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Billie Bradley on Lighthouse Island - The Mystery of the Wreck
by Janet D. Wheeler
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He waited for a moment until the wind died down. Then he began again.

"The storm was a long time in coming," he said. "The boys had plenty of warning. Paul is very cautious, and I know he wouldn't go on in the face of such danger. But," and he turned toward the window again, "heaven help the ship that can't make port to-night."

"That's almost exactly what Uncle Tom said," remarked Connie, and then there was silence in the little room again while outside the storm raged and the light from the lighthouse tower sent its warning far out over the foam-crested waves.

The girls went to bed at last. Not because they expected to sleep, but because Connie's mother insisted.

"Poor Uncle Tom!" murmured Billie to herself as, in her little white nightie, she stood at the window looking out toward the lighthouse tower. "All alone out there. What was it he said? 'You think of the men and the women and the little children out there on the sinking ships, and you curse the storm that's bringing disaster along with it.' Poor, poor Uncle Tom! I wonder if he is thinking of—her."

And with a sigh she turned from the window and crept into bed beside Connie.

Toward morning the girls were awakened from an uneasy sleep by a strange white light flashed suddenly in their eyes. They stumbled out of bed, dazed by the suddenness with which they had been awakened and stared out into the black night.

"What was it?" gasped Billie. "Oh my, there it is again!"

"The searchlight," cried Connie, running over to the window, her eyes wide with horror. "Billie, that's the signal to the life-savers. And there goes the siren," she groaned, clapping her hands over her ears as the moan of the siren rose wailingly into the night. "It's a wreck! Billie—oh—oh!"

"A wreck!" cried a voice behind them, and they turned to see Laura in the doorway with Vi peering fearfully over her shoulder. "Oh, girls, I was just dreaming——"

"Never mind what you were dreaming," cried Billie, beginning to pull on her clothes with trembling hands. "If it is a wreck, girls, we may be able to do something to help. Oh, where is my other stocking? Did any one see it? Never mind, here it is. Oh, hurry, girls; please, hurry."

Twice more while they were dressing the searchlight flashed round upon the island, filling their rooms with that weird white light, and the siren wailed incessantly its wild plea for help.

The girls were just pulling on their waterproof coats when Connie's mother, white and trembling, appeared in the doorway and stared with amazement at sight of them.

"I heard you talking, girls," she said, "and knew you were awake. I hoped you would sleep through it."

"Sleep through that?" asked Connie, as the siren rose to a shriek and then died off into a despairing moan. "Oh, Mother——"

"But what are you going to do, kiddies?" asked Mrs. Danvers, taking a step toward them. "The life-savers will be coming soon—perhaps they are at work now—and they will do all that can be done. Why are you putting on your coats?"

"Oh, please, please don't make us stay at home," begged Billie, turning an earnest, troubled face to Connie's mother. "We may not be able to do anything to help, but we shall at least be there if we should be needed."

"Muddie, dear, we couldn't stay here, we just couldn't," added Connie, and with a little choked cry Mrs. Danvers turned away.

"You darling, darling kiddies," she cried. "Run along then if you must. Only," she stopped at the doorway to look earnestly back at them, "don't go any farther than the lighthouse until Dad and I come. We'll be along right away."

The girls ran down the stairs, and Connie opened the front door with hands that fumbled nervously at the lock. As the door swung open the wind sprang at them like a living thing, taking their breath, making them stagger back into the hall.

"Th—that wind!" cried Laura, clenching her hands angrily. "I'd like to kill it! Come on, girls."

Laura rushed out into the storm while the other girls followed, pulling the door shut behind them.



CHAPTER XXIII

FIGHTING FOR LIFE

Foot by foot they fought their way through the storm, conscious that other hurrying forms passed them from time to time. Their minds were fixed upon one thing. They must get to Uncle Tom. He would be able to tell them everything and perhaps let them know how they could help.

But they soon found that just getting to the lighthouse was a problem. Time and again they had to stop and turn their backs to the furious wind in order to catch enough breath to fight their way on.

"Look!" Connie had shouted once, pointing toward the east. "It must be almost morning. The sky is getting light."

As they hurried on they became more and more conscious that everybody seemed to be heading in the same direction—toward the lighthouse.

"The shoal!" gasped Connie in Billie's ear. "The wind must have driven some ship upon it, and in this gale——"

But she never finished the sentence, for at this minute they came out upon the Point where the lighthouse stood and stopped dead at the scene that met their eyes.

The Point was black with people all gesticulating and pointing excitedly out toward a great shape which, looming grayly against the lifting blackness of the sky, staggered and swayed like a drunken thing in the grip of the gigantic foam-tipped waves.

"Oh," moaned Connie, "it's just as I thought! There's Uncle Tom. Come on, Billie." And she elbowed her way through the crowd to where Uncle Tom stood, his great height making him conspicuous among the other men, bawling out directions to the life-savers who were just making ready to launch their staunch little boats.

"Say, do you call this hurrying?" Uncle Tom was crying, his eyes traveling from the life-savers to the wreck and back again. "Don't you see she's just hanging on by her eyelashes? Another sea like that and you won't have a chance to save anybody. Good boys—that's the idea. Bend your backs, my lads. God help you—and them!" he added under his breath, his eyes on the laboring vessel.

"Uncle Tom!" cried Connie, tugging at his arm, "have they got a chance—those people out there? Have they?"

He glanced down at her for a moment, then his eyes sought the furious sea. He shook his head and his hands clenched tight at his sides.

"About one chance in a thousand," he muttered, more to himself than to her. "The Evil One's in the sea to-night. I never saw the like of it—but once."

Then followed a struggle of human might against the will of the overpowering elements—a struggle that the girls never forgot. On, on, fought the gallant men in the staunch little boats. On, on toward the quivering giant that hung on the edge of destruction—her fate the fate of all the lives on board.

