Part 2 out of 3
direction, and although the overdressed girl had still some weaknesses of
character to overcome, she had greatly improved, as this incident of the
Lily was not alone in complaining about Miss Carrington's harshness,
however. It was the principal topic of conversation when the girls gathered
in the boathouse rooms to prepare for the races and the features that were
to precede the principal attraction of the carnival--the masquerade grand
"Sh! She's right here now," whispered Bobby Hargrew sepulchrally, coming
into the dressing-room. "She's on watch at the door."
"Who?" asked Jess Morse.
"Not Hester?" cried Lily. "She told me she wouldn't come down here!"
"Gee Gee," shot back Bobby, with pursed lips. "She is going to be sure that
Hester doesn't appear."
"Mean thing!" Nellie Agnew said. And when the doctor's gentle daughter made
such a statement she had to be fully aroused. "She thinks she has spoiled
the whole act!"
"I believe you," Bessie Yeager said. "I wonder if Miss Carrington really
sleeps at night?"
"Why not, Bess?" cried Dora Lockwood.
"I think she lies awake thinking up mean things to do to us."
"Oh, oh!" murmured Nellie.
"I bet you!" exclaimed the slangy Bobby.
"Careful, girls. If she hears you!" warned Laura.
"Then you would be 'perspicuous au grautin,' as the fellow said," chuckled
Bobby. "There! the whistle has sounded."
"The fete has begun," sighed Jess. "I do hope everything will go off
"The boys are taking in money all right," Laura said with satisfaction. "I
believe we shall make a thousand dollars for the Red Cross."
"I hope so," said her chum. "Come on, girls! It's first the fancy skating
before the ice arena is all cut up."
The effort to make the Ice Carnival of the Central High a success was aided
by a perfect evening and perfect ice. The latter had been shaved and
smoothed over every gnarly place. There was not a single crack in which a
skate could be caught to throw the wearer. The arena roped off from the
spectators was as smooth as a ballroom floor.
It was about two acres in extent. Around three sides of the roped-off space
there was a roped-off alley with boards laid upon the ice upon which the
spectators could stand. Uprights held the strings of colored lights which
were supplied with electricity from the city lighting company; for this was
not the first exhibition of the kind that had been staged upon Lake Luna.
Around the alley allotted to the audience, each member of which had to pay
a half dollar for a ticket, was a guarded space so that those who did not
pay entrance fee could not get near enough to enjoy the spectacle.
The short-distance races, following the figure skating, were all within the
oval of the principal arena. Then the ropes were taken down at one end and
the long-distance races came off, a mile track having been marked with
staffs upon the ice, staffs which now held the clusters of colored
For two hours the company was so well amused that few were driven away by
the cold--and it was an intensely cold night The ringing of the skates on
the almost adamantine ice revealed the fact that Jack Frost had a tight
clutch on the waters of Lake Luna.
"I wish my mother could have seen this," Janet Steele murmured to Laura
Belding. "I think it is like fairyland."
"Isn't it pretty? Now comes the torchlight procession. The boys arranged
this their own selves. See if it isn't pretty!"
The short end of the oval had been closed again after the long-distance
races, and now there dashed into the arena from the boys' lane to the
dressing-rooms a long line of figures in dominos, each bearing a colored
light. They were the boys that could skate the best--the most sure-footed.
Back and forth, around and around, in and out and across! The swift
movement of the figures was well nigh bewildering; while the intermingling
of colored lights, their weaving in and out, made a brilliant pattern that
brought applause again and again from the spectators.
Then the boys divided, taking stations some distance apart, and the torches
were tossed from hand to hand, as Indian clubs are tossed in gymnasium
exercises. The effect was spectacular and seemed a much more difficult
exercise than it really was.
Meanwhile the girls selected for the masquerade were dressing in the
boathouse. Their masquerade costumes were as diverse and elaborate as
though it were a ball they were attending. There was no dress as simple as
Janet Steele's Red Cross uniform; yet with her glowing face and sparkling
eyes and white teeth there were few more effective figures in the party.
She had proved herself to be a fine and strong skater. Laura and Jess, who
sponsored her, were delighted with the new girl's appearance on the ice.
She had learned, too, her part quite perfectly. When the girls first came
out and the boys darted back to get into their fancy costumes, the summary
of the figures the girls wove on the ice were already known to Janet. She
fulfilled her part.
Then returned the boys, "all rigged out," Bobby said, and the masquerade
parade began. The crowd standing about the arena cheered and shouted. It
really was a most attractive grand march, and there chanced, better still,
to be no accident. Smoothly the young people wended their way about the
ice, their skates ringing, their supple bodies swaying in time to the
music, led by those two masks of Uncle Sam and the Red Cross girl.
"It is lovely," Mrs. Belding said to her husband. "What a fine skater our
Chetwood is, Henry. And it is so near Christmas! I hope that bank-note will
turn out to be a good one so that he will not lose the money," she finished
"There, there!" said the jeweler. "I'll go to see Monroe to-morrow. He's at
BUT WHO IS HE?
"Well, Mr. Monroe," the jeweler said, when he was ushered into the banker's
office the following forenoon by the bank watchman, "I presume that bill is
a counterfeit of some kind?"
"My dear Belding," said the banker, who was a portly and jolly man, who
shook a good deal when he chuckled, and who shook now, "I thought you were
old enough, and experienced enough, to discover the counterfeit from the
"My son took the bill in over the counter," said the jeweler, rather
"But haven't you examined it?" said Mr. Monroe, taking the strange
bank-note from a drawer of his desk.
"Well--yes," was the admission, made grudgingly.
"And are you not yet assured?"
"Neither one way nor the other," frankly confessed the jeweler. "It was
taken by Chet for a hundred-dollar bill. And it is that on one side!"
"It certainly looks to be," chuckled Mr. Monroe.
"But who ever heard of such a thing?" demanded the exasperated customer of
the bank. "A hundred printed on one side and a fifty on the other! The
printers of bank-notes do not make such mistakes."
"Hold on! Nobody is infallible in this world--not even a bank-note
printer," said the banker, reaching into another drawer and bringing forth
a large indexed scrapbook.
"Here's a case that happened some years ago. I am a scrapbook fiend,
Belding," chuckled Mr. Monroe. "There were once two bills issued for a
Kansas bank just like this one you have brought to me. Only this note that
we have here was printed for the Drovers' Levee Bank of Osage, Ohio, as you
can easily see. This note went through that bank, was signed by Bedford
Knox, cashier, and Peyton J. Weld, president, as you can see, and its
peculiar printing was not discovered.
"Ah, here we have it!" added Mr. Monroe, fluttering the stiff leaves of the
scrapbook and finally coming to the article in question. "Listen here: 'It
was found on communication with Washington that a record was held there of
the bill, and the department was anxious to recall it. With another bill it
had been printed for a bank in Kansas, and the mistake had been made by the
printer who had turned the sheet upside down in printing the reverse side.
The first plate bore the obverse of a fifty-dollar bill at the top and of a
hundred-dollar bill at the bottom, while the other plate held the reverse
of both sides. By turning the sheet around for the reverse printing, the
fifty-dollar impression had been made on the back of the hundred-dollar
"Do you see, now?" laughed the banker. "Quite an easy and simple mistake,
and one that might often be made, only the printers are very careful men."
Oddly enough, Mr. Belding, although relieved by the probability that the
Department at Washington would make the strange bill right for him, was
suddenly attracted by another fact.
"I wonder," he said, "if that man came from Osage, Ohio?"
"What man? The one who passed the bank-note on your son?"
"Yes. You know, he was injured and is now in the hospital."
"I don't know. Go on."
Mr. Belding related the story of the accident and the unfortunate mental
condition of the injured man. "They tell me all the money he had with him
was new money--fresh from the Treasury."
"He probably did not make it himself," chuckled the jolly banker. "Poor
chap! Don't the doctors think he will recover his memory?"
"That I cannot say," the jeweler said, rising. "Then you think I may
relieve Chet's mind?"
"Oh, yes. I will give you another hundred for this bill, if you want me to.
I will send this to Washington, where they probably already have a record
of it. Bills of this denomination are printed by twos, and the other has
probably turned up--as in the case of the Kansas bank-note."
Aside from the satisfaction this interview of his father's with Mr. Monroe
accorded Chet Belding, further interest on the part of all the young people
was aroused in the case of the injured stranger. Oddly enough, when Laura
and Jess went to the hospital to inquire about the man, they found Janet
Steele, the Red Cross girl, there on the same errand.
Since the Ice Carnival, that had proved such a money-making affair for the
Red Cross, the Central High girls had considered Janet almost one of
themselves. Although nobody seemed to know who or what the Steeles were,
and they certainly lived very oddly in the old house at the lower end of
Whiffle Street, Janet was so likable, and her invalid mother was evidently
so much of a gentlewoman, that Laura and her chum had vouched for Janet and
declared her to be "all right."
