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The Phantom Violin / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 12600

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

"Yoo Hoo! What's up?" came from below.

"It's Vincent Stearns!" Greta sprang to her feet.

She cast one wistful glance toward Percy O'Hara. He, too, was on the move.

"The spell is broken," she told herself with a sigh. "His story will not be told, at least, not now. Perhaps never."

"Nothing of importance has happened," Greta said aloud to Vincent Stearns as he came toiling up the slope. "At least not to us. It was just an accident. Florence fell over a flare and kicked it into the fire. We-"

"A fortunate accident I should say!" Percy O'Hara's tone was full of meaning. "Far as we can tell, there's something going on down there by that little lake that needs looking into. And now we have reinforcements."

"Sounds like an adventure." The young newspaper photographer's face took on a look of unwonted animation. "I'll turn reporter and get a scoop for my paper."

"When we have finished you may not be in a mood for writing." Percy O'Hara did not smile as he said this.

In as few words as possible he told the little they knew of the mysterious ones who came and went in a hydroplane and who uttered unearthly screams in the night. "We might as well get right down there and have the thing over with at once," he added at the end. "I don't like interfering any more than I like being interfered with. It has been more than a year since I went into voluntary exile up here." He paused to look away at the forest and distant waters all aglimmer with the light of the moon.

"Voluntary exile," Greta thought, "I wonder why? Can it have been anything very terrible that drove him into seclusion? He does not appear to fear being taken back."

"I've been thankful for the solitude," Percy went on. "But there are times when one has no right to be left alone. Those people down there appear to have forfeited that right.

"I have a light rifle," he added. "Thought I might use it sometimes to kill rabbits if necessity demanded it. I've never used it."

"I've a gun of a sort," Vincent added his bit. "I have a notion that persuasion is better than firearms, though. What say we get going? Young ladies-"

"We're coming along," Florence put in. "I'm strong as a man. I'll do my part if need be, and Greta can be the nurse, in-in case-" She did not finish.

"But you're lame!" Percy protested.

"Only a little. Some raven came along with bandages and liniment." She smiled knowingly. "It's just about got me fixed up."

They were away. It was strange, this trooping away down the ridge, single file, in the night.

"W-weird!" Greta whispered to her companion. "What do you think it is?"

"Pr-probably nothing." Florence was all aquiver.

Working their way silently down the hillside, they at last arrived on the lower plateau. Here they came upon a well worn moose trail that, they thought, must lead to the lake.

They were not mistaken. Before they reached the shore they caught the sound of splashing.

"Moose." Greta's lips formed the word she did not speak.

Looking across the lake, they caught a dull glow of light.

"That-that's the place." She could not prevent her teeth from chattering.

"Have to follow round the lake." Percy O'Hara marched on as once more they took up the trail leading to the mysterious unknown.

For a full half hour they moved silently through the evergreen forest that skirted the lake. The low plump-plump of feet on mossy trail, the swish of branches, was all that broke the silence, the deep silence of night.

At last, quite suddenly, they came to a narrow cleared space, and there at its back was the house of mystery.

For a moment they stood there, the four of them, Greta, Florence, Percy O'Hara, and Vincent Stearns, before a low structure that, standing dark and threatening among the black spruce trees and shadows of night, seemed to dare them to move forward. With her own eyes Greta had seen a helpless one carried from a hydroplane to this place. Three times with her own ears she had heard an unearthly scream rise from this spot. And now, now as the hour hand approached midnight they stood there listening, breathing hard, waiting. Waiting for what?

Not a sound save the low splash of a moose feeding from the bottom of the lake reached their ears. From the single window, small and low, a dull light gleamed. The place seemed asleep.

And yet, the instant Vincent tapped lightly on the door a hand was on the latch. "Now-" Greta took a step forward. "Now-"

The door was thrown open. A man, seeming very tall and thin in that dull light, stood before them. His voice when he spoke was low, melodious, friendly, and quite disarming. There was, too, a note of sadness.

"Come in! Have you lost your way? May I help you?"

Greta at this moment recalled those startling screams, and shuddered.

There was about the place an air of comfort. A gasp of surprise escaped Greta's lips. "Chairs, couches, books, fireplace. Might be the living-room of any home. And up here!"

"We-we've made a mistake?" she whispered to Florence.

"Wait!" was the answer.

The silence grew painful. "No," Percy O'Hara said at last, as if there had been no silence. "We didn't lose our way. In fact I could not lose myself up here if I tried. I've lived on this ridge for more than a year. We came-"

"Wait!" The tall man, whose hair was graying about the temples, held up a hand. "You need not go on. I understand perfectly. I-I'm sorry you came. But since you are here, you have a right to be told certain things. Won't you be seated?"

He drew chairs to the fire, chairs with deep, soft cushions. As she sank into one of these Greta thought with a shudder how difficult it would be to rise from such a chair in a hurry, should necessity demand it.

"I-" their host began, "I am considered a rich man. In fact a company I control owns more than half this island. This shelter rests on my land. You have been camping, all of you, on my land." He paused as if to permit the words to sink in.

"It is supposed," he went on at last, "that rich men are the privileged ones of earth. Truth is they have few privileges. Here I am at the heart of an all but deserted island, living on my own land. I own every foot of land within ten miles of this spot! And yet, when I choose, I cannot be alone!


