Chapter XIX. A Strange Discovery
 

Adonis and Rosebud sat for a while at the side of the miniature lake, where the pretty little lights dimpled in the placid waters, and where now a score of merrymakers were clamoring for a ride in the tiny launch which Jack Kimball and his chums, Ed and Walter, had rigged up, in order to add picturesqueness to the fete.

"Don't you want to take a sail?" asked the Greek youth of his fair companion.

"Oh, no, indeed, thank you. I must leave that for the others."

"You must?" and he accented the last word, as if to penetrate her disguise by this act of deference to the "others."

"Oh, well," she answered hesitatingly, "I never did care much for sailing, to tell the truth--especially in a--tub. I prefer a place where there is at least room in which to dip my hands."

"Then let us walk," he suggested. "I am anxious to see all over the grounds. Aren't they splendid? Just see that cave formed by the cedars, back of the lighted path. I declare' this place looks like a real fairyland to-night."

"I am glad you like it," replied the girl. "I--er--" She clapped her dainty hand over her masked mouth. She was near to betraying her identity.

"Like it?" he repeated. "How could I do otherwise? But in all this human garden there is no fairer flower than--Rosebud," and he brought her hand reverently to his lips.

"Oh! You--you mustn't be too--too gay!" she expostulated, but she laughed as she said it. "You know the patronesses have specified--"

"There!" he exclaimed, interrupting her. "It's all right, Rosebud," and he tucked her arm within his own. "I will make love to the trees if it pleases you. But let us walk about the grounds. I am afraid the curtain will be suddenly rung down and leave us again just mortals."

Rosebud felt that it was, pretty--very pretty. She was entirely satisfied with herself and her friends. Then Adonis--wasn't he splendid? And how courteous--almost like the brave knights of old.

They approached a spot gloomy with shadows.

From it they heard voices in a gentle murmur--voices near what Adonis had called the cedar cave.

Involuntarily, at the sound of one voice, Rosebud pressed her companion's arm. She heard some one say:

"I must go home at once--I am so frightened!"

There came an answering whisper, but it was in tones that indicated a youth pleading.

"I have--I have done it," again came the girl's frightened whisper. "I did what you asked me to, and I don't see why you don't take me home."

There was almost a sob in her voice.

"What? Just when I'm having a fine time?" objected the other. "Why don't you want to stay? No one could have seen you drop it into---"

"Hush!" cautioned the girl desperately.

"Oh, you're just nervous--that's all."

Rosebud felt that she should not hear any more, but she would either have to cross the path near the cave and allow the hidden ones to see her, or she must wait until they had come out, as, if she and her companion retreated now, they would make a noise on the gravel, and it would be heard. Adonis seemed to understand the situation, and whispered to his companion:

"Stay. They'll be gone in a moment." He drew her farther back into the shadows.

"If you don't take me home," continued the girl in the cedar cave, "I'll ask some one else to. I certainly shall not stay until supper and have to unmask. I dare not."

"Just as you like," was the cool response.

"And I risked it all for you--spoiled my entire evening. I'll know better next time!"

"Well, I'm going to make it up to you," said her companion.

There was a movement of the cedars, and two figures emerged from amid the trees. They crossed the path. They were Antonio and the nun.

Rosebud drew Adonis farther back from the path. The others passed on without seeing them and at once began talking gaily, as if they had been merrymaking with the rest but Rosebud and Adonis detected the false note in their laughter. Adonis pressed the little warm hand on his sleeve.

"Do you know them?" he asked.

"I--suspect them," she replied.

"So do I," he almost gasped, "and with good reason. I have just found something in my pocket."

"In your pocket?"

"Yes, quite a bulky package. I did not notice it until this moment."

"But how--"

"Don't ask me how it got there. It's just--there. I did not even know there was a pocket in this cloak I wore. Whoever put the package there was more clever than I."

"But what is it?"

"I'm going to look--Cora."

"Cora? Then you know me--Ed?"

"As you do me. Of course. Did you think you could deceive me?"

"I--I hoped to. But the package--what does, it contain?"

"We will look--together."

