell seemed to be the only other
occupants of the place. To add to the mysteriousness, Miss Harriet
Dingley, upon receiving a nod from the head lady, walked to the entrance
of the cloakroom, deliberately turned the key and put it in her pocket.

Bobs, always on the alert, noted all this and marveled at it. Surely Nell
Wiggin had done nothing to arouse the suspicion of Mr. Queerwitz! Then,
suddenly, a very possible solution of the mystery flashed into Roberta's
consciousness.

Undoubtedly Mr. Queerwitz suspected that the late Miss Dolittle had
something to do with the disappearance, reappearance and subsequent sale
of the rare old book. She well knew how enraged the grasping shopkeeper
would be if he learned that he had received only half as much for the
second volume as had been paid by Mr. Van Loon for the first, and if that
gentleman had described the girl who had sold the book to him! Bobs
actually smiled as she thought, "I guess I'm trapped all right. A fine
detective I would make when I never even thought to wear a disguise.
Well, the game's up!"

She knew that she ought to feel troubled when she saw Mr. Queerwitz
emerge from his secret sanctum and approach her, looking about as
friendly as a thunder cloud, but, instead, that irrepressible girl felt
amused as though she were embarking upon another interesting adventure,
and she actually smiled to greet him. Bobs was depending upon her natural
quick-wittedness to save her from whatever avalanche of wrath was about
to descend upon her.

She had glanced beyond the man, then suddenly she stared as though amazed
at what she saw back of him. The shopkeeper, noting this, turned and
observed that in his haste he had neglected to latch the door labeled "No
Admittance," and that a draught of air had opened it.

Beyond plainly were seen several workmen engaged in making antique
furniture. Mr. Queerwitz looked sharply at the girl, trying to learn, if
possible, how much of his secret had been revealed to her.

His anger increased when he saw that her eyes were laughing. "What
puzzles me," she was saying, innocently, "is how you can make things look
worm-eaten as well as time-worn."

Whatever accusations might have been on the lips of Mr. Queerwitz when he
approached Roberta, they were never uttered. Instead he turned and walked
rapidly back to his workshop and closed the door, none too quietly, but
in a manner that seemed to convince Miss Peerwinkle that she and Miss
Dingley need no longer guard the entrances.

How Bobs wanted to laugh, but instead she walked over to Nell Wiggin, who
had been collecting the few things that she had at the shop.

"Have you given notice?" Roberta inquired.

"I wrote a note and asked Miss Peerwinkle to give it to Mr. Queerwitz.
Come, let us go."

Half an hour later Nell Wiggin was packing her few garments in a
suitcase, while Roberta tied up the precious books. Two hours later the
new agent of the model tenements was established in the sunny apartment
and her row of red-bound books stood on one shelf of the built-in
bookcase.

"Now I will wire my brother Dean that he may come as soon as he wishes;
and oh, how I do hope that will be soon," Nell said as she happily
surveyed the pleasantest place that she had ever called home.

The message was sent when they were on their way to the Pensinger mansion
for lunch.

"I must not remain long," the new agent told Gloria, "for I promised Mrs.
Doran-Ashley that I would be on duty at one."

Every little while during that noon meal Bobs would look up with laughing
eyes. At last she told the cause of her mirth. "I am wondering what Mr.
James Jewett thinks of his assistant detective," she remarked. "I am so
glad that I gave the name Miss Dolittle. Now I can retire from the
profession without being traced."

"Oh, good, here comes the postman," Lena May declared as she rose and
went to the side door to meet the mail-carrier. Gloria looked up eagerly.
She was always hoping that Gwendolyn would write. The letters that she
had sent to the Newport home of the schoolmate whom Gwendolyn had said
that she was going to visit, had been returned, marked "Whereabouts not
known."

There were two letters and both were for Bobs. One was a bulging missive
from her Long Island friend, Dick De Laney, but it was at the other that
the girl stared as though in uncomprehending amazement. The cause of her
very evident astonishment was the printed return address in the upper
left-hand corner. It was "Fourth Avenue Branch, Burns Detective Agency."
Then she glanced, still puzzled, at her own name, which was written, not
typed.

"Miss Roberta Vandergrift," she read aloud. Then suddenly she laughed,
and looking up at the other girls who, all interest, were awaiting an
explanation of her queer conduct, she exclaimed: "The amateur detective
has been detected, but how under the shining heavens did Mr. James Jewett
know that my name wasn't Miss Dolittle?"

Gloria smiled. "You haven't much faith, it would seem, in his ability as
a detective. What has he written, Bobs?"

There were few words in the message:

"Miss Vandergrift, please report at this office at once, as we have need
of your services. Signed. J. G. Jewett."

"Well, I'll be flabbergasted!" Roberta ejaculated. "But I must confess I
am curious, and so I will immediately, if not sooner, hie me down that
way. Wait a jiff, Miss Wiggin. I'll walk along with you."

When Roberta and Nell were gone, Gloria found the bulging letter from
Bobs' oldest friend, Dick De Laney, lying on the table unopened. The girl
who was so loved by that faithful lad had quite forgotten it in her new
interests. Gloria sighed. "Poor Dick," she said to Lena May as she placed
the letter on a mantel, "I wish he did not care so much for Roberta, for
I fear that she does not really care for him."

True it was that at that particular moment Bobs was far more interested
in learning what Mr. Jewett had to tell her than in any message that a
letter from Dick might contain.



                              CHAPTER XVI.
                         A NEW "CASE" FOR BOBS


The outer office of the Fourth Avenue Branch of the Burns Detective
Agency was vacant when the girl entered, but almost instantly the door of
the inner office opened and Mr. Jewett himself stood there. His pleasant
face brightened when he saw his visitor. Advancing with his right hand
extended, he exclaimed: "Miss Vandergrift, I am almost surprised to see
you. I really feared that you had deserted your new profession."

"But--Mr. Jewett--I--that is--my name. I told you that it was Miss
Dolittle."

The young man drew forward a chair for her, then seated himself at his
desk, and again Roberta realized that, although his face was serious, his
gray-blue eyes were smiling.

"The letter I sent to you was addressed to Miss Roberta Vandergrift," he
said, "and, since you have replied in person, am I not justified in
believing that to be your real name?"

Bobs flushed. "I'll have to acknowledge that it is," she said, "but the
other day when you asked me my name, I didn't quite like to give that of
our family and so, at random, I chose one." Then the girl smiled frankly
at him. "I couldn't have chosen a worse one, it seems. Miss Dolittle did
not impress my late employer as being a good name for a clerk."

"You are wrong there," the young man told her, and at last there was no
mistaking the fact that he was amused. "Mr. Queerwitz decided that you
did too much and not too little. I don't know when I have been so pleased
as I was over the fact, which so disturbs him, that you were able to
drive the better bargain. Mr. Queerwitz has excelled in that line, and to
have a mere slip of a girl obtain one thousand dollars for a book, the
mate of which brought him but five hundred dollars, is humiliating to say
the least."

Then, leaning forward, the young man said, with evident interest: "Miss
Vandergrift, will you tell me what happened?"

Roberta's expression was sphynx-like. "I understand, Mr. Jewett," she
replied, "that one need not give incriminating evidence against oneself."

Then her eyes twinkled. "And what is more," she told him, "I don't
believe that it is necessary. This office seems to have ferreted out the
facts."

"You are right," the young man confessed, "and now I will tell you just
what happened. It seems that while you were out for lunch Mr. Queerwitz,
or one of his assistants, discovered that the rare book was missing. He
phoned me at once and reported that his head clerk believed that you had
taken the book. She had found you so absorbed in it earlier in the day
that you had not even been conscious of her presence.

"I assured Mr. Queerwitz that I believed he was on the wrong trail, but
he insisted that a detective be sent to watch your actions. This was
done, and that night the report delivered to this office was that you had
visited an old second-hand book shop on Third Avenue; that from there you
had mailed one book, and had then taken another to Mr. Van Loon, sold it,
and had delivered the money to the old bookseller.

"Our natural conclusion was that the stolen book was the one that you had
sold, but when Mr. Van Loon was reached by telephone, he stated that the
first of the volumes was the one that he had purchased for one thousand
dollars.

"We said nothing of all this to Mr. Queerwitz, as we wished to see if the
book that you had mailed was the one that had been taken from the antique
shop.

"It was not until the following noon that the book was delivered, and
almost immediately afterward Mr. Van Loon appeared and purchased it for
five hundred dollars during the absence of Mr. Queerwitz.

"We were then forced to conclude that the old bookseller on Third Avenue
had been the thief, and we sent at once to his shop to have him arrested,
only to discover that with his wife, Marlitta, he had sailed for Europe
at daybreak.

"However, our detective reported that Miss Dolittle was at the shop,
having all of the old books heaped upon a cart. Being truly puzzled by
the case, I decided to follow it up myself, which I did, reaching the
place in my closed car just as you were being driven away on the
book-laden truck. I followed, unobserved, and when you descended in front
of the Pensinger mansion, with which place I am familiar, I decided that
you lived there. To verify this I visited the grocer who has charge of
the place.

"I made a few purchases and then said casually to the grocer: 'I see the
old Pensinger mansion is occupied. People been there long?'

"Mr. Tenowitz, as I hoped, was garrulous and told me all he knew about
the three Vandergrift girls who had taken possession of the place. He
said the one answering to your description was called Roberta.

"Of course the grocer really knew little about you, but it was not hard
for a detective to learn much more about a family that, for generations,
has been so well known in New York. But there is one thing I do not
understand, and that is your evident interest in that old second-hand
dealer in books."

"I will tell you gladly," Roberta said, and she recounted the story from
the moment when she had caught a first glimpse of the spray of lilacs,
unconsciously telling him more than her words did of how touched her
heart was by the poverty and sorrow that she was seeing for the first
time.

When she paused, he looked thoughtfully out of the window. "I don't know
that I ought to permit you to continue in this line of work," he said. "A
girl brought up as you have been can know nothing, really, of the dangers
that lurk everywhere in this great city."

"Oh, Mr. Jewett!" Bobs was eager, "please let me try just once more;
then, if I fail again I will endeavor to find a profession for which I am
better fitted."

"Very well, I will," was the smiling reply, "for this case cannot lead
you into places that might be unwise for you to visit. In fact, I am sure
that it is a case that will greatly interest a young girl."

Mr. Jewett paused to take a note book from his pocket. While he was
scanning the pages Roberta leaned forward, waiting, almost breathlessly
eager.

Mr. Jewett, glancing up from his note book, smiled to see Bobs' eager,
interested expression. Then he told her about the case. "A certain Mrs.
Waring-Winston, who is prominent in society, has a daughter who, although
brought up in a convent, is determined to go upon the stage. Her mother
has tried every form of persuasion to prevent this unfortunate step, and
at last she decided that a year of travel in Europe might have the
desired effect, and so she engaged passage upon a steamer which is to
sail next week.

"Mrs. Waring-Winston believed that if she could interest the girl in
other things just now, on their return to this country she might entirely
abandon her determination to become a chorus girl. The mother assured me
that Winnie, her daughter, is not talented enough to advance beyond that
point.

"But the girl, it would seem, has more determination and self-will than
she has talent, for when her mother informed her of the plans she had
made, although outwardly seeming to acquiesce, she was inwardly
rebellious as her subsequent actions proved, for that night she
disappeared.

"Three days have passed and she has not returned. Mrs. Waring-Winston did
not report the matter at once, believing that Winnie must have gone to
stay with girl friends in the suburbs; but yesterday, having inquired at
all possible places where her daughter might visit without having found a
trace of her whereabouts, Mrs. Waring-Winston, in desperation, appealed
to us, imploring us forever to keep the matter secret. We, of course,
agreed to do this, and it was then that I determined to send for you,
believing that a young girl could find Winnie sooner than one of our
men."

"Do you think, Mr. Jewett, that the daughter of Mrs. Waring-Winston has
joined a theatrical troupe in this city?" Bobs inquired.

"I think that it is more possible that she has joined a troupe that
either has or soon will leave town to tour the country, but of course we
must first visit the playhouses in the city. I have two other women
working on the case, as I wish if possible to cover all of the theaters
today. I have assigned to you a group of Broadway playhouses that you can
easily visit during the matinee performances. Here is a photograph of the
missing girl."

Roberta looked at the pictured face. "How lovely she is!" was her
comment. "I do not wonder that her mother wants to protect her. How I do
hope that I will be able to find Winnie and persuade her to wait, at
least, until she is eighteen years of age before choosing a profession."

The girl rose. "It is one-thirty," she said. "Perhaps I had better be
starting. Do I have to have a pass or something of that sort in order to
be admitted to the theaters?"

Mr. Jewett also rose and pinned a badge under the lapel of the girl's
jacket. "Show that," he told her, "and it will be all the pass that you
will need."

Then as he held open the door, he smilingly added, "Good luck to you,
Miss Dolittle Vandergrift."

