Chase Josephine.

Patsy Carroll Under Southern Skies





CHAPTER XX
THE WAY THE SCHEME WORKED OUT

The next morning witnessed the departure of Celia, bag and baggage. Aside from that one item of interest, nothing occurred that day to disturb the peace of the household of Las Golondrinas. With Emily now installed as cook and a very good cook, at that, the loss of Celias services was not so vital, particularly as Emilys sister, Jennie, had promised her services the following week.

What signally worried and annoyed Miss Martha, however, was Mr. Carrolls regretful announcement at dinner that evening to the effect that he would not be able to obtain the services of a guard for at least three days. An unusually large number of private details had rendered headquarters short of men used for such duty, he explained.

Im sorry, Martha, but it cant be helped, he consoled. Id turn the job over to one of my black boys, but it wouldnt be advisable. If one of them has really been playing ghost, depend upon it, the others know it. Result, the ghost wouldnt appear. Hed be warned to lie low. Ill stay up myself to-night and watch, if you feel in the least afraid. Say the word and Ill stand guard.

Certainly not, promptly vetoed his sister. Im not afraid. I merely wish this disagreeable foolishness stopped. We will lock our doors and barricade them, if necessary. As for the windows opening onto the patio, I hardly know what to do. Its not healthful to sleep with closed windows. They are so high from the floor of the patio, a ghost, or rather this idiotic person who is playing ghost, would find it hard work to climb up to them. We may as well leave them open.

We can set rows of tinware on the inner edge of the window sills in such a way that a touch would upset the whole business. If anyone tries to climb in a window, all the pots and pans will fall into the room with a grand crash and wake us up, proposed Mabel. Besides, the ghost wont linger after such a rattle and bang.

A good idea, approved Miss Carroll solemnly.

Eleanor, Bee and Patsy received it with laughter in which Mr. Carroll joined.

Wed better make a raid on the kitchen and select our tinware, said Eleanor gaily. Im proud to have such a resourceful sister. Theres nothing like getting ready for his ghostship.

I dont imagine youll be troubled to-night by spectral intruders, Mr. Carroll said seriously. Such a thing is hardly likely to occur two nights in succession.

Emilys not afraid, thats certain, declared Beatrice. Shes going to sleep all alone downstairs to-night. She says shes not gwine to git skairt of no ghos.

I told her she might sleep in that little room at the end of the portrait gallery, but she said she preferred her own room, commented Miss Martha. I am agreeably surprised to find her not in the least cowardly or superstitious. Its fortunate for us.

She told me she was going to lock her door and her windows and sleep with a club and a big bottle of ammonia beside her bed, informed Patsy.

If the ghost comes shes going to give him a warm reception.

We all seem to be planning for the ghosts welfare, chuckled Mabel. Poor ghost. If he knows when hes well off hell stay away from here to-night.

Much open discussion of the spectral visitor had served to rob the idea of its original horror. Instead of a serious menace to tranquillity the ghost was rapidly becoming a joke.

Weve done a little secret preparing of our own, boasted Patsy in a whisper to Bee as they strolled out of the dining room, arms twined about each others waists.

True to her determination, Patsy had slipped down to the stable that morning, commandeered the desired coil of rope and successfully smuggled it into her room. That afternoon, while Mabel and Eleanor were taking a walk about the grounds with Miss Carroll, the two conspirators locked their door and proceeded to test out the most important feature of their plan.

Patsy found the thin, tough rope admirable for her purpose. The sleeping room, spacious and square, also lent itself to her plan. The bed being in one corner left ample room for a free casting of the lariat. With the quaint mahogany center table moved back against the wall, she had a clear field.

For an hour Bee patiently allowed herself to be lassoed, moving from point to point, thereby to test Patsys skill. She soon discovered that her chum was an adept at the art. Wonderfully quick of movement and sure of aim, Patsy never failed to land the noose over her head, letting it drop below her shoulders and drawing it taut about her arms with almost incredible swiftness. At the conclusion of the practice both agreed that the ghosts chances were small against Lariat Patsy, as Bee laughingly nicknamed her.

Despite their numerous jests concerning the ghost, the Wayfarers hearts beat a trifle faster that night as they went to their rooms. Earlier in the evening the kitchen had been raided and amid much mirthful comment a goodly supply of tin and agate ware had been selected and carried upstairs for window decorations.

Patsy and Bee took part in these preparations merely, as Patsy confided to her chum, for the looks of things. Both considered their own private scheme as much more likely to bear fruit.

