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Title: The Trail of the Green Doll - A Judy Bolton Mystery
Author: Sutton, Margaret
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.

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               _The Famous_ JUDY BOLTON _Mystery Stories_
                           By MARGARET SUTTON
                       _In Order of Publication_

                          THE VANISHING SHADOW
                           THE HAUNTED ATTIC
                          THE INVISIBLE CHIMES
                          SEVEN STRANGE CLUES
                            THE GHOST PARADE
                           THE YELLOW PHANTOM
                            THE MYSTIC BALL
                       THE VOICE IN THE SUITCASE
                        THE MYSTERIOUS HALF CAT
                     THE RIDDLE OF THE DOUBLE RING
                          THE UNFINISHED HOUSE
                          THE MIDNIGHT VISITOR
                        THE NAME ON THE BRACELET
                    THE CLUE IN THE PATCHWORK QUILT
                         THE MARK ON THE MIRROR
                    THE SECRET OF THE BARRED WINDOW
                           THE RAINBOW RIDDLE
                          THE LIVING PORTRAIT
                     THE SECRET OF THE MUSICAL TREE
                       THE WARNING ON THE WINDOW
                     THE CLUE OF THE STONE LANTERN
                        THE SPIRIT OF FOG ISLAND
                          THE BLACK CAT’S CLUE
                          THE FORBIDDEN CHEST
                            THE HAUNTED ROAD
                     THE CLUE IN THE RUINED CASTLE
                      THE TRAIL OF THE GREEN DOLL
                          THE HAUNTED FOUNTAIN
                      THE CLUE OF THE BROKEN WING
                           THE PHANTOM FRIEND
                  THE DISCOVERY AT THE DRAGON’S MOUTH

[Illustration: The flashlight sent a weird circle of light ahead of him]

                        _A Judy Bolton Mystery_



                            THE TRAIL OF THE
                               GREEN DOLL


                                   By
                           _Margaret Sutton_


                            Grosset & Dunlap
                         PUBLISHERS    NEW YORK

                        © GROSSET & DUNLAP 1956
                          ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
                PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


                       _To My Granddaughter Tina
                         On Her Tenth Birthday
                    With the Gift of the Green Doll_



                                Contents


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  I “Tourists Welcome”                                                 1
  II The Talking Tree                                                  9
  III A Puzzling Robbery                                              17
  IV A Startling Experiment                                           23
  V An Urgent Request                                                 30
  VI An Empty Pocketbook                                              38
  VII More Puzzles                                                    46
  VIII The Wonders of Magic                                           52
  IX A Strange Mistake                                                60
  X Another Voice?                                                    66
  XI At the Caretaker’s Cottage                                       73
  XII The Game of Secrets                                             79
  XIII Too Many Clues                                                 89
  XIV The Missing Jade                                                96
  XV Secrets of the East                                             103
  XVI The Missing Children                                           108
  XVII More Secrets                                                  118
  XVIII Sita Speaks                                                  125
  XIX More Revelations                                               133
  XX The Statue Commands                                             143
  XXI Under the Vault                                                152
  XXII Blackberry’s Discovery                                        160
  XXIII Stage Magic                                                  167
  XXIV Real Magic                                                    171



                      The Trail of the Green Doll



                               CHAPTER I
                           “Tourists Welcome”


“It looks nice, doesn’t it, Judy?”

Honey was surveying with pride the sign she had just finished lettering.
“TOURISTS WELCOME,” it said. That was all. But the sign was in the shape
of an arrow. It pointed toward the private road that crossed Dry Brook
and continued on through the beech grove and up a little hill to the
house Judy had inherited from her grandparents. It was a simple
farmhouse with a wide front porch. Never, until this moment, had it been
known as a tourist home.

“It looks beautiful,” Judy agreed. “I wonder who our first tourist will
be. This is going to be exciting. Wait till Peter hears—”

“Haven’t you told him?” Peter’s sister questioned in surprise.

“How could I?” Judy laughed. “He wasn’t here when I thought of it. I was
walking through all those spare rooms we have, and the house seemed sort
of empty. Then you came, and I thought of asking you to letter the sign.
It ought to attract someone. There aren’t any other tourist places along
this road.”

“That’s true,” agreed Honey, “but isn’t it a little—well, dangerous?”

“To take in tourists? Lots of people do it,” declared Judy.

“I know,” Honey objected, “but I can’t help suspecting you of some
secret motive. This isn’t a trap for an escaped federal prisoner, is it?
What did you do? Peek at the FBI files?”

“Of course not!” Judy was indignant at the suggestion. Like most
redheads, she was quick to flare up. But she cooled down just as
quickly. “I couldn’t look at them even if I wanted to,” she now informed
Honey. “They’re kept at the agency in the Farringdon courthouse. Peter
is supposed to work there instead of at home for some reason.”

“You couldn’t be the reason, could you?” teased Honey.

“Because I’ve helped him solve a few mysteries? Why shouldn’t I?” Judy
retorted. “What are FBI wives supposed to do if not help their
husbands?”

“They help them in other ways,” Honey began. “They stay home and take
care of their families. They do secretarial work—”

“Not according to Peter,” Judy interrupted. “Oh, I know he calls me his
secretary, but I’m not really in the employ of the government the way he
is. Sometimes he asks me to type reports on things I already know about,
or write a letter. As for taking care of the family, we haven’t any
unless you count Blackberry, and cats take care of themselves.”

“You do have the house—”

“Yes, and I may as well make use of it,” Judy broke in. “This may be
exciting—”

“Judy,” Honey interrupted, “do you see what I see?”

“A car with three men in it! Oh dear! I hadn’t counted on so many!” Judy
exclaimed as the car came to a stop beside them.

At first both girls were dismayed. Gray eyes met blue ones in a moment
of panic. Then Honey recognized one of the men as a customer who had
ordered signs to be lettered at the studio in Farringdon where she
worked as an artist.

“That one won’t want a room,” she whispered. “He lives around here. His
name’s Montrose, I think.”

“What about the others?” Judy whispered back.

For some reason that she could not name, she was suddenly suspicious of
them. None of the men introduced themselves. After inquiring briefly
about the sign, they piled out of the expensive car they were driving
and asked Judy and Honey to show them the house. The two girls started
down the road, hardly knowing what to expect. They had crossed Dry Brook
and were passing through the beech grove when a sudden rustling of the
wind in the trees overhead made them look up. The sky had darkened
although it was still early in the day.

“It’s weird,” Judy whispered. “See that pinkish haze over there? It
makes the sun look red. And the wind sounds—strange.”

“It is sort of spooky,” Honey replied. “I think a storm is blowing up.”

“We need it,” Judy said. “The ground is too dry. Maybe it’s just dust
that makes the sky look pink.”

“Pink!” exclaimed Honey. “It looks green in the other direction, and I
don’t like it. There’s something unnatural about the weather lately.
Haven’t you noticed it yourself?”

“I haven’t thought much about it,” replied Judy.

She could tell Honey was chattering because she was nervous, and said no
more. The three men were now exploring the grove, spreading out in all
directions.

“That a barn over there?” one man inquired.

Before Judy could answer, another of the men, who had a white scar
across his cheek, said, “Anything in it?”

“Just a saddle horse and one cow,” Judy began. “We like fresh milk.”

A stout man, the shortest of the three, chuckled.

“Your dad ain’t much of a farmer, is he?”

“My dad doesn’t live here,” Judy said. “There’s just my husband and
myself—”

“Your husband? Now you are kidding. You girls don’t either one of you
look more than sixteen. Who’s this other girl if you’re the lady of the
house?”

“I’m her sister-in-law,” Honey said. “I don’t live here in Dry Brook
Hollow. I live in Farringdon.”

“You work there, too, don’t you?” inquired the man she knew as Mr.
Montrose. “Weren’t you the girl who took my order for signs?”

“I was,” Honey admitted. “I lettered them, too. But I’m not working
today, because it’s Saturday.”

“I see. You’re just here on a visit—”

“Anybody else visit?” one of the other men interrupted.

“Of course,” Judy replied a little impatiently. “Lots of people do. My
friends, my parents, my brother—”

“Anybody else today?”

“Oh, you mean tourists. Not yet. We just put up the sign.”

“Perhaps the young lady would like to show us what she’s advertising,”
the man Honey recognized suggested.

“Why, certainly,” Judy began, but the short, stout man interrupted.

“It ain’t secluded enough for what we want,” he said to the driver.
“What we had in mind was a place in the upper price brackets, not a
tourist home.”

“We’ll have a look, anyway.”

But Judy had changed her mind about showing them the house and said so.

“I think you’ve made a mistake. My house isn’t for sale,” she informed
them.

There was a moment of silence, broken only by the sound of the wind. It
was almost moaning. Judy had never heard it make such a strange noise
before.

“The place ain’t ha’nted, is it?” the stout man asked.

“It might be,” the third man said, and Judy couldn’t tell whether or not
he was serious.

“Maybe we can find another place farther out in the country,” the short
man suggested.

“You’re headed for a town right now,” Honey told them. “Roulsville is
just a few miles below here. Then comes a long stretch of state forest
land—”

“National forest,” Judy corrected her.

The tallest man in the group looked at her sharply.

“Does it make any difference?”

“Why, n-no,” she stammered, feeling suddenly uncomfortable under his
scrutiny. “There are both state and national forest reserves just west
of here. I don’t know where one ends and the other begins, really. I
didn’t mean—”

Judy stopped abruptly. A voice that seemed to come from the trees
themselves had said, with unmistakable urgency:

“_Don’t look for it!_”



                               CHAPTER II
                            The Talking Tree


“Don’t look for what? Who said that? Where—”

Judy’s voice trailed off in bewilderment. She moved closer to Honey,
whose startled expression showed that she had heard something, too. The
men had started hurriedly toward their car.

“We may be back,” the driver called as they climbed in and drove on
toward Roulsville.

Judy gazed after them, her thoughts in a whirl. She was a sensible girl,
not easily frightened. Before she and Peter Dobbs were married, she used
to spend part of every summer with her grandparents in this very house.
She knew every tree in the grove of beeches where the two girls were now
standing in puzzled silence.

        [Illustration: Judy’s voice trailed off in bewilderment]

“Grandma used to tell me those trees could talk,” Judy said at last.

“But how?” asked Honey. “Those men didn’t do it. They were frightened,
too.”

“They did seem to be,” agreed Judy, “but maybe it was a trick of some
kind. I don’t believe they wanted rooms at all.”

“I don’t either. They acted more as if they were looking for something—”

“And then the—the trees warned them not to! That’s it!” exclaimed Judy.

All of a sudden she remembered an old family legend that when danger
threatened, the trees would sound a warning. She had laughed at the
superstition when she first heard it from her grandparents. Later, after
the old couple died and willed the house to her, she remembered it only
in her more fanciful moments, never mentioning it to anyone.

As she stood pondering, Honey put a sympathetic arm around her.

“Our sign accomplished something, anyway,” she said reassuringly. “It
gave us a mystery to solve.”

“Just the same, it _was_ a foolish thing to do. Let’s walk back to the
main road and take it down before anyone else sees it,” Judy suggested.

“Do we have to,” Honey said plaintively, “after all my work?”

“I’m afraid we do, Honey. We’ve invited trouble, not tourists. How do we
know those men weren’t criminals trying to find out something about
Peter?”

“But Judy, you said yourself there was no danger,” Honey protested,
hurrying to keep up with her. They had crossed Dry Brook and were
climbing the slope toward the main road where they had posted the sign.
“One of those men was Mr. Montrose. At least, he had signs lettered for
the Montrose Moving Company, and they’re well known in Farringdon.”

“But the others? Who were they and why were they so interested in
exploring our property? No, I think that sign will have to come down. I
only hope it comes down easier than it went up. You’ll have to help me
with it, Honey.”

“I will. I wish—”

Honey’s wish was never expressed, as a two-toned convertible the color
of coffee and cream, and rather the worse for hard use, slowed to a stop
beside them. At the wheel of the car sat Judy’s brother Horace, grinning
like a Cheshire cat.

“So my sister is running a tourist camp,” he said to Honey, observing
the sign which she and Judy were now struggling to remove from the post
where they had nailed it.

“We need a hammer,” Judy remarked, ignoring him.

“Here’s the one we were using before. We forgot it and left it here. But
where is the paint?”

“Didn’t you take it?”

“No, I thought you did.”

“That’s odd,” declared Judy. “It really looks as if someone’s stolen it.
I’m glad they left the hammer, anyway.”

“What,” asked Horace, “are you trying to do? I suppose I’ll find you
building a little row of cottages next. If you’re going to take in
tourists it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Cottages would look quite cozy
nestled in among the trees in the haunted grove.”

“Why do you call it that?” demanded Judy.

“The name just came back to me,” Horace laughed. “Grandpa called it
that, and he told me once that the trees talked. I heard them myself
when I was just a little fellow. It scared me nearly out of my wits.”

“It scared quite a lot of us today,” said Honey.

Judy nudged her to keep quiet, but it was too late.

“You don’t mean to tell me the trees still talk!” Horace exclaimed.
“That’s news! If we can find out why—”

“We don’t mean to tell you anything we don’t wish to see printed in the
_Farringdon Daily Herald_,” Judy interrupted. “The story would look
pretty ridiculous, anyway, without an explanation. ‘TREES TALK. SCARE
TOURISTS AWAY.’ Seriously,” she continued, “some rather peculiar
tourists did stop here. That’s why we’re taking down the sign.”

“I don’t get it,” Horace said. “If you didn’t want them to stop, why did
you put the sign up in the first place?”

“We did, only we didn’t. Oh, bother!” Judy exclaimed. “I’m not
explaining anything, am I? It’s a good thing you don’t write the way I
talk. By the way, did the _Herald’s_ star reporter bring along a copy of
today’s paper?”

“He’s sitting on it,” giggled Honey.

“Ouch!” exclaimed Horace as Judy pulled the paper out from under him and
then seated herself at his side to read it. “That news is hot off the
press. I might have burned myself. It was my own story I was messing up,
too.”

Judy glanced at the headlines—THIEVES LOOT MILLIONAIRE’S HOME—and
quickly read Horace’s story about the mysterious looting of a secluded
old mansion not far from the national forest.

“The national forest!” she exclaimed. “Honey, do you remember the look
that man gave me when I mentioned it? The other men acted funny, too.
Maybe _they_ were the thieves. Horace, could they have been escaping
over this road?”

“I wouldn’t think they’d still be around. The robbery was pulled
Thursday night, and this is Saturday,” Horace replied. “I haven’t the
remotest idea what men you’re talking about, though. Everything I know
about the robbery is right there in the paper.”

“I see it is. It has your by-line on it. Where did you get your
information, Horace?”

“From the police and other sources,” he replied a little vaguely. “I’d
like to interview the caretaker of the estate, even though the police
have already. That robbery was carefully planned. He may have had a hand
in it. What do you think, Judy?”

“Heavens!” she exclaimed. “I don’t know what to think!”



                              CHAPTER III
                           A Puzzling Robbery


“Honey, see what you make of it,” said Judy, and handed her the paper.
“You say in the _Herald_, Horace, that the caretaker swears no one
passed his cottage on Dark Hill Road for two days. Is it a private
road?”

“Yes,” he replied. “But the police think the robbers could have sneaked
in from the national forest which borders the estate. But the forest
rangers keep pretty close watch of anyone who enters it. They have to
now, with the weather so dry and windy. A forest fire would get out of
control fast.”

“Some of them are already out of control, aren’t they?” asked Honey. “I
saw something about it on the back of the paper while Judy was reading
the front.”

“Aha!” laughed Horace. “Now I know where to put the news I want peeping
females to see. Perhaps the Woman’s Page should be the back page so that
hubby can enjoy the headlines while wifey ponders the recipes.”

“Speaking from wifey’s point of view,” Judy retorted, “she is just as
interested in the headlines as he is. She might even want to know the
story behind them. You’ve only told half of it, Horace.”

“The paper had to go to press. Papers do, you know,” Horace reminded
her. “The other half of the story is probably happening right now. This
forest fire on the back page was spreading. It may get around to the
front page. It may even get as far as the Paul Riker estate, where the
robbery took place. I’ve never seen the main house, but I’ve been told
it’s an immense wooden structure with a cupola on top.”

“Like some of the mansions in Farringdon?” asked Honey.

“No doubt. They were all built around 1880 and if you ask me they
weren’t beautiful, even then. Most of them ought to be torn down.
They’re regular firetraps besides being so hideous that nobody wants to
live in them. Modern houses like the new ones going up in Roulsville are
more to my taste.”

“Mine, too,” Honey whispered, and a look passed between them that made
Judy wonder if Honey might not be forgetting her employer’s handsome
young son for Judy’s own not so handsome but lovable brother.

Honey was having a hard time choosing between her two suitors and seemed
in no great hurry to make up her mind. Judy knew how it was. She had
once faced the same problem. If she had married handsome Arthur
Farringdon-Pett instead of Peter Dobbs, her home might have been one of
the mansions they were talking about. Judy did not consider them
hideous.

“I like old houses,” she told her brother. “I guess Grandma knew it when
she left me her house and gave you the land. You can build your modern
house on it whenever you’re ready. I like all houses, both old and new,
if they’re real homes and not built just for show.”

“The Riker mansion used to be called a show-place. I’m sure I don’t know
who would look at it way back there in the woods,” Horace said, “but I’m
told that before the robbery it was filled with art treasures, including
a world-famous collection of jade.”

“A museum of Oriental art, according to your article,” quoted Judy. “I
don’t see the sense of keeping such valuable things in a private home.”

“For once,” Horace said, “we agree on something. Paul Riker needed a
flock of servants just to take care of all the stuff he collected. The
police estimate the loot as being worth a quarter of a million dollars
and maybe more. An actual evaluation can’t be made until Mr. Riker
returns from his travels. The police are trying to get in touch with
him, but nobody seems to know where he is.”

“That must have made it convenient for the robbers,” Judy commented. “Do
you really think the caretaker might be involved?”

“I’ll have to talk with him before I know what to think,” replied
Horace. “How would you girls like to drive out there with me this
afternoon? We might pick up a few clues, maybe run into Peter—”

“If he’s investigating it,” Judy interrupted, “I don’t think we should.
I’ve dashed off after him before—to my sorrow. Once a bullet barely
missed me, and he made me promise not to run headlong into danger again.
Besides, the kids are coming here today.”