The matron of the hospital was the person whom the girls interviewed on
this occasion. Mrs. Langworth had some interest in each patient besides the
doctor's professional concern. She was sympathetic.
"We do not know what to call him," she explained. "He laughs rather grimly
about it and tells us to call him 'John.' But that, I am sure, is not his
name. He merely wishes us to have a 'handle' for him. And you cannot tell
me," added the matron, shaking her head, "that he is one of those rough
miners right out of Alaska!"
"Does he say he is?" asked Janet, with increased interest.
"He remembers of being in Alaska, he says. He was coming out, he tells us,
when something happened to him. And that is the last he can remember. He
believes he 'made his pile,' as he expresses it. Oh, he uses mining
expressions, and may have lived roughly and in the open, as miners do, at
some time in his life. But not recently, I am sure."
"And not a thing about him to identify him?" asked Laura.
"Not a thing. Plenty of money. Not much jewelry----"
"Oh! The lavalliere my brother sold him!" cried Laura. "He said it was for
'a nice little girl he knew.' It was only a ten dollar one--one of those
French novelties, you know, that we sell so many of at this time of year."
"He had that in an envelope in his pocket," said Mrs. Langworth.
"Then he had not made the presentation of it to 'the nice little girl,'"
murmured Laura. thoughtfully.
"It almost proves he is a stranger in town, does it not?" asked Jess. "He
bought the chain in the morning, and he was not hurt until evening. Do you
know if he had any lodging in Centerport?"
"The police have searched the hotels, I believe," said the matron, "and
described the poor fellow to the clerks and managers. Nobody seems to know
"Do--do you suppose we might see him?" Laura asked hesitatingly.
"Oh, Laura! Would you want to?" Jess murmured.
"Why not?" said the matron, smiling. "Not just now, perhaps. But the next
time you come--in the afternoon, of course. He will be glad to see young
faces, I have no doubt I will speak to Dr. Agnew when he comes in," for
Nellie's father was of importance at the Centerport Hospital.
"But who is he, do you suppose?" Jess Morse demanded, when the three girls
left the hospital and walked uptown again. "He can't be any person who has
friends in Centerport, or they would look him up."
"That seems to be sure enough," admitted her chum. Then: "Shall we walk
along with Janet?"
"Of course," said Jess. "Are you going home, Miss Steele?"
"Yes," said the girl in the Red Cross uniform. "I have been on duty at the
Central Chapter; but mother expects me now."
"How is your mother, dear?" asked Laura, with sympathy.
"She is as well as can be expected," said Janet gravely. "If she had
nothing to worry her mind she would be better in health," and she sighed.
Janet did not explain what this worry was, and even Jess, blunt-spoken as
she often was, could not ask pointblank what serious trouble Mrs. Steele
had on her mind.
Again the Central High girls went in to see the invalid upon Janet's
invitation. They found Bobby Hargrew there before them. Harum-scarum as
Bobby was, nobody could accuse her of lack of sympathy; and she had already
learned that her fun and frolic pleased the invalid. Bobby did not mind
playing the jester for her friends.
Of course, the strange man at the hospital was the pivot on which the
"Were you there, too, to inquire about him?" asked Mrs. Steele of Janet.
Laura noticed a certain wistfulness in the invalid's tone and look; but she
did not understand it. Merely, Mother Wit noted and pigeonholed the remark.
Janet said practically:
"I can't help feeling an interest in him, as I helped him that evening he
"But have they learned nothing about him?"
"Only that the hundred-dollar bill he gave Chet is probably all right,"
laughed Jess Morse.
"They say he had a big money roll," said Bobby.
"Not a poor man, of course," Laura agreed.
"And Mrs. Langworth says she is sure he has been in Alaska," Jess added.
Laura noted the swift glance that passed between the invalid and her
"Oh, my dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Steele, "you did not tell me that"
"No," said Janet, shaking her head, "But lots of men go to Alaska, Mamma."
"Ye-es," admitted Mrs. Steele.
"And come back with plenty of money," put in Bobby, smiling. "This poor
man's money doesn't help him much, does it? He doesn't seem to have any
friends here in Centerport. He is just as much a stranger as the man they
tell about who came back to his old home town after a great many years and
found a lot of changes. As he rode uptown his taxicab stopped to let a
funeral go by.
"'Who's dead?' asked the returned wanderer of the taxicab driver.
"'Dan Jones,' said the driver.
"'Not Dan Jones that kept the hotel!' cried the man. 'Why, I knew him well.
Can it be possible that Dan is dead?'
"'I reckon he's dead, Mister,' said the chauffeur, as the hearse went by.
'What d'you think they're doin'--rehearsin' with him?'"
"How very lonely the poor man must feel," said Mrs. Steele, after laughing
at Bobby's story.
"We're going in to see him the next time," Jess said.
Mrs. Steele looked again swiftly at her daughter. "You will see him, too,
won't you, Janet?" she murmured.
Her daughter seemed not to like the idea; but Jess said quickly:
"We will take Janet with us, Mrs. Steele. And Bobby, too. If Mrs. Langworth
approves, I mean. 'The more the merrier.' Really, I'm awfully interested in
Laura, said nothing; but she wondered why the invalid showed so much
interest in the injured man.
The copies of the play chosen for production by the girls of the Central
High Players Club had arrived, and Mr. Mann, who was to direct the
production, called the members of the club together in the small hall which
was just off Mr. Sharp's office.
"And thank goodness!" murmured Bobby Hargrew, "Gee Gee cannot break into
this session. What do you suppose she has suggested?"
"Mercy! how do you expect us to guess the vagaries of the Carrington mind?"
returned Lily Pendleton. "Something foolish, I'll be bound."
"Sh! Remember Mr. Mann is an instructor, too," said Nellie Agnew.
"That is all right, Doctress," giggled Lily. "Mr. Mann is a good fellow and
will not peach."
"Tell us the awful truth, Bobby," drawled Jess. "What is Gee Gee's latest?"
"I understand," said the younger girl, "that she has been to Mr. Sharp and
begged him to exercise his authority and make us act 'Pyramus and Thisbe'
instead of 'The Rose Garden.'"
"Goodness! That old thing?" flung out Dora Lockwood.
"There is a burlesque on 'Pyramus and Thisbe' that we might give," chuckled
Jess. "And it's all in doggerel. Let's!"
"Reckless ones! Would you spoil all our chances?" demanded Laura.
"Remember, we are working for a worthy cause," Dorothy Lockwood mouthed, in
imitation of the scorned Miss Carrington.
"You are right, Dory," Laura said soberly. "The Red Cross is worth
"Right-o, my dear girl," declared Jess Morse with conviction. "Let us put
aside Gee Gee and listen to what Mr. Mann has to say."
They had already talked over the characters of the play. None of them was
beyond the capabilities of the girls of Central High. But what delighted
some of them was that there were boys' parts--and girls would fill them!
Of course, Bobby Hargrew had been cast for one of the male parts. Bobby's
father had always said she should have been a boy, and was wont to call her
"my eldest son." She had assumed mannish ways--sometimes when the
assumption was not particularly in good taste.
"But Short and Long," she growled in her very "basest" voice, "says I can't
walk like a boy. Says anybody will know I'm a girl. I have a mind to get my
hair cut short"
"Don't you dare, Clara Hargrew!" Laura commanded. "You'd be sorry
afterward--and so would your father."
Bobby would never do anything to hurt "Father Tom," as she always called
Mr. Hargrew, so her enthusiasm for this suggested prank subsided. But she
"Anyway, it's a sailor suit I am going to wear, and I guess I can walk like
a sailor, just as well as Short and Long."
"Better," declared Nellie soothingly. "And then, those wide-legged trousers
sailors wear are quite modest."
At this all the girls laughed. Knickers in their gymnasium and field work
had become second nature to them.
"But think of me," cried Jess, "in what Chet calls 'the soup to nuts!'
Really the dress-suit of mankind is awfully silly, after all."
"And uncomfortable!" declared Dora.
"Attention, young ladies!" exclaimed Mr. Mann at that moment.
He was a rotund, beaming little man, with vast enthusiasm and the
patience--so Nellie declared--of an angel.
"Not a full-sized angel," Bobby had denied seriously. "He is more the size
of a cherub--one of those you see pictured leaning their elbows on clouds."
But, of course, neither of the girls made this comment within Mr. Mann's
The final decisions regarding the choice of parts were now made. The copies
of the play were distributed. Mr. Mann even read aloud the first two acts,
instructing and advising as he went along, so that the girls could gain
some general idea of what was expected of them.
Before they were finished another point came up. There was a single
character in the play that had not been accorded to any girl. It was not a
speaking part; but it was an important part, for the other characters
talked about it, and the silent character was supposed to appear on several
occasions in "The Rose Garden."
"We need a tall, dark girl," said Mr. Mann. "One who walks particularly
well and who win not be overlooked by the audience even when she merely
crosses the stage. Who----?"
