MYSTERIOUS HAPPENINGS

“I’ll be sound asleep,” Nancy decided, when she was finally settled
in bed after spending a fitful hour trying to read. “It’s the only
way. I never could talk to Rosa to-night. To-morrow things will seem
different.”

Assuming her most restful attitude–lying flat on her back with her
face “boldly turned up to Heaven,” as Ted called Nancy’s way of wooing
sleep, she tried to think calmly.

“But what did Orilla want to steal in for?” persisted that question.
“And even if she didn’t want Margot to know that she came, why should
she want to deceive Rosa?

“But somehow I don’t believe she’s as fierce as I thought she was at
first,” continued Nancy’s reasoning. “She’s sort of a bluffer, for she
looked frightened when I defied her.”

“Still, I believe it’s better not to have her for an enemy. She has
sort of a catty look in her green eyes, and cats are terribly sneaky
creatures.”

Thus her thoughts hovered, like a balancing scale, for her encounter
with the strange girl had been too exciting to be very soon forgotten.

“And if Rosa finds out without fully understanding!”

That thought was the most difficult to argue against, for the whole
party cape episode had now assumed the proportions of real trouble.

“And yet it has made Rosa think kindly of Betty! Surely that is the
most important thing of all,” decided Nancy finally.

Trying to adjust all the other tangled ends into this silken tassel
of beauty, she lay there, defying the ceiling to fall in her face, as
the constant thought of little brother Ted had so often warned her it
was sure to do, some night, if she didn’t seek discreet refuge in the
kindly bed clothes.

Yes, it would be lovely for everyone, especially for dear Uncle
Frederic, if Rosa would become reconciled to the stepmother. Uncle
Frederic loved Betty and Betty had loved Rosa’s own mother; why,
therefore, could not Rosa try to be grateful instead of rebellious?

Then it occurred to Nancy that Rosa was staying out rather late. Even
being over to Durand’s did not seem to warrant this late home-coming.

Night has a queer influence upon thought, and even a girl like Nancy,
always brave and courageous when on her feet, could feel rather timid
about things lying there in the dark, and staring at the ceiling.

What if Orilla had lain in wait for Rosa and enticed her to go away or
something? What if Orilla had demanded money from Rosa? Would Orilla
steal? That house had been the girl’s home and it was not strange
that she should sometimes want to visit it, came a more reasonable
suggestion. And surely she would not steal, was the answer to that
question.

But Nancy could not feign slumber, for her mind was too active to
forget that the light patch above her was the ceiling, and not a
bird’s downy wing, bringing sleep, as the poets warrant.

Where was her mother now? So far across the sea that even the time
there was not the same as that which ticked away patiently on Nancy’s
dresser. But her mother would surely enjoy the visit to those famous
shrines of knowledge, for Nancy’s mother loved to learn.

That darling mother! So pretty, so sweet, so kind and always so
helpful! A deep, audible sigh escaped the girl on the bed as she
indulged in this deliberation. Her mother had always been so like a
girl chum, so companionable and such a refuge in trouble.

“But I shouldn’t lean on her,” came the accusing thought. “If I cannot
rely upon myself, then mother’s teaching would not have been well
learned.”

Following that came the thoughts of industrious little Miss
Manners–Manny to Nancy and Ted. Then all the girl friends, who this
summer seemed so far away, paraded before Nancy’s fancy, as they had
so often done in reality.

A slammed door rudely broke up the soliloquy.

“Rosa!” exclaimed Nancy gladly, although Rosa was not yet in sight.
“I’m so glad she’s home safe!”

The relief was so great that Nancy promptly turned over and feigned
sleep. She really couldn’t talk to Rosa to-night, and she was sure her
cousin would be just bubbling over with the evening’s news.

A step in the hall, a halting at the door and then the whispered call:

“Nancy!”

“Yes,” replied Nancy promptly, recognizing something unusual in Rosa’s
voice.

“Awake?”

“Yes.”

“Then turn on the light.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.”

“But you act so–so–” Nancy switched on the bedside light.

“I’m just sort–of–out of breath.”

“Been running?”

“A little.”

“Why?”

“Silly, I guess.”

“But what made you run, Rosa? You haven’t a puff in you.”

“I know. But my puffs give out easily.” Rosa had sunk into the nearest
chair and was breathing uncomfortably.

“But why? Did something frighten you?” pressed Nancy.

“Why–I was at the very door, Dell and Gar came to the very threshold
with me, and then–oh, dear, what makes me puff so?” Rosa was still
very much “out of breath.”

