Billie asked Laura and Vi in, but they reluctantly refused, saying that their mothers had expressly ordered them to be home that day in time for dinner.
"We can't come over to-night," Vi called back to them, as she and Laura started on arm in arm. "Mother says I have to get to bed early."
"But we'll see you the first thing in the morning," added Laura. "The very first thing, remember that!"
"I'll say so," Billie sang back gayly, and then led her guest up the porch steps and into the house, where her mother was waiting to receive them. Mrs. Bradley and Connie fell in love with each other at first sight—which was the last thing needed to make Billie absolutely happy.
They went to bed early that night, the two girls snuggled in Billie's pretty bird's-eye maple bed in Billie's pretty bird's-eye maple room.
They went to bed, but neither of the girls had either the desire or the intention of going to sleep. They felt as if they never wanted to go to sleep again.
And so they talked. They talked of the next day and the vacation before them until they could not think of another thing to say about it.
Then they talked of the things that had happened at Three Towers Hall—of the "Dill Pickles" and of Amanda Peabody and Eliza Dilks. And last, but not least, they talked in hushed tones of the mysterious little hut in the woods and the strange man who lived there and wove fern baskets and other things for a living.
By the time they had reached Miss Arbuckle and the finding of her album in the woods they were feeling delightfully thrilly and farther away from sleep than ever.
"It really must be a mystery," Connie was saying, snuggling deeper into the covers and staring at Billie's pretty face and tousled hair weirdly illumined by the pale moonlight that sifted through the window, when there came a tap on the door. And right upon the tap came Mrs. Bradley, wearing a loose robe that made her look mysteriously lovely in the dim light. She sat down on the edge of the bed and regarded the girls smilingly.
"It's twelve o'clock," she said, and they stared at her unbelievingly. "Twelve o'clock," she repeated relentlessly, "and time for girls who have to be up early in the morning to be asleep."
"But we're not sleepy," protested Billie.
"Not a bit," added Connie.
Mrs. Bradley rose decidedly.
"Then it's time you were," she said, adding, with a little laugh: "If I hear a sound in here ten minutes from now, I'm coming after you with a broomstick. Remember," she added, laughing back at them from the doorway, "I give you just ten minutes."
"I think you've got just the loveliest mother," sighed Connie, as she turned over obediently with her back to Billie; "but I'm sure I never can go to sleep."
Five minutes passed, and the girls who could "never go to sleep," felt their eyelids grow heavy and a delicious drowsiness steal over them. Once Connie roused herself enough to say sleepily: "We'll just have to form that Detective Club, Billie, you know."
"Yes," said Billie, already half in the land of dreams. "When we—have—the time—good night, Connie——"
"Good night, Bil-lie——."
And the next they knew it was morning! And such a glorious morning had never dawned before—of that they were sure.
Fat Deborah, nicknamed "Debbie," who had been the cook in the Bradley family for years, and who thought that gave her the right to tell the whole family what was expected of them, from Billie up to Mr. Bradley himself, cooked them a breakfast of ham and eggs and cereal and toast and corn bread, grumbling to herself all the time.
For Debbie did not approve at all of "the young folks scamperin' off jes' so soon as dey gets back home agin."
"Scand'lous, I calls it," Debbie confided to the pan of corn bread she was busily cutting into golden brown pieces. "Don' know what Miz Bradley 'lows she's thinkin' on, nohow. But these am scand'lous days—they sho is." Whereupon she put on a white apron and her dignity and marched into the dining room.
Yet in spite of her disapproval, Debbie gave the young "scalawags" the best breakfast she could make, and from the way the young "scalawags" did justice to it, one might have thought they did not expect to get any more to eat for a week at least.
Then they went upstairs to pack bags with the last minute things. Billie and Connie went over the whole list backward to be sure they had not forgotten a toothbrush "or something." To them it was a very important list.
And when everything was done and their hats and coats on, they found to their dismay that they still had three-quarters of an hour to wait for the train.
"Goodness, why did Mother call us so early!" wailed Billie, sitting down on her suitcase and staring at Connie. "I can do anything but wait. But that I just can't do!"
"Couldn't we go over and call for Laura and Vi?" Connie suggested.
"My, they won't be up yet," said Billie hysterically, then chuckled at Connie's look of dismay. "I didn't mean quite that," she said. "But Vi is always late."
"Then I know we'd better go over!" said Connie, going over and giving her hat one last little pat before the mirror.
But Billie had walked over to the window, and now she called out excitedly.
"Here they come now," she reported, adding with a chuckle: "And there's poor Teddy in the rear carrying two suitcases and something that looks like a lunch box. Come on, let's go down."
And down they went, taking two steps at a time. Billie opened the door just as the two girls and Teddy came up the steps. Chet, who had run out, attracted by the noise, and was looking over Billie's shoulder, caught sight of Teddy and the load he carried and emitted a whoop of joy.
"Hello, old moving van!" he called. "So they've got you doing it too, have they?"
Teddie set his load down on the steps and mopped his perspiring brow.
"Yes. And you'd better get busy yourself," he retorted, adding as Chet seemed about to protest: "I've got some good news. Get your duds and I'll tell it to you on the way to the station."
That got Chet started in a hurry, and a few minutes later the young folks had said a loving good-bye to Mr. and Mrs. Bradley, and were off, bag and baggage, for the station.
The girls' trunks had been sent down the day before, so that all they had to do was to check them at the station. Connie, of course, had had her trunk checked right through to the station nearest their destination.
Chet clamored for Teddy's news, and excitedly Teddy showed him the letter from Paul Martinson saying that the "old boat" would be ready to sail in a few days.
"Whoop!" cried Chet joyfully, trying to wave a suitcase in the air and nearly dropping it on his toe instead. "Say, girls, you may see us even before you hoped to."
"Hoped to!" sniffed Laura. "Don't you hate yourself?"
"Oh, I'm so glad!" cried Billie, her eyes shining. "It will be a lark to have you boys drop in on us some morning when we don't expect you. Oh, it's just grand! We'll be sure to be watching for all of you."
The rejoicing was cut short by the arrival of the train a few minutes later. The girls scurried excitedly on board, the boys handing in their suitcases after them.
As the train started to move Teddy ran along the platform with it and suddenly thrust something into Billie's hand.
"Look out for those currents," he said. "They're awfully dangerous."
As he dropped back to join Chet, Billie looked down at the thing in her hand. It was a package of chocolate.
PLEASURE DRAWS NEAR
As she looked, a flush stole over Billie's face and she tried hastily to hide the chocolate in the pocket of her suit before the girls could see it.
She would have succeeded if Vi had not accidentally touched her elbow at that moment, knocking the package of chocolate from her hand and into the aisle of the car where it lay, face up, accusingly.
Billie stretched out an eager hand for it, but Laura was just before her.
"Aha!" she cried triumphantly, waving the little brown rectangle aloft. "Candy! Where'd you get it, Billie Bradley?" She turned swiftly upon Billie, whose face was the color of a particularly gorgeous beet. Vi and Connie looked on delightedly.
"Goodness! anybody would think it was a crime to have candy," cried Billie indignantly. "You give it to me, Laura, or——" She made a grab for her property, but Laura snatched it back out of her reach.
"No, you don't," she said, putting her hands behind her determinedly. "Not till you tell us where you got it."
"Well I'm not going to," said Billie crossly. "It's none of your business." And she turned away and looked steadily out of the window.
"Give it back to her, Laura," begged Vi. "It isn't fair to tease her so."
"Well then, she shouldn't tease so beautifully," Laura retorted, as, relenting, she slipped Teddy's gift back into Billie's pocket.
At that moment they were startled by a fearful racket—a sound as if all the South Sea pirates that had ever been born had gathered together and were all quarreling at once.
There was a great craning of necks as startled passengers tried to see what it was all about and the girls fairly jumped from their seats—for the racket sounded in their very ears.
Across the aisle from them there was a parrot—a great green and red parrot that at that moment was hanging by its claws to the roof of its cage and was still emitting the raucous squawks that sounded like the talking of a hundred pirates all rolled into one.
An elderly woman who looked as if she might be a spinster of the type generally known as "old maid" was doing her best to silence the bird while she fished wildly in her bag for something.
She found what she was looking for—a heavy black cloth, and, with a sigh of relief, flung it across the cage. Immediately the parrot's uproar subsided to a muttering and a moment later stopped altogether.
Passengers who had craned their necks dropped back in their seats chuckling, picked up magazines or papers or whatever they had been reading where they had left off, and peace settled over the car again. For all save the girls, that is.
For the elderly woman—who most certainly was an old maid—had been terribly embarrassed over the bird's outbreak and began explaining to the girls how she happened to have it in her possession, what troubles she had already had with it, how glad she would be when she delivered the bird to her brother, who was its rightful owner, and so on until the girls became desperate enough to throw things at her.
"Isn't there some way we can stop her!" whispered Vi in Connie's ear, while Billie and Laura were listening to the woman's chatter with forced smiles and polite "yeses and nos." "If I have to listen to that voice another minute I'll scream—I know I shall."
"The only way to stop her that I can think of," Connie whispered back, "would be to take the cover off the parrot's cage. He would drown out most anybody."
This kept up practically all morning with the owner of the parrot talking on tirelessly and the girls trying to listen politely until lunch time came.
Thankfully they made their way through the swaying train to the dining car and sat themselves gratefully down at a little table set for four.
"Thank goodness we've escaped," sighed Billie, as her eyes wandered eagerly down the bill of fare, for Billie was very hungry. "What will you have, girls? I could eat everything on the card without stopping to breathe."
