ANN CATCHES A THIEF

AS a rule the office in which Ann Carstairs was employed did not close
until six o’clock, but at five-thirty on the December afternoon of this
story Ann found herself alone.

At four, the heads of the firm left for the day; and the billing clerk
and the stenographer, taking advantage of the absence of authority,
helped themselves to an extra half hour.

“We have a little shopping to do,” the billing clerk explained as they
passed Ann’s desk.

Before they reached the stair door, the inside salesman closed his desk
with a snap, and seized his hat and coat.

“Wait a minute, girls,” he called; “I’ll take you down to Broadway in
my machine.” As he followed them he said to Ann, “Good night, Miss
Carstairs, don’t stay late!”

A few minutes after they had gone, Mr. Bradford, the bookkeeper,
closed the safe and twirled the nickel knob gayly; “I’m off, too,” he
announced. “I’m going to leave the vault for you to close to-night,
Miss Ann.”

He shrugged himself into his overcoat and departed stiffly. He had
worked hard over his books that afternoon, and his legs and arms were
aching in unison with his head. He came back for a moment to turn off
some of the big lights.

“No use wasting electricity,” he explained. “No one will be in this
evening, and a little girl like you can’t use all this light.”

A minute later Ann heard the street door at the foot of the stairs
close with a bang, and she was left all alone in the big office.

She was not sorry to be alone. The day had been hard, and her nerves
had been near the breaking point all the afternoon. The switchboard was
Ann’s special charge, but she also took care of the odds and ends of
copy work and dictation for her busy associates. Odds and ends have a
curious way of accumulating and Ann seldom had a spare moment.

“I’m just dead tired,” she declared aloud, raising her arms above her
head in a vain effort to relieve their ache. “I’m always snowed under
with work, yet no one seems to think I have anything to do. It’s just:
‘Miss Carstairs, will you copy that for me?’ ‘I’ll give you a letter
now, Miss Carstairs, and you can run it off in your spare time.’ Spare
time! Did any one ever see me with a moment to spare? They don’t think
I amount to a row of pins, anyway. I’d just like to show them; I’d like
to let Mr. Ross see that I do amount to something.”

Mr. Ross was the senior partner of the big manufacturing plant, and
eighteen-year-old Ann admired him immensely. He was so calm, so quiet,
and yet so forceful; a splendid business man, but one whose family’s
wants and wishes were cared for before all else. Ann knew he must be an
ideal father, for he possessed all the qualities that Ann’s own father
had lacked.

Mr. Carstairs had been far from an ideal parent and had ended his
selfish, careless life just as Ann was preparing to enter college. Ann
and her mother had bravely gathered together what money remained, and
Ann started off to a business school instead.

For three months she worked feverishly night and day, and at the end
of that time, when their finances were in a precarious condition, she
left the school to enter the manufacturing firm of Ross and Hayward.
She had been there for nearly two years now, years of worry and careful
planning to make the slender salary cover growing needs.

“We have almost proved that the necessities of life are unnecessary,
so nearly have we come to getting along on next to nothing,” she had
laughingly told her mother only the evening before.

But though she joked about it, the situation was becoming serious, and
Ann had reached the place where she felt that she must steel herself to
the point of asking for more wages.

“Do people always have to ask for an increase?” she wondered.
“Everybody here treats me as if I were a child, except when it comes to
giving me work. That’s a different matter.”

Ann did not as a rule complain about the amount of work she had to do.
Instead, she was rather proud of being able to accomplish so much in
a single day. To-night, however, she was tired and all out of sorts.
She felt, too, that her looks were all against her. Curly hair and
freckles, added to a diminutive figure, gave her a decidedly childlike
appearance.

“I wish,” she declared to herself, “I wish I were tall and had straight
hair, and wrinkles around my mouth. What chance has anyone to advance
when she is short and freckled? I just must make them sit up and take
notice!”

She glanced around her with a proprietary look as she spoke. Her desk
and switchboard were in the outer office near the head of the short
flight of stairs leading from the street door, and commanded a view of
the entrance door and the stairway leading to the upper floors. At the
extreme end of the room was the entrance to the stock room, and beside
it the great iron door leading to the vault where the business records
were kept. In the dark corner by the vault door stood two tall piles of
sales books. Since the bookkeeper had turned off the extra lights, the
big office was lighted only by the globe above Ann’s head. The heavy
presses and machinery in the factory, running at full speed, shook the
building, and their roar and clatter sounded unusually loud now that
the office was quiet.

The switchboard was never very busy after half-past five, and Ann
leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes for a moment. She opened
them almost immediately with a start, suddenly aware of another
presence in the big office. The new janitor, a scraggly feather duster
in his hand, stood by her desk.

