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Title: Mary Louise at Dorfield
Author: Sampson, Emma Speed
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 "Mary Louise at Dorfield" ***

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The Bluebird Books

Mary Louise At Dorfield



[Illustration: “A pretty snug place,” said Felix.]



Mary Louise At Dorfield

  By
    Edith Van Dyne

  Author of
   “Mary Louise,” “Mary Louise in the Country,” “Mary
    Louise Solves a Mystery,” “Mary Louise and
    the Liberty Girls,” “Mary Louise
    Adopts a Soldier.”

  Frontispiece by
    Maude Martin Evers

  [Illustration]

  The Reilly & Lee Co.
    Chicago



  Copyright, 1920
    by
  The Reilly & Lee Co.

  All Rights Reserved

  _Made in U. S. A._

  _Mary Louise at Dorfield_



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                     PAGE

      I THE SEWING BEE                           7

     II A ROSE AND A SONG                       19

    III MATRON OF HONOR                         29

     IV JOSIE O’GORMAN                          36

      V THE WRIGHT FAMILY                       49

     VI THE HIGGLEDY-PIGGLEDY SHOP              58

    VII THE CAPTAIN OF HER SOUL                 70

   VIII THE ORCHID BROOCH                       84

     IX THE BOOK OF CRIMINALS                   96

      X CHIEF CHARLEY LONSDALE                 106

     XI A SKELETON KEY                         115

    XII BILLY MAKES A CALL                     123

   XIII BUSINESS COMING ON                     132

    XIV ANOTHER CLUE                           144

     XV SIMPKINS & MARKLE                      157

    XVI A DINNER PARTY                         169

   XVII ANOTHER VISIT TO THE CHIEF             179

  XVIII BOB DULANEY RETURNS THE NOTEBOOK       187

    XIX THE WEDDING                            195

     XX THE RIDE TO SOMERVILLE                 205

    XXI THE SURPRISING STRENGTH OF AUNTIE      215



Mary Louise At Dorfield

CHAPTER I

THE SEWING BEE


Dorfield was trying to settle down into its prewar quiet, but no matter
how conservative and sleepy a town has been, when once it is shaken
up with war activities it finds it difficult to go to sleep again. It
may pull the bedclothes over its head and bury its ears in the downy
pillows of memories of what it used to be but the echoes of marching
troops, shouting crowds, martial music, newsboys crying extras, powder
mills and so forth will reach it no matter how soft the pillows or
thick the bedclothes.

The girls of Dorfield found it more difficult to settle down than
anybody else. Fathers had always been busy, so had mothers. The
returning soldiers had dropped into their old places and were at work
almost as though there had been no amazing interlude of A. E. F. Only
the girls seemed to be left out of the scheme of things. Many of them
kept on working, although before the war the idea of making a living
had been undreamed. The girls who, for purely patriotic reasons, had
taken positions left empty by enlisted men, were loath to go back to
the old state of dependence now that the men had returned.

“I am tired of being an unproductive consumer and I don’t intend to
stand it any longer,” declared Elizabeth Wright.

“What are you going to do about it?” asked Lucile Neal.

“Do! I’m going to get a good job and hold it. I did the work in the
bank just as well as Price Middleton, although I got only about half
as much pay for it. I can type better than he can and write a business
letter all around him. When he came back from the war, I stepped out as
gracefully as you please and gave up my job. Nobody seems to be much
worried about my future, that is, nobody but me, but I’ve been thinking
a lot about what is going to become of me, not only because of money
but because I am simply bored to death at the prospect of having no
regular occupation.”

“I feel that way too,” said Laura Hilton. “I do wish Dorfield wasn’t
so poky about its girls. Father says young women ought to stay at home
and preserve fruit, unless it is necessary for the family finances that
they should go out and work.”

“Always for the good of the family where the girl is concerned!”
exclaimed Elizabeth, “and never the good of the girl! Suppose there
isn’t any fruit! Suppose there is no sugar to preserve with! Suppose
the beloved family is not fond of jam! Suppose there are more girls in
the household than there are paring knives! Suppose one’s mother is so
capable and industrious that there is no work left for the girls to do!
Suppose a million things!”

The group of girls gathered on Colonel Hathaway’s porch laughed at
the vehemence of Elizabeth Wright’s harangue. Elizabeth had always
been different from the rest of her family, who were old-fashioned and
conservative in their ideas. She was one of five sisters. The other
four were quite content to live the life of “unproductive consumers” on
the not very large income which was derived from an estate inherited
by their father. Mr. Wright’s sole occupation consisted in writing
letters demanding catalogues of rare books. These he pored over from
morning until night. Sometimes, enticed by the extreme rarity and
desirability of a book, he would decide he must have it in his fine
collection but he usually took so long to decide and put off so long
writing his order that, in nine cases out of ten, the desired book was
sold before he sent for it.

Mrs. Wright was one of those thoroughly practical souls who glory in
their activity and efficiency. She did everything so easily that she
had never seen the necessity of teaching her daughters to do anything.

“They will learn soon enough!” she always declared. “Nobody taught me!
They will marry and then they will learn.”

Elizabeth always winced when her mother announced so confidently that
her daughters would marry. Perhaps they would but, on the other hand,
perhaps they wouldn’t. She for one was sure she would not. Certainly it
was not her aim in life as it seemed to be of her sisters. Marriage was
all right if it was built on true love, as she was sure this marriage
of Mary Louise’s was to be. In her heart of hearts Elizabeth wanted to
write but she thought she had not lived long enough to have anything to
write about.

Dear Mary Louise Burrows! How happy she looked with her friends
gathered around her on her grandfather’s piazza! That piazza was a
favorite place for the girls to assemble and now that Mary Louise was
so soon to marry Danny Dexter it was almost a daily occurrence for
them to meet there. Irene MacFarlane was there in her wheel chair,
her countenance as calm and peaceful as ever, while her busy fingers
embroidered a wonderfully dainty bit of lingerie for her friend’s
trousseau. Alora Jones was there, not looking much happier than she had
formerly, although her three millions had been almost doubled in the
last few years, thanks to the war activities that wealth had indulged
in. Poor Alora found it difficult to let herself go. Her wealth made
her suspicious. Because she had been imposed upon once, she was ever
looking out for similar experiences. She was happier with this band of
friends, tried and true, than with anybody else in the world. Certainly
they wanted nothing from her but friendship and that her shy heart was
eager to give. Her artist father encouraged her in seeking out these
wholesome, normal girls, hoping through them his daughter would begin
to value life for what it was worth.

“We are cursed with money, Alora,” he would say, “but for Heaven’s
sake, let’s forget it. In the meantime we must give and give!”

Pretty Laura Hilton was there, as small and bird-like as ever. By
her sat Lucile Neal, who had inherited an executive ability from her
father, the owner of the Neal Automobile Factory, and whose clear
judgment was ever in demand when Mary Louise and her friends had any
project on foot. Edna Barlow, the only poor girl in the group, was in
the hammock with Jane Donovan, the daughter of Dorfield’s mayor.

All of the girls were sewing on Mary Louise’s trousseau. It was Irene’s
idea that they should meet together in this way and busy themselves
with this labor of love.

“To return to jobs,” said Elizabeth. “I’m going to find out what pays
best and learn how to do it and then bust loose from my family. If they
don’t like it, they can lump it. I want a latchkey and a bank account
of my own. As it is, if I’m not in the house at a certain time, there
is a hue and cry and father begins on what young ladies did in his day
and Gertrude and Annabel look shocked and Pauline and Margaret say they
would never be guilty of such unladylike behavior and they all agree
that men don’t like independent girls and I’ll never get a suspicion of
a beau if I don’t mend my ways--as though I wanted one if I’d have to
make myself over to get him!”

“And what does your mother say?” laughed Mary Louise.

“Oh, Mother doesn’t say anything. She is always so busy she doesn’t
even know I’m not there. With two servants in the house Mother still
manages never to be idle one moment in the day. She is always baking
and brewing, sewing and dusting, cleaning out closets or bureau
drawers, airing beds, rubbing furniture, cleaning silver, doing a
million and one things that the maids could do just as well as she.
The truth of the matter is Mother should have had a profession outside
of being a wife and mother. She has too much energy and efficiency to
waste on a mere home.”

“But a mere home is the greatest thing in the world,” said Mary Louise,
softly.

“Oh, yes, it is a good enough place, but it can be pretty uncomfortable
with somebody always making you move to sweep under you. Why, my mother
could run a big hotel and still have time to spare to keep the church
sewing circle going.”

“She must be very unselfish,” said Laura Hilton, whose own mother was
noted for being the best dressed and most frivolous woman in Dorfield,
though very charming and kind-hearted withal.

“Oh, I don’t know about that!” answered Elizabeth. “She is never so
happy as when she is bustling around doing for people. She would let
all of us girls sleep all day and then cook breakfast herself and bring
it up to us and have the time of her life doing it. I think it would be
a great deal more unselfish if she would let us help and expend some of
her energy on making us be a little more efficient instead of being so
perfect herself.”

“Have you decided yet, Mary Louise, where and when you will be
married?” asked Irene, gently changing the subject. Irene had the
faculty of turning the conversation into smoother channels when
she saw breakers ahead. Criticism of one’s mother and home was not
conducive to smooth sailing for the ship of conversation.

“About decided,” blushed Mary Louise. “Danny and I think it would be
nice to be married right here at home with only our intimate friends
present. We haven’t any relations to speak of, neither one of us. Danny
has his Uncle Jim O’Hara and I have Grandpa Jim--a Jim apiece and
that is all. We have lots of intimate friends, though, when we begin
to count up. Of course Danny wants to ask every man in his regiment
besides all the friends he has made at the Neal Automobile Factory.”

“Father and the boys say he is the most popular man in the works in the
short time he has been with them,” said Lucile.

Mary Louise blushed again. She was frankly delighted at the praise
bestowed upon her fiancé. Danny’s popularity was very delightful to
the girl and indeed it spoke very well for Danny Dexter that Dorfield
was receiving him with open arms. He had come to the town unknown,
poor, friendless except for the men in his regiment who one and all
pronounced him a trump. All of his worldly possessions he could get
in his army kit. But on his battle scarred face was a smile that
was worth more than silver and gold and when he had won, right under
the noses of a host of admirers, the love of the prettiest and most
attractive girl in town, the rejected and dejected suitors of Mary
Louise Burrows bore him no grudge but were willing to come dance at his
wedding.

“Here comes Mrs. Markle!” exclaimed Mary Louise. “She has been so kind
to me and Mr. Markle is perfectly dear to Danny. Both of them are so
charming that we appreciate their seeing anything in us worth knowing.”

“Pooh!” cried Elizabeth Wright. “Everybody thinks you and Danny are
worth knowing. The Markles aren’t so much of a muchness.”

“Oh, but they are lovely! Don’t you think so, Irene?” asked Mary Louise.

“I don’t know them very well,” responded Irene. “If you like them so
much they must be worth knowing, however.”

Mary Louise looked at her friend, astonishment expressed in her
countenance. That did not sound like Irene MacFarlane. What faint
praise she gave the Markles! And her voice sounded so cold. What could
be the matter? Could she be jealous of these new friends? Hardly that!
Of course, Irene had been her first and only friend when Mary Louise
came to Dorfield and stayed with Irene’s uncle, Mr. Peter Conant and
his wife, dear Aunt Hannah. But since then she, Mary Louise, had made
acquaintance with almost everybody in town and it would take all her
fingers and toes to count her intimate girl friends. Irene had never
shown jealousy before but had been as eager to enlarge her acquaintance
as Mary Louise herself. Poor Irene was lame and had spent the whole of
her life either on her back or in the wheel chair. She had an intense
interest in humanity in general and girls in particular. Her friendship
with Mary Louise had opened up a new life for the poor girl, bringing
her more and more in touch with the outside world. But why this
coldness where the Markles were concerned?

Nobody could deny that the Markles were a delightful couple. Mrs.
Markle was a woman of about thirty, while her husband was nearer
fifty but he seemed to be as fond of young people as his wife. They
were strangers in Dorfield, having settled there since the war, but
already they had taken a place in the society of the town and were
looked upon as agreeable additions to the four hundred of Dorfield.
Mr. Markle was engaged in the real estate business, which seemed to be
thriving. To be sure, they lived in a small apartment, but it was in
one of the best houses in town and, while they were not classed with
the reckless spenders, they entertained frequently and in lavish style.
The soft Persian rugs and exquisite paintings and etchings filled their
apartment with harmony and beauty. There were cabinets of rare and
wonderful curios, bookcases of first editions and carved furniture that
looked as though it belonged in museums, so wonderful was it in design
and finish.



CHAPTER II

A ROSE AND A SONG


As Mrs. Markle tripped up the steps of Colonel Hathaway’s porch, where
the girls were holding their sewing bee, one could but wonder why Irene
MacFarlane should have been chary of her praise of anyone so altogether
charming. She was perfect from the tips of her tiny grey suede shoes to
the hat which shaded the piquant face at just the right angle. Nature
had not only endowed Hortense Markle with a rare and glowing beauty but
hers also was the gift of knowing exactly how to clothe that beauty.
Every portion of her costume was as carefully thought out and planned
by the little artist as had been the rarest of her rugs by some Hindu
weaver or the most choice of her pictures by some famous painter. She
delighted in soft greys and pastel shades which set off to perfection
her rich, almost oriental, beauty.

“She knows perfectly well if she wore brilliant colors they would be
becoming but would coarsen her,” Irene said to herself as she watched
the charming little lady mount the steps, her arm around Mary Louise,
who had hurried down the walk to meet her new friend.

“Oh, why didn’t you girls let me know you were here sewing? I have been
so lonely sitting up in my stuffy little apartment all alone. Only
think, I might have been here all morning having such a pleasant time
with all of you! I believe you think I am too old for you.”

This she said so gaily, giving such a ringing laugh at the thought
of anybody’s thinking she was too old, that all the girls joined in,
even Irene. Irene had wondered at herself as much as Mary Louise had.
For the life of her she could not account for a feeling of antipathy
that she felt for both Mr. and Mrs. Markle. It was not like her to
take unaccountable dislikes, or even accountable ones. Her theory of
life was to live and let live and her sympathy embraced all mankind,
good and bad alike. Why could she not find room in her heart for this
charming, beautiful young woman whose manner to her had always been
gracious and kind?

“It is just a case of Dr. Fell,” Irene said to herself.

  “‘I do not like thee, Dr. Fell--
   The reason why I cannot tell;
   But one thing ’tis, I know full well:
    I do not like thee, Dr. Fell.’”

She determined, however, to keep her unreasonable sentiments to herself
and at least to be as cordial and polite to Mary Louise’s guest as she
could manage to be.

“We sew here almost every morning,” said Irene. “We are helping to make
Mary Louise’s trousseau.”

“How charming! Please let me help. Sewing is my one accomplishment.”

A thimble was found to fit the tapering finger and Mrs. Markle was soon
as busy as the others in their task of love.

“I wish I could sew better,” exclaimed Elizabeth Wright. “I am going to
have to pick out this foolish little flower that I have been trying so
hard to make look as though it were growing on Mary Louise’s camisole.
There now! I’ve cut a hole in it! Oh, what a stupid I am! Right in the
middle of the garment and this crepe de chine costs ’steen dollars a
yard! Oh me, oh my! I told you girls I ought to go into business and
not try to be so girlie.”

“Let me see if I can’t set you right,” said Mrs. Markle. “I am past
mistress at patching.” She took the garment from the unresisting hands
of Elizabeth, quickly ripped out the crooked flower that poor Elizabeth
had been vainly endeavoring to embroider on it and then, with deft sure
fingers and a needle so fine one could hardly see it, she inserted an
invisible patch where the cruel scissors had slipped. This needle she
took from the lining of her velvet hand bag. It was much smaller than
any found in the work boxes of the girls. Irene remarked on it.

“I never can get such tiny needles as that,” she said. “Perhaps if I
could manage to shop for myself I might find one.”

“Oh, I’ll be delighted to give you some!” cried the older woman. “I am
like you: I simply cannot sew with a spike.”

“That will be very kind of you,” said Irene, wishing she could be as
pleasant to Mrs. Markle as Mrs. Markle was to her and hoping that her
sentiments were not voiced in her words. She was trying hard to get
over her feeling of dislike and distrust for the beautiful little lady
but, even though she should give her a thousand fairy needles, she knew
that she could not like her. She watched the process of putting in the
invisible patch. It was the most perfect piece of needlework she had
ever seen and Irene herself did all but perfect work.

“How on earth do you do it?” she exclaimed. “Why, one cannot tell where
the patch is!”

The girls crowded around to see the little patch. If Irene did not know
how to do it it must be wonderful indeed.

“It is quite easy when once you learn,” laughed Mrs. Markle. “I learned
at the convent in Paris. First be sure and match the warp and woof of
your material. It takes sharp eyes, but one thread out of place is
fatal. Then use a bit of raveled crepe de chine for your thread and
the rest is all plain sailing. Practice makes perfect. Now shall I
embroider a rose over the place?”

“Oh, do!” cried Elizabeth, “and please somebody give me some plain
basting to do on gingham aprons if the bride is to have such things.”

“Don’t you have to have a pattern for your rose?” asked Irene, reaching
for her workbag. “I have some patterns here, very pretty ones, and some
tracing paper.”

“No, thank you! I just make up as I go along--”

“Like the wonderful rug weavers of India,” cried Alora. “Do you sing
a song as you go and weave the music into your work as they do, Mrs.
Markle?”

“Why, yes, sometimes! But please don’t call me Mrs. Markle. I’m not so
terribly old and you don’t know how I long to have someone call me by
my own name, Hortense.”

“Doesn’t Mr. Markle?”

“He calls me Pet. Awfully silly, but he always has. I think it would
be so pleasant if all of you girls would just call me Hortense. Won’t
you?” She smiled so brightly on the ring of girls grouped around her
that they succumbed to her charms. Even Irene melted a bit and decided
that perhaps she did like the little lady a tiny bit after all. Anyone
who could put in an invisible patch must be a desirable acquaintance.

“You see it has been many years since I have been with my own people
and so few ever call me anything but Mrs. Markle. It is very lonesome
to have persons so formal.”

As she talked she had been deftly outlining a rose on the front of the
camisole, drawing it with needle and thread with strokes as sure as
those of a great flower painter. Then choosing her silk from Irene’s
basket she began to embroider. Irene was spellbound in her attention.
The first petal took form under the flying fingers as though by magic.

And then the woman sang. It seemed hardly fair that anyone so beautiful
and clever as Hortense Markle should also have a voice, but voice she
did have of a rich depth that thrilled her audience.

  “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
     Old Time is still a flying:
   And the same flower that smiles to-day
     To-morrow will be dying.

   The glorious land of heaven, the sun,
     The higher he’s a-getting,
   The sooner will his race be run,
     And nearer he’s to setting.

   That age is best which is the first,
     When youth and blood are warmer;
   But being spent, the worse and worst
     Times still succeed the former.

   Then be not coy, but use your time,
     And while ye may, go marry:
   For having lost but once your prime,
     You may forever tarry.”

“Lovely! Lovely!” cried the girls.

“I don’t know that tune,” said Laura Hilton, who had a sweet little
voice of her own with a bird-like note and was ever in search of songs
that would fit it. “I know the words, Herrick’s, aren’t they? But the
tune is different from any I have ever heard.”

“It has a kind of teasing quality,” said Alora.

“The tune is my own,” declared the singer.

“Then you can write music too!” cried Irene. This was surely a
remarkable person for her to take an unreasonable dislike to.

“Not write it--just sing it. I don’t know one note from the other
except by ear,” answered Mrs. Markle still busily embroidering.

“I think the tune was fine,” put in Elizabeth, “but I can’t hand a
thing to the words. Always hammering on girls to get married! It sounds
too like home to me. I bet anything old Herrick was as withered and
dried up as a salt herring. Losing his own prime was nothing. He, as
a man, was perfectly sure that he was still attractive, married or
unmarried--but the poor girls--it makes me more and more determined to
get me a job.”

They all laughed heartily at Elizabeth’s taking the song personally and
Mrs. Markle was much interested in what the girl expected to do and how
soon she intended to begin doing it.

“I don’t blame you at all for wanting to do something. I often feel
myself I should like to but Felix is so opposed. He is away so much I
could easily carry on some occupation besides home making. What are you
thinking of doing?”

“I don’t know. I can type but I don’t want to be a stenographer, at
least I don’t want to be a man’s stenographer. Somebody might think it
was up to me to marry the creature. I’d like to have a shop--a kind of
literary work-shop--where one could get manuscript typed; where budding
authors could have their spelling corrected and their punctuation put
to rights. I’m a queen bee on spelling and punctuation. I might even
write obituaries and valedictories for the going and coming. I might
combine a kind of clipping bureau with it for folks who like to see
their names in print. Of course I’d have to have a partner.”

“The very thing!” cried Mary Louise. “A friend of mine, Josie O’Gorman,
wants to come to Dorfield to settle and she could go in with you. Josie
is financially independent, but she says she simply must do something.
You know her father was the great detective. He died last month,” she
explained to Mrs. Markle.

“See, I have finished the rose!” Hortense interrupted and held it up
for their inspection. It was so natural that one almost expected a
fragrance to arise from it.

“But look! What is that on the edge of this petal?” cried Irene, who
was bending over the embroidery entranced by its perfectness. “It looks
like a tiny faded place.”

“So it is! That is where the tune got woven into my picture.

  ‘The same flower that smiles to-day
    To-morrow will be dying.’”

“Oh!” was all Irene could say, but she began all over to hate Hortense
Markle for suggesting fading flowers where Mary Louise’s trousseau was
concerned. “It wasn’t kind! It wasn’t kind!” she kept on saying to
herself.



CHAPTER III

MATRON OF HONOR


“We were speaking of Mary Louise’s wedding when you came in,” Alora
said to Mrs. Markle.

“And Danny’s!” put in Mary Louise.

“Oh, of course, Danny’s! Danny may be a wonder but he doesn’t count
much on his own wedding day. That day is the bride’s,” laughed Alora.

“You are to have a church wedding, I fancy,” said Mrs. Markle.

“No, we are to be married here at home. Grandpa Jim much prefers it and
so do Danny and I.”

“Oh, then of course it must be at home. Your house is large but the
rooms do not open into each other for the best effect for a wedding.
Why don’t you be married out of doors?” suggested Mrs. Markle. “It
would be lovely. The guests could stand all along these terraces or
anywhere they chose and the bridal party could approach through the
opening in that wonderful old yew hedge. It would be a beautiful
picture. I can see it now!” and she waved her hand towards the fine
old sunken garden which was the pride of Colonel Hathaway and his
granddaughter.

“The very thing!” exclaimed Elizabeth. “Don’t you think so, Irene?”

“It would be lovely.”

“Grandpa Jim would like it a lot, I am sure,” said Mary Louise.

“You are to have bridesmaids, of course,” continued Mrs. Markle. “Let
them dress in pastel shades of palest and softest hue and carry sweet
peas.”

“That will be great if we have different colors,” put in Elizabeth. “I
am crazy about being a bridesmaid, but I must say I am not crazy about
going around with about seven twins for the rest of the summer.”

“You are to have eight bridesmaids, then?” asked Mrs. Markle as she and
her hostess went down to the garden to plan.

“Yes, eight besides my maid of honor,” explained Mary Louise. “You see,
I couldn’t bear to leave out any of the girls.”

“And who is the maid of honor?”

“Irene MacFarlane! She is the very best friend I have in the whole
world.”

“But how can she be a maid of honor in a chair?”

“I don’t know, but she must be. In the house she can roll around quite
easily. I am not sure about it out of doors but, if she can’t, we will
abandon the idea of having it out in the garden.” Mary Louise spoke
quite decidedly.

“That would be a pity.”

“Yes, but I must have Irene.”

Mary Louise had always said if she ever married she would have her dear
friend as maid of honor and Irene had felt a fierce pride in the fact
that she was chosen. She realized the moment the plan was suggested of
having the ceremony out of doors that this honor was not to be hers.
She could run her chair with great skill on smooth floors but she felt
it would be awkward indeed to try to do it in the garden and then she
felt that in some way she would mar the picture. She too could close
her eyes and see the effect of the outdoor wedding with the old yew
hedge as a background and the beds of old-fashioned flowers adding to
the beauty of the scene; the bride in white and the eight bridesmaids
in the pastel shades suggested by Hortense Markle.

