The Girls of Central High Aiding the Red Cross
AMATEUR THEATRICALS FOR A WORTHY CAUSE
GERTRUDE W. MORRISON
I THE ODDEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED
II THE RED CROSS GIRL
IV THE MYSTERY MAN
V SAND IN THE GEARS
VI THE BANK-NOTE
VII SOMETHING EXCITING
VIII THE FOREFRONT OF TROUBLE
IX THE ICE CARNIVAL
X BUT WHO IS HE?
XI A REHEARSAL
XII BUBBLE, BUBBLE
XIII MOTHER WIT HAS AN IDEA
XIV CHAINS ON HIS WHEELS
XV PIE AND POETRY
XVI EMBER NIGHT
XVII A STARTLING ANNOUNCEMENT
XVIII WHERE WAS PURT?
XIX LAURA LISTENS
XX TWO THINGS ABOUT HESTER
XXI AND A THIRD THING
XXII THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST PURT
XXIII THE LAST REHEARSAL
XXIV MR. NEMO, OF NOWHERE
XXV IT IS ALL ROUNDED UP
THE ODDEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED
"Well, if that isn't the oddest thing that ever happened!" murmured Laura
Belding, sitting straight up on the stool before the high desk in her
father's glass-enclosed office, from which elevation she could look down
the long aisles of his jewelry store and out into Market Street,
Centerport's main business thoroughfare.
But Laura was not looking down the vista of the electrically lighted shop
and into the icy street. Instead, she gave her attention to that which lay
right under her eyes upon the desk top. She looked first at the neat
figures she had written upon the page of the day ledger, after carefully
proving them, and thence at the packet of bills and piles of coin on the
desk at her right hand.
"It is the oddest thing that ever happened," she affirmed, as though in
answer to her own first declaration.
It was Saturday evening, and it was always Laura's duty to straighten out
her father's books for him on that day, for although she was a high school
girl, she was usually so well prepared in her studies that she could give
the books proper attention weekly. Laura had taken a course in bookkeeping
and she was quite familiar with the business of keeping a simple set of
books like these.
She never let the day ledger and the cash get far apart. It was her custom
to strike a balance weekly, and this she was doing at this time. Or she was
trying to! But there seemed to be something entirely wrong with the cash
She knew that the figures on the ledger were correct. She had asked her
father, and even Chet, her brother, who was helping in the store this
evening, if either of them had taken out any cash without setting the sum
down in the proper record.
"It is an even fifty dollars—neither more nor less," she had told them,
with a puzzled little frown corrugating her pretty forehead.
They had both denied any such act—Chet, of course, vigorously.
"What kind of hardware are you trying to hang on me, Mother Wit?" he
demanded of his sister. "I know Christmas will soon be on top of us, and a
fellow needs all the money there is in the world to buy even one girl a
decent present. But I assure you I haven't taken to nicking papa's cash
"I don't know but mother is right," Laura sighed. "Your language is
becoming something to listen to with fear and trembling. And I am not
accusing you, Chetwood. I'm only asking you!"
"And I'm only answering you—emphatically," chuckled her brother.
"It is no laughing matter when you cannot find fifty dollars," she told
"You'd better stir your wits a little, then, Sis," he advised. "You know
Jess and Lance will be along soon and we were all going shopping together,
and skating afterward. Lance and I want to practice our grapevine whirl."
But being advised to hurry did not help. For half an hour since Chet had
last spoken the girl had sat in a web of mystery that fairly made her head
spin! Her ledger figures were proved over and over again. But the cash!
Then once more she bent to her task.
The piles of coin were all right she finally decided. She counted them over
and over again, and they came to the same penny exactly. So she pushed the
Then she slowly and carefully counted again the bank-notes, turning them
one by one face down from left to right. The amount, added to the sum of
the coins, was equal to the figures on the ledger. Then she did what she
had already done ten or a dozen times. She recounted the bills, turning
them from right to left.
She was fifty dollars short!
Christmas was approaching, and the Belding jewelry store was, of course,
rather busier than at other seasons. That was why Chet Belding was helping
out behind the counters. Out there, he kept a closer watch on the front
door than Laura, with her financial trouble, could.
Suddenly he darted down the long room to welcome a group of young people
who pushed open the jewelry-store door. They burst in with a hail of merry
voices and a clatter of tongues that drowned every other sound in the store
for a minute, although there were but four of them.
"Easy! Easy!" begged Mr. Belding, who was giving his attention to a
customer near the front of the store. "Take your friends back to Laura's
Hushed for the moment, the party drifted back toward Laura's desk. The
young girl was still too deeply engaged with the ledger and cash to look up
"What is the matter, Mother Wit?" demanded the taller of the two girls who
had just come in—a most attractive-looking maiden, whom Chet had at once
taken on his arm.
"Engine trouble," chuckled Laura's brother. "The old thing just won't
budge! Isn't that it, Laura?"
The tall youth—dark and delightfully romantic-looking, any girl would have
told you—went around into the little office and looked over Laura's
"What's gone wrong, Laura?" he asked, with sympathy in his voice and
"You want to get a move on, Mother Wit!" cried the youngest girl of the
troop, saucy looking, and with ruddy cheeks and flyaway curls. This was
Clara Hargrew, whom her friends called Bobby, and whose father kept the big
grocery store just a block away from the Belding jewelry store. "Everybody
will have picked over the presents in all the stores and got the best of
everything before we get there."
"That's right," said the last member of the group; and this was a short and
sturdy boy who had the same mischievous twinkle in his eye that Bobby
His name was Long, and because he was short, everybody at Central High
(save the teachers, of course) called him "Short and Long." He and Bobby
Hargrew were what hopeless grown folk called "a team!" When they were not
hatching up some ridiculous trick together, they were separately in
"But you say Short and Long has done some of his Christmas shopping
already," Jess Morse, the tall visitor, said. "Just think, Laura! He has
sent Purt Sweet his annual present."
"So soon?" said Laura Belding, but with her mind scarcely on what her
friends were saying. "And Thanksgiving is only just passed!"
"I thought I'd better be early," said Short and Long, with solemn
countenance. "I wrote 'Not to be opened till Christmas' upon the package."
Bobby and Jess and Lance burst into giggles. "Let's have the joke!"
demanded Chet. "What did you send the poor fish, Short?"
"You guessed it! You guessed it, Chet Belding!" cried Bobby. "Aren't you a
"What do you mean?" asked Laura, now becoming more seriously interested.
"Why," Jess Morse said, "he got a codfish down at the market and wrapped it
up in a lot of paper and put it in a long, beautifully decorated Christmas
box. If Purt Sweet keeps that box without opening it until Christmas, I am
afraid the Board of Health will be making inquiries about the Sweet
"You scamp!" exclaimed Laura sternly, to Short and Long.
"He's all right!" declared Bobby warmly. "You know just how mean and stingy
Purt Sweet is—and his mother has more money than anybody else in
Centerport. Last Christmas, d'you know what Purt did?"
"Something silly, of course," Laura said.
"I don't know what you call silly. I call it mean," declared the smaller
girl. "Purt got it noised abroad that he was going to give a present to
every fellow in his class—didn't he, Short?"
"That's what he did," said Billy Long, taking up the story. "And the day
before Christmas he got us all over to his house and offered each of us a
drink of ice-water! And some of the kids had been foolish enough to buy him
things—and give 'em to him ahead of time, too!"
"Serves you right for being so piggish," commented Chet.
"It was a mean trick," agreed Laura, "for some of the boys in Purt's grade
are much younger than he is. But this idea of giving Christmas presents
because you expect something in return——"
"Is pretty small potatoes," finished Lance Darby, the dark youth. "But
what's the matter here, Laura?" he added. "I've counted these bills and
they are just exactly right by those figures you have set down there."
"You turned them from left to right as you counted, Lance," cried Laura.
"Sure! I counted the face of each bill," was the answer.
"Now count them the other way!" exclaimed Laura in despair.
Her friends gathered around while Laura did this. Even Chet gave some
attention to his sister's trouble now. From right to left the packet of
bank-notes came to fifty dollars less than the sum accredited to them on
"Well, what do you know about that?" breathed Lance.
"That's the strangest thing!" declared Jess Morse.
"Why," said Bobby of the quick mind, "must be some of the bills are not
"Nonsense!" ejaculated Chet.
"Who ever heard of such a thing as a banknote being printed wrong unless it
was a counterfeit?" demanded Laura.
Mr. Belding, having finished with his customer, came back to the little
office and heard this. "I am quite sure we have taken in no counterfeits—
eh, Chet?" he said, smiling.
"And there's only one big bill—this hundred," said Chet, who had taken the
package of bills and was flirting them through his fingers. "I took that in
myself when I sold that lavallière to the man I told you about, Father. You
remember? He was a stranger, and he said he wanted to give it to a young
"Let's see that bill, Chet!" exclaimed Bobby Hargrew suddenly.
Chet slipped the hundred-dollar note out of the packet and handed it to the
grocer's daughter. But she immediately cried:
"I want to see the hundred-dollar bill, Chet. Not this one."
"Why, that's the hundred———"
"This is a fifty," interrupted Bobby. "Can't you see?"
She displayed the face of a fifty-dollar bank-note to their wondering eyes.
Their exclamations drowned Mr. Belding's voice, and he had to speak twice
before Bobby heard him.
"Turn it over!"
The grocer's daughter did so. The other side of the bill was the face of a
hundred-dollar bank-note! At this there certainly was a hullabaloo in and
around the office. Mr. Belding could scarcely make himself heard again. He
"What is the matter with that bank-note? Whether it is counterfeit or not,
you took it in over the counter, Chetwood," he said coldly.
"This very day," admitted his oldest son.
"Then, my boy, it is up to you," said the jeweler grimly.
"What——Just what do you mean?" asked Chet, somewhat troubled by his
"In a jewelry store," said Mr. Belding seriously, "as I have often told
you, a clerk must keep his eyes open. You admit taking in this bill. If the
Treasury Department says it is worth only fifty dollars, I shall expect you
to make good the other fifty."
The young people stared at each other in awed silence as the jeweler turned
away. They could feel how annoyed he was.
"Gee!" gasped Chet, "if I'm nicked fifty dollars, how shall I ever be able
to buy Christmas presents, or even give anything for the Red Cross drive?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, Chet!" Jess Morse murmured.
"Looks as if hard times had camped on your trail, old boy," declared Lance.
"But maybe it is a hundred-dollar bill," Laura said.
"It's tough," Short and Long muttered.
"Try to pass it on somebody else," chuckled Bobby, who was not very
sympathetic at that moment.
"Got it all locked up, Laura?" Jess asked. "Well, let us go then. You can't
make that bill right by looking at it, Chet."
"I—I wish I could get hold of the man who passed it on me," murmured the
"Would you know him again?" Lance asked.
"Sure," returned his chum, getting his own coat and hat while his sister
put on her outdoor clothing. "All ready? We're going, Pa."
"Remember what I said about that bill, Chetwood," Mr. Belding admonished
him. "You will learn after this, I guess, to look at both sides of a
hundred-dollar bill—or any other—when it is offered to you."
"Aw, it's a good hundred, I bet," grumbled Chet.
"If it is, I'll add an extra fifty to my Red Cross subscription," rejoined
his father with some tartness.
"Well, that's something!" Bobby Hargrew said quickly. "We want to boost the
fund all we can. And what do you think?"
"My brain has stopped functioning entirely since I got so bothered by that
bank-note," declared Laura Belding, shaking her head. "I can't think."
"Mr. Sharp and the rest of the faculty have agreed that we shall give a
show for the Red Cross," declared Bobby, with enthusiasm. "Just what we
wanted them to do!"
"Oh, joy!" cried Jess, clasping her hands in delight.
"Miss Josephine Morse, leading lady, impressarioess, and so forth," laughed
Lance Darby, "will surely be in on the theatricals."
"Maybe they will let you write the play, Jess," said Chet admiringly.
They reached the door and stepped into the street. There had been rain and
a freeze. The sidewalks, as well as the highway itself, were slippery.
Bobby suddenly screamed:
"See there! Oh! He'll be killed!"
A rapidly-driven automobile turned the corner by the Belding store. A man
was crossing Market Street, coming toward the group of young people.
The careless driver had not put on his chains. The car skidded. The next
instant the pedestrian was knocked down, and at least one wheel ran over
his prostrate body.
Instead of stopping, the car went into high speed and dashed up the street
and was quickly out of sight. The young people ran to the prostrate man.
Nobody for the moment thought of the automobile driver who was responsible
for the affair.
The victim had blood on his face from a cut high up on his crown. He was
unconscious. It was Chet Belding who stood up and spoke, first of all.
"I thought so! I thought so!" he gasped. "Do you know who this is?"
"Who?" asked Jess, clinging to his arm as the crowd gathered.
"This is the man who passed that phony hundred-dollar bill on me. The very
"Is he dead?" whispered Bobby Hargrew, looking under Chefs elbow down at
the crimson-streaked face of the unfortunate man.
THE RED CROSS GIRL
Market street was well lighted, but it was not well policed. That last fact
could not be denied, or the recklessly driven automobile that had knocked
down the stranger would never have got away so easily. People from both
sides of the street and from the stores near by ran to the spot; but no
policeman appeared until long after the automobile was out of sight.
The exciting statement that Chet Belding had made so interested and
surprised his friends that for a few moments they gave the victim of the
injury little of their attention. Meanwhile a figure glided into the group
and knelt beside the injured man who lay upon the ice-covered street. It
was a girl, not older than Laura and Jess, but one who was dressed in the
veil and cloak of the Red Cross.
She was not the only Red Cross worker on Market Street that Saturday
evening, for the drive for the big Red Cross fund had begun, and many
workers were collecting. This girl, however seemed to have a practical
knowledge of first-aid work. She drew forth a small case, wiped the blood
away from the man's face with cotton, and then began to bandage the wound
as his head rested against her knee.
"Somebody send for the ambulance," she commanded, in a clear and pleasant
voice. "I think he has a fractured leg, and he may be hurt otherwise."
Her request brought the three girls of Central High to their senses. Bobby
darted away to telephone to the hospital from her father's store. The older
girls offered the Red Cross worker their aid.
For a year and a half the girls of Central High had been interested in the
Girls' Branch League athletics; and with their training under Mrs. Case,
the athletic instructor, they had all learned something about first-aid
The girls of Centerport had changed in character without a doubt since the
three high schools of the city had become interested so deeply in girls'
athletics. With the high schools of Keyport and Lumberport, an association
of league units had been formed, and the girls of the five educational
institutions were rivals to a proper degree in many games and sports.
How all this had begun and how Laura Belding by her individual efforts had
made possible the Central High's beautiful gymnasium and athletic field, is
told in the first volume of this series, entitled: "The Girls of Central
High; Or, Rivals for All Honors." This story served to introduce this party
of young people who have met in the jewelry store, as well as a number of
other characters, to the reader.
In "The Girls of Central High on Lake Luna; Or, The Crew That Won," the
enthusiasm in sports among the girls of the five high schools reaches a
As the three cities in the league are all situated upon the beautiful lake
named above, aquatic games hold a high place in the estimation of the rival
associations in the league. Fun and sports fill this second volume.
"The Girls of Central High at Basket Ball; Or, The Great Gymnasium
Mystery," the third book, tells of several very exciting games in which the
basket-ball team of Central High takes part, and the reader learns, as
well, a good deal more about the individual characters of the girls
themselves and of some very exciting adventures they have.
"The Girls of Central High on the Stage; Or, The Play That Took the Prize,"
the fourth volume in the series, is really Jess Morse's story, although
Laura and their other close friends have much to do in the book and take
part in the play which Jess wrote, and which was acted in the school
auditorium. It was proved that Jess Morse had considerable talent for play
writing, and the professional production of her school play aided the girl
and her mother over a most trying financial experience.
The fifth volume, "The Girls of Central High on Track and Field; Or, The
Champions of the School League," is an all around athletic story in which
rivalries for place in school athletics, excitement and interest of plot,
and stories of character building are woven into a tale calculated to hold
the attention of any reader interested in high school doings.
During the summer previous to the opening of the present story in the
series, these friends spent a most enjoyable time camping on Acorn Island,
and the sixth tale, "The Girls of Central High in Camp; Or, The Old
Professor's Secret," is as full of mystery, adventure, and fun as it can
be. Since the end of the long vacation the Girls of Central High, as well
as the boys who are their friends, had settled down to hard work both in
studies and athletics. Ice had come early this year and already Lake Luna
was frozen near the shore and most of the steamboat traffic between the
lake cities had ceased.
The great pre-holiday Red Cross drive had now enthralled the girls of
Central High, as well as the bulk of Centerport's population. Everybody
wanted to put the city "over the top" with more than its quota subscribed
to the fund.
In the first place, the boys' and girls' athletic associations of Central
High were planning an Ice Carnival to raise funds for the cause, and it was
because of that exhibition that Chet Belding and Lance Darby wished to get
down to the ice that evening and try their own particular turn, after the
shopping expedition that also had been planned.
As it happened, however, neither the shopping nor the skating was done on
this particular Saturday night.
As Bobby Hargrew ran to telephone to the hospital, Short and Long had
grabbed the wrists of his two older and taller boy friends and led them out
of the crowd in a very mysterious way.
"Did you get a good look at that car?" he whispered to Chet and Lance.
"Of course I didn't," said the latter. "It went up the street like the
wind. Didn't it, Chet?"
"That rascal was going some when he turned the corner of Rapidan Street. I
wonder he did not skid again and smash his car to pieces against the
hydrant. Served him right if he had," Chet said.
"There were no chains on his wheels," said Short and Long, in the same
"You said it," agreed Lance. "What then?"
"There are not many cars in Centerport right now without chains on. The
streets have been icy for more than twenty-four hours."
"Your statement is irrefutable," said Chet, grinning.
"Get it off your chest, Short and Long," begged Lance. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," said the earnest lad, "that I know a car that was out this
afternoon without chains, and it was a seven-seater Perriton car—just as
this one that knocked down Chet's friend was."
"It was a Perriton, I believe," murmured Lance.
But Chetwood Belding said: "I don't know whether that poor fellow is a
friend of mine or not. If I have to give Pa fifty dollars—Whew!"
"But the car?" urged Lance Darby. "Who has a Perriton car, Short and Long?"
"And without chains?" added Chet, waking up to the main topic.
"Come along, fellows," said the younger lad. "I won't tell you. But I'll
take you to where you can see the car I mean. If it still is without chains
on the wheels, and has just been used—Well, we can talk about it then!"
"All right," said Chet. "We can't do any good here. Here comes the
ambulance. That poor fellow is going to be in the hospital for some time, I
There was such a crowd around the spot where the victim of the accident lay
that the boys could not see the Central High girls, save Bobby Hargrew, who
came running back from her father's store just as the clanging of the
ambulance gong warned the crowd that the hospital had responded in its
usual prompt fashion.
The boys hailed the smaller girl and told her they were off to hunt for the
car that had knocked down the victim. Then the three hurried away.
Meanwhile, in the center of the crowd Laura Belding and Jess Morse had been
aiding the girl in the Red Cross uniform as best they could to care for the
man who was hurt. The latter had not opened his eyes when the ambulance
worked its way into the crowd and halted beside the three girls on their
knees in the street.
"What have you there?" asked the young doctor, who swung himself off the
rear of the truck.
Laura and Jess told him. The third girl, the one who had done the most for
the unfortunate man, did not at first say a word.
The driver brought the rolled stretcher and blanket. He laid it down beside
the victim. When the doctor had finished his brief notes he helped his aid
lift the man to the stretcher. They picked it up and shoved it carefully
into the ambulance.
"I know you, Miss Belding," said the doctor. "And this is Miss Morse, isn't
it? Do you mind giving me your name and address?" he asked the third girl.
Was there a moment's hesitation on the part of the Red Cross girl? Laura
thought there was; yet almost instantly the stranger replied:
"My name is Janet Steele."
"Ah! Your address?" repeated the doctor.
This time there was no doubt that the girl flushed, and more than a few
seconds passed before she made answer:
"Thirty-seven Whiffle Street."
At the same moment somebody exclaimed: "Here comes Fatty Morehead, the cop.
Better late than never," and a general laugh went up from the crowd.
Jess seized Laura's wrist, exclaiming: "Oh, Laura! he will want to take
down our names and addresses, too. Let's get away."
The Red Cross girl uttered an ejaculation of chagrin. She began pushing her
way out of the press, and in an opposite direction from that in which the
portly policeman was coming.
Jess whispered swiftly in Laura's ear: "Come on! Let's follow her! I'm
awfully interested in that Red Cross girl, Laura!"
"Why should you be?" asked her chum. "Although she looks like a nice girl,
I never saw her before."
"Neither did I," said Jess. "But did you hear the address she gave? That is
the poor end of Whiffle Street, as you very well know, and mother and I
used to live right across the street from that house. I did not know
anybody lived in the old Eaton place. It has been empty for a long, long
Bobby Hargrew met Laura and Jess on the edge of the crowd, for she had been
unable to worm herself into the middle of it again, and told them swiftly
of the boys' departure to hunt for the car that had done the damage.
"And that's just like the boys!" exclaimed Jess Morse, with some
exasperation. "To run away and desert us!"
"I don't know but I'm glad," said Laura. "I don't feel much like shopping
after seeing that poor man hurt."
"Or skating, either," complained Jess.
Presently the three overtook the strange girl. Bobby, whom Chet had said
was "just as friendly with strangers as a pup with a waggy tail,"
immediately got into conversation with her.
"Say! was he hurt badly?" she asked.
"I think his right leg was broken," the Red Cross girl replied. "And his
head was badly hurt. Your friends, here, could see that."
"He bled dreadfully," sighed Laura. "But you had the bandage on so nicely
that the doctor did not even disturb it, my dear."
"Thank you," said the Red Cross girl. She hesitated on the corner of the
side street. "I fear I must leave you here. I am going home."
"Oh," cried Jess, who was enormously curious, "we can go your way just as
well as not, Miss Steele! We live at the other end of Whiffle Street—up on
the hill, you know."
"All but me," put in Bobby. "But I can run right through Laura's yard to my
She indicated Laura as she spoke. The Red Cross girl looked at Mother Wit
with some expectancy. Jess came to the rescue.
"Let's get acquainted," she said. "Why not? We'll never meet again under
more thrilling circumstances," and she laughed. "This is Miss Laura
Belding, Miss Steele. On your other hand is Miss Hargrew—Miss Clara
Hargrew. I am Josephine Morse. I used to live across the street from the
old Eaton place where you live now."
"You are a stranger in town, are you not?" Laura asked, taking the new
"Yes, Miss Belding. We have only been here four weeks. But I have worked in
the Red Cross before—and one must do something, you know."
"Do something!" burst forth Bobby. "If you went to Central High and had Gee
Gee for one of your teachers, you'd have plenty to do."
"We are all three Central High girls," said Laura gently. "Have you
finished school, Miss Steele?"
"I have not been able to attend school regularly for two years," admitted
the new girl. "I am afraid," and she smiled apologetically, "that you are
all much further advanced in your education than I am. You see, my mother
is an invalid and I must give her a great deal of my time. It does not
interfere, however, with my doing a little for the Red Cross."
"I am sorry your mother is ill," said Laura.
"We were advised to come up here for her sake," said Janet Steele hastily.
"We have been living in a coast town. The doctors thought an inland
climate—a drier climate—would be beneficial."
"I hope it will prove so," said Laura.
"It seems a shame you can't get out with the other girls," Jess added.
"And come to school and let Gee Gee get after you," joined in Bobby grimly.
"Is she such a very strict disciplinarian?" asked Miss Steele, smiling down
at the irrepressible one as they walked through the side street toward
"She's the limit," declared Bobby.
"Oh," said Laura mildly, "I think Miss Carrington is nowhere near so strict
as she used to be. Margit Salgo really has made her quite human, you know."
"Say!" grumbled Bobby, "she can hand out demerits just as easy as ever. And
she had her sense of humor extracted years ago."
"Has that fault cropped up lately, my dear?" asked Laura, laughing. "It
must be so. What happened, Bobby?"
The younger girl, who was a sophomore, whereas Laura and Jess were juniors,
came directly under Miss Carrington's attention in several classes. Bobby
was forever getting into trouble with the strict teacher.
