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Title: Nancy Brandon
Author: Garis, Lilian
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 "Nancy Brandon" ***

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[Illustration: They had a merry time getting the Whatnot Shop ready.]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                             NANCY BRANDON

                                   By

                              LILIAN GARIS

                              _Author of_
           "JOAN'S GARDEN OF ADVENTURE," "GLORIA AT BOARDING
                  SCHOOL," "CONNIE LORING'S AMBITION,"
                  "BARBARA HALE: A DOCTOR'S DAUGHTER,"
                      "CLEO'S MISTY RAINBOW," ETC.

                             ILLUSTRATED BY

                              THELMA GOOCH



                            GROSSET & DUNLAP
                          PUBLISHERS NEW YORK

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                           _Copyright, 1924_
                       By MILTON BRADLEY COMPANY
                       Springfield, Massachusetts
                         _All Rights Reserved_

                PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                CONTENTS

                         I. THE GIRL AND THE BOY
                        II. DINNER DIFFICULTIES
                       III. BELATED HASTE
                        IV. NEW FRIENDS
                         V. ORIGINAL PLANS
                        VI. FAIR PLAY
                       VII. THE SPECIAL SALE
                      VIII. FISH HOOKS AND FLOATERS
                        IX. THE BIG DAY
                         X. STILL THEY CAME
                        XI. THE FAILURE
                       XII. THE VIRTUE OF RESOLVE
                      XIII. BEHIND THE CLOUD
                       XIV. A PLEASANT SURPRISE
                        XV. TALKING IT OVER
                       XVI. JUST FISHING
                      XVII. THE CAVE-IN
                     XVIII. INTRODUCING NERO
                       XIX. A DISCOVERY
                        XX. THE MIDNIGHT ALARM
                       XXI. FOR VALUE DECEIVED
                      XXII. TARTS AND LADY FINGERS
                     XXIII. THE STORY TOLD

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                       NANCY BRANDON: ENTHUSIAST


                               CHAPTER I

                          THE GIRL AND THE BOY


The small kitchen was untidy. There were boxes empty and some crammed
with loose papers, while a big clothes basket was filled--with a small
boy, who took turns rolling it like a boat and bumping it up and down
like a flivver. Ted Brandon was about eleven years old, full of
boyhood's importance and bristling with boyhood's pranks.

His sister Nancy, who stood placidly reviewing the confusion, was, she
claimed, in her teens. She was also just now in her glory, for after
many vicissitudes and uncertainties they were actually moved into the
old Townsend place at Long Leigh.

"You're perfectly silly, Ted. You know it's simply a wonderful idea,"
she proclaimed loftily.

"Do I." There was no question in the boy's tone.

"Well, you ought to. But, of course, boys--"

"Oh, there you go. Boys!!" No mistaking this tone.

"Ted Brandon, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. To be so--so mean to
mother."

"Mean to mother! Who said anything about mother?"

"This is mother's pet scheme."

"Pretty queer scheme to keep us cooped up all vacation." He rocked the
basket vigorously.

"We won't have to stay in much at all. Why, just odd times, and
besides--" Nancy paused to pat her hair. She might have patted it
without pausing but her small brother Ted would then have been less
impressed by her assumed dignity, "you see, Teddy, I'm working for a
principle. I don't believe that girls should do a bit more housework
than boys."

"Oh, I know you believe that all-righty." Ted allowed himself to sigh
but did not pause to do so. He kept right on rocking and snapping the
blade of his pen-knife open and shut, as if the snap meant something
either useful or amusing.

"Well, I guess I know what I'm talking about," declared Nancy, "and now,
even mother has come around to agree with me. She's going right on with
her office work and you and I are to run this lovely little shop."

"You mean _you_ are to run the shop and _I'll_ wash the dishes." Deepest
scorn and seething irony hissed through Teddy's words. He even flipped
the pen-knife into the sink board and nicked, but did not break, the
apple-sauce dish.

"Of course you must do your part." Nancy lifted up two dishes and set
them down again.

"And yours, if you have your say. Oh, what's the use of talkin' to
girls?" Ted tumbled out of the basket, pushed it over until it banged
into a soap box, then straightening up his firm young shoulders, he
prepared to leave the scene.

"There's no use talking to girls, Ted," replied his sister, "if you
don't talk sense."

"Sense!" He jammed his cap upon his head although he didn't have any
idea of wearing it on this beautiful day. The fact was, Teddy and Nancy
were disagreeing. But there really wasn't anything unusual about that,
for their natures were different, they saw things differently, and if
they had been polite enough to agree they would simply have been fooling
each other.

Nancy smiled lovingly, however, at the boy, as he banged the door. What
a darling Ted was! So honest and so scrappy! Of all things hateful to
Nancy Brandon a "sissy" boy, as she described a certain type, was the
worst.

"But I suppose," she ruminated serenely, "the old breakfast dishes have
got to be done." Another lifting up and setting down of a couple of
china pieces, but further than that Nancy made not the slightest
headway. A small mirror hung in a small hall between the long kitchen
and the store. Here Nancy betook herself and proceeded again to pat her
dark hair.

She was the type of girl described as willowy, because that word is
prettier than some others that might mean tall, lanky, boneless and
agile. Nancy had black hair that shone with crow-black luster in spite
of its pronounced curl. Her eyes were dark, snappy and meaningful. They
could mean love, as when Ted slammed the door, or they could mean
danger, as when a boy kicked the black and white kitten. Then again they
could mean devotion, as when Nancy beheld her idolized little mother who
was a business woman as well, and in that capacity, Nancy's model.

A tingle at the bell that was set for the store alarm, sent the girl
dancing away from the looking-glass.

"Funniest thing about a store," she told herself, "there's always
someone to buy things you haven't got."

The catch was on the screen door and, as Nancy approached it, she
discerned outside, the figure of an elderly woman. It was Miss Sarah
Townsend from whom her mother had bought the store.

"Oh, good morning, Miss Townsend. I keep the door fastened when I'm
alone, as I might be busy in the kitchen," apologized Nancy.

"That's right, dear, that's right. And I wouldn't be too much alone if I
were you," cautioned the woman who was stepping in with the air of
proprietorship, and with her little brown dog sniffing at her heels.
"Don't you keep your brother with you?"

"Ted? Oh yes, sometimes. But he's a little boy, you know, Miss Townsend,
and he must enjoy his vacation." Nancy was making friends with Tiny, the
dog, but after a polite sniff or two Tiny was off frisking about
happily, as any dog might be expected to do when returning to his
old-time home.

Miss Townsend surveyed Nancy critically.

"Of course your brother is a little boy," she said, "but what about you?
You're only a little girl."

"Little! Why I'm much stronger than Ted, and years older," declared
Nancy, pulling herself up to her fullest height.

The woman smiled tolerantly. She wore glasses so securely fixed before
her deep-set eyes that they seemed like a very feature of her face. She
was a capable looking, elderly woman, and rather comely, but she was, as
Nancy had quickly observed, "hopelessly old-fashioned."

"We haven't anything fixed up yet," said Nancy apologetically. "You see,
mother goes to business and that leaves the store and the house to me."

"Yes. She explained in taking our place that she was doing it to give
you a chance to try business. But for a girl so young--Come back here,
Tiny," she ordered the sniffing, snuffing, frisky little dog.

"If I'm going to be a business woman I've got to start in," interrupted
Nancy. "They say it's never too early to start at _housework_."

"But that's different. Every girl has to know how to keep house,"
insisted Miss Townsend. She was busy straightening a box of spools that
lay upon the little counter, but from her automatic actions it was
perfectly evident that Miss Townsend didn't know she was doing anything.

"I can't see why," retorted Nancy. "Just look at mother. What would she
have done with us if she hadn't understood business?"

Miss Townsend sighed. "Being a widow, my dear--"

"But I may be a widow too," breezed Nancy. "In fact I'm sure to, for
everyone says I'm so much like mother. Do let me fix that box of spools,
Miss Townsend. Someone came in for linen thread last night and Teddy
looked for it. I'm sure he gave them a ball of cord, for all the cord
was scattered around too." She put the cover on the thread box. "Boys
are rather poor at business, I think, especially boys of Teddy's age,"
orated the important Nancy.

Miss Townsend agreed without saying so. She was looking over the little
place in a fidgety, nervous way. Nancy quickly decided this was due to
regret that she had given the place up, and therefore sought to make her
feel at ease.

The little brown dog had curled himself up in front of the fireplace on
a piece of rug, evidently his own personal property. The fireplace was
closed up and the stove set back against it, out of the way for summer,
and handy-by for winter.

Nancy smiled at the woman who was moving about in a sort of aimless
restlessness.

"It must seem natural to you to be around here," Nancy ventured.

"Yes, after thirty years--"

"Thirty years!" repeated Nancy, incredulously. "Did you and your brother
live here all that time?"

"Yes." A prolonged sigh brought Miss Townsend down on the old hickory
chair that stood by the door, just out of the way of possible customers.

"Brother Elmer and I kept on here after mother died. In fact, so far as
I was concerned, we might have gone on until we died, but there was a
little trouble--"

"Just like me and my brother, I suppose," intervened Nancy, kindly. "We
love each other to death, and yet we are always scrapping."

"In children's way, but that's different, very different," insisted Miss
Townsend. "With me and Elmer," she sighed again, "it became a very, very
serious matter."

"Oh," faltered Nancy. Things were becoming uncomfortable. That kitchen
work would be growing more formidable, and Nancy had really wanted to
settle the store. She would love to do that, to put all the little
things in their places, or in new places, as she would surely find a new
method for their arrangement. She hurried over to the corner shelves.

"I hope no one comes in until I get the place fixed up," she remarked.
"Mother doesn't intend to buy much new stock until she sees how we get
along."

"That's wise," remarked Miss Townsend. "I suppose I know every stick in
the place," she looked about critically, "and yet I could be just as
interested. I wonder if you wouldn't like me to help you fix things up?
I'd just love to do it."

Now this was exactly what Nancy did not want. In fact, she was wishing
earnestly that the prim Miss Townsend would take herself off and leave
her to do as she pleased.

"That's kind of you, I'm sure," she said, "but the idea was that I
should be manager from the start," Nancy laughed lightly to justify this
claim, "and I'm sure mother would be better pleased if I put the shop in
order. You can come in and see me again when I'm all fixed up," (this
gentle hint was tactful, thought Nancy) "and then you can tell me what
you think of me as the manager of the Whatnot Shop."

Miss Townsend was actually poking in the corner near the hearth shelf
where matches, in a tin container, were kept. She heard Nancy but did
not heed her.

"Looking for something?" the girl asked a little sharply.

"Looking?" Yes, that is--"Tiny keep down there," she ordered. "I can't
see what has got into that dog of late. It was one of the things that
Elmer and I were constantly fussing over. Tiny won't let any one touch
things near this chimney without barking his head off. Now just watch."

As she went to the shelf back of the stove the dog sprang alongside of
her. He barked in the happy fashion that goes with rapid tail wagging,
and Nancy quickly decided that the dog knew a secret of the old chimney.

[Illustration: Miss Townsend pretended to take things out of the stove.]

Again Miss Townsend pretended to take things out of the stove, and Tiny
all but jumped into the low, broad door.

"Now, isn't that--uncanny?" asked the woman, plainly bewildered.

"Oh, no, I don't think so," said Nancy. "All dogs have queer little
tricks like that."

"Do they? I'm glad to hear you say so," sighed Miss Townsend, once more
picking up a small box of notions. "You must excuse me, my dear. You see
the habit of a life time--"

"Oh, that's all right, Miss Townsend, I didn't mean to hurry you," spoke
up Nancy. "But the morning goes so quickly, and mother may come home to
lunch." This possibility brought real anxiety to Nancy. If she had only
slicked up the kitchen instead of arguing with Teddy. After all the
plagued old housework did take some time, she secretly admitted.

But Miss Townsend laid down the unfinished roll of lace edging, although
she had most carefully rolled all but a very small end, walked over to
Nancy, who was just attempting to dust out a tray, and in the most
tragic voice said:

"Nancy, I think you really have a lot of sense."

Nancy chuckled. "I hope so, Miss Townsend."

"I mean to say, that I think you can be trusted."

"Well," stammered Nancy, forcing back another chuckle, "I hope so, to
that too, Miss Townsend." She was surprised at the woman's manner and
puzzled to understand its meaning. The dog was again snoozing on the
rug.

"Let's sit down," suggested Miss Townsend.

"Oh, all right," faltered Nancy, in despair now of ever catching up on
the delayed work.

"You see, it's this way," began the woman, making room for herself in
the big chair that was serving as storage quarters for Teddy's
miscellany. "Some people are very proud--"

Nancy was simply choking with impatience.

"I mean to say, they are so proud they won't or can't ever give in to
each other."

"Stubborn," suggested Nancy. "I'm that way sometimes."

"And brother and sister," sighed Miss Townsend. "I never could believe
that Elmer, my own brother, could, be so--unreasonable."

"Why, what's the matter?" Nancy spoke up. "You seem so unhappy."

"Unhappy is no name for it, I'm wretched." The distress shown on Miss
Townsend's face was now unmistakable. Nancy forgot even the unwashed
breakfast dishes.

"Can I help you?" she asked kindly.

"Yes, you can. What I want is to come in here sometimes--"

"Why, if you're lonely for your old place," interrupted Nancy.

"It isn't that. In fact I just can't explain," said Miss Townsend,
picking up her hand bag, nervously. "But I'm no silly woman. We've
agreed to sell this place to your mother and I'm the last person in the
world to make a nuisance of myself."

"You needn't worry about that," again Nancy intervened, sympathetically.

"You are a kind girl, Nancy Brandon, and I guess your mother has made no
mistake in buying the Whatnot Shop for you. You'll be sure to make
friends, and that's what counts next to bargains, in business," declared
the woman, who had risen from the big chair and was staring at Nancy in
the oddest way.

"If I had a chance--" again the woman paused and bit her thin lip. She
seemed to dread what she evidently must say.

"I'll be busy here tomorrow," suggested Nancy briskly, "and then perhaps
you would like to help me. But I really would like to get the rough dirt
out first. Then we can put things to rights."

"The fact is," continued Miss Townsend, without appearing to hear
Nancy's suggestion, "I have a suspicion."

"A suspicion? About this--store?"

"Yes, and about my brother. He's an old man and we've never had any real
trouble before, but I'm sorry to say, I can't believe he's telling me
the truth about an important matter. That is, it's a very important
matter to me."

"Oh," said Nancy lamely. She was beginning to have doubts of Miss
Townsend's mental balance.

"No, Elmer is a good man. He's been a good brother, but there are some
things--" (a long, low, breathful sigh,) "some things we have individual
opinions about. And, well, so you won't think me queer if I ask you to
let me tidy the shop?"

"Why--no, of course not, Miss Townsend."

"Thank you, thank you, Nancy Brandon," emotion was choking her words.
She was really going now and Tiny with her. "And perhaps it would be
just as well not to say anything about it if my brother should drop in,"
concluded the strange woman.

"Oh, do you suppose he will?" asked bewildered Nancy. "I mean, will he
drop in?"

"He's apt to. Elmer is a creature of habit and he's been around here a
long time, you know." The dark eyes were glistening behind the gold
framed glasses. Miss Townsend was still preparing to depart.

Nancy opened the screen door and out darted Tiny.

"Good-bye, my dear, for the present," murmured Miss Townsend, "and I
hope you and your mother and your brother will--be happy--here," she
choked on the words and Nancy had an impression of impending tears. "We
wouldn't have sold out, we _shouldn't_ have sold out, but for Elmer
Townsend's foolishness."

Back went the proud head until the lace collar on Sarah Townsend's neck
was jerked out of place, a rare thing indeed to happen to that prim
lady.

"Good-bye," said Nancy gently, "and come again, Miss Townsend."

"Yes, yes, dear, I shall."



                               CHAPTER II

                          DINNER DIFFICULTIES


Nancy jerked her cretonne apron first one way and then the other. Then
she kicked out a few steps, still pondering. When Nancy was thinking
seriously she had to be acting. This brought her to the conclusion that
she should hurry out to the porch and look after Miss Townsend, but she
had decided upon that move too late, for the lady in the voile dress was
just turning the corner into Bender Street.

Nancy's face was a bed of smiles. They were tucked away in the corners
of her mouth, they blinked out through her eyes and were having lots of
fun teasing her two deep cheek dimples. She was literally all smiles.

"What a lark! Won't Ted howl? The dog and the--the chimney secret," she
chuckled. "And dogs know. You can't fool them." She came back into the
store and gazed ruefully at the squatty stove that mutely stood guard.

"I don't suppose mother will want that left there all summer," Nancy
further considered. "It might just as well be put out in the shed, and
the store would look lots better."

She could not help thinking of Miss Townsend's strange visit. The lady
was unmistakably worried, and her worry surely had to do with the
Whatnot Shop.

"But I do hope we don't run into any old spooky stories about this
place," Nancy pondered, "for mother hates that sort of thing and so do
I--if they're the foolish, silly kind," she admitted, still staring at
the questionable fireplace.

"What-ever can Miss Townsend want to be around here for? No hidden
treasures surely, or she would say so and start in to dig them up,"
decided the practical Nancy. The clock struck one!

"One o'clock!" she said this aloud. "Of course it isn't," laughed the
girl. "That clock has been going since the moving and it hasn't unpacked
its strike carefully. But, just the same, it must be eleven o'clock, and
as for the morning's work! However shall I catch up?"

One hour later Ted was in looking for lunch. He had been out "exploring"
and had, he explained, met some fine fellows who were "brigand scouts."

"I'm goin' to join," he declared. "They're goin' to let me in and I'm
goin' to bring a lot of my things over to the den."

"Den?" questioned Nancy. "Where's that?"

"Secret," answered Ted. "An' anyhow, it isn't for girls." This was said
in a pay-you-back manner that Nancy quickly challenged.

"Oh, all right. Very well. Just as you say, keep it secret if you like,"
she taunted, "but I've got a real one." The potatoes were burning but
neither of the children seemed to care.

Ted looked closely at his sister and was convinced. She really was
serious. Then too, everything was on end, no dinner ready, nothing done,
the place all boxes, just as they were when he left. Something must have
been going on all morning, reasoned Ted.

"Good thing mother didn't come home, Sis," he remarked amicably. "Say,
how about--chow?"

"Chow?"

"Yes. Don't you know that means food in the military, and I'm as starved
as a bear."

"Well, why don't you get something to eat? I understood we were to camp,
share and share alike," Nancy reminded him, giving the simmering
potatoes a shake that sent the little pot-cover flying to the floor.

"That was your idea. But mother said you had to be sure we ate our
meals," contended Ted. "I'll get the meat. It's meat balls, isn't it?"

"It will be, I suppose, when _I_ make them," said Nancy, deliberately
shoving everything from one end of the table with a sweep that rattled
together dishes, glasses and various other breakable articles.

There was no doubt about it, Nancy Brandon did hate housework. Every
thing she did was done with that degree of scorn absolutely fatal to the
result. Perhaps this was just why her mother was allowing her to try out
the pet summer scheme.

"I'd go mad if I had to stick in a kitchen," Nancy declared
theatrically. "I'm so glad we've got the store."

"But we can't eat the store," replied Ted. "Here's the meat. Do get it
going, Sis. I've got to get back to the fellows."

"Ted Brandon! You've got to help _me_ this afternoon. Do you think, for
one instant, I'm going to do everything?"

"'Course not, I'll do my share," promised the unsuspecting boy. "But
just today we've got something big on. Here's the meat."

"Big or little you have just got to help me, Ted. Look at this place! It
seems to me things walk out of the boxes and heap themselves up all
over. Now, we didn't take those pans out, did we?"

"I don't know, don't think so. But here's a good one. It's the meat
kind, isn't it?"

"Yes. Give it here." Nancy took from his hand a perfectly flat iron
griddle. "I'll fix up the cakes if you make place on the table. We'll
eat out here."

"All right." Ted flew to the task. "But you know, Sis, mother said we
might eat in that sun porch. It's a dandy place to read. Look at the
windows."

Nancy had flattened the chopped meat into four balls and was pressing
them on the griddle.

"There. What did you do with the potatoes?"

"Nothing. I didn't take them."

"But we had potatoes--" She lighted the gas under the meat.

"Sure. I smelled them burning."

"Well, hunt around and see if you can smell them now," ordered Ted's
sister. "I can't eat meat without potatoes."

Ted dropped his two plates and actually went sniffing about in search of
the lost food. Meanwhile Nancy was standing at the stove, a magazine in
one hand and the griddle handle in the other. Her eyes, however, were
not upon the griddle.

Presently the meat was sizzling and its odor cheered Ted considerably.

"Don't let's mind the potatoes," he suggested. "I can't find them."

"Can't find them? And I peeled three! We've _got_ to find them."

"Then you look and I'll stir the meat."

"It doesn't have to be stirred." But Nancy stood over the stove just the
same.

"Then what are you watching it for?"

"So it won't burn, like the potatoes."

"Maybe they all burned up." Ted didn't care much for potatoes.

"Oh, don't be silly. Where's the pan?"

"Which pan?"

"Oh, Ted Brandon! The potato pan, of course!"

"Oh, Nancy Brandon! What potato pan, of course! Has it got a name on
it?"

Nancy dropped her magazine on a littered chair, in sheer disgust. She
realized the meat was cooking; (it splattered and spluttered merrily on
the shallow griddle,) and she too was hungry. Ted might be satisfied to
eat just bread and meat, but she simply had to have freshly cooked
potatoes. Wasn't housework awful? Especially cooking?

There was a jangle of the store bell, actually some one coming at that
critical moment.

"Oh, dear!" groaned Nancy. "What a nuisance! I suppose I'll have to
go--"

"But the meat?" Ted was getting desperate.

"It's almost ready." Nancy wiped her hands on the dish towel and hurried
to the store.

"A man!" she announced, as she went to open the screen door.

Ted left his post and cautiously stole after her. A customer was a real
novelty and Ted didn't want to miss the excitement. A pleasant voice
filled in the moment. A gentleman was talking to Nancy.

"I'm glad to find some one in," he was saying. "Since my friend, Elmer
Townsend, left here I've been rather--that is, I've missed the little
place," explained the man. Ted could see that he was very tall and
looked, he thought, like a school teacher, having no hat on and not much
hair either.

"We've just been unpacking," Nancy replied. She was conscious of the
confusion in the store as well as she had been of things upset in the
kitchen.

"Oh, yes," drawled the man, stepping behind the counter. "It will take
you some time to go over everything. But you see, Mr. Townsend and I are
great friends, and I know where most of the things are kept. You don't
mind if I take a look for a ball of twine?"

"No, certainly not," agreed Nancy.

"I can get you that," spoke up Ted. "I had it out last night," and he
jumped behind the counter to the littered cord and twine box.

Nancy pulled herself up to that famous height of hers. She
smelled--something burning!

"Ted!" she screamed. "It's a-fire! The kitchen! I see the blaze!"

"The meat!" yelled Ted, springing over the low counter and following his
sister toward the smoke filling place.

"Oh-h-h-!" Nancy continued to yell. "What shall we do!"

"Don't get excited," ordered the stranger. "And don't go near that
blazing pan. Let me go in there," and he brushed Nancy aside making his
way into the untidy place, which now seemed, to the frightened girl, all
in flames.

"The meat--gosh!" moaned poor Ted, for the stranger had opened the back
door, and having grabbed the flaming pan with that same towel Nancy had
tossed on the chair, he was now tossing the blazing pan as far out from
the house as his best fling permitted.

"There!" he exclaimed, brushing one hand with the other. "I guess we're
safe now."

"Oh, thank you, Mister, Mister--" Nancy waited for him to supply the
name, but he only smiled broadly.

"Just call me Sam," he said pleasantly.

"Sam?" echoed Ted.

"Yes, sonny. Isn't that all right?" asked the stranger.

They were within the cluttered kitchen now and, as is usually the case
with girls of Nancy's temperament, she was much distressed at the looks
of the place. In fact, she was making frantic but futile efforts to
right things.

"What's the matter with Sam?" again asked the man, curiously.

"Oh, nothing," replied Ted. "Only it isn't your name."

"No? How do you know?" persisted the stranger, quizzically.

"You don't look like a Sam," said Ted, kicking one heel against the
other to hide his embarrassment. He hadn't intended saying all that.

The man laughed heartily, and for the moment Nancy forgot the upset
kitchen. But the dinner!

"I hope your dinner isn't gone," remarked the stranger who wanted to be
called Sam.

"Oh, no," replied Nancy laconically, avoiding Ted's discouraged look.
"That was only some--some meat we were cooking."

"Can't keep house and 'tend store without spoiling something. But I feel
it was somewhat my fault. Suppose we lock up and trot down to the corner
for a dish of ice cream?" he suggested. "It's just warm enough today for
cream; don't you think so?"

"Oh, let's!" chirped Ted. A hungry boy is ever an object of pity.

"You go," suggested Nancy, "but I think I had better stay here."

"Oh, no. You've got to come along. Let me see. If you call me Uncle Sam
what shall I call you?"

"I'm Nancy Brandon and this is my brother Ted," replied Nancy. "But I'd
like much better to call you by your real name."

"Real name," and he laughed again. "I see we are going to be critical
friends. Now then, since you insist Sam won't do suppose we make it
Sanders. Mr. Sanders. How does that name suit?" and he clapped Ted's
shoulders jovially.

"Then Mr. Sanders, you and Ted go along and get your cream. I really
must attend to things here," insisted Nancy. "We are all so upset and
mother will expect us to have things in some sort of order."

"Oh, Sis, come along" begged Ted. "I'll help you when we get back. It
won't take a minute."

Hunger is a poor argument against food, and presently the back door was
locked, the front door was locked, and the two Brandons with the man who
called himself Mr. Sanders, because they refused to call him Uncle Sam,
were making tracks for the ice cream store.

Burnt potatoes, burnt meat with ice cream for dessert, thought Nancy.
But she was still convinced that business was more important than
housekeeping.

"Glad we didn't burn up," remarked Ted, as he trotted along beside Mr.
Sanders.

"Never want to throw water on burning grease," they were advised. "And
always keep a thing at full arm's length, if you must pick it up. Of
course, if you turned out the gas and pushed the pan well in on the
stove it would eventually burn out, but think of the smoke!"

"You bet!" declared Ted, as they reached the little country ice cream
parlor. Two girls, whom Nancy had seen several times since she came to
Long Leigh, were just leaving the place and she thought they looked at
her very curiously as they passed out. Then, she distinctly heard one of
them say:

"Fancy! With him!"

And Nancy knew she had made some sort of mistake in accepting the
well-intentioned invitation.



