It was five o’clock and a very dull, dark afternoon in Charlton
Street. One by one lights had twinkled out in all the little
two-story-and-dormer-windowed houses on the block,—in all but one.
The parlor windows of this house were still unlit, but behind the
flower-box in one of them a hand could be seen moving aside the white
curtains at frequent intervals and a dim face peering anxiously into
At ten minutes past five precisely, two trim girl-figures turned the
corner of Varick Street, hurried down the block, raced up the steps
of this same house, and waved frantically at the dark windows. An
answering wave saluted them from between the parted curtains. At the
same moment lights twinkled out from the windows, and a quick hand
pulled down the shades with a jerk, shutting out the dim street for the
night. But back of the drawn shades a small figure in an invalid-chair
held out welcoming arms to the girls who had just entered.
“My! How long you were! I thought you’d never get here to-day. And it’s
been so dark and dismal all the afternoon, too!” The two girls, who
were plainly twins, knelt down, one on each side of the invalid-chair.
“We _were_ an age, I know, Margaret dear,” began Bess, “but there was a
good reason. It’s quite exciting,—all about the new girl!”
“Yes, you can never guess what, either!” echoed Jess, winding one of
Margaret’s dark curls around her finger.
“Oh, tell me—quick!” The child’s big, beautiful gray eyes fairly
sparkled with eagerness, and a faint flush tinted her delicate face.
“Is it that queer girl you told me about, who only came into the class
a few days ago?”
“That’s the one,—but let’s get our things off first and see if Sarah
made any cookies to-day. We’re starving!”
A huge woman who had been moving about the room lighting gas-jets,
pulling down shades, and straightening the furniture, now broke into
the conversation: “Ye kin save yerselves the trouble! I ain’t made no
cookies this day—an’ me wid all that wash! What d’ ye think I be?”
“Go ‘long, Sarah!” laughed Bess. “You know there’s probably a whole
jarful in the pantry, and we don’t care whether you made them to-day or
a week ago. They’re always dandy!”
Sarah gave a chuckle that shook her huge frame, and tucked a light
shawl lovingly about the knees of the girl in the chair.
“Ye’ll have a hard time findin’ any!” she warned, as the two ran off.
“Won’t they, Margie, macushla?”
In five minutes the twins were back, each with a massive chunk of
chocolate layer-cake in her hand and a mouth full of the same.
“You told the truth, Sarah, for once! There weren’t any cookies, but
this is heaps better!”
“If ye get any crumbs on me floor,” threatened Sarah, ominously,
“ye’ll have no more cake of any kind, the week out!” And she departed
downstairs in great (pretended) displeasure.
“Now for it! Tell me right away,” demanded Margaret. “I’m _so_
impatient to hear!”
“Well,” began Bess, in muffled tones, struggling to swallow a large
mouthful of cake, “you remember we told you about that nice girl who
came into our section three days ago, but who seemed so offish and
queer and quiet. She’s always staring out of the window, as if she were
dreaming. And when she isn’t studying, she’s reading some book the
whole time. And she hardly ever talks to a soul. Jess and I thought
she must feel rather lonesome and strange. You know it is rather hard
to come into the first year of High School more than a month after
everything’s started, and every one else has got acquainted, and try
to pick up! I think one must feel so awfully out of it!
“So Jess and I decided we’d ask her to eat lunch with us to-day. She
always eats by herself, and yesterday she didn’t eat at all,—just read
a book the whole time! I went up to her at lunch-period and said—”
“What’s her name?” interrupted Margaret.
“Corinne Cameron,—isn’t it a dandy name? Corinne! It has such a
_distinguished_ sound!—Well, she was reading, as usual, and looked
up at me sort of dazed and far-away when I asked her if she’d care to
eat with us. But she seemed very glad to do it and came right over. We
had a very interesting talk, and she asked us right away to call her
‘Corinne,’ instead of ‘Miss Cameron,’ as they do in High School. She
said it made her feel about a hundred miles away from every one to be
called ‘Miss.’ So of course we asked her to call us ‘Elisabeth’ and
“But why didn’t you tell her just ‘Bess’ and ‘Jess’?” interrupted
Margaret again. “That’s so much more natural.”
