A SURPRISE

Two afternoons later, the three active members of the Antiquarian
Club rushed up the stoop of the Charlton Street house in a breathless
scurry. And Margaret awaited them in the parlor in a fever of no less
eager excitement.

“Hurry, girls!” she cried when the first greetings were over. “I’ve
just got heaps to read to you! And some of it’ll make you ‘sit up and
take notice,’ as Alexander says!”

“Who’s Alexander?” queried Corinne, curiously.

“Oh, he’s a boy-cousin who lives with us,” Bess enlightened her. “He
was Mother’s sister’s child, and his parents are both dead now, so
Mother had him come here a year or two ago. He’s twelve years old and
a perfect nuisance! He hates girls, so he generally keeps out of our
way. That’s why you’ve never seen him. But, come on! I’m wild to hear
what’s coming next! Margaret wouldn’t tell us a single thing she’s
found out.”

“Wait a minute before we begin,” spoke up Corinne, “and let’s just run
over what we’ve already discovered. It’ll keep us from getting mixed
up. A young girl of sixteen has run away from her home in Bermuda, and
is in some place where she thinks her life is in danger. Before she
ran away, she did something to assist in some plot against her country
(which must be Bermuda), and probably that’s one reason why she is in
danger. Maybe something’s been discovered about it. She’s staying with
a Madame M., and it seems to be a house of mystery.

“One thing I have pretty well guessed, and probably so have you
all—that this must have happened a long time ago. Her language isn’t
very—well, modern—sounds to me like stories I’ve read about old
England, and America too in former times. I think it’s likely she’s in
one of those two countries when she writes—probably England, because
she speaks of ‘_Madame M._’ and ‘_Lady Blank_,’ and those titles
don’t somehow go with America. Then there’s something strange about
a sapphire signet. But go on now, Margaret! Maybe you’ve discovered
something new!”

Margaret smiled mysteriously. “Perhaps just a _few_ things!” she
admitted. “Here’s where we left off. I’ve copied it all from the
beginning. You remember where she tells about explaining the signet
later? Now I’ll go on:

“There is something strange and evil about this house. I can trust
no one. Especially do I mistrust the steward. He hath a sleek smile
and ingratiating manners, but he is wicked to the heart of him.
He associates much with one Corbie, who keeps the tavern down the
road hard by the woods. Corbie has been to this house, and once was
closeted long with the steward. When he came forth to go, he gazed
hard at me as I stood on the lawn. It made me shudder for an hour
afterward.”

“That’s the first name she has mentioned—’Corbie,'” interrupted
Corinne. “Let’s remember it. Who knows but it may help us?”

“There’s another coming right away,” added Margaret, “though I don’t
know whether it will be of any help or not.

“But one thing has happened lately to cheer me. Two nights ago I
went to my room, which does not look toward the river, but toward
the back of the house. I was minded to retire early, having naught
to occupy me through the long evening. Madame M. retires at nine,
but I never see her after the evening meal. She is usually in
conference with the steward, who has chief charge of the affairs of
this great house. She appears to place much confidence in him. But
that is not to the point.

“I had opened my window and was leaning out a moment when I heard a
softly whistled tune, and knew that H. was there. For the tune he
ever whistles is ‘The Lass of Richmond Hill,’ which he declared,
when first he brought me here, was right appropriate to me now.”

“I wonder why?” queried Jess.

“I can’t imagine,” answered Corinne; “‘lass’ she certainly is, but what
has ‘Richmond Hill’ to do with it? What _is_ ‘Richmond Hill,’ and where?”

“Mother has a friend who lives in Richmond Hill, Long Island,” ventured
Bess.

“Oh, _that_ can’t be it!” declared Corinne, scornfully. “That’s only a
little new suburb that’s hardly been in existence thirty years! It has
nothing whatever to do with this! And I wonder who ‘H.’ is, too. Well,
go on, Margaret.”

