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   Chapter 13 THE MASQUERADE

The Camp Fire Girls Solve a Mystery; Or, The Christmas Adventure at Carver House By Hildegard G. Frey Characters: 13880

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"I don't suppose we'll have the party now," observed Gladys, after Sylvia had fallen asleep. "It's a shame. We were going to have such a big time to-night."

"Indeed, we will have the party anyhow!" said Nyoda emphatically. "We'll outdo ourselves to make Sylvia have a hilarious time to-night. The time to laugh the loudest is when you feel the saddest. Gladys, will you engineer the candy making? You have your masquerade costume ready, haven't you? The rest of you will have to hurry to get yours fixed, it's three o'clock already. There are numerous chests of old clothes up in the attic; you may take anything you like from them. And that reminds me, I must go and bring out my old Navajo blanket for-" "Goodness!" she said, stopping herself just in time, "I almost told who is going to wear it. Now everybody be good and don't ask me any questions. I have to bring it down and air it before it can be worn because it's packed away in mothballs."

She ran lightly up the stairs, chanting:

"There was an old chief of the Navajo,

Fell over the wigwam and broke his toe,

And now he is gone where the good Injuns go,

And his blanket is done up in cam-pho-o-or!"

She trailed out the last word into such a mournful wail that the Winnebagos shrieked with laughter.

A few minutes later she came down the stairs with a mystified face. "The blanket's gone!" she announced. "Stolen. I had it in the lower drawer of the linen closet off the hall upstairs, all wrapped up in tar paper. The tar paper's there in the drawer, folded up, with the mothballs lying on top of it, and the blanket is gone. Did any of you take it out to wear to-night?" she asked, looking relieved at the thought.

No one had taken it, however. Slim was the only one who wanted to be an Indian, and he was waiting for Nyoda to fetch the blanket for him. Without a doubt it had been stolen. So the midnight visitor had been a thief after all! But why did he take a blanket and nothing else? It was a valuable blanket, but the silverware and jewelry in the house were worth a great deal more. The mystery reared its head again. What manner of man was this strange visitor?

"My mother always used to keep her silver wrapped in the blankets in a clothes closet," said Gladys, "and burglars broke into our house and found it all. The policeman that papa reported it to said that was a common place for people to hide valuables and burglars usually searched through blankets. This burglar must have been looking for valuables in the blanket, and got scared away before he looked anywhere else, but took the blanket because it was such a good one."

"That must have been it," said Nyoda. "I've heard of cases before where valuables were stolen from their hiding places in blankets and bedding. Well, we were lucky to get away as we did.

"Slim, you'll have to be something beside an Indian chief, for I haven't another Navajo blanket. It's too bad, too, because you had the real bow and arrows, but cheer up, we'll find something else. The trouble is, though," she mourned, "we haven't much of anything that will fit you. The blanket would have solved the problem so nicely."

"Let him wear the mothballs," suggested Justice. "He can be an African chief instead of an Indian. A nice string of mothballs would be all--"

Slim threw a sofa cushion at him and Justice subsided.

The stolen blanket remained the chief topic of conversation until late in the afternoon, when Katherine made a discovery which furnished a new theme. She was up in the attic, hunting something from which to concoct a masquerade suit, and while rummaging through a trunk came upon a photograph underneath a pile of clothes. It was the picture of a young girl dressed in the fashion of a bygone day, with a tremendously long, full skirt bunched up into an elaborate "polonaise." Above a pair of softly curved shoulders smiled a face of such witching beauty that Katherine forgot all about the trunk and its contents and gazed spellbound at the photograph. In the lower right hand corner was written in a beautiful, even hand, "To Jasper, from Sylvia."

Katherine flew downstairs to show her find to the others.

"O how beautiful!" they cried, one after another, as they gazed at the picture of the girl Uncle Jasper could not forget. The small, piquant face, in its frame of dark hair, looked up at them from the picture with a winning, friendly smile, and looking at it the Winnebagos began to feel the charm of the living Sylvia Warrington, and to fall in love with her even as Uncle Jasper had done.