                              CHAPTER III

                             BELATED HASTE


Instinctively Nancy sought a sheltered corner of the ice cream room. She
was greatly embarrassed to have come along the road with a stranger whom
she knew nothing about, and now she was determined to leave him alone
with Teddy. There must be something odd about him, to have drawn that
remark from the girls. Nancy looked at him critically from her place
below the decorated looking glass, and decided he did appear queer to
her.

"But I'm just starved," she told herself, "and I've got to have
something to eat." The girl in the gingham dress, with a great wide
muslin apron, took an order for cake and cream and a glass of milk.
Fortunately, Nancy had her purse along with her. That much, at least,
she had already learned about being a business woman.

Teddy was chatting gaily with the man down near the door. They seemed to
be having a great time over their stories, and Nancy rightly suspected
the stories concerned Ted's favorite sport, camping.

She ate her lunch rather solemnly. Everything seemed to be going wrong,
but the escape from fire, with the frying meat on a shallow griddle, was
surely something to be thankful for.

Oh, well! Only half a day had been lost, and she really couldn't have
done more when Miss Townsend took all that precious time with her
lamentations.

Miss Townsend! Nancy sipped the last of her milk as she reflected on the
little dog's interest in the old fireplace. Of course, Miss Townsend
would come again, and Tiny would always be along with her. And Nancy
hadn't yet told Ted about that experience.

"Just buying a country store didn't seem to mean buying a lot of freaks
along with the bargain," Nancy speculated. "And now here's Mr. Baldy who
wants to be called after Uncle Sam, going right in back of my counter
and helping himself--"

"Ready, Sis!" called out Teddy, as he waited for Mr. Sanders to pay his
bill.

"You go along, Ted," called back Nancy. "I've got to stop some place,
but I'll be there in time to open the door for you."

Ted never questioned one of those queer decisions of Nancy's. He knew
how useless such a thing would be; so off he went with the man in the
short sleeved shirt, while Nancy tarried long enough to give them a fair
start.

Then, easily finding a way through the fields, she raced off herself,
although getting through thick hedges and climbing an occasional rail
fence, proved rather tantalizing.

In front of the store she found Mr. Sanders just leaving Ted. They were
both talking and laughing as if the acquaintance had proved highly
satisfactory, but it irritated Nancy.

"Now, I suppose, _he'll_ come snooping around," she grumbled. "Well,
there's one thing certain, I'm not going to keep an old-fashioned
country store. No hanging around my cracker barrels," she told herself,
although there was not, and likely never would be a cracker barrel in
the Whatnot Shop.

Once more left to themselves, the burnt dinner was not referred to, as
Ted helped at last to clear up the disordered kitchen. Not even the lost
potatoes came in for mention as brother and sister "made things fly," as
most belated workers find themselves obliged to do.

"Here, Ted, get the broom."

Ted grabbed the broom.

"No, let me sweep. You empty those baskets of excelsior."

"Where?"

"Where?"

"Yes. Can we burn it?"

"No, never. No more fire for us," groaned Nancy. "Just dump the stuff
some where."

"But we can't, Sis," objected Ted. "Mother 'specially said nothing could
be dumped around."

"Well, do anything you like with it, but just get it out of the way,"
and Nancy's excited broom made jabs and stabs at corners without quite
reaching them.

Ted was much more methodical. He really would do things right, if only
Nancy would give him a chance. Just now he was carefully packing the
excelsior in a big clothes basket.

"You know, Nan," he remarked, "Mr. Sanders is awfully funny."

"How funny?" asked Nancy crisply.

"Oh, he knows an awful lot."

"He ought to, he's bald headed," answered Nancy, implying there-by that
Mr. Sanders was an old man and ought to be wise.

"Is he?" asked Ted innocently.

"For lands sake! Ted Brandon!" exclaimed Nancy. "Can't you think what
you're saying? Is he what?"

The thread of the argument thus entirely lost, Ted just crammed away at
the excelsior.

"I'm just dying to get at the store," said Nancy next. "I want to fix
that all up so that mother will buy more things to put in stock."

"She's going to bring home fishing rods. I'm goin' to have a corner for
sport stuff, you know," Ted reminded the whirl-wind Nancy.

"Oh, yes, of course, that's all right. But we'll have to see which
corner we can spare best. The store isn't any too big, is it?"

"Big enough," agreed the affable boy. "And I'll bet, Nan, we'll have
heaps of sport around here this summer. There's fine fellows over by the
big hill. That's more of a summer place than this is, I guess."

"Where does your friend Uncle Sam live?"

"You mean Mr. Sanders. Why, he didn't say, but he went up the hill
toward that old stone place."

"Yes. I wouldn't wonder but he would live in an old stone place," echoed
Nancy sarcastically.

"Why, don't you like him?"

"Like him?"

"I mean--do you hate him?" laughed Ted. His basket was filled and he was
gathering up the loose ends of the splintered fibers upon a tin cover.

"I don't like him and I don't hate him, but I do hope he won't come
snooping around _my_ store," returned Nancy.

Teddy stopped short with a frying pan raised in mid air. He swung it at
an imaginary ball, then put it down in the still packed peach basket.

"Now, Nan," he protested, "don't you go kickin' up any fuss about Mr.
Sanders. He always came around here; he's a great friend of the
Townsends."

"Ted Brandon!" Nancy flirted the dust brush at the gas stove, "do you
think I am going to take all that with this store? Did we buy all the
Townsends' old--old cronies along with the Whatnot Shop?"

"There's someone," Ted interrupted, as the store bell jangled timidly.

"Oh, you go please, Ted," begged Nancy, who had glimpsed girls' skirts
without. "I'm too untidy to tend store this afternoon."



                               CHAPTER IV

                              NEW FRIENDS


Nancy never looked as untidy as she really felt. In fact, she always
looked "interesting and human," as her friends might say, but she was
sensitive about the disorder she pretended to despise. Now, here were
those two girls! She simply could not go in the store as she looked.

"You're all right," Ted insisted, as they both listened to the jangling
bell. "You look good in that yellow dress."

"Good?" she took time to correct. "You mean--something else. And it
isn't yellow," she countered. "But please, Ted, you go. There's a dear.
I'll do something for you--"

Ted started off dutifully. "But I won't know," he argued.

"Run along, like a dear," whispered Nancy, for persons were now within
the store, she could easily hear them talking and could even see their
reflections in the little hall mirror.

Ted went. He was such a good-natured boy, and Nancy was glad to notice
once more "so good-looking."

After exchanging a few questions and answers with the girls in the
store, Ted was presently back again in the kitchen.

"Blue silk!" he sort of hissed at Nancy. "They want--_blue silk_."

"We haven't any. Tell them we're out of it."

Ted went forth with a protest.

A few seconds later he again confronted Nancy.

"Blue _twist_ then. What ever on earth is blue _twist?_"

"We haven't any!" Nancy told him sharply. "We're all out of sewing
stuff, except black and white."

"Oh, you come on. They're just laughin' at me. It's your store. You go
ahead and 'tend it." Ted was on a strike now. He wasn't going to be that
kind of store keeper. Twist and silk!

"But I'm so dirty," complained Nancy, brushing at her skirt and then
patting her disordered hair. She had been rushing around at a mad rate
since noon hour and naturally felt untidy.

"Well, any how, go tell them," suggested Ted. "They're just girls like
you. You needn't worry about your looks." His eyes paid Nancy a decided
compliment with the careless speech. Evidently she was not the only one
who found good looks in the family.

Out in the store the girls were waiting, and when she finally walked up
to them, Nancy was instantly at ease.

"Oh, hello!" greeted the stouter one. She was genuinely pleasant and
Nancy at once liked her. "You're the girl we've been trying to meet.
This is Vera Johns and I'm Ruth Ashley. We live over on North Road and
we've been wanting to meet you."

"I'm Nancy Brandon," replied Nancy pleasantly, "and I'm glad to meet
you, too. I was wondering if I would get acquainted away out here. Won't
you sit down? Here's a bench," brushing aside the papers. "It takes so
long to get things straightened out."

The girls murmured their understanding of the moving problem, and after
Teddy had called out from the back door, that he was going "over to see
the fellows," all three girls settled down to chat.

"Is it really your own store?" asked Ruth. She had reddish-brown hair,
gray eyes and the brightest smile.

"Yes," replied Nancy. "Just a little summer experiment. You see, I
perfectly despise housework and mother believes I should learn something
practical. I just begged for a little country store. I've always been so
interested reading about them."

"How quaint!" murmured Vera Johns. Her tone of voice seemed so affected
that Nancy glanced quickly at her. Was she fooling? Could any girl mean
so senseless a remark as "How quaint!" to Nancy's telling of her
practical experiment?

"Do you mean," murmured Nancy, "why, just--how quaint?"

"Yes, isn't it?" Vera again sort of lisped. At this Nancy was convinced.
Vera was that sort of girl. She would be apt to say any silly little
thing that had the fewest words in it. Just jerky little exclamations,
such as Nancy's mother had taught her to avoid as affectations.

Vera's hair was of a toneless blonde hue, cut "classic" and plastered
down like that of an Egyptian slave. Her eyes, Nancy noticed were a
faded blue, and her form--Nancy hoped that she, being tall herself, did
not sag at all corners, as did Vera Johns.

"I think it's a wonderful idea," chimed in Ruth, "to have a chance
really to try out business. Just as you say, Nancy, we learn to wash
doll dishes as soon as we can reach a kitchen chair. Then why shouldn't
we learn to make and count pennies as early as we possibly can?"

"Do you hate housework too, Ruth?" Nancy asked, hoping for the joy of
finding a mutual understanding. "Are you also anxious to try business?"

"I hate housework, abhor it," admitted Ruth, dimpling prettily, "but
mother says we just have to get used to it, so we won't know we're doing
it. You would be surprised, Nancy, how easy it is to wash dishes and
dream of babbling brooks."

"Really!" That was Vera again. "I adore dishes, but I won't dream of
bobbling brooks, ever."

"Bobbling," repeated Ruth. "That's good, Vera. I suppose they bobble
more than they babble. But I guess you're not much of a dreamer, Vera,"
she finished, in a doubtful compliment.

Nancy was amused. Ruth was going to be "good fun" and Vera was already
proving a pretty good joke. Their acquaintance was surely promising, and
Nancy responded fittingly.

She had time to notice in detail each of these new friends. Ruth was
dimply and just fat enough to be happily plump. She also was
correspondingly sunny in her disposition. She wore her hair twisted into
three or four "Spring Maids" and it gave her the effect of short, curled
hair. Her summer dress was a simple blue ratine, and Nancy admired it
frankly.

Vera was affected in manner, in style, in dress and every way. Her hair
was so arranged Nancy couldn't be sure just how it was done, but it
looked like a model in a hairdresser's window. Also, she wore, bound
around it a Roman ribbon, with a wonderful assortment of rainbow colors.
Her costume was sport, with a very fancy jacket and a light silk and
wool plaid skirt. That she had plenty of money was rather too obviously
apparent, and Nancy wondered just how she and Ruth were connected.

They were inspecting the newly acquired little store.

"And you are the manager, the proprietor--"

"The clerk and the cashier," Nancy interrupted Ruth. "I've always loved
to play store, so now, mother says, she hopes I'll be satisfied. But
this is a very old-timey place. I don't see how the Townsends ever made
it pay."

"Miss Townsend is a queer old lady," replied Ruth. "I guess of late
years they didn't have to worry about making things pay in the store."

"Why Ruthie!" exclaimed Vera. "Don't you know every body says they went
bankrupt?"

"Oh, that," laughed Ruth. "I guess Mr. Townsend lent out his money and
couldn't get it back handy."

"But he and his sister had a perfectly desperate fight over it,"
insisted Vera, eyes wide with curious interest.

"Desperate," repeated Ruth, as if trying to give Nancy a cue to Vera's
queer vocabulary. "I can imagine their sort of desperate fight. Sister
Sarah would say to Brother Elmer: 'Elmer dear, you really can't mean a
thing like that,'" imitated Ruth, "and Brother Elmer would clasp and
unclasp his thin hands as he replied: 'I'm sorry, Sister Sarah, but it
looks that way.'"

Ruth and Nancy laughed merrily as the little sketch ended.

"That's about how desperate those two would fight," Ruth declared.

"Then why did they sell out?" demanded Vera. "Every body knows they lost
everything."

"We haven't actually bought the place," Nancy explained, "just have an
option on it. You see, we had to go to the country every summer, and
mother thought this might suit us. It is so convenient for her to
commute, and Ted and I can't get into a lot of mischief in a place like
this. So it seems, at least," she hastened to add.

"Well, if you let your brother go around with that queer old fellow we
saw him with today, he may get into mischief," intimated Vera,
mysteriously, with a wag of her bobbed head.

"Mr. Sanders? What's the matter with Mr. Sanders?" demanded Nancy,
rather sharply.

"Oh talk, talk, and gossip," Ruth interposed. "Just because he sees fit
to keep his business to himself--"

"You know perfectly well, Ruth, that is more than gossip," insisted
Vera.

"What is? What's the mystery?" again demanded Nancy, dropping her box of
lead pencils rather suddenly.

"Well," drawled Vera, getting up with a tantalizing deliberateness, "if
you were to see a person in front of you one minute and have him vanish
the next--"

A peal of laughter from Nancy broke in rudely upon Vera's recitation.

"All right," Vera added, in a hurt tone. "Don't believe me if you don't
want to, but just wait and see."

"Disappearing Dick?" chanted Nancy gaily. "Do you mean to say he's one
of those so-called miracle men?"

"Oh, no, nothing of the sort," protested Ruth. "But there is
something--different about him. A lot of people say he does disappear,
but of course, there's nothing uncanny about it. It's probably just
clever," Ruth tried to explain.

"Rather," drawled Vera.

And Nancy could not suppress an impolite but insistent chuckle.



                               CHAPTER V

                             ORIGINAL PLANS


During the next half hour the girls busied themselves playing store.
Ruth was almost as keenly interested in the little place as was Nancy,
herself, but it was noticeable that Vera was more curious. She poked
into the farthest corners, even opening obscure little cubby-holes that
Nancy had not yet discovered. All the while they talked about the
Townsends and the mysterious Mr. Sanders, declaring that something
around the Whatnot Shop held the clue to the Townsend disagreement, and
Mr. Sanders' mysterious power of disappearing.

"I think it's the funniest thing," ruminated Nancy, clapping the wrong
cover on the white thread box, "here we came away out here to be
peaceful, quiet and studious. Mother looked for a place just to keep Ted
and me busy, and then we run into a regular hornet's nest of rumors."

"Don't you know," replied Ruth, "that still waters run deepest?"

"But I didn't know we had to take on a whole Mother Goose set of fairy
tales with a little two cent shoe-string shop," protested Nancy. "Of
course it will serve me right if I get into an awful squall. My
rebellion against the long-loved house-work idea, is sure to get me into
some trouble, isn't it?"

"Who doesn't rebel secretly?" admitted Ruth. "Isn't it fairer to up and
say so than to be always hoping the dishpan will spring a leak, and
dish-towels will blow away?" Ruth was making rapid strides in gaining
Nancy's affection. She was so unaffected, so frank, and so sensible.

Vera wasn't saying much but she was poking a lot. Just now she was
fussing with some discarded and disabled toys. She held up a helpless
windmill.

"Imagine!" she said, simply.

"Well, what of it?" asked Ruth. "It was pretty--once!"

"Pretty! As if anyone around here would ever buy a thing like that."

"Let me see it," Nancy said. "I'm sure Ted would love 'a thing like
that.' He'd spend days tinkering with it." Nancy took the red and blue
tin toy and inspected it critically. As she wound a tiny key a little
bell tinkled.

"Lovel-lee!" cried Ruth. "That's a merry wind. Or is it a tinkle-ly
wind? Anyway it's cute. Save it for the small brother, Nancy. And I
think he's awfully cute. Here's something else for his camp," she
offered, handing Nancy over a red, white and blue popgun.

"Great!" declared Nancy. "Ted has been too busy to rummage yet, but he's
sure to be thrilled when he does go at it. Yes, I think Ted is cute, and
I hope the disappearing man won't cast a spell on him," she finished,
laughing at the idea, and meanwhile inspecting the toy windmill.

"You can joke," warned Vera, "but my grandmother insists that what
everyone says must be true, and everyone says Baldy Sanders is
freakish."

"Baldy," repeated Nancy gaily. "I noticed that. But he has enough of
eyes to make up for the lost hair. I never saw such merry twinkling
eyes."

"Really!" Vera commented. "I never notice men's eyes."

"Just their bald heads," teased Ruth. "Now Vera, if Mr. Sanders is a
professor, as some folks claim, and if he ever gets our class in
chemistry, I'm afraid you would just have to notice his merry, twinkling
eyes. Anyhow," and Ruth cocked up a faded little blue muslin pussy cat,
"he's merry, and that is in his favor. What are you doing with that
windmill, Nancy?"

"Inspecting it. It's a queer kind of windmill. Look at the cross pieces
on top and this tin cup."

All three girls gave their attention to the queer toy. It was, as Nancy
had said, different from the usual model. It had cross pieces on top
instead of on the side, and one piece was capped off with a metal cup.

"I'll save it for Ted," Nancy concluded. "But I hope it isn't dangerous.
It takes boys to find out the worst of everything. Just before we moved,
most of our furniture is in storage you know," she put in to explain the
scarcity of things at the country place, "Ted went up to the attic and
found an old wooden gun. It would shoot peas, and what those boys didn't
shoot peas at wasn't worth mentioning. I'll put the freak windmill away
for him, though. It looks quite harmless."

"Oh, I think it's just joyous to have a shop," exclaimed Ruth, "and if
you'll let me, Nancy, I'll come in and 'tend sometimes."

"I'd love to have you," replied Nancy earnestly. "I did expect my chum,
Bonny Davis, to visit me, but she's gone down to the shore first.
Bonny's lots of fun. I'm sure you'd like her if she does come," declared
Nancy, loyally.

"I like her name," Ruth answered. "What is it? Bonita?"

"No, it's really Charlotte, but she's so black we've always called her
Bonny from ebony, you know. Now Vera, what have you discovered?" broke
off Nancy, looking over to the comer in which Vera was plainly
interested. "Anything spooky?"

"Not spooky," replied Vera, "but I never saw such odd looking fishing
things. No wonder the Townsends went bankrupt. Here are boxes and boxes
of wires and weights, and I don't know what all. Oh, I'll tell you!" she
exclaimed, in a rare burst of enthusiasm. "Let's have a fishing sale?"

"And sell fish!" teased Ruth.

"No," objected Nancy, taking Vera's part. "I think a special sale of
fishing and sport supplies would be great. Let's see what we've got
toward it."

"It would draw the boys and that's something," joked Ruth. "But I'll
tell you what, Nancy, you had better be careful what you try to sell to
the young fishermen around here. They're pretty particular and rather
good at the sport. I like to fish myself."

"Oh, I'd love to," declared Nancy. "Where do you go?"

"Dyke's pond and sometimes the old mill creek," replied Ruth. "But we
only get sunnies there. There's perch in the pond, though."

This led to discussing the fishing prospects in brooks, ponds and other
waterways around Long Leigh, until it was being promptly decided that
Ruth and Vera should very soon introduce Nancy to the sport. The idea of
having a sale of the outfit at the shop was also entered upon
enthusiastically, until the afternoon was melting into shadows before
the girls realized it.

"But what ever you do," Ruth cautioned Nancy, "don't let any one induce
you to take the Whatnot out of the window. That's the sign of this old
shop that's known for miles and miles."

"I think a cute little windmill would be lots nicer," suggested Vera.
"That Whatnot is--atrocious."

"Windmill!" repeated Ruth. "But we don't sell windmills."

"Certainly not. Neither do we sell Whatnots," contended Vera.

"But we sell the things that are on the Whatnot," argued Ruth. "And
besides Whatnot stands for _What Not!_"

It was amusing Nancy to listen to their assumed partnership. They were
both talking about "_our_ shop" and insisting upon what "_we_ sell."
This established at once a comradeship among all three, and Nancy was
convinced that her own desire to go into business was not, after all,
very queer. Other girls, no doubt, shared it as well, but the difference
was--Nancy's mother. She was the "angel of the enterprise," as Nancy had
declared more than once.

"And I'll tell you," confided Vera, quite surprisingly, "if you'll let
me, I'll help you with your housework. I don't mind it a bit, and you
hate it so."

"Oh, that's just lovely of you, Vera," Nancy replied, while a sense of
fear seized her, "but I really must do some of it, you know. Even a good
store keeper should know how to cook a little," she pretended, vowing
that her house would be in some kind of order before Vera ever even got
a peek into the living rooms.

When they were finally gone Nancy stood alone in the little store, too
excited to decide at once which way to turn. She liked the girls,
especially Ruth, and even Vera had her interesting features. At least
she said odd things in an odd way, and her drawl was "delicious," Nancy
admitted. Of course she was gossipy. There was all that nonsense about
Mr. Sanders. As if any human being could really disappear. Ted would
just howl at the idea, Nancy knew, and if the man were really a
professor of some sort, that ought to make him interesting, she
reflected. At any rate, he was, the girls had said, a friend of the
Townsends, and Nancy would make it her business to ask Miss Townsend
about him the very next time she came into the store.

Her mind busy with such reflections, Nancy hooked the screen door, (the
shop was not yet supposed to be open for business) and turned toward the
upset kitchen.

"I've just got to do something with it," she promised, "before mother
comes. I wish Ted would hurry along home. Of course, he's a boy and boys
don't have to worry about kitchens."

Nevertheless, as Nancy dashed around she did make a real effort to
adjust the disordered room, for her pride was now prompting her.
Whatever would Vera Johns say to such a looking place? And was all this
fair to a mother so thoughtful and so good-natured as was Nancy's?

"I begin right here at this door," she decided, feeling she had to begin
at a definite spot, "and I just straighten out every single thing from
here to the back door."

Peach baskets idling with the odds and ends of packing, Ted's red
sweater, Nancy's blue one, Nancy's straw hat that she felt she must have
within reach and which therefore had been "parked" on the floor, safe,
however, under a big chair, and a paste-board box of books that she also
didn't want to lose track of, the portable phonograph cover, the
phonograph itself was reposing safely on the corner of the sink where
Ted had been trying a new record; all these and as many more
miscellaneous articles Nancy was briefly encountering in her general
clearing up plan "from one door to the other."

But she forged on, the old broom doing heroic duty as a plough cutting
through the débris. Finally, having gotten most of the stuff into a
corner, she undertook to scatter it in a way peculiar to one with
business, rather than domestic, instincts.

"I'll need the baskets, all of them, when I'm settling the store," she
promptly decided, "and I'll get Ted to put the box of books in there
too, so I can read while I'm waiting. Then the phonograph--That can go
in there just as well, it may draw customers." At this Nancy laughed,
but she picked up the little black box, it had been her birthday
present, and put it right on the small table under the old mantle in the
store. A phonograph in the store seemed attractive.

"I guess we'll find the store handy for lots of things," Nancy was
thinking, for the difference in the size of their old home, and the
limits of this new one, was not easy to adjust.

With a sort of flourish of the broom at the papers and bits of excelsior
that were still an eyesore about, Nancy at length managed to "make a
path," as she expressed it, through the kitchen.

"And I'll gather some flowers to greet mother with," she insisted.
"There's no reason why we shouldn't make a pretty room of a kitchen like
this, with one, two, three, good sized windows," she counted.

But the glorious bunch of early roses must have felt rather out of
place, trying to conserve their wondrous perfume from contamination with
the remains of a smudgy odor from burnt potatoes--which by-the-way, had
not yet come to light, not to say anything of the real fire smell of
burnt meat, that ran over from a pan-cake griddle into a seething gas
flame.

"Oh, those flowers!" exhaled the triumphant Nancy, pushing the dishpan
away so as not to bend the longest stalk, which was brushed against it.
"Won't mother just love it here?"

After all, is not the soul of the poet more valuable than the skill of a
prospective housewife?



                               CHAPTER VI

                               FAIR PLAY


Mrs. Brandon was such a mother as one might readily imagine would be the
parent of Nancy and Ted. In the first place she was young, so young as
to be mistaken often for Nancy's big sister. Then she was lively, a real
chum with her two children, but more important than these qualities,
perhaps, was her sense of tolerance.

Fair play, she called it, believing that the children would more surely
and more correctly learn from experience than from continuous preaching.
Perhaps this was due to her own experience. She had been a girl much
like Nancy. She had not inherited the so-called domestic instinct; no
more did Nancy. To that cause was ascribed Nancy's unusual disposition
toward business and her dislike for all kitchens.

"Those roses!" she breathed deeply over the scented mass Nancy had
gathered. "Aren't they just um-um? Wonderful?"

"I knew you would like them, mother," responded Nancy happily. "I'm
sorry we couldn't get things slicked up better today, but we were so
constantly interrupted."

"You will be, Nan dear. It is always just like that when business runs
into housework."

"Oh, but say, Mother," interrupted Ted. "It's just great here. There's
the best lot of boys. And we've got a camp, a regular brigand camp--"

"Look out for mischief, Teddy boy," replied his mother fondly. "I want
you both to have a fine time, but a little mischief goes a long ways
toward spoiling things, you know," she warned, earnestly.

"Oh, I know. I'll be careful. We won't have any real guns nor knives,
nor swords--"

"Ted Brandon! I should hope not!" cried Nancy. "Real guns and swords and
knives, indeed! If you go out playing with that sort of ruffian--"

"But they aren't. We don't have them. No real firearms at-all,"
protested Ted. "And the boys are nice fellows."

"But just imagine what I would do if you came in hurt. And mother away
and everything," reasoned Nancy foolishly, as if she enjoyed the
sensation. "It is not like it was when Anna was with us. Mother," Nancy
asked, "don't you really think we should have someone in Anna's place?"

"No, girlie, I don't," promptly replied the mother, who was just taking
from the gas oven a deliciously broiled steak. "While we had Anna you
never had a chance to find out all the simple things that you didn't
know. Anna was an ideal maid, but maids are not educators and none of us
can learn without being given a chance. Ted, please get the ice water.
And I would try, Nancy, to have every meal, no matter how simple it is,
served either on the side porch or in the dining room," counselled Mrs.
Brandon. "Nothing so demoralizes us as upset kitchen meals."

"Yes, mother, I know that," admitted Nancy, who, with her mother nearby
for inspection, was daintily arranging the salad. "As a matter of fact,
I lose things in the kitchen. Imagine losing the potatoes, pan and all!"

A hearty laugh followed the recalling of Nancy's and Ted's dinner
disaster. But even to that accident Mrs. Brandon insisted that her
daughter was one of the girls who must learn by experience, so there
were no long arguments given to point out her weakness.