“What was at the door?” questioned Nancy. She felt a little guilty in
her relentlessness.

“Nothing. I was just opening it when I thought–I thought I heard
a kitten. And I perfectly hate to leave a little baby kitten
crying–all–night. Don’t you?” Rosa managed to ask.

“Oh, of course I do,” replied Nancy irritably. “But why should a
crying kitten scare you?”

“It–didn’t.”

“What was it, then? For mercy sakes! You’ve got me all worked up,”
declared Nancy, who by now was out of bed and standing in front of
Rosa’s chair.

“That’s just how I am; all worked up, so please don’t make me any
worse. In the language of the poets, I’m ‘all–in!’”

“Of course, if you don’t want to tell me,” and Nancy turned back toward
her bed, sullenly.

“But I do want to tell you; I’m just dying to, if you’ll only give me
a chance. Nancy, you know you are horribly impatient. We can’t all be
firecrackers like you.” Rosa was recovering her breath, her spirits and
her use of language.

“What happened?”

“Nothing. But when I thought I heard the kitten I crawled very
carefully around to the side porch. You know how kittens can scat. And
the porch was dark as pitch, so,” Rosa was drawing out the story with
provoking detail, “so, I called kitty, kitty, kitty! And I waited and
listened. No kitty meowed an answer, and I was just turning back to the
door when–something crashed down on the porch! Didn’t you hear it?”

“No; what was it?”

“Betty’s prettiest fernery, the white enameled one decorated with
butterflies and flowers. Dad bought it for her when she came up
here–a–bride!” There was tragedy in Rosa’s tones.

“But you must have knocked it over,” argued Nancy, none too sure of her
assertion.

“I didn’t! I couldn’t have! I was nowhere near it!”

“Then who–could–have?” faltered Nancy.

“Someone who–wanted to spite Betty,” Rosa almost whispered this, and
still seemed rather shaken from her fright.

“I should suppose everyone in this house would understand his or her
duty to Betty,” insisted Nancy. “I guess that tall little stand went
over in the wind, Rosa. You know what gales can shoot up from the
lake. Have a nice time at Durand’s?”

“Lov-ell-ly, but they mourned over _you_ not coming. You have stolen
Gar’s heart from me, I’m afraid,” teased Rosa. “He just kept saying
nice things about you all the time. And we’re going to the hotel
to-morrow night. You can’t imagine how excited I am–”

“Aren’t you awfully late? Does Margot know you are out so late?”

“No, indeed. I phoned her hours ago and fixed it all up–”

“Rosa, I don’t want to be preachy,” interrupted Nancy, recalling poor
Margot’s serious appeal for her help, “but I can’t see what fun you get
out of fooling Margot. She thinks such heaps about you–”

“I know. She’s a duck. But one has to have some fun, so I
take–mine–this way,” and Rosa swung herself about saucily. “Not that
I blame you, little Coz, for trying to reform me. It’s right good of
you,” and she flicked a kiss on Nancy’s cheek as she prepared to take
herself off.

Nancy was eager to do something definite, and she knew that Rosa’s
present mood was not too often displayed. Therefore she risked a
straight appeal to the other’s honor.

“Don’t you think we ought to pledge ourselves to be truthful at least,
while your father is away?”

“Truthful?”

“Yes. Not to deceive each other or Margot or anyone who has a right to
our–our confidence,” finished Nancy, rather laboriously.

Rosa sighed. “That would be awfully hard to carry out,” she said. “For
me, at least.”

“Why?” demanded Nancy.

“Oh, I just can’t tell you at this hour. Let’s go to bed and dream
of–to-morrow night’s dance.”

“All right, Rosa,” assented Nancy, “but you have no idea how scary
it is here when you are out too late. I can well imagine how Margot
feels. It’s really very strange to me, for you are awfully young to be
so–so–”

“Sporty!” lisped Rosa rather comically.

“No, not that,” Nancy scoffed. “We’re nothing but school girls, and
I’m no good at pretending I’m grown up. But anyhow, Rosa, I hope _you_
won’t worry me to death!”

In answer to that the cousins reverted to the true girlship they were
discussing, for Rosa fell upon Nancy’s bed, and the way they talked,
and the things they talked of, proved them girls, no more nor less.

How that next day went by Nancy never knew. It seemed made up of
moments, minutes, hours, and then a day of such confusion!

First thing in the morning there was general excitement over the
breaking of the beautiful fernery. It had been one of Lady Betty’s pet
pieces, and one of her bridal gifts. Also, Margot herself had tended
and coaxed the beautiful ferns and flowers in the long, narrow basket
to their fullest perfection, so that Margot felt a sense of personal
loss in its destruction.