"Take it up to Sylvia," said Migwan. "She'll be delighted to see a picture of her Beloved."

Sylvia gazed with rapt fondness at the beautiful young face. "Isn't-she-lovely?" she said in a hushed voice. "She looks as though she would be sorry about my being lame, if she knew. May I keep her with me all the time, Nyoda? She's such a comfort!"

"Certainly, you may keep the picture with you," said Nyoda, rejoicing that a new interest had come up just at this time, and left her hugging the photograph to her bosom.

Right after supper Nyoda shooed all the rest upstairs to their rooms while she arrayed Sylvia for the party. In her endeavor to cheer and divert her she gathered materials with a lavish hand and dressed her like a real fairy tale princess, in a beautiful white satin dress, and a gold chain with a diamond locket, and bracelets, and a coronet on her fine-spun golden hair. The armchair she made into a throne, covered with a purple velvet portiére; and she spread a square of gilt tapestry over the footstool.

The effect, when Sylvia was seated upon the throne, was so gorgeously royal that Nyoda felt a sudden awe stealing over her, and she could hardly believe it was the work of her own hands. Sylvia seemed indeed a real princess.

"We have on the robes of state to-night," said Sylvia, with a half hearted return to her once loved game, "for our royal father, the king, is coming to pay us a visit with all his court."

Nyoda made her a sweeping curtsey and hurried upstairs to dress herself. The costumes of all the rest were kept a secret from one another, and no one was to unmask until the stroke of eleven. She heard stifled giggles and exclamations coming through the doors of all the rooms as she proceeded down the hall.

Crash! went something in one of the rooms and Nyoda paused to investigate. There stood Slim before a mirror, hopelessly entangled in a sheet which he was trying to drape around himself. A wild sweep of his hand had smashed the electric light bulb at the side of the mirror, and sent the globe flying across the room to shatter itself on the floor.

"Wait a minute, I'll help you," said Nyoda, coming forward laughing.

Slim emerged from the sheet very red in the face, deeply abashed at the damage he had done.

"I was only trying to grab ahold of the other end," he explained ruefully, "l

ike this-" He flung out the other hand in a gesture of illustration, and smash went the globe on the other side of the mirror.

Nyoda laughed at his horror-stricken countenance, and soothed his embarrassment while she pinned him into the sheet and pulled over his head the pillow case which was to act as mask.

"Just as if you could disguise Slim by masking him!" she thought mirthfully as she worked. "The more you try to cover him up the worse you give him away. It's like trying to disguise an elephant."

She got him finished, and as a precaution against further accidents bade him sit still in the chair where she placed him until the dinner gong sounded downstairs; then she hastened on toward her own room.

"Oh, I forgot about Hercules!" she suddenly exclaimed aloud. "I promised to get something for him."

"Migwan's gone down to fix him up," said a voice from one of the rooms in answer to her exclamation. "She found a costume for him this afternoon, and she's down in the kitchen now, getting him ready."

Nyoda breathed a sigh of gratitude for Migwan's habitual thoughtfulness, and went in to don her own costume.

Down in the kitchen Migwan was getting Hercules into the suit she had picked out for him from the trunkfull of masquerade costumes she had found up in the attic. It was a long monkish habit with a cowl, made of coarse brown stuff, and it covered him from head to foot. The mask was made of the same material as the suit, and hung down at least a foot below his grizzly beard.

"Sure nobody ain't goin' ter recognize me?" Hercules asked anxiously.

Migwan's prediction that an invitation to the party would cheer him up had been fulfilled from the first. Hercules was so tickled that he forgot his misery entirely. He was in as much of a flutter as a young girl getting ready for her first ball; he had been in the house half a dozen times that day anxiously inquiring if the party were surely going to be, and if there would be a suit for him.

Migwan put in the last essential pin, and then stepped back to survey the result of her efforts. "If you keep your feet underneath the gown, not a soul will know you," she assured him. She had thoughtfully provided a pair of gloves, so that even if he did put out his hands their color could not betray him.