“It will be beautiful and I must quietly get out of the picture,” Irene
said to herself. It hurt her to think of it. The girl was sure she
would never marry herself, nobody would ever want to marry such a poor
little deformed person. She had settled that long ago, but it would
have been pleasant to be the next one to the bride. Even that pleasure
must be taken from her and she herself must be the one to put it away.
She looked sadly after the girls as they trooped into the garden to
join Mary Louise and Mrs. Markle.

“If she only had not suggested the outdoor wedding!” she sighed. “But I
must not harbor resentment against Mrs. Markle. She is charming and so
clever. Instead I must try to like her. I wish I could sew as well as
she can.”

She picked up the dainty camisole whereon Hortense had embroidered the
exquisite rose and examined it closely. She took from her basket a
little magnifying glass she occasionally made use of in doing very fine
embroidery. Through the glass she could see where the patch had been
inserted.

“I must not look at people through a magnifying glass,” she mused.
“If it magnified their perfections it would be all right, but it seems
only to show up their faults. I have shown a poor spirit myself this
morning, and if I turned the magnifying glass on my own soul, it would
disclose many ugly patches and gashes.” She put her hand over her eyes
and offered a silent prayer for a just and contrite spirit.

When the girls came back from the garden, they found Irene with a smile
on her sensitive face and on her lips a gay little tune she was humming.

“I do hope you have decided to have the wedding out of doors,” she
cried. “If it is out of doors, I can see it too, as I will be a
spectator. From my chair I can see the procession as it comes through
the yew hedge and follows the garden walk.”

“But, Irene--” began Mary Louise.

“Don’t but Irene me,” laughed the girl. “As for bridesmaids: they are
like the purple cow to me, ‘I’d rather see than be one.’ Let me be a
kind of vestal virgin, stationed near the altar.”

“But I have always said that I would have no maid of honor but you,”
declared Mary Louise, “and I won’t.”

“You shall have to swallow your words then, my dear,” insisted Irene.

“If not a maid, you might have a matron,” suggested Hortense.

“Certainly,” agreed Irene.

“Nobody could take the place of Irene,” objected Mary Louise.

“But, honey, a place in a wedding procession is not a place in your
heart,” whispered Irene, drawing her friend close to her.

“I have heard brides say that, unless they have an attendant, the thing
is hard to go through with,” said Hortense. “Of course you might go on
your grandfather’s arm, but it is not quite so picturesque as having
all girls. Black coats, when all is told, are ugly affairs.”

“Grandpa Jim would rather not be too much in evidence, I think. The
truth of the matter is he is afraid he might get stage fright. He says
it is hard enough on him to have to give me away. Will you be my matron
of honor, Hortense?”

“But, my dear, you must have closer and dearer friends than I am among
the young married people. Nobody who loves you more, but--”

“Please,” begged Mary Louise.

“Why, of course! I feel more flattered than I can say.”

And so it was settled.

“We must plan the dresses, making each color the one the wearer
prefers. I must wear pale grey, as I am merely the bride’s shadow. I
must not show much.”

“And I want pink!” cried one.

“And I blue!” said another. And so on until all the colors in the
rainbow and some others were appropriated either by the girls present
for themselves or for the absent members.

“Suppose it rains!” suggested Elizabeth.

“But it couldn’t and it wouldn’t!” cried Lucile. “Not on Mary Louise’s
wedding day.”

Irene was quietly gathering up her sewing things preparatory to her
departure. As the girls discussed their bridesmaids’ dresses, she
glanced at Hortense and could not help noting a kind of triumph in her
bearing.



CHAPTER IV

JOSIE O’GORMAN


Detective O’Gorman’s death while he was abroad on United States Secret
Service brought sadness to the hearts of many, even to some of the
criminals whom his almost uncanny powers had been instrumental in
bringing to justice.

“A good thief has some respect for a good detective,” one noted
cracksman, who was serving his term in the penitentiary, was heard to
say when the news came that his one-time enemy was no more. “There is
pleasure in trying to circumvent a man like O’Gorman, but most of these
so-called detectives have gone into the business because they have
failed as life insurance agents. It is no fun trying to get ahead of
them. They are too easy.”

Little Josie O’Gorman mourned keenly the loss of her father. He had
been everything to her and it was hard to feel that he was gone and she
was never to see his dear, homely face again. Not that Josie thought
his face was homely. She considered his funny fat nose more classic
than the one worn by the sculptured Adonis and much more fitting to
follow a scent; and his round eyes that could narrow down to slits
when he got on the right track in a big case were to the daughter more
expressive than Wallace Reid’s or any other movie hero’s.

Crushed at first by the blow of his sudden death, Josie had felt that
never again could she go about the business of living; but the girl
came of sturdy stock and she knew too well that her father would have
been disappointed in her if she had given up to the grief that was well
nigh overwhelming her.

“I must do as he would wish me to do. He would never sit and mope,” she
declared to herself and immediately wrote to Mary Louise that she was
thinking of coming to settle in Dorfield, as Washington was too sad for
her right then.

“I am not going to stay with you, though, honey,” she wrote. “But must
have a place of my own. I’ll engage in some business because I don’t
know how to be idle. I must hunt a partner and perhaps I might get a
flat and go to housekeeping.”

When Elizabeth Wright told Mary Louise of her unrest and determination
to leave the ranks of unproductive consumers, Mary Louise immediately
thought of Josie and how well the two girls might hit it off together.

Josie came, a sad little figure.

“Sadder than she would be if she had on mourning,” Mary Louise said to
herself as she embraced her friend at the station.

“I guess you expected to see me in mourning,” Josie said as they took
their seats in Mary Louise’s car. “Somehow I’d like to have it on, but
Father hated it so that I decided not to wear it. He used to say that
people in dripping black simply exuded gloom and had no right to impose
their sorrows an all around them. I must do what he wanted.”

“That’s a brave girl!” cried Mary Louise, holding her close for a
moment before she started the car. “I think the war has changed
people’s ideas concerning mourning. But you should have a gold star.
Your father certainly was serving Uncle Sam just as much as a soldier.”

“That is what I think and so I have a gold star, but I wear it where
it can’t be seen. It is just as much satisfaction to me and I can feel
it shining on my heart. But tell me about yourself! When are you and
Danny going to begin to trot in double harness?”

“In six weeks! This is the fifteenth of April and we have set the first
of June. I am so sorry you won’t be a bridesmaid.”

“Well, I will be one in spirit, but just now I can’t quite make up my
mind to go through with it in the flesh. When you wrote asking me, I
was just as happy as could be that you wanted me, but I felt that I
must not try. The fact that you did ask me though is shining on my
heart just like the gold star.”

“And now I believe I have a partner for you. I don’t know just what
you mean to do and neither does your partner, but she means to do
something.”

“Well so do I, and that makes a good beginning towards congeniality,”
laughed Josie.

“Have you any ideas?”

“A few!”

“So has Elizabeth Wright.”

“Is that my partner’s name? I know I shall like her. I always do like
Elizabeths. I’m awfully funny about names. Some names I simply can’t
stand. Persons who have those names have to prove themselves to be
worthy before I accept them, while the ones who have the names I like
have a hard time proving themselves unworthy. I try to have an open
mind where names are concerned, realizing that it is no fault of the
namee but of the parents.”

“Did I have to prove myself worthy before you accepted me?” asked Mary
Louise, amused as usual by her friend’s whimsical way of looking at
things.

“Not at all! Your name was one of my strongest reasons for coming to
your rescue, hiring myself to Mrs. Conant as a servant so that I might
guard your interests and prove your grandfather’s innocence. I felt in
my heart that the grandfather of a Mary Louise must be good.”

“Well, your instincts were right that time. I believe really and truly
that Grandpa Jim is the best man in the world.”

“Now that my father is gone, I think maybe he is,” said Josie earnestly.

The girls were silent for a while as they sped through the streets of
Dorfield. Finally, Mary Louise spoke:

“What are your ideas for an occupation?”

“Of course, my work in life is unraveling mysteries and I mean to be
as clever a detective as my father’s daughter should be, but I have an
idea that the best way to succeed is to keep it dark. Now this is my
plan: I want to have a shop of some sort where all kinds of persons
will come, where I can get in touch with all conditions of folk and
they will think I am just the shopkeeper and have no idea of my real
calling.”

“Oh, Josie, you are so clever!”

“Not a bit of it! Don’t begin flattering me or I’ll approach my work
in the wrong spirit. Father always said one must have a humble and
contrite heart or the fine points would slip by.”

“What kind of shop were you contemplating?”

“Something quite different from any shop Dorfield now boasts. But you
tell me what this Elizabeth was thinking of so she can get the credit
if she deserves it. We may have had the same plans in mind. Ideas seem
to be in the air like flocks of birds and the same ones or ones of the
same family light on several persons at the same time.”

“Elizabeth wants a literary work-shop, where one could get manuscript
typed and corrected. She thought she might combine a clipping bureau
with it and even write articles for persons who had not the brains to
do their own work. She says she could do obituaries and valedictories
and club papers for aspiring females, also speeches for politicians.
Elizabeth is very clever but comes of the stuffiest, most conservative
family. The mother is one of those women who are work crazy but never
want their daughters to raise their hands and the father is living
about fifty years too late. Mrs. Wright would have been a wonder
if she had had the outlook to go into business instead of wasting
all her energies on cleaning and cooking and getting husbands for
her daughters. Elizabeth is dead tired of being what she calls ‘an
unproductive consumer.’ The taste she had of being at work and drawing
a salary during the war has ruined her as far as taking her place in
the family of daughters, all of them striving towards the matrimonial
goal. Elizabeth is determined to break the bonds.”

“Bully for Elizabeth! She sounds fine to me. I like the idea of the
literary work-shop and clipping bureau. Does she know short-hand as
well as typewriting?”

“I believe she knows it but has no speed, having just picked it up by
herself.”

“Better and better! She is the kind that picks things up by herself.
When can I see my partner?”

“She will come to see you this morning. Elizabeth always wants to get
what she is interested in going immediately. She is like her mother in
some ways but a much more comfortable person to be with.”

They found Elizabeth Wright awaiting them when they arrived at Colonel
Hathaway’s residence.

“Please excuse me if I have come too soon, but I couldn’t wait,” she
cried as she came forward to embrace Mary Louise and shake hands with
her future partner.

“You couldn’t come too soon for me, but Josie may be tired after her
long trip,” suggested Mary Louise.

“Not at all! I never let a trip tire me. My father used to say that it
was nonsense for persons to get tired on a trip. ‘Just let the engine
do the work and sit back and read and think and mix with your fellow
passengers and you won’t get tired. The persons who let a journey make
them tired are usually the ones who feel somehow that they must help
pull the cars.’”

Elizabeth laughed. Already she was liking this funny little friend of
Mary Louise. What an amusing looking person she was! Her features were
not plain, although certainly not beautiful. Her hair was decidedly
red, her face freckled but with a healthy color which kept the freckles
from being too apparent. Her eyes were her best points, although at
times she could make those eyes as stolid and dim as a half-wit’s. Her
teeth were excellent, but as she usually laughed with her eyes one
seldom saw her teeth. Elizabeth thought her face was interesting.

Josie O’Gorman was older than Mary Louise and her other friends, but
there was something very youthful about her little figure and as
she always dressed in misses’ sizes and cuts she could easily have
passed for seventeen, although she was at least twenty-two. She said
she bought juvenile clothes because they fitted her small figure and
because they were especially designed for boarding school girls who
were late for breakfast and had no time to fool with hooks and eyes.
Her favorite style of dress was a one-piece affair that slipped over
her head like a middy blouse. It hung in straight pleats from yoke to
hem, confined loosely at the waist by a low hanging leather belt.
Her headgear was always a straight brimmed sailor and her shoes of a
broad-toed, low-heeled, sensible style. In the winter she wore blue
serge in the morning, white serge in the evening and heavy white rajah
silk for dress-up. In the summer, it was blue linen in the morning,
white linen in the evening and linen lawn or crepe de chine for
dress-up. Josie always looked fresh and well dressed, if not in the
latest fashion, and she had to take no thought whatsoever concerning
her apparel, not even as much as a man, since she had no collar
button with which to contend and no stiff collars to be frayed out by
heartless laundries. She could carry everything she possessed in a
small wardrobe trunk with its convenient compartments for different
garments. She always kept her clothes in her trunk whether she was at
home or on a visit and a neat handbag ready packed with a change of
linen and toilet articles in case of a sudden journey being sprung upon
her. That was the result of her father’s training.

Detective O’Gorman used to say: “If we are to track criminals we must
be as ready as criminals and I am sure no thief or murderer worthy of
the name would have to stop and pack a grip to go on an enforced trip
whether he knew he was hounded or not.”

Josie desired above all things to be as much like her father as a
young girl could be like a middle-aged man and she was bidding fair to
succeed.

She constantly quoted her father, who had been full of wise saws.
Sometimes Josie gave him credit for sayings that were well known to
have belonged either to Solomon or Good Richard, but the devoted
daughter was sure they had originated with Detective O’Gorman and those
other two less brilliant gentlemen had plagiarized his wisdom.

“Now tell us, Josie, what are your plans for a shop?” suggested Mary
Louise after Elizabeth and Josie had finished sizing each other up. “I
have told Josie what you are contemplating, Elizabeth.”

“My idea is a kind of higgledy-piggledy place, a place where one can
get anything under heaven that is needed, because, if we happen not to
be carrying it in stock, we will take orders for it if there is time
to wait for an order or we will go out and shop for it if the thing
can be bought in Dorfield. We will bargain to furnish anything from
strawberries in January to information concerning the identity of the
doorkeeper in Congress who dropped dead when news came of Cornwallis’
surrender. I know of a shop called ‘The Serendipity Shop.’ That,
I believe, is the name Leigh Hunt gave to a place where one could
go in and find out anything. But that has too erudite and obscure
a meaning for us, who mean to be quite plain and simple. I think
Higgledy-Piggledy Shop would be a grand name for us. Don’t you?”

“Splendid!” was the verdict of both her listeners.

“I have perhaps the most complete collection of encyclopedias and
dictionaries outside of the Congressional Library. Father was daffy
about exact information and had systematically collected all books that
professed to contain such information from ‘Inquire Within, 3,700 Facts
for the People,’ to the latest and most down-to-date dictionary of war
slang. These books will be invaluable.”

“Will you let our customers--clients--patients--whatever we will call
them, have access to these books?” asked Elizabeth.

“Not on your life! No more than doctors let us read their books for
fear we might cure ourselves and they would be minus fees.”



CHAPTER V

THE WRIGHT FAMILY


The Wright family was up in arms over Elizabeth’s decision “to go into
trade.” That was the way they expressed the fact that their daughter
and sister was going to open up the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop with the
unstylish girl from Washington.

“What will people say?” questioned Gertrude.

“I haven’t a doubt it will simply ruin her chances for ever having a
proposal,” said Annabel. “Elizabeth is pretty enough, but she is so
peculiar. Men don’t like peculiar girls.”

“She is so selfish to be doing such a silly thing,” complained Pauline.
“I just know people will get mixed and think Margaret and I are the
ones.”

“Well, it is too bad,” put in Mrs. Wright, as she bustled in. “I am
sure I have done my best to make all of you girls have a good time and,
now the war is over, I hoped Elizabeth would be contented to make
her debut in society. Of course, I could put my foot down and say she
shouldn’t, but I hate to take issue with her--”

“Yes, and if you do she will simply go off and live with that funny
little Miss O’Gorman, who never had a beau in her life, I could wager
anything. What does Father say?” yawned Margaret, who was busily
engaged in putting an extra polish on her already highly glazed finger
nails.

“Say about what?” asked Mr. Wright as he entered the room, his arms
laden with pamphlets with which he was planning to spend a happy
morning.

“Say about Elizabeth’s crazy plan to open up a foolish shop,” explained
Margaret.

“Well, it seems strange to me that one of my blood should engage in
mercantile pursuits. There has never been a member of the family that I
know of, in trade. What is the nature of her undertaking?”

Mr. Wright always used the longest words he could think of. The strange
thing was he did not often seem to have to think of them but had them
on his tongue’s end.

“As far as we can make out they are going to sell everything from pins
to pianos,” said Gertrude.

“She will have to stop when the warm weather sets in, because I have
taken the lake cottage for two months, July and August, and expect to
close up the house in town,” declared Mrs. Wright briskly.

“Why don’t you get it a month earlier and force Elizabeth to come in
June?” suggested Pauline.

“Good idea! I could get it quite cheaply for June, they may even let me
have it for almost nothing, as June is an off month for the lake and it
is better for property to have a tenant than not, especially where one
takes such good care of a place as I am sure I try to do. I shall have
to ask you girls to go in the parlor or dining room this morning, I am
going to have this room thoroughly cleaned. The books must be dusted
and the walls wiped down. The windows were washed last week, but it
would not hurt them to be washed again. I may have the rug beaten too.”

“Oh, Mother, for pity’s sake, the library is clean enough!” complained
Annabel. “Why don’t you let us stay put?”

“Not at all! I work my fingers to the bone trying to make a comfortable
home for your father and you girls and all I ask of you is to move to
another room.”

Mr. Wright had settled himself on the sofa with his catalogues and was
loath to move, but move he must, as a sullen colored maid came in with
broom and rags and ladder and pail.

“I ain’t never wucked fur no lady possessed with sech a clean devil
befo’,” she grumbled as she began to dismantle the room. “Th’ ain’t
no wonder th’ ain’t no nap lef on this here cyarpet. It done had all
the nap breshed off’n it. It’s a wonder the winders don’t come inter
holes with all the washin’ they gits. Yo’ maw don’t let the dus’ git
laid befo’ she’s a stirrin’ it up again,” she said to the girls as they
reluctantly trailed from the room.

The abused creatures had hardly settled themselves in the parlor when
Mrs. Wright called from upstairs:

“Girls, come on up here! Miss Pinkie and I are ready to try on those
shirt waists. All of you come, as we are ready for all of you.”

Miss Pinkie was the sewing woman engaged spring and fall for a month at
the time to get the family in order. Mrs. Wright sewed with her and
occasionally one of the daughters condescended to make buttonholes or
put a little finishing handwork on the garments. Miss Pinkie was a good
sempstress but undervalued her acquirements so that she was willing to
work for very little money. Mrs. Wright with her usual efficiency did
all the cutting and fitting, although Miss Pinkie was quite capable of
doing it herself.

“Heavens! Mother won’t let us sit still a minute,” complained Pauline.

“Sometimes I think Elizabeth shows her sense to get out of it all,”
whispered Margaret to Gertrude, but Gertrude looked so shocked at her
younger sister that Margaret declared she was just fooling. It did not
seem very hard lines to have to go upstairs and stand to have shirt
waists fitted on one, but the idle Wright girls felt it to be. How much
happier they would have been if their mother had seen fit to have them
make their own clothes, but that lady thought she was doing everything
in her power to make her children contented in working for them from
morning until night. It was much easier to sew for them than to teach
them how to sew.

“I need more buttons,” said Mrs. Wright briskly as the daughters
entered the sewing room. “Are you going out this morning, any of you
girls?”

“We had not planned to go. We aren’t dressed for the street,” drawled
Gertrude. “We were up late last night at the dance.”

“Well, never mind, then! I can get them myself. I am afraid you would
not get the right size anyhow,” was the mother’s cheerful acceptance of
her daughter’s selfishness. “It won’t take me a minute to get dressed
and I can market for to-morrow while I am down town. I think I’ll step
in and see how that foolish Elizabeth is getting on while I am near the
building.” Her curiosity was as strong as her disapproval.

“Oh, let’s all of us go!” exclaimed Pauline. And so the four who
were too weary to change their dresses to go buy buttons went gayly
off to prepare themselves to visit their foolish sister in what they
considered her degrading stronghold.

“I’ll see the agent and engage the cottage at the lake for June, while
I am down town,” said Mrs. Wright as she bustled into her street
clothes after having fitted the shirt waists and given Miss Pinkie
minute directions as to how to sew them up.

Mrs. Wright and her daughters made a handsome group as together they
walked down the street. The mother had been a very pretty girl and
still was a good looking woman, although she had no time to give to her
own appearance. She spent all the money and time that could be spared
on beautifying her daughters. Her object in life was to marry them well
and it was said by the knowing ones of Dorfield that she kept a list
of the eligible young men of the town and carefully cultivated them in
degree according to their eligibility.

“Who was that young man who bowed to you just now?” she asked Pauline
sharply. “I never saw him before.”

“He’s a friend of Danny Dexter’s. I met him last night at the dance.
He’s on a newspaper, I believe.”

“What newspaper?”

“The Recorder. He dances divinely.”

“You did not tell me his name.”

“I don’t know it.”

“Weren’t you introduced?” she asked, shocked.

“Oh, yes, but I didn’t catch his name. It was kind of Frenchified in
sound.”

“Well you had better find out. He looks quite nice. We might ask him to
call and then have him down to the lake for a week end. We must not go
to the lake before Mary Louise Burrows’s wedding. I would not have you
girls miss it.”

“I don’t believe for an instant she intends to ask any of us but
Elizabeth, who has to be asked as she is bridesmaid,” said Gertrude.

“Not ask you! Absurd! You can just leave that to me. Of course, I
know she is supposed to have only her intimate friends and all that,
but Danny Dexter knows every man in Dorfield and they are sure to be
there.” Quite cheerfully the Wright girls were willing to leave it to
her, for they felt sure it would come out all right with such a major
general maneuvering for them.

The buttons were bought; the next day’s marketing done; the real
estate agent interviewed and the cottage at the lake engaged for June
at a bargain; and then the cavalcade started for the old building
where Josie and Elizabeth had rented a room which they were rapidly
converting into a Higgledy-Piggledy Shop.

“It all seems so vulgar,” commented Pauline, as with raised skirts she
tripped up the far from clean stairs.

“Not even an elevator,” from Gertrude.

“I’d like to come down here and scrub this place!” exclaimed Mrs.
Wright.

“Well, for Heaven’s sake don’t!” cried Annabel. “It is bad enough to
have one’s sister keeping a shop without having one’s mother scrubbing
one.”

They all of them laughed at Annabel’s rueful countenance and, without
knocking, opened the door and walked into the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop.



CHAPTER VI

THE HIGGLEDY-PIGGLEDY SHOP


It was well named! If higgledy-piggledy meant topsy-turvy I am sure
there was no place on the globe so suited to that name. Our young
would-be shopkeepers were busily engaged trying to get order out of
chaos when the Wright family came bursting in on them.

“Heavens, what a mess!” cried Gertrude.

“Yes, but we are not ready for callers,” said Elizabeth rudely. It was
a great irritation to her that her family should have turned up at that
particular moment. Why couldn’t they let her alone? After everything
should be in order, she hoped they would come to see how clever their
arrangements were, but just now it was too much to have them come
poking in her place of business.

“We are very glad to have callers at any time,” declared Josie, who had
been literally standing on her head in a packing box from which she
had been unearthing the last of the encyclopedias. The astute Josie
had no idea of going into business with the ill will of anyone it was
possible to avoid. She well understood how the Wrights looked upon this
seemingly mad venture of Elizabeth’s and she was anxious to do all she
could to make things easier for her youthful partner.

“Our things have just come and we are trying to get them placed.
Wouldn’t you like me to show you how nicely we are to be fixed up?” she
asked Mrs. Wright, in whose energetic countenance she saw some hope of
interest.

“Why, yes, I should,” answered that lady, looking at Josie earnestly.
She rather liked what she saw in Josie O’Gorman’s countenance and
certainly she could not help being interested in the girls’ plans.

They had rented a long narrow room that covered the entire second
floor of the shabby old building which was squeezed in between two
sky-scrapers so tightly that it seemed to be gasping for breath. It had
been spared destruction and improvement because of some hitch in the
title and nobody had been willing to put money in a piece of property
with an unfortunate name for getting its owner into trouble. The
consequence was that tenants were difficult to obtain and impossible
to hold. Even real estate agents did not like to handle it. It was
now in the hands of Mr. Markle and it was from him that Josie and
Elizabeth had rented it. On the ground floor was a cleaning and dyeing
establishment and the third floor was cut up into several rooms in
which various small industries were carried on.

