The Camp Fire Girls Solve a Mystery; Or, The Christmas Adventure at Carver House

Produced by Stephen Hutcheson, Dave Morgan, J. Ali Harlowand the Online Distributed Proofreading Team athttp://www.pgdp.net

The Camp Fire Girls Solve a Mystery

or, THE CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE at CARVER HOUSE

By HILDEGARD G. FREY

AUTHOR OF The Camp Fire Girls Series

A. L. BURT COMPANY Publishers New York

THE Camp Fire Girls Series

A Series of Stories for Camp Fire Girls Endorsed by the Officials of the Camp Fire Girls Organization

By HILDEGARD G. FREY

The Camp Fire Girls in the Maine Woods or, The Winnebago's Go Camping

The Camp Fire Girls at School or, The Wohelo Weavers

The Camp Fire Girls at Onoway House or, The Magic Garden

The Camp Fire Girls Go Motoring or, Along the Road That Leads the Way

The Camp Fire Girls' Larks and Pranks or, The House of the Open Door

The Camp Fire Girls on Ellen's Isle or, the Trail of the Seven Cedars

The Camp Fire Girls on the Open Road or, Glorify Work

The Camp Fire Girls Do Their Bit or, Over The Top With the Winnebago's

The Camp Fire Girls Solve a Mystery or, The Christmas Adventures at Carver House

The Camp Fire Girls at Camp Keewaydin or, Down Paddles

Copyright, 1919 By A. L. Burt Company

THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS SOLVE A MYSTERY

THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS SOLVE A MYSTERY

CHAPTER I THE EMPTY HOUSE

Katherine Adams stepped from the train at Oakwood, glanced expectantly upand down the station platform, hesitated a moment, and then, picking outa conspicuous spot under a glaring arc light, deposited her suitcase onthe ground with a thump, mounted guard beside it and patiently waited forNyoda to find her in the surging crowd.

It was two days before Christmas, and travel was heavy. It seemed asthough the entire population of Oakland was either coming home,departing, or rushing madly up and down before the panting train insearch of friends and relatives. Katherine was engulfed in a tidal waveof rapturous greetings that rolled over her from every side, as acoachful of soldiers, home for Christmas, were met and surrounded by thewaiting lines of townspeople.

Katherine stood still, absorbed in watching the various reunions takingplace around her, while the tidal wave gradually subsided, receding inthe direction of Main Street. The principal stream had already flowedpast her and the crowd was rapidly thinning out when Katherine woke tothe realization that she was still unclaimed. There was no sign of Nyoda.The expectant smile faded from Katherine's face and in its place therecame a look of puzzled wonder. What had happened? Why wasn't Nyoda thereto meet her? Was there some mistake? Wasn't this Oakwood? Had she gottenoff at the wrong station, she thought in sudden panic. No, there was thesign beside the door of the green boarded station; its gilded lettersgleamed down reassuringly at her. Katherine stood on one foot andpondered. Was this the day she was supposed to come? What day was it,anyway? The thick pad calendar beside the ticket seller's window insidethe station proclaimed it to be the twenty-third. All right so far; shehadn't mixed up the date, then. She had written Nyoda that she would comeon the twenty-third, on the five-forty-five train. The train had been ontime. Where was Nyoda?

Katherine was assailed by a sudden doubt. Had she mailed that letter?Yes, she was certain of that. She had run out to the mail box at teno'clock at night especially to mail it. What had gone wrong? Why wasn'tthere someone to meet her?

She looked around at the walls as if expecting them to answer, and herroving eye caught sight of the lettering on a glass door opposite. Thetelephone! Goose! Why hadn't she thought of that before? Of course therewas some mistake responsible for Nyoda's not meeting her, but in a momentthat would be all straightened out.

She sprang across to the booth and picked up the directory hanging besidethe telephone. Then a queer, bewildered look came into her eyes and shestood still with the book hanging uncertainly from her fingers. She hadforgotten Nyoda's name! She twisted her brows into a pucker and made afrantic effort to recall it. No use; it was a fruitless endeavor. Wherethat name used to be in her mind there was now a blank space, empty andecholess as the original void. It was _too_ ridiculous! Katherine gave alittle stamp of vexation. It was not the first time a name had popped outof her mind at a critical moment. And sometimes--O horror! it didn't comeback again for days. Was there ever anything so utterly absurd as theplight in which she now found herself? She knew Nyoda's name as well asher own. M. M. It certainly began with an M.

After nearly an hour's exasperated wracking of her brains she gave it upin disgust and stalked out of the station. Not for worlds would she haveconfided to anyone her plight.

”People will think you're an escaped lunatic,” she told herself interrified wrath. ”They might put you in an asylum, and it would serve youright if they did. You aren't fit to be out without a guardian. Afterthis you'll have to have your destination written out on a label tied toyour ankle, like a trunk.”

