It contained two large double beds—each in a little alcove of its own. The spotless grass mats, the flowers that bloomed on the wide-silled, latticed windows gave the room an air of cheerful hominess and comfort that was very pleasant.
All this Mollie took in subconsciously as her sleepy gaze wandered about the room. Then slowly full wakefulness banished the last vestige of sleep from her eyes and she sat up in bed.
"The sun!" she cried joyfully. "And I was sure it was going to be rainy this morning! Oh, now we shall see the island as it really is. Wake up, Amy, do! Oh, goodness, how the child sleeps!" and she shook her slumbering friend with no uncertain hand.
"There is no use, Mollie," said Betty's voice from the other end of the room. "You couldn't wake Amy or Grace without a good shaking."
"What's that?" cried Mollie, startled, as a loud knock sounded on the door. "I wonder who is coming to visit us so early?"
"Probably one of the boys," Betty suggested, "come to tell us it is nine o'clock and high time we were up and dressed."
"Nine o'clock!" Grace fairly stuttered, but just then Mollie called out an impatient:
"Who's there?" in response to a second and harder knock at the door.
"It's I, Will. Mrs. Irving sent me up to ask when in the name of common sense you girls are coming down to breakfast."
"What time is it?" Betty countered. "If you tell us that, we'll tell you what time we are coming down."
"It is half-past eight," Will answered. "We fellows have been up since six o'clock getting our summer quarters fixed up!"
"I won't believe it until I see it," said Mollie darkly. "Six o'clock, indeed!" and she sniffed disdainfully.
"Well, if you don't believe it," said Will, through the keyhole, "all you have to do is to come down and see for yourself. We've got everything fixed up O. K. all right. But say! when are you fellows—I mean girls—going to get up?"
"Right away, Will," Betty promised, popping out of bed and into her slippers all at once. "We will be down in a jiffy."
It required a great deal of tact to coax Amy and Grace out of bed, but it took a still greater amount of merciless driving to get them downstairs and into the big airy dining room, where Mrs. Irving was impatiently awaiting them.
"Here you are," she said, laying down her book as the four girls tumbled into the room. "I thought you would be tired after last night's fun, so I let you sleep it out."
"Well, we surely did sleep," said the Little Captain brightly. "I for one feel as if I'll never sleep again."
"And I feel as if I could sleep forever," said Grace. "You never saw anything like Betty, Mrs. Irving," she complained. "Why, I do believe she could have made a fortune in the old days as an overseer down South."
Mrs. Irving laughed. "You don't look especially brow-beaten," she said. "And anyway, I should think you would be glad to get up—you must be nearly starved to death."
"I thought after last night, and the chicken, I could never eat again," said Mollie, her eyes sparkling at the memory. "But I find that I can, very easily. Oh, Mrs. Irving, what is there?"
"Well," their chaperon began, "there are the eggs we had put up with the other things yesterday and some fruit and honey and we can make some fluffy white biscuits in no time——"
"Oh, oh, say no more!" said Betty, clapping her hands joyfully and executing a little dance about the room. "Honey and biscuits—I could make a meal of them alone. Mrs. Irving, show me the stove—lead me to it—and I'll make the biscuits," she finished importantly.
"Mrs. Irving," Grace pleaded, turning to the chaperon, "you are the only one here who could possibly make Betty do anything that she didn't want to do or stop her doing anything she had set her heart on. Won't you please interfere for the sake of the community? It might really be dangerous," she added plaintively.
"Don't worry," Mollie put in. "I have eaten Betty's biscuits of old, and, believe me, they are good. All I ask is that you hustle, Betty—shoo——" And she hurried the willing Little Captain before her into the kitchen.
Mrs. Irving followed more slowly with Amy and Grace, and they were just in time to hear Mollie's last sentence: "Where have the boys disappeared to?"
"They're out yonder in the woods," Mrs. Irving replied, indicating a spot beyond the cottage. "They were up very early this morning—couldn't wait to get the tents up. Allen left word that they would stop around in a couple of hours to say good-afternoon to you girls—if you happened to be up by that time," and the little chaperon's eyes twinkled as she saw the look of rising indignation in the girls' faces.
"If we happen to be up, indeed," sniffed Betty, bustling around the kitchen in a business-like fashion, sorting out pans and getting out the flour, which Mollie's aunt had very thoughtfully left in the larder. "If they talk like that much more, they won't get any of my biscuits. Just wait till they smell them, girls—they will go down on their knees."
"Yes, the only way to manage boys is to feed them well," sighed Amy, with a funny air of knowing all there was to be known about men.
"Oh, Amy! Amy!" gasped Mollie, "you will be the death of me yet. Anybody would actually think, to hear you talk, that you had really had some experience. Say, Betty," she added, regarding the doughy mixture—the result of Betty's skillful manipulation, "that looks mighty interesting—I shouldn't mind learning how to make them myself."
"Oh, it's lots of fun," Betty affirmed, cutting out the biscuits with an improvised cutter—this last being the top of a baking powder can. "Only take my advice," she went on, standing with the cover poised in the air and speaking earnestly. "Don't try it on your family first—they never appreciate you. Why, the first time I made biscuits, do you know what dad said?"
"No, but I can imagine," said Grace, who had also been regarding the operation, "judging from what dad and Will would have remarked."
"Well, he said," Betty continued, patting the last biscuit into its appointed place and regarding her work with satisfaction, "he said the best thing I could do with them would be to pack them and send them to the old country to use in some of the new howitzers or something like that they are getting out. How is that for a slam?"
"Well, I shouldn't wonder," said Grace wickedly, "if he were justified."
Betty turned and shot a reproachful glance at her friend. "Just for that, Grace," she said, "I ought to say you can't have any of these—works of art," indicating the pan she was putting into the oven. "Why do you girls stand around staring at me anyway?" she added, a sudden note of impatience in her voice. "Why don't you do something to earn your living? Set the table or get the water boiling for the eggs. I can't do everything—now scatter! If you were all as hungry as I am you wouldn't wait to be told."
Laughingly the girls did as the Little Captain bid—somehow it was impossible to do anything else.
"Where is the table cloth, Mollie?" called Amy from the other room. "We used paper napkins and doilies last night." Then she added, as Mollie came to help her, "Did you ever see anybody eat like those boys last night?"
"It was a wonderful and awesome sight," Mollie agreed, as she and Amy spread the cloth. "I wonder," she added as a sudden thought struck her, "if the boys have had their breakfast."
"What a question!" said Grace, appearing at the door carrying a plateful of the most deliciously golden honey the girls had ever seen—or so at least it seemed to them. "Do you imagine they could exist from six o'clock to ten without eating? Mollie, I gave you credit for more sense."
"Is that so?" retorted Mollie, cross because she was hungry. "Well, I have a good deal more sense than some people I know. I mention no names, but see where I am looking," and she stared steadfastly at her unruffled chum, who was calmly setting the honey on the table.
"Here I am again," said Betty, "acting the part of peacemaker. Oh, girls, it is too wonderful a day for outdoor girls to quarrel. I am simply crazy to get out in the woods and just revel in the grass and the trees and the sunshine." And she glanced longingly out of the open door that led to the porch. "Oh, I wish," she said, "I wish the biscuits could be done and eaten all in five minutes. Amy, did you put the eggs in?" she demanded, and Amy, who had been gazing out of the window, scuttled out to the kitchen obediently.
The girls had nearly finished breakfast, when there was a sound of voices outside the door, and a moment later the boys burst in upon them.
"Hello!" said Allen, evidently surprised. "I didn't expect to see you for another hour."
"Say, those biscuits look good," said Roy. "I should say biscuit," he corrected himself. "Say, Betty, do you happen to have any more of those around?"
"No, and you don't get this one, either. It belongs to Amy," said Betty decidedly. "She has had only three and I made four apiece."
Frank was just about to protest when she added compromisingly: "I'll make some more for lunch."
"When is lunch?" inquired Will practically. "Twelve o'clock?"
"No, about one," Mollie answered. "We couldn't possibly eat before then."
Allen had been talking to Betty in an undertone, and now he broke into the conversation with: "Betty says she wants to see our camp. Who cares to go along?"
There was a clamorous assent followed by a faint little protest from Grace. "Don't you think we had better wash the dishes first?" she asked.
"Oh, hang the dishes!" said Frank, inelegantly. "Remember we are camping."
"We'll wash them up with the lunch dishes," Betty compromised, then added, with a sly little glance in Allen's direction: "We'll make the boys wipe them for us."
A JOLLY TRIP
The girls and the boys, laughingly driving Mrs. Irving before them, fairly tumbled down the shallow steps in their eagerness to feel the soft grass under their feet. As Betty said, it was a glorious day, a typical day in early August, when a soft breeze tempers the heat of the scorching sun, and sets the trees to murmuring.
The spicy air, sweet with the intoxicating scent of damp, moist earth and blossoming flowers, went to their heads like wine and they danced down the path that led through the woods on feet that scarcely touched the ground.
Soon they emerged from the dense shadows of the wood into the small clearing which was thick and mossy under foot, and there, nestling among the trees, were the two tents the boys had so laboriously constructed.
"Oh, it is ideal!" cried Mollie, delightedly, as they stopped for a moment on the outskirts of the clearing to survey the scene.
"Glad you like it," said Frank, then advancing toward the nearer of the two tents, he paused, turned, and made a low bow. "Enter, fair damsels," he said.
"He thinks he is reading 'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court,'" drawled Grace. "However, we will deign to honor you with our presence." And she swept past him with a queenly air that elicited amused laughter from the others.
For more than an hour the Outdoor Girls and their friends roamed about the clearing inspecting the tent critically, inside and out, and picking flowers in between times. It was Will who first suggested a change.
"Why not take a walk about the country?" he asked. "I guess we have seen all there is to be seen here. Come on, everybody. I want to get a bigger appetite for lunch."
"All right; where shall we go?" Betty agreed readily. "Your aunt must have told you about this part of the world, Mollie. Where can we find excitement?"
"Well, there is the summer colony at the other end of the island," Mollie began doubtfully. "But it is rather a long way off. The steamer touches there from here."
"Too far to go before lunch," Mrs. Irving said.
The party spent the rest of the time until one o'clock visiting the wharf and roaming the country in the immediate vicinity of the pretty bungalow.
True to her promise, Betty turned out at the appointed time a panful of the most appetizing biscuits, and let it be said here that the boys did them full justice—to say nothing of the girls.
