The Mystery at Dark Cedars

By Edith Lavell

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Title: The Mystery at Dark Cedars

Author: Edith Lavell

Release Date: August 28, 2013  [eBook #43582]

Language: English


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[Illustration: _"You hold the flashlight, Jane," said Mary Louise.
"While I make the slit."_

The Mary Lou Series




A. L. Burt Company
New York    Chicago

The Mary Lou Series

The Mystery at Dark Cedars
The Mystery of the Fires
The Mystery of the Secret Band

Copyright, 1935, by
A. L. Burt Company
Printed in the United States of America

                            _To My Daughter_
                          Jeanne Marie Lavell
                      _Who loves mystery stories_


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  I. The House of Mystery                                             11
  II. The Robbery                                                     26
  III. Suspects                                                       41
  IV. Interviewing Hannah                                             52
  V. The Stolen Treasure                                              63
  VI. A Wild Ride                                                     76
  VII. "Hands Up!"                                                    90
  VIII. A Confession                                                 101
  IX. The Fifty-Dollar Bill                                          114
  X. Night at Dark Cedars                                            126
  XI. The Picnic                                                     142
  XII. Bound and Gagged                                              156
  XIII. Detective Work                                               168
  XIV. Bad News                                                      181
  XV. An Alibi                                                       193
  XVI. Spreading the Net                                             204
  XVII. The Empty House                                              215
  XVIII. Found!                                                      228
  XIX. Conclusion                                                    243


  Mary Louise Gay    a girl detective.
  Jane Patterson    her chum.
  Miss Mattie Grant    spinster at Dark Cedars.
  Elsie Grant    orphan, niece of Miss Grant, living at Dark Cedars.
  Mrs. Grace Grant    sister-in-law to Miss Grant.
  family of Mrs. Grace Grant.
      John Grant    middle-aged bachelor
      Harry Grant    younger bachelor
      Ellen Grant Pearson    married daughter
      Corinne Pearson    granddaughter, girl of nineteen
  Hannah and William Groben    servants at Dark Cedars.
  Mr. Gay, Mrs. Gay, Joseph (Freckles) Gay    family of Mary Louise.
  Max Miller, Norman Wilder, Hope Dorsey, Bernice Tracey    friends of
              Mary Louise.
  Mrs. Abraham Lincoln Jones    a colored woman.
  Mira    a gypsy fortune teller.
  Silky    Mary Louise's dog.

                               CHAPTER I
                         _The House of Mystery_

"Be quiet, Silky! What's the matter with you? You don't usually bark like
common dogs over nothing!"

The brown spaniel stopped under a maple tree and wagged his tail
forlornly, looking pleadingly into his mistress's eyes, as if he were
trying to tell her that he wasn't just making a fuss over nothing.

Mary Louise Gay stooped over and patted his head. She was a pretty girl
of sixteen, with dark hair and lovely brown eyes and long lashes that
would make an actress envious.

"I see what Silky means!" cried her companion, Jane Patterson who lived
next door to Mary Louise and was her inseparable chum. "Look, Mary Lou!
Up in the tree. A kitten!"

Both girls gazed up at the leafy branches overhead and spied a tiny black
kitten crying piteously. It had climbed up and couldn't get down.

"I'll get it," said Mary Louise.

She swung herself lightly to the lowest branch, chinned herself, and
climbed the tree. In another minute she had rescued the kitten with her

"Stretch on your tiptoes, Jane," she called to her chum, "and see if I
can hand it down to you."

The other girl, who was much shorter and stockier than Mary Louise, did
as she was told, but the distance was too great.

"I suppose I'll have to climb down with her in one hand," concluded Mary
Louise. "That's not so easy."

"Drop her over to that branch you swung up by, and I'll get her from
there," suggested Jane.

A moment later Mary Louise was at her chum's side, stroking the little
black kitten, now purring contentedly in Jane's arms.

"I wonder whose it is," she remarked. "There isn't any house near----"

"Except old Miss Grant's."

Both girls turned and looked at the hill which rose at the right of the
lonely road on which they had been walking. The house, a large drab
plaster building, was barely visible through the dark cedars that
surrounded it on all sides. A high, thick hedge, taller than an
average-sized man, gave the place an even greater aspect of gloominess
and seclusion.

"Maybe it is Miss Grant's kitten," suggested Jane. "Old maids are
supposed to like cats, you know."

Mary Louise's brown eyes sparkled with anticipation.

"I hope it is!" she exclaimed. "And then we'll get a look at the inside
of that house. Because everybody says it's supposed to be haunted. Our
colored laundress's little girl was walking past it one evening about
dusk, and she heard the most terrible moan. She claims that two eyes,
without any head or body, looked out through the hedge at her. She
dropped her bundle and ran as fast as she could for home."

"You don't really believe there is anything, do you, Mary Lou?"

"I don't know. There must be something queer about it."

"Maybe there's a crazy woman shut up in the tower."

"You've been reading _Jane Eyre_, haven't you, Jane? But there isn't any
tower on the Grant house."

"Well, I guess Miss Grant is crazy enough herself. She dresses in styles
of forty years ago. Did you ever see her?"

"Yes, I've had a glimpse of her once or twice when I walked past here.
She looks like the picture of the old maid on the old-maid cards. It must
be awful for that girl who lives with her."

"What girl?" inquired Jane.

"A niece, I believe. She must be about our age. Her father and mother
both died, so she has to live with Miss Grant. They say the old lady
treats her terribly--much worse than the two old servants she keeps."

While this conversation was going on, the two girls, followed by Silky,
were walking slowly up the hill towards the big hedge which surrounded
the Grant place. Once inside the yard, it was almost like being in a
deep, thick woods. Cedar trees completely enclosed the house and grew
thick on both sides of the narrow path leading from the gate to the
porch. In spite of the fact that it was broad daylight, Jane found
herself shuddering. But Mary Louise seemed delighted with the strange,
gloomy atmosphere.

"Doesn't this girl go to high school?" asked Jane. "If she's about our

"I don't believe so. I never saw her there."

They stopped when they reached the steps of the porch and looked about
with curiosity. It certainly was a run-down place. Boards were broken in
the steps, and pieces of plaster had crumbled from the outer wall. The
grayish-colored ivy which grew over the house seemed to emphasize its
aspect of the past.

"Isn't Miss Grant supposed to be rich?" whispered Jane incredulously. "It
doesn't look like it!"

"They say she's a miser. Hoards every cent she can get." Mary Louise
smiled. "I believe I'll tell Daddy to report her for hoarding. She
deserves it!"

"Better wait and find out whether she really is rich, hadn't you?"
returned Jane. "Your father's a busy man."

Mary Louise nodded and looked at her dog.

"You lie down, Silky," she commanded, "and wait here for us. Miss Grant
probably wouldn't like you. She might think you'd hurt Pussy." She smiled
indulgently. "She doesn't know you belong to the Dog Scouts and do a kind
act every day--like rescuing cats in distress!"

The spaniel obeyed, and the two girls mounted the rickety steps of the
porch. Although it was late in June, the door was closed tightly, and
they had to pull a rusty knocker to let the people inside know that they
were there.

It was some minutes before there was any reply.

A sad-faced girl in an old-fashioned purple calico dress finally opened
the door and stared at them with big gray eyes. The length of her dress,
the way her blond hair was pulled back and pinned into a tight knot, made
her seem much older than her visitors.

A suggestion of a smile crossed her face at the sight of the girls'
pleasant faces, and for a second she looked almost pretty.

"Is this your kitten?" asked Mary Louise. "We rescued it from a tree down
the road."

The girl nodded.

"Yes. It belongs to my aunt Mattie. Come in, and I'll call her."

The girls stepped into the dark square hall and looked about them. The
inside of the house was even more forbidding than the outside. The
ceilings were high and the wall paper dark. All the shutters were drawn,
as if there were poison in the June sunlight. For no reason at all that
they could see, the old stairs suddenly creaked.

Jane shuddered visibly, and the girl in the purple dress smiled.

"Don't mind the queer noises," she said. "Nothing ever happens in

"Then something does happen after dark?" questioned Mary Louise eagerly.

"Oh, yes. Why, only two nights ago----"

"What's this? What's this?" demanded the sharp, high voice of an old
woman. "What are you standing there talking about, Elsie? With all those
peaches waiting to be pared!"

All eyes turned naturally towards the old staircase, from which the sound
of the voice was coming. Miss Grant slowly descended, holding her hand on
her right side and grunting to herself as if the act of walking were
painful to her. She was a woman of at least sixty-five, thin and
wrinkled, but with little sharp black beady eyes that seemed to peer into
everything suspiciously, as if she believed the whole world evil. She was
wearing an old-fashioned black dress, and a dark shawl about her

"These girls have found your kitten, Aunt Mattie," Elsie informed her.
"They rescued her from a tree."

The black eyes softened, and the old woman came towards the girls.

"My precious little Puffy!" she exclaimed, as one might talk to a baby.
Then her tone abruptly became harsh again as she turned to her niece.

"Go back to your work, Elsie!" she ordered gruffly. "I'll attend to

Without any reply the girl slunk away to the kitchen, and Miss Grant took
the kitten from Jane.

"Tell me what happened to my poor little pet," she said.

Briefly Jane repeated the story, with an emphasis upon Mary Louise's
prowess in climbing trees.

Apparently the old lady was touched.

"I must say that was good of you," she remarked. "Not a bit like what
most young people nowadays would do! All they seem to enjoy is torturing
poor helpless creatures!"

She put the kitten down on the floor and turned towards the stairs.

"You wait!" she commanded the girls, "I'm going to get you a reward for

"Oh, no, Miss Grant!" they both protested instantly, and Mary Louise went
on to explain that they were Girl Scouts and never accepted money for
good turns. (Even Silky knows better than that, she added to herself. He
won't expect a bone for rescuing Pussy--only a pat on the head!)

"You really mean that?" demanded Miss Grant, in obvious relief. She would
save two cents! She had meant to give each girl a whole penny!

"Tell me your names, then," she continued, "and where you live. I might
want to call on you for help sometime. I can't trust my niece as far as
my nose, and my servants are both old." Mary Louise chuckled. So there
was a mystery in this house! A lurking danger that Miss Grant and her
niece both feared! And she and Jane were being drawn into it.

"Jane Patterson and Mary Louise Gay," she replied. "We live over in
Riverside, next to the high school. You can get us on the phone."

"I haven't a telephone. Too expensive. Besides, if I had one, I couldn't
tell what deviltry Elsie might be up to.... No, I don't hold with these
modern inventions."

"Well, you could send Elsie for us if you need any help," suggested Jane.
"It's only a little over a mile. You see, Mary Louise's father is a
detective on the police force, and we're both interested in mysteries."

"I'm not thinking of any mystery," snapped Miss Grant. "What I'm thinking
of is _facts_. One fact is that I've got a pack of scheming relations who
are trying to send me off to the hospital for an operation while they
loot my house."

Mary Louise's forehead wrinkled in surprise.

"I didn't know you had any relations besides your niece," she said.

"Certainly I have. Haven't you ever heard of the Grants in Riverside?
Mrs. Grace Grant--a woman about my age? She has two grown sons and a
married daughter. Well, they spent all their money, and now they want
mine. But they're not going to get it!"

Her hand went to her side again, as if she were in pain, and Mary Louise
decided it was time for them to go.

"Well, good-bye, Miss Grant," she said. "And don't forget to call on us
if you want help."

It was a relief to be out in the bright sunlight again, away from the
gloom and the decay of that ugly house. Mary Louise took a deep breath
and whistled for Silky. He was waiting at the foot of the porch steps.

As they walked down the path they were startled by a rustle in one of the
cedar trees. Silky perked up his ears and went to investigate the
disturbance. In another moment a head peered cautiously through the
branches. It was Elsie Grant.

"Will you come over here and talk to me a little while?" she whispered,
as if she were afraid of being caught. "I never see any girls my own
age--and--you look so nice!"

Both Mary Louise and Jane were touched by the loneliness of this poor
unhappy orphan. They went gladly to her side.

"Don't you go to school?" asked Mary Louise. "I mean--when it isn't
vacation time?"

The girl shook her head.

"That must be awful!" exclaimed Jane. "Sometimes I hate school, but I'd
certainly hate worse never to go. How old are you?"

"I'm only fifteen," replied Elsie. "But it seems as if I were fifty. I
mean--the time is so long. Yet I've really only lived here with Aunt
Mattie two years."

"And didn't you ever go to school?" questioned Mary Louise. She couldn't
believe that, for the girl spoke beautiful English.

"Oh, yes--before I came here. I was just ready to enter high school when
mother died--only a couple of months after my father was killed in an
accident. He was Aunt Mattie's youngest brother. And he didn't leave any
money, so I had to come and live with her."

"But I can't see why she doesn't send you to school," protested Jane.
"It's a public high school. It wouldn't cost her anything."

"Yes, it would, because I haven't any clothes except these old things of
hers. I can't go anywhere--I'm too ashamed."

Mary Louise's eyes gleamed with indignation.

"That's terrible!" she cried. "We can report her--"

Elsie shook her head.

"No, you couldn't. Because she feeds me well enough and gives me clothing
that is clean, and warm enough in winter. No, there isn't a thing anybody
can do. Except wait until I'm old enough to work in somebody's kitchen."

"No!" protested Jane.

"But I thought if I could just see you two girls once in a while and talk
to you, life wouldn't seem so bad. If I could call you by your first

"Of course you can," Mary Louise assured her, and she told Elsie their
names. "We'll come over often. And I don't believe your aunt will object,
because she seems to like us."

"She loves that kitten," explained Elsie. "It's the only thing in the
world she does love, besides money."

"She mentioned her money," remarked Jane, "and told us that she believed
her relatives were trying to get it away from her."

"By the way," said Mary Louise, "you started to tell us about something
that happened here two nights ago. Remember? What was it?"

Elsie shivered, as though the memory of it were still painful to her.

"I sleep up in the attic, all by myself. And I hear the most awful noises
all night. I'm always scared to death to go to bed."

"Don't the servants sleep there too?" asked Mary Louise. She was anxious
to get her facts straight from the beginning.

"No. They sleep on the second floor, in a room over the kitchen. There
are just two of them--an old married couple named Hannah and William

"Well, night before last I heard more distinct noises than ever. First I
thought it was one of the trees near my window, and I nerved myself to
get out of bed and look out. And what do you think I saw?"

"A ghost?" whispered Jane, in awe.

"No, I don't think so. I believe it was a human being. Anyway, all I saw
was two bright eyes peering in at the window!"

"What did you do?" demanded Mary Louise breathlessly. "Scream?"

"No, I didn't. Once before I screamed, and Aunt Mattie had William
investigate everything, and when he found nobody I was punished for my
foolishness. I had to eat bread and water for two days. And it taught me
a lesson. I never screamed again."

"Then what happened?"

"I think whoever it was climbed from the tree into the attic storeroom
window and went through an old trunk in there. I heard a little noise,
but I couldn't tell whether it was only the wind or not. Anyway, nothing
was known about it till yesterday, when Aunt Mattie went up to look for
something in her trunk."

"Did you tell her then?"

"I tried to. But she wouldn't listen. She accused me of going through her
trunk. But I wasn't punished, because nothing was stolen."

"Then it couldn't have been a robber," said Mary Louise. "Or something
would have been taken. Wasn't there anything else in the house missing?"

"Not a thing! Hannah even counted the silver and found it was all there."

"How does Hannah account for it? Or does she think, like your aunt, that
you did it?" questioned Mary Louise.

"Hannah says it was 'spirits.' She says the spirits can't rest as long as
their old things are around. She wants Aunt Mattie to burn or give away
all the old clothing in the house. She says dead people's clothes are

Jane let out a peal of laughter, but Mary Louise warned her to be quiet.
"We mustn't get Elsie into trouble," she explained.

"Was that the only time anything like that ever happened?" asked Jane.

"No. Once, earlier in the spring, when Hannah and William were away at
some lodge supper, their room was entered and searched. I was blamed and
punished then, though nothing was missing that time, either. But the
awful part of it is: I expect it to happen again every night. Every time
the wind howls or a branch beats against a windowpane, I'm sure they're
coming again--whoever they are. And--I'm afraid!"

"Something's got to be done!" announced Mary Louise, with determination.
"I'm not my father's daughter if I allow a mysterious outrage like this
to go on." She pressed Elsie's hand. "You can count on us," she
concluded. "We'll be back to see you tomorrow!"

                               CHAPTER II
                             _The Robbery_

The house in which Mary Louise's family lived was as different from the
Grants' as day is from night. It was painted white, and its smooth green
lawn was dotted here and there with bright flower beds. Modern, airy, and
filled with sunshine, the house itself looked like the home of a happy
family, which the Gays were--as their name implied.

Mary Louise's young brother--always called "Freckles"--was setting the
breakfast table when she came downstairs the morning after her visit to
Dark Cedars. It was Mary Louise's task to put the bedding to air while
her mother cooked breakfast. Mrs. Gay did not keep a maid, and both
children did their share of the work.

As they sat down to breakfast Mary Louise could not help contrasting her
life with poor Elsie Grant's. Thinking how different, how cheerful
everything was here--though of course it was never quite the same when
her father was away on a case, as so happened at the present time. Mary
Louise wanted to do something to help Elsie, besides just visiting her.
She had a sudden inspiration.

"I have a lot of clothes, haven't I, Mother?" she inquired as she spread
marmalade on her toast.

Mrs. Gay smiled. She was a pretty woman, with the same dark hair and dark
eyes as her daughter.

"I wouldn't say that, dear," she replied. "I think you have enough. But
if there is something you specially want, I guess you can have it. Is
that why you ask?"

"No," replied Mary Louise laughingly. "It's just the other way around.
Instead of buying more, what I want to do is to give some away. A couple
of dresses, perhaps, and some lingerie. And a pair of slippers."

Mrs. Gay nodded approvingly. Being both a neat housekeeper and a
charitable woman, she loved to clear things out and, if possible, give
them to someone who could use them.

"Yes," she said. "I was thinking of making up a package to send to the
Salvation Army today. That old blue sweater of yours could go, and the
red woolen dress----"

"No! No!" interrupted Mary Louise. "I didn't mean things like that,
Mother. I want to give away a couple of nice dresses. Like my green
flowered silk, for instance, and my pink linen. May I?"

"Why, Mary Louise! I thought you especially liked those dresses. What's
the matter with them?"

"Nothing. I do like them a lot. That's why I chose them. I want to give
them to a girl who hasn't had a new dress for over two years."

"Who is she?" asked Mrs. Gay sympathetically.

"A niece of old Miss Grant. You know--that queer old maid who lives at
Dark Cedars. About a mile out of town."

Her mother nodded.

"Yes, I know where you mean, dear. But that woman is reputed to be
rich--much better off than we are. I can't understand----"

"Of course you can't, Mother, unless you see poor Elsie Grant. She's
about my age--a year younger, to be exact--and she's an orphan. Two years
ago, when her mother died, she came to live with Miss Grant because she
hadn't anywhere to go and no money. And the old lady treats her
shamefully. Dresses her in those old calico dresses that servants used to
wear years ago. So Elsie can't go anywhere, not even to school."

Mrs. Gay's lips closed tightly, and her eyes narrowed.

"So that's the kind of woman Miss Grant is!" she muttered. "I always knew
she was queer, but I never thought she was cruel.... Yes, of course you
can give the girl some clothing, dear. Go pick out anything you want,
except those brand-new things we bought last week for our trip in

Mary Louise lost no time in making her selection. She piled the clothing
on her bed, after she had put her room in order, and called her mother in
for her approval. But before tying up the package she whistled for Jane
from her window.

Her chum came running across the grass that grew between the two houses
and bounded up the steps. Briefly Mary Louise explained what she was

"But I want to give Elsie something too," Jane said. "She ought to have
some kind of summer coat and a hat. Wait till I ask Mother."

She returned in less than five minutes bringing a lovely white wool coat
and a white felt hat to match it. Mary Louise tied up the bundle.

"Please ask Freckles to take care of Silky this morning, Mother," she
said. "I'm afraid that perhaps Miss Grant might not like him."

The girls started off immediately through the streets of Riverside to the
lonely road that led to Dark Cedars.

"I sort of wish we had Silky with us," observed Jane as they approached
the house. "He is a protection."

Mary Louise laughed.

"But there isn't anything to protect us from! Elsie said nothing ever
happened in the daytime."

A stifled sob coming from under the cedar trees caused the girls to stop
abruptly and peer in among the low branches. There, half concealed by the
thick growth, sat Elsie Grant, crying bitterly.

Mary Louise and Jane were beside her in a second.

"What's the matter, Elsie?" demanded Mary Louise. "What happened?"

The girl raised her tear-stained face and attempted to smile. For Mary
Louise and Jane came nearest to being her friends of all the people in
the world.

"Aunt Mattie has been robbed," she said. "And--everybody thinks I did

"You!" cried Jane. "Oh, how awful!"

The girls sat down on the ground beside her and asked her to tell them
all about it. The bundle of clothing was forgotten for the time being in
this new, overwhelming catastrophe.

"My aunt has a big old safe in her room, that she always keeps locked,"
Elsie began. "She hasn't any faith in banks, she says, because they are
always closing, so all her money is in this safe. I've often heard Aunt
Grace try to make Aunt Mattie stop hoarding, but Aunt Mattie always
refuses. She loves to have it where she can see it and count it."

"A regular miser," remarked Jane.

"Yes. It's her one joy in life--besides the little kitten. Every morning
after breakfast she opens that safe and counts her money over again."

"Doesn't she ever spend any?" asked Mary Louise.

"A little, of course. She pays William and Hannah a small amount, and she
buys some food, especially in winter. But we have a garden, you know, and
chickens and a cow."

"When did she miss this money?"

"This morning. It was there yesterday. Aunt Mattie counted it right after
you girls went home. You can hear her say the figures out loud and sort
of chuckle to herself. But today she just let out a scream. It was
horrible! I thought she was dying."

"Maybe it was taken last night," said Mary Louise. "Did you hear any of
those queer noises--I mean the kind you heard before, when you thought
somebody searched that old trunk in the attic?"

"No, I didn't. That's the worst part. Nobody else heard anything, either,
all night long, and no door locks were broken. Of course, a burglar might
have entered over the front porch roof, through Aunt Mattie's window. But
she's a light sleeper, and she says she never heard a sound."

"So of course she claims you stole it!"

Elsie nodded and started to cry again.

"But I didn't! I give you my word I didn't!"

"Of course you didn't, Elsie. We believe you."

"Aunt Mattie did everything but torture me to get a confession out of me.
She said if I didn't own up to it and give it back she'd send me to a
reform school, and I'd be branded as a criminal for the rest of my life."

"She couldn't do that!" exclaimed Mary Louise furiously. "If she has no
proof ... I'll tell you what I'll do, Elsie! I'll put my father on the
case when he comes home! He's a detective on the police force, and he's
just wonderful. He'll find the real thief."

Elsie shook her head.

"No, I'm afraid you can't do that. Because Aunt Mattie distinctly said
that she won't have the police meddling in this. She says that if I
didn't steal the money somebody else in the family did."

"What family?"

"Aunt Grace's family. She's the Mrs. Grant, you know, who lives in
Riverside. She has three grown-up children and one grandchild. Aunt
Mattie says one of these relatives is guilty, if I'm not, and she'll find
out herself, without bringing shame upon the Grant name."

Mary Louise groaned.

"The only thing I can see for us to do, then, is to be detectives
ourselves. Jane and I will do all we can to help you, won't we, Jane?"

Her chum nodded. "At least, if we don't have to get into any spookiness
at night," she amended. "Those mysterious sounds you told us about,

"They may all have some connection with this robbery," announced Mary
Louise. "And I'd like to find out!"

Elsie looked doubtful.

"I only hope Aunt Mattie doesn't try the bread-and-water diet on me, to
get a confession. Really, you have no idea how awful that is till you try
it. You just get crazy for some real food. You'd be almost willing to lie
to get it, even if you knew the lie was going to hurt you."

"If she tries that, you let us know," cried Jane angrily, "and we'll
bring our parents right over here!"

"All right, I will." Elsie seemed to find some relief in the promise.

"Elsie," said Mary Louise very seriously, "tell me who you really think
did steal the money."

The girl considered the problem carefully.

"I believe it was somebody in Aunt Grace's family," she replied slowly.
"Because they used to be rich, and now they are poor. And I think that if
a burglar had entered the house, somebody, probably Aunt Mattie, would
have wakened up."

"Couldn't he have entered before your aunt went to bed?" suggested Mary

"Maybe. But Aunt Mattie was on the front porch all evening, and she'd
probably have heard him."

"All right, then," agreed Mary Louise. "Let's drop the idea of the
burglar for the time being. Let's hear about the family--your aunt
Grace's family, I mean."

She reached into her pocket and took out a pencil and notebook, which she
had provided for the purpose of writing down any items of clothing that
Elsie might particularly want. Instead of that, she would list the
possible suspects, the way her father usually did when he was working on
a murder case.

"Go ahead," she said. "I'm ready now. Tell me how many brothers and
sisters your aunt Mattie had, and everything else you can."

"Aunt Mattie had only two brothers, and not any sisters at all. My father
was one brother, and Aunt Grace's husband was the other. They're both

"Then your aunt Grace isn't your aunt Mattie's real sister?" inquired

"No. But Aunt Mattie seems to like her better than any of her blood
relations, even if she is only a sister-in-law. She comes over here
pretty often."

"Maybe she took the money."

Elsie looked shocked.

"Not Aunt Grace! She's too religious. Always going to church and talking
about right and wrong. She even argued with Aunt Mattie to let me go to
Sunday school, but Aunt Mattie wouldn't buy me a decent dress."

At the mention of clothing, Jane reached for the package they had carried
with them to Dark Cedars, but Mary Louise shook her head, signalling her
to wait until Elsie had finished.

"Well, anyway, Aunt Mattie's father liked her better than her two
brothers, and he promised to leave her his money if she wouldn't get
married while he was alive. And she didn't, you know."

"I guess nobody ever asked her," remarked Jane bluntly.

"That's what my mother used to say," agreed Elsie. "She didn't like Aunt
Mattie, and Aunt Mattie hated her. So it's no wonder I'm not welcome

Mary Louise called Elsie back to her facts by tapping her pencil on her

"So far I have only one relative written down," she said. "That's your
aunt Grace. Please go on."

"As I told you, I think," Elsie continued immediately, "Aunt Grace has
three grown children. Two boys and a girl."

"Names, please," commanded Mary Louise in her most practical tone.

"John Grant, Harry Grant, and Mrs. Ellen Grant Pearson. The daughter is

"How old are they?"

"All about forty, I guess. I don't know. Middle-aged--no, I guess you
wouldn't call Harry middle-aged. He's the youngest. Except, of course,
the granddaughter--Mrs. Pearson's only child. She's a girl about eighteen
or nineteen."

"What's her name?"

"Corinne--Corinne Pearson."

"Is that everybody?" asked Mary Louise. "I mean, all the living relatives
of Miss Mattie Grant?"

"Yes, that's all."

Mary Louise read her list aloud, just to make sure that she had gotten
the names correctly and to impress them upon her own mind.

"Mrs. Grace Grant--aged about sixty-five, sister-in-law of Miss Mattie.

"John Grant--middle-aged.

"Ellen Grant Pearson--middle-aged.

"Harry Grant--about thirty.

"Corinne Pearson--about nineteen...."

"But you forgot me!" Elsie reminded her.

"No, we didn't forget you, either," replied Mary Louise, with a smile.
"We've got something for you--in that package."

"Something to make you forget your troubles," added Jane. "Some new

The girl's eyes lighted up with joy.

"Honestly? Oh, that's wonderful! Let me see them!"

Mary Louise untied the package and held the things up for Elsie to look
at. The girl's expression was one of positive rapture. A silk dress! In
the latest style! And the kind of soft wooly coat she had always dreamed
of possessing! A hat that was a real hat--not one of those outlandish
sunbonnets her aunt Mattie made her wear! Dainty lingerie--and a pair of
white shoes!

"Oh, it's too much!" she cried. "I couldn't take them! They're your best
things--I know they are." And once again her eyes filled with tears.

"We have other nice clothes," Mary Louise assured her. "And our mothers
said it was all right. So you must take them: we'd be hurt if you

"Honestly?" The girl looked as if she could not believe there was so much
goodness in the world.

"Absolutely! Now--don't you want to go in and try them on?"

"I'll do it right here," said Elsie. "These cedars are so thick that
nobody can see me. And if I went into the house they might not let me out
again to show you."

With trembling fingers she pulled off her shoes and stockings, and the
old calico dress she was wearing, and put on the silk slip and the green
flowered dress. Then the white stockings and the slippers, which fitted
beautifully. And last of all, the coat.

Her eyes were sparkling now, and her feet were taking little dancing
steps of delight. Elsie Grant looked like a different person!

"Wonderful!" cried Mary Louise and Jane in the same breath.