“It isn’t exactly what we wanted, but it was cheap and we can make it
attractive, I believe,” Josie explained. “Thank goodness it has a fire
place, not that that makes much difference right now but when next
winter comes we will be glad of its cheeriness. We are planning to
branch out in so many directions and this huge room will give us plenty
of space in which to expand. In front we are to have our reception room
and shop where we will display our wares. In the back I am to live and
have kitchen, bedroom and bath. The middle part is to be our store
room.”

“Are you to draw chalk marks to show which is which?” asked Mr. Wright,
who was becoming more and more interested in her eager little hostess.

“I am to have partitions made in the back, not to go all the way to
the ceiling but just high enough to give me some privacy, and we are
to have a huge portiere to divide the front shop from the store room
and a smaller one cutting off our information bureau. The carpenters
are going to work to-day on our partitions and the plumbers also are
to install our bath tub, kitchen sink, gas stove, etc. My furniture is
here and I intend to set up housekeeping immediately.”

“Not in all this confusion?”

“But all this confusion will be worse confounded in a few hours. Mary
Louise is coming in a few minutes and is bringing her own housemaid to
help clean up and Danny Dexter is coming later in the afternoon with
some of his friends to help.”

Mrs. Wright began to feel sorry that she had not put off their visit
until afternoon. Her ruling passion of having her daughters receive
attention from young men was uppermost. She had not thought of this
absurd shop as a place where desirable young men might come. At any
rate, she intended to wait until Mary Louise should arrive and set the
matter at rest in regard to all of her daughters being invited to the
wedding.

While Mrs. Wright’s ruling passion was the desire to have her daughters
popular and married, another passion was almost as strong in her bosom
and that was, cleaning up. What a field here presented itself! She
was sure she could take hold of the disorder and get things cleaned
and into place much better than could Mary Louise’s maid. This Josie
O’Gorman might be able to scrub and clean, but she was pretty sure her
daughter Elizabeth could not; at least she had never seen her do more
than dust the parlor at home.

“Here, child, give me that hammer! You don’t know how to open a box,”
she said to Elizabeth, who was drawing nails from the top of a huge box
of books.

“But I can,” insisted Elizabeth; “at least I can learn.”

“Pooh! Just let me do it.” She grasped the hammer, but Elizabeth
refused to release her hold.

“I am going to open the box,” she announced firmly and proceeded to
carry out the statement in spite of her mother’s protests.

Amazement was depicted on the countenance of Mrs. Wright. Mary Louise
arrived just then, followed by a maid carrying a great basket of
provisions.

“Luncheon!” said Mary Louise. “The carpenters and plumbers are to have
lunch with us.”

“What fun!” exclaimed Josie and Elizabeth.

“I am sorry I can’t ask all of you to join us,” said Mary Louise,
graciously taking in Mrs. Wright and the four daughters in her polite
smile, “but I did not count noses, or rather mouths, for so many, and
carpenters and plumbers do eat so much.”

“I think Elizabeth had better come on home with me,” said her mother a
little stiffly. She did not want to do anything to anger Mary Louise,
but she did think she was coming it a little strong to be asking one of
her daughters to sit down and eat with the carpenters and plumbers. No
doubt they were very worthy persons but hardly fit associates for such
aristocrats as the Wrights.

“Indeed I am not coming home,” spoke up Elizabeth quickly. “I have a
great deal to do this afternoon and you people at home might as well
get used to the idea that I am going to be away from home every day and
all day.”

“By the way, my dear,” said her mother suavely, “I have rented the
lake cottage for June, July and August, so you shall have to forego the
pleasures of shop keeping for those months at least, as we are to shut
the town house.”

“Oh, I’ll just stay with Josie then,” said Elizabeth. “I have no idea
of giving up my business every summer.”

Mrs. Wright looked shocked. This was a new thing for a member of her
family not to be accepting the arrangements she made for them. She
would have to take this refractory Elizabeth in hand. In the meantime,
she decided not to let her daughter remain to lunch with carpenters and
plumbers unchaperoned. Besides, she did so want to get her finger in
the pie of straightening up the debris incident to unpacking. She was
sure Mary Louise’s maid knew nothing at all about how to go to work to
get the place cleaned up.

“Gertrude, you and Annabel and Margaret and Pauline can go on home. I
am going to stay and help these girls get this place in order. I can
get it done in no time and then I’ll bring Elizabeth home with me.”

She began by taking off her hat and jacket and tying around her ample
waist an old curtain that had been used in packing some of Josie’s
treasures.

Elizabeth was aghast for a moment. It looked as though her mother
could not even let her run the little shop without her assistance.
Where would be her highly prized independence if Mrs. Wright was to
superintend everything and even do the cleaning? Why couldn’t she let
her alone? She looked appealingly at her sisters, who were reluctantly
taking their departure. She caught Margaret’s eye. Margaret was the
sister who was a little like Elizabeth in that she occasionally
rebelled, at least in spirit, against the state of inertia in which
the very managing mother held her entire family. Margaret was quick of
tongue too and not in the least in awe of her efficient parent.

“Now, Mother!” she cried, coming to Elizabeth’s assistance. “I should
think you could see with half an eye that you are not in the least
needed here. For pity’s sake, let Elizabeth have half a chance and stop
butting in.”

“What do you mean?” asked Mrs. Wright severely.

“I mean the girls were getting on perfectly well here without your
assistance and you have a sempstress at home and the library was in a
sad state when we left and company is coming to supper--and---”

“Heavens! I forgot all about that! But this seems more important. I--”

“Oh, come along, Mother!” insisted Margaret.

Mary Louise and Josie had retired to the back of the long room. They
were intensely sorry for Elizabeth, but felt that it was something they
could not very well interfere with. If her mother chose to come down to
the shop to make a nuisance of herself, it could not be helped. After
all she was Elizabeth’s mother and must be treated with respect. It
was with a feeling of intense relief that they saw her untie the old
curtain and don her hat and coat.

“I cannot stay to-day,” she said as the two girls came towards her. “I
am extremely sorry, as I am sure I could have straightened you out in
short order. You will never manage to get all of this trash cleared
away, I am sure, unless you, Miss O’Gorman, are much more capable than
Elizabeth.”

“I am not a bit more, but I am sure we can do it,” declared Josie with
a twinkle in her eye.

“I am much interested in your wedding,” went on Mrs. Wright, riveting
her attention on Mary Louise. “In fact I am going to put off our going
to the lake for a few days so that we will be able to attend. I am
deeply disappointed not to be making Elizabeth’s bridesmaid’s dress
myself, but since it was decided Mrs. Barlow was to make them all, of
course, I had to give way to her. At least, I can have the satisfaction
of making dresses for my other girls.”

“Oh--yes--of course!” Mary Louise managed to say. “I’ll be so glad to
have you stay over.”

With a triumphant swoop Mrs. Wright gathered together her four
daughters and ushered them out of the shop and down the dusty stairs.
She was so delighted that her superior management had drawn from Mary
Louise an invitation for her entire family to the highly desirable
wedding reception that she forgot all about making a point about taking
Elizabeth home for luncheon.

“I hate to leave her,” she said, after Pauline reminded her of her
remissness, “but one can’t manage everything at once.”

“No?” questioned Margaret with a rising inflection that might have been
taken for impertinence by her mother had she not been taken up with
gazing at an automobile full of young men stopping in front of the
ramshackle building where the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop was coming into
being.

“How do you do, Mr. Dexter?” she said graciously, as the young man who
was driving the car raised his hat.

“I believe my soul they are going up to the shop,” she said with some
irritation to her daughters. “And what are those things they are
carrying? Why, it is plumbing! There is a bath tub and pipes right in
the car with them. And look! The car behind them, also full of young
men, is bringing a gas stove.”

“And there is Billy McGraw driving a lumber wagon!” exclaimed Gertrude.

Billy McGraw was known as the richest young man in Dorfield, the
richest and the best dressed, and to see him in khaki trousers,
evidently left over from his recent army experience, and olive drab
sweater on top of a load of lumber was too much for the curiosity of
the Wrights.

“What can it mean?” wondered Annabel.

“It means that those are the carpenters and plumbers who are to lunch
at the shop,” laughed Margaret. “Now aren’t you glad you didn’t drag
Elizabeth away by the hairs of her head?”

“Well, well!” was all Mrs. Wright could answer, but when she got
her breath after the surprise of finding out who the carpenters and
plumbers were, she began with her usual ease to congratulate herself on
her superior management.

“Sometimes we are wise just to leave things in the hands of
Providence,” she said.

“Yes, but I am afraid Provy would never have wormed out of Mary Louise
an invitation to her wedding for the entire Wright family,” said
Margaret, pertly. “Some things we must attend to ourselves.”



CHAPTER VII

THE CAPTAIN OF HER SOUL


What a gay luncheon was that given in honor of the carpenters and
plumbers! The huge hamper produced such a variety of goodies and the
quantity was quite up to the quality, so that Josie, while she was
thankful that Mary Louise had not invited the Wrights to remain,
nevertheless wondered at her statement that there was not food enough
for the extra mouths. There seemed to be food enough for a whole
regiment, but when she saw how Danny and his friends attacked the
provisions, she realized that Mary Louise had not been guilty of the
polite fabrication which she feared.

Empty packing boxes were turned over and covered with white crepe
tablecloths and the table set with paper plates and drinking cups
and Japanese napkins. Piles of sandwiches, dishes of salad and cold
meats, pickles and olives were placed thereon and the center decoration
consisted of a great Lady Baltimore cake.

“It’s the birthday cake for the Higgledy-Piggledy,” explained Mary
Louise, sticking in the center a pink candle.

“But it’s not a year old yet,” objected Billy McGraw. “It’s just born,
I should say.”

“But this is a Japanese spread, you see,” laughed Mary Louise, “with
Japanese napkins and tablecloths, Japanese crab salad, and so forth,
and you know the Japs count their kids’ birthdays from the time they
are born and a new born Japanese baby is one year old.”

“I sit corrected,” said Billy. “When do we eat?”

“Isn’t he the limit?” asked James Drake, another one of Danny’s chums
who had fought with him in the Dorfield regiment. “I have never seen
the likes of Billy for feeding his face.”

“Some faces are meant to be fed,” suggested Bob Dulaney, the young
newspaper man who had made such an impression on Margaret Wright the
evening before at the dance. “Billy’s face is that kind of face, one
crying out to be fed. I was sure relieved when the armistice was signed
before Billy got a chance to catch a bomb in that mouth of his.”

Billy grinned delightedly at this sally. His mouth was large, but it
was saved from ugliness by thirty-two perfect teeth.

“What’s the use of my coming safe out of the trenches if you shoot off
your gab and hit me in my fatal spot, you old ink pot?”

Bob Dulaney was, like Danny Dexter, not a native of Dorfield, but
he had fought with that regiment during the war and after peace was
declared had drifted to the spot where so many of his friends lived
and, having obtained a position on the Recorder, had decided to settle
in the pleasant old town. He was a delightful young man, full of wit
and humor and quite as popular with the regiment as Danny himself.
He had joined Danny in his undertaking of doing the carpentering and
plumbing for the girls, although he was well known to have absolutely
no mechanical skill.

“The only nail Bob ever hits on the head is a verbal one,” Danny
explained, “but he hits them all right. He has come along to help lift
and carry, not that he is much on that, unless it is an argument which
is to be carried on.”

“He is some lifter too,” suggested Tim Turner, one of the other young
men.

“Right you are!” laughed James Drake. “Remember the old cock he lifted
off the roost that night on the outskirts of Nancy?”

“Remember it! I’ll never forget it, and how he went back for the ding
dong,” said Tim.

“What’s a ding dong?” asked Josie, innocently.

“That’s Tim’s French for turkey,” cried Billy. “He means dindon.”

“Oh,” blushed Josie, “excuse me!”

“Not at all,” said Tim, blushing in his turn.

“You mean you won’t excuse her?” teased Billy.

“I mean--I mean--Oh you dry up!”

“But when are we to eat?” persisted Billy.

“Laura Hilton and Lucile Neal were coming in to help us,” said Mary
Louise. “They will be along in a minute. It is really not quite time.
I’m sorry you are so hungry.”

“Sorry! I’m glad, terribly glad--in fact, I’m thanking God for the room
that is in me,” declared Bob Dulaney. “But let’s wait for the young
ladies if it takes all day.”

“I do wish Irene could have come,” sighed Mary Louise. “I hated to
drive off without her. She looked so sweet and patient sitting there
in her chair and waving to me as cheerfully as though she expected to
be one of the party. I left her in our garden where she loves to wheel
her chair.”

“Who is Irene?” asked Bob Dulaney.

“Oh, Irene MacFarlane is my very best friend,” explained Mary Louise.
“She is lame and has to spend all her waking hours in a wheel chair.
She gets around remarkably well, but can’t go anywhere unless there
is an elevator, as stairs are too much for her. I do wish Josie and
Elizabeth could have found a place on the ground floor, just for
Irene’s sake.”

“I wish we could have,” said Josie, “especially as Irene is almost a
member of our firm. She is to take charge of our needlework department,
but we shall have to carry everything to her.”

“If you only had an elevator,” sighed Mary Louise wistfully, the
picture of her poor friend still in her mind, sitting so patiently in
her chair, her fair smooth brow expressing peace and contentment when
she must have felt some chagrin at Fate that she could not join the
merry crowd at the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop.

“I forgot something important!” exclaimed Danny suddenly. “Can you put
off luncheon just about ten minutes?”

“Why, of course, if you must go,” said Mary Louise. “Laura and Lucile
will be here in two minutes,” consulting her tiny wrist watch. “Lucile
inherits too much efficiency from her father ever to be a minute late.”

“Just a minute, sweetheart,” Danny whispered. “I’ll be back before you
know I’m gone.”

“I doubt that,” smiled Mary Louise with a meaning understood by the
happy Danny.

“Come on, Bob! You are the person who has to help lift. You come with
me, please.”

“More bath tubs or another gas stove?” asked Bob as he raced down the
steps after Danny. The two young men jumped into the car and were off
and around the corner on two wheels before an excited cop had time to
read their fast disappearing number.

“My Mary Louise wants something and I’m going to get it for her.”

“I heard her say she wanted an elevator. Is that what you are going to
get?”

“Yes! When I can manage it, but that shall have to wait awhile until I
can make my plans. Now I’m going to get Irene and you and I are going
to carry her upstairs. She doesn’t weigh much.”

“Fine! I reckon we could manage her between us even though she weighed
five hundred. How did you happen to think of it?”

“Well, you see I feel so terribly unworthy of Mary Louise that I made
up my mind that the only way I could make up in the least little teensy
weensy bit to her for what she is and what she has done and is going to
do for me in marrying me is never to let her express a single desire
without trying to gratify it.”

“Mighty noble of you, old fellow, but mightn’t you spoil her if you
persist in such a policy?”

“Spoil my Mary Louise! Why, man, she is pure gold. You could not spoil
her if you tried. It would have been done long ago by her grandfather
and her friends if it could have been done. She never wants anything
for herself. It is always for others.”

“Well, I am glad to be doing something for Miss Burrows, but I am
pretty glad if we can help give the poor lame girl a lift too.”

When Irene saw Mary Louise drive off in her car with Dilsy, the
housemaid, sitting on the back seat holding the huge hamper of lunch
on her knees, it had taken all of her self-control not to show how,
for the moment, the realization of her lameness, her handicap, was
almost more than she could bear. She was able to keep an unruffled brow
and to smile bravely, waving her handkerchief until the car was out of
sight. Then she bowed her head and, in spite of her determination not
to give way, she wept a few bitter tears.

She said to herself:

“Irene MacFarlane, I am ashamed of you. The idea of your being such a
baby. I know you are missing lots of fun, about the best kind of fun. I
know you do miss a lot of things, but stop whining and think of all the
wonderful things that do come to you. Think of the joy of having such
a friend as Mary Louise. Think of the good health you have in spite of
your lameness. Think of all the books you can read. Think of the pupils
you get in music. Think of the new Victrola Mary Louise’s Grandpa Jim
gave you. Think of all the wonderful records you own and all you are
to own in future. Think of the mockingbird singing now in the hedge.
Think of Uncle Peter and Aunt Hannah and how they love you. Powder your
nose this minute so they won’t know you have been making a baby of
yourself!”

She produced from her work bag a tiny vanity case and carefully
powdered her exceedingly well formed nose, looking critically at
herself the while.

“You are not a bad looking person, Irene MacFarlane, but if you turn
crybaby you’ll be hideous. Hold up your head and behave yourself if you
have a spark of sense.” She laughed and held up her head and then in a
low tone recited Henley’s Invictus.

  “It matters not how strait the gate,
     How charged with punishment the scroll,
   I am the master of my fate:
     I am the captain of my soul.”

She had begun in a whisper, but as the poem clutched her heart strings,
as that particular poem always did, she spoke aloud. Her voice was
singularly clear and musical. She had not noticed a car stopping at the
entrance to Colonel Hathaway’s nor did she realize that two young men
were walking towards her across the close cut grass.

Danny and Bob took off their hats and stood with heads bowed while the
girl finished her impassioned recitation of that gallant hearted poem.

“I felt kind of like I was in church,” Danny said to Mary Louise
afterwards when telling her of the occurrence.

“And so you were,” she had replied. “Somehow the Divine which is within
all of us is more apparent to the naked eye in Irene than in any one
else I know. And where God is, there is his Church.”

When Irene looked around and saw the two young men, she was devoutly
glad she had powdered her nose. Irene did have much of the Divine
within her but she also had enough of the feminine to wish to appear at
her best when good looking young men suddenly came upon her.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “How do you do, Danny?”

“I do finely except that I am starving and I can’t eat until you
consent to come eat with us. This is my friend Mr. Dulaney, Bob for
short. And, Bob, this is our best friend, Miss MacFarlane, Irene for
all times.”

“How do you do, Bob for Short?”

“And how do you do, Irene for all Time?”

He took the lame girl’s hand in his and looked earnestly in her eyes.
The skillful use of the vanity case did not deceive him. He saw in her
eyes that she had been suffering, and that not many minutes before.
Powdering her nose had not thrown dust in his eyes if it did fool
Danny. He saw and understood. The calm peace of her brow he felt was
but a camouflage worked by an indomitable will to conceal the anguish
of soul the poor girl must often have suffered. His gaze was so kind
that Irene felt she had made a new friend.

“Will you go?” asked Danny. “Lunch in the shop awaits us.”

“But I can’t get up stairs,” faltered Irene. “You see, there is no
elevator.”

“Yes there is--a human elevator like this,” and grasping wrists the
young men formed what children call a basket and stooped invitingly in
front of Irene’s chair. “Mary Louise is sad without you and you know we
can’t let Mary Louise be sad.”

“So are we all, at least so am I, now that I have seen Irene for all
Time. Put on your hat and come on, please do,” Bob entreated.

“But I am too heavy.”

“Heavy! Why we have carried in a porcelain bath tub and a gas range. I
am no good except to carry on,” insisted Bob. “Must I tell anyone you
are gone?”

“No, I live right next door, but Aunt Hannah is out and she will know I
am with Mary Louise if I’m not at home.”

“Here is your hat, so tie it on,” he said, taking a pretty garden hat
from the back of Irene’s chair. “What a nice hat! I certainly do like
hats that have some raison d’etre. Now this hat really shades and still
one can see under it,” he laughed, peeping under the brim and, without
any by your leave, he stooped and picked Irene up in his strong arms
and started for the car.

“We don’t need a basket just now, I can tackle this burden alone.
Danny, you can climb in and get up steam.” Tenderly he deposited Irene
on the back seat and got in beside her and away they speeded for the
postponed luncheon.

“I think it is great for you to pick up and come without even having to
fluff up your hair or change your dress,” Bob said, looking admiringly
at the neat little lawn frock worn by his companion.

The first thing one noted about Irene MacFarlane was her exquisite
neatness and freshness. Her hair was soft and abundant and the glossy
coils gave evidence of much brushing. Her complexion was clear and,
while not rosy, still there was a soft glow of health in the oval
of her cheeks. No longer was the lame girl delicate but, under the
watchful care of Aunt Hannah and Mary Louise, she had thrown off the
fragility of her early girlhood and now could boast of almost perfect
health. Of course, her form of exercise was restricted, but what
gymnastics she could do she did religiously. The consequence was in
those slender arms and well formed shoulders there was a great deal
of strength and under the artistic tapering of her fingers there was
concealed a grip of steel. The lines of her figure were good. Nature
had meant her for a “perfect woman, nobly planned,” but the disease
which had attacked her in infancy had withered and enfeebled the lower
limbs.

Irene’s clothes were of extreme simplicity but her skill with a needle
was manifest in the well fitting frocks which she pressed herself with
the help of a lap-board and an electric iron. There was never a wrinkle
in Irene MacFarlane’s dress, but nobody ever saw her fussing over
her clothes. When she arose in the morning, she dressed for the day.
Mary Louise used to say her friend reminded her always of a narcissus
flower, not the hot-house kind but the ones that came up year after
year in Grandpa Jim’s old-fashioned flower beds.



CHAPTER VIII

THE ORCHID BROOCH


“Why don’t we begin on the eats?” demanded Billy McGraw. “I am starving
in the sight of plenty.”

“He is always that way,” said Tim Turner. “Ever since the time in the
trenches there has been no satisfying Billy. Bet anything the trenches
will be filled up and leveled over before Billy is filled up.”

“Well, I hope they will be leveled over before I am,” laughed Billy,
good-naturedly. “It’s so Miss Wright, I can even eat beans and stew,
two things at which most of the returned soldiers balk. Still no one
answers me--why do we wait?”

“We are waiting for Danny,” blushed Mary Louise. “He had to leave for a
few moments.”

“Tut, tut! Don’t begin by spoiling him.”

“But you couldn’t spoil Danny,” insisted his loyal little fiancée. “I
don’t know what he went out for, but I am sure he had some unselfish
reason.”

“You can’t spoil me either,” pleaded Billy.

“Any more than you can gild the lily or paint the rose. You are already
in a state of decomposition,” put in Tim.

“Somebody take pity on me and feed me! Danny may be gone a year or so.
He often goes away and doesn’t return. Even now he may be eating at a
restaurant--”

“Here, here’s a sandwich!” said Elizabeth Wright. “Here are two
sandwiches and a chicken leg.”

“Gee! You are a nice girl,” cried Billy. “About the nicest girl I know.
You’ll be even nicer if you sit over here by me while I get on the
outside of this ambrosia.”

He looked at Elizabeth Wright with a feeling of real interest. Up to
that moment he had only regarded her as one of the Wright sisters
with the managing mother of whom he lived in holy terror. Being an
exceedingly well off young man, he was on Mrs. Wright’s list with
triple stars as one of the most eligible possibilities in Dorfield. He
had felt that the Wright girls were quite as eager for his attentions
as their mother, but this Elizabeth seemed to be different from the
rest somehow. She did not seem to care whether he paid her attention
or not. To be sure, she fed him, but it was with the compassion she
might have shown a hungry dog, and when he asked her to sit down by him
on the window seat while he ate the purloined sandwiches and chicken
leg, she declined, saying she must help Josie unpack and had no time to
watch the animals feed.

“Cruel!” he murmured through a muffling tomato sandwich. He could not
help smiling to think how Mrs. Wright would have been shocked at a
daughter of hers refusing even such a simple invitation as watching a
desirable parti eat.

Billy McGraw had been in a fair way to become spoiled with all the
money he could spend. He was an only child, with a doting mother of
his own and all the managing mammas in Dorfield reaching out after him
for their daughters. But the war had come just in time to save him
not only from the managing mammas but from himself and the inevitable
spoiling that wealth and self-indulgence was sure to bring him. He had
enlisted as a private at the first call of his country and the training
he had received in the ranks was to prove of life-long benefit to him.
His was a lovable nature and it was hardly his fault that he had been
born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but it was much to his credit
that when the test came he was able to dispense with that same silver
spoon and could manage to stomach the army beans often without even
the formality of a fork. Now that the war was over he had returned
to Dorfield with more purpose in his life. He had realized it was up
to him to work in spite of his wealth and, having some mechanical
skill, he had applied to the Neal Automobile Factory for a job with
the determination of learning the business from the beginning. The
consequence was he was enjoying his short Saturday as much as any
workman in Dorfield. Lunch with a bunch of interesting girls would
fully repay him for the job of carpentering and plumbing that Danny
Dexter had mapped out for him for the afternoon.

