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   Chapter 17 THE CAVERN OF FIRE

The Phantom Violin / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 8936

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Not until her courage had been strengthened by a steaming cup of coffee brewed over a fire before the tent was Greta ready to tell her companion of the mysterious sounds in the night.

"Only a crazy old loon," was Florence's prompt solution.

"A loon may be a bright bird," Greta said laughingly, with the light of day terror had vanished, "but I've never known a loon that can play the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana."

"You know what I mean." Florence threatened her mockingly with her sheath knife. "It was a loon that screamed. They're very human at times."

"Not as human as that cry in the night," the slender girl affirmed with conviction. "I'll never rest until I've solved the mystery of that cry."

Florence scrambled to her feet. "In that case, we'd better get at its solving at once."

"Florence!" Greta's tone was sober. "What would be your reply if right out of the blue a very rich woman would say to you: 'You have a wonderful future. I will help you, give you money, all you need. You shall study under the great masters. In time you shall be greater than them all.' What would you say?"

"Why-I-I'd probably say 'Yes.'"

"But suppose you felt that accepting such an offer would put you in her power. Supposing you had always wanted to be free-free as a bird?"

"I don't know." Florence spoke slowly. "Of course in a way I know what you mean. I am just a physical director. All day I put boys and girls through their exercises, teach them to play basketball and handball, instruct them in swimming and all that. Very useful. Makes 'em strong. But not quite like music, don't you see? Perhaps a musician truly must be free."

"Yes, I see. We must think our problems through for ourselves, I guess."

"Guess that's right. But come on! We're off in search of a scream." Seizing a stout walking stick, Florence prepared to lead the way into the great unknown.

"You said there are greenstones to be found right up here in the rocks." Greta studied a massive boulder of greenish hue.

"Yes." Florence produced a chisel and a small hammer. "Swen gave me these. They chisel the stones right out of the rocks. I saw one a lady down at Tobin's Harbor had set in a cameo ring, a beauty. Worth quite a lot, I guess. Well, I hope to find a number as good as that. What grand Christmas presents they'd make!"

"Florence!" Greta came to a sudden halt. "Swen said someone took an emery wheel for grinding greenstones from his store. Do you suppose someone is up here hunting greenstones? And do you think he could have fallen off into a chasm or something last night? Was it his scream I heard?"

"So Swen told you all about that?" Florence exclaimed. "And yet you wanted to come!"

"I-wanted to come?" Greta stared at her. "Surely! Why not? More than ever!"

"Brave little girl!" Florence put a hand on her shoulder. "But that idea of yours about the scream seems a bit fantastic. You never can tell, though. But if he did fall in a crevice, we'd never find him, not up here.

"Look at that ledge!" She pointed away to the right. "Hundred feet high, half a mile long.

"And look down there." Her gaze swept the tangled forests that lay below the narrow plateau on which they stood. "Just look! Trees have been fighting for their lives there a thousand years. Twisted, tangled, fallen, grown over with bushes and vines. How is one to conduct a search in such a place? Might as well forget it."

"Guess you're right." Greta sighed. Nevertheless, she did not forget.

"Do you know," she said a moment later, "I believe I'd rather sit by our campfire and think than to go prowling round this ridge today."

"You're not afraid? Afraid of meeting some-someone?"

"Of course not! Just footsore and weary after yesterday."

"Yes, I suppose you are. Sorry." Florence's tone changed. "As for me, I'm used to it. If you don't mind, I'm going on. I don't admit the possibility of anyone ever having been here before us. I mean to be an explorer. Were there any celebrated women explorers?"

"Not many, I'm afraid. There's one in Chicago who goes across Africa once in a while."

"Well, I'm going to explore. You watch me!" Florence laughed as she marched away into the bush. Soon enough she was to discover that her statement that no one had been here before them was not well founded. A rough and ready manner of discovery it was to be, too.

Left to herself, Greta wandered back to camp, found a few live coals whic

h she fanned into flame, added fresh fuel, brewed herself a cup of black tea, then sat down to think.

"'I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,'" she repeated reverently, "'from whence cometh my help.'"

What was to come of this venture? Would she, like the prophets of old, find strength and inspiration by her sojourn in the hills?

The morning had been chilly. A cold wind swept in from black waters. But now the sun was up. Gentle breezes, like fairies' wings, brushed her cheeks. On a level space beneath her, thimbleberry blossoms lay like a blanket of snow. Away to the right a rocky slope flamed all golden with wild tiger lilies.

"It-it's like a fire," she told herself, gazing into her own half burned out campfire.

There was something about an open fire that takes us back and back to days we have never truly known at all, the days of our pioneer ancestors.

To this slender girl on this particular morning the crackle of the fire seemed a call from some long-forgotten past.

Their camp lay within the shadow of a great rock. The fire whispered of good fellowship and cheer. The day before had been a long one. Her muscles were still stiff from that long tramp. As she sat there gazing into the narrow fiery chasm made by half burned logs, she fell into a state of mind that might be called a trance or half a dream.

As her eyes narrowed it seemed to her that the fiery chasm expanded until at last it was so high she might step inside if she willed to do so.

"So warm! So bright! So cheery!" she whispered. "One might-"

But what was this? With a startled scream she sprang to her feet.

"Florence! It was Florence!" she cried aloud.

Then, coming into full possession of her faculties, she stood and stared.

At that moment, as if the show were ended, the bits of burning wood crumbled into a heap. The chasm of fire was no more.

But what had she seen there? It was strange. She had seen quite plainly there at the center of the fiery circle the form of her companion, Florence.

"Florence." She said the word softly. "Of course she was not there, not even her image was there. And yet-

"I wonder if it is truly possible to hear another think when she is far away? There are cases on record when this has seemed to be true. Mental telepathy they call it.

"I wonder if that vision could have been a warning?

"This place-" she shuddered. "It haunts me. Let me get out into the sunlight!

"Surely," she told herself soberly, "if we may not listen to our friends' thoughts when they are far away, at least God can whisper them in our ear. With Him all things are possible. I must try to find Florence."

With that she walked some distance along the slope to at last vanish down a narrow moose trail that passed between two black old spruce trees.

* * * * * * * *

Bihari and his band, with Petite Jeanne in their midst, were having their breakfast coffee on deck that morning, when a white-haired youth came rowing alongside in a roughly made fishing boat. Two small children rode in the stern.

"Swen!" Jeanne cried joyously. "So that is your lighthouse! That is your home!"

"Yes." Swen grinned broadly. "Anyway, I thought it was. Since-"

"But Swen!" Jeanne broke in, "you never told me you were married. What beautiful children!"

The children beamed up at her. But not Swen. He was blushing from ear to ear.

"Children!" he exclaimed. "My children! I am but eighteen. What could you think? They are not my children. They are my brother's. Their home is in the cabin by the lighthouse. And my home-" He hesitated, looking from face to face as if trying to read something there. "The lighthouse, it is my home. But someone, it seems, wants to tear it up. What can I think?

"When I came home last night," he rushed on, "all is strange. The doorstep is broken. My bench by the door, it is tipped over. There are bits of cloth everywhere. And my axe, it is thrown on the ground. In the tower it is no better. The trap door, it is broken, stones are thrown down and my rope, it is gone."

For fully a moment, when he had finished, Jeanne stared at him. Then, as in a dream, she murmured, "It was the bear."

"No," said Swen, "it was not the bear."

"Come up and have a cup of coffee," said Jeanne. She had recovered some of her composure. "Bring those beautiful children. We will have a romp with the bear. And then, then I will help you solve your riddle." She laughed a merry laugh.

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