The orchard secret, p.1

  The Orchard Secret, p.1

The Orchard Secret

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The Orchard Secret

  The Arden Blake Mystery Series




  A. L. Burt CompanyPublishersNew York Chicago

  _The Arden Blake Mystery Series_


  The Orchard SecretMystery of Jockey HollowMissing at Marshlands

  Copyright, 1934, byA. L. Burt Company

  The Orchard Secret

  Printed in the United States of America


  CHAPTER PAGE I The Warning 7 II Fruit-Cake 15 III Black Danger 25 IV The Reward Circular 38 V Rescued 52 VI Apple Hazing 62 VII Terror in the Dark 72 VIII A Tea Dance 82 IX The Disappearance of Sim 91 X What to Do 98 XI Sim 107 XII Midnight Mishap 115 XIII Aftermath 123 XIV The Dean Decides 129 XV The Alarm Bell 136 XVI Arden's Adventure 143 XVII In Danger 154 XVIII In Hiding 162 XIX Strange Talk 170 XX A Dire Threat 177 XXI A Bold Stroke 182 XXII Arden Admits It 190 XXIII The Injured Chaplain 196 XXIV The Dean Explains 203 XXV Arden Is Convinced 212 XXVI The Challenge 223 XXVII A Telegram 231 XXVIII A Disturbing Message 241

  CHAPTER I The Warning

  For a few uncertain moments no one had spoken. The old flivver bumpedover a little hill, and the girls seemed suddenly to realize they wereentering upon that much anticipated new experience--college life.

  "It's lovely, isn't it!" exclaimed Arden Blake, resting her hand onTerry's shoulder. "Such beautiful pines--so tall and----"

  "Mysterious!" supplied Sim Westover, making a dive for her compact.

  "Thank you. I was about to say--stately," remarked Arden with assumedsuperciliousness. "And see the deer behind the bush, a stone deer, Isuppose. But it's all so lovely!"

  "Lovely indeed," agreed Terry as she was apt to do with anything Ardensaid or did. "Don't you think so, Sim?"

  Sim, occupying most of the back seat of the rickety station car, feltdifferently about it and said so. Sim was that way.

  "It's all very well," she murmured, busy with her compact, "all verywell, my good girls, but isn't it about time we got inside the college?After a train trip like the one we have just endured, I'll be glad to getmy feet off Arden's suitcase. Wherever did you get such a big one,Arden?"

  "It was given to me when we all decided to come to Cedar Ridge. You'llwish it was yours when you see what's inside. Oh, look! That must be theswimming-pool building!" There could be no mistake about it as they couldnote when the harassed little flivver was slowly completing the halfcircle of the cinder drive which curved like a crescent moon in front ofCedar Ridge College, and was approaching a glass-roofed structure setsomewhat apart from the other buildings.

  The roof was dome-shaped, and its glass panes, set in frames of copperwhich glinted in the rays of the red autumn sun, were thick and greenlike petrified ocean waves.

  As they rattled past the pool building they saw a wheelbarrow standingright in the pathway. Somehow that odd obstruction looked out of placenear a natatorium, and Sim said so, adding:

  "I wonder what's the idea?"

  "Oh, they're probably just cleaning it out," suggested Arden.

  The cultivated rustic setting for the big gray stone structures made thewhole scene picturesquely perfect, just as the prospectus had stated. Butto the girls the college was also a little forbidding. Certainly therewas nothing cozy about it--nothing inviting--and not every girl can boastthe artist's taste.

  The buildings were solid and massive, as solid and dependable as thewomen instructors within who guided the four student years of "theirgirls." Besides the swimming pool, only the chapel, with its tall spire,caught the warm sunset glow and displayed it more lavishly. But that, ofcourse, thought Arden, was because there was so much more glass,beautifully tinted, in the chapel windows.

  As the wheels of the car crunched the cinders, Arden hoped she hadn'tbeen wrong in urging Terry and Sim to come to Cedar Ridge with her. Theyhad come because of her urging. There was no doubt of this. Had it notbeen for the promise of swimming, implied by the beautiful picture of thepool in the college prospectus, Sim would, she said, have been content tostay at home in Pentville.

  As for Terry--where Arden went, there went Terry. They had beeninseparable since the "baby grade" in Vincent Prep.

  The driver of the car, a typical country taxi-man, probably too welltrained to talk unbidden to the students, pulled up suddenly as he neareda lane that curved around a big elm and wended its way toward a distantgrove.

  "Down below there's th' orchard," he said hesitantly. "Ef I was you, Iwouldn't go prowlin' around in it." He indicated a part of the extensivefarm ground that was an inheritance of Cedar Ridge College--long rows ofold gnarled trees, many of them now heavy with russet, red, golden, andyellow fruit. The orchard was separated from the eastern end of thedormitory building by a tall and tangled hedge but could be seen from thehill on which the building stood. "No, don't go down there," advised thedriver as he let in the clutch.

  "Why?" came a surprised and gasping chorus.