The storm that had beaten her on to the treacherous shoal was now doing its best to loosen her hold upon it. And that hold was the one slender thread that kept alive the hope of the passengers on board.

If the pounding waves once succeeded in pushing her back into the deeper water of the channel, nothing could save her. The great hole ripped in her side by the impact with the shoal would fill with water, and in five minutes there would be nothing left but the swirling water to mark the spot where she had been.

And the passengers! At the thought Billie cried out aloud and clenched her fists.

"Oh, oh, it can't be, it can't be! Those boats will never reach her in time. Oh, isn't there something somebody can do?" She turned pleadingly to Uncle Tom, but the look on his face startled her and she followed his set gaze out to sea.

"No, there isn't anything anybody can do—now," he said.

The storm had had its way at last. The elements had won. With a rending of mighty timbers the tortured ship slid backward off the shoal and into the deep waters of the channel.

"There she goes!"

"That's the last of that vessel!"

"I wonder if any of the folks on board got off safely."

"I couldn't see—the spray almost blinds a fellow."

Such were some of the remarks passed around as the ship on the shoal slipped slowly from view.

The girls clung to each other in an agony of suspense. Never had they dreamed that they would witness such a dreadful catastrophe as was now unfolding before them.

"Oh, Billie, this is dreadful!" groaned Laura, her face white with terror.

"I can hardly bear to look at it," whimpered Vi. "Just think of those poor people! I am sure every one of them will be drowned."

"Some of them must have gotten away in the small boats," answered Billie.

"I didn't see any of the boats," protested Connie. "But, of course, you can't see much of anything in such a storm as this."

"All we can do is to hope for the best," said Billie soberly.

"It's the worst thing I ever heard of," sighed Vi. "Why must we have such storms as this to tear such a big ship apart!"

A groan went up from the watchers, and many of them turned away. They could not see the end.

But the girls stared, fascinated, too dazed by the tragedy to turn their eyes away.

The life-savers, who had almost reached the ship, backed off a little, knowing that they could not help the passengers now and fearful of being drawn under by the suction themselves.

The great ship hesitated a moment, trembled convulsively through all her frame, then her stern reared heavenward as though protesting against her fate, and slowly, majestically, she sank from view beneath the swirling waters.

Then the girls did turn their eyes away, and blindly, sobbingly, they stumbled back through the crowd toward the lighthouse.

"Oh, Billie, Billie, they will all be drowned!" sobbed Laura. The tears were running down her face unchecked. "Oh, what shall we do?"

"If they could only have held on just a few minutes more," said Vi, white-faced, "the life-savers would then have had a chance to have taken them off."

"They may save some of them anyway," said Billie, her voice sounding strange even to herself. "The life-savers will pick up anybody who manages to get free of the wreck, you know."

"Yes; but Uncle Tom says that when a ship sinks like that it is hard to save anybody," said Connie, twisting her handkerchief into a damp little ball. "Girls," she said, turning upon them eyes that were wide with horror, "it makes me crazy to think of it. Out there, those people are drowning!"

"Oh, don't" cried Billie, pressing her hands to her ears. "I—I can't stand it. Girls, I've got to walk!" And Billie started off almost at a run along the beach, fighting her way against the wind.

The other girls followed her, and for a while they ran along, not knowing whither they were going, or caring. All they wanted was to forget the horror of the thing they had seen.

"What's that?"

Billie stepped back so quickly that she almost lost her footing in the slippery sand.

"What do you mean, Billie?"

"That!"

"Why, it—it looks like——"

"Come on. Let's find out." And Billie ran to the thing that looked like a large piece of driftwood washed up on the sand by the heavy sea.

And as she reached it she drew in her breath sharply and brushed a hand across her eyes to make sure she was not dreaming. On the thing that was not a piece of driftwood at all, but looked like a sort of crudely and hastily constructed raft, were lashed three small, unconscious little forms.

"Girls, look!" she almost screamed above the shrill wind. "Do you see them, too?"

"Why—why, they are children!" cried Laura. "Oh, Billie, do you suppose they're alive?"

"I don't know," said Billie, dropping to her knees beside the three pitiful little figures. Two of them were girls, twins evidently, and the third was a smaller child, a boy. Something in their baby attitudes, perhaps their very helplessness, stung Billie to sudden action.

"Help me get them loose!" she cried to the other girls, who were still staring stupidly. "I don't know whether they're dead or not yet. But they will be if we don't hurry. Oh, girls, stop staring and help me!"

Then how they worked! The slippery wet rope that bound the little forms was knotted several times, and the girls thought they must scream with the nightmare of it before they got the last knot undone.

"There! At last!" cried Billie, flinging the rope aside and trying to lift one of the little girls. She found it surprisingly easy, for the child was pitifully thin. She staggered to her feet, holding the little form tight to her.

Laura and Vi each took one of the children and Connie offered to help whoever gave out first. Then they started back to the lighthouse. Luckily for them, the wind was at their backs, or they never could have made the trip back.

When they reached the Point they found that most of the crowd had dispersed. Only a few stragglers remained to talk over the tragedy in awed and quiet whispers.

These stared as the girls with their strange burdens fought their way toward the door of the lighthouse. Some even started forward as though to offer assistance, but the girls did not notice them.

Through the window Billie could see Uncle Tom standing before his mantelpiece, head dropped wearily on his arm. Then Connie opened the door and they burst in upon him.

"Oh, Uncle Tom!" she gasped. "Please come here, quick!"



CHAPTER XXIV

THREE SMALL SURVIVORS

It did not take Uncle Tom very long, experienced as he was, to bring the three children back to consciousness. As it was, they had been more affected by the cold and the fright than anything else, for the raft, crude as it was, had kept them above the surface of the waves and saved their lives.

As the girls bent over them eagerly, helping Uncle Tom as well as they could, the faint color came back to the pinched little faces, and slowly the children opened their eyes.