“Did you want something?” Ann asked sharply.

She did not approve of the new janitor; his hair was too long and
shaggy, his chin too stubbly, and his bushy eyebrows shaded eyelids
that drooped. His appearance was in accord with his shiftless way
of dusting and sweeping, Ann thought with disfavor. Her voice was
decidedly sharp as she asked again, “Did you want something?”

“I wanted to see the cashier,” the man answered. His drooping eyelids
gave a peculiar, leering expression to his face that filled Ann with
repulsion. Then she braced herself; no matter how afraid she was, he
must not know it.

“He has gone for the day. Come back in the morning,” she said, turning
to her typewriter to cut the conversation short. The man hesitated for
a moment, but her preoccupied air chilled him and Ann soon heard him
walk away.

At that moment a tall young woman came hurrying down the stairs from
the upper floor.

“I declare!” she cried, looking about the darkened office. “Everybody
has gone home! And Mr. Bradford has locked the safe! Now will you tell
me, Miss Carstairs, what I am going to do with all this money?”

She waved a green cardboard box in the air as she spoke, her voice
rising higher and higher in her agitation.

“I have collected eight hundred dollars on those Liberty Bond payments,
and here Mr. Bradford has locked the safe and gone home. I’m going to
the country to-night and I can’t take all this money with me.”

“Sh! Miss Benson!” Ann warned, glancing quickly at the swing door that
had not yet ceased swaying after the departing janitor. “Don’t tell any
one. Can’t you put it in the vault? Mr. Bradford left it for me to lock
to-night.”

“But,” Miss Benson objected, “something may happen to it and I am
responsible. I can’t take it with me, though. I’ll have to put it in
there, I guess.”

“See, Miss Carstairs,” she called a moment later from the depths of the
vault, “I’m putting it beside the stamp box.”

With Miss Benson’s departure the big office suddenly seemed doubly
large, and dim and empty. Ann shivered slightly, appalled by the fact
that she was alone with eight hundred dollars in cash in the open
vault. The factory machinery made such a din that none of the employees
could hear if she called for help. What would she do if the janitor had
overheard Miss Benson and should make up his mind to steal the money?
She glanced sharply at the swinging door. It was quiet now.

She reassured herself. “I’m as nervous as Miss Benson. I’ll just shut
that vault now, though, and have it over with. It is almost six o’clock
anyway.”

At that moment a call came in on the telephone, the strident whir
startling the girl with its suddenness.

“Ross and Hayward,” she answered mechanically into the receiver.

“Miss Carstairs,”–it was Mr. Ross speaking–“I left a couple of
Liberty Bonds in my desk. Please tell Bradford to put them into the
safe.”

“Mr. Bradford has gone for the day, Mr. Ross,” she answered, “but he
has left the vault for me to close; I’ll put them in.”

“All right. Put them in the stamp box; I guess they’ll be all right
there. Good night!”

Ann pulled out the plug and rose from her desk. Her rubber-soled shoes
made no noise as she crossed the room. She found the bonds face down on
Mr. Ross’s desk, and as she picked them up she could not fail to notice
the denominations. She stared at them.

“Two thousand dollars!” she whispered awestruck. “If only they were
mine!”

As she started to place them in the stamp box, its shabbiness caught
her eye. She hesitated, then laid the bonds down.

“I’ll get a new box for the stamps,” she decided, snapping off the
light as she left the vault.

Ann knew just where to find the particular box that she wanted and did
not stop to turn on the light as she entered the stockroom. She was in
the act of reaching up for the box, when the door stealthily opened.
She shrank back against the shelves as the new janitor came in. He
stopped for a moment and glanced around, then a minute later Ann heard
the snap of the electric button as the light in the vault was turned
on. She gasped in dismay. The bonds and the Liberty Loan money were all
there in plain sight! For a brief moment the girl was paralyzed with
fright. The janitor was after the money! She rushed forward. As she
paused by the open doorway of the vault she had a momentary glimpse
of the janitor with the green box in one hand, and heard the familiar
crackly paper of the bonds as he hurriedly thrust them into his pocket.
In a panic she caught the huge iron door and slammed it shut, hurriedly
throwing the big bolt in place.

“I’ve got him,” she gasped exultantly; but the words had not left her
lips before she was knocked from her feet by a sudden blow on her
shoulder. As she fell, another stunning blow came upon her head.

A minute later, so it seemed to the girl, she opened her eyes to find
Mr. Ross and his daughter, Margaret, bending over her.

“She’s coming to, now,” she could faintly hear Mr. Ross say. “Bathe her
head some more.”

Then he added jokingly, “Well, now, Miss Ann, you certainly gave us a
start. What were you trying to do?”