It was well on toward three o'clock before the girls had changed their morning middies and skirts for dainty afternoon dresses, and had made all other necessary preparations for a trip to town. Mrs. Irving declined to go, saying she wished to write letters.
It was in the best of spirits that the party of young people stood on the end of the dock, waiting to hail the little steamer as it chug-chugged its way from the summer colony at the far end of Pine Island to the mainland.
When finally it did come in sight, the girls and the boys found themselves convulsed with laughter. If the shabby little craft had appeared grotesque in the mist of the night before, how much more forlorn did it look in the full, dazzling glare of the sun! As it came nearer they saw that the decks were crowded with people, the gay dresses of the girls mingling with the white flannel trousers and dark coats of the men.
"It's a wonder," said Frank, "that with all that crowd of people paying good money to be towed ashore, they couldn't get something a little more modern. My! it looks as if it had come out of the ark."
"Oh, well, as long as it is seaworthy, I suppose they think it will do as well as any other," said Roy. "The more some people make the less they like to spend."
By this time the clumsy ferry had plowed its way to the wharf, and had come to a stop, while the people on board eyed the waiting young folks curiously.
"Guess they will know us the next time they see us," whispered Allen. "We ought to hang out a placard: Don't stare. We don't look it, but we are human."
Betty laughed gaily. "They do need a few lessons in manners."
The bungalow party thoroughly enjoyed the trip to the mainland. The scenery was as beautiful as it had been pictured, and when they got tired of looking at the sky, the water, and the mainland, they had plenty to occupy their attention in the people about them. Everybody seemed ready for a good time, and the old ferryboat was filled with shouts and laughter.
"I shouldn't mind knowing some of those people," Roy confided to Allen, as they leaned against the shaky, old rail. "There's certainly nothing slow about them."
"Well, there is no reason why we shouldn't know them," said Allen. "From what Mollie says, they are pretty close neighbors. In fact, the girls said something about going over there this afternoon."
"Well," returned Roy, "we can't go too soon to suit me."
"If you are thinking of girls," said Allen, as Mollie and Grace came up to them, "it is my opinion that they have nothing half so good to offer us as we have already."
"I guess you are right," Roy admitted, as they joined the rest of the party. "Just look at all those dudes, staring at Betty and Grace! Say! I'd like to teach them manners!" and he glowered at the unconscious boys from the summer colony with a ferocity that should have terrified the most hardy.
"Come away," said Allen. "You can't blame them for doing just what we have done for the last two years," he added, dryly.
"Here we are, almost ashore," cried Amy, a little later. "Have you got the list of the things we need, Allen? Let's see—butter and sugar and baking powder and eggs and—oh, we mustn't forget the meat."
"Chocolates," murmured Grace.
"Don't worry so soon, Amy," laughed Will. "There will be plenty of time for that when we get back to the island and find that we have forgotten half the things."
"Well, if we think of them now," said usually quiet Amy, "there won't be any excuse for our forgetting them later."
"Well, but perhaps we shall need an excuse," reasoned Will. "You would never make a good diplomat, Amy."
Betty put her arm protectingly around the younger girl. "There is no reason why you should want to be that, is there?" she questioned. "Amy thinks that as long as she feeds you boys well there is no need of——"
"Oh, Betty, do stop," begged Amy, her face flushing scarlet. "It isn't fair."
"I know it," said Betty soothingly, while the boys looked on, curious to know the meaning of this mystery. "I won't do it again, dear, I promise."
"I wish you would tell us——" Allen began, but once more Mollie interrupted.
"We had better get down near the front," she said, "or we'll not be able to get ashore in half an hour. Did you ever see such a mob?"
"It is considerable of a crowd," Frank admitted. "I think Mollie's suggestion is a good one, fellows. Let's try to make an opening while we can."
The boys managed so well that when the little boat scraped against the wall, their party was almost the first to set foot upon the land.
"That was pretty good work," said Will, with an air of satisfaction as they made their way to the shore, followed by a stream of laughing humanity. "I hope the girls didn't mind getting their dresses mussed. Say, fellows, if any one should ask me, I'd tell them it was one peach of a day!"
There being no disputing this fact, no one tried. The eight young people swung down the shaded street, feeling in tune with the whole world.
They succeeded in finding the general store.
"Now get out that list, Allen," said Betty, as they entered the wide doorway. "It would really be a shame to forget anything."
Allen began to search through his pockets, calmly at first, then in frantic haste. Seven pairs of eyes followed his panicky movements anxiously.
"You have never gone and forgotten it?" cried Mollie, in the awed tones of one announcing the end of the world. "Oh, Allen! you haven't?"
"Guess I have," he returned grimly, and, having searched through every pocket, began all over again. "It's strange—I could have sworn——"
"You're a nice one——" Grace began, but Roy interrupted her with a shout that made their nearest neighbors turn and look at them curiously.
"I have it!" he cried. "Don't you remember, Allen, that you gave it to me just before we left, while you ran back to get something for Betty? Behold," and he dangled the precious list before their eyes.
"Oh," sighed Mollie in relief, "now if we girls had done anything like that——"
"Hands up, don't shoot!" cried Roy. "We admit everything."
"WHERE THERE IS SMOKE——"
The Outdoor Girls must have a fire. That they had decided at the supper table. What was the use of having a big fire-place if they never used it? Betty's theory was, that it was wicked to let anything go to waste. All this being true, it stood to reason that a fire they must have.
"I wonder if the boys wouldn't come in and help us build it," Grace suggested, seized with a brilliant idea. "There are already some logs in the fire-place, but I feel that I would like to have somebody else work for me to-night."
"Why, of course," said Mollie. "That's what we brought them with us for—to help out when they were needed."
"They would be flattered if they could hear you," said Amy.
"I don't see why they insist on staying out in the woods and cooking their own meals. Just think what fun we could have with them, if they were here now," put in Mollie once again.
"Yes, but then think of all the trouble they would be making us," said Betty. "Besides," she added, "your aunt didn't say anything about a troop of noisy boys, Mollie, when she lent us her bungalow for the summer."
"That's right, too," Mollie reluctantly conceded. "Just the same I hope they haven't forgotten they are due here at six-thirty to wipe the dishes. There is such a pile of them!"
"Methinks," Grace announced solemnly, "that even at this moment I hear the sound of approaching footsteps."
"How can you hear footsteps on the grass?" Mollie demanded rudely. "You must have better ears than I have."
"Of course I have," Grace retorted calmly. "I knew that long ago."
Before Mollie could answer a head was poked in at the door and an accompanying voice asked cheerily: "May we come in? Are we on time?"
"You're as welcome as a day in June, Frank," called Betty, as she arose and started to take the dishes into the kitchen. "We want you to wipe these for us, and make a fire."
"Anything else?" Frank inquired mildly, while the rest of him followed his head into the room. "The fellows told me to come on ahead, and say to you ladies that they would be here as soon as they got through scouring their frying pan."
"Poor boys," said Amy impulsively. "Why don't they bring the things here?"
But Mollie's thoughts took another direction. "I hope they bring back the sapolio," she said practically. "It was the only cake we had."
Betty paused half way to the kitchen and balanced her pile of dishes on one hand. "Mollie," she cried in dismay, "they will never think of it! Don't you think you had better go back and tell them, Frank?" she said.
"Sure!" he answered obligingly, while he sunk into an easy chair with a sigh of content. Evidently he was settled for the evening.
"Then why don't you go?" Mollie demanded impatiently. "If boys aren't the most aggravating things, when they want to be!" she added.
"There's plenty of time," Frank assured her calmly. "I left the fellows in the first throes of cleaning up—they won't be through for half an hour at least."
"Well, I don't care," said Betty, continuing her journeyings into the kitchen. "If we haven't anything to scour the pans with, then they'll not get scoured—that's all."
"That's the spirit I like to see," said Frank, and Betty could have thrown something at him, with the greatest of pleasure. "It's fine to see anybody resigned to the inevitable."
"Well, I know one thing," Mollie threatened, "if you don't go back in five minutes, I will," and for emphasis she banged the salt cellar forcibly upon the table.
"What's the matter with our going together?" Frank inquired, moving his head slightly to bring Mollie within his range of vision. "The distance won't seem half as far if I have such pleasant company," he added gallantly.
"Don't do it," Betty, coming in from the kitchen, advised. "Make him work a little."
"Oh, you're only jealous because I didn't ask you," Frank teased. "I always knew you thought a good deal of me, Betty."
She made a little face at him, but did not deign to reply. Indeed, why should she—the accusation was so plainly absurd?
Long before they had expected, voices were heard in the distance and the most unearthly noises broke the woodland stillness. There was a banging of wood upon tin and the clatter of utensils mingling with the outrageous uproar from three pairs of sound and healthy lungs. There were shouts and war cries and yells, combining in a weird clamor that could be heard for miles around—or so it seemed to the girls.
The girls looked at each other inquiringly—then made a concerted rush for the door.
"Oh, what a noise!" cried Betty. "It's just as well there isn't anybody else in this part of the wood."
A moment later the boys rushed upon them, vigorously pounding utensils, and shouting at the top of their voices. The girls gave way before them, and the roisterers tumbled in and took possession as though they were really the Redskins, whose cries they were successfully imitating. They raced about the house like madmen, while the girls watched their antics in a peculiar frame of mind. If the truth must be told, they were undecided whether to be displeased or amused. Amusement conquered in the end, however, for the boys were irresistibly funny, and the girls laughed till they ached and the tears rolled down their cheeks.
After considerable time they all managed to quiet down enough to talk sense.
"The girls want us to make a fire, fellows," said Frank. "The idea looks good to me."
"It is good," Allen agreed. "Give us the wood and matches, and we will have a fire going in no time."
"The wood is in the fire-place," Betty answered, "and Mollie has the matches, I think."
With this the boys set to work energetically, while the girls and Mrs. Irving stood about them in a semi-circle.
"It's so different from building a fire in the open," Amy commented. "I always love them. Can't we toast marshmallows? That's the most fun of all."
"We could if we had any," Grace replied dryly. "I have some chocolates but you can't roast them, and nobody had the sense to think to buy marshmallows to-day."
At this last remark, Frank sat back upon his heels and favored Mollie with a sly wink—while that young lady smiled mysteriously.
"Thereby hangs a tale of which you shall hear later," he said, and, in spite of all their urging, he could not be made to say another word.