When they returned to their car after lunch they found to their relief that the talkative old woman was gathering up her things as if about to change cars at the junction—which was the next stop.
She did get out at the junction, parrot and all, and the girls fairly hugged each other in their delight.
"Poor old thing," said Billie as the train swung out from the station and the parrot cage disappeared. "I wonder," she added after a moment, "if I'll ever get like that."
"You!" scoffed Vi, with a fond glance at Billie's lovely face. "Yes, you look a lot like an old maid."
"And didn't Teddy give her candy this morning?" added Laura, with a wicked glance at Billie, who said not a word, but stared steadily out of the window.
They bought magazines and tried to read them, but finally gave up the attempt. What was the use of reading about other people's adventures when a far more thrilling one was in store for them at Lighthouse Island?
Billie said something like this, but Connie shook her head doubtfully.
"I don't know how we're going to have any adventures," she said. "There isn't so very much to do besides swimming and rowing in Uncle Tom's rowboat——"
"Goodness, isn't that enough?" said Billie, turning on her. "Why, just being at the seashore is an adventure. Just think, I've never in my life been inside a really truly lighthouse. It's going to be just wonderful, Connie."
"And aren't the boys coming in their motor boat, too?" added Vi eagerly. "Why, they will probably take us for a sail around the point and everything. Connie, how can you say we're not going to have any adventures?"
"All right," she said. "Don't shoot. I'll take it all back. And there's Uncle Tom's clam chowder," she added. "People come from all over just to taste it."
"What time is it, Laura?" asked Billie, turning from the window suddenly and tapping nervously on the window sill. "It won't take us very much longer to get there, will it?"
"Only three hours," answered Laura, consulting her wrist watch.
"Only three hours!" groaned Billie. "And I thought we were nearly there."
There was silence for a little while after that while the girls took up their magazines again and turned the pages listlessly. At the end of another half hour they gave up the attempt entirely and leaned their heads wearily against the backs of the seats, fixing their eyes upon the ever-changing scenery that fled past them.
"Are we going to form our Detective Club?" asked Connie suddenly out of the silence.
The girls stared at her a minute as if she had roused them out of sleep.
"For goodness sake, what made you think of that now?" asked Laura a little peevishly. "I'm so tired I don't want to form clubs or anything else. All I want is to get out somewhere where I can stretch my legs, get some supper, and go to bed. I'm dead."
"You're making lots of noise for a dead one," chuckled Billie, and Laura made a face at her.
"But no one's answered my question," broke in Connie plaintively. "I thought you girls loved mysteries and things."
"Well, who says we don't?" cried Laura. "Just show me a good live mystery and I'll forget I'm all tied up in knots and everything."
"Just listen to her!" exclaimed Connie indignantly. "Do you mean to say you've forgotten that we have a mystery already?"
"Oh—that," said Laura slowly, while a light began to dawn. "Yes, I did forget about it; we've been so busy getting ready and everything."
"Well, I haven't forgotten about it," said Billie, sitting up suddenly, while her cheeks began to glow pink. "And the more I think about it, the funnier it seems to me."
"What?" asked Vi.
"Oh, everything," answered Billie, getting more excited as she spoke. "Hugo Billings in the first place. And then finding Miss Arbuckle's album in the woods. And the children. Girls, I'm just sure they are mysteries—and real ones, too."
THE LIGHT ON LIGHTHOUSE ISLAND
Laura looked faintly excited for a minute, then she leaned back wearily in her seat again.
"I'm just as sure as you are, Billie, that there's something funny about it," she said. "But if we really had wanted to solve the mystery, we should have stayed at Three Towers. The first thing they do in detective stories is to shadow the people they suspect. And how can we do that, I'd like to know, when we're running straight away from them?"
This was very good reasoning. Even Billie and Connie had to admit that, and they began to look worried.
"Perhaps I shouldn't have asked you girls to visit me. Then you might have stayed at Three Towers for the summer and solved the mystery. Now I've spoiled all the fun——"
"Connie! don't be such an absolute goose," cried Billie, putting a hand over Connie's mouth. "Do you suppose we'd have missed this for anything?"
"Anyway," added Vi hopefully, "we may find some more mysteries on Lighthouse Island."
"Humph," grumbled Laura, who was feeling tired and cross, "you talk as if mysteries were just hanging around loose begging to be found."
"Well, I think maybe we'll manage to enjoy ourselves, even without mysteries," said Billie gayly. Nevertheless, she could not help thinking to herself: "Oh, dear, I do wish there was some way I could find out about Miss Arbuckle and those lovely children and poor lonely, sad Hugo Billings. I should like to help if I only knew how!"
"Billie, wake up! Wake up—it's time to get off!"
She must have been very sound asleep because it was several seconds before she fought her way through a sea of unconsciousness and opened heavy eyes upon a scene of confusion.
"What's the matter?" she asked sleepily, but some one, she thought it was Laura, shook her impatiently, and some one else—she was wide awake enough now to be sure this was Vi—put a hat on her head and pushed it so far over her eyes that she temporarily went blind again.
"For goodness sake, can't you put it on straight?" she demanded indignantly, pushing the hat back where it belonged. "What do you think you're doing anyway?"
A little anger was the best thing that could have come to Billie. It was about the only thing in the world that would have gotten her wide awake just then. And it was very necessary that she should be wide awake, for the train was just drawing into the station where they were to get off to take the boat to Lighthouse Island.
She took the bag thrust into her hands by Laura, and the girls hurried out into the aisle that was crowded with people. A minute more, and they found themselves on a platform down which people hurried and porters rolled their baggage trucks and where every one seemed intent upon making as much noise as possible.
Billie and Laura and Vi felt very much bewildered, for they had never done any traveling except in the company of some older person; but with a confidence that surprised them, Connie took command of the situation. For Connie had traveled this route several times, and everything about it was familiar to her.
"Give me your trunk checks," she ordered, adding, as the girls obediently fumbled in their pocketbooks: "We'll have to hustle if we want to get our trunks straightened out and get on board ourselves before the boat starts. What's the matter, Vi, you haven't lost your check, have you?"
For one terrible minute Vi had been afraid she had done just this, but now, with a sigh of relief, she produced the check and handed it over to Connie.
"My, but that was a narrow escape," she murmured, as they hurried down the crowded platform.
The boat that plied from the mainland to Lighthouse Island and one or two more small islands scattered about near the coast was a small but tidy little vessel that was really capable of better speed than most people gave her credit for. She was painted a sort of dingy white, and large black letters along her bow proclaimed her to be none other than the Mary Ann.
And now as the girls, with several other passengers, stepped on board and felt the cool breeze upon their faces they breathed deep of the salty air and gazed wonderingly out over the majestic ocean rolling on and on in unbroken swells toward the distant horizon.
Gone was all the fatigue of the long train ride. They forgot that their lungs were full of soft coal dirt, that their hands were grimy, and their faces, too. They were completely under the spell of that great, mysterious tyrant—the ocean.
"Isn't this grand!"
"Just smell the salt air!"
"Makes you feel braced up already," came from Billie, who had been filling her lungs to the utmost. "Oh, girls! I'm just crazy to jump in and have a swim."
"I'm with you on that," broke out Vi. "Oh, I'm sure we're going to have just the best times ever!"
There was a fair-sized crowd to get aboard, made up partly of natives and partly of city folks. The passengers were followed by a number of trunks and a small amount of freight.
"Evidently we're not the only ones to take this trip," remarked Billie, as she noted the people coming on board the Mary Ann.
"A number of these people must live on the islands the year around," said Laura.
"My, how lonely it must be on this coast during the winter months," said Billie. "Think of being out on one of those islands in a howling snowstorm!"
"I wonder how they get anything to eat during those times?" questioned Vi.
"I presume they keep stuff on hand," answered Billie.
With a sharp toot of her whistle the boat moved out from the dock, made her way carefully among the numerous other craft in the harbor, and finally nosed her way out into the water of the channel.
"O—oh," breathed Vi, softly. "It's even more wonderful than I thought it would be. I'd like to go sailing on and on like this forever."
"Well, I wouldn't," said Laura practically. "Not without any supper. I'm getting a perfectly awful appetite."
"It will be worse than that after you've been here a little while," laughed Connie. "Mother says that it seems as if she never can give me enough to eat when we come out to the seashore, so she has given up trying."
"Your poor mother!" said Billie dolefully. "And now she has four of us!"
"I know," chuckled Connie. "Mother was worrying a little about that—as to how she could keep four famished wolves fed at one time. But Uncle Tom said he'd help her out."
"Your Uncle Tom," Vi repeated wonderingly. "Can he cook?"
"Of course," said Connie, looking at her as if she had asked if the world was square. "Didn't I tell you about his clam chowder?"
"Oh," said Vi thoughtfully, while something within her began to cry out for a sample of that clam chowder. "Oh yes, I remember."
"Connie, you're cruel," moaned Laura. "Can't you talk of something besides clam chowder when you know I'm starving to death? Goodness, I can almost smell it."
"That's the clams you smell," chuckled Connie. "They always have some on board the Mary Ann to sell to the islanders—if they haven't the sense to catch them themselves. We never need to buy any," she added, proudly. "Uncle Tom keeps us supplied with all we want. Look!" she cried suddenly, pointing to a small island which loomed directly ahead of them, looking in the grey mist of evening like only a darker shadow against the shifting background. "That's our island—see? And there's the light," she added, as a sudden beacon flashed out at them, sending a ruddy light out over the dark water.
