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   Chapter 5 A HEARSE IN THE MOONLIGHT

Hour of Enchantment / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 11305

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Petite Jeanne, too, seemed a bright autumn leaf as, dressed in a filmy orange-colored gown, she drifted down the broad paved walk.

Passing a great building that gleamed from within as if it were on fire, she marveled at the mystery of light.

"Why should I find myself intrigued by a mere Oriental dagger and one small Chinaman with long ears?" she asked herself, "when a thousand mysteries of science, chemistry, light, heat and sound lie all about me?"

Finding no answer to this question, she still kept a keen watch for that long-eared Chinaman who had snatched the jeweled dagger from her hand and later had walked the cables of the Sky Ride.

"It is like a Chinaman to have three blades to his knife where only one is needed," she assured herself. "But why must one have a dagger in a temple? I'll ask that interesting white man who sold me the book."

Indeed she would, and many other questions besides. "There is a destiny that shapes our ends, rough hew them though we may." The men we meet and pass, never to meet again, the ones who because of a passing word become part of our very lives, all their names are written in a book, and the name of that book is FATE.

A long, low bus, looking for all the world like a mammoth greyhound, stopped at Jeanne's very feet. Because on the long seat filled with smiling people there was room for one more, Jeanne paid her fare and took her place with the rest.

Where was she going? She did not know nor care. Some time perhaps she would take this exhibition seriously. Time enough for that. The whole summer was before her, fifteen glorious weeks. For the moment she would wander at will.

Gliding along in the bus she lost all sense of time until, with a start, she found herself at the far end of that all but endless pageant.

"Mon Dieu!" she exclaimed. "Why did I come all this way? Florence is waiting. She will never forgive me!"

Climbing aboard a second bus, she went gliding back the way she had come.

"Ah, my dear!" she cried as she sighted her good friend seated in a camp chair, watching the fading lights. "How can you forgive me?"

"That is not so hard," the big girl drawled. "I've been sitting here half asleep, watching the throngs pass by.

"Do you know, Jeanne," her tone became animated, "people come a long distance from north, south, east and west, thousands of miles, to view the wonders of this place. And who can blame them? But, after all, when they are here, throngs and throngs of them, they themselves are more interesting than all the marvels they come to see."

"Ah, yes. It is so.

"But, Florence!" Jeanne cried suddenly. "I have found such a charm of a place! And we may dine there if we hurry.

"Ah, but I fear the buses are stopped. See, all the lights are fading." Her voice dropped.

It was true. The lights were fading. Here a brightly illuminated tower went dark, there a fiery fountain became a well of blackness, and there an endless chain of light vanished into the night.

"It is like the end of the world!" Jeanne said in an awed whisper.

"But this place you speak of? Is it far?" Florence sprang to her feet.

"Oh, yes, very far."

"Then we will go. I am tired of seeing and hearing. A long walk will be just grand."

"And, ah! to see this place by moonlight!" Jeanne clasped her hands. "That will be so very wonderful!"

The broad, paved way, where thousands had wandered during the day, was all but deserted. Here a belated visitor hurried toward a gateway. There an attendant, his labors over, raced away to catch a home-bound car.

Down by the shore a score of camp fires were gleaming. For the first time in many years Indians were camping on Chicago's water front. The wavering light of their fires turned their tepees into ghost-homes of the long ago.

Farther south other fires gleamed about the temporary homes of other wild men from faraway lands. All these were a part of the great show.

But it was none of these that had caught and held the little French girl's attention.

Before them loomed the Midway. With lights out, its fantastic structures, standing out black against the sky, seemed huge beasts come to life from the past and now crouching by the roadway in their sleep.

As if feeling something of this, Jeanne quickened her pace. But not for long.

"Here!" she exclaimed. "Down here it is!"

She turned sharply to the right, hurried forward twenty steps, then halted before a door.

"If it is closed!" she breathed. "Can it be? Yes, perhaps. See! The electric light is out.

"No, no. There is some one!"

"Only a scrub woman." Florence pressed close to the glass door.

Just then the person inside stood up. Florence caught her breath. She had not been wrong. The one who stood there had been scrubbing. Her dress was pinned up; her arms were bare to the elbow. But surely she was not a regular scrub woman! Seldom had Florence seen a more beautiful face. She was young, too, surely not yet twenty. Cheeks aglow with natural bloom, big eyes shining, brown hair tossed back, she stood there smiling, a picture of natural youth and beauty. Smiling at what? Had she seen them? Yes, she was coming to the door.

"Would you like to come in?" she whispered.

Too astonished to answer, the girls found themselves inside.

The place they had entered was a long, low room. The floor was of rough boards. Massive beams ran from one end to the other of the paneled ceiling. At one side was a curious sort of refreshment stand, and to the right of this the broadest fireplace Florence had ever seen.

Noting the surprised look on Florence's face, the girl said: "Ha

ve you never been here before?"

By her rich, melodious drawl, Florence knew at once that this girl came from the southern mountains.

