THE MEADOW-BROOK GIRLS AFLOAT
Or, The Stormy Cruise of the Red Rover
Author of The Meadow-Brook Girls Under Canvas, The Meadow-Brook Girls Across Country, The Meadow-Brook Girls in the Hills, etc.
I. SCENTING A MYSTERY
II. CRAZY JANE MAKES A DISCOVERY
III. SETTING UP HOUSEKEEPING
IV. A SUDDEN AWAKENING
V. LAND HO!
VI. CAPTAIN GEORGE MAKES A FIND
VII. A MYSTERIOUS NIGHT JOURNEY
VIII. THE ISLAND OF DELIGHT
IX. THE TRAMP CLUB IS ALARMED
X. THEIR SUSPICIONS AROUSED
XI. MARGERY MAKES A CUSTARD
XII. MAKING AN EXCITING DISCOVERY
XIII. AN EARLY MORNING SURPRISE
XIV. THE MIDNIGHT ALARM
XV. THE ROUT OF THE PIRATE CREW
XVI. A MIDNIGHT VISITOR
XVII. A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE
XVIII. A FRUITLESS SEARCH
XIX. THE TRAMP CLUB FINDS A CLUE
XX. JANE PLAYS EAVESDROPPER
XXI. A DOUBLE SURPRISE
XXII. SPOOKS OF THE LONESOME ISLE
XXIII. ON A STORMY CRUISE
SCENTING A MYSTERY
"I wouldn't advise you young ladies to take the boat out."
Miss Elting instantly recalled the message from her brother. The telegram was in her pocket at that moment, "If you have any trouble, Dee Dickinson will see that you are protected," read the message. It was Dee Dickinson who had spoken to her that moment.
Dee had made a distinctly unfavorable impression on Miss Elting, the guardian and companion of the Meadow-Brook Girls. Her brother's fishing boat had been left in the care of this man by her brother Bert, who had now turned it over to his sister and the Meadow-Brook Girls for their summer vacation.
"Why not?" questioned the young woman in answer to his words of warning. "Isn't the boat in good condition?"
"Oh, yes. That is, it isn't by any means in a sinking condition."
"Then why do you advise us not to use it?"
"The lake gets rather rough at times, you know," he replied evasively.
"My brother wrote you that we were coming up here, did he not?"
"Oh, yes. But you see it's been a year since he used the old scow. She is a year older, now, and—"
"I am quite sure that my brother would not have permitted us to take the houseboat were it not perfectly safe for us to do so. Please tell me what is the matter with it?"
"There's nothing the matter with it, I tell you, except that it's an old fishing scow with a roof over it. It isn't a fit place for a party of young ladies," Dee replied, with a shrug of his shoulders. "Of course, if you are set on taking the boat, I'll have to get it ready for you; but, if anything happens to it, remember that I warned you."
"We shall not forget," answered the guardian dryly. "If it stays on top of the lake we surely cannot expect anything more. Where is the boat?"
"A couple of miles down the lake."
"Kindly direct us so that we may find it, and—"
"No, no," interposed Dickinson hastily. "I'll have it brought up here to the dock, so you can get at it more easily. There'll be some things you will wish to do to it. Having it here at Wantagh will be much more convenient for you. I'll try to have it here for you by to-night, or early in the morning. But you'll be sick of your bargain, I promise you that."
"Do you mean us to infer that the boat is not safe?" interjected Harriet Burrell.
"I haven't said so," answered the man rather sharply, turning to her. "I've told you that it isn't the kind of craft for young women to live on all summer."
"We shall decide that matter ourselves," returned Miss Elting coldly.
"Very good. Suit yourselves."
"I think you had better take us to the boat now before anything further is done in the matter."
"No. You had better have it brought here," persisted Dickinson. "Do you know where Johnson's dock is?"
The guardian hesitated. She was regarding the man with some suspicion.
"It's at the foot of the second street beyond, down that way. I'll have the boat down there in a couple of hours. I've got to get a motor boat, or something of the sort to tow it down. It probably will leak some, not having been in the water this season until yesterday. You had better go over to the hotel and get your dinner. I'll come up and let you know when the scow is ready. Go right over and make yourself at home. I'll do the best I can. Bert's an old friend of mine."
Dickinson hurried away, without further words. The girls looked at each other and laughed.
"Well, if Dee Dickinson is a friend of your brother, I must say I don't admire your brother's friends," declared Harriet.
"That ith what I thay," agreed Grace Thompson.
"Tommy, you shouldn't have said that," reproved Hazel Holland.
"She didn't. Harriet said it," retorted Margery.
"Buster is right," laughed Jane McCarthy. "Come on, girls! Let's go to dinner, as the shifty-eyed gentleman advised. I hope it is dinner. I never could get used to luncheon in the middle of the day when Nature intended that a girl should have a full meal of the real food. Where is the old hotel?"
"I don't know, Jane. There is something strange about this affair. I am sure that Bert must have known what he was about, or he wouldn't have sent me the message he did. However, we shall see. There is no need to borrow trouble. We shall know how to deal with it when we meet it face to face. Let's go and look for this hotel that our friend, Mr. Dee, has recommended."
Getting into the automobile Jane started her car, and they drove through the town in search of the hotel, which they found after a few inquiries. The prosperous village of Wantagh was located on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. It was there that Miss Elting's brother had begun to practice law, but after one year's practice in the little village had listened to the call of the West. He had left in Wantagh the old scow, dignified by the name of "houseboat" to which was attached the further title of "Red Rover." It was in this lumbering craft that Miss Elting and her young friends, the Meadow-Brook Girls, had planned to spend part of their summer vacation. Their meeting with Dickinson, in whose care the boat had been left, was quite discouraging. Dee was not a prepossessing fellow; what impressed them most unfavorably about him was his shifty eyes. He seldom permitted himself to meet the gaze of the person with whom he was talking.
Some inquiry, after reaching the hotel, developed the fact that Dee Dickinson was a notary, did a little real estate business, and drew a few papers for his neighbors, thus managing to eke out a precarious living. So far as the girls were able to find out, Dickinson's character was above reproach. Miss Elting chided herself for having formed a wrong opinion of the man. Still she could not overcome her irritation at his evident reluctance in getting the boat ready.
It was quite late in the afternoon when Dee appeared at the hotel, red of face, his clothes soiled and wet.
"Well, we got the old thing," was his greeting.
"Is the boat here?" inquired the guardian coldly.
"Yes, Miss Elting. It's down at Johnson's dock this very minute. You can go down there and look at it. I've got some business to—"
"Please go with us. There will be things about it which we shall wish to ask you. Does the boat leak much?"
He shook his head.
"It's all right," he said. "I can't spare the time to go to-day."
"If I might venture to offer to pay you for your trouble," suggested the guardian, not certain whether he would resent her offer of money. Dickinson, however, was not easily insulted.
"Of course, if—if you wish, I—yes, of course," he mumbled.
Miss Elting handed him two dollars. Dickinson led the way down to the dock, though without enthusiasm.
"There's the tub," he said, pointing toward what appeared, at first glance, to be a huge box. "That is it."
The girls walked out on the dock and stood gazing at the boat. In the first place, the "Red Rover" was not red at all. It had once had a prime coat of yellow paint, but this had succumbed to storm and sunshine. The windows had been boarded up; and the exterior of the craft bore out all that Dee Dickinson had said of it.
"Thirty feet on the water line," explained the man, for want of something better to say.
The boat, originally, had been a scow used for the purpose of towing the effects of summer residents of the island across the lake. Bert Elting had bought it for a small sum of money, and had built the house over it. He and a friend, had spent many days and nights aboard, anchored out on the fishing grounds. When they desired to change their location a launch usually could be found to tow them about.
At each end of the house there was a cockpit some three feet long. In other words the house did not extend the full length of the boat. At the rear there was a long-handed tiller. The boat was flat as a floor.
"If the inside is as handsome as the outside, we shall have the nightmare all the time," declared Margery.
"We had better look at the inside," reflected Miss Elting.
There were doors at each end. The girls entered by the rear door.
"Mercy!" exclaimed the guardian. "How warm it is in here. Mr. Dickinson, is there any glass in those windows?"
Dickinson shook his head.
"Then please knock out the boards."
Harriet already was doing this. She succeeded in ripping off a few planks, letting in the fresh air and sunlight. What they saw then did not please them. The floor was covered with rubbish. There was food scattered about, the walls were greasy. At one side stood an old stove, red with rust, its pipe dented in, and the ashes heaped high on the floor where the last occupant had left them.
Harriet stepped over by the stove to get a different perspective of the interior of the old craft. She rested one hand on the stove, but withdrew it quickly. She seemed about to say something, then abruptly checked her speech.
"Girls," said Miss Elting, "I don't know whether we shall be able to do anything with this boat or not. What do you think?"
"Of course we shall," answered Harriet promptly. "A good scrubbing and a little fixing up will make a delightful summer home of it."
"This is my treat, you know," interjected Jane. "That is, you know Miss Elting was to furnish the boat and I was to do all the rest."