Margaret obediently continued:

“At hearing him, my heart did beat gladly, for he is the one person
I have seen who reminds me of home. I leaned far out and called
to him softly, and presently he threw into my window a letter
weighted with a stone. It said he and his uncle had not been back
to Bermuda, nor would they dare to go for many a long day. One of
their traitorous sailors had divulged the plot, and the authorities
were wild only to lay hands on them. This they had learned in
roundabout fashion. They had been cruising along the coast lately,
and had had not a few adventures. They were sailing at midnight
for parts unknown. He did but come up hastily to see how I fared,
before they left.

“In a moment I threw down an answering missive, telling of my
present plight, and begging that he and his uncle would take me
back to Bermuda should they ever be sailing there again. That was
all I had time for, since he knew he dared not linger. He went
away silently into the night. ‘Twas brave of him to come, since he
knows it would be ill for him to be seen hereabout, now that so
much seems to have been discovered.”

[Illustration: “He gazed hard at me as I stood on the lawn”]

Margaret paused here and half whispered: “Hold your breath now, girls!
We’re coming to the _sapphire signet_!” Then she went on with the
reading:

“I must now explain about the sapphire signet. Night after night I
lie awake and ask myself why I ever took it—why I was ever tempted
to add this mistake to the rest of my misdoings. At the time it
seemed no wrong,—nay, it seemed entirely _right_ that I should
take with me what Grandfather has so often said was mine, though
he deemed it safer not to allow me to have it in my keeping till I
should come of age.

“‘Tis such a pretty bauble—this wonderful blue stone larger than
my thumb-nail, with our family crest graved on it and set all
round the edge with tiny, sparkling diamonds. Grandfather told me
that the sapphire was once in a great ring, and from generation to
generation had been handed down to the eldest son of the family.
He said, moreover, that it ever should have remained a ring; that
’twas a crime it should have been changed. But ’twas my mother’s
whim that it should be taken from the ring, set round with
diamonds, and made into an ornament for her neck. He said that
once, when they were in London not long after their marriage, she
wheedled my father into having it changed, and came home to Bermuda
with the jewel hanging from a slender chain about her white throat.
And Grandfather was filled with wrath at her and never forgave her.
Had I been a boy, he says, he would have had the stone reset in a
ring. But since the only heir to it is a girl, he has allowed it to
remain thus, and once scornfully told me that ’twas ‘as useless now
as I was,’ and might as well so remain.

“On rare occasions, Grandfather has let me wear it—once to a grand
tea-drinking at St. George’s, where ’twas much admired. But mainly
he has kept it in his great strong box. It seemed no harm that
day for me to take it. The box stood invitingly open. The jewel
was really mine, and I possessed no other ornament. Even then I
realized that I might never see my home or Grandfather again. So I
took it—Heaven forgive me!—thinking it no wrong. But I have come
to feel differently since. In these long, lonely months, when I
have had so much time to think and to regret, I can see how this
act of mine must appear to Grandfather and to all who know me.
Even though it was in effect my own, it was still in his keeping,
and I should never have taken it without his consent. I dare not
even wonder what he must think of me, and I live only for the
opportunity to return home and place the signet in his hands.

“From the very first I have never dared openly to wear the
beautiful thing; and since my conscience began to trouble me, I
have never wished to. Long since, I removed it from its velvet
riband and concealed it. Nor must I, even here, disclose where it
is hidden. To do so would be neither safe nor wise. Suffice it that
I will never more wear the bauble till I have restored it to its
rightful keeper, my grandfather.”

Margaret paused again, and there was a blissful sigh from all her
assembled listeners.

“Isn’t it the most fascinating thing—this sapphire signet business?”
exclaimed Corinne, at last. “I can just imagine how the poor girl
felt. She hadn’t meant any harm in taking it—it had seemed perfectly
_right_. And then her conscience got to troubling her till she hadn’t a
peaceful minute! But where in the world could she have hidden it? Does
it tell later on, Margaret?”

“Not that I’ve discovered as yet, but there are a lot of other
interesting things—”

“Go on, go on then!” chorused the waiting three, impatient of anything
that broke the thread of the story.