And it had really been destroyed; not only knocked over and broken, but
the fine enameled pottery was completely demolished, and the beautiful
growing stuff crushed to a pulp!

No prowling dog could have been so thorough in its work, everyone said,
but only Nancy knew who had been prowling about, and only Nancy knew
who, that very evening, had said things against the luxuries of the
rich. And the fernery was a luxury.

Already the secret, which had been so curiously thrust upon her, was
bringing its bitter penalty to Nancy. She had acted from the highest
and most honorable motives, and yet, that little intrigue with Orilla,
secretly knowing that she had been not only on the premises but
actually in the house, through the rooms–all this brought to Nancy a
sense of guilt.

Then, the broken fernery! Was that a part of Orilla’s depredation?
Would she really destroy things in her dislike for the people of
Fernlode? It was before lunch that Rosa, first intent upon a swim,
suddenly changed her mind and without explanation ran off some place;
where, Nancy didn’t know.

“Back in a jiffy!” Rosa had called as she went as fast as her weight
allowed, toward Gar’s waiting car.

And she hadn’t even invited Nancy to go along!

From that time until the lunch bell rang, Nancy could not entirely
fight down her feelings.

“I don’t have to be treated this way,” she decided, “I can go to Manny
at any time. Manny made me promise I would, if I were not happy here.”

But, when Rosa came back just in time for lunch, and made her take a
pretty new fan she had bought for the evening’s dance, reasonably,
Nancy had to excuse her.

The postponed swim was taken in the afternoon, Rosa going out to the
big rock and perching herself like a nice, fat bird upon it, while
Nancy spent most of her time practising diving from the long dock.

All along the banks of the summer colony young folks were enjoying
the water sports, and Nancy quite forgot her new anxieties as she too
indulged in the pleasant aquatic exercise.

Just once Rosa became confidential. She asked Nancy if she knew
anything about reducing systems.

“Why?” laughed Nancy. “You are not going to try one, I hope.”

“One!” exclaimed Rosa. “I’ve tried dozens of them. Want to see me do
the twelve-pound roll?” and without waiting for any encouragement Rosa
raced out of the water, ran up the little sandy road that led from a
hill down to the water’s edge, and then proceeded to roll!

“Oh, don’t, Rosa!” yelled Nancy. “You might strike a rock!”

But Rosa was rolling on.

Down, down she came, gathering speed with every turn and adding to her
peril with it.

“Oh, Rosa! Grab something!” yelled Nancy. “You’ll hit your head on
those rocks!”

“No–no–I won’t,” Rosa managed to eject, each little word puffing out
like a small explosion.

“I’ll stop you,” offered Nancy, jumping out in the path of the
whirlwind.

“No, don’t! I must–go–all–the way!”

“But how silly! You’re a cloud of dust and–and–just see those
rocks!” entreated Nancy.

Still Rosa kept on tumbling along, first down the very steep sand
slope, and then over a sharp turn not intended to be used as a road.
It was the end of the hill slope that twined in to the boat house, and
the lakeside drive did not connect with this, as the lake and its drive
were at right angles.

It was over that sharp edge of rocks that Rosa tumbled, then, with one
more blind turn, her heavy little body splashed into the lake at least
ten feet below!

“Oh, Rosa!”

Nancy’s yell was one of terror, but she did not wait to hear its
effect, for the next moment she too was over the dock and into the
water, grappling with the stunned girl, who seemed prone to go under
the water every time Nancy attempted to assist her.

“Put your hand on my shoulder,” Nancy ordered, “but don’t grab me.
Rosa! Rosa! Can’t you hear?”

Then, realizing that her cousin must indeed be stunned, Nancy shouted
lustily for help.

“Help! Help! At the landing!” she screamed, meanwhile getting hold of
Rosa’s little skirt and trying desperately to raise the girl to the
surface of the water.

The moments were agonizing, but Nancy tried to keep up her courage,
calling as she struggled. But there was very little hope for immediate
response, since each estate encompassed a large strip of territory and
the bathers were now scattered, in canoes, most of them following the
sun to dry out, down near the big float.

Finally, Nancy heard the welcome sound of disturbed water, and then saw
approaching the Fernlode dock, a small launch.

“This way! This way!” she yelled frantically, her own strength ebbing
from her continued paddling to keep afloat, and grabbing for a better
hold on Rosa, for the water off the big bank at the side of the
dock was suddenly deep, and decidedly treacherous, real depth being
necessary for boat landings.

