Strange hieroglyphic symbols

But Sarah continued to circulate around the little tea-table, clattering
the cups, pouring the chocolate, and handing about the napkins and
plates. And all the while she was scanning Margaret’s new visitor with
jealous and appraising eyes. Her ministrations seemed fairly interminable
to the impatient four, and during the whole time that she was serving
the refreshments not one of them uttered a word. So much of a contrast
was this silence to their usual volubility, that she delivered this
Parthian shot as she was at last taking her departure:

“Ye all seem mighty quiet, though ye were chatterin’ hard enough when I
come up! I’m thinkin’ ye must have guilty consciences!”

When she had disappeared, Corinne spoke up:

“You girls all seem rather afraid of your maid, if you’ll pardon my
remarking it! But I think she seems very good-hearted.”

“Why, it’s this way,” replied Bess. “You see, Sarah’s more than just a
maid or a servant. She runs the whole house, really, because Mother’s
away so much and just trusts her with everything. She’s awfully good
to us children and would do almost anything for us. But she’s very,
very particular about her work and her way of arranging things, and she
won’t be interfered with the least bit. Why, Mother herself wouldn’t
think of changing any of Sarah’s arrangements, even if she didn’t like
them, because Sarah wouldn’t stand for it, and we couldn’t do without
her. Jess and I tease her a lot, and she lets us have anything we want
to eat; but we mustn’t on any account interfere with her in other ways,
or there’d be trouble!”

Bess did not enlighten Corinne, however, as to the real reason for
their consideration of Sarah. It was because of an episode that had
happened when she and her twin sister were several years younger. They
had rebelled one fine day at what they considered Sarah’s tyranny,
and for twelve long hours had led her a life of excitement and angry
remonstrance. And then that night, just as their mother arrived home,
behold Sarah descending the stairs, dressed for departure, a huge
carpetbag in each hand. A stormy and tearful scene ensued in which
Sarah finally relented at the urgent importunities of the distracted
Mrs. Bronson. But she promised to remain only on condition that the
twins should obey her implicitly from that moment.

And in the privacy of their bedroom that night Mrs. Bronson had warned
the nine-year-old rebels that, should such a scene ever occur again,
she would give up their home, put Margaret in a sanatorium and the
twins in the strictest boarding-school she could find, and herself find
a place to live nearer to her business. The threat had its lasting
effect, and nothing of the kind had ever happened since. But this was
the true reason why the family lived in wholesome awe of Sarah. And, as
the twins were anything but proud of the episode, they never referred
to it.

“Sarah will probably do just as she threatened,” added Jess, looking
meaningly at Corinne, “and lock up the attic. She’s awfully particular
about that place! You’d think it was as important as the parlor!”

Suddenly Margaret, who could endure the suspense no longer, burst out:

“If some one doesn’t tell me quick all about that mysterious thing you
found in the attic, I’ll—I’ll go _crazy_!” Then she dropped back in
her chair, overcome anew by shyness at having been so vehement before a
comparative stranger.

“Oh, tell her, right away!” cried Corinne. “I know just how she feels!”

“Well, it happened this way,” began Jess, between a sip of chocolate
and a bite of drop-cake. “Corinne and I were looking at the
spinning-wheel—”

“Yes, and it’s a beauty, too!” interrupted Corinne. “You ought to have
it down here.”

“—and then we got to poking around, looking into some boxes and
talking about the funny old hooded cradle that Mother brought from her
home in Massachusetts. And all of a sudden Corinne spied that little
old hair-trunk,—do you remember it, Bess?—and she said she’d never
seen an old trunk like that before. I asked her if she’d like to look
into it. I really didn’t remember, myself, what the inside was like or
what was kept in it. She said she would, so we started to haul it down.
It’s rather small, and Sarah had it piled way up on that high shelf.

“Well, I guess we gave it too hard a jerk, for all of a sudden, down
it came—smash!—and flew open (you know it hasn’t any lock now), and
everything in it was scattered all over the floor. Sarah had all our
winter flannels packed away in it, and you can imagine what a time
we had picking them up and trying to fold and get them back so she
wouldn’t know what had happened!

[Illustration: “Corinne noticed that the bottom of the trunk seemed all
wrong”]

“But here’s the queer part of it! Just after we’d collected all the
things and folded them nicely and were going to put them back,
Corinne noticed that the bottom of the trunk seemed all wrong. One
corner of it was humped up as though it had been knocked through in
falling. I tell you I was scared, for I thought Sarah’d just go wild
when she found it out! But when we turned the trunk upside down,—lo
and behold! the bottom of it was _all right_—just as tight as a trivet!