Ann’s head ached agonizingly. She lifted her hand to her forehead, and
felt it gingerly. A lump as large as a walnut was there just above the
temple. She became aware, now that the mist was fading from her eyes
and the ringing from her ears, that the factory was quiet. All the
noise of machinery had ceased.

“What time is it?” she asked; and then, without waiting for an answer,
“Where did you come from?”

“It is after eight. We were driving by on our way to see a friend
on the East Side, and I thought I would drop in and see if you had
remembered to lock the safe.” Mr. Ross laughed. “Fortunate for you that
I doubted your ability.”

Ann raised her head and looked about her; then she dropped it heavily
back on the improvised pillow Miss Ross had tucked under her head.

“It was that old sales book that knocked me down. It must have been on
the edge of the pile and tipped over when I slammed the door.” She felt
the bump on her head again. “I suppose I hit the wrapping desk when I
fell.”

“It wouldn’t take much to knock out a little thing like you,” Mr. Ross
laughed.

Ann opened her eyes again, a thought flashed through her mind, and she
sat bolt upright on the floor.

“Mr. Ross,” she said, “if I can prove to you that I was big enough to
save you two thousand dollars, would you think me big enough to be
given an increase in salary?”

“I surely would, Miss Carstairs!” Mr. Ross answered, becoming suddenly
grave.

Ann’s voice shook with excitement.

“Your bonds are safe in the vault, Mr. Ross, together with eight
hundred dollars that Miss Benson collected on Liberty Loan
payments–and the new janitor!”

“You’re a brave girl,” said Mr. Ross, helping her to her feet. “The
increase is yours; you have certainly earned it.”

* * * * *

“She was, indeed, a brave girl,” said the Story King, as the Story Lady
paused; “and deserved all her good fortune.”

“The next,” went on the Story Lady, smiling, “is the story of a young
man and a young woman whose only ambition in life was to help others.”

THE tropical island of Aniwa drowsed in the afternoon sunshine. Long,
lazy swells rolling in from the Pacific broke on the outlying reefs,
overflowed into the turquoise bay, and gently lapped the stretch of
sandy beach. The softest of breezes stirred the palm trees and rustled
the banana thickets.

Before the door of a low, thatched hut, nestling under a clump of
date-palms, stood a fair-haired young woman anxiously watching a canoe
which was making a perilous passage through the surf to the shelter of
the bay. When at last it slid into smooth water she breathed a sigh of
relief and went slowly down the hill toward the shore.

The craft nosed stealthily up to the beach, where a stalwart,
grave-faced white man sprang out; then the boat, propelled by the
muscular arms of two kinky-headed blacks, slipped away and vanished
around a little promontory.

“I’m glad you’re safe home, John,” the young woman cried, as the big
man came swiftly toward her. “Is all well?”

“Very far from that, Margaret,” the newcomer answered, as he reached
her side. “I’ve found a great deal of unrest throughout the island.”

“Because of the drought?”

“Yes,” he replied, and stood looking down upon her thoughtfully.

She came nearer and slipped her arm through his.

“I can see that you are anxious, John,” she said softly. “Do you fear
an uprising?”

[Illustration: BEFORE THE DOOR OF A LOW, THATCHED HUT STOOD A
FAIR-HAIRED YOUNG WOMAN]

“Margaret,” he exclaimed, as they turned and began to climb the hill to
the hut, “I should not have brought you here!”

“Oh!” she cried. “More than anything else I desired the privilege of
helping you in your work. Do you mean that I have failed? That I have
proved a burden rather than a help?”

“You know it is not that,” he replied quickly. “You have been
wonderful, dear. But I should not have allowed you to leave old
Scotland for the hardships and perils of these heathen isles.”

“It has not been easy,” she acknowledged; “but I have never once
regretted coming.”

“I thought I was doing right to bring you,” he went on; “but now–now–”

“You feel,” she interposed, “that we are in real danger?”

“We shall be if the natives rise,” he replied. “I think you should know
the truth, dear.”

Her blue eyes darkened, but there was no fear in them.

“But the people have come to feel we are their friends,” she protested.
“Some of them love us. Surely they will not harm us.”

By this time they had reached the hut. He put her gently into a
camp-chair before the door, and flung himself upon the white sand at
her feet.

“A trading-ship touched on the other side of the island yesterday,” he
told her.

“And paid for five hundred pounds’ worth of sandalwood with a barrel of
rum, I suppose,” she commented.

“They were a little more generous this time,” he replied grimly. “They
left several barrels.”

“No wonder then,” she said, “that the people are mad to-day.”

“They also left,” he continued, “in the mind of the old chief the
impression that we missionaries are responsible for the drought.”

“Oh, too bad!” she exclaimed softly.