"Oh, they are alive, bless 'em," cried Billie, jumping to her feet. But the quick action seemed to terrify the children, and they cried out in alarm. In a minute Billie was back on her knees beside them, looking at them wonderingly.

"Why, what's the matter?" she asked, putting out her hand to the little boy, who shrank away from her and raised an arm before his eyes. "Why, honey, did you really think Billie would hurt a nice little boy like you?"

But all three children had begun to cry, and Billie looked helplessly at her chums.

Uncle Tom had spread a large rug on the floor and had laid the children on it while he worked over them. Up to this time he had been on his knees beside the girls, but now he got to his feet and looked down at them soberly.

"Somebody's been mistreating 'em," he said, his eyes on the three cowering, pathetic little figures. "Poor little mites—poor little mites! Found 'em on a sort of raft, you say? Washed up by the waves?"

The girls nodded, and Billie, putting a tender arm around the little fellow, succeeded in drawing him up close to her while Laura and Vi tried to do the same with the little girls. Connie was watching her Uncle Tom.

"H'm," said the latter, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "Folks on the ship probably—drowned out there. Poor little waifs. Kind of up to us to take care of 'em, I reckon."

"Of course it is," cried Connie, jumping to her feet. "Uncle Tom, where did Mother and Daddy go?"

"On, toward the house," said Uncle Tom, nodding his head in the direction of the bungalow. "When they couldn't find you they got kind o' worried and thought you must have made tracks for home."

"Here they come now," cried Laura, for through the windows she had caught sight of Mr. and Mrs. Danvers hurrying along the walk toward the lighthouse.

"Oh, I'm glad," said Billie, hugging the little boy to her and smoothing his damp hair back from his forehead. The child had stopped crying and had snuggled close to Billie, lying very still like a little kitten who has found shelter and comfort in the midst of a wilderness. The soft little confiding warmth of him very suddenly made Billie want to cry. "Your mother will know what to do," she said to Connie.

"Mother always does," said Connie confidently, and a minute later opened the door to admit two very much wind-blown, exhausted and very anxious parents.

"Oh, kiddies, what a fright you gave us!" cried Connie's mother, looking very pale and tired as she leaned against the door post while Mr. Danvers patted her hand gently and tried not to look too much relieved. "Where did you go? Why, girls——" She stopped short in absolute amazement and bewilderment as she caught sight of Laura and Vi and Billie on the floor, each with a child clasped in her arms. "Where did you get them?"

She did not wait for an answer. She flew across the room and, dropping to her knees, gazed at the children who at this new intrusion had started away from the girls and regarded her with wide, doubtful eyes.

"Why, you precious little scared babies, you!" she cried, pushing the girls away and gathering the children to her. "I don't know where you came from, but what you need is mothering. Where did they come from?" she asked, looking up at Uncle Tom.

"From out there," said Uncle Tom gravely, waving his hand toward the spot where the ship had gone down. Then he quickly told her and Mr. Danvers what the girls had told him. They did not interrupt. Only, when he had finished, Mrs. Danvers was crying and not trying to hide it.

"Oh, those poor, poor people!" she sobbed. "And these poor little frightened, miserable children all, all there is left. Oh, I'll never get over the horror of it. Never, never! John," she added, looking up at her husband with one of those quick changes of mood that the girls had learned to expect in her, "will you and Tom help me get the children home? They mustn't be left like this in dripping clothes. They'll catch their death of cold. What they need is a hot bath and something to eat, and then bed. Poor little sweethearts, they are just dropping for sleep."

So Uncle Tom took one of the little girls, Mr. Danvers another, and Connie's mother insisted upon carrying the little boy.

"Why, he's nothing at all to carry," she said, when her husband protested. "Poor child—he's only skin and bones."

So the strange procession started for the bungalow, the girls, tired out with nerve strain and excitement, bringing up the rear. But they did not know they were tired. The mystery of the three strange little waifs washed up to them by the sea had done a good deal to erase even the horror of the wreck.

"And we haven't the slightest idea in the world who they really are or whom they belong to," Connie was saying as they turned in at the walk. "It is a mystery, girls, a real mystery this time. And I don't know how we'll solve it."

But they forgot the mystery for the time being in the pleasure of seeing the waifs bathed and wrapped in warm things from the girls' wardrobes and fed as only Connie's mother could feed such children.

Gradually the fear died out of the children's eyes, and once the little boy even reached over timidly and put a soft, warm hand in Billie's.

"You darling," she choked, bending over to kiss the little hand. "You're not afraid of Billie now, are you?"

The little girls, who were twins and as like as two peas, were harder to win over. But by love and tenderness Connie's mother and the girls managed it at last.

And then eyes grew drowsy, tired little heads nodded, and Connie's mother, with a look at Mr. Danvers, who had been hovering in the background all the time, picked up one of the little girls and started for the stairs.

"I'm going to tuck them in bed," she said, speaking softly. "We can put them in our room, John—in the big bed."

A few minutes later the girls stood in Mrs. Danvers' room, looking down at three little flushed faces, three tousled heads that belonged to three very sound-asleep little children.

Connie's mother tiptoed out of the room and motioned to the girls to follow, but they lingered for a minute.

"Aren't they lovely?" asked Connie, with a catch in her voice.

"They're beautiful," said Laura. "Especially the little boy."

"And they ate," said Vi softly, "as if they had been half starved. Poor little things—I wonder who they are?"

"Girls," said Billie gravely, "I suppose you will laugh at me when I tell you, but ever since I first saw them I have had a strange feeling——"

"Yes," they said impatiently, as she paused.

"That I have seen them somewhere before," she finished, looking at them earnestly. "And now, as they lie there I'm almost sure of it."

"Seen them before?" repeated Connie, forgetting in her astonishment to lower her voice, so that the little boy stirred restlessly. Billie drew them out into the hall.

