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   Chapter 20 THE END OF A PERFECT DAY

The Camp Fire Girls Solve a Mystery; Or, The Christmas Adventure at Carver House By Hildegard G. Frey Characters: 6196

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Daggers and dirks!" exclaimed Sherry, weakly sitting down on the car step when it was finally borne in upon him that Katherine's highwayman was none other than Sylvia's father, Hercules' "Marse Tad," the man for whom he and Hercules had been futilely fine-combing the earth for the last twenty-four hours.

"Am I awake?" he continued, "or is this all an opium dream? First Katherine, whom we thought at home at Carver House, materializes before us out of thin air; then Dr. Phillips, whom we thought on a ship bound for South America. What's happening here to-night, anyway? Is it witchcraft?"

"O, Marse Tad," quavered Hercules, still on his knees, "we shore thought you was gone on dat South Ameriky boat. We bin a-lookin' for you so. Mist' Sher'dan an' I bin down to N'Yawk all day."

"You have been looking for me?" asked Dr. Phillips in surprise.

Hercules, trying to tell the story all at once, became utterly incoherent in his excitement, and Sherry saw that he would have to step in. And so there, in the light from the lamps of the disabled taxicab, with the fitful explosions of the reviving engine drowning out Sherry's speech every few minutes, Tad Phillips heard the great news that would lift the crushing load of anguish from his heart, and would turn the world once more into a place of laughter, and light, and happiness.

"It was a miracle, my deciding to stay over for the next boat," he declared solemnly, a few minutes later, after nearly wringing Sherry's hand off in an effort to express his joy and gratitude. "It was the hand of Providence, sir, nothing less than the hand of Providence. I had fully made up my mind to go on that boat yesterday; then for no reason at all I suddenly decided to wait until next week before sailing." His voice sank away into a whisper of awe as he repeated, "It was Providence itself, sir, nothing less than the hand of Providence, that made me change my mind about sailing yesterday."

"You may have been inspired by Providence to change your mind about sailing," rejoined Sherry, "but if it hadn't been for Katherine, here, we never would have found you, for it never occurred to us that you were still in Philadelphia. It's all Katherine's doing-her losing that handbag."

"But if I hadn't eaten those lobster croquettes and gotten sick I wouldn't have lost the handbag," said Katherine comically. "It all comes back to the lobster croquettes. Providence and lobster croquettes! What a combination to work miracles!"

It was a rather dishevelled, but altogether triumphant quartet that arrived at Carver House some few hours later. Katherine's hair had escaped from its net and hung in straggling wisps over her eyes; her hat had been so completely crushed by its contact with the wheel of the taxi that it was unrecognizable as an article of millinery, and hung, a mere twisted piece of wreckage, in a dejected lump over one ear. Her coat was plastered with dirt from neck to hem, and her gloves were stiff and discolored. One eye was closed in a permanent wink by a black smudge that decorated her forehead and half of

her cheek.

Blissfully unconscious of her startling appearance, she burst into the library, where the household were waiting to welcome the returned wanderers.

"O Katherine," cried all the Winnebagos in chorus when they beheld her, "now you look natural again!"

The tale of Katherine's adventure, with its astonishing ending, left them all staring and breathless.

"Katherine surely must have been born under a different sign of the Zodiac than those you see in the ordinary almanacs," said Nyoda. "There is some special influence of planets guiding her that is denied to ordinary mortals."

"Must be the sign of the Lobster, then," laughed Katherine, gratefully sipping the hot milk Migwan had brought her, and allowing Justice to draw the hatpins from her hat and remove the battered wreck from her head.

"How's Sylvia?" asked Sherry.

"Very much improved," replied Nyoda, "but her heart is still acting queerly. I don't know how she is going to stand this excitement."

Dr. Phillips agreed with her that he must not appear before Sylvia too suddenly, or the shock might be fatal. Impatient as he was for the recognition to take place, he knew that it would have to be brought about with caution. There was too much at stake to make a misstep now. Nyoda must prepare her gradually, first telling her that her father was alive, and letting her recover from the excitement of that announcement before breaking the news that he was actually in the house.

The Winnebagos looked at Dr. Phillips with a surprise which it was difficult to conceal. This mild-eyed, white-haired gentleman was utterly different from the picture they had conjured up of the bold intruder who had so determinedly made his entrance into Carver House. They had expected to see a grim-faced, resolute-looking man, and Hinpoha confided afterward that her mental picture had included a pair of pistols sticking out of his pockets. The early portrait of "Tad the Terror," in Uncle Jasper's diary, had been slightly misleading in regard to his appearance.

Nyoda saw Dr. Phillips' eyes fixed, with a sorrowful expression, upon the portrait of Uncle Jasper above the library fireplace, and she guessed what bitter pangs the breaking up of that friendship had cost him; guessed also, that he had held no such bitter feeling against Jasper Carver as the master of Carver House had held against him, and understanding the characters of the two men, she saw why it was that Sylvia Warrington had preferred the one to the other.

Over by the fireplace, Justice was teasing Katherine unmercifully about the lobster croquettes, while behind her back the Captain had taken one of the broken feathers from her hat and was tickling Slim with it, who had fallen asleep in his chair. The clock on the stairway chimed four.

An irrepressible attack of yawning seized the whole party, and with one impulse the Winnebagos began to steal toward the stairway.

"Well," said Katherine, with a sigh of deep content, as she went wearily up the stairs leaning on Migwan's shoulder, "well, this is the end of a perfect day!"

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