Patsy Carroll Under Southern Skiesñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
Patsy’s fervent hopes met with a realization that pleased her not a little. The “eats,” which consisted in an elaborate course dinner, were quite “gorgeous” enough to evoke her pronounced approval. More, the diners encountered none they knew among the endless succession of people strolling in and out of the vast dining-room. Neither in the imposing foyer of the great hotel, on the veranda or under the colonnade did they spy a single familiar face. It was as though they had stepped into a world of easy-going strangers, all bent on extracting the same amount of pleasure out of life as themselves.
Dinner eaten they lingered for a while on one of the hotel’s many verandas which overlooked magnificent gardens, aglow with fragrant tropical blooms.
Just before dark they drove again to the lagoon and were presently aboard their launch, watching with eager eyes the beauty of the scene. Everywhere the scented dusk was pierced by winking, multi-colored lights. They dotted the wall of the lagoon and sprang up from hundreds of craft, large and small, which plied the lake’s placid waters.
From off shore came the singing overtones of violins, proceeding from an orchestra stationed under the colonnade of a not far distant hotel. Now and then their ears caught the tinkle of mandolins mingled with care-free voices raised in song. Across the still waters occasional shouts rose above the harmony of sound, as gay occupants of boats hailed passing craft and were hailed in return.
As it grew darker, rockets began to hiss skyward, lighting up the lagoon into greater beauty and revealing white-clad groups of spectators sauntering along the shell road or resting on the sea wall.
With the ascent of the first rocket, boat after boat rushed off across the water to join the rapidly forming carnival procession which would, when completely formed, circle the lake. Presently came a fan-fare of trumpets, a burst of music from many bands playing in unison, and the procession started on its way around the lake, gliding along like a huge, glowing serpent.
The Wayfarers thought it great fun to be an actual part of that fairy-like pageant. As the majority of the occupants of other boats were lifting up their voices in song, the four girls sang, too. Patsy’s clear, high soprano voice led off in a boat song with which her companions were familiar. After that they sang everything they could remember from “Sailing” to “Auld Lang Syne.”
Later, when the boats began dropping out of line, their launch also left the procession and scudded farther out on the lake to a point from where its lively passengers could obtain a more satisfying view of the gorgeous spectacle.
There they lingered for some time, well content to breathe in the flower-perfumed night air, listen to the frequent bursts of harmonious sound that drifted to their ears, and watch the firefly boats as they darted here and there on the bosom of fair Lake Worth.
It was well toward eleven o’clock when the launch docked at her pier and the voyagers went ashore to where their automobile awaited them.
Followed a short drive to one of the great hotels, where the party stopped for a late supper, then took the homeward road through the balmy darkness of the tropical night.
Midnight came and went and one o’clock drew on before a happy but sleepy company made port at Las Golondrinas.
“Go straight to bed, girls,” commanded Miss Martha as she marshalled the small procession of drowsy revelers down the echoing corridors to their rooms. “Don’t sit up to talk. You can do that to-morrow morning.”
“I don’t want to talk. I want to sleep,” assured Eleanor with a yawn. “If Mab tries to talk to me after I’m in bed, I’ll rise in my might and put her out of the room.”
“See that you don’t talk to me,” warned Mabel. “If you do, you may find yourself wandering around in the corridor until morning.”
“Glad we’re of the same mind,” giggled Eleanor. “Our chances for sleep seem to be good.”
“Don’t worry about me, Aunt Martha,” Patsy declared, as, her arm in Bee’s, the two girls halted at the door of their room. “You won’t hear a sound from Bee or me after we’ve put out our light. Here’s my very nicest good-night kiss, dear. We’ve all had a wonderful evening and we’re ready to subside until morning without a murmur.”
Shut in their room, Patsy and Bee beamed sleepily at each other and went about their preparations for bed in commendable silence, broken now and then by a soft exchange of remarks pertaining to the evening’s entertainment.
Lights out shortly became the order of things with them. Almost as soon as their heads touched the pillow they were off and away to dreamland.
There comes sometimes to a peaceful dreamer a curious sense of impending danger which breaks through the curtain of slumber and arouses the sleep-drugged faculties to alert wakefulness.
Just how long she had slept, Patsy had no definite idea. She knew only that she was sitting up in bed, broad awake, her horrified eyes staring at something tall and white which stood in the center of the moonlight-flooded room.
She tried to cry out, but her voice was gone. She could only gaze, half paralyzed with terror, at the fearsome white shape. For a moment it remained there, a shapeless, immovable thing of dread.