"Only--let me fix your hair," suggested the former. "It's naturally
curly, isn't it? But you have it drawn back so tightly you can scarcely
see any wave."

"I'd like to wear it like yours, Mary Louise," replied the orphan
wistfully. "But it's too long, and I have no money for barbers or beauty

"We'll see what we can do next time we come," answered Mary Louise. "But
let's loosen it up a bit now and put your knot down low on your neck so
that the hat will fit."

Deftly she fluffed it out a little at the sides and pinned it in a modish
style. Then she put the little white felt hat on Elsie's head at just the
correct angle and stepped back to survey the transformed girl with pride.

"You're positively a knockout, Elsie!" she exclaimed in delight. "Take my
word for it, you're going to be a big hit in Riverside." She chuckled to
herself. "We'll all lose our boy-friends when they see you!"

"Oh no!" protested Elsie seriously. "You are really beautiful, Mary
Louise! And so clever and good. And so is Jane."

Both girls smiled at Elsie's extravagant praise. Then Mary Louise turned
back to her notebook.

"I'd like to hear more about yesterday," she said: "whether you think any
of these five relatives had a chance to steal that money."

"They all had a chance," answered Elsie. "They were all here--and all up
in Aunt Mattie's room at some time or other during the day or evening!"

                              CHAPTER III

"Let's sit down again while you tell me every single thing that happened
here yesterday," suggested Mary Louise.

Elsie took off the white coat and folded it carefully. Then she removed
her hat.

"But I can't sit down in this silk dress," she objected. "I might get it
dirty, and I don't want to take it off till I see myself in a mirror. I
might not have another chance to put it on all day long!"

"You can sit on the paper," advised Jane. "That will protect it. Besides,
the ground is dry, and these needles are a covering."

Very cautiously Elsie seated herself, and turned to Mary Louise, who had
dropped down beside her on the ground.

"Begin when you got up in the morning," she said.

"That was about seven o'clock," replied Elsie. "But really, that doesn't
matter, because I'm sure Aunt Mattie counted her money after you girls
brought the kitten back. I heard her. And she stayed in her room until
after lunch."

"Does this safe have a combination lock?" inquired Mary Louise.

"No, it doesn't. Just a key. John Grant suggested to Aunt Mattie that she
have one put on, and she refused. She said people can guess at
combinations of figures by twisting the handle around, but if she kept
the key with her day and night, nobody could open the safe.... But she
got fooled!"

"The lock was broken?"

"Yes. But the door of the safe was closed, so she hadn't noticed it until
she went to count her money this morning."

"Do you know how much was taken?"

"No, I don't. Plenty, I guess. Only, there was one queer thing about it:
the thief didn't take the bonds she kept in a special drawer."

"Overlooked them, probably," remarked Mary Louise.

"Maybe. I don't know. Well, as I said, Aunt Mattie was in her room until
lunch time, and then she went out on the front porch. About two o'clock
in the afternoon Aunt Grace and her son John drove over."

"John--Grant," repeated Mary Louise, consulting the list in her notebook.
"He's your aunt Grace's oldest son?"

"Yes. He's about forty, as I said. Fat and a little bit bald. An old
bachelor. Probably you'd recognize him if you saw him, because he's on
the School Board. Aunt Mattie likes him because he does little repair
jobs for her around the house that save her spending money for a

"Yesterday he went upstairs and fixed a window sash in her bedroom."
Elsie paused thoughtfully. "So you see John had a good chance to open the
safe and steal the money."

"Why, he's the guilty one, of course!" cried Jane instantly. "It's just
too plain. I should think your aunt would see that."

Elsie shook her head.

"No, it would never occur to Aunt Mattie to accuse John. He's the one
person in the family she trusts. She always says she is leaving him all
her money in her will--so why would he bother to steal it?"

"He might need it now, for some particular purpose," replied Jane. "He is
handy with tools, you say--and had such a good opportunity."

"We better get on with the story," urged Mary Louise. "Any minute Elsie
may be called in."

The girl shuddered, as if she dreaded the ordeal of meeting her aunt

"Was your aunt Grace in the bedroom at all during the afternoon?"
questioned Mary Louise. "By herself, I mean?"

"I don't know. She and Aunt Mattie went up together to look at the window
after John finished fixing it, but whether or not Aunt Grace was there
alone, I couldn't say. Anyhow, there's no use worrying about that. Aunt
Grace just _couldn't_ steal anything."

"According to the detective stories," put in Jane, "it's the person who
just _couldn't_ commit the crime who always is the guilty one. The one
you suspect least."

"But this isn't a story," said Elsie. "I wish it were. If you knew how
dreadful it is for me, living here and having everybody think I'm a

"Why don't you run away, now that you have some decent clothes?"
suggested Jane. "I just wouldn't stand for anything like that!"

"But I have nowhere to go. Besides, running away would make me look
guiltier than ever."

"Elsie's right," approved Mary Louise. "She can't run away now. But we'll
prove she's innocent!" she added, with determination.

"There's something else that happened during that visit," continued
Elsie. "I mean, while Aunt Grace and John were here. Part of a
conversation I overhead that may give you a clue. Aunt Grace said her
youngest son--Harry, you remember--had gotten into debt and needed some
money very badly. She didn't actually ask Aunt Mattie to help him out:
she only hinted. But she didn't get any encouragement from Aunt Mattie.
She told Aunt Grace just to shut Harry out of the house till he learned
to behave himself!"

"So this Harry Grant is in debt!" muttered Mary Louise, making a note of
this fact in her little book. "Could he have stolen the money?"

"Yes, it's possible. After Aunt Grace and John went home, Harry came over
to Dark Cedars."

"What time was that?"

"Around four o'clock, I think. I was out in the kitchen, helping Hannah
shell some peas for supper. We heard his car--it's a terribly noisy old
thing--and then his voice."

"What's he like?" asked Mary Louise.

"I told you he was the youngest of Aunt Grace's children, you know, and
he's rather handsome. He treats me much better than any of the other
relations, except Aunt Grace, but still I don't like him. He always
insists on kissing me and teasing me about imaginary boy-friends. I
usually run out into the kitchen when I hear him coming."

"Is he here often?"

"Only when he wants something. He tries to flatter Aunt Mattie and tease
her money away from her. But, as far as I know, he never gets any."

"What did he want yesterday?"

"He said he wanted a loan. He didn't bother to talk quietly: I could hear
every word he said from the kitchen."

"And your aunt refused?"

"Yes. She told him to sell his car if he needed money. As if he could
sell that old bus!" Elsie laughed. "You'd have to pay somebody to take
that away," she explained.

Mary Louise tapped her pencil again. She hated to get away from the
all-important subject.

"But how do you think Harry could have stolen the money if your aunt
Mattie was with him all the time?" she asked.

"Aunt Mattie wasn't. He had a fine chance. Something had gone wrong with
his car, and he had to fix it on the way over. So his hands were all
dirty, and he went upstairs to wash them."

"Oh!" exclaimed Jane significantly.

"Looks bad for Harry Grant," commented Mary Louise, "because he had a
motive. Daddy always looks for two things when he's solving a crime: the
motive, and the chance to get away with it. And it seems that this young
man had both."

Elsie nodded.

"Yes, he had. And he was upstairs a good while, too. But then, he's an
awful dandy about everything. You never see grease in Harry Grant's
finger nails!"

"Did he go right out when he came downstairs?" inquired Mary Louise.

"No. He laughed and joked a lot. I heard him ask Aunt Mattie to lend him
her finger-nail rouge because he had forgotten his. Then he said he'd
like some cookies, and I had to make lemonade."

"So, if he took the money, he must have had it in his pocket all this
time? He didn't go upstairs again?"

"No, he didn't. And I know Aunt Mattie had a good deal of it in gold, so
it must have been terribly heavy. Still, men have a lot of pockets."

Mary Louise nodded. "Yes, that's true. But you'd think if he really had
taken it he'd have been anxious to get away. That story about asking for
cookies and lemonade almost proves an alibi for him."

She sighed; it was all getting rather complicated. "Did anything else
happen yesterday?" she asked wearily. "I mean, after Harry went home?"

"Not till after supper. Then Mrs. Pearson and her daughter walked over to
see Aunt Mattie. They used to be rich, but Mr. Pearson lost his job, and
they had to sell their car. So now they have to walk wherever they go."

Jane let out a groan.

"So every one of those five relations of Miss Grant was here yesterday
and had a chance to steal that money!" she exclaimed.

"Yes," agreed Elsie. "Every one of them!"

"What are the Pearsons like?" asked Mary Louise.

"Well, Mrs. Pearson looks like Aunt Grace--she's her daughter, you
remember--but she isn't a bit like her. She isn't religious; in fact, she
doesn't seem to care for anything in the world but that nasty daughter of
hers. Corinne, you know. Have you ever seen Corinne Pearson?"

"I think I have," replied Mary Louise. "Though she never went to our
school. I believe she attended that little private school, and now she
goes around with the Country Club set, doesn't she?"

"Yes. Her one ambition, and her mother's ambition for her, is to marry a
rich man. I hate both of them. They're so rude to me--never speak to me
at all unless they give me a command as if I were a servant. Last night
Corinne told me to bring her a certain chair from the parlor, because she
thought our porch rockers were dirty. And the tone she used! As if I
ought to keep them clean just for her!"

"I always imagined she was like that," said Jane. "I was introduced to
her once, and when I passed her on the street the next day she cut me

"Once she told me to untie her shoe and see if there was a stone in it,"
continued Elsie. "In the haughtiest tone!"

"I'd have slapped her foot!" exclaimed Jane. "You didn't obey her, did

"I had to. Aunt Mattie would have punished me if I hadn't. She dislikes
Corinne Pearson and her mother, but she hates me worst of all.... So you
can easily see why I run off when I see the Pearsons coming. I went back
into the kitchen with Hannah, but Aunt Mattie soon called me to bring
some ice water. And the conversation I heard may be another clue for you,
Mary Louise."

"Oh, dear!" sighed Jane. "We've got too many clues already."

A voice sounded from the house, making the girls pause for a moment in

"Elsie! Oh, Elsie!"

"It's Hannah. I'll have to go in a minute," said the girl, carefully
getting to her feet, not forgetting her new dress. "But first I must tell
you about this conversation, because it's important. It seems Corinne was
invited to a very swell dance by one of those rich Mason boys, and she
came over to ask Aunt Mattie for a new dress. Aunt Mattie laughed at
her--that nasty cackle that she has. And then she said, 'Certainly I'll
give you a dress, Corinne. Go up to my closet and pick out anything you
want. You'll find some old party dresses there!'

"Well, I could see that Corinne was furious, but she got up and went
upstairs. And she did pick out an old lace gown--I thought maybe she was
going to make it over. Perhaps she was just using it to hide the money,
if she did steal it.... Anyhow, she and her mother went home in a few
minutes, carrying the dress with them."

Mary Louise closed her notebook in confusion. "You better run along now,
Elsie, or you'll get punished," she advised.

"All right, I will," agreed the younger girl as she gathered up her
things. "You know all the suspects now."

"All but the servants," replied Mary Louise. "And if I can, I'm going to
interview Hannah immediately."

                               CHAPTER IV
                         _Interviewing Hannah_

Keeping under cover of the cedar trees, Mary Louise and Jane followed
Elsie Grant, at a discreet distance, to the back of the house. Unlike the
front entrance, there was a screen at the kitchen door, so the girls
could hear Hannah's exclamation at the sight of the transformation in
Elsie's appearance.

"My land!" she cried in amazement. "Where did you get them clothes,

Elsie laughed; the first normal, girlish laugh that Mary Louise and Jane
had ever heard from her.

"Don't I look nice, Hannah?" she asked. "I haven't seen myself yet in a
mirror, but I'm sure I do. I feel so different."

"You look swell, all right," agreed the servant. "But no credit to you!
If that's what you done with your aunt's money----"

"Oh, no, Hannah!" protested Elsie. "You're wrong there. I didn't _buy_
these things. They were given to me."

The two girls were standing at the screen door now, in full view, and
Elsie beckoned for them to come inside. "These are my friends, Hannah.
The girls who rescued Aunt Mattie's kitten--remember? And they brought me
the clothes this morning."

The woman shook her head.

"It might be true, but nobody'd believe it. Folks don't give away nice
things like that. I know that, for I've had a lot of 'hand-me-downs' in
my life.... Besides, they fit you too good."

"But we did bring them to Elsie," asserted Jane. "You can see that we're
all about the same size. And we can prove it by our mothers. We'll bring
them over----"

"You'll do nuthin' of the kind!" returned Hannah. "Miss Mattie don't want
a lot of strangers pokin' into her house and her affairs. Now, you two
run along! And, Elsie, hurry up and get out of that finery. Look at them
dishes waitin' fer you in the sink!"

The girl nodded and disappeared up the back stairs, humming a little tune
to herself as she went. Mary Louise stood still.

"We want to ask you a question or two, Hannah," she explained. "We want
to help find the thief who stole Miss Grant's money."

The woman's nose shot up in the air, and a stubborn look came over her

"Is that so?" she asked defiantly. "And what business is that of your'n?"

"We're making it our business," replied Mary Louise patiently, "because
we're fond of Elsie. We think it's terrible for her to be accused of
something she didn't do."

"How do you know she didn't do it?"

"Why--we just know."

"That ain't no reason! Besides, what do you know about Elsie Grant? Seen
her a couple of times and listened to her hard luck story and believe you
know all about her!"

"But surely you don't believe Elsie stole that money?" demanded Jane. "If
she had, she'd certainly have run away immediately. Wouldn't she?"

"Maybe--if she had the spirit. But, anyhow, it ain't none of your
business, and Miss Mattie don't want it to get around. She don't want no
scandal. Now--get along with you!"

"Please, Hannah!" begged Mary Louise. "We'll promise not to tell anybody
about the robbery--not even our mothers. If you'd just answer a couple of

The woman eyed her suspiciously.

"You think maybe I done it?" she demanded. "Well, I didn't! Miss Mattie
knows how honest I am. William too--that's me husband. We've been in this
house ever since Miss Mattie was a girl, and the whole family knows they
can trust us."

"Oh, my goodness!" exclaimed Mary Louise. "I'm not suspecting _you_,
Hannah! All I want is a little information."

"You're not going to the police and tell what you know? Or to some

"No. On my word of honor, no! Jane and I are going to try to be
detectives ourselves, that's all. For Elsie's sake."

The woman's expression softened. After all, Mary Louise's brown eyes had
a winning way.

"All right. Only hurry up. I got a lot of work to do."

Mary Louise smiled. "I'll be quick," she promised. "I just want to know
whether you think there was any time during the day or evening--before
Miss Grant went to bed--when a burglar could have entered the house
without being seen or heard."

Hannah stopped beating the cake which she had been mixing while this
conversation was taking place and gave the matter her entire

"Let me think," she muttered. "Not all mornin', fer Miss Mattie was in
her room herself. Not in the afternoon, neither, fer there was too many
people around. All them relations come over, and Miss Mattie was right on
the front parch--and I was here at the back.... No, I don't see how
anybody could have got in without bein' heard."

"How about supper time?" questioned Mary Louise. "Couldn't somebody have
climbed in over the porch roof while the family were eating in the dining

"It's possible," answered Hannah. "But it ain't likely. Burglars ain't
usually as quiet as all that. No; I hold with Miss Mattie--that Elsie or
maybe that good-fer-nuthin' Harry took the money."

Mary Louise sighed and turned towards the door.

"I'm sure it wasn't Elsie," she said again. "But maybe you're right about
Mr. Harry Grant. I hope we find out.... By the way," she added, "you
couldn't tell me just how much was taken, could you, Hannah?"

"No, I couldn't. Miss Mattie didn't say.... Now, my advice to you girls
is: fergit all about it! It ain't none of your affairs, and Elsie ain't a
good companion fer you young ladies. She ain't had no eddication, and
probably, now she's fifteen, her aunt'll put her into service as a
housemaid somewheres. And you won't want to be associatin' with no
servant girl!"

Jane's eyes blazed with indignation.

"It's not fair!" she cried. "In a country like America, where education
is free. Anybody who wants it has a right to it."

"Then she can git it at night school while she's workin', if she sets her
mind to it," remarked Hannah complacently.

"Well, Hannah, we thank you very much for your help," concluded Mary
Louise as she opened the screen door. "And--you'll see us again!"

Neither girl said anything further until they were outside the big hedge
that surrounded Dark Cedars. Both of them felt baffled by the conflicting
information they had gathered.

"I wish I could put the whole affair up to Daddy," observed Mary Louise,
as they descended the hill to the road. "He isn't home now, but he soon
will be."

"Well, you can't," replied her chum. "It might get Elsie into trouble.
And besides, we gave our promise."

"It'll be hard not to talk about it. Oh, dear, if we only knew where and
how to begin!"

"I guess the first thing to do is to find out just what was stolen," said
Jane. "That would make it more definite, at least. We have heard that it
was money, but we don't know how much or what kind."

"Yes, that's true--and it would help considerably to know. For instance,
if there was a lot of gold, as Elsie seems to think, it would be
practically impossible for Harry Grant to have concealed it in his
pockets, or for Corinne Pearson to have carried it back to Riverside
without any car. But if, on the other hand, it was mostly paper money, it
would be no trick at all for either one of them to have made away with

The shrill screech of a loud horn attracted the girls' attention at that
moment. A familiar horn, whose sound could not be mistaken. It belonged
on the roadster owned by Max Miller, Mary Louise's special boy-friend.

In another second the bright green car flashed into view, came up to the
girls, and stopped with a sudden jamming on of the brakes. Two hatless
young men in flannel trousers and tennis shirts jumped out of the front

"What ho! and hi!--and greetings!" cried Max in delight. "Where have you
two been?"

"Taking a walk," answered Mary Louise calmly.

"Taking a walk!" repeated Norman Wilder, the other young man, who was
usually at Jane's elbow at parties and sports affairs. "You mean--giving
_us_ the air!"

"Giving _you_ the air? In what way?" Jane's tone sounded severe, but her
eyes were smiling into Norman's, as if she were not at all sorry to see

"Forgot all about that tennis date we had, didn't you?" demanded Max. "Is
that a nice way to treat a couple of splendid fellows like ourselves?" He
threw out his chest and pulled himself up to his full height, which was
six feet one.

Mary Louise gasped and looked conscience-stricken.

"We did forget!" she exclaimed. "But we can play now just as well as
not--at least, if you'll take us home to get our shoes and rackets."

"O.K.," agreed Max. He turned to Norman. "Get into the rumble, old man. I
crave to have Mary Louise beside me."

The car started forward with its customary sudden leap, and Max settled
back in his seat.

"We've got some great news for you, Mary Lou," he announced immediately.
"Big picnic on for this coming Saturday! Rounding up the whole crowd."

Mary Louise was not impressed. Picnics seemed tame to her in comparison
with the excitement of being a detective and hunting down thieves.

"Afraid I have an engagement," she muttered. She and Jane had a special
arrangement, by which every free hour of the day was pledged to the
other, so that if either wanted to get out of an invitation, she could
plead a previous date without actually telling a lie.

"The heck you have!" exclaimed Max, in disappointment. "You've got to
break it!"

"Sez you?"

"Yeah! Sez I. And you'll say so too, Mary Lou, when you hear more about
this picnic. It's going to be different. We're driving across to Cooper's

"Oh, I've been there," yawned Mary Louise. "There's nothing special
there. Looks spooky and deep, but it's just an ordinary woods. Maybe a
little wilder----"

"Wait! You women never let a fellow talk. I've been trying to tell you
something for five minutes, and here we are at your house, and you
haven't heard it yet."

"I guess I shan't die."

With a light laugh she opened the car door and leaped out, at the exact
moment that Jane and Norman jumped from the rumble, avoiding a collision
by a fraction of an inch.

"Tell me about it when I come out again," called Mary Louise to Max as
she and Jane ran into their respective houses to change.

Freckles met Mary Louise at the door.

"Can I go with you, Sis?" he demanded.

"Yes, if you're ready," she agreed, making a dash for the stairs. Her
mother, meeting her in the hall, tried to detain her.

She asked, "Did the girl like the clothes, dear?"

"Oh, yes, she loved them," replied Mary Louise. "I'll tell you more about
it when I get back from tennis. The boys are pestering us to hurry."

Three minutes later both she and Jane were back in the car again, with
Freckles and Silky added to the passenger list.

Max immediately went on about the picnic, just as if he hadn't been
interrupted at all.

"Here's the big news," he said, as he stepped on the starter: "There are
gypsies camping over in that meadow beside Cooper's woods! So we're all
going to have our fortunes told. That's why we're having the picnic
there. Now, won't that be fun?"

"Yes, I guess so. But I really don't see how Jane and I can come----"

She was interrupted by a tap on her shoulder from the rumble seat.

"I think we can break that date, Mary Lou," announced her chum, with a

Mary Louise raised her eyebrows.

"Well, of course, if Jane thinks so----" she said to Max.

"It's as good as settled," concluded Max, with a chuckle.

But Mary Louise was not convinced until she had a chance, after the game
was over, to talk to Jane alone and to ask her why she wanted to go on
the picnic when they had such important things to do.

"Because I had an inspiration," replied Jane. "One of us can ask the
gypsy to solve our crime for us! They do tell strange things, sometimes,
you know--and they might lead us to the solution!"

                               CHAPTER V
                         _The Stolen Treasure_

"I'm not just tired," announced Jane Patterson, dropping into the hammock
on Mary Louise's porch after the tennis was over. "I'm completely
exhausted! I don't believe I can even move as far as our house--let alone
walk anywhere."

"Oh, yes, you can," replied Mary Louise. "You'll feel lots better after
you get a shower and some clean clothing. Four sets of tennis oughtn't to
do you up. Many a time I've seen you good for six."

"I know, but they weren't so strenuous. Honestly, you and Max ran me
ragged. I tell you, Mary Lou, I'm all in. And I couldn't walk up that
hill to Miss Grant's house if it meant life or death to me."

"But think of poor Elsie! She may need us now."

"Oh, what could we do?"

"I don't know yet. But we have to go to find out just what was stolen, if
for nothing else. She may know by this time."

"Then why not let the boys drive us up?" asked Jane, with a yawn.

"You know why. We can't let them into the secret: they'd tell everybody.
And I bet, if the thing got out, Miss Grant would be so mad she'd have
Elsie arrested then and there. No, there's nothing for us to do but
walk.... So please go get your shower."

Wearily Jane struggled to her feet.

"O.K. But I warn you, I may drop in my tracks, and then you'll have to
carry me."

"I'll take a chance."

Mary Louise met another protest from her mother, who tried to insist that
her daughter lie down for a little rest before supper. But here again
persuasion won.

"Really, I'm not tired, Mother," she explained. "It's only that I'm hot
and dirty. And we have something very important to do--I wish I could
tell you all about it, but I can't now."

Her mother seemed satisfied. She had learned by this time that she could
trust Mary Louise.

"All right, dear," she said. "Call Jane over, and you may all have some
lemonade. Freckles said he had to have a cold drink."

The refreshments revived even Jane, and half an hour later the two girls
were walking up the shady lane which led towards the Grant place. It
wasn't so bad as Jane had expected; the road was so sheltered by trees
that they did not mind the climb.

Once inside the hedge they peered eagerly in among the cedar trees for a
glimpse of Elsie. But they did not see her anywhere.

"She's probably in the kitchen helping Hannah with the dinner," concluded
Mary Louise. "Let's go around back."

Here they found her, sitting on the back step, shelling peas. She was
wearing her old dress again, and the girls could see that she had been
crying. But her eyes lighted up with pleasure at the sight of her two

"Oh, I'm so glad to see you girls!" she cried. "I wanted you so much, and
I didn't know how to let you know. You see, I don't even have your
address--though that wouldn't have done me much good, because I'm not
allowed out of the gate, and I haven't any stamp to put on a letter. The
only thing I could do was pray that you would come!"

"Well, here we are!" announced Mary Louise, with a significant look at
Jane. "Now tell us why you specially wanted us."

"I wanted you to assure Aunt Mattie that you really did give me those
dresses and things. Right away she said I must have bought them with her
money. Though how she thinks I ever had a chance to get to any store is
beyond me. She knows I never leave this place."

"How did she find out about them?" inquired Mary Louise. "You didn't show
them to her, did you?"

"No, I didn't. She found them while she was searching through my things
this morning, to see whether I had her money hidden anywhere."

"That's terrible!" exclaimed Jane. "Oh, how dreadful it must be to be all
alone in the world, without anybody who trusts you!" Something of the
same thought ran through Mary Louise's brain at the same time.

"Tell us just what has happened today, since we left," urged Mary Louise.
"Has anybody been here?"

"No. Not a soul. But Aunt Mattie put me through a lot more questions at
lunch, and afterward she gave my room a thorough search. When she found
my new clothes, she was more sure than ever that I was the thief. She
told me if I didn't confess everything right away she'd have to change
her mind and call the police."

"Did she call them?" demanded Jane.

"Not yet. It's lucky for me that she hasn't a telephone. She said she
guessed she'd send William after supper. So you can see how much it meant
to me for you girls to come over now!"

Mary Louise nodded gravely, and Jane blushed at her reluctance in wanting
to come. If Elsie had gone to jail, it would have been their fault for
giving her the clothing!

"When can we see your aunt?" inquired Mary Louise.

"Right now. I'll go in and tell her. She's out on the front porch, I

Elsie handed her pan to Hannah and went through the kitchen to the front
of the house. She was back again in a moment, telling the girls to come
with her.

They found the old lady in her favorite rocking chair, with her knitting
in her lap. But she was not working--just scowling at the world in
general, and when Elsie came out on the dilapidated porch an expression
of pain crossed her wrinkled brows. Whether it was real pain from that
trouble in her side which she had mentioned, or whether it was only a
miserly grief over the loss of her money, Mary Louise had no way of

"Good-afternoon, Miss Grant," she said pleasantly. "How is your kitten

A smile crept over the woman's face, making her much more pleasant to
look at.

"She's fine," she replied. "Come here, Puffy, and speak to the kind girls
who rescued you yesterday!"

The kitten ran over and jumped into Miss Grant's lap.

"She certainly is sweet," said Mary Louise. She cleared her throat: why
couldn't the old lady help her out by asking her a question about the

But Elsie, nervously impatient, brought up the subject they were all
waiting for.

"Tell Aunt Mattie about the dresses and the coat," she urged.

"Oh, yes," said Mary Louise hastily. "Your niece told us, Miss Grant,
that she never gets to Riverside to buy any new clothes, so when I
noticed we were all three about the same size, Jane and I asked our
mothers whether we couldn't give her some of ours. They were willing, and
so we brought them over this morning."

"Humph!" was the only comment Miss Grant made to this explanation. Mary
Louise could not tell whether she believed her or not and whether she was
pleased or angry.

"You didn't mind, did you, Miss Grant?" she inquired nervously.

"No, of course not. Elsie's mighty lucky.... I only hope when she's
working as somebody's maid that they'll be as nice to her. It helps out,
when wages are small. For nobody wants to pay servants much these days."

A lump came into Mary Louise's throat at the thought of Elsie's future,
which Miss Grant had just pictured for them. She longed to plead the
girl's cause, but she knew it would do no good. Especially at the present
time, with Miss Grant poorer than she had ever been in her life.

The old lady's eyes suddenly narrowed, and she looked sharply at Mary

"See here!" she said abruptly. "You two girls are the only people besides
those living in this house who know about this robbery, and I don't want
you to say a word of it to anybody! Understand? I don't want the police
in on this until I am ready to tell them. Or my other relatives, either.
I expect to get that money back myself!"

All three girls breathed a sigh of relief: it was evident that the police
would not be summoned that evening. And both Mary Louise and Jane gave
their promise of utmost secrecy.

"But we'd like to help discover the thief, if we can," added Mary Louise.
"You don't mind if we try, do you, Miss Grant--if it's all on the quiet?"

"No, I don't mind. But I don't see what you can do." Miss Grant looked
sharply at Elsie, as if she thought maybe her niece might confess to
these girls while she stubbornly refused to tell her aunt anything.
"Yes," she added, "you might succeed where I failed.... Yes, I'll pay ten
dollars' reward if you get my money back for me."

"We think it might have been a robber," remarked Mary Louise, to try to
divert Miss Grant's suspicious eyes from her niece. "He could have
slipped in while you were at supper."

"It wasn't a robber," announced Miss Grant, with conviction. "If it had
been, he'd have taken everything. The most valuable things were left in
the safe. My bonds. They're government bonds, too, so anybody could see
the value of them--except a child! No, it was somebody right in this

And she laughed with that nasty cackle which made Jane so angry, that,
she said afterward, if Miss Grant hadn't been an old lady, she would have
slapped her then and there in the face.

"Or maybe it was one of your other relations," said Mary Louise evenly.

"Possibly. I wouldn't trust Harry Grant or Corinne Pearson. Or Corinne's
mother, either, for that matter!"

"How about Mrs. Grant?"