"Come into our room," she said; and they followed her in wondering silence.

"I wish you would say that all over again, Billie," said Vi eagerly, when they had drawn their chairs up close to Billie. "You said you had seen them before?"

"No, I said I thought I had seen them before," said Billie, frowning with the effort to remember. "It seems foolish, I know——"

"But, Billie, if you feel like that you must have some reason for it," said Laura eagerly.

There followed a silence during which Billie frowned some more and the girls watched her eagerly. Then she disappointed them by suddenly jumping up and starting for the door.

"Well," she said, "I can't remember now. Maybe I will when I've stopped trying to. Come on, Connie, let's help your mother with the dishes."

But Billie did not find the answer for several days. Meanwhile they had received word from the boys that they had put into port the afternoon of the great storm and had not been able to go out again until a couple of days later. No news concerning the three waifs had come in.

The boys had received news of the wrecked ship, of course, and were tremendously excited about it.

"You girls have all the luck, anyway," Chet wrote to Billie. "Just think—if we had stayed over a few hours we would have seen the wreck too."

Billie tore the letter up and flung it into the paper basket.

"Luck!" she had murmured, her face suddenly grown white as she gazed out over the water that was brilliantly peaceful once more in the afternoon sunlight. "He calls that luck!"

The boys had promised to return in a couple of weeks and give the girls a regular "ride in the motor boat." If it had not been for the waifs who had so strangely been entrusted to them, the girls would have looked forward more eagerly to the return of the boys.

As it was, they were too busy taking care of the sweet little girls and beautiful little boy and falling in love with them to think much of the boys one way or another except to be deeply thankful that they had escaped disaster in the storm.

And then, when Billie had nearly forgotten that strange impression she had had in the beginning of having seen the children before, suddenly she remembered.

It was one night after the girls had gone to bed. They had been laughing over some of the cunning things the children had been doing, and Laura had been wondering how they would go about finding the relatives of the children—if they had any—when suddenly Billie sat up in bed with a look of astonishment on her face.

"Girls," she cried, "I know where I saw those children."

"Oh, where?" they cried, and then held their breath for her answer.

"In Miss Arbuckle's album!"



CHAPTER XXV

THE MYSTERY SOLVED

For a moment there was silence in the two rooms while the girls let this sink in. Then Laura and Vi jumped out of bed, and, running into Connie's room, fairly pounced upon Billie.

They were all so excited that for a moment they could not speak. And then they all spoke at once.

"Miss Arbuckle's album!"

"Billie, you must be crazy!"

"I never heard anything——"

"Billie, are you sure?"

These, and a dozen other wild questions like them fairly smothered poor Billie, and it was a long time before she could get a word in edgewise.

"Please keep still a minute," she cried at last. "You're making so much noise you'll wake the children."

"Goodness! who cares about the children?" cried Laura impatiently. "Billie, if you don't say something, I'll scream."

"Well, give me a chance then," retorted Billie.

"What did you mean by saying that you saw them in Miss Arbuckle's album?" asked Connie.

Billie looked at her soberly and then said very quietly. "Just that!"

"But, Billie, when did this happen?" cried Laura, fairly shaking her in her impatience. "For goodness sake, tell us everything."

"Why, I know!" Vi broke in excitedly. "Don't you remember what Billie said about Miss Arbuckle's crying over the pictures of three children in the album——"

"And said," Connie took up the tale eagerly, "that she had lost her dear ones, but didn't want to lose their pictures too? Oh, Billie, now it is a mystery!"

"But if you are sure these are the same children you saw in the album, Billie," said Laura, walking up and down the room excitedly, "you will have to do something about it."

"Of course," said Billie, her eyes shining. "I'll write to Miss Arbuckle and tell her all about it. Oh, girls, I can't wait to see her face when she sees them. I'm sure it will make her happy again."

They talked about Billie's remarkable discovery late into the night, until finally sheer weariness forced them to go to bed. But in the morning they were up with the first ray of sunlight.

They told Connie's mother and father about it at the breakfast table, and before they got through the meal the two older people were almost as interested and excited as the girls.

As soon as she could get away Billie flew upstairs to write her letter, leaving the others still at the table. The children had already had their breakfast—for like all children they woke up with the birds—and were out playing on the front porch.

"Why, I never heard anything like it!" said Connie's mother to her equally astonished husband. "It seems like a fairy tale. But, oh, I do hope it is true—for the kiddies' sake and for that of that poor Miss Arbuckle."

Again and again Mrs. Danvers had tried to question the children about their parents and where they lived, but the little things had seemed to be thrown into such terror at the very first questions and had refused so absolutely to say a word that might lead to the discovery of their relatives that she had been forced to give up in despair. Just the very night before Mr. Danvers had decided to go over to the mainland and put an advertisement in all the leading papers.

"Although I rather dread to find their guardians," he had confided to his wife that night, as they had stood looking down at the sweet little sleeping faces. "I'm falling in love with them. It's like having Connie a baby all over again."

And Connie's mother had patted his arm fondly and reached down to draw a cover up over one little bare arm.

"I feel that way too," she had said softly.

When Billie had finished her letter Mr. Danvers volunteered to take it over to the mainland for her and send it special delivery.

"You won't put the ad in the paper then, will you?" his wife asked as he started off.

"No," he said, stooping down to pat the little boy's dark head. "I'll give Billie a chance to clear up her mystery first." And with a smile at Billie he swung off down the walk while with quickened hearts the girls and Mrs. Danvers watched him go.

Suddenly the little fellow got up from the hollow in the sand where he and his sisters had been making sand pies and ran up to Billie, waving his shovel excitedly.

"Him goin' 'way?" he asked, pointing down the beach toward Mr. Danvers.