"Oh, isn't it beautiful!" cried Billie rapturously. "Just think what it must mean to the ships out at sea—that friendly light, beckoning to them——"
"No, it doesn't—beckon, I mean," said Connie decidedly. "That's just what it isn't for. It's to warn them to keep away or they'll be sorry."
"Is there so much danger?" asked Laura eagerly.
"I should say there is," Connie answered gravely. "In a storm especially. You see, the water is very shallow around here and if a big ship runs in too close to shore she's apt to get on a shoal. That isn't so bad in clear weather—although a ship did get stuck on the shoal here not so very long ago and she was pretty much damaged when they got her off. But in a storm——"
"Yes," cried Billie impatiently.
"Why, Uncle Tom says," Connie was very serious, "that if a ship were driven upon the shoal in a gale—and we have terrible storms around here—it would probably come with such force that its bottom would be pretty nearly crushed in and the people on board might die before any one could get out there to rescue them."
"Oh, Connie, how dreadful!" cried Vi. Laura and Billie only stared at the lighthouse tower as though fascinated, while the little boat came steadily nearer to it.
"Has anything like that ever happened here, Connie?" asked Laura in an awed voice.
"No," said Connie. "There was a terrible wreck here a long time ago—before they built the lighthouse. But Uncle Tom says no one will ever know just how many lives have been saved because of the good old light. To hear him talk to it you would think it was alive."
"It is!" cried Billie, pointing excitedly as the great white globe that held the light swung slowly around toward them. "Didn't you see that? It winked at us!"
The steamer scraped against the dock and the girls straightened their hats, picked up their suitcases, and started down the narrow winding stairs that led to the lower deck.
Connie led the way as she had done ever since they had left North Bend. She scrambled quickly out upon the pier and the chums, following more slowly, were in time to see Connie rapturously embrace first a lady and then a gentleman standing near by.
"Well, well!" a deep masculine voice was saying, "it seems mighty good to see our girl again. But where are the others?"
Connie turned eagerly to the girls.
"This is my mother and father, Billie and Laura and Vi," she said, with a proud wave of her hand toward her smiling parents, who came forward and greeted the girls cordially.
"It's too dark to see your faces," Mrs. Danvers said. "But Connie has described you to us so many times that it isn't at all necessary. I'm sure I know just exactly what you look like."
"Oh, but they're three times as nice as anything I've said about them," Connie was protesting when her father, who had been conversing with the captain of the Mary Ann, stepped up to them.
"If you young ladies will give me your checks," he said—and the girls knew they were going to love him because his voice sounded so kind—"I'll attend to your trunks and you can go on up to the house."
The girls produced their checks, Mr. Danvers went back to the captain, and Mrs. Danvers and the girls started off in high spirits toward the bungalow.
"Are you very tired?" Mrs. Danvers asked them, and the turn of her head as she looked at them made the girls think of some pert, plump, cheery little robin.
It was really getting very dark, and the girls could not make out what she looked like, but they could see that she was small and graceful and her voice—well, her voice had a gay lilt that made one want to laugh even though all she said was "what a pleasant day it is." No wonder, with that father and mother, Connie was such a darling.
"Why, no, we're not very tired," Billie said in answer to Mrs. Danvers' question. "We were on the train, but the minute we got on board the boat we seemed to forget all about it. It's this beautiful salt air, I suppose," and she sniffed happily at the soft, salt-laden breeze that came wandering up from the sea.
"Of course it's the air," agreed Mrs. Danvers gayly. "The air does all sorts of wonderful things to us. You just wait a few days and see."
They were walking along a rough boardwalk set quite a way back from the water's edge so that there was a white stretch of beach between it and the first thin line of lapping waves.
"Why, look at the boardwalk!" cried Laura, in wonder.
"You didn't say anything about a boardwalk down here, Connie," added Vi. "You're really right up to date, aren't you?"
"What did you suppose?" put in Billie. "That Lighthouse Island was in the backwoods and had no improvements?" And she laughed gayly.
"Well, I know that very few of the islands on this coast have boardwalks," defended Laura. "Most of them have the roughest kind of stony paths."
"You are right, there," said Connie. "I remember only too well when I was on Chatter Island we had to climb over the rocks all the way, and one day I twisted my ankle most dreadfully—so badly, in fact, that I was laid up for three days while all the other girls were having the best time ever."
"I know what I'd do on a real dark night," remarked Billie dryly. "If I couldn't see where I was stepping, I'd take my chances and walk in the sand."
"I do that myself sometimes," answered Connie.
Several bungalows dotted the rather barren landscape, for Lighthouse Island was an ideal spot for a summer home—that is if one liked the seashore.
But the girls were not so much interested in what was on the island as they were in what was beyond it. The ocean—the great dark, mysterious ocean drew their eyes irresistibly and set their minds to wandering. And as the days passed they were to feel the spell of it more and more.
"Here we are," Mrs. Danvers said cheerily, and with an effort the girls brought their thoughts back to the present.
Mrs. Danvers had turned from the main boardwalk down another that led to a bungalow whose every window was cheerfully and invitingly lighted.
"Be careful where you step," Mrs. Danvers called back to them, and the girls saw that she was picking her steps very carefully. "There are two or three boards missing, and I can't get Mr. Danvers to do the repairing. He spends whole days," she added, turning plaintively to Connie, "up in that old lighthouse just talking to your Uncle Tom. I don't know whether it's your Uncle Tom's conversation he finds so fascinating or his clam chowder."
She opened the door as she spoke and the girls had a vision of a comfortable, gayly lighted room all wicker chairs and chintz cushions and chintz hangings, a room pretty and cozy, a room that seemed to be beckoning and inviting the girls to come in and make themselves at home.
Which they did—immediately. All except Billie, who stepped back a moment and gazed off through the dusk to the light in the lighthouse tower glowing its warning to the travelers over the dark highways of the sea.
"I love it," she said, surprising herself by her fervor. "It looks so bright and brave and lonely."
Then she stepped in after the others and almost ran into Connie, who was coming back to get her.
"What were you doing all by yourself out there in the dark?" she asked accusingly. "We thought you had run away or something."
"Goodness, where would I run to?" asked Billie, as they went upstairs together arm in arm. "There's no place to run except into the ocean, and I'd rather wait for that till I have my bathing suit on."
They found Mrs. Danvers and Laura and Vi in a large room as pretty and comfortable as the room downstairs, though not quite so elaborate. Laura and Vi were busily engaged in making themselves entirely at home.
Laura had her hat off and was fixing her hair in front of a mirror and Vi was hanging up her coat in the closet.
"You see there's a connecting door between these two rooms," Mrs. Danvers said in her pleasant voice; "so that you girls can feel almost as if you were in one room."
Then as she caught sight of Billie and Connie in the doorway she beckoned to them and disappeared into the next room, and with a laughing word to Laura and Vi they followed her.
This was the room that she and Connie were to occupy, Billie found, and she looked about her at the handsome mahogany furniture and dainty dressing table fixings with interest.
But she was even more interested in seeing what Connie's mother looked like in the light. She was not a bit disappointed, for Mrs. Danvers' looks entirely matched her voice.
Her eyes were a wide laughing hazel, set far apart and fringed with dark lashes. Her hair, for she had not worn a hat, was a soft brown, and the night wind had whipped a pretty color into her face.
"She is awfully pretty. Not as pretty as my mother," Billie thought loyally, "but awfully pretty just the same."
Billie must have been staring more than she knew, for suddenly Mrs. Danvers—it seemed absurd to call her "Mrs." she looked so like a girl—turned upon her and took her laughingly by the shoulders.
"So you're Billie Bradley," she said, her hazel eyes searching Billie's brown ones. "Connie said you were the most popular girl at Three Towers and that all the girls loved you. I can't say that I blame them, my dear," giving Billie's flushed cheek a gay little pat. "I'm not very sure but what I may do it myself. Now here——" And she went on to give directions while Billie followed her with wondering eyes. How could a woman who was old enough to be Connie's mother look so absolutely and entirely like a girl of twenty? She was not even dignified like most of the mothers Billie knew—she did not even try to be. Connie treated her as she would an older and much loved sister. One only needed to be with them three minutes to see that mother and daughter adored each other and were the very best chums in the world. And right then and there Billie began adoring too.
"Now I'll run downstairs and get something on the table for you girls to eat, for I know you must be starving," said Mrs. Danvers, or rather "Connie's mother," as Billie called her from that day on. "Don't stop to fix up, girls, for there won't be a soul here to-night but Daddy and me—and we don't care. Hurry now. If you are not downstairs by the time I have dinner on the table I'll eat it all myself, every bit." With that she was gone into the next room, leaving a trail of laughter behind her that made Billie's heart laugh in sympathy.
"Connie," she said, sitting down on the edge of the bed and regarding her chum soberly as she opened her bag and drew out a brush and comb, "I'm simply crazy about your mother. She's so young and pretty and—and—happy. Does she ever do anything but laugh?"
"Not often," said Connie, adding with a little chuckle: "But when she does stop laughing you'd better look out for 'breakers ahead,' as Uncle Tom says. Mother's French you know, and she has a temper—about once a year. But for goodness sake, stop talking, Billie, and get ready. You've got a patch of dirt under one eye. What's that I smell? It's clam chowder!"
"Clam chowder," repeated Billie weakly. "Are you sure it's clam chowder, Connie?"
"Yes, clam chowder," repeated Connie firmly.
CLAM CHOWDER AND SALT AIR
Connie was right, gloriously right. It was clam chowder—the kind of clam chowder one dreams about—come true. Uncle Tom had made it just that very afternoon and had brought it over in a huge bucket that was always used for such occasions.