"My sister-in-law? No, I don't think she'd take anything. And I know it
wasn't John--or either of the servants.... No." She looked at Elsie
again. "There's your culprit. Make her confess--and you get ten dollars!"

She paused, while everybody looked embarrassed. But she was enjoying the
situation. "I'll make it ten dollars apiece!" she added.

"It isn't the money we want, Miss Grant," said Mary Louise stiffly. "It's
to clear Elsie of suspicion."

"Nonsense! Everybody wants money!"

Mary Louise took her notebook out of her pocket.

"Would you tell us just how much money was taken, Miss Grant?" she asked.
"And--all about it?"

"Yes, of course I will. There was a metal box in the safe with five
hundred dollars in gold----"

"Gold!" exclaimed Jane. "I thought you were supposed to turn that in to
the government!"

"You mind your business!" snapped Miss Grant.

"We will--We will!" said Mary Louise hastily. "Please go on, Miss Grant!"

"Five hundred dollars in twenty-dollar gold pieces," she repeated. "Then
there was eight hundred and fifty dollars in bills--all in fifty-dollar
notes. I have the numbers of the bills written down in a book upstairs.
Would you like to copy them down, Mary Louise?"

"Yes, indeed!" cried the latter rapturously. Miss Grant was treating her
just like a real detective!

"Come upstairs, then, with me, and you can see the safe and my room at
the same time." The old lady turned to her niece, who was still waiting
nervously beside the door. "Go back to your work, Elsie," she commanded.
"Hannah will be wanting you."

The girl nodded obediently, but before she disappeared she softly asked
Mary Louise, "Will you and Jane be back again tomorrow?"

"Yes, of course," was the reply. "You can count on us."

Miss Grant gathered up her knitting and picked up her kitten from the
porch floor, where it had been rolling about with a ball of its
mistress's wool.

"I may want you girls to walk over to the bank with me tomorrow," she
remarked. "Unless John happens to come here in his car. I've about
decided to put my bonds into a safe-deposit box at the bank."

"We'll be glad to go with you," Mary Louise assured her.

The old lady struggled painfully to her feet and led the way through the
house, up the stairs to her room. Both girls noticed the ominous creak
which these gave when anything touched them, and Jane shuddered. It must
be awful to live in a tumble-down place like this!

Miss Grant's room on the second floor was at the front of the house, just
as Elsie had said, and one window overlooked the porch. It was furnished
with ugly, heavy wooden furniture, and a rug that was almost threadbare.
Along one wall, opposite the bed, was a huge closet, in which, no doubt,
Miss Grant kept those old dresses which she had offered to Corinne
Pearson. And the most astonishing thing about the bedroom was the fact
that it contained not a single mirror!

("But, of course," Jane remarked afterward, "you wouldn't want to see
yourself if you looked like that old maid!")

Off in the corner was the iron safe, with the only comfortable chair in
the room beside it. Here, evidently, Miss Grant spent most of her time,
rocking in the old-fashioned chair and gloating over her money.

Now she hobbled directly to the safe and opened the door for the girls to
look into it. "You can see how the lock has been picked," she pointed
out. "It's broken now, of course." She suddenly eyed the girls
suspiciously, as if they were not to be trusted either, and added, "The
bonds aren't in there now! I hid them somewhere else."

Mary Louise nodded solemnly.

"Yes, that was wise, Miss Grant.... Now, may I write down the numbers of
the bills that were stolen?"

After she had concluded this little task, she went to examine the
windows. They were both large--plenty big enough for a person to step
through without any difficulty. But the one over the porch proved
disappointing, for the roof of the porch was crumbling so badly and the
posts were so rotted that anyone who attempted to climb in by that method
would be taking his life in his hands.

"I always keep that window locked," said Miss Grant, following Mary
Louise. "So you see why I don't think it was a burglar who took my money.
Locked--day and night!"

Mary Louise nodded and examined the other window. It was high from the
ground; there was a tree growing near it, but not near enough to make it
possible for a human being to jump from a branch to the window sill. Only
a monkey could perform a trick like that!

Mary Louise turned away with a sigh. She was almost ready to admit that
the robbery was an inside job, as Miss Grant insisted.

"May we see inside the closet before we go?" she asked as an

Miss Grant nodded and opened the door, disclosing a space as large as the
kitchenettes in some of the modern apartments. Miss Grant herself used it
as a small storeroom for the things that she did not want to put up in
the attic.

"Anybody could hide here for hours," Jane remarked, "without being

"Which is just what I believe Elsie did!" returned Miss Grant, with a

And the girls, unhappy and more baffled than ever, went home to their

                               CHAPTER VI
                             _A Wild Ride_

"One of the best points in this case," Mary Louise observed, in her most
professional tone, "is its secrecy."

"Why do you say that?" questioned Jane.

The girls were returning from their second visit that day to Dark Cedars
and were walking as fast as they could towards home. It was almost six
o'clock, and Mary Louise usually helped her mother a little with the
supper. But Freckles was there; she knew he would offer his services.

"What I mean is, since the robbery hasn't been talked about, nobody is on
guard," she explained. "If any of those relatives did take the money,
probably they think the theft hasn't been discovered yet, or Miss Grant
would have called them over to see her. In a way, it's pretty tricky of

"But, do you know, I can hardly believe any of them stole all that gold,"
returned Jane. "Because, what would they do with it? Nobody is supposed
to use gold nowadays, and it would arouse all sorts of suspicions."

"Yes, that's true. But then, they might want to hoard it, the same as
Miss Grant did."

"A man like Harry Grant wouldn't want to hoard any! From what I hear of
him, he spends money before he even gets it."

"True. But there are other relatives. And somebody did steal it!"

"Yes, somebody stole it, all right. Only, the fact that a lot of it was
gold makes Elsie look guilty. She probably wouldn't know about the new

Mary Louise frowned: she didn't like that thought. "Well, I'm not going
to suspect Elsie till I've investigated everybody else. Every one of
those five relations--Mrs. Grant, John Grant, Harry Grant, Mrs. Pearson,
and her daughter Corinne!"

"Have you any plan at all?" inquired Jane.

"Yes, I'd like to do a little snooping tonight."

"Snooping? Where? How?"

"Sneak around those two houses in Riverside--the Grants', where John and
Harry live with their mother, and the Pearsons'! It's such a warm evening
they'll probably be on their porches, and we might overhear something to
our advantage."

"But suppose we were arrested for prowling?"

"Oh, they wouldn't arrest two respectable-looking girls like us! Besides,
if they did, Daddy could easily get us out."

"Is he home?"

"No, he isn't. But he'll be back in a day or two."

"A day or two in the county jail wouldn't be so good!"

"Nonsense, Jane! Nothing will happen," Mary Louise assured her. "We've
got to take some chances if we're going to be detectives. Daddy takes
terrible ones sometimes."

"Do you know where these people live?" inquired her chum. "The Grants and
the Pearsons, I mean?"

"I know where the Grants live: in that big red brick house on Green
Street. Old-fashioned, set back from the street. Don't you remember?"

"Yes, I guess I do."

"We can pass it on our way home, if we go one block farther down before
we turn in at our street."

"How about the Pearsons?" asked Jane.

"I don't know where they live. But I think we can get the address from
the phone book."

The girls stepped along at a rapid rate, entirely forgetful of the tennis
which had tired Jane so completely a couple of hours ago. In a minute or
so they came in sight of the red brick house. It was an ugly place, but
it was not run down or dilapidated like Miss Mattie Grant's. John Grant
evidently believed in keeping things in repair.

The house stood next to a vacant lot, and it was enclosed by a wooden
fence, which was overgrown with honeysuckle vines. A gravel drive led
from the front to the back yard, alongside of this fence, and there were
half a dozen large old trees on the lawn.

"We could easily hide there after dark," muttered Mary Louise. "Climb
over that fence back by the garage and sneak up behind those trees to a
spot within hearing distance of the porch."

"I don't see what good it would do us," objected Jane.

"It might do us lots of good! Look at that car! That must be Harry
Grant's, judging from Elsie's description. If his car's there, he must be
home. And if we hear him say anything about spending money, then we can
be suspicious. Because, where would he get the money unless he stole his

Jane nodded her head.

"Yes, I see your logic," she agreed. "But there isn't a soul around now,
and likely as not there won't be all evening."

"They're probably eating supper. Come on, let's hurry and get ours over.
And meet me as soon as you can afterwards."

The girls separated at their gates, and Mary Louise ran inside quickly to
be on hand to help her mother.

"Daddy isn't home yet?" she asked, as she carried a plate of hot biscuits
to the table.

"No, dear," answered her mother. "He's in Chicago--I had a
special-delivery letter from him today. He can't be back before the
weekend--Saturday or Sunday."

Mary Louise sighed. She had been hoping that perhaps she could get some
advice from him without giving away any names or places.

Freckles dashed into the room, with Silky close at his heels.

"Where have you been, Sis?" he demanded. "Why didn't you take Silky with
you? He's been fussing for you."

"Jane and I had an errand to go," the girl explained. "And we couldn't
take him along. But we'll take him with us for a walk after supper."

"Walk again?" repeated Mrs. Gay, her forehead wrinkled in disapproval.
"Mary Louise, you're doing too much! You must get some rest!"

"We shan't be out long, Mother. It isn't a date or anything. Jane and I
want to take a little stroll, with Silky, after supper. Isn't it all
right if I promise to go to bed very early?"

"I suppose so. If you get in by nine-thirty----"

"I promise!" replied Mary Louise, little thinking how impossible it was
going to be for her to keep her word.

She did not start upon her project until she had finished washing the
dishes for her mother. Then, slipping upstairs, she changed into a dark
green sweater dress and brown shoes and stockings. Through the window of
her bedroom she signaled to her chum to make a similar change.

"Might as well make ourselves as inconspicuous as possible," she
explained, as the two girls, followed by Silky, walked down the street
ten minutes later. "Did you have any trouble getting away, Jane? I mean,
without giving any explanation?"

"Yes, a little. Mother can't understand all this sudden passion for
walking, when I used to have to ride everywhere in Norman's or Max's car.
I really think she believes I have a new boy-friend and that I meet him
somewhere so as not to make Norman jealous. As if I'd go to all that

Mary Louise nodded.

"A little jealousy does 'em good," she remarked. "Of course, Mother
doesn't think it's so queer for me, because I always did have to take
Silky for walks. And he's a good excuse now."

"Oh, well, we'll be home early tonight," concluded Jane. "So there won't
be any cause for worry."

"There's somebody on the porch--several people, I think," said Mary
Louise as the girls turned into the street on which the Grants' house was

"Two men," added Jane as they came nearer. "I think the person sitting
down is a woman. But it's getting too dark to see clearly."

"All the better! That's just what we want. Let's cut across the lot to
the back of the place, and sneak up behind the car in the driveway. We
can see the porch from there."

"But I'm afraid we'll be caught," objected Jane fearfully.

Nevertheless, she followed Mary Louise around a side street to the rear
of the lot, and together they climbed the Grants' fence, cautiously and
silently. Once inside, they crept noiselessly along the grass near the
fence until they came to the back of Harry Grant's car.

There could be no doubt that it was his. At least five years old, with
battered mudguards and rusted trimmings, it looked like the relic Elsie
had laughed about. It was a small black coupé, with a compartment behind
for carrying luggage.

"If Mr. Harry Grant goes for a ride in this, we're going with him!"
announced Mary Louise.

"No!" cried her chum. "How could we?"

"In the luggage compartment."

"We'd smother."

"No, we wouldn't. We'd open the lid after we got started."

"Suppose he locked us in?"

"He can't. I just made sure that the lock has rusted off."

"But what good would it do us to ride with him?" demanded Jane.

"Sh! They might hear us!" warned Mary Louise. She turned to the dog and
patted him. "You keep quiet too, Silky.... Why," she explained in a
whisper, "we could watch to see whether Mr. Harry spends any money. If he
brings out a fifty-dollar bill, he's a doomed man!"

"You are clever, Mary Lou!" breathed her chum admiringly. "But it's an
awful risk to take."

"Oh no, it isn't. Mr. Grant isn't a gangster or a desperate character. He
wouldn't hurt us."

Jane looked doubtful.

"Have you made out who the people are on the porch?" she asked.

"It must be Mrs. Grace Grant--and her two sons. Yes, and I feel sure that
is Harry, coming down the steps now.... Listen!"

The girls' eyes, more accustomed to the darkness, could distinguish the
figures quite plainly by now. The younger of the two men, with a satchel
in his hand, was speaking to his mother.

"I ought to be back by Saturday," he said in a loud, cheerful voice. "And
if this deal I've been talking about over in New York goes through, I'll
be driving home in a new car."

"You better pay your debts first, Harry," cautioned his mother.

"I hope to make enough money to do both," he returned confidently. "And
if you see Aunt Mattie, you can tell her I don't need her help!"

Mary Louise nudged Jane's arm at this proud boast and repressed a giggle.

"Maybe he can fool his mother," she whispered. "But he can't fool us!
Come on, get in, Jane."

Holding open the lid of the car's compartment she lifted Silky in and
gave her hand to her chum.

"Suppose he puts his satchel in here," said Jane, when they were all
huddled down in the extremely small space and Mary Louise had cautiously
let down the lid, shutting them in absolute darkness.

"He won't--not if it has money in it. He'll keep it right on the seat
beside him.... He will anyway, because it doesn't take up much room."

The car rocked to one side, indicating that Harry Grant had stepped in
and was seating himself at the wheel. Jane's lip trembled.

"It's so dark in here! So terribly dark! Where's your hand, Mary Lou?"

"Here--and here's Silky. Oh, Jane, this is going to be good!"

The motor started, and the car leaped forward with a sudden uneven bound.
Jane repressed a cry of terror. It turned sharply at the gate and buzzed
along noisily for several minutes before Mary Louise cautiously raised
the lid and looked out.

Oh, how good it was to see the lights again, and the sky--after that
horrible blackness!

The car had reached the open highway which led out of Riverside, and it
picked up speed until it was rattling along at a pace of about sixty
miles an hour. Growing bolder, Mary Louise continued to raise the lid of
the compartment until it was upright at its full height. The girls
straightened up, with their heads and shoulders sticking out of the

"Quite a nice ride after all, isn't it?" observed Mary Louise, gazing up
at the stars.

"I don't know," returned Jane. "It sounds to me as if there were
something wrong with that engine. If we have an accident----"

"That's just what I'm hoping for," was the surprising reply. "Or rather,
a breakdown."

"Whatever would you do?"

"I'll tell you. Listen carefully, so we'll be prepared to act the minute
the car stops. While Harry gets out on the left--he surely will, because
his wheel is on the left--we jump out on the right. If there are woods
beside the road, as I remember there are for some distance along here, we
disappear into them. If not, we get to the path, and just walk along as
if we were two people out for a walk with their dog. He won't think
anything about that, for he doesn't know us, or know that we came with

"But how will that help us to find out whether he is the thief?" inquired

"My plan is to grab that satchel, if we get a chance, and run off with

"But that's stealing, Mary Lou! He could have us arrested."

"Detectives have to take chances like that. It isn't really stealing, for
we want to get hold of it merely to give its contents to the rightful
owner. Of course, if there's no money in it, we could return it later."

They were silent for a while, listening to the pounding of the engine.
Fifteen minutes passed; Mary Louise saw by her watch when they rode under
a light that it was quarter after nine, and she recalled her promise to
her mother. But she couldn't do anything about it now.

They were ascending a hill, and the speed of the car was diminishing; it
seemed to the girls that they were not going to make it. The engine
wheezed and puffed, but the driver was evidently doing his best. Ahead,
on the left, shone the lights of a gas station, and this, Mary Louise
decided, must be the goal that Harry was now aiming for.

But the engine refused to go the full distance: it sputtered and died,
and the girls felt the car jerked close to the right side, with no sign
of civilization about except the lighted gas station about fifty yards

But, lonely or not, the time had come for action, and there was not a
second to be lost. Before Harry Grant's feet were off the running board
both girls were out of the car on the other side, holding Silky close to
them and hiding in the shadow.

Mr. Grant stepped forward and raised the hood of his motor, peering
inside with a flashlight. Keeping her eye on him through the open window
of the car, Mary Louise crept cautiously along the right side towards the

The young man turned about suddenly and swore softly to himself. But it
was not because he had seen or heard the girls, although Jane did not
wait to find that out. Desperately frightened, she dashed wildly into the
protecting darkness of the bushes at the side of the road.

Mary Louise, however, remained steadfastly where she was, waiting for her

It came in another moment. Lighting a cigarette, Mr. Grant started to
walk to the gas station.

"What could be sweeter!" exclaimed Mary Louise rapturously to herself,
for Jane was out of hearing distance by this time. "My big chance!"

She reached her hand quickly through the open window and picked up the
satchel from the seat. Then, with Silky close at her heels, she too made
for the protecting woods. In another moment she was at Jane's side,
breathless and triumphant.

"You're all right?" demanded her chum exultantly. "Oh, Mary Lou, you're

"Not so marvelous as you think," replied the other, feeling for Jane's
hand in the darkness. "Lift that satchel!"

Jane groped about, and took it from Mary Louise, expecting a heavy

But it was surprisingly, disappointingly light!

"It can't possibly contain any gold," said Mary Louise, dropping to the
ground in disgust. "All our trouble--and we're only a common pair of
thieves ourselves!"

Silky came close to her and licked her hand reassuringly, as if he did
not agree with her about the name she was calling herself and Jane.

"Stranded on a lonely road--at least ten miles from home!" wailed Jane.

"Sh!" warned Mary Louise. "They're at the car--Harry and another man. We
might be caught!"

But she stopped suddenly: something was coming towards them, as they
could sense from the snapping of a twig close by. Not from the road,
however, but from the depth of the woods!

                              CHAPTER VII
                             "_Hands Up!_"

The two girls sat rigid with terror, Mary Louise holding tightly to
Silky. In the darkness they could see nothing, for the denseness of the
trees blotted even the sky from view. The silence of the woods was broken
only by a faint rustle in the undergrowth, as something--they didn't know
what--came nearer.

Silky's ears were alert, his body as tense with watching, and Jane was
actually trembling.

"Got your flashlight, Mary Lou?" she whispered.

"Yes, but I'm afraid to put it on till Harry Grant gets away. He might
see it from the road."

The sudden roar of the motor almost drowned out her words. The noise
startled whatever it was that was near them, and the girls felt a little
animal pass so close that it nearly touched them. They almost laughed out
loud at their fear: the cause of their terror was only an innocent little
white rabbit!

Mary Louise took a tighter grip upon her dog.

"You mustn't leave us, Silky! You don't want that bunny! We need you with

The engine continued to roar; the girls heard the car start, and drive
away. Jane uttered a sigh of relief.

"I wonder whether he missed his satchel," she remarked.

"Probably he didn't care if he did," returned her chum. "I don't believe
it has anything in it but a toothbrush and a change of linen."

"Let's open it and see."

Mary Louise turned on her flashlight and looked at the small brown bag
beside them.

"Shucks!" she exclaimed in disappointment. "It's locked."

"It would be. Well, so long as we have to carry it home, maybe we'll be
glad that it's so light."

"I've got my penknife. I'm going to cut the leather."

"But, Mary Lou, it doesn't belong to us!"

"Can't help that. We'll buy Harry Grant a new one if he's innocent."

"O.K. You're the boss. Be careful not to cut yourself."

"You hold the flashlight, Jane," said Mary Louise. "While I make the

The operation was not so easy, for the leather was tough, but Mary Louise
always kept her knife as sharp as a boy's, and she succeeded at last in
making an opening.

Excitedly both girls peered into the bag, and Jane reached her hand into
its depths. She drew it out again with an expression of disappointment.

"An old Turkish towel!" she exclaimed in dismay.

But Mary Louise's search proved more fruitful. Her hand came upon a bulky
paper wad, encircled by a rubber band. She drew her hand out quickly and
flashed the light upon her find.

It was a fat roll of money!

The girls gazed at her discovery in speechless joy. It seemed more like a
dream than reality: one of those strange dreams where you find money
everywhere, in all sorts of queer, dark places.

"Hide it in your sweater, Mary Lou!" whispered Jane. "Now let's make
tracks for home."

Her companion concealed it carefully and then took another look into the
satchel to make sure that none of the gold was there. She even inserted
the flashlight into the bag, to confirm her belief. But there was nothing

Both girls got to their feet, Jane with the satchel still in her hands.

"I wish we were home," she remarked after the flashlight had been turned
off, making the darkness seem blacker than before.

"We can pick up a bus along this road, I think," returned Mary Louise
reassuringly. "They ought to run along here about every half hour."

"Shall we use some of this money for carfare?"

"No, we don't have to. I have my purse with me."

Choosing their way carefully through the bushes and undergrowth, the two
girls proceeded slowly towards the road. But their adventures in the wood
were not over. They heard another rustle of twigs in front of them, and
footsteps. Human footsteps, this time!

"Hands up!" snarled a gruff voice.

The reactions of the two girls and the dog were instantaneous--and
utterly different. Jane clutched her chum's arm in terror; Mary Louise
flashed her light upon the man--a rough, uncouth character, without even
a mask--and Silky flew at his legs. The dog's bite was quick and sharp:
the bully cried out in pain. Mary Louise chuckled and, pulling Jane by
the hand, dashed out to the road, towards the lights of the gas station
in the distance. As the girls retreated, they could hear groans and
swearing from their tormentor.

When they slowed down across the road from the gas station, Mary Louise
looked around and whistled for Silky. Jane, noticing that she still
clutched the empty bag in her hand, hurled it as far as she could in the
direction from which they had come.

In another moment the brave little dog came bounding to them. Mary Louise
stooped over and picked him up in her arms.

"You wonderful Silky!" she cried, as she led the way across the road.
"You saved our lives!"

"Suppose we hadn't taken him!" said Jane in horror. "We'd be dead now."

"Let's go ask the attendant about buses," suggested Mary Louise, still
stroking her dog's head.

"We better not!" cautioned Jane. "He may suspect us, if Harry Grant told
him about his loss of the satchel."

"Oh no, he won't," replied Mary Louise. "Because we'll tell him about the
tramp, or the bandit, or whatever he is--and he'll suspect him."

They walked confidently up to the man inside the station.

"We're sort of lost," announced Mary Louise. "We want to get to
Riverside. There was a tramp back there about fifty yards who tried to
make trouble for us. Can we stay here until a bus comes along--they do
run along here, don't they?"

"Yes, certainly," replied the man, answering both questions at once.
"About fifty yards back, you say? Did he have a brown satchel with him?"

"I saw a brown satchel lying in the road," replied Mary Louise
innocently. "Why?"

"Because a motorist stopped there a few minutes ago with engine trouble,
and while he came to me for help his grip was stolen."

"Did it have anything valuable in it?" inquired Jane, trying to keep her
tone casual.

"Yes. I believe there was about eight hundred dollars in it."

Mary Louise gasped in delight. That meant that practically all of Miss
Grant's paper money was there--in her sweater! All but one fifty-dollar

"Well, I wouldn't go back there for eight thousand dollars!" said Jane.

"You can be sure there ain't any money in the bag now," returned the
attendant shrewdly. "Here comes your bus. You're lucky: they only run
every half hour.... I'll go stop it for you."

Mary Louise kept Silky in her arms, and the two girls followed their
protector to the middle of the road. The bus stopped, and the driver
looked doubtfully at Silky.

"Don't allow no dogs," he announced firmly.

"Oh, please!" begged Mary Louise in her sweetest tone. "Silky is such a
good, brave dog! He just saved our lives when we were held up by a
highwayman. And we have to get home--our mothers will be so worried."

"It's agin' the rules----"

"Please let us this time! I'll hold him in my lap." Her brown eyes looked
into his; for a moment the man thought Mary Louise was going to cry. Then
he turned to the half a dozen passengers in his car.

"I'll leave it up to youse. Would any of youse people report me if I let
this here lady's dog in the bus?"

"We'd report you if you didn't," replied a good-natured woman with gray
hair. "These girls must get home as quickly as possible. It's not safe
for them to be out on a lonely road like this at night."

"Oh, thank you so much!" exclaimed Mary Louise, smiling radiantly at the
kind woman. "It's so good of you to help us out."

The door closed; the girls waved good-bye to the attendant, and the bus
started. Mary Louise gazed dismally at her watch.

"Even now we'll be an hour late," she remarked. "We promised our mothers
we'd be home by half-past nine!"

"Girls your age shouldn't go lonely places after dark," observed the
motherly woman. "Let this be a lesson to you!"

"Oh, it will be, we assure you!" Jane told her. "One experience like this
is enough for us."

The bus rumbled on for twenty minutes or so and finally deposited the
girls in Riverside, half a block from their homes.

"Still have the money?" whispered Jane, as they ran the short distance to
their gates.

"Yes, I can feel the wad here. I was so afraid somebody in the bus would
notice it. But having Silky in my lap helped."

"It seems we have company," remarked Jane, recognizing a familiar
roadster parked in front of their houses.

"Now what can Max want at this time of night?" demanded Mary Louise
impatiently. She longed so terribly to get into her room by herself and
count the money.

"Here they are, Mrs. Gay!" called a masculine voice from the porch.
"They're all right, apparently."

The two mothers appeared on Mary Louise's porch.

"What in the world happened?" demanded Mrs. Patterson. "Mrs. Gay and I
have been worried to death."

"Not to mention us," added Norman Wilder from the doorstep. "We phoned
all your friends, and nobody had seen a thing of you."

"I wish we could tell you all about it," answered Mary Louise slowly.
"But we aren't allowed to. All I can say is, it's something in connection
with Elsie Grant--the orphan, you know, Mother, whom we told you about."

Mrs. Gay looked relieved but not entirely satisfied.

"I can't have you two girls going up that lonely road at night, dear,"
she said. "To the Grants' place, I mean. It isn't safe."

"Oh, we weren't there tonight," Jane assured her, not going on to explain
that they had gone somewhere far more dangerous.

"Well, if you do have to go there, let Max or Norman drive you,"
suggested Mrs. Patterson. "The boys are willing, aren't you?"

"Sure thing!" they both replied.

"Let's all come inside and have some chocolate cake," said Mrs. Gay,
delighted that everything had turned out all right. "You girls must be

They were, of course; but Mary Louise was more anxious to be alone to
count her treasure than to eat. However, she could not refuse, and the
party lasted until after eleven.

Her mother followed her upstairs after the company had gone home.

"You must be tired, dear," she said tenderly. "Just step out of your
clothes, and I'll hang them up for you."

"Oh, no, thanks, Mother. I'm not so tired. We rode home in the bus....
Please don't bother. I'm all right."

"Just as you say, dear," agreed Mrs. Gay, kissing her daughter
good-night. "But don't get up for breakfast. Try to get some sleep!"

Mary Louise smiled.

("Not if I know it," she thought to herself. "I'm going after the rest of
that treasure! The gold! Maybe if I get that back for Miss Grant, she'll
consent to let Elsie go to high school in the fall.")

Very carefully she drew off her sweater and laid the bills under the
pillow on her bed. Then, while she ran the shower in the bathroom, behind
a locked door, she counted the money and checked the numbers engraved on
the paper.

The attendant was right! There were eight hundred dollars in all, in
fifty-dollar notes. And the best part about it was the fact that the
numbers proved that the money belonged to Miss Mattie Grant!

                              CHAPTER VIII
                             _A Confession_

It was a little after nine o'clock the following morning that Mary Louise
and Jane set off for Dark Cedars. The money was safely hidden in Mary
Louise's blouse, and Silky was told to come along for protection.

"I'll never leave him home again," said Mary Louise. "Miss Grant will
have to get used to him. But when we tell her about last night I guess
she'll think he's a pretty wonderful dog."

"I dreamed about bandits and robbers," remarked Jane, with a shudder. "No
more night adventures for me!"

"Well, it was worth it, wasn't it? Think of the pleasure of clearing
Elsie of suspicion!"

"It won't, though. Her aunt will insist that she took that gold."

"We're going to get that back too," asserted Mary Louise confidently.

"By the way," observed Jane, "Norman tried to make me promise we'd drive
over to the Park with them this afternoon and have our supper there,
after a swim. I said I'd let him know."

Mary Louise shook her head.

"We can't make dates, Jane. It's out of the question, for we don't know
what may turn up. I want to investigate the Pearsons today. That
disagreeable Corinne may have had a part in the theft.... I'm sorry now
that we promised the boys we'd go on that picnic."

"That picnic's going to be fun! You know what marvelous swimming there is
down by Cooper's woods. And don't forget the gypsies! I love to have my
fortune told."

"Yes, that's fun, I admit. But a whole day----"

"Oh, well, maybe we'll solve the whole crime today! And maybe Miss Grant
will let us take Elsie with us, now that she has some nice dresses."

Mary Louise's eyes brightened.

"That is an idea, Jane. I'll ask Miss Grant today--as our reward for
returning her money."