“Here they are!” he shouted, peering down from the window, and in a
moment Danny and Bob arrived with Irene borne between them in their
improvised basket.

“Oh, Danny! You darling!” cried Mary Louise, rushing forward and
embracing Irene, who sat smiling like a queen on her throne. “Here,
sit here, Irene, in the seat of honor at the head of the packing box.”

“Wasn’t it lovely of them to come for me?”

“No lovelier than for you to come with us,” said Bob Dulaney in an
undertone.

Laura and Lucile had arrived exactly on time and immediately the
feast began. There was so much hilarity that the cleaning and dyeing
establishment below began to wonder what manner of industry was to be
conducted above them and some of the roomers on the third floor crept
down and peeped in the door to see what all the fun was about.

In the midst of the luncheon, Mrs. Markle came tripping up the steps.

“Oh, please excuse me, I had no idea of interrupting a party,” she
said. “I merely wanted to see Mary Louise for a moment and went by her
home and was sent here by her darling old colored butler.”

“Oh, but you are not interrupting, Hortense,” declared Mary Louise,
drawing her new friend into the room and introducing her to Josie and
some of the young men with whom she was not acquainted. She knew most
of the persons seated around the packing boxes.

“You must sit down and have some lunch,” said Josie hospitably. She
looked keenly at the new arrival and evidently what she saw pleased
her, as she smiled engagingly, making room for Hortense at her own
right hand.

Indeed it would have been a critical person who would not have conceded
that Hortense Markle was a delightful picture on that pleasant Saturday
in May. Her gown was, as usual, exquisite. It was mauve and of soft
material that clung to her shapely form. Her hat, a small toque, was
formed of orchids and her one ornament was a brooch of wonderful
workmanship. It was an orchid of rare beauty made of gold and enamel
with a large diamond shining like a dew drop from its centre.

She took her seat, remarking as she did so that, since she had run
in on them, she felt sure she would make less disturbance by sitting
down than by making all the male guests stand while she transacted her
business with Mary Louise.

“She is a lady of discrimination,” declared Billy McGraw to Elizabeth,
by whom he had found a seat. “I know you think I am insatiable, but
please take another sandwich and make out it is for yourself and then
slip it to me. It is working in the factory that makes me so hungry.
Sometimes I get empty enough to chew a rubber tire.”

“What a pretty woman!” said Bob Dulaney to Irene, by whose side he had
found a seat and to whom he had been talking steadily during the gay
luncheon.

“Yes, she is lovely,” said Irene, hoping devoutly her tone of voice was
not divulging the feeling of something akin to hate that she could not
help nursing for the dainty little newcomer, but, try her best, she
could not put into her answer the enthusiasm that she wished to. Bob
looked at his companion keenly.

“What’s up!” he asked himself. “Whatever it is, I’ll bet Irene for
all Time is in the right. She doesn’t like the pretty lady and I
wonder why.” But he said nothing to let Irene know he had fathomed her
feelings in the matter.

“Excuse me,” said Billy McGraw, whose eyes showed plainly the
admiration he felt for Mrs. Markle, “but do you know I think that’s the
most beautiful breast-pin I ever saw except one I saw like it once.”

“Oh, I didn’t know there was one like it in the world,” said Mrs.
Markle. “I declare these artists are an unreliable lot. My husband had
this made for me by an old goldsmith in Munich. It was after his own
design. Poor Mr. Markle worked on it for days and days and took such
delight in the fact that it was to be the only thing of its kind in the
whole world. Now that wretched old goldsmith has no doubt duplicated
it.”

“The one I speak of was made at Tiffany’s. Of course, it too was
supposed to be unique. Jerald Thomas had it made for his wife. I fancy
old Jerry didn’t do the designing, though, for he is more of an adept
on Wall Street reading the ticker than he is drawing orchids. I should
like to see it closely if you wouldn’t mind,” he pleaded. “I have a
perfect passion for finely wrought gold and enamel.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” answered Mrs. Markle, blushing a bit, which made
her even lovelier than before, “but this brooch is a kind of keystone
to my costume. You girls will understand, I know,” and she looked
appealingly at the females. “Of course, mere man doesn’t know how a
woman puts on her frock and then pins it at exactly the right place.
I know it doesn’t show, all this care we take, but I am sure, if we
didn’t take the care and if we put our brooches in the wrong place and
at the wrong angle and had our gowns too tightly drawn up in front
or too much open, then you would note the difference. I must confess
that, when I dress, I go to work with a certain reverence, the kind of
reverence a painter feels for his palette and canvas.”

“Well, far be it from me to ruin the picture,” laughed Billy. “And let
me do reverence to the artist,” bowing low. “It was stupid of me to
look at such perfection and to ‘consider the lilies’ just as though
somebody had not been toiling and spinning to bring forth so much
beauty.”

“I know you think I am foolish,” said Mrs. Markle, blushing again.

“Indeed we don’t, Hortense, we think you are exactly right not to ruin
the effect of your lovely gown,” put in Mary Louise. “I know just
exactly how it is. Sometimes I have a horrid time getting myself to
look right and nothing would make me undo the work.”

Everybody laughed at this, as it was a well known fact among Mary
Louise’s friends that she spent less time in front of the mirror than
any pretty girl ever did. Being blessed with wavy hair that arranged
itself, she had nothing to do but coil it in a low knot at the nape of
her neck. She had many tastefully chosen gowns but they must be easy to
get into with no complications of hooks and buttons to madden her. She
often changed her dress on the fly trusting to luck that she was all
right. And she usually was.

“Heavens above! I didn’t mean to get in bad. Please, Mrs. Markle,
forgive me. It has actually taken my appetite away. I believe everybody
here is down on me,” moaned Billy.

“Not at all, Mr. McGraw, and to show that I am not I’ll ask you to come
call on us at our apartment and then you can see my little breast-pin
to your heart’s content.”

“Thank you! Thank you! Now I believe I will have another piece of cake.
My appetite is restored,” grinned Billy.

Bob Dulaney looked thoughtfully at Irene while the above conversation
was carried on. His eye fell on the brooch at her throat, a pretty
little enameled violet, as modest at the model from which it was taken
and as unassuming as its wearer. He wondered if Irene could take off
her pin without upsetting her costume. He smiled at the thought. On
Irene’s smooth brow was a slight pucker and in her honest clear eyes he
could detect a slight suggestion of scorn. It passed immediately and
her usual placid expression returned, but the young man wondered again
what the lame girl had against the beautiful Mrs. Markle and if she had
any reasons for what he felt was a distrust of the fair stranger. He
looked up and caught a twinkle in the eye of Josie O’Gorman. As though
conscious that someone was catching her twinkling when she had no idea
of letting anyone onto the fact that she was amused, Josie immediately
took on the dull fish-eyed expression which was the despair of her
friends.

“Umhum!” said Bob Dulaney to himself. “These girls are up to something,
at least that funny red-headed one is.” And having a nose for news,
an essential to every good newspaper man, he began to go over the
situation in his mind.

“Enter a beautiful stranger, known to most of the company! Immediately
Irene, who seems to be all kindliness and loveliness, shows what might
almost be called temper, except that it was so carefully kept in that
one could hardly see it. The beautiful stranger refuses with the utmost
tact to take off her breast-pin, giving what seemed a good excuse and
again Irene’s fair brow is clouded and the little red-headed girl who
is going to help keep the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop is plainly amused,
even delighted, but does not want anybody to know how she feels. A
mystery is a mystery and, even though it prove nothing more than some
kind of girlish foolishness or jealousy, me for the solving of it!”



CHAPTER IX

THE BOOK OF CRIMINALS


The carpenters and plumbers were soon busy with their tasks. The old
building rang with the sound of hammer and saw. The partitions for
bedroom, kitchen and bath were up in an inconceivably short time with
the help of the tongue and groove sealing which had been cut the right
length at the lumber yard under Danny’s directions. The ready-made
doors were hung and the bath and small gas range put into place by the
muscular Bob and connections made by those more expert in pipe fitting.

“It has been finished so rapidly it is almost like the little house
Peter Pan built Wendy,” laughed Elizabeth.

“It is lovely,” said Lucile, “but I’d be afraid to sleep in a room that
had no top to it. Just think how easy it would be for burglars to crawl
over the partitions and run off with the family plate!”

“But there is no family plate and what there is will be out in the
shop and not in my bedroom. Our bedroom, I should say, as I think
Elizabeth will be spending the summer with me,” laughed Josie. “I’m
never afraid and besides I carry a small automatic for emergencies.”

“You do? How amusing!” said Mrs. Markle, who had stayed on through the
afternoon in spite of the fact that she had declared she had only a
moment and wanted to see Mary Louise on some important matter which she
forgot to divulge. She had been very charming and the young men, one
and all, as Billy McGraw expressed it, “fell for her.”

“Don’t forget you are coming to call on us,” she said to that young
man, sweetly. “I want you and Mr. Markle to know each other. You are
sure to like each other. I know you think I am foolish, but my husband
is such a dear.”

“Foolish because your husband is a dear?”

“I mean foolish to talk about it. I know it is not the thing in this
day and generation for the wife to be too much in love with her
husband, but I am hopelessly old-fashioned.”

“You evidently don’t know Dorfield, Mrs. Markle. It seems to be the
style here for wives to be very fond of their husbands, but, of
course, Dorfield is a million years behind the times, thank goodness!”

“It is lovely to see a young man who feels that way about things.
So many young men are inclined to be facetious on the subject.
Sometimes they seem to think I am not worth talking to because I am so
unfeignedly devoted to my husband. Of course, I could have a much gayer
time if I could disguise my feelings, but I can’t do it. They seem to
think that, because Mr. Markle is so much older than I am, I must not
be sincere in my protestations of affection. How absurd they are!”

“Your protestations?”

“No, I mean the young men.”

Now the above conversation sounds very silly when put down in cold
print, but when it was carried on by a wonderful beautiful young woman
with a voice that thrilled one down the spinal cord with a certain
rich cello quality, eyes that were so deep and glorious that Billy in
looking in them had a kind of feeling he must catch hold of something
to keep from falling in, and withal a friendly, sweet, girlish grace,
it did not seem at all silly to Billy McGraw. He forgot all about what
a nice girl Elizabeth Wright was and how he had fully intended to ask
her to go to the next dance with him, forgot why he had been asked to
have lunch at the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop, forgot everything but how
extremely lovely Mrs. Markle was and what a lucky dog her old husband
was. Never having met that gentleman, he pictured him as tottering on
the brink of the grave.

“Hey, Billy, pipe fitting going on! Come on and help! What do you think
you are here for?” called Danny.

Mrs. Markle blushed again adorably.

“Oh, please go! I am mortified that I should have kept you chatting
with me when they need you. You see sometimes I get just a teensy
bit lonesome and long for the companionship of someone nearer my own
age, just to talk foolishness to. My dear husband is so--so--deep and
intellectual--not that you are not intelligent too--oh, ever so much
so, but you don’t mind stooping to my foolish prattle.”

Billy went off to fitting pipes with quite a glow, around his generous,
boyish heart.

“Poor little girl! I fancy she does get bored with such an old
dry-as-dust as Markle must be. I’ll see if I can’t give her some good
times.”

“Now do tell me something of what your plans are in this delightful
place,” said Mrs. Markle, joining Josie and Elizabeth, who were busily
engaged in unpacking more and more books, which Irene, seated on a low
chair, was dusting and placing on the shelves.

“Well, this corner is our information bureau. These books are all
of them different kinds of encyclopedias. Anybody who wants to know
anything can come to us and we can come mighty near telling him or her
what is wanted.”

“Where did you get such a collection, child? It is wonderful.”

“It was my father’s,” said Josie, with the look in her eyes that always
came at mention of her father.

“Your father was the great detective, was he not?”

“Yes!”

“He was a wonderful man, so I have heard.”

“Yes, he was, thank you.” Josie’s tone was quite final, so Hortense did
not pursue the subject.

“What else are you to do in your shop?” she asked.

“Oh, we are to have the literary work-shop, of which I spoke to you,”
said Elizabeth. “And we are to have antiques of all kinds, and we are
to take orders for sewing and fancy work. We will order any book direct
from the publisher. We take orders for score cards, menu cards, name
cards, or anything of that sort. Of course, we don’t do those things
ourselves, but we will take the orders and get a small commission for
them. Now Josie wants to open up a laundry where we have all kinds of
fine laces, table linen, etc., done up. If that grows we shall have to
get someone to take hold of it, but Josie says she can wash and iron as
well as a blanchisseuse de fin and, if we don’t get too many orders,
she will attend to that end herself.”

“It is my one accomplishment,” said Josie, “and I have a passion for
it. I’d rather launder laces and fine linen than do anything in the
world. I am no good at sewing or embroidering, but I can certainly add
to anyone’s needlework by my manipulation of a flat-iron.”

“How interesting!” said Hortense. “Now I adore needlework, but am
helpless with an iron and the more I wash things the dirtier they get.
I have just finished some napkins and despair of ever getting them done
up properly. My maid is a wretched laundress, almost as bad as her
mistress. How I should love to be your first customer! Please let me
bring my damask to you.”

“Why, of course,” answered Josie. “As soon as the boys get the gas
stove up I am ready for washing and as soon as they get the electric
wires installed I am ready for ironing.”

Irene had gone on steadily with her dusting while Hortense had been
talking, never once looking up from her task. Occasionally, she opened
one of the books and glanced at its contents. What a lot of learning
one could find between the covers of those solid books! One long narrow
book with a binding evidently home-made attracted her attention.
She opened it, but its contents were still as a closed book to her.
It was closely written manuscript of strange characters about as
unintelligible as the notes of a stenographer would ordinarily be to
her employer.

“What is this, Josie?”

“Oh, that is my father’s notebook! I am glad to see it,” exclaimed
Josie. “I never intended to pack it with the other books but in the
confusion of getting off I forgot it. I wouldn’t lose it for all the
wealth of the Indies.” She clasped it to her bosom.

“That is the one you told me about?” asked Mary Louise, joining the
group in the corner, “with all the notes he made about criminals and
suspected criminals? Perhaps you don’t know it, Hortense, but Josie’s
father knew more about the criminals in the United States, and the
world perhaps, than almost anybody.”

“Ah, indeed! The book must be interesting reading for a student of
criminology. I abhor the subject myself.”

“What’s that you abhor?” asked Bob Dulaney, who had no occupation for
the time being, having helped lift everything that could be lifted and
so had leisure to join the girls.

“Criminology!”

“Why, it is the most interesting subject in the world,” said Bob.

“Well, you would like this book then,” said Mary Louise, explaining it
to the newcomer. Josie stood by with her fishy-eyed expression.

“You don’t mean Detective O’Gorman’s book! Why, I didn’t know you were
the daughter of Detective O’Gorman. Know about him! I should say I did.
Why, there isn’t a newspaper chap in the United States that doesn’t
know about him. Gee, I’d like to get my hooks on his book.”

“Well, his book is all pot hooks, so it wouldn’t do you much good if
you did,” laughed Josie, opening it so he could glance down a page. “I
wouldn’t let it out of my possession for a mint of money.”

“If it’s something old Lifter wants you had better nail it down,” said
Tim Turner. “Remember what I told you about the ding dong.”

“I guess it will be safe here,” said Josie, putting the slim volume of
mysterious manuscript between two ponderous tomes.

“Sure,” laughed Bob, “unless I come snooping in at night. It wouldn’t
be so hard to make an entrance in this old building.”

“Don’t say such things,” begged Mary Louise. “I am scared to death to
have Josie stay here by herself as it is.”

“Nonsense!” declared Josie.

“Not nonsense at all!” insisted Mary Louise. “Anyhow, I am glad you
can’t stay to-night.”

“Well, as far as our work is concerned she can,” declared Danny. “The
water and gas are connected and the walls of her house are built.”

“She just can’t, though!” said Mary Louise, putting her arm around her
friend. Josie put on her dull-eyed look and said nothing, only hugged
her darling Mary Louise with warm affection.



CHAPTER X

CHIEF CHARLEY LONSDALE


“Why don’t you like Mrs. Markle?” Josie asked Irene as they sat in
Mary Louise’s car while she went in a shop on a housekeeping errand on
their way home from the Higgledy-Piggledy after the strenuous day of
unpacking and carpentering and plumbing.

“Why do you think I don’t like her?” and Irene tried not to give
herself away to the astute Josie.

“Why, Irene dear, you couldn’t deceive a flea!”

“I hope I wasn’t rude to her. I try always to be extra polite to her.”

“Oh, you were polite enough, but your eyes are ‘wells of truth’ and one
only has to look in them to know what your sentiments are.”

“I didn’t know that! Mercy, what am I to do? Put on smoked glasses?”

“Fortunately, you are inclined to like mankind, so won’t have to wear
smoked glasses all the time,” laughed Josie. “But you haven’t told me
why you don’t like her.”

“I have no reason for a strange feeling of distrust and abhorrence that
comes over me when she approaches. I know she is beautiful and clever
and charming and I fully realize that I am foolish to harbor such
sentiments, but, try as I may, I cannot get rid of the feeling. It is
one of nameless depression, a kind of smothered sensation.”

“Like some persons have when cats come in the room?”

“Exactly! Now do you think I am mean and silly?”

“No, not in the least! I think you perhaps have some kind of occult
power that I wish I had myself. Now I don’t fancy the lady myself, but
it is because her name is Hortense.”

“Why, what has that to do with her character?”

“Nothing on earth, but I have an antipathy to certain names and
Hortense is one of them. Of course, I am well aware of the fact that
there are many good Hortenses, as many as there are good Josies, but,
somehow, it seems that I am not the one to meet the good ones. They are
always a bit false, the Hortenses I have known. Now you are thinking I
am silly. Confess!”

“No, not at all silly, but a bit unreasonable,” laughed Irene. “I fancy
Mrs. Markle’s parents gave her that name and she had nothing to do with
it.”

“I am not so sure of that. They may have named her plain Jane or even
Maria or Hannah and she may have felt Hortense more in keeping. I’ll
give it to her she has wonderful taste and Hannah would have been out
of tone with her general make-up. Why do you think she wouldn’t let
that young Mr. McGraw see her pin?”

“Why, wasn’t her reason given sufficient?” asked Irene.

“Not to me! Either there was something about the pin she did not want
him to see or she wanted to get him to come to her apartment and call
and thought that would be a good way to manage it.”

“Oh, Josie, you are hard on her!”

“Well, when you don’t like a person, you might as well find out why and
that is what I am doing. I am just trying to analyze my emotions and
find a cause for the effect. I must prove to myself for my own private
satisfaction why the bristles stand up on my spine when the pretty lady
comes around.”

“You did not show you felt that way in the least. I wish I could hide
my feelings as well as you,” sighed Irene.

“Please don’t try to! You, with your instinct to detect evil, would
prove too valuable to a would-be detective. Not that I am one,” quickly
added Josie, who was determined not to let anyone know of her dual
occupation.

After an early tea, Josie, in spite of objections raised by Mary
Louise, insisted upon going back to her Higgledy-Piggledy apartment.

“I might just as well get used to it, honey. It is going to be in a
mess for a while yet, but if I can be there early and late just so much
the sooner will we begin operations. To-morrow is Sunday and I can have
a nice long day to write letters that must be written and look over
some papers. That won’t be too much like working on the Sabbath, and I
can begin to work in dead earnest early Monday morning. I’ll see you at
church to-morrow though, however.”

Josie refused the offer Mary Louise made of sending her home in her car
but insisted her legs were made to use, and if she got too accustomed
to riding around in cars, it would spoil her for more primitive forms
of locomotion.

Josie did not go directly to her shop after leaving Colonel Hathaway’s,
but slipping down a side street she walked quietly into the police
station. Josie had a power inherited directly from her father of being
almost invisible, that is she moved so quietly and was so unobtrusive
in manner and dress that she could pass in a crowd absolutely
unnoticed, and even where there was not a crowd, she had a way of
effacing herself so that she might stand in one’s presence for minutes
without being observed. And after she was observed, it would tax the
powers of the most alert to describe the girl, so neutral could she
appear. Her red hair even seemed to become dun and colorless when she,
for some reason, was intent on being unnoticed.

The police station was quiet. It was too early for the usual Saturday
night bustle of business. An officer was dozing at his exalted desk
with a great book open in front of him, the book where the business of
the day was recorded. At the door sat another policeman. He too was
napping with his stiff belt unbuttoned and his helmet cocked over his
closed eyes, his legs stretched out as though to trip up the unwary.

Josie was far from being in that class, however. She quietly and
lightly jumped over the hurdle of legs and slipped under the nose of
the man at the desk and made her way down a hall to the door of the
Chief of Police, Captain Charley Lonsdale.

The chief was not asleep, far from it, but he was lost in the perusal
of some closely written sheets over which he was knotting his beetling
brows. His door was ajar and with a small tap to announce herself Josie
entered and stood before him. He grunted in acknowledgment that he knew
someone was in his presence to whom he would give his attention when he
solved some troublesome problem.

“Well, what is it?” he finally jerked out, looking up from his papers.
“Why, bless my soul! If it ain’t little O’Gorman. Child, I am glad
to see you. I can’t tell you how I have felt about your father. Why,
we’ll never get over his loss in the service. What he didn’t know about
criminals was not worth knowing. A good man too! A good man, for sure!
I wish I had him here right now to help me out with a case. I don’t
see why those fellows in the East think their crooks are working around
here. I don’t believe they are,” he declared, glancing again at the
papers which had so absorbed his attention on Josie’s entrance.

“What is the case?” she asked, looking keenly at the chief.

“Oh, just the same old tale of crooks, but this time they seem to be
stealing lots of things besides money. They have actually walked off
with the entire furnishings of apartments, rugs, sideboards, pictures,
even beds and wardrobes and whole sets of china. There must be an
unbroken chain of them extending through the states. It is post-war
conditions that we might have expected, but it seems to be even worse
than we had anticipated and now they are worrying me about things
that were lost in New York and Boston. I am sure nobody would come to
Dorfield with stolen goods. Aren’t you?”

Josie said nothing and the chief looked at her keenly.

“Well?” he asked. “What do you say?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you still dabble in detective work?”

“No, I never did dabble.”

“So!” he laughed. “You were in it in dead earnest.”

“Exactly!”

“Well, you are your father’s own daughter and waste no words. I reckon
you are here hunting a job.”

“I have a job, sir, I am keeping a shop.” Josie then told him of the
Higgledy-Piggledy Shop and what her ideas were in regard to the running
of it in connection with a secret detective service.

“Already I have a clue I want to follow up, sir,” she told him, “but,
of course, if you could put me on the force it might be a help to me at
some time. The shining star displayed on occasions sometimes has a good
effect.”

“You are right. Sometimes it means more than a loaded pistol,” laughed
the chief.

“Well, good-by, sir,” and Josie flitted from the chief’s office and
by the drowsing attendants in the outer office without their being
conscious of the fact that she had been in the building.

“What a fine little girl!” mused the chief. “She knows how to leave
when her business is over with, too. That’s something precious few
folks understand. I wish I had more like her on the force. I forgot
to ask her if she had a telephone.” He rang his bell, which buzzed
teasingly near the ear of the policeman sprawling at the door over
whose legs Josie had lightly jumped.

“Casey,” he asked when the huge Irishman made his appearance trying to
conceal the fact that he was not quite awake, “has the young lady got
out of sight?”

“Yes, sorr, clane out of sight!” And Casey blinked rapidly.

“Well, that’s all!” said the chief shortly.

“Yes, sorr!” and Casey made a hasty retreat.

He remarked to the man at the desk, whose slumbers had also been broken
by the buzzer:

“Sure an’ Chief Charley has been slapin’ an’ dramin’ uv the ladies. He
was arfter wantin’ to know if the young lady was out uv sight. I could
truthfully tell him she was that. There’s been no young lady here.”