The girls ate and ate and ate and then ate some more until they were completely satisfied with life and were feeling contented and beautifully, wonderfully drowsy.
Connie's mother had served them other things beside clam chowder. There were pork chops and apple sauce, there were muffins and honey and apple pie, and when they had finished, the once full table looked as if a swarm of locusts had been at it.
And all the time Connie's mother had watched them with wide, delighted eyes and Connie's father had lounged back in his chair, smoking a cigar and looking on with an indulgent smile.
Mr. Danvers, with the aid of a couple of men from the dock, had got the girls' trunks up to the house and into the rooms they were going to occupy for the summer.
And now, having done his duty, he had sauntered into the dining room to get acquainted with the girls and smoke a cigar. He and Mrs. Danvers had had their dinner earlier, because, as Mrs. Danvers laughingly explained, "she had been famished and could not wait," so that now there was nothing to do but watch the girls enjoy themselves.
The dining room was like all the other rooms in the cottage, cheerful and cozy and tastefully furnished, and as the girls looked about them happily they felt that they must have known the house and its owners all their lives.
Mr. Danvers was many years older than his wife, and he looked even older than he was. But he was a handsome man, and the touch of gray in the hair at his temples only made him look more distinguished. He adored his wife, and his eyes followed her wherever she went.
"As if any one could blame him for that," thought Billie, as Mrs. Danvers slipped a second piece of apple pie on her plate.
"My gracious! do you expect me to eat a second piece of pie?" cried Billie, glancing up at Mrs. Danvers, with a smile.
"A second piece of pie isn't very much for a young girl with a healthy appetite," returned the lady of the bungalow.
"You give her too much pie, and she'll be dreaming of all sorts of things," remonstrated Vi.
"Why, Vi! To talk that way when you are eating a second piece yourself!" broke in Laura.
"If we dream, perhaps we'll all dream together, so what's the difference?" remarked Billie; and at this there was a laugh in which even Mr. Danvers joined.
After dinner Connie's mother sent them up to their rooms, saying that she knew they must be tired to death and should go to bed early so they could get up to see the sun rise the next morning.
They did not protest very much, for they were tired and the prospect of bed was very alluring. To-morrow—well, to-morrow they would go exploring. Perhaps they might even be permitted to visit the lighthouse and Uncle Tom. Speaking of Uncle Tom made Billie think of the clam chowder, and although she could not have eaten another scrap if she had tried, her mouth watered at the memory.
The girls left the connecting door open between the two rooms so that they could talk to each other if they wanted to, but they did not do very much talking that night.
"Oh, this feels good," sighed Billie, as Connie turned down the covers and she crawled thankfully into bed. "I didn't know I was so awfully tired. And that dinner! Connie, does your mother always serve dinners like that?"
"Yes," said Connie, flinging her thick braid over her shoulder and crossing the room to turn out the light. "Mother's an awfully good cook, and although we have a maid to do the heavy work Mother does all the cooking herself."
"Well," said Billie, snuggling down under the covers luxuriously as Connie joined her, "I'm mighty glad I came."
"Even if we don't solve any mysteries?" asked Connie, a trifle wistfully.
Billie turned over and tried to see her face, a thing impossible, of course, in the dark.
"What a foolish thing to say," she cried. "I'll shake you, Connie Danvers, if you ever say a thing like that again. We could have stayed at Three Towers if we had wanted to solve mysteries more than we wanted to come here, couldn't we?"
"Y—yes," said Connie doubtfully. "Only, of course, we didn't know anything about the mystery when I asked you to come here. So you couldn't have backed out very well, even if you had wanted to."
Billie turned over impatiently and caught Connie by the shoulder.
"Connie Danvers!" she cried, "now I know you want to be shaken. Are you really trying to say that we didn't want to come with you and only did it to please you?"
"No," said Connie, with a shake of her head. "Of course I didn't mean just that. Just the same," she added longingly, "I am awfully anxious to find out about Miss Arbuckle and her album and—that strange man—everything."
It was then that a horrible thought struck Billie, and it was so horrible that it sat her straight up in bed.
"Connie—I just thought—could it—were you sorry you asked us to come?" she stammered. "Would you rather have stayed at Three Towers yourself?"
For a minute there was silence and Billie knew that Connie was staring through the dark at her in absolute amazement.
"You perfectly silly goose," said Connie then, her bewilderment changing to indignation. "Now I know who wants to be shaken. Lie down here, Billie, and see if you can act sensibly. Sorry I asked you!" she exploded indignantly. "Why, who ever heard of such a thing!"
"But you said you wanted to solve the mystery—if there is one," Billie reminded her, lying down again.
"Well, of course I do. So do all the rest of you," Connie shot back. "But as to being sorry I asked you, why, I've a good mind——" She rose threateningly in the bed and Billie put out a pleading hand, saying with a chuckle:
"Please don't kill me or do whatever you were going to. I take it all back."
"I should say you'd better!" sputtered Connie, coming down with a thump in the bed.
"What are you girls raving about?" asked a sleepy voice from the next room that they recognized as Vi's. "Can't you keep still and let a fellow sleep? Laura's snoring already."
"Oh, I am not!" came indignantly from Laura. "I never snore!"
"How do you know?" asked Vi with interest.
"Know!" sputtered Laura. "Why, I don't know how I know, but I do know."
"Perhaps you are like an aunt of mine," Vi's voice came lazily back. "She says she knows she never snores because she stayed awake all night once just to see if she did."
Billie and Connie chuckled, which would have made Laura more indignant if she had not been so sleepy.
"Oh, for goodness sake, keep still and let me sleep," she cried, adding ferociously: "I saw a knife around somewhere downstairs. If anybody speaks another word I'm going down and get it."
Whether this threat had anything to do with it or not, it would be hard to say. But at any rate the girls did stop talking and settled down for sleep.
All but one of them succeeded in drifting off into the land of nod in no time at all, but that one of them—who was Billie—lay for a long time with eyes wide open staring into the dark.
Then gradually the soft lapping of waves upon the beach soothed her into a sort of doze where tall thin men and shabby picture albums and queer little huts were all confused and jumbled together. Only one thing stood out clearly, and that was the great searchlight, twinkling, winking, glowing, sending its friendly message far out upon the sea.
Then all the troubled visions disappeared in a soft black cloud. Billie was asleep.
FUN AND NONSENSE
The next morning the girls were up with the sun. They were in hilarious spirits and made so much noise that Mrs. Danvers, busily getting breakfast in the kitchen below, smiled to herself and hugged a big collie that at that moment strolled leisurely into the room.
The big collie's name was Bruce, and he belonged to Uncle Tom of the lighthouse. But although Uncle Tom was his master and was first in his dog's heart, Connie's mother was his very next best beloved and Bruce spent his time nearly equally between the lighthouse and Uncle Tom and the cottage and Connie's mother.
Now he answered the woman's hug with a loving look from his beautiful eyes and waved his brush gratefully.
"Bruce darling," said Connie's mother, as she lifted a pan of biscuits and shoved it into the oven, "it's a perfectly gorgeous morning and a perfectly gorgeous world and you're a perfectly gorgeous dog. Now don't deny it. You know you are! How about it?"
To which Bruce responded by a more vigorous waving of his white tipped brush that very nearly swept a second pan of biscuits off on to the well-swept floor.
Connie's mother rescued it with a quick motion of her arm and stared at Bruce reproachfully.
"Bruce, just suppose you had spoiled it!" she scolded, as she slipped the pan into the oven after its fellow. "Don't you know that I have four hungry girls to feed, to say nothing of a great big husband——"
"Now what are you saying about me?" asked a man's pleasant voice from the doorway, adding as Connie's mother turned toward him: "Can't I help, dear? You look rather warm."
"Warm! Well, I should say I was!" said Connie's mother, sweeping a stray lock of hair back out of her eyes. "But what do I care when it's such a wonderful world? Haven't I got my baby back again, and three others as well? They're sweet girls, aren't they, John? And Billie Bradley is going to be a beauty."
"Well, I know some one else who is a beauty," said Mr. Danvers, looking admiringly at his wife's rosy face and wide-apart, laughing eyes, adding with a smile: "Even though she has a big patch of flour under one eye."
"Oh!" cried Connie's mother, and wiped her face vigorously with a pink and white checked apron. "Now just for that," she said, turning to her husband, who was still lounging in the doorway, "I'm going to put you out. And Bruce, too. I have enough to do without having a husband who makes fun of me and a dog who sticks his tail into everything under my feet all the time. Hurry on," and she pushed her protesting, laughing husband and the reluctant dog out through the open door and into the brilliant sunshine beyond.
"Are you going to call us in time for breakfast?" Mr. Danvers called back to his wife over his shoulder.
"Of course," she answered. "I'll send Connie after you." And she playfully waved a frying pan at him.
"She put us out, Bruce," said Mr. Danvers laying a caressing hand on the dog's beautiful head as he walked gravely along beside him. "But we love her just the same, don't we?" And Bruce's answer was to press close to Mr. Danvers and wave his tail enthusiastically.
Hardly had Mrs. Danvers had time to put the bacon in the oven to keep warm and break the eggs into the pan when there was a sound of skirmishing on the stairs, and a moment later a whirlwind broke in upon her.
"Mother, Mother, Mother, everything smells good!" cried Connie, dancing over to her mother and hugging her so energetically that she almost sent the eggs, pan and all, on the floor. "Is there anything we can do to help?"
"Yes—go away," cried Connie's mother, seeing with dismay that one of the eggs in the pan was broken—and Connie's mother prided herself upon serving perfect eggs. Then, as she saw the surprise in the girls' faces, she relented, left the eggs to their fate, and hugged them all.