She had one recollection to guide her. The house Nyoda lived in stood ontop of a hill. The name of Carver House and the address on Oak Street hadfaded along with Nyoda's name. ”I'll walk until I come to a house on thetop of a hill,” she decided, ”and find it that way. There can't be manyhouses on hills in this town, it seems to be all in a valley. Come along,Katherine, what you haven't got in your head you'll have to have in yourheels.”

No one, seeing the tall, clever looking girl stepping briskly out of thestation and turning up Main Street with a businesslike tread, would haveguessed that she was a stranger in a strange town and hadn't any ideawhere she was going. There was such an air of confidence and capabilityabout Katherine that people would have been more likely to ask her tohelp them out of their difficulties than to suspect that she needed helpherself.

Certainly, Nyoda's house wouldn't be hard to find. Oakwood lay in avalley, curled up among its sheltering hills like a kitten in a heap ofleaves. To be on a hill Nyoda must be on the outskirts of the town. Sheinquired of a passing youngster what part of Oakwood was on a hill andgot the information that Main Street ran up hill at the end.

She set out blithely in the direction he pointed, enjoying the walkthrough the crisp, icy air. A light fall of snow, white as swan's down,covered the ground and the roofs, and sparkled in the light of the streetlamps in myriads of tiny twinkles. Not many people were abroad, for itwas the supper hour in Oakland. A Christmas stillness hovered over thepeaceful little town, as though it lay hushed and breathless inanticipation of the coming of the Holy Babe. Low in the eastern skyburned the brilliant evening star, bright as that other Star in the Eastwhich guided the shepherds on that far-off Christmas night. Katherinefelt the spell of it and gradually her hasty steps became slower and attimes she stood still and looked upon the quiet scene with a feeling ofawe and reverence. ”Why, it might be Bethlehem!” she said to herself.”It's so still and white, and there's the star in the east, too!” Almostunconsciously she began to repeat under her breath:

”O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie, Above thy deep and dreamless sleep The silent stars go by.”

”Only it isn't quite true about the deep and dreamless sleep,” shequalified, her literal-mindedness getting the upper hand of her poeticfeeling, ”because they're all inside eating supper.” The thought ofsupper made Katherine suddenly realize that she was ravenously hungry.She had had nothing to eat since an early lunch on the train. ”I hope Iget there before supper's over,” she thought, and quickened her paceagain. Not that she wouldn't get something anyhow, she reflected, butsomehow the idea of coming in just as supper was ready, and sitting downto a table covered with steaming dishes seized her fancy and warmed herthrough with a pleasant glow of expectation.

”Nearly there!” she said to herself cheerfully. ”Here's where Main Streetstarts to go uphill.” The houses had gradually become farther and fartherapart as she went on, until now she was walking along between wide, openspaces, gleaming white in the starlight, with only an occasional lowcottage to break the landscape. The walk was steeply uphill now, andlooking back Katherine saw Oakwood curled in its sheltering valley, andagain she thought of a sleek, well fed kitten lying warm and comfortableand drowsy, at peace with all the world.

”There aren't any poor people here, I guess,” she thought to herself.”All the houses look so prosperous. There probably aren't any hungrychildren crying for bread. I'm the only hungry person in this whole town,I believe. My, but I _am_ hungry! I could eat a whole house right now,and a barn for dessert! Thank goodness, there's the top of the hill insight, and that must be Nyoda's house.” A great dark bulk towered beforeher at the top of the steep incline, its irregular outlines standingsharply defined against the luminous sky. Katherine charged up theremainder of the hill at top speed, slipping and falling in the icy pathseveral times in her eagerness, but finally landing intact, thoughflushed and panting, upon its slippery summit, and stood still to beholdthis wonderful house that Nyoda lived in, whose charms had been the themeof many an enthusiastic letter from the Winnebagos during the previoussummer. It loomed large and silent before her, its frost covered windowpanes shining whitely in the starlight with a faint, ghostly glimmer. Nogleam of light came from any of the doors or windows. The house was stilland dark as a tomb. Katherine stood wide-eyed with disappointment andperplexity. Nyoda was not at home.

She clutched at a straw. Nyoda had gone to meet her and missed her; thatwas it. But at the same time she felt a doubt rising in her mind whichrapidly grew into a certainty. This was not Nyoda's house before whichshe stood on this lonely hilltop. It was some other house and it wasabsolutely empty. Not only was it untenanted, but it had the look of ahouse that has stood so for years. Even the soft, sparkling mantle ofsnow that lay upon it could not hide the sagging porch, the broken steps,the broken-down fence, the general air of decay which surrounded theplace.

Katherine emitted a cluck of chagrin. She was puffing like an engine fromher dash up the hill, she was tired out, she was ravenously hungry, shewas unutterably cross at herself. She scowled at the dark house with itsspectral, frosty windows, and made another frantic effort to recallNyoda's name, only to be confronted with that baffling blank where thename once had been.

