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Title: The Crimson Patch
Author: Seaman, Augusta Huiell
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Crimson Patch" ***

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



Crawford, Dave Morgan and the Online Distributed


                           THE CRIMSON PATCH


[Illustration:

  "You want to warn me.... What about? I don't understand"
]



                                  THE
                             CRIMSON PATCH


                                   BY
                         AUGUSTA HUIELL SEAMAN

              Author of "The Slipper Point Mystery," "The
               Girl Next Door," "Three Sides of Paradise
                     Green," "The Sapphire Signet,"
                               etc., etc.


                             ILLUSTRATED BY
                              C. M. RELYEA

[Illustration]

                      D. APPLETON-CENTURY COMPANY
                             INCORPORATED

                     NEW YORK               LONDON
                                 1939



                       COPYRIGHT, 1919, 1920, BY
                            THE CENTURY CO.

               _All rights reserved. This book, or parts
               thereof, must not be reproduced in any
               form without permission of the publisher._


                PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



                                CONTENTS


             CHAPTER                                   PAGE
                   I SUITE NUMBER 403                     3
                  II FRIENDS OR ENEMIES?                 15
                 III THE SHADOW ON THE WALL              33
                  IV THE CRIMSON PATCH                   52
                   V WHO TOOK IT?                        70
                  VI THE MYSTERY DEEPENS                 79
                 VII LEFT ALONE                          95
                VIII A PIECE OF PAPER                   103
                  IX A MESSAGE IN THE NIGHT             112
                   X A COUNCIL OF WAR                   126
                  XI AN ADVENTUROUS MISSION             133
                 XII THE HOUSE WITH THE GREEN SHUTTERS  146
                XIII VIRGINIE DECIDES                   172
                 XIV MELANIE                            184
                  XV OUT OF THE NET                     194
                 XVI THE SECRET OF THE CRIMSON PATCH    205



                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


 "You want to warn me.... What about? I don't understand" _Frontispiece_

                                                             FACING PAGE

 "You see!" whispered Virginie, clinging to Patricia                  50
   spasmodically

 "O, Melanie, let me stay just a few moments!"                       140

 Melanie stood in the doorway surveying her with stern               192
   surprise



                           THE CRIMSON PATCH



                               CHAPTER I
                            SUITE NUMBER 403


So this was to be her home—and for three long months! Patricia Meade
dropped her suitcase on a convenient chair and gazed curiously about
her. A hotel bedroom, with stiff-looking twin brass beds, two willow
rockers, one straight chair, an imposing mahogany bureau and one small
table—absolutely all the furniture, if one excepted the stiff draperies
at the windows and one or two not particularly artistic pastel pictures
adorning the wall. Through a door and across the intervening
sitting-room she could see another bedroom similarly equipped.

In the sitting-room, her father, Captain Meade, was tipping the grinning
bell-boy who had brought up their luggage,—a snub-nosed, blue-eyed,
curly-haired young chap whose gaze was rivetted adoringly on the
captain's khaki uniform. When the boy was gone, the captain turned to
the door of Patricia's bedroom.

"Well, honey! Not much like home, eh? Do you think you can stand it for
three months? Jove!—if she hasn't got her suitcase and is unpacking it
already!"

Patricia was indeed frantically flinging her belongings about.

"Oh, it's jolly!" she replied, over her shoulder. "But you're right
about it's not being much like home. I felt as if I'd just expire if I
couldn't see things strewn around in a sort of careless and cosy way, as
if people really _lived_ here!" She rose suddenly from her kneeling
posture before the suitcase, ran across the room and thumped both stiff
pillows on the beds, knocking them a trifle awry. "There! Now they look
more like real beds that you sleep in and less like advertisements in
the back of a magazine!" she laughed. "The sitting-room's a little
better, with that big table and the pretty reading-lamp and the
comfortable chairs. But do let's get a lot of papers and magazines and
books at once, and have them lying all around as we do at home. Mother
would be scandalized—she's always picking them up after us," she went
rattling on, and then stopped abruptly, lips quivering, eyes bright with
sudden tears.

"If mother could only be with us!" she sobbed.

"Now, honey, don't—" the captain soothed her, laying his arm lovingly
around her shoulder. "Remember you're a soldier's daughter; and,—well,
brace up! Mother's going to be beautifully taken care of in that
Sanatorium, and Aunt Harriet is with her, to keep her company and
incidentally to indulge in some little pet cures of her own, on the
side."

"But why, oh! _why_ did it have to happen just _now_?" wailed Patricia,
refusing to be comforted.

"Is it any wonder that she broke down completely and had a bad case of
nervous prostration, after waiting over a year for me to come back from
France? And feeling sure, too, for the last six months that she'd never
see me alive again after she heard I'd been taken a prisoner to Germany?
It's enough to have broken down the nerve of a cave-woman. And your
mother was always delicate."

"Oh, Daddy! It was like getting you back from the dead," sighed
Patricia, hiding her head in his shoulder and shuddering at the memory.
"And in three months, you're going back again!"

"But not to the dangers and horrors, this time," he reminded her, and
added half under his breath, "Worse luck! Fortunately or unfortunately,
my constitution will never stand the strain of trench-life again, after
a few months of German prison-diet, etc. But I'm only too thankful that
the Government has found use for me in some other capacity."

Patricia, who had been perched on his knee, snuggling her head in his
coat collar, suddenly sat up straight and looked him in the eyes.
"Daddy, can't you tell me what it _is_ you're doing?" she begged. "I
don't ask just from idle curiosity. I want to understand. I want to help
you if I can. I love America, and I am a soldier's daughter, and I want
to act intelligently about things and be of some use. That's one reason
I'm so glad you've allowed me to be with you in this strange, big city
and in this great hotel, for three months,—besides the joy of not being
separated from you before you go back to Europe again for goodness knows
how long! _I_ want to _do_ something for my country, too!"

The Captain stroked his short mustache for several silent moments before
answering. "I quite understand how you feel," he said at length. "And I
appreciate it. You're seventeen, Patricia,—almost a woman grown. I know
I could _trust_ you utterly with the whole thing, but it isn't wise,—in
fact, it isn't even allowable. A government secret is a government
secret, and cannot be revealed even to one's nearest and dearest. This
much only, I can tell you. While I was a prisoner, I stumbled upon a
very valuable secret, something new possessed by the enemy which,
however, they have not had the gumption to make use of properly. But I
saw that it could be vastly improved upon and made a hundred times more
effective. The Government has charged me with this task, and I'm to take
it back with me when I go. It's a very vital and important thing,
Patricia, and may turn the tide for us. More I cannot tell you. It would
not be wise nor even _safe_ for you to know. And you can help me most by
appearing to know nothing whatever about my affairs. Remember that,—to
_know nothing, whatever happens_,—" He was interrupted by a loud
knocking at the door and went to open it.

"Telegram for you, sir!" grinned the bell-boy of the snub-nose and
twinkling eyes. Captain Meade tore it open hastily.

"Here's a pretty pickle!" he exclaimed, handing the yellow slip to
Patricia. "Your Aunt Evelyn fell yesterday, just before she was to take
the train from Chicago to meet us here, and will be laid up for the next
six or eight weeks with a broken leg. Just like Evelyn!" he added
impatiently. "She was always the worst youngster for falling down and
getting damaged at critical moments. And she's kept it up consistently
all the rest of her life. I'm sorry for her, of course, but what on
earth are we to do?"

They stared blankly at each other. "Poor Aunt Evelyn!" sighed Patricia,
sympathetically. "She was looking forward so to this three-months'
holiday. She wrote that she hadn't been away from home even a week, for
the last ten years, and was going to enjoy the rest so much. I'm awfully
sorry for her. She'll be so disappointed!"

"Yes, but that doesn't solve the problem of what _we're_ going to do,"
argued the captain. "She was to be your companion here. I can't be
around all the time. I may even have to be away several days at a time.
A young girl like you can't stay alone in a big hotel. What in sancho
_are_ we going to do?" He ran his hands through his hair despairingly.
"It was only on the basis of her being able to join us that your mother
and I consented to this arrangement at all. I guess now you'll have to
go out to Chicago and stay with her, after all. There's no where else
for you to go."

"Oh, Daddy, Daddy, don't!" implored Patricia, hurling herself at him in
a panic. "I couldn't, I simply _couldn't_ stand being parted from you
now. And I'd have the most miserable time there. Aunt Evelyn would be in
bed and a trained nurse puttering around her all the time, (I know her!)
and there'd be nothing to do and I'd be simply wretched and unhappy all
the while. We can have such a cosy time here, just you and I, and I'll
promise to be very good and quiet and read a lot, and stay here in our
own suite all by myself when you are away. I've brought a lot of
fancy-work, too, and I'm going to do Red Cross knitting and make all my
Christmas presents during these three summer months, so I'll be very,
very busy. Do say yes, Daddy!"

Captain Meade looked only half convinced. "I don't like it at all,
Patricia. It will not only be lonely, for you, it may possibly even be
_dangerous_. There are spies about us all the time. If they should
happen to nose out my mission, they'd no doubt try to make it hot for
me—and for you too. Your Aunt Evelyn was to be your safeguard. But now—"

Patricia suddenly interrupted him. "Do you have to go away for any
length of time very soon? I mean, to go for several days?"

"Well, no," he admitted. "I'm supposed to be giving lectures at the
churches and Y. M. C. A.'s of this city and hereabout on my experiences
as a prisoner. That, however, is hardly more than a 'blind,' to cover my
real work. It will take me away some afternoons and evenings, but I
shall not stay away overnight for a few weeks yet, in all likelihood."

"Then, Daddy," urged the wily Patricia, grasping eagerly at this straw,
"until you find you have really to be absent for any length of time, let
me stay with you. If later on you should find you must go, then we can
see what to do. Meantime let's be happy together for a while and see
what's going to turn up. I'll even go to Chicago then, if you insist, if
you'll only let me stay here with you for a while."

And then Captain Meade relinquished the argument, glad to settle the
vexed question, at least temporarily. "Very well," he said, a trifle
reluctantly. "Stay you shall, since you wish it so, at least for a
while. But, Patricia, attend to what I am going to say, and never forget
it under any circumstances. It's an old saying that 'walls have ears,'
but it was never truer than it is in these days and in a big hotel.
Trust no one. Hear everything, see everything—and say nothing. My very
life, and even yours too, may depend upon your obeying in this,
implicitly."

Patricia nodded gravely. "I understand, Father!" was all she replied.
But her brain was a-whirl with feverish, delicious excitement. "Spies,"
"danger," "secret mission"—the magic words gave her an indescribable
thrill! And yet, with it all, she realized too the gravity of the
affair; and the realization served to give her a mental balance beyond
her years.

"But now let's go down to dinner!" cried the Captain gaily, glad to
change to a subject less tense. "I've an appetite worthy of an
ex-prisoner in a German camp!"

As they passed out into the corridor, Patricia glanced up at the number
over their door. "Suite number 403!" she murmured, squeezing her
father's arm. "Now I wonder just what's going to happen to us while this
is our home number?"



                               CHAPTER II
                          FRIENDS OR ENEMIES?


They made their way through the long corridors, down the elevator, past
the cosy sun-parlors and into the imposing dining-room. To Patricia it
was all a splendid adventure, even without the strange, new element so
recently hinted at by her father.

"Daddy," she began, when they were settled at a comfortable table for
two in a remote corner, "I wonder if you realize how simply heavenly it
is for me to sit down to a meal like this (not to speak of all the meals
to come!) and pick out just exactly what I want to eat, without having
cooked or helped to cook them all beforehand, and knowing I won't have
to wash the dishes afterward!" She picked up the menu and scanned it
luxuriously. "Now I think some cream-of-asparagus soup and a tenderloin
steak and some nice French-fried potatoes would just suit me to-night!"

There was no response to her remark, and, glancing up curiously, she
found her father's gaze riveted on the waiter who had just arrived to
take their order. Patricia, too, turned her attention to the man, and
found him a singularly unprepossessing individual. He was of medium
height, with a swarthy skin, and black hair plastered closely down the
sides of his head. His eyebrows were extremely black and bushy, and one
eyelid drooped conspicuously. Several of his prominent front teeth were
of gold, and gleamed in a sinister manner when he spoke. His voice was
thick and husky, and had a foreign accent.

"Are you to be the regular man for this table?" questioned the Captain.
The man merely nodded in sullen affirmation.

"I want to know your name," pursued Captain Meade. "I expect to be here
some time and may keep this table. And if I'm going to have anyone about
me regularly, I prefer to call him by the name that belongs to him.
What's yours?"

"Peter Stoger," still sullenly.

"What nationality?"

"Swiss."

"Very well, Peter. You may take our order." And without further remark,
the Captain dismissed him.

"Daddy, I don't like that man," whispered Patricia when he was gone. "He
looks like an alien enemy. I don't believe he's Swiss at all. Can't we
have another? I know he's going to make me uncomfortable and worry me."

"Oh, he's all right," replied the Captain easily. "You must learn not to
mind an unprepossessing outer appearance. If he makes a good waiter,
nothing else about _him_ will matter much to us. Don't get 'spies' on
the brain."

Patricia subsided, unconvinced, and they both gazed quietly about them
for the few moments while they were waiting to be served.

"Oh, Daddy," whispered Patricia, "don't look for a minute or two, but
isn't that a lovely woman at the table diagonally at our right, just a
little behind you? She reminds me somehow of Aunt Evelyn. And there's a
pretty girl with her, just about my age, I should think, but I wonder
what makes her look so queer and cross—and sullen?"

After a proper interval, Captain Meade glanced in the direction
indicated. The woman's appearance was certainly striking enough to
attract attention in any assembly. Her wavy gray hair was elaborately
dressed, she had large, liquid brown eyes, she was beautifully if
quietly gowned, and was of imposing height and build.

"She does look a little like your Aunt Evelyn," he agreed, "only much
handsomer and more imposing. The young person with her doesn't seem to
be enjoying life, somehow."

The girl in question did indeed appear very unhappy. She was fifteen or
sixteen years old, but of a slight, fragile build that made her seem
younger. Her hair, a mass of dark curls, was tied back simply at the
nape of her neck. But her lovely face was marred by a pouting, sullen
mouth, and her big dark eyes gazed about her with an expression that
struck Patricia as one half-frightened, half-rebellious. She did not
often look about her, however, but kept her gaze in the main riveted on
her plate. Her companion chatted with her almost continuously, but she
answered only in monosyllables or not at all.

They were a strange pair. Patricia could not understand them at all, nor
could she, for the remainder of the meal, keep her eyes long from
turning toward their table. The older woman fascinated her, not only by
her handsome appearance and vague resemblance to her aunt, but also
because of some subtle attraction in her vivacious manner. Once she
looked up suddenly, caught Patricia's gaze fixed on her, and smiled in
so winning a manner that Patricia was impelled to smile back in
response. The girl puzzled her by her strange, inexplicable conduct
toward one who was so evidently interested and absorbed in her. Patricia
found herself wondering more and more what could be the relationship
between the two.

But their own meal now delightfully finished with French ice cream and
tiny cups of black coffee, Patricia and her father rose to leave the
dining-room. Their way led directly past the table that had so deeply
interested Patricia. As she approached it, she noticed that a dainty
handkerchief belonging to the older woman had fallen unheeded to the
floor at her side. Stooping to pick it up, Patricia restored it, and was
rewarded by another charming smile and a "Thank you, dear!" But in the
same instant her eye caught that of the young girl, and was held by it
for a long, tense moment. Patricia was no practiced reader of
expression, but it seemed to her that in this moment, fear, hope, dread
and longing were all mirrored successively in the beautiful dark eyes
raised to her face. Then the lids were dropped and the girl went on
eating in apparent unconcern.

Patricia and her father passed on. They had almost reached the door of
the big dining-room when Captain Meade stopped suddenly to grasp the
hand of an elderly lady seated at a table near the door.

"Mrs. Quale! by all things unexpected! How do you happen to be here? Let
me present my daughter, Patricia." Patricia made her best curtsey to one
of the quaintest little elderly ladies she thought she had ever seen.

"Delighted to know Patricia," began Mrs. Quale. "I'm here by virtue of
having my house burn down, not exactly over my head, but while I was
away in New Haven. Carelessness of old Juno, my colored cook. She would
keep too hot a range fire and overheated the chimney. At any rate, here
I am till the thing is rebuilt, and a precious long job they're making
of it, with all these war-time restrictions. So this is Patricia! I saw
her once before when she was a tiny baby. Are you staying here, Captain
Meade?"

The Captain sketched briefly for her, the reason of their presence in
the big hotel,—his wife's breakdown and departure to a sanatorium; the
closing-up of their home and his coming with Patricia for a combination
of holiday for her and lecture-program for him to this distant city, of
their disappointment about Aunt Evelyn, and their consequent
predicament.

"Well, don't worry your head another moment about Patricia," laughed
Mrs. Quale. "Fate seems to have arranged things very nicely, that I
should be here to act as her chaperon whenever necessary, and general
adviser at all times. My suite is 720, ninth floor. Be sure you call on
me soon, Patricia, and we'll get really acquainted in short order. Your
father played in my back yard as a child (his house was right next door
to ours) and so I feel quite like a grandmother to you!"

"I like Mrs. Quale, Daddy," Patricia confided to her father, as they
were ascending to their rooms in the elevator. "I like the way her hair
is fixed in those queer, old-fashioned scallops, and her dear, round,
soft face, and her jolly manner. But how is it, I've never heard you
speak of her before?"

"She is an old friend of my boyhood days," replied her father, "and, as
she said, we used to live next door to her. I don't know why I didn't
think of her right away, when your aunt's telegram came. I shouldn't
have hesitated to take you straight to her and put you in her care.
However, if her house is out of commission and she's staying here, it
answers the purpose even better. You must be sure to call on her in her
rooms to-morrow. Now, I'm afraid you're in for a lonely evening,
Patricia, for I have an important business matter to attend to, and may
be detained rather late. Telephone down to the office for anything you
need or any attention you want, but don't leave these rooms on any
consideration—short of a fire! Tomorrow we'll do the town and go out
somewhere in the evening, so I hope you won't be lonely to-night,—eh,
honey?"

"Indeed I won't be lonely. Don't you worry about me a minute!" agreed
Patricia. "I've heaps of things to do."

                  *       *       *       *       *

When Captain Meade had gone, Patricia flew about, busily occupying
herself with unpacking her trunk and making her bedroom a little more
homelike with a few of her own personal knickknacks and belongings. When
this occupation could be prolonged no further, she sank down in a cosy
chair by the table in the living-room, intending to read a magazine, but
in reality to dream delightfully over the events of the day and her
father's strange, half-exhilarating, half-terrifying hints.

A great hotel full of people,—literally hundreds of them,—coming and
going continually,—some of them friends, some of them enemies,
perhaps,—and she, Patricia Meade in the center of it, she and her father
the very center of a whirlpool of plots and danger, perhaps! Then more
sober thought reminded her that there was, in all probability, no
likelihood of anything particularly thrilling except in her own
imagination, and she laughed at herself for romancing so foolishly. They
would have a very delightful holiday, she and her father. He would
accomplish safely and without difficulty, the mission that occupied him,
they would return home to a reunited household at the end of the
summer,—and then he would go away, 'over there' again.

At this point in her revery, she suddenly dropped into an unpleasant
depression and decided to send for a sandwich and a glass of milk, write
a tiny note to her mother and go to bed. All at once she realized how
very tired she was and how the excitement and exhilaration had all
evaporated, leaving only weariness in their place. Rather timidly she
telephoned her order to the office and sat down again to await its
arrival.

Five minutes later, she answered a knock at the door, to find the
grinning, implike bell-boy of their first encounter, standing there with
a tray.

"Didn't have no chicken left, ma'am, so I got you tongue. Best I could
do!" he vouchsafed.

"Oh, thanks! That will do just as well," she replied, then something
impelled her to inquire, "Do you always answer the calls in this
corridor?"

"Yep,—at least I try to work it that way. I got a reason!" he ended
darkly.

"A reason? What is it?" she asked idly.

"Not allowed to tell. State secret. Governor forbids it!" he grinned;
and Patricia found herself laughing as much at his serio-comic
expression as at his very apparent nonsense. "Anything else wanted?" he
ended.

"Nothing but your name," she replied, following her father's tactics.
"If you're going to be around here regularly, my father would like to
know it."

"Oh, it's Chet, just Chet Jackson!" he said, apparently a trifle
dumfounded to think that anyone should care to know it. To the hotel at
large he was only 'Number 27.'

"Well, goodnight. That will be all, I think." And Patricia turned back
into the room to lay the tray on the table. But as she retraced her
steps to close the door, she suddenly remembered that she had meant to
order ice-water for the night also, and walked out into the corridor to
see if Chester were still in sight. He was not, however, and she turned
back toward her own door, murmuring, "Oh, well, it doesn't really
matter. I don't want to bother 'phoning down again. Daddy can send for
it when he comes in."

What impelled her, just at that instant, to turn her head and glance
over her shoulder, she never quite knew. Perhaps if she had not, if she
had gone quietly in and closed her door, all future events might have
been different. At any rate, turn her head she did, drawn by some
mysterious power, and beheld a curious sight.

