The Daring Twins: A Story for Young Folk by Baum, L. Frank (Lyman Frank)

The Daring Twins

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A bright, swiftly-moving story of a young girl just blossoming into womanhood, and of a boy struggling for a start in life.

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[Illustration: “YOU’RE ELECTED LITTLE MOTHER.” (_See Page 104._)]

The Daring Twins

A Story for Young Folk

By L. Frank Baum

Author of The Oz Books, The Sea Fairies and Other Tales

[Illustration]

Illustrated by Pauline M. Batchelder

Publishers The Reilly & Britton Co. Chicago

COPYRIGHT, 1911 by The Reilly & Britton Co.

THE DARING TWINS

CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

I INTRODUCING THE DARINGS 9

II PHIL INTERVIEWS THE LAWYER 17

III BECKY GETS ACQUAINTED 32

IV PHŒBE’S SECRET 46

V A MATCH GAME 54

VI HUNTING A JOB 63

VII THE COMING OF COUSIN JUDITH 74

VIII THE “ARTICLES OF ADOPTION” 94

IX PHŒBE HAS AN ADVENTURE 109

X A DEPRESSING INTERVIEW 121

XI GETTING REGULATED 127

XII A BATTLE ROYAL 145

XIII PHIL MAKES A DISCOVERY 153

XIV THE FOLLY OF GRAN’PA ELIOT 166

XV SUE GETS A DIVORCE 173

XVI THE BOAT RACE 188

XVII IN THE TOILS 195

XVIII A SISTER’S LOVE 215

XIX THE WAY OF THE TRANSGRESSOR 232

XX ACCUSED 242

XXI SHIFTING THE BURDEN 251

XXII MARION’S GHOST STORY 261

XXIII TWO AND TWO MAKE FOUR 276

XXIV TOBY CLARK’S HEROISM 290

XXV FATHER AND SON 298

XXVI THE WATERMARK 309

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

“YOU’RE ELECTED ‘LITTLE MOTHER’” _Frontispiece_

SHE EAGERLY COUNTED THE GOLD 166

PHŒBE GLANCED AT HER CALMLY 245

“I HAVE A STORY TO RELATE,” SAID THE BANKER 302

The Daring Twins

CHAPTER I

INTRODUCING THE DARINGS

“Now you-all stop dat a-foolin’ an’ eat yo’ brekfas’ like sens’ble chill’ns,” said Aunt Hyacinth, coming in with a plate of smoking cakes. “Ef yo’ don’, yo’ done be late fo’ school, shore ’nuff.”

A ripple of laughter went around the group of five young Darings as a scramble was made for the cakes.

“I don’t b’lieve I’ll go to school to-day, Auntie,” said Sue, a demure little miss at the lower end of the table.

“Yes yo’ will, honey,” retorted the black mammy, in a voice she meant to be severe. “Yo’ ’s goin’ to school, all of yo’, an’ I don’t ’tend yous’ll be late, nuther.”

“I’m not going, for one,” declared Don, his mouth too full to speak properly.

“Get some more cakes; will you, Aunt Hy?” requested Becky, in a plaintive tone. “They snapped those up so quick I couldn’t harpoon a single one.”

The faithful old servant pattered back to the kitchen, slid more cakes from the griddle to her plate, poured on fresh batter and came pattering back again.

“Yo’, now, Miss Sue; what’s dat I heah ’bout stayin’ home f’m school?” she demanded, a frown wrinkling her ebony brow.

“That’s it, Auntie; no school for me,” said Sue, grabbing a cake with her fork before Phœbe could reach the plate.

“But yo’ mus’, chile; yo’ ain’t sick. Yo’ _mus’_ go to school.”

“Not to-day. I jus’ won’t, Auntie.”

“Yes yo’ will, Miss Sue! yo’ ’ll go ef I has to lead yo’ dere by de ear o’ you.”

Even Phil joined the laughter now, and he said in his grave yet pleasant way:

“You’ll have to lead us all, then, Auntie, and there are more ears than you have hands.”

Aunt Hyacinth seemed bewildered. She looked around the table, from one to another of the bright, laughing faces, and shook her head reproachfully.

Then Sue, having consumed the cake, leaned back in her chair, shook the tangled brown curls from her face and slowly raised her long curling lashes, until the mischievous eyes were unveiled and sent a challenge to Auntie’s startled ones.

“We’re misbehavin’ _drea_’fully; ain’t we? But a fact’s a fact, Auntie. We’re none of us goin’ to school--so there, now!”

“W’y, yo’--yo’--yo’--”

Sue sprang upon her chair and threw both arms around old Hyacinth’s neck, giving the black cheek a smacking kiss.

“You big goose!” said she; “don’t you know it’s Sat’day? There _be_ n’t no school.”

“Wha’ ’s ’at?” cried Auntie, striving to cover her humiliation at being caught in such a foolish error. “Is dat a proper speechifyin’ to say dere ‘_be_ n’t no school’? Where’s yo’ grammeh, Miss Sue? Don’ let me heah yo’ say ‘be n’t’ agin. Say, ‘dere _hain’t_ no school.’”

Phœbe led the laughter this time; but, when it had subsided she said to the indignant servant:

“She certainly does use awfully bad grammar, Auntie, and you’re quite right to correct her. But, I’m positive that something’s burning in the kitchen.”

Aunt Hyacinth made a dive for the door and let in a strong odor of charred cakes as she passed through.

Phœbe got up from her place and walked to the latticed window. Something attracted her attention outside, for she gave a little start. Phil joined her just then and slipped his arm around her slim waist. They were twins, these two, and the eldest of the five Darings.

“What is it, dear?” he asked.

“The people are moving in, across the way,” she said, rather sadly. “I didn’t know they were expected so soon.”

There was a rush for the window, at this, but five heads were too many for the space and the outlook was hindered by a mass of climbing ivy. Don made for the porch, and the others followed him into the fresh morning air.

For a while they all gazed silently at the great mansion across the way, set in the midst of an emerald lawn. Men were carrying trunks in at the side entrance. Before the door stood a carriage from which a woman, a man, a girl and a boy had alighted. They were gazing around them with some curiosity, for the scene was all new to them.

“Isn’t it funny,” whispered Becky, softly, “to think of other folks living in our old home?”

“It isn’t ours, now,” said Don, testily; “so, what’s the odds?”

“It was sold last fall, soon after papa died,” remarked Phœbe, “and this Mr. Randolph bought it. I suppose that’s him strutting across the lawn--the stout gentleman with the cane.”

“The grounds seem more of an attraction to them than the house,” remarked Phil.

“Yes, they’re fresh from the city,” answered his twin. “I’m rather surprised they haven’t come to Riverdale before, to occupy their new home.”

“Our house was sold ’cause we were poor, wasn’t it?” asked Sue.

“Yes, dear. We couldn’t afford to keep it, because poor papa left a lot of debts that had to be paid. So we moved over here, to Gran’pa Eliot’s.”

“Don’t like this place,” observed Don, his hands thrust deep in his pockets, as he stared across the street. “It isn’t half as fine or cosy as our old home.”

“It’s lucky for us that Gran’pa Eliot had a house,” returned Phil, gravely. “And it’s lucky Mr. Ferguson induced him to let us live in it.”

“Guess gran’pa couldn’t help himself, being paralyzed like he is,” said Becky.

“It’s the first thing he ever did for us, anyhow,” added Don, grumblingly. “And he sticks to his room upstairs and won’t let us come near him.”

“Do you want to visit gran’pa?” asked Phœbe, turning to her younger brother.

“No.”

“Then don’t complain, dear, if he doesn’t want you. He’s old and helpless; and as for helping us, I’m afraid gran’pa is almost as poor as we are,” she said, her eyes still regarding, with wistful earnestness, the scene across the street.

“Poor! Gran’pa Eliot poor, with this big house?” exclaimed Sue, incredulously.

“I think so; I’m sure it’s so,” answered Phœbe. “Old Miss Halliday asked me to keep you all from picking the fruit in the garden, when it ripens; because, she says gran’pa has to sell it to get enough money to pay taxes and his living expenses. And she gathers all the eggs from the chickens and sells them to Mr. Wyatt, the grocer. That must mean gran’pa’s pretty poor, you know.”

“Is old Miss Halliday any relation to us?” asked Don.

“No; she was an old servant of grandmother’s, before she died--her housekeeper, I believe; and afterward, when gran’pa became paralyzed, she took care of him.”

“She seems to run everything around this place as if she owned it,” muttered the boy.

“She’s a very faithful woman,” observed Phil; “and a very disagreeable one. I don’t know what gran’pa would have done without her. She gets his meals and waits on him night and day.”

“Somehow,” said Becky, “I sort o’ hate her. She won’t let us into any of the back rooms upstairs, though she and gran’pa can’t use all of ’em; and she never comes near us unless she wants to jaw about something we’ve done. I run a clothesline through the grass yesterday, and tripped old Halliday up when she went to feed the chickens, and she was as mad as anything.”

“I think she doesn’t care much for young people,” admitted Phœbe; “and as none of us cares for her it’s just as well that we should live apart--even if we occupy the same house. After all, my dears, we should be grateful for being allowed so much room in this comfortable old shack. We had no other place to go after our own home was sold.”

There was silence in the little group for a moment. Then Becky asked, curiously:

“Where do we get the money to live on? We have to pay our own grocery bills, don’t we?”

Phil started and looked upon his younger sister wonderingly, as if she had suggested a new thought to him. Then he turned to Phœbe.

“There must have been a little money left,” he said. “It never occurred to me before. I must ask Mr. Ferguson about it.”

Phœbe flushed a trifle, but looked down instead of meeting her twin’s earnest gaze.

“_I’ve_ thought of it, Phil,” she replied, softly. “Whatever was left after paying papa’s debts must have been little enough, and can’t last forever. And then--”

Phil was regarding her with serious eyes. He glanced at the younger ones and said quickly:

“Never mind. We haven’t suffered from poverty so far, have we? And we won’t. We’ve Daring blood in our veins, and that means we can accomplish anything we set out to do.”

Phœbe smiled and turned to reënter the house.

“Saturday is my busy day,” she remarked brightly. “I suppose you’re going to practice for the baseball match, Phil?”

“Yes,” he said, “I promised the boys--” Then he stopped and shook his head. “I don’t know yet what I’ll do, Phœbe,” he added. “Just now I’ve an errand down town.”

He caught up his cap, kissed his twin and strode down the walk to the gate. Phœbe cautioned the younger ones not to raise a racket under Gran’pa Eliot’s window, but to keep in the front yard if they were going to play. Then she stole softly away to her own little room upstairs and locked herself in so as not to be disturbed.

CHAPTER II

PHIL INTERVIEWS THE LAWYER

Phil Daring walked toward the village with uneasy, nervous strides. There was an anxious expression upon his usually placid face.

“Queer,” he muttered to himself, “that I never thought to ask how we’re able to live. It costs money to feed five hungry youngsters; and where does it come from, I wonder?”

The Eliot house was on the brow of a knoll and the street sloped downward to the little village where the “business center” clustered around the railway station. The river was just beyond, flowing sleepily on its way to the gulf, and at Riverdale a long wooden bridge spanned the murky water. It was a quiet, pretty little town, but had such a limited population that every resident knew nearly everyone else who lived there and kept fairly well posted on the private affairs of each member of the community.

Wallace Daring, the father of the twins, had been the big man of Riverdale before he died a few months ago. He had come to the town many years before, when he was a young man, and built the great beet sugar factory that had made all the farmers around so prosperous, growing crops to supply it. Mr. Daring must have made money from the business, for he married Jonathan Eliot’s daughter and established a cosy home where Phil and Phœbe, and Donald and Becky were born. Afterward he erected a splendid mansion that was the wonder and admiration of all Riverdale. But no one envied Wallace Daring his success, for the kindly, energetic man was everybody’s friend and very popular with his neighbors.

Then began reverses. His well-beloved wife, the mother of his children, was taken away from him and left him a lonely and changed man. He tried to seek consolation in the society of his little ones; but in a brief four years he himself met a sudden death in a railway wreck. Then, to the amazement of all who knew him, it was discovered that his vast fortune had been swept away and he was heavily in debt.

Judge Ferguson, his lawyer, was made his executor by the court and proceeded to settle the estate as advantageously as he could; but the fine mansion had to be sold. The five orphaned children lived in their old home, cared for by honest, faithful Aunt Hyacinth, until two months before the time this story begins, when a man from the East named Randolph bought the place and the Darings moved over to their grandfather’s old-fashioned but roomy and comfortable house across the way.

Phil walked more slowly as he approached the business district. The task he had set himself was an unpleasant one, but he felt that he must face it courageously.

The boy’s father had been so invariably indulgent that Phil, although now sixteen years of age, had never been obliged to think of financial matters in any way. He was full of life and healthful vitality, and his one great ambition was to prepare himself for college. His father’s sudden death stunned him for a time, but he picked up the trend of his studies again, after a little, and applied himself to work harder than ever. Vaguely he realized that he must make a name and a fortune for himself after graduating from college; but so far he had not been called upon to consider the resources of the family. Mr. Ferguson had attended to the settlement of his father’s estate, of which the boy knew nothing whatever, and Aunt Hyacinth had cared for the house, and got the meals and sent her five charges to school each day in ample season. The lives of the young Darings had scarcely been interrupted as yet by the loss of their father; although with him vanished every tangible means of support. A chance word this morning, however, had caused Phil to realize for the first time the fact that they were really poor and dependent; and he knew it was his duty, as the eldest of the family to find out what their exact circumstances were. In reality he was not the eldest, for his twin sister, Phœbe, was five minutes his senior; but Phil was a boy, and in his estimation that more than made up for the five minutes’ difference in age and established him as the natural protector of Phœbe, as well as of the other children.

Down at “The Corners” the main residence street entered the one lying parallel with the river, and around this junction the business center of Riverdale was clustered, extending some two or more blocks either way. The hotel was on one corner and Bennett’s general store on another, while the opposite corners were occupied by the druggist and the hardware store. Bennett’s was a brick structure and all the others were frame, except Spaythe’s Bank, a block up the street. Between them were rambling one story and two story wooden buildings, mostly old and weather-beaten, devoted to those minor businesses that make up a town and are required to supply the wants of the inhabitants, or of the farmers who “came to town” to trade.

Between the post office and the hardware store was a flight of stairs leading to offices on the second floor. These stairs Phil ascended and knocked at a door bearing a small painted sign, the letters of which were almost effaced by time, with the words: “P. Ferguson; Lawyer.”

No one answered the knock, so Phil opened the door and walked softly in.

It was a bare looking room. A few maps and a print of Abraham Lincoln hung upon the cracked and discolored plaster of the walls. At one side was a shelf of sheep-covered law books; in the center stood a big, square table; beyond that, facing the window, was an old-fashioned desk at which sat a man engaged in writing. His back was toward Phil; but from the tousled snow white locks and broad, spreading ears the boy knew he stood in the presence of his father’s old friend and confidant, Judge Ferguson. His title of “Judge” was derived from his having been for some years a Justice of the Peace, and it was, therefore, more complimentary than official.

As Phil closed the door and stood hesitating, a voice said: “Sit down.” The tone was quiet and evenly modulated, but it carried the effect of a command.

Phil sat down. There was a little room connected with the big office, in which sat a tow-headed clerk copying paragraphs from a law book. This boy glanced up and, seeing who his master’s visitor was, rose and carefully closed the door between them. Mr. Ferguson continued writing. He had no idea who had called upon him, for he did not turn around until he had leisurely completed his task, when a deliberate whirl of his revolving office chair brought him face to face with the boy.

“Well, Phil?” said he, shooting from beneath the bushy overhanging eyebrows a keen glance of inquiry.

“I--I wanted to have a little talk with you, sir,” returned Phil, a bit embarrassed. “Are you very busy?”

“No. Fire ahead, my lad.”

“It’s about our--our family affairs,” continued the visitor, haltingly.

“What about them, Phil?”

“Why, I know nothing as to how we stand, sir. No one has told me anything and I’ve been too thoughtless to inquire. But, I ought to know, Mr. Ferguson--oughtn’t I?”

The judge nodded.

“You ought, Phil. I’ve been going to speak of it, myself, but waited to see if you wouldn’t come here of your own accord. You, or Phœbe. In fact, I rather expected Phœbe.”

“Why, sir?”

“You’re not a very practical youth, Phil. They say you’re a student, and are trying for honors at the high school graduation next month. Also, you’re the pitcher of the baseball team, and stroke oar for the river crew. These things occupy all your time, it seems, as well they may.”

Phil flushed red. There was an implied reproach in the old man’s words.

“Now, Phœbe is different,” continued the lawyer, leaning back in his chair with his elbows on the arms and joining the tips of his fingers together--a characteristic attitude. “Phœbe has a shrewd little head, full of worldly common sense and practical, if womanly, ideas. I’d a notion Phœbe would come to me to make these necessary inquiries.”

Phil slowly rose. His face was now white with anger, yet his voice scarcely trembled, as he said:

“Then, I’ll let her come to you. Good morning, sir.”

Mr. Ferguson nodded again.

“Yes,” he remarked, without altering his position, “my judgment of you was correct. You’ll be a man some day, Phil, and a good one; but, just now, you’re merely a stubborn, unformed boy.”

Phil paused with his hand on the knob of the door. To leave the office at this juncture would be humiliating and unsatisfactory. His nature was usually calm and repressed, and under excitement he had a way of growing more quiet and thinking more clearly, which is exactly the opposite of the usual formula with boys of his age. His strong resentment at the frank speech of the old lawyer did not abate, but he began to reason that a quarrel would be foolish, and if he intended to satisfy the doubts that worried him he must ignore the slight cast upon his character.

He laid down his hat and resumed his chair.

“After all, sir,” he said, “I’m the eldest boy and the head of the family. It is my duty to find out how we stand in the world, and what is necessary to be done to protect and care for my brother and sisters.”

“True enough, my lad,” rejoined the lawyer, in a hearty tone. “I’ll help you all I can, Phil, for your father’s sake.”

“You administered the estate,” said the boy, “and you are still my guardian, I believe.”

“Yes. Your father left no will, and the court appointed me administrator and guardian. I’ve done the best I could to untangle the snarl Wallace Daring left his business in, and the affairs of the estate are now closed and the administrator discharged.”

“Was--was there anything left?” inquired Phil, anxiously.

“Your father was a wonderful man, Phil,” resumed the lawyer, with calm deliberation, “and no doubt he made a lot of money in his day. But he had one fault as a financier--he was too conscientious. I knew Wallace Daring intimately, from the time he came to this town twenty years ago, and he never was guilty of a crooked or dishonest act.”

Phil’s face brightened at this praise of his father and he straightened up and returned the lawyer’s look with interest.

“Then there was nothing disgraceful in his failure, sir?”

“No hint of disgrace,” was the positive reply. “Daring made a fortune from his sugar factory, and made it honestly. But three years ago all the beet sugar industries of the country pooled their interests--formed a trust, in other words--and invited your father to join them. He refused, believing such a trust unjust and morally unlawful. They threatened him, but still he held out, claiming this to be a free country wherein every man has the right to conduct his business as he pleases. I told him he was a fool; but I liked his sterling honesty.

“The opposition determined to ruin him, and finally succeeded. Mind you, Phil, I don’t say Wallace Daring wouldn’t have won the fight had he lived, for he was in the right and had a host of friends to back him up; but his accidental death left his affairs in chaos. I had hard work, as administrator, to make the assets meet the indebtedness. By selling the sugar factory to the trust at a big figure and disposing of your old home quite advantageously, I managed to clear up the estate and get my discharge from the courts. But the surplus, I confess, was practically nothing.”

Phil’s heart sank. He thought earnestly over this statement for a time.

“We--we’re pretty poor, then, I take it, sir?”

“Pretty poor, Phil. And it’s hard to be poor, after having enjoyed plenty.”

“I can’t see that there’s any college career ahead of me, Mr. Ferguson,” said the boy, trying to keep back the tears that rushed unbidden to his eyes.

“Nor I, Phil. College is a fine thing for a young fellow, but under some circumstances work is better.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this before, then?” demanded the boy, indignantly.

“There was no use in discouraging you, or interrupting your work at high school. I consider it is best for you to graduate there, especially as that is liable to end your scholastic education. The time is so near--less than three months--that to continue your studies would make little difference in deciding your future, and the diploma will be valuable to you.”

No one but Phil will ever know what a terrible disappointment he now faced. For years his ambition, fostered by his father, had been to attend college. All his boyish dreams had centered around making a record there. Phil was a student, but not one of the self-engrossed, namby-pamby kind. He was an athlete as well as a scholar, and led his high school class in all manly sports. At college he had determined to excel, both as a student and an athlete, and never had he dreamed, until now, that a college career would be denied him.

It took him a few minutes to crowd this intense disappointment into a far corner of his heart and resume the conversation. The lawyer silently watched him, his keen gray eyes noting every expression that flitted over the boy’s mobile features. Finally, Phil asked:

“Would you mind telling me just how much money was left, Mr. Ferguson?”

“The court costs in such cases are extremely high,” was the evasive reply. The lawyer did not seem to wish to be explicit, yet Phil felt he had the right to know.

“And there were your own fees to come out of it,” he suggested.

“My fees? I didn’t exact any, my lad. Your father was the best and truest friend I ever had. I am glad I could do something to assist his orphaned children. And, to be frank with you, Phil, I couldn’t have squared the debts and collected legal fees at the same time, if I’d wanted to.”

“I see,” returned Phil, sadly. “You have been very kind, Mr. Ferguson, and we are all grateful to you, I assure you. But will you please tell me how we have managed to live for the past eight months, since there was nothing left from father’s estate?”

It was the lawyer’s turn to look embarrassed then. He rubbed his hooked nose with one finger and ran the other hand through the thick mat of white hair.

“Wallace Daring’s children,” said he, “had trouble enough, poor things, without my adding to it just then. I’ve a high respect for old black Hyacinth, Phil. The faithful soul would die for any one of you, if need be. She belongs to the Daring tribe, mind you; not to the Eliots. Your father brought her here when he was first married, and I think she nursed him when he was a baby, as she has all his children. So I took Aunt Hyacinth into my confidence, and let her manage the household finances. A month ago, when the final settlement of the estate was made, I turned over to her all the surplus. That’s what you’ve been living on, I suppose.”

“How much was it?” asked the boy, bent on running down the fact.

“Forty dollars.”

“Forty dollars! For all our expenses! Why, that won’t last us till I graduate--till I can work and earn more.”

“Perhaps not,” agreed the attorney, drily.

Phil stared at him.

“What ought I to do, sir? Quit school at once?”

“No. Don’t do that. Get your diploma. You’ll regret it in after life if you don’t.”

“But--there are five of us, sir. The youngsters are hearty eaters, you know; and the girls must have clothes and things. Forty dollars! Why, it must have all been spent long ago--and more.”

Mr. Ferguson said nothing to this. He was watching Phil’s face again.

“It’s all so--so--sudden, sir; and so unexpected. I--I--” he choked down a sob and continued bravely: “I’m not able to think clearly yet.”

“Take your time,” advised the lawyer. “There’s no rush. And don’t get discouraged, Phil. Remember, you’re the head of the family. Remember, there’s no earthly battle that can’t be won by a brave and steadfast heart. Think it all over at your leisure, and consider what your father might have done, had some whim of fortune placed him in your position. Confide in Phœbe, if you like, but don’t worry the little ones. Keep a stiff upper lip with your friends and playmates, and never let them suspect you’re in trouble. The world looks with contempt on a fellow who shows he’s downed. If he doesn’t show it, he _isn’t_ downed. Just bear that in mind, Phil. And now run along, for I’ve a case to try in half an hour, at the courthouse. If you need any help or advice, lad,” he added, with gentle kindliness, “come to me. I was your father’s friend, and I’m your legal guardian.”

Phil went away staggering like a man in a dream. His brain seemed in a whirl, and somehow he couldn’t control it and make it think logically. As he reached the sidewalk Al Hayden and Eric Spaythe ran up to him.

“We’ve been waiting for you, Phil,” said one. “Saw you go up to the judge’s office.”

“Let’s hurry over to the practice field,” suggested the other, eagerly. “The rest of our nine is there by this time, and we’ve got to get in trim for the match this afternoon.”

Phil stared, first at one face and then the other, trying to understand what they were talking about.

“If we’re beaten by Exeter to-day,” continued Al, “we’ll lose the series; but we won’t let ’em beat us, Phil. Their pitcher can’t hold a candle to you, and we’ve got Eric for shortstop.”

“How’s your arm, Phil?” demanded Eric.

They had started down the street as they talked, and Phil walked with them. Gradually, the mist began to fade from his mind and he came back to the practical things of life. “If a fellow doesn’t show it, he _isn’t_ downed,” the shrewd old lawyer had said, and Phil knew it was true.

“My arm?” he replied, with a return of his usual quiet, confident manner; “it’s fit as anything, boys. We’ll beat Exeter to-day as sure as my name’s Phil Daring.”

CHAPTER III

BECKY GETS ACQUAINTED

Meantime Becky, Donald and Sue had maintained their interest in the new neighbors, and partly concealed by the vines that covered the porch were able to watch every movement across the way.

“Isn’t it a shame,” said Don, “to have them walk into our old home that father built, and use the pretty furniture that mother bought in the city, and have all the good things that _we_ used to have?”

“Wonder who’s got my room,” mused Sue. “If it’s that yellow haired girl yonder, I could scratch her eyes out.”

“She’s about my age,” asserted Becky, gazing hard at the fairylike form of the new arrival. “I hope she’s ’spectable an’ decent, an’ won’t try to be bossy.”

“They’re from New York,” added Sue. “I jus’ hate New York folks.”

“How do you know they’re from New York?” demanded Don.

“Somebody said so. Oh, it was Lil Harrington; her father once knew ’em.”

The elders had entered the house by this time, and the carriage and baggage wagon had driven away. The girl and boy, about fourteen and twelve years of age, were walking with mincing steps about the grounds, examining the shrubbery and flowers and, as Don said, evidently “taking stock” of their new possessions.

“That fellow,” Don added, “is a snob. I can see that from here. He wears a velvet suit, and it’s _braided_. Think of that, girls!”

“Let’s go over and talk to ’em,” suggested Becky. “We can show ’em the stables, an’ where we kept the rabbits an’ guinea pigs, an’ how to climb the pear-tree.”

“Not me!” exclaimed Don, scornfully.

“We’ve got to know ’em sometime,” retorted his sister, “bein’ as we’re next door neighbors. And it’s polite for us to make the first call.”

“They’re usurpers,” declared Don. “What right had they to buy our old house? They’ll get no politeness out o’ me, Beck, if they live here a thousand years.”

The boy and girl opposite came down the lawn and stood at the entrance of the driveway, looking curiously down the wide village street, shaded with its avenue of spreading trees.

“Come on, Sue,” said Becky. “Don’t be cross to-day, anyhow. Let’s go and talk to our neighbors.”

But Sue drew back, shaking her curls, positively.

“I don’t like ’em, Becky. They--they’re not our style, I’m ’fraid. You can go--if you dare.”

One thing Becky couldn’t do, was to “take a dare.” She was not really anxious to make the pilgrimage alone, but having suggested it, she turned a comical look upon the others and said:

“All right. Here goes.”

Don gave a snort of disdain and Sue laughed. It would be fun to watch their reckless sister and see what she did.

Becky Daring was not the beauty of the family, by any means. Her hair was a glaring, painful red; her face long, thin and freckled; her nose inclined to turn upward. But Becky’s hazel eyes were splendid and sparkled so continuously with humor and mischief that they won for her more smiles and friendly words than she really deserved. Auntie had despaired long ago of trying to make Becky look neat and tidy, and at fourteen she was growing so fast that she shot out of her gowns as if by magic, and you could always see more of her slim legs and sunburned wrists than was originally intended. She was not dainty, like little Sue, nor calm and composed like beautiful Phœbe; but Becky enjoyed life, nevertheless, and had a host of friends.

One of her shoes became untied as she crossed the road to where the Randolph children stood. She placed her foot on the stone coping at the sidewalk and, as she fastened the knot, said with her slow Southern drawl:

“Good mawnin’. I s’pose you’re our new neighbors.”

The boy and girl, standing side by side, looked at her solemnly.

“Come to stay, I guess, haven’t you?” continued Becky, inspecting them carefully at close range.

“Come away, Doris,” said the boy, taking his sister’s hand. “It is some common village child. I am sure mamma won’t care to have us know her.”

Becky threw back her head with a merry laugh.

“Don was right, you know,” she said, nodding. “He sized you up in a jiffy, an’ from ’way over there, too,” indicating the porch from whence she had come.

“Who is Don, pray?” asked Doris, in quiet, ladylike tones; “and in what way was he right?”

“Don’s my brother,” was the reply; “an’ he jus’ gave one squint at _your_ brother an’ said he was a snob.”

“Me--a snob!” cried the boy, indignantly.

“That’s what he said. Funny how he spotted you so quick, isn’t it?”

“Come, Doris. It is an insult,” he said, his face growing red as he tugged at Doris’ hand.

“Wait a moment, Allerton; we must return good for evil. Evidently the poor child does not know she has been rude,” remarked the girl, primly.

Becky gave a gasp of astonishment.

“Child!” she echoed. “I’m as old as you are, I’ll bet a cookie.”

“In years, perhaps,” answered Doris. “But, permit me to state that your brother was wrong. Having been bred in this simple, out of the way village, he does not understand the difference between a gentleman and a snob. Nor do you realize the rudeness of accosting strangers without a proper introduction, repeating words designed to injure their feelings. I am not blaming you for what you do not know, little girl; I am merely trying to point out to you your error.”

Becky sat plump down upon the sidewalk and stared until her great eyes seemed likely to pop out of their sockets. Then, suddenly seeing the humor of the situation, she smiled her sunny, amiable smile and hugging her knees with both arms said:

“I got it that time--right in the Adam’s apple, where it belonged. My compliments to Miss Doris Randolph,” rising to drop a mock curtsy. “I’ve mislaid my cardcase somewhere, but allow me to present Miss Rebecca Daring, of Riverdale, who resides on the opposite corner. When you return my call I hope you’ll find me out.”

“Wait!” cried Doris, as Becky turned to fly. “Did you say Daring?”

“I said Daring, my child,” with great condescension.

“The Daring family that used to live here, in this place?”

“The same Darings, little girl.”

“Forgive me if I seemed supercilious,” said Doris, earnestly. “I--I mistook you for a common waif of the village, you know. But mamma says the Darings are an excellent family.”

“Score one for mamma, then. She hit the bull’s-eye,” returned Becky, lightly. But, the recognition of her social position was too flattering to be ignored.

Said Allerton, rather sourly:

“Is that fellow who called me a snob a Daring, too?”

“He is Donald Ellsworth Daring,” replied Becky, with pride. “But he may have been wrong, you know. You’ll have a chance to prove it when we know you better.”

That gracious admission mollified the boy, somewhat.

“You see,” continued Becky in a more genial tone, “I can’t stay dressed up all the time, ’cause we’re slightly impecunious--which means shy of money. If it hadn’t been for that we’d not have sold our house and moved over to Gran’pa Eliot’s. In that case, you’d never have had the pleasure of my acquaintance.”

Doris looked across the street to the rambling old mansion half hid by its trees and vines. In front were great fluted pillars that reached beyond the second story, and supported a porch and an upper balcony.

“You live in a much more beautiful house than the one papa has bought,” she said, rather enviously.

“What! that old shack?” cried Becky, amazed.

“Yes. Mamma and I hunted all over this part of the state to find one of those old Colonial homesteads; but none was for sale. So, we were obliged to take this modern affair,” tossing a thumb over her shoulder.

“Modern affair! By cracky, I should think it was,” retorted Miss Daring, indignantly. “It cost a lot more money than Gran’pa Eliot’s place ever did.”

“Of course,” agreed Doris, with a slight smile. “The accident of wealth will enable anyone to build a much more palatial house than this. But only the accident of birth, it seems, enables one to occupy a splendid old Southern homestead.”

Becky regarded the speaker with wonder.

“You’re from the No’th?” she inquired.

“Yes. Our family is old, too; perhaps as aristocratic as that of your Grandfather Eliot. We are from Boston.”

“L-a-w--zee! I believe you are,” declared Becky. “I knew a Boston girl once, who was even more proper an’ ridic’lous in her ways than you are; but she died of a cold in the head, poor thing.”

“A cold?”

“Yes. Mortification set in, ’cause she couldn’t pronounce all the big words proper, on account o’ the cold.” Noticing a resentful look creep over Doris’ face, she hastened to add: “But that don’t count, you know. What really s’prises me is that you think Gran’pa Eliot’s shack is finer than our beautiful old home. I guess that as soon as Noah’s flood faded away Gran’pa Eliot’s house was built, it’s so blamed old.”

“Dear me!” said Doris, in seeming distress, “I wish you wouldn’t speak disrespectfully of Bible history.”

“What’s Bible history?” asked the astonished Becky.

“The flood God sent to punish a wicked world.”

“Oh, _that_;” with much relief. “I thought you were in earnest, at first.”

“My sister,” explained Allerton Randolph, with dignity, “is very religiously inclined.”

“Are you?” asked Becky, curiously.

“Yes, dear. I am trying to live my daily life in conformance with the highest religious principles. So it hurts me to hear sacred things spoken of lightly.”

Becky regarded this prim young lady with a sudden access of shyness. She felt that a gulf had opened between them that never could be bridged. Allerton, studying her face, saw the effect of his sister’s announcement and said in his serious way:

“Doris takes her religious ideas from our mother, who is interested in charities and foreign missions. She has exhausted her strength and undermined her health in this unselfish work, and that is why we have come to the country to live. Neither father nor I have much religious inclination.”

“Oh, Allerton!”

“It’s true, Doris. Father detests it with all his heart, and says our mother has ruined his home for a lot of naked niggers in Africa; but I’m more--more--”

“Tolerant, I suppose you mean. But you must not convey a wrong impression of our father to Miss Daring. He merely regrets our mother’s excessive devotion to the cause. He does not hate religion, in the abstract.”

Becky had never been so astonished in her life. Here was a boy of Don’s age and a girl of about her own years discussing religion with the utmost gravity, and using such “nifty” language that it positively shocked her. Again she realized that there could be nothing in common between the youthful Randolphs and the tribe of Daring; but, she had determined to be gracious to these strangers and so she stifled a sigh of regret and said:

“If you like, I’ll show you over the stables, and where we played circus back of the harness room, and Phil’s rabbit warren, and how to climb the pear-tree in the garden without breaking your neck, and--”

“Thank you very much,” interrupted Doris; “but, we are not interested in vulgar romps of that character; are we, Allerton?”

“They--they sound rather interesting,” he submitted, eyeing Becky a little wistfully.

“Perhaps, for village children,” returned the girl, haughtily. “But although we are now living in the country we should remember our breeding and try to instill some of our native culture into these primitive surroundings, rather than sink our refinement to the level of the community.”

“L-a-w--zee!” cried Becky, again. Then, in spite of her effort to be “good” she laughed in Doris’ face, bobbing her frouzled red head up and down as peal after peal of genuine merriment burst from her slim throat.

Allerton frowned and Doris looked grieved and sad. Positively, this country girl was laughing at their expense.

“I--I can’t help it!” chuckled Becky, trying to control herself. “It’s--it’s too good to keep. I must go an’ tell the kids before I--I bust with it all! Bye-bye, Doris. See you again soon. ‘Or river,’ Allerton! Guess I’ll call you Al. Come over an’ get acquainted.”

She had backed away one step at a time, still bubbling with hysterical laughter that she could not control, and at the final words turned and dashed across the street like mad, her thin legs twinkling beneath her short skirts.

“Well,” said Don, as Becky threw herself down upon the porch and shook with an abandon of glee; “tell us the joke, Beck. What’s happened?”

“Oh, dear! oh, dear!” was all the reply.

“Are they nice?” inquired Sue, squatting in a rustic chair and swinging her legs, as she calmly surveyed her sister.

“Nice? Sue, they’re the funniest kids you ever heard of,” gasped Becky, her eagerness to talk stifling the spasms of merriment. “They ain’t New Yorkers--not a bit--they’re Bostoners! Think of that. It would kill you to hear ’em talk. They’re as full of culture as an egg is of meat; an’ _langwidge!_--say, folks, it’s something awful.”

“I guessed as much,” said Don, with a grin. “But, I’m glad they’re not our kind. I wouldn’t care to go over to our old house and play with the usurpers. Let’s shut ’em out, for good and all.”

“Oh, they’ll shut us out, I s’pect,” remarked Becky, wiping her eyes on her gingham sleeve. “You ought to have seen ’em stick up their noses at me till they found out I was a Daring. Then they put on so many airs it was disgust’n’.”

“Seems to me,” said Sue, shaking away her troublesome curls and looking thoughtfully at her sprawling, ungainly sister, “they’re ’zactly the sort we ought to ’sociate with. If you could rub a little culture off’n ’em, dear, it wouldn’t hurt you a bit.”

“Nor you, either, Sue,” laughed Don. “If you pronounced English that way in Boston, they’d jail you.”

“_Now_ who’s a snob, Don?” asked Sue, indignantly. “No one’s s’posed to pernounce ev’ry measley letter the dicsh’naries chuck into a word, is they?”

“Oh, Sue!” said Becky; “your grammar is as bad as your pernunciation. I mus’ look afteh your education, myself. Those Randolph kids are a revelation to me; and, honest injun, I’m somewhat ashamed of myself. We’re going wrong, all of us, since mother died,” with a sigh and a catch in her voice, “an’ need to be jerked into line.”