"Oh, no! We couldn't permit you to do that," answered the guardian.
"A bargain's a bargain," declared Jane. "I'll get the paint. You folks, in the meantime, look the place over and see what else you need. I'll go back to the village for the things you decide on when we get ready for them."
"What color shall we paint the boat?" questioned Miss Elting.
"Red, of course," cried Harriet. "Surely, you wouldn't paint a 'Red Rover' green, would you?"
"I think we had better paint the inside of the boat white," advised Miss Elting.
"Then white it shall be," declared Jane. "Mr. Dickinson, you come with me and show me where to get the paint. I'm off, girls. I think we'd better stay at the hotel to-night. Our palatial yacht won't be ready for us."
Jane hurried out, followed by Dickinson. He was eager to get away. While she was gone the girls consulted with Miss Elting as to what was necessary to be done to the boat. They were full of enthusiasm despite the discouraging condition in which they had found the "Red Rover," for the possibilities of making it a delightful home, were plain to all of them.
Jane McCarthy came racing back with her car, three quarters of an hour later. Two men were in the car with her who wore overalls and small round caps.
"Here are the painters who are going to make the outside of the boat look pretty," cried the girl. "Now, men, get to work and do your best! If you do a good job you get your money. If you don't, you get a ducking in the pond! Here, girls, help me unload this stuff."
There were cans of paint, a mop, two brooms, tin and wooden pails, scrub brushes, soap and a miscellaneous assortment of useful articles.
"Now, girls, let's get to work," cried Jane. "This is our busy day. There'll be another man down here with some windows, soon. We've got to have some hot water. Harriet, can you heat it?"
For answer Harriet hurried along the beach, picking up such dry sticks as she could find. She soon had a fire started in the stove.
"We must stand by the fire with pails of water. I haven't much confidence in that stovepipe," she exclaimed laughingly. "However, we have plenty of water near, in case of need."
Tommy had gotten a broom and a dustpan and was already raising a cloud of dust by her efforts at sweeping.
"For goodness' sake, sprinkle the floor before you sweep," begged Margery chokingly. Hazel dipped up a pail of water from the lake and sprinkled it through her fingers over the floor of the boat. All the others save Harriet had fled, driven out by the choking dust. The sweeping was now attended with more comfort. Dustpan after dustpan full of dirt was gathered up and tossed into the lake. Tommy surveyed her work with a frowning face.
"It lookth worthe than it did before," she declared. "Thee the greathe thpotth. What fine houthekeeping."
"Men are lazy housekeepers," laughed Miss Elting. "I shall have to write to Bert and tell him what we think of his housekeeping."
As soon as the water was heated, Jane produced some full length gingham aprons, which she tossed to her companions. Arrayed in these, the girls took up scrub brushes and soap and got to work on the inside of the cabin. Their skirts were pinned up, their sleeves rolled back to the shoulders and they looked like veritable scrub women.
"Let's all work on the same side of the boat," called Jane. "I want one side to get dry so we can begin to paint it." The slap, slap of the painters' brushes already was heard on the outside. The remaining boards over the windows had been torn off and carefully laid aside for other uses.
Two hours later Jane got the painters to open the cans of white paint and stir up the contents. The men put in plenty of drier so the paint would dry quickly and began their work. Tommy could not resist trying to paint too. Seizing a brush she began laying about her, sending the paint into her hair, over her clothes and spattering her companions until they threatened to throw her overboard if she did not desist. Tommy's impish face already was decorated with polka dots of white paint.
"I would suggest that Tommy go out and use some red paint," said Harriet laughingly. "Some red dots would make you look perfectly lovely, dear."
"Yes and some blue," added Jane. "She'd be red, white and blue then, and we could hang her over the stern. That would save getting a flag."
"Girls, what are we going to do with the ceiling!" asked Miss Elting, regarding it with wrinkled forehead.
"We might paint in white between the beams, covering the beams themselves with green," suggested Harriet.
"That would be pretty," agreed the guardian, tilting her head to one side and regarding the ceiling reflectively. "Yes, it would be very artistic. Have we any green paint?"
"We'll have some," answered Jane promptly. "What shade?"
"Grath green," suggested Tommy.
"Olive," suggested Hazel.
Miss Elting nodded. Olive green paint would look well for the ceiling, she decided. Already the interior of the houseboat was beginning to brighten. But they saw that, to do a thoroughly good job, at least two coats of paint would be necessary. They hoped to get one coat of paint on before night, putting on the finishing coat on the following morning.
The slap, slap of the brushes outside had ceased and the men were heard talking. Jane rushed out brandishing her paint brush.
"Get to work, you lazy bones!" she shouted. "Am I paying you for holding conversations about red paint! On with your work!"
Jane presented such a ferocious appearance that the painters resumed their work hurriedly. There was no more lagging on their part. Jane frequently ran out to see what they were doing. The result was that the "Red Rover" was painted in record time, both outside and in, and a coat of paint laid on the top of the house. Jane McCarthy had an idea in regard to this roof. The next morning she put the plan into execution.
That night the girls were so tired that they gave no thought to their appearance until they had reached their rooms at the hotel and looked into their mirrors. Their paint-streaked countenances were a sight to behold and Tommy carried a part of her facial decorations to bed with her.
They were up early on the following morning, and were first in the dining room at breakfast.
"I just can't wait until I get to work," declared Jane McCarthy, her eyes shining.
"I can wait until I've eaten my breakfast," replied Margery, then flushed as Tommy giggled meaningly.
Readers of the first volume of this series, "THE MEADOW-BROOK GIRLS UNDER CANVAS" will recall the many exciting adventures that befell the five girls and their guardian, Miss Elting, while summering at Camp Wau-Wau, a part of the Camp Girls' organization. The attempts of two mischief-making camp girls to disgrace Harriet in the eyes of the camp, Harriet's brave rescue of her enemies during a severe storm and her generous method of dealing with them aroused the interest and admiration of the reader. The various ludicrous happenings in which Grace Thompson and Jane McCarthy figured prominently also added to this absorbing narrative of outdoor life.
"THE MEADOW-BROOK GIRLS ACROSS COUNTRY" relates the adventures of the girls and their guardian on their homeward march from Camp Wau-Wau. Their meeting with a number of boys on a hike, who styled themselves the Tramp Club, and the subsequent wager made with them by the Meadow-Brook Girls to race them to the town of Meadow-Brook, furnished the theme for the narrative. While following the fortunes of the road the girls met with numerous adventures. The reader will recall their encounter with the tramps, their rescue by Sybarina, the Gipsy, and the night spent in the Gipsy camp where Harriet, disguised as a Gipsy, told the fortune of George Baker the leader of the Tramp Club, and at the same time under the pretense of revealing his past rated him soundly for a trick which he and his band had played upon the girls.
Once back in Meadow-Brook the girls had settled down to a busy winter in high school. Now that summer had come again, accompanied by Miss Elting, they had planned to spend their vacation on Lake Winnipesaukee, aboard a houseboat owned by Miss Elting's brother.
The "Red Rover" in its coat of bright new paint looked really fine that morning. As the girls neared it the odor of fresh paint was borne to their nostrils on the breeze that drifted in from the lake. Full of enthusiasm the girls hurried aboard the boat. There was much to be done, and all were eager to settle their home and to begin the fascinating life that was before them, a life that not one of the girls had ever before enjoyed. The painters came soon after, and began putting on the second coat of paint. The girls, as soon as they had donned aprons and gloves, started to put on the second coat in the interior of the boat. The windows were on hand, ready to be set in place and everyone went to work with a will.
So rapidly did the girls and Jane's painters work that, by noon, the work, both inside and out, had been completed, including a coat of paint on the floor. The painters were paid off by Jane and dismissed. Jane stepped out on the pier to survey the work.
"Girls, we've forgotten something," she cried. "We must have the name on the side of the boat. The 'Red Rover' you know? I forgot that when the men were here. Can any of you print?"
"I think perhaps I might do it," answered Miss Elting. "But we shall have to wait until the red paint dries. Suppose we sit down and rest for an hour or so?"
"Rest!" shouted Crazy Jane. "There's no rest for the Meadow-Brook Girls. It's work and trouble and trouble and work all day and all night. Girls, we've got to have a new stove, and we must have a lot of other things, including some curtains and home comforts. Can you help me load the old stove into the car?"
"Not without breaking it, I'm afraid," answered Miss Elting laughingly.
"Then get the axe. We'll smash the old thing. Hey there, you man," Jane shouted at a passing farmer. "Want to earn fifty cents? Well, get busy here, and help us move the stove."
With the aid of the farmer they took down the old wood stove and loaded it into the automobile. Next they made a hurried toilet and drove into the village. Most of the afternoon was spent in making purchases. All the bedding had been shipped by freight, as had the folding cots, the cooking utensils and their tent. Harriet proposed that they make the tent into an awning over the upper deck. She thought it would be a pleasant place to sit in the evenings. Her companions agreed with her. This necessitated calling in a carpenter. He was sent out to the boat to do the work while they were finishing their shopping.
