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The Camp Fire Girls Solve a Mystery; Or, The Christmas Adventure at Carver House By Hildegard G. Frey Characters: 12212

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

"Nyoda, isn't there a secret passage in this house somewhere?" asked Sahwah eagerly, pausing with the nutcracker held open in her hand. "There generally was one in these old houses, you know."

Christmas dinner was just drawing to a close in the big, holly hung dining room at Carver House, and the merry group of young folks who composed Nyoda's Christmas house party, too languid after their strenuous attack upon the turkey and plum pudding to rise from their chairs, lingered around the table to hear Nyoda tell stories of Carver House, while the ruddy glow from the big log in the fireplace, dispelled the gloom of the failing winter afternoon.

It was a jolly party that gathered around the historical old mahogany dining table, which had witnessed so many other festivities in the one hundred and fifty years of its existence. At the head sat Sherry, Nyoda's soldier husband, still pale and thin from his long illness; and with a long jagged scar showing through the closely cropped hair on one side of his head. He had never returned to duty after the wreck in which he had so nearly lost his life. While he was still in the military hospital to which he had been removed from the little emergency hospital at St. Margaret's where the sharp battle for life had been fought and won, there came that day when the last shot was fired, and when he was ready to leave the hospital he came home to Carver House to stay.

Opposite him, at the foot of the table, sat Nyoda, girlish and enthusiastic as ever, with only an occasional sober light in her twinkling eyes to tell of the trying year she had passed through. Along both sides of the table between them were ranged five of the Winnebagos-Katherine, Sahwah, Migwan, Hinpoha and Gladys, and in among them, "like weeds among the posies," as the captain laughingly put it, were Slim and the captain, Slim filled to the bursting point as usual, and looking more than ever like an overgrown cherub. Across from these two sat a third youth, so slender and fine featured as to seem almost frail in comparison with Slim's overflowing stoutness. This was Justice Dalrymple, Katherine's "Perfesser," now engaged in his experimental work at Washington, whence Nyoda had invited him up for her Christmas house party as a surprise for Katherine.

Agony and Oh-Pshaw, whom Nyoda had also invited to come over to the house party, were spending the holidays with an aunt in New York and could not come, much to Sahwah's disappointment, who had not seen them since the summer before. Veronica was ill at her uncle's home and also could not be with them.

Enthroned beside Katherine in a great carved armchair that had come over from England with the first Carvers, sat Sylvia Deane, looking very much like a story book princess. With their customary open-heartedness, the Winnebagos had already made her feel as though she were an old friend of theirs. The romantic way in which Katherine had found her appealed to their imaginations and added to their interest in her. Beside that, there was a fascinating something about her dark eyes and light hair that kept drawing their eyes to her face as though it were a magnet. There was so much animation in her voice when she talked that the most commonplace thing she said seemed extremely diverting. Her eyes had a way of suddenly lighting up as though a lamp had been kindled inside of her, and when she talked about other people her voice would take on a perfect mimicry of their intonations and expressions.

She showed not the slightest embarrassment at being thus transplanted into a strange household, so much more splendid than anything she was accustomed to. She was entirely at her ease in the great house, and acted as though she had been used to luxurious surroundings all her life. Katherine was secretly surprised to find her so completely unabashed. She herself was still prone to make ridiculous blunders in the presence of strangers, and was still ill at ease when anyone looked critically at her.

They were all surprised to learn that Sylvia was eighteen years old, instead of fourteen as they had all thought when they first saw her. Her slender, childlike form, and her short, curly hair made her look much younger than she really was.

The animated talk that had accompanied the first part of the dinner gradually died away, as a sense of repleteness and languor succeeded to eager appetites, and conversation had begun to lag, when Sahwah stirred it into life again by asking if there was not a secret passage in Carver House. A ripple of interest went around the table, and all the girls and boys began to sit up and take notice.

"Haven't you had enough adventures yet to satisfy you?" asked Sherry quizzically. "Aren't you content with fishing a lieutenant out of the Devil's Punch Bowl the last time you were here, that you must begin again looking for excitement? By the way, where is this young Allison?"

"Still across," replied Sahwah. "His last letter said he would be there for six months yet. He's going on into Germany. He isn't a lieutenant any more. He's a captain."

"Captain Allison?" asked Justice. "Captain Robert Allison? You don't mean to say that you know Bob Allison?"

"Does she know Captain Allison!" echoed Hinpoha. "Who sent her that spiked helmet, and that piece of marble from Rheims Cathedral and that French flag with the bullet holes in it, to say nothing of that package of French chocolates? But, of course, you didn't know," she added, remembering that Justice had only met Sahwah the day before.

"Do you know Captain Allison?" asked Sahwah.

"Best friend I had in college," replied Justice. "He was dreaming of flying machines then. Bob Allison, the fellow you pulled out of the water! It seems that all my friends, as well as my family, are going to get mixed up with you girls. It seems like fate."

"Wherever the Winnebagos come there's sure to be something doing," said the captain. "I wonder what the next thing will be. What's this about secret passages now?"