"You're darlings," she said. "But you're awfully in the way. Billie, for goodness sake, hand me that pancake turner. Quick! These eggs are going to be awful!"
But Billie had jumped to the rescue, and when the eggs were turned out on the platter with the bacon surrounding them on four sides, they did not look "awful" at all, but just about the most appetizing things the girls had ever laid hungry eyes on.
"Oh, let me carry them!"
"No, let me!"
"I'll do it!"
And to a chorus of a score or so other such pleas, the eggs were borne triumphantly into the dining room and set carefully on the table.
"Now the biscuits!" cried Connie, running back into the kitchen where her mother was just heaping another platter high with golden brown deliciousness.
"Oh, Mother," said Connie, darting a kiss at her mother that landed just exactly on the tip of Mrs. Danvers' pretty astonished nose, "everything you cook always looks just exactly like you."
Then she disappeared with the biscuits, leaving her mother to rub her nose and smile somewhat proudly.
"I guess it must have been a compliment," she chuckled, as she followed Connie with a second plate of biscuits, "for they always seem to like what I cook."
The girls were already waiting politely but impatiently for her. She was about to sit down when she thought of Mr. Danvers. She looked hastily at Connie.
"I told your father I'd send you after him when breakfast was ready," she said; and Connie looked dismayed.
"Oh, bother!" she said. "I just know they'll eat all the biscuits before I get back."
"No, we won't. We promise," said Billie; but Connie still looked doubtful enough to make them giggle as she flung out of the door in search of her father.
She had been gone scarcely two minutes when she returned triumphantly with her father and Bruce in tow.
"They were just coming back," she told her mother, as she sank into her seat and reached for a biscuit. "Daddy said he smelled the biscuits and they drew him with——What was it you said they drew you with, Daddy?"
"Irresistible force?" asked Mr. Danvers, as he greeted the girls and took his seat at the head of the table. "Now, if they only taste as they smell——" He smiled at his wife across the table and she handed him a plate full of the golden brown biscuits.
"Who owns the dog?" asked Laura boyishly, as Bruce sat down gravely at Mrs. Danvers' side, looking up at her adoringly.
"Oh, please, excuse me; I forgot to introduce him," cried Mrs. Danvers, dimpling and laying her hand lightly on the dog's head. "This is Robert Bruce, and he's a thoroughbred and belongs to Uncle Tom, and lives over at the lighthouse."
"The lighthouse," repeated Billie eagerly, then added as though she were thinking aloud: "Oh, but I'm crazy to see it."
"Are you?" asked Connie's mother, looking surprised at Billie's eagerness, for the lighthouse was an old story to her. "Connie can take you over there to-day if you would like to go."
"Oh, won't that be lovely!" cried Vi. "I've always wanted to see inside a real lighthouse. I want to know all about the lights and everything. When can we go, Mrs. Danvers?"
"Any time you like," answered Mrs. Danvers, her heart warming to their girlish enthusiasm. She was falling in love with Connie's friends more and more every minute. "Uncle Tom receives visitors at all hours of the day."
"And he has lots of 'em," added Connie, nodding over her coffee cup. "All the children and the men love him. He can tell so many stories, you know——"
"And fish stories too, I reckon," put in Connie's mother laughingly. "You know you can never really depend upon a sailor's telling the truth."
Good as the breakfast was, the girls found themselves hurrying through it, so eager were they to see the lighthouse and Uncle Tom. They took Bruce with them at Mrs. Danvers' request, for she was going to be very busy and the big dog did have a habit of getting in the way.
As the girls swung along the boardwalk they had a wild desire to shout with the sheer joy of living. Everything looked so different by daylight. It was not half so thrilling and mysterious, but it was much more beautiful.
The ocean was calm, for there was almost no wind. The water gleamed and sparkled in the brilliant sunshine, and the beach was almost too dazzlingly white to look upon.
In the distance rose the irregular outline of the mainland, but on all other sides there was nothing but an illimitable stretch of long, graceful, rolling combers.
As the girls came out upon the Point, there, before them, rose the lighthouse tower, robbed of the mystery it had worn the night before, yet wearing a quaint, romantic dignity all its own.
"Connie," said Billie happily, "I'm sure this is the most wonderful place in the world."
Uncle Tom was undeniably glad to see them. He was sitting in the little room at the base of the tower which was his living room, smoking a great corn-cob pipe and idly turning over the pages of a book.
But as Connie entered and ran to him with a joyful cry, he put the pipe down carefully, flung the book on the floor and caught the girl in a bear's hug.
"Well, well!" he cried, his great voice filling the room like thunder, "here's my little girl come back to me again. I was beginning to think you'd deserted your uncle in his old age, Connie, lass. When did you get back? And who are these other very pretty young ladies you have with you?"
"They are my chums and the nicest girls in all the world," said Connie, turning to them gayly. "You must have known they were coming, Uncle Tom. Mother said she told you."
"Yes, yes, so she did," said Uncle Tom in the same hearty tones that seemed to fill the little room and—the girls could almost have sworn to it—make it tremble. "But my memory is getting worse and worse, Connie, lass," he added, with a doleful shake of the head that was belied by the merry twinkle in his eyes. "Let me see now, what was it their names were?"
Then laughingly Connie introduced the girls and Uncle Tom had some funny personal little thing to say to each one of them so that by the time the introductions were over they were all laughing merrily and feeling very well acquainted.
"I suppose you will be wanting to see the tower," said Uncle Tom, after he had shown them all around the quaint little room and introduced them to some of his treasures—queer racks and shells and pebbles that he had picked up in his wanderings. "Everybody always wants to climb the tower, and it's mighty hard on a poor old fellow with a weak back, let me tell you." And again the doleful shake of the head was belied by the twinkle in his eyes.
"Oh, we're in no hurry, please," put in Billie, turning from one of the small-paned, outward-opening windows that looked straight out upon the ocean. "I think this is the darlingest room I ever saw. I could spend days and days just looking around here."
Connie's Uncle Tom stood six feet two in his stocking feet and was broad in proportion. He had a shock of reddish brown hair that was becoming slightly streaked with gray, but his face was clean shaven. His features were rugged, rather than handsome, but his eyes were large and red-brown to match his hair and with an everlasting humor in them that made everybody love him who knew him.
And now he stood looking down at Billie's pretty, eager face, and, though his face was grave, his eyes were laughing as usual.
"I'm glad you like it," he said. "I do. But then, I have to."
"I should think you'd want to," Billie shot back. "Why, I am sure I would just love to live here myself——"
"No, you wouldn't," Uncle Tom interrupted, taking up his pipe and puffing at it thoughtfully. "It's mighty nice in the day time, I'll admit. Then it's a mighty pretty, homey place. But at night, especially on a stormy night, it's different. The wind wails round here like a tortured ghost, the waves beat upon the rock foundation of the tower like savage beasts trying to tear it apart, and the tower itself seems to quiver and tremble. And you start to wonder—" the girls had gathered closer to him, for his voice was grave and his eyes had stopped laughing—"about the ships away out there in the fury of the storm, some of them crippled, distressed, sinking perhaps. And you get to thinking about the men and women, and little children maybe, on board and wondering how many will be alive when the storm dies down. I tell you it grips you by the throat, it makes your eyes ache with pity, and you curse the storm that's bringing disaster along with it."
His hands were clenched, his face was hard and stern, and the girls felt thrilled, stirred, as they had never been before. But suddenly he jumped to his feet, went over to the window and stood there looking out for a moment. And when he came back he was smiling so naturally that the girls caught themselves wondering if they had not dreamed what had gone before.
"I didn't mean to give you a lecture," he told them gayly. And with strange reluctance they shook off the spell and smiled with him. "Come on, let's take a look at the tower, and then I'll give you some clam chowder. Would you like some clam chowder?"
They were too fresh from breakfast to be wildly enthusiastic even over clam chowder just then, but they knew the time would come soon when they would be hungry again, so they assented happily and followed the broad back of Uncle Tom up the winding tower steps.
They exclaimed over the tower room, and the wonderful revolving light, but the thing that charmed them most was the platform that completely encircled the tower.
They reached the platform through a small door, and as the girls stepped out upon it they felt almost as if they were stepping out into space.
The water seemed unbelievably far away, farther a good deal than it actually was, and Billie did not dare look down very long for fear of becoming dizzy.
It was almost half an hour before Uncle Tom finally succeeded in luring them away from the platform, and then the whole crowd of girls went reluctantly.
They went downstairs with Uncle Tom and listened to his yarns, with Bruce curled happily up at his master's feet, until the thought of the clam chowder he had promised them became insistent and Connie asked him pointblank whether he had forgotten all about it.
Uncle Tom indignantly denied the latter imputation, and set about preparing the chowder immediately, the girls offering eager but inexperienced help. Bruce tried to help, too, but only succeeded, as usual, in getting himself in the way.
And after that came bliss! The girls succeeded in devouring a huge pot of delicious chowder—it was better than that they had had the night before, because it was freshly made—and it was after three o'clock before they finally tore themselves from the lighthouse and Uncle Tom and started for the Danvers' bungalow.
"Come again and come often," he called after them in his megaphone voice, one hand stroking Bruce's beautiful head as the big dog stood beside him.
"We will," they answered happily.
"Especially if you give us clam chowder every time," Billie laughed back at him over her shoulder. "Good-bye, Bruce." She turned once more before they lost sight of the lighthouse keeper, and there he was, towering in the doorway, his dog at his side, smoking his corn cob pipe and gazing thoughtfully out to sea.