The increasing heat of the day and the steepness of the climb to Dark
Cedars made the girls long for that swimming pool in the amusement park,
and Jane at least wished that they were going with the boys. But one
glance at her chum's determined face made her realize that such a hope
was not to be fulfilled.

Both girls felt hot and sticky when they finally mounted the porch steps
at Dark Cedars and pulled the old-fashioned knocker on the wooden door.
It was opened almost immediately by Hannah, who evidently had been
working right there in the front of the house.

The woman looked hot and disturbed, as if she had been working fast,
under pressure.

"Good-morning," said Mary Louise brightly. "May we see Miss Grant,

"I don't know," replied the servant. "She's all of a fluster. We're at
sixes and sevens here this mornin'. The ghosts walked last night."

"What ghosts?" asked Mary Louise, trying to repress a smile.

"You know. Elsie's told you about 'em. The spirits that wanders through
this house at night, mussin' up things. They had a party all over the
downstairs last night."

"Hannah!" exclaimed Jane. "You know that isn't possible. If there was a
disturbance, it was caused by human beings. Burglars."

The woman shook her head.

"You don't know nuthin' about it! If it was burglars, why wasn't
somethin' stolen?"

"Wasn't anything stolen?" demanded Mary Louise incredulously. "Not Miss
Grant's bonds?"

"Nope. They're all there--safe. Pictures was taken down--old pictures
that must-a belonged to the spirits when they was alive. That old desk in
the corner of the dinin' room--the one that belonged to Miss Mattie's
father--was rummaged through, and all the closets was upset. But nuthin's

"It looks as if somebody were searching for a will," remarked Jane. "You
know--'the lost will' you so often read about."

"There ain't no will in this house," Hannah stated. "Miss Mattie give
hers to Mr. John Grant to keep, long ago. No, ma'am, it ain't nateral
what's goin' on here, and William and I are movin' out----"

"What's this? What's this?" interrupted the shrill, high voice of the old
lady. "What are you gossiping about, Hannah? And to whom?"

"I'm just tellin' them two young girls--the ones that come here before,
you know----"

"Well, never mind!" snapped the spinster. "We haven't time to bother with
them this morning. Tell them to run along and not to take up Elsie's
time, either. She's got plenty to do."

Jane laughed sarcastically.

"Somebody ought to teach that woman manners," she whispered to Mary
Louise. "Serve her right if we didn't give her the money!"

Her chum smiled. "We couldn't be so cruel," she replied. "Besides, it
wouldn't be honest." She raised her voice. "Miss Grant, we have some
money for you."

"Money? My money?" The old lady's voice was as eager as a child's. For
the moment she forgot all about the pain in her side and came downstairs
more rapidly than she had done for many a day.

Both girls watched her in surprise. She looked different today--much
younger. Instead of the somber old black sateen which she usually wore,
she was dressed in a gray gown of soft, summery material, and her cheeks
were flushed a pale pink. Her black eyes were alight with vivacity.

"You're not fooling me?" she demanded fearfully.

Mary Louise reached into her blouse and produced the roll of bills.

"No, Miss Grant. We have eight hundred dollars here--your money! The
numbers on the bills correspond to the figures you gave me."

"Where's the other fifty?" asked the woman greedily. "Did you keep it

"No, of course not. We don't know where it is. But if you sit down, Miss
Grant, we'll tell you our story."

The spinster reached out her hand for the roll of money and clasped it as
lovingly as a mother might fondle her lost child.

"Come into the parlor," she said, leading the way from the hall, "and
tell me all about it."

The girls followed her into the ugly room with its old-fashioned
furniture, and saw for themselves the chaos which Hannah had been
describing. Instinctively Mary Louise glanced at the windows to determine
how an intruder could enter, for she did not believe Hannah's story of
the ghosts. Although the shutters were half closed, she could see that
the catch on the side window had been broken. But everything in this
house was so dilapidated that perhaps no one had noticed it.

When they were all seated, Jane told the story of the previous evening's
adventure, stressing the part that Silky had played at the end. Miss
Grant was impressed and actually asked to see the wonderful little dog.
Mary Louise replied that he was waiting for them on the porch.

"So it was Harry Grant after all!" the old lady muttered. "I'm not
surprised. But I still believe Elsie had some part in it--and got the
gold pieces for herself. She'd rather have them than the paper money."

"Oh no, Miss Grant!" protested Mary Louise. "We're going to track them
down too. We want to go over to Harry Grant's now, if you'll write us a
note of introduction and explanation. He may have the gold at his
house--it isn't likely that he'd carry it around."

"Possibly. But I don't believe I'll write a note--I think I'll go along
with you! I want to talk to that good-for-nothing nephew of mine
myself--if he's home. And he probably is, since you got the money....
Yes, and I'm going to put this money and my bonds in the bank!" She
hesitated a moment. "If you girls get me back that other fifty-dollar
bill, I'll give you a reward."

"We don't want a reward, Miss Grant," objected Mary Louise. "If you'll
just let us take Elsie with us to a picnic the young people in Riverside
are planning, we'll be satisfied."

"I'll think about it," replied the woman. "Hannah!" she called. "You go
up and get my bonnet, and a brown paper package that's underneath it in
the box. I'm going to Riverside."

"You ain't a-goin' a walk, Miss Mattie?" demanded the servant in horror.

"Of course I am. I haven't any car. John may not be over for several

"But your side----"

"Fiddlesticks! Do as you're told, Hannah."

The girls hated to leave without seeing Elsie, but they knew that Hannah
would tell her what had happened. Besides, they would probably return
with Miss Grant; perhaps they could get Norman or Max to drive them over.
Jane chuckled at the idea of putting the old lady in the rumble
seat--just for spite!

Silky came darting up to them as they came out of the door, and Miss
Grant reached over and patted his head. ("It's her one redeeming trait,"
thought Mary Louise--"her kindness to animals.")

"I'm glad you brought him," she said, "in case we meet anybody like that
man you encountered last night!"

They proceeded slowly, although the road was downhill; every few minutes
Miss Grant stopped and held her hand over her side. Mary Louise wondered
what they would do if the old lady collapsed, and decided that Jane would
have to run for a doctor while she and Silky stayed to protect her and
administer first aid.

But they reached the Riverside bank without any such mishap, and Miss
Grant attended to her business while the girls waited outside. Then, very
slowly, they walked the three blocks to the home of Harry Grant.

"He is back!" exclaimed Mary Louise jubilantly as she recognized the
battered old car in the driveway. "I didn't expect he would be. I thought
he'd stay away as long as that fifty-dollar bill lasted him."

"Maybe he didn't have it," remarked Miss Grant.

Jane turned on her angrily.

"You think we kept that, don't you, Miss Grant?" she demanded.

"No, no! Nothing of the kind!"

Before they had mounted the porch steps, Mrs. Grace Grant had rushed out
of her house in amazement and stood gazing at her sister-in-law as if she
were a ghost. She was a woman of about the same age, but much pleasanter
looking, with soft gray hair and a sweet smile. As Elsie had said, nobody
could believe anything bad about Mrs. Grace Grant.

"Why, Mattie, this is a surprise!" she exclaimed. "It's been five years
at least----"

"It'll be more of a surprise when I tell you why I'm here, Grace,"
snapped the other, sinking into a chair on the porch with a sigh of
relief. "I've got bad news. I've been robbed."


"Yes." In a few words the spinster told the story of her loss of thirteen
hundred and fifty dollars, and of the two girls' offer of assistance in
discovering the thief. "Of course, I suspected Elsie immediately," she
said, "but it seems I made a mistake. Or partly a mistake, for there is
still five hundred missing--all in gold. But these girls found out who
took the bills and have got them all back for me--all but fifty dollars."

"Who was the thief?" demanded Mrs. Grant excitedly.

"_Your son Harry!_ I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Grace."

"I don't believe it!" protested the other woman. "What proof have you,

"Tell the story, Jane," said Miss Grant. "I'm too tired." She leaned
against the back of her chair in exhaustion.

Briefly Jane related the incidents of the previous evening, describing
their perilous ride in Harry Grant's car. The story rang true; Jane
repeated the very words the young man had uttered as he drove away, words
which Mrs. Grant recalled easily. Before she had finished, the unhappy
mother was crying softly.

"What are you going to do to him, Mattie?" she asked finally. "Have him

"That depends on him," replied her visitor. "If he gives me back the
other bill, maybe I'll let him go. I don't want to drag the Grant name
into the papers if I can help it.... Is he home?"

"Yes. He's upstairs, dressing."

"Just getting up, eh?"

"He was out late last night."

"Carousing with my fifty dollars, I suppose."

"I hope not." Mrs. Grant rose and went through the screen door. Five
minutes later she returned with her son.

As Elsie had remarked, Harry Grant was a good-looking man. He was
stylishly dressed, in an immaculate linen suit, and he came out smiling
nonchalantly at his aunt, as if the whole thing were a joke.

"Well, I'll be darned!" he exclaimed, staring incredulously at Mary
Louise and Jane. "Are these the girls Mother says I took for a ride last

"It's a terrible car," remarked Jane.

Miss Grant stamped her foot to put a stop to what she considered
nonsensical talk.

"Tell me just how you managed to steal my money, Harry," she commanded.
"And where the other fifty-dollar bill is--and my five hundred in gold."

The young man's chin went up in the air.

"I didn't steal your money, Aunt Mattie," he said. "I was never inside
your bedroom in my life--at least, not since I was grown up!"

"Don't lie, Harry! How did you get it if you didn't steal it out of my

"It was given to me."

"By whom?" Miss Grant looked scornful: she couldn't believe any such
foolish statement.

The young man hesitated. "I don't think I ought to tell that," he

"Oh yes, you ought! And you have to, or I'll have you arrested,"
threatened his aunt.

"Tell the truth, dear," urged his mother. "Whoever stole that money
deserves to suffer for it."

"All right--I will! It was Corinne--my niece, Corinne Pearson. She took
it. Eight hundred and fifty dollars in bills. She gave me eight hundred
dollars--half of it to spend for her, and half for myself. I was to buy a
certain evening gown and cloak in a shop in New York with which she had
been corresponding. With my four hundred I was going to get a new car and
drive back to Riverside and announce that I had a present for Corinne,
because I was sorry for her about the party, and because I had put a good
sale through. That's all.... It simply didn't work."

"Corinne!" repeated Miss Grant. "I'm not surprised. I always did suspect
her.... And has she the other fifty dollars?"

"Yes, I believe she kept that for slippers and the beauty parlor,"
answered Harry.

Miss Grant got up from her chair.

"You surely haven't any of the gold, have you, Harry?" she inquired.

"No. Corinne didn't say anything about any gold pieces. You can't use
them now, anyhow."

"No doubt she's keeping them put away," surmised the old lady. "Come,
girls! We're going to the Pearsons' now."

"Can I drive you over, Aunt Mattie?" offered Harry jovially.

"I wouldn't put a foot in that rattletrap for anything in the world!" was
his aunt's ungracious retort.

So she hobbled down the steps with Mary Louise and Jane beside her and
Silky close at their heels.

                               CHAPTER IX
                        _The Fifty-Dollar Bill_

The Pearsons' home, an attractive house of the English cottage type, was
half a mile from Mrs. Grant's, in the best residential section of
Riverside. Mary Louise, noticing Miss Grant's increasing weakness,
suggested a taxicab.

The old lady scorned such a proposal.

"Use your common sense, Mary Louise!" she commanded, in that brusque
manner which Jane so resented. "You know I've lost five hundred and fifty
dollars, and now you suggest that I throw money away on luxuries like

"I'll pay for it," offered the girl. "I have my purse with me."


The hot sun of the June day poured mercilessly down upon their heads as
they made their slow progress along the streets of Riverside, but Miss
Grant refused to give up, although it was evident that she was suffering
intensely. When they finally reached the porch of the Pearson home she
almost collapsed.

Corinne Pearson was sitting in the swing, idly smoking a cigarette when
the little party arrived. She was a blonde, about nineteen years of age,
pretty in an artificial way. Even her pose, alone on the porch, was
theatrical. She rose languidly as her great-aunt came up the steps.

"Mother's inside, Aunt Mattie," she said, ignoring the two girls
completely. "I'll go and tell her that you are here."

Miss Grant opened her eyes wide and looked sharply at Corinne.

"Don't trouble yourself!" she snapped, gasping for breath. "It's _you_ I
came to see, Corinne Pearson!"

The girl raised her delicately arched eyebrows.

"Really? Well, I am honored, Aunt Mattie." There was nothing in her
manner to indicate nervousness, and Mary Louise began to wonder whether
Harry Grant's story were really true.

"You won't be when I tell you why I'm here! Though of course you can
guess." Miss Grant paused and took a deep breath. "It's about that money
you stole from my safe!"

"What money?" The girl's indifference was admirable, if indeed she were
guilty, as Harry Grant claimed.

"You know. Eight hundred and fifty dollars in bills and five hundred in
gold pieces."

Corinne laughed in a nasty superior way.

"Really, Aunt Mattie, you are talking foolishly. I'm sorry if you have
been robbed, but it's just too absurd to connect me with it."

"Stop your posing and lying, Corinne Pearson!" cried the old lady in a
shrill voice. "I know all about everything. Harry Grant has confessed."

Mary Louise, watching the girl's face intently, thought that she saw her
wince. Anyway, the cigarette she was smoking dropped to the floor. But
her voice sounded controlled as she spoke to her great-aunt.

"Please don't scream like that, Aunt Mattie," she said. "The neighbors
will hear you. I think you had better come inside and see Mother."

"All right," agreed the old lady. Then, turning to the girls, she
requested them to help her get to her feet.

"I'll help you," offered Corinne. "These young girls can wait out here."

"No, they can't, either! They're coming right inside with me!"

Corinne shrugged her slim shoulders and opened the screen door. Her
mother, a stout woman of perhaps forty-five, was standing in the living
room, which opened directly on the porch.

"Why, Aunt Mattie!" she exclaimed. "This is a surprise. You must be
feeling better----"

"I'm a lot worse!" interrupted the old lady, sinking into a chair beside
the door. "Your daughter's the cause of it, too!"

"My daughter? How could Corinne be the cause of your bad health, Aunt
Mattie? You're talking foolishly."

"Don't speak to me like that, Ellen Grant Pearson! Your daughter
Corinne's a thief--and she stole my money, out of my safe. Night before
last, when she went upstairs to get that old lace dress of mine."

"Impossible!" protested Mrs. Pearson. "You didn't, did you, Corinne?"

"Certainly not," replied the girl. "I think Aunt Mattie's mind is
wandering, Mother. Send these girls home, and I'll call up Uncle John.
He'll come and drive Aunt Mattie back to Dark Cedars."

"You'll do nothing of the kind!" announced Miss Grant. "There's not a
thing the matter with my mind--it's my side and my breathing." She turned
to her two young friends. "Jane, you tell them all about everything that
has happened since I was robbed."

Jane nodded and again related the story, telling of their wild ride in
Harry Grant's car, the capture of the satchel with the bills in it, and
concluding with Harry's confession concerning Corinne's part in the
crime. Mrs. Pearson leaned forward in her chair, listening to the recital
with serious attention, but her daughter acted as if she were bored with
such nonsense and wandered about the room while Jane was talking,
rearranging the flowers on the tables and lighting herself a fresh

"It isn't true, is it, dear?" asked Mrs. Pearson eagerly.

Corinne laughed scornfully.

"It's just too absurd to contradict," she replied. "Uncle Harry made it
all up about me just to save his own face." She turned about and faced
her great-aunt. "You know yourself, Aunt Mattie, that if I had stolen
that money I wouldn't pay him four hundred dollars just to buy me some
clothes in New York. It's all out of proportion."

Miss Grant nodded: she could see the sense to that. A hundred dollars
would have been ample commission.

"May I say something?" put in Mary Louise meekly.

"Certainly," replied Miss Grant.

The girl felt herself trembling as all eyes in the room turned upon her.
But she spoke out bravely, disregarding Corinne's open scorn.

"I believe I can explain why Miss Pearson divided the money evenly with
Mr. Harry Grant," she said. "It was a clever trick, to throw the
suspicion on him. Because you know, Miss Grant, if you saw him drive home
with a new car, wouldn't you naturally jump to the conclusion that he had
bought it with your money?"

The old lady nodded her head: the idea sounded reasonable to her.

"And as for Miss Pearson's evening dress and cloak," continued Mary
Louise, "if she didn't buy them in Riverside, you'd probably never know
what she paid for them, or suspect them of being particularly expensive."

"That's true, Mary Louise," agreed Miss Grant. "I'd never dream anybody
would spend four hundred dollars for two pieces of finery."

Exasperated with the discussion, Corinne Pearson started towards the

"I'm not going to listen to any more of this ridiculous babble!" she said
to her mother, with a scathing glance towards Mary Louise. "You'll have
to excuse me, Aunt Mattie," she added condescendingly. "I have a date."

"You stay right here!" commanded the old lady. "I'm not through with you.
You hand over that other fifty-dollar bill!"

Corinne shrugged her shoulders and looked imploringly at her mother, as
if to say, "Can't something be done with that crazy woman?"

Mrs. Pearson looked helpless: she didn't know how to get rid of her aunt.

The situation was apparently at a standstill. Corinne Pearson wouldn't
admit any part in the theft, and Miss Grant refused to allow her to go
off as if she were innocent. But Mary Louise, recalling Harry Grant's
explanation of the use to which Corinne had put that last fifty-dollar
bill, had a sudden inspiration. She stood up and faced Mrs. Pearson.

"May I use your telephone?" she asked quietly.

"Why, yes, certainly," was the reply. "Right there on the table."

Again all eyes in the room were turned upon Mary Louise as she searched
through the telephone book and gave a number to the operator. Everybody
waited, in absolute silence.

"Hello," said Mary Louise when the connection was made. "Is this the Bon
Ton Boot Shop? Yes? Can you tell me whether you took in a fifty-dollar
bill yesterday from any of your customers?"

It seemed to her that she could actually feel the tenseness of the
atmosphere in that room in the Pearsons' house while she waited for the
shop girl to return with the information she had asked for. Her eyes
turned towards Corinne to see how the question had affected her, but Mary
Louise could not see her face from where she was seated. In another
moment the voice at the other end of the wire summoned her thoughts back
to the phone. And the answer was in the affirmative!

"So you did take in a fifty-dollar bill?" Mary Louise repeated for the
benefit of her listeners. "Could you possibly read me the number engraved
on it?"

Her hand trembled as she fumbled for her little notebook in which the
notations were made, and Jane, guessing her intention, dashed across the
room to assist her. When the salesgirl finally read out the number on the
bill, Mary Louise was able to check it with the one marked "missing." It
was the identical bill!

"Will you keep it out of the bank for an hour or two--in case we want to
identify it--for a certain purpose?" she inquired. "My name is Mary
Louise Gay--Detective Gay's daughter.... Oh, thank you so much!"

She replaced the receiver and jumped up from the chair, squeezing Jane's
arm in delight. She noticed that Miss Grant's black eyes were beaming
upon her with admiration and that Mrs. Pearson's were shifting uneasily
about the room. Corinne was standing at the window with her back to the
other people.

Suddenly she burst into hysterical sobs. Wheeling about sharply, she
turned on Mary Louise like a cat that is ready to spit.

"You horrible girl!" she screamed. "You nasty, vile creature! What right
have you----"

"Hush, Corinne!" admonished Miss Grant. "Be quiet, or I'll send you
somewhere where you will be! Dry your eyes and sit down there in that
chair and tell us the truth. And throw that cigarette away!"

Frightened by her great-aunt's threat, the girl did as she was told.

"I suppose you won't believe me now when I tell you that I didn't take
any gold pieces," she whined. "But that's the solemn truth. I admit about
the bills----"

"Begin at the beginning," snapped Miss Grant.

"All right. It was night before last, when Mother and I walked over to
ask you for money for a dress. It means so much to me to look nice at the
dance on Saturday night----"

"I don't care what it means to you," interrupted the spinster. "Go ahead
with your story."

"Well, I thought it was pretty stingy of you not to help me out, Aunt
Mattie," continued Corinne. "But I never thought of taking the money till
I went up in your room."

"How did you get the safe open?"

"That's the queer part. _It was open!_ I thought you had forgotten to
close the door."

Miss Grant gasped in horror.

"I never forget. Besides, I saw that the lock had been picked. Somebody
did break it, if you didn't, Corinne."

"There wasn't a bit of gold there, Aunt Mattie. I'm willing to swear to
that!" Corinne looked straight into the old lady's black eyes, and Mary
Louise could see that her aunt believed her and was already trying to
figure out who else was guilty.

"No, you didn't have time to fiddle with a lock," she agreed. "I can
believe that.... I think I was right in the beginning: Elsie must have
stolen the box of gold pieces."

"Of course!" cried Corinne in relief. "That would explain it perfectly.
An ignorant child like her would want only the gold--that's why the paper
money and the bonds were untouched. Did you lose the bonds too, Aunt

"No, they were still there. I put them in the bank today, with the eight
hundred dollars these girls got from Harry Grant.... Well, Corinne, you
did give your uncle Harry that money then?"

"Yes, I did. For the exact purpose he told you about."

Mary Louise sighed. They were right back where they started, with only
this difference: that while Elsie had been suspected of the theft of the
whole amount in the beginning, now she was thought to be guilty of
stealing only the gold. But stealing is stealing, no matter what the
amount, and Mary Louise was unhappy.

Miss Grant grasped hold of the arms of her chair and struggled to her
feet. She stood there motionless for a moment, holding her hand on her
side. The flush on her cheeks had disappeared; her face was now deathly
white. Both girls knew that she could never make that climb in the heat
to Dark Cedars.

"You won't do anything to Corinne, will you, Aunt Mattie?" pleaded Mrs.
Pearson fearfully.

"No--I guess not. Go get me--" Mary Louise expected her to ask for
aromatics, to prevent a fainting fit, but she was mistaken--"go get
me--my fifty dollars--what you have left of it, Corinne. You can owe----"

But she could not complete her sentence: she reeled, and would have
fallen to the floor had not Mary Louise sprung to her side at that very
second. As it was, Miss Grant fainted in the girl's arms.

Very gently Mary Louise laid her down on the davenport and turned to Mrs.

"Water, please," she requested. But it failed to revive the patient.

"I think she ought to go to the hospital, Mrs. Pearson," she said.
"There's something terribly wrong with her side."

Mrs. Pearson looked relieved: she had no desire to nurse a sick old lady
in her house, even though she was her aunt. She told Corinne to call for
an ambulance.

It was not until two white-uniformed attendants were actually putting her
on the stretcher that Miss Grant regained consciousness. Then she opened
her eyes and asked for Mary Louise.

"Come with me, child!" she begged. "I want you."

The girl nodded, and whispering a message for her mother to Jane, she
climbed into the ambulance and rode to the hospital with the queer old

                               CHAPTER X
                         _Night at Dark Cedars_

Mary Louise sat in the waiting room of the Riverside Hospital, idly
looking at the magazines, while the nurses took Miss Grant to her private
room. She couldn't help smiling a little as she thought how vexed the old
lady would be at the bill she would get. Corinne Pearson had carelessly
told the hospital to have one of the best rooms in readiness for the

("But, if she had her own way, Miss Grant would be in a ward," thought
Mary Louise.)

However, it was too late now to dispute over details. The head nurse came
into the waiting room and spoke to Mary Louise in a soft voice.

"Miss Matilda Grant is your aunt, I suppose, Miss----?" she asked.

"Gay," supplied Mary Louise. "No, I'm not any relation. Just a friend--of
her niece."

"Oh, I see.... Yes, I know your father, Miss Gay. He is a remarkable

Mary Louise smiled.

"I think so too," she said.

"As you no doubt expected," continued the nurse, "an operation is
absolutely necessary. The nurses are getting Miss Grant ready now."

"Has she consented?"

"Yes. She had to. It is certain death if the surgeon doesn't operate
immediately. But before she goes under the anesthetic she wants to see
you. So please come with me."

A little surprised at the request, Mary Louise followed the nurse through
the hall of the spotless hospital to the elevator and thence to Miss
Grant's room. The old lady was lying in a white bed, attired in a plain,
high-necked nightgown which the hospital provided. Her face was deathly
pale, but her black eyes were as bright as ever, and she smiled at Mary
Louise as she entered the room.

With her wrinkled hand she beckoned the girl to a chair beside the bed.

"You're a good girl, Mary Louise," she said, "and I trust you."

Mary Louise flushed a trifle at the praise; she didn't know exactly what
to say, so she kept quiet and waited.

"Will you do something for me?" asked the old lady.

"Yes, of course, Miss Grant," replied Mary Louise. "If I can."

"I want you to live at Dark Cedars while I'm here in the hospital. Take
Jane with you, if you want to, and your dog too--but plan to stay there."

"I can't be there every minute, Miss Grant. Tomorrow I've promised to go
on a picnic."

"Oh, that's all right! I remember now, you told me. Take Elsie with you.
But go back to Dark Cedars at night. _Sleep in my room._ And shut the

Mary Louise looked puzzled; she could not see the reason for such a

"But there isn't anything valuable for anybody to steal now, is there,
Miss Grant?" she inquired. "You put your money and your bonds in the bank

The sick woman gasped for breath and for a moment she could not speak.
Finally she said, "You heard about last night from Hannah? And saw the
way things were upset?"

"Yes. But if the burglars didn't take anything, they won't be likely to
return, will they?"

Miss Grant closed her eyes.

"It wasn't common burglars," she said.

Mary Louise started. Did Miss Grant believe in Hannah's theory about the

"You don't mean----?"

"I don't know what I mean," answered the old lady. "Somebody--living or
dead--is trying to get hold of something very precious to me."

"What is it, Miss Grant?" demanded Mary Louise eagerly. Oh, perhaps now
she was getting close to the real mystery at Dark Cedars! For that petty
theft by Corinne Pearson was only a side issue, she felt sure.

The old lady shook her head.

"I can't tell--even you, Mary Louise! Nobody!"

"Then how can I help you?"

"You can watch Elsie and try to find out where she hid my box of gold
pieces. You can keep your eye open for trouble at night--and let me know
if anything happens.... Will you do it, Mary Louise?"

"I'll ask Mother--at least, if you'll let me tell her all about what has
happened. It won't get around Riverside--Mother is used to keeping
secrets, you know, for my father is a detective. And if she consents,
I'll go and stay with Elsie till you come home."

Tears of gratitude stood in the sick woman's eyes; the promise evidently
meant a great deal to her.

"Yes, tell your mother," she said. "And Jane's mother. But nobody else."

Mary Louise stood up.

"I must go now, Miss Grant. Your nurse has been beckoning to me for the
last two minutes. You have to rest.... But I'll come in to see you on

She walked out of the room, closing the door softly behind her and
thinking how sad it must be to face an operation all alone, with no one's
loving kiss on your lips, no one's hopes and prayers to sustain you. But,
sorry as Mary Louise was for Miss Grant, she could not show her any
affection. She couldn't forget or forgive her cruelty to Elsie.

Her mother was waiting for her on the porch when she arrived at her

"You must be starved, Mary Louise!" she exclaimed. "I have your lunch all
ready for you."

"Thanks heaps, Mother--I am hungry. But so much has happened. Did Jane
tell you about Miss Grant?"

"Yes. But I can't see why _you_ had to go to the hospital with her when
she has all those relatives to look after her."

Mary Louise shrugged her shoulders.

"They don't like her, Mother--and consequently she doesn't trust them."

"Do you like her?" inquired Mrs. Gay.

"No, I don't. But in a way I feel sorry for her."

Mary Louise followed her mother into the dining room and for the next
fifteen minutes gave herself up to the enjoyment of the lovely lunch of
dainty sandwiches and refreshing iced tea which her mother had so
carefully prepared. It was not until she had finished that she began her
story of the robbery at Dark Cedars and of her own and Jane's part in the
partial recovery of the money. She made no mention, however, of the
bandit who had tried to hold them up, or of the queer disturbances at
night at Dark Cedars. She concluded with the old lady's request that
they--Mary Louise and Jane--stay with Elsie and watch her.

Mrs. Gay looked a little doubtful.

"I don't know, dear," she said. "Something might happen. Still, if Mrs.
Patterson is willing to let Jane go, I suppose I will say yes."

Fifteen minutes later Mary Louise whistled for her chum and put the
proposition up to her.

Jane shivered.

"I'm not going to stay in that spooky old place!" she protested. "Not
after what happened there last night."

"'Who's afraid of the big, bad wolf?'" teased Mary Louise. "Jane, I
thought you had more sense!"

"There's something uncanny about Dark Cedars, Mary Lou, and you know it!
Not just that the house is old, and the boards creak, and there aren't
any electric lights. There's something _evil_ there."

"Of course there is. But that's the very reason it thrills me. I don't
agree with Miss Grant and just want to go there because I believe Elsie
is guilty of stealing that gold and that maybe we can find out where she
has hidden it. Somebody else took it, I'm sure--and that somebody keeps
coming back to Dark Cedars to get _something_ else. Something valuable,
'precious to me,' Miss Grant called it. And we've got to catch them!"