“What kids?” Honey asked.

“You remember them,” Judy said. “They used to call themselves the Junior
FBI. They meet here every Saturday. Peter suggested that they change
their name. He’s afraid they’ll get themselves involved in something
dangerous. I think he’s wrong, though. The club doesn’t get them into
trouble. It keeps them out of it. Their latest project is a magic show.”

“Magic! That’s it!” exclaimed Honey.

“What do you mean?” asked Judy.

“The voice from the tree. It must have been one of their tricks.”

“I doubt it,” Horace objected. “I heard the talking trees before some of
those kids were born. Grandpa used to call it a freak of nature. I
always meant to investigate it, but never got around to it. Maybe it’s
an echo thrown back from the barn.”

“We could find out easily enough by standing opposite the barn and
calling,” Judy suggested eagerly.

“Wouldn’t we feel a little foolish, Judy?” asked Honey, holding back a
little.

“I wouldn’t,” Judy declared. “Come on! I’d like to try it.”



                               CHAPTER IV
                         A Startling Experiment


The driveway, or Little Road, as Judy called it, went down a steep slope
from the main road. Then it crossed Dry Brook, went through the grove
and up another slope, where it took a half-turn, like a half-circle, in
front of the house and ended at the barn. Horace stopped his car on the
downward slope and they all got out.

“Well, here we are opposite the barn. Now for the experiment. Who wants
to yell?” Judy asked.

“Let’s all do it together,” Honey suggested. “Do you remember our old
school yell?

  “Boom ta! Boom ta! Boom! Boom! Boom!
  Farringdon Girls’ High School, give us room!”

“Oh, Honey, let’s not give that one,” Judy objected. “It always makes me
think of when the old high school burned down.”

“We had a better one at Boys’ High—”

“And a still better one back in Roulsville before the flood,” Judy
interrupted. “Horace, do you remember how it went? It meant, ‘_This is
where we’re hiding_,’ and if you tried hard you could pick the word
_hiding_ out of the jumble of nonsense.”

“I didn’t decode it. I just yelled it,” Horace chuckled. “_Hip deminiga
folliga sock de hump de lolliga yoo hoo!_” he yelled.

“Good heavens!” Honey said, holding her ears.

But Judy was listening for the echo. It was a very ordinary one, not
half as startling as the yell itself. Horace suggested they try it from
a different angle, but just then Judy’s cat Blackberry appeared from
around the corner of the barn and yowled, as if he were trying to say,
“Please, people, don’t scare away my mice!”

The chickens were cackling, and even Ginger, in a far corner of the
pasture, gave a startled whinny. Daisy, munching grass a little nearer
by, looked up in the docile manner of cows and continued to regard Judy
with a disconcerting stare.

“I don’t really think,” Honey said when their laughter had subsided,
“that we ought to try that yell again. I hope it didn’t curdle Daisy’s
milk.”

“She reminded me of you, sis, the way she ignored us!”

“Now that I won’t take, being compared to a cow,” cried Judy as she went
for Horace.

They chased each other as far as the big barn door where they stopped to
read the sign that was posted there.

                     HEADQUARTERS OF THE BLACK SPOT
             _Moved to Wally’s house. Meeting at 2 o’clock_

“We’ve solved one mystery, at least,” Horace said as Honey came closer
to admire the lettering. “Now you know what became of your left-over
paint.”

“Ricky must have borrowed it. He’s the new president of the Junior
FBI—excuse me, I mean the Black Spot,” declared Judy. “I don’t think I
like their new name. I wonder who dreamed up that one.”

“Blackberry doesn’t seem to care for it, either,” observed Honey. “Just
look at the way he’s acting. What’s the matter with him?”

The cat was circling around them as if he wanted to tell them something.

“Shall I take him with us in the car?” asked Horace. “You don’t have to
stay home for the children if they’re meeting somewhere else.”

“That’s true,” Judy admitted. “I didn’t tell them, but I planned
refreshments. Now we’ll have all that left-over food.”

“What a pity!” Horace said, smacking his lips.

“It’s just cookies and chocolate milk. Hardly a treat for anyone with
your appetite,” Judy told him. “The children may be back, anyway, in
case Wally’s mother doesn’t approve of their plan. Most of the mothers
didn’t want the meetings in their immaculate new houses. That’s why I
told them they could meet in our barn. I like having them.”

“If I were you,” Honey said, “I’d like having them somewhere else this
afternoon. If we’re looking for whatever we weren’t supposed to look
for—”

“What kind of double-talk is this?” Horace interrupted.

“Oh, didn’t we tell you?” Judy knew she hadn’t, but she was still
tempted, at times, to tease her brother. It was sort of a game between
them.

“You told me very little,” he answered. “You were afraid I’d get a story
out of it, but never fear! We’ve printed enough of that spooky stuff.”

“This was spooky, all right,” Judy said with a shiver. “The trees warned
us or the men, I’m not sure which, not to look for it.”

“You see,” Honey pointed out, “since we have no idea what _it_ is, the
whole thing is rather hard to explain. But you should know, Horace. You
said you heard the trees talk before. What did they say? Can you
remember?”

He thought about it for a minute.

“I’ve forgotten a lot of it, but once they told me to keep still, and I
didn’t dare open my mouth all day. They really frightened me. I was
something of a sissy then,” he confessed, “but Judy cured me of it. I
didn’t tell her anything about it when it happened, for fear she would
laugh at me.”

“You see what a meanie I was?” Judy asked. “Where were you, Horace? I
mean when you heard all this.”

“I don’t remember exactly. There was a hollow tree not far from where I
was standing, and the voice seemed to come from there. The hole in the
tree was small. I remember thinking how much it looked like an open
mouth.”

“I know that tree. I used to use the hole to get a toehold when I
climbed it. You can see the top of it from here. It’s that big spreading
tree beyond the barn. Unless it was an echo,” Judy went on in a puzzled
tone, “I don’t see how it could have happened—unless a radio or
something of the kind was hidden there.”

“No, there was nothing,” Horace said. “I got up courage enough to look.
Nothing larger than a doll could have squeezed inside.”

“One of my dolls, maybe. I used to play with them in the grove.”

“But your dolls didn’t talk.”

“I pretended they did. All little girls pretend their dolls can talk,”
declared Judy.

“I didn’t,” Honey said. “I never played with dolls. But then I didn’t
grow up in my own home the way you and Horace did. I try not to remember
my childhood.”

“I know.” Judy gave the friend and sister she had found a quick kiss.
Then, suddenly, Honey remembered something else.

“That tourist sign!” she exclaimed. “We never took it down.”

“Too late,” Horace commented as a small voice spoke almost at his elbow.

“Please,” it said, “may we stay here for the night?”



                               CHAPTER V
                           An Urgent Request


Judy whirled around to see a tiny girl with short brown curls and an
older boy who might be her brother. Both of them were out of breath, as
if they had been running. It was the boy who had spoken. But now the
little girl asked, “Were you talking about a doll?”

“Were we, Honey?” Judy said.

“We certainly were,” Honey replied. “Yours, when you were little.”

“Oh, I thought—” the little girl began.

“Quit thinking about it, Penny. It won’t help,” the boy interrupted.

“Who are you?” Judy asked the children. “And where did you come from?”

“I’m Paul and she’s Penny. We came from the car,” the boy explained.
“Mom can’t get it started. She needs someone to push her.”

“I’m her man,” Horace said.

He turned his car around and invited the children to come with him.

“Do we have to?” Penny asked shyly. “I want to stay here and play. I’m
tired of riding.”

“Me, too. You’ll find Mom all right. Our car’s stalled just a little way
beyond your sign. It’s an old beat-up green car,” Paul explained.

“I’ll find it.”

“I hope he can start it,” the little boy said as Horace drove off to
assist his mother. “We were on our way to Uncle Paul’s house. We
expected to get there this afternoon, but Mom says she’s so tired she
can’t drive another mile. That’s why I asked if we could stay overnight.
Mom said maybe you would let us stay until she figures out what to do
next. We saw your sign just before we had the accident.”

“Accident!” exclaimed Judy and Honey in one breath.

“Well, we were sort of shoved off the road,” Paul told them.

“They did it on purpose,” the little girl said. “Then they emptied out
all our suitcases and went off with Mommy’s pocketbook.”

“Keep still about that, Penny!” the boy said severely. “We weren’t
supposed to tell.”

“But she had the green doll—”

At this, the boy clapped his hand over his sister’s mouth with such
violence that the child began to cry.

“You shouldn’t have done that. You’ve hurt her!” cried Honey.

“She talks too much,” was the boy’s brief explanation.

“I like little girls who talk too much,” Judy said, taking Penny to a
more secluded part of the grove to comfort her and find out what the
real trouble was.

“Paul didn’t mean it,” Penny defended her brother. “He’s just scared,
and so is Mommy.”

“I should think she would be! Are you sure those men caused the accident
on purpose to steal her pocketbook?”

    [Illustration: The boy clapped his hand over his sister’s mouth]

“No-o,” the little girl said slowly. “They wanted something else. They
talked as if they’d been to Uncle Paul’s house looking for it and
couldn’t find it. It was a—a _correction_.”

“A correction?”

“Yes, but it’s a secret. I mustn’t tell anyone about it because it will
get us into trouble.”

“Then why are you telling me?” asked Judy.

“Because,” Penny explained quickly, “you get into trouble sometimes when
you don’t tell things. Mommy did. I’d never, never steal anything after
what she told me. Only bad people steal.”

“That’s right,” agreed Judy.

Maybe she had agreed too quickly. Her answer seemed to disturb the
little girl.

“Sometimes,” Penny said, “when you’re little, you make mistakes. That’s
different, isn’t it?”

“Quite different,” agreed Judy, wondering what all this was leading up
to.

“Why?” Penny asked unexpectedly.

“Well, I suppose it’s because you can learn from your mistakes.”

“What mistake was Penny talking about?” asked Paul.

He had been exploring the grove with Honey, who had discovered the
hollow tree and pointed out the hole that looked like an open mouth.

“I don’t really know,” Judy confessed. “Your little sister didn’t make
herself very clear.”

“She hadn’t better,” Paul said threateningly. “I’ll never tell her any
of my secrets after this. What made you spill all that about Mom’s
pocketbook, Penny? Those kids said they’d trail the thieves and make
them give it back.”

“But they didn’t,” Penny said. “They let the robbers get away.”

“Maybe we can pick up their trail again if you will tell us about it,”
Judy suggested. “Were the thieves in a car?”

“Yes,” Paul replied. “They came alongside and crowded Mom off the road.
She got out to see how much damage she’d done when she hit the bank.
That was when they pointed the gun at her and went through all our
luggage. They didn’t take anything except her pocketbook. They grabbed
it and ran back to their car and drove away. If we can’t get our car
started I guess we’ll have to stay here. Uncle Paul will pay for us. He
has lots of money,” the boy finished proudly.

“What is your uncle’s whole name, Paul?” asked Judy.

“He’s my great-uncle really. It’s Paul Riker, the same as mine.”

“That’s the man who was robbed! I remember it from the newspaper
account,” Judy whispered excitedly to Honey. “Wait till Horace hears
about this!”

“I like it here,” announced Penny. “Do you allow children to climb the
trees?”

“If they’re careful—”

But they were both off to the hollow tree. Paul started at once to climb
it, but Judy saw Penny stop and put her hand inside the hollow place.

“What’s she found?” Honey whispered.

“Maybe she’s discovered the secret of the voice,” Judy whispered back.

“Look!” Penny cried as they both came over to see. “Is this a fairy bed?
Do you think fairies live in here? I heard them whispering.”

“Did you hear what they said?”

“No, just whispers.” Penny turned a solemn little face to Judy. “Did you
hear them, too?”

“The fairies? Perhaps,” Judy said thoughtfully. “What have you in your
hand, Penny?”

Penny was glad to show her. It was a soft little cushion of moss she had
picked from inside the tree. There was nothing else to be found in the
hollow except bits of decayed wood. Judy put her hand in to see.

“Do you feel anything?” asked Penny.

“Just the moss.”

“Isn’t it soft?” the little girl said, stroking the piece she was
holding. “You can pet it like a kitten. It’s a pretty green, too—almost
the color of the doll. Please, will you help us find it?”



                               CHAPTER VI
                          An Empty Pocketbook


“Don’t look for it!” the voice from the tree had said. And now a
request, equally urgent, had come from a real live little girl: “Please,
will you help us find it?”

Once more the strange warning flashed through Judy’s mind. Just what it
was she was supposed to find—or not to find—still puzzled her. But she
had found the explanation for unearthly things before and could do it
again. A little uneasily, she replied that she would do what she could.

It was hard to get a description of the doll. All Penny could tell her
was that its hair, its face—everything about it—was green.

“Its clothes, too?” Honey asked.

Penny nodded solemnly.

“Yes, everything. It came from the Land of Oz, I think. My mother read
me the story once. Everything was green there, too, and she was a
princess.”

“Your doll?” asked Judy.

“She wasn’t _my_ doll. Sometimes Mommy would let me look at her. She
told me her name, too, but I’ve forgotten it.”

“Was it Dorothy?” questioned Honey.

Penny shook her head.

“Ozma?”

“No, that isn’t right, either. Mommy knows it, but you mustn’t tell her
I told you.”

“We won’t say a word, will we, Judy?”

“Is that your name?” asked the little girl. “Mine’s Penelope, but people
call me Penny for short. May I call you Judy?”

“Yes, you may both call me Judy,” she replied as Paul descended from the
tree. “This is Grace Dobbs, but I named her Honey before I knew who she
was. Now we’re sisters—”

Penny’s eyes widened.

“Real sisters?”

“Well, I married Honey’s brother Peter. My brother is Horace—”

“Here he comes now with the children’s mother,” Honey interrupted as the
convertible came roaring down the road and stopped almost beside them.

“Back so soon?” asked Judy. “The children were telling me—”

“We didn’t tell her anything,” Paul protested, looking frightened.

“The children only said you’ve been having trouble, Mrs. Riker,” Judy
explained. “I hope we can be of some help.”

“You’re very kind,” the woman sitting beside Horace said, “but I’m
afraid nobody can help me very much. I did have plans, but now
everything has changed. I’m so nervous and upset, I don’t even want to
talk about it.”

“Then don’t talk about it until you’re rested. Come into the house,”
Judy offered, “and I’ll make you a cup of hot tea. There are cookies and
chocolate milk for the children—”

“Did you hear that, Penny?” asked Paul. “I’ll race you!”

They were off before their mother could stop them. On the porch they
found Blackberry and called back to Judy.

“Is this your cat? Is it all right if we pet him?”

“Ask Blackberry. He’s the one to decide.”

“He likes us,” Paul announced as the others came up onto the porch. They
were just in time, as it was beginning to rain. Mrs. Riker hesitated.

“I’m not sure we ought to accept your hospitality,” she said to Judy.
“You see, I can’t pay for the rooms until later. My pocketbook was
stolen.”

“I know. The children told me.”

“Penny did,” Paul put in quickly. “I wasn’t going to say anything.”

“That’s all right. I’m glad you understand. I’m not going to report the
theft and I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t mention it, either. I don’t
want any more trouble—”

“But Mommy, you said—” Penny began.

“Penny, _will_ you keep still?” her brother exclaimed.

“Let her go on. This interests me.”

Apparently Horace was hearing about the stolen pocketbook for the first
time. Judy smiled and invited everybody in. Blackberry politely refused.

“There he goes, off toward the barn!” Paul exclaimed. “Come on, Penny!
Let’s follow him.”

Suddenly Judy had an idea.

“Honey, will you take Mrs. Riker inside?” she asked. “I’d like to see
what Blackberry’s up to. He’s helped us solve mysteries before. There
must be something in the barn he wants to show us.”

“Mice, probably. But go ahead,” Honey told her. “I know where everything
is. I’ll have refreshments ready for the rest of us by the time you get
back.”

Judy intended to take only a few minutes. But when they reached the barn
Penny and Paul wanted to climb to the hayloft. There they found three of
the club members, two girls and a boy, apparently searching for
something in the hay.

“Hi, there!” Judy greeted them. “Be careful, Black Spots, or someone
will rub you out. And if you’ve lost anything, don’t look for it. We’ve
been warned.”

Ricky, the club president, looked at her with a baffled expression on
his face.

“You are joking?” he said in what Judy considered a charming accent.
“The Americans make the jokes I do not understand.”

“There was a big fight,” spoke up Muriel Blade. “The rest of the kids
went to Wally’s house, but Anne and me, we stuck by Ricky.”

Anne, the youngest of the club members, was solemnly regarding the two
Riker children. She was standing in a shaft of light that came in
through a small window overlooking the grove.

“We know them,” she told Judy. “We tried to trail the bad men for them.”

“Did you see the men’s faces?” asked Judy. “What did they look like?”

Interrupting each other as they talked, the children quickly described
them. The descriptions fitted. There had been three men, and one of them
had a long scar right across his cheek. Paul was certain they were right
about that, because he remembered that it had been the scar-faced man
who held the gun.

“Did you find out where they went?” Paul asked eagerly.

“No,” Ricky admitted. “But we did find this.”

“Mom’s pocketbook!” yelled both the Riker children as he held it up.
“How did you get it back?”

“It was easy,” he said. “They threw it away.”

“Ricky found it in the road,” Anne put in, and Muriel hastily added,
“It’s empty. They took out everything that was in it except a lipstick
and handkerchief. Oh, yes, and an empty box.”

“Are you sure it’s empty?” asked Penny, reaching for the small blue box
they had found in her mother’s pocketbook.

“Quite sure,” Muriel said. “We just looked.”

“Oh,” Penny exclaimed with a disappointed little sigh. “That was the
box—”

She stopped at a look from Paul, but Judy almost knew she had been about
to say it was the box that had held the green doll. At least, Judy knew
now how big it was. Or rather, how small. The box was only about four
inches long. Inside was a soft lining of satin and an impression as if
something had rested there a long time without being disturbed.

“We’re on the trail of it now, whatever it is,” Judy thought.

Aloud she asked, “Is anybody hungry?”

