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CHAPTER V A QUEER MYSTERY
When the performance was over and the guests were exclaiming about the charming entertainment they had seen, thanking Mr. Anthony for giving them such a delightful evening, and later taking their departure, Roberta glanced about for Mrs. Pollzoff, but did not see her. During the entertainment the rooms had been darkened except about the stage, so the girl Sky-pilot thought nothing of missing her employer then, but when the whole place was brilliantly lighted and the assembly moving somewhat like a narrow reception line, it seemed odd that the woman was nowhere in sight. With Miss Powell and her party, Roberta also thanked her host.

“I am very happy if my efforts have given such a charming stranger in our city an hour’s pleasure,” Mr. Anthony told her,80 speaking as if she were the only person in the room and had his undivided attention. Just then others came up, so she passed on with an impression that the gentleman, being a true Southerner, could make himself very agreeable.

“Anthony should be in the Diplomatic service,” young Powell remarked when they were all in the car again.

“He always gives one a feeling that his only interest in life is to serve one,” Helen added. “I am so glad that you could come with us, Miss Langwell. If you are going to be in Charleston tomorrow, I shall be delighted to take you about a bit.”

“That is something I will not know until tomorrow,” Roberta told her. “You have been most kind. I should have had rather a dull evening had I not met you.”

“Here we are at your hotel. Hope you can stay over,” Powell said as he helped her out. She bade the others good night, thanked them again, then the young aviator saw her safely to the elevator. “I’ll be on hand to help entertain you if you do not fly away.”

Up in her own room, when Roberta81 switched on the light she noticed that the door between the two bedrooms was closed. She listened for a sound of anyone moving about, but the place was as still as if it was deserted. Before retiring, there was a note to be written to the family at home, and in it she told of the lovely old hotel with its aristocratic guests, the meeting with Powell and his sisters, the trip to Mr. Anthony’s, and the fact that Mrs. Pollzoff was also there. Finally, adding no end of love for them all, she sealed the envelope, then went down the hall to the mail chute. When she returned there was still no sound from the other room and as she undressed, she tried to figure out why the woman had not nodded to her, and why she had disappeared like the foam on a ginger ale.

“Here I am imagining things about her again,” she scolded mentally. “She probably knows Mr. Anthony and he persuaded her to come for a little while, then she went home and is now in bed asleep.”

With this very logical conclusion she got into her own bed, switched off the light and immediately fell asleep, but she spent the82 night dreaming of vain efforts to fly away from Mrs. Pollzoff and the charming Mr. Anthony, who kept bobbing up, like a Jack-in-the-box, just when she was sure that she had left him behind, nor did she manage to evade the bachelor until she flew off over the North Pole. It was snowing, she thought, and she shivered as she brought the plane down, but instead of stopping, Nike dropped, and dropped and dropped until at last she struggled so hard to right it that she woke herself up. Morning had not put in an appearance, but the night had turned cooler and she had kicked off the covers, so with a sigh of relief that it was only a dream, she turned over and enjoyed a more restful sleep.

When she awakened she heard someone moving in the other room and guessed that Mrs. Pollzoff was already stirring. As the time had not been set for their departure, Roberta lost no time in dressing, and when she was finished, sure that her employer was up, she knocked at the door, but to her surprise received no answer. She tried again, without success, then someone tapped at her own door. It proved to be the maid who told83 her that word had been left that the woman was not to be disturbed, that she wished to sleep late. This was certainly puzzling, for the girl was positive that she had heard movements in the other room.

“Well, if she wants to take another snooze it’s her own business. I wonder why in the dickens everything she does makes me uneasy?” she said to herself, and then prepared to go to breakfast. She took her key with her, and when she stepped out into the hall she was startled to see Mr. Anthony coming down the hall to Mrs. Pollzoff’s door. If the man recognized her, he gave no sign of it, but glancing at the number, turned and went in the opposite direction as if he had made a mistake in the room. Again the feeling of uneasiness came over Roberta and she simply could not shake it off. At the desk downstairs she asked if her employer had left any word regarding when she intended to check out, and the clerk answered in the negative.

“Mrs. Pollzoff did not say when she is leaving, but she leases that apartment by the year,” he explained obligingly.

84 Roberta went in to breakfast and when she had finished she was called to the telephone. It proved to be young Powell who wanted to know if she was staying in town but she couldn’t give him any information. “I do not expect to leave right away,” she said, and then explained the situation.

“Suppose Helen and I come up and in case you are not leaving soon we can bat around together?”

“That’s mighty nice of you. I should be very glad to see you.” It did not take the two Powells long to get there, and the three sought a quiet corner in the rambling old lobby.

