Dorothy Dale in the Cityñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
The girls stepped safely behind the hedge as the procession passed. The boys seemed too involved in their purpose to talk.
“Now,” said Dorothy, “we may follow. I knew they were up to something big.”
“Aren’t they too funny!” said Mabel, who had almost giggled disastrously as the boys passed. “I thought I would die!”
There was no time to spare now, for the boys were walking very quickly, and it was not so easy for the girls to keep up with them and at the same time to keep away from them.
Straight they went for what was locally called the “haunted” house. This was a fine old mansion, with big rooms and broad chimneys, which had once been the home of a family of wealth. But there had been a sad tragedy there, and after that it had been said that ghosts held sway at the place. It had been deserted for two years, but now, with the former owner dead, a niece of the family, fresh from college, had insisted upon being married there, and the house had been accordingly put into shape for the ceremony.
It was to be a fashionable wedding, at the hour of six, and people had kept the station agent busy all day inquiring how to reach the scene of the wedding.
Lights already burned brightly in the rooms, that could be seen to be decorated in holiday style. People fluttered around and through the long French windows; the young folks, boys and girls, being hidden in different quarters, could alike see something of what was going on in the haunted house.
“They’re coming!” Dorothy heard Nat exclaim, just as he ducked in by the big outside chimney. The broad flue was at the extreme end of the house, forming the southern part of the library, just off the wide hall that ran through the middle of the place. Dorothy and Mabel had taken refuge in one of the many odd corners of the big, old fashioned porch, which partly encircled this wing, and commanding a wonderful view of the interior of the house, the halls and library, and long, narrow drawing room.
There was a smothered laugh at the corner of the porch where the boys had ducked, and the girls watched in wonder. The latter saw Nat boost Ned up the side of the porch column, and Ted followed nimbly. In tense silence the girls listened to their footsteps cross the porch roof, then as scraping and slipping and much suppressed mirth floated down.
“They’re going down the chimney!” declared Dorothy, in astonishment.
“They surely are!” affirmed Mabel, leaning far over the porch rail.
“But, Doro, what of the fire?”
“They don’t use that chimney. They use the one on the other side of the house, and the one in the kitchen.”
“That explains the basket!” exclaimed Dorothy, suddenly.
“How can they do it!” Mabel giggled excitedly.
“They can’t,” Dorothy replied, calmly, “they’ll simply get in a mess – soot and things, you know.”
“Let’s run. I’m too excited to breathe! I know something dreadful is bound to happen!” And Mabel clutched Dorothy’s arm.
“And leave the boys to their fate? No, indeed, we’ll see the prank through, since we walked into it,” Dorothy said, determinedly.
Mabel laughed nervously, and looked at Dorothy in puzzled impatience.
“I always believe in running while there’s time,” she explained.
Music, sweet and low, floated out on the still, cold air of the night, and the wedding guests, in trailing gowns of silver and lace and soft satins, stood in laughing groups, all eyes turned toward the broad staircase.
“How quiet it’s become; everyone has stopped talking,” whispered Mabel, in Dorothy’s ear.
“How peculiarly they are all staring! But of course it must be exciting just before the bride appears,” murmured Dorothy, in answer.
“Oh, there comes the bride!” cried Mabel. “Isn’t she sweet!”
“It’s a stunt to trail downstairs that way – like a summer breeze. How beautifully gauzy she looks!” sighed Dorothy.
The eyes of the guests were turned half in wonder toward the old chimney place, and half smilingly toward the bride. On came the bride, tall and slender and leaning gracefully on her father’s arm, straight toward the tall mantel in the chimney place, which was lavishly banked with palms and flowers, and the minister began reading the ceremony.
“Hey! Let go there!” Ned’s muffled voice floated above the heads of the wedding guests, who stood aghast.
“You’re stuck all right, old chap,” came the consoling voice of Nat in a ghostly whisper.