She said this in sober earnestness, remembering the sweet, gentle mother who had labored so hard to keep her flock from straying, and whose loss had permitted them to wander as their natural, untamed instincts dictated.

“Mother,” said Don in tender accents, “was a lady to her finger tips, and wanted her girls and boys to grow up to be ladies and gentlemen. I try to do as she’d like to have me, whenever I think of it; but, that isn’t very often.”

“You’re a cross-patch,” asserted Sue; “and I’ve heard teacher say that you’re the worst scholar in the school. You don’t mind Phœbe any more’n a fly minds sugar.”

“Phœbe isn’t my boss,” retorted Don, resentfully. But, the next moment his frown softened, and he added: “Anyhow, I try to be decent, and that’s more than some of the family do.”

“Meanin’ me?” asked Becky, defiantly.

“You’re fourteen, and almost a woman; yet you act like a kindergarten kid. I’ll leave it to anyone if I’m not more dignified ’n’ respectable than you are; and I won’t be thirteen ’til next month.”

“You’re old for your years, Don; and it’s lucky that you can find any good in yourself, for nobody else can!” remarked Becky, complacently.

CHAPTER IV

PHŒBE’S SECRET

“Let’s get some pails and go to the woods for blackberries,” suggested Sue, posing as peacemaker. “P’raps Auntie’ll make us a pie for dinner.”

“Can’t,” said Don. “I promised old Miss Halliday I’d make her a chicken coop. Another hen is hatching out and there’s no coop to put her in.”

“All right, I’ll help you,” exclaimed Becky, jumping up. “You saw the boards, Don, and I’ll hammer the nails.”

“Can’t you saw?”

“Not straight; but, I’m game to try it.”

A rush was made for the back yard, and Don searched the shed for some old boards to use in making the coop for the expected flock. When the saw and hammer began to be heard Miss Halliday came down from Gran’pa Eliot’s room and stood watching them, her finger on her lips to caution them to be as quiet as possible.

She was old and withered, lean and bent; but her small black eyes still twinkled brightly. Miss Halliday seldom spoke to the Daring children and had as little to do with them as possible. She was virtually the autocrat of the establishment, for old Mr. Eliot was paralyzed and almost speechless. It is true he could mumble a few words at times, but no one seemed able to understand them, except his constant nurse and attendant.

Miss Halliday had been with the Eliots since she was a young woman. She was Gran’ma Eliot’s maid, at first, then the housekeeper, and after Mrs. Eliot’s death and her master’s paralytic stroke, the sole manager of the establishment and a most devoted servant. In person she was exceedingly neat, although she dressed very simply. She was noted in Riverdale for her thrift and shrewd bargaining. They called her miserly until it came to be generally understood that Mr. Eliot’s money was gone; then the merchants respected her careful management of the old man’s finances.

Why Elaine Halliday stuck to her post, under such unpleasant conditions, had puzzled more than one wise head in the village. Some said that Jonathan Eliot had willed her the homestead in return for her services; others, that the frugal stewardess was able to save more than her wages from the reputed wreck of the Eliot fortunes, which had once been considered of enormous extent. Only a very few credited her with an unselfish devotion to her old master.

After the death of his daughter, Mrs. Daring, and just before his own paralytic stroke, Mr. Eliot had had a stormy interview with his son-in-law, Wallace Daring; but, no one except Elaine Halliday knew what it was about. Twenty-four hours later the irascible old man was helpless, and when Phœbe hurried over to assist him he refused to see her or any of his grandchildren. Mr. Daring, a kindly, warm-hearted man, had been so strongly incensed against his father-in-law that he held aloof in this crisis, knowing old Elaine would care for the stricken man’s wants. All this seemed to indicate that the rupture between the two men could never be healed.

After the Daring children had been left orphans and reduced to poverty, Judge Ferguson went to Miss Halliday and pleaded with her to intercede with Jonathan Eliot to give the outcasts a home. The big house was then closed except for a few rooms on the second floor, where the invalid lay awaiting his final summons. There was more than enough room for the Darings, without disturbing the invalid in the least.

At first, the old woman declared such an arrangement impossible; but, Mr. Ferguson would not be denied. He had been Mr. Eliot’s lawyer, and was the guardian of the Darings. If anyone knew the inner history of this peculiar family it was Peter Ferguson. For some reason Miss Halliday had been forced to withdraw her objections; she even gained the morose invalid’s consent to “turn his house into an orphan asylum,” as she bitterly expressed it. The Darings were to be allowed the entire lower floor and the two front bedrooms upstairs; but they were required to pay their own expenses. Elaine declared that it was all she could do to find money enough to feed Gran’pa Eliot his gruel and pay the taxes on the place.

A powerful antipathy, dating back many years, existed between Miss Halliday and the Darings’ black servant, Aunt Hyacinth. During the two months since the Darings had found refuge in the old house not a word had been exchanged between them. But the black mammy, as much the protector of the orphans as Miss Halliday was of their grandsire, strove to avoid trouble and constantly cautioned her flock not to “raise a racket an’ ’sturb poeh gran’pa.” As for the children, they stood so much in awe of the invalid that they obeyed the injunction with great care.

It was not often that Miss Halliday asked the boys to assist her in any way; but, occasionally Phil or Don would offer to do odd jobs about the place when they were not in school.

“It seems like helping to pay the rent,” said Phil, with a laugh, “and as gran’pa quarreled with father I hate to be under obligations to him. So, let’s do all we can to help old Miss Halliday. She has enough to worry her, I’m sure.”

That was why Don set about making the chicken coop this Saturday morning, as he had promised to do, and why Becky and Sue were eager to assist him. The saw was dull, and that made the sawing the hard part of the work until Becky declared she could handle the tool much better than her brother--even if she couldn’t manage to keep on the marked line. He let her try, and then scolded her--and jeered her attempts. A row started very promptly and a struggle began for the possession of the saw, ending by Don’s snatching it away and drawing the jagged teeth across the palm of Becky’s hand. She let go with a scream of pain and the blood spurted forth in a manner to frighten them all.

Don tried to tie his handkerchief over the wound, but with a wail of anguish Becky turned and fled into the house and up the front stairway to the door of Phœbe’s room, leaving a red trail behind her as she went.

“Quick, Phœbe--I’m murdered! Let me in before I die,” she shouted, kicking at the door as she squeezed the wounded hand with the other.

A key turned in the lock and the door flew open.

Phœbe stared a moment at her sister’s white face and noted the stream of blood. Then she drew Becky into the room without a word and led her to the washbasin. She bathed the wound freely with cold water, applied a healing lotion and bandaged the hand, neatly. It was a broad, jagged cut, but not deep. Phœbe knew that it was not a serious wound, but it would be very sore and lame for several days to come.

Becky, trembling with nervousness and weak from fright and the sight of blood, tottered to a lounge and sank down among the cushions.

“How did it happen, dear?” Phœbe now asked.

Becky related the incident with dramatic details until her eyes fell upon a table drawn before the window and covered with papers, among which rested an imposing looking machine.

“Jumpin’ jooks, Phœbe!” she exclaimed; “it’s a typewriter. Where on earth did it come from?”

Phœbe flushed and for a moment looked distressed.

“I rented it,” she replied. “It’s a great secret, Becky, and you must promise not to tell anyone.”

“Can you run it? Have you had lessons?” asked the younger girl, sitting up in her eagerness and forgetting her affliction for a time.

“I’ve taught myself,” said Phœbe. “It is not very hard to learn. At first, you know, I made lots of mistakes; but, now I do very well. I’ve had it almost six months, and every Saturday I typewrite all day.”

“But why? What are you copying?” demanded Becky, going to the table and looking down at the piles of manuscript.

“It is a book of sermons that Doctor Huntley is preparing for a publisher. He is too busy to do it himself, so he gave me the job. I get ten cents a page, and I’ve copied nearly four hundred pages already.”

“My!” cried Becky; “what a lot of money! Whatever will you do with it, dear?”

Phœbe smiled a little sadly, but put her arm around her sister and kissed her, affectionately.

“That’s a part of my secret, dear, and you mustn’t ask me. You’ll not mention the typewriter, Becky--nor anything I’ve told you? I don’t want Phil or the children to know.”

“Trust me!” returned Becky, delighted to share so important a secret with her elder. Then, she remembered her sore hand and lay down upon the couch again, while Phœbe, having once more locked the door, resumed her work.

It was dinner time when Don finished the chicken coop and helped Miss Halliday to move the hen and her newly hatched brood into it. There had been sundry quarrels between him and Sue, who accused him of “spilling Becky’s heart’s blood,” but now the girl was so fascinated by the fuzzy chicks that she was loth to leave them, when Auntie called her to the midday meal.

Phil came in, flushed with his exertions on the ball field, but unusually glum and serious. He found no time for his proposed talk with Phœbe then, for as soon as dinner was over he was obliged to put on his baseball uniform and hurry to the ground, where the important match game with the Exeter nine was to take place.

“Any of you coming to the game?” he inquired.

“We’re all coming,” declared Becky, who now posed as a heroine because of her hurt. But, Phœbe shook her head and smiled.

“I shall be too busy at home, Phil,” she said; “but the others may go.”

He gave her a quick, curious look, but said nothing more.

CHAPTER V

A MATCH GAME

For a long time there had been great rivalry between the ball teams of Riverdale and Exeter; the latter, a small town lying five miles inland, where there was a boys’ preparatory school. This year each had won five games out of a series of ten, and the extra game to be played to-day was to decide the championship. The Riverdale high school captain, Al Hayden, the druggist’s son, had picked his team with great care for this important occasion, and Phil had been chosen pitcher.

The ball grounds were just outside of the village, and not only were the people of Riverdale there in large numbers, but the crowd was augmented by farmers from the surrounding country who had come in for their Saturday trading and took advantage of the opportunity to see a good ball game. Several wagon loads of “fans” from Exeter also rode over in the wake of the bus that carried their ball players, to participate in the fun and excitement.

All classes of people occupied the “bleachers.” Merchants, lawyers and even two liberal minded ministers of the gospel were among them, while Judge Ferguson strolled over as the game commenced, accompanied by his pretty daughter, Janet, to see how Phil conducted himself. The Randolph children were plebeian enough to attend; the manager of the mill was there, and all the small Darings, except Phœbe, eagerly awaited the contest.

There was a stand where red lemonade was sold, and boys carried around baskets of peanuts and popcorn to refresh the audience. Nearly every high school in town had thought it her duty to be present, and their bright ribbons and dresses added a picturesque element to the scene.

Phil Daring appeared as composed as ever, when he entered the arena with his comrades; but, never for a moment, since his interview with Mr. Ferguson had his mind been free from grief, humiliation and bitter disappointment. He nodded and smiled as the throng greeted him with hearty cheers; yet all the time he was thinking to himself: “My days of fun and freedom are nearly over now. I must give up college, for good and all, and settle down somewhere to make a living and help support the children. I don’t know what I can do, I’m sure, that will earn the needed money. No one in Riverdale needs any help such as I can give, and I’m not experienced enough to be of much service in a big city. It will be a hard fight, with all the chances against me; but I’ve got to undertake it and make a go of it.”

These and similar thoughts flooded his mind to the exclusion of all else. Mechanically, he tossed the ball in practice, and when time was called he took his position in the pitcher’s box with scarcely a realization of what he was doing.

A sudden silence fell upon the throng as Phil pressed the new ball into his palm, drew back with his well-known easy swing and sent the sphere flying through the air. There followed a low murmur that sounded like a groan as the ball flew wide and smashed against the back-stop. Some of the Exeter people laughed. But Phil was unaware of either moans or laughter. He was thinking of something else more important. Getting the ball again, he made another toss and the batter caught it with a full blow and sent it flying into the field for a two-bagger. Al Hayden looked grave at this but said nothing. Phil was Riverdale’s crack pitcher, as a rule; but, perhaps he hadn’t his hand in yet.

As the game progressed, however, it was evident to all that Phil Daring had “fallen down” and was pitching a miserable game. The Exeters had six runs to the best of it at the end of the sixth inning and the prospects for the Riverdale nine’s being able to even the score were decidedly gloomy. Phil had been equally unsuccessful at the bat, “fanning out” whenever his turn came.

It was unwise to risk the winning of the game by allowing Daring to play any longer. Al Hayden hurriedly consulted with his mates and then called Phil aside.

“I’m sorry, old man,” he said; “but, you don’t seem fit, to-day, and we’re bound to lose unless we make a desperate effort. Take the bench, and I’ll put Eric in to pitch--and Jed Hopkins in Eric’s place.”

Phil gave a sudden start and drew his hand across his forehead, as the full import of the words was understood. Retired? Retired and discredited at this important juncture! Why, he never would be able to hold up his head in Riverdale again, and all the honors he had formerly won on the field would be wiped away by this disgrace.

“What’s wrong with me, Al?” he asked, anxiously.

“I don’t know, Phil; but something’s wrong. Look at that score--eight to two!--and only three more innings to play. You are usually our stand-by, old fellow; but, to-day you’re the only one of the nine who hasn’t been up to scratch, and fighting to win. I’ve been watching you, and you seem dazed, somehow. Have the Exeter fellows scared you?”

“No,” was the reply. The score, now noticed for the first time, positively startled him. Aroused from his dreams at last he begged Al to try him for another inning.

“Just one,” he pleaded. “Eric can’t pitch as well as I can, I’m sure, and if I don’t make good you can pull me out any time.”

Al hesitated, sighed, and then consented. He really despaired now of winning the game and was so fond of Phil that he hated to humiliate him.

But the conference had been noted by the discontented Riverdale audience and people began to shout: “Take him out!” “Put Daring on the shelf!” “Phil’s gone bad to-day!” and other similar remarks that made Phil straighten up and walk to his station with an air of resolve.

Groans and hoots greeted him, but he never wavered. The first batter to face him, one of the crack Exeter players, struck out, and the crowd ceased their jibes. The next man made a “pop-up” which Phil cleverly caught, and a gentle murmur of applause, mostly from the women, rewarded him. The third man also struck out, and then the crowd forgot its grievance against the young pitcher and gave a hearty cheer.

“Why didn’t he do that, before?” grumbled Judge Ferguson, who had been greatly annoyed at Phil’s poor showing.

“He hasn’t seemed himself, to-day,” replied Janet, with friendly generosity. “It occurred to me that he had heard bad news, or perhaps is not well. Really, papa, I’m not sure that Phil knew he was playing ball, till just now.”

The old lawyer nodded. He knew very well, now that Janet shrewdly called his attention to it, what had doubtless depressed his young friend, and occupied his mind.

“He seems all right now,” he remarked with a sympathetic sigh. “That last inning he played all by himself.”

Indeed, Phil’s record of three “put-outs” unassisted, inspired his fellows with renewed confidence in him. Al Hayden went to bat and made a two-bagger. Toby Clark, Mr. Ferguson’s office clerk, got first base on balls. The next batter struck out, but the one following stepped up to the plate and pounded out a clean hit that filled the bases. It was Phil’s turn now, and he realized the full importance of the crisis. Usually a pitcher is not a very good batter; yet, until to-day Phil had been considered an exception to this rule. So far in the game, however, his bat had never once touched a ball.

The spectators were thrilled by the excitement of the moment, but expected young Daring to strike out and let the next man, a reliable player, bring in some of the men on bases.

But Phil’s face was set and determined. He had not yet redeemed himself. Having well-nigh lost the game for his team by his poor showing, it now behooved him to save the day if he could. No thought now engaged his mind, but this; he was living in the present--not in the future. With watchful eye he followed the approaching ball on its course, and at the proper time struck shrewdly with might and main.

High in the air rose the sphere, describing a perfect arch. With one accord the spectators rose in their seats to watch the ball as it sailed over the back fence, giving the batter a home run and bringing in the three other men.

When the mighty cheer that rent the air had subsided the score was six to eight, instead of eight to two.

In the eighth and ninth innings Phil pitched so well that no runs were added by the Exeter team, while the Riverdales made one tally in each inning and tied the score.

The excitement was now intense. Each team formerly had five games to its credit, and in the present decisive game each side had scored eight runs. An extra inning must be played to determine the championship.

The boys on both sides settled down to do their level best. Phil was perfectly calm and confident. He struck out two and Al caught a long, high fly that retired Exeter with a “goose-egg.” Then the Riverdale team came to bat and the first two--poor Al one of them--went out in short order. But when Phil again came to bat the opposing pitcher lost his nerve, remembering that famous home run. The result was a long drive that landed Daring on third, and the next batter, Jed Hopkins, brought him home, winning the game and the series.

The Riverdale crowd was in an ecstasy of delight and cheered until it was hoarse. Phil’s wonderful playing during the final three innings had fully redeemed him in the eyes of his friends and a dozen young fellows leaped into the arena and hoisted him upon their shoulders, carrying him from the field in triumph. Even the defeated Exeters good-naturedly joined in the applause, while Becky and Sue sobbed with joy at the honors being showered upon their big brother.

“Wasn’t Phil splendid?” exclaimed Janet, as she followed her father from the grand stand.

The old lawyer nodded thoughtfully.

“Yes,” said he, “the lad has a wonderful amount of reserve force, which makes him a good uphill fighter. He reminded me of his father, during that last rally. If Phil Daring has only half the pluck and backbone that Wallace Daring possessed, I predict he’ll some day make his mark in the world.”

“Yet Mr. Daring died poor,” suggested Janet.

“True, my dear; and that was because he died. Had he lived, it would have been a different story.”

CHAPTER VI

HUNTING A JOB

When Phil managed to shake off his enthusiastic friends and return to his home, he found that Phœbe had gone out. Entering the kitchen to ask Aunt Hyacinth where his sister was, he found the black mammy preparing the supper.

“Don’ know whar she am, Marse Phil, I’se shuah,” she said. “But Miss Phœbe’s sartin to be back ’fo’ long.”

Phil turned to go; then he paused, and after a moment’s thought inquired:

“Auntie, who pays our grocery bills?”

“I do, chile,” she answered, giving him an odd look.

“And where do you get the money?” he continued.

Auntie was beating eggs for a custard. She pretended not to hear him. Phil repeated the question.

“Marse Ferg’son done gi’ me a lot,” said she, in a matter of course way.

“Forty dollars, I believe,” the boy rejoined, rather bitterly.

“Mo’ ’n dat, honey; lots mo’.”

“When?”

“’Fore we shifted oveh to dis yeah house. Den he done guv me fohty dollehs mo’, an’ said dat were all dere was left. But I guess it’ll do, all right.”

“Auntie,” said Phil, taking both her hands and looking her squarely in the eyes, “tell me truly; is any of that last forty dollars left?”

A look of genuine distress crossed her honest face.

“No, honey,” she admitted, in a low voice.

“Then, where does the money come from that we’re living on now?”

“H--m. Miss Phœbe done guv it to me.”

“Phœbe!”

“Miss Phœbe; shuah.”

“Where could Phœbe get any money?” he inquired, wonderingly.

“Yo’ haf to ask heh, I guess, Marse Phil.”

He reflected a moment.

“Auntie, you’re keeping something from me; something I ought to know; and it isn’t right to treat me so,” he declared.

She made no reply to this.

“Phœbe hasn’t any money; or, if she’s been trying to earn some, it must be mighty little. See here: I’ll finish school next week, and then I’m going to take care of the family myself, and look after things. Don’t you know I’m the head of the Darings, Auntie, and entitled to know all about our affairs? So tell me, where does all the money come from to pay the grocer, and the butcher, and all the rest?”

“Miss Phœbe done guv me some,” she persisted, half frightened at his earnestness.

“And the rest, Auntie?”

She twisted her apron in her hands and cast an appealing glance into his stern face.

“Tell me, Auntie!”

“Well, yo’ see, Marse Phil,” she began, slowly, “I’ve got a little money what useter b’long to yo’ dead papa.”

“My father!”

“Dat’s a fac’, honey. Ol’ Marse allus done pay me mo’ wages’n I could earn, nohow. I kep’ sayin’ I didn’ want no money; but he insis’, chile; dat ol’ Marse Wallace insis’ I take all he guv me. Law sakes, I don’ neveh need no money, Marse Phil. What ’n a world _I_ need money fo’--now yo’ tell me, ef yo’ can! But I gotter take it, or make Marse Wallace mad. So, I put it in de bank fo’ safe keepin’, an’ jus’ bided mah time to git even. ’Twan’t mine, honey, shuah ’nuff; but I jes’ let it stay in de bank fo’ ’mehgencies.”

Phil’s face was a study. It grew red and white, stern and dismayed by turns. It was not that he resented accepting assistance from Aunt Hy; she seemed one of the family; but that the Darings should be so miserably poor as to be dependent upon the services of their black mammy for support was so shameful that he could scarcely bear the thought.

“I’m an able-bodied young man,” said he to Phœbe a little later, when the girl had returned from her errand, “and, instead of wasting my muscles and energies on athletic games, all these months, I should have been at work for the family.”

“You didn’t know, dear.”

“I _ought_ to have known, Phœbe. That’s no excuse.”

“I’m sure that everything has happened for the best, Phil,” she replied, tenderly. “We’ve gone along, somehow, and I was anxious that we should both be able to complete our high school course. It’s so near the end, now, that we’d better stick it out.”

“Do you know that Auntie has been spending her savings to buy food for us?”

“Yes; but she doesn’t need the money just now and we will pay her back some time.”

“She says that you have given her money, too.”

“Just a trifle, Phil,” she replied, after a brief hesitation.

“Where did it come from, Phœbe?”

“I--I earned it.”

“How?”

She unclasped her hand and showed him a bright five-dollar gold piece.

“That’s my last week’s wage--as an amateur typist. I’ve been copying manuscript for Reverend Doctor Huntley.”

Phil couldn’t help it; he gathered his twin into his arms and cried like a baby, while Phœbe sobbed on his shoulder and was glad the secret was out at last. There were not many secrets between these two.

Finally, when they had quieted down and could smile into each other’s eyes again, the girl explained how she had found the work and how the kindly clergyman had secured a typewriter for her and been very patient with her mistakes until she had thoroughly mastered it.

“He said, to-day, that it was the neatest and most correct copying he had ever seen,” she added, proudly.

The discovery that Phœbe had been working while he played added fuel to Phil’s remorse. He wanted to quit school at once and seek work, but Phœbe argued long and patiently and at last prevailed upon him to complete his course. It would only require a couple of weeks more to do this, and meantime he could be inquiring for work in the village.

“I’ll not be likely to find it, though,” he predicted. “Riverdale is a dull place, and I’m afraid I’ll have to go to the city.”

“Oh, no!” she exclaimed, for the twins had never been parted in their lives, and she could not endure the thought. “I’m sure that some position may be found here, and although the pay will not be as liberal as in the city, your expenses will be much less. And, above all, we can then remain together.”

“I’ll see what can be done,” he promised, kissing her affectionately; and then the younger ones came trooping in to end their conversation.

For several days it seemed as if Phil’s prediction would be fulfilled. No position was offered him, although the entire village was canvassed. Many of the graduating class were sons of merchants, who intended taking them into their stores. For that reason it was a bad time of the year to seek for work.

Phil went to Mr. Ferguson and asked if it would be right for him to apply at the sugar factory for a job. He did not know his father’s successor, a stern looking man who had been sent by the syndicate to manage the plant, and who was a stranger to Riverdale.

“I’ll see him myself, lad,” decided the lawyer. “I’ve met Mr. Atkins in business ways, and believe I would have more influence with him than you. Come and see me again to-morrow and I’ll report results.”

After school the next day Phil kept the appointment, trying hard to hope that Mr. Ferguson had succeeded. But the old lawyer shook his head, gravely.

“Nothing there for you, Phil,” he said. “Atkins claims it’s his dull season, but I know better. No doubt the man could give you employment, if he chose, but he doesn’t care to have a Daring in the office. An old prejudice against your father for fighting the trust so long.”

“You haven’t thought of any other opening, sir, have you?”

“Not just yet. But, I’ll keep my eye open for you, Phil, and let you know if anything offers. Keep your courage, lad. There’s something for everybody in this world.”

This bit of philosophy fell upon deaf ears. Phil was quite discouraged as he went slowly down the stairs to the street. In the doorway he paused, for Ned Thurber had halted before him. Ned was the clerk in Spaythe’s Bank.

“Congratulate me, Phil,” he said. “I’ve an offer to go to St. Louis, at a big salary.”

Phil shook his hand.

“Are you going, Ned?” he asked eagerly.

“Of course. I’ll be assistant teller in one of the biggest banks there.”

“Who will take your place at Spaythe’s?”

“I don’t know yet. Just got the offer this morning, you see; but I’ve talked with Mr. Spaythe and promised him that I’d stay until he can get someone to take my place. That won’t be easy, though--unless he imports someone.”

“Couldn’t I fill the place, Ned?”

“You! I thought you were going to college.”

“I--I’ve decided not to,” replied Phil.

“But you’ve no experience in banking.”

“No other young fellow in town has, for that matter.”

“That’s true,” said the other, thoughtfully.

“I’d like the job, Ned,” pleaded Phil.

“In that case I’ll speak to the old man about you. I’ve an idea you could fill Eric’s place, while Eric could climb to my position as head bookkeeper. His father ought not to object to that, and I’m sure you could do Eric’s work easily. Another thing is in your favor, Phil. The Daring name is rather popular around here, especially with the farmers, and that counts with a man like Spaythe. The more I think of it, the more I believe we’ve hit the right combination. Trust me to help work it out, for I want to get away as soon as possible.”

Phil did not leave this unexpected chance wholly to Ned’s management, however. He went back and told Judge Ferguson about it, and then he met Eric, the banker’s only son and Phil’s friend. Eric was also employed at the bank and he was astonished and delighted when Phil proposed taking Eric’s place--thus advancing him to the more important post of bookkeeper, to be vacated by Ned Thurber.

“I’ll go and talk to father about it at once,” he said.

That same day Mr. Spaythe was approached by no less than four people in the interests of Phil Daring. First, came his son Eric, who told him Phil was a prince of good fellows. Then Ned Thurber pointed out the fact that the popularity of the Darings would add prestige to the bank. Presently, Judge Ferguson walked in and vouched for Phil’s character and ability, offering to stand sponsor for the boy, if he was given the place. Finally, Phœbe Daring stole into the bank and timidly asked to see Mr. Spaythe.

He looked at her curiously as she entered his private room; a pretty and modest young girl, he thought.

“I met Mr. Thurber a little while ago, and he says that he is going away to St. Louis,” she began. “So I thought I would come here and ask if you won’t take brother Phil in his place. I’m Phœbe Daring, you know.”

Mr. Spaythe nodded.

“I know. You’ve often been here with your father, in the old days. But you’re growing fast now, Miss Phœbe.”

“I need to grow, sir, for I must mother the other children. Of course you know how poor we are. Father always banked here, I remember; so you know, perhaps better than I do, our present circumstances.”

“How old is Phil now?”

“Sixteen, sir.”

“H--m. That is rather young.”

“But he is big for his age, Mr. Spaythe. He’s nearly six feet tall, and as strong as anything.”

“Do you think we bank by main strength, Miss Daring?”

“Phil will graduate next week, at High. He hopes to be at the head of his class.”

Mr. Spaythe drummed thoughtfully on the desk with his fingers.

“I’m going to consider your application, my dear,” he said, quite genially for him. “Ask your brother to come and see me.”

Phœbe hurried away, overjoyed at her success. She astonished Phil that evening by saying that she had made an appointment for him to see Mr. Spaythe. He tore up the little note that he had intended to mail to the banker, then kissed his twin sister and thanked her for her assistance. Only Mr. Spaythe knew whose influence had induced him to consider giving the position to an inexperienced, untried youth, fresh from high school. Perhaps, after all, it was the remembrance of his old friendship for the elder Daring.

Anyhow, Phil had a long interview with the old banker and came away engaged to fill the vacancy made by Ned Thurber’s withdrawal. As soon as school closed he was to begin work.

There was great rejoicing among the Darings that evening. Aunt Hyacinth made them one of her famous shortcakes for supper, to celebrate the occasion, and Phil became a hero to his younger brother and sisters, because he was about to step from youth to manhood and become a breadwinner.

CHAPTER VII

THE COMING OF COUSIN JUDITH

Next morning while they were at breakfast, the doorbell rang and Auntie answered it. A moment later a comely young woman entered the room, gazed smilingly at the circle of young faces and advanced to kiss Phœbe, as the eldest, first of all.

“Don’t you remember me?” she asked. “I’m your Cousin Judith.”

“Cousin Judith Eliot!” cried Phœbe, delightedly. And then there was a rush to greet this newly found relative, all the Darings crowding around her in a mob.

“I thought you were still in Europe, Cousin Judith,” said Phil. “Have you been long in America?”

“Just four days,” she replied, throwing off her wrap and sitting down in the place Aunt Hyacinth had prepared for her. “I hurried here as soon after landing as possible.”

“But what good fortune brought you to Riverdale?” inquired Phœbe, looking with pleasure at the beautiful, refined face of the elder woman and noting the daintiness of her attire--dainty and fresh, although she was just out of a sleeping coach, after a long journey.

Cousin Judith, although almost the only relative which the Darings possessed, and familiar to them by name since their infancy, was nevertheless almost a stranger to them all. She was their mother’s cousin and, although much younger, had always been Mrs. Daring’s closest and warmest friend. For years past, however, she had resided in some small European town, studying art while she painted portraits and copies of the Madonna on porcelain. She had never married; dimly, Phœbe remembered hearing of some tragedy in Cousin Judith’s life when her fiancé had died on the eve of their approaching marriage. She was now but twenty-four; although, in the eyes of her young cousins, she appeared very mature indeed.

“I came here,” said Cousin Judith, smilingly, yet with a serious ring in her sweet-toned voice, “at the call of duty. I wanted to come to you the moment I heard of your dear father’s death, but it takes some little time to break up an establishment even as modest as mine, when it is in far-away Italy. But here I am, at last.”

“Going to stay?” asked Sue, softly.

“I think so. Is there any room for me, here?”

“Plenty, Cousin Judith!” cried five voices.

“Then, while I drink my coffee, tell me all the news about yourselves. How is Gran’pa Eliot?--he’s my uncle, you know--and who takes care of him?”

Becky began the story, but talked so excitedly that she made a sad jumble of it. Then Phil picked up the narrative, telling the simple facts that Cousin Judith might be interested in, and Phœbe concluded the recital.

“I remember Elaine Halliday,” said the new arrival, musingly. “She was Aunt Eliot’s maid when I was a young girl, and whenever I visited here I used to fight with the woman continually. She had a rather sour disposition, then.”

“It’s worse now,” declared Becky. “She’s a reg’lar Tartar; and a--a--an autocrat, and an anarchist and traitor, and--”

“Afterward, she was housekeeper,” continued Judith. “I saw her more seldom, then, but she ran the household in an able manner while Aunt Eliot was so much of an invalid.”

“She has been a faithful servant, I’m sure,” said Phœbe, “and if she happens to be a bit cranky with us at times we ought to put up with it. I don’t know what gran’pa would do without her. She’s the only one who can understand him, and she attends to him and all his affairs--cooks the things he can eat--feeds him with a spoon, and all that.”

“Don’t you all live together, then?” asked Miss Eliot.

“No,” replied Phœbe. “We’ve been given a certain part of the house, and run our own establishment, while Miss Halliday runs her part. We are ordered not to go near gran’pa’s rooms, or pick the fruit or berries--or steal the hen’s eggs. If we behave, she will let us stay here, rent free; but if we don’t mind her, or dare to intrude on gran’pa, out we go, neck and crop.”

Judith Eliot looked thoughtful. But she avoided carrying the conversation farther in the presence of the younger children. There was little time, indeed, to talk much with any of them, as they were obliged to run off to school. It was Friday, fortunately, and to-morrow would be a holiday, when they could “visit” to their hearts’ content.

As they said good-by to their new cousin the drayman was carrying in two big trunks and some portmanteaus.

“By jooks! I’m glad she’s come,” cried Becky. “It almost seems like having mother back. Don’t you think they look alike?”

“She’s a dandy, all right,” commented Don. “I’m glad she’s going to stay.”

“Isn’t she _beau_tiful?” chimed in little Sue, tossing her curls ecstatically. “And only to think she’s lived in Europe! Won’t she have some nibsy stories to tell us, though?”

Meantime, Cousin Judith was sitting face to face with Aunt Hyacinth in the kitchen, and listening to the story that the old mammy was telling of the trials and tribulations her poor children had suffered.

First, there was the mother’s death. That was indeed a serious misfortune, for Mrs. Daring had looked after her young flock with tender care and taught them to adopt the manners of ladies and gentlemen. After her death there was only the old black mammy to cope with the situation. Mr. Daring proved a loving and devoted father to his motherless ones, but he was too indulgent to correct their ways and manners and the younger ones, especially, soon lapsed into the wild and untamed ways of young savages. Mr. Daring realized this, and wrote an account of his doubts and fears for their future to Judith, asking her if she would not come back to America and make her future home with them.

The young woman refused the invitation at that time. She could not leave her studies, or her work, without ruining all her plans. She wrote him to get a governess to look after the accomplishments of the children. Aunt Hyacinth would be sure to take care of their physical requirements. And, having proffered this advice, she dismissed the subject from her mind.

Last fall, when news of Mr. Daring’s death and his bankruptcy reached her, Judith had been much distressed. Duty called her to far away Riverdale, to look after Mollie Eliot’s orphaned little ones. She wrote to Lawyer Ferguson for particulars and he frankly informed her of the unfortunate condition of the young Darings. So she “broke camp,” as she said, and as soon as she could complete and deliver the miniatures which she had contracted to paint for a wealthy Englishman, the successful artist abandoned her brilliant career and departed, bag and baggage, for America.

“So they’re pretty wild, are they?” she asked Aunt Hy.

“Wild ’s hawks, Miss Judy, I’s sorrerful to remahk. Marse Phil an’ Miss Phœbe ain’t so bad, kase dey’s old ’nuff to ’member what ther pore deah ma done tell ’em. But Miss Sue uses jus’ drea’fu’ grammer, an’ she dat stubbo’n ’twould make a mule blush. Marse Don, he’s got a good heart, but he can’t ’member jus’ whar it’s locationed, an’ he plagues ever’body mos’ alarmin’. As fer dat flyaway Becky, ’tain’t jus’ no use triflin’ wid her; she kain’t be brung up proper, nohow.”

“Becky is at a difficult age, just now,” mused Judith, smiling at the eloquent old servant.

“All her ages done ben diff’cult, Miss Judy--shuah’s yo’ bohn. Miss Becky don’ seem like a Daring a’ tall. She’s mo’ like dat Topsy in Unc’ Tom’s Cab’n; ’cept’ she ain’t black.”

Then came the subject of finances, wherein Aunt Hyacinth was able to give definite and fairly lucid information. She had managed to feed her flock so far, but the future contained an alarming menace unless more money was forthcoming. When Aunt Hyacinth’s savings were gone, starvation might stare the Darings in the face. It is true both Phil and Phœbe planned to make some money, “but what’s dem helpless chill’ns know ’bout de expensiveness of livin’?” inquired the old mammy, hopelessly.

Judith looked grave, but she was not greatly surprised.

“Miss Phœbe’s ben workin’ right ’long, ev’ry minute she’s out ’n school,” reported Auntie; “but it ain’t sech work as’ll last long. An’ Marse Phil’s goin’ take a place in de bank, when he’s got his schoolin’--’twere all decided no more’n yist’day. But ten dollahs a week ain’t no great ’mount to fill all dem moufs. Lucky we don’ haf to pay rent.”

“I have always thought my uncle--their Grandfather Eliot--a rich man,” remarked Judith, more to herself than to old Hyacinth. “In my girlhood days he was said to be the largest property owner in the county.”

“So he were, Miss Judy. Don’ I ’member when Marse Daring fus’ brung me heah, how Misteh Jonat’n Eliot was de big rich man o’ Riverdale? But he done sold off de hull estate, piece by piece, ’til nuthin’s lef’ but dis yere ol’ house an’ de gahden.”

“But what became of all the money he received for the land?”

“Dunno, honey. Dat’s what Marse Wallace done fight wid him about, years ago. He say ol’ Marse Eliot done sell his land an’ squander de money, what oughter go to Miss Molly an’ her chiluns; an’ ol’ Marse Eliot done tell him min’ his own business. Miss Molly were he on’y chile, an’ she done fit wi’ de ol’ man, too; so we uns didn’t hev no truck wi’ dey uns fer a long time. When Miss Molly died, Marse Wallace try to patch up t’ings, but ol’ Marse Eliot got de stroke what mumbled him, an’ it turned out he’s pore like Job’s turkey.”

“How does he live, then?” asked Judith.

“It don’ take much to feed his gruel to him, an’ ol’ Miss Halliday’s dat pars’monius she don’ eat decent cookin’ herself. She sell de aigs ’n’ chickens, an’ de fruit an’ sich, an’ she bargains at de groc’ry fer de cheapes’ stuff dey got. So dey somehow gits along--don’ ask me how, honey.”

“Well,” said Judith, rising with a sigh, “I see that I’m needed here, in more ways than one. Where may I locate my room, Aunt Hyacinth?”

This puzzled Mammy for a time. The old mansion had been built on a queer plan. Upstairs there were four bedrooms in the front of the house and four in the rear. Of these last the two at the back end overlooked the mountains and the valleys and were the most pleasantly situated of any in the house. Mr. Eliot had therefore chosen them for his own, and now he sat in a chair all day looking out of a window over the broad stretch of land he had always loved. It was a peaceful, quiet scene. Behind the house the streets were merely green lanes, with a few scattered habitations here and there. A little to the right, but in plain sight of this second-floor window, stretched the old-fashioned country graveyard--not yet sufficiently dignified to be called a “cemetery”--and Mr. Eliot’s eyes might clearly see a white mausoleum, which he had built years before, to contain his body when he had passed from life.

