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   Chapter 16 A LETTER

The Camp Fire Girls Solve a Mystery; Or, The Christmas Adventure at Carver House By Hildegard G. Frey Characters: 9551

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Sylvia's illness increased during the day; her fever rose rapidly and the coughing spells grew more violent and more frequent. Nyoda turned Hercules over to Sherry and Justice and gave Sylvia her whole attention. No whisper of the exciting news that rocked the family was allowed to come to her ears for fear of its effect upon the fever.

"Bronchitis," the doctor had said whom Nyoda had hastily summoned, "watch out for pneumonia."

The Winnebagos roamed the house, anxious and excited, talking in low tones about the amazing turn of events, and listening eagerly for Nyoda to come out of the sick room. Slim and the Captain shifted uneasily from one chair to another until Katherine begged them to go out and take a long walk.

"You make me nervous, trying so hard to keep quiet," she said to Slim.

The boys went out.

Migwan made some lemon jelly for Hercules and Sahwah carried it out to him.

"Does he still believe he's dying?" asked Katherine when Sahwah returned to the house.

"He's surer than ever," replied Sahwah. "He's making the arrangements for his funeral. He's sorry now that he didn't join the Knights of Pythias when he had the chance so he could have had a band."

"Is he really as sick as that?" asked Hinpoha in a scared voice.

"Sherry says he isn't," said Sahwah, "but Hercules insists that he won't live till morning. Sherry's getting sort of anxious about him himself, Justice told me outside the barn. Sherry said that Hercules believed so firmly in signs he'd just naturally worry himself to death before long, if he didn't stop thinking about the 'token' he'd had. People do that sometimes. Hercules' heart is bad and believing that his end was near might bring on a fatal spell."

"Can't we do something to make him stop thinking about it?" asked Migwan. "Remember the Dark of the Moon Society, Sahwah, that you got up to bring Katherine out of a fit of the blues that time up on Ellen's Isle?"

"We can't do anything like that now, though," said Sahwah. "The foolish things we do wouldn't have any effect upon him at all."

"I guess you're right," said Migwan with a sigh, after various things had been suggested and immediately abandoned. "But I wish we could do something to rouse him from the dumps he's fallen into," she added with a sigh. "It seems as though we Winnebagos ought to be equal to the emergency."

"You might read something to him," said Katherine desperately, after several minutes of hard thinking had sprouted no ideas. "Read him 'The Hound of the Baskervilles.' That will gently divert his thoughts. It's absolutely the biggest thriller that was ever written. Judge Dalrymple bought it on the train once, when he was going from Milwaukee to some little town in Wisconsin, and he got so absorbed in it that he never came to until the train pulled into St. Paul, hundreds of miles beyond his stop. You might read him one chapter a day and he won't think of dying before he knows how it is coming out. It'll be a sort of Arabian Nights performance."

"Where will I get the book?" asked Migwan.

"I saw it in one of the cases in the library," replied Katherine. "It must have belonged to Mr. Carver's housekeeper, for I'm sure he never owned such a book."

"All right," said Migwan, "let's take it out and tell Justice to read it to Hercules."

Katherine found the book on the library shelf and opened it to a picture she wanted the girls to see. As she turned the pages a letter fell out and dropped to the floor. She stopped to pick it up, and could not help reading the address. It was addressed to Mr. Jasper Carver, Esquire, and had never been opened.

"Here's a letter for Uncle Jasper that must have come after he died," said Katherine, "for it hasn't been opened." Nyoda came into the room just then, and she handed it to her.

Nyoda looked at the date. "April 12, 1917," she read. "That's the very day Uncle Jasper died. This letter must have come while he lay dead in the house here, and in the confusion somebody put it into that book, where it has stayed all this while. I opened all the other letters that came after his death and took care of the matters they concerned. I hope this isn't a bill-the creditor will think we are poor business people not to reply." She reached for the letter opener and slit the envelope.

Inside was a letter, not a bill, written in a cramped, shaky hand upon coarse notepaper. It was dated from a small town in New York State. Nyoda carried it over to the window and read it:

"Mr. Jasper Carver, Esq.,

Oakwood, Pa.