A door diagonally opposite her own, across the corridor, was standing a
trifle ajar. It had not been so while she was talking to the bell-boy,
of that she was positive, nor had she heard the faintest sound of its
being opened. And in the opening was framed a face, gazing at her
absorbedly, intently. Patricia's heart gave a sudden leap. It was the
face of the young girl she had noticed in the dining-room.

So unexpected to both was this encounter of eyes, that for a long
instant, neither could remove her gaze. Patricia was first to recover
her poise; moreover, truth to tell, she was even a trifle pleased at
this opportunity to break the growing monotony of the evening. She
smiled her friendliest smile at the face across the corridor, and with
its resultant effect on the girl in the opposite doorway, she was not a
little astonished. The expression in the big, black eyes changed
suddenly from watchfulness to wonder, and a slow, reluctant answering
smile curved the sullen mouth. The effect was like a shaft of sunlight
breaking through a black cloud.

"I was looking for our bell-boy," Patricia called across laughingly and
informally. "He escaped before I could speak about bringing ice-water."
The girl in the opposite doorway suddenly realized that her presence
too, might call for some explanation.

"I was looking for my—ah—for Mme. Vanderpoel," she hesitated. "She has
gone out. I am a little lonely—and was watching for her—to return." She
spoke with a noticeably foreign accent and her manner was reticent and
confused. But Patricia, for some inexplicable reason felt immediately
drawn to her. The girl was lonely. So was she. What possible objection
could there be to spending a while in each other's company?

"Why, I'm lonely, too," she vouchsafed. "My father was to be away all
the evening. Won't you come in and sit with me awhile? I've a couple of
sandwiches that we can divide, or I can send for more. Do come!"

For a moment it seemed as if the girl were about to consent. A
surprised, dimpling smile lit her face for an instant, and she replied,
"Oh, thanks! Since you are so—"

At this moment the door of the room adjoining hers opened and a waiter
came out, bearing in his hands a tray of used dishes, and passed
directly between them, down the corridor. He glanced neither to the
right nor left, and disappeared in a moment down the turning at the end
of the hall. Patricia realized with a tiny qualm of dislike that it was
the waiter of her own table. But his passing had broken the spell of the
new acquaintance.

"I thank you—but—but this evening I must stay in the room," the girl
resumed, inexplicably contradicting what she had plainly intended to say
at first. The bright smile was gone. Her face had again assumed the
clouded, sullen expression. Patricia was thoroughly puzzled.

"Well, that's too bad!" was all she could find to reply. "Same here, or
perhaps I could run over to you. Are you staying here long?"

"I think so. I am not sure how long."

"Oh, well, then we'll have plenty of time to get acquainted. Goodnight!"
Patricia ended pleasantly, as she closed her door.

But sitting alone and nibbling her sandwiches later, she found herself
vexed with many puzzling surmises. Who was this strange, interesting,
appealing foreign girl? What was her relation to the beautiful woman she
called 'Mme. Vanderpoel'? Why had she appeared to assent to the
invitation so gladly, and suddenly retracted after the passing of the
man, Peter Stoger?

"I like her, though," thought Patricia confusedly, "And yet I can't for
the life of me tell why. I can't make her out. I don't believe what she
said about looking for that woman to come back. I think that was only an
excuse. I firmly believe she was watching _me_. But why? There's
something queer about the whole thing. But, no matter what happens, I'm
going to make a desperate effort to get better acquainted with her. I
believe we're going to be friends."



                              CHAPTER III
                         THE SHADOW ON THE WALL


In spite of her resolution to get better acquainted with her mysterious
neighbor, however, Patricia made no further progress in that direction
for several days. These were spent in a round of sight-seeing with her
father through the big, busy, manufacturing city in which they were
staying, at present so absorbed in its war work and munition making.
After that came a series of delightful trolley-trips through distant and
picturesque parts of the surrounding country. And when she was at
leisure at all, Patricia spent not a little time with Mrs. Quale,
finding a real delight in her quaint, sunny, comfortable company. During
their wanderings, it chanced that she and her father took few meals at
the hotel. And thus it fell out that she saw nothing, or almost nothing,
of the curious couple that had so interested her on the first night.
Once, indeed, she did have a brief glimpse of them at breakfast, but the
older woman only acknowledged her presence by a friendly little nod. The
girl never so much as turned her head or looked in Patricia's direction.

Then, on the sixth morning after their arrival, came a change. Captain
Meade announced it as they were taking their leisurely breakfast.

"We've done all the gadding about that I'll be able to indulge in for a
while," he told her. "I must settle down to business now, and I'm afraid
you'll be left pretty much on your own hands."

"Well, to tell the truth, I don't mind very much," she replied, lazily
dallying with the grape-fruit. "I'm so tired of being on the go that
I'll appreciate a little rest and quietness."

"I must go off this morning to be gone almost all day," went on Captain
Meade. "You will be a little lonely, perhaps, but there's always Mrs.
Quale. Don't rush her too much, however. Remember she's a very busy
woman. But you can always turn to her in emergencies or if you need
advice."

"No, I won't bother her," returned Patricia, "and I think I'll spend the
morning over at the sea-wall in the park. I love it there, and it's just
the place to take some knitting and a book and perhaps write some
letters. Will you be back to lunch?"

"I hardly expect to. Order a lunch sent to the room, or go down to the
dining-room if you prefer, but don't wait for me."

"Oh, I'll have my luncheon sent upstairs, I guess," sighed Patricia. "I
detest that Peter Stoger more every time I see him. I feel as if he were
spying on me constantly. I can't understand why you don't realize it,
too."

The captain smiled as they rose to leave the table. "Poor Peter would be
surprised, and horrified probably, if he realized he was posing as a
German spy for your benefit. But suit yourself, Patricia, about
luncheon, and don't be alarmed if I'm not back till late. If I'm not
here by dinner-time, ask Mrs. Quale if you may dine at her table."

"I surely will," agreed Patricia. "And I—I beg your pardon!" The latter
remark she addressed suddenly to the handsome woman whom she now knew as
Madame Vanderpoel, who was breakfasting alone at her own table, and, as
they were passing, had touched Patricia, a trifle hesitantly, on the
arm.

"It is I that must beg _your_ pardon," she answered. "I am going to be
so bold as to ask a very great favor, though I do not even know you, but
I am in great trouble and perplexity this morning."

"Why, I'll be glad to do anything, of course," began Patricia, in
surprise.

"I was sure you would. I read it in your face. That is why I ask,"
Madame Vanderpoel hurried on. "I am called away to New York this morning
on the most urgent business—something that cannot be postponed.
Unfortunately, my dear little charge, Virginie, Mademoiselle de Vos, is
quite miserable—a violent nervous headache; she is subject to them
frequently, poor little soul! I dread to leave her alone all day in the
care only of that stupid chambermaid, yet my business is such that I
simply cannot postpone it. Would it be imposing too much on your
kindness to ask you to stop in there occasionally, just for a moment or
two, to see that she is as comfortable as possible? You are, I believe,
just across the hall from us, so it would not be a long journey."

"Why, I'll be delighted to!" agreed Patricia, heartily. "I'll sit with
her just as long as she cares to have me. Don't worry about her at all.
I'm famous as a nurse, too, for my mother never has been very well, and
I'm used to waiting on her."

"Oh, thank you so much!" breathed Madame Vanderpoel, seemingly much
relieved. "I'll be so much easier in mind. I leave almost at once after
breakfast. Go in as soon as you like. Just knock at the door and open
it. I'll leave it unlocked. I can never repay your kindness."

"That solves the problem of my day for me, Daddy," remarked Patricia,
when they were back in their rooms. "I'll stay around here and visit
Virginie de Vos (My! but I'm glad I know her name at last!) every little
while. I've been real anxious to meet her, and didn't know how I was
going to get the chance."

But the captain frowned a little doubtfully. "It's all right, I suppose,
and you couldn't very well refuse, but I rather wish you didn't have to
come in contact with any strangers here. They may be all right—and they
may not. These are queer times, and you can't trust any one. Get Mrs.
Quale to go in with you, if possible, and don't stay there more than
fifteen minutes at any time."

Patricia opened her eyes wide with astonishment. "Well, of all things!
You don't suspect people like _that_ of—of anything queer, do you?"

"I suspect no one, and trust no one in this entire establishment except,
of course, Mrs. Quale. But don't get another attack of 'spies' on the
brain, just because I warned you to be ordinarily cautious. It's
probably all right. I'll be back by eight o'clock, anyway. Now, good-by,
honey, and take care of yourself."

Patricia waited until nearly ten o'clock before essaying her first visit
to the sick girl across the hall. Then, obedient to her father's
injunction, she called up Mrs. Quale on the house telephone, to ask if
that lady would find it convenient to accompany her. But the clerk at
the desk informed her that Mrs. Quale had gone out for the day, leaving
only her maid. Patricia had seen this woman several times, quiet,
elderly, and noticeably hard of hearing, and who, Mrs. Quale said, had
been in her service for many years. So Patricia was left with no
alternative but to make her first venture alone.

"I'm sure Daddy wouldn't want me to neglect the poor little sick thing,
even if Mrs. Quale isn't there," she told herself as she knocked at the
door of number 404, across the hall.

She had vaguely expected to find the sick girl in bed, her head swathed
in bandages, the room darkened and orderly. The sight that met her eyes
as she entered, at a half-muffled "Come in," was as different as
possible from that picture. The room was in great disorder, and bright
with the glare of the morning sun. Both of the twin-beds were unmade—and
empty. But at one of the windows, her back to the room, stood Virginie
de Vos, staring out into the street. She did not turn round as Patricia
entered.

"I beg your pardon—good morning," ventured Patricia, timidly. "I came at
the request of your—of Madame Vanderpoel, who said you were ill. Is
there anything I can do for you? Oughtn't you to be in bed?"

Still with her back to her visitor, Virginie shook her head. Suddenly,
however, she whirled around. Her eyes were red and swollen with crying,
but there were no tears in them now.

"Thank you—oh, very much! It is so thoughtful of you to come! My head
does not ache—at least, not now. I am better. I do not need any care."

"But surely, there must be something the matter! You—you cannot be
feeling quite well. Madame Vanderpoel said you were suffering severely,"
returned Patricia, thoroughly puzzled.

"Whatever it was, I am better now," muttered the girl, almost sullenly.
"But you are—you are so kind!" she added, and her eyes lit up with a
friendly gleam for an instant.

"Look here," cried Patricia, in sudden determination, "perhaps you _are_
feeling better, but your headache may return. Now, I have a plan to
propose. It's very hot and glaring and noisy in this room. You see, it's
on the street side and you get all the racket from this busy avenue.
Beside that, it hasn't been made up yet. Come over and spend the morning
in our sitting-room with me. It's so quiet and pleasant there, for it
faces on the little park at the back. I'll darken it up, and you can lie
on the couch, and I'll read or talk to you—or just let you alone to
sleep. _Please_ come!"

Her manner was so cordial, so urgent and convincing, that Virginie
visibly wavered.

"I ought—I ought not." She hesitated. "You do not know—you cannot know—"

"Oh, nonsense!" cried Patricia, impatiently. "What earthly reason could
there be for not coming? Just come right along, and we'll have a lovely
time. I'm awfully lonesome, and you probably would be, too, alone here
all day. So come!"

Very reluctantly the girl assented and followed Patricia. Once
established in the cool, pleasant, half-darkened sitting-room, however,
her hesitancy seemed suddenly to vanish. Patricia insisted that she
occupy the couch, which she finally consented to do, though patently
more to please her hostess than herself.

"I am not sick; my head does not ache at all. Madame Vanderpoel
was—er—mistaken." And, indeed, she looked the picture of health, now
that her eyes were returning to a normal appearance.

"Never mind. She must have been worried about you, or she wouldn't have
asked me to see to you. So lie down here for a while, and I'll sit by
you and do this fancy-work. I suppose I ought to be knitting, but I do
get so tired of it at times. Do you ever embroider?"

"Ah, I—I love it!" cried Virginie, in sudden enthusiasm. "Anything of
the—artistic I love and have studied to do." It was when she grew
excited, Patricia noticed, that her language became a trifle confused.

"Tell me," Patricia suddenly asked—"that is, if you don't mind—what
nationality are you? I had thought perhaps you were French."

The girl's manner again grew restrained. But she only replied in a voice
very low and tense, "I am a Belgian!"

Patricia impulsively dropped on her knees by the couch and took both of
Virginie's hands in her own.

"You poor, poor darling!" she murmured. "And did you—were you driven out
of the country?"

"We lived in Antwerp," Virginie replied simply. "My father and I have
always lived there. My mother is long dead. When the war came, I was
being educated—in one of the best schools. At first it was thought there
would be no danger. Antwerp was thought to be—what you call—impregnable.
Then, when the Germans had taken Malines and Louvain and Liège, Madame
Vanderpoel (she is my mother's sister-in-law), came to take me away from
the school, to take me to England. She told my father it was too
dangerous, that he should flee also. But he would not go. He is an old
man, and I am the last of his children. He was too old for army service,
but he said he would remain and defend his villa there in Antwerp. He
declared the city could not be taken. But he insisted that I go away to
England—to safety. He sent me from him, though it broke our two
hearts—and I have never seen him since. You know what happened to
Antwerp."

She hid her face in the pillows and shook with unrepressed sobbing.
Patricia knew not what to say to comfort the stricken girl. For several
moments she only smoothed the dark hair in silence, but her touch was
evidently soothing, for Virginie presently sat up and dried her eyes.
She continued no further, however, with any personal disclosures.

"We too have suffered," began Patricia, thinking to divert her mind from
herself,—"suffered dreadfully. You know, my father went over with the
army when the war first broke out here, and when we bade him good-by, we
knew there was a big chance of never seeing him again. But when we got
word, a few months later, that he had been wounded and taken prisoner by
the Germans, we were _sure_ we shouldn't. The suspense was simply
frightful. I never want to go through such a thing again as long as I
live. Six long months it was, and we had no idea what had happened to
him. We almost hoped he was dead, because the things we read of as
happening to the prisoners were so unspeakable. And then he escaped and
came back to us—we never knew a thing about it till he was brought home
one day. I thought Mother would die with the joy of it. She's in a
sanatorium now—getting over the shock of it all. So, you see, Virginie
dear, I know what you have suffered, and I'm sure your troubles are
going to vanish—just as ours did."

But Virginie only shook her head. "It is not possible. You do not know
all—you cannot. My father is—perhaps—worse than dead. He—but still, I
feel very close to you. We have both suffered. We understand—each other.
I—I love you!" And she kissed Patricia impulsively on both cheeks.

Another silence followed, the girls sitting close together on the couch,
in wordless, understanding sympathy. Suddenly Virginie sprang to her
feet, her dark eyes gleaming. "Hush! Listen!" she cried. "I heard a
strange rustling outside the door. Can it be—some one listening?" She
hurried to the door and pulled it open, Patricia close at her heels. The
corridor was empty.

"It was probably only a maid going by," laughed Patricia. "You're as
scary as I am, I do believe. I heard it, too. But let's go and settle
down again. I'm sure we're going to be the best kind of friends. Isn't
it lucky we're right across the hall from each other?"

But Virginie did not assent to the latter question. Instead, she put one
of her own. "Do you speak French at all?" she inquired. "I have studied
the English, but I speak it with difficulty. I _think_ only in French,
and I can express myself better in that tongue. It is my native
language."

"Oh, I'd love to talk French with you!" agreed Patricia, joyfully.
"Father made me study it and speak it with him ever since I was a little
girl. But I haven't had much practice in it lately, and I don't believe
my accent is very good. We'll use it all the time, and you can tell me
when I make mistakes."

So they began to chatter in French, to Virginie's evident relief, and
her manner presently lost much of its restraint. At noon Patricia sent
down for a delicious luncheon to be served for them both in the room,
but was thoroughly disgusted to find that her pet aversion, Peter
Stoger, had been sent up with it. And though he seemed anxious to
arrange the table for them, she summarily dismissed him, shutting and
locking the door after him with a shudder.

"I thoroughly detest that man," she confided to Virginie. And, rather to
her surprise, Virginie heartily agreed with her.

"I know. I feel a great dislike toward him. I think he is an enemy. I
think he is—watching."

"Precisely what _I've_ thought!" cried Patricia. "Isn't it queer that
we've both felt the same about him! Ugh! I wish now that we'd gone down
to the dining-room. We could have sat at your table. You have another
waiter. Well, never mind. Let's enjoy ourselves now, anyway."

The afternoon wore away, finding the two girls still in each other's
company, still exchanging girlish confidences over fancy-work and books.
But they did not refer again to Virginie's father, and both seemed to
avoid any reference to war subjects in general. Patricia longed to take
the girl more into her own confidence about her father and his affairs;
but, mindful of Captain Meade's constantly reiterated warnings, she
resisted the impulse.

At half past five Virginie remarked that she must return to her room and
dress for dinner, as Madame Vanderpoel would soon be back.

"Tell me," asked Patricia, "why do you not call her aunt, as she is your
mother's sister-in-law? It would be natural."

Virginie suddenly retired to her shell again. "I never have," was all
she vouchsafed. "I—do not know why—that is—" They were walking toward
the door as she replied. All at once she stopped, tensely rigid. "There
it is again!" she whispered. "Do you not hear it?" There was indeed a
curious intermittent sound, as of some one cautiously tiptoeing down the
carpeted corridor. Patricia opened the door with a quick jerk.

[Illustration:

  "You see?" whispered Virginie, clinging to Patricia spasmodically!
]

The hall again was empty. But at the far end of the corridor, where it
turned into another, the wall was illumined by a brilliant patch of
sunlight from some window out of sight. And blackly on that patch of
sunlight, as on a lighted screen, was outlined the silhouette of a man's
form, and of something else that he evidently carried in his hands.

"You see?" whispered Virginie, clinging to Patricia spasmodically.

"Yes, I see!" answered Patricia.

The motionless silhouette was unmistakably the form of Peter Stoger,
carrying a tray.



                               CHAPTER IV
                           THE CRIMSON PATCH


"I don't like it at all, somehow, and yet I can't exactly tell you why."
Captain Meade shuffled the books and magazines on the sitting-room
table, rearranging them precisely and absent-mindedly. On his forehead
was an anxious frown.

"But, Daddy," cried Patricia, "what possible objection can there be to
my being friends with that lovely girl? She is so lonely and so sad! I
just love her already. Think what she has suffered—and is still
suffering! It seems as if it would be simply cruel not to be friends
with her now, after what she has told me."

"But the very things you've told me about her and your conversations
with her make me feel there's something strange about the whole affair.
She's not as candid and open in manner as I should like. She seems to be
hiding something all the time. And her relationship to that Madame
Vanderpoel appears singular. She says the woman is her aunt, by
marriage, yet she doesn't seem to care to call her so. I am deeply sorry
for the girl, if her story is true, as it probably is, but I feel as if
there is much that she is concealing. And I frankly confess that I do
not like this Madame Vanderpoel. Why should she have told you that the
girl was ill with a severe headache, and then you go in and find her in
the best of health, apparently? Things don't hang together, somehow."

"Well, what am I going to do?" demanded Patricia, almost in tears.
"Madame Vanderpoel has invited me to go with them on a trip to Creston
Beach to-morrow and spend the day with them there. I suppose she wants
to do something in return for my looking after Virginie to-day. She
spoke to me about it as we passed her table to-night. You had gone on
ahead to speak to Mrs. Quale. I told her I'd ask you about it. Are you
going to say I mustn't go?"

The captain tugged at the end of his short mustache and strode up and
down the room perplexedly. At length he spoke. "You simply must trust me
in this matter, honey, and remember that I'm not an old tyrant, but just
a cautious Daddy, striving to do what is best for us all. You will have
an engagement with Mrs. Quale to-morrow. Fortunately she suggested to me
this evening that perhaps you would care to spend the morning with her
and help her select some wall-papers for her house that is being rebuilt
and decorated. And let me offer just this wee bit of advice. See as much
as you want of this little Virginie when you can be with her alone. She
is a poor, forlorn child who is suffering greatly—of that I feel
certain. And I believe there is no harm in her. But avoid, if you can,
any engagement or invitation which includes the older woman."

"Father, what do you suspect her of? What are your suspicions about
her?"

"I suspect her of nothing. I do not care for her on general principles.
Sometimes we have only instinct to trust, and mine tells me, just now,
simply to be careful. That's all. Now call her up on the 'phone and say
you will not be able to accompany them, and thank her, of course, for so
kindly thinking of you."

Patricia did as she was bid, and was answered by Virginie, who said
Madame Vanderpoel was not there. "I'm so sorry that I'll not be able to
go, but Father had made another engagement for me," Patricia assured
her, and there was a murmured reply over the instrument that the captain
could not catch. But when Patricia hung up the receiver, her face was a
study in perplexity.

"What do you think she said, Daddy? 'I am not sorry. I enjoy seeing you
more by ourselves.' That was all, but isn't it singular? I don't believe
she cares for that aunt of hers. And yet, I can't understand why. Madame
Vanderpoel seems lovely, to me, and she appears to be so fond of
Virginie. I'll take the hint, however. And it fits in very nicely with
what you advised me to do, too. Oh, by the way, Daddy, I nearly forgot
to tell you what happened this afternoon. And if you don't think that
Peter Stoger is spying, after you hear it, I give up." And she described
to him the strange incident in the hall.