“By the way, you have not said why you are here,” Powell remarked.

“Why, Brother, what an impudent question,” Helen protested.

“That’s all right between aviators,” he laughed.

“Of course it is,” Roberta defended him quickly. “I really can not tell you why I came nor whither I go. I might say I came hither from thither and I am going hence; why do I not know.”

85 “Sounds mysterious. What sort of bird is this Mrs. Pollzoff?” Powell inquired.

“She seems perfectly all right,” was the answer.

“Why the seems—”

“Robert,” Helen objected.

“I have a queer sort of feeling about her; I can’t explain it. Last night she was at Mr. Anthony’s but I only caught a glimpse of her, and this morning—” She broke off and flushed. “I have to admit that I am making a whole mountain range out of less than an ant hill, but the truth is, every simple thing she does seems mysterious. Guess I have been developing nerves.”

“Tell me about it,” Robert urged quietly. “If it’s nerves, going over the facts will show them up in their true light and you’ll feel better. We all get to a point where things do not seem right.”

“Perhaps it would be a good idea,” she admitted, then told him of her relations with Mrs. Pollzoff, leaving out nothing, not even the attempted theft of Nike.

“Humph,” Powell grunted. “There really isn’t a thing alarming in what you have86 told me, Roberta, but just the same, even though our reasons insist that everything is hunky—when you get a hunch as strong as the one you have, don’t disregard it, that’s my motto. I believe aviators have a sort of sixth sense that warns them, or tries to, and it’s always a safe bet to pay strict attention. I’ve heard other flyers say the same thing, so, if I were you, I’d watch my step mighty carefully.”

“Don’t make her feel worse than she does,” Helen urged.

“I’m not trying to; just want her to take every advantage of the faculty she has and not disregard a warning, even if it seems a foolish one. Here’s our number and address; keep in touch with us and if anything comes up, get into communication with us right away.” He took out his card and wrote the telephone number on it.

“We will all be happy to assist you in any way,” Helen added.

“Thank you so much.”

“Miss Langwell, Miss Langwell,” called a page.

“I am Miss Langwell,” Roberta told him.

87 “Mrs. Pollzoff would like you to go up,” he told her.

“All right. I’ll say so-long for now, and thank you so much.”

“Hope we can see you again before you leave,” Helen said, and just then they saw Mark Anthony strolling leisurely through the lobby.

“Humph,” grunted Powell, “I never saw him here before.”

“Isn’t he an Old Family?” Roberta asked mischievously.

“No, he’s a New Family; rotten with money, so he gets and does anything he wants to. Glad to have seen you, even for a little while.”

Roberta took the card, then hurried to the elevator and presently came to her own room. The connecting door was open, so she went in immediately and found Mrs. Pollzoff in negligee, the wound on her chin covered with adhesive tape. A waiter had left a tray a few moments before and the woman was preparing to eat her breakfast.

“Did you have a good night?” she asked politely.

88 “Very pleasant,” Roberta answered. “I met an old friend, Robert Powell, and his sisters at dinner and they took me to a theatrical at Mr. Anthony’s home.”

“Then you were not bored with Charleston. I do not care for the place and rarely go out. The people seem to me excessively stupid, and the city, most of it, antiquated. Did you have breakfast?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“The maid said you had gone down, so I ordered only one. I had a wretched night, thought I should never get to sleep, but when I did I made up for it by not waking until fifteen minutes ago,” Mrs. Pollzoff said and her statements startled the girl.

Roberta wondered if the woman was claiming that she had not left the room since they parted the evening before, but she refrained from saying anything more about the theatricals. She was absolutely convinced that it could have been no one else who was standing beside Mr. Anthony as he received his guests, and she was also convinced that her employer had been up that morning before she herself was awake. Why the woman89 should deliberately lie over anything so trivial made Roberta recall Powell’s warning to watch her step, and, casting logic aside, she determined to pay heed to what he had said.

“I am sorry you did not have a more comfortable night,” she replied, then added, “The page said you wanted me.”

“Yes. I wanted to be sure that you had breakfasted and to tell you that we will leave here about one o’clock, so have your lunch before you go, and if you want to do any errands, you can,” Mrs. Pollzoff said.

“Guess I haven’t much in the way of errands but I’ll tell them to have—”

“I have already notified them to have the plane in readiness.”

“Then I shall not need to bother. I see there is a store near the hotel; I’ll run up there and get some handkerchiefs. I came away without a good supply,” Roberta told her, then, as the woman seemed to have nothing more to say, she returned to the lobby very uneasy in mind.