“If we weren’t astonished! We just didn’t know what to make of it! Then
we turned it back, and I put my hand under the part that was poked up,
gave it a pull, and—it came right out!—the whole bottom! And there,
if you please, was the _real_ bottom of the trunk, underneath! But
between the two was lying hidden—_this_!” Jess ran to the bookcase,
pulled out the mysterious object she had concealed there, and crossing
the room laid it in Margaret’s lap. They all crowded about the chair.

“Why!” exclaimed Bess, in a tone of great disappointment, before
the others could speak, “it’s only an old, dusty, disreputable
account-book with the back torn off. I don’t see anything so wonderful
in that!”

“Wait till you’ve seen what’s inside!” remarked Corinne, quietly.
Margaret, meanwhile, was fingering the crumbly leather cover, wondering
at its queer, mottled aspect. Then she opened it to the first page and
suddenly gave a big gasp.

“Well, of all things!” she murmured. “What in the world can it mean? I
never saw anything like it before!”

“Neither did I!” agreed Bess, now in a tone of real awe. The other two
only smiled, with a rather “I-told-you-so!” expression. Well might they
marvel over its strange contents. The pages were yellow with age and
mottled with curious brown stains, and some of them were torn. But the
writing was still visible, and this is what it looked like:—

[Illustration]

with similar characters all down the first page. A glance through the
rest of the long thin book revealed the same array of bewildering
symbols to the very last leaf, where the back cover was missing.

The four sat for a moment in silent astonishment, trying to make some
sense out of the riddle. Suddenly Margaret had an idea.

“I know! It’s shorthand! I’ve read that that is writing with funny
curves and dots and wiggly lines.”

“No,” Corinne gently corrected her, “I don’t think it’s shorthand,
Margaret. I saw some shorthand that Father’s stenographer wrote once,
and it was quite different from this. Besides, this seems quite old, as
if it were done many years ago, and shorthand’s a comparatively modern
invention, I think.”

“Well, then, it must be Chinese or Syrian or Russian or something like
that!” asserted Jess. “I’ve seen lots of signs over the stores of
foreigners that don’t look so very different from this. Or—oh, I know
now! it’s _Greek_!”

Corinne laughed. “No indeed, it isn’t Greek!” she declared. “Father
taught me the Greek alphabet when I was a tiny girl, and made me learn
to know the letters. I’m going to study it when I go to college. This
is entirely different. I don’t believe they’re letters of any other
language, either.”

She sat in frowning thought over the strange page for several minutes,
while the others watched her in breathless interest. They, having
no further solutions to offer, threw themselves unreservedly on her
greater resourcefulness. Jess, meanwhile, refilled the chocolate-cups,
and Bess passed the cake, while Margaret reveled in such excitement as
she had never before experienced. Corinne still remained thoughtfully
turning the pages. Suddenly she exclaimed:

“I have it!—at least, I _think_ so!”

“What? what? oh, quick!” they begged.

“I think some one has written all this in what they call a—a ‘cipher.’
I’ve heard of such things. Father told me people often send messages
over the telegraph or cable in cipher—”

“But what is that? How?” demanded Margaret.

“Why, they have certain words or expressions which stand for other
words or even whole sentences. And you can’t understand the message
unless you have the ‘code’ or explanation. For instance, a man may
cable just the words ‘Pay Smith’ to his broker, and that may mean ‘Buy
me five thousand bushels of wheat to-day.'”

“Yes, but that isn’t a bit like what’s here,” argued Margaret.

“No, but it’s the same idea,” Corinne declared. “I think in this case
some one has taken certain signs to represent the different letters of
the alphabet. First I thought that perhaps each sign might stand for
a different word. But that could hardly be, because there are so many
words, one could hardly find signs enough to go round. And besides, I
notice in looking through the book that there are comparatively few
signs, and they are constantly repeated.” She fell to gazing silently
at the book again, while the others watched, still more fascinated by
the discoveries she was making. Presently she looked up again.

“I’ve found out something else, I think. Do you see that sign of the
triangle? Well, if you notice, that occurs more frequently than any of
the others. In the first five lines there are more than fourteen of
them, and no other sign happens as frequently as that. Now, if these
signs stand for letters, that couldn’t be a letter, even if it were one
of the commonest, like ‘a’ or ‘i’ or ‘e’—”

“What _can_ it be then?” whispered Margaret, in a voice so tense that
they all laughed.