On retiring to their room for the night the door was dutifully locked. For half an hour the two sat talking with the lamps burning, waiting for the house to grow absolutely quiet. At ten minutes to twelve, Patsy brought forth the lariat from its hiding place in her trunk. Next, both girls slipped out of their white frocks only to don dark gowns which would not betray their presence in the room to the nocturnal intruder they were planning to receive.

Shall I put out the lights? whispered Bee.

Yes. Then stand in that space opposite the door and see if I can rope you, breathed Patsy.

Quickly Bee extinguished the two oil bracket lamps and a large oil lamp that stood on a pedestal in a corner. Into the room the moonlight poured whitely, lighting it fairly well except in the corners.

All ready? softly questioned Patsy, moving back toward the end of the room farthest from the door.

Yes, came the sibilant whisper.

An instant and Patsy had made a successful cast.

It works splendidly, she softly exulted. Lets try it again.

A few more trials of her prowess and she was satisfied to recoil the rope and sit down on the bed beside Bee.

Its time to unlock the door, Bee, she murmured as the chime of midnight rang faintly on their ears from a tall clock at the end of the corridor.

All right.

Bee rose, tiptoed softly to the door and turned the key. Stealing back across the room she took up her position of vigilance a few feet from Patsy, seating herself upon a little low stool.

Patsy had posted herself on the edge of her trunk, lariat coiled, ready to spring into action at a moments notice. Over the house now hung the uncanny silence of midnight, so tense in its stillness that the two watchers could hear each other breathe.

For the first half hour neither experienced any Special discomfort. By the time that one oclock had come and gone, both were beginning to feel the strain of sitting absolutely still in one position.

The distant note of the half hour found them weary, but holding their ground. Patsy was worse off than Bee. Bee could relax, at least a little, while she had to sit on the extreme edge of her trunk, constantly on the alert. Should their expected visitor enter the room, she must act with the swiftness of lightning or all their patient watching would have been in vain.

As she sat there it suddenly occurred to her how horrified her aunt would be, could she know what was going on only a few yards from where she slumbered so peacefully. Patsy could not resist giving a soft little chuckle.

What is it? whispered Bee.

Nothing. Tell you to-morrow. I guess we can go to bed soon.

I guess so. Its almost two oclock.

Silence again descended. The clock chimed three-quarters of the hour. Its plaintive voice ceased and the hush deepened until it seemed to Patsy almost too profound for endurance. And then it was broken by a sound, as of a door being softly opened.

Bees heart nearly skipped a beat as she listened. Patsy felt the cold chills race up and down her spine. Two pairs of eyes were now fastened in strained attention on the door. Was it opening? Yes, it surely was; slowly, very slowly. It was open at last! A huge white shape stood poised on the threshold. It moved forward with infinite caution. It had halted now, exactly on the spot where Bee had lately stood while Patsy tried out her prowess with the lariat.

Over in the corner Patsy was gathering herself together for the fateful cast. Up from the trunk she now shot like a steel spring. Through the air with a faint swishing sound the lariat sped. She pulled it taut to an accompaniment of the most blood-curdling shrieks she had ever heard. Next instant she felt herself being jerked violently forward.

Bee! she shouted desperately. Take hold. Im going!

Bee sprang for the rope and missed it. Patsy shot past her across the room, headed for the door. Stubbornly clinging to the rope, she was bumped violently against the door casing, dragged through the doorway and on into the corridor.

As she shot down the stone passageway she was dimly conscious of doors opening along it and voices crying out in alarm. On she went, propelled by that sinister, terrible force ahead. Now she had bumped around another corner and was entering the picture gallery. At the ends and in the center of it bracket lamps burned dimly.

She could see the enormous white shape. It had paused in the center of the gallery. The relentless force had slackened. The rope now lay in loose coils along the gallery. And then something happened which nearly took Patsys breath.

Even in that faint light she saw the picture of the cavalier move forward. The huge white shape leaped straight to meet it. The rope began to move along the floor again. Patsy braced herself and tightened her grasp on the end she still held. Wonder of wonders! The apparition had disappeared.

Patsy heard an oddly familiar sound. Next she realized that the savage jerking of the rope had not begun again. As she stood staring at it, still clutching it tightly, there began again those same awful shrieks, mingled with snarls such as a cornered wild beast might utter.

In the midst of them she was suddenly surrounded by a frantic little group of persons. She heard her father saying: Thank God, shes safe! She felt consciousness slipping from her like a cloak.