Everyone had thought this an eccentric thing for Jonathan Eliot to do; some of the neighbors shuddered at the idea of a live, healthy man preparing his own tomb. But there it was, scarcely a quarter of a mile distant from his dwelling; and, as he now sat paralyzed before the broad window, perhaps his glassy eyes rested more often upon that ghostly tomb than upon the charming landscape of hill and dale, that extended far into the distance toward Exeter.

Opening from this room was a balcony with outside stairs leading to the garden. Adjoining the two large rear rooms were a couple of small chambers opening into a hallway. The hall originally ran to the front of the house, but directly in the center of the passage had been placed a stout door, separating the upper part of the house into two distinct parts, each containing four chambers. Miss Halliday, in reserving the four rear rooms, had fitted up one of the hall chambers as a kitchen and retained the other for her own sleeping apartment. Of the two more spacious rear rooms, one was old Mr. Eliot’s bedroom and the other his living room. These four rooms satisfied all the requirements of the paralytic and his nurse, and so the balance of the house was turned over, somewhat grudgingly, to the orphaned Darings.

But in this arrangement Elaine Halliday made one curious stipulation. The two hall rooms were never to be used by the Darings, for any purpose. They might occupy the front bedrooms, but under the plea that the children might disturb their invalid grandfather, the hall rooms must remain vacant.

Phœbe had accordingly taken possession of one of the front chambers, and Phil and Don shared the other. Downstairs the house had a big parlor, or drawing-room--a ghostly, primly furnished apartment that all the Darings abhorred--a large dining room with a side porch, an ample hall with a spiral staircase, pantries and kitchen and two small chambers opening out of the dining room. Becky and Sue together occupied one of these little rooms, while the other, which had a door into the kitchen and was little more than a “cubbyhole,” was Aunt Hyacinth’s own room.

Unless Judith Eliot took possession of one of the forbidden hall bedrooms upstairs, there was really no place for her in all the big house. When this was explained to her she promptly started to visit her uncle and Miss Halliday. She mounted the outside stairway from the garden and at the top was confronted by the thin-visaged guardian of the place.

“Go away!” said Miss Halliday, sternly. “Don’t you understand that no one is allowed on these premises?”

“I am Judith Eliot,” was the calm reply. “Don’t you remember me, Elaine?”

The stern face hardened still more.

“What are you doing here, Judith Eliot?” demanded the woman.

“Why, Elaine, if you will move aside and allow me to sit down I shall be able to explain my presence. Do you expect me to stand on this landing all day? How is my uncle?”

“He can’t see you,” said old Elaine, firmly. “Go back, and I’ll come and talk to you presently.”

Judith had learned self restraint in her years of buffeting with the big world, but never had she had such cause for indignation in all her experience. The old woman’s insulting attitude and words and her assumption of authority were not to be endured. With flashing eyes Miss Eliot advanced and thrust the frail form from the doorway, entering the room before old Elaine was well aware of her purpose.

Before a broad window her uncle was propped up in his chair, staring listlessly across the valley to the mountains beyond. She approached him and said softly:

“Uncle! Here is Judith come to see you.”

There was no reply, no movement to indicate that he had even heard her. She stooped to his ear and spoke louder.

“Uncle! Uncle Eliot! I am Judith--your niece. I have come to see you, Uncle! Do you not know me?”

The withered, pallid countenance never changed. The expressionless gaze was fixed as ever. He might have been a dummy of a man except for the slight rise and fall of his chest as he breathed.

Judith glanced around and found Miss Halliday standing near with a sneering smile upon her face.

“He’s mighty glad to see you, isn’t he?” she asked.

The girl did not reply. It was quite evident that Gran’pa Eliot was entirely helpless; that he was all unaware of her presence. She looked at the old man attentively, thinking he was far more dead than alive. His cheeks were hollow and sunken, his skin like ancient parchment. The hands that lay extended upon his knees were withered and bony; the wisp of white hair upon his head was carefully brushed; he wore a neat dressing gown. Propped among his pillows he seemed to be as comfortable as was possible for one in his condition.

Letting her eyes roam around the room, Judith saw that it was neat and well cared for. Elaine, always an excellent housekeeper, could not be criticised for any undue laxness.

Judith turned to her.

“I did not realize he was so helpless,” she said. “Does he recognize no one at all?”

“Only one,” replied Elaine, grimly triumphant. “But strangers are sure to make him nervous. He’ll have a bad time, after your foolish intrusion. I can tell by his face that he knows something is wrong; that he’s been disturbed. He don’t know you’re here, perhaps; but he senses something different. I advise you to go before he is upset entirely--a shock of this sort might kill him.”

Judith looked at her uncle again. His dull, apathetic expression had not altered a particle, so far as she could discover. The idea of disturbing this half-dead man seemed absurd. Yet the old woman who attended him constantly might be right, after all, and certainly there was no prospect of being able to arouse him sufficiently to recognize his niece.

“Follow me, Elaine,” she commanded, with a trace of haughtiness due to the servant’s defiant attitude.

At the foot of the stairs stood an old garden bench. Judith seated herself and waited until the old woman joined her. Then she said:

“How long do you expect my uncle to live?”

Elaine started to sit down beside her.

“You may stand, if you please,” said Judith; and old Miss Halliday stood, although her eyes had a resentful look in them at thus being assigned to her true station. In the old days she had been considered a privileged servant, it is true; yet, even then, she would not have dared to seat herself in the presence of an Eliot.

“I don’t know,” she returned. “He has been like this for three years. He may live a dozen more--if I can manage to keep his body and soul together.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Why, there isn’t much to eat here, if you want the truth; and so it’s lucky Mr. Eliot doesn’t require much food. The wine is the hardest thing to get. It’s mighty expensive; but he must have it, Dr. Jenkins says.”

“Is the doctor attending him?”

“Not now; we can’t pay the bills. But there’s nothing a doctor can do more than I am doing myself.”

“What has become of my uncle’s money, Elaine?” she asked, regarding the woman attentively.

Elaine flushed, but shook her head.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“He was never a spendthrift, nor a gambler,” continued Judith. “On the contrary, I knew him as a wealthy man who was so penurious that he guarded every expenditure with great care.”

The woman made no reply.

“What do you suppose became of the money?” Judith pointedly inquired. “He sold off his property at fair prices. I’m sure that he didn’t speculate. Then what has become of it?”

“I only know,” said Elaine, “that when he was took with this stroke there wasn’t a dollar to be found anywhere. He wasn’t a miser, for I’ve ransacked every corner of this house. There wasn’t anything in the bank, either, for I inquired there. I’ve looked over all of his papers--with Judge Ferguson to help me--and Mr. Eliot hadn’t any investments or stocks. His money was gone, somehow, and we don’t know where because he can’t tell.”

Judith thought it over. It was a perplexing thing, indeed.

“Why do you stay here?” she asked. “You are not obligated to devote your life to my bankrupt uncle--a helpless invalid who does not appreciate your services.”

Elaine hesitated, clasping her thin hands and looking down as if endeavoring to find proper words in which to express herself.

“I’m old, Miss Judith; too old to find work elsewhere. And I’m as poor as Mr. Eliot is. All I can expect at my age is a home, and the work is very little, now that the Darings have most of the house. Besides, I’ve been with the Eliot family so long--forty odd years--that my place seems here, now. I won’t say anything about duty, or my affection for my old master. He was a hard man with others, I know; but I always understood him better than anyone else, and he liked me. When he was taken with paralysis, just after his daughter’s death, there was no one in the world to care for him but me. Even Wallace Daring had quarreled with Mr. Eliot and insulted him. Not a single neighbor offered any assistance, or came near my stricken master. So I stayed.”

It was a fair explanation, Judith considered, and betokened more heart in the old woman than she had been credited with.

“That reminds me, Elaine,” she said, turning the subject abruptly; “I am going to live with the Darings hereafter, and take care of Cousin Molly’s children. I must have one of those vacant rooms off the hall which you have reserved.”

A look of anger and fear swept over old Elaine’s face.

“It won’t do, Miss Judith,” she said positively; “it won’t do at all. I can’t have Mr. Eliot disturbed. I allowed the Darings to live here if they’d promise to keep quiet, but--”

“_You_ allowed!” interrupted Judith, meaningly. “Isn’t that rather impertinent, Elaine?”

“There’s no one to run your uncle’s affairs, but me,” she retorted, unabashed. “I’ve got to protect him in his helpless condition, and I’m going to do it, too!”

“This is nonsense,” returned Judith impatiently. “Nothing that occurs in that part of the house can disturb Uncle Eliot, as you very well know. I shall occupy one of those rooms.”

“I forbid it,” said the woman, her eyes cold and hard, her jaws set and determined.

“Has it ever occurred to you,” suggested Judith quietly, “that there is such a thing as law, and that the law will take the conduct of my uncle’s affairs out of your hands, if I appeal to it? If you really wish a home in your old age, Elaine, you must give up your autocratic ideas. The Darings are the natural inheritors of this homestead, and you have no personal rights here except as a servant.”

“I’m entitled to my wages, then,” snapped Elaine. “They haven’t been paid for years.”

Judith regarded her thoughtfully. In spite of the peculiar temperament of this poor creature she was doubtless of inestimable worth to Mr. Eliot at this juncture. No one else could or would care for the helpless invalid, half so well. And there was little to advance against that argument of unpaid wages. Perhaps, after all, it might be better to compromise with Elaine Halliday.

“I am willing to admit your responsible position here,” she said, “provided you do not attempt to dictate too far. Live your life in your own way, but do not attempt to interfere with us. I am now going to establish myself in one of those hall rooms.”

She rose.

“Take the west room, then,” suggested Elaine, eagerly. “It’s bigger, and the east room is cluttered with old furniture.”

Judith walked away without reply, content with her victory but filled with many perplexing thoughts. The interview had somewhat astonished her.

Elaine watched her go, and when Judith had turned the corner of the house the old woman stamped her foot furiously.

“Drat the law!” she muttered. “Ferguson swore he’d turn me out if I didn’t let the Darings in, and now this girl threatens the law if I won’t let her have that room. Law! What mischief-makers invented the law, I’d like to know--to rob a poor woman and beat her out of her just dues? But there’s two kinds of law in this world--the laws others make, and the laws we make, ourselves. I guess the law of Elaine Halliday will win out in the long run, because my law’s my secret, and they’ve only got their own to go by.”

With this somewhat ambiguous tirade she turned and slowly mounted the stairs. Gran’pa Eliot sat exactly as he had before, staring vacantly through the window.

CHAPTER VIII

THE “ARTICLES OF ADOPTION”

Judith Eliot had been accustomed to act upon her judgment; and to act quickly, and with decision. Aunt Hyacinth was half frightened when the young lady returned and said that Elaine had attempted to bar her out of the vacant rooms, but she was going to occupy one of them, nevertheless. The black mammy was a Daring servant, having followed her nursling Wallace when he married and set up housekeeping at Riverdale. She had nursed, in turn, each of the Daring children and, therefore, was devoted to them and their interests. But Auntie could never understand the favored servant of the Eliots, and through all the years she had known Elaine had seldom exchanged a word with the white woman. Why a housekeeper should be called “Miss” Halliday and allowed to assume airs of superiority was far beyond old Hyacinth’s comprehension. But the fact impressed her with a sense of awe of Elaine which time had never dissipated.

Since the Darings had come to this house to live the two serving women had held aloof from one another as before, and the aggressive, dominant attitude of Miss Halliday held Auntie in sure subjection to her will. She never doubted that Elaine had the power to turn her precious flock out in the cold world, if she chose, and therefore took great care not to annoy her in any way.

It was not clear to her, at this juncture, whether she ought to applaud or deplore Miss Judith’s defiance of the hitherto supreme power of “ol’ Miss Hall’day,” but she willingly followed the energetic young lady up the spiral staircase to show her the vacant rooms.

The east room was sunny and bright, but poorly furnished. In one corner stood several decrepit and damaged chairs, a few old pictures and some bundles of matting. A door, closed and locked, communicated with the room back of it--the room Miss Halliday herself occupied. Aunt Hyacinth, in a whisper, called Judith’s attention to this door.

Perhaps that accounted for the desire of the old woman that Miss Eliot take the west room, which was not nearly so pleasantly situated; but the young lady promptly decided that the east room suited her best. She was accustomed to doing things for herself, and with Auntie’s help dragged the cast-off chairs and other lumber into the west room and made a selection of the best furniture from the two.

Also, she robbed the stately parlor downstairs of a comfortable rocker and the hall of a small stand. When the east room had been swept, dusted and cleaned, it appeared to be quite livable, although Aunt Hy shook her head gravely and declared that it was not nearly as good as the front rooms. In fact, she confided to Judith that the east room “wasn’t fit fo’ ’spectible comp’ny.”

“When Phil and Don come home to lunch,” said Judith, “I’ll get them to help me up with the trunks and bags, and then I’ll unpack and settle.”

At noontime, however, when the children came home from school, Phœbe vetoed the entire carefully planned arrangement. Cousin Judith mustn’t be tucked into that cheerless east room on any account, but should have Phœbe’s own pretty room at the front, with its balcony overlooking the village and the river.

“I’m seldom in my room,” said the girl, “while you, Cousin Judith, will often shut yourself up to paint or write. So, I’ll move into the east room in a jiffy, and rid up the front room so you can take possession.”

Miss Eliot protested against this change, but Phœbe had a will of her own and moreover, was right in her argument. Everyone energetically assisted in transferring Phœbe’s “traps” across the hall, and before school time arrived Cousin Judith’s baggage had all been carried to the big front room and deposited there.

That afternoon Phœbe “settled” her new quarters in five minutes’ time, for she was not very particular about appearances and had the true Southern disposition to leave any article wherever it happened to be. Order was not one of her characteristics, but Phœbe always claimed she could find anything she wanted, just as quickly as those who put them properly away.

Cousin Judith, although an artist, had an inherent aversion to disorder. She wanted her surroundings to look pretty at all times, and a tasteful arrangement of her possessions meant a place for everything and everything in its place. Phœbe was astonished when she came home that afternoon at the transformation effected in her old room. A hundred pretty knickknacks and articles of virtu, brought from foreign parts, had been arranged most effectively. Some choice prints from Paris and Dresden were on the walls; a small bust of Psyche in pure Carrara stood on the mantel. Judith’s well-worn easel was inscribed on every inch of its wooden surface with autographs of more or less famous artists and litterateurs who had visited her studio.

With all this the place looked as cosy and homelike as it was attractive, and thereafter the greatest joy of a Daring, big or little, was to pass an hour in Cousin Judith’s room.

Phœbe’s sleep in the east hall room was as sound and peaceful that night, as it had been before she moved from her more commodious quarters. She glanced more than once at the connecting door, as she undressed, but no sound came from old Miss Halliday’s room on the other side. There was a transom over the door, but probably the glass had long since been broken or removed, for a thin board now covered it, tacked to the frame from Phœbe’s side. There was no ready communication to be had between the two sides of the house, and as far as Phœbe was concerned she was well pleased that this was so.

That Saturday was a great day for the Darings.

“We’re going to have a good long talk together,” announced Cousin Judith at breakfast. “Just as soon as I get my room in order and Phœbe makes your beds we will get together in the parlor and begin to get acquainted.”

“Oh, not the parlor, please,” protested Don. “It’s so gloomy there.”

“The pahlah will spoil all our fun,” added Sue.

“Then you must come to my own room,” decided Cousin Judith.

Becky went out on the porch while the preparations were pending and saw the Randolph children, faultlessly attired, standing hand in hand just across the street.

“Hello, Becky!” shouted Allerton. “Come on over.”

Doris turned to him reprovingly. Then she raised her voice to Becky and said:

“My brother wishes to invite you to join us.”

“Can’t go you,” returned Becky, carelessly. “My Cousin Judith’s come, an’ we’re goin’ to have some chin music.”

“May I inquire what sort of an entertainment you refer to?” asked Doris, coming a little nearer.

“You may,” said Becky, graciously.

Doris waited, still holding her brother’s hand. To Becky it seemed absurd that such a big boy and girl should act so much like infants. So far, her acquaintance with the Randolphs had only interested her because she could “guy them” unmercifully, without their discovering it.

Allerton’s patience was not equal to that of his demure sister.

“Please tell us,” he pleaded.

“If you had a good chance, Al, you’d soon blossom into a boy--quite a decent boy,” remarked Becky, reflectively. “The trouble is, you’ll never get a chance in that stuck-up crowd you train with. Why don’t you run away and be a man?”

“I am scarcely old enough, I fear,” he sighed.

“Then be a bootblack, or a chimney sweep, or a robber, or--or--_any_thing!”

“Oh, Rebecca!” wailed Doris, greatly shocked. “How sadly the lightness of your mind is reflected in your words!”

“By cracky, you’ve got _me_ going,” returned Becky, despondently. “What does it, Doris; religion, or Boston kindergartens?”

“You have not yet told us what ‘chin music’ means,” suggested Allerton, with much interest. “It is a new term to us.”

“It means a confab, that’s all.”

“You must pardon our ignorance,” Doris observed, in her most proper manner. “Our vocabulary, you know, is limited to authorized words; yet with you the English language seems to have been amplified, and the grammatical construction of many sentences altered. Is it an idiom peculiar to this section of the country, or have you authority for the use of such unusual expressions?”

Somehow, Becky felt distinctly abashed. She might laugh at the proper speech of Doris Randolph and regard it in the light of a good joke; but, after all, she experienced a humiliating sense of her own crudeness and lack of refinement whenever the new neighbors engaged her in conversation.

Of course she resented this feeling, which intruded itself, unasked. The Darings were as good as the Randolphs, any day, she mentally declared, knowing all the time the thought was an admission of inferiority. Becky had had careful training once upon a time, and her dead mother’s injunction never to forget her personal dignity, nor give to others an opportunity to disparage it, was not wholly forgotten by the girl. She well knew that she had cultivated the slang of the streets and their rabble because some of her village associates considered it amusing and had encouraged her by their laughter. So, although the reproaches of the carefully trained Randolph children were only implied, through their complete ignorance of such phrases, the girl felt them nevertheless, and this made her bitter and more reckless than ever.

Fortunately, Phœbe called to her just then and with a shout of “So long, bully Bostoners!” she ran in to attend the gathering in Cousin Judith’s room.

Now it chanced that Miss Eliot had overheard, through her open window, the conversation exchanged across the street by Becky and her neighbors, and her sweet face flushed painfully while she listened. That a daughter of gentle, refined Molly Eliot should exhibit coarseness and vulgarity amazed and annoyed her. More than once during the brief day since her arrival she had winced at the rude sallies of Becky and Don, and even little Sue had sometimes offended her sensitive ears.

“There are many difficulties to be surmounted and plenty of hard work ahead of me, I fear,” she thought, with a sigh of regret. “But my duty to these waifs is plain, and I must pray for strength and wisdom to accomplish it.”

Then she turned and showed a smiling face as the Darings trooped in, an eager group. Many were their exclamations of pleasure as they examined Cousin Judith’s “pretty things,” and even Becky was so thoroughly delighted and turned her clear hazel eyes so adoringly upon her cousin that her recent rudeness was almost condoned.

Judith began with a relation of her own history, including many incidents of her life abroad and the hard struggle she had faced to win recognition as an artist. Then she told them of the deep affection that had always existed between her and “Cousin Molly,” the mother of the absorbed audience. She had been deeply pained at Molly’s death, and when, three years later, Molly’s children lost their father--their only natural protector--Judith had remembered that she was their nearest relative, next to Gran’pa Eliot, and it seemed her duty to go to them and help them to face the world and become the noble men and women their dear mother so fondly wished them to be.

The Darings were duly impressed and affected. Sue and Phœbe sobbed a little, and Phil wiped his eyes more than once. Donald was not so emotional but looked grave and thoughtful, while Becky’s face was white and set as she realized how little credit she had thus far reflected on the sweet, gentle mother who had been prematurely taken from them.

“What I wish,” said Judith, wistfully, “is to become a second mother to dear Molly’s children; to do for them what I think Molly would have done, had she lived. But I cannot acquire such a proud position, my dears, without your full and free consent. You must talk this over among yourselves and decide if you are willing to adopt me.”

Phœbe wrapped her arms around the speaker and kissed her cheek, while tears trembled on her dark lashes.

“Oh, Cousin Judith!” she said; “we’re so happy, and so grateful!”

Becky knelt at Judith’s feet and buried her head in her lap. Sue came like a dainty fairy to find a refuge in Judith’s embrace.

“I’d like another mamma--awful well!” she whispered; “and I couldn’t find a lovelier one than you, Cousin Judith.”

“You’ve given up a good deal for us,” Phil remarked in a husky voice, “and I’m afraid we’re not worth it, at all. But the--the youngsters need some sort of a mother, Cousin, and Phœbe and I need some one to advise us and help us in our times of trouble and worry. So we--we haven’t the courage to refuse your generous offer.”

“It won’t need a vote,” asserted Don, scowling darkly to keep from crying. “You’re elected unanimous, Little Mother; an’ that settles it.”

Judith smiled and kissed them all in turn, big and little. Then she said, very seriously:

“This alliance, my dears, means a good deal to all of us, and must not be undertaken lightly. We must have a fair and square agreement, on both sides, setting forth and defining what we have undertaken.”

They were very attentive, at this.

“First,” she continued, “I want to tell you that I am going to love each one of you, dearly, and I want you to promise you will try to love me in return.”

“Why, we do already!” exclaimed Sue, and Judith felt that she answered for all.

“The duty of a mother,” she explained, “is not only to love her children, but to train them properly. She must correct their faults, direct their amusements, attend to their deportment, laugh when they are glad and grieve over their sorrows. And they, in turn, must be content to be guided by her larger experience in life and willing to obey her in everything.”

“Of course,” said Becky, nodding. “We’ll agree to all that, Cousin Judith.”

“I long to have you grow up to be admired and respected by all you meet, as your father and mother were. Do you realize how proud a thing it is to be a Daring? You bear an honored name, my dears--a name that has always stood for nobility, truth, generosity and culture. You must guard that name, jealously, so as not only to reflect credit upon your parentage, but to win for yourselves the approval of the world.”

The awed silence that greeted this speech was broken by Donald. Perhaps he was really more affected than any of the others; I think his very soul was stirred by a desire to be a credit to his name and to himself. But he said bluntly and with a mischievous grin:

“You girls needn’t worry. You’ll change your names some day--if you’re lucky!”

It relieved the tense situation and they all laughed, including Judith. But she meant the lesson to be impressive and not easily forgotten, so she hailed a suggestion from Becky, which was perhaps intended to be as flippant as Donald’s remark.

“Let’s draw up an agreement, and all sign it,” cried the girl. “Phœbe has a typewriter, and we won’t need any lawyer.”

“A good idea,” said Miss Eliot. “Phœbe and I will go to her room and draw up the Articles of Adoption.”

This was done, and the others waited restlessly enough for a full hour for them to return, although Phil took occasion to point out how fortunate they all were to secure a friend and protector in this, their hour of greatest need.

After all, the Articles of Adoption proved quite simple and brief, although they had taken so long to prepare. Most of the paper was devoted to Cousin Judith’s agreement to love and watch over the five Darings, to correct their errors, promote their happiness and fill the place of a real mother to them, so far as she was able. The Darings, for their part, merely agreed to obey her as they would have done their natural parents. But at the last was a little clause that was destined to prove very important--more important than it then seemed. It stipulated that if any of the signers revolted from the letter or spirit of the agreement, or in other words broke the contract, the culprit should submit the case to any two of the others he or she might select; and, if they decided the offender was wrong, then he or she must either accept proper punishment, or become divorced from these Articles of Adoption.

The Darings signed the papers with enthusiastic glee; Phœbe first, because she was five minutes older than her twin; then Phil and Becky, and Don and Sue. Two copies had been made, one for Phœbe to keep and one for Cousin Judith; and to make it appear more legal and binding, Aunt Hyacinth was called in as a witness and made an inky impression of her thumb on both documents by way of signature.

By this time dinner was ready, for the Darings ate their heartiest meal in the middle of the day, in good Southern fashion.

While they dined, Cousin Judith said she would devote the afternoon to long private talks with each of her adopted children. She wanted them to tell her all about themselves, their hopes and trials and longings, and then she would be able to help them, individually, to better advantage.

Sue was closeted with the Little Mother first, because she was the youngest and most impatient. She emerged from Cousin Judith’s room bright-eyed and smiling, and then Don went in. One by one they had heart to heart talks with their newly adopted counsellor, the sessions of Phil and Phœbe being much the longest because they were older and had more to explain. When the conferences finally ended, Judith had gleaned much valuable information concerning the Daring household, and was prepared to assume her new duties with proper intelligence.

CHAPTER IX

PHŒBE HAS AN ADVENTURE

Perhaps no one was so greatly relieved by the advent of Cousin Judith as Phœbe Daring. The girl had keenly felt her responsibilities during the troubled months since her father’s death, and her days and nights had been filled with anxieties. Now, however, she could cast all worry to the winds, for the new head of the household, albeit gentle of demeanor, low voiced and cheery, had nevertheless a reserve force and power of command that inspired confidence, being in sharp contrast to Phœbe’s own inexperience and lack of self reliance.

Aunt Hyacinth also felt relief. She had not worried much, at any time; it wasn’t her way. But Phœbe’s girlish responsibilities were as nothing compared to those of the black mammy whose tenderly reared brood seemed, in these adverse times, to have become neglected and forsaken by all the world. She hailed Miss Eliot’s coming with joy and unfeigned gratitude, and when she understood that “Miss Judy,” as she called her in the old days, was to take charge of the household, she felt a great weight lifted from her brave old shoulders.

“I knows dem chill’ns ben runnin’ wild, Miss Judy,” she said earnestly, “but I ain’t got de eddication, ner de arg’mentation to keep ’em toein’ de chalk mark. It needs mo’ brains ner Aunt Hy’cinth’s got.”

One night, when Phœbe had been asleep for some time, she was roused by a peculiar sound in the next room--the room back of her own--occupied by old Miss Halliday. It was a faint but persistent sound, as of something sliding softly over a wooden surface, and now and then it was accompanied by the crooning voice of the housekeeper. She did not speak, at these times, but droned a long, sighing “m-m-m-m-m” that denoted both ecstasy and intense excitement. The sounds were all subdued and stealthy, but in the dead of night they were clearly heard by the girl, who became half frightened, wondering if old Elaine had gone mad.

While she lay in her bed listening, a sudden silence fell, followed by several gentle thumps which she could not explain. Then a chair was pushed back; Miss Halliday pattered softly across the floor--and perfect silence ensued.

Phœbe lay a long time afterward listening for a recurrence of the mysterious sounds, but they did not mature and presently the girl fell asleep again.

Next morning the recollection of the occurrence was rather dim in her mind. She remembered her midnight fears and considered them rather soberly while dressing; but afterward, when she saw Miss Halliday feeding her chickens and looking after the garden in her accustomed manner, alert, composed and engrossed in her work, Phœbe dismissed any idea of the old woman’s being insane and soon forgot all about the incident.

This was commencement week, and Phil and Phœbe both graduated. The twins were not on a par as far as scholarship was concerned, for the girl barely passed her examinations. Phil was at the head of his class, as he had hoped to be, but he was obliged to share that honor with one other. Janet Ferguson had pressed him hard for first place all the term, and at last she stood equal to Phil in all classes. With manly generosity he was the first to congratulate her, for he liked Janet. She was a modest, quiet girl who had a smile and a pleasant word for everyone.

Old Judge Ferguson was mightily pleased. He slapped Phil on the back and said approvingly: “If you can keep step with my Janet, Phil, you’ve something to be proud of, I assure you.”

Phil _was_ proud, and so was Phœbe. She had not expected honors, herself, but that her twin should do so well was certainly a source of pride to her. She fairly reveled in her brother’s reflected glory.

Cousin Judith gave Phil a scarf pin from Paris and Phœbe an oriental bracelet of unique design. Nor did she forget the daughter of her old friend Judge Ferguson, for Janet received from her, as a graduation gift, a silver brooch brought from Venice.

That evening was a joyous one in the Daring household. The younger children realized that a long vacation was ahead of them. Phœbe was now at liberty to begin life in earnest, and Phil was about to take his place in Spaythe’s Bank. Aunt Hy, well knowing this to be a festive occasion, prepared an elaborate supper, and afterward they all gathered in an end of the big parlor, which Judith’s deft hand had by this time rendered more cosy, and spent the evening listening to their Little Mother’s fascinating stories of Italian life.

It was late when they retired for the night, and Phœbe was tired. She was soon in bed, but the day’s excitement was yet upon her and she could not readily compose herself to sleep. Thoughts of the future and her ambitious plans for it obtruded themselves persistently, and she was wide-eyed when the ormolu clock, in Cousin Judith’s room opposite, chimed the hour of midnight.

Soon after her ear caught another sound--the gentle, stealthy sliding--sliding--sliding of some hard substance across a table-top. It came from Miss Halliday’s room, and was exactly the same sound she had heard several nights before.

Presently the old woman began her droning again: “M-m-m-m-m!”--a croon of the most beatific joy and exaltation. She evidently desired to suppress the murmur, for fear of being overheard, so that at first it barely reached Phœbe’s listening ears. But now and then her ecstasy led her to forget caution and raise the croon to a higher key.

It was all so uncanny, so strange and inexplicable, that the girl was more startled than she had been before. Yet she did not feel so alarmed, this time, as she was curious.

Softly throwing back the coverlet she tiptoed to the connecting door and crouched down to look through the keyhole. Only blackness rewarded the attempt. Then she placed her ear to the panel, but found she could not hear much more distinctly than when lying in bed. Shivering a little in the night air Phœbe was about to retreat when suddenly the thumps began, and between them Elaine spoke.

“Mine!” she said, muttered low but quite distinct. Then came a thump. “Mine!” she repeated. Another thump. “Mine!” she said, again; and so the word and the thump followed each other several times. Afterward, a brief silence and shuffle of the woman’s feet across the room. Then, as before, all sounds ceased.

Phœbe went back to bed thoughtful and perplexed. Surely there was some mystery about this queer performance. She remembered how unwilling Miss Halliday had been to have any of the Darings occupy the hall bedrooms, and it seemed there must be some connection between this reluctance and the strange sounds she had twice heard.

For some indefinite reason which she could not have explained Phœbe said nothing about these experiences, either to the Little Mother or to her brothers or sisters. The girl was inclined, at times, to dream wonderful daydreams when those about her thought her absorbed in humble occupations. Looking upon the world with clear, calm eyes, Phœbe found it essentially practical and commonplace, and accepted it as she found it, striving to do her duty at all times. But the fascinating dreams would not be denied, and one of her secret pleasures was to allow them full play in her mind when her hands were engaged in some unimportant matter. She never confided them even to her beloved twin; they were sacred to herself alone, and any exposure of them would have shamed her terribly.

They were healthy dreams, if inherently romantic and unreal. There was nothing morbid about Phœbe, although it must be admitted she had some queer characteristics that might be called faults. Cousin Judith thought she was more like her mother than any of the other children, yet her shrewd eyes marked the girl’s frequent abstraction and knew her thoughts were often far away from her material surroundings.

Phœbe scented a mystery. That old Miss Halliday possessed some secret which she dreaded to have revealed was quite evident to her, judging from what she had overheard. It would be difficult to explain to others, those peculiar sounds. Perhaps, she would be laughed at if she attempted it. She resolved, therefore, to keep her own counsel and watch Elaine carefully. If she discovered the secret it would then be time enough to make it known; meantime, she could enjoy the suggestion of a mystery without interference.

Practical, everyday life is apt to dispel visionary dreams. Phœbe leaned from her window the next morning and watched Cousin Judith bargaining with Miss Halliday for a dozen of fresh eggs.

“The Randolphs, across the road, pay me twenty cents a dozen,” said Elaine, gruffly. “You can buy eggs from the grocer for eighteen. There’s no need to waste your money on me.”

“Do the Randolphs take all you have?” asked Judith.

“Yes; and cry for more.”

“Then I will not urge you,” replied Miss Eliot, “although I would be willing to pay you twenty cents, myself. I know your eggs are quite fresh, which is not always the case with those obtained from the grocer.”

“I don’t want your money,” observed the woman, in a disagreeable tone. “I won’t touch your money. Mr. Eliot allows you house room out of charity, but he desires no communication, of any sort, between the two families.”

“How do you know that?” inquired Judith, looking at the old servant, steadily.

“He has told me so.”

“You know very well that he is incapable of speech.”

“Do I? That shows your ignorance, Judith Eliot. Your uncle can speak when he wants to, and speak to some purpose. His mind isn’t paralyzed, I assure you, and he is competent to direct his own affairs.”

“I cannot believe it,” persisted Judith.

The woman looked at her defiantly.

“Call in the law, if you want to,” she said; “I’d be glad to have you do it. Mr. Eliot can prove his mental condition in court, and his right to manage his own property. But if you put him to that trouble he’ll turn out the whole tribe of you, as sure as my name’s Elaine Halliday!”

Judith turned away without further remark. The shrewdness of the woman astonished and perplexed her. Possibly old Elaine was right, and could, if she chose, induce Uncle Eliot to speak. Otherwise she would scarcely have dared to thus defy all interference with her autocratic whims. It was also possible that the paralytic old man was so completely under Elaine’s influence that he would readily follow her suggestions.

Jonathan Eliot had always been a hard, stubborn man, even to his sweet, beautiful daughter Molly. As Judith remembered him, sitting stolidly in his chair that morning when she had forced herself upon his presence, he appeared a living mummy, lost to all recognition of his surroundings. Yet, if Elaine could arouse him at will, and his mind retained its natural poise, there was really danger that he might turn the Darings out of their refuge. Judith would not employ the law; she dared not; but she resolved to consult Judge Ferguson.

Acting upon this determination she at once put on her hat and started for the lawyer’s office.

Phœbe, seeing Miss Halliday busy in the hen-house, left her window and turned to examine the mysterious connecting door between her room and that of the housekeeper. In broad daylight it did not appear especially interesting. It was a heavy, old-fashioned door with a big keyhole in the lock. But when Phœbe stooped down she discovered a thick cloth had been placed on the opposite side, which effectually prevented her from examining the next room. She pushed a long hat-pin through the hole but failed to dislodge the cloth.

Next, she turned her attention to the transom above the door. It had once been made to swing open, but was now tightly nailed shut. Over the glass had been nailed a thin board, which fully covered it; but it was nailed to Phœbe’s side of the transom and the girl at once decided that here might be a way to discover what those mysterious midnight sounds meant.

She went into Phil’s room and searched in his tool chest for some instrument with which to remove the board from the transom. Just then Cousin Judith passed out of the front gate on her way down town, and Phœbe was all alone in the upper part of the house--except, of course, gran’pa, who could not interfere.

She selected a chisel and a hammer, and returned to her room. She drew her stand before the door and by means of a chair mounted to its top. From this elevation her head almost reached the ceiling, and she was able to work comfortably. Quickly prying the nails from the board with the chisel, Phœbe removed it and found a pane of clear glass behind. It was dingy with dust; but by rubbing clear one corner she found herself looking into Elaine’s room.

It was much like her own room, yet even more poorly furnished. A big, broad oaken table stood in the center--a heavily constructed affair that seemed out of place in a bedchamber. It was bare of even a cloth. A small dresser stood at one side; a bed was in the opposite corner; two stiff chairs and a rag carpet completed the furniture of the room, which denoted extreme neatness and cleanliness. Really, there was nothing here pertaining to the mysterious or unusual.

But Phœbe was not satisfied. Those sliding sounds, the old woman’s ecstatic murmurings, must be explained. After a moment’s thought, the girl climbed down from the table and with the chisel managed to cut a square corner out of the thin board. Then she replaced it as it had been before, putting one nail loosely into the corner she had removed, so that while the board over the transom appeared to be intact and undisturbed she could easily slide the corner from its place and so obtain a “peephole.”

Observing her work critically from the floor she decided no one would ever notice that the board had been tampered with. So she returned the tools to Phil’s chest, rearranged her room, and with the complacent idea that she had accomplished a clever feat awaited the moment when she might make an important discovery.

CHAPTER X

A DEPRESSING INTERVIEW

Judith found Mr. Ferguson alone in his office. With an air of much pride she produced the Articles of Adoption and asked him to read the document.

“Don’t pick flaws in its legality, please,” she said with twinkling eyes.

The lawyer read the agreement through very soberly. Then he reached out both his hands and took those of Judith in their firm clasp.

“My dear, you are a noble woman,” he said. “I am almost as grateful to you as if the Darings were my own children. They need a mother, Judith, and the poor things couldn’t have fallen into greater luck than being adopted by you.”

She was a little embarrassed by this praise.

“Tell me what you know about Uncle Jonathan,” she asked, to change the subject.

He gave her an amused glance from beneath his bushy eyebrows.

“Of course the old man would interest you,” he replied. “Curious situation, isn’t it, Judith? Have you seen him?”

“Yes; for a moment.”

“It’s a wonder his grim guardian allowed it.”

“I forced myself into his room, in spite of Elaine.”

“Did you? And found your uncle deaf, dumb and blind, I suppose.”

“Yes,” she returned. “Is he always like that?”

“Always. Unless Elaine Halliday chooses to waken him. Then he comes to life.”

“I did not believe it possible!”