“Well, you see, ‘Corinne’ sounds so sort of distinguished and—and
dignified! And somehow our names don’t. They just seem ordinary
and—and so like small children. And at least ‘Elisabeth’ and ‘Jessica’
“What does she look like?” questioned Margaret, going off on another
“Oh, she’s, well, sort of distinguished-looking, too—like her name.
She’s tall and slim and has very dark brown wavy hair, and big, dark
eyes, almost black, and the prettiest straight nose,—not a little
_snub_ like ours (I don’t mean yours, Margaret! _That’s_ all right!).
But she always acts as though her thoughts were about a thousand miles
away. She talked about books mostly, and asked us if we didn’t just
_love_ to read. And when we said no, not so awfully, she seemed so
astonished. I said we’d rather play basket-ball, and she laughed and
said we couldn’t play that _all_ the time, and what did we do with our
spare moments. I told her we didn’t have many, because, at home here,
we were always busy amusing you or helping Sarah, when we weren’t
“Then she asked about you, Margaret, and was _so_ interested when we
told her about your poor back, and how you couldn’t move around much or
go to school, but studied with us and knew just as much as we did—and
_more_, because you read a great deal, too, even though you are only
thirteen and we’re fifteen. And she said:
“‘That’s perfectly fine!’ Well, we were talking so hard that we
scarcely noticed lunch-period was over, and we hadn’t said half that we
wanted to. She promised to eat with us every day.
“This afternoon we decided not to stay for basket-ball in the gym,
because Jess’s finger hurts so much where she cut it last night. So we
left at half-past two (which we hardly ever do), and who should start
to walk over our way but Corinne, and she was delighted that we could
go part of the way together. She lives in the Ten Eyck, that swell new
apartment in West Twelfth Street.”
“The Ten Eyck!” exclaimed Margaret, in a tone of hushed awe. “Gracious!
she must be very wealthy, then!”
“Wait till you hear!” murmured Jess, parenthetically, and Bess went on:
“She told us they’d just moved there because her father, who isn’t
in very good health, has to live near his business. He’s in a big
steamship company on West Street. And until now they’ve always lived in
an apartment on Madison Avenue near Central Park. They just moved down
here a week ago. Her mother is dead, and an aunt, her father’s sister,
lives with them.
“By this time we had reached the Ten Eyck, and what do you think!—she
asked us to come in and chat awhile, because she was all alone. Her
aunt was out at some club. Of course we went in, and my! but it was
splendiferous, especially going up to the eighth floor in a big
elevator! Their rooms are sort of built all around a central hall.
It’s different from any apartment we were ever in. Corinne took us to
her room, which was about as large as this parlor, and had the cutest
low bookcases all around the walls and lovely cushioned seats in the
windows. And we sat there and talked a long time.
“But here’s another queer thing about her. While we were talking about
school and our studies, and how hard the geometry seemed, she suddenly
showed us an old book that was lying on her table,—it was a _very_
old, battered-up looking book with brown stains on the leaves, and one
cover half hanging off, and the queerest old-fashioned pictures,—and,
she asked us whether we’d like to look at it. She said it was her chief
treasure just now. It was called ‘Valentine’s Manual, Volume II,’ and
seemed to be all about New York City in very early times. She said her
father had picked it up at an auction-sale of some one’s library, and
had given it to her for her birthday.
“I didn’t say much, for somehow I thought it was an awfully queer thing
to get for your birthday—an old, dilapidated, uninteresting book like
that! And then I guess she saw that we were surprised, for she said:
“‘Don’t you love _old_ things?’
“I just had to laugh,—it all seemed so queer! And I said, no, I
preferred them brand-new. And then she said:
“‘Well, perhaps every one doesn’t feel the same as I do; for Father
says I’m a born antiquarian, just as he is!’ We couldn’t say a word,
either of us, for actually, we don’t know what ‘antiquarian’ means! She
went out of the room just after that and brought back some lemonade and
little sweet crackers. Then we had to leave, for it was getting late,
and we knew you’d be watching for us.” Here Bess ended her recital and
Margaret instantly exclaimed:
“Get the dictionary—quick! I want to see what ‘antiquarian’ means!”
