Chase Josephine.

Patsy Carroll Under Southern Skies





Each girl had found some one particular object on which to fix her special admiration. Eleanor went into ecstasies over a huge, carved-leather chest that stood in the sitting-room. Beatrice was enthusiastic over a heavy mahogany book-case filled with old Spanish volumes, bound in boards and parchment. She loudly deplored her inability to read Spanish and announced her intention of tackling the fascinating volumes with the aid of a Spanish-English dictionary which Mabel had brought along. Mabel was vastly impressed by a high, frowning old desk with many drawers and pigeon-holes. She was perfectly sure, she declared, that it must contain a secret drawer, and in consequence spent the great part of an afternoon in an unavailing hunt for it.

Patsy found unending delight in the portrait section of the picture gallery. The dark-eyed, tight-lipped men and women who stared down at her from the wall filled her with an intense curiosity regarding who they were and how long it had been since they had lived and played their parts in the history of the Feredas.

Undoubtedly they were all Feredas. Of unmistakably Spanish cast of countenance, they bore a decided family resemblance to one another. The difference in the style of dress worn by the pictured folk proclaimed them to be of many generations. How far removed from the present day, she did not know. She was of the opinion that some of them must have lived at least two hundred years ago. She was very sure that one portrait, that of a man, must have been painted even earlier than that.

It was this portrait in particular which most fascinated her. Hung in the center of the section and framed in tarnished gilt, it depicted the full length figure of a Spanish cavalier. Patsy thought he might easily have been one of the intrepid, Latin adventurers who accompanied Ponce de Leon on his unsuccessful quest into Florida for the fabled Fountain of Youth.

As a gallant of long ago, the man in the picture instantly arrested her attention. The thin, sinister face above the high Spanish ruff repelled her, however. The bright, bird-like eyes, the long, aquiline nose and the narrow lips, touched with a mocking smile, combined to make a countenance of such intense cruelty as filled her with a curious sense of terror. It was as if the sharp, black eyes followed her, as she moved along from picture to picture. There was a peculiar, life-like quality about the painting which gave her the uncomfortable feeling that the sinister cavalier might step down from the canvas at any moment.

Nevertheless she could not refrain from stopping to look at him every time she passed through the corridor. She was convinced that he must have been the first Fereda who landed in the New World and that he had a record which might well match his malevolently smiling face. It piqued her not a little to reflect, that, who he was and what he had been would in all probability ever remain a mystery to her.

Strolling into the corridor that morning to study again the provoking object of her curiosity, Patsy wondered how the granddaughter of old Manuel de Fereda could ever have been content to turn over the contents of Las Golondrinas to strangers.

She wondered what had become of her. She was undoubtedly the only one who knew the identity of the painted cavalier. Patsy decided that she would ask her father to write Mr. Haynes, the agent, from whom he had purchased the property, asking him for Eulalie Feredas address. Once she had obtained it, Patsy fully intended to write to the Spanish girl for information concerning the painted cavalier.

Wrapped in meditation, she did not hear Beatrices light approaching footsteps until her friend had traversed half of the corridor.

Oh, Bee! she hailed, as the latter paused beside her. Im going to try to get Eulalie Feredas address from Mr. Haynes, and then write her about this picture. It seems queer that she allowed all these portraits of her family to be sold with the house, now doesnt it? I certainly shouldnt care to see the pictures of my respected ancestors pass into the hands of strangers.

Perhaps shed lived here so long with her grandfather that shed grown tired of him and all the rest of the Fereda tribe, hazarded Bee. Imagine how lonely it would be for a young girl in this gloomy old house. It is gloomy, you know. We dont mind it because there are a crowd of us. It all seems just quaint and romantic to us.

All except Auntie, reminded Patsy, smiling. She says that the whole house ought to be done over from top to bottom and that she intends to come down here next fall and see to it herself. I think she only half means it, though. She likes it the way it is, just as much as we do, but she wont admit it. Aunt Martha has a real love for the romantic, but she tries hard not to let any one know it.

The furniture in this house must be really valuable, Bee said seriously. Most of it is antique. Goodness knows how old that desk in the sitting-room is; and that carved-leather chest and the book-case. Why, those books alone must be worth a good deal. A book collector would rave over them. I wish I knew something about rare volumes and first editions. If I were your father Id send for an expert and have the collection valued.