“Nor I,” agreed the lawyer, “until I had experience with the fact. You’ve no idea, Judith, what a time I had to obtain a refuge for the Darings in that household. Elaine stubbornly refused to admit them, claiming that Mr. Eliot was oblivious to all the world and she had received positive instructions never to permit a Daring to enter the house while he lived. I told her frankly that in such a case it was my duty to apply to the law and have a legal guardian appointed to look after her master and his property. This threat alone prevailed upon her. She decided to grant me an interview, and in some way I cannot understand, she whispered into the old man’s ear until he quickened to life far enough to speak. The words were not very distinct and were slowly muttered, for his tongue is partially paralyzed; but I found his intellect was as keen as ever. I explained the unhappy situation of his grandchildren and asked him to help them. He told me he hadn’t a penny to give them, that his money was gone and his fortunes practically ruined.”

“Do you believe that?” asked Judith.

“Yes; I think it is true, my dear. I told him that I did not ask for money for the Darings; I only demanded a shelter for them in his big, unoccupied house; and, although Elaine tried to induce him not to consent, the old fellow silenced her and told me the Darings might occupy all the house, except the four rooms reserved for his own use and that of his servant. So I won the battle, after all.”

Judith considered this thoughtfully.

“What became of his money?” she asked.

“Years ago,” replied Mr. Ferguson, slowly, “I was employed as Jonathan Eliot’s trusted advisor. That was when he owned a large estate and commanded ample means. He was not a generous man, in those days, but grudged every necessary expenditure his family made. After his wife’s death and Molly’s marriage, he came to me one day and said that all his money had been swept away in an unlucky speculation, and he would no longer be able to employ me. He refused to answer any questions as to the manner of his loss. Mr. Spaythe told me, about that time, that Mr. Eliot had drawn all his money from the bank, taking it in gold coin. Your uncle discharged all the servants except Elaine, shut up most of the house, and offered his estate for sale. He lived quite frugally, I learned, and was doubtless very poor. Bit by bit he sold off the lands, until only the house and its garden remained. There is no mortgage on the place, however. Wallace Daring offered to assist his father-in-law, but Eliot irritably refused. They quarrelled soon afterward, as you perhaps know.”

“But I don’t quite understand,” said Judith. “Even if he lost all his ready money, the land must have brought a large sum. What became of that?”

“It squared his debts, I suppose. The old man confided his affairs to no one. He was suspicious of even his own daughter. Then suddenly he became paralyzed, and I went to see if I could be of any help to my old client. Elaine told me she had searched everywhere, without finding a dollar. Until then I had harbored the thought that your uncle had become a miser, for his nature inclined that way; so I examined the house myself, looking high and low in every possible place for any secreted cash or securities, or even for papers that would explain what had become of his money, or account for his impoverished condition. But there was nothing of the sort to be discovered. I am thoroughly satisfied that Jonathan Eliot is as poor as he claims to be.”

Judith sighed.

“The house and lot must be worth considerable,” she said, hesitatingly.

“It might bring a fair price if offered for sale,” said he, “but it would not be advisable to dispose of the place until the Darings grow to maturity. Before that time arrives it is probable old Jonathan Eliot will have passed away and be laid in that ridiculous big white mausoleum he once constructed. Then his grandchildren will inherit the property. While he lives, moreover, we could not sell the place if we desired to, unless we managed to prove Mr. Eliot mentally deficient.”

“Isn’t he?”

“No; not in the eye of the law. Elaine can arouse him whenever she pleases. Indeed, we must consider it fortunate, Judith, that this strange woman is content to care for him. I am sure she makes him as comfortable as is possible.”

“That is true,” admitted the girl.

“By the way,” said the lawyer, “how are you going to manage about money?”

“I have, as you know, an income of fifty dollars a month,” she replied. “With this, added to what Phil earns, we shall be rich. I have also saved, from the sales of my pictures, about two hundred dollars, a part of which I am going to expend at once for new clothing for the children. The poor things need it badly, for Sue, Donald and Becky are growing rapidly and have scarcely a decent garment to put on.”

“You’re a fairy godmother, Judith,” he observed, regarding her with evident approval. “I feel easier about the Darings now; but there’s a fight ahead, my dear, for all of you. Don’t fail to come to me if you need advice or assistance, for I’m the legal guardian of the young brood, remember, and I’m willing to do my duty by them.”

Judith went away feeling much depressed in spirit. The lawyer’s explanation had been so clear that it destroyed all her suspicions of both Elaine and her paralyzed uncle. The matter proved to be very simple, after all, and contained no element of mystery.

CHAPTER XI

GETTING REGULATED

Monday morning Phil went to work at the bank. As Riverdale was a small town, Spaythe’s Bank might be expected to be a small institution, but it was more important than the size of the town really warranted. The beet sugar factory drew many farmers to Riverdale, who deposited the money received for their beets with Mr. Spaythe. The factory itself had large deposits in the bank and the town merchants did a thriving business. Aside from this there were many prosperous plantations and wealthy country gentlemen in the neighborhood, all of which contributed to the importance and prosperity of Spaythe’s Bank.

Three assistants, or clerks, were employed, and Mr. Spaythe directed them in person. The cashier and paying teller was an elderly, quiet man named Boothe. Eric Spaythe told Phil that Boothe was a mere machine, and had not a single thought or idea beyond his duties at the bank. Ned Thurber had held the position of head bookkeeper, but on his withdrawal Eric was promoted to that important position and Phil became his assistant.

Eric was Mr. Spaythe’s only child and it was the banker’s earnest hope that the boy would, one day, succeed him. As is often the case, however, father and son were totally unlike in disposition and character, and those who knew them best were disposed to doubt Eric’s ability to step into his father’s shoes. He was a jolly, pleasure loving young fellow, now in his twentieth year, and Phil liked him and had always found him to be a congenial companion. Short and stout, with a round pink face and merry blue eyes, Eric Spaythe was a general favorite at Riverdale, especially with the women and girls. His one defect seemed to be that he was wholly irresponsible, and never serious. At school he had proved a bad scholar, although the boy was bright enough in other ways, and two years ago his father had taken him from High and placed him in the bank to learn the business.

The most important point of difference between Eric and his father was that the young man was a natural spendthrift, whereas Mr. Spaythe had always been frugal with his money. We may well suppose that this characteristic of Eric was a thorn in the banker’s flesh; but he realized that the boy was young and so did not despair of being able to instill in him a knowledge of the importance of husbanding his means. For this reason he allowed Eric a very small salary, and wondered how the boy could purchase so many fine clothes and articles of fashionable attire with so little money. The tradesmen knew, of course, but considered the banker’s son well entitled to credit.

Phil was accorded a kindly reception at the bank. Mr. Boothe turned his expressionless eyes full upon the new clerk and shook his hand automatically. Eric was delighted to have his old friend associated with him, and elated, as well, by his own promotion to be head bookkeeper. Mr. Spaythe, keenly interested in the important changes in his force of employees, left his private office to overlook the counting room and satisfy himself that the boys understood their duties. Eric protested that he was quite competent to fill Ned Thurber’s place, having been his assistant for the past two years; and, indeed, the banker’s son seemed adequately able in business ways, if he could be induced to keep his mind on his work. After inspecting his entries now and then Mr. Spaythe seemed satisfied with his son’s ability and turned his attention to Phil, who really needed a guiding hand. His extra course in bookkeeping at the high school now stood him in good stead, and he was intelligent enough to quickly grasp his instructions.

“If at any time you are in doubt, Eric will post you,” said the banker; but for several days he made it a point to frequently examine the ledgers and assure himself that the work was progressing satisfactorily. Afterward, so well did both Eric and Phil accomplish their tasks, that Mr. Spaythe left them much to their own devices and kept himself shut up in his private office, as formerly.

The mechanical cashier was not an especially companionable man. Mr. Boothe began each day with a “good morning” to his fellow employees and ended it with a brief “good night.” During the day he said nothing, unless required to answer the questions of the bank’s customers. His accounts were always absolutely accurate, and Mr. Spaythe knew he was justified in relying implicitly upon his cashier to do his duty.

That was a happy Saturday afternoon for Phil when he brought home his first week’s wages and deposited the new ten dollar gold-piece in Cousin Judith’s hand.

“That will help some, won’t it?” he inquired, anxiously.

“It will help a great deal,” was the reply.

About this time Marion Randolph came home from college for the long vacation. She was the eldest daughter of the house, and about the same age as Phil and Phœbe. Judith, looking from her window, saw Marion on the lawn the morning after her arrival and noted her slender, angular form, her delicate, refined face and well-bred poise. She at once decided Marion would be a valuable acquaintance for Phœbe, and decided to bring the two girls together.

“Let us call on the Randolphs this afternoon,” she suggested to Phœbe. “Since they are recent arrivals at Riverdale it is really our duty to call upon them formally. They are likely to prove pleasant acquaintances.”

“I’ve really nothing fit to wear, Cousin Judith,” replied the girl.

The Little Mother examined Phœbe’s wardrobe and selected a simple, white gown. It needed mending in places, but Judith caught up the rents with her deft needle and added some pretty ribbons of her own to the costume. A season of dressmaking had already begun in the house, but Sue and Becky were most in need of respectable raiment, and so Phœbe’s turn had not yet arrived.

When, late in the afternoon, Miss Eliot and Phœbe Daring set out to make their call, there was nothing that the most critical could find fault with in their personal appearance. Phœbe had the reputation of being “the prettiest girl in Riverdale,” and seemed justly entitled to it that day, while Cousin Judith’s sweet face was sure to win approval anywhere.

Mrs. Randolph and her daughter Marion received their neighbors very graciously. The former was a languid, weary looking woman who had secluded herself in this little village in order to escape the demands of society and organized charities, which had nearly reduced her to a state of nervous prostration. Marion was an intelligent, active girl, with none of her younger sister’s assumption of airs and graces. She seemed to Phœbe to be perfectly frank and natural in her ways, possessing ideas that were healthy, broad and progressive. During the interview, Marion developed a liking for Phœbe that pleased Miss Eliot greatly.

“Come and see me,” said Phœbe, shyly, when about to depart. “We are such near neighbors that you can run in at any time.”

“I will, indeed,” was the ready promise, and Marion kept it faithfully.

Thereafter, there was seldom a day when the two girls were not together. Marion came most frequently to see Phœbe, for there was a certain air of conventional stiffness about the great house that both the girls felt and objected to. Sometimes, Doris came with her sister, and was turned over to the tender mercies of mischievous Becky, who teased her visitor in a shameful manner. Usually Doris was all unaware that she was being ridiculed for her primness and stilted expressions, but Cousin Judith was quick to comprehend the situation and took Becky to task for her impoliteness. With all her graceless ways the child was warm-hearted and easily influenced, for good as well as for evil, and she promised the Little Mother to treat Doris nicely and avoid offending her ears by using slangy expressions. Becky intended to keep her word thus given, but at times lapsed irrepressibly into the old ways, so that she was a source of constant anxiety to Judith.

Since Phœbe had chosen to make a friend of Marion, her twin was bound to follow her lead. Phil found the college girl a delightful comrade. He did not care much for girls, as a rule, excepting of course his own sisters, but Marion proved as frank and as keenly intelligent as any boy. She knew all about modern athletics, although too frail of physique to indulge in such sports herself. Likewise she had a fairly practical knowledge of business methods, politics, public institutions and reform movements, and talked well and interestingly upon all subjects of the day. Aspiring to become a poet, she read bits of original verse to her new friends which they considered so remarkable that it was a marvel to them she was not already famous.

“There is only one thing lacking about Marion,” Phil confided to his twin; “she lacks any sense of humor. Seems to me she can’t appreciate anything funny, at all. The only things she laughs at are the mistakes of other people. Isn’t it queer, when she’s so bright in all other ways?”

“I think,” returned Phœbe, musingly, “that is a characteristic of all the Randolphs. Doris and Allerton are the same way, and I’ve wondered if Mrs. Randolph was ever in her life amused enough to laugh aloud.”

“Marion is good company, though,” added Phil, “and I like her.”

“She’s splendid!” agreed Phœbe; “and her poetry reminds me so much of Mrs. Browning.”

“Me too,” he said, laughing. “I never can understand a word of it.”

Others called on Marion and she soon became a popular favorite in the village. Especially, was she attracted to Janet Ferguson, and as Janet was a warm friend of the Darings, this made it pleasant for all the young people. When the famous lawn party was given at the Randolph residence the occasion was one long remembered, for no such elaborate entertainment was ever before known in Riverdale.

The festivity was designed to celebrate Marion’s birthday, as well as to introduce her socially to the young folks of the town.

“Of course it cannot be very exclusive,” observed her mother, when the invitation list was being prepared; “otherwise you would have but a mere handful.”

“I do not wish to be exclusive here,” returned Marion, gravely. “My desire is to study character and human nature, to assist me in my literary work. One cannot write of humanity without knowing something of the rank and file, you see; and there are many respectable, if humble, families in Riverdale.”

Mrs. Randolph scanned the list critically.

“Is it possible that you intend to ask the entire family of Darings?” she inquired.

“Yes, dear. I am inviting Rebecca and Donald for Doris and Allerton, you see, and I cannot well leave out that little fairy elf, Sue. So they must all come.”

“Do you know, Marion, those Darings--the younger ones, I refer to--are very ill-bred children?”

“Their manners are not strictly conventional, I believe.”

“And their language is that of the slums.”

“But they have had no mother to guide them, poor things,” explained Marion. “At times they are very winning and companionable, and I am sure they will behave nicely at my lawn fête.”

“Very well, dear,” sighed the lady; “invite them if you wish to. This was once their home, you remember. After all, it would not be quite right to exclude the Darings from your little affair.”

It may have seemed a “little affair” in the eyes of the blasé society woman, but it was not so to the people of Riverdale, by any means. A brass band of fifteen pieces came from the city by the noon train, and their uniforms were so gorgeous as to create tremendous excitement. Tents had been erected upon the lawn and a force of extra servants employed to prepare and serve the refreshments. The ample grounds were crossed in every direction by strings of unique Japanese lanterns, and in the early evening there was to be dancing to the music of the band.

It was but natural that every young person in town who had received an invitation was filled with joyful anticipation. “From five until nine,” the cards read, and it was hard work for Cousin Judith to control the younger Darings until the hour arrived. Sue insisted upon being dressed directly after dinner, and when arrayed in her new muslin with the cherry ribbons she found such difficulty in keeping still that Judith was fearful Sue would ruin the frock before five o’clock. Rebecca had a new gown, too, and Donald a new suit of clothes. When, finally, the children observed several arrivals at the reception tent on the lawn opposite, which they had carefully watched all afternoon from the dining room window, Miss Eliot felt that she could restrain their impatience no longer and away they trooped across the road.

Marion had asked Phœbe and Janet to assist her to receive, for she did not know personally all whom she had invited, while the other girls were of course familiar with every young person in the village. There were no “regrets” that day, you may be sure, for the unusual occasion could not well be disregarded. Eric Spaythe came early, in an elaborate costume fresh from the tailor, and he paid especial attention to Marion whenever her duties left her disengaged. Al Hayden, Toby Clarke, Jed Hopkins and, in fact, every eligible youth in the village, assembled in bashful groups and looked nervously at the bevies of girls and upon their bewildering surroundings. In order to help Marion, Phil tried to “break the ice,” as he said, by bringing the boys and girls together, and when the band struck up a spirited twostep it relieved the strain to a wonderful degree.

Mrs. Randolph kept out of sight, indulgently viewing the scene from a window. Mr. Randolph had not appeared in Riverdale since he brought his family there and settled them in their new home. He was a busy man, with many extensive financial interests, and could not be away from Boston for very long at a time.

Donald, Becky and Sue had promptly joined Doris and Allerton, and as they were a little younger than the majority of Marion’s guests they formed a group of their own.

“It distresses me,” said Doris, plaintively, “to realize how many poor people are suffering, while we revel at this fête; and I cannot help thinking how many deserving families might be relieved from want by means of the money we are squandering to-day upon useless luxuries.”

“Aw, cut it out!” cried Becky, indignantly. “Do you want to spoil all our fun?”

“My sister is religiously inclined,” observed Allerton; “yet there is a place for everything, and this is not a funeral.”

“Oh, Allerton--how shocking!” exclaimed the girl.

“I don’t believe,” said Don, “you Randolphs would have spent a penny on the poor if you hadn’t given this party; so what’s the odds?”

It suddenly occurred to Becky that this wasn’t a proper topic of conversation under the circumstances, and might lead to a quarrel; so she turned the subject by asking:

“What’s in that red-and-white striped tent?”

“Lemonade and ices,” said Allerton. “Will you have some?”

“Sure thing!” was the reply, and away they went, to be served by a maid in a white cap and apron.

“Doesn’t it cost us anything?” inquired Sue, who found the lemonade extremely good.

“Course not,” returned Becky, helping herself again from the big bowl when the maid was not looking. “But if Doris had her way they’d collect a nickel a glass for charity,--the kind of charity that doesn’t help the poor a bit.”

“Let us go to the long tent, over there,” said Allerton, with eager patronage. “I’ll show you the big birthday cake and the tables all laid with favors and things. If we go in the back way no one will see us.”

Doris was not sure they were doing right to peep at the tables in advance, but as none of the others hesitated to follow her brother she decided to trail along after them.

It was, indeed, a pretty sight, and the Darings were awe-struck.

“When do we feed?” asked Don, hungrily.

“The collation is at half past six, I believe.”

“The what?”

“The collation.”

“Can’t you speak United States?” asked Don, indignantly; “or are you trying to poke fun at me?”

“If you are too ignorant to understand simple language,” retorted Allerton angrily, “you become an object of derision.”

Don glared at him.

“Take that back, you mollycoddle!” he cried, “or I’ll punch your head.”

“Better not,” warned Becky, composedly. “It isn’t polite at a party.”

“Take back your own words!” shouted Allerton, white with rage. “I’m no mollycoddle, and I’ll fight you now, or any time.”

But Doris, startled and dismayed at this disgraceful scene, put her hand on her brother’s arm and drew him away.

“Come, Allerton,” she said, with such dignity as she could command. “You forget yourself.”

“I won’t forget him, if he does,” promised Don.

“Don’t,” answered Allerton, moving away but still furious; “I’ll settle this with you some other time, when you are not my sister’s guest.”

Becky laughed and followed Doris, but outside the tent Allerton broke away from the group and went to nurse his grievances alone. Don was trying to think of a way to apologize to Doris when the girl gave him such a look of mingled scorn and reproach that he turned away, thrust his hands in his pockets and walked across the lawn whistling softly to himself.

“Never mind,” said Becky, with cheerfulness, “they’ll get over it in a minute. It isn’t any of our bread-and-cheese, anyhow.”

The incident, however, had disturbed gentle Doris greatly, and she was so silent and reserved that Becky and Sue soon left her to her own devices and set out to amuse themselves in any manner that might offer.

The band played stirring marches and gavottes. Laughter and merriment were everywhere. All stiffness among the guests seemed to have disappeared, for there were games of archery, lawn ten-pins, quoits and various other devices for the amusement of those assembled. Some of the girls had their fortunes told in the tent of a gypsy, while others watched a big paper balloon that was being sent up.

It was nearly seven o’clock when Marion gathered her guests in the banquet tent, and nearly all had found their places and were seated when in rushed Sue Daring, her white gown streaming all down the front with a sticky pink compound, and gasping with horror and despair she flew to her sister Phœbe, who stared in amazement.

“Keep off, Sue--keep off! Good gracious, what has happened to you?” Phœbe asked.

“I w-w-was helping myself to some l-l-l-lemonade, when the b-bowl tipped over an’ ducked me,” was the wailing reply, while Phœbe held her sister at arms’ length to protect her own dress.

There was a shout of laughter, at this, and poor Sue broke down and began to cry.

“I’ll take her home,” whispered Phœbe to Marion.

“Come straight back, then,” pleaded the hostess; “and have Sue come, too, as soon as she has changed her gown. There has been no harm done, except to the poor thing’s own clothing.”

“Yes, there has,” sobbed Sue. “I b-b-broke the bowl!”

Phœbe led her away, and soon Judith was exclaiming at the child’s dreadful plight. It was useless to think of her rejoining the party, however, for there was not another dress in her limited wardrobe that was proper for the occasion.

“Run back, dear,” said Cousin Judith to Phœbe; “your pleasure must not be spoiled, and I’ll look after Sue and comfort her.”

That was not so easy, for Sue’s disappointment was very poignant indeed. She knew it was her own fault, but that did not comfort her for missing the supper and the dance. However, Judith assisted her to exchange her sticky costume for a common gingham, and to wash all traces of the deluge of lemonade from her face and hands. Then she sat in the Little Mother’s window and listened to the shouts of laughter and the music of the band and gazed at the myriad of twinkling lanterns--and was more miserable than she had ever been before in all her life.

Phœbe had soon rejoined the company and was now participating in the fun. Sue’s accident had rather tended to increase the jollity than otherwise, and was soon forgotten. There were pretty favors for each guest, and as a finale to the delicious supper they all ate some of Marion’s birthday cake and wished her many happy returns of the day. Eric made a little speech which was witty enough to set them all laughing, and Marion thanked the company very modestly for their kind expressions of good will.

Donald sat opposite Allerton at the feast, and the two glared at one another viciously, to Becky’s secret delight.

“Al’s getting to be quite decent,” she whispered to her brother. “I wouldn’t be s’prised if he’d really fight.”

After the banquet came the dancing, and when the guests left the tent to indulge in this amusement they found themselves in a veritable fairyland. For the lanterns had all been lighted while they feasted, and the scene was beautiful beyond anything they had ever before witnessed.

The cards had said: “until nine,” but it was quite ten o’clock when the Darings returned home, eager and excited, and breathlessly recited their experiences to their smiling Little Mother. Sue had insisted on sitting up to hear all about the affair, and the glowing reports made her more miserable than ever.

“Did you have a good time, Don?” she asked, wistfully.

“Oh, so-so,” he replied. “It was a pretty fair show after I got rid of the mollycoddle.”

“That’s the biggest word Don knows,” laughed Becky; but neither she nor Sue betrayed the boy’s quarrel with Allerton.

CHAPTER XII

A BATTLE ROYAL

That night was another wakeful one for Phœbe. She had thoroughly enjoyed the lawn fête, but it left her too nervous for peaceful slumber until her pulses had calmed down and she was enabled to regain her accustomed composure. She went to bed, but not to sleep, and after the house became quiet she lay thinking over the incidents of the evening.

Gradually peace came to her. She was really tired, and the somnolent thrall of midnight was making her drowsy when she was roused by the movements of old Elaine in the next room.

It had been nearly a week since she had removed the board over the transom and prepared her peephole, but during that time the housekeeper had remained quiet, or at least Phœbe had not heard her. To-night the stealthy sounds began again, and after listening a few moments the girl softly arose, drew the table to a position before the door and mounted upon it.

She tried to be quiet, but probably she made some sound in these preparations, for scarcely had she slid the corner of the board away, to look into the next room, when the light which faintly illumined it was suddenly extinguished.

Phœbe stood motionless, waiting. Elaine, doubtless alarmed, did not stir for a long time. The old woman may have scented danger without realizing in what manner it threatened her, but her caution was excessive. At last, Phœbe heard her breathe a low sigh and then patter softly across the room to her bed and lie down.

The seance was over for to-night, without doubt. Exercising great care, the girl noiselessly descended from her perch and, tiptoeing to bed, composed herself to slumber.

Next morning, in considering the night’s occurrence, she decided to leave the table where it stood--before the door--and to place a chair beside it so she could mount noiselessly at any moment. It was several days, however, before Elaine recovered from her fright or suspicions, and during that time no unusual sounds came from her room.

It rained the morning after Marion’s party, and Phœbe was curious to know if all the pretty lanterns had been wetted and destroyed. But, on looking across at the lawn she discovered that every trace of last night’s festivities had been removed by the servants. Tents, lanterns, band stand, all had been taken away as soon as the guests had departed, and the Randolph grounds were as trim and orderly as before.

The children resented the rain, for it kept all of them except Phil, who was at work, cooped up in the house until after dinner. Judith found time, during the dreary forenoon, to tell them some stories and to talk over with them once again the adventures of the lawn fête, which still occupied their minds.

When, at last, the rain ceased and the bright July sun came out of the clouds, they greeted it with genuine relief and joyously scattered in all directions.

Don, deserted by Becky, who had to go to Miss Gray’s for her music lesson, walked out to the street and found Allerton promenading up and down the opposite sidewalk, his head bowed and his hands clasped behind his back--as an old man might have strutted. The sight awakened Don’s slumbering wrath and he called out:

“Hello, mollycoddle! What are you up to?”

Allerton straightened up and glanced across the street.

“Oh, it’s you,” he said. “Are you ready for your thrashing?”

“Yes. I dare you to come over here,” responded Don, promptly.

“If you want your punishment, come and get it!”

“You’re afraid,” sneered Don.

“It isn’t that,” replied Allerton. “I haven’t my gloves here, and I dislike to soil my hands.”

Don glared at his neighbor’s spick and span apparel, and the sight of the “dandy” made him still more combative. Allerton was the biggest and strongest, perhaps; but he was nearly a year younger than Don, who had no thought of his own disadvantage. In that mood he would willingly have fought a giant.

“I dare you to come half way,” he challenged, and as the other boy hesitated, Don advanced along the muddy crossing at the corner until he was at about the middle of it. It was an old board crosswalk, and just beyond where Don stood it was so low that the thin mud of the street had spread a layer over it.

This it was that caused Allerton to hesitate. He had a natural regard for his polished shoes and carefully brushed clothes and, while fully as eager for the fray as Donald, he would have preferred a more suitable place to fight.

The taunts of young Daring, however, were not to be endured. It was really necessary to teach impolite Donald a lesson he would remember. So Allerton attempted the crossing.

When he came to the muddy section he halted.

“Come on, then!” he exclaimed.

“This is half way,” said Don. “Come on yourself.”

“You back down, do you?”

“No, I don’t back down. You’re the coward, Al.”

“Coward!”

“That’s what I said.”

It was too great an insult for Allerton to brook. With doubled fists he advanced upon the eager, slender boy awaiting him. Don staggered under a heavy blow received full upon the chin, and then his own fist shot out and struck Allerton’s chest.

To his amazement it was “a knockdown.” Young Randolph’s feet slipped on the slimy crossing and he fell backward full length in the soft mud of the road.

With a roar of rage and chagrin he scrambled to his feet, and Don planted another blow that sent him to the mud again. It was not a hard blow, by any means. It seemed as though a mere touch was sufficient, for Allerton’s feet were now so covered with mud that he could scarcely stand upon them. A push from Don sufficed to upset him, and observing the ease of the operation Don repeated his blow each time that Allerton arose, laughing gleefully at the result of his own prowess. In the heat of the encounter, however, he neglected to keep his own footing on the cleaner and safer portion of the boards, so that in one of Allerton’s falls his arm struck Don and sent him likewise sprawling in the sticky mud.

They sat up and looked at each other in bewilderment. Allerton had never been so astonished in his life as at his present misadventure, and now, as he saw one side of Don’s head plastered with mud, which filled an ear and an eye, he burst into a hearty laugh.

Don scraped the mud out of his eye, blinked at his antagonist, and laughed too.

“Guess honors are about even, Al,” he said. “I’ve had enough. Have you?”

“Plenty,” declared Allerton, making an effort to rise from the puddle. Don managed to find his feet after a severe struggle.

“My, but you’re a sight!” he exclaimed.

“So are you,” replied Allerton, cheerfully. “We both ought to be ashamed of ourselves.”

“I--I’m afraid Cousin Judith will scold.”

“Well, I’m certain to catch it, all right. So long, Don.”

“So long, Al. Let’s go down town, after we’ve dressed.”

“All right.”

Thus the fight resulted in amity; but Don was dreadfully humiliated when he had to face the Little Mother in all that mess. He took off his shoes on the porch and humbly made his way up stairs to knock at Judith’s door.

“I--I’ve fallen down in the mud,” he called to her. “May I put on my best suit?”

Miss Eliot had been a witness of the entire scrimmage from her window, and had even overheard the words that had preceded and provoked the fight. She had decided not to interfere, but now she answered in a frigid voice through the closed door:

“No, Donald. I cannot have your best suit ruined.”

“But what shall I do, Cousin Judith?”

“You must go to bed until the mud on your clothes dries and they can be properly cleaned.”

Donald stood silently in the hall, his face flushed red with humiliation. He waited a long while for Cousin Judith to speak again, but she remained silent. At last he crept away to his own room, removed the disreputable garments and examined them dolefully. Coat, trousers, shirt, stockings--all were alike plastered with thick layers of fresh mud. It would take them a long time to dry, he feared.

With a sinking heart he put on his pajamas, having first washed himself clean, and then sat down to consider his dismal fate.

“It was a pretty good fight,” he mused; “but fighting don’t seem to pay, somehow. I wish I had let Al alone. He isn’t so much of a mollycoddle, after all.”

Finally, he thought of Aunt Hyacinth, and resolving to appeal to that faithful friend he crept down into the kitchen and begged her to help him. Aunty looked the clothes over in dismay, saying:

“’Tain’t no use, Marse Don. Dat ’ar mud won’t dry ’fore mawnin’, nohow. I’ll do mah bes’, honey; but I neveh seen sich a mess in all mah bohn days!”

With this verdict Don was forced to be content. He had a notion to appeal to Cousin Judith again, but could not muster the courage. So he got a book, lay down upon his bed and passed the rest of the afternoon in abject misery.

CHAPTER XIII

PHIL MAKES A DISCOVERY

Eric came to the bank a little late on the morning following the party, but as soon as he had joined Phil at the high desk which they used in common he began to sing the praises of Marion Randolph.

“She isn’t a raving beauty, Phil,” he said, “and until now I’ve always hated the sight of any girl that wears glasses; but Marion’s a crackerjack in some ways. She’s got a wad of money, for one thing--or her old man has, and that’s just the same.”

“I suppose Mr. Randolph is a very wealthy man,” remarked Phil, who disliked to discuss Marion with his friend.

“Wealthy!” cried Eric; “why, Randolph’s the head of the big Boston bond syndicate. He’s one of the slickest financiers in this country. Look here, Phil,” turning to a page in the ledger; “just notice this entry. When Mr. Randolph came here with the family, he deposited in our bank ten thousand in cold cash. He and Mrs. Randolph may both check against the account, but you see she’s only drawn a little over a thousand dollars, so far. That’s the sort of a customer we like, and if Mr. Randolph can let ten thousand lie idle in a country bank he must have scads of money.”

Then Eric discussed the elaborate entertainment of yesterday and dwelt perpetually upon the money the Randolphs must be possessed of, until Phil was thoroughly annoyed.

“What does it matter, Eric?” he said. “Money can’t buy everything, in this world.”

“What can’t it buy?” demanded Eric, astonished.

“It can’t buy happiness, or health, or--”

“That’s rubbish, Phil. Give a fellow plenty of money and he’s bound to be happy; he can’t help it. And as for health, money gets the best and most skillful doctors and surgeons in the land, and they’ll cure a rich man where a poor man will die. There isn’t anything, old man, that money won’t do.”

“Then you ought to be satisfied, Eric. Your father is the richest man in Riverdale, except perhaps Mr. Randolph, and you are his only child.”

“Oh, it’ll come to me in time, I guess,” returned Eric, carelessly; “but just now the gov’nor holds me in pretty tight lines. How in blazes can he expect a young fellow to live on my salary? Why, it’s preposterous!”

Phil did not reply to this. It was none of his business.

In some ways this association with Eric was not of the most pleasant description. The two boys had grown up together in the village and had always been friends in a way; but now that Phil was thrown more closely into Eric’s companionship he discovered many traits in his nature that did not seem wholly admirable.

The older boy was a persistent cigarette smoker, and laughed at Phil for refusing to imitate him.

“I’ve tried it,” said Phil, quietly, “but I don’t like the things. To me there’s no fun in smoking.”

After office hours Eric often pleaded with Phil to go to the hotel and play pool with him. Mr. Daring had always had a pool and billiard table in a large room in the attic of his house, and he had taught all his children to play. None of them, however, cared especially for the amusement, and his father’s wisdom was evident when Phil now revolted from a game at the hotel.

“I’m not a good player, Eric,” he said, “and I can’t imagine anyone loafing in that grimy, smoky room just to play a game of pool. What’s the fun in it?”

Mr. Spaythe strongly objected to billiards and pool. He had even reproved Wallace Daring, at times, for having a table in his house. Eric had been sternly forbidden to play, and for that reason those stealthy games at the hotel possessed for the young man the attraction of forbidden fruit.

“Fun!” he retorted; “why, there’s lots of fun in pool. We play for the drinks, you know, and I can beat nearly every fellow in the village. When the farmers’ sons come in, they’re dead easy; there are always some of them around the hotel, and they’re proud to play with me because I’m the banker’s son.”

“Then play with them,” advised Phil. “I don’t drink, as you know, and I’d be poor company for you.”

Eric shook his head sadly.

“You’ll never amount to much in the world, Phil, with those namby-pamby ideas of yours.”

“I don’t consider them namby-pamby ideas, Eric; I simply don’t care for the things you do.”

“The good die young.”

“Oh, I’m not so good as to be in any danger,” laughed Phil. “I imagine I’m pretty full of faults, Eric, and you mustn’t quarrel with me because my faults are not the same as your own.”

After a time young Spaythe refrained from urging Phil to join in his amusements; but he seemed not to be offended and proved genial enough as they worked together at the bank. The two young men occupied a large room at the rear of the neat, one-story brick building. They worked perched upon high stools at a big double desk, where the books were spread out. Behind them was the grim, austere safe which was the repository of so much specie that Phil’s brain sometimes whirled at sight of the heaps of gold and bank notes. Mr. Spaythe’s private office was in front, and beside it was the brass-railed coop where Mr. Boothe sat all day dispensing or receiving money according to the requirements of the customers.

The cashier could not overhear their conversation, if the boys spoke moderately low, and he paid no attention to them, anyway, and seldom even glanced toward them.

“I’ve invited Marion to the boat race,” said Eric one day, soon after the party. “Are you going to pull stroke for our crew, Phil?”

“I suppose so.”

“Do your best, then, old man. I’m going to bet heavily on our crew.”

“I wouldn’t, Eric.”

“Why not?”

“The least little accident decides a boat race.”

“I’ll risk it. We’ve defeated Bayport two years running, and we’re due for a third victory. As a matter of fact, I’m just forced to tie to this race, Phil, and win some necessary money. I owe about everybody in the town, and some of them are getting impatient to see the color of my money.”

Phil knew this was true, and did not care to reply. After working silently for a time he said:

“Eric, didn’t Samuel P. Martin deposit $380 yesterday?”

“No. It was $280.”

“Where’s the slip?”

“Put away, somewhere.”

“But, I’m sure it was three-eighty. I heard him say he wanted four hundred for his team, and threw off twenty dollars in order to make the deal.”

Eric looked a little annoyed.

“I entered two-eighty on the books, didn’t I?” he asked, scowling.

“Yes; that’s what surprised me.”

“Well, then the entry must be correct.”

“I’ll ask Mr. Boothe.”

“Let him alone. It’s my affair.”

Phil said no more, but was still puzzled. When he came back to the bank after dinner he saw that Eric had laid a deposit slip on his desk. It showed that Samuel P. Martin had deposited $280 in Spaythe’s Bank. Phil thought the ink appeared to be quite fresh.

“You see I was right, after all,” observed Eric, glancing at Phil a little anxiously. “After you left I hunted up the deposit slip. Old Martin may have sold his team for three-eighty, but he only put two-eighty in the bank.”

A few days later Phil had occasion to ask:

“Where is the check for two hundred, drawn by Mrs. Randolph?”

“When did she draw it?” inquired Eric.

“This morning, according to the entry. And just now she has presented another check for fifty. I’ve just taken it from Mr. Boothe’s spindle.”

“Probably she didn’t get enough the first time,” remarked Eric, lazily puffing his cigarette, for his father was away from the office just then and he could stealthily indulge in his pet vice.

“I must have that check to file--the one for two hundred--and it isn’t here,” persisted Phil, who had no intention of neglecting any part of his duty.

Eric stared at him, a moment.

“Hand me that bunch of canceled checks,” he said; “I’ll find it.”

Phil passed the bundle across the desk, and while Eric slowly turned over the paid checks and seemed to examine them carefully the other bent his eyes upon the books and continued his work. After a time, the banker’s son handed back the checks.

“There it is, Phil. I’ve placed it on top.”

Yes, there it was, sure enough, although Phil was positive it had not been in the lot before. He did not refer to the subject again, but went on with his task, feeling miserable and dispirited at the thoughts that intruded themselves upon his mind.

Eric left early that afternoon, when Phil took occasion to carefully compare the two checks issued by Mrs. Randolph. That for two hundred was not numbered and seemed to have been very hastily written.

There was a dull ache in young Daring’s heart as he put away the books and papers and prepared to go home. An odd suspicion had forced itself upon him--a suspicion so cruel and deplorable that the boy reproached himself for harboring it for even a moment.

That evening he had a long talk with Phœbe, his only confidant. After relating to his twin the circumstances of Martin’s deposit and Mrs. Randolph’s curious check he said:

“I know I am wrong to be mistrustful, for Eric is Mr. Spaythe’s only son, and would not, of course, attempt to rob his father. But when Martin pushed his money over the counter to Mr. Boothe he said in a loud voice: ‘There’s three hundred and eighty dollars more toward my savings’; so, in spite of that deposit slip, I am almost sure he banked the entire amount.”

“Can Eric get into the safe, where the money is kept?” asked Phœbe, after some thought.

“Of course. He has to put away the books, and often we are not through with our work upon them until after Mr. Boothe has gone. They both have the combination of the safe and the keys to the bank. Naturally, I have not been entrusted with either, as yet.”

Phœbe took time to consider this.

