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Title: The Sapphire Signet
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 Sapphire Signet" ***

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produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)



  THE
  SAPPHIRE SIGNET

[Illustration: "I had the _worst_ time puzzling this out!" she said]



                                  THE
                            SAPPHIRE SIGNET

                                  BY
                         AUGUSTA HUIELL SEAMAN
                Author of "The Boarded-Up House," etc.

                            ILLUSTRATED BY
                             C. M. RELYEA

                            [Illustration]

                               NEW YORK
                            THE CENTURY CO.
                                 1916



  Copyright, 1915, 1916, by
  THE CENTURY CO.

  _Published, September, 1916_



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE

      I THE HOUSE IN CHARLTON STREET                                   3

     II SOMETHING TURNS UP                                            16

    III THE DISCOVERY IN THE ATTIC                                    32

     IV A KEY TO THE MYSTERY                                          53

      V "THE LASS OF RICHMOND HILL"                                   65

     VI A SURPRISE                                                    79

    VII THE DISCOVERIES CORINNE MADE                                  91

   VIII BAFFLED!                                                     102

     IX INTRODUCING ALEXANDER                                        114

      X ALEXANDER TAKES HOLD                                         126

     XI ALEXANDER SPRINGS A SURPRISE                                 135

    XII THE MYSTERY UNRAVELS FURTHER                                 149

   XIII ALEXANDER ENGAGES IN SOME HISTORICAL
          RESEARCH                                                   162

    XIV A BELATED DISCOVERY AND A SOLEMN CONCLAVE                    179

     XV SARAH TAKES A HAND IN THE GAME                               192

    XVI THE SAPPHIRE SIGNET                                          209

   XVII IN WHICH SARAH CHANGES HER MIND                              228

  XVIII TWO SURPRISES                                                245

    XIX THE MISSING LINKS                                            255



ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                    PAGE

  "I had the _worst_ time puzzling this out!" she said    _Frontispiece_

  "Corinne noticed that the bottom of the trunk seemed
      all wrong."                                                     37

  "He gazed hard at me as I stood on the lawn."                       71

  "Madame Mortier warned Alison that she wasn't to have
      any communication with the rebels."                            109

  "I poked around it, top, bottom, and sides."                       143

  "You must welcome the latest member of the Antiquarian
      Club, Miss President!"                                         205

  He began to tap the inside of the trunk all over, carefully,
      with the handle of his penknife                                223

  "For a minute or two she didn't answer."                           265



  THE SAPPHIRE SIGNET



  THE SAPPHIRE SIGNET
  OR
  "THE LASS OF RICHMOND HILL"



CHAPTER I

THE HOUSE IN CHARLTON STREET


It was five o'clock and a very dull, dark afternoon in Charlton
Street. One by one lights had twinkled out in all the little
two-story-and-dormer-windowed houses on the block,—in all but one.
The parlor windows of this house were still unlit, but behind the
flower-box in one of them a hand could be seen moving aside the white
curtains at frequent intervals and a dim face peering anxiously into
the dusk.

At ten minutes past five precisely, two trim girl-figures turned the
corner of Varick Street, hurried down the block, raced up the steps
of this same house, and waved frantically at the dark windows. An
answering wave saluted them from between the parted curtains. At the
same moment lights twinkled out from the windows, and a quick hand
pulled down the shades with a jerk, shutting out the dim street for the
night. But back of the drawn shades a small figure in an invalid-chair
held out welcoming arms to the girls who had just entered.

"My! How long you were! I thought you'd never get here to-day. And it's
been so dark and dismal all the afternoon, too!" The two girls, who
were plainly twins, knelt down, one on each side of the invalid-chair.

"We _were_ an age, I know, Margaret dear," began Bess, "but there was a
good reason. It's quite exciting,—all about the new girl!"

"Yes, you can never guess what, either!" echoed Jess, winding one of
Margaret's dark curls around her finger.

"Oh, tell me—quick!" The child's big, beautiful gray eyes fairly
sparkled with eagerness, and a faint flush tinted her delicate face.
"Is it that queer girl you told me about, who only came into the class
a few days ago?"

"That's the one,—but let's get our things off first and see if Sarah
made any cookies to-day. We're starving!"

A huge woman who had been moving about the room lighting gas-jets,
pulling down shades, and straightening the furniture, now broke into
the conversation: "Ye kin save yerselves the trouble! I ain't made no
cookies this day—an' me wid all that wash! What d' ye think I be?"

"Go 'long, Sarah!" laughed Bess. "You know there's probably a whole
jarful in the pantry, and we don't care whether you made them to-day or
a week ago. They're always dandy!"

Sarah gave a chuckle that shook her huge frame, and tucked a light
shawl lovingly about the knees of the girl in the chair.

"Ye'll have a hard time findin' any!" she warned, as the two ran off.
"Won't they, Margie, macushla?"

In five minutes the twins were back, each with a massive chunk of
chocolate layer-cake in her hand and a mouth full of the same.

"You told the truth, Sarah, for once! There weren't any cookies, but
this is heaps better!"

"If ye get any crumbs on me floor," threatened Sarah, ominously,
"ye'll have no more cake of any kind, the week out!" And she departed
downstairs in great (pretended) displeasure.

"Now for it! Tell me right away," demanded Margaret. "I'm _so_
impatient to hear!"

"Well," began Bess, in muffled tones, struggling to swallow a large
mouthful of cake, "you remember we told you about that nice girl who
came into our section three days ago, but who seemed so offish and
queer and quiet. She's always staring out of the window, as if she were
dreaming. And when she isn't studying, she's reading some book the
whole time. And she hardly ever talks to a soul. Jess and I thought
she must feel rather lonesome and strange. You know it is rather hard
to come into the first year of High School more than a month after
everything's started, and every one else has got acquainted, and try
to pick up! I think one must feel so awfully out of it!

"So Jess and I decided we'd ask her to eat lunch with us to-day. She
always eats by herself, and yesterday she didn't eat at all,—just read
a book the whole time! I went up to her at lunch-period and said—"

"What's her name?" interrupted Margaret.

"Corinne Cameron,—isn't it a dandy name? Corinne! It has such a
_distinguished_ sound!—Well, she was reading, as usual, and looked
up at me sort of dazed and far-away when I asked her if she'd care to
eat with us. But she seemed very glad to do it and came right over. We
had a very interesting talk, and she asked us right away to call her
'Corinne,' instead of 'Miss Cameron,' as they do in High School. She
said it made her feel about a hundred miles away from every one to be
called 'Miss.' So of course we asked her to call us 'Elisabeth' and
'Jessica.'"

"But why didn't you tell her just 'Bess' and 'Jess'?" interrupted
Margaret again. "That's so much more natural."

"Well, you see, 'Corinne' sounds so sort of distinguished and—and
dignified! And somehow our names don't. They just seem ordinary
and—and so like small children. And at least 'Elisabeth' and 'Jessica'
seem more—grown-up!"

"What does she look like?" questioned Margaret, going off on another
tack.

"Oh, she's, well, sort of distinguished-looking, too—like her name.
She's tall and slim and has very dark brown wavy hair, and big, dark
eyes, almost black, and the prettiest straight nose,—not a little
_snub_ like ours (I don't mean yours, Margaret! _That's_ all right!).
But she always acts as though her thoughts were about a thousand miles
away. She talked about books mostly, and asked us if we didn't just
_love_ to read. And when we said no, not so awfully, she seemed so
astonished. I said we'd rather play basket-ball, and she laughed and
said we couldn't play that _all_ the time, and what did we do with our
spare moments. I told her we didn't have many, because, at home here,
we were always busy amusing you or helping Sarah, when we weren't
studying.

"Then she asked about you, Margaret, and was _so_ interested when we
told her about your poor back, and how you couldn't move around much or
go to school, but studied with us and knew just as much as we did—and
_more_, because you read a great deal, too, even though you are only
thirteen and we're fifteen. And she said:

"'That's perfectly fine!' Well, we were talking so hard that we
scarcely noticed lunch-period was over, and we hadn't said half that we
wanted to. She promised to eat with us every day.

"This afternoon we decided not to stay for basket-ball in the gym,
because Jess's finger hurts so much where she cut it last night. So we
left at half-past two (which we hardly ever do), and who should start
to walk over our way but Corinne, and she was delighted that we could
go part of the way together. She lives in the Ten Eyck, that swell new
apartment in West Twelfth Street."

"The Ten Eyck!" exclaimed Margaret, in a tone of hushed awe. "Gracious!
she must be very wealthy, then!"

"Wait till you hear!" murmured Jess, parenthetically, and Bess went on:

"She told us they'd just moved there because her father, who isn't
in very good health, has to live near his business. He's in a big
steamship company on West Street. And until now they've always lived in
an apartment on Madison Avenue near Central Park. They just moved down
here a week ago. Her mother is dead, and an aunt, her father's sister,
lives with them.

"By this time we had reached the Ten Eyck, and what do you think!—she
asked us to come in and chat awhile, because she was all alone. Her
aunt was out at some club. Of course we went in, and my! but it was
splendiferous, especially going up to the eighth floor in a big
elevator! Their rooms are sort of built all around a central hall.
It's different from any apartment we were ever in. Corinne took us to
her room, which was about as large as this parlor, and had the cutest
low bookcases all around the walls and lovely cushioned seats in the
windows. And we sat there and talked a long time.

"But here's another queer thing about her. While we were talking about
school and our studies, and how hard the geometry seemed, she suddenly
showed us an old book that was lying on her table,—it was a _very_
old, battered-up looking book with brown stains on the leaves, and one
cover half hanging off, and the queerest old-fashioned pictures,—and,
she asked us whether we'd like to look at it. She said it was her chief
treasure just now. It was called 'Valentine's Manual, Volume II,' and
seemed to be all about New York City in very early times. She said her
father had picked it up at an auction-sale of some one's library, and
had given it to her for her birthday.

"I didn't say much, for somehow I thought it was an awfully queer thing
to get for your birthday—an old, dilapidated, uninteresting book like
that! And then I guess she saw that we were surprised, for she said:

"'Don't you love _old_ things?'

"I just had to laugh,—it all seemed so queer! And I said, no, I
preferred them brand-new. And then she said:

"'Well, perhaps every one doesn't feel the same as I do; for Father
says I'm a born antiquarian, just as he is!' We couldn't say a word,
either of us, for actually, we don't know what 'antiquarian' means! She
went out of the room just after that and brought back some lemonade and
little sweet crackers. Then we had to leave, for it was getting late,
and we knew you'd be watching for us." Here Bess ended her recital and
Margaret instantly exclaimed:

"Get the dictionary—quick! I want to see what 'antiquarian' means!"

"That's just like you!" commented Jess, as she hauled a big Webster's
Unabridged out of the bookcase. "You're a lot like Corinne, too. I
think you two would get on beautifully together. Here it is:

"'Antiquarian,—one who is addicted to the study of antiquities; an
admirer of antiquity.' And 'antiquities' are old things, of course.
Well, what she sees to admire in 'em beats me! Anyhow, she's an awfully
nice girl,—sort of unusual, you know,—and I'm glad we made her
acquaintance. Bess and I were saying on the way home that it's kind of
like an _adventure_ to meet unusual people—" Jess broke off suddenly,
at the sound of a latch-key in the front door, and they all exclaimed:

"There's Mother! Isn't she early to-night!"

A pleasant-voiced woman called out to them cheerily, and a moment later
entered the room. Mrs. Bronson's face, which singularly resembled her
youngest daughter's, had once been very pretty, but now showed many
traces of anxious care. Her expression was of one who was constantly
thinking over worrisome matters. But at the sight of the trio her face
lit up, the lines smoothed away temporarily, and ten years seemed
magically to drop from her as she sat down in the group, questioning
them about the affairs of their day.

After a few moments the twins went off downstairs to help Sarah with
the dinner, and Margaret was left to her coveted half-hour alone with
her mother.

"Oh, Mummy," she sighed, snuggling her head on Mrs. Bronson's shoulder,
"this is lovely! You don't often get home so early. But I appreciate it
specially, because I feel sort of blue and no-'count to-night."

"Is that so, dear?" exclaimed her mother, some of the anxious lines
returning to her face. "Is the pain worse? What has happened to-day?"

"No, it isn't my back," Margaret almost sobbed. "It's just that
_nothing_ has happened—to me—to-day; nothing ever _does_ happen! I
just sit here all day long, waiting for 'something to turn up,' like
Dickens' _Mr. Micawber_, and nothing ever does turn up! The twins
go out and meet nice people and have pleasant things happen, but
there's nothing like that for me. Oh, I want some adventures—just one
nice, big, beautiful adventure would do—some delightful, unexpected
surprise! I'd be content if I could have just _one_!" It was very
unusual for Margaret to make the slightest complaint, and it was well
now that her head was on her mother's shoulder, and that she did not
see the sudden pain in Mrs. Bronson's face.

"Dearie, I know!" her mother said. "It's dull enough for you, sitting
here day after day. But we're all doing the best we can to make you
happy. After all, you never can tell what's going to happen. Just keep
on hoping for something interesting to 'turn up,' and I'm sure sometime
it will. Things occasionally happen in the most unexpected way! Even
_Mr. Micawber_ had something pleasant 'turn up' after a while, if you
remember."

Margaret snuggled her head closer. "You're a _dear_, Mummy! You
do cheer me up so! I feel better already, and I'm going to hope
harder than ever that something nice and interesting—some real
_adventure_—will turn up sometime, perhaps _soon_!"



CHAPTER II

SOMETHING TURNS UP


And the unexpected happened sooner, much sooner, than Margaret would
even have dared to dream. Something did "turn up"! But like many
adventures, it came clothed in the guise of quite an ordinary, every
day affair, and there was little about its beginning to suggest the
remotest idea of anything startling. To be exact, it was simply that
about a week after the beginning of their acquaintance the twins came
home one day with the announcement that their new friend, Corinne, had
expressed a decided wish to call and make Margaret's acquaintance, and
that they had invited her for the following day. At first Margaret had
protested strongly:

"Oh, no, girls! I can't see her. You know I never see any strangers.
It's awfully nice of her. But—but I wouldn't know what to say to any
one I didn't know very well. Do thank her for me, but—"

"Nonsense!" cried Bess, decidedly. "It'll do you good to see some one
beside just ourselves. Mother thinks so too. And you'll _like_ her,
I know. I couldn't tell her she mustn't come, anyway! It wouldn't be
polite!" And that clinched the argument.

In reality, it had seemed quite wonderful to Margaret that this
interesting new friend of her sisters could possibly care to become
acquainted with her, and she felt grateful for the pleasant attention.
But with the unconquerable shyness of a secluded invalid she shrank
from the meeting, all her longing for something new and exciting to
happen being temporarily forgotten. And then the day arrived.

"Ye'll be after havin' company, this afternoon, Margie mavourneen, so
I suppose ye'll be wantin' a little snack about half-past four?" Sarah
had just wheeled Margaret into the front parlor by the window, raised
the shades a trifle, and tucked her idol securely and cozily into her
chair.

"Oh, yes, Sarah! Do have hot chocolate and those lovely drop-cakes you
made this morning!"

"Who's the gur-rl that's comin', anyway? Shure it's a strange thing for
_you_ to be seein' any one!" Sarah exclaimed jealously as she turned to
leave the room.

"Oh, some one named Corinne Cameron. She's a nice girl. The twins like
her," replied Margaret, with assumed indifference. Not for worlds would
she have allowed Sarah to read her real feelings on the subject.

"Huh!" was Sarah's only reply as she handed Margaret her book and
lumbered heavily downstairs to the kitchen, while the invalid settled
herself to wait for the arrival of her twin sisters and their "queer"
new friend. It was only two o'clock and she couldn't possibly expect
them before three or a quarter past. The time loomed long and
interminable before her. First she tried to read, but even the beloved
"Little Women" failed to interest her. So she rested her elbow on the
arm of her chair, and, chin in hand, stared out of the window across
the street at a squat little dormer-windowed house directly opposite.

Would she really, she wondered, like the girl who was coming that day?
The occasion was certainly an unusual one in her uneventful life, for
she saw, as a rule, almost no one outside of her own family, except the
doctor. From the time she was a small baby she had suffered with an
affection of the spine, and the physicians could hold out no hope that
she would ever be anything but an invalid. Ever since she had grown
too large to be carried about, she had spent her waking hours in this
invalid-chair.

Of the outside world she saw little save the view from the parlor
windows, and what passed before her each sunny day during the short
hour that Sarah pushed her in her chair up and down the block. But
Margaret was singularly loving and sweet-tempered, and most of the time
successfully hid the pain and weariness she suffered, both in body and
mind. Few realized, except the faithful Sarah, what bodily misery she
often endured; and none could appreciate the unconquerable shyness that
kept her from all companionship with girls of her own age, excepting
that of her sisters.

Margaret envied nothing more heartily than the ability to join in the
athletic sports of the robust twins. She yearned above all things to
play basket-ball and wield a tennis-racket. And because such things
were to be forever impossible to her, she felt that she could be of
no earthly interest to her sisters' equally athletic comrades, so she
shyly refused to meet any of them. But this new girl was obviously
"different." Margaret felt that perhaps she would understand, that
they would find much of common interest to talk about. For Margaret,
too, loved books,—loved them with the passionate delight that only
confirmed invalids can feel for the printed magic that takes them
out of themselves and makes them forget their bodily ills. She read
voraciously everything that came her way. Beside that, she had long ago
insisted on studying with the twins. She kept pace with them through
all their school work and often outstripped them in the quickness
of her comprehension. And the twins were immensely proud of her
attainments.

The home life of the Bronsons was a pleasant one, but rather different
in many ways from that of ordinary families. Their father had died when
Margaret was a baby. Their mother was the busy, worried, overworked
director of a large French dressmaking establishment on Fifth Avenue.
By her earnings she supported her family in moderate comfort and
maintained the little house in Charlton Street, which had always been
their home. She went away to business early every morning, and often
did not arrive home till late in the evening, especially in the "rush"
seasons. Thus she saw little of her children except on Sundays, and
then she was usually too tired to enjoy their company, though she loved
them devotedly.

It was big, loyal Sarah McKinstry who really ran and directed the
household. She had lived with the family ever since Mrs. Bronson had
come to the Charlton Street house, a bride, and considered it her
own. Little, frail, ailing Margaret she adored with a passionate and
jealous devotion. Margaret never teased her, as did the twins, and many
a weary night had she spent sitting up with the little sufferer when
the pain was worse than usual. Her sharp tongue she used on the others
unsparingly, but never on the delicate child in the invalid-chair.
Nevertheless, as a matter of fact, she was really devoted to them all.
And though they, perhaps, never expressed it in quite that way, they
knew that the heart of Sarah McKinstry was as a precious jewel in a
setting of cast-iron.

So on this sunny afternoon sat Margaret in her window, wondering much
about the coming visit,—wondering for the hundredth time if she would
really like this queer Corinne Cameron, and—which was even more
important—would she be liked in return.

The clock on the mantel chimed three, and Margaret began to crane her
neck in order to see as far down the street as possible. They would
come from the Varick Street end of the block, she knew, because they
always walked down that way, in preference to the shorter but not so
pleasant route through Macdougal Street.

At three-fifteen precisely they swung into view. The twins, who
looked very much alike, were walking one on each side of a tall girl,
who topped them by almost a head. Margaret gave a little gasp and
leaned far out of her chair. In one swift glance she scanned the new
acquaintance, as the three came abreast of the house.

"Oh, I'm going to like her—_surely_!" she whispered, as she waved in
answer to the triple salute. Then she drew back suddenly behind the
curtains in a new access of shyness, now that the encounter was really
so close.

But if Margaret had any lingering doubts on the subject, they were
quickly dispelled in the first half-hour with the "queer" girl. Corinne
broke the ice at once after her introduction to the little invalid.

"What a dear, fascinating house you live in!" she began, gazing about
the parlor with her dreamy, far-away look. "That carved marble mantel
is just fine, and so are the pillars between the rooms, and all this
white paneling."

The twins stared at each other and then at Margaret.

"Mercy! Do you think so?" cried Bess. "Why, we've always thought it the
horridest, old-fashioned place—"

"That's just what I mean," interrupted Corinne. "It _is_ old-fashioned,
and that's why it's so delightful!"

"Oh, we forgot that you like _old_ things!" laughed Bess. "Well, this
is just a little, old, shabby rookery, and not a single interesting
thing about it. You don't know how we've _longed_ to move into a lovely
new apartment—like the one you live in, for instance,—and have all
the up-to-date fixings and everything."

"Well, I'd give a _lot_ to change with you!" replied Corinne. "I
_hate_ apartments! I've lived in one all my life, and I've always just
dreamed of living in a dear old house like this that was built fifty or
a hundred years ago. Think of all the things that must have happened
in it, and all the history it's seen!—Nobody ever heard of anything
_historical_ about an apartment-house!"

Margaret, who hadn't said a word all this time, leaned forward now with
shining eyes and demanded:

"But—Corinne—" (she hesitated just a little over the unaccustomed
name) "what can you possibly see about this place that's interesting?
We've always thought it just as ordinary as—as ordinary could be,—when
we've thought about it at all!" And now Corinne was in her element.

"Why, think of it!" she exclaimed. "Think what stories there must be
about this house—or any old house! Think what strange things may have
happened in it! Think what history it's seen! Think what mysteries
there may be about it—if we only knew them! Just imagine what scenes
people may have looked at out of those darling little dormer-windows,
or what famous generals may have leaned against this white-pillared
mantel and talked of their battles, or what traitors may have sat in
this parlor and laid plots, or what secret letters may be hidden
behind the woodwork in that funny little cater-cornered closet over
there, or—"

She stopped suddenly from sheer lack of breath. Her three listeners
were staring at her spellbound. Even the less impressionable twins were
devouring her words in wide-eyed wonder.

As for Margaret, she was tingling to her finger-tips with a strange
excitement. A whole new vista of wonderful things had suddenly been
opened to her. She looked about on what she had always considered her
perfectly ordinary, commonplace home, and her very scalp prickled to
think of the many-sided mysteries its walls might contain. She felt
a sudden wild desire to get to the cater-cornered closet Corinne had
mentioned (though she knew it contained nothing more exciting than
Sarah's dusters and some dilapidated books), rip out its white woodwork
and search frantically for hidden documents. Instead, she leaned back
in her chair with a long sigh, and remarked:

"Well, you are a wonder, Corinne! You've given me something new to
think of. From now on, this house will always be as interesting to me
as a story!"

Corinne nodded, but only said, "I know!"

Suddenly Jess sat up with a start and exclaimed:

"Oh, by the way, Corinne, as you're so interested in old things, I
wonder if you'd like to see the spinning-wheel we've got up in the
attic. Mother says it belonged to her grandmother in New England more
than a hundred years ago!"

"Have you actually an _attic_?" cried Corinne, joyfully. "Oh, do let
me see it—that is, if it won't be inconvenient! Actually, girls,
I've never been in a _real_ attic in my life! And I'd love to see the
spinning-wheel, too."

"Well, come right along with me," said Jess, "and we'll see it while
the daylight lasts. I suppose it isn't the same kind of an attic you'd
find in a big old farmhouse, but it's the open space over the top floor
that we've always used as an attic and storeroom, except the back part,
which is finished off into a room that Sarah uses. She's our maid,—or
rather, our housekeeper, and we'd better not let her catch us up
there, because she's awfully particular how she keeps the attic, and
never allows us to go up and disturb things."

So Jess escorted the antique-loving Corinne to the exploration of the
attic, while Bess remained downstairs to keep Margaret company.

"Well?" she questioned, turning to her younger sister as soon as the
others were out of ear-shot. She knew that no further explanation of
her question was necessary.

"Oh, she's simply wonderful!" exclaimed Margaret, in a half-whisper.
"I rather expected I'd _like_ her, but I never dreamed she'd be as
interesting as this. And she thinks the same way I do about a lot of
things."

"But isn't she _queer_!" marveled Bess. "Actually, on the way walking
down here this afternoon, I thought we'd never be able to drag her
past some of the old, rickety places on Varick Street. She'd stand in
front of each one and rave about it till we really began to attract the
notice of people passing. But she didn't care! You'd have thought we
were sight-seeing in Europe! And she was worst of all in front of that
ramshackle old place on the corner of Carmine Street, that has a whole
piece of the side cut off, apparently, and the front door stuck in that
funny angle. True as you live, she got out a blank-book and pencil and
stood there sketching it! (You know, she draws beautifully.) Said she
wanted to show it to her father! I didn't think or care anything about
that kind of talk then; but do you know, what she's said here this
afternoon actually makes me feel kind of interested in it all! I seem
to see a lot in these old things that I didn't before."

Bess gazed about the parlor again with speculative eyes, and added:
"Now, that old cupboard in the corner, for instance," when they were
both startled by a loud crash from upstairs.

"Gracious!—what was that?" she exclaimed, and ran out to the foot of
the stairs to listen. But as there were no further alarming noises, she
soon came back.

"I guess it wasn't anything serious, but I hope nothing's broken or
disturbed, or Sarah'll have a fit!"

Five minutes later, Corinne and Jess came tearing down the stairs,
breathless and excited, the latter carrying something in her hand.

"Did you hear that bang?" cried Jess. "It was an accident—I'll tell
you about it—but we made the most wonderful discovery—you can never
guess what!" she was panting for breath and stopped short at this point.

"Tell me! Tell me quick!" begged Margaret, almost wriggling out of her
chair in her excitement.

"Here it is!" Corinne, equally breathless, took up the tale. "We
brought it down—" At this moment there came the sound of heavy,
thumping steps on the basement stairs, and Jess, running to the
bookcase, hastily thrust something far behind a row of books.

"Sarah's coming!" she warned. "I've hid it. She mustn't guess what
we've been up to, or she'd spoil everything!" She laid a warning finger
on her lips as Sarah tramped massively into the parlor bearing a
daintily spread tray.

"I hur-rd a tur-rible bangin' jest now!" she remarked suspiciously as
she set it down. Then turning her eyes on the twins: "What might the
pair of ye have been up to?"

"Oh, nothing, Sarah!" Jess replied sweetly. "I went up to the attic
for a moment, and something fell while I was pulling it out. But there
wasn't any damage done," she hastened on reassuringly, "and I put it
right back!"

"I've warned ye to keep out of that attic!" grumbled Sarah, arranging
the chocolate-cups. "Something always happens when ye go there. From
now on, I think I'll be lockin' it up!"

"My gracious!" thought Margaret, boiling inwardly with impatience. "I
_do_ believe this is an _adventure_, at last! Will Sarah _ever_ get out
of this room so that I can hear all about it!"



CHAPTER III

THE DISCOVERY IN THE ATTIC


But Sarah continued to circulate around the little tea-table, clattering
the cups, pouring the chocolate, and handing about the napkins and
plates. And all the while she was scanning Margaret's new visitor with
jealous and appraising eyes. Her ministrations seemed fairly interminable
to the impatient four, and during the whole time that she was serving
the refreshments not one of them uttered a word. So much of a contrast
was this silence to their usual volubility, that she delivered this
Parthian shot as she was at last taking her departure:

"Ye all seem mighty quiet, though ye were chatterin' hard enough when I
come up! I'm thinkin' ye must have guilty consciences!"

When she had disappeared, Corinne spoke up:

"You girls all seem rather afraid of your maid, if you'll pardon my
remarking it! But I think she seems very good-hearted."

"Why, it's this way," replied Bess. "You see, Sarah's more than just a
maid or a servant. She runs the whole house, really, because Mother's
away so much and just trusts her with everything. She's awfully good
to us children and would do almost anything for us. But she's very,
very particular about her work and her way of arranging things, and she
won't be interfered with the least bit. Why, Mother herself wouldn't
think of changing any of Sarah's arrangements, even if she didn't like
them, because Sarah wouldn't stand for it, and we couldn't do without
her. Jess and I tease her a lot, and she lets us have anything we want
to eat; but we mustn't on any account interfere with her in other ways,
or there'd be trouble!"

Bess did not enlighten Corinne, however, as to the real reason for
their consideration of Sarah. It was because of an episode that had
happened when she and her twin sister were several years younger. They
had rebelled one fine day at what they considered Sarah's tyranny,
and for twelve long hours had led her a life of excitement and angry
remonstrance. And then that night, just as their mother arrived home,
behold Sarah descending the stairs, dressed for departure, a huge
carpetbag in each hand. A stormy and tearful scene ensued in which
Sarah finally relented at the urgent importunities of the distracted
Mrs. Bronson. But she promised to remain only on condition that the
twins should obey her implicitly from that moment.

