Chapter XVI. A Scheme and What Came of It.
 

We will now have to take our readers away from the Winnebagos and their affairs for a few moments and admit them into the private office of Mr. Rumford Thurston. Mr. Thurston, dealer in stocks and bonds and promoter of investments, was closeted with his business associate and intimate friend, Mr. Nathan Scovill. An earnest discussion was in progress, the theme of which was apparently drawn from a paper which was spread out on the desk between them.

"I tell you, it's the chance of a lifetime," said Mr. Scovill. "We can clean up a cool half million on it before the public wakes up, and when they do we can take a trip to Hawaii or Manila for our health until the business is forgotten. You put in ten thousand now and you'll be on easy street for the rest of your life."

"But I tell you, I haven't the ten thousand to put in," answered Mr. Thurston crossly. "I haven't one thousand. That last deal finished me."

"Borrow some," said Mr. Scovill impatiently.

"Can't get any more credit," said Mr. Thurston gloomily. "The office furniture is attached already."

Mr. Scovill scowled. Then he went carefully over the ground again, dwelling on the ease of making money without working for it by the simple method of swindling the public, and enlarging on the joys of life as a rich man. "Think, man," he said in conclusion, "think what you're missing!"

Mr. Thurston leaned his head on his hands and thought of what he was missing, and he also thought of something else. A peculiar calculating expression appeared in his eyes and around the corners of his mouth. "There is some money to be had," he said slowly, "if I can get hold of it."

"Where?" asked Mr. Scovill eagerly. "If it's to be had you may rest assured we'll get hold of it by hook or crook."

"You remember John Rogers?" asked Mr. Thurston. Mr. Scovill nodded. "When he died he left his daughters a fortune in stocks," continued Mr. Thurston.

"Yes?" inquired Mr. Scovill encouragingly.

"Well," said Mr. Thurston, with a glitter in his eye, "I was appointed guardian of those two girls."

Mr. Scovill whistled. "Meaning to say------" he began.

"That I have the managing of their property until they come of age," finished Mr. Thurston.

"Our fortune's made," said Mr. Scovill, shaking him by the hand.

"The only thing is," said Mr. Thurston, scratching his head reflectively, "that the oldest girl comes of age in June, and there might be an awkward inquiry just at the wrong time. We can't afford to have any investigations begun inside of the next six months if we expect to carry through the other scheme. Any breath of scandal would wreck our prospects."

Mr. Scovill's face fell. He saw only too clearly the truth of the other's words. But where Mr. Thurston came to a halt in front of a dead wall, Scovill's scheming mind saw the loophole. "But just suppose," he said slowly, "that there shouldn't be any investigation when the oldest girl comes of age? Suppose she should never put in a claim for her property?"

"What do you mean?" asked Mr. Thurston.

"Something like this," said Mr. Scovill. "If she were to be kept shut up somewhere for a year or so until you have had time to make your fortune, it would be too late to hurt you with a disclosure after that. Where nobody asks questions there is no need of answering."

Thurston saw the point, but he didn't see how it was going to be done. It was Scovill who thought out the whole scheme. He had a large piece of land far outside the city limits on the lake front. There was an unoccupied house on the property. Here the girl could be kept locked up on the pretext that she was insane, with a certain woman he knew as keeper, a deaf-mute. He shared a secret with her and could use this knowledge to force her to serve him. The whole thing was very simple.

"But how are we going to keep the one locked up away from the other?" asked Mr. Thurston. "Her sister would have the whole country searching for her."

"Then take them both," said Mr. Scovill promptly. "That'll make matters simpler yet. You say they have no relatives and are now away in school? Nothing could be easier. We'll build a room they can't get out of once they're in, and when it's finished you invite them to your house for a visit. They'll think they're coming to see you, but it's out there to that house they'll go and they'll not come back in a hurry. In the meantime you get hold of those stocks and bonds, sell them and put the money in this venture and come out a rich man. When you're ready to clear out of the country you can let the girls out, and they won't be any worse off than when they went in--except that they won't have a cent."