"But Anna is coming back, isn't she?" Ted pleaded. A boy wants to be
sure of his meals in spite of all the educational processes necessary
for training obdurate sisters.

"Yes, dear. I expect she will be back to us in the autumn, and I'm sure
she will be benefited by her vacation," said Mrs. Brandon. "Anna does
not really have to work now. The salary and light expenses of maids soon
place them in a position to retire, you know," she pointed out
practically.

"And besides," chimed in Nancy, "it's lots of fun to live all alone for
the summer, at least. Why, if Anna were here she would be forever poking
in and out of the store, and really mother," Nancy's voice fell to a
very serious tone, "when I get things going, I intend to make _you_ take
a vacation. I'm going to make that store _pay_."

"That's lovely, girlie," replied the mother, "and I'm sure you and Ted
are going to be wonderful little helpers. Now, come eat dinner. You must
be ravenous. Here, Nancy, carry along the beans with the butter. Make
each hand do its share to help out each foot, you know," she teased.

"But I'm starved," declared Ted, making a rather risky dive for the
three dinner plates and hurrying into the little dining room with them.
"That ice cream was good while we were eating it, but it doesn't last
long, does it, Nan?"

This brought up the story of Mr. Sanders' treat, and as her children
related it, each outdoing the other in vivid description and volumes of
parentheses, Mrs. Brandon listened with but few interruptions. When the
story was told, however, she gave her version of the gossip concerning
the stranger.

"He is really a professor, I'm sure," she stated, "for Miss Townsend
told me that much. Of course professors can be as queer as other
folks--"

"Queer?" interrupted Ted, holding his plate out for another new potato.

"Yes, they are often odd," admitted his mother, smiling at the boy's
joke. "But then, too, we expect to depend upon their intelligence for
reasonable explanations."

"Mother, anyone would know you were a librarian, the way you talk," said
Nancy. "I suppose we act booky too, only we can't realize it ourselves.
Ted, your knife is playing toboggan--"

"I'm too starved to notice," said Ted. "Hope you won't lose the potatoes
and burn the meat again, Sis," he added, "I can't stand starvation."

"I didn't do it, _we_ did it," insisted Nancy. "I'm sure we were both
getting dinner--"

"But about Miss Townsend, dear," her mother forestalled their argument.
"Did she say she regretted agreeing to sell?"

"No, mother; that's the queer part of it all," Nancy replied. They were
now settled at their meal and could chat happily. "She acted so
mysterious about everything. And you should see her little dog, Tiny,
sniff around! Honestly, I thought he'd sniff his little stumpy nose off
at the fireplace. By the way, mother, can't we have the old stove moved
out into the back storeroom? We don't want it standing around all summer
waiting for a blizzard next Christmas, do we?"

"No. But I'm afraid we will have to put off that sort of work until my
vacation, Nancy. You must remember, dear, we have only agreed to let you
run the little store practically as it is, to sell out Miss Townsend's
stuff and to give you some experience."

"Oh, yes. I know," said Nancy a little ruefully. "But mother--" she
hesitated. Then began again, "Mother, I simply can't have the girls come
in and have things so upset, and I won't, positively won't have Miss
Townsend fussing around--"

"You can't be rude to her, Nan," the mother said rather decidedly. "And,
after all, there is nothing here she doesn't know about."

"Well, there seems to be," sighed Nancy, "or else what did she start
right in to search for? And the very first time she met me, too."

"Perhaps her brother lost some papers, or something like that,"
suggested Mrs. Brandon. "I _do_ know he is a little odd in his manner."

"But if it were only that she wouldn't need to act so mysteriously about
it, would she, mother?"

"And the dog," put in Ted. "He couldn't know about papers, could he?
Dogs are awfully wise, I know that much, and I'm going to get one--"

Paying no attention to Ted's last sentence, Nancy continued to deplore
Miss Townsend's threat of more visits to her shop.

"And the girls, that is Vera, said that she and her brother had a
quarrel about the place before they left," Nancy continued. "Vera is
talkative, but I could see myself that Miss Townsend was awfully unhappy
about something."

"Yes," snapped Ted, again allowing his fork to rest in the prohibited
sliding position from his plate, "and she's the one who talks about Mr.
Sanders, too. That girl Veera--"

"Vera, Ted. Just like very," said Nancy critically.

"Yeah," groaned Ted. "Just like scary, too. That's what she is, scary.
And the fellows say Mr. Sanders is a first-rate scout, a real scout.
They say he's even a scoutmaster--"

"Did they say anything about his habit of disappearing?" asked Nancy,
quizzically.

"Now, Nan. You know very well that isn't so. It couldn't be. How could
any one dis-sa-peer?" inquired Ted, emphatically.

"That wasn't the question, brother," insisted Nancy. "I just asked you
if the boys spoke of his reputation as Disappearing Dick?"

This was too much for Ted, and again his mother was forced to intervene.

"Anyway," the boy managed to interject, "if they did say something about
it they didn't say he was a spook, like your old Very-scary girl told
it."

"Ted Brandon! Nothing about spooks! We never even mentioned them, that I
remember. But they said that Mr. Sanders lived somewhere around here but
no one knew where, that he went right up the hill to the stone house and
never went in the house nor in the barn nor anyplace but just
disappeared," rattled off Nancy.

"Why daughter!" protested Mrs. Brandon, "how perfectly absurd. I'm
surprised that you should listen to such truck."

"But of course I don't believe it, Mother, it's just funny, that's all,"
explained Nancy, who had begun to carry the dishes to the kitchen quite
as if she just loved to do it.

According to their new schedule, both Ted and Nancy were expected to do
their part in the clearing of the table, and washing the dishes, and as
this was a beautiful summer evening, the children "fell to" very
promptly.

"It's too lovely to stay inside," remarked Nancy. "You'll come out with
us, won't you Mother? There's heaps of things you haven't yet had a
chance to see around here," she pleaded.

"But we really must get things in order," declared the mother. "You and
Ted hurry along with your work--Ted will dry and you wash tonight,
Nancy, and meanwhile I'll sort of dig in--"

"Mother! You can't. You have just got to have your evenings free,"
protested Nancy. "You need lots of fresh air out here--"

"I know, dear, but after all we are just ordinary mortals and we must
live as such. That means--civilization, around here," laughed Mrs.
Brandon, who was already "digging in."

"I'll put these pans away first." She paused. "Whatever is this? I do
declare, children, here are your lost potatoes, packed away in among the
empty pans. Now, who could have done that?"

"Ted did," replied Nancy. "He was sorting the tins. But Mother," she
said, in a grieved tone, "I know I did waste a lot of time today."

Nancy was carrying out a tray but she had stopped abruptly. No
punishment could be greater to her than the loss of a summer evening out
of doors, except it was her mother's loss of that self-same evening.

"I'm so sorry," she sighed. "I know I did idle my time today, Mother
dear, but I can't bear to have you--pay for it."

"Nonsense, dear, I don't mind. Really the exercise will do me good,"
insisted Mrs. Brandon. "Just attend to the dishes and you won't know
these quarters presently. I'm glad we found the potatoes," she said, but
Nancy was now too serious to joke.

A call from the side porch checked their argument. It was Ruth calling
to Nancy.

"Come along!" she shrilled through the screen door. "There's going to be
a band concert--"

"Oh, I can't, Ruth," Nancy called back. "I must do--"

"You _must_ go, dear," interrupted her mother.

At this Ruth came in to wait. Ted was already off--he did not need to be
coaxed to give up his task, and when dishes were not being washed surely
they could not be dried.

But Nancy felt guilty. In fact the band concert, novelty though it was,
with firemen and a baseball team making up the "scrambled" programme,
was not loud enough to still the voice of regret.

"I can't bear to think of mother doing, now on this beautiful evening,
what I should have done today," she confided to Ruth, as they waited
between numbers.

"I'll help you tomorrow," offered Ruth kindly. "And I won't bring Vera.
She's rather critical--"

"I'll be up at daybreak," resolved Nancy, really determined now to get
the little country home in order.

A band concert in Long Leigh was plainly an important event, and the
numbers of persons crowding about the band-stand on the village green
attested hearty appreciation for the musical efforts. The firemen,
however, seemed to draw out the heaviest applause, but that was because
old Jake Jacobs, the best piccolo player around, had been training them.
Still, there was Pete Van Riper, the drummer on the baseball side of the
platform. He certainly could drum, and the small boys around kept
calling to him in baseball parlance such encouragements as "Make it a
homer, Pete! Hug the mat! Hit her hard!" and such outfield coaching.

Ruth had met a number of her friends and some she introduced to Nancy,
but the concert was spoiled for Nancy. She could see and actually feel
her mother working in that little country place to which she had come,
just to give Ted and Nancy a happy vacation.

When her worry was becoming so keen that she felt she must ask Ruth to
go home with her, there pushed into the crowd an old man in a
broad-brimmed straw hat, although the sun was well out of all mischief.

"Look!" whispered Ruth. "There's Mr. Townsend! And that's Mr.
Sanders--with him!"

Just then the two men stepped over to the little mound where the girls
were. They did not see the girls, but Mr. Sanders drew Mr. Townsend to a
sudden stop in a space directly in front of Nancy and Ruth.

"I tell you, Sanders," Mr. Townsend said, in a voice not at all suitable
for his surroundings, "the whole town is talkin'. They say all kinds of
things and you had better out with the whole thing."

Mr. Sanders laughed as if he enjoyed the joke.

"Keep cool, keep cool, friend," he said.

But Mr. Townsend was by no means keeping cool, and he said so, sharply.

"And I've left my home, got my sister on her ear, made a poor man's name
for myself--"

Mr. Sanders grasped his arm with a sudden movement, perfectly evident to
the astounded girls.

"When you are tired of your bargain, Elmer Townsend," he said, "just let
me know."



                              CHAPTER VII

                            THE SPECIAL SALE


They had worked like slaves, according to Nancy, while Ted insisted he
was too tired even to eat.

"But it's going to be a grand success," promised Ruth. "I can hardly
wait until morning for the doors to open."

"Sale now going on!" chanted Isabel, a friend of Ruth's, who had come in
to help. "Ladies and gentlemen! Step this way for your fish lines!" she
called out, testing the possibilities of the next day's special sale.
"Here's where you get your fish-hooks that never slip, and your tackle
that always tacks, and as for sinkers--"

"You'll sink, first shot," Ruth interrupted, from her perch on the
stepladder, where she was waving a Japanese lantern as if that flimsy
article had anything to do with fishing tackle.

"Oh say! Look here! Who took my best reel?" cried Ted. "I want that for
myself. It was in a dollar box--"

"Then it's got to be sold," called back Nancy. She was sitting on the
counter counting fish lines, a dozen to each box.

"Sold nothing!" retorted Ted. "I'd like to know why I can't have the
best--"

"You can, Teddy dear," Ruth told him. "You have been a perfect lamb to
help us all afternoon, and I never did see two legs do more trotting
than yours have done since Nancy locked the front doors and put us all
to work like prisoners. You may certainly have the reel, and there's a
wonderful pole back of the empty cigar boxes--there on that first shelf.
See it? It's in a gray case--"

"Ruth Ashley! Whose store is this?" Nancy pretended to be very severe
but her jolly little laugh filtered through the words in giggles and
titters. "If you are going to give things away, why not start in with
the perishables? There's a basket of apples, Ted himself bought out of
the general fund, and unless they can be sold as bait, I don't see what
we're going to do with them." She had counted out all the fish lines and
was resting against the old-time candy glass case, now neatly filled
with post cards and stationery supplies.

They had had a merry time getting the Whatnot Shop ready for the first
special sale, and girl-like, had expended a lot of energy upon pretty
effects in the arrangements of articles. Mrs. Brandon "chipped in" as
Ted expressed it, and Nancy was able to supplement her stock
considerably. She had also made a very attractive poster for the big
front window, in fact, it was so attractive that Ruth put another sign
right alongside of it which stated:

                    This poster, handmade, for sale
                              Price $2.00

"We always sell our charity posters," she insisted, "and they are never
as pretty as this. Just look at that fish. What is he, Nancy? A cat-fish
or a pickerel?"

"I'm totally ignorant of the varieties," replied Nancy grandly. "But I
like the flecks on his back so I made him up flecked."

"The fellows will be here awfully early," Ted warned the girls, "so you
better be ready to sell, quick as the door's opened."

"We'll be here," sang out Ruth. "And Ted, be sure to tell them this is a
strictly cash sale. No charging and no refunds. If you buy a fish pole
and find it's a curtain rod you've got to go fishing with the curtain
rod. Nancy, here's those fancy little colored bags to fool the poor fish
with. Where do you want them put? Some place very safe, for they're
easily broken, you know," Ruth cautioned.

"Right here in the show case," Nancy directed. "They're too cute to be
stuck away on a shelf. Ted, you better run off and have some fun. I
don't want mother to think we've been stunting your growth. You know how
particular she is about exercise."

"Exercise!" repeated Isabel. "As if the poor child hasn't been
stretching every muscle to its utmost all afternoon. Take my advice,
Ted, and lie down. I'll make an ice bag out of an old bathing cap--"

But Ted was not waiting to hear Isabel's kind, if foolish, offer. His
merry shout as he rounded the corner, however, spoke decidedly against
ice bags as well as couches.

"Let's quit," suggested Nancy. "Honestly girls, I thought housework was
tedious, but I can't see much difference. I believe I'll be winding fish
lines all night, I've got them tangled in my brain."

"Then you're the one for the ice bags," pronounced Isabel. "I love to
make them and I love to put them on pretty heads. Here Ruth, let's put
her on the couch. I think she looks a bit feverish."

Kicking and protesting Nancy was forced to get down from "her perch,"
and stretch out on the little leather couch in a favorite corner of the
sun porch. Then, while Ruth literally held her there, Isabel cracked
ice, put it in a green rubber bathing cap, that leaked like a sieve,
tied it up most imperfectly, and presently clapped it on Nancy's head.

"Oh, please! It's leaking! I'm all wet. Isabel, you're freezing my--my
thinker!" yelled Nancy, as she struggled to free herself from her
playful companions.

"That's the idea," replied Isabel. "We've got to freeze your thinker to
make you forget your fish lines. Here now, dearie," she mocked "lie
perfectly still--"

"You're spoiling my pretty new gown," yelled Nancy, referring to the
oldest and most faded gown she could find that morning, in preparation
for the extra work.

But Isabel held the bag in the general direction of Nancy's forehead,
while little icy cold streams tinkled down her neck and into her ears.
Ruth served as body guard, and almost kept Nancy on the couch, her feet,
arms, and other "loose ends" hanging over untidily.

The store bell was jerked suddenly and violently.

"Oh me, oh my!" groaned Nancy, jumping up so as to smash the ice bag to
the floor, cut its string loose and send the remaining chunks of ice
flying. "I can't go. Ruth, will you--"

"Love to," chanted Ruth, starting off promptly.

"Look at the puddle," bewailed Isabel, but Nancy interrupted her.

"No one, simply no one can come in to-day. Do run out, Belle and
restrain Ruth. Just listen to her sweetest tones--"

Isabel went. She liked to "'tend store" and each possible customer
represented to her, as well as to Ruth, a possible adventure.

"No, I'm not the proprietor," Nancy heard Ruth saying.

"No, she really can't see you," was Isabel's contribution.

A man's voice, full, rich, persuasive, was speaking in so low a tone
that his words did not convey meaning to the listening Nancy.

She listened! She crept nearer, and finally realizing that both Ruth and
Isabel were not being able to dismiss the stranger, she attempted to
right her rumpled self, to pat the unruly hair into place, and not
knowing that her forehead looked like a beefsteak from the ice freeze,
she sauntered out into the store.

"This is Miss Brandon," announced Ruth as she entered. "She is the
proprietor."

Nancy found herself in the presence of a very important looking young
man. His Panama hat was on the counter, his suitcase was on the floor,
and he stood in the most attentive, courteous attitude, bowing as if she
were meeting him in a reception room.

"I've heard of your store, Miss Brandon," he said. "In fact, its fame
has travelled far and wide, and I'm here representing a Boston firm of
sporting goods. I would like you to see--"

"Really," faltered Nancy, "this is only sort of a play store. We are
doing it for a vacation experience."

"Exactly the thing," insisted the young man, who was not polite to the
point of affectation but simply polite as a gentleman. "I know this
territory pretty well, and you will possibly be surprised at the class
of customers who will, doubtless, seek you out. The motor people come
along here from Gretna Lake. There's good fishing on that lake, and
fishing supplies have a way of giving out suddenly when the
inexperienced handle them. If you will let me--" he was tackling the
suitcase.

"But you see," protested Nancy, much embarrassed, "I really have no
authority to--buy. Mother is not here--"

"You assume no obligation," insisted the man. "As this is your store we
are glad, in fact anxious, to leave you a sample line. If you sell them
you make a very fair commission, if you do not I pick them up and try
something else on my next trip."

He opened the case, and presently was displaying a bewildering line of
such fishing tackle and general sport supplies as Nancy had never
dreamed of. Ruth and Isabel were fascinated. They suggested, in spite of
their better judgment, that Nancy stock up with the pretty little trout
flies, the feathery kind tied to fish hooks. Then Ruth thought they
ought to have at least one box of the dry flies, the sort that floats
without the hook, and before they knew it the salesman had deposited
upon the counter, goods worth so much money, that Nancy could only gasp
at the transaction.

"But I haven't any place--"

"This little case, if I may suggest," said the salesman, "is admirably
suited. You could move your cards to the far end, couldn't you?"

"Oh, yes," chimed in Ruth, "and Nancy, just see the lovely window card!"
She was holding up a big folder that had been neatly packed in, folded
in sections, within the suitcase. "Why, it will be wonderful to have
such goods, and I'm sure the summer folks from Breakneck Hill will just
buy us out as soon as they hear we have such splendid stuff."

"I think you are right," replied the salesman. "But as you seem
doubtful, Miss Brandon, I'll return later and talk with your mother, if
you wish."

Nancy considered quickly. Her mother should not be annoyed with such
details; also, the special sale was to be a matter left entirely with
the girls and Ted. He was claiming and entitled to a share in certain
articles. So she answered:

"I don't think that will be necessary. Mother won't object, I guess, if
I don't have to sign anything--"

"Nothing whatever," she was assured.

"But how did you find out about us?" asked Isabel. "This is such a tiny
store and it is on the back road, really."

"The tiny store on the back road with the quaint name Whatnot Shop is
more attractive than a big public place," replied the salesman. He had
handed Nancy his card and she saw that his name was W. S. Webster. "As a
matter of fact, one of our firm was passing here in his car, and he left
me the memorandum. But I've heard of the special sale of fishing tackle
out on the Long Leigh road from perhaps a half dozen persons."

The girls gasped, simultaneously. They were overwhelmed. If their fame
had thus travelled afar, what would the day of the sale bring them?

"Very well," stammered Nancy, trying once again to keep her wet dress
out from her neck while she worried over the effect of that besprinkled
garment. "I'll be glad to do what I can with the goods, but really, I
had no idea of going in for such, such important articles."

"If you will let me say so," remarked Mr. Webster in a gentlemanly way,
"I think you girls have the right idea. So many putter around with art
stuff these days, that they don't realize the big chances they are
missing in business. Some of America's brainiest women are heads of our
wholesale firms, and they make more money than movie queens," he
finished pleasantly.

When he was finally gone and the door well bolted this time, the three
girls joined hands and danced around like a kindergarten class.

"Me for the movie queen!" sang out Isabel. "You, Nance and Ruthie, can
sell fish hooks. Just watch this pose and see if I couldn't pass in a
beauty contest--"

There was a racket, a very noisy one, at the side door.

"It's Ted!" exclaimed Nancy, apprehensively.

"And he's got a crowd with him."

"They can't come in," Nancy declared. "We are not going to show goods or
take any advance orders."

"Oh me, oh my!" cried Ruth. "No wonder the fine looking drummer said
that the brainiest girls in America were in business."

"He didn't," contradicted Nancy. "He said women."

"Very well, Nancy. Just you wait. Go sit down on a big stump in the
woods and wait. By and by you'll be a woman."

Then, in spite of all their eloquence, in marched Ted heading a parade
of the "fellers." And what could Nancy do but show them the
arrangements.



                              CHAPTER VIII

                        FISH HOOKS AND FLOATERS


"Mother! Are you awake?"

"Yes, dear."

"There's someone knocking--"

"I'm getting up."

The knocking continued.

"Hey there, Nan!" called out Ted. "Get up and answer that noise. See
what your old sale did! Wake us all up--"

"Ted, hush! Be quiet, Mother's going down--"

"You ought to go. It's your bargain day."

As usual Ted was charging Nancy with delinquency. He wasn't really
quarreling, but just talking, as Nancy defined it. Mrs. Brandon had been
dressing when the early knock first sounded, so that she was able to get
down stairs almost directly afterward.

A dread, a sort of feeling that something might happen in regard to that
expensive outlay of goods left by the travelling salesman, seized Nancy.
She crept to the top of the stairs to listen, but all she could hear was
a man's voice; his words were lost behind the closed doors.

She ventured down to the second landing. Her mother was chatting
pleasantly with whoever the early visitor might be, and at the sound
Nancy's spirits rose.

"He's no collector," she decided, turning quickly back to her room and
starting at once to dress. She must be ready early. All signs pointed to
an early patronage, and although Ted had declared he would be up at
daybreak, it was all right, Nancy concluded, for him to sleep until
seven o'clock.

Her mother was calling in a subdued voice.

"Nancy, I'll get breakfast now, as I hear you stirring," she said. "I
want to leave things ready for your lunch today, so I came down early."

"All right, Mother," Nancy replied over the balustrade. "I'll be down
soon. Who called?"

"Is Ted awake?" Mrs. Brandon was still restraining her voice.

"He was, but he isn't," half whispered Nancy. "Wait, I'll run down and
help, then come up and dress later--"

Curiosity was too much for Nancy's patience, so she merely tucked her
hair tidily into a cap, and in slippers and robe joined her mother who
was preparing breakfast.

"Who was it?" she asked breathlessly.

"Why, your famous Mr. Sanders," replied Mrs. Brandon, indifferently. "He
wanted a little model of some sort, a windmill, it looked like. I
happened to spy it--"

"The funny little windmill!" Nancy exclaimed. "Why, we were wondering
what that was. Did he say it was a model?"

"Not exactly, but I judged it was. At any rate, dear, you mustn't always
be looking for mystery in Mr. Sanders' doings. I would call him a very
pleasant gentleman. Here, dear, stir this cereal. I want you and Ted to
make sure you get enough proper food."

Nancy stirred the meal, which was receiving a preliminary start before
being put over the hot water in the double-cooker.

"But you see, Mum," she remarked very quietly, "he is queer. Whatever
could he want a thing like that for? And why did he come for it so
early?" Nancy asked.

"He wanted it because it has something to do with his line, is the way
he expressed it, and he came early because he has been away and just
heard of your sale. If he waited later, he explained, the little
windmill might have been swept away in the tumult," Mrs. Brandon
replied. This seemed to satisfy Nancy's inquiries, but secretly Mrs.
Brandon herself was just a little puzzled about Mr. Sanders. For
instance, it had been very clear to her that he just laughed off, rather
than explained, the purpose of the possible model. Something "in his
line," which he had forgotten to take away when the Townsends moved,
seemed vague, to say the least.

Nancy was now eating her breakfast with her mother. She confessed to
having waked more than once during the night, in anticipation of the big
day.

"And I'm going to send you a little surprise treat for lunch," her
mother confided. "I want you and the girls to enjoy yourselves in spite
of your self-imposed business tasks, so I'm sending out some--ice
cream!"

"Oh, Mumsey--love!" exclaimed Nancy, jumping up and in giving her mother
a bear hug almost spilling the last spoonful of grape fruit. "Aren't you
too ducky! We'll have a regular party, and I'll ask--How many have you
ordered for?" she demanded abruptly.

"Two quart bricks. That's counted twelve servings," replied her mother.
"Of course, one brick is for Ted, and you must help him a little."

"Of course, Mumsey-love," promised Nancy. "We'll get every body out and
close up shop from one until two, and have a regular party!"

From that time until Nancy was almost, but not quite, ready "for the
fray," as she expressed it, she kept herself in a flutter of excitement.
Her mother went into town as usual on the seven forty-five trolley, and
even then there was a waiting list at the front door of the shop,
children peering in the two broad windows which looked out onto the
old-fashioned long porch.

"Come on, Ted, hurry-up," begged Nancy as her brother tarried over his
breakfast. "The girls won't be here until eight, and you've got to go
outside and try to keep those boys quiet. They'll be coming through the
window if you don't."

"Oh, that's Buster, making all that racket," declared Ted, getting
another look at the paper which he was not supposed to read at the
table. "I'll go out and talk to them, in a minute," he promised
laconically.

"Please do, then," begged his sister. "You take it as easy as if we
didn't have a big responsibility."

"What responsibility?" he asked, actually deciding to move his plump
little self from the table. "I can't see what you're all so excited
about."

"Of course you can't. But I'll tell you. Everybody, for miles and miles,
knows about this sale, and we've got to get busy." Nancy was peering
anxiously out of the side window. "I do hope," she said again, "that the
girls will get here soon."

"Is that Very-scary girl coming?" asked Ted. He was trying to set his
blouse straight around his sun-burned neck.

"You mean Vera. She's gone away for a while--"

"I hope she stays away," snapped Ted. "I can't seem to like her--"

"I'm sure that's too bad," mocked Nancy. "She would feel dreadfully bad
to hear that."

"Oh, don't be funny. Listen! They're hammering on the door. You had
better open it or they'll break the glass," cautioned the boy.

"Dear me, Ted," exclaimed the excited Nancy, "I can't go; perhaps you
had better open it. Why didn't you fix up a little," she argued, looking
critically at the usual vacation boy. "You might at least have put on a
white blouse."

"To sell fish hooks?" roared Ted. "That's a grand idea. Why, Nan, the
fellows would think I was giving a party--"

The noise at the front of the store was now becoming so insistent that
both brother and sister found it imperative to respond.

"Come on," said Nancy, sighing rather miserably. "We may as well face
it. But don't let them back of the rope. We can't wait on more than a
few at a time."

At that Nancy and Ted entered the store.

"Look--at--them!" gasped Ted.

Faces were pressed against the windows, the door, against every inch of
outside space that could command a view of inside the store, and they
looked so funny, the flat noses, the white spots on cheeks, the opened
mouths, humping against the glass!

"Hello! Hello!" shouted Ted as Nancy fumbled with the door lock. "What
do you think this is? A circus?"

Then, as Nancy opened the door, there was the unavoidable falling in!

"Please!" she begged. But the boys seemed actually massed as for some
game.