“Well, the next seems to be written some time later, but I can’t tell
how much. This is something like a diary, only she doesn’t put down any
dates. She just seems to leave spaces between the different entries.
It’s kind of confusing. Now she says:

“A strange thing happened last night. At midnight I awoke. I heard
confused sounds on the road without. Carts creaking by, men shouting
and calling, women crying, and children screaming as with fright.
The sounds continued till near morning. An endless procession of
carts and coaches. ‘Twould seem as though the whole city were in
flight. ‘Twas odd to hear so much racket in this quiet region.

“To-day the whole household is in agitation. Fear seems to have
seized on all. The servants are in a panic. Only the steward seems
undisturbed. Madame M. is calm in manner, but I can see that she is
much perturbed inwardly.”

“What in the world could have been happening?” demanded Bess. “She
speaks of the ‘city.’ I wonder what city, and what was the matter? Why
should every one be leaving it?”

“I’ve been thinking all along that she was somewhere in England,”
suggested Corinne, “though I can’t imagine what part. Anyway—”

“Wait!” cried Margaret. “Why don’t you let me go on?”

“That’s so!” agreed Corinne. “It’s foolish not to see what’s coming
before we try to make sense of it. Go on!”

Margaret continued. “Next she says:

“Some of the servants left yesterday. I now know the cause. The
rebels are threatening to take possession of the city. Ships filled
with soldiers stand in the waters near by. ‘Tis feared there will
be a great battle soon. Madame M. is very ill. She has taken to
her bed. I think great fear has made her so—and great anger. She
is being cared for by the housekeeper, Mistress Phœbe. I have come
to like Mistress Phœbe. She is the one soul who treats me with
kindness unfailing. She, too, hates the steward. She told me so.
She and the steward and one other servant are all that are left
here now. The rest have fled. Would that the steward had fled also!
He seems to have some urgent reason for remaining. He has had
another interview with Corbie, in this house.”

“Wait a minute!” interrupted Corinne, once more. “I have an idea. I
am going to put down on a paper every name she mentions, no matter
how insignificant, and see if they will lead us to any sort of a clue.
_Names_ are about the only clues for finding out things, when you come
to think of it!” She hunted in her bag for a pencil and notebook. Then
she continued:

“Now, there’s ‘Bermuda’—that was the first, and the only real definite
thing we’ve discovered yet—and ‘London.’ Then there’s ‘Madame M.,’
which doesn’t help much. And ‘Lady Blank’ is no good at all, nor
is ‘H.’ ‘Corbie’ may be useful, but I don’t think Mistress Phœbe’
will—and that’s all, I guess.”

“No, it isn’t,” contradicted Margaret. “You forgot the ‘Lass of
Richmond Hill’!”

“True enough! Of course that’s only the name of a song, but I’ll put it
down. Who knows but what it _may_ be the most important of all! I have
a book of old songs at home, and I have just a faint idea that there’s
one of that name in it. I’ll hunt it up to-night. But as usual, it’s
late, and I must be hurrying along. Haven’t you read about all you’ve
puzzled out, Margaret?”

“I’ve done another entry,” replied Margaret, slowly and mysteriously,
“and perhaps you’d better hear it. It may be worth your while!”

“Oh, what is it?” cried Corinne, pausing in the act of adjusting her
hat. “Quick!”

“Here it is:

“Madame M. sent for me to-day. ‘Tis the first time since she took
to her bed. She did so to give me this strange warning. These be
her very words: ‘It is rumored that this house may soon be taken
possession of by rebels. If so, I wish you to have no communication
with any of them, Mistress Alison.”

There was an instant’s silence. Then Corinne threw her hat on a chair
and exclaimed:

“Hurrah! At _last_ we have this mysterious lassie’s name! It’s _Alison_!
That’s the biggest discovery yet. Is there any more?”