He led her to a dangling electric light, drew, something from the folds of his cloak, and unwrapped the paper. Then he gave an exclamation of surprise.

"Ten thousand dollars of my missing bonds!" he whispered.

"Really, Ed?"

He extended them to her.

"Oh, Ed! I'm so glad!"

"So am I, yet I have been suspecting it."

"Suspecting it?"

"Yes. I may as well admit it, of late I have not worried about my loss. Recently I have been convinced that it would come back. And you see I was right."

"But this is only half of it."

"I know, but the rest will come. It is not so easy to return the cash."

"But who could have slipped it into your pocket?"

"Don't you know? Can't you guess--after what we heard?"

"The--the nun?"

"Exactly."

"And she is--"

"That is a mystery--as yet, but I have my suspicions. She brushed past me in a crowd, and I thought I felt her hand upon my velvet cloak, but as I never suspected the garment contained a pocket, I gave it no further thought. Had I the remotest idea--what had happened there might have been a disturbance. But the talk we heard just now gave me a clue."

"Hush!" exclaimed Cora, and she shivered slightly in her rather thin costume. "Here come Paul and Belle. I have penetrated their disguises. Isn't Paul splendid as Marc Anthony? and Belle makes a perfectly classical Psyche."

"And Walter?" asked Ed with a veiled hint of jealousy in his tones.

"It was horrid of him to play the clown."

"But I like him best in some such humble role," spoke Ed.

"I wish you had not discovered me," went on Cora. "It would be such fun to hear things, and say things, in some other character than ourselves."

"But I could not find, even in the Rosebud, a fairer type than that of Jack's real sister," he replied gallantly.

"There's the supper gong!" exclaimed Cora; "and I must hurry away, as I have my duties to look after. Oh, but I'm so glad about the money. I wish it were all back. Are you going to make this public?"

"I don't know. We'll talk about it again."

"Well, run along now," commanded the girl with a pretty air of superiority. "Why don't you join in with that milkmaid and Pocahontas? They are charming--both of them."

"I think I will just run along with--Rosebud," he answered, and he drew her arm more firmly within his own as they advanced toward the fairy tables set about all over the lawn, where, as the repast was served, masks were suddenly taken off, and the merrymakers were treated to many surprises.

"Oh!" cried the pretty milkmaid to Hiawatha. "How could you--Jack Kimball?"

"Oh!" answered Jack, who had quite recovered from his little auto accident. "Oh! How could you--Bess? And you know perfectly well you did squeeze my hand--once."

"Oh, you horrid boy, I did not!"

"Well, you may now, if you like," and he extended it, but Bess drew back.

"And to think," cried the beautiful Psyche, who was Belle Robinson, "that I have actually been--"

"Letting a perfectly strange chap make love to you!" added Paul, helping her out, for Paul was Marc Anthony, and had spent considerable time with Belle.

"Oh!" cried the girl, recovering herself quickly. "Was that-- making--love?" and she looked archly at him.

"I--er--I rather hoped it was," he replied grimly.

Night--Hazel, you must know--had been flitting around with Hiawatha and the clown, but toward the end the latter had attached himself to her, to the exclusion of the Indian youth, and now Walter Pennington, with a shake of his head which set all the foolish little bells to ringing, told Paul's sister how delighted he was to renew his acquaintance with her.

Adonis and Rosebud had a table directly under the umbrella tree.

"I must run in-doors for a second," Cora whispered to Ed when the ices were being passed. "I want to speak to Jack. I just saw him going in."

"May I come?"

"With me?"

"Yes. You see, those bonds are burning a hole in well, in my lace handkerchief, and I wish Jack would put them in the safe in the house."

"Why, certainly. Come along. But see, there is Antonio--and the nun is not with him."

"Yes," spoke Ed. "I saw her go away with Priscilla."

"Priscilla?"

"Yes; and John Alden never spoke for himself."

"Priscilla," murmured Cora. "Do you know who she was?"

"No. Who?"

"Mary Downs."

"Mary--why, I thought she was out of town."

"She was, but she came back to-day, and I helped her fix up a costume. And so the nun went off with her?"

Cora walked slowly toward the house, Ed following.