Bobs flashed a merry smile back at the young man. "I sincerely hope that
I will do more than I did last time," she said, but, when she was seated
in the taxi which was to take her to her destination on Broadway, her
thoughts were not of the little would-be actress, but of Gwendolyn. Day
after day Roberta had noted that, try as she might to be cheerful, her
oldest sister, the one who had been Mother to them all, grew sadder and
more troubled.

"Glow will not be really happy," Bobs was thinking, "until Gwen comes
back to us. I cannot see where she can be, for she had only one month's
allowance with her and she could not live long on that."

Bobs' reverie was suddenly interrupted by the stopping of the taxi, and,
looking up, the girl found that they were in front of one of the
festively adorned theaters. With a rapidly beating heart, she descended
to the walk, made her way through the throng, showed her badge and was
admitted. At her request an usher led her behind the scenes.

Bobs felt as though she were on the brink of some momentous discovery.



                             CHAPTER XVII.
                           BOBS TRIES ACTING


When they were behind the scenes, a short, flashily attired man advanced
to meet Roberta and the usher departed. For one panicky moment Bobs
wondered whether she should tell that she was a detective. Would the
director wish her to interfere with his plans, as she undoubtedly would
be doing were she to take from him one of his chorus girls?

The alert little man, however, did not need to be told, for he had caught
a glimpse of Roberta's badge when a projecting bit of scenery had for a
moment pulled at her coat.

Rubbing his hands, and smiling ingratiatingly, he said in a voice of oily
smoothness: "Is it one of our girls, ma'am, that you're wishing to see?"

Bob realized that he had guessed her mission and so she thought best to
be perfectly frank with him and tell the whole story. The little man
seemed greatly relieved, and shook his head many times as he talked. "No
such girl here," he assured her. "I'd turn her over to her Ma if there
was. Come and see."

The small man spun around with the suddenness of a top, and Bobs could
not help thinking that his build suggested the shape of that toy. Then he
darted away, dodging the painted trees with great dexterity, leading the
way down dark aisles among the scenes that were not to be used that day.

At last they reached the dressing rooms. "Look in all of 'em," he said.
"Don't knock. Just walk in."

Then, with a flourish of his plump diamond-bedecked hands, which seemed
to bestow upon her the freedom of the place, the small man gave another
of his top-like spins and disappeared among the scenery.

Roberta found herself standing near a door on which was a large gilt
star.

No need to go in there, she decided, for of course the girl whom she
sought would not be the company's star, but since she had the open sesame
of all the rooms, why not enter? She had always been wild to go behind
the scenes when she and her sisters had been seated in a box in this very
theater.

Little had she dreamed in those days that now seemed so far in the past,
that day would come when she would be behind the scenes in the role of an
amateur detective.

As Roberta stood gazing at the closed door, she saw it open and a maid,
dressed trimly in black and white, hurried out, leaving the door ajar.

Glancing in, Bobs saw a truly beautiful young woman lounging in a
comfortable chair in front of a long mirror. The maid had evidently been
arranging her hair. Several elaborate gowns were hanging about the room.
Suddenly Roberta flushed, for she realized that a pair of darkly lashed
eyes were observing her in the mirror. Then the beautiful face smiled and
a slim white hand beckoned.

Entering the small dressing room, Roberta also smiled into the mirror.
"Forgive me for gazing so rudely," she apologized, "but all my life I
have wished that I might meet a real star."

The young woman turned and with a graceful yet indolent gesture bade
Roberta be seated on a low chair that was facing her.

"Don't!" was all that she said, and the visitor thought that even that
harsh word was like music, so deep and rich was the voice that uttered
it.

Bobs was puzzled. She looked up inquiringly: "Don't what?" she asked.

The white hand rested on Roberta's knee as the voice continued kindly:
"If you were my sister, I would say don't, _don't_ take up the stage as a
profession. It's such a weary, thankless life. Only a few of us reach the
top, little girl, and it's such a hard grind. Too, if you want to live
right, theatrical folk think you are queer and you don't win their
friendship. They say you're not their kind."

"But, you--" Roberta breathed with very evident admiration, "you are a
star. You do not need their friendship." She was thinking of the small
florid man who had suggested a top.

The actress smiled, and then hurriedly added in a low voice, for the maid
was returning: "I haven't time to talk more, now, but dear girl, even as
a star I say _don't_."

Bobs impulsively caught the frail hand and held it in a close clasp. She
wondered why there were tears in the dark-lashed eyes. As she was closing
the door after her, she heard the maid address the star as Miss
Merryheart.

"Another fictitious name that doesn't fit," Bobs thought. How she longed
to go back to the little dressing room and ask Miss Merryheart if there
was something, anything she could do for her; but instead, with a half
sigh, she turned toward an open door beyond which she could hear laughter
and joking.

Bobs wondered if among those chorus girls she would find the one she
sought.

The door to the larger room was ajar, and Roberta entered. As she had
guessed, there was a bevy of girls in the room. A dozen mirrors lined the
walls and before each of them stood a young girl applying paint or powder
to her face, or adjusting a wig with long golden curls. Some of them were
dressed in spangly tights and others in very short skirts that stood out
stiffly.

This was unmistakably the chorus.

"Hello, sweetie," a buxom maiden near the door sang out when she observed
the newcomer. "What line of talk are you goin' to give us? The last guy
as was here asked us if our souls was saved. Is that the dope you've got
up your sleeve?"

Roberta smiled so frankly that she seemed to disarm their fears that they
were to be preached to. "I say," she began, as she sat on a trunk near
the door, "do you all like this life?"

Another girl whirled about and, pausing in the process of applying a lip
stick, she winked wisely at the one who had first spoken. "Say, Pink,"
she called, "I got'er spotted. She's an ink-slinger for some daily."

"Wrong you are," Bobs merrily replied. Then she turned to a slender girl
who was standing at the mirror next to her, who had appeared quite
indifferent to the newcomer's presence. "How is it with you?" Roberta
asked her directly. "Do you like this life?"

But it was one of the bolder girls who replied: "Sure thing, we all like
the life. It's great."

"Goin' to join the high kicks?" This question was asked by still another
girl who, having completed her toilet, now sauntered up and stood
directly in front of Bobs. For one moment the young detective's heart
beat rapidly, for the newcomer's resemblance to the picture was striking,
but another girl was saying: "Bee, there, has been with this here show
for two years, and she likes the life, don't you, Bee?"

So, after all, this wasn't the one whom she sought.

Bobs decided to take them into her confidence. Smiling around in the
winning way that she had, she began: "Girls, you've had three guesses and
missed, so now I'll put you wise. I'm looking for a Winifred
Waring-Winston, whose mamma-dear wishes to see her at once, if not
sooner. Can you tell me at which theater I can find her?"

The others grouped about Roberta, but all shook their heads. "Dunno as
I'd squeal on her if I did know," said the one called Pink. "But as it
happens, I don't."

Nor did the others, it would seem, and when Roberta was convinced that
Winnie was not to be found there, she left, but, as the curtain had
raised on the first scene, she paused near the front door to hear Miss
Merryheart sing. Truly she was an actress, Bobs thought, for no one in
that vast audience who saw the star could have guessed that only a brief
time before there had been tears in those dark-lashed eyes that now
seemed to be brimming with mirth.

At the next theater she entered, Bobs had an unexpected and rather
startling experience. Just as she appeared in the dimly lighted space
back of the scenes, she was pounced upon by a man who was undoubtedly the
stage manager.

"Miss Finefeather," he said, in a hoarse whisper, "What? You late again?
Two minutes only to get into your riggin'." Then giving Bobs a shove
toward an open door, he called hoarsely: "Here's that laggard, Stella.
Help her and be quick. We don't want any hitches in this scene. No time
for explainin'. That, an' settlin' accounts will come later," he added
when Bobs tried to turn back to explain that she was _not_ Miss
Finefeather.

The man was gone and the leading chorus girl pounced upon her and, with
the aid of two others, she was being disrobed. To her amusement as well
as amazement, she soon found herself arrayed in tights with a short
spangled overskirt. Resignedly she decided to see it through. Just at
that moment a buzzer sounded, which seemed to be a signal for the
entrance of the chorus. "Here you, Miss Finefeather," someone was saying,
"can't you remember overnight where your place is? Just back of me, and
do everything I do and you'll get through all right." The voice was
evidently intended to be kind.

Bobs followed the one ahead, trying to suppress an almost uncontrollable
desire to laugh. Who in the world did they suppose her to be? she
wondered. The girls had divided into two long lines and they entered the
stage from opposite sides. Bobs was thinking, "I've heard folk say it's
hard to get on the stage. Strikes me it's just the other way. I jolly
wish, though, I had some idea what I'm supposed to do."

Roberta's reverie was interrupted by her kindly neighbor, who whispered:
"Gimme your paw. Here's where we swing, an' don't forget to keep your
feet going all the time. There's no standing still in this act."

Being in it, Bobs decided to try to do her best, and, having been a
champion in school athletics, she was limber and mentally alert and went
through the skipping and whirling and various gyrations almost as well as
though she had been trained. However, when the act was finished and the
chorus girls, with a burst of singing laughter, had run from the stage,
the man whom she had first seen came up to her, profuse with apologies.
He had just received a message telling him that Miss Finefeather was very
ill and wouldn't be able to keep on with the work. "You're a wonder," he
exclaimed, with very sincere admiration. "How you went through that act
and never missed so's one could notice it proves you're the girl for the
place. Say you'd like it and the position's yours."

Bobs paused, but in that moment she seemed to hear Miss Merryheart's one
word: "Don't!"

Roberta thanked the man, but said that her business engagements for that
afternoon were so urgent that she could not even remain for another act.

Having learned that Miss Finefeather had been with them but a few days,
Bobs, believing that she might be the girl whom she sought, asked for her
address, and departed.

Her heart was filled with hope, "I believe I've hit the right trail," she
thought, as she hurried out of the theater.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                        WHO WAS MISS FINEFEATHER


Roberta stepped into a drug store to inquire the way to the address that
she had upon a slip of brown paper. The clerk happened to know the
locality without referring to the directory, and Bobs was thanking him
when one of the customers exclaimed in a voice that plainly expressed the
speaker's great joy: "Bobsy Vandergrift, of all people! Where in the
world are you girls living? Dick wrote me that you had left Long Island,
but he failed to tell me where you had located?"

It was Kathryn De Laney who, as she talked, drew Bobs into a quiet booth.
The girls seated themselves and clasped hands across the table.

"Oh, Kathy," Bobs said, her eyes glowing with the real pleasure that she
felt, "I've been meaning to look you up, for Gloria's sake, if for no
other reason. I heard Glow say only the other day that she wanted to see
you. I believe you'd do her worlds of good. You're so breezy and
cheerful."

Kathryn looked troubled. "Why, is anything especially wrong with Glow?"

"She's brooding because Gwen doesn't write," Bobs said. Then she told
briefly all that had happened: how Gwen had refused to come with the
others to try to earn her living, and how instead she had departed
without saying good-bye to them to visit her school friend, Eloise
Rochester, and how letters, sent there by Gloria, had been returned
marked "Whereabouts unknown."

"I honestly believe that Gloria thinks of nothing else. I've watched her
when she was pretending to read, and she doesn't turn a page by the hour.
I had just about made up my mind to put an advertisement of some kind in
the paper. Not that I'm crazy about Gwen myself. There's no excuse for
one sister being so superlatively selfish and disagreeable as she is, but
Gloria believes, she honestly does, that if we are patient and loving,
Gwen will change in time, because after all she is our mother's
daughter."

"Gloria is right," was the quiet answer. "I am sure of that. You all
helped to spoil Gwen when she was a child because she was frail. Then
later you let her have her own way because you dreaded her temper spells,
but I honestly believe that a few hard knocks will do much toward
readjusting Gwendolyn's outlook upon life."

"But, Kathryn!" Bobs exclaimed. "Don't you know that Gwen couldn't stand
hard knocks? If it were a case of sink or swim, Gwen would just give up
and sink."

"I'm not so sure," the girl who had been next door neighbor to the
Vandergrifts all her life replied. "It's an instinct with all of us to at
least try to keep our heads above water." Then she added: "But didn't I
hear you asking the clerk about an address? That was what first attracted
my attention to you, because it is the same locality as my destination.
I'm visiting nurse now on the lower West Side."

Then, after glancing at the slip of paper Bobs held up, Kathryn
continued: "I'll call a taxi, and while we are riding down there you can
tell me all about yourself."

When they were settled for the long ride, Bobs blurted out: "Say, Kathy,
before I begin, please tell me why you've taken up nursing? A girl with a
thousand dollars a month income hardly needs the salary derived from such
service, and, of course, I know that you take none. Phyl said she thought
you ought to be examined by a lunacy board."

