SARAH TAKES A HAND IN THE GAME

During the month following Alexander’s researches into history, no
further progress was made in solving the mystery that absorbed the
Antiquarian Club. The Christmas holidays came and went, and the severer
winter weather held the city in such a grip that often, for days on
a stretch, Margaret could not be wheeled out in her chair. Under the
combined strain of confinement to the house and lack of any further
stimulating excitement, she grew very restless and just a wee bit
unhappy. The girls and Alexander were very busy with their midwinter
examinations, and could not give much time to other interests, even
such absorbing ones as the long-ago Alison and her fate.

But, with the beginning of February, matters improved. The weather
moderated, to begin with, the sun shone daily, and Margaret could again
enjoy her outing of an hour in the sunny part of each early afternoon.
The others also, released from the grind of much study and “cramming
for exams,” had leisure at last to give to the club-meetings, which
they now held regularly three times a week. Alexander was not always
with them, for the claims of hockey and skating and coasting often
proved too much for his boyish soul to resist. But, for the most part,
he managed to be on hand at least once a week, for his interest in the
mystery was still very great.

They grew into the habit of reporting, at these meetings, any even
slight discoveries they had happened to make, in their reading or in
any other manner, that had the slightest bearing on the subject. Thus,
Corinne contributed the following, that she had gleaned in looking over
a history of New York City: in referring to Abraham Mortier, some one
had once remarked that the expression “Laugh and grow fat!” did not
apply to him, since, although he was very jolly, he was so thin that
the wind could blow him away!

“That’s interesting, but of course it doesn’t help _us_ much!” Corinne
added apologetically. “But I thought anything about the Mortiers
would be well to know. I’ll warrant Madame Mortier was just the
opposite—very fat and solemn!”

Alexander contributed the information that Thomas Hickey was hanged at
a spot about where the corner of Grand Street and the Bowery is now.
And so deep was his interest in this gruesome affair that he even made
an excursion across the city one afternoon to visit the site!

Margaret found a description of Richmond Hill, written by Mrs. John
Adams during her residence there, in which she described at much length
the beauty and attractiveness of the spot. Only the twins, who read
but little, made no additions to the stock of information. This they
apologized for by saying that they were no hand at such things, and
about everything had been discovered already, anyhow!

Then Corinne invented another form of entertainment. This was that
each member of the Antiquarian Club should, after due thought and
consideration, invent an explanation of his or her own for the curious
break in Alison’s journal and her probable fate. The game proved an
exceedingly diverting one, and every member took a separate meeting
and expounded the particular solution that appealed to his or her
imagination.

Corinne herself wove a romantic tale about Alison’s having been
captured that very night by the steward and Corbie while she was
writing, how they carried her off, journal and all, and later fought
over her book and tore it in two; how Alison was rescued by the
mysterious “H.” just in the nick of time, and was taken away to
Bermuda to marry him and live happily ever after! But the mystery of
the two halves of the journal and their strange hiding-places and the
whereabouts of the sapphire signet she admitted she couldn’t explain
and didn’t try to!

Alexander invented a lurid tale of Thomas Hickey discovering Alison
in the act of writing her journal, tearing it in two in snatching it
from her, and retaining the latter half. Phœbe then helped Alison to
escape with her trunk and the other half and embark on some vessel
that was later overhauled by pirates and scuttled, and Alison was made
to “walk the plank”! This horrible ending so affected Margaret that
she cried herself almost sick over it. And Alexander thereat was so
conscience-stricken that he determined henceforth to keep his inventive
powers under better control.

Margaret herself advanced the theory that, for some reason, Alison and
Phœbe suddenly determined to tear the journal in two and each keep half
of it as evidence in case anything should go amiss. That Phœbe hid her
half in the beam, and Alison put hers in the trunk. Then they went and
denounced the plot to Washington, and he was so grateful that he sent
Alison right home to Bermuda, where she lived happily, having taken
the signet with her, and giving away the trunk to some relative and
forgetting all about the journal in the bottom. It was the relative
who was shipwrecked and abandoned the trunk!

Again the twins, who had no gift of imagination, refused to offer
any solution, though they were highly interested in the tales of the
others. They both declared that they could think of absolutely no
explanation, so what was the use of their trying? And on these grounds
the others excused them. So the month passed, and then one day Margaret
announced that she herself had made a discovery, and proceeded to tell
of it.