CHAPTER XI

A SKELETON KEY


It was dusk when Josie fitted the great brass key into the door of the
Higgledy-Piggledy Shop. The place looked very large and bleak and Josie
felt small and lonesome, but she said to herself that it was no time to
give way to such weakness. She did not switch on the light, although
the amateur plumbers and electricians had not left until everything was
in O. K. condition. Instead she produced a small search light and with
its aid went to work on a mysterious bit of business. Peering along the
shelves, she put her hand on the book of her father’s notes, the one
with the home-made binding. Diving into the tray of a small trunk, she
produced a handful of papers covered with cryptic hieroglyphics similar
to those found in the precious notebook. With deft fingers she ripped
the back from the notebook, carefully placing the contents in a large
pocket in her petticoat. Securely pinning it with a huge safety pin,
then smoothing out the loose papers she had extracted from the trunk,
she proceeded to do a clever and neat job of amateur book binding
sewing on the old back of the notebook. Then she put the book between
the ponderous tomes where it had been before.

Patting her pocket where reposed the precious notes and also the
huge brass key which she had removed from the door after locking it,
Josie then made her way by the packing boxes and debris, that all the
willing workers had not been able to clear away on that busy Saturday
afternoon, back to the bedroom. Her little iron bed was made up with
fresh linen and pretty dimity spread and looked very inviting to the
tired girl.

“I’d certainly like to tumble in,” she yawned, “but this is no time for
sleep. Father always said: ‘Work first and then sleep!’”

Shutting the door to the partition which divided her bedroom from the
shop, she turned on the shaded reading light which Danny had placed at
the head of the bed, under the directions of Mary Louise, and drawing
up a low chair she unpinned the notes and drew them from her pocket.

“Dear Father!” she sighed. “What a man he was!”

Detective O’Gorman had taught his daughter the code in which he made
his notes and Josie could read the hieroglyphics as easily as she
could printed English. She could write it as rapidly as a first-class
stenographer can short-hand. Turning over the leaves she came to one
that riveted her attention.

“Exactly!” she muttered. “He could have been a great novelist if he had
not have been so busy being a great detective. There never were such
accurate, concise descriptions. Here are their aliases too: my, what a
lot of names they can answer to--and as many crimes as names if one can
only catch them in the act. They have so many confederates they always
go scot free. Won’t my father be proud of me if I am the one to get
them? I mean to be that one, too.”

She put the notes back in her pocket, pinning them carefully as before.
Then she produced from another pocket a small revolver which she
examined critically.

“I’m not going to use it, but it must be ready--in case--”

She stopped suddenly.

“What’s that? Tenants stumping around overhead? Rats in the
wainscoting? There are rats.” She listened intently, switching off the
light hanging over her bed.

“That old-fashioned brass lock will be easy to open with a skeleton
key,” she decided. “If they are coming here it will be only a moment
before they are in the room.” Grabbing her tell-tale hat and gloves and
small bag, she dived under the bed, the pretty dimity spread hanging
down on the side making a curtain for her retreat.

The town clock was striking twelve as the skeleton key finally unlocked
the door. Josie lay very still listening eagerly.

“We might just as well switch on the light,” said a man’s voice.

“A bit imprudent, but, of course, nobody in this stupid old town would
notice.” The voice was undoubtedly Mrs. Markle’s.

“I fancy everybody, even the police force, is asleep by now,” laughed
the man.

Josie felt for her detective’s badge pinned in the breast pocket of her
dress, and smiled happily in her retreat behind the dimity spread.

“Here is the book, Felix, exactly where that dull little O’Gorman girl
put it. Do you think you will ever be able to make out the code?”

“Sure! There is no code I can’t work. It may take time but it will be
great fun to find out what that old devil O’Gorman thought of us. It
will be helpful too to find out exactly what he knew; and think of
destroying all trace of our identity.”

“Umhum! I am dull and my father was a devil,” mused Josie. “Two more
reasons for catching you red-handed, you Markles!”

“Here are the scissors,” went on the rich voice of Mrs. Markle. “Let
me rip out the notes, Clumsy! Here, these blank papers can be stitched
in their place. The girl will no doubt not think of opening this book
for weeks, maybe never, but she knows the code and might want to read
the notes sooner. There you are! Now put it back in between those big
books. Now shall we be off?”

“Let’s look around now that we are here. This is a clever idea of that
O’Gorman girl’s, to run this shop. Are you sure she is so dull?” asked
the man.

“Sure! She has a fish eye and a face like a dumpling.”

“O’Gorman had too, and he wasn’t dull,” said Mr. Markle with some doubt
in his tone.

“Oh, trust me, Felix, to know when a woman has sense. I don’t believe
she even has any humor.”

Josie smothered a giggle and drew her little revolver from her pocket.
The interlopers were pushing open the door of her bedroom and without
further ceremony switched on the light. The girl could see their feet
from her hiding place, and exceedingly shapely, well shod feet they
were.

“A pretty snug place,” said Felix. “Nothing worth lifting, however.”

“Not now, but wait until they begin to stock up with antique furniture
and jewelry and what not. There will be plenty then. I am going to give
them lots of work so I can come here often. One will get to know very
desirable persons through these girls. That little soft fool, Mary
Louise, knows everybody and she is very much interested in this venture
and is going to push it for all it is worth. My first job for them is
laundering those napkins I have just finished.”

“Oh, what a clever pet it is!” and Felix stopped and kissed Hortense.
“A man never had such a partner before, I am sure.”

“What an old goose you are!” Her voice was as pleased and affectionate
as any woman’s might have been who had won her husband’s approbation by
some wifely act.

“Come on now! Let’s get out. We have what we came for and I am eager to
get busy on that old devil O’Gorman’s code.”

They switched off the light and locked the door carefully. Josie
scuttled from under her bed and ran to the front window. Peeping
down into the faintly lighted street she saw the Markles walking off
affectionately, arm in arm.

“And poor man, he is going to master Father’s code so he can read
Francis Thompson’s ‘The Hound of Heaven,’” and Josie allowed herself a
good laugh.

The notes Mr. Markle had so carefully carried off were nothing more
than Josie’s lessons she had written out when her father was teaching
her the code.

“Maybe it will do them some good,” said the girl with a feeling akin
to sympathy in her heart. “I feel kind of sorry for the poor wretches.
Father said he always felt sorry for criminals.”

As the girl undressed she recited “The Hound of Heaven.”

  “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
   I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
   I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
     Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
   I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
         Up vistaed hopes I sped;
         And shot, precipitated
   Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd tears,
     From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
         But with unhurrying chase,
         And unperturbed pace,
     Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
         They beat--and a Voice beat
         More instant than the Feet--
     ‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’”



CHAPTER XII

BILLY MAKES A CALL


Josie told not a soul of her experience on her first night spent in
the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop. She felt as though perhaps she should have
taken Chief Lonsdale into her confidence, but on the other hand was so
afraid a mere man might bungle the thing. Besides she felt a pardonable
pride in the possibility of being the one to solve a mystery that had
been puzzling the wise heads of the secret service for some time.
Thefts were constantly being reported from wealthy persons, high in
the social world, from every city in the union. All kinds of household
goods would disappear most mysteriously, pictures, bric-a-brac, rugs,
books; sometimes even furniture heavy enough to take two strong men
to move, would be spirited away in a style uncanny to say the least.
Unsuspecting people would lock their apartments and go off for a
pleasant week-end in the country, perhaps leave servants in charge, and
come home to rooms bereft of all valuables. The thieves always showed
excellent taste and never stole anything but the best. Similar losses
were reported from East and West, North and South.

Of course our little detective had many misgivings on the subject of
the intimacy between her dear Mary Louise and the Markles, which seemed
to be growing closer and warmer as the days went on.

“I am as sure as sure can be of their perfidy. I certainly did not go
to sleep under the bed and dream that they came in and did and said
what they did, but I must bide my time or they will get off without my
proving anything of importance on them,” she would say to herself when
she saw Hortense with her arm around Mary Louise, making a great show
of affection.

Hortense Markle knew very well how to make herself both agreeable and
useful. She would spend hours playing chess with Colonel Hathaway
or she would go to the greatest trouble to match some bit of lace
for Mary Louise. She spent much of her time engaged in matchless
needlework for the prospective bride. She was so pleasant, so agreeable
and so very pretty that one could not help liking her. Most of Mary
Louise’s friends found her quite as charming as Mary Louise did. Irene
MacFarlane was the only one who did not succumb to her fascination.

Poor Irene! She had many a struggle with herself on the subject of
Hortense Markle. She felt that her dislike was unreasonable and
endeavored in every way to hide it, but she was of such a truthful
nature that it was impossible for her to dissemble. In the meantime
preparations for the wedding were under way and all of the group of
girls chosen to be bridesmaids were busy over their frocks. Irene was
willing to assist in any way, but Mrs. Markle was the one whose help
was oftener asked.

“It is not that I am jealous,” Irene would say to herself. “It can’t
be that. I have never been jealous in my life. I have an instinct of
distrust that I can’t overcome. Her husband affects me the same way.
What am I that I should set myself up as a person whose instinct is of
any value? They must be all that they seem or so many persons would not
be attracted by them.”

She rather hoped Josie O’Gorman would feel like discussing the matter
with her after their little talk concerning Hortense Markle on the day
the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop had its house warming, but the astute Josie
did not mention it again and Irene felt that she must not be the one to
approach the subject.

The Higgledy-Piggledy Shop was getting on its feet in great shape.
It was a novelty in Dorfield and found its customers because of its
unusualness at first and then those customers returned because of the
efficiency of the young shopkeepers.

Elizabeth Wright was kept quite busy hunting up facts for students
on many and various subjects. She had typing to do and even obituary
notices to write and sometimes love letters to compose for bashful
young men and maidens. It was her lot to write club papers on every
subject from Shakespeare to the musical glasses.

Josie had felt it necessary to take Elizabeth into her confidence
concerning her being connected with the secret service, but never
once had she divulged her suspicions of the attractive Markles. The
one little talk she had had with Irene was the only time she had let
herself go in the least concerning those persons whom she hoped to
catch up with in some of their supposed villainies. Elizabeth was as
enthusiastic about the beautiful Hortense as were all of the young
people of her set, in spite of the fact that her sisters and mother
declared the young married woman had an inclination to monopolize the
eligible young men of their acquaintance. Billy McGraw certainly was
very attentive to her, although his liking for Elizabeth was growing
day by day.

“She’s such a good fellow,” he would say to himself, never thinking
of her as anything but a pal, however, while he spent many a wakeful
night tormented by the thought of Hortense Markle, for whom he had
a chivalrous pity because of being married to such an unsympathetic
middle-aged man. Many were the calls he made at the Markles’ charming
apartment, when Mr. Markle would make himself obligingly scarce and
leave the young man to delightful tête-a-têtes with his charming young
wife.

“You promised to let me see the orchid pin when I came to see you,” he
remarked on his first call, which was on the very next evening after
the luncheon at the Higgledy-Piggledy.

“Why, of course,” she responded readily. “But I am so sorry it is not
here. The catch was a little weak and Felix took it yesterday afternoon
to the jewelers to have it strengthened. I would not lose it for worlds
with all of its tender associations. I know you think I am sentimental.”

“Not at all! That is just the way Vi Thomas felt about hers, the one
that was a counterpart of yours. By the way, I heard from Jerald Thomas
only yesterday afternoon. It was something of a coincidence that we
should have been talking about him at luncheon. I have not heard from
him for ages. He tells me that he and Vi went off to Atlantic City
several months ago for a breathing spell, leaving their apartment in
charge of a trusted butler. They had wonderful furnishings, rugs,
etchings and so forth. When they came back their place was cleared of
everything in the least valuable. The butler had gone out to dinner
with some friend he had picked up and had been drugged and not able to
get back to his place, and while he was sleeping off his drunk, thieves
had simply lifted the whole blooming business. Vi’s jewels had been
taken from the safe too. I don’t know whether they got her orchid pin
or not.”

“How terrible!” cried Hortense. “I can’t think of a greater calamity
than losing my precious household goods, things that Felix and I have
so carefully selected and for which we’ve denied ourselves so much.”

“You have some fine etchings too, have you not? I don’t know much about
etchings, but I like them a lot.”

“Yes, but don’t look at them now. Felix adores showing them to people
and he knows all about them. The next time you come he will take great
pleasure in showing them to you. Just talk to me now.”

“Sure!” said Billy quite flattered that such a beautiful lady cared
to talk to him. “Jerry and Vi Thomas were quite keen on etchings too.
They had some rare signed proof ones, and Jerry was very particular
about the frames too. He had some wonderful ebony frames made that were
almost as valuable as the etchings.”

“How lovely they must have been,” said Hortense. “Let’s go out on the
balcony. It seems warm in here to me.”

“Why not come for a spin in my car? It’s parked around the corner.”

“All right! You go and get it and I’ll be down directly.”

She ushered her caller out and ran back to a small den in the rear of
the apartment where her husband was busily engaged trying to find the
key to Detective O’Gorman’s cryptic code.

“I’m going out for a ride with Mr. McGraw. While I am gone, for
goodness’ sake take down from the walls those signed Rembrandts and
Whistlers, the ones in the ebony frames, and put something else in
their places. This callow youth, Billy McGraw, is a great friend of the
Thomases and has a liking for etchings.”

“Good girl! You didn’t let him see them!”

“Not I! I had to make him look at me instead.”

He pinched her cheek affectionately and looked at her with admiration
shining in his eyes.

“Please get the mark off the orchid pin soon, dear, as I need it sorely
for my new dress.”

“I’ll do it this afternoon,” he promised. “I guess this code can keep.
It is deucedly hard. I may have to get you to help me. You are a
clever pet and can jump at a conclusion it takes a clumsy man days to
reach.”

Hortense smiled happily. “There is one thing I don’t like about this
business, Felix.”

“And what is that?”

“I don’t like this thing of having to pretend to these foolish youths
that you are a stern middle-aged person who is not in the least en
rapport with me. You are so much more wonderful than any man I ever see
anywhere.”

“Well, pet, we trust each other--eh?” and he looked searchingly in her
eyes.

“Oh, Felix, what a question!” and she kissed him lightly on his smooth,
iron-grey hair and ran off for her ride with Billy McGraw.



CHAPTER XIII

BUSINESS COMING ON


True to his determination to let no wish of Mary Louise’s
go unfulfilled, Danny Dexter rigged up an elevator to the
Higgledy-Piggledy Shop, so that Irene MacFarlane could go there at any
time without waiting for Bob Dulaney or Danny to carry her upstairs.
In days gone by there had been a dumb-waiter in the back of the old
building but it had long since been abandoned because of its rusty
pulleys and broken cords. This dumb-waiter shaft had been used by the
shifting tenants as a receptacle for all kinds of debris. In cleaning
it out before he could find room to rig up the little elevator, Danny
declared there was nothing he didn’t find from broken baby carriages
to old sets of false teeth. The only drawback to the elevator was that
one must enter by way of the alley, but Irene insisted that made no
difference whatsoever. Sometimes she came to the shop, which was not
far from her home, propelling herself in her wheelchair. She would
roll up the alley, which was fortunately paved and not too rough, right
into the little elevator that was the exact dimensions of her chair.
Then with a vigorous pull on the rope with her strong and capable
hands, she would shoot to the second floor and roll out into the
Higgledy-Piggledy Shop.

Her coming was always greeted with exclamations of delight by
the proprietors of the shop. Clever Danny had so well rigged the
little elevator that the usual groaning and squeaking of a misnamed
dumb-waiter had been done away with. Her coming would be unheralded by
bell or knock and she would glide from the shaft like a veritable fairy
princess, so Elizabeth declared.

Irene’s part in the shop had become a very important one, so important
that Josie and Elizabeth felt they could hardly do without her. The
lame girl’s skill with the needle was in great demand, as one of the
chief industries of the unique shop was fine mending, which was not
the long suit of either Josie or Elizabeth. One of their principles
in running their business, however, was that they must undertake
everything that came their way and then, if they could not do it
themselves, as Josie put it, they would “farm it out.”

“My, I’m glad to see you!” exclaimed Josie as Irene came gliding
from the elevator into their midst. “A lot of lace to be mended and
laundered has just arrived. Exquisite stuff and a hurry call. Can you
spend the day and work on it for us? There will be at least three
dollars in it for you.”

“Of course I can, if you will telephone Auntie,” and Irene drew from
her bag her thimble and needle case and soon was at work mending the
exquisite point lace that had been left at the shop only that morning
by a wealthy and particular old lady. At times, where the work was very
delicate, Irene made use of a magnifying glass, which was as much a
part of her little sewing kit as her thimble and the very fine needles
she delighted in, and the sharp scissors, no longer than her little
finger, and the assortment of cotton and silk threads.

“I am going to launder the lace that does not need mending,” said
Josie, getting out a diminutive tub, placing ready an ironing board and
attaching her electric iron.

“And I’ll go on with my typing,” said Elizabeth. “It is manuscript
from a would-be authoress who is all dashes and an occasional period
when her pen seemed to be out of breath. I think I should charge extra
for punctuation, don’t you, Irene?”

“Certainly,” laughed Irene, “but how would you grade your charges?”

“I’ll give a period for nothing. It is a kind of relief to make a
period after such an effusion as this: ‘His flashing eye was bent on
her with a look of mingled admiration and rage while in spite of the
feeling of uncontrollable fear that filled her pure heart to the brim
the beautiful girl first breathing a prayer to her Heavenly Father of
whose watchful care she was ever conscious no matter how severe her
trials and tribulations raised her sad blue eyes and looked into the
bold black ones of the insinuating villain who had by his machinations
brought her to this lonesome spot where he hoped to have her in his
power and as she looked into those wicked orbs that seemed to Elaine
very like the lonesome miasmic tarn by which she had been led on this
perilous journey she felt sure of the power of good over evil and as
the realization of this great truth came to her the wretch dropped
his eyes and turned away.’ All this without a punctuation mark of any
kind, not even a dash, except at the tail end where I have thrown in a
period. I should get a tenth of a cent for every comma and at least a
fifth for semicolons--they come high--and as for a colon: it is worth
anything one wishes to charge. I think there is nothing so elegant as
colons. They have such a knowing air.”

Irene and Josie laughed heartily at Elizabeth, who went on with her
typing, occasionally reading to them choice bits from the manuscript.

“Of course, this joking can only be in the bosom of our official
family,” said Elizabeth. “It would never do to get out that we make fun
of our patrons.”

“And so is that what you do?” was the gay question flung at them from
the door. It was Hortense Markle. “I knocked, but you were laughing
so gaily and the typewriter was clicking so noisily that you did not
hear.” She tripped in, laying a large package on the table.

“Come in! We are very glad to see you,” said Josie cordially, but into
her eyes came the dull fishy look she could assume at will. Elizabeth
spoke hospitably to their guest, moving some pamphlets from a chair to
make room for her. Irene tried to bring a smile of welcome to her calm,
sweet eyes, but she felt that anyone who chose to look could easily
tell it was perfunctory.

“I have brought the damask napkins that you promised to launder for
me,” said Hortense, untying the cord around her package. “I have just
completed the initials and am anxious to have them done up, as I am
sure you can do them,” smiling and bowing prettily to Josie. “It
is wonderful linen, some Felix got for me the last time he was in
New York. He paid untold sums for it but he knows how fond I am of
beautiful linen.” She opened up the package and displayed the napkins,
which were of exquisite damask of a rare and artistic pattern.

“Why, they have been laundered once,” said Irene, looking at one of the
napkins with the pleasure she always felt at the touch of fine fabrics.

“Oh, yes, I often have damask washed before I embroider it. It is so
much softer and more sympathetic to the needle. Does not resist it as
does unlaundered linen,” explained Hortense easily.

“We have some lace on hand for to-day. Would you mind waiting until
to-morrow for your napkins?” asked Josie.

“Not at all! There is no hurry.”

“I must count them and put them down on our books,” said Josie with a
business-like air. “Why, there are only twenty-two here. How did you
happen not to have the full two dozen?”

“Are you sure? I thought there were two dozen,” said Hortense, frowning
as though trying to remember where she could have put the other
napkins. “I may have left two at home.”

Josie counted again very carefully.

“Twenty-two! I hope they aren’t lost. Anyhow they aren’t lost here and
that is some satisfaction for the Higgledy-Piggledies.”

Another tap at the door and in came Bob Dulaney.

“May I come in? How jolly to find all of you here!” He bowed to them
all but looked at Irene when he said “all of you.” “And does the
elevator work all right? I was mighty afraid Danny would slip up on the
piece of work, but that fellow will tackle anything. He is a wonder
for sure.”

“Yes, it works beautifully and I find it the greatest convenience. I am
quite independent now and can come and go as I will.”

“How jolly it is up here! Aren’t you afraid at night, Miss O’Gorman?”
asked Bob.

“Not a bit! There are too many persons tramping around overhead for me
to be afraid, but I wouldn’t be afraid anyhow. I guess nobody would
want to hurt me. I haven’t anything to steal as yet. Of course when we
get in our rare editions that I am to sell on commission for a man in
New York there will be something; also some antique jewelry and some
bronzes. We may have a few small rugs soon too.”

Josie turned her dull eyes on Hortense, who had stopped chatting with
Elizabeth and was listening attentively to the above conversation.

“So you are going to open up your shop in good earnest, then?” she
asked. “How delightful! It’s such an interesting venture. I do hope you
will succeed.”

“We are sure to if we keep on as well as we have begun,” said Josie,
allowing herself the satisfaction of a little twinkle in her eye.
“Business is just rolling in.”

“How much will you charge a fellow if he wants to consult your books?”
asked Bob. “There is no library worthy of the name in Dorfield and when
I want something very badly I am up against it.”

“Persons are supposed to ask us for information and we do the
searching,” explained Josie.

“But that wouldn’t suit me at all. I like to see for myself and one bit
of information suggests the advisability of another, and so on. I could
spend days with your various encyclopedias just on this one article I
am getting up for the Sunday supplement.”

“What is your article on?”

“Criminology! Gee, but I’d like to peek into that notebook of your
father’s!” sighed Bob, who took his profession of expert reporter and
writer of special articles very seriously.

Josie beckoned to Elizabeth and retiring to the back of the shop the
girls held a short consultation. Coming forward, Josie said to Bob:

“My partner and I are going to make an exception in your favor, feeling
as we do very grateful to you and all of Danny Dexter’s friends for
their kindness to us in launching us so beautifully on our shop-keeping
venture. We are going to let you come and consult our books whenever
you feel like it. We’d rather not have them taken home unless it is
something you find you can’t possibly finish up here in the shop.”

“But how splendid of you! I don’t deserve such a favor. I did nothing
but lift bath tubs and things. I can’t accept such kindness, though,
unless you let me pay regular rates for what information I pick up.”

“We are not so mercenary as all that,” said Josie, “besides we may need
your muscles sometimes and would not know how to pay for them. Let’s
call it a draw--fifty-fifty. We might even leave you here sometimes to
keep shop for us if you’ll be good.”

“Good! I’d take in the fancy work especially well,” laughed Bob. “I
hate to seem greedy, but while I’m poking among your books may I peek
in the wonderful notebook?”

Josie paused a moment, turning dull eyes on Mrs. Markle, who had been
listening intently to the above conversation, although she seemed to
be interested solely in the lace Irene was mending. Her dark eyes were
sparkling and her pretty grey suede shoe was nervously tapping the
floor. None of this was lost on Josie.

“You mustn’t let me look in it if you really don’t want me to,” Bob
continued. “I know it is cheeky of me to ask it.”

“But I will let you,” declared Josie. “I shouldn’t be so silly about
the poor little book. You may take it home with you if you promise to
take good care of it.” She took the little book from the shelves and
handed it to Bob. “Keep it tied up carefully; don’t open it now. I
wonder if you can decipher what is in it. I fancy it would be a tough
job. Father wouldn’t mind, I am sure. He always liked newspaper chaps,
as he called men of your profession, and used to get them to help him
often on cases. He helped them too. He used to say they had much more
sense about digging out crime and solving mysteries than the average
detective. I tell you he handed over many a scoop to young reporters
and got them started in their careers with fine feathers in their caps.”

“I can’t tell you how I thank you,” said Bob, taking the shabby little
book reverently in his hand and putting it carefully in his breast
pocket. “I’ll guard it with my life. I won’t have time to look into it
for a day or so, however. And now I’ll be going. I’ll come in day after
to-morrow and get my work in with your learned books. I do thank you
girls more than I can say. I hope I can lift mountains for you sometime
to show you how I appreciate your kindness.”