This time the captain did not laugh at her fears. Instead, he frowned
and looked worried. "That does certainly seem suspicious. I'll have to
look into the matter," he vouchsafed, and refused to discuss the
incident further.

                  *       *       *       *       *

In the two weeks that elapsed after the foregoing incident, the
friendship between the girls increased, after a fashion, but Patricia
was at times sorely puzzled and perplexed by the strange moods and whims
and actions of her new companion. On one day they would be in each
other's company for several hours, visiting in the Meades' attractive
sitting-room, where they read or sewed, or taking long walks or
trolley-rides into the country. On these occasions Virginie would be
almost clinging in her confidence in, and affection for, Patricia. Not
the tiniest flaw would mar their intercourse, and Patricia would
acknowledge herself more deeply interested than ever in this attractive
girl. Then on the next day, perhaps for several days following, Virginie
would seem distant, reserved, morose, sometimes almost disagreeable. She
would pass Patricia with the coldest nod, refuse to make any engagement
to be with her, and almost seem to resent any advances toward the
furtherance of their friendship. Patricia worried and grieved about it
in secret, though she would not openly acknowledge, even to her father,
that Virginie's singular conduct hurt her.

Madame Vanderpoel, on the contrary, always seemed most cordial and
friendly, and while she never commented on her ward's conduct to
Patricia, would often cast at her a deprecatory and apologetic glance
when Virginie was more than usually disagreeable in manner. Plainly, the
girl's strange conduct tried her sorely, though she was always very
sweet about it and ignored it whenever possible. Never again, since the
first occasion, had she attempted to induce Patricia to accompany them
anywhere or spend any time in their united company. Altogether, so
thoughtful and agreeable was she, that Patricia, more fascinated by her
than ever, often found herself wishing that she were at liberty to see
more of this pleasant Madame Vanderpoel.

One rainy afternoon, Captain Meade having gone out, to be away till a
late hour that night on a lecture engagement, Patricia called up her
friend on the house telephone to ask her to come across the hall and
spend the rest of the day with her. She did this in considerable
trepidation, for Virginie had been more than usually morose and
disagreeable and distant for a number of days past. As it happened, it
was Madame Vanderpoel who answered the 'phone.

"Why certainly, my dear! Virginie will come over at once," she replied
cordially. "She has been quite lonely this afternoon, and wishing for
something to do. You are very kind."

Patricia had just begun to frame an answer, when, somewhat to her
surprise, the receiver at the other end was suddenly hung up and the
connection cut. The action was very abrupt. And though she told herself
she certainly _must_ have been mistaken, she thought she had heard,
before being cut off, a voice in the room with Madame Vanderpoel
declaring, "_I will not go!_" It was all very puzzling.

Virginie did not come in for some time, and in the interval Patricia
framed a resolution. She would fathom this girl's singular conduct
to-day or never, even if she had to ask the most personal questions to
do so.

When the little Belgian at last arrived, she was polite, but distant, in
manner, and distinctly unhappy. To Patricia's cordial remarks she
returned only monosyllabic answers, was restless and ill at ease. They
were sitting together on the couch, each pretending to be deeply
engrossed in her fancy-work, when Patricia with wildly beating heart,
suddenly determined that the time had come to put her resolve into
effect.

"Virginie," she began, abruptly turning to the girl, "won't you tell me
what is the trouble? What have I done to offend or annoy you? You are
often so strange in your actions toward me. I cannot understand it. I—"

But she got no farther. To her intense amazement and dismay, Virginie
suddenly threw herself across the couch in a passion of wild and violent
weeping. It was several moments before Patricia could soothe her back to
a state where she was able even to speak.

"Oh, I knew you would think this! I knew it. I knew it!" she sobbed. "I
knew the time would come when I must explain—or lose your friendship. If
you only could trust me. If you only knew—"

Patricia, at a loss for words, could only squeeze her hand in silent
assurance.

"But you never will know—and I never can tell you!" she went on wildly.
"I love you—I love you—as I love no one else on earth now—beside my
father. Do you believe that?"

"I believe it if you say so," Patricia assured her quietly. "I feel sure
you are telling me the truth." Her calm, soothing manner was having its
effect on the girl's hysterical condition. Virginie herself suddenly
became calmer.

"I wish you would make a promise," she continued. "If you knew my life
and all that I have to endure,—all the puzzling, bewildering things that
are pulling me this way and that—things that I perhaps can never tell
you, because they would concern others,—I know that you would promise me
this, never to care whether my manner seems cold toward you; never to
think unkind thoughts of me, no matter how I may act—to say to yourself
always, when I seem the worst, 'Virginie loves me; she does not mean
this mood for _me_!' Could you make me that promise, Patricia? Some day,
if God wills, I may be able to explain."

"Indeed, Virginie," cried her companion, sincerely touched, "I trust you
every way and always! I'll never be annoyed any more, no matter how you
act. I'll understand that it's something quite outside of myself that is
causing it. Will that make you feel any better?"

Virginie did not answer in words, but the grateful pressure of her hands
was sufficient response. The atmosphere having thus been cleared,
Patricia abandoned the subject and plunged gaily into something quite
different.

"You told me once, Virginie," she began, "that you had done a good deal
of work in water-colors at various times, but you have never shown me
any of your sketches. Have you any here with you, and if so, could I see
them? I'm awfully interested in that sort of thing, though I don't do
much of the kind myself."

"Ah, yes!" cried Virginie, brightening at once. "I have a whole
portfolio in my room. I will go to fetch it. I love the work, and I turn
to it whenever I have an opportunity." She ran out of the room and
hurried back with a batch of color sketches that she spread out on the
couch. They were really exceedingly clever, as Patricia recognized at
once.

"Why, this is wonderful. You are a real, out-and-out artist, and I never
realized it before!" she exclaimed enthusiastically. "I dabble a little
in that sort of thing myself once in a while, but I'm not a great
success. I do wish I had inherited some of father's artistic ability. He
can do beautiful work, but I only just love it and admire it."

"Ah, your father is also an artist?" demanded Virginie, interested
afresh.

"Well, I don't know that I'd call him exactly an _artist_," qualified
Patricia. "He can draw and paint 'most everything fairly well, but he
does excel in one thing. He's crazy about it,—it's a regular hobby with
him,—entomology, you know, the study of bugs and moths and caterpillars
and butterflies, and all that sort of thing. And he can make the most
beautiful sketches of them. Many's the day I've gone on a long butterfly
hunt with him, and then have come home and watched him make sketches of
the specimens we've caught. Just let me show you some of the things he's
done. I think he has a number of his pet sketches in his trunk. He never
travels without them." Patricia brought her father's sketches and placed
them in Virginie's hands.

And now it was Virginie's turn to exclaim over the really beautiful work
of Captain Meade. There were caterpillars and moths and butterflies,
executed with consummate skill and exquisitely colored; each labeled
with its own name and species. Virginie marveled over their curious
titles.

"Ah, but see here, what singular names—'The Silver Spot,' 'The Red
Admiral,' 'The Painted Lady'! Why are they so called?"

"I think it's mainly because of the different marking on the wings,"
answered Patricia. "You see, each one—but what's that? Some one
knocking?" She ran to the door and opened it. Madame Vanderpoel stood
outside.

"Do pardon me," she began hesitatingly. "I am making this little blouse
for Virginie and have just come to a place where I can go no farther
till I try it on. May I come in?"

"Why, surely!" returned Patricia, courteously, and Madame Vanderpoel
entered. As Patricia had feared, however, there was an immediate
chilling of the atmosphere as far as Virginie was concerned. The girl
said not a word, but obediently, if ungraciously, slipped the pretty
blouse over her head and stood in silence while Madame Vanderpoel made
some necessary alterations. The lady herself strove to appear quite
unobservant of the change and chatted on brightly while she completed
her work. Patricia, bewildered and uncomfortable, also tried to appear
as though nothing unusual was the matter. But she found the task
difficult. At length, Madame Vanderpoel, declaring herself satisfied
with the result, rose to go. While passing the table, however, she
noticed Captain Meade's sketches, and, laying down her sewing, stopped
to examine them.

"Ah, what beautiful, what unusual work!" she murmured, taking them up,
one by one, and asking Patricia some questions about them. But at last
she took her departure.

"Oh, by the way, may Virginie stay and have dinner with me here in our
rooms?" questioned Patricia, before she left. Madame Vanderpoel gave her
consent and was gone.

It was some time before Virginie recovered her spirits after this
interruption, but when she was herself again, the two girls resumed
their now wholly delightful intercourse.

"Let's send down for some sarsaparilla and fancy cakes!" suddenly cried
Patricia. "I'm hungry and thirsty, too, and it's a good while till
dinner-time." She telephoned her wish to the office, and Chester Jackson
presently knocked at the door with the order.

"Golly!" he cried suddenly, catching sight of the mass of sketches on
the table, "but them's purty things! You'd think they was the real
article lit all over the place. Can I look at them?" Patricia laughingly
gave her consent, and he turned them over, chuckling at their names. But
he, too, at length departed, and the girls were not interrupted further
till dinner-time, when Patricia asked to have the meal served in the
room.

It was Peter Stoger who entered later with a heavily laden tray,
approached the table, glanced about helplessly a moment, then planted
the tray directly on top of all the sketches littered over its surface.

"Oh, be careful!" cried Patricia, in dismay. "Don't you see what you're
doing? Hold the tray until I remove those things." Peter indifferently
lifted the tray while she hastily collected the sketches and put them
aside. Then he stolidly resumed his work of arranging the meal, and
withdrew.

It was late when Captain Meade returned. Patricia had been telling how
she had spent her day, and had just come to the part where she had
showed his sketches to Virginie.

"Great Jupiter! You _did_?" he cried distractedly. "Why on earth didn't
I warn you not to! I never dreamed you'd be tempted to do such a thing.
Where are they—quick?"

Patricia watched him in a mystified daze as he nervously shuffled them
over. What could it all mean? Had she done wrong?

"It's just as I feared!" he groaned. "_The Crimson Patch is gone!_"



                               CHAPTER V
                              WHO TOOK IT?


It was a white-faced pair that finished a frantic, but thoroughly
fruitless search, through every room of the suite for the lost sketch of
the butterfly. The captain was too upset and nervous and unstrung by the
occurrence to comment on the subject, for a time, and Patricia too
bewildered and unhappy to ask any questions. But when they had hunted
through every conceivable nook and cranny in vain, they gave it up and
sat down wearily to rest. The Crimson Patch was gone!

"But, Daddy," moaned Patricia, "why did you never tell me there was
anything important about these sketches? I never dreamed of such a
thing. I would never, never have done what I did to-day if I had known."

"That's just the trouble," muttered Captain Meade. "There's nothing
important about any of them except just that one—and that's—well,
_vital_! I never told you about it, because it's safer for you and best
all around that you know as little as possible of my affairs. Of course,
it never crossed my mind that you'd be moved to _show_ them to any one.
They're not a matter of general interest."

"But what _is_ there about this sketch, the Crimson Patch butterfly,
that is so important, Daddy, and why didn't you keep it safely locked
up? I shouldn't have thought you'd leave it just lying loose in your
trunk."

"The secret about this particular sketch, I do not think it best for you
to know, even now. You'll always be in a safer position if you can
truthfully say you know nothing about it. It looks very much the same as
the others—but it _isn't_! That is all I can tell you. And I had an
excellent reason for doing just as I did about it. Had I kept an
important secret always about my person, or even under lock and key, it
would, as a rule, be in far greater danger of discovery than if
carefully concealed in some such fashion as this and left around as if
there were nothing unusual about it. Don't you understand? But tell me
again the whole history of the thing, and who came into the room while
you had the sketches out, and when. We've got to find the sketch as
speedily as possible. Every moment that it is out of my hands is a
dangerous loss of time."

Patricia patiently went over the history of the afternoon, recounting
every detail she could remember. The captain listened intently, and sat
for several moments in deep thought when she had finished.

"Tell me one thing," he suddenly demanded. "Do you distinctly remember
seeing the Crimson Patch among the sketches when you first looked them
over? Think hard."

"Oh, I know it was there, because Virginie spoke of the curious name and
I told her it was given because of the two brilliant red spots on the
wings. I know it was there."

"Then, as far as I can see," went on Captain Meade, "there were no less
than four people in the room, each of whom came in contact with those
sketches, and any one of the four may have been the guilty party who
took it. Your little friend, Virginie, handled them first, and when she
left for the night, you say, she gathered up her own sketches?"

"Daddy dear, you must not suspect _her_—you simply must not!" cried
Patricia, sensing at once what he was driving at. "I would rather be
suspected myself than have any one dream she could do such a thing. And
how on earth could she ever know that the sketch was of any particular
value, anyway?"

"What she may know or not know, I haven't pretended to inquire, but you
must certainly see how easy it would be for her to slip the thing into
her own pile and walk off with it if she wanted."

"Her own sketches were all on the couch," protested Patricia, "and they
never once were near yours. I saw her get them together before she
left."

"But was your back never turned on her during all the time mine were
lying about?"

Patricia put her head down on the couch pillows and sobbed audibly.

"It seems too dreadful and unkind and mean to have such suspicions about
her!" she wailed.

"Now, Patricia dear, be sensible!" demanded the captain, despairingly.
"I'm no more suspicious of her than of any one else. I'm only trying to
sift the thing to the bottom. Let's leave her, for a moment, however.
You say Madame Vanderpoel was the next one in. She stayed about fifteen
minutes, examined the sketches, and went out. Tell me just exactly what
she did before she looked them over."

"She glanced at them as she was passing out, asked me if she could look
at them, placed her sewing on the table, looked at them all, took up her
sewing and went away."

"Did she put her sewing down near where they were on the table?" asked
the captain.

"Yes, because I remember that she had to move it once, in order to see
one or two that were lying under it."

"Do you remember whether the Crimson Patch was among those she looked at
or commented on?"

"No, I don't remember. I was busy taking out some stitches in my
fancy-work at the time,—something that had gone wrong,—and I didn't
particularly notice what she said. But I'm almost sure she didn't
mention that one."

"She might very easily have concealed it under her work and walked off
with it," he went on. "Of course, I don't say she _did_, but she might
have, had she been so inclined. Now, how about Chester Jackson?"

"Oh, he couldn't possibly have taken a thing without my knowing it. He
just leaned over the table and looked at them all and giggled and
laughed over their names and said they were 'bully good stuff.' I saw
him practically every minute of the time, except for two seconds when I
ran into my room for another spool of thread. And he left without a
thing in his hands that he could have hidden it in or under."

"The 'two seconds' you were out of the room might have been sufficient
for him," commented Captain Meade. "So he isn't eliminated, either. But
I rather suspect him less than any of the others. How about Peter?"

"_He's_ the one, I haven't a doubt. I always did suspect him of being up
to something. Of _course_ he took it, Daddy! He went and set his tray
right down on top of the whole lot of them, when he came in, in what I
thought was the stupidest fashion, and I made him take it right up while
I cleared them all aside. I believe he could have slipped the sketch
under his tray and kept it out of my sight and got away with it without
the slightest trouble. Can't you see it, Daddy?" cried Patricia,
eagerly. Captain Meade looked only half convinced.

"Do you happen to remember whether that particular sketch was uppermost
when he came in?"

"No, I don't honestly remember. But I know that the Purple Dart was
uppermost when I moved them out of his way. It just happened to catch my
eye in passing."

"Well, that proves nothing, of course. But the question now is, what in
the world are we going to do about it? I dare not do any telephoning at
this time of night (or rather, morning, for it's three o'clock!) or even
go out, without exciting suspicion. And that's the last thing I want to
attract to myself. Better have it appear that I care nothing about the
sketch than to raise a breeze about its disappearance. I had thought
that perhaps you might find out from your friend the Belgian girl
whether by any chance it had slipped in with her own by mistake. But
that must be done later and done with the greatest caution or the fat
will be in the fire. And it's too late to order anything brought to the
room, or I might have a chance to interview our waiter and bell-boy.
Nothing for it, I guess, but to go to bed and get what sleep we can.
It's been a bad day's work, honey, but don't blame yourself for a single
thing. It's only one of those unpleasant combinations of fortune that
will happen, plan as we may. And don't worry. That never did any good
yet. Go to sleep and trust that everything's going to come out all
right!"

In spite of which injunction, however, no sleep visited the unhappy
Patricia for the remainder of the night.



                               CHAPTER VI
                          THE MYSTERY DEEPENS


During that sleepless night, however, Patricia laid some plans of her
own, which she purposed to put into execution the next day. She felt
weary and lifeless after the excitement and worry of the previous night
and the hours of restless tossing that followed. Her father, likewise,
seemed fatigued and depressed, though he strove hard, for her sake, as
she privately surmised, to appear cheerful and hopeful.

"We'll hurry through breakfast," he told her, as they left the room,
"and then I'll start out on the hunt. I've been thinking over a few of
the possibilities during the night, and some ideas have occurred to me
that I didn't think of at first. I want you to stay rather close to the
room to-day—that is, don't go out for any length of time till I get
back. I may not return before late afternoon, but don't let that worry
you. And don't lose heart, honey! It will probably turn out all right.
By the way, when we get down to the dining-room, please try to act as
nearly normal as possible, and as if nothing were wrong. It might be
fatal to let the world at large notice that all is not as usual. And, of
course, don't touch this subject, as far as conversation goes, with a
forty-foot pole!"

His latter injunctions Patricia found rather difficult to carry out. It
was far from easy to appear her usual care-free self when weighed down
with such a hideous burden of trouble. If she hadn't felt the thing to
be all her own fault, unwitting though it was, she could have borne it
better.

Most difficult of all was having to face Peter Stoger, who, in his usual
leaden way, waited upon them. His dull stupidity, she always felt,
covered a watchfulness, that being hidden, was more trying than if it
had been open and aboveboard. This morning she felt certain he was
watching them both, with a covert keenness, when he thought himself
unobserved. The captain treated Peter in precisely the same fashion as
usual. Once only did she observe anything unusual in his manner. This
was when the waiter, in passing behind him, brushed his shoulder with
the edge of his tray. It was a trivial matter, and, so Patricia thought,
would, as a rule, have called forth no comment from her father. But,
rather to her surprise, the captain turned on him with an impatient
gesture and the quite sharp remark, "Be careful, Peter!" The man
apologized almost servilely and backed away.

"That shows how worried and tired and upset Father is!" thought
Patricia. "He doesn't usually act that way over such a little thing. He
probably has his suspicions of that horrid man, too. I'm afraid he's
wishing he'd taken my advice about him at first."

Many times during the meal did she glance over toward the table usually
occupied by Virginie and Madame Vanderpoel, hoping, yet almost dreading,
to see them. But the table remained empty, nor did they appear at all in
the dining-room during that meal.

"Stay in the room as much as possible to-day," the captain again warned
her before he went away. "I don't want to think of these premises being
left free for any more queer things to happen."

"I will, but may I see Virginie?"

"I don't see any reason why you shouldn't, especially if it comes about
naturally. It won't do to seem to avoid these people, either. But don't
force any meeting, and above all things, I hardly need warn you to say
nothing about what has happened. That would spoil everything."

For some time after her father left, Patricia sat maturing her plans.
See Virginie this day she must, and she thought it could be effected in
the most natural manner possible. She would ask her to bring her
water-colors and sketches in again, and they would try to do some work,
she (Patricia) attempting to make some copies of the sketches under
Virginie's direction. In some such natural way the conversation might be
led around to her father's sketches, and she might have a chance to
determine whether the girl were at all involved in this dreadful affair.
Nothing about it need be mentioned directly. Patricia felt sure she
could determine, from Virginie's manner, how much she knew.

At ten o'clock she went over to the telephone and called up the office,
asking to be connected with room 404. The reply she received, caused her
a veritable shock.

"The room is vacant."

"_Vacant?_" she demanded. "You mean that Madame Vanderpoel and
Mademoiselle de Vos are out?"

"They have gone—left the hotel. They gave up the room this morning and
went away for good.... No, they didn't say where they were going or if
they intended to return."

Patricia hung up the receiver and crept over to a chair by the window. A
sort of black mist seemed to float before her eyes and her mind would
register no impressions save trivial ones for a long while. She was
aware of the distant roar of the city, borne across the more quiet
stretches of the park outside her window, of the sparrows chattering in
the branches, of the children romping in the quiet walks, the honking of
an arriving automobile, and of little else.

Then gradually her numbed brain recovered its normal action. Virginie
and her aunt were gone and without a single word to her, a single
farewell! Could their abrupt and mysterious departure indicate any but
one fact? After the strange disappearance of her father's sketch, what
could it mean except that one or both of them were guilty and they were
trying to conceal it by flight? One or both of them! No it _could_ not
be that Virginie was concerned. She would never, never believe that. And
yet, if it were not so, why had Virginie gone away without a single word
to the friend whom she declared she loved next best to her father?
Surely she could have managed to say a word or two over the telephone,
or scribble a tiny note! Perhaps she _had_ written a note and it would
arrive later in the mail. Patricia quite brightened for a few moments,
at the thought. She would wait and see what the day's post brought. That
would doubtless explain.

