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   Chapter 15 HERCULES’ STORY

The Camp Fire Girls Solve a Mystery; Or, The Christmas Adventure at Carver House By Hildegard G. Frey Characters: 10258

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


When Sherry and the boys returned from their fruitless chase Hercules had regained consciousness, and was telling Nyoda in a shaking voice that he felt better, but he was still too weak to sit up.

"Mah time's come, Mis' 'Lizbeth," he said mournfully. "I'se a goner."

"Nonsense," said Nyoda brightly. "You'll be up and around in the morning. The doctor that gave you this medicine said you'd have these spells once in a while, but the heart drops would always bring you round all right."

"I'se a-goin' dis time," he repeated. "I'se had a token. Dreamed about runnin' water las' night, an' dat's a sure sign. Ain't no surer sign den dat anywhere, Mis' 'Lizbeth."

"Nonsense," said Nyoda again. "You shouldn't believe in signs. Tell us what happened to-night and that'll make you feel better."

"Mis' 'Lizbeth," said the old man solemnly, "I'se goin' ter tell de whole thing. I wasn't goin' ter say nothin' a-tall, but gon' ter die, like I am, I'se skeered ter go an' not tell you-all."

He took a sip from the tumbler at his hand and cleared his throat.

"Mis' 'Lizbeth," he began, "dat weren't no burglar dat git inter de house dat night. You jus' lissen till I tell you de whole bizness. Dat day you-all find dem footprints on de stairs I mos' had a fit, 'case I knowed somebody'd got in th'u de secrut passidge."

"But you said you didn't know anything about a secret passage," said Nyoda, in surprise.

"Mis' 'Lizbeth," said Hercules deprecatingly, evidently urged on to open confession by the knowledge that death had him by the coat tail, "I said dat, but it weren't true. Ole Marse Jasper, he say once if I ever tell about dat secrut passidge de debbel'd come in th'u it an' carry me off, an' I'se bin skeered even ter say secrut passidge.

"Dere weren't nobody livin' dat knew about dat secrut passidge, an' when I sees dem footprints I reckons it mus' be de debbel himself. But yestidday I sees a man hangin' roun' behin' de barn, an' I axs him what he wants, an' he sticks up two fingers an' makes a sign dat I uster know yeahs ago. I looks at de man agin, an' I says, 'Foh de Lawd, am de dead come ter life?' 'Case it's Marse Jasper's ole frien', Tad Phillips."

A sharp exclamation of astonishment went around the circle of listeners.

"He's an ole man, an' his hair's nearly white, but I see it were Marse Tad, all right.

"'I hearn you-all was dead,' I says ter him, but Marse Tad, he say no, people all thought he's dead an' he let 'em think so, 'case he cain't never meet up wif his ole frien's no more. You see, Mis' 'Lizbeth," he threw in an explanation, "Marsh Tad he gave some sick folks poison instead of medicine, an' dey die, an' he go 'way, outen de country, an' bimeby de papers say he's dead an' his wife's dead. But dey ain't; it's a mistake, but he don' tell nobody, an' bimeby he come back, him an' his wife. Dey take another name, an' dey goes to a town whar nobody knows 'em. Bimeby a baby girl gits born an' his wife she dies.

"Marse Tad he ain't never bin himself since he gave dem folks dat poison; he cain't fergit it a-tall. It pester him so he cain't work, an' he cain't sleep, an' he cain't never laugh no more. He give up bein' a doctor 'case he say he cain't trust himself no more. He get so low in his mind when his wife die dat he think he'll die too, an' he sends de baby away to some folks dat wants one.

"But he don't die; he jest worry along, but he's powerful low in his mind all de time. He think all de time 'bout dem people he poisoned. Fin'lly he say he'll go 'way agin; he'll go back ter South America. But before he goes, he gits ter thinkin' he'd like ter see his chile once. He fin's out dat de people he sent her to ain't never got her; dat she's with somebody else, in a place called Millvale, in dis very state. He go to Millvale, an' he look in th'u de winder, an' he see her. She's the livin' image of his dead wife, light hair an' dark eyes an' all.

"He never let her know he's her father, 'case he feel so terrible 'bout dem folks he poisoned dat he thinks he ain't no good, a-tall, an' mustn't speak to her. But he's so wild to see her dat he hang aroun' in dat town, workin' odd jobs, an' at night lookin' in de window where she sits.

"Den suddenly de folks she's wif up an' move away, an' he cain't see her no more. He jest cain't stand it. He finds out dat dey come here to Oakwood, an' he comes too. But he don't know which house she live in and he cain't find her. He gets to wanderin' around, and one night he comes to de ole big house he uster live in, way up on Main Street Hill. It's all dark and tumble down, and he thinks he'll just go in once and look around. He goes in, and inside he hears a voice singin'. It sounds jest like his wife's voice. She were a beautiful singer, Mis' 'Lizbeth-de Virginia nightingale, folks uster call her. He stands dere in dat dark, empty house, lissenin' ter dat voice and he thinks it's his wife's sperrit singin' ter him. She's singin' a song she uster sing when she were young, somethin' about larks."