"Margit Salgo!" exclaimed Jess, who had every bit of the new play and its
needs very close to her heart.
"Of course!" cried Laura and the Lockwood twins. "Margit is just the one,"
Mother Wit added.
"Oh!" said Mr. Mann at last. "You mean Margaret Carrington?"
"And she walks like a queen," sighed Lily Pendleton. "I wish I could learn
to walk as she does."
"You know what Mrs. Case says," put in Bobby, in an undertone. "She says
your feet, Lil, have been bound like a Chinese woman's of the old regime."
"Margit went barefoot and lived in the open for years," said Laura.
"She was 'near to Nature's heart,'" laughed Jess. "Of course, she never
tried to squeeze a number six foot into narrow twos."
"Never mind the size of her feet," said Mr. Mann good-naturedly. "If she
can take the part, she will be just the one for it I remember that Miss
Carrington's niece does have a queenly walk. And that is just what we need.
But do you think we can get her?"
"She has never joined our club," said Jess thoughtfully.
"I am not sure that she has ever been invited," Laura said. "But she is
"Gee Gee pretty near works her to death," growled Bobby. "I shouldn't
wonder if Margit flew the coop some day."
"I am not sure, Miss Hargrew," said Mr. Mann, without a smile, "that I
ought not to take you to task for your language. It really is inexcusable."
"Oh, dear me, Mr. Mann, don't you begin!" begged the culprit "If I am
academic in school in my speech, let me be relieved out of sessions, I
"But about Margit Salgo?" queried Laura. "Do you suppose she will be able
to help us? I know she will be willing to, if we ask her."
"Gee Gee will object, you bet," growled Bobby under her breath.
That was not to be known, however, without asking. Laura said she would
speak to Margaret about it, while Mr. Mann intimated that he would mention
to Miss Carrington, the elder, that her niece was almost necessary to the
success of the play.
Margit Salgo was not so straightly kept by Miss Carrington as she was
engaged from morning to night in her studies. Having been utterly neglected
as far as mental development went for several years, the half-gypsy girl
was much behind others of her age at Central High.
Miss Grace Gee Carrington was pushing her protege on as fast as possible.
She was not yet in the classes of those, girls of her age whom she knew at
Central High; but she was fast forging ahead and she took much pride in her
Therefore she did not see Miss Carrington's sternness as Bobby, for
instance, saw it. She found her aunt kind and considerate, if very firm.
And the girl who had been half wild when Laura Belding first found her, as
has been related in "The Girls of Central High on Track and Field," was
settling into a very sedate and industrious young woman.
What girl, however, does not love to "dress up and act?" Margit Salgo was
delighted when Laura explained their need to her.
"Just as sure as auntie will let me, I'll act," declared the dark beauty,
flushing brilliantly and her black eyes aflame with interest. "You are a
dear, Laura Belding, to think of me," and she hugged Mother Wit heartily.
Two days passed, and then came the first rehearsal. This, of course, could
be little more than a reading of the parts before Mr. Mann, with the latter
to advise them as to elocution and stage business. But Bobby declared she
had been practicing walking like a boy and had succeeded in copying Short
and Long almost exactly.
"Why me?" demanded Billy sharply, whose usual sweet temper seemed to have
become dreadfully soured of late.
"Well, why not?" demanded Bobby. "Should I copy Pretty Sweet's strut?"
"Aw--him!" snorted Billy Long, turning away in vexation.
"Now, tell me," said the quick-minded Bobby Hargrew to Laura and Jess, with
whom she chanced to be walking at the moment, "why it is that Billy has
taken such a violent dislike to poor Purt of late? Why, he doesn't feel
kindly enough toward him to send him another dead fish!"
They were going to the rehearsal, which was in the small hall of the
school. Of course, there was a sight of bustle and talking. Every girl was
greatly excited over her part. Some were "sure they couldn't do it," while
there were those who "could not possibly remember cues."
"And I know I shall laugh just at the wrong place," said Lily Pendleton. "I
"If you do," growled Bobby, "I'll do something to you that will make you
feel far from laughing, I assure you."
"How savagely you talk!" sighed Nellie Agnew. "That boy's part you are to
fill is already affecting you, Clara."
"'Sailor Bob' is going to be terrifically rough, I suppose," Jess said,
Mr. Mann called them to order, and the girls finally rustled into seats and
prepared to go through "The Rose Garden" for the first time. Everybody knew
her first speeches, and as Mr. Mann accentuated the cues and advised about
the business the girls did very well during the first act.
But with the opening of the second act there was a halt. Here was where
"the dark lady" should come in. Her first appearance marked a flourishing
period by Jess, who strode about the stage as the hero of the piece.
"And Margit's not here!" cried Dora Lockwood. "Shouldn't she be, Mr. Mann?
Really, her entrance gives me my cue, not Adrian's speech."
Adrian was Jess Morse. She nodded her head vigorously. "Of course, Margit
ought to be here to rehearse with us."
"I am afraid," said Mr. Mann, with pursed lips, "that we shall have to give
up the idea of having Miss Carrington--the younger--for the part."
"Oh, oh, oh!" chorused some of the girls. "Can't Margit play?"
"Isn't that just like Gee Gee?" demanded Bobby furiously.
"She wanted to, I am sure," Laura said. "It is not Margit's fault."
"Of course it isn't," snapped Jess. "That old--"
Fortunately she got no farther. The door opened at that instant and Miss
Grace Gee Carrington entered. She was a very tall woman with grayish hair,
eyeglasses, and a sallow complexion. Her dignity of carriage and stern
manner were quite overpowering.
"Young ladies!" she said sharply, having come into the room and closed the
door, "I have a word to say. I told Mr. Mann I would come here and explain
why my niece cannot take part in any such foolish and inconsequential
exhibition as this that you have determined on."
She glared around, and the girls' faces assumed various expressions of
disturbance. Some, even, were frightened, for Miss Carrington had always
reigned by power of fear.
"I would not allow Margaret to lower herself by appearing in such a play. I
disapprove greatly of girls taking boys' parts. The object of the play
itself is merely to amuse. There is nothing worth while or educational
Again silence, and the girls only glanced fearfully at each other.
"I have a proposition to make to you," said the stern teacher. "It is not
too late to change your plans. I have Mr. Sharp's permission to make the
suggestion. He will agree to your changing the play and will
be--er--satisfied, I am sure, if you accept my advice and put on the play
which I first suggested. This is an old Greek play with real value to it We
gave it once in my own college days, and it truly made a sensation. I
should be quite willing for Margaret to appear in that play, and I should,
in fact, be willing to give Mr. Mann the benefit of my own experience in
rehearsing the piece."
Mr. Mann actually looked frightened. The stern instructor overpowered him
exactly as she did many of the girls.
"Toot! Toot! Toot-te-toot! Back water!" muttered Bobby Hargrew. "Wouldn't I
cut a shine acting in a Greek play? Oh, my!"
Her imprudence--and impudence--was fortunately drowned by the general
murmur of objection that went up from the girls of the club. That Miss
Carrington's suggestion met with general objection was so plain that even
the stern woman herself must have realized it.
"Of course," she said, really "cattish," "you girls would prefer something
"Perhaps, Miss Carrington," said Laura with more boldness than most of her
mates possessed, "we prefer something more simple. 'The Rose Garden' does
not call for more than we can give to it. I am afraid the play you suggest
would take too much study."
"Ha!" snapped the tall teacher. Then she went on: "I want you all to
understand that your recitations must be up to the average while you put in
your time on such a mediocre performance as this you are determined upon.
Of course, if the play was of an educational nature we might relax our
school rules a little--"
"Oh! Oh! Bribery!" whispered Jess to Nellie.
"It seems," Mr. Mann finally found voice to say, "that the desire of the
young ladies is for the piece selected. It is too late, as Miss Belding
says, to make a change now."
"Then Margaret cannot act!" exclaimed Miss Carrington, and, turning
angrily, she left the hall in a way that had she been one of the girls, it
would have been said, "She flounced out."
The rehearsal continued; but most of the girls were in a sober state of
mind. There was a general desire among them to stand high in all their
studies. They had learned when first they entered upon the athletic
contests and exercises of the Girls Branch League that they must keep up in
studies and in deportment or they could not get into the good times of the
It was so with the secret society, the M. O. R.'s, and likewise in this
acting club. "Fun" was merely a reward for good work in school. Not alone
was Miss Carrington stiff on this point, the principal and the rest of the
faculty were quite as determined that no outside adventures or activities
should lower the standard of the girls of Central High.
At the present time the members of the club had a serious fact to
contemplate. A girl to fill the part of the "dark lady" in the garden must
be found. As it was not a speaking part, the person filling the character
must more particularly look as she was described in the play.
