MoboReader > Literature > The Camp Fire Girls Solve a Mystery; Or, The Christmas Adventure at Carver House


The Camp Fire Girls Solve a Mystery; Or, The Christmas Adventure at Carver House By Hildegard G. Frey Characters: 14611

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The Winnebagos woke bright and early the next morning, eager to begin the search for the secret passage again, but whatever plans they had formed were driven entirely out of their minds by the appearance of the footprints on the stairs. Nyoda discovered them first when she raised the curtains on the stair landing on her way down to bring in the morning paper.

The day before, in anticipation of the coming of the men from the second hand store to remove the discarded furniture from Uncle Jasper's study, she had improvised a runner to cover the front stairs to keep them from being scratched. The stretch from the upstairs to the landing she had covered with a strip of rag carpet, and from the landing down she had used a length of white canvas. The landing itself was still bare, as she had not yet found the old rug she intended laying there.

Now, as she came downstairs, she noticed, on the strip of white canvas that covered the bottom half of the stairs, three dark red footprints. On the white background they stood out with startling distinctness. They began on the third step from the top and appeared on every other step from then on to the bottom. All three were the prints of a right foot. No heel marks were visible, only the upper half of the foot. From the direction which they pointed they were made by a person descending the stairs, and from their size that person was a man.

Nyoda's first thought that Sherry had cut his foot and had gone downstairs, leaving a bloody trail on her stair runner, and full of concern she immediately sought him. But her search revealed him down in the basement, coaxing up the furnace, and there was nothing the matter with his feet. The Captain was with him and he likewise disclaimed a cut foot. The two of them had come down the back stairs. Nyoda hurried back upstairs. Justice and Slim were in the upper hall when she came up, just in the act of coming down.

"Good morning!" they both called out in cheery greeting.

"Which one of you has the cut foot?" she asked.

"Cut foot? Not I," said Justice.

"Nor I," said Slim. "Did somebody cut his foot?"

"Look," said Nyoda, pointing to the marks on the lower steps.

"It must have been your husband, or the Captain," said Justice. "It wasn't either of us."

"It wasn't either of them," replied Nyoda. "I asked them. They're down in the basement fussing with the furnace."

"It's the print of a foot with a shoe on," said Justice, examining the marks.

"Somebody must have gotten into the house last night!" exclaimed Nyoda in a startled tone. "Sherry," she called, "come up here!"

Sherry came up from the basement on the run, for he recognized something out of the ordinary in his wife's tone, and the Captain came hard on his heels. The girls came running down from above to see what the commotion was about, and the whole household stood staring at the mysterious footprints in startled bewilderment.

"Burglars!" cried Hinpoha with a little shriek.

"Oh, my silverware!" exclaimed Nyoda in a stricken tone, and raced into the dining room. She pulled open the sideboard drawers with trembling hands, expecting to find them ransacked, but nothing was amiss. Every piece was still in its place. Neither had the sterling silver candlesticks on top of the sideboard been disturbed. A thorough search through the house revealed nothing missing. Various gold bracelets and watches lay in plain sight on dressers, and Hinpoha's gold mesh bag hung on the back of a chair beside her bed. Sherry reported no money gone.

Nothing stolen! Who had entered the house then, if not a burglar? The thing had resolved itself into a mystery, and everyone looked at his neighbor with puzzled eyes. Breakfast was completely forgotten.

"What gets me," said Sherry, "is where those footprints started from. By the way they point, the man was going downstairs, but they begin in the middle of the stairway. Clearly he didn't start at the top. Do you suppose he came in through the landing window?"

He examined the triple window on the landing closely, but soon looked around with a puzzled expression on his face.

"The windows are all fastened from the inside," he reported, "and there's no sign of their having been tampered with. It doesn't look as though anyone could have come in this way." He examined all the rest of the windows on the first floor, and found them all latched and their latches undisturbed. The doors, too, were locked from the inside. The cellar windows had a heavy screening over them on the outside which could not be removed without being destroyed, and this screening was everywhere intact.

"He must have come in through one of the upstairs windows after all," said Nyoda. "There were about a dozen open in the various bedrooms. The window in the room Hinpoha and Gladys sleep in is directly over the front porch."