“Yes,” he agreed. “Old Namakei informed me just now that if another
moon passes without rain the island will have no more of our God or of
us.”

“What did you answer?” she asked.

“I told him,” and he smiled, “that I would dig in the earth and reveal
a place where God’s rain is buried. He scoffed at first, but finally
agreed to come with his warriors and help with the digging.”

“But, John,” she queried, “will you really be able to dig a well on
this island?”

“Of course, I can’t be certain,” he answered; “but I’ve been studying
the soil, and it seems probable. Anyway, it’s our one chance to appease
the old chief’s ire and continue our work.”

John Gibson Paton had come out to the New Hebrides some years before,
and settled on the cannibal island of Tanna.

He had begun at once to teach the people and had succeeded in greatly
improving their condition, when a trading vessel had brought measles to
the island. An epidemic followed, and the natives died like flies.

They were so bitterly angry against those who had brought the plague
that they became suspicious of all white men, even the missionary who
had always helped them, and he was finally obliged to flee for his life.

With great difficulty he escaped to a passing ship bound for Australia.
From Australia, he went to his homeland, Scotland.

He had a wonderfully happy time on this visit among his friends and
relatives, for he was married to the pretty Scotch lassie whom he had
learned to love.

He felt that life would be very hard for her on the island of Tanna,
and he decided to go, instead, to Aniwa, where the natives were less
fierce and more intelligent. Besides, they had asked that a missionary
be sent to them.

They were very glad when he came bringing his pretty wife, and they
tried to learn all he told them.

All went well until the traders who came to the South Seas for
sandalwood and cocoanuts and the rich tropical fruits, discovered that
the natives were becoming more intelligent, and could not be cheated or
swindled so easily since the missionaries were teaching them.

So the traders made up their minds to try to turn the blacks against
Doctor Paton and his wife, and his native helpers.

They had not been able to do much until the time of the long drought,
told about at the beginning of this story. You see, they depended
almost entirely upon rain for fresh water to drink.

Never before in the memory of living men had the islands been so long
without rain. The people were terrified and ready for any outbreak.

But the young missionaries, sitting silently under the palms, realized
that the traders might so excite the natives with their talk, and with
the rum, that they might become murderers and revert to cannibalism.

“Where will you dig the well, John?” Margaret asked at length.

“On the slope over there.” He nodded toward the opposite hill. “I shall
begin work to-morrow. Chief Namakei comes an hour after sunrise.”

“If you succeed in reaching fresh water, shall we be safe?”

“Yes, and if not, I hate to think of what may happen.”

“But anyway,” she declared, “I’m sure you will find God’s rain, John.”

Weary days and nights followed; days when the doctor and his band of
native helpers dug from dawn to dark in the sandy soil; nights when the
young white people, too anxious to sleep, sat under their palm trees
and watched while the moon sank into the sea, and the volcano of Tann,
“the lighthouse of the Pacific,” flung its blazing banners high against
the heavens.

Two weeks passed and the diggers found no water. Then one day the
continued drought left the old chief’s favorite water-hole quite dry.
On the same day the side of the new well caved in.

The two troubles coming together turned the interest of Namakei to
suspicion. When the digging began again he forbade his men to take part
in the work, and, though he still watched the other toilers, his beady
eyes had the look of a hawk’s just ready to pounce upon its prey.

The moon was full before the cave-in was repaired. The next morning the
two remaining helpers did not report for duty, and old Namakei told the
doctor that they would not come back.

“They are my prisoners,” he laughed. “If Missi Paton wish help in
finding the buried rain, let his God give it.”

“His God will give it,” the missionary replied, calmly.

And alone Doctor Paton went on with his undertaking.

Two days, three days, passed, and still no water. Namakei assumed a
more threatening attitude.

“The moon wanes!” he warned the missionary.

And then one morning when the doctor went down into the well he saw
something gleaming at his feet. He bent down, gazing with eager eyes.
It was water!

“But will it be fresh?” he asked himself, with fast-beating heart. On
so tiny an island the sea water might easily penetrate the soil.

Very slowly he dipped his finger into the now fast-rising water and
lifted it to his lips. And then suddenly he sank down in the dampness
and wept like a child. The water was fresh and pure and sweet, God’s
rain indeed.

By noonday the well was filled with the life-giving water, and from
every part of the island the natives gathered to behold the miracle of
the rain which had come up from the earth instead of down from the sky,
and to do honor to Missi Paton who had given it to them.

And when he assured them that it would always be there so long as the
island remained in the sea, and that drought would nevermore bring
suffering and distress among them, they kissed his hands in gratitude.

