The Camp Fire Girls Do Their Bit by Hildegard G. Frey
Chapter XV. It Never Rains--
Sahwah wakened with the sound of a bell ringing in her ears. The house was still asleep; the sun was pouring in brightly through the south window of the room. Sahwah wondered idly why the sun was shining in at that window; it always shone in the other window when she wakened in the morning. Then she remembered. It all seemed like a dream; the telegram, the hurried preparations for departure, the swift journey to the station with Nyoda and the return to Carver House without her. Sahwah was still piecing together the events of the night before when the shrill ring sounded through the house again. It was the front doorbell. Sahwah jumped up and threw on her bathrobe and, yawning widely, ran downstairs.
It was Agony; Agony with a face as pale as a ghost. "What's the matter?" asked Sahwah in consternation, forgetting her own great news at the sight of Agony's expression.
"It's Veronica," Agony burst out breathlessly.
"What's the matter with Veronica?" asked Sahwah in alarm.
"She's been arrested!"
Sahwah's heart thumped queerly and then seemed to stand still at this climax of her forebodings. "What for?" she asked faintly.
Agony came in and sat down on the hall seat "There's so much to tell, I think I'll begin at the beginning," she said, and Sahwah stood still with her eyes fastened on Agony's face apprehensively.
"You remember when you were all over at our house for dinner one night, and papa was home, he told us something about the big case he was working on, the Atterbury case, and he said he suspected that German agents were mixed up in it? Well, yesterday he got hold of some letters that proved it. There was one from a German Prince, Prince Karl Augustus of Hohenburg, to some man in this country, written before the war, promising to pay money to have strikes started and machinery damaged if this country went into the war. This very Atterbury was mentioned in the letter, and it made papa's case complete against him. The letter had gotten into the wrong hands and somebody turned it over to papa. It was so important that papa had to take it to Washington. That's why he came home unexpectedly last night; he planned to go this morning. He brought the letter home with him and locked it in his desk upstairs. This morning a Secret Service agent came out from Philadelphia to go along with papa and papa went to get the letter and it was gone."
"But what has Veronica----"
Agony drew another long breath and hastened on. "Why, papa says that Veronica asked to use the telephone in the study last night, and she was in there a long time alone, and soon afterward she disappeared from the party. The letter was in his desk when she went in there; nobody else went in after her. It looks as though she took it, and the Secret Service man arrested her."
"But I thought Veronica was upstairs in bed!" gasped Sahwah.
"She came over to our house about nine o'clock this morning," said Agony, "and told us about Nyoda's husband being injured and her going away in such a hurry. She was downstairs with me when papa discovered that the letter was gone, and the agent arrested her right away."
Sahwah's head was in a whirl, and she sat down weakly on the stairs. Then she raised her head and said with a flash of spirit, "Veronica never took any letter out of your father's desk! I don't believe it! Whatever would she want with such a thing as that?"
"But," continued Agony, "don't you see? This Prince Karl Augustus of Hohenburg is a friend of hers, she played for him and his wife gave her a ring! She's taken that letter away so it can't be used in the trial to prove that he was connected with the business!"
"I don't believe it!" said Sahwah flatly. Her blood rose to fighting pitch even while her heart misgave her. "Agony Wing," she raged, "do you think for a moment that Veronica would have anything to do with enemy agents? What if she did know that old prince. She didn't like him. Do you think she'd steal letters for him?"
"It does seem awfully odd," said Agony, "the fuss she always made about wanting to be an American. Papa could hardly believe it of her, either, but the Secret Service man and Mr. Prince are perfectly sure she did it."
"Mr. Prince!" exclaimed Sahwah in wrath. "What's he got to do with it?"
"Well, it seems that all along he's been suspicious of her; he didn't think she was sincere when she talked about liking America better than her own country," replied Agony. "He says he isn't surprised at all that this happened; he's been expecting something of the kind. It was he that told papa and the Secret Service man about her having known the prince."
"How did he find it out?" demanded Sahwah.
"I don't know, I never told him," declared Agony, bristling as though she thought Sahwah suspected she had told.
"I hate that artist!" Sahwah declared fiercely. "He's a meddlesome old thing!"
"Well, you can't really blame him for suspecting Veronica," said Agony, lightly, "You see, she's an alien enemy, and----"
"Agony!" cried Sahwah savagely, "do you believe Veronica's a traitor?"
"I hate to think----" began Agony.
Sahwah came close to her and faced her with blazing eyes. "Do you believe she is?"
"It's hard to believe----"
"Do you believe she's a traitor?"