Sounds of half-smothered, weird laughter – or so the laughter seemed to the guests – filled the air. The bridegroom flushed and looked quickly at his bride, who clung to her father’s arm, pale with fright. The minister alone was calm.
As the bridegroom’s clear answer: “I will” came to the ears of Dorothy and Mabel out on the porch, a creepy sound issued from the great fireplace. The newly-made husband kissed his bride, and the guests moved back.
Dorothy leaned eagerly forward to catch a glimpse of the radiantly smiling bride. Just then a tall palm wavered, fell to the floor with a crash, and in falling, carried vases and jars of flowers with it, and the ghostly laughter could be plainly heard by all.
All the tales that had been told of the haunted house came vividly before each guest. There were feminine screams, a confused rush for the hallway, and in two seconds the wedding festivities were in an uproar. The bride sank to the floor, and with white, upturned face, lay unconscious.
The men of the party with one thought jumped to the fireplace, and Ned was dragged, by way of the chimney, into the room. Completely dazed, utterly chagrined, and looking altogether foolish, he sat in a round, high basket, his knees crushed under his chin, the clown’s cap rakishly hanging over one ear, his face unrecognizable in its thick coating of cobwebs and soot.
“Oh, we’re so sorry,” Dorothy’s eager young voice broke upon the hushed crowd, as she ran into the room, with Mabel behind her.
Ned stared open-mouthed at the gaily-dressed people. It had happened so suddenly, and was so far from what he had planned, that he could not get himself in hand.
“Good gracious!” exclaimed the bride’s father, pacing up and down, “can’t someone get order out of this chaos?”
The bridegroom was chafing the small white hands of his bride, and the guests stepped away to give her air. The wedding finery lay limp and draggled. Dorothy stifled a moan as she looked. Quickly jumping out of the crowd she left the room. Mabel stood still, uncertain as to what to do. At the long French windows appeared Nat, Ted and Gus, grotesque in their make-ups and trying in vain to appear as serious as the situation demanded.
“Step in here!” commanded the father, and the boys meekly stepped in. A brother of the bride held Ned firmly by the arm. “Now, young scallywags, explain yourselves!”
It was an easy thing for the irate father to demand, but it completely upset the boys. They couldn’t explain themselves.
In an awed whisper, Ned ventured an explanation: “We only wanted to keep up the reputation of the house.”
“And the basket stuck,” eagerly helped out Ted. “We just thought we would whisper mysteriously and – and cough – or something,” and Ned tried to free himself from the grip on his arm.
“It was wider than we thought and the basket kept going down – ” Nat’s voice was hoarse, but he couldn’t control his mirth.
“The rope slipped some – and the basket stuck – ” Ted’s voice was brimming over with apologies.
“Naturally, we would have entered by the front door,” politely explained Gus, “had we foreseen this.”
“You see it stuck,” persisted Ted, apparently unable to remember anything but that awful fact.
“Then it really wasn’t spooks,” asked a tall, dark-haired girl, as she joined the group.
One by one the guests gingerly returned to the room and stood about, staring in amusement at the boys. The cool, though severe stares of the ladies were harder to bear than any rough treatment that might be accorded them by the men. Against the latter they could defend themselves, but, as Ned suddenly realized, there is no defence for mere man against the amused stare of a lady.
“It certainly could be slated at police headquarters as ‘entering’,” calmly said a stout man, taking in every detail of the boys’ costumes. “Disturbing the peace and several other things.”
“With intent to do malicious mischief,” the man who spoke balanced himself on his heels and swung a chrysanthemum to and fro by the stem.
The minister was walking uneasily about. The bride was on a sofa where she had been lifted to come out of her faint.
In a burst of impatience Ted whispered to Mabel, whom, for some reason, he did not appear at all surprised to see there: “Where’s Dorothy?”
Mabel, scared and perplexed, shook her head solemnly. But, as if in answer to the question, Dorothy rushed into the room, her cheeks aglow, her hair flying wildly about, and behind her walked Dr. Gray.