"Why, look, now," said Bobby, warmly, "just what happened yesterday!
English class. You know, that's nuts for Gee Gee. I was bothered enough, I
can tell you, trying to correct a paper she had handed back to me, and she
kept right on talking and asking questions, and the recitation period was
almost ended. I didn't want to hang around there to correct that paper—"
"You know very well you should have taken it home to correct," Laura put
"Oh, don't tell me that! I take so much extra work home as it is, that
Father Tom Hargrew asks me if I don't do anything at all in school. And,
anyway, I didn't think Gee Gee saw me. But, of course, she did."
"And then what?" Jess asked.
"Why, she shot a question at me, and I didn't get it at first. 'Miss
Hargrew! Pay attention!' she went on. Of course, that brought me up
standing. 'What is a pseudonym?' she wanted to know. How silly! You know
the trouble we've been having with that car Father Tom bought. 'I don't
know what it is, Miss Carrington,' I told her. 'But if it is something that
belongs to an automobile, father will have to buy a new one pretty soon,
"And she docked you for that!" exclaimed Jess, as though wildly amazed.
"Really, I am afraid we are sometimes cruel to our dear teachers," laughed
Laura. "But if they are too serious they are such a temptation to us witty
"Now, don't be sarcastic, Mother Wit," said Jess, shaking her chum a little
by the elbow. "You know very well you enjoy nagging the teachers a bit
yourself, now and then. And Professor Dimp!"
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" gasped Bobby suddenly. "Did you hear the latest about Old
"Now, girls," said Laura, quite sternly, "I refuse to hear of Professor
Dimp being made a goose of."
"Gander, dear! Gander!" exclaimed Jess, sotto voce.
"He's an old dear," declared Laura, quite as earnestly. "We found that out,
I am sure, when we went camping on Acorn Island last summer."
"True! True!" admitted her chum.
"Oh, nobody wants to hurt the old fellow," chuckled Bobby. "But one day
this week there was a bunch of the boys down at the post-office, and
Professor Dimp came in to mail a letter. You know he is always reading on
the street when he walks; never sees anybody, and goes stumbling about
blindly with a book under his nose. He got into the revolving door and
Short and Long declares Old Dimple went around ten times before he knew
enough to come out—and then he was on the street again and had failed to
mail the letter."
"Oh, Bobby!" cried Jess, while Miss Steele was quite convulsed by the
"He's so absent-minded," said Laura sympathetically. "Why didn't Short and
Long tell him he was in the revolving door?"
"Humph!" chuckled Bobby, "I guess Short thought the old fellow needed the
Just then the girls came to the corner of Whiffle Street The street was
narrow and crooked in an elbow here. The houses were mostly small, and were
out of repair. It was, indeed, the poor end of Whiffle Street. On the hill
end were some of the best residences in Centerport.
"There's the Eaton place across the street," said Jess briskly. "I see
there is a light, Miss Steele."
"That is mother's room on the first floor—right off the piazza. You know,
we could not begin to use all the house," the girl added frankly. "There
are only mother and I and Aunt Jinny."
"Oh! Your aunt?" asked Jess.
"She is mother's old nurse. She has come with us—to help do the housework,
you know," Miss Steele said frankly, yet again flushing a little. "I—I
guess I have never lived just as you girls do. We have moved around a great
deal. I have got such education as I have by fits and starts, you see. I
suppose you three girls have a perfectly delightful time at your Central
"Especially when Gee Gee gets after us with a sharp stick," grumbled Bobby.
"Don't mind Bobby," said Laura, laughing. "She is dreadfully slangy, and
sometimes quite impossible. We do have fine times at Central High.
Especially in our games and athletic work."
"Miss Steele must be sure and come to our Ice Carnival next week," said
"'Ice Carnival'?" cried the Red Cross girl. "And I just love to skate!"
There came a sudden tapping on the window of the lighted room in the old
Eaton house. The girls had crossed the street and were standing at the
gate. Janet Steele wheeled quickly and waved her hand. A sitting figure was
dimly outlined at the long, French window.
"Oh!" Janet said. "Mother wants us to come in. She doesn't see many
people—and she enjoys young folk. Won't you come in? It will be a pleasure
for us both."
Jess and Bobby looked at Laura. They allowed Mother Wit to decide the
question, and she was but a few seconds in doing so.
"Why, of course! It's not late," she said. "We shall stay but a minute this
time, Miss Steele."
"Call me Janet," whispered the Red Cross girl, squeezing Laura's arm as
they went through the sagging gate.
The quartette climbed the steep steps to the piazza. That the Eaton house
was in bad repair was proved by the broken boards in steps and piazza floor
and the dilapidated condition of the railing. Even the lock of the front
door was broken. Janet turned the knob and ushered them into the dimly-lit
This was neatly if sparsely furnished. And everything seemed scrupulously
clean. Their young hostess opened the door into her mother's room, which
was that originally intended for the parlor.
The eager and curious girls of Central High saw first of all the figure of
the woman in the wheel chair by the window. She had pulled down the shade
now and dropped the curtains into place. The whole room was warm and well
lighted. There was a gas chandelier lighted to the full and an open grate
heaped with red coals. There was a good rug, comfortable chairs, and a
canopied bed set in a corner. A tea-table with furnishings was drawn up
near the fireplace. If one was obliged to spend one's time in a single
room, this apartment seemed amply furnished for such a condition.
Mrs. Steele herself was no wan and hopeless-looking invalid. She was as
buxom as Janet, and Janet was as well built a girl, even, as Laura Belding.
The invalid had shrunken none in body or limbs. She owned, too, a very
attractive smile, and she held out both hands to greet her young visitors.
"I am delighted!" she said in a strong, quick voice, which matched her
smile and bright glance perfectly. "Why, Janey, you may go out every
evening, if you will only bring back with you such a bevy of fresh, sweet
faces. Introduce me—do!"
The introductions were made amid considerable gaiety. Mother Wit took the
lead in telling Mrs. Steele who they were. Later Janet related the accident
on Market Street, which had led to her acquaintance with the three girls of
Laura's keen eyes were not alone fixed upon Mrs. Steele while they talked.
She took into consideration everything in the house. There was no mark of
poverty; yet the Steeles lived in a house in a poor neighborhood and one
that was positively out of repair, and they occupied only a small part of
When the three girls came out again and Janet had gone in and closed the
door, Laura was in a brown study.
"Wake up, Mother Wit!" commanded Jess. "What do you think of the Steeles—
All Laura Belding could say in comment, was:
THE MYSTERY MAN
The three boys who had set off to find the car that had knocked down the
stranger on the icy street were as mysterious the next day as they could
be. At least, so their girl friends declared.
Being Sunday, there was no general gathering of the Central High girls and
boys, but Laura, naturally, saw her brother early. He was coming from his
shower in bathrobe and slippers when Laura looked out of her own door.
"What sort of fox-and-goose chase did Short and Long take you and Lance
away on?" she demanded.
"Oh, I don't know that he was altogether foolish," said Chet doubtfully.
"Then did you really find some trace of the car?" cried Laura, eagerly.
"Well, we found a car. Yes."
"'Goodness to gracious!' as poor Lizzie Bean says. You are
noncommunicative, Chetwood Belding. What do you mean—you found a car?"
"Laura," said her brother, "I don't know—nor does Lance, or Short and
Long—whether the fellow we suspect had anything to do with that accident
"And we don't want to get him in wrong."
"Who is it?" demanded his sister, bluntly.
"No. We won't tell anybody who it is we suspect until we make further
"I declare, you are as mysterious as a regular detective! And suppose the
police do make inquiries?"
"They will, of course,"
"And what will you boys tell them?"
"Pooh!" returned Chet, going on to his room to dress, "they won't ask us
because they don't know we know anything about it"
"I guess you don't know much!" shouted Laura after him before he closed his
It was the same when Jess Morse met Lance Darby on the way to Sunday
"Ho, Launcelot!" she cried. "Tell us all the news—that is a good child.
Who was that awful person who ran down the man last night? I hear from Dr.
Agnew that they had to patch the poor victim up a good deal at the
hospital. Did you boys find the guilty party?"
"I don't know that we did," said Darby. "You see, nobody seemed to see the
license number of the automobile."
"But didn't Short and Long have suspicions?"
"Well, what are suspicions?" demanded the boy. "We all agreed to say
nothing about it unless we have proof. And we haven't any proof—as yet."
"Why, I believe you are 'holding out' on your friends, Lance," declared
Jess, in surprise. "For shame!"
"Aw, ask Chet—if you must know!" exclaimed Lance, hurrying away.
As it chanced it was Bobby Hargrew who attempted to play inquisitor with
Short and Long, meeting the boy with the youngest Long, Tommy, on the
slippery hill of Nugent Street Tommy was so bundled up in a "Teddy Bear"
costume that he could scarcely trudge along, and he held tightly to his
"For goodness' sake!" exclaimed Bobby, when she saw Tommy slipping all over
the icy sidewalk, "what is the matter with that boy?"
"He hasn't got his sea-legs on," grinned Short and Long.
"You mean to tell me he is nearly five years old and can walk no better
than that?" exclaimed Bobby teasingly. "Why, we have a little dog at home
that isn't even a year old yet, and he can ran right over this ice. He can
walk twice as good as Tommy does."
"Hoh!" exclaimed that youngster defensively. "That dog's got twice as many
legs as I have."
"Right you are, Kid!" chuckled his brother. "He got you there, Clara."
"And did you boys get that man who ran the poor fellow down on Market
Street last night?" demanded Bobby, with interest. "Did you have him
"No. What do you suppose? We're not going around snitching to the police,"
growled Short and Long.
"But if that man at the hospital is seriously hurt——"
"Oh, we're not sure it's the right car," said the boy, and evidently did
not wish to talk about it.
"Billy Long!" exclaimed the girl. "Are you boys trying to defend the guilty
"Suppose that man at the hospital dies?"
"Pshaw! He wasn't hurt as bad as all that."
"How do you know?"
"Because I've been to the hospital to find out He's got a broken leg and a
"Is he conscious yet?" demanded Bobby Hargrew quickly.
"No-o. They say he doesn't know anybody—and nobody knows who he is."
"Now you see!" cried the girl "Maybe he will die! And you boys will let the
man who did it get away."
"Oh, he won't get away," grumbled Short and Long. "We know where to find
him when we want to."
"You'd better let the police know where to find him," said Bobby tartly.
"You're not the police, Bobby Hargrew!" returned Short and Long, grinning
and going on with Tommy.
The girls, of course, got together and compared notes and decided that the
boys were "real mean, so now!" To pay Chet and Lance and Billy Long for
being so secretive about the person they suspected of having caused the
injury to the stranger Saturday evening, the three girls went alone that
Sunday afternoon to the hospital to inquire after the injured man.
And there they met Janet Steele again. The Red Cross girl had been making
inquiries, too, about the same case.
"It really is a very serious matter," Janet said to her new friends. "The
man who knocked him down should be found. Although the doctors think he has
no internal injuries after all, there is a compound fracture which will
keep him in bed for a long time, and in addition he seems unable to give
any satisfactory explanation of who he is or where he comes from."
"Goodness!" exclaimed Jess Morse. "Do you mean he has lost his mind?"
"Merely mislaid it," said Janet with a smile. "Or, at least, he cannot
remember his name and address."
"Didn't he have any papers about him that explain those points?" asked
"That seems to be odd, too," said Janet "No. Not a mark on his clothing,
either. But he was plentifully supplied with money, and all the bills were
"Oh!" exclaimed Laura. "That reminds me. That funny bill he passed on Chet
was brand new, too. I wonder if all his money is queer?"
"What do you mean?" asked Janet, wonderingly. "Is the man a criminal, do
Laura and Jess explained about the peculiarly printed bill, which had given
the first named so much trouble in making up her father's accounts the
"But that may be all explained in time," said Janet.
"All right," grumbled Bobby Hargrew. "But suppose poor Chet has to lose
"Father is going to take the bill to the bank to-morrow to see if they can
explain the mystery," Laura said.
"But that will not explain the mystery of the stranger." said Jess. "Why,
he is a regular 'man of mystery,' isn't he?"
"Humph!" said Bobby. "And so is the fellow the boys think ran him down. He
is a man of mystery as well."
SAND IN THE GEARS
Since the whole school had taken such a tremendous interest in "the
profession" at the time Central High blossomed forth in Jess Morse's play,
the M.O.R.s had given several playlets, and Mrs. Case, the physical
instructor, had staged folk dances and tableaux in the big hall.
For the Red Cross the association of girls connected with the Girls Branch
Athletic League that had carried forward these smaller affairs, had
determined to stage "a real play." Nellie Agnew, the doctor's daughter, and
secretary of the club, had sent to a publisher for copies of plays that
could be put on by amateurs, and interest in the affair waxed high already.
The principal point of decision was the identity of the play they were to
produce. Mr. Sharp and the other members of the school faculty had agreed
to let the girls act, and the big hall, or auditorium, could be used for
the production. At noon on Monday the girls interested in the performance
met in the principals office to decide upon the play.
"And of course," grumbled Bobby Hargrew to the Lockwood twins, Dora and
Dorothy, "all the teachers have got to come and interfere. We can't do a
sol-i-ta-ry thing without Gee Gee, or Miss Black, or some of them, poking
their noses into it."
"You can't say that Professor Dimp pokes his nose into our affairs,"
"No, indeed," said her twin. "Outside of his Latin and physics he doesn't
seem to have a single idea."
"Doesn't he?" scoffed Bobby. "The boys say he's gone into the dressmaking
business, or something."
"What is that?" asked Dora, smiling. "What do they mean?"
"Why, the professor's niece is living with him now. He is not much used to
having a woman in his sitting-room, I guess. She sits and sews with him in
the evening while he reads or corrects our futile work," said Bobby,
"The other night Ellie Lingard—that's his niece—lost her scissors and she
said they hunted all over the room for them. The next morning in one of the
physics classes the professor opened his book, and there were the lost
scissors, which he had tucked into it for a bookmark while he helped Ellie
Lingard hunt for her lost property."
"Oh, oh!" laughed the twins.
"The worst of it was," continued Bobby, with an elfish grin, "Old Dimple
grabbed them up and said right out loud: 'Oh, here they are, Ellie!' The
boys just hooted, and poor Old Dimp was as mad as a hatter."
"The poor old man," said Dorothy commiseratingly.
It was a fact that, although Professor Dimp did not interfere in this play
business, most of the other teachers desired to have their opinions
considered. The girls would not have minded Mr. Sharp. Indeed, they courted
his advice. But when Miss Grace Gee Carrington stood up to speak, some of
them audibly groaned.
Miss Carrington was Mr. Sharp's assistant and almost in complete control of
the girls of the school. At least, the girls came in contact with her much
more than they did with Mr. Sharp himself.
She was a very stiff and precise woman, with an acrid temper and a sharp
tongue. She had been teaching unruly girls for so many years that she was
to a degree quite soured upon the world—especially that world of school
which she had so much to do with.
Of late, however, Miss Carrington had become interested "quite in a human
way," her girls said, in a person who had first appeared to the ken of the
girls of Central High as a Gypsy girl. Margit Salgo's father, a Hungarian
Gypsy musician, had married Miss Carrington's sister, much against the
desire of Miss Grace Gee Carrington herself. When the orphaned Margit found
her way to Centerport she made such an impression upon her aunt's heart
that the latter finally took the girl into her own home and adopted her as
That, however, could not change Miss Carrington's nature. She was severe
and (in the opinion of fly-away Bobby Hargrew) she was much inclined to
interfere in the girls' affairs. On this occasion the girls were not
disappointed when Miss Carrington "said her little say."
"I approve of any acceptable attempt to raise funds for such a worthy
object as this we have in mind," said Miss Carrington. "An exhibition which
will interest the school in general and our parents and friends likewise,
meets, I am sure, with the approval of us all. Some of our young ladies, I
feel quite sure, show some talent for playing, and much interest therein.
Without meaning to pun, I would add that I wish they showed as great talent
for work as for play."
"She could not help giving us that dig, if she were to be martyred for it,"
Nellie Agnew whispered to Laura.
"Sh! She'll see your lips move," warned Dora Lockwood, on the other side of
the doctor's daughter. "I believe she has learned lip reading."
Miss Carrington went on quite calmly: "The first consideration, however, it
seems to me, is the selection of the play. I should not wish to see the
standard of Central High lowered by the acting of a play that would cater
only to the amusement-loving crowd. It should be educational. We should
achieve in a small way what the Greek players tried to teach—a love of
beauty, of form, of some great truth that can be inculcated in this way on
the public mind."
"But, Miss Carrington!" cried Bess Yeager, one of the seniors, almost
interrupting the staid teacher, "we want to make money for the Red Cross.
We could not get a room full with a Greek play."
"I beg Miss Yeager's pardon," said Miss Carrington stiffly. "We have our
standard of education to uphold first of all."
"I hope you will excuse me, Miss Carrington," said Laura, likewise rising
to object. "Our first object is to give the people something that will
amuse them so that they will crowd the auditorium. Otherwise our object
will not have been achieved. This is a purely money-making scheme," added
the jeweler's daughter with her low, sweet laugh.
"I am amazed to hear you say so!" exclaimed the instructor, quick for
argument at any time. "Have you young ladies no higher desire than to make
the rabble laugh?"
"I want you to know," muttered Jess Morse, "that my mother is coming, and
she isn't 'rabble.'"
Perhaps it was fortunate that Miss Carrington did not hear this comment.
But she could not fail to hear some of the others made by the girls. There
was earnest protest in all parts of the room. Mr. Sharp brought them to
"Miss Carrington has, under ordinary circumstances, made an excellent
point, and I want you all to notice it," said the principal. "We are an
educational institution here on the hill. If we were giving a class play,
or anything like that, I should vote for Miss Carrington's idea. At such a
time something primarily educational should be in order.
"But as I understand it, you young ladies are going to act for the benefit
of the Red Cross fund, and what will benefit that fund the most is the
drawing together of a well-paying crowd to see you act.
"I am afraid we shall have to set aside our own desires, Miss Carrington,"
he continued, smiling at his assistant. "We must let the actors choose
their own play—as long as it is a proper one—and abide for once by the
decision of those of our friends who wish to be amused rather than
"He's half backing her up!" complained Dora.
"Well, he has to pour oil on the troubled waters," whispered Laura.
"Huh!" grumbled Bobby Hargrew. "But Gee Gee is determined to throw sand in
the gears, not oil on the waters. She always does."
Really, Miss Carrington seemed in an interfering mood that day. Nellie had
a collection of plays from which they were supposed to choose that very
session the one to be acted. There was but brief time to learn the parts
and the acting directions. But Mr. Mann, who had directed them in other
plays, said he thought he would be able to whip the girls into shape for a
performance in two weeks. Although they were amateurs, they had all had
When the girls themselves got a chance to talk it was shown that their
desires were all for a parlor comedy with bright lines, some farcical turns
to the plot, but a play of sufficient weight to gain the approval of
sober-minded people. It was, however, far from being classic.
"Such a play is preposterous!" ejaculated Miss Carrington, breaking out
again. "Don't you think so yourself, Mr. Sharp?"
The principal had the book in his hand and was skimming through some of the
dialogue. If the truth was told he was on a broad grin.
"I don't know about that, Miss Carrington. It—it is really very funny."
"'Funny!'" gasped his assistant, with all the emphasis she dared show in
the presence of the principal. "As though to make fun should be our
"What would you like to have us play?" asked Bobby, daringly. "Julius
Caesar? If we do, I want to play old Julius. He dies in the first act. The
rest of us would be killed lingeringly by the audience, I know, before the
"Miss Hargrew!" snapped the teacher. Then she remembered that this was not
a recitation and she could not easily punish the girl. She shook her head
and looked offended during the remainder of the discussion.
"But you know very well," snapped Lily Pendleton, a rather overdressed
girl, as they all crowded out of the schoolhouse after the meeting, "that
Gee Gee will do her wickedest to spoil it all."
"Oh, no!" cried Laura. "Not when it is for the Red Cross!"
"It wouldn't matter what the object was," said Jess morosely. "She always
does try to crab the game."
"Goodness, Josephine!" gasped her chum, "you are positively as slangy as
"I guess I catch it from him," admitted Jess Morse. "And she is a crab!"
"Now girls!" called Nellie, a regular Martha for trouble at the present
moment. "Now girls, remember the 'sides' will be here day after tomorrow,
and Mr. Mann will look us over and give out the parts that afternoon in the
small hall. Nobody must be absent. We want this show to be the biggest
success that ever was."
"It won't be if Gee Gee can help it," growled Bobby Hargrew, shaking her
"There's one sure thing about it," Lance Darby said to Laura when she told
him of the way in which Miss Carrington had tried to interfere with the
girls' choice of the play, "she cannot butt into the Ice Carnival
arrangements. Nobody but your Mrs. Case and our Mr. Haskins has anything to
say about the Carnival Committee's arrangements."
"Oh! Indeed?" laughed Laura. "There you are mistaken about the far-reaching
influence of our Miss Carrington."
"What do you mean?"
"You forget that our share of the Carnival is under the jurisdiction of the
Girls Branch League, and in the constitution and by-laws of that
association it is stated that none of us girls can take part in any
exhibition without the consent of our teachers, and without, indeed, having
a certain standing in all branches of study. Miss Carrington can get her
word in right there."
"Wow, wow! That's so, I presume," admitted Lance.
"But we have gone so far now," said Laura complacently, "that I don't think
even Bobby will be refused permission to join in the festivities—and Bobby
is a splendid little skater, Lance."
"Bobby is all right," agreed the youth. "But here comes old Chet—and his
face is as long as the moral law. He is still worried about that fifty
dollars he may have to dig down into his jeans for—if your father sticks
to what he said he'd do."
Chetwood had a cheerful word, however, despite his serious aspect.
"Have you seen the ice, Lance?" he demanded, brightening up.
"Not to-day, old boy."
"It's scrumptious—just!" exclaimed the big fellow. "They have been shaving
it, and have got it all roped off."
"Better have somebody watch it, too, or the kids from downtown will get in
there and cut it all up. Just like 'em," growled Lance.
"Don't fret. Old Godey is on guard. Trust him to keep the kids off the
track," said Chet. "Is father at home, Laura?"
"He's just come in," said his sister. "Has he found out about that
"That is what I wanted to know," said the worried Chet. "I've been over to
the hospital this afternoon—before I went down to the lake shore. That,
chap who was hurt is off his nanny——"
"Chet! Don't let mother hear you," begged Laura, yet laughing.
"I wouldn't want the mater to be shocked," admitted Chet. "But that is
exactly what is the trouble with that man who gave me the phony bill. The
doctor told me the crack he got on the head had injured his brain."
"The poor man!" sighed his sister.
"What about 'poor me'?" demanded Chet indignantly. "And they say he carried
a roll of brand new bills big enough to choke a cow! The doctor says he
thinks the money is good, too. But he passed that hundred-dollar note on
"If it is a hundred," interjected Lance.
"Now you said a forkful," grumbled Chet, shaking his head. "Let's go in and
see what father has to say about it. He was going to see Mr. Monroe at the
First National. They say Mr. Monroe knows all about money—knew the fellow
who invented it, personally, I guess."
The young folks found Mr. Belding in the library, and he welcomed them with
his customary smile when the three came in.
"The bank-note?" he repeated. "I left it for Mr. Monroe to look at. He was
out of town. But he will tell me when he returns—if he knows about it. It
is a curious thing. And I hope it will teach you a lesson, Chetwood."
"Sure!" grumbled Chet, "Of course, there is nothing so important in this
world as learning lessons. Little thing about me being nicked fifty dollars
His father laughed at his rueful countenance. "Well, Son, I can't offer you
much sympathy. Perhaps the Treasury Department will make it right. And how
about that man who gave it to you? He can't get far with a broken leg."
"He's gone far enough already," declared Chet. "They say he has lost his
"What's that?" cried Mr. Belding.
"Looks fishy, doesn't it?" said Lance. "Lots of folks who owe money lose
"No," said Chet, shaking his head. "This chap really got a hard bang on the
head, and the doctors say he may never remember who he is."