Among the purchases was an oil stove—Jane had sold the old one—a large quantity of canned goods, potatoes and other vegetables, all of which they planned to stow in the front of the houseboat under oilcloth. Here also was stowed a huge sea chest that had belonged to Jane's great-grandfather. It was supposed to be water-tight and in this the Meadow-Brook Girls decided to place all their extra clothing. A rag carpet was found that answered very well to cut up into rugs to lay on the floor. The carpenter made a ladder by which to climb to the upper deck. Then there was rope and an anchor, the latter a piece of an old mowing machine; a rowboat, which Jane rented, and heavy green shades at the windows so that they should have greater seclusion; also a cask to hold drinking water.
When the girls finished their work that night Crazy Jane McCarthy had spent quite a sum of money, but the equipment for the "Red Rover" was as nearly complete as they were able to make it. Just before sunset they went out to watch Miss Elting paint the name on the side of the boat. In large, neat letters she painted the name in white. The letters stood out in bold relief against the brilliant red of the boat.
"I propose three cheers for the artist," cried Harriet.
"Wait a minute," called Tommy.
"Well, what is it?" demanded Margery.
"The job ith not finithhed yet. Mith Elting hathn't painted the name on the other thide."
"That is true, but to do so I should have to stand in the water," laughed the guardian.
"If you must paint the other side, of course we can turn the boat around," said Harriet. "I think a name on one side will answer our purpose for the present. Later on we can finish the job, if we think best."
"Yes," agreed Jane. "We've done enough for the present. Don't forget that we've got to settle the house in the morning. I want you all to think hard to-night, to see if we have forgotten anything."
"The only thing we have forgotten is our dinner. We haven't had a bite to eat since morning," Margery Brown reminded her friends.
"Margery can't think of anything but thomething to eat," laughed Tommy. "You mutht learn to eat atmothphere when you're hungry. That ith the way I do."
"I fear you will never grow fat on that sort of diet," laughed the guardian.
"I don't want to get fat, like Buthter," replied Tommy scornfully.
In the meantime Harriet and Jane had drawn away from the others and were engaged in a whispered conversation. Then the two girls got into the rowboat dragged the houseboat out into the lake, a few rods, and anchored it. They did not explain their action. The other girls laughed at them, and Miss Elting questioned them with her eyes but said nothing. She knew the two girls had some good reason for anchoring the "Red Rover" a little distance from the shore.
Early on the following morning, Jane and Harriet were out, loading the automobile with the supplies that had been delivered at the hotel the previous night. The car was piled high with bundles of various shapes and sizes. There was room for Jane and Harriet in front, but none for their companions elsewhere.
"We will go down to the dock with the stuff," explained Harriet, "then come back in time to take breakfast with you girls. We shan't try to put the supplies on board. We'll just dump them on the pier."
"You can put them on the boat if you want to. I don't care," answered Grace.
"Tommy is trying to get out of working to-day," scoffed Margery.
"I'm not," protested the little lisping girl indignantly. "If I were ath fat ath you, I might. I'll work after breakfatht, but I won't work before breakfatht."
"Nobody wants you to," flung back Jane, as she started her car ahead. "We'll do all the before-breakfast work, and we'll have the real appetites when we get to the food. You watch us."
They watched her skid around a sharp corner and heard her car for some few moments thereafter, but that was all. They were too well used to Crazy Jane McCarthy, by this time, to be surprised at anything she might do or say.
The drive to Johnson's dock was a short one. The two girls made it in a few moments. As they turned into the street that led down to the river they opened their eyes a little wider, but neither spoke. Nor was there a word said until they had driven out on the pier and halted the car. Then both girls burst out in exclamations of amazement at the same instant.
That which they discovered filled the hearts of the Meadow-Brook Girls with alarm. The "Red Rover" was nowhere in sight. The shore end of the rope, with which it had been secured to the dock when they anchored it out in the lake, was still securely tied to the string piece at the outer side of the dock.
"What is it, darlin'?" questioned Jane, with eyes wide and wondering.
"It looks to me very much as though our 'Red Rover' were at the bottom of the lake, Jane. Oh, what shall we do if she has sunk? Something has been going on here. Something occurred the first day we were here, to excite my suspicion. And now this strange thing has happened. There's the rowboat. Let's go out and look around. Oh, this is too bad, too bad!"
CRAZY JANE MAKES A DISCOVERY
Jane sprang forward, and grasping the rope, lifted it from the water and began hauling in on it. She uttered a shout of joy.
"There's no 'Red Rover' on the other end of this rope, Harriet," she cried.
"Then it has broken away and sunk," answered Harriet gloomily. "Let's get into the rowboat and go out yonder."
"In a minute. I want to see what is at the other end of this rope, Harriet, dear. There's nothing like beginning at the right end. This is the right end; after we get the rope in we will move on to the other end. We may have to dive, but you and I know how to do that, don't we darlin'?"
Harriet nodded. The long rope came in dripping, so cold to the touch as to make Jane's fingers numb.
"There!" exclaimed Jane, slamming the rope down on the wharf. "There's the old thing. Didn't I tell you there was no 'Red Rover' on the end of it."
"Then we had better take to the rowboat. I don't understand this at all," said Harriet, in a troubled voice.
"Just a minute, Harriet. Will you look at this and tell Jane McCarthy the meaning of it?" She extended the end of the rope toward Harriet. The latter took it, permitting the dripping rope to lie across the palm of one hand for a minute. Harriet glanced up at her companion with troubled eyes.
"Do you know what has been done to it?" asked Harriet.
"I think so," nodded Jane.
"The rope has been cut," reflected Harriet.
"It has," agreed Jane.
"But, who could have done such a thing?" Harriet wondered.
"If I knew, I'd make him suffer for this piece of work," retorted Jane.
"I don't know; I can't even think," answered Harriet solemnly. "What do you suppose has become of the boat, Jane?"
"Goodness knows," replied Jane.
"I'm going to search the lake." Harriet ran around the end of the pier, where, shoving off the rowboat, she leaped in. Jane followed her. "I'm going to the west. The wind is blowing that way."
Jane McCarthy nodded understandingly. Harriet was rowing, Jane sitting in the stern of the boat.
"Watch the shore, Jane. I will do the rowing. I am going to tell you what I discovered that day we first went aboard the houseboat. I put my hand on the stove quite by accident that morning. The stove was so hot that it burned my hand."
"You don't say?"
"Yes. Now explain how that stove happened to be hot," continued Harriet.
"That's easy. Somebody had had a fire in it," nodded Jane.
"Exactly. And not long before we went aboard. Then there were bread crumbs on the floor. Jane, some person had been living on that boat. You remember how anxious Dee Dickinson was that we should not go to the boat until he had first been there?"
"Yes, but what has that to do with the cutting of the rope, last night, and losing the boat?"
"I don't know. That the two puzzles have some connection I am positive. What we wish most, just now, is to find the 'Red Rover.'"
"There's something red on the shore; it looks like a fire!" cried Jane, pointing excitedly. "Oh, if it should be the boat."
Harriet ceased rowing and quickly turned her head over her right shoulder. She gazed, at first half startled, then uttered a cry of delight.
"It's the 'Red Rover.' Don't you see? Hurrah! We've found the boat. It's the sun shining on those red sides that made it look like a fire."
Harriet swung the prow of the boat and began rowing shoreward with all her might. After a few minutes of rowing she drove the boat in alongside of the "Red Rover," then leaped out on the shore. The unknown miscreant having cut her from her moorings the houseboat had drifted down the lake. She had stranded among a forest of rushes, the bottom of the boat being hard and fast on the gravel.
The girls breathless with excitement, climbed aboard. The after-half of the house floor was under water. There were fully two feet of water in the stern. In the after cockpit were several bushels of sand and gravel that had been thrown up by the wind and waves during the night.
"Oh, the villains, to do a thing like this!" raged Jane. She started to run aft for a pail but losing her footing on the slippery floor she went sprawling and splashing into the water. Jane scrambled up, wet from head to feet.
"Oh, me! Oh my! What a mess!"
Harriet leaned against the side of the cabin screaming with laughter. Jane looked at her an instant, then, joined in the merriment.
"You are a sight!" gasped Harriet.
"Why shouldn't I be? I've been in the water? Are we going to stand here and laugh all the morning, or are we going to get busy?"
For answer Harriet Burrell picked up a pail and began bailing out the cockpit. Jane, dripping, took up another pail and together the girls worked feverishly. There were several barrels of water in the cockpit, so their backs were aching by the time they had finished bailing out the water. The stern of the boat now floated clear, but the forward end was hard and fast on the ground.
"The next thing is to get the boat off the gravel," announced Harriet.
"Maybe we can hitch the rowboat on and drag the 'Red Rover' off," suggested Jane.
Harriet shook her head.
"It won't work. We shall have to drag it off by main force. You can't be any wetter, and I'm not afraid of a little water. Let's get outside the boat and see what we can do."
