Chase Josephine.

Patsy Carroll Under Southern Skies





Beatrice will go with us, assured Miss Martha in a tone that indicated the intention to have her own way in the matter. Patsy knew from long experience that her dignified aunt was a person not to be easily overruled, and rejoiced accordingly.

I told Bee that I knew you could fix things beautifully with her mother, she declared happily. Were going to have a wonderful time in that quaint old house. Wouldnt it be great if it were haunted, or had some kind of a mystery about it? Ive read lots of queer stories about those old southern mansions.

Now, Patsy, Miss Martha made an attempt at looking extremely severe, once and for all you may put such foolish notions out of your head. That affair of the missing will at Wilderness Lodge was, of course, quite remarkable. Nevertheless, it was very annoying in many respects.

Miss Martha had not forgotten her enforced hike over hill and dale on the memorable afternoon when John, the rascally chauffeur, had set her down in an unfamiliar territory and left her to return to the Lodge as best she might.

We are going down South for recreation. Bear that in mind, she continued. The majority of these tales about haunted houses down there originate with the negroes, who are very ignorant and superstitious. There is no such thing as a haunted house. I have never yet met a person who had actually seen a ghost. Undoubtedly we shall hear a number of such silly tales while we are in Florida. I am told that the natives are very fond of relating such yarns. You girls may listen to them if you like, but you must not take them seriously. You are not apt ever again to run into another mystery like that of Wilderness Lodge.

CHAPTER V
THE LAND OF FLOWERS

No wonder the Spaniards named this beautiful land Florida! rapturously exclaimed Beatrice Forbes. I never dreamed it could be quite so wonderful as this.

I suppose when first they saw it, they must have felt about it as we do now, returned Eleanor. According to history they landed here on Easter Sunday. Were seeing Florida at about the same time of year as they first saw it. Its almost as wonderful to us as it was to them. Not quite, of course, because they underwent all sorts of hardships before they landed here. So they must have thought it like Heaven.

Exactly one week had elapsed since the Wayfarers had arrived in Morton with the pleasing prospect ahead of them of a six weeks vacation. Three days of hurried preparation had followed. Then had come the long, rather tiresome railway journey to Florida. They had arrived at Palm Beach late in the afternoon of the sixth day, had been met by Mr. Carroll and had spent the night at one of Palm Beachs most fashionable hotels.

Weary from the long railway trip, the travelers had resisted the lure of a water f?te, to be given that evening on Lake Worth, and retired early.

I can secure a boat, if you girls are anxious to take in the f?te, Mr.

Carroll had informed his flock at dinner that evening. This f?te will be nothing very remarkable, however. Later on, I understand, a big Venetian f?te is to be given. Why not wait and go to that? We can easily run up to the Beach in the car from Las Golondrinas. I would suggest going to bed in good season to-night. Then we can make an early start in the morning for our new home.

This program being approved by all, the Wayfarers had dutifully settled down early for the night. It was now a little after ten oclock on the following morning and the big touring car, driven by Mr. Carroll, was bowling due south over a palm-lined country road, toward its objective, Las Golondrinas.

It was a particularly balmy morning, even for southern Florida, where a perpetual state of fine weather may be expected to hold sway during the winter months. Southward under tall palms, past villa after villa, embowered in gorgeously colored, flowering vines, the touring car glided with its load of enthusiastic beauty-worshippers.

Seated between Miss Martha and Eleanor in the tonneau of the machine, Beatrice was perhaps the most ardent worshipper of them all. Love of Nature was almost a religion with her. She was a true child of the great outdoors.

Its so beautiful it makes me feel almost like crying, she confided to her companions as she drew in a deep breath of the exquisitely scented morning air. Its so different from the Adirondacks. Up there I felt exhilarated; as though Id like to stand up and sing an anthem to the mountains. But all this fragrance and color and sunlight and warm, sweet air makes me feel well sentimental, finished Bee rather timidly.

It seems more like an enchanted land out of a fairy-tale than a real one, mused Eleanor. No wonder the birds begin to fly south the minute it grows chilly up north. They know whats waiting for them down here.

Thats more than we know, smiled Beatrice, her brown eyes dreamy. Were explorers, once more, setting foot in a strange, new country. Something perfectly amazing may be waiting for us just around the corner.

I hope it wont be a horrid big snake, shuddered practical Mabel, who sat opposite the trio on one of the small seats. There are plenty of poisonous snakes down here, you know. Moccasins and diamond-back rattlers, coral snakes and a good many other varieties that arent poisonous, but horrible, just the same.