The morning hours dragged by. The weather was stifling and humid, and
Patricia sat by one of the opened windows of the darkened room. Try as
she would, she could not keep her depressed thoughts from picturing the
darkest aspect of everything. How her pleasant life had changed since
yesterday at this time, her bright hopes and plans collapsed like a
fragile castle of cards! Who would have dreamed such a calamity could
have befallen her?

At noon she telephoned down to the office to ask for the mail, and also,
as she felt no appetite, requested that some crackers and a glass of
milk be sent up at the same time, to the room. That was all the luncheon
she felt she could possibly manage.

Chester Jackson arrived with the letters and her order a few moments
later. The former she shuffled over nervously and hopefully. But they
were only communications for her father, and nothing at all for her. The
boy, watching her interestedly, noted the disappointment in her face.

"Miss your side-partner, don't you?" he queried.

"What's that?" she asked, absent-mindedly.

"You miss the mam'selle across the way a bit, I figure. You and her
seemed pretty thick."

"Yes, I do miss her very much," acknowledged Patricia, actually glad to
have any one to speak to on the subject. "But I'm awfully surprised that
she went away so suddenly. I never even knew she was gone."

"You didn't, hey? Well, looka here! She gave me a message to give to
you—that is, she _meant_ it for a message, I reckon, only she didn't get
it all off her mind."

"Oh, what _was_ it?" cried Patricia, excitedly, her darkest suspicions
of her friend vanishing at once. "I knew she would want to send some
word to me."

"Well, it was this way. They sent down word to the office they was
leavin', and for some one to come up and help bring down their hand
luggage. So I went up to get 'em. The missus was bustlin' about good an'
lively, but the gal was sort of teary and not doin' much. But when the
little mam'selle handed me her grip,—the t'other one's back was turned
for a minute,—she whispered to me low, 'Tell Miss Meade I'm going—' But
she didn't get no further, 'cause the other one turned round quick like
an' called me to come an' help her strap a bag. An' from that time till
they left the place she never took her eyes offen the young 'un, an'
_she_ never got no chance to finish it up. But I thought I'd jest tell
you that much, anyway."

"Oh, thank you so much for that, anyhow!" breathed Patricia. "But I
can't understand why she was afraid to say it right out and let her aunt
hear. It seems very strange."

"You needn't think that's the only queer thing about that pair," he
hinted darkly. "I could tell you an earful if I chose!"

Patricia was just on the point of begging him to do so, when some
delicate instinct bade her desist. Was it, after all, kind, or even
honorable, to pry into the affairs of a friend, to hear "back-stair"
gossip about them from a bell-boy in a hotel?

"Well, thank you very much for delivering the message," she remarked,
"and please drop this letter in the mail-chute as you go out."

And after he was gone, curious as she had been to hear what he had to
say about them, she was glad she had resisted the temptation.

The stifling afternoon dragged on. Patricia found ample food for thought
in the news she had heard from the bell-boy, and spent the hours in
fruitless surmise. On one score at least, she was relieved, almost
happy. Virginie had not tried to slip away without letting her know she
was going—perhaps she was trying to tell her destination; perhaps she
was promising to write. But whatever it was, she had at least tried to
send her some word. But why had her companion seemed to suspect it, to
make it impossible? If indeed, she _had_! Why had not Madame Vanderpoel
herself left a pleasant message of regret at leaving, when she had
seemed so cordial, so friendly? Patricia could not but admit that the
action had a very dark and suspicious aspect, after what had happened
the night before.

And that brought her back again to her own troubles: The Crimson
Patch!—who had taken it? Which one of the four that had had access to
the room last night had concealed and carried it away? All of a sudden
she sat up very straight. There were _not_ four—there were only _three_!
For beyond all question she was certain now that Chester Jackson was in
nowise concerned in the matter. She could not explain how she knew—she
simply _knew_. Something in that honest, snub-nosed, smiling face, those
candid, merry eyes, assured her. Chet Jackson was unquestionably
eliminated from the subject, and the puzzle was reduced to a triangle.

Half an hour later there was another knock at the door and Chester,
re-appearing, presented her with a special delivery letter. He stood
informally watching her while she tore it open and read it breathlessly.
It was from her father, written that morning from New York, and it told
her that he thought he was on the track of something that seemed
important. The matter would keep him over night, but she must not be
alarmed. She was to put herself in Mrs. Quale's care from dinner-time
on, and he would return the next day and tell her all about things. That
was all.

Though he had touched on nothing directly, Patricia was certain, of
course, that he referred to the matter of the Crimson Patch. She was
glad that he seemed to be in the way of discovering anything at all that
would lead to the unraveling of their difficulty, but she felt suddenly
very forlorn at the thought of his being away over night for the first
time. And Chet, watching her keenly, saw her face fall.

"Any bad news?" he inquired casually.

"No," she replied, rather pleased to have some one to talk to, so lonely
had been her day. "Father's going to be away over night on some
important business. I'll miss him awfully."

"Say!" ventured Chet, in a confidential tone, "I ask your pardon for
speakin' about it, but you folks have had some trouble since yesterday,
haven't you?"

Rather startled, Patricia nodded her head. Then she looked alarmed, to
think that, by even so much, she had revealed something of her father's
secret.

"Never you mind!" Chet assured her. "Don't get scared because you think
you're giving anything away. I know a heap more than any one thinks I
do." And at her amazed expression, he added:

"I'm goin' to tell you somethin'. It's a secret and don't you let on to
anybody. I ain't goin' to be a bell-hop all my life, I ain't. I got
ambition, and this here hotel life ain't for me."

"What—what are you going to be then?" stammered the astonished Patricia.

"I'm goin' to be a detective or a secret service agent or somethin' like
that. I got it in me, I have. Sort of sense things out an' nose 'em down
when no one suspects I'm anything but a 'buttons' in this here hotel.
It's great sport. You see, not suspectin' I got more'n enough sense to
carry me through the day's work, folks lets out a lot of things before
me that they think I don't catch on to, an' I see a whole heap I'm not
supposed to see. An' this here war has made a lot of lively doings about
this place, I can tell you."

Patricia listened breathlessly. Here was confirmation of her own ideas,
and more. Chet Jackson, beside being undoubtedly innocent of any
complicity in the matter of the Crimson Patch might even become a
valuable ally, if she did but dare to enlist his aid. She suddenly
decided on a bold move.

"Chester," she said, "if you're going to do any detective work, try and
do a little for us. The only trouble is, I can't tell you anything much
about things, because they are very, very important secrets. So I don't
know how you're going to get to work on it."

"Don't worry about tellin' me so much. I know a whole lot about you
folks that you don't think I do. You'd be s'prised if I told you how
much I _do_ know!" Chet assured her darkly. "I gotta go now, because I
been away from the office long enough. But next time I see you I'll tell
you what I know an' we can decide what I'd better do. So long!"

And he was gone, leaving her in a maze of wonder over this new
development.



                              CHAPTER VII
                               LEFT ALONE


Patricia went back into the room and sat down to think it all over.
Chester Jackson's curious remarks had disturbed her strangely. What he
had said about knowing "a heap more about things" than any one thought
he did was a little alarming, to say the least. What did he—what _could_
he know about her father's affairs, and how could he have found it out?
If only he had time to tell her before he rushed away, and not left her
with this bewildering scrap of information!

However, one thing was becoming every moment more certain in her mind.
The boy was innocent of any part in the disappearance of the Crimson
Patch, and might, besides, be enlisted as an ally in its recovery, if
only she dared to confide in him more fully. She wished with all her
soul that her father were with her, that he was not to be detained away
over night. She wanted to talk it all over with him, to ascertain how
much he thought it wise to trust this boy. But he was not here, and
presently she must go and put herself in the care of Mrs. Quale for the
night. Even now she ought to be calling up that lady on the telephone,
as it was nearly dinner-time.

She went to the telephone and asked to be connected with Mrs. Quale's
room. The reply she received caused her a veritable shock.

"Mrs. Quale came in a while ago and then went out again, saying she
would be away over night in New York."

Patricia hung up the receiver and sat down in the nearest chair with a
little, frightened shiver. She would be alone over night, in this big,
strange hotel, surrounded perhaps by unseen and unknown enemies. Oh, if
she could only communicate with her father and urge him to come back at
once! But that was not possible. He had said he was in New York, but had
given no address, probably because he was hurrying about from place to
place and did not intend to stop anywhere for the night. It was
certainly unfortunate that Mrs. Quale had elected to be away at the same
time. Well, it was too bad, but it was not fatal. In all probability,
nothing unforeseen of any kind would happen. There was no reason why it
should.

Suddenly a bright idea came to her. If Mrs. Quale's maid, Delia, had not
accompanied her mistress to New York, why would it not be possible to
ask her to come down and spend the night? Her companionship would be
better than none at all. In the long weeks of her intimacy with Mrs.
Quale, Patricia had grown to realize that Delia was becoming rather fond
of her, in her queer, taciturn way, and would probably be glad to be of
any help. She decided to go upstairs now to see her and talk it over.

Her interview proved rather a difficult one. Patricia had not Mrs.
Quale's ease in communicating with a deaf person, and it was some time
before Delia understood what she was driving at. And even when she did,
there was hesitancy.

"I've a bad earache to-night," she averred, "that's why Mrs. Quale
didn't take me with her. I have it quite often. I'm afraid I won't be
much company for you, Miss Patricia, and I wanted to go to bed pretty
early."

"Oh, I'm not going to stay up late!" cried Patricia, "and, of course,
you can have Father's room. I just want you to be there near me. Father
would be dreadfully upset if he thought I was here alone."

"Very well, then," Delia consented at last. "To be sure, I wouldn't have
you worried, nor the captain worried about you, even if I am too
miserable to hold up my head. I'll be down at half past eight. I've
things that will keep me busy till then."

After that, Patricia decided to worry no further about the matter, dress
for dinner, go down to the dining-room, and take her meal as if she
expected her father at any minute. After that, she would read and sew
and write some letters and go to bed as usual. The sensible resolve
steadied her. She put on her lightest and coolest attire, for the
evening was still very hot, and at a very early hour went down to the
dining-room. She wanted to have this ordeal over as speedily as
possible, for she dreaded sitting at her table alone and being waited on
by Peter Stoger.

To her intense surprise, he was not there. She was served by another
waiter, and Peter did not appear during the entire meal. Where in the
world could _he_ be? She ventured to question the new attendant about
the usual waiter, but received only the reply that he was away for the
day. It was certainly all very mystifying.

After dinner, which passed without any unusual happenings, she went into
the lounge, supplied herself with some new magazines, and hurried away
to her room. The absence of Peter Stoger disturbed her more than she
cared to admit, even to herself. She disliked and feared him enough when
he was present, but in his absence he seemed positively terrifying. She
sat down by the window in the gathering twilight to think it all over.

Three of them gone—the very three on whom suspicion rested most heavily!
The Crimson Patch gone with them. Her father gone too, involved in who
knew what troubles, what difficulties, in his search. What _was_ this
strange Crimson Patch, anyway? Patricia shut her eyes tight and strove
to call up the image of the sketch as she had seen it last. It was
nothing, it was absolutely nothing but the cleverly executed sketch in
water-colors of a peculiar species of butterfly with a bright crimson
spot on each lower wing. There was nothing about it that was different,
nothing that she could remember, to distinguish it from the many other
sketches in her father's possession. That it could harbor any secret,
and especially any government secret, seemed absolutely absurd. And
yet—it must be so.

Then her mind wandered back to Virginie. Where was she now? What had she
tried so hard to communicate in that broken, incomplete message to
Chester Jackson? Would they ever see each other again? In twenty-four
hours, life had suddenly assumed a very complicated aspect to Patricia.
She could scarcely realize now how happy and care-free she had been last
night at this very hour. It did not seem as if she could be the same
person, so many were the perplexing problems on her mind.

And this brought her thoughts back to Chester Jackson. She must see him
again, as soon as possible, and discover what it was that he knew about
herself and her father and his affairs. She would call up the office and
ask to have something sent to the room. So determined, she switched on
the lights, went to the telephone and asked to have some of the hotel
stationery sent up. There was nothing else she could think of, just at
the moment. The knock at the door a few moments later sent her flying to
it, her mind full of the questions she planned to ask. To her intense
chagrin, it was another bell-boy who brought the paper.

Scarcely able to murmur her thanks, she turned back into the room and
shut the door. Had Chester, too, deserted her? What could possibly have
happened? It was the first time she could remember that he had not
personally answered the summons. If he had also, for some inscrutable
reason, left the hotel on this fateful night, she would certainly feel
herself to be deserted of all mankind.



                              CHAPTER VIII
                            A PIECE OF PAPER


Delia having appeared at the time agreed on, and promptly withdrawing to
her own room, Patricia continued to worry for an hour and a half over
the problem that was perplexing her, trying vainly to write letters or
concentrate her mind on a book. But it was useless, and at length she
determined to put an end to her misery and suspense, in that direction
at least, and ring for something else. If Chester Jackson did not answer
this time, it would mean that he too had gone or been removed, and that
she was left without a single friend to rely on.

So once again she telephoned, this time for ice-water, and waited in
breathless suspense for the answering knock. The curly head and merry
eyes of Chet Jackson at the door was like a bracing tonic to her
overwrought nerves.

"Oh!" she quavered. "Whatever happened to you? I thought you were gone,
too."

He gazed at her in unfeigned astonishment. "I don't get yer!" he
remarked. "There ain't nothin' happened to _me_!"

She explained her agitation, and he laughed unfeelingly. "Gee! I gotta
_eat_ sometime or other. An' half past seven's about as early as I can
usually strike it. You hit my supper hour, miss!"

She laughed in relief and followed Chet as he came into the room to
place the tray on the table.

"Chester, I want to know the rest of what you were trying to tell me
this afternoon. What is it that you have found out? And how have you
discovered things?"

He glanced about the room cautiously, then tiptoed over and closed the
door into the hall.

"You can't be too careful in this place," he said apologetically. "I'll
tell you all I can in the little time I can spare, an' if I don't have a
chance to finish it now, I will come some other time. I bet you'll
hardly believe me, but I knew before ever you folks landed here that
your dad—beg pardon!—that the captain was comin' here an that he had
something secret an' important for the Gov'ment up his sleeve."

Patricia started involuntarily. "How—how did you know that?" she
stammered.

He grinned. "I told you I could make you sit up an' take notice. _Now_ I
guess you'll believe me! Well, I doped that out from the conversation of
two gents who had a room here for a couple of nights an' left the day
before you came. They was sending for things constant, eats and drinks
an' what not,—an' I was kept runnin' to their room as reg'lar as
clockwork. I got onto the fact that they was on the watch for some one
from one or two things they said before me. They seemed to think I was
deaf or dumb or hadn't any brains, just because I was only a bell-hop,
an' you bet I acted the part all right. So they often talked right out
before me, seemin' to think I wouldn't take it in.

"Once, when I came in, one of 'em was sayin', 'He's a captain in the
army, but he's not on active service 'cause he's been wounded; but I got
word from headquarters he's doin' something worth lookin' into. He's
comin' here in a day or two. He's got to be watched an' watched hard.
He's camouflagin' it, too, with some lecture stuff or other, but that
don't count.' 'Nother time, one of 'em says: 'He arrives to-morrow, so
we'll disappear to-night. But it's all right. Franz is on the job, and
so will Hofmeyer be, after to-morrow.'

"Well, there was other things, too, little things I can't remember now,
but I says to myself, 'This here looks shady, Chet; better get on the
job an' do a little detectin' work on your own! I didn't know this
'captain' from Adam, but I hate to see any one get done, especially by a
pair of Huns, like them two looked, so I decided to keep my eyes open.
Well, sure enough, them two gave up their room the night before you
came, an' I've never laid eyes on 'em since. The next day you arrived,
an' I just naturally cottoned to you both right away. You're the right
sort. You don't act as if a bell-hop was made of wood an' hadn't any
brains or any feelin's either. You treat 'em like human beings. An' your
dad—I mean your father—gee! I could lie down an' let him walk all over
me if he wanted to!

"An' I made up my mind more than ever that I wasn't goin' to let any one
put it over you two if _I_ could help it. So I kept my eyes open an'
managed it so's I could answer most of the calls in this corridor. An'
I've seen a few little things that would bear lookin' into."

Patricia had stood drinking in this information with swiftly beating
heart. "Chester," she exclaimed softly, "this is fine of you, and I
appreciate what you have done more than I can tell you, and so would
Father if he knew! But tell me, who is this 'Franz' and 'Hofmeyer'? Have
you discovered that? I have a special reason for asking."

"There ain't any one in this place who goes by either of them two
names," he replied, "but of course that don't count. Naturally, they
ain't the names any one would hand in here. But I got my suspicions
about one person in this here hotel, an' I think I don't have to give
you a hundred guesses who, either." He looked at her meaningly.

"You—you mean the waiter, Peter Stoger?" she hesitated.

"You said it!" he remarked succinctly. "He's a shady one, all right!
Say, if you'll believe me, I seen him once without his gilt teeth—"

"What?" gasped Patricia, incredulously.

"Yep, they was nothin' but a set of false caps, fit on over his real
teeth. He was hurryin' down the hall from his room, an' I guess he'd had
'em off an' forgotten 'em. After I passed him, I looked back an' saw him
take somethin' out of his pocket an' raise his hands to his mouth. Oh,
he's slick, all right! An' that funny droop in his eye, too. Once in a
while he ain't got that, either. He can do it himself somehow or other.
They're both just disguises, that's all. An' I bet my hat he's either
Franz or Hofmeyer, for looka here: he came the same day you folks did."

"Oh, I knew it!" sighed Patricia. "I knew there was something wrong
about him. I've felt it all along. But tell me, Chester, one more thing.
I must ask it, though I hate to. Have you ever discovered anything—queer
about—about Madame Vanderpoel and—and Mademoiselle de Vos? I hate to ask
it about them, but—but I have a reason."

"They was a curious pair, all right," replied Chet musingly. "An' I
could never rightly make 'em out. At first I was on to 'em good an'
proper, because the madame had her room changed from one on the next
floor to down here right opposite you. An' she sure did act queer to
that little mam'selle; or at least the mam'selle acted queer to her—as
if she just couldn't stand her. But I never saw the madame act ugly to
her till to-day when she wouldn't give her a chance to send you that
message. I watched 'em like a cat, but I never saw nothin' that made me
suspicious that they was harmful to you folks, an' you seemed to cotton
so to the little mam'selle. But there was somethin' always that seemed
to me blamed funny in the way she hated that madame, an' it used to make
me want to find out why.

"But say, I gotta go down now. I don't darst stay here another minute,
this trip. But before I go, I'll tell you this much. After that pair
left to-day, I had an errand on this floor, an' I just sauntered into
their vacant room a moment, before the chambermaid cleaned it up, to
have a look around. They hadn't left nothin' of interest, that I could
see, except just this. I found it in the waste-basket. Maybe you'd like
to have it."

He thrust a piece of torn and crumpled paper into Patricia's hand and
was gone before she had time to say another word.



                               CHAPTER IX
                         A MESSAGE IN THE NIGHT


Patricia took the crumpled scrap of paper to the table and smoothed it
out under the lamp. It was a single sheet and was torn almost in two,
one way across and partially along all its edges, as if an attempt had
been made to destroy it, an attempt that had not been totally
successful, probably because the paper was rather thick and tough. It
looked very much as if some one had tried at first to tear it in pieces,
and, not having succeeded in this, had simply crumpled it and thrown it
away. The writing was in a fine, cramped, almost foreign-looking hand.
And the note, for such it appeared to be, was un-addressed, beginning
abruptly, without a name, and signed at the end with only an initial.
Patricia read it through wonderingly. It ran thus:

"Mary and George have arrived. Heard they got home yesterday. Can it be
true? Let no circumstances detain you. Need I say more to you? If they
stay in town while here, I can no longer visit them. We go out every
week to see cousins. Their house is quite new in the suburbs. See
Hanford before you leave. At a store there once had good cream. Meet
Mary soon and you will find Josephine there.

                                                                    "F."

"Well of all the silly letters!" thought Patricia, after the first
reading. "What can it all mean? Of course, it refers to people and
circumstances I don't know anything about, but even so, it sounds sort
of scrappy. I wonder why Chet wanted me to read it? I suppose I really
shouldn't have done so. I feel as if I'd been prying into some one's
affairs in a rather horrid way, reading the letter they thought they had
destroyed. I suppose it was one of Madame Vanderpoel's. It isn't in the
least interesting, anyway, and I do wonder why Chet saved it and asked
me to read it. All I get from it is that somebody 'arrived' and she had
to go, probably to meet them. Perhaps that explains why they left so
suddenly. Well, Chester will have to explain later why he thought it
worth showing to me."