"We want a type," said Mr. Mann. "Tall, graceful, brunette, and with
queenly carriage. You must find her before the next rehearsal. I must have
plenty of time to train her, for her appearance is of grave importance--as
you young ladies can yourselves see."
"Oh, dear me!" groaned Nellie Agnew, when the rehearsal was finished. "And
Margit Salgo would have been just the one!"
"And the poor girl certainly would have enjoyed being one of us," Laura
"Take it from me," said Bobby gruffly, "she's just the meanest--"
"Margit?" cried Jess.
"Gee Gee! I'm good and disgusted with her."
But Bobby, for once in her life, was very circumspect during recitations
that week. She felt that Gee Gee was watching for a chance to demerit her,
and the girl did not intend to give the teacher occasion for doing so.
"For once I am going to be so good, and have my lessons so perfect, that
she cannot find fault."
"But trust Miss Carrington to find fault if she felt like it!" grumbled the
girl a day or so later.
"Miss Hargrew, do not stride so. And keep your elbows in. Why! you walk
like a grenadier. And don't sprawl in your seat that way. Are you not a
Ah, but it was hard for saucy Bobby to keep her tongue back of her teeth!
"Have you lost your tongue?" nagged Miss Carrington.
Bobby's eyes flashed a reply. But her lips "ran o'er with honey," as Jess
Morse quoted, _sotto voce_.
"No, Miss Carrington. I am merely holding it," said the girl softly.
Miss Carrington flushed. She knew she was unfair; and Bobby's unexpected
reply pilloried the teacher before the whole class. There was a bustle in
the room and a not-entirely-smothered snicker.
Had there been any way of punishing the girl Miss Carrington would
certainly have done it. She was neither just nor merciful, but she was
exact. She could see no crevice in Bobby's armor. The incident had to pass,
and the girl remained unpunished.
However, it did seem as though Miss Carrington were more watchful each day
of the girls who belonged to the Players Club. She was evidently expecting
those who had parts to learn to show some falling off in recitation, or the
like. Her sharp tongue lashed those who faltered unmercifully. The girls
began to show the strain. They became nervous.
"I really feel as though I must scream sometimes!" said Nellie Agnew,
almost in tears, one afternoon as the particular chums of Central High left
the building for home. "I know my lessons just as well as ever, but Gee Gee
has got me so worked up that I expect to fail every time I come up to
recite to her."
"She is too old to teach, anyway," snapped Jess. "My mother says so. She
ought to have been put on the shelf by the Board of Education long ago."
"Oh, oh!" gasped Dora Lockwood. "What bliss if she were!"
"She is not so awfully old," said Laura thoughtfully.
"But she is awful!" sniffed Jess.
"She acts like a spoiled child," Nellie said. "If she cannot have her own
way in everything she gets mad and becomes disagreeable."
This was pretty strong language from the doctor's daughter. At the moment
Bobby Hargrew appeared, whistling, and with her hands in her coat pockets.
She was evidently practicing her manly stride. But she did not grin when
she saw the juniors approaching. Instead, in a most dolorous voice she sang
out, quoting the witches' chant:
"'Double, double; toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.'
"Everything's stewing, girls, and it is bound to be some brew. Do you know
"Couldn't guess," said Jess Morse. "But it is something bad, I warrant."
"Everything's going wrong, girls!" wailed Nellie.
"I just saw Mr. Mann and Lil. Couldn't help overhearing what she was giving
him. What do you suppose she wants to do?"
"Play the lead instead of Laura," snapped Jess.
"That would not be so strange," Dora Lockwood observed. "Would it,
"Not at all. Lil Pendleton--"
"Wait a minute," proposed Laura Belding. "Let us hear her crime before we
sentence her to death."
"That's right," agreed Bobby. "Oh, she surely has put her foot in it! She
told Mr. Mann that Hessie is just the girl to act 'the dark lady' in our
play. What do you know about that?"
"Ow! Ow! That hurts!" squealed Dora.
"She never _did_?" gasped her twin.
"Hope to die!" exclaimed Bobby recklessly. "That is exactly the game she is
trying to work."
"Hester Grimes! Of all persons!" groaned Nellie.
"Lil hasn't said a word about it to me," Jess Morse declared.
"No, she is going to get Mr. Mann himself to propose Hester--"
"But Hessie isn't a member of the club!" cried Nellie.
"We have set a precedent there," said Laura thoughtfully. "We took Janet
Steele into the ice carnival, and she was not a member of the school."
"That was an entirely different thing!" snapped Jess.
"Why, Hester Grimes is no more fit to play that part than I am fit for the
professional stage!" Nellie Agnew said. "What can Lil mean?"
"I bet a cooky," Bobby growled, "that Hester put Lil up to it. You know,
Hess is crazy to get her finger into every pie; but she would never come
straight out and ask to join our club."
"She'd be blackballed," said Dora tartly.
"I believe she would," agreed her twin.
Bobby chuckled. "There would be two black beans against her, and no
"What did you say to Lil, Clara?" demanded Laura thoughtfully.
"Not a word."
"How was that?" Jess asked. "You didn't have a sudden attack of lockjaw,
"Don't fret, Jess," said Bobby sharply. "I know when to keep my mouth shut
on occasion. I came right away from there to find you girls. Something must
be done about it."
"Oh, dear me!" groaned Nellie. "If Margit Salgo had only been allowed to
take the part!"
"What did I tell you?" almost snarled Bobby. "Gee Gee has managed to queer
the whole business. This play is going to be a failure."
MOTHER WIT HAS AN IDEA
The ice carnival had been such a success in a spectacular as well as a
monetary way that many of the friends of the Central High girls and boys
declared they would like to have it repeated. More than a thousand
dollars--to be exact, one thousand and twenty dollars--had been made for
the Red Cross.
Centerport was doing its very best to gather its quota for the great
institution that was doing so much good in the world. Janet Steele
confessed to Laura that she had gained more than one hundred dollar
memberships, and that nearly all of these had given something in addition
to their membership fee.
"I wish we girls could help," said Laura wistfully.
"And you having done so much already!" cried Janet. "Why, you've already
done more than your share! And doing a play, too!"
"I am afraid the play will not be a great success," Mother Wit sighed, but
more to herself than to the other girl.
Those who wished to repeat the ice carnival success had to give the idea
up, for before the end of the week there swept down over the North Woods
and across frozen Lake Luna such a blizzard as the surrounding country had
not seen for several years. The street cars stopped running, traffic of all
sorts was tied up, and even the electricity for lighting purposes was put
out of commission for twenty-four hours.
Of course, it did not keep many of the girls and boys of Central High at
home. Snow piled up in the streets did not daunt them at all. But when the
amateur actors undertook to rehearse they had to do so by the light of
candles and kerosene lamps.
The rehearsal did not go very well, either. The girls were "snippy" to each
other--at least, Jess said they were, and Bobby declared she was one of the
very "snippiest--so there!"
"Girls! Girls!" begged Laura, "when there are so many other people to
fight, let us not fight each other. 'Little birds should in their nests
agree,' and so forth."
"Oh, poodle soup!" ejaculated Bobby, under her breath. "Don't anybody dare
spring old saws and sayings on me in my present mood."
"I believe you'd bite, Bobby," whispered Nellie Agnew.
A cry went up for Lily Pendleton, and then it was found that she was not
"The only girl who is made of either sugar or salt," declared Josephine
Morse. "Of course, the snow would keep her away!"
"But where is her friend, Miss Grimes?" asked Mr. Mann, rather tartly. "I
shall have my work cut out for me in training her, I fear."
"You will, indeed," moaned Laura.
"Now, Mr. Mann!" cried Bobby boldly, "you are not really going to let that
Hester Grimes act in this play, are you? She is perfectly horrid!"
"Miss Hargrew," was the somewhat sharp answer, "I hope you will not let
personal dislikes enter into this play. It does not matter who or what Miss
Grimes may be, if she can take the part--"
"But she'll never be able to do it in the world!"
"That is to be seen," said Mr. Mann firmly. "Remember, we are working for
the benefit of the Red Cross."
"Hear! Hear!" murmured Laura. "Perhaps Hester will do very well."
"And perhaps she won't!" snapped Bobby.
"Why, she can't possibly _act!"_ Jess Morse said hopelessly.
"You will let me be the judge of that, Miss Morse, if you please," said Mr.
Mann, speaking rather tartly.
"Mercy, everybody to-day is as crisp as pie-crust--no two ways about it!"
whispered Bobby to Jess.
The girls plowed home through the deep snow, most of them in no mood for
amusement. Even Laura Belding had a long face when she entered the house.
"How was the funeral?" asked Chet, who was buried in one of the deep
library chairs with a book.
"What?" she asked before she caught his meaning.
"You must have buried somebody by the way you look," declared her brother.
"Don't nag, Chettie," sighed his sister. "We are having terrible times."
"I judged so," Chet said dryly. "Don't you always have sich when you girls
go in for acting?"