"I don't wonder you love him, Connie," she said, shading her eyes with her hand, for the brilliant sunshine made her blink. "I think he's wonderful. He's like—like—somebody out of a book."
"Poor Teddy," said Laura, with a wicked side glance at her chum. "I guess he'd better hurry up, if he's coming."
Billie tried hard to think of something crushing to say in reply, but before she could speak Connie gave an excited little skip that very nearly landed her in the sand a couple of feet below the boardwalk.
"Oh, when do you suppose the boys will get here?" she asked eagerly. "I'm just crazy to go out in that motor boat of Paul's."
"Yes, to have the boys come will be all we need to make us perfectly happy," declared Vi.
"Well, they ought to be along in a few days now," said Billie. Then she suddenly caught Connie's arm and pointed out toward the water's edge.
"Look!" she cried. "There are some people in swimming."
"Why, of course," said Connie. "We can go in swimming, too, to-morrow if we want to. Maybe Uncle Tom will come along. I always feel safer with him, he's such a wonderful swimmer."
"Oh, I hope so," said Vi, adding plaintively: "I only wish to-morrow wasn't such a long way off," and she sighed.
The girls walked along in silence for a few minutes. Then Billie spoke as if she were thinking aloud.
"I wonder," she said, "what your Uncle Tom——"
"You'd better call him your Uncle Tom," said Connie, with a laugh, "because he's already adopted you."
"All right," agreed Billie. "I wonder what made Uncle Tom speak the way he did about storms and wrecks and—and—things——"
"Why, since he's a sailor," said Laura, "I suppose he's been in all sorts of wrecks, and of course he thinks about them most in a storm."
"No," said Connie gravely. "No, that isn't it. You see," she lowered her voice a little and spoke slowly, "Uncle Tom lost somebody in a wreck once. She was a very lovely girl, it is said, and Uncle Tom was engaged to marry her."
The girls' young faces were very sober as they gazed at Connie.
"Oh," said Billie softly. "Now I see. Poor, poor Uncle Tom!"
PAUL'S MOTOR BOAT
The days flew by on wings and the girls were surprised to wake one morning to find that they had been at Lighthouse Island over a week.
They had been bathing and boating and swimming till they were tanned a beautiful brown, the color not being confined to their faces, but covering their arms and hands as well.
What with the exercise and Mrs. Danvers' wonderful cooking, they had gained flesh so fast that they had begun to wonder a little anxiously if they were "bound for the freak show."
"Why, it's positively dreadful!" Laura declared one morning, feeling ruefully of her waistline which she was quite certain had expanded at least two inches. "I've simply got to stop eating, or something."
"Stop eating!" echoed Billie, taking up a handful of sand and letting it sift slowly through her fingers. "Well, maybe you can do it, Laura dear, but I certainly can't—not with Connie's mother doing the cooking."
"I don't intend to try, no matter how fat I get," declared Vi.
It was right after breakfast, and the girls had jumped into their bathing suits, as they did at almost the same time every morning, and were waiting impatiently for the hour to pass that Mrs. Danvers had insisted must pass before they went in swimming after breakfast.
"Mother said she might come down this morning and go in with us," said Connie, her eyes fixed dreamily on the horizon. Then suddenly she sat up straight and stared.
"What's the matter?" asked Billie. "Seeing ghosts or something?"
"No. But look!" Connie clutched at her arm. "Isn't that a motor boat?"
"That" was a tiny spot that grew bigger as they looked and seemed to be headed in their direction.
"It's a boat of some sort, I think," said Vi. "But you can't tell whether it's a motor boat or some other kind of a craft."
"Of course you can," Laura broke in excitedly. "It's got to be a motor boat because there aren't any sails or anything. It is! It is! Oh, girls! could it be——"
"The boys?" finished Billie, shading her eyes with her hand and gazing eagerly out toward the speck that was growing larger every minute. "Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful?"
"But we're not a bit sure it's the boys," Connie reminded her. "Lots of motor boats come here in the summer."
"Oh, stop being a kill-joy," Laura commanded, giving her a little shake. "I just feel it in my bones that the boys are in that boat. Where will they land, Connie?"
"At the dock, of course," Connie answered, in a tone which said very plainly: "You ought to have known that without asking."
"Well, let's run around there then," cried Billie, her cheeks red with excitement. "They won't know what to do if nobody's there to meet them."
As always with Billie, to think a thing was to do it, and before the girls had a chance to say anything she was off, fleet-footed, down the sand in the direction of the dock.
The girls stared for a minute, then Laura started in pursuit.
"Come on," she cried. "She's crazy, of course, but we've got to follow her, I suppose."
Billie had almost reached the dock before they caught up with her. Then Laura reached out a hand and jerked her to stop.
"Billie," she gasped, "be sensible for just a minute, please. Suppose it isn't the boys? Then we won't want to be waiting around as though we wanted somebody to speak to us!"
"Well, but I'm sure it is the boys. You said so yourself," retorted Billie impatiently, her eyes fixed on the mysterious spot dancing and bobbing on the glistening water. "And they certainly won't know what to do if there isn't a soul here to meet them."
"But we don't want to meet them in our bathing suits," said Vi, who, with Connie, had just come pantingly up. "It wouldn't be just proper, would it?"
Billie looked at her doubtfully a moment, then reluctantly shook her head.
"No, I don't suppose it would," she admitted, adding with a stamp of her foot. "But I did want to be here to meet them."
"Well, we can be, if we rush," broke in Connie. "The boat won't reach the dock for fifteen or twenty minutes anyway, because it's still a long way off. We may be able to throw some clothes on and be back by that time."
"'Throw' is right," Laura said skeptically, but Billie was already racing off again in the direction of the cottage. With a helpless little laugh, the girls followed.
The boys would have declared it could not be done. But the girls proved that it could. They were panting when they reached the house, stopped just long enough to explain to the surprised Mrs. Danvers and then scurried upstairs, and with eager fingers tore off their bathing suits and substituted their ordinary clothes.
"It's good we didn't go in bathing and get our hair all wet," Vi panted, but Laura put a hand over her mouth.
"Stop talking," she commanded. "You need your breath!"
As a matter of fact, they were pretty much out of the last-named article when they reached the dock again. But the great thing was that they had succeeded in getting there before whoever was in that motor boat made a landing.
"Suppose after all this it isn't the boys?" panted Laura, and Connie gave her a funny glance.
"Kill-joy," she jeered, paying her back.
Laura was about to retort, but Billie interrupted with a chuckle.
"Stop fighting, girls," she commanded, "and tell me something. Is my hair on straight?"
"No, it's too much over one eye," replied Connie in the same tone.
Then Vi claimed their attention.
"Look!" she cried. "They are coming around the other side of the dock. Oh, isn't that a perfectly beautiful boat?"
It was, but the girls were just then too much interested in finding out who was in the boat to pay very much attention to its beauty. The graceful craft swung around toward them, the motor was shut off, and the boat glided easily in to the dock.
The girls were standing a little way back, so as not to appear too curious, and that was the reason why the boys saw them before they saw the newcomers.
There was a whoop from the deck of the motor boat, a shout of, "Say, fellows, look who's here!" and the next moment three sportily clad young figures leaped out on the dock and made a dash for the girls, leaving the fourth member of their party protesting vigorously.
The fourth member was none other than Paul Martinson, and, being the owner and captain of the handsome motor boat, he had no intention of following the other boys and leaving his craft to wander out to sea.
So he told the boys what he thought of them, which did not do a particle of good since they did not hear a word he said, and remained in the boat while he held on to the dock with one hand.
Meanwhile Chet had hugged his sister and Teddy had hugged his sister and Ferd had declared longingly that he wished he had a sister to hug, it made him feel lonesome, and there was laughter and noise and confusion generally.
It was Connie who reminded them of poor Paul grumbling away all by himself in his boat, and the boys ran penitently over to him while the girls danced after them joyfully.
"Oh, what a splendid boat!"
"Isn't she a beauty!"
"What good times you must have in her."
It was really an unusually handsome craft, and it was little wonder that Paul regarded it with pride. He invited the girls on board, and they went into raptures enough over it to satisfy even him.
It was a good fifty feet in length and had a cabin in which one could stand up if one were not very tall. There were bunks running along both sides of the cabin that looked like leather-cushioned divans in the daytime and could be turned into the most comfortable of beds at night.
There was a galley "for'ard," too, where the boys cooked their rather sketchy meals, and into this the girls poked eagerly curious heads.
"Oh, it's all just the completest thing I've ever seen!" cried Billie, clapping her hands in delight while Paul looked at her happily. "Those cunning curtains at the window and—everything!"
"My mother did that," Paul admitted sheepishly, as he followed the girls out on the deck. "And I didn't like to take them down."
"Well, I should say you wouldn't take them down!" said Connie indignantly. "The idea! Don't you dream of it! Why, they are just what make the cabin!"
"But isn't this some deck! Did your mother do this too, Paul?" asked Laura, her eyes traveling admiringly from the pretty wicker lounging chairs to the gayly striped awning and brilliant deck rail that shown like gold in the dazzling sun. "Why, Paul, I never knew a motor boat could be so pretty and comfy."
"Say, but you ought to see her go!" put in Chet eagerly. "She's as fast a little boat as she is pretty. Oh, she's great!"
"Yes, it almost makes me wish I had done some studying at school," said Ferd Stowing, rubbing his head ruefully. "Maybe if I had my dad would have given me an aeroplane or something."
After they had fastened the boat securely to the dock so that there was no danger of its floating off they turned reluctantly away from the dock and started off toward the Danvers' cottage.