Then her mind reverted to the strange, unnerving revelations the boy had
made concerning her father, the unknown pair who had known so much about
his affairs and had left before they arrived, and the terrible Franz and
Hofmeyer who had doubtless been spying on them all the time, and who,
even now, were probably in possession of the Crimson Patch. And Peter
Stoger—spy without doubt and a disguised one at that—confirming her
worst suspicions of him! By what a hideous net they were surrounded! And
her father did not even know all these details. How helpful they might
be to him in his search, if she could only put him in possession of the
facts. But that was impossible till he was with her again in person. And
meantime, there was all this long night to be got through, without her
father to share her anxiety.

She took up the crumpled note once more and read it again, critically.
At the second reading it struck her as even more foolish and disjointed
than at first. It really meant very little when boiled down to the bare
facts. It seemed scarcely possible that Madame Vanderpoel could find any
very informing news in it.

While she was still studying it, the telephone rang with a sudden
shrillness that caused her to jump, and she hurried over to take down
the receiver.

"Hello! hello!" she heard from very far away. "Is that you, Patricia?"
And she recognized her father's voice.

"Oh, yes, yes, Daddy! Where are you? Are you coming back to-night?"

"No, I cannot do that," came the answer. "I called up to see whether you
were all right. I was a little worried about you. How are you getting
on?"

Patricia was on the point of telling him all her troubles and her
loneliness and the absence of Mrs. Quale, when something stopped her.
Her father was having far heavier worries of his own. Why should she
burden him with these lighter ones? It would help him far more if she
put a brave face on everything and answered him cheerfully, so she
summoned all her courage and answered brightly:

"I'm all right, Daddy. Fine as a fiddle. But tell me, are you
succeeding? Have you had any luck?"

"We've struck something that looks very important," he returned. "But
I'll have to tell you, dear, that it may keep me away another whole day,
and possibly even over another night. You must get along somehow. Keep
Mrs. Quale close to you. Tell her it's very urgent. I'll call up
to-morrow night, if possible, but I may not have another chance before
that. Now I must stop, for this is long distance and costing like
Sancho. Can you manage, honey?"

"Yes, oh, yes!" she assured him in a voice from which she tried to keep
a quaver of fear.

"Then, good-bye!"

Patricia hung up the receiver and walked back to the table in a daze.
Not a single chance had she had to tell her father some of the important
details revealed by Chester Jackson; and even if the chance had
presented itself, she doubted if it would have been wise to divulge them
over the telephone. But if her father were on the track of any important
discovery, perhaps it was just as well that she had not. And by the way,
he had said, "_we've_ struck something!" now what in the world could he
mean by "_we_?" She had not supposed that he would admit any one else
into the secret. Well, it was all very mysterious, and it was growing
more so every moment. And he was to be away at least twenty-four hours
longer!

Again her glance fell on the foolish and disjointed little note lying on
the table, and it vaguely disturbed her. Its very lack of meaning held
something sinister in it. She looked at her watch and took a sudden
resolution. It was not yet quite ten. She _must_ see Chester Jackson
once more before he went to his own home for the night, and she
remembered that he had said he went off duty at ten-thirty.

"I don't know what the hotel people will think of my wanting so many
things," and she smiled rather ruefully, "but I don't very much care.
This is too important." She went to the telephone and ordered a glass of
milk and some crackers to be sent up.

Jackson arrived in a few minutes with the tray and a broad grin.

"I thought you'd be needin' something else after a while!" he remarked,
as he placed the tray on the table. "Make anything out of the nice
little note I handed you?"

"Why no. It seems to me simply crazy. There doesn't seem to be any sense
_to_ it, not even if one knew all the people and circumstances it
referred to. Can you make anything of it?"

"I didn't at first," he replied; "but I just naturally doped it out that
there was something shifty about it. So I took it all to pieces, and put
it together again, and turned it every which way, and all at once I got
on to it. You can just _bet_ it means something, and something pretty
slick at that!"

"Oh, tell me. Tell me quickly!" cried Patricia. "How did you find it all
out?"

"Well," began Chet, plainly enjoying very much his rôle of _Sherlock
Holmes_, "there was just one word in the thing that made me sit up and
take notice. And that word was 'Hanford.' Do you know what Hanford is?"

Patricia shook her head.

"Well, it's a little two-cent hole of a town about ten miles from here.
Nothin' special to it at all, just a little, one-horse country town with
about thirty houses and a couple of hundred inhabitants. There ain't any
reason on this livin' earth why any one should 'see Hanford,' because
there ain't nothin' in it _to_ see! So I just shied at that, I did. An'
I took Hanford as a startin' point, an' I turned and twisted that note
inside out and upside down till, all off a sudden, I struck it! I gotta
go now. I got another call to tend to on this floor. But you just take
that note and put a pencil mark under every fourth word and copy them
out afterward an' see what you get. I'll be back after a while to get
this tray. Don't forget—_every fourth word_!"

When he was gone, Patricia got a pencil and paper and did as he had
instructed her. She counted off every fourth word in the letter,
underlined it, and feverishly copied down the sequence. The result
caused her to drop her pencil and sit staring at the paper, while a
shiver of fear ran icily down her spine. The reconstructed letter ran:

  Have got it. No need to stay here longer. Go to house in Hanford at
  once. Meet you there.

                                                                    F.

The meaning of the communication was only too clear.

Ten minutes later there was a knock at the door and Chet reappeared. He
only glanced at the sentences she had written and remarked:

"Guess that made you sit up and take notice, didn't it?"

"Oh, Chester," she moaned. "It's awful! It just confirms my worst
suspicions. Do you suppose some one sent it to Madame—Vanderpoel?
Who—who could it have been?"

"We can be pretty plum sure of _one_ thing," remarked Chet. "The note is
signed 'F' an' it don't take much guessin' to dope out that F stands for
Franz; but who Franz is, unless it's that slick Peter Stoger, I can't
guess. But as Peter has lit out too, we wouldn't be so far off to take
it for Peter, I fancy. But say, Miss, will you pardon me if I ask an
awful personal question? _Did_ you folks lose anything or miss anything
before last night? If you haven't, I don't quite get what it means by
those words, 'Have got it.'"

Patricia thought hard for a moment. Should she or should she not confide
in this boy the secret she had been guarding for her father? What would
her father wish her to do? It was plain that he knew a great deal about
their affairs already, and was as honest and straightforward as even her
father could wish. Perhaps, too, he might be of infinite help in
unraveling the tangle. She would risk it. She would risk all and tell
him. But she felt firmly convinced that the risk was not very great.

"Yes, Chester," she acknowledged. "We _have_ missed something—the most
important thing my father has. You wouldn't think so to look at it, for
it is only one of those pretty sketches of butterflies that you were
looking at yesterday. I didn't know about it at the time, or I wouldn't
have left it around; but sometime during that afternoon or evening it
disappeared, and Father is almost frantic about it. He is off hunting
for it now, and has been ever since morning. I—oh, I just hate to think
that Madame Vanderpoel or Mademoiselle de Vos took it or were in any way
concerned with it. I—I think an awful lot of Mademoiselle Virginie.
We—we were friends."

Chet scratched his head and thought deeply for several moments. "Which
sketch was it, if I may ask?" he said at length.

"The one called the Crimson Patch," she replied. "Do you remember seeing
it?"

"You bet I do!" he cried enthusiastically. "I remember that one
particular because it had a queer name and was such a purty one. Gee!
that proves one thing, at least. It didn't disappear _before_ I come in,
so the responsible party must have come afterward. Who was in here
later?"

"Why, only Peter Stoger and Virginie. But _she_ didn't take it, I know.
I will never, never believe such a thing of _her_!"

"Sure she didn't!" agreed Chet. "It must have been Peter. Of course it
was Peter, don't you see? 'Cause if he's Franz, he sends a note
afterward to the madame that he's got it, an' they all beat it out of
here. Can't get it any straighter than _that_!"

"But what has poor little Virginie to do with all this?" wondered
Patricia, distractedly. "Surely—surely she can't be working with a lot
of horrid spies. What _is_ the explanation?"

"You can search me!" rejoined the boy. "I ain't on to the dope about
that little mam'selle an' never was. She's a plum deep mystery, she is.
But one thing is sure—"

At that moment the telephone bell rang again, and they both jumped
nervously. Patricia went to it and took down the receiver. There was a
faint, "Hello!" to which she responded, and then silence.

"Why, that's queer!" she said in an aside to Chester. "Nobody seems to
answer. And the voice that said hello first seemed so faraway and
scared—"

"Hello! hello!" she exclaimed again, turning to the receiver. "Yes, yes,
this _is_ Patricia.... Oh, Virginie! is it _you_?... Oh, I can't hear
you very well. Can't you speak a little louder?... You can't?... What is
that you say?... You want to warn me.... What about? I don't
understand.... There is danger?... Who is in danger?... I am?... We
_both_ are?... Oh, can't you tell me more plainly? Where are you?... You
are ... where?"

"Oh!" cried Patricia, turning to the listening boy. "She hung up the
receiver without telling me!"



                               CHAPTER X
                            A COUNCIL OF WAR


They stared at each other a moment in bewilderment. It was Chester who
spoke first.

"Are you sure it was the little mam'selle?" he questioned. "Did it sound
like her voice?"

"Oh, it was Virginie! I'm absolutely certain of it. I'd know her voice a
thousand miles away. But what does it all mean? She says there is
danger—that both she and I are in danger, and she was trying to warn me
about it. But she spoke so low, and she hesitated so, and then, just as
she was going to tell me where she was, there was the click of the
receiver being hung up and not another word. What _does_ it mean?"

"It means," affirmed the boy, after some thought, "that the little un
was speakin' to you over the 'phone on the q.t., an' she was probably
scared stiff for fear she'd be caught, an' she had to leave off before
she'd finished because some one was comin' along or somethin'. That's
the way I figure it."

"I believe you're right!" declared Patricia. "That's just the way her
voice sounded—'scared stiff,' as you say. But what on earth are we going
to do? She's in danger and we don't even know where she is; and I'm in
danger and I'm here all alone, except for Mrs. Quale's Delia, who is
with me for to-night. It's dreadful. Just dreadful! I don't know which
way to turn. I'd call up the police and put the thing in their hands if
I dared. But I don't dare. It would spoil everything for Father if
anything about this secret became generally known, and I don't even
think I ought to speak to the hotel authorities for the same reason.
What _am_ I going to do?"

"Looka here, Miss," began Chet, quietly, "I believe we can fix things
pretty near to all right. If you'd just be willin' to trust the matter
to me. I know I'm only a bell-hop, but I know a whole heap more'n most
folks think I do; an' bein' only a bell-hop is the very reason I can go
and see an' do a lot that others couldn't, just cause nobody's
suspectin' I'm up to anything. Do you get me?"

"Y-yes," faltered Patricia. "I think I see what you're driving at and I
really trust you absolutely. But what is your idea? What do you think
had better be done?"

The boy seemed to grow an inch taller with pride at Patricia's assertion
of her faith and trust in him. His snub-nosed countenance fairly beamed.
"Well, here's my idea. I gotta go off duty pretty soon an' go home. I
oughtn't to be hangin' around here now. I'll get what-for down in the
office for bein' away so long, anyhow. But I don't care. All in the
day's work! Now, I figure it this way. There ain't anything dangerous
goin' to happen to you to-night in this here hotel. You're as safe as a
church here as long as you keep your door locked. If you feel nervous,
better sit up as long as you can, an' read or something. Then if you
should see or hear anything queer, call right down to the office on the
'phone. You'd have the house detective up here so quick it'd make you
blink.

"But I'll tell you what I'll do besides. I'll beat it home as fast as I
can (I don't live so very far off) an' let my mother know where I am.
Then I'll take my motor-cycle (the one I bought for thirty dollars an'
put in order an' it runs like a bird!) an' I'll cruise around all night.
An' every once in a while I'll turn up in the park right below your
windows an' hang around a while an' whistle, 'It's a long, long trail.'
You'll hear me plain enough, for you're only on the third floor. An' if
everything ain't goin' all right, pull the shade clean up to the top,
an' I'll know somethin's wrong an' butt in here an' make it hot for
every one generally."

"Oh, Chester, that's awfully good of you!" sighed Patricia, in mingled
admiration and relief. "It will make me feel lots easier. I know I can't
sleep a wink, so I might just as well sit up and try to read or sew.
I'll keep the lights full on, and I'll follow your advice about calling
up the office if I think everything's not all right. But it will be such
a comfort to know that you will be nearby once in a while. Only it
doesn't seem as if you ought to be up all night when you've got to work
to-morrow."

"Don't you mind about me!" he assured her. "To-morrow's my day off, an'
I don't have to show up here at all till ten-thirty P. M., when I go on
night duty. You know I have one day a week."

"But, Chester," cried Patricia, in fresh alarm, "then I shall be all
alone here to-morrow, for Mrs. Quale may not be back till night, and I'm
sure Father won't. I suppose I'm silly, but this thing is so dreadfully
mysterious and—and uncertain that I'm just as much afraid of it in the
daytime as I am at night."

"You just quit worryin' about to-morrow," admonished Chet. "I got a
scheme up my sleeve for to-morrow, but you'll hear more about that from
me later. All I say about to-morrow is this: go down to breakfast as
usual and as early as possible and ask for your mail at the desk before
you eat. Then we'll see what to do next."

"But," objected Patricia, once more, "what about poor little Virginie?
She is in danger too—and we don't even know where she is or what the
danger is. Yet I feel as if we ought to do something about it. It isn't
right to leave her, is it, without trying to do a thing—"

"You just leave the little mam'selle's affairs to me too, for to-night,
an' don't worry about 'em no further," interrupted the boy. "I ain't got
time to tell you all I plan to do, but you can bet your boots I ain't
goin' to be idle. Good night, an' don't forget to go to breakfast an'
get your mail _early_!"

And Chester Jackson retired, closing the door behind him.



                               CHAPTER XI
                         AN ADVENTUROUS MISSION


The endless night was over at last. Through her windows, which faced
east, Patricia noticed that the sky was faintly streaked with pale
light, each moment growing more distinct. She had endured almost seven
hours of unbroken, nerve-racking suspense, yet nothing alarming had
happened. All night she had huddled in a chair by the living-room table,
the electric lights full on, even to the farthest wall-bracket,
listening breathlessly to the faintest creak or rustle, starting
terror-stricken at a sudden flapping of the window-shade, crouching
rigid at the slightest footfall outside her door.

Yet the cheering whistle of the war's most popular tune, every hour or
so, in the park below, assured her that Chet was true to his promise,
even if the loud chugging of his motor-cycle had not likewise informed
her of his intermittent presence. He was certainly proving himself a
friend, and a staunch one, in this time of her dire need.

With the coming of daylight she turned off the lights and lay down
awhile, exhausted by the night's vigil, but she did not sleep. She heard
Delia go quietly out soon after six. At seven she prepared to go down to
breakfast, and promptly at seven-thirty stopped at the desk in the
lounge for her mail, as Chet had directed. She found that she had two
letters, one a short note from Mrs. Quale, explaining that she had been
called away suddenly to New York by the illness of a niece, but expected
to be back that evening, and hoping Patricia had not needed her in the
meantime.

"She little knows how much I did need her!" sighed Patricia. "But thank
goodness! she's coming back to-night. I couldn't—I simply couldn't go
through another night like last!"

The other letter was directed to her in a handwriting she did not
recognize, and she prepared to read it while she was waiting for her
breakfast to be served. To her immense relief, Peter Stoger was still
absent. She had had the horrible suspicion that he might be there once
again to spy on her, perhaps even to be the instrument of the threatened
"danger."

While waiting for her cantaloupe she opened the second missive and read
it through in startled wonder. It was written in pencil and marked
midnight of the night before. It was inscribed also with a fine
disregard of spelling, punctuation, and grammar, was only a few
sentences long, and signed at the end, "C. J." It ran as follows:

  _Deer Miss_,

  I done a heap of scooting around last night on my moter-cicle and I
  found out quite a bit you will be intrested to no. If you _are_
  intrested will you please try to be at the sea wall in the park
  where you usully like to sit about nine this a m an we can talk it
  over. will wate for you their.

                                               Yours respeckfully,
                                                                 C. J.

"Bless that kind boy's heart!" thought Patricia. "He certainly is a
trump! I don't know what on earth I'd be doing now if it weren't for his
help. I'll be there without fail."

Promptly at nine she was at the tryst by the sea-wall, a bench shaded by
an overhanging tree where she frequently came with her book or sewing to
enjoy the beautiful view out over the water and the invigorating salt
air. Chet was there before her, sitting unostentatiously with his legs
hanging over the sea-wall, apparently absorbed in the occupation of
fishing with a rod and reel.

"Hullo! Good morning!" he greeted her, with his usual infectious grin.
"Catch any Hun spies lurkin' around last night?"

"No indeed!" she answered him quite gaily. "I didn't see one—not a
single one."

"Well, I had better luck than you, then!" he replied, looking about
cautiously to see that no one was approaching along the foot-path.

"Oh, Chester! How? What do you mean?"

"Well, what do you think of this? Last night, after I left the hotel, I
went right home an' got out my motor-cycle and made a bee-line for
Hanford. I somehow figured that we'd better find out that queer dope
about Hanford first of all. I hadn't a ghost of an idea where in the
place that house might be, but I told you before that there weren't so
many houses there, anyhow, an' I just figured I could mosey around an'
take a squint at 'em all an' try to figure out which was the most
likely.

"It's a lonesome kind of a place, 'cause there ain't no railroad nor
even a trolley-line runnin' near it. I didn't want to go chuggin'
through it on my cycle, waking the dead with the racket, so I hid it in
a little clump of woods just outside the place an' went huntin' round on
foot. First I went through the main street, an' every house an' store
was shut up as tight an' dark as a graveyard. Nothin' doin' there. Then
I gave all the rest of the houses the once-over. No better luck!

"The only place left was one way out on the road toward Crampton. It's a
lonesome kind of a hole, old farm-house with queer, dinky, green wooden
shutters all in a piece an' a slantin' roof goin' almost down to the
ground at the back. It used to be all sort of tumblin' to pieces an'
deserted, but a man around here bought it an' fixed it all up modern
inside an' painted it, an' rents it out in the summer to city folks for
a few months. I didn't rightly know whether it was occupied this season
or not, 'cause I ain't been that way lately, but I thinks to myself,
I'll go past it an' see, before I give up the hunt.

"Sure enough, the place was lit up on the ground floor an' one room
upstairs too. But the shades were all drawn down tight. So I just
sneaked around quiet an' hid in the bushes near the front door an' one
of the windows, an' lay low to see if anything would happen. I didn't
want to stay too long, either, 'cause I wanted to get back an' give you
the signal I was on the job. Well, nothin' did happen for so long I was
just goin' to give it up, when all of a sudden the front door opened an'
a woman come out an' stood on the little porch—"

"Oh, who _was_ it?" cried Patricia, in a fever of impatience.

"You can search me!" he replied. "She ain't no one I ever see before.
She was a queer-lookin' specimen, dressed like a maid in a black dress
an' white cap an' apron. I could see her quite well, 'cause the light
was shinin' out from the hall behind her. She was tall an' bony and sort
of grouchy-lookin'. Well, she sat down on one of the little side-benches
on the porch to get the air, I guess, 'cause it was pipin' hot. An' all
of a sudden some one else slipped out of the door very quiet an' sat
down on the bench opposite. An' I bet you can't guess who that was."

"Oh, _who_?" breathed Patricia.

"_The little mam'selle!_"

"Chester, you are a trump!" cried Patricia, springing up excitedly.
"What did you do?"

"Why, I didn't do nothin' but lay low, of course. I sure would have
spilled the beans if I'd jumped out an' hollered who I was, then. I just
stayed and listened to what went on. The grouchy maid said: 'You better
go in. The madame will not like it.' An' the little un' said: 'Oh,
Melanie, let me stay just a few moments! It is so hot in my room. I need
the air.' Then the grouchy maid grunted something that sounded like
French. I couldn't get on to it at all. They didn't say no more, but sat
a while, an' bimeby both got up an' went in. An' soon after all the
lights went out in the place, an' I knew it wasn't no use to stay
longer, so I beat it back here."

[Illustration:

  "Oh, Melanie, let me stay just a few moments!"
]

"Chester," exclaimed Patricia, at the end of this recital, "what are we
going to do?"

"Well, I got a plan," he acknowledged. "I don't know whether you'll
stand for it or not, but here it is, anyway. An' I can promise you that
if you go in for it, you won't come to a bit of harm. It ain't possible,
the way I got it fixed, an' we may do a whole lot of good, at least as
far as the little mam'selle is concerned, an' maybe something about this
here Crimson Patch beside. Here's my scheme:

"I got an older brother who owns a secondhand auto an' runs it like a
jitney. That's his business. But sometimes he takes a day off when I do
an' we go fishin' together or somethin'. He's off to-day, same as me.
An' you can trust him just the same as me. He ain't a born detective
like I am, but he's honest as honest an' he knows how to hold his tongue
an' ask no questions. So I ain't explainin' everything to him.