"I am sympathetic, Laura--I swear I am!" her brother cried, putting up his
hands for pardon. "Don't shoot. But of course things always will go wrong.
Who is it--Bobby? Or Jess? Or Lil?"
"It is Hester Grimes."
"Wow!" exclaimed Chet. "I didn't know she was in it at all."
Laura told him of the emergency that had arisen and how Hester Grimes
seemed certain to be drawn into the affair.
"Why, that big chunk can't act," said Chet quite impolitely. "She looks
enough like her father to put on his apron and stand behind one of his
"Oh, that is awful!" Laura objected. "But I know she will spoil our play."
"Humph! Why didn't you, Laura, suggest somebody else for the part, as long
as Margit couldn't take it?"
"I didn't know of anybody."
"I thought they called you 'Mother Wit,'" scoffed Chet. "You're not even a
little bit bright."
"No, I guess you are right. I have lost all my brightness," sighed Laura.
"It has been rubbed off."
"Then you admit it was merely plate," laughed Chet. "But say! why didn't
you think of the girl who helped you out before?"
"Who? What girl?"
"That Red Cross girl. What's her name?"
"That's the one. Some pippin," said Chet with enthusiasm. I saw her this
afternoon and helped her plow home--"
"Chetwood Belding! Wait till Jess Morse hears about it."
"Jess will spark, old boy; you see if she doesn't"
"Jess is the best girl in the world; and she's got too much sense to object
to my helping another girl home through the snow."
"All right," chuckled Laura, in a much more cheerful mood. "But don't make
the mistake of praising Janet to Jess. That is where the crime comes in."
"Oh! Well, I won't," her brother declared thoughtfully.
"And where did you beau Janet from?" Laura asked.
"Were you there to see that poor man?"
"Rich man, you mean," grinned her brother. "I took him some books and a lot
of papers. He is able to sit up and read."
"But he doesn't know who he is?"
"He declares his name is John _Something_, and that he ought to be in
Alaska right now. Says the last he knew he was in Sitka. Something happened
to him there. Whatever it was, his brain must have been affected at that
time. For he cannot remember anything about the first part of his life."
"But, Chetwood!" exclaimed Laura earnestly, "that man is not a miner. He is
not tanned. His hands are not rough. He was as well groomed, the matron
says, as any gentleman who ever was brought to the Centerport Hospital."
"But he was in Alaska. You should hear him tell about it."
"He has lived two lives, then," said Laura thoughtfully.
"And must be beginning his third now," put in Chet. "What do you know about
that? And him with a roll of more than two thousand dollars--every bill
"Well, what is it?" her brother asked, looking curiously into Laura's
suddenly glowing face.
"Does he know he has so much money?"
"Why, yes. I've been telling him to-day all about that funny bill he passed
on me. He says he is glad he has so fat a purse, as he will be obliged to
remain in bed long with that leg in a cast."
"But, Chet! has he got the money himself?"
"It is in the hospital safe."
"I wonder! I wonder!" the girl murmured.
"What is it now?" asked Chet
"I wonder if any other bills in his roll are like that hundred-fifty note
father swapped with Mr. Monroe for you."
"Huh?" ejaculated her brother, quite puzzled.
"It was on the Drovers' Levee Bank, of Osage, Ohio. I wrote it down, and
the names of the cashier and president of the bank. Do find out, Chet, if
there are any more of those new bills issued by that bank in his roll."
"What for?" demanded Chet.
That Laura would not tell him, only made him promise to do as she asked.
Mother Wit had an idea; but she would not explain it to anybody yet.
CHAINS ON HIS WHEELS
"How came you to meet Janet?" asked Laura Belding, remembering what her
brother had first told her about the Red Cross girl.
"She was coming my way, of course."
"Coming your way?" Laura repeated, her eyebrows raised questioningly. "Oh!
I see! You met her at the hospital."
"You said a forkful," declared the slangy youth.
"Dear me, Chet," Laura observed soberly. "I think your slang is becoming
atrocious. So Janet was down there!"
"She had been calling on our friend with the broken leg, too," said Chet.
"She does seem interested in him, doesn't she?" Laura said thoughtfully. "I
"Because her mother's half-brother went to Alaska years ago and they never
heard of him again," said Chet. "She told me."
"Nothing wonderful about that," the brother declared.
"It is interesting."
"To them, I suppose," said Chet "But why don't you ask Miss Steele to join
you girls in the play you are getting up?"
"I never thought of it," confessed Laura.
"Your thought-works are out of kilter, Sis," declared Chet, laughing again.
"I'd certainly play Miss Steele off against the menace of Hester Grimes."
There was something besides mere sound in Chet Belding's advice, and his
sister appreciated the fact. But she did not go bluntly to the other girls
and suggest the Red Cross girl for the part of "the dark lady." She
realized that, if the new girl could act, she would amply fill the part in
the play. But Hester was supposed to have it now, and the very next day Mr.
Mann gave that candidate an hour's training in the part Hester was supposed
When they all came together for rehearsal again the second day, Hester
Grimes was present and she showed the effect of Mr. Mann's personal help.
Yet her work was so stiffly done, and she was so awkward, that it seemed to
most of the girls that she was bound to hurt and hinder rather than help in
"She'd put a crimp in anything," declared Bobby Hargrew, as the Hill girls
went home that afternoon.
The streets in this residential section had been pretty well cleared of
snow, and people had their automobiles out once more.
"Say, Jess!" exclaimed Bobby.
"Say it," urged Josephine Morse. "I promise not to bite you."
"If Hester plays that part, what are they going to do with her hands and
feet?" asked the unkind Bobby.
"Oh, hush!" exclaimed Laura.
"Well, when she's supposed to pick the rose and hold it up to the light,
and kiss it, her hand is going to look like a full-grown lobster--and just
"Girls, we must not!" begged Laura. "Somebody will surely tell Hester what
we say, and then--"
"She'll refuse to play," said Jess.
"Oh, fine, _fine_!" murmured one of the Lockwood twins.
"If we get her mad it will do no good," Nellie Agnew said. "Maybe then she
will insist on being 'the dark lady.'"
The boys were on the corner of Nugent Street waiting for the girls to come
"How goes the battle, Laura?" asked Lance Darby. "Have you learned your
"I thought I had," sighed Laura. "But when I come to take cues and try to
remember the business of the piece, I forget my lines."
"This being leading lady is pretty tough on Mother Wit," laughed Chet.
"Oh, my!" exclaimed Bobby Hargrew suddenly. "Here comes Pretty Sweet in his
car. Why! he's got Lil with him. I thought that was all over."
They gaily hailed the driver of the automobile and his companion as the
vehicle passed. Short and Long, with gloomy face, watched the car out of
"Well," he growled, "he's got nonskid-chains on his wheels to-day, all
"Chains on his wheels, Billy?" asked Bobby. "What do you mean? Doesn't he
always have them on in winter?"
"Humph! He forgot 'em once, anyway."
"Hey, Billy!" exclaimed Chet Belding, "you are skidding yourself, aren't
"Least said soonest mended," added Lance, likewise giving the smaller boy a
quick, stern look.
"Oh, I see!" muttered Bobby, searching the flushed face of Short and Long.
But Short and Long started on a quick trot for home, and left his friends
to stare after him. It was Bobby who did most of the staring, however. She
said to Jess and Laura, after they had parted from the other boys:
"What do you know about that boy? I'm just wise to him. I believe I know
what is the matter with Short and Long."
"Do you mean," asked Laura, "what makes him act so to Purt?"
"You have guessed my meaning, Mother Wit."
"What is the trouble between them?" demanded Jess. "Although Billy never
was much in love with Purt Sweet."
"Don't you two girls remember the Saturday night that man was hurt on
"I should say I do remember it!" Laura agreed. "He is in the hospital yet,
and he doesn't know who he is or where he came from."
"Oh, it's nothing to do with his identity," Bobby hastened to say. "It is
about the car that ran him down. You know the police never have found the
"Goodness!" gasped Jess. "You surely don't mean----"
"I mean that the car had no chains on its rear wheels. That is all that was
noticed about it Nobody got the number. But I heard Short and Long say he
knew somebody who had been driving a car that day without chains. And the
boys left us, didn't they, to look up the car?"
"What has that to do with Purt Sweet?" demanded Laura.
"Why, you heard what Billy just said about him and his chains!" cried
Bobby. "'He's got nonskid-chains on his wheels to-day, all right.' Didn't
you hear him? And he's had a grouch against Pretty Sweet ever since the
time--about--that the man was hurt."
"Oh, Purt wouldn't have done such a thing. He might have run the man down;
but he would never have run off and left him in the street!"
"I don't know," Jess said. "He'd be frightened half to death, of course, if
he did knock the man down."
"I do not believe Prettyman Sweet is heartless," declared Laura warmly.
"The boys are making a mistake. I'm going to tell Chet so."