"Lost his identity?" demanded Mr. Belding.
"Completely. At least, he doesn't know his name or where he came from. He
remembers a part of his life, they say, for he seems to think he has been
in Alaska. Asked the nurse, in fact, how long Sitka had had such a hospital
as this. Thought he was in Sitka, you see."
"Why, isn't it strange?" Laura said. "The poor fellow!"
"He's not poor, I tell you," said the literal Chet.
"He's got a lot of money. But not a card, or a mark about him—not even on
his clothes—to tell who he is."
"How about his hat?" questioned Lance. "And his suit? The labels, I mean."
"The hat was brand new," said Chet, "and was bought right here in
Centerport. Oh, the hospital folks have been trying through the police to
find out something about him. Nothing doing, they say."
"Why," said Mr. Belding thoughtfully, "there must be some way of
discovering who the unfortunate is, even if he cannot remember himself."
"Who do you mean, Pa, by 'the unfortunate'?" demanded his son. "I should
think I was the unfortunate. Especially if that bank-note is phony."
"But you did not get a broken leg—and a broken head—out of it," his
father said dryly.
"That's all right," muttered Chet "But I am likely to have a broken
pocketbook, all right all right!"
Mr. Belding was not unmindful of his son's anxiety regarding the odd
bank-note that Chet had taken over the counter in the jewelry store.
Besides, Laura sat herself upon the arm of his big Morris chair after
dinner that Monday evening, and said:
"You know, dear Pa, Chet is a pretty good boy. And fifty dollars is much
more money than he can afford to lose—all in one bunch."
"Indeed?" said her father indignantly. "And how about me? With my expensive
family, do you think I can afford to lose fifty dollars? And the boy is
"I deny it," said Laura briskly.
"Chet! not careless?"
"What is the difference?"
"Academic, or moral?" demanded Mother Wit, looking at him slyly.
"Oh, well, it doesn't pay to split hairs with you," declared her father,
pinching a warm cheek until it was rosier than ever. "But what's the big
idea, as Chet himself would say?"
"Why, now, Pa Belding——"
"Out with it! What do you want me to do?"
"I—I thought if you'd make Chet pay only half of the fifty dollars, that
perhaps you lost——"
"Well?" he growled, in apparent indignation still.
"Why, I would pay the other twenty-five!" burst out Laura hurriedly. "Only
you must promise not to tell Chet."
"What do you mean? To pay half his fine?"
"Well, you don't need to halloo so about it, Pa dear," she pouted.
"I wouldn't let you!"
"Oh, yes you would. You know it is going to be awfully hard on Chet to take
that money out of the bank to pay you."
"There, there!" said Mr. Belding gruffly. "We won't talk about it—yet.
Perhaps we'll find the bank-note is all right."
But he said afterward to his wife that evening: "What are we going to do
with such children, Mother? You can't punish one without hurting the other
right to the quick."
"We have been blessed in our children, Henry," said Mrs. Belding proudly.
"And—really—Chet should not be too much blamed."
"There, there!" exclaimed her husband in a disgusted tone of voice. "You're
every whit as bad as Laura."
Mr. Monroe did not return to the bank for several days; and meanwhile other
important and interesting things were happening. The three boys who seemed
to have secret knowledge about the accident on Market Street refused to
answer the questions of their girl friends as to the identity of the car
that had run the victim down.
"You are just the meanest boys!" flared out Bobby Hargrew, as they all
trooped down to Lake Luna to take almost the last look at the roped-off
arena before the carnival would twinkle its lights that evening at six
"I don't know, Bobby," drawled Chet. "I believe we really could be meaner
if we tried."
"No you couldn't!" snapped Clara Hargrew with finality.
"Oh, girls!" gasped Laura suddenly, "tell me what this is coming up the
hill? Or am I seeing something that you folks don't?"
"Gee!" exclaimed the slangy Bobby, forgetting her indignation with Chet and
the other boys. "Is it? Can it be?"
"Pretty Sweet!" ejaculated Jess, beginning to laugh. "And he is in his
forest green hunting suit. I call it his 'Robin Ridinghood' suit."
"It just matches him, all right," said Lance. "He's verdant green and so is
the suit. And look how he is carrying that gun, will you?"
The gun was in its case, but the boy in question was carrying the shotgun
in a most awkward manner. Without a doubt he was half afraid of it.
"And I bet he hasn't had a charge in it all the time he's been out. Who did
he go with?" asked Chet.
"Some of the East Siders. They cater to him a lot, and you know," said
Lance, with disgust, "tight as Purt is with money, if you flatter him you
can pull his leg."
"Dear me!" murmured Laura, "it is not in your province to use such slang,
Lance. Leave that to Chet and Bobby."
"Hey, Pretty!" Chet shouted to the very dandified lad, as he crossed the
street toward them. "What luck, old top?"
Although when they had first seen him, Prettyman Sweet was undoubtedly
footsore, he began to strut now and pride "fairly exuded from his
countenance," as Jess whispered to her chum.
"Did you get any cottontails?" demanded Lance.
"Oh, a few—a few, muh boy," declared Pretty Sweet airily.
Then they saw that he had a game bag slung over his shoulder in true
"I did not suppose you would go out to shoot the poor, innocent little
rabbits, Mr. Sweet," said Laura, with sober face but dancing eyes. "They
have never done you any harm."
"I bet a real bad rabbit would make Purt run," muttered Bobby.
"Oh, Miss Belding!" said the school dandy. "You know I'm awf'ly keen on
sport—awf'ly keen, doncher know. I just have to get a day now and then
in the woods, when game is in season."
"He's as keen on it as the two Irishmen were, who went hunting for the
first time," broke in Bobby. "When they sighted a bird sitting on a bush
Meehan took very careful aim and prepared to fire. Said his friend,
grabbing him by the arm:
"'Don't fire, Meehan! Shure an' yez haven't loaded yer gun.'
"'That's as it may be, me lad,' retorted Meehan, 'but fire I must. The
bur-rd won't wait!'"
Prettyman Sweet was used to being laughed at, yet he flushed at the gibe.
"Never mind," he said. "I bring home the game, just the same."
"You 'bring home the bacon,' in other words," said Chet, approaching him.
"Let's see the bunnies?"
Nothing loath, the overdressed boy opened the bag and displayed his
plunder. He brought two big hares out of the bag by their ears and held
them up with pride.
"Bet they were trapped," said Bobby in an undertone.
"They were not trapped!" cried Purt Sweet sharply. "See! That is where one
was shot! And there is the other—see?"
"Jinks!" said Lance. "Both through the head. You never did it, Purt?"
"I did so!" cried the huntsman angrily. "I shot them both."
Chet was looking them over closely. He shook his head.
"They have been shot all right," he said. "And you shot them over there on
"I can prove it," said Purt haughtily.
"That's all right," said Chet thoughtfully. "You may have shot them—and on
Cavern Island. But whose rabbits were they before you bought them?"
Bobby and Jess began to giggle. Chet grinned as he added:
"Those are Belgian hares, not rabbits, Pretty. Somebody has put something
over on you. Belgian hares don't run wild in the woods of Cavern Island—
that is sure."
"Bet he shot them hanging up on a fence," snapped Short and Long, who thus
far had said never a word to Prettyman Sweet.
"And I know the market to-day is full of Belgian hares," chuckled Chet.
"Oh, Purt! you never could pull off anything like that on us in a hundred
"I don't care—I—I—"
The angry Purt snatched up his game bag and marched away.
"That he's been caught in the trick puts a crimp in him," chuckled Chet
"And that isn't all that ought to happen to him," muttered Short and Long,
who seemed to have become suddenly very bitter against the dandified Sweet.
"Can it, Billy, can it," advised Lance. "Give a calf rope enough and he
will hang himself."
"And maybe that fellow ought to be hung," was Short and Long's further
"Why, Billy!" exclaimed Laura, "what ever do you mean?"
"Yes, Short and Long," said Jess. "Why the 'orrid hobservation about poor
Perhaps Billy Long would have blurted out something, had not another
incident taken place which so excited all the young people that they forgot
Purt Sweet and his foibles.
The group had reached Lakeside Avenue, which overlooked many shore estates
and some private docks. This was the residential end of Centerport, and the
vicinity in summer was lovely. Now the outlook on Lake Luna's sparkling
surface—frozen in a sheen of ice to the shore of Cavern Island in the
middle of the lake—was wonderfully attractive.
At the foot of Nugent Street, which they now reached, the girls and boys
from Central High heard suddenly a great shouting and peals of laughter
from up the hill. Some snow still lay on the side of Nugent Street; and the
hill was a glare of ice. Down the steep descent were coming three or four
heavy sleds loaded with young folks. Many of them were girls and boys of
"Some coasting!" exclaimed Chet. "I had no idea it was so good. We ought to
get our bob out, Lance."
"Oh, see, Laura!" murmured Jess. "There comes Janet Steele. She must have
been canvassing for Red Cross members away over here. I wish we had time to
do some of that work."
The Red Cross girl appeared from around a turn in the avenue, and the
instant she spied her new friends she waved her gloved hand.
"Is that the girl who gave first-aid to the man on Market Street Saturday
night?" asked Chet.
"Some little queen, isn't she?" rejoined Lance, with twinkling eyes.
"Oh," said Laura placidly, "you needn't think that you can get us girls
jealous about Janet Steele. She is an awfully sweet girl."
"And she isn't little at all," put in Jess, tossing her head. "She is as
husky as Eve Sitz."
Before they could say more, or further hail the Red Cross girl, there was a
crash and terrific rattling around the turn of the avenue. The next instant
a horse appeared, madly galloping along the roadway, and drawing the
shattered remains of a grocery wagon after him.
The maddened beast would, so it seemed, cross the foot of Nugent Street
just as the bobsleds shot down to that point. Across the avenue was a steep
bank against which the sleds were easily halted. But they could not be
stopped before they crossed Lakeside Avenue!
THE FOREFRONT OF TROUBLE
The three boys drew Laura and her girl friends into the gateway of a
residence that faced the lake. The Red Cross girl was on the other side of
Nugent Street, and the runaway horse was coming along the avenue behind
Chet would have leaped away to her assistance had not Jess grabbed him by
the arm and screamed. The sleds were almost at the crossing, and surely
Chet Belding would have been knocked down.
Janet Steele proved to be perfectly able to look out for herself. And on
this occasion she could even do more than that.
She whirled and saw the horse coming with the wrecked wagon. She could not
see up the hill of Nugent Street, for the corner house barred her vision in
that direction. But without doubt she had heard the eager shouts of the
coasters and understood what was ahead of them.
The runaway would cross the foot of the hill just in time, perhaps, to
collide with one or more of the bobsleds.
Almost opposite the foot of Nugent Street and right beside the steep bank
against which the coasters had been wont to stop their sleds, was a narrow
lane pitching toward the lakeshore. This lane was near Janet Steele.
Chet saw it and realized how the horse might be turned. But the boy was too
far away. Even as he shook off Jess Morse's frenzied hold on his arm, the
runaway was upon Janet Steele.
The latter had whipped off the Red Cross veil she wore. Seizing it by both
extremes she allowed the veil to float out on the brisk winter breeze,
darting with it into the street.
The runaway's glaring eyes caught sight of the flapping folds of the veil,
and he swerved, his hoofs sliding on the slippery drive. The eyes of a
horse magnify objects tremendously, and the girl's figure and her flowing
veil probably looked to the frightened animal like some awful and
Scrambling and snorting, he swerved to the side of the road, saw the open
lane, and the next moment thundered into it, the broken wagon skidding
across the lane and smashing into a gatepost.
It was at the same instant that the head sled came sweeping down Nugent
Street, crossed the avenue, and stood almost on end against the bank,
stopping abruptly in the snow bank.
The other sleds poured down and stopped; but none had been in so much
danger as that first one. Laura and Chet and their friends started on the
run for the spot—and for Janet Steele.
"Oh! Oh! OH!" shrieked in crescendo one girl who had ridden on the first
bobsled. "We might have been killed!"
Some of the boys ran after the horse. The rest of the young people
surrounded Janet Steele.
"How brave you were," murmured Jess Morse admiringly.
"You've got a head on you, sure enough!" exclaimed Bobby Hargrew, while the
Red Cross girl, blushing and with downcast eyes, began hastily to adjust
her veil again.
"Oh, it was nothing," murmured Janet.
"Tell it to Lily. Here comes Lily Pendleton," said Jess, smiling again.
"She won't think it was nothing."
The girl who had shrieked so loudly came up quickly to the group of Central
"Did you turn that horse?" she demanded of Janet Steele. "You are a regular
duck! We might have all been killed! I never will ride down a hill with
Freddy Brubach again! There should have been somebody down here to signal
that we were coming!"
"Guess the horse would not have paid much attention to signals, Lil,"
"Only the kind that Miss Steele waved," added Bobby.
"Is that your name?" Lily Pendleton asked the Red Cross girl. "I'm awfully
glad to know you."
"And much gladder that she was right on the job here when the horse came
along, aren't you, Lil?" chuckled Bobby.
"She ought to have a medal," declared one of the other girls.
"Let's write to Mr. Carnegie about her," proposed Jess, but good-naturedly,
and hugged Janet now that she had rearranged her veil.
"Oh, dear me!" gasped Janet Steele, "please don't make so much over so
little. I shall almost be sorry that I turned the horse into the lane. And
it was a little thing. I am not afraid of horses."
"A mere medal is nothing to Miss Steele, I bet," said Bobby, the emphatic.
"I expect she has a trunk full of 'em. Like the German army officer who had
his chest covered with iron crosses and medals and the like. Somebody asked
him how he came to get them all.
"'Vell,' he said, pointing to the biggest and shiniest medal, 'I got dot py
meestake; undt dey gif me de odders pecause I got dot one!'"
"Oh, you and your jokes, Bobby!" said Lily Pendleton, with some scorn.
"This was a serious business. And there is another very serious matter,
girls, that I have to call to your attention," she added, turning to Laura
"What has gone wrong? Nothing about the play, I hope!" cried Jess.
"It is worse, because it is right at hand," said Lily, shaking her head.
"What do you suppose Miss Carrington has done?"
"Oh, Gee Gee!" groaned Bobby, in despair. "I knew she would break out in a
"Do tell us what it is," begged Jess Morse.
"It is about Hessie," said Lily.
"Hester Grimes?" demanded Laura, with a rather grim expression. "What has
happened to her now?"
"Why!" cried Lily, rather sharply, "you speak as though Hessie was always
getting into trouble."
"You cannot deny but that she has frequently made a faux pas, as it
were," said Jess, smiling.
"And what she does wrong," added Laura, with some bitterness, "usually
affects the rest of us."
"She did not do a thing wrong!" cried Lily stormily. "You girls are just
"Oh, come on, Lil," said Bobby. "Tell us the worst. We're prepared for
"You are very rude, Clara Hargrew," declared Lily Pendleton. "Hessie is not
to blame. She failed in rhetoric, and when Miss Carrington tried to put a
lot of home work on her she refused to take it."
"What?" gasped Jess.
"Oh! She did refuse, did she?" snapped Bobby. "And a fat lot that would
"Well, I don't care!" cried Lily. "Gee Gee is just as mean——"
"Granted!" agreed Bobby, with emphasis. "But tell us how much Hessie has
been set back?"
"Of course Miss Carrington has punished her if she was impudent," said
"She has punished us all!" cried Lily. "She refuses to allow Hessie to
skate to-night. She's out of it."
"Out of the carnival?" cried several of her listeners in chorus.
"And Hester," cried Bobby, "is in the Dress Parade. What did I tell you?
Gee Gee was just hoping to queer us."
"It is Hester Grimes who has queered us," Laura said, much more sternly
than she usually spoke. "And we were all warned to be so careful!"
"Now, don't blame Hessie!" cried Hester's chum angrily.
"I'd like to know who we are to blame, then?" demanded Jess Morse, with
disgust, "Knowing that Gee Gee is what she is, why couldn't Hester keep her
"Well! I just guess—"
But after all it was Mother Wit who, though greatly offended, became
"There, there!" she said. "Enough is done already. We shall miss Hester.
But we mustn't get angry with each other and therefore spoil the whole
Dress Parade. That masquerade should be the most spectacular number on the
"But who will take Grimes' place?" demanded Bobby.
Laura stood beside Janet Steele, whose eyes were wide open, her cheeks
glowing, and even her lips ajar with excitement. Laura had a very keen
mind, and already she had apprehended that Janet was more deeply interested
in this discussion, and the subject of it, than a stranger naturally would
be. She turned now to stare into the Red Cross girl's face.
"Oh, Miss Steele!" she said, "didn't you tell us that you loved to skate?"
"Ye-es," admitted Janet.
"And she's as big as Hessie Grimes!" exclaimed Jess on the other side, and
catching her chum's idea.
"Would you take Hester's part in the masquerade?" asked Laura pointblank.
"But she doesn't belong to Central High!" wailed Lily Pendleton.
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Jess. "What does it matter? This is all for a show.
It is no competition with other members of the League."
"Right-o, Jess!" crowed Bobby Hargrew.
"We-ell!" murmured Lily doubtfully.
"Come, Miss Steele—Janet," said Laura, pleadingly. "I know you can help
us. Hester, being the biggest girl, was to lead in certain figures on the
ice. You could easily learn them. And you can wear her costume, I know."
"You don't know anything of the kind, Laura Belding," snapped Lily,
interrupting Janet. "I don't believe Hessie would let any other girl wear
her masquerade suit."
"Sure she wouldn't!" exclaimed Bobby, with disgust. "She'll crab the whole
game if she can. Hester Grimes always was a nuisance."
But Laura suddenly clapped her hands in real joy. "Oh, no!" she cried. "We
won't ask Janet to wear any other girl's costume. I know what would be
"Let's hear it, Laura dear," said Jess, eagerly. "Of course, you would have
a bright idea. You always do."
"Why," said the pleased Laura, "if Janet will come and skate with us, she
need only wear the very cloak and veil she has on now. What could be more
fitting for a leader of our costume parade? The whole carnival is for the
Red Cross, and with a Red Cross girl to lead the procession, and Chet in
his Uncle Sam suit to lead the boys—Why! it will be the best ever."
"Hooray!" shouted Bobby, wild with enthusiasm.
"It is splendid!" agreed Jess.
Everybody in hearing agreed, save, perhaps, Lily Pendleton. Laura turned to
Janet again and clasped her gloved hands over the new girl's arm.
"Will you, dear? Will you help us out?" she asked.
THE ICE CARNIVAL
"Oh, Miss Laura! Do you really mean it?" murmured Janet Steele, her full
pink cheeks actually becoming white she was so much in earnest.
"Of course we mean it," Jess Morse said practically. "And glad to have
"I don't know—"
Janet looked for a moment at the sulky-faced Lily Pendleton. Jess
immediately pulled that young girl forward.
"Why, Lil isn't half as bad as she sounds," declared Jess, laughing. "This
is our very particular friend, Janet Steele, Lil. You've got to treat her
nicely. If you don't," she added sharply, "you'll never get a chance to go
camping with us girls again as you did last summer. You and your Hester
Grimes can go off somewhere by yourselves."
Really, Lily Pendleton had improved a good deal since the time Jess
mentioned, and the latter's blunt speech brought her to a better mind at
"Well, of course," she said, offering Janet her hand, "I did not mean it
just that way. You know how cranky Hessie is when she does get mad. But
Laura has suggested a perfectly splendid idea. Miss Steele as a Red Cross
girl and Chet as Uncle Sam will be fine to lead the grand march on skates."
So it was decided, and they hurried Janet down to the girls' boathouse,
which had a warm, cozy clubroom at one end where Mr. Godey, the watchman,
stayed, and where, at this time of year, he was often busy sharpening
skates. Laura found a pair of skates for the Red Cross girl, and for an
hour the latter practiced with the girls of Central High the steps and
figures of the masquerade parade, which Laura and her friends already had
worked out to perfection.
"Don't worry a bit about to-night, Janet," Laura told her, when they all
hurried away from the lakeshore about dusk. "We'll push you through the
figures. Jess and I will be on either side of you, except when we pair off
with the boys. And then you will be with my brother Chet. And if he isn't
nice to you he'll hear from me!" she added with vigor.
"Oh, but Laura!" whispered Jess Morse, as they separated from Janet, "Chet
mustn't be too nice to her. For Janet Steele is an awfully pretty girl."
"Now, dear!" exclaimed her laughing chum, "don't develop incipient
With only two hours before them in which to do a hundred things, the girls
were as busy as bees for the remainder of the afternoon. That Hester Grimes
had been forbidden to take part in the carnival by Gee Gee troubled the
girls of Central High less than they might have been troubled had it been
almost any other of their number that the strict teacher had demerited.
For, to tell the truth, Hester Grimes was not well loved.
The daughter and much-indulged only child of a wealthy butcher, Hester had
in the beginning expected to be catered to by her schoolmates. With such
rather shallow schoolmates as Lily Pendleton, Hester was successful. Lily
toadied to her, to use Bobby Hargrew's expression; nor was Lily alone in
Upon those whom Hester considered her friends she spent her pocket money
lavishly. She was not a pretty girl, but was a tremendously healthy
one—strong, well developed, and tomboyish in her activities. Yet she
lacked magnetism and the popularity that little Bobby Hargrew, for
instance, attained by the exercise of the very same traits Hester
Hester antagonized almost everybody—teachers and students alike. Even
placid, peace-loving Mother Wit, found Hester incompatible. And because
Laura Belding was a natural leader and was very popular in the school,
Hester disliked her and showed in every way possible that she would not
follow in Laura's train. Yet there had been a time when Hester had felt
under obligation to Laura.
Laura was secretly glad to see Lily Pendleton weaned slowly away from the
butcher's daughter. The last summer had started Lily in the right
direction, and although the overdressed girl had still some weaknesses of
character to overcome, she had greatly improved, as this incident of the
Lily was not alone in complaining about Miss Carrington's harshness,
however. It was the principal topic of conversation when the girls gathered
in the boathouse rooms to prepare for the races and the features that were
to precede the principal attraction of the carnival—the masquerade grand
"Sh! She's right here now," whispered Bobby Hargrew sepulchrally, coming
into the dressing-room. "She's on watch at the door."
"Who?" asked Jess Morse.
"Not Hester?" cried Lily. "She told me she wouldn't come down here!"
"Gee Gee," shot back Bobby, with pursed lips. "She is going to be sure that
Hester doesn't appear."
"Mean thing!" Nellie Agnew said. And when the doctor's gentle daughter made
such a statement she had to be fully aroused. "She thinks she has spoiled
the whole act!"
"I believe you," Bessie Yeager said. "I wonder if Miss Carrington really
sleeps at night?"
"Why not, Bess?" cried Dora Lockwood.
"I think she lies awake thinking up mean things to do to us."
"Oh, oh!" murmured Nellie.
"I bet you!" exclaimed the slangy Bobby.
"Careful, girls. If she hears you!" warned Laura.
"Then you would be 'perspicuous au grautin,' as the fellow said," chuckled
Bobby. "There! the whistle has sounded."
"The fête has begun," sighed Jess. "I do hope everything will go off
"The boys are taking in money all right," Laura said with satisfaction. "I
believe we shall make a thousand dollars for the Red Cross."
"I hope so," said her chum. "Come on, girls! It's first the fancy skating
before the ice arena is all cut up."
The effort to make the Ice Carnival of the Central High a success was aided
by a perfect evening and perfect ice. The latter had been shaved and
smoothed over every gnarly place. There was not a single crack in which a
skate could be caught to throw the wearer. The arena roped off from the
spectators was as smooth as a ballroom floor.
It was about two acres in extent. Around three sides of the roped-off space
there was a roped-off alley with boards laid upon the ice upon which the
spectators could stand. Uprights held the strings of colored lights which
were supplied with electricity from the city lighting company; for this was
not the first exhibition of the kind that had been staged upon Lake Luna.
Around the alley allotted to the audience, each member of which had to pay
a half dollar for a ticket, was a guarded space so that those who did not
pay entrance fee could not get near enough to enjoy the spectacle.