"This," the girl went on, "is the Rutledge Tavern. It was by this fireplace that the young man, Abe Lincoln, sat and talked for long hours to a girl with hair like corn tassels in autumn. Can you see them there now? She is sewing. He is dreaming of days that are to come."

"So this is the spot that charmed my little French friend," Florence whispered to herself. "Little wonder! Coming from the past with its simple grandeur, it has an appeal all its own."

"Perhaps," said the stranger, "you'd like to sit here by the fire. I-I'll soon be through with my work."

"But you," Florence exclaimed, "surely you do not have to scrub floors all night long!"

"Oh, no! Not all night long. Only this one. And I love it!" The girl's eyes shone. "I am Jensie Crider. I am from the mountains of Kentucky. This is the Lincoln group. And Abraham Lincoln, our great President, came from the mountains where I was born. They-they let me care for these buildings because I understand how they should be kept.

"Come!" Her voice fell to a whisper. "Come back here and you shall see those other buildings by the moonlight."

She led the way to the back of that long room, then pointed silently. Standing there, bathed in the golden moonlight, were two small log cabins and a rough structure built of boards.

"That little cabin," the girl whispered, "is the one in which the great President was born; no, not quite. It is exactly like it, but for me it is the same.

"Does it not seem wonderful?" Her low voice was singing now. "No windows, a stick chimney, a clay floor. He was born there, the great President. He was one of us, of our poor mountain folk. Do you wonder that I love my work?"

"No," Florence whispered.

"But look!" Jeanne gripped her companion's arm. "What is that strange thing over there?"

"That-" The girl's tone changed. "That is a very old hearse. Perhaps it is the one that carried our martyred President to his grave."

"A hearse!" Jeanne shrank back. "A hearse in the moonlight."

"Come!" said Florence. "Let's go and sit by the fireplace and dream."

"Yes, do!" The mountain girl's voice rang with hospitality. "I have some corn bread, the sort we make in the mountains, baked in an oven under the coals. I'll make some tea very soon, and we shall have a bite to eat."

To sit in the Rutledge Tavern, beside the fireplace where Abe Lincoln and Ann Rutledge had made love long ago! Could anything be more romantic?

A moment more and they were there, Florence and Jeanne, staring dreamily at the fire. But try as she might, Jeanne could not quite drive from her mind the image of that ancient hearse standing out there in the moonlight.

"It seems a sign," she told herself. A sign of what? She could not tell.

The mountain girl's corn bread baked in a Dutch oven beneath the coals was delicious. Buried in strained honey which, Jensie Crider assured them, came from a bee tree away up on the side of Big Black Mountain, it was a dish to set before a king.

"Those other buildings there," Jensie explained in a quiet voice, "one is the home of Abe Lincoln in Indiana and the other, that one built of boards, is where Lincoln and Berry kept store, or tried to and failed.

"I-I'm sort of glad they failed." Her voice trailed into silence. On the broad hearth the coals glowed. Behind them, down the long room, all was shrouded in darkness. And still in the golden moonlight the dilapidated hearse stood. Jeanne thought of this, and shuddered.

"Why?" It was Florence who spoke at last. "Why are you glad that Lincoln failed."

"Because he is my hero," Jensie's tone was deeply serious. "And if my hero never failed, how could I hope to be like him? We all fail sometimes.

"Of all these buildings," she went on after a time, "I have the little cabin where he was born. I was born in just such a cabin, way up on the side of Big Black Mountain."

"Oh!" Jeanne's eyes opened wide. "And is that your home now?"

"No, no! Now we have two rooms and two real glass windows.

"Of course," Jensie half apologised, "that isn't very much. But there's a porch to sit on all summer long. And oh! it is beautiful in the mountains in the springtime. When the dogwood blossoms are like drifting snow on the hillsides, when little streams covered over with mountain ivy come dashing, cool, damp and fragrant, from far up the mountains, oh, then it is a joy to live!

"Will you come and see me there some time? You two?" Her voice rang with eagerness.

"Yes, yes!" Jeanne cried impulsively, throwing her arms about the girl and kissing her apple-red cheek. "Yes, indeed! We will come in spring when the dogwood is in bloom."

Once again silence settled over the room where darkness played hide and seek with little streaks of light among the massive hand-hewn rafters.

Only an ancient clock in a far corner disturbed the silence with its solemn tick-tock, tick-tock.

"Listen!" Jeanne gripped Florence's arm. The clock made a curious noise like a very old man clearing his throat, then struck twice: Dong! Dong!

"Two o'clock!" Jeanne sprang to her feet. "Two o'clock! This is my hour of enchantment! We must be going!

"Good-bye." Once again she embraced the mountain girl. "We will be back. Many times."

She led Florence out into the moonlight. But even as she did so she cast an apprehensive look behind her. She was thinking still of the hearse in the moonlight. A fence hid it from her view. With a shudder she exclaimed, "Come! Let us go fast!"

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