"Hey there!" urged Ted. "Whoever doesn't behave can't get waited on
a-tall!"

But his words had no effect upon the eager urchins.

"I want that rod over there!" shouted Rory Jennings. He was tall, big
and noisy.

"That's mine--that beaut in the window," insisted another. Ted called
him Shedder, or something that sounded like that.

"Hey, please, missus please," begged a lad so freckled Nancy couldn't
see anything else but freckles. "Please missus," he entreated, "couldn't
you just hand me over that crab net? That's all I want."

"Hey there! Stop crowdin'," ordered a boy who was using all his strength
to make matters worse. "She can't wait on us if you don't give her a
chanst."

There were easily twenty-five or thirty youngsters in the crowd, and
Nancy felt quite helpless to supply all their wants at once. The fact
that goods were offered at the very lowest figure possible, that a
twenty-five cent ball of fish line was marked ten cents, of course,
accounted for the rush. Many boys could get hold of a dime, but a
quarter was not so easy to pick up, it seemed.

Then, too, the advertising, one boy telling the other, had done much to
make the sale known; hence the early morning rush.

"Now don't muss everything up!" ordered Ted, for a group of boys had
laid hold of the fish-hook box, and it was impossible for Nancy to get
it back.

"You must not take things away from the counter," she protested, for at
that moment the box of sinkers was being carted off to the door, by Jud
Morgan and Than Beach. They said they only wanted to pick out a couple
where there was more room, but it was plainly a risky way to make their
selection.

"Dear me!" sighed Nancy to Ted. "Please look out and see if the girls
are coming. These boys will have everything upset--"

But the girls were coming, in fact they were just then elbowing their
way in from the front door.

"Hello--hello--hello!" called out Ruth joyfully. "Isn't this grand!
Going to buy us out first thing--"

"Oh, land sakes!" wailed Nancy. "I've been in here fifteen minutes and I
haven't sold a stick. We should have charged admission."

Isabel looked on rather importantly. Evidently she knew or thought she
knew how to handle a crowd of boys.

"You've got to get in line!" she announced.

A laugh, a whole series of laughs was her answer.

"Do you hear me?" she insisted, raising her voice to suit the occasion.

"Sure, we hear you. Want us to clap?" answered impudent Sammy Larkins.

"Now see here," Ruth attempted to order. "If you boys really want to buy
anything you have got to stand back and take turns--"

No sooner had that order been given than everybody made a dash for the
first place in line, and the tumult that followed all but drove Nancy
under the counter.

"Say, look here! Want us to put you all out?" demanded Ted, in unassumed
indignation.

"Try it!" tempted Buster, pretending to roll up sleeves he didn't have.

"But don't you want to see the things?" cried out Ruth in desperation,
for those boys were tumbling around the floor and actually fighting, at
least they made that kind of noise, it seemed to the girls.

"Su-ure!" came a chorus.

Then Nancy had an inspiration. She got up on the high stool that stood
by what used to be Miss Townsend's desk and she immediately commanded
attention.

"I'll tell you," she began, "if you all sit down on the floor just where
you are, the window sills or any place, I'll tell you about some of the
most interesting things we've got here. They are not for sale, but they
belonged to a sea captain--"

The magic word had the desired effect. At the word "sea captain" that
crowd of boys, dropped "in their traces," and it was then Nancy's duty
to unfold to them some wondrous tale.

For boys like a story--when it's about a sea captain even if they are
out to buy bargain fishing tackle.



                               CHAPTER IX

                              THE BIG DAY


As Ted said afterwards: "It was some story!"

Nancy stood there on the stool, dangling an old rusty knife which she
had just spied among the box of unclassified articles, and she told
those boys a yarn, a regular old salt-yarn, which she frankly admitted
was pure fiction.

But how they listened! As Ruth expressed it: "How _hard_ they listened!"

No more jostling, nor pushing nor underhand squabbling. Every boy among
them wanted to hear all that story, and consequently he was taking no
chances on missing any of it.

"And when the old sea captain looked into the poor half-frozen face of
that baby he had picked up, lashed to an icy--an icy plank," Nancy
trilled, becoming so interested in her subject she almost forgot the
make up of it, "then he remembered," she went on, "the big Newfoundland
dog, Jack, who had fallen back into the sea exhausted from his long
swim."

She stopped. The boys said "Gosh," and "Gee Whiz." Buster said "Jingo!"
and there were probably many other subdued and impulsive exclamations of
the crisp boyish variety.

One little fellow who was sniffing audibly, piped up a question over
Than's shoulder.

"Say miss," he said. "Say Miss--Nancy," he corrected himself, "could a
feller buy that there knife?"

"Why," flushed Nancy, "the knife hasn't anything to do with the story--"

"Naw!" came a chorus. "'Course not!"

"It was a corkin' good story," applauded Nort Duncan, clapping grimy
hands.

"But you said the ole captain cut the ropes with a rusty knife--" the
little fellow insisted.

"Now look here, boys," called out Ruth suddenly. "You are all settled
down, nice, quiet and orderly. Suppose we begin to see what you want to
buy. There are three of us to serve you, and if we divide you up in
three groups, I'm sure we can give every single one of you the biggest
bargain you ever got in fishing tackle."

After that, something like order prevailed, for most boys are not devoid
of a sense of honor, not by any means, and surely after Nancy's story
they owed her attention and politeness.

Ted helped. He was able to hand out the poles and took pride in doing
so. They were, most of them, nice shiny, new bamboo canes, and it didn't
matter how long it took him to please a customer. In one hour, however,
he had sold ten at fifty cents, five at seventy-five cents and two at a
dollar each. Ted was delighted, and secretly agreed with Nancy that
"business was the thing."

Meanwhile the girls were busy, and happy. Ruth had taken charge of the
sinkers and hooks. Isabel was having a fine time with the crab nets and
fancy reels, the nickel kind with the stem winders, while Nancy acted as
general supervisor and director of the entire stock.

Things were going merrily and few disagreements marred the proceedings
(not to count the scooping up of fellows' caps in trying out crab nets,
or the occasional protest from someone who would resent being poked with
new fish poles), when there appeared at the door a very pleasant
looking, in fact a very "good-looking" young girl.

"That's Sanders' girl," said a boy into Nancy's ear. "You know the
feller that--disappears," he hurried to explain.

Nancy had neither time nor opportunity to ask questions so she turned to
meet the very blue eyes of the young girl in question.

"Don't let me interrupt you," said the stranger. "I can wait," and she
stepped aside to let Tom Preston get change from a precious one dollar
bill.

Nancy noticed that the young lady had all the known signs of college
life. She wore a worsted tam o' shanter (in summer), she also wore a
sweater to match, with a tan golf skirt and--heavy stockings, ending in
good, strong, walking Oxfords. If these signs were not collegian,
thought Nancy, then the girl must be an actress which she obviously was
not.

But she had so much personality, that was it, Nancy promptly decided
while still counting out change for eager boys. Also, Nancy reasoned,
she had such pronounced individuality, that one did not observe
separately her brown hair, her blue eyes and her lustrous, fine healthy
skin. She just looked perfect, at least to Nancy, who always loved the
athletic type.

"Sanders' girl!" Nancy was thinking. She didn't know he had a daughter,
but the girl looked like him, especially around her firm, determined
mouth.

Ruth left her boys and was now offering to wait on Miss Sanders.

"I'm Sibyl Sanders, you know," she told Ruth, "and I just dropped in to
see if I couldn't pick up something for dad."

"We're having quite a sale," replied Ruth pleasantly. "When things thin
out a little I should like to introduce you to Nancy Brandon. This is
her idea of a vacation," Ruth added quizzically.

"Isn't it splendid?" replied Sibyl, brightening with enthusiasm. "I just
ran up to Long Leigh to see dad. He insists upon spending a lot of time
up here," she continued, "and I feel I must look after him a little. I
wonder if you have any pieces of wire or light springs, around? He has
use for that sort of material."

"Wire, springs!" Nancy heard the request and a joke, that the
disappearing man might slide away on wires and springs, flashed
humorously through her mind. But again she found no chance even to
whisper the joke to Isabel, for there were still boys demanding change.

In the course of an hour, however, the youngsters were all "cleared
out." Their wants had been supplied, and the girls, with Sibyl, were
chatting away about the first results of the sale.

"If they don't go trying things out and then want us to change them,"
worried Nancy. "I told them positively we would exchange just absolutely
not--a--thing," she declared, most emphatically.

"Let's see how much we took in," suggested Isabel. "I had no idea that a
lot of small money could be so fascinating."

"Indeed it is," Sibyl rejoined. "I've had experience at college sales,
and it always seemed to me the peanut money was the most interesting to
handle."

This brought on some talk of her college, for just as Nancy had guessed,
she was a college girl. Finally, when the receipts were all counted and
it was found that the boys, they who came in the first squad, had
actually bought seventeen dollars worth of goods.

"It doesn't seem possible!" Ruth exclaimed, "and just look at the
bushels of pennies!"

"And we had better prepare for the next arrivals," suggested Isabel.
"The lake folks will be along presently on their morning drives."

"And the early golfers returning from the links," added Ruth. "Guess we
better tidy things up a little. Those boys certainly can upset a place."

Isabel had found a roll of picture wire and three small screen door
springs. These Sibyl bought without giving the slightest hint of the
possible use her father was apt to put them to. Neither Isabel nor Ruth,
however, paid as much attention to the odd purchase as did Nancy.

"I do wonder," Nancy remarked as Isabel tied up the goods for Sibyl,
"what has become of Miss Townsend?"

"Oh, haven't you heard?" exclaimed Sibyl. "She's been quite ill."

"No, I hadn't," said Nancy, considerately. "I'm so sorry. What has been
the trouble?"

"Worry, chiefly, I guess," and a sort of sigh seemed to accompany
Sibyl's words. "It was too bad she had such a dispute with her brother,"
she continued, "and yet, they really didn't seem to dispute, just to
disagree, but they have both such old-fashioned, gentle natures that
they consider it disgraceful to dissent from the views of loved ones.
Oh, well!" this time the sigh was unmistakable, "I suppose even the most
gentle can hardly expect to go through life without differences. I only
hope they do not hold my daddy in any way responsible," she said
seriously.

"Why, how could they?" faltered Nancy, in honest bewilderment.

"Oh, of course they couldn't," replied Sibyl hastily, as if regretting
her remark. "But you see, daddy and the old gentleman have been such
close friends that Miss Townsend might fancy daddy influenced her
brother. But I must be running along," she added a little hurriedly.
"I'm so glad to have met you, Nancy, and I hope your sale will be a
tremendous success."

"It surely will be," chimed in Ruth, while Isabel and Nancy joined in
the good-byes.

"Hasn't she wonderful eyes!" was Nancy's first remark following Sibyl's
departure.

"I got the surprise of my life," declared Ruth, "when I saw Sibyl
Sanders saunter in. There, that sounds like a new song, doesn't it? But
you know, girls, she is almost as mysterious as her dad, the way she
comes and goes--"

"But doesn't anyone up and ask them where they live?" asked Nancy in
evident astonishment.

"Never get a chance," chimed in Isabel. "If we were to go out now and
follow her up the hill, I'll venture to say we would get a good sample
of the disappearing stunt--"

"But we haven't time, dears," chirped Nancy. "Look! Here come three
autos. Now, ladies, step lively," and the way they stepped was lively
enough to be called trotting.

"Yes, sure enough," Ruth agreed, "they _are_ coming here, and they're
here!"



                               CHAPTER X

                            STILL THEY CAME


Before the girls could pull their faces straight a young man dashed up
the steps and was in the store.

"Well, this is great!" he declared heartily. "I see by your window card
you carry Mackinaw's goods and I haven't been able to get them nearer
than the city." He was addressing all three who stood together back of
the counter like a trio in a comedy. The young man looked critically at
the show goods in the show counter--the supply left by the travelling
salesman.

"Here they are, sure enough!" he exclaimed. "Just give me a half dozen
of those plugs, and of those dry flies, and a dozen of those bobbers--"

Nancy set out the boxes and the customer helped himself. He knew exactly
what he wanted, and the girls marvelled at his quick selection of the
fancy colored artificial minnows, the little feather flies, used to
decoy the poor fish, and the bobbers, of which article Nancy had as
pretty a selection as might have been in a really large shop.

"You don't know what an accommodation this is," went on the young man,
putting down a twenty dollar bill to pay for his purchases. "No, don't
bother to put paper on the boxes," he objected, as all three attempted
to wrap the goods. "I'll put them right in the car. You see, I'm at the
fishing club over on the lake, and when we want supplies there we _want_
them instantly," he concluded.

And he was gone before the surprised clerks had time to realize that the
sale had almost cleared out all the fancy tackle, and there were coming
in at the door two elderly gentlemen, who looked exactly as if they
would want fancy flies.

One of the gentlemen poked his head in the door so comically, the girls
all giggled.

"Well!" he exclaimed. "So it _is_ a shop. Thought it might be a Sunday
School fair and I'd get roped in," he chuckled, stepping inside
cautiously. "Sorry, but I didn't come to buy. Can you direct me to
Professor Sanders' office?" he asked, while politely removing his hat.

"His office? Why, he hasn't any office that I know of," faltered Nancy,
surprised at the question.

"He has messages sent to the ticket office at the station," volunteered
Ruth.

"Oh, I see," replied the man, seeming to "see" more than the girls did.
"Then, we'll go over to the station--"

So saying the man backed out of the door smiling pleasantly as he
departed.

"Well, I declare!" exclaimed Nancy. "Our Disappearing Dick is going to
have callers. I wonder if he'll perform for them?"

"Those are important looking men," Isabel commented. "Did you see their
car?"

"Wasn't it fancy?" agreed Ruth. "Perhaps Sibyl will get a ride home."

"I don't think you folks can be very good detectives around here," Nancy
criticized, "or you would have found out what so many people mean by
saying that Mr. Sanders disappears."

"Now, listen," quoth Ruth, in a most confidential tone, "I don't call
myself sensational, and in fact, people at Long Leigh generally have the
name of minding their own business; but there is something mighty queer
about Mr. Sanders." She paused while Nancy waited for further
explanation. "He does _not_ live in the old gray house, for father's men
went through the entire place the other day, he's in real-estate you
know," she explained, "and there wasn't a thing to show that the old
house had been opened since they inspected it last."

"Couldn't he camp in the barn or somewhere outside the house?" queried
Nancy.

"No; the barn was locked up tight as tuppence," insisted Ruth. "But he
seems to hang out somewhere on that hill, just the same," she added.

"I know!" exclaimed Nancy. "He goes up in a tree with the wires and
springs," and she sprang up and down without either. "Some day I'm going
up there and I bet _I'll_ solve the mystery," she promised gaily.

"Let us know when you're going, Nan," suggested Ruth. "We wouldn't want
to have you swallowed up by--the fairies."

"Say," whispered Isabel, her eyes set in what looked like alarm, "do you
know, I saw a little woman come up and down our side steps a half dozen
times this morning--"

"Oh!" and Nancy laughed merrily. "That would be little Miss Manners, the
dressmaker who lives in the tiny bungalow under our window. You see,
Mother wouldn't really let us keep store without some supervision. She's
pretty particular, and declares there is no telling who might pop in--"

"And hold us up for our cash box--!" Ruth added so mirthfully as to
suggest a good time in the danger.

"Well, any how," continued Nancy, "Mother insists that Miss Manners look
in quite often to see that everything is all right. She's as quiet as a
mouse--"

"I should say she is," Isabel confirmed. "In fact, I didn't want to
frighten you or I should have told you someone was sneaking in," she
added, folding up a tape line as she spoke.

"Oh, Miss Manners is so quaint, as Vera would say," Ruth contributed,
"that I think she ought to be a partner, if a silent partner, in the
Whatnot Shop."

"Yes," agreed Nancy, "it does seem as if this shop should belong to
little old people like Miss Townsend, and I guess that's why Miss
Manners is so interested. You see, girls, I'm still a very poor
housekeeper, and our maid, Anna, won't be back until fall. After I get
tired playing store, I suppose," and she sighed heavily, "I'll be
expected to start in playing house."

"But if you run the shop as you have done this morning," Isabel
interposed, "don't you suppose your mother will think you're a real
genius at business?" she inquired.

"You can't fool my mother on geniuses," replied Nancy, who like her
companions was putting away the odds and ends of things that had been
scattered in the morning's adventure. "Mother is an expert, and she sort
of knows--me." This last was said in a way implying a very doubtful
compliment for Nancy. "I've been almost a genius at art, for instance.
When I was five years old I could draw a goose with my eyes shut."

"How about it when your eyes were open?" asked Ruth, quizzically.

"It was usually a little fat pig, then," Nancy admitted, amid an
outburst of girlish laughter.

"Nancy," interrupted Isabel, "here's the ice cream man."

"Ours," declared Nancy. "Now we'll whistle for Ted and his boys and shut
up shop for lunch. Isabel, will you please open the side door? We'll
take a tray over to Miss Manners and then sit down and enjoy ourselves."

"Here's Ted and his friends now," announced Ruth. "They seem to know it
is ice cream time."

"That will save trouble," Nancy remarked. And presently the big sale was
all but forgotten in preparations for the feast of ice cream, with other
suitable summer lunch supplies.

Isabel took an attractive tray over to solicitous and attentive Miss Ada
Manners, while Nancy and Ruth attempted to satisfy the demands of Ted
and his ice cream loving friends. The noon day was much warmer than the
morning had indicated, and this coupled with the sale excitement, went
far to make the little party a tremendous success, just as Mrs. Brandon
had planned it to be.



                               CHAPTER XI

                              THE FAILURE


The days were slipping by, and Nancy found herself entangled in a rather
confused vacation. True, she had already reaped real benefit from the
big sale and from the subsequent days' sales in her shop, but was it
really being a vacation?

It must be admitted that Nancy had a tendency to stubbornness, but since
that peculiarity very often marks the first stages of a strong
character, her mother wisely allowed her to continue to try things out
for herself. The Whatnot Shop was not proving in any way a
disappointment, but it was most certainly giving Nancy work, so that she
was not free to come and go with the other girls, in spite of Miss
Manners frequent and generous offers to "'tend store" for her.

A bright spot on her calendar not very far off, was the coming of Mrs.
Brandon's vacation. Soon she would be at home, free to do all the
precious things a devoted mother plans to do in the little interval of
freedom so long looked forward to and so quickly spent.

"When you are home," Nancy would continually plan, "I'm going to do
that," referring to any one of a number of things being postponed.

Today it was raining; a sudden summer shower was drenching everything as
if rain had never had such a good time before, and a charity sale, in
which all the girls were interested, was to be held that afternoon.
Everyone, including Nancy, expected to attend, and she with others had
promised to donate a cake.

But how it rained! And Nancy had planned to go into town to the fancy
bakers to get her cake. Hour after hour she hoped the rain would cease,
until it became too late for a telephone delivery, and still Nancy could
not go out in the downpour.

"If I could only bake it," she reflected, as she once more gazed
gloomily out of the windows at the dripping world. "It's easy enough to
bake a cake," she told herself, "and, of course, I could follow the
recipe in mother's cook book."

Still Nancy had misgivings concerning such an experiment. A cake for a
sale should be good, of that she was certain, and for that very reason
she had previously decided to buy one at the French Pastry Shop.

"Well," she sighed, "I may as well try it. It is sure to clear up just
when the girls are due to call for me, and I simply couldn't go without
a cake."

First locking the store, and making up her mind that no call, however
insistent, would tempt her to leave her task, Nancy promptly set about
baking her cake. It was no trouble to find the cook book, Mrs. Brandon
had found a small shelf suitable for that in the open pantry. Also, the
required ingredients were all at hand, and the creaming of the butter
and sugar, according to the first rule, Nancy executed with something
like skill, for she had strong young hands and the spoon in her grasp
quickly beat the butter and sugar together in a perfectly smooth paste.

[Illustration: Nancy promptly set about baking her cake.]

Then she put the flour in the sieve. In doing this she made a slight
mistake, for no pan nor plate had been placed under the sieve and
consequently a pretty little layer of the sifted flour showered out upon
her table before she could get a receptacle under the utensil.

"I had better measure over again," Nancy decided, feeling that the
uncertainty of guessing at the lost flour might spoil her cake. So this
time she put in her baking powder, salt and flour, and sifted all into a
little pudding pan. Separating the eggs, yolks from whites, was not
quite so easily accomplished, but even that was finally managed, and now
Nancy knew it was time to light the gas oven.

Next, three-fourths of a cup of milk was added to the creamed butter and
sugar, the egg yolks added to that and all well beaten. Then the flour
was carefully turned in, while beating all together Nancy felt really
elated at the prospect in sight.

"I'm sure this will be fine," she was congratulating herself, "perhaps
even better than a store cake. And I know how to make the maple
icing--I'm glad I have done that much before, at any rate," she admitted
ruefully.

The soft yellow mixture did indeed look promising, but now came the time
to fold in the whites of the eggs.

"Fold in," repeated Nancy, somewhat puzzled. "How shall I fold it in?"

She looked at the batter and she looked at the frothy egg whites. To
fold that in would surely mean to spoil all the nice, white, snowy mound
of froth. Nancy hated to do it, but she finally spilled it into the bowl
full, and started to beat it all over again. The batter seemed rather
thin and Nancy decided to add a little more flour. Just here was where
her inexperience threatened disaster, but the trial so fascinated the
little cook that she did a few other things not proposed by the recipe,
but all of which seemed reasonable to her.

The oven was now sizzling hot, and Nancy quickly turned her mixture into
two tins, which she neglected to grease, and slipped them into the oven.
With a sense of satisfaction she turned to and really cleared up all the
utensils--something very commendable indeed in Nancy Brandon. With
watching the clock and getting Ted's lunch set out on the little porch
table, while she also managed somehow to start her own personal
preparations for the afternoon, Nancy was, as she would say, kept on the
jump.

But the cake didn't burn, and she took it from the oven on the dot of
thirty minutes.

"It will have to cool, I suppose," Nancy guessed, "and while it's
cooling I'll make the icing. It looks pretty good but it has got a lot
of holes in it," was her rather skeptical criticism, as she inspected
the two layers of golden pastry. But the cake, even after a thorough
cooling which consumed more time than could be spared, would not leave
the tins!

Nancy tried a knife--that broke a great rough corner off. Then she got
the pancake turner and slipped it under as well as she could, but alas!
The thing actually splashed up in a regular explosion of crumbs!

"Ruined!" groaned Nancy. "I can never fix that!"

Her disappointment was cruel. To see a perfectly good and such a
fragrant cake go to pieces when finished, after all the work of getting
it that far was nothing short of a tragedy.

Tears blinded Nancy Brandon.

"I might have known," she sighed, "I just couldn't have such good luck
with cooking."

The rain was almost over. Ted would soon be in, but Nancy just couldn't
help crying. It was so hard not to succeed when she had been counting so
especially on that afternoon's fun. Perhaps she could get Ted to go to
town for her after all. But upon serious consideration she decided
against that plan. She simply wouldn't go now under any circumstances.
Her eyes were red and she wanted a good cry even more than the fun of
the sale. In fact, she couldn't help crying and she wasn't going to try.

When an hour later the girls called, Ted told them what was strictly
true. Nancy was in bed with a sick headache and she couldn't go.
Carrying their messages of sympathy upstairs to Nancy, along with a
plate full of broken cake and a glass of ice cold lemonade, Ted tried to
cheer his disconsolate sister, but even then she had not discovered that
the whole trouble was merely her neglect of greasing those cake tins.
The cook book didn't direct so simple a thing as that and, of course,
poor Nancy just hadn't noticed that her mother did it. She was usually
too concerned about the remnants of cake dough being left in the bowl,
to observe how the batter was being put in the pans.

"Does it ache hard?" asked Ted, sitting beside his sister and referring
to her head.

"Yes, it does, Ted, but this lemonade is splendid."

"I can make good lemonade," Ted admitted. "And your cake is swell, only
it sticks awful. I got it out with the pie server," he told Nancy
simply.

"Yes. I couldn't get it to come off the pan at all. Well," and Nancy
moved to get up, "I suppose I won't feel any worse down stairs. What
color dress did Ruth have on?"

To the best of his limited ability Ted described the girls' costumes and
then, determined to drive away Nancy's blues, he started in to recite in
detail his great experience of that morning.

"Now Nan," he began, "you can say all you like, but Mr. Sanders does
disappear. _I saw him!_"

"_You_ saw him disappear!"

"Yes, sure as shootin'. We were all running down the hill, trying to get
to the station before that big shower, when I said to Tom, 'there's Mr.
Sanders, comin' up.' He said he saw him too, and we kept on runnin',
when I was just goin' to shout hello, and true as I tell you, Nan, there
wasn't any Mr. Sanders anywhere in sight!"

"Ted Brandon!"

"Yep, that's just what I'm telling you. We all saw him go, but no one
saw where to."

And presently even the lost pleasure and the spoiled cake were soon
forgotten in their discussion of Ted's remarkable story.



                              CHAPTER XII

                         THE VIRTUE OF RESOLVE


But something had happened to Nancy. The cake failure represented to her
much more than a simple episode, for it had suddenly summed up all the
awful possibilities of untrained hands. It was well enough to make
excuses, to claim business and even artistic talent, for Nancy could
draw and color, and was among the best in her class as an art student,
but the fact now bore down upon her with undisguised horror! She could
not do what other girls could do. She could not even bake a cake.

"And just as mother so often told me," she reflected bitterly, "it is
not at all a question of preference but of simple, civilized living.
What _I_ don't do and should do someone else _must_ do, and that's
anything but fair play on my part," Nancy sadly admitted.

"Aren't you going to open the store, Nan?" Ted asked her. "There's been
someone knocking a long time and now they're going away--"

"Oh, never mind," she answered indifferently, "I'm going to get tea
ready so mother won't have to bother. She does it like an angel when I
plead store business, but I guess, Ted, the old store--"

"Isn't all it's cracked up to be," Ted helped her out rather willingly,
for he had not, at any time, shared her enthusiasm in the little
business venture.

Nancy sighed dramatically. She was feeling rather sorry for herself and
that is always a symptom of wounded pride. It was the same day, in early
evening, of the picnic and cake experience, and her crying spell still
stirred its little moisture of hurt emotions. Ted couldn't bear to see
his sister cry, ever, and he was now all attention and sympathetic
interest.

"I wish, Nan, you'd just sell out. The store would make a swell gym, and
we scouts need a place just like that--"

"Ted Brandon! Do you think _I_ would quit just because a thing is hard!
Why, I should think you would remember how hard mother works," she
declared, in a sudden outburst of virtue. "And the harder it is the more
reason to--to do it," she floundered.