Kathryn laughed good-naturedly as she replied: "Oh, Phyl means all right.
She does think I'm crazy, but honestly, Bobsy, anyone who lives the idle,
selfish butterfly life that Phyllis does is worse than not sane, I think:
but she will wake up as Gwen will, some day, and see the worthlessness of
it all. Now tell me about yourself. Why are you bound for the lower West
Side?"

Bobs told her story. How Kathryn laughed. "A Vandergrift a detective!"
she exclaimed. "What would that stately old grandfather of yours have to
say if he knew it?"

Roberta's eyes twinkled. "Just about the same thing that he would say
about aircraft or radio. Impossible!"

The recounting of their recent experiences had occupied so much time
that, as its conclusion was reached, so too was Bobs' destination.

"I'll get out with you, if you don't mind," Kathryn said, "for, since
Miss Finefeather is ill, I may at least be able to give her some advice
that will help her."

Roberta glanced gratefully at her friend. "I had hoped that you would
want to come with me," she said, "but I did not like to ask, knowing that
your own mission might be imperative."

"No, it is not." Then, having dismissed the taxi driver. Kathryn said: "I
know this building. It is where a large number of poor struggling artists
have rooms. On each floor there is one community kitchen."

A janitor appeared from the basement at their ring. She said that Miss
Finefeather lived on the very top floor and that the young ladies might
go right up, and she did hope that they would be on time.

"On time for what?" Kathryn paused to inquire. The woman gave an
indifferent shrug.

"Oh," she informed them, "ever so often one of the artists gets
discouraged, and then she happens to remember that the river isn't so
very far away. Also they just go to sleep sometimes." Another shrug, and,
with the added remark that she didn't blame them much, the woman returned
to her dreary home.

Bobs shuddered. What if they were too late? Poor Miss Finefeather, if she
were really Winnie Waring-Winston, as Roberta so hoped, would not need be
discouraged when she had a fine home and a mother whose only interest in
life was to find her.

They were half-way up the long, steep flight of stairs leading to the top
floor when Bobs paused and looked back at her friend, as she said: "I'm
almost afraid that this girl cannot be the one I am seeking. Winnie could
not be discouraged in only three days."

"I thought that at once," Kathryn replied, "but she is someone in
trouble, and so I must go to her and see if I can help."

In silence they continued to climb to the top floor, which was divided
into four small rooms. Three of the doors were locked, but the fourth
opened at their touch, revealing a room so dark that, at first, they
could only see the form of the bed, and were relieved to note that
someone was lying upon it. But at their entrance there was no movement
from the silent figure.

"Maybe--after all--we came too late," Bobs said softly, and how her heart
ached for the poor girl lying there, and she wondered who it might be.



                              CHAPTER XIX.
                           THE LOST IS FOUND


Kathryn crossed to the one window and drew up the shade. It was late
afternoon and almost dusk on that north side of the house. The dim light
revealed on the pillow a face so still and white that Bobs was sure only
death could make it so. For one long moment she gazed before she
recognized the girl lying on the bed, and no wonder, for great was the
change in her.

"Gwen! It's our own Sister Gwen!" she cried as one who can scarcely
believe the evidence of her senses.

Down by the bedside Roberta knelt and took one of the lifeless white
hands in her own. "Oh, Gwen," she implored, "why did you do it? You
thought we didn't want you. You believed that in all the world there was
no one who loved you, no home in which you were welcome. Oh, how selfish
I've been! Gwen, forgive me, Sister. I should have tried to help you. I
was the one really who was selfish, for I wanted adventure. I didn't try
to think what it would mean to you; but O, I will, I will, Gwen, if only
you will live. Why don't you open your eyes, Gwen?"

Then, as there was no response from the apparently lifeless form on the
bed, Bobs looked up at her friend as she implored: "Kathryn, why doesn't
Gwen open her eyes? Are we too late? O, don't say that we are. It will
kill Glow. She thinks that it is her fault that Gwen left. She feels that
she turned one of Mother's own daughters out of our home."

Kathryn, who had been hunting about the room as though in search of
something, as indeed she had been, gave an exclamation of relief and,
going to Bobs, she held out a small vial. "Gwen isn't dead," she said.
"It wasn't poison that she took. Just a heavy dose of sleeping powder.
However, she will probably continue in this deathlike sleep for hours,
and yet she may soon recover. We have no time to delay. I will remain
here while you go to the corner drug store and telephone to my hospital
for an ambulance. Just say that it is for Miss De Laney and they will
respond at once. While she is unable to protest, we will take her to your
home."

Bobs had arisen, but lovingly she stooped and kissed the white face that
was so unlike the proud, beautiful one she had last seen on that
never-to-be-forgotten day when they had planned leaving their Long Island
home.

Tears fell unheeded as Roberta whispered to ears that could not hear:
"And when you waken, Sister dear, you will be in a home that wants you,
and our Gloria, who has tried to be Mother to us all these years will be
at your side smiling down, and a new life will begin for you and for us
all."

Then, almost blinded by her tears, Roberta descended the long, dark
flight of stairs and telephoned not only to the hospital, but also to
Gloria, telling her the wonderful news and bidding her prepare Bobs' own
room for the sister who was coming home.

Two hours later Gwendolyn, who had not awakened, was lying in the
comfortable bed in Bobs' room. Her three sisters and their friend,
Kathryn De Laney, stood watching her in the shaded lamp-light. The
expression on the face of Gloria told more than words could have done
what it meant to her to have this one of her dear mother's daughters back
in the home.

"And a real home it is going to be to her from now on if patient love can
make it so," Gloria said. Then to the nurse she turned, asking, "Will it
be long before she wakens, Kathryn?"

"It ought not to be long," was the reply, which had hardly been given
when Roberta whispered eagerly, "Glow, I think Gwen moved."

The eyes that looked so wearily out at them were about to close as though
nothing mattered, when suddenly they were again opened with a brightening
expression, and yet they did not look quite natural.

Holding out her arms toward the oldest sister, the girl on the bed cried
eagerly: "Mother, I have come to you after all. I took something. I
wanted to come----" Her voice trailed away and again she closed her eyes.

Gloria was the one of the girls who looked most like their mother. "Dear,
dear Sister," Glow said, trying not to sob, "you are home again. I am
sure that our mother led us to you. Try to get strong. We will help you,
Gwendolyn, for truly we love you. No one knows, little Gwen, how your big
sister has wanted you. Can't you try to forgive me for having spoken
impatiently, if not for my sake, at least for the sake of our mother?"

Gwendolyn looked at the face bent close above her as though trying to
recall the past. Then, reaching out a frail hand, she said, "I, Glow, am
the one who should be forgiven."

Then she closed her eyes, and a moment later Kathryn said that she was
asleep, but that this time it was a natural sleep from great weariness.

"When she wakens again, give her broth, for I fear she is too nearly
starved to take heavier food just now."



                              CHAPTER XX.
                       A FAILURE THAT WAS SUCCESS


The day following that on which Gwen had been found, Detective Bobs had
gone early in the morning to report at the Fourth Avenue Branch of the
Burns Agency.

"Mr. Jewett," she began at once, "as a detective I certainly am a
failure."

The young man laughed. "I'll agree with you that in one way, you
certainly are, but nevertheless you accomplished your mission."

Bobs' expression of blank surprise seemed to delight her employer. "But,
Mr. Jewett, what can you mean? It was my sister whom I found. I did not
find Miss Winston-Waring."

"Yes you did, and you talked with her, or to her, rather."

"Well, I'll be flabbergasted!" Then Bobs apologized. "Pardon my lingo,
Mr. Jewett. Our gardener's boy used to say that when he was greatly
astonished, and I certainly never was more so. When, in the name of
mystery, did I talk to that young lady, and where?"

"It was at the first theater that you visited. Miss Winifred said that
you came into the dressing room and that after two of the girls, called
Pink and Bee, had talked with you awhile, you turned to her, for her
mirror was nearest you, and asked her directly if she liked the life of a
chorus girl. She did not know how to reply, for the truth was that her
three days' experience on the stage had greatly disillusioned her. She
had found the rough ways of the girls repellent to her refined, sensitive
nature, and she was afraid of the stage manager, whose criticisms were
sarcastic and even unkind.

"While she was hesitating, Bee, it seems, had replied for her, and then
it was that you had explained your mission. She, of course, had not given
her real name, and so no one suspected that she was Miss Winifred
Waring-Winston.

"Her pride alone kept her from following you and confessing her identity.
She had declared to her mother that she would live her own life in her
own way, and she could not bear to acknowledge her defeat. Too, there was
one bright spot in her new profession, which was that the star, Miss
Merryheart, had singled her out and was very kind to her.

"That same afternoon, it seems, after the matinee," Mr. Jewett continued,
"Miss Merryheart sent for her to come to her dressing room. The others
were jealous and said things that were so unkind and untrue that the
sensitive girl was almost in tears when she reached the room of the star.

"When the door had been closed and they were alone, Miss Merryheart
placed kindly hands on her shoulders and looked deep into the
tear-brimmed eyes. 'Dear little girl,' she said, 'why didn't you tell our
visitor that you are Winifred Waring-Winston?'"

Of course the girl was amazed and greatly puzzled, for she had told Miss
Merryheart nothing at all concerning her past or her identity, and so she
asked her how she had known.

"The star replied: 'I have been long on the stage and I know when a girl
has been brought up in an environment different from the others. Too, I
saw last night that you were greatly disillusioned, and I realized by the
frightened, anxious glances that you cast about the audience that you
feared someone might be there who would recognize you in spite of your
disguise, and when our visitor today told me that in this city there was
a home made desolate, a mother heart breaking because a little girl had
run away to go on the stage, why shouldn't I guess that you are the one?'

"Then she added: 'Tell me your telephone number, dear.'

"And that," Mr. Jewett concluded, "is how it chanced that an hour later
Winifred was restored to the arms of her mother, who at once canceled her
passage for Europe, as a year abroad would not be needed to disillusion
the little would-be actress."

"That wonderful Miss Merryheart!" Bobs said irrelevantly, "I love her and
I want to know her better."

Mr. Jewett smiled, "Miss Vandergrift, as you say, you are not exactly a
successful detective, and yet, in both of the cases on which you have
been engaged you have accomplished what might be called indirect success.
For, even though you did help him to escape, you discovered the thief of
the rare old book, and you have been instrumental in restoring a lost
girl to her mother. Now, I have another case and one quite different for
you. Do you wish to take it?"

Bobs laughed. "Mr. Jewett," she said, "like Winnie, I fear that I, too,
am disillusioned. I find that a detective is not allowed to have
sympathy. Honestly, if my life had depended upon it, I couldn't have
turned that old man over to justice; but what is the new case?"

Roberta could not believe that she was hearing aright when he told her.

"Mr. Jewett," she exclaimed, "will you kindly say that over again?"

The young man was finding his new assistant refreshingly different.

"I merely stated that I would like you to help us find the heir to the
Pensinger Mansion, who--" he paused and snapped his fingers. "I declare,"
he ejaculated, "I had quite forgotten for the moment that is your present
home. All the better, for there may be some important evidence right on
the premises. Come into my office and I will read all the data that we
have filed up to the present."

Very much interested, Roberta followed the young man, wondering what she
was to hear.

When they were seated, Mr. Jewett said: "Perhaps you know something of
the story of the Pensinger family?"

Roberta replied that she did; that a neighbor, Miss Selenski, had told
about the lost daughter, Marilyn, and about her father's strange will.

"There is little more known by anyone," Mr. Jewett said. "Judge
Caldwaller-Cory, whose father was Mr. Pensinger's legal advisor and close
friend, is very eager to find the heir before it is too late. Not many
years remain before the property, according to the will, is to be sold,
the money to be devoted to charity. Judge Cory declares that it haunts
him, sometimes, as the old house is supposed to be haunted. He feels sure
that Marilyn is not living, but she might have children, somewhere, who
are in need. The judge never accepted the theory which some held, that
the beautiful girl leaped into the East River on the night that her shawl
was found on the bank. He believes that she was secretly married and
that, with her lover-husband, she departed for his home country,
Hungary." Roberta nodded. "O, I do hope so!" she exclaimed so eagerly
that Mr. Jewett smiled. But what he said was: "And so now, once again,
the case is to be reopened, and, as the judge himself is very busy, he
has turned the matter over to his son, who has recently become junior
member of his father's firm. Ralph Caldwaller-Cory is young and filled
with fresh enthusiasms, and it is _his_ wish that we put on the case a
girl of about the age that Marilyn was at the time, if we have one in our
employ. Since you had not notified me that you had ceased to be one of
us, I told him that I would procure just the type of person whom I
believed best fitted to assist us. Are you willing to undertake this
case, Miss Vandergrift?"

Bobs smiled when she heard the name. "Gladly," she said, rising, "and
_this time_ I hope I will not _do little_."