He stopped a moment to have a little talk with Irene, whose sweet face
flushed with pleasure when he asked her if he might call on her that
very evening. It was nice to be treated just like other girls.



CHAPTER XIV

ANOTHER CLUE


Bob Dulaney had hardly left the shop before Hortense Markle burst out
with the remark:

“Miss O’Gorman, how could you be so imprudent?”

“Imprudent? I? You mean because I told Mr. Dulaney he might come
keep shop for us?” asked Josie, looking so stupid Hortense felt like
slapping her. “You don’t think that was proper?”

“Proper! The idea! My dear girl, I only meant it was imprudent to
let him go off with that valuable book of your father’s. I am sure
we all feel an interest in you, and such a book as that is of untold
value. Did you not say it contained notes he had kept almost from
the beginning of his career and had descriptions of all the noted
criminals, convicted and unconvicted?”

“Yes, it has,” answered Josie, putting on the air of a moron. Her tone
was so dull and her manner so stupid that Elizabeth and Irene, who
well understood the keen intelligence of their partner, looking on in
astonishment. What was she trying to do?

“Well, knowing that, don’t you think it was a little too trusting to
let a strange young man simply walk off with that precious book in his
pocket? He might keep on walking and never come back. Such a treasure
as that would be of more value to a collector than I can tell you
and Mr. Dulaney could realize more from the sale of such a book than
he could make on his tuppenny articles for Sunday supplements in ten
years’ time.”

Irene’s eyes were flashing. At least now she had a reason for hating
Hortense Markle. What a cruel suggestion! How could she harbor such
a thought? Bob Dulaney with his frank open manner and kind, clear
eyes, Bob Dulaney a possible thief! Danny Dexter’s friend! Her friend
too--she felt she could count him among her real friends. Could she
sit there and let such an imputation go unchallenged? She looked at
Josie in astonishment. Of course it was her business to combat such an
unkind suggestion, but Josie was looking blank as a whitewashed fence.
Elizabeth, however, arose to the occasion with:

“I fancy you are mistaken, Mrs. Markle. I am sure Mr. Dulaney is
honor itself. I think he can be trusted with anything, no matter how
valuable. I’d stake my life on it.”

“And I, mine!” spoke up Irene in a low clear voice.

“Ah, and so the handsome Goliath has champions among the fair sex,”
laughed Hortense. “Heavens, children, I had no idea of bringing down
such a deluge of vituperation on my poor little head! I was merely
interested in the little book, not on my own account but on my
husband’s. Felix was so excited over your having such a book, my dear
Josie. He has always been interested in codes and hieroglyphics. He was
dying for me to ask you to lend it to him, but I utterly refused. No
wonder I am a little peeved when you hand it calmly over to the first
good looking young man who asks for it. Well, I must be going. Don’t
hurry with the napkins and don’t bother to send them to me. I’ll call
for them.”

She tripped gaily from the shop, calling back from the door:

“Please don’t be cross with me for suggesting that poor Mr. Dulaney
might be tempted by the marvelous little book. He is, to all
appearances, a charming young man, but then after all we don’t really
know him very well.”

“We know him as well as we know you,” was on the tip of Irene’s tongue,
but she did not say it, only bowed her head stiffly when Hortense
included her in the beaming smile and wave of farewell.

“Rather catty, I call that,” said Elizabeth, when their charming
visitor was well out of ear shot. “What do you think she meant by
suggesting such a horrid thing, Josie?”

Josie, who had lost her strange stupid look, laughed gaily at
Elizabeth’s question. “She didn’t mean anything at all, Elizabeth. She
was put out because the nice, big boy didn’t pay her any attention. He
was either talking business and books with you and me or he was leaning
over Irene there making engagements. The beautiful Mrs. Markle must be
the center of attraction or she won’t play.”

“Oh!” and Irene blushed rosy red. This was indeed being like other
girls if somebody was jealous of her. “I can’t help thinking she had
some other motive,” Irene whispered to Josie, when Elizabeth went back
to her noisy copying of the flamboyant story. “Of course, if such a
charmer as Mrs. Markle wanted the attentions of a young man she could
have them without lifting an eyelash.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” insisted Josie. “Some men don’t fall for
so much beauty of face. They are on the lookout for beauty of soul.
Wonderful damask napkins she left! Did you look at the embroidered
initials? I hope I won’t scorch them. There is no telling what they are
worth. Each one is big enough for a tablecloth.”

“They are wonderful,” said Irene. “I never heard of anyone’s having
napkins laundered before the initials were embroidered, but it no doubt
is a good thing. Mrs. Markle certainly knows all about it. I have never
imagined such perfect work.” She sighed and dropped the lace she was
mending for a moment and picked up one of the napkins the closer to
scrutinize the regular stitches. Her magnifying glass was in her lap
and she gazed at the work through it.

“Why, Josie, come here!” she cried in some excitement. “This napkin
has had a piece cut out and a patch put in--one of Mrs. Markle’s
incomparable patches, but a patch for all that.”

“See if this one has too,” asked Josie, trying not to show the
excitement that she too felt.

“Yes, this one and this one and this one--all of them!” exclaimed Irene
in a puzzled tone. “Look, she has matched each thread and then made an
initial large enough to cover the patch almost entirely. I never saw
such clever work in my life--but why?”

“Perhaps she did not like the initial she first put there and cut it
out to put another,” suggested Josie, a twinkle asserting itself in her
eyes that she seemed to be trying to make opaque.

“The patches are not all the same size,” declared Irene, picking up
napkin after napkin and examining them carefully through her glass.
“What can it mean, Josie?”

“Well, I guess we can safely say we have found the other two napkins,”
whispered Josie. “They went to make the patches. Also someone besides
Hortense did the cutting. Clever Hortense! Not clever enough, however,
to get by with it! My father used to say that only the people who went
to work taking for granted that others were cleverer than they kept
out of the penitentiary. Hortense thinks I am a dullard and you a sweet
person who has taken a dislike to her and not to be worried about one
way or the other.”

“But what do you mean, Josie? Penitentiary--you can’t--”

“Yes, I can--but don’t tell Elizabeth--anybody in fact--we must catch
the whole bunch and, if we jump too soon, we may get only an innocent
bystander. I am going to call on you to help me if I need you.”

“What’s that you are not going to tell me?” asked Elizabeth. “This old
typewriter makes just enough noise to keep me from catching secrets.
Is it ice cream you are going to have up for lunch or are you going to
make me pay the gas bill? Is it a pleasant secret or otherwise?”

“Well, it may be both,” answered Josie. “I wasn’t going to tell you
because my father always said the more persons you took in on a case
the harder it was to get at the bottom of it. He thought they kind
of crowded each other when the business narrowed down to the final
outcome.”

“But I’m a partner here and if there is anything I might make use of in
the way of copy in the literary career I hope to follow, I think it is
mean not to tell me,” laughed Elizabeth.

“I guess you are right,” decided Josie. “I may get help from you girls
too. But mind not a word or look to a soul to let on you suspect a
thing! Swear!”

“We swear!” chorused Irene and Elizabeth in hollow excited tones.

Then Josie told them the whole thing from the beginning; told how she
had had some suspicion of the Markles because of something intangibly
mysterious about them; told of her visit to the chief of police and
the information he had given her concerning a chain of thefts being
committed all over the country; told of the mission she had had
confided to her before she reached Dorfield; told how she had been
confident of something being a bit fishy in Hortense’s not being
willing to take off the orchid pin and show it to Billy McGraw, for
the reason that it had the Tiffany mark on it, no doubt the initials
of his friend Mrs. Thomas. Then she made their blood run cold when
she described her first night in the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop and the
entrance of the Markles and their theft of the contents of the book.

“But, Josie, weren’t you scared to death?” asked Irene, her eyes big
at the thought. “I am not a timid person ordinarily, but I believe I’d
have died of fright when they came into the bedroom.”

“Well, I was a bit shaky, I must confess. Persons like the Markles
don’t like to kill because it is a low form of wit, but they will do it
just as a great humorist will occasionally pun if he can’t get his joke
over without it. I was determined to be the first to fire if there was
any firing to be done.”

There was nothing dull looking about Josie as she told her story to
her two friends and confederates. Had Hortense seen her then, no doubt
she would have changed her tactics in dealing with the daughter of the
famous detective.

“And now,” said Josie, “in conclusion, as the preachers say, we must be
ever watchful and never let on to a soul, man or beast, that we have
any suspicion of the Markles. What we know of them is not enough yet
to convict them and by waiting, watchful waiting, we may be able to
unearth the whole plot and bring a whole gang to justice.”

“It is a little hard on Mr. Dulaney to let him take off the notebook
full of blanks,” suggested Irene, a faint flush appearing on her cheeks.

“Yes, I know it is,” agreed Josie, “and I would not have done it except
I wanted to see what Hortense would look like when I allowed him to
have the precious book. Her face was a study. She has humor enough,
I rather like her for that, and there was an amused twinkle in her
eyes, relief also when I told the young man not to untie it just then.
I fancy there are times when anyone with such a speaking countenance
as the Markle has a hard time to appear indifferent. Her suggestions
concerning Mr. Dulaney were very slick. Of course if I had not known
all the time the book was full of blanks, I would naturally be inclined
to hold Mr. Dulaney responsible for such a state of affairs.”

“Yes, that is what I am afraid of,” said Irene, “afraid he may be
horribly embarrassed about it when he discovers the hoax.”

“There is danger of that, but I’ll do my best to make it up to him,”
answered Josie. “Of course he’ll get the scoop of his lifetime when we
finally nab the wretches. Such a scoop will more than repay him for a
temporary embarrassment.”

“Are you keeping Chief Lonsdale informed of what you are finding out?”
asked Elizabeth, who was beginning to feel that plots were hers for the
asking in the stories she meant to write.

“Not on your life! He’d have a bunch of bungling blue-coats snooping
around scaring off the game and taking all the final credit. No siree!
This is my party. Chief Lonsdale can put as many men as he’s a mind to
work digging up evidence, but I bide my time and go it alone. I don’t
see any of the detectives helping me any. Now I’m going to finish up
this lace before I give up for the day and deliver it to the rich old
lady. I saw Mrs. Markle looking at it with a practiced and covetous
eye. These people get to be regular kleptomaniacs when they stay in the
business long enough. She may be back here at midnight and lift the
whole shop.”

“Leave the key in the door so they can’t get the skeleton key in from
the outside,” suggested Irene.

“Mere keys and doors don’t worry such as the Felix Markles. They are
so clever with burglar tools there is no keeping them out if they want
to get in. Of course, if we lock fast the door there is still the
‘dumb-elevator’ as Danny calls it. Bar that fast, or cut the cables and
they will manage to come down from the floor above. The thing to do
is leave nothing here they want and let them know as much. I wish you
would drop in and make a short call at their apartment, Elizabeth, and
tell Hortense I am taking back the lace this evening. I must say I’ll
sleep better if she knows it is out of my keeping.”

“I’ll do that very thing. Now aren’t you glad you took me in your
confidence?”

“I wanted to all along but was trying to follow Father’s plans in going
it alone as much as possible.”

“I’d like to see the Markles’ faces when they finally decipher the
notes and read ‘The Hound of Heaven,’” said Irene. “What else was in
the notes?”

“Oh, long stanzas from ‘Paradise Lost,’ ‘Hamlet’s Soliloquy,’ and
pages from ‘Les Misérables’ in French. I don’t speak French at all
but I can read it quite well and Father wanted me to be able to take
notes in it, as sometimes we have to work with French detectives and
he thought it might be useful. Anyhow it was good practice. I copied a
lot about the convicts and a chapter on argot. They will have a grand
time reading it if they ever master the key. It is almost cruel for
me to fool them so when they might spend their time to so much better
advantage.”



CHAPTER XV

SIMPKINS & MARKLE


Hortense Markle had besought the friends of Mary Louise to come and
call on her, but when Elizabeth Wright was ushered into the charming
little drawing room bent on the mission intrusted to her by her
partner, she had a feeling that she was not quite so welcome as she had
been led to expect. Could it be because she interrupted a tête-a-tête
between her hostess and Billy McGraw? That young man seemed to be very
much at home in the little apartment, as though he had paid many visits
there in the short time he had been acquainted with the charming Mrs.
Markle.

Elizabeth was a little embarrassed but determined to fulfill her
mission before she left. She liked Billy and hated to see him making a
fool of himself over the pretty adventuress. She wished she could save
him from the bitter chagrin that would be sure to be his when the sorry
business would finally come to light, but her loyalty to Josie forbade
her doing or saying a thing to put him on his guard. Then he had paid
her just enough attention to make it possible for him to think that
jealousy prompted her in anything she might do or say.

“We have been very busy at the shop to-day,” Elizabeth began, in a
rather loud tone as though determined that her voice would be heard by
Hortense and her husband too, if he had concealed himself somewhere
behind the curtains. “Irene finished mending the lace and then Josie
laundered the whole lot and I have just delivered it to its owner.”

“Ah, indeed!” ejaculated Hortense.

Was there a note of disappointment in her voice?

“I rather wanted to see that lace again. It was a beautiful pattern. I
have a passion for fine and rare lace.”

“Well, it’s safe with the rich old lady who brought it to us,” said
Elizabeth, bluntly.

“You are quite wise to get it in safe keeping as soon as possible,”
said Hortense, suavely.

“By the way, you never have let me see the orchid pin,” put in Billy.
“You remember you promised.”

“Why, of course! I’ll get it immediately.”

She was gone from the room for a few moments. Elizabeth, who usually
was very much at home with Billy McGraw, now sat in silence. For the
moment she had nothing to say. He looked at her a little uneasily.

“Are you--are you--kind of angry with me?” he finally said.

“I? The idea! Why should I be angry with you?”

“I don’t know. You don’t seem so--so--chummy as you do sometimes.”

“Chummy? I did not know I had been quite that,” she said with a touch
of coldness that she could not keep from her tones.

“Now I know you have got it in for me somehow.”

Elizabeth said nothing as Hortense came back in the room with the
orchid pin which she handed to Billy.

“My, it’s a peach!” he declared. He examined it with great interest.
“It is as near like Vi Thomas’ as can be. Hers, of course, had
Tiffany’s mark on the back and a date, as I remember, some date that
meant something to her and her husband.

“Mine just has the name Felix loves to call me, ‘Pet.’ It sounds
awfully silly and sentimental, but he would have it on.”

“Can’t I see it?” asked Elizabeth, wishing in her heart she had a
magnifying glass handy, feeling sure there would be marks of other
things to be disclosed. She noticed that the gold mounting back of the
pin was slightly concave. “No doubt Josie will attach much importance
to that,” she said to herself.

“You promised some day to show me your original Rembrandt etching,” she
said to Hortense. “I have never seen one.”

“Have you an original Rembrandt?” asked Billy. “You never told me.
I’d certainly like to see it. The Thomases had a crackerjack of a
Rembrandt. Of course that was lifted too when the orchid pin was.”

“Heavens! what luck. Those Thomases seem to be perfect Jonahs,” laughed
Hortense. Elizabeth thought she detected a little sharp note in her
laugh.

“I am terribly sorry not to show you my treasure of treasures, but the
frame was pulling loose a bit and Felix has taken it to have it mended.
Anything as precious as a Rembrandt must be framed in an airtight
frame. Felix has been offered a huge sum for our Rembrandt and I am
trembling for fear he might sell it. Of course, I know that persons
of our means have no business owning such a rare etching but I would
so hate to part with it. Felix is something of a speculator in such
things, while I have more the soul of the born collector.”

“I should think you would live in continual fear of having your things
snatched from you,” said Elizabeth, wondering at her own cruelty in
making such a remark.

“I do,” said Hortense, sadly. “Why, Felix is so keen on a trade that I
shouldn’t be astonished if he wanted sometime to sell my lovely orchid
pin.”

“Ah, but the ‘Pet’ engraved on the back would keep him from doing
that,” suggested Billy, thinking what a mercenary brute the husband
must be.

“Oh, but that could be taken off,” said Elizabeth with an air of
childlike innocence. “We had some marks taken off some silver one
time. It was the initials of a person who had married into my father’s
family and had her initials put on an old family tea service. She had
no right to the service and the service was ruined in our eyes by the
addition of her initials. Of course, it meant some of the thickness of
the silver had to be sacrificed to get rid of the engraving and there
is almost a concavity where there used to be a convexity, but we prefer
that to the initials of the interloper.”

“Oh, please don’t tell my husband such a thing could be done,” was
Hortense’s playful rejoinder. “He would surely get some of the eraser
and take off the ‘Pet.’ Of course, this little pin is very valuable as
a work of art and I shouldn’t object if we get really hard up. I have
never been an unreasonable wife, and we have had our ups and downs.”

“You might write to your friend Mr. Thomas,” Elizabeth suggested to
Billy, “and tell him there is a chance for him to buy the duplicate of
the pin his wife lost.” Elizabeth well understood she was teasing Mrs.
Markle, but could not resist doing it, feeling assured that she was
supposed to be unconscious of so doing.

“Don’t do it! Please don’t do it!” begged Hortense, plainly alarmed.
“If this Mr. Thomas hears of this pin he might make a bid for it and
Felix is almost sure to take him up, although it does belong to me.
I couldn’t bear to part with my beautiful pin. It has such wonderful
associations. You see, Felix gave it to me in our early married life
when everything was quite different.” This, of course, was for Billy’s
benefit and he looked sad and promised he would not write to his friend.

Hortense looked daggers at Elizabeth, who began to feel that she was
regarded as being a bit catty, the expression that she had so recently
used to describe Hortense.

“No doubt I am,” Elizabeth said to herself, “but I couldn’t resist it.”
Aloud, she remarked that she must be going. Mrs. Markle did not urge
her to remain. She found this girl Elizabeth a little too inclined to
suggest unpleasant things. She was on the whole rather relieved when
Billy McGraw offered to take Elizabeth home in his car. She wanted to
get rid of both callers and to see Felix alone and report to him that
things were getting a trifle warm.

“I am afraid my clever puss has been talking too much,” suggested Mr.
Markle, when his wife told him of her having been asked to exhibit the
Rembrandt.

“Oh, I can’t think it. You see, one must be natural and what more
natural than to say one has a Rembrandt if it is the case?”

“That’s so! We may be moving on soon, Pet. Simpkins & Markle had a fine
offer to-day for a furnished apartment, and no questions asked. This
would be the very one and we could take with us all the doubtful things
and still leave a costly enough place.”

“Not before the wedding, surely!” she exclaimed.

“Well, hardly, when my wife is to be matron of honor! We will be here
several months longer. What is the date fixed!”

“June the twelfth! Must I give out that there is a chance of our
moving?”

“Not yet, but when you do, of course you must be the abused young wife
with the peculiar and mercenary husband. That is a great stunt of
yours. I heard what you were saying to that young ass of a McGraw.”

“Not jealous, are you?” she asked coyly.

“Not a bit! Just more in love with you than ever. I don’t know what
I’d do without such a clever wife and such a stupid business partner.
Simpkins is duller than ever. He accepts everything on its face value
in the firm and assists me in operating the business with never an
idea in his numskull that he is not conducting a perfectly legitimate
thing. Of course, we have a lot of simple deals on that any real estate
firm might have and then we have this out of town rental list that
I attend to as much as possible. Sometimes, though, it is up to him
and he accepts it with perfectly good grace. Specializing as we do in
elegantly furnished apartments brings in a class of clients with whom
he is unfamiliar and they seem in a measure to overawe him into extra
stupidity.”

Dorfield and the neighboring towns were suffering from the after war
congested conditions quite as much as were the large cities. New
industries had sprung into existence, bringing many strangers to
settle in the towns. Building was high and the cost of materials was
increasing every day. That was forcing up the price of real estate and
quite ordinary little apartments were renting for fabulous sums. When
those apartments were furnished the supposed value was doubled. And
when they were furnished elegantly the agents could go as far as they
liked in their demands upon the tenants.

Simpkins & Markle were doing a flourishing business, specializing in
small, elegantly furnished apartments. They had branch offices in all
the neighboring towns, Mr. Markle being the traveling member who kept
in touch with the branch offices.

These apartments were always let with the greatest care as to the form
of lease. The empty apartment would be rented to a young couple who
would sign the lease and pay a month’s rent in advance. Then their
household goods would arrive from some distant state and be installed.
Rugs, pictures, beautiful furniture of all kinds, silver, china, table
linen, etc. The couple would live in the apartment for about a month
and then the young husband would report at the real estate office that
he had a raise, a new job, a sick mother, or something and wanted to
sub-let his apartment, furnished. Of course, the beautiful furnishings
would double and sometimes triple the value of the rooms and Simpkins
& Markle would reap a reward. Simpkins would never be called upon to
interview this couple and would therefore never be struck with its
likeness to the couple before. He seemed merely to see that the firm
was doing well and their kind of business was a lucrative one. He
stayed in Dorfield and kept the books and attended to the old Dorfield
business, which was slow but steady, while his more active partner
attended to the furnished apartment rentals. His was the duty to pass
on to the distant young couple the profits reaped by their contract in
sub-renting.

The unerring taste of Hortense was often called in play to arrange
the furniture in these apartments. She could put a touch to them that
would add greatly to their value. Strangers, warned beforehand of
the difficulty of finding any place to live and almost hopeless of
obtaining even a roof over their heads, would be carried off their feet
when shown these beautiful rooms where Hortense had had her artistic
will. No price seemed too high for such a haven of rest and beauty.

There can be little doubt in the minds of my readers where this
furniture came from. A chain of burglars reaching from New York to
San Francisco were ever busy robbing any and every house where they
could make an entrance. Then the spoils were carefully sorted and
shifted to far away points where detection was not likely. Felix and
Hortense Markle were head and brains for this bold undertaking.
They worked under many aliases and sometimes appeared as father and
daughter, sometimes brother and sister, sometimes they worked singly,
but usually they were husband and wife. They were clever beyond the
belief of ordinary mortals, so clever that their existence was doubted
by some of the most astute and highly esteemed detectives. O’Gorman
had been on their track and was in a fair way to come up with them
when the war broke out and he was compelled to serve his country in
other ways besides bringing to justice a pair of the cleverest thieves
he confessed himself ever to have seen. He had talked to Josie of his
ambition and had given her what information he possessed. This form
of real estate hoax was a new one with the Markles, but their method
was the one they had always used, that of living in a respectable and
decent way and making friends with the best people in the town where
they hoped to get the most loot.

Sleepy Dorfield was a good place for their machinations. There was a
good deal of wealth in town and the friendship of Mary Louise and her
grandfather was “open sesame” to the society of Dorfield.



CHAPTER XVI

A DINNER PARTY


There was some excitement in the Wright family when Elizabeth came
speeding home in Billy McGraw’s stylish little racer. They had grown
accustomed if not resigned to the peculiarities of this member of
the family who insisted upon working all day in a funny shop with
an unstylish little person, the daughter of a policeman so they
understood. Her only value in their eyes was that she was a friend of
Mary Louise’s. As has been remarked before, that fact went a long way
in the opinion of Dorfield towards establishing a person as worthy of
being cultivated.

Another thing that was reconciling the Wright family somewhat to
Elizabeth’s erratic mode of life was that she had begun to put money in
the bank. This they were sure of, as one of the sisters had had a peep
in her bank book. The shop was proving a financial success and in the
eyes of one’s family nothing succeeds like monetary success.

And here was Elizabeth driving up in style in the car of the young man
conceded by all Dorfield mothers and daughters to be the most desirable
catch in town. Next to catching him themselves the sisters of Elizabeth
would have liked to have her catch him. The mother was perfectly
impartial as to which member of her family should land such a large
game fish.

“I don’t believe she even asked him in,” declared Gertrude, peeping out
the window.

“I am sure she didn’t,” agreed Annabel. “I know he would have come in
if she had asked him. Elizabeth doesn’t know how to handle men at all.”

“No, she is simply foolish the way she goes to work,” said Pauline. “No
man likes to be cut so short. She just gave him a little nod and came
on in before he had even got back in his car and started his engine.
She’ll never win out with such indifference.”

“I don’t know about that,” put in Margaret, who loved to take the
opposite view, “sometimes the grand independent way is quite taking,
especially with a man like Billy McGraw, who has been spoiled to
death. How did you happen to get a lift?” This to Elizabeth, who had
just entered the room.