A few seconds later as they took hold and directed their strength to the task of moving the heavy boat, Harriet's feet slipped from under her. She fell over into the water, coming up coughing, the water streaming from her hair and shoulders, and falling into the lake in a shower. Jane screamed with delight. "You're wet all right, now! No mistake about that," jeered Crazy Jane. "And what have we done? Moved the old tub three quarters of an inch. At this rate we'll have her afloat about supper time. I wish I had my car hitched to it. I'd drag the old thing out so fast it would make her dizzy."
Harriet had grasped the edge of the boat, tugging with all her might. Jane dashed around to the other side, adding her strength to the task. The boat gave way with such suddenness that both girls fell into the lake. But they did not care. They could get no wetter. Therefore they laughed and joked over their bedraggled condition. The "Red Rover" floated clear of the rushes.
"Do the best you can. I'll get the rowboat," cried Harriet, splashing toward the shore. Her clothes were so heavy with water that they impeded her movements. She shoved the rowboat out, and, leaping in, rowed it out into the lake with strong sweeps of the oars. In a few moments she was alongside.
"The rope is too short. What shall we do?" called Jane.
"There is a rope attached to this boat. I think it will be long enough for towing. Wait, I'll toss it to you. Make it fast. The boat is heavy and we are going to have a hard pull, but I don't dare leave it here until we can get help."
Jane waded over to the rowboat for the rope. She made it fast; then, getting behind the houseboat, she pushed while Harriet rowed. The "Red Rover" started but slowly. It was all the two girls could do to get it in motion. Then when, finally, they had gotten under way with it, Jane was obliged to wade out in water nearly to her neck to reach the rowboat. She nearly upset it in getting aboard. Two pairs of oars, instead of one, were now bent to the work of towing the houseboat. The boat went broadside to the waves, nearly pulling them overboard. They saw that it would be impossible to tow it to the Johnson dock in this fashion.
"One of us must row and the other steer," declared Harriet.
"I'll do the rowing. You've had your share," cried Jane. "Wait, I'll pull you alongside."
"No. You must keep the oars going, or the big boat will drift back into shallow water again. I'll get back there all right." Harriet unshipped her oars and stood up in the boat. She took a clean, curving dive into the lake. Jane shouted delightedly.
"What a beauty!"
Harriet came up, shaking her head to free it from water, then struck out for the houseboat. Getting aboard, weighted down by her clothes as she was, was not an easy task. Finally, however, the girl managed to get one foot over the edge. She clung there for a moment breathing heavily, then slowly climbed aboard.
"Hur-r-r-ro-o-o-o!" wailed Jane. "They can't stop a Meadow-Brook Girl with fire or water."
"Now pull," shouted Harriet, "I'll change places with you when you get tired."
"I'll rest when I get tired," was the very practical reply of Crazy Jane McCarthy.
Harriet took the tiller and straightened out the scow's course, though she discovered that the old boat was a most unmanageable craft. It simply would not keep on any one course for more than thirty seconds at a time. Jane was shouting her directions, making sarcastic remarks about Harriet's steering, but the latter merely smiled. She knew she was doing the best she could, and that was all any one could do. Jane was making but slow headway. They had not yet rounded the point that hid the Johnson dock from view. Her strokes became uneven, and jerky. All at once the rope broke. Crazy Jane McCarthy landed in the bottom of the rowboat.
"Save me," she screamed.
Harriet, who could not see the small boat, the deck house being in the way, continued on her course, smiling good-naturedly at Jane's noisy objections. But all at once a crash and a yell startled Harriet. She threw the tiller over and leaned far out. The rowboat was bottom-side-up, with Crazy Jane McCarthy struggling in the water. Her mouth was too full of water, just at that moment, to allow her to raise an outcry. The momentum of the houseboat carried it alongside the overturned rowboat, Harriet leaned over and grasped one of her companion's arms.
"Why, Jane! You shouldn't have stopped rowing to go in for a swim."
"Go in for a swim!" exploded Jane. "And didn't you run me down. Look at the boat, will you! Now, what are we going to do, will you tell me?"
"The first thing is to get you on board. After that I don't know."
Crazy Jane was dragged aboard the "Red Rover." She lay clinging to the gunwale, laughing immoderately.
"It's a fine start we are having, darling isn't it, now!"
"A wet one," amended Harriet. "See! The rowboat is drifting ashore. You stay on board. I'm going after it. I'm not tired. Keep the houseboat away from the shore, if you can."
Harriet sprang into the water, swimming leisurely shoreward. Reaching the rowboat, she took hold of and clung to it, drifting ashore with it. The houseboat also was coming in. Jane was shouting to her companion to hurry. Harriet was doing the best she could under the circumstances, struggling with all her strength to right the rowboat. By the time she had succeeded in doing so, the "Red Rover" was fairly on top of her.
"Steer out!" cried Harriet warningly.
"I can't steer in or out," flung back Jane.
Harriet began tugging at the rowboat to get it out of the way of the oncoming houseboat. The former had grounded in the shallow water. The houseboat caught the stranded rowboat, turned it over and slowly ground it under its prow, accompanied by the sound of crushing planks. Harriet was caught and thrown down, disappearing under the bow of the "Red Rover."
SETTING UP HOUSEKEEPING
Jane, receiving no answer to her calls, ran up on top of the house. A quick glance about showed her that Harriet was nowhere in sight. Jane did not dare to dive, knowing that the water was shallow. She jumped, feet first, instead, landing in the shallow water with great force.
"She's under there!" cried the girl, staggering toward the bow of the houseboat. Putting her shoulders against it she shoved the heavy boat back a little. Harriet Burrell came to the surface, then made a feeble attempt to swim. Jane picked her up and carried her ashore; or, rather, dragged her there, for, impeded by the water, Jane found Harriet too heavy a burden.
Harriet was gasping. She had held her breath until she could hold it no longer. The result was that she had swallowed considerable water. Crazy Jane was working over her. It was but a few minutes before Harriet Burrell had wholly recovered from the effects of the recent catastrophe. She was considerably bruised and was rendered nervous by her trying experience.
"Is—is the small boat damaged?" she gasped.
"Never mind the small boat. There are more boats where that came from," answered Jane. "You lie down here while I go for another boat. Shall I get some one to help us?"
Harriet shook her head.
"If we are going to be fresh water sailors we must learn to do things for ourselves."
"That's what I say," agreed Jane, nodding with great emphasis. "But are you sure you are all right?"
"I'm awfully wet, Jane."
"That's nothing. We'll be wet many a time before we get through with this cruise."
"We shall have to get started first," answered Harriet, chuckling. "Run along for another boat. I'll try to keep the 'Red Rover' off the shore while you are gone. Hurry!"
Jane ran toward the landing, still some distance away. There were several boats tied up there. She helped herself to one and rowed back with all speed. She espied Harriet out in the lake with the houseboat, where the latter had succeeded in pushing it and was doing her best to keep the craft from drifting back to the shore. Jane brought a rope with her that she had taken from a third boat. This she quickly made fast to the scow, then began pulling it out into the lake. The wind had died out and the rowing was found to be much easier, though of course, the "Red Rover" was as heavy and cumbersome as before.
"We'll make it," cried Jane encouragingly.
It was a full half hour later when Harriet steered the houseboat alongside the pier. The girls made fast, then threw themselves down on the dock, utterly exhausted from their efforts.
In the meantime, Miss Elting and the other girls, becoming worried over the long absence of Crazy Jane and Harriet, had left the hotel, starting out for Johnson's dock on foot. They found Harriet and Jane making the boat more secure, preparatory to leaving for the hotel.
"Why, girls, whatever is the matter? You are wet through! Go up to the hotel and get into dry clothes at once. You will both catch cold. You are too late for breakfast, too. What happened to you?" exclaimed Miss Elting. "You are certainly bedraggled looking specimens."
Harriet told the guardian of their search for the "Red Rover." Miss Elting frowned. The message from her brother was still in her pocket. She recalled the peculiar actions of Dee Dickinson, wondering if perchance he had anything to do with the casting adrift of their houseboat, Harriet had not told the guardian of having found a hot stove on the occasion of their first visit to their summer home. That, perhaps, might have enlightened the guardian.
Now that Miss Elting and the other girls were there to unload the automobile, Jane and Harriet turned to go.
"We will begin to settle while you girls go to town for breakfast," called the guardian after them.
"You will have to wait a while until the rear end of the boat dries out," returned Harriet. "I don't think it will take long. But, in the meantime, there are the windows and the walls that need fixing."
The other girls and the guardian fell to work while Jane and Harriet were at breakfast, and dainty chintz curtains were draped over each window. There were green shades hung over the windows also, but these, during the day, were to be rolled up out of sight.
Jane and Harriet changed their wet clothing, ate breakfast and returned early in the forenoon. With them they brought a chart of the big lake that they had bought of a boat owner. While in the village Jane also had paid for the damaged rowboat and arranged for another, as it would be necessary to have a rowboat with them at all times. A new anchor, this time a real one, was purchased and piled into the automobile.