"Now I figure that it ain't healthy for you to stay all day alone around
that hotel if there's anything in this 'danger' business. Not that you
wouldn't be safe enough if you sit tight, but you can't tell what
complicatin' thing might come up, an' you ain't got a soul around to
advise you, not even me. Now suppose you come out to Hanford with me an'
Ted in the auto, an' we'll hang around an' lie low an' see if we can get
hold of the little mam'selle somehow an' find out what this here mess is
all about, anyhow. There can't any harm possibly come to us, 'cause
Ted's goin' to keep out of things an' just lie low in the auto in that
patch of woods back of the house an' I got a police-whistle in my
pocket, an' if anything goes wrong I'll blow it like mad an' he'll beat
it back to the city an' have the police out in ten minutes. Are you
game?"

For one uncertain moment Patricia wavered. Was it right for her to
engage in this harebrained escapade? What would her father say? Or Mrs.
Quale? Then the thought of Virginie in danger, the possibility of
locating the Crimson Patch, and the sheer adventure of the thing
overcame all her scruples.

"Yes, I'll go, Chester. I trust you absolutely, and I'm sure you will
not let me come to harm. But suppose Father should call me up at the
hotel? What will he think if they say I'm away?"

"He'll think you're out somewhere with Mrs. Quale probably, won't he?"
answered Chet. "And I'm almost certain he won't call you up till
evening, probably, because you might be out an' he'd only be wasting
time an' money."

But another thought had suddenly occurred to Patricia, who, truth to
tell, did not feel at all easy about this expedition, nor about what her
father would think of it. A solution of one side of its difficulties had
all at once leaped into her mind.

"How would it do, Chester, if we take Mrs. Quale's Delia along with us?"

"_What?_" exclaimed Chet, in such obvious dismay that Patricia could not
resist a laugh at his expense. "Gee whiz! you'd block the whole game
with that white elephant on our hands!"

"Now, be sensible, Chester!" she urged. "It's perfectly plain to me that
I've either got to take her, or else not go myself. Otherwise Father
would not allow it. We can have her with us, and yet not tell her all
about our plans. You know, Mrs. Quale won't be back until evening, so
Delia hasn't a blessed thing to do to-day. I'll ask her if she'd like to
go off on a little picnic with me this morning a ways out of town where
we _may_ pick up Virginie. She'll be delighted to have the outing,
_that_ I know!"

The explanation cleared the air for Chet. "All right, I'm game if you
are!" he declared. "If you go back and get her and bring her over here,
I'll be round with Ted and the jit in next to no time."

Twenty minutes later he appeared in a battered jitney, sitting on the
front seat with a sheepish-looking, red-haired young fellow, who bowed
and grinned inarticulately as Chet introduced him as his brother Ted.
Patricia, accompanied by an obviously delighted Delia and a well-filled
lunch basket, clambered into the rear seat, and in another instant they
were off on their adventurous mission.



                              CHAPTER XII
                   THE HOUSE WITH THE GREEN SHUTTERS


It was a short and breathless ride out to Hanford, through a part of the
country quite unfamiliar to Patricia, as it was off the regular trolley
and railroad lines. They passed through the little town at a breakneck
speed, purposely, as Chet explained. It was such a tiny place and so out
of the world that every passing vehicle was apt to be an object of
interest to the inhabitants and he didn't want their car to be specially
noticed and commented upon. Twice Delia protested strongly against the
pace, but Patricia pretended not to hear her, and they sped on.

Outside the town limits they slowed down and proceeded at a more
leisurely pace, and presently turned into a rough little apology for a
road leading through the woods. Under a dense mass of overhanging boughs
they stopped, securely screened from the road.

"Now here's where we begin the great _Sherlock Holmes_ act!" announced
Chet, gaily. "The house is just beyond the edge of the woods. You sit
here tight, Ted, an' don't you budge unless you hear this whistle or see
us come runnin' back. Then you have the engine ready to beat it like
blazes. You understand, don't you?"

Ted, still inarticulate, nodded vigorously.

"Now, come along, miss, if you're ready," went on Chet, "an' we'll scout
around the edge of the woods nearest to the house for a spell an' see
what's doin'."

Leaving Delia in the car, somewhat mystified, but still unquestioningly
happy, Patricia, with pounding heart, followed his lead and, Indian
file, they plowed their way through the deep underbrush and tangled
vines till they stood at the edge of the clearing, protected from sight
only by some overhanging boughs. Beyond them stretched the expanse of a
couple of hundred feet of grass. It had once, doubtless, been only a
rough meadow, but was now converted into a smooth, well-kept lawn
running to the very steps of the porch where Chet had hidden the night
before. The house was of the old-fashioned "salt-box" type, with long,
sloping roof running to within a few feet of the ground at the back. It
had been renovated and painted, with the addition of a wide, screened
veranda on one side. But its distinctive feature was the shutters,
doubtless the old original ones, of solid wood with little crescents cut
in them near the top, and painted a bright green.

There was no one about, not a sign of a living creature, though all the
windows were open, their pretty draperies swaying in the morning breeze.

"What had we better do?" questioned Patricia. "We mustn't go any nearer
the house."

"No, we must sit tight right here and watch what goes on for a while,"
agreed Chet. "What I'm trying to do is to see, by who goes in or out of
the place, whose around, an' what chance we have of passin' the glad
word to the little mam'selle."

They sat in almost absolute silence for nearly half an hour and nothing
happened at all. No one went either in or out, no face appeared at a
window, nor door was opened or shut.

"I believe it's deserted," whispered Patricia, impatiently. "I'm sure
they've all gone away."

"Don't you believe it!" retorted Chet. "They ain't such geese as to all
go off an' leave the house open like that. But if somethin' don't happen
purty quick, I'm goin' to beat it around to the back an' see the lay of
the land there."

Something, however, did happen, and very shortly after. A man in a
chauffeur's outfit appeared from somewhere at the back of the house and
went over to a small garage, barely visible from where they stood
hidden. Five minutes later there was the sound of a motor starting, and
an automobile shot around the curve of the drive and came to a halt
before the door. Almost at once the door opened, a beautifully gowned
woman came out, stepped into the motor, and was driven rapidly away.

Patricia clutched Chet's arm spasmodically. "It was Madame Vanderpoel!"
she whispered. "Oh, it made me shudder just to look at her again. And I
used to like her, too. But now there's something awful about her!"

But Chet was interested in something quite different.

"Hooray!" he exclaimed in an undertone. "If she's flew the coop, we got
a fightin' chance anyway. Now, I may be wrong, but from what I seen last
night an' the lay of the land to-day, I figure there's only that grouchy
maid an' the little 'un left in the house. Let's wait a while longer an'
see if we see anybody else."

They waited in another long silence. Then Patricia's heart almost
stopped beating. The front door opened and Virginie de Vos stepped out,
looked about her half cautiously, half languidly, and started to cross
the lawn in the very direction where they were hidden. She had a book in
her hand, and Patricia suspected that her intention was to sit and read
in the cool shade of the woods.

"Oh, it couldn't have happened better, could it?" she whispered
ecstatically to Chet. "I've been fairly praying for something like this
ever since we've been here."

"Fine!" replied Chet, in ill-suppressed excitement. "Now, looka here. I
ain't goin' to complicate things between you an' her by hangin' around
while you have your talk. I'm just goin' to disappear in the woods back
here a ways, but I'll be right within call, an' when you want me, you
can get me. An' p'raps I'd better go an' entertain Delia a while, or
she'll be wantin' to quit this picnic. See?"

Patricia nodded, mutely grateful for his tact, but her gaze was fastened
on the girl, approaching so slowly and lifelessly across the lawn. Chet
melted away into the leafy growth behind her, and she herself drew back
a little farther into the woods, so that the meeting might not take
place too close to the house. In another moment she and Virginie stood
suddenly face to face.

Patricia sprang forward with a little cry of joy. For a moment an
answering gleam leaped into Virginie's eyes. Then, to Patricia's
unbounded astonishment, the girl shrank back, her eyes wide and
terror-stricken, her hands outspread before her as if to push her friend
far from her sight.

"Why, Virginie!" cried Patricia. "What is the trouble? Have I frightened
you so? Aren't you glad to see me?"

"Yes,—oh, no, no! You must not come. I will not talk to you. I cannot! I
cannot!"

Patricia was amazed at her incoherent distress, and could make nothing
out of the contradictory statements she uttered.

"But I thought you would be glad to see me, Virginie. I was so delighted
to find out where you were. And you are in trouble too, or danger, or
are worried about something. Won't you tell me about it? I came all this
way to find out how you were and what I can do to help you."

"You can do nothing," the girl answered dully. "Go back and never think
of me or try to see me again. It is the only safe thing for you."

"But I do not understand!" cried Patricia, in despair. "What can you
mean, Virginie? Didn't you call me up last night and warn me of danger
and say you too were in danger, but you didn't have time to finish, or
were cut off, or something. I was so worried about you and—and I—found
out where you were, and have come to find out all about it."

"I tried to warn you not to come," Virginie answered, "but I—but I—did
not get a chance to finish. I—I could not make you understand. When I
said I was in danger I—I only—meant in danger of being overheard."

"But, Virginie," cried Patricia, in utter bewilderment, "what do you
mean by 'warning me not to come'? How could you think I was coming, when
I didn't even know where you were? It was only by an—an accident that I
found out where you were—later."

The girl stared at her fixedly, a sudden light dawning in her face.

"But, tell me, how _did_ you come?" she whispered excitedly. "Was it not
with—with Madame Vanderpoel?"

"_With Madame Vanderpoel?_ Indeed not!" exclaimed Patricia, and to her
utter discomfiture, Virginie murmured a faint, "I am so glad!" and
dropped in a huddled heap on the ground, hiding her face in her hands.

"But why should you think I came with Madame Vanderpoel?" questioned
Patricia, determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. "I have
neither seen her nor heard from her since she left the hotel."

"She—she has gone to the city to—to call for you," murmured Virginie,
her face still buried in her hands. "She was going to urge you to come
out to see me, saying I was quite ill and wished it. She was going to
put the matter very urgently. Oh, I prayed that you would not come! And
when I saw you, I thought you had come with her, and—and—" She stopped
with a shuddering sob.

"Virginie," said Patricia, in a very firm, quiet voice, "won't you
please explain all this to me? What is it Madame Vanderpoel wished of
me? Why was she trying to get me here? And what have you to do with it
all?"

The girl crouching on the ground looked up at her suddenly.

"Do you remember," she murmured, "that once you promised to—to love
and—and trust me, no matter what happened, in spite of all—all
appearances that—that seemed against me? Can you keep that promise—in
spite of—of everything?" She looked so appealingly at her friend that
Patricia went down on her knees beside the crouching girl and put both
arms about her.

"I never yet failed to keep a promise, Virginie dear. Believe me, I love
you and trust you just as much as ever, and always will. I think there
is some terrible secret that is making you act very differently from
what you would under ordinary circumstances. I won't ask you what it is,
but if you ever want to tell me, you can be sure it will be safe with
me."

The gentle words acted like magic on the crushed, unhappy girl. She sat
up suddenly, as if inspired by some strong determination, put both hands
in Patricia's, and looked her straight in the eyes.

"You are a darling! You are better to me, more kind, than I ever hoped
or dreamed. I am going to tell you all—all I know, though I do not dare
to think what would happen to me if they suspected it."

"Who are 'they'?" questioned Patricia.

"The _Boches_—the German spies!" answered Virginie, in a hushed tone.
"That is a house full of them. Did you not know it?"

Patricia started back in real horror. This, then, was the confirmation
of her very worst fears.

"But you—" she stammered. "Surely you are not one of them? You said you
were a Belgian."

Virginie nodded lifelessly. "I am truly a Belgian—but I am their
helpless tool."

"But your aunt?" cried Patricia, still unconvinced. "Surely Madame
Vanderpoel is a Belgian too. Why does she not protect you? Is she, too,
in their power?"

Virginie shuddered. "Madame Vanderpoel is no Belgian. She is a German by
birth—and at heart. She married my mother's brother,—he is now dead,—and
she lived for many years in our country and was to all outward
appearance a Belgian. But she has been secretly, all these years, in the
service of the German spy system. I never dreamed of such a thing
myself, nor did my father, till she had brought me away to England and
America and had me completely in her power."

A great light suddenly dawned on Patricia. Here was the explanation of
many curious incidents that had happened at the hotel. But bewilderment
on some points still possessed her.

"Madame Vanderpoel seemed very kind to you though, Virginie?" she
ventured. "And you treated her rather abominably at times, if I must say
so. Yet she never reproached you or said anything unpleasant."

"She was very kind to me in public—yes. But what she did and said to me
in private, I would wish never to tell you."

"Well, but, Virginie, there is _one_ thing I still cannot seem to
understand!" cried Patricia. "You say that Madame Vanderpoel has you
completely in her power. That seems unthinkable to me, especially here
in free America. What is to prevent you from running away from her, from
giving yourself up to the proper authorities, from informing them about
her and having her and all the rest of them put in prison? You surely
have had plenty of opportunity to do that. Has it never occurred to
you?"

Virginie seemed fairly to shrink into herself at this suggestion. "Oh,
you do not understand!" she moaned. "There is something else, something
more terrible than you have any idea of. Gladly, only too gladly would I
do as you suggest. Indeed, I would have done it long ago. I would have
done it even had it meant my own death. But the safety of one I love
depends wholly on my complete obedience to her—to them."

"What—oh, what do you mean?" breathed Patricia, a partial light breaking
in on her bewilderment.

"_My father!_—they have him, too, in their power, 'over there'! He was
captured by them after the siege of Antwerp, and is now in a German
prison. Can you not see now where they have complete control over me? I
must do their will without hesitation, or my father's life will be
forfeited. The first act of disobedience, of rebellion on my part, and
his life is ended by a secret code message sent by them through
Switzerland. And so you see, my friend, that my life is a daily
torture."

She said no more. Patricia sat petrified by this hideous revelation. No
tale of horror that she had heard from her father could exceed the
exquisite cruelty of the torment and misery meted out to this lovely,
helpless girl, forced against her will, her patriotism, and her
affections to act as their tool in order to save the life of her father!
Patricia understood it all now—all the strange conduct that had so
puzzled her in their days together at the hotel. How torn between her
love, her sense of right, and her fears this poor girl must have
been—must be now! And a great thankfulness filled her that she had been
moved to assure Virginie of her love and trust, in spite of all
appearances, before she had known the whole truth.

But there seemed to be no words in which she could express her horror of
what she had heard. So she only kept both arms about her friend, and in
this close contact they sat together, Virginie clearly grateful for the
unspoken sympathy. At length Patricia broke the silence.

"Have they—have they made you do many things you—hated?" she asked
hesitatingly. "I do not quite understand how they _could_ use you—"

"They have spent, as they say, a long time 'training me'," said
Virginie. "I was to pose before people as just what I am, a Belgian
refugee, and arouse sympathy, and get into their confidence, and then—"
she shuddered again, "draw from them any secrets of interest to the
German government, or—or perhaps take from them any secret papers of
importance, if I could manage it, or—or that kind of thing. They thought
at first that I should be very successful, very helpful to them, but I
fear I have not—that is, I do not _fear_ it, I am glad of it—only I know
that I risk my father's life with every act of resistance.

"Twice I have failed them. Once, in England, in a hotel there, they
arranged that I should become acquainted with the wife of a prominent
British general at the front. She took a great fancy to me and had me
with her very often. They knew that she had papers of her husband's of
great importance in her possession, and I was to obtain them somehow.
But I _could_ not do it—if for no other reason that she had been so kind
to me; and soon she went away to do Red Cross work at the front, so I
never had another chance. I was thankful from my heart, but oh, they
were very, very angry! I thought they would surely fulfil their threat
and take my father's life, but they gave me another chance.

"When your country declared war, we came over here and stayed for a time
in a big hotel in Washington. There, a second time, I was made to form
the acquaintance of an American diplomat and his wife who were staying
at the same place. They were very sorry for me and interested in me
because I was a Belgian refugee, and invited me often to their rooms. I
did not care for them, as I had for the English lady, but they, too,
were kind and good to me. Madame Vanderpoel had ordered me, on a certain
day when I had been visiting in the lady's room and she had left me
alone for a time, to go through her writing-desk and hunt for one
particular document. And again I failed them. I could not do this
horrible thing when it came to the moment, and I pretended to be very
ill and obliged to return at once to my room. That night the diplomat
and his wife removed to the house of a friend, where they were to visit
for an indefinite time.

"The wrath of these terrible people against me knew no bounds. And I
thought for a time that nothing could save my father. But they decided
to give me one more chance—and that chance was _you_!"

Patricia started in spite of herself. "But how—how do they know there is
anything—about me of—of interest to them?"

"They know everything," declared Virginie, apathetically accepting what
was to her a common, every-day fact. "Yes, they know everything. Though
how they find it out, I cannot imagine. They seem to have a million eyes
and ears watching and listening for them, in every country. They know
that your father has a very important secret mission. Whether they know
just _what_ it is, I have not been able to tell. But they know that it
is vital to understand that mission, to stop his work if possible. They
wish to obtain a secret paper he has, at any cost. They knew you were
both to come to the hotel. We ourselves came there the day before. We
changed our room once, so as to be nearer to you.

"Then I received my instructions. I was to form an acquaintance with
you—somehow. It should be easy, since we were about of an age. I was to
be with you frequently, constantly. I was to discover if you were in
your father's confidence. I was to locate that secret paper, and I was
to obtain possession of it when the time seemed ripe. It was to be my
last chance. If I failed—well, you can imagine the rest.

"I liked you from the first—yes, I loved you. On that first night when
you caught me spying on you from the door across the hall and were so
sweet and charming to me, I loved you. And that love made all the harder
what I had to do. I determined that I would _not_ get acquainted with
you; I would pretend that you did not wish or encourage it. But my delay
only angered Madame Vanderpoel. She took matters in her own hands on
that morning when she told you I was ill with a headache, and forced the
friendship on me in spite of myself. You know that I was not ill, nor
did she have to go to New York. She merely went out and stayed out all
day to give us a chance to get acquainted.

"Well, you know the rest of that history—how strangely I acted at times,
how—how abominable I was to you. I do not yet understand how you could
have been so sweet and forgiving. But the more you were, the more I
hated what I had to do and delayed about it. And the longer I delayed,
the more angry Madame Vanderpoel grew with me. Of one thing I was glad.
I could discover nothing about any secret paper, and they were beginning
to doubt whether your father really had it with him or whether it was
concealed elsewhere.

"At any rate, much to my surprise, after that last night I spent with
you, Madame informed me next morning very early that we were leaving the
hotel to come here. She did not offer any explanation at the time, but I
know now that it was because they had obtained the secret paper at last,
I know not how, and there was no need to stay longer at the hotel. I
tried so hard to get some word to you in spite of her. I had just
whispered part of the message to the bell-boy when she interrupted and I
got no other chance.

"But though I never expected to see you again, I rejoiced that the
terrible necessity for constantly deceiving you was over at last. I
could at least love you always and feel that I need no longer wrong you.
But it was not to be. Last night I overheard them talking below, and it
seems that though they had obtained what they believed to be the secret
paper, they could make nothing of it at all, and so they were as much in
the dark as ever. They talked and wrangled over it much, and at length
Madame herself proposed a plan. She knew that your father had missed the
paper and also that he was in New York searching for it on a false clue
that they themselves had arranged. But she imagined that she had so well
covered her tracks that neither you nor he connected us with any share
in the matter. So she planned to go in to the city, call at your hotel,
and try to induce you to come out here with her in the car to visit me
for a few hours, telling you a sad tale of how I had been taken ill
again and wished to see you. But while you were here, she was going to
threaten you suddenly with dreadful things, both to yourself and your
father, if you did not tell her the secret of the paper. And after she
had frightened you into telling (as she was sure she could), she was to
have you driven away in the car and left in some distant and unknown
locality, and by the time you had at last returned to the hotel, we
would all have disappeared and could not be traced."

"But I do not _know_ the secret of it!" cried Patricia. Virginie only
shrugged her shoulders with a foreign gesture.

"So much the worse for Madame, then," she went on. "She knew she was
taking that chance. But she felt almost certain you were in your
father's confidence. If you did not know, then the same program would be
carried out. But first, before she questioned you, she wished _me_ to
try and draw the secret from you. If I were successful, it would be so
much simpler for her. She summoned me to her this morning and instructed
me in the part I was to play. And that is why I shuddered so when I saw
you. I thought she had been successful in her ruse to get you here. I
had tried so hard to prevent it. Last night I called you on the upstairs
telephone, softly, so they might not hear, for they were still wrangling
down below. But I could not finish. Melanie was coming up the stairs. I
had to ring off. Now you know it all."

She ceased speaking and sat staring into her lap, her hands clasped so
tightly that the knuckles showed white. Patricia also sat in stunned
silence. Now that the whole terrible plot had been revealed to her, it
all seemed so infinitely worse than anything she had imagined that she
could scarcely collect her senses. Two things stood out in her mind with
distinctness: the Crimson Patch was concealed somewhere in that
house—she must get hold of it at all cost—it was vital to her father's,
yes, even to the whole country's interests; and Virginie must be
snatched somehow from the clutches of these terrible enemies who were
using her against her will for their own ends. But how was it to be
accomplished?

At that moment, Chet Jackson's head appeared suddenly over the bushes.