“It all came about through Sarah wanting to wheel me over through
Macdougal Street to-day and down Spring Street, because she had an
important errand there. You know we _never_ go through Macdougal
Street, because it’s so narrow and not nearly as nice and clean and
sunny as our own and Varick Street. I actually don’t think I’ve been
over that way for three or four years! Well, just as we were passing
a house between this block and Van Dam, I looked up at it, and what
do you think I saw?—the brass sign near the front door—”Richmond
Hill House”! I couldn’t imagine for a moment what it meant. But I
asked Sarah if she knew what the place was, and she said it was a
settlement-house, with a day-nursery and clubs for the children and
things like that in it.

“I asked why it was called that name, and she said she didn’t
know—thought it was a silly one and didn’t mean anything. But _I_
knew—though I didn’t say so! Somebody who knows about history has
called it that because it stands almost on the grounds where Richmond
Hill used to be. But oh, girls! think how much trouble and wondering
and hunting it would have saved us, if we’d only known about that house
at first! It would have suggested the thing to us right away!”

“Huh!” remarked Alexander, disgustedly. “_I_ knew about that old joint
right along—ever since I lived here! _I_ could have told you a thing
or two, if you’d only consulted yours truly sooner!”

“Well, never mind!” said Corinne, soothingly. “Maybe we _did_ get at
things in a roundabout, clumsy fashion; but we got there, just the
same, and we had a good time doing it, too! But now I’ve something
brand-new to say, and I want you all to listen very attentively. This
is a matter that needs a lot of careful consideration. We’ve about come
to the end of our rope, as far as making any further progress with this
mystery is concerned. We’ve been having a lot of fun and entertainment
out of it, of course, with these stories of our own, and all that sort
of thing. But we’re not ‘getting any forrarder,’ as Dickens says; and
do you know, I’m beginning to think that perhaps we’re not doing just
right in keeping this all to ourselves!”

Here Margaret started and gave her a reproachful look. Corinne put an
arm over the invalid girl’s shoulder and continued:

“Honey dear, I know you think I’m playing the traitor, and trying to
spoil our delightful secret society, but I’m really not; and if you’ll
hear me to the end, I believe you’ll feel the same as I do. I’ve been
doing a lot of hard thinking about this matter lately. Perhaps you
haven’t realized it, but I am certain that this old journal we’ve found
is really a very valuable thing—not only valuable in the way of money
(for many people would pay a great deal for a genuine old document like
this), but also in the way of historical information. We’re keeping to
ourselves something that might really throw light on the past history
of our city.

“Now, of course, I’m not _certain_ about this, but I’d like to have the
opinion of some grown person who really knows. And I’ve thought of a
plan by which we could do this, and at the same time keep our secret
society _almost_ the same as it is now. It’s this: I would like you
all—and especially Margaret—to consent to my telling my father all
about this, and, if he is willing (and I’m certain he will be), we can
let him become a member of our Antiquarian Club. In that way, you see,
we won’t be breaking up our society—we will just be adding another
member!”

“But he’s a _grown_ person!” objected Margaret, trying hard to keep the
tears from rising. “And he wouldn’t care a _bit_ about a thing like
this! And we’d feel so strange and—and awkward to have an older person
in it!”

“Oh, but you don’t _know_ my father!” laughed Corinne. “To be sure,
he’s a _grown_ person, but I never met any one who was more like a
_boy_ in his manner and interests and sympathies! Why, he’s actually
more _boyish_ than lots of the young fellows in high school. He is
deeply interested in young folks and their affairs; and if he weren’t
such an awfully busy man, he’d spend most of his time being with them.
He and I are _such_ chums! You ought to see us together when he’s away
on a vacation! He romps around with me as though he were only sixteen,
and everything that interests me just absorbs him too. I believe you’ve
thought, because I said he loved books and history and _old_ things,
that he’s a regular old fogey that goes around stoop-shouldered and
spectacled! He isn’t a bit like that!”

“I got you, Steve!” ejaculated Alexander. “He must be _some_ good
sport! I vote we ring him in on this!”

Margaret, however, still looked only half convinced.

“But, if he’s so busy,” she ventured, “I don’t see how he’s ever going
to find time to attend these meetings—even if he wanted to!”

“Of course,” Corinne responded, “it would be impossible for him to get
to our meetings, as a rule, but I know that he would be glad to hear
all about them from me, and sometimes, on holidays, he’d be delighted
to just get together with us all. And, what’s more, I know he’d always
have some interesting thing that he’d propose doing—something probably
that we’ve never thought of!”

Margaret had, by this time, almost completely melted, but she had one
further objection to offer:

“But, Corinne, he doesn’t _know_ us—not a thing about us, and he’d
feel awfully strange and queer too, getting acquainted with a lot of
brand-new young folks he’s never even heard of before!”

