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   Chapter 5 THE FIRST LINK

The Camp Fire Girls Solve a Mystery; Or, The Christmas Adventure at Carver House By Hildegard G. Frey Characters: 10692

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"What did old Hercules mean?" asked Sahwah in astonishment. "He said, 'Dey's some tings folks don't want ter look at, and dey's tings dey dassent look at!'"

"I can't imagine," said Nyoda, thoroughly mystified. "But there's one thing sure, and that is, Uncle Jasper had some very potent reason for putting that shutter over that window, and I more than half believe Hercules knows what it was. Hercules' explanations always become very fluent when he is not telling the truth. If he really hadn't known anything about it he probably would have said so simply, in about three words, and without any hesitation. The elaborate details he went into to convince me that he knew nothing about it sounds suspicious to me.

"But I don't believe the exclamation he made when he went out was intended to deceive me. I think it was the involuntary utterance of what was in his thoughts. He seemed to be thinking aloud, and was quite unconscious of our presence.

"But what a queer thing to say-'Dey's tings people dassent look at!' I wonder what it was that Uncle Jasper dared not look at? Was it something he saw through this window? What is there to be seen out of this window, anyway?" She moved over in front of the window with the others crowding after her to see, too.

Uncle Jasper's study was at the back of the house and the windows looked out upon the wide open meadow which stretched behind Carver Hill, between the town and the woods. The front of Carver House looked out over the town. Nearly half a mile to the east of Carver Hill another hill rose sharply from the town's edge. Upon its top stood another old-fashioned dwelling. This hill, crowned with its red brick mansion, was framed in the arch of the gateway in the window like an artist's picture, with nothing between to obstruct the view. A beautiful picture it was, certainly, and one which could not possibly have any connection with Hercules' muttered words.

"Who lives in that house?" asked Sahwah.

"I don't know," said Nyoda. "It's way up on the Main Street Hill. I'm not acquainted with the people in that end of town."

Sherry got out his binoculars and took a look through the window. "Nothing but an old house on a hill," he reported, and handed the binoculars to Sylvia, that she might take a look through them.

"Why," said Sylvia after peering intently through the glasses for a minute, "it's the house Aunt Aggie and I live in! What did that old house have to do with your Uncle Jasper?" she asked wondering. "It's been empty for many, many years."

"Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful if there was a romance in your Uncle Jasper's life?" exclaimed Hinpoha eagerly. "A blighted romance. He never married, did he?"

"No, he never married," replied Nyoda.

"Then I'm sure it's a blighted romance!" said Hinpoha enthusiastically. "I just know that some deep tragedy darkened the sun of his life and left him shrouded in gloom forever after!"

Even Nyoda smiled at Hinpoha's sentimental language, and the rest could not help laughing out loud.

"You sound like Lady Imogen, in 'The Lost Heiress,'" said Katherine derisively.

"Well, I don't care, you'll have to admit that there are some very romantic possibilities, anyway," said Hinpoha stoutly.

"Yes, and some very prosaic ones, too," retorted Katherine. "Uncle Jasper probably never married because he was a born bachelor, and preferred to live alone."

"O Katherine, why are you always taking the joy out of life?" wailed Hinpoha. "It's lots more fun to think romantic things about people than dull, stupid, everyday things."

"I think so too," said Sahwah, unexpectedly coming to the defense of Hinpoha. "I've been thinking a lot about old Mr. Carver, living alone here all those years, and I've wondered if there wasn't some reason for it. Certainly something happened that made him put that shutter up, that's clear."

"Well, whatever motive the old man may have had for putting it up, we'll probably never find it out," said Sherry, gathering up the screws and screwdriver, "inasmuch as he's dead and it's no use asking Hercules anything; so we might as well stop puzzling over it. I'll hunt up something to fill in those screw holes with, Elizabeth, and polish them over." Sherry, in his matter-of-fact way, had already dismissed the matter from his mind as not worth bothering over.

Not so Nyoda and the Winnebagos. The merest hint of a possible mystery connected with the shutter set them on fire with curiosity and desire to penetrate into its depths.

"I wonder," said Nyoda musingly, eyeing the massive desk before her with a speculative glance, "if Uncle Jasper left any record of the repairs and improvements which he made to the house while he was the owner. The item of the shutter might be mentioned, with the reason for putting it up."

"It might," agreed the Winnebagos.

Nyoda looked around at the litter of odd pieces of furniture crowding the room. "Sherry," she said briskly, "make up your mind this minute whether you want any of that old stuff, because I'm going to clear it out of here and sell it."

"A lot of good it would do me to make up my mind to want any of it, if you've made up your mind to sell it," said Sherry in a comically plaintive tone.