“We’re starved!” yelled the children in a resounding chorus.

A moment later they were following Judy down the ladder from the
hayloft. Outside it was raining harder than ever.

“Come on then, back to the house!” she called. “We’ll have refreshments
just the way I planned, but we’ll have to make a dash for them through
the rain.”



                              CHAPTER VII
                              More Puzzles


Judy was halfway to the house with the excited children when they bumped
into Horace, who had been out on some mysterious errand of his own. He
grinned at them as if he knew a secret. Like Judy and the children, he
had been caught in the sudden downpour.

“Come in! Come in!” Honey invited them. She led them through the living
room and into Judy’s spacious kitchen which served as a dining room as
well. “Join Blackberry and dry yourselves before the fire. He didn’t
wait for an invitation. He scooted in ahead of you. Everything’s ready,”
she announced. “Judy made the cookies herself. Try one. They’re
delicious.”

Mrs. Riker seemed more willing to talk and joined the children around
the table in the kitchen. She could not help exclaiming over the beauty
of the room with its huge stone fireplace and beamed ceiling.

“It reminds me of our kitchen when I was a little girl,” she told the
children. “I did want you to see it, but now I don’t know what we’ll
do.”

“Maybe we can help,” Judy offered again.

But Mrs. Riker protested that she had been too kind already.

“I don’t deserve anybody’s kindness,” she added. “My troubles are all my
own fault.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Judy objected. “If your pocketbook was stolen
from you I would say the thieves were to blame. Do you mind if I tell
Peter—”

“Your husband?” Mrs. Riker inquired.

“We help him solve mysteries,” Ricky began, but at a look from Judy, he
suddenly fell silent.

“I’m afraid, instead of helping to solve them, you’re making them
today,” declared Horace. “You didn’t hear any trees talking, did you,
Ricky?”

“Me?” Ricky asked in surprise. “You are making jokes again?”

Muriel turned to Horace wide-eyed through the glasses that always seemed
too large for her small face.

“I heard the trees talking,” she said. “I wasn’t going to say anything
about it, because I didn’t think you’d believe me. They told us to run—”

“And so,” little Anne put in solemnly, “we ran back along the shortcut
and Ricky caught up with us, and all three of us met Penny and Paul and
ran after the bad men. Is the magician one of them?”

“I wish I knew,” declared Judy. “There’s a whole lot I wish I knew.”

“I don’t want to meet him,” Anne finished. “He can make things
disappear.”

“So can I,” Horace chuckled, helping himself to another cookie.

He passed the cookies around and they rapidly disappeared from the
plate. Afterwards there was silence. Each one seemed busy with his own
thoughts, even Blackberry on his rug before the fireplace.

Judy liked her big kitchen. It was a good place for thoughts. Usually
they were pleasant ones inspired by the view from the picture window.
Judy had placed the table in front of it so that she and Peter could
look out on the trees that bordered Dry Brook while they were eating.
They had been lovely in the summer and early fall. But now with the rain
beating against the bare branches, there was something eerie about them.

“The trees are still whispering,” Penny said to Anne, whose other name
turned out to be Black. It seemed a misnomer to Judy since Anne was a
tiny blonde. The little girl shivered as she watched the trees.

“Look at that big one with its arms spread out over the barn. It scares
me,” she confided to Penny. “That was the tree that told us to run.”

“When did it tell you?” asked Horace, overhearing Anne’s remark.

He had what Judy called that “eager beaver” look in his eye. “I may as
well warn you, Mrs. Riker,” she said, “that my brother is a newspaper
reporter. He’s good at finding out things.”

“And _I_ may as well warn you,” Horace retorted, “that my sister is
known as quite a detective. She’s good at finding out things, too.”

“Secrets?” asked Penny.

“You’d be surprised,” Honey said with a reassuring smile, for the little
girl seemed suddenly frightened, “how many she’s kept and is still
keeping.”

“More than even you know,” declared Judy.

“Are you keeping a secret about the talking trees?” asked Muriel. “Was
it the magician? Magicians can do anything.”

“Was it a trick, Horace?” asked Judy. “Ventriloquism, maybe?”

She thought he might have guessed the answer. But he only shook his head
and said, “A trick of the wind, perhaps.”

“It could have been magic,” Muriel insisted.

“It could have been anything!” exclaimed Honey, giving up. “A magic
trick or the wind or fairies or the voice of a doll—”

“The one we’re supposed to find!” Judy broke in excitedly, forgetting
her promise of secrecy. “That may be it, Honey! If we find the doll we
may find out what the voice is, too. May I tell Peter about it?” she
whispered to Penny. “He may be able to help us find it.”

“Find what? I didn’t tell you anything,” the little girl said loud
enough for the others to hear. “I was just making it up.”

“Of course she was,” Paul agreed. “Penny is always making up things. Who
ever heard of a green doll?”



                              CHAPTER VIII
                          The Wonders of Magic


Judy didn’t for a minute believe Penny had made up the story she had
told her. The empty box proved there had been something of value in her
mother’s pocketbook. But it was obvious the little girl was afraid to
talk about it except when she and Judy were alone.

“Why?” Judy asked herself. “What is she afraid of?”

The trees were frightening, but Penny claimed she had heard nothing but
whispers from them. Had a voice really told Muriel and Anne to run? Judy
questioned them some more, and they still insisted the voice had come
right out of that hollow tree.

“It has a mouth,” Muriel said, “and arms that it waves in the wind. It’s
alive, Judy. We’re afraid to go home for fear it will catch us.”

“That I would like to see,” declared Horace, and everybody laughed.

But Muriel really believed the magician had been there.

“He’s going to be at Wally’s house. He could make a tree talk if he
wanted to,” she insisted.

“Maybe he could trick you into thinking he could,” Horace admitted.
“Somebody is playing tricks, that’s for certain. It may be this
magician.”

“I’m afraid of him,” Anne confessed. “Wally says he will pick me to
disappear because I’m the littlest—”

“You won’t be if I join the club,” Penny spoke up. “Could I, Mommy?”

“We’ll see,” she replied. “Who is this magician?”

“We don’t know his name,” Ricky said. “Even Wally doesn’t know it. The
Dran boys will introduce him.”

“He’s going to do tricks for us if we sell enough tickets,” Muriel put
in. “I don’t want to sell them. Wally said I couldn’t keep the money—”

“Of course not. It goes into the club treasury, probably. By the way,
who is the treasurer?” Horace wanted to know.

“I was,” Muriel said with a pout, “but they’re going to have an
election, so I guess I won’t be any more.”

“Today?” asked Judy.

“Yes, but I won’t go. Wally said they’d elect all new officers—”

“Wait a minute,” Horace stopped her. “It isn’t all up to Wally. If this
is an election they’ll need your votes. I think you kids are making a
big mistake. You ought to be at that meeting. I’ll take you there if you
say the word.”

“May we go too?” asked Penny.

Paul objected before their mother could answer. “I’d rather go on to
Uncle Paul’s house this afternoon,” he said. “Is the car fixed, Mom?
Can’t we get started?”

She looked at Horace and both of them sighed.

“It’s in a garage in Roulsville,” Horace said. “I had to push it all the
way there. I’m afraid it’s pretty much of a mess. But I leave the whole
problem to you, Judy.”

“Well,” said Judy, “you want to interview the caretaker, Horace. Penny
wants to attend the election and Mrs. Riker and Paul want to visit her
uncle. Wouldn’t it be simpler if we just went to all three places and
killed two birds with one stone? Or do I mean three birds?”

“What do you say, Mrs. Riker?” Horace asked.

There wasn’t very much Mrs. Riker could say except yes, and yet she
hesitated as if she dreaded the visit and wished to put it off as long
as she could.

“Don’t let your great-uncle Paul frighten you,” she warned the children.
“Remember, he’s used to having his own way. You must do whatever he
says.”

“We will!” they chorused.

Blackberry wanted to go along. He had a favorite spot on top of the back
seat by the rear window of Peter’s car. Now he found a similar place in
Horace’s convertible, and the children scrambled in after him.

“This car needs a good washing. The rain won’t stop us,” Horace
announced cheerfully as they started off.

He seemed a little too cheerful, but Judy knew his motives. More than
ever now he wanted to get the other half of the robbery story. Nobody
had mentioned it to Mrs. Riker. Unless she had seen a paper or heard the
news on the radio, she still didn’t know that in the absence of the
uncle she was about to visit, he had been robbed of valuable art
treasures. Why hadn’t Horace told her about it, Judy wondered. Did he
think he would find out more if he kept quiet? If those men had
questioned her before the robbery it might make sense. But afterwards—

“The magician could have been one of those men who stopped here,” she
said aloud, as Horace pulled up to remove the sign from the post by the
main road. “I’d like to meet him and find out for sure.”

“You may have the opportunity very soon,” Horace said as he gave the
sign a last tug and then threw it in the rear compartment of his car.

“Be careful,” Honey warned him. “The paint isn’t dry.”

“Neither am I,” he complained as he returned to the driver’s seat.

Soon they reached the home of Wally Brown, a chubby blond boy who showed
them to the downstairs recreation room.

“The magician is here to pick the children he wants in his act. Would
you kids like to meet him?” he asked.

Honey and Mrs. Riker had remained in the car, but Penny and Paul had
come in with Judy and Horace. Their yes was so enthusiastic that Judy
held her ears. The club members were in time for the election. The first
part of the meeting, Wally explained, had been taken up with plans for
the magic show.

Soon they were all under the magician’s spell. They had been asked to
close their eyes and make a wish just before he appeared on the stage.

“Close your eyes quick,” a strange little girl whispered to Penny. “He’s
going to make our wishes come true.”

Presently the magician stood before them on a stage that was still in
the process of being constructed. He was quite an ordinary-looking man,
but there was something about his voice that seemed to give him
authority.

“Have you all made your wishes?” he asked. “Perhaps I can’t make all of
them come true, but I shall certainly do my best.”

“Make mine come true now, please, Mr. Magician, because we have to go,”
Penny pleaded.

“Open your eyes, little girl. All of you open your eyes. Did I forget to
tell you?”

Several children laughed, but Penny let out a startled and
long-drawn-out “Ooooo!” as her eyes snapped open.

The children were crowding so close, Judy couldn’t see what trick the
magician was doing. But he was not one of the men she had seen in the
car. She doubted if she had ever seen him before.

“Come on, children!” she whispered. “Your mother and Honey are waiting
in the car. We all want to get started.”

Penny backed out, unable to take her eyes away from the stage. One of
the boys had wished for a puppy, and the magician was pulling it right
out of a hat.

Penny and Paul stared at him as if he had performed a miracle instead of
a simple magic trick. Whispers of, “He’s magic all right. He can bring
anything to life,” went on between them. When they were back in the car
the children told their mother Muriel was right. Magicians could do
anything.

“That’s a house I intend to haunt,” announced Horace as they drove away.
“Maybe I can give their magic show a little publicity. There’s room down
there for quite a crowd and I certainly intend to be in it.”

“So do I,” declared Judy. “I wouldn’t miss it.”

“What about us?” asked Penny and Paul.

“We’ll see,” their mother promised.



                               CHAPTER IX
                           A Strange Mistake


Excited squeals and whispers came from the back seat. Everything was
suddenly magic, even the rain. It was really coming down now. The
children could hardly see the ruins of the big dam as they passed it.
Judy said something about it, but they were no longer interested in
anything but the magic that now had them in its spell.

Judy and Mrs. Riker and the children were all in the back seat. It had
grown a little uncomfortable with Penny and Paul bouncing from one
window to the other and finding magic in everything.

Both children now took it for granted that the magician had made the
trees talk. The matter was all settled in their minds, but not in
Judy’s.

“There are two kinds of magic,” she told them. “I like the natural kind
best. Even that voice you’re talking about could have been the wind.
Sometimes it does make a funny moaning noise when the trees are bare and
the branches swing against each other.”

“Now, Judy, you know it wasn’t,” Honey objected from her place in front
beside Horace. “The wind wasn’t blowing as hard as it is now, and these
trees aren’t talking—”

“So they aren’t!” Horace commented as if the whole thing was nothing but
a big joke.

They were driving through a thickly wooded section. A rabbit ran across
the road, and the children squealed and nearly let Blackberry leap out
of the car after it. Then Paul said something about how clever the
magician had been to make a puppy jump out of his hat.

“I didn’t get my wish yet,” Paul added, “but I can wait for it.”

“I got mine,” Penny whispered, “but I’m not telling what it was.”

Still deeper in the woods they came suddenly into a cleared place where
a number of deer had taken shelter under a big pine tree. They stood
motionless for a moment and then vanished into a thicket.

“That’s what I mean about natural magic,” Judy pointed out. “Those deer
vanished under their own power—no tricks!”

“I never saw deer except in the zoo,” Paul said gravely. “I’ll bet that
magician couldn’t make a deer jump out of his hat.”

“You’re funny,” giggled Penny.

She and Paul were city children. Judy was seeing sights that were
commonplace to her through their wondering eyes. If they did return with
her, she’d have to let them ride Ginger and watch as she milked Daisy.
That would seem like magic to them.

“The talking tree was magic,” Penny insisted. “Anne says it told her and
Muriel to run, but I only heard it whisper. If I listen again, maybe it
will tell me a secret.”

“I heard nothing but the wind,” Paul said. “Is this the road to Uncle
Paul’s house? It doesn’t look like a millionaire’s estate.”

“It hasn’t been very well cared for,” Mrs. Riker agreed. “You used to be
able to see the top of the house from here. And where’s the gate?”

“I just drove through it,” Horace replied. “It was standing wide open.”

“Uncle Paul never allowed it to be left open. Something must be wrong,”
Mrs. Riker exclaimed.

“Something is wrong!” exclaimed Judy. “That forest fire did spread. The
grounds are all burned over. What a shame!”

“It may not be as bad as you think. There seems to be something up
ahead,” observed Horace, peering through the windshield. “You can hardly
see it for the rain. Or is it smoke that makes everything so hazy?”

“I smell wood burning,” Honey began. But Paul interrupted with a shout.

“That must be the house! I can see the steps going up to it. Oh, please,
stop the car and let me run up first and tell Uncle Paul who we are!”

“Wait, Paul, wait!” cried his mother, as Horace pulled up at the side of
the road.

But the boy was already out of the car with Penny after him. Blackberry
ran ahead of them up the steps at the top of which was a stout oak door
with stonework all around it and a tall, grim statue looming up beside
the entrance. Suddenly Judy recognized it from a picture she had seen of
the Hindu god, Shiva. But before she could tell Paul it was not a house
but a vault that he had discovered, he was knocking loudly on the door.

            [Illustration: Paul knocked loudly on the door]

“I don’t really think anyone will answer you,” Judy called. And for some
reason it seemed suddenly funny.

“Good heavens!” Honey exclaimed when she saw what it was.

“My sentiments exactly,” agreed Horace. “What a weird place to build a
tomb!”

“That’s Shiva, the Destroyer, beside the entrance. And look!” Judy
gasped. “There’s been plenty of destruction. You can see that a house
once stood over there, but it’s been burned to the ground!”



                               CHAPTER X
                             Another Voice?


Everybody piled out of the car to look and exclaim over what had
happened. The fire, apparently, had swept down from the national forest,
making a path of destruction as far as the vault and no farther. The
vault itself had not been touched. It was built into the hillside, and
the laurel and ivy growing up and around the statue were as green as
ever.

“Even the fire was afraid of that statue,” Honey said with a shiver.
“Judy! Judy! Did you hear it—speak?”

“What? The statue?”

“More likely it was a ghost,” declared Horace. “Those children did knock
loud enough to wake the dead.”

“Stop it!” Judy scolded him. “Can’t you see you’re frightening them?”

She had overcome her first impulse to laugh at the children’s mistake.
Now she wanted to cry for sympathy. They had been so eager to meet their
uncle. Now only the blackened ruins of his home were left. Not even a
chimney remained standing.

Mrs. Riker was shocked into silence at first. But soon she was trying to
tell the children how she remembered the house. She hadn’t seen it for
many years, she said. Perhaps it hadn’t been as large as she had
pictured it in her imagination. Her main concern now was for the man
they had come to visit.

“Can it be he’s dead?” she wondered.

The name on the vault was plain. It was simply _Paul Riker_ with the
date of his birth and then a blank. The stone tablet bearing the
inscription was just below the figure of Shiva, the Destroyer.

Penny and Paul were gazing up at the statue almost as if it were alive.

“I’m scared,” Penny whispered.

“No wonder,” her brother answered. “I ought to have known better than to
run up to an old tomb. It was a dumb mistake.”

“But a logical one,” Judy consoled him. “I might have thought it was a
little house myself if I hadn’t recognized that statue from a picture I
saw in a magazine. In India there are temples to Shiva, or Siva. I’m not
sure of the name.”

“I remember!” cried Penny, brightening up as she thought of it. “It was
Sita. Oh, no, that’s the name of the—”

“You know nothing about it,” her mother told her severely. “I know
nothing myself except that Mr. Riker was fond of collecting things. It
is like him to have a Hindu idol on his tomb. Years ago he was
converted, as he called it, to mysticism. I remember some of the things
he used to say. He and my husband’s father used to have long
conversations about the journey a spirit must take before it reached
nirvana, whatever that is. Well, perhaps he has taken it. Life was the
journey, Uncle Paul used to say, and death the reward.”

She sighed, and added, “I only hope his nephew hasn’t followed in his
footsteps.”

“His nephew?” asked Judy.

“Mom means _my_ uncle,” Paul explained. “There’s old Uncle Paul and
young Uncle Paul.”

“Perhaps I should have told you about my husband’s brother,” Mrs. Riker
continued. “He and my husband were boys when they quarreled—”

“What was that?” Honey whispered suddenly, moving closer to Horace. “Did
you hear a footstep?” She shivered and he put his coat around her. The
rain seemed to be turning to snow. Unmindful of it, the children
continued to gaze up at the statue.

“Did it move?” Judy heard Paul whisper.

“It’s the light, Paul,” his mother said. “It’s really made of cement.”

“The same as sidewalks?”

“I think so. Anyway, it isn’t alive. It didn’t move, and it couldn’t
have spoken to us.”

“Something did.”