Dear Sir:

I take the liberty of writing to you, for you are the only one I can find a trace of who was a friend of the late Dr. Sidney Phillips. I found a card with your name and address on the floor of his room

after he left the army post at Ft. Andrews, and to you I am committing the task of clearing his name from a disgrace which has unjustly been fastened upon it. He is dead, and the wrong can never be righted to him, but for the sake of his friends and relatives his memory must not remain dishonored.

This letter is at once an explanation and a confession. I was a Captain of Infantry at Ft. Andrews when Dr. Phillips came there as army surgeon. There was another officer there, a sneaking, underhand sort of chap with whom I was having constant trouble. Upon one occasion he committed a grave breach of military discipline, but managed to throw the blame upon me and I was deprived of my captain's commission and reduced to the ranks, besides doing time in the guard house.

I brooded upon my wrong until I was ready to murder the man who had brought it upon me. At the time of the typhoid epidemic, matters were in bad shape at Ft. Andrews. That was before the days of Red Cross nurses, and many of the boys had to turn in and nurse their comrades. I was detailed to help Dr. Phillips. The man who had ruined me was down with the fever. Ever since I had been reduced to the ranks he had taunted me openly with my disgrace and even as he lay in bed he made insulting remarks when I brought him his medicine. Finally in a mad rage I decided to be revenged upon him once and forever. I put a deadly poison into the dose Dr. Phillips had just mixed for him, slipping it in while the doctor was out of the room for a moment. I thought the dose was intended for him alone, but to my horror it was given to a dozen men, and they all died.

The whole country became stirred up about it, and such abuse was hurled at Dr. Phillips as no man ever suffered before. It was supposed that he had carelessly mistaken the poison for another harmless ingredient. I dared not confess that it was I who had done it, for in my case it would mean trial for first degree murder, while with the doctor it was simply a case of accident, and would blow over in time.

The doctor left the Post, a broken-down, ruined man, and died of yellow fever in Cuba not long after.

I have kept the secret for twenty-five years, suffering tortures of conscience, but not brave enough to confess. Now, however, I am in the last stages of a fatal disease and cannot live a week longer. By the time this reaches you I shall be gone. Take this confession and publish it to the world, that tardy justice may be done the memory of Dr. Phillips. He was innocent of the whole thing. May God forgive me!

George Ingram."

The confession was witnessed by two doctors whose signatures appeared under his.

"He didn't do it! Tad didn't do it!"

The amazed cry rang through the library, as the Winnebagos and Nyoda clutched each other convulsively.

"We must bring him back!" said Nyoda, and ran out to the barn to Sherry with the letter in her hand.

An hour later Sherry and Hercules sat drinking strong, hot coffee at the kitchen table while Nyoda hastily packed traveling bags for them. Hercules had forgotten all about dying. When he heard the news in the letter he sprang from bed and began dressing with greater speed than he had ever done in his life. The train for New York went in two hours and he and Sherry must catch it if they hoped to reach the steamer before she sailed. There was no way of reaching Tad by telegraph. They did not know what name he was going under, nor the name of the boat on which he was to sail. The only thing they could do was rush to New York, find out which boat was sailing for South America on the first, go on board and search for Tad. Only Hercules would be able to identify him. Hercules rose to the occasion.

"We certainly gave Hercules something to make him forget his superstition," said Katherine, sitting down on the sink to collect her thoughts after the meteoric flight of the two men from the house.

"We certainly did," said Migwan, trembling with excitement.

A racking cough sounded through the house. "Sh, Sylvia's worse," said Migwan, putting her fingers to her lips. "Don't anybody go near her, or she'll notice how excited you are. How on earth does Nyoda manage to keep so calm when she's with her?"

"If Sylvia should get pneumonia-" began Sahwah, and then chocked over the dreadful possibility.

"If they only bring Mr. Phillips back in time," said Katherine, as if echoing the thing that lay in Sahwah's thoughts.

"Don't say such dreadful things," said Hinpoha, with starting tears.

"Maybe they won't be able to find him at all," said Katherine dubiously.

"They must, they must," said Sahwah, with dry lips.

"They must," echoed the others, and hardly daring to think, they entered upon the trying period of waiting.

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