“That’s just like you!” commented Jess, as she hauled a big Webster’s
Unabridged out of the bookcase. “You’re a lot like Corinne, too. I
think you two would get on beautifully together. Here it is:
“‘Antiquarian,—one who is addicted to the study of antiquities; an
admirer of antiquity.’ And ‘antiquities’ are old things, of course.
Well, what she sees to admire in ’em beats me! Anyhow, she’s an awfully
nice girl,—sort of unusual, you know,—and I’m glad we made her
acquaintance. Bess and I were saying on the way home that it’s kind of
like an _adventure_ to meet unusual people—” Jess broke off suddenly,
at the sound of a latch-key in the front door, and they all exclaimed:
“There’s Mother! Isn’t she early to-night!”
A pleasant-voiced woman called out to them cheerily, and a moment later
entered the room. Mrs. Bronson’s face, which singularly resembled her
youngest daughter’s, had once been very pretty, but now showed many
traces of anxious care. Her expression was of one who was constantly
thinking over worrisome matters. But at the sight of the trio her face
lit up, the lines smoothed away temporarily, and ten years seemed
magically to drop from her as she sat down in the group, questioning
them about the affairs of their day.
After a few moments the twins went off downstairs to help Sarah with
the dinner, and Margaret was left to her coveted half-hour alone with
“Oh, Mummy,” she sighed, snuggling her head on Mrs. Bronson’s shoulder,
“this is lovely! You don’t often get home so early. But I appreciate it
specially, because I feel sort of blue and no-‘count to-night.”
“Is that so, dear?” exclaimed her mother, some of the anxious lines
returning to her face. “Is the pain worse? What has happened to-day?”
“No, it isn’t my back,” Margaret almost sobbed. “It’s just that
_nothing_ has happened—to me—to-day; nothing ever _does_ happen! I
just sit here all day long, waiting for ‘something to turn up,’ like
Dickens’ _Mr. Micawber_, and nothing ever does turn up! The twins
go out and meet nice people and have pleasant things happen, but
there’s nothing like that for me. Oh, I want some adventures—just one
nice, big, beautiful adventure would do—some delightful, unexpected
surprise! I’d be content if I could have just _one_!” It was very
unusual for Margaret to make the slightest complaint, and it was well
now that her head was on her mother’s shoulder, and that she did not
see the sudden pain in Mrs. Bronson’s face.
“Dearie, I know!” her mother said. “It’s dull enough for you, sitting
here day after day. But we’re all doing the best we can to make you
happy. After all, you never can tell what’s going to happen. Just keep
on hoping for something interesting to ‘turn up,’ and I’m sure sometime
it will. Things occasionally happen in the most unexpected way! Even
_Mr. Micawber_ had something pleasant ‘turn up’ after a while, if you
Margaret snuggled her head closer. “You’re a _dear_, Mummy! You
do cheer me up so! I feel better already, and I’m going to hope
harder than ever that something nice and interesting—some real
_adventure_—will turn up sometime, perhaps _soon_!”
And the unexpected happened sooner, much sooner, than Margaret would
even have dared to dream. Something did “turn up”! But like many
adventures, it came clothed in the guise of quite an ordinary, every
day affair, and there was little about its beginning to suggest the
remotest idea of anything startling. To be exact, it was simply that
about a week after the beginning of their acquaintance the twins came
home one day with the announcement that their new friend, Corinne, had
expressed a decided wish to call and make Margaret’s acquaintance, and
that they had invited her for the following day. At first Margaret had
“Oh, no, girls! I can’t see her. You know I never see any strangers.
It’s awfully nice of her. But—but I wouldn’t know what to say to any
one I didn’t know very well. Do thank her for me, but—”
“Nonsense!” cried Bess, decidedly. “It’ll do you good to see some one
beside just ourselves. Mother thinks so too. And you’ll _like_ her,
I know. I couldn’t tell her she mustn’t come, anyway! It wouldn’t be
polite!” And that clinched the argument.
In reality, it had seemed quite wonderful to Margaret that this
interesting new friend of her sisters could possibly care to become
acquainted with her, and she felt grateful for the pleasant attention.