“I think it means the _space_ between the words!” vouchsafed Corinne.
“You see, there’d have to be _something_ to indicate spaces. You
couldn’t have the words all jumbled up together. It wouldn’t make
sense!”

“Well, you are wonderful!” sighed Jess, sitting back on her heels. “I
never would have thought of it in a century!”

“Oh, no!” laughed Corinne. “There’s nothing wonderful about that. It’s
only common sense and puzzling it out like a riddle. Now see! If we
take it for granted that the triangle means a space between the words,
this sign of the dot between two triangles must be either the letter
‘a,’ ‘I’ or ‘O,’ for those are the only words of just one letter.
But you can’t tell which it is till you’ve puzzled out some more.
And—after all, this idea may be all wrong. It may be something quite
different, for all we know!”

“But what can it all be about?” began Jess, going off on another tack.
“And how under the sun did the thing get hidden away in our old trunk
under a false bottom. It’s awfully mysterious!”

“Tell you what I think,” volunteered Corinne. “Whatever it is, it’s
been in that trunk for years and years—hidden there, perhaps, when the
trunk belonged to some one else. Do you know where it came from—the
trunk, I mean?”

“No, I don’t even know whether it was Father’s or Mother’s,” answered
Jess. “But I can ask Mother. Maybe she’d know.”

“I’d like to puzzle this thing out!” mused Corinne. “Who knows! Perhaps
we’d find it was something awfully interesting. It’s simply full of
mystery and—and possibilities!” At this point, Margaret, who during
all the latter conversation had been fidgeting with impatience, began:

“Now, girls, look here! I’ve just had the most delightful idea! We’ve
made the discovery of something awfully interesting, probably, if we
could only find out what it’s all about. Why not let’s form ourselves
into a secret society—just we four—with the purpose of finding out
all about this mystery? We won’t let another soul into the secret—not
even Mother. Oh, it’ll be _such_ fun! Do, _please_!”

She looked imploringly at the twins, and for once they did not appear
to object—even looked a trifle interested. For it was the ambition of
Margaret’s pitiful, limited little life to be the member of a “secret
society.” She had read much of school fraternities and clubs, and the
fascinating idea had taken a firm root in her mind. Of course for
her—poor helpless little invalid that she was—there could be no
such thing as membership or participation in the real organizations.
In place of this, she was forever begging her sisters to form a tiny
society of their own, just the three, and have meetings and secrets and
all the paraphernalia of the big school “frats.”

But the idea had never appealed to the twins. They had no interest in
any of the school clubs except the basket-ball and tennis teams. And
to have a make-believe one at home with no earthly or apparent object
was something they had never yet brought themselves to consider, much
as they loved their invalid sister. But here was something a trifle
different! Margaret, quick to see her advantage, hastened on:

“Oh, yes! _Do_ let’s have one! Wouldn’t it be a good idea, Corinne?
Think of the fun we’d have, meeting and puzzling out this queer old
book! Perhaps it might lead to something important, too. And I’ve even
thought of a name for it,—we could call it the _Antiquarian Club_!”

The latter idea captured Corinne. “That’s a dandy name for
it,—’Antiquarian Club’! I _like_ that! And besides, it’s true, too,
for if this isn’t an antiquity, I’d like to know what is! Yes, let’s
have the club!” Corinne was moved to accept the idea by two impulses.
The notion really did appeal to her, but even if it hadn’t, she would
have pretended it did for the sake of the pathetic little figure in the
invalid-chair, who was rapidly taking a firm hold of her heart.

“Oh, goody! And you do like the idea, too, don’t you, girls?” exclaimed
Margaret. The twins capitulated unreservedly.

“Yes, we do,” said Bess. “I’ve always detested such societies because
they seemed so useless. But this thing is really worth having a club
for!”

Margaret, however, had something else on her mind. “Oh, just one thing
more,” she added, a little shyly. “Could I—could I be—_president_?
All clubs have to have a president. I would so love to be!”

“Indeed you shall!” spoke up Corinne before either of the others had a
chance. “We elect you at once—unanimously—don’t we, girls? And now,
Miss President, you can appoint the rest of us to other offices!”