The girls worked all that day setting their cabin to rights. It was to them a delightful task, and late in the afternoon the cabin of the "Red Rover" was as homelike a place as one could wish. Covers had been made for the folding cots, so that by day they offered attractive lounging places. The upper deck had some rough seats, made by the carpenter who had put up the awning. Then there were boxes for plants, in case the girls should wish to have flowers. But it was the interior of the cabin that was the real delight. The white walls and green trimmings gave it a fresh, cool appearance. One could scarcely have believed this to be the lumbering, dirty, old fishing scow of a few days since. Bert Elting never would have recognized the craft in its new dress.
That night the Meadow-Brook Girls decided to have their first meal on board. They also decided to clear away and set sail before sitting down to the meal. Jane drove her car to town, leaving it at a garage, after which she walked back to the dock. She found the "Red Rover" ready to sail. The girls were discussing the question of where to go for an anchorage for the night.
"Is that all?" called Jane. "Leave it to the boat. She'll find a place for herself. Say, I'm not going to try to tow that house out of here with all these boats about."
There were launches and steamers coming in constantly. The waters in that vicinity were dotted with rowboats and small skiffs as well. Jane did not like the idea of dragging out the "Red Rover" through that gathering of craft. Neither did Harriet Burrell. Jane was looking over the launches and their occupants as they came up to the dock either to take on or discharge passengers. All at once she pounced upon two boys, who had left a third boy on the dock and bade him good-bye.
"Will you give us a tow?" demanded Jane.
"Where do you want to go?" answered one of the lads, touching his cap.
"Which way are you going?"
"Down the lake."
"That's the way we are going. Say, which way is down the lake?" she asked Harriet in a whisper. The latter indicated the direction by a wave of the hand.
"We'll give you a rope and tell you when you are to drop us," added Jane.
The boys regarded the houseboat rather dubiously. They did not know whether or not their little launch would be able to tow it. Jane and Harriet explained to their companions that they were to have a tow. Then the two girls made fast the line, carrying the latter to the motor boat, after which they cast off from the pier.
The Meadow-Brook Girls uttered a cheer, as the "Red Rover" slowly drifted sideways clear of the dock. The dock was thronged with people, all of whom were now observing the houseboat. The latter's upper deck held the girls, with the exception of Jane, who was at the helm to steer as soon as their craft had been turned about and headed in the right direction. The houseboat came about slowly; then, as the motor boat chugged away the line grew taut and the "Red Rover" began to move.
"You give me steering directions, Harriet," cried Jane.
"I will wave to you. That will be better than shouting."
"Whatever you say."
A heavy shock, following Harriet's warning, caused Jane to shove the tiller hard over. The girls were piled in a heap on the upper deck and it seemed as though the front part of the houseboat must have been crushed.
Loud, threatening voices forward brought Crazy Jane to the upper deck instantly. Then she saw what had occurred. The "Red Rover" had taken a sudden dive to the left, colliding with an anchored sailboat.
"If you don't know how to steer, keep off the lake!" raged the owner, shaking both fists at the red terror.
"If you don't know how to keep out of the way, then you ought to get pushed off the lake," flung back Jane McCarthy defiantly.
Harriet laid a hand on her arm.
"Don't argue with them, Jane. It isn't well-bred to do a thing like that."
The launch was sputtering away trying to extricate the "Red Rover" from its position, which, by this time, was broadside against the sailboat. The "Red Rover" was rising and falling, each time rubbing off some red paint onto the white sides of the yacht. With each blotch of paint, so acquired, the anger of the owner of the yacht increased. It was fortunate for the Meadow-Brook Girls that they succeeded in getting away promptly. Jane was getting more and more angry, and Harriet had all she could do to restrain her companion.
But their troubles were not yet ended. The "Red Rover" plunged through the fleet, smash-into a sailboat here, nearly sinking a rowboat there, grazing the side of a steamer, rubbing off some more paint in the operation, and continuing her voyage of destruction by smashing in the gunwale of a launch that was unfortunate enough to be anchored within range of the "Red Rover's" tow line. Jane's steering was anything but skilful. She steered too much, not giving the boat half a chance to respond to one turn of the tiller, before she turned it the other way. But Harriet Burrell offered no suggestions. At least, she remained silent until after the "Red Rover" had upset a canoe, spilling a young man and two girls into the lake. It was then that Harriet sprang down and casting off the rowboat pulled to their rescue. It was well that she did so, for neither of the girls could swim.
The motor boat that was towing the "Red Rover" had stopped instantly but the "Red Rover" was still drifting, managing to collide with two more small boats before finally coming to a stop. In the meantime, Harriet had hauled the dripping girls aboard her rowboat, and assisted the young man to right his canoe. The girls refused to get into it again.
"Bring the young ladies aboard and let us give them some dry clothes," called Miss Elting.
"They wish to be put ashore here," answered Harriet.
"We are very sorry that we have caused you all this trouble. Our boat doesn't seem to steer well. I don't know what the trouble is," continued the guardian.
The two girls were very courteous about the matter. They assured Miss Elting and Harriet that they knew the accident had been unavoidable, and that it had been more their fault than the "Red Rover's." The young man, however, was inclined to grumble. Harriet put the wet girls ashore, where they were followed by their companion. The "Red Rover" then moved on, following a zig-zag course, narrowly missing running into other boats, until finally one of the lads in the motor boat put his hands to his lips and shouted:
"How much farther are you folks going?"
Harriet consulted with Miss Elting.
"If you will be good enough to tow us into that cove just ahead, we shall be very much obliged," answered Harriet. The motor boat was instantly headed toward the cove. Harriet chuckled. "They are eager to be rid of us, and I don't blame them at all."
"They look like nice boys. I think I will invite them to come aboard," decided the guardian. Harriet nodded her approval. When, finally, the houseboat had been dragged in, Harriet shouted to the boys to cast off. It was then that Miss Elting asked them to come aboard. The boy at the wheel said they would come some other time, that they were obliged to get back to their camp farther down the lake. They would accept no pay for their towing and chugged away, waving their hands, leaving a snowy wake behind them.
Harriet had already climbed down, and, with a long string, at the end of which had been tied the piece of broken poker from the old stove, was taking sounding to get the depth of water.
"Eight feet. That's deep enough. Jane! Come help me put over the anchor, please," she called.
The anchor went over with a splash, after which the rope was tied to a heavy hard wood cleat that the carpenter had secured to the forward lower deck. The "Red Rover" drifted to the end of its anchor rope, then swung to the gentle breeze that was blowing.
"Thank goodness we aren't at the bottom of the lake," exclaimed Crazy Jane.
"It's the other folks who have reason to be thankful," answered Harriet smilingly. "Now let's get supper. We have a lot to do, and even more to discuss."
"Had we not better work in closer to shore?" questioned the guardian, regarding the wooded cove critically.
"No, I think not. I have my reasons for wanting to be away from the shore," answered Harriet.
It would have perhaps been better had they chosen some other location for their anchorage, for the night in the cove was to be a trying one for the Meadow-Brook Girls and another of those mysterious happenings that had so disturbed them was to overtake them at the very beginning of the cruise of the "Red Rover."
A SUDDEN AWAKENING
"There! I knew we had forgotten something."
"What have we forgotten, Jane?"
"An ice box, Miss Elting. How are we to keep our food without an ice box?"
"But, my dear, what would be the good of an ice box without ice?"
"That's so. I hadn't thought of that. Where would we get our ice?"
"That ith eathy," piped Tommy. "Get your ithe out of the lake, of courthe. I never did thee thuch thtupid people. Did you thuppothe they got ithe on land? That it grew in the fieldth?"
"No, darlin'. We didn't suppose anything of the sort. But knowing so much, please tell us how we are to get ice from the lake in the good old summer time? Answer me that question, will you now?"
"That ith tho," reflected Tommy. "Really, I hadn't thought of it that way. I gueth I wath too previouth."
"Grace!" rebuked Miss Elting, "I am amazed at your using such expressions. You really must be more careful of your language."
"Yeth; I will."
"Until the next time," muttered Harriet, an amused smile hovering about the corners of her mouth. Harriet was busily engaged in getting supper. "Bring me a pail of water, please," she called. "We must put the water on to heat so that we can wash dishes directly after supper. Dishes mustn't go unwashed on board the 'Red Rover,' no matter whatever else may be neglected."
Jane was setting the table. The dishes that they had purchased were not expensive. Rather were they strong and serviceable, but even at this, the table looked very pretty. Miss Elting had gathered a bunch of wild flowers and these had been placed in a pitcher and stood in the centre of the table. Of course the chairs were camp stools. In this instance they were provided with backs, which made them quite comfortable. Soon beefsteak was broiling over the fire, potatoes were frying in the pan and the tantalizing fragrance of coffee filled the air.
"Bring the drinking water, Tommy. And look out that you don't fall with it. We can't afford to buy dishes every day. Will you be careful?"
"Yeth; I'll be careful."
"Hurry back. Supper will be on the table by the time you get below again."
Tommy, pitcher in hand, ran up the ladder to the deck above, Harriet and Miss Elting, in the meantime, putting the food on the table.
"Tom-m-m-y-y-y!" called Jane after some minutes had elapsed. "The little girl has gone to sleep up there, I'll wager."
