Swift as the wind, the headless horseman approached the narrow bridge. Penny seized Louise’s hand, jerking her off the road. The ghost rider thundered past them onto the bridge planks which resounded beneath the steel-shod hoofs.

“Jeepers creepers!” Penny whispered. “That’s no boy prankster this time! It’s the real thing!”

The thunder of hoofbeats had not gone unheard by those within the walls of Sleepy Hollow. Lights flashed on in the house. Two men with lanterns came running from the mill shack.

“Get him! Get him!” screamed a woman’s voice from an upstairs window of the house.

The clamor did not seem to disturb the goblin rider. At unchanged pace he clattered across the bridge to its far side. As the two men ran toward him, he suddenly swerved, plunging his horse across a ditch and up a steep bank. There he drew rein for an instant. Rising in his stirrups, he hurled a small, hard object at the two guards. It missed them by inches and fell with a thud on the bridge. Then with a laugh that resembled no earthly sound, the Headless Horseman rode through a gap in the bushes and was gone.

Louise and Penny ran to the bridge. Half way across they found the object that had been hurled. It was a small, round stone to which had been fastened a piece of paper.

Penny picked up the missile. Before she could examine it, Mr. Burmaster came running from the house. He had not taken time to dress, but had thrown a bathrobe over his pajamas.

“You let that fellow get away again!” he shouted angrily to the two workmen. “Can’t you ever stay on the job?”

“See here, Mr. Burmaster,” one of the men replied. “We work eight hours a day and then do guard duty at night. You can’t expect us to stay awake twenty-four hours a day!”

“All right, all right,” Mr. Burmaster retorted irritably. Turning toward the bridge he saw Louise and Penny. “Well, so you’re here again?” he observed, though not in an unfriendly tone.

Penny explained that she and Louise had attended the barn dance and were on their way to the Lear cabin.

“What’s that you have in your hand?” he interrupted.

“A stone that the Headless Horseman threw at your workmen. There’s a paper tied to it.”

“Let’s have it,” Mr. Burmaster commanded.

Penny handed over the stone though she would have preferred to have examined it herself. Mr. Burmaster cut the string which kept the paper in place. He held it beneath one of the lanterns.

Large capital letters cut from newspaper headlines had been pasted in an uneven row across the page. The words spelled a message which read:


Mr. Burmaster read the message aloud and crumpling the paper, stuffed it into the pocket of his robe.

“There, you see!” he cried angrily. “It’s all a plot to force me to put up money for the Huntley Dam!”

“Who do you think the prankster is?” Penny asked.

“How should I know!” Mr. Burmaster stormed. “The townspeople of Delta may be behind the scheme. Or those hill rats like Silas Malcom! Then it could be Old Lady Lear.”

“Can she ride a horse?” Louise interposed.

“Can that old witch ride?” Mr. Burmaster snorted. “She was born in a saddle. Has one of the best horses in the valley too. A jumper.”

Penny and Louise thought of Trinidad with new respect. Not without misgiving they recalled that Mrs. Lear had slipped away from the barn dance ahead of them. Wisely they kept the knowledge to themselves.

“I’ll give a thousand dollars for the capture of that rascal!” Mr. Burmaster went on. “And if it proves to be Mrs. Lear I’ll add another five hundred.”

“Why, not be rid of the Ghost in an easier way?” Penny suggested. “Give the money to the Huntley Dam Fund.”

“Never! I’ll not be blackmailed! Besides, the rains are letting up. There’s no danger.”

Penny and Louise did not attempt to argue the matter. The Huntley Dam feud was none of their concern. By the following day they expected to be far from the valley.

“There’s another person who might be behind this,” Mr. Burmaster continued. “A newspaper editor at Hobostein. He always hated me and he’s been using his paper to write ugly editorials. I ought to sue him for slander.”

Though the Headless Horseman episode had excited the girls, they were tired and eager to get to Mrs. Lear’s. Accordingly, they cut the conversation short and started on down the road. Mr. Burmaster fell into step walking with them as far as the house.

“Come to see us sometime,” he invited with a cordiality that astonished the girls. “Mrs. Burmaster gets very lonesome. She’s nervous but she means well.”