Never again did the evil words of the traders against their beloved
Missi have any weight with the natives of Aniwa, and never again did
they turn away from the Christian religion and the Christian God; and,
if you should visit the island to-day, you would be shown by the proud
people the well where John Gibson Paton found by faith and prayer and
labor the buried blessing so many years ago.

* * * * *

Again the Story People clapped their hands as the story ended, for they
love to hear of nothing better than a brave and an unselfish deed.

“That is a good story,” said Mary Frances.

“Yes,” said the Story King; “the stories of those who risk their lives
for others are the best of all our stories.”

“Yes,” agreed the Story Queen; “they are the best of all.”

“Now,” said the Story Lady, “we come to our fourth story.”

ON the summit of one of the heights of a wild country district along
the Rhine, there stood many years ago an old castle. In this castle
lived a beautiful maiden with her father and two elderly aunts.

Her father was a jolly old nobleman, very fond of his beer, and very
fond of hearing himself talk, too. He enjoyed his own jokes better than
anyone else, perhaps.

Even so, his dearest possession was his beautiful daughter, his only
child. He loved her as the apple of his eye, and wished to give her all
happiness.

She had little chance of being lonely, for there were always a large
number of poor relatives visiting the nobleman, and indeed they made
these visits so long that they sometimes stayed for years.

She often wondered, however, who might be living in the castle on the
heights across the valley. She could just see the outlines of the walls
and towers on clear days from the balcony outside her bedroom window.

“Father,” she said one day, “could we not ride over to that castle some
time? I’m forever dreaming stories about those who live within it.”

A heavy cloud settled over her father’s countenance.

“Never let me hear you make mention of it again, my daughter!” he
thundered.

And of course she said no more, but she spoke about it to one of her
aunts that evening.

“Dear aunt, why was my father vexed when I mentioned that castle this
morning?” she asked, pointing out of her window.

“Hush, my child,” replied her aunt. “There is a feud between the two
families.”

“A feud?” questioned the maiden. “A feud? Why, we do not even know
them! How can there be a feud?”

“It dates back to the time of our great-great-grandfathers,” her aunt
told her, “and no loyal member of this family would ever have anything
to do with a member of that family. Never mention the matter again!”
Then suddenly changing the subject, “Did you finish your embroidery
stint for to-day? How far have you worked? Let me see.”

The maiden blushed, arose, and brought a large sheet of unfinished
tapestry to her aunt, which she unfolded before her.

Her aunt put on her spectacles to examine the work.

“Wait!” she exclaimed. “I’ll call my sister.”

The other aunt was in the doorway, however, and joined her in examining
the work.

“I see a missed stitch here!” she commented.

“Ah, yes, and a loose end there!” added the other. “It is growing dark.
No knowing how many flaws we would find by daylight. To-morrow you will
do better, I hope.”

“I will try,” promised the niece.

And so the maiden grew. By the time she was eighteen, she could not
only embroider tapestries, and play a dozen airs on her guitar and
harp, but could write a short note, with not more than ten misspelled
words, and could sign her own full name without missing a letter.

These accomplishments, in that day, were considered quite a finished
education for a young lady.

On her eighteenth birthday the castle was in bustling excitement
because there was to be an affair of utmost importance. And this affair
was none other than a great family gathering to receive the intended
bridegroom of the maiden.

Her father had promised her in marriage to the son of an old nobleman,
a friend of his who lived in a distant province.

The parents had arranged all the details, and the young people were
engaged to be married without even seeing each other. The time was
appointed for the wedding, which was to take place at the home of the
maiden on her eighteenth birthday.

The bridegroom had already set out on his journey and was expected to
arrive at any moment.

The castle was in a tumult. The fair bride had been decked out with
uncommon care. Her aunts had quarreled about every article of her
dress, and while they were quarreling, she had made up her own mind
about each article she would wear. The result was that she looked as
lovely as a dream. The soft lustre of her eyes, the rose-petal hue of
her cheeks, the quick rise and fall of her bosom, showed the excitement
in her heart.

Meanwhile her aunts gave her all kinds of directions as to her behavior.

“When you first see him, my dear niece,” advised one aunt, “lower your
eyes, as becomes a modest young lady.”

“Yes,” added the other aunt, “and when you courtesy, catch your skirts,
so,” and she made a deep old-fashioned bow.

The old baron was no less busy with preparations than the others.
Having, in fact, nothing to do but wait, he worried everybody else
about every detail. He wandered from the top to the bottom of the
castle, begging everybody to be diligent, and filling everybody with
anxiety. He was naturally a bustling little man, and he buzzed about in
every hall and chamber like a blue-bottle fly on a warm summer’s day.

In the meantime, things had been gathered together for the making of
a great feast. The forests had rung with the sound of the huntsman’s
horn. The kitchen was crowded with good cheer, and the castle was a
model of ancient hospitality.