"With so much paneling," continued Sahwah, "it seems as if ther

e must be a hollow panel somewhere that would slide back and reveal a passage behind it. Isn't there one, Nyoda?"

"There may be one, for all I know," replied Nyoda, "but I have never found it if there is. I have never looked for any such thing. It takes all my time," she proclaimed with a comic-tragic air, "to keep all the open passages in this place clean, without looking for any more behind panels."

"Do you care if we try to find one?" asked Sahwah eagerly. "I just feel it in my bones that there is one somewhere."

"Search all you like," replied Nyoda, with an amused laugh.

"O goody!" exclaimed Sahwah. "Let's begin right away."

She rose from the table and the rest followed, much taken up with this new quest, and the search began immediately. Upstairs and downstairs they tapped, peered, pried and investigated, but without success. One by one they abandoned the quest and drifted into the library where Nyoda and Sherry and Sylvia sat in a close group before the fire; Sherry smoking, Nyoda reading aloud, and Sylvia watching the images in the fire. Sahwah and the captain were the last to give up, but finally they, too, drifted in and joined the ranks of the unsuccessful hunters.

Nyoda paused in her reading and looked up with a smile as Sahwah and the captain came in.

"What have you to report, my darling scouts?" she asked gravely.

"Nothing," replied the captain, rather sheepishly.

Sahwah rubbed her fingers tenderly. "There are miles of oak paneling in this house," she remarked wearily, "and I've rapped on every inch of it with my knuckles, until they're just pulp, but not one of those panels sounded hollow."

"Poor child!" said Nyoda sympathetically.

"You should have done the way the captain did," said Slim. "He used his head to knock with instead of his knuckles; it's harder."

A scuffle seemed imminent, and was only averted by Sahwah's next remark. "Nyoda," she asked, "where does that door at the head of the stairs lead to, the one that is locked? It was locked last summer when we were here, too."

"That," replied Nyoda, "is the room Uncle Jasper used as his study. I've been using it as a sort of store room for furniture. There were a number of pieces in the house that didn't quite fit in with the rest of the furniture and I set them in there until I could make up my mind what to do with them. I didn't want to dispose of them without consulting Sherry, and as he has been away from home ever since we have lived here until just now, we have never had time to go over the stuff together. As the room looks cluttered with those odd pieces in there I have kept it locked."

"Your uncle's study!" exclaimed Sahwah. "Oh, I wonder if there wouldn't be a concealed door in there! It seems such a likely place. Would you care very much if we went and looked there?"

Nyoda laughed at Sahwah's eagerness in her quest. "You're a true Winnebago," she said fondly. "Never leave a stone unturned when you're looking for anything. I might as well say yes now as later, because I know you will never rest until you have investigated that room. You're worse than Bluebeard's wife. I have no objections to your going in if you'll excuse the disorderly look of the place and the dust that has undoubtedly collected by this time. I'll get you the key."

With the prospect of a fresh field for investigation the others revived their interest in the search and followed Nyoda eagerly as she led the way upstairs and unlocked the closed door at the head. A faint, musty odor greeted their nostrils, the close atmosphere of a room which has been shut up, although the moonlight flooding the place through the long windows gave it an almost airy appearance. Nyoda found the electric light button and presently the room was brilliantly lighted from the chandelier. The Winnebagos trooped in and looked curiously about them at the queer old desks and tables and cabinets that stood about. Sahwah's attention was immediately drawn to the window at the far end of the room. She knew it was a window because it was framed in a mahogany casement like the other windows in the house, but instead of a pane of glass there was a dark, opaque space inside the casement. Sahwah ran over to it at once, and a little exclamation of astonishment escaped her as she examined it. On the inside of the glass-if there was a pane of glass there-was a heavy black iron shutter fastened to the casement with great screws.

"What did you put up this shutter for, Nyoda?" asked Sahwah wonderingly.

The others all came crowding over then to exclaim over the iron shutter.

"I didn't put it up," replied Nyoda. "It was there when I came here."

"But what's it for?" persisted Sahwah. "Is the window behind it broken?"

"No, it doesn't seem to be," replied Nyoda. "I looked at it from the outside."

"Then what can it be for?" repeated Sahwah.

"I don't know, I can't imagine," replied Nyoda. A note of wonder was creeping into her voice. "To tell the truth," she said, "I never thought anything about it. I noticed that there was an iron shutter over that window when we first came here, but I was too much taken up with Sherry's going away then even to wonder about it. The room has been closed up ever since and I had forgotten all about it. It does seem a queer thing, now that you call my attention to it. But Uncle Jasper did so many eccentric things, I'm not surprised at anything he might have done. We'll take the shutter off in the morning and see if we can discover any reason for having it there.

"Now, aren't you going to hunt for the secret passage after I've opened the door for you?" she said quizzically. "There's still an hour or so before bedtime; long enough for all of you to complete the destruction of your knuckles."

Again the house resounded with the tapping of knuckles against hardwood paneling, until it sounded as though an army of giant woodpeckers were at work, but the eager searchers continued to bruise their long suffering knuckles in vain. The paneling in Uncle Jasper's study was as solid as the Great Wall of China.

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