“I met Billy at Mrs. Markle’s and he asked to bring me home, as he was
coming this way,” said Elizabeth with as much sangfroid as she could
muster.

“I think I shall have the Markles and Mr. McGraw to dinner soon,” said
Mrs. Wright, who had listened with half an ear to the conversation of
her daughters. “I have meant to entertain them for some time and since
they are such friends of Billy McGraw’s it would be agreeable to have
them all come together.”

“I wouldn’t,” faltered Elizabeth. “You are not called on to entertain
them.”

“I fancy I am the best judge of that,” said her mother sharply. “I
should like to know since when it has been necessary for one of my
daughters to dictate to me when I should and should not entertain in my
own house. You say you have been calling at Mrs. Markle’s and it seems
quite fitting then that I should call on her and invite her to dinner.”

“Don’t you like Mrs. Markle?” asked Margaret curiously, noting with
amusement that Elizabeth had flushed painfully under her mother’s
tirade. Mrs. Wright’s tirades were not usually looked upon very
seriously by her daughters.

“Why, I never thought much about it,” said Elizabeth evasively.

“I fancy she is some beau grabber,” suggested Pauline.

“Why did you call on her if you didn’t like her?” asked Gertrude.

“Heavens above!” ejaculated Elizabeth. “Perhaps I had some business to
attend to--or perhaps I didn’t,” remembering suddenly that her business
with Mrs. Markle was of a delicate nature and not to be mentioned
outside of the bosom of the Higgledy-Piggledy.

“What business?” insisted Gertrude.

“The kind one gets rich attending to, my own,” said Elizabeth. She knew
she was rude, but why couldn’t her family let her alone? She had worked
hard all day typing the novel for the would-be author; writing an
obituary notice for a bereaved gentleman who had just lost his fourth
wife; and polishing up a paper for an aspiring leader of a literary
club. She was tired now and would have liked to go to her room and
be quiet for a few moments. How different life was at the shop! There
everybody was busy and nobody had time to be poking her nose in
everybody’s business.

“I fancy your business was running after Billy McGraw,” continued
Gertrude. Since rudeness was the order of the day, she was fully
capable of doing her share to keep the ball rolling.

Elizabeth’s inclination was to answer with increased acrimony but she
thought better of it and merely left the room, even refraining from
slamming the door, which was always a good way to get the last word in
an argument in the Wright household.

“Why, why, can’t they let me alone?” she asked herself when she got to
the room which she shared with Margaret. She vaguely wished she had
kept her temper and not been so quick to take it for granted that her
sisters were interfering.

“They are so idle is the reason they ask so many questions, I am sure,”
she argued with herself. “I should feel sorry for them because they
don’t know what fun it is to be busy. I’m going to try to be nicer and
bring home something in the way of news that will be helpful to them
instead of flying off the handle the way I did. I do wish though that
Mother wouldn’t entertain the Markles. Of course, she is doing it to
encourage Billy McGraw. Mother’s methods are too apparent for him who
runs not to read. Only suppose the Markles come and find things here
they want.” Here Elizabeth had to giggle a bit to herself. “They might
go off with Father’s first editions and the great-grandfather forks,
to say nothing of the silver slop basin in which George Washington is
supposed to have drunk his toddy. What am I to do? I shouldn’t let
Mother entertain such persons, but there is no stopping her short of
divulging my real reason for not having them and that would be queering
Josie’s game. Well, maybe it will teach Mother a lesson. Of course if
anything does happen they will blame me for being the one to introduce
them to such persons.”

The outcome was that the Wrights did entertain the Markles and Billy
McGraw on the same evening, although Elizabeth put in one more earnest
protest which had no more effect than to raise the ire of her mother
and sisters, who declared she was a dog in the manger. Evidently she
did not want Billy McGraw herself, but she didn’t want any of her
sisters to have him.

“He is taken with you, anyone can see with half an eye,” declared
Gertrude. “But you treat him just as though he were any ordinary young
man--”

“Isn’t he?” asked Elizabeth.

“Pooh! You know he is a cut above the others with all that money.”

The dinner party proved a success in spite of Elizabeth’s
embarrassment. The poor girl felt that the evening would never end.
The Wrights knew how to entertain and nobody in Dorfield could give a
better dinner than Mrs. Wright; the daughters were handsome and could
be agreeable; Mr. and Mrs. Markle had a social gift and easy manners
that insured a light, pleasant conversation wherever they were invited.

Elizabeth almost had hysterics when she saw her father leading Mr.
Markle into his sanctum sanctorum to show him his rare first editions,
his autographed copies, etc. Mrs. Markle was delighted with the Boydell
plates from Shakespeare and the portfolio of Hogarth’s drawings handed
down from an ancestor, who also collected.

“And this is the silver service you spoke of,” she said to Elizabeth.
“See, Felix, this old service was marked and Mrs. Wright had the
initials removed. Isn’t that wonderful?” she said naïvely to her
husband. “I wonder how they do it. It is a wonderful piece of silver.
Only feel how heavy! And look at those brass candlesticks! Heavens,
Mrs. Wright! Those candlesticks are worth more than their weight in
gold. They are of a rare and wonderful design. Surely you don’t go off
to the beach and leave such treasures unprotected?”

“Oh, yes,” said Mrs. Wright, delighted that her guest was so
appreciative of the heirlooms. “We have never had any burglaries in
Dorfield, at least none for years to amount to anything. Of course, as
a rule, we take the silver with us.”

“Oh, of course,” said Hortense, and Elizabeth listened for the
disappointed note she felt was surely in her voice.

“We either take it with us or hide it somewhere in the house,”
continued Mrs. Wright. “This heavy service I usually hide in first one
place and then another. Sometimes I hide things so well I can’t find
them myself. The tops of wardrobes are famous places. Nobody ever
thinks of looking for things there.”

“Of course, nobody would,” commented Hortense.

“I am to begin tomorrow to pack up for the summer,” went on Mrs.
Wright, rather pleased that this young woman was so attentive. “You
see, we are to go to the lake just as soon as Mary Louise’s wedding is
over. That is quite soon now. To-morrow I send the servants out to the
lake house to get it ready for us. It makes it rather inconvenient for
us, but it is only for a few days and then it is nice when we get there
to have everything in such perfect order.”

“All of you will go to the wedding?” asked Hortense.

“Oh, yes, Mary Louise has invited the entire family. It was no less
than she could do since Elizabeth is one of the bridesmaids. Mr. Wright
is not inclined to accept invitations, but we have persuaded him to go
to this wedding, since it is really the event of the year. Of course,
the girls and I would not miss it for anything.”

Elizabeth was glad when the evening was over. It embarrassed her to
see the way in which her mother and sisters made up to Billy McGraw
and the warmer their manners became the colder grew her own towards
that young man, who could not understand what he had done to merit her
disapproval. The more distant she became the closer he tried to come.
He forgot to look at the beautiful Mrs. Markle in his endeavor to make
Elizabeth smile on him.



CHAPTER XVII

ANOTHER VISIT TO THE CHIEF


Felix Markle was at the very top of his profession. A man of rare
culture and natural refinement and of indomitable will and courage, he
might have made a name for himself in any walk of life he had chosen
to follow. It was a pity that so much that was fine in him should have
gone to make a master thief instead of the noble leader he might have
been.

The possession of Detective O’Gorman’s notebook was of the greatest
importance to him. The deciphering of it would tell exactly how much
the secret service knew concerning him and his accomplices. How much
was known concerning his aliases and if his wife was suspected or had
been at any time.

He was determined to protect her at any cost, but everything was
going so well he could see no reason to doubt that they could go on
with their clever schemes indefinitely. Every now and then one of the
supposed owners of the elegantly furnished apartments determined
to have a sale and then large sums would be realized on the stolen
treasures. The firm of Simpkins & Markle would handle the sale, taking
out their commission and Markle would have the part of seeing that the
fictitious owners got their share of the profits. All transactions
appeared on the books of the real estate firm and any expert examiner
of those books would have pronounced everything to be in perfect form
and order.

Josie O’Gorman had hoped to keep up with the case unaided by mere man,
but things were getting too much for her. She began to lose sleep going
over and over how best she could trap the persons of whose dishonesty
she was assured. Her idea was not to spring the trap too soon for fear
she might lose some of the principal offenders. After many sleepless
nights, she determined to take Chief Charley Lonsdale into her
confidence and ask for his support.

On this visit she found the man at the door awake and taking notice.

“You can’t see the chief,” he announced decisively, looking at Josie as
though she were thin air. “He’s that busy he says he can’t see a soul.
If you are after making a complaint about a neighbor’s hens? or the
like, there’s a man at the desk for such business.”

Josie’s eyes took on the dull look she loved to assume when there was
important business on hand.

“It’s worse than hens--it’s tigers!” she exclaimed. “A man at the desk
can’t attend to tigers. I must see the chief.”

The astonished man let her pass. Of course tigers were a little too
important for a small man like the one at the desk to cope with.

The chief was alone and busy looking over some papers. A worried frown
was on his brow. He looked up a moment after Josie entered.

“Ah, the little O’Gorman! Nothing doing, I fancy, and you have come for
help.”

“I have come for help but not because there is nothing doing. I could
handle that situation alone,” replied Josie in a cool drawl that
was ludicrously like the tone her father had used and it made Chief
Lonsdale smile. “There is so much doing that I have had to come for
help. I hate to do it, as I’d like the glory along with the work, but
I can’t let the whole school of fish escape just so I can have the
honor of landing the biggest one of the lot. Father used to say that a
detective must first consider his duty to society; that is, to get the
wrong-doers caught, never mind who does the catching.”

“Humph! I wish there were more of his way of thinking. Now tell us all
about it.”

Josie sat down and unfolded her tale from the beginning. She made
the man’s eyes wide with astonishment when she told of the Markles’
entrance into her shop and the purloining of the notebook. He laughed
delightedly over what Markle was spending so much time trying to master.

“The Hound of Heaven!” he cried. “That sounds like good stuff. And who
is this young newspaper chap who has drawn the blank? Does he know it
yet?”

“He has been very busy and has not yet opened the book,” explained
Josie. “I have seen him once and he tells me he has it in his breast
pocket and is waiting for an evening off when he intends to untie the
hard knot of the ribbon and then try to unravel the cipher. I was sorry
not to put him on to the fake, but I felt I had better not take anyone
else into our confidence just yet. I’ll set his mind at rest when he
finds it out, because, of course, he will feel responsible for it. I am
rather hoping Mrs. Markle will be around when he lets me know about it.
I like to study her. She is a deep one, for sure.

“Of course,” she continued, “up to this time we have nothing to go upon
but suspicion, except that they came in and purloined the notebook. The
fact that Mr. McGraw’s friends in New York lost an enamel pin and all
their etchings and rugs, etc., and that Mrs. Markle has a pin like the
one lost is no proof, but link by link the chain is being forged and,
in my own mind, I am sure of them. Of course, I overheard their talk
when they were in my shop, and that is enough to settle the matter for
me, but it wouldn’t amount to much as evidence. Not even the fact that
former initials had been cut out of the napkins would count for much.”

“Well, now, what do you advise?” asked the chief, quite humbly. This
girl’s level-headed ingenuity amazed him.

“I advise a very circumspect supervision of the real estate firm of
Simpkins & Markle first,” said Josie. “If by hook or crook one could
get hold of their books and see where they have done business lately.
Do you know Simpkins?”

“Yes, went to school with him--a man of no imagination and perfect
honesty--dull though--dull.”

“Any means?”

“Doing well--very well--so I am told, especially since he has gone into
partnership with this Markle.”

“You see, if we could get some idea of where their business is
located we could spread nets all around and catch the whole bunch of
confederates. Have you someone you can trust not to bungle?” Josie
looked so solemn and so young the chief had to smile behind his papers.

“Perhaps!” and then the man and the girl put their heads together and
step by step traced out their strategic plans.

“I hope the ax won’t drop until after Mary Louise is married and off on
her wedding trip,” sighed Josie. “Poor Mary Louise is always getting
mixed up in other persons’ villainies.”

“Yes, if we could only warn her of the perfidy of this new friend.
Don’t you think we might?” asked the chief, who was as fond of Mary
Louise as though she had been his own daughter.

“Never! In the first place, she wouldn’t believe any tales about her
dear Hortense, and in the second, she would queer our game by trying to
get her off if she was convinced of her being a criminal. Mary Louise
is not of the stern stuff that you and I are made of, Chief.”

“Well, I only hope they won’t be trying any of their monkey tricks
at her wedding,” laughed the man. “But they would hardly do that.
Anyhow, we must be prepared and, of course, our object is to catch them
redhanded. I may have to send to New York for assistance, but I promise
you that no matter what help I get, you are the boss of this job.”

“I wish I had been born triplets,” sighed Josie. “I’d like to run on
to New York and have a personal interview with this friend of Billy
McGraw’s named Thomas who had his stuff all lifted--as it is, I think
you had better put some man on the job who can fix it up with him to be
in Dorfield in the next few days, or immediately after the wedding, so
he can identify his goods. I have an idea most of his things are right
here in the Markle apartment. Of course, he must not let on to McGraw
that he is coming or he will queer the whole thing by mentioning to
Hortense Markle that he is expecting his friend and she will see to
it that all traces are removed. She is slick as slick can be and has
that young fellow guessing, not that he is in love with her, but just
fascinated by her big eyes and her confiding girlish manner. My opinion
is that she is madly in love with that scamp of a husband but she leads
these rich young men on just to fleece them.”

“Yes, I know the type,” put in the chief.

The young girl and the old man were agreed that they would try to hold
off until after their dear Mary Louise was married and started on her
wedding trip, then they would close in around the Markles and their
confederates and have the matter all settled before Danny and his bride
should return from their honeymoon.

“Nothing must come up to cloud the girl’s happiness,” said Josie, and
the chief said: “Amen!”



CHAPTER XVIII

BOB DULANEY RETURNS THE NOTEBOOK


The next day the shop was doing a thriving business. Josie was busily
engaged in hunting up information concerning the best method to pursue
when contemplating taking a donkey trip through Spain for a middle aged
lady who had saved money for the venture and was determined to have the
trip in spite of discouraging friends; Elizabeth was touching up a club
paper on extra foraneous ornamentation; and Irene, who had been sent
for in a hurry to do some smocking, had just wheeled herself from the
dumb-waiter, produced her thimble and gone to work.

Hortense Markle came into the shop looking, as usual, fresh as the
dawn and her eyes sparkling like dew drops. Josie looked at her almost
pityingly. It seemed so sad to her that anyone who looked so charming
could be so wicked.

“I have brought some trifling little gew-gaws that Felix and I have
picked up at various times in our travels, thinking you young
merchants might have some sale for them. They are of no great value,
but there is no use in keeping such things around the house when one no
longer cares for them,” she said, opening a package she carried. “Would
you care to try to sell them?”

“Sure, we would,” answered Josie. “We are expecting to go into that
kind of business a good deal. Are the things antiques?”

“Some of them! Here is a cameo brooch that is really quite pretty,
but I am not the cameo brooch type. I can’t imagine what made Felix
take--buy--such a thing.” Josie noticed the little slip but her
expressionless face gave no clue to her thoughts. “Here is a chain,
quite pretty, and a locket too.”

There were various trinkets, all of them accepted by the girls and a
price agreed upon for them. They were to receive a commission on the
sales.

“I have some rugs too that we don’t want,” continued Hortense. “Would
you like them? Perhaps you might buy them outright and make quite a
pretty penny on them.”

“Send them around and we will see about it,” said Josie. “Are they
handsome?”

“Yes, quite fine! Felix thinks they are prettier than the ones we
are using but I have a fancy for the old ones to which I have grown
accustomed.”

Irene and Elizabeth listened to the above conversation with feelings
of mingled astonishment and amusement. Life for those girls was very
interesting during the days while the net was slowly closing around the
unconscious Markles. They could not help feeling sorry for them, but at
the same time disgust at Hortense’s perfidy was uppermost in the minds
of the girls who had led quiet sheltered lives themselves.

“Tell me, Miss O’Gorman, has young Mr. Dulaney ever brought back your
father’s notebook, and could he make head or tail of the pot-hooks?”
asked Hortense, pretending to be very nonchalant.

“No, not yet, but he was to get to it last evening,” answered Josie.
“But here he is now.”

Bob Dulaney came in the shop looking decidedly perturbed.

“Oh, Miss O’Gorman, I am worried stiff,” he cried, taking in the other
occupants with a general bow. “I can’t bear to meet you, but I must
have it over with. Do you know something has happened to the book you
lent me, your father’s notebook, I mean. I have not had it out of my
possession since you handed it to me, in my breast pocket all the time
and when my coat was not on my back it was hanging on a chair by my
bed. I have not had time to open the little book until last night.
Then I untied the hard knot of the ribbons and found the book filled
with nothing but blank pages. I can’t account for it. Certainly when
you showed it to us when you moved in, it had ciphered notes in it. I
remember well that you untied the strings and the pages were covered
close with hieroglyphics. You put it back on the shelves tightly tied
up and I fancy it had not been opened since. In fact, I think you said
it had not when you lent it to me.”

It was difficult for Josie to pretend to the perturbed young man, but
she felt she must keep up the farce before the watchful Hortense. She
devoutly hoped Irene and Elizabeth could hold on to themselves. She
could plainly see they were excited and that Irene was filled with pity
for poor Bob.

“It is too bad,” said Josie with as cold a voice as she could muster.
“I should not have let the book get out of my possession. Of course,
I don’t know myself what was in it, never having had time to dig out
the meaning since my father died, but I understood from him that
the information in it would be of the greatest value for the secret
service.”

“I know it--but oh, Miss O’Gorman, I can’t tell you how I feel
about it. I’m so miserable. I’m going to see a detective about it
immediately. I don’t see how it happened, or who could have known even
that I had it. Could it have been done before I took it?”

“Well, hardly,” spoke up Hortense with something of a sneer. “I was
here when Miss O’Gorman gave it to you and she remarked at the time
that--”

“Well, there is no use in crying over spilt milk, as my father used to
say,” interrupted Josie. “I have learned a lesson and that is perhaps
as worth while as the information detectives may have gained from the
book--that is, not to lend too promiscuously.”

Irene turned away her face. She felt so sorry for Bob she could not
bear to look at him. She felt Josie was carrying the thing too far, but
she knew she must keep out of the discussion. If she could only let
Bob know that she trusted him.

“I am so sorry! That is all I can say,” and Bob turned to go. “Good-by,
all of you. I fancy you won’t want to see me in your shop any more.”

“Oh, well, we may have to see you to try and clear up this matter,”
said Josie, brusquely. She followed him to the door and out into the
hall. Her manner suddenly changed.

“Shh!” she warned. “It is all right. Don’t worry a minute. I have the
notes all safe. You must forgive me for being so rude. Don’t ask any
questions now but come back in a few minutes. Wait across the street
until you see Mrs. Markle is gone, or better still, go to the back of
the house and come up in the elevator and wait there until she is out
of the house. We need your help. Understand?”

“No, but it is all right if you say so,” was Bob’s relieved reply.

“Well, young man, you come back here as soon as the coast is clear
and, if you are sharp, you are going to assist in the biggest haul of
fourflushers of this century. Also, you are going to get the scoop
of your life for your paper. But don’t move without letting me
know.” With that Josie turned back the collar of her middy blouse and
disclosed a badge that made Bob whistle.

The young man carried down those old stairs a much lighter heart than
he had carried up.

“Who would have thought it?” he muttered. “A chip of the old block,
that’s sure--but what has the beautiful Mrs. Markle to do with it? Gee!
But life is interesting!”

When Josie went back in the shop, Hortense began with a bitter
invective against Bob Dulaney. Of course, he had purloined the notes.
He very well knew their value and was simply trying to pull the wool
over Josie’s eyes. Empty and blank papers indeed! She had seen the
sheets all covered with notes with her own eyes and had seen Josie
tie the ribbons around the little book in the hardest kind of a knot.
Dulaney had simply sold them to some collector. For her part she had
no faith in him. Why didn’t Josie send for the police? Josie told her
perhaps she would but, after all, she doubted the papers being so very
valuable. She only prized them for sentimental reasons. Irene sat like
a frozen girl during the conversation. She longed for Hortense to go,
which she did soon, and then Bob came whizzing up in the dumb-waiter
and there was general rejoicing in the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop.

“We must lie very low and keep very quiet,” warned Josie. “Remember we
are all novices and dealing with hardened criminals. We must not make
the mistake the Markles are making in underestimating the intelligence
of our opponents. Father always said to give the enemy credit for
having more sense and ingenuity than you possess yourself and try to
make up for your possible lack by eternal vigilance. Do you realize,
Elizabeth, that our shop has been drawn into this net, that we are
receivers of stolen goods? Every one of these trinkets has been stolen,
also the rugs she is to send up on approval. Of course, she hopes we
will buy them outright and hand over the money in case she and her
rascally husband may have to vamoose in a hurry. We will keep her
waiting for a few days, eh, partner Elizabeth?”



CHAPTER XIX

THE WEDDING


The twelfth of June was just such a day as it should have been for the
wedding day of the lovely Mary Louise and her darling Danny Dexter. The
weather is always an important factor for a successful undertaking of
any kind, but a stormy wedding day is something we cannot forgive the
weather man. It was especially important that the sun should shine,
but not too hotly, and the breezes should be soft and gentle for this
wedding, since it was to be staged out of doors.

  “And what is so rare as a day in June?
     Then, if ever, come perfect days;
   Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
     And over it softly her warm ear lays;
   Whether we look, or whether we listen,
   We hear life murmur, or see it glisten.”

That twelfth of June was just such a day as Lowell describes in his
immortal poem. Everybody was happy, even Grandpa Jim, since his
beloved child was not really being taken from him. He was merely being
presented with a grandson-in-law who would but add to the joy of his
declining years. The wedding trip was to take Mary Louise away for
only two weeks and Irene was to stay with him until Mr. and Mrs. Danny
Dexter should return.

The ceremony was to be at high noon, followed by a wedding breakfast,
the splendor and lavishness of which was to be the talk of Dorfield
for days to come. Colonel Hathaway was not inclined to show, but the
marriage of this dear grandchild was of paramount importance to the old
man and he felt that nothing must be left undone to make this wedding
breakfast perfect. The list of guests had grown, as such lists always
do grow, and to the dear friends and intimates were gradually added the
new acquaintances of grandfather and granddaughter. It was difficult
to draw the line, since both old man and young girl had such kindly
feelings for everybody in Dorfield and everybody surely loved them.

“Why draw the line, since it is so difficult?” Grandpa Jim had
remarked. “If there is any doubt about whether we should or shouldn’t
ask anybody, for goodness’ sake let’s ask them. It is better to err
on that side of the ledger.” And so the invitation ended by being
general, much to the delight and satisfaction of Dorfield. Mrs. Wright,
after all, might have spared herself her trouble of maneuvering for
invitations for her daughters.

The bridesmaids had arrived. They looked very like the bunches of sweet
peas they were to carry. As for the bride, no lily of the field could
have been fairer.

  “Her angel face as the great eye of Heaven shone bright
   And made a sunshine in a shady place.
   Did ever mortal eye behold such heavenly grace?”

quoted Elizabeth in a whisper to Josie. Josie had refused to be a
bridesmaid, but was with them upstairs where they were waiting for the
hour to strike. “I do wish Irene could see you now,” she said to Mary
Louise.

“Where is she, the dear girl? I’ll run down and speak to her before the
people all come.”

“You could hardly do that, honey, as Irene is already out on the lawn.
She has wheeled her chair to the spot where we decided she must sit so
she can be part of the ceremony, as it were.”

“Here I am!” cried Hortense Markle tripping into the room. “I was so
afraid you would worry about my not getting here in time. I am a wee
bit late, but dear Felix is ill and I could not leave him before.”

“Oh, I am so sorry,” said Mary Louise. “Is he in bed?”

“No, he is sitting up with his dressing gown wrapped around him. It is
just one of those miserable neuralgic attacks he is subject to, but it
completely lays him out, poor fellow. He is so sorry not to come to the
wedding. In fact, up to the last minute, he hoped he would be able to
control the wretched headache and come anyhow, but he finally had to
give up. I gave him a huge dose of aspirin. I really hated to leave him
but, of course, I could not be absent from such a post of honor at such
a time. The matron of honor is almost as necessary to a bride as the
groom himself. But how beautiful you are, my dear Mary Louise! And the
girls! They are wonderful. I am almost sorry I am to be in the picture,
I want so much to see it.”