"If you'll excuse me, ladies, for mentionin' it," he whispered,
"something's got to be done pretty quick. I figure the Madame'll be
gettin' back any minute now."



                              CHAPTER XIII
                            VIRGINIE DECIDES


Virginie looked up in quick alarm. "Who is that?" she cried, in a low
voice, and then, recognizing the bell-boy she had seen so often at the
hotel, she gazed at Patricia in amazed surprise. "How did you get here?"
she suddenly asked her friend. So absorbed had she been in other
matters, that the question had not occurred to her before. Patricia
sketched to her in hurried whispers the history of the previous night
and the assistance rendered by Chet, while the boy himself stood by
uneasily, watching the house and the road. When she had finished, he
added:

"I gotta tell you that I heard a good deal of what the little mam'selle
was sayin' just now, 'cause I had crept back to warn you folks you'd
have to be a bit quicker if we're goin' to get anything done, so I
pretty well know the lay of the land. Now I got a plan in the back of my
head. It's kind of risky, but I think we can swing it if we work quick.
But first we must find out what this here little mam'selle is plannin'
to do. Are you goin' to get her to break away from that shady gang an'
beat it with us?"

"Oh, that's just what I want her to do—just what I've been thinking of
myself!" cried Patricia. "Are you willing, Virginie dear?"

The girl looked at her in some bewilderment. American slang was
something she had yet to become acquainted with, and Chet's last remarks
were as incomprehensible to her as if they had been uttered in Choctaw.

"We want you to come with us," Patricia explained. "You must not stay
any longer with these dreadful people, Virginie. We think we can get you
away from them, and you will have a happy life and never, never be
tormented by them again."

But the girl shrank back in terror. "No, no!" she cried. "It must not
be. I cannot do it, much as I long to. You must not ask it. _My
father!_" whispered Virginie, brokenly, and she needed to say no more.
Patricia understood. She had forgotten for a moment how deeply they held
this helpless girl in their power. And after the many terrible tales she
had heard of the enemy's cruelty, she had not the slightest doubt that
they would carry out their threat. What could she say or do that would
be of any avail in the face of this? She looked at Chet helplessly.

"Say," he declared at length, "this here's sure a bad lookout, but there
must be _some_ way out of it. You can't make me believe that in this
here free country any bunch of Huns is goin' to get away with a come-on
game like that. Why say, what's the matter with this? We'll bundle the
little mam'selle into the car an' hustle back to the city an' get the
police out here in a jiff' an' raid the whole place before they have
time to turn around. We'd sure find that Crimson Patch somewhere in the
ranch. An' they'd have the bunch all in the jug before they had time to
do any telephonin' or send any messages or anything. What say?"

"No, no!" cried Virginie, who had somehow taken in his meaning in spite
of his slang. "It would not do. You do not understand. They are not all
here—in this house. Only Madame—and Melanie, her maid, and the
chauffeur, Hermann Klausser (they call him Jacques Thierrot in public)
are here. But there are many, many others in New York—everywhere. They
are all in these plots. They would find out what had happened, and
_they_ would send the message. I am not safe though you were to shut up
a dozen of them in jail at once. Do you not see?"

They did see. Chet scratched his head in perplexed thought and Patricia
stared at them both helplessly. It seemed an almost impossible tangle.
It was Chet who presently shrugged his shoulders and addressed them in
words of firmness and determination, thus:

"Say, this here does certainly seem _some_ little puzzle, but you want
to think ahead of things a bit, an' reason out how things are likely to
go on if they keep runnin' in the same groove. Have you thought of this,
miss—er—mam'selle? If you keep on like this, just knucklin' down to 'em
all the time, are things ever goin' to get any better? Ain't they goin'
to force you to do worse an' worse all the time just as long as they can
keep you under? That's the Hun of it. They believe in terrorizing, they
do! They think they got you cold as long as they can scare the livin'
wits out of you. An' that's where America put it all over 'em. _They_
didn't scare for a cent. All the Yanks ever thought of was, 'Lead me to
'em! Just let me get my hands on one of them 'ere Huns. _I'll_ give 'em
a little dose of "frightfulness." An' they did, too; an' the Huns are
turnin' tail an' beatin' it this very minute at Château Thierry an'
thereabouts."

"That's the spirit to have. Don't let 'em put it over you. An' another
thing maybe you haven't thought of, miss—mam'selle. Do you really
_believe_ everything they're tellin' you? I bet they'd as soon fool you
as eat their dinner! How do you know this is all true about your father?
He may be well an' safe this very minute—"

"Oh, no, no!" interrupted Virginie. "If that were so I would have heard
from him in some way. I have heard nothing in all these three years. No,
he is not safe. He is surely in their power."

"Well, that may be so," insisted Chet, "but still I say, you can't trust
'em. An' there's one thing you _can_ trust an' it's the most powerful
thing in the world to-day, an' that's this little old U. S. Government.
If anything on earth can help you, that can, an' you'd a great sight
better put your trust in that than to knuckle down any longer to this
beastly bunch of Hun spies. Ain't I talkin' sensible, Miss Patricia?"

"Indeed you are!" Patricia echoed enthusiastically. "Why, Chet is right,
Virginie, absolutely. Can't you see it? I only wonder we didn't think of
it before! Your choice lies between these horrible, unscrupulous
creatures, and the finest, most powerful Government in all the world.
How can you even hesitate? You can't go on forever this way with Madame
Vanderpoel. Some day they might put an end to your father's life for
some reason of their own, and you couldn't do a thing to stop it,
mightn't even know it. You'd be perfectly helpless. Whereas, if you get
yourself out of their power, you stand _some_ chance, at least, of
rescuing your father too. _Take_ the chance, Virginie. These people are
not so powerful as they seem to you because you have been so shut up
with them. They have let you know nothing. Take the chance. I believe it
is your _only_ chance to help your father and yourself!"

And Virginie, very much impressed, visibly wavered. She had, indeed,
taken no thought for the future, hopelessly supposing her bondage would
go on indefinitely, as at present, only serving to prolong her father's
existence by her acquiescence. To her it was, indeed, a terrible chance,
yet not quite so uncertain as it had once seemed. Perhaps the United
States _was_ more powerful than she realized. Perhaps—but suddenly she
threw all hesitation to the winds.

"Yes, yes, you are right!" she exclaimed. "I will go with you. Perhaps I
can serve him best—so."

"Hooray! Good for you!" cried Chet, overjoyed. "An' now about this here
Crimson Patch. Do you think there's any chance of our gettin' hold of
it? Where d'you suppose the Madame keeps it salted down?"

Patricia, too happy for expression at Virginie's decision, could only
press her hand warmly. "Yes, Virginie, we _must_, if possible, get the
Crimson Patch. Have you any idea where it is?"

"I saw it in her writing-desk this morning," replied Virginie, "while
she was telling me what I must do. She was explaining to me how I must
get you to tell me the secret of it if I could, without of course
allowing you to think it was here. I do not think she put it back in the
safe. She is so sure of herself that she has no fear of its being
discovered."

"Then it ought to be possible to get it somehow or other," mused
Patricia. "Who is this maid, Melanie, that you speak of, Virginie, and
where do you think she is now?"

"Melanie has been Madame Vanderpoel's servant for many years," answered
the girl. "She is the only one among them all who cares in the slightest
for me. I think she is quite fond of me, though she has never said so.
She is a strange, silent woman."

"Is she a German?" questioned Patricia.

"Yes, by birth, but she lived so long in Belgium that I think she came
to feel more Belgian than German. I think she secretly hates all this
spy-work, but she is bound to Madame Vanderpoel by many obligations and
she dare not make a protest. Madame at one time gave her a great deal of
money to help her family, who were in great need, and Melanie is very
loyal to her. But she has always been fond of me ever since I was a
baby, and I feel sure that she resents at times, the way they treat me.
I only _feel_ this for she never has said one word. I do not think she
would dare let them know it. She is probably in the kitchen now, for she
has to get the meals as well as wait on Madame. There are no other
servants around. Madame will not have them, lest they discover too much.
Hermann Klausser is not a servant. He is one of the worst of them,—the
spies,—but he drives the car and acts to the world as Madame's
chauffeur."

"Well, if Melanie is in the kitchen and the rest of them out of the
way," said Chet, "it ought to be a pretty good time to swipe that
sketch. Do you think you'd dare go in an' cabbage it, little miss, or
shall I try? It would be safer an' quicker for you, if you think you
don't mind, because you know where the desk is, an' this here Melanie
wouldn't think it so strange to see you goin' in an' out. But if you
don't care for the job, I'll try my hand at it. But we got to be quick,
whatever we do, 'cause the madame may be back any minute. How about it?"

"Oh, I will try it," assented Virginie. "It would be far better for me,
since I know its location and can go in and out freely."

Patricia gave her a hug and murmured, "You darling!" and she was just
about to set forth on her quest, when Chet cried, "Hold on!" and laid a
detaining hand on her arm. The sound of a motor was heard tearing madly
up the road, and in another moment Madame's car had swung into the
driveway.

"Can you beat that for luck!" snorted Chet. And Virginie huddled back
against Patricia with a little moan of despair.



                              CHAPTER XIV
                                MELANIE


The car stopped in front of the door and Madame stepped out. She was in
rare ill-humor, that was plain, and she stood talking long with the
chauffeur. Then she went into the house. The chauffeur sprang into the
car and drove off at a furious pace in the same direction from which
they had come.

The three crouching at the edge of the woods watched it all with bitter
disappointment and alarm.

"What shall I do?" shuddered Virginie. "It is now too late to carry out
our plan. It can never be done. Oh, I fear that I shall never be free
from her power."

"Now, just cut out all that!" said Chet, brusque, but well-meaning. "You
could be quit of her this very minute if we wanted to beat it and take
to the auto. But what we're trying to do is to save that there Crimson
Patch, if possible. Perhaps we can't do it just the way we meant to
first, but there certain is _some_ way if we can just work it out. How
about this? Suppose you go back to the house, just casual like, an' see
what the fuss is all about. We will stay put right here. It's perfectly
safe, an' we can stay here all the rest of the day if necessary. Then,
later, perhaps after you've had your lunch, you'll find some chance of
gettin' that sketch an' wanderin' off here to the woods again, an' then
it will just be heigho, an' beatin' the speed-limit back to the city for
us all! How about it?"

Virginie thought it over carefully. "I think perhaps that _is_ a good
idea. I will tell you why. After luncheon Madame always goes to her room
to rest and sleep. Melanie will be busy in the kitchen, and if the
chauffeur does not come back, it will all be quite safe. I think he will
not come back. I have a feeling that he has gone to New York to consult
with—with the rest of them. But Madame may not leave the sketch in her
desk. She may lock it in her safe, but I will go back, though she is
terrible when she is angry."

"But remember this, always, Virginie," Patricia assured her; "she can do
nothing now to harm you personally. Things have changed since you
thought yourself completely in her power. We are here, and, if things
get too bad, call to us, or make some outcry, and you'll have help there
before you know it. You are not alone any more."

Thus cheered and comforted, Virginie took her book, murmured an
inarticulate farewell, and stepped into the open. The two who remained
watched her breathlessly as she crossed the lawn and ascended the steps
of the little porch. Then the door closed behind her and they heard and
saw no more.

A nerve-racking period of suspense followed. When it was plain that she
would not, in all probability, reappear for two or three hours, Chet
suggested that they go back to where the others were waiting, lest Delia
become anxious and try to hunt them up.

"We might as well as have some lunch, while we can," he added. "You can
tell her that the little mam'selle will join us later, if she asks any
questions. There's no telling how long we have to wait, and you'll feel
better for some eats. Ted and I will keep watch. But be ready to beat
it, any minute, if we give the signal."

They found Delia happily absorbed in arranging the lunch and very little
concerned about Patricia's absence and the non-appearance of the Belgian
girl. She had struck up a friendship with the inarticulate Ted, and the
two were busily occupied in transforming the rear seat of the jitney
into a luncheon table.

The food restored Patricia's courage and revived her hopes, which had
begun to wane with the disappearance of Virginie. When the meal was
over, she told Delia she was going to fetch Virginie. Then she and Chet
went back to their post and resumed their long vigil.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, what was happening in the house of the green shutters?

The wrath of Madame at the failure of her plan was all that Virginie had
expected it would be, and the girl had to bear the brunt of it when she
ventured in at last. Madame had called at the hotel and asked for
Patricia. She was not in and had not been seen since breakfast, nor had
they, the hotel authorities, any information as to her whereabouts.
Neither did they know when she would be back. Madame had waited in the
lounge for over an hour, but no Patricia had appeared. Then, fearing to
be seen there any longer, she had come away. Where had the little idiot
flown to, she inquired in a violent temper? Could it be possible she had
joined her father? All her plans were now upset by this unaccountable
action of her intended victim.

Virginie, compelled to listen to it all, and fearful of betraying some
knowledge of the matter, was more uncomfortable than she dared to show,
and could only sit by with downcast eyes and her usual air of terrorized
docility.

"It is your fault! I believe it is all your fault!" Madame stormed, and
Virginie shrank back physically as well as mentally, though she knew
that Madame in no way realized how very much "her fault" it actually was
and was only venting her ill-temper on the nearest object.

"Well, let us go to luncheon," Madame at length announced when her
ill-humor had spent itself. "It has been a bad day's work, but we must
eat, and afterward I will rest and think what to do next."

The meal was consumed in utter silence. Madame was absorbed with her own
thoughts, and Virginie was only too thankful for a respite from her
angry accusations. All during the hour she was praying, hoping,
wondering what Madame was going to do about the sketch still carelessly
lying in the drawer of her writing-desk. Would she remember to put it
safely away before she retired to her room? Every mouthful choked the
girl, but she made a brave pretense of eating. It seemed as if Madame
would never be done with this dreadful meal, the most trying that
Virginie had ever endured.

But the ordeal was over at last. Madame rose, pushed aside her chair,
and left the room without further remark. And Virginie, with loudly
beating heart, heard her pass through the living-room and linger a
moment at her desk, rustling the papers about. What was she doing? Oh,
if she only dared to peep in and see! But Melanie was silently clearing
the table, so she passed out to the screened veranda beyond, hearing
Madame ascending the stairs as she did so. And she did not even know
what had become of the Crimson Patch!

It seemed as if Melanie would never finish her work in the dining-room.
Half an hour passed and she was still fussing about, washing, as she
usually did, all the silver and glass in the butler's pantry, and
passing and repassing in and out on her many errands. Not until she
retired to the kitchen would Virginie dare to begin her investigations.

But all things come to an end if one waits long enough, and Melanie at
length made her last trip into the dining-room. Virginie heard her
retreating footsteps in the direction of the kitchen with a sigh of
unutterable relief. Her one terror now was lest Madame might call to her
to come upstairs and fan her and read aloud to her, as she frequently
did when the mood took her. Besides being an utterly repugnant task, it
would in this case put an end to every thought of escape, according to
her prearranged plan with the two waiting in the woods. If she could
only get away before that happened, all would be well!

The kitchen door closed at last. Virginie gathered all her courage and
tiptoed through the dining-room and on into the living-room beyond. Her
knees shook so that she could scarcely walk, and a mist seemed to float
before her eyes. She felt sure that her pounding heart could be heard by
Madame herself in the room above.

The desk stood in a big bay window, and was closed, but not locked.
Virginie pulled open the drawer, which gave with a resisting squeak, so
loud that her very heart stood still at the appalling sound. She stood
motionless for what seemed an hour, but nothing happened and she
gradually came to the conclusion that the sound must have passed
unnoticed. Then she bent to look at the contents of the drawer.

The Crimson Patch was not there! At least, it was nowhere to be seen on
the top. But the drawer was in some confusion, for Madame was by no
means a methodical person. Virginie ventured to put in her hand and push
the papers about. Could it be?—yes, it _must_ be, that Madame had taken
the sketch away, for it was nowhere to be found. Virginie could have
wept as she stood there, with the terrible disappointment of it all.

[Illustration:

  Melanie stood in the doorway surveying her with stern surprise
]

But suddenly her heart gave a leap, for her searching fingers had come
in contact with something that felt familiar, far down at the bottom of
the drawer. It was the heavy watercolor paper that she remembered so
well. Madame, indolent with the desire for her afternoon sleep and
reluctant at the moment to go to the trouble of locking away her
treasure, had carelessly tucked it away in a far corner of the drawer
under a mass of bills and other papers. With a great sigh of joy,
Virginie drew out the Crimson Patch.

An instant after she had done so, a slight sound behind her caused her
to whirl about in sudden alarm.

Melanie stood in the doorway between the portières, surveying her with
stern surprise.



                               CHAPTER XV
                             OUT OF THE NET


Sheer terror at her awful position froze Virginie to an immovable statue
for a moment. It seemed almost unbelievable, like the situation in some
terrible dream. Could it actually be true? She knew not what to say,
what to think, what to do. Her brain absolutely refused to work, her
body to move.

It was Melanie herself who broke the spell. "What are you doing here?"
she whispered. The sound of her voice released Virginie from the
nightmare of immovable terror. A sudden determination was born in her, a
wild impulse to throw herself entirely on the mercy of this strange,
silent woman whose sympathy she had sometimes felt, though it had never
been expressed. It was, she also realized, her only course now.

"Oh, Melanie! I can stand it all no longer! I am going to go away. I am
going with friends who will love me and be kind to me. And to show my
gratitude to them for taking me away from this terrible place, I am
going to restore to them what _she_ has stolen—this! It is all I can do.
Help me, Melanie! I think you—care for me a little, do you not? I have
always thought so. Do not drag me back again into this horrible life!"
She crept over and clasped both arms about the woman's neck.

Melanie caught her breath in surprise. The contact of the girl's
clinging body and the clasp of her soft young arms seemed to have a
curious effect on the stern, repressed woman. Tears started to her eyes
and her breath came in little gasps. She raised her arms and for an
instant it seemed as if she were about to push the girl away. Then, to
Virginie's surprise, she suddenly clasped her in a convulsive embrace.

"My little heart! The only baby I ever had to love!" she murmured
brokenly.

Virginie was quick to seize her advantage. "Oh, Melanie, help me to get
away from this terrible house. I can endure it no longer. I have
suffered too much. _You_ know what I have suffered. And now, at last, I
have the opportunity to get away from it all. Do not prevent it, dear
Melanie. Do not tell _her_! And I will love you always. Will you do this
one thing for me?"

The woman hesitated for a long, tense moment. Then she shrugged her
shoulders and pushed the clinging girl a little way from her.

"I owe much to—_her_—everything practically," she said. "My existence
almost, and the lives of my family. My mother and my little sisters
would have died of starvation had it not been for her. She saved us all,
but she has made me pay a terrible price. She owns me, body and soul. I
have done despicable things for her—because I had to. But one thing has
been harder for me than all the rest—her treatment of you, my little
Virginie, in these last four terrible years. I have loved you always,
from a baby, when you were left motherless. I have felt all that she has
made you suffer. Yet what could I do? I was helpless.

"But now you wish to escape, to get away from it all. Well, you shall.
It will perhaps help to ease my conscience that I have done at least one
good deed. I will leave the way clear. You shall take the paper if you
wish—and go. I only pray you may be happy at last. Madame shall never
know how you got away. But wait just one moment. There is something I
wish to give you before you go. Stay where you are and I will be back
immediately."

Virginie, only too grateful for the turn affairs had taken, consented to
remain where she was till Melanie came back, and the woman hurried away
in the direction of the kitchen. But Melanie was gone what seemed a very
long time. The girl began to grow impatient and even alarmed at the
delay. What if Madame should take a notion to call her now? What could
Melanie be about?

And even as this passed through her mind, the languid voice of Madame
floated down the stairs, calling to her to come up and read aloud and
fan her till she got to sleep. In an agony of anxiety, Virginie stood,
reluctant to answer, yet scarcely daring not to, till at length Melanie
came hurrying back.

"Here it is," she whispered, and crushed a scrap of paper into
Virginie's hand. "Now go!" she ended, pointing to the door. "I will tell
her that you are not in the house. Have no fear and—good-by!"

They clasped each other in a last embrace. Then Virginie, the precious
Crimson Patch clutched to her heart, slipped silently out of the door
that Melanie held open and fled away across the lawn. And ere the door
was closed, she had reached the edge of the woods and flung herself into
the arms Patricia held out to her.

It was a mad ride back to the city, a ride in which they broke the
speed-limit many times and slowed down to normal pace as the outskirts
of the town appeared. Virginie sat with Patricia on the rear seat. So
exhausted nervously was she, that she could say almost nothing, and only
lay back with her eyes closed and her hand clasped in Patricia's. And
Patricia was sensible enough not to urge her to talk, though she was
burning with curiosity to know how the girl had made her escape with the
Crimson Patch. The precious sketch now lay securely hidden, and she
longed for the moment when she could restore it to her father.

And the thought of her father brought her suddenly face to face with the
problem of what they were going to do when they got back to town again.
She shrank from the idea of returning to the hotel with the
half-fainting Belgian girl. It would arouse comment. Beside that, if her
father or Mrs. Quale were not there, it might be a dangerous place for
them to stay alone. Who could tell but what Madame might trace them
there and demand the immediate return of the girl who was supposed to be
in her care? What, indeed, were they to do?