However, their curiosity was forgotten a moment later—forgotten in the excitement caused by a strange and curious happening.
Suddenly the smoke which had been rolling in clouds up the chimney, refused to roll farther. There being no other exit except into the room, the girls and boys suddenly found themselves suffocating. They choked, and the boys stumbled to their feet and followed the fleeing girls into the dining room.
There was a chorus of sneezes and smothered cries of "I'm choking! Open the window, some one, quick!"
"The windows are open and the doors, too," gasped Frank, in answer to this last request.
"Don't be alarmed, any one," Allen commanded. "It's nothing but a clogged-up chimney, and that won't hurt anybody."
"But the smoke!" gasped Mollie. "Why, the house will be ruined. What will Aunt Elvira say?"
"Oh, it won't hurt anything," said Betty, making a brave attempt to push her way through the smoke into the living room. "But it is terrible. Can't we do something to stop it, boys?"
"I don't know how we can—unless——" Roy turned quickly to Mollie. "Did your aunt say anything about a blower?" he asked eagerly.
"I don't remember—I—I don't remember," stammered poor Mollie, whose memory was being taxed to the utmost. "You might look though, and see what you can find."
"Oh, do hurry, somebody!" begged Grace. "I'll take to the woods in another minute."
"Oh, have a little patience, Sis, can't you?" cried Will, losing his temper. "We are all doing the best we can."
"But look," said Mollie, suddenly pointing to the other room. "The smoke is beginning to clear and the wood isn't half burned out yet."
"Let's investigate," Frank suggested. "Maybe we can find out what is wrong with the thing. Come on," and in they all trooped, coughing and choking, but dauntless.
"Get me a stick, will you, girls," Roy entreated, as he went nearer to inspect the fire-place. "A broom will do. Or anything else you happen to have around."
Mollie disappeared into the kitchen and returned a moment later, bringing back with her an old stick that looked as though it might have been a clothespole in its better days.
"Will this do?" she asked, holding it out to Roy. "It was the only thing I could find."
"Just what I wanted," Roy answered. "Now, fellows, let's see what we can do with the thing."
The four boys crowded around, peering up into the opening as if they hoped to find the solution of the mystery there, while the girls watched them with breathless interest.
It was then that it happened. Roy poked upward inquiringly with his stick, and for answer a cloud of soot and ashes discharged itself from the chimney, showering the boys' faces with grimy dust.
They drew back with cries of disgust and began rubbing their eyes and faces furiously. Then the four blackened adventurers turned to the girls appealingly. They looked so funny, standing there with their faces black and their clothes bespattered with grime and a look of sheepish chagrin on their faces, that the girls burst into gales of uncontrolled laughter.
"You look just like candidates for a minstrel show," gasped Mollie, while the boys stood regarding her reproachfully. "Oh, boys, if you only had a mirror! If you only had!"
THE GATHERING OF THE CLANS
"If you got us some soap and water," Will suggested after they had indulged in some sheepish grins at their own expense, "you might be doing a little good in the world."
"Well, you ought to know how to find it yourselves," Grace retorted. "Suppose you go and wash, and make yourselves look like respectable citizens again—even though you aren't," she added sweetly.
"Look out, Grace, some time we will get even for all the knocks you have been handing out," Frank threatened, shaking a grimy fist in her direction.
"Now I don't suppose we can have a fire at all," sighed Mollie, as the boys made a rush for the stairs. "And I did so want one."
"If we can find a blower," Allen shouted from the landing, "we'll have a good fire yet."
"Yes, look around, girls, will you?" Roy added, "It will save no end of time."
"Do you know what a blower looks like?" Mollie inquired, a puzzled frown on her forehead. "How can I find anything when I don't know what it looks like?"
"Oh, I know," said Betty. "We used to have one at home before dad put the hood on the fire-place. Let's go on a still hunt."
This they did, and when the boys came down a few minutes later they proudly announced their discovery.
"This is it, isn't it?" asked Betty, indicating a big square of tin with a handle at the top. "It looks like the one we used to use."
"It's exactly the thing," cried Frank, pouncing on it eagerly. "Now if this doesn't make the wood burn, nothing will."
In less time than it takes to tell the boys had succeeded in igniting the green wood, and had applied the blower before the smoke had had a chance to get out into the room.
The fire danced and glowed, while its leaping flames sent fantastic shadows playing hide and seek around the room.
"How is this for a fire, eh?" said Will, holding out his hand to the welcome warmth of the blaze, for although the days were hot, the nights were apt to be damp and cool on this island, surrounded as it was by the waters of the lake. "Some time the girls will find out that we know our business pretty well. Oh, that feels good!"
"You are right," said Frank, as they instinctively drew their chairs nearer to the fire. "Now all we need is something to roast or toast, it doesn't much matter which."
"That reminds me," said Betty, turning accusing eyes upon Roy and Mollie, whose faces were clearly outlined in the dancing fire-light. "You two people over there seem to have a secret that you don't want to share with us. I think Mrs. Irving knows," she went on, turning an accusing eye on the chaperon where she sat in the midst of the circle, "but she won't let on. Suppose you tell the rest of us what it is."
"Well, Mollie said something about a fire," Roy admitted, "and I thought a couple of boxes of marshmallows wouldn't be unwelcome; so, when the rest of you were all busy buying other things, Mollie and I slipped off and got them. Where are they, Mollie?"
"I'll get them," she answered, rising reluctantly from her comfortable chair. "I hid them. I knew that if Grace once had an inkling they were in the house she would never rest till she found them. In that case——" she paused impressively, and looked about her, "there wouldn't have been one left by to-night."
They laughed, well knowing the truth of this remark, while Grace gave a sigh at being so misunderstood.
A few moments later, Mollie had returned with the cherished sweetmeats and the boys were busily engaged in the process of toasting them on the ends of long wire forks made especially for that purpose.
"Um—um, this is good," said Betty, biting off the end of a delicious morsel. "Why didn't you buy three boxes while you were about it, Roy?"
"That's all you get——" Roy was beginning, when Mollie interrupted him, speaking dreamily.
"Wasn't he a funny old man, Roy?" she said—"the one who sold us the candies, I mean."
"Yes, I guess he must have been in his dotage," Roy agreed. "In five minutes he told us all his life's history and then some."
"That's pretty good," said Allen with interest, while he dangled his marshmallow perilously near the leaping flames. "I bet you couldn't do as well."
"I know I couldn't," Roy answered modestly. "That old chap was a past master all right. Some of the things he said were interesting, though. Weren't they, Mollie?"
"Very," said Mollie, while she stared fixedly at the fire. "Interesting and—a little creepy," she added.
The girls started and leaned forward eagerly, Mrs. Irving and the boys evincing equal interest.
"Creepy!" Amy repeated, in awed tones. "Oh, Mollie, what do you mean?"
"Just that," said Mollie, enjoying the sensation she was making. "He was an awfully wizened old man, and when he heard we were from Pine Island—well, he told us some mighty queer things."
"Pine Island?" cried Mrs. Irving, the color flaming into her cheeks, whether from excitement or the warmth of the fire, no one could tell.
"What can be strange about Pine Island?" demanded Betty. "Mollie, I could shake you; why don't you tell us and have it over with?"
Mollie glanced at Roy. "Shall I?" she asked, just as if she had not been longing for the last half hour for the time to come when she could create a sensation by telling.
"You might as well," he answered condescendingly. "As long as we have to have them around for the rest of the summer, we might as well let them in on it."
"Well of all the——" Grace was beginning, when Betty nudged her sharply.
"Don't interrupt, Grace, whatever you do," she whispered. "They take long enough getting to the point anyway."
Grace saw the wisdom in this, and stopped short.
"Well," began Mollie, speaking slowly and with aggravating distinctness, "you see, in the old days, this island used to be a rendezvous for all the wandering gypsies for miles around."
"What?" Frank cried.
"Well, I am only telling you what the old man said," asserted Mollie defensively and with warmth. "I don't say he may not be mistaken——"
"Oh, that's all right, Mollie," Betty broke in quickly. "We understand that you are not vouching for the old man's honesty. All we want is his story. Please go on—I am awfully interested."
"Just think, gypsies on this island!" murmured Amy, shuddering.
"He says," Mollie continued, "in the old days there used to be as many as two or three hundred of the gypsies gathered around here—on this part of the island, too." She paused to see the effect of her words.
"But didn't your aunt say anything about that, Mollie?" Grace queried. "Why, it seems impossible. I don't wonder you felt creepy, especially if there are many like that old crone we saw in Deepdale," and she glanced over her shoulder in the direction of the open window.
"Don't you think we had better lock the door?" suggested Amy. "Some of those men in the gypsy camp looked actually murderous."
Of course the boys laughed at her fears, and Roy remarked casually: "The old chap told us something else, fellows, that may be of interest later on."
"What's that?" Will demanded.
"He said that when the tide was on the ebb, you could actually ford the lake to the islands farther south. It might be worth while trying some time."
"You bet it will!" said Allen, and his eagerness was not feigned.
"We'll try it the first chance we get," Frank added.
"We're going, too," said Betty. "You needn't think you can leave us behind when there is anything like that afoot."
"We wouldn't try," said Allen, ruefully. "Especially as you girls say you can swim."
"However, they will have to prove that point," Roy put in.
"That's easy," said Grace fearlessly. "As we have remarked before, we haven't been outdoor girls all our lives for nothing."
"If you boys hadn't been so set on our looking at your old camp to-day," said Amy with unusual spirit, "we would have proved it to you before this. But do you really think there are gypsies on the island?" she added. "Because, if there are, we might be able to find some of their loot." She voiced this last desire in hushed tones.
The girls laughed even while they drew their chairs still closer to the fire.
"Such a chance!" gibed Will, but Betty's eyes were shining in the glow of the fire-light.
"Oh, if we only could!" she whispered softly. "If we could only get the stuff stolen from Deepdale!"
A VICTORY FOR BETTY
Breakfast was cleaned away and Betty, with Mollie at her heels, made a rush for the bedroom.
"I'm willing to wager anything," called the former, gaily, "that I'll be in my bathing suit before any of the rest of you have started."
"I hope the water isn't too cold," Grace shivered, as she took out her bathing suit. "If there is anything I hate, it's trying to swim in icy water. It almost makes my heart stop beating."
"All right, we'll have the weather man heat it for you," said Betty, slipping into her neat little suit. "I don't know how the water can be cold, though," she added, "the air is suffocating to-day."