"Oh, yeah, sure," agreed Ted amicably. "Of course that's so. Want me to
set table?"

"Thanks, Ted, I wish you would. I'm going to try a cooked custard, I
mean a top of the stove custard. If I can cool it by putting the dishes
flat on the ice," Nancy reasoned aloud.

"But they'll melt right through, if they're hot," Ted reminded her. "I
know my taffy pan did--"

"Well, perhaps I'd better not try it then, as it's so late," Nancy
decided, relieved to find a genuine excuse. "Suppose we have toasted
crackers with cheese on top? Mother always likes that and _that_ can't
go wrong."

Fortified with a new determination, Nancy went at her task, and in less
time, much less time than she usually required, succeeded in preparing
not only an appetizing but a really tempting meal. Ted arranged the
crisp lettuce leaves while Nancy cut the tomatoes, which she "nested" in
the lettuce, prettily. The toasted cheese-crackers were in the oven and
as this was not only a favorite dish with the Brandons, but is also a
favorite with many others, it might be well to know how Nancy prepared
it.

She buttered saltines, enough to cover the bottom of a flat pan, the pan
usually used for "Johnnie Cake," then, on top of the cracker layer, she
showered, plentifully thick, grated cheese; another layer of crackers
and another shower of cheese. Next, she wet the layers with just enough
milk to moisten the crackers. The pan was then allowed to stand long
enough for the crackers to absorb the milk, after which the preparation
was baked in a quick oven. A delicious brown cheese-cake was the result,
and it "didn't go wrong."

"I'm glad I can do that much, at any rate," Nancy half-complained,
half-praised. "And Ted, you have made the table look lovely. I shall be
so sorry when the roses are gone--"

"Say Sis," broke in Ted abruptly, "you know I was telling you about how
Mr. Sanders disappeared."

"Were you?" Nancy was polishing her water glasses.

"Sure, I was. When you had the headache and was crying. Don't you know?"

"Oh, yes, I do remember," admitted Nancy. "But it's too foolish, Ted--"

"Foolish nothing! I tell you I saw him go," Ted declared in a voice that
admitted of no argument.

"How funny!" cried Nancy. "Do _you_ really believe in that stuff, Ted?"
she asked quizzically.

"Oh, say!" Ted was too disgusted to attempt explanation. That any one
should doubt _his_ eyes was beyond his understanding.

"Well, I'll tell you," Nancy condescended. "I'm going to call on Miss
Townsend soon, that is, mother and I are, because Miss Townsend has been
sick, you know," she elucidated. "Then, I'm just going to ask her
straight all about that weird story."

"As if she'd tell," scoffed the boy. "Why, her own dog never left her
house since she's been sick, if you want to know. What do you make out
of that?"

"Cute doggie," replied Nancy, now shutting off the gas stove to await
her mother's coming. "And another thing, Ted, I wish you could see how
that dog acts around this place."

"I'm just thinking that maybe Miss Townsend is acting sick just to get
back here," hazarded Ted. "I hope mother won't give in, if she is, for I
like it here, don't you, Nan?"

"Love it! Here's mother! Quick Ted, the ice water. There, let's hide!"

The joy of a thing well done was Nancy's reward for her extra efforts.
The little meal was indeed a credit to her, and that it gave her mother
unmistakable pleasure was Nancy's greatest satisfaction.

"I am always sure that you can do it, little girl," her mother told her,
as they all three turned in to clear away the table things, "but I also
know you have to find things out for yourself. How did you manage it all
so nicely?"

"Well, I didn't mean to tell you," Nancy sighed, "but I might just as
well."

"Better," chimed in Ted mischievously, as he scurried around to do his
part in the clearing up ceremony.

"All right," Nancy agreed affably. "I had better tell you, Mother. You
see, it was the day of the sale--the church sale the girls were all
going to. And I expected to get my cake at the French Bakery."

"And you couldn't on account of the rain," Mrs. Brandon helped the
recital along.

"It never stopped for one half hour," Nancy added. "So I tried, that is
I just _tried to make_ a cake."

She drew in her lips and puckered her pretty face into a wry misgiving
expression. Nancy was looking very pretty in her rose colored linen
dress (the one her mother had finished off with peasant embroidery), and
her dark eyes were agleam now with enthusiasm and interest.

Frankly she told her mother the story of her spoiled cake, and how they
all three laughed when the mother explained why it had failed--just
because Nancy didn't know enough to grease the tins!

Ted, all this time, was casting suspicious glances first at Nancy then
at his mother. He seemed to be enjoying a secret that even his glances
were not imparting to the others.

"You may run along, Ted," his mother told him, as she always excused him
just a little earlier than she and Nancy were prepared to finish. "I
guess you can call your part complete. Here dear. I'll put the sweeper
away. You run, I hear some code whistling at the side window."

"All right, Mother, but I can chase the sweeper in the pantry as I go,"
Ted offered. "But I wanted to tell you." He sidled up to his mother very
confidentially, "I think Nancy's good and sick of the store."

"Why Ted!" His mother showed complete surprise at the frank declaration.
Nancy was not within hearing so Ted ventured further.

"Yep," he continued. "I'll bet she chucks it up pretty soon, and if she
does, Mother, could we fellers have it?" he pleaded.

"You boys have it?"

"Yeah; for a gym. Fine and dandy. We've got a lot of things to exercise
with--" Nancy was back from the ice box now so Ted could say no more.
The next moment he darted off to the boys who were calling, his own
vociferous answer shrilling the path he made as he rushed out.

Nancy remained silent for some minutes and neither did her mother seem
inclined to talk. Mrs. Brandon put the center piece on the table and
Nancy straightened the window shades, replaced the fruit dish on the
little table near the cool window, and suddenly remembered to wind the
clock.

"That's Ted's business, dear," her mother reminded her. "You see, even a
boy must get some training in these little household matters. He too
lives in a house."

"Oh, yes," agreed Nancy. "And isn't it strange that I always remember
his part while I so often forget my own?"

"No, not strange," her mother said gently. "Ted's little schedule is new
and novel to you, therefore interesting; yours is old and monotonous to
you, therefore irksome." Mrs. Brandon managed to get her arm
affectionately over her daughter's shoulder. "But don't be discouraged,
dear. You may make a star housekeeper in the end," she prophesied.

"Oh dear. I'm afraid not, Mother," and Nancy sighed heavily. "It seems
to me I get tired of everything. I thought it would be wonderful to earn
money," she faltered, "and I suppose because I always liked to play
store I thought it would be just as much fun to have a real store. But
Mother," and she snuggled against the sympathetic breast, "Mother, I do
want to help you--"

"And you have," brightened Mrs. Brandon. "You have no idea what miracles
I have worked with your extra dollars, earned in that little store."

"Really, Mother?"

"Yes, indeed. In fact I am thinking of taking a real vacation when my
little two weeks come around. I had expected to do some extra work--"

"In your vacation?" exclaimed Nancy. She had squatted her mother down in
the arm chair and was herself resting on the side cushion. "Indeed, I
should say not," she scoffed, pouting prettily.

"But if we buy this little summer place, dear, we must do a lot of
certain things," explained her mother vaguely.

"Then I'm not going to get tired of the store," determined Nancy,
suddenly.

"Yet Nannie, we might do very well to rent it," suggested Mrs. Brandon.
"A business place is worth something, you know."

"Rent it? To whom?"

"I think it would cure Miss Townsend of her imaginary ills, to have a
chance to come back--"

"Oh, Mother, somehow I shouldn't like to have her around," faltered
Nancy. "She's sweet and quaint and all that," conceded Nancy, "but she
gives one the creeps. She sort of brings ghosts along with her when she
comes here. And her dog! Why, he'd bark us all to death if we ever let
him in to fight with the chimney place."

Mrs. Brandon laughed good-naturedly. "I've felt rather against
considering the plan myself," she admitted, "for as you say, dear, we
would feel like intruders with Miss Townsend established in the store.
Well, we don't have to think about it now, at any rate," she decided.
"Come along for a walk. I'm afraid you haven't been out much today and
that's one thing that would really worry me, dear. I don't want you to
stay indoors to take care of the store," her mother admonished. "We
don't pretend to carry real necessities that people might expect to buy
from us, and such stock as we do keep can be had at our convenience, as
well as at theirs," she finished definitely.

"You are perfectly right, Mother," Nancy answered emphatically. "And
that's one thing I don't like about business. Everybody just thinks _we_
are their servants, and they even become rude when I tell them I haven't
got something they happen to want."

"Oh, yes, I know. But I wouldn't worry about that. It all adds to the
value of the lesson, you know. Just be sure you are right, keep a cool
head and a steady hand," her mother laughed, "then, let the other folks
lose their patience if they are foolish enough to do so. But listen,"
she paused attentively. "Here comes Miss Manners. And she seems to be in
trouble. I'll let her in."

The little lady was indeed in trouble for her face, small and somewhat
pinched with threatening years, showed, as she entered the room, the
unmistakable signs of weeping.

"Oh dear," she sighed brokenly, as Nancy pulled out the rocker for her,
"I don't know why I should come to you folks, for I'm sure," she gulped
back her interrupting sobs, "you must have troubles enough of your own.
But I just had to talk to somebody--"

"Talk away," replied Nancy's mother cheerily. "You know that is the best
way to conquer one's own troubles--to attack them with the troubles of
someone else."

"Maybe that's so," replied Miss Manners, brushing back a stray strand of
her graying hair, "but I don't just see how that is going to help me,"
she faltered.

"Tell us yours," urged Nancy, "and then we will be better able to
judge." Nancy sat back in her own chair, quite prepared now for a new
chapter in the current events of Long Leigh.



                              CHAPTER XIII

                            BEHIND THE CLOUD


Poor little Miss Manners! Hers had been a brave struggle, and as Nancy
and her mother listened to the brokenly told story, they were easily
ready to pardon the little lady's show of emotion.

"So you were worried about your rent, principally?" Mrs. Brandon
prompted her, kindly.

"Yes. You see when I had to give up teaching on account of my health, I
naturally turned to sewing," she explained. "If I had only been a
teacher in a public school, instead of a private school, I shouldn't
have been left without some means," she complained, sorrowfully.

Nancy was watching her in silent contemplation. What a "sweet" little
woman she was. The type always called little and sometimes referred to
as "sweet" because of that indefinable quality usually associated with
flowers.

"You should not have worried so," Mrs. Brandon assured her. "You have
done a great deal for us--I never could have left the children here
alone without feeling sure of your watchful kindness, you know."

"Now Mrs. Brandon," said Miss Manners, in a rather dictatorial tone, "I
have done nothing at all for you, and I want to assure you that Nancy
and Ted require very--little--watching."

"And I want to say," spoke up Nancy, "that Miss Manners is the very
nicest kind of a watch--a watch-woman," she laughed. "We never hear or
see her when, perhaps, we are noisy and--and rackety."

"I was afraid," continued Miss Manners, without apparently heeding
Nancy's intended compliment, "that you might have been alarmed about the
silly stories current around here. I mean, that especially about Mr.
Sanders."

"Yes," said Mrs. Brandon encouragingly. "We have heard queer tales of
his remarkable powers, but I can't say they have alarmed us, Miss
Manners."

"You have too much sense, I'm sure, for that," she conceded. "But when
one comes into a strange place and hears such stories, especially, when
they have something to do with this little place--"

"What could they have to do with _this_ place?" Nancy questioned
sharply. "Surely, he doesn't do any disappearing around here."

Both the older folks laughed at that.

"No, not exactly," replied Miss Manners, "but you see, they say he
influenced old Mr. Townsend until he spent his own and his sister's
money. But for my part," she hurried to add, "I could never believe that
Mr. Sanders is anything but a perfectly upright gentleman, and in no way
responsible for the sad state of the Townsends' business affairs."

"Then _you_ don't believe any of the stories about him, do you?" pressed
Nancy. "Even Ted insists he saw him--fade away."

The little woman, who seemed for the moment to have forgotten her
troubles, looked from mother to daughter. It was so easy to interpret
her thoughts. She was measuring Nancy's courage.

"Oh, you don't need to be afraid of frightening me, Miss Manners," Nancy
assured her, "I'm only waiting for a chance to investigate the
disappearing story. I've been so sure _I_ could solve the mystery, that
the girls will soon be calling me a boaster if I don't start out to do
something. What do you think, really, Miss Manners?" she pressed
further.

"Well, I hate to say so, but I can't deny there is something curious
about Mr. Sanders. I have often watched him around this house, when he
and Mr. Townsend were such friends, and really," she paused as if the
admission were most distasteful to her, "I must say, the way those two
men ran around the house--"

"Ran around! Those two old men!" cried Nancy, sitting up very straight
in sudden interest.

"Yes, actually. I mean out of doors, of course," Miss Manners explained.
"But they would first fuss around the outside chimney--you know the
mason work runs to the ground on my side of this house, I mean the side
next to my bungalow," she emphasized, "and there is an old-fashioned
opening there. I suppose they used to take ashes out that way when they
used the old grate fires."

"Oh, I know!" cried Nancy excitedly. "That's why Miss Townsend's dog
made such a fuss over the fireplace in the store!"

"Yes. They always had Tiny with them and the dog seemed as--crazy as the
men," Miss Manners remarked.

"Don't you suppose they were working at something?" Mrs. Brandon
suggested, sensibly.

"I did think so, of course; but Miss Townsend seemed to fear all sorts
of things; yet she never would put her fears into sensible words," Miss
Manners told them curiously.

"But how could that be connected with the foolish story of Mr. Sander's
disappearing trick?" Mrs. Brandon wanted to know.

"You see, it was all so unusual--I mean Mr. Sanders coming in here a
stranger, and not living any place that folks could find out. Then, when
he came down to Mr. Townsend here, got him all excited over some secret,
got him to draw his money from the bank, and finally worked poor Miss
Townsend into a state of nervous breakdown, why, naturally the people
around suspected almost everything--even to calling him a magician,"
Miss Manners said, with a timid little smile.

"I couldn't give credence to any of it," replied Mrs. Brandon decidedly.
"I have met Mr. Sanders and share your opinion; that he is a perfect
gentleman."

"Well, I've talked a long way from my own story haven't I?" Miss Manners
sighed again, as she blinked against impelling thoughts. "You see, I
have no friends at hand, and when I did so large an order of hand-made
handkerchiefs--it took me months to do them--I depended upon that money
for the summer. But the lady I made them for was called hurriedly
abroad, on account of the sudden illness of her husband, and she never
gave a thought to my precious twenty-five dollars," the little lady
sighed ruefully.

"She went away and owed you all that money!" Nancy exclaimed. "However
could she have forgotten?"

"My dear child, we are all selfish when in trouble I suppose," said Miss
Manners charitably. "But I did fully expect to hear from her before
this, and my next rent will be due in three days. I just came in to
consult with you, not to borrow. I wondered if you knew of anything I
could do--"

"Certainly I do," Nancy almost shouted. "You can start a little private
school, a class in domestic science right in my--in our store," she
exclaimed. "I know at least a half dozen girls who will be glad to take
a month's course, and we'll all pay you in advance. They always do in
private schools!"

The women both appeared speechless as Nancy rattled on. The idea was
plainly fascinating. A domestic science class for the girls who hated
housework, as Nancy did! How much better than idling an entire vacation!

"Why, I just wonder--"

"You needn't wonder, Mother," Nancy interrupted, "I tell you, it's just
perfectly wonderful, the idea, I mean. I'll learn, I'll learn, I'll
learn," she chanted, "and then maybe I'll find out a pleasant way--"

"You are right, daughter," spoke up Mrs. Brandon. "When you learn to do
things as they should be done, you will find the work interesting. I
have been sorry, Miss Manners, that my home has had to get along without
a great deal of my time," she turned to her visitor, "as you know I have
had to attend business and leave things to my maid. For, after all," she
said evenly, "only a mother can teach a daughter, and I have not been
with Nancy long enough--"

"You have too, Mumsey, and it's all my very own fault," Nancy confessed.
"You often showed me how to do things, and you always told me I would
have to pick things up when I threw them down, but I just didn't care. I
didn't think it made any difference." Nancy was actually joyous in her
confession, showing the positive relief one is apt to experience when
the mind is suddenly freed from a heavy weight.

"I really think Nancy's idea is a good one," said Mrs. Brandon. "There
is no real reason why you should be tucked away next door to us when we
need you in here, and we've got more room than we know what to do with."

"Oh, joy!" Nancy was positively dancing now. "We can have Manny in here
with us all the time? May I call you Manny?" she asked. "It's the cutest
name."

"That's queer," replied the little lady, a soft color showing through
her pale skin. "My girls at Raleigh always called me--Manny--"

Then the plans were unfolded, and such plans as they were!

"I feel like a fairy with a magic wand" declared Nancy. "My little store
is just like--a magic carpet or something."

"But I don't want to impose--" Miss Manners began.

"You're a positive blessing," Nancy insisted. "The only trouble is--we
can't learn sleuthing in your class and I've just got to find out Mr.
Sanders' secret before I'm many days older. I honestly think, Mother,
the idea of that foolish story going around without anyone--running it
down, as Ted would say, is getting on my nerves."

And every one enjoyed a good laugh at the idea of Nancy Brandon having
nerves.



                              CHAPTER XIV

                          A PLEASANT SURPRISE


It was all very exciting, but Nancy didn't want to think that she was
really glad to get rid of her precious Whatnot Shop. Ted openly declared
"he told her so," as boys will, but she politely drew his attention to
the fact that she had fulfilled her contract, that she had earned money,
quite a lot of money, in fact, and in now turning the shop over to Miss
Manners she was following her mother's advice.

It was a few days later than that evening when she and her mother
offered the use of the shop to the little seamstress, and now they were
preparing to call on Miss Townsend.

"Suppose she says _she_ wants it back," faltered Nancy, just patting her
dark hair back into the desired soft little bumps. "What would we say,
Mother, if she just begged us to let her have it?"

"Why dear, we could let her have a part of it, perhaps. She could come
in and sell out what little stock you have, while Miss Manners is
getting ready for her class."

"Oh, but," pouted Nancy, "I would just hate to have her do that. If you
ever saw the way she snooped around, Mother. And the way that dog
acted!" Nancy's manner was very decidedly one of opposition to Miss
Townsend and her dog.

"Well, come along, dear," her mother urged, "we must not stay late. I
have some notes to write up and I don't want to lose sleep over them."

Whatever else bothered Nancy Brandon, an evening's walk through the
country roads of Long Leigh, in a beautiful summer twilight with her arm
locked tightly in her mother's, was balm enough to soothe and heal every
slightest hurt and anxiety.

"Mother-love," she actually cooed, in the softest little voice she could
command, "I just love it tonight, don't you?"

"Perfect," replied the happy mother, pressing lovingly upon the
imprisoned arm. "And I am so glad, daughter-love, that you want to give
up your business." There was a humorous little twist given to that last
word, for Nancy's business was and had been something of a practical
joke among the Brandons.

"Let's walk around the old house," suggested Nancy, for they were at a
fork in the road and needed to choose a way to Miss Townsend's. "Then,
maybe we will discover something about Mr. Sanders' quarters."

But just as they were about to turn into the lane that led past the old
stone house, Ted hailed them from the hilltop.

He wanted to know where they were going. He wanted to know if he could
go along, and as they managed to make signs that gave at least a
negative answer to this last request, they found themselves on the open
road, walking directly away from the old stone house.

"We won't be long, Ted," his mother assured him, as he reached them,
"and you can, if you want to, go over to Norton Duncan's. We will give
you a call as we come back, and then we will all go home together. The
side door key is in the regular place though, if you would rather go
home--"

"Oh, no I wouldn't. I'll stay out 'til nine, and Nort and I'll practice
drill," proclaimed Ted. "We're going to have a regular test drill soon,
and he's my partner."

This being a satisfactory arrangement, Ted went to Nort's while Nancy
and her mother continued on to the little country hotel, where the
Townsends had taken up their abode.

"I do hope," murmured Nancy, "that she won't upset our plans. I just
can't see, Mother, why you bother about her at all," she complained.

"The place is ours for this summer to do as we please with it, Nancy,"
her mother replied, "but just the same, it is a little business courtesy
to show to Miss Townsend. We have the option on the place, and I fully
intend to buy it, but the shop was so dear to Miss Townsend's heart,
that I feel we ought to, at least, tell her what we plan to do for the
month."

"You're so, generous, Mother," sighed Nancy. "I wish _I_ were more like
you."

Her mother smiled and squeezed the young hand that rested so confidently
upon her own arm.

"Don't worry, dear," she answered. "You know what dear grandma always
said when you got into little troubles?"

"Yes," replied Nancy, "that my heart was in the right place if my head
was a little shaky."

"Yes, that's it. And don't we miss grandma? She might just as well come
out here with us, but I was afraid of bringing her to the old-fashioned
little house. Well, here we are at our hotel," Mrs. Brandon broke off,
as they came in sight of the long white building, with its unmistakable
hotel piazza.

In the row of rockers on the porch sat a row of men on one side and
almost a row of women, or "ladies" on the other. Country folks, with a
few city interlopers, composed the patronage of the Waterfall House, it
was quite evident.

Nancy and her mother smiled at the faces and half-greeted them, as they
passed into the office, and after asking for Miss Townsend's rooms,
followed the boy along the red carpeted hall, and up a stairs carpeted
with what once had been red. They journeyed on until they reached a
little turn in the second hall. Before this their guide halted and
pointed out a door that bore the number twenty-seven.

Nancy's heart would have jumped a little apprehensively had it been a
less healthy young heart, but as it was, she merely kept very close to
her mother until the boy turned on his heel and whistled a returning
tune.

"Maybe she's sick in bed," Nancy was thinking, just as the door was
opened in response to her mother's knock.

"Why! Mrs. Brandon!" she heard a voice exclaim. "And Nancy!" as Miss
Townsend bowed them in. "How glad I am to see you! Do come right in.
Here, take this chair, it's so comfortable. Nancy, sit by the window,"
she was pushing a chair over to the girl, "and you can see the people
passing. Well, I can't tell you how glad I am to see you both."

Nancy was so surprised she almost exclaimed aloud. There was the "sick"
Miss Townsend fairly beaming, in, what surely looked like, very good
health. The little dog was frisking around and Nancy had scarcely seated
herself in the chair by the window when he pounced up on her lap, and
after "kissing her" several times, finally subsided into a small, brown,
woolly ball, cuddled into a little nest formed from the soft folds of
Nancy's blue voile skirt.

"I'm so glad to see you are better, Miss Townsend," Mrs. Brandon
presently said. "You have been ill, we heard."

"Yes indeed, but I'm better now, really a new woman, you might say," and
Miss Townsend now seated herself comfortably on the small green sofa
near them. "But it was just worry. Worry is a pretty bad ailment, isn't
it?" she asked, smiling a contradiction to anything like worry affecting
her just then.

"You are real cozy here," Mrs. Brandon ventured.

"Yes, it's quite pleasant, but I've just come back from a trip to the
sea shore. I guess that is what helped me most," conceded Miss Townsend.

Like Nancy, Mrs. Brandon also, was much surprised at Miss Townsend's
exuberant spirits. It was perfectly plain that some good fortune had
befallen the lady since she had paid that mournful visit to Nancy.

"You see," she began, as if in answer to their unmasked questions, "our
business affairs are being all straightened out and Brother Elmer is
getting back the money he loaned. Of course I didn't understand, and it
is one of those affairs a woman isn't supposed to understand." This was
said in that sort of tone that conveys deep and mysterious meaning.

"I'm awfully glad of that," Mrs. Brandon assured the woman in her brand
new heliotrope one piece dress. It was quite modish, indeed, and without
question, very becoming to Miss Townsend.

"Oh, yes," went on the hostess, "I was so worried for a long time. You
see, I really couldn't have faith in a business deal that I was not
privileged to know the details of. I have been a business woman all my
life," she insisted, "and I'm not afraid to tackle any business deal,"
at this she dangled her amethyst beads self-consciously. "But Elmer and
Mr. Sanders!" Her hands went up protestingly. "They just used every
dollar. Well--" she broke off suddenly, "it's all right now, so why
should I fuss about it. You didn't come to hear of my troubles, I'm
sure."

At this point Mrs. Brandon divulged the real purpose of her visit. Nancy
was having a great time with Tiny. He was awake now and evidently eager
to show off. He stood up and begged, jumped down and "prayed" and
otherwise disported himself most wonderfully. The distraction afforded
Nancy a welcome chance to sit aside and take little or no part in the
elder's conversation, but she was, as Ted would have said, "all ears to
it."

"Why, I think that's a perfectly splendid idea," she heard Miss Townsend
say, in reference to the plan of giving the store over to Miss Manners.
"And I must say you are very generous, Mrs. Brandon," she complimented.
"As a matter of fact, fancy-store business is not what it used to be.
More folks now take to the mail order plan, especially in winter. Why,
there were months when I didn't see the color of a 'green back' in that
place," she admitted. "Yet, I couldn't help loving the old place. I had
been in it so long," she concluded earnestly.

"I met Mr. Sanders' daughter, Miss Townsend," Nancy spoke up, determined
to bring up that subject, "and I think she's a perfectly splendid girl."

"Isn't she though! But she couldn't help but be smart with such a
father." This last little speech was indeed a compliment to the absent
Mr. Sanders.

"But where does he live?" demanded Nancy, without any attempt to cloak
her question with indifference.

"Live? Why, my dear child, he lives here! Just moved in, and I do
declare, the man needs some comfort after all he's been through. If
Elmer comes in before you go I'll have him bring Mr. Sanders in. We are
all the best of friends now," declared the incomprehensible little woman
on the green velour sofa.



                               CHAPTER XV

                            TALKING IT OVER


"You haven't really sold out?" Ruth demanded incredulously.

"Going, going, going, gone!" sang back Nancy. "Manny is a wonder. She
just sells and goes on with her preparations, and girls, when my store
is all cleaned out I wouldn't wonder but we'll have a model class room,
instead of the Whatnot Shop." Nancy was flitting around like some full
grown elf. The three girls, Isabel was with them, were out on the broad
sloping grounds surrounding Ruth's home, and it was perfectly plain that
Nancy was already enjoying her freedom from business.

"I think it's splendid," Isabel joined in. "We took millinery last
August, you know, so we don't want any more hat making. Mother is simply
thrilled, as Vera would say, and you know, Nan, Vera is due back
Tuesday. I guess the stores ran out of post cards and she couldn't live
at Beverly without cards. I've got enough of mine to paper our attic
room."

"And you'd never guess," enthused Nancy, "that salesman who came in with
the fishing tackle for our big sale, you know, is going to send Manny a
gas range! Just think of it, a gas range for us to use, to practice
cooking on."

"For nothing?" Ruth inquired.