She leaned forward and confided her doubts to Chet. And again she was
astonished at the foresight of this clever boy.

"You bet I worked that all out some little time ago. It sure wouldn't be
healthy for you to go back there—at least not till your father gets
back. But I got a scheme that'll work all right—that is, if you care to
do it. You come right to our place and stay with my mother. I told her
this morning she might have some company before night, so she's half
expectin' you. I'll go back an' hang around the hotel, an' the minute
your father or Mrs. Quale comes along, I'll tip 'em off to the lay of
the land an' fetch 'em right over. How about it?"

"Oh, Chester, you're wonderful!" sighed Patricia. "You certainly do
think of everything. I never saw any one like you."

"Don't take much brain to think of _that_!" protested Chet, modestly.
"There sure is a chance that that bunch will try to trace the girl an'
get her back, an' they'd probably guess right away that she's swiped the
paper an' gone back to you. But, on the other hand, they may be scared
stiff for fear she's given the game away, an' are tumblin' all over
themselves tryin' to get out of sight before the Government gets on to
'em. However, we ain't takin' any chances."

Chet Jackson's home was in an unpretentious side street, a neat little
box of a house, and as the car drew up at the curb, a large,
comfortable, motherly woman, with a wide smile extremely like that of
her youngest son's, appeared at the door. Patricia had been rather
dreading the explanations and apologies that she realized must surely be
in order on their arrival. So weary and overwrought was she, that she
felt almost unequal to undertaking them. But much to her amazed relief,
none seemed to be required. Mrs. Jackson acted as if a fugitive party of
this nature was an every-day occurrence and needed no comment.

"Come right in, ladies!" she welcomed them, when Chet had made the
introductions. "You look very tired. I'm going to put you right in this
room by yourselves, and you can rest as long as you wish till some one
comes for you." And she led them into a neat, ugly little bedroom and
left them to themselves.

Patricia made Virginie lie down on the bed, while she established
herself in a comfortable old rocker near by. Delia, having assured
herself that her young charges were in good hands, departed for the
hotel to be there when Mrs. Quale returned. For half an hour the two
girls remained as she had left them, each too much overcome to utter a
single word.

So quiet was Virginie at last, that Patricia thought she must surely
have fallen asleep, till she noticed two tears stealing down her cheeks.

"Why, darling, what is the trouble?" she questioned, laying her head
down beside her.

"My father!" sobbed Virginie. "Do you think I have—have killed him?"

To divert her mind from this distressing subject, Patricia begged her to
tell how she had managed to make her escape, and, in the recital, the
Belgian girl forgot her fears for a while.

"But what was it that Melanie gave you?" questioned Patricia, and
Virginie opened her hand and disclosed the crumpled scrap of paper that
she had held clenched in it all this time. So absorbed had she been in
other things that she had not till this moment noticed or thought of it.
Together they smoothed it out and bent to read the sentences hastily
scrawled on it in lead-pencil.

  There is something I must tell you [it read in French] and I am
  cowardly enough not to wish to say it before your face, but I cannot
  let you go away forever without knowing it. Would I had told you
  before, but I did not dare. You have been kept in this bondage by
  the threat that your father would pay with his life if you dared to
  disobey them.

  Have no fear. The threat is powerless. Your father died during the
  siege of Antwerp—a painless death. A shell struck and exploded near
  his villa, damaging it. He was not injured, apparently, at the time,
  but the shock evidently affected his heart, for he was found soon
  afterward lying peacefully in his chair—dead. You should rejoice
  that this is so, for he is happy and at peace, and he never could
  have been so again had he remained alive. May God have some
  happiness in store for you in the future.

                                       Good-by for the last time,
                                                              MELANIE.

Virginie uttered one sobbing, astonished cry and buried her face in the
pillow. Patricia, without a word, walked away to the window and left her
alone to the sacredness of her sorrow. But as she stood with clenched
hands, staring out at nothing, she found herself murmuring over and over
again:

"Oh, they are not human! They are not human!"



                              CHAPTER XVI
                    THE SECRET OF THE CRIMSON PATCH


It was Mrs. Quale who arrived on the scene first. She came in a taxi,
having received elaborate directions from Chet, who remained at the
hotel to watch for the return of the captain. There was one comfortable
thing about Mrs. Quale that Patricia had always particularly admired:
she seemed to understand things and situations without any explanations.
She came in now, took both Patricia's hands in hers, and kissed her
quietly.

"You poor child! If I had only known what a tangle you were in, I would
not have gone off so thoughtlessly yesterday without first letting you
know. I supposed of course your father was with you. I am thankful, at
least, that I'm home in time to help you out of the muddle."

That was all, but Patricia realized that whatever she knew or did not
know about the affair, it made no difference whatever in her desire to
be of help.

She decided to tell her at once about Virginie, and did so while they
were standing outside the door of the room where the Belgian girl was.
Mrs. Quale had met her casually at the hotel, in company with Patricia,
and had always cherished a liking for the lonely, diffident girl. When
she had heard all the story, she stood thinking a moment and then said
decisively:

"You simply cannot go back to that hotel. It is no place for you after
all that has happened. Now, I have a plan, and I shall urge your father
to fall in with it. Part of my house is at last habitable—at least three
bedrooms and the living-room and kitchen are. I have had old Juno there
for a week getting them in order and was going to leave the hotel for
them myself in a day or two. I want you all to come with me and make
your home there for a time. I do not believe it is either right or safe
for you to stay any longer in that public place, especially after what
has happened. We'll go right over now, and I'll send word for your
father to follow as soon as he arrives. We can go back to the hotel some
other time and pack up your belongings."

"Oh, Mrs. Quale, it is lovely of you to propose it!" sighed Patricia.
"You don't know what a relief it will be to get away from that place. I
could never stand it again after the dreadful hours I spent there last
night. But what about Virginie?"

"Never mind about her. Just take me to her now, if you will, and we'll
settle about that later."

Virginie still lay on the bed, no longer sobbing or weeping, but with
her head buried in the pillow, quiet, hopeless, and inert. She did not
even look up as they entered the room. Patricia gently roused her, and
she sat up to greet Mrs. Quale in a timid, half-frightened manner. But
Mrs. Quale had long since settled in her own mind her plan of action.
She sat down on the side of the bed and put one arm protectingly around
Virginie.

"Dear," she said softly, "I know your story now, all that you have
suffered, all the brave sacrifices you made to save the life, as you
supposed, of the father who was no longer living. All that is ended. And
now, dear, I am a very lonely woman. I have no children and very few
relatives left, and I have always felt a warm interest in you since
first I saw you with that unscrupulous woman. I knew that you were not
happy. Will you come and make your home with me and be my daughter? I
will bring you up as my own. We are two lonely people. I have no
daughter, you have no mother. Why should we not be happy together?"

The girl stared at her for a moment almost uncomprehendingly. Then,
suddenly, she grasped the meaning and it seemed too wonderful to be
true.

"Oh, you—you are too good—too—" Her head went down on the motherly
shoulder, and her arms crept around Mrs. Quale's neck. And so Patricia,
tears of happiness standing in her own eyes, stole out of the room and
left them together.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was ten o'clock that night before Captain Meade himself arrived,
tired, dusty, discouraged, and decidedly bewildered by the change his
daughter had made so unexpectedly in her place of residence. Chet had
encountered him in the lobby of the hotel and steered him at once to
Mrs. Quale's house without any special explanations, as he felt that
Patricia was the one best fitted to offer these. And it was not till
after he had bathed and had some supper that Patricia, alone with him in
the library, ventured to ask what success he had had in his search.

"None at all. Absolutely nothing to show for it!" he replied wearily.
"We have raked New York from end to end without success. When we went
there originally we were on a good scent—actually had the fellow spotted
who we knew without fail must have had the sketch in his possession; but
when we finally ran him down, he had nothing of the kind about him nor
had he had any opportunity to dispose of it anywhere, so we had to give
up that clue. I confess, I'm terribly discouraged."

Patricia smiled cheerfully. "Well, never mind, Daddy. You've had a hard
time, but perhaps things aren't as bad as they seem!"

He looked at her wonderingly. "I don't know how they could be much
worse!" he exclaimed a little impatiently. "One of the most valuable of
the Government's secrets is in the hands of the enemy at this minute."

Patricia lifted a book from the table, took something from it, and laid
it on her father's knee.

"I hate to contradict you," she remarked gaily, "but I think the Crimson
Patch is at this minute in the possession of the one who has most right
to it!"

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was long after midnight. The rest of the household was all asleep,
but Patricia still sat with her father by the open fire, for the night
had turned chilly. She sat on his knee, her head snuggled comfortably in
his coat collar. The ensuing interval, after she had told her story, had
been a confusion of telephoning and interviews, not only with Chester
Jackson, but also with a mysterious Mr. Brainerd, a curly-haired,
light-complexioned, athletic young man with whom her father had been
closeted for three quarters of an hour in close conference. Patricia was
glad when it was over and they had all gone and left them alone
together.

"But, Daddy," she was saying, "there are still a whole lot of things I
don't understand about this thing at all. You kept saying, '_We_ were
hunting for it in New York.' Now who is '_we_'? I thought you shared
this secret with no one."

The captain laughed. "You are right. There's quite a little you've still
to learn. 'We' is mainly Mr. Tom Brainerd, whom you saw here to-night.
He's a government secret-service man, the best around these parts, and
he's been near me for protection ever since we first came to the hotel."

"He _has_?" cried Patricia. "Why, I never saw him before in my life."

"Oh, yes, you have!" contradicted the captain. "You saw him every day of
your life, only you didn't know him. I confess he looked a little
different. Mr. Tom Brainerd was no other than your pet spy, poor Peter
Stoger, my dear!"

Patricia's jaw dropped and her face was a study in bewilderment.
"Then—then he—he wasn't Franz?" she stammered.

"He certainly was _not_! He elected to come here, disguised as he was,
because his countenance in real life is a little too familiar to the
German spy-system in general. The manager of the hotel is fortunately a
good friend of mine and an ardent patriot, so 'Peter's' task was made
easy. But there was a 'Franz' here, though he went by another name, and
he, too, was one of the waiters. I do not believe you remember him. He
was a short, thin, light-haired young fellow, who had a table at the
other end of the dining-room. Curiously enough, both he and Peter rather
suspected each other and were constantly watching each other's
movements.

"On the day when the sketch disappeared, it happened in this way. When
Tom, or rather, Peter, came into the room that evening with the tray
containing your supper, he saw to his astonishment, lying carelessly on
the table, the very sketch that he understood it was so important to
guard. Immediately he saw the necessity of removing it to safety, as he
knew that you were not in the secret about it, so he put his tray down
on top of it, in apparent ignorance, and when you commanded him to
remove the tray, he did so, cleverly concealing and holding the sketch
underneath. When he went out of the room he still had it concealed under
the tray, but once outside and the door closed, he dropped it to the
ground while trying to transfer it to his pocket. It was this
unfortunate accident that he feels sure led to its theft. In all
probability, Madame Vanderpoel was watching from her nearly closed door
and saw the sketch as it fell, and guessed it must be connected in some
way with the secret we had been guarding. She immediately found some
means to report it to her ally and companion-spy, Franz, and then the
trouble began."

"But did Peter—I mean Mr. Brainerd—suspect Madame?" Patricia interrupted
eagerly.

"He did not exactly suspect her, for she had done and said nothing of a
suspicious nature. She certainly passed herself off very well for just
what she wished to seem. She is an exceedingly clever woman. His only
uneasiness about her arose from the rather peculiar actions of your
little friend, Virginie de Vos. Still, as I say, Brainerd could not seem
to connect her with any doubtful matters. Franz he _did_ think was
watching him, but even _he_ did nothing to arouse direct suspicion. And,
by the way, the 'Hofmeyer' that Chester heard referred to is none other
than this precious 'Madame Vanderpoel.' It is, in fact, her real name,
for she married, after her first husband died, a German named Hofmeyer.
Little Virginie told me this to-night in a short interview I had with
her. So there you have the famous two.

"Well, to continue. Peter intended to keep the sketch by him and return
it to me at the earliest opportunity. But you know I got back very late
that night, and so he thought best to retain it till morning, fearing it
would arouse suspicion if he made an attempt to see me at so late an
hour. He took the chance of my being a little upset at not finding it.
He even thought it possible I might not discover its disappearance that
night. Then, during the night, the sketch was stolen from his room; he
does not even yet know how, but undoubtedly Franz was the culprit.

"Next morning at breakfast, if you remember, Peter jogged my shoulder
with the tray, and I reprimanded him rather sharply. It was a
preconcerted signal between us that he had something important to tell
me. Later we met, and he told me what had happened and that Franz had
disappeared from his accustomed post. We straightway went on a keen hunt
after Franz, struck his trail at the railroad station, followed him to
New York, pursued him from place to place all day, and finally had him
arrested and searched, only to be disappointed in finding he had nothing
of the sort on him. He must have got over to Hanford and left it there,
or passed the sketch to Madame before she went, or something of the
kind. At any rate, we had to let him go the next morning, as we had no
evidence on which to hold him. After that, I came back here to find you
and Chester had been the best detectives after all!

"The boy actually had the gumption to set the police on the trail of
that Hanford crowd when he got back here. They went right out to raid
the place. But alas! every one of the birds had flown. Not a trace of
them anywhere. Very likely the maid gave the warning after Virginie got
away, and they knew that the authorities would be hot-foot after them in
a very short time. One consolation is that Madame will be known and
spotted wherever she appears, so her usefulness as a German spy is over,
in this country at any rate.

"I think that I have made a great mistake in keeping you in the dark
about all these things, from the first. I might better have let you into
the secret of the importance of the sketch and the fact that our waiter
was only a secret-service man in disguise. But I wanted to spare you all
worry about the matter, and I thought it would be perhaps safer for you
if you knew nothing about my affairs. I see now that I should have done
differently. But, at any rate, it has all turned out so well that we
won't regret anything."

"But what a trump Chester has been! Did you ever see any one quite so
clever?" cried Patricia, enthusiastically. "He is really the one who
saved the whole situation."

"Yes, he is really a wonderful chap!" the captain agreed. "He beat Mr.
Brainerd at his own job, and has done more for me than I can ever hope
to repay. But he shall certainly have his reward, as far as I'm able to
accomplish it. He wants to be a detective, but he is cut out for even
better things if he only has the education and opportunities. I am going
to arrange to have him put in a good school, and later he shall follow
any line of work he seems best fitted for. He will certainly make his
mark in the world some day."

"Well," murmured Patricia, with a little sigh of content, "Chester and
Virginie have certainly lost nothing and gained much by the
disappearance of the Crimson Patch, so I feel as if the adventure had
been well worth while in every way, even though it did cause us an awful
lot of worry!"

The captain reached over to the table and took up the sketch. "It's a
simple little thing to have caused such a lot of worry, isn't it!" he
said musingly. "It looks as harmless and innocent as any butterfly might
seem, fluttering about on a May morning. Yet, it is in reality a very
deadly little article, Patricia. I'm only thankful to goodness that its
deadliness was so well hidden that those Huns never caught on to it. Its
particular usefulness is practically over now, since the work I've been
doing is all but complete. But it would have been a terribly dangerous
thing had it fallen into the hands of the enemy and they had fathomed
its meaning. My work would then have been almost valueless.

"And since you have done so much to aid in keeping this a secret,
Patricia, I think the time has come to tell you the meaning of it all.
You have earned the right, and all I ask is that you will communicate it
to no one till I give you permission. I can trust you, I know.

"I have already told you how, when I was a prisoner in Germany, it
occurred to me that if I pretended to have lost some of my wits, through
shell-shock, as many have, the ruse might benefit me in a number of
ways. I was strong and able-bodied at the time, and the Huns were
particularly in need of husky prisoners to do their work, and they much
prefer those who show symptoms of not having all their wits about them.
I was unusually successful in the device, and was finally set to work in
an outer section of one of their airplane factories—of course, under
strict guard.

"It was here that I came in contact with a German mechanic, a man of
somewhat finer caliber than most of them, to whom I was able to render a
rather important service or two. He was ill and in want, and he had a
serious grievance against his government. He had invented a certain
device of immense importance, and he was trying to get them to accept it
and pay him enough to assure him a decent living. The government wanted
the device badly enough, but was so foolish as to haggle and bargain
with him over the price, offering him scarcely enough to keep him for
six months. He was too ill to work and earn a living, but he steadily
refused to give up his secret till properly reimbursed.

"At length it came to the point where he knew he had but a little longer
to live. Angered, perhaps, that his Fatherland should have been so
ungrateful and mean-spirited, and hating to have his discovery, of which
he was justly proud, lost to the world, he confided it to me, for I had,
some time before, allowed him to know that I was not the stupid creature
I seemed. I asked him whether he cared if America made use of it, and he
replied: 'I care for nothing now. The Fatherland has proved unworthy. Do
with it what you will.'

"Later, as you know, I myself managed to escape and get through to the
French lines. And so I arrived home. But, being of a somewhat mechanical
turn myself, I came to realize that this device, still incomplete as it
was, could be perfected into an instrument of the greatest importance to
the aviation arm of the service. I cannot explain to you exactly what it
is, nor go into all its workings. It would be much too technical for you
to understand.

"But I can tell you this much about it. An aviator in a bombing-plane
has had one great, and, till now, almost insuperable difficulty to
contend with. The velocity of his machine is such that a released bomb
will have for an appreciable time after it is dropped the same
horizontal velocity. This means, in simpler language, that the bomb will
be carried along for a time in the same direction and at almost the same
rate at which the machine is going. Thus, you see that the aviator, if
he is intending to drop his bomb on a certain building or object, cannot
do so when he is directly over that object, but must calculate in some
way at what point to release his bomb before he comes directly over the
object, or it will not hit its mark.

"There have been many attempts to overcome this difficulty, but none
very successful. The device I have perfected comes more nearly to
accuracy than anything yet discovered, and our own Government is only
too glad to make use of it.

"And now we come to The Crimson Patch. When the German mechanic gave me
his secret, he also furnished me with a drawing or diagram of the
instrument. This was absolutely necessary to have, as the invention was
so complicated that I could not possibly have carried it in my head. But
I realized, also, that it would be extremely dangerous to carry it
around with me in the shape in which it was. So I camouflaged the whole
thing in a sketch of the Crimson Patch butterfly, and in this form it
was safe enough, for I had made a point of sketching at times the
various butterflies I had seen while in the prison-camp, and the Germans
thought me only a harmless lunatic on the subject. The Crimson Patch was
no more to them than any other pretty little sketch I had made."

"But, Daddy," cried Patricia, staring at the paper in his hand, "I can't
see a trace of anything like the drawing of a mechanical instrument."

"It is all incorporated in the veining of the wings and shading of the
body," he told her. "No one would understand it save myself, for it is
so much a matter of lines and scale and angles. But it is all there, I
assure you, at least, in its cruder form. Until the machine was
completed, I had to have this sketch constantly where I could refer to
it, at times I even had to carry it about with me. So you see how
important it was, considering the abominable spy-system by which we are
surrounded, that it should appear only the innocent thing it seemed.

"Well, now you know the history of the Crimson Patch. It has certainly
had, as they say, a checkered career! I would like to keep it always as
an interesting souvenir, but it is too dangerous to have about, and the
time of its usefulness is past. Only a few days ago, at the place where
we are to manufacture this device, it was tried out and proved that it
will be a practical success after some necessary alterations are made.
Look your last on it, for in a few minutes its existence will be over!"

He held it up before her eyes a moment. Then, slipping her off his knee,
he walked over to the fireplace, where a big log was still smouldering.
Stirring the fire into a blaze, he tore the sketch into small bits and
dropped the fluttering pieces into the flames. Together they watched
while the charred fragments turned brown, curled over, blazed for a
moment and shriveled into a gray crisp.

Five minutes later the fire died down. The big log rolled over, burying
the ashes under its bulk. And so vanished the last trace of the
mysterious Crimson Patch.


                                THE END



                       _By AUGUSTA HUIELL SEAMAN_

                  THE ADVENTURE OF THE SEVEN KEYHOLES
                  BLUEBONNET BEND
                  THE BOARDED-UP HOUSE
                  THE CRIMSON PATCH
                  THE DRAGON'S SECRET
                  THE EDGE OF RAVEN POOL
                  THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
                  MELISSA-ACROSS-THE-FENCE
                  THE MYSTERY AT NUMBER SIX
                  SALLY SIMMS ADVENTURES IT
                  THE SAPPHIRE SIGNET
                  THE SECRET OF TATE'S BEACH
                  THE SHADOW ON THE DIAL
                  THREE SIDES OF PARADISE GREEN
                  THE SLIPPER POINT MYSTERY
                  TRANQUILLITY HOUSE
                  VOICE IN THE DARK
                  THE VANDERLYN SILHOUETTE
                  THE MYSTERY AT LINDEN HALL



                          TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES


 1. Silently corrected simple spelling, grammar, and typographical
    errors.
 2. Retained anachronistic and non-standard spellings as printed.
 3. Moved advertisement "_By AUGUSTA HUIELL SEAMAN_" from beginning to
    end of volume.
 4. Enclosed italics font in _underscores_.





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