Hortense herself was as beautiful as could be. Her dress of the palest
grey made over iridescent silk was perfect and her glowing beauty shone
in a manner that Elizabeth thought of as being almost diabolical in its
lure.

“I am sorry I know what she is,” Elizabeth whispered to Josie. “I can’t
enjoy her beauty as I should like to, knowing as I do what a thing she
is.”

“Well, keep up a face, anyhow,” admonished Josie. “I am expecting
trouble. I hope it won’t go wrong.”

“I promised to telephone Felix just before the ceremony,” said
Hortense. “He says he wants to picture us as we go through the yew
hedge. He is really quite sentimental about this wedding, dear Mary
Louise. You are a prime favorite with him and he thinks great things of
your Danny.”

At last the hour struck! It was time for the start. The guests had
gathered on the lawn. It was hard for some of them to tear themselves
away from the room where the wedding presents were placed. Such wedding
presents! Cases of silver of every known pattern and device! Cut glass
and fine china! Wonderful rugs and tapestries! Rare etchings and
prints! Linen fine enough for a king’s ransom! All of these things
were in a little room downstairs that connected Grandpa Jim’s bedroom
and the living room. This room Mary Louise had always used as an extra
sitting room where she could take her intimates. It had been cleared
of furniture for the occasion and tables brought in to hold all the
beautiful presents. Some of the more curious guests wanted to linger
and read every card and look at the bottom of every piece of silver to
see if, by chance, anyone could have sent anything not marked sterling;
but when the rumor went forth that the bridal procession was ready to
start, the curious ones hastened for the terraces. Hortense telephoned
to her husband a moment before they left the house.

“We are ready, dear,” she said in the phone in Mary Louise’s room,
“Just starting! You may think of us in five minutes now as being in the
midst of the ceremony. I hope your dear head is better. Oh, I am so
sorry! Go to bed dear!”

Josie watched every movement of the matron of honor. Nothing escaped
the little detective. It was easy to see that Hortense was filled with
an excitement that merely being matron of honor did not warrant. Her
eyes were sparkling and her cheeks were flushed. Her beauty glowed like
a ruby. Occasionally, Josie noticed she stood still for a moment in an
attitude of listening. Josie listened too up to the moment the bridal
party came through the yew hedge and made its way to the spot on the
greensward where the minister awaited. Then for a moment, she forgot
everything but the fact that Mary Louise, her dear little friend, was
being united to her Danny in the holy bonds of matrimony in sickness
and in health until death would them part.

Of course, the servants came out to the side of the house to see their
little mistress married. Even the caterers who had begun to swarm in
and out of the place left their work and joined the house servants.
Mary Louise was a favorite with everybody and this was not the first
time those caterers had been called to Colonel Hathaway’s to serve,
for the old gentleman was a famous entertainer and many had been the
parties given by him to his granddaughter. The great house was empty.
Everybody was in the garden thrilled by the beautiful and picturesque
sight of the wedding.

As the procession came through the yew hedge a small automobile truck
was driven up the alley. It stopped at the Hathaways’ back gate and two
men got out, each one with a trunk slung over his back. Quietly they
made their way through the deserted kitchen and butler’s pantry and
into the small room where the presents were on display. They closed
the doors to this room and then with remarkable dispatch proceeded to
pack the presents in the trunks filled with excelsior, first the silver
which they took from the cases, thereby economizing space, and then the
cut glass wrapped in the fine linen and tapestries and packed between
the folds of the rugs. Such clever packers were never seen. They seemed
to have an instinct for fitting an article in a space. The trunks were
filled in a twinkling and then the men carried them out one at a time,
and quietly and easily lifted them into the truck. Just as the minister
pronounced Danny and Mary Louise man and wife and warned the guests
that whom God had united let no man put asunder, the truck started up
the alley.

“Well, we got off there all safe,” laughed one of the men. “I must
say you are the cleverest ever. Of course, you have your wife to help
you plan a thing like this.” The man who was thus blessed was no
other than Felix Markle, who seemed to have shaken off his headache
remarkably quickly and have got to the Hathaways in time for the
ceremony after all.

“Yes, she is a wonder. I’d like to know if the others got the things
from the Wrights. I hope they didn’t fill up with useless plunder. The
Wrights are off to the beach tomorrow and they won’t know a thing about
their treasures being lifted until they come back in the fall. There
they are!”

The truck was met at the corner by one similar also carrying trunks and
run by two men.

“All safe?” called Markle.

“As easy as shootin’!” was the answer. “Not a soul around and back
windows all unlatched. We found the silver on top the wardrobe and
brought along all the books you named to us. We picked up some rugs
too, all nicely packed in moth balls and two fur coats.”

“Well, we’d best be off now. You have the address all right, eh? Mark
your tag clearly and bring me your check tomorrow at my office. Good
boys!”

The trucks then separated, the one Markle was in making at a goodly
speed for a small town about fifteen miles from Dorfield, the other
one going to the Dorfield station.

Josie, whose eye was ever on Hortense, noticed the woman was a little
distrait at the close of the ceremony. Just as the benediction was
pronounced instead of casting down her eyes she seemed unable to keep
her eyes from the back of the garden, even stooping a little to peer
through a gap in the hedge. What could she be interested in?

Congratulations in order! Everybody kissing the bride and shaking hands
with the bridegroom, some of them even kissing him. Josie slipped
through the crowd and whispered something to Bob Dulaney.

“A truck you say drove up during the ceremony?”

“Yes, and it is off now, but we can keep up with it. The chief is
having all the stations watched. Have you your disguise?”

“Sure! And you?”

“Mine is in my pocket, so come along.”



CHAPTER XX

THE RIDE TO SOMERVILLE


They made their way to the garage, where there was a motorcycle with
a side car attached. Josie darted behind the Colonel’s big touring
car and in a moment came out as good a little boy as one could wish.
She had simply stepped out of her dress, having the boy’s clothes on
underneath. Then she put on a pair of big automobile goggles and,
pulling a cap down over her sandy hair, made the disguise perfect.
Bob put on over his wedding garment a black alpaca dress of goodly
proportions, since he was a broad shouldered, powerful youth. Across
his manly bosom he folded a spotless white kerchief and under his chin
he tied the strings of a huge black satin quilted sunbonnet, first
fitting over his smooth brown head a wig composed of many water waves,
the kind beloved by a certain type of female.

“All right but your shoes and they are awful,” complained Josie. “I
thought you would forget them and brought these. Father always said
your feet would give you away quicker than anything else.” Josie
produced from the side car a huge pair of list slippers which Bob was
loath to put on but which he did, knowing the girl was right. The
patent leathers he had on were hardly in keeping with the bombazine
dress and the quilted satin bonnet. He surveyed himself with interest,
twisting to see his back.

“Put your shoes and hat in your grip, Auntie, and then we are off.”
She handed the young man a lumpy, bumpy grip known as a telescope. He
climbed into the side car, Josie mounted the motorcycle and in a jiffy
they were off, making the usual splutteration of those noisy modes of
locomotion.

“The chief is to attend to the station at Dorfield and we are to follow
the truck, which is more than likely going over to Somerville. If it
goes beyond there we will go beyond also. Of course, you realize the
reason we don’t nab the fellows right now is that we are anxious to get
the whole bunch and if we can keep up with where these trunks are to
be sent we can more than likely get many more of the gang in our net,”
explained Josie, putting on more speed as she saw the rear end of a
truck making for the open road on the way to Somerville.

“Now I am to hang around and find out where Markle ships the trunks and
then I am to find out what the number of the checks is and report to
the chief. Is that it?”

“Exactly! You are such a fussy old lady and so full of curiosity,
Auntie.”

“Are you going to let the trunks go off?” asked Auntie anxiously.

“We may have to. Then the persons who apply for them at the other end
will be nabbed. Of course, Markle will buy tickets and check the trunks
and mail the checks to his confederates. More than likely, he will
not get on the train himself but just pretend he is going to. I fancy
poor old Markle will wish he had taken the train to-night. He may be
near the end of his rope. I can’t help feeling kind of sorry for the
poor devil.” Josie sighed a little. “Father always felt sorry for the
criminals. One can’t help it. He used to say they had just as much
feeling as we had and because they had gone wrong did not alter the
fact that they had been cunning little babies once and their mothers
had no doubt loved them. Perhaps they loved them so much they did not
spank them enough and that is the reason they turned out so badly.”

Bob laughed in a voice not at all suitable for a respectable auntie and
was admonished by her critical nephew. They soon caught up with the
truck and kept a few hundred feet behind them.

“What is that coming up behind us?” Markle asked his companion.

“Nothing but one of those Indians with a side car carrying an old woman
and a little boy. I tell you we made a safe getaway and these trunks
will be on the Eastern express bound for the metropolis before the
wedding guests have sat down to their paté de fois gras.”

It went off quite as Josie had planned. Markle, quietly and in a
businesslike manner, bought two tickets to New York as soon as he
reached the bustling little station at Somerville, after lifting out
the heavy trunks. Josie and her fictitious auntie were near him and
heard him ask for the tickets and demand checks for his baggage.

“I’ll get your tickets, Auntie, while you go ’round to the baggage room
and see if your trunk has come,” suggested Josie in an audible tone and
a manner of a small nephew who was more or less wearied by his female
relatives. “But maybe I’d better not buy your ticket until you see
whether it is there or not, ’cause I know you won’t get on the train
without it. You women won’t go on trips without your duds.”

Bob flounced off with all the dignity he could muster, managing his
bombazine with surprising grace. Markle and his companion paid no
attention whatsoever to the boy and the old woman, but went on to the
baggage room, where they personally superintended putting the checks on
their trunks. It took but a moment for Auntie to poke around the piled
up trunks in her diligent search for her own dream luggage and take the
numbers of the checks.

“Can’t you find it?” asked Josie. “They promised to get it here in
time. I don’t see why you don’t go on without it.” But Auntie decided
she would wait until the next train. Her decision was made in a husky
whine that astonished Josie, for it sounded so exactly like that of a
peevish old woman.

Josie watched Markle from the corner of her begoggled eyes. He took
from his pocket a stamped, addressed envelope and carefully placed
therein the trunk checks; then he sealed it and dropped it in the mail
box on the platform. Josie noted a special delivery stamp on it.

“See that those two trunks go on this express,” he said to the baggage
master, who was busy sorting luggage for the train that was due in ten
minutes. “I will take the next train myself but a drummer likes to find
his wares waiting for him at his destination instead of having to wait
for them. They are fairly heavy trunks--would you like a lift?” He was
handing out good cigars as he spoke, one to the baggage master and one
to the porter, whom he tipped generously. “Have another,” he said to
the baggage master, taking out several more cigars. The men moved with
alacrity, pulling out the two heavy trunks first, determined that the
generous donor of cigars and tips should be well served.

“Now we’ll be going,” Markle said to his companion.

Josie darted into the one telephone booth the small station boasted and
quickly had Chief Lonsdale on the wire. The chief had been unable to
attend the wedding because of this business.

“Chief, this is O’Gorman! Markle and his pal are just leaving
Somerville. The trunks are filled with loot from the wedding. We have
the check numbers. Trunks are checked to go on this outgoing express to
New York. I’ll stop them, of course.”

“Certainly, O’Gorman!”

“Are the men ready to seize Markle before he gets back into Dorfield?”

“All ready!”

“Are they using my plan?”

“Sure! Didn’t I tell you this was your case?”

“Good by, then! Will see you later.”

The truck with Markle and his companion was moving off when Josie
finished telephoning. She ran breathless into the baggage room and
accosted the man in charge:

“Say, you know that gentleman who left two trunks here to be sent by
this train--he says not to send them yet. He believes he will have them
go when he goes. You know the ones--booked for New York--No. 82-6573
and 82-6574. Here they are on the platform.”

“All right, Bo! I’ll cart them back in the baggage room,” agreed the
baggage master. He patted the cigars in his vest pocket as much as to
say that the gentleman deserved anything at his hands.

Auntie was already comfortably ensconced in the side car keeping her
eye on the disappearing truck. Josie jumped into the saddle and they
started off.

“There is liable to be something doing pretty soon,” Josie confided to
Bob. “Would you rather meet it as my aunt or get back into your own
character?”

“You mean a rumpus on the road?”

“Yes! Chief Lonsdale has sent out a force to stop the gentlemen of the
road.”

“Which character would be the most useful for me to assume?” laughed
Bob.

“Well, as a fussy old woman you might astonish them somewhat with your
superior strength if that was needed.”

“Then a fussy old woman I shall remain.”

The road between Dorfield and Somerville was smooth and well kept,
except for a piece of about one hundred yards midway between the towns.
This stretch of road had caused some bad feeling between the citizens
of the rival towns, each side declaring it was up to the other to
put in repair. It was a low lying bit of country with a small creek
winding through it. At times this creek went on a rampage and inundated
the road and when it returned to its channel it always left a sticky
gummy road bed, the terror of automobilists.

It was an impossible place for two cars to pass and, if they should
meet, it was necessary for one of the cars to back out and give the
other right of way. This, of course, was the spot chosen by Josie
as the proper place to stop Markle and his companion. When she came
puffing up with her auntie she found her plans being put to the test.
The truck had been stopped by a shabby Ford that seemed to have come
to grief. The four men who had been traveling in it had alighted and
were aimlessly poking at the machinery. The accident had occurred just
around the bend and the truck had come upon them unaware of its being
there.

“What’s the matter?” called Markle impatiently. “Can’t you give me room
to pass?”

“Can’t budge her,” responded the chauffeur dully. “She’s got some
mysterious ailment that I can’t fathom, but I ain’t much of a hand at a
car anyhow. Ain’t been running one for long. If I could get her started
I’d back out for you, mister, seeing as you should have the right of
way, being as you are further in this here swamp than me.”

“I’ll get out,” Markle said to his companion, “and find out what ails
them and let them back out. It won’t do for us to lose too much time.”

It was plain to see that he was nervous and impatient, but he held on
to himself with wonderful control. The men let him get to the car and
look it over.

“Out of gas!” he said with disgust. “Bring over that can and let us
fill her up,” he called to his companion. Under the seat of the truck
was a five-gallon can of gasoline. Nobody could ever place Felix Markle
in the category of the foolish virgins. He never found himself out of
oil. The man obeyed and just as he started to open the can Josie and
her auntie arrived on the scene.



CHAPTER XXI

THE SURPRISING STRENGTH OF AUNTIE


At a signal from Josie, Markle and his companion were grabbed from
behind. The handcuffs were on the companion in a twinkling but with
tiger-like agility and strength Markle slipped from the grasp of the
detectives. Without a moment’s delay he sprang to the motorcycle,
seized Josie by the collar, pulled her from the saddle and hurled her
into the bushes by the wayside. He was in the seat and had the machine
started before his would-be captors could catch their breath.

“That’s what I get for trusting those stupid men,” muttered Josie as
she picked up her bruised and scratched little body from the blackberry
bushes where Markle had so ignominiously thrown her. “Thank God for
Auntie!” she devoutly added.

And now began one of the most exciting contests ever beheld. Markle,
of course ignorant of who the passenger was in the side car and
determined to get rid of her at any cost, said:

“Now old woman, I don’t want to kill you, but I will unless you do
exactly what I say. When we get a mile further on I am going to stop
this infernal machine and you are going to get quietly out. Do you
understand?”

The supposed old woman nodded. She began, however, to unbutton the
large white cotton gloves confining her muscular hands and unknotted
the bonnet ribbon tied under her chin. She moved her shoulders back and
forth in the bombazine gown, making sure there was plenty of room to
give them free play.

Bob Dulaney had been conceded by his regiment in the A. E. F. to be
the best wrestler among them. He had strength and agility and science.
He had never had to use his powers handicapped in a woman’s dress and
kerchief with a stiff sunbonnet but, in spite of the confining clothes
and the powerful build of Markle, he felt quite confident that he
could master him. He was conscious of his muscles rippling under his
feminine garb and as he drew off his gloves he gloried in the strength
of his great hands. Should he wait until Markle stopped the car or
would it be better to grapple with him immediately? Of course, an
immediate grapple would mean the detectives in the temporarily disabled
Ford would come to his assistance. The sporting blood in Bob’s veins
rebelled at this thought. He did not want any assistance. He preferred
to have the fight out single handed. He glanced at Markle. A handsome
fellow with a well set head and fine square jaw. His close cropped
iron-grey hair gave a touch of dignity to his appearance.

“Such a pity! Such a pity!” Bob thought. “Talent gone wrong, just as
little Josie said!” but he patted the handcuffs which Josie had placed
in the old lady’s reticule.

“Here’s where you get off!” said Markle, stopping his Indian. “Step
lively, old woman! I’ve no time to lose.”

The old woman reached out and grasping Markle around the middle she
lifted him from the saddle. For the first time in his eventful career
of systematized crime, Felix Markle was taken completely by surprise.
Knowing the ups and downs of his profession, he was ever ready for an
attack, but this bunchy old woman who had so meekly submitted to being
carried off had given him a shock. If she was not what she seemed,
why had she let him get away from the plain clothes men who might have
rendered assistance in the way of ready revolvers and handcuffs. All
this flashed through his mind as he struggled in the bear hug of the
mysterious female.

Markle was even stronger and more agile than Bob had thought him to be.
In spite of the hold he had on him from the back he wriggled around
and grappled with his foe. Back and forth they fought each one trying
to get the death grip on the other. The bombazine skirt was more of a
handicap than Bob had thought it would be. He had not realized before
how necessary his legs were in a fight. Strange to say the voluminous
skirts also got in Markle’s way and finally managed to trip him up.
They rolled in the dirt. With a great wrench Bob managed to pull up the
offending skirt and with all the strength and science he could command
caught the infuriated Markle in the death-like vise known as the body
scissors. In this grip, the opponent is held between the legs of one
who has obtained this advantage and by the play of the thigh muscles
the breath is slowly squeezed out.

As Markle’s head drooped Bob drew the handcuffs from his bedraggled
reticule and snapped them on his wrists. With his kerchief, no longer
snowy, he bound his ankles together.

“There, poor fellow, I fancy you would have been happier if I had not
let up when I did but had squeezed all the breath out of you,” Bob
panted.

The chug of the rejuvenated Ford was now heard and, after it, the
rumble of the truck. The Ford was breaking the speed limits in its
endeavor to come up with the Indian and its side car. Josie was wild
with impatience. It was all she could do to keep from slapping the
stupid detective who had let their quarry escape.

“It is what I get for trusting them,” she kept on saying to herself. “I
could have snapped the handcuffs on myself without using any force. And
now, poor Bob Dulaney may be killed or almost worse than killed, Markle
escaping and no scoop after all to speak of.”

The fight that had seemed to Bob Dulaney to last hours had in reality
only taken a few minutes, only long enough for the gasoline to be put
in the tank and the car to be backed out of the miry road, turned
around and started.

They found Bob sitting on the roadside by his captive burglar. He was
still in the bombazine gown but his wig and bonnet were gone. He had
found the pockets of his trousers under his skirts and had produced
therefrom cigarettes and matches and was contentedly smoking.

“Hurrah for Auntie!” cried Josie when she took in the situation as the
car slowed down. Tears of joy were in her eyes but a little lump of
sympathy in her throat. They lifted Markle into the truck. Life was
slowly coming back to him. He opened his eyes for a moment and then
closed them wearily. He murmured something but only Josie caught the
meaning of his whisper:

“Pet, poor little Pet!”

It was an easy matter to round up the gang of thieves when once the
master mind was not allowed to direct them. Markle was confined in
jail, there to await his trial. The holder of checks Nos. 82-6573 and
82-6574 when he applied at the New York baggage room was followed and
trapped and with him many others.

The books of Simpkins & Markle were inspected and, through them, the
furnished apartments were located and the stolen goods restored to
their owners. Poor Simpkins had learned a lesson not to shut his eyes
and get rich too quick. He was let off--having convinced the jury that
he was not dishonest--but merely stupid.

But to return to the wedding breakfast and the fortunes of Mary Louise:
Everything went off as it should have and the theft of the presents was
not discovered until the bride and groom were off on their honeymoon
and then Chief Lonsdale had the trunks brought from Somerville and, so
carefully had the things been packed by the experts, that not even one
piece of cut glass had been broken. The trunkful of things purloined
from the Wrights had also been held at the station and was returned
intact. Of course Elizabeth was blamed by her family when the whole
thing came out for having introduced them to such people but Elizabeth
only smiled, being very happy way down deep in her heart that Billy
McGraw was saved from the wiles of the beautiful Hortense.

The beautiful Hortense simply faded out of sight. By some occult means
she must have known of the pursuit of her husband and the vigilance
of the police in regard to herself. It may have been through a
confederate employed by the caterers who perhaps saw Josie and Bob
speeding away on the motorcycle. At any rate, she did not return to her
apartment, but as soon as the ceremony was over, she excused herself
to Mary Louise, regretting exceedingly not being able to be present
during the breakfast and sit at the bride’s table, but her poor Felix
was so miserable she must go to him. She tripped down the terrace and
as has been said, simply faded out of sight. The detectives who had
been set by the astute chief to guard the apartment and to arrest her
when she made her appearance had a long and unfruitful vigil. It seemed
strange that a beautiful woman dressed so strikingly in pale grey over
iridescent silk could in a town no bigger than Dorfield escape the
notice of everyone and disappear.

Bob Dulaney got, as he expressed it, “the scoop of his life.” He was
able to get his story in one of the big New York papers before the A.
P. got on to it, thereby reaping a reward in reputation as well as
money. The whole country rang with the daring scheme practiced by the
gang of thieves and Chief Lonsdale and his force received compliments
from every city. Josie asked not to be put in the papers as the one
who had really done the work.

“It isn’t newspaper notoriety I want,” she explained. “My father never
wanted that kind of credit. He just wanted to have the consciousness
that he had delivered the goods and to be sure he had the respect of
the profession. If it gets out I was active in this, I might lose my
chance to nab others by being the insignificant little person I appear.
It’s better for me to go on keeping the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop with
Elizabeth. I can learn all kinds of things that I’d miss if I were
known to be a real detective. I am here if you need me,” she said to
Chief Lonsdale, and he smiled at her.

“How like your father you are, child!”

Markle had one consolation while he was in prison awaiting his trial:
he had the notebook which had belonged to Detective O’Gorman which he
had not yet been able to decipher. The long hours of solitary prison
life gave him the opportunity to put his whole mind on it and at
last he felt sure he had mastered the cipher. With painstaking care
he translated the first page. Then he sat and looked at it with an
expression on his handsome face that beggared description. After all
he had been fighting Fate and trying to escape his own sin. And this is
what he had translated:

  “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
   I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
   I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
     Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
   I hide from Him, and under running laughter,
             Up vistaed hopes I sped;
               And shot, precipitated
     Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
     From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
             But with unhurrying chase,
             And unperturbed pace,
     Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
             They beat--and a Voice beat
             More instant than the Feet--
     ‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’”


THE END.



Transcriber’s Note:

Spelling, punctuation and hyphenation have been retained as they appear
in the original publication except as follows:

  Page 25
    ‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
    “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may

  Page 37
    thinking of coming to setle in
    thinking of coming to settle in

  Page 41
    in touch with all condiditions of folk
    in touch with all conditions of folk

  Page 43
    to say that it was onnsense
    to say that it was nonsense

  Page 45
    take no thought whatsover concerning
    take no thought whatsoever concerning

  Page 55
    “What newspaper,”
    “What newspaper?”

  Page 107
    No, not in the last!
    No, not in the least!

  Page 129
    losing my precious household gods
    losing my precious household goods

  Page 138
    May I came in?
    May I come in?

  Page 140
    one bit of information suggets
    one bit of information suggests

  Page 155
    pages from ‘Les Miserables’ in French
    pages from ‘Les Misérables’ in French

  Page 167
    staid in Dorfield
    stayed in Dorfield

  Page 181
    about a neighbor’s hins
    about a neighbor’s hens

  Page 209
    stamped, addressed envelop
    stamped, addressed envelope





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