                              CHAPTER XXI.
                             A NEW ARRIVAL


When Roberta reached home that day, she began to sniff, for the house
seemed to be pervaded with a most delicious aroma.

"Ohee, fried chicken, if I guess aright!" she thought. The front room
being vacant, she skipped down the long, wide hall and pounced into the
sunny combination kitchen and dining-room. Lena May smiled over her
shoulder to greet the newcomer. She was busy at the stove preparing the
noon meal. Gwendolyn, made comfortable on a pillowed reclining chair, was
lying in the sunshine near the blossoming window-box. She also smiled,
though she was too weak and weary to speak. Bobs kissed her tenderly and
then inquired: "Say, Lena May, why all this festiveness? It isn't
anyone's birthday, is it?"

"You know it isn't," their youngest replied as she stopped to open the
oven door, revealing a tin of biscuits that were browning within. Then,
rising, she added: "But, nevertheless, we are celebrating. You see, Nurse
Kathryn ordered chicken broth for Gwen and, having made that, I decided
to fry the remaining pieces because we are going to have company for
lunch."

"Who, pray?" Bobs was removing her hat and coat as she spoke. Just then
Gloria came in from the Settlement House and she inquired as she glanced
about: "Hasn't the company come?"

"Not yet." Lena May looked at the old grandfather clock. "It lacks two
minutes of being noon. They will be here promptly at twelve."

"I do believe that you are all trying to arouse my curiosity," Bobs said.
"Well, the deed is done, so fire ahead and tell me who is to be the
victim?"

"Victim, indeed." Lena May tossed her curly head with pretended
indignation. "I have nine minds not to give you a single piece of this
delicious fried chicken because of that--that----"

Bobs helped her out. "Slam on, your cooking is what you really mean, but
of course you can't use slang, not even in a pinch. But, I say, is our
honored guest fine or superfine?"

Gloria and Lena May exchanged amused glances. It was the former who
replied: "The guest of honor is to be a young gentleman, and, as to his
identity, you may have three guesses."

This had always been their method of telling each other interesting news.

"Dick De Laney isn't in town, is he?" Roberta inquired in so
matter-of-fact and little interested a manner that again Gloria realized
that her sister did not greatly care for the lad who had loved her since
the pinafore days.

"Not that I've heard of," Lena May said. "Now you may guess again." But
before this could be done, the heavy knocker on the front door was
announcing the arrival of someone, and Gloria went to answer its summons.

Bobs skipped over to the stove as she said hurriedly, "Tell me quickly
who is coming, so that I may be prepared."

"Nell Wiggin and her brother Dean," was the whispered reply. "He came in
on the eleven-ten train. Nell went to meet him and I told her to bring
him over here to lunch. I thought it would be pleasant for both of them."

"You're a trump," Bobs began, but paused, for Gloria was opening the
door, saying, "Sisters, here are Nell and her brother Dean." Then to the
tall, pale lad with the dreamy eyes she added: "This sister is Gwendolyn,
who has been ill, and this is Lena May, fork in hand, symbolizing the
fact that she is also our housekeeper. Roberta we call Bobs, for every
family has need of a boy and Bobsy has always done her best to fill the
requirements."

The lad, unused to girls, acknowledged these introductions rather shyly.
Bobs, knowing that he was conscious of his muscle-bound left arm, which
he could not move, said at once in her merry, nonsensical manner: "If so
many sisters won't frighten you, Dean, I'll retire from the role of
brother and let you fill it." Then she added, "I'm not going to call you
Mr Wiggin. It is too formal."

The lad flushed in his effort to reply, but Lena May saved him from
further embarrassment by saying, "Nell, you and your brother may sit on
either side of Gloria. Bobsy, will you serve the chicken? Gwen had her
broth at eleven, so she isn't hungry just now."

Realizing that the lad who had lived only on remote New England farms
would rather listen than talk, Bobs monopolized the conversation in her
usual breezy manner, and often when she glanced his way she noted that
the soft brown eyes of the lad were smiling as though he were much
amused. But after lunch she spoke to him directly. "Dean," she said,
"your sister tells me that you love books."

"Indeed I do," the boy replied, "but I have seen very few and have owned
only one."

"My goodness!" Bobs exclaimed. "Come with me and I will show you several
hundred."

"Several hundred books," the lad gasped, quite forgetting his
self-consciousness in his astonishment at this amazing remark.

Bobs nodded mysteriously as she led the way to the room overhead, where
in the dim light Dean beheld old books in dusty piles everywhere about.

There was a sudden glow of pleasure in the eyes of the boy which told
Bobs that he was indeed a booklover. "What a treat this will be," he
exclaimed, "if I may browse up here when I wish." Then he added as a new
thought presented itself: "But, Miss Roberta, I must not spend my time in
idle reading. I want to find some way to earn money." Eagerly, anxiously,
his eyes turned toward her. "Can you suggest anything that I might be
able to do?"

For one panicky moment Bobs' thoughts groped wildly for some profession
that a one-armed lad might follow, then she had what she believed was a
wonderful inspiration, and she said with her usual head-long
impulsiveness: "I do, indeed, know just the very thing. You and I will
start an old book shop and you may be manager."

The lad's pale face flushed with pleasure. "Do you really mean it, Miss
Vandergrift?" he asked eagerly. "How I would like that."

In her characteristic manner Bobs wanted to settle the matter at once,
and so she tripped downstairs with Dean following.

She found that Gwendolyn had gone back to bed and that the kitchen having
been tidied, the three girls were sitting about the fireplace talking
softly together. When they heard Bobs' inspiration, they all thought it a
splendid plan, and Nell said that there was a vacant room adjoining the
office of the model tenement that she had been told she might use in any
way that she wished. As there was a door opening upon the street, she
believed it would be an ideal place for an old book shop.

Rising, Nell continued: "I will telephone Mrs. Doran-Ashley at once to be
sure that she is still willing that I use the room as I desire."

This was done, and that most kindly woman in her beautiful home on
Riverside Drive listened with interest to the plan and gave the
permission that was requested. Moreover, upon leaving the telephone she
made a note in her engagement book: "At the next board meeting suggest
that a visit be made to the old book shop in the model tenement."

When Nell returned with the information that they might do as they wished
with the room, Bobs and Dean went at once to a lumber yard near the docks
and ordered the shelves they would need. An hour later Antovich and
several of his boy companions had carried the old books from the
Pensinger mansion and had heaped them upon the floor of the pleasant
vacant room, which opened directly upon the sidewalk on Seventy-eighth
Street.

When Bobs left, Dean was busy with hammer and nails and happier, perhaps,
than he had been in the twenty years of his life.



                             CHAPTER XXII.
                             A CASE FOR TWO


As Bobs left the small shop, she glanced at her watch, and finding that
it was nearly four, she hastened her steps, recalling that that was the
hour when she might expect a call from the young lawyer. As she turned
the corner at the East River, she saw a small, smart-looking auto drawing
up at the curb in front of the Pensinger mansion, and from it leaped a
fashionably groomed young man. Truly an unusual sight in that part of New
York's East Side, where the clothes, ill-fitting even at best, descended
from father to son, often made smaller by merely being haggled off at arm
and ankle. No wonder that Ralph Caldwaller-Cory was the object of many an
admiring glance from the dark eyes of the young Hungarian women who, with
gayly colored shawls over their heads, at that moment were passing on
their way to the tobacco factory; but Ralph was quite unconscious of
their scrutiny, for, having seen Bobs approaching, he hastened to meet
her, hat in hand, his good-looking, clean-shaven face glowing with
anticipation.

"Have you found a clue as yet, Miss Vandergrift?" he asked eagerly, when
greetings had been exchanged.

Roberta laughed. "No, and I'll have to confess that I haven't given the
matter a moment's thought since we parted three hours ago."

"Is that all it has been? To me it has seemed three centuries." The boy
said this so sincerely that Roberta believed that he must be greatly
interested in the Pensinger mystery. It did not enter her remotest
thought that he might also be interested in her. Having reached the
mansion, Bobs led the way up the wide stone steps, saying: "I do hope
Gloria and Lena May are at home. I want my sisters to meet you."

But no one was to be seen. Gwen was still in her room, while the other
girls had not returned from the Settlement House.

"Well, there's another time coming." Bobs flashed a smile at her
companion, then led the way to the wide fireplace, where comfortable
chairs awaited them, and they seated themselves facing the still burning
embers.

"I say, Miss Vandergrift," Ralph began, "you're a girl and you ought to
know better than I just what another girl, even though she lived
seventy-five years ago, would do under the circumstances with which we
are both familiar. If you loved a man, of whom your mother did not
approve, would you really drown yourself, or would you marry him and
permit your parents to believe that you were dead?"

Bobs sat so long gazing into the fire that the lad, earnestly watching
her, wondered at her deep thought.

At last she spoke. "I couldn't have hurt my mother that way," she said,
and there were tears in the hazel eyes that were lifted to her companion.
"I would have known that her dearest desire would be for my ultimate
happiness."

"But mothers are different, we will have to confess," the lad declared.
"Marilyn's may have thought only of social fitness." Then, as he glanced
about the old salon and up at the huge crystal chandeliers, he added: "I
judge that the Pensingers were people of great wealth in those early days
and probably leaders in society."

"I believe that they were," Roberta agreed, "but my mother had a
different standard. She believed that mental and soul companionship
should be the big thing in marriage, and for that matter, so do I."

Ralph felt awed. This was a very different girl from the hoidenish young
would-be detective with whom he had so brief an acquaintance.

"Miss Vandergrift," he said impulsively, "I wish I had a sister like you,
and wouldn't my mother be pleased, though, if you were her daughter. A
girl, I am sure, would have been more of a comfort and companion to her
when my brother Desmond died." Then he added, after a moment of silence:
"I can get your point of view, all right. I wouldn't break my mother's
heart by pretending to drown myself, not even if the heavens fell."

"I'd like to know your mother," Roberta said. "She must be a wonderful
woman."

"She is!" the lad declared. "I want you to meet her as soon as she
returns. Just now she is touring the West with friends, but, to get back
to Marilyn Pensinger. From the little that we know of her family, I
conclude that her mother was a snob and placed social distinction above
her daughter's happiness. But, the very fact that the father made his
will as he did, proves, doesn't it, that he loved his daughter more
sincerely? He did not cut her off with a shilling when he believed that
she had eloped with a foreign musician. Instead, he arranged so that a
descendant of that Hungarian, whose name we do not even know, would
inherit all that Mr. Pensinger possessed. But this isn't getting us
anywhere. Do you happen to know anyone who has recently come over from
Hungary?"

Bobs smiled. "Wouldn't that be grasping at straws?"

"Maybe, but do you?"

Roberta thought a moment, then looked up brightly. "I believe I do. At
least I know a Hungarian. His name is Mr. Hardinian and he is doing
social welfare work. He speaks perfect English, however, and may have
been born in this country. Suppose we go over to his clubhouse and
interview him."

Then, as she rose, she added: "You will like Mr. Hardinian. He has such
beautiful eyes."

Ralph laughed as he also arose. "Is that a girl's reason for liking a
man?" he inquired. Then he added, "Would I were a Hungarian that I might
have interesting eyes. As it is, mine are the plain, unromantic American
variety."

Roberta smiled at her new friend, but what she said showed that her
thought was far from the subject: "Before we go, I want to be sure that
my sister, Gwen, is comfortable."

Gwendolyn was sleeping so quietly that Roberta believed she would not
awaken before Lena May's return, and so, beckoning the lad to follow, she
left the house, closing the door softly. Ralph turned and looked back at
the upper windows of the rooms that were not occupied, as he inquired:
"Do you have a hunch that the old mansion holds the clue we are seeking?"

Roberta's reply was: "Only the ghost of Marilyn knows."

When the two partner-detectives were in the small, luxurious car, and
going very slowly, because of the congested traffic down First Avenue,
Ralph said: "Tell me a little about your sisters and yourself that I may
feel better acquainted." And so, briefly, Roberta told the story of their
coming to the East Side to live.

"I say, Miss Vandergrift, that certainly was hard luck, losing the fine
old place that your family had supposed was its own for so many
generations." Then the lad added with sincere admiration: "You girls
certainly are trumps! I'm mighty glad I met you, and I hope you'll be
glad, too, some day."

"Why, Mr. Caldwaller-Cory, I'm glad right this very moment," Roberta
assured him in so impersonal a manner that the lad did not feel greatly
flattered. Indeed, he was rather pleased that this was so. Being the son
of a famous judge, possessed of good looks, charming manners and all the
money he wished to spend, Ralph had been greatly sought after by the fond
mothers of the girls in his set, if not by the maidens themselves, and it
seemed rather an interesting change to meet a girl whose interest in him
was not personal.

After a silent moment in which the lad's entire attention had been
centered on extricating his small auto from a crush of trucks,
vegetable-laden push-carts and foreign pedestrians, he turned and smiled
at his companion. "Let's turn over to Central Park now," he suggested.
"It's a little round about, I'll agree, but it will be pleasanter
riding."