Bit by bit the plan was perfected. Mr. Thurston took a sudden interest in his orphan wards to the extent of writing to the school where they were attending and asking when it closed for the summer. When he was informed that school closed the last week in May, he invited the two girls, Genevieve and Antoinette Rogers, to spend the first weeks of their vacation at his home. He had not seen either of them since they were little children. They graciously accepted the invitation.

But on the day they were to arrive, Mr. Thurston found that some private business of his very urgently required his presence in another city, and left Mr. Scovill to see to the landing of the birds in the trap. Mr. Scovill met the unsuspecting girls at the train, explaining with many expressions of regret the enforced absence of their guardian, took them to dinner in a fine hotel and showed them the sights of the town with all the cordiality of a sincere friend of their host, who was doing his best to make up for his not being there. He won their hearts completely. They were simple girls who had been brought up in a strict church school, and the sights and sounds of the large city were all wonderful to them.

Now, thanks to Mr. Scovill's activities, the trap was all set. The tower was built with its room at the top without any door and its barred window, and the deaf-mute was installed on the place and given instructions to act as guard to two girls who were mentally unbalanced. Furnishing the room in violet was the last touch of his cunning brain, because he knew the depressing effect it would have on the inmates. He gave strict orders to the keeper to remove any sign of a bright color, as this might cause them to become violent.

Mr. Scovill had left directions for his automobile to be at a certain place at half-past four to convey them to the house in the country. Now, for reasons of his own, Mr. Scovill did not wish to be the last one seen in the company of the two girls in case his plans should go wrong and some one would start an inquiry for them. Therefore, he gave his driver private instructions to drive like the wind with two girls who should be placed in the car, and under no condition to let them out of the car.

Accordingly, when they were all a little weary of sight-seeing he steered them gently toward the corner of ----th Avenue and L---- Street, where the car was to wait for them. Half a block off he saw that it was in place. So, pulling out his watch and suddenly remembering that he had an important engagement for that very minute, he courteously took his leave and pointed out the car they were to get into, telling them that it was Mr. Thurston's and would take them to his home. "You can't miss it, girls," he said, pointing with his finger. "It's that bright blue one with the basket-work streamer." Antoinette and Genevieve thanked him kindly for showing them such a good time and entered the car he had indicated. Mr. Scovill withdrew into a doorway and watched them. In a few moments the driver appeared, saw the two girls in the machine, touched his hat to them, and taking his place behind the wheel, drove rapidly off in the opposite direction. Mr. Scovill rubbed his hands together as he watched the car disappear. It was a way he had when his plans were turning out nicely. Forty-five minutes later his driver called up from the country house to say that he had brought the girls out in safety. Mr. Scovill smiled blandly. So far everything had played into his hands. When Mr. Thurston returned the following day he announced the fact to him that the birds were safe in the trap. Then he left town for a protracted stay. Mr. Thurston made one trip out to the house to behold the thing for himself. Riding up in the elevator, he saw the girls standing by the barred window of their prison. When they lit the light he descended in haste so as not to be seen by them. Then he also left town for a while.

The Winnebagos, who were all in time for the Limited except Nyoda and Gladys, boarded the car without them and amused themselves during the ride by thinking up ways to tease the tardy ones when they should arrive on the next car. Pretty Mrs. Bates met them at the car stop with the news that Nyoda and Gladys were coming out in the automobile, and when they thought it was time for them to arrive they all lined up in the road where the drive turned off, and were ready to sing a funny song which Migwan had made up about not getting there on time. The blue car came in sight and the girls ranged themselves straight across the road so it could not pass until the entire song had been sung. With mouths open ready to sing they stopped in astonishment. The two girls in the tonneau were strangers. They smiled bashfully at the row of maidens with the bright red ties.

Mrs. Bates stepped forward. "Whom have you brought us, John?" she asked.

"Why, you said there'd be two girls in the car when I came out," answered the driver; "and there were."

"Oh, is there any mistake?" asked one of the strange girls. "Our names are Genevieve and Antoinette Rogers. We've come up from Seaville to visit our guardian, Mr. Thurston. He couldn't meet us and another gentleman pointed out his automobile and said the driver would take us out to Mr. Thurston's country place, and we got in, and he brought us here."