And in the privacy of their bedroom that night Mrs. Bronson had warned
the nine-year-old rebels that, should such a scene ever occur again,
she would give up their home, put Margaret in a sanatorium and the
twins in the strictest boarding-school she could find, and herself find
a place to live nearer to her business. The threat had its lasting
effect, and nothing of the kind had ever happened since. But this was
the true reason why the family lived in wholesome awe of Sarah. And, as
the twins were anything but proud of the episode, they never referred
to it.

"Sarah will probably do just as she threatened," added Jess, looking
meaningly at Corinne, "and lock up the attic. She's awfully particular
about that place! You'd think it was as important as the parlor!"

Suddenly Margaret, who could endure the suspense no longer, burst out:

"If some one doesn't tell me quick all about that mysterious thing you
found in the attic, I'll—I'll go _crazy_!" Then she dropped back in
her chair, overcome anew by shyness at having been so vehement before a
comparative stranger.

"Oh, tell her, right away!" cried Corinne. "I know just how she feels!"

"Well, it happened this way," began Jess, between a sip of chocolate
and a bite of drop-cake. "Corinne and I were looking at the
spinning-wheel—"

"Yes, and it's a beauty, too!" interrupted Corinne. "You ought to have
it down here."

"—and then we got to poking around, looking into some boxes and
talking about the funny old hooded cradle that Mother brought from her
home in Massachusetts. And all of a sudden Corinne spied that little
old hair-trunk,—do you remember it, Bess?—and she said she'd never
seen an old trunk like that before. I asked her if she'd like to look
into it. I really didn't remember, myself, what the inside was like or
what was kept in it. She said she would, so we started to haul it down.
It's rather small, and Sarah had it piled way up on that high shelf.

"Well, I guess we gave it too hard a jerk, for all of a sudden, down
it came—smash!—and flew open (you know it hasn't any lock now), and
everything in it was scattered all over the floor. Sarah had all our
winter flannels packed away in it, and you can imagine what a time
we had picking them up and trying to fold and get them back so she
wouldn't know what had happened!

[Illustration: "Corinne noticed that the bottom of the trunk seemed all
wrong"]

"But here's the queer part of it! Just after we'd collected all the
things and folded them nicely and were going to put them back,
Corinne noticed that the bottom of the trunk seemed all wrong. One
corner of it was humped up as though it had been knocked through in
falling. I tell you I was scared, for I thought Sarah'd just go wild
when she found it out! But when we turned the trunk upside down,—lo
and behold! the bottom of it was _all right_—just as tight as a trivet!

"If we weren't astonished! We just didn't know what to make of it! Then
we turned it back, and I put my hand under the part that was poked up,
gave it a pull, and—it came right out!—the whole bottom! And there,
if you please, was the _real_ bottom of the trunk, underneath! But
between the two was lying hidden—_this_!" Jess ran to the bookcase,
pulled out the mysterious object she had concealed there, and crossing
the room laid it in Margaret's lap. They all crowded about the chair.

"Why!" exclaimed Bess, in a tone of great disappointment, before
the others could speak, "it's only an old, dusty, disreputable
account-book with the back torn off. I don't see anything so wonderful
in that!"

"Wait till you've seen what's inside!" remarked Corinne, quietly.
Margaret, meanwhile, was fingering the crumbly leather cover, wondering
at its queer, mottled aspect. Then she opened it to the first page and
suddenly gave a big gasp.

"Well, of all things!" she murmured. "What in the world can it mean? I
never saw anything like it before!"

"Neither did I!" agreed Bess, now in a tone of real awe. The other two
only smiled, with a rather "I-told-you-so!" expression. Well might they
marvel over its strange contents. The pages were yellow with age and
mottled with curious brown stains, and some of them were torn. But the
writing was still visible, and this is what it looked like:—

[Illustration]

with similar characters all down the first page. A glance through the
rest of the long thin book revealed the same array of bewildering
symbols to the very last leaf, where the back cover was missing.

The four sat for a moment in silent astonishment, trying to make some
sense out of the riddle. Suddenly Margaret had an idea.

"I know! It's shorthand! I've read that that is writing with funny
curves and dots and wiggly lines."

"No," Corinne gently corrected her, "I don't think it's shorthand,
Margaret. I saw some shorthand that Father's stenographer wrote once,
and it was quite different from this. Besides, this seems quite old, as
if it were done many years ago, and shorthand's a comparatively modern
invention, I think."

"Well, then, it must be Chinese or Syrian or Russian or something like
that!" asserted Jess. "I've seen lots of signs over the stores of
foreigners that don't look so very different from this. Or—oh, I know
now! it's _Greek_!"

Corinne laughed. "No indeed, it isn't Greek!" she declared. "Father
taught me the Greek alphabet when I was a tiny girl, and made me learn
to know the letters. I'm going to study it when I go to college. This
is entirely different. I don't believe they're letters of any other
language, either."

She sat in frowning thought over the strange page for several minutes,
while the others watched her in breathless interest. They, having
no further solutions to offer, threw themselves unreservedly on her
greater resourcefulness. Jess, meanwhile, refilled the chocolate-cups,
and Bess passed the cake, while Margaret reveled in such excitement as
she had never before experienced. Corinne still remained thoughtfully
turning the pages. Suddenly she exclaimed:

"I have it!—at least, I _think_ so!"

"What? what? oh, quick!" they begged.

"I think some one has written all this in what they call a—a 'cipher.'
I've heard of such things. Father told me people often send messages
over the telegraph or cable in cipher—"

"But what is that? How?" demanded Margaret.

"Why, they have certain words or expressions which stand for other
words or even whole sentences. And you can't understand the message
unless you have the 'code' or explanation. For instance, a man may
cable just the words 'Pay Smith' to his broker, and that may mean 'Buy
me five thousand bushels of wheat to-day.'"

"Yes, but that isn't a bit like what's here," argued Margaret.

"No, but it's the same idea," Corinne declared. "I think in this case
some one has taken certain signs to represent the different letters of
the alphabet. First I thought that perhaps each sign might stand for
a different word. But that could hardly be, because there are so many
words, one could hardly find signs enough to go round. And besides, I
notice in looking through the book that there are comparatively few
signs, and they are constantly repeated." She fell to gazing silently
at the book again, while the others watched, still more fascinated by
the discoveries she was making. Presently she looked up again.

"I've found out something else, I think. Do you see that sign of the
triangle? Well, if you notice, that occurs more frequently than any of
the others. In the first five lines there are more than fourteen of
them, and no other sign happens as frequently as that. Now, if these
signs stand for letters, that couldn't be a letter, even if it were one
of the commonest, like 'a' or 'i' or 'e'—"

"What _can_ it be then?" whispered Margaret, in a voice so tense that
they all laughed.

"I think it means the _space_ between the words!" vouchsafed Corinne.
"You see, there'd have to be _something_ to indicate spaces. You
couldn't have the words all jumbled up together. It wouldn't make
sense!"

"Well, you are wonderful!" sighed Jess, sitting back on her heels. "I
never would have thought of it in a century!"

"Oh, no!" laughed Corinne. "There's nothing wonderful about that. It's
only common sense and puzzling it out like a riddle. Now see! If we
take it for granted that the triangle means a space between the words,
this sign of the dot between two triangles must be either the letter
'a,' 'I' or 'O,' for those are the only words of just one letter.
But you can't tell which it is till you've puzzled out some more.
And—after all, this idea may be all wrong. It may be something quite
different, for all we know!"

"But what can it all be about?" began Jess, going off on another tack.
"And how under the sun did the thing get hidden away in our old trunk
under a false bottom. It's awfully mysterious!"

"Tell you what I think," volunteered Corinne. "Whatever it is, it's
been in that trunk for years and years—hidden there, perhaps, when the
trunk belonged to some one else. Do you know where it came from—the
trunk, I mean?"

"No, I don't even know whether it was Father's or Mother's," answered
Jess. "But I can ask Mother. Maybe she'd know."

"I'd like to puzzle this thing out!" mused Corinne. "Who knows! Perhaps
we'd find it was something awfully interesting. It's simply full of
mystery and—and possibilities!" At this point, Margaret, who during
all the latter conversation had been fidgeting with impatience, began:

"Now, girls, look here! I've just had the most delightful idea! We've
made the discovery of something awfully interesting, probably, if we
could only find out what it's all about. Why not let's form ourselves
into a secret society—just we four—with the purpose of finding out
all about this mystery? We won't let another soul into the secret—not
even Mother. Oh, it'll be _such_ fun! Do, _please_!"

She looked imploringly at the twins, and for once they did not appear
to object—even looked a trifle interested. For it was the ambition of
Margaret's pitiful, limited little life to be the member of a "secret
society." She had read much of school fraternities and clubs, and the
fascinating idea had taken a firm root in her mind. Of course for
her—poor helpless little invalid that she was—there could be no
such thing as membership or participation in the real organizations.
In place of this, she was forever begging her sisters to form a tiny
society of their own, just the three, and have meetings and secrets and
all the paraphernalia of the big school "frats."

But the idea had never appealed to the twins. They had no interest in
any of the school clubs except the basket-ball and tennis teams. And
to have a make-believe one at home with no earthly or apparent object
was something they had never yet brought themselves to consider, much
as they loved their invalid sister. But here was something a trifle
different! Margaret, quick to see her advantage, hastened on:

"Oh, yes! _Do_ let's have one! Wouldn't it be a good idea, Corinne?
Think of the fun we'd have, meeting and puzzling out this queer old
book! Perhaps it might lead to something important, too. And I've even
thought of a name for it,—we could call it the _Antiquarian Club_!"

The latter idea captured Corinne. "That's a dandy name for
it,—'Antiquarian Club'! I _like_ that! And besides, it's true, too,
for if this isn't an antiquity, I'd like to know what is! Yes, let's
have the club!" Corinne was moved to accept the idea by two impulses.
The notion really did appeal to her, but even if it hadn't, she would
have pretended it did for the sake of the pathetic little figure in the
invalid-chair, who was rapidly taking a firm hold of her heart.

"Oh, goody! And you do like the idea, too, don't you, girls?" exclaimed
Margaret. The twins capitulated unreservedly.

"Yes, we do," said Bess. "I've always detested such societies because
they seemed so useless. But this thing is really worth having a club
for!"

Margaret, however, had something else on her mind. "Oh, just one thing
more," she added, a little shyly. "Could I—could I be—_president_?
All clubs have to have a president. I would so love to be!"

"Indeed you shall!" spoke up Corinne before either of the others had a
chance. "We elect you at once—unanimously—don't we, girls? And now,
Miss President, you can appoint the rest of us to other offices!"

Margaret flushed with pleasure. "I appoint you, Corinne, to be
secretary. There always has to be one of those. And there usually is a
treasurer, if there is any money to handle. But there won't be here,
for we won't have any dues. So I don't know what to call the others."

"Let's just be plain members, for the present," suggested Bess. "And
now, what are we going to do about this book, Miss President?"

"I think we ought to let Corinne take it home and see if she can puzzle
out any more of it before next meeting," decided Margaret. "That would
be all right, wouldn't it?" They all agreed.

"I'd like to show it to Father and ask him what he thinks—" began
Corinne, but Margaret hastily interrupted:

"Oh, no! You mustn't do _that_! You know it's a _secret_ society, and
we aren't going to tell any one about anything in it. And besides—"

"Yes, and besides," put in Jess, "if we tell _any one_ about this
book, it might somehow leak out and get back to Sarah what we'd done
in breaking the trunk, and then there might be _trouble_!" She looked
meaningly at Bess.

"Oh, no!" assented the latter hastily. "We mustn't tell a soul!"
Plainly the twins still lived in dread of the awful threat made so many
years ago. They knew that Sarah was even yet fully capable of putting
it into execution—under sufficient provocation!

"All right," agreed Corinne. "I won't breathe a word of this, then,
and I'll see what I can do to make head or tail of the thing. But,
mercy!" glancing at her watch, "it's nearly six o'clock, and I ought
to have been home long ago. I'll take the car at the corner, I guess."
She hurried into her wraps, gathered up the precious "find" with her
school-books, and bade the girls good-by.

"It's been a remarkable afternoon for me!" she declared as she kissed
Margaret. "I feel like a _real_ antiquarian now. Hurrah for the
Antiquarian Club! Let's have another meeting as soon as I've made some
progress with this!" She tapped the old account-book significantly and
hurried away.

"Oh!" sighed Margaret, blissfully, settling back in her chair, "this
is positively the most wonderful day I ever spent in my life! Can
I ever wait for the next meeting?" The twins stood by her chair,
looking thoughtful. They too were strangely stirred out of their usual
unimaginative selves.

"Well, I confess, I never dreamed of anything so queer happening in
_this_ old ranch!" marveled Bess. "It's all Corinne's doings."

That night Mrs. Bronson came home very late from business, but she
went in, as was her invariable custom, to peep at her little invalid
daughter before she herself retired. To her surprise, she found
Margaret still awake.

"Dear, you're not ill, are you?" she inquired anxiously. "You're
usually asleep at this time."

But Margaret only laughed a happy little laugh. "No, Mummy, I'm all
right,—only just too interested to sleep! Do you remember what you
once said about an _adventure_ turning up? Well, it has,—the loveliest
kind of a one! But I can't tell you about it, because it's a secret.
You won't mind, will you?"

Mrs. Bronson smiled. "No indeed, I won't mind! Just as long as you're
happy and contented, I don't mind a thing! Did the twins' new friend
come to see you to-day? And did you like her?"

At this, Margaret entered on such a vivid and enthusiastic account of
Corinne, that Mrs. Bronson heaved a sigh of thankfulness for the new
interest in her little girl's empty life.

An hour later Margaret fell asleep to dream, the night through, of
strange, hieroglyphic symbols, and all the weird things they might
stand for. But not a thing she dreamed of was as curious as the reality
that Corinne was soon to disclose!



CHAPTER IV

A KEY TO THE MYSTERY


The next few days passed in a fever of impatience for Margaret. Each
afternoon she besieged the twins for news of Corinne and her progress
with the "cipher." And every day their report was about the same:

"She thinks she's on the right track, but she can't tell surely yet.
It's pretty difficult, you know, and Corinne has to study and do other
things, too, besides puzzling over that."

"But has she found out _any_ of the letters?" Margaret would demand.

"She _thinks_ so, but she can't be sure till she's made them _all_
out definitely." And Bess would add, "Now, do be reasonable, Miss
President! Your secretary is doing her very best. But if you don't
think she's a success, you might take the job away from her and give
it to _me_!" At which Margaret would chuckle derisively.

Truth to tell, the twins were almost as anxious as she for a solution
of the mystery. The sudden introduction of this new element into their
hitherto wholly athletic and unimaginative existences, they found, to
their surprise, even more diverting than the most exciting tennis-match
or basket-ball struggle. About a week after Corinne's first visit, all
three burst in breathlessly upon Margaret, one cold afternoon, and
transported her to the seventh heaven of delight with this exciting
news: "Corinne's got it, at last! Haven't you, Corinne!

"Yes," she admitted, giving Margaret a big hug of greeting, "I think
I've puzzled out most of the letters now, and I've even worked out a
few of the first sentences—"

"Yes, and she says they're awfully strange!" interrupted the twins, in
chorus. "And she wouldn't tell us a word, though we begged her hard!"

"Well, Miss President," laughed Corinne, "it seemed to me that this was
a thing to be revealed only in a solemn meeting of the club and in your
presence. Was I right?"

"Indeed you were!" declared Margaret. "Don't you ever tell them a thing
before you've told me, will you?"

"I won't!" promised Corinne. "It shall be the first rule of our
society,—no discoveries told to ordinary members before the president
hears them! And now let's get to business!" They all drew up before the
cozy open fire.

"Oh, isn't this lovely!" sighed Corinne. She opened the old
account-book and placed beside it a paper on which she had written the
letters of the alphabet, and next to each the sign that appeared to
stand for it.

"I had the _worst_ time puzzling this out!" she said. "I worked and
worked over it and changed them all around nearly forty times before
I struck anything that seemed just right. But now I guess we've got
it, at last! I'm sure 'a' is this perpendicular straight line, 'b' the
rectangle with the bottom missing, 'c' the horizontal parallels—and
so on. Now, as I've said, I've made out the first few sentences and
they seem awfully strange! Here they are." She turned the paper over
and read:

"'This is a house of mystery, and strange, unaccountable dread. I
feel daily that something menaces me—that my life is not safe.'" A
delicious shudder ran through the listening group.

"Oh, isn't this _gorgeous_!" half whispered Margaret. "It fills me
with—with thrills!" Corinne went on:

"'Therefore I am keeping this little journal from time to time. Should
aught evil befall me in this strange land and among these unfriendly
people, at least I will leave some record whereby my own kin may trace
my fate, perchance, at some future day. I dare not write this out in
good English lest it be discovered by those who hate me. So I have
invented this secret code, whereof none save myself knows the key. This
book I found in the library unused and I have taken it. I trust it will
be counted no act of thievery. I keep it hidden in the false bottom of
my trunk. The key of the code I have put in another spot. As soon as my
memory has mastered it, I will destroy it. 'Tis safer.'—And that's as
far as I got!" ended Corinne.

For a moment they all sat dumb with amazement.

"What _do_ you make of it?" exclaimed Bess. "Who is it,—a man or a
woman? When was it written, and where? Why, I'm just wild to find out
all about it!"

"I confess," admitted Corinne, "that I don't know _what_ to make of it.
I've puzzled and puzzled over it all day—"

"But, good gracious!" interrupted the impatient Margaret, "of course
we can't make anything out of it till we've worked out some more! Come
ahead! Right now! We're only wasting time talking about it!"

"That's so!" laughed Corinne. "And when we can find out right away, by
getting to work! Here, Margaret! You write, while I spell the thing
out!" She thrust the paper and pencil into Margaret's hands, while the
twins hung over her as she slowly deciphered the sentences:

"'Would—that—I—had—never—left—my—peaceful—Bermuda—'" Corinne
dropped the book suddenly.

"_Bermuda!_—I've been there! Oh, this is fine!"

"Have _you_ been to Bermuda?" exclaimed Margaret and the twins, with
awe. "When?"

"Last winter, with Father. He was ill, and we stayed six weeks. It was
heavenly!"

"You lucky girl!" sighed Margaret. "But, go on! We must find out more,
right away!"

Corinne took up the book and began anew: "'But since I did wilfully
abandon my home—aye!—and Grandfather, too, even though he does not
love me—'"

"'Grandfather'?" interrupted Bess. "He can't be very old, if he has a
grandfather living!"

"Doesn't seem likely," murmured Corinne, spelling out another word
under her breath, then continuing:

"'—and did in venturesome manner contribute my aid to the plot
against my country, I must pay the price, I fear. I am watched
constantly. I take no walk abroad, even in the grounds, but I feel that
I am spied upon. The affection of Madame M. has changed to dislike.
She, too, suspects me. 'Tis hard for a lass of but sixteen—'"

"_A lass!_" shouted all four. "And only _sixteen_!"

"Oh, girls!" cried Corinne, rocking back and forth in her excitement.
"She's just like ourselves—only a year older than I am! What _can_ be
the trouble—or rather, what _could_ have been the trouble with the
poor little thing?"

"Go on! go on!" ordered Margaret, with glistening eyes. "Let's find out!"

Corinne snatched up the book again: "'to be alone and friendless in
a strange land and to feel so constantly in danger. But I must not
complain. I brought it on myself. As I have said, Madame M. no longer
appears to care for me. She was so cordial and affectionate at first,
partly for Aunt's sake, no doubt, and partly because she really seemed
to like me. But since the day when I spoke to Lady ——, at the time
her coach broke down, Madame M. has regarded me only with suspicion.'"

"I wish I knew who 'Madame M.' was, and 'Lady Blank,'" put in Margaret.
"How mysterious she is—never writing out their full names!"

"Perhaps she didn't dare," said Corinne. "You see, she says she's in
danger. But, oh!—listen to what she says next!—'There is something
which weighs right heavily on my conscience. 'Tis the matter of the
sapphire signet. But of that I will speak later.'"

"_The sapphire signet!_" breathed the twins in a tone of hushed awe.
"Doesn't it sound rich and gorgeous and—and _mysterious_! What's a
'signet,' anyway?"

"I think," explained Corinne, "that it's another name for a
seal—something with a monogram or crest or coat-of-arms, used to
stamp on sealing-wax. Father has one set in a ring—not a sapphire
though—just some ordinary stone with his monogram on. He never uses
it, but he told me once that in former times they were used a great
deal when letters were only sealed with wax. Oh! _what_ do you suppose
this matter of the sapphire signet is all about! Isn't it wildly
exciting? But, goodness!" glancing at her watch, "it's awfully late
again, and I must get home. The time goes so fast, and it takes so long
to puzzle all this out!"

"I have an idea!" began Margaret, hesitatingly. "Suppose _I_ do the
puzzling out and write it down, now that Corinne has discovered the
way. I have so much time that I don't know what to do with, and this
would be so interesting! Then, when we meet again in a couple of days,
I could read it right off to you without any trouble. We could get on
so much faster!"

"I think that's splendid!" agreed Corinne. "And much as I'm crazy to
find out right away what happens, I'd rather wait and hear a lot of it
read at once. Wouldn't you all?"

"Yes, that's a good scheme," admitted Bess, "except for one thing. How
about Sarah? You'd have a hard time hiding this from her, Margaret, and
you know she simply mustn't find out!" For a moment they all looked
"stumped." The obstacle seemed almost insuperable, when Jess had a
brilliant idea.

"Tell you what! We'll hide the thing in the bookcase, way back here
behind these old encyclopedias,—the account-book, the paper, and a
brand-new fat blank-book that I'll give you to do all the copying in.
You can tell Sarah to wheel you over to the bookcase because you want
to read. Then, when she's out of the way, you can work to your heart's
content. But do hide everything whenever you hear her coming!"

"Oh, good! Just the thing! Sarah'll never suspect in the world!"
laughed Margaret. "And there's no difficulty about hearing her
coming—she weighs two hundred and fifty pounds!"

"Well, that's settled then," said Corinne, "and I'll have to go. But
I'm coming day after to-morrow, if I can manage to wait. It's better
than the loveliest book I ever read! Good-by!"

When she had gone, the three sisters sat and looked at one another with
an expression of sheer wonder on their faces. In one week, through the
agency of this same "queer," quiet girl, their absolutely uninteresting
and commonplace lives had been transformed into an unbelievable round
of mystery and discovery and romance. And the strange part of it was
that this same mystery had been lying here—right under their noses, so
to speak—all these years, and they had never even suspected it, while
she had been in the house scarcely half an hour and had run it straight
to earth! Some such thought was in Margaret's mind when she presently
exclaimed:

"Isn't she just _wonderful_! I think she's the most interesting person
I ever met in my life!"

"So do I!" echoed Jess.

"Oh, I shall just dream of this all night!" whispered Margaret. "It's
the most thrilling thing I ever heard of—this puzzle-story—and the
best of it is, it's all our own. We discovered it! To-morrow you may
envy me, girls, for I'll be finding out—all about the sapphire signet,
_and_ what happened next!"



CHAPTER V

"THE LASS OF RICHMOND HILL"


Two afternoons later, the three active members of the Antiquarian
Club rushed up the stoop of the Charlton Street house in a breathless
scurry. And Margaret awaited them in the parlor in a fever of no less
eager excitement.

"Hurry, girls!" she cried when the first greetings were over. "I've
just got heaps to read to you! And some of it'll make you 'sit up and
take notice,' as Alexander says!"

"Who's Alexander?" queried Corinne, curiously.

"Oh, he's a boy-cousin who lives with us," Bess enlightened her. "He
was Mother's sister's child, and his parents are both dead now, so
Mother had him come here a year or two ago. He's twelve years old and
a perfect nuisance! He hates girls, so he generally keeps out of our
way. That's why you've never seen him. But, come on! I'm wild to hear
what's coming next! Margaret wouldn't tell us a single thing she's
found out."

"Wait a minute before we begin," spoke up Corinne, "and let's just run
over what we've already discovered. It'll keep us from getting mixed
up. A young girl of sixteen has run away from her home in Bermuda, and
is in some place where she thinks her life is in danger. Before she
ran away, she did something to assist in some plot against her country
(which must be Bermuda), and probably that's one reason why she is in
danger. Maybe something's been discovered about it. She's staying with
a Madame M., and it seems to be a house of mystery.

"One thing I have pretty well guessed, and probably so have you
all—that this must have happened a long time ago. Her language isn't
very—well, modern—sounds to me like stories I've read about old
England, and America too in former times. I think it's likely she's in
one of those two countries when she writes—probably England, because
she speaks of '_Madame M._' and '_Lady Blank_,' and those titles
don't somehow go with America. Then there's something strange about
a sapphire signet. But go on now, Margaret! Maybe you've discovered
something new!"

Margaret smiled mysteriously. "Perhaps just a _few_ things!" she
admitted. "Here's where we left off. I've copied it all from the
beginning. You remember where she tells about explaining the signet
later? Now I'll go on:

    "There is something strange and evil about this house. I can trust
    no one. Especially do I mistrust the steward. He hath a sleek smile
    and ingratiating manners, but he is wicked to the heart of him.
    He associates much with one Corbie, who keeps the tavern down the
    road hard by the woods. Corbie has been to this house, and once was
    closeted long with the steward. When he came forth to go, he gazed
    hard at me as I stood on the lawn. It made me shudder for an hour
    afterward."

"That's the first name she has mentioned—'Corbie,'" interrupted
Corinne. "Let's remember it. Who knows but it may help us?"

"There's another coming right away," added Margaret, "though I don't
know whether it will be of any help or not.

    "But one thing has happened lately to cheer me. Two nights ago I
    went to my room, which does not look toward the river, but toward
    the back of the house. I was minded to retire early, having naught
    to occupy me through the long evening. Madame M. retires at nine,
    but I never see her after the evening meal. She is usually in
    conference with the steward, who has chief charge of the affairs of
    this great house. She appears to place much confidence in him. But
    that is not to the point.

    "I had opened my window and was leaning out a moment when I heard a
    softly whistled tune, and knew that H. was there. For the tune he
    ever whistles is 'The Lass of Richmond Hill,' which he declared,
    when first he brought me here, was right appropriate to me now."

"I wonder why?" queried Jess.

"I can't imagine," answered Corinne; "'lass' she certainly is, but what
has 'Richmond Hill' to do with it? What _is_ 'Richmond Hill,' and where?"

"Mother has a friend who lives in Richmond Hill, Long Island," ventured
Bess.

"Oh, _that_ can't be it!" declared Corinne, scornfully. "That's only a
little new suburb that's hardly been in existence thirty years! It has
nothing whatever to do with this! And I wonder who 'H.' is, too. Well,
go on, Margaret."

Margaret obediently continued:

    "At hearing him, my heart did beat gladly, for he is the one person
    I have seen who reminds me of home. I leaned far out and called
    to him softly, and presently he threw into my window a letter
    weighted with a stone. It said he and his uncle had not been back
    to Bermuda, nor would they dare to go for many a long day. One of
    their traitorous sailors had divulged the plot, and the authorities
    were wild only to lay hands on them. This they had learned in
    roundabout fashion. They had been cruising along the coast lately,
    and had had not a few adventures. They were sailing at midnight
    for parts unknown. He did but come up hastily to see how I fared,
    before they left.

    "In a moment I threw down an answering missive, telling of my
    present plight, and begging that he and his uncle would take me
    back to Bermuda should they ever be sailing there again. That was
    all I had time for, since he knew he dared not linger. He went
    away silently into the night. 'Twas brave of him to come, since he
    knows it would be ill for him to be seen hereabout, now that so
    much seems to have been discovered."

[Illustration: "He gazed hard at me as I stood on the lawn"]

Margaret paused here and half whispered: "Hold your breath now, girls!
We're coming to the _sapphire signet_!" Then she went on with the
reading:

    "I must now explain about the sapphire signet. Night after night I
    lie awake and ask myself why I ever took it—why I was ever tempted
    to add this mistake to the rest of my misdoings. At the time it
    seemed no wrong,—nay, it seemed entirely _right_ that I should
    take with me what Grandfather has so often said was mine, though
    he deemed it safer not to allow me to have it in my keeping till I
    should come of age.

