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   Chapter 18 KATHERINE GOES TO THE CITY

The Camp Fire Girls Solve a Mystery; Or, The Christmas Adventure at Carver House By Hildegard G. Frey Characters: 18840

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Does anyone want to go in to the city this afternoon?" asked Nyoda, as they rose from luncheon. It had been a rather silent, dispirited meal, and quickly gotten over with. "I had planned to go in and take a few things to Mrs. Deane to-day, but now it will be impossible for me to get away. Sylvia has been fretting about her aunt and I think someone ought to go."

"I'll go," said Katherine readily, her spirits rising at this prospect of action. The suspense of the morning, ending in such a disappointment, had begun to react upon her in a fit of the blues. Sahwah and Hinpoha, with Slim and the Captain, had planned during luncheon to go roller-skating that afternoon, but as Katherine could not roller-skate the plan held no attraction for her. Justice had promised Sherry that he would go over the lighting system on his car while he was away and was planning to spend the whole afternoon in the garage; Migwan was going to sit with Sylvia to give Nyoda a chance to rest; and Gladys had a sore throat which made her disinclined to talk. Taking it by and large, Katherine had anticipated a rather dismal afternoon, a prospect which was pleasantly altered by Nyoda's request.

"You can make the two o'clock train if you start immediately," continued Nyoda, "and the five-fifteen will bring you back in time for dinner. I have the things for Mrs. Deane all ready."

Katherine rose with alacrity and put on her hat and coat. "Any errands while I am in town?" she asked, hunting for her umbrella in the stair closet.

"None that I can think of," replied Nyoda, after wrinkling her brow for a moment, "unless you want to stop at the jeweller's and get my watch. It's been there for several weeks, being regulated."

"All right," said Katherine, writing down the name of the jeweller in her memorandum book. "You'll notice I'm not trusting my memory this time," she remarked laughingly.

"I'll take the five-fifteen train back," she called over her shoulder as she went out of the front door.

"Be careful how you hold that package!" Nyoda called warningly after her. "There's a glass of jelly in it that'll upset!"

Gingerly holding the package by the string, Katherine picked her way through the rapidly widening puddles on the sidewalks to the station. By some miracle of good luck the package was still right side up when she arrived at the hospital, and she breathed an audible sigh of relief when it was at last safely out of her hands.

She found Mrs. Deane a frail, kindly-faced woman, bearing her discomfort cheerfully, but, nevertheless, lonesome in this strange hospital ward and very grateful for any attention shown her. Katherine began, as she described it, to "express her sympathy quietly and in a ladylike manner," and ended up by delivering her famous "Wimmen's Rights" speech for the benefit of the whole ward. She finally escaped, after her sixth encore, and fetched up breathless on the sidewalk, only to discover that she had left her umbrella behind, and before she retrieved it she had to give her speech all over again, for the benefit of an old lady who had been asleep during the first performance.

There still being three-quarters of an hour before train time after she had called at the jewellers for Nyoda's watch, Katherine dropped into a smart little tea-room to while away the intervening moments with a cup of tea and a dish of her favorite shrimp salad. As she nibbled leisurely at a dainty round of brown bread and idly watched the throngs coming and going at the tables around her, a shrill cry of delight suddenly rang out above the hum of voices and the clatter of dishes.

"Katherine! Katherine Adams!"

Katherine looked up to see an animated little figure in a beaver coat and fur hat coming toward her through the crowd.

"Katherine Adams!" repeated the voice, "don't you know me?"

"Why-Veronica! Veronica Lehar!" gasped Katherine in amazement. "What are you doing here? I thought you were in New York." She caught the little brown-gloved hands in her own big ones and squeezed them until Veronica winced.

"Katherine! Dear old K! How I've missed you!" Veronica cried rapturously, and drawing her hands from Katherine's grip she flung her arms impulsively around her neck, regardless of the curious stares of the onlookers.

"Let them stare!" she murmured stoutly, seeing Katherine's face flush with embarrassment as she encountered the quizzical gaze of a keen-eyed young man at the next table. "If they hadn't seen their beloved K for nearly two years they'd want to hug her, too."