Dr. Gray’s kindly smile beamed on the little bride, and he soon brought her around. Sitting up, she burst into a peal of merry laughter.
“What, pray tell me, are they?” she demanded, pointing at the boys. She was still white, but her eyes danced, and her small white teeth gleamed between red lips.
“My cousins,” bravely answered Dorothy. Everyone laughed, and the boys, in evident relief, shouted.
“You’ve come to my wedding!” exclaimed the bride.
“Kind of ’em; wasn’t it?” said the bridegroom, sneeringly.
“But we’re going now,” quickly replied Dorothy, with great dignity.
“Why?” asked the bride with wide open eyes. “Since you are not really spooky creatures, stay for the dancing.”
“We’re terribly thankful you are not ghosts,” chirped a fluffy bridesmaid.
“You see if you had really been spooks,” laughed the bride, “everyone would have shrieked at me that horrible phrase, ‘I told you so,’ because you know I insisted upon being married in this house, just to defy superstition.”
“Just think what you’ve saved us!” said the tall, dark-haired girl.
“Of course if it will be any accommodation,” awkwardly put in Ned, “we’ll dance.” He thought he had said the perfectly polite thing.
“He’s going to dance for us!” cried the tall girl, to the others in the hall, and everyone crowded in.
An hour later, trudging home in the bright moonlight, Dorothy sighed: “Weren’t they wonderful!”
“It was decent of them to let us stay and have such fun,” commented Ned.
“And such eats!” mused Nat. And Nat and Ned, with a strangle hold on each other, waltzed down the road.
Happy, but completely tired, the boys and girls plowed through the snow, homeward bound.
Christmas day, at dusk, the boys were stretched lazily before the huge fire in the grate, when Dorothy jumped up excitedly:
“Boys, here’s Tavia! And I declare, Bob Niles is with her!”
“Good for Bob!” sang out Ned.
“’Rah! ’Rah!” whooped Ted, and all rushed for the door.
Gaily Tavia hugged them all. Bob stood discreetly aside.
“Father was called away, and it was so dreary – I just ran over to see everyone,” gushed Tavia.
“Well, we’re glad to see you,” welcomed Aunt Winnie.
“Oh, Tavia,” whispered Dorothy, “how did you manage to get Bob?”
“Get whom?” Tavia tried to look blank. Dorothy spoiled the blankness by stuffing a large chocolate cream right into Tavia’s mouth before her chum could close it.
“Thought you’d find Tavia interesting,” grinned Ned, helping Bob take off his great ulster, at which words the lad addressed flushed to his temples.
“Say, fellows, that yarn about the hose – ” began Nat.
“Nat no longer believes in Santa and the stockings,” chimed in Ned, “he hung up all his socks last night and – ”
Nat glared at Ned, then calmly proceeded: “About the hose, as I was saying, is nonsense! I own some pretty decent-looking socks, as you’ve noticed – I hung ’em all up and nary a sock remained on the line this morning. Santa stole them!”
“It’s the funniest thing about Nat’s socks,” explained Dorothy, hastily, “he thought one pair would not hold enough, and so strung them all over the fireplace, and this morning they were gone!”
Ted hummed a dreamy tune, and stared at the beamed ceiling, with a faraway look in his eyes. Nat, with sudden suspicion, grabbed Ted’s leg, and there, sure enough, was one pair of his highly-prized, and highly-colored, socks, snugly covering Ted’s ankles.
A rough and tumble fight followed, and Tavia, with high glee, jumped into it. Finally, breathless and panting, they stopped, and demurely Tavia, for all the world like a prim little girl in Sunday School, sank to a low stool, with Bob at her feet. Nothing could be quieter than Tavia, when Tavia decided on quietness.
“We came over in the biggest sleigh we could find,” said Bob, “so that all could take a drive – Mrs. White and Major Dale too, you know.”
“Oh, no, the young folks don’t want an old fellow like me,” protested Major Dale.