    "'Tis such a pretty bauble—this wonderful blue stone larger than
    my thumb-nail, with our family crest graved on it and set all
    round the edge with tiny, sparkling diamonds. Grandfather told me
    that the sapphire was once in a great ring, and from generation to
    generation had been handed down to the eldest son of the family.
    He said, moreover, that it ever should have remained a ring; that
    'twas a crime it should have been changed. But 'twas my mother's
    whim that it should be taken from the ring, set round with
    diamonds, and made into an ornament for her neck. He said that
    once, when they were in London not long after their marriage, she
    wheedled my father into having it changed, and came home to Bermuda
    with the jewel hanging from a slender chain about her white throat.
    And Grandfather was filled with wrath at her and never forgave her.
    Had I been a boy, he says, he would have had the stone reset in a
    ring. But since the only heir to it is a girl, he has allowed it to
    remain thus, and once scornfully told me that 'twas 'as useless now
    as I was,' and might as well so remain.

    "On rare occasions, Grandfather has let me wear it—once to a grand
    tea-drinking at St. George's, where 'twas much admired. But mainly
    he has kept it in his great strong box. It seemed no harm that
    day for me to take it. The box stood invitingly open. The jewel
    was really mine, and I possessed no other ornament. Even then I
    realized that I might never see my home or Grandfather again. So I
    took it—Heaven forgive me!—thinking it no wrong. But I have come
    to feel differently since. In these long, lonely months, when I
    have had so much time to think and to regret, I can see how this
    act of mine must appear to Grandfather and to all who know me.
    Even though it was in effect my own, it was still in his keeping,
    and I should never have taken it without his consent. I dare not
    even wonder what he must think of me, and I live only for the
    opportunity to return home and place the signet in his hands.

    "From the very first I have never dared openly to wear the
    beautiful thing; and since my conscience began to trouble me, I
    have never wished to. Long since, I removed it from its velvet
    riband and concealed it. Nor must I, even here, disclose where it
    is hidden. To do so would be neither safe nor wise. Suffice it that
    I will never more wear the bauble till I have restored it to its
    rightful keeper, my grandfather."

Margaret paused again, and there was a blissful sigh from all her
assembled listeners.

"Isn't it the most fascinating thing—this sapphire signet business?"
exclaimed Corinne, at last. "I can just imagine how the poor girl
felt. She hadn't meant any harm in taking it—it had seemed perfectly
_right_. And then her conscience got to troubling her till she hadn't a
peaceful minute! But where in the world could she have hidden it? Does
it tell later on, Margaret?"

"Not that I've discovered as yet, but there are a lot of other
interesting things—"

"Go on, go on then!" chorused the waiting three, impatient of anything
that broke the thread of the story.

"Well, the next seems to be written some time later, but I can't tell
how much. This is something like a diary, only she doesn't put down any
dates. She just seems to leave spaces between the different entries.
It's kind of confusing. Now she says:

    "A strange thing happened last night. At midnight I awoke. I heard
    confused sounds on the road without. Carts creaking by, men shouting
    and calling, women crying, and children screaming as with fright.
    The sounds continued till near morning. An endless procession of
    carts and coaches. 'Twould seem as though the whole city were in
    flight. 'Twas odd to hear so much racket in this quiet region.

    "To-day the whole household is in agitation. Fear seems to have
    seized on all. The servants are in a panic. Only the steward seems
    undisturbed. Madame M. is calm in manner, but I can see that she is
    much perturbed inwardly."

"What in the world could have been happening?" demanded Bess. "She
speaks of the 'city.' I wonder what city, and what was the matter? Why
should every one be leaving it?"

"I've been thinking all along that she was somewhere in England,"
suggested Corinne, "though I can't imagine what part. Anyway—"

"Wait!" cried Margaret. "Why don't you let me go on?"

"That's so!" agreed Corinne. "It's foolish not to see what's coming
before we try to make sense of it. Go on!"

Margaret continued. "Next she says:

    "Some of the servants left yesterday. I now know the cause. The
    rebels are threatening to take possession of the city. Ships filled
    with soldiers stand in the waters near by. 'Tis feared there will
    be a great battle soon. Madame M. is very ill. She has taken to
    her bed. I think great fear has made her so—and great anger. She
    is being cared for by the housekeeper, Mistress Phœbe. I have come
    to like Mistress Phœbe. She is the one soul who treats me with
    kindness unfailing. She, too, hates the steward. She told me so.
    She and the steward and one other servant are all that are left
    here now. The rest have fled. Would that the steward had fled also!
    He seems to have some urgent reason for remaining. He has had
    another interview with Corbie, in this house."

"Wait a minute!" interrupted Corinne, once more. "I have an idea. I
am going to put down on a paper every name she mentions, no matter
how insignificant, and see if they will lead us to any sort of a clue.
_Names_ are about the only clues for finding out things, when you come
to think of it!" She hunted in her bag for a pencil and notebook. Then
she continued:

"Now, there's 'Bermuda'—that was the first, and the only real definite
thing we've discovered yet—and 'London.' Then there's 'Madame M.,'
which doesn't help much. And 'Lady Blank' is no good at all, nor
is 'H.' 'Corbie' may be useful, but I don't think Mistress Phœbe'
will—and that's all, I guess."

"No, it isn't," contradicted Margaret. "You forgot the 'Lass of
Richmond Hill'!"

"True enough! Of course that's only the name of a song, but I'll put it
down. Who knows but what it _may_ be the most important of all! I have
a book of old songs at home, and I have just a faint idea that there's
one of that name in it. I'll hunt it up to-night. But as usual, it's
late, and I must be hurrying along. Haven't you read about all you've
puzzled out, Margaret?"

"I've done another entry," replied Margaret, slowly and mysteriously,
"and perhaps you'd better hear it. It may be worth your while!"

"Oh, what is it?" cried Corinne, pausing in the act of adjusting her
hat. "Quick!"

"Here it is:

    "Madame M. sent for me to-day. 'Tis the first time since she took
    to her bed. She did so to give me this strange warning. These be
    her very words: 'It is rumored that this house may soon be taken
    possession of by rebels. If so, I wish you to have no communication
    with any of them, Mistress Alison."

There was an instant's silence. Then Corinne threw her hat on a chair
and exclaimed:

"Hurrah! At _last_ we have this mysterious lassie's name! It's _Alison_!
That's the biggest discovery yet. Is there any more?"

"Yes, one thing," answered Margaret, "the strangest of all. It's a later
entry and is only three words long—the first word twice underlined:

    "‗He‗ has come!"



CHAPTER VI

A SURPRISE


The girls got together again on the following afternoon, for they could
not possibly have stretched their patience to the limit of another day!
Margaret had promised to work like a Trojan till they arrived and to
have much to read to them. It was with breathless interest that they
drew their chairs around her.

"My! I couldn't study a thing, or keep my mind off this a single minute
to-day in school!" sighed Jess. "I guess I failed in every blessed
recitation."

"Me too!" echoed Bess. "If this suspense doesn't come to an end soon,
I'll be a failure for the term!"

"Same here!" agreed Corinne. "I do envy Margaret, for she at least can be
working at it all day and satisfying her curiosity. Have you discovered
much more, honey?" Margaret smiled her slow, mysterious smile. She was
certainly enjoying herself, in a brand-new fashion these days. And
between meetings she guarded her secrets like a veritable sphinx.

"Something's happening right along!" she answered enigmatically. "But
I've rather a surprise for you to-day."

"What is it?" they demanded in one voice.

"I sha'n't tell you till we come to it!" was her maddening reply.
"Shall I go on now?"

"Just a minute," said Corinne. "I want to say that I looked up that old
song last night. In this collection I have, there is given a little
history of each song. Now, 'The Lass of Richmond Hill' was written
about a young girl, a Miss Janson, who lived on Richmond Hill, which is
near the little town of Leybourne, in England. It was written way back
about 1770, and the song was said to be a favorite of King George the
Third. It was quite popular at the time. That's absolutely all about
it. Of course, it's possible that place may be the one where Alison
was, but somehow I don't feel very sure of it. I rather think that
what she says about 'Richmond Hill' must have some other connection.
Now go on, Margaret!"

"Very well," began Margaret. "We left off with the words, '_He_ has
come!' _He_ seems to be a very mysterious person, and some one of great
importance evidently. She goes on to say:

    "The house has been put at his disposal. Not, however, by Madame
    M., for she would gladly slam the door in his face were she able,
    but she is still in bed, ill. He is very considerate, and does
    naught to disturb or annoy her. His servants and men are all about,
    but they do not molest any of the household. Phœbe remains the
    housekeeper and caters for him. She adores him, as does her father,
    so she tells me.

    "I have exchanged no words with him. I have only seen him as he
    sits in the library or walks about the grounds. He is absent
    much—away in the city, Phœbe says. He is handsome and grave and
    stern, but I think he is kind and gentle. I long to speak with him,
    but I dare not. I am too carefully watched.

    "The steward is still here, and frequents much Corbie's tavern. He
    asked me yesterday a few questions about Bermuda. I did not care to
    have speech with him so I cut him short. He gave me an ugly look as
    he walked away."

Margaret stopped here to say, "Now comes something exciting!"

The listening three sighed ecstatically.

    "There have been strange doings in this house. I have now turned
    spy myself. Last night at a late hour, when all the household was
    asleep, I heard stealthy footsteps passing my door. The sound
    was most unusual, for _he_ was away in the city, and there was
    consequently no guard. When the footsteps were past, I rose, opened
    my door, and peeped out. I saw the steward. He was tiptoeing softly
    down the hall toward the stairs, a candle in his hand. A sudden
    resolve seized me. I would follow him in the dark, and see what
    he did. I felt sure he planned some evil. I seized a dark-colored
    shawl, drew it round me, and, in the shadow, crept after the light
    of his candle.

    "Down the stairs he went, and I felt sure he would pause on the
    lower floor and perchance enter _his_ room to rifle it. I crouched
    on the stair and held my breath, but he passed on and opened a door
    which gives on the stone steps leading to the wine-cellar. Once he
    glanced back suspiciously, then the door closed behind him. As soon
    as I dared, I followed. Opening the door with the greatest caution,
    I peered down. His back was toward me, and he was drinking from an
    upturned bottle. In a moment he put the bottle back on its shelf
    and stood long in thought.

    "I was about to conclude that this was all he had come for and that
    my fears were for naught, when he turned aside, took a knife from
    his pocket, and went toward the far end of the cellar, leaving the
    stairway in heavy shadow. Taking advantage of this, I crept down
    the steps and watched him from the shelter of one of the pillars
    that supported the floor above. In a moment he stopped, raised his
    hand, and felt along the great beam above his head. I noted 'twas
    the second beam from the end. At a distance of about ten feet from
    the wall he pushed his knife-blade into the timber, and, behold!
    something like a small door fell open!

    "Into the aperture thus left he thrust his two hands, and drew
    forth a small iron box. This he placed on the ground near the
    candle, and pressing a spring, threw back the lid. It seemed to
    be filled with papers, and with something else that shone in the
    candle-light. The latter, I soon learned, was a mass of golden
    coins, for he plunged in his hand, took out a fistful, and put them
    in a small leather bag he carried. Then he closed the box, put it
    back in the hollow space, and shut the door of the secret opening
    in the beam. I stayed to see no more, but fled hastily to my room.
    'Tis all most strange. What hides he in this secret place? Whose
    gold is that? What evil does he plot?

"Isn't that the most exciting thing you ever heard?" demanded Margaret,
breaking off.

"Frightfully exciting!" agreed every one.

"It's like an adventure in a book—only better!" added Corinne. "But,
Margaret, is _that_ the surprise you had for us?"

"No, it isn't! That's coming just a little later. The next entry says:

    "_She_ has come! _He_ seems most glad to have his lady with him
    once more. I have not yet spoken with her. She has only passed me,
    bowing with stately courtesy. I think she has forgotten how I once
    spoke with her. No wonder. Her mind is filled with anxious care.
    Madame M. is still confined to her bed, and knows not that _she_ is
    here. I think Madame M. is truly right ill."

"_She_ must be _his_ wife, I suppose," interrupted Bess. "I do wish
Alison would call 'em by their names! This is so confusing!"

Margaret only stopped long enough to say: "Now, the surprise is coming.
This is the next entry:

    "_He_ passed me in the hall to-day and wished me a good morning
    in his grave, courtly fashion. Then he inquired after the health
    of Madame M., and offered to send her up some fruit that he had
    just received for his table. I knew not what to say. I was right
    embarrassed. For Madame M. will accept naught from him, and—"

Margaret stopped short.

"Go on, go on!" they chorused.

"I can't!" she answered.

"Why not?" they inquired in wonder.

"Because that's _all there is_!" she replied quietly. "We've come to
the end. That's the surprise I had for you!"

"Well, I never!" ejaculated Bess in disgust, picking up the old
account-book and examining it curiously. The back cover was missing,
and it was not difficult to conjecture that many pages might also be
lacking.

"That's the _queerest_!" mused Corinne. "Of course, the book is
rather thin, but I hadn't imagined that we'd finish it so soon. Those
characters are large, and take up more room than plain writing, I
suppose. But, my gracious!" She got up and began pacing around the
room impatiently. "This is perfectly _maddening_! To have it leave off
in such a place, without a sign of explanation of it all! Where's the
other part of that book? Could it possibly be in the old trunk where
we found this? Let's go up and see!"

"No use in doing that," said Jess, "because Sarah's done exactly what
she threatened to—locked the attic door and hid the key. But anyhow,
I remember distinctly that there wasn't a sign of anything else under
that false bottom. It was absolutely empty after this fell out.
Wherever the rest is, it isn't there!"

"Well," exclaimed Corinne, coming to an abrupt pause in her impatient
tramping, "there's one thing I'm firmly determined upon! I sha'n't rest
day or night till I've found some sort of an explanation for all this!
Do the rest of you agree with me? It's the most fascinating mystery I
ever came across, outside of a story-book, and I'm bound I'm not going
to be stumped by any obstacles!"

"We surely do agree with you!" echoed Margaret. "We're just as crazy as
you are to unravel it all. And what's an antiquarian club good for, I'd
like to know, if not for something just like this! That's our business
from now on!"

"The motion's carried!" agreed Bess. "But how in the world are we going
to go about it? Somehow it seems as if we'd reached a stone wall a mile
high—no getting around it or over it!"

"Then we'll tunnel _under_ it!" laughed Corinne. "But first of all,
there's a question I'd like to settle. Where did that old hair-trunk
come from? How did it get in this house? Who owned it before you did?"

"I can answer that," replied Margaret, "for I asked Mother about it
the other night. I did it in a roundabout sort of way, so she wouldn't
suspect why I wanted to know or think it queer that I asked. She
said it belonged to Father. He told her once that a friend of his, a
sea-captain, had given it to him years ago. The captain said it was an
heirloom that had been in the family many years. An ancestor of his
had found it in a vessel that had been wrecked, and had been floating
around for several months—a 'derelict,' Mother called it. This old
captain said it was so handy and substantial that he had carried it
with him on all his voyages. But as he wasn't going to sail any more,
and hadn't any children to leave it to, he gave it to Father."

"Well, at least it explains one thing—how this strange book came to
be in your house," mused Corinne. "But it doesn't help a bit about
unraveling the rest of the mystery, after all. Now, the next thing is
to go over all this writing carefully, and see if we can find anything
we've overlooked that might be a clue. Oh, girls, I wish you'd let me
show this to Father! He'd be _so_ interested, and perhaps he could help
us with it, too!"

"Well, as far is I'm concerned, you're welcome to," answered Bess,
and Jess nodded her head vigorously in assent. But Margaret cried out
pleadingly:

"Oh, no, no, Corinne! Don't do that yet! It would spoil all our lovely
secret society to have grown folks know about it. Let's wait awhile and
see what we can do ourselves. And then if we find we can't make any
headway, I'll consent to telling Corinne's father."

She was so earnest and so pathetic in her appeal, that not one of the
others had the heart to deny her request, knowing, as they did, what
the little club and its absorbingly interesting secret meant to her
shut-in, circumscribed life.

"Very well, honey! We will do just as you say!" agreed Corinne, giving
her a hug. "Now let's read this whole thing over, and see if we can
unearth a clue."

They started once more at the beginning, reading slowly and
thoughtfully through the strange record till they came again to the
allusion "The Lass of Richmond Hill." Suddenly Margaret interrupted:

"I've thought of something! I lay awake a good part of last night,
because my back was hurting me, and I had a chance to think of things
rather hard. And then, some things we unearthed to-day and what Corinne
found out about that old song made this idea pop into my head just
now. You remember she said the song was written about 1770 and was a
favorite of George the Third? That made me think of the Revolution. And
then I suddenly remembered what Alison had said about 'rebels.' Girls,
you can take my word for it—all this thing happened right here in
America, and during the Revolutionary War! Can't you see it?"

Corinne sat up very straight for a moment. Then she burst out:

"We're a pack of _lunatics_—all but Margaret. She's the only one
that's got a grain of common sense! Of _course_ it was during the
Revolution—every other word Alison says points to it! And that being
the case, the rest is easy! Good-by! I'm going straight home to look up
Revolutionary history!"

And flinging on her hat and coat, without further ceremony of farewell,
she was off, leaving the three staring speechlessly after her!



CHAPTER VII

THE DISCOVERIES CORINNE MADE


Corinne did not reappear for nearly a week. During all that time the
twins, who only saw her in school, reported that she would have nothing
to say to them outside of this statement:

"Let me alone, girls, just for a while. I'm working hard at it. When
I've run to earth something worth while, I'll tell you, and we'll have
another meeting!" And that was absolutely all they could get from her.

Meanwhile, Margaret was passing the slow days in a fever of impatience
and baffled expectation. Now that she no longer had her mind occupied
by puzzling out the curious old journal and could only sit and wait for
the results of Corinne's work, she grew terribly restless. So much so,
indeed, that the lynx-eyed Sarah, who watched her beloved charge like a
cat, made up her mind that Margaret was beginning to have symptoms of
a real fever. She prepared, therefore, a huge bowl of boneset tea to be
taken in instalments.

Now, if there was any one thing under the sun that Margaret hated more
than another, it was boneset tea! And, moreover, in this case she knew
that there was absolutely no need of the remedy. But this she dared not
confide to Sarah lest she awaken fresh suspicion in that handmaiden's
already too suspicious mind. So she swallowed her bitter doses
uncomplainingly, and longed for Corinne's coming for more reasons than
one!

And then at last, six days later, Corinne came flying home with the
twins one afternoon, and all three burst in unexpectedly on the
delighted Margaret. Corinne was armed with a load of volumes that were
plainly not school-books, and these she planked down on the floor
beside the invalid-chair with just one brief remark:

"_I've got it!_"

Questions and inquiries were hurled at her thick and fast, but not one
of them would she answer till all were seated about Margaret's chair
in the usual half-circle by the open fire. Then she began quietly, but
with much suppressed excitement in her voice:

"Yes, girls, I've got it—at last! I'm going to tell you all about
it, and you're going to have the surprise of your lives! It took me a
long while before I struck just the right clue. I've spent about every
afternoon reading at the library near us. I even went up to the big one
at Forty-second Street yesterday. And every evening at home has found
me still digging at it. I've neglected my school work completely, and
have failed in everything this week; but I don't care!

"Margaret's a trump! She put us all on the right track in the first
place by sensibly suggesting the Revolution. That was fine! But, of
course, the subject was a big one and concerned the whole thirteen
original colonies. In thinking it over, I decided that since Alison
came from Bermuda, the 'city' she keeps speaking of would most likely
be the _nearest_ one to Bermuda. On looking it up, I found the nearest
was Charleston, South Carolina. So I started in and hunted up every bit
of Revolutionary history I could find about Charleston, but never a
thing did I strike that helped a bit.

"Then I gave that up and tried another city. As there didn't seem to be
any very likely places south of Charleston, I turned north and tried
Richmond, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Not a single thing in any one of
them that threw a ray of light on our troubles! Finally, I began on New
York—and hit it right away!" Her listeners gave a little jump. "Yes,
right here in old New York. And come to think of it, that _was_ the
most likely place, after all, and I might have saved myself all that
other bother, if only I'd used a little common sense!"

"But how did you know right away that it was New York?" demanded
Margaret.

"Why, the simplest thing in the world! Almost the first thing I came
across, in reading up about New York during the Revolution, was about a
place called—_Richmond Hill_!"

"What? Where?" they all cried in one breath.

"Yes, Richmond Hill! It was the name of a big mansion and estate
outside of the city, and was a very famous place in its time."

"But how did you know it had anything to do with Alison?" they demanded
incredulously.

"Well, just about twenty things pointed to it without a doubt. I'll
tell you all about it. In the first place, I read that this mansion was
built in 1760 by the paymaster-general of the British army, and his
name was—_Abraham Mortier_!"

She stopped significantly, but no one seemed to catch her meaning till
Margaret suddenly cried:

"Madame M.!"

"Precisely!" said Corinne. "I wondered if you'd catch it. 'Madame M.'
must have been Madame Mortier, his wife, of course!"

"But Alison didn't say anything about _Abraham_ Mortier," objected Bess.

"That's just it,—she didn't, because Madame Mortier was then a widow.
Her husband died quite suddenly, just at the outbreak of the war. So
_that's_ accounted for. And don't you remember that Alison said Madame
M. allowed the steward to transact all the business of the household.
She wouldn't be doing that if her husband were alive! Well, except for
that, I couldn't find out another thing about the Mortiers. History
doesn't mention them again. But it tells a lot about other things we're
interested in. To begin with, after the siege of Boston, Washington
came to New York, and was there several months. Now then, while he was
in the city, he made his headquarters at—Richmond Hill! What does that
suggest to you?"

Again they all looked blank for a moment, and once more Margaret was
first to catch the idea.

"I've got it! Washington is the 'he' that Alison says so much about but
never names!"

"Right!" cried Corinne.

"How do you know?" clamored the less astute twins.

"This way," explained Corinne, "Everything that Alison says about
'him' tallies with the descriptions of Washington—'grave, courteous,
stately, kindly, thoughtful.' There isn't a shadow of doubt! She speaks
of his servants and men and guards. Only a commander-in-chief would be
likely to have all that retinue."

Suddenly Jess, who had been deep in thought, interrupted: "But, see
here! If it was Washington, why did Madame M. act so hateful about him?
Alison said if she hadn't been sick, she'd have gladly slammed the door
in his face. I don't understand it!"

"Oh, that's _easy_! Madame Mortier was, without doubt, a _Tory_!
You know, New York was full of Tories at the time, and they hated
Washington and all the rebels like—like poison!"

"But I still don't understand," insisted Jess, "how, if Madame Mortier
was a Tory and hated Washington so, he should come to be using her
house for his headquarters. I don't wonder she was furious!"

"I thought of that too," said Corinne, "and it seemed strange to me;
but, from what I've read, I think it was this way: he had to have his
headquarters somewhere while he was in New York, and just at first he
had them way down in the lower part of the city, in the Kennedy house.
But later he wanted to get outside of the city for some reason; perhaps
it was on account of one of those plagues of smallpox or yellow fever
that were always breaking out there. Then, of course, there were so
few houses outside that he had to take anything he could find that was
suitable. So he chose Richmond Hill, and Lady Washington followed him
there later."

"How do you know?" again demanded the ever-skeptical listeners.

"Well, didn't Alison say, just toward the last, that 'his lady' had
come?"

"True enough!" assented Jess. "And that makes me think of something
else. Was that the 'Lady Blank' she spoke of first, do you think?"

"Without doubt, for she even says, 'I do not think she remembers me.'
But where or how she met her before, I haven't had time to work out.
Anyhow, it explains why Madame Mortier began to be suspicious of
Alison. Of course she would be if she was such a staunch Tory and found
Alison talking to the wife of her worst enemy!

"But here's something very important, and it's the _real_ proof of the
whole thing. The rest was just rather easy guesswork. Do you know,
while Washington was at Richmond Hill, that summer of 1776, the Tories
in the city got up a big plot to kill him, blow up his fortifications,
massacre all his soldiers, and spoil everything for the Americans?
_And_—it very nearly was accomplished, only some one discovered it
and gave the whole thing away. _That's_ the plot, evidently, which was
brewing when Alison felt that something strange and mysterious was
going on. And here's my positive proof: one of the chief conspirators
in the plot was a man who kept a tavern near the edge of the woods
close to Washington's headquarters, and his name was—_Corbie_!"

"Didn't we _say_ that name would be of great help?" cried Margaret,
excitedly. "Why, all this seems like a fairy story coming true! Is
there anything else, Corinne?"

"Yes, there's one other thing. But before I tell you, I'm curious to
know why you haven't asked one question."

"What?"

"Why, the exact location of Richmond Hill. You haven't exhibited the
least curiosity about that!"

"But you said it was outside of the city somewhere," put in Bess, "and
I suppose it was up around Fordham or West Farms, or even White Plains.
It must have been pretty far out."

Corinne laughed. "Do you realize that the 'city' only extended to
about City Hall Park in those days? And all beyond that was out in the
country! No, Richmond Hill was _right here in Greenwich Village_!"

They all stared at her in such frank amazement that she broke into a
giggle.

"Perhaps you think that's rather astonishing, but I've something to
say that's even more so. I told you I'd give you the surprise of your
lives, and here it is: the exact spot where the Richmond Hill mansion
stood was—_just about where this house stands now_!"



CHAPTER VIII

BAFFLED!


If Corinne thought to create a sensation by her last disclosure, she
was gratified beyond her wildest expectations. It was not, however,
what they all _said_ (for they were rendered literally speechless by
surprise), but the way they _looked_ that caused her to go almost
into hysterics of laughter. If she had informed them that there was a
lighted bomb about to go off in the cellar, they could not have assumed
more open-mouthed, startled expressions!

"Oh, don't look so stunned!" she panted, at length, weak with laughter.
"It won't hurt you!"

"But—b-but—" stammered Margaret, and at last brought out the eternal
question, "how—how do you know?"

"The way I know is this, and in order to explain it, I might as
well tell you the whole history of the place. It won't take long,
and it will make you understand better. We know how Richmond Hill
began, so I won't go over that. After the battle of Long Island and
Washington's retreat from New York, we don't hear a thing about it
till the end of the war. About that time it was the headquarters of
the British general, Sir Guy Carleton. After the war, when Washington
became President and New York the capital, Richmond Hill was taken by
Vice-President John Adams as his residence till the capital was removed
to Washington.

"Then Aaron Burr took it, lived there a number of years, improved the
place a lot, and made the grounds very beautiful. I must tell you right
now that the place was a _hill_ at that time, about a hundred feet
high, and had a fine view over the Hudson. The river was nearer too,
just a few feet beyond Greenwich Street. That hardly seems possible,
for it's blocks farther off now. But in later years they filled it in
and made a lot more space to build on, and that has moved the river
banks farther away. Well, Burr lived here with his wife and a lovely
little daughter, Theodosia, till after he killed Hamilton in the duel.
Then he had to give the place up, and it was sold.

"After that, a number of different people lived there till 1817. Then
the city began to reach up this way, and they decided to put regular
streets through here and make city blocks. Of course they couldn't
leave a high hill like that standing, so they leveled it and lowered
the house gradually to the street, and it stood somewhere right about
here. I can't make out the _very_ spot, for some books say it was on
the north side of Charlton Street, and others, on the south side. And
one even said it faced on Varick Street. But anyway, right near this
spot it stood; and as no one seemed to want such a big place for a
residence any more, it became a sort of hotel or tavern.

"Then, some one else bought it and turned it into a theater, and for
several years it was called the Richmond Hill Theater. But it wasn't
very successful, so after a while it was sold again, and this time
became a menagerie and circus. Later it was turned into a tavern
again. But at last, in 1849, it was so old and rickety that they tore
it down and put up these nice little houses over the place where it
stood. That's all there is about it. Now are you convinced that I
wasn't crazy?"

"It seems too wonderful to be true!" sighed Margaret. "To think we're
living right on the spot where all these strange things happened to
Alison! I can scarcely believe I'm not asleep and dreaming all this.
But, oh, there are so many questions I want to ask! For instance, I
can't yet understand how it was that if Madame Mortier was a Tory,
Washington could have his headquarters at her house. Couldn't she have
forbidden it?"