“Yes, one thing,” answered Margaret, “the strangest of all. It’s a later
entry and is only three words long—the first word twice underlined:

“‗He‗ has come!”

The girls got together again on the following afternoon, for they could
not possibly have stretched their patience to the limit of another day!
Margaret had promised to work like a Trojan till they arrived and to
have much to read to them. It was with breathless interest that they
drew their chairs around her.

“My! I couldn’t study a thing, or keep my mind off this a single minute
to-day in school!” sighed Jess. “I guess I failed in every blessed
recitation.”

“Me too!” echoed Bess. “If this suspense doesn’t come to an end soon,
I’ll be a failure for the term!”

“Same here!” agreed Corinne. “I do envy Margaret, for she at least can be
working at it all day and satisfying her curiosity. Have you discovered
much more, honey?” Margaret smiled her slow, mysterious smile. She was
certainly enjoying herself, in a brand-new fashion these days. And
between meetings she guarded her secrets like a veritable sphinx.

“Something’s happening right along!” she answered enigmatically. “But
I’ve rather a surprise for you to-day.”

“What is it?” they demanded in one voice.

“I sha’n’t tell you till we come to it!” was her maddening reply.
“Shall I go on now?”

“Just a minute,” said Corinne. “I want to say that I looked up that old
song last night. In this collection I have, there is given a little
history of each song. Now, ‘The Lass of Richmond Hill’ was written
about a young girl, a Miss Janson, who lived on Richmond Hill, which is
near the little town of Leybourne, in England. It was written way back
about 1770, and the song was said to be a favorite of King George the
Third. It was quite popular at the time. That’s absolutely all about
it. Of course, it’s possible that place may be the one where Alison
was, but somehow I don’t feel very sure of it. I rather think that
what she says about ‘Richmond Hill’ must have some other connection.
Now go on, Margaret!”

“Very well,” began Margaret. “We left off with the words, ‘_He_ has
come!’ _He_ seems to be a very mysterious person, and some one of great
importance evidently. She goes on to say:

“The house has been put at his disposal. Not, however, by Madame
M., for she would gladly slam the door in his face were she able,
but she is still in bed, ill. He is very considerate, and does
naught to disturb or annoy her. His servants and men are all about,
but they do not molest any of the household. Phœbe remains the
housekeeper and caters for him. She adores him, as does her father,
so she tells me.

“I have exchanged no words with him. I have only seen him as he
sits in the library or walks about the grounds. He is absent
much—away in the city, Phœbe says. He is handsome and grave and
stern, but I think he is kind and gentle. I long to speak with him,
but I dare not. I am too carefully watched.

“The steward is still here, and frequents much Corbie’s tavern. He
asked me yesterday a few questions about Bermuda. I did not care to
have speech with him so I cut him short. He gave me an ugly look as
he walked away.”

Margaret stopped here to say, “Now comes something exciting!”

The listening three sighed ecstatically.

“There have been strange doings in this house. I have now turned
spy myself. Last night at a late hour, when all the household was
asleep, I heard stealthy footsteps passing my door. The sound
was most unusual, for _he_ was away in the city, and there was
consequently no guard. When the footsteps were past, I rose, opened
my door, and peeped out. I saw the steward. He was tiptoeing softly
down the hall toward the stairs, a candle in his hand. A sudden
resolve seized me. I would follow him in the dark, and see what
he did. I felt sure he planned some evil. I seized a dark-colored
shawl, drew it round me, and, in the shadow, crept after the light
of his candle.

“Down the stairs he went, and I felt sure he would pause on the
lower floor and perchance enter _his_ room to rifle it. I crouched
on the stair and held my breath, but he passed on and opened a door
which gives on the stone steps leading to the wine-cellar. Once he
glanced back suspiciously, then the door closed behind him. As soon
as I dared, I followed. Opening the door with the greatest caution,
I peered down. His back was toward me, and he was drinking from an
upturned bottle. In a moment he put the bottle back on its shelf
and stood long in thought.