The long tables had been spread with the handsomest trenchers and
dishes within the castle. The last finishing touches had been added to
the wedding gown, the bride waited trembling with anxious expectation.
Everything was ready to receive the distinguished guest–but the guest
did not come.

Hour after hour rolled by. The sun began to set, and the baron mounted
for the eleventh time to the high tower, and strained his eyes in hope
of catching sight of the count and his attendants.

Once he thought he saw them, for there were a number of men seen
advancing slowly on horseback, but when they had nearly reached the
foot of the mountain, they suddenly struck off in a different direction.

The last rays of the sun departed. The bats began to flit by in the
twilight. The road grew dimmer and dimmer to sight, and nothing seemed
to be stirring in it except, now and then, a peasant lagging homeward
from his day’s labor.

While the old castle was in this nervous state, very different things
were happening to the bridegroom.

The young count was riding along on horseback in a jog-trot fashion
toward the bride he had never seen.

“There is no haste necessary,” he said to his attendants; “we will be
there all in good time. Let us enjoy the scenery.”

At the inn where he stopped for refreshment, he met another young
nobleman with whom he had been good friends several years before while
both were in the army.

“And which way do you travel?” asked the count’s friend.

“We go through the East pass, and upward through the mountain road,” he
replied.

“How fortunate!” exclaimed his friend. “I am going in the same
direction.”

So they agreed to travel together, and soon set off, the count leaving
word for his servants to follow and overtake him later.

“Now, tell what has happened in your life since we last met,” said the
count’s friend as their horses stepped out abreast. “Has your heart
been touched by the beauty of any maiden?”

[Illustration: ONCE HE THOUGHT HE SAW THEM]

Then the count told him about his coming wedding with a young lady he
had never seen, but who was said to be very lovely.

In this way they entered one of the loneliest and most thickly wooded
passes in the mountains.

All this happened in the days when bands of robbers lived in woods, and
when ghosts were said to haunt old castles.

As the count turned to speak to his companion, suddenly from out the
woods there sprang a small band of robbers who immediately attacked
them.

They made a brave fight, but were nearly overcome by numbers when the
count’s retinue of servants came riding up. The robbers fled at sight
of them, but not until they had given the count a dreadful wound.

He was carried back to the nearest town through which he had so
joyfully ridden such a short while before. A priest, who was also quite
a doctor, was brought to his bedside, but everyone knew that the poor
young count’s moments were few to live in this world.

He motioned his friend near, and whispered between gasping breaths,
“I–beg–you–to–go–to–the–castle–of–my–betrothed–and–tell–
why–I–did–not–keep–my–appointment.”

Then gathering strength, he added in a stronger voice, “Unless this is
done, I shall not sleep quietly in my grave!”

He spoke so solemnly that his friend gave his promise without
hesitating. This seemed to soothe him, and he closed his eyes as if in
sleep, but he soon began to talk wildly, and call for his horse, saying
he must hasten to the home of his bride, and thinking he was leaping
into the saddle, he suddenly drew his last breath.

His friend was deeply grieved. His heart was heavy within him. He
scarcely knew how to keep his promise, for he was the son of the
nobleman whose castle the maiden had been forbidden to mention; and,
because of the feud between the two families, he hated all the more to
be the bearer of such bad news. Still he thought that he would like
to see the lovely girl, and he felt that he must try to carry out the
promise he had made to his dying friend. So he made arrangements for
the poor count’s burial in the cathedral near the graves of his noble
ancestors, and set out on his journey.

It is now high time that we should return to the castle, where
everybody was hungrily awaiting the guest.

Night closed in, but still no guest arrived. The baron descended from
the high tower in despair.

“It is so dark that I can see nothing now,” he said. “There is no use
in watching longer.”

The banquet had been postponed from hour to hour. The cooks in the
kitchen were desperate. The meats were already overdone, and every one
was beginning to look as though it were a time of famine.

“We cannot delay longer,” the baron finally said. “I fear we must
proceed with the feast without our guest.”

All were seated at the table and on the point of commencing, when the
sound of a horn from outside the gate gave notice that a stranger was
approaching.

Another long blast filled the old courts of the castle with its echoes,
and was answered by the warden from the walls.

The baron hastened to receive his future son-in-law.

The drawbridge had been let down, and the stranger was before the gate.

He was a tall, gallant cavalier, mounted on a beautiful black steed.
His face was pale. He had a gleaming eye, and yet wore an air of
sadness.

The baron was a little embarrassed to think that he should come in so
simple a way without a retinue of friends and servants. He thought
that the young count did not show proper appreciation of the honor
of marrying his daughter, but he comforted himself by thinking, “He
has been so anxious to see his bride that he has hurried off without
waiting for attendants.”