"Of course, you must not talk," she warned him further.

"Course not, course not," he agreed. "When's all dese here mask comin' off?" he continued.

"When the clock strikes eleven we'll all unmask," explained Migwan, "and then the Princess is going to give the prize to the one that had the best costume."

"An' dey's nobody 'xcept me an' you knows I'm wearin' dis suit?" he inquired for the third time.

Migwan reassured him, and with a final injunction not to show himself in the front part of the house until he heard the dinner gong, she sped up the back stairs to her own belated masking.

She had barely finished when the sound of the gong rose through the house, and the stairway was filled with a grotesquely garbed throng making its way, with stifled exclamations and smothered bursts of laughter, into the long drawing room where the Princess sat. Migwan clapped on her mask and sped down after them, getting there just as the fun commenced. She spied Hercules standing in the corner behind the Princess's throne, maintaining a religious silence and keeping his feet carefully out of sight. She kept away from him, fearing that he would forget himself and speak to her, entirely forgetting that he could not recognize her under her disguise.

Sylvia shrieked with amusement at the grotesque figures circling around her. It was the very first masque party she had ever seen, and she could not get over the wonder of it. Nyoda smiled mistily behind her mask as she watched her. How lonely that valiant little spirit must have been all these years, shut away from the frolics of youth; lonely in spite of the brave make believe with which she passed away the time! And now the years stretched out before her in endless sameness; the poor little princess would never leave her throne.

Sherry and Justice and the Captain kept Nyoda guessing as to which one was which, but she soon picked out the one she knew must be Hercules, and watched him in amusement. She had rather fancied that he would turn out to be the clown of the party, but he sat still most of the time and kept his eyes on the Princess. He seemed utterly fascinated by the glitter of her costume. Even the Punch and Judy show going on in the other end of the room failed to hold his attention, although the rest of the spectators were in convulsions of mirth.

The Princess called on Punch and Judy to do their stunt over and over again until they were too hoarse to utter another sound. Migwan, who had been Judy, fled to the kitchen for a drink of water to relieve her aching throat. She took the opportunity to slip off the hot mask for a moment and get a breath of fresh air. She was almost suffocated behind the mask.

Then, while she stood there cooling off, she remembered the big pan of candy Gladys had set outdoors to harden, and hastened out to bring it in. Someone was walking across the yard, and as Migwan looked up, startled, the light which streamed out of the kitchen door fell full upon the black face of Hercules. Migwan stood still, clutching the pan of candy mechanically, her eyes wide open with surprise. Hercules stood still too, and stood staring at her with an expression of dismay. He no longer had the monk's costume on.

"How did you get out here?" Migwan asked curiously. "You're inside-at the party."

Hercules laughed nervously, and Migwan noticed that his jaw was trembling.

"What's the matter, Hercules?" she asked. "What's happened?"

"Now, missy, missy-" began Hercules, and Migwan could hear his teeth chatter, while his eyes began to roll strangely in his head.

"What's the matter, are you sick?" asked Migwan in alarm.

"Yes'm, dat's it, dat's it," chattered Hercules, finding his voice. "I'm awful sick. I had to come outside."

"But I left you sitting in there a minute ago with your suit on," said Migwan wonderingly, "and you didn't come out after me. Did you go out of the front door?"

"Yes'm, dat's it," said Hercules hastily. "I come out de front doah an' roun' dat way."

A sudden impulse made Migwan look down the drive, covered with a light fall of snow and gleaming white in the glare of the street light.

"But there aren't any footprints in the snow," she said in surprise. "Your footprints are coming from the barn." A nameless uneasiness filled her. What was Hercules doing out here?

"Yes'm," repeated Hercules vacuously, "I came from de barn."

Migwan stared at him in surprise. Was he out of his mind?

"Hercules," she began severely, but never finished the sentence, for the old man swayed, clutched at the empty air, and fell heavily in the snow at her feet.

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