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Gertrude W. Morrison.

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The Girls of Central High Aiding the Red Cross

OR

AMATEUR THEATRICALS FOR A WORTHY CAUSE

BY

GERTRUDE W. MORRISON




CONTENTS

CHAPTER
I THE ODDEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED
II THE RED CROSS GIRL
III ODD!
IV THE MYSTERY MAN
V SAND IN THE GEARS
VI THE BANK-NOTE
VII SOMETHING EXCITING
VIII THE FOREFRONT OF TROUBLE
IX THE ICE CARNIVAL
X BUT WHO IS HE?
XI A REHEARSAL
XII BUBBLE, BUBBLE
XIII MOTHER WIT HAS AN IDEA
XIV CHAINS ON HIS WHEELS
XV PIE AND POETRY
XVI EMBER NIGHT
XVII A STARTLING ANNOUNCEMENT
XVIII WHERE WAS PURT?
XIX LAURA LISTENS
XX TWO THINGS ABOUT HESTER
XXI AND A THIRD THING
XXII THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST PURT
XXIII THE LAST REHEARSAL
XXIV MR. NEMO, OF NOWHERE
XXV IT IS ALL ROUNDED UP




CHAPTER I

THE ODDEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED


"Well, if that isn't the oddest thing that ever happened!" murmured Laura
Belding, sitting straight up on the stool before the high desk in her
father's glass-enclosed office, from which elevation she could look down
the long aisles of his jewelry store and out into Market Street,
Centerport's main business thoroughfare.

But Laura was not looking down the vista of the electrically lighted shop
and into the icy street. Instead, she gave her attention to that which lay
right under her eyes upon the desk top. She looked first at the neat
figures she had written upon the page of the day ledger, after carefully
proving them, and thence at the packet of bills and piles of coin on the
desk at her right hand.

"It is the oddest thing that ever happened," she affirmed, as though in
answer to her own first declaration.

It was Saturday evening, and it was always Laura's duty to straighten out
her father's books for him on that day, for although she was a high school
girl, she was usually so well prepared in her studies that she could give
the books proper attention weekly. Laura had taken a course in bookkeeping
and she was quite familiar with the business of keeping a simple set of
books like these.

She never let the day ledger and the cash get far apart. It was her custom
to strike a balance weekly, and this she was doing at this time. Or she was
trying to! But there seemed to be something entirely wrong with the cash
itself.

She knew that the figures on the ledger were correct. She had asked her
father, and even Chet, her brother, who was helping in the store this
evening, if either of them had taken out any cash without setting the sum
down in the proper record.

"It is an even fifty dollars - neither more nor less," she had told them,
with a puzzled little frown corrugating her pretty forehead.

They had both denied any such act - Chet, of course, vigorously.

"What kind of hardware are you trying to hang on me, Mother Wit?" he
demanded of his sister. "I know Christmas will soon be on top of us, and a
fellow needs all the money there is in the world to buy even one girl a
decent present. But I assure you I haven't taken to nicking papa's cash
drawer."

"I don't know but mother is right," Laura sighed. "Your language is
becoming something to listen to with fear and trembling. And I am not
accusing you, Chetwood. I'm only asking you!"

"And I'm only answering you - emphatically," chuckled her brother.

"It is no laughing matter when you cannot find fifty dollars," she told
him.

"You'd better stir your wits a little, then, Sis," he advised. "You know
Jess and Lance will be along soon and we were all going shopping together,
and skating afterward. Lance and I want to practice our grapevine whirl."

But being advised to hurry did not help. For half an hour since Chet had
last spoken the girl had sat in a web of mystery that fairly made her head
spin! Her ledger figures were proved over and over again. But the cash!
Then once more she bent to her task.

The piles of coin were all right she finally decided. She counted them over
and over again, and they came to the same penny exactly. So she pushed the
coin aside.

Then she slowly and carefully counted again the bank-notes, turning them
one by one face down from left to right. The amount, added to the sum of
the coins, was equal to the figures on the ledger. Then she did what she
had already done ten or a dozen times. She recounted the bills, turning
them from right to left.

She was fifty dollars short!

Christmas was approaching, and the Belding jewelry store was, of course,
rather busier than at other seasons. That was why Chet Belding was helping
out behind the counters. Out there, he kept a closer watch on the front
door than Laura, with her financial trouble, could.