Judy looked suspiciously at Horace. Had he learned to throw his voice?
That could be the answer to the talking trees as well—except that Horace
hadn’t been there.

“Oh dear!” thought Judy. “I’m off on the wrong trail again.”

“Let’s go,” Honey suggested. “I’m cold.”

But Horace had an idea.

“The caretaker’s cottage must be back down the road. I think we passed
it without seeing it. Maybe he can explain it.”

“What is there to explain?” asked Mrs. Riker sadly, starting down the
steps. “Tombs aren’t built for the living.”

“Sometimes they are. Sometimes people prefer to choose their own
monuments while they’re still alive, and it looks as if that’s the way
your uncle felt about it. There’s no death date under his name,” Horace
observed. “I think the vault is empty.”

Judy hoped it was.

“Come on, let’s go back to the car,” Honey urged. “If a voice spoke to
us now, I really would run.”

“The children thought they heard one,” Judy called after her teasingly.

“It scared us,” Penny confessed. “We thought it was Uncle Paul’s ghost.
It said, ‘Go away.’”

“You know, dead people do come back,” Paul put in gravely. “It’s magic,
I think. We know, on account of Daddy.”

“We saw him,” Penny added.

“When was this?” asked Judy.

“Just a little while ago,” Penny said serenely, and she and Paul ran
down the steps to join their mother and Honey in the car.

Judy would have questioned them further, but now as she idly tried the
heavy oaken door of the vault, to her amazement, she found it unlocked.

“What have we here?” she exclaimed as she swung the door open upon a
concrete floor surrounded by four stone walls. In one swift movement she
stooped and picked up a tiny green object that lay on the bare concrete.

“Is _this_ the green doll Penny was talking about?” Judy wondered.

“Could be,” Horace said. “The thieves may be planning on storing the
loot from other robberies here. Let me have a look at it.”

“Later,” Judy whispered, slipping the little green object into her
pocket. “There’s something strange going on around here, and I need time
to think about it.”

She swung the heavy door closed. Open, it would be a temptation to small
boys and girls who, like herself, were fond of shivery adventures.

“Come on,” Horace urged her. “The vault is empty, and you’re just
scaring yourself and getting all wet standing there. I want to interview
that caretaker and find out what’s up.”

“I doubt if you will,” Judy said, turning reluctantly to follow him down
the long steps back to the car.

The vault, somehow, had a strange attraction for her as it did for
Blackberry. The cat was climbing around it, exploring the statue, and
the roof, and Judy longed to join him. If the bushes weren’t so wet she
knew she could scramble up there, too.

“We’ll come back, won’t we, Horace?” Judy asked.

“It depends on what the caretaker has to say. The sky’s cleared a little
and I can see the top of his cottage. We did pass it,” he observed. “The
fire didn’t touch it or the trees around it.”

“I hope it’s warm inside,” Judy said. “The air is getting colder by the
minute.”



                               CHAPTER XI
                       At the Caretaker’s Cottage


Judy found the caretaker’s cottage cold in more ways than one. They had
approached it eagerly. It did seem the logical place to inquire about
the mysterious Mr. Paul Riker.

“We’ll question the caretaker,” Horace declared. “He’ll tell us plenty.”

But would he? At first the wizened little old man who came to the door
of the cottage refused to admit them.

“I’ve had enough people here,” he barked. “Go away!”

“I’m Paul Riker,” little Paul piped up unexpectedly. “You have to let us
in.”

“Well, I’ll be hanged,” the caretaker said, “if you don’t sound just
like your uncle Paul. So I have to let you in, eh?”

“Paul! Be quiet,” Mrs. Riker admonished the boy. “I am Mrs. Philip
Riker,” she told the caretaker. “Do you know where I can reach Mr. Paul
Riker?”

“I’m Abner Post,” the caretaker said, and added reluctantly, “Come in,
Mrs. Riker.”

Judy and Horace introduced themselves and got a cold stare for their
trouble. Abner Post led them into his kitchen which was at the front of
the house, and they were offered straight-backed chairs.

The kitchen, Judy noticed, was a little like her own. It had a fireplace
in it, but there was no fire. The house seemed without warmth or
comfort.

“So you’ve come to find out what’s become of Mr. Riker, have you?” the
caretaker said to Mrs. Riker after she had told him about seeing the
vault. “Well, there’s plenty would like to know. Some of the neighbors
hereabouts say he’s dead and his ghost walks up and down them steps at
midnight. But I ain’t seen it.”

“Just how long has Mr. Riker been away, Mr. Post?” Horace asked.

“Now look here, young feller,” the caretaker turned on Horace
belligerently, “I’ve done nothing but answer questions all day—police,
insurance men, fire department—they all got nothing better to do than
come and bother me. So don’t you start in.”

“But Mr. Post, please,” Mrs. Riker said pleadingly. “I wrote to Mr.
Riker over two weeks ago, telling him I was driving here with the
children. I even told him the route we were taking. Surely, when he was
expecting us, he wouldn’t just disappear. Something must have happened.”

The caretaker shrugged. “I dunno, ma’am,” he said, and added grudgingly,
“All I know is, a couple of weeks ago he suddenly got rid of all the
help in the house, closed it up, and told me he was off on a trip to
India. He said I was to stay on to look after things, and he’d be back
when he got back. Some folks say,” he lowered his voice, “Paul Riker’s
locked himself up in that vault.”

“But the door was open and the vault is empty,” Judy protested. “What
did he build it for, anyway?”

“He had it built about two years ago,” Abner Post replied. “Said he
might as well get some good out of all the money he made when he sold
the business.”

“What was his business?”

Judy had asked the question simply out of curiosity. She was quite
unprepared for the answer.

“This’ll tell you,” Abner Post replied shortly, handing her a card.

Judy stared at it. Then she passed it around. The room buzzed with
comments. It was startling, to say the least. On the card was lettered:

                            RIKER MEMORIALS
                         Monuments, Mausoleums
              Designers and Builders for Four Generations

Underneath was the name, Paul Riker, an address and phone number, as
well as a notation in very small print: “Exhibit Open Every Day.”

“An exhibit!” exclaimed Honey, handing the card back to Judy, who asked
if she might keep it. “So that’s what it was.”

“This is his own monument on the card, the very same statue and
everything,” observed Horace.

“And there were four generations of them,” Judy added. “But you say he
sold the business?”

“Talk did it,” the caretaker explained. “All those heathen statues and
pictures he filled the house with. Folks began calling him a heathen
too. It got even worse after he put up that monument. I told him he was
making a big mistake. ‘What good is a big tombstone to a man after he’s
dead?’ I asked him. ‘Let others build it if they think you’re worth it.’
And would you believe it, he told me he had no friends or kinfolks who
thought he was worth a visit, let alone a monument. He and his nephew
had quarreled over the business, and the rest of the family let him
pretty much alone.”

He turned to Helen Riker. “If you’re Philip’s wife, why didn’t you ever
come to visit?”

“I have come,” Mrs. Riker said, very low.

“Well, you’ve come too late. I keep bachelor’s quarters. It’s no fit
place for a woman, and you can see for yourself the big house is burned
down.”

“When did the fire start?” Judy asked.

“Last night,” Abner Post answered shortly. “And I _don’t_ know how it
started,” he added defensively.

“Could that be because you weren’t here?” Judy asked sweetly.

“Certainly I was here,” the caretaker exclaimed. “I’m always here.”

“You couldn’t have been here when the house was looted Thursday night,”
Judy pointed out reasonably. “From what the paper said, the thieves must
have had to bring a van to remove all those art treasures, and you would
have seen it.”

“Now look here, miss,” the caretaker exclaimed furiously. “Are you
trying to say I was mixed up in the robbery?”

“Robbery!” Mrs. Riker gasped. “Uncle Paul’s beautiful treasures were
stolen? Oh, how dreadful!” Suddenly her eyes filled with tears. “I
suppose his jade collection was stolen too. Yes,” she added in a
whisper, “I have come too late.”

Judy’s hand closed around the tiny object in her pocket.

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that, Mrs. Riker,” she said mysteriously.



                              CHAPTER XII
                          The Game of Secrets


Horace made good time coming home. He was really driving too fast, Judy
thought, but she didn’t say anything. She was too busy thinking about
the caretaker, who had stood watching them sullenly as they drove away.

“Horace,” she said suddenly, “either that man _was_ involved in the
robbery, or else he was away at the time and is trying to keep it
secret.”

“It’s no good trying to keep secrets like that,” Honey said. “I tried it
once, and it didn’t work. I only got myself tangled in a web of lies. It
was when I told the truth that everything came clear.”

“I’m glad you said that,” declared Judy. “I think the truth would solve
most of our problems. Don’t you, Mrs. Riker?”

“Nothing,” she replied, “will solve my problems now. I wish I had never
come back. At least I could have kept the memory of the place the way it
used to be.”

“Was it such a pleasant memory?”

“Well, no,” she admitted. “It was anything but pleasant except for one
happy summer. That summer stood out so clearly in my memory that it made
me forget all the dreary hours that followed. It all comes back to me
now. The house was filled with heavy, carved furniture. There was one
chair with snakes curling over the back. You couldn’t sit in it. A
statue sat there. You had to be quiet when you went near it. There were
so many statues! But I think I remember the quiet most of all. I wasn’t
allowed to interrupt if anyone spoke, but nobody ever said anything much
except, ‘Don’t touch!’ And there were so many beautiful things I wanted
to touch. Now where are they?”

“At least they didn’t go up in smoke when the house burned,” Horace
pointed out.

“It is a strange thing,” agreed Judy. “The thieves didn’t know they were
saving them. Your uncle should be grateful.”

Mrs. Riker smiled, as if the thought of his gratitude amused her. Then
she said, “What really distresses me is the condition of the caretaker’s
cottage. You wouldn’t think it to look at it now, but that kitchen was
once almost as pleasant as yours, Judy, if I may call you that. Do call
me Helen.”

Honey turned around and smiled at Judy, remembering a secret between
them. She had been called Helen for a little while before Judy found out
that her real name was Grace Dobbs and that she was Peter’s sister.

“You like that name, don’t you?” Honey asked.

“Yes, and I like Helen Riker,” Judy declared warmly. “I think we are
going to be good friends.”

“I hope so. I’m like Uncle Paul,” Mrs. Riker admitted. “I need friends
as I never needed them before. My husband is dead, as you must have
guessed. He was a reckless driver, especially when he was alone. He was
killed in an accident.”

“What was that?” asked Horace, cutting down on his speed.

“You heard it. You might take it as a warning,” Judy told him. “You have
plenty of time to write up this story. The _Herald_ doesn’t go to press
until tomorrow morning. ‘Slow down and live,’ as the road signs say.”

“Thanks, I will,” he replied. “I was just trying to get you home in time
for supper.”

“I’ll get supper better if I’m all in one piece. I haven’t decided what
we’ll have, but you’re all invited,” Judy told them.

But Horace said he had other plans—which included Honey.

“Anyway,” Judy said, “we want you and the children to stay, Helen.”

Mrs. Riker smiled as if the use of her first name cemented their
friendship. She was a beautiful woman when she forgot to be worried and
frightened. Judy guessed she was still in her early thirties.

“You must have married very young,” she commented a little later.

“Too young,” Helen Riker replied. “I hadn’t learned to do my own
thinking.”

What did she mean? Apparently she still didn’t want to think about her
problems, but the children did. Penny seemed bursting with things she
wanted to say. They had passed the dam and were just coming to the place
where the North Hollow road turned off at an angle, when the little girl
suddenly cried out, “Here’s where we were when the bad men went off with
Mommy’s pocketbook.”

“Did they go down that road?” asked Horace.

“No,” said Paul. “They drove off down the main road. That’s where we met
those kids who are having the magic show. But Wally Brown wasn’t with
the kids who found Mom’s pocketbook—”

“Maybe he didn’t want them to look for it! Maybe it was his voice we
heard!” exclaimed Judy.

“It’s a good theory and basically sound,” Horace pointed out, “but your
timing’s wrong. The voice said ‘Don’t look for it!’ _before_ Mrs. Riker
lost her pocketbook—not afterwards. I figure the robbery happened in a
matter of minutes after those men left you.”

“I don’t understand it,” Honey put in. “It was in the paper this
morning.”

“Horace is talking about the theft of the pocketbook, not the big
robbery. But I have a feeling they’re related in some way,” Judy said
thoughtfully.

“Maybe one is the uncle of the other,” Horace teased her. “Seriously,”
he continued, “I agree that there may be some connection. If this
magician had been with them—”

“He isn’t a robber,” Penny interrupted. “I know he isn’t. His magic is
real. You’ll see at the magic show. We can go to it, now that we’re
coming back to live with you, can’t we, Judy?”

“What’s this?” Horace asked in surprise. “So you’re going to live with
Judy, are you? Don’t you think Peter may have something to say about
that?”

“He didn’t even know about the tourist sign,” Judy confessed. “We put it
up this morning as a sort of a lark. We might have trapped the robbers,
but it looks as if we caught the victims instead.”

“You may have caught them both. The robbers who stole my pocketbook
asked if I knew where Uncle Paul’s jade collection is,” Mrs. Riker
confessed, “but if the house was robbed two days ago, they’d have been
there already.”

“That would be a story: ‘THIEVES OVERLOOK VALUABLE JADE COLLECTION,’”
Horace commented.

“But did they?” Judy asked. “My theory is that they only overlooked one
piece—”

She stopped suddenly, deciding not to mention the tiny green object in
her pocket until she had shown it to Peter and discussed the whole thing
with him. Quickly she changed the subject to ask, “Could the police have
known about the fire when they gave you the news of the robbery,
Horace?”

“Who knows?” he replied. “Everybody seems to be playing the game of
secrets. The theft of your pocketbook should have been reported, Mrs.
Riker. You’re protecting the thieves when you hold back information from
the police.”

“Oh dear!” she said, becoming suddenly flustered. “I didn’t mean to do
that. I suppose they should know what happened, but please keep my name
out of it. I don’t want to become involved. Maybe you could tell them I
have my pocketbook back—”

“Empty,” Horace reminded her.

“They didn’t want it,” Penny spoke up. “They only wanted what was
inside.”

“What _was_ inside?” asked Judy, hoping her new friend had taken Honey’s
little speech about truth-telling to heart.

        [Illustration: “There’s a light inside,” observed Honey]

“Not much,” Mrs. Riker replied quickly. “I only had a few dollars left,
just about enough to get us to Uncle Paul’s. There was nothing else of
any consequence.”

“No green doll?” Judy wanted to ask. But would Helen Riker admit it?
They were nearly home now, but the game of secrets was not over. Even
Horace acted as if he knew one.

“What does consequence mean?” Penny was asking.

“The dictionary says it’s the natural result of an act,” Judy began.

She had read the dictionary once in order to win a spelling bee, and
often quoted definitions from it.

“I didn’t mean it that way. I’m so confused I don’t know what I mean,”
Mrs. Riker confessed. “I didn’t tell those horrible men where anything
was. I couldn’t have. I didn’t know!”

“They must have overlooked something or they wouldn’t have stopped you.
How did they know who you were?” asked Judy.

“A voice from the trees told them, no doubt,” Horace said dryly.

Her brother was joking, Judy knew. But he had certainly found out
something. They were just passing the tree that had “talked,” but there
was no voice from it now. The rain had turned to snow which clung to the
branches, frosting them with white. The house had a white roof.

“There’s a light inside,” observed Honey as Horace drove up the snowy
slope to stop before the door.



                              CHAPTER XIII
                             Too Many Clues


“What are you going to do with this?” asked Horace as he brought in the
tourist sign.

“Maybe you ought to hide it,” laughed Honey, taking it from him and
standing it behind the kitchen door.

Usually the door into the combined kitchen and dining room was left
open. It swung against the living-room wall. From within the kitchen
came the odor of something cooking.

“Peter has given me up for lost and is cooking his own supper,” Judy
exclaimed. “Come in, Helen. Mrs. Riker, I want you to meet my husband,
Peter Dobbs.”

Peter looked more like a coal miner than a G-man as he turned from the
stove to regard the group in the doorway. A boyish grin spread slowly
over his face.

“I’m happy to know you,” he said. “If I had been warned that Judy was
bringing company home I would have dressed for the occasion and prepared
something more elaborate than canned soup. You’ll have to excuse my
appearance,” he added after a quick introduction to the children, “but
fighting forest fires is dirty work.”

“Forest fires!” exclaimed Judy.

“Are you a forest ranger?” Paul wanted to know. “Did you help put out
the fire that burned Uncle Paul’s house down?”

“I’m afraid I was too late for that,” replied Peter, “but I did
volunteer to help the chief deputy and his forest rangers. They had to
keep the forest fire from spreading. The control of forest fires,” he
continued, “is everybody’s business. Even boys and girls can help by
reporting any brush fires they see.”

“We didn’t see the fire. We just saw the Destroyer,” Paul said.

“Paul means the statue on his uncle’s tomb,” Judy put in quickly. “I
recognized it and told him what it was.”

“You recognized it? Were you there?”

Peter had abandoned his soup-making to listen.

“We all were,” Honey answered. “Mrs. Riker was on the way to visit her
uncle—”

“He is my husband’s uncle, not mine,” Helen Riker pointed out. “That
makes him the children’s great-uncle.”

Judy laughed. “Little Paul ran up to the vault and knocked, and he
thinks he heard someone say ‘Go away!’ And, honestly, Peter, there was
no one inside. We looked, and it was empty.”

“The voice must have been carried from somewhere,” Horace concluded. “It
could have been a trick of the wind, like the talking tree.”

“Is that what you think it was?” asked Judy. “I don’t see how a trick of
the wind could make a tree talk, do you, Peter?”

“If the trees I saw today could have talked,” he replied, “they would
have all screamed, ‘Save us!’ We did our best, but it was the rain that
finally put the fire out, after the wind changed.”

“That was just about the time those men stopped here, wasn’t it, Judy?”
asked Honey.

“What men?” asked Peter. “I still don’t get it.”

“No wonder,” Judy told him. “We took the sign down and hid it behind the
door. Here it is,” she added, dragging it out. “You might call it
Exhibit A. Isn’t it a beauty? Honey lettered it herself.”