But with the unconquerable shyness of a secluded invalid she shrank
from the meeting, all her longing for something new and exciting to
happen being temporarily forgotten. And then the day arrived.
“Ye’ll be after havin’ company, this afternoon, Margie mavourneen, so
I suppose ye’ll be wantin’ a little snack about half-past four?” Sarah
had just wheeled Margaret into the front parlor by the window, raised
the shades a trifle, and tucked her idol securely and cozily into her
“Oh, yes, Sarah! Do have hot chocolate and those lovely drop-cakes you
made this morning!”
“Who’s the gur-rl that’s comin’, anyway? Shure it’s a strange thing for
_you_ to be seein’ any one!” Sarah exclaimed jealously as she turned to
leave the room.
“Oh, some one named Corinne Cameron. She’s a nice girl. The twins like
her,” replied Margaret, with assumed indifference. Not for worlds would
she have allowed Sarah to read her real feelings on the subject.
“Huh!” was Sarah’s only reply as she handed Margaret her book and
lumbered heavily downstairs to the kitchen, while the invalid settled
herself to wait for the arrival of her twin sisters and their “queer”
new friend. It was only two o’clock and she couldn’t possibly expect
them before three or a quarter past. The time loomed long and
interminable before her. First she tried to read, but even the beloved
“Little Women” failed to interest her. So she rested her elbow on the
arm of her chair, and, chin in hand, stared out of the window across
the street at a squat little dormer-windowed house directly opposite.
Would she really, she wondered, like the girl who was coming that day?
The occasion was certainly an unusual one in her uneventful life, for
she saw, as a rule, almost no one outside of her own family, except the
doctor. From the time she was a small baby she had suffered with an
affection of the spine, and the physicians could hold out no hope that
she would ever be anything but an invalid. Ever since she had grown
too large to be carried about, she had spent her waking hours in this
Of the outside world she saw little save the view from the parlor
windows, and what passed before her each sunny day during the short
hour that Sarah pushed her in her chair up and down the block. But
Margaret was singularly loving and sweet-tempered, and most of the time
successfully hid the pain and weariness she suffered, both in body and
mind. Few realized, except the faithful Sarah, what bodily misery she
often endured; and none could appreciate the unconquerable shyness that
kept her from all companionship with girls of her own age, excepting
that of her sisters.
Margaret envied nothing more heartily than the ability to join in the
athletic sports of the robust twins. She yearned above all things to
play basket-ball and wield a tennis-racket. And because such things
were to be forever impossible to her, she felt that she could be of
no earthly interest to her sisters’ equally athletic comrades, so she
shyly refused to meet any of them. But this new girl was obviously
“different.” Margaret felt that perhaps she would understand, that
they would find much of common interest to talk about. For Margaret,
too, loved books,—loved them with the passionate delight that only
confirmed invalids can feel for the printed magic that takes them
out of themselves and makes them forget their bodily ills. She read
voraciously everything that came her way. Beside that, she had long ago
insisted on studying with the twins. She kept pace with them through
all their school work and often outstripped them in the quickness
of her comprehension. And the twins were immensely proud of her
The home life of the Bronsons was a pleasant one, but rather different
in many ways from that of ordinary families. Their father had died when
Margaret was a baby. Their mother was the busy, worried, overworked
director of a large French dressmaking establishment on Fifth Avenue.
By her earnings she supported her family in moderate comfort and
maintained the little house in Charlton Street, which had always been
their home. She went away to business early every morning, and often
did not arrive home till late in the evening, especially in the “rush”
seasons. Thus she saw little of her children except on Sundays, and
then she was usually too tired to enjoy their company, though she loved
It was big, loyal Sarah McKinstry who really ran and directed the
household. She had lived with the family ever since Mrs. Bronson had
come to the Charlton Street house, a bride, and considered it her
own. Little, frail, ailing Margaret she adored with a passionate and
jealous devotion. Margaret never teased her, as did the twins, and many
a weary night had she spent sitting up with the little sufferer when
the pain was worse than usual. Her sharp tongue she used on the others
unsparingly, but never on the delicate child in the invalid-chair.
Nevertheless, as a matter of fact, she was really devoted to them all.