“I was about to conclude that this was all he had come for and that
my fears were for naught, when he turned aside, took a knife from
his pocket, and went toward the far end of the cellar, leaving the
stairway in heavy shadow. Taking advantage of this, I crept down
the steps and watched him from the shelter of one of the pillars
that supported the floor above. In a moment he stopped, raised his
hand, and felt along the great beam above his head. I noted ’twas
the second beam from the end. At a distance of about ten feet from
the wall he pushed his knife-blade into the timber, and, behold!
something like a small door fell open!

“Into the aperture thus left he thrust his two hands, and drew
forth a small iron box. This he placed on the ground near the
candle, and pressing a spring, threw back the lid. It seemed to
be filled with papers, and with something else that shone in the
candle-light. The latter, I soon learned, was a mass of golden
coins, for he plunged in his hand, took out a fistful, and put them
in a small leather bag he carried. Then he closed the box, put it
back in the hollow space, and shut the door of the secret opening
in the beam. I stayed to see no more, but fled hastily to my room.
‘Tis all most strange. What hides he in this secret place? Whose
gold is that? What evil does he plot?

“Isn’t that the most exciting thing you ever heard?” demanded Margaret,
breaking off.

“Frightfully exciting!” agreed every one.

“It’s like an adventure in a book—only better!” added Corinne. “But,
Margaret, is _that_ the surprise you had for us?”

“No, it isn’t! That’s coming just a little later. The next entry says:

“_She_ has come! _He_ seems most glad to have his lady with him
once more. I have not yet spoken with her. She has only passed me,
bowing with stately courtesy. I think she has forgotten how I once
spoke with her. No wonder. Her mind is filled with anxious care.
Madame M. is still confined to her bed, and knows not that _she_ is
here. I think Madame M. is truly right ill.”

“_She_ must be _his_ wife, I suppose,” interrupted Bess. “I do wish
Alison would call ’em by their names! This is so confusing!”

Margaret only stopped long enough to say: “Now, the surprise is coming.
This is the next entry:

“_He_ passed me in the hall to-day and wished me a good morning
in his grave, courtly fashion. Then he inquired after the health
of Madame M., and offered to send her up some fruit that he had
just received for his table. I knew not what to say. I was right
embarrassed. For Madame M. will accept naught from him, and—”

Margaret stopped short.

“Go on, go on!” they chorused.

“I can’t!” she answered.

“Why not?” they inquired in wonder.

“Because that’s _all there is_!” she replied quietly. “We’ve come to
the end. That’s the surprise I had for you!”

“Well, I never!” ejaculated Bess in disgust, picking up the old
account-book and examining it curiously. The back cover was missing,
and it was not difficult to conjecture that many pages might also be
lacking.

“That’s the _queerest_!” mused Corinne. “Of course, the book is
rather thin, but I hadn’t imagined that we’d finish it so soon. Those
characters are large, and take up more room than plain writing, I
suppose. But, my gracious!” She got up and began pacing around the
room impatiently. “This is perfectly _maddening_! To have it leave off
in such a place, without a sign of explanation of it all! Where’s the
other part of that book? Could it possibly be in the old trunk where
we found this? Let’s go up and see!”

“No use in doing that,” said Jess, “because Sarah’s done exactly what
she threatened to—locked the attic door and hid the key. But anyhow,
I remember distinctly that there wasn’t a sign of anything else under
that false bottom. It was absolutely empty after this fell out.
Wherever the rest is, it isn’t there!”

“Well,” exclaimed Corinne, coming to an abrupt pause in her impatient
tramping, “there’s one thing I’m firmly determined upon! I sha’n’t rest
day or night till I’ve found some sort of an explanation for all this!
Do the rest of you agree with me? It’s the most fascinating mystery I
ever came across, outside of a story-book, and I’m bound I’m not going
to be stumped by any obstacles!”

“We surely do agree with you!” echoed Margaret. “We’re just as crazy as
you are to unravel it all. And what’s an antiquarian club good for, I’d
like to know, if not for something just like this! That’s our business
from now on!”