“Tourists Welcome,” he read aloud, the puzzled frown on his forehead
deepening. “What was the idea?” he questioned. “Are we suddenly in the
tourist business?”

“I’m afraid we were,” Judy admitted, “and we’re also deep in another
mystery.”

Eagerly the children began telling him about it, but their mother
stopped their chatter by offering them some of the soup Judy was dishing
out, and telling them to keep quiet while they ate it.

“Don’t dish out any for us, Judy,” Horace told her. “I promised Honey
I’d take her out to dinner, and I mean to keep my word if all the
restaurants aren’t closed—”

“We’ll be back if they are. ‘Bye, all!” Honey said as she followed him
out into the snow.

The ground was covered now. What a day it had been! First the dry
weather with forest fires raging, then rain, and now snow!

“It’s just too much for me,” sighed Judy.

Peter had had a word privately with Horace before he left. Afterwards
Judy brought out what she called Exhibit B—the empty pocketbook. Peter
whistled in surprise when he saw it. But Mrs. Riker seemed unwilling to
talk about it. She soon pleaded a headache and asked that she and the
children be shown to their rooms.

Judy made them as comfortable as she could in the two spare bedrooms and
then returned to the kitchen to prepare a little more supper for Peter.
She gave him the kiss she had been saving for him and said, “I thought
you might like to follow the soup course with another one of meat and
potatoes. I’ll have them on your plate in a jiffy.”

“What about your own plate?” he asked.

“I’m not hungry,” she admitted. “I had enough to eat with Mrs. Riker and
the children. For once we have a mystery with too many clues and I’d
rather sort them out in my mind and talk. Peter,” she asked abruptly,
“did you ever hear of a green dolly?”

He looked puzzled. “A green dollar? Who hasn’t? They’re all green except
the silver and gold ones.”

“I didn’t say _dollar_. I said _dolly_. You know, one of those things
that children play with.” She spelled it, “D-o-l-l,” and Peter laughed.

“Turn off the advertising, Angel. I get it. Are you speaking of a
talking doll?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Penny asked me to help her find a green
doll she said her mother had in the pocketbook that was stolen from her.
But Helen Riker won’t tell me. She said there was nothing of any
consequence in her pocketbook, but there was certainly something worth
stealing. Those men must have been looking for her when they stopped
here. I took the license number of their car.”

“Good girl,” approved Peter. “I knew you would. Now, if you can describe
them—”

Judy described them in detail, answering a few more questions Peter
asked her about them.

“They stopped short in front of Helen Riker and crowded her car into the
ditch. Then the men jumped out and questioned her about her uncle’s jade
collection at the point of a gun. She told me that much. But she won’t
admit she had anything of value in the pocketbook they drove off with.
What do you think was in it, Peter? Why do I get mixed up in such
fantastic adventures?”

“Perhaps,” he replied mysteriously, “it’s because you’re married to me.
I’m on the trail of a green doll myself. In fact, quite a number of
them. These clues you speak of may be just the ones I need.”

“Peter! Really? Then maybe I _can_ help you. Take a look at Exhibit C!”
And Judy drew the tiny green jade figure from her pocket and laid it
down before him.



                              CHAPTER XIV
                            The Missing Jade


Peter gave a long, low whistle of surprise. Then he asked Judy exactly
where she had found the little idol.

She told him and added, “It isn’t quite the way Penny described it. This
looks more like a hunter than a doll.”

“It may be a clue when we start hunting for the rest of the jade
collection,” declared Peter. “Have you any more clues as good as this
one?”

Judy laughed. “I’m afraid not, but it won’t do any harm to list the
clues I do have.”

“First of all,” Peter said, “is that tourist sign. I’ll never understand
how you get these sudden impulses, but it certainly led Mrs. Riker and
the children to the right place.”

“That’s true,” Judy admitted, and sighed. “Naturally they were looking
forward to meeting their uncle. It must have been a terrible shock to
them to find his house destroyed.”

“What about their other uncle?” asked Peter. “Doesn’t he have a house?”

“I don’t know,” Judy replied. “Helen wouldn’t let the children talk
about him. Penny acted as if she’d never heard of him before. It was the
old uncle they were expecting to visit, not the young one.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“I’m not sure of anything,” confessed Judy. “There’s a big secret of
some kind. Helen’s trained Paul to keep it, but not Penny. The trouble
is, I don’t think Penny knows all of it. And she has such an
imagination! I actually feel sorry for her, the way they stop her every
time she wants to talk. But it may be necessary. Helen Riker may be in
danger.”

“What about you?” asked Peter. “You’ve really handed yourself a problem,
sweetheart. If she’s in danger, I’m afraid you are, too.”

“I know, Peter.” Impulsively she kissed away the worried frown on his
forehead, nearly stabbing him with the pencil she was holding. “But why
should I be any safer than you are?” she asked. “You’re nearly always in
danger—”

“From pencils? Only when I’m with you,” he returned, laughing.
“Actually, pencils are about the only weapons I’ll be using for the next
few weeks. Most of the time I will be sitting at an office desk doing
very undangerous routine work.”

“You weren’t today,” she reminded him. “You were fighting forest fires.”

“Today,” he said, “was a little unusual. But let’s talk about your day.
I want to get the facts straightened out in my mind.”

“My day?” Judy questioned, thinking back. “For me it always begins when
I first open my eyes and say to myself, ‘Here is another mystery to
solve.’ Every day _is_ a mystery, Peter, because you never know one
minute what wonderful, beautiful, or even terrible thing will happen the
next. That’s what makes life so exciting and—and wonderful.”

“It takes a pretty wonderful person to see it that way,” declared Peter.

“You’re wonderful, too,” she told him. “How foolish I was to worry for
fear you might not understand. You see, we put up the tourist sign
before Horace came with the news of the robbery. At first it was just
for fun. We didn’t really think anyone would stop. And then, just after
we put up the sign, those three men came along. They didn’t drive down
our road. Maybe it looked too steep or something. They just parked their
car by the mailbox and started to explore the grounds and ask questions.
One of the men asked about the house, but I told him it wasn’t for sale.
It’s _our_ house, Peter. Nothing in the world could make me want to sell
it.”

“But it is a little lonesome, is that it?”

“A little,” she admitted, “when you’re at work. But today Honey was with
me, and then of course Helen and the children came. Oh!” she exclaimed
suddenly.

“What now, Angel?”

“An idea I had. Penny did say something about getting into trouble when
you didn’t tell things,” Judy remembered. “She was talking about her
mother. And then she said, ‘I’d never, never steal anything after what
she told me. Only bad people steal.’ I agreed with her and it seemed to
bother her, and then she said something about it’s being different for
children. What do you suppose she meant by that?”

“Obviously some child she cared about had stolen something. I doubt if
it was Penny herself.”

“Was it Paul?”

“Not if I’m any judge of character,” Peter said. “What else can you
remember?”

“A lot of things. I’ll write them down. There were still more clues in
the paper if we only had it. I think Helen must have taken it upstairs
with her.”

“We don’t need it,” Peter told her. “I’m familiar with every word in it.
You see, our office released the news. Horace didn’t tell you, but he
got it from me.”

“He did? Then you know more about it than he does! Can you tell me who
the thieves were?” Judy asked. “Was it the caretaker?”

“Possibly, although it was he who reported the robbery.”

“And what about the jade collection? If this green doll was part of
it—Peter! It must have been. But why was Helen taking it there unless—”
Judy kept interrupting herself as more ideas flashed through her brain.
Then, suddenly, she knew.

“It was!” she exclaimed. “I remember it now! It said in the paper that a
priceless Oriental jade collection had been stolen—”

“Was believed to have been stolen,” Peter corrected her. “It makes quite
a difference.”

“Not in what I’m trying to say,” she continued. “I don’t remember it
word for word, but it went on to say that the valuable jade pieces had
been collected during Paul Riker’s travels through the Far East. They
were little statues of gods and goddesses! I had forgotten that until
this very minute. And there was something else about their value being
even greater if they were matched pairs. Does that mean there’s a
goddess for every god? Then, if one happened to be missing, it would be
worth a lot of money, wouldn’t it? And if the burglars knew where it
was, they’d try to steal it, wouldn’t they? And they’d try to find out
about the rest of the collection. Oh, Peter! That was what you meant
when you said you were on the trail of quite a number of green dolls,
wasn’t it? And this one I found may lead us to all the others.”

“It may,” Peter replied soberly. “On the other hand, it may lead us into
more trouble. If Mr. Riker himself dropped it in the vault—”

“I give up,” Judy interrupted. “But this green ‘doll’ is jade, isn’t it,
and it was stolen from Mr. Riker’s collection, don’t you think, Peter?”

“Yes, I do,” Peter agreed, “but if anyone stole it I’m afraid you’re the
guilty one, Angel. You’d better let me have it before it gets you into
more trouble. It may be the mate to the one Mrs. Riker had stolen from
her.”

“Oh dear!” Judy began. “I hadn’t thought of that. I didn’t mean—”

“Of course you didn’t,” Peter reassured her. “I know your motives were
good when you took it, and a great deal of good may come out of it, so
don’t worry.”

“I won’t,” Judy promised, inspiration suddenly erasing all worry from
her mind. “Oh, Peter!” she cried. “I have a wonderful idea. Come up to
the attic with me. There’s something up there I want to show you.”



                               CHAPTER XV
                          Secrets of the East


Judy and Peter climbed to the third floor, tiptoeing so as not to
disturb their sleeping guests. All was quiet on the second floor. The
stairway went right on up to what was not a cobwebby old attic, but
three neat little rooms at the top of the house.

The room in the middle had dormer windows that gave enough light for
sewing. Here Judy had placed her sewing machine. Opposite it was a large
chest of drawers, a chair, and a bookcase filled with things she
treasured.

In one of the other rooms her grandmother’s things were stored. Judy had
never got around to sorting all of them.

In the third room were things she had saved herself. The wall was lined
with books she had loved and didn’t want to part with. She had taken
them all to her grandmother’s house the summer before the flood. Her old
dolls were there too.

It was in this room that Judy found what she was looking for—a stack of
old magazines.

“It must be in this pile here somewhere,” she told Peter, rapidly going
through the stack. “It was an article in an old issue of _Life_, and it
had lots of pictures in color of Hindu gods and goddesses. I’ll know it
by its cover—a Hindu girl with some kind of an ornament on her forehead.
Do you remember it, Peter?”

“I believe I do,” he replied. “There were pictures of gods and goddesses
on a big fold-out page. Some of them were in the Riker collection. They
were hardly what you’d call dolls, although some of them were green. To
the more educated Hindus they have become symbolic.”

“You mean like our sandman?” asked Judy with a yawn.

Peter laughed. “I never thought of it that way, but I guess the sandman
is a symbol of sleep, and you and I could use some of it. We can look
through the rest of these old magazines another time.”

“It’s no use. It isn’t here. We’d better go down.”

Judy picked up Buttercup, her favorite doll. “I’m going to tuck her in
bed with Penny,” she told Peter, “so she’ll find her when she wakes up.”

She laughed at Peter’s objections as she carried the doll down to the
children’s bedroom on the second floor and placed her in Penny’s arms.

“You see, I didn’t wake Penny,” she whispered to Peter. “Isn’t she an
angel? I wish—”

The wish went unexpressed as Judy pounced upon the very magazine she had
been hunting for. It was on the little night table right by Penny’s bed,
and it was open to the big fold-out page covered with pictures of Hindu
gods and goddesses.

“Go ahead! You can take it,” Paul said so suddenly that he startled Judy
and nearly made her drop the magazine.

He was wide awake in the other bed.

“Where did you find it?” Judy whispered.

“In the closet. I was showing Penny the pictures. Is it almost morning?”

“Almost,” Judy told him. “Now go back to sleep. I’d better follow my own
advice,” she said to Peter when they were in their own room.

“Are you going to take that magazine to bed with you?” he asked.

Judy still had it in her arms.

“Why not?” she retorted, making a face at him. “It contains all the
mysterious secrets of the mysterious East and if I want to solve this
mysterious—”

“Darling,” Peter interrupted, “if I hear that word again I shall place a
blindfold over your mysterious gray eyes—”

“Try it!” she challenged him.

Judy won the scuffle. In spite of Peter’s protests, she began to read
the article, though not from the beginning. She had opened the magazine
to a huge picture of Shiva.

“This,” she pointed out, “is Shiva or Siva, the death god or the
Destroyer. I recognized the figure on the tomb from this picture. But
Penny mentioned the name Sita, and that seems to ring a bell, too.”

“It should.” Peter turned the page and spread it out before her. “Here
they are,” he said. “Rama and Sita are the ideal man and woman in India.
They should never be separated, and no marriage is complete without
their blessing—”

“That’s rather sweet, don’t you think? Oh!” Judy gasped, pointing to one
of the two little idols pictured. “Look, Peter. This is the one I found
in the vault. Our green doll is Rama!”



                              CHAPTER XVI
                          The Missing Children


“Rama!” Peter exclaimed with satisfaction. “Now we’re getting somewhere,
Angel. If we can just make sure this is not the ‘green doll’ that was
stolen from Mrs. Riker—”

“I’m almost sure it isn’t,” Judy exclaimed. “When Penny was talking
about it, she kept referring to the dolly as ‘she,’ and this little idol
is the figure of a young man. Besides, Peter,” she added excitedly,
“when I was trying to think of the name of the Destroyer, Penny said the
name was Sita. Then she said, ‘Oh, no, that was the name of the—’ and
her mother made her be quiet. Oh dear,” she finished mournfully, “we
found Rama and lost Sita, and they should always be together.”

“Perhaps they will be, Angel, soon,” Peter promised mysteriously.

Judy eyed him curiously. “Don’t answer this if it’s confidential
information,” she began carefully, “but I’m just dying to know why it
makes a difference whether this green doll is the one Helen Riker had,
or not.”

“I can’t answer your question specifically, Angel,” Peter said slowly.
“But I can tell you one thing, because it will be released to the papers
tomorrow anyway. There may not have been a robbery at all.”

“Peter!” Judy stared. “What do you mean? The art treasures are gone,
aren’t they?”

“They were,” Peter said. “But we learned today that the Montrose Moving
and Storage Company received an order to move the stuff to their
warehouse on Thursday evening. The order is supposed to have come from
Paul Riker. My theory is that the old man saw the forest fire spreading
in the direction of his house, and wanted to save his treasures.
However, the insurance people take a different view. They point out that
although the house did burn down, the forest fire was not the cause. In
fact, the burned area around the site of the Riker mansion was what
stopped the spread of the forest fire in that direction. They think Mr.
Riker wanted to ‘have his cake and eat it too,’ as the saying goes.”

“Peter!” Judy’s eyes were snapping with excitement. “Do you mean to tell
me all those things have been sitting in a warehouse while everyone has
been trying to catch the robbers? But you yourself said only this
evening that you are on the trail of a number of green dolls. Oh,” she
gasped, as the thought struck her, “that must mean the jade collection
isn’t—”

She stopped suddenly as Peter put a gentle hand over her mouth.

“I wouldn’t have been able to answer your next question, Angel,” he
said, laughing at her startled expression, “so let’s change the
subject.”

“All right, Peter,” Judy laughed too, “at least we have one real robbery
left—those men who held up Helen Riker. Peter, they must have been the
moving men! Honey recognized one of them.”

“There’s undoubtedly some connection, and we’ll investigate it,” Peter
said. “But I don’t think it’s quite as simple as it sounds.”

“You mean, there’s Helen Riker herself? I told her I was afraid I’d
caught the victim instead of the robbers. And do you know what she said,
Peter? She said, ‘You may have caught them both.’ But she couldn’t be
involved in a robbery that didn’t happen.”

“If that was a piece of stolen jade she was carrying around with her,
she’s going to have a hard time proving her innocence,” declared Peter.

“Somehow, I can’t believe she’s really guilty,” Judy murmured.

“Perhaps not,” Peter said, “but we both know she’s holding something
back. And if her husband was this millionaire’s nephew, why was she
driving a fifteen-year-old car hardly fit for the road?”

“Horace told you about the car, didn’t he?”

“Yes, and I mean to have a look at it. There’s still a lot we don’t
know.”

“And a lot I’m too sleepy to think about. There was one more thing I
wanted to tell you.”

“Good night, maybe?” Peter laughed. “I’m ready to turn in myself as soon
as I run downstairs and make a couple of telephone calls.”

“At this hour?”

Peter laughed. “I won’t wake anybody up. I’ll put out Blackberry and
lock up. By then you may have thought of it.”

He returned a few minutes later. Judy was still awake. She said a little
drowsily, “I know what it was. I wanted to tell you how she described
her uncle’s house, the quiet and everything, almost as if she used to
live there, but how could that be? Paul Riker was her husband’s uncle,
not hers.”

“You knew my grandparents when I was a little boy,” Peter reminded her.

“That’s true. She must have lived near them. But there are no other
houses near by except the caretaker’s cottage. Could she have been the
caretaker’s little girl?”

“Why don’t you ask her?” Peter suggested.

Judy said she would first thing in the morning. But morning brought new
problems. Mrs. Riker woke everybody up screaming that the children were
missing.

“I found a doll in Penny’s bed,” she wailed. “It was put there as a
warning—”

“It was put there as a surprise,” Judy told her. “I tiptoed in and put
it there myself. It’s my old doll, Buttercup, and there’s nothing
mysterious about her. The children were all right then.”

“They aren’t now. This is too much!” Helen Riker cried, becoming
hysterical. “If those robbers entered the house during the night and
stole them, I’ll never forgive myself. Maybe they think I lied to them
when I said I didn’t know where Uncle Paul kept his jade collection.
They may think if they hold the children they can force me to tell—”

“Wait a minute!” Peter stopped her. “Before you jump to any such
conclusions, tell me when you last saw the children.”

“Why, when I put them to bed.”

Peter made a quick investigation, and reported that no one had entered
the children’s room except Judy and himself.

“What about their clothes?” he asked. “Are any of them missing?”

“They must be wearing their snow suits,” their mother began.

“And why not, on a nice snowy morning?” asked Peter. “It looks to me as
if they just got up early and ran out to play.”

But Helen Riker still wouldn’t believe they hadn’t met with some
disaster.

“If they’ve decided to track those robbers down by themselves,” she
wailed, “some real harm may come to them.”