Suddenly he darted down the long room to welcome a group of young people
who pushed open the jewelry-store door. They burst in with a hail of merry
voices and a clatter of tongues that drowned every other sound in the store
for a minute, although there were but four of them.

"Easy! Easy!" begged Mr. Belding, who was giving his attention to a
customer near the front of the store. "Take your friends back to Laura's
coop, Chetwood."

Hushed for the moment, the party drifted back toward Laura's desk. The
young girl was still too deeply engaged with the ledger and cash to look up
at first.

"What is the matter, Mother Wit?" demanded the taller of the two girls who
had just come in - a most attractive-looking maiden, whom Chet had at once
taken on his arm.

"Engine trouble," chuckled Laura's brother. "The old thing just won't
budge! Isn't that it, Laura?"

The tall youth - dark and delightfully romantic-looking, any girl would have
told you - went around into the little office and looked over Laura's
shoulder.

"What's gone wrong, Laura?" he asked, with sympathy in his voice and
manner.

"You want to get a move on, Mother Wit!" cried the youngest girl of the
troop, saucy looking, and with ruddy cheeks and flyaway curls. This was
Clara Hargrew, whom her friends called Bobby, and whose father kept the big
grocery store just a block away from the Belding jewelry store. "Everybody
will have picked over the presents in all the stores and got the best of
everything before we get there."

"That's right," said the last member of the group; and this was a short and
sturdy boy who had the same mischievous twinkle in his eye that Bobby
Hargrew displayed.

His name was Long, and because he was short, everybody at Central High
(save the teachers, of course) called him "Short and Long." He and Bobby
Hargrew were what hopeless grown folk called "a team!" When they were not
hatching up some ridiculous trick together, they were separately in
mischief.

"But you say Short and Long has done some of his Christmas shopping
already," Jess Morse, the tall visitor, said. "Just think, Laura! He has
sent Purt Sweet his annual present."

"So soon?" said Laura Belding, but with her mind scarcely on what her
friends were saying. "And Thanksgiving is only just passed!"

"I thought I'd better be early," said Short and Long, with solemn
countenance. "I wrote 'Not to be opened till Christmas' upon the package."

Bobby and Jess and Lance burst into giggles. "Let's have the joke!"
demanded Chet. "What did you send the poor fish, Short?"

"You guessed it! You guessed it, Chet Belding!" cried Bobby. "Aren't you a
clever lad?"

"What do you mean?" asked Laura, now becoming more seriously interested.

"Why," Jess Morse said, "he got a codfish down at the market and wrapped it
up in a lot of paper and put it in a long, beautifully decorated Christmas
box. If Purt Sweet keeps that box without opening it until Christmas, I am
afraid the Board of Health will be making inquiries about the Sweet
premises."

"You scamp!" exclaimed Laura sternly, to Short and Long.

"He's all right!" declared Bobby warmly. "You know just how mean and stingy
Purt Sweet is - and his mother has more money than anybody else in
Centerport. Last Christmas, d'you know what Purt did?"

"Something silly, of course," Laura said.

"I don't know what you call silly. I call it mean," declared the smaller
girl. "Purt got it noised abroad that he was going to give a present to
every fellow in his class - didn't he, Short?"

"That's what he did," said Billy Long, taking up the story. "And the day
before Christmas he got us all over to his house and offered each of us a
drink of ice-water! And some of the kids had been foolish enough to buy him
things - and give 'em to him ahead of time, too!"

"Serves you right for being so piggish," commented Chet.

"It was a mean trick," agreed Laura, "for some of the boys in Purt's grade
are much younger than he is. But this idea of giving Christmas presents
because you expect something in return - - "

"Is pretty small potatoes," finished Lance Darby, the dark youth. "But
what's the matter here, Laura?" he added. "I've counted these bills and
they are just exactly right by those figures you have set down there."

"You turned them from left to right as you counted, Lance," cried Laura.

"Sure! I counted the face of each bill," was the answer.

"Now count them the other way!" exclaimed Laura in despair.

Her friends gathered around while Laura did this. Even Chet gave some
attention to his sister's trouble now. From right to left the packet of
bank-notes came to fifty dollars less than the sum accredited to them on
the ledger.

"Well, what do you know about that?" breathed Lance.

"That's the strangest thing!" declared Jess Morse.

"Why," said Bobby of the quick mind, "must be some of the bills are not
printed right."