Why break the spell by mentioning anything so disagreeable as snakes, Mab? asked Eleanor reproachfully. Id forgotten that there were such hateful, wriggly things. How do you happen to be so well up on the snakology of Florida?

Theres no such word as snakology, retorted Mabel. You mean herpetology.

Snakologys a fine word, even if old Noah Webster did forget to put it in the dictionary, laughed Eleanor. Isnt it, Miss Martha?

I cant say that I specially admire any word pertaining to snakes, dryly answered Miss Carroll. While we are on the subject, however, I may as well say that nothing can induce me to go on any wild expeditions into these swamps down here. I daresay these jungles are full of poisonous snakes. I greatly doubt the advisability of allowing you girls to trail around in such dangerous places.

Oh, well be all right with a real Indian guide to show us the way, declared Beatrice confidently. White Heron is the name of our Indian guide. Mr. Carroll was telling me about him last night. He is a Seminole and a great hunter.

I have no confidence in Indians, disparaged Miss Martha. I sincerely hope Robert is not mistaken in this one. I shall have to see him for myself in order to judge whether he is a fit person to act as guide on this foolhardy expedition that Patsy is so set on making.

This dampening assertion warned the trio of girls that it was high time to discuss something else. They remembered Patsys difficulties of the previous summer in wringing a reluctant permission from Miss Martha to go camping in the mountains. Now it seemed she had again posted herself on the wrong side of the fence. It therefore behooved them to drop the subject where it stood, leaving the winning over of Miss Martha to wily Patsy and her father.

Seated beside her father, who, knowing the road to Las Golondrinas, was driving the car, Patsy was keeping up a running fire of delighted exclamation over the tropical beauty of the country through which they were passing.

Im so glad you bought this splendid place, Dad, she rattled along in her quick, eager fashion. After Im through college maybe we can come down to Florida and spend a whole winter.

I had that idea in mind when I bought it, returned her father. It will take considerable time to put Las Golondrinas in good condition again. Old Fereda let it run down. There are some fine orange groves on the estate, but they need attention. The house is in good condition. Its one of those old-timers and solidly built. The grounds were in bad shape, though. Ive had a gang of darkies working on them ever since I bought the place. Theyre a lazy lot. Still theyve done quite a little toward getting the lawns smooth again and thinning the trees and shrubs.

Who was this Manuel de Fereda, anyway? questioned Patsy curiously. I know he was Spanish and died, and thats all.

I know very little about him, my dear. Mr. Haynes, the agent who sold me the property, had never seen him. In fact, had never heard of him until Feredas granddaughter put the place in his hands for sale. She told Haynes that her grandfather was crazy. Haynes said she seemed very anxious to get rid of the property and get away from it.

Theres just enough about the whole thing to arouse ones curiosity, sighed Patsy. Id love to know more about this queer, crazy old Spaniard. Maybe well meet some people living near the estate who will be able to tell us more about him.

Oh, youll probably run across someone who knows the history of the Feredas, lightly assured her father. Neither the old mammy I engaged as cook, nor the two maids can help you out, though. They come from Miami and know no one in the vicinity. Im still hunting for a good, trustworthy man for general work. We shall need one while were here, to run errands, see to the horses and make himself useful.

You must have worked awfully hard to get things ready for us, Dad.

Patsy slipped an affectionately grateful hand into her fathers arm.

I could have done better if I had known from the start that you were really coming, he returned. I had to hustle around considerably. At least youre here now and your aunt can be depended upon to do the rest. I hope she will get along nicely with her darkie help. Theyre usually as hard to manage as a lot of unruly children.

Oh, she will, predicted Patsy. She always makes everybody except Patsy do as she says. Patsy likes to have her own way, you know.

So Ive understood, smiled Mr. Carroll. Patsy usually gets it, too, Im sorry to say.

Youre not a bit sorry and you know it, flatly contradicted Patsy. Youd hate to have me for a daughter if I were a meek, quiet Patsy who never had an opinion of her own.

I cant imagine such a thing, laughed her father. Im so used to being bullied by a certain self-willed young person that I rather like it.

Youre a dear, gaily approved Patsy. I dont ever really bully you, you know. I just tell you what you have to do and then you go and do it. Thats not bullying, is it?

Not in our family, satirically assured Mr. Carroll.

Whereupon they both laughed.