The short-distance races, following the figure skating, were all within the
oval of the principal arena. Then the ropes were taken down at one end and
the long-distance races came off, a mile track having been marked with
staffs upon the ice, staffs which now held the clusters of colored
For two hours the company was so well amused that few were driven away by
the cold—and it was an intensely cold night The ringing of the skates on
the almost adamantine ice revealed the fact that Jack Frost had a tight
clutch on the waters of Lake Luna.
"I wish my mother could have seen this," Janet Steele murmured to Laura
Belding. "I think it is like fairyland."
"Isn't it pretty? Now comes the torchlight procession. The boys arranged
this their own selves. See if it isn't pretty!"
The short end of the oval had been closed again after the long-distance
races, and now there dashed into the arena from the boys' lane to the
dressing-rooms a long line of figures in dominos, each bearing a colored
light. They were the boys that could skate the best—the most sure-footed.
Back and forth, around and around, in and out and across! The swift
movement of the figures was well nigh bewildering; while the intermingling
of colored lights, their weaving in and out, made a brilliant pattern that
brought applause again and again from the spectators.
Then the boys divided, taking stations some distance apart, and the torches
were tossed from hand to hand, as Indian clubs are tossed in gymnasium
exercises. The effect was spectacular and seemed a much more difficult
exercise than it really was.
Meanwhile the girls selected for the masquerade were dressing in the
boathouse. Their masquerade costumes were as diverse and elaborate as
though it were a ball they were attending. There was no dress as simple as
Janet Steele's Red Cross uniform; yet with her glowing face and sparkling
eyes and white teeth there were few more effective figures in the party.
She had proved herself to be a fine and strong skater. Laura and Jess, who
sponsored her, were delighted with the new girl's appearance on the ice.
She had learned, too, her part quite perfectly. When the girls first came
out and the boys darted back to get into their fancy costumes, the summary
of the figures the girls wove on the ice were already known to Janet. She
fulfilled her part.
Then returned the boys, "all rigged out," Bobby said, and the masquerade
parade began. The crowd standing about the arena cheered and shouted. It
really was a most attractive grand march, and there chanced, better still,
to be no accident. Smoothly the young people wended their way about the
ice, their skates ringing, their supple bodies swaying in time to the
music, led by those two masks of Uncle Sam and the Red Cross girl.
"It is lovely," Mrs. Belding said to her husband. "What a fine skater our
Chetwood is, Henry. And it is so near Christmas! I hope that bank-note will
turn out to be a good one so that he will not lose the money," she finished
"There, there!" said the jeweler. "I'll go to see Monroe to-morrow. He's at
BUT WHO IS HE?
"Well, Mr. Monroe," the jeweler said, when he was ushered into the banker's
office the following forenoon by the bank watchman, "I presume that bill is
a counterfeit of some kind?"
"My dear Belding," said the banker, who was a portly and jolly man, who
shook a good deal when he chuckled, and who shook now, "I thought you were
old enough, and experienced enough, to discover the counterfeit from the
"My son took the bill in over the counter," said the jeweler, rather
"But haven't you examined it?" said Mr. Monroe, taking the strange
bank-note from a drawer of his desk.
"Well—yes," was the admission, made grudgingly.
"And are you not yet assured?"
"Neither one way nor the other," frankly confessed the jeweler. "It was
taken by Chet for a hundred-dollar bill. And it is that on one side!"
"It certainly looks to be," chuckled Mr. Monroe.
"But who ever heard of such a thing?" demanded the exasperated customer of
the bank. "A hundred printed on one side and a fifty on the other! The
printers of bank-notes do not make such mistakes."
"Hold on! Nobody is infallible in this world—not even a bank-note
printer," said the banker, reaching into another drawer and bringing forth
a large indexed scrapbook.
"Here's a case that happened some years ago. I am a scrapbook fiend,
Belding," chuckled Mr. Monroe. "There were once two bills issued for a
Kansas bank just like this one you have brought to me. Only this note that
we have here was printed for the Drovers' Levee Bank of Osage, Ohio, as you
can easily see. This note went through that bank, was signed by Bedford
Knox, cashier, and Peyton J. Weld, president, as you can see, and its
peculiar printing was not discovered.
"Ah, here we have it!" added Mr. Monroe, fluttering the stiff leaves of the
scrapbook and finally coming to the article in question. "Listen here: 'It
was found on communication with Washington that a record was held there of
the bill, and the department was anxious to recall it. With another bill it
had been printed for a bank in Kansas, and the mistake had been made by the
printer who had turned the sheet upside down in printing the reverse side.
The first plate bore the obverse of a fifty-dollar bill at the top and of a
hundred-dollar bill at the bottom, while the other plate held the reverse
of both sides. By turning the sheet around for the reverse printing, the
fifty-dollar impression had been made on the back of the hundred-dollar
"Do you see, now?" laughed the banker. "Quite an easy and simple mistake,
and one that might often be made, only the printers are very careful men."
Oddly enough, Mr. Belding, although relieved by the probability that the
Department at Washington would make the strange bill right for him, was
suddenly attracted by another fact.
"I wonder," he said, "if that man came from Osage, Ohio?"
"What man? The one who passed the bank-note on your son?"
"Yes. You know, he was injured and is now in the hospital."
"I don't know. Go on."
Mr. Belding related the story of the accident and the unfortunate mental
condition of the injured man. "They tell me all the money he had with him
was new money—fresh from the Treasury."
"He probably did not make it himself," chuckled the jolly banker. "Poor
chap! Don't the doctors think he will recover his memory?"
"That I cannot say," the jeweler said, rising. "Then you think I may
relieve Chet's mind?"
"Oh, yes. I will give you another hundred for this bill, if you want me to.
I will send this to Washington, where they probably already have a record
of it. Bills of this denomination are printed by twos, and the other has
probably turned up—as in the case of the Kansas bank-note."
Aside from the satisfaction this interview of his father's with Mr. Monroe
accorded Chet Belding, further interest on the part of all the young people
was aroused in the case of the injured stranger. Oddly enough, when Laura
and Jess went to the hospital to inquire about the man, they found Janet
Steele, the Red Cross girl, there on the same errand.
Since the Ice Carnival, that had proved such a money-making affair for the
Red Cross, the Central High girls had considered Janet almost one of
themselves. Although nobody seemed to know who or what the Steeles were,
and they certainly lived very oddly in the old house at the lower end of
Whiffle Street, Janet was so likable, and her invalid mother was evidently
so much of a gentlewoman, that Laura and her chum had vouched for Janet and
declared her to be "all right."
The matron of the hospital was the person whom the girls interviewed on
this occasion. Mrs. Langworth had some interest in each patient besides the
doctor's professional concern. She was sympathetic.
"We do not know what to call him," she explained. "He laughs rather grimly
about it and tells us to call him 'John.' But that, I am sure, is not his
name. He merely wishes us to have a 'handle' for him. And you cannot tell
me," added the matron, shaking her head, "that he is one of those rough
miners right out of Alaska!"
"Does he say he is?" asked Janet, with increased interest.
"He remembers of being in Alaska, he says. He was coming out, he tells us,
when something happened to him. And that is the last he can remember. He
believes he 'made his pile,' as he expresses it. Oh, he uses mining
expressions, and may have lived roughly and in the open, as miners do, at
some time in his life. But not recently, I am sure."
"And not a thing about him to identify him?" asked Laura.
"Not a thing. Plenty of money. Not much jewelry——"
"Oh! The lavallière my brother sold him!" cried Laura. "He said it was for
'a nice little girl he knew.' It was only a ten dollar one—one of those
French novelties, you know, that we sell so many of at this time of year."
"He had that in an envelope in his pocket," said Mrs. Langworth.
"Then he had not made the presentation of it to 'the nice little girl,'"
murmured Laura. thoughtfully.
"It almost proves he is a stranger in town, does it not?" asked Jess. "He
bought the chain in the morning, and he was not hurt until evening. Do you
know if he had any lodging in Centerport?"
"The police have searched the hotels, I believe," said the matron, "and
described the poor fellow to the clerks and managers. Nobody seems to know
"Do—do you suppose we might see him?" Laura asked hesitatingly.
"Oh, Laura! Would you want to?" Jess murmured.
"Why not?" said the matron, smiling. "Not just now, perhaps. But the next
time you come—in the afternoon, of course. He will be glad to see young
faces, I have no doubt I will speak to Dr. Agnew when he comes in," for
Nellie's father was of importance at the Centerport Hospital.
"But who is he, do you suppose?" Jess Morse demanded, when the three girls
left the hospital and walked uptown again. "He can't be any person who has
friends in Centerport, or they would look him up."
"That seems to be sure enough," admitted her chum. Then: "Shall we walk
along with Janet?"
"Of course," said Jess. "Are you going home, Miss Steele?"
"Yes," said the girl in the Red Cross uniform. "I have been on duty at the
Central Chapter; but mother expects me now."
"How is your mother, dear?" asked Laura, with sympathy.
"She is as well as can be expected," said Janet gravely. "If she had
nothing to worry her mind she would be better in health," and she sighed.
Janet did not explain what this worry was, and even Jess, blunt-spoken as
she often was, could not ask pointblank what serious trouble Mrs. Steele
had on her mind.
Again the Central High girls went in to see the invalid upon Janet's
invitation. They found Bobby Hargrew there before them. Harum-scarum as
Bobby was, nobody could accuse her of lack of sympathy; and she had already
learned that her fun and frolic pleased the invalid. Bobby did not mind
playing the jester for her friends.
Of course, the strange man at the hospital was the pivot on which the
"Were you there, too, to inquire about him?" asked Mrs. Steele of Janet.
Laura noticed a certain wistfulness in the invalid's tone and look; but she
did not understand it. Merely, Mother Wit noted and pigeonholed the remark.
Janet said practically:
"I can't help feeling an interest in him, as I helped him that evening he
"But have they learned nothing about him?"
"Only that the hundred-dollar bill he gave Chet is probably all right,"
laughed Jess Morse.
"They say he had a big money roll," said Bobby.
"Not a poor man, of course," Laura agreed.
"And Mrs. Langworth says she is sure he has been in Alaska," Jess added.
Laura noted the swift glance that passed between the invalid and her
"Oh, my dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Steele, "you did not tell me that"
"No," said Janet, shaking her head, "But lots of men go to Alaska, Mamma."
"Ye-es," admitted Mrs. Steele.
"And come back with plenty of money," put in Bobby, smiling. "This poor
man's money doesn't help him much, does it? He doesn't seem to have any
friends here in Centerport. He is just as much a stranger as the man they
tell about who came back to his old home town after a great many years and
found a lot of changes. As he rode uptown his taxicab stopped to let a
funeral go by.
"'Who's dead?' asked the returned wanderer of the taxicab driver.
"'Dan Jones,' said the driver.
"'Not Dan Jones that kept the hotel!' cried the man. 'Why, I knew him well.
Can it be possible that Dan is dead?'
"'I reckon he's dead, Mister,' said the chauffeur, as the hearse went by.
'What d'you think they're doin'—rehearsin' with him?'"
"How very lonely the poor man must feel," said Mrs. Steele, after laughing
at Bobby's story.
"We're going in to see him the next time," Jess said.
Mrs. Steele looked again swiftly at her daughter. "You will see him, too,
won't you, Janet?" she murmured.
Her daughter seemed not to like the idea; but Jess said quickly:
"We will take Janet with us, Mrs. Steele. And Bobby, too. If Mrs. Langworth
approves, I mean. 'The more the merrier.' Really, I'm awfully interested in
Laura, said nothing; but she wondered why the invalid showed so much
interest in the injured man.
The copies of the play chosen for production by the girls of the Central
High Players Club had arrived, and Mr. Mann, who was to direct the
production, called the members of the club together in the small hall which
was just off Mr. Sharp's office.
"And thank goodness!" murmured Bobby Hargrew, "Gee Gee cannot break into
this session. What do you suppose she has suggested?"
"Mercy! how do you expect us to guess the vagaries of the Carrington mind?"
returned Lily Pendleton. "Something foolish, I'll be bound."
"Sh! Remember Mr. Mann is an instructor, too," said Nellie Agnew.
"That is all right, Doctress," giggled Lily. "Mr. Mann is a good fellow and
will not peach."
"Tell us the awful truth, Bobby," drawled Jess. "What is Gee Gee's latest?"
"I understand," said the younger girl, "that she has been to Mr. Sharp and
begged him to exercise his authority and make us act 'Pyramus and Thisbe'
instead of 'The Rose Garden.'"
"Goodness! That old thing?" flung out Dora Lockwood.
"There is a burlesque on 'Pyramus and Thisbe' that we might give," chuckled
Jess. "And it's all in doggerel. Let's!"
"Reckless ones! Would you spoil all our chances?" demanded Laura.
"Remember, we are working for a worthy cause," Dorothy Lockwood mouthed, in
imitation of the scorned Miss Carrington.
"You are right, Dory," Laura said soberly. "The Red Cross is worth
"Right-o, my dear girl," declared Jess Morse with conviction. "Let us put
aside Gee Gee and listen to what Mr. Mann has to say."
They had already talked over the characters of the play. None of them was
beyond the capabilities of the girls of Central High. But what delighted
some of them was that there were boys' parts—and girls would fill them!
Of course, Bobby Hargrew had been cast for one of the male parts. Bobby's
father had always said she should have been a boy, and was wont to call her
"my eldest son." She had assumed mannish ways—sometimes when the
assumption was not particularly in good taste.
"But Short and Long," she growled in her very "basest" voice, "says I can't
walk like a boy. Says anybody will know I'm a girl. I have a mind to get my
hair cut short"
"Don't you dare, Clara Hargrew!" Laura commanded. "You'd be sorry
afterward—and so would your father."
Bobby would never do anything to hurt "Father Tom," as she always called
Mr. Hargrew, so her enthusiasm for this suggested prank subsided. But she
"Anyway, it's a sailor suit I am going to wear, and I guess I can walk like
a sailor, just as well as Short and Long."
"Better," declared Nellie soothingly. "And then, those wide-legged trousers
sailors wear are quite modest."
At this all the girls laughed. Knickers in their gymnasium and field work
had become second nature to them.
"But think of me," cried Jess, "in what Chet calls 'the soup to nuts!'
Really the dress-suit of mankind is awfully silly, after all."
"And uncomfortable!" declared Dora.
"Attention, young ladies!" exclaimed Mr. Mann at that moment.
He was a rotund, beaming little man, with vast enthusiasm and the
patience—so Nellie declared—of an angel.
"Not a full-sized angel," Bobby had denied seriously. "He is more the size
of a cherub—one of those you see pictured leaning their elbows on clouds."
But, of course, neither of the girls made this comment within Mr. Mann's
The final decisions regarding the choice of parts were now made. The copies
of the play were distributed. Mr. Mann even read aloud the first two acts,
instructing and advising as he went along, so that the girls could gain
some general idea of what was expected of them.
Before they were finished another point came up. There was a single
character in the play that had not been accorded to any girl. It was not a
speaking part; but it was an important part, for the other characters
talked about it, and the silent character was supposed to appear on several
occasions in "The Rose Garden."
"We need a tall, dark girl," said Mr. Mann. "One who walks particularly
well and who win not be overlooked by the audience even when she merely
crosses the stage. Who——?"
"Margit Salgo!" exclaimed Jess, who had every bit of the new play and its
needs very close to her heart.
"Of course!" cried Laura and the Lockwood twins. "Margit is just the one,"
Mother Wit added.
"Oh!" said Mr. Mann at last. "You mean Margaret Carrington?"
"And she walks like a queen," sighed Lily Pendleton. "I wish I could learn
to walk as she does."
"You know what Mrs. Case says," put in Bobby, in an undertone. "She says
your feet, Lil, have been bound like a Chinese woman's of the old regime."
"Margit went barefoot and lived in the open for years," said Laura.
"She was 'near to Nature's heart,'" laughed Jess. "Of course, she never
tried to squeeze a number six foot into narrow twos."
"Never mind the size of her feet," said Mr. Mann good-naturedly. "If she
can take the part, she will be just the one for it I remember that Miss
Carrington's niece does have a queenly walk. And that is just what we need.
But do you think we can get her?"
"She has never joined our club," said Jess thoughtfully.
"I am not sure that she has ever been invited," Laura said. "But she is
"Gee Gee pretty near works her to death," growled Bobby. "I shouldn't
wonder if Margit flew the coop some day."
"I am not sure, Miss Hargrew," said Mr. Mann, without a smile, "that I
ought not to take you to task for your language. It really is inexcusable."
"Oh, dear me, Mr. Mann, don't you begin!" begged the culprit "If I am
academic in school in my speech, let me be relieved out of sessions, I
"But about Margit Salgo?" queried Laura. "Do you suppose she will be able
to help us? I know she will be willing to, if we ask her."
"Gee Gee will object, you bet," growled Bobby under her breath.
That was not to be known, however, without asking. Laura said she would
speak to Margaret about it, while Mr. Mann intimated that he would mention
to Miss Carrington, the elder, that her niece was almost necessary to the
success of the play.
Margit Salgo was not so straightly kept by Miss Carrington as she was
engaged from morning to night in her studies. Having been utterly neglected
as far as mental development went for several years, the half-gypsy girl
was much behind others of her age at Central High.
Miss Grace Gee Carrington was pushing her protégé on as fast as possible.
She was not yet in the classes of those, girls of her age whom she knew at
Central High; but she was fast forging ahead and she took much pride in her
Therefore she did not see Miss Carrington's sternness as Bobby, for
instance, saw it. She found her aunt kind and considerate, if very firm.
And the girl who had been half wild when Laura Belding first found her, as
has been related in "The Girls of Central High on Track and Field," was
settling into a very sedate and industrious young woman.
What girl, however, does not love to "dress up and act?" Margit Salgo was
delighted when Laura explained their need to her.
"Just as sure as auntie will let me, I'll act," declared the dark beauty,
flushing brilliantly and her black eyes aflame with interest. "You are a
dear, Laura Belding, to think of me," and she hugged Mother Wit heartily.
Two days passed, and then came the first rehearsal. This, of course, could
be little more than a reading of the parts before Mr. Mann, with the latter
to advise them as to elocution and stage business. But Bobby declared she
had been practicing walking like a boy and had succeeded in copying Short
and Long almost exactly.
"Why me?" demanded Billy sharply, whose usual sweet temper seemed to have
become dreadfully soured of late.
"Well, why not?" demanded Bobby. "Should I copy Pretty Sweet's strut?"
"Aw—him!" snorted Billy Long, turning away in vexation.
"Now, tell me," said the quick-minded Bobby Hargrew to Laura and Jess, with
whom she chanced to be walking at the moment, "why it is that Billy has
taken such a violent dislike to poor Purt of late? Why, he doesn't feel
kindly enough toward him to send him another dead fish!"
They were going to the rehearsal, which was in the small hall of the
school. Of course, there was a sight of bustle and talking. Every girl was
greatly excited over her part. Some were "sure they couldn't do it," while
there were those who "could not possibly remember cues."
"And I know I shall laugh just at the wrong place," said Lily Pendleton. "I
"If you do," growled Bobby, "I'll do something to you that will make you
feel far from laughing, I assure you."
"How savagely you talk!" sighed Nellie Agnew. "That boy's part you are to
fill is already affecting you, Clara."
"'Sailor Bob' is going to be terrifically rough, I suppose," Jess said,
Mr. Mann called them to order, and the girls finally rustled into seats and
prepared to go through "The Rose Garden" for the first time. Everybody knew
her first speeches, and as Mr. Mann accentuated the cues and advised about
the business the girls did very well during the first act.
But with the opening of the second act there was a halt. Here was where
"the dark lady" should come in. Her first appearance marked a flourishing
period by Jess, who strode about the stage as the hero of the piece.
"And Margit's not here!" cried Dora Lockwood. "Shouldn't she be, Mr. Mann?
Really, her entrance gives me my cue, not Adrian's speech."
Adrian was Jess Morse. She nodded her head vigorously. "Of course, Margit
ought to be here to rehearse with us."
"I am afraid," said Mr. Mann, with pursed lips, "that we shall have to give
up the idea of having Miss Carrington—the younger—for the part."
"Oh, oh, oh!" chorused some of the girls. "Can't Margit play?"
"Isn't that just like Gee Gee?" demanded Bobby furiously.
"She wanted to, I am sure," Laura said. "It is not Margit's fault."
"Of course it isn't," snapped Jess. "That old—"
Fortunately she got no farther. The door opened at that instant and Miss
Grace Gee Carrington entered. She was a very tall woman with grayish hair,
eyeglasses, and a sallow complexion. Her dignity of carriage and stern
manner were quite overpowering.
"Young ladies!" she said sharply, having come into the room and closed the
door, "I have a word to say. I told Mr. Mann I would come here and explain
why my niece cannot take part in any such foolish and inconsequential
exhibition as this that you have determined on."
She glared around, and the girls' faces assumed various expressions of
disturbance. Some, even, were frightened, for Miss Carrington had always
reigned by power of fear.
"I would not allow Margaret to lower herself by appearing in such a play. I
disapprove greatly of girls taking boys' parts. The object of the play
itself is merely to amuse. There is nothing worth while or educational
Again silence, and the girls only glanced fearfully at each other.
"I have a proposition to make to you," said the stern teacher. "It is not
too late to change your plans. I have Mr. Sharp's permission to make the
suggestion. He will agree to your changing the play and will
be—er—satisfied, I am sure, if you accept my advice and put on the play
which I first suggested. This is an old Greek play with real value to it We
gave it once in my own college days, and it truly made a sensation. I
should be quite willing for Margaret to appear in that play, and I should,
in fact, be willing to give Mr. Mann the benefit of my own experience in
rehearsing the piece."
Mr. Mann actually looked frightened. The stern instructor overpowered him
exactly as she did many of the girls.
"Toot! Toot! Toot-te-toot! Back water!" muttered Bobby Hargrew. "Wouldn't I
cut a shine acting in a Greek play? Oh, my!"
Her imprudence—and impudence—was fortunately drowned by the general
murmur of objection that went up from the girls of the club. That Miss
Carrington's suggestion met with general objection was so plain that even
the stern woman herself must have realized it.
"Of course," she said, really "cattish," "you girls would prefer something
"Perhaps, Miss Carrington," said Laura with more boldness than most of her
mates possessed, "we prefer something more simple. 'The Rose Garden' does
not call for more than we can give to it. I am afraid the play you suggest
would take too much study."
"Ha!" snapped the tall teacher. Then she went on: "I want you all to
understand that your recitations must be up to the average while you put in
your time on such a mediocre performance as this you are determined upon.
Of course, if the play was of an educational nature we might relax our
school rules a little—"
"Oh! Oh! Bribery!" whispered Jess to Nellie.
"It seems," Mr. Mann finally found voice to say, "that the desire of the
young ladies is for the piece selected. It is too late, as Miss Belding
says, to make a change now."
"Then Margaret cannot act!" exclaimed Miss Carrington, and, turning
angrily, she left the hall in a way that had she been one of the girls, it
would have been said, "She flounced out."
The rehearsal continued; but most of the girls were in a sober state of
mind. There was a general desire among them to stand high in all their
studies. They had learned when first they entered upon the athletic
contests and exercises of the Girls Branch League that they must keep up in
studies and in deportment or they could not get into the good times of the
It was so with the secret society, the M. O. R.'s, and likewise in this
acting club. "Fun" was merely a reward for good work in school. Not alone
was Miss Carrington stiff on this point, the principal and the rest of the
faculty were quite as determined that no outside adventures or activities
should lower the standard of the girls of Central High.
At the present time the members of the club had a serious fact to
contemplate. A girl to fill the part of the "dark lady" in the garden must
be found. As it was not a speaking part, the person filling the character
must more particularly look as she was described in the play.
"We want a type," said Mr. Mann. "Tall, graceful, brunette, and with
queenly carriage. You must find her before the next rehearsal. I must have
plenty of time to train her, for her appearance is of grave importance—as
you young ladies can yourselves see."
"Oh, dear me!" groaned Nellie Agnew, when the rehearsal was finished. "And
Margit Salgo would have been just the one!"
"And the poor girl certainly would have enjoyed being one of us," Laura
"Take it from me," said Bobby gruffly, "she's just the meanest—"
"Margit?" cried Jess.
"Gee Gee! I'm good and disgusted with her."