"Why, it seems to be this way," answered Corinne. "In war time then,
as well as now, the army that was occupying a city could do about as
it pleased—used all the houses and food and so forth that it felt
inclined to, whether the things belonged to the enemy or not. Sometimes
they would pay the people for them, and sometimes they didn't—just
_took_ them. I suppose Washington had to have headquarters out of town
for some reason, and the only available place was Richmond Hill. He was
probably sorry enough to cause Madame Mortier any inconvenience, and
no doubt he offered her all reasonable compensation. For I read in one
book that Washington made it a rule that this should be done whenever
it was necessary to use any one's house or goods. If she didn't like
it, he couldn't help that. Matters were too serious for him to quibble
about such things.

"That's my only explanation of your question, Margaret. But what
puzzles me even more is how did Alison come to be there at all? Who was
she? Why did she leave Bermuda, and what did she do before she left it
that caused her to be under suspicion?"

As no one could throw any light on these mysteries, they all remained
silent a moment. Suddenly Jess, who had been turning the pages of the
blank-book in which Margaret had copied the journal, broke out with
this demand:

"What _I'd_ like to know is the explanation of this: 'A strange thing
happened last night. At midnight I awoke. I heard confused sounds on
the road without—carts creaking by, men shouting, women crying, and
babies screaming.' Now what do you suppose it was all about?"

"I think I can explain that," answered Corinne, who seemed literally
saturated with historical information since her recent researches. "In
February of 1776, while Washington was still besieging the British at
Boston, he sent General Lee down to New York to begin fortifying it.
Lee and his forces arrived in the city on the very day that Sir Henry
Clinton, the British commander, sailed into the harbor with a fleet of
vessels. Well, the city just about went into a panic, for every one
was certain there would be a big battle right off! And the histories
say just what Alison did—that they all began to pack up and move out
of the way as quick as they could, and all night the roads were filled
with carts, and coaches, and crying women and children. Every one was
scared to death! It proved to be a false alarm, for Clinton sailed
right off again, and Lee only tended to the business of fortifying.

"But, you notice, Alison says that was when all the servants ran away
but two, and Madame Mortier got sick and went to bed. She must have
been sick a long time, for Washington didn't get there till April or
May, and she was still in bed then. Perhaps she was quite an old lady
and had had a severe shock. Maybe she was delicate anyway. And she
evidently must have heard that her house was to be made use of, because
she sent for Alison and warned her about it, and that she wasn't to
have any communication with the rebels. Madame Mortier must have been a
_Tartar_!"

"But tell us more about the plot!" cried Margaret. "That's the main
thing, after all. How did they intend to kill Washington?"

[Illustration: "Madame Mortier warned Allison that she wasn't to have
any communication with the rebels"]

"Why, I read in one book that some one was to put poison in a dish
of peas, but somehow Washington was warned about it ahead of time
and didn't eat them, of course. But he learned all about the plot,
and he had a lot of the conspirators arrested. One of them was
courtmartialed and hanged, as a proof that such performances didn't
pay. I'm glad _somebody_ was punished for trying to do such an
abominable thing, anyway!"

"Well, one thing I'm convinced of!" declared Bess. "That wicked old
steward had a lot to do with the scheme. Don't you think so?"

"He certainly must have," agreed Corinne. "But what do you suppose he
was doing down there in the cellar when Alison saw him that night, and
why did he hide things in that place in the beam? And what part did
Alison take in the plot, anyway? Isn't it simply distracting that her
journal is torn off right there! And where _can_ the rest of it be, and
why was it torn at all? And why was this part saved so carefully? And
what became of the sapphire signet? Seems to me as though I'd go crazy
with all these unanswered questions pounding away in my brain!"

Nobody having any solutions to offer, again they all sat quietly for a
while, till Margaret's eye happened to light on the pile of books that
Corinne had laid on the floor.

"What are those, Corinne?"

"Oh, they are some books on New York City history that I got out of the
library to read up. Each one has something about Richmond Hill in it.
And this one even has a picture of the house. See! here it is."

They all crowded around her to look. "What a fine-looking place!" was
the general comment. And Bess added:

"Does it seem possible that this shabby old neighborhood ever looked
like that delightful country-place!"

"It was the most beautiful residence anywhere around New York for
a long while," said Corinne. "The grounds were fine too, and the
big gateway to the estate was right where the corner of Spring and
Macdougal streets is now. I thought you might like to read these books,
Margaret, so I brought them for you. But oh, girls!" she ended; "right
here and now I take the solemn determination that I will clear up this
mystery if it takes me the rest of my life! I'll never be content till
I know the explanation of it all. And, Margaret, I want you, if you
will, to make a copy of the journal for me—not the cipher, but the
plain English—so that I can refer to it whenever I want. Will you?"

"Indeed I will!" agreed Margaret. "We'll all help you in every way
we can. And here's something else I've decided on. I'm going to
change your office in this Antiquarian Club, Corinne, from just plain
secretary to Chief Investigator!"



CHAPTER IX

INTRODUCING ALEXANDER


The Antiquarian Club continued to meet two or three times a week,
but for some time the meetings were not enlivened with any further
discoveries. Corinne grew quieter and more uncommunicative, Margaret
restless and discontented. And as for the twins, now that the
excitement had subsided and nothing further on that order appeared
to be forthcoming, they became frankly bored with the proceedings of
their society and were claimed once more by their basket-ball and
tennis-playing companions.

Several afternoons Corinne went alone to the Charlton Street house and
sat long with Margaret, going over and over the old account-book story.
For neither of them did interest in the matter ever wane. And even
though they appeared to have reached an insurmountable barrier, it
did not utterly discourage them. The mystery was always there, and the
unsolved riddle proved a constant lure.

Then one day Corinne came in, accompanied by the twins, and all seemed
in rather high spirits.

"What's the news?" demanded Margaret at once. "Have you discovered
something, Corinne?"

"Yes, I have. And while it may not be of any _great_ help, at least
it's another link in the chain."

The twins, once more condescending to interest themselves in the
affair, exclaimed: "Do tell us about it! We cut a basket-ball match to
come home this afternoon!"

"Well, as I said, it isn't much, but it's something. Yesterday I was
up at the Forty-second Street Library, browsing around among the old
reference-books on New York City history, when I suddenly came across
this. You remember, several times Alison spoke about the housekeeper,
'Mistress Phœbe'? Well, I've found out who _she_ is!"

"You have!" they chorused.

"Yes, and I guess it's positive, for two books mention it. She was
Phœbe Fraunces, the daughter of Sam Fraunces who kept the famous
'Fraunces' Tavern.' The building, by the way, is still in existence
down on Pearl and Broad Streets. It has been restored to look just the
way it used to, and is the headquarters of the Sons of the Revolution.
Sam Fraunces was a fine man and a great admirer of Washington—"

"Yes, Alison said so!" interposed Margaret, half under breath.

"—and he was afterward the household steward for Washington when he
lived in New York as President. One book says Phœbe played quite a part
in the plot—preventing it, that is! That's all I found out, but it's
interesting."

"It certainly is!" assented Bess, after a moment's thought, "and it's
just one more proof that we're on the right track. But still I don't
see that it helps very much in finding out what became of Alison, or
anything about her!"

"No, it doesn't!" agreed Corinne ruefully. "And that's just where
it's so disappointing. But there's this about it. In a puzzle like
this, every little bit helps along. Sometimes, what really doesn't
seem to amount to anything at all, leads at last to the most important
discovery. For instance, that song—'The Lass of Richmond Hill.' _That_
didn't impress us so much when we came across it, yet it really led to
all the discoveries we've made. I propose that this afternoon we go
over the whole thing again, just as carefully as we can, and see if
there isn't some little clue that we _may_ have constantly overlooked.
Of course, I've done that by myself dozens of times, and so has
Margaret. But four heads are better than one! Who knows but _this_ time
we may light on the very thing?"

She was so hopeful and enthusiastic about it that they all settled down
to the work, reading over the old diary very slowly and discussing
every point that seemed to offer the least suggestion of a clue. They
had reached the entry which announced Washington's arrival, and were
hotly debating the question whether or not Madame Mortier could be
concerned in the plot against him, when suddenly they were electrified
by hearing the loud crow of a rooster, coming apparently from the
darkness at the far end of the room. (They had been talking and reading
by the light of the open fire only.) Every one jumped, and Margaret
caught her hand to her heart. But Bess instantly recovered herself,
darted across the room, dived behind the curtains, and returned
dragging into the circle a grinning, giggling small boy.

"It's Alexander, of course!" was her brief remark. Her captive was
certainly an extraordinary-looking youngster! Wiry, and undersized
for his age (he was thirteen), he possessed a snub-nose, a shock of
brilliant red hair, and a quantity of freckles that literally "snowed
under" his grinning countenance. His appearance was rendered all the
more remarkable by the fact that he had cut a series of holes in an
old, round, soft hat, and his brilliant hair stuck straight up through
these in astonishing red bunches. Not one whit did he seem to resent
the publicity into which his recent exploit had brought him! Rather did
he appear to glory in the situation.

"Aren't you ashamed to be eavesdropping behind the curtains?" demanded
Bess, shaking him by his collar, of which she still retained her hold.

Alexander straightened himself and made this cryptic reply:

"I don't get yer! But if yer mean piking off this chinning
contest,—no, I ain't!"

At the foregoing remarkable explosion of slang, Corinne suddenly went
off into a peal of laughter.

"Oh, Alexander, you're _rich_!" she exclaimed. "I'm glad to make your
acquaintance. Teach me some of that, will you!"

The boy turned to her with an appreciative and understanding twinkle in
his eye: "Sure thing! I'll put you wise, any old time!"

But Jess suddenly broke into this exchange of amenities. "Do you girls
realize what has happened? Alexander Corwin has been listening to all
the proceedings of our secret society, and now he knows just as much as
we do! Oh, I could _scalp_ you!" she ended, making a sudden dart at her
cousin, who, though still in the grasp of Bess, ducked and evaded her.
There had been unceasing warfare between Alexander and the twins ever
since he came to reside with them. He teased them unmercifully, and
they sought frantically, and always in vain, to retaliate. There seemed
nothing they could devise that affected him in the slightest. This, the
most recent outrage, constituted to them, therefore, the last straw!
Suddenly Margaret intervened:

"Wait a minute! Maybe Alec wasn't _really_ trying to overhear what we
said. Perhaps he only meant to give us a scare. How about it, Alec?"

"You got the right dope!" affirmed the young rascal. "D'ye think I'd
waste my valuable time listening to the chatter of a lot of Sadies? Nix
on that! I just crept in there to give the glad whoop and raise you out
of your chairs!"

Alexander never teased Margaret. Her pathetic confinement to her
invalid-chair appealed to his rowdy little soul, and between them there
had always been an unspoken compact of peace.

"But how much _did_ you hear?" reiterated Jess.

"Well, I couldn't help getting wise to _some_!" admitted Alexander
wickedly, conscious that this same admission was gall and wormwood to
the souls of the twins. "Heard a lot of stuff about finding a book
in our attic, and George Washington, and a swell guy called Madame
something-or-other and some kind of a dinky sapphire thing, and a kid
called Alison. Say! she must have been _some_ girl! But, gosh!—you
needn't think I _wanted_ to hear it! I was only waiting for the chance
to give you the merry ha-ha!"

Dismay fell once more on the circle. Bess had now released him, and he
stood upright, jammed his hands in his pockets, and grinned on them
with a curious mixture of triumph, defiance, and pure impishness. It
was Corinne who became suddenly inspired with a brilliant idea.

"Look here, girls! I vote that we make Alexander a member of the club!
What do you say?"

"Gee! I don't _want_ to be!" exclaimed the boy in a panic, making a
sudden dive to escape.

"Oh, yes you would, if you knew all about it! Wouldn't he, Margaret?
It's just the kind of thing a boy would go crazy about. There's so much
_adventure_ in it!"

At the word "adventure," Alexander pricked up his ears.

"What's a lot of _girls_ got to do with adventures?" he inquired
skeptically.

"Just wait till you hear!" declared Corinne, and Margaret seconded her
with:

"Oh, dear, Alec, you'll just go wild over this! And it ought to have a
boy in it, too! Oughtn't it, girls?" But the twins remained obdurate.
To allow their declared enemy to share their most cherished secret
seemed to them the height of madness. But while Margaret was reasoning
with Alexander, Corinne whispered to them:

"You'd better do it, I tell you! He knows too much already, and you
don't know but what he might give the whole thing away to Sarah
sometime!" And this final argument brought them speedily round to her
point of view.

"All right!" they agreed. "Alexander, you can become a member of our
secret society if you want to, and Corinne will tell you all about it."

And Alexander, his curiosity now thoroughly aroused, offered no further
objection to the honor thus thrust upon him.

Corinne undertook to explain the whole matter to him, showed him
their discovery, explained how they had deciphered the code, and then
proceeded to read him the translation. His pat, slangy comments on it
often moved her to laughter, and when it came to the mention of the
song, he immediately wanted to hear it, for—it was Alexander's chief
merit—he loved music with the appreciation of a born musician. It
happened that among the books Corinne had brought Margaret was the
collection of old songs, containing the one in question. She hunted
this up now, and, going to the piano, played it over for him, while he
stood at her side whistling the air.

"Say, I like that!" he commented when she had finished. "That's a great
old tune! The words are a back-number of course, but they go with it
fine!" He hummed it over again.

"Isn't it queer!" exclaimed Corinne. "Alexander is the only one who has
exhibited the least interest in learning or even _hearing_ that song!"

After this intermission, the story proceeded, the boy growing more and
more absorbed with every word. But when it came to the disclosure that
Richmond Hill had stood just about where they were now sitting, he
leaped to his feet with a whoop.

"Say! Wouldn't that jolt you! Gee! I didn't have any hunch that you
girls had a thing like _this_ up your sleeve!" Then, with snapping
eyes, he settled down to hear the remainder of the tale. When Corinne
had finished, he sat cross-legged before the fire for several minutes,
chewing meditatively the cap he had riddled with air-holes.

So long was he silent, that Margaret exclaimed, finally: "Well?" Then
he got up, stretched his legs, and inquired: "When you going to have
the next meeting of this joint?"

"The day after to-morrow," answered Margaret, who was disappointed that
after all he did not seem to have any interested comments to make. "Why?"

"Because," he answered in his remarkable jargon of slang, "you can ring
me in on the fest, and—I _may_ have a new piece of dope!"

When the meaning of this remark had dawned on them, they all demanded
eagerly: "What? What? Can't you tell us, Alec?"

"Nothing doing—till the day after to-morrow!" he called back as he
made a hasty exit down the hall.

And after his departure they all agreed that they had possibly done
a rather good day's work in admitting the rowdy Alexander to the
Antiquarian Club!



CHAPTER X

ALEXANDER TAKES HOLD


Two afternoons later all the girls were gathered in the parlor promptly
at three, but Alexander had not yet put in an appearance. He attended
the public school, which did not dismiss as early as high school, and
he would probably be at least three quarters of an hour late, as he
was usually kept in for misbehavior. During his absence, the girls
discussed him eagerly.

"Do you know," vouchsafed Corinne, "I think he is the _cleverest_
little rascal, and so comical that I want to laugh whenever I look at
him! How is it I've never seen him before?"

"Why, the explanation is," answered Bess, "that he never stays in the
house afternoons if he can possibly help it. He's always out running
the streets or playing baseball in the vacant lots. But the other
day it was cold and damp, and Sarah discovered that he had a bad sore
throat and insisted that he stay indoors. He's rather afraid of Sarah,
though he does tease her frightfully. That's why he was around trying
hard to annoy us—he hadn't anything else to do!"

"Well, he's a little trump, anyway!" insisted Corinne. "And did you
ever hear such a glorious collection of slang!"

"Isn't it _awful_!" sighed Margaret. "Mother is terribly worried about
him and the way he talks. And yet she can't help laughing, herself,
sometimes, at the funny things he says. Really, he often seems to be
speaking in some foreign language that I can't understand a word of!"

"What does he mean by 'dope,' anyway?" mused Corinne. "I can't imagine,
unless it's 'news' or 'information.' You just have to _construe_ his
remarks, as you do the Latin! I think we'll have to get a dictionary of
slang if he keeps on like this!"

"But, oh, what _do_ you suppose he is finding out!" exclaimed
Margaret. "What can he possibly know that can have anything to do with
our secret?"

"You never can tell!" said Bess. "He goes snooping around this
neighborhood in all sorts of places, and talks with all sorts of
people. Perhaps he _has_ stumbled on something, though I have my
doubts. But here he comes now!"

Alexander entered the house, slamming the basement door and singing at
the top of his high sweet voice:

      "On Richmond Hill there lived a lass,
      More bright than May-day morn!"

After a preliminary scuffle and dispute with Sarah in the kitchen,
probably over the question of cake, he came galloping upstairs, and
burst in upon them with a military salute and:

"Hullo, pals! Do I have to give the high sign and the grand salaam?"

"Never mind that!" laughed Corinne. "Hurry up and tell us about this
wonderful thing you know. We're crazy to hear!"

Alexander was visibly flattered, and drew a chair to the group by the
fire, with an air of great importance.

"Well, it's this way," he began. "It hit me all of a sudden the other
day, that I had the dope on something that might be right in your line
o' goods. But I wasn't sure, and I wanted to nail it. Now I _have_
nailed it—and it's O.K.!"

"Tell us, quick! Quick!" cried Margaret.

"Hey! put on the brakes a minute, kid!" he commented. "If you go so fast,
you'll bust your speedometer! Do you know where McCorkle's stable is?"

All but Corinne nodded. For her enlightenment, he explained: "It's
around on Varick Street between Charlton and Van Dam, on this side of
the way."

"It's a funny old place, isn't it!" interrupted Margaret. "Sarah
sometimes wheels me past it. The building looks awfully ramshackly. But
what about it? Surely it can't have anything to do with _our_ affair!"

"Just you douse your sparker and save gasoline!" chuckled Alexander.
"Shows how much _you_ know about things! You _needed_ a man on this
job! As I was going to say, I know Tim Garrity pretty well—he has
charge of the horses. We're pretty good pals, and he gives me a whole
lot of interesting dope, off and on. Last summer he told me something
that stuck in my crop, but I didn't think of it again till the other
day. Then I thought I'd go and nail it for certain, before I told you
kids, and I got him to reel it off again yesterday. It's the dope, all
right! I saw it myself!"

"For gracious sake, Alexander, don't keep us in suspense another
minute!" implored Corinne. "Tell us quick!"

"All right! Now I'm going to shoot! You remember telling me about the
theater that old house was turned into? Well, Tim once told me that the
stable was built right over where an old theater had stood,—on the
very foundations,—and in the back, where the stalls are, you could see
a part of the old stage, the paintings on the beams, and frescoes—he
called 'em! He was quite proud of it!"

The listening four were now sitting up straight and tense. He went on:

"I didn't pay much 'tention to it at the time. Didn't interest me!
Rather be talking about baseball! But the other day, after all you told
me, I fell for it again. Yesterday I went round and made him tell me
all over again and show it to me, too. I guess we've hit the trail,
kids! It was there, all right! Funny old gilt do-dabs, and you could
just make out the shape of the stage, curved, the way they have 'em in
the theaters now."

He stopped, and every one drew a long breath.

"Alexander, you are certainly a trump!" sighed Corinne. "This is the
best discovery yet. But I'm surprised that the site of the house should
be on Varick Street. Most books said it faced on Charlton."

And Bess added her say:

"This is certainly awfully interesting, but I'm blest if I can see how
it's going to be of the slightest _help_!"

"Say, you're what us baseball fans call a bonehead," and Alexander
chuckled derisively. "I'll bet Corinne's fallen for it already, without
being told!"

"I confess, I don't see _just_ how it helps," admitted Corinne,
"unless—unless—there's some part of the old, original house left."

"That's the line o' talk!" shouted the boy, triumphantly. "I knew you'd
hit the bull's-eye if any one did! There sure _is_ something of the old
house left, and that is—the _beams_ that supported the cellar ceiling!
They make the foundation of the stage!"

This time Alexander certainly scored a sensation.

"The beams—_the beams_!" cried Margaret.

"Then there must be the one that had the secret hiding-place in it!"

"Now you're talking!" remarked Alexander.

"But did you _see_ it? Can you get _at_ it?" demanded Corinne.

"There's where Central cuts you off! I examined the thing carefully,
and got Tim to tell me all he knew. But we found that the stable only
went part of the way through the old cellar of the house; the two ends
are cut off and underground—or at least they're behind the side walls
of the stable. Can you beat it?"

"Then we can't get at it after all!" wailed Margaret, disappointed all
the more keenly for the high hope that had been raised.

"Nope! We just can't get at it—as things stand now!"

"Isn't there _any_ way you can think of, Alexander?" demanded Corinne.
"Think what we might find in that secret nook—gold, jewels, papers of
great value,—oh! this is exasperating! Can't you think of _some_ way?"

Alexander, however, only appeared to lapse into deep reverie.

"I haven't showed you my whole line o' goods yet!" he confessed, after
submitting them to an interval of soul-satisfying suspense.

"You haven't—what?" echoed Corinne uncertainly.

"Told you—all—I know!" he translated obligingly.

"Well, for goodness' sake, go on! How you do tease!"

"Here it is: in a few weeks they're goin' to begin to widen Varick
Street and put a subway through."

They only gazed at him, after this statement, in uncomprehending
bewilderment.

"You don't get me yet?" he went on. "Well, that means they're going to
do a good deal of altering."

Still they appeared unenlightened.

"Gee! but you four are _thick_!" he cried at last. "The only way they
can widen it is by tearing down all the houses on one side. And that's
just what they're going to do on _this_ side! McCorkle's stable has got
to go. Now are you on?"

"Then—then—" stuttered Corinne.

"_Then_ we can get at the secret beam!" announced Alexander in triumph.



CHAPTER XI

ALEXANDER SPRINGS A SURPRISE


It was with impatience indescribable that the members of the
Antiquarian Club awaited the demolition of McCorkle's stable. Now that
Alexander had enlightened them as to the approaching changes in Varick
Street, the girls watched with absorbing interest the slow, gradual
approach of the house-wrecking throng which had sometime before invaded
the upper portion of the street. For weeks they had been passing
unheeded the frenzied scene of tearing down, digging up, and general
destruction that had suddenly changed peaceful Varick Street into an
unsightly heap of ruin and scaffolding. It had meant nothing to them,
so absorbed were they in their own affairs. And now they found, quite
to their amazement, that it was going to have a very direct bearing on
these same affairs!

House by house, block by block, it drew nearer. Every day that was
pleasant enough for Margaret to be out she commanded Sarah to wheel her
past the work of demolition, much to Sarah's disgust, who infinitely
preferred the quiet, sunny, unobstructed walks of peaceful Charlton
Street. Then, before turning the corner homeward, Margaret would beg
to be wheeled past McCorkle's stable, at which she would gaze hard and
rapturously as long as it was in sight. This also deeply annoyed and
bewildered Sarah.

"Bedad!" she would exclaim impatiently, "it does beat me what ye see
in that dur-rty owld rookery! 'Tis fit only fur th' scrap-heap, and
ye look at it as if it was hung wid diamonds! What's got into ye
these days, Margie macushla! 'Tis that quare Corinne gur-rl that has
bewitched ye!"

Margaret could easily see that Sarah was very, very jealous of her new
friend, so she would say nothing, but only smile her slow, mysterious
little smile. "That queer Corinne girl" had indeed bewitched her, and
had brought into her pain-ridden, colorless existence something worth
living for! But this, of course, she could not admit to Sarah.

At last, one cold, blustery afternoon, the twins burst in with the
exciting information that the house-wrecking had actually commenced on
their own block, up at the King Street corner. After that the interest
became concentrated and intense. And by the time the little old
dormer-windowed shanty on their own corner was leveled to the ground,
they had reached the tiptoe of excitement.

Fully two weeks before this McCorkle's stable had been vacated and left
ready for its destruction. And since then Alexander had spent much time
crawling around its foundations and examining it in every nook and
cranny.

When the little building next to it came down, and the day before the
stable was to have its turn, the Antiquarian Club held an important
meeting, called at the request of Alexander.

"This is going to be ticklish business!" he announced; "getting at
that beam, I mean. And I ain't so sure it's going to pan out all right,
either. Good thing to-morrow's Saturday, so I can be on the job all
day. But I've been laying my pipes pretty slick! I've got on the soft
side of a lot of those workmen, and the night-watchman loves me as if
I was his little nephew Willie! It's the night-watchman I'm depending
on most. He's agreed to let me in there to grub around any night I
want—so long as I don't do any damage. But, see here, you kids! Don't
be setting your hopes on me getting at anything to-morrow, 'cause
more'n likely they won't touch the foundation before next week!"

The next day saw the demolition of McCorkle's stable. It being
Saturday, the Antiquarian Club was able to be present in full force (on
the opposite side of the street) to see it go. Margaret's chair was
wheeled by the twins and Corinne in turn. But Alexander, across the
street in the danger-zone, gyrated, imp-like, up and down the sidewalk
and was twenty times ousted from imminent peril by the half-indignant,
half-laughing workmen.

Piece by piece the boards and bricks fell, story by story the old
building came down, till at last it was level with the very sidewalk,
and carts began to remove the debris. Then was visible the strange
thing that Alexander had long before told them about.

"See! see!" he cried, running across to them and pointing back
excitedly. "There it is! Didn't I tell you so?" And looking toward the
back, they could plainly discern the queer, curved outline of the old
stage, with a few cracked and tarnished bits of gilt cornice still
clinging to it.

"But when are they going to reach the beams underneath?" demanded
Margaret, in an excited whisper.

"Not before Monday! At least, they can't get to uncovering the ones
_we_ want before then. The rest are almost bare now."

"Oh! _how_ can we wait till Monday!" wailed Margaret.

"I gave you the tip we might have to!" admonished Alexander. "You're
entirely too light and speedy! You ought to go into the house-wrecking
business yourself—then you'd see!"

The interval between Saturday and Monday seemed simply interminable to
every one of the five. On Sunday, Alexander spent much time haunting
the ruins, Corinne was obliged to be in her own home, Mrs. Bronson
was visiting a sick friend, and Margaret and the twins, left alone,
whispered together most of the day about the impending event.

"What _do_ you suppose we'll find in that beam?" Margaret would inquire
for the hundredth time.

"Probably nothing!" Bess would reply, for she was always inclined to
look on the dark side of things.

"Oh, that's not _possible_!" Margaret would retort. "_I_ think it may
be some important papers. I don't expect there'll be gold, or jewels,
or anything of that kind. But just suppose it was the _sapphire
signet_!"

"Do you know, dear," said Jess, once, "I'd be pretty well satisfied if
we even found just the _hole_! That would show, at least, that Alison's
account was correct, and we had worked things out right, so far."

"Yes, but it wouldn't help us out any with solving the mystery,"
objected Margaret. "When do you suppose it will be get-at-able, anyway?"

"Alexander says he's going to be there before school in the morning,
and again at noon, and in the afternoon too. He says he's almost
tempted to play hookey and be there all day! But I told him Sarah and
Mother would have a fit if he did! The club is to be all together here
in the afternoon, and he'll come right in and tell us the minute he
discovers anything."

"Wouldn't it be simply awful," moaned Margaret, "if any one got in
ahead of us and looted the place in the beam!"

"Alexander doesn't think that likely," declared Jess. "I asked him
about that, too, but he says it's probably so well concealed that
nobody would think of such a thing—unless the beam were to be chopped
up, and that won't happen for a good while yet."

So they were all forced to possess their souls in patience till Monday
afternoon. Then, with fast-beating hearts, the girls gathered in the
Charlton Street parlor. Alexander, of course, was not with them, and
they did not expect him for some time. But, to their utter amazement,
he strolled in about three-thirty, hands in his pockets, whistling "The
Lass of Richmond Hill" as unconcernedly as though this were not the day
of days for the Antiquarian Club!

"Good gracious, Alexander, what's wrong?" demanded Corinne.

"Wrong? Nothing at all! Everything O. K., A., number one!" he replied
airily.

"But why aren't you over at the stable as you said you'd be?"

"Oh, I didn't think it worth while!" he answered indifferently, ambling
over to gaze out of the window.

[Illustration: "I poked around it, top, bottom, and sides"]

"But, Alec!" cried Margaret. "Have you gone back on us like this? And
after all you said! And you seemed so interested, too! I just can't
believe it of you!" Her great, beautiful gray eyes filled with sudden
tears, and Alexander, turning from the window, observed it.

"Aw! turn off the weeps!" he exclaimed gruffly, but contritely. "Can't
you all take a bit of kidding? It _ain't_ worth while for me to be over
there any more—because I've found the beam already—and explored it!"