Meanwhile, as they continued to talk in the half-jesting, intimate fashion of two persons who thoroughly understand each other, the big black car ate up the miles that lay between Palm Beach and Las Golondrinas. As the party drew nearer their destination the highly ornamental villas which had lined both sides of the road began to grow fewer and farther apart. They saw less of color and riotous bloom and more of the vivid but monotonous green of the tropics.

They turned at last from the main highway and due east into a white sandy road which ran through a natural park of stately green pines. Under the shadow of the pines the car continued for a mile or so, then broke out into the open and the sunlight again.

Oh, look!

Half rising in the seat, Patsy pointed. Ahead of them and dazzlingly blue in the morning sunshine lay the sea.

How near is our new home to the ocean, Dad? she asked eagerly.

There it is yonder.

Taking a hand briefly from the wheel, Mr. Carroll indicated a point some distance ahead and to the right where the red-tiled roof of a house showed in patches among the wealth of surrounding greenery.

Why, its only a little way from the sea! Patsy cried out. Not more than half a mile, I should judge.

About three quarters, corrected her father. The bathing beach is excellent and theres an old boathouse, too.

Are there any boats? was the quick question.

A couple of dinghys. Both leaky. I gave them to one of my black fellows. Old Fereda was evidently not a sea dog. The boathouse was full of odds and ends of rubbish. I had it cleared up and repainted inside and out. It will make you a good bath house. Its a trim looking little shack now.

Presently rounding a curve in the white, ribbon-like road, the travelers found themselves again riding southward. To their left, picturesque masses of jungle sloped down to the ocean below.

Soon to their right, however, a high iron fence appeared, running parallel with the road. It formed the eastern boundary of Las Golondrinas. Behind it lay the estate itself, stretching levelly toward the red-roofed house in the distance. Long neglected by its former owner, the once carefully kept lawns and hedges had put forth rank, jungle-like growth. Broad-fronded palms and palmettos drooped graceful leaves over seemingly impenetrable thickets of tangled green. Bush and hedge, once carefully pruned, now flung forth riotous untamed masses of gorgeous bloom.

It looks more like a wilderness than a private estate, was Patsys opinion as her quick eyes roved from point to point in passing.

It looked a good deal more like a jungle a few weeks ago, returned Mr. Carroll. Wait until you pass the gates; then youll begin to notice a difference. The improvements my black boys have made dont show from the road.

For a distance of half a mile, the car continued on the sandy highway. At last Mr. Carroll brought it to a stop before the tall, wrought-iron gates of the main entrance to the estate. Springing from the automobile, he went forward to open them.

Every man his own gate-opener, he called out jovially. Drive ahead, Patsy girl.

Patsy had already slipped into the drivers seat, hands on the wheel. Immediately her father called out, she drove the machine slowly forward and through the now wide-open gateway.

Do let me drive the rest of the way, Dad, she implored as Mr. Carroll regained the car.

All right. Follow this trail wherever it goes and youll finally bring up at the house, was the good-humored injunction.

By trail Mr. Carroll meant the drive, which, flanked by hedges of perfumed oleander, wound through the grounds, describing a sweeping curve as it approached the quaint, grayish-white building that had for generations sheltered the Feredas. A little beyond the house and to its rear, they glimpsed rank upon rank of orange trees, on which golden fruit and creamy blossoms hung together amongst the glossy green of foliage.

A light land breeze, freighted with the fragrance of many flowers, blew softly upon the Wayfarers. Its scented sweetness filled them with fresh delight and appreciation of their new home.

Patsy brought the car to a stop on the drive, directly in front of an arched doorway, situated at the center of the facade. Before the travelers had time to step out of the automobile the massive double doors were swung open by a stout, turbaned mammy, the true southern type of negro, fast vanishing from the latter day, modernized South. Her fat, black face radiant with good will, she showed two rows of strong white teeth in a broad smile. Beside her stood two young colored girls who stared rather shyly at the newcomers.

I done see yoh comin, Massa Carroll! she exclaimed. I see yoh way down de road. So I done tell Celia an Emly here, yall come along now, right smart, an show Massa Carrolls folks yoh got some manners.

Thank you, Mammy Luce, gallantly responded Mr. Carroll, his blue eyes twinkling with amusement. Whereupon he gravely presented the gratified old servant to his folks. A courtesy which she acknowledged with an even greater display of teeth and many bobbing bows.

Headed by Mr. Carroll, the travelers stepped over the threshold of Las Golondrinas and into the coolness of a short stone passageway which ended in the patio or square stone court, common to houses of Spanish architecture.