“I’m sure she does,” Penny responded kindly. She hesitated, then added: “I do hope you catch the prankster. Have you considered putting a barricade at the end of the bridge?”

“Can’t do it. When we built this place we had to agree to keep the footbridge open to pedestrians.”

“Suppose one had a moveable barrier,” Penny suggested. “Couldn’t your workmen keep watch and swing it into place after the Horseman started across the bridge? With one at each end he’d be trapped.”

“It’s an idea to be considered,” Mr. Burmaster admitted. “The only trouble is that my workmen aren’t worth their salt as guards. But we’ll see.”

Penny and Louise soon bade the estate owner goodnight and went on down the road. Once beyond hearing they discussed the possibility that Mrs. Lear might have masqueraded as the Headless Horseman.

“It was queer the way she disappeared from the dance,” Penny speculated. “Granting that she’s a spry old lady, I doubt she’d have it in her to pull off the trick.”

“I’m not so sure,” Louise argued. “Mr. Burmaster said she was a wonderful rider. Didn’t you think that horse tonight looked like Trinidad?”

“Goodness, it was too dark to see! In any case, what about the buggy?”

“Mrs. Lear could have unhitched it somewhere in the woods.”

Penny shook her head. “It doesn’t add up somehow. For that matter, nothing about this affair does.”

Rounding a curve, the girls came within view of the Lear cabin. No light burned, but they took it for granted Mrs. Lear had gone to bed.

“Let’s give a look-see in the barn,” Penny proposed. “I want to make sure that our horses are all right.”

“And to see that the buggy is there too,” laughed Louise.

They went past the dripping water trough to the barn and opened the doors. White Foot nickered. Bones kicked at the stall boards. Penny tossed both horses a few ears of corn and then walked on to Trinidad’s stall. It was empty. Nor was there any evidence of a buggy.

“Well, what do you think of that!” Penny commented. “Mrs. Lear’s not been home!”

“Then maybe Mr. Burmaster’s theory is right!” Louise exclaimed, staring at the empty stall. “Mrs. Lear could have been the one!”

“Listen!” commanded Penny.

Plainly the girls could hear a horse and vehicle coming down the road. It was Mrs. Lear, and a moment later she turned into the yard. Penny swung open the barn doors. Trinidad rattled in and pulled up short. His sleek body was covered with sweat as if he had been driven hard.

Mrs. Lear leaped lightly to the barn floor and began to unhitch the horse.

“Well, I’m mighty glad to find you here,” she chirped. “Joe brought you home, didn’t he?”

Penny replied that she and Louise had walked.

“You don’t say!” the old woman exclaimed. “I went down the road a piece to see a friend o’ mine. By the time I got back the frolic was over. I calculated Joe must have brought you home.”

Penny and Louise offered little comment as they helped Mrs. Lear unhitch Trinidad. However, they could see that the old lady was fairly brimming-over with suppressed excitement.

“It’s late, but I ain’t one bit tired,” Mrs. Lear declared as they all entered the house. “There’s somethin’ mighty stimulatin’ about a barn dance.”

Penny was tempted to remark that her hostess had spent very little time at Silas Malcom’s place. Instead she remained silent.

The girls went at once to bed. Mrs. Lear did not follow them upstairs immediately, but puttered about the kitchen preparing herself a midnight snack. Finally her step was heard on the stairs.

“Good night, girls,” she called cheerfully as she passed their door. “Sleep tight.”

Mrs. Lear entered her own bedroom. Her door squeaked shut. A shoe was heard to thud on the floor, then another.

“I wish I knew what to think,” Penny confided to Louise in a whisper. “She’s the queerest old lady—”

Louise had no opportunity to reply. For both girls were startled to hear a shrill cry from the far end of the hall.

The next instant their bedroom door burst open. Mrs. Lear, grotesque in old fashioned flannel nightgown, staggered into the room.

“Why, what’s wrong?” Penny asked in astonishment.

“I’ve been robbed!” Mrs. Lear proclaimed wildly. “I’ve been robbed!”

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