At this astonishing revelation they sprang upon him literally in a
body—all but Margaret.

"Oh, Alec! You _didn't_! When? Tell us all about it? What did you find?
How did you do it?" The questions rained thick and fast.

"Well, just unhand me, and sit down, and I'll tell you all about it!
Saturday night I was crawling round a bit after the work was all over,
and only the night-watchman there. I found that the two beams on this
north end were really pretty well uncovered, in spots, and what was
left over them could be easily scraped off. It was mostly dirt and
loose mortar. I didn't have time to do anything that night, but I gave
the watchman the tip that I'd be back the next night and poke around
a bit. He likes me, and he thinks I'm collecting wood to build an
Indian wigwam in that vacant lot on Hudson Street. And us fellows _are_
building one, too, so it's no lie!" Alexander, to do him justice, was
scrupulously truthful.

"So I beat it out, last night, after borrowing the twins' door-key, so
I wouldn't have to wake up that lallypaloozer, Sarah, when I came in.
Of course I took a chance of not striking the right beam,—it might
be the one at the south end, for all I knew. However, I doped out the
one I thought it was, shoveled off the bricks and mortar softly, so's
not to attract attention, and measured off ten feet from the _west_
end with a tape-line. You know the kid, Alison, said the steward stood
about ten feet from the wall of the house, along the beam.

"Then I opened my big-bladed pocket-knife and poked and poked and poked
around it, top, bottom, and sides. But never a sign of an opening did
I find. After I'd been at the job about an hour, I gave it up and
scooted for the _east_ end of the beam, and began the same thing all
over. Nothing doing for about half an hour! Then all at once, my blade
slipped into a crack! I gave a hard pull, and—jumping Jupiter!—there
I was! The thing came open like a door on a rusty hinge, and there was
a hole about a foot and a half long!

"You bet I didn't do a thing but shove my hand in and feel all around
in the hole! I didn't dare even to light a match, for fear a cop might
see me. Just then, all of a sudden, the watchman called out softly that
the roundsman was coming and I'd better beat it while the going was
good! I just had time to duck off that beam, crawl along the darkest
side of the wall, and sneak out as the roundsman came along and stood
talking to the watchman, as he always does, for about fifteen minutes.
I got into the house all hunky,—and that's why it ain't any use for
me to be there this afternoon!" he ended abruptly.

"But, Alec, what did you _find_? Did you find _anything_?" demanded the
four in one breath.

Alexander nodded impressively. "Yep! I found something all right!" Then
he suddenly took an object from under his coat and laid it carefully in
Margaret's lap.

"I found _this_!"



CHAPTER XII

THE MYSTERY UNRAVELS FURTHER


It would be useless to attempt describing the mingled sensations
with which the Antiquarian Club (all but Alexander) bent to examine
the latest "find." The twins, however, drew back in a moment with a
disappointed air and the disgusted query:

"Is _that_ all! What in the world is it?"

It certainly was neither gold nor jewels, nor, apparently, important
papers of any sort, and their interest waned at once. It _was_ paper of
some kind—dirty, mildewed, stained with time, and nibbled freely by
mice. But it bore no resemblance to the state documents, laden perhaps
with impressive seals, that the twins had vaguely expected to behold,
if, indeed, the find took that shape at all. But Margaret and Corinne
had been turning it over carefully. All of a sudden they uttered a
simultaneous little cry:

"Oh, girls! Don't you know what it is?"

"No!" declared the twins.

"Why—_the other half of the diary_!"

Then indeed did the twins give way to belated exultation in which
Alexander joined, for of course he had already discovered this.

"Yes, it certainly is!" reasserted Corinne, examining it more closely.
"The book was evidently torn in two, and this half concealed in the
beam,—but for what earthly reason I can't imagine! I wonder if Alison
put it there herself?"

"D'ye see anything queer about the first page?" inquired Alexander,
mysteriously. They bent again to examine it. The first page was the
most worn and stained and torn and least decipherable of all, because
it had been unprotected. There were the same characters of the cipher,
only very dimly discernible. But written diagonally across it,
evidently with something black and dull, possibly a piece of charcoal
or charred wood, were a few words in English. They were so faint that
they might have been taken merely for the traces of dark stains or
smudges had not one examined them closely.

"Shall I put you wise to what they say?" suggested Alexander.

"Oh, do!" they all cried.

"Well, here it is: 'I am now assured you are a spy. This proves it. I
can make naught of it, but will hide it securely. Later I will denounce
you.' Wouldn't that jar you, now!"

"Who _do_ you suppose wrote it?" demanded Corinne.

"Could it have been Alison?" suggested Margaret. "Maybe she meant it
about the steward."

"That's _my_ guess!" echoed Alexander.

"But why did she write it in English, and with this charcoal or
whatever it is? And why did she hide it in that beam? And why was the
diary torn in two?"

"You can search me!" Alexander remarked, shrugging his shoulders.

"Wouldn't it be a good idea to find out by translating the rest?"
quietly suggested Bess, the practical. "No doubt she'll say something
in it that will put us on the right track."

"Good business!" chuckled Alexander. "You've got some _sense_ in that
bean of yours, kid!"

"I don't understand you!" retorted Bess, coldly. She thoroughly
disapproved of his slang, and was never amused by it as the rest often
were.

"I should worry!" he responded unconcernedly, and turned to Margaret.
"Couldn't you dope out a bit of it now, kiddie? You've got the goods to
do it with."

"No," interrupted Corinne, looking at her watch; "it's getting late,
and I must go. Let's give Margaret a couple of days to work it out, and
then we'll have a grand old meeting and solve the whole riddle—I hope!"

Much as they longed to know the whole story at once, it was obvious
that Corinne's suggestion was most sensible. But before they separated,
they unanimously voted "Aye!" to another matter—that the discovery of
the contents of the secret beam was the most satisfactory thing that
had happened so far!

Two days later they gathered around Margaret, keen for the exciting
revelations that they felt sure were awaiting them. Margaret had
resumed her sphinxlike attitude of mystery and would reveal no clue to
what she had discovered. When they were settled and quiet, Alexander
remarked:

"Go ahead, kid! Shoot! Get it off your mind!" And smiling indulgently
on him, Margaret began:

"You remember where we left off in the other half of the journal—a
sentence just stopped in the middle. It was this:—'For Madame M. will
accept naught from him and—' Now, on this first page, she completes
it. And, by the way, I had the _worst_ time puzzling out that first
page! It was so stained and faded and torn. Sometimes I wasn't even
sure I was getting it right. But I guess now I have it correct. She
goes on to finish:

    "—yet I scarce could tell him so. He must have guessed my
    predicament, for he only smiled and said it was of no moment. An she
    would not care for it, I might keep it for myself. 'Twas rarely kind
    in him. I long to tell him about myself, but I dare not—not yet.

"Then comes a break. Now she says:

    "His lady did pass me to-day, walking in the garden; and since the
    high shrubbery screened us, I curtesied deeply to her. I scarce
    dare notice her when any of the household are by. She looked at
    me long, then spoke me fair, asking had she not met me before she
    came here. I answered, yes, the day her coach broke down on the
    road last year, and I helped to hold the frightened horses while
    'twas mended. She did thank me anew, and asked me what it was I
    was about to tell her then, when Madame M. had dragged me suddenly
    away. I replied that I dared not repeat it there, but would seek
    some chance to speak with her alone when we did have more time and
    were not observed. Then I heard footsteps approaching, and I fled
    quickly away."

"Wonder what it could have been that she was trying so hard to tell
Lady Washington!" sighed Corinne. "This doesn't grow any _less_
mysterious, apparently! Go on, Margaret!"

"Another break, then she says:

    "I have at last learned what is this wicked plot—"

"Good business!" ejaculated Alexander.

    "'Tis through Mistress Phœbe I found it out. She has a lover who
    is one of _his_ life-guard, and this lover she has had cause to
    suspect is not entirely loyal to _him_. Last night she did ply him
    with overmuch good malt brew, and in his befogged state she did
    get him to babble the secret. Oh, it is a vile scheme! They are
    planning to deliver the city out of _his_ hands. But that is not
    the worst. They seek first of all to murder _him_, and in some
    underhand, cowardly fashion. The manner of it is not decided yet.
    Phœbe tells me her lover will remember no word of what he said to
    her last night in his cups. But she intends to watch him right
    closely. When she has learned the manner of the plotted murder,
    _he_ must be warned."

"Isn't this exciting!" exclaimed Corinne.

"Bully! Hot stuff!" agreed Alexander.

Margaret continued: "Now, another entry.

    "I have confided my story to Phœbe. She is well to be trusted, I
    feel. She has promised to help me in my need. I am becoming right
    fond of Phœbe. Corbie was here last night to see the steward. They
    are both in the plot, we feel sure. After Corbie left, the steward
    descended to the cellar. I did not dare to follow—I could only
    guess that he went to his secret hiding-place.

"Now another space. Then:

    "Phœbe had news to-day. Last night she did again muddle her lover
    with much strong drink. And she did get him to confess that the
    plot is near completion; that if all goes well, 'twill be put
    in action four days from now. He also did acknowledge that they
    intended to put him out of the way by poisoning something he ate.
    But he knew nothing more definite. Phœbe says she dares not thus
    befuddle him again. It is too dangerous, as he has shown that he
    suspects he is babbling and has asked her since many searching
    questions, to which she pretends guileless ignorance. We must
    watch him. What if we should not be able to foil him and his vile
    conspirators!

    "Madame M.'s health does not improve. Nay, she has dropped so low
    that 'tis feared she will not live. Her physician did bleed her
    yesterday, but 'twas of no avail. She recognizes me, but she will
    have naught to say to me. In fact she is too weak to utter a word.
    I am right sorry for her and grieve that she cannot forgive me,
    though I have done no real wrong. I have sometimes thought she
    must know of the plot, the vile plot that is to be enacted in this
    house. But Phœbe declares she is innocent of that. Deep as her
    hatred may be, she would never wink at such a crime."

"Well, that settles _one_ question, anyhow!" interrupted Corinne. "Do
you remember how we discussed that?"

"Yep! that was the day I butted in!" commented Alexander, in whimsical
recollection. "Fire away, kid!"

Margaret continued:

    "Phœbe and I do despair of discovering by what means they plan to
    carry out the plot. She dares no longer question her lover when
    he is under the influence of wine. Nor does she yet dare denounce
    him, lest the other conspirators escape unharmed. It would be
    premature to do so till we know the exact facts. I have told her of
    the steward and his secret hiding-place in the wine-cellar. If we
    can do naught else, we will rifle that some time when he is away.
    Perchance there may be information in it.

"Then, here's the next entry:

    "It is midnight, and on the morrow the plot will be consummated. I
    write this in much fear. Perchance it will be the last I shall ever
    have opportunity to write. If such be the case, and my relations in
    Bermuda do ever find this trunk and the diary in its false bottom,
    and should they be able to decipher it, I want them to know that I,
    Alison Trenham,—"

"_Trenham!_" shouted the listening group. "Hurrah! at _last_ we know her
full name! That's dandy!" Margaret gave them little heed and went on:

    "—do grievously repent my folly in ever leaving my peaceful home;
    that I beg Grandfather to forgive me if he can, and wish Aunt and
    Betty to know that I love them always. Also, that H. and his uncle
    were little to blame for their part in what happened before we left
    Bermuda, and that I do not regret giving my assistance, for it was
    a noble cause, even though our government did not approve.

    "To-night, Phœbe and I did raid the steward's secret hiding-place.
    We waited till he had gone out, about ten o'clock, and from his
    actions we made sure that he would be away long, for he went
    straight to Corbie's tavern. But even so, we took a terrible risk.
    Once in the cellar, our work was not difficult. I pointed out the
    location of the spot, and we opened the beam as I had seen him do.
    But our amazement was great when we found naught in it. He must
    have removed every belonging, and that right recently. We were just
    about to turn away when Phœbe declared she would look once more,
    and she felt all about in it carefully. Her search was rewarded,
    for far back in a crevice was stuck a small folded note.

    "We read it by the light of the candle, not at first daring to take
    it away. It was from the governor, and said that on the morrow a
    dose of poison should be put into a dish of peas prepared for _him_
    at his noonday meal. The poison would have no effect under an hour.
    In the meantime, word should go forth, and the fortifications would
    be seized. Everything was in readiness. That was all. The note had
    plainly been forgotten by the steward when he removed his other
    papers. We dared to keep it, on a second thought, since he would
    probably think he had lost it elsewhere, if he missed it at all. So
    we took it away with us.

    "Our plans are all laid. Phœbe will herself be in the kitchen
    to-morrow at noon, and no doubt either her lover or the steward
    will place the poison in the dish. Then I am to pass through the
    kitchen at a certain moment, and Phœbe will request me to carry in
    the dish and lay it before _him_. As I do so, I can whisper _him_
    a warning not to eat of it, saying I will explain later. If Phœbe
    herself did this, she would be suspected at once, for she never
    goes into the dining-room to serve. But she will choose a moment
    when no retainer of his happens to be in the kitchen, and send me
    with it instead. God grant that the plans do not go wrong. _He_
    will suffer, and our own lives will be in great danger should we
    fail or be discovered.

    "We have arranged that, when I go to him later to disclose what we
    know, I shall also tell him my own story and throw myself on the
    protection of him and his good lady. For I fear it will then be no
    longer safe for me to remain here as I am now. That is all. God has
    us in His hands. I await the morrow with untold trembling.

    "Should it be thought strange that in writing this journal I have
    given few _names_ and so made the identities hard to guess, I
    must explain that I have ever been in great fear of this being
    discovered—nay, even deciphered. I bethought me that the fewer
    names I used, the less incriminating this might be to myself and
    all concerned. As I read it over now, I feel that it was but a poor
    makeshift, at best. However that may be, I trust that it may some
    day get back to my dear ones in Bermuda, should aught evil befall
    me. _They_ will understand.

    "The hour grows late and I must retire, though I feel little able
    to sleep. But one thing more I must disclose ere I bring this
    journal to an end,—the hiding-place of the sapphire signet. Should
    it befall that I never return to my home nor see my relatives
    again, it would be only right that they be informed where the
    jewel may be found, and that I meant no evil in taking it from
    Grandfather. Also, I do earnestly beseech any soul who shall
    perchance sometime long in the future find and decipher this
    record, that he or she will search for the signet in the place that
    I have indicated. And should they find it still there hidden, I
    pray that they will make an effort to return it to any of my family
    or connections who may still exist.

    "I have concealed the sapphire signet in—"

Margaret came to a dead stop. "Girls—and Alexander—that's absolutely
_all_ there is!"

So tense had been the interest that they could not believe their
ears when Margaret made this announcement. Alexander was the first
to recover his power of speech. Thumping the floor indignantly, he
delivered himself thus:

"Suffering cats! _Can_ you beat it!"



CHAPTER XIII

ALEXANDER ENGAGES IN SOME HISTORICAL RESEARCH


When the chorus of surprise and bewilderment and indignation had at
last subsided, they fell to discussing in its every detail this new
phase of the journal and its abrupt ending.

"I tell you," announced Alexander, thumping a sofa-cushion to emphasize
his remark, "something _happened_ to that kid just as she got to the
last,—something happened, sure as wash-day! And it wasn't anything
pleasant, either! Do you get me?"

"You must be right!" agreed Corinne. "When you think of what _was_
going to happen the next day, and the danger she was in, and the fact
that this journal is torn in two, and all that, I'm positive something
terrible must have taken place just then. Poor little Alison! How are
we _ever_ going to know what it was, or whether she ever got out of
it all right and got back home! If the end of the other half of the
journal was maddening, this is about forty-five times worse! I feel as
if I'd go absolutely _crazy_ if this mystery isn't cleared up!"

"There's one thing you must remember," suggested the practical Bess.
"History tells us that the poison plot was discovered in time and
didn't do Washington any harm; and that Phœbe Fraunces gave him the
warning, and he just cleared up the whole thing, and hanged the worst
one of the conspirators,—whoever he might be! Now, if that's the case,
don't you think we could take it for granted that Alison's affairs
turned out all right, too?"

"Not necessarily!" retorted Corinne. "Remember, also, that Washington
didn't know anything about her, and that that horrid steward had been
watching her and plotting about her; and so had Corbie, too. Who knows
but what they took her and carried her off before the thing was to take
place, in order to have her out of the way!"

"And there's another thing," added Margaret. "Do you remember what I
told you Mother said about that trunk of hers? It was found floating
around in an old wreck. Now how did it get there? If there was a wreck
and she was on it, she was probably drowned and never got back to
Bermuda alive. But how did she come to be on a vessel with her trunk if
she had been captured by the steward? Did he put her there?"

"Maybe she wasn't on that vessel at all!" was the contribution Jess
made to the problem. "Somebody else may have taken possession of her
trunk for all you can tell. A trunk is something _anybody_ can use!"

"But did you ever hear of such a maddening thing as that journal
breaking off just the minute she was going to tell where she'd hidden
the signet!" exclaimed Corinne in thorough exasperation. "Why couldn't
it have gone on just a second longer—at least till she'd had time
for a tiny hint! And, see here! Do you realize that she was actually
talking to _us_ (though she didn't know it) when she begs the person
who finds and deciphers this journal in the future to find the signet
and return it to her people?"

"Why, that's _so_!" cried Margaret in a tone of hushed awe. "It didn't
strike me at first. She's actually speaking to _us_—for we _must_ be
the first ones who have read this journal! Isn't it amazing!"

"You don't know whether we are or not," contradicted Bess, with her
usual cold common sense. "Lots of people may have seen it before we
did, and found the signet, too."

"I don't think it's likely," argued Corinne, coming to Margaret's
defense. "And besides, how could they find the signet when she didn't
even have a chance to tell where it was! No, I feel quite sure we're
the first; but how are we ever going to know where she hid it? And even
if we _did_ know, would we be able to find it after the changes that
have come in all these years?"

"Then too," put in Jess, "there's a chance that Alison got out of the
trouble all right, anyhow, and took the signet back to her grandfather
herself. How are you going to tell?"

"There's one thing you all seem to have forgotten," suggested
Alexander. "And it's the biggest boost of the whole outfit! We are wise
to her last name—_Trenham_. Now you, Corinne,—you've been down there
to that little old joint, Bermuda. Did you ever hear of any one by the
name of Trenham?"

"No, I didn't. Of course, I never inquired particularly, not knowing
anything about this, then. But I never heard that name. There's a very
common one on the island that's a good deal like it—Trimmingham—but
that doesn't help much. It probably isn't the same, though the English
do have the funniest way of shortening their names and pronouncing them
in queer ways!"

"Wrong trail!" exclaimed Alexander, briefly. Then, suddenly turning to
Margaret, he added:

"Here, kiddie! Hand me that journal-thing you've doped out. I want
to give it the once-over!" He studied it thoughtfully for several
minutes, tugging viciously the while at a long lock of red hair that
always hung over his eyes. The rest all kept very quiet, watching him
expectantly. Presently he issued his ultimatum:

"There's one other piece of business that you all seem to have pretty
well given the cold shoulder—this song and dance about some plot in
Bermuda that the Alison kid says she was mixed up in. Have you ever
thought of doping that out?"

"No, we haven't," admitted Corinne. "I did think once of hunting it up,
but the whole thing was so awfully vague that there didn't seem to be
any use. What could you hunt up, anyway? You'd have to read up a lot
of Bermuda history, and even then you probably wouldn't strike a thing
that had any bearing on it!"

"You never can tell!" remarked the boy, wisely. "Me for this job,
from now on! Where's that library joint you get all your books from,
Corinne? Little Alexander's going to join the army of high-brows!"

"You can take my card and use it, Alexander, or I'll get you the books
myself," Corinne kindly offered.

"Thanks awfully, but nothing doing!" he returned. "This kid gets right
on the job himself when he strikes the trail. All I want to know is how
you break into the place. If you put me wise to _that_, yours truly
will do the rest!"


In the course of the next few days, Alexander became a duly enrolled
member of the nearest public library, and his family was edified
to behold him deeply immersed in the most unusual occupation of
literary and historical research. As he ordinarily touched no volume
of any nature except his school-books (and these only under severe
compulsion!), the spectacle was all the more amazing. Baseball and
other absorbing occupations of his street life were temporarily
forgotten. He would lie for hours flat on his stomach on the couch, his
heels in the air, pushing back his rebellious lock of hair, and mulling
over the various odd volumes he had brought home from the library.
At intervals he could be heard ejaculating: "Gee!" "Hot stuff!" and
remarks of a similar nature.

But of his discoveries, if indeed he had made any, he would have
nothing to say, conceding only that, when he had found anything of
interest, a meeting of the Antiquarian Club should be called, and he
would then make his disclosures in proper business form. This was
absolutely all they could draw from him. The twins reported to Corinne
at school that Alexander was certainly doing (for him!) a remarkable
amount of reading; and it was not all about Bermuda, either, as they
had discovered from the titles of his books. American history also
figured in his list, and other volumes whose bearing on the subject
they could not even guess. They also expressed their wonder at the
curious change they had noticed in his manner toward them.

"Oh, Alexander's _all right_!" Corinne assured them. "You've always
misjudged that little fellow, girls! He's got heaps of good in him! Of
course, he's a little rough and slangy, and a terrible tease, but most
boys _are_, at his age; and some are lots worse. He's a gentleman at
heart, though. You can tell that by the way he treats Margaret. He's
always just as gentle with her! But you've never taken him right. You
get awfully annoyed when he teases you, and that's just exactly what he
wants; it tickles him to pieces to see you get mad! If you'd only take
him up good-naturedly and give him as good as he gives you, you'd find
yourselves getting along heaps better!"

"That's exactly what you do, I guess!" remarked Bess, ruefully. "And I
can see that he thinks you're fine. He said the other night that you
were 'some good sport,' and that's praise—from him! I'm going to try
and act differently toward him from now on. But, oh! his language is so
dreadful and slangy! It irritates me to pieces, and I just can't help
snapping at him when he talks that way!"

"Do you know," said Corinne, "I've noticed a queer thing about him.
When he's very much in earnest and forgets himself completely,
especially in this mystery business, he hardly uses any slang at
all,—just talks like any one else! I believe he'll grow out of all
that, later, when he's learned that it isn't the way the worth-while
people talk. But he's bright—bright as a steel trap; and think where
we should have been in this affair if it hadn't been for him!"

Meanwhile, all unconscious that he was a subject of such animated
discussion, Alexander was pursuing his researches in grim earnest; and
at length, in the course of a week or so, he announced that a meeting
might be called and he would make his report. When they had gathered
expectantly the following afternoon, he came in with an armful of books
and settled down on the floor before the open fire.

"Now, don't go boosting your hopes sky-high!" he remarked, noting the
tense expectancy of their attitudes. "I ain't doped out anything so
very wonderful—"

"Oh, _haven't_ you, Alexander?" exclaimed Margaret, disappointedly. "I
thought you must have found something _great_, the way you've been
grunting and chuckling and talking to yourself all this time when you
read in the evenings!"

"Sorry to give you the cold shower, kiddie! I've done the best I could;
and if I was chuckling and grunting, it was because I'd struck some
ripping hot stuff in the way of adventures. Say! that Bermuda history
is _some_ little jig-time! I started to wade through it, thinking
it'd be as dry as tinder, and you can knock me down with a plate of
pancakes, but it was rich! Started right in with the greatest old
shipwreck, when old Admiral Somers and his men got chucked off on this
uninhabited island! Gee! it was as good as 'Robinson Crusoe,' that
we're reading about in school. Then they had a rip-snorting old mutiny,
and started in to build another ship, and all that sort of thing! And
later on, after they'd gone home to England and come back and settled
in a colony there, they started up some witchcraft, and ducked a lot of
gabby dames and hung some more, and—"

"But, Alexander," interrupted the impatient Margaret, "you can tell us
all about that some other time. What _I_ want to know is, did you find
out _anything_ that seemed to be connected with our mystery?"

"That's right, kid! We'll get down to business, and do our spieling
afterward. Well, I didn't strike a blooming thing that seemed to be
even a forty-second cousin to our affairs till I got down to the year
1775; and then I hit the trail of a piker called Governor Bruère, who
was the reigning high Mogul in Bermuda just then. He was some pill,
too, you can take it from me! And everybody seemed to hate him like
poison, he was such a grouch. Well, it was just about the time when
the Revolution busted out in the U. S. Washington was up there around
Boston, keeping the British on the jump. But he was scared stiff,
because gunpowder was so short. There were only about nine rounds left
for each American soldier. But they were chucking a good bluff, and of
course the British weren't wise to it.

"Just about then, somebody put Washington on to the fact that down in
Bermuda there was a whole mint of gunpowder concealed somewhere in the
government grounds, and it wouldn't be so hard to get hold of it. At
the same time, too, the Bermudians were pretty nearly starving, because
they got all their food supplies from America, and since the war broke
out, England had cut them off at the meter. So Washington doped it out
that here was a good chance to make an exchange. He sent a couple of
fellers to tell the Bermudians that, if they'd give him that powder,
he'd send them a whole outfit of eats. And you'll admit that was square
enough!

"But wouldn't this jar you! When they got there, they found the
whole place up in the air and the governor sizzling around like a
cannon-cracker, because some one had got in ahead of them, stole the
powder, and carted it off to America! They just turned tail and beat
it for home and mother as quick as they could, before the governor got
wind of their business! So long as Washington got the powder, they
should worry!

"But the how of it was like this: a fellow named Captain Ord,—or some
say it was one called George Tucker, but most think it was Ord,—had it
all fixed up with some Bermudian friends that he should get the powder
on the q. t., load it on board his ship, and beat it while the going
was good. The powder-magazine was in the government grounds at a dump
called St. George's, and Governor Bruère always slept with the keys
under his pillow. Well, some smooth guy managed to swipe those keys one
dark night, and they rolled down no end of barrels to a place called
Tobacco Rocks, loaded 'em on whale-boats, and rowed out with 'em to
the ship that was anchored off Mangrove Bay, wherever that may be, and
Captain Ord was off with it before morning. Well, you can take it from
me that, when Bruère got wise to what had happened, he went up in the
air! He was a hot sketch, and he made it warm for the Bermudians; but
it didn't do any good, as nobody knew much about the business—or if
they did, they wouldn't tell!

"Anyhow, Washington got his powder, and it's on record that afterward
he sent a heap of swell eats down to pay for it! Gee! wouldn't I like
to have been in on that fun though—the night they swiped the loot!"

"But, Alexander, I don't see what all this has got to do with Alison!"
cried Margaret. "There's nothing in it about a girl, or the least thing
that concerns her!"

"That's just where I knew you'd throw me down!" remarked Alexander.
"I told you to begin with that I hadn't found anything positive about
it, didn't I? Well, this is the _only thing_ that even passed it on
the other side of the gangway! That Alison kid keeps talking about a
plot in Bermuda and something that happened that the government didn't
cotton to, and there isn't another blooming hook to hang your hat on
but that, unless it's something that isn't spoken of or known about in
history. Then there's one other reason. She speaks of some one called
H., and his uncle, and his uncle's ship, and how they were afraid to go
back to Bermuda because one of the sailors had turned piker and given
way on them. Of course, it's all guesswork! And what in thunder a kid
like Alison could have to do with such a piece of work, beats me! But
there you are! I'm done!"

There was considerable disappointment in the Antiquarian Club, when
Alexander had ceased, that nothing more definite had been unearthed
by him. It seemed highly unlikely to them all that this strange
little historical incident could have any bearing on the affairs of
the mysterious "lass" whose secret they had stumbled upon. None but
himself appeared to put any faith in the connection between the two,
and they discussed it for a time hotly. At last Corinne, perceiving
that Alexander was becoming piqued that his efforts were not more
appreciated, declared:

"I think you've done splendidly, Alec, in discovering anything at all,
among such a lot of uncertain stuff; and perhaps we'll come across
something later that will make us sure. But you seem to have been
reading quite a pile of books. Are they all about Bermuda?"

"Nope! Not on your tintype! There are precious few about Bermuda alone,
anyway. So after I'd chewed up what there was, I took to doping out
American history, and I came across some hot stuff there, too! The main
guy over there in the library advised me to read Washington Irving's
'Life of George Washington' when I told her I was tracking down
American history. And say, that's going some, too—in spots! I fell
over something last night that'll make you all put on the glad smile—I
found out the name of the feller that was soft on Phœbe!"

