Patsy Carroll Under Southern Skiesñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
This proposal met with instant enthusiastic response from the girls. Even Miss Carroll graciously admitted that it would be pleasant.
Luncheon over, the Wayfarers promptly scurried upstairs to decide the momentous questions of gowns. To go to Palm Beach merely for an afternoon and evening’s outing was an entirely different matter from going there for the remainder of their vacation. Tea in the Cocoanut Grove promised to be interesting.
When, at three o’clock that afternoon, the automobile sped down the oleander drive laden with its freight of daintily gowned girls, Miss Martha’s equanimity had quite returned. Seated in the tonneau between Mabel and Eleanor, she looked very stately and imposing in a smart frock of heavy wistaria silk, a plumed hat to match setting off to perfection her thick snowy hair and patrician features.
Bee was wearing her best gown, a becoming affair of pale pink taffeta which had been fashioned by her mother’s clever fingers. Mabel had chosen a dainty little dress of pale green jersey silk, embroidered with white daisies. Eleanor wore a fluffy blue chiffon creation, while Patsy was radiantly pretty in white net over white taffeta.
That the Wayfarers presented a charming appearance in their delicately-hued finery at least one spectator to their departure could testify. As the car swept through the gateway and onto the white public road, from behind a flower-laden bush situated just inside the gates, a black-haired, bare-footed girl emerged and peered wistfully through the iron palings after the fast vanishing automobile.
When it had entirely disappeared from view, the elfish little watcher turned and threw herself face downward in the tangled grass and began a low disconsolate wailing, her thin shoulders shaking with convulsive sobs. There she continued to lie, beating the long grass with two small brown clenched hands.
Her emotion having finally spent itself she slowly dragged herself to her feet, tossed her long heavy black hair out of her eyes, and sped like a fawn across the lawn. Coming at last to a clump of low growing bushes, she dived in under them and reappeared, holding something in her hand. Then she was off again, this time toward the house. Slipping through the oleander hedge with the ease of a wood sprite, she made final port at the entrance to the patio.
The doors stood open. Like a shadow she flitted through the doorway and into the patio beyond. On a rustic seat near the fountain, she laid the object which she carried in one thin brown hand. Then she turned and ran in the direction from which she had come like a timid, hunted young animal.
Strolling into the patio with Eleanor next morning, Miss Martha Carroll was treated to a surprise. Passing one of the rustic seats set at intervals about the patio, her eyes chanced to come to rest on an astonishingly familiar object. It was nothing more nor less than a fat, red-covered volume lying on the seat before which she had paused in sheer amazement.
“Why – where – ” she stammered, adjusting her eye-glasses and staring hard at the gilt-lettered title, “The Interrupted Quest,” which conspicuously adorned the book’s front cover.
“This is really amazing!” she exclaimed, addressing Eleanor, who had halted beside her.
“What is it, Miss Martha?”
Eleanor looked wonderingly curious.
She had not the remotest idea of the cause of Miss Martha’s agitation.
“This is the book that disappeared from the beach yesterday morning,” emphasized Miss Carroll. “How, I should like to know, does it happen to be here?”
“Why!” Eleanor’s blue eyes grew round with surprise. “That’s queer, isn’t it?”
“Too queer by far,” was the displeased answer.
Eleanor had picked up the book from the seat. As she raised it, a slip of paper fluttered to the stone floor of the patio. Stooping, she gathered it in. Written on it in pencil was the single word: “Gracias.”
“It’s meant for ‘gracious,’ I guess,” puzzled Eleanor, “only it isn’t spelled correctly. I really believe it must have been that queer girl Bee saw who took the book. She’s honest, at least. She returned it. But why in the world did she write ‘gracious’ on that slip of paper? Here come the girls. May I tell them, Miss Martha?”
Miss Carroll had seated herself on the bench, a decided frown between her brows. She did not in the least relish this latest performance on the part of the elflike stranger. The unexpected return of the book indicated that the odd little prowler was evidently, as Eleanor said, honest. Yet the fact remained that she was a prowler, which annoyed Miss Martha considerably.
“The lost is found!” Eleanor called triumphantly across the patio to the approaching trio of girls. “What do you think of this?”
She held up the book for them to see.
“Why, it is Auntie’s lost book, isn’t it? Where did it come from, Nellie?”
Patsy’s face registered a mystified surprise which was also reflected on the features of her companions.
“We found it lying on that seat,” explained Eleanor. “This slip of paper was tucked into it.”
Patsy took the bit of paper which Eleanor proffered. Mabel and Bee eagerly peered at it over her shoulder as she held it up and inspected the one word written on it. Her brows contracted in a puzzled frown.