“We just do!” Dorothy replied, resting her head against her father’s arm affectionately. “We simply won’t go unless you and Aunt Winnie come.”
“Why, of course, dear, we’ll go,” answered Aunt Winnie, who was never known to stay at home when she could go on a trip. As she spoke she sniffed the air. “What is that smell, boys?”
“Something’s burning,” yawned Ted, indifferently, just as if things burning in one’s home was a commonplace diversion from the daily routine.
Noses tilted, the boys and girls sniffed the air.
Suddenly Bob and Nat sprang to Tavia’s side and quickly beat out, with their fists, a tiny flame that was slowly licking its way along the hem of her woollen dress. With her reckless disregard of consequences, Tavia had joined in the rough and tumble fight with the boys, and, exhausted, had rested too near the grate. A flying spark had ignited the dress, which smouldered, and only the quick work of the boys saved Tavia from possible burns. For once she was subdued. Mrs. White soothed her with motherly compassion. She was always in dread lest Tavia’s reckless spirit would cause the girl needless suffering.
“You see,” said Bob, smiling at Tavia, as they piled into the sleigh and he carefully tucked blankets about the girls, “you can’t entirely take care of yourself – some time you’ll rush into the fire, as you did just now.”
For an instant Tavia’s cheeks flamed. He was so masterful! She yearned to slap him, but considering the fire escapade, she couldn’t, quite.
The major was driving, with Dorothy snuggled closely to his side, and Ted curled up on the floor. Nat took care of Aunt Winnie on the next seat and Bob and Tavia were in the rear.
On they sped over snow and ice, the bitter wind sharply cutting their faces, until all glowed and sparkled at the touch of it.
“Did you hear from the girls?” asked Dorothy, turning to Tavia.
“Just got Christmas cards,” answered Tavia.
“I fared better than that. Cologne wrote a fourteen page letter – ”
“All the news that’s worth printing, as it were,” laughed Tavia.
“Underlined, Cologne asked whether I had heard the news about Mingle, and provokingly ended the letter there. I’m still wondering. Her departure at such an opportune moment was a blessing, but we never stopped to think what might have caused it,” said Dorothy, thoughtfully.
“Well, whatever it was, it saved us,” contentedly responded Tavia. “By the way, Maddie sent me the cutest card – painted it herself!”
“Who wants to ride across the lake?” demanded Major Dale, slowing up the horses, “that will save us climbing the hill, you know, and the ice is plenty thick enough; don’t you think so, Winnie?”
“Yes, indeed,” Aunt Winnie answered, ready for anything that meant adventure, and as they all chorused their assent joyfully, away they drove over the snow-covered ice.
The horses galloped straight across the lake, up the bank, and then came a smash! The steeds ran into a drift, dumped over the sleigh; and a shivering, laughing mass of humanity lay on the new, white snow.
“Such luck!” cried Tavia, “out of the fire into the snow!”
While Major Dale and the boys righted the overturned sleigh, Bob took care of the ladies.
“You and the girls leave for New York to-morrow, Tavia tells me,” said Bob.
“Yes,” replied Aunt Winnie, with a sigh, “a little pleasure trip, and some business.”
“Business?” cried Dorothy, closely scrutinizing her aunt’s worried face.
Quick to scent something that sounded very much like “family matters,” Tavia turned with Bob, and deliberately started pelting with snow the hard-working youths at the sleigh.
“Aw! Quit!” scolded Ted.
“There, you’ve done it! That one landed in my ear! Now, quit it!” Nat stopped working long enough to wipe the wet snow from his face.
But Tavia’s young spirits were not to be squelched by mere words; Bob made the snow balls for Tavia to throw, which she continued to do with unceasing ardor.
“Why, yes, Dorothy,” Aunt Winnie replied, watching Tavia. “I’m afraid there will be quite a bit of business mixed with our New York trip. I’m having some trouble. It’s the agent who has charge of the apartment house I am interested in – you remember, the man whom I did not like.”