"For the advertising. It seems, a demonstrator for a special line of gas
ranges used to go to Raleigh, that's Manny's old school, and, of course,
when the salesman came in to sell and _we_ weren't buying," she was
drawling her words to assume an imposing air, "of course," she
continued, "he became deeply interested in our plans, and at once
offered to send his friend, the lady demonstrator, out to make plans
with Manny."

"And we're to be demonstrated," chimed in Isabel, imitating Nancy's
twang. "I choose pie. I want my picture 'took' curling the edge of a
lemon meringue," and she executed a few very 'curly' steps to
illustrate.

There was no denying it. Nancy was happy on these the first days of her
real vacation. It had been splendid, of course, to have twenty-five
dollars of her very own to offer to advance Miss Manners, to clear up
the rent worry, but the store had not been all fun, she was willing to
admit that.

"And do you know, girls," Nancy confided, "we, mother and I, had some
doubts about the way Miss Townsend would take the news? Do sit down,
Belle," she broke off. "How can I tell a story while you're doing
hand-springs?"

"These are flip-flaps," insisted Isabel. "Just watch this one."

She was leaning with both hands on a long low bench, and the "flip"
consisted of a violent spring of both feet from the ground. After
bringing the feet down again with the unavoidable jerk, she performed
the "flop" by pivoting around until she sat on the bench and stuck both
her feet out straight in front of her.

"It's very pretty," commented Nancy. "But if you want to hear my story
you have got to flop. I insist upon a sitting audience."

This demand restored comparative quiet and Nancy continued with her
narrative.

"I was telling you about Miss Townsend," she went on. "You just should
see that lady. She's all 'set up.' We understood she was a nervous
wreck--"

"She was," interrupted Ruth, "but I heard mother say her brother's
business affairs are being mysteriously adjusted. Maybe that's why she
has become rejuvenated."

"Yes, that's exactly it," snapped Nancy. "And how the great, grand trick
worked is one of the stories we have missed. I never saw such a place as
Long Leigh for floating stories that no one can explain. Miss Townsend
talked all around her good luck, but never touched it. Of course, I
couldn't be so rude--"

"Of course _you_ couldn't," mocked Isabel.

"Just the same," retorted Nancy, "I did ask right out straight, without
hint or apology, where--Mr. Sanders lived."

"And you got snubbed for your pains," flung in Ruth.

"Nothing of the kind, I became informed for my pains," asserted Nancy.

"Land sakes tell us!" pleaded Isabel. "First thing you know I'll hear
our car, and miss the--mystery."

"Well," began Nancy, deliberately and provokingly, "I asked her: 'Where
does Mr. Sanders live?' And just as I was gulping hard to control my
emoting emotions, Miss Townsend shook her necklace like a dinner bell,
and said softly--"

Nancy paused. The girls were threatening to throw her over the bench
into the flower bed but she seemed about ready to divulge the secret, so
presently they desisted.

"Well," she said, "Miss Townsend answered, 'Mr. Sanders lives right here
in this hotel. He moved in yesterday and the poor man needed the change
after all he's been through.' Now girls," pouted Nancy, "did you ever
see anything as mean as that? Just when I'm free to dig up the wild and
woolly mystery, our hero goes and rents a room in the Waterfall House,"
and she affected a pose intended to excite pity, but in reality causing
mirth.

"I see it all!" cried Isabel, jumping up on the bench and laying a
sprawled hand over the heart location. "All, girls, all." Her voice was
droning like a school boy reciting the Charge of the Light Brigade.
"What happened was this!"

"This!" interrupted Ruth, pinching Isabel's ankles until she literally
fell from her perch.

"Whow!" yelled Isabel. "Can't one elocute without being plucked by cruel
hands? I tell you, girls, we have lost a lot of fun in not keeping up
with our little brothers." This was said in a very different and quite
serious tone. "If you were to ask Ted, Nancy, very confidentially, what
is or was the secret of the hidden treasure place, I'm almost sure he
would tell you. He _knows_!" she declared loudly, "and so does my
brother Gerard know, but _he_ won't tell me."

"Then it is or was a question of hiding a treasure," reflected Nancy.
"I'm so sorry it is only that. I perfectly hate treasure mysteries,
they're so horribly common. I had in mind some sort of great, grand,
spooky, now-you-see-me and now-you-don't trick. That would have been
heaps more fun than just the old hidden treasure business. Well, at any
rate, _we_ seem to have missed it, for Mr. Sanders is really living at
the hotel," she wound up finally.

"Is that any reason why we shouldn't find out the secret?" demanded
Ruth. "It seems to me we would be better able to do so, now that every
one else has suddenly grown rich, and there's no more danger of getting
folks into trouble by prying into their business. I just wish Sibyl
Sanders would come up again. I fancy she would be just tickled to tell
us the whole thing," declared Ruth.

"I must trot along," Nancy suddenly announced. "And girls, please don't
forget about the first lesson in domestic science, to be held at the
residence of--"

A loud and insistent honking of a motor horn interrupted Nancy's
flattering announcement, and presently all three girls were scampering
down to the roadside to pile into Gerard's Duryea car, for Isabel's
brother was taking them for a ride into town, ostensibly to do some
important family errands, but really to have one of those unplanned
jolly times that go to make up the happy summer time.

"I must be back by five," warned Nancy. But her companions only pushed
her back further in the over crowded car-seat as they sailed along.



                              CHAPTER XVI

                              JUST FISHING


Some days later the Whatnot Shop was being dismantled, that is the
shelves were being treated to a great clearing off, and the
old-fashioned glass cases were being lined with white oilcloth,
preparatory to Miss Manners' Domestic Science Class storing their
samples of food therein.

Gradually Nancy's sense of honor was coming back into its own, for not
only her mother but also her girl friends were constantly reassuring
her.

"There's nothing small nor frivolous about changing one's mind for the
better," they told her. "In fact," said the mother, "that one is willing
to do so, is very often a mark of progress. If we didn't change our
minds how could we grow wiser?"

"But I thought I'd just love business," Nancy complained. "I was crazy
to keep store and now I'm crazy to start something else."

"Which is perfectly normal and entirely reasonable for any healthy young
girl," her mother insisted. "Can you imagine girls being as staid and as
old fashioned as their mothers?"

"Moth-thur!" Nancy sort of moaned, "If ever I could be as _new_
fashioned as my mother I shouldn't mind how old nor how young I might
be. And you are a love not to scold me. I know you are glad to see Manny
so happy setting-up her school, and I know you will be better satisfied
to have her there, facing the fierce public, than allowing me to do so.
Not that I had any trouble with the dear public," Nancy mocked. "And not
that Brother Ted wasn't always within a few miles call if I needed him.
But, at any rate, Mums, I did make some real money, didn't I?" she
cooed, quite birdlike for Nancy.

A clean little, yellow bankbook was offered for evidence by Mrs. Brandon
at this question, for being a business woman, she knew the value of
personal interest in every part of a business undertaking, and so, early
in the experiment, she had brought Nancy into the City Bank and there
attended to the formalities of opening her bank account.

"Mother, you keep the book, please," Nancy begged just now, as Mrs.
Brandon offered it to her. "I know I ought to be very careful and not
forget where I put things, but somehow I do. And I would hate to lose
that precious book," she murmured, touching her mother's cheek with her
lips as she made the appeal.

"Very well, daughter," Mrs. Brandon conceded, "but you simply must learn
to remember, and the way to do that is think of a thing as you do it,"
she advised.

Nancy was, however, already improving in such matters. Being obliged to
find things for herself, instead of calling out to Anna, the maid, as
she had been in the habit of doing, was teaching a lesson that words had
never been able to convey to her.

It now lacked but three days of the opening of the class, and in these
days Nancy and Ted were planning to have a great time fishing,
exploring, and hunting. By "hunting" they meant looking for Indian
relics along the river bank, for Ted insisted there really were such
articles to be found there, if one were only patient enough in the
search.

This was the day set for fishing, and Ted was just now coming up to the
back door with a tin can slung on a string, and that, in turn, was slung
over his shoulder on a pole.

"Got lots of them!" he called out. "Nice fat ones, too. We can catch big
fish with such worms as these," and he set down the outfit to display
his freshly dug bait.

"Well, I'm not going to put them on the hook," protested Nancy. "I don't
mind handling the slippery little things, but I can't murder them.
You'll have to bait my hook, Ted, if you want me to go," she insisted.

"Oh, all right," growled Ted, merely pretending to protest, but really
just showing his boyish contempt for such girlish whims. "I'll put them
on for you. But do hurry, Nan," he urged. "This is a dandy morning to
fish. Hardly any sun at all."

Calling good-bye to Miss Manners, who, even, this early, was at work in
the store, Nancy was soon ready to start off with her brother on the
fishing trip. She was clad in her oldest gingham, and wore her most
battered big straw hat, nevertheless she looked quite picturesque, if
not really pretty even in this rough attire; for Nancy was ever a
striking looking girl.

"Think we ought to take your old express wagon, Ted?" she asked,
jokingly.

"What for?" demanded the boy in surprise.

"To carry them home in," laughed Nancy. But even then Ted didn't see the
joke.

Presently they were trudging along the heavily shaded road that wound in
and out around Bird's Woods until it would stretch along side Oak's
Pond, where the fishing was to be done.

"It's fine to have you come, Nan," remarked the boy, wagging his bare
head and slapping his fish bag against his bare legs. Ted was wearing
old clothes himself, and his trousers had not been trimmed any too
evenly, for one leg ended above the knee and the other leg ended below
the other knee. But he looked about right as a fisher-boy, his cheeks
well tanned, his brown eyes sparkling and his browner hair doing pretty
much as it pleased all over his head.

"I'm mighty glad to come, Ted," Nancy was saying in reply to his gentle
little compliment. "It is great to be off all by ourselves, although, of
course, I have good enough times with the girls," she amended, loyally.

"Me too," added Ted, "I have lots of sport with the fellows but this is
better," he concluded, as Ted would.

Arrived at a spot where the pond dug into a soft green bank, rounding
into a beautiful semi-circular basin, brother and sister there camped.
Ted insisted that Nancy take the choicest seat, a smooth spot on the big
tree that must have been felled years before, and which had found
comfortable quarters on the edge of the jolly little stream. Sympathetic
ferns stretched their soft green fronds along the sides of the naked
wood, as if they wanted to supply the fallen tree with some of the
verdure of which it had been cruelly bereft, and even a gay, flowering
swamp lily, that wonderful flaming flower that holds its chalice above
all other wood blooms, bent just a little toward the one branch of that
tree that still clung to the parent trunk.

Nancy squatted down expectantly. Ted had baited her hook and she was now
casting out her line in the smooth, mysterious stream, clear enough on
the surface, but darker than night beneath. She had removed her "sneaks"
and stockings, so that she might enjoy the freedom of dipping her toes
into the little ripples that played around the log.

"I don't care whether I catch anything or not," she remarked, "it's
lovely just to sit here and fish."

"We'll catch, all right," Ted assured her. "This is a great place for
fish--regular nest of them in under these rocks." He shifted a little on
his perch, which was on a live tree that leaned out of the stream.

Presently Nancy developed a song from the tune she had been humming:

"Singing eyly-eely-ho! Eyly-eely-ho!"

"Got to keep quiet when you fish," Ted interrupted her.

"All right," agreed Nancy affably. "But that tune has been simmering all
day and I just had to let it light up. Say Ted," she began all over
again, "did you hear about your friend, Mr. Sanders, getting rich?"

"Rich? I'm glad of it. He's all right," the boy declared, flipping his
line to a new spot.

"Yep-py, rich," Nancy repeated. "He's living at the hotel."

"Oh, I knew that," scoffed the boy, airily.

"Did you? Then why didn't you tell me?"

"Secret," snapped Ted, shutting his lips with a snap that even a
venturesome fish might have heard.

"And the Townsends--they are quite prosperous too," Nancy pressed
further.

"Ye-ah." Ted was not encouraging the confidence.

For a few moments neither of them spoke again. Then Nancy's line began
to draw, to pull out into a straight line.

"Easy!" whispered Ted. "You've got a bite! Don't yank it. Wait until
he's on, good and tight!"

They waited, breathless. Then Ted, the experienced, gave the signal, and
Nancy, the amateur, drew very gently on her pole. Up, up, but still
under water, until suddenly the water surface freed the capture, and
something black, shiny, snaky, dangled violently from the upheld line!

"Oh, Ted, quick! It's a snake! Look a snake!" cried Nancy, getting to
her feet finally, after slipping several times on the smooth log.

"Look out," yelled Ted, for the black slimy thing dangling on Nancy's
line seemed to be making directly for her face, as it swung back and
forth and darted violently toward the shore.

"Oh-h-h-h-h!" Nancy screamed. "He's going for--" But she was taking no
further chances, instead, she flung her pole, line and hook and catch,
as far from her as a single fling could send it. The pole floated
contentedly but the slimy thing was again hidden in its beloved waters,
although it must have still been impaled upon the tortuous hook.

Ted looked a moment at the lost outfit.

"Nancy," he said gloomily. "You're crazy. That was a fine, fat eel, and
they're hard to catch that way. And look at--your--pole."

"I'll get it," decided the surprised girl, instantly slipping down from
the log and leaning out over the stream.

"Don't!" yelled Ted. But the warning was given too late, for as Nancy
stepped on what seemed to be grass, she found herself thrust into the
water, deep enough to frighten her of something worse than a snake.

"Oh!" she yelled again. "I've got to swim out, I'll smother in the bog
if--I--don't." And so saying she flung her body free from the deep
marsh-grass, and struck out in an emergency stroke toward the open
stream.

"Go up to the cove!" Ted yelled. "Just around that pine tree! I'll meet
you there!"

The light clothing she wore was not much more cumbersome than some
bathing suits are often found to be, so that Nancy, a capable swimmer,
was now pulling surely toward the cove, while Ted was racing, as best he
could in the heavy undergrowth to meet her as she would land.

But just as Nancy turned in to a clear little corner to make her
landing, she heard a muffled call.

"Help! Help!" came the indistinct cry.

Ted was abreast of her and he too heard the call.

"It's over in the sand dunes," he yelled, as Nancy stepped ashore and
shook some of the heavy water from her clothing. "Quick, Nancy, the
fellows went to play Indian there!"



                              CHAPTER XVII

                              THE CAVE-IN


There was no time to think of wet garments as Nancy raced after Ted
toward the sand dunes.

"Quick," he urged. "They're the little fellows, Billy and Jack, and they
must be under the sand."

Just beyond the trees and undergrowth that surrounds Oak's Pond, a
stretch of sand hills offered the youngsters an ideal playground. A few
scrubby pines managed to draw from the dry soil enough vitality for a
very much impoverished growth, and it was from the direction of the
trees that the feeble call was now heard, at protracted intervals.

"There!" pointed out Ted. "There's the shack. They must be in a cave-in
near it."

His surmise proved correct, for quickly as brother and sister could
reach the spot, they found every evidence of a cave-in and a sand
deluge.

"We're here," Ted called. "That you Billy?"

"Oh, yeah," came a pitiful little squeak. "We're smoth-rin' to death.
Quick--please--quick."

"There's a board," Ted ordered, at once taking charge of the rescue.
"You can dig with that, Nan. I'll dig with my hands."

Exactly like a very eager dog that digs with all fours when he wants to
get in or out of a pit, Ted went to work. The light sand flew in clouds
as he pawed and kicked, so that compared with his efforts Nancy's
board-shovelling seemed provokingly slow.

"Oh, this is no good!" she finally burst out. "I can do that, too," and
without a thought but for the rescue, Nancy dropped to the position Ted
was working in, and was soon digging and kicking until her clouds of
sand rivalled his.

"Oh! Oh!" came repeated calls and groans. "We--can't--breathe. Move the
board! It's pressing--"

"We're coming. We're coming," Nancy called back. "Don't get frightened;
you can't smother now."

But it was not easy to reach the imprisoned youngsters, for a collapsed
sand hill is as slippery to control as a rushing water fall. Every time
the rescuers thought themselves within reach of a board, an avalanche of
sand would tumble upon it and bury the end they tried to grasp.

At last Nancy grabbed hold of a big stick that protruded from the hill.

"Here Ted," she called. "Get this! It's under a board--"

Raising the stick carefully they did, at last, lay hold of one of the
collapsed boards, the "roof" under which the youngsters had been caught.

"Care-ful," warned Ted. "Raise it! Don't pull it out!"

It was heavy, for sand pressed itself into great weight, in spite of its
infinitesimal atoms. At last the rescuers were able, with care and
skill, to raise the board, then another, until finally the bare feet of
two small badly frightened boys, led directly to the entire persons of
the same little victims.

"Oh my! Mercy me!" gasped Nancy. "They do look awful, Ted! Quick let's
get them water!"

"Jack is the worst," replied her brother. "Nan, see if your skirt is wet
yet. You could squeeze a little water on his face--"

The garment that had been dripping a few minutes before was still damp
enough to permit of being "squeezed," and standing over the pale face of
little Jack Baker, Nancy managed to extract some drops at least, to coax
back life into the almost unconscious boy.

Billy dragged himself out, although he was barely able to do so, and as
quickly as little Jack showed signs of life, Ted and Nancy between them
carried him down to the water's edge.

They were just about to bathe his face and hands when a canoe drifted
into sight around the cove.

"Mr. Sanders!" called Ted. "There's Mr. Sanders," he repeated, and his
voice was reaching the occupant of the canoe, for the bark was now
headed directly for land.

First aid and other common sense treatment was soon being administered
to both Billy and Jack by Mr. Sanders, Ted and Nancy, and when the
cave-in victims were finally entirely resuscitated, it was decided that
Mr. Sanders should carry them up stream in his boat, and so enable them
to easily reach their homes, at the head of the pond.

"You've been having some experience this morning," the man remarked to
Nancy as he waited for the boys to climb in the big long boat. "Can't I
give you and Ted a lift too? There's room enough if everybody obeys
canoe rules," he said pleasantly.

"Oh, that would be fine," Ted replied, while Nancy was thinking of what
to say. "Sis fell in the pond after her fishing tackle," Ted added.
"That was our first adventure."

"That must be what I picked up," interrupted Mr. Sanders pointing out
Nancy's pole with the cord wound around it, lying in the bottom of the
boat.

"Yes, that's mine," admitted Nancy, "and I'm glad to get it back for it
was a special pole--one I got for a premium from a Boston store," she
explained.

"Well, pile in," ordered Mr. Sanders, "and you little 'uns' had best not
frighten your folks with the cave-in story," he warned. "Better to be
careful next time," he finished laughingly.

When all were securely ensconced in the long, graceful bark, Nancy was
given the extra paddle and allowed to ply it alongside Mr. Sanders. In
the joy of that unusual privilege, (for she was seldom allowed in a
canoe,) the accidents were quickly lost thought of, even Jack and Billy
venturing to trail their fingers in the stream, while Ted sitting in the
stern took chances on throwing out his line now and then just for the
fun of feeling it pull through the quiet waters.

As they sailed along, conversation was rather scattered, consisting
mainly of snatches of questions and answers between Nancy and Mr.
Sanders. The two little boys had scarcely spoken since their rescue, and
now within sight of home, they were just beginning to assume normal
courage.

Suddenly Nancy started to titter. There was no apparent cause for her
change of mood, but the more she bit her lip, looked out toward shore,
bent her head toward her paddle and otherwise strove to divert herself,
the more the titter gathered and broke into a laugh, over her helpless
features.

"Funny, isn't it?" remarked Mr. Sanders drolly.

"Silly, but I just can't help laughing," she admitted. "It's at the
idea--"

"I wonder if I couldn't guess," interrupted the man with the strong
brown arms. "It's about me, isn't it?"

"Yes," admitted Nancy, slowly.

"And about--about my supposed magic powers." He stopped and enjoyed a
light laugh himself. "Wouldn't it be tragic if I should disappear just
now?" he said so suddenly, that Nancy jerked her paddle out of the water
and stared at him with a sort of guilty flush.

"The idea--" she faltered.

"Ha, ha, ha!" roared the big man swinging toward the shore where Jack
and Billy were to land. "That's a great story, isn't it? But I'll tell
you," he lowered his voice in a tone of confidence, "I am altogether to
blame for that fantastic yarn, but sometimes we have to let folks guess
even if they do make--spooks out of us." He laughed again and even the
little boys were now being tempted to join in. "But I want to promise
you and your brother this, Nancy," he said seriously. "You shall be
among the first to know the answer to the riddle of my magic
disappearance around the gray stone house."

"Thank you," Nancy managed to say, as Ted caught a strong little branch
on shore, and helped land the canoe.



                             CHAPTER XVIII

                            INTRODUCING NERO


It did not seem possible that Manny's school had been successfully
opened two weeks ago! That the girls in her class, at first numbering
eight now counted fourteen, each paying five dollars for the month's
training in domestic science, with lessons three mornings a week.
Fourteen pupils at five dollars each and every single one paid in
advance, while Nancy was acting as class president and Ruth as class
secretary; these were, indeed, auspicious arrangements.

And besides the seventy dollars paid Miss Manners for tuition, the class
members brought their own supplies and were privileged to take them home
with them, in the form of various tempting dishes, "the like of which"
as Nancy expressed it, "never had been seen in Long Leigh before nor
since."

"Maybe you don't know you're a wonder," Ruth remarked very casually to
Nancy, while she, as secretary, was consulting with Nancy as president.
"I can cook better _now_ than I ever expected to in my whole life. And
as for Isabel! She's so enthusiastic, her mother says she has to
restrain her from going into the boarding house business. You should
just taste Belle's 'Cherry Moss.' Um-m-m! It was de-lic-ious!" and Ruth
smacked her lips to the echo. "Her brother Tom wanted to know why we
didn't make up a class for boys. He was in the army, you know, and so
thinks himself very efficiently trained."

"Isn't it great?" Nancy remarked, referring, of course, to the success
of the class. "And for a laggard, an idler and one who positively hated
the very letters that spelled cooking, I think I'm doing pretty well
myself. I made a fudge cake yesterday and mother carried it out to set
before the library ladies, can you imagine that? A cake that _I_ made!
After my heartbreaking experience with the ungreased pans!"

It was very early in the afternoon and Ruth, with Nancy, was putting the
class room in order. She had remained over to lunch as she often did,
and the two chums found pleasure in arranging the white covered tables,
the shining pans, the numbered spoons and other utensils. It was all so
much pleasanter than doing anything in an ordinary kitchen.

The gas range, that was sent in to Miss Manners as a demonstrator's
sample, was majestically white and really quite attractive, if such an
article can be called attractive, and just how Nancy hovered rather
lovingly over it, polishing with the very softest, whitest cloth the
impeccable, enameled surface.

Ruth had been finishing a little memorandum in her oilcloth covered
book. She laid the book down now and strolled over to Nancy. In their
white aprons and white caps, Nancy and Ruth looked too picturesque to be
passed by without compliment.

Ruth wound her arm around Nancy's shoulder. "I wonder," she said, "why
we sometimes think that all play is more fun?"

"I never did," replied Nancy, innocently. "My trouble always has been in
finding enough different things to do." She looked rather pathetically
into the soft gray eyes that were caressing her own darker orbs. There
was no impulsive hugging, nor other ordinary demonstrations of
affections dear to the average emotional girls, for Nancy was not given
to extremes, nor was Ruth addicted to such flagrant sentiment.

The two girls were especially happy just now. Nancy was accomplishing
more, much more, than she had ever hoped to do, with her little shop
that first brought real financial help to her mother, and was now doing
as much for Miss Manners. Besides all this, it was giving the girls
themselves a very useful, as well as enjoyable, summer diversion. Ruth,
although a new friend of Nancy's, had become a very fond friend indeed,
for the frank, original and genuine qualities of Nancy were unmistakable
in their sincerity, and it was easy enough for any girl to love her--if
she could but get near enough to her to know her.

"And you don't think it shows a weakness to be so changeable?" Nancy
asked Ruth. "I just can't seem to be happy unless I'm planning something
new."

"Why, that's--that's a sign of originality," replied Ruth, smoothing
Nancy's cap on her dark hair. "Some day you'll do something wonderful--"

"About the girls," Nancy interrupted. "Don't you think we were fortunate
to get the Riker girls to join the class? They seem to represent the
smart set at Upper Crust Hill, and they brought at least five others
along."

"Nancy, our school is the talk of Long Leigh. Lots of mothers think
their girls should do something useful during the month of August, and
I'd just like to see any mother find a study more useful than
cooking--according to her ideas," said Ruth.

"And Vera is going to take an extra hour for desserts," Nancy went on.
"I can see Vera the pride of her family some day. Such home talent may
be inherited. We haven't any of it in our family, I'm afraid," said
Nancy, regretfully.

"But you've got something more precious," Ruth assured her. "I never saw
three folks so like one person as you three are, and yet you are all
individually different; if you know what I mean."

"I do," said Nancy. "And you're a dear, Ruth. What would I have done out
here without you?"

"Taken the stylish Vivian Riker to your heart," teased Ruth. "She's a
beauty."

There was a stir outside.

"Look who's here!" interrupted Nancy, jumping up and hurrying toward the
door. "Ted! And he's got the threatened new dog with him. Come and see!"

The threatened new dog was indeed being coaxed along by Ted, but he
didn't look exactly new. In fact, his coat was matted and shaggy, his
tail hung down without a bit of "pep" in it, and even his long,
long-haired ears seemed too discouraged to pick up the kindest words Ted
was trying to pour into them.

"Nero!" announced Ted simply, as Nancy opened the door and Ted tried to
push the melancholy Nero in.

"What ails him?" Nancy asked, looking the strange animal over,
critically.

"Just nothin' but lonesome," replied the small boy cryptically.

"He looks pretty--blue," Ruth commented, giving the dog a friendly but
unappreciated pat on his shaggy head.

"Guess you'd be blue too, if you lived where he did," Ted told Ruth.
"That poor dog hadn't a friend in the world until I found him. Here,
Nero, come along and eat," ordered Ted, while Nero followed him toward
the back door through the erstwhile Whatnot Shop and present-time
classroom. "He's a fine dog," the little fellow continued to praise,
"and when I get him all fixed up he'll be a beauty too," he insisted
stoutly.

"Maybe," Nancy almost giggled as she looked after Ted and his dog. "But
when you take him to the beauty shop, Ted, you better get him a real
Russian bob, his hair is long enough to braid," she commented gaily.

"You can laugh," Ted retorted, "but he's a thoroughbred--a one-man dog.
He won't notice you girls. Come on Nero, attaboy," chanted Ted,
importantly.

But being cooks, Nancy and Ruth could do no less than offer to provide
Nero's meal. Each thought he would like something else best, and each
tried the other dish, pushing it under his indifferent nose and coaxing
him with:

"Here Nero! Good! Eat! Eat-er-up!" etc.