“Humph!” she ejaculated. “I don’t see – ”
“I do,” interrupted Mabel with a little laugh. “That word ‘gracias’ is Spanish for ‘thank you.’”
“Then my wood nymph is Spanish!” Bee cried out. “It was she who took the book. The whole thing is as plain as daylight. She only borrowed it over night to read. Miss Martha’s pretty white parasol didn’t interest her at all. It was the book that took her eye. And why? Because she wanted to read it, of course.”
“Go ahead, Sherlock,” teased Patsy. “What next?”
“Well – ” Bee laughed and looked slightly confused. “We know, too, that she is honest, or – ”
“That’s just what I said,” interposed Eleanor.
“Really, Beatrice, I can hardly imagine a wild-looking girl such as you have described as having literary tastes,” broke in Miss Martha drily. “It is far more reasonable to assume that the bright color of my book caught her eye. She may have thought it a picture book. Finding out that it was not, some strange impulse of her own caused her to return it. Her methods seem to me decidedly primitive. Why doesn’t she come out and show herself openly, instead of dodging about under cover like a young savage?”
“She is probably just awfully shy,” staunchly defended Patsy. “She can’t really be quite a savage. She wrote ‘thank you’ on that bit of paper. That proves two things. She knows how to write and is not too ignorant to be polite.”
“I don’t consider prowling about in the bushes and spying upon strangers marked indications of politeness,” was Miss Carroll’s satirical return. “I can’t say I relish the prospect of having this young imp bob up at us unexpectedly at every turn we make.”
The Wayfarers giggled in unison at this remark. Miss Martha did not resent their mirth. She even smiled a little herself, a fact which Patsy shrewdly noted. It informed her that her aunt was not seriously prejudiced against the will-o’-the-wisp little stranger. Like everything else at Las Golondrinas, this new feature of mystery made strong appeal to Patsy. She was inwardly resolved eventually to hunt down the elusive, black-eyed sprite and make her acquaintance.
With this idea in mind she now made energetic announcement:
“I’m going to interview Carlos this minute and learn a few things about the natives. Anybody who wants to come along has my gracious permission. If nobody wants to, then I’m going just the same. He’s down at the stable this morning. Dad said so.”
“I’ll go,” accepted Bee. “I have almost as much curiosity as you.”
“I don’t feel like going out in the hot sun,” Eleanor said. “It’s so nice and cool here in the patio. I have no curiosity.”
“You mean energy,” corrected Bee.
“I have neither,” beamed Eleanor, “so just run along without me. You can tell me all about what Carlos said when you come back. I’ll be right here waiting for you.”
“You may wait a long while,” jeered Mabel. “I’m not so lazy as you. I’m going with the girls and practice my Spanish on Carlos.”
“I hope he’ll survive it,” retaliated Eleanor.
“You should worry. Adios.”
Mabel waved a derisive farewell to her sister as she turned to follow Patsy and Bee, who had already started for the main exit to the patio, which opened onto the driveway.
Arm in arm, the trio followed the drive, coming at last to the stable, a rambling stone structure situated at some distance below the house.
“There’s Carlos now! He looks like a cowboy, doesn’t he?”
Patsy had spied her father’s new man standing in front of the stable engaged in lighting a cigarette. Attired in an open-necked flannel shirt, brown corduroy trousers and a weather-stained sombrero, the Mexican presented a rather picturesque appearance, or so the Wayfarers thought.
Immediately he caught sight of the three girls, the man’s dark features grew lowering. He made a move as though to enter the stable door, then stood still, regarding his advancing visitors with sullen indifference.
“You speak to him, Mab,” urged Patsy in an undertone. “Say something to him in Spanish.”
“Oh, I can’t,” demurred Mabel. “What shall I say?”
“Say ‘good-day’ in Spanish,” prompted Patsy. “Go ahead.”
Raising her voice, Mabel called out politely: “Buenos dias, se?or.”
The man made no effort to doff his sombrero in response to this hail. Neither did he leave off smoking his cigarette.
“I spik English,” he announced in a sulky tone that suggested affront rather than appreciation of being thus addressed in his native tongue.
“So much the better for us then.”
Patsy now became spokesman. There was a gleam of lively resentment in her gray eyes, born of the man’s ungracious behavior.
For an instant the two regarded each other steadily. Something in the girl’s resolute, unflinching gaze caused the man’s small black eyes to waver. He glimpsed in that direct glance the same determined will he had already discovered the “Se?or Carroll” possessed.
As if unwillingly impelled to break the silence he mumbled sulkily: “What do you desire?”
“To ask you a few questions,” tersely returned Patsy. “My father tells me that you used to work for Mr. Fereda, the old Spanish gentleman who once owned this estate. So you must know something of the Feredas, and also of the few persons who live in this vicinity.”
