Chapter V. Amy's Mystery.
 

Betty was quick to comprehend the cruel words, and in an instant she had crumpled the anonymous scrawl in her hand. But she was the fraction of a second too late. Amy had read it.

Betty heard the sound of Amy's sigh, and then the catch in her breath. She turned quickly.

"Amy!" cried Betty. "Did you see it? Oh, my dear! The meanness of it! The awful meanness! Oh, Amy, my dear!" and she put her arms around her trembling companion. "Oh, if I only knew who sent it!"

"I--I can guess!" faltered Amy.

"Who?"

"Alice Jallow."

"The--the cat!"

Betty simply could not help saying it.

"Let--let me see it again," whispered Amy. "I didn't mean to read your note, Betty, but I saw it before I realized it."

"My note? It isn't mine! I wouldn't own to receiving such a scrawl! Oh, Amy, I'm so sorry!"

"Never mind, Betty. I--I've been expecting it."

"You have?"

"Yes. That--that is what has been bothering me of late. You may have noticed--"

"I've noticed that you haven't quite been yourself, Amy, my dear, but I never suspected--and you think Alice sent this?"

"I'm almost sure of it. It has to be known sooner or later. But don't say anything to Alice."

"Why not? The idea! She ought to be exposed--and punished. I'll go to--"

"No, please don't, Betty. It--it is true, and--and there is no use giving her the satisfaction of knowing that she has--has hurt me," faltered Amy.

"Oh, the meanness of it!" murmured Betty. "But, Amy dear, I don't understand. This doesn't at all look like the writing of Alice Jallow."

"I know; she has disguised her scribbling, that's all. But it doesn't matter. I'll never charge her with it."

"Why not?"

"I haven't the heart. Oh, Betty, I'm afraid it's only too true! I really don't know who my father and mother are!"

"Amy!"

"No, I don't. I've suspected a mystery a long while, and now I am sure I am mixed up in one."

"Amy Stonington!" cried Betty. "Do you mean to tell me--look here, let's get to some quiet place. Some one will be coming in here. We can go to Miss Greene's room. She has gone for the day. But perhaps you don't want to tell me, Amy."

"Oh, yes I do. I want to tell all you girls. And then maybe--"

"Amy Stonington!" exclaimed Betty. "If you're going to hint--and I see that you are--that we'd pay any attention to this note, or let it make any difference between us--even if it's true--which I don't believe--let's see--what do I want to say--I'm all confused. Oh, I know. I mean that it shan't make a particle of difference to us--if you never had a father or mother--"

"Oh, of course I had--some time," and Amy smiled through a mist of tears. "Only there's a mystery about them--what became of them."

"Why I thought--all of us thought--that Mr. and Mrs. Stonington were your parents," said the wondering Betty.

"So did I, until lately. Then I began to notice that papa and mamma--as I thought them--were frequently consulting together. They always stopped talking when I came near, but I supposed it might be about some plans they had for sending me away to be educated in music. So I pretended not to notice. Though I did not want to go away from dear Deepdale.

"Their queer consultations increased, and they looked at me so strangely that finally I went to mamma--no, my aunt, as I must call her, and--"

"Your aunt!" exclaimed Betty.

"Yes, that is what Mrs. Stonington is to me; or, rather she was poor dear mamma's aunt. I am going to call her aunt, however, and Mr. Stonington uncle. They wish it."

"Oh, then they have told you?"

"Yes. It was the night before the day that I fainted in school. It was thinking of that, I guess, that unnerved me."

"Why, Amy! A mystery about you?"

"Yes, and one I fear will never be found out. I'll tell you about it."

"Not unless you'd rather, dear," and Betty put her arms about her chum as they sat on the worn sofa in Miss Greene's retiring room.

"I had much rather. I want you and Grace and Mollie to know. Maybe--maybe you can help me," she finished with a bright smile.

"You see it was this way. Of course I don't remember anything about it. All my recollections are centered in Deepdale, and about Mr. and Mrs. Stonington. It is the only home I have ever really known, though I have a dim recollection of having, as a child, been in some other place. But that is like a dream.