A scream, followed by a loud splash, startled the passengers on board the "Red Rover." They rushed for the door.
"Tommy's fallen overboard!" yelled Harriet.
Beaching the lower deck they saw one little white hand holding aloft a pitcher, and lower down, scarcely discernible, a bit of tow hair and a freckled nose.
"Thave me!" wailed Tommy.
"We ought to leave you," flung back Margery. "What's the matter? Can't you swim?"
"Yeth. But the pitcher can't."
Knowing that Tommy could take care of herself in the water, no one went overboard to her rescue. Harriet flung out a coil of rope.
"Grab it!" she commanded. Tommy needed no second invitation to do so. She grasped the rope with one hand, still clinging to the pitcher with the other and holding it above the water. In this position Harriet drew her in. The pitcher was rescued before they helped the little girl to the deck.
"Ith thupper ready?" demanded Tommy, after getting aboard.
"Yes, it is and it's getting cold," answered Harriet.
"Then I gueth I'll thit down and eat."
"Not until you get off those wet clothes," answered Jane. "How did you come to fall overboard?"
"I—I wath trying to walk on the railing," explained the girl lamely. "I thtubbed my toe and fell in."
"Oh, help!" moaned Margery. Tommy shot a threatening look at her.
"I can thwim. Buthter ith too fat to thwim." With that parting shot, Tommy hastened inside the cabin and proceeded to change her wet clothing for dry garments. The other girls sat down to their supper, without waiting for her.
None of them, ever had eaten a meal under quite such novel conditions. Through the open door at one end they could see the lake, touched with the gorgeous red and gold of the setting sun. A pleasant breeze was drifting through the cabin from door and window, while the slight motion of the boat rather added to than took from the keen enjoyment of the hour.
"I have been wondering what we shall do in case the water gets really rough?" said Jane.
"We shall have to put something on the table to keep the dishes from sliding off," replied Harriet.
"That would be like an ocean steamer. On the tables there they have racks, strips running the full length of the table—usually brass—and others standing on edge at right angles to them. This leaves squares about the size of a plate and the strips keep the dishes from sliding off the table. They are called racks by the passengers. Among sailors they are known as 'fiddles,'" explained the guardian.
"Yeth, but the thoup will thpill over jutht the thame," observed Tommy from the cabin.
"Your soup will not, for I'm going to eat it," jeered Margery.
Tommy hurried forth, fastening her collar as she walked. She was taking no chances of losing her supper.
"Speaking of food," reflected Harriet. "Why can't we take our meats and other perishable things and put them in a pail which we can weight down until it sinks? That will keep the food cool."
"Yes. But what will you do with it when the boat is moving?" asked the guardian.
"If I have to row the small boat, and pull the 'Red Rover,' it won't move fast enough to harm the pail," spoke up Jane. "Do we have to drag this tub all over the lake?"
"I am afraid we shall have to do so when we wish to move."
"Then it's my own self for a tug," declared Crazy Jane. "I shall go out to-morrow looking for a good stout steam tug. I wonder if there is such a thing in this neighborhood?"
"Maybe they have one at the farm houthe up there on the hill," suggested Tommy. But not a smile did her observation draw from her companions.
"No, Jane. We aren't going to let you spend any more money for us. We are out to rough it, and we are going to do so. We must get along by ourselves," announced Miss Elting. "Of course it was different when those young men towed us out, and now and then we may accept a tow. The way to do will be to make short journeys, not to try to take long trips. Moving by easy stages we should be able to make the complete circuit of the lake before the vacation is ended."
"How long is the lake?" questioned Harriet.
"About thirty miles in a straight line, I believe."
"Thirty miles," groaned Crazy Jane.
"Oh, help!" moaned Margery.
"Thave uth!" lisped Grace.
"I thought you girls wanted recreation and exercise," laughed the guardian.
"Why, of course we do, Miss Elting," declared Harriet.
"Of course," agreed Jane, nodding. "But dragging a house all around a thirty-mile lake is neither exercise nor recreation. It's hard labor. If you don't think so just get out and drag us around this cove once—Once!"
"I have a plan," announced Harriet.
"It's a good one, if Harriet Burrell thought it out," returned Miss Elting smilingly. "What is your plan, Harriet?"
"Some of you may not like the idea, but it is an excellent one, I am sure. This is my idea. When we decide to cross the lake, if we do, I would suggest waiting until some day when the wind is blowing directly across. Then we can tow the 'Red Rover' out with the rowboat until the wind catches us. The rower should then get aboard the houseboat, after which the wind will carry us all the way across the lake. How do you like it?"
"Oh, thave me!" piped Tommy.
"Yes. You need some one to save you about once every five minutes I'm thinking, Tommy Thompson. Now, if Crazy Jane had thought out such a plan, no one would have been surprised. But for Harriet Burrell to do so—oh, my!" exclaimed Jane.
"I do not think the plan feasible," declared Miss Elting. "I am not saying that it would not work, but I don't believe I care to trust myself to drift across the lake in a gale. No, thank you. We will keep to the shore. Remember, we are on the water, Harriet."
"Yes. And it isn't so long ago since we were in it," nodded Jane. "Tommy was the last to be in it. Please pass the potatoes. This life at sea does sharpen one's appetite. It wouldn't do for me to go to sea really. I'd get so hungry between meals that I'd gnaw the masts off short."
"I really can't eat another mouthful!" exclaimed Tommy. "I gueth I'll go up on deck and walk thome."
"And I guess you will stay right here and wash the dishes with me," commanded Margery Brown. "Do you think I am going to wash them alone, while you promenade on deck? Not I!"
"I had forgotten about the dithheth. But I've got a plan about that. You jutht put the dithheth in a bag and thouthe them up and down in the lake. Then you put them on deck till they dry off. Now, ithn't that a plan? That ith a better plan than Harriet thaid jutht now."
"I feel sorry for your house if you ever own one," laughed Harriet, beginning to clear off the table.
"Yeth tho do I. But I feel more thorry for the folkth who have to live with me."
"I propose that we all take a hand in doing the work," suggested Harriet. "The evening is so fine that we should enjoy it together. I'll clear off the table."
"And I'll brush it," offered Jane. "Then I'll sweep the floor. Say, this is fine. All one has to do with the rubbish is just to drop it overboard. The fishes will come and clean it up. It's easy to keep house on a houseboat. We're going to have a fine time this summer. I feel it in my bones."
The supper work was cleared away quickly. Jane filled the hanging lamps, while Harriet trimmed and filled the lantern that was to be put out as a night light so that other craft should not run into them during the night.
"All hands on deck!" commanded Harriet, after the last of the work had been finished.
"That reminds me. We must elect our officers," said Miss Elting, after the girls had climbed to the pleasant upper deck. "Whom shall we have for our captain?"
"I gueth Harriet will make a good captain," suggested Tommy.
The girls agreed to this.
"I suggest then, that Jane McCarthy be chief officer—that is, the next in line to the captain—with Margery as purser, Hazel as third officer, and Tommy, what would you like to be?" asked Miss Elting.
"I gueth I'll be the pathenger," decided little Tommy wisely.
There was a chorus of protests at this.
"You and I will be the fourth and fifth officers respectively," announced the guardian.
"What doeth the fourth offither do?"
"Not much of anything."
Tommy nodded approvingly.
"Then I am that," she announced. "Harriet ith a good captain. Harriet knowth thomething about everything."
Harriet shook her head. She protested that she knew nothing at all about any boat larger than a rowboat. To be the captain of a scow, was something of a responsibility. She knew that she would have to be captain in fact as well as in name, and that the navigation and protection of the craft would be on the shoulders of Jane McCarthy and herself.
"There is one thing I do not know, Tommy," answered Harriet. "I don't know how this captain is ever going to get along with the crew she has. I fear she will have to ship a new crew. Perhaps you'll be glad of that, eh, dears?"
"Tommy would be willing if, as she already has said, she could be the whole passenger list," chuckled Miss Elting.
The girls joked and talked until the night had fallen. A few faint rays of light filtered through the cabin windows and the dim light from the anchor lantern that hung at the stern of the boat was their only illumination.
Harriet got up and walked to the bow of the boat, now pointed outward. She sniffed the air.
"Well, what is it, Captain?" inquired Jane.
"Wind," answered Harriet. "The wind is freshening, and it's blowing straight into the little cove here. The 'Red Rover' will be straining at its leashes like an angry dog before morning, unless the wind veers, which I hardly think will be the case."
"Hooray for Captain Burrell!" cried Crazy Jane.
The sky was overcast and the wind, as Harriet had said, was freshening rapidly. She went to the lower deck to test the anchor rope. The anchor was holding firmly. The wind was now blowing so strongly that the girls found little comfort in sitting on the upper deck. All hands went below. With the front cabin door closed the cabin was a comfortable and cosy place in which to sit. But the cabin floor was acquiring an unpleasant habit of rising and falling. Tommy's face, ordinarily pale, had grown ghastly, but she pluckily kept her discomfort to herself. As a matter of fact the little girl was suffering from a mild attack of seasickness.