It was decidedly out of their way, but a glance at her wrist watch
assured Roberta that Lena May would have returned to be with Gwen by that
time, and so she was in no especial hurry.

How beautiful the park seemed after the thronged noisy East Side with its
mingled odors from tobacco, fish markets, and general squalor.

"There, now we can talk," Ralph said as he drove slowly along one of the
winding avenues under a canopy formed by wide-spreading trees. "What
shall it be about?"

"You," Roberta replied. "Tell me about yourself."

"There isn't much to tell," the lad began. "My brother Desmond and I grew
up in a happy home. During the winter months we attended a boys' school
up the Hudson, and each summer vacation we traveled with our parents. We
have been about everywhere, I do believe. Desmond and I were all in all
to each other. We were twins. Perhaps that was why we seemed to love each
other even more than brothers usually do. I did not feel the need of any
other boy companion, and when at last we entered college we were
permitted to be roommates. In our Sophomore year, Desmond died, and I
didn't much care what happened after that. It seemed as though I never
could room with another chap; but at last the dormitories were so crowded
that I had to take a fellow in. That was two years ago, and today Dick De
Laney is as close to me as Desmond was, almost, not quite, of course. No
one will ever be that. But, I tell you, Miss Vandergrift, Dick is a fine
chap, clear through to the core. I'd bank on Dick's doing the honorable
thing, come what might. I'm a year older than he is, and he won't finish
until June, then he's coming on here to little old New York and spend a
month with me. I say, Miss Vandergrift, I'd like to have you meet him."

Roberta smiled. "I've been waiting for you to come to a period that I
might tell you that Dick De Laney and I were playmates when we wore
pinafores. You see, they were our next-door neighbors." Bobs said this in
so matter-of-fact a tone that Ralph did not think for one moment that
this could be the girl his pal had once told him that he loved and hoped
to win.

If only Ralph had realized this, much so might have been saved for one of
them.



                             CHAPTER XXIII.
                           PARTNER-DETECTIVES


It was five-thirty when the partner-detectives left the quiet park, where
long shadows were lying on the grass and where birds were calling softly
from one rustling tree to another.

"It seems like a different world, doesn't it?" Bobs said, as she smiled
in her friendliest way at the lad at the wheel. She had felt a real
tenderness for her companion since he had told her about Desmond, and she
was glad that an old friend of hers had been a comfort to him.

"It does, indeed," he declared with a last glance back at the park. "I
like trees better than I do many people. We have some wonderful old elms
around our summer home in the Orange Hills. When my mother returns I
shall ask her to invite you four girls to one of her week-ends, or to one
that she will plan just for me, after Dick comes."

Then, as they were again on the thronged East Side, the lad said:

"Seventy-sixth Street, beyond Second, you said, didn't you?"

"Yes. There is the Boys' Club House just ahead," Roberta exclaimed. Then
as they drew up at the curb, she added: "Good! The door is open and so
Mr. Hardinian probably is here."

The young man whom they sought was still there, and as they entered the
low wooden temporary structure which covered a vacant lot between two
rickety old tenements, they saw him smiling down at a group of excited
newsies, who were evidently relating to him some occurrence of their day.

He at once recognized Roberta and made his way toward her, while the boys
to whom he had spoken a few words of dismissal departed through a side
door, leaving the big room empty.

Bobs held out her hand as she said: "Mr. Hardinian, this is my friend,
Mr. Caldwaller-Cory, and we have come, I do believe, on a wild goose
chase."

Ralph at once liked the young man with the lithe, wiry build and the dark
face that was so wonderfully expressive.

He looked to be about twenty-four years of age, although he might have
been even a year or two older. An amused smile accompanied his question:
"Miss Vandergrift, am I the wild goose?"

The girl laughed. "That wasn't a very graceful way of stating our
errand," she said, "so I will begin again. The truth of the matter is
that Mr. Cory and I are amateur detectives."

Again Mr. Hardinian smiled, and, with a swinging gesture that seemed to
include the entire place, he said: "Search where you will, but I doubt if
you will detect here a hidden wild goose." Then, more seriously, he
added: "Come, let us be seated in the library corner, for I am sure that
your visit has some real purpose."

Mr. Hardinian listened to the story of the Pensinger mystery, which, as
little was really known about it, took but a brief moment to tell. At its
conclusion he said: "Did you think. Miss Vandergrift, that I might know
something about all this? I truly do not. Although I was born in Hungary,
while I was still an infant my parents went to England, where I was
educated, and only last year the need of my own people brought me here
where so many of them come, believing that they are to find freedom and
fortune. But how soon they are disillusioned, for they find poverty,
suffering and conditions to which they are unused and with which they
know not how to cope. Many of the older ones lose out and their children
are left waifs all alone in this great city. I found when I reached here
that they needed me most, the homeless boys who, many of them, slept
huddled over some grating through which heat came, or in hallways crowded
together for warmth, until they were told to move on. And so the first
thing that I did was to rent this vacant lot and build a temporary wooden
structure. Now with these walls lined with bunks, as you see, I can make
many of the boys fairly comfortable at night."

"I say, Mr. Hardinian," Ralph exclaimed, "this is a splendid work that
you are doing! I'm coming over some night soon, if I may. I want to see
the place in full swing."

"Come whenever you wish," was the reply. And then, as Roberta had risen,
the young men did also.

The girl smiled as she said: "Honestly, Mr. Hardinian, I knew in my bones
that you would not be able to help us solve the mystery, but you were the
only Hungarian with whom I had even the slightest speaking acquaintance,
and so we thought that we would tell you the story and, if you ever hear
anything that might be a clue, let us know, won't you?"

"Indeed I will, and gladly. Good-bye! Come over Sunday afternoon at four,
if you have no other plans. We have a little service then and the boys
conduct it entirely."

When they were again in the small car, Ralph was enthusiastic. "I like
that chap!" he exclaimed. "I wish detectives could plan to have things
turn out the way an author can. If I had the say of it, I'd make Mr.
Hardinian into a descendant of Marilyn Pensinger and then he could
inherit all of that fortune and use it for his homeless waifs."

It was after six when the small car stopped in front of the Pensinger
mansion, and Ralph declared that since he had a date with his dad, he
could not stop to meet the other Vandergrift girls, as he greatly
desired.

That night, when Ralph returned from an evening affair which he had
attended with his father, he did not retire at once. Instead, he seated
himself at his desk and for half an hour his pen scratched rapidly over a
large sheet of white paper. He was writing a letter to Dick De Laney, his
close-as-a-brother friend, telling him that at last the only girl in the
world had appeared in his life.

"I always told you, old pal, that I'd know the girl who was meant for me
the minute that I met her. But I do believe that she is going to be hard
to win."



                             CHAPTER XXIV.
                            ROMANCE BUDDING


Two weeks have passed since the evening upon which Bobs and her new
friend, Ralph Caldwaller-Cory, drove together in Central Park and told
each other briefly the story of their lives. It does not take interested
young people long to become acquainted and these two had many
opportunities to be together, for were they not solving the Pensinger
mystery, and was it not of paramount importance that the poor defrauded
heir of all those idle millions should be found and made happy with his
rightful possessions? Of course no other motive prompted Ralph, the
rising young lawyer, to seek the companionship of his detective-partner,
not only daily but often, in the morning, afternoon and evening.

They had sought clues everywhere in the mansion, but the great old rooms
had failed to reveal aught that was concealed. Too, they had long drives
in the little red car that its owner called "The Whizz," and these
frequently took them far away from the thronged East Side along country
roads where, quite undisturbed, they could talk over possible clues and
plan ways to follow them.

And all this time Roberta really thought that Ralph's interest in her was
impersonal, for the lad dreaded revealing his true feeling until she
showed some even remote sign of being interested in him.

"If I tell Bobs that I care for her, it might queer the whole thing," was
one thought suggested to him as he rode home alone one night through the
quiet park. Another thought was more encouraging. It suggested, "But a
girl's pride won't let her show that she cares. There is only one way to
find out, and that is to ask." And still another assured him, "There is
every reason why Roberta Vandergrift should be pleased. You, Ralph, have
wealth and position, and can restore to her all that she has lost."

"Lots you know about Bobs," the lad blurted out as though someone really
had spoken to him. "My opinion is that Roberta isn't really grown up
enough as yet to think of love. She considers her boy friends more as
brothers, and that's what they ought to be, first and foremost. I'll bide
my time, but if I do lose Bobs, it will be like losing Desmond all over
again."

Meanwhile, although no progress had been made in solving the mystery,
much progress was being made in other directions.

Gloria, with Bobs and Ralph, had attended a Sunday afternoon meeting of
the Boy's Club and Mr. Hardinian had walked home with them and had
remained for tea. He was very glad to have an opportunity to talk with a
young woman whose interest in welfare work paralleled his own, especially
as he had one rather wayward boy whom he believed needed mothering more
than all else.

Gloria's heart indeed was touched when she heard the sad story that the
young man had to tell, and she gladly offered to do what she could.

She invited the wayward boy to one of her game evenings at the Settlement
House, and in teaching him to play honestly she not only won his ardent
devotion but also saved him from being sent to the island reformatory for
petty thievery.

After that Mr. Hardinian frequently called upon Gloria when he needed
advice or help.

The little old book shop, during the eventful two weeks, had started, or
so it would seem, on a very successful business career.

Because of the little memorandum that she had made in her note book on
the day that Nell Wiggin had first telephoned to her, Mrs. Doran-Ashley
did tell the ladies who attended the next model tenement board meeting
about the shop, and asked them to visit it, which they did, being
sincerely interested in all that pertained to their venture. And not only
did they buy books, but they left others to be sold on commission. One
glance at the fine face of the lad who was bookseller made them realize
that, crippled as he might be, he would not accept charity.

"How's business this hot day?" Bobs asked early one morning, as she poked
her head in at the door. She was on her way down to the Fourth Avenue
Branch of the Burns Detective Agency, where she went every day to do a
few hours' secretarial work for Mr. Jewett.

"We had a splendid trade yesterday," the lad replied, as he looked up
from the old book of poetry which he was reading. And yet, since he held
a pencil, Bobs concluded that he was also writing verse as the
inspiration came.

"How so?" she inquired.

"The shop had a visit from no less a personage than Mr. Van Loon, the
millionaire book collector, of whom you told me. He bought several
volumes that I hadn't supposed were worth a farthing, and what he paid
for them will more than cover our expenses up to date. I wonder how he
happened to know about this out-of-the-way shop?"

"Oh, I guess he goes nosing around after old books, sort of ferrets them
out, like as not. Well, so long! I'm mighty glad our shop is financially
on its feet."

As Bobs went on her way down the crowded First Avenue she smiled to
herself, for it was she who had sent Mr. Van Loon a business-like letter
announcing the opening of an old book shop, feeling sure that he would
not miss an opportunity of seeing it if it held something that he might
desire.

Fifteen minutes after her departure, Dean again heard the door open, and
this time a dear little boy of three darted in and hid beneath a
book-covered counter, peering out to whisper delightedly, "I'se hidin'!
Miss May, her's arter me."

Almost immediately the pursuer, who was Lena May Vandergrift, appeared in
the doorway. The young bookseller was on his feet at once and there was a
sudden light in the dreamy brown eyes that told its own story.

"Good morning, Dean," the girl said. "Have you seen Antony Wilovich? I
told him to wait out in front for me so that he could escort me to the
Settlement House this morning."

Dean smiled knowingly and replied, which was his part of the game: "Well,
well, has that little scamp run away again somewhere, and hidden? I guess
he doesn't love his Miss May or he wouldn't do that."

This always proved too much for the little fellow in hiding, and from
under the counter he would dart, his arms extended. Then the girl,
stopping, would catch him in a loving embrace. "I do so love Miss May,"
the child would protest. "I loves her next most to my muvver over dere."
A chubby finger would point, or the golden head would nod, in the
direction of the rickety tumble-down tenement across the way, the very
one which Miss Selenski, the former agent of the model tenement, had
called a "fire trap."

This little game of hide-and-seek took place every morning, for Lena May
had promised the "muvver over dere," who was slowly dying of consumption,
that she would call for Tony, take him to the Settlement sandpile and
return him safely at noon.

If this was a merry moment each day for little Tony, it was to Dean
Wiggin much more. The sweet, sympathetic girl, in her pretty muslin dress
and flower-wreathed hat, suggested to the lad from the country all that
he most loved, the fragrance of blossoms, the song of birds, and the
peace of the meadow-pool at noon time. When she was gone, with a friendly
backward nod at the crippled bookseller, he would always read poetry or
try to write one that would express what Lena May was to him, to little
Tony, or to the invalid mother who trusted her with her one treasure.

