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CHAPTER IV
THE ROOM OF MYSTERY

It was, indeed, Goliath. He was an enormous cat, and his purr was as oversized as his body. That was the hoarse sound that they had thought was heavy breathing. His footfalls too could be distinctly heard when all else was quiet, and he had evidently rubbed against some light article of furniture in the outer room and moved it. In the reaction of relief, Cynthia seized Goliath, sat down on the floor, and—cried! having first deposited her candlestick carefully on the table. Joyce did quite the opposite, and laughed hysterically for several minutes. The tension of suspense and terror had been very real.

"How did he get in here?" sobbed Cynthia, at length.

"Why, through the window, of course. And he must have been in before we came. Don't you remember, we found the door at the head of the cellar steps open? I closed it when we came up, so he couldn't have got here afterward." Joyce bent down and scratched Goliath's fat jowls, at which he purred the louder.

"Well, let's let him stay, since he's here," sighed Cynthia, wiping her eyes. "He'll be sort of company!" So Goliath was allowed to remain, and the two girls, escorted by him, proceeded on their voyage of discovery. Back across the drawing-room and hall they went, and through the dining-room. There for a moment they stood, surveying anew the curious scene.

"Does it strike you as strange," Joyce demanded suddenly, "that there's no silver here, no knives, forks, spoons, sugar-bowls, or—or anything of that kind? Yet everything else in china or glass is left. What do you make of it?"

"Somebody got in and stole it," ventured Cynthia.

"Nonsense! Nobody's been here since, except ourselves, that's perfectly plain. No, the people must have stopped long enough to collect it and put it away,—or take it with them. Cynthia, why do you suppose they left in such a hurry?" But Cynthia, the unimaginative, was equally unable to answer this query satisfactorily, so she only replied:

"I don't know, I'm sure!"

A room, however, beyond the dining-room was awaiting their inspection. In a corner of the latter, two funny little steps led up to a door, and on opening it, they found themselves in the kitchen. This bore signs of as much confusion as the neighboring apartment. Unwashed dishes and cooking utensils lay all about, helter-skelter, some even broken, in the hurry with which they had been handled. But, apart from this further indication of the haste with which a meal had been abandoned unfinished, there was little to hold the interest, and the girls soon turned away.

"Now for up-stairs!" cried Joyce. "That's where I've been longing to get. We will find something interesting there, I'll warrant." With Goliath scampering ahead, they climbed the white, mahogany-railed staircase. On the upper floor they found a wide hall corresponding with the one below, running from front to back, crossed by a narrower one connecting the wings with the main part of the house. Turning to their left, they went down the narrow one, peering about them eagerly. The doors of several bedrooms stood open.

Into the first they entered. The high, old-fashioned, four-post bed with its ruffled valance and tester was still smoothly made up and undisturbed. The room was in perfect order. But Joyce's eye was caught by two candlesticks standing on the mantel.

"Here's a find!" she announced. "We'll take these to use for our candles. They're nicer and handier than our tin one. We will keep that for an emergency."

"But ought we disturb them?" questioned Cynthia.

"Oh, you are too particular! What earthly harm can it do? Here! Take this one and I'll carry the other. This must have been a guest-room, and no one was occupying it when—it all happened. Let's look in the one across the hall." This one also proved precisely similar, bed untouched and furniture undisturbed. Another, close at hand, had the same appearance. They next ventured down a narrower hall, over what was evidently the kitchen wing. On each side were bedrooms, four in all, with sparse, plain furnishings and cot-beds. Each room presented a tumbled, unkempt appearance.

"I guess these must have been the servants' rooms," remarked Cynthia.

"That's the first right guess you've made!" retorted Joyce, good-naturedly, as she glanced about. "And they all left in a hurry, too, judging from the way things are strewn about. I wonder—"

"What?" cried Cynthia, impatient at the long pause.