Patsy’s former intent to be affable had completely vanished. Decidedly miffed by the man’s too evident surliness, she spoke almost imperiously.
“Las Golondrinas covers much ground. I know a little; not much,” was the evasive answer.
“I am sure you must know something of the queer old woman who lives in a little cottage outside the estate, and just beyond the orange groves,” Patsy coolly challenged. “Who is she and how long has she lived there?”
“Ah, yes, I know.”
Carlos blew a cloud of cigarette smoke into the air and indifferently watched it drift away.
“She is Rosita,” he shrugged. “Always she has lived there. As children she and old Manuel played together. Her father was the servant of his father, Enrico Fereda. Rosita is the widow for many years.”
Three pairs of alert ears avidly picked up the name “Enrico.” Here it seemed was still another member of the Fereda family.
“Is she crazy?”
It was Mabel who now tactlessly interposed with this blunt question.
It had an electrical effect upon Carlos. His attitude of bored indifference left him. His lax shoulders straightened with an angry jerk. His black eyes narrowed in sinister fashion.
“You spik of my grandmother, se?orita!” he rebuked, drawing himself up with an air of offended dignity.
“I beg your pardon,” Mabel said hastily, her color rising.
In spite of her embarrassment she was seized with an irresistible desire to laugh. Realizing that laughter was imminent, she turned to Patsy with: “I’m going back to the house. I’ll see you later,” and ingloriously retired from the scene, leaving Patsy and Bee to conduct the remainder of the interview.
“Why the se?orita so spik of my grandmother? You have seen her?”
Carlos threw away his cigarette and appeared for the first time to take an interest in things. Bee thought she detected a faint note of concern in his voice. She had been watching him closely and had already decided that he knew a great deal more about Las Golondrinas and its environments than he pretended to know.
“We saw your grandmother’s cottage the other day from the orange groves. We walked over to it. Your grandmother came out of the cottage and asked us who we were. When we told her and tried to ask her some questions about the Fereda family, she screamed and raved at us and ordered us to go away and not come back. She behaved and talked very much like a crazy person.”
It was Bee who purposely made this somewhat full explanation. She had a curious conviction that her recital of old Rosita’s wild outburst was a piece of news to Carlos, and that it did not please him.
“Rosita is not loco,” Carlos shook his head in sullen contradiction. “What you want know ’bout the family de Fereda? Why you want know?”
As Patsy’s original intention had been to quiz Carlos about the Feredas, she now hailed the opportunity. The identity of Rosita having been established and her sanity vouched for by her grandson, at least, Patsy was eager to go on to the Feredas themselves. Carlos appeared, too, to be thawing out a trifle. She had, at least, aroused his curiosity.
“We would like to know the history of the Feredas because we think it would be interesting. We know by the portraits in the picture gallery that they were a very old family,” she began eagerly. “Do you know anything about those portraits? Have you ever been in the gallery?”
“I have been; remember nothing,” was the discouraging response. “Of the history this family know nothing.”
Carlos’ face had resumed its mask of indifference. Only his black eyes held a curiously alert expression which watchful Bee did not fail to note.
Patsy looked her disappointment. She had hoped to extract from Carlos some information not only about the Feredas but also concerning the portrait which so greatly interested her. Failing, she next bethought herself of the mysterious wood nymph.
“The other day my father saw a pretty young girl with black eyes and long black hair in our orange groves,” she began afresh. “My friend, Miss Forbes,” Patsy indicated Bee, “also saw her in the woods near our bathing beach. Can you tell me who she is? She certainly must live not far from here.”
A swift flash of anger flitted across the Mexican’s face. It was gone almost instantly.
“I have not seen,” he denied. “Now I go. I have the work to do.”
Wheeling abruptly he started off across the grass, almost on the run, and was soon lost to view among the trees.
“Did you ever try to talk to a more aggravating person?” Patsy cried out vexedly to Bee. “Does he know anything, or doesn’t he?”
“He knows a good deal, but he won’t tell it,” returned Bee shrewdly. “For one thing he knows who our wood nymph is. He looked awfully black when you mentioned her. I wonder why?”
“She may be a relative,” surmised Patsy. “She’s Spanish or Mexican, I’m sure.”
“I hadn’t thought of that. You’re a better deducer than I,” laughed Bee.
“Thank you, thank you!” Patsy bowed exaggerated gratitude.
“If this Rosita is really Carlos’ grandmother, as he says she is, she certainly never told him about our going to the cottage that day,” declared Beatrice. “He pretended to be indifferent, but he was surprised. I read it in his eyes. Now why didn’t she tell him?”