  "Waal, queer things are said to happen down in that orchard. But don'task me what!" he quickly cautioned. "I'm only hired to drive this tinLizzie, an' I dassn't talk."

  Terry, who sat beside Arden, evinced a desire to put a question butthought better of it.

  The girls looked wonderingly at one another as the car speeded along.They were puzzled over this mysterious introduction to Cedar Ridge. Forhere was the college. That was no mystery but a solid fact.

  They were there!

  The flivver chugged on to the main entrance, and the girls alighted. Asthey reached the top of the massive stone steps, a young man, porterevidently, picked up their bags as the taxi-man slid them along to himand quickly led the way inside the portals.

  The very sight of a young man there, at this college for girls, evenclad, as he was, in blue overalls, prompted a giggle. But Arden pinchedSim's arm and Sim didn't.

  Just inside the doorway, at a desk near which the young man set down thebags, sat a severe-looking woman in black with the judicious linen collarand cuffs. She waited with a pencil poised over a large sheet of paper.

  "I suppose this is where we are expected to register," murmured Arden.

  "Yes," agreed Terry, as usual.

  They gave their names to the severe woman, who permitted herself a frostysmile as she remarked:

  "Oh, yes, freshmen. You young ladies have all been assigned to the sameroom. Let me see." She consulted a list. "It is number 513 on the fifthfloor of the main building." She made a note on the paper, and then,turning, addressed a distant shadowy corner, saying:

  "Miss Everett will show you where it is. You may go to your room now, andwhen you hear the bell you will come to the recreation hall, which youwill pass on your way. Miss Everett!" she called sharply.

  A tall blonde girl came forward from the shadows, a little reluctantly,it appeared. Just why, neither Arden nor
her two chums could imagine.They didn't even know, yet, who Miss Everett was. This stately blondegirl, however, took matters into her own hands with some show ofauthority.

  "Come this way, please," she said, addressing the three freshmen. Theywere a little uncertain whether or not to pick up their bags, now thatthe luggage had been brought into the building for them. But Miss Everettknew what to do.

  The young fellow in the clean suit of blue overalls could now be seen atthe end of the corridor. He was apparently deeply interested in theoutside view, for he stood squarely before a window and seemed obliviousof his humble duties.

  "Tom!" sharply called Miss Everett. At that the blue-clad man turnedquickly and hurried toward the desk. "These bags to the fifth floor,Tom!"

  "Yes'm," he murmured. He kept his head bowed. Perhaps he still wanted toretain that vision of the apple orchard in which he had been sointerested. For it was toward the orchard he had been looking, as Ardenand her chums noted when they went down toward the window. They could seethe strange gnarled trees over the top of the high dark hedge. "Fifthfloor?" questioned Tom, the porter. He was also an assistant gardener, asthe girls later learned.

  "Room 513," added the woman at the desk.


  Arden thought she saw a little smile playing over the face of thegood-looking young man as he started off ahead of the three freshmen, ledby the stately Miss Everett. The porter was evidently going to a serviceelevator, as he passed out through a side door and was then lost tosight, with the bags he carried so efficiently, all three of them, andnot small, either.

  Arden, Terry, and Sim, following Miss Everett, started up the brownpolished stairs that reared skyward at the back of the large entrancehall.

  Up and up and up they walked. All the landings and halls looked exactlyalike, and the freshmen wondered how their guide retained her sense ofdirection and maintained the count.

  Halfway up Terry murmured to Arden:

  "Do you think there was anything in what he said?"

  "Who said?"

  "The taxi-man who drove us here from the station."

  "About what?"

  "The orchard. You know he warned us to keep away from it. And if there issomething terrible or scary about an orchard so near the college, why,I'm going----"

  "You're going to keep right on walking up!" interrupted Arden with herusual clear-headedness in a critical situation. "If there's any mysteryhere at Cedar Ridge we'll have the time of our lives solving it. But Idon't believe there is. That orchard is no different from any other,except, from what little we saw of it, there seemed to be some fineapples there. Now don't go making mountains out of the camel in the eyeof the needle, or something like that."

  "Oh, all right," said Terry meekly. "But I was thinking----"

  "This is no time to think!" came from Sim. "Use your legs! Whew! Fiveflights! Is your room this high up, Miss Everett?"

  "No, I'm a sophomore. I'm a floor lower than you are. But this is thefourth time I've taken freshies up here today. I don't see why they haveto pick on me!"

  "Oh, this is too bad!" exclaimed Sim impulsively. "Perhaps if you couldhave a swim in the pool before dinner tonight you wouldn't feel sotired."

  To Sim a dive into a pool with sea-green tiles on the bottom was acure-all and she recommended it at every opportunity.

  "Try a swim," she urged.

  Miss Everett came to a sudden stop on a landing and laughed in a mannerthat could be described only as cynical.

  "Listen, freshie!" she exclaimed, "let me tell you something about thatpool!"

  The three girls looked at their guide apprehensively.

  Was there something mysterious about the pool, as the taxi-man hadintimated there was about the orchard?

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