"Now—one, two, three—go!" and they were off like four little black sprites, down the broad stairway and into the living room where the boys were already assembled, talking to the chaperon.
The boys wore raincoats over their bathing suits; and, as the girls entered the room, they shouted a merry greeting.
"So soon?" called Frank in surprise. "Why, we didn't expect to see you for an hour at least."
"An hour?" said Betty, with feigned indignation—for she was a good little actress, was Betty. "Why, we thought you were never coming!"
"You mean to say you were waiting for us?" said Allen, incredulously. "Betty, are you telling the truth? Mrs. Irving, is she?"
"I assure you I was too busy finding my bathing suit and getting into it to know just when the girls were ready," responded the chaperon.
At one part of the island the ground dipped gradually so that one might have any depth of water desired, and it was to this part that the young folks made their way.
"Remember——" said Frank, referring to the conversation of the night before, "remember, you girls will have to prove your claims to championship swimming this morning. If you were just faking, now is the time we'll find you out."
"We're not faking," Mollie denied stoutly. "I learned to swim when I was nine years old, and I've been swimming ever since."
"Really?" Roy inquired with interest. "Then you must be Mollie's ghost, while the real Mollie is swimming around out there somewhere," waving his hand in the direction of the water, "chumming with some of the beautiful water nymphs. Just think, nothing to do but swim for—how many years is it, Mollie?" he asked.
"Goose!" was all she answered, but that one little word managed somehow to contain a world of scorn.
"You try it first, Will," begged his sister. "Then you can tell us whether it is cold or not."
"Say, what kind of sport are you, anyway?" Will demanded. "That's the way with girls—they all make a big bluff about being able to do what we can, and then when it actually comes down to business they want to try it on us first. I'd like to see one of you go in first!"
Betty made a dash for the water. "Wouldn't it be nice," she flung back at him over her shoulder, "if all wishes could be granted so easily. Come on, girls—we'll show them a thing or two," and she waded in till the water was above her waist, then plunged in over her head.
Mollie followed close upon her heels and it was a moment before the boys realized what had happened, and could rouse themselves to action.
"Come on, fellows!" Allen shouted. "We can't let two girls get the best of us like that."
Mrs. Irving, who was at home in the water, entered and swam out boldly.
"Are you going to stay there?" Frank shouted to Amy and Grace, who stood uncertainly on the bank, undecided whether to advance or retreat. "Come on in—the water's fine."
Thus encouraged, the two girls threw caution to the winds, and waded in till the warm water was up to their shoulders.
"Oh, it is wonderful!" cried Amy. "Look how far we are behind. Let's see if we can't catch up with them." And they started off with a will after their deserting comrades.
It was not long before the powerful strokes of the boys brought them up beside Mollie and Betty who were swimming easily.
"Hello, runaways," was Frank's greeting, turning over on his back and propelling himself by a whirlpool motion of his arms. "Thought you'd give us the slip, did you? Well, we shall see."
Betty followed Frank's example, floating lazily on the still surface of the water.
"We weren't running away," she said; "we just wanted to show you we weren't afraid, that's all."
"I'll give you a race to that floating log out there, Betty."
Betty turned over and regarded the log in question with thoughtful eyes. "All right," she agreed, after a moment's hesitation. "I guess I can make that easily enough. Will you call the start?"
"Just as you say," he answered. "We are almost even now, and when I say go, we're off. Agreed?"
"Uh'huh," answered Betty.
"All right. One—two—three—go!"
They shot forward together, side by side and shoulder to shoulder, each determined to save his strength for the final spurt.
By this time the others had come up and were watching the race with interest.
On, on the two racers went, with no apparent effort, until half the distance to the log had been covered. It was then that the watchers noticed the change. Betty lengthened her stroke a trifle and forged ahead, while Frank still kept the same steady stroke.
Then, when more than half of the remaining distance had been covered, Frank evidently made up his mind that it was time to show those people some real speed. Suddenly he dropped the lazy stroke, and it seemed as though he were imbued with new life. His arms and legs worked together with the precision of a machine and he shot through the water like a catapult.
Betty was not prepared for so sudden a transformation, but her surprise lasted only a minute. Gallantly she gathered all her strength and made a dash for the goal.
"I see Betty's finish," Will was saying, when Mollie cried excitedly:
"You just watch Betty. Did you ever see a girl like her?"
As Allen came up beside the pair he thought that at last he and Mollie had found something to agree upon.
They watched Betty with straining eyes.
"She'll do it!" cried Allen. "I never thought it was possible for a girl to swim like that. Look, she has caught up to him."
It was so. Betty had used the last ounce of strength in her strong, young arms and the result was a tie.
She and Frank laid hands upon the log at one and the same instant.
Frank shook the water from his eyes, and regarded his rival in amazement. "How did you ever do it?" he questioned. "I thought I had you beat a mile."
"Well, that's where you had another think coming." Betty would not have been human had she not gloried in this victory—for even a tie with one of Frank's strength and muscle was a triumph. "I told you I could swim."
"Hoorah for the champeens!" shouted Will as the others reached the goal a few moments later. "That's pretty good work, Betty. I have to hand it to you."
"Don't you think we had better get to the shore and rest a while?" Roy suggested. "Amy and Grace seem to have gotten there before us, and Mrs. Irving has gone back to the bungalow."
The others agreed and they all swam lazily toward the mossy bank. Betty drew herself up and sank upon the grassy knoll with a sigh of utter relaxation.
"I'd like to give you a longer race," said Frank, whose near defeat at the hands of a girl was hard to bear. "I bet I could beat you easily on a long stretch."
Betty sat up suddenly and stared at him. "Frank Haley!" she cried, "I've a good mind to take you up."
"A race! a race!" cried Mollie, clapping her hands in delight. "Oh, I'd love to see it."
"Go on, Frank, set the day," Allen urged. "After what you said you are in honor bound to give Betty a chance."
"I am perfectly willing," said Frank, glancing toward Betty. "What do you say about it?"
"You can't arrange it too soon to suit me," Betty answered, undaunted.
A SPLENDID CATCH
"Can't anybody think of anything to do?" Mollie queried impatiently. "I'll go crazy if I have to sit around here for another half hour," and she dug the toe of her shoe into the soft sward viciously.
"You are not very flattering to our company," said Roy, leaning on one elbow and smiling up lazily at the straight little figure beside him.
Mrs. Irving was lying down and the rest of the party was gathering about the camping place of the boys, some roaming about restlessly and others sitting upon the grass. It was a sultry, scorching day, when not a breeze came to temper the heat—a day when the slightest movement produces the effect, as Mollie had said, "of a fire lighted right under your nose." The young people were restlessly on edge, undecided what to do.
It was too hot to make the long-looked-for walk to the summer colony a possibility. Of course they could swim, but this they had done all morning long and one couldn't swim forever! This was the state of affairs then, when Mollie made her petulant remark.
"That's nonsense," she retorted, in reply to Roy. "It isn't the company I find fault with, it's the atmosphere."
Allen and Betty, who had come back from a little ramble in the woods, surveyed the scene thoughtfully.
"I tell you what we can do," said Allen, and the two on the grass regarded him hopefully. "We fellows have brought some fishing tackle—suppose we go out and try to get some fish for supper? That doesn't require much energy," he added.
"Allen, you have saved my life!" cried Mollie, springing up from the mossy rock, which had been her seat. "Can't we go right away? Oh, do call the others and ask them to hurry!"
"Take it easy," Roy cautioned, still stretched out on the grass. "You'll get all heated up again. Besides there's no such awful rush—we have all the time there is before us."
But Mollie was all action, now that there was some definite point in view.
She called the others to her, speaking quickly.
"We are going to catch some fish," she announced eagerly. "Or at least we are going to try to."
"Try is good," murmured Frank, but Mollie continued, unheeding.
"It is strange that I didn't remember before," she went on, "what Aunt Elvira said about the wonderful fishing pool about a mile away."
"A mile!" groaned Grace. "Do you mean to say that we have to walk a mile in this blazing heat?"
"Nobody has to," Mollie retorted. "It's only a question of wanting to. I'm going if I have to go alone."
"Oh, come on, Grace, be a sport," Frank coaxed. "Just think how nice and shady and cool it will be when we get there. It will be nice and shady and cool, won't it, Mollie?" he added, turning to her for confirmation.
"Nice rocks with great, big trees shading them and clear, cold water with lots of fish in it and—and—oh, everything!" she agreed in a burst of enthusiasm.
"That sounds mighty good to me," said Roy. "Now for the fishing tackle—where is it, fellows?"
"Oh, wait a minute," called Mollie, as they made a rush for the tents. "There are some rods up at the house, too. We might as well take all we can get."
"Good!" said Will. "I'll go with the girls, fellows, and help them while you are getting things ready."
Their present elation was very different from the apathy which had possessed them so short a time before. Indeed, Mollie's description of the fishing pool was very alluring.
"Whereabouts did you see the tackle, Mollie?" Will asked, as they entered the house.
"Oh, I can find it," said Mollie with conviction. "I think there were four rods. I hope I wasn't mistaken."
"If you were," said Amy, "one of us will have to sit still and watch!"
"And I think I know who that will be," said Will with a sly glance at his sister.
"Just for that," Grace retorted, "I'll show you the best catch of the day."
"We shall see," said Mollie, opening the door of a small closet under the stairs. "Look," she added, "there they are. You're a judge of rods, Will—how do these look?"
Will took them in his hands and examined them minutely. "They're pippins!" he exclaimed joyfully. "I don't know when I've seen a better outfit. You ought to be able to catch all the fish in the lake with these, girls," and he regarded them admiringly.
"We'd better watch out for the boys," said Amy, wisely, as they left the house. "They will be exchanging their rods for ours, if we aren't careful."
They all laughed, including Mrs. Irving, who had come downstairs. She had not been feeling well of late—the heat had been too much for her—but she had announced a strong desire to accompany the young folks, if they went very far from home.
They found the three boys industriously digging worms, and so intent were they in this absorbing occupation that they did not look up when the party approached.
"What are you doing?" Grace asked, and then, as Allen held up a wriggling candidate for the hook, she shivered and drew back in disgust.
"Ugh," she said, "how I hate the nasty things! Somebody will have to bait my hook for me. I couldn't do it in a million years."
"All right, nobody asked you to. How's that for a good fat one, eh?" asked Roy, as he held up an unusually fine one for her inspection.