Katherine made a convulsive movement, and her heart began to pound strange

ly.

"Den he say a lady come in de front door and he gits scairt and runs out."

Katherine's head began to whirl, and she kept silence with an effort.

"He stand around outside for a while and bimeby an autermobile comes along and de folks carries a girl out of de house and takes her away. He sees de girl when dey's bringin' her out, and he knows she's his. He watches where dat autermobile goes and it comes here."

The old man paused for a minute and looked around at the group at his bedside, all hanging spellbound upon his words.

"Mis' 'Lizbeth," he said dramatically, "little Missy Sylvia am Tad Phillips' little girl!"

When the sensation caused by his surprising story had subsided, Hercules continued:

"He jest have ter see her before he go 'way, and he remember about de secrut passidge th'u de hill dat he and Marse Jasper uster play in. He come th'u in de night an get inter de house, but he cain't find her. He see dere's people sleepin' in all de spare rooms dat uster be empty, and he cain't go lookin' round. He left dem footprints on de stairs, Mis' 'Lizbeth; it ain't blood; it's paint. Dey's a ole jar of paint down dere in de passidge, and he knocks it over and it breaks and he steps inter de paint."

"But Hercules," interrupted Sherry, "how did he get into the passage from the outside? The way is blocked."

"Dere's another way ter git out," replied Hercules, "before you come to de doah down dere. I disremember jest how it is, but it comes up th'u de floah of dat little summerhouse down de hillside. De boys fixed it up after de other way was blocked.

"When I find Marse Tad out behind de barn he's feelin' sick, and I brought him in and put him in my bed."

A light flashed through Nyoda's mind. "Was that what you wanted the hot coffee for yesterday?" she asked.

"Yessum," replied Hercules meekly. Then he continued:

"Marse Tad he wanter see little missy so bad I promise ter help him. When you-all gives me dat invite to de party and says I gotter wear a mask I fixes it up wif Marse Tad to put on de maskrade suit after I get it and go in and see little missy. While he's inside I stays outside. Den all of a sudden out come Missy Camphor Girl and sees me and screeches dat she jest left me inside. I got so scairt I jest nat'chly collapsed. Dat's all."

"Your friend Tad ran out through the secret passage and disappeared," said Sherry.

"He's gone on de train by dis time," said Hercules, his voice getting weak again. "He was goin' on de ten-ten. He's goin' ter sail Noo Year's Day."

"Whew!" whistled Sherry. "What a drama has been going on right under our very noses, and we knowing nothing about it! Sylvia the child of Uncle Jasper's old friend! And by what a narrow chance we came upon her!"

Into this excitement came Migwan, who had been in the house with Sylvia.

"Sylvia's sick," she said in a troubled voice to Nyoda. "Her head is hot and her hands are like ice, and she's been coughing hard for the last half hour. She couldn't hold her head up for another minute, and I put her to bed."

"I was afraid she was going to be sick," said Nyoda. "She been coughing off and on all day long, and her cheeks were so bright to-night, it seemed to me she looked feverish. I'm afraid the excitement of the party was too much for her. Don't anyone breathe a word of what Hercules has told us just now, she must be kept quiet."

They all promised.

In the moment when they stood looking at Hercules and waiting for Nyoda to start back to the house, Slim suddenly thought of something.

"If it wasn't a thief that came in, why did he take your blanket?" he asked.

Hercules answered, addressing himself to Nyoda. "Marse Tad didn't take dat blanket, Mis' 'Lizbeth. I took dat blanket. But I didn't steal it. I jest borried it. Borried it to wrap around Marse Tad. I couldn't ask you-all fer one, 'case you-all knew I had plenty, and I was skeered you'd be gettin' 'spicious. I saw you-all puttin' dat ole blanket away in dat drawer a long time ago, and I thought you-all never used it and would never know if it was gone fer a day. It ain't hurt a might, Mis' 'Lizbeth, dere it is, over in de corner. How's you-all know it was gone?" he asked, in comical amazement.

Nyoda explained, and soothed his agitation about the blanket in a few words.

The strain of telling his story had worn him out and he lay back and began to gasp feebly.

"Everybody go back to the house," commanded Nyoda, "and let Hercules rest."

"I'se a-goin' dis time," murmured the old man. "I'se goin' ter Abram's bosom. Swing low, sweet chariot, comin' fer to carry me home!"

"Nonsense!" said Nyoda, "you'll be all right in the morning," but she called Sherry back and asked him to stay with Hercules the rest of the night.

Then she went back to the house and found Sylvia burning with fever and too hoarse to speak. She applied the usual remedies for a hard cold and rose from bed to see how she was every hour throughout the night. Morning brought no improvement, however, and with a worried look on her face Nyoda went downstairs and telephoned the doctor.

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