“I suppose,” she finally said, “it would be quite possible for Eric to take a hundred dollars from the safe and then make the entry of Mr. Martin’s deposit a hundred dollars less than it actually was.”

“Yes.”

“Then no one would suspect what Eric had done.”

“Why, the books would not show the theft, of course; but in time Mr. Martin will be sure to discover that he has not been credited with that hundred dollars, and that will lead to an investigation. It’s the same way with Mrs. Randolph’s check,” added Phil, regretfully. “She has a large amount on deposit, and may not discover for a long time that her account is two hundred dollars short.”

“Are you sure she did not sign that check?” asked Phœbe.

“No; I cannot be positive. Mrs. Randolph is in the habit of drawing money from the bank but once a week. She writes neatly and numbers all her checks. To-day I found an entry that Eric had made in the book showing she had drawn two hundred, and the check itself, which should have been among those Mr. Boothe had cashed and turned over to me, was missing. Almost immediately came in the usual check for fifty, made out in Mrs. Randolph’s neat and careful way. Naturally, I was puzzled. When Eric finally found the two hundred dollar check, it was not like Mrs. Randolph’s checks at all, although the handwriting was similar.”

“Have you noticed any other suspicions things?” the girl inquired.

“Several,” replied Phil, after a brief hesitation. “But, I’ve never even dared to suspect Eric before. I hope I’m wrong; indeed, I _must_ be wrong!”

They were walking along a country lane in the twilight. Phil’s arm was around his twin’s waist; the scent of new mown hay came to them from the neighboring fields.

“I do not think you are justified in accusing Eric to his father,” said Phœbe, musingly. “It will be better to keep your suspicions to yourself.”

“That is my idea. I’m not hired as a detective; I’m merely a bookkeeper.”

“Still,” she said, “you owe a certain loyalty to Mr. Spaythe. If an employee discovers the bank being robbed it is his duty to speak; unless--”

“Unless the robber is the banker’s own son,” added Phil; “in which case it would be a kindness to keep the knowledge from him.”

Phœbe sighed.

“Eric has a good heart,” she observed, “and I’m sure he’d never think of taking money from anyone but his father. He isn’t robbing the customers of the bank by these acts, you know.”

“That is true, for the false entries are certain to be discovered, when the bank will be obliged to make good the deficiencies. Eric realizes this, I suppose. He has been very extravagant lately, and his father keeps him on a very small salary. So, it seems to me, he has been tempted to take what doesn’t belong to him.”

“I’m awfully sorry,” said the girl. “It’s a dreadful thing, Phil, any way you look at it. But I do not think it is your place to interfere. Fate will take care of the problem, and Eric’s final downfall is certain.”

“Would you advise me to have a private talk with him, and tell him what I know?” asked Phil.

“What’s the use? He cannot put back the money he has taken. Better let the thing run its course, Phil, and keep out of it yourself in every way.”

“I will,” said Phil, with decision.

But Eric was not long in discovering a change in Phil’s attitude toward him. The young man did not mean to alter his manner toward his old friend, but their former congenial relations were rather abruptly broken off, much to Eric’s surprise. Then the latter became suspicious, and while he spoke to his colleague as cheerfully as of old, Phil frequently caught Eric watching him with a sly, searching glance that had a trace of fear in it. This mistrust gradually wore away when the banker’s son found he had not been betrayed, or even questioned. If Phil found any entries in the books that did not look exactly right to him, he passed them over and said nothing. This served to restore Eric’s confidence in him, and the two boys continued to work together in perfect harmony.

Phœbe was very miserable over Phil’s discovery of Eric’s irregularities. It was the first time any disgraceful or criminal act had been brought close to her knowledge, and she became nervous for fear her twin might, in some way, become implicated in the terrible affair. The girl was sorry for Eric, and grieved over him with all her kindly heart. It seemed so sad that a bright young fellow with such splendid prospects should go wrong and foolishly ruin all his future life. She knew Mr. Spaythe well enough to believe he would cast off Eric without mercy when he learned the fact that his son was a thief. For this reason she sincerely hoped the banker would never make the discovery.

CHAPTER XIV

THE FOLLY OF GRAN’PA ELIOT

That night Phœbe was again aroused by the peculiar sliding noise in the next room. She had been awaiting it for so long that she was alert to the slightest sound Elaine made, and now she lost no time in silently mounting upon the table and opening the peephole she had prepared. Her own room was shrouded in gloom, but the housekeeper had placed a lighted candle upon her table, before which she was seated in her white nightrobe.

When Phœbe first observed her, old Elaine was tying the mouth of a stout canvas bag that was full of some irregular, lumpy material. Then she drew another bag toward her--there were several standing upon the broad table--and unfastened the cord that bound it while it was lying upon its side. At once a shower of gold burst forth, and with her long bony fingers the woman slid each piece of money across the table, at the same time eagerly counting it in the low, mumbling tone Phœbe had so often heard but could not before explain.

[Illustration: SHE EAGERLY COUNTED THE GOLD.]

From her perch of observation the girl counted them with her. There were exactly two hundred and fifty twenty-dollar gold pieces in the bag--a sum amounting to five thousand dollars.

Elaine cautiously replaced the hoard and firmly secured the mouth of the sack. Another bag was opened. It contained smaller coins, ten-dollar pieces, and there were three hundred of them.

The woman did not hurry, although her every movement denoted fervent excitement. Bending over the table, she slowly slid piece after piece from one pile to another until all had been counted. The sacks were old and soiled. How many times, Phœbe wondered, had their contents been counted and gloated over? Five separate sacks old Elaine unfastened, counted, and tied up again, and all were filled with yellow gold. Then she twined her arms around the bulging bags and began kissing them ecstatically. “Mine!” she said in a hoarse whisper. “Mine--mine!” Then she reached down and raised a trap in the floor, disclosing a cavity between the joists into which she lowered a sack. It was a familiar “thump” to Phœbe’s ears, the puzzling mystery of which was now explained. With each sack she deposited she repeated: “Mine!” in so weird a tone that it sent the chills coursing down the back of the startled and amazed girl.

Now Elaine replaced the trap, drew the rag carpet over it and stood upright. She cast an undecided glance around and walked to the old-fashioned mantel that stood against the opposite wall. It was made of some dark wood, and had been quite cleverly carved. Nearly every bed chamber in the house had a similar mantel and fireplace.

Elaine put her hand to one corner and the entire woodwork swung outward on hinges, showing a deep cavity which was lined with narrow shelves. Except as the woman herself obstructed the view, Phœbe could clearly see the whole of this secret cupboard, which had been ingeniously built into the chimney. The shelves were covered with stacks of silver coins and thick packages of bills. The silver Elaine merely glanced at, but the packets of paper money she piled into her loose robe, gathered into a sack, and carried it to the table, where she proceeded methodically to count it. The eagerness she had displayed while counting the gold was now lacking in her manner. She was intent enough upon her task, and handled each bill with loving care; but only the hard yellow gold had seemed to enrapture her.

Phœbe’s limbs were getting numb and her knees knocked together tremblingly; but she stuck obstinately to her post of observation until Elaine had finished her self imposed task and replaced the money. This accomplished, the woman swung the mantel into place and with a leer of cunning and contentment still lingering upon her wrinkled features blew out her candle and went to bed.

Phœbe closed the slide and managed to climb down and creep into her own bed, without making a noise. Then she lay shivering with nervous chills, induced by the astonishing discovery she had made.

There was no sleep for the girl that night. At first, a supreme bewilderment prevented her from thinking clearly; but, after a time, she grew more composed and began to marshall her thoughts into some sort of order.

It was not Elaine’s money, this secret hoard; that was certain. Therefore it must belong to Gran’pa Eliot. Phœbe remembered that always while he was in health and able to be around he had personally occupied these rooms--the one Elaine now slept in, and the big front room opening out of it, where he now sat propped up in helpless oblivion of all earthly treasure.

There was no longer any doubt that Gran’pa Eliot had long been a miser and cunningly secreted his wealth. He had caused the trap to be made in the floor and the cupboard built behind the mantel. With years the passion for saving had grown upon him, and after his wife’s death and his daughter’s marriage he gave free rein to his hobby and converted all his land into ready money. To avoid suspicion he had spread the report of his financial failure and claimed he was reduced to poverty.

So much Phœbe had no difficulty in comprehending. In what way the old housekeeper had discovered her master’s secret was not clear, but Elaine’s resolve not to desert Mr. Eliot was obviously due to her knowledge of his vast hoard. When he became paralyzed and helpless she realized that the fortune, unsuspected by all others, was now safely within her own grasp. Phœbe decided, shuddering the while, that the woman was a greater slave to that secret hoard than ever her grandfather had been.

When daybreak came the girl arose and quietly dressed herself. Then she softly slipped out of the house and started for a walk through the valley, hoping the morning air would cool her throbbing brain. Here, amid a silence scarcely broken by the low mooing of the cows and the crowing of the distant cocks, she began to doubt the evidence of her own senses. It was all so wonderful and unreal that she could barely admit the truth of it; and yet--and yet--. Often before she had heard the sound of the gold being slid across the table: so often, indeed, that she well knew her eyes had not deceived her when, at last, they revealed to her the explanation of the puzzling sounds.

And now the question arose, what should she do? How should she act, now that she had discovered this terrible secret? The knowledge of her grandfather’s wealth in no way elated her; rather did she feel scorn and resentment at his despicable weakness. It hurt her to think that her mother’s father could be guilty of such folly and pitiful sordidness. It was too soon for her to reflect that this money might easily affect the fortunes of her brothers and sisters and herself; all she thought of was the shame of the thing, that her grandfather could become a miser and gloat in secret over the dross of gold and silver--and soiled bank notes. What an abominable, inhuman passion it was--a passion shared by old Elaine Halliday, a creature Phœbe had always despised intuitively.

During an hour’s brisk walk she became sorry that her curiosity had led her to discover this horrid secret. But she resolved to keep her own counsel and tell no one what she had seen. Even Phil must be spared this humiliation, for the poor boy had quite enough to worry him already.

Phœbe returned to the house with glowing cheeks and bright eyes, in spite of her sleepless night and mental perturbation. She greeted the family cheerfully and took her seat at the breakfast table with her native composure fully regained.

“When is the boat race, Phil?” asked Miss Eliot.

“A week from Saturday,” he said. “I’ve got to practice with the boys every evening, from now on. I wanted them to let me out, this year, but they foolishly insist on my pulling stroke.”

“Why foolishly?” inquired Becky.

“Because, I’m working for a living, now, and can’t devote much time to getting into condition. Those Bayport fellows are out every day, and mean to win if they can.”

“I must see that boat race,” said Cousin Judith. “Boating has always been one of my favorite sports. I hope you’ll do well, Phil; but, of course, you can’t neglect business for pleasure.”

CHAPTER XV

SUE GETS A DIVORCE

After breakfast Sue wandered out and found Doris upon the lawn. The youngest of the Darings was now nearly twelve years old and had associated so constantly with her elders that she considered herself quite “grown up” and in no way inferior to Doris Randolph, who, having an advantage in years, assumed toward Sue the airs of a young lady.

Since she had tipped over the punch bowl and taken a lemonade bath a good deal of fun had been poked at poor Sue, which she deeply resented. It was bad enough to have lost all the joy of the party, without being twitted afterward about her misfortune.

Doris was surely too sedate and practical minded to wish to tease Sue, so her greeting was wholly innocent when she said:

“Good morning. Is that the lemonade dress which you are wearing?”

“No,” retorted Sue, flushing; “is that the hypocrite’s dress which you are wearing, Miss Religion?”

Doris was provoked, and with good reason, for she was sincere enough in her religious sentiments. Also, she was still worldly minded to the extent of becoming angry. After a cold, stony look at Sue, she said:

“I have submitted to the insolence of you Darings long enough, and hereafter I forbid you to address me, for I shall not recognize you as an acquaintance.”

At this instant Cousin Judith appeared upon the scene and hearing Doris’ speech stopped short in surprise.

“Why, what is the trouble, my dears?” she asked.

“This child, madam,” returned Doris, stiffly, “is still a barbarian, and unfit to associate with civilized beings.”

“I called her a hypocrite,” flashed Sue, defiantly; “and she is one.”

Miss Eliot was shocked.

“I am surprised, Sue dear; surprised and grieved. You have treated Doris very badly, and I want you to apologize to her for your rudeness.”

“I won’t!” said Sue, stamping her foot. “I’ll _die_ rather than beg pardon of Miss Nancy Hypocrite!”

Judith looked at her in amazement.

“Go into the house, my dear,” she said, rather sternly; “I’ll join you there presently.”

Sue raised her long lashes and swept one rebellious look at the Little Mother. Doris’ face had a slight sneer upon it, and the angry child noted it. Turning squarely about she ignored Cousin Judith’s command and marched down the street toward the village.

Doris gave a little laugh.

“A pleasant mannered young lady, I must say, Miss Eliot,” she tittered. “But, I assure you I meant what I said. I shall never speak to her again, unless she apologizes.”

“An apology is your due, I think,” Miss Eliot said soberly, and then without further remark she continued on her way to the Randolph house to see Marion, with whom she had an engagement.

At noon Sue did not return to dinner. She had called upon Nannette Bennett, who was about her own age, and driven with her to a farm out on the Exeter road.

“Can you stay here to dinner?” asked Nannette.

“Of course,” replied Sue, readily. “There’s no one at home who has the right to give me orders.”

Nannette did not understand this strange speech, but let it pass without remark. The two girls spent all day at the farm, although I am not sure Sue was enjoying herself for a single moment. She did not reach home until the family was seated at the supper table.

Phil had inquired anxiously for his sister, and Judith quietly explained that Sue had called Doris bad names and refused to apologize.

“When I asked her to return to the house, where I hoped to be able to reason with her,” she added, “Sue refused to obey my request and walked down the street instead. I do not know where she is, now.”

Phil was worried, and even Don looked grave.

“I had intended to practice this evening with the boat crew,” said the elder brother, “but I think I ought to hunt for Sue instead. She has been bad and rebellious, I know; but she’s our little sister, just the same, and I’m afraid something has happened to her.”

Cousin Judith made no reply and the meal was progressing in gloomy silence when Sue walked in, threw down her hat and quietly took her seat at the table. She did not look at the Little Mother, nor at anyone else directly, but helped herself to food and with an assumption of composure began to eat.

No one spoke. The others had glanced inquiringly at Cousin Judith, whose face was pale and unrelenting. She did not ask Sue where she had been, nor chide her for disobedience; but she passed the plate of cold meat to her and asked Auntie to bring in Miss Sue’s chocolate.

This condition of affairs was so unusual with the Darings that they were uncertain how to act. Even Becky looked askance at her small sister, as if she were some strange, untamed animal, and Don told himself this escapade deserved a worse punishment than fighting in the mud. He had “taken his own medicine” with frank courage, knowing he deserved the Little Mother’s rebuke and telling her he was truly sorry he had hurt her feelings. But here was little Sue developing a spirit of defiance hitherto unknown in the Daring family circle. Phil was hurt and Phœbe distressed, but both voluntarily left the matter in Miss Eliot’s hands for adjustment.

After supper Cousin Judith said to the culprit in a kindly tone: “Come to my room, Sue. I wish to have a little talk with you.”

“I’ve nothing to talk about,” replied Sue, sullenly.

Phil went away to his practice on the river and Sue followed her sisters out upon the porch. Cousin Judith, perhaps hoping the girl would change her mind, had gone directly to her room.

“You’re acting like a little fool, Sue,” observed Becky. “I’m surprised at you.”

Sue colored, but did not reply. Presently she went to her room and shut herself in until bedtime.

At breakfast next morning Cousin Judith said, addressing all the five Darings, impartially:

“Our contract, the Articles of Adoption, states that if any one of you proves rebellious to my authority the rebel is to be tried by a committee of two, and must abide by the committee’s decision. Is it not so?”

“That’s a fact, Little Mother,” replied Phil, seriously.

“In the case we have now to consider, Sue has disobeyed me more than once,” continued Miss Eliot. “I, therefore charge her with rebellion, and it becomes proper for her to select two of you to try her case. If I am found to be wrong I will ask her pardon and try to make amends. If she is wrong she must ask my pardon and submit to any penalty I may impose.”

Sue paled and then flushed. She cast a furtive glance around the table and then said, in a hard, unyielding tone:

“I’m willing. I choose Phœbe and Don.”

“Very well,” returned Cousin Judith. “The trial shall take place at once.”

None of them saw anything humorous in the situation. As a rule the Darings were merry hearted boys and girls, full of fun and good spirits; but, these Articles of Adoption were regarded by them all as sacred. Each realized to an extent what a blessing the Little Mother had already been to them, and was determined to uphold her authority. For her coming had virtually revolutionized the household and given them a happy home and a sympathetic, generous friend.

Sue, however, marched into the parlor with her stubborn spirit unconquered by any feeling of gratitude, and Phœbe and Donald gravely followed her.

“Tell us the beginning of the trouble, dear,” urged the elder sister.

Sue related her conversation with Doris.

“I’ve put up with her slurs ’n’ sarcasms long enough,” she said. “If she’s so blessed religious as she tries to make out, why does she pick on me ev’ry minute? I’m glad I called her a hypocrite, an’ I won’t take it back--not for a second!”

“Perhaps she did not mean to offend you by speaking of the ‘lemonade dress’,” suggested Phœbe. “I’ve always found her a good-hearted girl and quite ladylike.”

“That’s what I object to,” was the answer. “I won’t stand for her ladylike airs, Phœbe, an’ that’s all there is to it.”

“Sometimes our judgment proves to be wrong,” said Phœbe. “Anyhow, Cousin Judith knows best.”

“There’s another thing that makes me mad,” cried Sue. “Cousin Judith takes Doris’ part against me. Isn’t she supposed to stand up for her own adopted children?”

“Not when they’re wrong, sis,” said Don stoutly.

“Who’s to say whether they’re wrong or not?” Sue demanded.

“She is, of course. She’s older, and knows more.”

“Cousin Judith,” added Phœbe, “tries to be always right and just. She thought you were impudent to Doris, who is our neighbor and has been kind to us all, and so she asked you to apologize.”

“I _won’t_ apologize to that stuck-up thing--anyhow, not till she apologizes for speaking of my lemonade dress.”

“Now, that’s the real question before the board,” asserted Don. “You’re under trial, Sue, and if we decide you’re in the wrong, and you don’t apologize to Doris and do as Cousin Judith says, you’ll be divorced from our Articles of Adoption.”

Sue was white and frightened, but she held her ground.

“All right,” she said. “It’s up to you. I don’t want any adoption by anyone who won’t stand by me in a fight. And I’ll never--_never_--beg Doris’ pardon!”

They tried to argue with her, and explained the disgrace of being divorced and having no Little Mother. The divorce would separate her not only from association with Cousin Judith, but from that of her brothers and sisters, who would all hold strictly to the letter of the agreement they had signed.

Sue listened to it all and remained obstinate.

“It’s for you to say whether I’m right or wrong,” she avowed at the last, “and if I’m divorced I don’t care a rap. I won’t stand for any adoption that makes me apologize to a silly fool like Doris Randolph.”

Donald and Phœbe withdrew from the conference and talked it over between themselves. They decided that Sue, having defied Cousin Judith’s authority and broken the signed agreement, must submit to the penalty of divorce.

Phœbe drew up the paper and made an imposing looking copy on her typewriter. It read as follows:

“Whereas Sue Daring signed, under date of June 14th, 1908, a document known as the ARTICLES OF ADOPTION, whereby she promised and covenanted to support and acknowledge the authority of MISS JUDITH ELIOT and to Adopt her as a Mother, and Whereas the said Sue Daring has broken that covenant and agreement and refuses longer to abide by it, THEREFORE the undersigned, chosen by her as a Committee to decide her case, hereby declares the said Sue Daring has been guilty of a violation of the terms of the said signed agreement and is therefore released from all its pledges and DIVORCED from any further participation in its benefits. Signed this 12th day of July, 1908.

PHŒBE DARING, DONALD DARING, _Committee_.”

This paper was made out in duplicate and a copy given to Sue and one to Cousin Judith. Sue promptly tore up her paper and scattered the pieces over the hall floor. Then she left the house and went away to play with some of her girl friends.

Cousin Judith asked the others not to taunt or reproach the girl, but to treat her as pleasantly and cordially as before. After supper that evening, they all strolled down to the river to watch the boat crew practice; but Sue was not asked to accompany them. On their return Don told the divorced one of the jolly time they had had, and how Cousin Judith bought them each an ice cream soda at the drug store; but Sue made no reply. When she went to bed she did not, like the others, go to the Little Mother for a good night kiss. In her room she noticed that the covers of her bed had not been turned down, as usual, or her night robe laid out. Becky’s bed, across the room, had been remembered with loving care by Judith, but Sue was no longer her adopted daughter.

This little lack of attention sent the first real pang to the girl’s heart. Silently, she got down her gown from the closet and turned back the covers of her own bed. In the morning she was about to call to Cousin Judith to ask what dress to put on, but remembered in time that she must now choose for herself.

The dressmaker still came to the house every day to sew busily for the needy family. Judith was paying for all the new things with her own money, which she had saved from the sale of her pictures, and therefore Sue was not surprised when her pretty pink challis was laid aside and put into a drawer unfinished, while a gown of Becky’s was brought out and given the dressmaker to work upon. Sue told herself she must expect such things to happen under the new order of things; only--only she _would_ have liked that pink dress; it was so soft and pretty.

The divorced one made no complaint, however she might feel the difference between her position and that of her brothers and sisters. Sue was old enough to understand that she must pay the penalty for her rebellion, and if at times she repented her stubbornness it was in secret and no word of regret passed her lips. Judith spoke to her with uniform kindliness and so did the other members of the family; yet Sue realized she was an outcast, and no longer entitled to a place in the inner circle.

This ostracism was more acutely defined when the Little Mother one morning called her flock into her room for a conference. Sue stayed away, being an outsider, and listened to the merry laughter that at times penetrated the closed doors and saluted her ears. Undoubtedly it was a trial to the younger girl to be debarred from such good fellowship, and as she sat in her lonely corner she sadly recalled the jolly times she had once had in Cousin Judith’s pleasant room.

“So you’s a orfin ag’in, is yo’?” remarked Aunt Hyacinth, coming upon her as Sue sat nursing her gloomy thoughts. “Ain’t yo’ got no sense a’tall, Miss Sue, to go a-flyin’ in de face o’ Prov’dence dis a-way?”

“You mind your own business, Aunt Hy.”

“Dat’s what I’m doin’, honey. Mah bus’ness is to see you all happy, an’ here yo’ goes an’ makes yo’se’f a outcast an’ a orfin, when yo’ had a good Li’l Motheh to tek care o’ yo’. Ain’ dere no way to divohce dat divohce, an’ git back in de sunshine ag’in’?”

Sue sulked and did not reply. That suggestion of getting back into the fold again had already occurred to her, but the Articles of Adoption had made no provision for such a thing. Much of the child’s stubborn mood had vanished by this time, but there seemed no way of retreat open. She began to wonder if she must pass all her life an “outcast an’ a orfin,” as Aunty had tersely described it.

Judith, who had a shrewd idea of what was passing in the girl’s mind, was content to let matters take their course. Often she longed to take Sue in her arms and comfort her, but dared not. Judith Eliot was only a young girl herself, loving and tender hearted, but she was rarely sagacious in her understanding of human nature and believed that Sue’s divorce would tend to benefit all her charges, and finally strengthen her own position. One gains experience not only personally, but from the experiences of others, and it was noticeable that both Becky and Don had been unusually meek and circumspect since Sue’s rebellion.

Becky, indeed, did a queer thing. Going to the Little Mother privately she said in her earnest way:

“I’d like to get halter-broke, Cousin Judith, and I wish you’d help me. Whenever I buck the rules of propriety and cease to be a lady, you just step on my corns an’ yell ‘time.’ I know I’m awful slangy sometimes, but by jooks I’ll cure myself of the habit if I bu’st a surcingle!”

Judith smiled and kissed her.

“I wonder where you pick up such expressions,” she said. “But I assure you, Becky dear, it won’t be at all difficult to cultivate a choicer language, if you make the attempt. Pay attention to the conversation of Phœbe and Marion, and listen to your Little Mother’s mode of speech. I assure you there is nothing either winning or clever in the use of slang phrases. A street gamin is able to employ them as readily as you do, yet may never aspire to refined speech. To cast your lot with the ignorant and uncultured, rather than with those of your own class, is to abandon the advantages of birth and refined associations.”

“I used to think it was smart,” admitted Becky, gloomily; “but now I see I was off my base and shinning up the wrong tree. But I’ll be careful, after this, Cousin Judith; see if I’m not. And I hope you’ll call me down if I forget I’m a lady and talk like a female she.”

It was well-nigh impossible to cure herself of vulgar expressions all at once; but Becky sincerely tried to improve, and met with a measure of success. Judith never reproached her if at times she lapsed unwittingly into slang, for Becky was quick to realize her fault and a sudden flush of shame would often suffuse her face before the unseemly words were well out of her mouth.

Don and Allerton had now become fast friends, being together much of the time. Don, as well as Becky, had softened perceptibly since the advent of Cousin Judith, and having acquired a hearty respect for Allerton, who had proved no “mollycoddle,” the boys became congenial associates.

The coming boat race had by this time begun to excite the good people of Riverdale and was a general topic of conversation among the villagers. Nearly every town on the river bank had a boat crew, and a sharp rivalry had for some years been maintained between Bayport, nine miles away, and Riverdale. For many seasons Bayport had won the prize, being practically invincible, but for the last two years fortune had deserted them and their crew lost to Riverdale. Bayport was naturally eager to regain its lost prestige, and its adversary was equally anxious to retain the honors so hardily won. Therefore, an exciting race was in prospect.

CHAPTER XVI

THE BOAT RACE

Phil had pulled an oar with the winning crew the year before, and was to be stroke oar this year, a position requiring nice judgment as well as consummate skill. Although he had now been working at the bank for more than three weeks, the young fellow was in prime physical condition, and the week’s practice with the crew renewed the hopes of the ardent admirers of the Riverdale boys.

Eric came down nearly every evening to see them pull the scull over the smooth stretch of water above the bridge, and he told Phil several times that he had “laid some pretty stiff wagers” on his crew.

Young Daring did not approve of this, and frankly said so.

“We’ve three new men in our eight,” he said, “and the Bayport crew is almost entirely new blood. No one can judge our respective merits till we get together, and while I hope we shall win I would not risk a dollar on such a doubtful chance.”

Eric was unconvinced, and merely laughed at him; yet Phil felt that he had done his duty and said all that was required. Thereafter he held his peace.

The race was held at Bayport this year, which was in that crew’s favor, although Phil and most of his eight were nearly as familiar with the Bayport course as with their own. When Saturday arrived there was a general exodus from Riverdale to the scene of the race.

Judith had engaged a three-seated wagon to convey the Darings and herself. With all the talk about the race not a word had been said to Sue about her going to Bayport with them. Silently the “outcast” listened to the plans for the excursion, believing she was destined to remain at home. She had a great longing to go, for such diversions were few in their quiet lives, but by her own act she had withdrawn from the inner circle and with stolid resolve she determined none should guess her disappointment or remorse.

There was an early dinner this Saturday noon, and when the wagon drew up at the door and the Darings were hurrying to get their hats and wraps, Cousin Judith said to Sue, who sat soberly in a corner:

“Won’t you go with us, dear? There is plenty of room.”

Sue gave a gasp of amazement.

“But, I--I’m out of it, you know, Cousin Judith. I--I’m not one of your children,” she stammered.

“Come as my guest, then. Do you suppose I have ceased to love you, Sue? I’m not your Little Mother any more--more’s the pity--but I shall always remain your affectionate Cousin Judith. It would please me to have you come with us to-day, and enjoy yourself.”

Sue’s eyes were sparkling. Without a word, except a murmured “thank you, Cousin Judith!” she rushed for her hat and joined the others in the wagon.

It was a great day for the Darings and proved a delightful outing, although alas, the Riverdale crew went down to defeat.

An accident caused it, of course; otherwise, the race was surely Riverdale’s.

Phil led his crew over the course with masterful generalship, starting with slow, steady strokes, without regard for the lead of Bayport, and then gradually increasing the count until near the end Riverdale overtook their opponents and shot irresistibly into the lead. They were two boat lengths ahead and still gaining when one of the new men “caught a crab” and threw the entire crew into confusion. The scull swung half around and before headway could be recovered Bayport passed them and won the race.

Riverdale people had been lustily cheering when they saw their boat surely forging to the front and a certain winner, as they thought; but now a groan of dismay went up that was drowned by the cheers of the exultant Bayporters.

Phœbe was nearly ready to cry, while Becky and Don were savage with grief.

“Never mind, my dears,” said Cousin Judith, cheerfully. “There is no dishonor in such a defeat and Phil certainly did his part splendidly.”

That was the general verdict, and Riverdale spectators crowded around Phil and congratulated him on the fine showing he had made.

In a shiny top-buggy Eric Spaythe had sat beside Marion Randolph, at a point overlooking the entire river. He had proved very agreeable company up to the finish of the race, laughing and joking in his cheery way and assuring Marion time and again that Riverdale was sure to win. At the final catastrophe he seemed overcome by horror. His eyes bulged; his lips trembled; he fell silent and moody.

“Come; let’s get home!” he suddenly exclaimed, and without awaiting reply he whipped up the nag and dashed away at a break-neck speed that made everyone who saw him wonder what was the matter. Marion, greatly annoyed by this churlish proceeding on the part of her escort, refused to make any comment. Eric scarcely spoke a pleasant word to her all the way back to Riverdale. However, as they drove up the street to her house he suddenly seemed to remember that he had acted like a boor and said apologetically:

“Don’t think me rude, please. My whole heart was set on Riverdale winning that race, and I guess my disappointment made me forget myself. You won’t bear any grudge against me, will you?” he continued, a little anxiously.

“Most certainly not,” answered Marion coldly. “I thank you for the courtesy shown me--before you forgot yourself.”

Then she hurried into the house, leaving Eric staring agape and wondering if he had made a fool of himself and lost more than his bets on the race.

Cousin Judith did not hurry her brood home, for it was still early. She carried the Darings to a cool little restaurant where they feasted on ice cream and cakes to their hearts’ content and soon forgot the humiliation of their brother’s defeat.

Judith placed little Sue by her side and saw she was as liberally served as the others. The girl was unusually silent, however, and once Miss Eliot noticed that her dark eyes were flooded with tears.

On her way home Sue laid her head on the Little Mother’s lap and began to sob, gently at first but with increasing bitterness, while her brothers and sisters regarded her with unfeigned amazement.

Judith stroked the soft hair and let the burst of grief exhaust itself.

“You--you’ve been so kind to me,” whispered Sue, raising her tear-stained face to look appealingly into the gentle countenance above her, “that I--I--I’m _drea_’fully ’shamed of myself! Don’t you s’pose you--could--adopt me again?”

“I think so,” said the Little Mother gravely.

The clouds cleared then and Sue was presently smiling again. As soon as they reached home she marched directly over to the Randolph mansion and found Doris. When she returned she said shyly, in the presence of the entire family:

“I’ve ’pologized to Doris an’ told her she isn’t a hypocrite; and I’m sorry--drea’fully sorry--I disobeyed Cousin Judith and acted so naughty.”

“Good for you, Puss!” cried Phil, who had just come in. “Why, this consoles me for the loss of the race!”

Sue beamed with pleasure and Judith gathered the girl in her arms and kissed her.

“I call you all to witness,” she said, “that this is the child of my adoption. We won’t need to sign papers this time, because you will all know that Sue and I belong to each other hereafter and can never be divorced. Is it not so, my dear?”

“Yes, indeed, Little Mother!” replied Sue, smiling happily.

CHAPTER XVII

IN THE TOILS

When Eric and Phil met at their desks on Monday morning the banker’s son was “savage as a meat-ax.” He scowled and muttered over his work and slammed the big books here and there as if he owed them a grudge.

Phil paid no attention to this exhibition of temper, which he believed due to the failure of Riverdale to win the boat race. He knew that Eric had been betting heavily with his cronies and the Bayport people, and since the young man was already deeply in debt these added losses might affect him, seriously. So Phil devoted himself quietly to work and let Eric rave.

Gradually the young fellow quieted down. He was in no mood for work that day, and paid little attention to the books. But he smoked so many cigarettes, one after another, that the air was blue, and Mr. Boothe left his coop long enough to request Eric to desist from choking him with the offensive fumes.

“I am not well,” added the cashier; “so I ask you to be considerate.”

Eric tossed his cigarette away and Mr. Boothe returned to his coop.

“Phil,” said Eric, abruptly, “do you know where I can borrow some money?”

“Perhaps your father will let you have it,” was the reply.

“The gov’nor! Never. He’d haul me over the coals if he knew I was hard up on my princely salary of eighteen a week.”

Phil made no comment. Said Eric, after a period of thought:

“I’m told the loan-sharks in St. Louis will advance a fellow money on his prospects. I wonder if they’d help me out of this hole. I’m the only son of a well-to-do banker, and will inherit a respectable lump of money, some day. Do you suppose they’d help me, Phil?”

“I don’t know, Eric. Such money lenders would be sure to demand a heavy interest.”

“That’s all right. It’s worth something to get my fist on the money when I want it.”

“What is it for?” asked Daring. “Why do you need this money?”

“To pay some of those infernal debts.”

“How much better off will you be afterward, Eric? Wouldn’t you contract more debts right away?”

“That’s _my_ business,” growled the other. “Don’t you begin preaching to me, Phil Daring, for I won’t stand for it,” he added, glaring angrily at his fellow clerk.

Phil said no more, but he was sad and ill at ease. Eric was no longer the genial, winning fellow of former days. Since he had begun to spend money so recklessly and to run into debt, his character and disposition seemed to have altered for the worse. The thing Phil dreaded more than anything else was another raid on the bank money, with more of those audacious false records to cover up the defalcations. He was helpless to interfere, but none the less was he sincerely sorry for both Eric and his father, knowing that exposure was bound to follow sooner or later.

Singularly enough, Mr. Spaythe seemed blind to his son’s reckless extravagance. A thoughtful man, intent upon the intricate details of his banking business and absorbed in loans, notes and discounts, interests and important matters of a like character, the banker seemed not to notice Eric’s elaborate costumes or the fact that he passed much of his spare time in association with the fast set of the village, whose rendezvous was the hotel bar. On the contrary, Mr. Spaythe seemed contented with the thought that his son and heir was connected with his business and apparently doing his work faithfully and well.

On Wednesday Mr. Boothe was suffering from a bad headache when he came to work. It soon became so much worse that Phil had to assist him to reach his home--a little cottage not far away--where the cashier lived with a maiden sister.

When Phil came back he went into the private office and reported the matter to Mr. Spaythe. The banker at once telephoned Dr. Jenkins to attend Mr. Boothe, and then in person took his cashier’s place in the teller’s “cage.”

Next day Mr. Boothe was still too ill to appear at the bank. Dr. Jenkins said it would be lucky if he managed to break up the fever, but in any event his patient could not resume his duties before the following Monday morning.

While his father was taking the cashier’s place Eric was silent and attentive to his work. But, Mr. Spaythe could ill afford to devote his entire time to the counting room, so he often called his son to assist in cashing checks and receiving deposits. Eric attended to these details so intelligently that on Friday Mr. Spaythe gave him complete charge of that important department, thus gaining for himself the liberty of devoting his attention to other pressing matters that had accumulated on his own desk.

That same afternoon, when the banker stepped into the counting room to secure a memorandum, Eric said to him:

“Wouldn’t it be a good idea, sir, to give Phil the combination of the safe? We’re behind with the books, and he’ll have to come down nights and catch up with the work--at least until Boothe gets back into harness.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Spaythe; “you may give Daring the combination. Here is an extra key to the side door, also.” Then, he turned to his youthful clerk and nodded kindly. “I’m sorry to force this extra work upon you, Phil, but Mr. Boothe’s illness leaves us very short-handed, and you may expect compensation for your extra hours.”

Phil was not only annoyed at this, but positively frightened. He had surprised a curious look upon Eric’s face when he asked his father to give Phil the secret combination of the safe. In a small establishment like Spaythe’s Bank both the books and the supply of currency were kept in the one big safe. At this juncture, when many uncomfortable suspicions were rife in his brain, Phil much preferred not to have such responsibility thrust upon him.

“I’d rather not know the combination, sir,” he ventured to say, knowing he appeared confused and embarrassed.

Mr. Spaythe was plainly surprised and gave him a hard look.

“Why not!” he asked.

“It is a--a--great responsibility, sir,” the young man explained.

“Nonsense, Daring. I trust you, fully. As fully as I do Eric or Mr. Boothe.”

“Can’t I make up the work on the books some other way--during the noon hour?”

“You’re silly, Phil,” declared Eric, sharply. “Better come down here quietly after supper and do the work in an easy and proper way. It isn’t likely to last but a night or two.”

“I think Mr. Boothe will be able to resume his duties by Monday morning,” added Mr. Spaythe; and then, as if the matter was settled, he walked into his room.

Phil resumed his work with an uneasy sense of impending misfortune. After banking hours Eric made up the teller’s account of receipts and disbursements and gave Phil a copy that he might enter the items on the books in detail. Then he counted the cash and put it away in the safe, explaining to his unwilling colleague the way to work the combination. After this Eric departed, leaving Phil alone in the bank, where he worked steadily until time for supper.

When he went home he confided to Phœbe this new complication that had arisen.

“I’m almost certain that Eric has some desperate scheme in his head,” said he. “He needs money badly to pay his gambling debts, and I’m afraid he will try to get it in such a way as to implicate me and divert suspicion from himself.”