But Nero merely sniffed disdainfully, snuggled his nose deeper into his
flattened paws, and turned two big, brown adoring eyes up at his young
master.

"Pity about him!" quoth Nancy. "Maybe he wants some of Isabel's Cherry
Moss. Just stew or beefsteak or even fried potatoes are not, it seems,
on his diet bill."

They were all out on the back porch, Ted squatted squarely beside the
new dog, while the girls floated around Nero, like little tugs
surrounding a big steamer.

"He doesn't _have_ to eat," Ted remarked indifferently, "he had a free
lunch on the way over."

"He did!" screeched Nancy. "And you let us go to all this trouble!" She
kicked the tin pan of water over in sheer disgust.

"Well, I thought he might like something else," murmured the small boy,
provokingly. "He only had a big soup bone and loaf of bread."

Taking off their cooking-school caps and unbuttoning their aprons as
they went, the girls wended their way back to the deserted class room.

"Can anyone beat that?" remarked Nancy, inelegantly. "Ted and his dog
and the big--soup--bone! I could put a tune to that; a sad mournful
dirgy tune."

"Wherever do you suppose he picked up the brute?" Ruth asked. "I don't
remember having seen him around town."

"Oh, trust Ted," replied Nancy. "When we first came here, mother
answered him once, in a most casual, unthinking way: 'Yes.' It seemed
his question was could he have a dog, and mother hadn't been paying
strict attention. Since then he's been on a hunt for a dog. He brought
home a poor half-dead little tatters one day, but some boy followed him
up and claimed the beauty. I wonder if this one will be left to him? He
seems pretty particular about his food, doesn't he?"

"Yes," replied Ruth, who was just glancing out the door. Suddenly she
exclaimed:

"Here's a taxi coming, and it's the one mother always uses. I guess
she's sending for me, I'll go out and see."

Nancy looked out and saw Ruth talking earnestly to the driver. She
seemed to be disagreeing with the message he was giving her, and she
turned abruptly to come back to Nancy.

"Imagine that!" she panted, "Mother wants me to meet a train and take an
old lady to see the Hilton house. As if I could show a house to one of
father's customers!" Ruth's voice betrayed actual antipathy to the very
idea.

"But why not?" queried Nancy. "If she is just an old lady--"

"A rich old lady who has come a distance without notifying father's
office, and there isn't a man within call to take her out," Ruth sighed
miserably. The thought of showing a house seemed absolutely beyond her.

"I'll go with you," Nancy offered. "Why couldn't we show a house? We
know how to call out rooms, don't we?"

Ruth jerked back her pretty head and stared at Nancy.

"All right," she exclaimed, brightening perceptibly. "I'll go if you
promise to do the talking. I'm sure you can call off rooms and do more
than that in the business line, Nancy. Let's hurry. The train is almost
due."

So the two young "real estate ladies" were presently seated most
circumspectly in the taxi, on the way to "meet a wealthy lady who wanted
to look at the Hilton house."

And Nancy was fairly aglow with the prospect of a new and interesting
business adventure.



                              CHAPTER XIX

                              A DISCOVERY


"Isn't she lovely? Looks like a cameo." That was Nancy's remark to Ruth
when Mrs. Mortimer Cullen tarried in the sun parlor of the Hilton house,
through which the girls were conducting her.

But Ruth only sighed. Her task was too obnoxious to permit of
compliments even to the handsome, elderly woman, who indeed did look
like an animated cameo, set in a frame of gray veils, thrown over a
small summer hat.

"Isn't the garden beautiful from this porch?" Nancy enthused, joining
Mrs. Cullen there. "Just look at that hedge! It's literally screened in
with fine white clematis! And look! Mrs. Cullen! Just see that bower of
Golden Blows! Oh, I don't believe I have ever seen such a beautiful
place," and Nancy flitted around like a big butterfly herself, her
yellow and white tissue dress escaping in little clouds about her, as
she raced from room to room.

"My grand-daughter Naomi, is quite like you," smiled the amused lady.
"If you see so much beauty here I am sure it would please her. And it is
for her, principally, that I am considering coming to Long Leigh."

"Oh, I'm sure she'd love it," chirped Nancy. "But do come upstairs and
see all the wonderful bay-windows. Why, this house is made just like a
lot of flower bowls. Every single room opens out in--Just see these
windows."

So Ruth and Mrs. Cullen followed Nancy upstairs to see the windows. From
that point of vantage she dragged them to the alcove over the stairs and
pointed out the "glorious garden," from that view. And she was being
perfectly sincere in her enthusiasm. None of it was assumed, in fact,
one would have imagined Nancy was considering buying the fine old
homestead for her own use.

They spent more than an hour looking over the place and even then Nancy
hated to leave.

"Imagine having a home like that," she tried to whisper to Ruth. "I
think I'd be satisfied even to do housework if I could look out that
kitchen window as I did it," she added, while Mrs. Cullen smiled her
satisfaction into Nancy's eager face.

They drove back to the train with the prospective customer, who, when
taking her leave, glanced significantly at Nancy.

"My dear," she said, "you gave me a very pleasant little visit to your
pretty Long Leigh, and I hope if my grand-daughter, Naomi, comes
here--ever, she will meet you." She then touched Ruth's hand gently,
saying something about having her father's office get in touch with her.

When the train had cleared the station the two girls broke into a much
relieved giggle. Ruth declared that Nancy had won the heart of "Lady
Cullen who is as rich as they come," she explained, inelegantly.

"And I had such a good time--"

"Whoa there! No, you don't, Antoinette Brandon," Ruth warned Nancy. "You
are _not_ going in the real-estate business, so you needn't get all set
for it. My father has a family to feed--"

But the very gentleman spoken of was at that moment hurrying across the
platform, to meet the two uproarious girls.

He was most anxious to know about their mission. Mrs. Cullen, it
appeared, was a very important personage, and he regretted genuinely the
absence from his office of a suitable escort for the lady.

"Oh, you needn't worry, Daddy," Ruth assured him, taking the city
newspaper from one of his pockets and feeling for candy in the other.
"Nancy took such good care of her that she almost stayed over to buy
more houses. You'll have to look out for Nancy, Dad." Ruth continued to
joke. "She's an expert business man, you know, and might take a notion
to try real-estate."

"The more the merrier," replied the genial gentleman, who, like Ruth,
had great gray eyes and a clear florid complexion, "I've been wanting to
see your mother, Nancy," he said next. "Maybe, I could suit her better
in a house than you are being suited in the Townsend place," he
ventured.

"Oh, we love it over there," Nancy hurried to state. "And besides, Mr.
Ashley, we're just poor folks," she added laughingly.

"So are we all of us," joined in Mr. Ashley. "But I supposed, now that
Sanders has struck his gold mine, he might want to buy the little place
himself, sort of souvenir, you know." As they talked, they were walking
back to the waiting taxi, in which the girls had fetched Mrs. Cullen to
the station.

"Now Daddy," objected Ruth, "we've had enough business for one
afternoon. Nancy must get back home and I've got a music lesson, if Miss
Dudley has waited for me, and I hope she hasn't."

Nancy felt rather important stepping out of the taxi at her door, it
seemed, somehow, much more business-like than just riding in someone's
private car, and she dashed up the store steps, still thrilled with
enthusiasm from her experience.

Inside the door she found Ted, crouched before the fireplace urging Nero
to "sic" something.

"Get him, boy!" he was coaxing. "Go-get-him!"

"Get whom?" Nancy asked, in surprise at the spectacle.

"What ever is in that chimney," the boy replied. "Do you think Nero
couldn't get it as good as that puny little dog of Miss Townsend's?"

"But how do you know anything is in there?"

"Heard it--it whistles. Besides you said so." Ted was not a waster of
words.

"I never said there was anything there," Nancy argued. "But what
whistled? What did you hear?"

"Just whistlin'. Sic him Nero!" and Ted tried to push the big shaggy
head against the old-fashioned fireplace board, that was papered with a
very brilliant and hideous set paper piece, the center representing a
terrible time among birds that looked like freak chickens.

But Nero was absolutely deaf to Ted's entreaties. No more would he "go
for" the chimney than he went for the food offered him by the solicitous
young domestic science students, Nancy and Ruth.

"I don't think you should keep that big--untidy dog in here, Ted,"
remonstrated Nancy, who hesitated over calling Nero "dirty" and felt
foolish at calling him "untidy." She crossed to the corner of the store
and raised a window. "You know," she continued, "this is a cooking
school and everything has to be strictly sanitary."

"He's strictly sanitary," Ted declared, pressing his own curly head down
to Nero's. "I'm glad I've got him, I needed a chum around home," he
finished, affectionately.

"How about me?" teased Nancy.

"Oh you!" Ted was caressing Nero, and Nero was thudding his tail in
response.

"Yes, what about me, Ted? Don't you like me any more?"

"Like you! But you ought to hear folks talk. They say you'll be starting
a--butcher shop next."

Nancy drew her breath in sharply. Were they criticising her like that?

"Who's talking about me?" she demanded of her brother.

"Don't have to get mad," drawled Ted. "What do we care? We know, I
guess," he placated, tactfully.

"But who's talking?" she insisted.

"It's all jealousy," the boy evaded. "They're disappointed because the
Townsends and Mr. Sanders are getting along so well. First, they tried
to make Mr. Sanders out foolish, and now they say this place is spooky.
Guess I've been here long enough to know," he retorted, as if answering
the unknown foes.

But Nancy was stricken with that painful self-consciousness that so
often lately had taken possession of her. The changeable girl, even her
friends were calling her; why did she so love--to change?

"Look!" whispered Ted, directing her attention to the dog.
"He--hears--it!"

Nero was now alert, head cocked to one side, ears pricked up, and every
dog-feature of him ready to pounce.

Ted and Nancy watched him, breathless.

A little snapping bark, a growl, long and threatening; then a wild,
fierce howl, and the big creature dashed against the fireboard!

"There!" exclaimed Ted. "I told you so!"

"What is it?" gasped Nancy.

But the barking of Nero shut out even the sound of their voices, and as
brother and sister looked on, the big dog pawed the fireboard,
scratching away the paper, birds, flowers, impossible sky and all.

Presently he turned from that attack and dashed to the back door. Ted
and Nancy were quick to follow him.

"Let him out," Nancy directed. "He may know there's someone around."

Unhooking the screen door Ted let his dog out. With a bounding leap Nero
cleared the steps and dashed around the house to the chimney corner.

"Look!" screamed Nancy, "there--goes--a--man!"

As she pointed to the farthest corner of the lot, where the fence was
broken down to admit a short cut to the avenue, they saw a man, just
stepping through the brush.

"Mr. Sanders!" exclaimed Ted. "I see his bald head!"

"Mr. Sanders," Nancy repeated. "What can he have been doing here?"

"That's what Nero is trying to find out," replied Ted, dryly. "Let's see
how he's making out. He's stopped barking. Maybe--he's--got--it."

It took but a few moments to reach the side of the house, where the
old-fashioned stone foundation was broken by a place, through which the
ashes from the fireplace had once been cleaned out. Here sat Nero. He
wagged his tail happily as Ted came up, and he now seemed perfectly
satisfied and contented.

"What is it Nero?" Nancy coaxed patting the dog in a most friendly way.
He was evidently winning her affection as well as Ted's.

But Ted knew best how to follow the animal's lead. He was down on his
knees in front of the mossy stones and had his ear cocked to the small
iron door.

[Illustration: Ted had his ear cocked to the small iron door.]

"Yep," he sort of gasped. "It's there! It's kinda-tickin'."

"Let me listen," Nancy asked, dropping down beside him.

For some time brother, sister and the big dog were all crouched there,
attentive, eager and somewhat excited.

"Just a little sound--like an egg-beater," Nancy suggested. "And look,
Ted, those broken weeds! Mr. Sanders must have been in here just now."

"Sure, it's his," said Ted, in a manner as matter of fact as if an
egg-beater "whistling" in the old fireplace was the most ordinary thing
in the world to expect being put there by Mr. Sanders.



                               CHAPTER XX

                           THE MIDNIGHT ALARM


It was a very exciting story, indeed, that Ted and Nancy poured into
their mother's ears that evening. Had she any possible objections to
adopting Nero as the fourth member of the family, they must have been
quickly dispelled with the graphic account of that animal's uncanny
intelligence.

"He seemed to know just where to find the outlet to the chimney," Nancy
said, "for he ran directly to the little furnace place, and we didn't
really know it was there ourselves."

"Of course, he knew," said Ted importantly. "Dogs know lots of things
that we don't. And he's going to sleep in the store, isn't he, Mother?"

"Oh, not in the store, Ted," objected Nancy. "Do you think that would be
just right, Manny?"

"Well, a big dog like that," demurred Miss Manners, who, now being a
real resident of the Brandon home, shared their table with them.

"But he's had a swim and he's as clean as--as anything," floundered the
boy, quite unable to summon an appropriate comparison for his great
friend. "And Mother, he can watch the whole house for us. How do we know
someone wouldn't try to steal--the secret of the chimney place?"

"It isn't our secret," retorted Nancy, "and for my part I can't see what
right Mr. Sanders has around our place at all."

"You can depend, dear," said Mrs. Brandon gently, "that whatever he has
put in the chimney, if anything, it is something that could in no way
bother us. Mr. Sanders is a professor, and the old-fashioned stone oven
may have some special interest for him."

"But couldn't he ask us about it, if he wanted to--to plant a bomb
there?" Nancy remarked, superciliously.

"He's no gabber," said Ted, with more wisdom than elegance. "And anyway,
maybe he didn't. But Mother, may I have the old steamer rug to make a
bed for Nero? He's so big he needs a big bed."

It was finally agreed that Nero should be allowed to sleep in the store
before the fireboard, and after much work making the rug into a bed for
him, Ted eventually got him to try it.

Very slowly the big shaggy creature sprawled himself out on the soft
wool, but he only stayed sprawled for a few moments. The next, he got
up, took a corner of the rug between his teeth, dragged it over to the
show gas-range and, in a dog's way, proceeded to make his own bed.

Every one was watching him and every one laughed.

"He can do tricks," Ted declared proudly. "I'm goin' to train him for a
lot of things. He could almost do anything," the boy added, whereat even
Miss Manners laughed softly.

But Nero was settled at last, and so far as he was concerned, gave no
further trouble to the Brandon family for that evening. The subject of
the buzzing, egg-beater noise in the chimney, coupled with Mr. Sanders
leaving the grounds so suspiciously that afternoon was, however,
discussed most thoroughly.

Even to the children Mrs. Brandon's confidence in Mr. Sanders, agreeing
as it did with the confidence of so many other grown folks, gave cause
for much curious speculation. Nancy pretended that she disagreed with
this general sentiment, but that was only because she felt there was a
certain injustice in the manner of Mr. Sanders assuming rights over
their personal property.

Ted, on the contrary, was ready to vote for Mr. Sanders at every
opportunity, and while he didn't exactly say that Nero had at one time
belonged to the people who had lived in the big stone house, he _did_
say that Lou Peters, who gave him Nero, said that the Giffords, who
belonged on the hill, used to feed Nero regularly at their back door.
That was as near to proprietorship as Ted could bring Nero. Lou Peters
had been keeping him among the old boxes, so he gave him to Ted. All of
which followed a natural sequence, for Ted himself had been feeding Nero
dog biscuits and soup bones for a long time previously.

"Isn't it queer how jolly it seems to have a dog in the house," remarked
the boy, who was curled up on the couch and hugging a big story book
from which, tonight at least, he read very little.

"It does seem as if we have pleasant company," Miss Manners conceded
agreeably. She was, as usual, at her fancy work--some exquisitely fine
linen drawn work, being done for a city customer.

"But I thought we all agreed never again to become attached to a dog,"
recalled the mother. She was making notes and reading a book--a
librarian's method of reviewing.

"We all felt so dreadfully when Grumpy died," Nancy recalled. She sighed
effectively at the recollection. "Grumpy was the loveliest dog--"

"So is Nero," affirmed the fickle Ted. "In some ways he's a lot smarter.
You should have seen him do tricks for Lou Peters. He'll do them for me,
too," professed the youngster, "as soon as we get better acquainted."

"Oh, Ted," digressed Nancy. "I've been wanting to ask you. Did Billy and
Jack make out all right at home after their cave-in scare? Their folks
weren't angry, were they?"

"Angry!" scoffed Ted. "They each got a quarter for ice cream cones;
that's how angry their mothers were. Jack and Bill are two--pets," he
finished, rather contemptuously. "If they hadn't been so soft they'd
have known how to dig themselves out. Guess I'll go to bed," Ted then
announced suddenly and surprisingly, for he usually wanted to remain up
even longer than the others.

"Now, that Nero is asleep," teased Nancy. "But never mind, Ted," she
amended. "I'll give you credit for picking a fine dog. He's handsomer
than a collie, and not so awkward as a St. Bernard," Nancy commented,
rather critically.

"Sure," agreed Ted. "He's a thoroughbred," and with that all-meaning
compliment, Ted put his book upon the shelf, looked very carefully in
the store so as not to disturb the distinguished occupant, and almost
whispered good-night, kissing his mother fondly as he took his actual
leave.

"Ted does love that dog," Nancy remarked indulgently. "And I'm glad you
let him keep him, Mother, for Ted likes to wander off alone and a dog is
good company for him."

"The dear little fellow!" murmured his mother. "I can hardly believe he
is growing up and becoming able to look after himself. So often during
the day, I stop and wonder--"

"Oh, you needn't, Mums," interrupted Nancy, "for Manny barely lets him
out of her sight without all kinds of cautions. It's lovely since Manny
came," Nancy concluded, a little shyly.

Following all this each of the three applied herself to her task, (Nancy
was reading,) until the clock struck ten, then it appeared time to
follow Ted's example and retire, which they did.

It had to happen, it always does. The dog barked wildly in the very
blackest part of the night, and before they realized what had disturbed
them, the Brandon household was awake and on its feet!

"What can--it--be?" breathed little Miss Manners, wrapping her neat robe
closely around her.

"Why, it's Nero," answered Ted foolishly, although he was not trying to
be funny. "He's after someone. We're safe."

But Ted's unlimited confidence in his dog's power to protect, did not
lessen the uncanny feeling produced by the midnight howling, growling
bark.

Mrs. Brandon did what she could to assure Nancy and Miss Manners that
dogs often bark at almost nothing, but when she heard Nero's paws
scratching against the door that led from the hall into the little group
of sleeping rooms, her own courage sagged somewhat.

"Let him in!" ordered Ted. "Here, let me!" he corrected, going to the
door and meeting bravely the wild greeting of Nero. "What is it, boy?"
he asked. "What's the matter?"

To which question Nero threw his two great paws against Ted's chest,
barked not fiercely, but in that talking way dogs have, and then turned
to race back down the stairs.

"It's no one he's after," explained Ted, "or he wouldn't leave them to
come up and tell me. He wants to show me something--"

"Ted Brandon!" cried Nancy. "Don't you dare go down--"

"I'll go along," volunteered Mrs. Brandon. "As Ted says, the dog would
have stood guard if any one were trying to get in."

There was no use in further arguing, for Ted was already close on Nero's
heels, following him to the store whence he was leading. Mrs. Brandon
may have been timid, but small Ted's confidence in his dog was very
fortifying, and she, too, fell in with the small midnight procession.

Nancy did not remain upstairs, neither did Miss Manners, for somehow it
always does seem safer to "stick together" in that sort of trouble.

No one spoke as they followed the dog. With great dignity he led them
on, until, upon reaching the store, he made a pounce over to the corner
near the chimney.

"Oh," screamed Nancy. "It's that old chimney--"

"It's something else," exclaimed Ted. "Just look here! A 'busted' water
pipe. That's what it is! Look--at--the--flood!"

They all looked, and saw, issuing from a pipe that was connected near
the fireplace, a very positive and very menacing stream of water.

"Oh, my! Our things!" groaned Nancy. "I've got to turn the water off."

"But where? How?" asked Mrs. Brandon in confusion, fully realizing the
damage water could do.

"I know," replied Nancy, in her best business-like manner. "I was
'monkeying' with it the other day. It won't take me a jiffy," and while
the others patted the intelligent Nero for his alarm, Nancy flew to the
kitchen, got a wrench from Ted's tool chest in the little corner closet,
and then with one sure, swift turn, reversed the handle on the water
pipe that led from the boiler to the pipes from the cellar.

"It's off," yelled Ted. "That's all right, Nan, it's stopped."

"Why, daughter," exclaimed Mrs. Brandon, still breathless, "how did you
know how to do--that?"

"Because--she's a good plumber," declared Ted. "Hurrah! Nan! Let's start
a plumbing shop! That's something you--haven't tried yet."

"Ted!" said Nancy sharply. "I don't like being made fun of. Anybody
ought to know how to turn off a water pipe. We all know how to turn off
the gas, don't we?"

"Ted didn't mean to be rude, dear," Mrs. Brandon assured the injured
one, "but we were so surprised."

"And Nancy does seem to have such a talent for business," ventured Miss
Manners. "I tell you, dear," and she gathered her robe around her as she
followed the others out of the store, "it is something to be proud of.
Any of us can be just housekeepers, but it takes a different sort of
ability to be--the man of the house," she said, which was an unusual
figure of speech for prim Miss Manners to make use of.

"She can't be that," objected Ted.

"Very well, then," said Nancy. "Let's see you mop up that floor, Ted,"
she challenged. "That's a plumber's job, too," she pointed out. But it
was Mrs. Brandon who found the mop and Ted who used it. Nancy felt
perhaps, that the executive part, in turning off the water, was enough
for her to have done.

She was hurt, unwillingly, at Ted's joking remark.

"A plumber shop," she reflected mentally. "Well, one could do worse, for
plumbers are necessary and needle-work fiends aren't. Maybe I will take
up something practical before I find what would be best for me," she
continued to reason.

But none of them knew, nor was it possible for them to guess, what Nero
had saved in his timely midnight alarm.



                              CHAPTER XXI

                           FOR VALUE RECEIVED


It seemed but a very short time later that Nancy was again awakened. But
now the sunshine was streaming into her room, and she heard Miss Manners
talking down in the hall, in a suppressed voice.

"The children are not up yet," she was saying. "But come in, Ruth. You
see we were somewhat disturbed--"

"Come on up, Ruth!" called out Nancy. "Come up and hear about our
par-tee!"

Ruth came up promptly, and the story of the broken water pipe was
presently being told her, brokenly.

"How perfectly--thrill-ing!" she commented in her well known
characterization of the affected Vera. "But you should have had Nero
turn off the water--"

"I'll bet he could too," shouted Ted from his room. Ted never lost a
chance to praise Nero.

"But just listen to _my_ story," Ruth begged. "I've got a thrilling
yarn, too."

"Then, wait until I get propped up for it," ordered Nancy. "I can't hear
comfortably when I'm down." She put her two pillows under her shoulders
and assumed a most affected air of the tired society girl after her
dance. Even a cap was improvised from a twisted stocking, a lacy robe
was concocted from her thin, soft slip, and the luxurious effect was
completed by Ruth piling upon the bed a bunch of mussed up store
paper--the morning mail!

"There now," said Ruth, "I hope you can hear. Although I must say you
are not well cast. The character for you, Nan, is that of a short haired
lady at a big desk, her eyes bulging out of goggles and her waist line
strapped into a belt. You know--"

"Yes, I know," admitted Nancy, "but I like this better--it's more
becoming, isn't it?" Another pose and a shift of the lacy robe. Then
Nancy appeared ready to hear Ruth's story.

"You sold the place!" Ruth blurted out without a hint of its coming.

"The place?"

"Yes. To Lady Cullen. And she said positively over the long distance
last night to Dad, that she never would have bought it but for you."

"Of course, she would," scoffed Nancy.

"Nope. Dad said that place just wouldn't sell. He and his men have shown
it to so many. But dear Mrs. Cullen!" Ruth sighed foolishly. "She told
Dad that the young lady was so enthusiastic over the place that she was
positive her granddaughter, Naomi, would react in the same way. Notice
that Nan, re-act."

"Yeah," drawled Nancy. "That's what this is--I'm--re-acting," and she
fell further back among her pillows.

"But really, Nan, it is true," insisted Ruth, laying hold of one of
Nancy's long, slender hands. "And you needn't blush about it, either. I
think the way you blush under that olive skin of yours--" But a pillow,
vigorously applied to Ruth's face, checked further compliments.

"If you don't want to hear," Ruth presently continued.

"Of course I do. I'm just as glad as glad, Ruth, that your dad has sold
the place, but I know very well Mrs. Cullen would have bought it
anyhow."

"She wouldn't. Dad says so, she says so--I say--says--so," declared
Ruth. "And if you don't believe it just listen to this." She changed her
position sitting up very straight and facing Nancy very positively to
make the statement most emphatic. "Mrs. Cullen very tactfully suggested
that your interest and your success be--remunerated."

"Ruth!"

"Now, don't let me hurt your feelings, Nan, but Dad would honestly love
to have you accept."

"I won't," declared Nancy, blushing furiously now. "The idea--"

"Then, he will talk to your mother about it. Do you know, little girl,
what a lot of money a big sale like that brings to Dad's firm? And how
much he would have to pay out in commission to the man who succeeded in
making the sale?"

"I know one thing," said Nancy, shifting herself out of the bed and
planting two bare feet firmly upon the floor, "I'm being made a business
woman, a store-keeper, a cooking school director, a plumber and now a
real-estate agent. I don't mind being a few things but that's quite
a--lot!"

"You haven't said Enthusiast," Ruth reminded her, "that is what counts
most. But Nancy, you really ought to consider," pressed Ruth. "The money
would mean so much to your mother, and you have a perfect right to it. I
knew the way you were tearing around that big place, that you would
flim-flam Cullen," joked Ruth. "And Dad says, a hundred dollars isn't
anything on a fifteen thousand dollar deal--"

"Fifteen thousand!"

"Yes, all of that. And here's the little one hundred check," Ruth was
pressing a slip of paper into Nancy's unwilling hand. "Dad will be
dreadfully disappointed if you refuse--you're not too proud, are you?"

"Too proud!" and the black eyes snapped little pin points of sparks.
"No, indeed, I mean to be a business woman, like mother, and I don't
care how soon I start," proclaimed Nancy, firmly.

"Spoken like--Nancy Brandon!" hailed Ruth, gleefully, for she had known
all along what a task it would be to get Nancy to take the check. And
just as she had honestly stated, the amount given Nancy was but a small
fraction of that which a man from Mr. Ashley's office would have had to
receive for the same service.

Unbelieving, Nancy stared at the check.