"All right," responded Nyoda tranquilly, "I knew you didn't want any of it. Boys, will you help

Sherry carry out those two tables and that high desk and the chiffonier-all the oak furniture. I'm not keeping anything but the mahogany. Set it out in the hall; I'll have the furniture man come and get it to-morrow.

"There, now the room looks as it did when Uncle Jasper inhabited it," she remarked when the extra pieces had been cleared out.

"It certainly was a pleasant room; I don't see how Uncle Jasper could have maintained such a gloomy disposition as he did, working all day in a room like this. The very sight of that open field out there makes me want to run and shout-and that window! Oh, who could look at it all day long and be crusty and sour?"

"But he had the shutter over the window," Sahwah reminded her.

"Yes, he did, the poor man!" said Nyoda in a tone of pity. She whisked about the room, straightening out rugs and wiping the dust from the furniture, and soon announced that she was ready to begin investigations. She looked carefully through the desk first, through old account books and files of papers and bills, but came upon nothing that touched upon repairs made to the house. There was a long bookcase running the entire length of one wall, and she tackled this next, while the Winnebagos sat around expectantly and Sylvia looked on from her chair, which she could move herself from place to place, to her infinite delight.

The boys had gone downstairs with Sherry to hear reminiscences from "across." All three boys worshipped Sherry like a god. To have been "across," to have seen actual fighting, to have been cited for bravery, and finally to have been shipwrecked, were experiences for which the younger boys would have given their ears, and they treated Sherry with a deferential respect that actually embarrassed him at times.

Nyoda opened the bookcase and began taking out the books that crowded the shelves, opening them one by one and examining their contents. Most of them were works on history, some of them Uncle Jasper's own; great solid looking volumes with fine print and dingy leather bindings. Ancient history, nearly all of them, and nowhere among them anything so modern as to concern Carver House.

"What a collection of dry-as-dust works to have for your most intimate reading matter!" exclaimed Nyoda, making a wry face at the books. "Not a single book of verse, not a single romance or book of fiction, not the ghost of a love story! There are plenty of them downstairs in the library, that belonged to Uncle Jasper's father and mother, who must have had quite a lively taste in reading, judging from the books down there; but Hercules told me that Uncle Jasper hadn't opened the cases down there for twenty-five years. He never read anything but this ancient stuff up here.

"He did write one book that had some life in it, though," she continued musingly. "That was a story of the life of Elizabeth Carver, his great grandmother, the one whose portrait hangs downstairs over the harp in the drawing-room. He's got all her various love affairs in it, and it's anything but dry. I sat up a whole night reading it the time I came across it in the library down below. But from the date of its publishing, Uncle Jasper must have been a very young man when he wrote it, probably before the ancient history spider bit him."

"And before the shutter went up," added Sahwah.

"Well," said Nyoda, after she had peeped into nearly every book in the bookcase, "there doesn't seem to be anything here more modern than the Fall of Rome, and that's still several seasons behind the affairs of Carver House. Hello, what's this?" she suddenly exclaimed, holding up a book she had just picked up, one that had fallen down behind the others on the shelf.

It was a fat, ledger-like volume heavily bound in calfskin. There was no title printed on the back of it and Nyoda opened the cover. Two truly terrifying figures greeted her eyes, drawn in India ink on the yellowed page; figures of two pirates with fiercely bristling mustachios, and brandishing scimitars half as large as themselves. Nyoda quite jumped, their attitude was so menacing. Under one was printed in red ink, "Tad the Terror," and under the other "Jasper the Feend." Underneath the two figures was printed in sprawling capitals:

DIERY OF JASPER M. CARVER, ESQWIRE

Nyoda gave a little shriek of laughter and held it up for the Winnebagos to see. "It must be Uncle Jasper's Diary when he was a boy," she said. "His youthful idea of a man is a rather bloodthirsty one, according to the portrait, I must say. I suppose 'Jasper the Feend' is supposed to be Uncle Jasper. His mustachios bristle more fiercely than the other's, and his scimitar is longer, so without doubt he was the artist."

Her eyes ran down the pages following, glancing at the lines of writing, which, having apparently been done in India ink, were still black, although the page on which they were written was yellow with age. As she read, her eyes began to sparkle with interest and enjoyment.

"O girls," she exclaimed, "this is the best thing I've read in ages. Sherry and the boys must see it. I have to go and get lunch started now, but all of you come together after lunch and I'll read it out loud to you."

"We'll all help," said Migwan, "and then we'll get through faster," and the Winnebagos hurried downstairs in Nyoda's wake.

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