"I wish we hadn't come!" Greta whispered.

"Wait!" Florence replied once more.

At this juncture a very short chubby man with an air of briskness about him entered the room.

"Ah!" He rubbed his small hands together. "We have company, Percy O'Hara, Vincent Stearns, Greta Bronson and Florence Huyler."

Greta started. How could this little man know their names? She was to wonder still more.

"You have no notion, Mr. Van Zandt," the little man said, turning to his tall companion, "how famous our company is! A successful newspaper photographer, a very famous violinist, not to speak of the lady violinist and her friend."

He turned to the astonished group. "Your arrival has saved me the bother of hunting you up-providing now I may count upon your services."

Never had the two girls found themselves in so strange a position. They had come here with the others to assist-assist in what?

Vincent half rose, then dropped back to his place. Percy O'Hara gripped the arms of his chair. Only Florence appeared at ease, and it was she who at last spoke. "I am sure," she replied evenly, "that we shall be glad to render any service possible to Doctor Prince."

Once again Greta stared, this time at Florence. How could Florence know this man?

"Ah!" the little man replied, not denying his identity, "I had hoped so. It is, however, from your musical friends that I expect to secure aid.

"Mr. Van Zandt," he addressed the other respectfully, "have I your permission to inform them?"

A pained expression passed over the man's face as he nodded assent.

Next day, just as the shadows were beginning to lengthen on the hillside, Greta found herself joined in an undertaking the like of which she had never before known. Her part seemed as simple as the song of a bird who on a branch far above her head warbled in his own sweet way; yet she threw into it every atom of her being.

Seated on a moss-covered rock a stone's throw from the mysterious lodge, she tucked her violin under her chin and played as she had never done before. The tunes that crept out from that evergreen forest, like songs from the heart, were old as life itself, yet known and loved by every generation. She played one of those sweet, melodious songs of twilight, written as only an inspired artist can compose, then rested with bow poised, waiting. From away on the hill across the narrow lake the notes came back to her.

Not an echo, but the crystal clear notes of a second violin, played as only one musician could play them, Percy O'Hara.

Once again she played the slow, dreamy refrain. And, as before, it came drifting back to her.

Inside the lodge Florence, listening, caught the rise and fall of that song and thought it must come from another world.

But strange events were passing. Before her in a great cushioned chair sat a boy of fourteen. His attractive face was as white as death.

"Think!" The little doctor, looking into the boy's face, spoke softly. "Think, think back, back, back. What frightens you? Why do you cry out? Think back."

He leaned forward. Through the open window floated the entrancing music. Florence, understanding the meaning and the terrible import of it all, scarcely breathed, yet her lips moved in prayer.

"Think!" the doctor repeated. "Think back. Now you are twelve, skating, playing football, wandering through the forest. Do you see anything that terrifies you?"

No answer.

"Now you are ten." The doctor's words came in a whisper. "You are on roller skates. You are at home by the fire. You speed in an automobile. Are you terribly afraid?"

Still no answer. Still the music, now faint, now strong, came floating through the open window.

"Now you are six." The doctor's eyes shone. "You are by the fireside. You are in your own small room. It is night. Does-"

Of a sudden there came a scream so piercing that Florence leaped to her feet. It was the boy. His face was distorted by an agony of fear.

"What? What is it?" The doctor was bending over the boy. "What frightens you?"

"The dog!" the boy cried. "The big shaggy dog! Don't let him in! He will bite me!"

"No! No! You are mistaken. That is a kind dog. He will not bite you. He has never harmed any one. You must learn to love the good old shaggy fellow."

The lines of distortion began to disappear from the boy's face. There was a question and a gleam of hope in his eyes.

Through the window, borne on the breeze, there floated the notes of a song,

"Silent night, silent night,

Lovely and bright-"

"He is kind," the boy murmured. "He will not bite." The look on his face was growing peaceful. He leaned back in his chair and was soon lost in quiet slumber.

"You see," the doctor murmured low as they tiptoed from the room, "God, with our help, is working a cure. Tomorrow we will repeat this. By that time the demon of fear will have left him."

"And it was his scream we heard," Florence said softly.

"It was his scream," the father of the boy, the rich Mr. Van Zandt, replied. "It is a form of hysteria brought on by fright. He has suffered long, and we have suffered with him. We hoped this secluded spot might help. It did no good. When the illusion came he was seized with terror. He screamed. But now, thanks to this good doctor and the mystery of music, we may hope for a complete cure."

"These cases," the doctor said, assuming a professional air, "are strange, but not uncommon. At some time in the patient's past he has been terribly frightened. His outer self may have forgotten; his deep, inner self has not. When conditions arise that suggest this fright, it reoccurs.

"If we can still his mind, then cause him to think back, back, back to that time of great fright, we may be able to reassure his inner self, and the hysteria vanishes.

"We hope to banish this terrifying dog, who in reality could not have been vicious at all, then our work will be done."

"That," said Greta some time later as she sat in the boat near to the lodge, "is one of the strangest things I have ever known."

"Our minds are strange," said Florence as she rowed slowly toward the shore nearest their home on the ridge. "But that," she murmured after a time, "that which we witnessed today is no less than musical enchantment."

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