“I give it up. I give the whole thing up. Every time we try to find out anything about these Feredas we bump up against a lot of questions that we can’t answer,” sighed Patsy. “We might better forget the whole thing and just enjoy ourselves.”
“Let’s go back to the house,” proposed Beatrice, “and tell that faithless Mab what we think of her for beating it off in such a hurry.”
“She knew she was going to laugh. I could hardly keep my face straight. Carlos straightened up and looked so injured. I don’t see, though, why he should call his grandmother Rosita. I never called my grandmother, Priscilla, I’m sure, even in my ignorant infancy,” giggled Patsy.
“It would have sounded rather disrespectful,” agreed Bee, echoing the giggle. “I can’t say much for Carlos’ manners. He never raised his hat to us at all, but stood there and blew smoke right in our faces.”
“Dad would be awfully cross if he knew that. I’m not going to tell him. He’s had so much trouble hiring a man for this place. He’d go to Carlos and reprimand him and Carlos would leave and – Oh, what’s the use? We won’t bother with Carlos again, anyway. He’d never tell us anything. I’m going to write a letter to-day to Eulalie Fereda and have Mr. Haynes, the agent, forward it. I simply must learn the history of that dark, wicked-looking cavalier in the picture gallery. Of course she may not answer it, but then, she may. It’s worth trying, anyway.”
Entering the patio and finding it deserted, Bee and Patsy passed through it and on up stairs in search of Mabel. They finally found her in the big, somber sitting room, engaged in her favorite occupation of hunting for the secret drawer which she stoutly insisted the quaint walnut desk contained. This idea having become firmly fixed in her mind she derived signal amusement in searching for the mythical secret drawer.
“Is she crazy?” jeered Patsy, pointing to Mabel, who was kneeling before the massive piece of furniture, her exploring fingers carefully going over every inch of the elaborately carved solid front of the desk.
“Oh, so you’ve come back!” Mabel sprang to her feet, laughing. “I had to run away,” she apologized. “I felt so silly. I didn’t want to laugh in his very face. How was I to know that the witch woman was Carlos’ grandmother? Did you find out anything?”
“No.” Bee shook her head. “Carlos will never set the world on fire as an information bureau. According to his own statements, he sees nothing, knows nothing and remembers nothing. He is a positive clam!”
“I’m going to write to Eulalie now, while it’s on my mind,” announced Patsy. “Bee, you may play around with Mab while I’m writing. You may both hunt for the secret drawer. When I finish my letter, I’ll read it to you. Then I’m going to write another. When that’s done we are all going down to the beach. A great scheme is seething in my fertile brain. Where’s Nellie?”
“In our room, overhauling her trunk,” informed Mabel. “We can’t go to the beach without Miss Martha, and she said she wouldn’t go to-day.”
“Leave that to me,” retorted Patsy. “I know what I’m doing, even if you don’t.”
For the next half-hour, comparative quiet reigned in the big room, broken only by an occasional remark or giggle from Bee and Mabel as they pursued their fruitless search.
“There!” cried Patsy at last as she signed her name to the letter she had just finished writing.
“Listen to this:
“‘Dear Miss Fereda:
“‘I have heard of you from Mr. Haynes, the agent, from whom my father, Robert Carroll, purchased Las Golondrinas. My aunt, my father, three of my friends and myself are at present spending a few weeks’ vacation at Las Golondrinas. We are greatly interested in the portrait gallery and should appreciate it if you would tell us something of the large portrait of the Spanish cavalier which hangs in the center of the gallery. He is a most romantic-looking person and must surely have an interesting history. We are very curious about him.
“‘We have wondered that you did not reserve the collection of family portraits before selling the estate. If you would like to have them they are at your disposal. My father and I both feel that you have first right to them.
“‘Las Golondrinas is an ideal place in which to spend a vacation. We are quite in love with this quaint old house and its furnishings. Would you object to telling us when the house was built and how many generations of Feredas have lived in it? Judging from the many antiques it contained and its general plan, it must be very old indeed.
“‘We are sorry not to have met you personally and hope some day to have that pleasure. I understand that you are a young girl of about my own age. No doubt we should find that we had many interests in common. It would be a pleasure to have you visit me while we are here and meet my father, my aunt and my friends. Could you not arrange to pay us a visit?
“‘I shall hope to hear from you and that we may become better acquainted in the near future.
“How is that for a nice, polite letter to Eulalie?” Patsy inquired. “Any criticisms? If so, out with them now. If not, into an envelope it goes and on its way to the last of the Feredas, wherever she may happen to be. I’m not really counting much on an answer. I haven’t the least idea in the world what sort of girl this Eulalie is. Anyway it will do no harm to write her. If she should answer and we became acquainted and she paid us a visit, it would be splendid.”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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