The Boarded-Up House/Chapter 7
GOLIATH MAKES ANOTHER DISCOVERY
"Oh, Cynthia!" gasped Joy at length, "isn't it too comical! We're just as far from it all as ever!" And they both fell to chuckling again.
They were certainly no nearer the solution of their problem. For, facing the room once more, the mysterious picture looked forth—the portrait of two babies! They were plump, placid babies, aged probably about two or three years, and they appeared precisely alike. It took no great stretch of imagination to conjecture what they were—twins—and evidently brother and sister, for one youngster's dress, being a trifle severe in style, indicated that it was doubtless a boy. These two cherubic infants had both big brown eyes, fat red cheeks, and adorable, fluffy golden curls. They were pictured as sitting, hand in hand, on a green bank under a huge spreading tree and gazing solemnly toward a distant church steeple.
"The poor little things!" cried Cynthia. "Think of them having been turned to the wall all these years! Now what was the sense of it,—two innocent babies like that!" But Joyce had not been listening. All at once she put down her candle on the table and faced her companion.
"I've got it!" she announced. "It came to me all of a sudden. Of course those babies are twins, brother and sister. Any one can tell that! Well, don't you see, one of them—the girl—was our Lovely Lady. The other was her twin brother. It's all as clear as day! The twin brother did something she didn't like, and she turned his picture to the wall. Hers happened to be in the same frame too, but she evidently didn't care about that. Now what have you to say, Cynthia Sprague?"
"You must be right," admitted Cynthia. "I thought we were 'stumped' again when I first saw that picture, but it's been of some use, after all. Do you suppose the miniature was a copy of the same thing?"
"It may have been, or perhaps it was just the brother alone when he was older. We can't tell about that." All this while Cynthia had been standing, candle in one hand and dust-cloth in the other. At that point she put the candlestick on the table and stood gazing intently at the dust-cloth. Presently she spoke:
"Joyce, do you think there would be any harm in my doing something I've longed to do ever since we first entered this house?"
"What in the world is that?" queried Joyce.
"Why, I want to dust this place, and clear out of the way some of the dirt and cobwebs! They worry me terribly. And, besides, I'd like to see what this lovely furniture looks like without such quantities of dust all over it."
"Good scheme, Cyn!" cried Joyce, instantly delighted with the new idea. "I'll tell you what! We'll come in here this afternoon with old clothes on, and have a regular house-cleaning! It can't hurt anything, I'm sure, for we won't disturb things at all. I'll bring a dust-cloth, too, and an old broom. But let's go and finish our studying now, and get that out of the way. Hurrah for house-cleaning, this afternoon!"
Filled with fresh enthusiasm, the two girls rushed out to hurry through the necessary studies before the anticipated picnic of the afternoon. If their respective mothers had requested them to perform so arduous a task as this at home, they would, without doubt, have been instantly plunged into deep despair. But because they were to execute the work in an old deserted mansion saturated with mystery, no pleasure they could think of was to be compared with it. This thought, however, did not enter the heads of the enthusiastic pair.
Smuggling the house-cleaning paraphernalia into the cellar window, unobserved, that afternoon, proved no easy task, for Cynthia had added a whisk-broom and dust-pan to the outfit. Joyce came to the fray with an old broom and a dust-cloth, which latter she thought she had carefully concealed under her sweater. But a long end soon worked out and trailed behind her unnoticed, till Goliath, basking on the veranda steps, spied it. The lure proved too much for him, and he came sporting after it, as friskily as a young kitten, much to Cynthia's delight when she caught sight of him.
"Oh, let him come along!" she urged. "I do love to see him about that old house. He makes it sort of cozier. And, besides, he seems to belong to it, anyway. You know he discovered it first!" And so Goliath followed into the Boarded-up House.
They began on the drawing-room. Before they had been at work very long, they found that they had "let themselves in" for a bigger task than they had dreamed. Added to that, performing it by dim candle-light did not lessen its difficulties, but rather increased them tenfold. First they took turns sweeping, as best they could, with a very ancient and frowsy broom, the thick, moth-eaten carpet. When they had gone over it once, and taken up what seemed like a small cart-load of dust, they found that, after all, there remained almost as much as ever on the floor. Cynthia was for going over it again.