But Bobby, for once in her life, was very circumspect during recitations
that week. She felt that Gee Gee was watching for a chance to demerit her,
and the girl did not intend to give the teacher occasion for doing so.
"For once I am going to be so good, and have my lessons so perfect, that
she cannot find fault."
"But trust Miss Carrington to find fault if she felt like it!" grumbled the
girl a day or so later.
"Miss Hargrew, do not stride so. And keep your elbows in. Why! you walk
like a grenadier. And don't sprawl in your seat that way. Are you not a
Ah, but it was hard for saucy Bobby to keep her tongue back of her teeth!
"Have you lost your tongue?" nagged Miss Carrington.
Bobby's eyes flashed a reply. But her lips "ran o'er with honey," as Jess
Morse quoted, sotto voce.
"No, Miss Carrington. I am merely holding it," said the girl softly.
Miss Carrington flushed. She knew she was unfair; and Bobby's unexpected
reply pilloried the teacher before the whole class. There was a bustle in
the room and a not-entirely-smothered snicker.
Had there been any way of punishing the girl Miss Carrington would
certainly have done it. She was neither just nor merciful, but she was
exact. She could see no crevice in Bobby's armor. The incident had to pass,
and the girl remained unpunished.
However, it did seem as though Miss Carrington were more watchful each day
of the girls who belonged to the Players Club. She was evidently expecting
those who had parts to learn to show some falling off in recitation, or the
like. Her sharp tongue lashed those who faltered unmercifully. The girls
began to show the strain. They became nervous.
"I really feel as though I must scream sometimes!" said Nellie Agnew,
almost in tears, one afternoon as the particular chums of Central High left
the building for home. "I know my lessons just as well as ever, but Gee Gee
has got me so worked up that I expect to fail every time I come up to
recite to her."
"She is too old to teach, anyway," snapped Jess. "My mother says so. She
ought to have been put on the shelf by the Board of Education long ago."
"Oh, oh!" gasped Dora Lockwood. "What bliss if she were!"
"She is not so awfully old," said Laura thoughtfully.
"But she is awful!" sniffed Jess.
"She acts like a spoiled child," Nellie said. "If she cannot have her own
way in everything she gets mad and becomes disagreeable."
This was pretty strong language from the doctor's daughter. At the moment
Bobby Hargrew appeared, whistling, and with her hands in her coat pockets.
She was evidently practicing her manly stride. But she did not grin when
she saw the juniors approaching. Instead, in a most dolorous voice she sang
out, quoting the witches' chant:
"'Double, double; toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.'
"Everything's stewing, girls, and it is bound to be some brew. Do you know
"Couldn't guess," said Jess Morse. "But it is something bad, I warrant."
"Everything's going wrong, girls!" wailed Nellie.
"I just saw Mr. Mann and Lil. Couldn't help overhearing what she was giving
him. What do you suppose she wants to do?"
"Play the lead instead of Laura," snapped Jess.
"That would not be so strange," Dora Lockwood observed. "Would it,
"Not at all. Lil Pendleton—"
"Wait a minute," proposed Laura Belding. "Let us hear her crime before we
sentence her to death."
"That's right," agreed Bobby. "Oh, she surely has put her foot in it! She
told Mr. Mann that Hessie is just the girl to act 'the dark lady' in our
play. What do you know about that?"
"Ow! Ow! That hurts!" squealed Dora.
"She never did?" gasped her twin.
"Hope to die!" exclaimed Bobby recklessly. "That is exactly the game she is
trying to work."
"Hester Grimes! Of all persons!" groaned Nellie.
"Lil hasn't said a word about it to me," Jess Morse declared.
"No, she is going to get Mr. Mann himself to propose Hester—"
"But Hessie isn't a member of the club!" cried Nellie.
"We have set a precedent there," said Laura thoughtfully. "We took Janet
Steele into the ice carnival, and she was not a member of the school."
"That was an entirely different thing!" snapped Jess.
"Why, Hester Grimes is no more fit to play that part than I am fit for the
professional stage!" Nellie Agnew said. "What can Lil mean?"
"I bet a cooky," Bobby growled, "that Hester put Lil up to it. You know,
Hess is crazy to get her finger into every pie; but she would never come
straight out and ask to join our club."
"She'd be blackballed," said Dora tartly.
"I believe she would," agreed her twin.
Bobby chuckled. "There would be two black beans against her, and no
"What did you say to Lil, Clara?" demanded Laura thoughtfully.
"Not a word."
"How was that?" Jess asked. "You didn't have a sudden attack of lockjaw,
"Don't fret, Jess," said Bobby sharply. "I know when to keep my mouth shut
on occasion. I came right away from there to find you girls. Something must
be done about it."
"Oh, dear me!" groaned Nellie. "If Margit Salgo had only been allowed to
take the part!"
"What did I tell you?" almost snarled Bobby. "Gee Gee has managed to queer
the whole business. This play is going to be a failure."
MOTHER WIT HAS AN IDEA
The ice carnival had been such a success in a spectacular as well as a
monetary way that many of the friends of the Central High girls and boys
declared they would like to have it repeated. More than a thousand
dollars—to be exact, one thousand and twenty dollars—had been made for
the Red Cross.
Centerport was doing its very best to gather its quota for the great
institution that was doing so much good in the world. Janet Steele
confessed to Laura that she had gained more than one hundred dollar
memberships, and that nearly all of these had given something in addition
to their membership fee.
"I wish we girls could help," said Laura wistfully.
"And you having done so much already!" cried Janet. "Why, you've already
done more than your share! And doing a play, too!"
"I am afraid the play will not be a great success," Mother Wit sighed, but
more to herself than to the other girl.
Those who wished to repeat the ice carnival success had to give the idea
up, for before the end of the week there swept down over the North Woods
and across frozen Lake Luna such a blizzard as the surrounding country had
not seen for several years. The street cars stopped running, traffic of all
sorts was tied up, and even the electricity for lighting purposes was put
out of commission for twenty-four hours.
Of course, it did not keep many of the girls and boys of Central High at
home. Snow piled up in the streets did not daunt them at all. But when the
amateur actors undertook to rehearse they had to do so by the light of
candles and kerosene lamps.
The rehearsal did not go very well, either. The girls were "snippy" to each
other—at least, Jess said they were, and Bobby declared she was one of the
very "snippiest—so there!"
"Girls! Girls!" begged Laura, "when there are so many other people to
fight, let us not fight each other. 'Little birds should in their nests
agree,' and so forth."
"Oh, poodle soup!" ejaculated Bobby, under her breath. "Don't anybody dare
spring old saws and sayings on me in my present mood."
"I believe you'd bite, Bobby," whispered Nellie Agnew.
A cry went up for Lily Pendleton, and then it was found that she was not
"The only girl who is made of either sugar or salt," declared Josephine
Morse. "Of course, the snow would keep her away!"
"But where is her friend, Miss Grimes?" asked Mr. Mann, rather tartly. "I
shall have my work cut out for me in training her, I fear."
"You will, indeed," moaned Laura.
"Now, Mr. Mann!" cried Bobby boldly, "you are not really going to let that
Hester Grimes act in this play, are you? She is perfectly horrid!"
"Miss Hargrew," was the somewhat sharp answer, "I hope you will not let
personal dislikes enter into this play. It does not matter who or what Miss
Grimes may be, if she can take the part—"
"But she'll never be able to do it in the world!"
"That is to be seen," said Mr. Mann firmly. "Remember, we are working for
the benefit of the Red Cross."
"Hear! Hear!" murmured Laura. "Perhaps Hester will do very well."
"And perhaps she won't!" snapped Bobby.
"Why, she can't possibly act!" Jess Morse said hopelessly.
"You will let me be the judge of that, Miss Morse, if you please," said Mr.
Mann, speaking rather tartly.
"Mercy, everybody to-day is as crisp as pie-crust—no two ways about it!"
whispered Bobby to Jess.
The girls plowed home through the deep snow, most of them in no mood for
amusement. Even Laura Belding had a long face when she entered the house.
"How was the funeral?" asked Chet, who was buried in one of the deep
library chairs with a book.
"What?" she asked before she caught his meaning.
"You must have buried somebody by the way you look," declared her brother.
"Don't nag, Chettie," sighed his sister. "We are having terrible times."
"I judged so," Chet said dryly. "Don't you always have sich when you girls
go in for acting?"
"I am sympathetic, Laura—I swear I am!" her brother cried, putting up his
hands for pardon. "Don't shoot. But of course things always will go wrong.
Who is it—Bobby? Or Jess? Or Lil?"
"It is Hester Grimes."
"Wow!" exclaimed Chet. "I didn't know she was in it at all."
Laura told him of the emergency that had arisen and how Hester Grimes
seemed certain to be drawn into the affair.
"Why, that big chunk can't act," said Chet quite impolitely. "She looks
enough like her father to put on his apron and stand behind one of his
"Oh, that is awful!" Laura objected. "But I know she will spoil our play."
"Humph! Why didn't you, Laura, suggest somebody else for the part, as long
as Margit couldn't take it?"
"I didn't know of anybody."
"I thought they called you 'Mother Wit,'" scoffed Chet. "You're not even a
little bit bright."
"No, I guess you are right. I have lost all my brightness," sighed Laura.
"It has been rubbed off."
"Then you admit it was merely plate," laughed Chet. "But say! why didn't
you think of the girl who helped you out before?"
"Who? What girl?"
"That Red Cross girl. What's her name?"
"That's the one. Some pippin," said Chet with enthusiasm. I saw her this
afternoon and helped her plow home—"
"Chetwood Belding! Wait till Jess Morse hears about it."
"Jess will spark, old boy; you see if she doesn't"
"Jess is the best girl in the world; and she's got too much sense to object
to my helping another girl home through the snow."
"All right," chuckled Laura, in a much more cheerful mood. "But don't make
the mistake of praising Janet to Jess. That is where the crime comes in."
"Oh! Well, I won't," her brother declared thoughtfully.
"And where did you beau Janet from?" Laura asked.
"Were you there to see that poor man?"
"Rich man, you mean," grinned her brother. "I took him some books and a lot
of papers. He is able to sit up and read."
"But he doesn't know who he is?"
"He declares his name is John Something, and that he ought to be in
Alaska right now. Says the last he knew he was in Sitka. Something happened
to him there. Whatever it was, his brain must have been affected at that
time. For he cannot remember anything about the first part of his life."
"But, Chetwood!" exclaimed Laura earnestly, "that man is not a miner. He is
not tanned. His hands are not rough. He was as well groomed, the matron
says, as any gentleman who ever was brought to the Centerport Hospital."
"But he was in Alaska. You should hear him tell about it."
"He has lived two lives, then," said Laura thoughtfully.
"And must be beginning his third now," put in Chet. "What do you know about
that? And him with a roll of more than two thousand dollars—every bill
"Well, what is it?" her brother asked, looking curiously into Laura's
suddenly glowing face.
"Does he know he has so much money?"
"Why, yes. I've been telling him to-day all about that funny bill he passed
on me. He says he is glad he has so fat a purse, as he will be obliged to
remain in bed long with that leg in a cast."
"But, Chet! has he got the money himself?"
"It is in the hospital safe."
"I wonder! I wonder!" the girl murmured.
"What is it now?" asked Chet
"I wonder if any other bills in his roll are like that hundred-fifty note
father swapped with Mr. Monroe for you."
"Huh?" ejaculated her brother, quite puzzled.
"It was on the Drovers' Levee Bank, of Osage, Ohio. I wrote it down, and
the names of the cashier and president of the bank. Do find out, Chet, if
there are any more of those new bills issued by that bank in his roll."
"What for?" demanded Chet.
That Laura would not tell him, only made him promise to do as she asked.
Mother Wit had an idea; but she would not explain it to anybody yet.
CHAINS ON HIS WHEELS
"How came you to meet Janet?" asked Laura Belding, remembering what her
brother had first told her about the Red Cross girl.
"She was coming my way, of course."
"Coming your way?" Laura repeated, her eyebrows raised questioningly. "Oh!
I see! You met her at the hospital."
"You said a forkful," declared the slangy youth.
"Dear me, Chet," Laura observed soberly. "I think your slang is becoming
atrocious. So Janet was down there!"
"She had been calling on our friend with the broken leg, too," said Chet.
"She does seem interested in him, doesn't she?" Laura said thoughtfully. "I
"Because her mother's half-brother went to Alaska years ago and they never
heard of him again," said Chet. "She told me."
"Nothing wonderful about that," the brother declared.
"It is interesting."
"To them, I suppose," said Chet "But why don't you ask Miss Steele to join
you girls in the play you are getting up?"
"I never thought of it," confessed Laura.
"Your thought-works are out of kilter, Sis," declared Chet, laughing again.
"I'd certainly play Miss Steele off against the menace of Hester Grimes."
There was something besides mere sound in Chet Belding's advice, and his
sister appreciated the fact. But she did not go bluntly to the other girls
and suggest the Red Cross girl for the part of "the dark lady." She
realized that, if the new girl could act, she would amply fill the part in
the play. But Hester was supposed to have it now, and the very next day Mr.
Mann gave that candidate an hour's training in the part Hester was supposed
When they all came together for rehearsal again the second day, Hester
Grimes was present and she showed the effect of Mr. Mann's personal help.
Yet her work was so stiffly done, and she was so awkward, that it seemed to
most of the girls that she was bound to hurt and hinder rather than help in
"She'd put a crimp in anything," declared Bobby Hargrew, as the Hill girls
went home that afternoon.
The streets in this residential section had been pretty well cleared of
snow, and people had their automobiles out once more.
"Say, Jess!" exclaimed Bobby.
"Say it," urged Josephine Morse. "I promise not to bite you."
"If Hester plays that part, what are they going to do with her hands and
feet?" asked the unkind Bobby.
"Oh, hush!" exclaimed Laura.
"Well, when she's supposed to pick the rose and hold it up to the light,
and kiss it, her hand is going to look like a full-grown lobster—and just
"Girls, we must not!" begged Laura. "Somebody will surely tell Hester what
we say, and then—"
"She'll refuse to play," said Jess.
"Oh, fine, fine!" murmured one of the Lockwood twins.
"If we get her mad it will do no good," Nellie Agnew said. "Maybe then she
will insist on being 'the dark lady.'"
The boys were on the corner of Nugent Street waiting for the girls to come
"How goes the battle, Laura?" asked Lance Darby. "Have you learned your
"I thought I had," sighed Laura. "But when I come to take cues and try to
remember the business of the piece, I forget my lines."
"This being leading lady is pretty tough on Mother Wit," laughed Chet.
"Oh, my!" exclaimed Bobby Hargrew suddenly. "Here comes Pretty Sweet in his
car. Why! he's got Lil with him. I thought that was all over."
They gaily hailed the driver of the automobile and his companion as the
vehicle passed. Short and Long, with gloomy face, watched the car out of
"Well," he growled, "he's got nonskid-chains on his wheels to-day, all
"Chains on his wheels, Billy?" asked Bobby. "What do you mean? Doesn't he
always have them on in winter?"
"Humph! He forgot 'em once, anyway."
"Hey, Billy!" exclaimed Chet Belding, "you are skidding yourself, aren't
"Least said soonest mended," added Lance, likewise giving the smaller boy a
quick, stern look.
"Oh, I see!" muttered Bobby, searching the flushed face of Short and Long.
But Short and Long started on a quick trot for home, and left his friends
to stare after him. It was Bobby who did most of the staring, however. She
said to Jess and Laura, after they had parted from the other boys:
"What do you know about that boy? I'm just wise to him. I believe I know
what is the matter with Short and Long."
"Do you mean," asked Laura, "what makes him act so to Purt?"
"You have guessed my meaning, Mother Wit."
"What is the trouble between them?" demanded Jess. "Although Billy never
was much in love with Purt Sweet."
"Don't you two girls remember the Saturday night that man was hurt on
"I should say I do remember it!" Laura agreed. "He is in the hospital yet,
and he doesn't know who he is or where he came from."
"Oh, it's nothing to do with his identity," Bobby hastened to say. "It is
about the car that ran him down. You know the police never have found the
"Goodness!" gasped Jess. "You surely don't mean——"
"I mean that the car had no chains on its rear wheels. That is all that was
noticed about it Nobody got the number. But I heard Short and Long say he
knew somebody who had been driving a car that day without chains. And the
boys left us, didn't they, to look up the car?"
"What has that to do with Purt Sweet?" demanded Laura.
"Why, you heard what Billy just said about him and his chains!" cried
Bobby. "'He's got nonskid-chains on his wheels to-day, all right.' Didn't
you hear him? And he's had a grouch against Pretty Sweet ever since the
time—about—that the man was hurt."
"Oh, Purt wouldn't have done such a thing. He might have run the man down;
but he would never have run off and left him in the street!"
"I don't know," Jess said. "He'd be frightened half to death, of course, if
he did knock the man down."
"I do not believe Prettyman Sweet is heartless," declared Laura warmly.
"The boys are making a mistake. I'm going to tell Chet so."
But when she took her brother to task about this matter she could not get
Chet to admit a thing. He refused to say anything illuminating about the
car that had run down the stranger at the hospital, or if the boys
suspected anybody in particular.
"If we think we know anything, I can't tell you," Chet declared "Billy?
Why, he's always sore at Purt Sweet. You can't tell anything by him!"
Just the same it was evident that the boys were hiding much from their girl
chums; and, of course, that being the case, the girls were made all the
PIE AND POETRY
Laura's sleeves were rolled up to her plump elbows and she had an
enveloping apron on that covered her dress from neck to toe. There was
flour on her arms, on one cheek, and even on the tip of her nose.
Out-of-doors old Boreas, Jess said, held sway. Shutters flapped, the
branches of the hard maple creaked against the clapboarded ell of the
house, and there was an occasional throaty rattle in the chimney that made
one think that the Spirit of the Wind was dying there.
"You certainly are poetic," drawled Bobby, who had come into the Beldings'
big kitchen, too, and was comfortably seated on the end of the table at
which Laura had been rolling out piecrust.
"Now, if that crust is only crisp!" murmured Mother Wit.
"If it isn't," chuckled Chet, stamping the snow off his shoes, "we'll make
you eat it all."
"I'm willing to take the contract of eating it, sight unseen, if Laura made
the pie," interjected Lance Darby, opening the door suddenly.
"Come in! Come in!" cried Jess. "Want to freeze us all?"
"You would better not be so reckless, Lance," Laura said, smiling. "These
are mock cherry pies; and I never do know whether I get sugar enough in
them until they are done. Some cranberries are sourer than others, you
"M-m! Ah!" sighed Chet ecstatically. "If there is one thing I like——"
Lance began to sing-song:
"'There was a young woman named Hooker,
Who wasn't so much of a looker;
But she could build a pie
That would knock out your eye!
So along came a fellow and took 'er!'"
"Oh! Oh! We're all running to poetry," groaned Chet. "This will never do."
"'Poetry,' indeed!" scoffed Jess Morse. "I want to know how Lance dares
trespass upon Bobby's domain of limericks?"
"And I wish to know," Laura added haughtily, "how he dares intimate that I
am not 'a good looker'?"
"'Peccavi!"' groaned Lance. "I have sinned! But, anyway, Bobby is off the
limerick business. Aren't you, Bobby?"
"She hasn't sprung a good one for an age," declared Chet.
"A shortage," sighed Laura.
"Gee Gee says the lowest form of wit is the pun, and the most execrable
form of rhyme is the limerick," declared Jess soberly.
"Just for that," snapped Bobby, "I'll give you a bunch of them. Only these
must be written down to be appreciated."
She produced a long slip of paper from her pocket, uncrumpled it, and began
"'There was a fine lady named Cholmondely,
In person and manner so colmondely
That the people in town
From noble to clown
Did nothing but gaze at her, dolmondely.'
Now, isn't that refined and beautiful?"
"It is—not!" said Chet. "That is only a play upon pronunciation."
"Carping critics!" exclaimed Lance. "Go ahead, Bobby. Let's hear the
As Bobby had been saving them up for just such an opportunity as this, she
proceeded to read:
"'There lived in the City of Worcester
A lively political borcester,
Who would sit on his gate
When his own candidate
Was passing, and crow like a rorcester!"
"Help! Help!" moaned Chet, falling into the cook's rocking chair and making
it creak tremendously.
"Don't break up the furniture," his sister advised him, as she took a peep
at the pies in the oven.
"'Pies and poetry'!" exclaimed Jess. "Go ahead, Bobby. Relieve your
constitution of those sad, sad doggerels."
Nothing loath, the younger girl, and with twinkling eyes, sing-songed the
"'There was a young sailor of Gloucester,
Who had a sweetheart, but he loucest'er.
She bade him good-day,
So some people say,
Because he too frequently boucest'er.'
Take notice all you 'bossy' youths."
"Isn't English the funny language?" demanded Chet, sitting up again. "And
spelling! My! Do you wonder foreigners find English so difficult? Here's
one that I found in an almanac at the drug store," and he fished out a
clipping and read it to them:
"'A lady once purchased some myrrh
Of a druggist who said unto hyrrh:
"For a dose, my dear Miss,
Put a few drops of this
In a glass with some water, and styrrh."'"
"Do, do stop!" begged Laura.
"I promise not to offend again," said Lance. "Besides, I hope to taste some
of the pie, and a pie-taster should not be a poetaster."
"Oh! Oh! Awful!" Jess cried.
"I've run out of limericks myself," confessed Chet.
"But one more!" Bobby hastened to say. Then dramatically she mouthed, with
her black eyes fastened on Chet:
"'Said Chetwood to young Short and Long,
"Just list to my warning in song:
If you know of the crime,
For both reason and rhyme
Betray it—and so ring the gong!"'"
The other girls burst out laughing at the expression on the boys' faces.
Chet and Lance looked much disturbed, and Chet finally scowled upon the
teasing Bobby and shook his head.
"What do you know about that?" whispered Lance to his chum.
"You are altogether too smart, Bobby," declared Chet. "What do you mean?"
"We know you and Short and Long are trying to hide something from us," said
"You might as well tell us all about it," Laura put in quietly. "What has
Billy really got against Purt Sweet?"
"I don't admit he has anything against Purt," said Chet quickly.
"Nothing but suspicion," muttered Lance, likewise shaking his head.
"Then there is something in it?" Laura said quickly. "Can it be possible
that Purt Sweet would do such an awful thing and not really betray himself
"There you've said it, Laura!" cried Lance. "That is what I tell both Chet
and Billy. If Pretty was guilty, he would be scared so that he would never
dare go out again in his car."
"Oh! Oh!" cried Bobby with dancing eyes. "Then my rhyme is a true bill?"
"Aw, Lance would have to give it away!" growled Chet.
"Boys are as clannish as they can be!" said Jess severely. "We are just as
much interested as you are, Chet. What made Billy believe Pretty Sweet ran
the man down?"
"Oh, well," sighed Chet, "we might as well give in to you girls, I
"Besides," laughed his sister, "the pies are almost done, and both you and
Lance will want to sample them."
"Go on. Tell 'em, Chet," said Lance.
"Why, Billy had been riding that day in the Sweets' car. You know Purt is
too lazy to breathe sometimes, and he wouldn't get out his chains and put
'em on. Billy knew that the chains were not on at dinner time that evening,
for he passed the Sweet place and saw the car standing outside the garage
with the radiator blanketed.
"Well, the only thing we were sure of about the car that ran that man
down—the Alaskan miner, you know—was that the rear wheels had no chains
on them, and that it was a Perriton car like Purt's."
"Yes, it was a Perriton," said his sister.
"So we fellows hiked up there to Sweets'. Purt was out with the car. He
came home in about an hour, and he was still skidding over the ice. We
tried to get out of him where he had been, but he wouldn't tell. We had to
almost muzzle Billy, or he would have accused him right there and then. And
Billy has been savage over it ever since."
"Really then," said Laura, "there is nothing sure about it."
"Well, it is sure the car was a Perriton. And since then we have found out
that Purt's is the only Perriton in town that isn't out of commission for
the winter. You can talk as you please about it: If the police only knew
what we know, sure thing Purt would be neck-deep in trouble right now!"
The three girls of Central High and their boy friends had not come together
on this stormy Saturday morning merely to feast on "pie and poetry."