“I’ll see that it doesn’t,” promised Peter.

Judy made three phone calls. Then she and Peter put on coats and boots
and began an exploration of the neighborhood. The new snow helped, and
they soon discovered that Penny and Paul had left a path from the house
to the barn and then across the shortcut to the North Hollow road.

Judy’s friend and nearest neighbor, Holly Potter, reported that she had
seen the children a half hour or so earlier. They were on their way
toward the new housing development, she thought.

“Muriel’s house is on the corner. They could have been on their way
there,” she added as Judy hurried off with Peter.

“I called Ricky and Muriel and Anne before we came out. They hadn’t seen
them,” she called back.

“That leaves Wally, doesn’t it?” asked Peter. “Did you think of calling
him? That’s where they were planning to have this magic show, wasn’t
it?”

“Of course. Why didn’t I think of it? That’s where they naturally would
go. Let’s go back to the house and telephone.”

“I’ll get the car out and drive over and pick them up if you like,”
Peter offered.

“All right, and in the meantime I’ll get breakfast started,” Judy
decided. “What do you fancy this morning?”

“Pancakes would do very nicely. I’ve worked up quite an appetite.”

“Pancakes it is!”

They returned to the house hand in hand and enjoying the crisp morning
air. Overnight it had changed from fall to winter. As Peter drove off
along the snowy road Judy waved to him and then turned to Mrs. Riker.

“He’ll find them. Don’t worry. Let’s go inside and have a nice hot
breakfast ready for them when they do come back.”

Church bells were ringing, reminding them that it was Sunday morning.
For Judy and Peter this was never a day for sleeping. Usually they drove
to Farringdon and attended church with Judy’s parents and Peter’s
grandparents. Horace never missed a Sunday.

“Honey will be there, too. And Lois and Lorraine and all the other girls
I knew in high school,” thought Judy.

But when she suggested church to Mrs. Riker the young woman protested
that she didn’t want to meet people.

“Not here,” she said. “Not yet.”

What did she mean? Judy had suggested the little white church in Dry
Brook Hollow, as it was already too late to drive to Farringdon, and the
children had not yet returned.

“We might look for them in Sunday school if Peter isn’t back by ten
o’clock.”

Judy felt sure some of the neighborhood children might have invited
them. She didn’t know why, but she just couldn’t share Mrs. Riker’s
anxiety, although she could sympathize with her. The pancake batter was
ready. Ten o’clock came and still no children. Mrs. Riker was the first
one to suggest walking over to the Sunday school.

They arrived just as all the children were singing:

  “_Come, ye thankful people, come,
  Raise the song of harvest-home.
  All is safely gathered in,
  Ere the winter storms begin._”

“It’s Thanksgiving Sunday!” Judy whispered.

But Mrs. Riker was looking into the faces of the children and finding
nothing to be thankful for. Her own were not there.



                              CHAPTER XVII
                              More Secrets


They waited until the hymn was over and then tiptoed quietly out of the
big Sunday school room. A moment later the quiet was shattered as the
children rushed off to their individual classrooms. The Dran boys
hurried in through the outside door. They were both out of breath.

“Are we late?” the older boy asked Judy.

“I’m afraid so.”

“Oh dear!” the younger one lamented. “We missed the singing and that’s
the best part. We wanted Penny and Paul to come with us, but Peter said
their mother would worry—”

“Thank the Lord,” gasped Mrs. Riker.

She looked about ready to faint. The Dran boys stared at her.

“She’s their mother,” Judy explained. “She’s been worried sick. But it’s
all right now. We can all be thankful they’re safe. But where were
they?”

“At our house,” the boys said matter-of-factly.

“They wanted to sign up for the magic show,” Timothy, the older of the
two, explained. “Didn’t they tell you where they were going, Mrs.
Riker?”

“No,” she replied rather uncertainly as if she wanted to say more. She
looked at Judy, who should have introduced them. In the excitement she
had forgotten to do so.

“It’s all right. Peter brought them back and gave us a ride,” Timothy
said.

“He didn’t wait for you. I guess he didn’t know you were here,” Barry,
the little one, added.

Having explained everything, the Dran boys ran off to their classes
which were somewhere in the basement rooms of the church.

“Penny and Paul would have enjoyed this. Maybe I’ll let them come next
Sunday,” Helen Riker remarked as they left to walk home.

“Next Sunday?” Judy questioned.

Was Mrs. Riker planning to stay all winter? What were her plans? Judy
knew she couldn’t ask her new friend to leave when she didn’t have
anywhere to go, or any money, but she hadn’t counted on taking in a
whole family.

“If I’m here,” Mrs. Riker replied. “I haven’t decided anything. But at
least I have something to be thankful for. The children are all right.”

When they reached Judy’s home they found Penny and Paul helping Peter
make pancakes. He had discovered the batter and the griddle ready, and
had appointed himself chef in Judy’s absence.

“Pancakes coming up!” he announced. “Pitch right in, everybody. Know
where we’re going as soon as we finish, Angel?”

“No, where?” Judy asked.

But before Peter could tell her, Mrs. Riker said what she wanted to know
was where the children had been and why they hadn’t told her they were
going out.

The answer to the last question was simple enough. She had been asleep
when they left.

“It was very early,” Paul explained. “We had to wake everybody up. Mr.
Brown didn’t like it, but when we went to Timmy Dran’s house the
magician didn’t mind.”

“The magician!” their mother said in shocked surprise.

“Is that where you were?” asked Judy. “I might have known it! Where does
this magician live?”

“With Barry and Timothy Dran. He’s the nicest man, just like Daddy, only
he isn’t. It’s all right if we go there,” Paul hurried on. “Peter knows
him. They got real well acquainted, and we joined the club and Penny has
a part in the magic show. She and Anne changed places because now she’s
the littlest. Wally said it was all right.”

“I disappear,” Penny announced proudly.

“Not again,” her mother protested.

“It’s all right. I’ll come back.”

Mrs. Riker sighed.

“Well, I hope so. At least you’re safe now. The next time you leave the
house you must tell me, so I won’t worry,” she continued. “You know how
much I’ve had on my mind.”

“I wish I did,” Judy thought.

“We know. But it’s going to be different now, isn’t it, Penny?” Paul
asked.

“Oooh, yes!” she squealed.

“More secrets!” Judy said, holding up her hands in mock despair.
“Haven’t we enough already!”

She still had Mrs. Riker’s problems to solve and they weren’t easy. As
they did the dishes together she encouraged the young woman to talk. The
truth came out unexpectedly when Mrs. Riker commented that their kitchen
used to be almost as nice as Judy’s.

“You’d never think it to look at it now, but when we lived in the
caretaker’s cottage on the Riker estate, it was the coziest, warmest
little place you ever saw. The boys used to come down whenever Mother
made cookies—”

“The boys?” Judy questioned.

“My husband Philip, and his brother Paul. I liked Paul best then,” she
continued in a voice that told Judy she had decided to take her into her
confidence. “We were children, of course, but I used to think it was
Paul I would marry. And then, suddenly, everything changed. After we
left the caretaker’s cottage and went to live in the city, it was Philip
who wrote to me.”

“But what happened to Paul?” Judy asked.

“I never saw him again,” Helen said, “but Philip came to New York and
looked me up. He said he and Paul had quarreled and that he, Philip, had
been disinherited. Their money never mattered to me, anyway. I loved
them both—”

She stopped, but Judy made no comment. She was afraid of breaking the
spell. It was almost as if Helen Riker were reliving her past.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have said that, but it’s true!” she declared. “It
used to break my heart when they quarreled. Philip was jealous of Paul
because their uncle favored him and called Philip a little thief. He did
take things to give away. Uncle Paul had so much, Phil thought it didn’t
matter. They were only there on a visit, but it was the happiest summer
in my whole life. Afterwards—but why talk about it? It’s all in the past
and I have the future to think about.”

“Could there be a link?” asked Judy, thinking fast.

“How do you mean?”

“I mean if one of the presents Philip gave you happened to be in the
pocketbook that was stolen—”

Mrs. Riker’s face went white.

“How did you know?” she questioned.

Judy smiled, taking the dish the other had nearly dropped.

“It was just a guess. Your little daughter Penny is like her mother. She
isn’t very good at keeping secrets. A green doll would be a green
goddess, wouldn’t it? Possibly a jade goddess worth quite a bit to a
thief who had the mate—”

“Rama!” Helen gasped. “Paul always said it was bad luck to separate
them!”



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                              Sita Speaks


“Bad luck?” Judy asked, turning from the corner cupboard where she had
just placed a stack of five plates, the last of the breakfast dishes. Or
were they lunch dishes? Their pancake feast had waited so long that it
was nearly lunchtime before they had finished.

“You don’t believe in it, do you?” Mrs. Riker questioned anxiously. “I
guess you think we make our own luck, good or bad, and maybe you’re
right.”

“But if that’s true,” Judy said, “we can change it. You’ve made a good
start, telling me all about it.”

“I didn’t tell you quite all,” Helen admitted. “I didn’t tell you how we
used to act out the story of Rama and Sita. Do you know it, Judy?”

“Only a little of it,” Judy answered. “I know they are the ideal man and
woman, but was Sita a princess? Penny said the green doll was a
princess, but I guess she got the story mixed up with the Oz books. Did
you read them to her?”

“I read her the Oz books, not the ‘Ramayana.’ There isn’t a translation
of it that a child Penny’s age could understand. We heard the story told
and made up our own play. I would call, ‘Rama! Rama! Rama! I seek thee
within me and my senses are sealed.’”

“Did Rama answer?”

“No, it was always the demon Ravana. He was the many-headed monster who
stole Sita and kept her a prisoner for seven years. The boys would take
turns being Ravana. The other one was always Rama.”

“And you were Sita? Did you take the statues to act out the play?”

“At first,” she said. “Then Uncle Paul discovered us and forbade us to
touch them. After that we thought of him as the many-headed demon. When
he roared at us we’d exchange glances and know each other’s thoughts.
I’ve seen you and Peter do it. I think two people can when they love
each other very much, but it didn’t last with us. When Sita was stolen
everything changed. Paul didn’t want to play any more.”

“How do you mean?” asked Judy. “Was it Philip who took the statue?”

“Yes,” she said. “He gave it to me and told me to keep it for seven
years and then he would bring me its mate. He did find me just seven
years later, but neither of us ever mentioned Rama and Sita. We were
married, I often told myself, without their blessing. Paul didn’t come
to the wedding. None of his family did. My mother and some of my friends
from New York were there. But I never saw Paul again.”

“If you did see him—” Judy began.

But Helen Riker was crying now.

“I’d still love him, I guess. Little Paul is really named for him, not
for Mr. Riker. I was always a little afraid of old Uncle Paul. And now
I’m afraid of meeting either of them. Can you guess why?”

“Because you kept the green goddess?”

“Yes, but it’s more than that. I’m afraid of what may have happened
during the years I didn’t know him. If he’s grown up to be bitter and
cruel like his uncle, with no understanding of children— And if he
hasn’t—why, then he’s probably married to someone else. I’d pretend I
didn’t care any more if I found out Paul was happily married.”

“I see,” Judy said, and there were tears in her eyes.

“You really do, don’t you?” Mrs. Riker spoke as if she wasn’t used to
having people understand her feelings. But now that someone did, she was
ready to pour out her heart.

“That was what made it so hard,” she went on with her story. “I loved
the green doll, as I called her, and didn’t want to part with her,
because Philip had given her to me. After he was killed in the accident
two years ago, it seemed even harder to part with her, and I didn’t,
even though we needed money desperately. She reminded me of those happy
days when the three of us played together and took turns and I didn’t
have to choose between them. They were twins—”

“Wait a minute!” Judy stopped her. “Did I hear you correctly? Did you
say they were twins?”

“Identical twins,” she replied. “Some people couldn’t tell one from the
other, but I could. Philip laughed more than Paul did. He was more
reckless, too. When we played follow-the-leader, he would lead us places
that Paul and I were afraid to go.”

“What sort of places?” asked Judy.

“Well, there was a cave in the side of the mountain. I don’t remember
exactly where it was. It was a natural cave,” she remembered. “I don’t
imagine it’s there any more. It seems to me it was about where that
monument stood.”

“Could the monument have been built over it? That might explain the
voice that told the children to go away. It would explain the footstep,
too!”

“Then he was there!” Helen Riker exclaimed.

“Who?” asked Judy.

“Old Uncle Paul,” she replied with a shiver. “He knew about the cave. He
chased us out and took possession of it for himself just as he took
possession of everything he wanted. I hated him for his selfishness. I
wanted to hurt him. I knew it was wrong to keep the statue, but it was
my way of paying him back. He must have turned queer to build a tomb and
hide in a cave underneath it to scare people. I wonder if he knew who we
were.”

“How could he know? Do you think he was peeking out from somewhere? But
how could he know you even if he was? You were a little girl then—”

“I know,” she interrupted, “but I’m like my mother. I thought perhaps I
could keep house for him like my mother did. Our one hope was that he
would welcome us and forgive me when I gave him back the little jade
statue of Sita. But now it’s stolen and he didn’t want to see us.
Philip’s insurance money is all gone. We used the last of it coming
here. I’ll have to go to work, I guess, and put the children in a foster
home. I don’t suppose you’d consider letting them stay on here with you?
I’d pay you out of my wages. Maybe I could wait on tables or find work
in a store. Do you mind looking after the children if I begin hunting
for something tomorrow?”

“Not at all,” Judy replied.

“Judy, you’re kind and thoughtful and understanding—”

“Please,” Judy stopped her. “Peter calls me Angel, and the next thing,
you’ll be doing it. I have a lot of faults. I lose my temper and expect
too much of people and make hasty judgments, and sometimes I’m rude. I
was annoyed with you for not telling the truth—”

“And well you should have been,” Helen Riker said. “For a girl who was
once called Sita, I have fallen far short of the Hindu ideal of perfect
womanhood. Perhaps I was fooled by Ravana, the evil one. I should have
called, ‘Rama! Rama! Rama!’ more often.”

“Do you think he would have answered you?” asked Judy, still a little
baffled by the mystic tale.

“Perhaps,” Helen replied, “but I waited too long. Life does not wait for
indecision, Judy. As the demon said in the story, ‘It is too late!’ Each
of his many heads, pierced by Rama’s arrows, cried it to heaven until
there was only one left to speak and it spoke wisely, ‘Learn by my
example. Do selfless deeds at once. Those that are selfish put them off
till they cease to trouble thy mind.’ But, you see, I put off the deeds
I should have done. I intended to visit Uncle Paul and give him back his
precious Sita and tell him how Philip took it for me when we were both
children and didn’t know its value. I dreaded going there and it was
even worse than I imagined. I don’t ever want to go again.”

“Well, I do,” declared Judy, “more than ever now that you’ve told me.
Peter!” she called. “Where was it you said we were going?”



                              CHAPTER XIX
                            More Revelations


Peter had been in the next room making plans with the children. Judy
knew, even before she asked him, that they were going to explore the
ruins of the Riker mansion. It did surprise her, though, when he said
the magician was going with them.

“For goodness sake, why?” she wanted to know. “Does he think he can wave
his wand over it and make it rise up out of the ashes?”

Peter just grinned in that impish way Judy loved. He had found out
something important, but so had she.

“I can hardly wait to tell you,” she said, “but first you must tell me.
Are we really on the trail of the real green doll? It _was_ Sita. I’m
sure of it now. And more than ever I want to bring Rama and Sita
together. It may not be bad luck to separate two statues, but it surely
is to separate two people who love each other.”

“I know what you mean,” Peter said. “I heard you and Helen Riker
talking. She’s told you something important. I can see it in your eyes.”

“Yes, Peter, she has.” Judy was still too filled with the hypnotic story
of Rama and Sita to tell Peter much about it, but she did say, “She told
me Philip and Paul Riker were twins and that she loved them both. It was
Philip who took the statue of Sita and gave it to her. She knew it was
stolen, but it was hard for her to gather up enough courage to bring it
back. She was afraid of old Mr. Riker, and no wonder! Now she thinks he
was hiding in a cave under the vault on purpose to scare people. She’s
afraid of meeting him or anyone—”

“She’ll have to meet the magician,” Peter broke in. “I told you he is
going with us.”

“If you don’t mind,” Helen Riker said, coming into the room just then,
“I’d rather not go. Why don’t you take the children and let them
explore? I’d rather stay here and rest.”

“We could do that. What do you say, Angel?”

“You mean me?” Judy asked.

She had been off on a flight of fancy. If Peter could have known her
thoughts he might have called her Cupid instead of Angel. “If we could
only find Paul Riker and patch up the old romance,” she was thinking.
Aloud, she said to Peter, “There must be some way of finding out what we
want to know without resorting to magic. I’m not at all sure I approve
of inviting the magician to go with us.”

“Penny and Paul approve, don’t you think?”

Their approval was almost too enthusiastic.

“He can do anything,” Penny insisted.

“You ought to tell them this magician, whoever he is, can’t work
miracles,” their mother said a little impatiently.

“Maybe he can,” Peter replied, his eyes twinkling.

“I’m afraid I don’t like this sudden power he has over the children,”
Mrs. Riker said. “Why did you go there, Paul? Tell me the truth, now!”

“I had to, Mom,” he replied. “I wanted him to pick Penny for the magic
show. We’re going to join the club and wear black spots on our
foreheads—”

“But that’s the sign of the Destroyer,” Judy said.

“We know,” Paul said, “and it was the Destroyer on Uncle Paul’s tomb.
Are we going back there? When are we going to start?”

“Right now,” Peter told them, “with your mother’s permission, of course.
Better wrap up good and warm. It’s going to be a cold climb up those
steps to the vault. The cave underneath, if we can find it, may be even
colder.”

“Is Blackberry going?” Paul wanted to know, when they were ready to
start.

“It looks that way,” replied Peter. “Judy has him in the car. He’s
waiting for you on top of the back seat. Come along now, and keep him
company.”

Judy felt a little uneasy about leaving Mrs. Riker by herself, and
telephoned her mother before she left. Mrs. Bolton agreed to come over
and meet her and keep her company while the doctor went out on his
calls.