And so that two weeks had raised the curtain upon three dreams, but one
of them was to become a tragedy.



                              CHAPTER XXV.
                           A SUDDEN DEPARTURE


Time--A week later.


"Hello, Bobs, is that you?" But it was Lena May who had answered an
imperative ring at the telephone, and so she replied, "Oh, good morning,
Mr. Caldwaller-Cory. No, I am not Roberta. I will call her."

A moment later Ralph knew that he was talking to the girl whom he loved.

"I say, Bobety," he exclaimed, "will you go for a drive with me right
away this minute? Please say 'yes' (for she had hesitated), I have
something of great importance to tell you."

"Honestly, I can't, Ralph," was the earnest reply. "I am going to give
Lena May a holiday. She and Dean Wiggin are going to take little Tony
Wilovich to Bronx Park and spend the day. The little fellow is wild to
see the monkeys and Lena May needs a day among the trees."

Her youngest sister was at her elbow whispering, "We can go some other
time, dear, if there's something that you want to do."

But Roberta shook her head. There was a brief silence at the other end of
the line, then the lad spoke again. "I say, Bobs, how are they going? On
the L! That's what I thought. Suppose I get Dad's big car. We can take
them out to the park and then on the way back you and I can have the
visit I want. In fact I've _got_ to see you, Bobs. It's terribly
important to me. I'm all cut up about something that has happened
and----"

Roberta knew by her friend's voice that something had occurred to trouble
him greatly, and so she said: "Wait a moment, Ralph. I will talk it over
with my sister."

Lena May thought the plan a good one and Ralph was told to be at the
Pensinger mansion in one-half hour with the car and they would all be
ready and waiting for him.

Lena May then departed to the rickety tenement to get the wee lad.

"Oh, Mrs. Wilovich," the girl said, as she looked about the small, hot
room. "How I do wish that you would go with us today. Don't you feel
strong enough?"

"No, dearie, thanks though. The coughin' spell was harder'n usual this
mornin'. 'Twas all as I could do to get Tony's breakfast. I'll be that
happy knowin' as the little fellow's seein' the monkeys his heart's been
set on ever since the picture posters was up on the fences."

Five minutes later the girl and the little boy were joined by the young
bookseller on Seventy-eighth Street.

"Dean," Lena May said sadly, "I don't believe that Mrs. Wilovich will be
with us one month from today."

"Nor do I," the lad replied; then he added, as he looked at the
curly-headed three-year-old, who had darted ahead but who looked back,
laughing at them, "What will become of Tony?"

"I'm going to keep him, somehow. Gloria has given her permission. I
wanted to be sure that Sister thought my plan wise that I might know just
what to say to the little mother when she speaks of it to me, as she will
in time."

No wonder was it that the lad's unspoken love for the girl took unto
itself the qualities of adoration. "She is too sweet and too good to be
loved by a useless man such as I am," he thought, and how he wished that
his muscle-bound arm might be freed that he could work and fight the
world for this angel of a girl. A surgeon had once told him that there
was really nothing wrong with his arm. It had grown with the passing
years, but was stiffened from long disuse.

Tony was wildly excited when he saw the big green car in which he was to
ride for the first time in his short life, and he entertained them all
with his chatter.

Roberta, sitting on the front seat with her friend, glanced often at his
face and realized that, although he, too, joined in the laughter evoked
by the baby's prattle, his thoughts were of a very serious nature, and
she wondered what she was to hear when they two were alone.

She little dreamed that Ralph was to say something that would greatly
affect her.

Dean, carrying the basket which was well filled with picnic refreshments,
and Lena May leading the shining eyed three-year-old, waved back at the
big car as they entered the side gate of the woodsy Bronx Park.

Bobs smiled as the baby voice wafted to them, "Ohee, see funny cow!"

They were near the buffalo enclosure.

Then Ralph started the engine and slowly the car rolled along the little
river and toward the country. Roberta, knowing that something was greatly
troubling her friend, reached out a hand and laid it sympathetically upon
his arm. Instantly his left hand closed over hers and his eyes turned
toward her questioningly. "Bobs," he said, "you've been a trump of a
friend to me. I'm not going to try to tell you just now what it means.
It's another friend I want to talk about. Dick--Dick De Laney. You
remember that I told you he has become almost as dear to me as a brother,
since Desmond died. I was sure Dick would do anything for me. I had such
faith in his loyalty, in his devoted friendship, but now he has done
something I can't understand." Ralph paused and his companion saw that he
was greatly affected. "Bobs, I'm taking this awfully hard. I----"

Roberta was amazed. What had her old pal, Dick De Laney, done to so hurt
her new friend? "Why, Ralph dear," she said, for he had turned away as
though too overcome with emotion for the moment to go on with his story.
"What has Dick done? I know that it is nothing disloyal or dishonorable.
You don't know Dick as I do if you can doubt him for one moment. He would
do what he believed was right, even if the consequences were to bring
real suffering to him. He's been that way ever since he was a little
fellow. You may take my word for it, Ralph, that whatever Dick has done,
his motive is of the highest. Now tell me what has hurt you so deeply?"

"Well, it's this way," the lad began. "I've missed Dick terribly, more,
of course, before I met you, but I have been looking eagerly forward to
the month he was to spend with me in the Orange Hills. I didn't tell you
that I expected him to arrive today. I wanted to surprise you, but
instead I received a letter on the early morning mail and it informed me
that, although the writer really did love me as though I were his
brother, he thought it best not to visit me this summer; instead he had
decided to travel abroad indefinitely and that he had engaged passage on
a steamer that leaves Hoboken at noon today. What can it mean?"

The lad turned and was amazed at the expression in the face of the girl.
"Why, Bobs," he blurted out, "can it be--do you care so much because Dick
is going away."

"Oh, Ralph, of course I care. It's all my fault. I knew Dick loved me. I
guess I've always known it, and last April, when he was home for the
spring vacation, I promised him that--Oh, I don't remember just what I
did promise, but I do know that I haven't written often of late, and I
guess he thinks I don't care any more; and maybe that's why he's going
away; but I do care, and, oh, Ralph, I can't let him go without telling
him. I always meant to tell him when he came home from college. I thought
we were too young to be really engaged until then. Dick has been so
patient, waiting all these years, and loving me so truly and so loyally.
Can't we stop him, or--at least can't we see him before he sails?"

The expression in the fine face of the lad at her side plainly told the
struggle that was going on within his heart. So, after all, Dick De Laney
had been as loyal as a brother. He was going away to give Ralph a clear
field.

Well, it was Ralph's turn now to show the mettle he was made of. In a
voice that might have betrayed his emotion if Roberta had not been so
concerned with her own anxiety and regrets, he said:

"Of course, Bobs, we will try to reach the boat before it sails. We'll
ferry over to the Jersey side and then we'll break the speed limit."



                             CHAPTER XXVI.
                            A HAPPY REUNION


Dick De Laney was leaning over the railing of the big liner that was to
take him away from the country that was home to him and from the girl he
loved, whose happiness meant more to him than did his own, but, as he
looked out over the choppy waters of the bay and toward the broad
Atlantic he could see ahead of him nothing but years of loneliness.

Then it was that he heard a voice that was eagerly, tremulously calling
his name. He whirled and beheld Roberta back of him, her hands
outstretched. There were tears in her eyes as she said: "Dick, why did
you do it? Why did you plan going away without saying good-bye? Even if
you have changed your mind, even if you don't care for me any more, it
isn't like you to just run away."

Dick's face, troubled at first, was radiant when the full meaning of the
words reached his consciousness.

"Bobs," he said, "why, Bobita, I thought you didn't care; that is, I
thought maybe you loved Ralph, and so----"

"And so you were going away to let me have someone else, you dear old
stupid! To think that I so nearly lost you just because I was so very
sure that you loved me; that I never could lose you, and so I didn't
write about it."

These two were holding each other's hands and looking deep into each
other's eyes, entirely oblivious of their surroundings. Roberta
continued:

"Dicky-boy, I've had my lesson, and when we are married, every day the
first thing, instead of good morning, I am going to say I love you,
which, after all, will mean the same thing."

"Married, Bobs! When are we to be married?"

The girl laughed at the lad's eagerness, but as many passengers were
appearing on deck, she replied, demurely, "Sometime, of course, and live
happily ever after."

It was hard for Dick not to shout, but, instead, he said:

"Come along, dear, and I'll cancel my passage, and then I'll go home with
you and tell you what all this means to me. I can't very well here."
Then, as he glanced about, he inquired: "How did you get here, Bobs? Did
you come alone?"

"No, Ralph brought me." Her conscience rebuked her, for she had
completely forgotten the existence of her other friend. "He was as hurt
as I was because you were going away without seeing him," she told Dick.

"Poor old Ralph," was all he said. "I certainly am sorry for him, but I
suppose it can't be helped."

"Sorry for Ralph? Why?" Roberta's expression of surprised inquiry was so
frank that the lad knew his pal had never spoken of his love.

Dick was even more puzzled when, upon reaching the dock, he saw his
friend Ralph leap toward them with hands outstretched. Joyfully he
exclaimed: "Great. I know by your radiant faces that you've made up. I
congratulate you both. I certainly am glad that we made it on time." Then
after a hearty hand-shaking: "What put that wild notion of flight into
your head, old man? You can't get rid of us that easy, can he, Bobs? My
detective-partner here has been telling me that she has been engaged to
you ever since she wore pinafores, or was it a little later?"

Roberta laughed. "I believe I had on a riding habit that day, didn't I,
Dick?"

Ralph turned away after a fleeting glance at the girl's face as it was
uplifted to his roommate. He had not dreamed that she could be as
beautiful as that expression of love had made her.

Dick was replying, "Oh, it doesn't much matter when it happened, dear.
The big thing is that it did happen at all."

Then, when they were in the big green car (the front seat was wide enough
to hold all three of them), Dick began to ask questions.

"How is Gwen now?" was the first of them. He was pleased to hear that the
girl, but a year Roberta's senior, was much better and visiting his
sister, Phyllis.

Then it was that Bobs thought of something. "Why, Ralph," she said, "you
never did have an opportunity to meet my beautiful sister, Gwendolyn, did
you? She hasn't been strong enough to visit with strangers, and now she
has gone away for a whole month."

Dick smiled as he said to the driver: "Bobs is giving herself a
compliment when she calls Gwendolyn beautiful, for the family resemblance
between the two girls is very striking."

Roberta laughed. "I should say that it must be, Dick. Did I ever write
you about the time a stage manager thought that I _was_ Gwen, and I
actually had to do a song and dance? I laugh every time I think of it.
Gloria said afterwards that it was a natural mistake, for though I am not
as sylph-like as my sister, we do look very much the same."

Ralph smiled, but he made no response. His thought was commenting: "As
though anyone could be like you, Bobs."

It was noon when the Pensinger mansion was reached, and Roberta told the
lads that she wasn't going to ask them in just then, as she had to do
some writing for Mr. Jewett that must be delivered that afternoon, but
she invited them both to supper, if they weren't afraid to eat her
cooking. Dick said he certainly would reappear as soon as she would
permit him to come, but Ralph had an engagement with his Dad. As that was
not unusual, Bobs did not think that this time it was an excuse to remain
away, as indeed it was.

Roberta turned at the house door to wave to the lads in the car that was
starting away. Vaguely she wondered what they would talk about. How
little she knew of the aching heart that one of them was so bravely
trying to hide.



                             CHAPTER XXVII.
                     REVELATIONS THAT DO NOT REVEAL


The two lads who were close as brothers rode for some time in silence
after having left Roberta at the Pensinger mansion. It took skillful
driving to cross the crowded streets at First, Second and Third, but
after that the way was open to Central Park and, when at last they were
riding down one of the wide, tree-shaded avenues, Ralph turned his gaze
from the road and smiled at his friend.

The eyes of Dick were searching.

"And all this means what, to you?" he asked earnestly.

"That I wrote the letter to which you are referring, hastily, on an
impulse, before I was really acquainted with Miss Vandergrift. I know now
that she isn't the girl for me, and I also know that she _is_ the girl
for you, and I sincerely congratulate you both. Now I say, Dick, you
aren't going to spoil my plans for a house party in the Orange Hills by
bolting, are you? Ma Mere will be back tomorrow, and she wrote that I
might have my friends for a week as soon as the house has been aired out.
You know it has been closed all winter."

"Indeed, I'm not going anywhere." Dick felt greatly relieved, for he
believed that Ralph was telling him the truth. He knew that his college
pal was impulsive and often did things in more of a headlong manner than
he would had he given the matter thought. "Of course he admires my Bobs;
no one could help that, but I'm glad that he doesn't really love her,"
Dick was thinking. "He's had sorrow enough as it is." Aloud he asked,
"Who are you going to ask?"