"You didn't tell your mother that?"

"No. I told her about only what has actually been stolen so far. No need
to alarm her. And will you do the same with your mother?"

Jane rose reluctantly.

"I suppose so. If you've made up your mind to go through with it, you'll
do it. I know you well enough for that. And I don't want you over there
at Dark Cedars alone--or only with Elsie. Even Hannah and William are
moving out, you remember.... Yes, I'll go. If Mother will let me."

"You're a peach, Jane!" cried her chum joyfully.

It was several hours, however, before the girls actually started to Dark
Cedars. Arrangements for the picnic the following day had to be
completed; their suitcases had to be packed, and their boy-friends called
on the telephone. It was after five o'clock when they were finally ready.

From the porch of Mary Louise's house they saw Max Miller drive up in his

"I'm taking you over," he announced, for Mary Louise had told him that
she and Jane were visiting Elsie Grant for a few days.

"That's nice, Max," replied Mary Louise. "We weren't so keen about
carrying these suitcases in all this heat."

"It is terribly hot, isn't it?" remarked Mrs. Gay. "I'm afraid there will
be a thunderstorm before the day is over."

Jane made a face. Dark Cedars was gloomy enough without a storm to make
it seem worse.

"Come on, Silky!" called Mary Louise. "We're taking you this time."

"I'll say we are!" exclaimed her chum emphatically.

Elsie Grant was delighted to see them. She came running from behind the
hedge attired in her pink linen dress and her white shoes. Mary Louise
was thankful that Max did not see her in the old purple calico. His sense
of humor might have got the better of him and brought forth a wisecrack
or two.

As soon as they were out of the car she introduced them to each other.

"You didn't know we were coming for a visit, did you, Elsie?" she
inquired. "Well, I'll tell you how it happened: Your aunt Mattie is in
the hospital for an operation, and she wanted Jane and me to stay with
you while she was away."

The girl wrinkled her brows.

"It doesn't sound like Aunt Mattie," she said, "to be so thoughtful of
me. She must have some other motive besides pity for my loneliness."

"She has!" cried Jane. "You can be sure----"

Mary Louise put her finger to her lips.

"We'll tell you all about it later," she whispered while Max was getting
the suitcases from the rumble seat. "It's quite a story."

"Is Hannah still here?" inquired Jane. "Or do we cook our own supper?"

"Yes, she's here," answered Elsie. "She expects to come every day to work
in the house, and William will take care of the garden and the chickens
and milk the cow just the same. But they're going away every night after

Max, overhearing the last remark, looked disapproving.

"You don't mean to tell me you three girls will be here alone every
night?" he demanded. "You're at least half a mile from the nearest

"Oh, don't worry, Max, we'll be all right," returned Mary Louise lightly.
"There's a family of colored people who live in a shack down in the
valley behind the house. We can call on them if it is necessary."

"Speaking of them," remarked Elsie, "reminds me that William says half a
dozen chickens must have been stolen last night. At least, they're
missing, and of course he blames Abraham Lincoln Jones. But I don't
believe it. Mr. Jones is a deacon in the Riverside Colored Church, and
his wife is the kindest woman. I often stop in to see her, and she gives
me gingerbread."

Mary Louise and Jane exchanged significant looks. Perhaps this colored
family was the explanation of the mysterious disturbances about Dark

Mary Louise suggested this to Elsie after Max had driven away with a
promise to call for the girls at nine o'clock the following morning.

"I don't think so," said Elsie. "But of course it's possible."

"Let's walk over to see this family after supper," put in Jane. "We might
learn a lot."

"All right," agreed Elsie, "if a storm doesn't come up to stop us....
Now, come on upstairs and unpack. What room are you going to sleep
in--Hannah's or Aunt Mattie's--or up in the attic with me?"

"We have to sleep in your aunt Mattie's bedroom," replied Mary Louise. "I
promised we would."

Elsie looked disappointed.

"You'll be so far away from me!" she exclaimed.

"Why don't you sleep on the second floor too?" inquired Jane.

"There isn't any room that's furnished as a bedroom, except Hannah's, and
I think she still has her things in that. Besides, Aunt Mattie wouldn't
like it."

"Oh, well, we'll leave our door open," promised Jane.

"No, we can't do that either," asserted Mary Louise. "Miss Grant told me
to close it."

"Good gracious!" exclaimed her chum. "What next?"

"Supper's ready!" called Hannah from the kitchen.

"So that's next," laughed Mary Louise. "Well, we'll unpack after supper.
I'm not very hungry--I had lunch so late--but I guess I can eat."

Hannah came into the dining room and sat down in a chair beside the
window while the girls ate their supper, so that she might hear the news
of her mistress. Mary Louise told everything--the capture of the bills,
the part Harry Grant played in the affair, and Corinne Pearson's guilt in
the actual stealing. She went on to describe Miss Grant's collapse and
removal to the Riverside Hospital, concluding with her request that the
two girls stay with Elsie while she was away.

"So she still thinks I stole her gold pieces!" cried the orphan

"I'm afraid she does, Elsie," admitted Mary Louise. "But there's
something else she's worrying about. What could Miss Grant possibly own,
Hannah, that she's afraid of losing?"

"I don't know for sure," replied the servant. "But I'll tell you what I
think--if you won't laugh at me."

"Of course we won't, Hannah," promised Jane.

"Well, there was something years ago that old Mr. Grant got hold
of--something valuable--that I made out didn't belong to him. I don't
know what it was--never did know--but I'd hear Mrs. Grant--that was Miss
Mattie's mother, you understand--tryin' to get him to give it back. 'It
can't do us no good,' she'd say--or words like them. And he'd always tell
her that he meant to keep it for a while; if they lost everything else,
this possession would keep 'em out of the poorhouse for a spell. Mrs.
Grant kept askin' him whereabouts it was hidden, and he just laughed at
her. I believe she died without ever findin' out....

"Well, whatever it was, Mr. Grant must have give it to Miss Mattie when
he died, and she kept it hid somewheres in this house. No ordinary place,
or I'd have found it in house-cleanin'. You can't houseclean for forty
years, twicet a year, without knowin' 'bout everything in a house.... But
I never seen nuthin' valuable outside that safe of her'n.

"So what I think is," continued Hannah, keeping her eyes fixed on Mary
Louise, "that Mrs. Grant can't rest in her grave till that thing is give
back to whoever it belongs to. I believe her spirit visits this house at
night, lookin' for it, and turnin' things upside down to find it. That's
why nuthin' ain't never stolen. So anybody that lives here ain't goin'
have no peace at nights till she finds it."

Hannah stopped talking, and, as Jane had promised, nobody laughed. As a
matter of fact, nobody felt like laughing. The woman's belief in her
explanation was too sincere to be derided. The girls sat perfectly still,
forgetting even to eat, thinking solemnly of what she had told them.

"We'll have to find out what the thing is," announced Mary Louise
finally, "if we expect to make any headway. I wish I could go see Miss
Mattie at the hospital tomorrow."

"Well, you can't," said Jane firmly. "You're going to that picnic. We can
ask the gypsies when we have our fortunes told."

"Gypsies!" exclaimed Hannah scornfully. "Gypsies ain't no good! They used
to camp around here till they drove Miss Mattie wild and she got the
police after 'em. Don't have nuthin' to do with gypsies!"

"We're just going to have our fortunes told," explained Jane. "We don't
expect to invite them to our houses."

"Well, don't!" was the servant's warning as she left the room.

When the girls had finished their supper they went upstairs to Miss
Grant's bedroom and unpacked their suitcases. But they were too tired to
walk down the hill to call upon Abraham Lincoln Jones. If he wanted to
steal chickens tonight, he was welcome to, as far as they were concerned.

Hannah and William left about eight o'clock, locking the kitchen door
behind them, and the girls stayed out on the front porch until ten,
talking and singing to Jane's ukulele. The threatening storm had not
arrived when they finally went to bed.

It was so still, so hot outdoors that not even a branch moved in the
darkness. The very silence was oppressive; Jane was sure that she
wouldn't be able to go to sleep when she got into Miss Mattie's wooden
bed with its ugly carving on the headboard. But, in spite of the heat,
both girls dropped off in less than five minutes.

They were awakened sometime after two by a loud clap of thunder. Branches
of the trees close to the house were lashing against the windows, and the
rain was pouring in. Mary Louise jumped up to shut the window. As she
crawled back into bed she heard footsteps in the hall. Light footsteps,
scarcely perceptible above the rain. But someone--something--was
stealthily approaching their door!

Her instinct was to reach for the electric-light button when she
remembered that Miss Grant used only oil lamps. Trembling, she groped in
the darkness for her flashlight, on the chair beside her. But before she
found it the handle rattled on the door, and it opened--slowly and

There, dimly perceptible in the blackness of the hall, stood a
figure--all in white!

                               CHAPTER XI
                              _The Picnic_

The figure in white remained motionless in the doorway of Miss Grant's
room. Mary Louise continued to sit rigid in the bed, while Jane, who was
still lying down, clutched her chum's arm with a grip that actually hurt.

For a full minute there was no sound in the room. Then a flash of
lightning revealed the cause of the girls' terror.

Mary Louise burst out laughing.

"Elsie!" she cried. "You certainly had us scared!"

Jane sat up angrily.

"What's the idea, sneaking in like a ghost?" she demanded.

The orphan started to sob.

"I was afraid of waking you," she explained. "I didn't mean to frighten

"Well, it's all right now," said Mary Louise soothingly. "Ordinarily we
shouldn't have been scared. But in this house, where everybody talks
about seeing ghosts all the time, it's natural for us to be keyed up."

"Why that woman doesn't put in electricity," muttered Jane, "is more than
I can see. It's positively barbarous!"

"Come over and sit here on the bed, Elsie, and tell us why you came
downstairs," invited Mary Louise. "Are you afraid of the storm?"

"Yes, a little bit. But I thought I heard something down in the yard."

"Old Mrs. Grant's ghost?" inquired Jane lightly.

"Maybe it was Abraham Lincoln Jones, returning for more chickens,"
surmised Mary Louise. "But no, it couldn't be, or Silky would be
barking--he could hear that from the cellar--so it must be just the wind,
Elsie. It does make an uncanny sound through all those trees."

"May I stay here till the storm is over?" asked the girl.


If it had not been so hot, Mary Louise would have told Elsie to sleep
with them. But three in a bed, and a rather uncomfortable bed at that,
was too close quarters on a night like this.

The storm lasted for perhaps an hour, while the girls sat chatting
together. As the thundering subsided, Jane began to yawn.

"Suppose I go up to the attic and sleep with Elsie?" she said to Mary
Louise, "if you're not afraid to stay in this room by yourself."

"Of course I'm not!" replied her chum. "I think that's a fine idea, and
your being there will prevent Elsie from being nervous and hearing
things. Does it suit you, Elsie?"

"Yes! Oh, I'd love it! If you're sure you don't mind, Mary Louise."

"I don't expect to mind anything in about five minutes," yawned Mary
Louise. "I'm dead for sleep."

She was correct in her surmise: she knew nothing at all until the bright
sunshine was pouring into her room and Jane wakened her by throwing a
pillow at her head.

"Wake up, lazybones!" she cried. "Don't you realize that today is the

Mary Louise threw the pillow back at her chum and jumped out of bed.

"What a glorious day!" she exclaimed. "And so much cooler."

Elsie, attired in her new pink linen dress, dashed into the room.

"Oh, this is something like!" she cried. "I haven't heard any gayety like
this for three years!"

"Mary Louise is always 'Gay,'" remarked Jane demurely. "In fact, she'll
be 'Gay' till she gets married."

Her chum hurled the other pillow from Miss Grant's bed just as Hannah
poked her nose into the room.

"Don't you girls throw them pillows around!" she commanded. "Miss Mattie
is that careful about her bed--she even makes it herself. And at
house-cleanin' time I ain't allowed to touch it!"

"It's a wonder she let you sleep on it, Mary Louise," observed Elsie.

"_Made_ me sleep on it, you mean." Then, of Hannah, she inquired, "How
soon do we have breakfast?"

"Right away, soon as you're dressed. Then you girls can help pack up some
doughnuts and rolls I made for your picnic."

"You're an angel, Hannah!" exclaimed Mary Louise. To the girls she said,
"Scram, if you want me downstairs in two minutes."

Soon after breakfast the cars arrived. There were three of them--the two
sports roadsters belonging to Max Miller and Norman Wilder, and a sedan
driven by one of the girls of their crowd, a small, red-haired girl named
Hope Dorsey, who looked like Janet Gaynor.

Max had brought an extra boy for Elsie, a junior at high school, by the
name of Kenneth Dormer, and Mary Louise introduced him, putting him with
Elsie in Max's rumble seat. She herself got into the front.

"Got your swimming suit, Mary Lou?" asked Max, as he started his car with
its usual sudden leap.

"Of course," she replied. "As a matter of fact, I brought two of them."

"I hadn't noticed you were getting that fat!"

"That's just about enough out of you! I don't admire the Mae West figure,
you know."

"Then why two suits?" inquired the young man. "Change of costume?"

"One for Elsie and one for me," explained Mary Louise. "I don't believe
Elsie can swim, but she'll soon learn. Will you teach her, Max?"

"I don't think I'll get a chance to, from the way I saw Ken making eyes
at her. He'll probably have a monopoly on the teaching."

Mary Louise smiled: this was just the way she wanted things to be.

The picnic grounds near Cooper's woods were only a couple of miles from
Riverside. A wide stream which flowed through the woods had been dammed
up for swimming, and here the boys and men of Riverside had built two
rough shacks for dressing houses. The cars were no sooner unloaded than
the boys and girls dashed for their respective bath houses.

"Last one in the pool is a monkey!" called Max, as he locked his car.

"I guess I'll be the monkey," remarked Elsie. "Because I have a suit I'm
not familiar with."

"I'll help you," offered Mary Louise.

They were dressed in no time at all; as usual the girls were ahead of the
boys. They were all in the water by the time the boys came out of their

The pool was empty except for a few children, so the young people from
Riverside had a chance to play water games and to dive to their hearts'
content. Everybody except Elsie Grant knew how to swim, and Mary Louise
and several of the others were capable of executing some remarkable stunt

Before noontime arrived Elsie found herself venturing into the deeper
parts of the pool, and, with Kenneth or Mary Louise beside her, she
actually swam several yards. All the while she was laughing and shouting
as she had not done since her parents' death; the cloud of suspicion that
had been hanging over her head for the past few days was forgotten. She
was a normal, happy girl again.

The lunch that followed provided even more fun and hilarity than the
swim. It seemed as if their mothers had supplied everything in the world
to eat. Cakes and pies and sandwiches; hot dogs and steaks to be cooked
over the fire which the boys built; ice cream in dry ice, and refreshing
drinks of fruit juices, iced tea, and soda water. Keen as their appetites
were from the morning's swim, the young people could not begin to eat
everything they had brought.

"We'll have enough left for supper," said Mary Louise, leaning back
against a tree trunk with a sigh of content.

"If the ants don't eat it up," returned Jane. "We better cover things

"We'll do it right away," announced Hope Dorsey. "Come on, boys! you burn
rubbish, and we girls will pack food."

"I can't move," protested Max. "The ants are welcome to their share as
far as I'm concerned. I don't think I'll ever eat again."

"I hate _aunts_," said Elsie, with a sly look at Mary Louise and Jane. "I
don't want them to get a thing, so I'll help put the food away."

Max and a couple of the other lazier boys were pulled to their feet by
Kenneth and Norman, and the picnic spot was soon as clean as when the
party had arrived. Hope Dorsey suggested that they drive back to her home
later in the afternoon and have supper on the lawn. Then they could turn
on the radio and dance on her big screened porch.

"When do we visit these gypsies you were talking about, Max?" demanded
Jane. "I'm keen to hear my fortune."

"They're back towards Riverside," replied the youth. "About half a mile
from Dark Cedars," he added, to Mary Louise.

"They used to camp at Dark Cedars--at least, some gypsies did," Elsie
informed the party. "If they're the same ones, you'd think they wouldn't
come back, after they were driven away by the police."

"Is that what your aunt did?" inquired Kenneth.

"Yes, so Hannah says--Hannah is the maid, you know. She says Aunt Mattie
hates them."

The young people piled into the cars again, and Max led the way, off the
main highway to a dirt road extending behind Dark Cedars. Through the
trees they could catch a glimpse of the gypsy encampment.

"Has everybody some money--in silver?" inquired Max, after the cars were
parked beside the road. "The gypsies insist on gold and silver."

Mary Louise nodded; she was prepared for herself as well as for Elsie.

"Do we all go in in a bunch?" asked Hope.

"Certainly not!" replied Max. "You don't think we could tell our secrets
in front of the whole bunch, do you?"

"Must be pretty bad," observed Jane.

"All right, then, if that's the way you feel about it, I'll go in with
you!" challenged Norman.

"Suits me," returned the girl, with a wink at Mary Louise.

As the crowd came closer to the gypsy encampment, they saw the usual
tents, the caravan, which was a motor truck, and a fire, over which a
kettle was smoldering. Half a dozen children, dressed in ordinary
clothing but without shoes and stockings, were playing under a tree, and
there were several women about. But there did not appear to be any men at
the camp at the time.

One of the women, who had been standing over the fire, came forward to
meet the young people. She was past middle age, Mary Louise judged, from
her dark, wrinkled skin, but her hair was jet black, and her movements
were as agile and as graceful as a girl's. She wore a long dress of a
deep blue color, without any touch of the reds and yellows one usually
associates with gypsies.

"Fortunes?" she asked, smiling, and revealing an ugly gap in her front
teeth, which made her look almost like a story-book witch.

"How much?" asked Max, holding up a quarter in his hand.

The gypsy shook her head. "One dollar," she announced.

Max pulled down the corners of his mouth and looked doubtfully at his

"There are fourteen of us," he said. "Fourteen at fifty cents each is
seven dollars. All in silver.... Take it or leave it."

The woman regarded him shrewdly; she saw that he meant what he said.

"All right," she agreed. "I'll go into my tent and get ready."

The young people turned to Max with whispered congratulations.

"She certainly speaks perfect English," remarked Mary Louise.

They sat down on the grass while they waited for the gypsy woman to
summon them, and when the tent flap finally opened, Jane Patterson and
Norman Wilder jumped to their feet and walked over to the fortune teller

"She'll think you two are engaged, Jane," teased Hope, "if you go in

"Then she'll get fooled," returned the other girl laughingly.

The couple were absent for perhaps five minutes. When they came out of
the tent Jane dashed down the hill to the road.

"The gypsy told her that her class ring is in my car," explained Norman
to the others. "The one she lost, you remember? She said it's under the

"I could have suggested that she look there myself," remarked Max. "Only
I thought, of course, that she already had.... Shall I try my luck next,
or will one of you girls go?"

"I'd love to go," offered Hope Dorsey. "I simply can't wait. By the way,
did she think you two were engaged?"

"No, she didn't. She's pretty wise, after all. She told me some
astounding things. One was that a relation had just died--my uncle did,
you know--and that we're going to get some money.... I hope that part's
true.... You have to hand it to her. I don't believe it's all just the

Hope ran into the tent, and while she was gone Jane returned triumphantly
from the car with her lost ring. Mary Louise's eyes flashed with
excitement: perhaps the gypsy was really possessed of second sight. Oh,
if she could only solve that mystery at Dark Cedars!

Mary Louise was last of all the group to enter the fortune teller's tent.
The woman was seated on the ground with a dirty pack of cards in her
hands. She indicated that the girl should sit down beside her and gave
her the cards to shuffle.

"I'm really not interested in my fortune half so much as I am in a
mystery I'm involved in," explained Mary Louise. She paused, wondering
whether the gypsy would understand what she was talking about. Perhaps
she ought to use simpler language.

"You mean you want to ask me questions?" inquired the woman.

"Yes, that's it," replied Mary Louise. "I'm staying at Dark Cedars now,
and there are strange things going on there. Maybe you can explain them."

"Dark Cedars!" repeated the gypsy. "I know the place.... You don't live

"No, I don't live there. I'm just staying there while Miss Grant is in
the hospital."

The black eyes gleamed, and the woman held two thin, dirty hands in front
of her face.

"Mattie Grant is _evil_," she announced. "Keep away from her!"

Mary Louise wrinkled her brows. "I'm not with her," she said. "I'm only
staying at Dark Cedars while Miss Grant is away."

"But why is that?"

"That's just what I want to ask you! Miss Grant's money has already been
stolen, and I thought maybe you could tell me what I'm supposed to be
protecting--by sleeping in her bed every night."

"In the old witch's bed? Oh-ho!"

"Yes." It struck Mary Louise funny that this gypsy woman should call Miss
Grant a witch when she herself looked much more like one.

The gypsy, however, was giving her attention to the cards, shuffling
them, and finally drawing one of them out of the deck. She laid it face
up in Mary Louise's lap and nodded significantly. It was the eight of

"Mattie Grant's treasure--is--a ruby necklace," she announced slowly,
staring hard at the card. "With eight precious rubies!" She handed the
card to Mary Louise. "Count them for yourself!" she said.

Mary Louise gazed at the woman in amazement, not knowing whether to
believe her or not. The explanation was plausible, but it seemed rather
foolish to her--that the eight of hearts should mean eight rubies....
Would the ace of diamonds have indicated a diamond ring?

But there was no use in questioning the gypsy's power, no point in
antagonizing her. So, instead, she changed the subject by telling her
that a box of gold pieces had been stolen from the safe in Miss Grant's

"Perhaps you can tell me who took them?" she suggested.

The woman picked up the cards and shuffled them again, muttering
something unintelligible to herself as she did it. Once more she drew out
a card, seemingly at random. This time it was the queen of diamonds.

"A light-haired girl--or woman," she announced. "That's all I can say."

Mary Louise gasped. Elsie Grant had light hair--but, then, so did Corinne
Pearson.... And Mrs. Grace Grant's hair was gray.

The gypsy rose from the ground as lightly and as easily as a girl.

"I think you've had more than your time, miss," she concluded. "Now,
please to go!"

                              CHAPTER XII
                           _Bound and Gagged_

"How was your fortune, Mary Louise?" inquired Max, as the former emerged
from the gypsy's tent and joined the merry group in the field. "Did she
say you'd marry a tall, good-looking fellow, with lots of personality?"

Mary Louise laughed.

"No, she didn't. I guess I'm going to be an old maid."

"Then you're the only one," remarked Hope. "All the rest of us get rich
husbands and trips around the world."

Elsie came up close to Mary Louise and whispered in her ear.

"She told me to leave Dark Cedars," she said. "How do you suppose she
knew that I lived there?"

"Must have seen you around, I suppose," replied Mary Louise. "She warned
me to get out too, but then I told her I was staying there.... But don't
tell Jane, Elsie. She'd go in a minute if she heard that."

"Hadn't we better all go--till Aunt Mattie gets back from the hospital?
Wouldn't your mother let me stay at your house if I worked for my board?"

"Of course she would. You wouldn't have to work any more than I do--just
help Mother a little. But I promised your aunt I'd live at her place and
sleep in her bed, and I'm going to stay. There's some explanation for all
this superstition about Dark Cedars, and I mean to find it out!"

"Stop whispering secrets!" commanded Max Miller, separating the two girls
forcibly. "Of course, Ken and I know you're talking about us, and what
you're saying is probably complimentary."

Elsie laughed and followed Mary Louise into the car. The group drove to
Hope Dorsey's, as she had suggested, and ate the rest of the picnic food
for their supper. Another round of fun followed, and it was after ten
when the party finally broke up.

Dropping Kenneth Dormer at his own home, Max ran the three girls back to
Dark Cedars.

"Don't you think I better go into the house and light the lamps for you?"
he inquired. "It looks so spooky in there."

"Oh, we have Silky for protection," returned Mary Louise lightly. "Thank
you just the same, Max."

The young man waited, however, until he saw the girls unlock the front
door and light the lamp in the hall.

"Everything's O.K.!" shouted Mary Louise. "We'll be asleep inside of ten

Max waved back again and started his engine. Elsie lighted two more lamps
which Hannah had left in readiness for the girls, and all together, with
Silky at their heels, they mounted the creaking staircase.

"You can't sleep upstairs, Silky!" said Mary Louise to her dog. "Miss
Grant would never allow that. Go down to your box in the cellar."

The spaniel seemed to understand, for he stood still, wagging his tail
and looking pleadingly at his mistress.

"I think it's a shame to send him off by himself," remarked Jane.

"So do I," agreed Mary Louise. "But it's got to be done. He'd get up on
the bed, as likely as not--the way he does at home. And just imagine what
Miss Grant would think of that! Her precious bed!"

Turning about, she led the little dog to the cellar, and there, in a box
next to the kitten's, he settled down to sleep. When she returned the
girls were waiting for her in Miss Grant's bedroom.

"How do we sleep tonight?" inquired Elsie.

"Oh, you can have Jane again if you want her," agreed Mary Louise. "It
doesn't make any difference to me."

The younger girl was delighted.

"Only," added Mary Louise, "if you expect to do any prowling around
tonight, please shout your presence in the room."

"I expect to go right to sleep," replied Elsie. "With Jane beside me,
I'll feel safe."

Mary Louise smiled and kissed her goodnight. In many ways Elsie Grant
seemed like a child to her, in spite of her fifteen years.

Alone in the room, she undressed quickly, hanging her clothing on a
chair, for she could not bring herself to use that big, old closet,
filled with Miss Grant's things. She was very tired, and, thankful that
the night was so much cooler than the preceding one, she blew out the
lamp and crawled into bed.

The utter blackness of the room was rather appalling, even to a
courageous girl like Mary Louise. Accustomed as she was to the street
lights of Riverside, the darkness was thick and strange, for the
denseness of the trees about Dark Cedars shut out even the sky, with its
stars, from the windows. But Mary Louise closed her eyes immediately,
resolved not to let anything so trivial bother her.

The girls in the attic had quieted down; the house was in absolute
silence. Mary Louise, too, lay very still. Listening.... She almost
believed that she heard somebody breathing!

"But that's absurd!" she reprimanded herself sharply. "It couldn't be a
ghost, as Hannah insists, for ghosts don't breathe. And it couldn't be a
robber trying to get into the house, or Silky would be barking. That dog
has keen ears."

She turned over and put the thought out of her mind by recalling the high
lights of the picnic, and soon dozed off. But she knew that she had not
been asleep long when she was suddenly awakened by the low, squeaking
creak of a door.

Thinking it was probably Elsie, restless after too much picnic food, Mary
Louise opened her eyes and peered about in the darkness. Now she heard
that breathing distinctly--and something big and dark seemed to be moving
towards her, something blacker than the darkness of the room. No face was
visible to her until the figure bent over close to her in the bed. Then
she beheld two gleaming eyes!

She opened her lips to scream, but at the same instant a thin hand was
clapped over her mouth, making utterance impossible. Both her hands were
caught and held in an iron grip, and a bag was pulled over her head and
tied so tightly under her chin that she believed she would choke.

Mary Louise could see nothing now, but she felt a rope being twisted
around her body, tying her arms to her sides. In another second she was
lifted bodily and tossed roughly into Miss Grant's closet.... The key was
turned in the lock.

In wild desperation Mary Louise tried to shout, but the thickness and
tightness of the bag over her head muffled the sound, and the closet
walls closed it in. The girls in the attic would never hear her, for they
were at the back of the house, and probably sleeping soundly. So she
abandoned the effort, and became quiet, twisting her hands about under
the rope, and listening to the sounds from the room.

Whoever, whatever it was that had attacked her was moving about
stealthily, making a queer noise that sounded like the tearing of a
garment. For a brief moment the thought of Corinne Pearson jumped into
her mind. Had the girl come here to get revenge on Mary Louise for
disclosing her guilt, and was she tearing her clothes to pieces?

But such an explanation was too absurd to be possible. It couldn't be
Corinne--she was at that dance with Ned Mason. But it might be Harry
Grant, searching for that precious possession of his aunt Mattie's--that
ruby necklace, if the gypsy was correct.... But, no, Mary Louise did not
believe it was Harry--or any man. Something about the motion of the
figure, the touch of its hands, proclaimed it to be feminine.... She
thought of that ghost Hannah had described, the spirit of dead Mrs.
Grant, looking for the hidden treasure, and she shuddered.

The tearing and ripping was becoming more pronounced. Mary Louise
listened more intently, still twisting her hands about in an effort to
free them.

She heard a chair being moved away from the window, and the screen being
taken away.... She twisted her hands again.... Her right hand--was free!

In spite of her terror, Mary Louise almost sang out with joy.

The next sound she heard was a dear, familiar noise, a sound that sent a
thrill through her whole body. It was the infuriated bark of her little
dog Silky from the cellar.

Mary Louise lost no time in freeing her other hand and in untying the
knot about her chin which fastened the bag over her head. She was free at
last--as far as her limbs were concerned. But she was still locked
securely in Miss Grant's closet.