The ice carnival had made them so much money that Laura and her friends
desired to try something else besides the play which was now in rehearsal.
They wanted to "keep the ball rolling," increasing the collections for the
Red Cross from day to day.
Fairs and bazaars were being held; special collectors like Janet Steele
were going about the city; noonday meetings were inaugurated in downtown
churches and halls; a dozen new and old ways of raising money were being
And so Mother Wit had evolved what she called "Ember Night," and the young
people who helped carry the thing through were delighted with the idea. To
tell the truth, the idea had been suggested to Laura Belding during the big
storm when the lighting plant of the city was put out of order for one
She and her friends laid the plans for the novel fête on this Saturday
after Laura's pie baking and after they had discussed the possibility of
Prettyman Sweet being the guilty person whose car had run down the strange
man now at the Centerport Hospital.
They put pies and poetry, and even Purt Sweet, aside, to discuss Laura's
idea. Each member of the informal committee meeting in the Beldings'
kitchen was given his or her part to do.
Laura herself was to see Colonel Swayne, who was the president of the Light
and Power Company and who was likewise Mother Wit's very good friend. Jess
agreed to interview the local chief of the Salvation Army. Chet would see
the Chief of Police to get his permission. Each one had his or her work cut
"Every cat must catch mice," said Mother Wit.
Plans for Ember Night were swiftly made, and it was arranged to hold the
fête the next Tuesday evening, providing the weather was clear. Jess, whose
mother held a position on the Centerport Clarion, wrote a piece about
this street carnival for the Sunday paper, and the idea was popular with
nearly every one.
Exchange Place was the heart of the city—a wide square on which fronted
the city hall, the court house, the railroad station, and several other of
the more important buildings of the place.
In the center of the square a Red Cross booth was built and trimmed with
Christmas greens, which had just come into market. Members of the several
city chapters appeared in uniform to take part in the fête. There was a
platform for speakers, and a bandstand, and before eight o'clock on Tuesday
evening a great crowd had assembled to take part in the exercises.
That one of the Central High school girls had suggested and really planned
the affair, made it all the more popular.
"What won't Laura Belding think of next?" asked those who knew her.
But Laura did not put herself forward in the affair. She presided over one
of the red pots borrowed from the Salvation Army that were slung from their
tripods at each intersecting corner of the streets radiating from Exchange
Place, and for a half mile on all sides of the square.
Under each pot was a bundle of resinous and oil-soaked wood that would burn
brightly for an hour. At the booth in Exchange Place fuel for a much larger
bonfire was laid.
The crowd gathered more densely as nine o'clock drew near. The mayor
himself stepped upon the speaker's platform. The police had roped off lanes
through the crowd from the Red Cross booth to the nearest corners.
Janet Steele came late and she chanced to pass Laura's corner, which was in
sight of the speaker's stand and the booth. She halted to speak with Laura
"Isn't it just fine?" she said. "I wish mother could see this crowd."
"I imagine you would like to have her see lots of things," returned Laura.
"Our friend at the hospital, for instance."
"Who—who do you mean?" gasped Janet, evidently disturbed.
"The man who was hurt, I mean."
"Oh! He is quite interesting," said the other girl and slipped away.
Laura's suggestion had seemingly startled her.
The band played, and then the mayor stepped forward to make his speech. At
just this moment a motor car moved quietly in beside the curb near which
Laura Belding stood guarding her red pot. Somebody called her name in a low
tone, and Laura turned to greet Prettyman Sweet's mother with a smile.
Mrs. Sweet was alone in the tonneau of her car, which Purt himself was
driving. The school exquisite, who was so often the butt of the boys'
jokes, but was just now an object of suspicion, admired Laura Belding
immensely. He got out of the car to come and stand with her on the corner.
"Got your nonskid-chains on, Purt?" asked Laura.
"On the rear wheels? Surely," said Sweet, eyeing the girl in some surprise,
because of her question.
"My dear Laura!" cried Mrs. Sweet "Won't you come and talk to me while we
"Can't now, Mrs. Sweet. I am on duty," laughed Laura.
They could not hear what the mayor said, for they were two blocks away. But
they had an excellent view of the stand and the Red Cross booth, and the
crowd that pressed close to the police ropes.
Suddenly the mayor threw up his hand in command, and almost instantly—as
though he had himself switched off the light—all the street lamps in the
business section of Centerport went out The arc light over the spot where
Laura stood blinked, glowed for a moment, and then subsided. Mrs. Sweet
cried out in alarm.
"This is all right," Laura called to her. "Now watch."
The mayor, in the half-darkness, stepped down from the platform and threw
into the heart of the big bonfire the combustibles that set it off. The
flames leaped up, spreading rapidly. The crowd cheered as eight boys,
dressed in the knee-length dominos they had worn on the night of the ice
carnival, dashed into the ring with resinous torches. They thrust the
torches into the flames and the instant the torches were alight, they
wheeled and dashed away through the lanes the police had kept open.
The red flames dancing before the Red Cross booth, and the sparking,
flaming torches which the boys swung above their heads as they ran through
the crowd to the various corners where the red pots hung, made an inspiring
picture in the unwonted gloom of the streets.
"See how the Red Cross spreads!" cried Laura. "There's Nellie's fire
They could see the spark of new fire under the pot a block away. A short
figure with flaming torch was approaching Laura's corner at high speed.
"Here comes Short and Long, I do believe," drawled Prettyman Sweet.
"My pot will soon be boiling," laughed Laura. "What are you going to throw
in, Purt? And you, Mrs. Sweet? Give all you can—and as often as you can."
"Oh, I'll start you off, Laura," declared Purt, pulling out a handful of
coins that rang the next moment in the bottom of the iron pot.
"Here's my purse, Prettyman!" called his mother, leaning from the car. "You
put in my offering."
The few bystanders around Laura's corner began laughingly to contribute
before the torch reached the spot. But Short and Long arrived the next
moment. He stooped, thrust the blazing torch into the middle of the fuel
under Laura's pot, and wheeled to run to his next comer.
The flames crackled, springing up ravenously. The boy's cotton gown flapped
across the fire and before he could leap away the flames had seized upon
"Oh, Billy!" shrieked Laura Belding. "You are on fire!"
The short boy leaped away; but he could not leave the flames behind him. He
threw down the torch and tried to tear off the domino. In a moment he was a
pillar of flame!
"A blanket! A robe! Quick, Purt!" cried Laura, and started toward the
victim of the accident, bare-handed.
For once Purt Sweet did as he was told, and did it quickly. He ran with the
robe from the front seat of the automobile. Laura grabbed one end and
together they wrapped their schoolmate in the heavy folds.
Short and Long was cast to the street and they rolled him in the blanket.
The fire was smothered, but what injury had it done to the boy?
He was unconscious; for in falling he had struck his head, and the wound
was bleeding. Mrs. Sweet was crying and wringing her hands.
"Oh, it's awful! Purt! Purt! Take me home!" she sobbed.
"No, Purt!" exclaimed Laura. "Take him to the hospital"
"Of course we will," gasped the youth. "Help me lift him, Laura. Oh, the
Only the few people near by had seen the accident. Not even a policeman
came. Laura and Purt staggered to the car with the wrapped-up body of the
smaller lad. His face was horribly blackened, but that might be nothing but
smoke. Just how badly Billy Long was injured they could not guess.
Mrs. Sweet shrank back into the corner of the tonneau seat and begged Laura
to get in with the injured boy.
"I can't! I can't touch him!" wailed the woman. "It's awful! Suppose he
should be dead?"
"He's not dead," declared Purt. "We won't let him die—the poor kid! Here,
mother, you hold his head and we'll lay him down on the seat. Let his head
and shoulders lie right in your lap."
"Oh, Laura! Do come!" cried the woman.
"I can't, Mrs. Sweet!" returned Laura, sobbing. "I've got to stay and watch
my pot boil. Do be quick, Purt!"
She stepped out of the car. Purt slammed the tonneau door and leaped to the
steering wheel. In a moment the self-starter sputtered, and then the car
wheels began to roll.
Mrs. Sweet was actually forced to do something that she had never done
before—personally help somebody in trouble. Perhaps the experience would
do her good, Laura thought.
In tears the latter returned to the corner. The fire was brightly blazing
underneath her swinging pot. There was already quite a collection of coins
and a few bills in the bottom of the receptacle. But although Laura stuck
to the post of duty, her heart was no longer in the ceremonies of Ember
Night. She wished heartily that she had never suggested the entertainment,
even if it did benefit the Red Cross.
A STARTLING ANNOUNCEMENT
It did really prove to be one of the most successful forms of money-raising
for the Red Cross that had been attempted in Centerport. And later they
tried Ember Night in Lumberport and Keyport.
Laura Belding was not proud of her success, however, for poor Short and
Long had been badly burned. Fortunately his face was only blackened, and
the doctors decided that he had not inhaled any of the scorching flame.
Laura and Purt had wrapped him in the blanket so quickly that the fire was
smothered almost at once. Yet there were bad burns on his arms and
body—burns that would leave ineffaceable scars.
The girls of Central High had two interests now to take them to the
hospital. The stranger who did not know his name and Short and Long both
came in for a lot of attention.
The latter had never known before how popular with his schoolmates he was.
Fruit, flowers, candy and the nicest confections from the Hill kitchens
found their way in profusion to Billy's bedside.
After a day or two the doctors let him see whoever came, and he could talk
all right. It made him forget the smart of his burns.
Of course his sister Alice came frequently, and she had to bring Tommy, the
irrepressible, along. Tommy was more interested in the good things to eat
at his brother's bedside, however, than he was in Billy's bodily condition.
There was so much jelly, and blanc-mange, and other goodies that the
invalid could not possibly consume all. Tommy sat and ate, and ate, until
the nurse said:
"Tommy, don't you know that you are distending your stomach with all those
sweets? It is not good for you."
When Tommy learned that "distending" meant that his stomach was being
stretched, he was delighted.
"Gimme some more, Allie," he begged his sister. "Please do, Allie dear. I
want to stwetch my 'tomach. It's never been big 'nough to hold all I want
The interest of Laura and her close friends in the strange man with the
broken leg did not lag. He talked freely with his visitors; but mostly
about Alaska and his adventures in the gold mines.
As near as he could guess, he must have come out of the mines with his
"pile," as he expressed it, almost ten years before.
"What under the canopy I have been doing since, I don't know. But if I've
got down to two thousand dollars capital, I must have been having an
awfully good time spending money; for I know I had a poke full of gold dust
when I struck the coast and went over to Sitka."
"More likely he was robbed," said Chet.
"He looks about as much like a miner as Pa Belding," Laura declared.
There was too much going on just then, however, for Mother Wit to try out
the thought that had come to her mind regarding this man. All these
interests had to be sidetracked for school and lessons. And just at this
time recitations seemed to be particularly hard. With rehearsals for the
play, and all, mere knowledge was very difficult to acquire.
"I know I'm not half prepared in physics," wailed Nellie Agnew, as she and
other juniors trooped into school one day, two weeks before Christmas.
"And I," said Jess Morse, "know about as much regarding this political
economy as I do about sweeping up the Milky Way with a star brush."
"How poetic!" cried Laura, laughing. "I wonder if we all are as well
"They expect too much of us," declared Dora Lockwood.
"Much too much!" echoed her sister.
"I wonder," said Laura, "if we don't expect too much of the teachers?"
In the physics recitation Nellie Agnew, as she prophesied, came to grief.
Miss Carrington seemed to have an uncanny knowledge of whom to call on at
such times. She seemed aware that Nellie had not prepared her lesson
properly. It might be that the wary teacher read her pupils' faces.
Nellie's was so woebegone that it was scarcely possible to overlook the
fact that she probably felt her shortcomings in the task at hand.
Miss Carrington called on the doctor's daughter almost the first one in
physics. To say "unprepared!" to Miss Carrington was to bring upon one's
head the shattered vials of her wrath. There was no excuse for not trying,
that strict instructor considered.
So Nellie tried. She stumbled along in her first answer "like a blind man
in a blind alley," so Jess Morse declared. It was pitiful, and all the
class sympathized. The gentle Nellie was led to make the most ridiculous
statements by the silky-voiced teacher.
"And you are a physician's daughter!" Miss Carrington burst out at last.
"If I were Nell," said Dora Lockwood to her twin, "I'd cut pills altogether
after this. I'd rather take math with Mr. Sharp himself."
Miss Grace G. Carrington was never content to let a pupil fail and sit
down. She nagged and browbeat poor Nellie until the girl lost her nerve and
began to cry. By that time the other girls were all angry and upset, and
that physics recitation was bound to go badly.
When Jess was called on she rose with blazing cheeks and angry eyes to face
their tormentor. Miss Carrington saw antagonism writ large upon Jess
"I presume, Miss Morse, you think I cannot puzzle you?" said Miss
Carrington in her very nastiest way.
"You can doubtless puzzle me," said Jess sharply. "But you cannot make me
cry, Miss Carrington."
"Sit down!" ejaculated the angry teacher. "That goes for a demerit."
"And it is about as fair as your demerits usually are," cried Jess.
"Two, Miss Morse," said the teacher. "One more and you will not act in that
play next week."
"If I'd been born dumb," sighed Jess afterward, "it would have been money
in my pocket. I almost had to bite the tip of my tongue off to keep from
saying something more."
"And so ruin the whole play?" said Laura softly.
"Huh! I guess Hester Grimes will do that," declared Jess. "She moves about
the stage like an automaton. She is going to get us a big laugh, but in the
wrong place. Now, you see."
The girls rehearsed every afternoon, and the athletic work was neglected.
Mrs. Case excused those who were engaged in producing the play. "The Rose
Garden" was not such an easily acted play as they had at first supposed.
Mr. Mann was patient with them; but in Hester Grimes' case he could not
help the feeling of annoyance that took possession of him.
Hester Grimes took offence so easily.
"Every rehearsal I look for her to cut up rusty," Jess cried. "And somebody
has got to play the part of the dark lady! It is not a part that can be cut
out of the cast, although it is not a speaking part."
Hester had begun to complain, too, because she had no lines. She considered
that she was being deprived of her rights, and was of less importance than
the other girls, because she was dumb on the stage.
"Why! even Bobby Hargrew," she complained, "with her silly sailor part, has
lines to repeat, besides that sailor's hornpipe in the first act. Of
course, you girls would wish the least important part onto me."
"What nonsense, Hester!" cried Jess. "If you really understood the play and
the significance of your part, you would not say such a thing. And do, do
be less like a wooden image."
"Humph! I guess I know my part, Jess Morse," snapped Hester. "It doesn't
matter at all what I do on the stage."
"What did I tell you?" groaned Bobby. "'Double! Double!' and-so-forth.
There is trouble brewing. If we all had measles or chicken-pox, and so
couldn't give the play, we'd be in luck, I verily believe."
"Oh, don't, Bobby!" begged Dora Lockwood. "You are so reckless."
"Just the same, I feel it in my bones that Hester is going to kick over the
traces," said Bobby grimly.
"If only Margit Salgo had been allowed to have the part," groaned Dorothy.
"It's Gee Gee's fault if the play is a failure," snapped Bobby.
Never had the disagreeable teacher at Central High been so little liked as
at this time. They blamed Miss Carrington more than they did Hester.
As the party of troubled girls left the school-house on this particular
afternoon, Lily Pendleton ran after them.
"What do you think has happened?" she cried.
"It's something bad, of course," groaned Nellie Agnew.
"Who is hurt?" asked Laura.
"It isn't that," said Lily. "But poor Purt Sweet!"
"Now what has he done?" asked Jess.
"It is what they say he has done, not what he really has done," wailed
Lily. "The police have been to his house. And what do you think?"
"I bet his mother's had a fit!" exclaimed Bobby, in an undertone.
"The police accuse Purt of running down that man on Market Street the other
Saturday night," said Lily warmly. "And Purt doesn't know anything more
about it than a baby! Isn't it awful, girls?"
WHERE WAS PURT?
The police examination of Purt Sweet was no light matter. Two of
Centerport's detective force had been working on the case ever since the
stranger had been knocked down on Market Street, and, like Chet Belding and
his friends, the detectives finally had come to the conclusion that
Prettyman Sweet's automobile was the only Perriton car in the city that had
not been in storage on that night.
The detectives' visit to the Sweet residence, and Purt's later call upon
the Chief of Police at his command, were dreadfully shocking to the boy's
mother. Purt had to reassure her and insist that he was not going to be
arrested and sent to jail at once; so he had not much time to be frightened
himself. Indeed, he came out in rather good colors on this particular
The boy's father had long since died. Purt had been indulged by his mother
to a ridiculous degree, and as a usual thing Purt's conversation and his
activities were ridiculed by his schoolmates.
"This disgrace will kill me, Prettyman!" wailed Mrs. Sweet.
"Where does the disgrace come in," pleaded poor Purt, "when I haven't
really done anything?"
"But they say you have!"
"I can't help what they say."
"You were out that evening with the car. I remember it very well," his
"What of it? I wasn't on Market Street the whole evening," grumbled the
"Where were you then?" she demanded.
It seemed as though everybody else asked Purt Sweet that question, from the
Chief of Police down; and it was the one question the boy would not answer.
He grew red, and sputtered, and begged the question, every time anybody
sought to discover just where he was with the automobile on that Saturday
evening after dinner. Even when Chief Donovan threatened him with arrest,
"If I should tell you it wouldn't do any good. It would not relieve me of
suspicion and would maybe only make trouble for other people. I was out
with our car, and that is all there is to it. But I did not run that man
down. I was not on Market Street."
He stuck to this. And his honest manner impressed the head of the police
force. Besides, Mrs. Sweet was very wealthy, and if Purt was arrested she
would immediately bail him and would engage the best counsel in the county
to defend her son. It is one thing to accuse a person of a fault. As Chief
Donovan very well knew, it is an entirely different matter to prove such
The news of Purt's trouble was not long in getting to Short and Long in the
hospital. Chet and Lance really thought the smaller boy would express some
satisfaction over Purt's trouble. But to their surprise Billy took up
cudgels for the dandy as soon as he was told that the police suspected him
of the offense.
"What's the matter with you, Short?" demanded the big fellow. "You've been
sure Purt was guilty all the time."
"I don't care!" declared Billy. "He's one of us fellows, isn't he?"
"Admitted he goes to Central High," Chet said.
"But he isn't one of our gang," Lance added.
"I don't care! The police are always too fresh," said Billy, who had reason
for believing that the Centerport police sometimes made serious mistakes.
Billy had had his own experience, as related in "The Girls of Central High
on Lake Luna."
"Then you don't believe Purt did it?" demanded Lance.
"No, I don't. I was mistaken," declared Short and Long. "Purt's all right"
"Wow! Wow!" murmured Chet.
"See how he brought me here in his car when I was hurt. And look at the
stuff Purt's given me while I've been here," said Billy excitedly. "He'd
never have hurt that man and run away without seeing what he'd done. No,
"Crackey, Billy!" said Chet, "you've turned square around."
"I know I have. And I ought to be ashamed of myself for ever distrusting
Purt," said the invalid vigorously.
"Then why won't Purt tell where he was?" demanded Lance doubtfully.
"I don't care where he was," said Billy. "If he says he didn't hit the man,
he didn't. That's all. And we've got to prove it, boys."
"Some job you suggest," said Chet slowly. "It looks to me as though Pretty
Sweet was in a bad hole, and no mistake."
Even the most charitable of his schoolmates took this view of Purt Sweet's
trouble. His denial of guilt did not establish the fact of his innocence.
His inability, or refusal, to explain where he was at the time of the
accident on Market Street in front of Mr. Belding's jewelry store made the
situation very difficult indeed.
"If he could only put forward an alibi," Lance Darby said, when the Hill
crowd of Central High boys and girls discussed the matter.
"But he won't say a word!" cried Nellie. "I believe he is innocent."
"Then why doesn't he tell where he was at the time?" demanded Laura
"Is he scared to tell the truth?" asked Jess.
"I don't think he is," Chet observed thoughtfully. "Somehow he acts
differently from usual."
"You're right," Bobby declared, with frank approval of one of whom she had
never approved before. "I believe there's a big change in old Purt."
"Well, it's strange," Laura remarked. "He never showed such obstinacy
"He's never shown any particular courage before, either," said her brother.
"That's what gets me!"
"Where does the courage come in?" demanded Lance.
"I believe Chet is right," Jess said. "Purt is trying to shield somebody."
"From what?" and "Who?" were the chorused demands.
"I don't know," Jess told them. "There is somebody else mixed up in this
trouble. It stands to reason Purt would not be so obstinate if he had
nothing to hide. And we are pretty much of the opinion—all of us—that he
really did not run that man down. Therefore, if he is not shielding some
other person, what is he about?"
"I've asked him frankly," Chet said, "and all I could get out of him was
that he 'couldn't tell.' No sense to that," growled the big fellow.
It seemed that Purt Sweet had pretty well succeeded in puzzling his friends
as well as the police. The latter were evidently waiting to get something
provable on poor Purt. Then a warrant would be issued for his arrest.
By this time the stranger who had been the start of all the trouble and
mystery—the man from Alaska, as the hospital force called him—was able to
be up and wheeled in a chair, although his leg was not yet out of plaster.
Billy Long heard of this, and he grew very anxious to see the man whose
accident was the beginning of Purt's trouble. Billy had quickly become a
favorite with both the nurses and doctors of the Centerport Hospital. He
was brave in bearing pain, and he was as generous as he could be with the
goodies and fruit and flowers that were brought to him. He divided these
with the other patients in his ward, and cheered his mates with his lively
At first, however, there had been an hour or so every other day when a
screen was placed about Billy's bed and the doctor and nurse had a very bad
time, indeed, dressing the dreadful burns the boy had sustained.
Short and Long could not help screaming at times, and when he did not
really scream the others in the ward could hear his half-stifled moans and
sobs. These experiences were hard to bear.
When the dressings were over and his courage was restored the screen was
removed from about Billy's cot and he would grin ruefully enough at his
"I'm an awful baby. Too tender-hearted—that's me all over," he said once.
"I never could stand seeing anybody hurt—and I can see just what they are
doing to me all the time!"
Billy knew that the man from Alaska was being wheeled up and down the
corridor, and he begged so hard to speak with him that the nurse went out
and asked the orderly to wheel the chair in to Billy's cot.
"So you are the brave boy I've heard about, are you?" said the stranger,
smiling at the bandaged boy from Central High.
"I know how brave you've heard me," said Billy soberly. "I do a lot of
hollering when they are plastering me up."
The man laughed and said: "Just the same I am glad to know you. My name
seems to have got away from me for the time being. My mind's slipped a cog,
as you might say. What do they call you, son?"
Billy told him his name. "And," he added, "I was right there in front of
Chet Belding's father's jewelry store when that automobile knocked you
"You don't mean it?"
"Yes, sir. I saw the machine. It was a Perriton car all right. It might
even have been Pretty Sweet's car. But it wasn't Pretty Sweet driving it, I
The boy's earnestness caught the man's full attention. "I guess this Sweet
boy they tell about is a friend of yours, son?" he said.
"He is a friend all right, all right," said Billy Long. "And I never knew
it till right here when I got hurt. Purt—that's what we call him—is a
good fellow. And I am sure he wouldn't do such a thing as to knock you down
and then run away without finding out if he had hurt you."
"I don't know how that may be," said the man seriously. "But whoever it was
that ran me down did me a bad turn. I can't find my name—or who I am—or
where I belong. I tell you what it is, Billy Long, that is a serious
condition for anybody to be in."
"I guess that's so," admitted the boy. "And you got your leg broken, too,
in two places."
"I don't mind much about the broken leg," said the man who had lost his
name. "What I am sore about, Billy Long, is not having any name to use.
It—it is awfully embarrassing."
"Yes, sir, I guess it is."
"So, you see, I don't feel very kindly toward this Sweet boy, if he was the
one who knocked me down."
"Oh, but I'm sure he isn't the one."
"Why are you so sure?"
"Because he wouldn't be so mean about it, and lie, and all, if he had done
it. You see, a boy who has been so nice to me as he has, couldn't really be
so mean as all that to anybody else."