Then the girls tried to tell the boys all that had happened since they had last met and the boys tried to do the same, the result being hopeless confusion and perfect happiness.
"Say, make believe that beach doesn't look good!" exclaimed Teddy to Billie, for they had fallen a little behind the rest. "And the good old ocean—say, what a day for a swim!"
"That's just what we were going to do when we saw you coming," Billie confided, thinking how exceedingly handsome he looked in his white trousers and dark coat. Then she told him of the wild scramble they had had to get dressed, and she looked so pretty in the telling of it that he did not hear much of what she was saying to him for looking at her.
"But what made you so sure it was us?" asked Teddy ungrammatically.
Billie chuckled and gave a little skip of pure happiness.
"Laura said she felt it in her bones," she said.
OUT OF THE FOG
That afternoon the boys and girls went in swimming and that evening Connie's mother treated them all to a substantial dinner such as only she knew how to cook.
And the way it disappeared before those ravenous girls and boys made even Mr. Danvers hold up his hands in consternation. But Connie's mother laughed happily, pressed them to eat everything up, "for it would only spoil," and looked more than ever like Connie's older sister.
That night the boys were put up in a spare room which contained one bed and two cots which Connie's mother always kept stowed away for emergencies. For the cottage on Lighthouse Island was a popular place with Mrs. Danvers' relatives and friends, and she often had unexpected company.
They went out on the porch a little while after supper, and the boys were at their funniest and kept the girls in a continual gale of merriment.
The time passed so quickly that before they knew it eleven o'clock chimed out from the hall inside and in consternation Connie's mother hurried them all off to bed.
"To-morrow is another day," she added with a little smile.
As they started up the stairs Teddy looked down at Billie and said boyishly:
"Say, Billie, you've got some sunburn, haven't you? You're—you're mighty pretty."
Then Teddy blushed and Billie blushed, and Billie hoped with all her heart that Laura had not heard it.
Laura had not, for she was talking and laughing with Paul Martinson and Connie. And so Billie, running ahead and reaching her room first, turned on the light and stepped over to the mirror.
Was that Billie, she wondered, who gazed back at her from the mirror? For this girl was surely prettier than Billie ever had been. Her eyes were shining, her cheeks were flushed under their tan, and her hair, a little tumbled by the breeze from the sea, made an unexpectedly pretty frame for a very lovely face.
The next day the girls insisted that the boys take them out in their motor boat. The boys protested a little, for the sun was acting rather queerly—going under a cloud and staying there sometimes for half an hour on a stretch.
"I don't know," said Paul, a doubtful eye on the sky. "It isn't what you could call a real clear day, girls, and I don't want to take any chances with you."
"Oh, we're not afraid, if you're not," sang out Laura teasingly, and he turned round upon her with a scowl.
"I'm not afraid for myself, and I think probably you know that. Just the same——"
"Oh, but here's the sun!" called Vi suddenly, as the sun burst forth from the cloud and showered a golden glory over everything. "It's going to be a beautiful day—just beautiful."
So it was settled, and amid great fun and laughter they picked up the lunch that Connie's mother prepared for them and started happily off, humming as they went.
As they clambered aboard The Shelling—Paul had named his craft after Captain Shelling, the master of Boxton Military Academy,—the sun went under a cloud again, and this cloud was bigger and blacker than any that had swallowed it before. But Laura's taunt still rang in Paul's ears, and he said nothing.
In a little while there was no need for words. The girls began to see for themselves that Paul had been right and that it would have been far better if they had waited till a really clear day.
They had put some distance between them and the mainland when the sun went under a cloud for good, and a cool little breeze began to rise.
This had been going on for some time before they even realized it, they were having such fun. Then it was Connie who spoke.
"Doesn't it look a little—a little—threatening, Paul?" she asked timidly. "Do you suppose it is going to rain?"
"No, I don't think it's going to rain," Paul answered, his hands on the wheel, his eyes rather anxiously fixed on the water ahead. "But I do think we're going to have one of those sudden heavy mists that come off the coast here. Dad said to look out for them, because they're thick enough to cut, and if you get caught in one you can't see your hand before your face."
The girls were sober enough now as they looked at each other.
"But what makes you think we're going to have one, Paul?" asked Laura humbly.
"Because the air is so still and muggy," Paul answered, then added with a wave of his hand out over the water: "Look—do you see that?"
"That" was a faint, misty cloudlike vapor hanging so low that it seemed almost to touch the water. And suddenly the girls were conscious that their hair was wet and also their hands and their clothes.
"Goodness, we must be in it now!" said Vi looking wonderingly down at her damp skirt. "Only it's so light you can't see it."
"I'm afraid it won't be light very long," said Paul grimly, as he swung The Shelling around and headed back the way they had come.
"What are you going to do?" asked Laura, still more humbly, for she now was beginning to think that she was to blame for the fix they were in—if indeed it were a fix.
"I'm going to get back to land as soon as I can," Paul answered her. "Before this fog closes down on us."
"What would happen, Paul?" asked Billie softly. "I mean if it should close down on us."
"We'd be lost," said Paul shortly, for by this time he was more than anxious. He was worried.
"Lost!" they repeated, and looked at each other wide-eyed.
"Well, you needn't look as if that was the end of the world," said Teddy, trying to speak lightly. "All we would have to do would be to keep on drifting around till the fog lifted. It's simple."
"Yes, it's simple all right," said Chet gloomily. "If we don't run into anything."
"Run into anything!" gasped Connie, while the other girls just stared. "Oh, Paul, is there really any danger of that?"
"Of course," said Paul impatiently, noticing that the fog was growing thicker and blacker every moment. "There's always danger of running into something when you get yourself lost in a fog. And it's the little boat that gets the worst of it," he added gloomily.
"Say, can't you try being cheerful for a change?" cried Teddy indignantly, for he had noticed how white Billie was getting and was trying his best to think of something to say that would make her laugh. "There's no use of singing a funeral song yet, you know."
"No, and there's no use in starting a dance, either," retorted Paul, wondering how much longer he would be able to keep his course. "We're in a mighty bad fix, and no harm can be done by everybody knowing it. I can't possibly get back to the island—or the mainland either—before this fog settles down upon us."
It took a minute or two for this to sink in. There was no doubt about it. He was telling them that in a few minutes they would be lost in this horrible fog. And that might mean—they shivered and turned dismayed faces to each other.
"I—oh, I'm awfully sorry," wailed Laura. "If I hadn't said what I did to Paul we might never have come."
"Nonsense! that had nothing to do with it," said Billie, putting a loyal arm about her chum. "We would have come just the same."
Then followed a waking nightmare for the boys and girls. In a few moments the fog settled down upon them in a thick impenetrable veil, so dense that, as Paul had said, you could almost have cut it.
It became impossible for Paul to steer, and all there was to do was to sit still and wait and hope for the best. Fog horns were sounding all about, some seeming so close that the girls fully expected to see some great shape loom up through the mist, bearing down upon them.
For a long time nobody spoke—they were too busy listening to the weird meanings of the fog horns and wondering how they could have escaped a collision so long. For a while Paul had kept the engine running in the hope that he might be able to keep to his course and eventually get to Lighthouse Island. But he had decided that this only made a collision more likely, and so had shut it off. And now they had been floating for what seemed hours to the miserable boys and girls.
It was Connie who finally broke the silence.
"Oh, dear," she said, apropos of nothing at all, "now I suppose we'll have to die and never solve our mystery after all." She sighed plaintively, and the girls had a wild desire to shout with laughter and cry at the same time.
"Goodness," said Laura hysterically, "if we've got to die who cares about mysteries anyway?"
The boys, who had been peering ahead into the heavy unfriendly fog, looked at the girls in surprise.
"What do you mean—mystery?" Ferd asked.
Before the girls could answer a sharp cry from Paul jerked their eyes back to him.
"Look!" he cried, one hand on the wheel and the other pointing excitedly before them to a dark something which loomed suddenly out of the mist. "There! To starboard. We'll bump it sure!"
THE BOYS ARE INTERESTED
For a moment the girls were too terrified to speak. And the next moment they could not have spoken if they had wanted to, for The Shelling collided so suddenly with whatever it was that had risen out of the mist that they had all they could do to keep from being thrown to the deck.
Then Paul gave a cry of joy and sprang wildly to the side of the boat.
"Say, how's this for luck, fellows?" he cried. "I thought it was another boat and that we were bound for Davy Jones' locker sure, and here it's the dock instead. Say, talk about luck! I'll say it's grand!"
"The dock!" the others echoed wonderingly. The sudden relief was so great that they were feeling rather dazed.
"You mean it's our dock—Lighthouse Island?" Connie asked stupidly, and Paul's answer was impatient.
"I guess it is—looks like it," he said. "But then it doesn't matter much what dock it is as long as it's a dock. What do you people say to going ashore?"
What they said was soon shown by the eagerness with which they scrambled on to the dock. And when they found that it was really Lighthouse Island dock their thankfulness was mixed with awe.
"Why, it's a miracle!" said Vi, staring wide-eyed about her.
"That's just about what it looks like," agreed Chet soberly.
"A miracle!" exclaimed Ferd derisively. "It's just that the wind and the tide happened to be going in the right way, that's all."
"Well, it's a miracle that the wind and the tide did happen to be going the right way," retorted Laura.
"Yes, and it's another miracle," said Billie softly, "that even with the wind and the tide going the right way we didn't run into something before we got here."
"I guess we did come pretty close to it," said Teddy soberly, staring out into the heavy mist that still showed no sign of lifting. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I do know that I'm mighty glad to be on the good old ground again. It beats the water, just now."