Through the crack of the door she perceived a streak of light; the
intruder had not worked in darkness. But in a second it was extinguished,
and she heard a noise at the window.

Then--utter blackness and silence again!

Mary Louise raised her voice now and screamed at the top of her lungs.
She was rewarded by the sound of hurrying footsteps and the incessant
bark of her dog, coming nearer and nearer. In another moment she heard
the girls in the room and saw the gleam of a flashlight through the

"I'm locked in the closet!" she shouted. "Let me out, Jane!"

Her chum turned the key in the door. Thank heaven, it was still there!
Blinded by the light from the flash, Mary Louise staggered out.

"What happened?" demanded Jane, her face deathly pale with terror.

Mary Louise stumbled towards the bed. "No bones broken, thank goodness!"
she exclaimed, sitting down carefully upon the bed. But she jumped up

"What's happened to this bed?" she demanded. "It's full of pins and

Her chum turned the flashlight upon the ugly piece of furniture, and Mary
Louise perceived at once the explanation of the ripping sound she had
heard. The bed clothing was literally torn to pieces; the mattress was
cut in a dozen places, and straw strewn all over the floor. No wonder it
felt sharp to sit down on!

"So the ruby necklace was hidden in the bed!" she muttered.

"What ruby necklace?" demanded Jane.

"That's what the gypsy said Miss Grant was treasuring so carefully. She
probably just made a guess at it--to seem wise. It may be a diamond ring,
for all I know.... Anyhow, somebody stole it. Who could it have been?"

"Tell us exactly what happened," begged Jane.

Briefly Mary Louise told the grim story. Elsie had lighted the lamp, and
the girls sat about on chairs, listening intently. Silky, who had stopped
barking now, climbed into his mistress's lap.

"Funny Elsie didn't hear you try to scream the first time," remarked
Jane. "She was awake."

"You were?" asked Mary Louise. "What time is it?"

"It's only quarter-past eleven," answered Elsie. "I couldn't go to
sleep--too much chocolate cake and apple pie, I suppose."

"It was Silky who waked me up," said Jane. "I heard him barking. And I
looked for Elsie and saw she wasn't in bed. So I thought he was just
barking at her, prowling around the house."

Mary Louise opened her eyes wide.

"Where were you, Elsie?"

"I--was down in the kitchen, getting some baking soda." She burst into
tears. "You don't think I did that fiendish thing, do you, Mary Louise?"

"No, of course not." But Mary Louise knew that Miss Grant would not be so
ready to accept her niece's innocence.

"We better make a tour of the house," she suggested, standing up and
going over to the window, where she noticed that the screen was out,
lying on the floor. "I think the intruder must have gotten out this way."

"But that's not the window with the porch underneath," objected Jane.

"No, but he could have used a ladder," returned Mary Louise.

The girls slipped coats over their pajamas and put on their shoes. With
Silky close at their heels, they went downstairs and out the front door,
around to the side of the house.

The first thing that they spied was a ladder, lying on the ground
perpendicular to the wall.

"That's William's ladder," announced Elsie. "He often leaves it around.
It seems to me he had it out yesterday, nailing up a board on the porch

"If only we could find some footprints," said Mary Louise, flashing her
light on the ground.

But she could see no marks. If the intruder had made off that way, he had
been wise enough to walk over the rounds of the ladder. And everywhere
cedar needles covered the ground, making footprints almost impossible.

"Wait till Aunt Mattie hears about this!" sobbed Elsie. "It'll be the end
of me."

"We won't tell her till she gets better," decided Mary Louise. "Maybe by
that time we'll discover a clue that will help us solve the mystery."

"Oh, I hope so!" breathed the young girl fervently.

All this time, however, Jane said nothing. But she was watching Elsie
closely, as if she was beginning to believe that she might be guilty.

"Let's go to bed," concluded Mary Louise when the tour of inspection was
finished. "I'm going to sleep in Hannah's room--and I'm going to keep
Silky with me this time."

"I wish you had taken that precaution before," sighed Jane.

"So do I. But it's too late now. Let's get some sleep, for tomorrow we
have to get to work--and work fast!"

                              CHAPTER XIII
                            _Detective Work_

Sunday morning dawned clear and peaceful. As Mary Louise wakened to hear
the birds singing in the trees outside the window of Hannah's old room at
Dark Cedars, she could hardly believe in the terrifying experience of the
previous night. It was just like a horrible dream, incredible in the
morning sunshine.

"I believe I'd like to go to Sunday school," she said to Jane at the
breakfast table. "It's a lovely day, and we'd see all our friends. Don't
you want to come along too, Elsie?"

The young girl, still pale and nervous from the night before, shook her

"No, thank you, Mary Louise," she replied. "I'll stay home and help

Mary Louise glanced up apprehensively. As yet the servant had not been
informed of the mysterious intruder.

"Will you tell her what happened last night?" she asked, in a low tone.
"Or shall we?"

"No, I will," agreed Elsie. "She'll be sure it was Mrs. Grant's ghost
again.... And I'll help her fix up the bedroom."

Mary Louise nodded. "You'll come, Jane?" she inquired.

"I'm leaving--for good!" announced her chum. "I wouldn't spend another
night at Dark Cedars for all the necklaces in the world!"

Mary Louise said nothing: there was no use arguing with Jane. As she went
out of the door with Silky at her heels she called to Hannah that she
alone would be back to dinner.

"About two o'clock," returned the woman. "And ain't Miss Jane comin'?"

"No, Hannah," answered the girl for herself. "I shan't see you again.

The girls were some distance beyond the hedge of Dark Cedars when Mary
Louise asked her companion her reason for leaving. "Because," she added,
"now that everything valuable has been stolen, I don't see what you have
to fear."

Jane hesitated a moment.

"I hate to say it, Mary Lou, but I feel I must tell you--for your own
protection. It's _Elsie_ I'm afraid of. I really believe she is guilty. I
think she has those gold pieces hidden somewhere at Dark Cedars--and now
the necklace. I think she's a sneak, and I believe she's planning a
getaway. But if one of us should discover her theft, I'm afraid she'd do
something desperate to us."

An expression of pain passed over Mary Louise's face. "Go on, and tell me
why you suspect her," she said.

"On account of last night. Figure it out for yourself. If that had been a
burglar, why wouldn't Silky have barked when he was getting into the
house? Why wouldn't Elsie have heard him, if she was down in the kitchen,
as she said? And how could he have gotten away so quickly? You think
maybe he went out that window at the side of the house, but that's only a
guess. Elsie could have _pretended_ to make an escape from the window
while you were locked in the closet and then have slipped out the door
and down to the kitchen."

Mary Louise gasped in horror.

"It doesn't sound possible," she admitted.

"And the way she protested her innocence immediately," added Jane.
"Remember that?"

"Yes, I do. But there is a possible explanation, Jane. The burglar might
have broken into the house while we were away and been hiding in the
closet while I got ready for bed. I didn't open the door."

"But why would he do that? Why wouldn't he finish the job and leave
before we came back?"

"He might have just gotten in about the time we arrived at Dark Cedars."
She paused, thinking of Corinne Pearson. "Suppose it was Corinne--on her
way to that dance----"

Jane shook her head. "Possible, but not probable," she said. "No, I
believe it was Elsie. Do you remember how pleased she was that I wasn't
going to sleep with you in Miss Mattie's room? And how she sneaked in
there night before last, scaring us so? Oh, Mary Lou, I think all the
evidence points that way. And she's beginning to notice our suspicion.
That's why she was so quiet at breakfast--and so glad to get rid of us."

Mary Louise was silent; she did not tell Jane that she felt convinced
that the burglar was of the feminine gender.

"Well, don't say anything about our experience to anybody," cautioned
Mary Louise as the girls entered the Sunday school building. "I may talk
it over with Daddy, if he's home. But nobody else."

Jane promised, and they both dismissed their troubles for the time being
in the presence of their friends.

It was eleven o'clock when the two girls came out of the building, to
find Silky patiently waiting for them.

"You take him home, Jane," said Mary Louise, "and I'll stop at the
hospital. If I can do so tactfully, I want to find out whether it really
was a ruby necklace that was hidden in the bed."

But Mary Louise's visit proved a disappointment; she was told at the desk
that it would be impossible for her or anyone else to see Miss Mattie
Grant at the present time.

"The operation was successful," the attendant stated, in that
matter-of-fact tone officials so often assume, "but Miss Grant is under
the influence of a narcotic. She wouldn't know anybody.... Come back

Mary Louise nodded and walked slowly out of the door, uncertain as to
what her next move should be.

Still thinking deeply, she strolled down the street until she came within
a block of Mrs. Grace Grant's home. Here a sudden impulse decided her to
visit these relations of Miss Mattie. If anyone in the world knew about
the necklace, that person would be the trusted nephew, John Grant.

Mary Louise paused a moment in front of the gate, a little nervous about
going in. Suppose Harry Grant were home alone and he started to tease her
in that familiar way of his! John she had never seen, except that night
on his porch, in the dark; and of course Mrs. Grant would be at church.

But the sight of a nice-looking sedan parked in front of the house
reassured her. In all probability that was John's car, she decided, for
it certainly was not Harry's. Bravely she opened the gate and walked up
to the porch.

She had to wait several minutes before there was any answer to her ring.
Then a middle-aged man, stout and rather bald, as Elsie had described
John, opened the door.

"Is this Mr. John Grant?" she asked, trying to make her tone sound

"Yes," replied the man.

"I am Mary Louise Gay," she stated. "The girl who found Miss Mattie
Grant's money for her, you know."

John Grant did not know; he shook his head. Evidently the story had been
suppressed by his mother out of consideration for Harry.

"You didn't hear about the robbery?" she inquired.

"No. I only know that Aunt Mattie is in the hospital. My sister--Mrs.
Pearson--phoned yesterday. But when was she robbed?"

"Can you come out on the porch and talk to me for a few minutes, Mr.
Grant?" asked Mary Louise.

"Certainly," he answered, glancing at his watch. "I have to drive to
church for Mother at half-past twelve. But that's over an hour from now."

"Thank you, Mr. Grant," said Mary Louise, as she seated herself in one of
the chairs. "I won't tell you the whole story--it's too long. But before
your aunt went to the hospital, all her money was stolen out of her safe.
My chum and I succeeded in getting most of it back--all but a box of gold
pieces--and your aunt put the money and her bonds into the bank.

"Then, when she had to go to the hospital so suddenly, she became
panic-stricken and made me promise to sleep in her room while she was
away. She had something hidden in her room, something valuable, but she
wouldn't tell me what it was. I'd like to find out just what it was."

"Why?" demanded the man fearfully. "Has that been taken too?"

Mary Louise nodded and briefly told her story of the mysterious intruder
the preceding night.

"It was a ruby necklace," said John. "A necklace someone gave to my
grandfather, I believe. Aunt Mattie didn't know much about how he got it,
but he told her it was very valuable and that she must guard it above
everything else in the world. So she had it hidden in her straw mattress,
and told me where it was, because it is willed to me. Nobody else knew
anything about it, to my knowledge."

"A ruby necklace!" repeated Mary Louise. "That's what the gypsy said it
was. I asked a fortune teller whom our crowd visited yesterday, and she
told me. Claimed it was 'second sight' on her part."

John Grant laughed.

"More likely a rumor she had heard. The family knew there was
something--I mean Aunt Mattie's family--my father and my uncle. But even
they never knew where Grandfather got it or from whom. There must have
been something queer about it, though, for I understood from my father
that Grandmother wanted him to give it back. And then, when Aunt Mattie
got hold of it, she kept it hidden."

"Yes, that's what Hannah says," agreed Mary Louise. "She says all this
disturbance is old Mrs. Grant's spirit trying to get it back again. But I
can't be expected to believe that."

"Naturally." John smiled, and Mary Louise thought what a nice, pleasant
face he had. No wonder his aunt Mattie trusted him!

"Miss Grant is going to blame Elsie, of course," continued Mary Louise.
"She accused her of stealing the gold pieces."

"Hm!" observed John, as if he too thought the idea possible. "Did she
take the rest of the money?"

"No, she didn't. We proved that."

"Then who did?" inquired John.

"I think I had better not say," answered Mary Louise. "That's over and
done with. Your mother knows--if you want, you can ask her."

John smiled. Mary Louise believed he had guessed the solution himself.

"You don't really think Elsie would take the gold or the necklace, do
you, Mr. Grant?" she asked anxiously. "Of course, you know her a lot
better than I do."

"I don't know. She might argue that she had a right to some of that
money. It wasn't quite fair that Aunt Mattie got all of Grandfather's
fortune, and Elsie's father didn't get a penny.... Yes, she might take
it, while I don't believe she would ever steal anything else."

Mary Louise shuddered: it seemed as if she were the only person in the
world who still considered Elsie innocent.

"There's a colored family who live down the hill in back of Dark Cedars.
Could they know about the necklace, Mr. Grant, do you suppose?"

"Abraham Lincoln Jones? Yes, they could have heard rumors about it--just
as those gypsies did. But I happen to know that man, and I am sure he is
thoroughly honest."

"Would he steal chickens?"

"Not even chickens.... Of course, his children might. Colored people love
chicken, you know."

"I'm going to get Elsie to take me to see them this afternoon." Mary
Louise rose from her chair. "I won't take any more of your time, Mr.
Grant--unless you can tell me what to do. I don't like to go to the
police without Miss Grant's consent."

"No, I wouldn't do that. If there is something queer about her possession
of the necklace, it would be better for her to lose it than to have an
old disgrace exposed. At Aunt Mattie's age, I mean. We better wait until
she gets well."

Mary Louise nodded: that was exactly her idea too. Unless, of course, one
of the family had taken it--Corinne Pearson or Harry Grant.

"But I guess it would be all right to speak to Daddy in confidence about
it," she said, "and get his advice."

"Your father?"

"Yes. He is Detective Gay, of the police force. You've heard of him?"

"Oh, yes, certainly. But tell him not to bring in the police--yet."

Mary Louise held out her hand.

"Thank you so much, Mr. Grant, for giving me your time," she said. "I'll
get in touch with you later."

Well satisfied with her interview, she left the Grants' porch and
determined to do a little more investigating for herself before she
consulted her father. A little farther down the street was the home of
Bernice Tracey, an attractive young woman of about twenty-five, who had
once been a lieutenant in Mary Louise's Girl Scout troop. To this girl
she decided to go for some information concerning Corinne Pearson, for
she knew that Miss Tracey was a member of the Country Club set.

Miss Tracey herself answered Mary Louise's ring at the door.

"Why, Mary Lou!" she exclaimed in surprise. "You are a stranger! And you
almost caught me in bed, too! I just finished my breakfast. Come in--or
shall I come out on the porch?"

"Oh, I can only stay a minute, Miss Tracey," replied Mary Louise. "I just
wanted to ask you a couple of questions, if you don't mind.... And please
don't think I'm crazy."

"I know there never was a girl with a more level head on her shoulders!"
answered the other admiringly. "Go ahead and ask me the questions, Mary

"Well--er--you went to that dance last night, didn't you, with the
Country Club people? Was Corinne Pearson there?"

"Yes, she and Ned Mason ate supper with us. Why?"

"Please don't ask me why! What time did the dance begin?"

"About eleven o'clock."

Mary Louise frowned; it was possible, then, that Corinne could have been
at Dark Cedars a little after ten.

"And--and--can you remember what Miss Pearson wore?"

"Yes. A white organdie. It was very simple, but awfully nice for a summer
dance. I wish I had been as sensible."

Now for the final question! Mary Louise had to summon all her courage to
put forth this one.

"Do you remember what kind of jewelry she had on? What color?"

Miss Tracey's face lighted up with a smile.

"I know why you're asking me these questions, Mary Lou!" she exclaimed.
"You're a society reporter on the _Star_--aren't you? But I don't see why
you don't ask me what I wore. Aren't I as pretty and as important as
Corinne Pearson?"

"You're twice as important and five times as pretty, Miss Tracey!"
replied Mary Louise instantly. "But I'm not a reporter-or even trying to
become one.... I'll explain some time later.... Just tell me about the
jewelry, if you can remember."

"All right, my dear. Corinne wore red with her white dress. Imitation
rubies, I suppose. Earrings and necklace and two bracelets."

"Oh!" gasped Mary Louise. "That's what I want to know. Thank you, Miss
Tracey, thank you just heaps!"

                              Chapter XIV
                               _Bad News_

Mary Louise's first impulse, upon leaving Miss Tracey's home, was to rush
right over to Corinne Pearson with a demand to see the necklace which she
had worn at the dance the night before. But she had not taken more than a
few steps before she saw the foolishness of such a proceeding. In the
first place, Corinne would not be likely to show her the necklace; in the
second place, Mary Louise could tell nothing by examining it. She wasn't
a connoisseur in rubies; it was doubtful whether she could spot a real
stone if she saw one. No, nothing was to be gained by a visit to the
Pearsons' at this time.

So instead she directed her course towards home, resolving to discuss the
whole affair with her father, if he had returned from his business trip,
as her mother had expected.

She found him on the porch, reading the Sunday paper and smoking his
pipe. He was a big man with a determined chin and fine dark eyes which
lighted up with joy at the sight of his daughter.

"Mary Lou!" he exclaimed, getting up out of his chair and kissing her. "I
was so afraid you wouldn't be home to see me!"

"I just had to see you, Daddy," returned the girl. "I need your help."

"Sit down, dear. Your mother tells me that you are engaged in some
serious business. I feel very proud of my detective daughter."

"I'm afraid I'm not so good after all," she replied sadly. "Now that I'm
really up against a hard problem, I don't know which way to turn. I'd
like to tell you about it, if you have time."

She seated herself in the hammock and took off her hat. It was lovely and
cool on the shaded porch after the heat of the Riverside streets.

"Of course I have time," Mr. Gay assured her. "Begin at the beginning."

"I will, Daddy. Only, first of all, you must promise not to tell
anybody--except Mother, of course. Miss Grant seems to dread publicity of
any kind."


"The reason she gives is that she firmly believes some member of her own
family to be guilty and wants to avoid scandal. But I think there's
another--a deeper reason."

"And what do you think that is, Mary Lou?"

"A desire to keep her possession of a ruby necklace a secret. She kept it
hidden in the mattress of her bed and never mentioned it to anybody
except one trusted nephew."

Mr. Gay wrinkled his brows. "I guess you had better tell me the facts in
order, dear."

Mary Louise settled herself more comfortably in the hammock, and told her
story, just as everything had happened. When she finally came to the
description of the robbery the previous night, and of her own shameful
treatment at the hands of the thief, her father cried out in resentment.

"Don't tell Mother about my being bound up and put in the closet," she
begged. "It would worry her sick."

"It worries me sick!" announced Mr. Gay. "And I don't want you to spend
another night at that dreadful place.... In fact, I forbid it!"

Mary Louise nodded: she had been expecting the command.

"Then may I bring Elsie Grant home with me while her aunt is in the
hospital?" she asked.

"Yes, I suppose so--if your mother is willing." But his consent was
rather reluctant; Mary Louise sensed his distrust of the orphan.

"Daddy, do you think Elsie is guilty?" she asked immediately.

"I don't know what to think. You believe that your intruder was a woman,
don't you? Then, if it was a woman in Miss Grant's family, how many
possible suspects have you?"

Mary Louise checked them off on her fingers. "Old Mrs. Grant, Mrs.
Pearson, Corinne Pearson--and Elsie."

"Which are most likely to have heard about the necklace? Old Mrs. Grant
and Elsie, I should say, offhand."

"Yes," agreed his daughter. "And I'm sure Mrs. Grace Grant wouldn't
steal. Besides, she's too old to get down a ladder."

"Hold on a minute!" cautioned her father. "You're not sure that your
thief got away in that manner. Suppose, as you are inclined to believe,
she was at Dark Cedars when you arrived last night, and suppose she did
hide in the closet until she thought you were asleep. When she finished
her job, why couldn't she have walked down the stairs and out the
door--it must unlock from the inside--while you were still locked in the

"That's true. But wouldn't Elsie have heard her?"

"Probably. But, then, she'd have been likely to hear anybody getting out
of a window.... Yes, I think suspicion points to the young girl, with one
possible exception."

"You mean Corinne Pearson?"

"No, I don't. I think the very fact that she wore a red necklace to the
dance practically proves her innocence. If she even knew her aunt owned a
ruby necklace, she wouldn't have done that, after she was caught in
another theft."

Mary Louise sighed: she felt as if her visit to Miss Tracey had been
wasted time, and she said as much to her father. But he reassured her
with the statement that real detectives make many such visits, which may
seem to lead to nothing, but which all have their part in leading to the
capture of the criminal.

"Then whom else do you suspect, Daddy?" she asked.

"The most obvious person of all. The person who had every reason to
believe that there was something valuable hidden in Miss Grant's bed from
the way the old lady guarded it. The person who made up all the stories
about ghosts to throw you girls off the track. I mean Hannah, of course."

"Hannah!" repeated Mary Louise in amazement. She had never thought of her
as guilty since her interview with her that very first day.

"You may be right, Daddy. But if she was going to steal, why did she do
it at night, when we were there? She had plenty of chance all day alone
at Dark Cedars--except for William, her husband."

"Yes, but then you would immediately suspect her or William. This threw
you off the track."

Mary Louise pondered the matter seriously.

"I still can't believe that, Daddy. Knowing Hannah as I do, I would stake
my word on the fact that both she and old Mrs. Grant are absolutely

"Well, it may not have been a member of the family at all," observed Mr.
Gay. "Maybe it was an outsider, someone who had heard a rumor about the
necklace and visited the house systematically at night, searching for it.
That would account for those strange noises and the disturbances. It
might even have been the person who owned the necklace in the first
place, who would know, of course, that it was still at Dark Cedars. There
is only one thing to do that I can see, and that is to notify the
pawnshops and jewelers all over the country."

"But that would take forever," protested Mary Louise. "And besides, we
couldn't mention Miss Grant's name without her permission."

Mr. Gay smiled; there was a great deal for Mary Louise to learn about the
detective business.

"It wouldn't take any time at all," he said. "The police have a list of
all such places and a method of communication. And Miss Grant's name need
not be mentioned--my name is sufficient. But I wish we could get a more
accurate description of the necklace."

"I wish we could. I'll try to see Miss Grant again tomorrow."

"It doesn't make so much difference, however," her father told her. "If
the rubies are real, they can easily be detected. It isn't likely that
many ruby necklaces are being pawned at the same time."

"Will you do this for me, Daddy?" asked Mary Louise, rising from the
hammock and opening the screen door. "I just want to say 'hello' to
Mother, and then I must be on my way. I'm due back at Dark Cedars at two

Mr. Gay frowned.

"Must you go, dear? I don't forbid it, in broad daylight, but I don't
like it."

"Yes, I must get my suitcase, Daddy. And bring Elsie back, if she wants
to come."

"All right, Mary Lou. I'll drive you over, if our dinner isn't ready. And
I'll come back for you about five o'clock, so that I'm sure of getting
you home here safely before dark."

It was a simple matter for Mary Louise to gain her mother's consent to
bring Elsie Grant home with her. Believing the girl to be just a poor
downtrodden orphan, Mrs. Gay adopted a motherly, sympathetic attitude,
totally unaware that both Jane Patterson and Mr. Gay suspected the girl
of the crime. She was delighted that her daughter had decided to leave
Dark Cedars.

"It's bad enough to have your father away on dangerous work, without
having to worry about you too, Mary Louise," she said as she kissed her
daughter good-bye. "Be back in time for supper."

"I will," promised the girl. "Daddy is going to drive me over and come
back for me."

During the short ride in her father's car the theft was not mentioned. If
possible, Mary Louise wanted to forget it for the time being. She hated
to go to Dark Cedars and eat Hannah's dinner as Elsie's guest and all the
while suspect one or the other of them of a horrible crime.

Mr. Gay left Mary Louise at the hedge, and she ran up the path lightly,
just like an ordinary girl visiting one of her chums for a Sunday dinner.
But Elsie did not come out to meet her, and she had to knock on the door
to gain admittance.

In a minute or two Hannah answered it.

"Hello!" she said. "Ain't Elsie with you?"

Mary Louise shook her head.

"No. She said she'd stay and help you," she replied. "Didn't she tell you
about what happened last night?"

"No!" Hannah's eyes opened wide. "Was the spirits here again?"

"Somebody was here," answered Mary Louise. "Haven't you been up in Miss
Grant's room?"

The woman shook her head.

"No, I ain't. I've been too busy out in the garden helpin' William and
gettin' dinner ready. I figured you girls'd make your own bed. Elsie
always did most of the upstairs work."

"Well, I couldn't very easily make the first bed I slept in," remarked
Mary Louise. "Because the mattress was torn to pieces."

"Miss Mattie's?" gasped Hannah, in genuine terror. She looked so
frightened that Mary Louise could not believe she was acting.

"Yes. Somebody bound and gagged me and locked me in the closet and then
proceeded to strip the bed. They must have found Miss Grant's precious
necklace--for that's what it was, John Grant said."

The servant woman bowed her head.

"May the Lord have mercy on us!" she said reverently. "It's His way of
punishin' Miss Mattie fer keepin' the thing her dead mother warned her
agin'." She looked up at Mary Louise. "Eat your dinner quick," she said.
"Then let's get out of here, before the spirits come agin!"

"But where's Elsie?" insisted Mary Louise, knowing that it was no use to
argue with Hannah about the "spirits."

"She went off soon after you girls left. I thought she changed her mind
and went to Sunday school. She had on her green silk."

"And hasn't she come back all morning?" demanded Mary Louise in dismay.

"Nary a sign of her."

Mary Louise groaned. This was bad news--just what she had been fearing
ever since her conversations with Jane and with her father. If Elsie had
run away, there could be only one reason for her going: she must be

"I had better go right home and see my father," she said nervously.

"You set right down and eat your dinner, Miss Mary Louise!" commanded
Hannah. "You need food--and it's right here. You ain't a-goin' to take no
hot walk on an empty stomach! Besides, Elsie may come in any minute. She
probably run down to show them colored people her pretty green dress."

Mary Louise's eyes brightened.

"Abraham Lincoln Jones's family?" she inquired.

"Yeah. Elsie's awful fond of them. They kind of pet her up, you know."

Mary Louise smiled and sat down to her dinner. The food tasted good, for
it was fresh from the garden, and Hannah was an excellent cook. But all
the time she was eating she kept her eyes on the door, watching, almost
praying that Elsie would come in.

"Maybe you had better not touch that room of Miss Grant's," she cautioned
Hannah. "I think it might be better to leave it just as it is--for the
sake of evidence. My clothes are in your old room now, and I'll get them
from there."

"Don't you worry!" returned the woman, with a frightened look in her
eyes. "I ain't givin' no spirits no chance at me! I'm leavin' the minute
these dishes is done, and I ain't comin' back day or night. If Elsie
ain't home by the time I go, you can take the key, Miss Mary Louise, and
turn it over to Miss Mattie."

Mary Louise nodded: perhaps this was for the best.

"I'll leave my suitcase on the porch while I run down to see the Jones
family," she said, as she finished her apple pie. "And you had better
clear out the refrigerator and take all the food that is left, because,
if I find Elsie, I'll take her home with me."

"Maybe she's havin' a chicken dinner with them colored people," returned
Hannah and for the first time since Mary Louise's arrival she smiled.

                               CHAPTER XV
                               _An Alibi_

The wooden shack where the Jones family lived was picturesque in its
setting among the cedar trees behind Miss Grant's home. In summer time
Mary Louise could understand living very comfortably in such a place.
But, isolated as it was, and probably poorly heated, it must be terribly
cold in winter.

She ran down the hill gayly, humming a tune to herself and smiling, for
she did not want the colored family to think that her visit was anything
but a friendly one. As she came to a clearing among the cedar trees she
saw two nicely dressed children playing outside the shack and singing at
the top of their lungs. They beamed at Mary Louise genially and went on
with their song.

"Do you children know Miss Elsie Grant?" she shouted.

They both nodded immediately.

"Sure we know her! You a friend o' hers?"

"Yes," answered Mary Louise. "I've been visiting her, up at her aunt's
place. But she didn't come home for dinner, so I thought maybe she was

"No, ma'am, she ain't," replied the older child. "You-all want to see

"Yes, I should like to. If she isn't busy."

"Ma!" yelled both children at once, and a pleasant-faced colored woman
appeared at the door of the shack. "Here's a frien' of Miz Elsie's!"

The woman smiled. "Come in, Honey," she invited.

"I just wanted to ask you whether you had seen Miss Elsie this morning,"
said Mary Louise.

Mrs. Jones opened the bright-blue screen door and motioned her caller
into her house. There were only two rooms in the shack, but Mary Louise
could see immediately how beautifully neat they were, although the color
combinations made her want to laugh out loud. A purple door curtain
separated the one room from the other, and some of the chairs were red
plush, some brown leather, and one a bright green. But there was mosquito
netting tacked up at the windows, and the linoleum-covered floor was

"Set down, Honey," urged the woman, and Mary Louise selected a red-plush
chair. She repeated her question about Elsie.