She released Katherine after a final squeeze, and stood staring at her with a puzzled expression on her vivacious face.

"What's the matter?" asked Katherine wonderingly. "Have I got something on wrong-side before?"

"That's just what is the matter," replied Veronica, her bewilderment also manifesting itself in her tone. "You haven't anything on wrong-side before. You don't look natural. What has happened to you?"

"Nothing," replied Katherine, laughing, "and-everything. I've just learned that clothes do matter, after all."

"Why, Katherine Adams, you're perfectly stunning!" exclaimed Veronica in sincere admiration. "That shade of blue in your dress-it was simply made for you."

"I just happened to get it by accident," said Katherine deprecatingly, almost sheepishly, yet thrilled through and through with pleasure at Veronica's words of appreciation. It was no small triumph to be admired by Veronica, whose highly artistic nature made her extremely critical of people's appearance.

"How I used to make your artistic eye water!" said Katherine laughingly. "It's a wonder you stood me as well as you did."

"It was not I who had to 'stand' you, but you who had to 'stand' me," said Veronica seriously. "In spite of your loose ends you were-what do you call it? 'all wool and a yard wide,' but I was the original prune." Veronica, while a perfect master of literary English, still faltered deliciously over slang phrases.

Katherine, as usual, steered away from the subject of Veronica's former attitude toward her. When a thing was over and done with, Katherine argued, there was no use of dragging it out into the light again.

"You haven't told me yet how you happen to be here in this tea-room this afternoon," she said, by way of changing the subject, "when you told us, over your own signature, that you would have to stay in New York all this week. What do you mean," she finished with mock gravity, "by deceiving us so?"

"I have to play at a concert here in town to-night," explained Veronica. "It will be necessary for me to be back at the Conservatory to-morrow, and am returning by a late train to-night. I didn't know about it when I wrote to Nyoda, or I should have insisted on her coming in for the concert and bringing all the girls along. It's an emergency case; I'm just filling in on the program in place of a 'cello soloist who was taken suddenly ill with influenza. The concert managers sent a hurry call to Martini last night, asking him to send over the first student who happened to be handy, and as I happened to be taking a lesson from Martini at the time, I was the lucky one. I just came over this afternoon."

Veronica modestly suppressed the fact that it had been the great Martini himself who had been urgently requested to play at the concert, but having a previous engagement, had chosen her, out of the whole Conservatory, to play in his stead.

"My aunt is here with me," continued Veronica. "She's over at that table in the far corner behind that palm. I suppose she is wondering what has become of me by this time. When I saw you over here I just jumped up and ran off without a word of explanation. She's probably eaten up my nut rolls by this time, too; they were just being served when I rushed away. Come on over and see her."

Katherine followed Veronica through the crowded room to the far corner, where, at a little table beneath a softly shaded wall lamp Veronica's aunt, Mrs. Lehar, sat placidly sipping tea and eating cakes. She did not recognize Katherine at first, never having seen her otherwise than with clothes awry and hair tumbling down over her eyes, and Katherine was secretly amused at the gentle lady's look of astonishment upon being told who it was.

"She did eat my rolls, after all," said Veronica to Katherine. "I knew she would. But I'm glad she did; I am in far too exalted a mood for nut rolls now. Nothing but nectar and ambrosia will do to celebrate our meeting. Look and see if there's any nectar and ambrosia on your menu card, will you, Katherine dear? There doesn't seem to be any on mine."

"None here, either," reported Katherine, after gravely reading her card through.

"Then let's compromise on lobster croquettes," said Veronica. "I never eat them ordinarily, but I feel as though I could eat a dozen to celebrate this occasion."

"Be careful what you eat, now," warned her aunt. "It would be rather awkward if you were to be taken with an attack of acute indigestion just when you are due to appear on the platform."

"Never fear!" laughed Veronica. "I am so transported over meeting Katherine that nothing could give me indigestion now. What an inspiration I shall have to play to-night!"