"Yes. But he's coming back," said Billie, catching the little fellow up and kissing his soft rosy cheek. Then she looked at the girls and her eyes filled with tears. "Oh, girls," she cried, "I don't see how I'm going to give him up!"

Then followed days of anxious waiting for the girls. Every night when the mail came in on the Mary Ann they were at the dock to meet it. But though they searched for a letter postmarked Molata with eager eyes, day after day went by and still there was no word from Miss Arbuckle.

This state of affairs continued for over a week until the girls had begun to give up in despair. And then one night it came—the letter they had been waiting for.

They did not wait to get home, but sat down on the edge of the dock while Billie read it aloud.

The letter was such a mixture of joy and hope and fear that sometimes the girls had hard work making anything out of it. However, this much was clear: Miss Arbuckle intended to leave Molata Friday night—and this was Friday night—and would probably be at Lighthouse Island Saturday morning. And to-morrow was Saturday!

"She says," Billie finished, her voice trembling with excitement, "that the reason she didn't write to us before was because she was out of town and didn't receive my letter for almost a week after it reached Three Towers Hall. She says——"

"Oh, who cares about that?" cried Laura impatiently. "The main thing is that she will be here to-morrow."

"Only a little over twelve hours to wait."

The girls did not sleep very well that night, and they were up and dressed and at the dock almost an hour before the steamer was due.

They were so nervous that they could not stand still, and it was just as well that the Mary Ann was a little early that morning, or the dock would have been worn out completely, Connie declared.

"Oh, Billie, suppose she doesn't come?" whispered Vi as the boat slid into the dock. "Suppose——"

"No suppose about it," Billie whispered back joyfully. "Look, Vi! There she is."

"But who is the man with her?" cried Laura suddenly, as Miss Arbuckle waved to them from the upper deck and then started down the narrow winding stairway, followed by a tall, rather stoop-shouldered man who seemed to the girls to have something vaguely familiar about him.

"He may not be with her," Billie answered. But suddenly she gasped. Miss Arbuckle had stepped upon the dock with hands outstretched to the girls, and as the tall man followed her Billie got her first full look at his face.

It was Hugo Billings, the mysterious maker of fern baskets whom they had found in his hut in the woods!

As for the man, he seemed as much astonished as the girls, and he stood staring at them and they at him while Miss Arbuckle looked from one to the other in amazement.

"What's the matter?" she cried. "Hugo, have you met the girls before?"

"Why, why yes," stammered the man, a smile touching his lips.

"You see we were lost in the woods and he very kindly showed us the way out," said Billie, finding her voice at last.

"Oh," said Miss Arbuckle.

Then she introduced her companion to the girls as "my brother" and once more the girls thought they must be losing their minds. But this time Miss Arbuckle did not seem to notice their bewilderment, for her whole mind was on the object that had brought her here.

"The children?" she asked, her voice trembling with emotion. "Are they here?"

"They are at my house, Miss Arbuckle," said Connie, recovering from her bewilderment enough to realize that she was the hostess. "I suppose you're crazy to see them."

"Oh yes! Oh yes!" cried the teacher. Then, as Connie led the way on toward the cottage, she turned to Billie eagerly.

"Billie," she said, "are you sure you recognized my children? If I should be disappointed now I—I think it would kill me. Tell me, what do they look like?"

As Billie described the waifs Miss Arbuckle's face grew brighter and brighter and the man whom the girls had called Hugo Billings leaned forward eagerly.

"I guess there's no mistake this time, Mary," he said, and there was infinite relief in his tone.

When they reached the cottage the children were playing in the sand as usual, and the girls drew back, leaving Miss Arbuckle and her brother to go on alone.

Miss Arbuckle had grown very white, and she reached out a hand to her brother for support. Then she leaned forward and called very softly: "Davy, Davy, dear."

The children stopped playing and stared up at the visitors. But it was the little fellow who recognized them first.

"Mary! My Mary!" he cried in his baby voice, and ran as fast as his little legs could carry him straight into Miss Arbuckle's arms. Then the little girls ran to her, and Miss Arbuckle dropped down in the sand and hugged them and kissed them and cried over them.

"Oh, my children! My darling, darling children!" she cried over and over again, while the man stood looking down at them with such a look of utter happiness on his face that the girls turned away.

"Come on," whispered Billie, and they slipped past the two and into the house.

Connie's mother and father were in the library, and when the girls told them what had happened they hurried out to greet the newcomers, leaving the chums alone.

"Well, now," said Laura, sinking down on the couch and looking up at them, "what do you think of that?"

"I'm so dazed, I don't know what to think of it," said Billie, adding, with a funny little laugh: "The only thing we do know is that everybody's happy."

"Talk about mysteries——" Connie was beginning when Connie's mother and Miss Arbuckle came in with the clamoring, excited children. And to say that Miss Arbuckle's face was radiant would not have been describing it at all.

"Oh girls, girls!" she cried, looking around at them, while her eyes filled with tears, "do you know what you've done for me—do you? But of course you don't," she answered herself, sitting down on the couch while the children climbed up and snuggled against her. "And that's what I want to tell you."

"Ob, but not now," protested Connie's mother. "I want to get you a cup of tea first."

"Oh, please let me tell the girls now. I want to," begged Miss Arbuckle, and Connie's mother gave in.

"You see," the teacher began while the girls gathered around eagerly, "only a few months ago Hugo—my brother—and I were very happy. That was before the dreadful thing happened that changed everything for us. I was nurse and governess," she hugged the children to her and they gazed up at her fondly, "to these children at the same house where Hugo was head gardener. Our employers were very wealthy people, and, having too many social duties to care for their children, Hugo and I sort of took the place of their father and mother. Indeed we loved them as if they belonged to us."

She paused a moment, and the girls stirred impatiently.

"Then the terrible thing happened," she continued. "One night the children disappeared. I had put them to bed as usual, and in the morning when I went in to them they were gone."