"Not conclusive," said the man. "You only make a statement. You don't offer
"But I—Well!" ejaculated Billy, "I'd do most anything to make you see that
Purt couldn't be guilty of knocking you down."
"I'll tell you," said the man without a name, smiling again, "I haven't any
particular hard feelings against your friend. Or I wouldn't have if I could
get my name and memory back. So you find out some way of helping me recover
my memory—you and your young friends, Billy Long—and I'll forgive the
Sweet boy, whether he hurt me or not"
"Suppose the cops arrest him?" asked Billy worriedly.
"I'll do all I can to keep them from annoying Sweet if you boys and girls
can find out who I am and where I belong," declared the man, laughing
And Billy shook hands on that To his mind the task was not impossible.
Laura Belding had evolved an idea regarding "Mr. Nemo of Nowhere," as Bobby
dubbed the stranger at the hospital. In fact, she had two ideas which were
entwined in her thought. But up to this point she had found no time to work
She had taken nobody into her confidence; for Mother Wit was not one to
"tell all she knew in a minute." On both points Laura desired to consider
her way with caution.
She went shopping with her mother to several stores on Market Street one
afternoon, skipping the rehearsal of "The Rose Garden" for this purpose.
The Christmas crowds were greater than she had ever seen them before. But
the enthusiasm for the Red Cross drive had by no means faltered in spite of
Ember Night had gathered nearly five thousand dollars for the cause. Laura
treasured a very nicely worded letter of appreciation from the mayor's
secretary, thanking the Central High girl for her suggestion, which had
proved so efficacious in money-raising. Laura was not exhibiting this
letter to very many people, but she was secretly proud of it.
In every store she entered Laura saw a Red Cross booth, while collectors
with padlocked boxes were weaving in and out among the shoppers.
"Give Again! Warranted Not to Hurt You!" was the slogan. Wearing a Red
Cross button did not absolve one from being solicited.
And she saw that the people were giving with a smile. Centerport was still
enthusiastic over the drive. Laura seriously considered what she and her
Central High girl friends were trying to do for the fund. Would the play be
a success? If they only gave one performance and the audience was not
enthusiastic enough to warrant a second, and then a third, she would
consider that they had failed.
All of a sudden, while she was thinking of this very serious fact, Laura
came face to face with Janet Steele.
"You are just the girl I wished most to see, Janet!" cried the Central High
"I always want to see you, Laura Belding," declared the Red Cross girl, who
was evidently off duty and homeward bound.
"Thank you, dear," Laura said. "You must prove that. I want you to do me a
"What can I possibly do for you?" laughed Janet. "Hurry and tell me."
"You may not be so willing after you hear what it is."
"You doubt my willingness to prove my friendship?" demanded Janet soberly.
"Not a bit of it! But, listen here." She told Janet swiftly what she
desired, and from the sparkle in her eyes and the rising flush in her face
it was easily seen that Laura had not asked a favor that Janet would not
"Oh, but my dear!" she cried, "I shall have to ask mother."
"I presume you will," said Laura, smiling. "Shall I go along with you and
see what she says?"
"I have done all my mother's errands—look at these bundles," said Laura.
"We might as well have this matter settled at once. Your mother won't mind
my coming in this way, will she?"
"You may come in any way you wish, and any time you wish, my dear," said
Janet warmly. "Mother very much approves of you."
"It is sweet of you to say so," returned the girl of Central High. "I shall
be quite sure she approves of me if she lets you do what I want in this
case, Janet," and she laughed again as they turned off the busy main street
into a quieter one.
The invalid was at the long window, and beckoned to Laura to come in before
she saw that that was the visitor's intention.
"I cannot begin to tell you how delighted we are to have you girls call,"
Mrs. Steele said, when she had greeted both her daughter and Laura with a
kiss. "It would be so nice if Janet could go to school; then she might
bring home a crowd of young folks every afternoon," and the invalid
"But, you see, Miss Belding, I am so trying in the morning. It does seem
that it is all Aunt Jinny and Janet can do to get me out of my bed, and
dressed, and fed, and seated here on my throne for the day."
"It seems too bad that the weather is not so you can go out," Laura said.
"Oh, I almost never go out," Mrs. Steele replied. "Though I tell Janet that
when spring comes, if we can only get the agent to repair that porch, she
can wheel me back and forth on it in my chair."
"Better than that, dear Mrs. Steele," Laura promised, "we will come with
our car and take you for a ride all over Centerport, and along the Lakeside
Drive. It is beautiful in the spring."
"How nice of you!" cried the invalid. "But that, of course, depends upon
whether we are in Centerport when the pleasant weather comes," said Mrs.
"Oh, my dear!" exclaimed Laura, "do you mean that you think of going away?"
"Now, Mother!" murmured Janet, as though the thought was repugnant to her,
"How can we tell?" cried the invalid, just a little excitedly. "You know,
Janet, if we should hear of your uncle——"
"Oh, Mother!" sighed the girl, "I do wish you would give up hope of Uncle
Jack's ever turning up again."
"Don't talk that way," said her mother sharply. "You do not know Jack as I
do. He was only my half brother, but the very nicest boy who ever lived.
Why, he gave up all his share of the income from my father's estate to me,
and went off to the wilds to seek his own fortune.
"How was he to know that some of the investments poor father made would
turn out badly, and that our income would be reduced to a mere pittance?
For I tell you, Miss Belding," added the invalid less vehemently, "that we
have almost nothing, divided by three, to live on. That is, an income for
one must support us three. Aunt Jinny is one of us, you know."
"Now, Mother!" begged Janet "Sha'n't I get tea for us?"
"Of course! What am I thinking of?" returned her mother. "Tell Aunt Jinny
to make it in the flowered teapot I fancy the flowered teapot to-day—and
the blue-striped cups and saucers.
"Do you know, Miss Belding, what the complete delight of wealth is? It is
an ability to see variety about one in the home. You need not use the same
old cups and saucers every day! If I were rich I would have the furniture
changed in my room every few days. Sameness is my bête noire."
"It must be very hard for you, shut in so much," said Laura quietly.
"And poor Janet is shut in a good deal of the time with me, and suffers
because of my crotchets. Ah, if we could only find Jack Weld—my half
brother, you know, Miss Belding. He went away to make his fortune, and I
believe he made it. He has probably settled down somewhere, in good health
and with plenty, and without an idea as to our situation. He never was a
letter writer. And he had every reason to suppose that we were well fixed
for life. Then, we have moved about so much——"
Janet came back with the tea things. Mrs. Steele left the subject of her
brother, and Laura found opportunity of broaching the matter on which she
had come. What she wished Janet to do pleased the latter's mother
immensely. She was, in fact, delighted.
"How nice of you to suggest it, Miss Belding," said Mrs. Steele. "I know
Janet will be glad to do it. Will you not, Janet?"
"I—I'll try," said her daughter, flushed and excited at the prospect
Laura's suggestion opened before her.
TWO THINGS ABOUT HESTER
Scarcely was Bobby Hargrew of a happier disposition and of more volatile
temperament than the Lockwood twins. Dora and Dorothy, while still chubby
denizens of the nursery, saw that the world was bound to be full of fun for
them if they attacked it in the right spirit.
Dora and Dorothy's mother had died when they were very small, and the twins
had been left to the mercy of relatives and servants, some of whom did not
understand the needs of the growing girls as their mother would have done.
Much of this is told in "The Girls of Central High on Lake Luna."
Almost as soon as the twins could stagger about in infant explorations of
the house and grounds, they were wont to exchange the red and blue ribbons
tied on their dimpled wrists by their nurse to tell them apart. For never
were two creatures so entirely alike as Dora and Dorothy Lockwood.
And they had grown to maidenhood with, seemingly, the same features, the
same voices, the same tastes, and with an unbounded love for and confidence
in each other. As they always dressed alike nobody could be sure which was
Dora and which Dorothy.
Now that they were well along in high school, the twins had been put on
their honor not to recite for each other or to help each other in any
unfair way. There really was a very close tie between them—almost an
uncanny chord of harmony. Indeed, if one was punished the other wept!
The teachers of Central High were fond of the twins—all save Miss
Carrington. Her attitude of considering the pupils her deadly enemies
extended to the happy-go-lucky sisters. She did not believe there was such
a thing as "school-girl honor." That is why she had such a hard time with
In the play the girls of Central High were rehearsing, Dora and Dorothy
played two distinct characters. Makeup and costume made this possible. But
at the first dress rehearsal the twins pretty nearly broke up the scene in
which they both appeared on the stage, by reciting each other's parts.
Dora was an old, old woman—a village witch with a cane—while Dorothy was
a frisky young matron from the city. When they met by the rustic well in
the rose garden, haunted by that "dark lady" who was giving Mr. Mann so
much trouble, Dora uttered the sprightly lines of her blooming sister,
while the latter mouthed the old hag's prophecies.
It was ridiculous, of course, and the girls could not go on with the
rehearsal for some minutes because of their laughter. But Mr. Mann was not
so well pleased. Dora and Dorothy promised not to do it again.
"If I'd done anything like that, you'd all have jumped on me," Hester
Grimes declared with a sniff. "It wouldn't have been considered funny at
"And it wouldn't have been," murmured Jess to Laura.
"There is one thing about you, Hessie," said Bobby, in her most honeyed
tone, "that 'precludes,' as Gee Gee would say, your doing such a thing."
"What's that, Miss Smarty?"
"You are not twins," declared Bobby, with gravity. "So you could not very
well play that trick."
"Oh, my!" murmured Nellie, "what would we do if Hester were twins?"
"Don't mention it!" begged Jess. "The thought is terrifying."
But there proved to be a second thing about Hester which came out
prominently within the week. This was something that not many of the girls
of Central High had suspected before the moment of revelation.
The first performance of "The Rose Garden" was set for Friday night. There
would follow a matinee and evening performance on Saturday—provided, of
course, the first performance encouraged the managers to go on with the
"It all depends," sighed Jess, bearing a deal of the responsibility for the
success of the piece on her young shoulders. "If we are punk, then nobody
will come back to see the show a second time, or advise other folks to see
it. And if we don't make a heap of money for the Red Cross, after all the
advertising we've had, what will folks think of us?"
They were really all worried by the fear of failure. All but Hester. She
did not appear to care. And it did seem as though every time she rehearsed
she made the "dark lady" of the rose garden more wooden and impossible than
At length Mr. Mann had given her up as hopeless. It seemed impossible to
make Hester act like a human being even, let alone like a graceful lady.
"So you see, now that he lets me alone, I do very well," asserted Hester,
with vast assurance and a characteristic toss of her head. "I knew I was
right all the time. Now, finally, Mr. Mann admits it."
When she said this to Lily, even Lily had her doubts. When Bobby heard her
say it, she fairly hooted her scorn.
Of course, Hester instantly flew into a rage with Bobby. This was only two
days before the fateful Friday and before recitations in the morning. The
girls had gathered in the main lower corridor of Central High. The bell for
classes had not yet rung.
"I'll show you how smart you are, Clara Hargrew!" Hester almost screamed.
"I've a good mind to slap you!"
"That might make me smart, Hess," drawled the smaller girl coolly. "But it
would not change the facts in the case at all. You are spoiling the whole
play—the most effective scenes in it, too—by your obstinacy. Mr. Mann has
given you up as a bad egg, that's all. If the play is a failure, it will be
And for once Laura Belding did not interfere to stop Bobby's tart tongue.
Perhaps the bell for assembly rang too quickly for Mother Wit to interfere.
At any rate, before Hester could make any rejoinder, they were hurrying in
to their seats.
But the big girl was in a towering rage. She was fairly pale, she was so
angry. Her teeth were clenched. Her eyes sparkled wrathfully. She was in no
mood to face Miss Grace G. Harrington, who chanced to have the juniors
before her for mediæval history during the first period on this Wednesday
Naturally, with the first performance of the play but two days away, those
girls who were to act in it could not give their undivided attention to
recitations. But Miss Carrington had determined to make no concessions.
She was firmly convinced that Central High should support no such farcical
production as "The Rose Garden." Anything classical—especially if it were
beyond the acting ability of the girls—would have pleased the obstinate
"Something," as Nellie said, "in which we would all be draped in Greek
style, in sheets, and wear sandals and flesh colored hose, covered from
neck to instep, and with long speeches in blank verse to mouth. That is the
sort of a performance to satisfy Miss Carrington."
"Amen!" agreed Bobby.
"Wait till she sees Bobby's knickers," chuckled Dora Lockwood. "You know
Gee Gee always looks as though she wanted to put on blinders when she comes
into the girls' gym."
Of course, these remarks were not passed in history class. But Dora was
somehow inattentive just the same on this morning. She sat on one side of
Hester Grimes and Dorothy on the other. The angry girl between the twins
looked like a vengeful high priestess of Trouble—and Trouble appeared.
Miss Carrington asked Dora a direct question, speaking her name as she
always did, and glaring at the twin in question near-sightedly, in an
endeavor to see the girl's lips move when she answered. She was sure of
Dora's seat; but, of course, she could not be sure whether Dora or Dorothy
was sitting in it. Her refusal to accept the fact that the twins were on
their honor kept Miss Carrington in doubt.
"Relate some incident, with date, in the life of Saladin, Dora," the
Dora hesitated. This was a "jump question," as the pupils called it. Miss
Carrington, as she frequently did, had gone back several lessons for this
query, and Dora was hazy about Saladin.
"Come, Dora!" ejaculated the teacher harshly. "Have you no answer?"
Dorothy leaned forward to look across Hester's desk at her sister. She was
anxious that Dora should not fail. She would have imparted, could she have
done so, her knowledge of Saladin to her twin. But there was only nervous
anxiety in her look and manner.
The moment Dora's lips opened and she began her reply, Hester turned
sharply and stared at Dorothy. It was a despicable trick—a mean and
contemptible attempt to get the twins into trouble. And Hester did it
She knew that Miss Carrington was much more near-sighted than she was
willing to acknowledge. Seeing Hester look at Dorothy caused the teacher to
believe that Dorothy was answering for her sister.
"Stop!" commanded Miss Carrington, rising quickly from her seat on the
Dora, who had begun very well at last, halted in her answer and looked
surprised. Miss Carrington was glaring now at Dorothy.
"How dare you, Dorothy Lockwood?" she demanded, her face quite red with
anger. "There is no trusting any of you girls. Cheat!"
There was a sudden intake of breath all over the room. Some of the girls
looked positively horror-stricken. For the teacher to use such an
expression shocked Laura, and Jess, and Nellie for an instant, as though
the word had been addressed to them personally.
"Oh!" gasped Jess.
The. teacher flashed her a glance. "Silence, Miss Morse!"
Dorothy had risen slowly to her feet. "What—what do you mean, Miss
Carrington?" she whispered. "Do you say I—I have cheated?"
"Cheat!" repeated the teacher, with an index finger pointing Dorothy down.
"I saw you. I heard you. You started to answer for your sister."
"I did not!" cried the accused girl.
"She certainly did not, Miss Carrington!" repeated Dora, rising likewise.
"Silence!" exclaimed Miss Carrington. "I would not believe either of you.
You are both disgracing your classmates and Central High."
A sibilant hiss rose in the back of the room. The girls were more angry at
this outburst of the teacher than all of them dared show.
Dorothy burst into a fit of weeping. She covered her face with her hands
and ran out of the room. Dora, defying Miss Carrington, muttered:
"Ugly, mean thing!"
Then she ran after her sister. The room was in tense excitement. Miss
Carrington saw suddenly that she positively had nobody on her side. She
began to question the girls immediately surrounding the twins' seats.
"You saw her answer for her sister, Miss Morse?"
"I did not," declared Jess icily.
"Were you not looking at Dorothy, Laura?" asked the teacher.
"No, Miss Carrington. I was looking at Dora."
"And Dora answered!" cried the usually gentle and retiring Nellie Agnew.
"Why——Miss Grimes!" exclaimed the disturbed teacher. "You know that
Dorothy was answering for her sister?"
"Oh, no, Miss Carrington," denied Hester.
"But you looked at her?"
"What for?" snapped the teacher.
"Why," drawled Hester, "that pin Dorothy wears in her blouse was on crooked
and it attracted my attention."
That was the second thing about Hester Grimes. She was not alone a dunce
when it came to acting, she was a prevaricator as well.
AND A THIRD THING
What might have happened following this explosion of bad temper and
ill-feeling, had Mr. Sharp himself not entered the room, nobody will ever
know. Miss Carrington had been led into a most unjust and unkind criticism
of the Lockwood twins. She had been deliberately led into it by Hester
Grimes. She knew Hester had done this.
The other girls knew it, too; and they all, the young folks, believed that
the teacher had been most cruel and unfair.
Mr. Sharp could not have failed to appreciate the fact that there was a
tense feeling in the room that never arose from an ordinary recitation in
mediæval history. But he smilingly overlooked anything of the kind.
"Pardon me, Miss Carrington—and you, young ladies," he said, bowing and
smiling. "I have been in the senior classes, and now I am here to make the
same statement I made there, and that I shall make to the sophomores later.
May I speak to your class, Miss Carrington?"
Miss Carrington could not find her voice, but she bowed her permission for
the principal to go on.
"Several of you young ladies," said Mr. Sharp, "are to take part in the
play on Friday evening. Your work, in school, I fear, is being scamped a
bit. Do the best you can; give your interest and attention as well as you
may to the recitations.
"But I wish to announce that, until after this week, we teachers will
excuse such failures as you may make in your work; only, of course, all
faults will have to be made up after the holidays. We want you to give the
play in a way to bring honor upon the school as a whole.
"I have enjoyed your last two rehearsals, and feel confident that, with a
few raw spots smoothed over, you will produce 'The Rose Garden' in a way to
please your friends and satisfy your critics. The faculty as a whole feel
as I do about it. Go in and win!"
The little speech cleared the atmosphere of the class-room immediately. It
did not please Miss Carrington, of course; but the girls felt that they
could even forgive her after what Mr. Sharp had said.
Dora and Dorothy Lockwood had been insulted and maligned. They did not
appear again at that recitation.
"But do you think old Gee Gee would say that she was wrong, and beg their
pardon?" demanded Bobby, at recess. "Not on your life!"
"I don't know that a teacher in her situation could publicly acknowledge
she was utterly in the wrong," Laura observed thoughtfully.
"I would like to know why not?" demanded Jess Morse.
"Why, you see, the fault really lies upon the conscience of one of us
girls," said Laura, looking significantly at Hester.
The latter turned furiously, as though she had been waiting for and
expecting just this criticism. But surely she had not expected it from this
source. All the girls were amazed to hear Laura speak so harshly.
"Oh, Laura!" murmured Jess. "Now you have done it! She's going to blow up!"
"And she'll leave us flat on the play business," groaned Bobby.
Hester came across the reception room to Laura with flashing eyes and her
face mottled with rage.
"What is that you say, Laura Belding?" she demanded.
"I will repeat it," said Laura firmly. "The whole trouble is on your
conscience. You deliberately led Miss Carrington astray."
"Oh! I did, did I?"
"You most certainly did. Miss Carrington was both cruel to Dora and Dorothy
and unfair. But you knew her failing, and you led her to believe that
Dorothy was answering the question she put to Dora. No wonder Miss
Carrington was angered."
"Is that so?" sneered Hester. "And who are you, to tell me when I'm wrong?"
"Somebody has to tell you, Hester," said Jess sweetly, for she was bound to
take up cudgels for her chum.
"And you can mind your business, too, Jess Morse!" snarled Hester.
"Dear, dear!" Nellie begged. "Let us not quarrel."
Yet for once Mother Wit seemed determined upon making trouble. Usually
acting as peacemaker, the girls around her were amazed to hear her say:
"You are quite in the wrong, Hester. And you know it. You should beg Miss
Carrington's pardon; and you should ask pardon of all of us, as well as of
Dora and Dorothy, for disgracing the class."
"What do you mean?" screamed Hester Grimes. "Do you suppose I would tell
old Gee Gee that it was my fault?"
"You deliberately prevaricated—to her and to us," said Laura calmly.
"Call me a story-teller, do you?" cried the butcher's daughter. "How dare
you! I'll get even with you, Laura Belding!"
"It is the truth," Laura said, slowly and firmly.
"I'll fix you for this, Laura Belding!" pursued Hester, trembling with
rage. She turned to sweep them all with her angry glance. "I'll fix you
all! I won't have anything to do with any of you out of school—so there!
And I won't act in your hateful old play!"
She ran out of the room as she said this and left the girls—at least, most
of them—in a state of blank despair. The bell rang for the next session
before anybody could speak.
Laura seemed quite calm and unruffled. The others got through their
recitations as best they could until lunch hour. Jess and Bobby caught up
with Laura on the street when the latter went out for her customary walk.
"Oh, Laura! What shall we do?" almost wept Jess. "Only two days! Nobody can
learn that part—not even as good as Hester knew it—before Friday night."
At that moment Chet Belding appeared from around the corner. He was red and
almost breathless—in a high state of excitement, and no mistake.
"What do you think, girls?" he cried, "We got a line on Purt Sweet's
automobile and why he has been hiding about where it was that Saturday
night the man from Alaska was hurt."
"What is it? Tell us?" asked Laura.
"I met Dan Smith. He goes to the East High, you know, and he lives across
the street from the Grimes' place. You know?"
"Hester Grimes?" cried Jess.
"Yes. Your dear friend. Well, Dan was up all night that night with a raging
toothache. He said the Grimes' had a party. Purt was there with his car.
Dan knows the car was taken away from the house and was gone more than an
hour that evening, and that Purt did not go with the car.
"See? He's shielding somebody—the poor fish!" added Chet. "That is what
Short and Long has been saying. Now, what do you know about that?"
THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST PURT
The news Chet had divulged was so exciting that the girls quite forgot for
the time being the wreck that Hester Grimes seemed to have made of the
forthcoming performance of "The Rose Garden."
Their chattering tongues mentioned Hester more than once, however, as they
discussed Chet's news. Whether Purt Sweet's car had run down the man from
Alaska or not, what did Hester know about it?
"Can it be possible that Purt is shielding Hester in this matter?" Laura
"Oh, it couldn't be! She wasn't in that car that knocked down Mr. Nemo of
Nowhere," Bobby declared emphatically;
"He has always favored Hester and Lil," Jess
"Pooh!" again put in the irrepressible. "That's only because Pretty Sweet
thinks there is nothing in this world so good or great as money; and both
the Grimes and the Pendleton families have got oodles of it."
"I don't know about that," Chet said quite as thoughtfully as his sister.
"It may not be their folks' money that attracts Purt to those two girls."
"What then?" demanded Bobby.
"They flatter him. He can lap that up like our cat laps cream."
"That is true," agreed Jess Morse.
"Certainly we don't flatter, him," Bobby said bluntly.
"It may be that we have never given Purt a fair deal," Laura observed.
"Hester and Lil do not make fun of him."
"And is he paying Hester back by shouldering something for her?" Jess
"Oh, she never was in that car when it was taken away from where Purt had
it parked before the Grimes' house," Chet hastened to declare with
assurance. "I got all the facts from Dan Smith. He'd swear to them."
"Let us hear the particulars," begged Laura.
"Why, Dan says he was up at his window on the third floor of their house
watching the lights in the Grimes' house. It was a big party. Dancing on
the lower floor, and a crowd of folks. He saw two men—or maybe boys—run
out of the side door and down to the gate, as though they were sneaking
away from some of the others, you know."
"Well?" his sister responded. "Go on."
"Dan didn't know the fellows. Fact was, he couldn't see their faces very
well, and so he could not be sure of their identity in any case."
"The street is pretty wide there, it's a fact," murmured Bobby.
"Those two fellows looked back as though they expected to be spied upon.
But they went to the car, found it was all right (Purt had the radiator
blanketed) and got in. The starter worked, and she got into action as slick
as a whistle, Dan said. He thought it was all right or he would have raised
the window and halloaed at 'em. There were no girls with them. The two
fellows went off alone in the car."
"There were two men in the car that struck Mr. Nemo of Nowhere," murmured
"Purt appeared, Dan says, after a little while and looked for the car. He
got quite excited. Asked everybody that came along if they had seen it. He
was in a stew for fair. And while he was running up and down, popping off
like an engine exhaust, back came the car with only one of the fellows in
"Ha! The mystery deepens," said Jess, in mock tragic tones. "What became of
the other villain?"