"I—I gueth I'll go to bed," she stammered. "Will thomebody pleathe take off my thhoeth? If I bend down I'll thurely fall over on my nothe."
There was a shout at this. Both Harriet and Jane knelt on the floor to remove the shoes that Tommy feared to unbutton. They assisted her into her cot, after which they arranged their own, each girl preparing for bed behind a curtain that had been strung across the cabin, thus making part of the kitchen a dressing room. In the daytime the curtain was drawn back.
Harriet was the last to retire. She sat up for an hour after the others had retired, rather anxiously watching the weather and the anchor rope, together with the behavior of the "Red Rover." The latter was riding the swells finely and with much less motion than might have been looked for in the fairly heavy sea that was running into the cove. At last, well satisfied that the boat would ride out the moderate blow, Harriet entered the cabin and extinguishing the lamp prepared for bed, leaving only the solitary anchor light outside to dispel the gloom.
As the night went on, the seas grew with it. Great swells were sweeping into the cove, and the "Red Rover" was at times rolling heavily. Once in the night Harriet got up and staggered out through the rear door, whence she made her way to the upper deck. From there, with the spray dashing over her, she gazed off over the water. The moon had come up, and she could see fairly well; some light being furnished by it, though heavy clouds intervened. White-capped waves dashed against the boat. It was unusually rough for a lake of its size. She inhaled deeply the strong, bracing air, until, discovering that she was getting wet from the spray, the girl hurried below and crawled into her cot, shivering a little. Then she fell into a deep sleep, soothed by the rocking of the boat.
Tommy was moaning in her sleep. The others appeared to be sleeping soundly. It was late in the night when Harriet was awakened by a terrific crash. It seemed to her as though something had collided with the "Red Rover." Then came a second crash, much louder than the first. The second was followed by a sound of breaking woodwork. A draught of cold air smote her in the face, then a huge volume of water swept into the cabin overwhelming and half drowning the occupants.
Cots were overturned, the oil stove went over with a crash, and the table was hurled the length of the cabin, landing bottom side up at the rear end of the cabin.
A chorus of terrified, choking screams followed the second crash, that, to their overwrought imaginations, seemed to have lasted for hours.
"Thave me! We're thinking!" wailed Tommy Thompson.
"Harriet! What has happened?" cried Miss Elting.
"I—I don't know."
The "Red Rover" lurched heavily to one side. The rush of water that accompanied the lurch tumbled the Meadow-Brook Girls to the lower side of the cabin. A volume of water rushed over them, and the furnishings of the cabin were piled on top of them; in some instances a crushing weight pinioned them to the floor.
The houseboat had sustained a severe blow, though as yet they could not determine the nature of it. To make the situation more terrifying the cabin was in utter darkness. For a moment the voices of the Meadow-Brook Girls were stilled; then a chorus of screams, more terrified than before, rose from the lips of the frightened girls.
"Please—please keep quiet," cried Harriet, making herself heard above the tumult. "Don't be frightened! We aren't sinking, and we are not going to. Answer loudly when I call your names, so that I may know each one of you is here."
"Now," she continued after the frightened girls had answered to their names. "We'll try to find out what happened. You see that the boat has stopped pitching, and the side roll isn't as pronounced as it was."
"What'th the anthwer?" piped Tommy.
"I don't know—yet," Harriet confessed. "But I'm going to know."
"The water is still coming in, and getting deeper," shivered Margery.
"Get out through the rear door," Harriet commanded. "One at a time."
"Which door is the rear one?" queried Crazy Jane. "All doors look alike to me."
"Move away from the direction that the water is coming from," Harriet continued.
Assisted by Jane McCarthy the girls obeyed Harriet's directions. Tommy and Margery first, then Miss Elting and Hazel. In the cockpit the water was not as deep, but Jane drove them all to the upper deck.
"The captain must go last, you know," laughed Harriet, as she climbed up to join them.
By this time the girls were shivering with cold. The kimonos of washable crepe in which they had elected to sleep during the cruise afforded them little warmth.
"Get close together and keep each other warm," called Miss Elting.
"What! Sit down and shiver here all night long?" shouted Harriet. "No, indeed. We must do something or we shall lose our boat."
"Wha—at happened?" shivered Margery.
"The waves smashed the front door in. That's all I know about it now."
"Oh, look!" screamed Hazel. "It's land!"
"Land, ho!" cried Crazy Jane.
"Yes, I know," replied Harriet calmly. "We are on shore. We have been blown partly ashore. I saw that a moment after we came out here. There is no danger to us, but there is to the boat."
"Did the anchor give way?" questioned the guardian, a sigh of relief escaping her upon learning that the immediate danger was over.
"I don't know. Jane! I want you. We must go to the front of the boat and see what can be done to stop the water from coming in. Are you ready?"
"All ready," called Jane. "Where away?"
"I want to go, too. I want to go down there and get thome dry clotheth," wailed Tommy.
"You'll look a long time on this boat before you'll find anything dry," laughed Crazy Jane. "Get up and run. Sprint back and forth along this slippery deck, and, if you don't fall down and break your precious necks, you'll start your circulation and get warm. Run for it!"
"Jane's advice is excellent, girls. Join hands and run back and forth, while Jane and Harriet see what can be done for us," answered Miss Elting.
Jane and Harriet climbed down the aft ladder and made their way into the cabin. Everything was afloat there. It was with difficulty that they made their way through and out to the forward deck over which the waves were still dashing. Both girls were knocked flat almost the instant they stepped out into the rear cockpit. They were picked up an instant afterwards, only to be hurled against the deck house by a second wave. Neither girl screamed; for a moment or two they were too nearly drowned to speak. The rear end of the boat being driven up on the shore, the forward end lay several inches lower. The lower deck in that part of the boat was entirely under water.
"What are we going to do about it?" gasped Jane finally.
Harriet was groping about on the deck, her head under water a good part of the time.
"I've found it," she cried.
"Found what?" demanded Miss McCarthy.
"Well, what are they?"
"Maybe our last hope. Climb up to the top. I'll tell you my plan."
Jane lost no time in getting up where the rest of the party were dancing about the deck, trying their best to get warm, and succeeding but poorly.
"Harriet, don't you think we had better go ashore?" asked Miss Elting.
"You will be little better off there. But wait. Yes, the very thing. I was going to use that awning for something else. It is the only dry thing on the boat. Come, Jane; we'll do the best we can under the circumstances."
Together the two girls got down the awning, which had once served them as a tent. Assisted by Miss Elting they lugged it ashore and placing it back far enough to be out of reach of the water, smoothed it out on the ground. This would at least furnish them with a place to sleep. By this time Tommy, Hazel and Margery had made their way ashore.
"How I wish we had some matches now! I'd build a fire. Jane, do you think that box of matches could have kept dry through all this?" questioned Harriet.
"It wouldn't do you any good if it had. How are you going to find it if it is there?"
"That's so. Now, I think we had better take all the things out of the cabin. Most of the stuff may be gone by morning. Miss Elting, will you stay with the girls?" asked Harriet. "Then they won't feel afraid. Besides we shall only be in each other's way if more than two of us try to work in that cabin in the dark. The first thing to be done is to try to stop the water from beating in through that wrecked doorway. I have an idea. Jane, see if you can find some rope. There should be some on the upper deck."
Jane McCarthy reported that there was no rope there. Harriet decided to go on without it, believing that she knew a way to check the flood. Calling Jane to assist her, the two girls carried the dining table out to the upper deck. This they left there for the moment.
"Now hand out the cots," directed Harriet.
As this was being done, Harriet worked standing in water most of the time. She placed the cots on edge across the doorway until three of them had been set in place. Directing Jane to try to hold them in place, Harriet grasped the table. This she braced against the cots. The table held them in place.
"Hurrah! We've done it. See if you can find some blankets in there. One will do."
After some searching about Jane announced that she had found a heavy blanket. Acting under Harriet's directions Jane carried the blanket to the upper deck and lowered it over the barricade of cots, weighting it with heavy stones from the beach so that the end would remain on the upper deck.
Harriet was unable to get either to the upper deck or into the boat, without danger of pulling down her barricade, so she promptly jumped into the lake and waded ashore. She fell down several times before reaching dry land, knocked over by waves that overtook her and laid her low. She sat down on the beach gasping.
"Come over here and rest a moment, Harriet," urged the guardian.
"I am all right, thank you. I haven't time to think about resting. I am going to try to get our belongings out of the boat. We aren't so badly off as we might be."
"If I had thome dry clotheth on I gueth I'd be all right," observed a lisping voice from the darkness. "My kimono is thoaking wet."
"Now, Jane, I'm ready," finally announced Harriet. "Let's get that stove out first of all. I fear it is ruined."
"Set the girls at it with dry leaves. They can wipe it dry and the exercise will do them good," suggested Jane McCarthy.
The stove was carried out to the beach and stood up. Jane and Harriet gathered leaves from weeds and bushes, together with such dry grass as they were able to find in the darkness, heaping their plunder on the canvas and directing the girls to polish the stove, hoping thereby to keep it from rusting very badly. The occupation did Tommy, Hazel and Margery good. They almost forgot their troubles for the time being.