But when she took her brother to task about this matter she could not get
Chet to admit a thing. He refused to say anything illuminating about the
car that had run down the stranger at the hospital, or if the boys
suspected anybody in particular.
"If we think we know anything, I can't tell you," Chet declared "Billy?
Why, he's always sore at Purt Sweet. You can't tell anything by him!"
Just the same it was evident that the boys were hiding much from their girl
chums; and, of course, that being the case, the girls were made all the
PIE AND POETRY
Laura's sleeves were rolled up to her plump elbows and she had an
enveloping apron on that covered her dress from neck to toe. There was
flour on her arms, on one cheek, and even on the tip of her nose.
Out-of-doors old Boreas, Jess said, held sway. Shutters flapped, the
branches of the hard maple creaked against the clapboarded ell of the
house, and there was an occasional throaty rattle in the chimney that made
one think that the Spirit of the Wind was dying there.
"You certainly are poetic," drawled Bobby, who had come into the Beldings'
big kitchen, too, and was comfortably seated on the end of the table at
which Laura had been rolling out piecrust.
"Now, if that crust is only crisp!" murmured Mother Wit.
"If it isn't," chuckled Chet, stamping the snow off his shoes, "we'll make
you eat it all."
"I'm willing to take the contract of eating it, sight unseen, if Laura made
the pie," interjected Lance Darby, opening the door suddenly.
"Come in! Come in!" cried Jess. "Want to freeze us all?"
"You would better not be so reckless, Lance," Laura said, smiling. "These
are mock cherry pies; and I never do know whether I get sugar enough in
them until they are done. Some cranberries are sourer than others, you
"M-m! Ah!" sighed Chet ecstatically. "If there is one thing I like----"
Lance began to sing-song:
"'There was a young woman named Hooker,
Who wasn't so much of a looker;
But she could build a pie
That would knock out your eye!
So along came a fellow and took 'er!'"
"Oh! Oh! We're all running to poetry," groaned Chet. "This will never do."
"'Poetry,' indeed!" scoffed Jess Morse. "I want to know how Lance dares
trespass upon Bobby's domain of limericks?"
"And I wish to know," Laura added haughtily, "how he dares intimate that I
am not 'a good looker'?"
"'_Peccavi!_"' groaned Lance. "I have sinned! But, anyway, Bobby is off the
limerick business. Aren't you, Bobby?"
"She hasn't sprung a good one for an age," declared Chet.
"A shortage," sighed Laura.
"Gee Gee says the lowest form of wit is the pun, and the most execrable
form of rhyme is the limerick," declared Jess soberly.
"Just for that," snapped Bobby, "I'll give you a bunch of them. Only these
must be written down to be appreciated."
She produced a long slip of paper from her pocket, uncrumpled it, and began
"'There was a fine lady named Cholmondely,
In person and manner so colmondely
That the people in town
From noble to clown
Did nothing but gaze at her, dolmondely.'
Now, isn't that refined and beautiful?"
"It is--not!" said Chet. "That is only a play upon pronunciation."
"Carping critics!" exclaimed Lance. "Go ahead, Bobby. Let's hear the
As Bobby had been saving them up for just such an opportunity as this, she
proceeded to read:
"'There lived in the City of Worcester
A lively political borcester,
Who would sit on his gate
When his own candidate
Was passing, and crow like a rorcester!"
"Help! Help!" moaned Chet, falling into the cook's rocking chair and making
it creak tremendously.
"Don't break up the furniture," his sister advised him, as she took a peep
at the pies in the oven.
"'Pies and poetry'!" exclaimed Jess. "Go ahead, Bobby. Relieve your
constitution of those sad, sad doggerels."
Nothing loath, the younger girl, and with twinkling eyes, sing-songed the
"'There was a young sailor of Gloucester,
Who had a sweetheart, but he loucest'er.
She bade him good-day,
So some people say,
Because he too frequently boucest'er.'
Take notice all you 'bossy' youths."
"Isn't English the funny language?" demanded Chet, sitting up again. "And
spelling! My! Do you wonder foreigners find English so difficult? Here's
one that I found in an almanac at the drug store," and he fished out a
clipping and read it to them:
"'A lady once purchased some myrrh
Of a druggist who said unto hyrrh:
"For a dose, my dear Miss,
Put a few drops of this
In a glass with some water, and styrrh."'"
"Do, do stop!" begged Laura.
"I promise not to offend again," said Lance. "Besides, I hope to taste some
of the pie, and a pie-taster should not be a poetaster."
"Oh! Oh! Awful!" Jess cried.
"I've run out of limericks myself," confessed Chet.
"But one more!" Bobby hastened to say. Then dramatically she mouthed, with
her black eyes fastened on Chet:
"'Said Chetwood to young Short and Long,
"Just list to my warning in song:
If you know of the crime,
For both reason and rhyme
Betray it--and so ring the gong!"'"
The other girls burst out laughing at the expression on the boys' faces.
Chet and Lance looked much disturbed, and Chet finally scowled upon the
teasing Bobby and shook his head.
"What do you know about that?" whispered Lance to his chum.
"You are altogether too smart, Bobby," declared Chet. "What do you mean?"
"We know you and Short and Long are trying to hide something from us," said
"You might as well tell us all about it," Laura put in quietly. "What has
Billy really got against Purt Sweet?"
"I don't admit he has anything against Purt," said Chet quickly.
"Nothing but suspicion," muttered Lance, likewise shaking his head.
"Then there is something in it?" Laura said quickly. "Can it be possible
that Purt Sweet would do such an awful thing and not really betray himself
"There you've said it, Laura!" cried Lance. "That is what I tell both Chet
and Billy. If Pretty was guilty, he would be scared so that he would never
dare go out again in his car."
"Oh! Oh!" cried Bobby with dancing eyes. "Then my rhyme is a true bill?"
"Aw, Lance would have to give it away!" growled Chet.
"Boys are as clannish as they can be!" said Jess severely. "We are just as
much interested as you are, Chet. What made Billy believe Pretty Sweet ran
the man down?"
"Oh, well," sighed Chet, "we might as well give in to you girls, I
"Besides," laughed his sister, "the pies are almost done, and both you and
Lance will want to sample them."
"Go on. Tell 'em, Chet," said Lance.
"Why, Billy had been riding that day in the Sweets' car. You know Purt is
too lazy to breathe sometimes, and he wouldn't get out his chains and put
'em on. Billy knew that the chains were not on at dinner time that evening,
for he passed the Sweet place and saw the car standing outside the garage
with the radiator blanketed.
"Well, the only thing we were sure of about the car that ran that man
down--the Alaskan miner, you know--was that the rear wheels had no chains
on them, and that it was a Perriton car like Purt's."
"Yes, it was a Perriton," said his sister.
"So we fellows hiked up there to Sweets'. Purt was out with the car. He
came home in about an hour, and he was still skidding over the ice. We
tried to get out of him where he had been, but he wouldn't tell. We had to
almost muzzle Billy, or he would have accused him right there and then. And
Billy has been savage over it ever since."
"Really then," said Laura, "there is nothing sure about it."
"Well, it is sure the car was a Perriton. And since then we have found out
that Purt's is the only Perriton in town that isn't out of commission for
the winter. You can talk as you please about it: If the police only knew
what we know, sure thing Purt would be neck-deep in trouble right now!"
The three girls of Central High and their boy friends had not come together
on this stormy Saturday morning merely to feast on "pie and poetry."
The ice carnival had made them so much money that Laura and her friends
desired to try something else besides the play which was now in rehearsal.
They wanted to "keep the ball rolling," increasing the collections for the
Red Cross from day to day.
Fairs and bazaars were being held; special collectors like Janet Steele
were going about the city; noonday meetings were inaugurated in downtown
churches and halls; a dozen new and old ways of raising money were being
And so Mother Wit had evolved what she called "Ember Night," and the young
people who helped carry the thing through were delighted with the idea. To
tell the truth, the idea had been suggested to Laura Belding during the big
storm when the lighting plant of the city was put out of order for one
She and her friends laid the plans for the novel fete on this Saturday
after Laura's pie baking and after they had discussed the possibility of
Prettyman Sweet being the guilty person whose car had run down the strange
man now at the Centerport Hospital.
They put pies and poetry, and even Purt Sweet, aside, to discuss Laura's
idea. Each member of the informal committee meeting in the Beldings'
kitchen was given his or her part to do.
Laura herself was to see Colonel Swayne, who was the president of the Light
and Power Company and who was likewise Mother Wit's very good friend. Jess
agreed to interview the local chief of the Salvation Army. Chet would see
the Chief of Police to get his permission. Each one had his or her work cut
"Every cat must catch mice," said Mother Wit.
Plans for Ember Night were swiftly made, and it was arranged to hold the
fete the next Tuesday evening, providing the weather was clear. Jess, whose
mother held a position on the Centerport _Clarion_, wrote a piece about
this street carnival for the Sunday paper, and the idea was popular with
nearly every one.