Hinpoha and Gladys gave a simultaneous shriek at the thought of the mysterious intruder coming through their room while they lay sleeping.

"But if he came down from upstairs, why aren't the footprints all the way down, instead of beginning in the middle?" insisted Katherine. "He couldn't have come down from upstairs; he must have come in through this window on the landing," she said decidedly, going up to the window and looking it over sharply for any sign of having been opened, and, by shaking the wooden framework of the little square panes vigorously, as if she would shake the truth out of it by force.

The window, however, still yielded no sign of having been opened, and the sill outside bore no marks of an instrument. The mystery grew deeper. How could those footprints have started under the landing window if the feet that made them did not enter by that window?

"Maybe he did come from upstairs after all," said Sahwah, whose lively brain had been working hard on the puzzle, "but his foot didn't begin to bleed until he was half way down. Maybe he hurt it on the landing."

"Sat down to trim his toe-nails and cut his toe off, probably," suggested Justice, and the girls giggled hysterically.

Striking an attitude in imitation of a story book detective, Justice began to address the group. "Gentlemen of the jury," he began, "we have here a mystery which has baffled the brightest minds in the country, but unraveling it has been the merest child's play to a great detective like myself. Here are the facts in the case. A man goes down a stairway. The first half of his descent is shrouded in oblivion; half way down he begins to leave bloody footprints. There is only one answer, gentlemen; the one which occurred to me immediately. It is this: Upon reaching the landing the mysterious descender suddenly remembers that it is the day on which he annually trims his toe-nails. Being a very methodical man, as I can detect by the way his feet point when he goes downstairs, he sits down and does it then and there. But the knife slips and he cuts off his toe, after which he makes bloody footprints on the rest of the stairs."

"Justice Dalrymple, you awful boy!" exclaimed Katherine, and then she laughed with the rest at his absurd explanation of the mystery.

"Well, can you think up any argument that disproves my theory?" he retorted calmly.

"I can," replied the Captain. "If your theory

was correct we'd have found the toe lying on the stairs."

The girls shrieked and covered their ears with their hands. The Captain chuckled wickedly, but said no more.

"I can think up another argument," said Sahwah. "Your man went barefoot after he cut his toe off, but this one had his shoe on."

"So he did!" admitted Justice. "Now you've 'done upsot my whole theory!'"

"But how could his foot bleed through his shoe?" asked Katherine skeptically.

"The sole must have been cut through," said Justice. "He probably wore a rubber-soled shoe, like a sneaker, and stepped on some broken glass that went right through the sole into his foot. I did the same thing myself once. It bled through, all right."

"But what did he step on?" asked Nyoda, puzzled. "There isn't any sign of broken glass around."

"I give it up," said Sherry, who could make nothing from the facts before him and had no imagination to help him supply missing details. "The man undoubtedly got in through the upstairs window and out the same way. He was a burglar, only he got scared away before he could steal anything. Some noise in the house, probably."

"He must have heard Slim snoring, and thought it was a bombing plane coming after him," said Justice, and then dodged nimbly as Slim made a pass at his head with a menacing hand.

"Whatever he did to his foot fixed him," said Sherry. "He called it a day when that happened and went off without making a haul. Probably had a pal outside in a machine."

"Nyoda," said Sahwah, struck with a sudden thought, "do you think it could have been Hercules? He might have come in for something in the night."

"Of course!" exclaimed Nyoda. "Why didn't I think of that before? Hercules has a key to the back door. How idiotic of me not to have guessed before that it was Hercules. Here we stand looking at these footprints like Robinson Crusoe looking at Friday's, and talking about burglars, and wracking our brains wondering where he came in, and it must have been Hercules all the while. He cut his foot and came in to get something for it, or he came in to get something more for his cold and cut his foot after he got in. Poor old Hercules! He wouldn't even wake us up to get help. I'll go right out and find out what happened to him."

She started for the back door, but before she had reached the kitchen there was a stamping of feet on the back doorstep, a tapping on the door, and then Hercules opened it himself and came in, as was his custom.