Margaret flushed with pleasure. “I appoint you, Corinne, to be
secretary. There always has to be one of those. And there usually is a
treasurer, if there is any money to handle. But there won’t be here,
for we won’t have any dues. So I don’t know what to call the others.”

“Let’s just be plain members, for the present,” suggested Bess. “And
now, what are we going to do about this book, Miss President?”

“I think we ought to let Corinne take it home and see if she can puzzle
out any more of it before next meeting,” decided Margaret. “That would
be all right, wouldn’t it?” They all agreed.

“I’d like to show it to Father and ask him what he thinks—” began
Corinne, but Margaret hastily interrupted:

“Oh, no! You mustn’t do _that_! You know it’s a _secret_ society, and
we aren’t going to tell any one about anything in it. And besides—”

“Yes, and besides,” put in Jess, “if we tell _any one_ about this
book, it might somehow leak out and get back to Sarah what we’d done
in breaking the trunk, and then there might be _trouble_!” She looked
meaningly at Bess.

“Oh, no!” assented the latter hastily. “We mustn’t tell a soul!”
Plainly the twins still lived in dread of the awful threat made so many
years ago. They knew that Sarah was even yet fully capable of putting
it into execution—under sufficient provocation!

“All right,” agreed Corinne. “I won’t breathe a word of this, then,
and I’ll see what I can do to make head or tail of the thing. But,
mercy!” glancing at her watch, “it’s nearly six o’clock, and I ought
to have been home long ago. I’ll take the car at the corner, I guess.”
She hurried into her wraps, gathered up the precious “find” with her
school-books, and bade the girls good-by.

“It’s been a remarkable afternoon for me!” she declared as she kissed
Margaret. “I feel like a _real_ antiquarian now. Hurrah for the
Antiquarian Club! Let’s have another meeting as soon as I’ve made some
progress with this!” She tapped the old account-book significantly and
hurried away.

“Oh!” sighed Margaret, blissfully, settling back in her chair, “this
is positively the most wonderful day I ever spent in my life! Can
I ever wait for the next meeting?” The twins stood by her chair,
looking thoughtful. They too were strangely stirred out of their usual
unimaginative selves.

“Well, I confess, I never dreamed of anything so queer happening in
_this_ old ranch!” marveled Bess. “It’s all Corinne’s doings.”

That night Mrs. Bronson came home very late from business, but she
went in, as was her invariable custom, to peep at her little invalid
daughter before she herself retired. To her surprise, she found
Margaret still awake.

“Dear, you’re not ill, are you?” she inquired anxiously. “You’re
usually asleep at this time.”

But Margaret only laughed a happy little laugh. “No, Mummy, I’m all
right,—only just too interested to sleep! Do you remember what you
once said about an _adventure_ turning up? Well, it has,—the loveliest
kind of a one! But I can’t tell you about it, because it’s a secret.
You won’t mind, will you?”

Mrs. Bronson smiled. “No indeed, I won’t mind! Just as long as you’re
happy and contented, I don’t mind a thing! Did the twins’ new friend
come to see you to-day? And did you like her?”

At this, Margaret entered on such a vivid and enthusiastic account of
Corinne, that Mrs. Bronson heaved a sigh of thankfulness for the new
interest in her little girl’s empty life.

An hour later Margaret fell asleep to dream, the night through, of
strange, hieroglyphic symbols, and all the weird things they might
stand for. But not a thing she dreamed of was as curious as the reality
that Corinne was soon to disclose!

The next few days passed in a fever of impatience for Margaret. Each
afternoon she besieged the twins for news of Corinne and her progress
with the “cipher.” And every day their report was about the same:

“She thinks she’s on the right track, but she can’t tell surely yet.
It’s pretty difficult, you know, and Corinne has to study and do other
things, too, besides puzzling over that.”

“But has she found out _any_ of the letters?” Margaret would demand.

“She _thinks_ so, but she can’t be sure till she’s made them _all_
out definitely.” And Bess would add, “Now, do be reasonable, Miss
President! Your secretary is doing her very best. But if you don’t
think she’s a success, you might take the job away from her and give
it to _me_!” At which Margaret would chuckle derisively.

Truth to tell, the twins were almost as anxious as she for a solution
of the mystery. The sudden introduction of this new element into their
hitherto wholly athletic and unimaginative existences, they found, to
their surprise, even more diverting than the most exciting tennis-match
or basket-ball struggle. About a week after Corinne’s first visit, all
three burst in breathlessly upon Margaret, one cold afternoon, and
transported her to the seventh heaven of delight with this exciting
news: “Corinne’s got it, at last! Haven’t you, Corinne!