Agony shrank back from her fury. "No, I don't," she said meekly. "Don't be so savage, Sahwah."
"Where is Veronica?" she asked.
"She's still over at our house. The Secret Service man sent me over here to bring all you girls over, he wants to talk to you."
Sahwah roused the girls from bed with her sensational piece of news and they all hastened home with Agony. Mr. Wing took them upstairs to his study and they went in, feeling queer and frightened. Veronica was sitting there, her face as white as a sheet, her great eyes dilated with fear and bewilderment. The artist lounged in the window seat, watching Veronica closely and smiling slightly to himself, and facing Veronica sat a small, keen-looking man with little, steely gray eyes that bored like gimlets.
"These are the girls with whom Miss Lehar is staying," said Mr. Wing. He introduced the little man as Special Agent Sanders.
Sahwah searched Mr. Wing's face pleadingly; he looked greatly puzzled, and very, very much disturbed. Then she looked at the gimlet-eyed man in the chair and saw his eyes rove from one to another of the girls questioningly. He began to speak without preliminary.
"When you girls reached home after this party last night was Miss Lehar there?"
"Yes," answered Migwan and Hinpoha and Gladys together. Sahwah was silent.
Immediately Agent Sanders' eye was upon her. "Was she?" he asked directly of Sahwah.
Sahwah opened her lips and closed them nervously, unable to frame an untruth, and equally unable to tell what she knew. She looked helplessly at Veronica. The room became very still. The others looked at her in astonishment. Agent Sanders bored her with his little, keen eyes. Sahwah felt herself turning red and white and her heartbeats thumped against her eardrums. She sent Veronica another miserable look. Veronica returned the look steadily, and then she spoke.
"Tell him you saw me coming in the back door after you got home," she said calmly.
"Is that true?" Agent Sanders asked of Sahwah.
Sahwah nodded. A gasp of astonishment went up from the other three Winnebagos.
"Tell all the circumstances connected with the incident," Agent Sanders directed Sahwah.
"There weren't any circumstances connected with it," replied Sahwah earnestly. "We had just come home and our friend had had bad news and was going away early in the morning and we were getting her ready and I went out in the back entry way to get something and just then Veronica came in the back door."
"You thought she had gone home with a sick headache and was in bed?"
"Yes," replied Sahwah, "but when she came in I decided she had been out for a walk." This sounded like a perfectly natural explanation to Sahwah.
"Didn't it strike you strange that she should have gone walking at that hour?"
"No, it didn't," replied Sahwah eagerly. "She often does it."
"Ah-h!" Agent Sanders merely breathed the syllable, yet it held a world of meaning. Sahwah felt vaguely apprehensive.
"So she often goes out walking at midnight, does she?" continued the agent. Sahwah felt that she had made a misstep somewhere, and was harming Veronica's cause instead of helping it, but the eyes of the agent seemed to be drawing all her knowledge from her like a magnet picking up needles.
"I meant," said Sahwah, "that she often has those sick headaches, and when she does she generally goes out walking to cure them."
"And these headaches generally occur at night?"
"In other words," said Agent Sanders as confidently as if he could see right inside of her head and knew everything in it, "this is not the first time Miss Lehar has gone on a mysterious errand at night--eh?"
Sahwah started, and then was furious at herself because she knew the agent had noticed it.
He bored his eyes right through her, and remarked sarcastically, "You knew this girl to be an alien, an enemy of your country; you knew she was going off on mysterious errands, and yet you didn't think there was anything strange about it!"
Then to Sahwah's relief Agent Sanders fell to making rapid notes in a memorandum book, and ceased addressing her. He turned abruptly to Veronica.
"Where did you go when you left this house last night?" he asked pointblank.
"Down the street to Carver House, through the yard, down the hill behind it, along the road to the edge of town and back," replied Veronica readily.
The agent looked thoughtful for a moment. The straightforwardness of her reply seemed to perplex him a little.
Then he asked, "Whom did you meet down there at the edge of town?"
Veronica did not answer.
"Whom did you meet?" he repeated triumphantly.
Veronica opened her lips as if to speak and then closed them again and remained silent. The room was so still that the heavy ticking of the clock sounded like hammer blows on an anvil. All eyes were on Veronica; the Winnebagos stared, open-mouthed; Sahwah's blood ran cold in her veins; Agent Sanders leaned forward, the whole force of his personality concentrated in his compelling eyes.
"I didn't meet anybody," said Veronica, returning his gaze steadfastly.
"Where did you go, then?"
Veronica was silent.
"I can't tell you."
"Because I can't." There was a ring of finality in Veronica's tone.