“Is it all right if Horace and Honey come along with me?” Judy’s mother
asked. “They’re here now. We all went to church together.”

“I went to Sunday school, but only long enough to listen to one hymn.
Mrs. Riker will tell you about it. That is, if she feels like talking.
If she doesn’t, don’t urge her. She may just want to rest. We’re leaving
right now, Mom, and much as I love him, I don’t want Horace with us.
We’ll give him another stick full of news. Tell him that and bless you,
Motherkins, for doing a good deed and being my guardian angel.”

Mrs. Bolton sounded a little baffled as she hung up. Judy could hear a
protesting noise over the telephone.

“Mom should be used to me by now,” she told Peter as she climbed in the
car beside him. “I think she rather enjoys being mystified. Seriously,
though, I don’t think it’s fair to make children believe in magic. They
should be told a little about how stage tricks are performed—”

“The trouble is,” Peter said, “I don’t know myself how they’re
performed, do you?”

“No,” she replied, giggling.

“Well, here we are,” Peter announced, a little later, stopping before a
rambling ranch house.

It was one of the more expensive homes in the new suburban development.
Judy was surprised to find the Drans living in such luxury. The boys
always spoke of their parents as if they were in modest circumstances.

“Is the magician Mr. Dran?” Judy wondered.

Then the thought came to her that the boys’ mother might have married a
second time. Before she could explore this possibility the magician
himself appeared at the door. A moment later he entered the car like
anyone else, without tricks. The door stuck a little and Peter had to
help him open it. He was not introduced. Judy thought he seemed a little
uncomfortable at first, but the children’s enthusiasm was contagious.
Soon he was answering all sorts of questions.

It developed that he had studied magic in India and had learned some of
the tricks discovered by ancient Hindu fakirs. He was telling the
children that he could place a living head on a table and make it talk
to them, when Judy interrupted.

“Magic is all right in its place,” she said, “but don’t you think you’re
carrying things a little too far? You’ve made the children believe you
can do practically anything.”

“Aha!” he said. “Is that what they told you? I must be like the
many-headed demon Ravana in the story. Is that what you think, you young
rajah?”

Paul grinned as if he liked being called a rajah and said, “Mom knows
that story, too. She told it to me because my name is Paul Riker for my
uncle Paul, not the old uncle that built the tomb, but the young uncle
she used to play with. She didn’t tell Penny about young Uncle Paul,
because Penny can’t keep secrets.”

“Was it a secret?” the magician asked.

“Oh, yes, Mom never told anyone but me. When you love two people and can
only marry one of them you have to keep it a secret that you still love
the other. Besides, Mom meant to give back the statue of Sita, because
it belonged in the collection. But now she can’t, because those bad men
stole it.”

“Where did she get it? Do you know?”

“My father gave it to her when she was just a little girl,” Paul
replied. “I can tell it now, because I heard her telling Judy. I still
don’t get it, though. In the story Ravana told Sita he could change
himself into Rama at will. But he wouldn’t do it, because he wanted her
to love him for himself. Sita knew that would mean loving evil instead
of good, and so she kept repeating, ‘Rama! Rama! Rama! I seek thee
within me and my senses are sealed.’”

“I know that part,” squealed Penny. “The name, Rama, magicked her so she
could see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. We have the three
little monkeys. They aren’t green like Sita. They’re on a desk blotter
Mommy bought in the ten-cent store.”

“I’ve seen those three little monkeys on desk blotters lots of times!”
exclaimed Judy. “Horace used to have them on his desk. I never knew
where the idea came from, though.”

The magician laughed.

“Well, now you know. They were part of the monkey band who rescued Sita
from the demon’s cave. You’ve taught us something, Penny.”

Judy, turning around, could see a puzzled expression on the little
girl’s face as she replied, “But you already knew.”

Peter had appeared to be concentrating on his driving, but Judy could
tell he was listening with interest to the conversation that was going
on behind him. When Judy told how the children’s mother remembered
playing the story of the “Ramayana,” the magician said, in an oddly
different voice, “Ask her to write it down just as she remembers it,
please. We may have time to put it on as an extra attraction.”

“That’s a wonderful idea!” exclaimed Judy. “I’d love to see it. But who
will take the parts? Do you think the children will have time to learn
them?”

“A narrator can read them,” he replied, “but without the little idols
the play may not have much meaning. We must all look for them.”

There it was again! They were supposed to look for things in spite of
the warning. Judy was determined to find out the truth.

“We were warned not to,” she said. “Did you warn us?”

Now the magician seemed puzzled.

“Not to _what_?”

“Not to look for it. We weren’t told what _it_ was we weren’t to look
for. The voice came from the trees,” Judy told him.

“The trees on your place?” he asked.

They had reached their destination, but the conversation held them as
they started walking toward the ruined mansion.

“Yes,” Judy replied. “I thought maybe you could throw your voice or
something. Were you ever there?”

“I can’t say that I’ve had the pleasure,” he replied. “The children were
talking among themselves about having a magic show in some barn or
other, but I don’t remember throwing my voice for them. And we were near
no barn. Mr. Brown offered his home for the magic show, because it does
have a large recreation room. I told him I would need a stage and he
promised to build one. Some of my tricks are rather elaborate. They need
props. But everything is there.”

“Then it is just an ordinary magic show. Nothing unusual?”

“I hope,” he replied, and Judy was sure he and Peter exchanged a glance,
“there will be something very unusual. Something very unusual indeed!”



                               CHAPTER XX
                          The Statue Commands


Judy was beginning to understand. But something was wrong somewhere. She
puzzled over it as they walked on toward the ruined mansion.

When they finally reached it, the scene before them appeared even more
desolate than she remembered it. The snow that had fallen the day before
was melting fast, so that only patches of it remained in shady places.
There was none left around the burned house and very little under the
blackened trees. But the vault was covered with it as if the cold from
within had penetrated the cold without.

“Look!” Penny cried out as they climbed the steps toward the statue.
“His face is just like the face in the magazine!”

“I don’t like him,” Paul said. “Why is he looking like that?”

“He’s meditating,” the magician explained.

“He isn’t alive, is he?” asked Penny. “What does that—that big word
mean?”

“It means to think hard about the same thing over and over the way Sita
did when she thought about Rama. It’s a little like wishing. You don’t
always get your wishes, but you do feel quiet and peaceful inside so
that outside things don’t hurt you any more. It’s hard for a little girl
to understand,” the magician continued, “but the meditation of Sita kept
all evil from her so that she was returned to Rama as pure and lovely as
when the demon first snatched her away. It was the magic of her lover’s
name that did it. When she called, ‘Rama! Rama!—’”

“Quiet!” a voice commanded.

They all stopped dead still to stare at the concrete face above them.
The lips had not moved. There had not been a sign of life and yet the
voice stopped them so still that Judy could hear her heart beating.

“I should have told you we would be protected,” Peter said from behind
them.

“If this is protection,” Judy retorted, “I’d rather be thrown to the
lions. Where did that voice come from? It even startled Blackberry.
There he goes, up to the top of the statue to explore!”

“I doubt if he will find anything. The voice you heard was probably that
of the chief deputy, and I believe it came from inside the vault. He and
his rangers are determined to find out who set that fire, if it was set,
and how it happened that the mansion was so conveniently emptied just
before the blaze. I knew they’d be there,” Peter explained. “They’re on
the lookout for the thieves—”

“But you said there weren’t any thieves,” Judy reminded him.

Again the magician and Peter exchanged glances.

“That remains to be seen. Anyway, the magician believes something
strange is going on here, and he is in a position to know.”

“How _can_ he know?” gasped Judy, and added, laughing, “Has he mystical
knowledge from the mysterious East?”

But Peter was serious when he said, “Our plans went wrong somewhere.
They may have been too obvious. At any rate, we know the police are
somewhere in the vicinity. It should be perfectly safe to explore.”

“Do you think this mystical knowledge of yours will help us find the
cave?” asked Judy. “I’m like Blackberry. I prefer to look in high
places. I think I’ll climb up on top of the vault and see what’s there.”

“Blackberry sure looks as if he’s trying to show you something,” agreed
Peter. “Be careful, though. It may be slippery.”

Judy was halfway up when she thought she heard a noise from the statue.
It sounded like _breathing_. Then suddenly it sneezed!

Startled, Judy lost her footing. She grabbed for one of the bushes
growing on top of the vault, missed it, and began to slide. A moment
later she landed, dazed but unhurt, in the ivy where the others were
searching.

They were all pulling away ivy leaves like so many excited terriers
looking for a bone. By the time Judy realized what they were doing,
Peter, with the help of the magician, had turned back a flat stone which
looked suspiciously like a tombstone. On it was chiseled a mysterious
sign.

“It’s the sign of Om,” the magician was explaining. “In India it stands
for the highest form of mysticism. He may have used it as a marker.”

“Who?” asked Judy. “The statue?”

Paul glanced up at it, but none of the others paid the slightest
attention to what Judy was saying. They were busy removing the stone.

“This must be the entrance to the cave,” declared Peter. “It was
completely covered with ivy. We never would have found it if Judy’s shoe
hadn’t scraped against it when she fell.”

“You were determined to find it, with or without me,” she retorted.
“Isn’t anybody going to ask me if I hurt myself?”

Apparently nobody was. The rough-hewn steps they had discovered
descending to what looked like a hole in the ground looked anything but
inviting. But they caught everyone in their spell.

“Who goes down first?” the magician asked.

“Let me—” Judy began eagerly.

But Peter was saying, “I think I’d better. Nobody knows what we may find
at the bottom. I’ll give the signal as soon as I’m sure it’s safe.”

It looked as if he were descending into a bottomless pit. The flashlight
he held sent a weird circle of light ahead of him. It flickered and
danced in an eerie fashion as he waved it and called out, “Come ahead!”

Judy, followed by the magician, Penny, and Paul, had descended no more
than a few steps when a voice from the statue roared, “Stop where you
are!”

Judy stopped. It was bad enough to have a statue sneeze at her. But to
hear it roar out a command was a little too much. She stood frozen. Then
she called down to Peter:

“Peter, come back! I’m afraid to move.”

She was part way down the steps, but could not decide whether to go up
or down. Either way held terrors for her now.

Penny and Paul were both hiding their faces in the magician’s coat. His
own face was noticeably whiter. But he kept on a downward course.

Peter was very far down now. Judy suspected her voice had not carried to
him. He called back, “The jade collection is here! It is inside some
sort of cabinet. It’s locked, but you can see through the glass doors.
Come on down! It’s quite a sight.”

      [Illustration: “The jade collection is here,” Peter called]

Peter seemed so certain it was safe that Judy obeyed. The children,
big-eyed with wonder, held onto the magician’s coat to steady themselves
as they descended. Step after step they went, down, down, down!

“Are we to the center of the earth yet?” Penny finally asked.

Judy’s laugh sent back a strange echo. From the direction the steps had
taken she judged they must be directly under the vault.

“I’ve reached the bottom,” she told the children. “It’s all right. Peter
is here. Didn’t you hear me?” she asked him. “What did you mean when you
said we were protected? If that was the chief deputy or one of his
forest rangers up there, why did he tell us to stop?”

“He may have mistaken us for the thieves,” replied Peter, “but don’t
worry about it. We’ve arranged a signal. One shot from my gun and he’ll
come running.”

“You may need to fire that shot,” declared the magician. “That voice was
no forest ranger. I’d know it anywhere. It was the voice of Paul Riker.”

“Me?” cried little Paul. “I didn’t—”

“Of course you didn’t, little rajah. It was your old uncle Paul, my boy.
But don’t be scared. We’ll have a look at his jade collection anyway.”

“It’s right here,” Peter told him, turning his flashlight on a cabinet
which appeared to be nothing more than one of the sections of a
sectional bookcase. It was of mahogany badly in need of polishing. The
glass could stand cleaning, too. But behind it Judy could see the
elaborately carved little figures of many of the gods and goddesses that
had been pictured in the magazine.

“It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?” asked the magician.

“It sure is,” agreed Peter. “A quarter of a million dollars worth of
jade buried under an old vault with nothing but a thin piece of glass
for protection.”

“Why?” asked Judy, unable to understand the millionaire’s motives. “What
good are they down here?”



                              CHAPTER XXI
                            Under the Vault


The magician’s reply was startling, to say the least.

“They are no good here to the living,” he replied, “and I doubt if they
will do Paul Riker much good after he’s dead. But he’s determined to
keep what is his. He would rather burn or bury anything than share it. I
know him. Yes, I was the one who had the contents of his house removed.
I saw that the forest fire was burning in this direction, and so I hired
men to remove his treasures and put them in storage. Call it robbery if
you like, but no one knew where he was, and how else could I save them?
I noticed the jade collection was not in the house, and decided he must
have hidden it somewhere before he went away. And here it is. Do you see
that little figure there with the elephant’s head?”

“I see it!” cried Paul, standing on tiptoe. “That’s my favorite next to
Rama.”

“Do you know his name, son? That’s Ganesha, the Remover of Obstacles.
We’re going to need that little fellow to remove some of the obstacles
your uncle Paul is up against. But never forget this. He put those
obstacles in his own way. His relatives were welcome here only when he
could bend them to his will. It angered him when his nephews refused to
follow the Riker tradition and deal in tombstones. They preferred to
raise monuments to the living. You two children are a monument to your
father, and to your old uncle, too, if only he had the eyes to see it.
But no! Everything had to be quiet. He had no use for a business like
mine that provides fun and entertainment. Finally he became suspicious
of everyone. He’s become a bitter, cruel old man. And yet in a way I
loved him. Poor Uncle Paul!”

They stood there under the vault as if Paul Riker were already dead,
mourning for him. But suddenly Peter sprang into action. He vaulted up
the stairs, taking them three at a time. He was just too late. Judy
heard a crash of stone falling against stone. They were imprisoned under
the vault!

A shot rang out. Then another and another!

“Peter!” cried Judy. “Are you all right?”

“All right,” he called back in a voice of confidence. “You can trust the
forest rangers to get us out of here if we can’t find a way out by
ourselves.”

“If the children’s mother had come with us she might have been able to
help us,” Judy told the magician. “She says she used to play here with
the Riker twins, Philip and Paul. Their uncle chased them out and took
possession of the cave. I should have asked her if there’s more than one
entrance.”

“There were two,” was the startling reply. “One was the cave of Ravana.
Rama would stand at the other entrance calling, ‘O my Sita! Do not give
up hope. I will send my faithful Hanumen, king of the monkeys, with a
ring for thy finger.’ The ring,” the magician explained in his ordinary
voice, “stands for the magic circle of love that never ends, like the
love of Rama and Sita.”

“You know the story as well as Helen does,” Judy said quietly, smiling.
“You called Mr. Riker Uncle Paul and you knew about the cave. You _must_
be—”

“For the time being, call me Rama,” he interrupted before she could say
what she felt sure now must be his name. “I hope I may be the true Rama
and that Sita will accept my ring.”

For a moment Judy really felt like Cupid, but she still hadn’t brought
the two lovers together. Their predicament took her quickly back to
reality. The other entrance to the cave proved to be effectively blocked
by an iron door evidently bolted on the outside. After several useless
attempts to open it, Peter fired a few more signal shots and then
announced that there was nothing to do but wait.

“It’s a good thing we found the jade collection before the thieves did,”
he said to the magician. “I doubt if your uncle could have stopped
them.”

“He couldn’t have. I’d like to see the whole collection placed in a
museum where it would be safe and other people could enjoy it and learn
the legends about the different gods and goddesses.”

“I know a lot of them,” announced Paul. “Mom used to tell them to me
before Penny began asking so many questions. Maybe Ganesha, the Remover
of Obstacles, will remove the stone from over the door. I don’t like
being shut down here. Is it all right if I ask him?”

Peter started to protest, but the magician said, “Let him pretend if he
wants to. It will keep him from being frightened.”

“Lift me up!” Penny pleaded. “I can’t see anything.”

Judy smiled as she saw the magician lift her and hold her close. She was
thinking what a good father he would make. Impulsively she asked, “You
aren’t married, are you? I thought at first you were Mr. Dran. I know
you live with them.”

“All four of them,” he said. “Mr. and Mrs. Dran and the two children.
They keep my house in order and make it more like a home. Their boys are
smart little fellows, but they can’t beat these two. Paul, here, knows
the names of these pieces almost as well as I do.”

He was pointing them out, one after another, to the children. Not all of
them were green. The monkey god was carved out of mottled gray jade, and
Ravana, with his many heads, was almost black.

All the idols were small and delicately carved. The largest was the
four-headed Brahma, the Creator, sitting on his throne in the center.
The Preserver of Life, Vishnu, and the Destroyer, Shiva, were placed on
his right and his left. The other jade pieces were variously grouped
around them.

Peter pointed out the life god or the Preserver, and his wife, a tiny
image. Penny said she looked almost like Sita.

“But where is Rama?” she asked.

“He’s in good hands, thanks to Judy and Peter,” the magician assured
both children. “He’s waiting for Sita just as I am. When you see him I
hope they will be together.”

“They will be,” Peter said with quiet confidence.

Now little Paul was curious.

“What did Rama look like?” he asked.

He was told that Rama was a green image and carried a sheaf of arrows at
his belt. He had been carved in the act of bending a great bow in order
to win the hand of Sita.

“What bow shall I bend?” asked the magician.

“I think you’re already bending it,” Judy told him, “in winning the
hearts of the children. Do they know who you are?”

She asked this last question in almost a whisper. The children had moved
away from them a little and were busy talking to each other about the
contents of the case. Peter had let them take his flashlight.

“It’s hard to say what they know,” the magician said in answer to her
whispered question. “I think Paul suspects more than he will admit.”

“What about Penny? Does she know?” Judy asked.

“I don’t believe she does,” he replied. “She keeps staring at me with
those big blue eyes of hers as if she expects me to vanish any minute.
She’s such a little pretender that it’s hard to guess what she’s
thinking. Neither of them has called me Uncle Paul. You knew it, of
course?”

“After a while,” Judy said, relieved that he had admitted it.
“Naturally, it explains a lot.”

There was a lot it didn’t explain, though. Judy was about to question
him further when, suddenly, a light fell across the cabinet, and she
heard Peter calling her from above.

“The entrance must be clear,” she told the children. “Let’s follow the
magician up the steps and see what’s happening above.”