Suddenly, it raised a long, white-swathed arm in a menacing gesture toward the trembling girl in the big four-poster bed. It took one sliding step forward.
Patsy succeeded in uttering a desperate, choking sound, intended for a shout. One groping hand reached over and found Bee.
The dread apparition came no nearer the bed than the length of that one sliding step. It halted briefly, turned, then glided to the half-opened door and vanished into the corridor.
“Bee, wake up! Oh, please wake up!”
Patsy had not only regained her voice, but the use of her arms as well. Hands on Bee’s shoulders, she now shook her companion gently in an effort to waken her.
“What – y-e-s,” Bee mumbled, then opened her eyes.
In the moonlight she could see Patsy quite clearly as her chum sat crouched at her side. Blinking wonderingly up at Patsy, Bee began dimly to realize that something unusual must have happened.
“What is it, Patsy? Are you sick?” she anxiously questioned, sitting up in bed with apprehensive energy.
“No; I’m not sick. I’m scared. I saw it, Bee. I woke up all of a sudden and saw it standing in the middle of the room.”
“The ghost; Mammy Luce’s ‘sperrit,’” Patsy returned solemnly.
“You’ve been dreaming, Patsy, dear.” Beatrice dropped a reassuring arm about Patsy’s shoulders.
“No, Bee. I wasn’t dreaming. I was as wide awake as I am now when I saw it. I tell you it woke me from a sound sleep. It didn’t make a sound. Just the same it woke me. I wish now that I’d been brave enough to climb out of bed and follow it. But I wasn’t. It frightened me so I couldn’t move or speak.”
“What was it? What did you see?”
Bee had now become convinced that Patsy had not been dreaming.
“I saw a figure standing right there,” Patsy pointed. “I can’t tell you what it looked like except that it was just an enormous white shape. I tried to call you, but I couldn’t. I did manage to sit up in bed. It raised a long, white arm and started toward me. Then I tried again and made a sort of sound and reached out to you. It didn’t come any nearer. It turned and went out the door. It must have come in that way, for the door stood half open. It was closed when we went to bed. You remember that. Now I believe that Mammy Luce saw what I saw. No wonder it frightened her. It frightened me, too, and I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“Well,” Bee drew a long, sighing breath, “whatever you and Mammy Luce saw was not a ghost. Make up your mind to that. It was a real, live person playing ghost. You and I, Patsy, must find out who it is and why the person is doing it. This ghost business has begun, all of a sudden. Nothing of the kind appeared when we first came here. There’s a motive behind it that we’ve got to discover.”
“What can it be?” wondered Patsy. Her brief terror had now given place to curiosity. “Someone might be trying to play a practical joke on us. But who? Not the maids or Dad’s black boys or – ” Patsy stopped. “Bee, do you suppose it could be —Carlos?” she asked with a little gasp. “The figure looked too tall and broad to be him.”
“Still it might be.” Bee had avidly seized upon Patsy’s sudden inspiration. “Draped in a sheet, he’d look ever so much taller and bigger. It was he who told Mammy Luce about the ghost, you know.”
“But why should Carlos want to do such a despicable thing? We’ve never done him an injury. Why, we never even spoke to him except on that one morning when we tried to get him to tell us about Las Golondrinas.”
“We can’t possibly know yet what his object may be. We may be doing him a wrong by suspecting him. Just the same, he’s the only person we have any reason to suspect.”
“He might have done it to get even with us because Mab asked him if Rosita was crazy. I’ve always heard that Latins are very vengeful.”
Racking her agile brain for a motive, Patsy now advanced this theory.
“Let’s go back a little farther,” replied Bee. “Carlos is old Rosita’s grandson. Rosita must hate us or she wouldn’t have called us names and treated us as she did. Granted, she hates us. Maybe Carlos hates us, too. We know he doesn’t like us. He showed us that much and very plainly.”
Bee paused, mentally trying to fit Patsy’s theory to her own.
“There’s more to it than spite because Mab asked Carlos whether Rosita was crazy,” she continued reflectively. “Now I believe I begin to see. Neither Carlos nor Rosita wants us to live here. Why wouldn’t that account for this ghost affair? Carlos might have done it to scare us, believing we wouldn’t stay in a haunted house. He frightened Mammy Luce out of here. I’m sure if Emily or Celia had seen – ”
Bee’s low-toned discourse was suddenly interrupted by a wild shriek of mortal terror from somewhere below stairs. It floated up to the two girls through the half-open door, echoing and re-echoing through the corridors. It was followed by a succession of shrieks, each rising a trifle higher than the preceding one.