Ill tell him about it, nodded Patsy. Only he wont bother to do it while were here. Hes more interested in having the grounds put in order than anything else. He says the orange groves are not worth much because theyve been neglected for so long. With care, he thinks theyll do better next year. Weve come down here too late for the real fruit season, you know. We should have been here in January or February for that. Anyway, he didnt buy this place as a money-making venture. He thought it would be a nice winter home for us.

Im lucky to have the chance to see it, congratulated Beatrice. If ever I become a writer, I shall put Las Golondrinas into a story. Thats a pretty name; Las Golondrinas.

Isnt it, though. I suppose it was named on account of the tree swallows, mused Patsy. Dad says there are flocks of them here. They have blue backs and white breasts. Im sure I saw some this morning. Oh, dear! I wish the girls would hurry. I want to start out and see the sights. Come on. Lets remind them that time is flying.

Catching Bee by the hand, Patsy pulled her, a willing captive, toward the sitting-room.

Times up and more than up! she announced, poking her auburn head into the big room.

Im ready, responded Eleanor, rising from her chair.

So am I in another minute.

Hastily addressing an envelope to her mother, Mabel tucked her letter into it, sealed and stamped it.

There! she ejaculated as she laid it on the little pile of letters which represented the fruits of the mornings labor. Thats off my mind.

What about you, Auntie? questioned Patsy, noting that her dignified relative was still engaged in letter-writing. Dont you want to join the explorers?

You girls can get along very well without me, placidly returned Miss Carroll. I am not through with my writing. Besides, I dont feel inclined to go exploring this morning. I warn all of you to be careful where you set foot. This old place may be infested with snakes.

Oh, well be careful. Well each carry a good stout stick, assured Beatrice. Thats the way tourists do in the tropics, you know. On some of the South Sea Islands, Ive read that tourists always carry what they call snake sticks when they go calling. At night the coolies go ahead of a calling party and beat the long grass aside.

Very fine, Bee. I hereby appoint you chief grass-beater of the realm, teased Mabel.

I decline the high office, retorted Bee. Every Wayfarer will have to do her own bit of trail beating. As I am very brave, I dont mind walking ahead, though.

I will walk with you, Bee, graciously offered Patsy. Woe be to the wriggly, jiggly sarpint that crosses our path.

In this light strain the four girls left Miss Martha to her writing and sallied forth from the coolness of the old house into the bright sunlight.

Where shall we go first? queried Patsy, as they paused on the drive in front of the house. Shall we get acquainted with our numerous acres of front yard, or shall we make a bee-line for the orange groves?

Lets do the groves first, suggested Eleanor. Im awfully anxious to get close to real orange trees with real oranges growing on them.

Come on, then.

Seizing Beatrice by the arm, Patsy piloted her around a corner of the house, Mabel and Eleanor following.

Crossing a comparatively smooth bit of lawn, at the rear of the house, the Wayfarers halted by common consent before proceeding further. Between them and the orange groves lay a wide stretch of ground, fairly overrun with tangled bush and vine. Magnificent live oak, cedar and palmetto trees, spread their noble branches over thickets of bright bloom and living green. It was extremely picturesque, but very snaky, as Mabel declared with a little shudder.

Theres a darkie over yonder, clipping away that thicket! Eleanor pointed to where an ancient, bare-footed, overalled African, wearing a huge, tattered straw hat, was industriously cutting away at a thick patch of sprawling green growth.

Hey, there, Uncle! called out undignified Patsy. Come here a minute, please.

The old man straightened up at the hail and looked rather blankly about him. Catching sight of the group of white-clad girls, he ambled slowly toward them through the long grass.

Mornin, young ladies, he saluted, pulling off his ragged headgear and disclosing a thick crop of snow-white wool. Ah reckin mebbe yoh wants Uncle Jemmy t tell yoh suthin?

Yes, we do, Uncle, beamed Patsy. We wish youd show us a path to the orange groves, if there is one. Wed like to have some good, stout sticks, too, in case we see any snakes. Arent you afraid to walk around in that jungle in your bare feet?

Laws, Missie, Ise used toh it, I is. Th aint no snaikes round heah what mounts toh much. I done see a big black snaike this mohnin, but that fella aint out toh do me no damage. He am a useful snaike, he am.

Well be just as well satisfied not to meet his snakeship, even if he is so useful, muttered Eleanor in Patsys ear.

Ef yoh all young ladiesll come along now, Ise gwine toh show yoh the way toh git toh the orange groves, continued Uncle Jemmy. There am a path ovah heah.

So saying, the old man took the lead and trotted along the clipped lawn where it skirted the high grass for a distance of perhaps twenty yards. The girls followed him, single file, every pair of bright eyes intent on trying to catch a glimpse of the path.