“I am sorry,” began the stranger, “to break in upon you at such an
hour—-”

“Oh, pray, do not worry,” interrupted the baron, “it is as nothing,”
and he continued with a world of compliment and greeting. For, to tell
the truth, the baron was very proud of his ability to make pretty
speeches.

He kept on talking so fast that the stranger was unable to put a word
in edgewise, and by the time he paused, they had reached the inner
court of the castle.

The stranger was again about to speak when he was once more interrupted
by a group of the baron’s relatives leading forth the blushing bride.

_The Wedding Feast_

The stranger gazed on her for a moment as one entranced. It seemed as
if his whole soul beamed forth in the gaze, and rested upon her beauty.

One of the maiden aunts whispered something in her ear. She made an
effort to speak. Her moist blue eyes were timidly raised, gave a shy
glance at the stranger, and were cast again to the ground.

Her words died away, but there was a sweet smile playing about her
lips, and a soft dimpling of the cheek showed that she was pleased to
meet so charming a person.

The late hour at which the guest had arrived left no time for talk. The
stranger attempted again to tell his sad news, but the baron would not
listen, and immediately led the way to the untasted banquet.

The feast was served in the great hall of the castle. Around the walls
hung the portraits of the bride’s ancestors, and the horns and tusks of
animals they had killed in the hunt. Armor and spears, and torn banners
hung next to jaws of wolves and tusks of boars, and spears and battle
axes. A large pair of antlers hung just over the head of the youthful
bridegroom.

The stranger took but little notice of the company or of the
entertainment. He scarcely tasted the banquet, but seemed absorbed in
admiring the bride. He talked with her in a low tone that could not be
overheard. The bride’s color came and went, and she listened to him
with deep attention. Now and then she made some reply, but she was very
quiet most of the time, and when his glance was turned she looked at
him with much pleasure.

“They have fallen in love at first sight,” whispered one aunt.

“I felt that it would be so,” said the other.

The feast went on merrily, or at least noisily, for the guests were all
blessed with large appetites.

The baron told his longest and best stories. If he told anything
marvelous, his hearers were lost in astonishment. If he told anything
funny, they laughed just loud and long enough to please him greatly.

Amidst all this frolic, the stranger seemed lost in thought. His only
conversation was with the bride, and seemed to grow more and more
earnest and mysterious. Clouds began to steal over her fair face, and
the guests noticed that she trembled.

Their gayety was chilled by such actions. The song and laughter grew
less and less frequent. There were pauses in the conversation.

Dismal stories were told by several people. The baron nearly frightened
some of the ladies into hysterics with the history of the ghost
horseman that carried away the fair young woman, Lenora.

The bridegroom listened to this tale with great attention. He kept
his eye fixed on the baron, and, as the story drew to a close, began
gradually to rise from his seat, growing taller and taller, until, to
the baron’s eye, he seemed almost to tower into a giant.

The moment the tale was finished, he heaved a deep sigh, and took a
solemn farewell of the company. They were all in amazement. The baron
was perfectly thunderstruck.

“What! going to leave the castle at midnight? Why, everything is ready
for your reception; a room is ready for you if you wish to retire.”

The stranger shook his head mournfully and said: “I must lay my head in
a different place to-night.”

Then waving his farewell to the company, he stalked slowly out of the
hall.

The maiden aunts seemed turned to stone. The bride hung her head, and a
tear stole down her cheek.

The baron followed the stranger to the great court of the castle, where
the black horse stood pawing the earth and snorting with impatience.

When they reached the portal whose deep, high archway was dimly lighted
by a lantern, the stranger paused and spoke to the baron in a hollow
tone of voice.

“Now that we are alone,” said he, “I will tell you my reason for
leaving. I have an engagement in—-”

“Why,” asked the baron, “cannot you send some one in your place?”

“I must keep this engagement myself–I must go myself—-”

“Ay,” said the baron, “but not until to-morrow–to-morrow you shall
take your bride there.”

“No! No!” replied the stranger with greater solemnity. “My engagement
is with no bride. The grave awaits me! I must go back where I came
from!”

He sprang upon his black charger, dashed over the drawbridge, and the
sound of the clatter of his horse’s hoofs was lost in the whistling of
the night’s blast.

The baron watched him until out of sight, then muttered, “He must have
been a ghost!”

He returned to the hall in great bewilderment, and related what had
just passed. Two ladies fainted; others sickened with the idea of
having banqueted with a spectre.

[Illustration: A TALL FIGURE STOOD AMONG THE SHADOWS OF THE
TREES]

The company tried to guess whose ghost it might have been. Some
talked of wood-demons and others of mountain sprites, but all was dim
uncertainty and mystery.