"Why is it boys always have to tease?" Betty asked of the world in general. "We know you have to have worms for bait, but that doesn't make us like to look at them."
"Well, I guess that's enough," said Allen, clapping the top on the big tin box, and getting to his feet. "Now if the fish don't like the bait any better than you girls, I shouldn't wonder if we got done out of our supper."
"My aunt says they are wonderfully agreeable," said Mollie as they started down the path, "especially in that pool. She says they just fall over one another in their hurry to get caught."
"And you waited all this time to tell us about it," said Allen reproachfully. "And even then I had to suggest it."
"Yes, if it were just an ordinary pool you could understand it," Frank added. "But a marvel like this! Gee, those fish must be hungry!"
The Outdoor Girls and their companions tramped for what seemed to them a very long time, but at last they were rewarded by a vision of a beautiful glade—all trees and rocks and crystal-clear water.
"Well, this looks like something," said Will, drawing a deep breath. "I wouldn't mind camping here for the rest of the season."
Betty laughed. "You would either have to saw down about a hundred trees," she said, "or camp in the pool with the little fishes."
"Well, it might not be so bad at that," said Will, cheerfully, while he helped Amy over the uneven places. "I could have fish dinners if I wanted them anyway."
"Well, there is nothing like looking on the bright side of things," laughed Allen. "Look, Betty, here is a place that was just made for you. Seat and back and everything complete. Isn't it a dandy?"
"Do I dangle my feet over it?" asked Betty doubtfully, surveying the water beneath. "Suppose one of my slippers dropped off?"
"I suppose I'd go down and get it," he said, brushing the difficulty aside with a wave of his hand.
"But it would be ruined," wailed Betty. "They don't feel very tight, you know."
Allen ran his hand through his hair in evident perplexity. Then his brow cleared before the light of a sudden inspiration.
"Can't you take them off?" he asked eagerly.
"Allen!" she cried. "What an idea! Of course I can't."
"Well, what are you going to do then?" he demanded despairingly. "I've suggested everything I could think of and you certainly can't stand up all afternoon."
"What are you two talking about?" Grace demanded. "Don't you know you are blocking the way?"
"I don't want to put my feet over the edge," Betty explained. "And I don't know what else to do."
"Follow my example," Mollie suggested. "Sit on 'em."
"Good idea," Betty agreed. And she immediately plumped down on her two slim ankles, looking up at Allen invitingly. "You look so far away," she said. "When you sit down you are not nearly so impressive. There's plenty of room for two," and she patted the rock beside her.
Allen obediently stretched his long length on the turf at her side, letting his legs hang over.
"You see I'm not afraid to risk a dip in the aqua pura," he said. "It wouldn't ruin my dainty little gunboats."
"It looks as if nothing would hurt them but an axe," Frank remarked. He had seated himself next to Allen and Betty, after having made Grace comfortable, and was busily engaged in baiting his hook. "You'd better hurry up, Allen—we'll have all the fish in the place hooked before you get started."
"Oh, no you won't," said Allen. "Hand us some of those worms, Will, will you?"
"Don't let them come too near me, will you, Allen?" begged Betty. "I don't like them much more than Grace does."
"Anybody would think you were talking about some lion or tiger from the jungle," laughed Allen, as Will handed him the bait, "instead of three little, harmless, unoffending worms——"
"Who seem to be running in a streak of hard luck," Frank finished, as he cast his line into the water.
"It does seem foolish," Betty admitted, taking her rod from Allen's hand, "but I can't help it. Come, little fishes," she called, casting her line far out into the pool. "Right this way! You have got to live up to the reputation Mollie has given you."
Allen had just succeeded in landing a magnificent, big fish, and was holding it down to keep it from sliding into the water, when a terrified cry broke the stillness.
"Help! help! I am drowning."
For one stupefied instant, the fishers gazed dumbly at one another. Then Allen released his hold on the big fish, letting it slide unheeded into the water, and led the dash through the woods.
"Help! help!" called the voice again, fainter this time.
"Keep up your courage!" Allen shouted. "We are coming!"
NOT A MOMENT TOO SOON
"Oh, oh!" Betty almost sobbed, as they stumbled on over stumps and fallen logs. "If the boys can only get there in time—if they only can!"
As Allen was the first to start, so he was also the first to reach the water's edge. He was just in time to see two hands above the surface of the water—two hands clutching in anguish.
As he rid himself of his shoes in frantic haste, there was one thought and one only in his mind—to reach the helpless owner of those hands and bring her back to life and hope. He was sure it was a girl—those little appealing hands could belong to no other.
The next moment he was in the water, swimming desperately toward the point where he had seen the hands disappear.
Oh, he would never reach it! The water seemed to be some living thing, pushing him; driving him back to the shore in spite of himself! His muscles seemed weighted with lead, his sodden clothing dragged upon him mercilessly! Oh, he would never reach her in time—he couldn't!
Then a wild, hot thought flashed through his consciousness, searing it like a flame. Now was no time to say he could not! He must! He must! A life depended on his ability to reach that spot when the girl came to the surface again—if indeed she ever did. Ah, perhaps what he had seen had been the last time. Then he must dive, dive, dive until he found her, even though he lose his own life in the attempt.
But no—there right before him so near that he could almost touch it, a figure rose to the surface, struggling faintly.
With one supreme effort Allen forged ahead and grasped the skirt of the girl's bathing suit as she sank for the last time beneath the surface.
"Thank God!" he murmured, as he raised the girl's head, with its mass of tangled hair, above the water. "Oh, thank God!"
As he turned and started to swim slowly back to shore with his burden, he almost ran into the other three boys who had followed close upon his heels.
"Oh, you've got her, have you?" said Frank, unutterable gladness in his voice. "I was sure you would be too late."
"It may be yet," said Roy, "if we don't get her to shore pretty quick. Here, let me take her, old man—you're all tuckered out."
Allen willingly released his burden, and they swam as quickly as they could to the shore.
They found the girls waiting for them, with white, strained faces.
"Oh, oh!" cried Grace, as they lifted the poor little inert body on to the bank. "Oh, do you suppose she is dead?"
"Well, she will be if we don't hurry pretty fast," said Betty, her voice trembling but determined. "Boys, look about and see if you can find anything round and hard that we can use in place of a barrel. Oh, do hurry! Mollie, you take her other arm and move it up and down—that's the way—hard—hard."
Mollie did as she was told and in less time than seemed possible the boys returned bringing with them part of a fallen log. This Betty declared was the very thing.
For half an hour they worked over the unconscious form and more than once during that time, they had almost given up hope of bringing back the spark of life. Then, all at once, a change took place—the ashy look of her face gave way to a faint tinge of color—the blue lips parted in something very like a sigh, and her hands, which had been lying inert and lifeless at her side, twitched almost imperceptibly.
"Oh, she's coming back! she's coming!" cried Amy almost in tears. "Oh, I was sure she was dead!"
"Hush," Betty cautioned her in a whisper. "I think she knows what we are talking about," then bending over the girl she said very gently: "Do you feel better, dear?"
Slowly the eyelids fluttered, and the eyes gazed vaguely up into Betty's sweet ones. The lips moved and Betty bent down closer to listen.
"I don't know you, do I?" the words were almost inaudible. "I—I—don't seem to remember——"
"Don't try, my dear," said Betty soothingly, while two tears made their way down her face, only to be dashed away impatiently. "You have been through a terrible experience, and you don't have to think very hard just now—there is plenty of time."
Slowly, understanding replaced the vague wonder in the girl's eyes, and she reached out with an unsteady hand to touch Betty's white dress.
"I wanted to be sure you were real," she explained, smiling wistfully. "I was afraid you might vanish. Will you help me to remember?" she pleaded.
Betty's warm heart went out to the girl, and when she spoke her voice was full of pity and tenderness.
"I'll help you as far as I can," she promised. "You were swimming and something happened that made you cry for help. Luckily we happened to be near and one of the boys got you and brought you back to land. And here you are getting strong and well again," she finished brightly.
"Well, whoever you are, you're a dear," said the stranger, the emphasis showing how quickly she was gaining strength. "I remember now all about it. Mother and dad have told me over and over that I must not come over here alone; but the day was perfect for a swim and no one else would come, so I slipped off by myself. I was swimming all right, and then I was taken with cramps. Oh, oh, it was terrible!" and she covered her face with her hands to shut out the memory.
"Don't think of it," said Amy compassionately, kneeling down beside the girl and taking the cold hand in hers. "It's all over now, and you are safe and sound. Try just to remember that."
The girl looked up wonderingly at the sweet girlish faces gathered about her. "I think you must be a—a company of angels," a sharp sob broke the attempt at a laugh—for she was still very weak. "You are all so good to me I——"
"You would have done the same for any of us," said Betty, trying hard to keep her voice matter-of-fact. "So you needn't thank us for it. How are you feeling—better?"
"A great deal," answered the girl, with a grateful glance toward Betty. "I almost feel as if I could stand up."
"If you want to try, one of the boys will help you," Grace suggested, turning to the latter, who had been standing several feet back from the little group, natural delicacy forbidding them to intrude.
But now, being thus appealed to for help, they stepped forward like one person, offering assistance. They helped the girl to her feet and steadied her as she stood, weak and trembling.
She looked from one to the other with a wan little smile on her lips. "Which one of you have I to thank for—for saving me?" she asked.
"None of us," said Roy, with an attempt at gallantry which was rendered funny by his extremely sodden aspect. "It was a pleasure."
Noting the girl's bewilderment, Betty hastened to explain. "They all did it," she said; "but if credit is due to any one of them it must be given to Allen for reaching you first."
"Nonsense!" said Allen, abashed at being brought into the limelight. "I was nearer than the other fellows, that's all. What's the use of talking about it, anyway?"
"There is a good deal of use, I think," the girl answered softly. "If you people hadn't been so good and kind to me, I would have——" she paused before the word, and shivered again in her weakness.
"Don't think of it any more," Betty urged. "Now, what you most need is rest. If we could get you back to our cottage or, perhaps, to your own people——" she paused questioningly.
"Oh, please," said the girl, "if you could only get me back to the hotel, you don't know how grateful I would be. Mother and dad will be crazy."
"If we were only nearer our bungalow, we might take you back there and then send word to your mother and father," said Mollie, thoughtfully. "But I guess it is just about as far one way as the other."
"Yes, the best thing we can do," Mrs. Irving decided, "is to get her as quickly as possible to the summer colony. That is where you come from, isn't it?" she asked.