“Why do you imagine that?” inquired his twin.

“Because he was so anxious that I should know the combination and have a key to the bank. What ought I to do, dear?”

“Your simple duty,” said Phœbe positively. “Why, Phil, no harm can possibly come to an honest fellow who does his duty! Don’t worry about Eric and his deeds. He could not injure you if he tried, and really, I don’t believe he will try. Eric has a kindly heart, and his main fault is that he has become a bit wild and reckless.”

“He’s changed a good deal lately, Phœbe,” was the quiet answer.

Phil promptly returned to the bank, let himself in by the side door, opened the safe and took out the books. For two hours he worked under the glare of the electric light, before his task was finished. No one came near to interrupt him. As he slid the big books into the compartment of the safe reserved for them he glanced at the neat piles of bills and bags of gold and an involuntary shiver of fear swept over him.

Saturday morning the bank was very busy. Eric sat in Mr. Boothe’s cage and waited upon the customers in a very business-like manner. He was so quick and accurate in handling the money, with a pleasant word for each one who approached his wicket, that when Mr. Spaythe came in now and then to see that everything was progressing properly the boy won his father’s gratified praise.

At one o’clock they closed the doors, as was usual on Saturdays, and it did not take Eric long to arrange his cash, pile it away in the safe and turn his statement of the day’s transactions over to Phil.

“What, through already?” asked his father, coming in at that moment.

“Yes, sir. Here’s the balance sheet you asked for, all made out correctly. I’m in a bit of a hurry, as I’ve arranged to go to St. Louis for over Sunday.”

Mr. Spaythe frowned.

“I did not know of this plan,” he said curtly. “Why are you making the trip, Eric?”

“To visit Ned Thurber. He has invited me to stay with him, so it will only cost me railroad fares. I’ll be back in time for work on Monday, sir,” he added carelessly.

Mr. Spaythe stood regarding his son silently for a moment. He reflected that the boy had behaved admirably these past few days, filling Mr. Boothe’s place quite effectively. The banker was also engaged with other matters that required his immediate attention. So he said:

“Very well. Go, if you wish to.”

Eric accompanied his father into the private office, merely bestowing upon Phil a nod of farewell. It was rather mean of him to take a vacation and throw all the work of bookkeeping upon young Daring, but Eric was not noted for his consideration to others.

Pausing before his father’s desk he said in a hesitating way:

“I suppose it’s all right to leave Phil in charge of the cash?”

Mr. Spaythe turned upon him, sharply.

“Why not?” he said. “The Darings are honest enough. I would have trusted his father with every penny I owned, at any time.”

“Oh, I suppose Phil’s safe,” returned Eric, carelessly. “But he’s a new clerk, and there’s a lot of currency on hand to carry over Sunday. So the thought struck me--”

He paused, for his father was paying no attention to what he said. Instead, his practiced eye was shrewdly scanning the balance sheet. It told the amount of cash on hand in bills, gold and silver, and recorded all checks, drafts and notes deposited during the day. Finding the tally correct Mr. Spaythe laid down the paper and turned again to his son.

“I’ll trust Phil,” he said.

Eric went away, smiling to himself. “Just what I wanted,” he muttered. “The gov’nor will remember this conversation afterward.”

Passing down the street he told every acquaintance he met that he was off for St. Louis by the four o’clock train. At the station he made his journey known to the group of loungers and shouted a rather boisterous good-by when the train drew in and he boarded it. He even waved his hat from the back platform until he had passed out of sight. Among those who thus watched Eric’s departure was Donald Daring, who announced the fact at supper that Eric Spaythe had gone to St. Louis by the four o’clock train.

“Must you work at those dreadful books to-night, Phil?” asked Phœbe.

“Only for an hour or so, dear. I put in such steady work this afternoon that a little more will get things in shape.”

“I’ll go down with you, then, and keep you company,” she announced.

As they walked along the street together in the cool of early evening Phil was very thoughtful. Finally, he said to the girl:

“I don’t believe Eric has gone to St. Louis, Phœbe.”

“Why, he must have gone!” she exclaimed. “Don saw him on board the train.”

“I know; but in spite of that I’ve a queer feeling--a sort of suspicion--that he’s playing us a trick.”

“Have you, Phil? But why?”

“I can’t explain it. You see, since Boothe has been away Eric has been free to do as he pleased. He’s in desperate need of money, just now; but, although I’ve been on the watch, not a single crooked transaction have I been able to discover--except one.”

“What was that?”

“I found on his desk yesterday a scrap of paper with my name scribbled over it in many styles of handwriting. Anyone seeing it would have thought I had been trying to create a lot of different signatures. I tore the paper in two, crumpled it up, and tossed it in the waste basket. But, afterward, I decided the thing ought to be burnt, and searched for the scraps. They weren’t among the other papers, for I went through the entire contents of the basket. Some one had taken them, and it could be no one but Eric.”

Phœbe looked grave at this.

“What does it mean, Phil?”

“I’ve tried to think. I know of two or three forged deposit slips, aside from that one of Mr. Martin’s. Then there was the forged check of Mrs. Randolph--I’m positive it was forged. These things are sure to be discovered some day, and then the charge of forgery and embezzlement will lie between Eric and me.”

“Oh, Phil!”

“As Eric is Mr. Spaythe’s own son it will be easy for him to accuse me. If I tell Mr. Spaythe what I know he will ask why I didn’t report it at the time. I’m in a net, Phœbe, and Eric knows it. If he can save himself at my expense, he won’t hesitate.”

“I see!” she cried, clasping her hands tightly. “Isn’t it dreadful, Phil?”

“That is why I now suspect that Eric is up to mischief. It surprised me that he told his father so bluntly he was going to St. Louis. It would be better policy for him to keep quiet about the trip; but he risked Mr. Spaythe’s anger with unusual boldness. And he took pains to advertise his going to the whole town--even to let people see him ride away in the train.”

“What could be his object?” inquired Phœbe, much perplexed.

“To be able to prove an alibi, I imagine.”

The twins walked on in silence for a time and were just passing the railway station when Phil had an idea.

“Come in with me,” he whispered, and followed by Phœbe he walked calmly up to the agent’s window. The man was not busy, as no trains were due at this time.

“Hello, Wakefield,” called Phil, genially.

“Hello, Phil. Good evening, Miss Daring,” responded the agent, recognizing them.

“I came in to pay for Eric’s ticket to St. Louis. He happened to be short of currency, but said you’d let him have the ticket, and I could drop in and settle for it to-night.”

Wakefield seemed surprised.

“Mr. Spaythe didn’t buy a through ticket,” he explained. “He only took one to Canton. Said he’d buy his ticket and sleeper from there on. I remember thinking that was a queer way to do. If he was short of money, Eric knew I’d help him out.”

Phœbe trembled as she pressed Phil’s arm.

“Why, it’s all right, then, Wakefield,” said Daring, calmly. “Probably he changed his mind, and in that case I don’t owe you anything.”

“Not a cent. Good night, Phil. Good night, Miss Daring.”

“Good night,” they answered and walked away.

“You see, I was right,” said the boy, when they were on the street again. “Canton is only ten miles away, and Eric plans to leave the train there and come back.”

“When?”

“Some time to-night. He means to rob the safe and get away with the money. That will implicate me, you see, as I’m the only one except Mr. Spaythe and Boothe that knows the combination--and the cashier is sick in bed.”

“Oh, Phil! I’m sure your suspicion is too horrible to be true.”

“Why, it’s so simple that it _must_ be true. Under the circumstances it is the natural thing for Eric to do. He isn’t so very clever, although perhaps he thinks he has laid a deep plot to ruin me. The queer thing about it is that it’s liable to succeed.”

They had reached the bank now. Phil opened the side door and ushered Phœbe into the large back room where he did his work. He turned on the electric lights, pulled down the shades to all the windows and then opened the safe and got out the books. Phœbe, perched upon Eric’s vacant stool, watched him thoughtfully. Her face was pale as wax and she had nervous, trembling fits that she could not control.

“I’m glad I am with you,” said she, presently. “If you are accused, I can swear you did not touch the money.”

Phil bent over and kissed her, but made no reply. Putting all his mind upon the books he methodically pursued his work for an hour or so, until all the entries had been made and his task finished. Then he closed the ledgers with a sigh of relief, put them away, and locked the safe.

“Who knows,” he said, turning to Phœbe with a wan smile, “but that this is the last bit of work I shall do for Spaythe’s Bank? If my suspicions are correct, on Monday morning the safe will be found to have been robbed, and then I must face accusations and probable disgrace.”

By this time the girl had recovered most of her composure. She was still pale, but had been busily thinking during that tedious hour, trying to find some way to save her twin brother.

“Do you know exactly how much cash is in that safe now?” she asked.

“Of course, Phœbe. It is all entered upon the books, in black and white, and Mr. Spaythe has a copy of the amounts, besides.”

She looked carefully around the room. At the very back of the building, facing the safe, was one window which opened upon an unused yard at the rear. The window was just then covered with a thick shade. Phœbe took the desk shears, walked deliberately to this window, and punched two small holes in the shade.

“What on earth are you doing?” asked her brother, in amazement.

“Phil, we’re going to play we’re detectives, you and I. Go outside, and around to this window, and find out if you can see the safe through the holes I have made. If not, I must make them larger.”

Phil obeyed, still puzzled as to her meaning. When he returned to her, he reported that the holes were about on a level with his eyes, when he stood in the back yard, and that the safe was plainly visible through the tiny openings if one stood with an eye close to the windowpane.

“Very well,” said she, nodding with satisfaction. “What time is it now?”

“Nearly ten.”

“We shall have a long wait, but we mustn’t mind that. Let us go, now.”

Phil waited until she reached the door; then he put out the lights and joined her. As they passed out he locked the door and put the key away in his pocket.

“What now?” he asked.

“Let us take a walk up the street, for a block or two,” she replied, in a whisper; and he followed her obediently. Although it was Saturday night, this part of the town was practically deserted. There was a light in the laundry office across the way and a girl stood in the door of a candy shop and nodded to the twins vacantly. Half a block up the street was the printing office, but the lights in it went out before they reached it, and Mr. Fellows, the editor, gave the Darings a pleasant “Good night!” as they passed by while he was locking the door.

Phœbe crossed over into the next street, which was merely a lane, and turning about began to retrace her steps. Phil clung to her arm and let her lead him. Here there was no light to guide them save the dim glow of the stars. The moon would not be up for some hours yet. They had to feel their way carefully for a time, but ere long they had reached a position in the rear of the bank and entered the unused yard. From a pile of boxes dumped behind a neighboring grocery Phil brought two to serve as seats, for now he guessed Phœbe’s purpose and fully approved the venturesome undertaking.

They sat in silence for a time, their backs against the brick wall of the bank.

“How will Eric get back from Canton?” the girl inquired, musingly.

“I don’t know. He might drive over, and return the same way. Let me see; there’s another train to St. Louis that passes here at one-thirty. It doesn’t stop at Riverdale, but it does at Canton.”

“That’s it!” she exclaimed, eagerly. “That’s his plan, Phil, I’m sure. Eric will get a livery horse at Canton, drive over here, and return in time to catch the one-thirty flyer for St. Louis. It will be due at Canton at about two o’clock, won’t it?”

“Sooner than that. The flyer will make the ten miles in fifteen minutes, easily.”

“But it will take Eric an hour and a half to drive it, in the night. That means he must get here, do what he has to do, and leave by twelve o’clock--or soon after. Why, we won’t have long to wait, after all.”

“Not if we are figuring right, Phœbe. After all, this is only guesswork on our part.”

“I’m sure we are right, Phil. As you say, the natural thing for one in Eric’s position to do is just what we expect he will do. Let us be patient, and we will soon know the truth. If nothing happens by half-past twelve, then we may go home and go to bed.”

“And rest in peace,” he added, with a light laugh that was not mirthful. “I hope that will be our fate.”

“So do I, Phil--with all my heart.”

It was a tedious wait, however, for they were keyed up to a high pitch of excitement and the minutes seemed to drag with teazing languidness. But suddenly, as they talked together in soft whispers, Phœbe glanced around toward the window and then seized Phil’s arm in a warning grasp. The back room of the bank was lighted.

The girl put her eye to one peephole and the boy looked through the other. They saw Eric standing in the room and glancing about him with fearful, yet keenly observant eyes. The inspection seemed to satisfy him, for after tying his handkerchief over the one electric light globe which he had ventured to turn on, in order to dim the strength of its rays, he went straight to the safe and began to fumble with the combination. A few moments later the heavy door swung open.

Again Eric glanced around, but could not know that two intent eyes were regarding his slightest movement. He hastily turned over the packets of bills until he found the one he desired, which he thrust into an inner pocket. Then he took a canvas sack, filled with gold, and this filled his coat pocket completely and had to be crowded in. The next moment he closed the door and set the lock.

It was all done so quickly that Phœbe found she had held her breath during the entire scene. While she panted with excitement and her heart fluttered wildly, Eric removed his handkerchief from the globe and turned off the light.

They both listened eagerly now, but so stealthy were the young man’s movements that no further sound reached their ears. He must have effected his escape from the bank a long time before the twins ventured to stir.

“Phœbe,” said Phil bitterly, “it is evident that I’ve stolen a stack of bills and a bag of gold. The fact can easily be proven against me, anyhow.”

“Not yet,” returned the girl, in a firm, decided tone. “Come with me, Phil.”

She began to make her way around the building to the side door.

“What are you going to do?” he asked.

“I’m going to block Eric’s wicked conspiracy and save you,” she replied. “Open that door, and let us go in.”

CHAPTER XVIII

A SISTER’S LOVE

Phil looked up and down the dark, deserted street. Eric had made off so quietly that not a footfall had been heard. But no one was abroad to see him, however much noise he might have made.

The back room of Spaythe’s Bank was witnessing a succession of curious scenes this eventful night. Phil had opened the safe again and was counting the money. It was a long count, and must needs be accurate; but Phœbe, now cool as ice, helped him in her methodical way and it was not necessary to inspect more of the currency than the packets of bank notes and the gold.

“Whew!” whistled Phil, when the final figures had been made. “Eric wasn’t at all bashful, was he? He grabbed more than three thousand dollars!”

“Three thousand, three hundred and ninety,” repeated Phœbe, jotting down the exact amount on a slip of paper. “All right, Phil; that is what we wanted to know. Now, put this dreadful stuff away.”

He complied. There was a queer feeling in the young fellow’s chest, as if iron fingers were gripping his heart. His worst fears had been realized and he had become the innocent victim of his former friend’s diabolical scheming.

As the Daring twins walked home together through the still night, arm in arm, they exchanged few words. Phil reflected that his business career was practically ruined. Here in Riverdale, his old home, he would be scorned and reviled as a common thief, and wherever he might go in the big outside world his disgrace would be sure to follow him. And what of Eric Spaythe, the false friend who had planned his downfall and would profit by it? With means to pay his debts, and so prevent his father’s knowledge of his past extravagance, Eric would doubtless be more cautious in the future. In time he might become the proprietor of the bank he had to-night so cleverly robbed. As for the false entries on the books, made to cover the minor thefts that had preceded this coup, all evidence would point conclusively to Phil Daring as the culprit. That poor and struggling youth was to become the scapegoat to shield Eric Spaythe, the rich banker’s son.

Phil groaned in spirit, but believed himself to be absolutely helpless.

Phœbe, on the contrary, had recovered her cheerfulness, and as she kissed her twin good night in the hall she whispered:

“Forget about Eric, dear. There’s nothing to worry about, so try to get some sleep. Now that we know the truth, and just what to expect, it will be easy to save you from this contemptible plot.”

Phil clasped the girl close in his arms. It was good to feel that Phœbe, the one person he loved most in all the world, knew his innocence and believed in him. He must be brave and face the future calmly, for her sweet sake.

In his room he looked at his watch. Two o’clock. By this time Eric was well on his way to St. Louis. Phil sighed, went to bed, and having a clear conscience was presently sound asleep.

Phœbe pleaded a headache next morning and did not go to church with the others. Phil, solemn eyed and with careworn features, accompanied Cousin Judith and the children and did his best to keep his thoughts on the sermon.

From her window Phœbe endeavored to watch the movements of old Miss Halliday, but found the woman keeping close to the room in which Gran’pa Eliot was confined. Perhaps she was engaged in her morning’s work, but strangely enough the chickens had been neglected and were plainly calling for food and water.

In order to ease the nervous strain of waiting Phœbe moved softly around the rooms occupied by the Darings and removed all the keys she found in the locks. Having carried these to her room she began trying them in the lock of the door that connected old Elaine’s chamber with her own. She moved carefully and silently, but to her despair none of the keys would fit. A second time she tried them, with no better success. While engaged in replacing the borrowed keys she happened to think of a big bunch of old keys hanging in the closet of the room occupied by Sue and Becky. She readily found this bunch, and with it hurried back to her chamber. One by one the keys were tried and gradually her heart sank as they proved to be too large or too small. There were now but three left on the bunch and she was crouching on her knees before the door when suddenly she heard Elaine enter the other room.

To her astonishment the woman was sobbing and muttering in the same breath, and seemed to be laboring under great excitement.

“It can’t be!” Phœbe heard her say again and again. “It can’t be. No, no, no!--it can’t be.”

Up and down she paced, and finally the girl heard her throw herself upon the bed and give way to a violent outburst of sobbing.

Phœbe dared not move. Her limbs were cramped and numb, but she sat crouching beside the door until gradually Miss Halliday became more quiet and rose from the bed.

“One thing is certain,” muttered the woman in a firmer tone. “No one shall know!”

Again she paced the floor, by degrees recovering her wonted composure. The sobs and mutterings ceased. At last she left the room, and Phœbe breathed freely once more. Then the girl glanced at the bunch of keys she held. With those three that still remained untried lay her sole chance of saving Phil’s honor.

The first was rusty and too big for the lock. The second turned easily, and with a sharp click the bolt flew back. Then Phœbe dropped her head in her hands and began to cry. The transition from despair to joy had been so sharp that it unnerved her; but now she was free to carry out her plans.

Wiping the tears from her eyes she sighed deeply and rose to her feet. On turning the handle of the door, very softly, she found that it would open with perfect freedom. She put her head within the room a moment--just long enough to note that Elaine had left it in perfect order--and then she closed the door again.

Would it be wiser to act at once, or to wait?

Her own anxiety and excitement had, until now, prevented her from appreciating the evident fact that something unusual had occurred in the other part of the house which the old woman regarded as serious. The housekeeper was not prone to give way to violent outbursts of grief. “It can’t be!” she had exclaimed. What couldn’t be? “No one shall know!” Elaine had cried. What could have happened that must be kept a secret? The girl’s first thought was that in some way Elaine had been robbed of the treasure, and Phœbe’s heart stood still as she contemplated that awful suggestion. But perhaps it was some personal matter not connected with Gran’pa Eliot’s hidden hoard.

Going to her window she watched in vain for the housekeeper to appear in the garden; then, unable to restrain her impatience, she ran downstairs and around the corner until she came to the lane at the back. Pausing beside the big maple she looked around at the house and from her position saw Gran’pa Eliot propped up in his chair before the window, his lusterless eyes fixedly regarding the landscape spread out before him.

The window of the next room, where he slept, was open, too. Phœbe could see the housekeeper making the bed and straightening the furniture.

Presently, Elaine came to the window and stood motionless, staring across the fields as if in deep thought. Phœbe shrank back into the shade of the maple.

Now the woman left the window, emerged from the door at the head of the outside stairs, and quietly descended to the yard. Phœbe quitted her post at once and fairly flew back to the house, never pausing until she had regained her own room. Breathless from her run, she paused to peer from the window. Elaine was mixing food for her chickens.

In a moment Phœbe was in the forbidden room. She went straight to the mantel and tried to pull it outward, as she had seen Elaine do; but it refused to move. With a growing fear at her heart she examined closely the framework and finally noticed that one part of the carving was discolored more deeply than the rest, as if with constant handling. Pressing hard against this place, Phœbe desperately dragged the mantel toward her, and this time it swung free of the wall and disclosed the secret cupboard.

Elaine had not been robbed. There were the neat piles of money, just as she had seen them from her peephole.

Phœbe hesitated a moment. She wanted a certain sum in bills, and another in gold, but it would be dangerous to count the money there. So she took several packets of bills and ran with them to her room. Returning quickly, she pushed the mantel into place and proceeded to pull up a section of the rag carpet. A small iron ring enabled her to lift the trap, and a moment later she had carried a sack of gold through the connecting doorway and dumped it upon her bed.

A swift look through the window showed that Elaine was preparing to ascend the stairs again; so Phœbe ran into the housekeeper’s chamber, let down the trap and rearranged the carpet. Then she softly retreated and closed the door after her.

She breathed more freely now, but her task was not yet accomplished and the family might return from church at any moment.

Opening the packets of bills she began carefully counting them. The first lot proved of small denominations and totalled so insignificant a sum that the girl was panic-stricken for fear there would not be enough paper money for her purpose. But the next packet proved to be all fifties and one-hundreds, and less than half its bulk sufficed to make up the amount of bills that Eric had abstracted from the safe.

She counted out the gold next, and as this sack chanced to contain only pieces of twenty dollars each there was much more than she required. At the bank, while Phil was discovering the extent of Eric’s theft--when the vague idea of saving him first began to dawn in her mind--Phœbe had seen a pile of canvas bags, used to contain gold, lying upon a shelf. One of these she had quietly abstracted, for on it was printed in black letters: “Spaythe’s Bank of Riverdale.” It was a similarly marked sack which Eric had taken, and now the girl brought out the bag, placed the proper amount of gold in it, and neatly tied it up. Then she made a package containing both the gold and the bills and after winding it securely with cord placed it in a drawer of her bureau.

This much being accomplished she breathed easier; but it was necessary to replace the surplus gold and bills in the hiding places from whence she had taken it. She felt no hesitation in employing a portion of Gran’pa Eliot’s hoarded wealth to save her brother from an unjust accusation. It seemed to her quite a proper thing to do, for the family honor was at stake. Gran’pa could never use the money, and his granddaughter was defiant of old Elaine’s self imposed watch upon the treasure. Yet Phœbe would not touch a penny more than stern necessity compelled her to.

Her heart bounded and then stopped beating as the housekeeper was heard to enter the next room and renew her nervous pacing up and down--up and down. Elaine was not likely to discover her loss, just yet; only at dead of night was she accustomed to pander to her miserly instincts by counting over the money. So Phœbe took courage.

A long time the girl sat silently awaiting an opportunity to restore the balance of the treasure. Meantime, she wondered again what had come over the usually methodical, self-possessed housekeeper to make her act in so queer a manner. No doubt some important event had occurred in her life; but what could it be?

A chorus of merry voices announced the return of Cousin Judith with her brothers and sisters. She hesitated, half expecting Elaine would now leave her room, but the woman wholly disregarded the Darings and continued her monotonous pacing. So Phœbe concealed the money under her pillows and noiselessly quitting the room went down to meet the family.

The sense of triumph now experienced by the girl made her regard Phil’s gloomy looks with complacency, if not with cheerfulness. She bustled about, helping Auntie to set the table for dinner and listening to the chatter of the children, and all the time the warm glow in her heart was reflected in her sparkling eyes and rosy cheeks.

Phil looked at his sister astonished and somewhat reproachful. Her glad laughter and flippant remarks made him feel that his twin was forgetting the terrible fate that menaced him. Over the boy’s devoted head hung a veritable Sword of Damocles, and it was destined to fall as soon as the bank was opened Monday morning. Yet here was Phœbe, merry and eager, joking with Becky and Don as she flitted through the rooms, and seemingly as unconscious of trouble as a dancing sunbeam.

Judith, a little surprised at the girl’s high spirits, kissed her affectionately as she came in to dinner. She thought Phœbe had never looked more lovely than she did to-day. Phil remarked that fact, too. “The Belle of Riverdale,” as she was often called, was really a beautiful girl; yet, those who knew Phœbe best recognized the fact that her chief charm lay not in her fascinating smile, her dainty complexion, nor her magnificent eyes, but in the kindly, sympathetic heart that had never yet failed to respond to the demands of friendship.

After dinner they were all seated on the front lawn in the shade of the big oaks, when Phœbe noticed old Elaine standing motionless in the back yard, grimly watching the group. The girl seized the opportunity to run to her room, grab the money from beneath her pillows and replace the bills in the cupboard back of the mantel and the remainder of the gold beneath the trap in the floor. She acted with breathless haste, not knowing how much time would be allowed her; but she soon found there was no need of hurry. Returning to the lawn she saw that Cousin Judith had gone to the housekeeper and was engaging Elaine in conversation.

“My uncle is better, you say?” asked Miss Eliot.

“I did not say that,” retorted the woman. “I merely stated that he suffers no pain.”

“Is his mind still befogged, as when I last saw him?” continued Judith.

“His mind has never been befogged,” said Elaine, with unnecessary anger. “You will find he is clear-headed enough to defend himself from annoyances, if intruded upon.”

Judith sighed. This creature was absolutely impossible to conciliate. She turned away without further remark and preferred not to see the half sneering, half triumphant leer on Elaine’s pinched features. Phœbe put her arms around the Little Mother and said:

“Never mind, dear. She’s old and unreasonable; but she takes good care of gran’pa, so we needn’t mind her uncivil ways.”

“Koots! I’m half afraid of her,” remarked Becky, making a face at the thin figure of the housekeeper.

“I’m not,” declared Phœbe, laughing at the recollection of her late audacity. “Miss Halliday is nothing more than a favored servant, who has forgotten her proper place. There’s nothing fearsome about her, I’m sure.”

Toward evening the girl’s high spirits began to falter and she wandered about the house in an uneasy mood. Perhaps Phil’s dismal looks--for he could not force his countenance to seem pleasant while his heart was breaking--had something to do with his twin’s growing depression. Even Sue accused Phœbe of being cross when she sent her small sister to bed somewhat earlier than usual.

When all the household had retired except the twins and Judith, they sat on the porch conversing until Miss Eliot noticed for the first time an air of restraint that was unusual. Fearing she might herself be responsible for this she pleaded some letters to be written as an excuse to go to her room, and bade them good night.

“Cheer up, dear,” said Phœbe, when their cousin had gone in. “Didn’t I promise to save you?”

“Yes; but you can’t do that, little sister. No one can save me.”

“There is one way,” announced the girl, decidedly.

Phil sat thinking.

“Yes,” he said; “if Eric would confess, that would end it all. Do you imagine he will?”

“No, indeed.”

“Nor I. I have thought of everything; but the snare is too strong to be broken.”

Phœbe did not reply at once. She sat looking out into the night, lost in thought. Presently she roused herself and whispered:

“Phil, will you take a little walk with me?”

“I don’t mind. I’m not liable to sleep much to-night, so there’s little use in going to bed.”

“Wait for me a moment,” she said.

Phil waited. She soon returned with a bulky newspaper packet partly concealed beneath her cloak.

Together they strolled down the street toward the town. It was after ten o’clock, and on Sunday evening Riverdale was like a deserted village.

“We’re getting to be regular night owls, aren’t we?” asked Phœbe, with a nervous tremor in her voice.

“Yes, indeed. But why are we prowling around town to-night? Wouldn’t it be more pleasant to walk in the lanes?”

“We’re going to the bank,” said the girl.

Phil stopped short to look at her, but the overhanging branches of a tree hid her face. With a sigh he walked on, deciding to let her have her way. But he could think of no good reason for this absurd whim.

When they reached the bank Phœbe said:

“We will go in, Phil. Unlock the door.”

Mechanically he obeyed. Dully be wondered what she was going to do. But it did not matter, and he would soon know.

“Now,” continued the girl, when they were inside, “open the safe.”

“Why, Phœbe!” he gasped, glancing at her fearfully. “You’re not going to--”

“No; I’m not going to rob Mr. Spaythe. Open the safe, Phil--quick!”

He leaned over and set the combination. Then slowly the heavy door swung open.

Phœbe breathed a sigh of relief. Hastily unwrapping her bundle she placed a bag of gold on one shelf and a thick packet of bank bills on another--in just the places from whence Eric had abstracted the money the night before.

“All right, dear; you may lock the safe now.”

Phil was bewildered. His eyes roamed from his sister’s smiling face to the safe, and back again.

“Wha--what have you done?” he stammered.

“I’ve restored the missing cash. Lock the safe, Phil, before it’s robbed again.”

“Phœbe!”

“Don’t look so wild, dear. Can’t you understand you are saved--that there will be no exposure of a theft to-morrow morning? Lock the safe, and let us go home.”

He could not realize it, even yet. Still dazed and wondering he locked the safe and followed Phœbe into the street. They were halfway home before he asked:

“Where did you find Eric?”

“I haven’t seen Eric,” she replied.

“Then where did the money come from?”

“It’s my secret, Phil; you mustn’t ask.”

“But I must know, Phœbe. Why, it’s--it’s amazing!”

“Seems so, doesn’t it?”

“It’s impossible! Three thousand--”

“--Three hundred and ninety dollars,” she interrupted, with a laugh. “It’s all there, dear; all back in the safe.”

“It’s a fortune! Where did you get it?” he persisted.

“Now, Phil, I’ve forbidden you to ask questions, and I mean it,” she declared, very seriously. “It is a secret which I can’t reveal. Not now, anyway.”

“Did Cousin Judith--”

“It’s no use, dear; I won’t tell.”

He strode along in silence, wondering if it were really true. They were dreadfully poor, he knew, and Cousin Judith’s money was tied up in an annuity. Where could Phœbe obtain three thousand, three hundred and ninety dollars in currency?--and on Sunday, too! Suddenly a thought caused him to start.

“You haven’t borrowed it of the Randolphs?” he demanded in a horrified tone.

The suggestion made Phœbe laugh again.

“Guess away!” she said, lightly.

“We would never be able to repay such a loan--not for years and years, if at all,” he said miserably.

“That need not worry you,” she observed. “Why don’t you give it up, Phil? Be content until the time comes when I can tell you everything. It’s the best way. Can’t you trust me--Phœbe--your twin?”

He caught her in his arms and kissed her tenderly, while the first sense of freedom he had experienced since the robbery swept over him.

“Trust you? Of course I can, my darling!” he said.

CHAPTER XIX

THE WAY OF THE TRANSGRESSOR

Phil had a restless night; but he slept a little, nevertheless. His chief source of worry had been removed by his sister’s mysterious action, yet the wonderment of it all remained, carrying with it an intense excitement whenever he thought of the probable outcome of this strange adventure.

On Monday morning he was up bright and early, anxiously awaiting the time to go to work. Phœbe, looking at him with wistful eyes, kissed her brother good-by and said:

“Good luck, Phil. Whatever happens, remember that I, and all who love you, will stand by you to the end.”

But nothing exceptional happened at the bank.

Mr. Boothe, looking a little more pale and worn than usual, arrived at the same time Phil did, and while he was carrying the cash from the safe to his cage, preparatory to counting it, Eric sauntered in and took his seat at the desk.

He gave his fellow clerk a brief nod and looked curiously at Mr. Boothe. Said Phil, attempting to be cordial:

“Back from St. Louis already, Eric?”

“Yes.”

“How did you find Ned Thurber?”

“Oh, Ned’s all right.”

“When did you get home?”

“Six, this morning.”

Usually talkative, Eric seemed determined to be chary of speech on this occasion; but perhaps he was absorbed in watching Boothe count the money, for he never took his eyes off the cashier.

In his usual careful, painstaking manner, Boothe first counted the checks, drafts, and other notes of exchange, checking them off on the tally sheet beside him. Then he began on the currency. As packet after packet of the bank bills was counted and laid aside Eric grew nervous and his breath came in short gasps. He pretended to be bending over his books, but Phil saw the exhibition of nervous fear and was not without a share of excitement himself.

Check!

Eric grew pale and then red. He was astounded. Mr. Boothe rapidly counted the gold contained in the four sacks--positively, there were four, Eric noted with dismay, and there should have been but three. He saw the cashier pick up his pencil, glance at the tally sheet and check the amount as correct.

Eric swayed and almost fell from his stool. Great beads of perspiration stood upon his brow.

“Everything seems to check up all right,” called the cashier from his cage, speaking in a calm voice. “You’ve kept things pretty straight, Eric.”

“Good; very good!” cried a deep voice, and the two clerks were for the first time aware that Mr. Spaythe stood in the open door of his office watching the scene.

“Seems as if you could almost get on without me, sir,” said the cashier, apologetically.

“No,” answered the banker, “your absence caused us all a lot of extra work and worry--especially Phil.” He came around to young Daring’s side, put on his glasses and began a calm but thorough examination of the ledgers. “Feeling better this morning, Mr. Boothe?” he asked, without looking at the man.

“Quite myself again, sir.”

Phil stood aside, for it was evident Mr. Spaythe wished to carefully compare the books. Daring had been obliged to make entries in both his own set and Eric’s during the past few days; but there was little to criticise, he felt, and he welcomed the examination.

Meantime Eric sat as if turned to stone, pale and red by turns, the perspiration oozing from every pore. His eyes, as they fell upon his father, were full of terror; when he looked at Phil it was with suspicion and fear combined. For a moment’s thought had convinced Eric that his theft had been discovered. How, or in what way, he had not the faintest idea. Until now, he had confidently believed he had covered up every trace of the crime with supreme cleverness. Yet in his brief absence someone had detected the robbery and replaced the money in the safe so that Mr. Boothe would find the bank’s accounts correct.

There was only one person able to do this--his father. For it was not to be supposed for an instant that Phil Daring, or any of his friends, could raise so large a sum without recourse to the bank itself.

Then came the thought that if Mr. Spaythe was aware of his son’s embezzlement, someone had betrayed Eric to him. The traitor could be none other than Phil Daring, the one he had naturally expected would be accused of the crime.

Hardly knowing which way to turn or what to do or say, reading condemnation in every face and fearing exposure at any moment, Eric Spaythe was indeed in a pitiable plight. Why was his father inspecting the books so carefully? It could not be that he mistrusted Phil. Was he then looking for those former defalcations of which his son had been guilty? Eric had intended to accuse Phil of those things, when the logical time came. Perhaps Phil knew that, and had saved himself by denouncing Eric.

There was nothing to be learned from Daring’s face. It was grave and serene, as if he had the situation well in hand. Mr. Spaythe seemed stern and vigilant, his practised eye running up and down the entries, observing every item with intelligent care. Boothe was imperturbable as ever and paid no attention to the group in the back room.

Eric writhed on his stool and kept silent. He was fully prepared for the impending denunciation and intended to deny everything and stick to the lie to the last. But no denunciation came.

Mr. Spaythe finished his examination and then turned to Phil with a satisfied nod.

“Daring,” said he, “you have done well--very well indeed, considering your brief experience. I believe you are destined to prove of considerable future value to this bank, and hereafter your salary will be fifteen dollars a week.”

Without a word or a look toward his son he reëntered his office and closed the door. He was still angry with Eric for foolishly making that long and expensive trip to St. Louis for a day’s stay, and moreover he resented the unkind insinuations his son had made about young Daring’s honesty. But Eric attributed his father’s displeasure to entirely different causes.

Phil resumed his work, paying no attention to his companion. Eric waited for a while for him to speak, and then grew savage.

“Think you’ve caught me at it, I suppose?” he growled, with reckless disregard of the fact that he had betrayed himself. The restoration of the money was evidence enough that the cat was out of the bag.

“You are caught, Eric,” was the quiet answer. “There is no need for me to assure you of that.”

Eric glared.

“Where’s the proof?” he demanded, uneasily.

Phil looked up with a smile.

“Has it never occurred to you that money may be marked, and also a record kept of the numbers of bank notes?”

“Oh, that was it, was it?” returned the other, plainly discomfited by the suggestion, which had been hazarded merely to tease him. “Then you’ve been trying to trap me for a long time, it seems. Grateful return for my getting you the job here, isn’t it?”

“I haven’t trapped you at all, Eric. The fault is your own from beginning to end,” said Phil, seriously.

Eric walked to the window and stood looking out. He was trying to understand why his father had not frankly accused him of stealing the money. The banker’s reticence was vastly more terrifying to the boy than prompt exposure and denunciation would have been. Perhaps he had hesitated to let the world know that his only son was a thief. Yes; that must be the explanation. Therefore, Eric was destined to receive his scourging in the private office, and he experienced a distinct sense of relief at this thought, for he could stand any paternal tongue-lashing if his disgrace was but kept from the knowledge of his fellows. Eric’s disgrace would mean to an extent his father’s disgrace. Come to think of it, he had no great cause to worry, in any event. His protection lay in his father’s regard for his own good name.

Following this clue, Eric decided that Phil Daring’s raise of salary was merely a bribe not to expose the secret. But the culprit’s momentary satisfaction in this solution of the problem was promptly dampened when he remembered another of Mr. Spaythe’s characteristics--to let no fault go unpunished. He well knew his father’s stern nature, and shuddered a little as he wondered what punishment would be decreed for so grave an offense.

“What’s the program, Phil?” he inquired, coming back to the desk.

“I don’t know.”

“Not in the gov’nor’s confidence, eh?”

“Not entirely, I imagine.”

Eric stared at him thoughtfully. Strangely enough, Daring had not reproached him or gloated over his downfall. Daring had always been a very decent fellow. Perhaps he would prove a friend, even yet. Eric’s attitude changed from one of defiance to that of entreaty.

“We’ve always been pretty good chums, Phil,” he said, in a hesitating tone. “Tell me what to do, there’s a good fellow.”

Phil reflected.

“You might help yourself in one way,” he suggested.

“What is it?”

“Have you any of that money left?”

Eric nodded, trying to read the other’s solemn face.

“Then I advise you to fix up those little irregularities in the books.”

“What irregularities?”