And again Corinne had her answer, even for this.

“Wrong again, Honey!” she laughed. “Talk about his not _knowing
anything_ about you! Well, do you suppose for one wild minute that
I’ve never told him about these loveliest friends I ever had? Why,
every evening he and I talk for at least a couple of hours about every
blessed thing that interests us. I’ve given him your whole history,
described you all in every detail, told him how much I come here, and
that we had an important secret society. The only thing I _haven’t_
told him is the secret! But I’ve done something else that I hope you
won’t mind—I’ve let him know that I was very anxious to have him
admitted as a member, and that the secret was something he’d probably
find _very_ interesting. And, do you know, he’s just crazy to be
allowed in it, and is only waiting for the time when I’ll come home
some day bringing him the high permission of its dear president!”

Then, at last, did Margaret capitulate. How, indeed, could she hold out
after having been presented with such an alluring picture of the latest
member-to-be! Truth to tell, the desire was awakened in her heart
to meet this delightful father, who was so young in spirit that his
daughter considered him a “chum”! She gave her full consent that he was
to be told everything that night, and Corinne departed in high feather.
When she had gone, Margaret turned to the rest.

“It must be lovely,” she sighed, “to have a father like that!”

Corinne came rushing home with the girls next day. Margaret, who rather
expected her, had been waiting in considerable impatience, and not a
little secret dread, for her arrival.

“Girls,” she panted, throwing aside her wraps, “it’s all right! I had
the loveliest time telling Father all about it last night! You’ve no
idea how perfectly _absorbed_ he was in the story! He was like a boy
listening to a pirate yarn! I read him all the translation of the
journal that Margaret made me, and he was just about wild when it came
to the end so abruptly. He thought, with me, that it was best not to
take the original from here, because you never can tell what accident
might happen to it, carrying it around, but he says he ought to see it
at once.

“And, do you know, he said we’d done very clever work indeed, in
puzzling out what we had of this mystery all by ourselves! I was so
proud! And he said, also, that Alexander deserves special credit for
the work he did in finding the secret beam. It isn’t every boy who
would have had such a good idea. He says Alexander is going to make
a bright man, and a prosperous one, too, some day! Where is that
youngster, by the way? I want to tell him!”



“Oh, he hasn’t come in yet!” exclaimed Margaret, hastily returning to
the main subject. “But tell us, Corinne, what else did your father say?”

“Well, I haven’t half told you yet! To begin with, he says that we
have really stumbled on something very valuable indeed—just as I told
you! This journal ought to make one of the most interesting additions
to the curiosities of history that have come to light in many a long
day. And he says he shouldn’t wonder but what it would be very valuable
from the money side, too. There are people and institutions that will
pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars for rare manuscripts like that,
if they’re genuine! And there’s no doubt but that this is genuine, all
right! And he says we _may_ be able to think out where the signet was
hidden, too.

“But, first of all, he wants very much to see the journal, and, of
course, he must come here for that. He wanted to come and call on your
mother some afternoon very soon. But I told him that was not possible,
because your mother is away at business all day, and anyway, your
mother wasn’t a member of the club, and perhaps you wouldn’t want to
explain the whole thing to her just yet. So he said he would telephone
to her to ask if he might stop in here with me some afternoon; and he
called her up this morning about it. She said she would be very glad
to have her girls meet the father of such a dear friend of theirs.
Wasn’t that lovely of her? If you all are agreeable, he’s coming day
after to-morrow, because he happens to have that afternoon free. He
will meet the twins and myself at high school, walk down with us, and
be initiated into the Antiquarian Club. He says that being shown that
wonderful journal ought to constitute a sufficient initiation ceremony,
and I agreed with him! Now, what do you say?”

Margaret agreed unhesitatingly, yet in her secret soul she was filled
with just the same consternation that she always felt in being called
upon to meet a stranger. But she tried to school herself to the ordeal
by reminding herself how easy it had been to make the acquaintance of
Corinne. The father of so lovely and wonderful a girl ought surely to
be no more difficult to meet. Corinne had brought light and pleasure
and manifold interest into her drab little existence. Might not the
father do the same? Thus she argued with herself as the time slipped
by, till at length the day itself dawned that was to bring a new factor
into her life.

“Wheel my chair over to the bookcase, please, Sarah!” she commanded
that afternoon, when she had been made ready to receive company in the
parlor. “I’ll read, I guess, till the girls come. Corinne may bring
her father to-day, so could you have something kind of nice to eat,
Sarah dear?” The woman gave her an odd look.