"Mawnin', Mis' 'Lizbeth," he quavered genially, smiling a broad, toothless smile at the sight of her. "Mighty nippy dis mawnin'." He shivered and stamped his feet on the floor, edging over toward the stove.

Nyoda looked down at his feet hastily and instantly realized that it was not he who had left the print on the stairs. The loose, flapping felt slippers which Hercules invariably wore, bursting out on all sides, would have left a mark twice the size of the mysterious footprints. Nobody knew just how big Hercules' feet were. He owned to wearing a size twelve, at which Sherry openly scoffed.

"I'll bet a size fifteen could hurt him," he declared.

The rest also saw at a glance that there was no possibility of Hercules having made the footprints.

Hercules, unconscious of the charged atmosphere of the house, looked around for the breakfast which should be set out for him on the end of the kitchen table at this hour.

"You-all overslep'?" he inquired good-temperedly of Nyoda.

"No, we didn't," replied Nyoda. "We've had a little excitement this morning and forgot all about breakfast. Somebody got into the house last night."

"Burglars?" asked Hercules anxiously. "Did anything get stole?"

"No," replied Nyoda, "nothing was stolen, but the burglar left some bloody footprints on the stair runner. We thought at first it might have been you, coming to get something for your cold, but I see now that it is impossible for you to have left the footprints. You didn't come into the house last night, did you?" she finished.

"No'm," answered Hercules with simple directness. "I done slep' like a top, Miss' 'Lizbeth. Took dat hot drink you-all gave me to take, an' never woke up till de sun starts shinin' dis mawnin'. Feelin' better now. Cold gittin' well. Feelin' mighty hungry." His eye traveled speculatively toward the stove.

There was absolutely no doubt about his telling the truth. When Hercules was trying to conceal something his language was much more eloquent and flowery.

"Your breakfast will be ready before long," said Nyoda kindly. Then, as Hercules hobbled toward the stove she asked solicitously, "Have you a sore foot, Hercules?"

"No'm," replied Hercules, "but the mizry in my knees is powerful bad dis mawnin', Mis' 'Lizbeth. Seems like my old jints is gittin' plumb rusted." He launched into a detailed description of the various pains caused by his "mizry," until Nyoda sought refuge in the front part of the house. She had heard the tale many times before.

Pretty soon Hercules hobbled in and took a look at the footprints on the stairs.

"Powerful sing'ler," he said, scratching his head in a puzzled way.

Sherry went on to explain all the details for the old man's benefit. "We thought at first he must have come in through the window on the stair landing, but that hadn't been touched, so we decided he must have come in through one of the upstairs windows. It seems queer, though, that the footprints should have begun under the stair landing, doesn't it?"

"What's the matter, Hercules, are you sick?" asked Nyoda, looking at the old man in alarm. For Hercules' eyes were rolling wildly in his head and his legs threatened to collapse under him. He sat heavily down on a chair and began to rock to and fro, muttering to himself in a terrified way. Straining their ears to catch his words, they heard him say:

"Debbil's a-comin', debbil's a-comin', debbil's a-comin' after old Herc'les for takin' dat shutter down. Debbil done lef' his footprint fer a warnin' fer old Herc'les."

He seemed beside himself with fright. Nyoda and Sherry looked at each other in perplexity.

"What's the matter with him?" asked Nyoda, in a tone of concern.

"Superstitious," replied Sherry reassuringly. "Most negroes believe the devil is walking around on two legs, waiting to grab them from behind every fence. You remember Uncle Jasper mentioned in his diary that he told Jasper if he ever took that shutter down the devil would come in through the window and get him. Now he thinks it's happened. Don't be alarmed at him. Get him his breakfast, and that'll give him something else to think about."

The Winnebagos hastened to set out his breakfast on the table, but he ate scarcely anything, and still trembled when he went back to his rooms in the coach house.

"Funny old codger!" commented Sherry, looking after him. "He's chuck full of superstition. If he throws many more such fits, I suppose I'll have to nail up the old shutter again to keep him from dying of fright."

"You'll do no such thing!" replied Nyoda. "I'll have no more holes in that casement. Hercules will be all right again in a day or two. By that time he'll have a new bogie.

"Now everybody come to breakfast, and forget all about this miserable business."

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