“That check of Mrs. Randolph’s, for instance. It will be sent to her the first of the month, and she will claim it’s a forgery. Then, there’s that deposit of Martin’s, and several other little things. It would be policy for you to straighten out those tangles at once, Eric, before you are made to do it.”

Eric pondered a while, then drew a sheet of paper toward him and began to figure. He seemed pleased with the results and at once set to work to correct the books. It took him until noon to finish his task, for he had undertaken a delicate matter, and some transactions were difficult to cover up or gloss over.

While Mr. Boothe was at dinner Eric took occasion to make the cash straight, in such a way that it would not arouse the cashier’s suspicion. Phil took no part in the matter and let Eric make restitution in his own way.

“I’ve made good, Phil,” the young culprit whispered, eagerly. “Every customer’s account is now as square as a die, as far as I know, and I’ve charged my own account with some of the withdrawals and credited it with the money I’ve just turned over to the bank.”

“I’m glad of that,” said Phil, greatly relieved. But he spoke coldly, for he knew the banker’s son had acted only from fear, and not because it was the right thing to do. Involuntarily, however, Eric had saved Phil Daring from the possibility of being accused of those dangerous defalcations.

During the afternoon Eric glanced continually at the door of his father’s office, expecting any moment a summons into that stern presence. The strain upon his nerves was terrible, and Phil knew that he was already beginning to suffer punishment. At one time Eric asked anxiously:

“What ought I to do with the rest of the money, Phil?”

“I don’t know,” was the reply; for Phil thought of Phœbe and her secret and was unable to advise Eric because he had no idea where the money had come from that his sister had put in the safe.

CHAPTER XX

ACCUSED

Phœbe had been watching impatiently for her brother’s return and ran to meet him. He told her of the scene at the bank--of Eric’s astonishment and terror, and how Mr. Spaythe had raised Phil’s salary quite materially. Then he related the manner in which he had worked upon the culprit’s fears and induced him to apply a part of the stolen money to replacing his former embezzlements, thus saving Phil from the possibilities of future complications.

Tears stood in Phœbe’s eyes as she murmured: “I’m so glad. Oh, I’m so glad!”

“But the greatest mystery is not yet cleared up,” said her brother. “I’m as much as ever in the dark concerning your own share in this puzzling affair. Phœbe, where did that money come from?”

She shook her head, smiling through her tears, and accompanied him to dinner. But afterward, when Phil had gone back to work, the girl sat in her room facing the consequences of her act. Conscience stirred at last and gained control of her and its vivid accusations made her cringe. Her dearly beloved brother, her twin, had been saved from impending disgrace, but in saving him Phœbe had herself been guilty of a theft equal to that of Eric Spaythe. She had robbed her grandfather in exactly the same way that he had robbed his father, and if Eric had earned such bitter condemnation, Phœbe could not expect to escape censure. True, their motives were different. Eric stole for selfish reasons; Phœbe, to save her twin from unmerited obloquy.

Searching her heart with candid inquiry, she wondered if she were really guilty of a crime. Civil laws might condemn her, but would not the great moral laws of humanity uphold her for what she had done?

“I’m not wicked, I know,” she told herself, positively. “I have wronged no one by my act. There is more than enough of Gran’pa Eliot’s hoard remaining to last him during his brief lifetime. And what better use could a share of that idle money be put to than saving his grandson from humiliation and shame?”

But, Phœbe’s obdurate conscience was not to be appeased by such sophistry as this. “What right had you to take that money?--what right had you?” the small voice constantly asked, and at last she grew distressed by the vague, yet persistent fear that she had done an evil deed that good might come of it. Was that a sufficient excuse? she asked herself, and feared it was not.

“But, I’d do it again!” she declared, pressing her lips firmly together as she thought of Phil. “I’d do it again this moment, if it were necessary.”

While the girl thus fought with an accusing conscience she heard Elaine come into her room. At once the spirit of antagonism toward this dragon, who guarded Gran’pa Eliot’s treasure, hardened her into a belief that she was fully justified in what she had done.

Drawing her darning basket toward her she began mending some of the family stockings, and from her seat by the window listened to the sounds made by the old housekeeper, as she moved about in the next room.

Suddenly there was a sharp cry, followed by a fall. Phœbe was startled for a moment. Then she realized it was not Elaine who had fallen, but that the trap door in the floor had been carelessly dropped into place. Her heart beat a little faster then, but she kept her seat and even attempted to thread a needle. Her alert ears heard Elaine run to the mantel. There was a long pause; then a wailing cry of distress.

[Illustration: PHŒBE GLANCED AT HER CALMLY.]

Phœbe smiled grimly and went on with her work. The discovery had come a little sooner than she had expected. What curious whim could have urged Elaine to examine the treasure now, in the middle of the afternoon? She had never done this before, reflected Phœbe.

In the adjoining room a dead silence prevailed. “She’s counting,” mused the girl. “She’s trying to find out how much is gone, and who took it. Perhaps she’ll lay it to ghosts. Anyhow, she won’t have the slightest idea that I know her secret.”

Then something happened that gave her a shock. Without warning the handle of the connecting door turned and the next moment Elaine stood on the threshold confronting her.

The woman’s face was dark and contorted with rage. She clasped and unclasped her talon-like fingers spasmodically, as if longing to take the girl by the throat and strangle her then and there.

Phœbe glanced at her, frowned, and calmly bit off her thread of darning cotton.

“What are you doing in this room, Miss Halliday?” she asked, not even a tremor in her voice.

For a moment Elaine was daunted. Then she recovered, and advancing a pace toward Phœbe cried in tones of concentrated fury:

“I want my money!”

“Do I owe you anything?” was the stern demand.

The woman’s glaring eyes were fixed upon Phœbe’s upturned face, trying to read her inmost thoughts. The girl dropped her lashes a bit, examining her work, and a slight flush stole into her cheeks in spite of her efforts to appear composed. In a flash the woman detected these signs, and her confidence was instantly restored.

“You can’t fool me, Phœbe Daring!” she exclaimed harshly. “You unlocked that door--the door I had forbidden you to open.”

“Miss Halliday! you forget yourself. My grandfather’s servant has no right to dictate in this house,” said the girl, haughtily.

Elaine gave a short laugh, full of venom and disdain.

“Servant, eh?” she retorted. “And whose house do you suppose this is?”

The challenge roused Phoebe to anger and swept away the last vestige of her composure.

“It belongs to Jonathan Eliot, my grandfather; and everything in it--money and all--belongs to him!” she asserted with pride. “As for you, Elaine Halliday, we have submitted to your insufferable insolence long enough--but only because you understood gran’pa, and were good to him, were you allowed to remain. Your temper and your airs have become unbearable, however, and we will at once secure another servant to take your place.”

The housekeeper stared at her as if she could not believe the evidence of her own ears. Then she laughed--a hard, cackling laugh that was horrible to hear.

“I’ll not be turned out, my girl,” she said scornfully; “but you Darings will get out of here, neck and crop, or I’ll call in the law to help me.”

“The law, Elaine?”

“Yes; the law! This house is mine. It does not belong to Jonathan Eliot. And all its contents are mine, deeded to me in black and white as the reward of my faithful services. The money you have stolen, thief that you are, is mine, too, and unless you return every penny of it you’ll go to jail, Phœbe Daring.”

It was Phœbe’s turn to stare. Could the woman be speaking the truth?

“Where is the proof of your statement?” she asked.

Without a word Elaine turned and reëntered her room. A few minutes later she came back with a paper--a dreadful, legal-looking document--which she unfolded and held before Phœbe’s face for her to read, grasping it tightly the while and prepared to snatch it away if the girl made any movement to secure it.

Phœbe, frightened and horrified, made an effort to read the writing. It was not very distinct, but seemed to state in legal jargon that Jonathan Eliot, being of sound mind and owing no person a debt of any sort, did of his own free will and accord give and transfer to Elaine Halliday all his worldly possessions, including his residence in Riverdale and all its contents of whatsoever kind or description, in return for faithful service rendered him and duly acknowledged.

“Have you read it?” asked the woman, hoarsely.

“I--I think so!” gasped Phœbe.

“Look at the signature.”

Phœbe looked. The paper was signed “Jonathan Eliot” in a crabbed, stiff hand. She could not tell whether it was her grandfather’s writing or not; she was not familiar with it. But, the dreadful truth was forced upon her at last, and Elaine’s scornful assurance was fully explained. She owned the house; she owned that secret hoard. Phœbe had not stolen from her grandfather, as she had supposed, but from Elaine Halliday!

The old woman noted her blanched cheeks and smiled with ruthless joy. Carefully refolding the paper she said:

“I’ve been robbed, and by you. There’s no use denying it, for I’ve got proof in that unlocked door. But I don’t care to send you to prison. I’d rather get my money back.”

“I haven’t it,” murmured Phœbe, staring fearfully into the other’s pitiless face.

Elaine scowled and shrugged her shoulders.

“That’s all nonsense, girl! Give it up,” she advised.

“I can’t; I haven’t it.”

“You’re lying. You took the money yesterday. You can’t have spent it already. Give it up!”

Phœbe was silent. She sat staring helplessly at her tormentor.

“A liar and a thief! You’ll spend your life in prison for this, Phœbe Daring, unless you come to your senses and return my money.”

Phœbe answered not a word. There was nothing to be said. Elaine waited impatiently. Don was calling loudly for Phœbe from some of the lower rooms. Perhaps he would come here in a few minutes.

“See here,” said the housekeeper, suddenly, “I’ll give you till to-morrow--at noon--to bring me that money. Unless I get it--every penny, mind you--I’ll send the constable for you and have you arrested and jailed.”

With this threat she walked into her own room, closing and securing the door after her. Phœbe sat in a stupor. Her mind refused to dwell upon this amazing discovery. She was glad Don had ceased calling to her and vaguely wondered what he had wanted. The stockings must be darned; but really there was no hurry about it; they would not be needed for a day or two.

A sharp blow upon the door startled her out of this rambling reverie. Elaine was driving nails. Viciously she pounded them into the door with her hammer, utterly regardless of the certainty of disturbing Gran’pa Eliot. She intended to assure herself that Phœbe would be unable to get at the hidden treasure again.

And now the full horror of the situation burst upon the girl’s mental vision, making her cringe and wince as if in bodily pain. Jail! Jail for helping Phil! Well, it was far better that she should suffer than her twin--a boy whose honor was all in all to him. She would try to be brave and pay the penalty for Phil’s salvation unflinchingly.

For a while the poor girl sat cowering in the depths of despair. What could she do? where could she turn for help? Then a sudden thought came to her like an inspiration. Judge Ferguson had once made her promise to come to him if she was in any trouble. Of course. Judge Ferguson was her father’s old friend. She would see him at once, and perhaps he would be able to advise her in this grave emergency.

CHAPTER XXI

SHIFTING THE BURDEN

Watching her opportunity Phœbe slipped out of the house unseen and hastened down town to Lawyer Ferguson’s office. The old man was just putting on his hat to go out when the girl’s anxious, pleading face confronted him.

“Are you busy, sir?” she asked, with hesitation.

“Very, my dear. I’m due at an important meeting within five minutes.”

Phœbe’s face fell.

“Anything wrong?” inquired the lawyer in a kindly tone. Phœbe was one of his favorites.

“Oh, a great deal is wrong, sir!” she exclaimed, excitedly. “I’m in great distress, and I’ve--I’ve come to you--for help.”

Judge Ferguson hung his hat on the peg again and went to the door of an inner room.

“Toby!” he called.

“Yes, sir.”

Toby Clark appeared: a frowsy-headed, much freckled youth who served as the lawyer’s clerk. He nodded to Phœbe and looked inquiringly at his master.

“Go to Mr. Wells at the insurance office and tell him I cannot attend the meeting to-day. Have it postponed until to-morrow,” said the judge.

“Yes, sir.”

“And, Toby, when you return stand guard over the private room and see that I’m not disturbed.”

“Yes, sir.”

The youth vanished instantly and with a courteous gesture Mr. Ferguson motioned Phœbe to enter his sanctum. Evidently, he had shrewdly read her face and knew that something very unusual had happened to his ward.

“Now, then, explain yourself, my dear,” he said when they were seated.

Phœbe looked earnestly into the kind old face.

“I want to make a full confession of everything,” she began. “I want you to understand me, and--and know just as much as I do.”

“That is a wise resolve, when you are dealing with a lawyer,” he responded, smiling at her anxious look.

So she first told him of how she had discovered old Miss Halliday counting the secret hoard, and of her reasons for keeping the knowledge to herself. Next, she related Phil’s experiences at the bank, his suspicions of Eric and the midnight adventure when together the twins watched the banker’s son robbing the safe. All the details of Eric’s plan to implicate Phil had been carefully treasured in the girl’s memory, and she now related them simply, but convincingly, to the lawyer.

It was more difficult to confess the rest, but Phœbe did not falter nor spare herself. A way to save Phil had been suggested to her by the discovery of her grandfather’s hoarded money--for she naturally supposed it was his. Her description of the manner in which she had secured exactly the same amount Eric had taken was dramatic enough to hold her listener spellbound, and he even smiled when she related Eric’s confusion at finding the money restored, and how he had eagerly made restitution of the minor sums he had embezzled by “fixing” the books.

Perhaps Judge Ferguson had never been so astonished and startled in all his long experience as he was by Phœbe’s story. The thing that really amazed him was Jonathan Eliot’s secret store of money. He had not been without suspicion that the old man had grown miserly, but so cleverly had the treasure been concealed that when Mr. Ferguson searched the house--under the cunning guidance of Elaine, of course--he had found nothing at all to justify that suspicion.

When, in conclusion, Phœbe told of her late interview with the old housekeeper and recited as well as she could remember the terms of the deed of gift from Mr. Eliot to Elaine Halliday, Judge Ferguson became visibly excited.

“Was it really your grandfather’s signature?” he inquired.

“I cannot say, sir, for I have seldom seen his signature,” she replied.

“Were the names of any witnesses affixed to the document?”

“I did not notice any.”

“H-m. What then?”

“Then she threatened to put me in prison unless I returned the money, and of course I cannot do that,” said Phœbe, plaintively. “She has given me until to-morrow noon, and then I must go to jail.”

The lawyer sat for some time staring at a penholder which he tried to balance upon his middle finger. He was very intent upon this matter until a long-drawn sigh from Phœbe aroused him. Then he leaned back in his chair, thrust his hands deep in his pockets and bobbed his head at her reassuringly.

“We’ll not let you go to jail, Phœbe,” he asserted, in a tone that carried conviction.

“But I--I’ve stolen her money!” she moaned.

“I don’t believe it. I know Jonathan Eliot. And I’ve known other misers before him. Not one of them would ever give up a dollar of their beloved accumulation as long as a spark of life remained in their bodies--your grandfather, least of all. And to his housekeeper! Why should he resign it to her, I’d like to know?”

“She seems to have a powerful influence over him,” remarked Phœbe, thoughtfully. “She alone is able to communicate with him now, or make him understand. She alone cares for him while he is helpless as a baby, and he depends upon her promise to see that his body is finally laid in the queer tomb he once built. Perhaps she obliged him to give her everything, by threatening to leave him to die alone.”

“Don’t believe a word of it, my dear!” exclaimed the lawyer, pounding his fist on the table for emphasis. “If Jonathan Eliot is clear-headed enough to dictate that deed of gift, or to sign it, he is still shrewd enough not to part with his money. Deeds of gift executed under compulsion are illegal, too. But I believe this paper to be nothing more than a rank forgery.”

Phœbe stared at him with wide open eyes.

“You do, sir?”

“I certainly do. Elaine is bluffing, and the bluff might succeed if she had only a girl like you to deal with. You were quite right to come to me, Phœbe. I’ll agree to settle this controversy with Elaine.”

“How?” she asked, feeling much encouraged by his confident tone.

“H-m. I cannot say, as yet. I must have time to think. Why, it’s five o’clock,” looking at his watch. “Sit still! Don’t be in a hurry. Let’s figure a little; let’s--figure.”

He was balancing the penholder again. Phœbe watched him with dreamy curiosity. It was a distinct relief to shift the burden to other shoulders.

After a while she said softly:

“Do you think I’ve been so--so _very_ wicked, Judge?”

Slowly he rose from his chair, came over to her and kissed her cheek.

“_Very_ wicked, Phœbe. All good, true women may be just as wicked, to help those they love. God bless ’em!”

He turned away to face an old print of Abraham Lincoln that hung on the wall, and seemed to study it intently.

“How is your grandfather’s health, lately?” he abruptly inquired.

“I saw him through the window yesterday. He seemed the same as usual.”

“A live carcass. An active mind in a dead body. If Elaine can rouse that mind, can communicate with him, others may do the same.”

He seemed to be speaking to himself. Phœbe sat quietly and did not interrupt his thoughts.

“So you counted the gold with Elaine. Are you sure of the sums you mentioned? Could you see clearly through that peephole?”

“I may have made a mistake, of course,” she answered. “But I am almost sure I counted right.”

“You took three thousand, three hundred and ninety dollars?”

“Yes, sir. Fifteen hundred in gold and eighteen hundred and ninety, in bills.”

“H-m. H--m--! We must return that money, Phœbe.”

“Return it! Why, how can I, Judge?”

“You can’t, my dear; but I can. Let’s see. She has given you until to-morrow noon--All right.”

Phœbe drew a long breath.

“Meet me here at ten o’clock in the morning,” he added.

“Very well, sir.”

She started to rise, but he motioned her to retain her seat.

“Can you give up your room for to-night, Phœbe--perhaps for a couple of nights?”

“Why, I think so,” she said, astonished. “Perhaps I can sleep with Cousin Judith; but--”

“We’re going to play a little game, Phœbe; but, in order to win we must keep our secret. Tell no one at home the story you have told me. Keep away from Elaine for to-night. Perhaps you’d better come over to our house and stay with Janet--Yes; do that. It will lull suspicion.”

“Are you intending to use my room, yourself?” inquired Phœbe.

“No. I want to put a detective there. I’m almost sure there will be something to see through that peephole to-night.”

“A detective!”

“A private detective; meaning Toby Clark.”

Phœbe stared at him. She had never imagined Toby could be a detective.

“And now,” continued the lawyer, briskly, “it’s all settled, cut and dried. You may go home to supper without a single worry. I’ll send Janet after you with an invitation to spend the night at our house, and Toby will take your place at home. You’ve given me proof that you’re not a bad conspirator, Phœbe, so I depend upon your wit to get Toby into your room unobserved.”

“I’ll try, sir,” she said.

“Don’t fret, my dear. We’ve got everything planned, now, and you have nothing further to fear from this strange complication.”

She could not quite understand how that might be. Whatever plans Judge Ferguson had evolved he kept closely guarded in his own bosom. But Phœbe knew she might trust him, and carried away with her a much lighter heart than the one she had brought to the lawyer’s office.

When she had gone Mr. Ferguson called Toby Clark into his private room and talked with the young man long and earnestly.

Toby was considered one of the Riverdale “characters.” He had been born in a shanty on the bank of the river, where his father had been a fisherman and his mother had helped to eke out their simple livelihood by washing for the ladies in the village. Both had died when Toby was a small boy, and for a time he did odd jobs for the storekeepers and managed in some way to keep body and soul together. He was a little fellow, even now, when he was nineteen years old. His unruly hair was a mop of tow color, and his form was not very sightly because his hands and feet seemed overgrown. Out of his whimsical, freckled face peered a pair of small, twinkling eyes, so good-humored in their expression that the boy was a general favorite. But he never had much to say for himself, although he was a keen observer and listened intently to the conversation of others.

Some years ago Judge Ferguson had taken Toby Clark into his employ, recognizing a shrewd wit and exceptional intelligence hidden beneath his unprepossessing exterior. At first, the boy went to school and took care of the judge’s furnace in winter, and his lawn and flower beds in summer. Then he was taken into the office, where he was now studying law. No one had really understood Toby except the old lawyer, and the youth was grateful and wholly devoted to his patron.

In this interview the judge told Toby exactly what he was expected to do after Phœbe had secretly introduced him into the Daring household. The entire situation was explained to him with such clearness that the amateur detective had no difficulty in understanding what was required of him.

He asked no questions, but nodded his head to show that he comprehended the situation.

“Above all,” was the final injunction, “do not lose sight of Miss Halliday. Stick to her like a burr, whatever happens; but do not let her know you are watching her. Is it all clear to you, Toby?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then run along, and be prepared to meet Phœbe at the house when Janet calls for her.”

CHAPTER XXII

MARION’S GHOST STORY

When Janet Ferguson arrived at the Eliot homestead that evening she was greeted by enthusiastic shouts from the younger Darings, with whom she was a great favorite. They surrounded her in a group before she could reach the house, while Phil came across the lawn to meet her and shake hands cordially.

Phœbe, glancing sharply around, saw Toby Clark leaning against a column of the dining room porch, where he was half hidden by the vines.

“Come!” she whispered, and led the way into the house. Halfway up the stairs she paused to look back, not hearing his footsteps; but he was so close behind that he startled her and soon she had ushered him into her own little room.

“Lock the door behind you,” said she, “and pay no attention if anyone knocks or tries to get in.”

Toby merely nodded as he shut himself in. Phœbe hurried down to join Janet, carrying a little handbag that contained the things she needed for the night.

“Why, Phœbe! where are you going?” asked Sue, seeing the bag.

“To stay with Janet. Where is Cousin Judith?”

“Over at the Randolphs.”

“Then let us go that way,” said Phœbe to Janet. “I must tell her my plans, for otherwise the Little Mother might worry.” Passing close to Phil she whispered: “Is everything all right?”

“Everything is right so far,” he replied. “But how is it with you, and why are you going away to-night?”

“Just for a little excitement,” she laughed.

“You seem nervous and excited, now,” said her brother, looking at her closely. “Anything new turned up to annoy you, Phœbe?”

“I’m quite contented to-night, Phil, dear.” And then she ran away before he could question her, further.

They met Cousin Judith just leaving the Randolph’s house, and Marion was with her. Miss Eliot at once approved Phœbe’s plan to stay with Janet for the night. She thought the girl had seemed unnerved and ill at ease lately and believed the change of environment would do her good.

When Judith had bade them good night and started across the street to rejoin her flock, Marion said:

“I’ll walk with you a little way, if you don’t mind. It’s such a lovely evening, and I’ve a mystery to disclose, besides.”

“A mystery--oh, Marion!” exclaimed Janet.

“Why are you so astonished?” asked Marion, as the three girls locked arms and sauntered up the street.

“Because I cannot imagine a mystery connected with such a very practical person as yourself,” returned Janet.

“Tell us what it is,” urged Phœbe, “for then it will remain a mystery no longer.”

“Oh, yes it will,” declared Marion, rather soberly. “I’ve no solution to offer. All I can do is tell you what I saw, and allow you to solve the mystery yourselves.”

“What did you see, then?” inquired Janet, curiously.

“A ghost.”

“A ghost! Why, Marion!”

“Of course, my dears, there is no such thing as a ghost, although, as I say, I saw it plainly. Otherwise I should have called it an ‘apparition’ instead of a ‘mystery’.”

“To be sure.”

“But if I saw a ghost, and ghosts are impossible, then I am in touch with a mystery,” she continued. “Do you follow my logic, girls?”

Janet gave a careless laugh.

“I thought at first you were in earnest,” she said.

But Phœbe had lived in romance during the past few days and no element of mystery now seemed absurd to her. Indeed, she began to feel slightly uneasy, without knowing why.

“Where did you see your ghost, Marion?” she asked.

“In its proper place--the graveyard.”

“Oh!” said Janet and Phœbe together, for their companion had spoken seriously and with a slight shudder. Moreover, the graveyard was at that moment a short block to their left, and twilight had already fallen. Beneath the rows of maples and chestnuts that lined the road the shadows were quite deep.

“I am troubled with insomnia,” explained Marion. “The doctors say I have studied too hard and my nerves are affected. At any rate I am very wakeful, and sometimes do not go to bed until two or three o’clock in the morning, knowing I could not sleep if I tried. Last evening I was especially restless. It was a beautiful starlit night, so after the family had all retired I slipped out of doors and started for a walk through the lanes. I have often done this before, since I came here, and it is not unusual for me to visit the old graveyard; not because I am morbid, but for the reason that it seems so restful and quiet there.”

“Naturally, dear,” murmured Janet.

“Last night my walk took me that way. I passed through the turnstile and wandered among the graves to the far end. It must have been long after midnight, but I had not a particle of fear, believe me, girls. I was not even thinking of such preposterous things as ghosts.

“By and by I retraced my steps and sat down on a fallen slab of stone to indulge in reverie. From my position I faced that ugly square mausoleum Phœbe’s grandfather once built. There is an iron grating around it, you remember, and a marble door to the tomb itself, with bronze hinges and a bronze catch. By the way, isn’t that tomb supposed to be vacant?”

“Yes,” answered Phœbe, strangely excited. “Gran’ma Eliot and my father and mother occupy graves just beside it, for gran’pa built the big tomb just for himself.”

“Not a very generous thing to do,” added Janet; “but Mr. Eliot has always been a queer man, and done queer things.”

“Well,” continued Marion, “I sat facing the tomb, as I said, when slowly and without sound the marble door opened and a ghostly figure emerged. I won’t assert it was a spirit from the other world, nor will I claim it was some person dressed in a sheet; but I am positive it was no vision of my imagination. So let us call it the Ghostly Mystery.”

“Was it a man or a woman?” asked Phœbe, breathlessly.

“It failed to disclose its sex, my dear. The door seemed to swing shut behind it; but the ghostly one was obliged to put out an arm to raise the latch of the iron gate. It passed through and I heard the click of the latch as it again fell into place. Then the apparition--”

“The Ghostly Mystery, Marion!”

“Oh, yes; the Ghostly Mystery glided out of sight while I sat listlessly wondering what it could be. I was not frightened, but I failed to act promptly; so, when I arose to follow it, the thing or person--or whatever it was--had disappeared for good and all.”

The three strolled on in silence for a while. Then Phœbe asked:

“What time was it?”

“Perhaps one o’clock. It was nearly two when I got home; but I had walked quite a way before I decided to enter the house.”

“And have you no idea who it might be?” questioned Janet, who had now grown thoughtful.

“Not the slightest.”

“I wish I had seen it,” said Phœbe, softly.

“Oh, do you like ghosts? Well, then, I’ll take you with me on my next midnight ramble,” laughed Marion.

“Why not go to-night?” suggested Janet. “Phœbe is going to stay with me, and you may come too, Marion. Our house is even nearer to the graveyard than your own, and at dead of night we’ll all steal out and waylay his ghostship. What do you say?”

“I am willing,” declared Marion. “Are you sure you will not be frightened?”

“I may be,” admitted Janet, honestly; “but I’m willing to risk it.”

“So am I!” echoed Phœbe, eagerly.

“Then it is decided,” said Marion. “I frankly acknowledge, girls, that while we are living in an eminently practical and scientific age, these romantic adventures still prove fascinating. Let us hope we shall discover the ghost, and that the apparition will be of a quality to thrill our stagnant blood.”

“Must you go home first?” inquired Janet.

“Not if you’ll lend me a night robe. No one at home pays any attention to my wanderings, so I shall not be missed.”

They soon arrived at Judge Ferguson’s comfortable residence, which was a little beyond the outskirts of the village and delightfully situated on a slight eminence. Mrs. Ferguson, an alert, pleasant-faced little woman, welcomed the girls cordially and they passed the evening chatting together and discussing recent events in which all were alike interested. Phœbe was a bit distrait, for she could not help wondering what was happening in her room at home, where Toby Clark was keeping watch over the movements of old Elaine; but no one appeared to notice her abstraction.

Later in the evening the judge came in, and smiled cheerily upon the three young girls.

“You’ve quite a house-party to-night, Janet,” he said. “I wish you might keep this bevy with you for a month.”

Neither by glance nor word did he remind Phœbe of their conversation of the afternoon, and when they prepared to go upstairs he kissed all three impartially.

“What, to bed already?” he cried. “But run along and get your beauty sleep. Why should you wish to sit up with an old fossil like me?”

“Who has deserted us nearly the whole evening,” pouted Janet.

“True; I am to blame,” he admitted. “But a lawyer is never his own master, and to-night business kept me in the town.”

Phœbe thought she knew what had occupied him, but said nothing.

In their rooms the girls sat and discussed their plans, waiting for the judge and Mrs. Ferguson to get to bed and for the arrival of the hour when they might venture forth. It was demure little Janet who suggested they all wear sheets on their midnight stroll.

“We can carry them over our arms until we get to the graveyard,” she said, “and then wrap ourselves in the white folds. If the ghost appears we’ll show him that others are able to play the same trick.”

“But we might frighten him,” laughed Marion.

“Whoever is playing ghost must be trying to frighten others,” returned Janet; “for, as you say, actual really-truly ghosts do not exist. I think it would be fun to turn the tables on the impostor.”

“Perhaps so. What do you think, Phœbe?”

“It may be a good idea,” she said, rather reluctantly, for somehow she regarded this matter far more seriously than did the others. The ghost was using her grandfather’s tomb for its headquarters, according to Marion’s report, and that gave Phœbe a personal interest in the affair.

At last the clock warned them it was nearly twelve o’clock; so they gathered up the sheets Janet had provided and stole noiselessly from the house. The graveyard was only a short distance away and they reached it about midnight, taking their position in a dark corner near the Eliot mausoleum. They assisted one another to drape the sheets effectually and then sat down upon the ground, huddled close together, to await the advent of the ghost.

“Perhaps it won’t come to-night,” whispered Janet, with a suspicion of hopefulness in her voice.

“True; we must be prepared for that disappointment,” replied Marion, soberly.

“Do you feel at all creepy, girls?” asked Phœbe, who caught herself indulging in nervous shivers at times, despite the fact that the night was warm and sultry.

“For my part,” said Marion, “I have no silly fears when in a graveyard. I find the place serenely restful, and therefore enjoy it.”

“I wouldn’t care to be here alone,” admitted Janet; “but, as we’re all together I--I don’t--think I shall mind it--even if the Ghostly Mystery materializes.”

It was a long wait, and the three girls beguiled it at times by whispering together, more through desire to hear the sound of their own voices than because they had anything important to say. One o’clock arrived at last. Marion could read the face of her watch under the starlight. Another half hour dragged wearily away.

“I fear we shall encounter no adventure to-night,” Marion was saying, when Phœbe seized her arm and drew her back into the shadow.

“Hush!” she murmured, and pointed an arm toward the turnstile.

Two hearts, at least, were beating very fast now, for the long-expected ghost was at last in sight, gliding silently past the turnstile. Well, not exactly “gliding,” they decided, watching intently. It was not a very healthy looking ghost, and to their astonishment was entering the graveyard with shuffling, uneven steps. Of course it should have suddenly appeared from some tomb, as every well regulated ghost is supposed to do.

“The Mystery seems rather clumsy, Marion,” said Janet in an excited whisper.

“Isn’t it carrying something?” asked Phœbe.

“Yes; a weight of some sort in each hand,” was Marion’s composed reply. “The weights are as white as the ghost itself. Queer; isn’t it, girls?”

Glancing neither to right nor left the apparition slowly made its way into the graveyard and advanced to the big square mausoleum erected as the future abiding place of Jonathan Eliot. The white-robed figure seemed bent and feeble.

“Come!” said Marion; “let us surround it and play ghost ourselves.”

She glided swiftly out into the starlight, wrapping her sheet closely about her, and gained a position behind the tomb. Phœbe and Janet followed, spurred on by Marion’s fearless action. One passed to the right and the other to the left.

Singularly enough, the bent figure did not observe their presence until the tomb was nearly reached, when Marion circled around the railing and confronted the mysterious visitant. At the same time Janet and Phœbe advanced and all three slowly raised their white-draped arms above their heads.

“Woo-oo-oo!” wailed Marion.

With a shriek that pierced the night air far and wide the ghost staggered backward and toppled to the ground, lying still as death.

Startled though she was, Phœbe sprang forward and peered into the upturned face.

“Why--it’s Elaine!” she cried aloud.

“Yes,” said a quiet voice beside her. “And you’ve raised the very mischief by this mad prank, Phœbe Daring.”

It was Toby Clark, who gazed down at the still figure and wagged his tow head, mournfully.

“Is she dead, Toby?” asked Janet, in a hushed, frightened tone.

“I think not. Probably, she’s fainted.”

“And what was she carrying?” inquired Marion, seeming unmoved by the tragic occurrence.

Phœbe knew; they were two canvas bags of gold; but she said nothing.

“See here,” cried Toby abruptly, “it’s possible you crazy females have not spoiled the game, after all. Make tracks--will you, girls?--get away, out of sight; run home, so she won’t see you when she comes to.”

“But--I don’t understand,” began Janet, timidly.

“You’re not supposed to,” retorted Toby, more gruffly than he had ever spoken to her before.

“Toby is right, girls--I know he is right. Come--_please_ come!” pleaded Phœbe, anxiously.

Thoroughly bewildered, Janet and Marion suffered her to lead them away, and when they had passed the turnstile and were out of sight Toby retreated and hid behind a gravestone.

Elaine did not recover at once, for her terror had been great and her faint was proportionately deep and lasting. But finally, when Toby was about to steal out again and see if she were dead, the old woman moved uneasily and moaned. A little later she sat up, placing her hands to her head. Then she seemed to remember the cause of her fright, for she cast fearful glances around her.

Apparently reassured, she presently tried to rise, and after several attempts regained her feet. The bags of gold still lay where she had dropped them and after another suspicious look around the graveyard she stooped and picked them up.

For several moments the woman stood motionless in that silent city of the dead, pondering on the forms she had seen and trying to decide whether her imagination had played her a trick, or she had really beheld the spirits of those gone before. The fact that she had not been robbed led her to dismiss any idea that the forms were mortal. Whatever the explanation might be, she reflected that she was now alone and had a purpose to accomplish.

She carried her load to the iron grating, unlocked the gate and passed through. The marble door of the mausoleum worked with a secret spring. Toby’s sharp eyes carefully marked the manner in which she released this spring and permitted the heavy marble block to swing noiselessly outward.

Elaine only lingered long enough to place the bags of gold inside. Then she closed the door of the tomb, let herself out at the iron gate and after one more shrewd inspection of the silent place made her way out of the graveyard and took the path that led back to her home.

Far behind her Toby followed like a shadow.

In half an hour she returned to the vault again, laden as before. For an old woman, and one who had just received a nervous shock, Elaine Halliday showed remarkable vitality. Her body appeared frail and weak, but an indomitable spirit urged it to perform its tasks.

CHAPTER XXIII

TWO AND TWO MAKE FOUR

When Judge Ferguson arrived at his office the next morning he found Toby Clark awaiting him.

“What! You’ve not let Miss Halliday escape?” he exclaimed.

“Miss Phœbe is watching her,” returned Toby. “I felt it was important for me to come here to report.”

“Very well; sit down and tell me what you have to say.”

“Early last evening,” began the youth, “I heard the woman in her room. I watched her through the peephole Miss Daring had prepared. She was gathering all the money from the hiding places. The bills and small change she made into packages; the gold she left in the bags. Then she went into another room--the room occupied by Mr. Eliot--and returned with an armful of papers.”

“What sort of papers?” inquired the lawyer.

“They looked like legal documents, bonds, deeds and such things, sir. All were neatly folded and tied in packages.”

“Ah! I wonder where they could have been hidden.”

“No telling, sir. They’ve been mighty clever, haven’t they? Well, sir, she made those papers into two separate parcels. Then she wrapped herself in a sheet which she took from her bed, hid the parcels under it, and left the house.”

“She took only the papers?”

“Only the papers that time, sir. I tried to follow her, but the only way I could get out of the house without noise was through the window. I tied some sheets and blankets together and let myself down that way; but I was too late. The woman had disappeared, and I could not tell in what direction.”

“Too bad, Toby.”

“But I knew she would return, for there was the money to be lugged away. So I hid by a hedge and waited till she came back. She went into the house by the outside stair and soon brought out two bags of gold, one in each hand. This time, I followed her. She went to the graveyard, and I knew why she had draped herself in the sheet.”

“Why?”

“So, if anyone chanced to see her there, they would take her for a ghost. Some one did see her there--three girls, also dressed in sheets--your daughter, Phœbe Daring and Marion Randolph.”

“Well, I declare!” ejaculated the lawyer.

Toby told of the incident in the graveyard, and how Miss Halliday had afterward made still another trip with the balance of the money.

“Did she put it all into the vault?” asked the judge.

“Yes, sir; and so I suppose she put the papers there, too. But I cannot be positive of that.”

“But--good gracious, Toby!--what possessed the woman to hide all that plunder in a vault?”

“She is quite clever, sir. The other hiding place had been discovered by Phœbe; some of the money had been taken; it was best to hide it elsewhere. Who would ever think of searching a graveyard for it?”

“You’re right, Toby. But what happened afterward?”

“Very little, sir. Miss Halliday went to bed and slept soundly, for I heard her snore.”

“You climbed in at the window again?”

“Yes, sir; and had some sleep myself.”

“What a wonderful woman Elaine is!”

“I can’t help admiring her, sir.”

“And what about Mr. Eliot, Toby?”

“While waiting for the woman, when she escaped me the first time, I stole up the stairs and looked in. Mr. Eliot was sitting quietly in his chair, in the dark.”

“She left him there all night!” cried the judge, horrified.

“It seems so, sir.”

“That is cruelty. Even his helpless body must tire with remaining in one position so long. Usually Elaine has taken better care of him than that,” said Mr. Ferguson, indignantly.

“She was much excited last night; and the poor man can’t complain, you know,” returned Toby, with a shrug.