"This is Bates Villa," said Mrs. Bates. "You undoubtedly got into our car by mistake."

"I'm sorry this is not the right place," said Antoinette in a tone of frank regret. "I was so glad when I saw all you girls and thought you were to be our friends."

"You will be very welcome guests until your guardian comes for you," said Mrs. Bates in her gracious way.

The Winnebagos were much amused to think that Gladys and Nyoda had missed their chance to ride out in the automobile, and added another verse to the song to be sung when they should arrive on the next Limited. Mrs. Bates found Mr. Thurston's name in the telephone book and called his residence, but could get no answer. Now, Mr. Scovill had introduced himself to Genevieve and Antoinette as "Mr. Adams." They did not know his initials and attempts to get him on the wire were futile.

The girls all went down to the car-track when it was time for the next Limited. A regular fusilade of jests and jibes were prepared for Nyoda and Gladys. The Limited appeared and thundered by without stopping. "Not on this one?" said the girls. "What on earth could have happened?"

"Here comes another car," said Hinpoha; "they're running a double-header. Nyoda and Gladys must be on this one." The second car whizzed by with a deafening clatter and a cloud of dust.

"Maybe they're not coming," said one of the girls, and disappointment was visible on every face. This jolly party would not be complete without their beloved Guardian and Gladys. Mrs. Bates telephoned to the Evans's house in town, but there was nobody home. She tried the house where Nyoda lived, but got no satisfaction, for the landlady merely said that Miss Kent had not been home since leaving for school in the morning. The evening passed off as merrily as possible and the girls rose the next morning feeling sure that Nyoda and Gladys would be out on the first car. But the day passed with no sign of them. They telephoned to the Evans's again and this time they got Mrs. Evans.

"Gladys hasn't arrived there?" she asked in a frightened voice. "She wasn't at home last night. Where can she be?" Wonder gave way to anxiety on all sides and there was no more thought of fun.

"They must be out at Mr. Thurston's, of course," suggested Antoinette Rogers. Renewed efforts were made to get into communication with Mr. Thurston, but in vain. No answer came from the number which was opposite his name in the telephone book. Genevieve and Antoinette were highly embarrassed at being obliged to stay with strangers, and were not a little mystified over the non-appearance of their guardian.

The days passed in frightful suspense for the parents and friends of the missing girls. The aid of the police was called in, but they could find no clue. Early on the morning of the fourth day Mrs. Evans was called to the phone and was overjoyed to hear Gladys's voice on the wire. She and Nyoda were at a house on the lake shore and would be home soon. There was a happy home-coming that morning. Nyoda and Gladys told the almost unbelievable tale of their imprisonment and escape from the tower. After lying exhausted on the beach for a time, they had walked until they came to a house where they were warmed and lent dry clothes, for they had lost their bundles in the waves.

"And that's what would have become of us," said Antoinette Rogers with a shudder, when Nyoda and Gladys had finished their story, "if we had not made a mistake and gotten into the wrong automobile."

The police were informed of the matter and as soon as Mr. Thurston returned to his place of business he was arrested and charged with the conspiracy to abduct and forcibly detain his two wards. At first he denied any knowledge of the affair, but the proof was overwhelming. Nyoda accompanied a delegation of police and witnesses in a motor boat to the foot of the tower and showed them the bent-out bars and the very place where they had jumped into the water, and later they raided the house from the land side. The deaf mute was nowhere to be found. She had fled when she discovered that her charges had escaped and was never heard of again. They ascended in the elevator but were unable to find the contrivance which opened the door into the room, so cunningly was it devised, and had to be content with looking through the grill-work into the lavender room.

The Rogers girls, who were taken away from the guardianship of Mr. Thurston, went to stay with friends in Cincinnati. Mr. Thurston was left to pay the penalty of his villainy alone, for Mr. Scovill had made good his escape before the plot was disclosed.

Thus Nyoda and Gladys all unknowingly were the cause of a great crime being averted, and were regarded as heroines forevermore by the Winnebagos and their friends.