Exchange Place was the heart of the city--a wide square on which fronted
the city hall, the court house, the railroad station, and several other of
the more important buildings of the place.
In the center of the square a Red Cross booth was built and trimmed with
Christmas greens, which had just come into market. Members of the several
city chapters appeared in uniform to take part in the fete. There was a
platform for speakers, and a bandstand, and before eight o'clock on Tuesday
evening a great crowd had assembled to take part in the exercises.
That one of the Central High school girls had suggested and really planned
the affair, made it all the more popular.
"What won't Laura Belding think of next?" asked those who knew her.
But Laura did not put herself forward in the affair. She presided over one
of the red pots borrowed from the Salvation Army that were slung from their
tripods at each intersecting corner of the streets radiating from Exchange
Place, and for a half mile on all sides of the square.
Under each pot was a bundle of resinous and oil-soaked wood that would burn
brightly for an hour. At the booth in Exchange Place fuel for a much larger
bonfire was laid.
The crowd gathered more densely as nine o'clock drew near. The mayor
himself stepped upon the speaker's platform. The police had roped off lanes
through the crowd from the Red Cross booth to the nearest corners.
Janet Steele came late and she chanced to pass Laura's corner, which was in
sight of the speaker's stand and the booth. She halted to speak with Laura
"Isn't it just fine?" she said. "I wish mother could see this crowd."
"I imagine you would like to have her see lots of things," returned Laura.
"Our friend at the hospital, for instance."
"Who--who do you mean?" gasped Janet, evidently disturbed.
"The man who was hurt, I mean."
"Oh! He is quite interesting," said the other girl and slipped away.
Laura's suggestion had seemingly startled her.
The band played, and then the mayor stepped forward to make his speech. At
just this moment a motor car moved quietly in beside the curb near which
Laura Belding stood guarding her red pot. Somebody called her name in a low
tone, and Laura turned to greet Prettyman Sweet's mother with a smile.
Mrs. Sweet was alone in the tonneau of her car, which Purt himself was
driving. The school exquisite, who was so often the butt of the boys'
jokes, but was just now an object of suspicion, admired Laura Belding
immensely. He got out of the car to come and stand with her on the corner.
"Got your nonskid-chains on, Purt?" asked Laura.
"On the rear wheels? Surely," said Sweet, eyeing the girl in some surprise,
because of her question.
"My dear Laura!" cried Mrs. Sweet "Won't you come and talk to me while we
"Can't now, Mrs. Sweet. I am on duty," laughed Laura.
They could not hear what the mayor said, for they were two blocks away. But
they had an excellent view of the stand and the Red Cross booth, and the
crowd that pressed close to the police ropes.
Suddenly the mayor threw up his hand in command, and almost instantly--as
though he had himself switched off the light--all the street lamps in the
business section of Centerport went out The arc light over the spot where
Laura stood blinked, glowed for a moment, and then subsided. Mrs. Sweet
cried out in alarm.
"This is all right," Laura called to her. "Now watch."
The mayor, in the half-darkness, stepped down from the platform and threw
into the heart of the big bonfire the combustibles that set it off. The
flames leaped up, spreading rapidly. The crowd cheered as eight boys,
dressed in the knee-length dominos they had worn on the night of the ice
carnival, dashed into the ring with resinous torches. They thrust the
torches into the flames and the instant the torches were alight, they
wheeled and dashed away through the lanes the police had kept open.
The red flames dancing before the Red Cross booth, and the sparking,
flaming torches which the boys swung above their heads as they ran through
the crowd to the various corners where the red pots hung, made an inspiring
picture in the unwonted gloom of the streets.
"See how the Red Cross spreads!" cried Laura. "There's Nellie's fire
They could see the spark of new fire under the pot a block away. A short
figure with flaming torch was approaching Laura's corner at high speed.
"Here comes Short and Long, I do believe," drawled Prettyman Sweet.
"My pot will soon be boiling," laughed Laura. "What are you going to throw
in, Purt? And you, Mrs. Sweet? Give all you can--and as often as you can."
"Oh, I'll start you off, Laura," declared Purt, pulling out a handful of
coins that rang the next moment in the bottom of the iron pot.
"Here's my purse, Prettyman!" called his mother, leaning from the car. "You
put in my offering."
The few bystanders around Laura's corner began laughingly to contribute
before the torch reached the spot. But Short and Long arrived the next
moment. He stooped, thrust the blazing torch into the middle of the fuel
under Laura's pot, and wheeled to run to his next comer.
The flames crackled, springing up ravenously. The boy's cotton gown flapped
across the fire and before he could leap away the flames had seized upon
"Oh, Billy!" shrieked Laura Belding. "You are on fire!"
The short boy leaped away; but he could not leave the flames behind him. He
threw down the torch and tried to tear off the domino. In a moment he was a
pillar of flame!
"A blanket! A robe! Quick, Purt!" cried Laura, and started toward the
victim of the accident, bare-handed.
For once Purt Sweet did as he was told, and did it quickly. He ran with the
robe from the front seat of the automobile. Laura grabbed one end and
together they wrapped their schoolmate in the heavy folds.
Short and Long was cast to the street and they rolled him in the blanket.
The fire was smothered, but what injury had it done to the boy?
He was unconscious; for in falling he had struck his head, and the wound
was bleeding. Mrs. Sweet was crying and wringing her hands.
"Oh, it's awful! Purt! Purt! Take me home!" she sobbed.
"No, Purt!" exclaimed Laura. "Take him to the hospital"
"Of course we will," gasped the youth. "Help me lift him, Laura. Oh, the
Only the few people near by had seen the accident. Not even a policeman
came. Laura and Purt staggered to the car with the wrapped-up body of the
smaller lad. His face was horribly blackened, but that might be nothing but
smoke. Just how badly Billy Long was injured they could not guess.
Mrs. Sweet shrank back into the corner of the tonneau seat and begged Laura
to get in with the injured boy.
"I can't! I can't touch him!" wailed the woman. "It's awful! Suppose he
should be dead?"
"He's not dead," declared Purt. "We won't let him die--the poor kid! Here,
mother, you hold his head and we'll lay him down on the seat. Let his head
and shoulders lie right in your lap."
"Oh, Laura! Do come!" cried the woman.
"I can't, Mrs. Sweet!" returned Laura, sobbing. "I've got to stay and watch
my pot boil. Do be quick, Purt!"
She stepped out of the car. Purt slammed the tonneau door and leaped to the
steering wheel. In a moment the self-starter sputtered, and then the car
wheels began to roll.
Mrs. Sweet was actually forced to do something that she had never done
before--personally help somebody in trouble. Perhaps the experience would
do her good, Laura thought.
In tears the latter returned to the corner. The fire was brightly blazing
underneath her swinging pot. There was already quite a collection of coins
and a few bills in the bottom of the receptacle. But although Laura stuck
to the post of duty, her heart was no longer in the ceremonies of Ember
Night. She wished heartily that she had never suggested the entertainment,
even if it did benefit the Red Cross.
A STARTLING ANNOUNCEMENT
It did really prove to be one of the most successful forms of money-raising
for the Red Cross that had been attempted in Centerport. And later they
tried Ember Night in Lumberport and Keyport.
Laura Belding was not proud of her success, however, for poor Short and
Long had been badly burned. Fortunately his face was only blackened, and
the doctors decided that he had not inhaled any of the scorching flame.
Laura and Purt had wrapped him in the blanket so quickly that the fire was
smothered almost at once. Yet there were bad burns on his arms and
body--burns that would leave ineffaceable scars.
The girls of Central High had two interests now to take them to the
hospital. The stranger who did not know his name and Short and Long both
came in for a lot of attention.
The latter had never known before how popular with his schoolmates he was.
Fruit, flowers, candy and the nicest confections from the Hill kitchens
found their way in profusion to Billy's bedside.
After a day or two the doctors let him see whoever came, and he could talk
all right. It made him forget the smart of his burns.
Of course his sister Alice came frequently, and she had to bring Tommy, the
irrepressible, along. Tommy was more interested in the good things to eat
at his brother's bedside, however, than he was in Billy's bodily condition.
There was so much jelly, and blanc-mange, and other goodies that the
invalid could not possibly consume all. Tommy sat and ate, and ate, until
the nurse said:
"Tommy, don't you know that you are distending your stomach with all those
sweets? It is not good for you."
When Tommy learned that "distending" meant that his stomach was being
stretched, he was delighted.
"Gimme some more, Allie," he begged his sister. "Please do, Allie dear. I
want to stwetch my 'tomach. It's never been big 'nough to hold all I want
The interest of Laura and her close friends in the strange man with the
broken leg did not lag. He talked freely with his visitors; but mostly
about Alaska and his adventures in the gold mines.
As near as he could guess, he must have come out of the mines with his
"pile," as he expressed it, almost ten years before.
