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- Two Little Women on a Holiday - 30/37 -


"You don't really think it was any of them, I know, Mr. Forbes, or you wouldn't speak like that," said Ted. "I know you think as I do, that some queer mischance or accident is responsible for the disappearance. But WHAT was that accident, and WHERE is the jewel?"

The two boys searched methodically. They did not look into cupboards or drawers; they asked questions and tried to think out some theory.

"Could any one have come in at the window?" asked Ted.

"No chance of that," said Mr. Forbes, "considering the window is in the fourth story, and no balcony, or any way of reaching it from the ground."

Geordie stuck his head out of the window in question.

"Who lives next door?" he said, looking across the narrow yard to the next house.

"People named Mortimer," replied Mr. Forbes. "But they're all away from home. They're somewhere down South."

"There's somebody over there. I see a light in one of the rooms."

"A caretaker, maybe. But don't be absurd. It's all of ten or twelve feet across to that house from our back extension to theirs. Are you thinking somebody could spring across, take the jewel and spring back again?"

"That ISN'T very likely, is it?" Ted laughed, "but there's some explanation, somewhere," and the boy shook his head. "You see, Mr. Forbes, somebody might have made entrance to this room after the girls left it Sunday afternoon, and before you discovered your loss."

"Somebody might," agreed Mr. Forbes, "but I can't quite see how. Surely no intruder came up by way of the stairs; I can't believe any one came in by the window, and what other way is there?"

"Suppose," said Geordie, earnestly, "suppose the caretaker, or whoever is next door, saw you people examining the earring by the light from the window,--you were by the window, weren't you?"

"Yes," said Dolly, to whom he had put the question. "Yes, it was growing dusk, and I stepped to the window to look at the gold work."

"Well, suppose this caretaker person saw you, and realised the jewel was valuable. Then suppose after you all went out and left the earring on this little table, which is only ten or twelve inches from the window, suppose the caretaker leaned out of his window, and, with a long pole, with a hook on the end, fished the thing over to himself."

"Ridiculous!" cried Mr. Forbes. "Nobody could do such a thing as that! Absurd, my boy! Why, even a long fishpole would scarcely be long enough, and he couldn't get purchase enough on the end--"

"I admit it sounds difficult, sir, but they do pretty clever things that way."

"And, too, I can't suspect my neighbour's servants! Why, I've not the slightest cause for such suspicion!"

"Oh, no, I can't think it's that way, either," said Dolly. "Why, that caretaker is a nice old man. I've heard Mrs. Berry tell about him. His room is just opposite hers, two floors beneath this very room we're in now. He has a parrot that chatters and annoys Mrs. Berry, but the old man is honest, I'm sure. And he's too old to be agile enough to do such an acrobatic thing as you suggest."

CHAPTER XVII

A CLEVER IDEA

Ted Hosmer looked at Dolly as she spoke, and a sudden light came into his eyes.

"By Jiminy!" he said, and he drew a sharp little whistle. "I say, Dolly, where is your Mrs. Berry?"

"Oh, no, Ted," Dolly laughed, "you can't connect Mrs. Berry with this matter any more than you can the Mortimers' servants. Mrs. Berry didn't do it."

"I didn't say she did," returned Ted, smiling at her. "But where is she, that's all."

"I don't know. Probably in her room."

"Take me there, will you? I must see her at once. Why, I've got an idea!"

"Goodness, Ted!" exclaimed Geordie. "What a strange piece of news!"

"Don't be funny!" said Ted; "I say, Dolly, take me to speak to Mrs. Berry, won't you?"

"Why, of course, if you like,--come on."

Dolly led the way and Ted followed. The others paid little attention, for Geordie was thinking out a new theory of how somebody could get across from the next house, by means of scuttles to the roofs on the front part of the houses. Of course, in front the houses were attached, but the back extensions were only one room wide, thus giving ground space for tiny back yards.

A tap on Mrs. Berry's door was answered, and the two were admitted.

"What is it?" and the housekeeper looked a little surprised at her visitors.

"May we look out of your window?" asked Ted, politely.

"Surely," was the reply. "But what for?"

Ted, however, already had raised the window and was looking out. It was dark, or nearly, and the house next door showed a dim light in the room opposite the one they were in.

The shade was down at the window, so they saw nothing of the room but a few indistinct shadows.

"Tell us something about the old caretaker next door, won't you?" begged Ted, and Mrs. Berry responded: "Now, don't suspect him! Why, old Joe is the most honest man in the city! I've known him for years, and I'm sure he wouldn't steal a pin! Mr. Mortimer trusts him absolutely."

"But tell us a little about him."

"There's nothing to tell, only that he stays there alone when the family go away. He lives, practically, in the two rooms; that room opposite and the kitchen. He has no company but his parrot; he makes a great pet of that."

"A nice Polly?"

"A handsome bird, yes. But a nuisance with its continual squawking and chattering."

"Thank you, Mrs. Berry; I believe that's all. Pardon our intrusion. We'll go now. Come along, Dolly."

Dolly followed Ted from the room, and he said, "Don't go back upstairs yet. Come along with me."

"Where?"

"Never mind. Come on," and, making a gesture for her to be silent, Ted piloted her down the main staircase and out of the front door.

"Gracious! I won't go another step till you tell me where we're going!"

"Of course I'll tell you. We're going next door. Come on; you don't need wraps; it's just a step."

Taking her hand, Ted led her down the Forbes' steps and up those of the house next door. He rang the bell and they waited. In a moment, shuffling steps were heard and an old man opened the door.

"That you, Joe?" said Ted, pleasantly. "Let us come in for a moment, please."

"I don't know you, young sir, but if I'm not mistaken, this is one of the little ladies from next door."

"Quite right. We intend no harm, I assure you. Let us come in for a minute or two."

The old man let them enter and closed the door behind them.

"How's your parrot?" asked Ted, conversationally.

Old Joe looked surprised, but he answered courteously, "Polly is well, as usual."

"What kind of a bird is he?"

"A parrot, sir."

"I don't mean that. Is he honest or--or gives to thievery?"

"Oh, sir, he's the thievingest beast in the world, that he is! I don't dare leave a thing around I'm not willing for him to take if he wants it."

"Yes, just so. And does he ever go out of this house?"

"No,--oh, no."

Ted's face fell. Dolly's, too, for she began to see what Ted had in mind. But if Polly never left the Mortimer house, surely he didn't fly over and steal the earring.

"Could I go up to the room where the bird is?" said Ted, trying to conceal his disappointment at the collapse of his theory.


Two Little Women on a Holiday - 30/37

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