"Well, I did invite all four of the Vandergrift girls, but Bobs is the
only one who has accepted. The oldest and youngest sisters are free but a
few hours each day; the rest of their time they devote to Settlement work
and they feel that they are especially needed now that it is vacation in
the schools. Gwendolyn, however, may come, as of course I have invited
your sister Phyllis and her guests."

Dick looked at Ralph with the light of a new inspiration in his eyes. "I
say, wouldn't it be great if you could care for my sister Phyl? Then you
would be my brother in very truth."

Ralph laughed. "Dicky-boy," he said, "are you turning matchmaker? It's
too late for that, old man. Bobs tells me that Phyllis is engaged to a
fine chap from up Boston way. His name is Arden Wentworth."

"Gee, that's great news! Arden is a chap after my own heart, but I didn't
think that he ever could win Phyl. She must have changed a lot this last
year."

"Why, how's that?" Ralph looked around inquiringly. "His father has piled
up a few millions. That ought to please any girl."

"That's just where the shoe pinches, so to speak," was the reply. "Arden,
being a red-blooded young American, refused to just spend his father's
money and so he put on overalls and began at the bottom in one of his
dad's factories. He said he wanted to prove to himself, even if the world
didn't care, that he had brains enough to make good without help. Phyl
wouldn't speak to him after that, hoping that, for her sake, he would
give it up; but he didn't, and so I thought it was all off between them."

"Well, something must have happened, for Bobs tells me that they are
really engaged, and so, of course I have also invited Arden. By the way,
you know Gwendolyn Vandergrift. What kind of a chap ought I to ask for
her? Harry Birch is in town. I thought she might like him." And so the
lads talked over the plans for the coming house party, and so
successfully did Ralph play his part that his pal did not for one moment
suspect that his friend was secretly wishing that he might have sailed
away in Dick's place on the boat which, that noon, had left for distant
shores.

But night is darkest before the dawn.



                            CHAPTER XXVIII.
                            THE HOUSE PARTY


Ralph and Dick were out on the wide velvety lawn which surrounded the
handsome rambling summer home of the Caldwaller-Corys.

The gay awnings, palms and boxes of flowers gave the house a festive
appearance, while the many colored lanterns strung about the garden
suggested that some merriment was planned for the evening.

Mrs. Caldwaller-Cory, who seemed very young to be the mother of a junior
member of an ancient law firm, emerged from the house closely followed by
Roberta Vandergrift.

Bobs, in an attractive summer dress and wide flower-wreathed hat, looked
very different from the girl who, while on the East Side, dressed in a
simple dark tailor-made suit and a neat, narrow-brimmed hat.

"Aren't your guests late, my son?" the hostess inquired. Ralph looked at
his watch for the tenth time in as many minutes.

"They certainly are," he replied, "late by a full hour now, and I am
almost inclined to think that they had a breakdown. They were coming in
Jack Beardsley's tallyho, and he said he would time the drive from New
York so that they would reach us promptly at two-thirty, and now it is
nearing four."

Just at that moment a butler crossed the lawn and, beckoning Ralph to one
side, told him that someone awaited him at the telephone. Excusing
himself, the lad fairly ran indoors. As he had expected, it was the voice
of his friend, Jack Beardsley, that greeted him. "I say, Ralph, are you
alone so that no one will get wise to what I am going to say?"

"Yes," was the reply.

"We don't want to worry her sister needlessly. There really is no cause
for that, but we've been delayed at the Orange Hills Inn because
Gwendolyn Vandergrift, who isn't as strong as she thought, has found
riding in the tallyho too hard. She's got grit, that girl has! Never
complained, but kept up as long as she could that she need not trouble
anyone until she just keeled over and fainted. She's better now, and
Phyllis thought that if you would come over after her with that little
runabout of yours, made comfortable with blankets and pillows, it
wouldn't be as hard for Miss Vandergrift as this old tallyho of mine.
Mrs. Buscom, the innkeeper's wife, will look out for her, and so, if you
are coming, we'll start along, as I want to make the steep grade with
this lumbering vehicle of mine before dark."

"Sure thing, I'll get there all right. I'll take a short cut through the
hills, so you won't pass me, but don't be alarmed. I'll probably get back
here in The Whizz as soon as you do in the tallyho, so I won't say
anything to her sister, Roberta, as yet. So long."

Again Ralph was acting on impulse. His first desire had been to take Bobs
with him, but if he did there would not be room to make the invalid
sister comfortable on the return trip, and, moreover, it wouldn't be fair
to Dick.

His dad wouldn't arrive with the big car until five-thirty, and so The
Whizz would have to do. Sending word out to the group on the lawn that
the tallyho had been delayed but would soon arrive, Ralph donned his
leather coat, cap and goggles and made his way out through a back
entrance and down to the garage. Soon thereafter he was speeding over a
country road which led among the hills and was a short cut of many miles
to the Inn. He broke the speed limit whenever the dirt road was smooth
enough to permit him to do so, but, although he frightened many a flock
of birds from the hedges, no one arose from the wayside tangle to bid him
go more slowly.

When at last he drew up at the Inn, the kind Mrs. Buscom appeared and
smilingly informed him that the young lady was quite rested and that the
tallyho had been gone for half an hour. She was about to lead the way
into the dim, old-fashioned parlor of the Inn when new arrivals delayed
her, and so Ralph went in alone.

The blinds in the old-fashioned parlor of the Inn were drawn, and, having
come in from the dazzling sunshine, Ralph at first could scarcely see,
but a girl, who had been seated in a haircloth rocker, arose and advanced
toward him. She wore a rose-colored linen hat and dress. For a moment the
lad paused and stared as though at an apparition.

"Bobs!" he ejaculated. Then he laughed as he extended his hand. "Miss
Vandergrift, honestly, just for a second I thought that I was seeing a
vision. I had quite forgotten that you and your sister so closely
resemble each other, though, to be sure, you are taller than Bobs; but
pardon me for not introducing myself. I am Ralph Cory, of whom, perhaps,
you have heard."

"And I am Gwendolyn Vandergrift, of whom I am sure that you have heard,
else you would not have come for me," the girl smiled; and, to his
amazement, Ralph found that his heart was pounding like a trip-hammer.
"If you are sure that you are rested, Miss Vandergrift," he said, "we
will start back at once. I've brought soft pillows galore, and a jolly
soft lap robe. I do hope you'll be comfortable."

On the porch of the Inn, Gwen turned and, holding out a frail hand, she
said to the kindly woman: "Thank you, Mrs. Buscom, for having taken such
good care of me. I shall stop again on our way back to town."

The bustling little woman helped arrange the pillows and tucked in the
blanket. Then to Ralph she said as the machinery started: "Do take care
of the pretty dear. It's like a flower she is, and ought to be sheltered
from the rough winds of the world."

"I'll do that little thing, Mrs. Buscom. Good-bye. Wish us luck!"

Ralph drove slowly at first, but Gwen said, "I'm so well packed in
pillows, Mr. Cory, it won't jar me in the least if you go faster." And so
the speed increased. It was late afternoon and the highway was deserted.
"I'd like to overtake the tallyho," Ralph remarked. "If I thought you
wouldn't mind the pace we'd have to hit."

Gwendolyn smiled up trustingly. "I have perfect faith in your driving,"
she said. "I know you will take care of me."

Ralph, looking into the face of the girl at his side, again had the
strange feeling that it was Bobs, only different, and--Oh, what was the
matter with him, anyway? Was it possible that he liked the difference?

Bobs had always been a frank comrade, more like another boy, when he came
to think of it, but this girl, who was equally beautiful, was depending
upon him to take good care of her.

A fifteen-minute spurt brought them to the top of a hill and in the
valley below they saw the tallyho.

Ralph stopped a brief moment on the plateau, leaped out to be sure that
The Whizz was in perfect condition, and then anxiously inquired, "Are you
sure you're game? Loop the loop won't be in it."

Gwen nodded. "I'll like it," she assured him. The color had mounted to
her cheeks and her eyes sparkled. "All right! Hold fast! Here goes!" Then
The Whizz went like a red streak down that hill on which, as Ralph had
observed from the top, there was nothing to impede their progress.

They overtook the tallyho and slowed up that they need not startle the
horses. They had reached the outer boundaries of the Caldwaller-Cory
estate.

"Suppose I get back in the tallyho with the others," Gwen said, "then
Bobs won't know that I had a fainting spell. If she knew it, she would
feel that she ought to take me right home, and I don't want to go." Her
smile at Ralph seemed to imply that he was her fellow-conspirator.

"I'm not going to let you go," he heard himself saying.

So the change was made. Ralph turned The Whizz into a rear entrance, used
only by delivery autos, and in that way reached the garage.

He had asked Jack Beardsley to give him time to get out on the lawn
before he arrived, and so the three, who were still seated around a tea
table under a spreading oak, saw Ralph coming from the house at the same
time that the tallyho entered the front gate.

They little dreamed of all that had happened.



                             CHAPTER XXIX.
                              TRAGIC HOURS


And now while these young people are having a care-free, happy time in
the beautiful Orange Hill country, let us return to the East Side that is
sweltering in the heat of late June.

It was nine o'clock at night and the air was still breathlessly stifling.
The playground that edged the East River was thronged with neighboring
folk who had brought what portable bedding they had and who planned
sleeping upon the ground out-of-doors to catch some possible breeze from
over the water.

Many of these people were residents of the rickety tenement across from
the model apartments, but one there was who had been unable to leave the
small, hot room that she called home, and that one was Mrs. Wilovich.

She was not alone, nor had she been, for all that day Lena May had been
at her bedside.

"She cannot last the night out," the visiting district nurse had said.
"Hastn't she any own folks to stay with her till it's all over?"

"I shall stay," little Lena May had replied.

"You? Do you think you ought? You're a mere girl. Aren't there some women
in this house who'd do that much for a neighbor?"

"I am seventeen," was the quiet reply, "and Mrs. Wilovich would rather
have me. She never made friends among the neighbors."

"Well, as you wish," the busy nurse had said. "I have many more places to
visit this evening, so I can't stay; and, anyway, there's nothing to do
but to let her----"

"Hush, please, don't say it. Little Tony might hear," Lena May had
implored in a whisper as she glanced at the child curled up on the floor
as though he were asleep.

When the nurse was gone, Dean Wiggin appeared in the open doorway, as he
had many times that day and evening. Nell had been called to the country
to see about the small farm which their foster-father had bequeathed
them, or she would have been with Lena May. Gloria had left at eight to
take her evening classes at the Settlement, and had promised to return at
ten and remain with her sister until the end.

The giant of a lad, with his helpless arm that was always held in one
position as it had been in slings so long ago, glanced first at the woman
in the bed, and then at the girl who advanced to him.

"Can't I stay now?" he spoke softly. "I've closed the shop and the
office. Isn't there anything that I can do to help?"

"No, Dean, I don't need you, and there isn't room; but I do wish that you
would take Tony out of doors. It is stifling here."

The little fellow seemed to hear his name. He rose and went to Dean. The
lad lifted Tony with his strong right arm. "I'll take him down to the
docks a while," he told the girl. "Put a light in the window if you want
me."

Lena May said that she would. Then for a time the young girl stood in the
open window watching the moving lights out on the river. At last she
turned back and glanced at the bed. The mother lay so quiet and so white
that Lena May believed that she had passed into the land where there is
no sweltering, crowded East Side. She was right. The tired soul had taken
its flight. The girl was about to place the lamp in the window to recall
Dean when she paused and listened. What a strange roaring sound she
heard, and how intensely hot it was becoming. In another moment there was
a wild cry of "Fire! Fire!" from the playground.

Lena May sprang to the open door. She knew there was but one fire escape
and that at the extreme rear of the long, dark hallway. That very day she
had noticed that it was piled high with rubbish. Then she must make her
escape by the narrow, rickety front stairs. Down the top flight she ran,
only to find that the flight beneath her was a seething mass of flame.

She darted back into the small room and closed the door. Then she ran to
the open window and called for help, but the roaring of the flames
drowned her voice. However, she was seen, and several firemen ran forward
with a ladder, but a rear wall crashed in and they leaped back.

At that moment a lad darted up and pushed his way through the crowd. "Put
the ladder up to that window," he commanded, pointing to where Lena May,
pale and quiet, was still standing.

"By heck, we won't! It's sure death to climb up there. The wall's rocking
even now. Stand back, everybody," the chief shouted; but one there was
who did not obey. With superhuman effort he lifted the ladder. Several
men seeing that he was determined helped him place it, then ran back, and
left the lad to scale it alone. Never before had Dean so regretted his
useless arm.

"God, give me strength!" he cried; then mounted the ladder. He could feel
it sway. Flames leaped from the windows as he passed. He caught at the
rounds with his left hand as well as his right, and up, up he went. The
girl leaned far out. "Drop down. Hold to the window sill! I'll catch
you," the lad called. Lena May did as she was told, and, clinging to the
top round with his left hand, Dean clasped the girl's waist with his
strong right arm and climbed down as fast as he could go. He did not
realize that he was using his left arm. He had to, it was a matter of
life and death. A pain like that made by a hot branding iron shot through
his shoulder, but even this he did not know.