"Yes and no," replied Mrs. Jones indefinitely.

"What do you mean by 'yes and no,' Mrs. Jones?" inquired Mary Louise.

"I saw her but didn't have no talk wid her," explained the other. "She
was all dressed up in a fine dress and had a bundle unde' her arm. I
reckoned she was comin' down to visit us, but she done go off through de
woods. Why you ask, Honey? She ain't lost, am she?"

"She didn't come back for dinner," answered Mary Louise. "So Hannah and I
were worried."

Mrs. Jones rolled her eyes.

"Runned away, I reckon. Miz Grant didn't treat her good."

"But Miss Grant isn't there--she's in the hospital."

"You don't say!"

"Yes, and I wanted to take Elsie home with me while she was away. So you
wouldn't think she'd want to run away now."

"No, you wouldn't. Not when she's got a nice friend like you, Honey.
Mebbe she was kidnaped."

"Nobody would want to kidnap Elsie Grant. She's too poor--and her aunt
would never pay ransom money."

Mrs. Jones chuckled.

"You right 'bout dat, Honey, fo' sure. Miz Grant's de stingiest white
woman eve' lived. Wouldn't give away a bone to a dog if she could help
he'self. Served her right 'bout dem chickens!"

Mary Louise turned sharply. "Chickens?" she repeated, trying to keep her
voice calm.

"Yes. Her chickens is bein' stolen all de time. Half a dozen to
oncet--and me and Abraham won't lift a finger to put a stop to it!"

"You know who has been taking them?" asked Mary Louise incredulously.

"We knows fo' sure, Honey. But we ain't tellin' no tales to Miz Grant."

"Suppose she accuses your husband?" suggested Mary Louise.

"Dat's sumpin' diff'rent. Den we'd tell. But it'd be safe enough by dat
time. De gypsies has wandered off by now."

"Gypsies!" exclaimed Mary Louise. "Did they steal the chickens?"

"Dey sure did. We could see 'em, sneakin' up at night, by de light of de
moon. If Miz Grant eve' catched 'em, it'd sure go right bad wid 'em. She
hates 'em like pison."

"But you think the gypsies have gone away, Mrs. Jones?" questioned Mary

"I reckon so, or dey'd be stealin' mo' chickens. But we ain't seen nor
heard 'em fo' several nights. Guess dey done cleaned out of de

Mary Louise cleared her throat. She wanted to ask this woman what she
knew about the robbery at Dark Cedars, but she did not like to seem
abrupt or suspicious. So she tried to speak casually.

"Since you know about the chickens being stolen, Mrs. Jones, did you
happen to hear anything unusual last night at Dark Cedars?"

"Lem'me see.... Las' night was Sattiday, wasn't it? Abraham done gone to
lodge meetin' and got home bout ten o'clock, he said. No, I was in bed
asleep, and we neve' wakened up at all.... Why? Did anything happen up
there? Mo' chickens took?"

"Not chickens--but something a great deal more valuable. A piece of
jewelry belonging to Miss Grant."

"You don't say! Was dere real stones in it--genu-ine?"


The colored woman shook her head solemnly.

"Abraham always say de old lady'd come to trouble sure as night follows
day. De mean life she's done lived--neve' goin' to church or helpin' de
poor. She neve' sent us so much as a bucket of coal fo' Christmas. But we
don't judge her--dat's de Lord's business."

"Did you know she kept money and jewels in her house?" inquired Mary

"No. It warn't none of our business. Abraham ain't interested in folks'
money--only in der souls. He's a deacon in Rive'side Colored Church, you

"Yes, I've heard him very highly spoken of, Mrs. Jones," concluded Mary
Louise, rising from her chair. "If you see Elsie, will you tell her to
come to our house? Anybody can direct her where to find the Gays' home,
in Riverside."

"I sure will, Miz Gay. Dat's a perty name.... And you a perty gal!"

"Thanks," stammered Mary Louise in embarrassment.... "And good-bye, Mrs.

She stepped out of the shack and waved to the children as she passed them
again on her way back to Dark Cedars. Glancing at her watch as she
climbed the hill, she observed that it was only half-past three. What in
the world would she do to pass the time until her father came for her at
five o'clock?

It occurred to her as she approached Miss Grant's house that she might
try to interview Hannah concerning her whereabouts the preceding night,
and she was thankful to catch sight of the woman in the back yard,
talking to William, her husband. It was evident from both the old
servants' attitudes that they were having an argument, and Mary Louise
approached slowly, not wishing to interrupt.

William Groben looked much older than his wife, although Hannah was by no
means a young woman. Hadn't she claimed that she had done the
house-cleaning for forty years at Dark Cedars? Even if she had begun to
work there in her teens, Mary Louise figured that she must be fast
approaching sixty. But William looked well over seventy. He was thin and
shriveled and bent; what little hair he had left was absolutely white.
There could be no doubt about William's innocence in the whole affair at
Dark Cedars: a frail old man like that could not have managed to handle a
healthy girl like Mary Louise in the manner in which the criminal had
treated her.

"There ain't no use sayin' another word, Hannah," Mary Louise heard
William announce stubbornly. "I ain't a-goin' a-change me mind. Duty is
duty, and I always say if a man can't be faithful to his employer--"

"I've heard that before, never mind repeatin' it!" snapped his wife. "And
nobody can say I ain't been faithful to Miss Mattie, fer all her
crankiness. But we've got a little bit saved up, and we can manage to
live on it, with my sister Jennie, without you workin' here. In a place
that's haunted by spirits!"

The man looked up sharply.

"How long do you think four hundred dollars would keep us?" he demanded.
"Besides, it's invested for us--to bury us. You can't touch that, Hannah.
No, I want me regular wages. I like good victuals!"

"So do I. But what's the use of good victuals if you're half scared of
your life all the time? I'll never step inside that there house again!"

William shrugged his shoulders.

"Do as you're a mind to, Hannah--you always have. And I'll go on livin'
over to Jennie's with you. But I'm still workin' here in the daytime. I
couldn't let them chickens starve and the garden go to seed. And what
would become of the cow?"

"You could sell her and turn the money over to Miss Mattie."

William smiled sarcastically.

"And have her half kill me for doin' it? Not me! Besides, it wouldn't be
fair to the poor old lady in the hospital. Dependin' on me as she is. No,
siree! Duty is duty, and I always say----"

"Shut up!" yelled Hannah in exasperation. And then, all of a sudden, she
spied Mary Louise.

"Don't you never get married, Miss Mary Louise," she advised. "I never
seen a man that wasn't too stubborn to reason with. Did you find Elsie?"

Mary Louise shook her head.

"No. Mrs. Jones saw her cutting across the woods this morning. But she
didn't stop there."

"I guess she must have them gold pieces of her aunt Mattie's after all,
and took her chance to clear out when the clearin' was good. Can't say as
I blame her!"

Mary Louise sighed: that was the logical conclusion for everybody to come

"So I think I'll go home now, Hannah," she said. "I won't wait for my
father to come for me. And shall I take the key, or will William want to
keep it?"

"You take it," urged the old man. "I don't want to feel responsible for
it. My duty's outside the house."

Hannah handed it over with a sigh of relief.

"I'm that glad to get rid of it! And you tell Miss Mattie that I'm livin'
at my sister Jennie's. I'll write the address down for you, if you've got
your little book handy."

Mary Louise gladly produced it from her pocket: this was easy--getting
Hannah's address without even asking for it.

"Is this where you were last night?" she inquired casually, as the woman
wrote down the street and number.

"Yes. At least, except while we was at the movies. My sister Jennie made
William go with us--he never thought he cared about them before. But you
ought to see him laugh at Laurel and Hardy. I thought I'd die, right
there in the Globe Theater."

William grinned at the recollection.

"They was funny," he agreed. "When the show was over, I just set there,
still laughin'!"

"They almost closed the theater on us," remarked Hannah. "It was
half-past eleven when we got home, and that's late for us, even of a
Saturday night."

Mary Louise chuckled. She couldn't have gotten any information more
easily if she had been a real detective. Yet here was a perfect alibi for
Hannah; if she had been at the movies until half-past eleven, she
couldn't have stolen that necklace from Dark Cedars. Maybe that bit of
detective work wouldn't make an impression upon her father!

"Of course, I can check up on it at the Globe Theater," she decided in
her most professional manner.

She held out her hand to Hannah.

"It's good-bye, then, Hannah--and thank you for all the nice things you
cooked for me."

"You're welcome, Miss Mary Louise. And if you come over to see me at my
sister Jennie's, I'll make some doughnuts for you."

"I'll be there!" promised the girl, and with a nod to William, she went
around to the porch to get her suitcase.

Thankful that it was not heavy, she walked slowly down to the road and on
to Riverside. She had plenty of chance to think as she went along, but
her thoughts were not pleasant. Hannah's alibi only made Elsie's guilt
seem more assured. And how she hated to have to tell her father and Jane
of the girl's disappearance! There was bound to be publicity now, for the
newspapers' help would have to be enlisted in the search for the missing
orphan. Miss Grant would have to know the whole story, including the
theft of the necklace....

Mary Louise shuddered, hoping that she would not be the bearer of the
evil tidings to the sick old lady.

                              Chapter XVI
                          _Spreading the Net_

Mary Louise spied Norman Wilder's car in front of Jane Patterson's house
as she turned into her own street in Riverside; a moment later she
recognized both Norman and Max on her chum's porch. As soon as they, in
their turn, saw her, they rushed down to the gate to meet her, and Max
seized her suitcase.

"If you wouldn't be so doggone independent," he exclaimed, "and just let
a fellow know when you needed a lift, Mary Lou, I'd have driven over for

"That's all right, Max," returned Mary Louise. "As a matter of fact, Dad
was coming for me at five o'clock, but I didn't want to wait that long.
There was nothing to do at Dark Cedars."

"Nothing to do?" echoed Jane. "Are you going to stay home now and leave
Elsie all alone?"

"Dad wants me home," was all the explanation Mary Louise would make
before the boys. Later, she would tell her chum about the girl's
disappearance. "I've got to go right in now," she added. "After I have a
bath and my supper, I'll join you people."

"After supper!" repeated Max in disgust. "We were just considering a
little picnic in the woods. It's a marvelous day for a swim."

"Picnic? Why, we had one yesterday!"

"And it was such fun that we thought we'd have an encore."

"I'm afraid I have too much to do to be in on any picnic," answered Mary
Louise. "But I'll go for a walk or a drive with you all after

Seeing that she was firm in her resolve, the young people released her,
and she hurried into her own house. Mr. Gay was standing in the living
room, holding the keys to his car in his hand and trying to persuade his
wife to drive over to Dark Cedars with him.

"Why, Mary Lou!" he exclaimed in surprise. "We were just getting ready to
go for you. Why didn't you wait for me?"

"And where is Elsie?" inquired Mrs. Gay. Mary Louise dropped despondently
into a chair.

"She--went away," she replied briefly.

Mr. Gay turned sharply. "Where?" he demanded.

Mary Louise shook her head.

"I don't know. Hannah said she went out soon after Jane and I left for
Sunday school this morning, and the colored woman who lives in back of
Dark Cedars saw her go through the woods. But she didn't come back in
time for dinner--or at all, before I left."

"The poor child is lost!" exclaimed Mrs. Gay sympathetically. "If she
wandered into Cooper's woods, it's no wonder." She turned to her husband.
"Hadn't we better get out a searching party, dear, immediately? The Boy
and the Girl Scouts, anyhow."

Mr. Gay frowned.

"No, my dear," he replied slowly. "I don't think Elsie Grant is lost.
Neither does Mary Lou. I'm afraid she's headed straight for
Harrisburg--and may have arrived by this time."

"Harrisburg?" repeated Mrs. Gay. "Why, that's sixty miles away! She
couldn't walk that far."

"No, I don't expect her to walk. I think she took the train--not from
Riverside, but from the next station."

"How could she take a train? She couldn't buy a ticket, for she hasn't
any money."

"We are afraid, my dear, that Elsie Grant has plenty of money, though she
may encounter a little difficulty in spending it, since the new law was
passed. We believe that she stole those gold pieces from her aunt--and
last night a necklace was taken, so it looks as if she had that too."

"How terrible!" exclaimed Mrs. Gay, looking at Mary Louise as if she
expected her to protest, or at least explain, her father's accusation.
But the girl was sitting disconsolately with her head bowed, as if she
believed that every word was true.

"What shall we do, Daddy?" Mary Louise asked finally, in a hopeless tone.

"Notify the railroad stations to be on watch for a girl of Elsie's
description, who probably tried to buy a ticket with a gold piece. Of
course, it's possible she may have stolen some change from her aunt's
pocketbook and used that for carfare.... Do you happen to know what kind
of dress she was wearing, Mary Lou?"

"My green silk--with little flowers in it. I gave it to her." The reply
was almost a sob.

"I'll attend to that part, then," announced Mr. Gay. "And you will have
to go over to see Mr. John Grant, Mary Lou, and tell him that Elsie has
gone. It will be up to him to take charge of the affair."

"Suppose he doesn't want the police notified that Elsie is missing?"
asked his daughter.

"It isn't his place to decide that question. If a person is missing, it's
the law's duty to step in and try to find him or her. The loss of the
necklace is a different matter, which concerns the Grant family alone."

Mary Louise nodded and picked up her suitcase. She wanted to be alone in
her own room; she felt too miserable to talk to anybody--even her father.
What would be the use of telling him about her interview with Mrs. Jones,
or the establishment of Hannah Groben's alibi? He no longer entertained
any suspicions about these people: the finger of accusation pointed too
surely at Elsie Grant.

Taking off her hat and her dress, Mary Louise threw herself down upon the
bed. How tired she was! And how discouraged! How dreadful it was to
believe in somebody and to have that trust betrayed! Elsie Grant had
appeared to be such a sweet, innocent person, so worthy of sympathy. It
didn't seem possible that while she was accepting the girls' friendship
and their gifts she could be plotting this wicked thing.

The laughter of Mary Louise's young friends rose from the porch next door
and came through the open window, but the weary girl on the bed had no
desire to join them. For once in her life she felt as if she wanted to
avoid Jane. She couldn't bear to tell her that her suspicions about Elsie
had been as good as proved.

Tired and unhappy, Mary Louise closed her eyes, and before she realized
it she was fast asleep. The experience of the previous night and the
strain of this day had overpowered her, and for an hour she forgot all
her troubles in a dreamless rest. Her mother wakened her by announcing
that supper was on the table.

Mary Louise sat up and rubbed her eyes.

"I'm sorry, Mother," she said. "I meant to help you. I haven't been much
use to you for the last few days."

"That's all right, dear," replied Mrs. Gay. "You needed the sleep, and
Freckles has been fine.... Now, come to supper."

Mary Louise was delighted to find that she felt much better after her
nap. And much more cheerful. She no longer dreaded the coming necessary
interview with John Grant, which she meant to seek after supper.

However, she was saved the trouble of going to his house, for scarcely
had the Gays finished eating when John Grant arrived. Mary Louise and her
father received him in the living room.

"I have a message for you, Miss Gay," he announced, "from my aunt."

"Oh!" exclaimed Mary Louise. "You were able to see her, then?"

"Late this afternoon. She seemed much better and asked the nurse to send
for me. So I went over to the hospital about five o'clock."

"Did you tell her about the necklace?" asked Mary Louise eagerly.

"Yes, I did. I thought it would be best to get it over with. She asked me
whether it was safe, and I couldn't lie. So I told her what happened last

Mary Louise gasped.

"Wasn't the shock too much for her? And wasn't she just furious at me?"

"No, she stood it quite well. She said she knew something had happened
because of a dream she had last night. And she said, 'Tell Mary Louise
not to worry, because I don't blame her. And I want to see her myself
tomorrow morning.'"

"Why, that's wonderful!" exclaimed the girl, with a sigh of relief. "I
had no idea she would take it so well."

"Neither did I," admitted John. "There's something queer about it--but
maybe she'll explain tomorrow. I wasn't allowed to stay with her long
today, and she was too weak to talk much."

It was Mr. Gay who put the question that was trembling on Mary Louise's

"Does she think her niece--Elsie Grant, I mean--stole the necklace?"

"She didn't say," answered John. "But I don't believe so, because she
asked whether Elsie had confessed yet about the gold pieces. That
wouldn't indicate that she believed her guilty of another theft."

"No, it wouldn't," agreed Mr. Gay. "But everything points that way. We
have bad news for you, Mr. Grant: Elsie has disappeared."


John Grant's grunt and his nod were significant. "I was afraid of that,"
he said.

"I have already notified the police," announced Mr. Gay. "They are
watching for her at the railroad stations, and I have wired the pawnshops
and jewelers in Harrisburg and other cities nearby. We'll probably catch
her by tonight."

"I hope so," sighed John. "It's too bad. I feel sort of guilty about the
whole thing. If we had taken the child into our home, instead of letting
her go with Aunt Mattie, it would never have happened. But we were
feeling the depression and didn't see how we could assume any more
expense. My brother isn't earning anything, and Mother lost most of her
inheritance. While Aunt Mattie, of course, had plenty.... But it was a

Mary Louise looked gratefully at the man: John Grant was the only person
besides herself who felt any pity for Elsie. How she wished he had been
able to bring her up!... But it was too late now for regrets.

"What will be done with her when they do find her?" she inquired
tremulously. "Will she be sent to prison if she is proved guilty?"

John shrugged his shoulders.

"That will be for Aunt Mattie to decide. But you know she has talked
nothing but reform school since the child came to her."

"Maybe I can persuade her to give Elsie another chance," murmured Mary
Louise hopefully.

"Maybe," agreed John as he shook hands with Mr. Gay and departed.

Mary Louise turned to her father after the man left.

"I have some things to tell you, Daddy," she said. "Some clues I followed
up this afternoon. Do you want to hear them?"

"By all means," returned Mr. Gay.

"One thing I learned is that the gypsies stole those chickens. At
least--the wife of the colored man who lives in back of Dark Cedars
claims that they did."

Mr. Gay smiled.

"You don't think that's important?" asked Mary Louise in disappointment,
for she could read his thought. "It occurred to me that, if they stole
the chickens, maybe it was they who stole the necklace."

"I'm afraid not, daughter. If we have only a colored woman's word for it,
that's no proof. She's probably shielding herself or her husband....
Besides, while gypsies might steal something on the outside, they very
seldom have been known to break into people's houses."

"Yes, I was afraid you would say that."

"It might be worth following up as a clue if we had nothing else to go
on. But now we feel pretty sure that Elsie Grant is guilty.... But did
this colored woman hear them last night--the gypsies, I mean?"

"No, she didn't. It was several nights ago, and about the same time that
William, the hired man, reported that the chickens were gone."

"What else did you learn this afternoon?" inquired her father.

"I sounded this Mrs. Jones out about the necklace, and she had never
heard of any jewels at Dark Cedars. I believe her--I don't think she
could have stolen that necklace--or her husband, either."

"I never thought they did, for a minute. If the thief had been a colored
person, you would have known it, I'm sure. The hands alone are different.
Didn't you say that the hand that touched you was thin?"

"Yes. Almost bony. That's one reason why I didn't suspect Elsie."

"And how about Hannah? Did you learn her whereabouts last night?"

"Yes," answered Mary Louise, and she told of the woman's visit, with her
husband and sister, to the moving-picture house--an alibi which the girl
could easily check up on tomorrow.

"I hear Jane's whistle!" exclaimed Mr. Gay. "The young people want you,
dear. You better go out with them and forget all this sad business for
the rest of the evening. I think you need a little diversion."

Mary Louise thought so too, and dashed off joyously to join her friends.

                              CHAPTER XVII
                           _The Empty House_

Mr. Gay was seated at the telephone table in the dining room the
following morning when Mary Louise came downstairs to breakfast. She
waited breathlessly for the news, for she felt sure that he was talking
to some of the police about the whereabouts of Elsie Grant.

"That's strange," she heard him say. "I can hardly believe it.... You
checked up with the bus companies as well as the railroads?... O.K.,
then. Keep on searching," he concluded.

Replacing the receiver, he turned to his daughter.

"Not a trace of Elsie anywhere," he announced.

Mary Louise smiled: she was almost glad that the girl had not been found.
It gave her more time to believe in Elsie's innocence.

"Do you think she could have been kidnaped, Daddy?" she inquired. "People
are, pretty often, nowadays."

"But they're always rich or important," returned Mr. Gay. "No: that's one
of the blessings of being poor--nobody would kidnap Elsie Grant unless he
knew that she had the ruby necklace. Then the criminal would be much more
likely to steal it and let her go."

"That's what I think," agreed Mary Louise.... "What are you going to do

"There's nothing more I can do. I suppose you are planning to go over to
the hospital to see Miss Grant?"

"Yes, for a few minutes after breakfast. Then--Daddy--" Mary Louise
hesitated: she didn't want her father to laugh at her next request, but
she just had to ask him--"would you be willing to go on a search with me
through Cooper's woods? It's just possible that all our detective work
may be wrong and my unsuspecting mother right. Elsie might be lost in
Cooper's woods!"

"I'm not going to smile," replied her father. "Because I think your
suggestion is a very good one. Elsie may even be guilty of the
thefts--and have the necklace and the gold pieces with her--and still be
lost or hiding in those woods. I'll be glad to go with you."

Mary Louise's brown eyes sparkled. What a good sport her father was!

"Don't let's take the car, Daddy," she urged. "At least, not any farther
than Dark Cedars. I'd like to set out from the back of Miss Grant's yard
and try to trace Elsie's steps--with Silky to help us. If I get her old
calico dress and shoes and let him sniff them, I think he'd understand."

Mr. Gay gazed at his daughter admiringly.

"Mary Lou, that is an idea!" he cried. "You're a better detective than I

She blushed at the praise.

"Wait till we see how my plan turns out," she answered. "It may lead to
nothing at all.... Still, we'll be having fun. It'll be a regular hiking

"Of course it will be fun," agreed her father, for he loved the
out-of-doors. "And we'll carry blankets in case we stay overnight."

"What's this I hear?" demanded Mrs. Gay, appearing from the kitchen with
the coffee pot in her hands. "What mischief are you two up to now?"

"Only an all-day hike, my dear," explained Mr. Gay calmly. "You don't
mind, do you? And will you drive us as far as Dark Cedars and bring the
car back?"

"Certainly," replied Mrs. Gay graciously.

"May I go?" asked Freckles as he came into the dining room with Silky at
his heels.

"I'm afraid you'll have to stay home and take care of your mother, Son,
for we may be gone overnight," replied his father. "But just wait till I
get my real vacation, later on. We'll have a whale of a trip. All four of
us together."

"Don't you expect to be home in time for supper?" asked Mrs. Gay.

"That all depends upon our luck." And Mr. Gay went on to explain to his
wife the nature of their excursion and the reason for making it.

While he assembled the necessary equipment for the hike, Mary Louise
hurried off to the hospital to see Miss Grant. It was early, but she was
told that she might go up to the patient's room immediately. The old lady
was expecting her.

Mary Louise found her looking pale and wasted, but her black eyes beamed
as brightly as ever, and she smiled faintly at her visitor.

"I brought you some flowers, Miss Grant," began the girl cheerfully as
she handed them to the nurse. "And I'm so glad to hear that you are

Miss Grant nodded her thanks and indicated that she wanted Mary Louise to
sit down in the chair beside her high white bed.

"Any news?" she asked in a weak but eager voice.

Mary Louise shook her head.

"Nothing more," she replied. "Mr. John Grant told you about my awful
experience on Saturday night, didn't he?"

"Yes. I was afraid something like that might happen. I'm sorry, Mary
Louise, and thankful that you weren't injured."

"You mean you're sorrier for me than for yourself--about losing the
necklace?" asked the girl incredulously. This didn't sound at all like
the miser she believed Miss Grant to be.

"Yes, I am. Because, somehow, I never thought that necklace would do me
any good. I should have been afraid to sell it for fear it would bring up
some old scandal or some disgrace about my father. I don't know how he
got hold of it--I was always afraid it had something to do with gambling
or a bet of some kind--but I do know that my mother never approved of his
keeping it. And so I'm almost thankful it's gone."

"Who do you think could have taken it?"

"Either the original owner--whoever he is--or my mother's ghost. You read
of queer things like that sometimes, things that never can be explained
by the living. Perhaps when we are dead we shall understand.... I don't
know.... I dreamed about Mother night before last, and in the dream I
promised her to throw away the necklace.... So I'm almost thankful it's

Mary Louise let out a sigh of relief.

"I'm so glad it doesn't worry you, Miss Grant. I was afraid you'd suspect

The sick woman's eyes flashed angrily.

"I do still suspect Elsie of taking my gold!" The old expression of greed
crossed her face. "You haven't found it for me yet, have you, Mary

"No, I haven't, Miss Grant."

"Where is Elsie?" was the next question.

Mary Louise hesitated: she hated to answer this.

"She is--lost. She went away yesterday--Sunday morning--and hasn't come
back yet."

Miss Grant nodded significantly.

"I was expecting it. Well, you don't believe any longer that she's
innocent, do you, Mary Louise?"

"I'm still hoping," replied the girl.

Miss Grant was silent for some minutes, and Mary Louise felt that it was
time for her to go. But before she made a move, she told the sick woman
of Hannah's decision to leave Dark Cedars, and she held out the key.

"But I should like to keep it today, if you don't mind, Miss Grant," she
added, "so I can get some clothing of Elsie's for Silky to sniff at. I
want to take him down to the woods to see whether he can get on her

"Keep it as long as you want it," agreed the old lady. "If Hannah is
gone, I shan't return to Dark Cedars very soon. John wants me to go to
his home, anyhow, when I get out of the hospital, so I suppose I had
better agree."

"Do you want to see William about your cow and your garden?" inquired
Mary Louise.

"Yes, tell him to stop in to see me here at the hospital.... And now you
had better go, child.... I'm very tired."

Enormously relieved that the interview had been so easy, Mary Louise left
the hospital and hurried back to her home. She met Jane Patterson as she
entered her own gate.

"What next?" inquired her chum, who had been told the previous evening of
Elsie's disappearance. "Still acting the detective?"

"I should say," answered Mary Louise. "Dad and I are going off now in
search of Elsie."

"Where are you going? Harrisburg?"

"No. Cooper's woods. Want to come along, Jane?"

The other girl shook her head.

"I don't believe so. I have a tennis date with Norman, and Hope Dorsey is
rounding up the crowd to drive over to a country fair tonight. She'll be
furious if you don't go--and so will Max. Kenneth was expecting we'd
bring Elsie Grant along."

"I only wish we could!" sighed Mary Louise. "But maybe we shall be able
to. Maybe we'll find her and bring her back home in time for supper."

"And maybe not," remarked Jane.

"I've got to be off now," concluded the other, giving her chum a hasty
kiss. "Wish me good luck!"

"You know I do!" was the reply.

Mary Louise ran into the house and found her father all ready to start.
He had made up a pack for each of them to carry; his own, the heavier,
included a small tent for use if they were obliged to sleep in the woods.
The food and equipment were sufficient but not overabundant, for Mr. Gay
was a good camper and knew just what was necessary and what could be left
at home.

"Get into your knickers, Mary Lou," he advised. "And bring a sweater

"You don't think we'll be cold?"

"The woods are chilly at night."

"Bring me back a bearskin," suggested Freckles jokingly. "I could use

"I don't expect to shoot anything," replied his father. "But, of course,
you never can tell."

Half an hour later Mrs. Gay drove the two adventurers over to Dark Cedars
and let them out at the hedge. Mary Louise, with Silky at her heels, led
the way up to the house.

"It is a gloomy-looking place," observed her father as he followed her
through the trees. "Yet it could be made very attractive."

Mary Louise shuddered.

"Nobody would ever want to live here after all the ghost stories get
around. You know how people exaggerate, and the stories are bad enough as
they are."

"The porch certainly needs paint and repairs. It's a wonder Miss Grant
hasn't fallen down and broken her neck."

Mary Louise inserted her key in the lock and opened the heavy wooden
door. Inside, the shutters were carefully closed, and the dark, somber
house seemed almost like a tomb. The stairs creaked ominously as the two
ascended them, and Mary Louise was thankful that she was not alone. After
that one experience in Miss Grant's bedroom, she never knew what strange
creature might rush at her from the big, dark closet.

"I can hardly see where I'm going," remarked Mr. Gay. "You better take my
hand, Mary Lou."

His daughter seized it gladly; she was only too pleased to feel its
human, reassuring pressure. She led the way to the rear of the second
floor, up the attic steps to Elsie's room.

Here they found one of the windows open, so that a subdued light
brightened the attic room. But there was no sunshine, for the boughs of
the cedar trees pressed against the window sill.

Silky had been following them at a respectful distance, and Mary Louise
lifted him up in her arms as she opened the closet door. A musty smell
greeted her, but she had no difficulty in finding the clothing she
wanted, and she held it close to Silky's nose.