“Always that Corinne!” she grunted jealously. “Ye be fair daffy over
that gur-rl, I do believe! An’ now her father’s comin’ wid her! Why is
she bringin’ him? I ain’t got refreshments fur the likes of them!” She
muttered and growled herself out of the parlor, but her remarks gave
Margaret no uneasiness. Too well she knew that, though Sarah might fuss
and fume over some imagined imposition, she would ascend later with the
daintiest of trays and serve the same maligned company with food fit
for the gods! So Margaret contentedly settled herself to wait and pass
the time by giving the curious old journal one further inspection.

Meanwhile, the day’s session at high school came to an end, and, at the
gate, Corinne and the twins found Mr. Cameron awaiting them. Whatever
mental picture the twins may have had of Corinne’s father, they found
it very little like the reality. At once they were captivated by his
twinkling blue eyes, his crisply curling, slightly gray hair, his
friendly smile, and the thoroughly charming way he had of crinkling up
his eyes when he laughed. They liked, too, his big, deep voice, his
fine, tall, athletic-looking frame (and they wondered how he could be
ill so often, when he _looked_ so robust), and the jolly way he had
of laughing at his own or other people’s remarks. No longer did they
wonder at his being such a chum of his daughter’s, for before they
had gone three blocks, he had become as interested in their accounts
of basket-ball as though that game were the chief occupation of his
existence.

But it was when he came to talking of their wonderful mystery that he
showed to his best advantage, in their eyes. Alexander himself could
not have exhibited a more thrilling interest in the whole affair than
did Mr. Cameron. And as they proceeded down Varick Street, he branched
off into talking of other historical associations connected with the
neighborhood; told the most fascinating little anecdotes, pointed out
hitherto unnoticed nooks and corners of odd shape and architecture,
and explained the probable reasons for their existence. So enthralling
was his conversation that they reached their own corner almost before
they noticed it. Just as they turned down the street, however, they
encountered Alexander. After the renewed introduction, Mr. Cameron
voted that they all have a look at the former site of McCorkle’s
stable, and that Alexander should point out the exact location of the
secret beam, long since removed to give place to iron subway-girders.

This naturally captured the heart of Alexander, and before they
returned to the house, he was fairly ready to worship, in his boyish
manner, this remarkable specimen of a grown man who seemed equally
interested in baseball, Indian wigwam-building, hockey, skating, and
boy affairs of all descriptions. But Alexander would sooner have been
torn limb from limb than confess this worship to the girls!

At last they all approached the house, went up the stoop, and waited
while Bess opened the door with her latch-key. The girls thought it
rather strange that Margaret was not sitting in the window, waiting to
wave to them as she always did, but they concluded that she must have
had a fit of shyness, because of the new visitor, and had remained
behind the curtains. In the hall they called gaily to her, and were
again a little surprised to hear no response. Then they all entered the
parlor.

To their utter astonishment they beheld Margaret, huddled in her chair
by the bookcase, her eyes wide and frightened, her face bearing plainly
the marks of recent tears.

“What is it, Honey?” cried Corinne, the first to spring forward. “Are
you feeling ill?”

“No,” murmured Margaret, almost inaudibly.

“Well, here’s father!” went on Corinne. “You must welcome the latest
member of the Antiquarian Club, Miss President! And don’t be afraid
of him, for he knows you very well!” Corinne said this in a tone of
forced gaiety, thinking that perhaps Margaret was really frightened
at the prospect of meeting a stranger. Her father shook the little
outstretched hand cordially, said some pleasant things of a general
nature, and then plunged at once into the important subject of the day.

“Now you must initiate me, Miss Margaret! Show me this wonderful
thing you clever people have unearthed! I want to see it so badly
that I could hardly sleep last night with expectation, and that’s no
exaggeration! It’s the real truth!”

To the utter astonishment of every one, Margaret burst suddenly into
wild tears.

“It’s gone! It’s gone!” she sobbed. “It isn’t there any more!”

“What do you mean, Honey?” cried Corinne, rushing to her and trying
vainly to hush the child’s hysterical weeping. “It can’t be gone!
What’s happened to it?”

At this the sobbing came with renewed violence, and it was several
minutes before Margaret was able to whisper the one word:

“_Sarah!_”

“What about her? Do you want her to come up?” inquired Bess. Margaret
frantically shook her head.

“Childie,” said Corinne at last, very gently, “try to calm yourself and
tell us what has happened. You’ll be ill if you keep on like this!”