Pausing at last, Uncle Jemmy proceeded to lop off several low-growing branches from a nearby tree. These he deftly stripped clear of twigs and foliage and, trimming them smooth with a huge, sharp-bladed pocket knife, presented one to each of the four explorers.

Heah am yoh snaike sticks, young ladies, he declared, showing a vast expanse of white teeth in a genial grin. Now Ise gwine to take yoh a little furder an yohll see de path.

A few steps and they came abreast of a giant oak tree and here the path began, a narrow trail, but beaten hard by the passing of countless feet.

Yoh jes follow de path whereber he goes and yoh-all gwine come afer while toh de groves, he directed.

Thank you, Uncle Jemmy. Patsy nodded radiant thanks. Seized by a sudden thought she asked: Do you live around here?

No, Missie. I comes from Tampa, I does. Soons I git through this job foh Massa Carroll I gwine toh git right back toh Tampa again. It am de bes place fo Uncle Jemmy.

Oh! Patsys face fell. Then she tried again. Do any of these boys working with you live around here?

No, Missie. They done come from Miami. We am all strangahs heah.

I see. Thank you ever so much for helping us.

With a kindly nod to the old man, Patsy turned to her chums who had stood listening in silence to the questions she had asked.

Are you ready for the great adventure? she queried. Come along, then. One, two, three and away we go, Indian fashion!

Bidding a smiling good-bye to Uncle Jemmy, who had now turned to go, the three girls filed into the trail behind their energetic leader. And thus the Wayfarers started off on what really was the beginning of a greater adventure than they dreamed.

CHAPTER VII
THE COTTAGE IN THE PALM GROVE

Greatly to their relief, the Wayfarers were not called upon to do battle with their stout snake sticks. For a quarter of a mile they followed the narrow path. It wound in and out of the tall, coarse grass and around wide-spreading trees and ragged clumps of bushes. At length they reached the point for which they had been aiming.

Its simply splendiferous! exclaimed Eleanor, as the quartette halted well inside the first grove to breathe in the fragrance of orange blossoms and feast their eyes on the beauty of the tropical scene spread out before them.

Why, it isnt just an orange grove! Beatrice cried out. Look, girls! There are lemons on that tree over yonder!

Yes, and see the tangerines! Patsy pointed out. Those stiff, funny bushes there have kumquats on them. And I do believe yes, sir that ragged old tree there is a banana tree. This is what I call a mixed-up old grove. I supposed oranges grew in one grove and lemons in another, etc., etc.

I guess we dont know very much about it, laughed Eleanor. Well have to get busy and learn whats what and why. Lets walk on through this grove and see whats in the next one. There seems to be a pretty good path down through it.

Amid many admiring exclamations, the Wayfarers strolled on, seeing new wonders with every step they took. The brown, woody litter which covered the ground under the trees was plentifully starred with the white of fallen blossoms. To quote Mabel, Why, were actually walking on flowers!

Late in the season as it was they found considerable fruit growing within easy reach of their hands. Eager to avail themselves of the pleasure of actually picking oranges from the trees, the girls gathered a modest quantity of oranges and tangerines.

Warned by Mr. Carroll always to be on the watch for spiders, scorpions and wood-ticks before sitting down on the ground, Beatrice and Patsy energetically swept a place clear with a huge fallen palmetto leaf, and the four seated themselves on the dry, clean-swept space to enjoy their spoils.

All of them had yet to become adepts in the art of out-door orange eating as it is done in Florida. In consequence, they had a very delightful but exceedingly messy feast. Picking oranges at random also resulted in their finding some of the fruit sour enough to set their teeth on edge. These they promptly flung from them and went on to others more palatable.

No more oranges for me this morning, finally declared Eleanor, pitching the half-eaten one in her hand across the grove. Im soaked in juice from head to foot. Look at my skirt.

Ive had enough. Bee sprang to her feet, drying her hands on her handkerchief. We ought to pick a few oranges to take to Miss Martha.

Lets get them when we come back, proposed Patsy. Whats the use in lugging them around with us. I want to walk all the way through these groves to the end of the estate. Dad says its not more than a mile from the house to the west end of Las Golondrinas.

All right. Lead on, my dear Miss Carroll, agreed Bee with a low bow. Be sure you know where youre going, though.

I know just as much about where Im going as you do, merrily flung back Patsy over her shoulder.