The next morning, however, put an end to guessing, for word came of the
death of the young count on his way to the castle, and every one felt
sure that the stranger of the night before was indeed his spectre.

You can imagine how dreadful the baron felt. He shut himself up in his
rooms. His guests stayed on, for they could not think of going when he
was in such trouble, and then, too, the remnants of the feast were to
be eaten and drunk!

But the poor bride was most to be pitied. To have lost a promised
husband before she was acquainted with him! And such a husband!
Everybody wept for her.

_The Midnight Music_

On the night of the second day after, she retired to her room with one
of her aunts who insisted upon sleeping with her.

The aunt was one of the best tellers of ghost stories in all the land,
and in telling one of her longest, fell asleep in the midst of it.

The room was in a distant corner of the castle, and overlooked a small
garden. The niece lay gazing at the beams of the rising moon as they
shone on the trembling leaves of an aspen tree before the latticed
window.

The castle clock had just tolled midnight when a soft strain of music
stole up from the garden.

She rose hastily from her bed and stepped lightly to the window.

A tall figure stood among the shadows of the trees. As it raised its
head, a beam of moonlight fell on its face. In a moment she knew
him–her promised bridegroom!

A loud shriek at that moment burst upon her ear, and her aunt, who had
been awakened by the music and had followed her to the window, fell
into her arms.

When she looked again, the spectre had disappeared.

Of the two, the aunt required the more soothing. She was beside herself
with terror.

As for the young lady, she did not feel frightened. There was
something, even in the spectre of her lover, very charming.

The aunt declared she would never sleep in that room again. The niece
for once was determined to have her own way, and declared she would
not sleep in any other room. The consequence was that she had to sleep
there alone.

She begged her aunt to promise not to tell about this moonlight
visitor, for she said it was the only comfort she had in her great
disappointment, and the good old lady promised. How long she would
have kept her promise is uncertain, for she dearly loved to talk about
mysterious happenings.

She did keep it to herself for a whole week; and then, suddenly, she
did not need to keep it longer. For word was brought to the breakfast
table that the young lady was not to be found.

Her room was empty. Her bed had not been slept in. The window was open!
The bird had flown!

Nearly every one was struck speechless, when the aunt who had slept
with her, suddenly regained her speech, and wringing her hands,
shrieked out, “The goblin! the goblin! She’s carried away by the
goblin!”

In a few words, she told of the dreadful scene in the garden; and all
concluded that the spectre must have carried off his bride. Two of the
servants said they had heard the clatter of horse’s hoofs down the
mountain-side about midnight, and had no doubt it was the black charger
of the spectre.

The poor baron was inconsolable. What sorrow to have his only child,
his daughter, carried off by a goblin! How terrible to have, perhaps,
goblin grandchildren! As usual, he was completely bewildered, and all
the castle was in an uproar.

The men were ordered to take horses, and hunt in every road and path
and by-way. The baron himself had just drawn on his jack-boots and
girded on his sword, when he glanced out the window, and paused because
of what he saw.

A lady was approaching the castle on horseback. Beside her, mounted on
a black charger, was a cavalier.

She galloped up to the gate, sprang from the horse, and running into
the castle, fell at the baron’s feet.

It was his lost daughter, and her companion–the spectre bridegroom.

The baron was astonished. He looked at his daughter, then at the
spectre, and almost doubted his eyes.

The spectre was wonderfully improved in appearance. His dress was
splendid, and set off his noble figure. He was no longer pale and sad.
His face was flushed with the joy of youth.

The mystery was soon cleared up. The cavalier (for you must have known
all along he was no goblin) told the whole story–how he had met his
young friend; how they had traveled together; how the young nobleman
had met his death. He said that the sight of the beautiful young lady
had made him forget everything except the desire to be near her. At
first, when the baron would not listen to his explanation, he thought
it would do no harm to accept the situation as it was.

If the baron’s family had not had a feud with his own family, he would
have explained everything after the banquet, but he feared that, under
the circumstances, he might never see the young lady again. When the
baron had told how the fair Lenora had been carried off by the goblin,
the idea of being a goblin himself came to him. And he said that he did
not feel exactly right about doing this, but his friends had told him
to remember the old saying that “everything was fair in love.”

The baron pardoned the young couple on the spot. The festival at the
castle was continued.

Only the aunt was disappointed. She who had told so many stories about
true ghosts, was embarrassed to find the only ghost which she had
actually seen should turn out to be a real live person, but she was
so happy at having her niece back again that her embarrassment was as
nothing.

But the niece was perfectly happy in having found him a real living
person, and–since they lived happily ever after–here the story ends.

* * * * *

“And another begins,” added the Story Lady, after a slight pause.

At the Story King’s nod of approval, she proceeded.