"Nonsense!" ejaculated Chet.

"Who ever heard of such a thing as a banknote being printed wrong unless it
was a counterfeit?" demanded Laura.

Mr. Belding, having finished with his customer, came back to the little
office and heard this. "I am quite sure we have taken in no
counterfeits - eh, Chet?" he said, smiling.

"And there's only one big bill - this hundred," said Chet, who had taken the
package of bills and was flirting them through his fingers. "I took that in
myself when I sold that lavallière to the man I told you about, Father. You
remember? He was a stranger, and he said he wanted to give it to a young
girl. I - - - "

"Let's see that bill, Chet!" exclaimed Bobby Hargrew suddenly.

Chet slipped the hundred-dollar note out of the packet and handed it to the
grocer's daughter. But she immediately cried:

"I want to see the hundred-dollar bill, Chet. Not this one."

"Why, that's the hundred - - - "

"This is a fifty," interrupted Bobby. "Can't you see?"

She displayed the face of a fifty-dollar bank-note to their wondering eyes.
Their exclamations drowned Mr. Belding's voice, and he had to speak twice
before Bobby heard him.

"Turn it over!"

The grocer's daughter did so. The other side of the bill was the face of a
hundred-dollar bank-note! At this there certainly was a hullabaloo in and
around the office. Mr. Belding could scarcely make himself heard again. He
was annoyed.

"What is the matter with that bank-note? Whether it is counterfeit or not,
you took it in over the counter, Chetwood," he said coldly.

"This very day," admitted his oldest son.

"Then, my boy, it is up to you," said the jeweler grimly.

"What - - Just what do you mean?" asked Chet, somewhat troubled by his
father's sternness.

"In a jewelry store," said Mr. Belding seriously, "as I have often told
you, a clerk must keep his eyes open. You admit taking in this bill. If the
Treasury Department says it is worth only fifty dollars, I shall expect you
to make good the other fifty."

The young people stared at each other in awed silence as the jeweler turned
away. They could feel how annoyed he was.

"Gee!" gasped Chet, "if I'm nicked fifty dollars, how shall I ever be able
to buy Christmas presents, or even give anything for the Red Cross drive?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, Chet!" Jess Morse murmured.

"Looks as if hard times had camped on your trail, old boy," declared Lance.

"But maybe it is a hundred-dollar bill," Laura said.

"It's tough," Short and Long muttered.

"Try to pass it on somebody else," chuckled Bobby, who was not very
sympathetic at that moment.

"Got it all locked up, Laura?" Jess asked. "Well, let us go then. You can't
make that bill right by looking at it, Chet."

"I - I wish I could get hold of the man who passed it on me," murmured the
big fellow.

"Would you know him again?" Lance asked.

"Sure," returned his chum, getting his own coat and hat while his sister
put on her outdoor clothing. "All ready? We're going, Pa."

"Remember what I said about that bill, Chetwood," Mr. Belding admonished
him. "You will learn after this, I guess, to look at both sides of a
hundred-dollar bill - or any other - when it is offered to you."

"Aw, it's a good hundred, I bet," grumbled Chet.

"If it is, I'll add an extra fifty to my Red Cross subscription," rejoined
his father with some tartness.

"Well, that's something!" Bobby Hargrew said quickly. "We want to boost the
fund all we can. And what do you think?"

"My brain has stopped functioning entirely since I got so bothered by that
bank-note," declared Laura Belding, shaking her head. "I can't think."

"Mr. Sharp and the rest of the faculty have agreed that we shall give a
show for the Red Cross," declared Bobby, with enthusiasm. "Just what we
wanted them to do!"

"Oh, joy!" cried Jess, clasping her hands in delight.

"Miss Josephine Morse, leading lady, impressarioess, and so forth," laughed
Lance Darby, "will surely be in on the theatricals."

"Maybe they will let you write the play, Jess," said Chet admiringly.

They reached the door and stepped into the street. There had been rain and
a freeze. The sidewalks, as well as the highway itself, were slippery.
Bobby suddenly screamed:

"See there! Oh! He'll be killed!"

A rapidly-driven automobile turned the corner by the Belding store. A man
was crossing Market Street, coming toward the group of young people.

The careless driver had not put on his chains. The car skidded. The next
instant the pedestrian was knocked down, and at least one wheel ran over
his prostrate body.