"Oh, what is it?" they shouted in a satisfying chorus.

"Thomas Hickey!" announced Alexander, proudly.

"But how do you know?"

"'Cause that's the name of the feller Washington hung! It was a member
of his life-guard who was one of the conspirators!"

"Alexander, you're _some_ trump!" declared Corinne. "In all my
browsing, I never came across _that_!"



CHAPTER XIV

A BELATED DISCOVERY AND A SOLEMN

CONCLAVE


During the month following Alexander's researches into history, no
further progress was made in solving the mystery that absorbed the
Antiquarian Club. The Christmas holidays came and went, and the severer
winter weather held the city in such a grip that often, for days on
a stretch, Margaret could not be wheeled out in her chair. Under the
combined strain of confinement to the house and lack of any further
stimulating excitement, she grew very restless and just a wee bit
unhappy. The girls and Alexander were very busy with their midwinter
examinations, and could not give much time to other interests, even
such absorbing ones as the long-ago Alison and her fate.

But, with the beginning of February, matters improved. The weather
moderated, to begin with, the sun shone daily, and Margaret could again
enjoy her outing of an hour in the sunny part of each early afternoon.
The others also, released from the grind of much study and "cramming
for exams," had leisure at last to give to the club-meetings, which
they now held regularly three times a week. Alexander was not always
with them, for the claims of hockey and skating and coasting often
proved too much for his boyish soul to resist. But, for the most part,
he managed to be on hand at least once a week, for his interest in the
mystery was still very great.

They grew into the habit of reporting, at these meetings, any even
slight discoveries they had happened to make, in their reading or in
any other manner, that had the slightest bearing on the subject. Thus,
Corinne contributed the following, that she had gleaned in looking over
a history of New York City: in referring to Abraham Mortier, some one
had once remarked that the expression "Laugh and grow fat!" did not
apply to him, since, although he was very jolly, he was so thin that
the wind could blow him away!

"That's interesting, but of course it doesn't help _us_ much!" Corinne
added apologetically. "But I thought anything about the Mortiers
would be well to know. I'll warrant Madame Mortier was just the
opposite—very fat and solemn!"

Alexander contributed the information that Thomas Hickey was hanged at
a spot about where the corner of Grand Street and the Bowery is now.
And so deep was his interest in this gruesome affair that he even made
an excursion across the city one afternoon to visit the site!

Margaret found a description of Richmond Hill, written by Mrs. John
Adams during her residence there, in which she described at much length
the beauty and attractiveness of the spot. Only the twins, who read
but little, made no additions to the stock of information. This they
apologized for by saying that they were no hand at such things, and
about everything had been discovered already, anyhow!

Then Corinne invented another form of entertainment. This was that
each member of the Antiquarian Club should, after due thought and
consideration, invent an explanation of his or her own for the curious
break in Alison's journal and her probable fate. The game proved an
exceedingly diverting one, and every member took a separate meeting
and expounded the particular solution that appealed to his or her
imagination.

Corinne herself wove a romantic tale about Alison's having been
captured that very night by the steward and Corbie while she was
writing, how they carried her off, journal and all, and later fought
over her book and tore it in two; how Alison was rescued by the
mysterious "H." just in the nick of time, and was taken away to
Bermuda to marry him and live happily ever after! But the mystery of
the two halves of the journal and their strange hiding-places and the
whereabouts of the sapphire signet she admitted she couldn't explain
and didn't try to!

Alexander invented a lurid tale of Thomas Hickey discovering Alison
in the act of writing her journal, tearing it in two in snatching it
from her, and retaining the latter half. Phœbe then helped Alison to
escape with her trunk and the other half and embark on some vessel
that was later overhauled by pirates and scuttled, and Alison was made
to "walk the plank"! This horrible ending so affected Margaret that
she cried herself almost sick over it. And Alexander thereat was so
conscience-stricken that he determined henceforth to keep his inventive
powers under better control.

Margaret herself advanced the theory that, for some reason, Alison and
Phœbe suddenly determined to tear the journal in two and each keep half
of it as evidence in case anything should go amiss. That Phœbe hid her
half in the beam, and Alison put hers in the trunk. Then they went and
denounced the plot to Washington, and he was so grateful that he sent
Alison right home to Bermuda, where she lived happily, having taken
the signet with her, and giving away the trunk to some relative and
forgetting all about the journal in the bottom. It was the relative
who was shipwrecked and abandoned the trunk!

Again the twins, who had no gift of imagination, refused to offer
any solution, though they were highly interested in the tales of the
others. They both declared that they could think of absolutely no
explanation, so what was the use of their trying? And on these grounds
the others excused them. So the month passed, and then one day Margaret
announced that she herself had made a discovery, and proceeded to tell
of it.

"It all came about through Sarah wanting to wheel me over through
Macdougal Street to-day and down Spring Street, because she had an
important errand there. You know we _never_ go through Macdougal
Street, because it's so narrow and not nearly as nice and clean and
sunny as our own and Varick Street. I actually don't think I've been
over that way for three or four years! Well, just as we were passing
a house between this block and Van Dam, I looked up at it, and what
do you think I saw?—the brass sign near the front door—"Richmond
Hill House"! I couldn't imagine for a moment what it meant. But I
asked Sarah if she knew what the place was, and she said it was a
settlement-house, with a day-nursery and clubs for the children and
things like that in it.

"I asked why it was called that name, and she said she didn't
know—thought it was a silly one and didn't mean anything. But _I_
knew—though I didn't say so! Somebody who knows about history has
called it that because it stands almost on the grounds where Richmond
Hill used to be. But oh, girls! think how much trouble and wondering
and hunting it would have saved us, if we'd only known about that house
at first! It would have suggested the thing to us right away!"

"Huh!" remarked Alexander, disgustedly. "_I_ knew about that old joint
right along—ever since I lived here! _I_ could have told you a thing
or two, if you'd only consulted yours truly sooner!"

"Well, never mind!" said Corinne, soothingly. "Maybe we _did_ get at
things in a roundabout, clumsy fashion; but we got there, just the
same, and we had a good time doing it, too! But now I've something
brand-new to say, and I want you all to listen very attentively. This
is a matter that needs a lot of careful consideration. We've about come
to the end of our rope, as far as making any further progress with this
mystery is concerned. We've been having a lot of fun and entertainment
out of it, of course, with these stories of our own, and all that sort
of thing. But we're not 'getting any forrarder,' as Dickens says; and
do you know, I'm beginning to think that perhaps we're not doing just
right in keeping this all to ourselves!"

Here Margaret started and gave her a reproachful look. Corinne put an
arm over the invalid girl's shoulder and continued:

"Honey dear, I know you think I'm playing the traitor, and trying to
spoil our delightful secret society, but I'm really not; and if you'll
hear me to the end, I believe you'll feel the same as I do. I've been
doing a lot of hard thinking about this matter lately. Perhaps you
haven't realized it, but I am certain that this old journal we've found
is really a very valuable thing—not only valuable in the way of money
(for many people would pay a great deal for a genuine old document like
this), but also in the way of historical information. We're keeping to
ourselves something that might really throw light on the past history
of our city.

"Now, of course, I'm not _certain_ about this, but I'd like to have the
opinion of some grown person who really knows. And I've thought of a
plan by which we could do this, and at the same time keep our secret
society _almost_ the same as it is now. It's this: I would like you
all—and especially Margaret—to consent to my telling my father all
about this, and, if he is willing (and I'm certain he will be), we can
let him become a member of our Antiquarian Club. In that way, you see,
we won't be breaking up our society—we will just be adding another
member!"

"But he's a _grown_ person!" objected Margaret, trying hard to keep the
tears from rising. "And he wouldn't care a _bit_ about a thing like
this! And we'd feel so strange and—and awkward to have an older person
in it!"

"Oh, but you don't _know_ my father!" laughed Corinne. "To be sure,
he's a _grown_ person, but I never met any one who was more like a
_boy_ in his manner and interests and sympathies! Why, he's actually
more _boyish_ than lots of the young fellows in high school. He is
deeply interested in young folks and their affairs; and if he weren't
such an awfully busy man, he'd spend most of his time being with them.
He and I are _such_ chums! You ought to see us together when he's away
on a vacation! He romps around with me as though he were only sixteen,
and everything that interests me just absorbs him too. I believe you've
thought, because I said he loved books and history and _old_ things,
that he's a regular old fogey that goes around stoop-shouldered and
spectacled! He isn't a bit like that!"

"I got you, Steve!" ejaculated Alexander. "He must be _some_ good
sport! I vote we ring him in on this!"

Margaret, however, still looked only half convinced.

"But, if he's so busy," she ventured, "I don't see how he's ever going
to find time to attend these meetings—even if he wanted to!"

"Of course," Corinne responded, "it would be impossible for him to get
to our meetings, as a rule, but I know that he would be glad to hear
all about them from me, and sometimes, on holidays, he'd be delighted
to just get together with us all. And, what's more, I know he'd always
have some interesting thing that he'd propose doing—something probably
that we've never thought of!"

Margaret had, by this time, almost completely melted, but she had one
further objection to offer:

"But, Corinne, he doesn't _know_ us—not a thing about us, and he'd
feel awfully strange and queer too, getting acquainted with a lot of
brand-new young folks he's never even heard of before!"

And again Corinne had her answer, even for this.

"Wrong again, Honey!" she laughed. "Talk about his not _knowing
anything_ about you! Well, do you suppose for one wild minute that
I've never told him about these loveliest friends I ever had? Why,
every evening he and I talk for at least a couple of hours about every
blessed thing that interests us. I've given him your whole history,
described you all in every detail, told him how much I come here, and
that we had an important secret society. The only thing I _haven't_
told him is the secret! But I've done something else that I hope you
won't mind—I've let him know that I was very anxious to have him
admitted as a member, and that the secret was something he'd probably
find _very_ interesting. And, do you know, he's just crazy to be
allowed in it, and is only waiting for the time when I'll come home
some day bringing him the high permission of its dear president!"

Then, at last, did Margaret capitulate. How, indeed, could she hold out
after having been presented with such an alluring picture of the latest
member-to-be! Truth to tell, the desire was awakened in her heart
to meet this delightful father, who was so young in spirit that his
daughter considered him a "chum"! She gave her full consent that he was
to be told everything that night, and Corinne departed in high feather.
When she had gone, Margaret turned to the rest.

"It must be lovely," she sighed, "to have a father like that!"



CHAPTER XV

SARAH TAKES A HAND IN THE GAME


Corinne came rushing home with the girls next day. Margaret, who rather
expected her, had been waiting in considerable impatience, and not a
little secret dread, for her arrival.

"Girls," she panted, throwing aside her wraps, "it's all right! I had
the loveliest time telling Father all about it last night! You've no
idea how perfectly _absorbed_ he was in the story! He was like a boy
listening to a pirate yarn! I read him all the translation of the
journal that Margaret made me, and he was just about wild when it came
to the end so abruptly. He thought, with me, that it was best not to
take the original from here, because you never can tell what accident
might happen to it, carrying it around, but he says he ought to see it
at once.

"And, do you know, he said we'd done very clever work indeed, in
puzzling out what we had of this mystery all by ourselves! I was so
proud! And he said, also, that Alexander deserves special credit for
the work he did in finding the secret beam. It isn't every boy who
would have had such a good idea. He says Alexander is going to make
a bright man, and a prosperous one, too, some day! Where is that
youngster, by the way? I want to tell him!"

"Oh, he hasn't come in yet!" exclaimed Margaret, hastily returning to
the main subject. "But tell us, Corinne, what else did your father say?"

"Well, I haven't half told you yet! To begin with, he says that we
have really stumbled on something very valuable indeed—just as I told
you! This journal ought to make one of the most interesting additions
to the curiosities of history that have come to light in many a long
day. And he says he shouldn't wonder but what it would be very valuable
from the money side, too. There are people and institutions that will
pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars for rare manuscripts like that,
if they're genuine! And there's no doubt but that this is genuine, all
right! And he says we _may_ be able to think out where the signet was
hidden, too.

"But, first of all, he wants very much to see the journal, and, of
course, he must come here for that. He wanted to come and call on your
mother some afternoon very soon. But I told him that was not possible,
because your mother is away at business all day, and anyway, your
mother wasn't a member of the club, and perhaps you wouldn't want to
explain the whole thing to her just yet. So he said he would telephone
to her to ask if he might stop in here with me some afternoon; and he
called her up this morning about it. She said she would be very glad
to have her girls meet the father of such a dear friend of theirs.
Wasn't that lovely of her? If you all are agreeable, he's coming day
after to-morrow, because he happens to have that afternoon free. He
will meet the twins and myself at high school, walk down with us, and
be initiated into the Antiquarian Club. He says that being shown that
wonderful journal ought to constitute a sufficient initiation ceremony,
and I agreed with him! Now, what do you say?"

Margaret agreed unhesitatingly, yet in her secret soul she was filled
with just the same consternation that she always felt in being called
upon to meet a stranger. But she tried to school herself to the ordeal
by reminding herself how easy it had been to make the acquaintance of
Corinne. The father of so lovely and wonderful a girl ought surely to
be no more difficult to meet. Corinne had brought light and pleasure
and manifold interest into her drab little existence. Might not the
father do the same? Thus she argued with herself as the time slipped
by, till at length the day itself dawned that was to bring a new factor
into her life.

"Wheel my chair over to the bookcase, please, Sarah!" she commanded
that afternoon, when she had been made ready to receive company in the
parlor. "I'll read, I guess, till the girls come. Corinne may bring
her father to-day, so could you have something kind of nice to eat,
Sarah dear?" The woman gave her an odd look.

"Always that Corinne!" she grunted jealously. "Ye be fair daffy over
that gur-rl, I do believe! An' now her father's comin' wid her! Why is
she bringin' him? I ain't got refreshments fur the likes of them!" She
muttered and growled herself out of the parlor, but her remarks gave
Margaret no uneasiness. Too well she knew that, though Sarah might fuss
and fume over some imagined imposition, she would ascend later with the
daintiest of trays and serve the same maligned company with food fit
for the gods! So Margaret contentedly settled herself to wait and pass
the time by giving the curious old journal one further inspection.

Meanwhile, the day's session at high school came to an end, and, at the
gate, Corinne and the twins found Mr. Cameron awaiting them. Whatever
mental picture the twins may have had of Corinne's father, they found
it very little like the reality. At once they were captivated by his
twinkling blue eyes, his crisply curling, slightly gray hair, his
friendly smile, and the thoroughly charming way he had of crinkling up
his eyes when he laughed. They liked, too, his big, deep voice, his
fine, tall, athletic-looking frame (and they wondered how he could be
ill so often, when he _looked_ so robust), and the jolly way he had
of laughing at his own or other people's remarks. No longer did they
wonder at his being such a chum of his daughter's, for before they
had gone three blocks, he had become as interested in their accounts
of basket-ball as though that game were the chief occupation of his
existence.

But it was when he came to talking of their wonderful mystery that he
showed to his best advantage, in their eyes. Alexander himself could
not have exhibited a more thrilling interest in the whole affair than
did Mr. Cameron. And as they proceeded down Varick Street, he branched
off into talking of other historical associations connected with the
neighborhood; told the most fascinating little anecdotes, pointed out
hitherto unnoticed nooks and corners of odd shape and architecture,
and explained the probable reasons for their existence. So enthralling
was his conversation that they reached their own corner almost before
they noticed it. Just as they turned down the street, however, they
encountered Alexander. After the renewed introduction, Mr. Cameron
voted that they all have a look at the former site of McCorkle's
stable, and that Alexander should point out the exact location of the
secret beam, long since removed to give place to iron subway-girders.

This naturally captured the heart of Alexander, and before they
returned to the house, he was fairly ready to worship, in his boyish
manner, this remarkable specimen of a grown man who seemed equally
interested in baseball, Indian wigwam-building, hockey, skating, and
boy affairs of all descriptions. But Alexander would sooner have been
torn limb from limb than confess this worship to the girls!

At last they all approached the house, went up the stoop, and waited
while Bess opened the door with her latch-key. The girls thought it
rather strange that Margaret was not sitting in the window, waiting to
wave to them as she always did, but they concluded that she must have
had a fit of shyness, because of the new visitor, and had remained
behind the curtains. In the hall they called gaily to her, and were
again a little surprised to hear no response. Then they all entered the
parlor.

To their utter astonishment they beheld Margaret, huddled in her chair
by the bookcase, her eyes wide and frightened, her face bearing plainly
the marks of recent tears.

"What is it, Honey?" cried Corinne, the first to spring forward. "Are
you feeling ill?"

"No," murmured Margaret, almost inaudibly.

"Well, here's father!" went on Corinne. "You must welcome the latest
member of the Antiquarian Club, Miss President! And don't be afraid
of him, for he knows you very well!" Corinne said this in a tone of
forced gaiety, thinking that perhaps Margaret was really frightened
at the prospect of meeting a stranger. Her father shook the little
outstretched hand cordially, said some pleasant things of a general
nature, and then plunged at once into the important subject of the day.

"Now you must initiate me, Miss Margaret! Show me this wonderful
thing you clever people have unearthed! I want to see it so badly
that I could hardly sleep last night with expectation, and that's no
exaggeration! It's the real truth!"

To the utter astonishment of every one, Margaret burst suddenly into
wild tears.

"It's gone! It's gone!" she sobbed. "It isn't there any more!"

"What do you mean, Honey?" cried Corinne, rushing to her and trying
vainly to hush the child's hysterical weeping. "It can't be gone!
What's happened to it?"

At this the sobbing came with renewed violence, and it was several
minutes before Margaret was able to whisper the one word:

"_Sarah!_"

"What about her? Do you want her to come up?" inquired Bess. Margaret
frantically shook her head.

"Childie," said Corinne at last, very gently, "try to calm yourself and
tell us what has happened. You'll be ill if you keep on like this!"

After a moment, Margaret straightened herself, with a great effort
stopped the sobbing, and spoke:

"I know I'm a silly to act like this, but a terrible thing has
happened. _The journal is gone!_ I looked for it in its usual place
this afternoon, and—it wasn't there! I hadn't taken it out for several
days, and I knew the rest of you hadn't either. I couldn't imagine what
had become of it, and I didn't like to ask directly, of course. So I
called Sarah up and asked her if she'd been cleaning the bookcase,
because I missed something. She gave me just one queer look. Then she
said no, she hadn't been cleaning, but if I was looking for that old
rubbish I kept back there, I needn't look any more, because she'd
taken it all out and—_burned it up_!" Margaret sobbed afresh at the
memory.

"_Burned it up!_" shouted every one in a chorus of consternation.

"But why under the sun should she _do_ such a thing?" demanded Corinne,
indignantly. "Even if it weren't valuable, it seems to me simply cruel
in her to destroy anything she knew you were interested in and prized!
I can't understand it!"

"Did she say anything else?" asked Bess.

"No," added Margaret, "She just stalked out of the room and downstairs.
She seemed awfully mad about something. And I was so stunned I couldn't
say a thing. But I just sat and cried and cried till you all came in."

"This all seems very extraordinary!" began Mr. Cameron. "And it is
the more so to me, because I have always understood Corinne to say
that Sarah was devoted to all of you, especially to Miss Margaret.
As Corinne suggests, it would appear simply wanton cruelty in her to
deliberately destroy anything she knew her favorite prized. Maybe
there is something we haven't understood. Perhaps the woman hasn't
really burned the thing up—is only trying to tease you. Would there be
any objection to our seeing her, and perhaps putting a few questions?"

"None at all!" declared Bess, though she secretly felt that there might
be many. And with some very uncomfortable qualms, she rang the bell
that Margaret always kept by her side. In two minutes they heard the
heavy footsteps of Sarah on the basement stairs, and in two more she
had opened the parlor door and stood before them.

"Is anything the matter?" she inquired as her hostile glance swept the
room and its occupants. But they all noticed that her manner lacked its
usual assurance, and that she was decidedly ill at ease.

"We were wondering if you could explain what became of Miss Margaret's
papers and blank-books," began Mr. Cameron, constituting himself
spokesman. "She tells me you have removed them. They are rather
interesting, and I had come to-day on purpose to see them."

At this Sarah uncorked the vials of her wrath.

[Illustration: "You must welcome the latest member of the Antiquarian
Club, Miss President!"]

"Ye do well to be askin' afther them dur-rty owld bits of paper
filled so full wid ger-rms they was probably fightin' to hang on! I
told her I'd bur-rned them up, an' I told the truth. If she don't get
the typhoid-new-mon-i-ay, it won't be fur want of hangin' over them
mouldy rags day afther day! I been watchin' her, an' don't ye fergit
it! She ain't been well this month past—ever fur her. I guess she
ain't told ye I'm up wid her the better part of every night wid the
pain in her back! Even the docther don't know what's the matter wid
her, she's ailin' so much worse lately. I ain't watched her all her
life fur nuthin', an' I been watchin' her closer than ever lately,
though she didn't guess it. I usually come up them stairs like a
rhinoceros-horse—I know that! But I _can_ come up pretty soft when
I choose—an' take the time! I seen her draggin' these things out
from behind the books, an' shovin' 'em back if she thought any one
was comin', an' breakin' her poor back bendin' over 'em, studyin'
'em's though they wus made of gold! An' I says to meself, this has
got to stop! So I jest took 'em out the other day an' burned up the
whole clamjamfray of 'em. An' ye kin say what ye like about their
bein' interestin',—I don't believe it! The dur-rty, disgustin' owld
rubbish!" And with this final shot, Sarah turned and tramped heavily
out of the room, leaving an astonished and speechless group behind her.

The remaining time that Corinne and her father were there was spent
in comforting Margaret. There was no denying that Sarah had finally,
definitely, and fatally ruined every hope they had cherished of
disclosing to the world a new and startling historical discovery. And
Mr. Cameron was more bitterly disappointed than he dared to show. But
he tried to cheer Margaret as best he could, and when he came to go, he
left her with this pleasant consolation:

"Never mind about the original journal now. That's gone, and no good
ever did come of crying over spilt milk! Remember that the mystery
remains, just as good as ever it was, and it is still the business of
the Antiquarian Club to solve it! I, the latest member, am just as
interested as the rest of you. _Some day_—mark my words!—we're going
to fit the pieces of this puzzle together!"



CHAPTER XVI

THE SAPPHIRE SIGNET


Margaret was far from well, even for her. For two weeks she had been
ailing, and appeared weak and listless. Corinne was not very much
surprised on coming in one afternoon to find her no longer in her
wheel-chair by the parlor window, but upstairs in bed in her room on
the second floor. This had never happened before since the day that
Corinne had first visited the little house in Charlton Street, and her
heart misgave her as she climbed the stairs with the twins. But she
entered the room, assuming a cheerfulness she was far from feeling.

"Taking a vacation in bed, Honey? Well, I don't blame you, in such
wretched weather! It was sleeting and freezing as I came in, and the
walking is simply abominable. How cozy you are here with another open
fire! You seem to have one in every room. I wish _we_ did!"

Margaret greeted her with something of her old animation, but presently
relapsed into listlessness again. Corinne chatted on for a time, as
though nothing out of the ordinary were the matter:

"I've got some news from the latest member of the Antiquarian Club!
He has a proposition to make. He says that when the first nice
spring weather comes, he's going to invite the club to a series of
'antiquarian outings.' They're to take place every pleasant Saturday
afternoon. He will have a big, comfy automobile come here, and we're
all to pile in,—Margaret in the comfiest place of all,—and we're
going to 'do' old New York—the real, historic parts, I mean. One day
we'll take a run up to Van Cortlandt Manor, and see that place, which
was Washington's headquarters at one time. Then another day we'll do
the lower part of the city, and have lunch at Fraunces' Tavern. And,
oh! he's planned a lot of things like that. It's going to be great
fun, I tell you!"

But Margaret failed to be roused to any extent even by this delightful
prospect, though the twins were thoroughly enthusiastic. At last,
when Bess and Jess had gone downstairs to investigate the refreshment
proposition, Corinne determined to fathom, if possible, the curious
apathy that seemed so new to Margaret.

"Honey, dear," she crooned, sitting on the bed-side and putting her
face down by Margaret, "something's bothering you, and I want you to
tell me what it is! Something's troubling your mind. Can't you tell me
about it, dear, even if you haven't any one else?"

Margaret raised herself on her elbow and faced Corinne. "Yes, something
_is_ bothering me," she acknowledged, "and no one but you has seemed to
notice it. But I'm going to tell you, Corinne, because I love you, and
I haven't any secrets from you. I'm just worried _sick_ because that
journal was destroyed! It was my fault. I'm responsible for it all! It
might have been very valuable, and been sold for a good deal of money.
And that would have helped Mother a lot, because we're not very well
off, and she has to work awfully hard!"

"But, Margaret," exclaimed Corinne, "this is all nonsense! Of course,
it's unfortunate that the thing happened, but you can't even blame
Sarah, for _she_ didn't know it was anything of value, and she thought
she was acting for the best, and saving you from getting sick.
_Nobody's_ to blame! It's just one of those unlucky things that happen
sometimes. It isn't as if you or any one else had been _careless_ about
it!"

"But you don't understand me!" insisted Margaret. "It _was_ my fault,
because I kept insisting that this thing should be a secret, and nobody
else was to be told. It was terribly foolish—I can see that plainly
now! And I never should have kept such a valuable thing in such an
insecure place. We ought to have shown it at once to your father and
let him keep it. Oh, I'll never forgive myself—never, never!" She
turned her face into the pillows and lay a long time silent,—not
crying, but just in an apathy of self-reproach.

Corinne, meanwhile, argued and pleaded and consoled—in vain. Margaret
would neither look up nor respond. And at last, in despair, she
exclaimed:

"Margaret, I want to tell you something Father said last night. It may
make you feel better about this very thing. He said that even though
the original journal was destroyed, that didn't alter the fact that
we youngsters had made a most remarkable 'find,' and had discovered a
mystery that was well worth tracking to its finish. He says he's proud
to be a member of the Antiquarian Club, and hopes you haven't let any
one else into the secret. He wants it kept quiet till we've fathomed
the riddle, if we ever do! You _haven't_ told any one yet, have you?"

Margaret raised her head, at this, with a faint spark of interest.
"No, I haven't even told Mother," she said, "because I hated to have
her know how near we'd been to finding something valuable, and then
disappointing her by saying it was lost. Of course, we've told her all
about your father's visit, and she thought he was so kind to take such
an interest in us. She said she supposed it was for _your_ sake. Sarah
has never said another word, even to me, about the things she burned
up. I think she's half ashamed of it, and yet feels that she really
did right in taking away something that she supposed was hurting me.
She's awfully worried because I don't seem so well, and she's almost
killing herself taking care of me and doing all her other work, too.
But, Corinne, did your father say he'd _really_ like this all kept a
secret still? That's awfully nice of him, and makes what _I_ did seem
not quite so foolish! I believe I'll feel a little better about it from
now on!"

Margaret certainly appeared to improve in spirits after this interview,
but still her bodily strength did not return, and day after day she
remained confined to her bed. Her mother and Sarah grew almost ill
themselves with anxiety about her. The doctor said it was the drain of
the winter on her frail system, and prescribed a strong tonic, but even
this did not seem to have the desired effect. But Corinne came in one
day with news that actually brought a tint of pale pink to the little
invalid's white cheeks.

"Father's been doing some tall _thinking_ lately," she announced, "and
this is the result. He wants me to submit the matter to the Antiquarian
Club for due consideration, and would like every member present when I
do so. Where are the others?"

The twins and Alexander were promptly gathered into Margaret's room,
and Corinne continued:

"This is what Father's been puzzling over. He says that sapphire
signet must have been a very valuable thing, and it ought to be found,
if there's the slightest possibility of finding it. He knows a lot
about precious stones and their history, and he says that a _sapphire_
signet, especially an old one, is a very rare thing. The reason is
that sapphires are so hard that it's very difficult to engrave them,
and so signets were not very often made of them. So, if this signet
were found, it would probably be worth a great deal of money. But, more
than that, he thinks we owe it as a duty to the memory of little Alison
to make some _effort_, at least, to find it and restore it to her
descendants or family, if she has any left."

"That's what I've always thought, too!" murmured Margaret,
parenthetically.

"Well, he says he's been doing some '_Sherlock Holmes_' thinking,
and trying to imagine where she could possibly have concealed that
trinket. He doesn't think she kept it hidden about herself anywhere.
She would probably have thought that too dangerous, for she might have
been searched. And he can't bring himself to think that she concealed
it anywhere about the house or in the grounds,—there would have been
such slight chance, in such a case, of it ever getting back to Bermuda,
or her relatives ever having a chance to find it. But he did wonder
whether it might have been hidden in the secret beam with the other
half of the journal. You would surely have found it, then, wouldn't
you, Alexander?"