“The motion’s carried!” agreed Bess. “But how in the world are we going
to go about it? Somehow it seems as if we’d reached a stone wall a mile
high—no getting around it or over it!”

“Then we’ll tunnel _under_ it!” laughed Corinne. “But first of all,
there’s a question I’d like to settle. Where did that old hair-trunk
come from? How did it get in this house? Who owned it before you did?”

“I can answer that,” replied Margaret, “for I asked Mother about it
the other night. I did it in a roundabout sort of way, so she wouldn’t
suspect why I wanted to know or think it queer that I asked. She
said it belonged to Father. He told her once that a friend of his, a
sea-captain, had given it to him years ago. The captain said it was an
heirloom that had been in the family many years. An ancestor of his
had found it in a vessel that had been wrecked, and had been floating
around for several months—a ‘derelict,’ Mother called it. This old
captain said it was so handy and substantial that he had carried it
with him on all his voyages. But as he wasn’t going to sail any more,
and hadn’t any children to leave it to, he gave it to Father.”

“Well, at least it explains one thing—how this strange book came to
be in your house,” mused Corinne. “But it doesn’t help a bit about
unraveling the rest of the mystery, after all. Now, the next thing is
to go over all this writing carefully, and see if we can find anything
we’ve overlooked that might be a clue. Oh, girls, I wish you’d let me
show this to Father! He’d be _so_ interested, and perhaps he could help
us with it, too!”

“Well, as far is I’m concerned, you’re welcome to,” answered Bess,
and Jess nodded her head vigorously in assent. But Margaret cried out
pleadingly:

“Oh, no, no, Corinne! Don’t do that yet! It would spoil all our lovely
secret society to have grown folks know about it. Let’s wait awhile and
see what we can do ourselves. And then if we find we can’t make any
headway, I’ll consent to telling Corinne’s father.”

She was so earnest and so pathetic in her appeal, that not one of the
others had the heart to deny her request, knowing, as they did, what
the little club and its absorbingly interesting secret meant to her
shut-in, circumscribed life.

“Very well, honey! We will do just as you say!” agreed Corinne, giving
her a hug. “Now let’s read this whole thing over, and see if we can
unearth a clue.”

They started once more at the beginning, reading slowly and
thoughtfully through the strange record till they came again to the
allusion “The Lass of Richmond Hill.” Suddenly Margaret interrupted:

“I’ve thought of something! I lay awake a good part of last night,
because my back was hurting me, and I had a chance to think of things
rather hard. And then, some things we unearthed to-day and what Corinne
found out about that old song made this idea pop into my head just
now. You remember she said the song was written about 1770 and was a
favorite of George the Third? That made me think of the Revolution. And
then I suddenly remembered what Alison had said about ‘rebels.’ Girls,
you can take my word for it—all this thing happened right here in
America, and during the Revolutionary War! Can’t you see it?”

Corinne sat up very straight for a moment. Then she burst out:

“We’re a pack of _lunatics_—all but Margaret. She’s the only one
that’s got a grain of common sense! Of _course_ it was during the
Revolution—every other word Alison says points to it! And that being
the case, the rest is easy! Good-by! I’m going straight home to look up
Revolutionary history!”

And flinging on her hat and coat, without further ceremony of farewell,
she was off, leaving the three staring speechlessly after her!

Corinne did not reappear for nearly a week. During all that time the
twins, who only saw her in school, reported that she would have nothing
to say to them outside of this statement:

“Let me alone, girls, just for a while. I’m working hard at it. When
I’ve run to earth something worth while, I’ll tell you, and we’ll have
another meeting!” And that was absolutely all they could get from her.

Meanwhile, Margaret was passing the slow days in a fever of impatience
and baffled expectation. Now that she no longer had her mind occupied
by puzzling out the curious old journal and could only sit and wait for
the results of Corinne’s work, she grew terribly restless. So much so,
indeed, that the lynx-eyed Sarah, who watched her beloved charge like a
cat, made up her mind that Margaret was beginning to have symptoms of
a real fever. She prepared, therefore, a huge bowl of boneset tea to be
taken in instalments.