"But it seems that when I was a very little girl both my parents lived in a distant city. Then one day there was a terrible storm, the river rose, and there was a flood. This I was told by my uncle and aunt, as I am going to call them. Who my father and mother were I never knew, except from what I have heard, but it seems that Mrs. Stonington was mamma's aunt.

"In the flood our house was washed away, but I, then a small baby, was found floating on a sort of raft tied to a mattress on a bed. I was taken to a farm house, and found pinned to my dress was an envelope."

"Just an envelope?"

"Yes. There might have been a letter in it, but if there was it had been washed out in the flood and rain. But the envelope was addressed to Mrs. Stonington here, and she was telegraphed to. Her husband hurried on, for he knew of the flood and feared for his wife's relatives who lived in that town. He took me back with him, and I have lived with Uncle John and Aunt Sarah ever since."

"But your father and mother, Amy?"

"No one ever knew what became of them. They--they were never found, though a careful search was made. I was the only one left."

"And was there nothing to tell of your past life?"

"There wasn't much to tell, you see--I was so small. There was a sort of diary in the bed with me, but it only gave details of my baby days--probably it was written by my mother--for the handwriting is that of a woman. Aunt Sarah gave it to me the other day. I shall always treasure it."

"And is that all?"

"Well, there was a mention of something--in a vague sort of way--that I was to inherit when I grew up. Whether it was land or money no one can tell. The reference is so veiled. Even Uncle John, and he is a stock and bond broker, you know, says he is puzzled. He has had a search made in Rockford--that's where the flood was--but it came to nothing. And so that is all I know of my past."

"But your aunt must know something of your mother if they were relatives."

"Very little. They saw each other hardly at all, and not for some years before my mother's marriage, Aunt Sarah says. How my parents came to pin the Stoningtons' address on my baby dress they can only guess. And I'll never know. Probably they did it before they were--were drowned."

"Then your name isn't Stonington after all, Amy?"

"Oh, yet it is. The queer part of it is that my mother is said to have married a man of the same name as Uncle John, but no relative, as far as we can learn. So I'm Amy Stonington just the same. My uncle and aunt formally adopted me after they found that there was no hope of locating my parents. And so I've lived in ignorance of the mystery about me until just the other day."

"And then they told you?"

"Yes. It was discussing the advisability of this that caused Uncle John and Aunt Sarah to confer so often. Then they decided that I was getting old enough to be told. They said they would rather it would come to me from themselves than from strangers."

"Oh, then others know of it?"

"Yes, a few persons in town, but they were good enough to keep it quiet for my sake. Among them, so Uncle John told me, were Alice Jallow's people. That is why I think she wrote the note. She must have found out about my secret in some way, and thought to taunt me with it."

"The mean creature!"

"Oh, I don't mind. I was only afraid you girls--"

"Amy Stonington! If you even hint at such a thing again we'll never forgive you! As if we cared! Why, I think it's perfectly wonderful to have such a romance about you. I know the other girls will be crazy about it. Of course, it's sad, too, dear. But maybe some day, you'll find out that your father and mother aren't--aren't gone--at all, and you'll have them again."

"That's what I've been hoping since I knew. But there is very little chance, after all these years. Uncle John told me not to hope. You see, they must have been drowned. The worst is that I can't recall them. They never corresponded with aunt and uncle in years. I don't know what sort of a home I had--or--or whether I had brothers or sisters."

"No, I suppose there isn't much chance of your parents having escaped the flood. And yet I've read--in books--"

"Oh, yes--in books. But this is real life, Betty. And now, dear, I've told you all I know. As I said, it shocked me when I first heard it, but I'm pretty well over it now. Only it did startle me when I read that note over your shoulder."

"I should think it would. When I see Alice--"

"Please don't say anything to her!" pleaded Amy. "Please don't! Let her see that--that it hasn't made a bit of difference."

"I will. A difference? Why, we'll love you all the more Amy,--if that's possible."

"That's good of you. Now shall we--"

"Hark, some one is coming!" exclaimed Betty, tiptoeing to the door, while Amy shrank back on the sofa.