Then, taking Katherine's hand, she said coaxingly, "You will come and hear me play, won't you?"

"I'm afraid I can't," replied Katherine

regretfully. "I'm due to go back on the five-fifteen train."

"O, but you must come!" cried Veronica pleadingly. "I'll be so miserable if you don't that I sha'n't be able to play at all. You wouldn't want me to spoil the concert on your account, would you, Katherine dear? There is a later train you can go home on just as well, isn't there?"

"There is one at ten-forty-five," replied Katherine, consulting the time-table which she carried in her hand bag.

"You can hear me play, and make that train, too," said Veronica eagerly. "My numbers come in the early part of the program, all but one. If you went out after I had played my first group you could make your train beautifully. Do telephone Nyoda that you are going to stay over, and have her send somebody down to meet you at the later train. That Justice person--" she said mischievously, finishing with an expressive movement of her eyebrows.

Katherine finally yielded to her pleading, and telephoned Nyoda that she was going to stay in town until the ten-forty-five, which so delighted Veronica that she ordered another croquette all the way around to celebrate the happy circumstance.

"Do be careful, dear," warned her aunt a second time. "Those croquettes are distressingly rich. What would happen if you were to be taken ill to-night?"

Veronica smiled serenely. "I'm not going to be taken ill to-night, aunty dear," she replied. "I'm going to be like Katherine, who can eat forty lobster croquettes without getting sick."

"Remember the mixtures we used to cook up in the House of the Open Door?" she asked, turning to Katherine. "They were lots worse than lobster croquettes, if the plain truth were known. You wouldn't worry at all, aunty, dear, if you knew what we used to eat at those spreads without damaging ourselves!"

Katherine was completely carried away by Veronica's vivaciousness and temperamental whimsies. If she had admired the fiery little Hungarian in the days of the House of the Open Door, she was now absolutely enslaved by her. To plain, matter-of-fact Katherine, Veronica, with her artistic temperament, was a creature from another world, inspiring a certain amount of awed wonder, as well as admiring affection.

"What are you going to play at the concert to-night?" Katherine asked respectfully.

Veronica's eyes began to glow, and she pushed aside her plate, leaving the second croquette to grow cold while she spoke animatedly upon the subject that lay ever nearest her heart.

"I'm going to play a cycle from Nágár, a Roumanian Gypsy composer," she replied. "One of the pieces is the most wonderful thing; it's called 'The Whirlwind.' It fairly carries you away with its rush and movement, until you want to fly, and shout, and go sailing away on the wings of the wind. Another one is named 'Fata Morgana.' You know that's what people call the mirage that we can see out on the steppes-the open plains-of Hungary."

"Yes?" murmured Katherine in a tone of eager interest. She loved to hear Veronica tell tales of her homeland.

"Many a time I have seen it," continued Veronica, her eyes sparkling with a dreamy, far-off light, "a beautiful city standing out clear and fair against the horizon; and have gone forth to find it, only to see it vanish into the hot, quivering air, and to find myself lost out on the wide, lonely steppe."

Katherine listened, fascinated, while Veronica told stories of the curious mirage that lured and mocked the dwellers on the lonely steppes of her native land, and so deep was her absorption that she absent-mindedly ate up Veronica's croquette while she listened, to the infinite amusement of Mrs. Lehar.

"Aren't you going to play any of your own compositions?" asked Katherine, when Veronica had finished talking about the Nágár cycle.

"Not as a regular number," replied Veronica, taking up her fork to finish her croquette, and deciding that she must already have eaten it, since her plate was empty. "If, by any chance, I should be encored, I shall play a little piece of my own that I have named 'Fire Dreams,' and dedicated to the Winnebagos. I wrote it one night after a ceremonial meeting out in the woods where we danced around the fire and then sat down in a circle to watch it burn itself away to embers. We all told our dreams for the future that night, don't you remember? I have woven everything together in my piece-the tall pines towering up to the sky; the stars peering through the branches; the wind fiddling through the leaves, and the river lapping on the stones below; with the firelight waving and flickering, and coaxing us to tell our dreams. I love to play it, because it brings back that scene so vividly; that and all the other beautiful times we had around the camp fire."