The girl nodded. All this time she had been standing, supported on either hand by Roy and Will. But now Allen had a suggestion to make.
"We could make a seat," he said, "and carry her the rest of the distance to the colony. The sooner we start the better it will be."
On this plan they agreed. Very naturally the girl was strainingly eager to relieve the anxiety of her parents—to let them know she was safe again.
Allen and Frank, being the stronger of the boys, volunteered to carry the slight girl—she was young, scarcely sixteen—for the first half mile. Then the other two boys were to carry her the rest of the distance.
In a moment the little procession was formed, and it started off for the woods, toward the summer colony. Allen and Frank moved in front with their burden, followed by the four girls and Mrs. Irving, while Roy and Will brought up the rear.
The boys were wet to the skin, and even on a scorching day in August that is anything but a pleasant sensation. Then, too, the way was rough, and the briers and brambles along the path scratched their hands and tore at their clothing. Ordinarily all these petty annoyances would have tended toward making them irritable and cross, but on this day all such trifles passed over their heads unnoticed. For had they not between them done a marvelous thing? To save one life—to have brought back from eternity one little soul—was there not joy enough in that to last them all their days? The girls thought there was.
After a walk that seemed endless, Will called out to the boys in the front: "Isn't it time for relief work, Allen? We must have traveled more than half a mile."
"We're not tired," Allen shouted back. "The hotel is right ahead—we can carry her for the rest of the way."
"Just as you say," Roy answered. "But we are ready whenever you want us."
"All right," called Allen. "We may be glad of your help yet;" and so the little party went on.
A few moments later they heard voices directly ahead, and Anita—for that, she had said, was her name—raised her voice excitedly. "They are probably coming in search of me," she cried, cheeks flushing with the hope of it. "I knew they would! Oh, I knew it! Dad! Conway!" she called.
"Nita! where are you?" a voice shouted back, unutterable relief vibrating in every syllable. "Call again!"
Anita obeyed with a will. "Just keep on the way you are coming. I'm all right, but please hurry!"
Then the two relief parties came face to face. Frank and Allen set the girl gently upon her feet and her father caught her in his arms. "You're safe!" he murmured over and over again. "My little girl!" and the others turned away before the depth of his emotion.
His weakness lasted only a moment, then recovering his self-control he handed Anita over to the affectionate bear hugs of an elder brother, and turned to his daughter's rescuers.
"Madam," he said to Mrs. Irving, "if you will tell me to whom I am indebted for Anita's safe return, I will try to thank him or her or all of you as the case may be. Although thanks at this time seem a small return for such a service."
"I am sure none of us wish any thanks for whatever little help we may have been able to render your daughter," Mrs. Irving answered, with grave courtesy. "We can only thank a kind fate for leading us within hearing distance of her appeal for help. The rest is simply what you and your son would have done for any of us had we been in similar danger."
"That doesn't make what you have done any the less splendid," Anita's brother broke in impulsively, holding his sister as though he would never let her go again. "Anita is tired now, but when we hear the whole story, I know we are going to be even more grateful to you than we were before—eh, Anita?"
"Oh, they were wonderful to me," said the girl, her eyes shining like stars. "If it hadn't been for them—I don't dare—think——" and again her hand flew to her eyes to shut out the horror of that awful moment.
Suddenly all Mrs. Irving's mother instinct rose to the fore, and she spoke impulsively. "Take the child home," she begged; "what she needs more than anything else is rest. You can see she is at the breaking point."
Mr. Benton looked at his daughter, who indeed was trembling like a leaf in her brother's arms, and saw the truth of the statement. "You are right," he said slowly. "We can't get Anita home too soon." Then, turning once more to Mrs. Irving, he added, while his eyes traveled over the group of girls and boys behind her: "Although we haven't time now to become better acquainted, we are going to stay here the rest of the summer, and if you expect to remain our neighbors——"
"Yes, father," broke in Anita, "they live at the bungalow at the other end of the island, and they have already invited Conway and me to visit them. When shall we go, Con?"
"As soon as you are able, sister dear," Conway Benton said fondly. "I'll be glad to go any time. Now we will have to get you home."
So, after many words of mutual understanding and friendliness, they parted and went on their separate ways.
"I guess we shall have just time to get the fish and reach the bungalow before dark," said Mrs. Irving, as our party started to retrace their steps with weary feet and joyful hearts.
It was not till they had nearly reached the fishing pool that Allen thought of his big fish.
"It was wicked to let that beauty go," he said, gazing ruefully into the pool. "He was the king of them all."
"Yes, but just see what you accomplished," Betty said at his elbow, softly. "What you did to-day is worth a million fish."
"Yes, and there are plenty more where that came from," he added, smiling down at her. "Now let's hike along home—I am getting hungry."
BENEATH THE MOON
"I have often read about it, but I never thought I would be fortunate enough to actually see it," said Amy, clasping her hands behind her head, and gazing out at the blue of an azure sky.
The four girls were seated on the steps of the veranda talking, talking over the events of the day before and speculating as to the future.
"Well, it scared me nearly to death," said Grace, who was curled up on the lower step, with a cushion brought from the house acting as head rest. "I declare when I saw them drag her up on the bank, Betty, I thought that she was dead. She looked so drawn and white, and——"
"Well, you couldn't expect her to look particularly rosy and happy, after all she had been through," Mollie remarked. "If I had been doused under water as long as that poor girl was I would not only have looked dead, I'd have been it."
"Oh, I don't know," Grace retorted lazily. "If I'm not mistaken it would take a good deal to stop that tongue of yours, Mollie."
"Speak for yourself," Mollie was beginning angrily, when Betty entered into the conversation. She had been dreamily studying the shimmering ripples the soft wind had stirred upon the surface of the water.
"Some day," she began in a sing-song voice, her eyes still fixed on the distance, "I'm just going to let you two go on to the bitter finish. I shouldn't wonder if you will be like the two cats of Kilkenny. You remember what they did, don't you?"
"No, what?" asked Mollie, and Grace added: "We might just as well know where our bad tempers are going to land us. What did they do, Betty?"
"They fought and they fit and they scratched and they bit," chanted Betty, "till instead of two cats there weren't any."
"I guess we had better take warning while there is still time, Grace," said Mollie, with a little laugh. And so for the time being at least peace was restored.
"But when do you suppose Anita and her brother will come to see us?" asked Amy. "I do hope it won't be very long."
"I think Amy likes Conway," said Grace, then turning to Betty she asked meaningly: "Do you, by any chance, believe in love at first sight?"
"Oh, I think it can be done," Betty answered, her eyes twinkling with fun as she looked at Amy's flushed face. "At least, I do believe in strong attractions at the first meeting. Perhaps that is all Amy has felt just yet."
"Oh, girls!" implored Amy, in an agony of bashfulness, "I don't like Conway Benton one bit more than any of the rest of you, and you know it. I think it is mean for you to tease."
"Oh, Amy, dear, it is only fun," cried Betty, throwing an arm about her friend. "We don't really think that you have been smitten with a stranger's charms. Still stranger things have happened."
"I don't agree with you," said Amy, and they wisely forbore to pursue the subject.
"Oh, but didn't that fish taste good last night?" said Mollie, coming down to every-day matters. "I never ate anything like it in all my life."
"That's because we caught it ourselves," said Grace, unconsciously voicing a common trait in human nature.
"Let's take fish out of the conversation for a little while," Betty suggested, "and talk about something romantic."
"For instance?" Grace inquired, with uplifted eyebrows.
"The gypsies," Betty answered. "Ever since the other night I've been wondering if there was anything in what that old store-keeper said."
"I hope not," said Amy, with a shudder. "I am more afraid of them than anything else in the world, I think."
"I don't see why," Mollie reflected. "Probably they are a great deal more afraid of us."
"Well, all gypsies are akin, they say; so maybe we could find out something about Mr. Ford's Beauty and about Mrs. Billette's silver," returned Betty.
"Oh, don't talk about that," cried Mollie. "It fairly makes me sick, for I'm sure we shall never hear of the things again."
"I wonder when the boys are going to try to ford to the islands?" said Grace. "The tide's getting low now."
"Hello! where is everybody?" it was Will's voice calling from the woods. "We are going for a paddle—who wants to come along?"
"Ask us," called Betty. "We were just hoping you'd come to life."
"Ah, the voice of the siren," called Will, over his shoulder. "Come on, fellows, let's break up this galaxy of beauty."
The boys sauntered up to the group of girls, and sprawled upon the steps wherever there was room.
"Where have you kept yourselves all morning?" Mollie inquired, as Frank drew a bur from her white skirt. "If you hadn't come pretty soon, we were going over to look for you."
"Oh, just around clearing up," Frank replied, with a vague little gesture. "If we had known how much you wanted to see us, we would have left some things undone."
"You needn't have hurried on my account," Grace drawled. "I don't know when I have ever felt happier than I did before you came. Oh, Roy, do look out, you are sitting on my dress."
Roy rose with alacrity. "Gee! a fellow can't do anything around here without getting sat on," he complained.
"It seems to me it was Grace's dress that was being sat on that time, not you," Betty remarked, with a glint of mischief in her eyes. "I wonder if anybody else has ever noticed," she went on, "the funny habit all you boys have of blaming somebody else for blaming you."
"You're away too deep for me, Betty," Roy protested with a shake of his head. "That must be a mighty funny habit."
"To change the subject," said Allen, rising and stretching his arms far above his head, as if to make sure his muscles were still in good condition, "who wants to share a nice little canoe with me? Your aunt sure knew what she was doing, Mollie."
"We would all like to go, I know," said Betty, with a doubtful glance at the fast sinking sun. "Only I am afraid it is pretty near dinner time."
"Well, I tell you what we'll do," said Frank, with sudden inspiration. "We'll postpone our canoeing trip till to-night. There is going to be a fine moon."
"What difference does that make?" Grace asked severely. "I think we had better go now, and have a fire this evening."
"Oh, Grace, don't be a kill-joy," said her brother. "It is going to be too wonderful a night to spend indoors."
"Well, if Mrs. Irving says so," she began, and they all knew it was settled.
"Have dinner early, will you?" Roy urged, taking out his watch. "It is a quarter past five now. Can you be ready to start by six?"
"Oh, long before," Mollie assured him, rising hurriedly, and starting toward the house, while the others followed her example.