“Yes,” she admitted, giving Margaret a big hug of greeting, “I think
I’ve puzzled out most of the letters now, and I’ve even worked out a
few of the first sentences—”

“Yes, and she says they’re awfully strange!” interrupted the twins, in
chorus. “And she wouldn’t tell us a word, though we begged her hard!”

“Well, Miss President,” laughed Corinne, “it seemed to me that this was
a thing to be revealed only in a solemn meeting of the club and in your
presence. Was I right?”

“Indeed you were!” declared Margaret. “Don’t you ever tell them a thing
before you’ve told me, will you?”

“I won’t!” promised Corinne. “It shall be the first rule of our
society,—no discoveries told to ordinary members before the president
hears them! And now let’s get to business!” They all drew up before the
cozy open fire.

“Oh, isn’t this lovely!” sighed Corinne. She opened the old
account-book and placed beside it a paper on which she had written the
letters of the alphabet, and next to each the sign that appeared to
stand for it.

“I had the _worst_ time puzzling this out!” she said. “I worked and
worked over it and changed them all around nearly forty times before
I struck anything that seemed just right. But now I guess we’ve got
it, at last! I’m sure ‘a’ is this perpendicular straight line, ‘b’ the
rectangle with the bottom missing, ‘c’ the horizontal parallels—and
so on. Now, as I’ve said, I’ve made out the first few sentences and
they seem awfully strange! Here they are.” She turned the paper over
and read:

“‘This is a house of mystery, and strange, unaccountable dread. I
feel daily that something menaces me—that my life is not safe.'” A
delicious shudder ran through the listening group.

“Oh, isn’t this _gorgeous_!” half whispered Margaret. “It fills me
with—with thrills!” Corinne went on:

“‘Therefore I am keeping this little journal from time to time. Should
aught evil befall me in this strange land and among these unfriendly
people, at least I will leave some record whereby my own kin may trace
my fate, perchance, at some future day. I dare not write this out in
good English lest it be discovered by those who hate me. So I have
invented this secret code, whereof none save myself knows the key. This
book I found in the library unused and I have taken it. I trust it will
be counted no act of thievery. I keep it hidden in the false bottom of
my trunk. The key of the code I have put in another spot. As soon as my
memory has mastered it, I will destroy it. ‘Tis safer.’—And that’s as
far as I got!” ended Corinne.

For a moment they all sat dumb with amazement.

“What _do_ you make of it?” exclaimed Bess. “Who is it,—a man or a
woman? When was it written, and where? Why, I’m just wild to find out
all about it!”

“I confess,” admitted Corinne, “that I don’t know _what_ to make of it.
I’ve puzzled and puzzled over it all day—”

“But, good gracious!” interrupted the impatient Margaret, “of course
we can’t make anything out of it till we’ve worked out some more! Come
ahead! Right now! We’re only wasting time talking about it!”

“That’s so!” laughed Corinne. “And when we can find out right away, by
getting to work! Here, Margaret! You write, while I spell the thing
out!” She thrust the paper and pencil into Margaret’s hands, while the
twins hung over her as she slowly deciphered the sentences:

“‘Would—that—I—had—never—left—my—peaceful—Bermuda—'” Corinne
dropped the book suddenly.

“_Bermuda!_—I’ve been there! Oh, this is fine!”

“Have _you_ been to Bermuda?” exclaimed Margaret and the twins, with
awe. “When?”

“Last winter, with Father. He was ill, and we stayed six weeks. It was
heavenly!”

“You lucky girl!” sighed Margaret. “But, go on! We must find out more,
right away!”

Corinne took up the book and began anew: “‘But since I did wilfully
abandon my home—aye!—and Grandfather, too, even though he does not
love me—'”

“‘Grandfather’?” interrupted Bess. “He can’t be very old, if he has a
grandfather living!”

“Doesn’t seem likely,” murmured Corinne, spelling out another word
under her breath, then continuing:

“‘—and did in venturesome manner contribute my aid to the plot
against my country, I must pay the price, I fear. I am watched
constantly. I take no walk abroad, even in the grounds, but I feel that
I am spied upon. The affection of Madame M. has changed to dislike.
She, too, suspects me. ‘Tis hard for a lass of but sixteen—'”

“_A lass!_” shouted all four. “And only _sixteen_!”