And though they, perhaps, never expressed it in quite that way, they
knew that the heart of Sarah McKinstry was as a precious jewel in a
setting of cast-iron.
So on this sunny afternoon sat Margaret in her window, wondering much
about the coming visit,—wondering for the hundredth time if she would
really like this queer Corinne Cameron, and—which was even more
important—would she be liked in return.
The clock on the mantel chimed three, and Margaret began to crane her
neck in order to see as far down the street as possible. They would
come from the Varick Street end of the block, she knew, because they
always walked down that way, in preference to the shorter but not so
pleasant route through Macdougal Street.
At three-fifteen precisely they swung into view. The twins, who
looked very much alike, were walking one on each side of a tall girl,
who topped them by almost a head. Margaret gave a little gasp and
leaned far out of her chair. In one swift glance she scanned the new
acquaintance, as the three came abreast of the house.
“Oh, I’m going to like her—_surely_!” she whispered, as she waved in
answer to the triple salute. Then she drew back suddenly behind the
curtains in a new access of shyness, now that the encounter was really
But if Margaret had any lingering doubts on the subject, they were
quickly dispelled in the first half-hour with the “queer” girl. Corinne
broke the ice at once after her introduction to the little invalid.
“What a dear, fascinating house you live in!” she began, gazing about
the parlor with her dreamy, far-away look. “That carved marble mantel
is just fine, and so are the pillars between the rooms, and all this
The twins stared at each other and then at Margaret.
“Mercy! Do you think so?” cried Bess. “Why, we’ve always thought it the
horridest, old-fashioned place—”
“That’s just what I mean,” interrupted Corinne. “It _is_ old-fashioned,
and that’s why it’s so delightful!”
“Oh, we forgot that you like _old_ things!” laughed Bess. “Well, this
is just a little, old, shabby rookery, and not a single interesting
thing about it. You don’t know how we’ve _longed_ to move into a lovely
new apartment—like the one you live in, for instance,—and have all
the up-to-date fixings and everything.”
“Well, I’d give a _lot_ to change with you!” replied Corinne. “I
_hate_ apartments! I’ve lived in one all my life, and I’ve always just
dreamed of living in a dear old house like this that was built fifty or
a hundred years ago. Think of all the things that must have happened
in it, and all the history it’s seen!—Nobody ever heard of anything
_historical_ about an apartment-house!”
Margaret, who hadn’t said a word all this time, leaned forward now with
shining eyes and demanded:
“But—Corinne—” (she hesitated just a little over the unaccustomed
name) “what can you possibly see about this place that’s interesting?
We’ve always thought it just as ordinary as—as ordinary could be,—when
we’ve thought about it at all!” And now Corinne was in her element.
“Why, think of it!” she exclaimed. “Think what stories there must be
about this house—or any old house! Think what strange things may have
happened in it! Think what history it’s seen! Think what mysteries
there may be about it—if we only knew them! Just imagine what scenes
people may have looked at out of those darling little dormer-windows,
or what famous generals may have leaned against this white-pillared
mantel and talked of their battles, or what traitors may have sat in
this parlor and laid plots, or what secret letters may be hidden
behind the woodwork in that funny little cater-cornered closet over
She stopped suddenly from sheer lack of breath. Her three listeners
were staring at her spellbound. Even the less impressionable twins were
devouring her words in wide-eyed wonder.
As for Margaret, she was tingling to her finger-tips with a strange
excitement. A whole new vista of wonderful things had suddenly been
opened to her. She looked about on what she had always considered her
perfectly ordinary, commonplace home, and her very scalp prickled to
think of the many-sided mysteries its walls might contain. She felt
a sudden wild desire to get to the cater-cornered closet Corinne had
mentioned (though she knew it contained nothing more exciting than
Sarah’s dusters and some dilapidated books), rip out its white woodwork
and search frantically for hidden documents. Instead, she leaned back
in her chair with a long sigh, and remarked:
“Well, you are a wonder, Corinne! You’ve given me something new to
think of. From now on, this house will always be as interesting to me
as a story!”
Corinne nodded, but only said, “I know!”
Suddenly Jess sat up with a start and exclaimed:
“Oh, by the way, Corinne, as you’re so interested in old things, I
wonder if you’d like to see the spinning-wheel we’ve got up in the
attic. Mother says it belonged to her grandmother in New England more
than a hundred years ago!”