"You bet," said Paul fervently, as he made his boat fast to the dock. "It would have been a hot note if I'd had to lose my boat that way after working all year to earn it."
The girls and boys stared at him in surprise for a moment. Then they laughed, and the laughter broke the tension that they had been under and made them feel more natural.
"Never mind us as long as you saved your boat," said Ferd with a chuckle. "Come on, folks. It's mighty damp out here. I'll be glad when we can get under cover and dry out a bit. Gee, but I'll say I'm some wet."
"And Mother will be just worried to death," cried Connie penitently, for this was the very first minute she had given her mother a thought. "Oh, let's hurry."
They were starting off almost at a run when Billie called to them.
"Do you know we forgot something?" she asked. Then she pointed to the untouched lunch hamper which Mrs. Danvers had heaped high with good things. This was still standing close to the railing on the deck of The Shelling where the boys had put it when they climbed aboard.
"We forgot all about eating," she said in an incredulous voice. "Now I know we were scared."
"Say, what do you know about that?" asked Ferd weakly. "I'd have said it couldn't be done."
"And it must be away past lunch time, too," added Chet.
"Oh, gosh! why did you go and remind me I was starving?" groaned Teddy, and with a quick movement he leaped into the boat and caught up the basket. "Come on, who's first?" he cried.
But Billie stopped him by pressing a determined hand down on the lid.
"Not here," she begged. "We're all wet and uncomfortable, and we'll enjoy it ever so much more if we wait till we get to the house. Please, Teddy, now mind."
Teddy looked longingly at the basket, then at Billie, and gave in.
"All right," he said. "Only we'll have to walk fast!"
When they reached the cottage they found Connie's mother almost beside herself with anxiety and Connie's father doing his best to soothe her. So that when the young folks came in the door looking rather damp and bedraggled but safe, Mrs. Danvers cried out joyfully, ran to them, and hugged them one after another till she was completely and rapturously out of breath.
"You precious kiddies!" she cried, standing back and regarding them with shining eyes. "You will never know how horribly worried Dad and I have been. You poor children, why, you are soaked through! And," as her eyes fell on the basket, "you don't mean to tell me you haven't had any lunch. Oh dear, oh dear! Run into the library, the lot of you. Daddy made a fire thinking if we ever did get you back you'd need some drying out—and you can be starting in on sandwiches while I make you some hot chocolate. Now run along—quick." And she disappeared into the kitchen while the young folks went on into the library.
Connie would have run after her mother to offer her help, but Mr. Danvers stopped her.
"I'll help Mother," he said. "You run along with the others, dear, and get warmed through. I don't want my little girl to catch cold. It might spoil your whole summer."
So Connie went on into the library and found that the boys had arranged the chairs in a semicircle around the fire and were already opening the lunch basket.
Mrs. Danvers came in a few minutes later with the chocolate, and, oh, how that hot drink did taste! She demanded to know all about everything. They told her, speaking one at a time, two at a time, and all at once, till it was a wonder she could make any sense out of it at all. But when she and her husband did realize how terribly close the young folks had been to disaster they looked very sober and in their hearts thanked Providence for guiding them back to safety.
After they had eaten, the girls and boys felt very lazy and lingered in the pretty library before the open fire till the shadows began to fall.
"I hope we have half-way decent weather to start out on to-morrow," said Paul suddenly as he gazed out of the window.
"Oh! must you go to-morrow?" asked Billie, with such genuine regret that Teddy looked at her sideways.
"I'm afraid so," said Paul, also turning to look at her. "We've had a bully good time and we'd like to stay longer, but you see I promised Dad I'd pick him up a little farther along the coast and I can't do it unless we start to-morrow."
"But suppose it isn't a nice day?" Connie put in. "Will you go anyway?"
"Oh, of course, if it was really stormy we couldn't. We would have to wire Dad or something. But I think it's going to be clear to-morrow," he finished cheerfully.
Connie shook her head.
"I don't know about that," she said. "Uncle Tom says that a terribly heavy mist like this generally forecasts a storm, and a pretty bad storm, too."
"Well, we don't have to worry about that now, anyway," said Teddy, stretching his long legs out contentedly toward the fire. "Let's enjoy ourselves while we can. By the way," he added, turning to Billie, and Billie thought that Teddy was getting better looking every minute—or was it the firelight? "What did you girls mean by speaking of a mystery? We haven't heard a word about any mystery."
"Of course you haven't. You don't suppose we tell you everything, do you?" said Laura, with a sisterly sniff.
"Well, but what did you mean?" asked Ferd, adding his voice to Teddy's while the other boys seemed interested.
The girls looked at one another and then at Billie.
"Shall we tell them?" asked Vi.
"I don't see why we shouldn't," Billie answered, her eyes on the fire. "Of course we don't know that there's any mystery about it. It only looks queer, that's all."
Then with the help of the girls she told the boys all about the man who lived in a hut in the woods and called himself Hugo Billings, and also about Miss Arbuckle and the album she had been so overjoyed to recover. The boys listened with an interest that fast changed to excitement.
"Well, I should say there was something queer about it!" Ferd Stowing broke out at last. "Especially about the man who lives in the woods and makes fern baskets. He's either crazy or he's a thief or something."
"Gee, I wish you had told us about it while we were there!" said Chet regretfully. "We might have been able to find out something—landed him in jail maybe."
"Then I'm glad we didn't tell you," said Billie promptly.
"Why?" asked Chet, amazed.
"Because I felt awfully sorry for him," his sister answered softly. "And I'd rather help him than hurt him. I'd like to see him smile again."
"Yes, for he looked so awfully downhearted."
THE FURY OF THE STORM
The next day the boys went off again in spite of Mrs. Danvers' entreaties to stay another night or two until the weather showed definite signs of clearing up.
But the boys were decided—saying that since the mist had lifted they had really no excuse for staying longer, and as Paul was evidently very anxious to get to his father, Mrs. Danvers had nothing else to do but to give in.
"It's true, the fog has lifted," she admitted, gazing up anxiously at an overcast sky, "but after a calm like this we are sure to have a storm—how much of one it's hard to tell. Well, go on. But promise me to stay close to the mainland and to put in to shore if the weather man looks too threatening."
The boys promised and the girls waved to them until The Shelling was only a tiny speck on the water. Then they turned rather sadly back toward the Danvers' home.
"I feel as if somebody were dead or something," complained Vi, as they neared the bungalow. "I don't know what's the matter with me."
"It's the weather, I guess," said Billie, feeling low in spirits herself—a very unusual state for merry Billie. "We shall all feel better when the sun comes out."
"If it ever does," said Laura, gloomily.
"It's got to," said Vi.
Half way home they saw Uncle Tom hurrying toward them with Robert Bruce at his heels, and they wondered what the matter was.
"Hello!" he cried when he came within earshot. "I was just going to see your dad, Connie. The boys haven't gone yet, have they?"
And when Connie said that they had he looked so grave that the girls were frightened.
"Why, Uncle Tom, what's the matter?" asked Connie fearfully.
"Matter enough," said Uncle Tom, turning to scowl up at the overcast sky. "It's as much as those youngsters' lives are worth for them to set out to-day. Why, there's a storm on the way," and he fixed his eyes gravely on the girls, "such as this old Maine coast hasn't seen for years. Why, every captain who can read the signs is going to make straight for the nearest port, or if he is too far away to make port before the storm breaks, he's going to get down on his knees and pray the good Lord to make his old ship staunch enough to stand the test. It will be upon us by night." His eyes sought the wild dreary waste of water and he spoke as though to himself. "Lord, how I dread to-night!"
"But, Uncle Tom, what can we do about the boys?" Connie shook his arm fiercely. "Why, if we have the kind of storm you say they may be drowned! Oh, can't we do something?"
Uncle Tom's eyes came back from the horizon and he shook his head slowly.
"I don't know that there's much we can do—now," he said. "If they have any sense they'll put in to port before the storm breaks. That is if they stick close in to shore."
"They said they would," Billie put in eagerly. "Oh, I hope they do!"
Uncle Tom nodded absently, for his mind seemed to be upon other things.
"Then they ought to be all right," he said, adding, while the lines deepened about his mouth: "But Heaven help the ships that can't put into shore to-night."
He turned slowly and strode away from them toward the lighthouse with Bruce still following worshipfully after him. He had forgotten they were there.
"Poor Uncle Tom!" said Connie, as they went slowly on toward the bungalow. "He always gets so queer when there's a storm along the coast. I guess it makes him think of—her."
* * * * *
It was night, and the storm had burst in all its fury. The four girls and Connie's mother had gathered in the little front sitting room on the second floor.
Mr. Danvers had started a few minutes before to press the button that would flood the room with light, but Billie had begged him not to.
"I want to see the light in the tower," she had pleaded, adding softly: "Somehow I'm not quite so afraid for the ships out there when I see the light. Oh, listen to that wind!"
"I don't see how we can very well help it," said Vi, with a little shiver and cuddling up close to Billie on the window seat and slipping a hand into hers. "Oh—h!" and she clapped her hand to her ears as the wind rose to a wailing scream and the windows all over the house shook and rattled with the impact.
"I guess Uncle Tom was right," said Connie, from somewhere out of the darkness. "Dad says, too, that this is the worst summer storm we have had around these parts for years. Oh, I do hope the boys are safe somewhere on shore."
"I don't think we need worry about them," said Mr. Danvers. Or rather he started to say it, but at that moment the wind rose with insane fury, bringing the rain with it in driving torrents that beat swishingly upon the sand and drove viciously against the windows.