Headed by their intrepid leader, the little procession once more took the trail, wandering happily along under the scented sweetness of the orange trees. Overhead, bright-plumaged birds flew about among the gently stirring foliage. Huge golden and black butterflies fluttered past them. Among the white and gold of blossom, bees hummed a deep, steady song as they pursued their endless task of honey-gathering.

On and on they went, passing through one grove after another until they glimpsed ahead the high, wrought-iron fence which shut in the estate on all four sides. Reaching it, they could look through to a small grassy open space beyond. Behind it rose a natural grove of tall palms. Set down fairly in the middle of the grove was a squat, weather-stained cottage of grayish stone.

Oh, see that funny little house! was Mabels interested exclamation. I wonder whom it belongs to!

Lets go over and pay it a visit, instantly proposed Patsy. Perhaps someone lives there who can tell us about old Manuel Fereda and Eulalie, his granddaughter. It doesnt look as though darkies lived there. Their houses are mostly tumble-down wooden shacks. Still it may be deserted. Anyway, we might as well go over and take a look at it.

How are we going to get out of here? asked Eleanor. I dont see a gate.

There must be one somewhere along the west end, declared Bee. Lets start here and follow the fence. Maybe well come to one.

Wed better walk north through the grove then. Theres no path close to the fence and that grass is too high and jungly looking to suit me, demurred Eleanor.

Traveling northward through the grove, their eyes fixed on the fence in the hope of spying a gate, the explorers walked some distance, but saw no sign of one. Finally retracing their steps to their starting point, they headed south and eventually discovered, not a gate, but a gap in the fence where the lower part of several iron palings had been broken away, leaving an aperture large enough for a man to crawl through.

This means us, called Patsy and ran toward it.

Energetically beating down the grass under it with the stick she carried, she stooped and scrambled through to the other side, emitting a little whoop of triumph as she stood erect.

One by one her three companions followed suit until the four girls were standing on the grassy clearing, which, a few rods farther on, merged levelly into the grove of palms surrounding the low stone cottage.

From the point at which they now halted they could obtain only a side view of it among the trees.

Judging from the big cobweb on one of those windows, I should say no one lives there, commented Eleanor.

It does look deserted. Lets go around to the front of it. Then we can tell more about it, suggested Patsy.

Crossing the grassy space, the quartette entered the shady grove. A few steps brought them abreast of the front of the cottage.

The doors wide open! I wonder

Patsy broke off abruptly, her gray eyes focussing themselves upon the open doorway. In it had suddenly appeared a woman, so tall that her head missed but a little of touching the top of the rather low aperture. For an instant she stood there, motionless, staring or rather glaring at her uninvited visitors out of a pair of wild black eyes. The Wayfarers were staring equally hard at her, fascinated by this strange apparition.

What they saw was a fierce, swarthy countenance, broad and deeply lined. The womans massive head was crowned by a mop of snow-white hair that stood out in a brush above her terrifying features. A beak-like nose, a mouth that was merely a hard line set above a long, pointed chin, gave her the exact look of the proverbial old witch. Over the shoulders of a shapeless, grayish dress, which fell in straight ugly folds to her feet, she wore a bright scarlet shawl. It merely accentuated the witch-like effect.

In sinister silence she took the one stone step to the ground and began to move slowly forward toward the group of girls, a deep scowl drawing her bushy white brows together until they met.

Shes crazy! came from Mabel, in a terrified whisper. Lets run.

I will not, muttered Patsy. Im going to speak to her.

Stepping boldly forward to meet the advancing figure, Patsy smiled winningly, and said: Good-morning.

What you want? demanded a harsh voice.

Ignoring Patsys polite salutation, the fearsome old woman continued to advance, halting within four or five feet of the group of girls.

Oh, we were just taking a walk, Patsy brightly assured. We saw this cottage and thought wed like to see who lived here. We

Where you live? sharply cut in the woman.

We are staying at Las Golondrinas. My father owns the property now. I am Patricia Carroll and these three girls are my chums, amiably explained Patsy. We are anxious to find someone who can tell us something about the Feredas. We are looking for

You will never find! was the shrieking interruption. It is not for you, white-faced thieves! Madre de Dios! Old Camillo has hidden it too well. Away with you! Go, and return no more!

This tempestuous invitation to begone was accompanied by a wild waving of the womans long arms. The gold hoop rings in her ears shook and swayed as she wagged a menacing head at the intruders.

Just a minute and we will go.

Undismayed by the unexpected burst of fury on the part of the disagreeable old woman, Patsy stood her ground unflinchingly. There was an angry sparkle in her gray eyes, however, and her voice quivered with resentment as she continued hotly:





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