"Oh, nothing much! I just wonder whether they went off of their own accord, or were dismissed. I can't tell. But one thing I can guess pretty plainly—they went right after the dinner-party and didn't stay over another night. 'Cause why? Most of their beds are made, and they left everything in a muss down-stairs. But come along. This isn't particularly interesting. I want to get to the other end of the hall. Something different's over there!" They turned and retraced their steps, emerging from the servants' quarters and passing again the rooms they had already examined.

On the other side of the main hall they entered an apartment that was not a bedroom, but appeared to have been used as a sitting-room and for sewing. An old-fashioned sewing-table stood near one window. Two chairs and another table were heaped with material and with garments in various stages of completion. An open work-box held dust-covered spools. But still there was nothing special in the room to challenge interest, and Joyce pulled her companion across the hall toward another partially open door.

They had scarcely been in it long enough to illuminate it with the pale flames of their candles, before they realized that they were very near the heart of the mystery. It was another bedroom, the largest so far, and its aspect was very different from that of the others. The high four-poster was tossed and tumbled, not, however, as if by a night's sleep, but more as if some one had lain upon it just as it was, twisting and turning restlessly. Two trunks stood on the floor, open and partially packed. One seemed to contain household linen, once fine and dainty and white, now yellowed and covered with the dust of years. The other brimmed with clothing, a woman's, all frills and laces and silks; and a great hoop-skirt, collapsed, lay on the floor alongside. Neither of the girls could, for the moment, guess what it was, this queer arrangement of wires and tape. But Joyce went over and picked it up, when it fell into shape as she held it at arm's-length. Then they knew.

"I have an idea!" cried Joyce. "This hoop-skirt, or crinoline, I think they used to call it, gave it to me. Cynthia, we must be in the room belonging to the lovely lady whose picture hangs in the library."

"How do you know?" queried Cynthia.

"I don't know, I just suspect it. But perhaps we will find something that proves it later." She held the candle over one of the trunks and peered in. "Dresses, hats, waists," she enumerated. "Oh, how queer and old-fashioned they all seem!" Suddenly, with a little cry of triumph, she leaned over and partially pulled out an elaborate silk dress.

"Look! look! what did I tell you! Here is the very dress of the picture-lady, this queer, changeable silk, these big sleeves, and the velvet sewed on in a funny criss-cross pattern! Now will you believe me?"

Truly, Cynthia could no longer doubt. It was the identical dress, beyond question. The portrait must have been painted when the garment was new. They felt that at last they had taken a long step in the right direction by thus identifying this room as belonging to the lovely lady of the portrait down-stairs. Joy grew so excited that she could hardly contain a "hurrah," and Cynthia was not far behind her in enthusiasm. But the room had further details to be examined.

An open fireplace showed traces of letters having been torn up and burned. Little, half-charred scraps with faint writing still lay scattered on the hearth. On the dressing-table, articles of the toilet were littered about, and a pair of candlesticks were set close to the mirror. (There were, by the way, no traces of candles about the house. Mice had doubtless carried off every vestige of such, long since.) A great wardrobe stood in one corner, the open doors of which revealed some garments still hanging on the pegs, woolen dresses mostly, reduced now to little more than rags through the ravages of moths and mice and time. Near the bed stood a pair of dainty, high-heeled satin slippers, forgotten through the years. Everywhere a hasty departure was indicated, so hasty, as Joyce remarked, "that the lady decided probably not to take her trunks, after all, but left, very likely, with only a hand-bag!"

"And now," cried Joyce, the irrepressible, "we've seen everything in this room. Let's hurry to look at the last one on this floor. That's right over the library, I think, at the end of the hall. We've discovered a lot here, but I've a notion that we'll find the best of all in there!" As they were leaving the room, Goliath, who had curled himself up on a soft rug before the fireplace, rose, stretched himself, yawned widely, and prepared to follow, wherever they led.

"Doesn't he seem at home here!" laughed Cynthia. "I hope he will come every time we do. He makes things seem more natural, somehow." They reached the end of the hall, and Joyce fumbled for the handle, this door, contrary to the usual rule, being shut. Then, for the first time in the course of their adventures in the Boarded-up House, they found themselves before an insurmountable barrier.

The door was locked!