Instead of stopping, the car went into high speed and dashed up the street
and was quickly out of sight. The young people ran to the prostrate man.
Nobody for the moment thought of the automobile driver who was responsible
for the affair.

The victim had blood on his face from a cut high up on his crown. He was
unconscious. It was Chet Belding who stood up and spoke, first of all.

"I thought so! I thought so!" he gasped. "Do you know who this is?"

"Who?" asked Jess, clinging to his arm as the crowd gathered.

"This is the man who passed that phony hundred-dollar bill on me. The very
one!"

"Is he dead?" whispered Bobby Hargrew, looking under Chefs elbow down at
the crimson-streaked face of the unfortunate man.




CHAPTER II

THE RED CROSS GIRL


Market street was well lighted, but it was not well policed. That last fact
could not be denied, or the recklessly driven automobile that had knocked
down the stranger would never have got away so easily. People from both
sides of the street and from the stores near by ran to the spot; but no
policeman appeared until long after the automobile was out of sight.

The exciting statement that Chet Belding had made so interested and
surprised his friends that for a few moments they gave the victim of the
injury little of their attention. Meanwhile a figure glided into the group
and knelt beside the injured man who lay upon the ice-covered street. It
was a girl, not older than Laura and Jess, but one who was dressed in the
veil and cloak of the Red Cross.

She was not the only Red Cross worker on Market Street that Saturday
evening, for the drive for the big Red Cross fund had begun, and many
workers were collecting. This girl, however seemed to have a practical
knowledge of first-aid work. She drew forth a small case, wiped the blood
away from the man's face with cotton, and then began to bandage the wound
as his head rested against her knee.

"Somebody send for the ambulance," she commanded, in a clear and pleasant
voice. "I think he has a fractured leg, and he may be hurt otherwise."

Her request brought the three girls of Central High to their senses. Bobby
darted away to telephone to the hospital from her father's store. The older
girls offered the Red Cross worker their aid.

For a year and a half the girls of Central High had been interested in the
Girls' Branch League athletics; and with their training under Mrs. Case,
the athletic instructor, they had all learned something about first-aid
work.

The girls of Centerport had changed in character without a doubt since the
three high schools of the city had become interested so deeply in girls'
athletics. With the high schools of Keyport and Lumberport, an association
of league units had been formed, and the girls of the five educational
institutions were rivals to a proper degree in many games and sports.

How all this had begun and how Laura Belding by her individual efforts had
made possible the Central High's beautiful gymnasium and athletic field, is
told in the first volume of this series, entitled: "The Girls of Central
High; Or, Rivals for All Honors." This story served to introduce this party
of young people who have met in the jewelry store, as well as a number of
other characters, to the reader.

In "The Girls of Central High on Lake Luna; Or, The Crew That Won," the
enthusiasm in sports among the girls of the five high schools reaches a
high point.

As the three cities in the league are all situated upon the beautiful lake
named above, aquatic games hold a high place in the estimation of the rival
associations in the league. Fun and sports fill this second volume.

"The Girls of Central High at Basket Ball; Or, The Great Gymnasium
Mystery," the third book, tells of several very exciting games in which the
basket-ball team of Central High takes part, and the reader learns, as
well, a good deal more about the individual characters of the girls
themselves and of some very exciting adventures they have.

"The Girls of Central High on the Stage; Or, The Play That Took the Prize,"
the fourth volume in the series, is really Jess Morse's story, although
Laura and their other close friends have much to do in the book and take
part in the play which Jess wrote, and which was acted in the school
auditorium. It was proved that Jess Morse had considerable talent for play
writing, and the professional production of her school play aided the girl
and her mother over a most trying financial experience.

The fifth volume, "The Girls of Central High on Track and Field; Or, The
Champions of the School League," is an all around athletic story in which
rivalries for place in school athletics, excitement and interest of plot,
and stories of character building are woven into a tale calculated to hold
the attention of any reader interested in high school doings.

During the summer previous to the opening of the present story in the
series, these friends spent a most enjoyable time camping on Acorn Island,
and the sixth tale, "The Girls of Central High in Camp; Or, The Old
Professor's Secret," is as full of mystery, adventure, and fun as it can
be. Since the end of the long vacation the Girls of Central High, as well
as the boys who are their friends, had settled down to hard work both in
studies and athletics. Ice had come early this year and already Lake Luna
was frozen near the shore and most of the steamboat traffic between the
lake cities had ceased.