Angry words came down to her. An old man’s voice was raised above the
others.

“So you did come back, you thieving rascal! I knew you would! But that
jade collection is mine, I tell you! And I mean to keep it!”



                              CHAPTER XXII
                         Blackberry’s Discovery


When Judy and the children reached the top of the steps leading up from
the cave, they found a straight, tall, thin old man standing between the
two forest rangers who had heard Peter’s signal and freed them from the
cave. Without a doubt, the old man was Paul Riker, and he was shaking
his finger angrily at the magician.

“You’re a thief just like your brother,” the enraged voice of the old
man continued. “I’ll have the law on you! It was _you_ who robbed my
house, and now you’re trying—”

“I only moved your things to keep them from being destroyed, Uncle
Paul,” the magician declared. “But the men I trusted have tricked me.
They found out that your famous jade collection was missing when they
moved your other things, and they have been searching for it ever
since.”

“What do you mean?” the old man demanded.

“I’ll tell you what he means,” Peter put in. “Three of the moving men he
hired turned out not to be so trustworthy. They found a letter from your
niece saying she was returning a piece that belonged in your jade
collection. Since the collection was not moved to the warehouse, they
thought it must still be in your house. They returned to the house after
the police had left, and searched it.” Peter hesitated. “It’s my
theory,” he went on, “that they set fire to the house either on purpose
or accidentally. However, you will have to convince the insurance people
that you did not do it yourself.”

“Set fire to my own house!” The old man roared with rage. “What kind of
idiots am I dealing with? I simply closed the house and took a room in a
place a few miles from here. And do you know why I did that? Because I
had no wish to see that ungrateful girl nor the children of that scamp,
Philip!”

“But you came back and watched what was going on,” Peter reminded him.
“You were in the cave when my wife came here yesterday, and you are here
again today. You went out the other exit from the cave as we came down
the steps.”

“And why not?” the old man snapped. “It is my property, every inch of
it, and I intended to guard it. Somebody had to,” he added. “That idiot,
Abner Post, went away Thursday night and let this thieving rascal walk
off with practically everything in my house.”

“I told you, Uncle Paul,” the younger Paul Riker said wearily, “I saw
that your house was in the path of the fire and wanted to save your
things. I came to the caretaker’s cottage, but it was locked and he was
away. The big house was closed too. So I called up the moving company,
gave them my name, and had them take your most valuable things to the
warehouse. What else could I do?”

“It’s lucky for you, Mr. Riker, that he did,” Peter said, “The fire
would have reached your house eventually. Then you would have lost
everything.”

The old man cackled suddenly. “I wouldn’t have lost my jade collection,”
he declared. Then his face darkened. “But there are two pieces missing
now. And without Rama and Sita it’s hardly a collection at all. My
thieving nephews robbed me of Sita years ago, and now somebody’s stolen
Rama from inside the vault where I intended to keep the whole
collection. I gave orders to have it buried with me, but who can I trust
to carry out my orders?”

Judy wanted to tell him Rama was safe, but a warning look from Peter
stopped her. As the millionaire raved on she began to understand the
warped reasoning that had cheated him out of all the things she felt
enriched a life. He seemed to care more for his memorial in stone than
for the living memory he could leave with those who would love him if he
would only let them.

“Do you remember, Uncle Paul, how you used to accuse me of stealing
Sita?” the magician was saying. “Well, I can tell you now, because, for
the first time, I know what happened to her. Philip took her to give to
Helen.”

“And in all these years she’s never returned it!” the old man exploded.

“But Uncle, it was your own fault,” the magician pointed out. “You drove
them both out and made them afraid of you. And Helen was on her way to
return it to you. The thieves knew from her letter when she was
arriving. They were on the lookout for her and tried to force her to
tell them where the rest of the collection was. Can’t you see what they
were planning? Be sensible, Uncle Paul, and let us put it in a museum
where it will be under guard—”

“Never!” roared Uncle Paul.

“I think we will have to place it under guard while you are being
questioned,” Peter said quietly. “I hate to have to say this, Mr. Riker,
but your house was not burned by the forest fire, and you will have to
satisfy the insurance company as well as our office that you had nothing
to do with either of the fires. The law says arson on state forest land
is a federal offence.”

Mr. Riker protested vehemently. Nevertheless, when the chief deputy of
the rangers drove his car up to the vault, the old man got in with
surprising meekness. Judy suspected that the excitement had tired him
out in spite of his rambunctious spirit.

“I’ll have to go with Mr. Riker, Angel,” Peter said. “Do you mind
driving home, or would you rather wait here for me?”

“I don’t mind driving a bit,” Judy replied. “But before we start, I want
to find out why the statue seemed to talk. It’s solid cement. Nobody
could possibly get inside it.”

“No,” replied Peter, “but there are hollow pipes running through it.
They were probably placed there to keep the cement from cracking. Old
Paul Riker, down in the cave, must have shouted through them in order to
scare people away.”

“Hollow pipes,” Judy said thoughtfully. “Peter, do you think the tree
talked the same way?”

“Perhaps,” he replied. “Horace told me _he_ heard it say, ‘We’re
starved!’ just before you and the kids dashed in from the barn.”

“Then it carried our voices from the hayloft! But who was up there,
calling, ‘Don’t look for it!’?”

Peter shook his head. He had no answer for that.

“One more question, Peter, please,” Judy begged. “Why didn’t you tell
Mr. Riker we had found his jade Rama? Were you trying to protect me?”

“And why not?” he answered. “You saw how vehemently he accused his
nephew. He wouldn’t have believed you were trying to help him. When we
find Sita we’ll give him both pieces and his collection will be
complete.”

“But how will you find her?” asked Judy.

“By finding the thieves. In the meantime,” Peter said, “we intend to see
to it that they don’t find the rest of the collection.”

Two of the rangers went down the steps into the cave and brought up the
cabinet containing the jade. They put it in the car with old Mr. Riker,
Peter got in, and off they went.

Young Paul Riker stood watching the car disappear down the road, as Judy
loaded the two children and Blackberry into Peter’s car.

“Poor Uncle Paul,” he sighed.



                             CHAPTER XXIII
                              Stage Magic


“Nothing must keep your mother from attending the magic show with us,”
Judy told the children when they reached home.

Little else was said about it.

“A secret is more fun,” Penny whispered. Both children knew now that the
magician was their young uncle Paul.

There were so many secrets that Judy was afraid the children’s mother
would suspect their plans. But she was too busy with plans of her own to
pay much attention to them. The very next day she found employment in
the Roulsville variety store and declared that she would soon repay Judy
and Peter for all their kindnesses.

On the same day, which was Monday, Penny and Paul started in school,
taking the bus at the main road and attending the school where Judy once
went.

Wednesday finally came, the day of the magic show. Since there was no
school the next day, Thursday being Thanksgiving, the children could
stay up a little later in the evening. Penny was all excited.

“You just wait, Mommy!” she cried. “You’ll see I’m not making it up. The
magician can even make wishes come true.”

“Wear your prettiest dress, Mom,” Paul suggested.

“Very well,” she agreed, “but I don’t want to meet this magician. You
know how I feel about strangers.”

Judy did not tell her the magician was no stranger.

Judy and Peter arrived with Horace and Honey to find the Browns’
recreation room already crowded. Rows and rows of chairs were lined up
before the stage. The front row was reserved for the club members. Penny
and Paul joined them.

“There’s room for you, too,” Ricky whispered.

“Thanks,” Judy whispered back.

They were all seated before she realized Helen Riker was not with them.
“Where’s your mother?” she whispered across to Paul.

“She’s back there somewhere,” he replied. “Her face got awfully white
when she saw him.”

Judy knew Paul meant the magician.

“I guess it’s all right,” she began uncertainly, “as long as she can—”

She was interrupted by the sound of clapping hands. The heavy velvet
curtain had parted. The magician appeared on the stage smiling and
bowing. He had a wand in his hand. As he waved it, flags of all nations
began to appear. When the stage was quite filled with them he waved the
wand again and every flag vanished.

“This is stage magic,” he announced. “Watch carefully and you may
discover my secrets.”

After he had done a few more astounding feats with ropes, balls, and
boxes, he asked, “Did anyone in the audience wish for a canary bird?”

“I did!” cried Paul, jumping to his feet.

“Will you step up on the stage for a moment?” asked the magician. “Birds
come from eggs, do they not? May I take your handkerchief? I hope you
don’t mind what happens to it,” he continued as he began rolling it into
a ball. Soon the handkerchief was gone and in its place was a round,
white egg!

“My handkerchief!” gasped Paul.

Judy could see that this trick had not been rehearsed. She was as
surprised as the children were when little Paul reached in his pocket,
at the magician’s suggestion, and pulled out a real live canary.

“Where will I put him?” asked Paul as he held the fluttering bird.

“What about a cage?” asked his amazing young uncle. Touching the table
in front of him with his wand, he made a cage appear out of nothing.
Another flick of his magic wand and it disappeared.

“Wonderful, isn’t it?” he asked. “As a rule magicians don’t explain
their tricks, but this is going to be an exception. You’ve seen a magnet
attract a pin or a needle. Well, the magnet on the end of the wand
attracts the spring that collapses or unfolds the cage, and presto!”

The cage reappeared on the table, and Paul let the bird fly into it.
There was a thunder of applause followed by the announcement that a girl
could be made to vanish as easily as a birdcage.

“Let me!” cried Penny, running up on the stage.



                              CHAPTER XXIV
                               Real Magic


Judy was glad when Helen Riker slipped into the seat Penny had left. She
was just in time to hear the magician’s announcement that it would be
real magic if he could make all the children’s wishes come true.

“Penny has wished for her father and now she sees a man exactly like
him. Is that right?”

“Oh, yes!” Penny said. “I closed my eyes, and when I opened them there
was my daddy again—”

“You see?” he interrupted. “If I’m not her real daddy, I must be his
twin brother. At any rate, the little lady trusts me. Now watch as I
make her disappear.”

Penny climbed up on the long table in front of the magician and waved
good-bye to the audience. Her mother was watching as if she really
expected a miracle. Turning to Judy, she said, “He isn’t going to use a
screen. I’ve seen this trick before, but Paul would be different. He
_is_ like Philip—so like him it’s almost uncanny.”

“Penny’s gone!” cried Judy, but nobody heard her because at the same
time exclamations of surprise went up from everyone else in the
audience. The table top was empty. The magician had made the little girl
vanish right before their eyes.

“That,” he announced, “was a trick which Penny herself will explain to
you as soon as I bring her back. I have to say a few magic words first.
They may be familiar to someone in the audience.”

And he began to chant, “Rama! Rama! Sita! Rama! Arise, daughter of Sita
as lovely as a rose.”

Holding his wand over a large, empty vase that stood on the table, he
continued to chant mystic phrases as first a bouquet of roses and then
Penny herself came up, smiling through the roses.

“A real girl and real roses!”

“And a real daddy,” she chirped. “Isn’t that real magic?”

Clapping hands answered her as the magician began throwing the roses.
Helen Riker caught one, and held it in her hand.

“It will make up for everything I lost, unless—Judy!” she asked
suddenly. “Who were those boys who came in with him? I saw them together
in the store, too. He’s not married, is he? I couldn’t—”

Judy told her the Dran family were only caretakers for young Uncle Paul
as her family had been caretakers for old Uncle Paul.

“He said he likes children around him,” Judy finished.

“I can see that. Oh, I’m so happy. We don’t need those little idols,
Judy. We’re going to have each other.”

“See, Mommy!” Penny announced, returning to her chair and cuddling into
her mother’s lap. “Didn’t I tell you he could make wishes come true?”

Soon after that, the curtain was drawn and the magician did not appear
again in spite of all the clapping. Now the club members gathered around
Penny. She began to explain in a mysterious voice just the way she had
rehearsed the disappearing trick. “There’s a hiding place under the
stage. You remember how thick the table top was? Well, there’s a sliding
panel of thin wood—see! And when the panel slid out from under me, I
dropped right into the table and disappeared.”

“How did you get inside the vase?” several voices questioned.

Penny laughed.

“That was easy. I slid through the table leg. It was hollow and went
down like a tunnel under the stage.”

“I was there,” Wally spoke up proudly. “I pushed up Penny and the roses
through the table and through the bottom of the vase. It was a neat
trick. I only wish—”

“What?” everybody asked when he paused.

“I wish my father’s pocketknife would turn up like Penny did,” he said
ruefully. “Pop’s mad at me. I borrowed it to play with, and dropped it
in the hay in your barn, Judy.”

“You did?” Judy asked. “When was this?”

“Saturday morning,” he replied. “I was going to look for it, but Ricky
chased me out of there. We’d had a fight. He said, ‘Don’t look for it!’
I was going to come back and hunt around later, but he kept chasing me
out, and yelling, ‘Run!’ and I was scared. He can throw knives, that
Ricky! He’s—”

“Wait a minute,” Judy stopped him. “He has a knife, but have you ever
seen him throw it?”

“N-no,” Wally admitted. “He can throw a lasso, though.”

“We know that.” Judy smiled at Peter, and from the way he smiled back
she knew that he too had guessed the solution of the mystery of the
talking tree. It had been Ricky’s voice all the time, but he hadn’t even
known it himself.

The curtain suddenly parted and there stood Helen Riker and the magician
on the stage together.

Running up on the stage, Judy whispered something to the magician and
then turned to the audience.

“Weather permitting,” she announced, “a play will be given in our grove
the day after Thanksgiving. I hope you will all be there to see it. The
magician will direct it. I can’t promise for certain, but I believe he
will accomplish the amazing feat of making a tree talk.”

She had no dinner to prepare the following day, as there would be a
family gathering around her parents’ table. The Rikers were invited but
politely refused.

“We’ll be having our own Thanksgiving at Paul’s house,” Helen Riker
said, and added impulsively, “Oh, Judy! Aren’t you happy for us?”

“I certainly am,” Judy said warmly, and meant it.

“Rama has rescued me,” Helen said, “as he rescued Sita in the
‘Ramayana.’ Friday you shall see it.”

Judy did see it. The story was all that she had hoped it would be—and
more. Old Uncle Paul was there to watch it. He had been cleared of the
charge of arson when Peter and the police caught the three men who had
stolen Sita from Helen. The thieves also admitted having set fire to the
house by accident when they went back to search for the jade.

The magician, taking the part of Rama, was also the narrator. Evil,
according to the ancient story, reigned supreme until the god of life,
Vishnu, and his wife were born as Rama and Sita. Prince and princess,
they were fated to meet and marry.

Helen Riker, in a green dress, was beautiful as Sita. The children took
the parts of the monkeys who rescued her, but the strangest character in
the whole play was the demon Ravana. The part of the many-headed monster
was taken by the talking tree! When Sita was kidnaped, she sat in its
lower branches chanting her mystic “Rama! Rama! Rama! I seek thee within
me and my senses are sealed.”

After the rescue, the magician, as Rama, was supposed to slay the
monster and restore the powers of virtue to the earth. Each time he
pierced the tree with his arrow, Judy, hiding in the barn to be the
voice of Ravana, called out, “Too late!” But the last time she spoke the
ancient words of wisdom, “Learn by my example! Do selfless deeds at
once!”

And almost at once she was back in the grove presenting old Uncle Paul
with his two precious jade statues. He took them both, fondled them a
moment and then, with tear-moist eyes, said, “They complete the Riker
collection. Put it in the museum, Paul. Let other people look at it. Let
them learn by my example.”

“Never,” Judy told Peter later, “have I felt so sorry for anyone. He’s
an old man and an unhappy man in spite of his wealth. He can’t have very
many more years to live.”

“Be thankful,” Peter said, “that he has lived long enough to do this one
generous act. People will remember him for his jade collection long
after they have forgotten even his monument. Someone—if I were Horace I
could quote him exactly—said, ‘The best thing to do with a life is to
spend it for something which outlasts it.’ And whether he intended it
that way or not, that’s what Paul Riker has done.”

“I see,” Judy whispered. “Does love outlast it?”

Peter’s answer was a kiss. They both knew it did. They were quiet,
sharing a wonderful moment together. Then Peter broke the spell by
suggesting that Judy go with him to the barn.

“Honey’s still here. We must show her how the tree talked if Horace
hasn’t already told her. It works just like the pipes in that statue,
doesn’t it?”

After much persuasion, Honey consented to stand beside the hollow tree
while they showed her how it had all happened.

“Don’t be scared,” Judy told her. “We may sound a little spooky.”

“I don’t doubt it,” she replied.

When they had climbed to the hayloft they stood directly under the
little window that looked out over the grove. The hollow branch just
outside it acted like a speaking tube and carried their voices out
through the hole in the tree as they chanted:

  “_You’re standing beside the talking tree,
  But the voices you hear are Peter and me-ee!_”

Judy knew how hollow their voices must sound to Honey. A moment later
she was racing toward the barn.

“So that’s it!” she charged. “You two spooks can haunt the grove
whenever you want to by hiding in the hayloft and talking out that
little window.”

Now she was convinced that the superstition had started when someone in
the barn had accidentally frightened Horace.

“He’s so silly,” she said fondly, “but I can’t help loving him for it.
And isn’t it wonderful how things have turned out for Mrs. Riker and the
magician?”

“It certainly is,” agreed Judy. “He gave her a ring just the way Rama
did in the story. But, best of all, the collection is saved for future
Ramas and Sitas. It’s nice to know what’s expected of the ideal man and
woman, isn’t it? Peter,” she asked abruptly, “am I your ideal?”

“You’re my Judy,” he replied, “and that’s even better. What was it you
said about every day beginning a new mystery?”

“It’s the way I feel about life,” Judy explained to Honey. “It’s my
philosophy, my Judyana, or whatever you want to call it. Go down to the
grove and the talking tree will tell you.”

“No, thanks,” Honey said with a laugh. “I’ve been meditating the matter,
and my Honeyana tells me I’ve had enough. The next time I letter a sign,
Judy, it will be for Dean Studios, not for anyone like you.”



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Copyright notice provided as in the original—this e-text is public
  domain in the country of publication.

--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings and
  dialect unchanged.

--In the text versions, delimited italics text in _underscores_ (the
  HTML version reproduces the font form of the printed book.)





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