Now, if there was any one thing under the sun that Margaret hated more
than another, it was boneset tea! And, moreover, in this case she knew
that there was absolutely no need of the remedy. But this she dared not
confide to Sarah lest she awaken fresh suspicion in that handmaiden’s
already too suspicious mind. So she swallowed her bitter doses
uncomplainingly, and longed for Corinne’s coming for more reasons than
one!

And then at last, six days later, Corinne came flying home with the
twins one afternoon, and all three burst in unexpectedly on the
delighted Margaret. Corinne was armed with a load of volumes that were
plainly not school-books, and these she planked down on the floor
beside the invalid-chair with just one brief remark:

“_I’ve got it!_”

Questions and inquiries were hurled at her thick and fast, but not one
of them would she answer till all were seated about Margaret’s chair
in the usual half-circle by the open fire. Then she began quietly, but
with much suppressed excitement in her voice:

“Yes, girls, I’ve got it—at last! I’m going to tell you all about
it, and you’re going to have the surprise of your lives! It took me a
long while before I struck just the right clue. I’ve spent about every
afternoon reading at the library near us. I even went up to the big one
at Forty-second Street yesterday. And every evening at home has found
me still digging at it. I’ve neglected my school work completely, and
have failed in everything this week; but I don’t care!

“Margaret’s a trump! She put us all on the right track in the first
place by sensibly suggesting the Revolution. That was fine! But, of
course, the subject was a big one and concerned the whole thirteen
original colonies. In thinking it over, I decided that since Alison
came from Bermuda, the ‘city’ she keeps speaking of would most likely
be the _nearest_ one to Bermuda. On looking it up, I found the nearest
was Charleston, South Carolina. So I started in and hunted up every bit
of Revolutionary history I could find about Charleston, but never a
thing did I strike that helped a bit.

“Then I gave that up and tried another city. As there didn’t seem to be
any very likely places south of Charleston, I turned north and tried
Richmond, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Not a single thing in any one of
them that threw a ray of light on our troubles! Finally, I began on New
York—and hit it right away!” Her listeners gave a little jump. “Yes,
right here in old New York. And come to think of it, that _was_ the
most likely place, after all, and I might have saved myself all that
other bother, if only I’d used a little common sense!”

“But how did you know right away that it was New York?” demanded
Margaret.

“Why, the simplest thing in the world! Almost the first thing I came
across, in reading up about New York during the Revolution, was about a
place called—_Richmond Hill_!”

“What? Where?” they all cried in one breath.

“Yes, Richmond Hill! It was the name of a big mansion and estate
outside of the city, and was a very famous place in its time.”

“But how did you know it had anything to do with Alison?” they demanded
incredulously.

“Well, just about twenty things pointed to it without a doubt. I’ll
tell you all about it. In the first place, I read that this mansion was
built in 1760 by the paymaster-general of the British army, and his
name was—_Abraham Mortier_!”

She stopped significantly, but no one seemed to catch her meaning till
Margaret suddenly cried:

“Madame M.!”

“Precisely!” said Corinne. “I wondered if you’d catch it. ‘Madame M.’
must have been Madame Mortier, his wife, of course!”

“But Alison didn’t say anything about _Abraham_ Mortier,” objected Bess.

“That’s just it,—she didn’t, because Madame Mortier was then a widow.
Her husband died quite suddenly, just at the outbreak of the war. So
_that’s_ accounted for. And don’t you remember that Alison said Madame
M. allowed the steward to transact all the business of the household.
She wouldn’t be doing that if her husband were alive! Well, except for
that, I couldn’t find out another thing about the Mortiers. History
doesn’t mention them again. But it tells a lot about other things we’re
interested in. To begin with, after the siege of Boston, Washington
came to New York, and was there several months. Now then, while he was
in the city, he made his headquarters at—Richmond Hill! What does that
suggest to you?”