"Oh!" cried the girls.

"But that wasn't enough—Hugo and I weren't sorrow-stricken enough," she went on, a trace of bitterness creeping into her voice. "But they—Mr. and Mrs. Beltz—must accuse us—us—of a plot to kidnap the children. They accused us openly, and Hugo and I, being afraid they had enough circumstantial evidence to convict us, innocent though we were, fled from the house.

"That's about all," she said, with a sigh. "Hugo built himself a little refuge in the woods and made fern baskets, selling enough to make him a scanty living, and I went as a teacher and house matron to Three Towers Hall. That is why," she turned to Billie, who was staring at her fascinated, "I was so desperate when I lost the album, and why," she added, with a smile, "I acted so foolishly when you returned it."

"You weren't foolish," said Billie. "I think you were awfully brave. I understand everything now."

"But I don't—not quite," put in Connie's mother, her pretty forehead puckered thoughtfully. "Of course you didn't kidnap the children," turning to Miss Arbuckle, "but it is equally certain that somebody must have done it."

"Oh, but don't you see?" Connie broke in eagerly. "The kidnappers, whoever they were, must have gone down on the ship out there on the shoal."

"And they bound the children on that funny raft and set them adrift, probably thinking they would be able to get away themselves," added Vi eagerly.

"And then the ship went down before they could follow," said Billie, adding, as she turned earnestly to the teacher: "Oh, Miss Arbuckle, it was awful—that poor ship out there going down with all the people on board!"

"Yes, it must have been horrible. I read about it in the papers," nodded Miss Arbuckle soberly. Then a great light broke over her face as she looked down at the three children who were still not much more than babies. "But some good comes of almost everything. I have my precious children now, and I can take them back to their family and prove my innocence—and Hugo's. Oh I'm so happy—I'm so happy!"

"But won't you come back to Three Towers any more?" asked Laura, her face so long that Miss Arbuckle laughed delightedly.

"Yes, my dear," she said, a joyful light in her eyes that made her quite a different person. "Hugo will probably go back to his old position, but I—oh, I could not desert Three Towers now after all you girls have done for me."

Then Connie's mother had her way and whisked joyful Miss Arbuckle away upstairs to "take off her hat" while the children trailed after, leaving the girls alone.

Laura and Connie and Vi fairly hugged each other over the marvelous clearing up of their mystery, but Billie turned away and looked out of the window, while sudden tears stung her eyes.

She did not notice that the little boy whom Miss Arbuckle had called Davy stopped at the foot of the stairs and crept softly back to her, she did not know he was anywhere around, till a soft little hand was slipped into hers and a baby voice said plaintively:

"Me loves my Billie, too."

"You darling!" cried Billie, kneeling down and catching him close to her. "I suppose they will take you away now where you belong, honey, but don't ever forget your Billie."

And when the girls went over to her a few minutes later they were surprised to find that her eyes were wet.

"Why, Billie, you've been crying!" Laura exclaimed. "And you ought to be as happy as the rest of us."

"I am," said Billie, wiping her eyes hard. "Only I was thinking of little Davy."

"Well, don't, if it makes you cry and gets your nose all red," scolded Connie.

"Never mind, honey," said Vi, putting an arm about her. "We are all sorry to see the kiddies go, of course. But we can see them again some time if we want to."

"And just think," added Laura happily, "the boys are coming back next week. And that means Teddy, too," she added slyly.

"Yes, I'm glad he—they are coming," stammered Billie, and the others laughed at her confusion. Then suddenly she wiped away the last trace of her tears and her eyes began to shine, making her look like the Billie the girls knew and loved best. "We will have some good times when the boys come, girls. Why," as if making a surprising discovery, "our fun has just begun!"

And that Billie was speaking the truth and that there were more adventures in store for the boys and girls than even the girls dreamed of on that beautiful summer day, will be shown in the next volume of the series.

In the due course of time the three Beltz children were restored to their parents. It was learned that they had been kidnapped by three men who had thought to make a large sum of money out of their scoundrelly game. But all three kidnappers had lost their lives in the wreck.

At first it was supposed that many had gone down in the foundering of the Daniel Boley, as the ship was named. But later on it was learned that three small boats had got away in safety and the survivors had been picked up by a vessel bound for Halifax. So the loss of life was, after all, small.

Mr. and Mrs. Beltz were heartily ashamed of having suspected Miss Arbuckle and her brother of wrong doing, and they offered both their positions back at increased salaries. Hugo returned to the Beltz estate, but not so his sister.

"I love the children very, very much," said Miss Arbuckle. "But I also love Three Towers Hall and the girls there. I shall remain at the school." And she did, much to the delight of Billie and her chums.

And now the sun shining brightly once more and happiness all around them, let us say good-bye to Billie and the other girls on Lighthouse Island.

THE END

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BILLIE BRADLEY SERIES

by JANET D. WHEELER 12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in full colors Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid

1. BILLIE BRADLEY AND HER INHERITANCE

or The Queer Homestead at Cherry Corners

Billie Bradley fell heir to an old homestead that was unoccupied and located far away in a lonely section of the country. How Billie went there, accompanied by some of her chums, and what queer things happened, go to make up a story no girl will want to miss.

2. BILLIE BRADLEY AT THREE-TOWERS HALL

or Leading a Needed Rebellion

Three-Towers Hall was a boarding school for girls. For a short time after Billie arrived there all went well. But then the head of the school had to go on a long journey and she left the girls in charge of two teachers, sisters, who believed in severe discipline and in very, very plain food and little of it—and then there was a row! The girls wired for the head to come back—and all ended happily.

3. BILLIE BRADLEY ON LIGHTHOUSE ISLAND

or The Mystery of the Wreck

One of Billie's friends owned a summer bungalow on Lighthouse Island, near the coast. The school girls made up a party and visited the Island. There was a storm and a wreck, and three little children were washed ashore. They could tell nothing of themselves, and Billie and her chums set to work to solve the mystery of their identity.