"This is Elsie's," she said, just as if the dog were human. "Elsie is
lost, and you must find her."

Still keeping the dog in her arms and the dress close to his nose, she
carefully descended the stairs.

"I'd like to see Miss Grant's bedroom," said Mr. Gay as they reached the
second floor. "I want a look at the mattress."

"O.K., Daddy. But you go first. And have your gun ready if you open that
closet door. I think that's where the ghosts live."

"Mary Lou!" cried her father in amazement. "You don't believe that stuff,
do you?"

"I wish I did," sighed the girl. "Because that would make Elsie

"You are very fond of Elsie, aren't you, Daughter?"

"She seemed so sweet. And all our crowd liked her."

Mr. Gay went to the window of Miss Grant's room and threw open the
shutter to let in the light. Just as Mary Louise had said, the mattress
was literally torn to pieces. Piles of straw were heaped on the floor,
and the ragged covering was strewn all over the room.

Mr. Gay examined it, and Mary Louise walked over to the side window--the
one under which William's ladder had been found.

"Even a piece from the mattress is on this window ledge," she remarked as
she pulled out a long strip of material. She examined it more closely.
Suddenly her eyes blinked in excitement.

"This isn't mattress cover, Daddy!" she exclaimed. "It's clothing
material! Blue sateen! From--somebody's dress!"

Mr. Gay reached the window in two quick steps.

"What do you make of that, Mary Lou?" he demanded.

"I think it must be a piece from the thief's clothing!" she cried in
delight. "And I don't believe it's Elsie's. Unless she was wearing some
old dress of her aunt's."

"I hope you're right," said Mr. Gay. "Put the strip into your pocket.
Crimes have been solved on slimmer evidence than that." He turned aside.
"There are no ghosts in the closet, Mary Lou," he announced solemnly. "I
just looked."

"Then let's leave, Daddy. I'm 'rarin' to go'--because--well--because I
have another reason now besides wanting to find Elsie!"

"You suspect somebody definitely?" he inquired.

"Yes. But don't ask me whom--yet. Just let's go."

Still holding on to Elsie's calico dress, Mary Louise led the way out of
the house and around to the back yard of Dark Cedars. Here they found
William complacently working in the garden, as if nothing had ever
happened to disturb the peace at Miss Grant's home. He looked up and
smiled at Mary Louise.

"Elsie didn't come back, did she, William?" asked the girl.

The old man shook his head. "Nope," he replied.

"Any more chickens stolen?"


"Well, we're off to hunt Elsie--my father and I," explained Mary Louise.
"And, by the way, William, Miss Grant wants you to stop in to see her at
the hospital."

"I'll do that," agreed the man. "And good luck to ye!"

"Thanks, William," returned Mary Louise. "Good-bye."

She and her father walked on down the hill towards the little shack where
the colored family lived, and stopped there to inquire again about Elsie.
But Mrs. Jones had not seen her since the previous morning; however, she
pointed out just what path the girl had taken. So Mary Louise put Silky
on the trail, and the three began their search.

                             CHAPTER XVIII

With Silky in the lead, Mr. Gay and Mary Louise followed the path behind
Dark Cedars which led directly into Cooper's woods. It was new to them
both, for although they had gone to these woods many times, they had
always entered from the road that ran past the creek and the swimming

"It's much cooler this way," observed the girl. "So nice and shady."

"Silky seems to know what he's doing," remarked her father. "He's going
straight ahead."

"I'm afraid he's making for the swimming hole," returned Mary Louise. "He
loves a swim as much as we do."

"Do you want to stop for one?"

"I'd like to, but I don't think we better. It would take too much time,
dressing and undressing."

"Maybe we can have one on our way back."

"Yes, maybe," agreed Mary Louise. "I ought to have brought Elsie's suit,
so that if we find her she could go with us. She loved it on Saturday."

"I'm afraid you're being a little too optimistic, Daughter," replied Mr.
Gay. "Don't get your hopes up too high."

The path grew wide again as they approached the swimming hole, and when
they arrived at the stream Mary Louise took off her pack and sat down
under a tree. About a dozen children were playing about in the water, and
Mary Louise threw a stick into the stream as a signal for Silky to jump
in. In another minute the children were romping with him. Then they came
out and crowded around Mary Louise, admiring the spaniel and asking his

"You didn't see a girl about fifteen years old in a green silk dress, did
you, children?" she inquired.

They shook their heads.

"Were any of you here yesterday morning?" asked Mr. Gay.

Two of the older boys replied that they had been there.

"Did you see the girl then?" persisted the man.

One boy thought that he did remember seeing a young lady--"all dressed up
in a silk dress." But she hadn't stopped at the pool; she had crossed the
bridge fifty yards below and had taken the path right back into the
deepest part of the woods.

Mary Louise jumped to her feet. "Come on, Daddy! Let's get going!"

"How about eating some of those sandwiches your mother packed for us?"
suggested her father.

"Oh, no--not yet!" protested Mary Louise. "It's only eleven o'clock." She
turned to the boys. "Have you seen any gypsies around?"

"A couple of days ago," was the answer. "I heard they moved on towards
Coopersburg. A fellow I know was over there last night and saw them
telling fortunes."

"What's the best way to Coopersburg?" inquired Mary Louise.

"Through the woods is shortest, I guess. But I don't know if there's any
path. We always go around by the road."

"We were going through the woods anyhow," said Mary Louise. To her father
she added, "I do want to see those gypsies again, almost as much as I
want to find Elsie."

She whistled for Silky, and he came running out of the water, shaking
himself joyously and rolling over and over on the grass.

"He's forgotten all about the trail he's supposed to be following,"
remarked Mary Louise, producing the purple calico dress. "Come here,
Silky, and sniff this again."

The couple turned their steps to the bridge and soon were out of the open
space, back in the cool shade of the woods. Here the path was narrow and
deeply shaded, so that they had to walk single file for a long distance,
sometimes picking their way carefully among the thick undergrowth. About
noon they stopped to eat the sandwiches which Mrs. Gay had packed and to
drink the iced-tea from the thermos bottle.

"It's still a long walk to Coopersburg," sighed Mary Louise. "I'd
forgotten how these woods wound around. I don't believe I ever walked
this way before."

"Are you tired?" inquired her father.

"A little. But mostly hot. I'll soon cool off."

"We won't try to walk back," replied Mr. Gay. "If we don't find Elsie, we
can take a bus back from Coopersburg."

"I don't think we should do that, Daddy," argued Mary Louise. "If we
don't find her or the gypsies either, I think we should come back here
and camp for the night. That would give us a chance to make a more
thorough search of the woods tomorrow. Because we might easily miss Elsie
just by keeping on this path, as we are doing now."

"Why do you want to find the gypsies, Mary Lou?"

"They may have seen Elsie. For fifty cents that fortune teller will give
you any information you want."

Mr. Gay smiled.

"I'm afraid she'd make up anything she didn't know," he remarked.

"Well, she was right about Jane's lost ring--and about the ruby
necklace," Mary Louise reminded him. "John Grant said so."

"Yes, but she used her common sense in the first case, and in the second,
she may have heard a rumor about the necklace--especially if this
particular band of gypsies has been coming to this neighborhood for
years.... I wouldn't attach too much faith to these people, Daughter."

They gathered up the remains of their picnic lunch and started forward
again, with Silky in the lead. On and on they walked for several hours,
talking very little, and stopping only now and then for a drink of water
from a spring or two which they passed. About three o'clock they came to
a widening of the path, and through the trees they could see the fields
that surrounded the town of Coopersburg.

With a new burst of energy Mary Louise started to run forward.

"I see some tents, Daddy!" she cried. "And that caravan! Oh, I'm sure
it's the gypsies."

"Don't run, Mary Lou!" called her father. "With that heavy pack on your
back! I'm afraid you'll hurt yourself."

"I can't wait, Daddy." But she stopped and turned around, removing the
pack from her shoulders.

"You keep the packs, Daddy," she said when he had caught up to her, "and
I'll go ahead. I'd rather see the fortune teller by myself, anyhow. But
stay where I can see you--within calling distance. And if I don't come
back in half an hour, come and look for me."

"Mary Lou, are you expecting any trouble from these gypsies?"

"You never can tell!" she laughingly replied. Blowing him a kiss with her
hand, she started to run towards the encampment. When she was about fifty
yards away she saw the same children whom she had noticed the day of the
picnic, and she looked eagerly for the fortune teller. A few yards
farther on she recognized the woman, coming from one of the tents.

It seemed to Mary Louise that an expression of terror crossed the gypsy's
face as the woman caught sight of her. But only for a second; in a moment
she was grinning and showing all the gaps in her front teeth.

"Fortune?" she asked immediately, as Mary Louise approached her.

"Yes--that is--not exactly," replied the girl. However, she held up a
silver half dollar in her hand, and the gypsy turned and lifted the flap
of the tent.

"Bring the cards out here," suggested Mary Louise, glancing back towards
the woods to make sure that her father was within sight. "It's too hot to
go inside."

The woman nodded and took the dirty pack of cards out of the pocket of
her dress. "Sit down," she commanded, and Mary Louise did as she was

The oddly assorted pair stared at each other for a moment in silence.
Mary Louise's eyes traveled slowly about the gypsy woman, from the top of
her black head to the tips of her big old shoes. She examined her
dress--of the same deep-blue color which she was wearing the day of the
picnic--and she looked at her thin, bony, yet strong hands.... Then, very
deliberately, Mary Louise reached into the pocket of her knickers and
brought out the strip of blue sateen which she had taken from the window
ledge in Miss Mattie Grant's bedroom at Dark Cedars.

With a triumphant gleam in her eyes, she held the piece of torn material
close to the gypsy's dress. Dirty and spotted as it was, there could be
no doubt of its identity. It was a perfect match!

A wild gasp of terror escaped from the gypsy's lips, and she made a grab
at the condemning piece of evidence. But Mary Louise was too quick for
her. Springing to her feet, she leaned over and hit the woman right in
the mouth with her clenched fist. The gypsy groaned and rolled over in
the grass.

Amazed at her own action, Mary Louise stood gazing at the woman in calm
triumph. It had been years since she had hit anyone; she was surprised
that she had it in her to deal such a blow. But the gypsy was not knocked
out--merely stunned.

"Where is Miss Grant's necklace?" she demanded.

The woman opened her eyes and whimpered.

"It don't belong to that old witch! It's mine, I tell you! Was my
mother's, and her mother's before that. Old woman Grant had no right to

She raised herself to a sitting position, and her black eyes flashed with
hatred. "You wait till my man comes back--and see what he'll do to you!"

Mary Louise smiled confidently.

"I don't intend to wait," she replied. "I have a member of the police
force right here with me." She raised her voice and cupped her hands.
"Daddy, come!"

A look of awful fright crossed the gypsy's wrinkled face.

"No! No! Don't put me in jail! I'll give you the necklace. But it's
mine--it's mine by right, I tell you!"

Mary Louise was scarcely listening, so eagerly was she watching her
father's quick approach.

"You can tell that to Detective Gay," she said finally. "And, by the way,
where is the box of gold pieces you stole from Miss Grant?"

"Gold pieces? What? Uh--I never took----" But her tone was not
convincing, and seeing that Mary Louise did not believe her, she suddenly
changed her story. "I'll give you the gold pieces if you let me keep my
mother's necklace," she pleaded.

Mr. Gay reached his daughter's side in time to overhear this last
statement. His eyes were shining at his daughter in speechless

"Your badge, please, Daddy," said Mary Louise calmly. "Please show it to
this woman."

Mr. Gay did as he was requested.

"Now go and get the necklace and the gold," Mary Louise commanded the

The woman struggled to her feet.

"First let me tell you about that necklace!" she begged. Her bony hands
clutched Mary Louise's sleeve, and she looked imploringly into the girl's
face. "It was a precious heirloom--has been in our family for years and
years. We held it sacred; it brought us good luck. Oh, I can't bear to
give it up now that I've got it again!"

Mary Louise glanced questioningly at her father.

"Sit down again," he said to the gypsy, "and tell us the story."

"Thank you, sir!" exclaimed the woman, dropping down on the grass at his
feet. "I'll tell you....

"It goes back fifty years," she began, talking rapidly, "in my mother's
time, when we used to come here to Cooper's woods to camp every
summer.... I was a child--and so was my little brother. A little fellow
of six--my mother's darling....

"One day he got suddenly sick. A terrible pain in his side. My mother
almost went crazy, for she felt sure he was going to die. We couldn't do
a thing for him; the pain got worse and worse and worse. Then, like a
burst of sunshine after a storm, Mr. Grant came riding up to us--and
stopped and asked what was the matter. I can remember just how he
looked--not a bit like his awful daughter Mattie! He promised to help us,
to take my little brother to the hospital and get him well.

"My mother agreed, and she went off with Mr. Grant and the boy. They told
her there at the hospital that the child had appendicitis, and Mr. Grant
ordered the best doctor in the country.... And my brother got well!

"My mother was so happy that we thought she'd dance forever. She wanted
to pay Mr. Grant for the expense, but he was such a generous man he
wouldn't hear of it. So my mother gave him the ruby necklace to keep for
her and said she'd be back every summer to see it. If ever Mr. Grant
needed money, he was to borrow on it.

"He promised to keep it safe for her, but he never thought of it as his.
Each summer we came back and camped on his place--we were always welcome
while he lived--and each year we saw the necklace, and he would ask us
whether we wanted to take it back. But we said no, because it was safer
there, and he was our friend, and we trusted him.

"And then one summer we came back, and old Mr. Grant was gone. Dead. So
we tried to tell Miss Mattie Grant about the necklace, but she shut the
door in our faces and called the police. For years we couldn't even come
out of Cooper's woods without meeting a policeman.

"Then my mother died, and my brother died, and I decided I was going to
get that necklace back. So this year we came and camped in those woods,
and every night I went over to Dark Cedars. Sometimes I'd sneak in while
they were eating supper; sometimes I'd climb in a window with a ladder
late at night. I began in the attic and went through each room, searching
for the necklace.

"The first time I got into Mattie Grant's room--it was one evening last
week, while they were eating supper--I opened that safe of hers. I was
sure the necklace would be there. But it wasn't. I was so mad that I took
that box of gold, although I hadn't stolen anything out of her house
before that."

While the woman paused for breath, Mary Louise recalled the evening of
the theft of Miss Grant's money. This, then, was the explanation of the
open safe, from which Corinne Pearson had taken the bills. And it proved,
too, that Harry Grant had been innocent of any part in the actual theft.

The gypsy woman continued her story:

"It was you, miss, who gave me the information I wanted, the day you
girls and boys had your fortunes told. You told me old Mattie asked you
to sleep in her bed while she was away. So I knew that the necklace must
be hidden in the mattress....

"You know the rest. I went to Dark Cedars while you were still at your
picnic, and I thought I'd get the necklace before you came home. But you
surprised me, and I had to hide in the closet while you got ready for
bed.... I--I--didn't want to hurt you! I only wanted what belonged to

Tears were running out of the woman's eyes, and she rubbed her hands
together in anguish, as if she were imploring Mary Louise for mercy.

"What do you say, Mary Lou?" asked her father.

Mary Louise hesitated.

"I--I--honestly believe she has more right to that necklace than Miss
Grant has," she answered finally. "So, if she will turn over the box of
gold, I'm for letting her keep the necklace.... But what do you think,

"It's your case, dear. You are to decide."

"Suppose you go with her, Daddy, while she gets both things. And be sure
to keep your revolver handy, too," she added shrewdly.

Mr. Gay smiled: he was delighted with his daughter's keenness.

The gypsy nodded and, stepping inside her tent, produced the box of gold.
The identical tin box which Elsie had mentioned. The necklace she took
from a pocket in her petticoat. Meekly she handed both treasures to Mr.

"How beautiful that necklace is!" cried Mary Louise, in admiration of the
sparkling jewels. It was the first time in her life that she had ever
seen real rubies, and their radiance, their brilliance, was

"I love them dearly," said the gypsy, in a hoarse tone, filled with

Mary Louise took the necklace from her father and handed it back to its
real owner.

"You may have it," she said slowly. "I'll take the gold back to Miss
Grant. But first I must count it."

"It's all there," mumbled the woman, her hands fondling the beloved

Mary Louise found her statement to be correct, and, handing the box back
to her father, she turned to go.

"Oh, I almost forgot!" she exclaimed, glancing at the gypsy. "Have you
seen a young girl anywhere around here--or in the woods?"

Before the woman could answer, Silky, who had run straight to the motor
truck, began to bark loudly and incessantly. Putting his front feet on
the step, he peered eagerly into the caravan, and increased his noise
until it reached a volume of which a police dog might have been proud.
Nor did he stop until a head showed itself from the door and a voice
called him by name.

Mary Louise, watching the little drama, suddenly cried out in joy.

The girl coming from the caravan was none other than Elsie Grant!

                              CHAPTER XIX

Mary Louise threw her arms around Elsie and hugged her tightly. It was so
good to know that she was innocent--and safe!

"You've found the gold pieces!" exclaimed the girl, staring at the box in
Mr. Gay's hand. "And the necklace!" she added, as the gypsy proudly put
on the jewels and went off to show her people.

"Yes, I'll tell you all about it later," replied Mary Louise. "But first
I want to hear about you, Elsie: why you are here, and how these gypsies
have been treating you."

"They've been treating me splendidly! Much better than Aunt Mattie ever
did. You see, they liked my father and my grandfather, and they hated
Aunt Mattie. So of course they have a lot of sympathy for me."

"But when did you come to them?"

"Yesterday afternoon. I was perfectly miserable after Saturday night. I
knew Jane suspected me of doing that terrible thing to you, and I never
slept a wink the whole night. So I decided to run away. I didn't think of
the gypsies at the time: I just wanted to get out of Riverside. I put on
the green silk dress you gave me, and tied up my other things in a
bundle, and made off through the woods so that I wouldn't meet anybody."

"Mrs. Jones saw you go," said Mary Louise. "It was she who put Daddy and
Silky and me on the trail."

"I took some fruit and some biscuits from the kitchen at Dark Cedars,"
Elsie went on to explain. "I thought I'd walk to the nearest town and ask
for work. Now that I have some decent clothes, I don't feel ashamed to be

"But you came upon the gypsies before you got to any town?" inquired Mr.
Gay, who couldn't keep out of the conversation, although he had not been
properly introduced.

"Yes. And I was tired and hungry, so I thought maybe they'd let me stay
overnight with them. They were stewing chicken, and it smelled so good."

"Your aunt Mattie's chickens," explained Mary Louise laughingly.

"Really?" asked Elsie in surprise. The idea had not occurred to her.

"Yes. Mrs. Jones saw the gypsies stealing the chickens.... Well, did they
give you some supper?"

"They certainly did. Mira--she is the fortune teller--let me sleep in her
tent. She said she used to play with my father when he was a little boy,
when my grandfather--old Mr. Grant, you recall--let the gypsies camp at
Dark Cedars. She told me I could stay with them all my life if I wanted

"You didn't expect to do it, did you?"

"I wanted to get a job. But there isn't much I can do, I'm afraid." The
young girl's voice grew sad; the future looked gray to her.

Mary Louise took her hand.

"You're coming right back to Riverside with Daddy and me," she announced.
"Your aunt Mattie will have to promise to treat you better, or else she
won't get her gold pieces back!"

"She'll be furious about the necklace," said Elsie.

"No, she won't either. I happen to know that she'll be thankful to have
the matter all cleared up. And she'll be delighted to get the money,
because that is rightfully hers."

Mr. Gay leaned over and picked up his pack.

"You go get your things together, Elsie," he said, "and say good-bye to
your gypsy friends. We'll take a bus back to Riverside from Coopersburg."

"You really want me?" asked the girl.

"Absolutely!" replied Mary Louise. "You're going to go to high school
this fall, I hope, and belong to our crowd of young people. All the boys
and girls like you."

Elsie's face lighted up with a happy smile.

"And I like them, too--but you and Jane will always come first. Oh, I'm
so glad that Jane will believe in me again!"

Ten minutes later the two girls and Mr. Gay were seated in the bus bound
for Riverside. Mary Louise held Silky in her arms under her pack when she
got in, and the conductor did not even notice him. She was thankful for
that, because she was much too tired to walk.

They went straight to the Gays' home, taking Elsie with them. Mrs. Gay
was sitting on the front porch, little thinking that her two adventurers
would return so soon. She jumped up in delight when she saw them coming
in at the gate.

"And is this Elsie?" she asked as the three tired wanderers ascended the
porch steps.

"Yes, Mother, this is Elsie Grant," replied Mary Louise. "We found her,
and we caught the thief too. It was the gypsy fortune teller."

"Well, of all things!" exclaimed Mrs. Gay. "And had she kidnaped Elsie

"Oh no, Elsie went there voluntarily, because everybody suspected her of
the crime, and she was unhappy. But Elsie had no idea the gypsy was the
thief, until she heard us accusing her."

"If I'd only have been a detective like Mary Louise," the girl remarked
admiringly, "I might have guessed. But I'm pretty stupid about things
like that. I even ate some of Aunt Mattie's chicken for my supper last
night without ever guessing that the gypsies stole it."

Mrs. Gay laughed.

"Well, it certainly is nice to have you all back again. We'll have a fine
dinner to celebrate--I'll send Freckles for ice cream when he comes in."
She stooped over and patted the little dog's head. "Silky shall have some
too. He loves ice cream."

Mary Louise took Elsie up to her room, and the two girls lay down on the
bed to rest after they had removed their dusty clothing and cooled
themselves under the shower. At five o'clock Mrs. Gay came in with the
news that Jane Patterson was downstairs, asking for her chum.

"Please tell her to come up, Mother," replied Mary Louise. "I can't
understand why she is being so formal."

"She knows Elsie is here," explained Mrs. Gay, "and thought you might not
like to be disturbed."

"Does she know I didn't steal the money or the necklace?" demanded Elsie

"Mary Louise's father is telling her the story now. Freckles just came
in, and he had to hear all about it too. He's almost as keen to become a
detective as Mary Louise is."

Mrs. Gay returned to the first floor, and in a couple of minutes Jane
Patterson dashed into the bedroom. She hugged both Elsie and Mary Louise
at once.

"You're a wonder, Mary Lou!" she cried. "Sherlock Holmes, and Philo
Vance, and Spencer Dean haven't a thing on you for solving mysteries.
Why, I bet your father loses his job and they hire you in his place!"

"Now, Jane, be rational!" begged Mary Louise.

The visitor seated herself upon the edge of the bed.

"All right, I'll try.... What I came over about was to see whether you
and Elsie can go with our crowd to that country fair tonight. We're
leaving early after supper, and Mother and Dad are both going along. You
can take Freckles too--but not Silky. He might get into a fight with the
cows or pigs or something."

"Don't insult my dog!" returned Mary Louise solemnly. "Silky never
associates with pigs!"

"O.K.... Well, can you go?"

"We'd love to, but don't you think we ought to take Miss Grant's money
back to her?"

"Not tonight, certainly!" was Jane's emphatic reply. "Let her worry about
it a little longer--it's good for her."

"But shouldn't I go over to see her?" asked Elsie.

"Tomorrow's time enough for that," answered Mary Louise. "You can stay
all night with me tonight."

Mrs. Gay heartily approved of the plan, for she felt that both her
daughter and Elsie needed a little diversion, and so for the time being
the adventure at Dark Cedars was completely forgotten. Early after supper
the young people drove off in four cars and enjoyed themselves thoroughly
until nearly midnight.

But both Elsie and Mary Louise awakened early the following morning,
intent upon tying up the few remaining threads of the mystery at Dark

Mary Louise had been hoping, ever since she found Elsie, that the girl
would be invited to live at the home of Mrs. Grace Grant--if her aunt
Mattie would agree to contribute something towards her support. With this
plan in her mind, she turned Elsie over to Jane to entertain for the
morning, and she herself went directly to the Grants' home in Riverside.
She was fortunate in catching John Grant before he left for business, for
she believed him to be an ally.

He and his mother were seated at the breakfast table when she arrived.
The maid brought her right into the dining room.

"Good-morning, Mrs. Grant--and Mr. Grant," she began brightly. "I must
apologize for this early call, but I have great news. We caught the

John Grant, who had risen at Mary Louise's entrance, stepped forward

"Not really?" he demanded. "Do you mean Elsie?"

"No, Mr. Grant, Elsie is not a thief. It was the gypsy fortune teller."
And Mary Louise went on to explain the story of the necklace as the woman
had told it to her. She concluded with the finding of Elsie.

"The poor child has been perfectly miserable all the time she lived with
her aunt Mattie," she said. "So I wondered--if I can make Miss Grant pay
something towards her support--whether she couldn't live here. She needs
someone like you, Mrs. Grant, to be a mother to her."

The old lady's kind heart was touched.

"Of course she can live here!" she exclaimed, "whether Mattie contributes
towards her support or not. We'll manage somehow. Don't you think we can,

"I have thought so all along," replied her son. "Elsie should go to high
school, like other normal young girls."

Mary Louise seized the hands of both people at once. She was wild with
joy at the success of her plan.

"I'm going straight to the hospital now," she said, picking up the heavy
tin box which she had laid on a small table in the dining room, "to see
what kind of bargain I can drive with Miss Grant!"

John laughed. "You have the gold?" he asked.

"Yes. But I'm not going to give it to her till she makes me some sort of

"Let me drive you over," he suggested. "That box must be heavy."

"It has five hundred dollars in gold in it," returned Mary Louise. "I
counted it, to make sure. Probably Miss Grant will offer me ten dollars
as a reward."

"I can believe that," agreed Mrs. Grant. "She certainly is stingy. Poor
little Elsie!"

Five minutes later John Grant left Mary Louise at the entrance to the
hospital, and the girl carried her heavy box up to the patient's room.
But it was carefully wrapped and tied, so that Miss Grant had no idea
what it contained.

The old lady was looking much brighter this morning. She smiled
pleasantly as her young friend entered.

"Mary Louise!" she exclaimed. "Any news?"

"Lots of news," replied the girl, seating herself in the chair beside the
bed. "Do you feel equal to hearing it?"

"I certainly do. Have you found my money?"

"I want to tell you the story straight from the beginning. But before I
do that, I want to assure you that Elsie is innocent. We found the real
thief, and we also found Elsie. She ran away because she was unhappy."

Miss Grant's eyes sparkled with eagerness. "Never mind about Elsie now.
Tell me who stole my money."

"One of the gypsies," replied Mary Louise. "I can give it to you if
you'll promise to donate some of it for Elsie's support. Mrs. Grace Grant
wants her to live with them, but you know how poor she is now."

"All right, all right, I'll give you fifty dollars if you get it all back
for me! Where is it?"

"I'll tell you in a minute." Mary Louise couldn't help enjoying teasing
the miserly woman in retaliation for the way she had treated Elsie. "But
it isn't a case of giving fifty dollars now. It's rather that you pay
Mrs. Grant something--say twenty dollars a month--as your share towards
Elsie's support."

Miss Grant groaned.

"For how long?" she demanded.

"Till Elsie finishes high school."

"That's a lot of money.... Still, I wouldn't have to have the child
around. And she does irritate me.... Yes, I'll agree. Where is my money?"

Mary Louise unwrapped her box and put it down upon the white bed. Miss
Grant reached for it as a child might grab at his Christmas stocking. She
opened it and immediately began to count the gold pieces.

"It's all here!" she cried exultantly.

Mary Louise nodded. "Shall I tell you the story now--about the necklace?"
she inquired.

"Yes, yes. I had forgotten the necklace. Where is it?"

"I'm afraid you won't get that, Miss Grant, because it never really
belonged to your father." And Mary Louise went on to relate the gypsy's

Still fingering the gold, the old lady listened intently.

"Yes, that sounds right to me," she agreed, as the story ended. "I am
thankful that the necklace is back with its rightful owner. That would
please my mother. Maybe now Dark Cedars will be a more peaceful place to

"I believe it will be," concluded Mary Louise as she rose to go. "Here is
your key, Miss Grant--and--good-bye!"

"Wait, Mary Louise! I want to give you forty dollars--in gold. You can
give ten to Jane, as I promised her, but I think you deserve thirty.
You're a good, clever girl!"

Mary Louise shook her head.

"No, thank you, Miss Grant. What I did, I did because of my love and
sympathy for Elsie. If you will treat her fairly, that is all the reward
I want."

The old lady gazed at the girl in amazement at her refusal. But she saw
that she meant what she said; perhaps Mary Louise's generosity put her to

"I will, Mary Louise," she promised solemnly. "I will indeed."

So, well satisfied with the happy solution of the mystery at Dark Cedars,
Mary Louise hurried back to tell Elsie Grant the good news about her new
home and the four happy years at high school which were in store for her.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Transcriber's note:

--Retained publication and copyright information from the printed
  exemplar (this book is public-domain in the U.S.).

--Obvious typographical errors were corrected without comment.
  Possibly intentional spelling variations were not changed.


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