Leaping out of bed, Bee snatched her kimono from a nearby chair, slipped her arms into it and darted, bare-footed, from the room.
Patsy was only an instant behind her. As the two dashed madly along the corridor and downstairs, the sound of opening doors and alarmed voices was heard. That eerie, piercing scream could hardly have failed to rouse the entire household. By the time three frightened women and one considerably startled man had reached their doors and opened them, Patsy and Bee were out of sight.
Straight for the servants’ quarters at the rear of the house the valiant runners headed. Their mad dash received a most unexpected check. A door suddenly opened. A figure bounced into the narrow hallway just in time to collide violently with the advancing duo. A new succession of frenzied yells rent the air, accompanied by a resounding thump as rescuers and rescued went down in a heap.
“Oh, lawsy, lawsy!” moaned a voice. “Oh, please, Massa ghos’, I ain’t done nothin’.”
A prostrate form swathed in a brilliant pink calico night gown writhed on the floor. Above it, Bee and Patsy, now on their feet, stood clinging to each other, speechless with laughter.
“Get – up – Celia!” gasped Patsy. “We – we – aren’t – ghosts. Oh, Bee!”
Patsy went off into another fit of laughter.
Somewhat calmed by the sound of a familiar voice, Celia raised her head. In the pale light shed by a bracket lamp she now recognized “Missie Patsy.” Very slowly, and a trifle sheepishly, she scrambled to her feet.
By this time Mr. Carroll, Miss Martha, Mab and Eleanor had reached the scene of action.
“What on earth is the matter, Celia?” demanded Mr. Carroll. “Was that you we heard screaming? What’s happened to you?”
“I done gwine t’ tell yoh in a minute.”
Overcome by the awful realization that she was not suitably clothed for the occasion, Celia made a wild dive into her room and banged the door.
Meanwhile the door of the next room had opened just enough to allow a chocolate-colored head to peer forth.
“Celie she done see the ghos’,” explained Emily. “I jes’ lock myself in so I done be safe. It am gone now.”
“Naturally. No self-respecting ghost could stand such a racket as I heard,” dryly declared Mr. Carroll. “Now tell me about this so-called ghost. What does Celia think she saw?”
“I done seen it!”
Celia now reappeared, wrapped from chin to toes in the ample folds of a striped summer blanket. Not being the proud possessor of a kimono, she had chosen the blanket as most highly suitable to her present needs.
“I was dreaming nice as anything’, ’bout a gran’ ball I was gittin’ ready foah,” she blurted forth. “Suddin’ like I wakes up ’case I done feel suthin’ cold on my face. It war an ole cold dead hand and a whoppin’ big white ghos’ was bendin’ over me. I lets out a yell, ’case I was skairt to die an’ it jes’ laffs terrible like an’ floats right out the doah. I’m gwine away from heah the minute it gits daylight. I ain’t gwine to live no moah in this place. I reckon I know now what was ailin’ Mammy Luce. She done seen it, too, same’s me.”
Celia having thus put two and two together and announced her departure, it became Miss Martha’s task to endeavor to soothe and cajole the badly-scared maid to reconsider her decision. Her efforts were not a success. Neither did the added coaxing of the Wayfarers have any effect. Celia remained firm in her resolve. Emily, however, was made of firmer stuff. She stoutly reiterated her disbelief in “ghos’es” and, much to Miss Martha’s relief, declared her intent to “stick it out, ’case no ghos’ ain’t gwine to git me.”
In the end, a much disturbed party, consisting of five women and one man, repaired to the sitting-room for a consultation.
During the excitement both Beatrice and Patsy had deemed it wise to say nothing, while in the presence of the maids, of what Patsy herself had seen.
As they were about to go upstairs, Patsy whispered to Bee: “Don’t say a word about – well, you know. I’ll tell you why, later.”
“Robert,” began Miss Martha severely, when the little company had settled themselves in the sitting-room, “I insist now on your speaking to that Carlos man of yours about this ghost story he told Mammy Luce. Someone is evidently trying to play practical jokes upon the servants. I believe he knows something about it. It may be he who is doing it.”
“That can’t be. Only yesterday morning Carlos asked me for two days off. His brother, in Miami, died and he felt it his duty to go there to console the family and attend the funeral. So you see he had nothing to do with to-night’s affair. It’s more likely one of my black boys has done a little ghost walking just to be funny. You notice that no one except the servants has been visited by apparitions.”
“There is no telling how soon the rest of us may be startled half out of our senses,” acidly reminded Miss Martha. “You had better hire a guard to patrol the grounds around the house at night. He ought to be able to catch this scamp who has frightened the servants.”