4. BILLIE BRADLEY AND HER CLASSMATES

or The Secret of the Locked Tower

Billie and her chums come to the rescue of several little children who have broken through the ice. There is the mystery of a lost invention, and also the dreaded mystery of the locked school tower.

5. BILLIE BRADLEY AT TWIN LAKES

or Jolly Schoolgirls Afloat and Ashore

A tale of outdoor adventure in which Billie and her chums have a great variety of adventures. They visit an artists' colony and there fall in with a strange girl living with an old boatman who abuses her constantly. Billie befriended Hulda and the mystery surrounding the girl was finally cleared up.

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THE BARTON BOOKS FOR GIRLS

By MAY HOLLIS BARTON 12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. With colored jacket Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid

May Hollis Barton is a new writer for girls who is bound to win instant popularity. Her style is somewhat of a mixture of that of Louisa M. Alcott and Mrs. L. T. Meade, but thoroughly up-to-date in plot and action. Clean tales that all girls will enjoy reading.

1. THE GIRL FROM THE COUNTRY

or Laura Mayford's City Experiences

Laura was the oldest of five children and when daddy got sick she felt she must do something. She had a chance to try her luck in New York, and there the country girl fell in with many unusual experiences.

2. THREE GIRL CHUMS AT LAUREL HALL

or The Mystery of the School by the Lake

When the three chums arrived at the boarding school they found the other students in the grip of a most perplexing mystery. How this mystery was solved, and what good times the girls had, both in school and on the lake, go to make a story no girl would care to miss.

3. NELL GRAYSON'S RANCHING DAYS

or A City Girl in the Great West

Showing how Nell, when she had a ranch girl visit her in Boston, thought her chum very green, but when Nell visited the ranch in the great West she found herself confronting many conditions of which she was totally ignorant. A stirring outdoor story.

4. FOUR LITTLE WOMEN OF ROXBY

or The Queer Old Lady Who Lost Her Way

Four sisters are keeping house and having trouble to make both ends meet. One day there wanders in from a stalled express train an old lady who cannot remember her identity. The girls take the old lady in, and, later, are much astonished to learn who she really is.

5. PLAIN JANE AND PRETTY BETTY

or The Girl Who Won Out

The tale of two girls, one plain but sensible, the other pretty but vain. Unexpectedly both find they have to make their way in the world. Both have many trials and tribulations. A story of a country town and then a city.

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THE LINGER-NOT SERIES

By AGNES MILLER 12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in full colors Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid

This new series of girls' books is in a new style of story writing. The interest is in knowing the girls and seeing them solve the problems that develop their character. Incidentally, a great deal of historical information is imparted.

1. THE LINGER-NOTS AND THE MYSTERY HOUSE

or The Story of Nine Adventurous Girls

How the Linger-Not girls met and formed their club seems commonplace, but this writer makes it fascinating, and how they made their club serve a great purpose continues the interest to the end, and introduces a new type of girlhood.

2. THE LINGER-NOTS AND THE VALLEY FEUD

or The Great West Point Chain

The Linger-Not girls had no thought of becoming mixed up with feuds or mysteries, but their habit of being useful soon entangled them in some surprising adventures that turned out happily for all, and made the valley better because of their visit.

3. THE LINGER-NOTS AND THEIR GOLDEN QUEST

or The Log of the Ocean Monarch

For a club of girls to become involved in a mystery leading back into the times of the California gold-rush, seems unnatural until the reader sees how it happened, and how the girls helped one of their friends to come into her rightful name and inheritance, forms a fine story.

4. THE LINGER-NOTS AND THE WHISPERING CHARMS

or The Secret from Old Alaska

Whether engrossed in thrilling adventures in the Far North or occupied with quiet home duties, the Linger-Not girls could work unitedly to solve a colorful mystery in a way that interpreted American freedom to a sad young stranger, and brought happiness to her and to themselves.

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THE RUTH FIELDING SERIES

By ALICE B. EMERSON 12mo. Illustrated. Jacket in full colors Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid

Ruth Fielding was an orphan and came to live with her miserly uncle. Her adventures and travels make stories that will hold the interest of every reader.

Ruth Fielding is a character that will live in juvenile fiction.

1. RUTH FIELDING OF THE RED MILL 2. RUTH FIELDING AT BRIARWOODHALL 3. RUTH FIELDING AT SNOW CAMP 4. RUTH FIELDING AT LIGHTHOUSE POINT 5. RUTH FIELDING AT SILVER RANCH 6. RUTH FIELDING ON CLIFF ISLAND 7. RUTH FIELDING AT SUNRISE FARM 8. RUTH FIELDING AND THE GYPSIES 9. RUTH FIELDING IN MOVING PICTURES 10. RUTH FIELDING DOWN IN DIXIE 11. RUTH FIELDING AT COLLEGE 12. RUTH FIELDING IN THE SADDLE 13. RUTH FIELDING IN THE RED CROSS 14. RUTH FIELDING AT THE WAR FRONT 15. RUTH FIELDING HOMEWARD BOUND 16. RUTH FIELDING DOWN EAST 17. RUTH FIELDING IN THE GREAT NORTHWEST 18. RUTH FIELDING ON THE ST. LAWRENCE 19. RUTH FIELDING TREASURE HUNTING 20. RUTH FIELDING IN THE FAR NORTH 21. RUTH FIELDING AT GOLDEN PASS 22. RUTH FIELDING IN ALASKA 23. RUTH FIELDING AND HER GREAT SCENARIO

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THE BETTY GORDON SERIES

By ALICE B. EMERSON 12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in full colors Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid

1. BETTY GORDON AT BRAMBLE FARM

or The Mystery of a Nobody

At twelve Betty is left an orphan.