“The apartment you’ve taken for the Winter?” questioned Dorothy, shivering.
“You’re cold, dear.” Aunt Winnie, too, shivered. “Run over with Tavia and jump around, it’s too chilly to stand still like this. How unfortunate we are! The sun will soon dip behind those hilltops, and the air be almost too frosty for comfort.”
“Tell me,” persisted Dorothy, “what is it that’s worrying you, Aunt Winnie? I’ve noticed it since I came home. I want to be all the assistance I can, you know.”
“You couldn’t help me, Dorothy, in fact, I do not even know that I am right about the matter. I do not trust the agent, but he had the rent collecting before I took the place, so I allowed him to continue under me. I can only say, Dorothy, that something evidently is wrong. My income is not what it should be.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry! But, I’m glad you told me. Wait until we reach New York – we’ll solve it,” and Dorothy pressed her lips together firmly.
Aunt Winnie laughed. “Don’t talk foolishly, dear. It takes a man of wide experience and cunning to deal with any real estate person, I guess; and most of all a New York agent. My dear, let us forget the matter. There, the sleigh seems to be right side up once more.”
“Tavia,” whispered Dorothy, as she held her friend back, “we’re in for it! Aunt Winnie has a mystery on her hands! In New York City! Let us see if you and I and the boys can solve it!”
“Good! We’ll certainly do it, if you think it can be done,” said Tavia. “Oh, good old New York town! It makes me dizzy just to think of the whirling mass of rushing people and the autos and ’buses, and shops and tea-rooms! Doro, you must promise that you won’t drag me into more than ten tea-rooms in one afternoon!”
“I solemnly promise,” returned Dorothy, “if you’ll promise me to keep out of shops one whole half-hour in each day!”
It was three days after Christmas, and what was left of the white crystals was fast becoming brown mud, and the puddles and rivulets of melted snow, very tempting to the small boy, made walking almost impossible for the small boy’s elders. The air was soft, and as balmy as the first days of Spring. One almost expected to hear the twittering of a bluebird and the chirp of the robins, but nevertheless a grate fire burned brightly in Dorothy’s room, with the windows thrown open admitting the crisp air and sunlight.
“Shall I take my messaline dress, Tavia?” Dorothy asked, holding the garment in mid-air.
“If we go to the opera you’ll want it; I packed my only evening gown, that ancient affair in pink,” said Tavia, laughing a bit wistfully.
“You’re simply stunning in that dress, Tavia,” said Dorothy. “Isn’t she, Nat?” she appealed to her cousin.
“That flowery, pinkish one, with the sash?” asked the boy.
“Yes,” said Tavia, “the one that I’ve been wearing so long that if I put it out on the front steps some evening, it would walk off alone to any party or dance in Dalton.”
“You know,” said Nat, looking at Tavia with pride, “when you have that dress on you look like a – er – a well, like pictures I’ve seen of – red-haired girls,” the color mounted Nat’s brow and he looked confused. Dorothy smiled as she turned her back and folded the messaline dress, placing it carefully in her trunk. Nat was so clumsy at compliments! But Tavia did not seem to notice the clumsiness, a lovely light leaped to her clear brown eyes, and the wistfulness of a moment before vanished as she laughed.
“I was warned by everyone in school not to buy pink!” declared Tavia.
“So, of course,” said Dorothy laughing, “you straightway decided on a pink dress. But, seriously, Tavia, pink is your color, the old idea of auburn locks and greens and browns is completely smashed to nothingness, when you wear pink! Oh dear,” continued Dorothy, perplexed, “where shall I pack this wrap? Not another thing will go into my trunk.”
“Are you taking two evening wraps?” asked Tavia.
“Surely, one for you and the other for me. You see this is pink too,” Dorothy held up a soft, silk-lined cape, with a collar of fur. Quick tears sprang to Tavia’s eyes, and impulsively she threw her arms about Dorothy.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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