The rope hold the rope, she mumbled, and pitched forward into a pair of extended arms.

CHAPTER XXI
THE GHOST

When Patsy came to herself she was still in the picture gallery. She was leaning against Miss Martha, who was engaged in holding smelling salts to her nieces nose. To her right clustered Bee, Mabel and Eleanor, anxious, horror-filled faces fixed upon her. Back of them stood Emily, her black eyes rolling, her chocolate-colored features seeming almost pale in the brighter light the lamps now gave.

As Patsys gray eyes roved dully from one face to another, she became again alive to sounds which had assailed her ears at the moment when consciousness had briefly fled. She was still hearing those demoniac shrieks, mingled with savage snarls. Now there was something vaguely familiar about them. But what? Patsy could not think.

What is it? she stammered. Where is it?

She had begun to realize that the horror she glimpsed in her companions faces had to do with those same shrieks rather than her own momentary swoon.

Its behind this picture.

It was her fathers voice that grimly answered her. He stood at one side of the tarnished gilt frame, examining a rope. The rope appeared to spring from halfway down the frame, between the canvas and the frame itself. It ended in loose coils, which lay upon the floor of the gallery.

Patsy stared at the picture, from behind which rose the tumult of horrid sound. For an instant she listened intently.

Why why I know who it is! Its old Rosita. Im sure thats her voice.

So the girls here think, replied her father. Bee tells me you lassoed her.

Mr. Carrolls tones conveyed active disapproval of his daughters foolhardy exploit.

I I began Patsy, then became silent.

Well, this is not the time to discuss that side of the affair, her father continued. Theres a secret room or cubby-hole, I dont know which, behind the picture. Rosita is in there and cant get out. You attended to her arms, I judge. Thats the reason for those frenzied howls. Undoubtedly shes insane. Youve had a very narrow escape.

How could she get behind the picture without the use of her arms? broke in Bee. Theres a secret lever to the picture, of course.

She may have been able to work it with her foot, surmised Mr. Carroll. Again, she may have purposely left the door open. There may be another way out of the place besides this one. She cant take it as long as the rope holds. When the door closed, the rope caught. Its tough, but then, the door must have closed with a good deal of force or it could never have shut on the rope. Shes trying to break it and cant. Thats why shes in such a rage. Weve got her, but we must act quickly. I hate to leave you folks alone here. Still, I must go for help. I can bring half a dozen of my black boys here in twenty minutes. If I could be sure shed stay as she is now until I came back

Mr. Carroll paused, uncertain where his strongest duty lay.

I will go for the help, se?or, suddenly announced a soft voice.

Absorbed in contemplation of the problem which confronted them, no one of the little company had heard the noiseless approach down the gallery of a black-haired, bare-footed girl. She had come within a few feet of the group when her musical tones fell upon their amazed ears.

Dolores! exclaimed Patsy and sprang forward with extended hands. How came you here?

Immediately Mab, Bee and Nellie gathered around the girl with little astonished cries.

Soon I will tell all. Now is the hurry.

Turning to Mr. Carroll, whose fine face mirrored his astonishment at this sudden new addition to the nights eventful happenings, she said earnestly:

I stood in the shadow and heard your speech, se?or. There is but one way into the secret place. It is there. She pointed to the picture. I bid you watch it well. She is most strong. She has the madness. Thus her strength is greater than that of three men. If you have the firearm, se?or, I entreat you, go for it, and also send these you love to the safe room. Should she break the rope of which you have spoken she will come forth from behind the picture and kill. Now I will go and return soon with the men. You may trust me, for I will bring them. Have no fear for me, for I shall be safe.

Without waiting for a response from Mr. Carroll, Dolores turned and darted up the gallery. An instant and she had disappeared into the adjoining corridor.

Dolores is right, declared Mr. Carroll. Martha, take our girls and Emily into your room. Lock the door and stay there until I come for you. I dont like the idea of this child, Dolores, going off into the night alone, but she went before I could stop her.

Oh, Dad, why cant we stay here with you? burst disappointedly from Patsy.

Patsy had quite recovered from her momentary mishap and was now anxious to see the exciting affair through to the end.

Thats why.

Mr. Carroll made a stern gesture toward the picture. From behind it now issued a fresh succession of hair-raising screams interspersed with furious repetitions of the name, Dolores. It was evident that Rosita had heard Dolores voice and, demented though she was, recognized it.

Come with us this instant, Patsy. You have already run more than enough risks to-night.