After a moment, Margaret straightened herself, with a great effort
stopped the sobbing, and spoke:

“I know I’m a silly to act like this, but a terrible thing has
happened. _The journal is gone!_ I looked for it in its usual place
this afternoon, and—it wasn’t there! I hadn’t taken it out for several
days, and I knew the rest of you hadn’t either. I couldn’t imagine what
had become of it, and I didn’t like to ask directly, of course. So I
called Sarah up and asked her if she’d been cleaning the bookcase,
because I missed something. She gave me just one queer look. Then she
said no, she hadn’t been cleaning, but if I was looking for that old
rubbish I kept back there, I needn’t look any more, because she’d
taken it all out and—_burned it up_!” Margaret sobbed afresh at the
memory.

“_Burned it up!_” shouted every one in a chorus of consternation.

“But why under the sun should she _do_ such a thing?” demanded Corinne,
indignantly. “Even if it weren’t valuable, it seems to me simply cruel
in her to destroy anything she knew you were interested in and prized!
I can’t understand it!”

“Did she say anything else?” asked Bess.

“No,” added Margaret, “She just stalked out of the room and downstairs.
She seemed awfully mad about something. And I was so stunned I couldn’t
say a thing. But I just sat and cried and cried till you all came in.”

“This all seems very extraordinary!” began Mr. Cameron. “And it is
the more so to me, because I have always understood Corinne to say
that Sarah was devoted to all of you, especially to Miss Margaret.
As Corinne suggests, it would appear simply wanton cruelty in her to
deliberately destroy anything she knew her favorite prized. Maybe
there is something we haven’t understood. Perhaps the woman hasn’t
really burned the thing up—is only trying to tease you. Would there be
any objection to our seeing her, and perhaps putting a few questions?”

“None at all!” declared Bess, though she secretly felt that there might
be many. And with some very uncomfortable qualms, she rang the bell
that Margaret always kept by her side. In two minutes they heard the
heavy footsteps of Sarah on the basement stairs, and in two more she
had opened the parlor door and stood before them.

“Is anything the matter?” she inquired as her hostile glance swept the
room and its occupants. But they all noticed that her manner lacked its
usual assurance, and that she was decidedly ill at ease.

“We were wondering if you could explain what became of Miss Margaret’s
papers and blank-books,” began Mr. Cameron, constituting himself
spokesman. “She tells me you have removed them. They are rather
interesting, and I had come to-day on purpose to see them.”

At this Sarah uncorked the vials of her wrath.

“Ye do well to be askin’ afther them dur-rty owld bits of paper
filled so full wid ger-rms they was probably fightin’ to hang on! I
told her I’d bur-rned them up, an’ I told the truth. If she don’t get
the typhoid-new-mon-i-ay, it won’t be fur want of hangin’ over them
mouldy rags day afther day! I been watchin’ her, an’ don’t ye fergit
it! She ain’t been well this month past—ever fur her. I guess she
ain’t told ye I’m up wid her the better part of every night wid the
pain in her back! Even the docther don’t know what’s the matter wid
her, she’s ailin’ so much worse lately. I ain’t watched her all her
life fur nuthin’, an’ I been watchin’ her closer than ever lately,
though she didn’t guess it. I usually come up them stairs like a
rhinoceros-horse—I know that! But I _can_ come up pretty soft when
I choose—an’ take the time! I seen her draggin’ these things out
from behind the books, an’ shovin’ ’em back if she thought any one
was comin’, an’ breakin’ her poor back bendin’ over ’em, studyin’
’em’s though they wus made of gold! An’ I says to meself, this has
got to stop! So I jest took ’em out the other day an’ burned up the
whole clamjamfray of ’em. An’ ye kin say what ye like about their
bein’ interestin’,—I don’t believe it! The dur-rty, disgustin’ owld
rubbish!” And with this final shot, Sarah turned and tramped heavily
out of the room, leaving an astonished and speechless group behind her.

The remaining time that Corinne and her father were there was spent
in comforting Margaret. There was no denying that Sarah had finally,
definitely, and fatally ruined every hope they had cherished of
disclosing to the world a new and startling historical discovery. And
Mr. Cameron was more bitterly disappointed than he dared to show. But
he tried to cheer Margaret as best he could, and when he came to go, he
left her with this pleasant consolation:

“Never mind about the original journal now. That’s gone, and no good
ever did come of crying over spilt milk! Remember that the mystery
remains, just as good as ever it was, and it is still the business of
the Antiquarian Club to solve it! I, the latest member, am just as
interested as the rest of you. _Some day_—mark my words!—we’re going
to fit the pieces of this puzzle together!”