The launch was now alongside.

“Oh, quickly, please!” begged Nancy. “I think she’s stunned.”

Then she saw that the boat was being run by Orilla! And she was, as
usual, alone.

“Don’t get so excited,” snapped the girl. “I don’t see what you’re so
scared of. She could wade out of there.”

“But she hasn’t spoken. Oh, Orilla, please get hold of her. I tell you
she’s–stunned!”

In spite of her seeming indifference, Orilla was leaning over the side
of the launch, and with her help Nancy had managed to get Rosa to the
surface. She opened her eyes, sputtered water from her mouth, gasped,
gagged and gurgled as if she were almost choked with water. Holding to
the low side of the launch, Nancy ordered and bossed like a real life
saver, but Rosa, although now able to help herself, made little headway
at doing so.

Orilla scolded and grumbled. She hadn’t time for such foolishness, and
a girl who couldn’t get up on her own dock ought to drown–according to
her.

“She’s got to get into your boat,” insisted Nancy, “she can’t climb to
the dock.”

“All right, then, get in,” growled Orilla, “and be quick about it. I’ve
got to hurry!”

“You always have,” retorted Nancy, none too pleasantly. “It seems to
me, you might try to be–human, once in a while.”

“Good enough for _you_ to talk,” flung back the other girl. “But you
don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes,” Rosa managed to gurgle, “and it’s all your fault, Orilla Rigney,
I’ve never had any–any peace since–”

“Cut it!” yelled the red-haired girl, so sharply that even Nancy, who
was on the end of the dock, turned suddenly to see the girl’s face
masked in rage.

Rosa was now in the launch, Nancy sat, exhausted, on the end of the
dock, but Orilla, at the engine, looked so peculiarly excited that
instinctively Nancy shouted:

“Wait! Don’t–start!”

But the engine had picked up and that launch was steaming off, Rosa
still apparently too stunned to protest, and Nancy was powerless!

“Where are _you_ going?” Nancy shouted, quickly as she could recover
from her surprise.

But no answer came back; nothing but the chug-chug of the engine, and
the boat’s daring cut through the water.

“Rosa!” yelled the distracted Nancy. “Come back–”

Rosa turned and waved a fluttering hand, not gayly but sort of
resignedly. And Nancy knew that all she, herself, could do was to–wait!

Certainly Orilla was heading her boat across the narrow end of the
lake, at which point the water was sucked up by any number of little
land patches, hills and foothills of the mountains. To land in any one
of these would mean almost complete seclusion–for the thick evergreens
made tiny forests of the islands. It was among these little islands
that Nancy watched, impotently, for the last speck of color that
identified the launch.

“Oh, what shall I do!” she moaned aloud. “Rosa is not fit to go off
with that girl. And who can go after her?”

The memory of Mrs. Pixley’s plight out on No Man’s Land, the evening
that Rosa and Nancy went to her rescue, now came back to Nancy, with
Rosa placed in the same predicament.

“If she ever leaves her out there alone,” she worried, this time
without speaking aloud, “we may not be able to find the spot.”

“Hello! What’s the mermaid pondering–”

“Oh, Gar!” gasped Nancy, turning to find their friend almost beside her
upon the dock. “That girl, Orilla, has gone off with Rosa. And Rosa had
been stunned from a fall down the hill into the water.”

“Seems to me, Nancy, you’re pretty well stunned yourself,” spoke up the
boy. “You look all in.”

“Don’t mind me, please! But think, quickly! What can we do to
get–Rosa!”

“What makes you so dreadfully worried?”

Then poor Nancy tried to explain what had happened. As she talked she
did feel her own loss of strength, as Gar had said, she was almost
exhausted herself.

“Don’t worry,” comforted the boy. “I’ll get Paul and we’ll race out in
our launch. I guess Orilla Rigney can’t beat the Whitecap and I guess
she doesn’t know any more about mushroom islands than I do. You want to
come along, Nancy?”

“Oh, yes, I couldn’t stand the anxiety of waiting,” Nancy answered.
“I’ll get into dry things–”

“And I’ll pull in here for you in a couple of jiffs,” Gar assured her,
offering her his hand as she left the dock by the shortest cut–the
hill that had proved too much for Rosa’s rolling exercise.

“Do you think I had better tell Margot?” Nancy asked, when they had
reached the point where their paths divided.

“Oh, no, better not. You see, when we get Rosa and fetch her back
she’ll just think we have all been off for a sail.”

And Nancy knew as he spoke, that here was another boy with a
disposition very much like Ted’s.

You may also like