“What did Miss Halliday do this morning?” asked the lawyer, after a moment’s thought.

“She rose early and got her breakfast. I heard her walking around the front rooms, putting them in order and waiting on Mr. Eliot. She seemed quite composed this morning, and that may be due to the thought that her money is now safe from discovery. When Miss Phœbe came home from your house, Miss Halliday met her and handed her this note.”

Judge Ferguson took the paper. On it were scrawled the words: “At twelve o’clock I will keep my word.”

“Miss Phœbe is very anxious, sir,” continued Toby. “So I thought it best to come to you and report.”

The lawyer looked at his clerk, reflectively. Old Miss Halliday’s persistent threat to prosecute Phœbe impressed him strongly. For, had she not been able to prove her right to this secret hoard, the woman would never dare to expose the affair to public notice. Mr. Ferguson was quite positive that no such paper as Elaine had displayed to Phœbe would hold good in a court of law; but the woman might have other proofs that she was entitled to the property she claimed. In any event the judge did not wish to be forced to act hastily in so important a matter. Time was necessary.

Half an hour later he entered Mr. Spaythe’s private office at the bank and said:

“Spaythe, I want to borrow three thousand, three hundred and ninety dollars--and I want the money now.”

Mr. Spaythe gave a perceptible start, passed his hand over his forehead, and cast a perplexed and annoyed glance at the lawyer.

“May I have it?” demanded the judge.

Eric had entered in time to hear this demand, and the sum mentioned sent his face white and made his knees knock together. In his hand was a paper he had intended asking his father to indorse, but it was all forgotten as the boy stared blankly at Judge Ferguson. Did the lawyer know? Then how many others knew? Eric had not yet recovered from his fright, and his great fear was of his father’s anger. Why had Mr. Spaythe said nothing to his son about the stolen money, and what punishment was he planning? The son of the strict, inflexible banker well knew the fault would not be forgiven nor condoned, and the uncertainty of his position was becoming unbearable.

“Certainly you may have the money, Judge,” was Mr. Spaythe’s slow reply. “For how long do you require the loan?”

“Perhaps only for a few days.”

“Then I’ll give you my personal check, and make no other record of the transaction.”

As he drew his check book toward him Eric slipped back into the bank and resumed his stool. He was trembling as with an ague.

Presently Mr. Ferguson came to the window and asked Mr. Boothe to give him currency for the check. He spoke loudly enough for both Eric and Phil to overhear him.

“How will you have it, sir?” asked the cashier.

“Fifteen hundred in gold and eighteen hundred and ninety in bills.”

Eric nearly fell off his stool, and Phil looked up with a start. The effect upon the two boys was entirely different, however, for Daring had nothing to fear. So Phœbe’s secret was out, thought Phil, and Judge Ferguson was the person who had given her the money. But, in that case, why was the judge now asking for a similar sum, and in the same sort of money? The mystery was certainly beyond Phil Daring’s ability to solve. He gravely continued his work, feeling certain that everything would come right in the end. It hurt him, though, to feel he was not in his twin’s confidence.

Mr. Ferguson took his money and departed. When he reached his office he said to Toby Clark:

“Go back to the Eliot house and send Phœbe to me. You must remain to watch Miss Halliday, but you can do that from the lane, or from some other point of vantage. I don’t much care what the woman does while she is at home, but if she attempts to leave the place be prepared to follow her.”

“All right, sir.”

Phœbe came for the money and found it ready for her, tied in a neat parcel.

“Don’t answer any questions during your interview with Elaine,” he advised. “And take care to ask none. Above all, don’t let her suspect you were playing ghost in the graveyard last night.”

Phœbe promised and went home again. At twelve o’clock she carried the package around to the rear stairs, which she was about to mount when Elaine appeared in the doorway above her.

“Stay where you are!” was the harsh command.

The girl resented the words and the tone, so with determination she mounted the stairs. Elaine barred her way.

“You must count the money and give me a receipt,” said Phœbe.

“I’ll count it; but you’ll get no receipt, for you gave none, you miserable little thief!” snarled the woman, rudely snatching the parcel.

“Then, I’ll wait here until you count it.”

“No you won’t. Go down--instantly! And if the money is not all here, to jail you go.”

“I think I’ll see my grandfather,” asserted the girl, more to annoy Elaine than because she wished to visit the helpless old man.

For answer Miss Halliday slammed the door in her face and locked it. Phœbe slowly retreated and descended to the yard. There the thought occurred to her that she might watch Elaine through the rear windows, for she was curious to see how she acted when she found the money all restored. So she slipped away into the lane, which being slightly elevated enabled her to peer into the second story windows. There she bumped against Toby Clark, who was standing half hidden by a clump of bushes.

“Oh! You here?” she exclaimed.

“Yes. Anything up?” he inquired.

“I’ve just given Elaine the money, and she impudently locked me out. So I thought I’d come here and watch the windows.”

“That’s what I’ve been doing. Stand back here in the shade, Miss Daring, so you won’t be seen. That’s it. Now look at that window. What do you see?”

“Only gran’pa sitting in his chair.”

“Oh. Is that your grandfather!”

“Of course,” said Phœbe. “He sits there all day long, looking over the country. Once, you know, he owned all the land as far as he can now see.”

“And does he sit there all night, too?”

“No, indeed; Elaine puts him to bed at night.”

“Last night,” said Toby, reflectively, “she left him in his chair, instead of putting him to bed. I saw him. The room was dark, but he was so close to the window that the stars showed his form distinctly.”

“Then Elaine is neglecting poor gran’pa!” cried Phœbe, indignantly. “And he is so dependent on her kindness, too!”

Toby gave a low, apologetic cough.

“Your eyes are good, Miss Daring?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Then look again, and carefully. Is that indeed your grandfather--is it really Mr. Eliot in the chair?”

Phœbe was surprised at the question, but she looked carefully.

“Of course. I’ve seen him sitting that way every day, for months past.”

“Can you see his face?”

“Not very well, from here. It is muffled up in his dressing gown, you know, so he won’t take cold.”

“It’s pretty warm to-day,” observed the lawyer’s clerk.

“But Gran’pa Eliot is paralyzed, and his blood doesn’t circulate freely. He is always well wrapped up, whatever the weather.”

Toby whistled softly and looked down at the ground, where he was digging up the earth with the toe of his shoe.

“It must be dinner time,” said Phœbe, suddenly remembering the fact. “Phil will be coming home and I must go in.”

“Will you be very busy this afternoon, Miss Daring?”

“I think not. Why?”

“Can you come here for a half hour or so?”

“Yes, Toby, if I can be of any service.”

“I think you can. This is a queer affair, isn’t it?”

“It’s very queer, Toby.”

“Then I shall expect you,” he said with a sudden change of tone.

Phœbe went in, thinking the while how odd this boy was. She wondered casually why Judge Ferguson had placed so much confidence in him. There was still a good deal of mystery about this affair and Phœbe did not yet know what the lawyer intended to do to checkmate old Elaine. However, she was content to trust her father’s friend, and greatly relieved to be able to return that dreadful money to the covetous woman.

After dinner she walked with Phil to the gate. Said he:

“Have you anything to tell me?”

“Not yet, Phil,” she answered softly. “Try to be patient, for all is well, I’m sure, and we’re going to be very happy when these troubled days are over.”

He said no more, but bent and kissed her and went on his way.

After accomplishing a few household duties and bandaging a cut on Becky’s arm--it seemed the girl was always hurting herself--and helping Don find his cap, which he always mislaid when he came in, Phœbe remembered her promise to Toby Clark and slipped away unobserved to his station in the lane.

She found the little clerk staring fixedly at the window where Gran’pa Eliot sat. He gave a start as the girl approached, and then his freckled face lit up with a smile.

“I want you to watch Miss Halliday for me, for half an hour,” he said.

“Where is she?”

“Somewhere in those upper rooms. She has just passed the window to the left. But, although I’ve watched her for hours, she has never once stopped at your grandfather’s side to do anything for him.”

“Poor gran’pa!”

“Now, listen, Miss Phœbe. The judge told me not to lose sight of that woman. If she tries to leave the house I am to follow her. But I want to get away, for just a little while, and I’d like you to watch in my place.”

“But, what shall I do if she goes away?”

“Follow her, and I’ll find you both. But she won’t leave the house to-day, I’m sure.”

“Very well; I’ll do the best I can, Toby.”

He nodded and walked away, going straight to the graveyard. When he reached there he climbed nimbly over the high iron rail, at the risk of breaking a limb, and faced the Eliot mausoleum. Pressing the spring, as he had seen Elaine do, he opened the marble door and passed into the tomb.

A few moments later he came out with a pale, startled face and closed the door. A while he stood lost in reverie; then he clambered over the railing again and went to relieve Phœbe.

“Thank you, Miss Daring,” he said quietly. “You may go, now. Anything to report?”

“Why, a minute ago Elaine came to the window where gran’pa sits, and after staring out, as if she suspected I was watching her, she turned and shook up gran’pa’s pillows, and moved his chair back a little. So you see we were wrong, and she is not really neglecting him.”

Toby chuckled.

“She’s a slick one, is Miss Halliday!” he murmured. “But I’ll keep an eye on her now.”

“Aren’t you hungry?” asked Phœbe, remembering he had been on duty since the evening before.

He shook his head.

“Brought some bread and cheese with me, Miss Daring. Good-by.”

“Good-by, Toby.”

The afternoon passed slowly for Phœbe. She was still wrought up over the exciting events of the past few days and felt that she was almost as much in the dark concerning Judge Ferguson’s intentions as was Phil. She tried to copy some manuscript on her typewriter, for she had been neglecting the work lately, but somehow the girl had conceived an undefined horror of her room. So she went to sit with Cousin Judith, while she finished darning her stockings.

“Phœbe, dear,” said Miss Eliot, “there’s something mysterious going on in this house.”

“Is there?” asked Phœbe, with downcast eyes.

“I think so. Phil has not been himself, lately. I’m sure he is worrying dreadfully over something. Is anything wrong at the bank?”

“No, Cousin Judith. Phil is all right. He’s doing splendid work, as you may know from the fact that Mr. Spaythe has raised his salary.”

“But the boy is unhappy, nevertheless,” persisted the Little Mother, musingly.

Phœbe sighed. She knew it was true.

“As for you, my dear,” continued Judith, “you are a mere bundle of nerves lately, and start and grow pale if anyone speaks to you. What has happened, Phœbe?”

The girl darned industriously for a time. Then she said earnestly:

“You trust me, Cousin Judith, do you not?”

“You know I do, Phœbe.”

“Then please do not question me to-day. I don’t want to mislead you, or deceive you, and Judge Ferguson has asked me not to confide in anyone--not even you.”

“Judge Ferguson!” exclaimed Judith, relieved. “Is it his secret, then?”

“Just now it is,” answered Phœbe. “But there is nothing to worry about, dear. That’s what I told Phil, just after dinner.”

Miss Eliot was really puzzled, but she felt it would be unkind to press Phœbe further.

“Becky, Don and Sue know nothing of the matter, at least,” she observed, after a moment’s reflection.

“No, indeed,” said Phœbe.

CHAPTER XXIV

TOBY CLARK’S HEROISM

Late that night Toby Clark heard a man pacing slowly up and down the street, passing the Eliot house each time. Peering through the shadows the boy thought he recognized the straight, erect figure. Creeping close to a hedge that bordered the highway he whispered:

“Mr. Ferguson!”

“Yes, Toby. I’ve been looking for you,” replied the judge in a low voice, as he paused beside the hedge.

“Something’s going to happen to-night, sir.”

“So I suspected. What is it?”

“Miss Halliday’s getting ready to flit, sir.”

“Are you sure?”

“She’s been packing up for the last hour, sir.”

“And intends to leave poor Mr. Eliot alone! How dreadful!”

“Would you mind going for Sam Parsons, Mr. Ferguson?”

The lawyer gave a start. Parsons was the village constable.

“Parsons! Dear me; do you think he’s needed, Toby?”

“Better have everything ship-shape, sir.”

The judge reflected. Had he a right to arrest Elaine? She was merely a servant, after all, and it was not a felony to throw up such a position. But, there was the money--that secret hoard which she had claimed as her own and hidden away in the tomb. She had claimed to own the property, as well, yet was voluntarily preparing to leave it--a circumstance which led the shrewd lawyer to suspect that she knew her claim to be illegal. Had she, then, any better right to the money, the bonds and papers? Judge Ferguson decided he would get the constable.

“There is no time to be lost, sir,” suggested Toby Clark, uneasily.

“I’ll meet you here shortly. Sam doesn’t live far away, and he’ll be at home now; probably in bed and asleep.”

“I’d like you to hurry, if you please. And if I’m not here when you return, come to the graveyard.”

“The graveyard!”

“She’ll want to put away the money that Miss Phœbe gave her to-day, you know.”

“Of course, Toby. I’ll hurry.”

He turned and walked swiftly away, while the clerk went back to his post of observation. A candle was burning in one of the upper rooms and it dimly lighted the form of Jonathan Eliot, seated beside his favorite window. Now and then Miss Halliday passed one of the windows. She had on a shawl and bonnet.

The judge was prompt. He encountered the constable just coming home from town, and immediately dragged him away, explaining the case as they walked.

Sam Parsons was a man of few words and he knew Judge Ferguson. He asked no questions, understanding he was merely to arrest old Miss Halliday if she tried to get away. The judge knew the reason for this action, and that was all that was necessary, for the time being.

Toby met them and posted them beside the path Elaine must take to get to the tomb. From their cover they gazed curiously at the muffled form of old Jonathan Eliot; but the examination was brief, for suddenly the light went out.

“She’s coming!” whispered Toby. “I’ll follow her first, and then you must follow me at a safe distance.”

“Why not arrest her now?” asked the lawyer.

“Oh, no--not now, sir!” protested Toby in an eager voice. “Wait, sir; wait.”

He could say no more, for they discerned Elaine’s angular form coming down the stairway. In one hand she carried an old-fashioned satchel. Under the other arm was the package of money which Phœbe had returned to her.

Pausing at the foot of the stairs the woman cast penetrating glances in every direction. Then, evidently reassured, she stealthily traversed the back yard and passed through the gate into the lane. It was quite dark under the shadow of the trees, and Elaine had no suspicion that three silent watchers stood almost within arm’s reach as she hurried along the well-known path. Presently Toby Clark glided away in her wake, and before his dim form became wholly invisible the constable and the lawyer started after him.

Thus the extraordinary procession advanced to the very borders of the graveyard. Once or twice Toby halted suddenly, and the others perforce followed suit; but that was only when Elaine paused to shift her luggage from one hand to the other; then they all resumed the silent march.

When she unlocked the gate of the iron grating surrounding the tomb she did not wait to fasten it behind her; so, as soon as she had entered the mausoleum Toby slipped inside the railing and signaled the others to follow him. The three being now within the enclosure, the young man closed the gate and turned the key in the lock just as Elaine again appeared.

The starlight rendered the three forms clearly visible.

The woman gave a low cry and rushed to the grating, which she shook with impotent rage. Then, turning to confront her captors, she exclaimed:

“Who are you? How dare you come here?”

“A graveyard is not private property,” said the judge.

“Mr. Ferguson!”

“Yes, Miss Halliday. Let me return your question: why are you here?”

She glanced at the door of the mausoleum, which she had left ajar in her first panic at being discovered. Then her eyes fell upon the satchel she had left beside the gate. These people had surprised her, but she reflected that they could know nothing of her secret, or of her present purpose. All she needed was to gain time. Before any could prevent her she sprang to the marble door and forced it shut. It closed with a sharp click as the spring bolt shot into place. The secret of opening it had been known only to Jonathan Eliot and herself.

Toby gave a little laugh, and the lawyer roused himself and said sternly:

“I am awaiting your explanation, Miss Halliday.”

“Well, I guess you’ll wait for it awhile,” she retorted, a note of triumph in her voice. “You’ve no right to detain me here, Judge Ferguson. Open that gate, and let me go!”

“I fear, madam, you have broken the law, and we must therefore arrest you,” said the lawyer.

“I’d like to see you do it!” she cried, but she drew in her breath sharply and pressed one hand to her heart.

“You will be gratified, Miss Halliday. Officer, do your duty.”

As the constable advanced she shrank back against the iron gate.

“No, no!” she said. “Don’t arrest me. I’ve done nothing to be arrested for. Come to the house in the morning and I’ll explain everything.”

The lawyer hesitated.

“You may go to the house, if you wish; but Mr. Parsons will go with you, and guard the place until morning,” he said.

Toby Clark was pulling his sleeve.

“One moment, sir, before you decide,” he pleaded.

“What is it, Toby?”

“Come with me, please.”

The boy went to the door of the mausoleum, touched the secret spring, and the marble block swung out. Elaine gave a cry that was half a sob and pressed her hands to her heart again.

“Come in, please--all of you, if you will,” said the clerk.

Parsons and Mr. Ferguson followed him into the black interior of the tomb. The air was close and bore a peculiar, sickening odor.

“One moment,” said Toby.

He struck a match, holding it shielded between his hands until it flared up and lighted the confined space. On a marble slab in the center of the tomb lay a dead body.

“Good God!” cried the judge, recoiling; “it’s Jonathan Eliot!”

An echoing cry came from Toby. Dropping the match he made a bound for the door just as the heavy slab was swinging into place, urged by Elaine’s most desperate efforts. There was no way to open it from the inside, and the danger was imminent. In an instant the young man had thrust his foot into the crack that was now barely large enough to receive it, while Elaine, crowding the weight of her body against the marble, crushed and mangled the heroic boy’s flesh in a last vain effort to entomb her three captors and condemn them to a horrible death.

The next instant the burly form of Sam Parsons thrust back the door. Then he wrapped his arms around the struggling woman and caught her in a firm clasp. Judge Ferguson, trembling with horror, raised Toby from the ground, where he had fallen and lay writhing and moaning with the pain of his maimed and wounded foot.

Snap--snap! went the handcuffs that encircled Elaine’s wrists, while she fought, scratching and biting, to resist capture.

“I’ll carry Toby down to the doctor’s, sir,” said the constable. “You can march ahead with that tigress. There’s no danger, Judge; she can’t escape us now, and we’ll soon land her in jail.”

CHAPTER XXV

FATHER AND SON

The Darings slept soundly that night, all unaware of the tragic events taking place in their neighborhood. However, the adventure was not yet ended for Judge Ferguson, even when the Halliday woman had been securely locked up and the doctor had dressed Toby’s mangled foot and he had been put to bed.

“Sam,” said the lawyer, “I have work to do, and you must help me.”

“Count on me, Judge,” was the ready reply. “I don’t mind an all-night job once in a while, though I wouldn’t care for it as a steady diet. What’s next?”

They awakened the undertaker, Davis, the next thing, and after the lawyer had told him the story he at once hitched up a team to drive to the tomb for Mr. Eliot’s body. As the undertaker was also the liveryman, Mr. Ferguson obtained a single horse, harnessed to a roomy box-buggy, in which he and Sam Parsons followed the other rig. Arriving at the graveyard they held back while Davis took charge of the remains and loaded the body into the wagon, and not till he had driven away did the constable and the lawyer venture into the mausoleum, the door of which they had propped open to avoid the danger of being entombed alive.

The buggy was fairly loaded when all the treasure and the papers had been placed in it, and then they drove to the lawyer’s office, where they deposited the precious freight and Parsons watched beside it until morning.

Mr. Ferguson, meantime, got a couple of hours’ sleep; but he was back at the office by daybreak, and while waiting for the bank to open sent Sam to get his breakfast, while he himself began a systematic examination of the papers he had seized.

It did not take him long to discover that Jonathan Eliot had been a wealthy, if miserly, man. The government bonds and cash alone constituted a fortune, but aside from these were many mortgages and investments that drew a high rate of interest. There was no paper purporting to be a will; no letters of administration or any indication that the old man had transferred his holdings to Elaine Halliday, or to any other person. The deed of gift which Phœbe had seen was doubtless secreted upon the person of the housekeeper.

While the judge was thus absorbed in the papers the day advanced and Spaythe’s Bank was opened for business. Phil, arriving at his usual time, found Mr. Spaythe already in his office and the door communicating with the countingroom wide open.

Moreover, the banker seemed laboring under unusual excitement. He would walk the floor of his office with nervous strides, then seat himself in the chair by his desk, and a few moments later resume his pacing. At times he glanced into the room where Phil was at work, or toward the cage where the cashier was busy. Eric had not yet arrived.

Presently in came Judge Ferguson, accompanied by Sam Parsons, and both were loaded down with gold and bank notes.

“Good morning, Spaythe,” called the judge, nodding genially. “I want to make an important deposit, to be credited to the Estate of Jonathan Eliot.”

“Eliot!” exclaimed the banker. “Is the old man dead, then?”

“Very dead, Spaythe; and he’s left a lot of money. Here, Boothe, count it--and count it carefully, my man--for this is the biggest deposit your bank has ever received.”

Phil had overheard this, and came forward with a pale and troubled face.

“Is it true, sir?” he asked, half frightened.

“Yes, Phil; it’s true.”

“When did my grandfather die?”

“Two or three days ago, I think. But we only discovered his body last night, lying in that tomb he built, where Elaine Halliday had carried him after propping up a dummy in the window to make us all believe he was still alive.”

Then they all went into the private office, where Mr. Ferguson related the night’s occurrences to Mr. Spaythe and Phil Daring, the constable being present to confirm the story.

“Had it not been for the bravery of Toby Clark,” concluded the judge, “we might all three have been buried alive in that hideous tomb. No one could have come to our assistance, for no one knew where we had gone.”

“The woman must be crazy,” asserted the banker.

“Perhaps; but she’s clever enough in some ways,” sighed the lawyer, “and may cause us a lot of trouble yet. That’s why I have deposited this money to the credit of the Eliot Estate. No one can touch it now until the courts decide to whom it belongs. And, by the way, Spaythe, that three thousand, three hundred and ninety dollars I borrowed from you is among the lot!”

During this conversation Eric had entered the bank, and seeing the interested group gathered in his father’s office came to the open door just as the judge again mentioned the fatal sum that he had stolen from the safe. His face instantly went white with terror, and he was creeping away when Mr. Spaythe sprang up, seized his son’s arm and drew him into the office.

“Gentlemen,” said the banker, turning to the others, “I too have a story to relate, and I beg you to seat yourselves and listen.”

“May I go, sir?” asked Phil in a troubled tone.

“No, Daring; you must remain; for what I have to say concerns you closely. Sit down.”

Phil sat down. Judge Ferguson glanced from Phil to Eric, who stood with hanging head; then to Mr. Spaythe, whose countenance was cold and severe and bore the marks of a secret sorrow. The constable, accustomed to strange scenes, remained impassive and silent.

“On Saturday night,” began Mr. Spaythe, in a hard, resolute tone, “this bank was robbed of three thousand, three hundred and ninety dollars, in gold and currency.”

Eric staggered and caught at the corner of the desk for support. Phil grew pale, for he was astonished at the banker’s knowledge. Mr. Ferguson knew the fact already, having listened to Phœbe’s confession, so he merely glanced at the father and son in a thoughtful way and refrained from comment.

[Illustration: “I’VE A STORY TO RELATE,” SAID THE BANKER.]

“My son had warned me,” continued the banker, speaking bitterly, “that Phil Daring would not be liable to withstand the temptation of stealing money, once he was alone in the bank and knew the combination of the safe. At first I scorned the idea; then, for my own satisfaction, I decided to watch. Here in my door is a sliding panel, through which I am able to observe, when I so desire, everything that goes on in the back room. On Saturday night I came here, letting myself in at the private entrance to this room, and found Phil Daring working on the books while his twin sister sat beside him. From their conversation I discovered that they knew the bank was about to be robbed. They arranged to watch the robbery unobserved, and I decided to do likewise. At midnight a man entered the bank, opened the safe and took away three thousand, three hundred and ninety dollars. That man,” he added, pointing a merciless finger toward the culprit, “was my own son.”

No one spoke. Eric tried to answer, but a sob choked him. He had raised his head now and was reading his father’s face with a fascinated and horror-stricken gaze.

“From the conversation of the two Darings,” went on Mr. Spaythe, “I learned that Eric had so plotted that Phil was to be accused of the crime--and of other peculations that preceded it. The girl promised to save her brother, and I was curious to know how she would do it. To my amazement they brought the money to the bank on Sunday evening, and I saw them replace it in the safe--every penny that Eric had taken. The act was so astonishing, so wholly unexpected and inexplicable, that there seemed but one possible solution: that the Darings had in some way forced Eric to give up the stolen money. So I kept silent, waiting for an explanation, or for some further development; for if Eric had been shown the folly and wickedness of his crime it might be better for him not to know that I had discovered it. I may have been weak in this; but, gentlemen, he is my son.”

The banker paused, pressed his lips firmly together, and after a time resumed his statement.

“Further developments occurred, indeed, but they served to undeceive me, and to add to my perplexity. Eric restored to the bank several hundred dollars which he had formerly embezzled; he also paid his debts around town, amounting to several hundred dollars more; I have a list of them. Therefore, he could not have returned to the Darings the money he took from the safe on Saturday night--and he had no other money.”

Eric drew a long and tremulous sigh. Then he sank into a chair and buried his face in his hands. The tale was all new to him, and he found the truth vastly different from what he had imagined. Also, despair had seized him in its pitiless grasp, and as his eye by chance fell upon the constable he shuddered. His father’s intentions were clear to him now.

“Another surprising circumstance,” said Mr. Spaythe, ignoring Eric’s dejected attitude, “was Judge Ferguson’s demand upon me for the exact sum Eric had stolen--the exact sum Phœbe Daring had restored to the safe. Therefore, I have asked you to listen to me that you may understand I am entitled to some explanation. My son’s crime is known to the Darings and to Mr. Ferguson, as well as to myself; I, only, am in the dark concerning the events which followed it.”

“Those events I can explain in a few words, sir,” said the judge, his kindly voice showing how deeply he was grieved for his old friend. “Phœbe Daring had discovered her grandfather’s hoard, which Miss Halliday had secreted in her own room. To save her brother from unjust accusation the girl took the sum required to make good Eric’s--eh--eh--withdrawal. Miss Halliday claimed this money was given her by Jonathan Eliot, by a deed of gift, and threatened Phœbe with jail unless she returned the entire sum. It was my purpose just then to lull old Elaine’s suspicions; so I borrowed the money from you, Mr. Spaythe, that Phœbe might return it to her grandfather’s housekeeper. So you see that after all the various conspiracies, Spaythe’s Bank is still short that identical sum of three thousand, three hundred and ninety dollars.”

“Not the bank, sir,” said the other harshly, “but my personal account is short that sum. You are relieved of all obligation to return it, Judge Ferguson.”

The lawyer bowed.

“In that case,” said he, somewhat embarrassed, “perhaps you will permit us now to withdraw.”

The banker sat silent a moment, his stern face pallid and thoughtful. Then he turned to Phil.

“Mr. Daring,” he said, “I owe to you and to your brave sister my thanks for your discretion and consideration of me in the conduct of this unfortunate affair. Eric owes you a still greater debt. You have behaved as a man, sir; I wish to God you had been my son instead of that cowering criminal seated before me. Will you add a little to my obligation--will you do me another favor?”

“If I may, sir,” said Phil, flushed and miserable despite this praise.

“Tell me what punishment to inflict upon this--thief.”

Phil straightened up and looked squarely into the banker’s eyes. He had longed for this question; the opportunity was now his.

“Sir,” he replied, “I know Eric; I have known him for years. His fault lay in his extravagant tastes, which forced him into debt because his father would not give him as much money as he thought he needed. The debts drove him to crime, and for his crime he has already suffered such punishment as all your proposed severity could not inflict upon him. I know Eric--tender-hearted, generous and kind--not bad, sir, in spite of this offense he was so weak as to commit. If you will forgive him, Mr. Spaythe, if you will love him and take him to your heart again, I promise that never in the future will you have cause to regret it. Eric will be honest and true from this day forward. But if, on the other hand, you now cast him off, you will ruin his life and your own; for a boy condemned by his own father can hope for no mercy from the world. He is your only son, Mr. Spaythe; forgive him.”

During this impassioned speech, which came straight from the young fellow’s heart, the banker sat staring at him with dull, expressionless eyes. Eric had raised his head to gaze at Phil wonderingly. Then he turned to his father a pleading look that might have melted his anger had he seen it; but Mr. Spaythe still stared at Phil Daring, as if dazed by the boy’s frankness.

Mr. Ferguson slowly rose and laid an arm across the banker’s shoulder. The gesture was strangely caressing, as between one man and another.

“Phil is right, Duncan,” he said softly. “The boy is your son, and you can make a man of him, if you will.”

Slowly the banker’s head drooped until it rested upon his arms, outstretched upon the flat desk before him. For a time he remained motionless, while those who watched and waited scarce dared to breathe.

Then Mr. Spaythe looked up, and the sternness had left his face.

“Eric,” he said, “you are forgiven.”

CHAPTER XXVI

THE WATERMARK

Phœbe found the chickens had not been fed, and they were making a plaintive outcry for attention. She went to the stair and called to Elaine, but there was no reply.

Slowly ascending to the upper floor she pushed open the door and called again. Then something about her grandfather’s awkward position attracted her attention. She crept forward to peer into his face; then started back with a cry of dismay. Her grandfather was not there. A pillow and a bolster supported the dressing gown and head-shawl which had so cleverly deceived her.

Hurrying down she met Phil and Judge Ferguson coming up the walk. They told her to get Cousin Judith, and when the four were assembled in the quaint old parlor the girls heard the extraordinary story of Elaine’s arrest and Eric’s forgiveness.

Miss Halliday made a desperate fight for Jonathan Eliot’s money. Judge Ferguson was not the only lawyer in Riverdale. Among the others was a little, fat, bald-headed man named Abner Kellogg, whom the court allowed to defend the woman.

Kellogg was shrewd, and Elaine promised him a big fee if he won; so he challenged Mr. Ferguson to prove that the deed of gift was a forgery and had not been signed by the deceased miser.

This was a difficult thing to do. The signature was very much like Mr. Eliot’s; so like it that the experts would not state positively that he had not affixed it to the deed. Moreover, Elaine’s contention that she had received no regular wages for years; that she had been the only close friend and confidant of the old man, and that he had promised her his money and property, when he died, as a return for her faithful service, was all so plausible that it greatly strengthened her claim.

She testified before the court that Jonathan Eliot had executed this deed of gift just before he was stricken with paralysis.

“He would not give me the paper then,” she explained in a logical, composed way, “but kept it in an iron box in his secret cupboard. He told me that when he died I could take the paper, and it would prove my claim. So I did take it, and showed it to Phœbe Daring, and she gave me back the money she had stolen from me.”

When asked why she had concealed the fact of Mr. Eliot’s death for three days and hidden his body and the money in the tomb, she replied that she was afraid of the Darings and their lawyer, Judge Ferguson. The Darings had stolen from her and the judge had threatened her with the law. She was a simple, inexperienced old woman, she added, unable to oppose such bitter and powerful enemies, who had always treated her unjustly. She feared that when they knew of Mr. Eliot’s death they would take away her money--as indeed they had done--and so she had tried to keep the matter secret until she could get far away from Riverdale. She had intended to let the Darings have the house, although it was clearly her own. The place had grown distasteful to her, and the money would enable her to live comfortably in some other part of the country.

She flatly denied her attempt to entomb Mr. Ferguson, the constable and Toby Clark, which had been frustrated by the boy sacrificing his foot for their lives, and they refrained from pressing this charge against her. Toby’s foot was healing, but he would be a cripple as long as he lived.

Taken all together, Elaine’s position was far more strong than Mr. Ferguson had anticipated. By permission of the court he examined the deed of gift closely, afterward complaining that the paper seemed too new to have been written upon three years ago. It was a heavy, thick sheet, resembling parchment, and on it the judge discovered a watermark consisting of the letters “A.R.”

Lawyer Kellogg, who defended Elaine, replied that paper kept away from light and air, as this had been, would remain white and look new for years, and therefore Mr. Ferguson’s contention was ridiculous. The court agreed with Mr. Kellogg in this, and poor Mr. Ferguson was at his wits’ end to find some reasonable flaw in the document.

The case had been on trial for a week, and had been adjourned over Sunday. The Darings and Cousin Judith, who had at first been elated at the prospect of inheriting Gran’pa Eliot’s wealth, had by degrees fallen into a state of hopeless despondency.

After his Sunday dinner Judge Ferguson came over for a talk with his clients, and although his intention was to cheer them, his own face was too serious to be very assuring.

“I am morally certain that woman is deceiving us,” he said; “but I must confess my fear that we shall be unable to prove the deed a forgery.”

“Never mind, sir,” replied Phil, smiling at Phœbe to give her courage; “we’ve managed to get along so far without gran’pa’s money, and I guess we can stand it hereafter.”

“That isn’t the point,” suggested Judith. “The money is rightfully yours, and you are entitled to it. Why, the fortune left by my uncle is nearly a hundred thousand dollars, counting the money and securities alone. Surely Elaine Halliday cannot claim her services to be worth all that!”

“Not justly, my dear,” answered the judge; “but the law will not look at it from that point of view, and here is a point of law to be considered. If the deed is allowed to stand we cannot prevent Elaine from getting every penny, and the house to boot. If it is a forgery, and so proved, she is not entitled to a dollar beyond her wages as housekeeper. Even that would be forfeited by her deception.”

“Suppose,” said Phœbe, “we compromise, and agree to give her all the money if she will let us have the house. Wouldn’t that be better than getting nothing at all?”

“I fear it is too late to compromise,” said the judge, shaking his head regretfully. “At first we might have made such an arrangement, but now that pettifogger Kellogg will insist on her getting everything. Elaine has wisely left her defence entirely in Kellogg’s hands.”

“Isn’t he a rascal?” asked Cousin Judith.

“I would not accuse him of rascality,” was the reply. “No; Kellogg is not a bad man, nor a bad lawyer; he is doing his duty by his client, that is all.”

Just then Becky came rushing across the lawn, screaming and laughing. She was closely followed by Don and Allerton Randolph, who tried to head her off. Becky was clutching and waving a paper, and she ran up to Cousin Judith, who sat beside the judge, and thrust the paper into her hand, crying:

“Don’t let ’em have it, Little Mother--promise you won’t!”

“But what is it?” asked Judith, glancing at the paper and then smiling.

“Allerton drew it, just for us,” said Donald, flushed and angry, “and Becky grabbed it and ran away. Make her give it back, Cousin Judith--Allerton doesn’t want anyone to see it.”

“But it is quite clever,” replied Judith, still smiling. “I did not know you were so good an artist, Allerton.”

“I am not very clever, Miss Eliot,” replied Allerton, in his sedate way. “Mother thinks I am artistic, and encourages me to draw; but she does not like me to make cartoons, such as this, for she says it degrades my talent.”

“H-m. Let’s see the cartoon,” said the judge.

“May I show it to Mr. Ferguson, Allerton?”

The boy hesitated.

“If you wish to, Miss Eliot,” he said.

The judge took the paper, put on his glasses, and after a glance laughed heartily. It was a caricature of old Miss Halliday, executed with considerable humor and skill, considering the artist’s youth.

Suddenly the judge gave a start and the paper trembled in his hands.

“Bless my soul!” he cried, holding it to the light. “What’s this?”

“That?” said Allerton, leaning forward. “Oh, that is the watermark of my initials, ‘A.R.’ The drawing paper was especially made for me, as a Christmas present.”

A silence fell upon the little group. Mr. Ferguson, Phœbe, Phil and Cousin Judith eyed one another by turns, and in every eye gleamed the certainty that Jonathan Eliot’s fortune was saved to the Darings.

“When did you receive such a fine present, Allerton?” asked Phil, his voice trembling in spite of his efforts to control it.

“At the last holiday season,” answered the boy readily.

The old lawyer turned a delighted face to the eager group.

“Your grandfather has been paralyzed three years!” he exclaimed.

“Tell me,” said Phœbe to Allerton, “did you ever give Miss Halliday any of your paper?”

He took time to think; then his face brightened and he replied:

“Only one sheet. She begged me for it one day when she brought the eggs.”

“And when was that, my lad?” inquired Mr. Ferguson.

“A month ago, perhaps.”

* * * * *

Mr. Kellogg threw up Elaine’s case in disgust, and would have nothing more to do with it. When the deed of gift was proven a forgery and old Miss Halliday was told she must go to prison unless she confessed, she finally broke down and admitted the truth. Being aware of the fact that no one save herself knew of her master’s hoarded treasure, she planned to get it for herself. After practising his handwriting for months she became so expert that the deed she finally executed deceived even the experts. Had it not been for the telltale watermark upon the paper she would have easily won.

The unscrupulous woman took her defeat with dogged indifference, still protesting that her wages were in arrears and that she was entitled to several hundred dollars for back pay. This, by advice of Judge Ferguson, was given her. The Darings refrained from prosecuting the poor creature, and she was allowed to take her wages and leave Riverdale forever.

No one in the little village seemed sorry to see her go.

In Preparation

“Phœbe Daring: Conspirator” by L. Frank Baum

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Transcriber’s Note:

Spaced contractions in the original publication have been joined. The spelling of Phoebe in the List of Illustrations and caption facing page 244, and on pages 130 and 317, has been changed to Phœbe. Other changes have been made as follows:

Page 30 make it think, logically _changed to_ make it think logically

Page 44 more’n a fly minds sugar. _changed to_ more’n a fly minds sugar.”

Page 54 the buss that carried their ball players _changed to_ the bus that carried their ball players

Page 97 to leave any article where-ever _changed to_ to leave any article wherever

Page 191 final catastrophy he seemed overcome _changed to_ final catastrophe he seemed overcome