“Oh, girls!” cried Corinne, rocking back and forth in her excitement.
“She’s just like ourselves—only a year older than I am! What _can_ be
the trouble—or rather, what _could_ have been the trouble with the
poor little thing?”

“Go on! go on!” ordered Margaret, with glistening eyes. “Let’s find out!”

Corinne snatched up the book again: “‘to be alone and friendless in
a strange land and to feel so constantly in danger. But I must not
complain. I brought it on myself. As I have said, Madame M. no longer
appears to care for me. She was so cordial and affectionate at first,
partly for Aunt’s sake, no doubt, and partly because she really seemed
to like me. But since the day when I spoke to Lady ——, at the time
her coach broke down, Madame M. has regarded me only with suspicion.'”

“I wish I knew who ‘Madame M.’ was, and ‘Lady Blank,'” put in Margaret.
“How mysterious she is—never writing out their full names!”

“Perhaps she didn’t dare,” said Corinne. “You see, she says she’s in
danger. But, oh!—listen to what she says next!—’There is something
which weighs right heavily on my conscience. ‘Tis the matter of the
sapphire signet. But of that I will speak later.'”

“_The sapphire signet!_” breathed the twins in a tone of hushed awe.
“Doesn’t it sound rich and gorgeous and—and _mysterious_! What’s a
‘signet,’ anyway?”

“I think,” explained Corinne, “that it’s another name for a
seal—something with a monogram or crest or coat-of-arms, used to
stamp on sealing-wax. Father has one set in a ring—not a sapphire
though—just some ordinary stone with his monogram on. He never uses
it, but he told me once that in former times they were used a great
deal when letters were only sealed with wax. Oh! _what_ do you suppose
this matter of the sapphire signet is all about! Isn’t it wildly
exciting? But, goodness!” glancing at her watch, “it’s awfully late
again, and I must get home. The time goes so fast, and it takes so long
to puzzle all this out!”

“I have an idea!” began Margaret, hesitatingly. “Suppose _I_ do the
puzzling out and write it down, now that Corinne has discovered the
way. I have so much time that I don’t know what to do with, and this
would be so interesting! Then, when we meet again in a couple of days,
I could read it right off to you without any trouble. We could get on
so much faster!”

“I think that’s splendid!” agreed Corinne. “And much as I’m crazy to
find out right away what happens, I’d rather wait and hear a lot of it
read at once. Wouldn’t you all?”

“Yes, that’s a good scheme,” admitted Bess, “except for one thing. How
about Sarah? You’d have a hard time hiding this from her, Margaret, and
you know she simply mustn’t find out!” For a moment they all looked
“stumped.” The obstacle seemed almost insuperable, when Jess had a
brilliant idea.

“Tell you what! We’ll hide the thing in the bookcase, way back here
behind these old encyclopedias,—the account-book, the paper, and a
brand-new fat blank-book that I’ll give you to do all the copying in.
You can tell Sarah to wheel you over to the bookcase because you want
to read. Then, when she’s out of the way, you can work to your heart’s
content. But do hide everything whenever you hear her coming!”

“Oh, good! Just the thing! Sarah’ll never suspect in the world!”
laughed Margaret. “And there’s no difficulty about hearing her
coming—she weighs two hundred and fifty pounds!”

“Well, that’s settled then,” said Corinne, “and I’ll have to go. But
I’m coming day after to-morrow, if I can manage to wait. It’s better
than the loveliest book I ever read! Good-by!”

When she had gone, the three sisters sat and looked at one another with
an expression of sheer wonder on their faces. In one week, through the
agency of this same “queer,” quiet girl, their absolutely uninteresting
and commonplace lives had been transformed into an unbelievable round
of mystery and discovery and romance. And the strange part of it was
that this same mystery had been lying here—right under their noses, so
to speak—all these years, and they had never even suspected it, while
she had been in the house scarcely half an hour and had run it straight
to earth! Some such thought was in Margaret’s mind when she presently
exclaimed:

“Isn’t she just _wonderful_! I think she’s the most interesting person
I ever met in my life!”

“So do I!” echoed Jess.

“Oh, I shall just dream of this all night!” whispered Margaret. “It’s
the most thrilling thing I ever heard of—this puzzle-story—and the
best of it is, it’s all our own. We discovered it! To-morrow you may
envy me, girls, for I’ll be finding out—all about the sapphire signet,
_and_ what happened next!”