“I’ll do it,” promised Mr. Carroll. “I’ll have a plain clothes man from Palm Beach up here to-morrow evening. He’ll stay here, too, until we catch the rascal who is causing all this commotion.”
“And will you speak to Carlos?” persisted Miss Carroll. “I am more suspicious of him than of your blacks.”
“As soon as he comes back,” reassured her brother.
The serious part of the discussion having come to an end, Mabel and Eleanor hurled a volley of eager questions at Bee and Patsy concerning what had happened before they reached the hallway. Patsy therewith proceeded to convulse her hearers with a description of Bee’s and her own untimely collision with Celia. Mabel giggled herself almost hysterical and had to be playfully shaken into sobriety by Eleanor, who declared that the ghost walk had gone to Mab’s head.
The will to sleep overcoming their dread of living midnight visitants in ghostly garments, the ways and means committee adjourned in favor of rest. As a last word, Miss Martha cautioned the Wayfarers to lock their doors, which had hitherto been allowed to remain unlocked.
“I don’t know whether it was exactly fair not to tell Auntie about my seeing the ghost,” was Patsy’s first remark to Bee after they had regained their room. “It’s like this, Bee. I’ve thought of a plan I’d like to try. I have an idea the ghost will come back and I’m going to be ready for it. If Auntie knew that I’d actually seen it, she’d probably have our bed moved into her room. Mab and Nellie’s room is almost across the corridor from hers, you know. We’re farther away, so she’d worry if she knew what we know. I’m going to tell her sometime, of course, but not now. Will you stand by me, Bee, and help me catch the ghost?”
“I will,” vowed Beatrice, too much carried away by the scheme to reflect that she and Patsy were perhaps pitting themselves against a dangerous opponent. “Do you believe, Patsy, that Carlos really has gone away?”
“No; I don’t. I think Carlos is the ghost,” calmly asserted Patsy. “Furthermore, he knows a way to get into this house that we don’t. All the men in Florida sent to guard Las Golondrinas won’t catch him. When Dad spoke of getting a guard, I had half a mind to speak up about seeing the ghost. Then I decided not to. I wanted to see what we could do by ourselves.”
“What are we going to do? You said you had a plan.”
“I have. I’m going to lasso the ghost,” Patsy announced with a boyish grin. “I learned to handle a lariat when I was out West three years ago visiting Pauline Barry. One of the cowboys on her father’s ranch taught me the way to do it. There’s a coil of light, thin, tough rope in the stable. I saw it the other day. That’s going to be my lariat. I’ll smuggle it up here and practice with it. This is such a big room I can swing it easily in here.”
“I don’t see how you can carry out that plan,” was Bee’s doubting answer. “How can you possibly know when the ghost is going to appear? Besides, you mayn’t have time, perhaps, or a chance to do any lassoing.”
“That’s the only hard part of it. You and I will have to take turns sitting up and watching, Bee. Suppose we go to bed at eleven o’clock, as we usually do. Well, from eleven until two I’ll sit up and watch. From two until five it will be your turn. After five no ghost will be silly enough to walk. I’ll take the part of the night when it’s more likely to appear, because I know how to swing the lariat. If it appears during your watch – Let me see. I guess I’d better teach you how to lasso. No; that won’t do. It takes a long time to learn the trick. You’d be apt to miss the ghost. Then we’d never catch it.”
“I think we’d both better sit up until a little after two for a few nights,” proposed Bee. “If we’re sleepy the next day we can take a nap. It was just about two this morning when the ghost came. If Carlos is the ghost, he may appear to your aunt or Mab and Nellie another time and not come near us. If he’s trying to scare us away from here, that’s what he’d be apt to do.”
“He may have wandered into their rooms, too, for all we know, only they didn’t happen to wake up and see him,” surmised Patsy. “There’s only a bare chance that anything will come of it, but it will be exciting to try out our plan for a few nights while it’s bright moonlight. Our scheme wouldn’t work during the dark of the moon. Now while the moon’s full you can see for yourself how light it makes this room. Then, too, a big white ghost is an easy mark,” finished Patsy with a giggle.
“All right, Patsy. I pledge myself to become a valiant ghost catcher,” laughed Bee. “Now let’s go bye-bye or we’ll never be able to sit up to-morrow night. The only thing that bothers me is not telling your aunt.”
Bee had begun to feel a belated twinge of conscience.
“It bothers me, too,” admitted Patsy, “but I’m going to stifle my conscience for a few days. If nothing remarkable happens, then we’ll go to Auntie and confess and let her scold us as much as she pleases.”
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