Katherine gazed at Veronica in speechless admiration. With absolutely no musical ability herself, it seemed to her that anyone who could compose music was a child of the gods. Veronica smiled back frankly into Katherine's admiring eyes, and gave her hand a fond squeeze.

"Now, tell me about Carver House and all the dear people there," she said, settling herself comfortably in her chair and propping her elbows on the table. "We still have an hour to spare. Aunty won't mind if we talk about our own affairs, will you, aunty? Now, Katherine, take a long breath and begin."

The hour was up before Katherine was half way through telling the exciting things that had happened at Carver House in the past week, and with a sigh Veronica rose from the table and drew on her gloves.

"Come," she said regretfully, "we'll have to be starting. I have to go over to the hotel first and get my violin, and the auditorium where I am to play is some distance out."

As they stepped from the tea-room into the street Katherine paused to buy Veronica a huge bunch of violets at a little stand just inside the entrance of the tall building next door. Not having enough money in her change-purse to pay for them, she took a roll of bills from a bill-fold in her inner pocket, and, taking five dollars from the roll, returned it to its place of safety in the lining of her coat. Lounging against the glass counter beside her was a slender, long-fingered man, whose gaze suddenly became concentrated when the roll of bills made its appearance. Katherine noticed his look of absorbed interest and a little thrill of uneasiness prickled along her spine. She looked sharply at this inquisitive stranger, fixing in her mind the details of his appearance. He wore a long, light-colored overcoat and a visor cap pulled down over his eyes, which were small and dark, and set close together in his thin, sallow face, giving him a peculiar, ratlike expression. Katherine buttoned her coat carefully over the bill-fold and hastily rejoined Veronica and Mrs. Lehar in the street outside, conscious that the man's eyes were still upon her and that he had followed her out of the shop. To her relief, Mrs. Lehar hailed a taxicab, and in a moment more they were being whirled rapidly away from the scene.

An hour later Katherine found herself sitting in state in one of the front boxes of a crowded auditorium, impatiently waiting for the soprano soloist to finish a lengthy operatic aria and yield her place to Veronica. The soloist bowed her way out at last, and Veronica, looking like a very slender little child in contrast to the massive singer, tripped out on the stage with her violin under her arm, just as she had always carried it around in the House of the Open Door.

"She isn't a bit scared!" was Katherine's admiring thought.

Nodding brightly to the audience, Veronica laid her bow across the strings with that odd little caressing gesture that Katherine remembered so well, and began to play her long cycle from memory.

Strange images flitted through Katherine's brain as she listened; the lighted stage faded from sight, and in its place there stretched a wide, grassy plain, shimmering in the sunlight and flecked with racing cloud shadows, far ahead, gleaming clear against the gray-blue horizon, rose the white towers and spires of a fair city, which seemed to call to her in friendly invitation, awakening in her an irresistible longing to travel toward it and behold its wonders at near hand. But ever as she approached it receded into the distance, vanishing at last in the twinkling of an eye, and leaving her alone in the heart of a wild, desolate moor upon which darkness was swiftly falling. She started in affright at the long, eerie cry of a nightbird; the deepening shadows were filled with fearful, unnamable terrors. Her head reeled; the strength went out from her limbs, and with icy hands pressed tightly over her eyes to shut out the menacing shadow-shapes, she sank shuddering to the ground. She was roused by the sound of thunder, and opening her eyes found the lonely moor vanished, and in its place the brightly lighted stage, while the thunder which echoed in her ears resolved itself into a tumult of hand-clapping.

Katherine rubbed her eyes and sat up straight. "What was that piece she just played?" she asked in a whisper.

"That was the 'Fata Morgana,'" replied Mrs. Lehar.

It was several minutes after ten o'clock when Veronica finished her last encore, and Katherine, glancing at her watch, hastily reached for her coat, and leaving a goodnight message for Veronica with Mrs. Lehar, started from the auditorium.

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