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XII The Magical Circle
The family moved into the new house about the first of October. It was the first time that Mark and Marjorie had ever moved and the event was full of novelty. The new house was a big one in the country and the two found much to explore in the first weeks of arrival.

Mark was always romancing. He believed, maybe, if he were to hunt long enough, he might find something interesting that had been left by former tenants. He was sure that there were secret drawers in the old desk that was in the barn and he spent hours trying to find them. Then, too, he went about tapping the walls of the house to see if they emitted a hollow sound. He was sure, he said, that there must be secret panels with things hidden behind them.

Marjorie only laughed at Mark’s romancing.[Pg 160] She half believed in it. It was fun, anyway. So she followed Mark’s tapping and listened to the knocks. One day when the paperers were busy, Mark went into a store-closet that adjoined the room and somehow he did find a place that was hollow. It was back of a board shelf in the closet and, when opened, was quite a hiding place. There was nothing in it. Marjorie insisted that it was where the gas pipes had been before electricity was installed. But Mark called it triumphantly the secret panel. He talked a great deal about it and showed it to the neighbor’s children, Eleanore and Mabel and Richard. He even persuaded Mother to hide some silver in the place for safe keeping. And she did it, she said, laughingly, to please him.

One might have thought that Mark would stop romancing, after having discovered a secret panel, but he didn’t rest satisfied. Having read a story about two boys who found a lost will in a trunk in an old attic, Mark became interested in the possibilities of their newly acquired one. There were three rooms up there, two of them used to store the family’s trunks. The third room Mark[Pg 161] appropriated and made into what he called his “den.”

The “den” had an old matting upon its floor. The matting had been there when Mark and Marjorie moved into the new home. Mark always accepted it and had never found any romantic suggestions coming from that source till one night, Richard having been allowed to spend a night with him, they carried a mattress up there and slept on the floor, “for fun,” they said. Mark had a lantern and they talked till nearly two o’clock telling stories to each other. It was really great fun. Mark’s stories were full of adventure—some of them even were creepy, as it was nearing Hallowe’en day by day. And what was more fitting than right in the middle of Mark’s last thriller, there should be a strange rattle and a clinking noise! It made Mark hush and it made Richard jump. They looked at each other in frightened silence for a minute.

“What was it?” asked Mark, as soon as he could breathe again calmly.

“Oh, a mouse, I guess,” returned Richard.

“A mouse, forsooth! Nay!” returned[Pg 162] Mark, talking in a romantic way. “Me-thinks it is a strange noise, friend. It cometh from under this matting. I will take up the matting and if need be the floor and we shall see—” Here he pulled up an end of old matting.

Richard was willing to have another of Mark’s adventures, so he helped. It wasn’t hard to get it up—but when it was once up the most astonishing thing came to light. Even Richard was amazed. As for Mark, he was in his element of discovery. There upon the floor was a big round circle. The floor was painted but the circle was not!

“What is it?” inquired Richard.

Mark debated. “I don’t know,” he mused. “It’s evidently something!” He measured the circle. It was about three feet in diameter. He was for tearing up the flooring at once, only Richard reminded him that it would make a dreadful noise and wake everybody in the house up. Surely a fortune and a lost will must be under it! Richard silenced Mark’s objection to waiting till daylight and after school by saying that they would never be[Pg 163] allowed to sleep in the attic on a mattress again, if the two of them got into trouble. That was true. So they sat up, wrapped in blankets, listening for the sound that seemed to have gone away and also for other sounds that did not come. And they wondered excitedly how a circle like that should come to be upon an attic floor, if not purposely put there to mark something. Richard suggested that it might be an old astrologer’s room and that the circle was one upon which he might have cast horoscopes. That sounded rather fascinating but neither Mark nor Richard knew anything about astrologers or even what they did when they cast horoscopes. So this was rather romantic and they talked a great deal about it, once in a while switching off to goblins and Hallowe’en. Mark and Richard discussed, among other topics, what they should do to make Hallowe’en truly exciting. They were going to dress up like witches and go to call upon some friends. Richard was planning to carry his black cat in a bag and they were going to wear masks. Probably Marjorie would beg to go too—girls always[Pg 164] did want to go too—and they’d let her into the secret about the circle on the attic floor too, wouldn’t they?

Richard assented. He and Marjorie were good friends.

“I tell you what!” exclaimed Mark, suddenly. “After we’re dressed up, we’ll all come up here early in the evening. Maybe Mother and Daddy’ll have gone to the pictures. Then we’ll take up the floor and see what’s under the circle!” It seemed a thing quite fit for the night of Hallowe’en.

Having decided this, they again unrolled the mattress, hid themselves in blankets and snored peacefully till dawn.

In the morning, Mark put the matting over the very precious circle and the two went downstairs hinting at wonderful secrets of things they had found and strange noises they had heard. Marjorie said it seemed to her that she had heard a queer noise too—up overhead. She said it sounded like Mark tapping for secret panels. Then everybody laughed because of the memory of how Mark was shut up tight in the harness-closet once upon a time, a victim of his love of mystery and[Pg 165] adventure. Then Richard said he thought Mark had heard a mouse.

“Mouse! Does a mouse rattle?” inquired Mark. “I guess you’ll find out!” And the subject strung itself out all through the day and on till Hallowe’en time came. Of course, in between, Mark had visited the attic and everybody had seen the circle. Everybody declared that it was a mystery. Nobody had ever seen anything like it upon an attic floor. Mother laughed. She was used to Mark’s imaginings. She said she didn’t connect it with a little harmless mouse gnawing at a hole.

At the ment............
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