"You answer that question," grinned Chet. "You asked it!"
"But what happened then?" asked Laura interestedly.
"There was a row between Purt and the fellow who brought back the car. Purt
pointed to the mudguard on the off side, as though it had been bent, or
scraped in some way——"
"That's what struck the man as he fell on Market Street," interrupted Bobby
with confidence. "I saw it hit him."
"It was blood on the guard," said Laura.
"Oh, my!" gasped Jess. "Do you suppose so?"
"Like enough," Chet agreed. "But it was too far away for Dan to see. And
finally Purt drove off without returning to the house with the other
"But who was he?" Jess asked.
"The fellow Purt quarreled with for taking the car."
"Give it up," said Chet, shaking his head.
"And what became of the other man?" Laura queried.
"There were two in the car when it hit the man from Alaska," Jess declared.
"Gee!" ejaculated Bobby. "There's the nine-ten express west"
"Who——What do you mean, young one?" demanded Chet.
"'Young one' yourself!" snapped Clara Hargrew, immediately on her dignity.
"There are no medals on you for age, Chet Belding."
"Or whiskers, either," laughed Laura, slyly eyeing her brother, for she was
aware that he had a safety razor hidden away in his bureau drawer.
"Come, come!" said Jess, "What about this nine-ten express Bobby spoke of?"
"Why," said the younger girl, "I noticed Mr. Belding's clock—the big
chronometer in the show window—as we came out of the store that Saturday
evening. It was just nine o'clock when we stood there and saw Mr. Nemo of
Nowhere run down by the car. Anybody driving that car could have made the
railroad station just about in time for the ten minutes' past nine
express—the Cannon Ball, don't they call it?"
"That is the train," admitted Laura. "But why——"
"Just wait a minute. Give me time," advised Bobby. "That car that did the
damage was headed for the station."
"True," murmured Jess. "At least, it was going in that direction."
"And when Purt's car came back to the Grimes' house after those two fellows
Dan Smith saw run away with it, there was only one person in the car. The
second individual had been dropped."
"At the station!" exclaimed Chet, catching the idea. "That is why they
stole Purt's car."
"I declare," Laura said. "Your idea sounds very reasonable, Bobby."
"Bobby is right there with the brainworks," said Chet, with admiration.
"Oh," said Bobby, "I'm not altogether 'non compos mend-us,' as the fellow
Chet was very serious, after all. "I tell you what," he blurted out, "if
Purt won't help himself with the police, maybe we can get him out of the
muss in spite of all."
"Why does he want to act the donkey?" demanded Jess.
"Are you sure he is?" asked Laura thoughtfully.
"I tell you," said the excited Chet, "we can find out who had to leave
Hester Grimes' party to catch that express. It ought to be a good lead.
What do you think, Laura?"
"I am wondering," said Mother Wit, "if we have always been fair to
Prettyman Sweet? Of course, he is silly in some ways, and dresses
ridiculously, and is not much of a sport. But if he is keeping still about
this matter so as not to make trouble for Hester, or any of her folks,
there is something fine in his action, don't you think?"
"Well—yes," admitted Jess. "It would seem so."
"I never thought of poor Purt as a chivalrous knight," said Bobby.
"Maybe Laura is right," remarked Chet, rather grudgingly.
"He is much more of a gentleman, perhaps, than we have given him credit for
being," Laura concluded. "I hope it is proved so in the end."
THE LAST REHEARSAL
That afternoon, when the girls gathered for rehearsal, Hester, nor anybody
else, appeared to play "the dark lady of the roses." Mr. Mann made no
comment upon this fact, but he looked very serious, indeed.
The play was acted from the first entrance to the final curtain. The other
characters had to speak of, and even to, the important and missing
character, and it was plain to all as the play progressed that the absence
of "the dark lady" was going to be a fatal hindrance to the success of the
Even Lily Pendleton, Hester's last lingering friend, showed a good deal of
spleen at Hester's action.
"I never will forgive Hessie," Lily said, almost in tears. And the other
girls had to urge her over and over again to be sure and come herself on
Thursday for the last dress rehearsal.
"If the piece is wrecked, let us be castaways together," begged Jess.
"Don't anybody else fail. Promise, girls!"
They promised sadly. Mr. Mann had hurried away as soon as the last words
"Too disgusted to even speak to us," Nellie said sadly. "I am real sorry
for him, girls. He has tried so hard."
"He deserves a leather medal," said Bobby emphatically.
"And what do we deserve?" demanded one of the twins.
"I know what Hester Grimes deserves," said Bobby darkly.
It was not likely, however, that Hester Grimes would get her deserts. They
were all agreed on that point, if on no other.
That Wednesday afternoon when the girls separated it was with drooping
spirits—all but Laura Belding, at least. Perhaps it was because she always
had so many irons in the fire that trouble seemed to roll off her young
shoulders like rainwater off a duck's feathers.
At least, when she started for the street car that took her to the hospital
before she went home, she was cheerful of countenance and smiling. She
carried that same cheerfulness into the hospital itself and to Billy Long's
The active Billy was, as he himself expressed it, "fed up" on the hospital
by now. He was grateful for what they had done for him there and the way in
which they treated him in every way, but confinement was beginning to wear
on his spirits.
"Gee, Laura Belding!" ejaculated the young patient, seizing her hand with
both his own when she appeared, "a sight of you is just a stop-station this
side of eternity. Have they changed the hours? Aren't they twice as long as
they used to be?"
"No, indeed, my poor boy," Laura said. "There are only sixty minutes in
each. I wish I could shorten the time for you."
"Take it from me," growled Short and Long, having hard work to keep back
the tears, "this being in bed is the bunk. Don't let anybody tell you
But Laura caught his attention the next moment with Purt Sweet's trouble.
What Chet had found out from Dan Smith, Hester Grimes' neighbor, interested
the quick mind of Billy Long immensely.
"Gee! I knew it must be something like that. Sure! Purt is shielding
somebody for Hester. That's it!"
"Have you no idea who it can be? The man who drove the car, I mean, or the
one who possibly took the nine-ten express out of town that night? Hester
has no brothers——"
"Say!" exclaimed Billy, "there is somebody who will know. If Purt was there
at the party, so was Lil Pendleton."
"Lily!" exclaimed Laura. "I never thought of her."
"And if she is likely to be sore on Hester now, as you say you all are,"
Billy continued, "she won't be for shielding Hester or any of her friends
or relatives. Let me tell you that!"
"I believe she must have been at the party. Hester invites her to
everything of the kind she has; although she seldom invites any of the
other girls of Central High."
"Go to it!" urged the patient "Ask Lil Pendleton. I'd like to have Purt
cleared of this. I told that man from Alaska so. But, gee, Laura! I wish we
could find some way of giving him the right steer."
"You mean you would like to help him find his name and identity?"
"Yep. He says sometimes he feels that he is just going to remember—then it
all dissipates in his mind like a cloud. He's bad off, he is!"
"I am going to see him now. I have an idea, Billy."
"You're always full of ideas, Laura," the boy said admiringly. "I've been
raking my poor nut back and forth and crossways, without getting a glimmer
of an idea how to help him. He says if we can show him how to find his
memory, he'll do all he can for Purt," Billy added wistfully.
"You are very anxious to help Prettyman Sweet, aren't you, Billy?"
suggested the girl of Central High as she rose to go.
"You bet I am."
"Why? You boys never thought much of him before, you know."
Billy flushed, but he stuck to his guns. "I tell you," he said, "we never
gave Purt a fair deal, I guess. He's all right. He isn't like Chet, or
Lance, or Reddy Butts, or the rest of the fellows, but there's good parts
"You think he has proved himself a better fellow than you thought before?"
"You bet!" said Billy vigorously. "He's been mighty nice to me; and I
always was playing jokes on him, and—Aw! when a fellow lies like I do in
bed and has so much time to think, he gets on to himself," added the boy
gruffly. "Sending dead fish to other fellows isn't such a smart joke after
"I am going to see your friend, the Alaskan miner, now," the girl said,
squeezing the boy's hand understandingly.
"If you find out some way of jogging his memory, I'd like to be in on it,"
"You shall," promised Laura, as she tripped away.
By this time Laura was so well known at the hospital that nobody stopped
her from going to the unknown man's private room where he was now
established with his particular nurse. He hailed the girl's appearance
almost as gladly as Billy Long had done.
"Your bright young faces make you high-school girls—and the boys, of
course—as welcome as can be," he said. "I'd like to do something when I
get out of this hospital in return for all your kindness to me. But if I
can't get a grip on what and who I am——"
"I have thought of a way by which we may help you to that," interjected
Laura. "You know, you must have been doing something all these years since
you won your fortune in Alaska."
"Surely! But what became of my wealth? That is a hard question."
"Perhaps we can help you find out what you have been doing. Then you will
gradually remember it all. Have you those bank-notes they say you carried
in your pocket when you were brought in?"
"Why, they are in the hospital safe. I haven't had to use much of my money
yet," he said, puzzled.
"I want to look at that money—all of it," said Laura. "It is too late
to-night, but to-morrow afternoon I will come with my brother, and I wish
you would have those bank-notes here. I have an idea."
"I'll do just as you say, Miss Laura," said the man. "But I don't
"You will," she told him, laughing, as she hurried away.
There was, therefore, much puzzlement of mind in several quarters that
night—and Laura Belding was partly at fault. She retained all her usual
placidity, and even on the morrow, when she went to school and found the
other girls so very despondent about the play, she refused to join in their
prophecies of ill.
This was the day of the last rehearsal. Mr. Mann had told them that he
wished the actors to rest between this dress rehearsal and the first public
performance of "The Rose Garden" on the following evening.
"I just know it will be a dreadful fizzle," wailed Jess, before Mr. Mann
called the rise of the curtain.
Everything was in readiness, however, for a perfect rehearsal. The curtain
was properly manipulated and the scene shifters, the light man, and all the
other helpers were at their stations, as well as the orchestra in the pit.
The girls had been excused from studies at one o'clock—of course, greatly
to Miss Carrington's disapproval. Since her "run-in" with the Lockwood
twins, as Bobby inelegantly called it, the teacher had been less exacting,
although quite as stern-looking as ever.
Dora and Dorothy, being cheerful souls, had recovered from their excitement
over the incident in history class, and were so much interested in their
parts in the play now that they forgot all about Gee Gee's ill treatment.
Indeed, when the curtain was rung up every girl in the piece was in a state
of excitement. Although they felt that the failure of the part of "the dark
lady of the roses" would utterly ruin some of the best lines and most
telling points in the play, they were all ready to act their own parts with
vigor and a real appreciation of what those parts meant.
Bobby, as the sailor lad, came on with a rolling gait that would have done
credit to any "garby" in the Navy. Jess, as the swashbuckling hero,
swaggered about the stage in a delightful burlesque of such a character, as
the author intended the part to be played.
Then the lights were lowered for the evening glow and "Adrian" turned to
point out the "dark lady"—that mysterious figure supposed to haunt the
rose garden and for weal or woe influence the hero's house and his affairs.
Jess recited her lines roundly, pointing the while to the garden along the
shadowy paths of which the dark lady of the roses was supposed to wander.
With incredible amazement—a shock that was more real than Jess could
possibly have expressed in any feigned surprise—she beheld the dark lady
as the book read, moving quietly across the garden, gracefully swaying as
she lightly trod the fictitious sod, stooping to pluck and then kissing the
rose, and finally disappearing into the wings with a flash of brilliant
eyes and the revelation of a charming countenance for the audience.
It was lucky that this signaled the curtain's fall on the first act, or
Jess Morse would have spoiled her own good work by the expression of her
MR. NEMO, OF NOWHERE
"Who is it?"
"Can it be Margit Salgo?"
"How very, very wonderful!"
These were some of the ejaculations of the girls behind the scenes.
At just the right moment the figure of the dark lady had glided from the
dressing-rooms to the wings and gone on at the cue. Her acting gave just
the needed touch to the pretty scene. Her appearance had been most
charming. And, above all, the surprise had been "such a relief!"
"I'm so glad Hester got mad with us and refused to act," sighed Bessie
Yeager. "Whoever this girl is, she is fine."
"Is it a professional Mr. Mann has engaged?" somebody wanted to know.
"Laura Belding! Laura Belding!" cried Dora. "What do you know about it?"
"I warrant Laura knows all about it," said Jess, recovered from her
amazement. "It is just like Mother Wit to have saved us. And I believe I
recognize that very charming Lady Mystery—do I not?"
"Isn't she splendid?" cried Laura, enthusiastically, "I knew she could do
it. And Mr. Mann has been giving her an hour's training every day for a
"Goodness!" drawled Lily Pendleton, "how did you know Hester would cut up
"Doesn't she always do something to queer us if she can?" snapped Bobby.
"Laura, you are a wonder!"
"It is Janet Steele," declared Jess. "Of course! I should have thought of
her myself. She is all right—just the one we needed."
And it took some courage on Jess' part for her to say this, for she knew
that Chet Belding had expressed very warm admiration indeed of Janet
The rehearsal went off splendidly after that. Everybody was encouraged. The
rotund little Mr. Mann beamed—"more than ever like a cherub," Bobby
declared. They came to the final curtain with tremendous applause from the
back benches where some of the faculty sat in the dark.
"And I do believe," said Nellie Agnew, in almost a scared voice, "that Gee
Gee applauded! Can it be possible, girls? Do you suppose that for once she
gives us credit for knowing a little something?"
"If she applauded, her hands slipped by mistake!" grumbled Bobby. "You know
very well that nothing would change Gee Gee's opinion. Not even an
It was late when the rehearsal was over, and Laura knew that Chet would be
waiting outside with their car. She hurried Jess and Bobby, and even Janet,
into their outer wraps as quickly as possible.
"For you might as well go along with us, Janet," Laura said to the new girl
"We're going to the hospital first, but we'll drop you at your home coming
Just what they were to do at the hospital nobody knew save Laura and Chet,
and they refused to explain. When they arrived at the institution they went
directly to the private room now occupied by Mr. Nemo of Nowhere.
Billy Long, up in a chair for the first time, was present to greet the
girls of Central High. And the man from Alaska seemed particularly glad to
"Here is the money, Miss Laura," he said, producing a packet of crisp
bank-notes. "I'd give it all to know just who I am. I seem to be right on
the verge of discovering it to-day; yet something balks me."
"Oh, look at all that money!" crowed Billy, as Laura accepted the bills,
while Chet, with the help of the interested nurse, arranged the bed-table
and gave the man a pad and a fountain pen.
The head surgeon, who had taken a great interest in the case and with whom
Laura had already conferred, tiptoed into the room and stood to look on.
"You bankers," said Laura, laughing, and speaking to the patient, "are
always so much better off than ordinary folks. You pass out any old kind of
money to your customers; but you never see a banker with anything but new
bank-notes in his pocket."
The man listened to her sharply. A sudden quickened interest appeared in
his countenance. The others heard Mother Wit's speech with growing
"See," said the girl of Central High, extracting one of the bank-notes from
the packet "Here is another bill on the Drovers' Levee Bank, of Osage,
Ohio. Did you notice that? Doesn't it sound familiar to you?"
She repeated the name of the bank and its locality slowly. "You have more
bills of that same bank. But none like the one you gave Chet when you
bought that lavallière for 'the nice little girl' you told him you expected
to give it to."
The man stared at her. He seemed enthralled by what she said. Laura
proceeded in her quiet way:
"Just write this name, please: 'Bedford Knox.' Thanks. Now write it again.
He is cashier of your bank in Osage, Ohio."
Jess barely stifled a cry with her handkerchief. But everybody else was
silent, watching the man laboriously writing the name as requested by
It was a disappointment. No doubt of that The man did not write the name as
though he were familiar with it at all. But Laura was still smiling when he
looked up at her, almost childishly, for further directions.
"Now try this other, please," said the girl firmly. "Two men always sign
bank-notes to make them legal tender. The cashier and the president The
president of the Drovers' Levee Bank, of Osage, Ohio, is——"
She hesitated. The man poised his pen over the paper expectantly. Said
"Write 'Peyton J. Weld.'"
At her words Janet Steele uttered a startled exclamation. The man did not
notice this. He wrote the name as Laura requested. Chet, looking over his
shoulder and with one of the Osage bank-notes in his hand for comparison,
watched the signature dashed off in almost perfect imitation of that upon
"You guessed it, Mother Wit!" the big boy cried. "Write it again, Mr. Weld.
That is your name as sure as you live!"
The surgeon stepped quickly to the bedside and his sharp eyes darted from
the bank-note in the boy's hand to the signature his patient had written.
The man looked wonderingly about the room, his puzzled gaze drifting from
one to another of his visitors until it finally fastened upon the pale
countenance of Janet Steele.
Catching his eye, the girl stepped forward impulsively, her hands clasped.
"Uncle Jack!" she breathed.
"You—you look quite like your mother used to, my dear," the man in bed
said in rather a strange voice.
The surgeon eased him back upon the pillows, and at a nod the nurse sent
the visitors out of the room. In the corridor they all stood amazed,
staring at Janet.
IT IS ALL ROUNDED UP
"Of course," Lily Pendleton confessed, "I was at Hester's party,"
"And Purt Sweet was there?" queried Laura earnestly.
"Mr. Sweet certainly was present, too," said the other girl. "You girls
need not be so jealous if we are the only two from Central High that got
"You can have my share and welcome," said Bobby.
"And mine, too," confessed Jess.
"These interrogations are not inspired by jealousy," laughed Mother Wit.
It was on Friday as the girls gathered for recitations that this
conversation occurred. Lily Pendleton was inclined to object to having her
intimacy with Hester Grimes inquired into.
"Do you remember what night that party was held, Lily?" asked Laura.
"Why, no. On a Saturday night, I believe."
"Quite so. And on a particular Saturday night," said Laura.
"You said it!" murmured Bobby.
"I don't know what you mean!" cried Lily Pendleton.
"But you will before I get through with you," said Laura. "Now, listen! You
know about that man who had his leg broken on Market Street?"
"The one the police say Purt ran down with his car?"
"Of course I do," Lily cried. "And Purt is as innocent as you are!"
"Granted," said Laura. "Therefore you will help us explain the mystery, and
so relieve Purt Sweet of suspicion. For he refuses to say anything himself
to the police."
"Why—why——What do I know about it?" demanded Lily.
"Do you know that the party was held the very Saturday night the man was
"No! Was it?"
"It was. And Purt had his car up there at the Grimes' house."
"Did he? I didn't know. He went away early, I believe."
"And earlier still a couple of boys, or men, borrowed Purt's car without
his knowing it—until afterward," Laura declared earnestly. "One of those
fellows had to catch a train."
"Why, that was Hester's cousin, Jeff Rounds! He lives at Norridge. Don't
"Who was the other fellow?" asked Laura sharply.
"Why—I——Oh! it must have been Tom Langley. He lives next door to
Hester. Do you know," said Lily, preening a little, "I think Tom is kind of
sweet on Hessie."
"Good night!" moaned Bobby. "What is the matter with him? Is he blind?"
"He must have had very bad eyesight or he would not have run down that poor
Mr. Weld on Market Street!" exclaimed Jess tartly.
"What do you mean?" gasped Lily. "Tom Langley has gone away for the winter
anyway. He went suddenly——"
"Right after that party, I bet a cooky," cried Bobby.
"Well—ye-es," admitted Lily.
"Scared!" exclaimed Jess.
"The coward!" cried Laura.
"And left poor Purt to face the music," Bobby observed. "Well, old Purt is
better than we ever gave him credit for. Now we'll make him square himself
with the police."
It was Mr. Nemo of Nowhere, now Mr. Peyton J. Weld, who had the most to do
with settling the police end of Purt Sweet's trouble. It was some weeks
before he could do this, for the shock of his mental recovery racked the
man greatly. For some days the surgeon would not let the young folk see
their friend whose mind had been so twisted.
"I don't know but we did more harm than good, Laura," Chet Belding said
anxiously, when they discussed Mr. Weld's condition.
"I don't believe so," his sister said. "At any rate, we revealed him as
Janet's Uncle Jack, and the discovery has done Mrs. Steele a world of good
That the man who, for a time, had forgotten who he was and had forgotten a
number of years of his life, finally recovered completely, can safely be
stated. His very first outing from the hospital was in Purt Sweet's car,
and the boy drove him first of all to the office of the Chief of Police.
Purt had refused utterly to make trouble for either Hester Grimes' cousin
Jeff or for Tom Langley. Mr. Weld assured the Chief of Police that,
although it was Purt's car that had struck him down on the icy street, Purt
had not been in the car at the time.
Nor did the boy of Central High have anything to do with the accident. His
car had been borrowed without permission by "parties unknown," as far as
Mr. Weld was concerned, and to this day the police of Centerport are rather
hazy as to just who it was that stole Purt Sweet's car and committed the
"And I feel sort of hazy myself," Jess Morse said, when they were all
talking it over at one time. "Mostly hazy about this Man from Nowhere. How
did he so suddenly become Janet Steele's Uncle Jack?"
"And his name 'Peyton'?" added Nellie Agnew.
"Why, his middle name was John—they always called him by it at home,"
explained Laura Belding. "And, of course, Janet and her mother knew nothing
about the name written on those Osage bank bills. I didn't suspect the
"But I began to be quite sure that he must have had something to do with
the bank for which those bills were issued. And it seemed probable that, as
he had so much money with him when he landed in Centerport, that he must be
somebody in Osage of wealth and prominence. I wrote secretly to the
postmaster at Osage and learned that the president of the Drovers' Levee
Bank had gone East on a vacation—presumably to hunt up some relatives that
he had not seen for some time."
"Sly Mother Wit!" cried Jess.
"Not such a wonderful thing to do," laughed Laura.
"Not half so wonderful," put in the irrepressible Bobby Hargrew, "as it
seemed to the countryman who came to town and stood gazing up at the tall
steeple of the cathedral. As he gazed the bell began to toll The hick
stopped a passer-by and said:
"'Tell me, why does the bell ring at this time of day?'
"The other man studied the hick for a moment and then said: 'That's easy.
There's somebody pulling on the rope.'"
"Well," said Nellie, when the laugh had subsided, "I guess Janet and her
mother are glad our Laura had such a bright idea."
"Of course! They are going back to Osage with Mr. Weld when he has fully
recovered. And so we shall lose an awfully nice girl friend," Laura
"Gee!" sighed Chet. "And such a pretty girl!"
Jess said not a word.
* * * * *
Of course, all twisted threads must be straightened out at the end of the
story; but our tale really ends with the performance of "The Rose Garden."
That on Friday night was most enthusiastically received by the friends and
parents of the girls of Central High.
It was a worthy production, and the girls deserved all the applause they
received. It encouraged them to give two further performances, and
altogether the three netted a large sum for the Red Cross. The play, in
fact, was the means of raising more money for the fund than any other
single method used for that object in Centerport.
The city "went over the top" in its quota of both memberships and funds,
and that before Christmas. The girls of Central High could rest on their
laurels over the holidays, knowing that they had done well.
"But wait till Gee Gee gets after us after New Year's," prophesied Bobby.
"Don't be so pessimistic," said Jess. "Maybe she won't."
"Why won't she?" demanded Dora Lockwood.
"Nothing will change her," sighed Dora's twin.
"Say!" gasped Bobby, stricken with a sudden thought, "maybe she'll get the
pip, or something, and not be able to teach. That is our only hope!"
"Suppose we turn over a new leaf, as Miss Carrington won't," suggested
Laura in her placid way.
"What's that?" demanded Bobby suspiciously.
"Suppose we agree not to annoy her any more than we can help for the rest
of the school year?"
"There! Isn't that just like you, Laura Belding?" demanded Jess.
"Suggesting the impossible."
This was said in the wings of the school stage during the last performance
of "The Rose Garden." The curtain went up on the last act and the girls
became quiet They watched Janet Steele, as the dark lady of the roses, move
again across the stage. She was very graceful and very pretty. The boys out
front applauded her enthusiastically.
Laura pinched Jess's arm. "Janet certainly has made a hit," she whispered.
"Well," admitted Jess, "she deserves their applause. And she just about
saved our play, Laura. There is no getting around that."