“Why, Hedrick, what on earth are you doing here?”
“Me?” inquired Hedrick.
“What are you doing here?”
“Here?” Evidently she puzzled him.
She became emphatic. “I want to know what you are doing.”
“Just standing here,” he explained in a meek, grieved way.
“But why aren’t you at school?”
This recalled what he had forgotten, and he realized the insecurity of his position. “Oh, yes,” he said—“school. Did you ask me——”
“Didn’t you go to school?”
He began to speak rapidly. “Didn’t I go to school? Well, where else could I go? Just because I’m here now doesn’t mean I didn’t go, does it? Because a person is in China right now wouldn’t have to mean he’d never been in South America, would it?”
“Then what’s the matter?”
“Well, I was going along, and you know I didn’t feel very well and——” He paused, with the advent of a happier idea, then continued briskly: “But that didn’t stop me, because I thought I ought to go if I dropped, so I went ahead, but the teacher was sick and they couldn’t get a substitute. She must have been pretty sick, she looked so pale——”
“They dismissed the class?”
“And I don’t have to go to-morrow either.”
“I see,” said his mother. “But if you feel ill, Hedrick, hadn’t you better come in and lie down?”
“I think it’s kind of passing off. The fresh air seems to be doing me good.”
“Be careful of your sore knee, dear.” She closed the window, and he was left to continue his operations in safety.
Laura had thrown the ledger out of the window; that was proved absolutely. Obviously, she had come down before daylight and retrieved it. Or, she had not. Proceeding on the assumption that she had not, he lifted his eyes and searched the air. Was it possible that the book, though thrown from the window, had never reached the ground? The branches of an old and stalwart maple, now almost divested of leaves, extended in rough symmetry above him, and one big limb, reaching out toward the house, came close to Laura’s windows. Triumph shown again from the shrewd countenance of the sleuth: Laura must have slid the ledger along a wire into a hollow branch. However, no wire was to be seen—and the shrewd countenance of the sleuth fell. But perhaps she had constructed a device of silk threads, invisible from below, which carried the book into the tree. Action!
He climbed carefully but with many twinges, finally pausing in a parlous situation not far from the mysterious window which Laura had opened the night before. A comprehensive survey of the tree revealed only the very patent fact that none of the branches was of sufficient diameter to conceal the ledger. No silk threads came from the window. He looked and looked and looked at that window; then his eye fell a little, halted less than three feet below the window-ledge, and the search was ended.