"Bet your life!" replied that youngster, promptly. "If that dinky
little do-dab had been in there, yours truly would have cabbaged it all
right! I knew well enough it was my last chance at _that_ old dump, and
I clawed over every square inch of it a dozen times before I rung off.
No sirree! it wasn't _there_, and you can take your Uncle Dudley's word
for it!"

"Then we'll count that out," went on Corinne. "Father didn't think
there was much likelihood of it—only a remote possibility. Then there
remain only two other possibilities, and he thinks the most likely one
was—the old leather covers of the journal!"

"Oh, why did we never think of it ourselves!" cried Margaret excitedly.
Then, a moment later, with the droop of disappointment to her mouth:
"But if that's so, then it's gone forever—thanks to Sarah! She had a
red-hot fire that day, I know, and the thing would have dropped in the
ashes and never been found in the world!"

"But how could the signet have been hidden in the cover?" queried Bess,
skeptically. "It must have been rather bulky, and _we_ never saw any
evidence of such a thing!"

"No," corrected Corinne, "Father says the signet was probably rather
flat, and if Alison was at all clever, she could easily have slid it
under the lining of one of the covers (which were very thick, if you
remember) and pasted it up so it would never be noticed. He says he's
known of stranger things than that being done. Anyhow, he thinks that
is the place in which she would have been most likely to hide it. And
if she did, of course, we have no hope of ever finding it now. But
there's one other possibility—and that's our 'last chance'!"

"Oh, what _is_ it?" they all demanded, as she came to a provoking pause.

"_The little hair-trunk!_"

Margaret raised herself in bed and shouted feebly, "Hurrah!" and then
added, "But how in the world are we ever to get at it?"

"That's just the point!" added Corinne. "He says we must devise a
way of getting at that trunk, somehow, and since you all are better
acquainted with Sarah and her vagaries than he is, he leaves it to
you to concoct some plan. If you can't think of _any_ other way, we'd
better tell your mother, and have her order Sarah to unlock the attic.
But of course that would spoil our secret society, and we won't try
that except as a last resort."

"I have an idea!" cried Margaret, suddenly. "I'll ask Mother to-night
about the trunk, and beg her to let me have it to keep some of my books
and things in, because I've taken a fancy to it. I'm sure she won't
refuse me. And if she orders Sarah to let me have the trunk, Sarah'll
just have to do it!"

They all agreed that the plan looked exceedingly hopeful, and Corinne
left for home with the assurance that the trunk would soon be theirs to
search from end to end.

But when Margaret came to talk it over with her mother that night, she
met with an unexpected objection.

"Dear heart," said Mrs. Bronson, "you know that I'd do everything in
my power to grant you any reasonable wish, but don't you see that your
request is a rather inconvenient one at present? You know that you
haven't been really well for some time, and Sarah has been working
very, very hard taking care of you days—and nights too, often. She's
very tired now and has been rather ill-humored lately. Now, I don't
know just what she keeps in that little trunk, but I'm perfectly sure
that, if I ask her to empty it and change things about in the attic,
she won't take it very pleasantly and _may_ make an awful fuss! And we
can't afford to have her get upset and leave just now, can we, dear?"

Margaret ruefully agreed, and had to be satisfied with her mother's
assurance that perhaps, when she got better, and household matters had
smoothed out, Sarah might be approached on the subject.

But this arrangement did not at all suit the rest of the Antiquarian
Club when they held a solemn council next day.

"Suffering Simpson!" exploded Alexander. "If we wait for that hunk o'
misery, Sarah, to get in a good humor, we'll wait until horse-radish
tastes good on your ice-cream! Nix on _that_!"

"Well, What are we going to do, then?" demanded the others,
despairingly.

"Just you leave it to yours truly!" announced Alexander. "I've got a
little scheme!"

"Quick! Tell us what it is!"

Alexander gave an impudent wink, and remarked casually: "I'm going to
nose out where Sarah keeps the key to the attic!"

"Splendid!" cried Corinne. "And what then?"

"_Then_—" he finished dramatically, "we're going to have a grand old
meeting of the club some day when she's out, and rip the stuffing out
of that trunk!"

It had seemed a simple thing, when Alexander announced his plan, and
every one supposed it would soon be accomplished. But it turned out
to be a harder task than even he had anticipated. With infinite
caution he searched Sarah's room and all her belongings when he knew
she was safe in the kitchen, and the twins aided him by keeping guard
on the stairs. But the key was not there. Next, one night when all
the household was abed, he crept down and inspected every shelf and
cubbyhole and possible or impossible receptacle in the kitchen and
pantry. Neither was it there. Margaret declared that she knew Sarah did
not carry it in her pocket, nor did she appear to have anything hanging
round her neck.

"Then that lallypaloozer must have _swallowed_ it!" affirmed Alexander,
angrily. "But I'll make one more grand hunt in her room this afternoon,
if the twins will help me out by watching the stairs. Maybe I
overlooked something!"

[Illustration: He began to tap the inside of the trunk all over,
carefully, with the handle of his penknife]

Half an hour later he burst into Margaret's room with a whoop. "Call a
meeting of the whole club for next Thursday afternoon—it's Sarah's day
out!" he whispered jubilantly. "I found it!"

"Oh, where, where?" demanded Margaret, scarcely believing it could be
true.

"_In the toe of one of her old shoes!_"


On the last Thursday afternoon of each month it was Sarah's custom
to go out by herself for three or four hours, leaving the house and
Margaret in charge of the twins. This was the only outing she ever
took. On the day in question it was understood that Corinne and her
father (who insisted on being present at this important meeting) should
arrive at three-thirty—after Sarah had gone, or she might, on seeing
them, change her mind and stay home! Alexander was then to filch the
key from her shoe, open the attic, and, with the help of the twins,
carry the trunk down to Margaret's room.

Everything worked smoothly. Sarah departed as usual, Mr. Cameron
and Corinne arrived, tingling with excitement, Alexander opened the
attic, and the wonderful old trunk was at last deposited in triumph
before Margaret's bed. They turned out the family's summer flannels
carefully, that no spot or wrinkle on them might in the future disturb
the equilibrium of the uncertain Sarah, and examined the false bottom
with an actual thrill to think that here, in this very spot, poor
frightened little Alison was wont to conceal the telltale journal.

But when the false bottom was removed, there appeared no trace of a
jewel (as they had all secretly hoped there might be) nor any crack
or crevice where it might be concealed. The old-fashioned lining was
absolutely intact. Margaret gave a little sigh of disappointment, but
Mr. Cameron remarked:

"Don't be discouraged! We haven't finished yet!" And he began to tap
the inside of the trunk all over, carefully, with the handle of his
penknife. Then, suddenly, they beheld him open the knife and skilfully
slip up the figured lining far in one corner. In another second he had
inserted his fingers in the opening and was feeling about eagerly. The
next moment he laid something in Margaret's lap, with just this quiet
remark:

"At last, Miss President! _The sapphire signet!_"

There was an instant of amazed silence. Then, at an indistinct sound
from downstairs, Bess uttered a horrified cry:

"Merciful goodness! Sarah's come back already! What _shall_ we do!"



CHAPTER XVII

IN WHICH SARAH CHANGES HER MIND


It was indeed Sarah! The sound of her latch-key in the basement door
was unmistakable. What could have induced her to return when she had
been away scarcely more than an hour, they could not imagine, unless
it was her anxiety on Margaret's account. At any rate, there she was,
and a panic of consternation seized them all. Even the wonderful signet
was forgotten in the stress of the moment. Strangely enough, it was
Margaret who first regained her poise and grasped the situation.

"Quick!" she whispered. "Corinne and Jess, get those things back in the
trunk—any old way! Bess, you go out and call down to ask her what's
the matter. Maybe she isn't coming up just yet!"

They got to work in frantic haste, and Bess went out in the hall to
make her inquiries of Sarah.

"What's the trouble, Sarah? You're back very early!" they heard her
ask. And an answering voice from the basement stairs responded:

"Sure 'tis rare unhealthy weather fur this time of year! 'Twas so
war-rm I nearly roasted in me heavy coat—and we not out of winter yet!
I come back fur me lighter cape. 'Tis hangin' in the attic!"

"We're lost!" muttered Mr. Cameron as Bess rushed in, despair written
all over her face. "Can't any one think of something to keep her
downstairs for five minutes?"

And this time it was Alexander who came to the rescue.

"Just watch your Uncle Dudley!" he whispered, as he ambled with
apparent unconcern out of the room. "If you hear me call her down, give
that trunk the boost to the attic as soon as you can, and put the key
back in her shoe."

They heard him leisurely descending the stairs, and Sarah's massive
tread approaching nearer and nearer. At one point there came sounds as
of a slight scuffle, and muttered remarks of "Spalpeen!" and "I'll fix
you yet, young man!" Then Alexander passed on, whistling derisively,
and Sarah's heavy feet began the ascent of the second-story flight.
Up and up she came, and still nothing happened. Hope died out in the
listening group, for they were sure now that, whatever Alexander might
do, it would be too late to avert the catastrophe. Sarah had, indeed,
just planted a broad foot on the top step when they heard Alexander's
shrill voice calling from the basement:

"Oh, Sarah! Sarah! Come quick! There's something afire in the kitchen!"

"Saints save us!" They heard her exclaim, and she turned to descend
with a speed of which they had never dreamed her capable.

"Do you think it's anything _serious_?" whispered Jess to Mr. Cameron.
"Oughtn't we go down, too?"

"No indeed!" he laughed. "I guess we can trust Alexander. Fortunately,
the trunk is very light, so you girls can get it upstairs while I
listen in the hall to see if they need help below."

In five minutes the three girls had the trunk safely back in its place,
and the key restored, and were back in Margaret's room, panting from
exertion and breathless excitement. But it was at least a quarter of an
hour before Alexander came up again, chuckling and smoke-blackened.

"Well, this is one time when we put it all over the lallypaloozer!" he
exclaimed jubilantly. "I got that pail of glue I keep in the yard to
paste kites with, and put it on the gas-stove as if I was going to heat
it. Then I accidentally-on-purpose dropped a lighted match into that
big tin thing where Sarah keeps the waste paper and scraps. It made a
big blaze, but I knew it couldn't hurt anything, 'cause it's tin all
around it. But I raised a hullabaloo like you'd thought the Woolworth
Building was going up in blue smoke! It fetched her down, all right,
and I figure it'll keep her there a good spell! The gas-stove's all
smoky, and she's cleaning it up and growling like a bear, so I beat it
up here!"

Then at last, with their minds relieved, did they have their first
opportunity to consider their wonderful "find," and they all crowded
around Margaret, in whose little white palm it lay. The gold setting at
the back was tarnished quite black, but the jewel itself was apparently
unchanged. They gave an involuntary gasp as they examined it, for it
was even more beautiful than they had imagined. The flat sapphire
itself was as large as a big Lima bean, flawless, and curiously
engraved with the old-English letter "T," and a crest above it, looking
like two eagles holding a sword. The surrounding diamonds were tiny,
but finely cut and still brilliant.

"Isn't it almost unbelievable," half whispered Margaret, at last, "to
think that right here in my hand I hold the very jewel that cost poor
Alison so much pain and trouble! And, oh! to think, besides, that it
never got back to Bermuda, after all, and probably she didn't either.
It makes me, feel just—sad—somehow!"

"But what are we going to do with it?" demanded Corinne.

Mr. Cameron had been examining the jewel with all the ardor of a
genuine lover of antiques. He now spoke very quietly:

"There's only one thing to do, and it's a solemn duty imposed on us by
the writer of that poor little journal you found. We must make every
effort to discover whether the Trenhams in Bermuda have any descendants
or relatives existing to-day. No matter how distant they may be, the
signet must be returned to them, for it was Alison's wish. If we should
find none, that is another matter. I believe the jewel would then be
rightly counted the property of—the Bronsons of Charlton Street!"

The Bronson contingent there present gasped in chorus!

"But how shall we go about hunting up the descendants of the Trenhams?"
questioned Corinne. "That'll be a big piece of work, won't it?"

"It probably will, and perhaps a very complicated one, besides," agreed
Mr. Cameron. "We had better start our investigations with the Bermuda
records, and I'll write down there to the authorities asking how I
can get hold of data about the family history. The matter must be
dealt with very carefully, because it is really no light affair. I am
convinced, even in this hasty examination, that the signet is very rare
and of very considerable value, not only because of the stone itself,
but of its antiquity. It must not be lightly given away. Its ownership
must be proved beyond a doubt. I expect to be extremely busy for the
next three or four weeks, and may have little time to give to this
matter. But after that, when business slackens, I can give this the
attention it deserves. Meantime, I think perhaps it had better be kept
in my safe-deposit box at the bank, where it will be absolutely safe.
We won't trust _this_, at least, to Sarah's tender mercies!"

Suddenly Corinne cried out in perplexity: "But this makes our mystery
deeper than ever! Do you realize it, folks? What became of poor little
Alison, after all? And why were her trunk and her jewel and half her
journal found floating about in a wrecked vessel?"

"I tell you, she had to 'walk the plank'!" reiterated Alexander. "I
said so before, and now I believe it! It'd make a gorgeous old pirate
yarn!"

"She didn't! She didn't!" wailed Margaret. "I won't believe such a
thing!"

"Never mind what happened—just yet!" interrupted Mr. Cameron,
soothingly. "The Antiquarian Club's going to find out the truth some
time—I'm convinced of that!"


It was two weeks later, about the middle of March, when Corinne came in
to see Margaret one afternoon with considerable suppressed excitement
in her manner. Margaret was still confined to her bed, and, though
scarcely so listless as she had seemed at first, she was undoubtedly
weaker. Corinne's visits were now her mainstay of pleasure and
interest, and she welcomed the girl with a glad little cry.

"I've got news for you, Honey!" said Corinne, laying her usual offering
of flowers and fresh fruit on the bed.

"What?" cried Margaret, eagerly.

"Well, you mustn't be surprised, but Father hasn't been a bit well
again, lately. The weather's awfully hard on him, and his business has
rushed him, too, and he's all run down. So in a couple of weeks he's
going to take a vacation and go down to Bermuda again. It did him a lot
of good last time. He'll stay at least a month, and longer if he feels
like it."

"Isn't that nice!" cried Margaret, with great interest. "I'm awfully
sorry he doesn't feel well, but I'm glad he can go to such a lovely
place and get better. You'll miss him though, won't you, Corinne,
because you seem to be with him such a lot,—more than most girls are
with their fathers!"

"No," said Corinne, slowly, "I won't miss him, because—I'm going with
him!"

Margaret stared at her a moment wide-eyed, and her chin quivered—just
a mere trifle. But she braced up with a visible effort and exclaimed:

"Oh, Corinne! how lovely! You certainly are a lucky girl!" Then the
chin began to quiver harder, and all at once poor little Margaret
completely lost control of herself, and buried her head in the pillow,
sobbing:

"Oh, I _am_ glad! I really am glad for you, Corinne! Don't mind this!
Only it just seemed as though I _couldn't_ live without you for so
long!"

Corinne gathered the sobbing form in her arms and crooned to her: "You
won't have to, dearie, for—_you're going along, too_!"

Margaret sprang back from her embrace, pushed the tangled curls from
her eyes, and gazed at Corinne as though her friend had suddenly gone
crazy.

"_What?_" was the only word she could utter.

"Now, just you let me explain it all," began Corinne, soothingly,
settling down on the bed beside her. "And don't you get so excited,
because it isn't good for you. I'll tell you the whole story. It was
like this. After Father found it was best to go to Bermuda, he made
up his mind that Aunt Katharine and I might as well go, too, because
he hates to go alone. And, of course, I was crazy to go, but just one
thing kept me from being _entirely_ delighted, and that was—_you_! I
hated to leave you, because I love you, and also because you are not at
all well just now. Father and I have both been very anxious about you.
So we got to talking it over, and suddenly he said: 'Why not invite
Margaret to come along with you as your guest! The trip might do her a
great deal of good, and I know you two are growing as inseparable as a
pair of Siamese twins!'

"Well, you can just warrant I was delighted, for I knew Father'd never
make such a suggestion unless _he_ really wanted you, too! He said he
would call on your mother at her place of business, and see if she
would consent, and also on your doctor, to see if he thought the trip
would be advisable. I begged him to make them keep it a secret, so
that, if everything went well, I could surprise you with the news when
it was all settled. I hated to have you disappointed in case the doctor
thought it wasn't wise, or your mother felt that she couldn't consent
to your going.

"Your mother was awfully surprised, of course, and for a while she
almost refused, because she felt it to be too much for Father to do.
But when she found that it was going to do you so much good, and how
terribly I wanted you, she gave in. And you needn't worry about being
taken care of and having everything done for you that Sarah does. _I'm_
going to do that! It's to be my job, being your lady's maid, and won't
I enjoy it! Aunt Katharine will help too, when necessary. She's lovely
and kind and gentle, and you're going to like her a lot!

"Honey, we sail a week from next Wednesday, and I can hardly wait for
the time to come!"


There was surprise and rejoicing in the Charlton Street house that
night when Mrs. Bronson arrived and the great secret became public
property. Mrs. Bronson admitted that she had known about it for
several days, and was having a pretty outfit of traveling clothes made
for Margaret. The twins were frankly delighted, for they had been
themselves experiencing much secret anxiety on account of Margaret's
precarious health, as indeed had all the household. Alexander gave an
Indian war-whoop that was ear-splitting and performed the acrobatic
feat of standing on his head in the middle of the parlor floor for
three minutes unassisted! The extraordinary racket brought an indignant
Sarah up from the kitchen to investigate.

But it was when Sarah heard the news that consternation fell upon the
happy household. She placed both hands on her massive hips, threw back
her head, squared her shoulders, and announced:

"If Margie puts one fut aboard that rampagin' ship, I go out of this
house, never to retur-rn!"

Now, when the autocratic Sarah made a statement of this nature, it
was time for the family to tremble! Mrs. Bronson argued, pleaded,
commanded—in vain. Sarah could no more be budged from her position
than the Rock of Gibraltar. Urged to state her reasons, she would
offer but two. And these were that, about forty years ago, she herself
had come over from Ireland in a truly "rampagin'" ship, and never
again would she trust herself or any one she held dear to the mercies
of the ocean. Arguments that ship-building had made some progress
and traveling was safer since those days had absolutely no effect on
her—in fact, she refused to believe them!

Her second reason was that Margaret had been in her care ever since
she was born, and no one else knew so well what to do for the delicate
child. She was firmly convinced that it would be the death of her
beloved charge to be removed from her oversight. At last the distracted
Mrs. Bronson laid the matter aside for the night, the girls retired to
bed in tears and indignation, and Alexander dared to shake his fist
at the broad back of Sarah departing to the kitchen. Only Margaret
remained in ignorance of the impending disaster, and fell asleep happy
beyond words.

The next day Mrs. Bronson sent a request to Mr. Cameron to call that
evening, for she felt that the situation must be explained to him. It
would be a serious matter if Sarah kept her word—as she doubtless
had every intention of doing. It also was important, for the sake of
Margaret's health, that she should get away and have this wonderful
change. Mrs. Bronson was a sorely troubled woman as she explained the
circumstances to her visitor. Mr. Cameron sat in deep thought for a few
moments. Then he said:

"Could you have your housekeeper come up here for a few minutes and
allow me to see her alone?"

Mrs. Bronson declared that it was entirely possible, summoned Sarah,
who arrived full of hostile intent, introduced her to the visitor, and
went upstairs, leaving them together for a while. Margaret had by this
time learned of the trouble, and was nervous and anxious and feverish.
Corinne, who had come with her father, was sitting with her, trying to
assure her that she need not worry. But the assurance rang hollow in
her own ears. She, too, knew Sarah!

Presently they were surprised to hear her heavy footsteps coming
upstairs. They passed the door and entered Mrs. Bronson's room. Then,
in a moment, they returned, halted, and a singularly changed Sarah
stood in the doorway.

"Yer father's goin' now, Miss Corinne, and he wants ye," she announced
in a strangely meek, quiet voice. "I'll be back in two minutes to fix
me child for the night. We got to get her in good shape before she
takes that rampagin' ship for Bermudy!"

That was all, but she actually _smiled_—a weak, apologetic little
smile—before she vanished from the doorway!

The girls stared at each other in complete bewilderment. Never had they
witnessed a change more astonishing.

"Well, doesn't that beat everything!" exclaimed Margaret. "What could
have happened to Sarah?"

"I don't know," answered Corinne, "except that Father's had a talk with
her. He told me, coming over, that your mother had called him up to-day
on the telephone, explained some of the trouble, and asked him to call
to-night. He said he himself was going to have an interview with Sarah,
and I told him it probably wouldn't do any good. But he said he had
something that he thought would convince her ladyship pretty speedily.
But he also said I was _not_ to ask him what it was! Some time he might
tell me, but not at present. Isn't that mysterious! I really didn't
think he'd succeed. He evidently has! Hurrah!"

"But what _can_ he have said to Sarah that would make her change around
so!" marveled Margaret.

"I'm sure I can't imagine!" cried Corinne. "But never you mind, honey
dear! A week from next Friday we step off on the island that was
Alison's home! And nothing else matters!"



CHAPTER XVIII

TWO SURPRISES


"It seems awfully queer to me," remarked Bess, sitting in the Charlton
Street parlor one afternoon in May, reading a recently received letter
with a foreign postmark, "that Margaret says absolutely nothing at all,
lately, about whether they've done any work in hunting up clues to the
sapphire signet mystery!"

"Neither does Corinne," added Jess, looking over a similarly marked
letter that she held. "They've neither one mentioned the subject
since they sent up that snap-shot of the Tobacco Rocks some weeks
ago. Corinne said then that they'd driven to see them one day, and
she had 'snapped' them for our special benefit, because Alexander had
discovered that it was from there the stolen gunpowder was shipped. I
don't think they had much, if anything, to do with _our_ affair, so I
wasn't so much interested in them. I never felt at all convinced that
those two happenings had any connection whatever."

"Nor I, either!" agreed Bess. "I wonder whether they _have_ looked up
anything about Alison, or whether they've been having such a good time
that they've forgotten it completely! My! but I envy them! Here we are
in this mussy, foggy, chilly, wretched city,—grubbing along at high,
without even time to have a game of basket-ball, lately! And listen to
what Margaret says of their surroundings:

"'You never saw such blue, blue water in your life! And the weather's
so warm that Corinne and her father have been in bathing several times!
I never saw any one _swim_ before! Corinne swims beautifully! It is
so lovely in this place that I'm sure Heaven couldn't be any more
beautiful. I begin to feel so much stronger! I'm out every day and all
of the day! Isn't that wonderful—for me! Mr. Cameron says he feels
like a new being, too. We are going to stay two weeks longer, because
it's doing us all so much good.'"

"Bless her heart!" cried Jess. "I'm just the gladdest girl that ever
was because she could go and is getting on so well. Do you know, I
believe she'd have died pretty soon if she'd kept on as she was the
last of the winter! I felt perfectly certain then, that she wasn't
going to live, though I never told a soul! I was absolutely in despair
about her!"

"Same here!" echoed Bess. "I was going through some mental tortures,
too, but I wasn't bothering any one else with them! Corinne and her
father just saved Margaret's life, _I_ believe. But here's something
queer in her letter! I just came to it. She ends by saying:

"'We have _two surprises_ for you, but you are not to know a thing
about them till we get home! Oh, I can just see you _wiggling_ with
impatience to know what they are! But it's useless for you to beg; not
a word will we whisper till we land in America!'

"Now _what_ do you make of that?" demanded the bewildered Bess.


The day came at last, when the travelers were expected to land once
more on their native shores. To the twins it had seemed an interminable
age—the more so since the intended absence of a month had lengthened
itself to ten long weeks. It had taken longer to restore Mr. Cameron's
health than he had imagined, and, besides, Margaret had improved so
perceptibly that they decided to stretch the time of the trip to the
limit.

They had sailed away on a stormy day in March. They were expected back
on the rarest kind of a day in June, and the entire Charlton Street
household was assembled at the pier to meet the incoming steamer. This
had been the request of Mr. Cameron himself, who had written to Mrs.
Bronson that, for a sufficient reason, he wished every one of them to
be there, including Sarah.

It was four o'clock on a golden afternoon when the _Bermudian_ came
steaming slowly up the river, picking her stately course among the
heavy ferry-boats and darting tugs that blocked the way. Alexander,
from a perilous perch on one end of the pier, announced its coming
with a whooping and a waving of his cap, at which Sarah muttered awful
remarks, sounding like "Let him drown if he falls over—the young
spalpeen!" With beating hearts they scanned the decks as the vessel
drew close to the side, and the twins quickly picked out Corinne and
her father waving from the side. But of Margaret they could discern not
a sign, and an awful dread seized them that she must be too ill to be
with the others.

By a special permit, obtained through Mr. Cameron, they had been
admitted within the custom-house lines to the very gangway entrance
itself. After maddening delays the vessel was at last made fast, the
gangways adjusted, and the throngs began to come ashore. It was toward
the last that the ones they were waiting for so anxiously appeared at
the top, and then it was only Corinne and her father and aunt who came
down.

"But, oh! where is _Margaret_?" cried Bess, as Corinne rushed to
embrace her. "Why isn't she with you?"

"Oh, she'll be along in a minute!" announced Corinne, unconcernedly.
Then suddenly she turned, and said quietly:

"Look!"

They turned at her command, and glanced upward expecting to see their
sister in her usual wheel-chair. Instead, there at the top of the
gangway—_stood_ Margaret, rosy, plump, and browned by the sun! And
under her arms were a pair of _crutches_! When she saw her own family
below, she blew them a kiss, adjusted her crutches, and proceeded down
the gangway alone, haltingly, it is true, but refusing the assistance
of the anxious steward who hovered behind her!

To the members of her family, who never in all their lives had beheld
her on her feet, the sight was almost overwhelming. The twins and their
mother were actually too stunned to speak, and Alexander relieved
himself only by a low-muttered, "_Can_ you beat it!"—his favorite
expression of surprise. But it was Sarah who did the most astonishing
thing. She tore up the gangway, snatched Margaret when she was but
half-way down, and bore her back, crutches and all, to the group below,
crying:

"Me little darlint! It's true! It's true! I didn't believe it!"


The Charlton Street house was a scene that night of such festivity and
rejoicing as it had probably never known before in all its history.
Corinne and her father and aunt had accompanied the Bronsons home, and
stayed to a feast that Sarah had evolved in some sudden and mysterious
manner, for she had been away from the house all of the afternoon. But
Sarah was an adept at such bits of necromancy. Then, when the older
folks were still talking hard and fast, the five young people drew
apart by themselves, and Jess said:

"Now, for goodness' sake, explain the whole business again! My brain is
so bewildered I can't seem to understand it all yet!"

It was Corinne who tried to straighten out the tangle. She told how,
before they started on their trip, her father had suddenly become
possessed with the idea that perhaps something could be done to help
Margaret's trouble if only the right physician could be found. It
happened that he was personally acquainted with a doctor famous for
his success in this very kind of case and who also usually spent a
few weeks at that season of the year in Bermuda. If Margaret could
be helped by any one in the world, Mr. Cameron felt sure it would be
by this surgeon. So he privately made up his mind that the famous
specialist should be consulted as soon as they got there. But of this
he said not a word to any one, lest it should only be a cause of
disappointment in case no good was accomplished.

Corinne laughed, however, when she said there was one exception to
this. On the night when Sarah had issued her awful ultimatum, Mr.
Cameron made up his mind that the only way to influence her was to tell
her, privately, his hopes for Margaret. This he did, and it had the
remarkable effect that had so bewildered them. This, also, was the
reason why Sarah seemed the least surprised and had said such strange
things that day at the pier.

The doctor had been consulted soon after they reached Bermuda and when
Margaret had grown a little stronger. His verdict was that with a
certain kind of treatment there was a slight hope that she might some
day recover the use of her limbs. This treatment she had had during the
whole of their stay, with the wonderful result that, two weeks before
their return, Margaret took her first steps with the crutches. The
specialist himself was returning to New York shortly and would continue
his work with her. He was now almost positive that she might, in the
course of time, even discard her crutches and walk alone, on her two
feet, unassisted, like the rest of ordinary humanity. It was a treat to
watch the beaming happiness on Margaret's face while Corinne rehearsed
this tale. It spoke more eloquently than any words she could have
uttered.