For less than two pins Roberta would have told her employer that she was returning home at once, but such an act appeared90 more foolhardy than cautious. It took only a few minutes to get the handkerchiefs she required, then she saw attractive cards of the city, and stationery. On the impulse of the moment she bought paper and envelope and wrote a hasty note to Robert Powell, telling him that she was leaving in a couple of hours, the place where Nike had been left, and expressing a wish that if he had his own plane and could come waggling his wings to her as they had in the days when they were both learning to fly she would feel easier. She added a word of thanks to his sister, then signed her name, but after that she put in the fact that Mrs. Pollzoff had said she was in her room all night—as if she had not been to Mr. Anthony’s.

    “I know I’m awfully silly, but at the next landing I am going to resign from the job.

    “Sincerely yours,
    Roberta Langwell.”

“Can I get a messenger to deliver this?” she asked the woman who had been serving her.

91 “I’ll take it, lady,” a small boy offered, so at a nod from the woman she gave him a coin and made sure that he knew where to go. “Aw, that isn’t far away,” he said scornfully, and tucking it into his pocket, he raced off with the letter. As soon as he had gone, Roberta wished she had not been so silly as to tell Robert Powell such a trivial matter. After paying for her purchases she returned to the lobby where she sat at one of the desks, wrote a note and sent cards to the family. That finished, she ate her lunch in the dining room, but felt so uncomfortable that she didn’t enjoy it at all.

Promptly at one o’clock they left the hotel in one of its own buses and drove quickly to the small flying field where they found Nike already wheeled out of the hangar. Although a mechanic was beside the plane, the girl Sky-Pilot took time to assure herself that everything was as it should be, while Mrs. Pollzoff took her place in the cock-pit.

“I went over everything, Miss,” the mechanic told her.

“Thank you, I know you did, but where I learned to fly one of the things they stressed92 was to be positive yourself that things were all right. You certainly did a good job and you put in a full supply of gas.”

“Those were orders,” he told her. She climbed to her own place, and when at last all was as it should be, she nodded to him, and he gave them a start, not that he needed to, for Nike was a self starter in every way; perfectly capable of taking off without assistance. The chap stood watching the plane with keen admiration, and when she lifted, Roberta waved him a farewell.

Quickly they climbed to three thousand feet, then Mrs. Pollzoff signaled that it was high enough. She picked up the speaking tube and Roberta listened, for the woman never gave her directions until they were started.

“Turn in a half circle, then go straight northwest until I tell you to change the course or come down,” she said. Nike promptly did the turn and then leveled off, her nose pointing the route indicated. Roberta was surprised, for they were going inland instead of over the water as usual. Glancing at her chart she reckoned that the93 course would take her across the United States into the southwestern part of Canada, provided they continued long enough. Mrs. Pollzoff sat watching the control board for a few minutes, then proceeded to produce another book and buried herself in its pages.

“I believe that her saying she is carrying on some work started by her husband is just so much bologna. We haven’t done a blooming thing since we started—except fly—and she certainly isn’t accomplishing anything while she’s reading a mystery story. That’s that. And I’m dropping out of the business at the next stop—that is more of that,” was the girl’s mental resolve, and she set her lips in a firm line to emphasize her resolution.

They had been in the air less than ten minutes, when suddenly, out of the sky to the right, and higher than Nike was flying, swept a shining new plane, its wings waggling furiously. Roberta’s heart gave a great leap, and she responded, but not quite so vigorously as Powell. His plane swooped down across her path and as it flashed by she could see that he was not alone. Whoever was in the cock-pit with him waved a94 gloved hand, and Roberta replied to that also. Not changing her course by a hair, Nike roared steadily on, the other plane circled about her once, then with a final waggle, zoomed up, spiraled, and then turned back. The girl Sky-Pilot smiled as her friends disappeared, then she happened to look into the mirror and saw that Mrs. Pollzoff had been watching the performance with an interest which was none too kindly.

“Who are they?” she snapped.

“Robert Powell and his sister,” Roberta told her. “The people I met last night.” They were using the telephone.

“How do they happen to be here when we start?” For an instant Roberta was going to tell her the truth, that she had sent word she was leaving and Powell had come to see her off, but his warning to “watch her step” flashed through her mind.

“I do not know how they happen to be around,” she answered, which was true enough. “Guess he saw the plane go up and came over to say goodbye in case it was Nike.” There was a peculiarly hard look in95 Mrs. Pollzoff’s eyes during the explanation, and she looked steadily at her pilot for several seconds, then dropped her eyes back to her book.


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