Miss Marthas intonation was such as to indicate that she, too, was yet to be reckoned with.

Were in for it, breathed Bee to Patsy as the two girls followed Miss Carroll, and the Perry girls out of the gallery and into the corridor which led to Miss Marthas room. Emily, however, had declared herself as daid sleepy and asked permission to return to her own room instead of accepting the refuge of Miss Carrolls.

I dont care, Patsy returned in a defiant whisper. Our plan worked. We caught the ghost. And thats not all. What about Dolores? Did you ever bump up against anything so amazing? Now we know who the mysterious she is. No wonder poor Dolores was afraid of her.

Now arrived at Miss Carrolls door, the chums had no time for further confidences. Miss Martha hustled them inside the room, hastily closed the door and turned the key.

That worthy but highly displeased womans next act was to sink into an easy chair and in the voice of a stern judge order Bee and Patsy to take chairs opposite her own.

Now, Patsy, will you kindly tell me why I was not taken into your confidence regarding yours and Beatrices presumptuous plans? Do you realize that both of you might have been killed? What possessed you to do such a thing? I know that you are far more to blame than Beatrice, even though she insisted to me that she was equally concerned in your scheme. She merely followed your lead.

Im to blame. I planned the whole thing, Patsy frankly confessed. I dont know how much Bee has told you, but this is the story from beginning to end.

Without endeavoring to spare herself in the least, Patsy began with an account of the fearsome apparition she had seen on the previous night and went bravely on to the moment when she had seen old Rosita disappear behind the picture.

I shall never trust either of you again, was Miss Carrolls succinct condemnation when Patsy had finished.

But, Auntie

Dont Auntie me, retorted Miss Martha. The thought of what might have happened to you both makes me fairly sick. I shant recover from the shock for a week. The best thing we can do is to pack up and go to Palm Beach. Ive had enough of this house of horrors. Who knows what may happen next. Just listen to that!

Briefly silent, the imprisoned lunatic had again begun to send forth long, piercing screams. For a little, painful quiet settled down on the occupants of Miss Carrolls room. At last Eleanor spoke.

I dont believe anything else thats bad will happen here, Miss Martha.

Eleanor had come nobly forward to Patsys aid. Standing behind Miss Carrolls chair, she laid a gentle hand on the irate matrons plump shoulder. Eleanor could usually be depended upon to pour oil on troubled waters.

Nothing further of an unpleasant nature will have time to happen here, was the significant response.

But nothing bad has really happened, persisted Eleanor. Patsy captured the ghost, who turned out to be old Rosita. Pretty soon shell be taken away where she cant harm anyone. If Patsy and Bee hadnt been awake and on the watch to-night she might have slipped in and murdered them and us.

Not with our doors locked and the keys in them, calmly refuted Miss Carroll. True, Patsy and Beatrice might have been murdered. They disobeyed me and left their door unlocked.

This emphatic thrust had its effect on the culprits. They blushed deeply and looked exceedingly uncomfortable.

Well, she might have gone slipping about the house in the daytime and pounced upon some of us. Mabel now rallied to the defense. Didnt Mammy Luce see her cross the kitchen and disappear up the back stairs right in the middle of the day? That proves she came here in the daytime too. By those yells we just heard you can imagine how much of a chance we would have had if wed happened to meet her roaming around the house.

Patsy took heart at this brilliant effort on her behalf.

Thats why I saw the cavalier picture move the other day, she said eagerly. Rosita had just disappeared behind it. Thats another proof she came here in the daytime.

Hmph! Here is something else I seem to have missed hearing, satirically commented Miss Carroll.

I would have told you that, truly I would have, Auntie, but I didnt want to worry you. I thought I must have been mistaken about it at the time and so didnt say anything. It was the day we found the book in the patio and you asked me what was the matter, Patsy explained very humbly.

Something in the two pleading gray eyes fixed so penitently upon her, moved Miss Martha to relent a trifle. She considered herself a great deal harder-hearted than she really was.

My dear, you and Beatrice did very wrong to conceal these things and attempt to take matters into your own hands. You are two extremely rash venturesome young girls. You are altogether too fond of leaping first and looking afterward. I must say that

Theyre coming! Mabel suddenly held up her hand in a listening gesture.

Even through the closed door the tramp of heavy footsteps and the deep bass of masculine voices came distinctly to the ears of the attentive listeners. Shut in as they were, they could glean by sound alone an idea of what was transpiring in the gallery.





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