"One hundred dollars!" she murmured, her eyes now beaming with
anticipation. "And mother's vacation only three days off!"

"But please, Nan," Ruth hurried to change the subject, "don't go away to
parts unknown and leave me pining here. Of course, there are lots of
girls--hanging around," she smiled very prettily and looked very dimply
as she said this, "but since you came to Long Leigh, Nan, the other
girls don't count as much as they did."

"I suppose," said Nancy in her "twinkling" way, "that may be because I'm
such a freak. I'm a lot of fun--"

"Nan--cee!"

"Ruth--ee!"

And they finished the argument with a very pardonable show of affection,
if it was only a sound slap on Nancy's not fully clothed shoulders and a
pretty good whack on Ruth's plump little thigh.

When Nancy was alone again, (for Ruth was to meet the girls at Isabel's
and they were all going for a swim before their ten o'clock cooking
lesson,) she smoothed out the little blue check lovingly. It was so
strange to think that money was acquired through mere enthusiasm. That
Mrs. Cullen would have decided to buy that enormous place merely upon
Nancy's--enthusiasm. That the cooking school had been started and was
successfully running because of her--enthusiasm!

"Perhaps," she told the reflection in her glass, "it's a good thing to
despise some kinds of work if it makes one enthusiastic for other kinds.
But even now," she was insisting to that same mocking smile, "_I can_
make a very good cake."

To meet the girls at the lake, Nancy took a short cut up, over the hill
that would lead her past the old stone house. She had hurried her
breakfast and made sure that Miss Manners did not need her help to get
ready for the class, then, gowned in the easiest thing to put on--and
off, her lavender gingham, she raced off up the hill.

But she never could hurry past the stone house; everything around it
held fascination for Nancy, even the half-formed dread that someone or
something would drop down from the sky, or spring up out of the earth,
as Mr. Sanders had formerly been accused of doing. So, instead of
crossing the fence where the old cedar tree had broken through and had
thus made an opening, Nancy continued on up through the stone path that
would bring her out at the apple orchard.

"As if there could be anything weird in this open place," she was
saying. "Why, the old cistern over there looks as spic-span as when
folks used to draw water from it, and I'm sure," she was thinking, "a
turned upside-down rain-barrel shows care and attention--no mosquitoes
can breed in that."

She stood a few moments to enjoy the soft summer scene, for it was not
yet quite time to meet the girls, when from the direction of the
rain-barrel she head a whine, a cat's cry, surely.

"Some poor cat maybe caught in briars," Nancy decided promptly, as again
came a piteous meaow of a kitten or a cat.

Following the call Nancy hurried in its direction.

"Here puss?" she called. "Kitty-kitty-kitty!"

The cry stopped as her voice called to it. It was not near the rain
barrel, Nancy now decided, but over by the cistern. Quickly she turned
in that direction, but when within a few feet of the square little box
that covered the artificial well, she was suddenly startled by a
noise--a queer noise.

"What's that?" was her unspoken question.

She listened. It was a man's voice, singing!

"Where, where--can that be!" she murmured half aloud, meanwhile
unconsciously walking toward the cistern.

Then a hammering! A buzzing!

"Oh!" screamed Nancy in alarm, now realizing that she had been hearing
something very strange indeed. "Oh, I must--get--away!" was her wild
determination, as she turned and dashed down the hill, making her way
this time through the opening in the fence where the cedar tree had
fallen.



                              CHAPTER XXII

                         TARTS AND LADY FINGERS


No one would believe her. They all came out of the water as Nancy
arrived at the beach, and declined positively, to go in.

"I'm too--flustered," she insisted. "My head is swimming now and it
doesn't matter about my heels."

"But Nancy," protested Marion Mason, one of the Upper Crust Hill girls,
"how could you have heard anybody or anything in that open field? No
bushes nor trees big enough to hide behind, just there."

"It was the cat," insisted Christine Berg, a friend of Marion's. "There
are queer cats--always have been--around the old stone house. First, the
cat meaowed, just to entice you," said Christine, wringing out the scant
skirt of her black satin bathing suit. "And then, when she got you over
there, she did the rest," finished the very blonde girl with the lovely
hazel eyes.

"Sort of ventriloquist," added Isabel. "Well, at any rate, Nan, you have
had a thrill. Vera, wouldn't that constitute a thrill, don't you think?"

"I'll tell you what _I_ think," chimed in Ruth. "I think we had better
hurry to dress or we shall be late for our lesson, and mine is
cream-puffs today. Our family can eat cream-puffs until the puff--" But
the girls, running up to the little bath houses, deprived Ruth of her
audience, and also of the necessity of finishing her simile.

Nancy sat on the little board-walk edge of the row of houses, while the
girls dressed. Ruth finished first and joined her there.

"Really, Nan?" she quizzed, in an under tone.

"Most certainly--really," replied Nancy, seriously. "Do you suppose I
would make that up for fun?"

"No, I don't. It isn't your brand of fun. But it's mighty curious. Do
you suppose we should all go up there right now, and go over every inch
of the place--"

"Oh, no. We must go back to Manny and be good cooks," Nancy answered.
"Besides Ruth, she has my check and I'm anxious to see if it is still
there, not just a dream check you know," she smiled understandingly at
Ruth.

Rather towsled from their bath, and the lack of time and tools for hair
arrangements, the party of girls presently started off to take their
domestic science lesson. Along the way they met and hailed a number of
friends, for at bathing hour the lake drew folks from all parts of the
village and its suburbs, but there was no time for tarrying as Miss
Manners insisted upon promptness, and no one willingly ever disregarded
her rule.

It was a merry little group that, all aproned and capped, listened first
to Miss Manners explanation of rules and reasons, and then they
themselves undertook the practical art of applying this knowledge.

But Nancy could not forget her experience. It had been so weird, so
wild, in fact, to hear those noises coming from nowhere.

Ruth was beating the eggs light as air for her cherished cream puffs;
Isabel was carefully creaming an equally dainty concoction in her
middle-sized yellow bowl, and the other girls were being similarly and
as practically engaged, when a shadow, a large manly shadow, darkened
the glass that formed the upper part of the store door.

"A visitor!" exclaimed Marion, smoothing her cap at the risk of spoiling
her batter.

Miss Manners stepped to the door to answer the knock.

"Mr. Sanders!" the girls whispered one to another, as they saw Miss
Manners greet the caller.

"Maybe he's going to inspect--" Christine began, but was stopped by Miss
Manners speaking.

"Girls," she said, in her best teacher voice, "Mr. Sanders has called to
see if we can fill an order for him."

"An order!" chorused the surprised pupils.

"Yes," spoke up the one man among them. "The fact is, young ladies, I'm
giving a little party up at Waterfall House, and I felt convinced that
my attractions would be greatly increased if I could procure some--some
confections from this famous little class," he said.

Miss Manners was all but protesting. That her class could be called
"famous" seemed to her rather too extravagant a statement.

"Yes, indeed," went on the caller, while it must be admitted some of the
girls were stifling giggles. "My daughter is coming up, and she thinks
her college excels in this sort of thing." His sweeping gesture seemed
to include everything, even the girls. "And I would be mighty glad to
show her what we can do in our little Long Leigh."

Followed suggestions and questions, so heaped up that the mere wording
of all the excitement amounted to little compared with its general
effect. Finally, Mr. Sanders and Miss Manners went into a secret
session, to outline the order, and the girls, who were supposed to go on
with the lesson, in reality went on with the fun.

"Imagine!" chuckled Eleanor Dixon, "getting an order for fancy cakes!
I'm going to make kisses--"

"Lady fingers would be more appropriate," Isabel remarked sagely,
"although, El, I have heard Miss Manners say, your biscuits
are--splendid."

"Tarts!" whispered Christine, shaking her long handled spoon, and making
a comical face.

"Mac-a-roons!" came from Dorothy's corner.

But Mr. Sanders was now preparing to leave, and Miss Manners was
conducting him to the door, her face alight with the pleasant
excitement. As the caller walked past Nancy he said to her in an
undertone:

"Can I speak to you, just a minute, Nancy?"

Without answering Nancy followed him outside to the porch.

"I'm coming up to see your mother this evening," he said, when their
voices were beyond reach of the others. "I've been expecting to for some
time, but now I _must_. Will you tell her, please? And be sure to be on
hand yourself, you and Ted, for I'm about ready to disclose the long
promised secret," he finished, his eyes twinkling merrily as he spoke.

"Oh, all right, certainly," faltered Nancy, not quite sure just what she
was saying.

"Yes," continued Mr. Sanders, "the summer, is going fast and I'm glad
things have shaped themselves before we were, any of us, forced to
separate." He was patting his brown hands together gleefully.

"Would you mind if Isabel and Ruth came over? They're my best friends
and you can trust them," ventured Nancy, surprised at herself for doing
so.

"Certainly, by all means, have them come," replied Mr. Sanders. "I see
you anticipate a surprise, and you are generous enough to want to share
it with your friends. That's the spirit I like to see. Tonight it will
be a sort of private performance," he smiled as he said this, "but
to-morrow night at the hotel I'm going to tell all who come. That's what
I want your cakes for," he finished, moving down the low steps. "We're
going to have a celebration and--well, I'll see you this evening," he
promised, hurrying off like a happy school boy.

There was little work done in the cooking lesson after that. Everybody
was so excited at the prospect of filling a real order, that the entire
class immediately set to planning just how it was to be filled.

It was Christine, however, who had what Ruth called "the inspiration."
After the class was dismissed she got the girls together, out of Miss
Manner's hearing, and made her suggestion.

"Let's all come early," she began, "_very_ early. We'll do our very
best, of course, we can make wonderful cakes."

"_You_ can," corrected Nancy.

"So can you, Nan," Christine took time to say, "I'd like to see any one
make a better sponge cake--"

"Oh, sponge cake," scoffed Nancy.

"The very thing most needed to go with ice cream," Christine hurried to
say. "But listen--"

"We are," said Ruth.

"We will take whatever money we get for the entire order, (we donate the
materials, of course,) and with the money we'll buy a gift for--Manny!"
said Christine.

"Hurrah!" came a hushed hail, for there was danger of the plans being
overheard.

However, Christine's idea was enthusiastically received, and there was
no possible doubt of the entire plan being successfully carried out.

Ruth remained with Nancy and so did Isabel, so that she readily found an
opportunity to tell them of Mr. Sander's message. They were as usual,
putting things away, Miss Manners being obliged to leave early to give a
private lesson to an invalid girl.

"And we are actually going to hear the secret," gasped Nancy. "Girls,
you don't know how excited I am--"

"You don't know how _crazy_ I am," added Ruth.

"And how _wild_ I am," put in Isabel. "Think we should have a doctor
within call? Will it be overwhelming?" she joked.

"Better have a policeman," suggested Ruth. "He may disclose some gems,
or other valuables."

"Here comes Ted," Nancy interrupted, "and I know by his walk that he's
worried."

Ted strode in, Nero close beside him, and as Nancy had intimated he did
act worried.

"What's the matter, Ted?" Ruth asked first.

"Matter? I've got to hide this dog. Folks want to take him away from me.
Say he's theirs," Ted's words fairly hissed his indignation.

"Who says so?" demanded Nancy belligerently.

"A man who came up to the old stone house," answered Ted. "But Nero was
Lou Peter's dog and Lou gave him to me, and not all the money there is,
is going to get my dog away from me."

Ted's voice was not very positive, and the girls, all three, assisted
him in coaxing Nero out to the small door under the back porch, where he
was finally made a prisoner, with several plates of food set before him
to lighten the misery.

It surely would be disastrous for Ted to lose his dog.



                             CHAPTER XXIII

                             THE STORY TOLD


The Whatnot Shop was quite powerless to prevent the invasion.

"We'll push all the tables back and set the chairs around in a
half-circle," suggested the fluttered Nancy. "Then, it will be just
like--"

"A play," finished Isabel. "Too bad we can't turn on a spot light."

"I think it would be nice to let Mr. Townsend sit behind the counter on
his old high stool," Nancy further suggested. "It might make him feel at
home. I wonder where we put that stool."

"Away back in the corner under the three-cornered shelf," Ruth informed
her. "I rammed it in there myself."

It was dragged out--the stool, and set just where it had been found when
Nancy first took possession of the shop.

"A regular par-tee!" chanted Isabel. "Glad I happened to wear a white
dress; being a deb and all that."

"You may carry the white paper fan, little deb," mocked Nancy. "We
couldn't sell it so I'd be delighted to donate it to your coming out
party."

"Oh, it isn't mine, it's yours," chirped Isabel, "and I hope you are not
going to wear that howling yellow gingham--"

"I am. Yellow's my color," and Nancy flipped the skirt of her dress
around gaily.

They were preparing, as might easily be guessed, for the "private
performance" promised by Mr. Sanders. Nancy had talked with him over the
phone, after his visit to the class that morning, and arrangements were
then made to invite the Townsends over, besides permission having been
granted Ted to bring in his chum, Buster Clayton. Just now Ted was
upstairs dressing; also singing and telling stories to Nero, most of
which racket could be heard down in the store.

Mrs. Brandon's cheeks became soft as damask when Nancy showed her the
big check for one hundred dollars, which Nancy explained was in no sense
a gift, but purely part of a business transaction between her and Mr.
Ashley's real-estate office. The mother did not try to hide her delight,
that Nancy should have become such "a splendid little business woman,"
and she predicted her own retirement from the office at an early date,
if such wonderful achievements were to be kept up.

"And your bank account, my dear," she told Nancy when they were in
confidence over the developments, "aren't you proud of it?"

"A little, Mother-mine," faltered the happy girl, "but there's something
better than that," she said shyly, for Nancy was not given to boasting.

"I know," and the mother arms went around her. "Besides, you know now
that even despised housework is not so bad when it has an interesting
motive. That's why we mothers tolerate it; because we are working for
our darling children."

"I know, Mums, but I really only thought 'dishes' before, now I think--"

"The joy of helping _us_," Mrs. Brandon supplied. "And I'm so proud of
your cooking, and how much it has benefited Miss Manners, as well as
your friends. Why, my dear, I would make you vain were I to tell you
one-half of what I hear--"

"Not vain, Mums. I'm not silly enough for that, for I've got to admit
I've been rather selfish all the way through--it has been such a lot of
fun."

And Nancy meant it. She was not posing, nor was she playing at being
humble, for her mind was of that quality that reasons and analyzes one's
own motives as well as looking for motives in others. In that way she
had acquired what is called "common sense," perhaps because every one
should try, at least, to possess a measure of it.

Now Mrs. Brandon, as well as Ted, was dressing. To please Nancy she had
promised to wear her geranium georgette, a soft dress that toned so well
with her dark hair and dark eyes, for Mrs. Brandon was still young, and
a handsome woman.

And the girls were fairly dancing around the store, arranging chairs
brought in from the porch, dining room and even from the kitchen.

"Let's make a little platform for Mr. Sanders," Ruth proposed. "This top
step of the back stairs will do. We don't have to open that door."

"And have a stand and a glass of water--" Isabel added.

"And flowers," insisted Nancy. "I must have flowers, they're so silly
for a man's speech, they'll make every body laugh."

"Maybe hollyhocks would," Ruth said, "but I doubt if your audience would
see the joke if you put a bunch of roses there."

So they progressed, until very soon, too soon for the girls, the company
began to arrive.

Mr. and Miss Townsend, and little, brown, woolly Tiny came first.

"I'm afraid we're early," said the lady in her best silver silk dress
and her very pretty new black-satin-trimmed-with-silver grapes, hat. She
carried a little flat cushion for Tiny, out of respect for the silver
silk dress.

"Mother will be down directly," Nancy greeted Miss Townsend, in her very
best manner. "Sit over here. We've fixed this corner for you."

"Oh my!" exclaimed the lady in genuine admiration. "How lovely
everything looks! However did you paint this old wood work white?"

"For our cooking class, you know," replied Nancy, gaily. "Doesn't it
look--hygienic?"

"I--should--say--so!" Miss Townsend was aghast. "And I suppose, those
spotless tables--"

"Are the old ones from around the porches and every place," Nancy
informed her. "We just daubed the legs white and covered the tops with
oil cloth."

"And I want to see that gas range. I've heard so much about it. Oh!
there's Miss Manners," exclaimed Miss Townsend, "she'll explain it to
me, and you may run along, dear." This was a release, not a dismissal
for Nancy.

"She'll buy one and that will be a good big discount for Manny," Nancy
told the girls who had heard most of the conversation.

"Yes. They've bought a new house--a brand spic-span new one," Ruth
whispered. "Father said Miss Townsend wanted the shiniest one he had for
sale," and there was a pardonable titter in response to that.

But guests were now arriving in pairs. There were Mr. and Mrs. Ashley,
Ruth's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Duryee, Isabel's parents, besides Ted,
Buster and Nero, the latter three being promptly assigned by Ruth to the
corner nearest the side door.

"So you can watch for prowlers," she joked. "Some other folks might
sneak up on the porch and listen in."

"I'm all but stage struck," panted Nancy, trying to force the little
kicked-up curls around her ears back into place. "And girls, take your
places!" she admonished. "Here comes--the--talent! Mr. Sanders and
Sibyl!"

It really was taking on the look of some sort of entertainment,--for as
Mr. Sanders and his daughter arrived there was a general presentation
all around by Mrs. Brandon, while the girls, feeling very much like
ushers at a school entertainment, stood with backs to the windows, just
as they always did at school affairs.

The preliminary formalities over, Mr. Sanders was rather humorously
conducted to the "platform." This pleased Mr. Townsend "most to death"
and he was heard to chuckle that "the old fire-house as town-hall had
never held a better meeting."

"I'll not keep you in suspense, my friends," began Mr. Sanders, without
so much as clearing his throat, "but I'll just introduce myself to those
who don't happen to know me. I'm Edwin Sanders of Eastern College,
professor of science there." There was a murmur through the room at that
announcement.

"Professor!" was the surprised word it conveyed.

"And I came here to experiment," the gentleman continued in a pleasantly
matter of fact voice. "I found this little house had a direct air shaft,
it runs from this room at that old fireplace down to the cellar, and out
through an old-fashioned flue-door, you know the kind."

"That's a relic on this place," spoke up Mr. Elmer Townsend. "It was
built in here by a Dutch man from Holland--"

"Yes, and it's a good one," agreed Mr. Sanders. "Well, you see, my
friends," he continued, "I had to experiment on an extremely delicate
little instrument," he was all professor now, "so, when I found the
exact conditions that I required here, I made an offer to the owner, Mr.
Townsend."

There was much shifting around and significant scraping of chairs at
this point, but the speaker was in no way disturbed.

"I thought it only fair to tell him how important my experiment was, and
what it would mean if it worked out as I expected. Well, it did," he
stated emphatically, "but not without the usual trouble that must be
endured if we want to succeed in big things."

Miss Townsend was whispering, or she thought she was, and her brother
was trying to restrain her.

"I could not tell the nature of this work because there was a new secret
principle involved in it," Mr. Sanders said, having overheard, likely,
what Miss Townsend was trying to tell her neighbor. "That was why Mr.
Townsend and I had to keep our secret so close."

Ted and Buster were visibly squirming in their chairs, they were so
interested, but old Nero snoozed contentedly, not even suspecting
apparently, the presence of another dog, Tiny, that was safely hidden in
Miss Townsend's cushion. And as if Mr. Sanders remembered Tiny, he next
said:

"Even the little dog was so interested as we worked he would insist upon
barking a tune for us. Sometimes we were afraid he might tell," he
finished, quizzically.

"That was it," Ted privately told Buster. "Nancy said that puny, little
dog barked all the time he was in here."

"After I got my point worked out in this air shaft," went on Mr.
Sanders, who had actually taken a sip of water from the glass at his
hand, "I was obliged to try it out in a very much more condensed
atmosphere. And just there is where I was forced to excite such wild
suspicions." He was almost laughing at the recollection.

"It was funny; I'm willing to admit that myself, for like the King of
France in the story, I marched up the hill, but unlike him, I did not
march down again. And I'm surprised that no one seems to have guessed
where I was hidden."

There was a pause. Nancy's face was betraying her suspicions but she
uttered no word.

                  *       *       *       *       *

"Just once I was almost discovered," continued Mr. Sanders. "And that
was the other day when my cat--cried. Just then some one was passing--"

"I was," blurted out Nancy. "And I heard you singing!"

Every one laughed.

"Was I singing, really?" asked the professor. "Well, I might have been
for I was surely very happy. The anemometer was working beautifully down
there, in my--cistern!"

"Cistern!" Every one seemed to cry out the word.

"He was in the cistern!" Nancy gasped. "That was where I heard
the--noises coming from!"

"In the cistern!"

It took some time for the older folks to realize the significance of the
revelation, but the girls and boys seemed instantly to understand.

"Yes, and you would be surprised what fine quarters I've had there. I
have that nice, perfectly dry cistern actually furnished, even a rug on
the floor! Chairs and a table, a looking glass--oh, you are all invited
to inspect now," announced the professor cheerily, "for my precious
instrument has been safely shipped to the manufacturers, and I've been
able--"

"He's paid me more than a thousand dollars," declared Mr. Townsend,
rising from his chair and addressing the house, "and I think it's only
fair that folks around here should know how well I've made out on my
investment."

"Yes indeed," Miss Townsend chimed in, "if any body in Long Leigh has
heard me say I was worried about Brother Elmer's money affairs," she
sort of hesitated before framing that term, "I just want them to know
now that we've made more money by Mr. Sanders investment in six months,
than we would make in six years in this little store."

A burst of applause followed this. And presently every one seemed to be
talking at once. The formality of the occasion was lost in a round of
enthusiastic interest; the men demanding to know more about the
invention, while the women and girls were keen to hear all about the
cistern.

Sibyl was glad to tell them about the curious little work shop under the
ground, and she soon had a group of the young folks listening to her
story.

"I thought it was awful, at first," she explained, "but, of course, I'm
used to father's peculiar experiments. He has invented some wonderful
instruments," she said this in a properly restrained voice. "They are
being used in the college observatories, where they make weather
predictions, you know," she pointed out.

"And I did notice some little pipes sticking out of the sides of that
cistern box," Nancy now remembered. "I might have known, but I was too
surprised to investigate," she admitted frankly.

"Really girls," Sibyl went on, "Dad has that cistern furnished like a
room. You walk down a little ladder, and sit on a regular chair--"

"But isn't it dark?" Ruth wanted to know.

"Oh, no. One whole side of the cover is glass, a side that is back away
from the opening," Sibyl told them. "No one would ever notice the glass
there. And besides that, father had cut the concrete away, over on one
side of the bowl, and there he made a little skylight. You would never
notice that either, as there are bushes all around it," she said.

By this time Ted and Buster were demanding to be heard. They had tried
to get a hearing with the older folks, but according to Ted "the buzzing
there was worse than a bee fight."

"And say, Nan," he called out now, "I just want to know about--about
what Nero was after down the cellar, you know."

Mr. Sanders was trying to make his way toward the girls just then, so
Nancy delayed answering Ted.

"And say, Ted," Mr. Sanders began. "About your dog. You needn't worry
that anyone will take him from you. That man who spoke to you used to be
care-taker at the old stone house. And he was supposed to look after
Nero, whose real name is Jason. That's the fellow who went after the
Golden Fleece you remember."

"Jason?" repeated Ted. "Sounds like an auto fixer. I like Nero best."

"All right, son," and Mr. Sanders gave Ted a friendly slap on the
shoulders. "Nero he shall be. But as I was saying, the man who was
expected to care for your dog hadn't done so, and he's got sort of
worried lately and wanted to get him back."

"He can't have him," Ted defended stoutly.

"No, that's right; he can't. And I told him so. He knows now that the
dog is in good hands, and that I'll answer any questions the Ellors
family care to ask about him."

Ted's face was now beaming with joy. He had been so worried about Nero
that he simply wouldn't let the animal out of his protective sight for
days past.

"And Mr. Sanders," he insisted, "night before last Nero saved us from a
flood. A water pipe broke right over there and Nero--made us all get
up--"

"Night before last!" exclaimed the professor.

"Yes; and Nancy turned off the water--"

"That was the night I had my precious little air-meter right under this
chimney," said Mr. Sanders very slowly, "and if water had trickled
through the floor, down onto that, it would have been ruined."

"Then, just as Ted says," Nancy spoke, "Nero really did save it, for
there was a regular flood around this hearth."

"You must have seen me leaving the grounds that afternoon," Mr. Sanders
admitted. "I was sure you did, but I wasn't ready to tell my story--just
then. But Ted, I'll have to get you a fine collar for Nero--"

The girls were begging Nancy to make an announcement.

"Go on," urged Ruth. "They're all talking together and no one will
listen unless you get up on the step."

With this and considerable more urging, Nancy finally mounted the step.
She smiled shyly at her mother as she passed along, for Mrs. Brandon,
like the other "principals," was having a busy time of it.

"I just want to say," Nancy began with a little quaver in her voice,
"that we've prepared some little cakes and punch as samples of our
cooking class work, and we'll be glad to have you all stay and try
them."

There was real applause at this, and mentioning the cooking class--was a
signal for another outburst of comment from the ladies. They all
believed in girls doing something during summer, and they did not
believe in girls "wasting" an entire vacation.

"I think we ought to give a cheer for the girls," Mr. Sanders proposed.
"They have kept things going pretty lively around here this summer, just
lively enough to save me from having been discovered."

"And I'd like to say a word," ventured timid Miss Manners. But the girls
would not permit her to do so, Nancy, especially being fearful that the
little lady's gratitude, for the domestic science class and for Mrs.
Brandon's hospitality might become embarrassing.

"Any how," said Buster to Ted, "we can have our dog."

"And a dandy new collar," appended Ted.

Nancy was waiting a chance to finish her announcements, and in a little
lull she again called out:

"Mr. Sanders and Miss Sanders are entertaining tomorrow evening at the
Waterfall House. Every body is invited! And you will be treated there to
some real samples of our cakes!"

"Now I call that lov-el-lee," declared Miss Townsend, shaking her new
hat at every syllable. "And these cakes," (the girls were passing them)
"are de-lic-ious."

Nancy was very happy. She tugged at her mother's arm and cuddled her
head against the loving shoulder, just as she had always done in her
great moments.

"Isn't it lov-ell-lee, Mums," she whispered.

"A complete--success!" murmured the mother.

And the next morning half, if not all, of Long Leigh trooped up the hill
to inspect the wonderfully outfitted and "infitted" cistern, that had so
long escaped notice, on the grounds of the old, stone house.

"I was going to look down that cistern first chance I got," Nancy
confessed. "But being successful is such a busy--business," she joked,
"that I think it will be a delightful change to begin a real vacation
with mother tomorrow."

                                THE END





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