“Have you actually an _attic_?” cried Corinne, joyfully. “Oh, do let
me see it—that is, if it won’t be inconvenient! Actually, girls,
I’ve never been in a _real_ attic in my life! And I’d love to see the
“Well, come right along with me,” said Jess, “and we’ll see it while
the daylight lasts. I suppose it isn’t the same kind of an attic you’d
find in a big old farmhouse, but it’s the open space over the top floor
that we’ve always used as an attic and storeroom, except the back part,
which is finished off into a room that Sarah uses. She’s our maid,—or
rather, our housekeeper, and we’d better not let her catch us up
there, because she’s awfully particular how she keeps the attic, and
never allows us to go up and disturb things.”
So Jess escorted the antique-loving Corinne to the exploration of the
attic, while Bess remained downstairs to keep Margaret company.
“Well?” she questioned, turning to her younger sister as soon as the
others were out of ear-shot. She knew that no further explanation of
her question was necessary.
“Oh, she’s simply wonderful!” exclaimed Margaret, in a half-whisper.
“I rather expected I’d _like_ her, but I never dreamed she’d be as
interesting as this. And she thinks the same way I do about a lot of
“But isn’t she _queer_!” marveled Bess. “Actually, on the way walking
down here this afternoon, I thought we’d never be able to drag her
past some of the old, rickety places on Varick Street. She’d stand in
front of each one and rave about it till we really began to attract the
notice of people passing. But she didn’t care! You’d have thought we
were sight-seeing in Europe! And she was worst of all in front of that
ramshackle old place on the corner of Carmine Street, that has a whole
piece of the side cut off, apparently, and the front door stuck in that
funny angle. True as you live, she got out a blank-book and pencil and
stood there sketching it! (You know, she draws beautifully.) Said she
wanted to show it to her father! I didn’t think or care anything about
that kind of talk then; but do you know, what she’s said here this
afternoon actually makes me feel kind of interested in it all! I seem
to see a lot in these old things that I didn’t before.”
Bess gazed about the parlor again with speculative eyes, and added:
“Now, that old cupboard in the corner, for instance,” when they were
both startled by a loud crash from upstairs.
“Gracious!—what was that?” she exclaimed, and ran out to the foot of
the stairs to listen. But as there were no further alarming noises, she
soon came back.
“I guess it wasn’t anything serious, but I hope nothing’s broken or
disturbed, or Sarah’ll have a fit!”
Five minutes later, Corinne and Jess came tearing down the stairs,
breathless and excited, the latter carrying something in her hand.
“Did you hear that bang?” cried Jess. “It was an accident—I’ll tell
you about it—but we made the most wonderful discovery—you can never
guess what!” she was panting for breath and stopped short at this point.
“Tell me! Tell me quick!” begged Margaret, almost wriggling out of her
chair in her excitement.
“Here it is!” Corinne, equally breathless, took up the tale. “We
brought it down—” At this moment there came the sound of heavy,
thumping steps on the basement stairs, and Jess, running to the
bookcase, hastily thrust something far behind a row of books.
“Sarah’s coming!” she warned. “I’ve hid it. She mustn’t guess what
we’ve been up to, or she’d spoil everything!” She laid a warning finger
on her lips as Sarah tramped massively into the parlor bearing a
daintily spread tray.
“I hur-rd a tur-rible bangin’ jest now!” she remarked suspiciously as
she set it down. Then turning her eyes on the twins: “What might the
pair of ye have been up to?”
“Oh, nothing, Sarah!” Jess replied sweetly. “I went up to the attic
for a moment, and something fell while I was pulling it out. But there
wasn’t any damage done,” she hastened on reassuringly, “and I put it
“I’ve warned ye to keep out of that attic!” grumbled Sarah, arranging
the chocolate-cups. “Something always happens when ye go there. From
now on, I think I’ll be lockin’ it up!”
“My gracious!” thought Margaret, boiling inwardly with impatience. “I
_do_ believe this is an _adventure_, at last! Will Sarah _ever_ get out
of this room so that I can hear all about it!”