The great pre-holiday Red Cross drive had now enthralled the girls of
Central High, as well as the bulk of Centerport's population. Everybody
wanted to put the city "over the top" with more than its quota subscribed
to the fund.

In the first place, the boys' and girls' athletic associations of Central
High were planning an Ice Carnival to raise funds for the cause, and it was
because of that exhibition that Chet Belding and Lance Darby wished to get
down to the ice that evening and try their own particular turn, after the
shopping expedition that also had been planned.

As it happened, however, neither the shopping nor the skating was done on
this particular Saturday night.

As Bobby Hargrew ran to telephone to the hospital, Short and Long had
grabbed the wrists of his two older and taller boy friends and led them out
of the crowd in a very mysterious way.

"Did you get a good look at that car?" he whispered to Chet and Lance.

"Of course I didn't," said the latter. "It went up the street like the
wind. Didn't it, Chet?"

"That rascal was going some when he turned the corner of Rapidan Street. I
wonder he did not skid again and smash his car to pieces against the
hydrant. Served him right if he had," Chet said.

"There were no chains on his wheels," said Short and Long, in the same
mysterious way.

"You said it," agreed Lance. "What then?"

"There are not many cars in Centerport right now without chains on. The
streets have been icy for more than twenty-four hours."

"Your statement is irrefutable," said Chet, grinning.

"Get it off your chest, Short and Long," begged Lance. "What do you mean?"

"I mean," said the earnest lad, "that I know a car that was out this
afternoon without chains, and it was a seven-seater Perriton car - just as
this one that knocked down Chet's friend was."

"It was a Perriton, I believe," murmured Lance.

But Chetwood Belding said: "I don't know whether that poor fellow is a
friend of mine or not. If I have to give Pa fifty dollars - Whew!"

"But the car?" urged Lance Darby. "Who has a Perriton car, Short and Long?"

"And without chains?" added Chet, waking up to the main topic.

"Come along, fellows," said the younger lad. "I won't tell you. But I'll
take you to where you can see the car I mean. If it still is without chains
on the wheels, and has just been used - Well, we can talk about it then!"

"All right," said Chet. "We can't do any good here. Here comes the
ambulance. That poor fellow is going to be in the hospital for some time, I
bet."

There was such a crowd around the spot where the victim of the accident lay
that the boys could not see the Central High girls, save Bobby Hargrew, who
came running back from her father's store just as the clanging of the
ambulance gong warned the crowd that the hospital had responded in its
usual prompt fashion.

The boys hailed the smaller girl and told her they were off to hunt for the
car that had knocked down the victim. Then the three hurried away.

Meanwhile, in the center of the crowd Laura Belding and Jess Morse had been
aiding the girl in the Red Cross uniform as best they could to care for the
man who was hurt. The latter had not opened his eyes when the ambulance
worked its way into the crowd and halted beside the three girls on their
knees in the street.

"What have you there?" asked the young doctor, who swung himself off the
rear of the truck.

Laura and Jess told him. The third girl, the one who had done the most for
the unfortunate man, did not at first say a word.

The driver brought the rolled stretcher and blanket. He laid it down beside
the victim. When the doctor had finished his brief notes he helped his aid
lift the man to the stretcher. They picked it up and shoved it carefully
into the ambulance.

"I know you, Miss Belding," said the doctor. "And this is Miss Morse, isn't
it? Do you mind giving me your name and address?" he asked the third girl.

Was there a moment's hesitation on the part of the Red Cross girl? Laura
thought there was; yet almost instantly the stranger replied:

"My name is Janet Steele."

"Ah! Your address?" repeated the doctor.

This time there was no doubt that the girl flushed, and more than a few
seconds passed before she made answer:

"Thirty-seven Whiffle Street."

At the same moment somebody exclaimed: "Here comes Fatty Morehead, the cop.
Better late than never," and a general laugh went up from the crowd.

Jess seized Laura's wrist, exclaiming: "Oh, Laura! he will want to take
down our names and addresses, too. Let's get away."

The Red Cross girl uttered an ejaculation of chagrin. She began pushing her
way out of the press, and in an opposite direction from that in which the
portly policeman was coming.

Jess whispered swiftly in Laura's ear: "Come on! Let's follow her! I'm
awfully interested in that Red Cross girl, Laura!"

"Why should you be?" asked her chum. "Although she looks like a nice girl,
I never saw her before."


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