In the center of the court a fountain sent up graceful sprays of water, which fell sparkling into the ancient stone bowl built to receive the silvery deluge. Above the court on three sides ranged the inevitable balconies. Looking far upward one glimpsed, through the square opening, a patch of blue sunlit sky.

Welcome to Las Golondrinas, girls! Its rather different from anything youve ever seen before, now isnt it?

Mr. Carroll addressed the question to his flock in general, who had stopped in the center of the court to take stock of their new environment.

Its positively romantic! declared Patsy fervently. I feel as though Id stepped into the middle of an old Spanish tale. Im sure Las Golondrinas must have a wonderful history of its own. When you stop to remember how many different Feredas have lived here, you cant help feeling that a lot of interesting, perhaps tragic things may have happened to them. I only wish I knew more about them.

Let the poor dead and gone Feredas rest in peace, Patsy, laughingly admonished Eleanor. We came down here to enjoy ourselves, not to dig up the tragic history of a lot of Spanish Dons and Donnas.

A very sensible remark, Eleanor, broke in Miss Martha emphatically. There is no reason that I can see why you, Patsy, should immediately jump to the conclusion that this old house has a tragic history. Its pure nonsense, and I dont approve of your filling your head with such ideas. I dare say the history of these Feredas contains nothing either startling or tragic. Dont let such ridiculous notions influence you to spend what ought to be a pleasant period of relaxation in trying to conjure up a mystery that never existed.

Now, Auntie, you know perfectly well that if we happened to stumble upon something simply amazing in this curious old house, youd be just as excited over it as any of us, gaily declared Patsy.

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, loftily quoted Miss Martha, refusing to commit herself. It will take something very amazing indeed to impress me.

CHAPTER VI
THE BEGINNING OF ADVENTURE

The time has come, O Wayfarers, to think of many things, gaily declaimed Patsy, bursting into the somber, high-ceilinged, dark-paneled sitting-room where Miss Martha, Beatrice, Mabel and Eleanor sat around a massive mahogany table, busily engaged in writing letters.

Go away, Patsy, laughingly admonished Mabel, pen suspended in mid-air over her note paper. Youre a disturber. Youve made me forget what I was going to write next. If you wont be a letter-writer, dont be a nuisance.

I cant be what I never have been and could never possibly become, retorted Patsy. Ill promise to keep quiet, though, if youll all hustle and finish your letters. Im dying to go over to the orange groves and its no fun going alone. Any old person will do for company.

Then we wont do, emphasized Beatrice. We are very distinguished persons who dont belong in the any old class.

Glad you told me, chuckled Patsy. Ill give you ten minutes to wind up your letters. If youre not done then well Ill give you ten more. I am always considerate. Im going to leave you now, but I shall return. Ill come buzzing around again, like a pestiferous fly, in exactly ten minutes by my wrist watch. Im only going as far as the gallery to pay my respects to the dead and gone Feredas.

With this announcement Patsy turned and strolled from the room. The gallery to which she referred was in the nature of a short corridor, extending between the second-floor sitting-room and ending at the corridor on which were situated sleeping rooms which the Wayfarers occupied. It had evidently served as a picture gallery for several generations of Feredas. Its walls were lined with a heterogeneous collection of oil paintings, largely landscape and studies in still life. At least half of one side of it, however, was devoted strictly to portraits. It was before this particular section that Patsy halted.

Two days had elapsed since the Wayfarers had made port at Las Golondrinas. On the evening of their arrival, a storm had come up, bursting over the old house in all its tropical fury. Following it, rain had set in and for two days had continued to fall in a steady, discouraging downpour that made out-door excursions impossible for the time being.

Now, on the third morning since their arrival, the sun again shone gloriously, in skies of cerulean blue, and the air was heavy with the sweetness of rain-washed blossoms. It was an ideal morning to spend out of doors, and Patsy was impatient to start on an exploring tour of the estate.

During the two days in which the Wayfarers had been kept indoors by the rain, they had become thoroughly acquainted with the old house. They had wandered about it from cellar to roof, marveling at its utter unlikeness to any other house in which they had ever set foot. Its somber, spacious rooms with their highly polished floors and queer, elaborately carved, foreign-looking furniture of a by-gone period, evoked volleys of wondering comment and speculation. The cool patio with its silver-spraying fountain, the long windows opening out onto picturesque balconies and the dim stone corridors, all held for them the very acme of romance. It was like being set down in a world which they had known only in fiction.





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