With a growing feeling of helplessness she stood on one foot in the snowin the pose which she always assumed when thinking deeply, and consideredwhat she should do next. Should she keep on walking and climbing all thehills until she finally came to the right one; should she go all the wayback to the station and sit there until the name came back to her, orshould she walk boldly up to one of the hospitable looking doors she hadpassed, confide her plight and ask to be taken in for the night?Katherine was trying to decide between the first two, leaving the thirdas the extreme alternative in case she neither found the right hill norsucceeded in remembering Nyoda's name before bedtime, when suddenlysomething occurred which sent a chill of ice into her blood and left herstanding petrified in her one-legged pose, like a frozen stork. From thedark and empty house before her came the sound of a song, ringing clearand distinct through the frosty air. It was the voice of a woman, or agirl. Beginning softly, the tone swelled out in volume till it seemed toKatherine's ears to fill the whole house and to come pouring out of allthe doors and windows. Then it subsided until it came very faintly, likethe merest ghost of a song. Katherine felt the hair rising on her head;she gave an odd little dry gasp. Wild terror assailed her and she wouldhave fled, but fear chained her limbs and she could not move hand orfoot. She stood riveted to the spot, staring fascinated at the dark,untenanted house, which stared back at her with frost veiled, inscrutableeyes; and all the while from somewhere in its mysterious depths came thevoice, now louder, now fainter, but always distinctly heard.

A sudden thought struck Katherine. Was she already a victim ofstarvation, and was this the delirium which starving people went into?They generally heard beautiful voices singing. No, that wasn'tpossible--she couldn't be starving yet. She was tremendously hungry, butthere was still a fairly safe margin between her and the last stages.Somehow the thought of hunger, and the idea of food, commonplace,familiar victuals which it connoted, dissipated the supernaturalatmosphere of the place, and Katherine shook off her terror. The bloodstopped pounding in her ears; her heart began to beat naturally again;her limbs lost their paralysis.

”Goose!” she said to herself scornfully. ”Flying into a panic at thesound of a voice singing and thinking it's ghosts! I'm ashamed of you,Katherine Adams! Where's your 'spicuity? Vacant houses don't sing bythemselves. When empty houses start singing they aren't empty. Besides,no ghost could sing like that. A voice like that means lungs, and ghostsdon't have lungs. Anybody that's got breath to sing can probably talk andtell me where the next hill is. I'm going up and ask her.”

She passed through an opening in the tumble-down fence, in which therewas no longer any gate, and went up the uneven, irregular brick walk andup the broken steps, treading carefully upon each one and half expectingthem to go down under her weight. They creaked and trembled, but theyheld her and she went on over the sagging porch to the door, which lay indeep shadow at the one side. She felt about for a bell or knocker, andthen she discovered that the door stood open. She could hear the voiceplainly, singing somewhere in the house. Failing to find a doorbell sherapped loudly with her knuckles on the door casing. To her nervous earsthe sound seemed to echo inside the house like thunder, but there was nopause in the singing, no sound of footsteps coming to the door.

She rapped again. Still no sign from within. A sportive north wind,racing up the hill, paused at the top to whirl about in a mad frolic, andKatherine shivered from head to foot. She felt chilled through, andfairly ached to get inside a house; anywhere to be in out of the cold.She rapped a third time. Still the voice sang on as before, paying noheed to the knock. Katherine grew desperate. Her teeth were chattering inher head and her feet were going numb.

”Of course she can't hear me knock when she's singing,” thoughtKatherine. ”The sound of her own voice fills her ears. I'm going in andfind her. I'll apologize for walking in on her so unceremoniously, butit's the only thing to do. I've got to get in out of the cold prettysoon.”

Acting upon her resolution she stepped through the open door into thehall inside and tried to fix the direction from which the voice wascoming. She looked in vain for a glimmer of light under a door to guideher to the mysterious dweller in this strange establishment. The housewas apparently as dark on the inside as it looked from without. Katherineopened her handbag and fumbled for her electric flash. In a moment a tinycircle of light was boring valiantly into the gloom. By its gleamKatherine saw that she stood in a long hall. Upon her left was asuccession of doors, all closed; upon her right a staircase curved upwardinto the blackness above. Idly she turned her flashlight on the staircaseand noticed that the post was of beautifully carved mahogany. The polishwas gone, but it must have been handsome once, must have been--Katherinegave a great start and nearly dropped her flashlight. Her eyes, travelingup the mahogany stair rail, encountered those of a man who was leaningover the banister half way up. His face, in the light of her flash, waswhite as a sheet, and he seemed to be staring not so much at her as atthe door behind her, through which she at that moment discovered thevoice to be proceeding.

Katherine recovered from her surprise and remembered her manners. Thisman must live here. She must explain quickly, or he would take her for aburglar, coming in that way and looking around with a flashlight.Katherine suddenly felt apprehensive. Suppose he wouldn't believe herstory? It was one thing to go into a house in search of a voice thatwouldn't come to the door; it was another thing to find a man inside.

She cleared her throat and wet her lips. ”Excuse me for coming in likethis--” she began. She got no farther with her apologies. At the sound ofher voice the man gave a startled jump, backed away from the banister,ran down the stairs two steps at a time and disappeared through the frontdoor, leaving Katherine standing in the empty hall, open-mouthed withastonishment.