Then after a whispered consultation with the girls at the door, she turned and threw the boys a merry glance.
"If you are very good," she said, "we will let you eat with us to-night."
"Fine!" cried Allen. "And biscuits, Betty?"
"Biscuits," she answered.
They were hilarious all during the meal. In the first place, everything was delicious, and in the second, everybody was in the best of spirits.
Afterward they cleared away the dishes in no time, and the four girls, Mrs. Irving having refused to be of the party, ran upstairs to get the light wraps that were always needed at night. The boys met them outside as they rushed down laughing and breathless, and ready for a good time.
"I hope it doesn't take the moon till twelve o'clock to show itself," said Will, as they made their way down the walk and on to the float where the canoes were attached. "Mrs. Irving says that we are to be back by ten o'clock at the latest."
"That will give us plenty of time," Frank answered. "Don't you remember we saw it a little after seven last night?"
"It's lucky these canoes are eighteen feet long," said Allen, as he unfastened the rope. "Otherwise we would have to take turns paddling."
"Who's going to do the work first?" asked Betty. Then she added: "I love to paddle."
"If nobody has any objection," said Allen, "you shall. Grace, you drop into the middle with Frank, until it comes your turn to do the work. Betty may like it, but I must say I'd rather watch you people slave."
"All right, we'll go fifty-fifty with you," Frank agreed cheerily. "Here, Grace, step in the middle—that's the way. Now we are all settled. Let her go, Captain."
Allen swung himself into the stern, and deftly pushed the canoe clear of the swaying float. "All right," he sang out. "Left hand or right, Betty? It makes no difference to me. Now for the moon."
"Look out, Allen, you are getting poetical," warned Betty, as she dipped her paddle into the clear water. "Many a man has reached for the moon, only to find that he had plucked some green cheese."
"Are you sure it wasn't limburger?" asked Frank, mildly for so strong a subject.
"Ugh, don't!" cried Grace. "How I hate even the name of the horrid stuff!"
"And on a night like this, too," said Betty. "Can't we talk about something less odoriferous?"
"Remember you started it," said Frank defensively.
"Yes, I know, but what I spoke of is such a wee little cousin to——"
"Is that the dipper up there, Frank?" Grace asked, in haste to change the subject. "Somehow it doesn't look natural."
Frank squinted aloft. "That's our same old friend," he said. "By the way, speaking of dippers, I am getting thirsty."
"Well, I can't give you a drink, but I can feed you. Have a chocolate?" cried Grace.
"Oh, Grace!" protested Betty, "you never brought chocolates along?"
"To be sure I did. Why not?"
"You are hopeless," laughed Frank.
"Look at that shooting star," said Betty, pointing with her paddle. "Oh, that was a beauty!"
"Did you wish on it?" asked Grace eagerly.
"I didn't know I had to. Goodness, did I throw away an opportunity?" Betty's tone was dismayed.
"Why, of course," said Grace, with an air of superiority. "It's bad luck if you don't."
"All right, I won't let the next one escape," Betty promised.
And so they went on and on, enjoying the shadowy stillness of the night, and later revelling in the silver radiance of the moonlight.
It was not until they started on their journey side by side with the other canoe that Allen broached a subject that had been almost entirely forgotten in the excitement of the last few days.
"Say, when are you and Frank going to practice for the big race, Betty?" he asked. "I am mighty anxious to see it."
"To-morrow morning, I guess," said Betty, then added suddenly: "I don't see why Frank and I should furnish all the fun. Why don't you all join in? It would be ever so much more exciting."
"That's a good idea," said Allen. "I'll do it if the rest are willing. How about it, Grace?"
"I'm willing," she replied. "Oh, I have a bright idea!"
"Shoot!" said Frank inelegantly.
"Suppose we take our lunch," she went on enthusiastically, "and have a regular old-fashioned picnic in the woods beyond the camp."
"Grace, you are a marvel," cried Betty. "I can't think of anything I'd like better. Swimming in the morning and a party in the afternoon! Oh, every day is more wonderful than the last!"
The sunbeams danced across the shimmering water and into the room where the Outdoor Girls lay sleeping. They made patches on the floors and ceiling, and showered Mollie's face with golden darts.
She moved restlessly and raised her hand as though to ward off this invader of her dreams, muttering softly, "Oh—don't——" Gradually she passed from sleeping to waking and, realizing the cause of the disturbance, sat up in bed with a start.
"Oh, the world's on fire with sunshine! What a day to swim! Now, as soon as I can rouse these sleeping beauties, I'll proceed to get breakfast."
"Oh, A—my!" she called aloud, giving the bed such a thump that Amy's eyes sprung wide open on the instant—wide and startled. "Are you going to sleep for-ever? Oh, I'm hungry!" with which words she sprang out of bed and began dressing hastily.
For once Amy seemed to agree with her chum, for the moonlight sail of the night before with only Grace's candies to nibble on had left them ravenous.
"All right," she said, sitting up and looking toward the bed in the far corner of the big room. "Betty and Grace are just yawning themselves awake. We ought to beat them dressed easily."
"We don't care," came Betty's sleepy voice. "Whoever gets down first has to get the breakfast, you know."
Even this did not daunt Mollie. She did not mind getting breakfast at all. In her own words, "she could smell the good things that much longer." So now her only answer was: "Sleepy-head," uttered in a severe tone.
"I don't care," came the defiant answer, "it's mighty nice to feel sleepy sometimes," and Betty stretched luxuriously.
"Oh, dear!" said Grace irritably, "it seems to me life is one long succession of getting ups and going to beds."
"The last isn't as hard as the first, is it, Gracy?" Mollie teased.
"Probably if you could sleep, you wouldn't want to," replied Grace.
"Oh, if any one would only give you the chance!" and Betty gave Grace an affectionate little shake. "Some time we won't call you, Grace," she laughed. "I'd like to find out just how long you could sleep, if you were left to yourself."
"Goodness, I wouldn't like to chance it," said Mollie, slipping a middy over her head. "I am afraid we would have to carry her home at the end of the summer—a sleeping beauty still."
"Or a still sleeping beauty," Betty suggested. "That would be more to the point."
"Suits me exactly," Grace drawled, "as long as the prince is handsome enough."
"Always the prince," groaned Mollie, giving Grace up in despair—then added, as she opened the door preparatory to flight: "Frank is quite good looking. Come on, Amy!"
"I don't see what that has to do with it!" Grace retorted; but only a sharp click of the door and a little derisive laugh in the hall outside answered her. "Oh, well," she added, sitting up and regarding Betty reproachfully as if that young person were responsible, "I suppose I have got to get up."
"Of course, and make yourself charming for the prince," said Betty, pinning a rose at exactly the right angle in her soft white waist. "You don't have to be a sleeping beauty to find him, you know," she added sagely.
"You seem to know a lot about it," said Grace, regarding her friend soberly. "I shouldn't wonder if you had found him, Betty."
Betty turned sharply to see if she were joking, then the soft color flooded her face. "Nonsense!" she said, but her tone was not convincing.
"Yes, you have," said Grace, not to be put off. "I can tell by the way you look at him, and the way he looks at you and oh—and—a hundred little things." She waved her hand vaguely.
"Oh, Gracy, don't be foolish," said Betty, recovering her usual composure. "If you don't look out I'll begin to get personal. You needn't think you are the only one that has eyes."
"Oh, well," said, Grace, flushing in her turn. "If you are going to begin that—— Oh, Betty, just smell the bacon! Please hand me that shoe, quick!"
"Oh!" cried Betty, and drew back as a small stone flung by some one below hurtled through the open window and fell to the floor at her feet. "Look! It has something tied to it," she cried, and, stooping, picked it up.
"Bring it here," called Grace excitedly. "Oh, this is romantic! Betty, let me see it, quick!"
"Wait a minute, I haven't seen it myself yet," said Betty, as she unfolded the tiny slip of paper attached to the stone. "Well, of all the——"
Grace looked over her shoulder and this is what the two girls read:
"When are you coming out? The water's fine."
With one accord they rushed to the window through which the message had come and leaned far out. But look as they might in every direction, there was no sight nor sound of human beings. The grounds about the house and even the woods seemed deserted.
The girls drew back in, looked at each other in perplexity, then their gaze instinctively traveled to the note still held in Betty's hand.
"Well," Grace announced, "it seems that we have here a key to some mystery——"
"Mystery nothing!" Betty interrupted disrespectfully. "We know who wrote this—there is no mistaking Roy's scrawl. The senders have decamped—that's all."
"Speak of princes——" said Grace, as they went out arm in arm.
"And they are sure to turn up," Betty finished merrily.
Mollie's breakfast was good. And the young folks ate with the healthy appetites of youth. Mrs. Irving left the table early to get herself ready to go over to the summer colony where she had promised to spend the day with friends who were summering there. The girls had scarcely finished their breakfast when the boys broke in upon them.
"You girls eat too much," Frank complained, when the first greetings were over. "Now, if you only had our dainty little appetites——"
"The best way to treat some people," put in Mollie significantly, "is to pay no attention to them or their remarks."
"Is she speaking to me or at me?" Frank inquired good-humoredly.
"Oh, it is just a general slam at the sex," laughed Allen, who had not taken his eyes from Betty and the pink rose. "We ought to be hardened by this time."
"Yes, you are terribly ill-treated, aren't you?"
Betty sympathized and remarked: "It is truly a case for the S. P. C. A.—I mean the S. P. C. C.," she corrected hastily, while the girls laughed merrily and the boys looked injured.
"That's the worst yet, Betty," Will reproached her. "You needn't make out you didn't mean it, either—we know better."
"Oh, all right," said Betty, her eyes twinkling. "Have it your own way."
"To change the subject," Roy broke in, "what are you girls all togged up for—didn't you get my message?"
"Of course," said Grace. "You nearly put Betty's eyes out with it."
"Sorry," said Roy, with a quick glance at Betty's nearly injured eyes, which had never looked brighter than at that instant. "They look pretty good to me. But that brings me back to my first query—why are you girls all dressed up?"
"Well, you know we could hardly wear our bathing suits down to breakfast. Imagine a lot of sea nymphs boiling eggs and frying bacon!" ejaculated Mollie.
"Besides," Betty argued, "it's just as much trouble to put ugly things on as it is pretty ones——"
"And they don't look as nice," Frank finished.
"Exactly!" said Betty. "And now if you will excuse us we'll put on our suits, and show you boys how to swim. Come on, girls!"