"Well, that's your big surprise!" sighed Bess, contentedly. "And it
certainly is a monster one! Now what's the other? You know you wrote
that there were two!"

"The other's almost as big!" exclaimed Margaret, her eyes snapping with
eagerness. "We've found out the _whole_ history of Alison, and solved
every bit of the mystery!"

"_No!_" cried three of the listeners in astonishment. "Honestly? Tell
us—right away! We thought you'd forgotten all about it!"

"No," said Margaret, "I'm not going to tell you just now. To-morrow
we'll have a big old meeting of the Antiquarian Club, and we'll give
the entire account then! Not a minute before!"

"But did you find the owner of the sapphire signet?" they clamored.

And to this, also, the provoking Margaret would only lay her finger on
her lips, and smile, and murmur, "_To-morrow!_"



CHAPTER XIX

THE MISSING LINKS


"So you thought that because we were having such a good time in
Bermuda, we had forgotten all about the mystery!" laughed Margaret, the
next afternoon, at the grand assembly of the Antiquarian Club. They
were all gathered in the Charlton Street parlor—all but Mr. Cameron.
He had, indeed, fully expected to be present, not intending to go to
his office till the following day. But unexpected business had called
him there, after all, so he could only send his hearty regrets to the
meeting of the club. It seemed like old times for the young folks to be
together again in this familiar room. The only wonderful difference was
in Margaret. No longer was she ensconced in her accustomed wheel-chair,
but in a big "comfy" armchair, with her cherished crutches leaning
against its arm. No longer did she seem a wan, frail, delicate little
invalid, but a brown, rosy, plump, and increasingly energetic young
person. But the sweetness of her smile and the shy, trusting expression
of her big gray eyes had not changed.

"Yes, I know you all must have thought we'd forgotten it," she went on;
"but we hadn't—not for a minute! Only, for several weeks, we didn't
seem to make any progress with it at all. We used to inquire of every
native Bermudian we met if he or she had ever heard of any one living
there by the name of Trenham; but no one seemed to have any ideas at
all about it. They'd say they hadn't heard of the name themselves, but
would always refer you to some one else, who would turn out to know as
little as they did! It was awfully discouraging! Finally, Mr. Cameron
suggested that the only way would probably be to go around to all the
different parish churches and consult the old parish registers for
the lists of births and marriages and deaths. He thought the name had
probably died out long ago, and perhaps no relatives or descendants
remained, or were even remembered.

"Well, this seemed a big piece of work, of course, and none of us
felt quite like attempting it just then, for Mr. Cameron wasn't yet
a bit well himself, and I was having treatments every day with the
big doctor in Hamilton. So we decided to put it off for a while. And
then—meantime—a very unexpected thing happened!

"You know, we were staying at a big hotel about four miles from
Hamilton, near Harrington Sound. Mr. Cameron likes it there because
it's out of the city, well away from everything distracting, like
the things going on in Hamilton. Part of this hotel is big and new,
but another section, where the dining-room is, has been standing for
over two hundred years. You can see how old it is by its very looks,
and we heard that it was really the old homestead of the proprietor's
ancestors.

"The housekeeper is a dear, kindly lady, and we got rather well
acquainted with her, because often we had to ask her for different
and rather unusual things for me. She was just lovely to me, always,
and after a while we had some long, interesting talks with her about
Bermuda and the different families living there. And once she took us
up to her own apartments, in the old part of the house, and showed us
a collection of the most wonderful old furniture and antiques that had
been in her own and her husband's families since way, way back. Corinne
and her father went just wild over them, for you know how they love
antiques!

"Well, one day we thought we'd ask _her_ if she'd ever heard of any one
on the island by the name of Trenham. She said no, she hadn't, but, if
we were interested to find out, she'd take us over to the South Shore
to see a very old lady there who knew lots and lots about Bermuda
history and former people. She said she was driving to Hamilton that
morning on some business, but would first take us over to the Jewell
Farm, introduce us to old Mrs. Jewell, go on to Hamilton, and come
back to get us later. She declared that the old lady would be delighted
to have us come, because she was blind now and had very little to
entertain her, and she loved to talk to people.

"This seemed too good a chance to lose, and Corinne and I accepted at
once. Mr. Cameron had gone off on a fishing-trip, so he couldn't be
included. We piled into the big, comfy carriage, and you ought to see
that great, strapping driver lift me in and out and carry me around!
Well, we got to the Jewell Farm over on the South Shore, and, oh,
folks! how I wish you could all see that place! It's simply the most
charming old house—two hundred and fifty years old!—set high on a
hill overlooking that marvelous blue ocean, with a garden all around
it that is like the things you dream about! We took some pictures of
the house and garden which I'll show you later, but they don't do it
anything like justice. You can only get a faint idea of its _real_
beauty!

"And the whole house, inside, was filled with the dearest old-time
furniture! It nearly set Corinne crazy! But never mind about all that
now—we must come to the _best_ part! The driver carried me in, and we
were introduced to the sweetest old lady you ever saw! She was nearly
ninety-five, with snow-white hair; and a dainty lace cap over it. Her
eyes were pretty and blue, and you'd hardly guess, to look at her,
that she couldn't see a thing. If she'd known us all her life, she
couldn't have received us more cordially, or seemed less surprised to
have complete strangers landed on her without any warning. She made us
feel at home and acquainted right away, and after a few moments the
housekeeper left us alone with her and went on to Hamilton.

"We didn't like to introduce the subject we were most interested in
right away, so we chatted with her about her lovely old home, and the
furniture in it, and its history. After a while, though, when we could
bring it in naturally, we asked her if she had ever known any one by
the name of Trenham in Bermuda. She gave the most curious little
start, but only said very quietly:

"'I would like to know why you ask? Whom do you know of that name?'
Well, Corinne and I looked at each other and I saw we were agreed that
it was time to make a bold move, so I said right out that we were very
much interested in some one who lived in Bermuda a long while ago and
whose name was Alison Trenham.

"Folks, if I live to be a hundred, I'll never forget the strange
expression that came over that old lady's face when I spoke that name!
For a minute or two she didn't answer—just sat quietly thinking. Then
at last she said, still very quietly:

"'Yes, I know the name! I have heard of only one Alison Trenham in my
life, and that was—_my grandmother_!'"

There was a gasp and a start from her listeners, and Margaret laughed
as she continued:

"You'd just better believe _we_ jumped, too! And I thought Corinne's
eyes would pop out of her head—she looked so startled! I just
couldn't help smiling to myself at her expression, though I was so deep
in other things. Then I said:

"'Well, Mrs. Jewell, since you _do_ know an Alison Trenham, and she
was your own grandmother, I guess we'd just better tell you our whole
story. For the two Alisons _may_ turn out to be the same!' Then, as
quickly as I could, I told her all about finding the trunk and the
journal, and our Antiquarian Club, and all the discoveries we made
afterward, and how we'd come to a snag and could get no further. I even
told her how Sarah had burned the original journal. But I didn't say a
word about the sapphire signet—just then. I wish you could have seen
the expression on her face all the time I was talking! It was as though
she were listening to a story so strange that she couldn't believe a
word of it! I ended by begging her, please, if she could throw the
least light on our mystery, to oblige us by doing so, as it was the
chief aim of our Antiquarian Club to find the key to the riddle!

"She was silent a long time after I had finished—so long that we were
beginning to think she must have fallen asleep, for she had covered her
eyes with her hand, and was leaning her elbow on the arm of the chair.
But suddenly she spoke, saying very low:

"'All this seems like a dream to me! You children have stumbled upon
a secret that I supposed no mortal would ever discover in this world!
The ways of chance are very mysterious! Yes, it is the same Alison;
and since you know so much, I am going to tell you the rest of the
story, though she made me solemnly promise, when I was a young girl,
that I would never tell a soul. That is why I was hesitating. But I
feel certain that, were she to know these circumstances, she would have
no real objection to your knowing the whole story. It can harm no one
now—least of all herself!

"'As I told you, she was my grandmother. I was born in 1820, and she
was then a woman sixty years old. My own mother and father died in my
infancy, and left me to her care. This was her home, this same old
farm, and I came here to live with her. We are a long-lived race, here
in Bermuda, and she lived on to be almost ninety-five, as I myself am
doing! A few years before she died she told me that she had something
on her conscience that she would like to tell me, because she felt
that she would die happier, knowing that she had not kept the secret
unconfessed to the end. She made me promise I would never disclose
it, as some of it had once been of political consequence, and she had
always feared its discovery.'

"And now, folks, I'm going to tell you the story of Alison in my own
words, because I can't remember all of hers!" ended Margaret. Then she
re-settled herself in her big chair and began anew, very much flattered
by the breathless attention of her auditors.

[Illustration: "For a minute or two she didn't answer"]

"Alison Trenham lived on this same old farm with her grandfather,
Archibald Trenham. Her parents had both been lost at sea when she was
little, and that's why she was living with him. He was a queer, crabby
sort of an old man, and had never loved Alison because he was so
disappointed she hadn't been a boy. She was a big, beautiful-looking,
athletic girl, and he had had her taught to ride, and swim, and sail
a boat, and do most of the things boys generally do, besides learning
to read and write and some Latin and French. It was his whim that she
should be educated like a boy, even if she wasn't one.

"But she was restless and discontented and headstrong, and hated her
life there with her grandfather, and wanted the worst way to go away
from Bermuda altogether and see some of the world. She had an aunt, a
Madame Pennington, living down at Flatts (that's right where our hotel
was), and a cousin Betty, and she was very fond of them both. The aunt
was like a mother to her, and spoiled her a lot. Well, Alison confided
to her aunt that she wanted to go away from Bermuda, but that her
grandfather wouldn't hear of it. And she said she was so crazy to go
that sometime she was going to run away!

"The aunt was very much shocked, but finally Alison begged her so hard
that she consented to write to a friend of hers in New York, a Madame
Mortier, and get her to invite Alison up there for a long visit. Madame
Mortier wrote back that she would be delighted to have Alison come,
especially as her husband had just lately died and she was very lonely.
So that much was arranged, and Alison was delighted. But the difficulty
was to get away from Bermuda without her grandfather knowing, for
he would never have consented. Alison discovered a way out of this
herself, and here comes the exciting part! Alexander, you were _right_,
after all, as you'll see in a moment!"

"Oh, your Uncle Dudley's right sometimes," grumbled that irrepressible
youngster, trying to conceal his satisfaction.

"Now, to go on. One day Alison happened to meet, quite unexpectedly, a
neighbor of theirs, a young fellow named Harrington Ord—"

"_'H'!_" shouted the listening ones, simultaneously.

"Yes, you're right! that was 'H'! He had been away on a cruise with
his uncle, George Ord, in his uncle's ship, the _Lady_. Harrington
said they had only touched at St. George's for a day or so to take on
a cargo of salt, and would then be off again for America. Then Alison
saw her chance. She begged Harrington to ask his uncle if she might be
taken aboard to go with them without letting her grandfather know. She
knew the uncle and her grandfather had some standing quarrel between
them, and that George Ord would not be sorry to do anything to get
the best of the old man. Harrington hesitated about it, then finally
confided to her the news that his uncle was engaged in a strange plot—"

"The gunpowder!" exclaimed the audience.

"Yes, the very thing! Alexander was exactly right in his guess! George
Ord was planning to steal the gunpowder the very next night, and all
the details were arranged except one thing, and that was puzzling them
all dreadfully. It was this: the governor slept with the keys of the
magazine under his pillow, and how to get at them without disturbing
him, nobody could think. Some one had suggested putting a heavy
sleeping-powder in his food, but that was all but impossible, as no
one knew any of his servants or could get into his kitchen. Harrington
had the powder in his pocket, and, at his wits' end, he showed it to
Alison. She had an idea right away. She told him to give it to her, and
she would see that it got to its proper destination all right, if, in
return, his uncle would take her secretly to America.

"He declared that his uncle would be only too delighted to reward her
in that way, and everything was arranged. She was to go next day to her
aunt's as if for a week's visit. That same afternoon she would take a
little cat-boat and sail by herself up to St. George's, and be taken
aboard the _Lady_ at sundown, as she was setting sail, and when no one
was observing. But first she intended to stop at the governor's mansion
and make a call on his niece, whom she knew rather well.

"Everything went off like clockwork! Her grandfather suspected nothing.
She got to her aunt's and bade her good-by, sailed up to St. George's
in her little dinghy, called on the governor's niece, and, before she
left, went down to the kitchen to see the colored cook Dinah, who was
a sister of her grandfather's cook and was rather fond of Alison.
She found, just as she had expected, that Dinah was preparing the
governor's little afternoon snack of cake and a glass of wine. When
Dinah wasn't looking, she quietly dropped the powder in the wine, and
the game was won! Later, as she went out, she saw him drinking it.

"Well, the governor slept like a log that night, and you all know how
successful the rest of the scheme was! Captain Ord was so grateful to
Alison that he couldn't do enough for her. He landed in New York, and
Harrington escorted her to Richmond Hill, the home of Madame Mortier.
The old song, 'The Lass of Richmond Hill,' was very popular just
then, and Harrington kept teasing Alison by whistling and singing it
constantly, and saying _she_ was now that 'lass'!

"Madame Mortier was lovely to her at first, and seemed delighted to
have her there. But Alison didn't have a very lively time, because
Madame Mortier lived a very secluded and quiet life, and her house was
way off from the city, and she never went anywhere. And Alison found
out, too, that she was a strict Tory, and hated Washington and the
rebels, and felt very bitter about the war that was just commencing.
Now, Alison had heard a lot about Washington from Captain Ord and
Harrington, who both admired him terrifically, and she herself had
begun to feel a great respect for the rebel leader. But when she spoke
in praise of him, one day, Madame Mortier just 'jumped on her,' as
Alexander would say, and almost went crazy denouncing him.

"Well, by and by Alison began to feel dreadfully lonely and homesick,
and just longed to go back to Bermuda, and wished she'd never come
away! But getting back was more difficult than coming to New York. She
didn't like to tell Madame Mortier she was tired of her and wanted
to leave, for she had been invited to stay a year, at least, as a
companion to the old lady. Then something happened that changed the
whole face of affairs for her—two things, in fact!

"A sailor from Captain Ord's ship turned traitor some months after the
gunpowder affair, and in Corbie's tavern let it all out and told how
Alison had been mixed up in the plot,—or at least, that he suspected
she was, for he didn't actually know about her drugging the governor.
This got round to the steward, whom we all know about, and finally was
hinted at by him to Madame Mortier. She began to treat poor Alison very
coldly and suspiciously, without, however, telling her the real reason.
She evidently thought Alison was some kind of a spy! And Alison never
guessed the reason till Harrington gave her the hint that night under
her window.

"Anyhow, that was when she first began to feel uneasy, and as if things
had changed in the house and she was not altogether safe there. But
the climax came when one stormy winter day she and Madame Mortier were
driving home along Greenwich road and saw ahead of them a coach whose
wheel had come off and whose horses were snorting and kicking with
fright. The driver could seem to do nothing with them. Alison got out,
rushed to the horses, and held them steady till they quieted down. She
knew horses well and just how to treat them. Then, while the wheel was
being adjusted, she spoke to the occupant of the coach, who proved to
be none other than Lady Washington!

"She was traveling through the city on her way from Virginia to
her husband's camp outside Boston when the accident happened. She
congratulated Alison on her skill with horses, and asked her about
herself. Alison was just beginning to tell her about Bermuda and how
she longed to go back, when Madame Mortier, who had just learned about
the occupant of the broken coach, rushed up and dragged her bodily
away! And then things got worse and worse!

"Now, there's no need of telling you all that happened after that
because we know it; so I'll skip at once to the night of that last
entry in the journal, and explain how it came to be so mysteriously
broken off. While Alison was sitting there writing, she suddenly heard
again the mysterious footsteps, just as she had that time before. She
was horribly nervous, but she suspected something wrong and crept
to the door and opened it to peep out. And there, sure enough, was
the steward, come back from Corbie's tavern, and evidently going
down to the cellar again! Alison was scared to death, but, almost
unconsciously, she found herself creeping after him, her journal still
in her hand.

"Suddenly on the stairs something made him turn—and he saw her! Before
she could cry out he made one leap and clapped his hand over her mouth.
Then with the other he tried to get hold of the journal. She began to
struggle and twist, and try to keep it away from him, and he whispered
that if she made a sound he would kill her right there! Still she kept
struggling, but at last he got hold of it and gave it a wrench. Of
course it came in half, and at the same moment she got free from him
and ran like mad to her own room and locked herself in.

"She hid the half of the journal she had kept hold of in the bottom of
her trunk, and stayed for hours shivering with fright and listening at
the door. Then, at last, not hearing anything more, she crept out, and
rushed to Phœbe's room, and told her all about it. They decided that
it was best to wait no longer, but tell the whole thing to Washington
at early dawn, and let him take matters into his own hands. They had
the interview, and Washington acted on the matter at once. He got his
life-guard, Thomas Hickey, made him confess the whole thing, and then
sent out and had every one of the conspirators arrested. Strangely
enough, the steward was nowhere to be found. He had disappeared
completely, and was never seen or heard of again. He had probably
thought it wise to take flight in the night. Alison always thought,
too, that he was intending to run away when he did, anyhow, without
warning any one, because he had appropriated a lot of the gold and
money that was to be used in paying the conspirators. That was what he
had kept hidden in the beam, and he had removed it all that very night,
preparatory to making off with it.

"Early that morning, Washington sent Phœbe back to the city to stay with
her father, as she would be safer there. And as he thought the house no
longer a safe place for his wife, either, he arranged to despatch her at
once with a strong escort to Philadelphia. Alison had told him her own
story, explained how she aided in the gunpowder plot, and begged him to
send her back to Bermuda if he could. He was so grateful to her for the
assistance which she had twice given that he told her he would send her
to Philadelphia with Lady Washington, and there would arrange that she
should sail for her home as soon as was possible.

"So Alison packed her little trunk, and without even bidding Madame
Mortier good-by (for of course she didn't dare see her) she left that
morning with Lady Washington, and never again in all her life looked
upon Richmond Hill. In Philadelphia she was fortunate enough to catch a
vessel sailing at once for Bermuda, but before she got to her home one
other accident was to happen to her. The ship ran into a terrific storm
and was completely dismasted. It almost foundered, but, after drifting
around helplessly for more than a week, the passengers and crew were at
last rescued by another vessel, leaving all their belongings behind on
the wreck, and finally were landed in Bermuda.

"She went straight to her aunt first, for she did not dare go to her
grandfather, thinking he had never forgiven her for running away. But
her aunt told her that her grandfather, though terribly angry with her
at first, was now very, very ill, and kept constantly calling for her.
So she returned to him and was forgiven, and nursed him tenderly till
he died, leaving her the fine old farm. A few years later she married
Harrington Ord, for he had always admired and loved her. He died, in
later years, by falling from the mast of the vessel of which he was
captain, and Alison was left alone with one daughter, who also married,
after a time, and it was _her_ daughter, old Mrs. Jewell, who told us
the story. Alison lived all her life in secret terror lest her part in
the gunpowder plot should ever be discovered by the Bermudians, for she
felt that she had been disloyal to her country in the part she played.
Yet she never wholly regretted it, because of the intense admiration
she always felt for Washington, and her gratitude to him for his timely
rescue of her. Madame Mortier died soon after her departure, and never
knew about the defeat of her beloved Tories.

"So that is the end of the story, folks, and I guess I've explained
everything!"

"No, you haven't!" said Alexander promptly. "What about that half of
the diary that we found in the beam! Put us wise to that!"

"Well, of course, that's one of the things we can't be absolutely
certain about, but can only guess at. The steward had gone off with
that half, and Alison never saw it again. She always wondered what
became of it. We think, though, that the steward must have come back
that night looking for the slip of paper that he had forgotten or lost.
He evidently thought it might be left in his hiding-place, and was on
the way to hunt it up. Then he had the encounter with Alison, and got
hold of that half of her diary. He must have taken it to the cellar,
examined it hurriedly, written on it that mysterious sentence, and
thrown it into the opening where he hid his things. Probably he looked
for his paper, and, not finding it, thought he'd dropped it elsewhere.
We think likely he didn't suspect that any one had discovered the place
in the beam. That's the only explanation that seems possible."

"Yes," objected Alexander, still unconvinced, "but how came it to
remain there all that time untouched? Didn't they go and search the
beam afterward? Didn't any one else ever know about it?"

"No, it seems that Phœbe and Alison, in their hurry that morning, did
not think to tell Washington where they had found the paper. They
didn't have time—everything had to be done so quickly. They just gave
it to him and told who the conspirators were. Then Phœbe was sent
right off, and Alison went away, too, and, of course, nobody else ever
knew about it or suspected it. So it lay through all the years till
Alexander unearthed it! Isn't it too wonderful!"

"Then that gink of a steward must have beat it out for keeps!"
commented Alexander. "Guess he didn't think it'd be healthy for him to
shine about those parts again, after he'd got away with all the swag!
He was _some_ pippin, he was!"

"Well," ended Margaret, "now you know all the mystery and the history
of Alison Trenham, and I hope you're satisfied!"

"_Satisfied!_" ejaculated Bess, sitting up very straight. "When you
haven't said one word about the _sapphire signet_—the most important
thing of all? I guess _not_!"

"I was wondering when you'd begin to be curious about that," commented
Margaret, with her tantalizing smile. "Since you seem a little anxious
on the subject, I'll go on with the second half of the story. Well, as
I've hinted, we didn't say a word about the signet to the old lady,
and she didn't mention it in her account either. But when she had
finished, Corinne asked her if there was anything else she knew of that
had troubled Alison's mind—whether she'd ever heard her grandmother
speak of something she'd lost. And at that Mrs. Jewell looked awfully
surprised, and said no, her grandmother had never spoken of anything
else, and what did we mean?

"Then we told her all about the signet, and how we'd found it, and how
valuable it was, and how we wanted above everything to return it to
Alison's descendant, and were so glad we'd found her at last. Well, if
you'll believe me, Mrs. Jewell looked simply stunned for a while, as if
she couldn't trust her senses! And we had the hardest time convincing
her that the signet was really hers and she must take it. She insisted
it ought to be ours, since we had found it. But finally we managed to
convince her that she was its rightful owner, and told her that Mr.
Cameron would get it from the safe at the hotel and bring it over to
her the next day."

"But why do you suppose Alison never told her about it?" interrupted
Jess.

"That's just what we all couldn't fathom for a while, till at last Mrs.
Jewell explained it in this way. Of course, when Alison was shipwrecked
and rescued, she naturally supposed her trunk went down to the bottom
of the ocean with the wreck. She told her grandmother that they had had
to cling to the decks for several days, and never dared to go down to
the cabins, for most of them were full of water. So she couldn't get at
her trunk to take out anything. We think that when she realized that
the signet was lost forever, and after her grandfather had forgiven her
for everything (including that, no doubt), she just forgot all about
the matter and either didn't think of it again, or else didn't want
to. What troubled her most was the fear that the second half of her
journal would sometime be discovered and deciphered, and she, perhaps,
be considered a traitor for twice giving aid to Washington.

"But now listen to the best part of the story, which comes last! We had
asked Mrs. Jewell to say nothing just yet about what we'd told her, and
when the housekeeper came back for us, the old lady bade us good-by as
calmly as though we hadn't just given her the surprise of her life.
But on the drive to the hotel we asked a few questions about her and
found out, to our astonishment, that old Mrs. Jewell was really in
very straitened circumstances. For years she had supported herself by
doing the most beautiful lacework, and had earned enough to live on.
But since her blindness came, her money had gradually disappeared, and
she had had to borrow on the farm and the lovely old furniture. The
housekeeper said she was afraid it wouldn't be long before she would
lose everything. Every one was so sorry for her and wanted to help, but
she was very proud and would accept nothing from them. No one could
imagine what she would do when she was homeless.

"It set us thinking hard, of course, and we told Mr. Cameron about
it that night. He only said we must leave it to him, and he'd think
out a scheme. Next day we three drove over there with the signet, and
placed it in old Mrs. Jewell's hands. And right then and there Mr.
Cameron told her that, if she cared to sell it to him, he'd be only
too delighted to buy it. And he offered her enough to keep her living
comfortably for the rest of her days.

"You should have seen that poor old lady's face! She begged and
protested that he should not give so much, that she could not accept
it. But he assured her that he knew positively it was the real value of
the signet, and to prove it, read her a letter he'd received from some
authority in such things. She gave in at last, and we left her with
that big, fat check in her hands—the happiest woman in all Bermuda!"

"But what has become of the sapphire signet?" demanded her listeners,
as Margaret paused.

"Here it is!" said Corinne, quietly, and she pulled from under the
neck of her dress a thin golden chain. There on the end dangled the
wonderful sapphire signet, more beautiful than ever since it had been
cleaned and polished.

"Father has given it to me, and I'm going to keep it always, in memory
of the long-ago Alison and the strange way we stumbled on her mystery.
I shall not wear it all the time, for it's too rare and valuable to
run the risk of losing. But I put it on to-day in honor of the most
satisfactory meeting the Antiquarian Club ever held!"


It was about noon of a day a week or two later that Corinne and
Margaret stood together at the open window of the Charlton Street
parlor. A light breeze flapped the awnings to and fro, a warm midday
sun shone on the pavements outside, and the droning sound of busy
Varick Street came distantly to them as they stood looking out. The
twins were still at high school, but Corinne had not returned there,
as she was expecting to study up during the summer and in the autumn
pass the examinations she was now missing. So, during these idle days,
she spent the greater part of her time with Margaret. Since their long
Bermuda weeks together, they had grown into even closer intimacy, and
sisters could not have loved each other with deeper devotion.

Leaning on her crutches, Margaret idly plucked the dead leaves from
a geranium in the window-box, and Corinne stood twisting one of the
younger girl's dark curls around her finger. Presently she said:

"Father had a letter from old Mrs. Jewell this morning. She says words
would be impossible to describe how happy she is. She thinks it just
marvelous that we girls were led to do what we did, for she was in
desperate straits when we first came. She declares she would never have
accepted it as a charity, but it was really help from her own dead
kindred sent through us. She considers it an absolute _miracle_!"

"Isn't it strange!" began Margaret. "That's the exact word Mother used
last night when we were talking it over. She said it all seemed like a
miracle to her—the way you came into our lives, and walked straight to
the heart of the mystery that very first day; the way we worked it all
out and restored what was her own to Alison's granddaughter just in the
nick of time; and best of all, what's happened to me!"

"Well, I wasn't left out in the miracle way, either," laughed Corinne;
"for I've had the loveliest adventure imaginable, and made the very
dearest friend of all my life!" She squeezed Margaret's hand, and the
two girls looked for one long, understanding moment into each other's
eyes. After a quiet interval Corinne spoke again:

"Margaret, there's something I never told you! No one but Father knows
it. But I'm going to tell you now. Do you know what I plan to be when I
am older?"

Margaret looked up at her in quick interest, and said: "No! Tell me!"

"Well, it's my ambition to be a writer. Father says I have some gift in
that direction, and I am constantly practising at it. But, after I've
learned how and can really write what people might like to read, the
first story I'm going to tell is the one about Alison Trenham and the
wonderful way she helped to rescue Washington at the time he was in
such danger!"

"Oh, that's perfectly splendid!" cried Margaret. "I wish I could do
something like that, but I'm afraid it isn't in me. Shall I tell you
_my_ chief ambition, Corinne? I want to get so strong that I can join a
basket-ball team—and beat the twins at it!"

"Bless your heart, Honey!" exclaimed Corinne, "you're going to be the
_captain_ of that team, I'll be willing to wager!"

Just at that moment Alexander came swinging down the street on his
way home to luncheon, whistling the tune that had come to be such a
momentous one in their lives. Margaret smiled as she heard it, and
suddenly turned to her friend:

"Corinne, I want you to promise me something! When you come to write
the story of Alison, I want you to call it 'The Lass of Richmond Hill'!
I think that would be the most appropriate title for it. Will you?"

Corinne thought it over a moment, then she said, slowly: "Yes, I think
you 're right! I promise to call it—'The Lass of Richmond Hill'!"


  THE END



Transcriber's Note

  Apparent typographical errors have been repaired.

  Pg. 78: ‗He‗ symbolizes a double-underline.





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