Chapter XVI. Cloudy Days
 

The days dragged themselves along and a week loitered past which seemed an age to the Winnebagos. No word had come from Nyoda since a telegram she had sent upon her arrival, saying that Sherry was very low and not expected to live. They had written her about Veronica's plight, but there was no answer to that.

Neither did they hear anything about Veronica. Mr. Wing had been in Philadelphia ever since the day of Veronica's arrest, but they had not heard from him since.

The Winnebagos wore themselves out talking about Veronica. The subject of her mysterious excursions from the house was always in the air, and it formed a hurdle over which no one could jump. Where had she gone on those excursions? Why didn't she confide in them and satisfy their minds on this point?

It usually happens in such instances, where our friends fail to take us into their confidence on matters which we think we have a right to know, that our pride is hurt at the neglect and pretty soon we begin to have suspicions in regard to the mysterious action. So it was with the Winnebagos. At first they only felt hurt that Veronica should have secrets away from them, but soon they began to say to themselves that there must have been something suspicious somewhere, if she could not confide in them, her best friends.

It was Agony who voiced this sentiment the oftenest, and kept the mystery constantly stirred up. She never let them forget it for a moment. She seemed inclined to argue as her father had done, that Veronica's ties of blood and birth had been too strong for her and in an unguarded moment she had yielded to the impulse to assist the cause of her native land. The constant repetition of this belief began to influence the others. Much as they were loath to believe that Veronica would assist the enemies of their country, they were always conscious of the fact that they had never really known Veronica; that they could not understand her strange, passionate nature; that never in their acquaintance with her had they ever been able to guess what she would do next. There had always been a gulf between themselves and her which they had never been able to cross entirely, much as they had come to love her; there was always a line drawn around her over which they had never been able to pass. They loved her dearly; they admired her wildly; but they no more understood the soul that was locked up in her uncommunicative nature than they understood the riddle of the Sphinx. They all realized this, and were filled with sorrowful forebodings. The fact that she had known Prince Karl Augustus loomed larger and larger in their minds as the days wore on, and it seemed not at all improbable that she had seized the opportunity to aid him in his activities, without ever stopping to think of the consequences of her act. They were broken-hearted over it, but gradually came to believe the possibility of the charge against her.

Only Sahwah stood out stanchly for her right along, refusing to doubt her for a moment.

"I don't care if she is an alien enemy!" she declared vehemently. "She's my Veronica, and I know she never had anything to do with it, so there!"

She wouldn't listen to Agony and her wise-sounding talk, withdrew to herself a great part of the time, and for lack of other supporters spoke out her mind to the portrait of Elizabeth Carver, hanging serenely over the harp in the long parlor.

"You would have stood up for your friend, no matter what the others said, wouldn't you?" she demanded beseechingly, and it seemed to her that Elizabeth nodded her head in confirmation.

Then one day came news which filled them all with consternation. Veronica was to be interned! Mr. Wing came home and told them about it briefly. The weight of suspicion had been so strong against Veronica that nothing could stand against it; her internment had been ordered by the agents of the government. They were now awaiting the arrival of the internment papers from Washington; when these came she would be taken away.

Mr. Wing wearily waved aside the hosts of questions poured out by the dismayed Winnebagos. He had suffered great chagrin over the loss of the letter which was to have played such an important part in the coming trial; sober afterthoughts had convinced him of the possibility of Veronica's connection with enemy agents; he had come to believe it implicitly now. Of course, she had taken in these simple girls with her spectacular protestations of loyalty to this country; that was part of the game. His anxiety was all for his girls, for fear they had already compromised themselves in some way.

The Winnebagos saw him in a new mood to-day, stern, inflexible, obdurate. He curtly advised them to speedily forget their friend and to say nothing to outsiders about the occurrence. He refused to tell them where she was at present, and would not hear of their having any intercourse with her.

"The first thing you know you'll be suspected of connivance yourselves," he warned. "And I also advise you not to express too much sympathy for your friend," he continued. "It's a sure way to make yourselves unpopular these days."

Stricken, Sahwah sped home, and fleeing from the others, went into the woods by herself. That was always her place of refuge in trouble. When others would have sought human comfort and advice, Sahwah fled straight to the woods. There she could think clearly and gather together her stunned faculties.

She wandered on blindly until she came to the brook, the little laughing stream she loved so well, and sat there for hours trying to think of some plan by which she could save Veronica. For the conviction was strong within her that Veronica was innocent and it would not budge for all the suspicions in the world. She thought of one wild extravagant scheme after the other, and abandoned them all, and at last, utterly crushed and low-spirited, she took her way back to Carver House.