"You can't be too quick to suit me," Allen called after them.
Mollie made a little face at him from the doorway. "Anxious to meet your Water-loo?" she mocked impishly, and before he could answer had followed the girls up the stairway.
The boys raced back to camp to prepare themselves for the swim, and a few minutes later met the girls coming from the house.
"You see you didn't have to wait," said Amy. "We are as anxious as you to get into the water this morning. Oh, I can almost feel it!"
"Let's run," suggested Mollie. "Somehow to-day I can't be sedate. I'll race everybody to the bank."
She broke into a run, and the others followed—bringing up at the edge of the water a moment later, breathless but glowing. This time no one hesitated, not even Amy. They ran out into the tepid water, then plunged in, swimming with strong, even, steady strokes.
It had been decided that all were to take part in the race—consequently all were bent on losing not one moment of practice. They swam, off and on, for the whole morning—occasionally throwing themselves upon the mossy bank, to rest and get their breath, then going at it again with renewed vigor and resolve.
It was only when the position of the sun and acute pangs of hunger warned them that it was long past their luncheon hour, that they decided it was time to turn their attention to other things.
"I left the basket back at the house," said Mollie, when they had come to this conclusion. "I thought probably we would like to get dressed before we ate."
"Oh, why?" Will protested. "It's a scorching hot day, and we'll probably want to go in for a swim later on, anyway."
"Why not slip a skirt and middy over our bathing suits?" Betty suggested. "By the time we reach the house, our suits will be dry. Mine is almost, now."
"Good!" said Grace. "We'll feel more respectable, and if we do want to go in for a swim later it won't be any trouble at all to take them off."
So it was decided, and they all tramped off through the woods, laughing, merry, and friends with the world.
A MARVELOUS DISCOVERY
Upon reaching the house the Outdoor Girls ran upstairs while the boys went back to camp to get some things they thought they might need. A few moments later the girls rejoined them.
"Where shall we go?" Roy, who was leading the van, paused and looked behind him. "Let's take some different part of the wood—some place we haven't explored yet."
"If there is any," Allen agreed.
"There is some place, for we have not yet found the gypsies Mollie's old store-keeper told her about," put in Betty.
"Very well, then, trot ahead, Roy, we'll follow you."
"All right, but don't blame me if we are lost."
"Oh, if there is any danger of that," said Amy, pulling away and looking back longingly, "perhaps we better stick to what we know."
"Oh, Roy is only talking to hear himself talk," Will assured her. "It isn't possible to get lost on this island, even if you wanted to. All we would have to do would be to follow the shore and sooner or later we'd be bound to come upon 'The Shadows.'"
Amy saw the reason in this and was reassured. "All right," she said; "but it wouldn't be very much fun to get lost."
"Why not?" demanded Will, and she looked at him in surprise.
"Well, would it?" she asked wonderingly.
"It would be the greatest little lark ever," he said so decidedly that Amy blushed. "We'd have some excitement for a little while, anyway."
When they had walked a little farther into the woods Roy stopped again, and, pointing before him, called out: "We have found just the place, people—it's Arcadia itself."
They crowded about him, gazing in the direction he had pointed out. It was a wonderful island, this—where you were always stumbling into some little glade or woodland bower made especially for you. Surely this tiny garden spot of nature was even more alluring than the famous fishing pool, and the girls pushed forward eagerly.
"That big flat stone over there will be just the very thing to spread the eatables out on," said Grace, "and I guess we can all manage to get around it, too."
"Of course we can," said Mollie enthusiastically. "It's exactly the right height. Oh, every thing is perfect!"
"If you girls will only stop raving long enough to get us something to eat," said Will plaintively, "you'll be doing some good in the world. Gee, but I'm hungry!"
"Poor boy," said Betty, with ready sympathy, "I know just exactly how you feel, because I'm nearly dead myself. Hand over the basket, Allen, please, and I'll spread the cloth."
"You bet I will!" said Allen readily. "I'll help you fix things."
"Look out for him, Betty," Roy cautioned. "He's got his eye on the good things."
"What good does that do?" sighed Allen. "I'd rather have my teeth on them."
"So say we all of us," laughed Frank. "Can't I help, too, Betty?"
"Of course—all of you," the Little Captain agreed, magnanimously. "Come on, girls—stop admiring the view and help with these things."
"Oh! will we?" cried Mollie, and all made a rush for the baskets. "What's first? You've got the table cloth? Well, then the napkins next and the sandwiches—and the biscuits, and—oh, boys, you never could guess——" Mollie sat back on her heels and regarded them laughingly. "Think of the thing you want most in the world," she said. "That's it!"
"There are lots of things I want," Frank began, but Roy interrupted him.
"There is only one thing in the world that is better than anything else," he said.
"And that?" the others queried breathlessly.
"Plum pudding!" He pronounced the two words with the reverence due them.
Grace stared at him in amazement. "How did you know?" she stammered. "It's almost uncanny."
"Not at all," said Roy, with a superior air. "It's perfectly simple—I smelled it."
"Oh, so that was the blithe and savory odor that assailed our nostrils a short time ago," said Frank. "But my hopes never soared to the heights of plum pudding."
"And here is the hard sauce," said Mollie, passing it around from one to the other as though it had been a precious jewel. "Amy made it—all of powdered sugar—with perhaps a little egg and butter thrown in—and I know it is delicious."
"You had better put that out of sight till we get through eating other things, Mollie," Betty cautioned. "The boys will be starting at the wrong end of the meal."
"Yes, and spoil their appetites," Amy added, while Mollie removed the temptation.
However, from the way the good things disappeared, there seemed no reason for Amy's fears—appetites like those were proof even against plum pudding.
At last the picnickers stretched themselves, replete and happy, upon the soft grass, to discuss a further course of action.
"What shall we do next?" asked Betty, after a somewhat lengthy pause. "Are we going to take a walk or swim some more or just stay here?"
"You've got the right idea," Roy commended.
"Which?" she asked, with uplifted eyebrows. "I suggested three things."
"The last of course," he answered, plucking a piece of long grass and beginning to chew the end of it. "I don't know what you put in that plum pudding, but it has made me everlastingly sleepy. I'd like to take a nice long nap;" and a prodigious yawn gave truth to his words.
"How interesting," Grace mocked. "Mrs. Irving warned Mollie that it might have such an effect—in fact, she said it was too hearty for hot weather. Behold we have the proof of her words."
"For goodness' sake, Roy, brace up!" cried Will, in a stage whisper. "Can't you see what you are doing? If you keep this up they won't give us any more. Brace up!"
Seeing the wisdom of this, Roy did his best to "brace up," but the girls only laughed at him.
"We are sleepy, too," Amy confessed, "so we won't tell. Besides, don't you suppose we like plum pudding?"
"Good!" said Roy, leaning back against the tree with a relieved sigh. "Now we can act naturally."
However, the Outdoor Girls and their boy chums were too active to remain quiet long, even after plum pudding. Allen was the first to become restless, and the others soon caught it from him. He rose, went through some gymnastic exercises, then looked about him curiously. "I wonder if there are any more places like this hereabout?" he said. "Does anybody want to take a little tramp and find out? You look about as energetic as a bunch of turtles. Come on, let's do something."
"Why do something when we can get lots more fun out of doing nothing?" asked Roy lazily. "What wouldst have us do?"
"I just told you," Allen's tone showed disgust. "Isn't there one among you with any pep at all? How about you, Betty? You're usually the one to start things."
Betty looked up at him with a slow, tantalizing little smile. "That's why I am letting you take the lead this time," she purred. "I thought I'd wait and see who'd make the first move."
"And I am going to force the second move," and before she could guess what he was going to do, he leaned over, caught her two hands in his and pulled her to her feet. "Now, you are going to take a little walk with me, young lady. If the rest of this lazy crowd don't want to come along, they know what they can do!"
The Little Captain blinked at him uncertainty. "You might tell me what you are going to do," she complained. "Look, Allen—you hurt me!"
He regarded the brown little hand, held up for his inspection, anxiously. "I don't see anything," he said. "But if I hurt it I am sorry," and he stroked the place that should have been red.
"If you are going, why don't you go?" Grace demanded, then added meaningly: "I guess they are glad we are lazy."
"Please don't make any insinuations," said Betty, her nose in the air, but Allen sent a laughing shot back at them before they disappeared into the denser wood.
"You can eat another plum pudding if you like," he said.
Frank chuckled audibly. "Wise old chap—Allen," he remarked.
"I wish we could take his advice," mourned Amy. "If you boys hadn't been such pigs, we might have had some pudding left."
"Oh, why didn't you make more?" was Will's uncivil comment.
For a long time Allen and Betty wandered through the woods, seeing nothing and hearing nothing but the usual sights and sounds of the forest—and seemingly quite content to go on in that way forever.
It was Allen who first broke the silence. "I wish you would tell me what you are thinking about so hard, Betty. It must be very interesting, because you haven't said a word to me since we left that lazy crowd back there. 'Fess up!"
Betty flushed faintly. "You should never ask what a person thinks about on a beautiful summer, day when she is wandering through the woodland with—with——"
"Whom?" Allen prompted softly. "Go on, Betty, finish the story."
"Can't," she smiled up at him roguishly. "It's one of those 'to be continued.'"
He caught her hand, but she drew it away quickly. "Allen, what's this?" she cried.
She had accidentally brushed aside some brambles that had caught on her dress, and there close beside them, so near that she could thrust her hand into the opening, yawned the cavernous black mouth of a cave.
Allen drew her aside quickly. "Don't go near it," he commanded, in a tone that made Betty look at him in surprise. "I'm suspicious of these caves until I have investigated them myself. I am going to have a look, Betty. You stay where you are."
But the Little Captain had not been so named for nothing. She seized Allen's arm, and drew him back from the opening.
"Allen, if you go in there, I'm going, too," she cried, her eyes blazing. "Do you suppose I'm going to stand here, and see you get eaten up by a—a——"
"A what?" said Allen, putting his hands on her shoulders and laughing down at her.
"Well, whatever there is in the cave," she finished lamely. "Anyway, I'm going in with you."
"Betty, do be reasonable," he pleaded, but she flared up at that.
"Do you know, Allen, there is nothing a girl hates more than to have a boy ask her to be reasonable, when she knows she is? Anyway," her voice lowered and she pleaded her turn. "Anyway, it's lots worse to see anybody get hurt, anybody that you like, that is, than it is to get hurt yourself."