Firemen rushed forward and took the girl from him, and none too soon, for
with a terrific roar the fire burst through the roof, which caved in;
then the wall tottered and crashed down about them.

"Where's that boy? The one that went up the ladder?" people were asking
on all sides. Where was he, indeed?



                              CHAPTER XXX.
                            A HERO REWARDED


A week later Lena May was in the sunny kitchen of the Pensinger mansion
making broth. A curly-headed three-year-old boy was sitting on the floor
playing contentedly with his toys. He had been told that his mother had
gone to a beautiful country where she would be well and happy and that
some day he would see her again.

"Muvver likes Tony to stay wiv you, Auntie May," he prattled as the girl
stooped to kiss him. Then, as he suddenly reached up his chubby arms, he
added: "Tony likes to stay wiv you."

"There, now, the broth's ready and Tony may help Auntie May," she told
him. The little fellow was given a plate of crackers and the girl
followed with a bowl of steaming refreshment. They went to Bobs' room,
where a lad was lying in bed.

Once again Dean Wiggin had fought a fire for the sake of a friend, but
this time had undone the harm that had been done in the long ago. Even
the surgeon who had been called in declared that the way the lad had
wrenched his arm free and had actually used it was little less than a
miracle; but, all through the ages, people who with a high purpose have
called upon God for help, have received it, and that help has been named
a miracle.

"See, Lena May," the lad said as he stretched out his left arm, "it
moves, doesn't it? Stiffly, perhaps, but I must keep it going, the doctor
told me." Then he drew himself into a sitting position and the girl
raised the pillows to make him comfortable.

He smiled at her beamingly as he said: "Another bit of good news is that
tomorrow I may get up. Just because one wall of a burning tenement fell
on me is no reason why I should remain in bed longer than one week and be
waited upon."

"You surely had a wonderful escape, Dean," the girl said as she gave him
the broth. "Just by chance the firemen instantly turned the water where
you had fallen and so you weren't burned."

"Nor drowned," the lad said merrily, "just knocked senseless." Then,
after a moment's pause, he continued: "I want to be up and about before
Nell returns. She will be in about noon tomorrow. Unless it got into the
New England papers, which isn't likely, she won't know a thing about it.
I don't want her to hear of it before I tell her. She would imagine all
sorts of things that aren't true, and be needlessly worried."

"How glad your sister will be when she finds that the use of your arm has
been restored to you." Lena May sat by the bedside holding Tony on her
lap.

"Won't she?" Dean's upward glance was radiant. "No longer will I have to
follow the profession of old book-seller. I want to do something that
will keep that arm constantly busy."

"What, Dean, have you thought?"

"Yes, indeed. You won't think it a very wonderful ambition. I want to be
a farmer. I don't like this crowded city. I feel as though I can't
breathe. When I am lying here alone, I keep thinking of the New England
farm where my boyhood was spent, and I long to really work in that rocky
soil, standing up now and then to breathe deep of that sparkling air and
to gaze at that wide view over the meadow-lands, and the shining, curving
silver ribbon, that is really a river, to the distant mountains. Lena
May, how I wish you could see it with me."

"I am sure that I would love it," the girl said, then, rising, she added:
"Here comes Gloria and Mr. Hardinian. They are going to hear some
Hungarian music tonight, and I promised to have an early supper for them.
Tony may stay with you. I am sure he would like to hear a story about the
little wild creatures who live on your farm."

But, when the girl was gone, the little fellow accommodatingly curled up
by Dean's side and went to sleep, and so the lad's thoughts were left
free to dream of a wonderful something that might happen some day on that
far-away New England farm.



                             CHAPTER XXXI.
                             FOUR ROMANCES


Time--Two weeks later.

Place--Kitchen of the Pensinger mansion.

Characters--Gloria, Gwendolyn, Roberta, Lena May and little Tony.


"Haven't things been happening with a whirl of late?" Bobs exclaimed as
she passed a plate of hot muffins. "I feel dizzy, honestly I do! I'm so
proud of Dick," she added as she sank into her own place at the table.

"All of his own accord he told me that he's going back for one more year
at law school and then he and Ralph are going to hang out a shingle for
themselves. They're going to start a new firm and be partners. Judge
Caldwaller-Cory thinks that his son must be crazy, when he is already a
junior member of an old and well established firm. They got the idea from
Arden Wentworth, I suppose. He has made good by himself, and the plan
rather appeals to Dick and Ralph."

"They're great pals, aren't they, these two? Brothers couldn't care more
for each other, I do believe," Lena May said, as she buttered a muffin
for her little charge.

"And to think that they are to marry sisters in the dim and distant
future. That ought to cement the brotherly ties even closer than ever,"
Gloria remarked, as she smiled at Gwendolyn, who, wind-browned and
sun-rosy, looked as though she had never been ill.

"Gwen, you and Ralph fell in love rather suddenly, didn't you?" Lena May
inquired.

"Maybe so," her sister replied. "Ralph says that he has always felt sure
that he would know the girl who was meant for him the very moment that he
saw her, and he insists that he loved me the minute he met me at Orange
Hills Inn."

Roberta leaned over and placed her hand on that of her sister. "I'm so
glad," she said, "for I do believe that Ralph is almost as fine a chap as
my Dick, and that is saying a great deal; and to think that if it hadn't
been for the Pensinger mystery, we might never have met him."

"By the way," Gloria remarked, "what has become of the Pensinger
mystery?"

Roberta laughed as she arose to replenish the muffin plate from the oven.
"I'm afraid it is destined to always remain a mystery. Ralph and I
followed every clue we could possibly think of. It's a shame, isn't it,
not to have this old place owned by someone, to say nothing of the
money."

After a moment's silence, Gloria asked: "Lena May, was there any news of
general interest in Dean's letter this morning?"

Their youngest sister smiled brightly. "Oh, yes, indeed. He was so glad
to get back to that New England farm where he can breathe. He said that
there are wonderful possibilities in the old house and that he is going
to begin work on it at once. He hopes that by the time I am eighteen, it
will look like a real home; but there was another item in the letter that
I am sure you will all be glad to hear. His group of nature poems has
been accepted by a magazine called _The New England Homestead_, and the
check they sent seems like a real fortune to Dean. The best of it is,
they have asked for more."

"Great! I for one shall be most proud to have a poet for a
brother-in-law." Then to Lena May: "Maybe you thought you were keeping it
a secret from us, little one, but you weren't, and we're glad, just as
glad as we can be."

Their youngest, shining-eyed, looked up at the oldest sister, who sat at
the head of the table, then she said: "Of course I had told Glow, because
she is Mother to us, but after that letter from Dean this morning, I want
to tell you all."

Then merrily Bobs exclaimed: "Now, Gloria, we've all 'fessed up but you.
Aren't you and Mr. Hardinian going to be married some day and live
happily ever after?"

"I never knew two people who seemed better suited for each other,"
Gwendolyn commented.

Gloria smiled. "And what would you have us live on, dear? You know that
it takes Mr. Hardinian's entire income to pay the expenses of his Boys'
Club. Of course the little chaps pay five cents a night for a bunk when
they have work, but he has to loan money to others who are out of work,
who might take to stealing if they had no other way to procure food.
However, they have never failed to pay him back when they did get work."
Their oldest sister's enthusiastic praise of the welfare worker told how
great was her admiration for that truly noble young man, if nothing more.

"Crickets, what was that?" Bobs suddenly exclaimed.

"Only the telephone, my dear," Lena May remarked. "Bobsy, will you answer
it?"

Three minutes later that girl fairly plunged back into the kitchen, her
shining eyes assuring them that she had heard something of an astonishing
nature.

"It was Ralph," she exclaimed, as she sank down into the nearest chair.
"The mystery is solved!"

"Solved?" her sisters repeated inquiringly and all at once. "How? When?
Who is the heir?"

Roberta laughed. "Well, here's where I resign as a detective," she
declared. "I've had three cases and although each one has been
successfully solved in spite of me, it has not been because of any
cleverness on my part."

"But, Bobs, do tell us what Ralph said. We're bursting with curiosity."

"My partner-detective feels as chagrined about it as I do, for the
solution of the mystery just turned up; we neither of us ferreted it out
as we had hoped that we would."

"Bobita, you're just trying to tantalize us," Gwen declared. "Do tell us
from the beginning."

"Very well then, I will. Ralph said that his dad happened to recall
recently something which his father had once told him. You know it was
Ralph's grandfather who was the intimate friend and legal advisor of Mr.
Pensinger.

"It seems that a week before his death, Mr. Pensinger had sent some
important papers and a letter to the office of Mr. Caldwaller-Cory, the
grandfather, you understand. Just as he was about to examine them, he was
called away on urgent business and he left the papers on his desk,
expecting to return soon. The Cory building was even then in the process
of construction, but Ralph's grandfather had moved in before it was quite
completed.

"That day the floor was being put down in the room adjoining the small
office. Later, when Mr. Caldwaller-Cory returned, his mind was so filled
with the intricacies of the new case which had just been given to him,
that he did not even notice that the brown packet containing the
Pensinger papers was gone; in fact, he had forgotten that it ever
existed; but a week later, when he received word that his friend, Mr.
Pensinger, had died suddenly, he recalled the papers and began to search
for them, but they were never found."

"Oh, I know where they were," Lena May said brightly, "under the floor."

Bobs nodded, her eyes glowing. "That's just it!" she affirmed. "Recently
Judge Caldwaller-Cory said to Ralph, 'Either we will have to tear down
this old building of ours or we will have to renovate it and bring it up
to date.'

"Ralph is romantic enough to want to retain the atmosphere of the days of
his grandfather, and so he favored the latter plan. Soon carpenters were
tearing up the office floors to replace them with hard wood and the
packet was found."

"And in those papers, had Mr. Pensinger made some different disposition
of his property?" Gloria inquired.

Bobs nodded. "Yes," she said. "It seems that Mr. Pensinger, after his
wife's death, visited Hungary, found his daughter Marilyn, who lived but
a short time, and so, as he was without an heir, he had written Mr.
Caldwaller-Cory, requesting him to use the Pensinger fortune wherever he
thought it would be most needed."

"What will become of this house?" Lena May inquired.

"Ralph didn't say. He wants to tell that himself. In fact, he said that
he was coming right up in The Whizz and that he wasn't coming alone,
either."

"I suppose that Dick De Laney will be with him," Gloria remarked as she
cleared the table.

"We aren't going to be kept long in suspense," Gwendolyn said, "for The
Whizz just passed the window and there's the knocker. Shall I go to the
door?"

Before her sisters could reply, that maiden was half-way down the long
hall, and a second later she reappeared with Ralph at her side. Two other
young men followed closely. One indeed was Dick De Laney and the other
was Mr. Hardinian. His dark, expressive eyes showed that he was much
mystified by all that was happening.

"Shall we go into the salon?" Gloria inquired when greetings were over.

"No indeed. This dining-room corner with its cheerful grate fire is the
pleasantest part of the old house," Ralph declared. "Dick, help me bring
in another chair or two."

"Now sit down, everybody, and I'll tell you the results of my conference
with my father." Ralph was plainly elated about something, which, as yet,
he had revealed to no one.

When they were seated, he turned at once to the tall, dark Hungarian.
"Mr. Hardinian, you were telling me last week that your temporary wooden
building for the Boys' Club is to be torn down next month that a tobacco
factory may be erected, were you not?"

"Yes," was the reply of the still puzzled young man. "I can't imagine
where I am to take my boys. I don't like to have them bunkless even for
one night."

"Of course not, nor shall they be," Ralph continued. Then he looked at
the girls beamingly. "Not if these young ladies will consent to having a
model clubhouse erected in the old garden back of their mansion."

"Ralph, how wonderful that would be!" Gloria exclaimed. "But what do you
mean?"

"Just what I say," the lad replied. "The former owner of this place
wanted his fortune used for some good cause, and Dad and I thought that
it would be great to help Mr. Hardinian carry on his fine work right here
on this very spot as a sort of memorial, and couldn't it be called The
Pensinger Boys' Club, or something like that?"

"Indeed it could," Mr. Hardinian's dark eyes expressed his appreciation
more than words could have done. Then to the tall girl at his side he
said: "Now, many of our dream-plans for the boys can be made a reality."

Turning to the others, he continued: "I am sure that Gloria is now
willing that I should tell you that she had consented to some day mother
all of our boys, and because of this splendid new plan, I hope that the
some-day may be very soon."

And it was. Indeed, before another year had passed, each of the girls was
in a home of her own.



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's note:

--Obvious typographical errors were corrected without comment.
  Inconsistent proper names were made consistent.

--Non-standard spellings and dialect were left unchanged.





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