"What under the canopy I have been doing since, I don't know. But if I've
got down to two thousand dollars capital, I must have been having an
awfully good time spending money; for I know I had a poke full of gold dust
when I struck the coast and went over to Sitka."
"More likely he was robbed," said Chet.
"He looks about as much like a miner as Pa Belding," Laura declared.
There was too much going on just then, however, for Mother Wit to try out
the thought that had come to her mind regarding this man. All these
interests had to be sidetracked for school and lessons. And just at this
time recitations seemed to be particularly hard. With rehearsals for the
play, and all, mere knowledge was very difficult to acquire.
"I know I'm not half prepared in physics," wailed Nellie Agnew, as she and
other juniors trooped into school one day, two weeks before Christmas.
"And I," said Jess Morse, "know about as much regarding this political
economy as I do about sweeping up the Milky Way with a star brush."
"How poetic!" cried Laura, laughing. "I wonder if we all are as well
"They expect too much of us," declared Dora Lockwood.
"Much too much!" echoed her sister.
"I wonder," said Laura, "if we don't expect too much of the teachers?"
In the physics recitation Nellie Agnew, as she prophesied, came to grief.
Miss Carrington seemed to have an uncanny knowledge of whom to call on at
such times. She seemed aware that Nellie had not prepared her lesson
properly. It might be that the wary teacher read her pupils' faces.
Nellie's was so woebegone that it was scarcely possible to overlook the
fact that she probably felt her shortcomings in the task at hand.
Miss Carrington called on the doctor's daughter almost the first one in
physics. To say "unprepared!" to Miss Carrington was to bring upon one's
head the shattered vials of her wrath. There was no excuse for not trying,
that strict instructor considered.
So Nellie tried. She stumbled along in her first answer "like a blind man
in a blind alley," so Jess Morse declared. It was pitiful, and all the
class sympathized. The gentle Nellie was led to make the most ridiculous
statements by the silky-voiced teacher.
"And you are a physician's daughter!" Miss Carrington burst out at last.
"If I were Nell," said Dora Lockwood to her twin, "I'd cut pills altogether
after this. I'd rather take math with Mr. Sharp himself."
Miss Grace G. Carrington was never content to let a pupil fail and sit
down. She nagged and browbeat poor Nellie until the girl lost her nerve and
began to cry. By that time the other girls were all angry and upset, and
that physics recitation was bound to go badly.
When Jess was called on she rose with blazing cheeks and angry eyes to face
their tormentor. Miss Carrington saw antagonism writ large upon Jess
"I presume, Miss Morse, you think I cannot puzzle you?" said Miss
Carrington in her very nastiest way.
"You can doubtless puzzle me," said Jess sharply. "But you cannot make me
cry, Miss Carrington."
"Sit down!" ejaculated the angry teacher. "That goes for a demerit."
"And it is about as fair as your demerits usually are," cried Jess.
"Two, Miss Morse," said the teacher. "One more and you will not act in that
play next week."
"If I'd been born dumb," sighed Jess afterward, "it would have been money
in my pocket. I almost had to bite the tip of my tongue off to keep from
saying something more."
"And so ruin the whole play?" said Laura softly.
"Huh! I guess Hester Grimes will do that," declared Jess. "She moves about
the stage like an automaton. She is going to get us a big laugh, but in the
wrong place. Now, you see."
The girls rehearsed every afternoon, and the athletic work was neglected.
Mrs. Case excused those who were engaged in producing the play. "The Rose
Garden" was not such an easily acted play as they had at first supposed.
Mr. Mann was patient with them; but in Hester Grimes' case he could not
help the feeling of annoyance that took possession of him.
Hester Grimes took offence so easily.
"Every rehearsal I look for her to cut up rusty," Jess cried. "And somebody
has got to play the part of the dark lady! It is not a part that can be cut
out of the cast, although it is not a speaking part."
Hester had begun to complain, too, because she had no lines. She considered
that she was being deprived of her rights, and was of less importance than
the other girls, because she was dumb on the stage.
"Why! even Bobby Hargrew," she complained, "with her silly sailor part, has
lines to repeat, besides that sailor's hornpipe in the first act. Of
course, you girls would wish the least important part onto me."
"What nonsense, Hester!" cried Jess. "If you really understood the play and
the significance of your part, you would not say such a thing. And do, do
be less like a wooden image."
"Humph! I guess I know my part, Jess Morse," snapped Hester. "It doesn't
matter at all what I do on the stage."
"What did I tell you?" groaned Bobby. "'Double! Double!' and-so-forth.
There is trouble brewing. If we all had measles or chicken-pox, and so
couldn't give the play, we'd be in luck, I verily believe."
"Oh, don't, Bobby!" begged Dora Lockwood. "You are so reckless."
"Just the same, I feel it in my bones that Hester is going to kick over the
traces," said Bobby grimly.
"If only Margit Salgo had been allowed to have the part," groaned Dorothy.
"It's Gee Gee's fault if the play is a failure," snapped Bobby.
Never had the disagreeable teacher at Central High been so little liked as
at this time. They blamed Miss Carrington more than they did Hester.
As the party of troubled girls left the school-house on this particular
afternoon, Lily Pendleton ran after them.
"What do you think has happened?" she cried.
"It's something bad, of course," groaned Nellie Agnew.
"Who is hurt?" asked Laura.
"It isn't that," said Lily. "But poor Purt Sweet!"
"Now what has he done?" asked Jess.
"It is what they say he has done, not what he really has done," wailed
Lily. "The police have been to his house. And what do you think?"
"I bet his mother's had a fit!" exclaimed Bobby, in an undertone.
"The police accuse Purt of running down that man on Market Street the other
Saturday night," said Lily warmly. "And Purt doesn't know anything more
about it than a baby! Isn't it awful, girls?"
WHERE WAS PURT?
The police examination of Purt Sweet was no light matter. Two of
Centerport's detective force had been working on the case ever since the
stranger had been knocked down on Market Street, and, like Chet Belding and
his friends, the detectives finally had come to the conclusion that
Prettyman Sweet's automobile was the only Perriton car in the city that had
not been in storage on that night.
The detectives' visit to the Sweet residence, and Purt's later call upon
the Chief of Police at his command, were dreadfully shocking to the boy's
mother. Purt had to reassure her and insist that he was not going to be
arrested and sent to jail at once; so he had not much time to be frightened
himself. Indeed, he came out in rather good colors on this particular
The boy's father had long since died. Purt had been indulged by his mother
to a ridiculous degree, and as a usual thing Purt's conversation and his
activities were ridiculed by his schoolmates.
"This disgrace will kill me, Prettyman!" wailed Mrs. Sweet.
"Where does the disgrace come in," pleaded poor Purt, "when I haven't
really done anything?"
"But they say you have!"
"I can't help what they say."
"You were out that evening with the car. I remember it very well," his
"What of it? I wasn't on Market Street the whole evening," grumbled the
"Where were you then?" she demanded.
It seemed as though everybody else asked Purt Sweet that question, from the
Chief of Police down; and it was the one question the boy would not answer.
He grew red, and sputtered, and begged the question, every time anybody
sought to discover just where he was with the automobile on that Saturday
evening after dinner. Even when Chief Donovan threatened him with arrest,
"If I should tell you it wouldn't do any good. It would not relieve me of
suspicion and would maybe only make trouble for other people. I was out
with our car, and that is all there is to it. But I did not run that man
down. I was not on Market Street."
He stuck to this. And his honest manner impressed the head of the police
force. Besides, Mrs. Sweet was very wealthy, and if Purt was arrested she
would immediately bail him and would engage the best counsel in the county
to defend her son. It is one thing to accuse a person of a fault. As Chief
Donovan very well knew, it is an entirely different matter to prove such
The news of Purt's trouble was not long in getting to Short and Long in the
hospital. Chet and Lance really thought the smaller boy would express some
satisfaction over Purt's trouble. But to their surprise Billy took up
cudgels for the dandy as soon as he was told that the police suspected him
of the offense.
"What's the matter with you, Short?" demanded the big fellow. "You've been
sure Purt was guilty all the time."
"I don't care!" declared Billy. "He's one of us fellows, isn't he?"
"Admitted he goes to Central High," Chet said.
"But he isn't one of our gang," Lance added.
"I don't care! The police are always too fresh," said Billy, who had reason
for believing that the Centerport police sometimes made serious mistakes.
Billy had had his own experience, as related in "The Girls of Central High
on Lake Luna."
"Then you don't believe Purt did it?" demanded Lance.
"No, I don't. I was mistaken," declared Short and Long. "Purt's all right"
"Wow! Wow!" murmured Chet.
"See how he brought me here in his car when I was hurt. And look at the
stuff Purt's given me while I've been here," said Billy excitedly. "He'd
never have hurt that man and run away without seeing what he'd done. No,
"Crackey, Billy!" said Chet, "you've turned square around."