Again they all looked blank for a moment, and once more Margaret was
first to catch the idea.

“I’ve got it! Washington is the ‘he’ that Alison says so much about but
never names!”

“Right!” cried Corinne.

“How do you know?” clamored the less astute twins.

“This way,” explained Corinne, “Everything that Alison says about
‘him’ tallies with the descriptions of Washington—’grave, courteous,
stately, kindly, thoughtful.’ There isn’t a shadow of doubt! She speaks
of his servants and men and guards. Only a commander-in-chief would be
likely to have all that retinue.”

Suddenly Jess, who had been deep in thought, interrupted: “But, see
here! If it was Washington, why did Madame M. act so hateful about him?
Alison said if she hadn’t been sick, she’d have gladly slammed the door
in his face. I don’t understand it!”

“Oh, that’s _easy_! Madame Mortier was, without doubt, a _Tory_!
You know, New York was full of Tories at the time, and they hated
Washington and all the rebels like—like poison!”

“But I still don’t understand,” insisted Jess, “how, if Madame Mortier
was a Tory and hated Washington so, he should come to be using her
house for his headquarters. I don’t wonder she was furious!”

“I thought of that too,” said Corinne, “and it seemed strange to me;
but, from what I’ve read, I think it was this way: he had to have his
headquarters somewhere while he was in New York, and just at first he
had them way down in the lower part of the city, in the Kennedy house.
But later he wanted to get outside of the city for some reason; perhaps
it was on account of one of those plagues of smallpox or yellow fever
that were always breaking out there. Then, of course, there were so
few houses outside that he had to take anything he could find that was
suitable. So he chose Richmond Hill, and Lady Washington followed him
there later.”

“How do you know?” again demanded the ever-skeptical listeners.

“Well, didn’t Alison say, just toward the last, that ‘his lady’ had
come?”

“True enough!” assented Jess. “And that makes me think of something
else. Was that the ‘Lady Blank’ she spoke of first, do you think?”

“Without doubt, for she even says, ‘I do not think she remembers me.’
But where or how she met her before, I haven’t had time to work out.
Anyhow, it explains why Madame Mortier began to be suspicious of
Alison. Of course she would be if she was such a staunch Tory and found
Alison talking to the wife of her worst enemy!

“But here’s something very important, and it’s the _real_ proof of the
whole thing. The rest was just rather easy guesswork. Do you know,
while Washington was at Richmond Hill, that summer of 1776, the Tories
in the city got up a big plot to kill him, blow up his fortifications,
massacre all his soldiers, and spoil everything for the Americans?
_And_—it very nearly was accomplished, only some one discovered it
and gave the whole thing away. _That’s_ the plot, evidently, which was
brewing when Alison felt that something strange and mysterious was
going on. And here’s my positive proof: one of the chief conspirators
in the plot was a man who kept a tavern near the edge of the woods
close to Washington’s headquarters, and his name was—_Corbie_!”

“Didn’t we _say_ that name would be of great help?” cried Margaret,
excitedly. “Why, all this seems like a fairy story coming true! Is
there anything else, Corinne?”

“Yes, there’s one other thing. But before I tell you, I’m curious to
know why you haven’t asked one question.”

“What?”

“Why, the exact location of Richmond Hill. You haven’t exhibited the
least curiosity about that!”

“But you said it was outside of the city somewhere,” put in Bess, “and
I suppose it was up around Fordham or West Farms, or even White Plains.
It must have been pretty far out.”

Corinne laughed. “Do you realize that the ‘city’ only extended to
about City Hall Park in those days? And all beyond that was out in the
country! No, Richmond Hill was _right here in Greenwich Village_!”

They all stared at her in such frank amazement that she broke into a
giggle.

“Perhaps you think that’s rather astonishing, but I’ve something to
say that’s even more so. I told you I’d give you the surprise of your
lives, and here it is: the exact spot where the Richmond Hill mansion
stood was—_just about where this house stands now_!”