2. BETTY GORDON IN WASHINGTON or Strange Adventures in a Great City

Betty goes to the National Capitol to find her uncle and has several unusual adventures.

3. BETTY GORDON IN THE LAND OF OIL

or The Farm That Was Worth a Fortune

From Washington the scene is shifted to the great oil fields of our country. A splendid picture of the oil field operations of to-day.

4. BETTY GORDON AT BOARDING SCHOOL

or The Treasure of Indian Chasm

Seeking treasures of Indian Chasm makes interesting reading.

5. BETTY GORDON AT MOUNTAIN CAMP

or The Mystery of Ida Bellethorne

At Mountain Camp Betty found herself in the midst of a mystery involving a girl whom she had previously met in Washington.

6. BETTY GORDON AT OCEAN PARK or School Chums on the Boardwalk

A glorious outing that Betty and her chums never forgot.

7. BETTY GORDON AND HER SCHOOL CHUMS

or Bringing the Rebels to Terms

Rebellious students, disliked teachers and mysterious robberies make a fascinating story.

8. BETTY GORDON AT RAINBOW RANCH

or Cowboy Joe's Secret

Betty and her chums have a grand time in the saddle.

9. BETTY GORDON IN THE MEXICAN WILDS

or The Secret of the Mountains

Betty receives a fake telegram and finds both Bob and herself held for ransom in a mountain cave.

10. BETTY GORDON AND THE LOST PEARL

or A Mystery of the Seaside

Betty and her chums go to the ocean shore for a vacation and there Betty becomes involved in the disappearance of a string of pearls worth a fortune.

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THE GIRL SCOUT SERIES

By LILLIAN GARIS 12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in full colors Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid

The highest ideals of girlhood as advocated by the foremost organizations of America form the background for these stories and while unobtrusive there is a message in every volume.

1. THE GIRL SCOUT PIONEERS

or Winning the First B. C.

A story of the True Tred Troop in a Pennsylvania town. Two runaway girls, who want to see the city, are reclaimed through troop influence. The story is correct in scout detail.

2. THE GIRL SCOUTS AT BELLAIRE

or Maid Mary's Awakening

The story of a timid little maid who is afraid to take part in other girls' activities, while working nobly alone for high ideals. How she was discovered by the Bellaire Troop and came into her own as "Maid Mary" makes a fascinating story.

3. THE GIRL SCOUTS AT SEA CREST

or The Wig Wag Rescue

Luna Land, a little island by the sea, is wrapt in a mysterious seclusion, and Kitty Scuttle, a grotesque figure, succeeds in keeping all others at bay until the Girl Scouts come.

4. THE GIRL SCOUTS AT CAMP COMALONG

or Peg of Tamarack Hills

The girls of Bobolink Troop spend their summer on the shores of Lake Hocomo. Their discovery of Peg, the mysterious rider, and the clearing up of her remarkable adventures afford a vigorous plot.

5. THE GIRL SCOUTS AT ROCKY LEDGE

or Nora's Real Vacation

Nora Blair is the pampered daughter of a frivolous mother. Her dislike for the rugged life of Girl Scouts is eventually changed to appreciation, when the rescue of little Lucia, a woodland waif, becomes a problem for the girls to solve.

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THE CURLYTOPS SERIES

By HOWARD R. GARIS Author of the famous "Bedtime Animal Stories" 12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in full colors Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid

1. THE CURLYTOPS AT CHERRY FARM

or Vacation Days in the Country

A tale of happy vacation days on a farm.

2. THE CURLYTOPS ON STAR ISLAND

or Camping out with Grandpa

The Curlytops camp on Star Island.

3. THE CURLYTOPS SNOWED IN

or Grand Fun with Skates and Sleds

The Curlytops on lakes and hills.

4. THE CURLYTOPS AT UNCLE FRANK'S RANCH

or Little Folks on Ponyback

Out West on their uncle's ranch they have a wonderful time.

5. THE CURLYTOPS AT SILVER LAKE

or On the Water with Uncle Ben

The Curlytops camp out on the shores of a beautiful lake.

6. THE CURLYTOPS AND THEIR PETS

or Uncle Toby's Strange Collection

An old uncle leaves them to care for his collection of pets.

7. THE CURLYTOPS AND THEIR PLAYMATES

or Jolly Times Through the Holidays

They have great times with their uncle's collection of animals.

8. THE CURLYTOPS IN THE WOODS

or Fun at the Lumber Camp

Exciting times in the forest for Curlytops.

9. THE CURLYTOPS AT SUNSET BEACH

or What Was Found in the Sand

The Curlytops have a fine time at the seashore.

10. THE CURLYTOPS TOURING AROUND

or The Missing Photograph Albums

The Curlytops get in some moving pictures.

11. THE CURLYTOPS IN A SUMMER CAMP

or Animal Joe's Menagerie

There is great excitement as some mischievous monkeys break out of Animal Joe's Menagerie.

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THE RUBY AND RUTHY SERIES

by MINNIE E. PAULL 12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid.

Four bright and entertaining stories told in Mrs. Paull's happiest manner are among the best stories ever written for young girls, and cannot fail to interest any between the ages of eight and fifteen years.

RUBY AND RUTHY

Ruby and Ruthie were not old enough to go to school, but they certainly were lively enough to have many exciting adventures, that taught many useful lessons needed to be learned by little girls.

RUBY'S UPS AND DOWNS

There were troubles enough for a dozen grown-ups, but Ruby got ahead of them all, and, in spite of them, became a favorite in the lively times at school.

RUBY AT SCHOOL

Ruby had many surprises when she went to the impossible place she heard called a boarding school, but every experience helped to make her a stronger-minded girl.

RUBY'S VACATION

This volume shows how a little girl improves by having varieties of experience both happy and unhappy, provided she thinks, and is able to use her good sense. Ruby lives and learns.

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THE END

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