Agent Sanders scribbled something more in his little notebook. Then he renewed his questioning. "You took that letter to somebody, didn't you?"
"I did not," replied Veronica emphatically. "I told you before, and I repeat it, I know nothing about any letter. I never saw it, and I never heard of it until you accused me of taking it."
The agent smiled knowingly. "To whom did you telephone from this study last night?"
"To a friend of mine."
Veronica refused to answer that question, calmly defying the agent to make her tell. Again there was a sensation in the room. The Winnebagos were ready to drop with astonishment at the strange behavior of Veronica. Sahwah looked around at the various faces. Mr. Wing still wore his puzzled, pained expression; the artist seemed to be getting bored; he looked out of the window and his left hand was playing with his ear, pulling down the lobe and releasing it with a jerk, a gesture he was continually making when his hands were idle. It irritated Sahwah now and made her nervous; she was filled with a desire to tie his hand down so he couldn't reach his ear.
"That will do," said Agent Sanders to the Winnebagos, indicating by a gesture that they were to go out of the room. Sahwah lingered. She stood up beside Veronica and put her arm around her. "She didn't do it! She didn't do it!" she said fiercely, facing the three men fearlessly. "She's as loyal to this country as you are!"
"Possibly," said Agent Sanders drily. "Well, little lady, your faith in your friend is very beautiful to see, but until we find out that someone else took that letter we can't take much stock in it."
"I'll prove to you that she's all right," Sahwah proclaimed rashly, and then reluctantly went out of the room. Her faith in Veronica's innocence was unshaken. Veronica herself had said that she did not know anything about the letter, that was enough for Sahwah. Her friend had spoken, and she never dreamed of doubting her word.
As she went out she saw Mr. Wing rub his hand thoughtfully over his forehead and heard him say, "But hang it, Sanders, you didn't hear her play last night. She had us all roused to such a pitch of patriotism that we were ready to go to the front on the next ship." The agent said nothing, only went on making notes in his little book. The artist sprang to open the door for Sahwah, but she took the knob out from under his very hand and passed him with hostile eyes.
Soon afterward Agent Sanders and Mr. Wing went to Philadelphia and took Veronica away with them. Before they went the Winnebagos all flung themselves upon Mr. Wing and implored him not to let the agent take her away. "You know she is all right," pleaded Sahwah. "You tell him not to arrest her."
Mr. Wing threw out his hands in a helpless gesture. "You don't understand, my dear," he said patiently. "I can't tell Special Agent Sanders 'not to' do anything. I don't happen to have the authority."
"Oh-h," said the Winnebagos.
"You see," he went on gently, "Agent Sanders is only doing his duty in arresting her. It's his business to run down the enemies of our country and he is working for the good of all of us. The case against her is pretty strong, you'll have to admit. She's an alien enemy, a friend of this Prince Karl Augustus; is wearing a ring which his wife gave her. Then here comes this letter from him which will expose him as the head of a great plot. Veronica is in the house with that letter; she is known to have been alone in the room where it was; soon after that she leaves the house and says she is going home with a sick headache. When you get home you find her trying to steal unobserved into the back entry. She herself admits that she had an appointment with someone during that time. The next morning the letter is found to have disappeared. Naturally all suspicion points to her, and how could Sanders do anything else but put her under arrest? This is a serious matter, much more serious than you can guess, if that letter goes back into the hands of the prince's agents."
"But do you really think she took the letter?" asked Sahwah despairingly.
Mr. Wing shrugged his shoulders and repeated his gesture of helplessness. "It's hard to know what to expect from such a temptestuous nature as that," he said seriously. "A nature which can work up such a passionate loyalty for an adopted country--what must its feelings have been toward its own native land? Suppose when the chance unexpectedly came to aid the cause for which her country is fighting and for which her father died, the old ties were stronger than the new, and she could not resist the temptation? A nature like hers is capable of going to any extreme. Naturally I hate to suspect her of any connection with enemy agents, but as a servant of the government it is my duty to act upon anything that is in the least suspicious. Sanders is absolutely convinced that she's a dangerous spy in the employ of the enemy, for she answers the description of a young girl he has been trying to find for a long time, a girl who belongs to the Hungarian nobility who has helped German agents in this country.
"Sanders is dead sure she took that letter and passed it back to the prince's agents, and you really can't blame him for thinking so. For, hang it all, if she didn't, who under the shining sun did?"
Only Sahwah, with her faith in her friend unshaken, though circumstances pointed accusing fingers from every direction, declared stoutly, "She didn't, I know she didn't. Some day you'll find out I'm right!"