"Oh, never mind it!" sighed Joyce. "My arms ache and so do yours. We'll do it again another time. Now let's dust the furniture and pictures." And they fell to work with whisk-broom and dust-cloths. Half an hour later, exhausted and grimy, they dropped into chairs and surveyed the results. It was, of course, as but a drop in the bucket, in comparison with all the scrubbing and cleaning that was needed. Yet, little as it was, it had already made a vast difference in the aspect of the room. Surface dust at least had been removed, and the fine old furniture gave a hint of its real elegance and polish. Joyce glanced at the big hanging candelabrum and sighed with weariness. Then she suddenly remarked:
"Cynthia, we have the dimmest light here with only those two candles! Why not have some more burning?"
"We've only three left," commented Cynthia, practical as ever. "And my pocket-money is getting low again, and you haven't any left, as usual. So we'd better economize till allowance day!"
"Tell you what!" cried Joyce, freshly inspired. "I've the loveliest idea! Don't you just long to know what this room would look like with that big candelabrum going? I do. They say illumination by candle-light is the prettiest in the world. Sometime I'm going to buy enough wax candles to fill that whole chandelier—or candelabrum rather—and we'll light it just once and see how it makes things look. What do you say?"
"It'll cost you a good deal more than a dollar," remarked Cynthia, after an interval spent in calculation. "Of course I'd like to see it too, so I'll go halves with you on the expense. And I don't believe we can get nice wax candles, only penny tallow ones. But they'll have to do. I wonder, though, if people could see the light from the street, through any chinks in the boarding?"
"Of course not," said Joyce. "Don't you see how all the inside shutters are closed and the velvet curtains drawn? It isn't possible. Then we'll have the illumination for a treat, sometime, and I'll begin to save up for it. And I hope before that time we'll have puzzled out this mystery. I'm afraid we aren't very good detectives, or we'd have done it long before this. Sherlock Holmes would have!"
"But remember," suggested Cynthia, "that those Sherlock Holmes mysteries were usually solved very soon after the thing happened. This took place years and years ago. I reckon we're doing pretty nearly as well as Sherlock, when you come to think of it."
"Perhaps that's so," admitted Joyce, thoughtfully. "It's not so easy after goodness knows how many years! But I'm rested now. Come and see what we can do with the library. I'm wild to look at the Lovely Lady again. I really think I love that picture!" And so, in the adjoining room, they stood a while with elevated candles, gazing fascinated at the portrait of the beautiful woman.
"She's lovely, lovely, lovely!" sighed Joyce. "Oh, wouldn't I like to have known her! And do you notice, Cynthia, she has the same big brown eyes of the girl-baby in the parlor. There isn't a doubt but what that baby was she."
They tore themselves away from the portrait after a time, and commenced digging at the dust and cobwebs of the library. But they were thoroughly tired after their heroic struggles with the drawing-room, and made, on the whole, but little progress. Added to this, their enthusiasm for cleaning-up had waned considerably.
"I guess we'll have to leave this for another day," groaned Joyce at last. "I'm just dog-tired!"
"All right," assented Cynthia, in muffled tones, her head being under a great desk in the corner. "But wait till I finish sweeping out under here. Mercy! what's that? I just touched something soft!" On the instant, Joyce was at her side with the candle.
"Why, it's Goliath as usual!" they both cried, peering in. "Isn't he the greatest for getting into odd corners!" Far at the back sat Goliath, curled into a comfortable ball, his front paws tucked under, and purring loudly.
"He's sitting on an old newspaper, I think," said Joyce. "He always does that if he can find one, because they're warm." Suddenly she snatched at the paper so violently that Goliath went tobogganing off with a protesting "meouw."
"Look, look, Cynthia!" she exclaimed, brushing off a cloud of dust with the whisk-broom, and pointing to the top of the sheet. "Here's one of the biggest discoveries yet!" And Cynthia, following her index-finger, read aloud:
"'Tuesday, April 16, 1861.'"
"Which proves," added Joyce, "that whatever happened here didn't take place much earlier than this date, or the paper wouldn't be here. What we want to do now is hunt around and see if there are any newspapers of a later date. Let's do it this minute!"
Forgetting all their weariness, they seized their candles and scurried through the house, finding an occasional paper tucked away in some odd corner. But upon examination these all proved to be of earlier date than that of their first discovery. And when it was clear that there were no more to be found, Joyce announced:
"Well, I'm convinced that the Boarded-up House mystery happened not earlier than April 16, 1861, and probably not much later. That's over forty years ago, for this is 1905! Just think, Cynthia, of this place standing shut up and untouched and lonely all that time! It's wonderful!" But Cynthia had turned and snatched up Goliath.
"You precious cat!" she crooned to him as he struggled unappreciatively in her embrace. "You're the best detective of us all! We ought to change your name to 'Sherlock Holmes'!"