The bedding and the clothing were next carried out and spread on the ground to dry. This, too, gave the girls on shore something to do. They wrung the water out of the bedding and clothing as thoroughly as possible. The clothing was then hung on nearby bushes.
"I do not believe your clothing will be dry enough to wear until after the sun shines on it," decided Miss Elting.
The girls groaned dismally. They did not relish the idea of going about in kimonos for the better part of the next forenoon. Harriet and Jane paid little attention to their own discomfort, however, for there were still many things to be done. The cabin had held quite a stock of supplies. Cans of provisions lay all about the floor. The two girls were unable to gather up their supplies in the darkness. The water would not damage the canned goods, so they decided to let these remain where they were for the time being.
"I'll tell you what!" said Harriet, after pondering over the best course to follow. "Let's take pails and go to bailing. Of course some water will still leak in around the bottom cot, but we can bail out down to that point. The water must come out. We might as well bail now as after daylight. We won't get any wetter, and we don't mind lame backs, do we?"
"We don't, if you say not," agreed Jane. "What the captain of the 'Red Rover' orders, is to be done. Where are the pails?"
"I think I remember having carried one outside."
"Here's the other," called Crazy Jane, who, at that moment, fell over the missing pail and went sprawling in the water. She rose to her feet, dripping, but in great good humor.
The two plucky girls set to work bailing. They did not wish to call in their companions to help them, as they believed they could accomplish more by themselves. Bailing out the boat was back-breaking work, and there was so much water in the hold of the "Red Rover," that at first their bailing seemed to have no effect whatever. Now and then they would go ashore and throw themselves down for a brief rest. Miss Elting begged them to do no more, but both Jane and Harriet were deaf to her entreaties. They alternately bailed and rested until early in the morning, when utterly exhausted from the strain of the past few hours' work they were glad to throw themselves down on the canvas beside their friends for a little rest.
By this time the dawn had begun to break and soon after the sun shone brightly. The wind had died down and the lake lay smooth and glassy in the morning sunlight.
"I'm going to try to get into that big chest that holds our clothes," announced Harriet. "If it really is water tight, then we shall not have to worry long about dry garments."
"I'll go with you," said Miss Elting.
The two women made their way to the cabin of the houseboat, where they were soon joined by Jane. By their united efforts the barricade was removed from the door, and as the water had almost subsided Harriet had little difficulty in getting at the chest.
"Hurrah!" she exclaimed as she turned the key which had been allowed to stand in the lock, and lifted the lid. "Everything is all right. These things are scarcely damp! Jane will you call the girls? We ought to dress as quickly as possible."
Fifteen minutes later the Meadow-Brook Girls and Miss Elting were enjoying the luxury of clean, dry clothing. Their hasty toilets were scarcely completed, however, when they heard the steady chug! chug of an approaching motor boat. Harriet climbed to the upper deck and shading her hands with her eyes looked out over the waters. Suddenly she exclaimed: "Girls, girls! Look at that boat!"
CAPTAIN GEORGE MAKES A FIND
"Well, well, if it isn't the Meadow-Brook Girls."
"It's Captain George Baker," cried Harriet, really overjoyed to meet their old friend whom, last season, they had beaten in a cross country contest of endurance and cleverness.
The girls left the boat and ran down to the shore to welcome the newcomers. The boys were calling their welcome before they had fairly landed. With Captain Baker were his friends Dill Dodd and Sam Crocker, and two other lads, whom Captain Baker introduced as Larry Goheen and Billy Gordon.
"Where are the rest of the tramps?" asked Miss Elting laughingly, hurrying down to the beach to greet the boys.
"In camp about two miles below here."
"I believe we have met Mr. Gordon and Mr. Goheen before," said the guardian. "They were good enough to give us a tow."
"Yes," answered George. "They told us about that. Somehow, I half suspected it to be you folks. After the storm of last night I wondered how the houseboat with its crew of girls had fared, so we set out to look for you this morning. We found you. Well, you are in a mess, aren't you?"
"Harriet and Jane were bailing water out of the boat nearly all night, Captain Baker," Miss Elting informed him.
"You certainly must have had a bad night," returned George Baker sympathetically.
The guardian related briefly the experience of the night.
"Once more I take off my hat to you," said Captain Baker admiringly. "And I take off my coat too. Fellows, all off with your coats! There's work to be done here. How is your boat?"
At this juncture Billy Gordon, who had been looking about the deck of the houseboat, stepped ashore.
"I don't think the hull is damaged at all. One door is smashed in and things are pretty well soaked up. If you will permit it, we fellows will clean up. There's a ton or more of sand and gravel in the after cockpit. Have you a shovel?"
The girls shook their heads.
"We have a dutht pan," Tommy answered.
"We will use that and a pail, if you have one."
The lads started for the boat, having discarded their coats.
"Oh, by the way, have you any matches?" asked Harriet. "We need some coffee this morning, but we have nothing with which to build a fire."
"Sam, you make a fire."
"The oil stove may work," suggested Miss Elting. They tried it, but there was still too much water in the tanks, so Sam built a fire on shore, and shortly after Harriet and Jane were busily engaged in getting breakfast, while the boys worked steadily in the houseboat. Finding nails, saw and hammer, they patched up the broken door and hung it back in place. Then they removed all the supplies that had been left aboard and began cleaning up. They bailed the remaining water out, also shoveling out the gravel and the sand, after which they scrubbed the floor and the walls to a height of about three feet from the floor, where the water had left a dark line on the white woodwork.
An hour after the visiting boys had begun their work the cabin was ready for occupancy again, but the quilts, sheets and blankets were still wet. A larger fire was built. The boys rigged a clothes line about the campfire and assisted the girls to hang up the wet bedding. By this time the lads were hungry. They readily accepted the invitation of the Meadow-Brook Girls to sit down with them to breakfast. The table and chairs had been brought ashore, and there in the cove, with the trees and bushes for a background, the Meadow-Brook Girls and the Tramp Club sat down to breakfast. There was plenty of good cheer, though the faces of the girls were pale, and Harriet and Jane looked particularly tired.
"I'll tell you what you must do," declared Captain George during breakfast. "When you wish to shift your position, let us know, and we'll tow you about. Did your rope break?"
Harriet confessed that she had not looked. The captain said he would look into the matter after breakfast. The first thing to be done, after getting the equipment back on board, would be to tow the "Red Rover" off the shore. To do this they arranged to pass a rope to the launch, the launch to pull ahead while some of the boys pushed on the houseboat.
In the meantime, while waiting for the equipment to dry out, George and his friend, Billy Gordon, who owned the launch, took Harriet and Jane to town, where Jane wished to go to renew some of their supplies, as well as to purchase a couple of flatirons with which to press their wet clothing that had hung in the cabin when the deluge came.
During the trip George had drawn out the story of their previous disaster when they had drifted ashore, though Harriet refrained from mentioning the fact that their anchor rope had been cut on that occasion. From George's questions it was plain that he suspected something was wrong, though Harriet failed to gratify his suspicions by direct answers to direct questions.
George explained, during the trip to the town, that the Tramp Club had been invited by Billy Gordon, who owned the launch, to spend a few weeks with him on the lake. He was to furnish the launch for their cruises, while the boys supplied the camp equipment. Billy knew the lake and they knew how to camp, and now that they had renewed acquaintance with their old rivals, the Meadow-Brook Girls, the Tramp Club were glad they had accepted Gordon's invitation.
The trip to town was quickly made, and the two girls completed their purchases with little loss of time, and were back on board the launch within an hour from the time they had started.
"Now," said George, after they had started on their return voyage, "is there any place you wish to go?"
"I want as soon as possible to get back to the boat and discuss with the girls what is to be done," answered Harriet.
"Well, can we help you? Is there anywhere you wish us to tow your houseboat?"
"Let me see," pondered Captain Burrell, "I think I should like to get out of that cove. We haven't made any plans."
"Then suppose we tow you over in front of our camp? We'll be handy, then, in case you need us again."
Harriet shook her head.
"I don't think that would be best. You see, we wish to go it alone. We don't wish to have to depend upon any one."
"You don't have to do so. You are able to take care of yourselves. I'd back the Meadow-Brook Girls against the world," declared George, confidently, which aroused a laugh from the other occupants of the boat. "We helped you this morning, did we not?"
"Indeed, you did."
"But they would have gotten out of the scrape without us," nodded Billy.
"Surely we would," chuckled Crazy Jane. "We always do get out of our scrapes, somehow. But we thank you just the same."
"Indeed, we do," agreed Harriet earnestly. "I was about to say, when you asked me if there were any place we wished to go, that we do wish to go over to the other side of the lake some day soon, and—"
"Any time," interrupted Billy. "I'll take you over to-day, if you say the word."
Harriet shook her head.
"Boys, we've got business on hand to-day," said Jane briskly. "There is plenty to be done. It will take us two days to get well settled again. You will look us up occasionally, I am sure. We can then let you know where and when we wish to go, can't we?"